Out of the Vault – Defenders #62-63

Since we talked about The Defenders last week, I thought I would share a bit of another storyline. About a year before the issues which wrapped up the Omega storyline, I picked up a couple of random issues of The Defenders (and if I remember correctly, I think I mainly wanted to familiarize myself with the book a little for when they did finish off Omega).

The storyline ran for at least three issues, of which I only have two, so I can’t tell you how it ends. But what I have is interesting mainly for what it presages. But that’s going to be a topic for next week.

Issue #62, “Membership Madness,” was written by David Kraft with art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney. It opens with Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Hellcat and Hulk playing Frisbee with their superpowers. Just then, a fellow named Dollar Bill, who seems to be some sort of promoter, runs out and tells them their TV special is about to air. A TV special they knew nothing about…

Remember last week when I mentioned that the Defenders were a non-team? That whoever showed up in the book that month was a Defender?  Well, to Dollar Bill, that’s not a bug, that’s a feature.

Nighthawk isn’t happy about that last bit at all. He foresees disaster, and he is proved right the next morning when someone shows up at the riding academy that serves as their unofficial non-headquarters to take up Dollar Bill’s offer. If by someone, you mean pretty much everyone.

That dude on the right calling himself Marvel Man is now known as Quasar, though not long before this, he was known as Marvel Boy. Nighthawk yells at everyone to get the hell off his lawn, but when Falcon sasses him back, Nighthawk starts an aerial chase. Meanwhile, Nova and Marvel Man along with a few other no-names decide to ride  the horses.

Another group of heroes steps aside to choose a new leader–without consulting any of the existing Defenders, of course–and elect Hercules, although I don’t know how binding it is, because nobody checked to see if they had a quorum. After the election, Valkyrie and Hulk serve them bad c0ffee.

And meanwhile, in the subtlest meta-joke of the issue, Hellcat gets caught in a jealous rivalry between Captain Ultra and Jack of Hearts. Captain Ultra was already an in-joke, his one previous appearance being a try-out for the Frightful Four in Fantastic Four #177 where he proved so fire-phobic he fainted when the Wizard lit a cigar. But that’s not the meta-joke.

See, Hellcat’s secret identity is Patsy Walker, who has perhaps the most tortured character development in the history of comics. Patsy Walker got her start in the 40’s as a teen comedy character like Archie. In the mid-60’s, when romance comics had gotten big, Patsy grew up and became a fashion model whose adventures took on a more romantic tone. And in the 70’s, writer Steve Englehart turned her into a superheroine.

So you see, the meta-joke here is that you have a former fashion model being fought over by guys in probably the two most garishly hideous costumes in the  entire Marvel Universe.

And just in case things weren’t bad enough, some of the guys who just voted Hercules as their leader decide to jump the Hulk and take him to the authorities, since he’s a menace. The irony here is that the Hulk is the only founding non-member of the Defenders present.

Which leads into the next issue’s story, “Deadlier by the Dozen,” as a fight starts between the Hulk and just about everybody not being chased by Nighthawk, arguing over Hellcat or riding stampeding horses.

But notice the wording on the cover here: Tournament of Heroes! That doesn’t really apply to this issue, since there’s no actual sporting event happening, but I’ll talk about it more next week.

The fight is interrupted by the arrival of an armor-plated mailman…

I love the idea of Iron Man taking off to deliver an urgent message and stopping off at the table in the entry hall to grab that letter that’s been sitting around for a few weeks bothering him every time he goes in or out. The news he brings is indeed dire: supervillains have TV’s too, and have been committing crimes all over Manhattan while calling themselves the Defenders.

Iron Man immediately flies away, not wanting to be seen with any of these bozos. The Defenders decide to split into three teams to cover more ground. The team stuck with Nighthawk, the Defenders’ “real” leader, hate being stuck with this guy. Flying into Manhattan, Nighthawk’s team hears a man scream that his car has been stolen by a Defender, so they leap into action.

The dude notices a scratch on his car and threatens to sue, which does not put him on Nighthawk’s good side. Meanwhile, Hercules’s team, all piled up on Hellcat’s sports car, run across a group of supervillains robbing a diamond exchange. So they leap into battle, when suddenly the cops arrive.

The cops are pissed and threaten to arrest them all, which is where the second issue ends. I’m sure it all got worked out in the next issue, but I don’t have that one. Together, the two issues are pretty funny, but suffer from having to juggle too many characters without well-defined personalities. Which will only get worse in our next featured books, next week.

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