Defenders #4 (February, 1973)

Behind an attention-grabbing cover pencilled by John Buscema from a rough layout by Jim Starlin (and inked by Frank Giacoia), the Defenders creative team of writer Steve Englehart, penciller Sal Buscema, and inker Frank McLaughlin began this latest installment of the super-team’s continuing adventures right where the previous one had left off.

It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a happy scene… 

Although he doesn’t believe he could have acted in any way other than he did, Doctor Strange still feels remorse for how things went down in Defenders #3, and so he defers to the Sub-Mariner to decide what the two of them should do next.  Observing that the unfortunate Barbara might well come to further harm at the hands of the unpredictable Hulk, regardless of the latter’s intentions, Namor states that they really  have no choice but to follow — and so they do.

But although the castle’s unlocked doors open readily to the two heroes, upon entering the structure, they find it apparently empty…

Namor and Strange might not recognize the big, bearded guy standing in the center of that last panel, but longtime Marvel readers would be able to peg him as the Executioner (later to receive the proper name of Skurge, though not for some years yet), an Asgardian enemy of the mighty Thor and a one-time member of the original Masters of Evil.

While confident that his strength will prove greater than that of the two Defenders’ foes, Namor opines that armor would be useful, as even his “mutant skin” could “be rent by those flashing swords!”  Hmm… I’d have expected the Sub-Mariner’s hide to be a bit tougher than that, but OK.

Overcome, our heroes are tossed into the castle dungeon, where they quickly find they’re not alone…

Dr. Strange certainly should recognize the Black Knight, having teamed up with him in a memorable two-part crossover that ran through Doctor Strange #178 and Avengers #61, back in December, 1968.

“Bird”?  Such British slang sounds a little odd coming from Dane Whitman, a born-and-bred American who only emigrated to the U.K. back in Marvel Super-Heroes #17 (Nov., 1968) after inheriting a castle there.  Maybe writer Englehart is trying to show the extent to which Dane has “gone native” since his move — or maybe he’s just not that knowledgeable about the character.  I’m inclined to believe the latter, simply based on how he’s portrayed in the next couple of panels:

The Black Knight was previously used and abused by the Enchantress (who, like her former beau the Executioner, is an Asgardian and a former Master of Evil — and who, also like him, will have to wait several more years yet to get an actual name [Amora, in her case]) back in Avengers #84; just a year and a half later, he was on hand for an attempt by her and the Greco-Roman God of War, Ares, to overthrow Olympus, Asgard, and Earth, in Avengers #100.  So he knows very well, from firsthand experience, that she’s not only incredibly powerful, but also thoroughly evil.  And yet he’s such an irresponsible horndog that he disregards all that just for the sake of her “yielding lips“?  Yeah, right.  One can hardly help but conclude that, however much Englehart might or might not have known about the Black Knight in late 1972, he wasn’t much of a fan.

The first appearance of the Valkyrie — as a visual and a concept, at least — had been in Avengers #83 (Dec., 1970).  In that issue, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by John Buscema, she’d ultimately been outed as nothing more than a faux-feminist disguise of the Enchantress, a device the Asgardian had utilized as part of the same crusade for revenge against the faithless Executioner and his new lover that she’s resumed in our present tale.  The Valkyrie wasn’t real, in other words — a factor that would seem to limit the potential for her to make any sort of comeback.  But Thomas appears to have felt the character was too good to just throw away, and so, in Hulk #142 (Aug., 1971), he and artist Herb Trimpe had contrived to have the Valkyrie “return”.  As before, the stridently anti-male warrior was a creation of the Enchantress; this time, however, she wasn’t a mere subterfuge, but rather a separate persona (as well as a discrete power set) which the devious goddess superimposed over the mind and body of an ordinary young woman, Samantha Parrington.  Even so, this iteration of Valkyrie didn’t last any longer than the first one had, as the magic spell that had created her wore off by the story’s end, thus restoring Ms. Parrington to her normal self.

Still, it seemed obvious; if the Enchantress could turn a human woman into the Valkyrie once, there wasn’t anything to prevent her from doing it again.  And, hey, maybe she could even make it stick this time around…

“Brunhilde” (1910) by Arthur Rackham.

As many of you out there will already know, there’s a good bit more going on in this scene than meets the eye.  Because the “false personality” that takes over the body of Barbara in this scene (and who previously possessed Samantha Parrington) isn’t actually a wholesale magical creation of the Enchantress, but, rather, the living essence of a bona fide Asgardian Valkyrie — and not just any old Norse chooser-of-the-slain, but the Valkyrie:  Brunnhilde, the legendary heroine of the Volsunga Saga and the Nibelungenlied, as well as the titular character in Die Walküre (1870), the third opera in Richard Wagner’s famous Ring cycle.  Yeah, that Valkyrie.

(To be clear, I don’t mean to suggest that Steve Englehart was holding vital information back from readers in this scene; the “continuity implant” that would retroactively make Marvel’s comic-book Valkyrie into the famous character of myth, literature, and music drama wouldn’t be dreamed up for another six years or so.)

Naturally, word comes quickly to the Executioner and his mysterious Queen that the prisoners have escaped, and he marshals his troops against them…

Namor, meanwhile, is doing quite well against the common soldiery (sharp blades notwithstanding), until a force-blast from the Executioner’s battle-ax knocks him off his feet.  But then…

Panel from Tales to Astonish #77 (Mar., 1966). Text by Stan Lee; art by Jack Kirby and John Romita.

Panel from Incredible Hulk #102 (Apr., 1968). Text by Gary Friedrich; art by Marie Severin and George Tuska.

The Hulk has in fact fought the Executioner twice before now; their first fracas, in Tales to Astonish #77, had ended inconclusively, but I think it’s fair to say that in their second bout in Hulk #102, ol’ Jade-Jaws whupped the Asgardian baddie’s butt pretty dang good.  (And despite what Hulk says above, the Executioner did have his magic ax on hand in their last encounter… not that it really mattered.)

That latter adventure, incidentally, is the same exploit that got both the Executioner and the Enchantress exiled from Asgard by All-Father Odin, as first revealed in Avengers #83 and recapped by the Black Knight in our current tale.  So many callbacks to past stories scattered throughout this one, and most of them interconnected… honestly, it’s nearly enough to make a continuity-minded fan (such as your humble blogger) giddy.

But the Executioner’s apparent mastery of the scene of battle is shattered when one of his warriors’ lances comes hurtling his way, and knocks his own weapon from his hand.  Guess who tossed that sucker?

“I can’t hurt a woman!”  Sigh.  For whatever reason (and, OK, “deeply ingrained sexism” is probably a pretty good bet here), a number of the male writers of comic books in the early 1970s had a real problem dealing with what was then called the Women’s Liberation Movement — even when it seemed that they were trying to deal with it in a positive manner.  So, here, Steve Englehart feels compelled to twist the Valkyrie’s strong feminist orientation into a standard superheroic “weakness”: i.e., as strong and tough as she is, you can stop her simply by putting a female in her path.

Panel from Fantastic Four #130 (Jan., 1973). Text by Roy Thomas; art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott.

By point of comparison, over in Fantastic Four, Roy Thomas had just introduced another avowedly feminist superwoman, Thundra.  Like Valkyrie, Thundra makes a distinction between the genders when she’s fighting; however, she takes practically the opposite tack to her sister warrior, as she’s willing to kill a female opponent if necessary, while at the same time eschewing fatal violence towards males, who are, after all, “the weaker sex”.

From the vantage point of half a century later, it’s easy to shake one’s head at the evident difficulty these guys had getting their heads around the simple concept of equality.  But in all due honesty, I can remember the person I was at age fifteen, which is when I first read this material; and I can hardly claim to have been more enlightened than either Englehart or Thomas were then.  Certainly, neither the “Valkyrie can’t hit girls” idea nor the “Thundra will only kill girls” bit fazed me in the slightest, back in the fall of 1972.

Jeez, Dane, get a grip, willya?  Sheesh, what a loser.

In case you were wondering, this scene is the last we’ll see of Casiolena, Queen of… wherever… for quite a long time.  Though she survives the Enchantress’ blast, she won’t emerge again for about six years (at which time it will finally be revealed that she’s essentially Asgardian in nature, her nebulous domain being somehow adjacent to the Golden Realm… again, just in case you were wondering).

Dr. Strange whips up a dimensional-transport spell, and our little band of adventurers begin to make the “nether-voyage” back to good ol’ Earth.  Valkyrie attempts to ride Aragorn as they go, but finds it something of a struggle, since (as Dr. Strange points out), the winged horse has never been ridden by anyone other than Dane Whitman…

Yeah, Doc, remember the Omegatron?  That sentient doomsday device created by your old enemy Yandroth, that you only managed to prevent from blowing up the whole Earth back in Marvel Feature #1 by slapping a Band-Aid on it?  Well, ever since Defenders #1, that Band-Aid has been slowly peeling off, and… ah, the hell with it, let’s just go on ahead and see how this whole mess gets resolved in the next issue.  It’s not like we won’t have other fifty-year-old comic books to discuss come January, after all…

Behind a cover by Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten, Defenders #5 is brought to us by the same ongoing team of Englehart, S. Buscema, and McLaughlin.  Our story begins with (and is mostly told from the vantage point of) Valkyrie, who has indeed followed the Defenders back to America, and is currently residing with Dr. Strange in his Sanctum Sanctorum in New York.  (It’s the least the guy could do, if you ask me — especially after his obnoxious “What could we possibly need you for?” crack at the end of issue #4.)  Although that situation is becoming at least a little awkward, as Val explains below…

Got that, ladies?  If you dare to assert yourselves — excuse me, to demonstrate “aggressiveness” — other women won’t like you.  Thanks for explaining that, Mr. Englehart.

As for Val’s sudden, inexplicable crush on the Black Knight, Englehart seems to have felt that his new Defender needed a love interest right off the bat (her being a girl and all) — although I’m happy to report that he appears to have had second thoughts about it pretty quickly, and following a few glancing references in future issues, this bit thankfully goes away forever.

Val proceeds to do as Doc Strange suggests.  The first crystal leads her (and Aragorn) a surprisingly short distance, as Namor is presently visiting the NYC apartment of his old human friend Betty Dean Prentiss, who (as we covered in our Sub-Mariner #57 post a month or so back) is currently serving as an informal guardian to the Sub-Mariner’s young cousin Namorita (aka Nita).  But this offbeat foursome has barely gotten past the state of introductions when a strange phenomenon occurs:

Namor disappears completely, leaving no visible trace; but Valkyrie’s magic crystal shows he’s still alive, and somewhere to the north.  So, accompanied by Nita, she flies in that direction, encountering the Hulk along the way.  (No, she doesn’t use her second crystal to locate him; he just happens to be directly in her flight path.  Convenient, eh?)  But, as you might expect, before the two women have much of a chance to try to explain the situation to the Emerald Behemoth, he pulls the same disappearing act:

Both magic crystals are now pointing towards the same northerly destination, and Val and Nita swiftly wing their way there, ultimately arriving at a location that may seem familiar to readers of the aforementioned Marvel Feature #1 (or our blog post on same):

The magical power of the Ebony Blade allows Valkyrie to shatter the unseen barrier, an act which also does away with the lighthouse illusion that has disguised the complex housing the Omegatron.  And so, the duo at last come face-to-face with the villainous computer — which, naturally, feels compelled to explain its evil plan, beginning with a recap of MF #1 before going on to detail what went wrong with Dr. Strange’s Band-Aid (i.e., his slow-time-to-a-crawl spell):

“Though each hundredth of a second on my chronometer is the equivalent of two ordinary minutes,” the Omegatron gloats, “there are but three of those periods left!”  Doing the math, Val and Nita figure that six minutes should be long enough for the two of them to shut the machine down.  And maybe it would be, if the Big O. hadn’t subverted both the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk to his will; but he has, and now he sends them against our heroines.  As powerful as they both are, Valkyrie and Namorita simply aren’t able to take down their opponents in the time allowed — especially since, as the Omegatron reveals, the vibrations from their combat have fed his circuits, giving the countdown one last bit of extra juice.  The final hundredth-second counter rolls over…

Namor’s comment about Yandroth’s vanity might also explain why the Omegatron kidnapped him and the Hulk in the first place, since there’s no indication that their “vibrations” were actually needed to put the counter over the top.  I think we have to assume that, at least subconsciously, it wanted an audience.  (The way I see it, it’s either go with that, or conclude that Steve Englehart simply didn’t think some aspects of his plot through very well; so, take your pick.)

“A beginning!”, indeed — though it can also be taken as, not only the conclusion of the Valkyrie’s first full adventure as a “member” of the Defenders (whatever that might mean), but also of Steve Englehart’s first full story arc as the feature’s scripter.  And despite the undeniable bobbles to be found in these first five issues of Defenders, I’d call them quite successful as a whole, and highly promising — both for the future of Englehart as a writer, and for the Defenders as a team and ongoing feature.

One indicator of that promise on both fronts is Englehart’s decision to downplay the in-your-face, “up against the wall, make chauvinist pig!” caricature of “Women’s Lib” that Roy Thomas had originally used to define the character.  Aside from the couple of missteps we’ve already noted — the silly imposition of the “can’t hurt a woman” weakness, the condescending warning about female “aggressiveness” — Englehart largely steers clear of having Valkyrie speak or act in ways liable to induce winces among contemporary readers.  Thankfully, this will continue to be the case; Valkyrie’s feminism will remain an inherent, and important, part of her character (as it should), but that doesn’t mean she has to talk about it all the time.

As Englehart told writer Jonathan Miller in 2012 for an article about Valkyrie (published in Back Issue #54):

She was a feminist creation, but if I stuck that character with two macho guys (Hulk and Subby), that would be her only topic of conversation…  Plus, I was forming a non-team team, so continued arguments didn’t work for my purposes.  I was all in favor of Women’s Lib, but I chose her because she was a woman who wasn’t obviously part of any group and could become part of this one, and was tough enough at heart to stand up to the guys.

That she was indeed that tough would become ever more evident in the months and years to come — though, thankfully, “toughness” wouldn’t become her defining feature, any more than “aggressiveness” would.  But rather than just take my word for it, I hope you’ll return for future installments of this blog, as we continue to follow the rising and advancing of the Valkyrie’s spirit (to borrow a phrase associated with another Steve Englehart-scripted character).

23 comments

  1. frasersherman · November 26

    I had no problem with Valkyrie not hitting Casiolena: she’d been created to champion women, I could see her not wanting to hurt them. It wasn’t really a weakness until Steve Gerber began using it to sideline Val — I got the impression he’d really have preferred her off the team.
    I loved Valkyrie because she was so different from most other female characters. Nice comics women didn’t get angry; angry women were either having a tantrum over their boyfriend or psychos like Man-Killer. Having a woman with a temper the way Ben Grimm had a temper was novel.
    Reading as a tween, I thought it was clear the Enchantress put some kind of whammy on Dane to make him fall for her but I agree he acts a lot like he’s really in love. You’re right about the English slang, though picking it up after living there wouldn’t be unusual (I know people who embraced “y’all” after moving to the South).
    These two issues were when I started buying Defenders.

    Liked by 3 people

    • crustymud · November 26

      I respectfully disagree about Gerber. If anything, he was the writer that tried to develop Barbara Norriss when previous writers had completely ignored this aspect of the Valkyrie. For me, Valkyrie’s quest to learn about her mortal half was the most interesting thing ever done with the character, and I was kinda heartbroken when later writers casually tossed Barbara Norriss into the figurative dust bin.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. mcolford · November 26

    Nice recap of the issue of The Defenders that really hooked me. I am avowed superheroine advocate, so while I picked up a couple of the earlier Marvel Feature/Defenders issues, I wasn’t really interested until I saw the fantastic cover (a poster of which is hanging on my wall) featuring Val. Val is one of my favorite characters, and although her power-set and personality certainly had a lot of ups and downs over the subsequent years, I loved it when they finally reintegrated her personality and her Asgardian body, making her a true powerhouse and worthy of the Valkyrie title.

    And I loved how Steve Englehart took to adding powerful women into his books immediately from this, to giving Clea a bit more personality over in Dr. Strange.

    Liked by 2 people

    • frednotfaith2 · November 26

      Yeah, that really was a magnificent cover. Hadn’t realized it was drawn by Starlin, in however rough a layout, but, yeah, particularly in the poses of Hulk, Namor and Dr. Strange, the drawing has several hallmarks of Starlin’s style as it was developing in 1972 and he already had a well-developed sense of design.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · November 26

    There’s really not much more to say about the creation of Valkyrie and her role in the Defenders that you haven’t already covered, Alan. While her ties as a character to Asgardian myth certainly explained her powers, her personality and character were as stock and two-dimensional as any other character in the Marvel roster. Valkyrie’s problem was that she was a feminist character, created by and written for years by men, who didn’t really understand what the nascent feminism movement and women’s liberation were all about. If a woman isn’t happy with her lot in life, she must be angry. If men were the over-all cause of her inequality, she must hate men. This might have made sense in part, but there were many feminists of that day who were not angry or anti-men and it would be years before this aspect of the debate would be laid out in a comics story, or any story at all, for that matter.

    That said, Englehart tried, god love him, and the decision to downplay the “feminism for feminism’s sake” aspects of the character and to portray her as more of an angry or disgruntled “Ben Grimm” type may not have been a perfect characterization, but was certainly better than she might have received at the hands of a lesser writer. Honestly, while I’ve had some problems in the past with the way the MCU writes some of the Marvel characters it may be that in the character and personality of Valkyrie, the MCU has actually done better by her than the comics ever did, by giving her a reason for her anger, an agency for her actions and most of all, control over her own heart.

    As to the story itself, Englehart was certainly in the early days of his career and working out the tools of what would become his personal story-telling style, but for the most part, he does well here. The second story with the magic “Hulk and Namor-finding stones,” the weak-sauce reason the Omegatron used for the pulling them “north” in the first place, was probably the weaker of the two, but Sal’s artwork is strong here and helps to paper over any cracks in the story-telling plaster, at least until it crumbles under the gaze of our own fifty-year-old hindsight. The Defenders were one of the few Marvel books I enjoyed from the very beginning and it’s fun to go back and revisit that beginning again and remember what all the fuss was about.

    Liked by 3 people

    • frasersherman · November 26

      I see it differently. Anger is such a verboten emotion for a women — why aren’t they nice? Why don’t they appreciate what their boss has generously done for them? — that having a woman with a hot temper who’s also a good guy still feels refreshing.
      I don’t think that was pathos — Gerber simply wanted her out of the way. I agree he sidelined Stephen a lot too, and fudged his power levels (as I blogged about some years back: https://frasersherman.com/2011/11/28/chekhovs-mage-dr-strange-in-the-defenders/). I don’t think he sidelined Hulk much — he seemed quite happy to have Greenskin’s muscle used to resolve stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. frednotfaith2 · November 26

    I got Defenders #4 brand new, although I missed issues 3 & 5. Anyhow, I loved this issue. I remember thinking a bit later, as I became more familiar with Marvel history how this issue sort of dovetailed with a tradition of 4th issues of Marvel’s team books introducing (or reintroducing) a who would have a significant impact on the dynamics of the series, mainly FF #4 which brought Namor into the budding Marvel mythos and kept him on as a recurring baddie and a specific foil for Reed as a contender for Sue’s heart for much of the next three years, until he got his own series. Then there was Avengers # 4 which brought Captain America into the modern Marvel universe and who essentially became the superhero most identified with the Avengers despite not having been one of the original members. X-Men # 4 introduced the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, including Pietro & Wanda, and more directly focused the series over the next several months on the ongoing conflict between “good” and “evil” mutants and those who weren’t quite sure which way to go, which got rather muddled throughout much of the rest of its original run but I think has remained one of the recurring themes of the series.
    And now, a new iteration of Valkyrie who would become the mainstay of the “non-team” for most of the remainder of its run. Upon reading this, aside from the “old” Defenders, all the other characters were new to me, although shortly afterwards I’d catch the Executioner and Enchantress in reprints of old Avengers yarns during their period of hanging out with Zemo as part of his Masters of Evil. Maybe part of the allure this issue had for me was that it linked up with so much of Marvel’s past mythos that was still unknown to me then and intrigued my curiosity about the pieces I was missing (much as Captain Marvel #27 would do a few months later). As to Dale’s falling for Amora’s wiles so easily, at the time being entirely unfamiliar with the backstory of this version of the Black Knight and the Enchantress, it seemed to me that Englehart was simply playing up on past interactions of the characters but now I’d have to surmise that either Dale was just a sucker for a beautiful woman, even one he knew to be bad, or maybe part of her godly powers is to make most men mentally mushy enough over her that she can easily manipulate them to do what she wants, and her magic kiss just makes them all that more servile to her. Of course, the main purpose for Englehart was to put Dale to pasture for the indefinite future and transfer his magic sword and winged horse to the more interesting Valkyrie — certainly as a 10 year old boy in 1972, I was far more keen on seeing more of Val than Dale, not that I had anything against the latter. Of course, as events evolved over the summer of 1973, the Black Knight getting seriously stoned would be one of the key components of leading to the expanded cast of the Defenders clashing with the Avengers, which I found highly entertaining.
    On the feminist aspects of Valkyrie’s character, as a boy with 2 younger brothers and a mother who at the time was a stay-at-home mom and wife to a career Sailor, I had no real-world experience with the women’s liberation movement impacting my life at the time, but it was something I was finding out about more from how it was dealt with in tv shows and, yes, comics. And, yeah, as Alan has pointed out, Marvel’s predominantly male writers, even with the best of intentions, didn’t always deal with it well, at least from the perspective of 50 years later. Still, I think overall, Valkyrie as a Defender was a significant character in comics history — a powerful woman who could stand up for herself amongst some very powerful male colleagues and who was not typically placed in the position of being held captive and dependent on being rescued by her teammates but to a far lesser degree than to say the Invisible Girl, the Wasp, and the Scarlet Witch during the previous decade.
    Regarding Fraser’s comment on Gerber’s handling of Valkyrie, in reading those issues myself, I never got a sense that Gerber didn’t like the character, but he was certainly exploring aspects of her past self as Barbara Norris and what it meant to be a character with no memory of any past, as far as she knew at the time simply a persona magically created and grafted onto another person who was entirely a stranger to her but whose transformed body she possessed. As part of that process, Gerber brought in Jack Norris, who was a highly annoying character but still, IMO, integral to Gerber’s overall story. Gerber also really played up the pathos of Val’s inherent magical weakness when having to deal with women attacking her, as in both the female Badoons and her incarceration in a women’s prison. Even with that, I don’t think Gerber really side-lined her any more than he did Hulk, Dr. Strange or Nighthawk (Gerber did admit to having Doc rendered unconscious quite a bit so as to conveniently avoid Doc coming up with some magical means to end the conflict too soon, so Doc was more purposely sidelined than Val!).

    Liked by 3 people

  5. crustymud · November 26

    First read this story in Marvel Treasury Edition #16, which I purchased for a buck-fifty off the newsstand sometime in 1978. Subby’s comment on the Defenders having no “members,” followed by Doc’s casual “three of the most powerful people in the world” still tickles me when I read it even now, forty-four years later. Every kid on the block knew the Defenders were a “non-team,” which so clearly differentiated them from the Avengers, I feel it wound up making both teams feel all the more unique and special.

    I can see how some might be put off by Val’s inability to raise her hand against another woman, but looking back, I rather liked it. It was such a weird, distinctively specific weakness to have, it just seemed to fit the book, which always had a weird atmosphere overall— particularly under Gerber, who was the writer when I first got onboard as a reader.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Steve McBeezlebub · November 26

    Most of what I wanted to say has been covered by others but I have to add tha from this issue on Valkyrie was one of my favorite Marvel characters. Was she the first female hero they had who was a physical powerhouse? I know she predates Ms Marvel.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Brian Morrison · November 28

    As I’ve written before on this blog I was a dedicated DC fan. The only Marvel comic that I would pick up regularly was the avengers. However, as soon as I saw this issue’s cover I had to get it and find out who this new heroine was. I hadn’t bought any of the previous Defender’s outings, the comics in which Barbara Norris appeared or the Avenger’s issue where the Valkyrie had debuted so all of this was new for me. I thoroughly enjoyed both the story and art, so much so that I decided to buy every future issue of Defenders that I could find. This was really strange because, at the time I didn’t really like Dr Strange, The Hulk or The Sub-Mariner. I credit the Defenders with changing my opinion on all three.
    Marvel was really behind DC with the number of super powered females they had (heck, there were even more heroines in the legion of superheroes and there affiliated teams than there were at Marvel). Also by this time DC had three titles headlined by females, whilst I think Marvel only had Night Nurse. I’ve always thought that was strange as I always considered Marvel to be the more progressive of the two companies. I would be interested in others thoughts on this.
    Anyway, the Valkyrie had me hooked and I would search out and enjoy as many issues of the Defenders as I could for many years to come.

    Liked by 2 people

    • frasersherman · November 28

      Marvel was way more progressive on race but a lot poorer on women. As the OP and some comments note, neither company was very progressive on feminism around that time but having Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Thorn, gave DC a clear edge in women’s representation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Marcus · November 28

      Night nurse, The Cat, and Shanna the She Devil all came out around the same time all with women involved in the writing, though none lasted more than 5 issues.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · November 28

      I was the same way, Brian. Hardline DC fan who really didn’t like Doc, Namor or Hulk by themselves, but somehow together, it clicked add in Valkyrie and later Nighthawk, which to me completes the core group and I stuck with this one for a long time.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Marcus · November 28

    I was thrilled to see this great cover on the news stand. Because of distribution issues, this was the first Defenders story I was able to buy, though I had been able to read Marvel Feature #1 because a friend brought it back from a vacation trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. frasersherman · November 30

    For anyone who’s curious, I took a look at the Black Knight’s early years over at Atomic Junkshop back in January (https://atomicjunkshop.com/black-knights-in-white-satin-the-strange-early-life-of-dane-whitman/) His accent is the least of the inconsistencies in hjs early career.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stu Fischer · November 30

      “Knights in White Satin”. He he he! Love that! Very time period here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • frasersherman · November 30

        For me it was a few months earlier — coming over from England with my family, I’d lost my comics habit for several years. Then I saw JLA 97 with a retelling of their origin and I couldn’t resist.
        I like Nighthawk though I didn’t know when he showed up in Defenders what a radical departure he was from previous appearances. I mean yes, it was clear he’d been a supervillain but in the first Squadron Supreme story he’s quite happy to let the Earth die.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · November 30

      As the proud (?) proprietor of the Camelot in Four Colors (http://camelot4colors.com/) web site, frasersherman, that sounds right up my alley! I look forward to checking it out.

      Like

  10. Stu Fischer · November 30

    Alan’s blog post on this issue marks a big personal milestone for me because Defenders #4 is the first issue that he’s blogged about for which I still have the original issue which I picked up when it was originally published. November 1972 was when I finally began to regularly collect comic books again after losing almost all of my collection in the Tropical Storm Agnes flood of 1972.

    Reading this blog entry, re-reading the issue itself (online, I did not pull it out in hard copy), and reading the comments made me realize that I am not alone in my feelings that a) Defenders #4 had one of the best memorable covers of the era and b) the Valkyrie was a great, fresh new character (as written by Englehart) that was worth following. I had read the Valkyrie’s two prior appearances when they originally came out and, perhaps because I was a young boy, her “up against wall, you male chauvanist pig!” attitude really annoyed me (and I smugly smirked at how foolish the female heroes looked being taken by the Enchantress in Avengers # 83). However, this Valkyrie was more like Hildegarde in then-recent Thor comics (created, heaven help me, by Gerry Conway), namely more warrior and less agitprop (and certainly very unlike Sif was written in those days as a “warrior” in name only).

    It did not bother me at all that Valkyrie could not bring herself to harm a woman. Perhaps it’s because in those days I was going to Hebrew school and learned (as perhaps some of you learned in Sunday school) that Moses had Aaron use Moses’ rod to strike the Red Sea and later the ground to start some of the ten plagues because Moses could not harm the sea and the ground which had saved his life (the latter when Moses buried the Egyptian taskmaster he killed, I know, very tenuous). As one of the commenters noted, the Valkyrie was created (at least as originally established) by a woman to champion women and thus could not harm them. On the other hand, I thought that Thundra’s characterization in Fantastic Four was hilariously clever because it turned on its head the male paternalism that treated women as weak and a dishonor to battle.

    In all fairness to the male creatives at Marvel at this time, it’s very hard to think outside the box of the concepts that you have been living with all your lives. I think that’s particularly true with regards to characterization as opposed to plot. You can come up with an against the grain plot (like planets with matriarchal leadership) in a shallow sense, but it’s much harder to integrate against the grain characters in a series over a long period of time because the creatives are working on day-by-day interactions and events. I think that for creatives that lived in a segregated world, it was easier to pursue the concept of racial equality because (again, if they grew up and lived in a homogenous white world) there weren’t relationships and expectations hard wired into your daily life. On the other hand, everyone had to deal with the role of women vis-a-vis men and if all you saw from birth were women subservient to men, it’s hard to get past that idea.

    By the way, my agreement with the commenters only extends to the early Defenders. Outside of his laudable exploration of the Valkyrie’s relationship to Barbara Norris, I found Steve Gerber’s silliness not to my liking. Dollar Bill and the Elf With A Gun ushered me out. Also I never liked Nighthawk, not even in his Squadron Sinister debut.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Maxwellchris · November 30

    Thanks for your excellent coverage of these issues, Alan! Yes, the “pro-feminist” efforts of male comic book writers (and likely even some of the female sort) are downright cringe-worthy to look back at these days, but as a kid, poring over my garage sale copies of these early issues, I was utterly enthralled, and was a Defenders reader (and fan!) to the bitter end!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. frasersherman · December 2

    Given all the talk about the cover, which is certainly terrific, I’d like to add that the #5 cover gripped me as a kid too. “Then you’ll not speak it monster — not ever!”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Stu Fischer · 19 Days Ago

    I just read Defenders #5 on the 50th anniversary of its month of release and I will point out that while it’s great that Engelhart decided to tone down the Valkyrie’s “up against the wall you male chauvinist pig” attitude, he does get a big “oink” for calling her “The Viking Vixen” on page 12. Alan, regarding your attempt to make sense of Englehart’s having the Omegatron bring the Hulk and the Sub Mariner in by claiming that it would want an audience, on page 13, the Omegatron does say “I rather expected witnesses”. Yeah, it’s still weak.

    Liked by 1 person

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