Or – “How DID Devil-Slayer And Son Of Satan Co-Exist, Anyway?”
I give Tony Stark a lot of crap, especially since he turned into Doctor Doom for our own good, but it’s obvious that the man doesn’t understand one whit what makes the Defenders tick. The point of the Non-Team was always that it’s members CHOSE to associate with one another, and then events just sort of occurred AROUND them. Far from being a low-rent Avengers, the Defenders were instead friends and associates who acted heroically in those situations where big-name teams couldn’t have gone or wouldn’t have even bothered. To put it bluntly, the Defenders are the intuitive flip-side of the Avengers calculated heroism.
Which proves that Iron Man, frankly, isn’t nearly as smart as he wants us to think…
Previously, on The Last Defenders: A contingent of SHIELD agents, led by up-and-coming agent Joaquin Pennysworth, was lost in the wilds of New Jersey while trying to take down the Sons of The Serpent. In response, Iron Man finally caved to Kyle Richmond (Nighthawk)’s repeated requests to reactivate the Defenders. Being a futurist, Tony Stark decided the best overall team to send would be a super-strong guy, a super-strong girl, a super-strong skull-headed crazy person, and Nighthawk, which really posits the question: Why does Iron Man want Nighthawk to fail? In any case, She-Hulk, Colossus, Blazing Skull and Bird-nose struck against the Sons, only to find that their teamwork was non-existent, and their powers woefully unsuited to the task. In the chaos that ensues, they find that the SHIELD cadre has been almost completely wiped out, and Nighthawk is completely distracted by finding Pennysworth, the son of his former butler. Worst of all, they’ve managed to free a destructive Quetzalcoatl (think a cross between a T-Rex, Audrey II from ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ and my ex-wife) big enough to destroy the entire eastern seaboard. All in all, there have been more successful first missions…
Part 2 starts with an infuriated Tony Stark dressing down the team for their failure in Jersey (they’ve cut ahead in time, apparently) and disbanding the team. Nighthawk is shocked at Iron Man’s vehemence and tries to talk to him. “I don’t want to hear SPIN, Kyle,” spits Iron Man, “Don’t embarass yourself.” He shows the footage of the erstwhile Defenders team fighting the giant dragon-beastie, and wiping out the better part of Atlantic City. Iron Man (who is known to hate magic) reprimands the Defenders for not knowing that the Sons of the Serpent were in to sorcery (something that I don’t recall them ever having been before.) Nighthawk tries once again to explain, but is shut down by Iron Man, who has certainly made his mind up already, possibly even before the mission began.
She-Hulk finds that this much dismissive “futurist” bull$#!+ is all she can take, and gets up to leave. Colossus thanks Nighthawk for the “experience,” reminding him that Kyle himself can cut it as a hero. “You possess a noble heart… That much is obvious,” Colossus says before he walks out (clad in a pink fleece robe, I might add.) Blazing Skull doesn’t leave, but Kyle essentially tells him to go home before leaving himself. She-Hulk confronts Iron Man on the deck of the helicarrier, reminding me that the last time these two had a discussion, she hit him with an F-14, but this time she merely stares at him, considering how much force it would take to crush his ribcage. “What’s that look supposed to be?” Stark snipes, and She-Hulk steps back. “It’s me staring into the abyss,” replies the angry Gammazon, and Iron Man’s smirk is almost visible through his helmet. “I get that a lot.” Soembody, anybody, come and slap him off his perch, please? I don’t care if it’s Kang the frickin’ Conqueror, but Tony Stark as Big Kahuna of the Marvel Universe has run it’s course in a very real way. It’s done. It’s over. It’s $&@$ing snuffed it. Bereft of life, the concept rests in peace. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisibule! THIS! Is an EX story hook!
I haven’t gotten to do an “Iron Dictator” rant like that in a few months, have I? Oh, the bygone days of yore… Anyway, we then cut to a short intermission where we see Daimon Hellstrom (the Son of Satan) confronting ultimate bad-guy Yandroth, years before the formation of the Defenders. Yandy drops a few tantalizing hints as to events yet to come, but before any of it can sink in, we cut back to SHIELD central. While mourning his lost opportunities, Nighthawk finds that one of the lost agents’ SHIELD transcievers is still operating, and is surprised to find an angry She-Hulk willing to go with him. The twosome head back out into the field, engaging the SoS again, quickly and efficiently finding Agent Pennysworth. The continuing subtle bickering between Nighthawk and She-Hulk suddenly turns into a full-blown fistfight, and it’s to his credit that Kyle isn’t immediately a smear on the pavement. (He WAS created as a Batman analogue, after all, and he has some experience ducking big green fists.) As they battle, Pennysworth suddenly triggers a high-pitched whistle, snapping them both out of their rage. He mentions “immunization” as a screen lights up, showing a snake-faced man who calls himself The Supreme Serpentand and his constant companion, whom Pennysworth identifies as Cheer Chadwick. (My trivia geek sense is tingling!) Pennysworth expositions quickly that their anger was created by a device that the Supreme Serpent wants to use on America… a device called… THE MADBOMB!
Joe Casey really understand what makes a super-group tick, with much more depth than the current Marvel vogue theory of “stick together a bunch of characters that people remember fondly” that we seen in Loners, New Warriors, and about half the X-titles. There’s a real enjoyment of character here, even for Nighthawk, whose stock has fallen greatly in recent years. Casey’s She-Hulk is enjoyably angry, Colossus is serene and interesting, and his Blazing Skull is an entertaning shade of nuts. There’s almost no followup on what happened with Warlord Krang last issue, and the Son of Satan interlude is a little bit maddening, but it’s obvious that this will be the last chance the Defenders have at greatness for some time… Let’s hope they’re up to snuff. The art is passable, if somewhat chunky, with everyone but She-Hulk sporting a chin that even Brock Samson would envy. Still, overall the visuals are well-handled… While I really, REALLY hate the stylization/simplification of Nighthawk’s chest symbol, it’s not distracting, and manages to convey a great deal of emotion, even when characters don’t have a face, ala Blazing Skull. The Last Defenders #2 feels a lot like a sorbet to clear the palate for the main course that’s coming, but it’s an entertaining story, worthy of 3 out of 5 stars. Let’s hope that the last four issues hit this one out of the park, or else it’ll be as least another five years before we see another shot at the Defenders.