Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Avengers Defenders Clash - September 1973!


Avengers #118 features the climax to the epic Clash between the Assemblers and the Dynamic Defenders.  The energetic but never chaotic cover is by Ron Wilson and John Romita.


"Chapter 18: To The Death"  by Steve Englehart, Bob Brown and inkers Mike Esposito and Frank Giacoia, shows the two defiant teams after they talked instead of fought and have discovered that both have been manipulated by Dormammu and Loki to find the six parts of the magical Evil Eye of Avalon. Dormammu has used the Eye to weave a spell on all of the Earth dimension and is slowly drawing it into the Dark Dimension where he can rule without qualm. As he does this people are turning into monsters.


The combined teams fight to fend off the transformed humans but know they must enter the Dark Dimension to confront Dormammu and Loki directly. Help arrives when SHIELD shows up to take over and the heroes go to save the day. They find themselves on the mysterious and dangerous snaking paths of the Dark Dimension and attempt to find their way forward. Meanwhile the Watcher appears to Dormammu and Loki and reveals that he is merely there to observe this change in the status quo of the universe. The combined forces of the Avengers and Defenders confront and defeat the Mindless Ones. On Earth however we see the threat is widespread as heroes and villains alike confront the tranformations which threaten everyone. On Earth and beyond the threat spreads. Dormammu casts a spell which defeats the Defenders, but the Avengers gather themselves and charge using their famous battle cry.


Then many of them fall victim to deadly quicksand-like traps and only Thor, Iron Man and the Scarlet Witch escape. Soon though both Thor and Iron Man are changed into their secret identities and the Witch is alone to confront the two gods who have perpetrated the plot. Dormammu had previously caged Loki who he understood had betrayed him and Loki is able to change his form and attacks Dormammu as the Scarlet Witch in a final desperate move casts a hex which causes the Evil Eye to absorb the total power of Dormammu and then transfer that power into the mind of Loki who goes mad as result.


The spell is broken just like that and Earth and elsewhere return to normal though much damage has been done. The Avengers reassemble with the Defenders and the combined teams take the mad Loki into custody and depart the Dark Dimension leaving only the Watcher to have the final word as the threat is ended for now.


Defenders #11  by Englehart, Sal Buscema and inker Frank Bolle, gives us the finale of this sprawling adventure and surprising one it is indeed. "Chapter 12: A Dark and Stormy Knight" begins with the Defenders saying farewell to the Avengers and Doctor Strange casting spells to return folks to normal mostly. He and the Defenders then return to his Sanctum where the stone body of the Black Knight awaits. Once again Strange seeks to contract the spirit of the Knight but finds it missing. Using the Evil Eye the Defenders find themselves transported to the 12th Century in the middle of the Crusades and the Black Knight appears suddenly in battle to tell them that must beware the Muslim enemy as well as deadly giant Gnomes.


Later the Black Knight reveals that his spirit had been drawn by the magic of Merlin to battle the evil of Modred who as it turns out is opposing King Richard the Lionhearted and assisting his treacherous brother Prince John. The Defenders enter the castle disguised as priests but are nearly defeated by Gnomes, deadly Earth spirits. These have been raised by the combined magic of Modred and Chandu the Mystic. But the Earth spirits fall victim to water and Namor sees to it that waves of water wash over the monsters ending the threat. Then Prester John appears, takes command of the Evil Eye and ends the menace of Modred and Chandu.


He claims that the time-twisting adventure has ended as it ought and the Defenders prepare to head back to their own time. But in a surprise twist the Black Knight who has once again taken control of the Ebony Blade says he's happy in the 12th Century and decides to stay. The Defenders bid him farewell and after returning to the present day go their separate ways as was the case with the non-team.


And that wraps up a truly memorable summer spectacle. They don't make 'em like that anymore and more is the pity indeed.



No story could develop like this now, as the advanced hype would denude it of any real surprises that the series might deliver as it unfolded over a mere four months. A conflict like this would result in a cascade of sidebar comics all branded to maximize the need for the completist to pick it up. I know that compulsion, I have fallen victim to it more than a few times.

The Clash lives in our memories so warmly because it was a big deal that took itself just seriously enough to get the job done. It's a story that delivered on all its main points (battles between rivals Hawkeye and Iron Man, Captain America and Sub-Mariner, and Hulk and Thor) as well as adding lots of spice to new smaller characters (Swordsman, Valkyrie, and Mantis). This was a project of love by an enthusiastic writer and two rock solid professional artists that came off with few evident problems. Deadlines came and the books never missed, not the situation we have today.


Kudos to Steve Englehart for trying it, and congrats for getting it done. I was lucky enough to meet Englehart a few years ago at a local convention and I hastily picked up a hardback collection of The Clash to have him sign. He did and I treasure this one yet, in fact it's the volume I used to read the story this time. Thanks Steve, this is one fan who still remembers how special the summer of 1973 was.

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4 comments:

  1. Steve Englehart is a gem of a guy and a writer’s writer. While I was never lucky enough to meet him, I was pleasantly surprised a few years back when he was nice enough to swap a couple emails with me discussing his Point Man series of books. I thanked him at the time for all his memorable work on Captain America, the Beast series, Batman, the Avengers & Defenders…His responses were humble and quite informative about the comic genre back in those days. Truly a decent fellow and a super talent.

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    1. I think I had the misfortune to encounter him on a bad day. He wasn't rude to me by any stretch at all, but he seemed to be going about his convention duties with a certain efficiency. It was pleasure to meet the guy who wrote so many of my favorite stories.

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  2. I swapped some emails with him about his days on the FF. He does seem like a real class act.

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    1. No doubt. And he's a writer who's not really ashamed of the work he did way back then as far as I can tell, in fact he seems quite proud of it as he should be.

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