Review: The Defenders #1 by Matt Fraction & Terry Dodson

I worry that those who read my stuff are going to tag me as a Marvel hater. Well, that’s a lie… I really don’t care if I’m tagged as a Marvel hater, but the issue is more that I don’t know if it’s true or not, myself. Now, generally in this world you have to take sides: Republican or Democrat, Coke or Pepsi, The Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Joss Whedon or Stupidity. You’re allowed to like both, but at your core, you know which one you would choose if you had to only choose one.

If there’s a truth here, it is that I don’t think I like the creative-team starting line-up for Marvel Comics right now. To my weathered eyes, I’m reading too much style over substance, too much event fatigue, and too much epic superhero battles instead of solid stories at the House of Ideas. Maybe I’m just too old. Maybe I have to be pushed aside to appeal to a younger audience. I can accept that. It’s cool.

Regardless, I’m reviewing Defenders #1. The Defenders is one of those titles that gets revamped every few years or so. To the best of my knowledge this is the fifth go around for a comic book title with the name. It’s one of those titles that has a long history, and yet I know no one who is a true die-hard fan.1 The key ‘thing’ about The Defenders is apparently they never call themselves “The Defenders.” Interesting.

Matt Fraction is the latest writer to tackle The Defenders. He is one of the promising young writers for Marvel these days. To be fair, I haven’t really read Fraction’s work on an ongoing title. So onwards and downwards.

The Defenders #1: Breaker of Worlds – Part 1: I Hate Myself and Want to Die

Published By: Marvel Comics
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciller: Terry Dodson
Publish Date: 12/07/2011 (February 2012)
Cover Price: $3.99
Review: Digital Copy (by Comixology)

The original Defenders team consisted of: The Hulk, Namor, and Doctor Strange, and are considered the founders of this anti-team. So the three of them have a bond together. And more recently, in Marvel Point One, Doctor Strange watched a man kill himself while giving him an evil prophecy for the future. Additionally, The Hulk has recently separated himself from Bruce Banner.

Synopsis

  • Nul, The Breaker of Worlds (from Fear Itself apparently) is causing a domino effect of damage throughout the world.
  • While feeling uncertain about the future, Doctor Strange is visited by The Hulk who seeks his help to stop Nul. They enlist Namor and Silver Surfer.
  • Too nervous to confront Nul, The Hulk suggests that the team brings in Red She Hulk (his former wife, Betty Ross).
  • Doctor Strange brings in Iron Fist, who is trying out a new experimental plane, where someone tries to assassinate him.
  • All of the heroes are flying in the plane, when it gets damaged and they have to bail in Northern Europe where they are attacked by some barbarians, heralding the return of Nul.

Questions and Answers

Answer: The bond between The Defenders exists between The Hulk and the other heroes, and not necessarily with Banner.

Question: The Hulk hates himself and wants to die? Since when?

Analysis

Overall this was a pretty good starting place for the title. It was a nice introduction for all of the characters in the group.

IT seems like they are trying to make Doctor Strange into a bit of a womanizing manipulator, but in the first issue it’s a bit heavy handed. Does it make him more relatable in a comic book format, as a hero? I know he was always a cocky hero, but this is a new tact. Reminds me of a DC magician who is now in a hero book.

For that matter, the book is rather sexual, with both Doctor Strange and Iron Fist bedding young ladies. I know I probably sound prudish, but it’s more a reaction to how heroes have changed. I mean I would expect this behavior from Tony Stark or even Oliver Queen. It’s very weird to be shown the side of heroes like Dr. Strange and Iron Fist, whose personalities are not known as well.

Too quick of a transition from The Hulk requiring help from Doctor Strange, to them visiting Namor for help. Some history of The Defenders would be helpful. What bond is forged between them all? Especially, since Banner is now removed from The Hulk.

I’m not one who insists on consistency and continuity. But the Namor in this title is very different from the one in Uncanny X-Men. One is a pompous ass who seems almost villainous, and in this title he is more of the Namor with whom I am familiar: The man who has strong principles and is loyal to his friends with a unique perspective as he is an outsider.

Silver Surfer playing the outsider card seems a little weird in 2011. Yes, I know that time in the Marvel Universe is condensed and wiggy. But even in Marvel time, Surfer should be on Earth for the last 6 years or so.

Okay, so the Hulk has now gone bloody Emo? What the hell. Should I just call him Edward and be done with it?

And I know it’s been 13 years since Peter David stopped writing The Hulk. And I know that Matt Fraction didn’t create her that way. But that is NOT BETTY ROSS. Even a gamma-radiated Betty Ross!

Iron Fist as a spoiled rich brat? I thought he was the more self-disciplined type… Who knows…? Seems a bit out of character, but then again I’m not a huge Iron Fist fan.

The plane ‘joke’ was obvious the second Danny said it was a really expensive plane. The book didn’t even really explain why the plane was needed in the first place or why it was taken down.

The book is good that it’s not weighted down with the team gathering part of the story. I can definitely respect that. I want to be told who these people are, and why they are eager enough to join the group. But I can also respect saying that the book doesn’t need it.

The art isn’t my style, but it is consistent throughout the book. I prefer that art to something that looks good on one page, but the detail on alternative pages really sucks. So not a detriment, but the style doesn’t do it for me.

Okay, if I don’t know who Prester John is without looking at wikipedia, it stands to reason that others don’t as well. A small bit of explanation would be nice before stopping him in as the cliffhanger villain.

A likeable first issue, but nothing overly special. I’d come back for more, if I was interested in the characters.

Verdict

A nice enough first issue of a team series book. Personally, it didn’t do that much for me, but I can’t say that it doesn’t have an appeal. It wasn’t insulting or poorly used or anything. The characterizations of Namor and Strange were interesting enough, and the bond between the characters is something that is rather unique in comics, a bond between former teammates for no other reason than they’ve been through enough wars together. I liked it well enough.

6.0 (Above average, but not overly compelling)

1 – It’s more difficult to find Defenders fans than Legion fans.

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