Having reviewed every issue of this series, I can safely say The Defenders is a must buy for folks who love art and team books. Especially for those who like their teams with low numbers. Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez put on a show with the first five issues, now collected in trade paperback form, but I suspect it’ll be something studied by many due to its ability to master light and energy.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Daredevil! Luke Cage! Jessica Jones! Iron Fist! Individually, these four heroes have been on the front lines of the battle to keep the streets of the city safe and secure! But now, with a deadly enemy from the dim past making a major move to unite the underworld, they will need to become more-they will need to become DEFENDERS! Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez unite to bring you the next great super-team, in the tradition of NEW AVENGERS!
Can I jump in easily?
This is the first volume, so yep. It also opens with a good intro for each hero so even if you don’t know these characters (come on, haven’t you seen the shows yet?!) you’ll get a nice recap for each.
Reason 1: The lighting is always dynamic.
I did not see you there.
Good god is this book beautiful, and more importantly realistic looking. One might say it’s all about the fine details, but I’d tell them, “Nay it’s about lighting!” Seriously, flip this book open to any page and you’ll find great lighting, whether it’s from a single lamp in a scene or the ambient light of the city. In one of my favorite scenes of 2017, colorist Justin Ponsor, Marquez and Bendis open a scene with two knucklehead baddies talking. There’s a space where there’s only darkness as they’re in a room lit with only one light. From the shadows in one panel, we can start to see something emerging. In the next we see it’s a white skull and then finally we see The Punisher emerge. It’s an amazing bit of drama made exciting due to the anticipatory nature of the lighting of the scene. Throughout you’ll find amazing close up shots that light a character’s face perfector. This, of course, adds a realism to the street-level book. Don’t be surprised if Ponsor’s name pops up for an Eisner award.
Reason 2: The action is all about energy.
If you think about these characters, each one harbors a certain type of energy. Luke Cage is like a wall but can dish a wall through his fists and Jessica Jones is similar. Then you have Daredevil, who is agile and capable of zipping around you in a cartwheel. Iron Fist is similar — they both know some form of martial arts — but he also has a ball of energy at the end of his hand. That makes it all the more important to capture the kinetic energy in their bones as they fight. Since a comic isn’t in motion, how do you do that? Well, Marquez shows it in how a character stands after a kick. His ability to capture the coiled energy in a leg as it is about to strike, or the complete lack of energy in an arm after it punches is astounding. In a scene that showcases this perfectly, for example, Black Cat takes out some goons and you can see how she’s either just thrown off energy in a kick or built up the energy to lay down another strike. It adds a dynamic to a full-page spread that is electric.
Reason 3: The energy of each character is exhibited via dialogue.
Guess what? There are no captions in this book. It’s all dialogue spoken by characters out loud. That’s an interesting thing you don’t see much, but why would you need it when you can have Iron Fist and Daredevil shoot the shit in a casual and fun way? Bendis does a great job with dialogue (duh), but you get a good sense of the amount of energy these characters have via this dialogue. Iron Fist is spunky and filled with energy, while Luke is a bit slower and more methodical. Daredevil is a quieter person (he does have an identity to keep secret), and seems to speak more slowly. You get that sense in how long a sentence might be. Iron Fist tends to talk in short bursts; Black Cat in longer purrs (sorry, I had to). You can measure a person by their words and Bendis proves it here.
Dang, look at her feet fly!
Reasons to be wary?
Surprisingly this trade takes out the fun and clever recap pages from the single issues. Usually, this is a good thing, but Bendis used these pages to have a single character introduce things for us via well-placed dialogue bubbles. They’re gone here, which is a bit of a shame.
As a trade, this book doesn’t quite feel like a single arc. Instead, it sets things up, introduces characters, and plays fast and loose with the plotting. It’ll be interesting to see how this reads when you get to read volume two right after because as it stands it’s a good taste but not an entire meal. Well, unless of course you like to eat light and energy!
Is there a rationale to the reasons?
This book is gorgeous due to its use of light and energy. It’s seriously one of the best books on the stands because of its visuals and that combined with Bendis’ use of language. All this energy and light may blind you, but in the best of ways.