In crafting The Defenders, Matt Fraction is making heavy use of several writing techniques that don't seem on their surface to be particularly conducive to the creation of good comics. For starters, this whole series is supposedly being written via the Marvel Method, a loosey-goosey means of getting away with handing artist Terry Dodson a general plot outline instead of a full, detailed script. On top of that, the entirety of the current issue is peppered with narrative captions — text boxes that describe characters' actions which should be evident simply by viewing the art itself. You know, the kind of overwrought exposition that makes Chris Claremont's X-Men comics unbearable to read by today's standards and the reason I couldn't stomach more than a single issue of George Pérez's latest Superman relaunch.
Yet, it all kinda works. Most of that is likely due to the fact that Fraction is completely aware of the old-fashioned games he's playing, electing to use that intentional sense of datedness to have fun with the reader. Defenders reads like a riff session on classic Marvel Comics tropes as filtered through Fraction and Dodson's informed, modern perspective. This time, at least, the Marvel Method yields an entertaining madcap dash from plot point A to plot point B, while those dreaded text boxes find their purpose when they begin to playfully interact with the characters themselves, a la the narrator in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Even the blurbs printed in the panel margins at the bottom of each page — a throwback to the kind of thing you'd find during the 12-cent cover price era — manage to flex Fraction's wit as they start to crack jokes and play with your expectations.
Characterization, too, plays a major role in keeping your smile beaming for the whole 20-page span. The Defenders are nothing but a collection of extreme personalities in the guise of a superhero team, and those individual quirks are all on display as the group slugs it out against a platoon of humanoid tiger soldiers atop the mystical locale of Wundagore Mountain. Even as the heroes end up overmatched and captured by their adversaries, their distinct temperaments and traits continue to shine through, ultimately leading to an effective (and hilarious) means of escape. Without giving too much away, let's just say you might want to decline if Dr. Strange ever offers to tell you a ghost story.
For genuine plot hounds, however, it is possible that Defenders #2 could come up lacking. Fraction is undoubtedly telling a fairly simple story here, one that fundamentally boils down to our protagonists trying to stop a crazy wizard from blowing up the universe. That's a reductionist description for sure, but it's really all you're left with apart from the jocular spirit this creative team is so eager to promote. If you aren't a fan of the kind of weirdness first, storyline second approach that marked Fraction's Cassanova, then you might feel somewhat alienated here, as well.
Still, even those doubters must begrudgingly admit that it's wonderful to see Fraction back in his element like this in a mainstream comic. The restless iconoclast found present in the writer's creator-owned works has often felt restrained and hidden amidst his more recent Marvel works such as Uncanny X-Men and Fear Itself, much to the disappointment of a sizeable contingent of original fans. To date, Defenders feels like it offers Fraction the greatest degree of creative freedom of any of his corporate gigs. Check it out to see a fella's imagination unleashed.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!