Review by Karl Verhoven
In this incarnation the Defenders are usual suspects Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer and Sub-Mariner, along with new kids on the block Iron Fist and Red She-Hulk, who was as marginalised in the first volume as Sub-Mariner is here. They’ve taken possession of a machine known as the concordance engine that can mess with reality, returning the dead to life, responding to wishes, transforming the universe, that kind of thing. Rather like the cosmic cube in fact, but better designed as a Kirby-style doohickey by Terry Dodson.
The first volume began with out of character heroes and an obvious villain, but improved with the introduction of the concordance engine. Numerous mysteries about it remain, and they occupy the entire book as Matt Fraction sends the Defenders chasing from one location to the next throwing in guest star after guest star along the way. The Black Cat is around for the long run, and we also meet the Black Panther,after which the team pick up Ant-Man, and Nick Fury, as the Defenders are eventually pitched against a foe surely no-one can defeat.
Fraction had a big idea behind the entire series, which is to explain why it is that Earth is such a repository of super-powered beings. The idea of explaining this is nifty, the actual explanation somewhat less so, and hardly improved by moving ever forward to a situation that’s then very rapidly resolved, possibly due to the imminent cancellation of the monthly serialised comics. With “this time one small act of kindness made all the difference” Fraction also neatly rectifies some poor characterisation of Doctor Strange from the first volume, but in doing so hihglights that as contrived, so still not good writing.
It’s not entirely saved by the art either. Mirco Pierfederici works in two different styles over two chapters, while Dodson still appears unenthusiastic about the entire idea. That leaves the episodes drawn by Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton as the best (sample page). Theirs is an unusual collaboration with Norton supplying the backgrounds onto which McKelvie places the figures, which works far better than it sounds when explained. There’s some enthusiasm about their work, which switches location with every chapter, so they bring to life the swinging 1960s with Hitler still alive and a world over-run by giant insects. These are the fun interludes in a largely disappointing pair of graphic novels in which Fraction knew what he wanted to do, but by the time he reached that point not enough readers remained interested.
Marvel’s next try at resurrecting the Defenders name features an entirely different set of characters as The Fearless Defenders.