Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Essential Defenders: 70s Schizophrenia from Marvel

First, let me state that when I first saw the Essentials line on the shelves way back when (more than 10 years ago now?), my comic book snob alter ego kicked in and I thought that it would be a cold day in hell before I every bought a cheap package of black and white reprints. I was a real back issue snob, and thought that the Essentials format was a travesty.

I eventually came to my sense and realized just how wrong I was. It's a wonderful format for reading a stack of back issues that I've neither the time or money to go about collecting. I won't likely ever buy certain Essential volumes (like Captain America, Howard the Duck or Silver Surfer) since I've already got most of the back issues, or even Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Men as I have deemed those early issues worthy of having in a Masterworks format. For me, the Essentials line is perfect for collecting series that I wouldn't otherwise read. My earliest purchases were Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1 and Ant-Man. I was great fun reading these volumes and I have since picked up more of the Essentials line over the years.

I was given the Essential Defenders for Christmas and I was thrilled to dig into it, since I haven't read any of the earliest issues and I knew that some interesting writers and artists worked on the title. When I was a young comic book reader, the Defenders always got a bad rap simply because they weren't the JLA or the Avengers. My comic book peers didn't seem to realize how it was interesting to see how a group of second-tier heroes interacted and dealt with threats to Earth. I have very fond memories of reading and re-reading the 100th anniversary issue, which made me a fan of the Silver Surfer for life.

I have to admit that I have to give this Volume 1 a fairly mixed reviews, as it comes across (like so many post-1970 Marvel titles) as extremely schizophrenic. Here goes nothing:

The Good
  1. The introduction of Valkyrie really added a lot to the team and the title. Making her a permanent fixture in the Marvel Universe (from her initial temporary existence from Avengers #83) was handled well and was very creative.
  2. The issues featuring the Squadron Sinister (and the Extreme Makeover of Nighthawk) was great, and far superior to the Avengers issues.
  3. The art is consistently good (which is rare for a Marvel book in the 70s). Nice stuff from the Andru/Everett team and just about any of the inkers seems to be a good fit for Sal Buscema's pencils.

The Bad

  1. Part of it is personal, as two of the key members (Dr. Strange and Sub-Mariner) were never my favourite Marvel heroes.
  2. Another aspect of the book (especially the earliest issues), is that they are too full of the mysticism that seemed to be all the rage in Bronze Age Marvel books. All of the interdimensional demon stuff has never been my cup of tea (that's probably why I've never really connected with Dr. Strange.
  3. I could have lived without the pre-Marvel Feature issues. While I realize they explain how the 3 core characters first hooked up - they felt disjointed and really suffered from what I mentioned in #2 above.
  4. After all of the great things I've heard, the Avenger/Defenders war was quite a let down.

The Ugly

  1. The production quality is variable, some of the reprinted pages are quite murky and one of the cover reprints barely fit onto the page. The binding on this volume does, however, hold together better than some of the other Essential books (hello Iron Fist).


MWGallaher said...

I think the pre-Marvel Feature issues were a great bonus. I was onboard the series from Defenders #3* and the mentions in the lettercols about those earlier team-ups made them kind of legendary to me. Yes, the Avengers/Defenders war WAS a letdown; I wasn't all that impressed when it first appeared (although I might just have been sore because I missed an Avengers issue, which just *didn't* happen to me at the time!).
It's curious that you single out the Andru/Everett art in particular. I love Everett, but was always puzzled about the strange look of that story, until I read Roy Thomas' anecdote in an issue of Alter Ego. Bill was upset at getting only "inker" credits (instead of "finisher" credits) for inking what he considered rough pencils, so he intentionally inked every line on Andru's pages, making everything all squiggly looking.

*I read that one at a rather traumatic time--at a hospital, and the most vivid memory was my utterly genuine interest in this "Incredible Jade-Jaws" comic book that was referenced in a footnote!

Scott M said...

I don't know what it is about the Andru/Everett art I like. Maybe it's just the 'oddness' of it. It just looks so different from anything else from that era at Marvel. I guess that uniqueness is explain by Everett's squiggles.

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