Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Let's Look At Secret Wars II Crossovers!


The New Defenders #152 is a very bad comic. It's a terrible comic. But it's terrible for a few specific reasons, none of which probably had anything to do with writer Peter B. Gillis' actual intent. Well, OK, some of it probably did.

The Defenders had always been one of Marvel's odder books, a team book put together with a group of characters who really had no business being on a team together, seemingly for no other reason than that they didn't fit on the Avengers but a team book with these specific characters nonetheless sold pretty well in the 70s. The Defenders were a team of outcasts, oddballs, and loners, but a number of creative teams - most notably writer Steve Gerber in the series' early issues - were able to make something surprisingly interesting out of the idea that these guys really didn't want to be on a team together but, nevertheless, kept running into problems that necessitated being forced to work together for long periods of time. And in addition to the team's four titans - the Hulk, Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner and, sometimes, the Silver Surfer - there were lots of secondary players who supported these guys throughout the book's run.

The best explanation of this dynamic in more contemporary terms was Kurt Busiek and Eric Larsen's Defenders run from the early 2000s. That series had the Big Four being thrown together unwillingly by an evil curse, which strained their already occasionally tense friendships to the breaking point. (Left to their own devices the four main Defenders are all on friendly terms, but they're each monumentally willful and resent forced to cooperate under any circumstances.) But always underfoot are the secondary members, folks such as Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and Hellcat who really liked being Defenders but knew full well there was no group if the big guys couldn't get along.

By the time the original run of The Defenders had devolved into The New Defenders, the concept had been stretched far beyond its originally precarious shape. Gone were all the Big Four, replaced by longtime hangers-on Valkyrie and the Gargoyle, and joined by the likes of Andromeda, Moondragon, Manslaughter, and Cloud. Oh yeah, and three of the original X-Men, none of whom had played a substantial role in Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men in a long time: Angel, Iceman, and the Beast. This is important. These guys hadn't been active X-Men in a long time, and they had all spent time bumming around the fringes of the Marvel Universe - Beast, notably, as a long-serving Avenger, and Iceman and Angel, less notably, as members of the short-lived Champions.

The problem for The New Defenders was that, after years of Claremont's fighting against any arbitrary expansion of the X-Men franchise, 1986 marked the debut of the second ongoing X-Men spin-off, X-Factor, which was premised on the original five X-Men being reunited again after many years apart. And, oh yeah, Jean Grey was being brought back from the dead to star in this new book, an event which occurred without Chris Claremont's help. Jean Grey was resurrected in the pages of The Avengers and John Byrne's Fantastic Four, not Claremont's Uncanny (and if you think this is the last time the real-world enmity between Claremont, Byrne, and Jim Shooter is going to manifest in the pages of a Secret Wars II crossover, you are wrong). X-Factor was originally written by Shooter's pal (but not for long!) Bob Layton, and it would be years before Jean Grey's return was even acknowledged in the pages of Claremont's Uncanny.

So the edict was clear: the three X-Men had to be written out of The New Defenders, and without these characters a title like New Defenders was not long for this world. To add insult to injury, the word came down that the last issue - the last issue! - was going to be a Secret Wars II tie-in. Well, what better way to end a misfit series like The Defenders than killing everybody . . . well, everyone but the characters people actually cared about enough to want to see in a different comic.

The New Defenders #152 begins with the team fighting on-again-off-again hero-slash-villain Moondragon, who is pissed because - I don't know. Honestly, Moondragon was never a very well motivated character, and many of her early appearances fall under the rubric of, "powerful woman with a bitchy attitude, because, women, amiright?" (A lot of those stories were written by Jim Shooter, incidentally, who really doesn't have a good track record writing women.) But for whatever reason she wants to kill the Defenders - or, well, the New Defenders, because she's not stupid enough to try to kill the Hulk. So the issue begins with a handy-dandy recap of why exactly Moondragon wants to kill anyone, something she'd probably already want to do even if she wasn't possessed by the evil Dragon of the Moon.

Well, long story short, the Defenders defeat Moondragon, and that's that. Except, oh wait, there are still like thirty pages left. So of course that isn't the whole story. At the urging of the really quite nasty Dragon of the Moon, Moondragon summons the Beyonder to grant her a favor. He was in the middle of his whole cosmic messiah schtick at the time - he went back and forth between wanting to destroy the universe and wanting to save it, and he was big into helping other people attain self-actualization, so the most powerful being in the universe was easily tricked by Moondragon into thinking she had nothing but the best of intentions.

So there's this guy, who helps take Moondragon down:

And this guy, who helped train the other guy:

That last guy is The Interloper, one of my all-time favorite random OHotMU losers because he is completely useless. He walks around saying stuff like this all the time:

So, anyway, Moondragon comes back after getting The Beyonder's pep talk and power-up, and she is still intent on killing everyone. Thankfully, the Interloper is on hand:

I mean, seriously, look at this guy:

And there's also this rather uncomfortable sequence:

Finally, though, the ever-helpful Interloper reveals that he's got a plan to stop the Beyonder-powered Moondragon, and it's a really good plan because it involves everyone who isn't a mutant killing themselves. They have to save the lives of some supporting cast members Moondragon was torturing, because she's such a swell person.

This is, incidentally, also how the original Onslaught event ended, with a bunch of heroes randomly sacrificing themselves to stop the villain in some vaguely magical way, while another group of heroes standing right over there were for some reason prevented from sacrificing themselves because, oh well!

But, you know, that's life. Sometimes you're in a superhero team and everyone who isn't a Lee & Kirby creation just happens to die fighting a C-list Avenger turned psychopathic hell shrew empowered by The Beyonder with not a lot of oversight. And then, in the last page of one of Marvel's then-longest-running titles, Moondragon saves everyone from the series' supporting cast, even the damn dog, who reappears on the last page after just sort of hanging around when everyone else was killing themselves. Oh yeah, Moondragon also cured the Angel's temporary blindness, which is almost as bad as curing cancer but hey, since you're already sweeping everything else under the rug, why not?

For being a frankly awful mess, for being a poor coda to a long-running series that deserved far better, for being so obviously hammered together to fulfill multiple conflicting editorial mandates at the last minute, and just on general principles because Manslaughter and The Interloper are two of the worst characters ever dreamed up in an ill-fated attempt to recapture Steve Gerber's long-gone magic, we must consign The New Defenders #152 to that eternal quarter-box in the sky, the afterlife of Nobody's Favorites.

Oh wait, that's not even my blog. Well, still. This issue sucks.


BK said...

Thank you for walking us through that. Funny. Always was mildly curious how the Defenders ended but basically avoided everything past 1980 because it wasn't "The Defenders" --whatever that was. Truly hideous. Val seems like the only one to really survive this mess, eventually, in some reincarnated form or other, but she had a convoluted identity to begin with. The magical Beyonder character was so lame. Ugh. Jim Shooter. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

How has Manslaughter never met Deadpool?

Nick said...

1. I dimly remember Candy Southern. I do not remember her wearing fishnets, a cape, and whatever it is that's happening on her torso. That is... something.

2. While I appreciate Claremont's refusal to acknowledge Jean's resurrection, wasn't killing her off Shooter's edict in the first place?

timoneil5000 said...

You're 100% right, it was Claremont and Byrne's idea to leave her alive, and the first page of the following issue, with a powerless Jean retiring from the X-Men, was already drawn by the time Shooter's edict came down. But Claremont committed to the death, took it seriously, and spent years dealing with the aftermath in UNCANNY. Bringing Jean back derailed his plans for Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor, made Rachel Summers just about superfluous, and negated years of stories about Scott and the rest of the team coming to terms with her death.

Anonymous said...

I can't seem to log into my Google blogger account on my phone. Hurm...Anyway...

Yeah, that whole denouement storyline... Just kept throwing weirder and weirder seemingly random revelations and character hiccups silk over the place. All to boot x-factor. Poor, poor Defenders.

However, those for characters didn't stay dead for very long. Well not gone anyway. They came back as dead spirit Defenders in the STRANGE TALES / DOCTOR STRANGE: SORCERER SUPREME arc by... yup, Peter Gillis.
Valkyrie eventually took over another human form (which was quickly forgotten) and then some other screwed up continuity retcons, then another form and then "died"again in ragnarok with all of Thor's cast- but RE emerged in her original Samantha Parrington body in Busieks Defenders.

Gargoyle came back -having something to do with Daimon (son of Satan) Hellstrom.

Andromeda came back in bodily form eventually too.

Pretty sure Interloper and Manslaughter stayed as spirits.
I really don't recall.
Hey...even *I* can't remember every nuance of Doctor Strange related crap.

Nice blog entry though.
Now to continue reading your reviews... ooh! ROM gets an entry. Sweet!

Sanctum Sanctorum Comix

Nick said...

@Tim. Checked out the most recent installment (maybe time to consider a career in promoting pro wrestling?), discovered your reply to my comment. I shoulda been more forthright: you're right, Claremont did commit to Jean's death, and the book was better for it. Didn't know they'd gone so far as to produce the first page of the next issue. Just an interesting bit of interplay between art and commerce (if Shooter stands in for the latter), all the moreso because of the eventual role reversal.

Do you know what the hell the plan for Maddy was? Poor Claremont. The guy was the mastermind behind the most popular book on the stands, set the mold for two decades or so of team books, and had more plots overturned by editorial fiat than some shlub just in off the street. Cranking out the 'death of Wolverine' 15 years after he planned it out makes me wonder if someone there is just torturing the guy at this point.

timoneil5000 said...

Keep in mind that a lot has been written about Claremont's hypothetical plans, and I'm not the expert there. But my understanding was always that the "plan" for Maddie was for her to go off into the sunset with Scott and for them to only show up periodically, for special events and the like. Meaning, there was no plan other than for her to be a normal human being married to Cyclops.

Until they brought Jean back, which meant having Cyclops abandon his wife and son. I've always liked how Claremont turned his resentment about that into Maddie's post-X-FACTOR, with her boiling with resentment against Scott for years. Deserved resentment. Scott is and always has been a schmuck.

Adam Farrar said...

One thing this issue has going for it: the best costume that Moondragon ever wore. It's more dignified than her bikini ever was and cleaner than her recent outfits have been.

romspaceknight said...

Man, Moondragon was sure fixed in both Peter David's Captain Marvel and the Annihilation/Guardians of the Galaxy series.

Shane said...

I kind of like Interloper. :)

Admittedly, some of the stuff he did, like walking across the ocean didn't make a lot of sense, seeing as Eternals can Fly. Or, for that matter, Teleport. And I'm not sure why an 8 ft tall, 1000 lbs guy needs to have a scary cloak.

And, why is someone, who has spent the last 1000 years or so hiding in Siberia, referring to himself as the Interloper. He seems quite the opposite of one to me.

He's known to be a friend of his fellow Eternal, Gilgamesh. If you're aware of that Epic, I suggest his real name is "Enkidu". for me.

I also think he should have been around during the 50 State Initiative times.

I seem to recall that Hellcat was assigned as Alaska's only Initiative member. Hellcat, she with no powers to speak of, being the only government approved super in the largest most spread out state - over twice the size of Texas and very cold.

You know who would have been better - a godlike (Super-Strong, indestructible, telekinetic, shoot energy blasts, telepathic, etc.) being who (should) could fly, or teleport anywhere he needs to be. And actually solve issues and fight huge groups of bad guys. A guy who's from Siberia!