The New Defenders: Teaming up the non-team part II
By: Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)
In the Spring of 1984, The New Defenders got a new writer in Peter B. Gillis who took the anything-but-non-team in entirely new directions.
Taking over with issue # 132, Gillis quickly changed the tone of the title, adding a new layer of horror and suspense previously absent from the book. Even the art by longtime Defenders penciller Don Perlin reflected these changes as it got a darker, grittier and slightly abstract feel.
In his opening tale, Gillis delivered a done-in-one story that smoothly showed how his run would unfold as the Defenders fought a rather unexpected threat. Ephraim Soles was an ordinairy man down on his luck, wandering across the New Mexico desert when he came across some plants. Looking for a meal, the hungry Soles devoured the vegetation that was actually growing on a fragment of the gamma bomb that had exploded there years earlier. Catching a fatal dose of radiation, Soles didn’t exactly die. After falling down, he got up and resumed his wandering, eventually turning up at New Defenders headquarters.
“Good Lord! What’s happening to him?!”
Soles mutated into a gamma powered spore creature that quickly expanded in size, threatening the team and their base. Despite their best efforts, the Defenders proved largely ineffectual in beating back or even containing Soles. The mood of the book quickly turned from run of the mill superhero comic to horror movie, as the heroes desperately fought a threat that continued to evolve, adapt and survive. In the end, Iceman used his powers to drain all moisture from the creature and killing it. Or did he?
This story really set the tone for Gillis’ first year on the title. Everyone and anything could turn dark on a moment’s notice. A relatively light hearted tale of the team helping out wacky oriental expeditors Cutlass and Typhoon against crimelord Ozu in # 133, set up the next issue when Ozu hired the insane, telepathic serial killer Manslaughter to rub them out.
New Defenders # 134 reads like a suspenseful slasher movie, with the Defenders cooped up in their New Mexico headquarters, paranoid and on guard against their new, mysterious foe who managed to infiltrate their base, leaving mocking messages announcing their inevitable demise.
Manslaughter actually makes good on his threats, ambushing and killing off Iceman, Cloud and Angel. He even manages to nab Valkyrie’s sword Dragonfang. After dipping the blade in poison, he taks the Asgardian out with a simple cut. Manslaughter even gets under Moondragon’s skin, as he uses his low level telepathy to invade her mind and spread his madness around. Moondragon was ready to kill Manslaughter for that, but the team rallied to defeat the villain and stop Heather from killing him. And then, Gillis had Cloud drop one heck of a bombshell…
“Please don’t cry, don’t hurt… Moondragon. I love you…”
Oh my. Lesbians in the 1980s? Well played, Gillis, well played indeed. So, who was Cloud anyway? She was the final team member added by DeMatteis before he left. Introduced as a villain in issue # 123, this beautiful blonde girl was able to become, well, a cloud. By issue # 127, she turned out to be an unwitting pawn of the Secret Empire and joined her former adversaries in getting revenge. Rehabilitating villains is hardly a new move, but what made Cloud’s inclusion especially interesting was the intense interest Moondragon showed in the young girl’s well-being.
After her initial profession of love, Cloud was wracked with guilt and shame, not able to understand how she could have these wrong thoughts and feelings. But she still grew closer to Moondragon and a resolution of sorts was inevitable. But this is still 1984, Marvel Comics or the Comics Code Authority would never allow an openly lesbian couple in comics. So, Gillis came up with another twist. Cloud had every reason to be confused about her feelings, as issue # 136 proved…
Problem? Problem solved. The Moondragon/Cloud relationship never really went anywhere after Moondragon turned down all overtures and simply moved on. But others had far more difficulty accepting Cloud’s dual nature. Iceman lusted after Cloud when he thought she was just a woman, but when the male version popped up, Bobby was left rather confused.
Ah, ever so subtle discussions of sexuality and how uncomfortable heterosexual men tend to get when there is even the slightest doubt they might be anything but straight. You’d think that after running around in little more than a speedo for most of his superhero career, Iceman would be the one superhero most secure about his orientation. Sadly enough, he wouldn’t learn from this mistake repeating the same immature homophobic behavior when Northstar admitted he had the hots for him during Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-men run.
By the by, wonder where the New Defenders are flying off to as they were having this heart to heart? Well, remember how Manslaughter was taking out the team one by one? During that crisis, one New Defender was left unaccounted for: Gargoyle, who vanished mysteriously.
At the time, the team figured it was another one of Manslaughter’s traps but he had nothing to do with Isaac’s disappearance. As it turned out, an old Afghani mystic was to blame. Tired of the Mujahideen controlling his lands, the man used his powers to summon a demonic servant to deal with them. And Isaac’s body, still demonic in nature, obeyed the summoning chants and brought Gargoyle to Afghanistan where Isaac was forced to kill the soldiers that bothered the mystic.
Growing power hungry after this swift victory, the mystic decided to use his dark servant’s vast powers for personal gain. Still, Isaac’s mind was able to subtly influence the demon’s actions… first teleporting them to New York, hoping Doctor Strange would show up to free him. Sensing betrayal, the mystic ordered Gargoyle to take them away from the city that never sleeps… So he landed them in the Rocky Mountains where Moondragon was able to pick up Isaac’s cries for help.
A fearful fight ensued between the Defenders and the vastly more powerful Gargoyle. Isaac had to watch helplessly as his body grew to giant size and threatened the lives of his teammates. In the end, Valkyrie had no choice but to stab Gargoyle, while the Beast wielded Dragonfang to lob off Gargoyle’s hand.
In the end, it was Moondragon who used her powers to make contact with Isaac’s mind, buried deep within the demon’s brain. The two Defenders touched souls and Moondragon deduced a way to break the mystic’s hold over Gargoyle… simply blind him and knock him out. No sooner said than done. But Isaac had seen a terrible, hidden truth about Moondragon when he was inside her mind. So, while the victory might seem a little easy, Gargoyle’s revelation in the cliffhanger would set in motion the final chapter of Gillis’ run…
Sometimes, captions say it all.. In the third and final part of Anyone Remember The New Defenders… Moondragon’s secret origin is revealed as the headband comes off and, despite everyone’s best efforts…they’re all dust in the wind.