They’re back once again! Except not really, because it’s entirely different people this time. Marvel NOW revives the franchise again with THE FEARLESS DEFENDERS #1. Can this all-girl Defenders team match the quality of the 2011 Defenders series? Or are we in for a lot of hurt.
Assuming you’ve got only a passing knowledge of superhero comics, you’ve probably never heard of the Defenders. In a nutshell, they’re a loosely organized super team brought together on a case by case basis rather than being a persistent group. In fact, when its original founding members – Namor, the Hulk, and Doctor Strange – first teamed up, they didn’t really like each other and would only collaborate out of strict necessity. And while teams after those initial days would generally rectify the whole “not like each other” thing, the Defenders were never a group for consistency.
Or image, given many of the members were thoroughly in the stranger end of the spectrum when it came to superheroes. One of these classic members is Valkyrie, who is exactly what she sounds like, from the Thor mythos. She is kind of representative of the kind of threats the Defenders usually faced. Less mad scientists and flashy villains, and more supernatural, otherworldly, eldritch, or magical threats beyond the scope of the Avengers.
Unless you count Loki, also from the Thor mythos. Then he’s oldest Avengers villain. But they aren’t important right now.
What is important is those wacky Defenders, who are getting around to being my favorite Marvel super team (my favorite DC super team will always be the Justice Society of America). They are also important to this blog as a whole. Because while the New 52 was where I began writing about comics, it was THE DEFENDERS #1, published in late 2011, that was the first thing I posted here on Sequential Smart. And I loved that series. I’ve written extensively on the subject.
Which is why I just had to try out THE FEARLESS DEFENDERS #1. Too bad it doesn’t compare.
So instead of introducing us to an entire team of characters, we just get two (well three, let’s not split hairs): the aforementioned Valkyrie, last shieldmaiden of Asgard; and Misty Knight, private investigator, ninja, and walking 70s stereotype. With a bionic arm. At first I didn’t know who Misty Knight was, but then remembered she had a brief cameo in the 2011 series as Iron Fist’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. She did exactly nothing in that series worth noting. But she appeared in it, so apparently that’s enough justification to make her a main character.
Honestly I have no grudge against Ms Knight, I’m just sad neither Iron Fist nor Doctor Strange nor Red She Hulk could be here.
The plot of this first issue is that Misty Knight is hired to retrieve an artifact from some ancient crap smugglers. Whoever wanted to buy said ancient crap from the smugglers is willing to sink their ship and kill them all just to prevent Misty from witnessing or making off with their most valuable prizes. It’s here we learn Misty Knight’s schtick: she’s a send-up (or a revival, assuming this was always her thing) to the kung fu movies of the 70s. And possibly of blaxsploitation, given her rocking afro. Also she has a bionic arm, meaning she’s also part Six Million Dollar Man.
Six Million Dollar Woman. Whole lot of woman. Whole lot of Six Million Dollar Woman. Yeah.
What Ms Knight managed to salvage from the debacle she takes to her employer and long-time friend, a sexy female archeologist. She has a name, but I can’t be bothered to remember it, so I’ll just call her Nerdy Lara Croft. She’s got a serious interest in Asgardian artifacts. This interest unfortunately trips a trap in the one Misty brought back, summoning a hoard of viking zombies.
Just a normal day in the Marvel universe. And then Valkyrie shows up to kill them all. She and Misty team up for the first time. For like two pages before the action is briefly hijacked by stupid.
Say, did you know Nerdy Lara Croft happens to be a lesbian?
I never would have guessed. This is part of what soured my opinion of this book. You want to make a gay character in your comic, either because you’ve got a story you want to tell about it or out of a sense of inclusivity, knock yourself out. But it’s so readily apparent this character trait was shoehorned in for one reason and one reason only: fanservice. Nerdy Lara Croft just stopped the flow of the book for a page to ram her tongue down Valkyrie’s throat. Why? Because two girls making out is hot, and they put it in hoping to get the male audience on their side.
I mean yes, it’s kind of hot, but I still feel blatantly pandered to. Worst part is Valkyrie doesn’t seem to mind being forced into an unexpected kiss, during or after it. In fact, she reacts with a simple “Now is not the time” with an expression of true neutrality, completely indifferent. Come on woman, at least act surprised.
Really a lot of this issue seems forced, especially the attempts at humor. I would need several panels to show what I mean, but it seems like THE FEARLESS DEFENDERS wants to replicate the offbeat comedy of Defenders 2011, but failed. There’s a definite attempt to contrast Misty Knight’s 70s kung fu aesthetic with Valkyrie’s norse-ness, and do it for humor. Except the punch lines are contrived, so I can’t laugh. Admittedly I’m not a fan of kung fu or the Starcky & Hutch thing, but even if I was this comic didn’t pull it off well.
Contrivance is what put me off. The 2011 series had plenty of jokes, but they felt right given good timing and the series’ undercurrent of oddness that was a huge part of the plot. This issue stops the plot to let two characters make out, and never bring it up afterward.
On the upside, I think later issues will add more characters to the book. So there’ that.
Charles Angels, that’s what I’m thinking of! For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what the book seemed to be going for until literally right before I started typing this paragraph. It feels like a Charles Angels series, except instead of all the female leads being identical supermodels who fight crime, it’s differently styled supermodels who fight crime and also undead vikings.
As you do.
So do I recommend this book? As a fan of the Defenders, I really can’t. Especially if you fell in love with the previous series. Or indeed if you read any of the Defenders books from the eighties, where Valkyrie took her job seriously and wasn’t objectified. In an interview, the writer Cullen Bunn admitted that aside from the name, the series would have little to do with previous incarnations. This saddens me, because I was looking for a worthy successor to my beloved 2011 series. A man can dream, can’t he?
Can I recommend it as its own title? After all, if it’s not trying to be the 2011 Defenders, shouldn’t it be judged on its own merits? Again no, I can’t say I recommend the book as its own thing. It’s underwhelming, has forced humor, and panders horribly. With any hope the series will get better as time goes on and the writer develops his voice for the series. Until then, I’m giving THE FEARLESS DEFENDERS a pass. I’ve learned by now not to stick with a series I don’t enjoy.
So at least Red Lanterns taught me something.
[February 2014 Edit: So apparently my initial reactions were a bit harsh, because this post, by virtue of being about THE FEARLESS DEFENDERS, is one of my most popular posts ever. I keep getting views on it. Cool I guess, though it now makes me think people liked it so much that I should have given it a chance back during the run. I might look into it fully later down the line, but suffice to say if the series got so much better that it’s so beloved, I apologize.
That kiss was still out of left field though.]