5 out of 5
Isn’t it nice when comics are just, like, fun? Like they “should” be, eh? I’m certainly all for the cerebral, or something challenging, but yeah, it’s nice when a tale is just a good time front-to-back, and without knowing exactly the divide between plotters on this giant-sized Defenders, it has the taint of Gerbs at his goofy best, when every page feels like a surprise.
The story, by comic book standards, is pretty straight-forward: cosmic gambler The Grandmaster has entered in to a game with another entity, and elects some superpowered Earthers as his pawns in said game: The Defenders, plus Daredevil. The reasonings for the former require some editorial-asterisked references, and the reason for the latter is maybe kinda sorta ’cause Steve was writing his book at the time; whatever the case, the game needs six players: Nighthawk, Hulk, Namor, Valkyrie, Dr. Strange, and DD. The setup for all of this requires a jaw-droppingly complex and compressed bit of flash-backing explanation and classic Steve text pages (with some excellent spot illos, from Dan Adkins, Don Newton, and Jim Mooney), but it ends up boiling down to three separate two vs. two matches, on three specialized planets created for this venture, against six foes selected by the Grandmaster’s ally. The fact that these “foes” are purposefully unknown to our heroes, and that their intent is to kill sort of gives license to deal with the baddies in spectacular fashion, no hand-waiving “let’s arrest ’em” politeness.
Each chapter of the GS is given to one of these square-offs, and they’re truly surprising and, as mentioned, fun: successes are achieved in unique and sometimes comedic ways, and… success isn’t always achieved. And the thing concludes with a bit of winky further justification for tossing Daredevil into the mix.
The issue also includes some reprints: an enjoyable old-school Namor joint in which he hates humans and is whining to his human girlfriend about wanting to kill them, confused why she’s getting in a tizzy, and then a Stan Lee / Ditko Dr. Strange bit that’s actually, like, surprising in its plotting! All kudos to Lee for having a buzzing brain that helped co-create much of the Marvel U, but his writing generally fits in to cliche, all the same (or at least what we would come to know as cliche for the format); this short, on the other hand, would work well even now.
Grand stuff all around.