Feb 19, 2016

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 360: The New Defenders #133, July 1984

A few years back I attended the Northrop Frye centenary conference at the University of Toronto. I presented a paper on Superman and typological thought, the last paper presented in a panel at the conference. I had thought I would be the only presenter dealing with comics, but I was pleasantly surprised by one paper that introduced me to this comic.

Now, New Defenders #133 is not a great comic, although writer Peter Gillis is really pretty good at what he does. There's a nice sort of confusion deployed in this story. The Defenders themselves seem to have little idea what's going on, and are pulled in medias res into a smuggling and espionage story. The tale really revolves around Typhoon and Cutlass, "import expediters" whose clients and contacts keep turning up dead. What is quite effective about the story is that the reader experiences the Defenders' confusion in a very fundamental way. While reading the story, I kept asking what was going on, a sentiment echoed by nearly all of the superheroic characters in the piece.

But that's not why, after having heard the paper at the conference, I tracked this issue down. A small interregnum in the comic follows Hank McCoy, aka The Beast, on his lecture tour, which has taken him to Toronto, Ontario. And there, while fending off eager undergrads, he spies the one and only Northrop Frye strolling along the street, and bounces over to him to discuss Blake and the apocalyptic imagination. It's literally a 4 panel interaction, but it definitely shows Gillis' familiarity with Frye's work, and also, perhaps, stands as a testament to his popularity outside of the academy. I'd be hard pressed to think of another literary theorist who's appeared in a mainstream superhero comic.

As I say, it's not the best comic. But is does, for me, at least, represent a very concrete link between the theoretical apparatus that I love and the genre that I cleave to. And so it needed to be in the collection.


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