Writer Brian Michael Bendis returns to the characters and type of stories that made him one of Marvel’s star writers in Defenders #1 as Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Iron Fist team up to fight the literal diamond dropping supervillain, Diamondback. And he kind of, sort of gets his groove back by penning the time of superhero adjacent crime stories that made his work on Daredevil and Alias modern classics. Artist Dave Marquez and colorist Justin Ponsor are the real MVPS on the book replacing their sleeker work on Invincible Iron Man and Civil War II for something more in the shadows. I especially loved Marquez’s powerful take on Luke Cage, who has a personal connection to Diamondback and physically takes up a whole panel while he whales on his old nemesis.
Any kind of character development of the heroes is sidelined for the most part in Defenders #1 as Bendis, Marquez, and Ponsor immediately throw the Defenders into the fray. However, since Bendis is so familiar with these guys, he and Marquez hit some solid character beats between the punching and explosions. There is the clever, sarcastic private eye Jessica Jones, who got put in the hospital by Diamondback in an off panel attack, immediately knowing who her attack her. Also, Black Cat goes from being the feline kingpin of New York, who is bemused by Diamondback trying to make her work for him until he beats the stuffing out of Luke Cage. To be honest (And based on his nauseous cheesiness in the Luke Cage TV show.) , I thought that Diamondback was just a villain of the week and an easy first win for the Defenders. However, he’s gotten a bit of an upgrade (Probably from Inhuman Growth Hormone because MGH is so 2005.) and is the force that brings these street level vigilantes together into a team.
Even though Civil War II was a hot mess of a comic, Dave Marquez showed he was the king of drawing superheroes in their element whether in solo or group shots. He brings a similar cool to the introduction of each member of the Defenders. Instead of settling for a simple pose, he creates a poster-worthy background image that visually tells their backstory without clunky exposition. Arguably, the best of the bunch is Jessica Jones’ intro, which is part of a larger double page spread and has her life as a mom and the superhero Jewel on one page and her job as a P.I. for Alias Investigations on the other. It symbolizes the tension of how she’s been characterized since Alias because she went 10 years between solo comics , but thankfully, Jessica plays a more active role in Defenders.
A lot of Defenders #1 takes place in bars, clubs, rooftops and dark paces. This allows Dave Marquez and Justin Ponsor to make the majority of the pages in this book ooze with atmosphere. Spending more than one page on an explosion is a little too Michael Bay for my tastes and kind of depersonalizes Diamondback’s attack on Luke and Jessica. However, Ponsor finds a deep blue for the skies above New York that complements Black Cat’s black outfit nicely and shows readers that Brian Michael Bendis is back to his crime roots. Shadow is everywhere although Marquez’s work still has sheen to it that can be a little awkward like when Diamondback does his gangster thing in the opening scene.
Defenders #1 feels a lot like a veteran musician revisiting the sound that made him great (And won Bendis Eisners.) over a decade ago. It’s not super fresh, but there is a real staccato zest to Bendis’ snarky dialogue, Marquez’s art, and Ponsor’s colors that is best exhibited in a scene where each Defender “interrogates” Diamondback’s men in their own way. More scenes like this where Bendis and Marquez play off the unique personalities of each Defender, and the series could be a hit for Marvel and not just a Netflix cash-in or a nostalgia trip for fans of Marvel’s street level books in early 2000s.
Story: Brian Michael Bendis Art: Dave Marquez Colors: Justin Ponsor
Story: 7.7 Art: 8.3 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review