I’ve been looking forward to this new Defenders comic for a while, and anticipating what Matt Fraction would do with this superteam that never gets the same amount of attention as the marquee Avengers. I was intrigued by Fraction’s preview story in Marvel Point One starring Dr. Strange which teased the story of The Defenders, and I’m interested in his take on a superteam that has always seemed a little purposeless. The idea is that The Defenders fight inconceivable threats and “protect humanity from the impossible”; I like the basic premise that unlike the Avengers or X-Men, The Defenders is a superteam that deals primarily with the abstract. This is a team that’s composed of the misfit superheroes that aren’t at home in a more traditional superteam of household brand names like Captain America, Iron Man, or Thor. Overall, I enjoyed this first issue, the abstract focus of The Defenders, and some of the more experimental comics techniques it employs.
From the first page, this comic establishes that the enemy of the series is the weird and unexplainable phenomena that shouldn’t be possible. Nul, the breaker of worlds, has broken the rationality of our world by making a series of disturbing and seemingly impossible things happen. I have to admit that I didn’t really like Nul in the context of Fear Itself as The Hulk possessed by an Uru hammer, but the idea of Nul as a disembodied spirit of pure rage is one that I can get behind.
From Nul’s rampage, the story cuts to Dr. Strange in his Sanctum Sanctorum with a “nubile grad student”. Although Dr. Strange apparently regrets his one night stand with this attractive occult enthusiast, I liked the idea of Dr. Strange as a guy who seduces beautiful women. It humanizes a character that is often mired in the intensely abstract and otherworldly (“I bind you with the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak!”), and it adds a bit of a coolness factor by changing Dr. Strange from a guy who lives with his weird man-servant to a bachelor whose mystique attracts beautiful women to his Sanctum Sanctorum.
Dr. Strange senses the disturbance that is Nul, and he even wonders if it’s connected to the vision of an impossible universe destroying machine that he had in Marvel Point One. Cue The Hulk who comes to Dr. Strange his help to defeat Nul, the creature of rage that The Hulk was possessed by until the end of Fear Itself. The two of them recruit Namor. I found it interesting that Namor is intervening in what looks like a mass-slaughter of dolphins that could be pulled straight out of the fascinating but seriously depressing documentary “The Cove“. It makes sense that Namor would be pissed about the butchering of dolphins by the hundred, and I appreciated that the Sub-Mariner is dealing with real life maritime issues.
After recruiting Namor, the three of them get the Silver Surfer on the team. The Dodsons’ illustration of Silver Surfer is really magnificent, and unlike any other portrayal of the character that I’ve seen before, he appears surrounded by flowing streams of mercurial fluid, which I assume is a creative and original depiction of his power cosmic. Instead of just generic energy, here the Silver Surfer’s power cosmic is shown as a silver and liquid-like extension of his body.
I’ve never been a fan of Red Hulk or Red She-Hulk, but even I laughed out loud when Red She-Hulk enters in this issue by chasing the bulls instead of running with them. It’s a clever twist on the running with the bulls concept, and it immediately establishes the kind of thrill seeking and bad ass attitude that we can expect from Red She-Hulk.
The final member of The Defenders to be recruited is Danny Rand, AKA Iron Fist, who is a character that Matt Fraction has some experience writing. I don’t want to get too deep into the specifics of the plot, but I thoroughly enjoyed Iron Fist’s entrance into this comic. I’m not that familiar with the character, but there are three words that will get me to like any superhero: zero gravity kung-fu.
The last thing I want to discuss about this comic is an interesting technique that Fraction is using at the bottom of his pages. He is inserting these sentences at the bottom of pages and in the panel gutters that serve as advertisements for other comics, and also as sort of prophetic statements that comment on the story of the comic itself. While some of these page liners (as they shall forever be called) just point you to other comics or upcoming stories in The Defenders, others are these fortune cookie-esque statements that hint at larger themes in the series. It’s a cool effect, and it feels like something out of an old school Marvel comic. It captures that audience participation effect that Stan Lee used to make Marvel so successful, and I’m interested to know if it’s a completely original technique or if it’s been done before.
Overall, I thought this was a great first issue of a series that I wasn’t sure I would like. The Defenders have never seemed to have a place in the Marvel Universe, but Fraction is changing that by giving the team a strong purpose: to defend against the abstract and seemingly impossible. Go pick this comic up if you like fantastic art and great writing, True Believers.