I can't believe it took me so long to get to this book! The Defenders (at least in their first few dozen issues) were one of my favorite Marvel groups, just because of the membership... the Hulk, Namor, Doc Strange, the Silver Surfer, Nighthawk, Hawkeye (for a brief time)... and Valkyrie, definitely my favorite of the bunch! The Defenders got started through a convoluted bit of storytelling that began with Doctor Strange #183, Sub-Mariner #22, and The Incredible Hulk #126, which involved Doc Strange teaming up with each of his future co-stars to prevent the plans of the Undying Ones! The second part of the coming of the team took place in Sub-Mariner #34 and 35, where Namor gets the Hulk and the Surfer to help him stop a weather control experiment. The Undying Ones returned in Marvel Feature #1, where the founding members gathered to battle Yandroth, and the team earned its name. After three try-out issues in Marvel feature, the Defenders got their own self-titled book, which started in 1972, and lasted 152 issues (plus five Giant-Size installments and an annual) before being cancelled to make room on Marvel's schedule for X-Factor. Valkyrie was introduced in an early issue of the series.
Probably the most memorable of the Defenders earliest issues was the crossover with the Avengers, known as the Avengers-Defenders War. It kind of got started in The Incredible Hulk issue where Hulk fought Zzzaxx (or something like that), an electrical being. Hawkeye, having recently quit the Avengers, was around for this story, and it was he who actually defeated Zzzaxx, although the Hulk got credit for it. When Hawkeye overhears the Hulk mention going to visit the magician, Hawkeye follows him to Doctor Strange's mansion, and ends up joining the team. Strange has been keeping the stone body of the Black Knight in the Sanctum Sanctorum, and has been seeking a way to restore the Knight. Well, wouldn't you know it, but Dormammu and Loki have made a pact to get the Evil Eye (Prester John's cosmic weapon), which has been broken into multiple pieces, back together, giving Dormammu power to move the Earth into the Dark Dimension. Loki's been promised to have his blindness cured by this. Anyway, the Defenders are duped into collecting the pieces, but Loki doesn't trust Dormammu, so he alerts the Avengers, and this leads to multiple battles, culminating in the Hulk Vs. Thor fight pictured on issue 10's cover, at the end of which the teams realize they're being played. Everything works out for the best, though!
By issue 20, the membership more or less settles down to Hulk, Doc Strange, Nighthawk (who wasn't involved in the War), and Valkyrie, although others come and go, some for a single issue, like on issue 20's cover!
Here's issue 30's cover, and I believe this starts out one of the multiple-issue arcs of weirdness the book would soon be known for, thanks to the writings of Steve Gerber (who wrote issues 20 through 41) and David Anthony Kraft (who wrote the book until about issue 65 or so).
As you can see on issue 40's cover, Valkyrie had her costume changed (for no damn good reason I can see, as her original outfit was a classic, and she'd eventually return to it). Luke Cake appears in this issue, as he would for a fair number of them!
Issue 50 shows us another recurring guest-star, Moon Knight, as the Defenders battle the Zodiac! I believe that Keith Giffen was the penciller on the insides at this point.
By issue 60, Patsy Walker, now calling herself Hellcat, has joined the team, after briefly serving with the Avengers. As you can see, even after Doctor Strange had left the group (as he would do on occasion), there was still a lot of magic being thrown about!
Strange is back by issue 70, as the Defenders deal with Lunatik, who was just as crazy as his name indicates!
Three of the original four members are back in issue 80!
Issue 90 brings us the Defenders Vs. the Mandrill, with Daredevil along for the ride!
Issue 100, a double-sized issue, shows that Devil-Slayer and Son of Satan had joined the team by this point! Damian Hellstrom would stick around longer, eventually falling in love with and marrying Hellcat.
The team definitely left its prime era after this... at least in my opinion. J.M. DeMatteis was the writer, and Don Perlin and Mike Esposito the artists, for most of the rest of the series. A lot of emphasis was placed on Devil-Slayer, Son of Satan, and Hellcat for a while. By issue #130, the book had been retitled The New Defenders, and the membership was comprised of Valkyrie and Gargoyle (who'd been around for a while prior to this) plus former X-Men the Beast, Iceman and Angel, as well as Moondragon and Cloud. Founding members Doc Strange, the Surfer, Hulk and Sub-Mariner had to leave the team because of an alien prophecy (which later turned out to be a load of crap). Issue #152 saw the end of the first series of Defenders, in which pretty much everyone had died except for those former X-Men in a battle with the Dragon of the Moon (blame Moondragon for that one), although almost all of them came back sooner or later.
Next time: Doctor Strange's second self-titled series (because the first was a continuation of Strange Tales)!