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Essential Defenders, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials) Paperback – May 18, 2005
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Essential Defenders Vol. 1 is one of the more invaluable manifestations of Marvel's budget Essentials series. It captures the formation and early stages of the Defenders, a "non-team" of heroes that didn't have a headquarters or a formal charter, and didn't even like to hang out together. They just combined their considerable forces when needed. The 26 issues collected in this volume include the first times the characters crossed paths in their individual books--Dr. Strange 183, Sub-Mariner 22 and 34-35, and Incredible Hulk 126--followed by their appearances in Marvel Feature 1-3 and then the first 14 issues of their own book. Most of the early adventures were mystical Dr. Strange tales backed by the muscle of the Hulk and Sub-Mariner, but the group took better shape with the addition of the Silver Surfer in issue 2, and the beginning of the Black Knight saga in issue 4, which not only introduced the Valkyrie but led to the epic Avengers-Defenders clash, also included here in its entirety. Even though the individual Defenders were well-known in the Marvel Universe, the conflict with the better-established Avengers helped put the "group" on the map. The volume concludes with the two-part Nighthawk/Squadron Supreme story line. While there are drawbacks to the black-and-white format (for example, the Mohammedan's glimpse of the Hulk's green foot in issue 11), the price for this much content is low, and who knows when a Masterworks edition will arrive. (The Avengers-Defenders clash was previously released as a stand-alone trade paperback.) Better to grab Essential Defenders Vol. 1 now and hope for volume 2. --David Horiuchi
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Top Customer Reviews
Back in the 70s, it seemed no matter where we picked up in the series, it always felt like we were walking in to the middle of a story. Even issue number one starts with the group in place, the enemy familiar. Where did Valkyrie come from? How did this group get together? How do you fit the egos of Dr. Strange, Hulk, and Subby in one room? It was a nagging source of annoyance, to be sure, although we still enjoyed the series.
While The Defenders began with Dr. Strange, the Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk, (and, it might be argued, the Silver Surfer) the real core of the group, it would later turn out, would become Dr. Strange, as leader and mentor; Valkyrie, a mythological warrior-woman abruptly imposed on the persona of an insane woman; and Nighthawk, a grown-up bumbling rich kid with perpetual bad luck. The Hulk remained, too, providing muscle, comic relief, and foil where needed.
The Defenders' first act was told slowly. This volume, with its collected 26 comics (of which only 14 were from the actual Defenders' series) is essentially the origin of the Defenders.
For the record, this book compiles the first 14 issues of The Defenders with Marvel Feature 1-3 (the first real Defenders books, prior to getting their own series), Avengers 115-118 (the Avengers/Defenders war), Dr. Strange 183, Sub-Mariner 22, 34-35, and Incredible Hulk 126.
It starts with the issue of Dr. Strange. No one else, no guest stars, but we do meet the primary villains for this volume, who will ultimately bring everyone together and forge the creation of the Valkyrie.
Then we move to an issue of the Sub-Mariner's mag, where we learn more about the mystery villains from the Dr. Strange story. Strange himself meets Subby for the first time.
The story continues in an issue of the Hulk's mag, wherein we meet Barbara and Jack Norris. Barbara will eventually become Valkyrie; Jack will show up at some point in the Defenders series to claim her (look for Jack again in Essential Defenders 2), and remain as a central supporting character for much of the series.
The book is full of interweaving plot lines from various sources, which is really what sets it apart from other Essential Marvel books. For example, in the Avengers/Defenders War cross-over story, they actually interrupt an issue of The Defenders with an excerpt from The Avengers series in a way that is absolutely appropriate. In this format, finally, it is all simple and makes sense.
Whoever put this book together had love in their hearts for this series. It's a lot of fun to read and to see how this dark horse team of dark horse heroes got its start. This team will resonate well with the kids in high school who were the outsiders; those who were not interested in sports, were smart but not dedicated enough to become valedictorian, and hung around in groups no one paid much attention to but which they themselves took much pride in.
I am eagerly awaiting The Essential Defenders Vol. 2, where Steve Gerber takes over as writer of the series, combining his talent for the bizarre and satirical in a super-hero format. It is Gerber who gave the series its unique flavor, which remained after he left it. It will be fun to re-live the scenes of Nighthawk's exposed brain in a cereal bowl on a table, complete with what looks like milk, while Nebulon re-appears to help the world get in touch with its inner bozo. Hopefully, when it is delivered to my door, it won't be handed to me by an elf -- with a gun! (*blam!*)
This multi-issue compilation kicks off with a story about the Undying Ones ... the very same sloppily written story that was thrown together to try and justify Dr. Strange's cancellation ... the story which I had just finished reading in the Essential Dr. Strange #2 (it's actually important later on, but still, ick). After being reminded of that travesty, I next came to a two-parter from ol' Subby's mag in which he enlists the help of the Hulk and the Silver Surfer to destroy a human-made weather machine that could destroy the world. It's not a great story, but I guess it made some writers and fans think, "Hey. These three guys make a pretty good team." Thus, our next stop is in Marvel Feature #1 where, along with the deserved return of Dr. Strange, the Defenders are born.
The Defenders face a wide variety of villains from all corners of the Marvel Universe (baddies who normally fought Strange, the Sub-Mariner, Thor, the FF, the Avengers, or the X-Men are all fair game), but this team is defined not by their foes but by their own unique team dynamic (or lack thereof). By this time in Marveldom, there were already 100+ issues of the Avengers, a government-sanctioned team of civic-minded supers who knew the value of teamwork and could compliment the others' strengths (and who also probably weren't popular enough to warrant their own solo series). Not so for the Defenders. These four guys were long-time loners by choice or by fate and they were used to relying on no one but themselves. Most early issues begin with Dr. Strange (who is considered to be the leader if only because he's the most sociable) struggling to find the others and convincing them to join him on a new mission, and not always being successful. Their differences are substantial (they're not a family like the FF or part of a group like the X-Men), their arguments are vitriolic, and just about every story ends with them leaving in a huff. I think the only reason why they kept coming back together at all is because, in the farthest regions of their minds, they do realize that they make a great team. This is why I feel that the Defenders represent one of the bigger successes of the more relatable, non-traditional superheroes that Stan Lee had envisioned in the beginning. They are powerful and interesting individuals, sure, but they are also just as susceptible to their egos and personalities as a regular human being (if not more so) in having ambitions or ideas that clash with those of their friends. While their external conflicts are as interesting as any other teams, their internal conflicts are the most likely reason you will keep reading. Hence, the Defenders clearly earn and take pride in their sobriquet as the "non-team" (plus, since they're usually not together, it's easy for them all to hold on to their own magazines, so that's more money in the bank for Marvel).
As well as the original roster worked, the writers weren't afraid to try adding on to it. The first decision (a good one, in my opinion) was to make the Defenders a home for the Valkyrie (She's a fierce warrior, she can bench-press a car, and she still adds a feminine touch to the Doc's little boy's club). Those who have read the Essentials Avengers #3 and Hulk #3 may remember the Valkyrie as a persona that the evil Enchantress temporarily bestowed on man-hating women. But in this collection she finds a permanent home with the girl who accompanied the Hulk to the realm of the Undying Ones, only to be trapped there when she freed Dr. Strange from bondage (I like the character so much I'm now actually a little happy I read that horrible story). The late, lamented bowman Hawkeye joins for a stint (Update: It seems that Hawkeye has returned to this mortal coil, according to the "House of M" crossover event of last summer. As one of my comic vendors once said, "I hope I die a Marvel death"). Speaking of hawks, repentant former Squadron Sinister mainstay Nighthawk signs on during the last two stories (From what I know about him, he's rich, he's an acrobat, and he has a cape and a beak. Oh well. Welcome to the party, Bird-Nose!).
Last but certainly not least, this book contains in its entirety the eight-issue event known as the Avengers-Defenders War. I've seen a lot of superheroes-fighting-each-other-due-to-a-great-big-misunderstanding tales before, but this is easily the best one that I know about. I really don't want to ruin any of it for the rest of you; you just have to read it for yourself. Nuff said!
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