The Defenders is the name of a number of fictional superhero groups appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. These are usually presented as a "non-team" of individualistic "outsiders", who in their prior adventures, are known for following their own agendas. The team often battles mystic and supernatural threats.
Its original incarnation was led by Doctor Strange and included Hulk, Namor, and, eventually, Silver Surfer. They first appeared as the Defenders in Marvel Feature #1 (Dec. 1971).
The group had a rotating line-up from 1972 until 1986, with Dr. Strange and the Hulk being usually constant members along with a number of other mainstays such as Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Hellcat, Gargoyle, Beast, the Son of Satan and Luke Cage, and a large number of temporary members. The publication was retitled near the end of the run as The New Defenders but featured none of the original members and only Valkyrie, the Beast and the Gargoyle of the former long-term members. The concept was modified in the 1993–95 series Secret Defenders, in which Dr. Strange assembled different teams for each individual mission. The original team was reunited in a short-lived 2001 series by Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen. In 2005 Marvel published a five-issue miniseries featuring the classic line-up by J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire. In December 2011 writer Matt Fraction and artist Terry Dodson launched a Defenders series with a mixture of classic and new members, which lasted for 12 issues.
The origin of the Defenders lies in two crossover story arcs by Roy Thomas prior to the official founding of the team. The first, in Doctor Strange #183 (November 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), and The Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970) occurred when the Dr. Strange series was canceled and the storyline was completed in another series. Dr. Strange teams with Sub-Mariner then the Hulk to protect the Earth from invasion by Lovecraftian interplanar beings known as the Undying Ones and their leader, the Nameless One. Barbara Norriss, later the host of the Valkyrie, first appears in this story. In the second arc featured in Sub-Mariner #34–35, (February–March 1971), Namor enlists the aid of the Silver Surfer and the Hulk to stop a potentially devastating weather control experiment, inadvertently freeing a small island nation from a dictator and facing the Avengers under the unofficial name of the "Titans Three".
The Defenders first appeared as a feature in Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971), where the founding members gathered to battle the alien techno-wizard Yandroth and remained as a team afterward. Due to the popularity of their tryout in Marvel Feature, Marvel soon began publishing The Defenders. Valkyrie was introduced to the team in issue #4 (February 1973). Writer Steve Englehart has stated that he added the Valkyrie to the Defenders "to provide some texture to the group." Englehart wrote "The Avengers–Defenders War" crossover in The Avengers #116–118 (October–December 1973) and The Defenders #9–11 (October–December 1973). Len Wein briefly wrote the series and introduced such characters as Alpha the Ultimate Mutant and the Wrecking Crew. He later became the editor for several issues.
Steve Gerber first worked on the characters in Giant-Size Defenders #3 (January 1975) and became the writer of the main title with issue #20 the following month. He wrote the series until issue #41 (November 1976). Part of Gerber's oeuvre was reviving forgotten characters; he brought back three pre-Marvel characters, the Headmen, as well as the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Defenders met Gerber's Howard the Duck in Marvel Treasury Edition #12 (1976). In 2010, Comics Bulletin ranked Gerber and Sal Buscema's run on The Defenders first on its list of the "Top 10 1970s Marvels".
David Anthony Kraft's run as writer included "The Scorpio Saga" (issues #46, 48–50) and the "Xenogenesis: Day of the Demons" storyline (issues #58–60). "The Defender for a Day" storyline in issues #62–64 saw dozens of new applicants attempting to join the Defenders, as well as a number of villains attempting to present themselves as Defenders members in order to confuse the authorities and the public as they commit robberies. Kraft later recalled that reactions to the story's off-beat humor were polarized: "readers were either wildly enthusiastic or absolutely and very utterly appalled." Kraft and artist Ed Hannigan explained some of the Valykrie's backstory in The Defenders #66–68 (December 1978 – February 1979).
Steven Grant wrote a conclusion to Steve Gerber's Omega the Unknown series in two issues of The Defenders, at the end of which most of the original series' characters were killed. While Gerber seemed unhappy with Grant's conclusion, it nevertheless tied up the loose ends of the comic series, and is considered "canon" by Marvel.
Writer J. M. DeMatteis took over the series with issue #92. Coming from a background of writing eight-page horror shorts for DC Comics, DeMatteis found it a struggle to adapt to writing a 22-page superhero comic on a monthly basis. He and Mark Gruenwald co-wrote The Defenders #107–109 (May–July 1982), which resolved remaining plot points from the Valkyrie story by Kraft and Hannigan published three years earlier. While working on the series, DeMatteis developed a strong friendship with penciler Don Perlin, who would draw the series for nearly half its run.
During his run, Perlin recalled, he became what he has characterized as "the first guy, unwittingly, to put profanity in [Comics Code-approved] comics":
This happened in one [issue] of The Defenders. There was a character in there who was a lawyer for the Defenders and his gimmick was that no matter where you saw him in his office, there had to be a TV set on—he was always watching TV. And while I was drawing one of the panels I was listening to a talk show and there was someone on telling how bad cereals for kids were—they were all loaded with sugar. So I drew a picture on the TV of a bunny rabbit holding a box of cereal and across the label where the name of the cereal would be I pencilled in "shit". So I figured, because I used to write nutty comments in the borders and stuff, I thought they'd get a laugh out of it and change it. So they gave it to [Peru-born inker] Pablo Marcos and I don’t know if he knew how to read English or not but he inked it. I walked in one day [to Marvel] ... and [editor-in-chief Jim] Shooter started yelling, "What did you do? Look at it! They called me upstairs and showed me this," and I said, "Wait a minute. That thing goes through an assistant editor, an editor, a proofreader and then you’re supposed to read it. And no one picked it up so don't blame me." So what happened was he said fine, just don’t write anymore comments on your pages.
The New Defenders
Suffering from creative burnout on the series, DeMatteis felt a change was needed. As of issue #125, The Defenders was retitled to The New Defenders as the original four members (Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer, the Hulk, and Namor) are forced to leave the team, in response to an alien prophecy that states that these four, operating as a group, would be responsible for destroying the world. While The Beast reforms the team as an official super-hero team complete with government clearance. The "New Defenders" concept provided a substantial boost to the series's sales, but left DeMatteis in a creative drought, as he realized in retrospect that "...I created a book that was exactly the kind of the thing that I hated to write. I made it into a standard superhero team..." DeMatteis stayed on for only six issues of The New Defenders before turning it over to writer Peter Gillis.
The series's final issue was The New Defenders #152. Penciler Don Perlin recounted "[Editor] Carl Potts he took me and Peter Gillis to lunch. We went to an Indian restaurant... He said, ‘They canceled the book.’" In the final issue, several members (Gargoyle, Moondragon and Valkyrie), plus allies (Andromeda, Manslaughter, Interloper) seemingly die in battle with the Dragon of the Moon controlling Moondragon. The remaining mutant members leave the team to join X-Factor. Several of these seemingly-deceased members later returned in issues of Solo Avengers, in Strange Tales vol. 2 #5–7, followed by issues #3–4 of the relaunched Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme series.
The Return of the Defenders
In 1990, the original trio reunited in The Incredible Hulk #370–371, in which it was revealed that the prophecy was a hoax. The originals then rejoined with the Silver Surfer in a story entitled The Return of the Defenders running in The Incredible Hulk Annual #18, Namor the Sub-Mariner Annual #2, Silver Surfer Annual #5, and Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme Annual #2.
In 1993, Marvel sought to revive the "Defenders" brand as "The Secret Defenders". The new team first appeared, unofficially, in Dr. Strange #50 and later Fantastic Four #374, before being officially introduced in Secret Defenders #1. The series premise originally was that Doctor Strange would organize various teams of heroes for certain missions, with him as the leader. Members included Wolverine, Darkhawk, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Ghost Rider, and others. This would last for the first several months of the title, before Doctor Strange was removed from the book, due to the character being reassigned to the "Midnight Sons" line at Marvel. After an arc where the supervillain Thanos organized a team of "Secret Defenders" for a mission, leadership of the Secret Defenders passed to Doctor Druid and the series itself abandoned the revolving door roster in favor of Druid and the Cognoscenti. The series was canceled with Secret Defenders #25.
Reunion and The Order
In 2001–2002, The Defenders reunited in The Defenders volume 2 #1–12 created by Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen, immediately followed by The Order #1–6, in which Yandroth manipulated Gaea into "cursing" the primary four Defenders (Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer) so that they would be summoned to major crisis situations. These members were then mind controlled by Yandroth into forming the world-dominating "Order"; once the Order were freed from this control by their fellow heroes (including their teammates Hellcat, Nighthawk, and Valkyrie), the Defenders apparently disbanded. A fill-in issue set between these two series was published in 2011.
A Defenders five-issue miniseries debuted in July 2005, by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire (as a team, best known for their work on DC's Justice League franchise), featuring Doctor Strange attempting to reunite the original four Defenders to battle Dormammu and Umar. This series focuses mostly on humor as the characters spend most of their time arguing with and criticizing one another. The series was later collected into both hardcover and trade paperback collections, entitled Defenders: Indefensible.
The Last Defenders
In 2008 Joe Casey wrote a new miniseries with a new line-up of Defenders as a result of the Super-Human Registration Act and the events of the Civil War. Nighthawk wanted a team made up of previous Defenders such as Hellcat and Devil Slayer but Tony Stark (Iron Man) makes the decision to select other heroes for the team. The line-up is led by Nighthawk, with Blazing Skull, Colossus, and She-Hulk as members. The Defenders are assigned to New Jersey under the Fifty State Initiative, because the proximity to New York City demands more experienced heroes than can just be recruited from the ranks of Camp Hammond. The team is disbanded for incompetence but Richmond eventually founds a team outside the Initiative with the Son of Satan, She-Hulk, Krang, and Nighthawk (S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Joaquin Pennyworth). The team reappears in the mini-series Vengeance (2011).
In the 2009 ongoing Hulk series (Issues 10–12), Red Hulk assembles a counter team of supervillains called the Offenders, which includes Baron Mordo, Terrax the Tamer, and Tiger Shark, and fights past versions of their enemies.
Fear Itself: The Deep
During the 2011 "Fear Itself" storyline, Doctor Strange forms a new version of the Defenders with Lyra (daughter of Hulk), Namor, Loa (a student of the X-Men), and the Silver Surfer to confront Attuma who has become Nerkkod, Breaker of Oceans. Many past Defenders appear in the last issue.
Marvel launched a new Defenders series in December 2011, written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Terry Dodson. The new book features Doctor Strange, Red She-Hulk, Namor, the Silver Surfer and Iron Fist. The new series follows the reunion of the Defenders in Fear Itself: The Deep. During the battle against the Death Celestials the characters Black Cat, Nick Fury, and Ant-Man join the team. The series was cancelled at issue #12. Despite the prophecy supposedly being a hoax, the central storyline of the series involves a reunion of the original four Defenders setting off a chain of events leading to the destruction of the universe. In the final issue, Dr. Strange changes the past so that the reunion never happens, thus erasing all the events of the series.
The Fearless Defenders
February 2013 saw the debut of The Fearless Defenders, a series written by Cullen Bunn with artwork by Will Sliney. Bunn said that he had wanted to write the series, which centers on a new team of Valkyrior, led by Valkyrie and Misty Knight, after writing Fear Itself: The Fearless. It was suggested to him that it should run as a Defenders title, however Bunn explained that beyond the name there is "little connection" to the Defenders.
In 2017, Marvel is launching a brand new Defenders comic book series starring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist that will be out in August.
During the Secret Empire storyline, the Defenders were seen fighting the villains that were on a rampage for what happened in Pleasant Hill. They were defeated when Nitro exploded.