REVIEW: Marvel’s Defenders #1 Sets a High Bar for the Netflix Series

Fearless, fiery, and ready to fight, the Defenders are the ultimate street team.

Fresh off the conclusion to his brilliant run on Guardians of the Galaxy, writer Brian Michael Bendis switches settings from the stars to the streets in Defenders #1, joined by his Civil War II and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man collaborator, David Marquez. The architect of a title that will mirror the cast of the Netflix series but remain unique to the comics medium, Bendis gives us a team very different from the 1970s squads featuring Doctor Strange, the Hulk and a cast of fellow superheroes who combined forces to halt supernatural threats. Bendis' new version of the team reflects a gritty, “boots on the ground” approach to a Marvel team composed entirely of street-dwelling heroes, and it works on every level. This is one mean group of heroes.

Showing his unparalleled finesse for team titles, Bendis wastes no time gathering Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones in Jessica’s hospital room, after each has been attacked by Willis Stryker, a.k.a. Diamondback (as teased in May's Free Comic Book Day Defenders issue). Always one to have done his Marvel history homework, Bendis’ choice of villain harkens back to June 1972 and the publication of Luke Cage: Hero for Hire #1. Stryker grew up in Harlem alongside Carl Lucas where both were members of a local gang, but Carl chose to change his name to Luke Cage and pursue a career, while Willis became the criminal Diamondback. Eventually, they fought and Diamondback was killed -- or so we thought.

Diamondback’s agenda is straightforward and brash. He’s eliminating all the useless criminals from his new base in Harlem, and serves notice to Black Cat that he’s taking over. Countering this new (old) threat is the perfect excuse for the heroes to team up, as it becomes clear that Bendis’ Diamondback is more than capable of taking on everyone he’s pissed off. Heroes are at their best when presented with a worthy villain, and Bendis’ dynamic script reveals that with a foe like Diamondback the Defenders are in for a challenge that should test the limits of their individual abilities.

David Marquez’s art is a live wire that electrifies the action scenes and adds menace or humor (as needed) to Bendis’ efficient dialogue exchanges. His facial expressions, in particular, are gorgeous and add emotional depth to each scene. Marquez’s well-constructed introductions for the four heroes contain glimpses to their distant and recent pasts, including some far-out costume references that longtime fans will appreciate. It was an effective way to introduce their current iterations without resorting to lengthy historical expositions. Justin Ponsor's colors are a perfect complement to Marquez's thoughtful lines -- just check out the explosions.

Defenders #1 is a fun blue-collar comic for fans of bar fights, busted knuckles, and the perfect street team. The Netflix show will have a lot to live up to.

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