Defenders: There Are No Rules is about exploring everything that the Marvel Universe is, through a funky group of mismatched adventurers. It’s a story about the foundations of the 616, a classic story told today, that fits a universal history into five chapters.
In some ways, it’s exactly what I want out of a comic. It’s confident and ambitious, not to mention gorgeous, creative, and inventive. At the same time, though, it doesn’t really have the time to use the cast in a way that worked for me, and ultimately it’s told at such a scale that it basically loses meaning by the end.
I wouldn’t call the problems of the volume failures by any means. They don’t lack joy, or fundamentally break the premise; they just become too focused on the meta story for my taste. When the story ends up at a place where the heroes learn that the very start of the Marvel universe is a two-dimensional fight between good and evil…well, don’t we already know that? Isn’t that the point of basically every comic book that Marvel has ever produced?
I understand the point of making the metatext of the MU into text, but at a certain point the adventure becomes less complex, and the characters have to do more of the heavy lifting, and it kinda stops working at that point.
Much of that has to do with the Masked Raider’s plot, which didn’t really work for me at any point, though it comes together fine by the end, I guess. It’s nice that this collection has all of the stories Ewing wrote from Marvel 1000 and 1001 that bell to inform the Masked Raider story, but honestly, I don’t think they really helped me to like the story more, they’re just kinda nonsense? They lend a feeling of completeness to the volume though, which is appreciated.
While I do have some problems with the series as a whole, I enjoyed a lot about it, including the way that it’s really a culmination of what Ewing’s been doing with the Marvel Universe for almost a decade. This is a bit at odds with my whining about the meta-ness, but that’s always an issue I have with Ewing comics, so it makes sense that I’m not in love with it here. Still, I love the reference to the Green Door in Betty’s issue, and it’s extremely fun to see Ewing continue to somehow make every story be about the Fantastic Four.
That particular quirk was on full display in the second issue, which was focused on the Silver Surfer, and was maybe the height of my enjoyment of the series?
This volume struggles to say anything new about its characters, but this single issue does succeed at getting to the heart of the character, and looking at him in a compelling way.
More than anything else, though, is Javier Rodríguez absolutely killing it on every page of this comic. It is beautiful unlike any comic on the stands, and I think more than any Javier Rodríguez comic I’ve read. Where I think Ewing got a little too metaphorical with the story, it made room for Rodríguez to do madness in every panel. I hope there’s a treasury edition of this book, because I will buy it, and I’d buy another one for the sequel mini coming soon.
Defenders: There Are No Rules does not weave my favorite kind of narrative, but it is an incredible comic, a culmination of years of storytelling, and genuinely beautiful to look at. It is a definitive work by both creators, and I’m very excited for their sequel series this summer.
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