Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Defenders #11. Gnome and away.

Defenders #11, gnomes and the Crusades
On the downside, the Crusades were a shameful time in the history of the human race, when ignorance, blood-lust, greed and bigotry were allowed to run rampant, leading to hundreds of years of bitter and pointless conflict whose repercussions linger with us still today.

On the upside it meant that, when I was a kid, I got to run around my local streets, wearing a balaclava and a table cloth, pretending to be Richard the Lionheart fighting the Last of the Mohicans, so it's an ill wind that blows no one any good.

For the Defenders it's a similarly mixed episode in world history as, thanks to it, they get what they're after but it turns out they never needed it in the first place.

Still trying to cure the Black Knight of the medical condition known as, "being a statue," the Defenders find themselves whisked back to the Crusades, where they find the Knight restored once more to flesh and blood and doing fine without them. It seems that, at some point in the past, Merlin cast a spell that's brought him back to life but in the Middle Ages. Now he needs the Defenders' help to free Richard the Lionheart who's been captured by the local arabs. It has to be said that, even when I was a child, we were being taught in school that Richard the Lionheart was a bit of a wrong 'un who was definitely up to no good because he spoke French but it's the Hollywood version we get here, of Richard as a just and righteous king.

The only problem for the Defenders is that to free him they're going to have to overcome a group of giant gnomes that Prince John's sorcerous lackeys have conjured up. I suppose this is the difference between Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber. If Steve Gerber'd been writing the tale, they'd probably have been giant garden gnomes but these are the less colourful, more traditional kind and are so tough that even the Hulk can't give them any problems. Mention of the Hulk does raise the complaint that one of the gnomes looks far too much like him and every time you see it the resemblance does yank you out of the story.

"But wait!" I hear you cry. "The Defenders have the Evil Eye which makes the bearer virtually all-powerful. Can't they use that to overcome the gnomes?" Yes they could but, for some reason, that never occurs to them, and so they get nowhere in the battle until the Sub-Mariner discovers the gnomes, being creatures of the earth, dissolve in water. To wrap things up, Prester John shows up to deal with Prince John and his cronies and take ownership of the Evil Eye that's rightfully his. Everything sorted, the Black Knight declares he's happier in the Middle Ages than he ever was in our time and the Defenders return to the present.

So, in the end, it means the whole Avengers/Defenders War and the troubles with Dormammu have been for nothing as the Black Knight never needed the Defenders to restore him to life and the Evil Eye never got used for anything anyway. You could put it down to slack plotting and continuity on the part of Englehart - and the fact the futility of it all's never mentioned suggests it is - but then again I suppose you could say such futility and wasted effort captures the nature of life in the real world perhaps better than any more cunningly plotted story ever could.


cerebus660 said...

This was the first Defenders comic I ever bought ( for 6p! ) so it holds a special place in my heart, even if it is occasionally ropey - giant gnomes? When I first read it I was fascinated by the idea of the Avengers/Defenders War and the talk of our dimension being devastated by the power of the Evil Eye, with humanity being turned into "mindless monsters under Dormammu's rule". What an amazing epic I'd missed! When I finally read the whole story in reprints I admit I was a bit disappointed - some stories are better in your own imagination! But issue 11 is a fun ( if mental ) little story with some nice Sal Buscema artwork, and that lovely last page where the Defenders go their separate ways, but on friendly terms for once.

Steve said...

I am slightly baffled by the ending. Looking at the covers, on GCD, the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk, after quitting this issue, seem to make an almost immediate return.

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