The Pre-Defenders

These days, archival collections of The Defenders are likely to lead off with the "Titans Three" story (from Sub-Mariner #34-35) or even the "Undying Ones" crossover trilogy (from Doctor Strange #183, Sub-Mariner #22 and Hulk #126), but I like to go back further still. No, I don't go all the way back to Avengers #3 (although I could), I do go back as far as Tales to Astonish #84 (which I read for the first time reprinted in Marvel Super-Heroes #39. With the help of Mike's Amazing World of Comics, I have been able to determine that Marvel Super-Heroes #39 was probably my fifth Hulk comic (behind Hulk #167, Marvel Super-Heroes #38, Marvel Feature #11 and Hulk #168). 

Tales to Astonish was a "split book" and #84 is a "crossover" in the sense that Sub-Mariner "crosses over" to make a guest appearance in the Hulk's story. Although the two don't even meet face-to-face, the Hulk at least catches a glimpse of Subby across a crowded movie theater. The Sub-Mariner is suffering amnesia (due to the effects of an explosion in the previous issue) and is being manipulated by the mysterious, red-robed "Number One" of the Secret Empire. Number One wants Namor to destroy the Hulk for reasons of his own, and set Namor loose in Manhattan to track him down. 

But the story really begins (AFAIAC) in the Hulk feature, which is the start of a new story arc. It opens with the Hulk raging in the southwestern desert. "And then, some dim, forgotten memory returns to his clouded brain, as the green-skinned giant vaguely recalls a time months ago, when he was briefly part of a team--when he had powerful friends to turn to."

"AVENGERS!" shouts the Hulk. "Avengers will help! Hulk must go to them!" Understand, this is the very first time I had ever heard of the Avengers. I had no idea what to expect. "Avengers" was just a name to me at the time. "The once-brilliant brain of atomic scientist Bruce Banner--having been affected by the mysterious gamma rays, some years ago, can now barely remember that the headquarters of the mighty Avengers is located somewhere to the east -- and so. without a second's hesitation, the incredible leg muscles of the mightiest mortal to walk the Earth, begin to hurl him skyward--on a tireless journey half-way across a continent."

Three quarters, more like. I don't know how long that trip took him, but it's impressive he managed to hold the idea of "Avengers" in his head the entire time. He lands in the pre-dawn darkness, breaks into a men's over-size clothing store and steals an overcoat and hat. Later that day, the Sub-Mariner spots a movie theater showing newsreel footage of the Hulk and steps inside, hoping to find a clue to his whereabouts. 

"There he is... on the screen before me," thinks Subby. "I have faced him before! I know it! But... I cannot remember where... or when!" A footnote informs us "If Namor were in full possession of his memory, he would surely recall having battled the incredible Hulk while the green-skinned rampager was a member of the mighty Avengers!" There's that name again! The Sub-Mariner is wearing a microphone around his neck so Number One can communicate with him, which brings him to the attention of the other patrons, which causing a ruckus.

Meanwhile, outside in the light of the day, still thinking about finding the Avengers, the Hulk is spotted by a beat cop who sounds the alarm. Now on the run, Hulk ducks into the same movie theater Sub-Mariner entered minutes before. Hulk enters just as Subby is being chased from the theater. "That face!" Hulk realizes. "I know him! I have seen him--somewhere--fought him--somewhere! But--I have fought so many--how can I be sure?!!

And that's basically it for this encounter. I  have put the events in roughly chronological order above, but each half of the comic is told strictly from each respective character's point of view. Two panels of Gene Colan's Subby story are even clipped and brought over to the Hulk's. The Hulk finishes watching the newsreel and leaves the theater, but a gust of wind blows his hat off. He is recognized, flees to the subway, accidentally damages the tracks, then saves the train. By the time he's done all that and bursts through the street, he has forgotten why he came to New York in the first place.

"Nothing stops the Hulk!!"he declares. "I'm free! Free--to do--what??!"

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    For this next bit, we jump ahead eight issues, but first...



    This is the reprint of Tales to Astonish #92, where I first read it. Back in the days when I was systematically replacing my MSH reprints with TTA originals, this is the one issue I kept because I loved that Jim Starlin cover! Then one Hallowe'en, decades later, we decided to give out comic books. (Big hit, BTW!) We gave each Trick or Treater the choice of candy or comics, and the overwhelming choice was comics. ("Rot their minds, not their teeth!" was our motto.) I was giving away mainly Gladstone reprints of EC comics I now had duplicated than to the much more comprehensive Gemstone reprint series. For the little kids, I bought a few inexpensive bundles of more "kid friendly" comics from my LCS. One little boy, about three or four years old, was so cute! He was wearing a plastic Hulk mask and a pair of "Hulk Hands," each fist the size of his head. "Do you like the Hulk?" I asked. "Yeth," came the reply. One a whim, I asked them to wait and dashed straight to my garage. I knew exactly where my old copy of MSH #47 was, and, on a whim gave it to him. But I digress...

    TTA #92 (or MSH #47), like #84 (or #39), begins a new storyline. As it opens, Bruce Banner is a fugitive in New York City and the Hulk hasn't been seen in a month. Banner is working on an experiment to cure himself in his flophouse loft apartment. It is unsuccessful, and the stress changes him into the Hulk, who leaps out into the night sky, philosophizing about life on another planet. "If only I could escape from her!!" he laments. "If only I could go somewhere else--if the Hulk could only reach--the stars!!" Suddenly, he spots what he thinks is a "flying saucer from another world" whizzing overhead. He leaps for it and grabs ahold, but is knocked back to the ground.

    The last page, a full-page panel, reveals the Silver surfer in all his glory! "No mere human THREATS-- no possible earthly POWER--can affect the destiny--or stay the hand of--THE SILVER SURFER!!" Consider this: I am ten years old, and this is my first ever glimpse of the Silver Surfer. I didn't know who he was, but man was I intrigued! Even if I had been reading this story in TTA #92 in 1967, it still would have been only the Surfer's eleventh appearance overall (following Fantastic Four #48-50 and #55-61). For this next bit, I used Mike's Amazing World of Comics to help me determine the following sequence of events.

    Marvel Super-Heroes was bi-monthly, and between #47 and #48 was released Marvel Treasury Edition #2 (featuring the Fantastic Four), which included #48-50, the three-parter which introduced the Silver Surfer (not to mention Galactus) and has since become known as "The Galactus Trilogy." To be perfectly honest, I wasn't all that impressed with the story itself at the time (maybe if I had been a little older...?); I considered it nothing but backstory for the Silver Surfer. Now I was ready for Marvel Super-Heroes #48 (Tales to Astonish #93).

  • If you think about it, the Silver Surfer should have been the goofiest character imaginable, but somehow, they made it work.

  • In reference to Tales To Astonish #84, Stan in the Bullpen Bulletins mentioned how fans had been demanding a face off between the two stars of the book. As Jeff notes above, rather than having them meet directly he had them pass by each other in their respective stories without actually meeting. I thought that was a brilliant move.



    Last issue was all set-up; now the action begins! Hulk and the Surfer trade blows for three pages, then the Surfer withdraws. Police with flamethrowers move in to attack the Hulk. The Surfer sees in him a kindred spirit and rescues him. Hulk doesn't believe the Surfer cannot leave Earth and attacks him as soon as they land. they fight for three more pages. After the Hulk is knocked unconscious, the Surfer uses "a mental beam of purest cosmic energy" to "probe the inner recesses of his slumbering brain." 

    The Surfer "extracts a visual memory of the fateful past from within the clouded brain of the sleeping giant" and, feeling pity. attempts to rid the Hulk's body of all gamma radiation, thereby curing him. But the Hulk comes to just as the Surfer is reaching for him, misunderstands, and attacks. The Surfer has had about enough of this $#!t by now and flies off, giving Hulk the final word: "He is gone! Now--I am trapped here on Earth--forever! But, someday I'll find him--I'll make him take me out there--among the stars--where frightened men will hound me--no more!"

    the Hulk's first meeting with the Silver Surfer is full of irony writ large.

  • Another possible pre-Defenders story albeit without the Hulk could be Fantastic Four #27 (Ju'64) where Doctor Strange "met" the Sub-Mariner for the first time! 

    Or where I saw it in Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #19 (F'69) as a back issue. MCIC would soon be renamed Marvel's Greatest Comics. I used to buy them in the cheap boxes at my LCS all the time.



  • I did consider Fantastic Four #27, Philip, but I rejected it for the same reason I rejected Avengers #3: it just doesn't seem like a "pre-Defenders" story... to me. I consider it a Fantastic Four story with guest-stars. that may seem arbitrary (and it is), but I'm just not feeling it. Many of the earliest comics I acquired as backissues were Collectors' Item Classics (and the similarly "thick" Marvel Tales and Fantasy Masterpieces/Marvel Super-Heroes as well). I eventually "collected" complete runs of those "items." Maybe I should rethink it and add both Avengers #3 and Fantastic Four #27 as well. Hmm...


  • Next up is...



    When I bought my first Hulk comics (Incredible Hulk #167 & Marvel Super-Heroes #38) back in June 1973, I immediately started collecting "in both directions at once" (meaning I continued buying new issues off the spinner rack, but I also collected backissues, mainly via mail order). I knew that MSH #38 occurred earlier in the timeline than Hulk #67 because a little caption proclaimed "Originally presented in Tales to astonish #83), but what I didn't know at the time was that the number was sequential, because TTA became Hulk with #102. (I was to discover that soon enough via George Olshevsky's Marvel Index series.) In any case (before I discovered mail order, anyway), my original plan had been to continue reading MSH until it "caught up" with Hulk #167. 

    I never would have been able to achieve that goal anyway, because the last issue of MSH (#105) got only as far as Hulk #157 but, as things turned out, I didn't need to go nearly that far, anyway. The last issue of MSH I needed to buy was #55 (reprinting Hulk #101) because, by the end of 1975 I had acquired a complete (or at least nigh complete) run of Hulk from #102 on. But TTA #100 was not reprinted in MSH at all. That it because it was recently reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition #5. But no matter; I had that, too. 

    TTA #100 is, as it says on the cover, "An Epic-Length 22-Page Battle!" Unfortunately, it's not much more than that. Even when I was 11 I wasn't all that impressed. the story begins with the Sub-Mariner observing, "The hulk! Plunging to his death atop a south-western peak!" on one of his monitors. "But, if I could save him," he muses, "what an invincible ally he would be!" (as if they hadn't already teamed-up in avenger #3). Concluding that a simple landslide would not have killed the Hulk, Namor sets out to find him. On his way, he fouls up the Puppet Master's plot to steal "the world's most valuable hydrofoil." Spying a newspaper headline about the Hulk, the P.M. decides to sculpt a statue of the Hulk out of radioactive clay and set him against Sub-Mariner in revenge. 

    And that's about the extent of the plot. the rest of the issue is pretty much just them fighting. When they first meet face-to-face, Namor doesn't even mention that they should already know each other (although later he does say, "Have you so soon forgotten Hulk? the Sub-Mariner can fly??" The battle goes through several reversals but, when the P.M. tries to force Hulk to kill Subby, Hulk resists, giving Namor the opportunity to defeat him. When Namor goes looking for him later, he finds only the unconscious form of Bruce Banner (whom he does not know).

    The Sub-Mariner and the Hulk are destined to meet again in #118, but I don't really think of that as a "pre-Defenders" story; AFAIAC, it's more of a guest-star appearance. Besides, it has the exact same ending as TTA #100!


    I was going to stop here, now that I'm up to the often-collected stories, but there aren't that many more to go and I'm on a roll.

  • "The Germans?"

    Jeff of Earth-J said:

    I'm on a roll.

  • A Kaiser?



    When Namor goes looking for him later, he finds only the unconscious form of Bruce Banner (whom he does not know).

    He should, however, wonder how likely it is to encounter two individuals that wear shredded purple pants on the same day.

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