THE DEFENDERSMedium: Comic Books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1971
Creator: Roy Thomas
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14 years of its existence, it included several "team players", such as The Thing (from The Fantastic Four), The Angel (from X-Men) and Hawkeye (from The Avengers). But it specialized in less gregarious types, such as Valkyrie, Gargoyle and The Son of Satan. Some of its associates were unclassifiable — Patsy Walker, for example, became a member under the superhero name "Hellcat". Even Howard the Duck was briefly associated with The Defenders.
The group was the brainchild of writer Roy Thomas (The Invaders, Infinity Inc.). The inspiration came from an earlier story Thomas wrote, which spanned the February and March, 1971, issues of Sub-Mariner. In it, Subbie teamed up with The Silver Surfer and The Hulk. Reader response to this unusual combo was such that Thomas pitched it as a regular series. It was nixed by editor-in-chief Stan Lee, who didn't want The Surfer to appear in a regular series not written by Lee himself. Thomas substituted Doctor Strange, and it was a go. The Defenders premiered in the first issue of Marvel Feature (December, 1971), a try-out title along the lines of DC's Showcase. The group quickly moved into its own title, with a first issue cover date of August, 1972. (Lee later relented, at least to the point of allowing The Surfer to appear in a few early issues.)
Writers who followed Thomas on the series include Len Wein (Brother Voodoo), Steve Gerber (Man-Thing), David Anthony Kraft (Comics Interview magazine) and J.M. DeMatteis (Moonshadow). It was during Kraft's tenure that the public became aware of The Defenders' existence, via an unauthorized TV documentary; and the group was suddenly inundated by minor superheroes claiming membership. It was about then that The Beast became a member, and started pushing for a more formal group structure.
He was eventually successful — and that was the end of The Defenders' uniqueness. The series continued a little while longer, but eventually ran its course. The final issue was dated February, 1986. During its time, dozens of Marvel characters traipsed through its pages, including (but not limited to) Moondragon, Power Man, Daredevil, Iceman, The Black Knight and Captain Marvel.
In 1993, Marvel revived the concept under the name Secret Defenders, with Doctor Strange bringing characters together to combat various menaces on an ad hoc basis. Again, many characters came and went (including a few seen in the first series); and again, group dynamics and structure were very, very fluid. This time, however, it didn't catch on as well. Secret Defenders lasted only 25 issues, the last of which was dated March, 1995. A third series began in 2001.