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Defenders (comics)

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The Defenders.
Team name = Defenders
Publisher = Marvel Comics
Debut = Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971)
Creators = Roy Thomas
Ross Andru
Base = Mobile
Dr. Strange's Mansion
Richmond Riding Academy
Memberlist = List of Defenders members

The Defenders is the name of a number of Marvel Comics superhero groups which are usually presented as a "non-team" of individualistic "outsiders," each known for following their own agendas. The team usually battled mystic and supernatural threats.

Its original incarnation was led by Doctor Strange and included the Hulk, Namor, and, eventually, the Silver Surfer. They first appeared as The Defenders in Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971).

The group had a rotating line-up from 1972 until 1986, with Dr. Strange and the Hulk being more or less constant members along with a number of other mainstays such as Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Hellcat, the 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. Later, the original team were reunited in a short-lived series by Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen. In the 2000s, Marvel published a new miniseries featuring the classic line-up. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Terry Dodson launched a new Defenders series in December 2011.


Publication history

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 the other series. Dr. Strange teams with Sub-Mariner, then the Hulk to protect the Earth from invasion by Lovecraftian inter-planar 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, who had invented a machine that could set off nuclear stockpiles all over the planet, and remained as a team afterward. Due to the popularity of their tryout in Marvel Feature, Marvel soon began publishing The Defenders. The 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 (Dec. 1978-Feb. 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 8-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 end up drawing the series for nearly half its run.

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. The Beast then 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, Valkyrie, Andromeda, Manslaughter, Interloper) seemingly die in battle with the Dragon of the Moon. The remaining 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.

Secret Defenders

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.

2005 Miniseries

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).

The Offenders

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 reunites 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.

2011 series

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, 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.


Defenders membership was fluid yet a few members were relatively consistent: the three founders (Doctor Strange, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the Incredible Hulk), the Silver Surfer, Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Hellcat, and Gargoyle. Membership was clearer in the New Defenders era when the team was more formally organized.

Secret Defenders

This group's composition was even more fluid than that of the original Defenders, but typically included either Doctor Strange or Doctor Druid as leader, joined by a custom selection of heroes chosen for the mission at hand. At various times, War Machine, Darkhawk, Thunderstrike, Wolverine, the second Spider-Woman, Ant-Man, Iceman, Nomad, and many others were members. At the end of its existence, the group had a somewhat regular composition including Cadaver, Sepulchre, Joshua Pryce, and Doctor Druid.

Other versions

Ultimate Defenders

Cover to Ultimate New Ultimates #1 (May 2010). Art by Leinil Francis Yu.

In the Ultimate Marvel universe, the Defenders are a group of amateur vigilantes who dress up as superheroes. None of them have superpowers, although they claim to be experienced in crime-fighting. Henry Pym is invited to join them, and he accepts, adopting a new identity, Ant-Man, to avoid the potential legal problems of using his growth serum as it is now the official property of the government. Their members include Ultimate versions of Power Man, Hellcat, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Black Knight, Son of Satan, and Whiz-Kid. The Ultimate Defenders are much more interested in becoming celebrities rather than actually stopping crimes or saving lives.

Since The Ultimates volume 3, Pym has rejoined the Ultimates, and the Valkyrie was rewritten as having powers and skills akin to her Earth-616 counterpart, along with expertise in swordfighting, some degree of enhanced strength, and training by Thor.

The Defenders return in Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates #1 (May 2010) with the original members now possessing superhuman abilities that fit their namesakes. It's revealed that Loki gave them these powers (Valkyrie included), to steal Thor's hammer Mjolnir.

What If? Age of Apocalypse

In a reality in which Legion killed Charles Xavier, the Defenders were the sole group resisting the regime of the mutant tyrant Apocalypse. They were formed by Captain America (wielding Mjolnir), Captain Britain (wearing the Iron Man armor), Logan (without an adamantium skeleton), Molecule Man, Brother Voodoo (Sorcerer Supreme following the death of Doctor Strange), and the Thing, who wears a prosthetic arm. They are later joined by Sauron and Nate Summers.

Age of Ultron

Following Wolverine's murder of Hank Pym during Age of Ultron, a splinter timeline is created. In the new timeline, the Defenders became the world's premier superhero team after the breakup of the Avengers. The new Defenders line-up consisted of Doctor Strange, Captain America, Wolverine, Janet Van Dyne as Captain Marvel, Thing, Cable, Hulk, and Star-Lord. The group is a resistance against Morgan le Fay who has conquered half of Earth.

In other media


  • The Defenders are formed in The Super Hero Squad Show episode "Invader From the Dark Dimension". When Baron Mordo possesses Iron Man, Wolverine, Falcon, and Redwing, a new group is formed by Doctor Strange and Valkyrie (including Hulk, Thor, and Silver Surfer) to stop Mordo.
  • The Defenders appear in the Avengers Assemble episode "Planet Doom". The Defenders acting as the world's sole team of heroes in an alternate timeline where Doctor Doom prevented the formation of the Avengers. In the show, the team consists of Bullseye (Clint Barton), Snap (Sam Wilson), and Slinger (Peter Parker) with the Black Bride (Natasha Romanoff) acting as their mole within Doctor Doom's regime. Brain Trust and Punisher are shown to be allies of the Defenders.

Video games

  • The four founding members of the Defenders each play a role in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. The Silver Surfer can be unlocked with a special code (available to those who pre-ordered the game through specific outlets) or by completing all Comic Book Missions. Both Doctor Strange and Namor are NPC-Striker characters in the Game Boy Advance version. Doctor Strange is a playable character in most platforms. In all other versions, Bruce Banner originally only appears as an NPC character who aids the heroes in defusing a gamma bomb, though the Hulk was subsequently released as an optional downloadable playable character in the Xbox 360 version. Namor plays a prominent part in the storyline, when the player must assist in averting an uprising in Atlantis, rescuing Namor from the prison of air he has been trapped in and defeating the Atlanteans (now under control of renegades such as Attuma and Tiger Shark). The player can get a Defenders team bonus for using a team of Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, Luke Cage, Iceman, or the downloadable Hulk or receive a team bonus of Secret Defenders by using Ghost Rider, Hulk, Silver Surfer, and Doctor Strange.


  • In the Vs. System TCG, the Defenders received a full team affiliation in the Marvel Team-Up set. Their team focuses on Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Namor, and the Silver Surfer, using smaller characters such as Hellcat, Hawkeye, and Valkyrie to support them. The team was popular, and a number of different incarnations of the team have appeared in major tournaments.


  • The Defenders play a key role in the 2012 Heroclix Galactic Guardians set, with the original four and many others as playable characters.


  • The two-part Justice League episode "The Terror Beyond" features Doctor Fate, Aquaman, Solomon Grundy and Hawkgirl banding together to fight an ancient supernatural entity known as Icthulhu. According to Bruce Timm, the team was meant as an explicit homage to the Defenders, with each member paralleling a different Marvel hero (Doctor Fate/Doctor Strange, Aquaman/Namor, Solomon Grundy/Hulk, and Hawkgirl/Nighthawk).

Collected editions

  • Marvel Masterworks Defenders
    • Vol. 1 collects Sub-Mariner #34-35, Marvel Feature #1-3, The Defenders #1-6, 256 pages, July 2008, ISBN 978-0785130444
    • Vol. 2 collects The Defenders #7-16, Giant-Size Defenders #1, The Avengers #115-118, 312 pages, January 2011, ISBN 978-0785142164
    • Vol. 3 collects The Defenders #17-21, Giant-Size Defenders #2-4, Marvel Two-In-One #6-7, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0785159612
    • Vol. 4 collects The Defenders #22-30, Giant-Size Defenders #5, 240 pages, February 2014, ISBN 978-0785166276
  • Avengers/Defenders War collects The Defenders #8-11 and The Avengers #115-118, 176 pages, March 2002, paperback, ISBN 978-0785108443; 136 pages, October 2007 hardcover, ISBN 978-0785127598
  • Essential Defenders:
    • Volume 1 collects The Defenders #1-14, Doctor Strange #183, Sub-Mariner #22, 34-35, The Incredible Hulk #126, Marvel Feature #1-3, and The Avengers #115-118, 544 pages, May 2005, ISBN 978-0785115472
    • Volume 2 collects The Defenders #15-30, Giant-Size Defenders #1-5, Marvel Two-in-One #6-7, Marvel Team-Up #33-35, and Marvel Treasury Edition #12, 600 pages, December 2006, ISBN 978-0785121503
    • Volume 3 collects The Defenders #31-60 and The Defenders Annual #1, 592 pages, July 2007, ISBN 978-0785126966
    • Volume 4 collects The Defenders #61-91, 584 pages, July 2008, ISBN 978-0785130611
    • Volume 5 collects The Defenders #92-106, Marvel Team-Up #101, 111, 116, Captain America #268, 448 pages, August 2010, ISBN 978-0785145370
    • Volume 6 collects The Defenders #107-124, The New Defenders #125, The Avengers Annual #11, and Marvel Team-Up #119, 528 pages, October 2011, ISBN 978-0785157540
    • Volume 7 collects The New Defenders #126-139, Iceman #1-4, Beauty and the Beast #1-4, 528 pages, May 2013, ISBN 978-0785184058
  • The New Defenders Vol. 1 collects The Defenders #122-124 and The New Defenders #125-131, 256 pages, February 2012, ISBN 978-0785162469
  • Defenders: Indefensible collects The Defenders vol. 3 #1-5, 120 pages, May 2006 hardcover, ISBN 978-0785121527; 120 pages, February 2007 paperback, ISBN 978-0785117629
  • The Last Defenders collects The Last Defenders #1-6, 144 pages, November 2008, ISBN 978-0785125075
  • Hulk, Vol. 3: Hulk No More collects the "Defenders vs. Offenders" storyline from Hulk #10-12 plus #13 and #600, 160 pages, November 2009 hardcover, ISBN 978-0785139836; 160 pages, February 2010 paperback, ISBN 978-0785140528
  • The Defenders by Matt Fraction
    • Vol. 1 collects The Defenders vol. 4 #1-6, material from Point One #1, and Fear Itself #7, 160 pages, July 2012, ISBN 978-0785158516
    • Vol. 2 collects The Defenders vol. 4 #7-12, 136 pages, January 2013, ISBN 978-0785158530


External links