The Defenders (#26 – 29) – Steve Gerber

4 out of 5

Just as Steve Gerber had started to find the right balance of quirk and character in Giant-Size Defenders #5, it follows that the issues which are essentially the continuance of that story – 26 – 29 of the ongoing series – meet the same level of quality, with the added benefit of even more room for the expansive cast and plotting to do its job.

Viewing the evolution of Gerber’s writerly sensibilities across the 70s is also fascinating, juggling his funny side with his appreciation for randomness and artistic flourish and his restless need to commentate… all with an eye on an appreciation for superhero antics. It’s not always made for the cleanest combo (indeed, within Defenders itself), but it’s also produced highlighted moments of genius, and then got us here – when the title can somehow be a lot of those moods all at once. And I don’t mean shifting back and forth between drama and comedy, but rather being totally goofy and totally serious and totally weird but totally linear, at the same time.

And so we join our non-team – Nighthawk, Dr. Strange, Hulk, Valkyrie – as they assist the time-stranded Guardians of the Galaxy (70s edition) back to their year-3000-or-so era, with much thanks to mystic magiks, and to get the rebellion-‘gainst-the-Badoons party started. It’s a wonderfully bumpy ride, of course, with weirdness, world-building, and action spectacle handled equally greatly by Sal Buscema throughout, and, most importantly, it never hits a story slump, or feels like it’s reaching to bridge disparate parts of the tale. As our heroes get split up to various Badoon outposts, Steve gets to poke a little bit at humanity’s indulgences and willful carelessness, inserts an appreciatively non-black and white study of gender via the Badoon’s social structure, and continues to evolve the interrelationship of his teammates.

Some of it maybe stretches the comic book factor a bit too much – Gerb still seems a little unsure how powerful to make Dr. Strange, as he’s suddenly OP king here and king wink us to and fro in the timeline, no sweat, although he does counter this to a degree by shifting Doc’s personality to that of a sort of above-it-all sage, deciding when it’s best he get involved – and Jack Noriss, Valkyerie’s Barbara-persona’s husband, is just floating around, dunderheadedly throughout. It’s also unclear whether or not a Monty Hall satire – a gameshow planet the Hulk and Yondu land on – was intended to be something deeper than just a lark, but it’s fun and interesting nonetheless, and is another part of the energetic rumble of events comprising these issues.