'Defenders #1' Is Big, Crazy, and Bravura Work [Marvel Advance Review]

I’d say Defenders #1 – a new comic from Marvel by writer Matt Fraction and artist Terry Dodson, which hits comic book stands on Wednesday – is not a book you can causally thumb through. It’s a densely written and constructed superhero comic that simultaneously embraces current continuity, while using structures from the dawn of the Marvel Universe. It’s full of signs, portents, omens, and rewards more than one reading. But is it a comic book that makes you ache to read the second issue? That depends… Our critique continues following the next two paragraphs!

There’s that, but first, a little catch-up on who the Defenders are, and what they mean to the Marvel Universe… Traditionally, The Defenders have been the non-team, the also rans that got together because they weren’t in that main team-up book, The Avengers. Over time, many, many books have used the Defenders concept, and pretty much iteration of team-up, and non-team book has existed. So instead of being the non-team, Defenders became kind of the “non-friends who are friends” book, with Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Namor, and Hulk forming some part of the team in some way. Once they were done teaming up? Back to their solo adventures.

So in the new, revamped Defenders, we get a glimpse of the Hulk – he’s the guy who sets the plot in motion – but otherwise its up to Dr. Strange, Namor, Silver Surfer, and newish additions Iron Fist and Red She-Hulk to save the world from… Something. Along the way, we get plot points picked up from Fear Itself, Hulk vs. Dracula, and Point One, as well as not one, but two entirely separate scenes showing how awesome this new team is at sex.

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.

Most of the reason I do have such a problem with the sex factor is that, otherwise, this is – as stated – an extremely smart, dense book that still has a number of cool, wow factor scenes that make it instantly accessible for fans of all ages. From a bravura shot of the villain (who I won’t ruin) in the beginning of the book, to a zero-G fight scene (sorry, Iron Fist, you didn’t invent that; Shang Chi did Zero-G Kung Fu last month in Secret Avengers, but it still looks cool), this book is brilliantly drawn by Dodson, and Fraction gives him plenty of leeway to draw some spectacular vistas, characters, and action.

Understandably, there’s the story too, which, like I said, is a puzzle designed for message boards to suss out. From clues in the margins, to repeated phrases, to the aforementioned omens and signs, Fraction is giving you all the pieces you need to figure out the mystery at the heart of the book, but is holding back the top of the box right now. The top of the box being the place where you can see the picture of the whole puzzle at one time. Oh, you got that? Okay.

Surely it’s this denseness, though, that makes Defenders such a rewarding read… In a time when comic books are a series of splash pages and half-plots, Fraction packs Defenders #1 with a huge story, back-story, and multiple narrators, while making sure you need no prior knowledge to understand absolutely everything that’s going on. That’s pretty bravura work. Fraction – a promised – is bringing the weird, crazy, almost seemingly improvisational writing style he brings to indie title Casanova to the Marvel Universe, and so far it seems to work.

That it’s also pretty funny, and that’s no mean feat either when you’re dealing with several usually very serious characters, and an end of the world type scenario. Namor gets one of the funnier recent jokes off I’ve read in recent history, while Iron Fist is as wittily written as he was back when Fraction was working on his solo title.

But this is – quite simply – a full comic book meal, complete with everything you want from a wholesome breakfast. You know what I DON’T want with my big, lumberjack style breakfast, though? To watch some people having sex. Just sayin’.

Urges aside, to answer the question posted in the first paragraph, should you pick up Defenders #1 – and more importantly Defenders #2? Heck, the answer has been right in front of you the whole time, in the first letter of each paragraph:

Yup.

Defenders #1 hits stands Wednesday, Dec. 7th

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