The Defenders #1–5
by Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire
I love the creative team that is Giffen–DeMatteis–Maguire. They make fun, enjoyable superhero comics. I love their Justice League, both the original and the recent ‘Formerly Known As …’ stories. There is usually a serious tone underneath (because drama usually requires conflict) but they show that it doesn’t ALL have to be doom and gloom and rape and death, not mentioning any names …
Because of the love I have for them, I was a lock for their trip to the Marvel universe in the guise of a Defenders mini-series (a story now titled ‘Indefensible’ for the trade). I have recently instigated a wait-for-the-trade policy on a lot of my purchases, just to curb the spending on my four-colour fix, which is why I hadn’t got this before. However, my lovely and wonderful local comic shop, Gosh!, have a habit of collecting comics in a series and selling them for a cheaper price, meaning I picked these five books up for £6.50 – a bargain not to be ignored.
I’m not that familiar with The Defenders, having not read many of the original comics. The closest interaction was in the pages of Peter David’s run on The Incredible Hulk, in issues 370 and 371, where there was a mini-reunion of the team. Either because of David’s naturally humour-prone approach or because of the basic idea, I have long associated the team with laughs, making it the perfect concept for the G–DM–M team to work their magic. It is an inherently silly concept – put together four individuals into a team just because they don’t belong to any other team, explicitly because they are not team players. It’s nonsensical – there is no justifiable reason for Dr Strange, the Hulk, Namor (‘It’s Prince Namor! Why can’t anyone get it right?’) and the Silver Surfer should be on a team together. Which is why you get the Kings of Nonsense to do them.
The story begins with Nightmare giving Strange a warning that the dread Dormammu and his sister, Umar the Unholy, have teamed up to conquer the universe (and to ask him whether he knows if Wong is a last name or a first name), leading to Strange recruiting Banner and Namor (the Silver Surfer decides not to join because he is hanging out with fellow surfers, in an effort to understand things, a running joke throughout the five issues). Of course, things go tits up, and Dormammu becomes a god, changing the universe to his image, including an Earth where things are very different.
The plot, such as it is, is not the focus here – we are here for the jokes. The main storyline is perhaps dragged out over five issues, with some over-indulgent bickering between Dormammu and Umar going on too long, but the quality of the banter compensates. Giffen and DeMatteis define the characters strongly so that they can play off each other to good effect. Strange is arrogant but dedicated to his postion; Namor is ridiculously arrogant, haughty and generally doesn’t like anybody; Banner is smart while the Hulk is … well, the Hulk really; and the Surfer comes across as an acid burnout. From this, the dialogue flows naturally and aplenty, which is how it should be. And any comic that gets the Hulk laid has to get respect in my book – it makes him so relaxed that Banner can’t change back after the event. Now THAT is funny.
The real star of the show is Kevin Maguire. An artist I have long admired (he’s in my list of favourite artists just outside my Top 5), here he shines. It is well established that he can do the facial expressions that make the comedy work here (there is one page in issue 5 which has 16 panels, all head shots of a dialogue scene between Namor and his Dormammu doppelganger, with each panel having different facial expressions – not a Bendis-style repeat conversation either), but he also shows what a good visualiser of superhero character he is. Namor looks like he is aquadynamic (is that a word?), with his head structure and his body not being excessively wide or muscular. Hulk looks like an explosion of muscle and veins, a ultra-large human figure bursting out of the page. The Surfer looks really sleek and shiny, more like the T1000 terminator, rather than the naked man in pants looks he usually gets. Strange looks arrogant, as he should – check out the arched eyebrow he sports on the cover of issue 1 for the level of character and detail in a few lines. Maguire is, simply put, a delightful superhero artist, and he draws very sexy women (why did they draws those pointless bikini lines on Umar when she is bathing, for goodness sake?) that are real and not biologically impossible.
The Defenders: Indefensible is a lot of fun. It is not perfect, and perhaps could have survived being four issues, but it is enjoyable and doesn’t treat itself too seriously (from the silliness of the credits page to simple joke that the Surfer is not actually in the adventure), and provide the sort of comic book diversion you’d expect from the Bwa-Ha-ha Justice League guys.