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In the ongoing quest to align its television and film properties with comic story-lines, Marvel relaunches The Defenders this year with a new lineup. As in the upcoming Netflix series of the same name, the roster of Luke Cage, Daredevil, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones unites to defend New York from criminal threats. Writer Brian Michael Bendis returns to street-level heroics with art by David Marquez and colors from Justin Ponsor.
This is a well paced team book that shows real promise, mainly because it knows how to use the tools at its disposal. Street level heroes in the Marvel universe have a wealth of great characters to color in the background. In this issue’s opening recap page, for example, ever beleaguered reporter Ben Urich fills us in on last issue’s events. Old school Luke Cage foe Diamondback resurfaces to make a move and become head crime honcho of the city. Cage goes after him first, only to be poisoned and left for dead.
Bendis has experience writing all these characters (he created Jessica Jones) and does nice work letting their team-up evolve gradually, with great action to keep things interesting. Hit the streets and explore the finer points of how Defenders balances these larger than life characters in an engaging narrative.
Maybe it’s because he has a smaller cast to juggle, but the narrative unfolds beautifully in this well plotted story. Each hero reacts to Luke’s poisoning in their own way, taking action to find the man responsible. Earlier I mention the abundance of characters to draw from, and our opening scene is another fine example. Luke lies in critical condition in the care of Linda Carter, the new Night Nurse (a title formerly held by Claire Temple).
Jessica understandably freaks out until the timely delivery of an antidote, in an unexpected cameo by Blade, the vampire hunter. Still ready to call 9-1-1 and blow the Night Nurse’s secret hideout, Jessica only stops when Luke briefly awakes. “Babe. Keep it down, I’m nappin’.” Concise, in character, and a nice moment for the husband and wife team.
The dialogue gets a little long-winded in other instances. It’s as if Bendis is consciously trying to de-quipify his writing with a more dry and deliberate style. It gets halting at times, but works to his favor in a tense exchange between Danny Rand and now semi-legitimate businessman Wilson Fisk.
Each character gets an effective and unique interrogation scene, which leads nicely to the final scene where they storm Diamondback’s hideout. There, the art really takes narrative lead with compelling results.
Artist David Marquez reunites with Bendis in this series, departing from their past work together in big event crossovers. The intimate setting of a small team book works well with his style, as detailed line work and unique character design bring each panel to life. In the opening rescue of Luke, his revival elicits a flashy grin from Blade as he reminds Jessica that Luke now owes him. Yet the dialogue is almost secondary to what that grin conveys.
I say “unique” character design, but really what he achieves is more with less. Nothing is overly flashy, with muted purples and blacks from Ponsor creating a great atmosphere. Settings from Daredevil’s rooftop meetup with Urich, to Diamondback scheming in his hideout sink us deep into the city night they operate in.
The most kinetic work, of course, happens when the fighting starts. Jessica enters first with a crushing blow to Diamondback’s jaw. Daredevil’s baton makes its rounds knocking out goons in a terrific splash page, along with some typical, but still cool fight poses in the following panels.
The dramatic close carries extra menace. A mostly black page conveys the ominous silhouette of the Punisher, indicating this book may just pull in every street level hero Marvel has to offer. My hope is the balance and narrative drive continues unabated, but the more we add, the more difficult that can become.