Saturday, March 18, 2006

It Came From The Longboxes: Defenders 10 (Bloggin' o' The Green, Day 5-ish)

Title: "Breakthrough!"
By: Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema
Published: November, 1973
Reprinted in: The Avengers/Defenders War TPB, Essential Defenders Vol. 1
Why It's Here: One of the greatest Hulk/Thor fights ever, and I'm gonna tell you who won

This comic was the penultimate installation (I don't say "chapter" because each issue contained two chapters of the overall epic) of Marvel's first multi-month crossover event, the Avengers/Defenders War. Helmed by Englehart, with Buscema handling the art chores on the Defenders issues and Bob Brown* on the Avengers issues, it was a modest success in its time, and well-remembered today; the final arc of Peter Milligan and Michael Allred's X-Statix was a direct homage/spoof of this storyline.

The Defenders was an odd group, less a team than a bunch of guys Dr. Strange called when he ran into something he couldn't handle. Every issue, someone repeated the mantra that they weren't a team, but a loose collection of adventurers who banded together when circumstances required (of course, circumstances required fairly often); by issue 14, the last in the Essentials volume, it's become a running joke, interrupted before it can finish. Originally comprised of Strange, Namor, Hulk, and the Silver Surfer, the group picked up hangers-on like Valkyrie, Nighthawk, and Gargoyle, who mostly joined because they had no lives, and only kept the group together because they had no other friends. The title eventually morphed into The New Defenders, which was something of a disaster, but the original group is well-remembered, and has been resurrected from time-to-time, most recently in a miniseries by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatties, and Kevin Maguire.

Structurally, the A/D war was a series of one-on-one (sometimes two-on-one, since there were more Avengers than Defenders) battles between members of each team over pieces of a cosmic MacGuffin called the Evil Eye. The Defenders (Strange, Hulk, Namor, Surfer, Valkyrie, and guest star Hawkeye) wanted the Eye because Dormammu had duped them into thinking it could help them free Black Knight from his prison of stone. The Avengers (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Panther, Mantis, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Swordsman) wanted the Eye because Loki had convinced them the Defenders were trying to use it to take over the world. It was a six-issue exercise in the Marvel tradition of "heroes meet, misunderstanding, heroes fight, heroes team up." Thor and Hulk's battle was the last of these fights, and a great closer. Their teammates intervened before the fight could come to a conclusive end, so there's been no declaration of a victor… until now.

When a boxing match ends without a KO, the winner is chosen by judges' decision. I'm not a member of any boxing commission, but I've seen more superhero fights than is probably good for me, and that's enough for me to declare myself final judge and arbiter of this fight. Once and for all, we're gonna settle this.

The fight begins with Hulk already in possession of his piece of the Eye, having torn up the section of L.A. street covering it. Thor immediately arrives, and tries to talk Hulk out of what he believes is an evil plot. That works about as well as you'd expect, and the battle is joined.

Hulk belts Thor a good one, sending him crashing into a nearby wall. Thor returns the blow by throwing his hammer, Mjolnir, at Hulk, then talks some smack. Hulk smashes the ground underneath Thor, sending the Thunder God flying, then belts him coming down.

The next shot of the fight we see is an even trade of blows, as Hulk's fist meets Thor's hammer in an amazing display of force. Then, Thor knocks Hulk down to the ground, but Hulk retaliates by grabbing Thor's cape and spinning him around, literally screwing him into the pavement. After a moment, Thor attacks from underground, sending Hulk flying into a pile of rubble. Said pile includes a car, which Hulk naturally throws at Thor, but Thor shatters the vehicle mid-flight with a well-placed hammer-throw. Showing unusual cleverness, Hulk tries to grab the hammer mid-flight, but the enchantment preventing any but Thor from lifting it sends it (and Hulk's hand) straight to the pavement. Thor socks Hulk in the face and reclaims his hammer.

What follows is a genuine Feat on the part of both combatants: rushing one another, Hulk and Thor grasp each other's arms in a wrestling hold, and push against one another with all of their strength. The result: Neither one budges. For an hour. And when they do, it's because the rest of the Avengers and Defenders have shown up, and the team-up is now in full force. So the fight officially ended in a draw. But that ain't good enough for us, is it?

Here's how I'm judging: Each fighter gets one point for an instance where he scored a decisive blow on his opponent. Points are also awarded for creativity.

The breakdown: Both Thor and Hulk get points for their opening salvos. Hulk then gets two points for his combo, plus one for creativity in hitting Thor as he's coming down. The even trade is a wash, so no points are awarded. Thor gets one point for the knockdown, Hulk gets two for the Screwdriver. Thor gets a point for his retaliation, and a point for picking the exact spot the Hulk was standing on to make his entrance. Hulk gets a creativity point for the car stunt, but because it didn't connect, no hit points are awarded. Thor gets a point for the midair intercept; Hulk is awarded no points for attempting to intercept Mjolnir, as he failed. Thor gets a point for his blow against the Hulk. And, as neither had the upper hand during the hour-long standoff, no points are awarded there.

Final score: Hulk 7, Thor 6. I thereby declare the Incredible Hulk the winner of this fight by judges' decision. And it's a good thing too, because if the points had turned out the other way, Hulk would be pretty angry. And you all know what they say about the Hulk when he's angry.

*I actually recommend reading this in the black-and-white Essentials, because Brown's colored art (coloring done by Petra Goldberg and George Roussos) is hideous to behold.

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