Sunday, March 18, 2012

DEFENDERS v4 # 3 – A REVIEW


 THE DEFENDERS #3
Writer: Matt Fraction, Penciler: Terry Dodson, Inker: Rachel Dodson 
Colorist: Sonia Oback, Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
 Cover art by Terry and Rachel Dodson


 Variant covers:
"I am a Defender : Red She-Hulk" promo art cover
&
Silver Surfer Solo Shot by Adam Kubert

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"THE MAN WITH Ω ON HIS PALMS"
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FAIR WARNING!
This review is for a comic that is, as of this posting, one month old.
I reveal SPOILERS!
If you haven't yet read the issue, and don't want to know what happened - look away.

Everyone else... read along.

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In wrapping up the first story-arc, Defenders (vol 4) # 3 needed to deal with the multiple threats, and threads, of: Prester John - wielder of the Evil Eye, the Concordance Engine and its mysterious guardian, and Nul; Breaker of Worlds, along with the troubles brewing within the make-up of the team itself.

It barely succeeds.
Or... more accurately...it deals with the various threats by not dealing with them at all.

Truthfully, I wasn't even going to review this issue, as it was such a poor issue overall (and I had basically stated most of my thoughts in a few quick 140-character sound text bites over on my Twitter stream, on the same day that the issue dropped).
But, I knew that I should get to it, and since I NEED to review issue # 4 - that just came out - I couldn't justify skipping over this issue. So, in my usual manner, I bloviate at length and really get into the crux of this issue - for you.

Starting off right where last issue’s cliffhanger left off; The Defenders (Doctor Strange, King Namor, Silver Surfer, Iron Fist & Red She-Hulk) are at the mercy of Prester John – who has the Surfer neutralized by the power of John’s arcane weapon; the Evil Eye. Capable of potentially destroying the Surfer (but definitely causing him unimaginable pain),the threat of the Evil Eye, wielded by the insane Prestor John has the other Defenders stand defeated, waiting for a chance to turn the tables - hopefully before the threat of Nul arrives.

Prestor John, assured that Nul will come and destroy the Concordance Engine - and thus, the universe - John will be able to harness that destructive energy to propel himself (and his mutated animal crew) to a new reality.

However, the real problem with the issue is that as big and bad and deadly and ultimately destructive as Nul is hyped up to be, he is, in fact, a worthy bearer of his name, as all he ends up being… is nothing.

Both figuratively as well as (in the end, quite) literally.

In point of fact, Nul was nothing more than a poor plot device to have a reason to gather this team together. He/it served no purpose. He/it had no real impact on the story (the assorted deaths of those whose paths he crossed notwithstanding). He/it was in essence… a NUL. A waste of valuable storytelling time and real-estate.

The same end result could have been accomplished simply by Dr. Strange sensing that something was amiss at Wundagore Mountain, and that he would need assistance to handle it, as he is no longer the “Sorcerer Supreme”. Done. (That was the basic premise for the old “Secret Defenders” title from the 1990’s. And truthfully, with this team’s mission statement; “Secret Defenders” is a much more apt title.)

The only reason for NUL’s inclusion was a thin tie-in to the lackluster ‘Fear Itself’ “event” – and thus, the progenitor of this Defenders comic “spin-off”.

Yes. There is a brief fight scene between Nul and the Defenders, if a fight is what it can be called. There were a few panels of Red She-Hulk punching it, and then a panel or two of the team uselessly showing how bad-ass this monster is by their being unable to stop it.

This totally unsatisfying “battle” also contained a panel wherein Red She-Hulk (and Namor?) criticize Doctor Strange for standing around wiggling his fingers while the rest of them get the work done. 

"I'm crushing your head... I'm c-c-c-c-rushing your head!"

Since Strange’s magic is (and should be) usually invisible to the human eye, it is understandable for Red-Shulk to think this way. It is not appropriate for Namor to do so, since he is well aware of what a wiggle of Strange’s finger can do. However, since Strange’s cast spell (which he states is the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak, but really does not look anything of the sort) are ineffectual against Nul, perhaps his teammates CAN see them, but simply think his stymied attempts are feeble in the face of their opponent.

Either way, this is all until, in the end, the newly introduced “Other-Prester” – a silent guardian of the Wundagore Concordance Engine – steps up and, with but a touch, erases Nul from existence. Literally Nullifying it.

This anticlimactic resolution to the “big bad” not only sidelines the team whose title this is, but also fails to deliver any real sense of danger or proposed ultimate-doom that was promised. It also points out how unnecessary this team (and title?) is, because the same would have occurred even without the presence of this team. If Nul had touched the Engine, “Other-Prestor” would have zapped him. The end.

While just prior to his/its being erased from existence, writer Matt Fraction has Nul manage to punch the reality-altering Concordance Engine (as if the phenomenon known as the “Superboy punch” wasn’t derided enough) and with those two blows cause waves of reality-distortion to emit from the machine.
These waves alter reality, – at least somewhat – but most visibly by altering the garb of the Defenders - ostensibly transforming them into the clothing that best suits their inner sense of self: Red She-Hulk now wearing some Frazetta-inspired Woman-Warrior “armor”, Iron Fist now shirtless and looking more like a pirate or a prior incarnation of the Iron Fist, Namor his simple swim-trunks and Doctor Strange once again wearing his “blue-faced” costume, complete with Cloak of Levitation.

Quick change! Even easier than the "Bat-Pole".

Here, I need to point out an error made by artist Terry Dodson. While caught in the reality-distortion effect, Dodson draws the blue face of Doctor Strange as a mask – one which Strange is able to simply pull off from his head. That is wrong. The blue-face should truly be… his face.

The blue-face of Doctor Strange was originally conceived by Strange (waaaaay back in Doctor Strange # 177) because, at the time, the villain; Asmodeus was wearing Doc's face and form while Doc was trapped in another dimension - the magic rule being that Doc wouldn’t be able to return to our dimension since his “space” was occupied by another.
(Yeah… it wasn’t a good reason. Truthfully, the real reason was sales. Doc’s book at the time was in a slump and the editors thought that perhaps if Doc was more of a superhero, things would work out. They didn’t.)



Anyway, Doc cast a spell upon himself to change his very form (“for many are the forms and faces of the man called… Doctor Strange”), thus allowing him to return to earth.

Thus, Terry Dodson drawing the face as a mask isn’t accurate. (And while I am on the subject; why the heck are Strange’s costumed-feet all “Elephant-like”? Are those “footie-pajamas”?) However (and here’s where I go for my “No-Prize”) I’ll choose to believe that this version of Doctor Strange’s vestments come from a reality wherein he no longer needed to alter his appearance, but still liked the identity-hiding look, and thus simply chooses to wear a stocking mask. This would also account for the appearance of the Eye of Agamotto about his neck, since the Eye was destroyed when Doctor Voodoo went into battle against an entity calling itself ‘Agamotto’ in the pages of New Avengers v2 # 06 (my review of same can be found [HERE]). Still, I can’t tell if it is merely artistic interpretation or a purposeful detail, but Dodson does seem to draw the Amulet hollowed-out, as if the Eye is no longer within. Sadly, the art of Terry and Rachel Dodson is all too often far too rough (or adversely; cartoony – either sloppy or adversely; sparse) in places to tell for sure.

But, if these garments are his own from THIS reality, that would be ok, as the Cloak of Levitation is still intact (as it was never worn by Doctor Voodoo – instead being shown only once to exist, stored within Voodoo’s own mystic sanctuary). Also, my research has shown that on one other occasion, the face was erroneously drawn as being a mask (by Matt Haley in Kurt Busiek’s Defenders spin-off title; The ORDER # 6).

As the true hero of the story; “Other-Prestor” also reveals that he, as do all “Prestor/Knights”, possess the sign of the Omega ( Ω ) on his palms. This leads to the mystery that perhaps there is some link to the old 1970’s character; Omega the Unknown, himself an old-school Defenders tie-in.

As for Prestor John, his plan of riding a wave of reality to a new dimensional existence was thwarted as the Silver Surfer damaged his space craft and hurled it into deep space. Tiger Pilots and all.

Speaking of the Tiger Pilots, Matt Fraction continues to utilize the meta-effect of the page-bottom captions for mixed purpose and to mixed effect. Not only paying homage to those old-school blurbs of 1970’s Marvel comics, Fraction also continues to use the blurbs as messages to the other characters and to the reader as well – some times giving potential clues as to the mysteries within the story.
At least, that’s what he says in interviews. It’s probably a little too early to say that any of the previous messages have come to any real fruition.

The issue ends with Strange claiming that the best thing that they can do now (since all the obvious threats are vanquished) is to steal the Concordance Engine.
Maybe it’s just me, but having Strange say that they should “steal” it leads to the connotation that they are going to do something “bad”.

Also, since where goes the engine also goes “Other-Prestor”, you can’t really say you’re stealing the engine without the tied-in crime of also “kidnapping” the engine's near-catatonic guardian.
Instead, Strange should have stated that they need to “safeguard” it/them.

Heroes being heroic and all that.

All in all, this issue (and the arc as a whole) was a big let-down. It merely served as a delivery mechanism for the Concordance Engine to come into the possession of Doctor Strange and the Defenders.
But, it really needn’t have taken 3-issues and $12.00 (not counting the costs of multitudes of variant covers) to do so.

Am I being too harsh on this issue (and this first arc)? I don’t think so.
While not horrible, it has hardly been any great piece of work.

Matt Fraction’s story was flimsy and still has yet to pay any true dividend on its promised “weirdness” and “universal impact” on Marvel comics as we know them.

The Dodson’s artwork is (as I mentioned earlier) either (and at times both) cartoony or sloppy – with occasional beautifully drawn moments interspersed.

The coloring by Sonia Oback still has me at odds with myself as to whether or not I like it. Seemingly colored on a Ciniq tablet, it is both: lovely and gaudy, intricate and confusing, dazzling and muddying. I’ll wait and see how it goes in the next few issues.

Clayton Cowles' lettering more than does the job required. I imagine he puts in a great deal of effort in keeping everyone’s words and “voices” separate and distinct. If he has to work out an arrangement with Sonia as far as orchestrating a key to keeping track of which colors are used for which text boxes… that would also be a task in itself.


One last thought: re: Doctor Strange’s new costume – in these three issues the design of Strange’s wrist bands as well as the color of his gloves has been inconsistent.  In the span of three issues, the gloves have been either BLACK, RED or non-existent, with Strange’s hands remaining “flesh-colored” – and back and forth again. While it seems to be that the decision is for the gloves to be red, might I state that from a visual and design sense, BLACK gloves with the RED wrist bands would be a better choice.
If the bands and the gloves are both red, then it won’t be long before some artist just draws a pair of red gloves.
This is especially so, as Terry Dodson still hasn’t decided what to make the bands look like as of yet. They look different In each panel. Are they etched with detail? Or not. Is there some sort of gem attached? Or not?

As I mentioned in an earlier review (of Doc's new costume [HERE]) these gauntlets were originally designed by Gabriele Del’Otto (first for a series of cover images and then in use in recent issues of New Avengers). Dell’Otto designed them as being metallic, with etched details and a gemstone on each one. They were also colored as being red with gold edging.

If this look were to be replicated in this title, then perhaps the red gloves could be maintained, as the gold edging would break up the block of red color between band and glove (but still, black gloves are better – or no gloves at all).

Otherwise, I do like Strange’s new look. It’s not as good as his classic sorcerer’s vestments, but since Marvel insists on playing him as a super-hero, it is a good looking super-hero costume for him.

Still, it appears to be a FUN book, seemingly upon which everyone is enjoying their work. As long as this first opening arc is but an overture to future direction… with all the bigger and better growth which that promises, I will gladly stay on board.

With Strange now in possession of the Concordance Engine, in the future he need be concerned about the potential for succumbing to its madness-inducing effects. As Prestor John fell victim to its maddening embrace, and as “Other-Prestor” also seems to be losing his grasp on reality – and as “Notebook Joe” (from the Defenders prequel story – From Marvel Point One issue {reviewed [HERE]}) also tumbled headlong into an altered state, so too must Strange be ever on guard.

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*NOTE:
A review of Issue # 4 will be forthcoming in either a matter of hours or a day or so days from this posting.
I'll be sure to link to it here.

*NOTE - UPDATE* Here it is:
DEFENDERS # 4 review [HERE]

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Reviews to previous issues in this series:

DEFENDERS # 2 review [HERE]
DEFENDERS # 1 review [HERE]
DEFENDERS PREVIEW review (mostly about the sexual congress of Dr. Strange) [HERE]
DEFENDERS prequel story review from POINT ONE # 1 [HERE]
and a Special Edition looking at Matt Fraction's possible merits or faults re: the title [HERE]

1 comments:

speedwaygurl said...

In order to keep the powers that be (PTOR) happy, and in an effort to bring about review of issue #4, I'm posting my comments to this review (LOL). I'm relatively new to the Strange fanbase, so my reading is a mix of old and new (as I can afford to add to the collection of old - damn I need a comics sugar daddy).

I read this issue and thought, "meh". It seemed like a total plot device. I found it interesting that Prestor was the Deus Ex Machina when wiping Nul out of existence - instead of Strange (as he seems to be the poster child for that in Marvel Comics).

Now that said, I waited to buy #1-4 until #4 came out because I needed to know how they resolved some of the issues in #1-3. So reading it as a 4 issue arc all at once, it wasn't so painful and jarring. Still.....I spent $16 for what I felt was about $5 in storyline. Should have waited for the TPB.

Still.......I'll remain cautiously optimistic (I'm a Red Sox fan after all, so that's my natural state) and wait to see where Fraction takes us.....

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