The Marvel Defenders

The British media classes are somewhat taken with the new Iron Man film at the minute. It does look like a great superhero romp, and captures enough of the verve and social observation of Stan Lee to bear a lot of windy pretension. It avoids the hero, Tony Stark, being shown as the alcoholic he was in the comics, but the existence of Stark's demon is hinted at quite well by Robert Downey Jnr, apparently, who is a drugs offender and a former convict.

One of the great things about Marvel was how it was far less morally worthy than DC. So, for instance, Spider-woman had all sorts of problems with men before deciding to give up mucking about as a costumed hero; the she-hulk was a funny feminist lawyer when she went green; Dr Strange was clearly a total weirdo with an invented heterosexuality; and the silver surfer was a genuinely noble but actually quite murderous character.

All of this was quite true to the pulp origins of comic books, in which vigilante characters shared as much with lynch mobs as they did with the gendarmes. They were an expression of the absence of control by elites on the frontier and of the narcissism and alienation of modernity, and probably had more than a little to do with the furtiveness of sexual expression before the seventies too.

I liked quirky characters, so I thought on Free Comic Books Day, (an annual event) I would push you towards my favourite from Marvel; the 'non-team' of the Defenders.

The Defenders functioned like an invoice-based tutorial college. Everyone was a little weird and didn't really like each other, mostly; the boss was some sort of whacky sorcerer who had either surreptitiously hypnotised, drugged or blackmailed everyone into working together with a dubious qualification (I bet Dr Strange was at a teaching college); everyone was always trying to escape the association, and was a borderline sociopath; and achieving targets was frankly a grudgeful anticlimax that usually resulted in someone walking out. In addition, there was very little investment in secret bases or costumes and most stories involved human shipwrecks and a state of being that was, frankly, nucking futs. Needless to say the procedures envisaged in the employment rights act 2002 covering discipline, dismissal and grievance were as far beyond the defenders as the employment tribunals and planet Krypton.

Yet the Defenders was an exuberant line in comics and shared a certain cynical take on the world mixed with a very dry sense of fun that is today associated with the likes of Hellboy or Joe Sacco picture-novels. If you like your comics, I really recommend it as a sort of druggy version of X-Men, and in any event, wish you a happy comics day!


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