Defenders #3 is the next part in our little story of the Netflix Marvel heroes adventures in the Marvel Comics Universe. This comic could have come across as a crass cash cow tie in, but instead, it is very quickly becoming a book I eagerly anticipate each week its out and an example of the great work that Marvel are capable of doing.
The reason: this story is both action packed, focused, and character driven AND COMPLETELY IGNORES WHATEVER CURRENT EVENT OF THE MONTH MARVEL ARE RUNNING. There is no Secret Empire here, not even an inkling of it. This is just characters being written well, bouncing off each other well, and with an adventure that feels like it has stakes and is genuinely a joy to read.
Now, writer Brian Michael Bendis gets a lot of stick. People saying his characters sound the same or whatever. But personally, I have always been a big fan of his work. By and large, it tends to have a lot more heart than a lot of other comics out there. Granted, as with anyone, he's not perfect and not every book is 100% genius, but it probably doesn't help that Marvel would love to put him on every book at once sometimes. But here in Defenders we see Bendis at his best. There is clearly a passion for the characters here, and the audience can feel it in the wit and cadence Bendis gives the characters.
One element that Bendis often gets a lot of flack for is his use of 'talking heads' panels and pages. Well, this issue he does indeed do it, and he does it incredibly well.
It serves as a damn fine and dynamic way of providing a good chunk of exposition, while also cementing the story on a) the street level, b) the 'real' world and c) the world of the Marvel Universe. This is a simple, and effectively used technique, and you know what, Bendis is damn good at it, so I'm hardly going to give him a hard time for using it.
Of course, it's not just Bendis who is making this comic, or indeed making it the damn fine piece of comics that it is. Oh no. That honour most assuredly falls to the art team of David Marquez and Justin Ponsor.
It's a little hard to write about the artwork beyond what is obvious. It is god. Damn. Gorgeous! Every page, every panel, drips of art that has had time and care taken over it, doesn't feel rushed, and is wrapped in an incredible level of detail and finesse.
Marquez did some great work on Civil War II to be sure, but frankly this issue sees his artwork reach a whole new level. It's almost unquantifiable what exactly has changed here, but something just feels fresher, cleaner and more dynamic in this art than we had seen before.
I mean, just look at it!
Now, I am going to throw the first warning here: this review has some spoilers coming up, so if you want to avoid spoilers, leave now.
Also, I have much love for any artist who can portray just how much Danny Rand is the Dick Grayson of the Marvel Universe, bringing the body-ody-ody.
Anyway, add into this fine artwork colours from Ponsor that feel full of energy and life. In the mundane scenes, his colours make the artwork feel real and bright and in the action sequences they feel full of magic and energy. Ponsor's colours are really some of the best I've seen in a comic in some time, and given that we are living in a time when there are some incredible colourists out there doing the most incredible work, that's saying something.
Also, as you probably have heard me mention before, I am generally not a fan of the character of the Punisher, who appears in this issue. And I loved him here, because he gets totally owned, and comes across like a loonie and a chump, and I loved that.
(Yeah, I'm gonna get some heat in the comments section for that one)
Now, here come the spoilers. Well, here come the big spoilers.
The issue ends as pretty much every issue has so far…with one (or more) of the Defenders getting seemingly seriously, and possibly life-threateningly, injured. It's a tried and true and classic technique to be sure, and one that can get tired pretty fast. But so far the creative team have utilised them well, and they add a sense of threat that is harder to get in superhero comics usually.
So seeing Iron Fist get full on Bane'd by Diamondback really felt like it had weight, had meaning and ups the suspense until the next issue.
We all know the damage won't last long (Iron Fist has some pretty good healing capabilities by focusing his chi), but this final panel really works to make the reader feel a general moment of…I think I can only express the feeling in GIF form:
It helps create suspense between each issue, and somehow ground this street-level heroes who even at that level have some pretty incredible powers.
Overall, this issue of Defenders in particular feels like a comic making masterclass in what a truly fantastic comic can really be and look like.