Best Shots Advance Reviews: DEFENDERS #1, CHEW #22, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

 

Defenders #1

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Sonia Oback

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

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I'll call it now — even as it comes from the aftermath of the uber-serious Fear Itself, Defenders is Matt Fraction's Justice League International. Or at the very least, it's seems like it's trying to be.

With its quirky, eclectic cast, we're not quite in the "Bwa-ha-ha" territory of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire epic, but there's a tongue-in-cheek quality to Fraction's team here, a genuine sense of humor that clashes against some of the darker beats that Defenders has to offer. There are some sparks of genius here amidst the static of a post-Fear Itself status quo, but is it enough for Fraction's fire catch on?

For me, the jury is still out — on the plus side, when Fraction's on, he's on, with new teammates like Red She-Hulk or Iron Fist in particular stealing the show from original Defenders like Namor or the Silver Surfer. He introduces the characters quickly, and has them play off one another with a surprising amount of fun. And perhaps more importantly, these characters have a sense of humor, whether its Betty ruining a Spanish national festival with her… we'll say over-enthusiasm… or Iron Fist looking up from his comic books to spontaneously inventing a brand new form of kung fu, and to be honest, it's of a tone that I've never really seen Fraction do before. It's not that ultra-cool, ultra-clever laugh you might get reading Casanova, it's more low-brow, occasionally even sit-commy.

Which brings me to tone. Tone, and story logic, which is where I think Defenders isn't quite as strong. You've got some smile-worthy flashes of humor here, but you've also got that alongside a room full of seizing-up psychics, an anecdote about a child molester, a sea of blood and someone getting violently shot before this book's 20-page count concludes. On the one hand, it keeps you on your toes, but on the other hand, it also feels like a conflicted identity. The more important issue, though, is a matter of story logic and continuity — the book takes for granted that we have at least heard of these characters, because Fraction doesn't have time to fill you in on their backstory. So any sort of real explanation of why this team? Eh, they know each other. To me, it feels a little arbitrary, and it's only the beginning of the surprisingly deep continuity waters that Fraction treads in here. You've been warned.

So what about the art? Well, in certain ways, the Dodsons are insurance — they're a known quantity, one that fans will appreciate, and I imagine the decision to bring them on board was to hopefully get fickle readers to give this not-quite-Avengers team a shot. The characters themselves look nice, and Red She-Hulk in particular looks more human and sympathetic than I've ever seen her, but at the same time, I also see a few missed opportunities, as well. The first one is the action sequences and the acting — basically, the characters look great, but the moment they need to be doing something more, the disconnect becomes apparent. Stephen Strange mulling about his future after, well, getting some strange barely has a crinkled brow, while a major fight sequence with Iron Fist isn't quite given enough room to really hit home. (Fraction does save that bit with his narration, however.) The other, perhaps more important one is establishing a stronger visual identity — the Defenders aren't A-listers like the Avengers or the X-Men, so why try to emulate that tone?

For Matt Fraction diehards, I think you're going to be very surprised at the tone and content that Defenders has to offer, which I'll be the first to say reads very little like much of what he's written in the past. In that regard, props to him for stretching himself, even if it does feel like he's goofing off a bit. But considering this book was also billed as one that would explain the connective tissue of the Marvel Universe, there's surprisingly little exposition for any new readers who want to get on board with this high-potential cast of characters. It's a very loose style of writing, which may bug people who want their logic tight and their themes prevalent. For me, it's the moving target of the tone and the lack of justification of membership that keeps me from truly digging Defenders — but there's some potential here. That's obvious. And now that the introduction is out of the way, I'm hoping that Matt Fraction and the Dodsons will make it clearer what kind of book they want this to be.

 

Chew #22

Written by John Layman

Art by Rob Guillory

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

And speaking of tone — Chew is an example of doing it right. Thanks to the hilariously over-expressive artwork of Rob Guillory, writer John Layman is able to have his cake and eat it too (see what I did there?), balancing both mirth and menace in a way that's never unwelcome but always surprising.

Oh, and did I mention that this is even when the title character takes a back seat to his supporting cast? Please, sir, may I have another.

The thing about Chew is, sure, Layman continues to innovate his foodie-centric world, adding yet another culinary superpower to the mix that is as clever as it is dangerous. But the real heart of this book are the characters, with some biting voice, a manic energy to their pacing, all on top of a very funny twist on hand-feeding your kids. And it's largely a done-in-one story, giving readers a really nice entry point to this weird world, all while giving a solid beginning, middle and end.

Of course, there's still some danger here, as you get kidnappings, lethal food and one poor character getting the business end of a baseball bat. But what's so great about this book is that it's never out of left field, it's that hint of an edge to Rob Guillory's lines. The all-pervading humor keeps everything leavened, whether it's Mason Savoy wearing a plate of spaghetti or the glazed look in Caesar's new partner's eyes, the characters have a ton of character. It softens the blow of some of the darker stuff, because seriously, how funny do these guys look doing it?

Combined with tons of sardonic exposition keeps you on the ground floor, and lines like coffee tasting of "malevolence!!" keeps this book right where it needs to be: it's comedy with a purpose, humor with a plot. In other words, it's a story engine that showed no signs of stopping. Forget the sophomore slump: the second issue of "Major League Chew" is a definite home run. 

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