2 out of 5
A cluttered tale that has a good core idea, but is executed rather clunkily.
Steve Gerber’s Defenders was an ideal platform for the writer, allowing him to combine his fanboy appreciation for comic book goofiness with his strength at grounding spandex-clad heroes via relatable human emotions. From his outset on the title, he began figuring out ways to explore the rotating oddballs in the group, and leveling the plotting playfield to include realistic relationship dynamics that would butt up against that week’s cosmic foe. Giant-size #4 is another representation of that, as Nighthawk – as Kyle Richmond – and his girlfriend Trish Starr are injured in a car bombing, setting the Defenders off on a grim quest to find the perpetrator/s. The wrinkle here is interesting: that it wasn’t Richmond that was targeted, but actually Starr, a thread Yellowjacket (Hank Pym) picks up on and explores separately.
Things start off excellently, with Steve poking interestingly at gender roles (which he liked doing in his 70s books) – foremost the assumption that our manly hero was the focus, as opposed to Trish – but once the hero versus villain stuff gears up, soon afterward, all of that is lost, and we get some really cheesy comic stereotypes, including someone shaking their fist at the sky in frustration. Including the Squadron Sinister as foes would work fine in a more light-hearted take, but the serious undercurrent Steve tries to maintain doesn’t really work well with dudes with names like ‘The Whizzer,’ and the actual culprit behind the bombing’s motivations need more than a panel to properly explain, but that ends up matching the, er, mismatch of how shallowly Gerber ends up dealing with the impact of that bombing on Trish – she loses an arm, and Kyle is just pissed off that they break up as a couple afterwards. I guess that might be commentary, but it doesn’t come across that way.
On the plus side, this is surprisingly detailed artwork from Don Heck, to the extent that you wonder how helped out he might’ve been by inker Vince Colletta. When the battle ramps up, it starts to display the usual Heck blockiness – which I sincerely don’t mind – but a lot of the dialogue / non-hero based scenes are really surprisingly weighty.
I don’t like to rate the Giant-Sizes on their reprints, but it’s hard not to in this case: they’re pretty bad to atrocious, and so the meh main story has zero buffer. A Namor story from Bill Everett is a mix of bland and unreadable – an Antarctic rescue sequence that was perhaps beyond the artist’s abilities at that point, and so it’s hard to tell (or care) about what’s going on – and a Dr. Strange story from Lee and Ditko that reeks of the Marvel method of filling in story after-the-fact, as it has a really paint-by-numbers flow to it, without much flourish from Ditko.