The world’s mightiest “non-team” stands the test of time without structure or rules to defend the world against threats both strange and deadly—they are the Defenders!


To Defend and Protect

The seeds of what would become a unique idea in Super Hero teams were planted in a series of clashes between Doctor Strange, Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, and a clutch of demonic beings known as the Undying Ones.

After battling the evil entities on his own on several occasions, Strange called first upon Namor the Sub-Mariner, and then later the green gamma-spawned Hulk to aid him in this plight. Neither of the two surly individuals cared to continue their association with the magician, but when another menace subsequently reared its ugly head, Namor and the Hulk teamed again to enlist the cosmic Silver Surfer in their efforts to put it down. When that alliance also fell apart at mission’s end, it took the threat of evil sorcerer Yandroth’s Omegatron device to once more bring Doctor Strange, Namor, the Hulk, and the Surfer all together to smash both.

On that day, the idea of the Defenders took root and began to grow organically. Soon after, the loose affiliation of powerful personas attracted others to ally themselves with it, including the warrior Valkyrie, Hawkeye the archer, and criminal-turned-hero Nighthawk.

Doctor Strange and Valkyrie

No Rules

Unlike the more formal Avengers, the original Defenders operated without any true structure or charter. “Members” came and went, many times living and fighting with the group for lack of a better place to be. While Doctor Strange acted as de facto leader, in truth his fellow Defenders tended to do as they wished and often threatened to leave at the smallest provocation. This “non-team” concept prevailed for a while, remaining in operation through the loss and gain of prominent associates, until a later time when the X-Men’s Beast attempted to forge a more structured Defenders. Even then and after, the idea of such a group retained a nebulous quality, despite individual efforts to rein it in.

The Defenders first operated out of Doctor Strange’s infamous Sanctum Sanctorum, his Greenwich Village home, but relocated to Nighthawk’s riding academy on Long Island for a time. When that location suffered severe damage, the Defenders began a long series of moves from headquarters to headquarters, seeking refuge in whatever port would have them until some event would force another move.


Defender Dossiers

Once the Defenders grew into something resembling an ongoing team upon the arrival of Valkyrie and Nighthawk, they found themselves manipulated by the dreaded Dormammu and the wicked Loki into a “war” with the Avengers. Following several battles between members of both groups, the Defenders gained a sort of recognition from the Avengers by the end of the overall conflict and utilized a device won in the war, the so-called Evil Eye, to revive another champion from a stone-like state, the Black Knight.

Doctor Strange and the Hulk

From that point, the Defenders welcomed an ever-growing parade of eclectic and sometimes eccentric personages into their loose ranks, including Hellcat, the Son of Satan, Luke Cage, the Thing, Daredevil, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Howard the Duck. They also met increasingly weird menaces such as the bizarre Headmen and Lunatik, who bedeviled them to the point of distraction. Doctor Strange took his leave of the group not long before an unscrupulous promoter called Dollar Bill produced a documentary without the group’s approval and through it put forth the public idea that anyone who declared themselves a Defender was in fact a Defender.

Though operating as leader, the headstrong and fairly arrogant Nighthawk was forced to retire his costumed career, leaving the group to Valkyrie to lead until Nighthawk returned long enough to declare the Defenders disbanded in a fit of pique. The concept did not lay fallow for long, and when the non-team regrouped it came together with longtime members such as Valkyrie, but also with new faces such as Devil-Slayer, the Gargoyle, and the X-Men’s furry blue Beast. During their strange adventures Valkyrie fell in battle but was later resurrected; Hellcat and the Son of Satan tied the knot, and then left to form a private investigator firm for occult matters.

The all-seeing Tribunal prophesized that if the original Defenders -- Doctor Strange, Namor, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer -- ever worked together again as allies it would bring about the destruction of the planet. The Beast then took control of the Defenders with a plan to create a formal structure for the group and brought in his X-Men allies Angel and Icemen, and the high-minded Moondragon, to work alongside himself, Valkyrie, and Gargoyle. These “New Defenders” lasted through a long clash with the Secret Empire and Moondragon’s bout of demon-possession, but disbanded in the aftermath of those conflicts. Meanwhile, the prophecy surrounding Strange and his original allies proved to be false and they reunited to fight the sorcerer Shanzar in an epic clash.

Doctor Strange and Namor the Sub-Mariner

Facing a time when his magical prowess ebbed to a mere trickle, Doctor Strange conceived of an idea he thought of as his “Secret Defenders,” which consisted of smaller, temporary groupings of champions to combat specific threats to Earth. The diverse selection of individuals for these missions included the Hulk, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, Spider-Man, the Scarlet Witch, the Punisher, and even Avengers’ stalwart Captain America himself. Strange passed the coordination of these groups to Doctor Druid at one point, but when that mystical mage seemingly perished during one mission, the Secret Defenders also fell apart.

Also believed dead, but freshly revived and sporting the new ability to predict future criminal activity, Nighthawk stubbornly refused to relinquish his belief in the Defenders and joined with Hellcat in a new struggle against Yandroth. This event also included the founding Defenders -- Strange, Namor, the Hulk, and Surfer -- but ended in them being cursed by Yandroth to be brought together for any immense threat to Earth, even against their will. Nighthawk and Hellcat enlisted a new Valkyrie to travel with them to support Strange and his old allies, thus continuing the legacy of the non-team. Eventually, the stress of the curse and other forces caused the four core Defenders to go insane and declare themselves as the Order. When the Order tried to dominate the planet, Nighthawk and his partners, along with She-Hulk, opposed them and broke the curse.

With clear minds, the original Defenders refused to stay together and only occasionally joined forces thereafter, albeit reluctantly. Doctor Strange and Namor took part in a highly covert alliance of super beings known as the Illuminati, who decided Strange’s former friend the Hulk stood as too great a menace to the planet and arranged to have him shot off into outer space. When the green giant returned for revenge, he battled Strange and swore everlasting hatred toward his old ally.

Red She-Hulk

Later, in the wake of the Superhuman Registration Act’s insistence on registering all costumed crime busters and powered individuals, Iron Man Tony Stark directed the assembling of a new Defenders under the auspices of his nationwide Initiative campaign. Headed up by Nighthawk, the group consisted of She-Hulk, Colossus, and the Blazing Skull, a combination that rankled Nighthawk and led to a disastrous first mission. Stark disbanded the team soon after. Undeterred and perhaps desiring a Defenders as a balm for his troubled soul, Nighthawk defied protocol and formed his own unit out of a strange collection of anti-heroes to address a report of trouble. Later, the hero turned himself in to the authorities and Stark placed a permanent ban on Nighthawk’s costumed career.

The idea of the Defenders is a pervasive one and revivals always seem to pop up when the non-team’s future looks its darkest. Doctor Strange, Namor, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer reunited to hold off another advance by Dormammu to invade Earth, and later the Sorcerer Supreme formed yet another new Defenders comprised of himself, Namor, the Surfer, and newcomers Lyra and Loa to battle Namor’s old foe Attuma. Still later, Strange enlisted Namor and the Surfer yet again to confront a menace to the planet, that time with Red She-Hulk, Iron Fist, Black Cat, and Ant-Man.

Silhouette of the Defenders

More recently, two groups came together as Defenders, both with some ties to previous versions of the non-team. Valkyrie joined with private investigator Misty Knight and other heroines as the Fearless Defenders, and on the mean streets of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil stand as the newest group of Defenders. Never having worked together as a group, but only in smaller team-ups, the four crime fighters collaborated somewhat reluctantly at first to investigate the return of the allegedly deceased criminal Diamondback, and found that they were stronger working as a unit.

Base of Operations, Current Members, Former Members
  • Base of Operations

  • Current Members

  • Former Members

Essential Reading
There are Marvel heroes who seek to protect our planet or even the galaxy. But there are also those who protect turf of a smaller scale, safeguarding their own neighborhoods from threats within. Meet the street-level defenders of Marvel – a handful of New York City vigilantes and Heroes for Hire who pack powerful punches on the streets they call home.