Love. Exciting and new. Come aboard, we're expecting you...sorry about that. But love is an interesting thing. It can inspire. It can blind. It can redeem someone, but also drive another to madness. And like regular folks, superheroes are far from immune to the power of love. Marvel's resident "non-team", the Defenders (a group I have talked about before here), know it all too well. So, as a belated Valentine's Day gift, let's take a look at Defenders #116!
The cover is really cool. It focuses on a brazier, and the flames of it summarizes what the book is about, albeit Daimon and Patsy are a bit exaggerated. And the shadows on Gargoyle's face does make him look like he has some...disturbing intentions.
"Two by Two"
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Penciler: Don Perlin
Inkers: Diverse Hands, Mike Mignola
Colorist: George Roussos
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Editor: Al Milgrom
Editor-In-Chief: Jim Shooter
The story begins with Doctor Strange staring at the flames of a brazier.
I think if he keeps doing that, he's going to end up blind. He's visited by the Overmind, who sensed that Strange is in a bit of emotional turmoil. They sensed that Strange is feeling a bit down and lonely. The Sorcerer Supreme admits that he is feeling a bit down. He's thinking of his beloved Clea. After the events of Doctor Strange #55 (October 1982), she is no longer at his side. Strange may be the one of the greatest and most powerful sorcerers in the world, but he is still a man. A man who yearns for love. The Overmind sympathizes, as they were once six human minds now merged and residing in an alien body (It's a long story). The Overmind also remembers that unrequited love may be hard, but it can be just as hard for those who are together. The alien gestalt demonstrates this by using the "Cauldron of the Cosmos" to call forth a vision of yesterday.
In their brownstone, the Defenders have returned from a massive adventure on Earth-S, the home of the Squadron Supreme. The events of that story would lead up to the big Squadron Supreme miniseries I examined last year. Hulk and Silver Surfer have already left. The Vision and the Scarlet Witch are saying goodbye to them.
The two want to head back home to New Jersey, as they have plans to live a "normal" life away from superheroics. Perhaps even start a family. Yeah, that's going to end well. Dolly, the Defenders' housekeeper, remarks that they are a lovely couple. Isaac Christians, the Gargoyle, agrees and remarks that Dolly must've been an even more beautiful woman in her youth, which makes her blush.
Hank McCoy, the Beast, is eager for some chow, but his girlfriend Vera Cantor is not. She and Hank have not had any real alone time in weeks, and she is not waiting anymore. She drags him away. Bruunhilde the Valkyrie asks if Namor is leaving as well, and he is. He's been away from Atlantis for a while, and his people need him. I'm hoping the Atlantean government had something in place for situations like this. Val wants to accompany him there as the trip back there can be rather long. Namor actually agrees to it. She and Namor fly off on her winged horse named Aragorn.
But its not all goodbyes. One member is coming back. A taxi pulls up to the brownstone, and the driver asks if he just saw Namor and Val fly off on Aragorn. The fare jokes about Namor's pointed ears. The woman heads inside.
Yup, it's Patricia "Patsy" Walker, aka Hellcat. She had been out finding herself and reuniting with her father. Dolly and Gargoyle are overjoyed to the point of tears. Daimon Hellstrom's reaction is more reserved, but he's no less happy to see her back. Strange is annoyed by seeing this, as he has no idea what the point of this exercise is. Overmind explains that new love may be born, but no birth is without pain, as he shows with Beast and Vera Cantor.
The two just had some falafel, and Hank is hoping to get down to some serious eating. Vera grumbles that Hank knows nothing about being serious. She says that Hank has become nothing more than a clown, in her own words: "The Steve Martin of the super-hero set!" Hank counters that life was made for living. Things are complicated further when a group of fangirls spot the Beast and go crazy over him. It's a shame it's not like this anymore with Beast.
Beast eagerly goes to greet them, much to Vera's consternation. She stomps away, with Beast pursuing her, wondering what her deal is. He sees that she is in tears. Hank explains that he's the way he is because it helps him keep his sanity through the crazy life he has as a superhero.
This is actually a pretty clever way to explain Hank's various personality changes over the years. Hank has always had an obvious mutation, whether it was the ape-like body with the big hands and feet, or the blue fur, or the later cat-like form, Hank has always been the most obvious mutant of the original five X-Men, and it would have an effect on the self-esteem. Hank admits that after he got the blue fur, he needed to create a new mask, going from the brainy Hank McCoy Vera knew in the past to the party-hardy happy-go-lucky Hank of the Avengers. He admits sometimes, he has no idea who he is. Vera tells him she can help him...if he wants her to. They share a kiss. Vera mistakenly thinks he agreed, but his silence is of uncertainty and fear.
The scene shifts again to the ocean, with Namor and Valkyrie flying over it with Aragorn. Namor is...actually happy for once. It's been a while since he allowed himself the simple joys of laughter and camaderie. You'd think he'd have found some of that with his fellow Defenders. Valkyrie agrees with the King of Atlantis. Namor then dives to the ocean. Brunnhilde doffs her battle costume (conveniently wearing a pink short dress underneath), and dives in afterwards. The two then happily swim together, and then share a kiss. Namor then pushes her away and leaps out of the water.
Val wonders what was wrong. Namor feels what they did was not right. He's never really gotten over the death of his beloved Lady Dorma in Sub-Mariner #37 (May 1971), and he also is esssentially married to his kingdom. That is one bride that will never leave him. Val tells him he can't close off his heart forever. She does have a point, Namor. The Sub-Mariner appreciates her concern, but tells her not to worry about it. As he dives into the water, he tells Val he has a path to follow, and he must walk it alone. Val is left confused. She may be a goddess, but even the gods know little of love. The brazier changes scenes again, this time to focus on Daimon Hellstrom and Patsy Walker.
Patsy is telling Daimon about her father she just recently reunited with. Daimon is happy for her. She also tells him she plans to write a book. The two head to a cake shop, and the redheaded ex-gymnast and superheroine is in the mood for a tasty sweet treat. Daimon wants to talk to Patsy, but she's too interested in deciding what sweet treat to snack on. Having had enough, the Son of Satan transforms into his superhero garb and drags Patsy out.
I can't help but wonder, what does Damian do when it's cold outside? He's not wearing a shirt. DOes he get cold? Anyway, he takes to the air with his trident and explains he wants to talk to her privately. Patsy angrily squirms out of his grip and uses her gymnastic skills to land on a rooftop. She confronts Daimon, and he explains that he didn't mean any harm, but he just wanted to be alone with her for a while. Patsy admits that she was trying to avoid talking to Daimon about...them. The two had been attracted to each other he rejoined the Defenders in Defenders #92 (February 1981).
He had confessed his love to Patsy, but then got taken to Hell in Defenders #100 (October 1981). Patsy missed Daimon, but he managed to come back in Defenders #105 (March 1982), having also finally triumphed over his inner demons due to his half-demonic heritage. Patsy then herself realized that in order to have a relationship with Daimon, she had to conquer her own inner demons. She had to find herself, because she had wondered about her own heritage. You see, there was a time when she thought she herself was a daughter of the Devil. Which would have made her...Daimon's half-sister.
Yeah. Thankfully, Defenders #111 (September 1982) shot that down, and she found her biological father. Thank God. She then notices that Daimon is crying. Daimon explained that Patsy was his first taste of love, something he has rarely experienced. Patsy's love made him feel like a man for the first time in his life. Patsy admits that she doesn't know if she herself can love him. Daimon screams in rage and flies off.
Strange asks Overmind what the point was of all this, as it seems that all the alien gestalt is showing that all love is doomed to failure. Overmind claims that every man must walk the path of love in their own way. He suggest another image in the brazier, going back to the Gargoyle and Dolly. Dolly is making some cookies, and Gargoyle is eager to eat another one. She asks what he thinks of Daimon Hellstrom. Gargoyle admits that Hellstrom is a man that can't really be summed up in a few words.
Dolly sees Patsy as a daughter, and she admits that she as concerns about him. She feels that a man like Daimon is not someone she needs in her life as she's getting things together. She also admits he scares her a bit. Which makes sense, he is the son of the Devil. Gargoyle asks if he scares Dolly. He doesn't, because she can see his good heart underneath his monsterous. Let's remember folks, this was a man who sold his soul to a group of demons, and he was given his gargoyle body to act as their agent. Yeah, he did it to save the town his family founded, but...yeah. He did that.
Dolly hopes she didn't offend him, but Isaac reassures her he's comfortable as he is. He says that it is nice for him to have someone closer to his own age to talk to. He loves his fellow Defenders (even thinking of them as the children he never had back when he was human), but bridging the gap between himself and the much younger members can be exhausting at times. He hugs Dolly, thanking her for caring and being here for him.
He then says that at his age, he came to a bit of an epiphany. The kind of love that Strange is pining for can become...unimportant. Gargoyle himself was never married, but he noticed something about all the successful marriages he witnessed in his time...they were friends first. Passion, lust...they come and go like the tides. But the love borne from friendship...that can last forever. Strange ponders this as the flames on the magic brazier die down.
He then magically opens his door, and the Sorcerer Supreme and the Overmind fly off. At the Defenders' brownstone, Isaac, Betsy, Hank, Val, and Dolly are listening to some of Gargoyle's war stories when the Beast notices something at the window. The group head there and see this.
Gargoyle is overjoyed by the fireworks display, as it reminds him of the Fourth of July fireworks when he was a boy. Wait, Gargoyle is a veteran of World War I. If we assume he was 18 when he signed up to serve, he would have had to have lived his boyhood in the 1900s. Were firework displays on the Fourth of July a thing back then? Well, fireworks did exist back then, the Chinese invented them in the 7th century to ward off evil spirits. I did some checking, and the first Fourth of July celebration in 1777 did have a fireworks display, so it's surprisingly plausible.
A colorful comet erupts from the fireworks, and heads for the brownstone. The heroes duck, and the comet hits, revealing Doctor Strange and the Overmind. Never let it be said that Strange has no flair for the dramatic. The story ends with Strange explaining the reason he was there.
Yup, Strange wanted to spend some time with some people that he loved: His friends and fellow Defenders.
This issue was really good. It's nice seeing a quieter issue like this, focusing more on the characters themselves. And such an issue makes perfect sense after a big epic storyline like the group's adventure with the Squadron Supreme. I do like that there's a variety of reasons for their troubles, like Namor's still not letting go of Dorma, and Hank's struggle with who he is. I also liked the showing that love can come in many forms, and just because you don't have a significant other in your life, does not mean you are not loved. Strange may not have his romance with Clea, but he still has the love of his fellow Defenders. It's rather touching.
This era of Defenders, in my experience, is criminally underrated. I think it's a massive shame no one talks about this era of Defenders very much. It was so unique from anything else being put out by the Big Two at the time. I hope this helps brings more attention to it, because it deserves to be lauded. If you are interested in reading it for yourself, Marvel has released two Epic Collections covering some of this era: The Six-Fingered Hand Saga and Ashes, Ashes... A third, The New Defenders, will be out in August.
I hope you all enjoyed this rather admittedly belated Valentine's Day gift. Next time, we stick with the Defenders...well, one of them, as we take a look at the beginning of Namor the Sub-Mariner's 1990s adventures...