The Ninjabot

The Defenders: Not-So-Great-Expectations

Posted on September 30, 2012 at 10:02 am by Tyler Waterman

No one judges a book by its cover more than a fan of comics. We make snap decisions every week as to what we think will be worth our time and money, and while we may often be right, our preconceived notions can also keep us from reading great books. To help out my fellow readers, every week I’ll pick a title I would normally pass on and give it its due. I’ll report back whether it’s a diamond in the rough or just, well, rough. This is Not-So-Great Expectations.

90% of you can’t name 50% of these people, and that’s ok.

The Defenders are one of those anomalies that only exist in comics. It’s an institution that’s universally considered classic, but is not quite universally respected. Appearing throughout Marvel history and in many different forms, this on-again-off-again team has always suffered from having less than stellar members on it’s roster. I’m not taking away anything from the original members, but truth be told I don’t see many kids pretending to swim like Namor, cast spells like Doctor Strange, or, uh, surf like Silver Surfer. Sure, lots of kids like to smash like Hulk, but I’m pretty sure that’s because of his membership on some other team.

However, this latest iteration is written by Matt Fraction, known for reinventing stale heroes (Iron Fist, Hawkeye), as well as delivering one of the heaviest storylines in years (Fear Itself). If the Defenders are lacking credibility, Fraction is the man to give it to them.

To be clear, I’m deliberately going to be avoiding discussing the plot of this book. Fraction is nearly Grant Morrison-esque with his twists and turns, as well as with his use of flashbacks as a seamless part of the narrative. Ultimately what this means is that it’s difficult for me to discuss the story without subsequently ruining the story, which I try to avoid at all costs. Instead, I intend to highlight why this book is such a pleasant surprise, and why it also leaves me with some concern.

Where this book shines is in the interactions between the team. Fraction understands that he is not writing Avengers Lite. This isn’t a group with access cards and government funding; they aren’t getting served meals by a butler and discussing tomorrow’s press release. This is a ragtag group of individuals, united by a specific cause rather than a commitment to long-term protection. In other words, these people aren’t inclined to like each other, and it shows rather quickly.

See? What’d I tell you.

This is what initially makes the book such a compelling read. Each of these characters is incredibly headstrong, but they’re also genuinely determined to save the day, and watching them struggle with the concept of “teamwork” makes for entertaining stuff. These are heroes that can travel astral planes or crush cars with their hands, yet Fraction turns these gods into men simply by emphasizing their social struggles and how similar they are to those we deal with daily.

Awkwaaaaard.

While the characterizations do make the book shine, that same plot I can’t discuss is where my concerns lie. To be frank, so far it hasn’t been all that compelling. This is a book where the great little details are helping to direct attention away from a pretty flat story, involving mystery machines that may or may not indirectly grant wishes, old men protectors that silently watch them, and a conspiracy that promises to rock the Marvel universe but so far has yet to rock much of anything. That being said, this is Fraction we’re talking about, the veritable king of the “slow burn.” I have no doubt that in ten more issues I’ll be kicking myself for doubting his pedigree, but right now I’m left feeling like there isn’t much pushing me to look forward to the next issue. I know I’ll be entertained by the funny quips that will occur between teammates, but that’s simply not enough to sustain a book.

Overall, I do consider Defenders a pleasant surprise. I came in expecting to be underwhelmed and that simply wasn’t the case. The book has done a lot to draw attention to characters that may not otherwise get it, and Fraction’s superior understanding of characterization guarantees that these characters’ time in the spotlight won’t be wasted. There isn’t a character on this team that hasn’t been improved by being in this book; however, until the plot really starts to solidify, the jury is still out on whether the Defenders name itself will also start attracting the same respect.

You can follow Tyler on Twitter @BatmanIncVP

    • thejerd

      I can name all but one… it bothers me that I can't hit 100%

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