Sunday, October 21, 2018

The New Defenders #136

Halloween 2018 Post-A-Day: Day 21
The New Defenders #136

The most random group of superheroes face down a super-terrorist

"Bodies and Souls!”
Writer – Peter B. Gillis
Penciler – Don Perlin
Inker – Kim DeMulder
Colors – Petra Scotese
Letterer – Janice Chiang
Editor – Carl Potts
High Priest – Jim Shooter
October 1984

I know that I’ve stated once before that THESE were my Defenders. I think I’ve called them out on containing three-fifths of the original X-Men, poor fellas who would end up bouncing around the Champions and Avengers too, while the All New, All Different hogged the glory in their prior title. And that they really didn’t have clear leader or clear direction for a lot of their ending run, actually causing more crisis’s than solving.

But enough of all that, these guys are MINE. They are who I think of when you say Defenders and not some rando group of Netflix shows that someone forced into a crossover. No matter how odd their assortment may be (and believe me, this issue gets odd).

We start this issue off with an evil wizard, an ex-Defender in trouble and the floating heads of the rest of our cast.

The evil wizard is this man, a one-eyed, former Islamic cleric who has had his view of the world twisted by reading one to many tomes of forbidden lore.

Are we sure this isn’t written by Lovecraft? I mean…foreigner, magician, evil, consorts with demons, loves him some ancient mystical writings…I’m just saying we are ticking a lot of boxes.

And speaking of boxes, down deep in this rotting structure (which I didn’t see him go in, so not REAL sure where exactly we are) is where we find our trapped former Defender. Meet Issac Christians, everyone.

Issac goes by the moniker Gargoyle in the superhero community, which is perfectly fitting given his appearance. Issac was a WWI (get that) veteran who returned from the war to find his tiny town of Christiansboro, Virginia about to dry up and blow away. Not wanting to see the town his ancestors founded disappear, Issac made a PACT WITH A DEMON called Avarrish to save it. It required Issac to remain in the body of a ancient gargoyle and act as an agent of the Six-Fingered Hand for a time. Decades later, Issac has rebelled against Avarrish and finds himself trapped in the gargoyle shell. Issac had the power of flight, durability, a mild energy blast, and superhuman strength.

And being in the body comes with some unexpected drawbacks, as Issac has discovered. For one thing, it allows this wizard guy to bind him in a pentagram and force him to become compliant.

While Issac is about to discover his life is one big nightmare come true, at the headquarters of the New Defenders, this young lady…er, what should I really call her? Being? Let’s go with being for now…this young being is having a nightmare. This is Cloud, who is a sentient nebula with the ability to assume human form. She/It – heck, how do gender pronouns work on a space gas again? - appears to be having a very human nightmare.

Moondragon comes in and gently (or rather NOT so gently) administers a mind command that knocks Cloud out in hopes that the dear girl/sentient galaxy fart can get some rest.

She/It goes to sleep again, and we’ll see what the results of this nap are in just a bit. First let’s check in on Issac, though. Our evil wizard has decided to begin testing out his captive’s powers. Issac explains what his power set is, using the Deluxe version of the Handbook to the Marvel Universe. The wizard isn’t having any of that, as demons always lie, and forces him to make gold! GOLD!

Looks like Issac hasn’t been trying hard enough to use those demon skills, because his body can do things he is completely unaware of. Unfortunately, as his final words of compliance show, Issac has no control over what he is about to be commanded to do.

With that, the wizard seals Issacs up in a ball-shaped pentagram (no comparisons to Pokemon at this point, but I’m tempted) and sets off to mold the world as he sees fit. 

Next up is the centerpiece of the book, an action sequence that will literally have you on the edge of your seat as you realize how powerful capturing Issac has made this madman. He sets up a meeting with the local mujaheddin in his native Afghanistan. This being the 1980’s, they are being harried by the Soviets who have taken over the country at that time. The mujahideen leader treats the old sorcerer like a useless crackpot, holding nothing but contempt for him. For his part, the wizard acts in deferens to him.

And then the Soviet helicopters show up… 

They start blasting the place apart and it looks like no one will survive. The old man is knocked down and the mujahideen fighters think he is dying because he starts clawing the air.

If only that were so.

In reality the sorcerer has taken control of Issac’s power and uses it to destroy one of the invading force’s copters and pulls the other to the ground. These pages are so simple yet also so well done, that I found myself extremely happy with the work by penciler Don Perlin and inker Kim DeMulder, both names I’ve had to scroll up three times in writing this to even remember. Never heard of either of them, but this will have me looking, you better bet you!

The captured MI-24 is quickly “cleared” of its Russian occupants leading the mujaheddin leader to state that as a reward he won’t kill the sorcerer today. 

Hold up! Hold up! HE won’t kill the sorcerer who just took down two Soviet attack copters with giant imaginary hands? Really? I think he’s been smoking the output of those poppy fields, if you know what I’m saying. And right about here I think the sorcerer will take over leadership and use these troops as his own private army.

Instead he summons a giant Issac and kills all of them. I find this the most perplexing part of this whole affair. Why show off to them and then kill all of them? What purpose does that serve? He doesn’t leave any of them alive to tell others to fear or worship him. Maybe that just doesn’t occur to him at the moment and he’s just tired of being kicked around. Or maybe he hated them all along and killing them in a way that would cause them the most pain and suffering was his goal. Having defeat snatched from the jaws of victory might be a good way to do that. I’m not sure, but it certainly makes him look a bit crazier.

Shifting back to the sleeping Cloud and hopefully something a bit kinder, we discover that she/it is thinking about Moondragon…in what appears to be a very sexual way…

So, she’s a lesbian sentient space gas? I’m so confused by this. I JUST started to think I had a handle on gendernorms and now Marvel from the 1980’s has thrown all of that into doubt. Do something to make it better, Marvel? Please?

That did not make me less confused!

Mission fail, Marvel. So apparently Cloud was one of Marvel’s first transgendered characters, along with that Princess from Return to Oz. I mean, if we can count space vapors as having a gender in the first place, which I’m not even certain you can…he would be. Moondragon appears to be taking this rather well. I wonder how the rest of the New Defenders will react?

About as well as can be expected.

Moving on from that bit of body confusion-body horror, let’s see what the sorcerer is getting up to which happens to be bursting into the local Soviet encampment and just plain screwing with everyone. And those of you that thought Marvel wasn’t very hard back in the 1980’s…well, the body horror isn’t over is what I’m saying.

In fact, this gets to be more gruesome by a stretch that might give some kids nightmares. Definitely want to see more books by this creative team! New Defenders just made the automatic pull list for my bin diving.

Issac however is sick of the things the wizard is having him do and starts trying to cuss him out. It doesn’t work, but he tries a different tactic, getting the sorcerer to teleport to America.

This ruse is uncovered immediately as the wizard detects the presence of Dr. Strange as soon as they arrive.

Seeing a sign for vacationing in the Rockies, the sorcerer has Issac transport them there, which means they will be close to the headquarters of the Defenders who are still, pages later, still in shock over Cloud’s …coming out party.

Just at that moment, Moondragon senses Issac and danger, causing the group to rush off to save their friend. Note this interaction between Iceman/Bobby Drake and Valkyrie. Revisionist will make of this what they will, but I think Bobby’s revulsion is pretty genuine and not a cover for his on repressed sexuality. My take on it, anyway. It is funny to see the statements he makes here in light of where Marvel takes his character.

Also he’s a bit of dick about it.

No more time for dealing with how people shouldn’t swap genders without giving their teammates more notice, as Angel takes the plane down they prepare to confront the evil holding their friend hostage.

The sorcerer terms them “Archons” which I think was a Star Trek race, and sets about attacking them with roots.

Val frees everyone and again the confronts the sorcerer about Issac. This time he sees who she truly is and reacts swiftly with the proper amount of fear…

…a fear the New Defenders soon feel, as the more powerful form of Gargoyle is revealed.

I loved this issue. Lots of weirdness and a fun challenge for our heroes to overcome. That villain, too. Such an interesting mix of elements and such a horrifying tale, just perfect to end out “Hell in a Handbasket” series on.

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