Hulk: 1973 - 1975 pt. 1

Once again:

I had enough material this time around to split this overview of the Hulk's adventures from 1973 to 1975 into two posts. This time around we'll focus only on The Defenders.

1. The Plots

The Defenders premiered in late 1972 and went monthly with issue 9. The issues covered here are 4 (cover date February 1973) through 30 (December 1975.) Steve Englehart wrote the first few issues and presided over the first multi-book team crossover in Marvel's history, the Avengers/ Defenders War (Defenders 9-11, Avengers 116-118.) Then, Len Wein took over the book before handing things over to Steve Gerber with issue 20. All pencils by Sal Buscema.

For those who prefer a more comprehensive walkthrough, the supermegamonkeymind site covers all of the issues in question with its usual thoroughness. What follows is more of a "snapshots" treatment.

I love that blurb in the lower-right corner:


There's a fun cross-over with Marvel Two-in-One where this sort of thing below happens:

But the main event (outside of the Avengers/ Defenders cross-over) is the fight against the Sons of the Serpent, an American Nazi group that sows disorder in the wake of integration and Civil Rights. 

Extra points for the inverted cross. (Not sure why super-strong Valkyrie can't free at least her feet, but hey.)

In addition to their regular title, the Defenders also appeared in:

2. Giant-Size Defenders

The title is misleading; this is not a chronicle of 20-foot-tall versions of Doctor Strange, the Hulk, and the gang.  The "giant-size" refers only to the page count. (68 Big Pages!) A lot of which is reprint material. Which is always fine by me -

as I love reprints.
Regular readers of the Omnibus will remember the Bat-titles did something similar around this time in the 70s. Stuff like Giant-Size Defenders was part of the reason DC premiered 57 new titles from 1975 to 1977 (setting the stage for the DC Implosion.) Marvel was always cranking out more and more product, and DC had to keep up, or so the thinking went at the time. There's more to it, of course. Allow me to restate my desire that someone eventually covers Marvel's and DC's 70s behind-the-scenes history year by year, Ken-Burns-Baseball style. (Hell, the 60s and 80s, too. And all right, the 90s and 21st century.) Until then, the American Comic Book Chronicles series will have to do.

Only 5 Giant-Sized Defenders were published. Here's some green privilege from issue 4, when the Hulk is watching the Valkyrie's (actually the Black Knight's, but we'll get to him) winged companion.

Most of the stories feature lots of guest-stars.

Which brings us to:

3. Guest Stars

I remember when I first discovered the old Lee and Ditko Spider-Man stories in Marvel Tales, and how every other seemed to feature Spider-Man popping by the Baxter Building or observing Daredevil swinging around town. I'm not the first to remark on how it made Marvel's New York seem like a cozy clubhouse. Not that the comics were much different in other eras - Marvel was (and remains) keen on the cross-over and cameos - or across town at DC. But there was something masterful about the way Stan worked his cameo magic in those old Spider-Mans. (How fitting that he is the cameo-king of Marvel movies. Stan Lee rules.)

I wouldn't put the guest-star mojo at Stan-the-Man-levels here in Defenders, but it's fun to see so many different characters turning up.  Such as:

Namor the Sub-Mariner. (Issue 4) A bit of a cheat, since he was a founding member of the team and not really a "guest-star." But I'm a Patriots fan - we make our own rules.
The Black Knight. Who spends the first year of the title as a stone statue. (Thanks a lot, Enchantress.)
And these guys in issue 6.
Back when I was a regular Marvel reader - set the DeLorean once more for the 80s, folks! Seriously, I need an intervention - Mark Gruenwald wrote Squadron Supreme, a 12-issue limited series. I liked it at the time - though not so much on reread - but it completely sailed over my head that the group was Marvel's version of the Justice Society of America. If you recall, the JSA occasionally fought their evil-earth counterparts the Crime Syndicate. To further the parallel, Roy Thomas (in Avengers) created the Squadron Sinister, who are evil-earth counterparts of the Squadron Supreme.

Do you need to know any of that to enjoy the stories, or this here breakdown? Probably not. Onwards.

The Ever-Lovin' Thing! That sounds a little strange. Though granted not as strange as Giant-Size Man Thing, which I still cannot believe went to print without at least one telltale snicker necessitating a title change.
Future Defender The Son of Satan from issue 24.
Replete with demon-steeds.
Daredevil's POV from issue 25.
The Guardians of the Galaxy appear a few times.
And of course Luke Cage, Power Man. (Name a 70s book he didn't appear in.)
If you didn't know the characters from elsewhere, these would all be fun introductions. Which was entirely the point, I'm sure, cross-promotion, but this sort of thing can be done well or sloppily, and it's done pretty well in Defenders. I put all the names in bold because I was genuinely excited to see all these old familiar characters popping up. It gave the characters (especially the Hulk, who has a limited range of reactions) various people to play off.

One of the guest-stars provides a nice segue to a little section I call...

4. Continuity Common Law

Co-Starring Thor (as well as the Silver Surfer and Hawkeye.)
The United States legal tradition is based on the idea of common law, i.e. the precedent established in previous legal cases applies to all subsequent ones, unless overturned by a higher (appellate) authority. You can't elect to ignore what was decided previously or elsewhere; it is stare decisis ("it stands decided.") I bring this up because the kind of tight continuity Marvel used to have served pretty much the same function. 

In Defenders 10, we see this:

Marvel readers of my generation could cite it when confronted with conflicting info in other stories. "Defenders 10 (1974) clearly demonstrates that the Hulk and Thor are physically even-matched." Sure, you could argue that the story being cited was written by a hack or was a violation of earlier precedent (and the only authority to whom you could appeal, let's call it the Marvel Appellate Court, dispensed only No-Prizes, not justice) but everyone played by the same rules.

Here we have a parallel citation with regard to who can lift Thor's hammer and why - not primary binding authority, alas, but persuasive.
Of course, once you reboot something, all that gets thrown out the window, and anything goes. What once was stare decisis is now only suggestive, always at the mercy of the next creative team.

I'm not really weighing in on it, just exploring it in these terms. I do miss the days where citing Defenders 10 was a valid legal argument, though.

Well, "legal."

5. Valkyrie

Valkyrie is a pretty cool character. 

Her story arc from 1973 to 1975 mostly involves the anguish and out-of-place-ness she feels. When she first appears, it's with a lot of "Anything you can do I can do better!" 'tude. That comes and goes throughout these stories, but (a somewhat cliched will-they-or-won't-they relationship with Nighthawk aside) things improve as they go on.
Especially when Steve Gerber takes over the book with issue 20.
I doubt there will be a Valkyrie movie or TV show, but doesn't it seem like there should be? It could complement the Thor films the way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter complement Captain America and The Avengers. (Or it could complement those franchises over Thor's, if you prefer.)

This is a Hulk series of posts, isn't it? I know, you're right. Okay, let's focus.

6. Girl Kisses Hulk?

This one's rather self-explanatory.

7. How Hulk Thinks

As mentioned somewhere up there, the Hulk has a limited range of reactions. Englehart, Wein, and Gerber get an admirable amount of mileage out of them, but there's only so much can be done.

There were times, though, were said lack of room improved things, often by accident, but here are a few such cases where I thought the scene/ panel/ theme was enhanced by having a "HUH?!" speaking-in-third-person brute in it.

I'd watch the crap out of Doctor Strange telling Hulk anecdotes on The Tonight Show.
Exit Fish-Man; enter Bird-Nose. (from issue 14.)
from issue 18.
Well, then. (From issue 19.) And last but not least from the Defenders-fight-racism saga:
That's it, Hulk, keep putting it together... (issue 22.)

8. But Hulk Thought 
Rock Was Friend!

And finally:

9. Some Randoms

(Issue 11.) Nothing snarky to add, I just love this.
(Issue 7) The problem with fighting crabs, seriously.
(Issue 21) Psychic Death Rain.

Keeping in mind the Continuity Common Law business, this next panel is an indication of how low the X-men's stock was in the mid-70s.

That's Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants turned into babies at the end of issue 16.
Of course, being turned into a baby or an animal or sent to Limbo or whatever is all in a day's work for anyone in the X-verse. But still: it's tough to imagine or remember a time when someone could make a significant change like this to a character even remotely connected to the X-verse in another title.

And finally, this, from issue 25:

That's life in the big city.
See you next time to see what the Hulk was up to in his own title during the same time frame.


  1. "Allow me to restate my desire that someone eventually covers Marvel's and DC's 70s behind-the-scenes history year by year, Ken-Burns-Baseball style." -- Holy crap YES that needs to happen. And sooner rather than later.

    "How fitting that he is the cameo-king of Marvel movies. Stan Lee rules." -- You may or may not know this, but this extends even to the recent Disney movie "Big Hero 6." I won't be specific, but . . . well, watch all the way through the credits. Good flick, too.

    The Son of Satan! I forgot all about that dude. Man, now THERE'S some stuff you probably couldn't get away with in 2015.

    Continuity Common Law -- Genius. You should turn this into a podcast, STAT. Get it on The Nerdist or Smodco or something and make yoself some cash. (Speaking of which, I've heard tell of a good podcast called Rachel & Miles X-Plain The X-Men. Haven't listened to it yet, but apparently it's good.)

    "I doubt there will be a Valkyrie movie or TV show, but doesn't it seem like there should be?" -- Yep. Sure does. I don't know who should play her, but I would very much like to sit in on those casting sessions.

    Those "Girl Kisses Hulk" panels are stupendous. So is the one where Hulk and Namor are fighting the crabstrosities or whatever. Really, a LOT of this stuff is stupendous.

    Great post!

    1. That's cool to hear about Big Hero 6. I look forward to seeing that one.

      Glad you enjoyed! Yeah, the Son of Satan is a fascinating relic of 70s Marvel. I have no idea what happened to him after Defenders 100 or so. (Which is roundabout my finish line for this series of posts - technically it's a little into the 80s, so not really 70s Hulk, but... who cares. It's the culmination of many of the late years of The Defenders, so it makes sense to me.)

      The idea of a Continuity Common Law podcast intrigues me. I'll put together a proposal for Chris Hardwick.

      I spent some time trying to figure out whom I'd cast as Valkyrie. Emilia Clarke would probably be the casting template nowadays, but if they'd done one in the 70s with Ingrid Pitt in the lead, that would have been cool.

  2. The Defenders earned a rep in its later years for being among the worst comics ever. I remember liking it back then and reading it regularly. The Hulk was always the weak link for me; as you note, he had a limited range of reactions, and prominent among them was an off-putting propensity for being a crybaby.

    I liked Valkyrie quite a bit, though she, too, had a penchant for being "woe is me." I forgot about the very earliest incarnation of the team consisting of Dr. Strange, Namor, and Hulk. I always found Namor grating whenever he showed up in any comic, so his presence along with the Hulk's probably steered my very young self away from the book.

    As I mentioned to you elsewhere, I recently read the Omega the Unknown trade, which included the issues of the Defenders in which the Omega story was concluded pretty...well, conclusively. I recall that era of The Defenders fairly well, and it was when I would have been reading it most regularly. Honestly, the book looks like it was quite a cluster**** by that point, which I think is exactly what I liked about it then.

    By the way, it does seem like they did their best to crowbar Luke Cage into a lot of different books and stories back then, doesn't it?

    1. I read Defenders v1 from (contemporaneously) around issue 96 to 101 - only a drop in the bucket to the 150-ish issues they had. But those 6 issues cast a long shadow over my subsequent comics-reading. I'm looking forward to getting to those.

      My understanding was the same though, after that, that the Defenders was the Marvel equivalent of the JLA of the same era. (The pre-Crisis ones.)

  3. I just completed this series last year. I decided to go after it when I found out I already had #1. No memory of buying it but there it was. I also had assorted issues throughout the run. When you're creeping up on 20K comics in your collection, you tend to not remember everything you have.

    Some of the characters tossed into this book get under my skin. I was never a fan of Son of Satan. For a while it seemed Marvel was really trying to make him a star. He showed up everywhere! Marvel Team-Up a few times, Marvel Two-In-One a few times, Ghost Rider. It was impossible to get away from the asshole.

    I was also never a fan of Luke Cage but he didn't show up in every issue so I can deal with that. Black Knight belonged in the Avengers. Nighthawk, a Daredevil villain initially, is tolerable in small doses but he was around forever. I could have done with less of him.

    The Avengers/Defenders War was epic! Thor vs. Hulk, Cap vs. Namor (with Sunfire thrown in), Vision and Scarlet Witch vs. the Surfer. That was great stuff. It's still the benchmark for doing hero team slugfests.

    Yeah, the X-Men were dead in the water during this period. They showed up in 2 issues of Avengers, they sprung up in Cap's "Secret Empire" story, and they appeared in civilian clothes in MTU #4. That was about it. What a difference a couple years can make.

    Good blog. Looking forward to the next part.

    1. 20k comics is a storage challenge to be taken seriously. I tip my cap from Chicago. I have an entire closet dedicated to the task with about a quarter of that.

      I can't believe given the character's premise and m.o. they never made Son of Satan work, but I agree - he never did. Too bad.