Netflix has been building up a Marvel TV Universe for years. AFter apping fan-favorite legacy characters to produce Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist (not to mention the upcoming The Punisher), the big payoff happens when these heroes are banded together for The Defenders.
Following box office hits like The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy, this small-screen team represent a very different kind of superhero group – a grounded and very local set of heroes to contrast the increasingly cosmic characters who will be seen in Avengers: Infinity War.
Of all of these adaptations, it’s pretty safe to say that The Defenders will employ the strongest departure from the original comics material. And yet there’s a whole lot of facts about earth’s newest champions which will definitely inform the heart of the show. The contrasts and commonalities will become clearer as the show progresses.
This checklist of Defenders knowledge will help the audience see the bigger picture. Here are 15 Things You Never Knew About The Defenders.
15. They Are Cursed to Be Together Forever
Unlike other superhero teams, the Defenders didn’t come together in some common cause like say, a school for gifted mutant kids or maybe ripping off a spaceship to study cosmic rays. In the comics, it all started with Doctor Strange tricking Namor and Hulk into helping him fight some black magic bad guys.
The truth is, they mostly can’t stand each other. There isn’t the typical “family unit” cohesion like the Fantastic Four or the X-Men. They are only bound by being committed to protect the earth. Otherwise, they don’t even want to hang out with each other.
But in the 2002 story The Order, the supervillain Yandroth laid a curse on the team which would force Namor, Strange, Hulk, and fourth core member Silver Surfer to be thrust together any time the earth was in danger.
14. An Asgardian Was on the Core Team
Just shy of being a founding member, the Asgardian warrior goddess Valkyrie joined The Defenders as a core member in issue #4. A powerful fighter who flies around on a winged horse, this was one serious badass to add to the team.
Odin himself selected the blonde Brunnhilde to lead the Valkyrior, an elite women’s fighting team in the realm of Asgard. So it’s no wonder Valkyire can hang tough in a fight with the Hulk!
If anybody was the soul of this dysfunctional team, she may have been it. While Netflix’s The Defenders likely won’t have her appear on the show, the character has a prominent role in another MCU property. Actress Tessa Thompson is playing Valkyrie in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok, where she’ll be palling around with the God of Thunder and, of course, Hulk.
13. The Defenders Were Created to Save Failing Heroes
Believe it or not, some of the classic core characters in the Marvel Universe have struggled for sales over the years. In 1969, Doctor Strange was one such title, and it was about to be canceled. Writer Roy Thomas had begun a story arc in the last issue of that run which had to be continued as a crossover in Sub-Mariner and The Incredible Hulk (crossovers weren’t a regular thing back then).
Feeling that the team had potential, and realizing these oddball characters could use a new showcase, Marvel gave the concept its first official audition in Marvel Feature, an anthology “try-out” book for new ideas. After leading the first three issues of the title, The Defenders got its own ongoing series right after, giving a lot of “loners” a new home in the Marvel superhero continuity.
12. Patsy Walker Was A Main Member
In Jessica Jones, viewers were introduced to Patricia “Trisha” Walker, a talk show host who’s pals with Jessica and, with a little martial arts training, helps her defeat Kilgrave in the Netflix series. In the comics, Walker’s nickname is “Patsy” and she’s a full-blown superhero going by the name of Hellcat.
Starting off as a high-level martial artist, Hellcat was once offered a spot on The Avengers after helping save them. She turns them down in favor of an offer for psychic training from Moondragon. Patsy eventually joins the Defenders in issue 77 and was a core member for years eventually gaining extra mystical powers.
Even more oddly – Pasty Walker was a legacy character from teen-humor comics during Marvel’s Golden Age. So she’s been around since 1944, while the Marvel superhero universe we now know didn’t start until 1961. That cat sure does get around!
11. In the Comics, One of the Heroes Spends Half His Day in a Wheelchair
After a while, The Defenders came to be a sort of Island of Misfit Toys for the Marvel Universe. Oddball characters tended to drift toward those pages, occasionally becoming important members of the team. One such hero was Nighthawk, who joined early on (he was officially on board in issue #15).
Like Valkyrie and Hellcat, Kyle Richmond had been hanging around other titles, first as a villain, then later redeeming himself and becoming a hero. His winged suit gives him the power of flight, but he uses alchemy to enhance his strength – an augmentation which only works at night. During the day, he’s just a “normal” strong human.
At one point, he suffers injuries so bad, he’s paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. But the alchemy gives him his powers back once the sun goes down. Yeah, it’s weird, but on the other hand, he helped give disabled folks a spotlight, just as Charles Xavier did before him.
10. Daredevil and Jessica Jones Were Never Members in the Comics
One of the most different things about the Netflix Defenders is how little resemblance the team has to the comics Defenders. First of all, Doctor Strange and Hulk have already been claimed by the film franchises (the Netflix-verse and movie-verses have yet to formally cross streams), along with Valkyrie. Namor keeps being rumored to have his own feature in the works. As for the Silver Surfer, he’s tied up with the rest of the Fantastic Four pantheon over at Fox, so he won’t be anywhere in the MCU anytime soon.
Still, you would think that the TV Defenders would share some members with the comics, right? Well, don’t look at Daredevil or Jessica Jones. They never joined the team in the comics. Luke Cage was in the Defenders for a long while using his nom-de-guerre Power Man. Iron Fist also had some stints on a few versions of the title as well. But our favorite blind attorney and surly super-PI never made it.
9. The Original Team Fought the Avengers
The Avengers are known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and why not? Their lineup includes heavy hitters like Iron Man and Thor. But early on in the series, the Defenders found themselves taking on the other heroic team in a crossover story arc that was a real bruiser.
The so-called “Avengers-Defenders War” ran through three issues of each title for a 6-issue slug fest that featured an epic battle between Hulk and Thor (Hulk was no longer an Avenger at this point). Of course, the whole fight was really the product of manipulation by none other than Loki and the dread Dormammu.
Once the air cleared, the teams joined forces to stop the bad guys. But before it was over, The Defenders proved they could bat in the big leagues, keeping The Avengers at a stalemate through raw battle. Not too shabby for the so-called “non-team.”
8. They Had Really Weird Supervillains
The Defenders faced off mostly against cosmic, magic and trans-tech supervillains which were seriously wacky in their powers and appearance. Take for example a bad guy team called The Headmen, who were united by virtue of having strange stuff going on… with their heads. One is on a gorilla’s body. Another is on a shrunken skeleton. Really.
They also take on a being called the Six-Fingered Hand (each finger of the hand is a demon). Then there’s Alpha, a super-mutant who ends up turning Magneto into a baby, and Nebulon, a non-humanoid alien with gross tentacles whose human disguise looks vaguely like an ’80s hair rocker. Another team, The Wrecking Crew, gets their demolition-like powers when a bolt of lightning strikes a crowbar, making them meta-human construction guys. And the list goes on.
7. They Went to Hell to Battle Satan
A long story arc leading up to the 100th issue of The Defenders ended up with an epic battle on the plains of hell – brought to earth by none other than Satan himself. It was weird for a lot of reasons.
For one thing, Marvel used characters like the demon Mephisto to be sort of a substitute Satan, avoiding using that particular version of the devil. For another – how the hell do you take on Satan? Yes, Docor Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme, but this is the Father of All Evil! He’s pretty much unbeatable by mortals, right?
As it turned out, the whole confrontation was orchestrated to lure Daimon Hellstrom – aka Son of Satan, a Defender – back to the fiery realm for a family reunion with his daddy. Couldn’t have the Prince of Darkness just sent a nice invitation to sonny boy instead?
6. A Lot of Their Members Have Demonic Pedigrees
Speaking of hell, there sure are a lot of Defenders who have strong ties to the fiery abyss. The aforementioned Son of Satan was always a tricky superhero – the name says it all; a conflicted personality to be sure. His mom was human, though, so you could say he’s a good guy on his maternal side.
Another member, Devil-Slayer, started off as a member of a demonic cult, but when he got his powers, he switched to being good.
Remember we explained Hellcat before? Well, guess what? She’s trained to acquire mystical powers too – in Hell. And then there’s Gargoyle, who actually sold his soul to demons.
5. They Were Founded in Crossover Stories Before Getting Their Own Book
As already mentioned, The Defenders had an unusual path to publication. The whole thing started because a Doctor Strange story had to be finished in another title due to cancellation. It was not clear that writer Roy Thomas was looking to create a team book at that point, but the crossover process may have played a part.
In those days, crossover events were far more rare, so getting to play with different characters from different titles wasn’t a regular occurrence. The first inkling of what was to come was towards the end of the crossover stories when Hulk, Namor, and Silver Surfer appeared as “The Titans Three” – which, yes, is a far worse name than “The Defenders.” The uncommon intersection that covered this multi-title story arc may have been the most significant stimulus to bringing this powerful Marvel super-team to comics.
4. The Original Team Pretty Much Hates Each Other
If ever there was a superhero bag of jerks, it has to be the Defenders. First of all, there’s the Hulk. This guy has a serious anger management issue. No fun to be around. Namor is a king and total narcissist. Silver Surfer is a compulsive, self-pitying soliloquist who won’t stop whining “woe is me!” And Doctor Strange never really stopped being a snob, even after changing from an egomaniac surgeon to the “Master of the Mystics Arts” (see how he rubs that in?). Really, who would want to hang out with any of these guys? They’re the people at the party everybody stays away from.
Now, every superhero team has their in-fighting, but over the years, these four just can’t shut up about how much they can’t stand each other. It became such an in-joke in the Marvel Universe, one foe used a curse to force them to an eternity of meet-ups for big crises (see entry #15). This device gets used so often, it’s fair to wonder why those heroes didn’t get a 4-way divorce years ago.
3. Stan Lee Didn’t Want One of the Main Members to Be on the Team
When the Silver Surfer showed up in the pages of The Fantastic Four, he was an instant sensation. Obviously targeted to attract the ’60s counterculture, Norrin Radd’s epic story of cosmic reaches was at once enigmatic and cool. Stan Lee eventually launched a title for the Surfer, one which he and he alone would write.
The short-lived series was approaching cancellation when the Defenders were coming into being under writer Roy Thomas. He lobbied Lee to let him have SS for the new team book – after all he had appeared inh the crossover stories running up to the series – but Lee would not give up the seafaring sentinel. This forced Thomas to bring in Doctor Strange as the teams’ leader instead. After a few issues, Lee finally gave in and the Surfer became an official Defender.
2. Nobody Is Sure Who Gave Them Their Name
If you think about it, “The Defenders” isn’t the strongest name for a superhero team. Compare it to other big-time meta-human group monikers: The Justice League, The Avengers, The X-Men. It just doesn’t have the same kind of initial impact. So where did the name come from anyway? According to writer Roy Thomas, nobody is quite sure.
After all, it wasn’t like somebody dreamed up the team and just had to write about them. As already mentioned, this was trying to make a new title out of some leftover characters sitting around the Marvel kitchen. Thomas speculated that Stan Lee may have been behind it, but he can’t recall anymore. He has said, however, that he thought the name wasn’t as aggressive as some of the other super-team names out there. We could not agree more.
1. They Might Just Be the Toughest Superhero Team in the Marvel Universe
Pound for pound, the characters in the original comic book version of The Defenders were among the most powerful heroes in the universe. The Hulk, of course, was the strongest one there is. He could take out Thor, the Thing, or Colossus in a fair fight. Namor was sort of their Aquaman, only much stronger, and has bested Captain America and the Human Torch easily. Doctor Strange’s mystical powers corners the market on some pretty serious magic. He could probably fight off Iron Man’s tech and even Professor Xavier’s psychic attack in equal measure. As for Silver Surfer, here’s a guy who can fly through the hearts of suns and transmute matter. The dude is practically a god. With time, he could wear out Wolverine and power down The Vision.
Of course, preparation and luck can help too. The genius of Mr. Fantastic or reality-bending hexes the Scarlet Witch hurls could tilt a fight against the Defenders’ favor. But let it be known: this isn’t a second-rate superhero team. This group can dance with the best.
Do you have any Defenders trivia to add? Leave it in the comments!
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