A Defensive History: The Story of the Original Defenders

Defenders Feature Image

Are you a fan of the Marvel Netflix shows but want to read comics with nothing to do with them? Well read on because Marvel recently announced a Defenders reboot following the original team! These team includes Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the Silver Surfer! Wait what!? These are all movie characters (until MCU starts casting Namor, preferably of Asian descent). Why would these four guys be on a team?

Defenders Team

That’s right! Before the Defenders were a street-level team on a TV show with barely enough budget to make someone’s hand glow yellow, they were these four. So strange and so outlandish, not even its original creator called it in a real team. How could your usual loners like Doctor Strange and the Hulk and even a somber Herald of Galactus work together before they became merchandisable? How could their current merchandisable selves ever team-up now? All the answers and more as we dig deep into the Defenders origin and the creative teams that will lead them on this new initiative.

Because now nostalgia and retroactive info-dump articles are merchandisable too.

Defenders Assemble

The creation of the first Defenders comic series began with the cancellation of another comic: Doctor Strange at issue #183. Tragic, but what a pretty number to end on these days. The year was 1969 in the month of November, the series writer Roy Thomas just got a Lovecraft-inspired story in Doctor Strange rolling. But he realized he couldn’t finish it in the original title. How unfortunate it is for creators then and now to leave plot threads intended to be tied.

Luckily, Thomas had the privilege of writing two other series: Sub-Mariner and The Incredible Hulk. Dedicated to what he started, Thomas finished up the story in 1970 as Doctor Strange guest-starred in Submariner #22 and The Incredible Hulk #126. Three characters brought together by magic and a single writer’s will. He didn’t intend for them to be a team, but this was only the beginning of the story as he was surprised as us it ended this way too.

Titans Three

Thomas’s New Groove

A year later, Thomas wrote Sub-Mariner #34-35 with Sal Buscema on art and proved himself fond of that old story. In those issues, he teamed-up the sea king with the Hulk and in a twist of fate the cosmic newcomer Silver Surfer, whose own series ended in 1969. The story united them as the informal “Titans Three” for their respective powers on earth, sea, and space.

Sales for those team-up issues increased the popularity of that series. So, Marvel Comics decided Roy Thomas should continue writing these characters as a team that then Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee named “the Defenders.” 

However, the writer hit a snag. Stan Lee prohibited him from using the Silver Surfer. Why? According to Thomas, Lee loved the character and he didn’t like the idea of anyone else writing him. Instead, Lee gave Thomas a new but familiar character for this team: Doctor Strange. 

The Titans Three, Plus One!

After that decision: “The Defenders” debuted as a series in the pages of Marvel Feature #1 written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Ross Andru. The Defenders had the dynamic of an experienced, level-headed wizard trying to lead two very impulsive powerhouses. The sales of Marvel Feature’s first three issues were so successful that the team spun out into their very own ongoing series.

Unfortunately, Thomas could not write the series due to increased responsibilities. So he passed writing duties onto a then younger Steve Englehart with Sal Buscema on art. Then the stars finally aligned as the ending of The Defenders #1 brought the Silver Surfer back, reuniting all the characters from Thomas’s adventures! Despite the fact that Valkyrie replaced Surfer by #4, the core team was established and the rest was history.

Classic Defenders Team

Where Are They Now?

While the original Defenders were successful in their heyday, the modern comics industry and audience now considers them a cult classic. Each character went on to have their own success in solo runs. Doctor Strange remained a fixture at Marvel and got a new solo series in 2015, under a hot streak of excellent creative teams. Writers Jason Aaron, Donny Cates, and Mark Waid took the good doctor to new heights with the styles of their artists Chris Baccholo, Gabriel H. Walta, and Jesus Saiz respectively.

The Hulk is still one of Marvel’s most popular characters, but the title changed hands as Bruce Banner stepped down under case of death. Greg Pak made younger character Amadeus Cho the Totally Awesome Hulk, eventually joining the teen team The Champions as Brawn. After that, Bruce Banner came back in a new title called Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennet with the vision of an actual horror comic and it is probably Marvel’s best new series.

The Silver Surfer series had an excellent run by Dan Slott and Michael Allred, and he also reverted back to a herald of Galactus in Gerry Duggan’s Infinity Countdown. Namor is the odd man out as he hasn’t had a color un but rather important supporting roles in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers and Tom Taylor’s X-Men Red.

Modern Defenders

The New Defenders

Meanwhile, the actual team name of The Defenders fell onto a lot more grounded foursome: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. After their live-action Netflix debuts and crossover, Marvel published a new Defenders series. The team under it was Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, and Justin Ponsor. This comic was stellar as Bendis thrived with street-level comics and worked dynamite with Marquez. Unfortunately, the series ended when Bendis left Marvel to begin writing for DC Comics.. The left the team name once again in the wind, until now.

The Marvel Comics of today announced that the original four Defenders will return in a series of one-shots done by the big guns of Marvel now. They are called IMMORTAL HULK: THE BEST DEFENSE, NAMOR: THE BEST DEFENSE, DOCTOR STRANGE: THE BEST DEFENSE, and THE DEFENDERS: THE BEST DEFENSE. 

The Men Behind The Defense

The Immortal Hulk one shot will be done by Al Ewing and Simone Di Meo, likely continuing the quality of the current series. Doctor Strange goes under Gerry Duggan and Greg Smallwood. This is a stellar creative team as Duggan already writes a confident Doctor in the current Infinity Wars event. The artist Smallwood manages a trippy and dark tone that works well for Strange. Chip Zdarsky and Carlos Magnos will lead Namor. Who knows how that will turn out as the comedic Zdarsky is an odd arrangement for a haughty sea-dweller.

Silver Surfer, under his new heraldic status quo, will be led by Jason Latour on both artist and writing duties. Jason Later is a fantastic writer and artist, even writing the character in a little comic tied into Hickman’s Infinity. The Lee/Kirby creation receiving the full force of Latour’s creativity will be something to behold. Al Ewing and Joe Bennet will finish out with the Defenders, which will most likely be a roaring good time. Ewing has great experience writing teams such as Ultimates and USAvengers. Bennet can also draw some classic super hero action.

Will the original Defenders be here to stay? Let’s wait and find out.

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When he doesn't have his head in the clouds, Jose keeps his head down studying and reading books, both graphic and novel. When he's not reading, you can see him writing his own sci-fi adventures, photographing life in Los Angeles, catching up on television he's missed, or watching the latest MCU film. He's happy to live in the now.

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