Hulk Coda: The Defenders Go to Hell

Welcome to a brief epilogue to our overview of the Hulk's 70s adventures: The Defenders... Go To Hell

Technically, they don't go to Hell. Hell comes to them.
I was eager to get to this, as Defenders 96 through 101 is the very first comics storyline I ever followed. I've spoken elsewhere and at length about how much this cover is burned (no pun intended) into my brain -

and all the associative memories that get kicked up from looking at it, and now I get to dive into the whole storyline. Happy Birthday to me! Or you, maybe. Happy Birthday to everybody!

I mentioned only issues 96 to 100. The story actually started earlier, with the arrival of J.M. DeMatteis in issue 92. He'd stay on the book all the way to issue 131. Here's what Peter B. Gillis - who took over the book when J.M. left - has to say in the excellent Defenders overview in Back Issue 65:

"Defenders was the book that Marvel shoved its weirdo writers onto: (Steve) Gerber, DeMatteis, and (myself.) The result was real, true superhero adventure, because all of us took that aspect quite seriously - but decidedly off-center."

J.M. DeMatteis agrees: "One of the best things about Defenders is that it wasn’t a high-profile book.  We were off in a corner and I could get as weird and personal as I wanted to without worrying about stepping on anyone’s toes."

I'm going to try and avoid autobiographical anecdotes for this post and stick solely to the stories, but one quick note - as mentioned above, this was the first comics storyline I really remember sinking my teeth into. I can vividly recall how impatient I was for each next issue to come, the walks to and from the drugstore with my brother, and that feeling of earned satisfaction when things wrapped up in issue 100 (not to mention the thoughtful epilogue of issue 101.) And yet, I never stuck with the series after #101 - why? Well, that's when my family moved to Germany, and all my comics-buying got interrupted. When the dust from the move settled, I had a subscription to Daredevil and the various Spideys and Micronauts and Moon Knight (all of which arrived months after hitting the shelves in the States) and it was many years before I made it back to The Defenders.

This was towards the beginning of J.M.'s long career - still going strong; stronger than ever, it seems, these past few years - but he hit it out of the park on Defenders: his run on the book is even more than Gerber's - heresy! - the definitive one for me. I was fortunate to have him as my initial tour guide to all of these characters. 

(As well as for Cap, thanks to his run on Captain America -

Best Cap story ever? Don't get me started.)
He's also written books and lots of stuff for television, as well - his episode of the 80s Twilight Zone almost made my Top 25 countdown, but it was edged out ever-so-slightly by the eps listed therein. So it goes. (According to the 80s' TZ wiki, the story on-screen was heavily revised from his original script, anyway.)

Looking at it through the lens of these Hulk posts, though, I was surprised to discover the Hulk is mostly absent for these proceedings. 

He stomps off in issue 92, comes back in issue 99, and is off again in 101.
We see him in the early part of the saga playing with dolls at Dr. Strange's house:

Which is interesting, as one of the dolls certainly looks like Dormammu. Subtle foreshadowing of where things are going, but it also make you wonder what other kind of dolls and action figures Dr. Strange has hanging around - and for what purpose. Sorcerers, amirite?
So what we really have here is a post about the Defenders in Hell saga, masquerading as a coda to my Hulk in the 70s series. 

Sorry, big guy.
But let's not let that stop us.

The story in broad strokes: Satan - acting through a cadre of lesser demons and devils and a cult calling themselves The Six-Fingered Hand - manipulates Doctor Strange into teleporting the Defenders around the globe. 

This includes a cool story about Eternity's sleeper-agent offspring and the return of Nebulon:
disguised as Namor's lady love Lorma, returned from the grave. (Not that Namor ever needed much coaxing to attack the surface world.)
With each spell he casts, the fabric of reality is weakened - apparently the teleportation spells are like unstable wormholes - allowing Satan to edge ever closer to merging Hell with Earth.

The Son of Satan senses a great disturbance in the omniverse and contacts Strange and the gang. As they travel from place to place, fighting demons with great names like Avarrish: 

where we first meet Gargoyle, who will stick around to the end of the title (issue 152.)
I always liked the Gargoyle. Current Marvel readers - has he ever been rebooted/ resurrected?
Avarrish possesses Hellcat.
And while the Defenders are successful in driving out the demon, she (ominously) doesn't quite return to normal.

For the remainder of the saga, she's not quite herself.

Which leads to the big revelation, when she transports Nighthawk (via the shadow cloak she swiped from Demon Slayer) as to who her real father is...

More on this in a moment, but lest we forget, Patsy Walker was once one of Marvel's romance comics' sweethearts -

Now we find out she was sired by Satan?

And not Mephisto or Dormammu or any of Marvel's other devil stand-ins - we're talking The Big Man himself! 

This lends some interesting psychodrama to the heretofore flirty relations between Daimon Hellstrom (aka Son of Satan) and Hellcat...

I should mention that my parents had no idea I was reading this stuff at first, but then (I think it was that cover to issue 96) they took a look at it and decided it was fine. I was relieved - my copy of Mötley Crüe's Shout at the Devil had been "censored by the regime," so I thought for sure this would provoke the same reaction. But they read it (something I always cite when praising my folks; they really were fair-minded about these things when I was a kid) and I think they recognized that the Hell and Satan of the storyline was less satanic evocation - and I don't think it takes anything away from the genuinely creepy mysticism of the goings-on - and more of the same make-believe as the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars or the underworld of Clash of the Titans.

Had they made a big thing of it, who knows? Maybe I'd have conceptualized it differently.
Part of the fun reading these now is appreciating how deftly the stories walk between traditional devil-vs.-mortals stories ("and the price is your immortal soul!") and traditional Marvel-comics adventure.

All of the Defenders-vs.-demons stories are fun, but let's look at a few panels from issue 96, the one with the Ghost Rider cover I'm always posting. Still one of the all-time coolest superhero comics.

Everything about this splash page is fantastic.
What is the source of Asmodues Jones' surging popularity? 

Fashima - another of Satan's minions.

Once Doctor Strange (or his astral self, above) figures out the Six-Fingered-Hand connection, the Defenders (and Ghost Rider) descend on his next big concert and expose Asmodeus Jones for what he is. When the crowd turns on him, Fashima is forced to attack the Defenders directly, and they dispatch her back to Hell.

"Guys... we really need to talk about Patsy..."
Hell begins to merge with Earth in issues 98 and 99:

I love both Unnthinnk's name and his visual.
Here the Defenders learn the fate of Citrusville, the first Hell/Earth merger.

All of it leads to:

The set-up:

"One such law states this once-in-a-millenia opportunity for Hell to subjugate Earth takes time..." Conveniently, just enough time for a little wager... what say you, Defenders?! Satan is such a sporting fellow in these types of stories. In the old Dungeons and Dragons alignment chart, Lucifer was always designated Lawful Evil - there's never any doubt he's out to get you, but damn it, rules are rules; the devil don't welsh. 

So, the group splits into groups of three (leaving Son of Satan and Hellcat with dear ol' Dad) to try and "unleash the light in darkness' heart."

- Doctor Strange, the Hulk, and the Sub-Mariner grapple with Satannish: 

Rutland, Vermont - nice reference. Here's a list of all the Rutland appearances in comics, up-to-date as far as I know. (Dog Star readers might recall Rutland's annual Halloween parade rearing its head in the 1972 slice of the Batman in the 1970s posts.)
 - The Gargoyle, Nighthawk, and Demon Slayer battle Thog in "an insane amalgam of every war ever fought."

These panels unsettled - and continue to unsettle - me.
Nighthawk channels his inner Captain Kirk and wins the day with a rousing speech.
but Thog's not having it.

- And the Silver Surfer, Clea, and the Valkyrie battle Mephisto in the Void Beyond All Imagining.

Despite seemingly winning, the Defenders find themselves back at Satan's feet. Wait, I thought Satan didn't welsh?

It all comes down to a mano-y-mano between father and son with the fate of the world in the balance. The Defenders pledge not to interfere, but when it looks like Satan is going to easily win, they join hands and send psychic energy (via Doctor Strange - that guy's got a spell for everything) to Daimon:

Alas, it's not enough.

It turns out the light in darkness' heart was the father's love in Satan's heart. A technicality! Daniel Webster would be proud. Hell slowly recedes, and Satan lets the Defenders know that everything "revealed" may not be the literal truth, including the question of Patsy's parentage.

And speaking of Patsy:

As a non-current Marvel reader, I have no idea whatever happened with this. Was Satan merely taunting the heroes, or is he really her father? DeMatteis touches briefly on the topic in this interview. Her wiki offers this: "Patsy's marriage to Daimon Hellstrom went bad, and Hellcat found herself trapped in Hell before returning in her own limited series in 2001." So, it appears certain strands of this story were taken up by later writers. 

Issue 101 is (as J.M. puts it in the interview afore-linked) "a spiritual cleansing after the literal Hell the team went through with the Six-Fingered Hand."
Years later, Dream of the Endless (early in the Sandman run) travels to Hell and does battle with Lucifer et al. After that storyline wrapped up, there's a similar sort of issue, where Dream re-charges his spiritual batteries, with the help of Death (his sister.) 

Fantastic issue. I don't think any of it was intended as any kind of homage to the above, but it's the first thing that I thought of, when I read it. The similarity in conceptual terrain is worth a reflection.
This would all make one hell of a movie, or a whole season of television, wouldn't it? I'd love to see it, but I won't hold my breath. Its author has this to say about the storyline these days:

"It was my first truly personal project at Marvel: a series that I poured heart and soul into. It was very early in my career, so my skill-set wasn't quite there yet - some of the stories are painfully clumsy, and a few are flat-out embarrassing - but God knows there was plenty of passion. I liken my Defenders work to 1970s punk rock: sure, some of those bands could only play three or four chords, and awkwardly at that, but they did it with such energy and commitment that, occasionally, they transcended themselves and created something unforgettable."

"Unforgettable" certainly accurately describes the Six-Fingered Hand storyline for myself. For better or worse, it cast (and continues to cast) a long shadow on not just how I view comics and what they were capable of ("sure your comic has a super-team, but do they go to Hell and do battle with Satan himself?") but also "devil fiction" in general.

Before I go, I've barely mentioned Don Perlin's name in this post, which is terrible of me. All of the visuals - in this post and in the issues themselves - are fantastic. He's ibeen semi-retired since the 90s, but have a gander at this gallery of his work. Given the reason-for-the-season of these blogs, I thought I'd end on this image from a variant cover he did from 2008: enjoy - and thanks for reading.


  1. Well, damn (to use that term without realizing the connection to the storyline before typing it), this storyline came maybe a year or so after I'd stopped reading The Defenders. Too bad I didn't stick with the book, because this seems like the kind of storyline I'd have dug. I may have to dig up the individual copies and give it a read.

    1. DeMatteis had a good run all around. I can see this story, and maybe a whole series of Devil Slayer and Gargoyle side adventures, being quite popular. As TV shows, I mean, but maybe as animated adventures, movies, who knows.

  2. (1) Seems like moderately low-selling titles used to translate to genius thanks to the lack of pressure. That's certainly how Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing" became such an oddity; and I believe more or less the same thing was true of Frank Miller's "Daredevil." Nowadays the entire industry should probably be like that...

    (2) Good thing your family didn't move right after, say, #99!

    (3) I like The Hulk getting all butthurt about nobody being nice and/or smiling. That's rich, that is.

    (4) I bet a LOT of parents probably had a look at this stuff and had to make a "go/no-go" judgment call. I don't know that you could get away with it in 2015 as a comics publisher (assuming the industry was still kid-centric, which it decidedly is NOT); I think there'd be outrage like you can't even believe. But, like, Satan IS a villain, so what's the big deal?

    (5) Dig those boots on Asmodeus Jones. (Sidebar: a super-awesome easter egg in the current Marvel movies would be for there to be some sort of mention of the new single from Asmodeus Jones.)

    (6) Vintage William Shatner as Nighthawk -- ah, if only...

    (7) Somebody needs to send this post to Netflix.

    Great stuff! Man, I really want to go on a long '70s/'80s Marvel binge at some point soon.

    1. Oh, an Asmodeus Jones easter egg would be glorious. I don't know if what the Hulk is saying in that panel where he's playing with Doctor Strange's dolls is a reference to anything, but if so, maybe combine the two - Asmodeus Jones sings "Come Into My Parlor, Fire-Head, and Sing Songs."

    2. It's an ironic testament to my Marvel illiteracy that I'm not only reminded of DC's more adult oriented late 70s-80s output, but at one point I get confused and think this must be either House of Fear or ST.

      Putting Death and Dream in there just sort of helps to drawn attention to an interesting fact.The comic book renaissance doesn't see to have been limited to DC.

      The irony is it must say something unflattering that this is the first time I notice a similar process going on at Marvel. I knew about the comic Howard the Duck but I apparently wasn't attaching it to anything important going on at the time...."D'oh!".


    3. There's plenty to love back there, to be sure. Steve Gerber (on Howard the Duck and Defenders, especially) was definitely early to the party, but he arguably opened the doors in the 70s to some of the groundbreaking work more commonly associated with DC in the 80s. That's not to take anything away from DC, of course - whatever groundwork existed before it, it was Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and Vertigo that truly across-the-board changed the stories supported by the medium.

      I love DC's 60s and 70s horror titles like House of Fear, House of Secrets, or Ghosts - truly underrated material, right there.