THE AVENGERS/DEFENDERS WAR (Avengers #115-118 / Defenders #8-11) (1973)

Hate “event comics” like Secret Empire and Secret Wars and Secret Wars 2 and Secret Wars 2016?  Well, this is the granddaddy of them all.

Actually, the old JLA/JSA crossovers are probably the granddaddy of them all, but this story is Marvel’s first attempt to put nearly all of its major heroes in a single story and give each of them meaningful screentime.

It starts in Avengers #115 with a prologue that follows a stupid and silly half-issue story where the team fights Troglodytes and a giant albino pincher insect.  The prologue picks up right after Thor #207, with Loki blind and falling down a mountain, and snatched in midair by The Dred Dormammu (and a nice little joke there, where Loki recognizes his own wicked nature).

Dormammu wants Loki to team up with him to find “The Evil Eye,” which was believed to have been destroyed during a battle that took place in Fantastic Four #54.

Turns out, it wasn’t destroyed, just broken, and Dormy wants to get the six fragments.  You see where this is going, right?  Six fragments.  A whole bunch of heroes? It’s basically Contest of Champions (and many of the JLA/JSA team ups).

Side note: The Evil Eye looks like a fleshlight for the planet Earth.  Weird.

Recognizing that this will be a big to-do, Marvel basically offered a checklist at the end of Avengers #115.  How handy!

So then we slide over to Defenders #8, which also spends the first two-thirds on an inessential storyline before launching into the AvD War tie-in.

The Defenders team is now Strange, Namor, Hulk, Valk, Surfer, and Hawkeye.  Thankfully, Black Knight is still made of stone.

But Dr. Strange is trying to change that, and Loki-the trickster-gets Strange to believe that the six pieces of the Evil Eye will enable Dane Whitman to return to flesh.

That’s a plausible reason to hunt down an artifact.

The Avengers also want to help their old pal Black Knight, and they figure out Doc Strange has the stone body.  So they try to go to his house in Greenwich Village but…

Doc’s alarm system is too good for them.

Meanwhile, Strange sends each Defender in a different direction to get a piece of the Eye.

Loki, who is still blind, realizes Dormammu isn’t going to use the Evil Eye to help him get his sight back, so he snitches to The Avengers about what is going on.  The A-team now have to stop The Defenders.

There’s your premise.  It’s not bad, as far as these things go.

And then we get the pair-ups.

Silver Surfer vs. Vision and Scarlet Witch!  It’s a decent battle-except that Wanda really isn’t yet as incredibly powerful as she will eventually become, and so Surfer wins.

Iron Man vs. Hawkeye and Valkyrie.  Before the battle begins, Hawkeye grabs Valkyrie and kisses her, which she says she hates and storms off but then she thinks she actually enjoyed it.

That’s terrible.  Steve Englehart, you’re better than that-even in the early 1970s before date rape was a term.  Anyway, on his own, Hawkeye still wins???  Come on.  I’ll chalk it up to his feeling all horny and powerful, but that’s just dumb.

Dr. Strange vs. Black Panther and Mantis.  All Strange would have to do is teleport, grab the Eye piece, and leave.  And that’s basically what he does.

Except for the teleport part.  He just flies.  So Panther knocks him out of the sky and Strange goes hand-to-hand with Mantis.  Again, why?

Then a farmer breaks up the fight with his shotgun.  Random.  Strange still wins, as he should, but it should have been much easier.

After flying away from Hawkeye, Val goes to get her own shard and takes on the worst Avenger ever (other than Black Knight, who she’s supposedly in love with).  She’s a demigod with a flying horse.  He’s good at using swords.  This shouldn’t even be a thing.

It’s a well-drawn battle by Sal Buscema, and, like the fight with Strange and Panther/Mantis, a bystander shoots at them to interrupt the fight.

Lots of nuts with guns in the 1973 Marvel Universe.

Val wins because Swordsman was shot in the back.  She should have won, so that’s fine, but it shouldn’t have been this hard for her.  She shows some compassion towards him at the end by making him comfortable until an ambulance can come.

Sub-Mariner vs. Captain America.  Cap hits Subby in the face and the sound effect is “CLAM!”  How great is that?

Namor is winning, and then Sunfire shows up (they are in Japan) and steals the piece.

Namor flies up and punches Sunfire, who then drops it, and Cap catches it.  But then Cap hands it over to Namor, because he knows Sub-Mariner wouldn’t be looking for it without good reason.

Of course, the Cap battle ends with a cooler head.  Nice touch.

So at this point, Steve Englehart has made his team-The Defenders-the clear winners.  And frankly, this makes sense.  The Avengers have Thor.  That’s really their only overpowered member.  And Hulk can take Thor alone.  And he does…

Hulk vs. Thor.  This should be awesome.  And it is.

They trade blows for more than pages of fantastic Sal Buscema art before the full squad shows up…

Yeah.  They’ve figured it all out.

Now all that’s left is the big fight with the whole gang, and of course we need shots of everyone else in the Marvel Universe.  In the final act, Dormammu attacks our dimension with lots of demons.  We get to see The Mindless Ones, Power Man, Ka-Zar, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Dr. Doom…Warlock, on the counter Earth, also has to fight off some demons.  So does Thanos.

Even Watcher shows up and promises not to “molest” Dormammu!

During the final battle, Loki wrestles Dormammu for the Evil Eye, and during it, Scarlet Witch zaps Dormammu for the win.  It’s nice to see her get her due.  I recognize that she won’t bloom into her full power level for several decades, but her power is to alter reality.  That should make her pretty damn tough.

Loki gets the Eye, and gets his sight back.  This makes him insane.

Watcher explains that Dormammu’s “energy has been rammed through Loki’s mind,” and that’s what really made him go nuts.

Strange ending, but solid tale.

Creators: Steve Englehart (script) Bob Brown and Sal Buscema (pencils)

Grade: A+.  The story relies on a lot of contrivances, but that was the way in the early 1970s-and as far as these things go, this is a great way to make a big crossover happen.  The historical importance is undeniable, and it was balls-out fun.  Which is way more than you can say for today’s “event stories,” which are way too serious.
For the complete history of the MU, year by year, go here.

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