Now this is a hoot. It’s years ago and Hulk, Dr Strange, Namor and the Silver Surfer are transported to a rural idyll. Or at least, their bodies are. Their minds are somewhere else, replaced by those of four college students, gamers who have collided with the Curse of Yandroth which brings the ever-squabbling Defenders together whenever Earth is threatened.
Luckily, the students have some knowledge of the Defenders, and rather than panic, they begin to enjoy their cameo appearances. The Silver Surfer is reunited with lost love Shalla-Bal; Namor has an undersea picnic with Lady Dorma; the Hulk builds sandcastles with the Abomination; and Dr Strange becomes one with the Cosmos while telling a rather good joke.
Eventually the real Defenders wake up, trapped in a weird machine. Strange and the Surfer surmise that they’ve been affected by alien refugees seeking to bond with the people of Earth by sending them into a happy dream state (obvious, really). Hulk and Namor punch one another while swapping insults. A spell combined with the Power Cosmic puts things right, sending the students’ minds to their home bodies. There’s time for Namor to dwell on the power of love, and we’re out. A single-issue story that at least feels like it makes sense, capturing something of the spirit of the Defenders in their trippy Seventies prime.
That the story holds together at all is a wonder. A fill-in plotted by Fabian Nicieza for the woefully underrated 2001 Erik Larsen/Kurt Busiek Defenders revival, it was pencilled by Mark Bagley but never scripted. Unearthed for Marvel’s Vault project, no one involved could remember what the story was supposed to be about. Nicieza being busy at DC Comics, Busiek was tapped to script the resurrected tale, and his guess as to what’s going on is as good as any, and likely better than most. The dialogue is top-notch, pacey and light-hearted. Andrew Hennesy steps in to ink, Chris Sotomayor colours, Chris Eliopoulos letters and the result is a fun-looking book (just don’t examine those distance shots of the Silver Surfer too closely).
It’s a lovely change to see the old ‘wrong bodies’ idea being approached without angst; the students are thoroughly chilled, having been enjoying energy drinks and heaven knows what else prior to their transition into the greatest non-team of them all. They’re sent back to their own bodies without ever really meeting Strange and co, adding a smidgen of bittersweet to the ending.