Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artwork: David Marquez, Justin Ponsor (colours)
Release Date: 13th December 2017
Originally released as a fairly blatant cash-grab to tie into the Netflix series of the same name, Marvel’s Defenders series benefits from one key factor: Brian Michael Bendis. It’s no secret that Bendis knows these characters inside-out, and he uses that familiarity to put together a fast-moving and action-packed story with plenty of twists and turns to help keep the pages turning.
Without beating around the bush in terms of spoilers, the book features the return of the apparently-not-dead-after-all Diamondback, who immediately delivers an emphatic mission statement, striking at the Defenders in their personal lives and shooting Jessica Jones in the gut. As you do.
Within the course of just a few pages, Bendis establishes Diamondback as a legitimate threat, and the way he goes after our four heroes is reminiscent of the type of brutal efficiency we’d commonly associate with the Kingpin. The rest of the volume sees Iron Fist, Daredevil, Luke and Jessica trying to rally and strike back against their new (old?) adversary, each time realising that Diamondback is playing chess while they’re playing checkers.
Despite the high stakes, the interactions between the Defenders gives the book a lot of heart and humour. There are some great running gags along the way, like the team trying to guess Daredevil’s secret identity and unilaterally deciding his real name is “Gary”, and it’s this light touch from Bendis that prevents this series from becoming a dour, overly serious affair.
David Marquez absolutely kills it on the visual side of the book, bringing bold, energetic versions of these well-loved characters to the page. Every square inch of panel is used up as Marquez and colourist Justin Ponsor bring Bendis’ fast-paced story to life, with satisfyingly bone-crunching skirmishes (the hand-to-hand showdown between Diamondback and Iron Fist is a definite highlight) aplenty throughout the course of these five issues.
Marquez is also given a lot of scope to showcase his skills due to the significant (some may say ridiculous) amount of cameos from other Marvel characters along the way. Black Cat, The Punisher, Spider-Man, Blade, Night Nurse, Kingpin, Hammerhead… there are a lot of moving parts here, and while a few of these do feel like they deserve to be a part of the story, being given some significant roles to play in the story, the majority feel like fan service at best, and awkward editorial meddling at worst.
It’s also probably worth pointing out that while a lot of Marvel’s other trades feature smaller, self-contained arcs, this is very much a part of a larger story, to the point where nothing is actually resolved here during the course of these five issues. In fact, the volume ends on something of a cliff-hanger (to say the least!), meaning that readers looking for a tidy little bite-sized piece of Defenders fun are likely to go home disappointed.
I’ll fully admit that when this dropped onto my desk, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the blatant attempt to capitalise on the popularity of the Netflix TV shows. However, after just a few pages it becomes pretty damn obvious that, far from “phoning it in”, Bendis, Marquez and Ponsor have only gone out and made an absolutely gripping street-level comic book series packed with action, intrigue and shocking moment after shocking moment. Highly recommended.
[UNLETTERED PREVIEW ARTWORK]