The Defenders (#22 – 25) – Steve Gerber

3 out of 5

Nothin’ better than some middle-aged white dudes tackling racism in the 70s, via enlightened, spandex-clad superheroes. Using comic books as a platform for such things is admirable, but it’s tough to juggle – it’s hard making points that don’t come across as rather simplified “this is wrong, and I’ma punch it right!” sentiments in the context of something you’re trying to hock to a consumer paying for monthly fisticuffs, and, yeah, that’s mostly what happens here, as the white power Sons of the Serpent execute some confuzzled plan to take over the city by doing sneaky real estate maneuvers and then, uh, also announcing their plans on TV and burning Valkeyrie on a cross in the middle of the street.

Gerber’s moralizing in his comics was occasionally on par with a lot of his peers, just taking up the “good” side of the argument and having some mustache-twirling villains on the side of the wrong whom can be easily denounced. While it is sometimes that obvious in the real world (this being written in 2021 has made that abundantly clear), it’s just frustrating to see it boiled down to billboard-quotable basics that suggest that it’s something that can be solved in 3 or 4 comic books; better when the ongoing, subversive nature of such things is acknowledged – and just as Steve would do that especially well in some of his books, he manages to eke out a final issue of this arc that takes steps towards that.

Setting that larger concept aside, these are mostly pretty silly – though fun – issues that bend absolutely backwards to figure out how its various heroes can be waylaid by lower tier losers like the Serpents, falling back on the age-old “I guess Dr. Strange is knocked out!” excuses and, uh, a sprained ankle topping the list of Great Reasons Why I Need To Sit This Fight Out. On the plus side, Steve throws everyone he can into the mix – Daredevil, Luke Cage, Son of Satan – but it definitely goes on a bit too long, making less and less sense.

However, that final issue makes up a lot of groundwork, bringing the focus back around to character… and mysterious elves.