BEST BETS: "Jessica Jones," "Big Trouble/Escape from New York" & More October 2016 Highlights
I’ll be honest, part of me really wants to curl up in a blanket with a pint of ice cream and bemoan the loss of Avengers Academy, whose final issue came out this week. That Avengers Arena ad in the back the book was a kick in the pants, wasn’t it? It’s sad to think the little book that could, one of the best all-ages titles on the stands, has ended and we may not see its like again in the foreseeable future. It’s wasn’t a top-selling title but what it lacked in sales it made up for in heartening and brilliant content. Again, I could foist my woes upon you, Dear Reader, but we are trying to live in the NOW (which is a little like the present but just a scooch toward the future), so let’s set aside our sadness and look at a new development this week.
Cullen Bunn will be bringing us the Fearless Defenders in 2013, a team book centered around Valkyrie creating a new team of eight Valkyrior (a cooler way of saying Valkyries) out of existing (and possibly new) Marvel heroines. It’s been a fantastic concept for a team book since Mr. Bunn previewed it in Fear Itself: The Fearless, and I’m happy to see that there was enough interest (from we, the fans) and support (from they, the editorial staff) to see this idea hit print. It’s a cool premise, we’ll see a lot of characters we honestly don’t normally get to and there’s a great overarching purpose to the book to keep it from getting stale.
However, especially in today’s Avengers-rich environment, why would they call it the Fearless Defenders? Just because Valkyrie leads a team? Why not call it the Fearless Avengers and loop it all together? I can’t be the only one who likes the name Lady Liberators, right? What will make this team a Defenders title? I have a few ideas.
WARNING: I’ll be talking about the end of Matt Fraction’s Defenders #12 in vague terms, but there might be a spoiler or two dropped without warning. Be prepared!
Who are the Defenders? The short-short version is that they are one step up from Champions and one step down from Avengers. They occupy a unique space in the Marvel Universe, as they have often been a sort of rag-tag bunch of heroes, eclectic men (and women) of might who aren’t known for their great teamwork skills but come together to get stuff done. The original team counted Doctor Strange, Hulk and Namor and were about as heroic and mighty and three titanic egos could be. Surprisingly, they worked well enough to continue adventures together, later adding the Silver Surfer, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and many others.
The traditional three aren’t exactly team players, but this isn’t exactly a team book; no one needs to stay on the Defenders for longer than they want to, or is necessary for the story. The Defenders also go up against the unusual, letting those story arcs stretch or shrink as needed. The Defenders tend to have a lot of mystically powered men and women, like Ghost Rider and Moondragon as well as “street-level” crime-fighters like Power Man or Hellcat. Detectives, seekers of lore, mutants, everyone was welcome as long as they had something to do and there was a threat to take down.
It’s a weird bunch of people, some who can’t support their own solo title, some who honestly shouldn’t, which gives them a wider range of stories than the Avengers or X-Men have. Both of those teams have solo titles to support or need to be based locally to keep up their premise (the X-Men can go to space, but not for too long; the Avengers can’t be stranded in the unknown for longer than their individual books will let them). The Avengers are more of a social club, the Defenders are here to get stuff done and go home.
Recently, Matt Fraction wrote 12 issues of The Defenders to middling success. Don’t get me wrong, the storyline was indeed epic in scope and scale and it did have a unique bunch of rag-tag heroes that is essential for a Defenders cast, but there was just something missing for me. The epically scoped storyline was too obtuse and weird for me to invest much attention into; most of the issues either moved slowly and thoughtfully or raced through a concept at will. The rag-tag heroes didn’t seem to have much purpose besides “Ooh, what’s this thing?” or acting as a vehicle to bring in their unique setting into the scope of the story rather than contributing to the story based on their own merits. There was an issue that took time out to possibly tie Namor to the Captain Nemo legend and thus into Iron Fist’s more pulpy past, but I can’t say that affected anything going on in the book. Doctor Strange was integral as he had the knowledge to understand the Concordance Engines, infinite reality and space/time, but the Red She-Hulk was there to swing a sword and … be strong? The Silver Surfer turned out to be more a deux ex machina to aid the others, but didn’t seem to bring any more personal contribution. I’m not saying it was a bad series, though some issues didn’t hold their own, but I’m not saying it was a great turn out from Mr. Fraction or the Defenders team. We as readers and as internet denizens want to be passionate about our opinions, especially about comics, but I’ll keep being honest and tell you I can’t muster up any strong opinions about this book. If I can crib from Demetri Martin one more time, this run of the Defenders was OK.
How will being Fearless help the Defenders, who weren’t exactly timid before? How do we improve on OK? Well, we know that having the trappings of a Defenders book doesn’t exactly qualify you for the spot. Yes, you can have a huge threat bearing down on the universe and yes, you can have a motley bunch of heroes but there’s more to the Defenders and it all rests in the name. They have to defend something, whether that’s personal or professional, the characters need to be personally invested in order to defend what they have. Through most of Fraction’s Defenders run, I as a reader could barely comprehend what was at stake and couldn’t imagine a character like the Red She-Hulk needing to defend anything than her use of a giant sword. Here, with the Fearless Defenders, we already know what is at stake: creating balance. From the scoop at Newsarama:
The basic idea of the book is that Valkyrie is choosing a new team of Valkyrior, and she’s been asked to choose all these women from the heroes of Midgard, instead of from Asgard. She has completely failed in this task. [Laughs.] Valkyrie has been unable to choose anyone that she feels is worthy to be one of the hosts of the shield maidens. So she just hasn’t done it. She’s dropped the ball.
Because she’s not done what she said she would do, nature — or supernature, as it is — abhors a vacuum. The absence of the Valkyrior has opened the door to something terrible. Something awful is waking, and Valkyrie finds that it’s really her fault that she’s put everything at risk.
The Defenders need to defend something: Earth, their personal lives, their own domains, their status as superheroes, something needs to be at risk personally so that it means something to stand up to evil and beat its head in. Now that Valkyrie has put the world at risk by being choosy about her new shield-maidens, she is personally invested in keeping the worlds safe from what she might have allowed in. I can’t guarantee a sure thing, especially not in comics, but from Bunn’s premise, to the wide range of characters he can pull from and unique perspective this book is going to have in a sea of Avengers titles, I’m looking forward to the Fearless Defenders, and I hope you are too.