Matt Fraction took the reins of the Defenders promising that he would explore the foundations of the Marvel Universe and answer the questions of how it all came together. With only one more issue to go, has he lived up to his promise? More importantly, is it a good read? Find out after the jump.
Previously in The Defenders: “The Defenders” is traditionally a name given to a team of (arguably) B-list heroes who are thrown together by chance and usually led by Dr. Strange. This incarnation of the team has uncovered the mystery of the “Concordance Engines”, Kirby-esque devices that can warp reality. The trail has led Dr. Strange, the Silver Surfer, Red She-Hulk, Black Cat, Iron Fist, and an alternate reality version of Nick Fury (because there certainly aren’t enough Nick Furys in the Marvel U) around the world, ultimately finding that their meddling with things they did not understand has led to a Death Celestial (not as pleasant a house guest as the name sounds) has arrived on the 616 Earth and has killed everyone except the Defenders themselves and, for some reason, Ant-Man. Note: That’s the Scott Lang Ant Man, not the one who is cross-dressing as his dead wife. In case you were wondering.
WHERE THERE IS CLARITY THERE IS NO CHOICE
This issue is all talking. OK, except for the one full-page panel at the beginning where John Aman flies a plane into the Death Celestial, but the rest is all talk. And yet I didn’t notice that until rereading for this review. The next issue is the last issue of the series so it’s actually a good thing that the action slows down because the tension keeps ratcheting up to be paid off with all the action we’ll get in issue #12. We see the Surfer meet the Omega Council who are behind the Engines and, like Peter Tork at the end of the movie Head, he comes back with a sense of calm and philosophy that could save them all if anyone will listen. John Aman’s origin is told, tinged with the bile and anger that has consumed him after a lifetime of protecting the Engines has driven him mad. Through it all the Defenders try to figure out what to do against a freakin’ Celestial.
Reading the series, I’ve really appreciated the characterization in this book. Fraction has taken these second-string heroes and made them more interesting than I have seen most of them in other, sometimes their own, books. The mystic, aloof Dr. Strange is more human than I remember seeing. Too often he has been used just as a plot device to deal with magical MacGuffins, but here he’s a complex and (very) flawed person. In contrast, the Silver Surfer is less human than he is often portrayed. It’s been all too easy to think of the Surfer as a hippy who just happens to have the power cosmic. This Surfer is truly alien, which makes him more interesting to read and making him an outsider plays up his long-running interest in understanding humans.
If there’s a weakness in the book, it’s that it may reach too far to address some big questions about the Marvel Universe. We find out what the Concordance Engines do (I think, there’s still one more issue) and it seems to explain why there are so many heroes and crazy coincidences concentrated on Marvel Earth, but I’m not sure who was asking that question. It’s like a version of Matthew’s “Franklin Richards is warping all of the MarvelU” hypothesis, but not as tightly constructed and logical. As a card-carrying comic nerd, I have to point this out but I don’t want overemphasize its impact—it’s a minor quibble that’s easy to hand-wave away if you’re willing to come along for the ride.
THE REAL VS THE VIVIDLY IMAGINED EXPERIENCE
The art is beautiful. The faces are differentiated, on-model and expressive. The body language supports the story and the “acting” of the characters rather than just showing off cool poses. The color scheme changes from scene to scene, giving an effect like a movie that has been shot through differently tinted filters. This serves to separate the different locations and establish different dramatic tones through the use of the color tones. It also provides an otherworldly feel to the art that distinguished this story from the mainstream Marvel continuity. Both story-wise and visually, I get the sense that if the other books are “reality”, then this is the surreal layer just below the surface. Which is a tough distinction to make when “reality” includes the Scarlet Witch fighting the Phoenix or the Punisher in space, but I think Fraction and Pierfederici pull it off.
The beginning and end of the issue use full-page spreads to grab your attention and focus you in on the story. I question the first page a little because flying a plane into a Celestial in the middle of New York is a little too reminiscent of 9-11 for comfort. The last splash page, however, is a call-back to the first issue that proves that Fraction had things planned all along (or is really good at faking it). When I originally saw that image in the first issue, it made me want to know what was going to happen next. Seeing it again intensifies that feeling making me all the more eager for the next issue.
BOTTOM LINE: Elect to Defend
This issue has left me with a bunch of questions. If the 616 Earth and its heroes are an arsenal of weapons against the Death Celestial, why are they so woefully inadequate to the task? If the answer is going to be to use the Concordance Engine, why would the Omega Council bother in the first place since they had the Engines to begin with? Even if the next issue doesn’t deliver the answers that I want, the story along the way has been well worth the read. I give The Defenders #11 a solid four stars—As long as the ultimate resolution isn’t Iron Fist continuity-punching the Concordance Engine, I’ll be happy. (I hope I didn’t jinx it.)
DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!