Monday, April 5, 2010

Making a Splash: Keith Giffen's Defenders

When Teen Groove grabbed Defenders #42 (September 1976) from the spinner rack and flipped it open to the splash page, he froze in his tracks. After 41 straight issues of the great Sal Buscema, some newcomer by the name of Keith Giffen had taken over the penciling chores of Marvel's greatest non-team. Not only that, but the wild and crazy genius of Steve Gerber had been replaced by the more straight-forward and action oriented Gerry Conway. For some reason, the creative change rubbed me the wrong way and I put the mag back on the rack. A week later, I was back at the same spinner rack. There weren't a lot of new titles out that week, so I re-thought my stance on the Defenders #42 and decided to give it a shot. Am I ever glad I did! Although Conway didn't stay long, he did manage to infuse his version of the Defenders with a certain off-kilter charm, turning Dr. Strange (temporarily) into the villainous Red Rajah via the Star of Capistan (a twisted homage to Superman and Red Kryptonite?) and tossing in a weird, mis-matched batch of villains (Egghead, Cobalt Man, Rhino, and Solarr). But it was Giffen's kinetic Kirby-styled layouts and pencils that really bowled me over and kept me coming back. Conway's successors, Roger Slifer and Dave Kraft were obviously fans of the Gerber-era, making the goings on even weirder than what Conway had dreamed up, including a brand new version of the Zodiac made up completely of rather eccentric androids (or Life Model Decoys), tossing in guest appearances by fledgling heroes like Moon Knight and Wonderman, and adding Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat, to the non-team's non-roster. Best of all, they re-created one of the most realistic, well-developed, and tragic villains in Marvel comics history in Scorpio, brother of Nick Fury and master of the Zodiac Key. They also had the genius to give Scorpio the perfect foil in the form of a LMD version of Fury. Not only was the LMD Scorpio's slave, but also his Jiminy Cricket. Wow. All of that magnificence in a mere 11 issues. Yeah, that's right. Eleven. Issues. Ya got your money's worth in the Groovy Age, that's for sure! Okay, I know, that's a lotta info to slog through just to get to look at some purty pitchers, ain't it? Here's the pay-off, baby!


  1. I was prepared to debate you on how effectivfe these issues were when originally published, because I had the same initial memory of this run that you did. "Horrible!"

    I haven't revisited any of these issues in decades, so I appreciate the fact that you posted all of the opening splash pages.

    Now, I feel the need to go back and reread those books, because they look pretty darn good to me now.

  2. As a 15 year old, as disappointed as I was to see Sal's beautiful pencils replaced. I did happily embrace Keith's Kirbyish pencils right away. I just wish he had gotten to drawn the Silver Surfer & the Sub-Mariner back as team members.

    Even though his Hulk's face & teeth were pretty gruesome. Sort of a really ugly/mad version of Herb Trimpe's more friendly Hulk. That I was used to, I guess Klaus Jansen's much heavier inks added to this effect as well. I usually hate alot of heavy inks. But Klaus Jansen, like Tony DeZuniga's inks were the exception to the rule to me. I loved Keith's Moonknight & Wonderman.

    I wish he also had did a arc with them & the Beast,Nova the Human Rocket, Hercules, Omega the Unknown & Wood-God. Oh we'll great memories, sorry to hear you guys didn't like his work right away. I know I did, if memory serves me right. Keith & Klaus had just recently did Marvel Premiere#31 with Wood-God. Which looked great, even if it was way too short & not very detailed. I guess it was a rush job?

  3. I loved loved loved the Defenders. It didn't seem to matter who was writing or drawing it at the time, there was always something about it that grabbed me. It didn't hurt that I was a fan anyway of both Keith and Sal.

  4. I had forgotten this era of giffens work. I remember thinking that his Hulk looked awful and longed for some easier on the eyes Buscema stuff. Even when I was too young to know why, his Kirby-lifting left me uncomfortable.

    I later fell in love with his stuff on Legion of Super-Heroes and he became one of the few writers in comics that could make me laugh out loud while reading alone with Ambush Bug and Justice League.

    Thanks for reminding us of his humble beginnings.

  5. Oh, just wait, Jeff...I haven't shown ya his work on Claw or JSA yet...

  6. Okay, I'm a little over a year late for this, but I have to THANK YOU for posting something about Giffen's Defenders run.

    I'm a Giffen dork from WAY back. But after collecting all of the Ambush Bugs, Hecklers & Trenchers, I didn't realize how far back.

    Turns out, my first comic EVER was Defenders #43. I don't know if it was some weird synchronicity or what, but it must be in my DNA to love this guys art.

  7. Very late comment:
    The Giffen Defender issues were great! The ending of the Scorpio arc was probably the most memorable, dramatic moment in my Defender's run (#16-83). Thanks for mentioning these.
    Also remember the great Perez covers that appeared in the #50's.

  8. I really dug Defenders #50, where Giffen inked himself. Fantastic Kirby/Barry Smith style there. Unfortunately Klaus Janson came along right after that and completely submerged that style with his customary heavy-handed ink sloshing.

    1. While I disagree with your assessment of Janson's inking skills, I do agree that he didn't bring out the Kirby in Giffen's art (to be fair, Giffen was doing layouts, not full pencils). I dug Dan Green's inks in #48 and flipped over Mike Royer's inks in 49 and Chic Stone's inks in #52. Now THOSE really captured the Kirby look! Oh, and if you didn't see it, Super-Villain Team-Up #13: Giffen did the full pencils with Don Perlin inks--plus Frank Giacoia inked Giffen's cover! My favorite ish of SVTU! And at DC he did this, again with Royer:



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Special thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics and Grand Comics Database for being such fantastic resources for covers, dates, creator info, etc. Thou art treasures true!

Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

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