DEFENDERS Gets Down & Dirty In the Darker Side of Marvel's New York

Defenders #2
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

This week, Marvel's Defenders #1 introduces a new iteration of the venerable team - one with a line-up that reflects the upcoming TV series that unites Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil. But those four aren't the only old friends reuniting for Defenders - the series also marks the fourth collaboration between writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez.

Though the new Defenders don't bear much resemblance to the original foursome, they share an ethos that Marquez describes as exploring the "darker side" of the Marvel Universe. The series also marks a departure for Marquez from his typically clean, structured style with a more textured, gritty look that Marquez developed alongside colorist Justin Ponsor.

Newsarama spoke to Marquez on the eve of the release of Defenders #1, digging deeper into the darkness and grit of Marvel's streets to discover how New York itself defines the title - and even which of the original Defenders may be popping up soon.

Newsarama: David, at this point you’ve basically drawn the entire Marvel Universe. What new challenges does Defenders represent for you as an artist?

David Marquez: First and foremost, after the scope and scale of Civil War II - which was an amazing project, and like you said, I got to draw almost the entire Marvel Universe - but even after that, there’s still a corner of the Marvel Universe I haven’t explored. And that’s the darker side of the street-level heroes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

In Ultimate Spider-Man, we touched on some of those elements, but Spider-Man is really in his own world. But for this we’re going full into the Hell’s Kitchen, New York, Defenders scene with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, all these great heroes and the great rogues gallery that comes with that.

Plus there’s a slew of other associated characters that are in their orbit. Misty Knight, for example – I haven’t spent that much time with those characters, in terms of drawing. I have read a lot of the stories featuring these characters, and obviously I love Brian’s stuff with Daredevil, and his use of these characters in his Avengers books.

So a big part of it is getting to play with characters that in spite of my best efforts with my work so far, I haven’t gotten to spend a ton of time with. And likewise, it’s a huge shift in tone compared to what I was doing in Civil War II. That was a big, summer, blockbuster movie, but Defenders is a much more intimate - neo-noir is a term we keep coming back to - it’s a more intimate story, and a chance to stretch different muscles artistically and creatively.

It’s very different from what I’ve done before. It’s still a superhero book, but I get to play with different Marvel elements in a different way than I’m used to.

Nrama: How have you adapted your style to drawing these street level characters in what you called the “darker side” of Marvel’s world outside your window?

Credit: Marvel Comics

Marquez: Every project I take on starts to take on a life of its own and go its own direction. When I was working on Miles Morales, it went one direction - in some ways I’m going in a similar direction here, with grittier, more textured linework. With Invincible Iron Man, it became really open and clean. With Civil War II, I continued in that direction.

In one way I’m inspired by the other artists who have drawn these characters. I mean, just look at the roster of artists who have tackled Daredevil in recent memory: David Mazzucchelli, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, Chris Samnee - All of these folks have made pretty definitive statements on the way they make Daredevil’s world work. So on one hand I’m certainly drawing inspiration from the work they’ve done, but I’m also taking inspiration from the way they show the reader not just a full image of what Marvel’s street-level looks like. That’s very much the way I’m approaching this. In terms of specifics, I’m playing a lot with texture. I’m playing a lot with shadows. Brian and I talk a lot about making the city itself a character, both literally and figuratively. I’m leaning into that neo-noir look - heavy shadows and bright, saturated colors. Trying to draw as much of a contrast between what this world looks like versus the bright, shiny Marvel Universe I’ve drawn so much in the past.

Nrama: You’re working with writer Brian Michael Bendis again on Defenders – your fourth project and third ongoing series together. What keeps your partnership going strong?

Marquez: First and foremost, we’re close friends. When we first started working together I was down in Texas and of course he was up in Portland. Then a few years ago my wife and I started looking for a change, so we came to visit Portland. And when we met Brian and his family, and the huge comics community here, we were immediately won over. So we moved here four years ago, and over the intervening years, our families have become very close. We’ll all get together and have dinner and Brian and I will just talk shop.

Then, kind of just spontaneously, the conversations we have wind up becoming new projects. That’s how Invincible Iron Man happened, that’s how Civil War II happened, that’s how Defenders happened. So in addition to just the closeness of being to talk about the craft face to face so often, along with that comes a strong respect for each other as storytellers, as craftsman, and creatively as collaborators.

Credit: Marvel Comics

We also have very similar sensibilities in storytelling. We both put character first. As fun as it is to draw a really massive fight scene, what’s happening to the characters in that scene is what’s important. A fight scene isn’t about a punch, it’s about why the punch is being thrown, and where it takes the story. I love getting to play with all the emotional content he provides in the script. I try to elevate the story beyond what they words on the page are, but we’re both drawing on the same instincts.

Nrama: Is there a character in Defenders that you’ve connected with the most, either visually or from a story standpoint?

Marquez: The two that speak to me the most are Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, just because of their dynamic - not just together but with the whole team. Luke Cage is fun to draw, and Jessica has kind of an atypical look for a female character in a superhero comic, so that’s also fun to draw. In superhero books you’re usually drawing people in this form-fitting spandex, and that’s not the case for Luke and Jessica.

In a way, getting to play with them where their regular street clothes are their uniform, their costume, that’s fun, but it’s really about learning the way they move, the way they fight, the way they do everything. With Daredevil and Iron Fist, I love drawing them, but to a certain degree I’ve done that, the traditional superhero costume, a lot already. Getting to play with characters where there is no alter ego is a whole different stories.

With Daredevil you’ve also got Matt Murdock. With Iron Fist you’ve got Danny Rand - it’s two sets of different visuals to work with. With Jessica and Luke, what you see is what you get and I’m having a lot of fun with that.

Nrama: You mentioned before viewing the setting of New York as a character unto itself, and you and Brian have previously said New York is the “secret fifth member” of the Defenders. What’s your approach to capturing the city in that context?

Marquez: I’ve traveled to New York a number of times. I wouldn’t say I’m intimately familiar with the city, but my first go to is looking at some of the interpretations that I’ve seen from artists before. But really, I’m not trying to emphasize the grand, massive architecture of the city, I’m trying to emphasize the every day, personal essence of New York - the bricks and mortar, the water towers which have become synonymous with Daredevil. The every day, down to earth aspect of New York as opposed to the shiny, fancy part of it.

Nrama: You’re working with colorist Justin Ponsor again for Defenders. What does he bring to the table? Does the colorist you’re working with affect the way you approach your linework?

Credit: Marvel Comics

Marquez: Absolutely. Colorists are an integral part of comic book storytelling, and I’ve been very blessed to work with Justin on most of my Marvel stuff, since Ultimate Spider-Man. I’ve worked with a number of other amazing colorists - Marte Gracia, Matt Wilson, and a whole stable of colorists on some of my covers. Justin and I have been working together so long though that, similar to how Brian and I have similar instincts, Justin and I have a relationship where we can go a few issues without having to talk about them and they come out perfectly, but also, if we want to try something new, it’s very easy. He and I have been working very closely on what our direction is going to be for Defenders, because we both want it to be a statement for the characters.

I keep harping on that 'neo noir' term, but we’re really getting into that aesthetic. We’ve been playing with different palette choices, different color choices. One conversation we’re having is, in addition to the striking and unusual color choices we’re playing with, since I’m playing with texture in the art he really wanted to play with texture in the colors - and the results he’s come up with, his approach and how it plays off of the art is very breathtaking to me. I think it’s very different to anything either of us has done in the past, separately or together, and it stands in stark contrast – in a very good way - to a lot of the other stuff that’s on the shelves, and to what’s been done with these characters before.

Nrama: Without being spoilery, what’s on your drawing board right now?

Marquez: Right now I’m drawing… The best way I can describe it is that, like I said, Brian and I want to make the city a character unto itself, and part of that is featuring people on the street, the people who are directly affected by all the crazy goings-on from these wacky Marvel characters. So there are sequences in the book where we’re letting the people on the street tell the story.

We previewed some of that on Marvel’s Instagram with a promotion we did called “Defending The Streets.” These are featurettes where characters on the street tell the kind of “urban legend” version of the heroes’ backstories. What I’m drawing right now is an extension of that, showing the way the story unravels out into the world, beyond just the core characters of Jessica, Luke, Danny, and Matt.

That said - they’re familiar faces. I can’t say who they are, but as we move outside of that core group of characters, into the concentric rings around them, we start to see other characters we recognize getting drawn into the story – in some cases, surprise characters we maybe haven’t seen in a while.

Nrama: On that note, you and Brian have spoken previously about bringing in some of the classic Defenders as the series goes on. Do you have any favorites you’d like to see drop in?

Marquez: When Brian and I were working on Invincible Iron Man, we had an ongoing joke about the relationship between Tony Stark and Doctor Strange – two mustachioed bros who love women. I fell in love with drawing Doctor Strange, so I’d love to see him make his way into Defenders. There are a few of them I’d really like to draw, but Doctor Strange in particular, I have a soft spot for.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: Diamondback is the apparent villain for the series’ first arc. What are the Defenders going to face after that? Are there any villains you’re aching to bring in?

Marquez: There’s a huge rogues gallery to draw from. I’ve already had a chance to draw some other classic street-level villains that I can’t spoil. But the short version is yes – I’m very excited to bring in more of those classic enemies – and also creating some new threats as well.

Nrama: What’s your favorite thing you’ve drawn for Defenders so far?

Marquez: Honestly, the city of New York. I’ve had the chance to draw different settings in the Marvel Universe, and I’ve drawn Manhattan a lot - but this version of New York, down in the alleys, amongst the bricks and mortar, I’m getting to stretch different muscles than I’m used to.

A lot of the time for artists, backgrounds become tedious, or the thing you have to draw to get to the thing you really want to draw - a chore, rather than a joy. But for me, drawing this setting has become an absolute joy.

Nrama: Bottom line, what are you most excited for fans to see in Defenders? What can you tease us with for the future of the series?

Marquez: A couple things. First of all, these are characters Brian has written a ton in the past, and reintroducing them to readers in a very different context, and quite frankly in a media environment in which these characters have a much higher profile, that’s super exciting. Getting to be part of that is super exciting. I’m also really excited just to put my stamp on these characters. A lot of amazing artists have come before me and made their statement with the characters. I hope the art Justin and I are creating stands up to what we’ve seen in the past in a way that people will really engage with.

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