A farewell to Fraction’s Defenders

Posted: November 8, 2012 in Marvel, Reviews
Tags: ,

By Alex Headley

A splash page from Fraction and Dodson’s Defenders series.
Property of Marvel Comics.

Matt Fraction’s quirky Defenders title has been my favorite Marvel book in the past year. And now it has come to an end. This week’s issue 12 wraps up the space-time-reality-mind bending tale in which just a few issues ago, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Namor and Iron Fist all got high in Wakanda so they could fight a man made of smoke protecting secret machines of ultimate power. Yeah, it got weird. The series kind of spun out of Fear Itself, an event that had promise but completely failed to execute, as the newly formed Defenders took on Nul, The World Breaker. But the heroes found the Concordance Engines, which is a thing they can’t talk about to anyone even though it’s a really big deal. The engines become a way for Fraction to explore some strange things, sending the characters on a rollercoaster ride to figure them out. There is a lot of comedy, a lot of weird and a lot of fun. Fraction’s writing here is reminiscent of some of Grant Morrison’s stranger concepts; most notably it has a lot of similar threads as Final Crisis. Final Crisis was interesting but didn’t quite work as a big event encompassing the entire DCU. Here, keeping things focused on a smaller cast of lesser known characters lets the concepts at play here really shine. They have a little more meaning, a little more threat and a lot more room to play. It works for me, although I’m sure the series has its detractors. It certainly didn’t sell well enough to keep going.

A couple issues even manage to flesh out characters that usually play bit parts in bigger Marvel events. The new Red She-Hulk gets the spotlight as the point of view character and her interactions with big time heroes like Strange and Namor are pretty great. Dr. Strange stars in an issue that was just on the verge of heartbreaking when the machine gives him what he wants more than anything else. He’s also a pervy old dude with magic, seducing students and pretty much offending everyone. Namor gets what is essentially an origin issue and considering I have little love for the character (he has always struck me as an Aquaman rip-off that somehow manages to be less interesting than Aquaman) I really enjoyed Fraction’s take on Atlantis and Namor’s past as a hero. The past plays a very prominent role in the series as we soon learn that the Defenders aren’t the first to find the unnamable engines. A group of fantastic explorers discovered them decades ago but their existence went unnoticed. This concept really plays on Fraction’s run on Iron Frist from a few years ago. That was an excellent series that embraced the unexplained history of the character and really fleshed it out. As a result, Iron First has been a much more prominent and important character in the Marvel U, especially in the Avengers and, most recently, AvX. Fraction really excels with a small cast of misfits to explore and Defenders is all about exactly that.

Some of the more hilarious moments from the series are Black Cat’s attempts to activate the Satan Claw with the Konami Code, Silver Surfer wearing a tropical shirt, Namor’s beard,  the great use of white space on the bottom of each page for ads and thoughts from the writer and Iron Fist reading comics on his private jet in the face of mortal danger. Oh, and Betty’s obsession with her sword or Scott Lang’s appearance or what may be the last appearance of classic Nick Fury. There are too many great moments to count really.

I almost forget to mention Terry Dodson art duties. Dodson has an immediately recognizable and fun style that lends itself well to superhero action. There is plenty of that in the book but it’s the weirder stuff that really impresses. White-out panels and silhouettes, time-streams and beings of immense celestial power are all at play here and Dodson does an excellent job keeping these concepts coherent and interesting.  The only time he fails to deliver is in the more emotional moments, particularly with Silver Surfer and Iron Fist. Doctor Strange and Nick Fury fare better.

Matt Fraction’s FF series follows a group of misfit heroes chosen to defend Earth while the Fantastic Four are off on a space-time vacation. The excellent Mike Allred will be in charge of the art.
Property of Marvel Comics.

The Marvel lineup is losing a great book with The Defenders but at least we get some closure on the series. Much like Gail Simone’s excellent handling of Secret Six’s cancellation, Defenders 12 wraps things up in a delightful, fulfilling way that is true to the series. Even if it is a little cheesy and could have used another issue to give more characters the closure they deserve. Dr. Strange has been the biggest star of the series and issue 12 really drives that home. If nothing else comes of this book, maybe we can get a Dr. Strange series soon.

I’ll be following Fraction over to FF and possibly Fantastic Four in Marvel NOW!. I’ll probably be looking into some of Fraction’s creator owned stuff in the near future as well. I’ve heard good things about Casanova and Sex Criminals has an interesting premise that could be fun.

What did you think of Defenders? Will you be picking any of Fraction’s other books coming soon? Let us know in the comments.

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Comments
  1. […] run on the series is already the stuff of legend. I heaped a lot of praise on Matt Fraction last week, and he doesn’t disappoint me here. I’m not the biggest Fantastic Four fan but the characters […]

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