I’m somehow consistently surprised by the gems Marvel pulls out in their trade paperbacks. Case in point, Avengers/Defenders War was an epic crossover back in 1972 when crossovers barely existed. Steve Englehart was the mastermind behind it as he wanted to bring back the summer fun he had reading extra-sized Marvel Comics. As he explains in the introduction originally written in 2007, as long as he met deadlines, then-Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas was fine with whatever he wanted to do. This was a period at Marvel where creators could do whatever they wanted on their titles and so Englehart set out to create the ultimate fight comic book. The Defenders vs. the Avengers…who ya got?!
The setup for this series is simple enough. Dormammu uses Loki who is weakened and blind to trick Doctor Strange into thinking to save the Black Knight they must find six parts of a weapon known as the Evil Eye. Doctor Strange then gets his Defenders teammates out around the world to retrieve the pieces. Loki realizes he was a fool to trust Dormammu, and goes to the Avengers to warn them. It might seem insane the Avengers would ever trust Loki, or that Doctor Strange wouldn’t think for a second he might have been tricked, but that’s the setup!
More importantly for our sake, what are the fight lineups? First up is Silver Surfer vs. Scarlet Witch followed by Hawkeye vs. Iron Man (after Hawkeye goes full creep and forces a kiss on Valkyrie), then Black Panther and Mantis vs. Doctor Strange, followed by Valkyrie vs. Swordsman, then Captain America vs. Namor, and finally Thor vs. Hulk. Each battle is given its fair share of pages to show who might best who and how. It’s a fun fight comic that’s hard to resist. This all leads to a shocking turn as the heroes literally talk it out amongst themselves and make up. Soon they are taking the fight directly to Dormammu, interacting with The Watcher, and in an epilogue of sorts, they attempt to save the Black Knight. There are a lot of moving parts in a rather short 136 pages, making this a brisk and fast-paced read. One might assume Englehart has each of the Defenders win in their fights so as to boost sales for the book over the much more famous Avengers, but the fights logically go as one might expect. It’s hilarious to see Iron Man get bested by Hawkeye simply because he splashes him with acid that’ll cut through his helmet, or seeing Captain America stop Namor from diving into the water by blocking him with his shield (which somehow floats I might add). Each fight is creative in their own way.
Englehart is backed up by pencilers Bob Brown and Sal Buscema, and both do an excellent job capturing that ’70s superhero feel. In the introduction, it’s fun to find out Brown was a DC Comics lifer and made his debut with this event. Both artists match up well and the change in the title never feels jarring.
This is a fun fight comic that likely inspired many more to come for decades to come. Marvel Comics can tend to get a little too serious and it’s always fun to dip back into the ’70s era when a magnetic arrow could turn the tide in a highly improbable Hawkeye vs. Iron Man fight. Throw logic out the window and enjoy the fun twists and turns in one of the first mega-crossover events.
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