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The Fearless Defenders #6 – Review

By: Cullen Bunn (writer), Will Sliney (artist), Veronica Gandini (colorist)

The Story: Valkyrie kills the Marvel Universe.

The Review: Having largely dealt with the threat of the Doom Maidens, battle-mad eldritch-warped valkyries, Marvel’s new team of Defenders find themselves up against the wall when Brunnhilde, the heroine known as Valkyrie, becomes their commander. We get some teasing history on the Doom Maidens and how they came to be, as the new Valkyrie wipes the floor with half the heroines in the Marvel Universe.

If you’re looking for superhero action on a larger scale, this issue provides. Especially with a heroine playing the role of antagonist, it’s pretty amazing to see such powerhouses as Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel tossed around like rag dolls. The stakes are high, and the fighting brutal. Unfortunately, the fight is short, simple, and probably better on paper than…well, on paper. Though the battle between She-Hulk and Valkyrie is a high-point, this contest is simply too one-sided and hopeless to really get the blood pumping. But then, that’s not the point of this issue.

Indeed, though this issue features a regular battle royal, it isn’t about battle or rage, but a rejection of such things. I won’t say too much, but Cullen Bunn is absolutely clear that, to him, this issue is about the interpersonal relationships between these new Midgard Valkyrior.

Admirable as that is, the greatest problem with this issue is that it doesn’t dive deep enough. Both the banter during the fight and the pleas for peace that follow are fairly shallow. Worst of all, the climax of the story is unclear, leaving you unsure what happened until it is reported to you. The book appeals to pathos but doesn’t put enough heart into it to achieve the epic conclusion it’s reaching for.

The pacing is also interesting, off if not necessarily flawed. While I appreciate the greater focus on tone and the aftermath of battle, I’m not sure we need an entire page of Valkyrie climbing stairs. Likewise, the book’s many flashbacks and visions of the future are interesting, but a trifle unclear, which naturally begs the question of why so many were included in a book that could have so benefitted from a little more time to focus on fallout of this arc.

Will Sliney’s art is similarly mixed. Sliney provides attractive linework, but his inking feels a little heavy at times. Either way, it’s hard to fault an artist who is able to draw so many of Marvel’s leading ladies with such determination and strength.
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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.
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The Defenders #6 – Review

By: Matt Fraction (writer), Victor Ibanez (art), Tom Palmer & Terry Pallot (finishes), Chris Sotomayor (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: Delving into ancient secrets, Danny and the Surfer discover a connection between the Concordance Engines and the Prince of Orphans, as well as an old, forgotten team of superheroes – the awesomely named Confederates of the Curious.

The Review:  One thing that Fraction’s Defenders has had going for it since its first issue has been consistently awesome art.  I’ll admit that when I saw that Ibanez had been assigned a pair of finishers, I was worried.  Thankfully, while not QUITE as excellent as previous issues, this is still a nice-looking comic.  Ibanez reminds me a bit of Rafael Albuquerque, a mix of Saturday morning cartoon and noir.  In particular, I liked the thick-lines in his inking, which added quite a bit of character.  Sotomayor’s colours really sealed it, using bold, vibrant colours that match the energy and enthusiasm of Fraction’s script.

That energy is far and away the best thing about Fraction’s Defenders and that holds true this month.  It’s clear that he’s having a lot of fun writing that series and, as such, it makes it hard to hate.  Fraction obviously enjoys writing Danny Rand and that makes the character all the more fun to read.  Despite the ominous engines and secret histories, there’s a kind of gleefulness and madcap pace to the book that makes it an enjoyable experience.  I especially like the pacing; this issue could’ve easily been expanded upon and decompressed into a much larger arc, but following a format of short-arcs and interrelated one-shots has meant a much higher pace and single issues that are much more satisfying in their own right, packed with their own stand-alone stories as well as significant progression in the overall series.
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Heroes for Hire #12 – Review

By: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (writer), Brad Walker (artist), Andrew Hennessy (inker), Jay David Ramos (colorist)

The Story: Hero, are you for hire? We’ve got a job.

The Review: Heroes for Hire #12 was a nice little single-issue story. We are thrown into the middle of the action in a moody and effective close-up of Misty summoning her contractors. The darkened evening shots filled with action and the switch from character to character gives a sense of a superhero crime-fighting relay, which was an interesting feeling even if some of the setup seemed choreographed in a way that did not match the dialogue. What I mean by that is that many of the heroes for hire were within seconds of the action, in costume and already on the move when Misty asked if they were interested in a job. Maybe I’m missing some in-joke or tagline that Misty uses all the time.

I enjoyed the art. Except for some proportion and perspective issues with Misty’s face, everything else was good. The action was clear and dynamic, the character and setting draftsmanship detailed and the layouts and colors suitable for the kind of rapid-fire story being told. I particularly liked Walker’s rendition of Namor. The Prince of the Sea was imposing and impressive.

Overall, I enjoyed this issue, but it was a bit like eating a rice crispy square. It tasted good, but had little substance. No characters grew or changed, no deep motivations were demonstrated or even alluded to. This was simple, fluffy action for the sake of action, making the characters look cool, and giving them opportunities to attempt some quips (some of which worked).

Conclusion: This is one of the first issues of HfH that I’ve picked up, so maybe there is more substance to the rest of the series and this issue happens to be a light break between heavy arcs. I love the concept of the team, and the characters are intriguing, so there’s a lot of grist for the mill. I just didn’t see the best of the story potential realized here. Pick it up if you love these characters.

Grade: B-

-DS Arsenault

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Shadowland #2 – Review

by Andy Diggle (writer), Billy Tan (pencils), Victor Olazaba (inks), Christina Strain (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Luke Cage and Iron Fist try to talk to Daredevil and the Kingpin gets a little demonic help.

What’s Good: This issue tries to expand on the characters involved in Shadowland in an attempt to expand the book into a true event, rather than just a bi-weekly Daredevil.  Certainly, it’s great to see the Kingpin back again and looking to play a big role.  Diggle writes the character’s voice very well and fully capture that suave, Wilson Fisk tone.  I like the idea of Fisk teaming up with heroes for his own benefit; I’ve always enjoyed it when villains find themselves teamed with heroes, as it leads to a lot of dysfunction and distrust.  In this case, it also highlights the dark position that Daredevil currently occupies.  I look forward to seeing where this goes and Kingpin’s presence is definitely a strong point.

Another additional character that works very well, in at least the little time we get with him this month, is Ghost Rider.  The build-up to his entrance is fantastic, and totally misleads you until you see that leather boot.  Diggle cleverly makes Ghost Rider sound like some magical Japanese warrior for good, so when Ghost Rider shows up with his gruff dialogue, it’s a surprising touch of comedy.   His dynamic with Fisk is also really fun for this reason; the Kingpin attempts to speak in the stilted tone he expects a demon to converse in, while Ghost Rider talks like an average guy.  It’s great stuff and Billy Tan draws the character really, really well.
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Immortal Iron Fist #20 – Review

By Duane Swierczynski (writer), Travel Foreman & Russ Heath (artists), Matt Milla (colorist)

The Story: Danny Rand has had better days.  Having just celebrated his 33rd birthday, Rand discovered that all but one of his predecessors have died in combat at age 33.  Their killer is a beast called Ch’i-Lin, a mystical creature that feeds on the life source of the dragon that all Iron Fists draw their powers from.  Hiding in the body of a man named Zhou Cheng, Ch’i-Lin has finally come for the Iron Fist, and it will not stop until it has ripped Danny’s heart from his chest.

The Good: Any doubts I had about Swierczynski and Foreman not being able to deliver the same quality of stories achieved by Brubaker, Fraction, and Aja have gladly been put to rest.  Swierczynski has taken loose plot threads from the previous team’s storylines,– like the Iron Fists dying at 33, and the mysterious eighth Capital City of Heaven, and is fashioning them into some really dynamic and entertaining stories.  It helps that he has an artists as skilled as Foreman working with him.  Foreman’s art has a cool anime look to it that compliments Iron Fist’s kung fu heritage while still driving him forward in new directions.

The Not So Good: Foreman’s art suffers from some poor page compositions and erratic inking, with some pages having up to thirteen panels crushed together, obliterating any sense of detail and storytelling.  It wasn’t as bad in this issue though, so hopefully he realized his style looks best when it has the space come to life.  Also, the inks on some pages looking like they’ve barely been touched, while others are saturated in black.  A minor problem, but at times it was enough to distract me .

Conclusion: Under the direction of Swierczynski and Foreman, the future of Iron Fist is in good hands, and this continues to be one title I look forward to every month.

Grade: B

-Tony Rakittke

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