Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Guest Blog: 1983 - The New Defenders (Part One)
The New Defenders: Teaming up the Non-Team Part One
By: Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)
Anyone remember the time some of the founding X-Men fought crime alongside a demon? On a team led by a woman with no super powers?
No, not the Champions of Los Angeles…. The New Defenders. The year is 1983 and J.M. DeMatteis decided to reinvent the non-team by turning it into… well, a team. And what a team it was! Having Beast, Iceman and Angel team up with Valkyrie, the demonic geriatric Gargoyle, the hermaphroditic Cloud and a rather reluctant Moondragon? It should have bombed horribly. But it didn’t. Reason enough to take a fond look back at the New Defenders…
So, how did this new and improved Defenders team come about? DeMatteis had been writing the title for a number of years, penning his usual psycho-analytical stories on the meaning of life and the human condition, when he slowly started working towards ridding himself of the team’s founding fathers Hulk, Doctor Strange, Namor and Silver Surfer.
This resulted in a convoluted storyline that convinced the four of them that their continued adventuring together would lead to the inevitable destruction of Earth. Buying into this, the foursome showed up at the end of issue #125, to dovetail a tale that also saw long-time Defenders Hellcat and Hellstrom married off. They were right on time to give the new team their blessing.
This left a new core team consisting of Angel, Beast, Iceman, Valkyrie, Gargoyle and, of all people… Moondragon. It soon became clear DeMatteis clearly was most fond of this snooty bald telepath and she quickly became the breakout character of the book.
Most of her appeal came from the fact she didn’t even want to be there. Moondragon had been judged by the Asgardian ruler Odin himself after she had enslaved an entire alien race over in Avengers. Odin’s verdict was simple: Moonie was to relearn humanity and the meaning of humility. Not exactly an easy process.
He created a mystical headband that severely limited her mental abilities and caused great pain whenever she tried to use more of her powers. The headband would only come off once Moondragon had been taught humility.
Making sure she would learn this lesson, Odin placed her in the care of long-time Defender Valkyrie. Returning to Earth with Val, Moondragon reluctantly joined the team. Her trademark arrogance quickly became a bitter sort of comic relief when her abilities proved no longer equal to her notorious bluster and bravado.
Fortunately, the mistress of the mind was determined to make the best of the situation. Sure, she was no longer able to control the minds of the masses… but all she needed was a few good men. She began to subtly alter the minds of the male members of the team, trying to make them fall in love with her so she might persuade them to remove the headband.
Speaking of the Defenders’ male members… The presence of so many founding X-men on the team, allowed DeMatteis to examine just how they had evolved since the early days at Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters. The Beast, the eldest of the three, was looking for new ways to reinvent himself as he had matured beyond the blue-furred class clown. Angel was also looking for a deeper meaning to life, having grown tired of the playboy millionaire shtick. And under DeMatteis’ tutelage, Iceman was reinvented as a graduated accountant who found his chosen line of profession dull beyond words and felt forced to crunch numbers in order to appease his parents who simply couldn’t stand his superheroing.
DeMatteis wrote the three mutants as older, more experienced people. They were the best of friends thanks to their shared experiences as X-men, but their individual paths in life had showed them being a superhero wasn’t necessarily the be all and end all of existence. A refreshing change of pace at the time.
Complimenting the roster was the Gargoyle, aka Isaac Christiaans, an old Defender and one of DeMatteis’ original creations. He proved an excellent vehicle for the writer’s interest in introspective tales on ageing, regret, the despair of roads not taken and accepting the inevitable. After all, if a 78 year old man sells his soul to the devil and gets trapped in the body of an immortal gargoyle, there are quite a few stories to tell. Yet, it was a change he actually took in stride. Gargoyle even found new love with the Defenders’ housekeeper Dolly… Yet even Isaac got the hots for Moondragon.
This subplot was ever present during the team’s first adventure. A mysterious force was causing trouble for Nick Fury and SHIELD, so Beast, eager to prove the new Defenders’ worth, volunteered to help Fury out. They soon discovered the culprits were Professor Power and the Secret Empire. But before the Defenders got to Power himself, they had to face off against Mad Dog and his Mutant Force, the gargantuan Leviathan and even the Mandroids. During all this, Moondragon took every opportunity to shine and impress…
Eventually, they confronted Power and the Empire… And lost. Capturing the team, Power decided to use them as pawns in his ongoing revenge against professor Xavier. Power still believed Xavier was responsible for the fate of his son Matthew, a young man who was rendered comatose during a fight Xavier had with the evil telepath Mentallo.
Power, his mind transferred to the fit body of his son, planned to take Xavier’s ‘children’ from him as well by having the Defenders kill the New Mutants. Still, Power hadn’t considered Moondragon’s powers, trying to control someone who once ruled several billion minds is like trying to drown water. She saw through the ruse and was essential in Power’s eventual downfall... Crossing a line few heroes ever dared cross.
On a sidenote: thematically, DeMatteis was able to tie this plot point into the storyline of Beast, Angel and Iceman pondering how their lives had changed since their days at Xavier’s. They were no longer teenagers let alone students or young heroes in training. For better or worse, they had come into their own…
This realization could have provided DeMatteis with plenty of new stories to tell, but he actually left with # 131, handing over the reigns to Peter B. Gillis. Existing subplots like Moondragon’s scheming were taken into new, unexpected territories as the tone of the book shifted from the introspective to the bizarre and horrific. More on that in part two of The New Defenders: Teaming Up The Non-Team.