Sunday, October 23, 2016

Crabs, Assemble!, Part Eight: The Defenders Epic Collection, Volume 6: The Six-Fingered Hand

 What better way to kick off THE DEFENDERS EPIC COLLECTION than with their greatest adventure...?

 Growing up, THE DEFENDERS was always a last-resort title. I often spent my after-school hours with one set of grandparents or the other, and when my mom came to pick me up, we always passed a candy-store, which my mother would allow me to run into in order to peruse the latest comic-book offerings. As you could imagine, getting a comic (or two) a day could quickly lead to you already having everything interesting that was currently available in your possession. Still, I was never one to say no to a comic-book, which often lead to the unthinkable: The latest issue of MACHINE MAN, reprints of THE SUB-MARINER or Roy Thomas' run on FANTASTIC FOUR or THE AVENGERS...One of those last-resort comics was THE DEFENDERS, which I occasionally dipped my feet into, always with lackluster results. That all changed with THE DEFENDERS #94...under a staggering Mike Golden cover, The Defenders are forced to confront their demonically-possessed teammate, Hellcat, and, while doing so, learn of the threat of...THE SIX-FINGERED HAND!!!

 The series finally felt like it had a purpose, a reason for being. I remember spending three weeks in New Jersey visiting my father, and asking my mom to scour stores in The Bronx for a copy of THE DEFENDERS #100, which concluded the storyline. I had many a sleepless night until she confirmed that a copy would be waiting for me when I arrived home. Who says that kids are carefree....?

 THE DEFENDERS EPIC COLLECTION, VOLUME 6: THE SIX-FINGERED HAND collects MARVEL TEAM-UP #101, THE DEFENDERS #'s 92-109, and CAPTAIN AMERICA #268. The book starts off with the MARVEL TEAM-UP issue, which may seem like an odd choice, but this issue lays the groundwork for a lot of what comes later in the volume. Once again, Marvel and editor Cory Sedlmeier have put in the time and done their homework, and curated an impeccable collection. (The MTU issue also features a Nighthawk back-up story, illustrated by the legendary Steve Ditko.)

 THE DEFENDERS #'s 92-93 feature a pair of forgettable stories pitting the team against Nebulon (The reason why this collection was included in an AVENGERS marathon- Nebulon faces off against THE AVENGERS in the next collection in my marathon...) and engaging in yet another Namor vs. the surface world battle. Things begin to gel seamlessly with issue #94, where the team of writer J.M. DeMatteis and artists Don Perlin and Joe Sinnott kick it into high gear.

 Don Perlin was a journeyman artist, but his work came to vibrant life when inked by the astounding Joe Sinnott, whose style brought out the best in anyone that he was paired with. Their work here, especially in the seven issues that comprised The Saga of The Six-Fingered Hand, was a real high-water mark of DEFENDERS art.

 The story itself was J.M. DeMatteis at his finest. As The Defenders circle the globe attempting to stop the six demonic entities the make up The Hand, they encounter Ghost Rider, Dracula, and The Man-Thing, old friends return to the team, and two new members, The Gargoyle and Devil-Slayer, join the roster. The story climaxes in the double-sized issue #100, which I always found mildly unsatisfying, and still do. The story seemed to be leading up to a big, supernatural blowout, but it ends with a deep, thoughtful psychological battle. I did appreciate the depth of Satan's subtle endgame more now than I did as a nine-year-old. But more supernatural battling would have been appreciated.

 The remainder of the issues in this volume never really reach the heights of these seven issues, but there's a lot that's good here. Issue #101 finds the team trying to decompress and relax in their own ways, and DeMatteis delivers some beautiful moments. Issue #102 follows up on the MARVEL TEAM-UP issue, and sets the stage for a monumentally awful crossover with CAPTAIN AMERICA, the less said about which, the better. The remainder of the collection sees the team dispatched on various supernatural-tinged missions; They investigate the haunting of The Gargoyle's hometown, help The Beast save his girlfriend from death (With an assist from Mr. Fantastic), and explore the Asgardian afterlife to save The Valkyrie. Issue #107 features Karnilla, Queen of The Norns calling The Enchantress a "wretched tart", which is worth the price of admission alone. I love old comics.

 This book collects a run of THE DEFENDERS that I read over and over again as a kid, and while it doesn't quite hold up to my memories, it's still a fairly solid collection. Buy it for the title story, and your mileage will vary on the rest.

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