Defenders returns this week with a sequel series after an excellent first story arc. Creators Al Ewing and Javier Rodríguez deliver something quite rare in comics: beautiful comics that build on the culmination of years of storytelling. Building on what came before in the last series, but even more so in the history of Marvel Comics, both creators bring their A-game in a new adventure that spans time and space.
The first page of Defenders: Beyond reveals Doctor Strange, who has sent a dire warning from beyond the grave. Blue Marvel receives it, but has no desire to form a team. He just hopes this now-dead Doctor Strange is bluffing or at least wrong. The Kirby-esque use of color and oddly shaped technology pops in this opening scene, which utilizes magic and technology in a way only Marvel can. It piques the interest before all hell breaks loose.
This opening issue is well-paced, introducing characters seemingly one by one, and the narrative gets more chaotic as you turn the pages. It’s a wild ride, and some characters are reluctant to go on any adventure, enhancing the moment’s drama.
That reluctance comes through loud and clear via Blue Marvel’s captions, giving the issue a curmudgeonly sort of feel. This isn’t an adventure with bright eyes and smiles, but danger and likely death. Given the lineup of characters involved via the cover art, it’s no stretch to think some losses may occur.
There are some bold visual choices in this issue as well. Besides the all-black panels with captions and dialogue that enhance the imagination, Rodríguez plays with composition via a few double-page layouts. Lighting is particularly great in the Blue Marvel’s lair, with the character cast in shadow at the start. The scale of his lair is also well done right out of the gate, capturing the size well.
Despite the fact that much of this issue is centered on characters talking, entering a scene, and talking, it’s visually stimulating. Some action or scene changing could have upped the ante, but fans of these characters should enjoy the story. It’s also nice to see Ewing referring to character backstories, new and old reminding us everything changes over time. Who knows, maybe America’s recent revelation may change in this story.
The deep knowledge you may need could inhibit your enjoyment, but that goes without saying for a book with so many deep-cut characters. Its been revealed who appears on the cliffhanger page, and I can’t help but think casual or new readers will not understand the stakes of his appearance. Generally, though, it’s fun to experience Loki’s bubbly personality or Blue Marvel’s juxtaposed stiff personality. This is character drama first.
Defenders: Beyond #1 is a good introduction to setting up the key players while establishing some high stakes. It’s gorgeously rendered and colored to the point where pages look like works of art. As things stand, if you’re a hardcore Marvel fan, this is a must-read.
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