Sunday, February 10, 2019

Beware the Six-Fingered Hand!

It's been a while since I rambled on about old comics - I was thinking about writing a blog post about Bob Haney's Metamorpho, but it would be more in keeping with the theme this essay would take if I continually promise that Metamorpho will soon be appearing in his own blog post, only to leave the poor readers disappointed. So coming soon - Metamorpho, that epic hero of the 1960s who somehow never entirely caught on!

Then in the middle of that thinking, I came across Brian Cronin's series of comic articles on, which I heartily recommend to anyone who hasn't read them yet, and a couple of them on the subject of the Defenders made me think "I should ask him to write about the bizarre disappearance of the Over-Mind from the Defenders comic in the J.M. DeMatteis years; he might know more of the story behind it, and I can't really be bothered to research the whole thing..."

Which of course led to the next thought "I should re-read the whole DeMatteis era of Defenders, I haven't done that for years!" And despite being partially distracted by further tangents like "I'd forgotten my Defenders collection is mostly in the bad kind of plastic bag, stuck down with sellotape that's impossible to remove - I really should do something about that", I've spent the whole of Saturday reading the wonderful "Demon Drama" (as it was called in an editorial on the letters page of #111, promising that it was now over and they'd be going back to telling superhero stories), and I feel I have to urge everyone else to do the same! I've just discovered, much to my surprise, that at least someone at Marvel Comics feels the same way, and released the whole thing in an Epic Collection in 2016. It's enormously worth reading, believe me!

When J.M. DeMatteis took over as writer of the Defenders comic at the end of 1980, it had sort of been drifting aimlessly for quite a long time, ever since the end of the iconic Steve Gerber era in the mid-seventies. It was Gerber who properly established the Defenders as Marvel's "non-team", changing them from a team-up comic of Dr Strange, the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner (with recurring help from the Silver Surfer) into a loose association of Marvel's broad range of superheroes, who'd drift into and out of the storylines as they went along. The core of the team were established as the Hulk (who had to be there in every issue to keep the sales healthy), Nighthawk and Valkyrie, and later Hellcat (these three were the ones who the storylines revolved around).

But DeMatteis immediately returned Dr Strange to prominence, shunted Nighthawk into his own separate little sub-plots, brought in more of Marvel's mystical characters like the Son of Satan, Devil-Slayer and new creation the Gargoyle, changed Hellcat from the happy-go-lucky girl-comic-star-turned-superhero into a cat from hell, minimised the Hulk's appearances and relegated the Valkyrie mainly to standing in the background of group scenes. And he launched into a truly epic storyline in which this new team confronted demons, monsters, Eternity, Satan himself, psychics, evil government organisations keen to start the third world war, a whole lot of nostalgia for the good old hippy days of the sixties and general existential horror for all the characters. It makes me laugh that the first DeMatteis issue was criticised on the letters page for being too much like the Justice League of America. This sequence of Defenders stories is unique and brilliant, and really everyone needs to read it at some point in their lives.

Now today I'll read the second part of the DeMatteis years, the bit which does include the Over-Mind, and maybe gradually work back towards my original thought of Metamorpho...