The news that every comic book reader fears hit the “Fearless Defenders” readership last weekend, just after a New York Comic-Con filled with “FD” cosplay photoshoots and other Valkyrior-themed good times. The book, featuring an all-female cast headed up by Valkyrie and Misty Knight, is canceled with issue #12.
I’m really sorry for your loss, “Fearless Defenders” fans.
The news came as a big let down to me, as someone who eagerly awaited the title’s launch and has been reading the book since issue #1. It wasn’t a big surprise though, considering that the title was consistently one of Marvel’s lowest selling. Its other female-lead peers, books like “Journey Into Mystery” and “Red She-Hulk,” have met similar fates within recent months for having sales in the same range as “Fearless Defenders.” So it’s not a surprise, but it’s still disappointing.
I know I’m going to be fine. I’ve had low-selling favorite books of mine canceled a number of times over the past twenty years, and I feel like I’ve developed some coping techniques that will get me through this. The thing about “Fearless Defenders,” though, is that while this book wasn’t incredibly popular with the “Avengers”/”Batman”/”Male Hero Created Before 1970” readership, it does have a very vocal and very passionate fanbase on the Internet; one that — judging by Tumblr — was predominantly female and predominantly new to the Marvel Universe. For many readers, this might be the first time their favorite book has been canceled, and that can be rough.
Before I get to the real tips, I want to let any “Fearless Defenders” fan know, specifically if this series was your first favorite Marvel series, that you did everything right. You bought the book and, more importantly, you talked about the book. I had never seen Misty Knight cosplay until this book debuted, and the book’s devoted fanbase made it so that I was actually a bit star struck when I saw Jay Justice as Misty Knight at NYCC (I regret not getting a photo). You did everything you could, short of bankrupting yourselves by buying every issue to give to every human you even remotely like.
In today’s market, twelve issues is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. How many of DC’s New 52 titles have failed to make it past issue #12? It’s also a great credit to creators Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney that they packed in as much story as they did in those first ten issues, and I’m sure the final two will be jam-packed, too. This is one fantastic hardcover in the making (please, Marvel, please), and “FD’s” run is a respectable accomplishment for a book with a fresh idea, up-and-coming creators and lesser-known characters. There should be a lot of praise for what this book has accomplished.
With the final issue now just a few months away, here are five bits of advice I have for “Fearless Defenders” fans experiencing their first comic book heartbreak.
Support the creators: Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Will Sliney were the real Valkyrie and Misty Knight, everybody. If you liked this book, it’s because these two creators worked hard to make one of the most fun and most consistently rewarding superhero comics on the stands. You adored this book because these two gave it their all, and odds are you’ll enjoy the things they do after “FD” is sent off to… Valhalla? Hel? The great beyond? I’m really rusty on my Norse mythology.
Joe Kelly’s work on “Deadpool” in the late ’90s was not fully appreciated at the time. Yeah, the character’s a Marvel mainstay now, but his first ongoing series was plagued with cancellation worries. The series meant a lot to me, and I followed Joe Kelly to places I never went before, including the DC Universe with his “Justice League” and to his creator-owned projects, like “I Kill Giants.” Bunn and Sliney are going places. Go along with them.
Support the characters: The only reason Deadpool is who he is today is because his fanbase never stopped loving the character. They followed him everywhere he went and kept the fight for a Deadpool ongoing series alive. “Fearless Defenders” was packed with great, underused characters like Dani Moonstar and Elsa Bloodstone who deserve to not be left in limbo. If they appear in books you don’t read, buy those issues and blog about them with the passion you used for “Fearless Defenders.”
If readers find out about Clea in a random issue of “New Avengers” and then come across a ton of fan support referencing some old book called “Fearless Defenders,” the digital marketplace makes it easy for that new reader to give Marvel money for more Clea action. If digital copies of “FD” continue to sell because you all keep supporting the characters, then, well, that can only lead to good things.
Check out the back issues: If you haven’t yet, maybe it’s time you dipped into the absolutely fantastic “prequel” stories out there for this series’ main characters. Valkyrie recently kicked ass in Rick Remender’s “Secret Avengers” run, and if you haven’t read Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s “NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” yet, get ready for insane levels of Elsa Bloodstone awesomeness. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning also gave both Misty Knight and Dani Moonstar some of the best material they’ve had in years in the most recent “Heroes For Hire” and “New Mutants” series. Your love for these characters doesn’t have to die with “Fearless Defenders.”
Support books like “Fearless Defenders”: This is the big one. It’s no secret that comics have historically been a boys club, even though women have been creating and reading them for just as long as they’ve been around. But, due to Society and Culture and Ugh, some old dinos still think comics are a boys club. Over the past two years, Marvel has done a lot of course correcting in the gender equality department, and they went from having zero female-led books to a bunch. But — all of those books are now canceled. But! Marvel has a bunch more on the way (the relaunched “Captain Marvel,” “She-Hulk,” “Elektra,” “Black Widow”)!
To me, Marvel seems dedicated to making gender equality on the printed page a real thing. The arrival of a bunch of female superhero books this year was not a marketing stunt. They’ve all been canceled, but Marvel’s not giving up. They have even more on the way. Support them. Buy them. Try them. Even if you don’t like the character, try them. The change is here, it’s happening, and we’re all in this together.
I’m going to admit my privilege here: As a white male, I really don’t understand on a deep level what female “Fearless Defenders” fans are going through right now. The reason the book connected so deeply is because women readers had a team of characters — like Annabelle Riggs — that they could see themselves in. As a white dude, even when white-dude-led books like “Slingers” and “Deadpool” were given the axe, I still had white-dude-led books like “Amazing Spider-Man” and Peter David’s “Captain Marvel” to fall back on. There are still not enough female-driven books at Marvel, but they’re trying hard to make them. Prove to them, with your money, that this is the future.
Know that it will never be the same again: I’m just now coming to terms with this one, especially regarding my constantly rebooted darling “X-Force.” “X-Force” wasn’t canceled so much as replaced by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s drastically different approach to the series. I was heartbroken and, honestly, a little offended by the change. Ever since then, I’ve been waiting for a new “X-Force” comic to come along and fill the void created when the first one was dismantled. I’m just now coming to terms with the fact that that will never happen.
So yes, “Fearless Defenders” may come back for more, but don’t expect it to come back in the exact same fashion. Other writers will write these characters and other artists will design new looks for them. They’ll become team members on other teams, they’ll form friendships deeper than the ones they formed in “FD.” They’re going to change, as comic book characters do. If Bunn and Sliney ever get another crack at the team, odds are it’ll be pretty different because it will have to be pretty different. And that’s okay. If you loved these 12 issues, nothing that happens to the characters afterwards has to affect that love. And if the series comes back for more, try your hardest to judge it on its own merits and not up against the original series.
Because I gotta tell you, “Fearless Defenders” fans, you’re going to love this 12-issue series forever. The series ended in its prime, it’s most likely going to go out on a high note, and that’s only going to make you love it more as time goes on. You’ve been struck down, but you’re fandom can now grow stronger than anyone could have possibly imagined.
Stay strong and don’t go anywhere, because the comic book industry needs readers like the “Fearless Defenders” fans in order to survive.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).