Last month, Marvel gave us our first look at the new Defenders series as a back-up feature to the Free Comic Book Day edition of Secret Empire. And this week, Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez introduce us to the full cast of this street-level vigilante superteam. Marvel Studios continues to hold sway, which is why this Defenders squad is unlike any team of that name that we’ve seen in the comics (a Defenders team with no Strange seems odd). But right away, you can tell that Bendis is driven by more than just the typical company mandate that resulted in phoned-in Guardians of the Galaxy comics or the tedious Civil War II. Bendis is here because he loves these characters. And if the story doesn’t convince you, his afterword says, in no uncertain terms: “I love Daredevil so much.”
He also reminds us that he created Jessica Jones, has had a perennial crush on Luke Cage, and even took an opportunity to develop the Iron Fist mythology when Brubaker and Fraction weren’t looking. So this is clearly something he’s excited about. Marquez is onboard too; those bold, logo-draped character entrances give Bendis’s quick cuts and fluid dialogue a 70’s-style cinematic beat. You can almost hear the horns and bassline when Luke Cage strolls up carrying five dozen sandwiches.
It’s an appropriate feel for Defenders, particularly since the Netflix shows have done such a nice job of mining four-color gems from the 1970’s. Rosario Dawson helped breathe new life into forgotten Claire Temple. And in last year’s Luke Cage, we were reminded that the original supervillain to go by the name of Diamondback was Willis Stryker, who died after two appearances in the first Hero for Hire series. Well, naturally, he’s back, and he’s got a bone to pick with any costumed do-gooder that might get in the way of re-establishing his criminal empire.
Whether or not Stryker can prove a compelling enough nemesis in this opening arc remains to be seen. The fact that Bendis and Marquez are captaining the comic book companion to the television ensemble is what encourages me. At the height of the antihero craze, we got the grim and dirty Marvel Knights line. Following “Heroic Age” reinventions, film-inspired character saturation, and melodramatic events, this type of team still has a place in the comic book universe. Iron Fist puts it best in this first issue: “If the Avengers and whatnot are up there… we need to be down here.”