It’s coincidental that I heard today that Steve Gerber, a comic book writer best known for his work on Howard the Duck, died recently. Gerber was also a key writer for The Defenders, a Marvel comic that featured an unruly team led by Doctor Strange, Namor, the Hulk and Silver Surfer.
Gerber’s death certainly brought an immediacy to the above drawing, something I’ve been working on since last week and thinking about for a few weeks.
The premise of the drawing is a new look at the team — one that focuses on the distinct personalities of the key defenders — as if they were high schoolers training to be superheroes while learning all they need to get a diploma. Given the direction I’m going, it would pretty much have to be a non-canon version of the Marvel Universe.
Of course, this idea isn’t anything new. Look at the great “X-Men: Evolution” cartoon (of which this idea is mostly ripped off from) and the recent “Young Avengers” series. Beyond Marvel Comics, there’s the teen hero antics of “Teen Titans” in comic and cartoon form. There’s also comics like “Young Justice” and “Young Heroes in Love.”
Whatever the series, the idea of teen superheroes is one that’s always fun, and I figured why not give the Defenders a shot too?
Marvel High School’s Superpowers Club
- NAMOR — The Rich Kid. He’s a prince of a foreign nation. He’s rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. He can have everything and anything he wants. He’s good-looking and powerful. He treats most of his teammates like dirt, and only tolerates their presence because of his need to have someone to treat spitefully. You see, he’s been kicked out of his homeland and told to “grow up.” With that move, he feels orphaned and abandoned, as if he’s been hidden away and is someone to be ashamed of, even if he’d never openly admit to such fears. He’s particularly mean to Gargoyle, and would like to prove his worth to Hellcat and Doctor Strange, but usually ends up looking like a jerk to them.
- VALKYRIE — The Jock. Val is the conglomeration of every female jock cliche. She’s brusk and bossy, but she backs up everything she does and says with skill at doing her assigned task. She’s a great at being part of team, and is always on hand to defend a friend. Val is most confused by emotions, and she goes to great lengths to avoid revealing private information or her own feelings. Still, she’s got a thing for Silver Surfer, who is so disconnected from feelings he seems like her perfect counterpart.
- HELLCAT — The Actress. Following Patsy Walker’s Marvel Universe origins, Hellcat is an aspiring thespian and pop-culture junkie. She’s smart, sassy and works to cultivate her image of being “the cool one.” Unlike so many actresses, she isn’t a drama queen. Instead, she’s level-headed and tricky. Hellcat respects each team member for their strengths, and as such functions as the team’s leader. She typically dates any number of guys, and considers her teammates off limits. Her boyfriends bring a lot of new faces to the story.
- DOCTOR STRANGE — The Teacher. As the group’s instructor, Doctor Strange is often oblivious to the intricacies of the team’s relationships. He’s responsible for keeping the team functioning and working together. Seemingly infinitely powerful, Strange’s biggest problem is that he’s constantly juggling a multitude of crises. This constant distraction keeps him so busy that he rarely functions in the field with the team. Instead, he spots a problem and sends the Defenders in to solve it.
- HULK — The Thug and the Nerd. Dimwitted and quick to anger, the Hulk is a powerhouse that few dare to cross. Still, his simple mind is the source of amazing wisdom. This Hulk doesn’t transform in times of crisis, he transforms from Bruce Banner at will. The problem is that sometimes the Hulk doesn’t want to leave because he lives life to the fullest since he has to “share time” with Bruce Banner. He is physical and a thrill seeker, and doesn’t want a second of his half-life to be dull. Ultimately though, the Hulk sticks around only until he decides he can’t squeeze any more fun out of his time. Bruce Banner, on the other hand, is the science geek nerd. Like the Hulk, he only switches places when he really has to. Bruce Banner is sweet on Hellcat, but the Hulk has no time for such thoughts. Beyond his love for Hellcat, Banner is an analyst and theorist at heart. He can puzzle out most science problems when given enough time.
- SILVER SURFER — The Brainfry. Silver Surfer has been through a lot. He’s an alien who was kidnapped by an alien god, given superpowers and then imprisoned on Earth. As such, Earth culture doesn’t hold much interest to him. Instead, he just emotionlessly ponders his place in the universe, and hopes he can uncover harmony in the cosmos. While quite powerful, he always seems distracted and divested from whatever’s going on around him. His schooling, like everything else, is on a whim in hopes that he might discover some inner truth in what he does and who he is. Unlike Doctor Strange, he’s not distracted by anything real, he’s subject to a constant flood of epiphanies, deep thoughts and randome day dreams.
- GARGOYLE — The Outsider. Isaac Christians is the ugly, orange-skinned Gargoyle, and sees himself mostly as the one who isn’t as cool as anyone else. He sulks and slinks away when everyone else tries to have fun. This is because Isaac has a secret that he’s embarassed of — he’s really an old man, not a teen-ager — that’s trapped in the body of a monster. How did he end up at Marvel High? They were the only place that would help him learn about his powers. He only occasionally lets slip his knowledge of the past, and avoids technology as much as he can. As an old man, he’s not really interested in a romantic relationship, but clearly relates to people of his own age in a way that weirds-out his teammates.
Of course, I’ve skipped over a number of key Defenders — Nighthawk, Moondragon, Cloud and Hellstorm — immediately come to mind, but can be added later as needed. Of those three, I must say, I never really “got” Nighthawk, who served as the team leader for a long time. He just seemed so flavorless. Maybe I’ll figure out something for him and the rest of the ones I skipped.
Again acknowledging this is nothing new (and a hand-picked amalgamation of the way these characters have been presented in other stories), that’s my take on the Defenders team.
What can we do with this? Well, uh, I guess this synopsis could serve as a bible for a TV show, a new comic or a template to base a regular Defenders book on. Yeah, I’d pitch this book as a light-hearted drama where the team battled threats too obscure and too arcane for any other superteam to tackle.
It’s got potential, now all I have to do is convince Marvel to let me do it. So Marvel, what do you say?