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CSBG Archive

Friday Among the Missing

I was asked this week if there was something that we used to have in comics that’s gone now, something I still missed.

Of course, it’s absurdly easy to snark off at a question like that. So let’s say for purposes of discussion that someone already said “good stories” and “the real DC” and “books that ship on time” and all of that stuff, so there’s no need to jump into the comments section with any of those. Take a minute to really think about it.

Because, if I’m honest with myself, there’s so much available to us today that there’s no reason to miss anything. It’s all back in print, for the most part, somewhere. Even the oddball, short-run stuff.

And the rare series or character that has somehow missed getting a book collection of some kind can be easily had digitally, or through online back issue dealers.

Nevertheless, there are things we used to have that we don’t have today, and sometimes I wish we could have gotten a little more. Mostly they’re the ones that are impossible… like more John Buscema Tarzan comics, or a Lone Ranger series from Doug Wildey and Joe Kubert, or other similar daydreams.

But missing departed creators is too easy, too. Who wouldn’t love to have more from Mike Wieringo or Jim Aparo or John Severin? Everyone misses those guys.

Honestly, though? There’s a Marvel comic that went away back in September of 1976, and I miss it to this day. It frustrates me because it would be so easy to bring back; I can think of all sorts of comics talent who could really do justice to a revival.

I’m talking about The Defenders.

Now, when I say that, I mean the real Defenders. Not the New, not the Secret, not the Last, none of the revivals. Some of those have been good… but they’re not the Defenders. No, no, no.


When I say the “real” Defenders, I mean the group that consisted of Dr. Strange, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and the Hulk… and whoever else happened to drop by that day.

Now, again, you could accuse me of pining for the work of a creator that’s no longer with us. And it’s certainly true that I am sad that we won’t be getting any more Steve Gerber comics. (Especially his Dr. Fate revival, which was really turning into something cool.) But I do think it’s possible to still do Defenders comics in that style. No, really.

Because everyone who talks about how great that run of stories was misses the point.

Sure, it was weird and subversive and satirical. Seriously weird.

But that wasn’t the great thing about it.

The great thing, which was actually kickstarted by Gerber’s predecessor on the book, Len Wein, was that these were essentially friendless people who were learning how to be friends.

That’s the hook you hang it on. Not the ‘non-team,’ not the weirdness, none of the rest of that crap. The reason that version of the Defenders was so great was because we got to see the friendships form and build and deepen. More often than not, the story’s launching pad was simple– one of the others would show up at Dr. Strange’s house with a problem. Often finding the others there, just hanging out.

That’s why Gerber could get away with the other craziness. Because we absolutely believed in these people. They acted like… well, real people. Real people, that is, who were weird and nerdy and hung out together all the time because they were too damaged to hang out with anyone else.

That was what I loved about the Defenders. They were a distorted superheroic reflection of my own nerd posse in high school back then. Strange was the smart kid that knew a lot of weird stuff, Val was the tomboy that the guys kind of crushed on but also thought maybe was a lesbian, Nighthawk was the emotionally-crippled rich kid, and Hulk was the big dumb kid with anger-management problems. But they were all outcasts. And Wein, and later Gerber, made them all so wonderfully awkward, and yet still endearing.

The Hulk, as portrayed in The Defenders, was especially delightful. Banner was smart and competent and not at all whiny…

…and the Hulk was a big dumb short-tempered kid that didn’t know his own strength.


Nevertheless, as obviously screwed-up as all of them were, they learned to be friends. And as new characters came into the book like Luke Cage or the Red Guardian, they gradually got adopted into this family of weirdos too, and often would show up just to be supportive.

It was a great ride, from around #14 to #41, and it carried me through a big chunk of junior high and high school.

But it wasn’t to last. Suddenly, in #42, Gerry Conway showed up and systematically destroyed everything that was working on the title, infusing a bunch of plain old superhero fight crap.

There were good stories that came after– I’m sure someone’s going to mention David Kraft and Keith Giffen’s “Who Remembers Scorpio?”– but from #42 on, everyone pretty much abandoned the idea that had been the running theme, the idea of outcasts finding friendship, and no one’s tried it with a Defenders book since.

Now, I think you could revive that concept and make it work. In fact, other books have done it– Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol springs to mind. Hell, other super-team books at Marvel have been doing it. Avengers Academy, particularly, but you also could sort of see that idea in Dan Slott’s Mighty Avengers and even in the first run of Bendis’s New Avengers.

But I’d love to see someone try that approach again with the actual Defenders. Doc and Hulk and Val at least, with a couple of more modern players to be named later. Outcast heroes hanging around with Dr. Strange in Greenwich Village, occasionally going off to fight supercrime because it’s better than another night at home alone. In fact, given what he did on Avengers Academy, I think Christos Gage would write the hell out of a book like that.

Anyway, that’s what I miss.

See you next week.

36 Comments

I miss cooperation between Marvel and DC. There was a time when they had a playful rivalry, ribbing each other in their news columns and their comedy issues and frequently collaborating, either through something minor like the Crusaders appearances, or something major like JLA/Avengers. But that time has passed, and now it seems like they refuse to even acknowledge the other exists.

One of the first comics I ever read was Marvel Vs. DC, and it wasn’t perfect by any means, but a lot of it was very clever and it was exactly what a seven-year-old wanted in a comic. In a perfect world there would be new Amalgam issues every five years or so that continue to show what it was all about in the first place: at the end of the day, there’s not much difference between the two companies. But that would require them to have fun, which we all know they’re particularly bad at nowadays (with a few exceptions).

I only started regularly reading Defenders well after this time (I think the first issue I pulled off the spinner racks was numbered somewhere in the late 60s) and I liked it well enough, but then not long after that an older fan let me borrow a bunch of his comics over a particularly great summer, which included a big chunk of early Defenders. So I read a few of the Wein issues, the Gerber run and yes, the Scorpio story (which I have to say I still like). However, I totally agree with you about Gerber’s run. It just had that something special that’s never really been duplicated. Also glad you mentioned Luke Cage and the Red Guardian (Tania Belinsky). I thought it was really interesting that Gerber had them strike up a friendship and engage in political discussions on the relative merits and drawbacks of Western and Soviet society, which never seemed forced or preachy – just like two normal people talking.
I know this material has been reprinted in Essentials, and parts of it are reprinted elsewhere, like in those recent Guardians of the Galaxy collections, but I think it’s unfortunate (and almost criminal to be honest) that there’s no omnibus of Gerber’s run on Defenders. It’s really one of the best runs of any series in the ’70s, and deserves a prestigious reprint format.

And somewhat parenthetically, since you mentioned John Buscema on Tarzan up there, I would love an omnibus type book, like the recent John Carter volume, collecting all of Marvel’s Tarzan. Buscema did my favorite comic version of Tarzan (yep, like it better than Manning or Kubert), with kid brother Sal coming in a close second.

I miss the sense of a single Marvel world. I don’t mean crossovers, but the cameos and single page or panel references to events in other titles – all those little nods that creators would do, on their own or at the behest of the editor, to show that the Marvel books were all happening in the same world. It was great to see Misty Knight and Colleen Wing meet Spider-man and mention the case they were working on, or see winter weather in a bunch of books because of the Casket of Ancient Winters opening. I liked that when Phoenix did something spectacular in an X-men book, you’d get reaction shots from characters like Dr. Strange, Moondragon and Agatha Harkness

Even though it was largely done for cross-selling purposes, I loved it. In my mind, the writers and artists enjoyed contributing to this sense of one world. I feel like there’s nothing out there with that sense now. Marvel and DC don’t do the little connections anymore, just the big crossovers. Invincible, Astounding Wolf-Man and Brit did a little bit of it but it wasn’t the same sort of thing.

The other thing I miss is the moments of downtime for the characters. When was the last time we saw some of the Avengers go to a restaurant or show? I think it was during Kurt Busiek’s excellent run. When did the X-Men last play baseball? Was it while Chris Claremont was writing the book or did Scott Lobdell include some such scenes? Was the Thing’s last poker game in the Dan Slott book? Have any of the Legion of Super-Heroes gone on a date since the threeboot? You get it in some of the solo books, but not really in the team books.

These short scenes (usually just a couple of panels, maybe a couple of pages) had a lot of character work and world-building. They also gave a nice sense of time passing between adventures and crises.

I miss that. I don’t think whole issues need to be devoted to downtime (although in some cases, those were great issues), but I don’t feel like there’s ever downtime in team books. Perhaps I’m wrong and I’m just missing it by not reading the right books!

Don’t forget that Gerber’s run doesn’t conclude in Defenders 41, the story from the previous issues continues into Defenders Annual 1 that wraps up the hanging plot threads.

I read some of these in B&W Marvel UK reprints as a kid and they’re fabulous. Seriously one of the best comic runs. I’ve got all the issues now in Essential Defenders but this run needs a proper colour trade collection! 14-21 are in Marvel Masterworks: The Defenders 3 so I’m guessing most of the rest will be in volume 4 whenever that turns up.

Greg: how did you get through the article without mentioning the Headmen?

The Ghost Of Carl Sagan

August 17, 2013 at 1:45 am

MEN KILLED BAMBI’S MOTHER!!
Oh god my sides.

Greg: how did you get through the article without mentioning the Headmen?

No one loves the Headmen– or the Bozo cult, or the elf with a gun, or any of the rest of that stuff– more than me, but the weirdness isn’t the point. I was deliberately not emphasizing that. I don’t think you need the weirdness to write a good DEFENDERS book. You need the offbeat friendships… like, say, the cerebral Dr. Strange and the childlike Hulk, which is why I picked up my first copy of the book in the first place, long ago. I had to see what the hell that was all about.

Seconded on missing the little nods to the rest of Marvel’s New York. I used to think it was cool when something happened on X Factor that meant there was a power cut in the same month’s ASM. It wasn’t just a cross-promotion thing, it really made it seem like everything was happening in the same world. I guess that’s the thing I like most about Astro City.

I read all those back in the day, as the idea developed. So I say: bring back the Titans Three!

Tom Fitzpatrick

August 17, 2013 at 5:21 am

I miss those letter pages that Marvel used to run.

I forget when the last time Marvel had them instead of ads at the back of the book.

Also, I miss original creators not finishing their own storylines. (ie. Jim Starlin – Metamorphosis Odyssey, Warren Ellis – Desolation Jones, etc.)

I miss the days when we had one consistent history fo a character, instead of constant reboots and alternate worlds’ versions timeline changes and the hot writer of the moment’s “take” on iconic characters. Hard to keep things straight when today’s Flash is not the Flash of two years ago, and is likely to be rebooted at any moment. While continuity could be taken to extremes, I think it was a selling point for new fans who were interested in the back story of whatever new hero they’d discovered.

I liked Gerber’s Defenders run but did not appreciate it at at the time I was reading it, as much as i do now. The run from the Sons of the Serpents on and the tie ins to the Giant Size issues are amazing. Seeds of a plotline start in one but continue into other issues. But they were one in such a way I never felt lost. I guess if I “miss” anything it is the self contained nature of stories. Each issue of titles could be understood on its own but there were loose ends that made you come back.

I think one of the things that I miss the most…is the downtime between stories. Nowadays, it is all-crossovers, all the time, and the end of each storyline leads directly into the next. There is never any time to just relax for an issue or two, and do some character building.

Remember when Wolverine and Nightcrawler would go pub-crawling? Or the JLI would have a picnic? Heck, Hal, Carol and Tom went surfing once! I enjoy a good kick to the face as much as any woman, but I have to admit that I also enjoy seeing my heroes do something other than fight for a change.

FourDollarsForAComicIsTooEXPENSIVE

August 17, 2013 at 8:07 am

@Chad Walters: Its not just with DC and Marvel refusing to acknowledge that the other exists -its basic early 21st century American culture. I have worked in I.T. support at Microsoft, Honeywell, Ford, Citizens Bank, and consulting at other small companies in Atlanta, and Phoenix, and Seattle, and Ann Arbor, and it is the same every where in this disenfranchised placed ruled by conglomerates of Multi-National Corporations that now make up the former-USA. Most people do not want to acknowledge that fact, and instead are obsessed with trying to figure out which co-worker is “liberal” or “conservative”, and then act subversive and abusive toward others different from themselves. The former-USA is a place where this new breed called “Generation Snitch” now feel empowered and enable to tell police or security guards about people they merely feel uncomfortable about, where people are rating each other like rats in a sinking ship -like on a reality show, no sense of cooperation, tolerance or sense of respect/learning/teaching others, and this former-USA is where the “Generation Snitch” mentality now can tell your boss or human resources destructive criticism about co-workers w/out providing proof/witnesses/substantial data and you can then get fired for basically no real reason (so then boom: no cell phone payments, no car payments, no gasoline, no food, no rent…). Chad, when a people give up their democracy (no one knows what congressional district they live in, what gerrymandering means or what it has to do with data mining and predictive analytics, who makes up their local legislature, or what the WTO is) then all that is left if profit and cost savings and brand identity and spending, and marketing people to follow impulses to spend instead of learn how to think.

You want your comics back, then EVERY ONE: Wake up! Start Creating Your OWN COMICS!!! Relying on muliti-national corporate behmoths (think about it! MULTI-NATIONAL means more-than-one-nation = although the people running these companies may be ‘from’ thge USA, they could care less about what Americans think as much as they could care about what Indians or Chinese or anyone thinks = they are profit / cost savings over people/health/family/quality; the mass consumption of plastic (in the form of merchandising) -is the main source of profit. We do not matter -taking advantage of years (decades now since the TV has been invented) of turning Americans into impulsive shopping “consumers” is what matters. Think about it: YOU FOOLS PAY OVER $2.50 for a comic book while the value of the dollar (our purchasing power) diminishes each year while the price of gas increases, interest rates go up, and products/services are made to break down and take our money (instead of made to work and last).

FourDollarsForAComicIsTooEXPENSIVE

August 17, 2013 at 8:36 am

@ Derek Handley:
The world is run by profit/cost savings over people… -what you are talking about would involve writing stories with quality characterization, which involves also characters cooperating, tolerating and enjoying each others’ company >which is sacrilege now. Early 21st century culture is about bigotry and subversive/abusive behaviors, to have no backbone, be all about obsessing on who is “liberal”/”conservative”, what pop culture niche are you into, sports franchises, brand identity (so if someone is not into the same brands as you, you have to either be passive aggressive -like in Seattle- talk bad about that person behind their back and avoid eye contact, facial expressions/acknowledgements, and especially speaking to that person, OR be assertive and let that person know to their face that you think they are less than you in some way -like how I was attacked on the lite-rail here in Phoenix last April just because my red hair, thin build, and fair skin apparently makes me ‘gay’ and a legit target since the security guard did nothing and were amused by my misfortune of having to be in Phoenix).

To show people being friends and getting along would undermine keeping us at each others’ throats so we cant organize to do anything constructive about the price of gas increaing, and our purchasing power diminishing as jobs are out-sourced. Even though no one had read Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” we are all apparently experts on ‘Survival of the Fittest’, and enjoy the misfortune of others while we only know how to associate with others like us, and shun and attack and be subversive toward those that are different: 21st century’s GENERATION SNITCH in effect.

I miss done-in-one comics, especially those that told dense stories with a ton of panels per page. The last reliable superhero comics to do this were the excellent ones that tied into the DCAU, which segues nicely into:

I enjoyed the DCAU homage to the Defenders, “The Terror Beyond”, which mirrored an early incarnation of the group: Namor/ Aquaman, Dr. Strange/Dr. Fate, Hulk/Grundy, Hawkgirl/Valkerie-Nighthawk

@FourDollars- you make some good points

The problem with bringing back the Defenders is that most of the cast is no longer an outsider. Doc, DD, Val, and Luke have joined the Avengers, Namor has joined the X-Men, Hulk has Skaar et al.

have to agree marvel is missing out on not reviving the original defenders. for loved how four of the most powerful characters in the marvel universe three of them the most arrogant . namely doctor strange, namor and silver surfer. wound up teaming up with the hulk. and later night hawk which was the one thing that started killing the book. not to mention the defenders were the only comic where one could find hulk going they killed bambies mother , and characters of all things headman, and an elf with a gun. plus the whole craziness of Valkerie sharing a body with another woman and was powerless in front of another lady, plus also the only marvel team that had to form due to a curse

My favorite character was Jack Norris, Barbara’s husband before she became Valkyrie. He was a normal guy surrounded by all these extraordinary characters, but all he wanted was his wife back. Whatever happened to him?

I think it’s telling that Marvel decided to launch a Guardians Of The Galaxy film rather than the Defenders. In an ideal world the low key long term character based storytelling of the early Defenders would be more suited to a TV series rather than a cinema outing, shame that the budget required to make it work means we’re unlikely to see it.

With the combination of the sales failure of Fraction’s revival (and the current Fearless Defenders not doing too well as far as I can see) and the fact that they don’t have the word ‘Avengers’ in the team name I fear we’ll not be seeing them for a while.

I was lucky to read a boxload of Gerber’s Defenders given to me as a kid. Looking back, I’ve described it to others as being where both Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL and Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE sprang from. Despite hen I finally read the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire DEFENDERS book recently, I was struck how the biggest problem with it was the sense of humour seemed off for the title. I sort of wish they went broader in humour, as much of the silliness in Gerber’s run was more funnier because it was being presented in a tongue-in-cheek tone of deadly serious Marvel sturn und drang.

I’d argue that Who Remembers Scorpio? is the only great post-Gerber story. Giffen draws the hell out of the battle royale with the Zodiac in #50. One of my all time favourite superhero slugfests.

Also, FourDollarsForAComicIsTooEXPENSIVE says a lot of things I agree with.

It also helps that both the protagonists and antagonists were folks who were sort of trying to make it in a world gone mad, a place that seemed psychologically hostile. The Defenders under Gerber had to deal with a screwed-up social and institutional context, as we see in stories like Val’s prison stay, the readiness of people to buy into the Bozo movement, even the success of Ruby Thursday’s pseudo-fascist Presidential campaign, and the racism and greed behind the Sons of the Serpent and the slumlords in that arc.

Rather neatly, the Defenders tend to have to figure out their own complicities along the way, and find ways to pursue their ideas without belonging to the institutions that claim to represent those beliefs and values. In very different ways, for example, the mastermind behind the Serpents requires both Nighthawk and Luke Cage to reexamine their self-identifications and cultural/institutional affiliations.

Gerber’s original creation in the run, the Red Guardian, Tania, is an especially extreme example of this element: a believer in Communism who realizes she has to work outside the state, and who (in issue #40) is confronted with the complicity in anti-Semitism and oppression through the high status she enjoys as a civilian. (Younger and less-knowledgeable readers might not grasp why it’s important that the leader of the “free emigration” group in that story is named Mrs. Rozenzweig.) And then, of course, there’s Valkyrie, coming to cope with the past sins in the life of a woman she literally isn’t anymore.

And the antagonists come across as people who haven’t learned that personal bonds can replace those damaged institutions, and have to. That’s what motivates the Headmen, a bunch of people who think they can rationalize away the madness; Nebulon, who thinks he can impose a “good” conformity; the Sons of the Serpent, who try to identify a scapegoat and wipe it out; and even poor Alvin and Celestia Denton, who in different ways end up trying to replace a reality they can’t stand with a fantasy they can, but never engage in the self-reflection required. Heck, even an incidental villain in the run like Egghead is played less as a mastermind — which is how he’s used in Conway’s run — and more as a petty man with a sick idea of his bond with his niece. (His idea of parity is to merely blow off her arm, rather than killing her for betraying him.)

That niece, Trish Starr, stands with Jack Norris as one of the most interesting characters, a civilian who suffers real trauma due to all the super-madness of the world they find themselves thrust into, but both of whom manage in the end to find new strengths in themselves and new relationships to others that pull them through. It’s worth noting that Trish falls under Shazana’s sway when she gets bored and moves away, emotionally, from the commune she’s in; and that Shazana’s trap for the Defenders is a cage that literally binds their lives together. Of course that fails; it’s playing right to the team’s true strength. There’s a reason Gerber uses that seeming throwaway story to end his run, one that arguably looks weaker than what goes before only because it’s a bit too direct in its imagery.

Part of why the Scorpio storyline is so beloved is that Jake Fury is trying his damnedest to give himself what the Defenders find in each other, but he’s so lost that he imagines he can just manufacture the perfect friends and lover with whom he can have those conversations about the world. Naturally, he does his job too well, and creates nearly a dozen quirky types who make their own way; it’s the androids’ success that causes some of them to betray him and his scheme to fall to ruin, all while Jake fails to appreciate the genuine affection of his (simulated) brother, who’s there the whole time.

That’s what writers since Gerber have tended to screw up: the Defenders is about the friendless and the damaged finding a better way of relating and living than the institutional and mass-produced models of relationships prescribed by the rest of the world. The villains work best when they remind the readers the these are often the very institutions and models that left them damaged and outcast to begin with.

I miss the DCAU.

DC Comics had spent forty years trying to implement the lessons of the early Marvels in their universe. It was a long, long process of two steps forward (i.e. Perez on Wonder Woman, Byrne on Superman) and one step back (i.e. the post-COIE Legion). However, they never put it all together until the debut of the animated Justice League.

It amazes me that they wanted to tinker with the core of it to please the comics folks in their animated movies.

I miss superhero friendships in general. I think the only real series that has one going on right now is World’s Finest. I remember stuff like JLI, where you had the classic Ted and Booster bromance, and Fire and Ice. The as recently as Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman, you had those two characters actually portrayed as longtime friends instead of the constant mistrust that pervades the current DCU.

It was fun to see characters like Bule Beetle and Booster Gold go over to Mr Miracle’s house just to watch a football game. Now, we don’t get any of that. That whole mistrust thing DC’s been getting mileage out of even got picked up by the X-Men books for a while in the past few years, where you had X-Men finding out about X-Force. For the longest time Wolverine and Nightcrawler were best friends, and then the whole thing comes down during Second Coming right before Kurt gets killed off to make the story “matter.”

I understand the companies wanting to inject the stories with more realism, but ever since Identity Crisis, it seems like it’s been the at the expense of all of the superhero friendships. I’m not saying everyone needs to be best buds like back in the Silver Age Justice League, but does everyone wearing a mask have to be paranoid about their allies’ motivations and if they’re going to stab them in the back?

@ Tim B
Defenders as a movie would probably be seen as redundant when there is already Avengers. More so with Hulk in Avengers.

As for Guardians getting a film, I do wonder what the story was there. Was it part of Marvel trying to push the cosmic line again? Did Bendis get the GotG book because of the GotG film, or did the GotG film happen in part because Bendis was getting the book? Or did the GotG film come entirely out of the idea of using Thanos in Avengers?

Though dwelling on the film raises more negative questions, like what happens to the plans for Thanos when/if the GotG film tanks? GotG was a bit of a risky sell from the start. Then Peter Gunn was tied to it, which could result in a final product ranging anywhere from decent to awful. Then the casting was revealed, and it started looking iffy (Dave Bautista in a major role?). Most recently, that downright awful trailer got posted online, the one where the *only* decent thing was Rocket Raccoon. Odds are the GotG film is going to be a mess when/if it sees release, and the big question is how much damage it will do to the Marvel film line as a whole.

I seriously miss newsprint. The art had to be clean enough to reproduce well on that stuff, and the colorists and production people had to know their stuff for the story to be readable. When the paper went to glossy coated stock and any fool with Photoshop started thinking he was a colorist, visual clarity went out the window. Also the low cover price made experimental purchases more likely (for odd stuff like Defenders), and our so-called disposable income could go a lot farther. I know that a lot of industry people say that newsprint is too expensive now with big newspapers and phone books being less common now, but I just don’t buy it. If that were true, newspapers would be printed on white glossy stock, and they aren’t. It’s all profit margin, they charge $4 per comic and keep a much bigger share. Also, small novelty companies can’t afford to advertise in comics anymore (1,000 Roman Soldiers!!), it’s all full-page glossy ads for cars, shoes and videogames as you’d see in a standard glossy magazine.

Nice rundown, Omar. I particularly appreciated your remarks about the Scorpio story, which really highlight why – although post-Gerber – it is a worthy follow-up to his run.

Good lord, I love Nighhawk. What a bottomless pit of untapped potential.

J.M. DeMatteis was always my favorite Defenders guy, personally.

I devoured The Defenders during this time and loved everything about it, and your analysis of it is excellent. They were exactly like me and my friends, making them the first superheroes — or portrayals of the more-established heroes — that I could relate to. Because of this, vintage Nighthawk is one of my favorite characters ever.

Kyle Richmond was a man who had made big mistakes, realized it and decided to do better. But the world was always against him. His vision, his plans to make the world a better place, everything he did inevitably fell apart. But he kept trying. He refused to give up. He knew he was right and he was going to do what was right, no matter how futile it could seem, no matter if he found himself paralyzed, no matter how nonsensical and destructive his world could constantly be.

He put a rocket on his back so he could actually launch himself into dangers from which any sane man would have run away. He was determined to make sense out of the chaos. And he knew he could only do it with the help of his friends. And he wanted to do it that way, because that was the right way and the best way. Even if his friends were more screwed-up than he was.

I loved the simple act of his changing his costume to look like the hero he was determined to be, because it reflected that he was a man who believed in himself, and in people, and in what’s right. But all his wealth, his superpowers, his jetpack, and his friends were never enough to allow him to gain more than a temporary foothold against the onslaught of an insane universe. No advantage he had ever solved any of his problems. But he never stopped trying.

They literally don’t make heroes like that Nighthawk anymore, and that’s a shame.

I miss the era before total reboots became the normal. DC had its multiple earths and its entrenched LSH future. Which, btw never meshed perfectly with the past (current) Dc universe. Nobody cared.
Marvel had characters with strong connections to each other. For example: I loved it when I was reading Alpha Flight and Wolverine is mentioned and their connection to him. I had no idea. I thought Alpha Flight was new, whole cloth.
Or another Marvel trait that is lost in Reboot hysteria: Characters are forced to pick sides in a conflict. Because Beast is an X-Men, Defender and Avenger. That was always a great moment of interplay.
I miss the long histories of the characters and never cared about the inconsistencies. So what if Ben Grimm and Reed Richards served in WW2 together and its 2013. Whatever.
Superman has been around since 1938. We get it. No need for a reboot.

I miss superhero friendships in general. I think the only real series that has one going on right now is World’s Finest. I remember stuff like JLI, where you had the classic Ted and Booster bromance, and Fire and Ice. The as recently as Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman, you had those two characters actually portrayed as longtime friends instead of the constant mistrust that pervades the current DCU.

While I hate the constant mistrust of the recent DCU, Jeph Loeb’s stuff was not much better. His was worse because he combined two awful trends: the constant mistrust mixed in with this weird, homoerotic bro-lust the characters had for each other. The other trend besides superheroes constantly mistrusting each other that I hate about modern DC books is heroes constantly praising and worshipping each other like fanboys, and Loeb combined both of these awful extremes in one book, making it feel schizophrenic. Also, throw in that it was poorly plotted and dialogued to boot and I wouldn’t hold that book up as an improvement over ANYTHING.

It amazes me that they wanted to tinker with the core of it to please the comics folks in their animated movies

Even during the end of the original DCAU TV shows they started messing with a good thing in order to please comic fanboys. They started incorporating too many modern DC comic writers, which I thought was a mistake because it began devolving into fanwankery and easter eggs. I was disappointed with the bigger role they kept giving Dwayne McDuffie and did my best to avoid his episodes. He would just try to shoehorn bad modern DCU comic concepts into the show and it hurt it in my opinion. I think the DCAU worked best when they had non-comics writers in charge.

Kurt, that is the coolest tribute to Nighthawk I’ve ever seen.
Omar, very astute, as usual.
I enjoyed Greg and everyone, really. Some topics just rally the grey stuff and the ol’ ticker at the same time.

The off-beat friendships. The kind young comic book fans really have. Just awesome!
By the time you’re an adolescent, you’re learning first hand: it’s friendships versus the impersonality of the system.
Funny how you can read something multiple times in awe, and then one day someone just nails
what made it unique. I didn’t find Gerber until 2009. These issues were my sweet Christmas.

Such natural voices, and especially with the Annual, so many touchstones with the Earth outside your window, erudite and street-smart at once.

Was the Hulk ever more fun? Plus my favorite depiction of Doc, evah!

Relationships really are the first material, the Philosopher’s Stone, of all the magic this world can offer.

Lost in the shuffle a bit was Patsy and Val’s friendship, one of the neatest unexplored parts of later Defenders. The Six Fingered Hand J.M. issues I read on the bus from Cali were angsty but fun and evocative. They made me day dream other layouts and decide “what an awesome cartoon movie.”

Here’s to your inner Bozo :-D
I posted a pastiche of these guys mixed into one of my novels, on my site, starting with “Calinferno!” :-D

Steve Gerber was a guy that should have been more recognized than he was. He created a post-modern superhero team before Grant Morrison. He took a boring swamp monster and turned its stories into a wonderful mix of fantasy, horror, and social commentary before Alan Moore. He used a talking animal for cynical social commentary before Dave Sim. But he was unlucky to have his heyday before the Internet and a little too late for him to be adored by those nostalgic for the Silver Age.

Omar, sharp analysis, as usual.

T. –

I think all the “homoerotic bro-lust” is a kind of cowardice by this point. Creators and companies want to have their cake and eat it too, they want to appeal to the guys and gals that are sympathetic to gays and consume slash fan fiction, but they also don’t want to risk offending the homophobes and social conservatives by having more openly gay or bisexual characters in protagonist roles. So I think this is a kind of compromise.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS went so far with the homoerotic subtext between Xavier and Magneto that I wondered why they couldn’t take the braver step to have the characters actually involved with one another. I think no one in the movie theater would have been surprised to see them kiss, with the huge amount of loving, longing looks that McAvoy and Fassbender gave each other.

Excellent article. I got myself Essential Defenders 2 and 3 some time ago for a cheap price and was very taken by the content, for exactly the greatness you mention, and I remember thinking exactly the same thing: you don’t see team dynamics like these anymore. I loved how Doc Strange and Valkyrie show such true respect to one another. I loved how Nighthawk consults Doc Strange on the issue of reality after his brain was taken out of his body. I loved how everything worked so well in spite of the silly villains and plots, exactly because of the fact that these were all real people having real interactions.

And yes, I was sad that Conway ignored all of that and turned it into a fairly uninteresting team book. BUT I have to say that I felt Kraft carried Gerber’s tone onwards fairly well after Conway’s short stint. To a lesser degree, sure, but I did feel that his issues ‘worked’ again, and because of that I am still interested in getting the following Essential volume(s).

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