Saturday, June 24, 2017

FULL REVIEW: The Defenders #1 (2017)

DEFENDERS #1 (2017), regular cover
by David Marquez. ©Marvel Comics
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover date: August 2017
On-sale: June 14, 2017
Cover price: $3.99
Pages: 40 (including cover)
Content: Editorial-77.5%, Advertising-22.5% (44.4% house)
Format: Standard, saddle-stiched, semi-gloss paper
Variants: 11 covers

“Who Will Defend Us?” (21 pages)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Marquez
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Asst. Editor: Alanna Smith
Editor: Tom Breevort

ISSUE SCORE: 73.0 (out of 100)

THE BOTTOM LINE (UP TOP): A decent enough first issue that, for some reason, seems to feel like a second issue, but it doesn't really cover a lot of plot ground and it's not worth the extra $1 for one additional story page.


STORY SYNOPSIS: After taking out a small-time drug runner for selling tainted product, Diamondback, apparently back from the dead, attacks Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Daredevil, the latter three off panel. Only Jessica is hurt, but she's a touch cookie, so she leaves the hospital and all four heroes join to scour Hell's Kitchen for Diamondback, who revealed his involvement by dropping his calling card, a handful of cut diamonds, into her gaping wound. As the heroes conduct their search, Black Cat shows up for a pre-arranged meeting with Diamondback, whereupon he offers her a high-level spot in his resurgent drug pushing operation. She's about to decline when Luke Cage bursts in, only to suffer an issue-ending beatdown.

COVER (4/10):
The main cover by interior artist David Marquez is the one being grades. To quote the second Doctor: I don't like it. I suppose it's being metaphorical by positioning the team in front of some non-descript inner-city buildings, but non-descript buildings are non-decript, kinda lacking in visual interest. But what's odd is Marquez' decision to have the characters, none of whom can fly, just floating in space. It's weird and disconcerting. Plus, it's not clear at all what Daredevil is using as a springpad to leap out toward the reader — Luke Cage's big toe, maybe? Also, there doesn't appear to be enough room between Daredevil and the three characters behind him for his unseen, but presumably outstretched left leg.

Worse still, Luke Cage's yellow hoodie blends into the yellow of the logo, while the bottom three-quarters of the cover is all greys and blacks and dark purples, making it so much mud. Seriously, stand back four or five feet from the stand where this issue is displayed, and it doesn't look like anything.

This is the kind of cover that just screams, "Hey, this is the modern comic book industry, we're not trying to sell this issue to anybody. We fully get that there are no more casual readers, that everybody who buys this comic already knew they were buying it when they walked into the comic book store today."

Oh, and Jessica's face looks weird.

Of the other covers, the Skottie Young is my favorite, unsurprisingly. The Ron Lim cover is better I think than the Marquez version. There's no background, and Daredevil in in almost the exact same pose (just above the others instead of below), but it has the entire team rushing out and spotlighted by a lighter color, giving it more visual interest. Better still is the Stan Lee Box Exclusive. The worm's-eye view gives a much better sense than the others covers of saying, "We are here to defend this city." Plus, it gives ol' Stan the cameo with these characters that he was not afforded in their respective Netflix series. The Neal Adams cover seems an off choice. I certainly don't associate him with The Defenders, or any of the members of this iteration. He also has Daredevil in the same post as Marquez and Lim — leaping forward with one leg bent and both arms splayed out behind him. The cover looks weird though, like he hasn't drawn anything in 30 years and had to use Rob Liefeld for pose reference.

The Jack Kiby cover doesn't even feature any Defenders, just The Eternals, which is stupid and pointless. Rounding things out, there's a Gabrielle Doll'otto cover that features Iron First only (maybe the others will have solo covers on Issue #s 2-4 that will go with and link together?), a John Tyler Christopher "toy variant" (a photo cover featuring custom figures of Luke Cage and Iron First), and a David Mack cover with silhouetted figures astride the word "DEFEND," which seems odd right below the "DEFENDERS" logo. This probably would've worked better as  logoless cover, which at least would have made room enough for the UPC code to not distract from the entire design.

Finally, there's a "hip-hop" variant by Alex Maleev with an unknown  fifth person on the team, and the obligatory black cover.

So, really, this is at least nine covers too many.

PLOT (7.25/10):
As the synopsis above intimates, not a ton of plot ground is covered in this debut issue. They're attacked,  they search, one finds, the end. For $5, I kinda want a little bit more, ya know? What makes the story seem to whiz by so fast, I guess, is that so much takes place off panel. We don't see the Diamondback attacks on Iron Fist, Daredevil, or Jessica Jones. The latter should have been seen, I think, since it puts her in the hospital where five pages of the story (nearly 20 percent) takes place.

I get why Bendis chooses to not go there, however. Diamondback does his whole, "I'm so rich and cool I can just drop diamonds on dead bodies" routing in the opening scene, and that exchange is kind of necessary as it introduced the villains motivation and sets up the very excellent scene later on with Black Cat. Still, I kind of feel like after Luke Cage sees the explosion happen blocks away, we should have transitioned to "moments earlier," and Jessica's fight. This would have given a chance for Bendis to better establish the framework of this new series through the perspective of its lone female member. Plus, whether because she's a she or not, the attack on Jessica seems particularly important because, while all four attacked appear of have occurred more or less simultaneously, it was Jessica's "death" Diamondback, by her account, chose to witness and mark personally. And yet the entire interaction gets   waved away with a "that happened" aside.

Later on, as the hero's go looking for Diamondback, there's a tree-shaking sequence that lasts two entire pages, albeit just four panels. Now, there is a meta-textual reason for doing that. The larger panels can give the illusion of a freezing a moment, indicating a greater passage of time, as if the search took a while. However, with just 26 words on those two pages, they pass pretty quickly. It would have been better, I think, to have done this same sequence as for sliver panels across the top half of a single page, with Jessica's panel being nearly the same as the other three, combined. This would have helped reinforce the notion that Jessica is being a bit more methodical in her hunt for information, while the boys are pretty much trying to intimidate the answers into apperating before them, and make it clear the entire search it taking place pretty quickly, and with some urgency. But the real bonus, it would have saved 1 1/2 pages that are wasted here for no good reason and allowed room for the initial attack on Jessica, allowing Bendis to establish this series a bit more, so that this issue does come of being entirely in media res, which, as noted above, kind of made me feel as if I had missed a lead-in issue somewhere.

DEFENDERS #1 (2017) Page 4 art by
David Marquez. ©Marvel Comics
SCRIPT (9/10):
The real strength of this issue is Bendis' scripting, particularly his dialogue. Each of the six main characters "sound" like who they are, each speaking in such a way that they are not at all interchangeable with each other, or any other Marvel Universe character. So, kudos there.

Still, I think I could have used a bit more somewhere, somehow, on Diamondback. The opening scene does a great job of setting up his character, such that the scene with Black Cat plays out even better, since we can fill in based on what we've already seen that goes unsaid. However, while I am not an advocate of stories-about-stories and getting mired in continuity, I could have used a bit more backstory on Diamondback. Most of what I know (or at least what I can remember) about him comes from the recent Luke Cage Netflix series. So, how and when did he die in the comics? And, in the comics, what is his relationship to the characters he's trying to kill? I mean, I can see why he'd go after Iron Fist and Jessica Jones if his four-color beef with Cage is at all similar to his celluloid one, but how and why does he think to draw Daredevil into the fight — and in a way that intimates he knows ol' hornheads civilian i.d., which, come to think of it, didn't everyone know when Mark Waid moved him out to the left coast? But Cage seems to indicate it's not common knowledge anymore. So, what gives then?

I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't need or want an entire issue explaining everything that's ever happened and how what happened before may or may not be different now and more in line with the tv shows. But just a little bit of conditioning so I don't feel quite so adrift would have been appreciated.

LAYOUT (7/10):
Generally speaking, the layouts were clear and compelling and told the story well. We get solid establishing shots when need, but not a lot of background clutter when not, such that we always know exactly where we are and the eye knows, with one exception I'll point out below, where to go. I could have done without the logo panels of each character, but they're not Marquez' fault. I imagine he was just drawing what he was told.

Once more, I get the idea — to provide a kind of visual synopsis of each Defender's history. The problem is, between the collage and the intrusive logo, it actually broke me out of the story each time, rather than providing additional insight. So, I didn't fund the trick particularly successful.

And then there's that damn search sequence again, and again I find someone else at fault, not Marquez. In comics, we read panels across then down, one page at a time. It we are supposed to read all the way across two pages, then a panel on the top tier needs to run across both pages, basically dragging the reader along with it, agains the natural inclination to scan down when hitting the centerfold.

So, because I read the four panels as normal (page 1 up, page 1 down, page 2 up,  page 2 down, instead of 1 up, 2 up, 1 down, two down, I ended up reading the balloons out of order. Thus, instead of getting, "Where is Diamondback?" I read "Is where Diamondback?"

Obviously, I was all, "Wait, that's not right," and, being completely kicked out of the story, I had to kind of stare at the pages for a second to realize, "Oh, yeah, I see the correct reading order now. It's WRONG, but I see what you were intending." And so, I was just kind of basically annoyed for the rest of the issue, reading along with some trepidation to make sure I did not get tripped up a second time.

ARTWORK (8.75/10):
And as good as his layouts are, except when told to draw something stoopid, Marquez' art is even stronger. Luke looks great. Jessica looks great. Diamondback and the other Defenders look great. Black Cat looks, Oh. My. God. SO great!

I especially liked that Luke, Jessica bore strong resemblance to the actors who play them on tv, Mike Colter and Kristen Ritter. Diamondback look more like how I remember "Cottonmouth," but that's neither her not there. The thing that I liked was that Marquez gave the essence of Colter and Ritter, such that I had a strong sense of being grounded in the same reality as the Netflix shows, but did not try to be so photorealistic that I was forced to notice any instance where the likeness was not dead one. So, again, good job.

EDITING (6.50/10):
It was done probably more Bendis' insisting than Tom Breevort's, but I appreciated the supplemental material. The Ben Urich Pulse interview was interesting, and, here again, the characters "sounded" right. Still, while it was interesting, I found that, much like the main story, it spent a lot of space kind of really hammering on one point. Generally, when I do a Q&A interview in my papers, I like to give a broader, more comprehensive view of the subject. So, this was not an interview I would have published without sending Ben back to his notes to put a little more meat on the bone.

The creator intros were nice. I assume, or hope at least, that while Urich interviews/news articles  will get squeezed out of future issues, this space will remain as a traditional letters column. How old school, eh? Hey, Tom, talk BMB into bringing back narrative captions and thought balloons, and you'll make me a very happy old man.

That said, I do think Breevort should have spotted and fixed the reading order problem with the two-page search spread, or else put his editorial foot down and advised Bendis that was too much real estate on too little action for a 21-page story.

PRODUCTION (9.50/10)
Hitting on all cylinders here. The packaging was standard, but nice. I like that Marvel does not use the high-closs clay pages common at DC, so I can actually read the damn book at night under a lamp without having to move it all around to avoid the glare. The lettering is font-tastic, of course, but didn't look mechanical, so it never distracted. The coloring also was nice, very moody and evocative where it needed to be, with excellent shading that looked like a comic book, with clean lines of delineation between colors. There were not photoshop effects, or obvious "spray paint tool" work, or other over rendering and/or technical tricks that called attention to the coloring. The craft was largely invisible, which to my mind is what comic book coloring is supposed to be, letting in just sink in subliminally while I enjoy the story and art.

However, one thing I did notice, and this was in a good way, was that Luke Cage and Diamondback, whether by intent from their individual physiologies, or the lighting conditions they were depicted to be under, seemed to each have their own separate skin tone values. Much like the actors who play the characters, Luke was darker and Diamondback more of a softer, mocha tone. But, point is, both seemed to be colored as individuals, as if Justin Ponsor gave some thought to how they should look. It did appear as if either was rendered as "standard black guy."

DOLLAR VALUE (6.25/10):
This was okay, I guess. I mean, comparatively to the average on the stands today, which can be read in about 7 or 8 minutes. This issue occupied by time for nearly 12 minutes, although, granted, that's still a pretty quick read for five bucks. However, with the addition of the supplemental material, this comic stayed in my hands for a little more than 21 minutes. That's about how long the standard comic story took to read when I was a kid in the '70s and early '80s, so that was something like, more like it.

Well, this one is never going to be a market buster, I don't think. No one or thing makes a first appearance in thisish, and in the age of the everprint trade paperback collection, that's the kind of thing that's needed for anyone who didn't buy this book when it came out to feel as though they need the first print floppy later on. This might shoot up into low double digits early on, if it's perceived to tie into the tv show, but should quickly settle down to cover price or less for a long time to come.

Still, potential profit is not what makes a comic worth having for the true collector. I have nearly 20,000 — enough that I sometimes fear my tiny little house might collapse if I add too many more. So, there will no doubt be some thinning of the heard before I did. But unless this series totally nosedives in quality, this first issue was good enough that, when they do eventually put me in the ground, in hopefully not less than three or four decades from now, this particular Defenders #1 will still be here for whoever ends up auctioning off my estate to deal with. That's not something every comic book can say. Heck, it's not something every Defenders #1 can say!

Well, as much as I did mostly enjoy this comic, it was on balance because it was a pleasant read. Sure, Diamondback's confab with Black Cat was pretty nifty and fun to read, and Jessica was appropriately bad ass, but if I'm being honest, there wasn't much of anything in this issue that shook my inner 12-year-old awake and shouted, "Will you look at this? Just, LOOK at it!!"

So, a middling score here, I'm afraid. But that's okay, not every comic has to knock my pubescent sox off. I'm an adult now (mostly) and I am completely capable of enjoying a nice, enjoyable, if unspectacular, read.

Story Pages: 21
Editorial Pages (inc. cover): 31
Story Value (Price/Pages): 19¢ per page
Content Value (Price/Pages): 12.94¢ per page
Panels: 111 — 5.3 per page
Words: 1,258 — 59.9 per page
Read Time (Story): 11:42
Read Time (All Content): 21:15
Story Entertainment Value (Price/Time): 34.2¢ per minute
Total Entertainment Value (Price/Time): 18.8¢ per minute
Estimated Circulation: TBD

• Goddard [drug pusher, unclear of first or last name] — 12 panels/89 words
• unnamed Goddard "client" — 1/4
• Diamondback — 39/273
• unnamed Cage neighbor in red — 6/79
• unnamed Cage neighbor in greed — 6/49
• LUKE CAGE — 49/158
• JESSICA JONES — 27/138
• Danielle Cage — 0/2
• DAREDEVIL — 21/167
• IRON FIST — 18/94
• unnamed Mt. Sinai doctor — 3/19
• Black Cat — 26/137
• Hammerhead — 0/21

(Note: One panel cameos by The Thing, Ms Marvel (Carol Danvers), Wolverine, Spider-Man, Dr. Doom, Purple Man, Kingpin, Elektra, Karen Page, and Bullseye.)

• New York City — 111 panels
     • unnamed nightclub — 16
     • Luke Cage neighborhood — 16
     • Mount Sinai Hospital — 31
     • vacant apartment [address unknown] — 37
     • unnamed store — 1
     ยช unnamed bar — 8
     • unnamed poker room — 1

• Credits/introduction page — 1pg
• Luke Cage: The Pulse Interview [text feature w/ 7 illos.] — 7pgs
• untitled text page [creator introductions] — 1pg

Outside back cover — M&Ms Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 limited packaging
Inside front cover — Universal Orlando Studios, 3-park vacation special
Inside back cover — [hotel rental website][Ghost Rider app.]
• [back issue sales] —1pg
• Inhumans ABC-tv series — 1pg
House ads:
• Secret Empire #6 — 1pg
• X-Men Blue #7 — 1pg
• Digital codes offer — 1pg
• Next issue preview [w/ covers to Jessica Jones #9, Luke Cage #2, Iron Fist #4, and Daredevil #21] — 1 pg

I've decided to make what I originally wrote for this section its own post. So, for here, just the list — these are the characters, in order of preference, I would like to see Bendis add to the Defenders roster.

FWIW, my selection criteria boiled down to this: Each additions should . . . 

A) be a "street level"more-or-less working class super-hero,
B) have some historical connection to the team in the comics, and,
C) be a character whom we might realistically expect to appear on future seasons of the Netflix show.

So, with further explanations and rationals on another post, my picks would be:

2. WONG 

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