You can tell from the story title for “Defenders” #1 – “Breaker of Worlds, Part 1: I Hate Myself And Want To Die” that Matt Fraction intends to have a good time with his readers, and indeed he does. The book has an enthusiasm and energy that is evident from page one, even when it’s being all grim and world ending.
“Defenders” #1 is a “build the team” issue, as Hulk sets Dr. Strange up with a task and helps him enlist a team to perform said task. However, the issue manages to do more than just introduce the team, going a fair way toward establishing the central conflict as well, which is nice in this age of storytelling decompression. Other comics might take several issues to build the team, but Fraction does it nicely in one and has room for more. By the time we reach the end of this issue, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, She-Hulk, Namor, and Silver Surfer have joined together, partially bonded, suffering physical damage, their fates unclear. Like I said, it’s a rollicking good time.
Fraction has a good handle on these disparate characters’ voices, and an even better handle on how to blend them together into an interesting team. Each personality is so large and powerful that it would be easy for this to turn into a loud mess, but Fraction has found ways for them to complement each other nicely. The general sense of humor works well to set the overall tone and keeps everything from becoming overly serious, despite the mission. I do question the need to see two characters engaging in one-night stands (they apparently regret) with exceptionally pretty girls within the span of 15 pages, especially considering that they’re about to be on a team with well-established lothario Namor. It’s true that if superheroes were real, they’d be the biggest rock stars around, so I suppose there is some annoying truth to those scenes, but they just felt unnecessary. In the end, though, we know all our players and we know our objective, which are the solid basics for any good first issue. If anything, the book trends slightly shallow because it does feel like so much fun. I’m all for unbridled enthusiasm in comics and think we need more of it, not less, but I would have liked to care just a bit more about what was going on, who our characters are, and what the stakes are, instead of enjoying quite so many jokes.
Terry and Rachel Dodsons’ art is very strong, much better than some of their recent “X-Men” work, which was beautiful because, well, it’s the Dodsons, though it never quite felt like it was the absolute best they could do. “Defenders,” on the other hand, feels much closer to their best with the perfect amount of detail, exceptional character design, strong expression work, clear storytelling, solid pacing and a confidence that perfectly matches Fraction’s script. It’s obvious in these pages that the Dodsons can deliver whatever sublime treats Fraction might dream up, and that the characters will always look exactly like they should. Those basics are increasingly rare in modern comics, and deserve to be appreciated. Sonia Oback delivers beautiful colors throughout, adding significantly to the overall feeling of the book by tinting each character introduction with a different, subtle shade of color. It’s smart and well considered, and though many readers may not even notice it, the sub-conscious effect is nice.
In the end, “Defenders” #1 is a beautiful, very fun book that leaves you with the feeling of a lot more of the same to come. While it might have benefited from digging just a little bit deeper, I’m absolutely excited to see what Fraction and the Dodsons can deliver in the coming issues. This is a good start to what promises to be an exciting new series.