Into the back issue box #21

Are there rules about these posts?  Of course there are!

Did you ever wonder what a comic book on steroids would look like?  Wonder no more!

The Secret Defenders #9 ("Revenge, Part One") by Ron Marz, Tom Grindberg, and Don Hudson.  Published by Marvel, November, 1993.


Wow.  There are bad comic books, and then there are astonishingly, bizarrely bad comic books, like this one.  Marz, despite his fine work recently on Samurai: Heaven and Earth, has never been accused of being anything more than a hack, and Grindberg, whose art I liked in the past on other things, draws everyone in this comic as if, yes, they were on steroids.  I know this is at the height of the "Image Age" of comics, but this is really bizarre.  I promise pictures of the wackiness!

But let's assume you're a first-time comic book reader.  What do you think of this?  On the first page Doctor Strange hovers in mid-air and asked someone threateningly why they have come to his house.  You know it's Dr. Strange because he says so.  You assume he's some sort of wizard because he's hovering and he wears a weird cloak and he has a glowing yellow eye in the middle of his forehead.  You're quick to pick up on things like that!  So far, so good.  Someone is threatening a wizard, who reacts in a menacing manner.


But you turn the page and a bulky silver guy is standing there.  He tells Strange that "Wong" let him in, and then Strange says he's welcome in his house any time.  WTF?  Why on earth was Strange so menacing on page one?  Could it be ... 'roid rage?  He calls the man "Surfer," and since you've been paying attention to the commercials for the new Fantastic Four movie (Jessica Alba is H-A-W-T!), you realize it's the Silver Surfer.  But isn't the Silver Surfer kind of sleek and not all bulked up?  And the two of them are friends.  Cool.  Strange's demeanor is still weird.  The Surfer tells Strange that he's just passing through, because he business to attend to.  Strange asks him if he can help, and the Surfer tells him his story: Nebula, who claimed to be the "spawn of Thanos" and stole the Infinity Gauntlet away from him, has come out of her catatonia and escaped her imprisonment.  The recap is done on one page, with many footnotes, and actually does a decent job of bringing new readers up to date.  The only problem is we're not sure who Thanos is or what the Infinity Gauntlet is, but we can assume that Thanos is a bad guy and the Gauntlet is some kind of powerful weapon.  The Surfer tells Strange that he has found Nebula raising an army on Phobos, the moon of Mars, and she's planning to attack Titan for revenge for her imprisonment.  Strange mentioned she was imprisoned on Titan, but we're not told who lives there.  I guess we're supposed to know!  Strange says he's willing to help, but the Surfer tells him no.  Why?  Well, when Nebula fought Earth's heroes in the Infinity conflict, she gained an awareness of anyone she fought, and therefore, she can't be stopped by anyone she's ever met, including Dr. Strange and any of the big-time heroes of the Marvel U.  Strange tells "Norrin Radd" - and we assume that's the Surfer's actual name (no, his mother didn't name him Silver Surfer) - that he can help with that.  After a little while, he produces ... Thunderstrike and War Machine.  Wow.


              Grindberg studied at the Rob Liefeld School of Anatomy!

The best thing about this comic is that a first-time reader wouldn't have to know anything about these two losers, because they hadn't been around for a while as heroes.  They're perfect to fight Nebula!  Strange gets the funniest line in the book when he tells the Surfer, "Almost nobody recognizes them ... least of all Nebula."  And he says that while they're standing right there!  The master of the mystic arts has some brass ones, I'll tell you that much.  They don't even bother to be offended, either - it's as if they shrug and say, "Yeah, we suck.  That's the way it is."  Of course, much like the Surfer, they're on steroids too:



Why are they all standing like that?  Is it because their man-parts are so gigantic that they need to give them some room?  Moving on, War Machine says that fighting Nebula and her intergalactic army of thugs will give him "a chance to work out the kinks in this suit anyway."  Yeah, that fills me with confidence!  Thunderstrike as well is not worried, because the three of them will win easily.  Wouldn't Nebula know who the Surfer is, and therefore he shouldn't go along?  This is not addressed, much to the Surfer's chagrin later.  There's ass-kicking to be done!


Strange casts a groovy spell and teleports the three of them to Phobos, right into the middle of the punks Nebula has gathered around her.  The Surfer leaves them to "subdue this rabble" and goes to find Nebula, which is hunky-dory with Thunderstrike and War Machine.  When you're all 'roided up, you just need to hit someone!  The Surfer flies off but is quickly knocked out of action by a "synaptic disruptor," which renders him helpless.  Now who's overconfident, Norrin Radd????


Meanwhile, Thunderstrike and War Machine are bonding as they bash heads.  Because that's what manly men do!  War Machine says he doesn't listen to Iron Man comparisons, because he just tries to do the best he can.  They fight some more, finishing off the peons, and then fly away to follow the Surfer.  War Machine mentions that they're in an "artificial atmosphere envelope," which is good to know, because it bugged me how they were able to breathe, and then they arrive where Nebula's ship is, where they find the Surfer shackled to a big slab of metal.  Nebula laughs at them both, and tells them the Surfer is strapped to a fusion-reaction bomb, which he's going to ride "all the way down to Titan."  Wow - Saturn is quite far away from Mars, but I guess interplanetary distances mean nothing to Nebula!  Thunderstrike asks her if she thinks they're going to let her get away with it, and she says she expects them to stand there and be killed.  She introduces her misshapen lieutenants, Kurg and Kruk (not, unfortunately, this one).  She has had their nerve ending cauterized so they feel no pain.  Oh, there's going to be a beatdown!


This is a marvelously crappy comic book.  The art is awful, the story is dull, and for the purposes of this column, it does an awful job explaining why we should care or come back for more.  We never learn the nature of our heroes' powers, except that we know Dr. Strange is some sort of sorceror.  War Machine has super-armor, and Thunderstrike has a big hammer, but we don't even learn their real names, nor why the Surfer is silver, what his powers are, or why he, you know, rides a surfboard.  We're just thrown into a pretty boring fight far from Earth to stop someone who wants to blow up a moon.  As I pointed out, we have no idea why Nebula hates Titan so much (I know, but a first-time reader wouldn't).  So why should these heroes care if a crazed alien wants to blow up a moon?


What is particularly egregious for someone who knows these characters is the fact that they're NOT Iron Man and Thor, with their decades of back story.  Marz could have easily given us a bit of information about War Machine and Thunderstrike (I don't even know if it's Jim Rhodes inside the armor in this comic) without breaking up the flow of the issue too much.  But we don't even get that.


  Wait a minute: did Wong just walk backward between panels?  What the hell?

Blech.  This is fun to look at and wonder how comics even survived 1993, but other than that, it's just crappy.  It doesn't make us want to come back and find out what happens.  And that's what comics are supposed to do, right?

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