4 out of 5
After a notably compressed, though quality, ending to most of what Steve had been working on in his 20-issue run on The Defenders, he had one issue to put some things in place for the forthcoming Gerry Conway – namely reinstating some Dr. Strange prowess, bringing the various team members back together, and bringing Trish Starr back into the fold. None of this stuff was too far away from the current state of affairs, and so the end result is surprisingly solid, not seeming like the filler issue it could be considered.
Strange and Kyle visit a Nevada commune to which they’ve been summoned, learning that Trish had found herself there, fixed the place up, and then disappeared; a search through her things by one of the commune’s members produced contact info for Kyle Richmond.
The first few pages walking us through this are sincerely pretty peak Gerber, in terms of the maturity and organicness of the dialogue; I maintain he’d learned a lot about how to write more balanced female character from Mary Skrenes at this time, and it shows in how Trish is represented. …There might be some further commentary to that, as the story shifts to Trish being a wordless puppet used by the title’s revealed villain, responsible for the former’s initial disappearance and then trapping the Doc and Nighthawk, until all The Defenders can be rallied for some fisticuffs. That Kyle then gets to rouse Trish with a non-consensual kiss, and then they walk happily off into the background, is either lazy writing, or a purposeful reversal of how Trish had left Kyle standing on his lonesome several issues back; I’m sure Steve was just busy, but there’s also the sense that he was yanked off the title (the letters column of the ish seems kind of desultory towards him), and this could be a subtle jab at putting a female character back in her “place.” It’s to be noted that this also seemed to be the last issue before Valkyrie was back to her completely “useful” boob-armor.
This is mostly besides the point, though, as it’s all speculation, and the offhandedness of this stuff is why it’s not a perfect issue. But the Janson inks are still doing the job on Buscema’s pencils, and the cosmic battle that briefly overtakes the commune is exciting stuff. Certainly, Steve still had enough of a feel for these characters to have carried them even further, and so he delivered a pretty great, standalone, final issue.