Eric: For this week’s Comic POW! I’ve decided to go with one of Marvel’s new titles, The Defenders
Dan: I’ve been pretty excited about this book myself thanks to the work its writer, Matt Fraction, did on Casanova.
Eric: I was excited by the idea and the Marvel hype that it would look at some of the key foundations of the Marvel Universe. That type of stuff is always fun to me. Now this book, or at least this arc, is a continuation of events set into place by Fear Itself. I largely ignored Fear Itself because I don’t have infinite money and it only seemed to tangentially affect the books I follow, but I DID read Marvel’s one-shot a few weeks ago that previewed 2012 stuff and it had a prologue to this story. Actually, I think it had two prologues. I remember reading a story that described what’s going on with Hulk as well as a story that described Dr. Strange’s friend who he mentions on the fifth page of content. The Hulk prologue explained that this black creature you see on the second page is the result of some Fear Itself mystical-ness that represents the rage that even Hulk has been able to contain.
Dan: Which is kind of hand-wavingly stupid because Hulk is supposed to be unrestrained id, but whatever
Eric: Yeah,but they’ve been doing some weird stuff to the Hulk’s mythos in the last few years. I tried to get a handle on it and stopped because it was all comic-book-y stupid. At any rate, it appears that the Hulk’s Hulk is what’s causing the issues we see on page 1 in Bucharest
Dan: This book has a levity to its tone that I really appreciate, yet it’s not afraid to go dark in its subtext (namely the text at the bottom of some of the pages)
Eric: Exactly. I’ll definitely be returning to that topic soon
Dan: That lightness is apparent from the word go with how the events in Budapest were all related
Eric: It really becomes apparent when we get to Dr. Strange. I don’t really have much experience with him other than that he helped Spider-Man post-One More Day and he’s been in some issues of X-Men or Fantastic Four here and there when they’ve needed magic, but I loved the idea of him, being a super-hero – or at least on the good team – sleeping with one of his grad students. His internal monologue is also kinda funny. When we get to the bottom gutter of this page we have “Who Loves Doctor Strange? Defenders #4”. I thought it was a neat little way to keep you reading at least until issue 4. Then we get to the next page and it says “Continued after next page” (the next page is an ad) and I thought. “OK, interesting…” When I saw it again on the following page, I had a feeling that this was going to be the book I chose for Comic POW!
Dan: A review I saw online said that the ads and text in the bottoms of the pages are a hallmark of older Marvel comics
Eric: Yeah, I’ve seen something like that in a reprint of Fantastic Four #1, 1 think. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it before in an older comic somewhere, but up to this point it’s all levity with those.
Dan: Like I said, Matt Fraction is great. He knows that he can do more with words than just have characters say them
Eric: We’ll get to where it goes all crazy in a moment. On the aforementioned next page, we get both of the stories from that 2012 preview tied together in the present. Although, if you didn’t read that comic you’re really missing out on how crazy this vision was. I think it’s a shame they don’t point out it was mentioned in that issue for those that weren’t in the know. One other thing on this page made me certain I was going to end up choosing this book for the POW! – when Hulk walks in – the internal monologue switches from Dr Strange to him
Dan: There are a lot of narrative shifts and I think Fraction nails them.
Eric: Then we go to Namor and again we get an internal monologue switch. Once again some fun humor making fun of the way Dr Strange speaks
Dan: My big complaint with this book is that Fraction doesn’t get Namor how I like him
Eric: Yes. I was going to say the same thing. This isn’t the Namor of FF or X-Men who’s uber-arrogant, but it may just be that we haven’t had the circumstances or that, perhaps, these are among the few people he actually respects
Dan: On the other hand, my policy has always been different writers = different characters, so I need to learn to love this new, overdressed Namor
Eric: I definitely felt the same way, because Namor was the character that made me even remotely interested in this book. We then go to Mountains where Hulk explains a bit about Nul the Breaker of Worlds. For those who didn’t read Fear Itself or the 2012 preview one-shot
Dan: A population to which I belong
Eric: Actually, I should back it up a bit. The first weird gutter message appears during Namor’s introduction. An indication that this is more than just jokes
Dan: Jog my memory. What does this one say?
Eric: “Shut the engines down,” which could be a reference to the beginning and near ending of this issue
Dan: Man, I wish you read Casanova. Fraction likes to embed messages in his books. There was a character in that book whose song lyrics spelled out the evil organization he was meant to run, but it was almost concealed. My point being that Fraction is not above embedding messages in places you wouldn’t expect it
Eric: He appears to be the perfect person for this book. As I mentioned, there’s been some weird stuff going on with Hulk, but it’s strange that he’s so coherent here and not Hulking out
Dan: Hulk and Banner have separated. That’s been going on in that new Incredible Hulk book they launched. It’s weird
Eric: Yeah, so Hulk has some of Banner and vice-versa
Dan: Something like that. It doesn’t matter, really.
Eric: I just don’t know enough about it to really comment on it in this book. Just that it’s weird to see Hulk like this – not that it’s unprecedented. They’ve done similar things when the story has called for it in the past. Also an interesting shift as we go from the philosophical stance of the Silver Surfer to the humor of She-Hulk’s situation. What I love the most about She-Hulk’s issues in Pamplona are the humor we can find in the kinds of problems super heroes would have. Sure, they’re not that serious, but it’s a reminder that everything isn’t rosy for them just because they have super powers.
Dan: I was more distracted by the fact that Betty is dressed in the traditional runner costume. It was a nice art touch.
Eric: It’s how I figured out what was even going on. She’s complaining about how she can’t get drunk. In Daken, a large part of the narrative revolved around the fact that his healing factor didn’t let him get high.
Eric: Indeed! I like that she calls Namor Mr. Spock. At the bottom of this page is “Everyone you love dies”
Eric: Yeah, I was left at a loss of whether that was a general statement or a prediction of what happens in this book or both.
Dan: It’s chilling in an otherwise light moment. I think Matt Fraction just wants us to stay on our toes. A little preemptive “Hey, this is dangerous”
Eric: And then we get the fun Eurail scene in which we get a slightly more classic Namor. From there we meet the last member of the team, Iron Fist. I’m not a huge fan of the Marvel Kung Fu lineup so I thought he was supposed to be an Asian guy. I guess he might be because his eyebrow color doesn’t match his blond head of hair, but his eyes aren’t drawn as Asian as the other people in this scene
Dan: No. Iron Fist is an American. Daniel Rand from NYC
Eric: Of course. It’s home to as many super heroes as it is to rappers and comedians in the real world. My biggest takeaway from his internal monologue is that he’s going to be the intentional comic relief of the group. While we may find things Namor does funny or see the humor in Dr. Strange’s thought patterns, he seems to be the billionaire class clown.
Dan: Comic relief or butt-monkey? Dude does not have a good issue.
Eric: We get two more gutter messages. The hilarious “To save the Secret Avengers today, Black Widow must fight in the past! wait, what?” It’s is almost like the person tearing apart the universe is fighting with whoever is coming up with the house ads
Dan: It’s nice that the house ad guy has a personality
Eric: The opposite page has “The universe will break”. So we seem to alternate between house ads, ominous warnings about the story, and how many pages of ads to skip. In a fun action scene that’s meant to show how awesome Iron Fist is, he invents Zero-G kung fu
Dan: I liked when Fraction mocked the whole move naming thing that Marvel kung fu books all use
Eric: Yeah, which was great because in Spider-Island: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu I found it ever so slightly racist. This leads into one of my favorite moments in the issue where Iron Fist speaks to the Dr Strange Astral Projection. First of all, I like that he calls Nul “Evil Ghost Hulk”. Second, I thought it was funny that we have a second hook-up proclaimed a mistake. Third, I just love how they drew Dr Strange when he says “Daniel, that is precisely what I am asking” We get two more gutter ads here. One is about Journey into Mystery and the other says “Fight to Save everything” and then get a bit of exposition on where the heroes are going. The next page has another bit of Matt Fraction humor that I just love. The pilot comes back and essentially tells the heroes that since there are only two parachutes, he and the co-pilot are bailing and the heroes can figure out not dying on their own
Dan: Ha, yeah. That was a great moment! The narrator gets another turn for a bit here. He’s a funny guy
Eric: The only thing that sucked for me in this issue, and it’s such a huge nitpick (or rather small), is that that page gives you the impression that the pilots get a karmic death for trying to hog the parachutes and the following page has Iron Fist say he saw them survive.
Dan: I didn’t think it did, but I guess everybody reads things differently.
Eric: It just seemed to me that the way the plane is blown up right after they come say that it’s like no time passed so they were blown up. At least I thought it would have been a bit of macabre humor that would have fit in with the rest of the issue.
Dan: By that logic Iron Fist would be dead too
Eric: Well, the next page could have been Dr Strange saving them with a bubble of magic or something
Dan: But it wasn’t
Eric: The funny thing is that on the first read-through since the background narration was yellow, I thought it was Iron First, but now I realize it’s a different shade of yellow and also that it wouldn’t make sense because he’d be speaking about himself in the third person while they fall and he didn’t do that before. I wonder if it’s Uato the Watcher since Nul is about to End the World.
Dan: Could be. It’s definitely the same guy from the start of the book
Eric: Also, his archives were the framing device of the 2012 Preview One-Shot. Anyway, the issue ends with Iron Fist getting shot and the rest of the group surrounded by cat-people and the gutters reading “The impossible isn’t coming… the impossible is already here”
Dan: Dun dun dun….
Eric: Since I don’t know much about any of these guys’ powers, I can’t even guess if the next issue has them fight their way out or has them end up in chains. I didn’t have much experience with Matt Fraction and, as is the case with all the creators out there, there’s a vocal minority that hates him, so I was pleasantly surprised by his story-telling style and his sense of humor
Dan: Really? I mean, I’ve never run into Fraction-haters, but maybe that’s part of the Fear Itself thing? I’ve only ever read his creator-owned stuff (Casanova: Avarita) so that’s the only exposure I had to him prior to this.
Eric: Yeah, I read somewhere on Comic Vine – I think it was comments on the 2012 one-shot that people wouldn’t be reading The Defenders because it was Fraction
Dan: Opinions are like assholes, mon frère. Then again, the response to Fear Itself was pretty tepid, so I dunno
Eric: So, let’s see what you picked
Dan: After last week’s Daredevil pick I thought it would be neat to look at Mark Waid’s personal IP. A lot of people look at Waid as a Silver Age kind of guy who writes happy, friendly stories, but I think we’re about to see just how untrue that is.
Eric: OK, so what do I need to know about Irredeemable before I read this issue?
Dan: The whole idea behind Irredeemable revolves around the notion that most superheroes have the emotional maturity to handle their powers. What if a superhero didn’t have that emotional capability? Cue The Plutonian. A Superman analogue who goes berserk and starts destroying the world. Governments are powerless to stop him and he’s been hunting his former teammates. Things are grim.
Eric: Nice. I remember something like this was supposed to be a Superman movie – or so the internet tells me
Dan: You’re actually seeing a pretty huge moment in the series because Tony’s (Plutonian’s nickname) former allies have been trying to find out about his origin to mine it for weaknesses to use against him
Eric: Ah, I see
Dan: The beauty of this book, and another reason why I picked it, is because it doesn’t lean too hard on the book’s history. We only knew trace details about Tony’s past, namely that he bounced between foster families, so this doesn’t really rely on past events.
Eric: Nice. OK, I’ll take a look and be right back!
Eric: Well, that was a crazy story. Overall, I’d say this issue is a great example of how indie books tend to deconstruct our long-running heroes, but it’s more than that. It’s not only a deconstruction, but helps us wonder what if Superman WASN’T raised by the Kents
Dan: It definitely continues the Superman analogue in that the Kents were a barren couple that wanted a kid, if I remember correctly, but The Plutonian…he ends up in a much more sinister environment
Eric: So when it starts off, we have the President of the USA explaining how a cynical, more realistic world could believe in Superman. Part of the premise of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, for example, is that the world WOULDN’T accept Superman. Countries have gone to war for no reason other than that another country was too powerful and they had to take the chance to lower them a peg, so we wouldn’t accept having someone that was unstoppable. I am just left with one question in the intro – how does the world know about his “parents”?
Dan: I’m not really sure. Mark Waid hasn’t really gone into that. In fact, America didn’t even know about those Celestial-esque beings. They were captured and imprisoned by China and Russia
Eric: So they take him to “prison”
Dan: The heat death end of the universe. A much safer place to take him than the last prison.
Eric: It’s funny because from the moment he gets in there I could tell he was trying to manipulate them emotionally. It’s the typical “don’t let me fall!” and as soon as the hero gets them up, they go back to trying to hill the hero
Dan: Diego Barreto does a really great job of showing that in Tony’s face. He’s just trying to buy time. In early issues, after he turned evil, Tony seemed a little dumb and like more of a bruiser than a schemer. Being evil for so long has allowed him to get much more sinister. If you ever want to catch up in trades, he does some neat and insidious things while coming off as a naive man who regresses into an unloved child.
Eric: Nice. So they take him into the past
Dan: Where they foreshadow their demise by pointing out that their infinite power/minds could not quite understand humanity’s capacity for emotions
Eric: Exactly, they are easily duped by him because they can’t understand human emotions. They build some device to learn about humanity – a typical sci-fi trope
Dan: And that device creates Tony’s proto-form
Eric: And, through the power of narrative, some woman who wished she had a kid turns this collector device into a kid. I have to say that the page-turning surprise was incredible
Dan: Only, like we mentioned, this woman was not some lonely, barren, noble soul. She was seeking to atone for murdering her last baby in a bout of insanity
Eric: It was the biggest narrative/emotional whiplash I’ve experienced in comics
Dan: That’s Mark Waid doing his little deconstruction dance for you
Eric: We see a profoundly disturbed woman…I mean this was hard stuff to read. This was the worst thing that could have happened – for her to get this baby she was wishing for
Dan: It is a kind of djinn’s curse type story where the nigh invulnerability of the Plutonian allows her to continue to torture herself. It’s sick
Eric: There’s also some real deconstruction when they try to place him in foster homes. After all, how can someone care for a super-kid?
Dan: If you ever read the trades you’ll see more of that tragedy. If you thought what you just read was bad…
Eric: The only person who could have emotionally done it was the mother because she’d wished for the Kid as the Kents did. So he decides to live on his own in the woods of Coalville (a poke at Smallville, I’m sure)
Dan: Coalville is one of the major cities in this USA. I hadn’t thought of it as a poke at Smallville, but it fits.
Eric: I mean there are SOME cities with silly names like this, but mostly they only exist in the DC universe. One person tries to capture him and faces the wrath of his entire life up to that point
Dan: Not a smart thing to do at all
Eric: What I didn’t completely get was where that led to shame and where he ends up going to a church and becoming a boyscout – aka this world’s Superman
Dan: I’m not sure either. It just seemed like one of those personal revelation moments that just happen sometimes. He could have done something wrong, but instead he does something right. It adds depth to a character that we know was disturbed as a child. I guess his previous motivations for being good were because he was unloved as a child, but, yeah, that wasn’t my favorite part of the issue.
Eric: It just felt like after such a build-up, the explanation of why that leads him to become a good guy were a little sketchy
Dan: It might have something to do with Tony taking control of the narrative, but the earlier issues do a better job of dealing with this
Eric: So he yells at his “parents” for allowing him to come into existence
Dan: He does shift blame there too. Tony is very quick to shift blame when he can
Eric: And so we get the reveal that he’s taken control of the narrative which, given that they’d placed him the future to jail him, means that perhaps he can end up wreaking time-travel havok?
Dan: Who knows what the Plutonian can do. His powers continue to ramp up more and more. One of my favorite things about Irredeemable is the hopelessness of the whole thing. The fact that The Plutonian is so powerful that none of the remaining heroes have a real shot at stopping him.
Eric: Alright, let’s battle!
Eric: As has happened before, we couldn’t have chosen books more different in tone although they’re both ostensibly cape books
Dan: They’re both by authors I respect tremendously, so it makes choosing hard. I’ve been meaning to pick Irredeemable for a while now, but the quality hadn’t been there until this week. I think that Waid is focused and back on track, but this is still early in the arc, so who knows. Defenders is off to a great start with humor, action, and excitement. It’s a tough one
Eric: One thing I forgot to mention with The Defenders is how good it is for a #1 and the start of an arc. With all the new 52 at DC, I’ve been through a lot of #1s and I’ve been back into reading comics for long enough that I’ve been through the beginnings of quite a few arcs. They often aren’t the best experience because the writer has so much setting up to do, especially for a #1, but I think Fraction knocks it out of the park in terms of #1 quality
Dan: Absolutely! How many books completely stumble out of the gate? Sometimes I stick with them on potential, but this is good right away. This makes me excited for #2
Eric: Almost mades me worried that #2 won’t stack up – that’s happened to me recently, as well. Birds of Prey is one example where #1 held a lot of promise that fell apart with #2 and #3. I also think the art is great on both books. Both artists do a great job with facial expressions – key to both of the stories
Dan: It’s a slight shift from the usual Irredeemable style. I wonder if it’s a different colorist or something, but the point of Irredeemable’s art style has always been to kind of mimic old-school comics.
Eric: Right, that would really go along with his Superman deconstruction. I think another thing Fraction has going for The Defenders is that he’s done a really good job writing an ensemble cast
Dan: Not an easy task at all. Not to mention that I can’t even go with my usual fan fiction comic vs. depth thing. Fraction’s clearly got something up his sleeve and, despite the fun, it reads like there’s something deeper there.
Eric: If I had to criticize Iredeemable at all, I’d say that the frame story of his “parents” is a little cliche and the part where the first thing the device gets to is that woman is a bit far-fetched and story-serving
Dan: I’m gonna have to argue with you there. While I agree with you that the “We don’t understand humans. Why are emotions so awesome?” plot is pat, I do think that the insane, defective grieving of a mad woman would be emotionally more powerful than any milquetoast Ma and Pa Kent yearning for a child
Eric: Oh, that’s certainly true. I know that Waid only has 22 pages or so to tell his story, so he needs to cut to the chase, but since they built their device in the middle of nowhere, it seems like a rather convenient thing that it ends up by the mother before going anywhere else
Dan: You’re assuming that emotional feelings have some sort of exponential falloff from the source. What does it matter where Tony launched from? I don’t think they said her feelings were the closest, just the strongest
Eric: Ok, I’ll give you that one – maybe it had more. In some ways his story hearkens back to the original Pinocchio – not the Disney version – which actually makes the story a little more layered than a simple Superman deconstruction. You know, in the original Pinocchio the kid’s pretty evil, kills the cricket, and I’m pretty sure doesn’t even try to find Gepetto, but it still came from Gepetto wishing for a kid. We have something similar here, only it’s her destroyed mind that causes him to be nuts. Layer that with the Superman stuff and it’s actually a pretty deep issue
Dan: Yet, for some reason, I’m inclined to lean toward The Defenders this week because it was just too damn fun
Eric: Yeah, while Waid did an amazing job there and it proves that comics can be an emotional force, I do like that The Defenders is more of a back and forth never getting too serious for a joke. I also loved the interaction between the different characters vs the emotionless “celestials” and Tony.
Dan: There are issues of Irredeemable that feature more of an ensemble, chiefly his former allies in Paradigm (their superhero team), but this was a highly focused book
Eric: I also loved the gutter jokes in The Defenders and I want to see if that continues (and to what end)
Dan: Indeed. I hope we get a new issue of Casanova this month because I want to blow your mind. Alternately I could lend you the first two books because the third is gonna make no sense to you
Eric: Haha …. or both! So do I get the victory this week?
Dan: I’m officially saying that the fun of The Defenders edges out the intensity of Irredeemable. Mr. Waid, you did mighty fine work, but I had more fun reading Mr. Fraction
Eric: Yay! You brought a great issue to this week’s competition. I think it would have won out against anything else I might have picked. In addition to sharing our insights with each other, part of the goal of this blog is to share interest in books. You have made me very curious about Iredeemable and its companion Incorruptible
Dan: They’re both interesting books, but I think you’d like Irredeemable more
Eric: Alright, join us next week for more Comic POW! (and throughout the week for various other articles commenting on this great medium!)
Dan: I’ve gotta remember to sweep the leg for the win next time!