RETRO REVIEW: Defenders #100 (October 1981)

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Or – “Satan, Satan, Satan and Satan, Attorneys At Law!”

Recent announcements from Marvel have reminded me that there are few Marvel Universe concepts that I miss more than The Defenders.  And by Defenders, I mean good Defenders, as the last three miniseries have been pretty lackluster.  Even when the stories were completely inexplicable, there was something interesting in seeing the adventures of ‘the other guys,’ characters who didn’t really make a good team so much as they needed one another.  For nearly a year before this issue, the team was spread thin with the menace of a group called ‘The Six-Fingered Hand,’ leading to the largest assembly of Defenders in history.  Their foes? 

Only the Devil Himself! 

All FOUR of them…

DEFENDERS #100
Script: J. M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Don Perlin/Joe Sinnott/Sal Trapani/Jack Abel/Al Milgrom/Frank Giacoia
Inks: Joe Sinnott/Sal Trapani/Jack Abel/Al Milgrom/Frank Giacoia
Colors: George Roussos
Letters: Janice Chiang; Shelly Leferman
Editor: Al Milgrom
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 75 cents (Current Near-Mint Price: $3.00)

Previously, on The Defenders:  It was a terrible day indeed, when a crisis arose that required the combined powers of the Sorcerer Supreme, the Herald of Galactus, the Prince of Atlantis and the Gamma Goliath.  The plans of the alien magician Yandroth were scuttled, and dozens more menaces besides, as Defenders came and went.  The founding members of the team were reunited (along with new members Hellcat, Nighthawk, Valkryie, The Son of Satan, The Gargoyle, Devil-Slayer, Hellcat and Doctor Strange’s fiancee/protegee Clea) to unravel a mystic menace called the Six-Fingered Hand.  Longtime Defender Hellcat was possessed by a force from beyond, and the team eventually came to find that the Son of Satan’s father (hope you guessed his name, ’cause what’s puzzling you is the nature of his game) has joined forces with the Silver Surfer’s old menace Mephisto, as well as the Man-Thing’s foe Thog the Netherspawn, and Doctor Strange’s foe Satannish.  Aided by the demonized Hellcat, the Four Devils have tricked the Defenders into unwittingly assisting them in taking over the entire world!

Rodrigo likes to make fun of old comics and their endless wall of text, but in an issue with ELEVEN man cast-members, four villains and about fifty miles of continuity, I’m kind of impressed with how well writer J.M. DeMatteis balances character and exposition here.  Satan allows Hellcat to stop the Defenders, and she dispatches Namor, Hulk and Hellstrom with a wave of her hand (!!) before Satan calls her “daughter.”  The search for Patsy Walker’s father had been a running plot point in the Six-Fingered Hand saga, and to have it pop up again here was shocking.  Also, given that it would make Patsy the half-sibling of her lover the Son of Satan, you can see where the Defenders might be a bit off-put.  The Valkyrie tries to bring her old friend to her senses, but Hellcat has fully embraced her demonic side…

Daimon Hellstrom angrily demands that his father tell them the truth (as if that’s gonna happen) but Satan has a counter-offer:  If the Defenders can pass three tests and defeat Thog, Mephisto and Satannish within six days, six hours and six seconds (Get it?), then he will leave Earth alone.  If they lose, then Satan will take over the world for the next THOUSAND YEARS.  Nine Defenders are teleported away, while Hellcat and Son of Satan are forced to watch.  The first group (Hulk, Namor and Doctor Strange, the founding Defenders) find Satannish toying with them, running them through a gauntlet of their oldest foes, serving as both a trip down Defenders memory lane and a way to exhaust the team.  It falls to Strange to think his way out of the trap when his partners finally fall.  Of course, with Satannish involved, it won’t be simple.  Enter: the shell game!

As he saves his friends, though, Strange fails to notice the volcano about to explode, and all three Defenders are swept away by lava, presumably to their deaths.  The second Defenders team (Gargoyle, Devil-Slayer and Nighthawk) are sent to a mystical battlefield where all wars are seemingly being fought at once, and forced to relive their own war experiences.  The experience is a harrowing one, as Devil-Slayer has to deal with his memories of Viet Nam, Gargoyle with his service in World War I, and Nighthawk with his 4-F status.  Nighthawk, too, remembers Satan’s words about ‘finding the light,’ and uses reason to enlighten the soldiers, to spectacular results.

Two teams down, two teams dead…  Not good odds, overall.  The third Defenders squad is even more unusual, consisting of a lost goddess of Asgard, a romantic transformed into an inhuman herald, and a sorceress from a world of magic and evil.  Their foe, Mephisto, uses his usual psychological tactics, reminding Clea, Valkyrie and the Surfer that they are cyphers, strangers, that they might as well not exist.  It’s much like the technique that Andy used to try and break John Bender in ‘The Breakfast Club,’ and has similar short-term results…

The Defenders are, once again, struck down after seemingly completing their test, and Satan returns all the heroes to Earth, revealing that only three hours remains in their countdown.  (Time works differently in H-E-Double-Hockeysticks.)  Satan’s evil ways have finally caused his Son to lose his cool, and leap into action against the old pater infernicus.  Satan sends Hellcat to do his light work, but she finds herself no match for an enraged Son of Satan!

Awww…  It’s a really sweet moment, until those pesky incestuous implications pop back into your head.  Hellstrom challenges his father to mystic combat, and even though they swear not to interfere, the Defenders cheat, channeling their own not-inconsiderable powers into Daimon as he battles his daddy.  The effect frees Daimon’s darksoul, his demonic heritage, allowing him to meet his father as an equal…  for about a minute and a half.

It’s just like Ian Curtis said, love will tear us apart.  By unleashing the light in the heart of darkness, The Defenders have won The Earth’s freedom.  Sadly, the Son of Satan has been completely overwhelmed by his demonic side, and decides to rule in Hell.  The cost of their victory is their own friend, a demoralizing win at best.  Worst of all, Satan hints that the ENTIRE PLOT was designed to do nothing more than return his son to his side, making the team wonder if the win was even a win.

Although they were able to reclaim Hellcat from the clutches of the devil(s), The Defenders are left scarred, with doubts and questions and all sorts of mean, nasty stuff going on.  The story is classic DeMatteis, forcing the heroes to face their own fears and doubts, and ending with nobody sure who won, or even what the stakes were…  In retrospect, this story suffers most in terms of the visuals, as Don Perlin is a talented draftsman who doesn’t always thrill me, and the multiple inkers leave a couple of characters (Nighthawk primarily, but Devil-Slayer as well) particularly ill-served by the art.  Still, the story is a compelling one, with more bite and twists and turns than I remembered, and it gives spotlight to lesser-known Marvel characters like the Surfer and Valkyrie.  For those of you wondering, Satan’s claim of Hellcat’s fatherhood has been pretty well debunked, thankfully, as the two were married for several years in continuity.  Defenders #100 falters a bit in the art department, but makes up for it in terms of story and spectacle, earning a not-bad-at-all-but-not-quite-as-awesome-as-I-remember 2.5 out of 5 stars.  Given that last August, we covered #50, maybe in a year, I can do #150?

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Which favorite bits of pop culture goodness aren’t as good in hindsight as you used to think?