Open Mike Night: Fearless Defenders #1 & Son of Merlin #1

It’s time once again for our moms’ favorite comic review column! OPEN MIKE NIGHT! (Well…okay.  That’s a lie.  My mom has just about no interest in anything I write about comics).

Fearless Defenders #1

Written by: Cullen Bunn
Art by: Will Sliney
Colored by: Veronica Gandini
Lettered by: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $2.99

Maillaro: Pretty sure this is the only time in history a “next issue” box got me more excited than anything that actually happened in the book it appeared in. I am a huge Dani Moonstar fan, and she’ll be turning up next issue!! Actually the whole letter page was great, including the explanation on how this book ended up being called Defenders. It’s rare you get that kind of honest answer from comic creators.

Going in, this series is going to have some huge obstacles to overcome. It’s an all female team, and doesn’t even have any real big names to it. Misty Knight and Valkyrie are cool characters, but I can’t imagine they have huge fanbases that can carry this book. I was trying to think of bigger name females that could help buoy this book, but they are all on other teams, like Storm, Electra, She-Hulk. In the past, we’ve talked about how hard it will be for Morbius to find an audience, and I think Fearless Defenders is starting even further down the food chain…

Weaver: I’m really on the fence about everything involved in this book. I liked the era of Defenders that they’re trying to recreate, but I similarly think an all-female team is going to be a tough sell especially without brand name characters like Black Widow as another for instance. Or Rogue. And I agree that while this is an ambitious idea, it’s got a lot of things working against it, more than Morbius who at least has the vampire angle and Spider-Man connection going for him. Defenders was never a title that sold crazily well in the first place, and it’s rare for a female-led title to be really successful. Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman are the only ones I can think of that were ever A-list titles, and both of those had their struggles too.

This book overall feels very uneven to me. It feels like there’s moments of absolutely forced cheesecake including an almost insulting girl/girl kiss. Bear in mind that I was praising Young Avengers for their portrayal of a gay relationship with nuance…here, you have a lesbian going in to kiss someone they have never met because said stranger is a hot woman. At the time that she forces that kiss, there are undead Vikings attacking everyone. Are we really okay with anyone being displayed as having sexuality overdrive turned up that high? I’m not. I would have been okay if the kiss was a parenthetical dream sequence, but it very clearly happens.

I also felt that inserting a lot of censored words into Misty Knight’s dialogue was forced and uneven…there were times when there’d be one in what I felt was an inappropriate place, and other times where I’m pretty sure most people would drop a few obscenities and yet nothing.

The infuriating thing is that I liked the overall plot and characterizations. It felt like the creative team knew they needed to have a hook to grab people with, so they stuck in spicy language (CENSORED spicy language), a lesbian kiss, and plenty of the kind of art that makes the Hawkeye Initiative run.

Maillaro: I did love when Valkyrie and Misty both yelled, “Why do you talk like that?” at each other. Because I had the same question. Both of their dialogues seemed way exaggerated to show how different the characters were.

I thought the kiss was over the top too. And real unnecessary (though extremely hot). I think the scene could have been much stronger without having to point out “Dr Annabelle Riggs likes girls” in the narration and a hot kiss. Something a little more subtle letting them build up to a kiss even later in the issue would have made them feel more like characters and less like caricatures.

But once again, I will say…it was an extremely hot kiss.

One thing I liked about this comic was the constant action. So many comics I read these days are all talk, talk, talk. Which is fine for certain types of comics, but when I turn to superheroes, I wanna see some ass-kicking. A friend of mine loves to refer to New 52 comics as “a conversation and a fight” which is damn accurate. This issue had great characterization, but everything was moved forward through two strong action sequences.

I also think they did an excellent job making Misty and Valkyrie accessible to anyone who doesn’t know the characters…though I can’t imagine why you would have picked up this book if you weren’t a fan of them. It’s not like the Defenders has ever been all that big a seller. But at least they didn’t follow the typical Marvel routine lately and call it Fearless Avengers (next week’s SHIELD focused series is called Secret Avengers).

Weaver: Sigh, what are you, fifteen, all excited by the comic lesbians?

The constant action was great. There weren’t more than a few panels of exposition in the entire comic. An excellent job mixing the action with the exposition, with Misty and Valkyrie both talking while they kicked ass. And I agree, superheroes should be kicking ass, not ten issues of navel gazing. I think that’s the strongest draw here, they’re telling a story, but they’re also DOING STUFF. Stuff is underrated these days.

And I agree on the accessibility…Valkyrie was the only character here I was even vaguely familiar with, and I got enough to know Misty. I’m going to go a 3/5 on writing because what he does well, he does really well, but the ancillary slop is…slop.

Maillaro: Since I half liked it and half hated it, I am going 2.5/5 for the writing. Just seemed fair.

That said, I did love the art on this book. Very clean, the “zombies” all had pretty distinctive looks which was a nice touch, and the girls were pretty hot. Hey, I like looking at pretty women, I will admit that freely. Definitely a solid 4.5/5 for the art for me.

I do think this book has a long of room for improvement. Definitely going to suggest we revisit it again in a month and see how issue 2 is. I don’t often like reviewing the same book two times in a row, but I think this one merits it.

Weaver: I felt the art forced a little too much cheesecake on us, so I’m going to downgrade it to a 4/5 on my count. It was otherwise very good.

I agree on taking another look. This book has potential, but I don’t know yet if it will live up to it or not. Which brings us to…Son of Merlin.

Son of Merlin #1

Written by: Robert Place Napton
Art by: ZID
Lettered by: Troy Peteri
Published by: Image
Cover Price: $0.99

Weaver:This is a book that gave a cut rate of $1 for the initial issue, and really, I think it should have given us a little more than it did if it wants to translate that $1 to a regular monthly three or four dollar book. There were so many silent splash pages that told us very little at the front end that when we started getting actual information it felt far too late. It also feels like this is a book that requires you to know something about Arthurian mythos, not something just anyone can grab up.

Maillaro: Yey, sounds like another book we are going to disagree on! I actually liked this book a lot, and would have had no problem dropping 4 bucks on this issue. I think it’s because I am getting so into indy stuff lately, but I am really starting to dig silent panels these days. And these silent panels were all very well detailed. I liked the subtle details in the two-headed dog, and I loved the reflection in the pond in Central Park that showed Merlin now and Merlin how you expect to see him. Just absolutely beautiful images that set the stage for the rest of the story.

And I really don’t think any deep knowledge of Arthurian legend was required. I only know the broad strokes, and that seemed exactly the audience this book was geared towards.

I have always been a fan of the cliche “magic is just science we can’t quite understand yet” and this book really followed up on that nicely. Merlin’s ancestor Stanley is a premiere scientist which makes him particular attuned to being ready to accept Merlin’s legacy. It’s not exactly original, but I think it worked really well here.

Weaver: Yeah, wow, this is going to be a battle. I didn’t like the art style at all, the colors made everything look waxy and while that’s a decent look for a magic/horror type title, it didn’t quite work for me here. Overall, this felt very derivative and a story I’ve seen done in other places a billion times better. We get a cold opening after which we have to get up to speed fast, and Merlin really seemed to fall for the oldest trick in the book really easily. I do like the science angle, but it felt like there was a ton of telegraphing of future plots in the science portion of it.

It’s not necessarily that this is bad, to me, but that it uses a serviceable cliche without adding anything to it that makes me take notice.

Maillaro: Decent look for a MAGIC book pretty much says it all. I am a sucker for books that look painted. I think it’s a much nicer look than the stark blocky simple coloring most comics get. It makes the art just look so much deeper to me.

I do agree that Merlin did seem to fall for the oldest trick in the book, but it’s kind of clear that he knew going in that he could have avoided it…if he was willing to sacrifice the life of his apprentice. He prepared his legacy to move on, and did what needed to be done. Kind of Obi-Wan Kanobi.

I do agree that there was some real cliche moments, but I think those kinds of “shorthands” are necessary in order to get to the heart of a story. This isn’t a movie or a novel, when you only have 22 pages to get the broad strokes of your story laid down, sometimes you need to resort to common language. I actually like when stories are predictable and familiar, but that’s something I’ve talked with you many times.

Weaver: I like predictable and familiar with a bit of spice. This doesn’t give me anything beyond the cookie cutter plot that it’s centered on. And really, if he was preparing his legacy to carry on the tradition, you’d think he’d have made SOME kind of plan for it before “Here’s the magic book, and a bunch of people coming to kill you, enjoy!”

One thing I really liked is how even falling for the oldest trick, Merlin is powerful enough to hold his own for some time. This book would have been even less satisfying if they just let him die like a punk. He goes strong down to the wire, and his conversation with Morgan La Fay about fear was brilliant.

Maillaro: Well at least you have some class and didn’t hate everything about this book.

Actually one gripe I did have about this one is that some of the dialouge was a little too on the point. “You’re the trip wire. They put an enchanted rune on your neck. Once we turned the corner, it activated the trap. Someone spent a great deal of time measuring my weaknesses and built this to ensnare me.” Kind of funny. You complained about too little dialouge…I am complaining about too much!

I also thought the end was a little abrupt and didn’t quite make sense. The apprentice (did she ever get a name? I feel like if they did I missed it) seems satisfied that the goons showing up would prove to Simon that he really was Merlin’s son…but nothing about that scene was all that magical. She could have just pissed up some Eye-Talians who sent some suited muscle over.

Weaver: How could you not have caught her name? That was a groan index of 7 on a 1-10 scale for me. She’s Gwen. And yeah, that was not at all a magical thing…it felt very Men in Black if anything to me. “Now do you believe me? I’M AN ALIEN.”

Good god. I’m actually giving this a 2/5 for the writing. It could have been worse.

Maillaro: Oh. Duh. Yeah, told you that knowledge of Arthur was not required to read this book. I didn’t even catch that and it didn’t affect my enjoyment at all. To be fair, I have a terrible memory for names.

Solid 4/5 from me for the writing. And 4.5 for the art. I definitely think this was a top notch book and will definitely be continuing to buy it.

Weaver: 4.5 for the art? Seriously? Are you kidding me?

The art had its moments, but I didn’t feel it was telling the story as well as it could have, especially on silent pages. I will say that the seal trap that Merlin fell into was gorgeous and consistent among the many panels it was featured on, so I’ll give it a 3. But that’s a generous 3 from me.

I didn’t care for this book very much. It’s something that maybe I’d give another chance to if I regularly bought 50 or so comics a month, but as is, it’s not done enough to get me to buy it.

Maillaro: I love that painted style. I think the problem is you grew up when comics coloring looked like ass, but since it was all that was out there, everyone just accepts that as “the way comics should look.” I personally think it’s cheap-looking, and love the colors and depth this book had.

Weaver: Not totally true. When I look at my old 60’s and 70’s comics, the “lots of dots” method of coloring (which was the technology of the time) gets me nostalgic, but I would never in a million years advocate going back to that. Actually, one of my favorite recent artists in comics (Teddy Kristiansen) has done stuff in all forms of media within his books, including a few books done in charcoal which was really atmospheric for a horror comic. I just don’t like paints.

Maillaro: Going back to Fearless Defenders for a second, here’s a random question….why would a hero (Misty Knight) be using a device called “Satan’s Claw?” That seems odd to me!

Weaver: Why would a hero use the Satan’s Claw? Here’s my thought. What era of Defenders is this hearkening back to? The era with folks like the Son of Satan on the team. I think it’s a bit of a shout-out. Speaking of which, is Patsy Walker doing anything? She’s a character that always fascinated me, and she’d be great in this title. Cheese and crackers!

Maillaro: I think she was in Civil War in some capacity, but I haven’t seen her at all since I started reading Marvel again a few months ago.

Hmm…I can’t find anything on Misty with Satan’s Claw…the only thing that comes up is Baron Strucker:

Which makes it even stranger that she would call her hand that.

Weaver: You didn’t know Satan’s Claw was Strucker’s weapon? This was listed as Stark Industries’ Satan’s Claw 2.0, which just makes it a mess of references.

I’m going to make a pull for romance character turned superhero Patsy Walker. This book could really use her.

Maillaro: As soon as I saw the Wiki, I realized why the name sounded familiar, but I actually haven’t read a lot of comics with Strucker in them. When I think Barons, it’s always The Red or Zemo.

Totally agree! Readers, send an email to and your local Congressmen suggesting…no…..DEMANDING…that Hellcat be added to this book!

Weaver: Because, regardless of political leaning, I think we can all agree that nothing Congress has successfully done lately is significantly more important than Hellcat.

I haven’t read a lot with Strucker either, but I know the basics. Actually, I actively avoid HYDRA in general. Anyway. I think that’s all I have to say this week.

Maillaro: Yep, my word foundation hath run dry as well, you Merlin hater.

Next week, we’ll finally get around to doing our first Flashback review, so bring your bell bottoms and hippie beads, as we review two books called Uncanny X-Men #1 (and yes, I know technically the original was not called Uncanny X-Men).

Weaver: I’m going to go out on a limb and say one is significantly better than the other. Guess it’s time to go dive in my old boxes of comics to pull out my copy of Lee and Kirby’s X-Men #1.

Copy being the operative term here, I think I have four different reprints of it.

Maillaro: It’s available digitally for two bucks, so instead of digging out a reprint (think only ones I still have are black and white anyway), I just plan on picking it up off Comixology.

Weaver: Fair enough. We can’t all have awesome color reprints like I do. Until then!

OH! One last thing before we go. Last week, we talked about Bryan Q. Miller and Marcio Takara’s Kickstarter project for an All Ages series called Earthward. Happy to report that project has been funded!! CONGRATS TO THEM, and thanks to everyone who donated to this great cause!

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