The chaotic composition of “The Defenders” reaches new heights in issue three, to the point where it’s become apparent that the only ways to make sense of this book are in the micro and the macro. Focus on the small moments of scenes or panels or just lines of dialogue, while trying to see the broad strokes; everything in between will only get you turned around. And that’s a big part of what makes this comic so entertaining: that veering back and forth between the little things like Red She-Hulk appreciating her sword or the Silver Surfer figuring out what’s going on while no one else notices, and the large push of the series forward. Damn the logic and explanations.
So much is going on for a variety of reasons that it’s a little difficult to sort things out. In some ways, the Defenders seem like helpless pawns in the thrust of the story, an idea that’s thematically sound with what Matt Fraction has discussed in interviews about the title. What started as a ‘simple’ mission to stop and contain Nul, the Breaker of Worlds, has turned into an attempt to save the universe even as Prester John and the New Men give up and escape on a spaceship ark. It feels a little like the Defenders have stumbled into a story that’s not theirs and is long into its telling, putting them and us at a seeming disadvantage.
At the same time, the members of the group give off the impression of action, yet do little of consequence. Their roles as bit players in a larger stories means that they look like bumbling fools, stumbling from one scene to the next, proclaiming their greatness and abilities only to fall flat on their faces. It’s definitely an interesting approach, albeit one that might not convince readers to stick around too long.
The Dodsons pull off the demanding task of cramming every page full of characters and memorable drawings. The character they’ve clearly got the best handle on is Red She-Hulk. She exudes confidence and charm in every panel, loving everything about being a super-strong superhero. The way she rushes into a fight with Nul is sold more on her body language and facial expressions than Fraction’s narration: she looks heroic and ready to throw down. The final third of the issue resonates and entertains because of the art. A crucial splash page is rendered perfectly by the Dodsons, stopping the issue dead.
The chaotic, unknown approach seen in “Defenders” #3 makes for an energetic comic. Fraction and the Dodsons utilize quick cuts and fragmentary scenes, building towards a rousing climax. In interviews, Fraction has said that this is the work-for-hire comic most like “Casanova.” The way that both comics have that ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach to storytelling is never in doubt. Since the plot is so chaotic and muddled, it can best be seen from afar and, with each issue, that long view becomes clearer and clearer.