Who says there aren't any overweight superheroes?
Ah, the Defenders.
What a terrible concept, you know? I’m sorry, I know there are fans out there, but I just don’t get the point of the team. You get concepts like the Justice League or the Avengers – the best of the planet’s heroes uniting together to defend the world from threats beyond the normal capacity of superheroes. You get concepts like the Teen Titans – a group of teenaged superheroes and sidekicks banding together to help each other grow up and work together as friends and family. You get concepts like the X-Men – oppressed individuals with unusual abilities working together to show that the prejudices against them are unjustified.
But what is the need of the Defenders? Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Silver Surfer, and Namor have nothing that unites them; they just exist. Still, The Defenders lasted an impressive 152-issue run from 1972 to 1986 before there was a new concept thrown out there in the 1990s – The Secret Defenders.
The idea was akin to the one used in Justice League Task Force - Doctor Strange would call upon a group of heroes to temporarily work together to deal with a specific threat. In theory, this actually isn’t a bad idea for a comic, kind of a Showcase Presents type of thing to highlight heroes, but if the rest of the series was anything like the subject today, I’ll have to say it failed miserably.
The writer, Ron Marz, has a love-hate relationship with comics fandom. While it may have been editorially dictated, he was the one who wrote the infamous Green Lantern story where Hal Jordan goes insane, murders several of his friends and colleagues, before turning into a full-on supervillain by absorbing all the Green Lantern energy and taking the name Parallax. He’s also responsible for inspiring the Women in Refrigerators criticism of comics and their tendency to depower, murder, rape, or otherwise just screw over female superheroines or characters. On the other hand, he also wrote Ion: Guardian of the Universe, so I won’t fault him for every bad thing he’s done.
As for the penciler Tom Grindberg... well, hell, I don’t know what to say. The artwork in this book is atrocious as we’re about to see, possibly a result of the Dark Age-style that may have been editorially handed to him, but from the other art I’ve seen of him, it baffles the mind why exactly we’re getting what we’re getting here.
Let’s start off with the hideous cover, as always. What does it say about the art when the small “icons” of the characters in the top left corner look better than the ones on the cover itself? The dizzying cover for Secret Defenders #9 features the three who will be working for Doctor Strange in this little adventure – Silver Surfer, War Machine, and our good old pal Thunderstrike. While it’s bad enough that the background colors are a nauseating collage of various shapes and wavy lines, the artwork on the three we see here is just as nerve-racking. I know Dark Age artwork took muscular structures and emphasized them considerably, but this is just sad – it’s like all three of them were balloons that got filled with enough air that any minute now they’re going to float away. Their necks are only about an inch long and they look like they can’t run, only waddle.
We open up on a ballooned, menacing Roger Delgado- erm, I mean Doctor Strange. Either of his hands are roughly the size of his head and he has a third eye on him for some reason. Oh and there are eyeballs floating around in yellow sulphuric mists that seem to be emanating from... well, I don’t really know what to call them. They look like stone, orange bones, and a single candle flame that doesn’t seem to be an actual light source. The good Doctor asks in the direction of the reader, “Why have you come to the house of DOCTOR STRANGE?” And his name is in red and made huge, as if he routinely walks around talking about himself in the most dramatic manner possible. I can just see him walking up to a Starbucks and proclaiming, DOCTOR STRANGE demands his grande double mocha!’
Cut to a two-page spread of Doctor Strange floating above the weird crap we saw on the first page as well as seeing what a cluttered mess his home, the Sanctum Sanctorum, really is. Oh, and his third eye is now gone. Silver Surfer is standing nearby and- oh, dear lord has he put on weight! Seriously, the guy’s stomach is clearly shown from the backside and his ass is at least twice as big as his head! I guess Galactus wasn’t the only guy chowing down on planets when the herald went a surfin’! The tragically-obese Silver Surfer says, “Wong let me in. He thought you would not mind. I can go if I’m intruding.” Doctor Strange replies, “Of course not, Surfer. I wouldn’t hear of it. Your arrival is simply unexpected -- as are all your appearances lately. But you know you are welcome in my home at any time.” Then why were you yelling at him a minute ago for entering your house? Furthermore, what’s with the weird emphasis on certain words? Try to say that last bit of dialogue for yourself and try not to giggle when you start talking like a stereotypical hairdresser and saying ‘dahling!’
On the next page we see that the Surfer finally put his power cosmic to good use and seems to be flattening out his stomach a bit, albeit his arms and chest are still pretty weirdly drawn. Doctor Strange inquires as to why he’s here and the Surfer explains he needs some assistance. And now it’s time for the ol’ flashback to kick in detailing stuff that no one really cares about. Here’s the gist of it – apparently, a self-styled pirate named Nebula tried to steal the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos and was imprisoned on Saturn’s moon Titan. She was later broken out of her prison and ran into the Silver Surfer after she had killed some of her former crew and I swear to God here that this page contains no less than four footnotes listing off where those actions took place, one of them even listing off a seven-issue[!] stint for the main Silver Surfer comic.
The Surfer further exposits that she’s mustering forces on the Martian moon Phobos (since when did Phobos have its own recruitment center for evil henchmen?). “Her target seems obvious -- Titan.” Well, obviously. “She’ll want revenge for her imprisonment.” Wouldn’t she want revenge against the people who initially imprisoned her and not some jail (a jail of which we know nothing about... are there aliens on Titan who imprisoned her? I love how Marvel always proclaims it strives for a “real world” feel for their comics and ye we seem to get the impression that most of the moons in the solar system are inhabited!)? Doctor Strange offers assistance, but the Surfer declines. We zoom in on his face as he explains why his help would be useless, showing his face get chubbier and chubbier as if the more he speaks, the more his body fills out.
Apparently Nebula is a “Master Strategist” and that when she came into contact with many of Earth’s heroes before, she gained knowledge on all of them and subsequently what their weaknesses could be. The Surfer explains that though he failed to stop her the last time, he’ll take his chances now (yeah, go up against the woman who already knows you and your weaknesses! Who’s the master strategist now, eh?) As such, he requests Doctor Strange give him some allies who would be unfamiliar to Nebula.
Some time later, Doctor Strange has the Surfer come back to him and he shows who he has obtained. They’re veiled in silhouettes at first, making him confusedly think that Doctor Strange has obtained Thor and Iron Man. Strange replies, “No. Not quite.” Not even by a long shot, pal. And thus we are introduced to Thunderstrike and War Machine! And I just have to laugh here about how horrifying the artwork is on this page. War Machine looks like someone smushed him down so he was really wide and his legs were compressed to make up about half his body. Thunderstrike got off a little better, but his head is the size of his fist while the rest of his body is just muscled to the extreme. I’d like to say he’s on steroids but I didn’t know steroids made someone that friggin’ tall.
Just an artistic aside here – the average human body from the top of the head to the toes is usually about the height of one’s head times seven. Shoulder length is usually the width of two heads. Thunderstrike in this picture measures eleven head heights tall and five head-widths for the shoulders, just going to show once more that one needn’t to really have any anatomical knowledge in order to draw a comic.
The (unintentional) humor continues with the dialogue. Doctor Strange comments on how “Almost nobody recognizes them... least of all Nebula.” No, least of all the comic-reading public. What I really love is how Doctor Strange says right in front of them that these two are losers that aren’t well-known in the public. Still, I’ve got to say Ron Marz in this book does capture Thunderstrike’s unique and complex grasp of the English language as we saw in his own book:
“Honored to meet you... Though we’ve met before, sort of. But that’d be a long story (Oh, why stop now?) and... well... uh...Like I said... I’m honored. Really.” Somewhere out there Shakespeare’s swooning, folks.
Silver Surfer must be kicking himself now as he asks, “You’re sure they’re up to it?” Doctor Strange affirms his confidence in the two and the Surfer asks the two if they’ve been explained what they’ll be up against. War Machine replies, “All right with me. Sounds like a good scrap.” If you mean your armor, then yes, your armor will make good scrap. “I need a chance to work out the kinks in this suit, anyway.” Oh, well that should put the Silver Surfer’s fears to rest – your armor’s apparently not even perfected and yet you want to go up against the Master Strategist. Doctor Strange apparently didn’t spend much time looking for these two, did he?
Thunderstrike expresses his own confidence in the mission: “I mean, with the three of us, this nebula doesn’t stand a chance, right?” This coming from the guy whose original arch-nemesis was a Rastafarian Doctor Doom called “Carjack.” On top of that is War Machine, who I’m sure has quite an arsenal that would make him a threat on Earth, but the amount of alien technology at Nebula’s disposal must easily trump War Machine’s weapons. And as the Surfer explained, even he is pretty much useless in this fight because Nebula’s already encountered him and therefore can out-strategize him. Here’s a thought – instead of bringing in two losers that even Doctor Strange admitted “nobody recognizes,” how about you organize the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and every other hero at your disposal and go on a huge assault on her? Sure, she’s a master strategist, but the number of superpowered individuals at their disposal must create too many variables for her to have to factor in.
The Silver Surfer warns them not to get overconfident, especially since even by his own admission: “We are only three, and it’s certain Nebula has gathered a sizable force by now. Her troops will be well-armed and well-trained.” This is going to be like the superhero Bay of Pigs, isn’t it? Doctor Strange teleports them away amidst more nauseating magical effects and we can see once again that apparently between panels the heroes have gained significant weight (especially in their legs. Wow!), making me think this is actually going to be a superhero Bay of Pigs orchestrated by Fat Bastard, an elderly Marlon Brando, and Chris Farley.
Cut to a two-page spread of the battle on Phobos! It’s the kind of battle one would see in Infinite Crisis or Civil War except it’s ridiculously lame compared to the group shots in those books because only THREE heroes are here and the rest are just an assortment of unrecognizable aliens who are either standing around or just getting blasted through by Silver Surfer, War Machine, and Thunderstr- BY DIEHARD’S CROTCH! What the hell happened to Thunderstrike’s spine?! He’s curving his body more than a female character by Michael Turner! Come to think of it, none of these people have any kind of space suits on. How the hell are they breathing?
The Silver Surfer says he’ll go on ahead to hunt for Nebula while the other two take on the horde of alien soldiers. War Machine responds with a non-chalant, “Fine. Everything’s under control here.” I guess he’s grown as bored with this stuff as we have. Thunderstrike has this to say: “Sure, you track her down, but, uh... leave some for us, okay?” I just gasp whenever Thunderstrike speaks – his words are spoken softly -- through gritted teeth -- but they strike with the force of a thunderbolt! *Sigh*
*Ahem* Anyway, Silver Surfer flies up, blasting an alien in half (come to think of it, all three of them aren’t exactly pulling their punches to prevent slicing and dicing the alien soldiers here) as he reasons where Nebula could be: “Resistance is heaviest near Nebula’s flagship. I suspect that’s where I’ll find her... waiting for me. I won’t disappoint her.” So his plan is to fly into Nebula’s Flagship guns ablazing right where she wants to and... what, exactly? I guess Surfer’s plan is:
1. Fly right into Nebula’s hands.
Brilliant strategy, Napoleon. Weren’t you the one lecturing the other two a minute ago about being overconfident? A weird energy burst comes from a gun in some green guy’s hands that knocks out the Silver Surfer in one blast. We see Nebula herself now and apparently she’s Locutus of Borg with child-bearing hips and actually quite an impressive package for a woman. She explains that the weapon was a “Synaptic Disruptor,” for those who were wondering how some energy weapon could take down someone with the power cosmic. Oh, and she’s also wearing a leather jacket for no particular reason with the Flash’s lightning bolt on the lapel. Make ‘Buried Alien’ jokes at your leisure.
Cutting back to Thunder Strike and War Machine, the two are actually having a decent conversation about how it shouldn’t matter if they’re viewed as imitations of more well-known heroes. “If you’re in this to do some good, doesn’t matter who you look like. Long as you get the job done. Remember that, Thunderstrike, and everything falls into place.” Of course, the touching little commentary on heroism and resemblance is undercut by the fact that the two look like two overweight bikers trying to storm their way over to a sack of White Castles, but it’s a nice sentiment for the two.
And of course the “well-armed, well-trained” soldiers are easily smacked around by a guy in a suit of technologically-inferior armor and a guy who looks like Crocodile Dundee if he let his hair and beard grow out. Suddenly, some red, demonic-looking alien grabs Thunderstrike and threatens him with a curvy blade, which is somehow supposed to create dramatic tension, except for the fact that we know the guy has enhanced strength, which means a little blade isn’t going to do crap on him. War Machine frags the alien and I’ve got to shake my head at the thought that just a second ago they were talking about being heroes.
The two fly off in search of the Silver Surfer and we finally get an explanation for how they can breathe: an “artificial atmosphere envelope.” Hmmm... Nope, not buying it. Sorry. They arrive at the edge of the “artificial atmosphere envelope” and find the Silver Surfer strapped to some big hunk of metal. Nebula starts ‘mu-ha-ha-ing’ about how she was ready for the Surfer while she stands in an awkward pose that once again points out what a tiny waist she has but that she’s got a big butt, too. Oh and this page has the only bright spot in this whole issue – it’s the reflection of light on the bottom of the thing Silver Surfer’s strapped to.
Nebula gets in a nice zing on the two has-beens: “And you two jokes -- whatever you’re supposed to be -- can’t do a thing to stop me.” Damn, those two just got owned by a cyborg Sinead O’Connor. Thunderstrike’s ready to open a can of whoopass over the insult, but War Machine tells him to take it easy (in quite possibly the best-drawn panel of the entire comic if only because we can’t see their bodies, just their faces and part of their shoulders). Nebula exposits that the Silver Surfer is strapped to a fusion-reaction bomb that “he’s going to ride it all the way down to Titan.” Doctor Strangelove, eat your heart out.
This does raise even more questions, though – how exactly does she plan on getting the bomb to Titan? She supposedly has a “Flagship,” yet every time we see her here she’s standing on a bunch of rocks. And again I must ask – what’s the point of taking out Titan, exactly? It seems to me that the Silver Surfer probably has more to answer for in terms of doing crap to you than some prison and you even have the surfer captured and you can kill him with the bomb already. And perhaps most damning of all, are we really supposed to take Nebula here as a “Master Strategist?” So far the ‘heroes’ are the ones who have bumbled around just leaping in without a second thought. And not to mention it doesn’t exactly take much to take down either of these two. Bear in mind, a good EMP could probably leave War Machine defenseless. And Thunderstrike here was taken down by Bloodaxe of all people.
Thunderstrike asks, “And you expect us to stand by and let you do it?” Nebula, channeling her inner James Bond villain, responds, “No. Of course not. I expect you to stand here and be killed.” The book ends as two more overweight aliens suddenly come floating down (or is it supposed to be leaping? I can’t imagine having that much fat on a body and being able to leap like that) and Nebula explains that they are her Lieutenants Kurg and Kruk and that they’re “particularly good soldiers because I’ve had all their nerve endings cauterized. They feel no pain. But you will.”
Dun dun duuuuuuuun! Will Silver Surfer become the Silver Smudge?! Will Thunderstrike and War Machine get on the Slim Fast Plan before they run afoul of a heart attack?! Does Nebula realize that Persis Khambatta isn’t a good role model for one’s hairstyle?! Who knows, who cares. I have to go order a new crate of donuts for the Silver Surfer.