Last fall, Marvel was hyping the miniseries event that took place over four solo issues and a final team-based book. The Best Defense took some of the rougher-around-the-edges heroes, especially recently, and gave them a mission to take on together. Largely formed by writer Al Ewing, the story celebrates the raw and more esoteric heroes.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
An unsolvable murder. An aquatic doorway to nothingness. A wanderer at the end of time. And a cosmic train of planetary proportions. Four seemingly-unrelated events that will require the powers and insights of the members of the greatest Non-Team of them all, the original DEFENDERS, to connect the dots and challenge the strange power behind these disconnected happenings-before all of reality pays the price! Doctor Strange! The Immortal Hulk, Namor the Sub-Mariner! The Silver Surfer! Don’t call them a team-all them the DEENDERS!
Why does this matter?
Ewing contributes to the Hulk and final Defenders chapters, but this collection also houses chapters by Chip Zdarsky, Jason Latour, and Gerry Duggan. An all-star cast of writers if I say so myself. Not only does this collection highlight why each of these heroes is great in their own way, but it’s easily accessible to new and old readers alike.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
If Marvel had held off on this series it would have made for a great way to celebrate their 80 year anniversary. From the Hulk story reusing old panels from the classic comics to pushing Silver Surfer to do things immoral and cruel against his wishes, this series celebrates the characters well. It also adds new layers like a Doctor Strange who is the last man alive on Earth but has a plan to reverse everything.
Kicking things off is the Hulk chapter, which uses reprinted panels from the Incredible Hulk series very well. Ewing and artist Simon Di Meothe weave them into the narrative, making for a striking beat to remind us of the monster Hulk was and now is in the story. It’s also an interesting storytelling mechanic as it draws your attention to the history of the Hulk and how different he once was. This character has been through a lot which adds a layer you may not be thinking of when reading him. There is a killer twist that pays off later in this collection too.
The art in the Doctor Strange chapter by Greg Smallwood will blow you away. Smallwood’s art is incredible, layering great colors with textures making the world more vivid and real. It opens with an old Doctor Strange walking through the wasteland that is Earth. He’s the last hope for a humanity that is already dead. Smallwood’s art captures the singular journey of one man all alone. Well, he does have his magical items, but he’s pretty much alone. As the story progresses Smallwood explores iconic moments between Strange and villains, depicts the magical realm Steve Ditko so perfectly revealed decades ago very well and ties things all together. There’s an epic full page spread from space that will have you in awe. Seriously, pick this up if you like this character or the space scenes in Marvel books. His use of light is incredible too and there are some wicked monsters and villains too. The story by Gerry Duggan wraps up well tying into another part of the story and is called back to at the very end of the collection.
Everything wraps up with The Defenders and by the end, it’s safe to say they were integrated logically and well timed. Doctor Strange is actually a version of the character from a dimension where all is lost, but all the other characters are from the main timeline. As they weave in and out of the story Hell is involved, souls are dealt, Atlantis comes under peril, and Silver Surfer’s board is used as a weapon by the Hulk. Long story short, it’s an intense ride with each character playing a key part in saving Earth. It’s nice to see how each character gets their due leading up to this epic finale.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
Narratively speaking, not every chapter works as well as others. It can be a slower, heavier slog in exposition and captioning, and some of it feels like it has been done before. The Silver Surfer part has the same old story of Galactus saving one part of the universe by sacrificing another, for example. As a packaged deal the story works, but it limps along occasionally.
Is it good?
If this series was a question it’d be, “Do you want more?” The answer is undoubtedbly, “Yes!” It’s a story only comics could pull off.