The Last Defenders #1 (of 6)

by

Or – “This Just In! Former President Kyle Richmond Is Alive And Well
And Under Tony Stark’s Thumb!”

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For the longest time in Marvel Comics, there were two tiers of heroes: those created by Stan & Jack in the ’60s and the rest of them. If you read late 70′s/early 80′s Marvel, you know what I’m talking about… The way the other Avengers kowtowed to Captain America, to Iron Man, even to the Scarlet Witch. Or the way that the not terrifically interesting Cyclops just had to be the leader of a group of X-Men who were much more interesting than he. This dichotomy was also on display in the Defenders, where 70′s mainstays like Nighthawk, Hellcat, Valkyrie and others had to play Greek chorus while Doctor Strange brooded, Namor simmered, and the Hulk ate beans. Now that Marvel’s editorial staff are all men in their 30′s who grew up with the second wave of Marvel characters, they’re getting respect in a way they never have before. But, will Nighthawk fare as well as Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman and Luke Cage?

Def1.jpgPreviously, on The Last Defenders: Doctor Strange. The Hulk. The Silver Surfer. The Sub-Mariner. Four individuals who didn’t play well with others. Each of them independently almost a force of nature. What kind of menace would force them to band together? The world-shattering menace of an alien wizard called Yandroth, a real bastard who threatened to destroy/enslave/redecorate the Earth with his mighty Omegatron device. When their “non-team” became a habit, the fearsome foursome were joined by a cadre of Marvel’s finest second bananas, including Marvel’s most unconventional heroes: The Son of Satan. The Gargoyle. Devil-Slayer. The Red Guardian. Even Luke Cage had a run as a Defender. And no matter how the team tried, they couldn’t shake Yandroth, who kept hanging around like a bad smell. Now, in the wake of the Civil War, Tony Stark has been stealing every single super-team name in Marvel history (which has to be some sort of copyright infringement) and is ready to throw Nighthawk a bone.

We start the festivities with a S.H.I.E.L.D. team running an operation in the wilderness of New Jersey, though apparently it’s the SHIELD Junior Woodchuck Batallion, as they’re quickly and easily dispatched by a very minor Marvel Universe footnote called the Sons of The Serpent. The Serpents (who are basically the KKK in snake-skin) kill all but the squad leader, and take him back for some nefarious purposes… Meanwhile, in the state of Washington, Inititive trainer Nighthawk runs an op of his own, taking down The Brothers Grimm (a team so lame that even *I* have no love for them.) One of the Bros taunts Nighthawk about being a “two-bit cape” and Kyle responds with a fierce uppercut, and a terse “You’re far from A-List. And the name’s NIGHTHAWK.” It’s a very fitting moment (seeing as how Kyle is, essentially, an alternate universe version of Batman, created by The Grandmaster to fight the Defenders back in the day) and the flashbacks continue as we see ‘Hawk’s partner: The Gargoyle! Isaac (for that is Gargy’s real name) has taken down the other Brother Grimm, and then drops the bomb that he’s ready to retire.

With his mission accomplished, Kyle returns to the helicarrier for a meeting with Tony Stark, who is finally ready to answer Nighthawk’s repeated requests for an Initiative-sponsored Defenders team. Kyle is already up to speed with a roster (Devil-Slayer, Hellcat, and Gargoyle) but Tony points out (rightfully) that this particular train has sailed. “There’s a formula for any successful super-team,” says the man who once left a team of Avengers consisting of a manic-depressive super-speedster, a narcissistic former super-villain who shoots pointy sticks at things, and girl fresh out of the European mountains who causes disasters by blinking under the leadership of a man who spent two decades stuck in a block of ice. “And when it comes to choosing team rosters, I’m an expert.” Anthony Edward Stark: Legend In His Own Mind. As he did with Ms. Marvel, he overrides the wishes of his team leader and sticks them with a team they don’t want and don’t releate to…

The Blazing Skull and Colossus! Um…. ‘kay. Colossus (who has lost his trademark knee boots, disappointingly) is very short with Kyle, explaining that he’s been told this will be a good use of his abilities. As for Blazing Skull (“That’s SKULL, not SKRULL… Just so we’re clear.” Heh…) he’s just looking for butts to kick. Tony explains that there’s a fourth member of the team, but that he’s not really the best person to talk to her. Soon after, Nighthawk seeks out his next New Jersey Defender in the sewers under Manhattan, and realizes that Tony Stark’s formula is crap. She-Hulk doesn’t want any part of the whole endeavor, until Kyle points out that Stark probably sent Nighthawk for her so that she’d say no, and torpedo the whol endeavor. “He thinks he’s got you pegged. C’mon, let’s both prove him wrong…” She-Hulk sees through the ploy, but still agrees to hear him out…

FLASHBACK! Many years ago, in the mountains of Tibet, The Ancient One meets with a mysterious robed acolyte. “You are indeed gifted,” he says, the mystical equivalent of ‘It’s not you, it’s ME.’ “To be the next Sorcerer Supreme… It is within you. But it is also BENEATH you.” He explains to the young man that his path will take him elsewhere, but that path will lead to the answers he seeks. He then bids the Son of Satan on his way. BuhamiahWHAT NOW?? We immediately cut back to the present, where Nighty briefs his new, powerful, but not at all versatile Defenders on their mission: bust into Sons of the Serpent territory and save the lost SHIELD agents. The team leader’s name catches his attention (Joaquin Pennysworth, a last name which old school Defenders fans might find familiar) and all three recruits start to question their decision to join based on his momentary confusion…

FLASHBACK AGAIN! Sort of… It may actually be a flash-present, but anyway, Warlord Krang of Atlantis is about to go under a strange medical procedure. His doctor/robot drone remarks that it will hurt, but Krang snaps back “Enough! You have your orders! Do whatever it takes to make me more like… HIM.” The warlord’s screams echo through the mountains as the operation begins. Of course, if you know Krang, you know that the him has to be Namor himself. Meanwhile, in Atlantic City, it’s time for a little action! “Defenders defenestrate!” cries Blazing Skull (heh) as they bust in on the Sons of the Serpent stronghold. Tony’s hand-picked team steps all over one another, even with She-Hulk and Nighthawk finding a bond in combat. As a giant serpent/slash dinosaur creature crashes through the floor, ‘Blaze remarks “I’m gonna get blamed for this, aren’t I?” Hee. I like him already… Meanwhile, far away from Earth, the sorcerer Yandroth (him again?) watches patiently, thinking about his next move after butchering nearly his whole planet. As he ruminates, the history of the Defenders plays over and over on mystic screens before him. “A simple formula of specific entitities,” he muses. “A master of the occult. An expression of pure, brute force. A water elemental. And, most importantly, a strong presence to lead them. The cosmic puzzle that is Earth’s Defenders are part of a greater destiny… one that even THEY do not yet realize.”

With that puzzling/intriguing remark, Last Defenders #1 comes to a close. I have to say, as an old Defenders fan, I’m wondering where this is going. There’s a lot of nods to history (especially Nighthawk’s remarks about working with a gamma-powered entity again) and it’s obvious that somebody digs the non-team, but there’s a kind of finality here as well. Even the title seems to indicate that we’re about to see the final mission of the team called the Defenders. ‘Course, I’ve been there before… a number of times, actually, so I’m pretty much good either way. This will either revitalize the property, or we’ll see another Defenders revival in five or so years. The art this issue is… odd. It’s not bad, by any means, but Jim Muniz seems to have a penchant for pointy heads and pinched features that I’m not thrilled with, and he draws Nighthawk’s chest symbol in a weirdly pointy way. It’s not terribly distracting, but there are moments where inconsistency pulls me away from the story. I enjoy Joe Casey’s plotting here, especially with the arrogance of Tony Stark, but also in allowing Nighthawk to be strong and capable, something we haven’t seen from him in several years. It’s a nice issue, worthy of 3 out of 5 stars, and unlike a few of the “Let’s Throw a Bunch of Characters Together As A Team” limited series recently (*coughTheLonerscough*) Last Defenders seems to be going somewhere interesting.

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