Before Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Iron Fist take on Netflix as the "Defenders" this August, the team will unite at Marvel Comics in June, with a new ongoing "Defenders" series courtesy of frequent collaborators Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez; in their "Civil War II" follow-up.
Bendis, Marquez and Marvel Senior Vice President of Pubishing Tom Brevoort gathered for Marvel's latest "Next Big Thing" call with the comics press, to talk all things "Defenders" with the comic book press on Tuesday afternoon.
First question from Marvel went to Marquez, who talked about the tone of the series. Marquez said it's comparatively more "noir" than "Civil War II," and named "Blade Runner" and "John Wick" as visual inspirations. "Certainly in terms of color palette, use in terms of contrast and shadow," Marquez said. "I'm also using texture a lot."
Brevoort said he's deferred to the creative team to define the book's visual style. "It's a series that demands a slightly different approach, visually," Brevoort said, especially compared to "Civil War II" or "Invincible Iron Man," which Bendis and Marquez also worked on. Brevoort added that "Defenders" has a little bit more of a Bill Sienkiewicz style than readers may be used to from Marquez.
Marquez added that along with Sienkiewicz, the work of past "Daredevil" artists like Alex Maleev and Chris Samnee has influenced him on the series.
Brevoort spoke of Punisher's arrival in "Defenders" #3, and how he fits in with the team. "I think the core Defenders are all moving in general the same direction; they've got a unity of purpose, a commonality of goals," Brevoort said, mentioning that Blade and "a couple other surprises" will appear early in the series.
Brevoort added that thinking about "Defenders" similarly to "New Avengers" is apt, as a character like Doctor Strange -- even though he's not "ground level" -- could very well show up, since it's a team of New York City heroes.
Next question was for Bendis, if this was "who he wanted" for the book's main cast, despite the fact that it's also the cast of the upcoming TV series. "I literally pitched this to the public on my last page of New Avengers' -- a page of Luke and Jessica talking about this book," Bendis answered. "It was always on my list of, 'This is what I want to do if I return to these characters." Bendis said the only thing that changed for him was calling the book "Defenders," as he didn't have a great name for the series he wanted to do before.
"This idea, and these characters, and how they're going to interact and what they're going to do, was always the plan, way before the Netflix deal," Bendis said.
Where are the characetrs when "Defenders" #1 picks up? Bendis said readers need to first check out the Free Comic Book Day story, available this Saturday. "The characters are all at sort of their base status quo," Bendis said, with the FCBD story revealing the villain of the initial storyline of the series. "Then we dive right into 'Defenders' #1, and we hit the ground running," Bendis said.
"I try to bring as much humanity and realism to ['Defenders'] as possible," Bendis said, adding that it dates back to his early, pre-Marvel crime stories. "The escapism is much more visceral, because you feel like this is a bar you could walk into -- not a crazy space station or Avengers Tower. These feel like real places, and sometimes they are real places. The characters are really reacting to each other, they're reacting to the world around them. David and I spend a great deal of time talking about the city as a character, and making sure they react to the city in a human way."
Next question from Marvel asked if New York City is a "partner" to the Defenders or an antagonist. "Like any character in any story, you don't know," Bendis said. "Sometimes the city is going to be a gigantic help to them. At the same time, there are people in the city who will react very negatively to what they're doing."
"You've got two characters -- you've got the real New York City, the New York City that we all know and I love to visit," Bendis said. "And then you've got the Marvel New York City, which is a New York City with Doctor Strange, and Elektra, and Blade running around in it."
How personal of a series will "Defenders" be for its cast? "The villain is connected very personally to one of the four," Bendis replied. "So personally, that it affects all of them." This threat will prompt the character to "reevaluate" the way the book's heroes do things, thus leading to the Defenders becoming an official team.
"It's been a very fun week of readers emailing or Tumbling questions at me, at one of the best questions was, 'I'm so confused about Luke Cage, because according to everything, he's one of the most powerful superheroes in the world, but they keep referring to him as street-level,'" Bendis continued. "I wrote back saying, 'Street-level is not a power set. It's an address.'"
"There are so many places to take these characters within the context of a street-level hero," Bendis said. "This is one of the great joys of staying at the company -- you can leave Jessica for a few years, come back, and the character is still reacting to the world around her, and the Marvel Universe has shifted so much. It's all worth exploring. I'm writing all-new material about these characters that I love so much. Because they're in a different place in their lives, it feels brand new to me."
Is a leadership role established in "Defenders"? "It's kind of like what I liked in 'New Avengers,'" Bendis answered. "Everyone steps up when it's their turn. They're not like membership ID kind of people. It's a handshake -- there's no contract. They're in together. It speaks more to the fact that they really are a family. They love each other... with that comes all the positives and negativity of family."
Every issue of "Defenders" will have back-up material -- the first will feature an interview with Luke Cage. Future issues will have installments of the Marvel Universe publication "The Pulse," and material similar to the Avengers oral histories.
More from Bendis on Punisher in "Defenders": "What happens in the first couple issues of 'Defenders' is so loud, that it can't help but bring the Punishers of the world towards it." Bendis said that the Punisher's role will surprise readers.
"Certain spider-people will show up," Bendis added. "Doctor Strange shows up. Blade shows up. A couple mutants show up. Night Nurse will be back -- that of course hints that a lot of people will get hurt, but that's what she's for. We're going to really open up the streets and have a lot of people come in. The four are the base, but there will be members that come in and out, hopefully in an organic way."
"This is not a group that's worried about bylaws or who's a member and not a member," Brevoort added. "There will be characters that come in and out as the situation demands it."
Also coming up down the line -- members of Marvel's original Defenders team (which consisted of members including Doctor Strange, Hulk, Silver Surfer and Valkyrie) getting involved with the new squad. "They may not be thrilled that their name is being poached," Bendis said. "Look for some Defender-on-Defender action down the line. Not in the first storyline. Look for the long-overdue Jessica Jones vs. Silver Surfer, the Hulk and Valkyrie fight."
First question from press, from CBR: What's it like for Bendis to return to Daredevil, who he had a famous run on years ago, along with Alex Maleev? "It's one of the most exciting and scariest things," Bendis answered. "And this is as high-class of a problem a creator can have," adding that sometimes prior work of creators is viewed with "rose-colored" glasses by fans over time. "I decided to forget about all that, forget about my first run -- it's all in the past -- and just come at this character like it's the first time I've ever written him." Bendis complicated the work of current "Daredevil" writer Charles Soule, saying he's "created an amazing platform" -- and that he wants to avoid the feeling of when writers return to a character, and show they haven't read comics featuring that character since they worked on it.
Next question, from Adventures in Poor Taste: How does Bendis plan on writing a contemporary take on the mob in "Defenders"? Bendis said that for years, organized crime in "Daredevil" was still in the Frank Miller mold, and hadn't evolved with the times. "All of this is worth re-examining, and almost laying down tracks from scratch," Bendis said. Though it's going to be different than the New York City of Marvel's Netflix shows, it'll be something inviting to new comics readers familiar with those shows.
Marquez added that Bendis had him do the same "homework" on organized crime.
Next question, from Word Balloon: What do "Defenders" represent the other Marvel team books don't? "It's scope is smaller, because it's more focused on the neighborhood, even if the neighborhood is as big as the whole of Manhattan island," Brevoort answered. "I think the core of this book will have a different tone than any group book that exists in the Marvel Universe. It's a very tight-knit group of people with a common cause, who are operating down on the ground, and on the same level as the people that they're working to help and protect. There's a little more of a 'Zorro' aspect of it, where these are really the heroes of the community, rather than the heroes of the planet." Brevoort said the book has a "community flavor." "They're people of the people."
Next question, from Newsarama, concerns the team's visual looks. Marquez said it's a "living, breathing process," and that it's more than just what the characters wear -- though there are recognizable fashion choices, like Luke Cage wearing a hoodie or Jessica Jones in a leather jacket.
Next question, from ComicsVerse: Will the comic deal with real-world issues, or metaphors for real-world issues? Bendis said he has plenty of metaphors in store, and touches on the real world will also play a part. "Crime is a real-world issue, in general," Bendis added. "Let's not forget that!"
Next question, from ComicBook.com: How will Daredevil's secret identity affect his role on the series, with characters working with public identities? "You'll find these characters are in such a dangerous position, that this guy in the devil mask might have to give a little more," Bendis said. "What secrets they want to share with each other is going to be a part of that. Obviously I have a tendency to take those secret identities very seriously and dangerously -- Daredevil being the most ballsy move we've ever made on something like tat. All I'm going to say is that we're going to continue down that road, that a secret identity is not something to take lightly. It's going to be something that's very difficult to maintain, and difficult to maintain with friends."
Next question, from IGN: Is anything specific from the Netflix shows being incorporated in the series? Bendis said he's been on record of how much a fan he is of those shows, and immensely flattered that his work has inspired them. "It's kind of the best version of Marvel becoming this multimedia empire," Bendis said. "It flowed out of the comics and into the TV shows." Bendis said Marquez will employ a more noir style in the series, similar to some of the sequences back in "Ultimate Spider-Man."
"If they do things well, it's good to learn from them," Marquez said of the Netflix shows. "It's good to have elements of it being recognizable, but also to be additive, and not repetitive. We're taking some of the things that were done well on the show -- they shoot the city beautifully, they have amazing use of color -- and we're adding those things if they improve the quality of the book. We're also making sure we're adding, and not repeating."
Bendis added "Drive" and "The Wire" as further visual inspirations.
Next question, from ICv2: Will the inciting event of the series spill out to other books? Yes. "It's a game-changer for everyone involved," Bendis said, adding that the "Jessica Jones" series he writes will certainly be affected, and likely "Daredevil" and "Luke Cage," as well.
The call ended with some final thoughts. Bendis said he's excited for exiting readers and new fans coming to the series from the Netflix shows to see the book. Marquez said he wants people to know how the creative team is respecting the long histories of these characters. Brevoort reiterated that the Free Comic Book Story does not wait to "dive into the meat" of "Defenders."
"Defenders" #1 is scheduled for release on June 14. The Free Comic Book Day story, paired with a "Guardians of the Galaxy" story, is available at participating retailers this Saturday.