The Defenders & The Avengers: Super teams by super teams
FEB 2001 Product
The Defenders. The Avengers. They’re two of Marvel’s greatest super teams and they’re both drawn into the spotlight this month with a new series for the Defenders and a new direction and art team for the Avengers.
The Defenders haven’t appeared in their own title since the late 1980s. What makes now the right time for them to return? Editor Tom Brevoort explains. “There's been something of a groundswell of interest in Defenders for a couple of years now - it's easily the book I was most often asked about coming back in recent memory. It was also a name many creators were interested in using. The whole reason I ended up editing Defenders was that I'd been actively knocking down Defenders proposals the year or so previous - all of which used the name and maybe one of the characters, and nothing else. My argument was that, if the new idea being pitched was a good one, it should be called something different. The people who want Defenders to come back want a specific thing - Doc and Namor and the Hulk and the Surfer. If you don't have that, you're actually hurting your project by giving it that name. And so eventually, the powers-that-be came back and said, ‘All right, then, you do Defenders.’”
One of the people who wanted to see Defenders return was writer Kurt Busiek, although he didn’t initially intend on becoming involved with the project. “I knew Tom was taking proposals for a new Defenders book,” Busiek explains. “I was interested in what he'd come up with, because I liked the Defenders a lot in their early days, but I knew Tom and I had similar problems with the core concept - mainly, that if you have Dr. Strange, Hulk and Namor get to a point where they don't mind getting together on a regular basis, becoming a de facto team, it softens the antagonism that makes the combo unique and fun. And if you don't - why do they keep getting together?
“But I didn't have any spare time, so I didn't give the problem much thought.
“I was talking to Erik Larsen, though, and he said he really wanted to do the book, but was having trouble coming up with something that would get past Tom's problems with the concept. So that got me thinking about it more, and I ended up talking to Tom to get a more clear sense of what he was looking for, with the idea of nudging Erik in the right direction - because I'd love to read a regular Defenders book by Erik.
“And while Tom and I were talking, I figured out a way to make the book work - a way to keep the classic Defenders (Doc, Hulk, Namor and Surfer) involved without making them joiners. I ran it past Tom, and he liked it. So I ran it past Erik, and he liked it too - but when we got to the point where I was planning to say, ‘Great, you do it - I'll have fun reading it,’ I found I couldn't. I liked the idea and wanted to be part of playing it out.
“So I suggested that Erik and I co-write the book. We'd work out the plots together, he'd draw the book and script it, I'd go over the script and add my stuff, and presto, we'd have a Defenders book. So we wrote up a pitch and sent it to Tom and he bought it.
“And here I am, having a great time working on a book I never thought I'd have anything to do with...”
Add Hellcat, Nighthawk and Valkyrie to the Defenders and inker Klaus Janson to the creative team, and you’ve got a book that sounds like a lot of fun. Never read a Defenders story before? Don’t let that stop you from trying the book. “We're treating it as a brand new series, so people won't have to have read any previous Defenders appearances in order to understand or follow it,” says Brevoort. “On the other hand, it has the same four central characters in it, so it's likely that there'll be some similarity to the classic years of the original run.”
“While Erik, Tom and I all like the early run of the series, we're not trying to recapture any particular era,” adds Busiek. “We're starting fresh, with a classic cast and the use of the best-remembered villains from the series - but we're starting with the original concept, the idea of these humongously powerful loners who don't really want to be a team but are drawn together anyway. We're going to find our own direction from that. I expect it'll be something that longtime Defenders fans will enjoy - but it'll also be something that readers who never heard of the Defenders will enjoy, too. If you like the idea of a series bringing the Hulk, Namor and Dr. Strange together, then this book's for you. You won't need to know anything about the old series - just start reading here and if you have half as much fun as we do, you'll have a ball.”
So what can readers look forward to in Defenders? “The first issue alone will have slam-bang action, strangeness, a global threat from a bum in the San Francisco gutters, a contentious group of heroes, a mystery or two, and an invading fleet of Toad Men. Fabulous art by Larsen and Janson. Hitting. Arguing. Fishing. A Jamaican dwarf with mystic powers. Don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-'em cameos by the FF and the Avengers. And a desperate battle to save the Earth,” says Busiek.
“And that's just for starters. We've got plans for Pluto and the Enchantress, for Attuma and Tiger Shark, for the Headmen, for Xemnu, for a Squadron Sinister and lots more.”
Both Kurt Busiek and Tom Brevoort are also involved with another classic Marvel team, the Avengers. How do the Defenders compare to the Avengers? “Well, on the one hand, they're both very powerful, A-level teams,” says Busiek. “But that's pretty much where the similarity ends.”
“The Avengers is a classic team book,” adds Brevoort. “It's about what Kurt calls ‘the varsity’ - the group of heroes the average person in the Marvel Universe is most apt to call on in a time of crisis. Defenders is about a bunch of menaces. None of these guys is somebody who makes ordinary people feel comforted. Heck, they don't even like each other all that much. So it's a different dynamic entirely.”
“If there's a big menace in the area, and the Avengers come over the hill, the general reaction is, ‘Whew! We're safe now!’” continues Busiek. “But if the Defenders come over the hill, the general reaction is more like, ‘Marge, get the kids in the car, and don't bother to pack. We're getting out of the state...’”
“The Defenders are big, powerful, dangerous and scary. Three of their big four have attacked humanity at one point or another - sometimes several times. It's a damn good thing they're on our side. That's the big difference.
“And for some reason, despite their being scarier than the Avengers, they're also funnier than the Avengers. Maybe it's because they're so incongruous together.”
And speaking of the Avengers, they’re in for a few changes as well, including the introduction of the new art team of Alan Davis and Mark Farmer. And just as Kurt Busiek’s involvement with Defenders was a happy accident, so too was Davis’ joining Avengers. “I was working with Tom Brevoort on a Killraven project, and he needed someone to fill in on the Avengers for a little while,” says Davis. “Since I’d been hanging around for three years on the Killraven project, helping out for a little while on the Avengers didn’t seem to be too much of an additional delay. I’ve always liked the Avengers so I don’t want to make it sound like a chore. Although it wasn’t something I sought, I’m grateful for the opportunity to draw such great characters.”
What led Brevoort to ask Davis to join the Avengers team? “Alan's an artist with a classic sensibility and a sleek, dynamic style,” he explains. “He's no stranger to team books, having drawn Fantastic Four, X-Men, Excalibur, JLA: The Nail and Batman and the Outsiders at one time or another. He's got a clear affection for the core of the Marvel Universe, but hasn't had much opportunity to play with them yet. So he seemed like a good fit with Avengers and what we hope to bring to the series in the next year.”
Davis’ has the unenviable task of taking over as artist after a very popular run by George Pérez. Does he consider this at all daunting? “It’s not really something that I consider too much,” he says. “I can only concentrate on the work I’m doing. I’ve been on other books where I’ve followed people who’ve had critical acclaim or a good following. You really just have to concentrate on the work or else you’re going to start trying to imitate the person who’s just left.”
What does Busiek see as the differences between working with Davis as opposed to Pérez? “He sticks a lot closer to the plot as written, for one thing!
“But seriously - it's a little early to tell. Alan's a phenomenal artist who does a gorgeous job, and so is George. George is someone I've worked with for three years, Alan's someone I've worked with for coming up on an issue and a half. The book looks different, because Alan's storytelling approach and drawing style is different. But it's just beautiful stuff, and I'll know more about what it's like once we've got a couple of issues under our belts.
“But just as George was returning to Avengers after having done a classic run in the past, so his run on the current series was very familiar and welcome to Avengers fans, Alan's strongly influenced by classic Avengers artists like Neal Adams and John Buscema - so his run on the book, too, will look and feel like the Avengers, right from the get-go. He's putting his own stamp on it, but I don't think anyone'll look at the book and go, ‘Naw, the Avengers aren't supposed to look like this!’ It doesn't look like George. But it absolutely looks like Avengers.
“I think people are going to love it.”
Although he has no single artistic influence on Avengers, Davis is quite familiar with the book’s history. “My favorite period of Avengers, from childhood, began with the heyday of John Buscema, Gene Colan and, obviously, the Neal Adams stuff. Then I sort of lost interest until John Byrne came on. So they’re really the influences. But I’ve been following the Avengers since the first issue. I’m old enough to have seen it come out.”
Davis is also happy to approach Avengers “purely as the penciler.” “The last couple of things that I’ve done for Marvel, aside from special projects, were Fantastic Four and X-Men, and on both of those, I ended up getting far more involved in the writing than I ever intended,” he says. “In fact, when I was working on the X-Men, I had only agreed to do 6 issues. I ended up plotting 29 and I penciled 11.”
What’s coming in the months ahead for the Avengers? “We're definitely making a clean start - there's a strong break between #37 and #38, Alan's first issue,” says Busiek. “We're introducing a new approach, a new status quo for the team, so it's almost like a new first issue. And it'll have plenty of scope - involving lots of Avengers, both classic members and lesser-known members, both current roster members and returning Avengers. It'll involve the Marvel Universe from the Savage Land to outer space, from Atlantis to the Siberian wastes. It'll have loads of big villains, from folks the Avengers have clashed with often to folks they've never met to completely new characters.
“We start off with a three-part story that'll involve the Hulk, as well as the team's new direction. And once that's over, we're launching a huge epic that'll take us through #50 and beyond.
“Lots of action, lots of drama, lots of twists, lots of surprises. And did I mention it'll look gorgeous?”
But there’s more on the way from both Busiek and Davis. “Also this month, I've got a one-shot coming out from Image, called Superstar: As Seen On TV,” says Busiek. “It's by me, Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger, and it's a 48-page no-ads one shot graphic album about a superhero who's more powerful the more famous he is, so he's got to stay popular in order to save the most lives. It's a project I've been playing around with literally since my high school days, and it's a thrill to finally be getting it done and into print. It's an unusual twist on the superhero concept, and I'd think that anyone who's liked my work on Avengers, Untold Tales Of Spider-Man, Thunderbolts or Astro City would find it at least worth a try.
“We previewed the character with a 5-page story in Shockrockets #6, but this is his full-length debut. I hope everyone'll check it out.”
As he mentioned, Alan Davis is working on a Killraven project for Marvel. ”I’d actually written the plots and the proposal for it over three years ago and, for various reasons, that was put on hold. Mainly because Marvel wanted me to do the Fantastic Four, or the X-Men. I’ve just finished the first issue while I was waiting for my first plot on the Avengers. It’s going to get done sometime soon, but it depends on how long I’m on the Avengers.”
Davis has also recently finished working on a project for DC. “It’s a Legion Elseworlds written and inked by Mark Farmer,” he says. “It captures the flavor and fun of the Legion as Mark remembered it from his childhood. He’s not slavishly following any particular story. It’s more a distillation of the entire history to create a comic that’s fun and enjoyable. The story itself, I can’t really say too much about without giving it away, but there’s an awful lot of Legion and there’s quite a few villains, so it’s jam-packed and action-packed.”
The Avengers. The Defenders. Two classic Marvel teams poised for a new era of excitement and fun. And with top-notch creators like Kurt Busiek, Erik Larsen, Klaus Janson, Alan Davis and Mark Farmer working on the books, you know you don’t want to miss a moment of the action.
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