Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This pseudo-week: Steve Gerber. Today’s page is from The Defenders #33, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 1976. Enjoy!
The remaining days of April are devoted to four writers, two of whom tied for the most votes and two of whom tied for the second-most votes. As I couldn’t do weeks because there were four of them, I broke it down to 5 days of Steve Gerber and 6 each to the three others. Gerber gets the short end of the stick because I simply don’t own a lot of comics by him (see below). So these aren’t “weeks” devoted to each writer, and I apologize for that. But I think we’ll get a good sense of each writer nevertheless.
I have many confessions to make with regard to Steve Gerber. I don’t own many of his comics. I don’t own, for instance, a single issue of Howard the Duck or Man-Thing. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but that’s the way it is. I was actually a bit worried when Mr. Gerber finished with the most votes in our little contest, because I feared I had far too few comics to feature him. Well, I own well over 7 issues written by Gerber, but it turns out I don’t own 7 different series written by him, so if he hadn’t tied for first place and I hadn’t had to re-work the time periods to feature these writers, I would have had to pick a few issues from the same series, which I didn’t want to do. It turns out I needed 5 days for Gerber, and I own 5 different series written by him. I apologize for my lack of Gerber in my collection!
The other confession I have to make is that I haven’t actually read his run on The Defenders. I started buying back issues a few years ago, mainly because I knew I could get them in Essential volumes but if the back issues are cheap and plentiful I’d rather have them (they’re in color, primarily). Well, as I am re-reading my comics, I don’t have a ton of time to read these, plus I’m still missing two issues in the middle of the run, so I’m waiting. But that just makes today more interesting, because I have no flippin’ clue what’s going on in this page above!
So, issue #33. Many 1970s comics began with a splash page, which means Buscema doesn’t have to move our eyes across the page as much, although he does have to turn in a dynamic image to lure us in. So we get the Orb of Agamotto, glowing fiercely slightly on the left side of the page, with various characters pictured within it. Buscema shows us every character we need to care about – the Defenders on the slabs, the Headmen behind them – and he manages to fit them nicely inside the orb. Nighthawk (we might not know who he is, but it’s Nighthawk) stands with the Headmen, and although we might not know he’s actually a hero, Buscema draws him with his hand on the side of his head, the universal symbol for a headache. We might not know why Nighthawk is feeling under the weather, but Buscema lets us know something is strange before Gerber can.
The fawn is absolutely bizarre, I must admit. Gerber’s Defenders, from what I can tell, featured a lot of weirdness, and this is just one of those moments (the elf with a gun is, I guess, the most famous example). Our eyes take in the entire page at once, so Buscema doesn’t lead us there, but he does position the fawn so that its body angles down with the caption boxes. It looks remarkably human, probably because of the teeth (do fawns even have that many teeth?) and because of the expression of rage on its face. It’s incongruous enough that it’s wildly intriguing.
Gerber, working within the traditions of true serialized fiction, gives us a ton of expository information. The use of the word “luscious” to begin the issue is off-putting – “luscious” is a very sensual word, and Gerber’s use of it here makes the reader feel something different than the image and the fact that soon those “luscious” eyes “flash with furious anger.” I’m not sure if Buscema makes the eyes luscious enough, but they certainly are angry. Gerber, more than Buscema in this instance, makes the dichotomy between our image of a fawn with the image on the page. The second caption box is probably unnecessary, but that’s usually what we got in comics from this era – telling us something we can see for ourselves. In the third caption box, Gerber quickly introduces the players of this drama, and then tells us that “all is not what it seems — and the baby deer knows it!” This final caption box is interesting. I don’t know who was in charge of this sort of thing, but the fact that it’s circular and colored differently makes it stand out a bit, even given its placement on the page. It’s at the place our eye would go and it seems to be a spot to put our thumb as we turn the page. I don’t know if it was Gerber, Buscema, or letterer Annette Kawecki or colorist Phil Rachelson who came up with it, but it’s a clever touch.
By the way, the fawn is Chondu the Mystic, a member of the Headmen. He’s a bit grumpy because his mind has been transplanted in the body of a fawn. Yeah, that would piss me off, too. Just another wacky day in the life of Steve Gerber’s Defenders!
Next: Another somewhat strange 1970s series. Can you handle it?!?!?!? If you need to check out some non-wacky comics from more recent decades, when comics take themselves way too seriously, be sure to take a gander at the archives!