Secret Defenders #22-25
Issue(s): Secret Defenders #22, Secret Defenders #23, Secret Defenders #24, Secret Defenders #25
Dr. Druid is making a deal with what is clearly the sort of entity smart people don't make deals with.
Meanwhile, Shadowoman, still trapped as a statue, is having astral plane conversation with an entity with the same kind of word balloons.
The entity recounts Shadowoman's origin, which we first saw in Secret Defenders #16.
We then jump - a little early in terms of normal narrative structure - to an "interlude" where the guy with the talking backpack decides for once to make an effort to save the people that usually die around him.
We then go back to Shadowoman, who is told that she's died again (i.e. beyond the fact that she's reincarnated from a past life where she was Dr. Druid's lover). She doesn't believe the entity, but he tells her that each time she transforms, both her and Dr. Druid's souls are affected.
Shadowoman escapes from the statue she's trapped in, surprising Cadaver who is in the room watching the MTV show Dead at 21. She attacks Dr. Druid.
Druid says that he kept Shadowoman from dying because he loves her. And then, master of misdirection that he is, he says that they don't have time to fight anymore, because there's a new crisis to deal with.
Druid says that dealing with this issue will free Dr. Druid from Dr. Strange's geas and resolve Shadowoman's situation and restore Cadaver to human form. But before leaving, Shadowoman transforms herself into Sepulchre.
Soon after Druid and his entourage leave, the guy with the talking backpack arrives. And it turns out that his backpack talks because he's got an undead head in a jar in it.
They determine that the big oak tree in Dr. Druid's headquarters is rotting at the root, which they say is reflective of Druid himself. And the boy says that they'll have to recruit a counter-force to deal with it.
Dr. Druid's recruits are Dagger, Deathlok, and Drax (Adrian Belew voice: These are words with a D this time).
Druid takes them to a magic door which leads to the lamest rendition of a Ditko dimension that i've ever seen.
Dagger is attacked by an illusion of Cloak, and Drax and Deathlok are attacked by alternate incarnations of themselves (i'm assuming that, with the very real limitations of the art being taken into account, the alternate Drax is supposed to look like the earlier, skinnier Starlin version).
After the doppelgangers are dealt with, the counter-force sent by the boy with the head in the jar arrives. They are a horribly rendered version of the Defenders.
As the other characters engage in a poorly drawn fight, the boy - Joshua Pryce - follows Dr. Druid down a magical corridor.
Dr. Druid determines that Joshua is one of the "Cognoscenti". But he's not too impressed with him.
Druid moves on to confront the entity that Shadowoman was talking to, who is called Sloriath.
I feel like this book is cheating us somehow, like a kind of bait-and-switch has happened. It's basically supposed to be Marvel Team-Up, but the Team-Up characters are treated like a sideshow while we focus on a poor man's Dr. Strange story.
The above being isn't actually Sloriath. It's a kind of avatar of Sloriath made by the bits of Dr. Druid's soul which were siphoned off when Dr. Druid did whatever he did to Shadowoman.
And now the entity and Dr. Druid merge.
The entity then does something with the statue that was holding Shadowoman prisoner. And we see a bunch of people reacting to that. So here it is, the reason i bought all these Secret Defenders issues:
In terms of Blackwulf continuity, we now know that this story takes place during the brief period where Tantalus had replaced all of his minions with Fabios. Glad that's settled.
In terms of what's actually happening, it's... this:
And i guess that thing is the actual Sloriath.
I don't know how it is for most people, but i never have much of an interest in alternate dimensions and certainly not fake construct characters. So some fake (supposedly snatched from points in time) Defenders fighting some random monsters is not how i want to see pages filled, even if the monster does have a multi-tentacle crotch.
Meanwhile, Dr. Druid explains to Joshua Pryce that he's allying himself with Sloriath because Dr. Strange is ("however unwillingly") allied with Agamotto as part of the War of the Seven Spheres.
Dr. Druid then drones on for another page and a half. There may be a more sensible explanation buried in all of that, but i'll be damned if i can force myself to read through it.
Joshua Pryce opens a portal and tells Sepulchre and Cadaver that Dr. Druid has gone evil and he needs their help with him.
Sepulchre and Cadaver are badly wounded in the following fight, but Joshua Pryce has designed the conflict (something about drawing strength from everyone on Earth, and he finally gets enough power when another Cognoscenti is born) such that it will attract the attention of the Vishanti and the Living Tribunal.
The Living Tribunal kicks Sloriath out of this dimension. And Dr. Druid disappears.
Agamotto sticks around after the other cosmic entities have left...
...and he revives Cadaver, saying that he'll remain in zombie form until the end of the War of the Seven Spheres ("only another four or five thousand years"). Joshua stops Sepulchre from disincorporating, stablizing her in Shadowoman form. We also learn that the Cognoscenti are protectors of Gaia, but if we were supposed to have learned anything about Joshua's talking head "Al", my eyes had already glazed over. The three characters (and Al) talk a bit and decide not to continue any Secret Defendering.
Cadaver and Joshua Pryce & Al don't seem to ever appear again, but Shadowoman/Sepulchre will be seen a few more times.
As they leave, we learn that Dr. Druid is still around; he's been disguised as their butler.
Poor Dr. Druid sure goes through a lot of transformations. I mean, he started off as Dr. Droom, so i guess this isn't a surprise. But i'm just thinking about all the effort that was made to redeem him after he was manipulated by
As for this series as a whole, i don't think it was bad as a concept as people generally seem to think. I'm all for Marvel Team-Up! But it was definitely failed by its creators. The early issues were Roy Thomas in all of his 1990s Roy Thomas-ness, but the basic idea of Dr. Strange picking a random group of heroes to fight a random villain should have been decent enough. Things got more complicated due to the events of Dr. Strange's series, and instead of just swapping Strange with Dr. Druid, Tom Brevoort & Mike Kanterovich made the series about Dr. Druid and a group of brand new (or essentially brand new in the case of Shadowoman) characters. And even that shouldn't have been a bad thing if the characters were better developed. It might have been a good move at that point to drop the "team-up" aspect; i don't think sales on the book would have been affected by whether or not Dagger and the like were appearing here alongside the permanent cast. And some of the characters seem like they could be interesting; the scenes building up Joshua and his talking head-in-a-jar were amusing, for example. But even beyond the fact the space for their character development was taken up by guest stars, the plots themselves were chaotic and just... bad. So despite some decent concepts, the creators weren't able to deliver a good series.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: Even though Shadowoman was talking to Sloriath at the end of the last arc, i'm assuming that time passes between that arc and this one. Who knows how time passes on the astral plane or how long Shadowoman and Sloriath have been talking?
This has to take place before Blackwulf #6, when Tantalus leaves for space (which continues through Blackwulf #7-10, after which Tantalus is dead). Spider-Man doesn't refer to any Peter Parker related events, so despite his somewhat chipper attitude this can take place at any time, even when he's "The Spider". Takes place after the formation of Fantastic Force. The other appearances also just need to take place at times when they are all available.
The real Cloak appears briefly at the beginning of this story when Dagger is summoned (just didn't want anyone to think i was mistakenly counting the Ditko dimensional version).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showAgamotto, Cadaver, Cloak, Dagger, Deathlok (Michael Collins), Devlor, Dr. Druid, Drax the Destroyer, Hellstorm, Hoggoth, Huntara, Joshua Pryce, Living Tribunal, Oshtur, Psi-Lord, R.G. Mathieson, Shadowoman, Sidrat-Al-Muntah, Sleepwalker, Sloriath, Spider-Man, Tantalus, Vibraxis
I can't see Sepulchre without thinking of the cameo she had in New Avengers 7: "It's pronounced sepulchre! Not sep-ulch-re! Sepulchre! Say it with me!"
Posted by: Andrew | April 11, 2018 5:15 PM
The title of the first part refers to the movie "Boxing Helena".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | April 11, 2018 7:45 PM
Which is appropriate, since the movie is about a stalker who imprisons the woman he desires.
Posted by: Michael | April 11, 2018 9:23 PM
Some of this stuff, like The Cognoscenti and Cadaver, is expanded on over a decade later in the Mystic Arcana event. I'm not sure if the characters actually appear but they're mentioned a lot in conjunction with the War of the Seven Spheres.
Mystic Arcana was an attempt to revamp the Mystic side of the Marvel Universe just like how Annihilation completely revamped the cosmic books. Unfortunately, it wasn't as well-received (or well-executed) as Annihilation. But what if it was? Characters like Rintrah and Cadaver could have reached the same levels of popularity as the Guardians of the Galaxy!
Posted by: bigvis497 | April 12, 2018 9:19 AM
Joshua Pryce has one minor appearance after this in Giffen's Howling Commandos series.
Posted by: Michael | April 13, 2018 10:32 PM
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