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Into the back issue box #21

Are there rules about these posts?  Of course there are!

Did you ever wonder what a comic book on steroids would look like?  Wonder no more!

The Secret Defenders #9 (“Revenge, Part One”) by Ron Marz, Tom Grindberg, and Don Hudson.  Published by Marvel, November, 1993.

                        03-10-2007 08;37;32PM.JPG

Wow.  There are bad comic books, and then there are astonishingly, bizarrely bad comic books, like this one.  Marz, despite his fine work recently on Samurai: Heaven and Earth, has never been accused of being anything more than a hack, and Grindberg, whose art I liked in the past on other things, draws everyone in this comic as if, yes, they were on steroids.  I know this is at the height of the “Image Age” of comics, but this is really bizarre.  I promise pictures of the wackiness!

But let’s assume you’re a first-time comic book reader.  What do you think of this?  On the first page Doctor Strange hovers in mid-air and asked someone threateningly why they have come to his house.  You know it’s Dr. Strange because he says so.  You assume he’s some sort of wizard because he’s hovering and he wears a weird cloak and he has a glowing yellow eye in the middle of his forehead.  You’re quick to pick up on things like that!  So far, so good.  Someone is threatening a wizard, who reacts in a menacing manner.

                03-10-2007 08;38;40PM.JPG

But you turn the page and a bulky silver guy is standing there.  He tells Strange that “Wong” let him in, and then Strange says he’s welcome in his house any time.  WTF?  Why on earth was Strange so menacing on page one?  Could it be … ‘roid rage?  He calls the man “Surfer,” and since you’ve been paying attention to the commercials for the new Fantastic Four movie (Jessica Alba is H-A-W-T!), you realize it’s the Silver Surfer.  But isn’t the Silver Surfer kind of sleek and not all bulked up?  And the two of them are friends.  Cool.  Strange’s demeanor is still weird.  The Surfer tells Strange that he’s just passing through, because he business to attend to.  Strange asks him if he can help, and the Surfer tells him his story: Nebula, who claimed to be the “spawn of Thanos” and stole the Infinity Gauntlet away from him, has come out of her catatonia and escaped her imprisonment.  The recap is done on one page, with many footnotes, and actually does a decent job of bringing new readers up to date.  The only problem is we’re not sure who Thanos is or what the Infinity Gauntlet is, but we can assume that Thanos is a bad guy and the Gauntlet is some kind of powerful weapon.  The Surfer tells Strange that he has found Nebula raising an army on Phobos, the moon of Mars, and she’s planning to attack Titan for revenge for her imprisonment.  Strange mentioned she was imprisoned on Titan, but we’re not told who lives there.  I guess we’re supposed to know!  Strange says he’s willing to help, but the Surfer tells him no.  Why?  Well, when Nebula fought Earth’s heroes in the Infinity conflict, she gained an awareness of anyone she fought, and therefore, she can’t be stopped by anyone she’s ever met, including Dr. Strange and any of the big-time heroes of the Marvel U.  Strange tells “Norrin Radd” – and we assume that’s the Surfer’s actual name (no, his mother didn’t name him Silver Surfer) – that he can help with that.  After a little while, he produces … Thunderstrike and War Machine.  Wow.

                                    03-10-2007 08;40;20PM.JPG

              Grindberg studied at the Rob Liefeld School of Anatomy!

The best thing about this comic is that a first-time reader wouldn’t have to know anything about these two losers, because they hadn’t been around for a while as heroes.  They’re perfect to fight Nebula!  Strange gets the funniest line in the book when he tells the Surfer, “Almost nobody recognizes them … least of all Nebula.”  And he says that while they’re standing right there!  The master of the mystic arts has some brass ones, I’ll tell you that much.  They don’t even bother to be offended, either – it’s as if they shrug and say, “Yeah, we suck.  That’s the way it is.”  Of course, much like the Surfer, they’re on steroids too:

Story continues below

               03-10-2007 08;41;31PM.JPG 03-10-2007 08;42;35PM.JPG

Why are they all standing like that?  Is it because their man-parts are so gigantic that they need to give them some room?  Moving on, War Machine says that fighting Nebula and her intergalactic army of thugs will give him “a chance to work out the kinks in this suit anyway.”  Yeah, that fills me with confidence!  Thunderstrike as well is not worried, because the three of them will win easily.  Wouldn’t Nebula know who the Surfer is, and therefore he shouldn’t go along?  This is not addressed, much to the Surfer’s chagrin later.  There’s ass-kicking to be done!

                             03-10-2007 08;44;36PM.JPG

Strange casts a groovy spell and teleports the three of them to Phobos, right into the middle of the punks Nebula has gathered around her.  The Surfer leaves them to “subdue this rabble” and goes to find Nebula, which is hunky-dory with Thunderstrike and War Machine.  When you’re all ‘roided up, you just need to hit someone!  The Surfer flies off but is quickly knocked out of action by a “synaptic disruptor,” which renders him helpless.  Now who’s overconfident, Norrin Radd????

               03-10-2007 08;45;57PM.JPG

Meanwhile, Thunderstrike and War Machine are bonding as they bash heads.  Because that’s what manly men do!  War Machine says he doesn’t listen to Iron Man comparisons, because he just tries to do the best he can.  They fight some more, finishing off the peons, and then fly away to follow the Surfer.  War Machine mentions that they’re in an “artificial atmosphere envelope,” which is good to know, because it bugged me how they were able to breathe, and then they arrive where Nebula’s ship is, where they find the Surfer shackled to a big slab of metal.  Nebula laughs at them both, and tells them the Surfer is strapped to a fusion-reaction bomb, which he’s going to ride “all the way down to Titan.”  Wow – Saturn is quite far away from Mars, but I guess interplanetary distances mean nothing to Nebula!  Thunderstrike asks her if she thinks they’re going to let her get away with it, and she says she expects them to stand there and be killed.  She introduces her misshapen lieutenants, Kurg and Kruk (not, unfortunately, this one).  She has had their nerve ending cauterized so they feel no pain.  Oh, there’s going to be a beatdown!

                       03-10-2007 08;47;48PM.JPG

This is a marvelously crappy comic book.  The art is awful, the story is dull, and for the purposes of this column, it does an awful job explaining why we should care or come back for more.  We never learn the nature of our heroes’ powers, except that we know Dr. Strange is some sort of sorceror.  War Machine has super-armor, and Thunderstrike has a big hammer, but we don’t even learn their real names, nor why the Surfer is silver, what his powers are, or why he, you know, rides a surfboard.  We’re just thrown into a pretty boring fight far from Earth to stop someone who wants to blow up a moon.  As I pointed out, we have no idea why Nebula hates Titan so much (I know, but a first-time reader wouldn’t).  So why should these heroes care if a crazed alien wants to blow up a moon?

                03-10-2007 08;49;19PM.JPG

What is particularly egregious for someone who knows these characters is the fact that they’re NOT Iron Man and Thor, with their decades of back story.  Marz could have easily given us a bit of information about War Machine and Thunderstrike (I don’t even know if it’s Jim Rhodes inside the armor in this comic) without breaking up the flow of the issue too much.  But we don’t even get that.

                 03-10-2007 08;50;41PM.JPG

  Wait a minute: did Wong just walk backward between panels?  What the hell?

Blech.  This is fun to look at and wonder how comics even survived 1993, but other than that, it’s just crappy.  It doesn’t make us want to come back and find out what happens.  And that’s what comics are supposed to do, right?


Jesus H. Christ…

Good grief! Silver Surfer needs to lay off the carbs.

That looks like the degenerate offspring of Mike Mignola and Rob Liefeld.

I like the fact Thunderstrike AND War Machine team up. Was US Agent busy?

That’s the worst Silver Surfer I’ve ever seen. And I’m counting the version I drew when I was eight. It’s like… gah, did the guy even LOOK at a previous SS comic?

Zounds, that is crappy!

However, I don’t see how this book is very Image- or Liefeld-like except for the dodgy anatomy and typically horrific storytelling skills. To me, it looks as if the “artists” (god I hate that word in some contexts) were copying Mignola.

I agree with the Mignola comparison. I was thinking that too.
However, I think the think lines is kind of an interesting look. It isn’t pulled off terribly well but some of the panels look kind of interesting.


This is the only issue of Secret Defenders I own. I probably got it for Thunderstrike (he’s awesome), or it was in some three-pack or something. It wasn’t very memorable.

Kneel Before Zod

March 10, 2007 at 11:16 pm

Marz is a hack? Come on now. Harsh words.

Everybody is walking like John Wayne :(

That is the WORST Surfer I have ever seen. How can someone get such a simple character, possibly the easiest to draw character in all of comics, SO WRONG?

Jeez, that’s horrible.

I’m curious if the visual suckage was editorially-driven. It’s clear to me that Grindberg has/had a healthy respect for Mignola (as others have said), plus P. Craig Russell and Jack Kirby, maybe even Steranko.

Wow a hack? Way to be insulting jeez.

Grindberg probably was copying Mignola, but I meant “Image” in the awful anatomical sense and ‘roided-up physiques. Mignola does not often put muscles on top of muscles, which are already on top of muscles.

I stopped buying Secret Defenders at issue 5. I’m kicking myself now.

Wow, Thunderstrike. Blast from the past right there.

Used to be my character back in the day (dating back to when he was Eric Masterson: The Mightily Incompetant Thor. It really was a fantastic concept.)

I remember reading somewhere that they canceled Thunderstrike (and killed him off) because it was selling better than (and taking attention away from) the main Thor book; I think the same article mentioned that, at the time it was cancelled, Thunderstrike was outselling Thor and the main Avengers book combined. Is that BS, or am I remembering correctly?

Young man, I grew up on 70’s comics. I knew the Defenders, I admired the Defenders, and this, sir, is no Defenders.

…seriously, I have no idea how the hell Marvel made it out of the early 90’s either. Certainly not on merit. I remember Tom Grindberg as actually being a pretty fair superhero artist, but he’s usually channeling Neal Adams. This is just plain weird.

I do find myself wondering, just as an intellectual exercise, what the book would have been like if Steve Gerber had been writing it. Thunderstrike and War Machine are both great candidates for the classic “misfit outcast B-lister” Defenders treatment.

I think I figured out why all the characters are so bow-legged.

They’re sore from when this comic screwed them from behind.

Whomever perpetrated that art fully deserves the label ‘hack’, for their own edification if nothing else. It looks like it was drawn by someone whose emotional and intellectual relationship with comics – or, I’m tempted to add, anything else – was stunted back around age 13.

This is the kind of badness that I find really offensive – the kind that completely ruins the experience of the book.

Greg, while I don’t doubt for an instant that this was a bad comic, I think you tend to overestimate a tad about what new readers will be confused by. “Big hammer” and “super armor” pretty well sum up everything we need to know about those two characters in this instance, especially for a team-up comic. Not knowing that War Machine used to be Iron Man’s bodyguard or that the Surfer used to work for a big purple man really has no bearing on such a straightforward “beat up generic bad guys” story.


That’s a good point, Sean, but Marz doesn’t even give us a bit about why Thunderstrike swinging a big hammer makes him a superhero, as opposed to if I swung the damned thing. That’s all I want!

Ron Marz a hack? C’mon now.

This comic may have sucked by Ron Marz > You.

I think that’s what the ‘roid physique is for.

What it’s doing on the Surfer, now, I have no idea. When I first glanced over that third panel I seriously thought he was going to tell Dr.Strange that he couldn’t go himself, on account of someone had magicked him into the Michelin Man.

Not to take away from your point Greg, but if you could swing the hammer, WOULDN’T you be a super hero? :)


You know more I look at it I see more Kelley Jones in his anatomy then Rob Liefeld. He’s more of Kelley Jones/Mike Mignola hybrid. There’s actually some decent drawing in those panels. The anatomy and postures are horrible but the shadows and line work are pretty decent. He’s got some interesting compositions.

The art kind of reminds me of a vastly more terrible Scioli.

Yeah, Marz is in no way a hack. He’s one guy who, when put on a DC or Marvel title, will get me to try at least one issue, no matter what, and there’s only a handful of those out there.

In fact, if you go a few issues later, you’ve got the fun villains issues of Secret Defenders that he wrote.

Of course, if you keep going, we get the Brevoort penned issues, and we don’t like talking about those.

“War Machine has super-armor, and Thunderstrike has a big hammer”

No he doesn’t, he has a big mace. Come on, guys!

“I remember reading somewhere that they canceled Thunderstrike (and killed him off) because it was selling better than (and taking attention away from) the main Thor book; I think the same article mentioned that, at the time it was cancelled, Thunderstrike was outselling Thor and the main Avengers book combined. Is that BS, or am I remembering correctly?”

Jesse, I got into Thunderstrike for the same reason you did, and I have all of his guest appearances somewhere, including this one. I ever got the short-lived ‘Blackwulf’ series which spun out of it. I have definitely read the same thing you did, however it should be grain-of-salted, because Tom DeFalco was the one who came up with Thunderstrike, and Tom DeFalco is the one who was saying that it sold better. [He also said ‘War Machine’ sold better than ‘Iron Man’, I believe.] I’ve never seen that said by anybody besides DeFalco, so I don’t know what to think of it. [Perhaps it would be a good Urban Legend to explore?]

I don’t know if Thunderstrike was ever great, but Eric Masteron was a great character, Marvel used him really well. I liked him better as Thor, but Thunderstrike was some good stuff.


March 12, 2007 at 8:58 am

While I hated the overall art on this issue (yes, I own it… I have the whole run, dammit) I DID really like the initial spread of Doctor Strange & his “sorcerous environment” as well as many of Grindberg’s “magic spell shots”.

(Those images not shown completely in this post)

Grindberg made some weirdo choices with this, but those initial pages weren’t *too* bad.
(as long as you ignore the gross anatomy)

As for the rest, GAH!

It doesn’t help that the whole things seems to have been inked by a thick “Sharpieâ„¢” marker.

I don’t blame Grindberg (much), however.
He was usually fairly sturdy in the art dept.

Around this time Marvel was forcing MANY artists to “ape” Image style (and other popular / selling) art.

If you recall, it was around this time that HERB TRIMPE was doing Leifeld riffs on Fantastic Four annuals and such.
Poor guy could draw rings around the young guns, and they wouldn’t give him ANY work unless he copied Liefeld.

And then… they shit-canned him.
For shame, Marvel.

But, I must agree with your assessment to this comic and it’s “gateway” accessibility (or lack thereof).




March 12, 2007 at 9:01 am

As far as the Thunderstrike sold better than Thor and Avengers combined thing…

I’m pretty sure it was already addressed in the Urban Legends” column here several months back.

Sadly, I don’t recall it’s veracity.

Anyone else recall / want to check?



March 12, 2007 at 9:04 am

Nevermind… it was pretty easy to find.
Took all of 3 minutes.



Thanks Sanct. It always seemed doubtful to me. I’d like to hear what he meant (perhaps he was saying “It’s #144, but they always sell out, while ‘Avengers’ and ‘Thor’ wind up in the quarter bins; or maybe he meant the final issue sold really well? I doubt that…), but I doubt that’ll ever happen.

And they *really* tried to push Thunderstrike too; he guest starred a lot compared to other fledgling heroes at the time.

As bad as this comic is for a first-time reader (and it’s pretty bad, I agree with all the criticism of the art), it’s just as bad for a long-time reader. Eric Masterson was impersonating Thor during the Infinity Gauntlet – he has some of the funniest thought balloons in the series, like someone tells him such-and-such hero died and he thinks “I guess Thor knew that hero, I better say something nice.” Then he says “A noble warrior, he shalt be missed!” and thinks “Hope they bought that.” The point is, it defeats the whole concept of the story. Send Thunderstrike against Nebula because she’s never faced him before! Actually, she has. La-a-a-a-a-ame.

Great column! This one’s going on my list of comics to review. >:D

“This comic may have sucked by Ron Marz > You.”

Doesn’t matter. He’s a reviewer, not a competitor.

I like the fact Thunderstrike AND War Machine team up. Was US Agent busy?

Jesus, I can remember this*, but I still can’t remember my parents’ anniversary.
I am so pathetic.

*Probably because it put the kibosh on the super-awesome The Revengers proposal I worked up when I was 12.
Still, pathetic.

This book looks so bad, it must be great.

If I had this book, I would blank out all the text, send 1 page to a different person, have them re add text, then assemble the book again. — I want to read the version.

I caught this topic and I am glad to see that people still remember the book! I have my own opinion on this issue and the entire book as well on my blog. Comiculture.com

As a Marvel hack from the same era I have nothing but sympathy for Tom Grindberg, who was probably just trying to find a style that would get him some play in a difficult and baffling marketplace. It hurts to see him tagged with the dreaded “L” word–Leifeld–because the guy can draw like a son of a bitch. He once did a Werewolf By Night story that was downright EC-worthy. I quick look at his website will reveal that he’s steeped in the work of the giants like Frazetta and Adams, even if he never quite found a style all his own.

thanks for the nice comments.. keep those cards an letters coming true believers!!!

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