By Jim Beard
So you want to know who's been a Defender? The question should be: who hasn't
been a Defender?
When writer Joe Casey and artist Jim Muniz' new LAST DEFENDERS mini-series rolls out this March you'll meet-n-greet a prolific parade of Defenders both classic and new— and that's normal! Marvel's "non-team" has fluxed with the best of them and cemented the standard for a super hero group that just won't be contained to a stable membership…the order changeth, again and again and again!
First thing we have to get straight: the core team, the founders of the dynamic Defenders, encompassed the secretive Dr. Strange, the rampaging Hulk, and the proud Sub-Mariner, who first joined forces way back in MARVEL FEATURE #1. Some include the space-faring Silver Surfer as a founding Defender, but again, with a "non-team," the term "charter member" doesn't exactly mean much!
That core grouping of three—or four—outsiders soon expanded by two heroes who fused themselves so intricately to the psyches of Defenders fans as to be eternally enshrined there: the Valkyrie, a mystical warrior force grafted onto the body of the mentally unstable Barbara
Norriss, and Nighthawk, once villainous Squadron Sinister member and now champion of justice. Bring in the hellacious Hellcat and you've got yourself some classic Defenders. Now mix in Marvel kooks and crazies the likes of Hawkeye, Moondragon, the Gargoyle, Devil-Slayer, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Clea, and the Son of Satan, and the Defenders pot becomes an eclectic one indeed—and smokin' with turmoil.
This rotating roster came to yet another strange plateau with DEFENDERS #125, when none other than the Beast attempted a respectable grouping along with his X-Men buddies Iceman and the Angel. These so-called "New Defenders" operated sans founders Dr. Strange, Hulk, and Namor, and
fumbled and bumbled their way to a kind-of conclusion in NEW DEFENDERS #152. But the story of Marvel's craziest clan hadn't ended, not by a long shot!
Anybody out there remember the Secret Defenders? Of course not! They were secret! Dr. Strange, shorn of his mighty mystical mumbo-jumbo decided to go the "non-team" route once more and when sensing trouble for our beautiful blue marble, he called in friends. Okay, maybe not friends
per se, but characters who possessed certain skills and abilities to tackle the trouble at hand—and hoo boy, you thought the preceding Defenders were a nutty band! Doc called
in—among others—Spider Woman, Nomad, Darkhawk, and the little-known, seldom-seen mutant called Wolverine! Eventually Dr. Strange-wannabe Dr. Druid took over the leadership post, but the Secret Defenders' time had ended, and 25 issues later they remained Marvel's best-kept secret.
Techno-wizard Yandroth, one of Defenders' first foes, stirred up a hornet's nest with the original core team in DEFENDERS v2 and THE ORDER. Doc, Namor, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer were puppets on parade for Gaea, the spirit of the Earth, but classic comrades Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and Hellcat dutifully snipped those strings. The
Defenders once again disbanded—if a team that never really considered itself a team can disband at all!
After a brief bounding into "bwa-ha-ha" territory with 2005's DEFENDERS mini-series, Marvel's muddled membership of misanthropes, money-grubbers, mutants, and monsters screeched to a final halt…sort of.
Flash forward to now, baby, and we stand poised on the brink of the latest and greatest Defenders series of all: THE LAST DEFENDERS! Kyle Richmond, the high-flying Nighthawk, assembles a new team…this
Leinil Francis Yu
time in the open. Sanctioned by the government and S.H.I.E.L.D, Nighthawk gathers familiar faces from the Marvel Universe for a new round of heroism and hedonism as the official 50 State Initiative squad of New Jersey. But don't get too cozy with shiny new components Colossus, She-Hulk, and the baffling Blazing Skull—this is the DEFENDERS, and they don't do "predictable"!
Look for ch-ch-changes—and the likes of Atlas, Paladin, Junta and more—comin' your way, along with new members and a few old faces, all in the pages of THE LAST DEFENDERS! You need some shakin' up!
Can't wait for March 12 and the first issue of THE LAST DEFENDERS? Whet your appetite at Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited by taking a look at the last time the Defenders got together.