As regular readers will recall, we’ve begun the last two Marvel-focused posts on this blog with excerpts from the Bulletin Bulletins page that ran in the company’s comics published in July, 1971 — and we see no reason to break that run with this installment. Especially since the very next Bulletin following those we’ve already shared is specifically about the subject of today’s post.
Coming after a Roy Thomas editorial and “ITEM!” that dealt with Lee’s decision to take a brief sabbatical from comics writing (and what that meant for the series he usually scripted, such as Amazing Spider-Man) — and directly preceded by another item announcing the move of several Marvel titles (including Conan the Barbarian) to a larger, 25-cent format — this Bulletin caught the attention of readers (well, this particular fourteen-year-old reader, at any rate) with a graphic by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer from Doctor Strange #180, featuring that book’s titular star — a hero who, in the wake of the cancellation of his series with issue #183, had been conspicuous by his absence from the Marvel Universe ever since a late-1969 guest appearance in Incredible Hulk which had effectively retired the character:
Dr. Strange was coming back? As a fan of the character (even if a late-arriving one, whose own first issue of his late title had been the all-reprint #179), this was great news, and probably enough in and of itself to send me racing to my nearest Tote-Sum (we didn’t have newsstands in my neighborhood) to look for Marvel Feature #1 — even before I got a look at Neal Adams’ terrific cover for the book.
And my interest remained high, even after I saw that cover, and realized that — assuming the cover was reflective of the comic’s interior content — the more superheroic “new look” for the Master of the Mystic Arts that Thomas, Colan, and Palmer had introduced late in Doctor Strange‘s run, hoping to boost sales (a look I’ve gone on record as appreciating, both then and now), was evidently history. Oh, well. You win some, etc.
According to the introduction he wrote in 2008 for Marvel Masterworks — The Defenders, Vol. 1, Thomas had no intention of creating a new superhero group when he first teamed Doc Strange with the Sub-Mariner in issue #22 of the latter’s series, or with Bruce Banner’s angry alter ego in in Hulk #126; he was just trying to tie up loose ends from Strange’s cancelled series. Similarly, his subsequent assembling of Subby, Hulk, and the Silver Surfer as the “Titans Three” in Sub-Mariner #34 and #35 was a simple one-off, as far as he was concerned.
But those two issues of Sub-Mariner evidently sold pretty well; and so Stan Lee asked Thomas to develop “Titans Three” into a new series, to be called “The Defenders” (a name coined by Lee) — though he asked him to sub in Dr. Strange for the Silver Surfer, a character whom Marvel’s editor felt possessive about. As Thomas recollected in 2008, though he was initially disappointed in his boss’ decision, he eventually came to feel that it had been the right call:
Each of the original trio wielded considerable power, even if the Surfer’s consisted primarily of hurling bolts of energy, rather than punching and stomping. Doc’s hurling of magical spells was superficially similar, but he was a less imposing figure physically than Namor and Ol’ Greenskin. And, though Stephen Strange, too, had generally been a loner, somehow it worked out perfectly for him to be not exactly the “leader” of the team, for neither of the other two would ever have admitted to “following” anybody, but at least the glue that held it together… the brain that directed the conclave’s two brawny pairs of arms.
And so “The Defenders” was born as a series, in the pages of a comic book Stan dubbed Marvel Feature…
Marvel Feature was the second to appear of three “tryout” books Marvel would launch over the course of 1971. The idea of the tryout book was to introduce a new feature, let it run for a few issues, and then spin it off into its own title if sales justified such a move; it was an idea pretty much lifted wholesale from DC Comics’ Showcase (which, ironically, had ceased publication just one year before, following a fourteen-year run). Marvel Feature had been preceded by Marvel Spotlight, which had debuted in June; it would be followed in November by Marvel Premiere.
I’d passed on Marvel Spotlight #1, which presented the origin of the new Western hero Red Wolf, because I didn’t read Westerns. But Marvel Feature #1 was obviously a different matter; while the return of Dr. Strange was probably the single largest draw, I also liked the Hulk and Sub-Mariner, and had enjoyed those “Titans Three” issues of the latter’s series. Sure, it would have been cool to have the Silver Surfer in the Defenders too (and, of course, we eventually would see him there), but this trio had plenty of appeal all on their own.
The interior art for the Defenders’ debut was, unsurprisingly, not by the very busy Neal Adams, but rather by Ross Andru (pencils) and Bill Everett (inks); it’s a rather unusual job in the context of both veteran artists’ careers, for reasons Thomas explained in his Marvel Masterworks intro:
Bill Everett, a true original who in 1939 had created, written, and drawn the Sub-Mariner, was doing more inking than penciling by 1971… and very good at it he was, too! …Wild Bill, though, didn’t like inking Ross Andru. Ross’s penciling style had an unpolished, even unfinished look to it. That’s because, in Ross’ eye, his penciling never was totally finished. He’d lay down a pencil line for, say, a muscle… then he’d have another thought of what that muscle might look like… and he’d draw that one, too. His inkers particularly Mike Esposito, Ross’ major inker for many years—would have to choose which line to embellish, and the other(s) would be erased.
Bill, however, found that approach sloppy. And, being in a cantankerous mood that month, he decided that if Stan was going to make him ink Andru, he’d ink all of Andru—or at least most of it. Thereby assuring, perhaps, that he’d never again be asked to ink Ross Andru! Thus, in contrast to his usual inkline, which had not only long graced the Sub-Mariner but had made a number of pros feel that he was the best inker ever for Jack Kirby’s Thor, Bill applied ink to virtually all the lines Ross had put to paper… resulting in an unpolished, even unfinished appearance to the completed job.
To say that Stan was unhappy when he saw Bill’s inking of Marvel Feature #1 would be an understatement. He was livid… But there was no time to do anything about it, so the issue went out pretty much as Bill had turned it in and its scratchy look still, today, comes just about the closest possible to looking like Ross’ pencils.
I realize I’ve quoted Thomas at some length here, but I find this anecdote fascinating — mostly because I’ve never counted myself much of a Ross Andru fan, and I actually like the artwork in “The Day of the Defenders!” more than I do the majority of his stuff. So maybe Everett knew what he was doing all along — at least when it comes to appealing to someone with my particular tastes.
But why don’t we move on ahead with our story, and let you see (and decide) for yourself?
Doc quickly realizes that what he’s hearing is actually “a mystic call” and sends his astral body out to investigate…
As I hadn’t bought and read Hulk #126 when it came out, I’m not certain that my fourteen-year-old self even realized that Dr. Strange’s return to active duty needed to be explained. But if I had somehow managed to glean such knowledge, then I must have been relieved by the editorial footnote assuring readers that the how and why of the matter would be revealed via a backup feature later in the issue — because it’s exactly the sort of thing that would have pestered me throughout the rest of this story, otherwise.
As “Stan and Roy” seem to have forgotten to include a footnote on this page, please allow me to inform you that Yandroth, the self-styled “Scientist Supreme” from the extradimensional planet Yann, had first appeared in Strange Tales #164 (Jan., 1968). A creation of writer Jim Lawrence and artist Dan Adkins, the villain had bedeviled our sorcerous hero through five ten-page installments of that title’s “Dr. Strange” feature before Adkins and new scripter Denny O’Neil sent him plummeting to his apparent doom in ST #168, just as shown in the fourth panel above. (Incidentally, the latter comic was also the final “split format” issue of Strange Tales; the Master of the Mystic Arts took over the whole title [and issue numbering] with Doctor Strange #169, which also happened to be the issue with which Roy Thomas took over as Doc’s writer.)
Dr. Strange’s astral body heads to the hospital’s staff lounge, where he ensorcells a group of doctors and a nurse to go try to save Yandroth’s life via emergency surgery. This seems like it shouldn’t actually be necessary (wouldn’t a patient slipping into a coma show up immediately on the hospital’s monitors?) — and maybe not a good idea, regardless (would you want your surgeon operating on you while they’re in a mystical trance?) — but, ultimately, it’s a moot point…
Returning home, Doc’s astral body reunites with his physical one, and then he immediately takes flight for Maine:
I doubt I thought twice about this particular plot point back in 1971, but re-reading the story in 2021, I have to wonder why, if our good doctor thought he needed help on this one, he didn’t bother to call on the Fantastic Four, Avengers, or X-Men — all of whom he’s already personally acquainted with, and all of whom have known addresses, besides. Oh, well.
How can Dr. Strange be so “doubtless” regarding Thor’s current unavailability? He doesn’t seem inclined to share, but I suppose we might assume he has some sort of automatic magical tracking system for the godly types who normally reside on our mortal plane. Yeah, that’ll work.
Doc doesn’t mention to the Hulk that they’ve met before — which makes sense, I suppose. After all, he wasn’t “astral” at the time, and was in his blue-faced, spandex-wearing phase to boot, so it’s not like he could expect ol’ Jade-Jaws to recognize him. Nevertheless, it’s a little odd that their previous “team-up” is never acknowledged by the script in any way.
The three new “friends” proceed on to Doc Strange’s original destination of Port Promontory, Maine…
Namor’s bristling at being given orders by Strange is the first overt sign of the (admittedly predictable) dysfunctional group dynamic that will pretty much define the Defenders for much of the team’s original run.
The scene shifts briefly back to the Hulk, whom we see crawl under the flames to grab and wreck the flame-throwers — and then returns to Dr. Strange, who once more emits his astral form so that he can penetrate the Omegatron’s mystical shields…
Smarting at having been played, but also knowing that he doesn’t have the power to stop his allies in his astral form, Strange zips back to pick up his physical body, then swiftly returns to the Omegatron — arriving just as the Hulk and Namor are about to commence pounding on it:
The Omegatron compliments Strange on his “clever if desperate ploy“, but claims it’s all for nothing, stating, “…even the very vibrations of such a clash of titans will soon feed my circuits the power they need to detonate those atomic piles.” He continues: “With each blow, the moment draws nearer — ever nearer–”
“But,” retorts Dr. Strange, “it shall never come!”
Regardless of your knowledge of later Marvel Universe history, I doubt you’ll be surprised when I tell you that Dr. Strange’s “slow down the clock but not actually stop it, and then throw a blanket of illusion over the whole mess” solution to the menace of the Omegatron proved to be somewhat less than permanent… but for now, at least, it did the job. One could say something similar about the role of the menace itself within the story, which did the job of providing a reason for these three disparate figures to come together… if not, in the end, to stay together. The tableau shown in the fifth panel above — i.e., Namor and Hulk stalking away from Strange, neither having any intention of ever getting together again — would provide the template for similar scenes in many adventures to come. It would also, over time, transcend its obvious origins as a high-concept gimmick, as the Defenders’ “non-team” dynamic proved to have a compelling quality all its own.
Revisiting “The Day of the Defenders!” a half-century after its original publication, its flaws as a standalone story are evident — besides the rushed, vaguely inconclusive climax, there’s the fact that neither the Hulk nor the Sub-Mariner, two of Marvel’s heaviest hitters, ever actually fight anyone (with the exception of each other), which can’t help but feel like a letdown. But you have to start somewhere, right? One might never guess it from this initial outing, but The Defenders would in just a few years time, grow to become one of Marvel’s finest series of the era — even, perhaps, the defining Marvel superhero series of the Seventies, at least as far as your humble blogger is concerned. Or, to put it another way — the true “day of the Defenders” was yet to come.
One factor that probably contributes to the sense of a rushed ending for Marvel Feature #1’s lead feature is that the story is a mere 19 pages — which was indeed Marvel’s standard length for “regular-sized” comics at this point in time, but seems a little chintzy in the first issue of a new title launched as a giant-sized 25-center. (Compare, for example, the concurrently-released Conan the Barbarian #10, whose lead story didn’t fill the whole book, but nevertheless managed to come in at 23 pages).
Though I have no non-circumstantial evidence to back up the notion, my distinct impression is that Marvel Feature was originally planned to be a 15-cent comic (which is the format its sister title Marvel Spotlight had debuted in in June, after all), but got folded into Marvel’s staggered transition to the larger 25-cent size — though only after the first “Defenders” story had already been written and drawn.
Which may be one reason why the first issue of a brand-new (emphasis on new) title featured a reprint, plopped down right in the middle of the book:
I’m not sure if this story — reprinted from Sub-Mariner (1941 series) #40 (Jun., 1955), and written and drawn by Subby’s creator Bill Everett (who, as you’ll remember, also inked the Defenders’ debut that preceded it in MF #1) — was my first full exposure to the pre-Silver Age Namor, but it well may have been. But whether it was through this yarn or another, I know that this “bit less regal” version of the character, prone to such expressions as “Sufferin’ shad!” and “Neptune’s noggin!” (both of which appear in this 7-pager) took some getting used to. As did the 1955 version of the Atlanteans (not yet identified as such, incidentally), with their green skin and decidedly less human appearance.
To be honest, I’d completely forgotten this story prior to re-reading it for this post, but from my present-day perspective, it’s a pretty good yarn. What first looks like it’s going to be a standard “Namor versus the surface world” scenario takes a surprising turn when the ships he’s sure are full of warmongers turn out to belong to a peaceful scientific expedition, “in search of uranium for America”. (Look, that stuff’s not just for nuclear weapons, OK?) Unfortunately, Namor’s ploy of moving icebergs to create a trap for the ships backfires, ultimately causing an underwater avalanche that flattens the water-breathers’ city — though, thanks to the timely warning of the American scientists, Namor and his people have time to safely evacuate before the disaster hits. The story ends on a decidedly uplifting note…
…which I’m sorry to say has been soured just a smidge for yours truly by my checking out the 1955 comic in which it originally appeared, and noting that the cover touts another story in the issue in which “Sub-Mariner Defies the Commies!”. Erm, what was that about “peace on earth at any cost”, again?
Still… you have to start somewhere, right?
The final story in the issue gives us, at last, the promised answer to the question of how and why Dr. Stephen Strange has returned to his old master-of-the-mystic-arts ways:
As I’ve already mentioned, I hadn’t bought Hulk #126, the comic in which Stephen Strange hung up his cloak of levitation (metaphorically as well as literally) to begin a new life as a medical consultant, so the “why” of his having done such a thing in the first place was unknown to me. Truth to tell, however, I wouldn’t have been all that more enlightened even if I had read that story, as the decision didn’t seem terribly well motivated even in that original context (as I’d discover when I eventually did pick up Hulk #126 as a back issue).
In any event, a year and a half later in “real world” time, Steve doesn’t seem all that happy with his major life change… though maybe he’s just in a “mood” tonight…
In any event, our hero is shaken out of his reverie after his meanderings bring him to the door of his good ol’ Sanctum Sanctorum, which looks just like it did when he moved out… and he realizes that it shouldn’t:
The powerless Stephen tries to put up a fight against his uncanny twin — but whoever this impostor is, he has mystical abilities very much like those the “real” Doctor Strange did, and so, the outcome is never really in doubt…
The faux Strange leaves the real one where he lies, leading a somewhat bemused Wong away so that the latter can attend to the more important matter of getting his master’s dinner on the table…
I’m going to pause the narrative for just a moment here to make the observation that whatever penciller Don Heck’s strengths as a graphic storyteller may have been, hand-to-hand magical combat really wasn’t in his wheelhouse. And Frank Giacoia’s solid but literal inking does little to enhance the mystical atmosphere, either.
On the other hand, perhaps the idea was to make Gene Colan’s 1968 redesign of Doctor Strange look so unappealing that no one would miss it after this story — in which case, Marvel may well have succeeded.
Yeah, of course it’s Mordo. Who else? Though you’d think that Dr. Strange’s oldest foe (and surely a solid second place in the ranking of his arch-enemies, following Dormammu) would be a little harder to take out so decisively. Oh, well, we’ve only got ten pages for this one, right?
It’s also a little disquieting to realize that Mordo has managed to fool Wong for… days? weeks? months, even?… with no more than a cloth mask. This makes Wong seem even more clueless and inept than the story has already — though it’s pretty typical of how the character was written at the time (and how he would continue to be for several years to come, regrettably).
Stephen’s moroseness at having once again taken on the responsibility of defending the Earth against hostile mystical forces might go down better if his abandonment of that responsibility back in Hulk #126 had been better thought out in the first place (seriously, who did he think was going to respond the next time Dormammu or Nightmare invaded our reality?). And if he hadn’t been so mopey about his “normal” life on the first couple of pages of this very story, to boot (although that could have been at least partially due to Mordo’s sinister influence, per Strange’s comment to Wong in the first panel above).
Still, as with the Omegatron in this issue’s lead story, “The Return” does its job — in this case, the job of getting Dr. Strange back into his grimoire-gazing Greenwich Village groove. Oh, there are some notable loose ends — his “Stephen Sanders” secret identity (introduced at the conclusion of Doctor Strange #182), for one; the as-yet-unexplained absence of his girlfriend, the exile from Dormammu’s Dark Dimension known as Clea, for another — but I’m sure they’ll be addressed in time. As already noted, there’s only so much you can get done in a ten-page story.
Of course, that begs the question: why just a ten-page story? After all, with the Defenders’ debut coming in at only 19 pages, it’s not like there wasn’t room. Wouldn’t those seven pages used for a 1955 Sub-Mariner reprint have been put to better use fleshing out the tale of Dr. Strange’s return?
It’s quite possible — even probable — that there simply wasn’t time; that, as with Conan the Barbarian #10, the adoption of the new 25-cent format came about too quickly for Marvel’s creative personnel to have time to craft all of the content needed to fill Marvel Feature #1’s pages, and ten pages of Dr. Strange was all that could be produced by deadline. But in re-reading “The Return!” in preparation for writing this post, another possibility occurred to me.
It’s a possibility suggested by the blurb on the first page of the story, which, in Marvel’s typically breathless fashion, announces that “The Return!” represents “the glorious re-birth of one of its [i.e., Marvel’s] most unique, most-honored series!” To me, that sounds a lot like the way you’d blurb the first installment of an ongoing feature, rather than a one-shot created specifically to fill in the gaps between Hulk #126 and Marvel Feature #1’s lead story.
So, maybe the idea was that Dr. Strange would run as a regular 10-page backup to the lead Defenders story in every issue of Marvel Feature. The fact that that didn’t actually happen (rather, MF #2 would go to press with a new 28-page Defenders tale, backed up with another ’50s Sub-Mariner reprint; and with issue #3, the book would shift away from the giant-sized format entirely) doesn’t necessarily mean that that wasn’t the original plan.
Or maybe the notion of an ongoing 10-page Dr. Strange strip goes back even further. If Marvel Feature was indeed originally supposed to be a standard-sized 15-cent comic featuring the Defenders, as we speculated earlier, then maybe Doc Strange was intended to make his solo comeback in one of Marvel’s two “split” books — either Amazing Adventures (where the Black Widow strip had ended its run in June, with issue #8) or Astonishing Tales (where Dr. Doom bowed out with #8, published in July). Again, that didn’t happen — the following issues of both of those titles saw them abandon the double-feature format — but it could have been in the works at some point.
Obviously, all of this is pure speculation on my part — and probably only of interest to the most obsessive of comic book historians and bibliographers (the ranks of whom obviously include your humble blogger). But if that was the plan, I have to admit that I’m kind of glad that things didn’t work out that way — at least, not if the strip would have continued with the same creative team.
Again, no disrespect intended either to Don Heck or to his fans — but I think that the Master of the Mystic Arts was ultimately better served by Marvel’s deciding to wait nine months before bringing him back as the star of his own full-length feature in Marvel Premiere #3 (Jul., 1972), in a tale drawn (and co-plotted) by artist Barry Windsor-Smith.
Not that that issue was the beginning of any kind of extended run by Windsor-Smith, alas, either with the book’s co-plotter and scripter, Stan Lee, or with someone else. But the saga of Dr. Strange’s long and fraught quest to regain successful solo stardom is, naturally, a topic best left for discussion in future posts; I hope you’ll come back around for them.
UPDATE 7/29/01, 12:30 a.m.: Many thanks to my friend Neill Eisenstein, who not only recalled having read a Bullpen Bulletin about Don Heck drawing a Dr. Strange strip that appeared months before Marvel Feature #1 was published, but even went to the trouble to look it up. Here is that “ITEM!”, as it appeared in Marvel’s comics released in the month of April, 1970:
Assuming that this “brand new version of DOC STRANGE” is the same job as “The Return!” — and I don’t know why we wouldn’t — this means that the story not only predates Marvel Feature #1 by over a year, it even predates the two Marvel “split” books that I earlier speculated it might have been intended as a replacement strip for, as Amazing Adventures and Astonishing Tales didn’t make their debuts until the following month, May, 1970. Very interesting, no? Thanks again, Neill!
(Incidentally, I feel obliged to note that April, 1970 also just so happens to have been the one and only month in the last 55 years that I didn’t buy a single comic book. Obviously, this is the only reason why I didn’t remember this particular Bullpen Bulletin. [Never mind that I’ve since bought a number of that month’s Marvels as back issues and would have read the Bulletins in them at that time. This is my story and I’m stickin’ to it.])
It’s funny. I didn’t care for Dr. Strange, Namor or the Hulk by themselves, but I loved The Defenders. No real idea why; I guess I just liked the idea of the non-team always being at odds with one another until the time came to face off against another evil. I was also a fan of the other heroes who came along to fill out the Defenders’ ranks in later years, like Nighthawk and Valkyrie. This story, however (and the back-up features that accompanied it), which I don’t remember, and doubt I read, given my dislike of the three main characters as separate entities, feels like a rushed and poorly thought-out introduction to the team. I would imagine the reappearance of Dr. Strange, so sudden after he renounced his powers and title in the pages of the Hulk, and without explanation until you read the back-up feature would seem jarring to any real fan of the character and does everyone a disservice by providing no explanation for where Strange has been and what brought him back (having to wait for the back-up story to get the details seems lazy and backwards to me). It also speaks to Marvel’s lack of respect for the character that his triumphant “RETURN” was in a ten-page back-up feature and not as part of the main story. It makes Strange’s return seem rushed and not well planned out. A full-length story similar in length to the Conan tale we recently discussed would have given Thomas the chance to write Strange’s return into the pages of the first Defender’s story, making the character’s return feel noteworthy and important, and the extra pages would have also given Roy the chance to fix the obvious plot holes and lackadaisical story-telling, such as (as you pointed out, Alan), “Why didn’t Strange call the FF or the Avengers to help him?” and the over-all hand-waving conclusion to the story. Yandroth’s plan never made any sense from the get-go and the shorter story-length kept Thomas from doing any real work to make it come together any better than it did. As you say, Alan, there may be technical, behind-the-scenes reasons for the poor approach to this story, but they don’t do the reader any favors, that’s for sure.
As for the art, well, I never liked Ross Andru either, Alan, having first been introduced to him in the pages of Spider-Man. Like you, however, I do kind of like what Everett did here, by inking every one of Andru’s extraneous lines. I might not have even noticed them if you hadn’t pointed it out, but now that I know, I can’t “un-see” them. As for the back-up story, I’ve made my feelings about Don Heck’s pencils known plenty of times before (we all have) and see no reason to beat him up any more than we already have.
I don’t know how Lee or Thomas saw this book when they created it, or what purpose it had in the over-all scheme of things, but based on this first issue, I doubt it was much. Fortunately, the Defenders got a chance to breathe and grow and turned into one of my favorite Marvel books from the period.
Alan, are you ever going to cover any of Frank Brunner’s run on Dr. Strange (I confess I don’t remember exactly when they came out)? Aside from some of the original Ditko stories, those were the only ones I ever really cared for. Thanks.
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This time 50 years ago, Frank Brunner is just breaking in with a couple of jobs for Warren; his run on Dr. Strange won’t get going until the spring of 1973. Assuming we’re all still around come 2023-24, the odds of my covering the Englehart-Brunner Dr. Strange in some depth then are just about 100%. 🙂
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That gives this aging fan something to look forward to! Englehart and Brunner’s run on Dr. Strange is still , in my humble opinion the BEST work I’ve ever seen in the Comics.
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I recall when I was 9 years old, 50 years ago, seeing ads for the Defenders debut in at least one of the comics I got that month, which was maybe only 2 or 3, perhaps it was Marvels Greatest Comics wherein the FF meet the Inhumans and Ben & Johnny meet the Beatles reprints. Anyhow, I loved that cover and wished I had that comic. Much later, I at least have read the original stories in reprint form, in a Treasury Edition for the Defenders and in an Essential Dr. Strange collection for Doc’s return. Alas, as you & Don have noted, neither were all that good. Both stories seem awkwardly rushed out over a hazy weekend. Never read either of the Defenders stories in Marvel Feature 2 or 3, and the first Defenders’ comic I read new off the stands was issue #2 of their own series, and somehow that got lost so my collection really began with issue #4, which I loved, so despite its shaky start of which I was ignorant anyhow, the Defenders was one of my favorite comics of the mid-70s, mainly for Englehart’s & Gerber’s runs. Funny that of the original trio, the Hulk, the once oh so briefly & future Avenger, would be the one to stick around the longest on the team. And when they teamed up, all three had suffered cancellations and Namor and Doc would do so again but Hulk would remain one of Marvel’s top stars for the next 50 years. And as Englehart took the Defenders to greater heights, he would also do so for Dr. Strange. For Doc as well as for Captain America, Englehart appeared to take some time to figure out what made them tic and what sort of stories worked best for them to show some growth in character. In my estimation, Ditko, Englehart & Stern helmed the best runs on Dr. Strange in the ’60s & ’70s.
Judging by Thomas’ characterization of the mage in both Marvel Feature stories, as well as the Hulk issue where he’d most previously appeared, it doesn’t appear Roy had a very good grasp on Dr. Strange, although I know he handled him better in his previous solo series. Which leaves me curious as to what happened, or is it a matter that Roy needed a really good artist to be inspired to rise above the mundane in his writing. His writing was much better on Conan, even given that he was mostly adapting Howard’s stories to comics and he did have an excellent artist in Barry Smith. Back on the artwork in M.F., Heck’s art never excited me, but I didn’t mind it much in the old Avengers reprints I read in the early ’70s,but at the same time I loathed most of his work in the ’70s. It just looked slipshod and uninspired to me.
Andru was too cartoony to my tastes but that didn’t bother me too much on Spider-Man, which remained one of my favorite comics during his long run. On the other hand, my first impression when I saw the art in “Day of the Defenders” was, essentially, “WTF happened here??? This is ghastly!!” I’d read Thomas’ explanation somewhere else online years ago, and found it highly amusing.
Another great, informative and entertaining write-up, Alan!
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I realize this is getting ahead of ourselves, as the non-team isn’t even a non-team at this point (if that makes any sense), but I loved the Defenders in the Bronze Age. From Englehart to Wein to Gerber (especially Gerber) to DAK, it was a run of breathtaking greatness. And their development as a non-team made them the perfect bookend to the highly organized and codified Avengers.
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I’d agree, most of the first 50 were great, Tapping Tommy aside. After DAK’s Zodiac grand finale, however, IMO, things started going downhill. Don Perlin’s art in many of the later issues didn’t do much for me and I’d stopped collecting sometime before three ex-X-Men joined up. Seems no one minded that the original core trio didn’t last all that long, first being supplemented with Norrin, Val & Hawkeye, but in short order Norrin, Hawkeye & Namor take off, and, in echoes of Avengers #16, a reformed baddie joins the group and becomes a mainstay for most of the next 100 issues or so. But then recurring guest stars becomes the norm for the group. That their association was loose rather than regulated like the Avengers, they were more like friends helping one another out when in need and hanging out together when they felt like it and no one calling out a point of order on the Hulk for his unbecoming wardrobe or putting penalty points on Dr. Strange because he didn’t show up on time for a regular board meeting — mainly because they didn’t have regular board meetings! Or monitor duty!
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Obviously I agree– there’s a reason my list stopped at Kraft, lol. I suppose I should also include Conway, as he wrote one or two issues in there. As far as Mantlo’s Tappin’ Tommy, I clearly erased that from my own personal headcanon a long time ago.
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Not one of my favourite Neal Adams covers. Everything seems cluttered in it, especially the blurbs. The background should have been faded out so the 3 main figures would “pop” a lot more.
This one brings back memories. I was 11 and the family had moved to Puerto Rico a few years before, and for whatever reasons, distribution of new titles was a nightmare. Conan was the worst example, the first issue I got there was #23. I read this issue because a friend went to Florida on vacation and brought it back. The first issue of Marvel Feature I got was #7, part way through the Ant-Man story. The next Defenders I saw was issue 4 of their own title, when Valkyrie joined (if that is the right term for a non-team).
Marvel was coming out with a lot of new titles and I was missing out. Exciting but very frustrating times.
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I want to start off with a question. Why was this issue dated December 1971 but released in July? I’ve been reading Marvels on the 50th anniversary of their release and was surprised to see this entry in July instead of December. The Marvel Wiki and Marvel Unlimited sites both have this issue coming out in September so I did not re-read this book and your blog post until late September (and I read it at the end of the month because I considered it to likely be the most memorable Marvel issue of the month).
Well, OK, I’ll follow-up with another question. Why did I think that this issue would be the most memorable Marvel issue of the month–practically any month. I remember reading the issue in 1971, being very excited with the concept and enjoying the plot of Yandroth planning to have his machine destroy the Earth after his death. Now that I’ve re-read it all and then your blog post Alan, I found that on my re-read, I found all of the flaws that you pointed out. The art work is horrendous (thanks for explaining why). Sub Mariner and the Hulk really don’t do much except make things worse and then fight each other. Dr. Strange didn’t really need them anyway. Also, the plot is actually kind of stupid. If Yandroth REALLY wanted to live on after his death, rather than nuke the Earth he should have opened his lighthouse up as a tourist attraction. I’m sure a lot of folks would love to come, especially around Halloween, to see the giant lifelike machine version. Also, how is the Omegatron hooked up to all atomic stockpiles on Earth? One would think (hope?) that the major atomic powers would have better security to prevent this from being set up. There are other unsatisfying parts such as Dr. Strange’s way of getting the Hulk’s attention by annoying him. That was supposed to get the Hulk to help out?
The Dr. Strange story in the back explaining his return was embarrassing. I can’t believe that Roy Thomas wrote it as he always has such reverence for Dr. Strange and always talks about how he loved writing the character–and it usually shows because his Dr. Strange stories are usually terrific. However, as you note, having Baron Mordo able to so easily fool Wong, not just with a mask but with a personality that was brutal and curt and very much unlike the real Dr. Strange makes Wong look like an absolute idiot. Also, why is it that Dr. Strange loses his powers by renouncing them and how can The Ancient One just put them back?. Maybe Dr. Strange can be a little rusty in his practice, but actually being unable to cast spells (in the 1990s Dr. Strange lost his ability to call on certain entities because he refused to fight for them, but that isn’t what’s happening here)?
Perhaps the Yandroth story that I liked so much was the follow-up to this one (I forget when it came out) but this one is one of my most disappointing re-reads since I began doing this nearly four years ago.
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Stu, I wish I knew why Marvel Feature #1 had a cover date five months later than its actual publication date. I’ve noticed that this issue seems to affect several Marvel comics in the latter half of ’71 — mostly newly-launched titles like Marvel Spotlight, Tomb of Dracula (and of course Marvel Feature). Maybe it was a byproduct of the general chaos surrounding the company’s rapid price and format changes around that time, though that’s just speculation on my part.
My main source for comic book publication dates for all publishers is The Newsstand at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, which you can find at: http://www.mikesamazingworld.com/mikes/features/newsstand.php . Mike’s information comes primarily from Library of Congress catalog records, and to the extent that I’ve verified his dates against those in other sources (like house ads), they’ve checked out.
I’m not a Marvel Universe subscriber, and I’m not sure what Marvel Wiki you’ve been using, but to be honest, it sounds like someone has just guessed at MF #1’s pub date by counting backwards two months from the cover date, rather than actually looking it up. 🙂
Steve Englehart followed up the Yandroth story in issue 5 in 1973. I missed that issue when it came out but got it years later. I was as mystified as you were at how badly Thomas seemed to write Dr. Strange, both in these stories and in the Hulk issue wherein Dr. Strange officially resigned as Master of the Mystic Arts, which struck me as horrendously out of character when I read it (in the MSH reprint). Thomas, IMO, often waivered between wonderfully inspired writing and occasionally awful, even after he’d been around long enough to be a seasoned comics veteran.
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Thanks Fred. That explains it. I really liked Steve Englehart’s storytelling before he became a petulant jerk in a later stint at Marvel. I agree with you about Rascally Roy’s writing. I suspect that when he wasn’t interested in a project or was more occupied elsewhere in his work or his life, he gave much less than his best effort. Given the hectic time period at Marvel during this period when he must have been very harried with additional duties in Stan’s absence and the growing and shrinking books, this does not surprise me here.
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