Review: Defenders #2
With the team already set up in issue #1, this follow-up second issue deals mostly with exposition and fighting. Writer Matt Fraction has clearly thought up a pretty detailed plot, and now he’s got to tell us all what it is so that I guess we can enjoy the rest of the story. This issue was not very exciting, I’m afraid. Not at all bad, but nothing to blow minds or convince me that The Defenders is the next big thing.
The Defenders has yet to truly ‘wow’ me or show why it should be considered anything more than a Matt Fraction vanity project. The stellar art of the Dodsons isn’t enough.
Comic rating: 3/5: Alright!
This is a humor book where the jokes are more subtle and less slapstick, and unfortunately don’t land most of the time. The characters, while enjoyable, take a back seat to the plot explanation. And the plot is cool, I guess, but it’s hardly anything noteworthy or groundbreaking. This series is so far pretty much just standard superhero fare. Sure it looks fantastic and is well-written, but everything about it falls pretty flat. This feels like it should be a high-profile book, but is failing in that regard.
It’s some of Marvel’s top talent launching a series that doesn’t need to exist. Nobody was screaming for a new Defenders series. So when Marvel let’s Matt Fraction and the Dodsons create The Defenders, I want to know there’s a purpose. Spoilers and synopsis after the jump.
The reviewer on IGN complained that all of the characters sound the same. So I was watching for that. It’s sort of the case, but I didn’t feel it as strongly as that reviewer did. Frankly, I felt there were too few opportunities for the characters to showcase their personalities and styles, so I didn’t think there was enough time to be similar.
So we start off where the last issue ended: Iron Fist has been shot by a madman and his army of tiger-men on the slopes of Wundagore Mountain. The team is surrounded, but this is the Defenders, so they’re not very worried.
This issue will feature a disembodied narrator that speaks in stilted sentences. Then we also have internal narration from a few of the team members where appropriate. Both work. Each character gets their own color for internal narration, so it’s easy to tell them apart. But there’s so very little of both forms of narration. As you can see in that picture, it starts out with Iron Fist just saying ‘ow’ about his gunshot wound.
He fixes it himself using his ‘chi’, because that’s what Iron Fist does. He focuses his chi and expels the bullet, then gets up and gets right into the fight against madman Prester John and his tiger-men. Here, we see that the disembodied narrator is mostly going to be used for some soft, subtle jokes. The humor is all based on tone. I can see that it’s meant to be funny, and I guess it is. But it’s too subtle to really make me laugh out loud. This is the narration for Silver Surfer fighting some armed tiger-men:
“The Surfer has never seen anything like these mutated tiger-men. At least on Earth he hasn’t. To spare them, he removes their weapons’ sense of purpose. Rand, for his part, just starts kicking.”
It’s funny, I guess. Iron Fist is a kicker by trade.
So we start out with a fight scene, with the narrator providing some description. Red She-Hulk and Namor kick some butt, and Doctor Strange uses some ‘Bolts of Bedevilment’ to stop his attackers. He points out through narration that he just needs to stop them, so nothing too grand. Nice little call out as to why Doctor Strange doesn’t just magic everything away. Same with the Silver Surfer.
We see the Surfer attacked by a tiger-man, whom he simply reduces to atoms. That’s the power of the Power Cosmic, people. It also draws the attention of Prester John, who captures Surfer in a magic bubble using his magic weapon, which isn’t really explained very well. It just has a lot of power. Enough power to capture the Silver Surfer at least. The others continue to fight.
Until Prester John reveals that he’s captured the Silver Surfer and forces them to surrender. John is from Avalon, and he’s weird throughout the entire issue. He’s explained as a man lost through time and sanity, which sounds cool. But mostly he’s just a big, bullish sort of chap with a magic doohickey.
Meanwhile, we get a brief scene to let us know that Nul, Breaker of Worlds, is heading right for them. Wundagore Mountain is a classic location in Marvel Comics, a place where the villainous High Evolutionary created a race of animal people. Now it seems that Prester John has shown up and taken over, calling it ‘New Avalon’. We’ll find out why Nul is headed there soon enough. For now, he’s just having fun smashing. As is his name, it’s what he lives to do.
We cut back to the Defenders locked up in a prison cell. Each one has a special sort of device trapping them, everyone except Red She-Hulk for some reason. Doctor Strange’s hands are encased in cement. Namor has a weird helmet on his head with toxic water inside. Iron Fist has a weird thingy around his head, giving him a blinding light show. Silver Surfer is still trapped in Prester John’s bubble. And Red She-Hulk is just fine with absolutely no restraints.
She plans to use this lack of restraint to get them free. All she needs is for one of the team to scare her, and she’ll revert back to Betty Ross. Iron Fist tries and fails, being rather discombobulated from his weird thingy. Namor just feels like throwing up. So Doctor Strange gives it a go, whispering something into Red She-Hulk’s ear.
That does the trick, with some unintended consequences.
Whatever he said to her really set her off. She calls him a ‘creep’, so maybe it was something kinky. Who knows.
Red She-Hulk smashes a nearby computer and that deactivates the bars, as well as the helmets that were trapping Namor and Iron Fist. Strange and Surfer are still bound. The Defenders head deeper into New Avalon and immediately find some guards, starting another fight. Prester John watches on a monitor and tells his right-hand-man to make their deaths easy, they were only trying to help, after all. But mercy only gets him smashed in the face.
Prester John finally ends the fight by threatening the Silver Surfer, who is still trapped by his magic doohickey. Doctor Strange tries to reason with him, mentioning that they’ve met before and they’re there to stop Nul. But John tells the Defenders that he wants Nul to come and destroy the world. He also calls Namor a ‘moron’, which just doesn’t sit right with me. That insult is a little mundane for the likes of these people. Anyway, John hates the world and wants Nul to destroy is, so that he and his followers can hoist the flag of New Avalon to replace the dead world.
He also says that Nul is coming after something called a Concordance Engine.
John explains that Nul breaking the Concordance Engine will rip a hole in time and space, through which he and his people will sail their Stellar Ark to a better tomorrow. So bring on the destruction of the universe, according to John. He doesn’t have to wait long, because Nul is at the gates!
Next issues promises more fighting. But I think there was just too much fighting in this issue, and way too much explaining. Prester John? New Avalon? His magic doohickey? The Concordance Engine? Matt Fraction has some weird ideas in play, and he spends the entire issue just explaining them. Granted there is a lot of action too, and he ‘shows us’ just as much as ‘tells us’. But that’s still a lot of showing and telling. The Defenders barely get any screen time to stand out. They’re just the certain group of heroes assigned to this certain crisis.
There may as well be one giant superhero dispatch center that gathers up random heroes, slaps a team name on them and then dispatches them to giant, universe-ending threats. Nothing specific about any of these characters shines through. The first issue had that, but it’s definitely missing here in the follow up. We get a few one-liners, a few narrations and whatever happened between Strange and Red She-Hulk, but little else.
I think Fraction has a neat set of characters here, but his plot is overshadowing the fun that should be had with them bantering and interacting. I couldn’t care less about Prester John, New Avalon or whatever a Concordance Engine is or does. This zany plot should be secondary to the characters, not the other way around.