Defenders #1 Review

by Charles Martin on August 11, 2021

Defenders #1 Review
Writer: Al Ewing
Artist/Storyteller/Colorist: Javier Rodríguez
Inker: Álvaro López
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The Defenders are back, baby! And forget any thoughts of Netflix synergy this time; we're going old-school Defenders. 70s Defenders. Englehart Defenders. Possibly even (a man can dream) Gerber Defenders.

Hold onto your leisure suits, things are about to get funky.

It starts, like so many Dr. Strange adventures, with an uninvited guest busting into the Sanctum Sanctorum. It's the Masked Raider, whom Al Ewing introduced in those "Marvel #1000" anniversary comics a while back.

After a few pages of inevitable misunderstanding brawl, the Raider and Dr. Strange settle down and talk through the setup. The Raider's been battling against the Enclave, the amoral super-scientists who created his Eternity Mask. Now the last of them, Zota, has fled into the far reaches of time using the spellbook of Sise-Neg, the Marvel universe's first time wizard. 

(I find the pure comic-book-osity of that paragraph delightful.)

Dr. Strange wastes no time. "The cosmos must be defended," he says, and he turns immediately to gathering up a team.

From one point of view, this is a little slow for a first issue. There's a lot of exposition to get out to establish the premise and make sure the reader understands the Masked Raider. Plus, there's a slightly indulgent detour taken to tie the latest incarnation of Korvac (see Christopher Cantwell's Iron Man) to the Enclave.

But from a more visual perspective, Defenders #1 is quite the thrill ride. Javier Rodríguez brings the full might of his inventive layout skills to bear. His artful arrangements add not just interest but actual meaning to the proceedings, helping to organize the characters, ideas, and themes of the work.

Thematic elements were definitely on author Al Ewing's mind when he scripted this. The most obvious theme covering the issue from start to finish is a heavy reliance on the tarot. From informing Dr. Strange's initial meditation to playing a vital role in building the team, magic cards are everywhere. Mr. Rodriquez is fully engaged, framing many of the panels so that they could be (quite beautiful) tarot cards themselves. 

There's also a clear theme of "order vs. chaos" running through this issue. Magic exceeds the control of its users a couple of times. In Dr. Strange's personal experience of this phenomenon, he hits the familiar "magic always has a cost" button and describes magical chaos as something terrible yet necessary when you're doing high-stakes cosmic Defender-ing.

The team that Strange assembles is a very promising one. He gets the Silver Surfer (now well clear of Donny Cates's "Black Surfer" phase), an OG Defender from the glory days. He gets Betty "Red Harpy" Banner, a great pull from Al Ewing's exquisite Immortal Hulk. And rounding things out is Cloud, a "sentient nebula" who's unfamiliar to me. The sheer weirdness and danger of them -- they're a non-binary entity with the power to create and destroy stars -- is immediately appealing.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the prose, Mr. Ewing plays it rather safe. Dialogue and narration are clean and smooth. The words are easy to digest but not given to flourishes. This is appropriate for a backstory-heavy comic, and Dr. Strange's narration does lend the issue just enough of a personal, human touch.

I would bet a nigh-foolhardy amount of money that there's much weirder stuff coming down the pike in future issues, though. This is Al Ewing playing on the cosmic stage, and the author tends to turn such stories into high-wire acts that take great storytelling risks. 

It hasn't happened yet, but I'm certain that it will.

Defenders #1 is a comic that feels both fast and slow. The Masked Raider brings an ultra-high-stakes problem to Dr. Strange, and the magician speedily pulls together a team to address it. This issue accomplishes a great deal, and it looks gorgeous doing it. But it's also loaded with a lot of exposition; fortunately, it all goes down smoothly.

Our Score:


A Look Inside


Charles Martin's picture
My love for the Red Harpy may be excessive. She only has 11 words of dialogue here, yet she's already well on her way to being my favourite.