Despite my love for Marvel’s Bronze Age, I would be the first to admit that there are few extended runs during this period that really hold up to repeated readings. Many are flawed by inconsistent art teams, THE DREADED DEADLINE DOOM!, or sudden shifts in writers. One of my most revered Bronze Age Marvel runs is Steve Gerber’s time on The Defenders, marred only by his very sudden departure to be replaced by Gerry Conway.
In issue #41, in response to a letter, an unnamed Marvel employee (but it is most likely Gerber himself) writes:
“In any event, we’re not necessarily sorry you disagree with Steve Gerber’s plots or that they disagree with you, because Gerber’s been relieved of his duties on the book. Next issue, Gerry Conway takes over the scripting and he promises that THE DEFENDERS will shortly resemble a super-hero book – and not the outtakes from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” – in plotting and dialogue once again.”
It struck me, though, after recently re-reading the run in its entirety, that the unsung hero is Sal Buscema. Never a flashy artist, he is an excellent storyteller and adds much needed consistency. His characters are always on-model (a practise a few of the later, more stylised, Marvel artists ignored, to the detriment of the Marvel Universe as a whole), and perfectly captures some of the more outrageous aspects of Gerber’s scripts. Just take a look at that panel above, with Val, Dr Strange and the Hulk wearing bozo masks, and marvel at the way Sal highlights the absurdity of the situation with an apparently matter-of-fact illustration. The tension between the absurd and the mundane is palpable.
Sal was inked by a variety of talented individuals (and Vinnie Colletta), but though Klaus Janson was nice (if a little overpowering), I am very partial to the inks of Mike Esposito. The most enduring image from Gerber’s run, for me, has always been Valkyrie’s despatch of a rat menacing a child in the slums, and Sal and Mike played the scene exceptionally. Enjoy.