On Pages 11 to 15 of 1973’s The Defenders #4: One Page, One Thought, More Or Less. (3/4)

Having suggested that Petra Goldberg’s colours couldn’t, albeit blamelessly, match the unadorned black and white original art for this issue’s splash page – here – I ought to recognise how smart and effective her choices are here. To take but one example, the jump from the reds and pinks of the third panel, which incandescently establish the reborn Valkyrie’s importance and power, to the grey floor and heavy blues of the final panel feels like experiencing a harsh shift from a revelation back to reality. In one moment, the world jumps from one filled with rosy wonder, no matter how appalling its nature, before, immediately, we’re cast back into constriction and shadow.

Continued from here:

Page 11: Even at my most shamefully contrarian, I’d struggle to argue that the scene of The Enchantress’ violating transformation of Barbara Norris into The Valkyrie is anything other than fabulously well-worked. If the preceding pages could be said to suffer from the over-simplified designs and the sparsely detailed artwork, the very same qualities pay dividends here. Once again, it’s easy enough to take Buscema and McGlaughlin’s work for granted, given how much a piece it seems with the rest of the issue. But if you would, note how each of the panels depicting Norris’ metamorphosis is larger than the one before, a straight-forward choice that informs us not only that a change is underway, but that the size and mass of The Valkyrie is greater than that of her host body. (An easy trick, yes, but how many others have put it to such fine effect?) Note also how the bold, stark inking of McGlaughlin, which we’ve discussed before, refuses to allow the eye to be distracted by detail from the new arrival’s presence in the third panel, the inker’s thick lines powerfully defining his subject’s form with barely a suggestion of hatching, let alone cross-hatching. Note also how the evermore-cramped final frame insists that Strange and Namor, who are shown only in part, are very much constrained by their circunstances while Valkyrie is depicted with an aggressive, whole-body, full-frontal shot. By comparison to them, she is free and able to act. The forced perspective of her thrusting spear is the masterstroke, insisting that a formidable warrior has arrived and is about to force her way through their dungeon’s armoured entrance. In short, the cavalry really has arrived.

If we can push aside how daftly  misogynistic key aspects of the costume are – the complete lack of protection on Valkyrie’s legs, the absurd breast-plates – the impression given is of a distinctive character of considerable strength, skill, and self-confidence. (Sal Buscema’s older brother John had created the character’s visuals for Avengers #83 some three years earlier.) It’s also notable that Englehart immediately signals that Valkyrie’s attitude to her male co-stars will be anything but subservient. The relationship between the character and the feminist ideals that she was used, in an often confused and distorting manner, to comment upon was, from the off, awkward. (To say the very least, and saying more will be something I’ll come to later.) But in this moment, as she makes the point that her might can achieve what Namor’s strength and Strange’s skills can’t, the Valkyrie comes across as marvellously scathing and formidable.

Page 12: At this point, the storytelling in The New Defender! pushes aside more (relatively) quiet and still moments for a run of pages depicting mayhem in what had, by 1973, long been the expected way in which a Marvel Comic would race towards its own finish line. Even so, Englehart would still ensure that his script, while never unnecessarily distracting from the artwork, added more than just noise and exposition to the page, as in the two panels above, the last in the side’s first two rows. In the first, Englehart has The Black Knight refer to The Enchantress as “Chanty”, a fond nickname which I very much doubt has ever appeared on a Marvel page again. (I would be delighted to be proven wrong.) As a little, and rather disturbing touch, it helps establish that the Knight really is besotted with his abuser. More so, intimate nicknames rarely arise in the absence of intimacy, so there’s a suggestion of an appalling backstory between the two during the period of his enchantment. It is to shiver with the horror of it all.

And finally, a panel that does nothing but add a touch of plot to events, namely, The Knight’s whistling up of his winged steed Aragorn, who’d earlier disappeared without explanation. Since the horse goes on to play a vital role in the issue’s conclusion, so it makes perfect sense to make sure he’s placed quite firmly in centre stage.

Page 13: Today, a scene of a recently united team of super-people charging into battle might well be depicted with a single splash page, largely wordless and packed with familiarly-posed glory-shots, if you will, of muscles and costumes and gritted teeth and power beams. The traditions of 1972 were, on the whole, somewhat different. Here Buscema Jr offers up a 6 panel page, with each row of three frames serving a different purpose. In the top row, we’re given, to be fair to 2021, individual gloryshots of the Black Knight, Namor and The Hulk. (The latter’s re-emergence from Bruce Banner’s body is taken quite for granted, never shown and never explained: not every twist was thought to demand an explanation back then, despite the era’s reputation for longwinded plot hole-threading.) Interestingly, the Knight’s presence in the first of these three panels establishes him as a powerful peer of Namor and The Hulk, and it seems to suggest that he’s about to be included in the Defenders ranks beyond this single skirmish. To that apparent end, Buscema’s art also underscores how impactful the Knight can appear to be when mounted upon Aragorn and swinging his Ebony Blade, which he seems to be using in something other than a, shall we say, non-invasive fashion.

But in the second row, we see the reappearance of the three-panel technique of Buscema’s that was discussed recently at this blog – here. Once again, we see that familiar, and to my mind endlessly useful, choice on Buscema’s part: a sequence of danger, a change in the status quo, and a new situation, with the last panel carrying the greatest measure of force. In doing so, we see Buscema and Englehart restoring not just Strange’s power, but, by implication, his pride and confidence too.

Page 14: This and the next three sides are all concerned with the mechanics of establishing Valkyrie’s strengths and weaknesses. To do so, the book’s creators display a keen command not just of staging, but of misdirection too. In this page, as with the one before, we’re shown The Defenders breaking free and seemingly destined to triumph. It’s a welcome relief, after a dozen pages in which they’ve been largely powerless and ineffective. But what’s an entertaining scrap without reversals? As one gaggle of Defenders mow down Casiolena’s troops, Strange and The Enchantress dispatch the Queen’s wizard. Victory appears inevitable, until The Executioner reappears and almost effortlessly takes down Namor. On the following page, The Hulk and the Knight will follow suit.

Saving the day, should saving the day rely on fisticuffs and spear-swinging, will clearly be the responsibility of The Valkyrie, whose task it will be to prevail where several of Earth’s greatest powerhouses have fallen short. As you can see in the page above, the reader has already been persuaded that she’s an able, and perhaps even indomitable, opponent.

Page 15: And so it is, after Buscema’s plotting has productively spun out and ramped up the anticipation, that the inevitable showdown kicks off at the bottom of page 15. And here, there’s a lovely example of storytelling that’s so quietly effective that it’s easy to miss. Given that the fight is all about establishing the new Valkyrie’s capabilities, then these two panels show (1) her deadly accuracy with her spear before (2) portraying her cool-headed fearlessness when commiting to battle against a foe capable of flattening The Hulk. True, The newborn Valkyrie lacks any prior knowledge concerning The Hulk is, but she will have no doubt him witnessed him effortlessly flattening the walls of the Queen’s castle. Regardless, she is, silent and calculating, evidently unfazed by the task ahead of her.

To which we’ll return in the final part of this look at just a few aspects of the storytelling used in The Defenders #4 – here!

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