You know that feeling you get reading the final few issues of a book that’s been cancelled? That “these-creators-are-obviously-running-out-the-clock-but-I-guess-I-want-to-see-how-it-all-wraps-up” feeling? Welcome to all of Marvel Comics circa summer 2017 — even the brand-new series.
“Now hold on just a minute,” I hear you say, “this might be a first issue, but there’s nothing ‘brand-new’ about The Defenders. They’ve been kicking around in one form or another since the early ’70s. Whaddaya got to say to that, smart guy?”
Technically speaking that’s true, I suppose — we even get the old-school logo on this one — but who are we kidding? This latest iteration of the franchise bears precisely zero resemblance to Steve Gerber’s “un-team,” and is in fact yet another example of Marvel’s Hollywood arm yanking its print division around, since we already know that the Defenders name was plunked from semi-obscurity to serve as the catch-all title for the “team-up show” that would mark the end of “phase one” of the MCU’s “street-level” Netflix sub-division. Writer Brian Michael Bendis swears on a stack of Bibles that he actually first pitched the concept of Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones joining forces for a monthly series some time ago, and while that may (or, hell, may not) be true, I bet it was called something different when he first broached the subject with his bosses. Not that I guess it really matters.
Which, to be painfully honest, is sort of how I feel about this comic. Yeah, sure, Bendis does the whole “dark and grimy” corner of Marvel’s corporate universe better than he does its cosmic, Mutant, or cross-over “high-rent districts,” but this whole endeavor has the ring of a rather forced set-up to it — “okay, Diamondback isn’t dead, so let’s pool our resources and take him on together, and let’s hop to it quick because our TV show is rolling out next month.” It all makes logical sense, sure, but it’s about as inspired as a Denny’s breakfast special.
Of, sure, the script in this one hits all the right “character beats,” fair enough, but in much the same way that Bendis’ current Jessica Jones title is a pale shadow of Alias, this reads like the product of a guy going through the motions and only occasionally “nailing it” as successfully as he used to a decade ago. This is unquestionably the kind of comic he knows how to write — but he knows how to write it by heart, without even really trying, and that’s the problem. We already had half this team working together month-in and month-out in David F. Walker and Sanford Greene’s flat-out superb (when it wasn’t getting needlessly dragged into “blockbuster event” cross-overs, that is) Power Man And Iron Fist, and that was bulldozed out of the way to make room for this? Please.
I can’t be as hard on the artwork of David Marquez, I admit, given that it’s sleek, professional, and stylish, but even with Justin Ponsor’s shadowy and atmospheric colors, I honestly have to wonder if it’s all a little too “sleek, professional, and stylish” for a book that’s supposed to be aiming for a more gritty and “street-smart” feel. It looks good, sure — but it would look better in the pages of Captain America or X-Men than it does here.
Last on the list of grievances we come to the economic one — I realize that at this point it’s just plain customary to bitch about the $4.99 cover price that Marvel slaps on almost all of their first issues, but what the hell? I guess I’ll avail myself of the opportunity to do just that, given that I shelled for it out of pocket and everything. So what does your extra buck get you this time out? Two more pages of story and art than the company’s 20-page standard, and six pages of backmatter in the form of a mock Luke Cage magazine interview ostensibly conducted by Ben Urich. It’s both entirely fine and entirely pointless, not much more to say about it than that.
Still, for all my obvious lack of enthusiasm for this comic, it’s safe to say that its publisher is even less jazzed about it than I am. As I said at the outset, Marvel’s entire print division is running out the clock at this point. They promised that Secret Empire was going to be their last company-wide “event” for at least 18 months, but when it became obvious that even that wasn’t going to get them out of their current sales doldrums, news came down the pike that it would be quickly followed up by the Generations “event,” which would lead directly into Legacy and an across-the-board hitting of the “reset” switch a la DC’s Rebirth. In other words, then, even if you liked The Defenders #1 a hell of a lot more than I did, there’s no point getting too attached to it — or to anything else currently coming out of the so-called “House Of Ideas.” There are, after all, three lead-pipe-cinch guarantees in life at this point — death, taxes, and yearly Marvel re-launches. I give this title eight, maybe ten, months tops.