With the arrival of Tenoch Huerta as Namor in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, one of the last headlining Marvel Comics characters from the Stan Lee era has finally made their live-action debut. But unfortunately, like the Hulk, the solo film rights for the character lie at Universal Pictures. That means Marvel Studios can only use the Sub-Mariner in ensemble movies where he doesn’t headline. But these circumstances might mean that the best showcase for both Namor and Hulk could be one of Marvel’s most classic teams: the Defenders. It’s the perfect time for the MCU Defenders to team up.
The Defenders: Marvel Comics’ “Non-Team”
Now, for those of you only familiar with Marvel films and television, you’re probably thinking we’ve already been introduced to the Defenders. There was the (former) Netflix series of that name starring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist as the team. Although called “the Defenders,” they’re not really the Defenders team that became famous in the comics. That team dates back to 1971 and headlined a long-running title that ran for 15 years. We use the word “team” loosely.
The Comics History of The Defenders
The original idea behind the Defenders was that it would be a group of headlining Marvel heroes famous for not playing well with others. Although Hulk was a founding Avenger, he left after their second issue for not being a team player. The hot-tempered Namor was another loose cannon, and Dr. Strange was smug and above them all. So naturally, putting these volatile characters together was too tempting for Marvel editorial to pass up.
After a “tryout” in Doctor Strange, the Defenders officially debuted in Marvel Feature #1 in 1971. An old foe of Strange’s called Yandroth threatened to destroy reality (as one does). So the Sorcerer Supreme called on Namor and Hulk to help defeat him. Strange tried to bring in the Silver Surfer, but he wasn’t able to reach him. The true story behind that is Stan Lee felt he was the only one who should write Silver Surfer stories, so he prevented other writers from using him. Thus, the founding members of the Defenders in Marvel Comics were Strange, Namor, and Hulk.
After the success of their debut, the Defenders got their own series in 1972. The “non-team” came together to defeat mystical and otherworldly threats, and other things often outside the Avengers’ purview. Without a formal structure, many Marvel heroes joined the Defenders, if only for one adventure. Eventually, under the guidance of writer Steve Englehart, the Silver Surfer did join, though his appearances became more and more infrequent. For much of the run, the “core” Defenders were the original trio, along with the Asgardian Valkyrie and the hero Nighthawk.
The End of an Era
A big success in the ‘70s, sales lagged for the series in the early ‘80s. Eventually, Marvel had all the original members leave the book. They rebranded it as The New Defenders. They added three original X-Men to the team, Beast, Angel, and Iceman. But when Jean Grey returned from the dead, they rejoined their original teammates and became X-Factor. And that was the end of the Defenders for many years. Several revivals have happened since, but it almost always goes back to the original core members. This brings us to the MCU.
The Case for an MCU Defenders
Currently, Marvel Studios is getting rave reviews for their introduction of Namor in Wakanda Forever. But as previously mentioned, neither he nor Hulk can get solo films. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie has been a highlight of the last two Thor movies, but she’s had to play second fiddle to the titular Asgardian. Why not bring them together with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, and give us the MCU version of the Defenders? Sure, they can’t use Silver Surfer (yet), but he was a part-timer at best. These four characters really compromised the main Defenders.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness made nearly a billion dollars, so a third Doctor Strange is a given. Why not “plus it up” by making the third film Doctor Strange and the Defenders? Perhaps he and Clea (Charlize Theron) need the help of some powerful heroes to defeat a mystical threat, and they recruit Namor, Banner, and Valkyrie? Hulk and Valkyrie already have a rapport, and Strange knows Banner already. Throw Namor into the mix, and it’s a recipe for juicy drama. Clea was an occasional Defender in the comics, too.
With no current Avengers team in the MCU, we may need a new gathering of heroes to save the Earth. The Defenders are the perfect candidates. And the addition of these marquee characters would enhance a third Doctor Strange film in the same way Civil War made the third Captain America film a true event. There’s never been a better time to make the Defenders happen in the MCU than right now.