The Fearless Defenders book has been a welcome surprise among the Marvel NOW! push. The concept of the book dated back to the Fear Itself: Fearless an epilogue limited series to the “Fear Itself” event that Cullen Bunn wrote. At the conclusion of the Fearless limited, Valkyrie is assigned to build a team of shield maidens from Earth’s mightiest female heroes and, well, hasn’t gotten around to it yet at the beginning of the Fearless Defenders series. Fortunately, Misty Knight is around for a team-up and she has the rolodex of heroes looking for a cause.
At its core, the series is a step in the right direction for Marvel. It’s a team-of-awesome-superwomen book without pandering, while starring second and third-tier characters that are never really given all that much of a spotlight in this post-Avengers (the 2012 movie that is) publishing scene. Marvel has a large backlog of characters that just require the steady hand of quality writers in order to become a set of protagonists that you care about following month to month. Being able to cherry pick the characters that can qualify for such a book is something I’m so far willing to give Bunn credit for seeing as how he seems to be slowly joining the ranks of male writers who know how to write female characters. Those are smaller ranks than you might imagine, they include Brian Wood and Jeff Parker.
One key point I also wanted to highlight is that this series has managed to make up for the flaws of decompressed storytelling bringing down a “bringing the band together” opening arc a lot more than other Marvel books currently attempting this. The key that Bunn seems to have landed on is that instead of dragging out a central plotline into five or six parts and introducing characters who have multiple motivations thus butchering the page count between them. Bunn takes a more organic approach wherein he builds on each character’s motivations by adding another to the plot one issue at a time almost like adding logs to a fire. By doing this, he is able to make each issue stand out without dragging the narrative out to the degree that the audience loses their interest. By issue four, we’ve been introduced to Misty, Val, and also Warrior Woman and Dani Moonstar. Each character has been given an opportunity to show off their motivations and their power sets and seen how that can benefit the idea of them as a group against a common threat. This is where the book is succeeding.
Unfortunately, there is a weak link in this tapestry and it’s the art. Will Sliney is a name I wasn’t familiar with before picking up this book so I’m not sure how long he’s been in the business but I can say that he still has a ways to go. While Sliney is quite good at rendering of facial expressions and fight scenes, his lack of consistency from panel to panel leads a critical eye to wonder how much his art can be fixed in post-production and why he has trouble with simple figure and background issues that keep popping up in his pages. There’s nothing ugly or uninteresting about his work so it’s not a total distraction but it would be nice if he could proof his own panels and keep from lending rough unfinished characters.
All in all, Fearless Defenders has been a fun book with a purpose and that is to once again highlight that Marvel has tons of great characters, especially female ones, that deserve some spotlighting and to be handled by a solid creative team. Cullen Bunn is definitely one half of that team and Will Sliney is pretty close to being the other half if he can polish up his pencils. I’m hoping these series gets room to evolve and build an audience.