Wait now, hold up, June is Avengers month at The Book Closet. What;s this Defenders book doing on here? This doesn’t star Avengers. This stars Nomad, a Captain America/ Avengers supporting character. And Wolverine, the X-Men and Avenger. And Spider-Woman… the Avenger. And Doctor Strange, the Avenger. And finally Darkhawk… the reserve Avenger.
So, today on Avengers month, we’ll be reviewing the first 3-issue arc of Secret Defenders, A Gathering of Heroes.
In a lot of ways, this comic is a culmination of a lot of the things we’ve been discussing up till now on this site. “The Defenders,” different from the new Netflix interpretation, started as a “team only when they needed to be” originally made up of the Hulk, Namor, and the Silver Surfer led by Doctor Strange. When this series picks up, that group has been disbanded for several years and Doctor Strange has gone into hiding as a result of the events of The Rise of the Midnight Sons and his involvement with that group (in fact this issue subtly crosses over with an issue of Morbius that Strange appears in). Since he’s in hiding, he can’t contend with the threats he would normally deal with in the Marvel Universe… so he begins to bring seemingly-random assortments of heroes together in pairings best-suited to deal with each individual threat, sometimes without their even knowing it. Just look at that cover from the first issue: there’s Strange, in the background, his hands like a puppet-master pulling the strings. Doesn’t that just say it all?
In many ways the involvement of Strange makes me think back to my review of New Avengers vol2, #1 and the issues I had with it, how it didn’t really ‘feel epic.’ That was because the grouping of the heroes seemed like cold choice rather than the energy of being flung together by destiny. In this way, this grouping of “random heroes banding together to defeat villains no one hero could alone” is more an Avengers origin story than that one was.
So Nomad, Spider-Woman (Jessica Carpenter), Darkhawk, and Wolverine are called together by Strange to deal with a new group of mystical demons unleashed by the power of the Lillan that are turning elderly homeless people young again and manipulating them to commit robberies, then feeding off the useful exuberance and energy before they eventually become old again, and die. Remember that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Anne”? It’s basically that, except with Wolverine and Darkhawk, so immediately that much better.
Speaking of Darkhawk, this takes place during the “sweet spot” of his series, right between Return to Forever and Shattered Fates, a period during which the character really hit his stride. It shows here, as the character (and his alter-ego, Chris Powell) are allowed the opportunity to shine and use their abilities to the best of their ability. When he switches to his teenage form to infiltrate the villains lair and the heroes don’t realize who he is when captured, its perfect tension-building escalation: when the readers are aware of a complication that the characters are not, it makes for good tension. And with any other character, Wolverine’s sense of smell would have logically spoiled this tension: but Darkhawk and Chris have two different bodies and “swap” via the amulet, making him the perfect choice for this ruse.
A Gathering of Heroes is a great Avengers story, a great Wolverine story, a great Darkhawk story, a great Defenders story, a great Doctor Strange story, and a great Midnight Sons story all rolled up into one. There’s something in this for everyone.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“A Gathering of Heroes is a great Avengers story, a great Wolverine story, a great Darkhawk story, a great Defenders story, a great Doctor Strange story, and a great Midnight Sons story all rolled up into one. There’s something in this for everyone.”