It’s the end of the world as we know it. It’s the end of the world as we know it. It’s the end of the world as we know it. And I feel… fine?
Written by Matt Fraction
Illustrated by Mirco Pierfederici
– Series finale! The end of the Defenders!
– All your questions answered!
– Everybody dies! Everything ends! So how do the good guys pull it off?
“Defenders” #1-11 was absolutely great. It’s exactly the type of comic people constantly beg for: something without too heavy a continuity, something fast-paced and action-filled, something thoughtful and introspective. It was a playful comic, exploring the vast insanity of the comic book universe (“Hey, that tiger’s flying a space ship!”), and it was probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to a “Casanova”-style comic in the Marvel Universe from Fraction. So with my affection for the series being clear, I really wish there was something nicer to say about how it all wraps up.
“Defenders” #12 is a casualty of the war being fought every week in comic book shops. Low sales cut the run short, and with it it’s overall story. Because of this, as the universe is faced with demise and our heroes are at their last wits, the ending we’re given is an ending that doesn’t effectively show what was so great about the comic in the first place. This isn’t really an issue of the series; it’s a forced closure to a bigger story, being pulled out quickly and hastily to leave no major threads unresolved. We as a culture are so hung up on endings, resolution and closure that that’s this issue’s main focus: to give us that. However, despite Fraction’s best intentions, what is given to us falls short of something great, and simply reads as a familiar trope we’ve seen anywhere from DC’s “Blackest Night” to Battlestar Galactica and Mass Effect with added Marvel flair.
So when it comes down to the actual execution, it’s a general mixed bag. It still seems to be written in Marvel Style and Fraction’s character work with Doctor Strange is still on point, but everything else – the “important” bits – is rushed. We’re given story beats fired out at such a rapid pace that the issue ends up as a “blink and you miss it” endeavor of storytelling, and while Fraction does keep the similar quirky writing style he’s had throughout it doesn’t do much to save the book. It’s not inherently his fault — with the book cancelled, there’s only so much that can be done in a Hail Mary pass, and the biggest question of the book is answered, so there’s at least that. It still just all ends up rather whitewashed away into nothingness with a letdown of an ending, however. In that way “Defenders” goes out with a whimper instead of a bang, and it’s such a shame that an otherwise very audacious book was ultimately defeated by it’s own nature.
The other thing dragging the book down is the art. It was a huge point of celebration when Jamie McKelvie was announced as the official replacement to the Dodson’s on the book, but you can assume that whenever Marvel decided to pull the plug on the title they immediately pulled McKelvie away to work with his BFF Gillen over in “Young Avengers,” which has resulted in the arrival of fill-in artist Mirco Pierfederici. The thing is, Pierfederici isn’t ostensibly bad; his art when viewed in black and white is pretty good, especially in bigger sequences, and his attention to detail and presentation of some of the crazy and grandiose ideas being thrown into this book are tremendously realized onto the page (the Death Celestial is infinitely awesome). This is countered by awkward character illustrations with uneven faces, though, and when color is added by Veronica Gandini it ends up diluting the overall product; in a completely detrimental fashion, the colors end up making the art a bit muddy on some pages and off-balance on others, taking away from the work that Pierfederici has done. It ultimately looks hastily thrown together, which truthfully could be another casualty from the cancellation of the book — but when we go from the clear sharp lines and colors of McKelvie, Nelson and Aymara to this, it’s a rather noticeable step down.
So in the end, “Defenders” chose to burn out rather than fade away — and burn it does. It’s the kind of book that you wish could’ve had a longer run and a better ending, but with so many tremendous ideas being placed in it early on it seems that the book’s weight got too big for its last legs to hold up. Truth be told, if anyone should be blamed, it’s the average consumer for not supporting this book and letting the story get told in full; we’ve seen that Fraction is fully capable of delivering long-form stories with huge pay-offs, as “Invincible Iron Man” proved. With “Defenders,” he just never got the chance.
But hey, perhaps “Defenders” #12 is like the ending of LOST. Perhaps some will feel let down (like me) while others will be elated with what we’re given. If the Big Revelation wasn’t delivered in such an abbreviated fashion and given more time to percolate and be revealed at an even pace, this could’ve been something like a great finale; that, or if the book was closer to “SHIELD” in it’s execution of big landscape-changing ideas. Yeah, the Big Revelation is a bit cliche for the genre, let alone the medium, but it’s a trope that’s lasted and been used effectively frequently (hence it becoming a trope). This could’ve been pulled off. And yet, we’re given an info-dump of a comic attached to the inevitable deus ex machina that is forced into existence by a cancellation, and that’s a shame. It’s still flashy, it’s still a fun read and one day it’ll make a nice trade collection for fans, but at the very least, all the work done with Doctor Strange will simply evaporate into nothing, and that’s ultimately the biggest loss.
Or, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this was always the way it ended, maybe I misread the final pages and perhaps I’m just bitter that I don’t get to read “Defenders” #13. I’m willing to bet on both options.
So while Fraction’s “Defenders” was the modern Marvel Comics equivalent of free-form jazz, it never seemed to get a firm grasp with an audience. It’s unfortunate that the book is cancelled, and it’s assuredly one of the single most underrated and under-appreciated comics to be lost this year, especially from Marvel, but when all is said and done it didn’t hit as high of a final note as it conceivably could have. Never the less, it was a great ride throughout, and kudos to Fraction and the various artists who graced the book up to this point for delivering a Marvel book that did it’s best to be unique, to march to the beat of its own drum in a way no other comics could, and to truly be the change in comic that Marvel is crossing its fingers that it will have for Marvel NOW!. It’s just such a shame that this didn’t get to go along with the rest of the fun.
But you know what they say: it’s better to have read a great comic with a bad ending, than to have never have read a great comic at all. Something like that, anyway.
Final Verdict: 5.0 – Pass