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The Defenders #1 – 3 Reviews in 1

By: Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (penciller), Rachel Dodson (inker), Sonia Oback (colorist), John Denning & Jake Thomas (assistant editors), Alejandro Arbona (associate editor)

The Story: “Hey Iron Fist! We’re getting the band back together… Wanna be our roadie?”

The Review: You might have heard that Matt Fraction described this book as “the Avengers meets Casanova.” I’m not certain I agree yet. Instead, after having read The Defenders #1, the book looks pretty much like what you would expect it to: a group of the outsiders of Marvel Comics working as a team to take on a dark, mysterious force. It doesn’t display a lot of ambition, but what you get is palatable enough; this sentiment holds true for all aspects of this issue.

Part of the strength of the Defenders has always been that it is composed of characters you don’t expect to find on a team at all, much less with each other. Fraction seems to understand this, and after delivering a very effective opening that establishes the Big Bad and shows us what it can do, he slows down to let this issue be about who our heroes are and why they wind up together.

As a result, we don’t get to see the plot advance much; basically, after finding out that Nul, the Breaker of Worlds—who was last seen possessing the Hulk—is still up to no good, the Defenders reassemble, get on a plane, and promptly crash it. So instead of plot developments, we’re treated to a series of vignettes that reintroduce our heroes. Some work; some don’t. The parts showing us what the Surfer and She-Hulk get up to in their spare time are fun and rather inspired, but Namor’s introduction is too brief and frankly unoriginal. The introduction of Iron Fist gets the lion’s share of attention, but there’s a Kung Fu fight in zero gravity during his introduction, so I can forgive the unbalanced presentation. I cannot, however, so easily forgive the reason Iron Fist joins the group. After all, everyone else either has been on the team before or is an obvious stand-in for a former member, so what’s so special about Daniel Rand that merits his inclusion? Apparently, it’s that he has a plane.

It’s the tone, however, that is a biggest stumbling block. After a fairly nasty and unsettling opening, Fraction spends the rest of the issue striving for a witty, charming appeal. While in theory this could be a good use of juxtaposition, the jokes feel forced as often as not, and the charm only works in fits and bursts. Light, humorous dialogue isn’t what you expect from Fraction, and while it’s cool to see him try something different, it’s clear he’s a bit outside his comfort zone.

The art team deserves a nod for delivering solid work. Terry and Rachel Dodson offer up good, straightforward storytelling, but while the layouts accomplish the basics, the nuances don’t take it over the top. Characters look good, but don’t emote wonderfully. The artwork always supports the narrative, but never makes it shine, even in instances where it really should have stolen the show.

Conclusion: The Defenders #1 is technically competent, and with a little more life and a bit more purpose, it could be a really engaging experience. But this issue isn’t going to hook you right off the bat.

Grade: C+

-Jim Middleton

Some Musings: -Any one know what’s up with the leaves of grass at the bottom of the pages? I’m kind of digging it.

- So, if Nul is still around, are Kuurth, Skirn, and Nerkkod too? Someone should really look into that. I nominate the Desert Stars.

A Second Opinion

The Story: Dr. Strange is seeing some weird coincidences and patterns. Soon, his old colleague the Hulk shows up and asks for help (Hulk hates asking Strange for help). Why does Hulk need help? Well, Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk. Imagine if the Hulk turned into something even worse. So, it’s time to call in the Defenders: the Sub-Mariner (one of the original three), Silver Surfer (a longtime member), Iron Fist and Red She-Hulk.

What’s Good: I’m a fan of Stephen Strange, the Sub-Mariner and Iron Fist. Fraction (whom I really enjoyed while he was writing Immortal Iron Fist) builds up the tension slowly and plays with foreshadowing a lot. I loved seeing the world through Strange’s eyes because there is no better guy to understand foreshadowing than Strange, former sorcerer supreme. Fraction finds the humor in these characters and seems to delight in deflating them in controlled bits. I’ve not spent a lot of time with Betty Rose hulked up, but I enjoyed what Fraction made of her. Also, Danny’s tongue-in-cheek, on-the-spot invention of geosynchronous, zero-G kung fu would likely have made the late Arthur C. Clarke proud.

Artwise, I’ve loved the Dodson squared art before and feel they’ve got a visual hit now. The physiques are, except where deliberately not so, heroic. The settings are evocative and the action is clean. The mountaintop and ocean scenes are good examples of using setting to create a mood. Danny’s plane ride is more the action example.

What’s Not So Good: I’m not humorless, but I read comics for the heroic and the cosmic themes. Characters who don’t take themselves seriously or engage in too much self-parody take away from me enjoying the heroic nobility of superheroes. That’s my personal taste, and I can’t help it. My comics taste was literally brought up on Claremont’s X-Men, the 1970s Defenders (which had its bits of quirk), Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel. While I capital-L love the Defenders, I might not stick around this title for long if the tone is too similar to the 5-issue Defender: The Order series. Right now, the spaceyness of the Silver Surfer, the comic book-reading Danny Rand and the nerdy Dr. Strange are suggesting to me that this might not be the book for me. I hope I’m wrong. If I’m not, there are many humor fans that will enjoy the latest incarnation of the Defenders.

Conclusion: I honestly think this is a good book worth picking up, but I say that not knowing if I’ll be here for issue 3. Check this space next month!

Grade: B

-DS Arsenault

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A Third Opinion

The Story: The Defenders get back together to battle a leftover problem from Fear Itself.

Five Things: 

1. It’s actually pretty good! – I’ve not been a very big Matt Fraction fan for a while.  Loved his early run on Invincible Iron Man and some of his Uncanny X-Men stuff, but thought that IIM took a HUGE turn for the boring, didn’t think Thor was any good and hated Fear Itself.  Personally, I think Marvel may be spreading him too thin.  So, the only reason I spent the $3.99 on Defenders #1 was to do my noble duty as reviewer for WCBR.  But, I was pleasantly surprised and will be back for the next issue!  This issue has all the fun of “getting the team together” and is written at a jaunty pace.  It has humor and clever turns of phrase.  Nothing get’s too belabored.  Well done.

2. The Dodson’s art is glorious. - Of course, if you want me to be positively disposed toward a book, putting the Dodson’s on as the art team is a good way to start.  It really puts me in a “glass half full” kind of mood.  Of course, he draws an incredible Red She-Hulk, but that’s what you’d expect from an artist whose sketchbook is called “Bombshells”.  Dude just draws a wonderful and powerful woman!  But, his men look powerful too and he has a nice clean way of organizing a page.  Good story telling too.  And, I really like the thick and organic line that Mrs. Dodson inks with sometimes.  More please!

3. Green Hulk problems… - How does this Hulk fit with the Hulk in Jason Aaron’s Incredible Hulk #1?  I don’t mind a character being in two places at once: that’s just part of modern comics.  But in Aaron’s story, Hulk wants to get away from everything and is living underground while sporting a beard.  And, he’s in a kind of a surly mood.  Fraction’s Hulk is clean-shaven and chatty.  What gives?  For a book with 4 editors credited, I expect a little more consistency.

4. Explanation for this Fear Itself story? - Is this really how the Hulk story in Fear Itself ended????  With the Nul, Breaker of Worlds persona running loose upon the world?  I don’t remember that.  And if he has been running loose, why does Hulk have to come to the Defenders and say, “I need help.”  Wouldn’t the heroes kinda know that he’s laying waste to this city we see in the beginning of the issue?  Why did only Nul stick around?

5. Namor is a little off too. -  Does Namor change his belt when he’s on X-Men duty compared to when he is on Defenders/King of the Ocean duty?  Dodson was the artist on Uncanny X-Men, so I doubt he just forgot to put an “X” on Namor’s belt and I have to assume that there was editorial direction to leave it off.  But, beyond the costume, this Namor was MUCH less aloof and snotty than the guy we’ve gotten used to in the X-books over the last few years.  Heck, many of those characterizations were by Fraction himself, so I don’t understand why we’re having this problem.  It just destroys the sense of “shared universe” when a character in two mainline books acts very differently without any explanation.  Heck, I’d have believed if Namor just said how nice it is to speak freely around old buddies like Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer instead of having to always having to “perform” for the X-Men.  But, we never got that explanation.

Conclusion: Pretty good, but the art is doing a LOT of the heavy lifting on this issue and there are some worrying problems with inconsistent characterizations.  Fraction has had a tendency to write characters however he pleases in the past, so if you like consistent characterization….well….this might not be the book for you.  But if you just want jaunty fun, it looks like that might be possible.  And again, great art.

Grade: B (mostly on the strength of the art)

-Dean Stell

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9 Responses

  1. [...] under the rule of Weapon Omega. This little gimmick is used a lot in #1 issues, most recently in The Defenders #1, but I would argue that Lapham and team do a better job of introductions in this book. This is [...]

  2. [...] I was concerned with the tone of this book as of Defenders #1, but stuck around for issue #2 to give it a chance. I’m not going to buy any more Defenders [...]

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  4. [...] Jim Middleton, Weekly Comic Book Review: “Part of the strength of the Defenders has always been that it is composed of characters you don’t expect to find on a team at all, much less with each other. Fraction seems to understand this, and after delivering a very effective opening that establishes the Big Bad and shows us what it can do, he slows down to let this issue be about who our heroes are and why they wind up together.” [...]

  5. I just meant that it is at least a coherent story (though formulaic and boring) Flashpoint–as a counter example–was truly atrocious because it wasn’t even coherent storytelling. The fact that fear itself was 8 issues exacerbated just how trite it all was, making it an even more bitter pill than most bad “events”

    • I agree, John. Also, I think Fear Itself suffered from a couple of other problems that won’t affect readers who wait to read it in trade. First, the scope of it was rather obnoxious. Despite the hype and the ridiculous amount of tie-ins, Fear Itself really didn’t have any business being much more than a Thor and Avengers crossover, and the fact that it spread to so many titles meant that put a bad taste in peoples’ mouths, even when they weren’t reading the main title. Again, going back to you Flashpoint comparison, although many of tie-ins weren’t very good, there was no denying that because of the scope of the event, it was appropriate.

      Along the same lines, I think most events suffer from fatigue when they go on too long, even good ones, and that the drain of waiting months after month for it to end waiting is pretty much dispelled by being able to read it in trade. Again, using Flashpoint as a comparison, Flashpoint was over so much quicker, that I personally have fewer negative memories of it than Fear Itself, merely because it was over mercifully quick. However, for the reader who has ignored both events and reads them in trade, the prolonged amount of time it took Fear Itself to end doesn’t really translate to the extra pages.

      Any agree/disagree?

  6. Why not just call it Avenging Defenders.

  7. I almost forget that Fraction can be a great writer. I’ve yet to read a Fraction title that DOESN’T read better in trade (even Fear Itself might be decent in trade–but probably not…)
    Glad to see this is well liked so far, but I’ll be trade-waiting regardless.

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