So I’ve got a lot of comics to get caught up on reviewing. Most of them, I really enjoyed. But before I get to those, I just have this one bit of vitriol to get out of my system…
The Defenders 1&2
by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez
Holy crap, this book is awful.
I wanted to give it a shot, because… Hey. It’s Bendis, back writing street-level super heroes. He used to be good at that. Plus… I like these characters, and I know he loves at least three of them. So I figured… why not?
But it’s awful.
The story is choppy, the dialogue is stilted, the layouts are cramped, the action is poorly-choreographed, and the characters are cardboard cut-outs moving through a plot that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I read the first issue, hated it, and wouldn’t have read the second except that I realized it had come out before I got around to eviscerating the first. But we’ll deal with that in a bit.
First, there’s issue one to take apart. This is a comic that feels like somebody took a knife to it. It’s like a bunch of random panels and pages were cut out, without making much attempt to spackle over the cracks. For example:
Does it seem to anyone else that a dialogue exchange is missing between panels there? It just doesn’t flow. And the whole issue reads like that. In places, it feels like important plot points got cut out. Including the entire inciting incident for the story, which is filled in on the recap page:
But it’s ISSUE ONE! There’s nothing to recap! Bendis is referencing a story that never happened! Worse, he’s referencing a story that sounds pretty cool, and might provide some much-needed context and motivation for what happens in the story he actually did write. I actually went back and looked to see if there was a zero issue I missed, or if something was set up in any of the character’s solo books. But, no. There’s nothing. Most of those books don’t even make sense in context with this one, and that includes Bendis’ own Jessica Jones! This thing just feels like it’s been cooked up out of nowhere, to capitalize on the upcoming Defenders TV show.
EDIT: Since writing this, I have been told that there WAS a Defenders zero issue for Free Comic Book Day, and it covers Jessica Jones getting shot. The attack on Diamondback’s joint still happens off-camera, mind you. But my bad on not finding that when I went looking. Granted, it would have been pretty easy to put a reference to that zero issue on the recap page, so people like me wouldn’t be perplexed at all the missing story. But, still. My Google-Fu was weak, and it marred my review. Apologies. END EDIT.
That slap-dash feeling continues throughout the issue. Attacks are carried out on Daredevil and Iron Fist, too. But those don’t get the drama of Jessica’s trip to the hospital. In fact, we don’t even know what happened to them. So basically, all the set-up, all the building action, all the small personal details that might make me care about this story, are left off-camera. And so everything that follows from it feels hollow and throw-away.
Worse, it’s not entertaining. The one attack we do see, for instance, is essentially a replay of that scene from the Luke Cage TV show where Diamondback shoots him with a rocket launcher from a nearby rooftop.
That was a pretty cool scene on the show. But Bendis doesn’t follow it up the way they did, with a harrowing sequence of Cage trapped under the rubble, trying to save not just his own life, but the lives of the helpless civilians trapped with him. Because this book ain’t got time for anything that might heighten the drama or make me give a crap. So instead, Cage just tells the kids who got caught in the blast with him that they should call 911. Then he rushes off to deal with his own problems.
And how do they figure out it’s Diamondback behind these attacks? Jessica remembers him throwing some diamonds on her before she passed out. Which… Good lord. Why would she even think that? It’s not something he’s ever done before page three of this very issue! And the story acknowledges that! At least Luke argues with her about it a little, but even then his rationale is, “Diamonback’s dead.” Not “That is an incredible leap of logic that doesn’t make any damn sense.”
So, yeah. It’s a bad comic, made worse by the fact that I know Bendis is capable of so much better. Parts of this are so bad, in fact, that I have a hard time believing he actually wrote it.
Except… In the back… After the main story mercifully draws to a close… There’s a seven-page interview with Luke Cage. In it, he discusses fatherhood, marriage, privacy, and being a super hero. It’s really good work with a really good character who’s come a long way from his origins. It’s ten times better than the rest of the comic, and the only thing in it that actually feels like the Brian Bendis I used to enjoy reading. Hell. It’s the only thing in it that actually seems competent.
Issue two is better. The dialogue flows properly, and it doesn’t feel like all the story’s connective tissue was forcibly removed. It’s still not great, mind you. It’s still a typical late-career Bendis work for hire comic, with all the careless ADHD plotting that implies. Diamondback is even more of a cipher than he was in issue one. Blade makes a cameo to resolve a pesky plot point in a manner that’s not explained in any way. The fight scenes are mostly unimaginative. All the plot movements seem loosely connected at best, with Our Heroes working separately toward the same goal, and not actually coming together as a team in spite of the fact that they all wind up at the same place, anyway. And that “Un-Team” thing (entirely appropriate for The Defenders) is not a plot point. It’s just how things work out, with no discussion or explanation. Like I said: typical late-career work-for-hire Bendis.
But it’s still better than the first one. And it’s better in a way that makes me wonder if the real problem with issue one is that it was a rush job. Because, after issue two, that’s what it reads like. It has the feel of a comic that was supposed to be a lot longer, and had to be cut quickly, at the last minute. Like maybe there wasn’t time to go back and make it all pretty. Even the artwork is better is better in issue two, with more open layouts that don’t force too much exposition onto a single page.
EDIT TWO: Bendis has said in interviews, and in the back of issue one, that he pitched this book years ago. But it seems that it took the success of the Netflix shows to get it greenlit. So maybe he had to do substantial re-writes to his original pitch, and that’s what made the first issue so bad. END EDIT.
That’s wild speculation, of course. I have no idea what happened in the production of that first issue. But I’d rather believe it was a time crunch that made it so bad, rather than sheer damn incompetence.
Anyway. Even after issue two, I’ve still gotta say that this book is pretty awful. It’s the worst comic I’ve read in a while. And I just read the first issue of Brother Power the Geek, so that’s really saying something! But at least that Cage interview keeps the grade from being as low as it might have been…