Just reading what the Keeper’s been writing about Matt Brady, Joe Casey, Steve Gerber, and the relaunch of The Defenders…
My comment there is in moderation-turnaround, but I won’t repeat myself here. Instead, I’ll just wonder aloud: what the heck do people even think The Defenders are?
And, why is it so hard to keep them in print?
I think the answer is that it is not very hard to keep them in print, but it is hard to keep track of what they are, and aren’t. Whenever I hear someone talk about reviving them, I groan inwardly — okay, outwardly — because I’ve seen the franchise “rebooted” several times, now, and I’m beginning to think the reboots are the problem.
Because, what is being rebooted?
Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen (hope I’ve got the spelling right, there) did as fine a job as I could’ve wished rebooting the characters and plotlines of the Englehart and Gerber runs from back in the Seventies, and believe me, I’ve got no complaints. I loved it; I thought it was great. But, was it just nostalgic pastiche? Oh…I don’t know, y’know? Does it really matter? These are superhero comics we’re talking about, here, so do we really need to blow up the baby’s bathwater with a hydrogen bomb? BOOOOOM…!
No, probably not necessary.
Then there was the Giffen/DeMatteis/Macguire run, even more tongue-in-cheek, although I think those guys always do a nice job leavening the humour (isn’t that supposed to work the other way around?) with a little bit of ominous dramatic looming. Another good job! And holy crap can that Macguire guy draw!
But neither of these things worked out in the long term.
Is it the characters, do you think? Do they perhaps resist each other, repel each other?
No, no, no, that’s ridiculous. Of course they don’t. They’re fictional, for God’s sake. Holy jumpin’ catfish, what a cop-out. “These characters just don’t work together.” Oh, come on. Sure they do. Why wouldn’t they? And if they don’t, why do you keep trying to make them do so? Is this some kind of alchemical riddle, or something? Is it really supposed to be a search for some kind of elusive magic formula of ultimate Dr. Strange/Sub-Mariner/Hulk utility?
I mean, for heaven’s sake…it’s already been done.
A few times.
But it didn’t work. Didn’t “work”. Apparently.
Except it did work, and anyway what’s “work”?
The Defenders concept. I love it when people talk about this. Not “the work of Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema”, not “the work of Dave Kraft and Keith Giffen” — no, the concept. That’s what’s making this all so hard, I guess. It’s difficult to update the concept.
Except, it isn’t. Because what were the Thunderbolts, but an updating of the Defenders “concept”? And then the new Thunderbolts…yes: though I miss the old Thunderbolts, this new batch is, again, an updating of the “concept”. And, need it be said: a updating of some vitality. Hey, even the New Warriors (though I never liked them) I think could easily be read as a “Defendersish” team, could easily be read as “vital”: in his Newsarama “interview”, Casey absolutely nails it to the “wall” (sorry, been reading Kirby) when he talks about his Defenders being like the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans — because a superteam’s a superteam, but some superteams are “utility players”, and sometimes you need that, because it makes for a broader focus, a more unpredictable approach to superhero subject matter. It’s been tried with The Outsiders; it’s been tried with the Doom Patrol. It’s been tried with the freakin’ X-Men. It’s not that hard to do. It is truly the most basic of the superhero structure stuff. Hell, it isn’t even the X-Men: it’s the A-Team. Buncha loners, with different skills. Don’t necessarily get along. Fightin’ tha evil.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is, it’s the environment, stupid. Not the characters. Not the concept. The problem is, here is your blank canvas, and you can do anything you want with it: street-level story, cosmic story, time-travel story, feelgood story, wolf-in-the-fold story, any story (just keep the underwear on the outside)…so what story are you after the telling of?
Hey, Warren Ellis knows what story he’s telling…
So, here, have Dr. Strange, the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, even the Silver Surfer…hey, and we’ll throw in Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Hellcat, Son Of Satan, Daredevil, oh heck, whoever you want, just to keep you from getting bored, okay? You want Moondragon, you got Moondragon! Angel and Iceman? Go crazy! Gargoyle?
I just want you to be you!
(Psst…lose the Gargoyle thing, it doesn’t work.)
But here’s what’s what, in my opinion: the only way to follow (say) Gerber’s work on Defenders is to do it as well as he did it. That’s all. It’s just gotta be good. The Defenders, under Gerber’s pen, were…oh, what’s the stupid word we have for that now…oh yeah, quirky. They were quirky, I guess! But you don’t have to be “quirky”, you know. Maybe you don’t feel like “being” quirky. So, just write the “hell” out of it, then! Quirkiness be “damned”!
And then watch your editorial supervisors jump at any chance to kill it, no matter how “good” it is.
Because the Marvel braintrust of today doesn’t need the excuse of poor sales, when they’ve got the excuse of poor vision. Look, there they go, mining the back catalogue for things to reboot, to “update”…and they would love, for more than just one reason, to update and reboot the Defenders…but y’know what?
As the Defenders, the Defenders don’t fit the current corporate culture. The current editorial environment. Sales would be squeezed anyway (there’s a reason most old Defenders covers feature the Hulk so prominently), but more important even than sales (!) is the fact that it’s awfully hard to make this particular bunch of misfits, this particular A-Team, work within the current fictional structure of the “Marvel Universe”. You’ve got a philosopher with a crystal ball, a monster with purple pants, a king with an attitude problem, an alien Hamlet, and some girl with a stainless-steel bra chased by some fruit-loop in a bird costume, and just exactly what story is there for you to tell with any of these people?
A reboot of the (shudder) Secret Defenders — yes, that I could see. Because it would be a good marketing gimmick.
The historical Defenders, though, were a marketing gimmick that found a way to rise above — or perhaps more accurately slip beneath — both marketing and gimmickry.
But, in a very particular way.
And it’s not the way of today. Today it’s Thunderbolts that rises above by slipping beneath. Yesterday it was X-Statix. Joe Casey, I’ve got a lot of confidence in your ability, but the only people who want to see Dr. Strange, Nighthawk, and Valkyrie together again sipping tea with Clea and Hellcat are guys like me and you, who don’t buy Marvel comics anymore. Today they want badasses. And even with the Hulk, the Defenders aren’t badasses.
Because the Defenders are a kinder, gentler non-team.
And that sort of thing’s a bit out of fashion these days.
Maybe because we expect less from our outsiders, than we used to?
I want you to be you; but don’t you see, what they want is that “edgy” revamp of Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Booberry? That’s what The Defenders oughtta be, to them.
And look: there’s Warren, busy giving it to ’em.
But I liked First Family quite a bit, so I’ll check out your Defenders. Just like I liked Invincible, so I checked out…
I mean, just like I liked Dan Slott’s Thing, so I checked out…
Just like I…
Damn. So is it the new editorial direction that’s making all this happen, or isn’t it? Or maybe it is that zeitgeist shit, after all, that’s responsible.
(Psst: lose the zeitgeist, it doesn’t work.)
Okay, end of rant.