By Jim Beard
[Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it-warts and all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.
LAST DEFENDERS has stirred up a stew of nostalgia in the hearts of Defenders fans everywhere and one special storyline rises to the top in response-the infamous "Defender for a Day," from DEFENDERS #62-#64.
Billed as "Possibly the wildest Defenders saga ever!" on the cover of DEFENDERS #62, the story took every bit of insanity that was the original Defenders, threw it in a bag, liberally added extra craziness, shook well, then let it all out to play. The storyline represents one of those wonderful "throwaway" moments in 1970s comics that's never been forgotten-and actually remains cherished to this day.
Most fans of the story focus on one aspect: the guest-stars. Had any previous Marvel comic heaped this many first-, second- and third-tier super-types in one pile? Doubtful. The tale begins with Dollar Bill, a reckless raconteur out to make a quick buck, who produces a TV documentary on the Defenders without their permission. Airing on national television, the show effectively reveals the non-team's existence to the world-and proclaims "any one with super-powers who wants to declare himself a Defender is automatically a member!" As you may guess, pandemonium ensues. Nighthawk, leader of the Defenders, is outraged and after threatening to kill Dollar Bill, dearly hopes the whole thing'll blow over.
The next morning brings every then-teamless Marvel super hero (and a few who weren't!) to the Defenders doorbell. The teeming throng consisted of-are you ready?-Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Hercules, Son of Satan, Polaris, Havok, Stingray, Iron Fist, Black Goliath, Jack of Hearts, Torpedo, Nova, the Prowler, the Falcon, Marvel Man (the future Quasar), Palladin, the White Tiger, Captain Ultra and last but not least, Tagak the Leopard Lord! What? You don't remember Tagak the Leopard Lord from DAREDEVIL #72? That's okay, most everybody reading this issue didn't either.
You can't take that many heroes (and at least one reformed villain) and intersperse them among the then-current Defenders-Nighthawk, Valkyrie, the Hulk, and Hellcat-without a few sparks. Well, those sparks blew into a bonfire and when the last punch was thrown in DEFENDERS #63 some heroes had had quite enough. The Hulk bounded off in a tizzy and Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel and Palladin erred on the side of caution by not choosing to become Defenders. The other nineteen costumed crusaders then broke into three separate teams and zoomed off to stop the Defenders from mashing Manhattan. You heard right: the Defenders.
See, not only did heroes want to play Defender, but also villains. Led in two titanic teams by former Zodiac baddies Sagittarius and Libra, the crafty cornucopia of criminals-slash-Defenders consisted of-deep breath-Whirlwind, the Beetle, Porcupine, the Blob, Batroc the Leaper, Electro, Meteor Man (erroneously called the Looter), Plant Man, the Shocker, Boomerang, Frog Man, the Melter, the Toad, Pecos and...Joe the Gorilla. Go ahead, look Joe up. We'll wait.
The three-issue tussle illustrated scenes of both chaos and comedy, some of which imprinted themselves on Defenders fans' brains forever: a giddy Nova thrown off a bucking bronco, Hercules sampling Valkyrie's first attempt at coffee-making, the debut of the hellacious Hellcatmobile (we don't make this stuff up, folks), Marvel Man and Son of Satan apprehending a teenage car thief and a "damn mad" police captain arresting everybody for being a "Defender." And of course, every costumed cut-up concerned went around saying each others codenames-and their own-ad infinitum.
Still, among the chuckles could also be found some serious scenes of dynamic Defenders drama, such as the incredible backlash of Hellcat's then-developing psychic powers ("cheese and crackers" indeed!) and in DEFENDERS #64 an onset of blinding berserker rage for Valkyrie, complete with hallucinations of everyone around her-friend or foe-as otherworldly trolls. The ultimate realization of her actions is both somber and sobering, a poignant moment for Val and her comrade Nighthawk.
In the end none of the assembled heroes (nor villains) became an official Defender-if one could truly be an official member of the famous "non-team." Most of them ran for the hills after getting a taste of the Hulk's rage, Nighthawk's wrath and the Valkyrie's bloodlust. Can you blame them? Regardless, the true winners after those three fun months in the summer of 1978 were the readers, and it's a gift that keeps giving to this day. See for yourself; the entire storyline can be found in this July's ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS Volume 4 collection
. You too can be a "Defender for a Day"!