***This article contains spoilers for Fearless Defenders #6, on sale now.***
February's Fearless Defenders #1 introduced not only a new take on Marvel's Defenders concept featuring an all-female cast, but also a new character named Annabelle Riggs: an archaeologist and civilian who gets caught up in the fantastic world of Valkyrie and Misty Knight, and soon became part of the story's main players.
Annabelle also distinguished herself as one of Marvel's few prominent lesbian characters — or at least she was, until her apparent death in this week's Fearless Defenders #6 by Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney, at the hands of an out-of-control Valkyrie.
The quick death of a minority character quickly attracted a vocal response, including noted blog DC Women Kicking Ass, who in stating disappointment wrote, "given that the character is only [in] six issues, it feels like she was designed to be cannon fodder."
Bunn posted a response on his personal website, writing that the moment was meant to elicit a strong reaction and "the fact that she was a lesbian didn’t even enter the equation for me, except that it was part of what made her who she was — just one part of many." Newsarama talked with Fearless Defenders series editor Ellie Pyle for more on this development, and what's next for the book. Courtesy of Marvel, we're also debuting several interior pages of Fearless Defenders #7, out later this month and illustrated by Stephanie Hans.
Newsarama: Ellie, very soon after Fearless Defenders #6 and the death of Annabelle Riggs came out, it had gotten a response from the book's fanbase. From your perspective of however much you've monitored it, has the reaction been along the lines of what you were expecting? Mostly positive, some outrage?
Ellie Ptyle: The reaction has been very much what I was expecting. And I absolutely understand it! I've made no secret about the fact that Annabelle is my favorite character and that scene is heartbreaking and devastating, as it should be! I would be crying and throwing things and full of outrage too if I didn't know what happens next. But… something happens next! And you don't even have to wait a full month to find out what it is! Go preorder issue #7 right now!
I've got to say though, our fans have been great. Even the angry letters I have received have been constructive and very well-reasoned. And they haven't all been angry. It was a powerful scene and there has been some appreciation for that. But it was upsetting and it should be upsetting! If it wasn't upsetting then we didn't do a very good job of telling the story. And I'll be honest, my favorite moment in the whole issue is Misty punching Valkyrie in the face, because wow, did she deserve it!
But keep the letters coming — angry, supportive, conflicted, whatever! I'm really looking forward to the conversation about all this we're going to be able to have on the issue 8 letters page, so anyone who wants to be a part of that, you have 'til Tuesday to send me your thoughts.
Nrama: There has been some negative reaction out there, and while I did see Cullen address a lot of it on his site, it seems that there is a sense of disappointment over the simple fact that there aren't a ton of lesbian characters in the Marvel Universe, and now there appears to be one less. How would you respond to those observers in particular?
Pyle: First off, I agree with everything Cullen said about the fact that Annabelle's sexuality was not in any way the reason for her death. I feel very strongly that her sacrifice was very true to everything we love about her. As to whether the fact that she is a lesbian should have kept us from telling a story in which she died… in this particular case, not having this specific character sacrifice herself would have made for a story in which we were less emotionally invested.
That said, I do understand the importance of not decreasing the lesbian population of the Marvel Universe, and if that had been the actual outcome of what we have planned, I might have looked at it differently. But Cullen found a way to write this scene in a manner that I felt was respectful to the character and was a product of her own choices and arc (not in blind service to another character's) and it will be a catalyst to more great stories that will also involve lesbian characters. (That word was plural right? Interesting…)
Nrama: On the more positive side, it seems the fact that this death — of a non-powered character that's only been around for six issues — had an impact is a testament to the uniqueness of the book, and its audience. As a Marvel editor, how unique do you see Fearless Defenders within Marvel's current publishing line?
Pyle: Isn't that amazing? I work on a lot of books with big, devout, vocal followings (Spidey, Daredevil, Guardians etc…) but for this book to have found such enthusiastic and invested fan base in just six months has been incredibly exciting for all of us who work on it. I think a lot of what people are gravitating toward is the unique energy between this odd combination of characters and Cullen and Will have done a great job of bringing that out on every page. The Defenders have always been a "non-team" and we interpreted that in this incarnation as a home for characters who people love but can't find in any other books at the moment. Obviously, we're not opposed to guest stars (And there will be more! Some men even!) but at its heart the book is about this offbeat group of women sparring with doom and each other.
I did read some concerns that we betrayed our lighthearted (some might even say snarky) tone by having such a tragic moment. But both of those things actually come from the same place: complex and engaging characters.
Nrama: Of course, it's a superhero comic book, and there's always a chance that a death isn't permanent, and that there's more to the story. While I'm sure you're not going to want to comment on those possibilities, Annabelle's death certainly at least seems to be a major turning point for the series, and clearly Valkyrie in particular. How significant will this event be to Fearless Defenders going forward?
Pyle: I know that the phrase "everything changes" is overused in comics to the point of being almost meaningless, but seriously, by the end of issue #7, Valkyrie will have dramatically altered the status quo in a way that will impact the whole team. If there even is a team! I mean… Misty did seem pretty angry…
Have you pre-ordered issue #7 yet?