Best Shots Review: DEFENDERS #2 Is a 'Cohesive, Refreshing Team Book' (8/10)

Marvel Comics June 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

The Defenders #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The newest incarnation of the “team-that-isn’t-a-team” straightens up and flies right in the decompressed but entertaining Defenders #2. Picking up moments after Luke Cage’s poisoning, writer Brian Michael Bendis keeps the team hip-deep in the “Hell Night” Diamondback has cooked up for them, but puts them on the offensive. In the process, this second issue doesn’t feel like Bendis’s usual dialogue-heavy and expository sophomore efforts, but rather a much more cohesive, even refreshing kind of team book.

Longtime Bendis collaborators David Marquez and Justin Ponsor follow up their splashy first issue with a much more precise second. While Bendis’ calls for double-page single images of everyday action and/or plot are still present (and quickly losing luster for me), Marquez’s character poses and the way he can convey action with simple depictions of movement is still second to none. Colorist Justin Ponsor again proves why he and Marquez have worked so well together in the past, adding the perfect level of lens-flared, action movie warmth to Marquez’s kinetic pencils. Armed with sleek artwork and a team that is actually acting as a team, The Defenders #2 is really starting to make a name for itself out on these streets.

One of Brian Michael Bendis’ greatest strengths (and weaknesses) is his signature decompression, and I am happy to report that Defenders #2 sticks the landing with it. Not much happens by way of plot progression, aside from a certain gun-toting guest star that is on deck for #3, but Bendis cleverly distracts from that fact with some sterling characterization. Clearly excited about his new team, he gets them pounding the pavement early looking for clues, operating in a sort of formation, and then getting to the business of superheroing.

Though it is frustrating that not much comes of their investigation, it is great to see Bendis truly excited and working to keep the book entertaining. Bendis splits the team, but for a purpose, having them deal with what is immediately important to them - Luke’s survival - and then setting about tracking down Diamondback. Bendis also is really committing to his street-level premise here, having each member interacting with major Hell’s Kitchen players like Night Nurse and Wilson Fisk. The Defenders #2 will never be called a substantial issue of the series, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t an entertaining one.

Aiding said entertainment factor are the pencils of David Marquez and the metallic colors of Justin Ponsor. Though no fault of theirs, I am growing tired of reliance in Bendis books on layouts that encompass the entire page space, even with the neatly oppressive lettering sequence that Cory Petit pulls off — as Night Nurse, Jessica, and Blade, in an unexpectedly cool cameo, race to save Luke, Petit blares an EKG’s tone across the edges of the two-page long panels, adding a palpable tension to the scene.

But we’ve seen that before time and time again in books from Bendis, and it is starting to grow stale. Marquez and Ponsor’s precision saves the issue from feeling too rote however, especially in the back half. As the team splits up to look for clues, the pair go from opulent penthouse fundraisers to the mildewy backroom of Diamondback’s Club Ultimate with ease, along the way highlighting either characters or action beats.

Daredevil’s entrance in Issue #2 is my favorite example of Marquez and Ponsor’s syncopation and exactness this month. As Jess confronts Diamondback, DD lurks in the shadows in a stellar sequence as Matt’s billy club, featured front and center of the page, bounces around the room hitting multiple henchmen. Marquez draws the reader’s eye smoothly across the page with the club in motion, the damage it does to the goons, and where it intends to land for Matt to catch it in what Deadpool would call a “hard-on-your-knees superhero landing.”

Ponsor is right along with Marquez through the whole sequence, throwing pale, smoky neons across the proceeding with a bolt of red acting as the action’s divining rod. The colorist also ends the sequence with a firm stamp as Matt coldcocks Diamondback with his club, showcasing Marquez’s dynamic poses and Ponsor’s sharp colors in the form of a hazy blue background and arcing trails of blood that accentuate the power of Daredevil’s strike.

Back on the beat and settling in a New York groove The Defenders #2 avoids a lot of Bendis’s second issue pitfalls and stands as a solid capitalization on the debut’s bombast. That isn’t to say this issue completely avoids some of Bendis’s tried-and-true (and perhaps even overused) hallmarks, but what it lacks in development it more than makes up for in characterization and gorgeous artwork.

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