First Published: September 2004
Contents: Doctor Strange #183 (November 1969); The Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), #34 (February 1971) and #35 (March 1971); The Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970); Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971) to #3 (June 1972); The Defenders #1 (August 1972) to #14 (July 1974); and The Avengers #115 (September 1973) to #118 (December 1973)
Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru, Steve Englehart, Bob Brown, Len Wein, and others
Key First Appearances: Valkyrie, Nebulon
Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Overview: Doctor Strange! The Hulk! The Sub-Mariner! More than men, these beings border on being forces of nature. Brought together against their wishes, these heroes unite as one to form the first non-team in comics history, the Defenders!
A loose story line drifted across the three titles of the featured characters, all written by Roy Thomas, over a two year period before the trio of characters came together under the Defenders banner in Marvel Feature #1. Following three appearances in Marvel Feature, the Defenders graduated to their bi-monthly title. What made the team unique is that they didn’t necessarily consider themselves as an organized team. The Defenders did not have an organized charter and rules like the Avengers. They did not have matching uniforms like the Fantastic Four. Rather, they happened to be characters who hung out at Doctor Strange’s home and were pulled together at different times to fight foes (mainly magical characters) that threatened the Earth.
The Silver Surfer joined the “team” in issue #2 and is now considered to be one of the core members of the team. Longtime members Valkyrie and Nighthawk soon appear, and the regular cast of characters is set for the next few years.
The highlight of this volume is the Avengers/Defenders War, which ran for four months across both titles. This was one of the first major crossovers between two Marvel titles that last more than two or three issues. Hawkeye was hanging out with the Defenders at this time, so it made for a lot of interesting match-ups between the two teams (Captain America vs. Sub-Mariner, Swordsman vs. Valkyrie, Iron Man vs. Hawkeye, Vision & Scarlet Witch vs. Silver Surfer, etc.). The format for this storyline became the template for future crossover events for years to come.
What makes this Essential?: For a team that was not officially a team, the Defenders have a long history in the Marvel Universe. Primarily composed of characters best described as “anti-social” or “loners”, the members fought each other as much as they did their foes. There are a lot of times where this title feels more like an extension of the Doctor Strange book, as his villains are the team’s primary foes.
I think if you are a fan of the team or the main characters (especially Doctor Strange) then give this volume a read. If you are coming to this for the Avengers/Defenders crossover, then pick up Essential Avengers Vol. 5 or the Avengers/Defenders War collection.
Footnotes: Doctor Strange #183, The Sub-Mariner #22, The Incredible Hulk #126, and Marvel Feature #1 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2.
The Incredible Hulk #126 is also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 3.
The Avengers #115-#118 and The Defenders #8-#11 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 5.
Tom Hagen and the Rutland, Vermont, Halloween parade make an appearance in Marvel Feature #2. For more information on Tom Fagan, see Essential Avengers Vol. 4.
If you like this volume, try: the Defenders series from 2001. Created by Kurt Busiek and Eric Larsen, this series once again reunited the core members of the team under a spell — Yandroth manipulated a spell so that Doctor Strange, the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, and the Silver Surfer must reunite any time the world is in danger. This volume ran for 12 issues when it was then renamed The Order, which ran for six issues. These were numbered #1-#6, but they also continued the numbering from The Defenders with #13-#18. This story mixed a lot of humor into the action. Sadly, this volume has not been collected into any trade collections so you may need to dive into the back-issue bins to track this down.
For a look at the 2008 series The Order, please take a look at Essential Defenders Vol. 3.