The Defenders #1 is a bad comic book.
From the cover, it has all the hallmarks of something that should be a pretty good comic book: Matt Fraction has a good reputation (I’m not a big fan of his Casanova series – just not my thing – but I quite liked his run on Iron Fist with Ed Brubaker; and I heard good things about The Order). The Dodsons are fine artists (though Terry’s pencils always remind me of Adam Hughes’ style; he’s moving gradually away from that, though). Also, I’ve always had a soft spot the the Defenders; I love Doctor Strange, and this particular combination of heroes (Doc combined with the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer, with a few others tacked on for good measure) usually leads to some quirky stories.
While the cover is a bit drab in its colors (why is everyone wearing some combination of red, white and blue-gray? What happened to Namor’s green swim trunks, or Iron Fists’s green costume, or Doc’s bright-blue outfit and bright-red cape with yellow trim?), it’s still promising.
But the story: Ugh!
“Breaker of Worlds” starts with mayhem in Bucharest as a giant black creature causes rampant destruction. Not exactly something we haven’t seen before – Kurt Busiek’s terrific run on Avengers featured something similar – but not the worst premise for a story.
But then we but to Doctor Strange waking up after casually sleeping with a student, and realizing it was a mistake (as does she). This feels utterly out of character for the good Doctor; certainly he’s slept with his student before (back when they were called “apprentices”) (unless he’s a university professor now, which wouldn’t make much sense for the character), but it was always in the form of a serious relationship. Indeed, Roger Stern’s great run on the title in the 80s was greatly concerned with his relationships with a couple of women in his life.
Then the Hulk shows up, and asks Doc for help – which is apparently hard for him, although the old, childlike Hulk felt that Strange was one of the few people in the world he actually trusted. The pair gather Namor and the Silver Surfer (who seems to have the new ability to transform himself into snow, which seems gratuitous), and the Hulk explains that his anger and power have taken on their own form, a creature called Nul, Breaker of Worlds, which is the black creature we saw earlier. He’s come to the Defenders for help, but he can’t help himself since he could be sucked back into becoming part of it again.
None of the Hulk/Nul stuff makes much sense, either. I’d assume that Fraction is going to explain it all (How can the Hulk’s rage and anger become personified? Who’s behind it? How did the Hulk break away from it? How could he be sucked in again? Why hasn’t this happened before in the Hulk’s years of existence?), but it’s presented as a fait accompli and I don’t have a lot of faith that it will be explained. (Indeed, some of it should probably have been explained by the Hulk, himself, in this issue.)
Since the Hulk can’t go along, he recommends the Red She-Hulk pitch in instead. Red is Betty Banner (well, I guess she’s back to being Betty Ross now) for reasons I neither know nor care about (having lost interest in the recent “Red Hulk” stories after about 4 issues), and she’s something of a nonentity of a character here – charitably, I’d say she’s Marvel’s answer to Power Girl. (I always thought Ms. Marvel was Marvel’s answer to Power Girl.) And wait, if the Hulk can have his rage and power extracted into a separate entity, why couldn’t any other of the Hulks not have the same thing happen to them?
The team also brings in Iron Fist to provide transportation, since his alter ego of Daniel Rand is rich and owns a super fast plane. I find Fist’s portrayal here to be immensely annoying, as he’s something of a weenie geek who just wants to read comic books when more important things are going on. This doesn’t feel like Iron Fist’s character at all – it’s too cutesy, and not serious enough (hmm, just like Doctor Strange).
Anyway, the plane gets shot down, and the team gets ambushed. End issue one on this cliffhanger (well, with a little more thrown in, but that’s the bulk of it).
The story here is pretty pedestrian, but that’s not a crime. It’s tough to write a superhero comic that really breaks new ground. But the characterizations are really annoying. Only Namor comes out of the issues not seeming like a substantially different character than the one I’m used to, and that’s just bad writing. Maybe Marvel’s trying to mix up all their characters (in which case, I really have no interest in following them), or else Fraction’s just getting too cute with the characters, writing them the way he wishes they were rather than how they actually are. That my two favorite characters in the book – Doctor Strange and Iron Fist – are the most changed just makes it worse.
The Dodsons’ art is fine, of course. Ironically (given my earlier Power Girl comment), it seems like their style is evolving to look a little more like Amanda Connors’. The colors often seem a bit washed out, though, making many of the pages seem a bit flat.
But that’s not enough to make me want to keep reading. If issue #2 isn’t significantly improved then I don’t see myself continuing with the series. Which is too bad because I had been looking forward to this series, and this issue was really disappointing.