Best Shots Reviews: DEFENDERS #3, CENTIPEDE #1

Centipede #1
Credit: Dynamite Entertainment
Credit: David Marquez/Justin Ponsor (Marvel Comics)

Defenders #3
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The streets of the Marvel Universe are getting even busier, as Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez add more names to their Defenders book. While it’s unclear if characters such as Black Cat or the newly-dded Punisher will ever make the core lineup of this street-level team, these characters certainly add some spark for this much-anticipated comic. That said, three issues in, we’re starting to feel Bendis’ trademark decompressed storytelling in a major way, even as Marquez’s energetic artwork fights valiantly to keep this book’s energy and pacing alive.

In certain ways, this street-level milieu feels like Bendis’ perfect cup of tea, as he juggles various factions in this ever-growing escalation of gangland violence. In one corner, you have Diamondback, who has a mad-on for Luke Cage and a chip on his shoulder that has him warring with everyone he lays his eyes on; in the other corner, you have the Black Cat, who seems increasingly turned off by Diamondback’s plans; in the shadows, you have the Punisher cutting a swath through the underworld; and caught in the crossfire, you have Cage and his associates, the Defenders. It’s ironic, then, that Bendis seems to be having more fun with everyone else -in particular, a downright hilarious scene where the Punisher struggles impotently as he discovers there’s little his brand of justice can do against a bulletproof (and acid-proof, and punch-proof) man like Luke Cage. Between this and moments like Iron Fist going toe-to-toe with Diamondback himself, when Bendis is able to inject even the smallest bit of physicality to his script, the story ramps up in a big way.

And that’s in part because David Marquez and colorist Justin Ponsor are just so damn good at what they do. In certain scenes, such as when Iron Fist fights Diamondback, Marquez’s work almost adopts a Jim Lee-style dynamism, with the full power of the Iron Fist seemingly exploding off the page. It’s also a testament to Marquez that he’s able to play up the stylishness of many of his characters, even in their most talky scenes - Black Cat continues to steal the show, even when it’s tapping into stuff we’ve already seen before, and even Iron Fist meditating looks pretty cool. And of course Marquez surprises with his comedic chops as well, with his Punisher coming across as equal parts dangerous and kind of pathetic as he desperately tries to wiggle away from Luke (before going naptime with a headlock).

Now, while the plotting looks to be substantial as I describe it, this is where Bendis’ David Mamet-esque dialogue winds up handicapping the book - because no matter how well Marquez draws, we only get about two extra scenes of worthwhile plot progression in this book. Black Cat and Diamondback having a dialogue power struggle is something we’ve already seen an issue ago, while devoting two pages to exposition about Diamondback (while barely explaining last issue’s seemingly lethal cliffhanger - since when does Punisher take prisoners?) can make readers feel like they’ve missed a step. Additionally, while I like Bendis’ instincts to explore Luke and Diamondback’s rivalry through man-on-the-street interviews, when you spend a quarter of your book doing it, you can’t help but feel like pages are being burned. It’s tough out there to get a story that’s worth your time and money - so to have so many pages of this book go nowhere can’t help but sap the Defenders’ strength.

Still, the goods outweigh the bad in Defenders #3 - at least for now. There’s a lot of potential to this book, and it’s clear that Bendis agrees - if he’s able to actually tackle Marvel’s diverse street-level heroes in an organic way, this book could really fill a role that Marvel hasn’t seen in a long time. But right now, this book succeeds more on the strength of David Marquez and Justin Ponsor, working oftentimes in spite of their script just as much as because of it. If we can get the lead out and get some real meat to this story, Defenders could be a good thing for Marvel fans.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Centipede #1
Written by Max Bemis
Art by Eoin Marron and Chris O’Halloran
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by Dynamite
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Atari’s classic shooter Centipede is 37-years-old, if you can believe it; unfortunately, some elements of last week’s Centipede #1 from Dynamite feel just as dated. Max Bemis’ take on the arcade hit is a solidly written issue with enough tongue-in-cheek humor to make it a fun read but not quite enough story in its debut issue to make it as compelling as other licensed comics on the market today.

Bemis introduces us to Dale Trell, a lone government worker left alone on a planet ravaged by the titular centipede and its army of insectoid lackeys. Trell, coming to the end of his rope after days spent reconciling himself with the idea that he is truly the last man left alive, invents an imaginary friend who serves as an easy way for Bemis to drop expository backstory on Trell’s life and the world as it was before the Centipede launched its first brutal attack.

Centipede #1 does boast an excellent artistic team, and artist Eoin Marron and colorist Chris O’Halloran do an excellent job creating a ravaged, lonely world and evoking the deep, nagging sense of dread someone in Trell’s lonely situation would certainly be plagued by. Throughout, Marron casts Trell as a tiny figure in wide, lonely panels to emphasize the severity of the situation and his insignificance in the scope of this planetary disaster, and O’Halloran gives the mushrooms that dot the landscape and the insects an eerie and strangely chipper glow reminiscent of the original game’s colorful display. Esposito does an excellent job with the lettering - particularly the dialogue-heavy opening page - and the flashback scenes, with a monologue in distinctive, warmer colors, to match Marron and O’Halloran’s nostalgic, wistful style, go a long way in capturing Trell’s longing for days long past.

Trell himself is not a particularly interesting lead character though, and a joking quip about how he’s “not a traditional leading man” lacks a certain sense of self-awareness in a survival tale about a scruffy, square-jawed man stacked to the gills with weaponry, setting off to get revenge for his dead planet. Trell is a nerd who worked for the government researching broadcasts from other planets, namely the pulp fiction of earth like Vampirella or The Shadow or any number of exciting action movies featuring “unlikely” men who go on to save the world.

Trell looks like a regular human, talks like a regular human, inhabits a world that could be a future Earth - in a tale adapting a science fiction game where space insects plague a protagonist of minimal backstory, Centipede #1 plays it safe. Bemis seems to want to toy with stories in the vein of I Am Legend, but given the opportunity to create a new world from a wildly popular game with no deeper premise than “deadly space centipede,” Bemis sticks too much to the well-worn paths of the “last man” sci-fi works that came before him. There might be big reveals coming in the later issues that make the tale worth catching in paperback, as they often do in similar genre works - new survivors, secrets about Trell’s past, a big surprise about links between the Centipede and Trell’s passion for Earth fiction.

But, despite light humor and Atari easter eggs scattered throughout the art, the premise of Centipede #1 feels like a grim and gritty reboot of Pixels, if Adam Sandler’s character was played by Chris Hemsworth in full comedy mode - though that’s a discredit to Centipede #1, which, by featuring Trell as the sole speaking character in the first issue and focusing only on the Centipede as a very real (and visually horrifying) antagonist, is a more enjoyable read. Centipede #1 isn’t bad - as a comic book, it’s solidly executed, with playful dialogue that tempers Marron and O’Halloran’s creepy art. As a story, though, there’s nothing new under the soft, orange setting sun in Centipede #1, and given the potential of the game’s simple premise, the debut issue of its comic counterpart disappoints.

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