Well, folks, it’s taken us a good long while, but we’re finally about to reach the climax of Marvel’s Netflix offerings: The Defenders. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be spending the weekend of the 18th binge-watching away – but once you emerge from your Defendo-Cave on Sunday afternoon, blinking confusedly at the sun, you might want to pick up some comics featuring this lovable crew of emotionally repressed dumpster divers.
Marvel’s put out a slew of related books lately, but if you’re looking to narrow your pull list down, here’s my two cents:
Defenders by Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, Justin Ponsor, and VC’S Cory Petit
Diamondback is back from the dead, and he’s out for revenge against our four heroes because of something that apparently happened in some other comic book. Kind of an odd way to start a team book that new readers might be picking up because of a TV show, but such is comics. Luke’s at the heart of this book, which is a smart choice, and there are some fun interactions between Matt, Jessica, and Danny. It doesn’t quite mesh with any of the other current books starring this bunch, but such is also comics. Not a bad accompaniment to the show at all, though.
Daredevil: Back in Black by Charles Soule, Ron Garney, Goran Sudzuka, Matt Milla, VC’s Clayton Cowles, and Joe Caramagna
Having once again burned his life to the ground, Matt’s trying to pick up the pieces in this series as the latest ADA for the city of New York. And for the first time, he’s taken on an apprentice/sidekick of sorts: genius teenage inventor Blindspot. This series is tonally more in tune with Netflix’s bleak, gritty oeuvre than the cheerful Waid/Samnee run that preceded it, but it suffers from a dearth of female characters, a lack of depth to Matt’s characterization, and a frankly racist opening arc that leans heavily on Yellow Peril tropes and imagery. But, uh, Blindspot is great? #TeamBlindspot
Elektra by Matt Owens, Juann Cabal, Antonio Fabela, Marcio Menyz, VC’s Cory Petit, and Elizabeth Torque
Despite being a long-running character with a ton of potential, poor Elektra has historically mostly been written as a dangerously sexy robot in a bandana. Elodie Yung’s brilliant performance imbued her with a lot more humanity, and that humanity carries through in Owen’s portrayal of her, as she steps in to defend an abused woman she meets in Las Vegas. Cabal’s art is refreshingly light on the cheesecake for an Elektra book, though there are a couple of gratuitous ass shots, and it’s a relief to have my girl finally in a new costume after all these years. I still want to see an Elektra book with a female creative team, but until then, this one will do.
Jessica Jones by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, Matt Hollingsworth, and VC’s Cory Petit
When Jessica Jones first debuted in Bendis and Gaydos’s Alias 16 years ago, it was a rarity to see a female character written with such complexity and believable flaws. But that was 16 years ago, and what was groundbreaking then feels dated and sexist now. Especially after 13 episodes of a female-written, -directed, and -performed Jessica’s nuanced interactions with women like Trish and Claire, I have little interest in watching Jessica call Spider-Woman a bitch five times in a row or dismiss Misty Knight as “the competition.” For the love of God, Marvel, let a woman write Jessica Jones. This shtick is tired.
Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! by Kate Leth, Brittney Williams, Megan Wilson, VC’s Joe Sabino, and Clayton Cowles
Yes, Trish Walker – who goes by Patsy in the comics – isn’t officially a Defender in the MCU. But she’s a major Jessica Jones character, which gives me a great excuse to talk up this (tragically canceled) series. Bright and funny, Patsy Walker follows the cartoony adventures of its titular heroine as she sets up an employment agency for down-on-their-luck superpowered folks, while trying to get the rights back to the series of comics her late mother drew about her high school days. Though Patsy and Trish have led very different lives, both versions engage fascinatingly with the character’s unique backstory of child stardom.
Luke Cage by David F. Walker, Nelson Blake II, Marcio Menyz, VC’S Joe Sabino, and Rahzzah
When Noah Burstein, the doctor who gave Luke his powers, suddenly dies, Luke finds himself questioning his identity – and, of course, enmeshed in a convoluted mystery. This solo outing isn’t as goofy as Walker’s previous team-up book starring Luke and his BFF Iron Fist, but the heart of the character is the same: solid, upstanding, community oriented, and kind of an adorably square dad at this point in life. Blake’s art is lovely and Menyz’s colors are warm and appealing. Definitely pick this one up.
Cage! by Genndy Tartakovsky, Stephen DeStefano, and Scott Wills
This four-issue miniseries by the creator of Dextor’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack apparently sat gathering dust at Marvel HQ for nine years before Luke’s turn on the small screen raised his profile enough to make it worth releasing…and honestly, it could have stayed in the dust. Tartakovsky’s Mad Magazine/Ren and Stimpy-esque cartoon adventure is a sarcastic pastiche of Luke’s early Disco Era adventures, but the difference is that in those original comics, Luke always seemed in on the joke. Tartakovsky’s version is a mockery more than anything, with some fairly questionable artistic choices. If you want a tribute to original-flavor Power Man, pick up the Walker run below instead.
Black Panther and the Crew by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Butch Guice, Scott Hanna, and Dan Brown
This comic is probably best known for having been canceled after the second issue due to low pre-order numbers. It’s an example of the perils of bad management, because the book itself is great, starting out with Misty Knight investigating the death of an elderly black activist in police custody and spiralling outwards from there. I’d love to see Marvel repackage this as a standalone and push it hard as a trade, because in 2017, a book starring Black Panther, Misty Knight, Luke Cage, and Storm should fly off the shelves and into readers’ hands.
Power Man and Iron Fist by David F. Walker, Sanford Greene, Lee Loughridge, and VC’s Clayton Cowles
If you watched Iron Fist and couldn’t fathom why anyone would like Danny Rand enough to make a TV show about him, read this book instead. Walker and Greene’s take on the Heroes for Hire is a seamless blend of nostalgia for the original 70s teamup and a current, cutting-edge, unmistakably modern book. It tackles serious topics like the prison industrial complex, recidivism, and profiling, while remaining both heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny, and Greene’s vibrant, kinetic art looks like nothing else on the stands.
Iron Fist by Ed Brisson, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, VC’s Travis Lanham, and Jeff Dekal
As an ensemble character, Danny Rand is a lot of fun. As a solo hero, he’s an energy sink of unwarranted angst (it’s so hard to be a beautiful white billionaire with a magic fist!) whose stories tend to tread the same ground over and over again. So it is here, where K’un Lun is once again destroyed, leaving Danny once again finding himself by entering yet another sinister martial arts tournament. If you already really like Iron Fist this will be right up your alley, but if you’re looking for a reason to jump on board with the character, this isn’t it.
Immortal Iron Fists by Kaare Andrews, Afu Chan, Shelly Chen, and VC’s Travis Lanham
This “Comixology Original” (whatever that means) is the sequel to the miniseries Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, which was written and drawn by Andrews and introduced Pei, a little girl from K’un Lun who is the youngest Iron Fist ever. I wasn’t a fan, which is a shame, because “irresponsible superhero accidentally adopts warrior orphan girl with a baby dragon” could not possibly be more my jam if it tried. The writing of this sequel is still pretty rough, but Afu Chan’s wonderful, soft, storybook art does much to elevate it and Pei and her dragon are precious. I’m intrigued despite myself.