“Or – “Marvel’s Most Maligned (Non) Team Title…’

It always puzzles me why some folks seem to have a problem with The Defenders as a concept.  “They’re not team players,” I have been told, and indeed, that was part of the POINT of the original four Defenders aligning.  Many great and potentially great characters were Defenders, and the book ran for over a decade during times when folks like Green Arrow and the X-Men weren’t considered viable solo characters.  Honestly, I blame it all on ‘Secret Defenders,’ which is to the original Defenders title what Zero Hour was the the Justice Society of America.  (What rhymes with “Huge Slap In The Face?”)  Now, the Defenders are back together to handle a debt owed to an old friend…

Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inker: Rachel Dodson
Colorist: Sonia Oback
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, in The Defenders:  The menace of the extradimensional sorcerer named Yandroth brought together the most cantankerous members of the extended family that was the Marvel Universe of the 1970’s:  Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts; Namor, The Sub-Mariner, Prince of Atlantis; The Silver Surfer, Sentinel of The Spaceways; and the ever-Incredible Hulk.  That mission led to many more, and eventually The Defenders grew into something more complex and full of former X-Men.  The death of the team hit Strange hard, and it was several years before he reformed the team again.  Several interim Defenders teams have popped up in the years since (most recently in ‘Fear Itself’) but the call is once again about to go out…  A call that can only be answered by the Mighty Defenders!


I’ve been quite vocal in my dislike for the end of Fear Itself (the first three issues weren’t half-bad, and a few of the crossovers were pretty awesome indeed) and questioned what it was that Matt Fraction was trying to do.  One of the things, apparently, was to set up this series, as we open with a series of tragedies caused by and/or in the name of Nul, Breaker of Worlds (whom you may remember possessed the Hulk during F.I.)  Doctor Strange, for his part, has been having a weird morning when The Hulk arrives asking for his help.  They quickly track down Namor (busy dealing with poachers in the Aegean Sea) and the Silver Surfer (hanging out in the Cantabrian Mountains) and tell ’em that they’re gettin’ the band back together.  Unfortunately, Hulk informs them, he can’t be a part of it all, and suggests that they fill his rainbow-hued muscle spot with his ex-wife, Betty Ross aka Red She-Hulk.  Her introduction into the book is pretty awesome, actually, as we find her running with the bulls in Pamplona, and desperately trying to find a way to get drunk.  While Doctor Strange tries to deal with the strange subconscious bits of synchronicity surrounding this latest Defenders reunion (Namor: “Stop trying to sleep with the pretty girl by sounding like a spooky old conjurer.”), the team seeks out one last missing piece:  Transportation.  Enter Iron Fist and his amazing technicolor trillion-dollar jet plane!


About half-way through the issue, I realized that the lower gutter messages that Marvel used to use back in the early-70’s were appearing in this issue.  Some seem to be advertising blurbs, but others are cryptic bits and pieces that I think may be hints at future events, as well as some eerie background noise for a good story.  Things go quickly pear-shaped for the Defenders, and their response to being attacked reminds me that, no matter how odd the characters are, these are consummate (and powerful) super-heroes.  The issue features a lot of grown-up moments for the Marvel heroes (Iron Fist and Doctor Strange have regretful liaisons, She-Hulk snidely doesn’t believe that her ex-husband said good things about her, Namor nearly murders a group of surface-worlders) and the ending brings back one of the Defenders old-school villains (I’d hesitate to say classic, but he was one of the forces behind the Avengers/Defenders war, back in the day.)  The art throughout the issue is superb, with the Dodsons providing their usual silky textures and gorgeous facial expressions, and I’m especially in love with whatever the colorist is doing to the metallic tones, as both Silver Surfer and Iron Fist’s golden costume bits are just flat gorgeous…  We end with a Defender badly wounded, the team surrounded, and a sense of impending doom that really works for me.


Matt Fraction is a writer who has quickly established himself as a must-read for me, as even the least impressive parts of his resume have a curious re-readability to them.  The dialogue in this issue is lovely, and they even manage to differentiate between two different kinds of deadpan snarkers, with Namor’s holier-than-thou noblesse oblige competing with She-Hulks could-give-a-$#!+ dark banter.  I’m intrigued by the use of Iron Fist and She-Hulk with the 3/4 of the original core team, but I’m troubled by the expectation that I’m going to have mental fits trying to figure out where this all ties into X-Men, Hulk, New Avengers, and the Silver Surfer’s new life in Broxton, Oklahoma.  Of course, having dropped most of those titles from my pull list, I might just choose denial as the better part of valor and enjoy the fun while it lasts.  The Defenders #1 is a gem of an issue, bringing back the grandiose 70’s loopiness of the team and tying it to a new sensibility with great success, earning a rare but well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars overall.  Now, if somebody would just clear up what happened to Tagak, the Leopard Lord, I’ll be set for life…

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  With more than half this team belonging to OTHER teams, do the creators need to make a big deal of what goes in what order, or would you rather just read what you read and be done with it?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. December 9, 2011 at 2:40 am — Reply

    Creepy start, great characterisations, and globe hopping plot. I liked it. There haven’t been many Marvel titles that have captured my attention, but this is one of them.

  2. Noobian74
    December 9, 2011 at 9:26 am — Reply

    Pure suggestion, Mr. Peterson. Just read it. Let the editors figure it out.

    • December 9, 2011 at 11:01 am — Reply

      Mr. Peterson was my grandfather, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to fix a tractor. But I see your point…

  3. TaZ
    December 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm — Reply

    I liked it. The old Defenders were a really strange, weird “non-team” and even with the addition of Iron Fist and Red She Hulk filling in for her ex-husband’s former alter-ego that hasn’t changed. To show Stephen Strange as an actual human being that (shudder) has a fling with a grad student has more of a literary impact here than the first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws, which I think was more for shock value.

    Namor as the comic? Whoda thunk it? But he had some of the best lines in the book next to Betty Ross’s “can I bring the big-ass sword?”.

    I think that the interplay between Hulk and Strange should have been a bit more indepth but I understand space/time constraints, considering their past with the Illuminati and World War Hulk. But the fact that the Hulk persona sans Banner is actually the one that his friends (like the Silver Surfer) like and admire continues to be the reason I track the Hulk series. I really like old General T-Bolt Ross being an Avenger rather than Hulk and the old guy with the red skin doesn’t seem to mind following Captain America. So we have Red Hulk in Avengers and Red She Hulk in Defenders. I like it.

    • December 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm — Reply

      But the fact that the Hulk persona sans Banner is actually the one that his friends (like the Silver Surfer) like and admire continues to be the reason I track the Hulk series.

      I do, too. Especially the line about “First I get magic-man, and then I get water-man”, reminding us that this truly IS the Hulk who was a Defender those many years ago… I hope we get a reference to Hulk’s love of beans. :)

  4. LemmyCaution
    December 10, 2011 at 3:01 am — Reply

    Not sure what kind of “Aquarian” trip that Silver Surfer is on, and I don’t think anyone could make me like Red She-Hulk (or Red Hulk for that matter. I am open to liking them. It’s just going to take a Herculean effort… anyways…) but I liked the getting the gang together vibe.

    I wasn’t too crazy about Strange’s one-nighter at first, but it wasn’t a bad starting point for him and perhaps it’ll set something up with his “date” for later on… something eeee-vil. I’d prefer if it was an impetus for him to get back together with Clea or, even better, Night Nurse. Something long-term. I am glad that Wong didn’t get enough panel-time to show his new short-tempered badass persona, which does not sit well with me.

    Some of Danny’s dialog seemed a little off when he was talking to that stewardess, as I found myself wondering why he was so unknowledgeable about certain things. And I thought he seemed a little disrespectful with the making fun of the martial arts technique naming, but only because I wouldn’t expect something so glib after all he’d gone through in his last series and his White Gandolf thingie in the Avengers books. S’okay tho.

    I gotta say that I didn’t like some of Namor’s more childish remarks. They didn’t seem in character for me. Perceptual mileage varies with a character that old and with that much history. Then again, I still don’t think he’s a mutant.

    OK, what I did really like is that this is The Defenders. And I love that original series. This isn’t some Secret Defenders mishmosh (that original series came off like a series of anthology stories). And it isn’t that Nighthawk revamp from recent times that I found ponderous (Blazing Skull?). This feels like the real deal with a lot of heavy hitters and, with this writer, a chance for character development. I think with Bendis leaving Avengers, it’s possible at least of few of these team members could have their main story lines evolving in this book, especially if it keeps selling well.

    I have to hold off on my own star rating, because this really is just the first-part of a story. I long for the days when they would start off with a double-size first issue. Going after Nul isn’t enough of a reason to expect these guys to join in a permanent team-up, and I would like to see the full origin story to get a handle on this series. And since I don’t understand the new status quo for Green Hulk and Bruce, I am not even sure who that was we are seeing in this book when the “Hulk” is talking. (why is Betty so surprised at what “Bruce” said when it wasn’t the real Bruce who said it, just the Hulk? Aren’t they separate people now? Help…) So I don’t feel that a quest from this “hulk”, whoever he is, gets me invested emotionally in this story or in the reason why this team exists. Yet.

    I like what is going on so far, more than anything I mentioned above that might have seemed negative. Anything I didn’t mention, like the art, was at least “good.” Again, I liked it mostly because it feels like Marvel respects this title. It feels authentic and not like some throw-away, which is how I feel about all of the Defenders revamps after the 1980s.

    But to make me really happy, I just need three little things:
    1) An update on Cloud (Gargoyle was around in the books recently or I’d ask for him).
    2) Valkyrie as a team member (I expect a romance with Namor and a fight with Emma).
    3) Replace She-Hulk with Rintrah!!

    • darklighter1
      December 12, 2011 at 12:43 am — Reply

      Bendis is leaving Avengers!??!?!!? When does the parade begin? No seriously is he?

  5. Steve
    December 12, 2011 at 11:58 am — Reply

    Just a question: If you need a rich hero who can afford planes, why not Kyle Richmond?

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