On Messages In Bottles & Marvel Comics’ “The Defenders”.


A lifetime ago, I wrote a string of blogs about Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s Doctor Strange. As I did so, I felt absolutely sure that, despite my best efforts, I was doing nothing more than showing respect for my deadlines at Sequart Publishing. I wished I could do better, but they were all I was capable of offering. Yet a few years later, to my astonishment, those essays opened up doors for me. You never know who will read what you’ve written, or indeed, when they’ll come across the work. Mostly, an initial silence is followed by nothing but a great deal more of the same. Mostly, but not quite always. To my great good fortune, those Strange pieces were stumbled upon, debates were sparked, conversations begun, and I had the privilege of learning more from Them That Know about Stephen Strange and his life in the Marvel Universe than I ever dreamed was possible. It was a wholly unexpected reward, and it helped me understand a key truth about writing on the Net, namely, that the numbers of visitors to a page is largely irrelevant. You can get a windfall of thousands of hits on one particular day and yet see your existing following decline precipitously from that point onwards. If there is a science to reaching readers while blogging, it’s escaped me. Beyond possessing an excess of cash and access to a significant number of taste makers, everything is more or less up to chance. Enjoying the business of writing and then pushing it out, messages in bottles, into the great digital unknown is the best that can be hoped for. Maybe one day, a single bottle might just wash up and start a conversation that otherwise would never have happened. That’s the only hope to subscribe to. To blog for anything other than the virtues of blogging in itself is, when it comes to the kind of things that I love writing about, a folly and nothing but.  

But I have missed blogging. I always do, when I break off for this reason or that. Especially now that most of my time is consumed by Shameless?, my long-delayed book on Mark Millar’s comics career, the idea of writing for the heck of it while lobbing out pages randomly into the Netosphere seems wonderfully straight-forward and guileless. Nothing to matter beyond that which I happen to want to write about for a few minutes every now and then.

Those pieces about the Ditko/Lee Strange tales were based on a simple premise: everything we see on the page of a comic, no matter how seemingly daft or even nonsensical, will make sense if we only work hard to uncover the underlying truth of things. For me, that process of, might I say, uncovering helped make Ditko and Lee’s work fresh and exciting again. I had never exactly lost my sense of wonder for those stories, but they had become over-familiar and shaded by decades of commentary. What once leapt from the page now sat there, a taken-for-granted masterpiece that was somehow ossified by its status as untouchably splendid and entirely familiar. I can’t speak for anybody else, but the older I get, the more I seem to expect the text, as it were, to do most of the making sense, while I sit listlessly back and demand to be involved and impressed. This is clearly not a state of affairs that should be allowed to fester.

(Mind you, interrogating a story doesn’t always make it a more compelling experience. To my horror, I once spent a good few hours in the company of my favourite Will Eisner Spirit tale and ended up thinking far less of it than I had before. I guess every time we read a familiar story, we run the risk of obliterating its charms.)

My plans for this blog are to write about Stephen Strange and his colleagues as they were depicted in the pages of Marvel’s The Defenders during the Seventies, and to focus on no more than one or two moments in each issue. As a writing project, it’s very much a message in a bottle, I’m sure you’ll agree. But should you care to pop back over the coming few weeks or even months, your presence, and even perhaps a wave offered from your distant beach, would be very much appreciated.

next: Marvel Feature #1 and Doctor Strange’s apparent struggle with the truth.

6 thoughts on “On Messages In Bottles & Marvel Comics’ “The Defenders”.

  1. Aha! New writing from that darn Colin Smith! I am looking forward to it. I will have to revisit those old posts as well. I do wish that the old TBTAMC columns could be assembled in some sort of kindle format. I would certainly buy it but it may be more trouble than it is worth. I enjoyed those particularly the posts related to early FF and Marvel and anything related to Kirby or Ditko.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Don, it’s very kind of you to welcome me back to blogging. I didn’t think anybody at all would stumble upon today’s post, so I was very surprised to see your comment. I’ve clearly been fortunate that you were passing 🙂 There was talk about tidying up some of the old posts and perhaps packaging them as an E-Book or two. I’d like to do that. For a long time, I didn’t want to go back to what I’d written, but since quite abit of time has passed, it’s quite nice – if I can use that word which English teachers hate so – to see what I was thinking, for ill & perhaps a little good, all those years ago. I think I’d enjoy adding some rerecording and remixing, as it were.
      Thank you again. atb.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As one of the Internet wanderers fortunate enough to have stumbled upon and been absolutely transformed by that initial string of blogs, I await these forthcoming musings with eager anticipation! Your writings and insights carried me from a professional curiosity about the fictional Stephen Strange and the very real work of Ditko and Lee to an avid and enduring reverence for both. The knowledge and enthusiasm fueling those essays leaped from them like stray sparks, igniting an entire novel on my end. And since you were kind enough to introduce me to a few of the other beach-combers gathering bottles along the virtual shore, I know I’m not alone in looking forward to exploring this next set of stories under your most excellent guidance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Devin – how truly splendid, and utterly unexpected too, to hear from you again. Huzzah! Thank you for leaving a comment. I very much didn’t want to leave the slightest clue about who it was I talked to about Stephen for fear of breaking confidence and seeming arrogant. But if I might, having the chance to chat to you a little all those years ago about the Sorceror Supreme and the way in which you were weaving your novel about him was an absolute privilege, it really was, and it has proven to be lastingly instructive and inspiring. To say the very least. I do appreciate you popping in here and saying ‘hi’ with such generosity and kindness. There will always be a welcome and warm cuppa round our place for you and yours, if, in saner times, you should be passing 🙂 All the very best.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So appy to see your return to blogging.

    Looking forward to it all-especially your thoughts on Steve Gerber’s run, especially Annual #4 & those Kraft/Giffen Scorpio issues, which were kind of like Kraft channeling Gerber/McGregor and Giffen swiping Kirby. And creating something really personal for all of that.

    Side note: Sal Buscema remains underrated. He may have been the John Ford of cape comics. Deceptively simple but really strong storytelling.


    1. Thank you for your kind words, and please accept my apologies for not replying sooner: my PC died on me two days after I returned to blogging and I’ve only just had it returned and functioning.

      Like you, I’m very fond of The Defenders as a title, with the first 50 or so issues – plus Giant Sizes & Treasuries – being particularly close to my heart. The Scorpio issues, and particularly #50, remain favourites of mine.

      You will get no argument from me about Sal Buscema. There are times when I would fault his finishers, because by this time SB was largely on breakdowns and his work relied a great deal on his inkers. But even in the most wild days of Gerber’s run, and even with a few so-so artistic collaborators at times, SB kept things clear and compelling. A master craftsman.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s