The Defenders is a name of a number of Marvel Comics superhero groups—usually presented as a "non-team" of individualistic "outsiders" each known for following their own agendas—that usually battles mystic and supernatural threats.
Its original and most popular incarnation is led by Doctor Strange and also includes the Silver Surfer, Namor, and the Hulk, all popular superheroes in their own right. They first appeared as The Defenders in Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971). The original Defenders line-up is commonly considered to be the most powerful gathering of superheroes in the Marvel Universe.
The group had a rotating line-up from 1972 until 1986. The publication was retitled near the end of the run as The New Defenders but featured none of the originals. The concept was modified in the 1993–95 series Secret Defenders, in which Dr. Strange assembled different teams for each individual mission. In the 2000s, Marvel published a new miniseries featuring the classic line-up.
The origin of the Defenders can be traced back to two crossover story arcs by Roy Thomas prior to the official founding of the team. The first, in Doctor Strange #183 (November 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), and The Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970) occurred when the Dr. Strange series was canceled and the storyline was completed in the other series. Dr. Strange teams with Sub-Mariner, then the Hulk to protect the Earth from invasion by Lovecraftian inter-planar beings known as the Undying Ones and their leader, the Nameless One. Barbara Norriss, later the host of the Valkyrie, first appears in this story. In the second arc (featured in Sub-Mariner #34 and #35, February and March 1971), Namor enlists the aid of the Silver Surfer and the Hulk to stop a potentially devastating weather control experiment (and to inadvertently free a small island nation from a dictator) and face the Avengers under the unofficial name of the "Titans Three" (these two story arcs were reprinted in the first Essential Defenders volume).
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