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The Fearless Defenders #1 – Review

By: Cullen Bunn (Writer), Will Sliney (Artist), Veronica Gandini (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review:  It’s Ladies Night at the House of Ideas, which I guess is reason enough for a certain amount of celebration; mainstream comics are a bit of a sausage-fest after all.  So, when a book featuring two badass babes going all out to raise a ruckus pops up on the shelf, it is perhaps a debt owed by all red-blooded man-nerds to pick it up. All that ogling of Frank Cho’s libidinous artwork had to come at some kinda price, right fellas?

I jest, of course, but there’s a kernel of truth hidden amongst my pseudo-chauvinistic posturing. We often hear the case put forward in the comic book press that women, diverse ethnic groups and those of a non-hetero persuasion are much maligned when it comes to the world of capes and tights. This book tackles all three hot topics at once, and does so naturally and succinctly. Any move towards equality in the super-powered community deserves at least a respectful nod for trying to make right…but at the end of the day, the main thing we care about as readers is comics that tell a great story filled with engaging characters and dynamite visuals. On those terms I’m afraid this issue comes up a little short.

The basic premise is a good one. I love an Odd Couple pairing and Misty Knight and Valkyrie are nothing if not that. Teaming the “Badass private investigator,” with the “Last Shieldmaiden and defender of Asgardia” is a scenario ripe for terse, witty banter – two more opposing worlds it may be hard to find. It’s a set-up that was at the core of one of my favourite comic runs of the last few years, Greg Pak’s Incredible Herc, where street-smart, likeable techno-brat Amadeus Cho proved a perfect foil for the tragi-comic Greek God Hercules. There’s not a whole lot of interaction between Misty and Valk’ here but the combination certainly has a lot of potential.

The team-up itself takes a while to occur. The story begins with Misty in the middle of a mission from Archeologist Dr Annabelle Riggs to retrieve some stolen Asgardian artifacts from a band of mercenaries. The job gets messy when a villain (who I can only assume is Morgan le Fey) interrupts and makes off with most of the loot. Misty makes her way back to Dr Riggs at her dig site with the one artifact she was able to recover, though she could hardly have picked up a worse one – once activated this Asgardian ‘music box’ plays a tune that reanimates the dead. Zombies ensue, Valkyrie turns up to help Misty, and the book sets up its stall from there.

Sounds fun right (or at least a good basis for it)? But that fun is limited by a prohibitive level of restraint employed by Cullen Bunn. Misty is sassy, but only just, and doesn’t manage to stray into that golden ‘likeable smart-ass’ territory; Valkyrie is too haughty or po-faced to offer much in the way of amused detachment; tag-along Dr Riggs comes across as kinda annoying, seemingly placed here to give the book it’s one really “scandalous” moment (I’ll let you find that one yourself) and to nonchalantly propel the story forward. I’ve read the comic a few times now and it definitely has an air of the pedestrian despite the various fantastical elements it puts into play – not something I’ve come to expect from Bunn.

Will Sliney’s art fares better. For a book whose main focus rests upon the ladies, he respectfully depicts images of curvy, scantily clad women without straying into exploitative territory. There’s some great character design too, especially in Misty’s 60s-inspired super spy get-ups. Plus, he renders the hectic battle scene near the end of the book with an infectious energy, sacrificing his delightfully penciled undead warriors to Valkyrie’s menacing sword thrusts. The title seems set to call the magical realms of the Marvel Universe its home (for the first story arc at least) and it looks like Sliney will have no trouble bringing them to life.

But my worry is that The Fearless Defenders may not have done quite enough to secure repeat customers.  In large part its success is predicated on the chemistry between its two leads, but with the team up occurring late in the book there isn’t really sufficient room for the relationship to blossom.  Still, this partnership could be extremely enjoyable if given time to percolate; some titles are just built for the long game. Let’s hope that its audience – who are currently spoiled for choice in terms of swiftly established, quality Marvel titles – will afford it the opportunity to deliver.

Grade: C

-Matt Sargeson

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One Response

  1. Weak sauce. Fearless Defenders is not actively bad, like the new Thunderbolts, but it is exactly the kind of mediocre plot/art/writing that makes a book completely forgettable. No reason to even look at this while there are other genuinely interesting (albeit not perfect) Marvel Now books on the stands like Journey Into Mystery, Young Avengers and Avengers Arena (not to mention all the other excellent books out there, like Prophet).

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