Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Tying into Netflix’s small-screen superhero line-up, the Defenders are back in their triumphant return to comic books the week, as writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez deliver a solid opener to Marvel’s premier street-level team. While Luke Cage and company are still establishing their dynamic and balance as a cohesive unit, Bendis gets readers in on the ground floor with each of these characters smoothly, aided and elevated by some gorgeous artwork from Marquez.
On its face, Defenders is a book that is a no-brainer for Bendis to be writing, given his history writing the four main characters of the team in solo books and his Avengers runs. But Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones each showed very different sides of Bendis, so it’s interesting to see how he juggles them all at once. Defenders #1 is ultimately Luke Cage’s story - not only is he the first Defender to appear (and it’s his villain, Diamondback, at the heart of the issue), but he’s also the main connective tissue across the team at this point. He’s Jessica Jones’ husband, he’s Iron Fist’s best friend - and as opposed to the other Defenders, who got roped into this chaos thanks to busting the wrong bad guys, Luke’s beef with Diamondback is personal.
With this issue, that means some of the other Defenders get a little bit less screen time - particularly Daredevil and Iron Fist, the former of which is surprising given his comparative A-list status amongst the team. Still, the usually decompressed Bendis is particularly straightforward with his plotting with this debut issue, forgoing much in the way of stretched-out dialogue scenes (except for one particularly memorable cameo from the Black Cat, who gets my vote for first pick if Bendis decides to expand the team). Instead, he trusts artist David Marquez to draw a lot of the expected imagery for these characters in introductory panels, like Daredevil being surrounded by images of radioactive waste and Bullseye, or Jessica Jones having images of the Purple Man or her daughter around her. It’s a good way to get readers up to speed quickly, and that pays off nicely when we see them split up and start terrorizing the underworld on their own.
Meanwhile, I can’t say enough about David Marquez’s artwork in Defenders - just like Bendis has become Marvel’s go-to creator to relaunch strategic properties such as X-Men or Guardians of the Galaxy, Marquez feels like a shoe-in whenever you need to give a book a particular kind of invigoration. While given Bendis’s previous street-level books you might expect a grittier art style like Alex Maleev or David Mack, but Marquez brings such a cleanness to his linework that these characters will catch just about any reader’s eye. Marquez is able to deftly move between memorable character beats - seriously, I’ve laughed so much at how happy Luke Cage looks with his hands full of sandwich-making materials — and bombastic action sequences, such as a dynamite two-panel sequence of the Defenders painting the town red looking for Diamondback. Colorist Justin Ponsor continues playing with strategic palettes for each of the characters, highlighting purples during Jessica Jones’ scenes, emerald greens with Iron Fist, or moody yellows with Luke. It’s a great touch that builds noir-ish atmosphere to what could otherwise feel like standard superhero fare, and gives each character a chance to own their individual scenes.
Ultimately, Defenders isn’t a perfect read - it relies perhaps too much on Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offerings, and it’s admittedly a little hard to justify an extended Black Cat scene when some of the title characters still aren’t fully developed - but it’s absolutely a book that does what it sets out to do, which is to get readers interested and invested in this ragtag band of street-level superheroes. Bendis’s plot moves briskly and thankfully doesn’t waste time in getting these heroes up to speed in their battle against Diamondback, and thanks to Marquez’s show-stopping artwork, is a treat to look at, as well. This team might not be A-listers like the Avengers, but that doesn’t mean that Defenders still don’t pack a heck of a punch.