Of course Marvel would launch a new Defenders comic – complete with all of their Netflix characters – months before the show drops.
Here’s hoping it lasts.
I lead off with this because many of Bendis’ recent runs on characters have started great only to fizzle out – usually when the A-list artist that kicked off the book leaves. It happened rapidly on his current Invincible Iron Man run. It happened slower on his Guardians of the Galaxy saga. It even happened on his All-New X-Men series when Stuart Immonen petered out. The point being, Bendis hasn’t had that great of a track record once a book gets past its second arc.
But this is all speculation on my part. I don’t know what the long-term plans are for this book. Maybe Marquez is planning on sticking around. Regardless, this first issue sets the stage for a great team book that stands out among some of the slog DC and Marvel have been spewing the past year.
The setup is pretty straightforward: Diamondback, a street villain believed to be dead, launches attacks against Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist after they hit one of his underground outfits. The four heroes unite to bring him down and keep the streets safe as dark forces begin to gather on the periphery of their city.
The big selling point on this book is seeing Bendis return to some of the characters that he helped elevate to star status. His time on Daredevil is one of the great runs in the character’s history. He co-created Jessica Jones. Luke Cage wouldn’t have achieved the popularity he has now without Bendis working his magic during his multi-year Avengers opus. This book probably won’t reach the heights those series hit, but that’s okay. Looking at all of these characters through a new prism – the team dynamic – makes this a great read regardless.
It also helps that the narrative laid out in the first issue clicks along at a rapid pace. Most team books drag their feet as they bring all of their characters together, often having their differences keep them apart before realizing the only way to save the day is to unite. Geoff Johns’ Justice League run started in this manner, taking five issues to finally bring all the heroes together against Darkseid. Bendis, however, wastes no time here assembling his heroes. By the issue’s end it feels like the team has already pulled itself together.
Marquez’s art is also a strong selling point to this book. Having worked with Bendis before on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Invincible Iron Man, and Civil War II, the two have developed a chemistry that is apparent right from the first page. If you want someone who depicts awe-inspiring superhero action, Marquez is your man. His action scenes have power to them. His scenes of dialogue feel compelling. He even renders a strong splash image for each character highlighting key moments in their history. All in all, he was a great – but not perfect – choice for this series.
The only downside to his art (which, admittedly, is nit-picking) is that his style is a bit too “clean” for a book about street-level heroes. When I think of these characters, I think of the work of Alex Maleev and Michael Gaydos – muted, grungy, dirty. As great an artist as Marquez is, his style feels a bit too flashy for scenes set in run-down apartments and seedy bars. But at least it’s not as disappointing as Nelson Blake II on Luke Cage.
I do have two quibbles with this book, which might put some readers off. First, the action has already begun once the issue begins. The opening scene sets up a showdown between Diamondback and an unnamed drug dealer in a nightclub, but doesn’t establish who Diamondback is. Later, we see Jessica Jones lying in a hospital bed after she is attacked but don’t see how she got there.
This is all because the official “zero issue” Marvel put out for Free Comic Book Day kicked off the story. It’s an unfortunate thing Marvel does for books launching in the summer that prevents some from understanding the full context of a hyped “first” issue. Readers will have to go read the story in that issue (which itself is a backup to an All-New Guardians of the Galaxy story) to see the attacks perpetrated against the heroes and learn who the new enemy that they’re facing is.
The second negative is that Bendis keeps the continuity light – good for current readers, bad for former readers. Did you know Daredevil now has his secret identity back? Did you know Luke Cage and Jessica Jones were having marital problems? If not, then this book won’t get you up to date on those points. It’s possible they’ll be addressed as the arc progresses, but it’s more likely that Marvel expects you to go buy the books focusing on the individual escapades of these heroes to get the full scoop, which is a lot to ask when each book costs four bucks.
The Defenders isn’t a stellar book, but it’s an entertaining one, and sometimes that’s good enough. It’s enjoyable to see Bendis returning to some of the characters he did so much with earlier in his career, and with Marquez drawing the hell out of the action it certainly fires on all cylinders. I can’t say for certain how long this beautiful alchemy will run, so I’ll savor it for as long as it lasts. You should too.