Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Defenders of the Earth #1

Defenders of the Earth#1
January, 1987
STAR (Marvel) Comics
Cover: Alex Saviuk/ Fred Fredericks
Script: Stan Lee (With Bob Harras)
Pencils/Inks: Alex Saviuk/ Fred Fredericks

What can I say about this? It seems like a brilliant idea for a team book. Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician and Lothar... And the creative team on this book is an amazing lineup. The script was by Stan "The Man" Lee, the pencils were by Spiderman Daily (and future Moonstone Phantom) artist Alex Saviuk with inks by Mandrake artist Fred Fredericks! Why are these usually solo heroes drawn together as a team? Because the Earth is threatened by Flash Gordon's old nemesis, the diabolical Ming the Merciless!! I'm sure anyone who saw this on paper would have thought it was a home run. But it's lousy.

For one thing, Marvel published this through their new children's label, STAR Comics. The Phantom doesn't even have his guns in this. But don't worry, they gave him some sort of "Jungle Lore" powers.

For another, the heroes are paired up with their children. And, if a bunch of badly written children weren't lame enough to crush your hopes that this was going to be a cool team book, there's Zuffy. Zuffy is a small, cute, purple alien creature so toyetic I'm surprised he's not advertised on the back of this comic instead of Popples.

Also, for some reason, Ming is green and has exaggeratedly pointed ears. I have my suspicions that somewhere along the way, it was discussed that the Emperor of Mongo looked a little too Asian the way Alex Raymond presented him. At the Time Flash Gordon debuted, "Yellow Menace" villains like Fu Manchu and The Yellow Claw were in vogue. Ming was never a charicature like the Claw, but I bet someone felt somebody somewhere might find him offensive.

At any rate, I found this issue in my never-ending quest for more Phantom comics and I'm putting it up here for you to read and judge for yourself. So, with all due apologies in advance here's part one of Defenders of the Earth #1:


  1. Yes, it IS a lousy book, but some of the problems were not Marvel's fault. Technically, the book was a tie-in to a syndicated children's television series (hence the emphasis on the heroes' children and the Phantom's lack of guns). Because this was just another tv cartoon tie-in, Marvel released it as a STAR comic (just as it did with Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos, Ewoks, Droids, Muppet Babies, and Strawberry Shortcake).

    Someone by this time had decided that Ming had to be made non-Asian (despite his name)--but at least he looks better than he did a few years later in DC's Flash Gordon mini-series.

    A decade later Marvel produced another syndicated cartoon tie-in, The Phantom 2040. Even though it too suffers from the need to conform to the series and features a teen-age Phantom, Steve Ditko provided the art, and the first issue features a Phantom pin-up that is the only time Steve Ditko collaborated with John Romita on an assignment.

  2. Anonymous: I don't feel that this is all Marvel's fault. This feels like it was butchered by committee. Although as to it being a tie-in to the TV series...well, that cartoon was made by Marvel Productions.

    I am well versed in MArvels' STAR lineup. I recall it originally started with an attempt to come up with original Harvey-type comics (Wally the Wizard, Planet-Terry, etc) with only a few licensed characters thrown in (Care Bears, Heathcliff, Rocky and Bullwinkle). In no time, STAR became sort of a dumping ground for any toy-related properties- Barbie, Air Raiders, Visionaries, etc. I think my beef is that Marvel had done a more serious take on GIJoe and Transformers and this property might have done better with that treatment.

    From what I recall, Phantom 2040 was a pretty good cartoon. I haven't gotten any of the comics tie-ins for that one...yet.

  3. For whatever it's worth, I liked Marvel's Phatnom 2040 tie in, and if you ever get any of them, I hope that you'll post them!

  4. IIRC, Ming looked almost Caucasian in Flash Gordon #2 (King, 1966). Then, in #4, he looked like a stereotypical Oriental Evil Genius, complete with yellow skin.