Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire Do Marvel--The Defenders: Indefensible

While I was reading Dr. Fate, I thought that J. M. DeMatteis could probably write a mean Dr. Strange story as well.  It turns out that he did write a short run of Strange tales back in the late 80's, but I've yet to read them.  The closest thing I have read is the five issue Defenders mini-series from 2005, collected in book form as Defenders: Indefensible.  Of course, since this mini is yet another reunion with his Justice League International cohorts Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire, you can be pretty sure that Indefensible is not a serious meditation on love, reincarnation and human destiny as Dr. Fate is.  I wrote in my post on Dr. Fate that there seem to be two sides of DeMatteis; the serious and mystical and the silly.  It is the silly J.M. who's driving the train here.  Indefensible is a full on BWAH-HA-HA-fest in the jovial JLI tradition.
Love, in fact, is in pretty short supply here.  Most of the main characters don't even seem to like each other much at all.  The fighting between Hulk and the Sub-Mariner gets so bad that Dr. Strange transports the three of them to the realm of the dread Dormammu to put a stop to it.
Dormammu is the villain of the piece, teaming with his sister Umar to steal the power of Eternity and become a god.  He uses this power to reshape the Earth in his own warped image as part of his endless quest to destroy his old enemy Dr. Strange.  
To stop him, Strange gets the band back together, essentially guilt tripping the Hulk and Prince Namor into joining him.  The fourth Defender, the Silver Surfer, has found a group of what he believes are kindred spirits in others who "ride the board," a bunch of surfers on a California beach.  The Surfer refuses to rejoin the Defenders, preferring instead to hang with his new buddies, participating in clambakes and limbo contests.  Throughout the series, Giffen and DeMatteis cut away from the main action to check in on the Surfer and the surfers.  The funniest such bit is when the Surfer is so lost in his philosophical musings that he fails to notice that Dormammu has altered reality and his surfer buds have turned into hideous demons.
The Defenders are famous as Marvel's "non-team" and it seems from this mini-series that the reason they never became a formal team is because they can't stand each other.  Much of the humor comes from the bickering and barbs between the characters, particularly Hulk/Bruce Banner and Namor.  Immortal siblings Dormammu and Umar do their share of infighting as well. Meanwhile, just about all the characters get in a shot at Dr. Strange's somewhat pretentious speech patterns.
Maguire's mastery of facial expressions is put to good use here, wonderfully capturing all the various degrees of disdain the characters feel for each other and the situation.
The reshaped Earth that Dormammu creates includes altered versions of several familiar Marvel heroes, such as Spider-Man and Daredevil as well as the Defenders themselves. As in I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League, a Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire JLI sequel that came out about the same time as this, part of the fun of this story is seeing the Defenders meet and interact with their alternate universe counterparts.  The Banner of Dormammu's universe is particularly amusing.
While I can see hard-core Defenders fans objecting to some of the characterizations and the overall tone of silliness in this book, if you're a fan of Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire's past collaborations you should definitely seek this out.  Defenders: Indefensible is definitely the best work this team has done for Marvel Comics. 
Of course, it's also the only one.

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