4 out of 5
The Head-Men; Nebulon: it all wraps up here. Er, well, kind of.
The latter half of Steve Gerber’s Defenders run is, in part, amazing – it’s one of the most complex, fore-plotted sequence of issues from early Marvel history, juggling several different things in unobvious ways so it’s never clear (in a fun sense) where story arcs end and begin; it’s all kind of just happening at once. This is alongside some brilliant character work Steve managed, and his usual goofiness, which enhanced the story instead of just being an amusing add-on.
But as very often happened with many, many of Steve’s books, it seems like he got yanked off of The Defenders before he could really get where he was going, leading to key details being dropped in the lead-up to this annual nigh between panels, suggesting Gerber had several more beats he was planning on working on before getting to this point. And I can’t necessarily speak for how Annuals are “supposed” to be used, but more often than not for what I’ve read, they’re generally not so intertwined into the plot as this one – that is, it really seems like Steve’s only option for having enough room to wrap things up as much as possible was in the extra pages of an annual, so this is pretty much a direct continuation from Defenders #40. …And there’s still not enough room. The two main threads mentioned above collide a little uncomfortably, and Jack Norriss’ bit as an undercover agent – sussing out the intentions of a new political candidate – gets supremely shorted.
Thankfully, because it is Gerber, and because he has made sure to constantly keep the title with a toehold in the ridiculous along the way, we may be cramped for space and the Head-Men get their due almost completely off-page, but it’s still a damned good issue. Each of the sections works really well in isolation, and if you’ve been reading along the whole while – as you should’ve been – you can sense what Steve wanted to do here, and see the points he was making, and the concepts and ideas reverberate really well, despite the hurried pace. Plus: the deus ex machina Strange executes in the final pages is super badass.