Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Classics - Marvel Feature #1

With the ongoing success of team-based comics like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, you have to assume that Stan Lee and Roy Thomas were sitting around one day and wondered, "Do we have any other characters laying around loose that we can use to create a team?"

The answer resulted in the Defenders, a group that first appeared - sorta - in this issue of the short-lived Marvel Feature (the group would spin off into its own title after three issues).

But actually the "team" had appeared before. After his own comic was cancelled, Dr. Strange appeared in a storyline that crossed into the Sub-Mariner's comic and an issue of the Hulk.

Then a later issue of Sub-Mariner featured a two-issue team-up with Namor, the Hulk and the Silver Surfer.

Perhaps fan reaction was strong to the issue, or perhaps Stan and Roy just liked the idea - or maybe they just needed something to put into this double-sized issue.

Whatever the reason, this was the first official appearance of the team, and it started with a bang - almost literally. Strange discovers an old enemy has created a device that will destroy the Earth, and to stop it he'll need brute force - so he recruits Namor and the Hulk to help. (The Silver Surfer is unable to help thanks to a rather thin excuse. At the time Stan was very picky about where the Surfer appeared, so he may have nixed this appearance.)

As one would expect with a Marvel comic, the team spends as much time fighting with each other as they do going against the bad guy - but that's all part of the fun.

Writer Roy Thomas crafts a clever story here, with great dialogue and a fun dynamic between the monster, the monarch and the mage.

The art is also a treat - a very unusual pairing of Ross Andru and Bill Everett, with the result being a scratchy but high-energy style that's unlike anything I can remember seeing from either artist. Oh, and that Neal Adams cover doesn't hurt, either. (At least I think that's Adams.)

In addition to the cover feature, this 25-cent package (cover dated December 1971) includes a reprint of a '50s Sub-Mariner adventure and a back-up story by Roy Thomas and artist Don Heck explaining how the recently retired Dr. Strange returned to action. It's a little thin, but good clean fun.

Reading that first issue, it's amazing that this concept ever caught on, much less continued for more than a decade (and up to the present, in one form or another). Here was a group of heroes who didn't like each other much and preferred to do their adventuring solo - yet every month the writers would find an excuse to bring them together to fight for the greater good.

The creative teams might not be actual magicians, but that's what I call a darn good trick.

Grade: A-


Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, Chuck...that's Adams!
While I enjoyed this first issue
as much as you, I remember feeling
sad that two of my favorite Marvel
characters, Doctor Strange and Namor, were not doing well enough at the time in their own titles, and it was decided that teaming them up with the uber-popular Hulk would increase their exposure to Marvel fans at large. They were never a comfortable fit, which of course made them a typical bickering Marvel team of super misfits.
The first couple of years are the
best, then the title gets increasingly surreal, which makes
sense when Steve Gerber became the
regular writer. He embraced the absurdity of it all!

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, The Defenders definitely had some great writing - Gerber, Thomas, Englehart and Kraft all did fine work here. Of course, the comic also had one of the all-time worst comics ever - a fill-in issue by Bill Mantlo. One of these days I'll have to review it.

Al Bigley said...

I heard that that odd inking (I only saw it in the late 70s in the DEFENDERS LIMITED COLLECTOR'S tabloid) was the result of Everett inking every line the sketchy Ross Andru laid down. He felt it was NOT his job to pick the "right" line to ink, so he inked them all!

I dig it, tho.

Al Bigley

Chuck said...

Ha! Great story Al! I seem to remember similar art in an issue of Sub-Mariner around that time - I'll have to track it down. It's an odd effect, but I liked it, too.