Marvel continue to tempt me with their extraordinary cover designs that are leaving many other publishers in the shade. Coming to Fearless Defenders blind of recent continuity, I had high hopes for this all female line-up, and was promptly swept off my feet.
Fearless Defenders #1 was an impulse buy – I picked it up along with a few other titles on the shelves on my new journey of Marvel discovery after being impressed by Hawkeye and Young Avengers. I’d heard a little about the new book from Bunn and Sliney but I hadn’t paid much attention as it didn’t seem to feature characters I immediately recognised. It was the cover that leapt out at me – two women fighting off the villainous hordes, in practical yet sexy clothing (no heels!), fighting back to back with sword, axe, and guns, and hey… a bionic arm? Whaddaya know, I do remember Misty Knight!
Both the first and second issues take their time introducing the various players, with Misty taking centre stage in #1, kicking ass and taking names. Her friend, archaeologist Dr. Annabelle Riggs is sweet and slightly reckless, accidentally unleashing the aforementioned hordes, leading to the appearance of the mighty Valkyrie. As she and Misty do their stuff, the dynamic of this title really comes to the fore – it’s a buddy cop comic essentially, the two of them trading on their different personalities to provide highly entertaining banter as a team of strong women forms around them. The plain talking Misty and the very Asgardian Valkyrie mesh well together almost immediately, the writer sidestepping the all too familiar trope of having lead ladies clash their personalities for pointless melodrama.
And speaking of pointless melodrama, let’s have a quick peek at the general reaction to #1 on the internet. Ah yes, “pointless”, “fanservice”, “socially inept”, “gratuitous”, “ill timed and forced”, and “pandering”. Whatever could these people be talking about? Well you know already of course, it’s the kiss between Annabelle and Valkyrie, the former planting a surprise smooch when saved by the latter. No more out of place you might think that the many women who reward Stark, Storm or Odinson with a quick lip attack after being saved from a burning building/tweet/spaceship and certainly less awkward than the costumes-stay-on sex favoured by Gotham’s finest, yet because both kisser and kissee were in this case both women, it gets called pandering. And the non-straight women who read comics rose up and replied, hell yes, pander me harder.
If Valkyrie swoops to your rescue the next time you’re being attacked by the undead, I defy you not to want to kiss her. Annabelle just had the ovaries to go ahead and do so, time from her perspective slowing down to savour the moment, and the Asgardian warrior did not seem terribly put out. On the contrary, #2 hints that it might be something she’d like to revisit at a later date, if you know what I am saying, hurr hurr.
If the cover to the first issue was enough to hook me, the second was what put it on my pull list. Well, the cover and the last page combined. Which I’m not going to spoil even though I really want to. Bah.
In this issue we are introduced to Dani Moonstar, and while my vintage Marvel reading did prod my memory with regard to Valkyrie and Misty, I admit that with Dani I was at a bit of a loss. However, enough information was fed to me in a few pages to give me some background, and I think prove that this book is very accessible for any new readers. And she pretty much kicks ass, despite the lack of powers. What really hit me again in this issue – and it’s a shame that this is something that leaps out – is again the lack of overt sexualisation of the characters. They are powerful and sexy women sure, but they are portrayed as heroes rather than just hot girls with their clothes torn off in towering heels.
It’s a little slower than the first issue, perhaps inevitable for plot building, but the opening sequence with Dani is terrific, as is the small diner scene between Valkyrie, Misty and Annabelle. Valkyrie’s failure to find new shield maidens is interesting given just how saturated this universe is with superwomen, and how readily she teams up with her new friends. I’m interested to see where this is all leading.
Each issue has been deliciously self-contained, demanding the reader is desperate for the next issue while also layering the characterisation deftly. It’s a bold move to be in the second issue and still have one of the three main players completely separate but it works well here, both in the short term and (I’d imagine) for the trade collection.
Yes there are tits. There is indeed ass. But for the first time, I get the sense that this is cheesecake that isn’t being aimed primarily at the male readers. There is a whole other demographic out there that loves reading about smart, sassy women who happen to be fantastically gorgeous without being objectified for the male gaze.
As a self-confessed fan of Catwoman, and an ardent supporter of more diversity in women characters in comics, my mantra is frequently this: “There’s nothing wrong with cheesecake. But it’s not all we want to eat.” In this case however… well this is damn fine and well written cheesecake.
PS – can I get my Catwoman/Nightwing cheesecake now please DC?
Fearless Defenders #2
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Will Sliney
Colourist: Veronica Gandini
Cover Artist: Mark Brooks
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Ellie Pyle
[Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter]