Defenders #2: Trying To Be Funny

The slipshod team of heroes must marshal their forces to take on the demented menace of Prester John.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker


You might expect some ferocious negativity here after our fairly nasty review of The Defenderb#1, and Iann Robinson's epic vitriol in that week's Book Report podcast, but rest assured, I don't hate this book as much as he does – although I doubt it's humanly possible to hate this book as much as he does.  For my part, this series has its moments, and its flaws, and I'll do my best to be fair and balanced about them – and not in the Fox News definition of the phrase, either.

Back at Comic-Con, writer Matt Fraction said that his Defenders would deal with a secret threat that explains why the Marvel universe is the way it is.  In The Defenders #2, it's starting to look like that was just hyperbole for another standard threat to the universe rather than any huge canon revelation.  The book opens with the team fighting Prester John's army of tiger men and closes with the revelation that said Prester John is planning to destroy the universe because he thinks god is dead.  Ain't that a kick in the nuts to atheists everywhere.

In between all this is fighting and comedy.  Of a sort.  Let's be clear, though – as far as comedy writing goes, Matt Fraction is no Dan Slott.  No Joe Kelly.  No Christopher Priest.  No Eric Powell.  No Evan Dorkin.  No Fabien Nicieza.  No Tony Millionaire.  No Gail Simone.  No Keith Giffen.  No Garth Ennis.  No Malachi Nicolle.  Which his to say that he's not particularly funny – if you couldn't already gather that from the humorless, turgid Fear Itself debacle.  To be fair, I'm not all that familiar with his past work beyond that, so perhaps I'm just not informed well enough, but The Defenders isn't quite making a good case for it.

It's obvious he's trying to be funny, which just makes it a bit more sad.  The bit where Iron Fist is saddled with some disorienting sound-and-light show helmet causing him to stumble around and scream things is about the only bit that works. A wild kick while screaming "LIKE UNTO A FIST OF IRON" and then landing on his ass is funny.  The rest centers around Dr. Strange being a complete skeeve-bag, which seems like a new development.  Maybe I'm not up on my Strange canon, but I'd think that particular reputation would have preceded him before now.  Last issue, he was banging nubile students, and here, when Red She-Hulk needs to be scared to revert back to Betty (since when is that how her power works?  Oh, since Fraction made it up for Fear Itself, apparently negating the fact that she can switch at will everywhere else), he whispers something to her that freaks her out enough to switch, and then prods her to think he's a creep.  Okay.  I mean ha-ha.

There's also a bit where the omniscient narrator builds up Prester John by noting he's been able to capture the Silver Surfer with his weapon, following it up with a "RESPECT THAT."  Okay, I guess, but kind of a groaner.  Although that does lead into one of the better things about this issue – Prester John as an interesting, big-time threat.  I don't know much about this guy – first time I saw him was in the legitimately funny Cable/Deadpool, which used him as a thug and made much hay out of his "stellar rod" weapon, which I'm completely surprised that Fraction didn't riff on here.  I don't know whether to congratulate him for his restraint or dread that he's actually building up to a huge "stellar rod" payoff in another couple of issues.  I do like his weird religious-yet-nihilistic motivations for encouraging Nul: Breaker of Worlds to come help him destroy the universe (and I am not getting on board with calling that thing the Black Hulk), and I am a bit curious as to what his Concordance Engine will actually turn out to do.

I generally like Terry Dodson on art as well, and he's solid here.  I'm not a huge fan of Photoshop blurring effects on comic art, but it's not particularly offensive.  Nothing stands out as spectacular, but there ain't nothing really wrong, either.  Good ol' meat and potatoes work.

As far as big-time comic plotting goes, The Defenders #2 is fine.  What bugs me is that, from what I can tell, Fraction does seem to have a bit of the 'Marvel Star Writer' disease that tends to facilitate the abuse of characterization, and while he's trying to keep up The Defenders reputation as 'the comedy superteam,' it just ain't that funny.  That tends to be more off-putting than iffy plot choices, and it leads me to wonder how long this particular Hulk nerd will follow this book simply to play Betty Ross Character Police in my own brain.  Reading a book only to see whether or not it's going to anger you doesn't seem all that healthy.