If you want to go exploring in Marvel comics in 2021, there's no better guide to call for than Javier Rodríguez. Throughout the past several years, he has guided projects with the grandest of ambitions exploring space, time, and more characters than one cares to count in Exiles, then History of the Marvel Universe. It is a path the artist continues to walk and excel at in the pages of Defenders #1—a new take on a classic tone in which some of Marvel's oddest heroes are assembled through fate, rather than choice, to address some of the strangest threats imaginable.
This iteration's debut emphasizes Doctor Strange as nearly all of the action takes place within the confines of his living room as he draws four other individuals together to address a threat first hinted at in the pages of Marvel Comics #1000. The Masked Raider, Silver Surfer, Red Harpy, and Cloud are all characters Al Ewing has touched upon before and it's difficult not to set expectations sky high when seeing this idiosyncratic collection of characters drawn together by one of the publisher's most ambitious current writers.
Even though Defenders #1 is entirely composed of place-setting as it establishes stakes and circumstances, introduces each member of the team, and finally provides an introductory antagonist, it still makes for an enthralling first issue. That's largely due to the presentation of each subsequent element. Flashbacks to the origins of the Eternity Mask and Defenders' primary antagonist offer plenty of action and differentiation of setting. The abundance of lore is refined into a short story that provides plenty of intriguing hooks for readers.
There's no way this still rote structure of a new superhero team would work as well as it does without Rodríguez's consistently innovative page layouts and creative reimaginings of direct storytelling beats. An early spread positions Doctor Strange and the Masked Raider as co-leads within the series positioning them on opposite sides of the page in inverted and suggestive positions with a variety of effects displaying their distinctive powers. The entire spread demands the reader's careful observation as even the most rudimentary elements, like Doctor Strange's anatomy in meditative pose, are so well observed. It's the sort of setting that can truly immerse a reader in their surroundings and transform a sorcerer's living room into an enthralling new vista.
That spread and the splash page before it transcend the obvious expository nature of these sequences by already delivering on the promised wonders within the informative prose. Even when Doctor Strange ponders the world, the world remains a magical place to simply observe. Although these early pages and a subsequent action sequence would more than justify the cover price, Rodríguez never ceases challenging himself. Each new arrival's introduction presents their character as clearly as the foreshadowing of a tarot deck. The Kirby inspiration inflected upon Silver Surfer's first panel is especially appreciated, as it captures the original artist's tormented vision of an Angel of Vengeance cast far from home, peace, or rest.
Defenders #1 is all introduction, but given the mighty aspirations it sets for the story to come that groundwork is required. What is truly impressive about this debut is not the plans it lays out for itself, although those may be great indeed, but how it makes even the most mundane storytelling tasks something to ponder. There are no missed opportunities through a relatively familiar collection of story beats and superpowered characters, transforming even an invitation into a cataclysmic collection of panels. Rodríguez's imagination and creativity and unleashed on every page promising an impactful story from the start. If this first issue provides an accurate thesis statement for what's to come, then the best still lies ahead and that's saying something considering how accomplished the layouts and concepts presented here are. I'm ready to marvel at whatever comes next in this odyssey spanning all of space and time in Marvel Comics.
Published by Marvel Comics
On August 11, 2021
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Javier Rodríguez and Álvaro López
Colors by Javier Rodríguez0comments
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Javier Rodríguez and Álvaro López