This week Marvel’s “non-team” returned to the comic book page, as Matt Fraction, Terry and Rachel Dodson, and Sonia Oback brought the Defenders back with a mix of new and old members. Joining mainstays Dr. Strange, Namor and Silver Surfer are the Red She-Hulk, a.k.a. Betty Banner, who was once married to a Defender, and a character Fraction helped revitalize not that long ago in the pages of his own book, Iron Fist. The team is brought together with the help of the Hulk to deal with a leftover plot element from Fear Itself.
So what did folks think of this latest incarnation of the Defenders? Here’s a sampling of opinions on the first issue:
Jim Mroczkowski, iFanboy: “The Defenders #1 is a good read, make no mistake. It is a deceptively meaty tome; it doesn’t drag– or even pause, really– but readers may find themselves repeatedly checking the page count because it seems impossible that the book could be just a standard thirty-two pager. While DC’s new Justice League is three issues in and should just about manage to get everyone from the cover of #1 into the book by this time next year, The Defenders somehow manages to introduce every character, give the reader a vignette revealing something about each of them and where they are in their lives at the moment, introduce the threat in as straightforward a manner as you’ve seen since Marvel Two-in-One was cancelled, and get the entire band together with half a dozen pages to spare. Never mind reading it; I wanted to diagram it and teach it in a writing class.”
Jim Middleton, Weekly Comic Book Review: “Part of the strength of the Defenders has always been that it is composed of characters you don’t expect to find on a team at all, much less with each other. Fraction seems to understand this, and after delivering a very effective opening that establishes the Big Bad and shows us what it can do, he slows down to let this issue be about who our heroes are and why they wind up together.”
Chris Sims, ComicsAlliance: “The Defenders have always been in one of the weirder spots in comics. On paper, they should be the team for the Marvel Universe. Historically, the core group has always been Hulk, Dr. Strange, the Silver Surfer, and for those of you keeping score at home, that’s the strongest thing on the planet, the most powerful sorcerer in the dimension, a guy who controls the fundamental forces of the cosmos, and a dude who spent the 40s beating up Nazis, the ’50s being a hobo, and the ’60s beating up the Fantastic Four by himself.
“Honestly, why the hell would you call up the team that included an ex-carny with a bow and arrow when those guys were your other option?”
Cal Cleary, read/RANT: “Fraction makes a lot of… interesting decisions in this issue. I can honestly say, I’m not really sure how I feel about most of them. The two page introduction chronicling the horrible chain of mystic nightmares afflicting the world has become shorthand for ‘there’s a crack in the fabric of reality’, but the bigger issue with the sequence is that it doesn’t play into the issue in any way. The introduction of Doctor Strange, in which he sleeps with a grad student (who then hates him for some unexplained reason) is bizarre and offputting, and the issue has a constant scroll of running text at the bottom of the pages, sometimes reminding you to turn the page, sometimes advertising upcoming books, sometimes just telling you that “everyone you love dies”. Finally, the dialogue is often extraordinarily clunky, with only a couple characters really finding a coherent, interesting voice.”
Alex Zalben, MTV Geek: “As a point of fact, if I have one large problem with this book, it’s the sex factor… There’s a reference to molestation on the first page that seems wholly unnecessary and off-putting, as well as the two post-coital scenes that – yes – do illuminate points about the inner lives of the characters in question, but could have been done in other ways. Okay, the Iron Fist one I’m fine with, that’s just what he does, but still… Also, in a panel that seems destined to be passed around the Internet forever, Namor’s introduction includes a shot of him from behind that looks for all the world like he’s wearing ass-less chaps. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be scale armor, but I spent a lot of time studying that panel, just to be sure. Yeah, that’s it.”
Jason Clyma, Broken Frontier: “Terry Dodson’s art is more than sufficient for Fraction’s story. The highlight of Defenders #1 is King Namor’s triumphant ascent from the blood stained Aegean Sea, clad in armor and wielding his sword. With most of the story being composed of standard character introductions and talking-head scenes, however, Dodson does not have much room to stretch his artistic muscles. This is sure to change in the future, but as of now, Dodson feels rather limited.”
Kelly Thompson, Comic Book Resources: “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.”
David Pepose, Newsarama: “For Matt Fraction diehards, I think you’re going to be very surprised at the tone and content that Defenders has to offer, which I’ll be the first to say reads very little like much of what he’s written in the past. In that regard, props to him for stretching himself, even if it does feel like he’s goofing off a bit. But considering this book was also billed as one that would explain the connective tissue of the Marvel Universe, there’s surprisingly little exposition for any new readers who want to get on board with this high-potential cast of characters. It’s a very loose style of writing, which may bug people who want their logic tight and their themes prevalent. For me, it’s the moving target of the tone and the lack of justification of membership that keeps me from truly digging Defenders — but there’s some potential here. That’s obvious. And now that the introduction is out of the way, I’m hoping that Matt Fraction and the Dodsons will make it clearer what kind of book they want this to be.”
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