Friday, January 13, 2012



regular cover art by Terry and Rachel Dodson

 "Venom" Variant art by Chris Stevens -"Red She-Hulk" Variant art by Mark Bagley

 Doctor Strange - "I Am A Defender" - Variant Cover

Defenders #2
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson
Colors by Sonia Oback
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Editor : Well... there are 7 editors!
Published by Marvel Comics
Note: One of the reasons I don't post reviews immediately after the drop date is that in the course of my discussions I may deal with SPOILERS and don't want to ruin anyone's reading experience right off the bat. While I don't think that I spill too many secrets about the issue, I should, of course, say that if you haven't read the issue yet, I may mention some story specifics which could be considered to be Spoilers. So... Spoiler Alert. Maybe. Kinda.
Defenders # 2 starts off right where last issue’s cliffhanger left off; The Defenders (Doctor Strange, King Namor, Silver Surfer, Iron Fist & Red She-Hulk) - On Wundagore mountain, surrounded by mutated Tiger-Men which are led by Prester John; wielder of the ‘Evil Eye’ - all the while with Iron Fist lying on his back in the snow, shot in the chest.

Where last issue was all set-up and putting the pieces in place, this issue is where things come to a head - and events are left ready to start knocking the pieces down next issue. The classic, basic, story structure is being followed; with an introductory build-up, high mid-point and then the denouement. Since next issue is to wrap up this arc, it seems as if each issue is standing alone as its own segment of the story pattern; one issue per segment. No complex, multi-tiered writing here. At least not on the surface.

Even with this issue showcasing the Defenders in a fight or two, their capture, escape and introduction to the big MacGuffin, with some quirky character moments tossed in for good measure, it really doesn’t add up to much of anything but a story segment. It certainly doesn’t have the feel or “weight” of an actual issue. Most definitely not one that has a price tag of $3.99.

 I said it in my review of issue # 1 as well [HERE], but it would have been better for Marvel to have released this full story as an oversized first issue spectacular, and really blow the lid off of the introduction to this team and title rather than the watered-down, slowly moving product that is being serialized here. I can’t imagine that each issue is giving readers that “I gotta see what happens next” feeling. I know I’M not feeling it.

There are big, bold, bombastic moments to the story. Sadly, most are not a part of the script. The artwork by Terry and Rachel Dodson is a step up from the previous issue and really helps to make this title seem larger than life. The story, with its big concept still as of yet unrevealed, and the big-bad of the arc; Nul – Breaker of Worlds, only seen in a brief interlude, Matt Fraction is instead turning to little character bits to carry the reader’s interest. It doesn’t always work.

 There are a few story moments worth mentioning:

- Iron Fist focusing his Chi to survive the gunshot wound.

- Silver Surfer pleading with his foe to not force the Surfer’s rendering him unto atoms.
Although, with Surfer’s power-level, I am SURE he could have otherwise incapacitated his attacker without utterly destroying him. That was out of character – especially as Surfer is now trying to recapture his humanity. Nothing says “humane” like blasting a kitten-man to pieces.

- I like the fact that Red-She-Hulk still isn’t 100% used to her power level, and doesn’t realize that she is nigh-invulnerable, instead carrying a shield into battle

- Near the story’s end, Doctor Strange totally takes charge of the investigative and diplomatic duties and stands as an authority figure, trying to reach the sensible portion of Prester John’s fractured mind. Very good.

The dialogue, however, is often groan-inducingly bad:

- Iron Fist calling his attacker “Stupid! Tiger! ASS!”

- Namor stating defeatedly: “Good luck with that. I shall be vomiting into my helmet.”

- And Iron Fist’s comical, slapstick pratfall while yelling: “RENDERED LIKE UNTO A THING OF IRON!”
(Yes, he was in an equilibrium-disrupting headpiece, and so his fall is understood, but still… why would he yell that?)

- Red She-Hulk once again speaks like a 13-year-old boy: “Give Me Back My BIG-ASS SWORD!”

The biggest (and guaranteed to be most talked about) character moment of the issue deals with a tense moment between Doctor Strange and Red She-Hulk.

Click to embiggen artwork.
Right-Click to "Red-She-Hulk-Size"

Trapped in a prison cell, each of the Defenders are held by a specially custom-tailored method of incapacitation; Iron Fist in equilibrium-destroying headgear, Namor in a helmet apparently filled with noxious liquids, Silver Surfer trapped in an energy bubble of the Evil Eye’s making, Doctor Strange with his hands dipped in concrete - all trapped with She-Hulk in a prison with specially constructed other-worldly metal bars that she is unable to rend. However, Red-Shulky has a plan. She can revert back to her Betty Ross persona, a much smaller physical frame and thus squeeze between the bars, and then destroy the machinery which powers their prisons from the other side. All she needs is someone to scare her. 
Fear triggers her reversal of physical manifestation. 
To this end, Stephen Strange quietly whispers something (which is kept secret from the reader) in She-Hulk’s ear. 

Wide-eyed, she instantly reverts to her smaller, human form. She is also repulsed by Strange and tells him:

“I don’t like you. I don’t like you one damn bit. Stay AWAY from me from now on.”
She then goes forth to destroy the equipment and thus tells the Defenders:
“Come on. Bring ‘the CREEP’.”
The scene ends with Namor filled with some smug self-satisfaction that Strange has been labeled thus.

This interactivity between the characters is fun. It is the typical, insult-laden, harshly “not-always-playful” banter that has always existed between the Defenders. However, with the removal of the dumb, green Hulk and his replacement with a smart, sassy firebrand of his ex-wife; the Red She-Hulk, the abuse has an even greater potential for over-the-top, “in your face” insults than has ever existed prior.

The down-side to this is that we have no idea (yet?) as to what it was that Strange whispered to Betty to cause her so unnerved. (Although, truthfully, I don't care if we never learn what it was. Some mystery is good.) However, it was obviously something that sufficiently SCARED her.
THAT is excellent. Stephen Strange SHOULD be able to scare the pants off of you by a simple hushed word. Something scary. Something unnerving. Something to make your blood run cold. It is those types of secrets that a true Master of the Mystic Arts would know. Would have experienced. Would have survived.

And yet, I fear that Matt Fraction may have put words in Strange mouth that paint him as more of a “creep-ER” than someone who is “creep-Y”. Creepy scary = good. Creepy “guy who says things that make women freak out” = bad. Sadly, at this juncture, I do not have enough faith or proven history with Matt Fraction’s take on Doctor Strange to believe that he was staying clearly in the “good” range. I can only hope that he isn’t (secretly) making Stephen Strange into a total creep (of the aforementioned “bad” variety). Since it is currently unknown what was said, I will give Fraction all benefit of the doubt and hope that it would have been something suitably macabre.

I have my OWN theory as to what Strange may have said, and thus have made it into an interactive “game / contest” of sorts – in its own post [HERE]. I took a quote (an actual word balloon) from another comic and pasted in place for your amusement / dismay.
I’m asking YOU FOLKS to grab the scan that I provide and try something similar. Either grab a quote from another comic, or think of your own and then, either post the image – sending me the link – or send me the art and I’ll post them all at a later date. Winner gets some kind of honor or prize. We’ll see. 

However, so it doesn’t seem like I’m being overly critical or too negative about the issue, I must say that I’m happy that Matt Fraction – and Marvel – are giving this team / title a shot. I’m eager to see how weird and creative the stories can become. I’m hoping that after the initial “warm-up” period that the creative team really turn this title into all that it can be.

One of the bits of “weirdness” that Matt Fraction is tossing into the mix is the commentary on the events of the issue; by an omniscient narrator. That, along with the hype blurbs / secret messages are an increasingly “meta” addition to the story.
While, like last issue, many of the bottom-of-the-page ad blurbs are used to hawk other Marvel publications – as did Marvel Comics of the 1960’s & 1970’s, as the issue progresses the messages become more “aware”, more “alternate reality” in nature.
While some of the messages speak directly to the characters (and us) – others spoke of other things… “universe-breaking” things. Some repeating the mantra that was used to hype the series;  “Fight To Save Everything”, “Everyone You Love Dies”, “Shut the Engines Down”,”The Universe Will Break”. Other messages speak of things “un-real” or “surreal”, like an ad-blurb for an obviously non-existent comic; “Werewolf By Night Nurse”. While another speaks of “…Breathing The Air of Caesar of Hannibal of DaVinci of Galileo”. And still others break the 4th wall and comment directly on the comic book itself, such as stating a positive viewpoint on the quality of the paid full-page ad or noting that the “story interrupted previous page”. 

It is this meta commentary that is reaffirming my belief that the “secret of the Marvel Universe”, that Matt Fraction is hinting towards, is something along the lines of “Marvel U. is in a comic book”, and the narrator is a writer of sorts. Maybe it’s not going to be that obvious, but it seems to be leaning to something along those lines.

The only “out” is that the MacGuffin of the tale; the ‘Concordance Engine’ is some sort of time/space/reality machine, so perhaps its presence (and/or activation) is what is breaking the walls betwixt and between the realities of the Marvel Universe and our own world. The Engine, of course, is the mystery item that Dr. Strange saw in his astral premonition back in the "Marvel Point One" issue prelude.

While this arc ends next issue, I don’t think the mystery of the ‘Concordance Engine’ will be unraveled that soon. I’m on board for awhile longer to see where this all goes. But honestly, if Doctor Strange weren’t a part of it, I’d be seriously contemplating bailing on the title. Right now, the next issue is the make-or-break component.

And now some minor nit-picks:
Doctor Strange: Are his gloves black or red? In the first issue, they were black. Here, they are red. Pick a color. Personally, I prefer black gloves with the red gauntlets.
Also, the gauntlets, (like the white and gold shirt design that Doc wore at the end of his “Sorcerer Supreme” title, as designed by Marc Buckingham,) seem to be something that no one but the original artist can draw correctly. The gauntlets were designed by Gabriele Dell’Otto (originally for a cover-only costume) and then incorporated into a new costume in New Avengers v2 Annual #2 [all found HERE]. Terry Dodson can’t seem to get them right, just drawing big, gaudy bands with random squiggles on their surface.

Doctor Strange’s height: Why is he bring drawn as the shortest member of the team? At 6’.2 ½” he should be taller than everyone but Silver Surfer (6’.4”) and Red-She-Hulk (around 6’.7”).

In the escape battle, Doctor Strange’s hands are encased in concrete, yet he is able to walk around without any apparent effort and can swing his arms with apparent ease, despite the fact that concrete slabs would be quite heavy. (Still… seeing Strange throw down is fun!)

And lastly, at the end, when forced to surrender, Dr. Strange is the only one to raise his hands – and keep them raised to the end. Personally, I am thinking that he is doing so to hide the fact that he is prepared to cast a spell. It is my hope that issue 3 starts off with him zinging some mystic bolts at his oppressors. Otherwise this is a poor showing for Stephen Strange.

Lastly, a “Compliment Sandwich” (where I say something critical in between two nice comments):
 I am secretly beginning to groove on Doc’s new garb. Black and Red beat Blue-on-Blue in my book. I do, however, miss the inclusion of a cloak. The “tails” of his waistcoat are a bit of retro-fashion, and while I am gradually warming to them, they do seem to be a bit of cliché’d “Stage Magician's Tuxedo”. But, I am admittedly looking forward to the sale of a Doctor Stange in-new-costume action figure.


Also, don't forget to check out the "Special Reader-Interactive-Participation" post of DEFENDERS # 2 [HERE].


H said...

1. I'd like to think the 'terrify She-Hulk' line came from the book Strange was reading on the plane before it went down -- a call back to the "something very old and rather frightening." But it could be something disturbingly personal; Strange and Betty have a shared history, after all. He was involved in a recent story in the Hulk series where Betty and Hulk were transported to the Dark Dimension, about to relive a cycle of endless destruction and restoration, and Strange was, reluctantly, willing to leave them there. He might have told her that, because I'm sure she didn't know. I'm REALLY hoping it wasn't something like "I know you don't shave" or "You're wearing a purple thong." Or Fraction is leaving it out because it's funnier not to know.

I'm really tickled at the personalized restraints for the Defenders. That strikes me as such a Silver Age touch, where the villain would always have the Ridiculously Specialized Gizmo ready to contain the heroes. There's not one for Betty, though. Were they expecting the Hulk?

The 'concordance engine' is interesting. Prester John says it's "another one" and Fraction said it's a Kirby design. We've seen the image before -- it was the figure Strange was trying to identify. Calling it a 'concordance' is so odd. I know the term from religious studies: a 'concordance' is a volume containing every single use of a word in Scripture (all the verses with the word 'love', for example). An 'exhaustive concordance' contains every use of every single word (even 'and' and 'the'). Most concordances stick to the significant words, however.

I think the catch-text at the foot of the pages is meant to creep out the reader and make you think that the weirdness isn't just in the comic world -- it's seeping out into yours, too. Even the pages in your hands are doing things you don't expect, because Nul is out there. We'll see if they stick around once Nul is gone.

Anonymous said...

Further coloring mistakes include Red She-hulk's hand turning flesh colored when holding the back of Iron Fist's head and Dr Strange's buckle being colored red instead of gold.

I prefer Strange's gloves being black as well.

"Stage Magician's Tuxedo" Strictly speaking tuxedos never have tails, which was one of the key points of their invention. However you used quotation marks, so I'm giving a pass on that. :)

~P~ said...


Thanks for your comments.
I truly appreciate your thoughts and you always look deeply into the story for the most probable (or hopefully best) scenario.

We might not always see each situation the same way, but I truly appreciate reading your thoughts and weigh them knowing the insight you tend to bring to the conversation.

Red She-Hulk didn't need any other prison except for the unbreakable bars. I guess none of their captors thought a slight-of-size woman would need be imprisoned therein, so they didn't place the bars closer together.

I do know of the normal definition of a 'concordance' and I'd imaging that - or one of the other lesser definitions - might have something to do with the engine's usage, and hopefully isn't just a cool term being used. At this time, I'm happily a little fuzzy on the details, and quite enjoy not knowing 100% what is going to happen. I might feel as if I have a good IDEA what is going on, but whether for good or ill (Fraction's either crafting something deep OR he is just lobbing ideas at a wall to see what sticks,) I'm still interested to see where it goes.

I'm leaning towards the page text being affected by the 'concordance engine' and not by Nul. Nul is affecting their world, but the 'concordance engine' affects all realities.



Yes. "Tuxedo and Tails" is a widely accepted, yet erroneous term. Strangely, it is even called "tux and tails" at many tuxedo shoppes.

It is really a "tailcoat" (or even a "morning coat").

I wore such a coat on my wedding day.
(I had an old fashioned, "yesteryear" look and I chose a very modern look for my groomsmen, to give an interesting dichotomy to the assemblage - that totally looked great.)

Anonymous said...

I'm less sure about Strange's new look. I keep thinking he's got a devil's trident on his chest, which I know is not what's intended, I guess it's because red n black colors are often used by those of a devilish nature in comics.

Actually I don't think they've ever had a perfect costume for Dr Strange, (even Ditko's original is flawed. why would a fighter of evil have a demon on his chest?) but the closest to perfect, if not quite there for me at least, is the one that Marcos Martin came up with.

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