The Defenders are returning to the House of Ideas, and this week we see the first two installments of ‘The Best Defense’ with a pair of one-shots focusing on The Immortal Hulk and Namor! Plus we analyze a new miniseries and a new mission for The Winter Soldier. It’s time for The Marvel Rundown!

Immortal Hulk: The Best Defense #1

Written by Al Ewing
Illustrated by Simone Di Meo
Colored by Dono Sánchez-Almara
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit

Alexander Jones: AJ, Marvel is relaunching the classic Defenders property with mainstays Silver Surfer, Hulk, Doctor Strange, and Namor. What was your take on the first of the one-shots starring the Immortal Hulk?

AJ Frost: Alex! Great to chat with you about these interesting one-shots that Marvel is producing with these timeless characters. What struck me the most is that while each one-shot is working in tandem with one another, the approaches are dissimilar. The Immortal Hulk: Defenders #1 revels in the darkness, while the Namor book leans heavy for the grandiose. It was a fun exercise to compare and contrast what exactly was happening in each book while thinking of them within the same story arc. What were your initial thoughts here?

Jones: AJ, I agree with your sentiments thus far. I was particularly smitten with this chapter which nicely evoked the eerie elements from Al Ewing’s landmark series, The Immortal Hulk. The narrative for the script was definitely more streamlined as the issue is more focused around the tone and horror elements of the comic. I thought this was a really interesting experiment for the publisher and a creative way to launch a big title.

Frost: I was definitely more enamored with The Immortal Hulk Defenders book, which had tinges of horror but with some nice elements of green-tinged neo-noir. The incorporation of Jack Kirby’s panels from Hulks of yesteryear really lent this comic a surreal air, as if Ewing wasn’t only playing around with Banner’s split personalities, but also the time and space of the Hulk himself. It was jarring to see these Silver Age panels read side-by-side with the contemporary work. It was, while not quite unsettling, quite off-kilter and eerie, as you said.

Jones: I think it can be argued that this chapter did feel like an extension of the main book almost to a detriment. What does this comic do that other chapters of The Immortal Hulk doesn’t? I’m less interested in answering that question than I am in seeing a comic that is actually good. I am also not really sure how this damaged version of Bruce Banner is going to work in a team book. Then again, I’m interested in seeing what direction Ewing takes toward the team. The classic panels interspersed with the main book are as great as you say they were as well.

Frost: As you know, I haven’t been following The Immortal Hulk closely, but if the issues match up with this one-shot, I might just have to take a closer look.

Jones: While this title doesn’t introduce Banner’s fractured psyche, you should definitely get the feeling he’s spooked by this issue. Putting him in a team book is definitely a weird way to position the character, but an intriguing direction. What did you think of the art from Simone Di Meo?

Frost: Absolutely stunning. There’s so much to admire here. The art is moody, yet distinctive. Creepy, yet humanistic. Visceral, yet delicate. There are so many contrasting tones overlapping. It’s really unique and a bit of a departure from the normal Marvel visual style.

Jones: I’m definitely not going to argue with you there. There was lots of psychological horror and gritty elements of crime. The art opted for a more visceral and loose style than a typical Marvel title would allow for. I was engaged all the way through and really enjoyed how creative the art team got with mixing the original panels into the story. I think this is a great tone piece and an interesting way to show where the Hulk is at emotionally. A few years ago people were afraid of making the Hulk a horror title, where now with Ewing’s scripts and Bennett’s art, creators are leaning into the premise. With so many creators and fake Hulk deaths over the past few years, it is great to see someone revitalize the character in such a manner.

Frost: Definitely. This is a Hulk comic for the sophisticated modern reader. We’re long past the dichotomy of Bruce and the Hulk. Now we’re dealing with the dark consequences of an infinitely superior being and how that adversely affects the well-being of other creatures. It’s a sight to behold.

Jones: Sounds like you need to dive headfirst into The Immortal Hulk to get into the holiday spirit. What are your final thoughts on the issue?

Frost: I was so surprised. This book was simply stunning. This is a highly recommended BUY from me.

Jones: I’m going to recommend a BUY on this one with the added asterisk that this is a great stocking stuffer sure to fuel loved ones with beautiful Marvel nightmares.

Final Verdict: Sometimes the best defense is a kickass comic book, as AJ and Alexander both say BUY!

Namor: The Best Defense #1

Written by Chip Zdarsky
Illustrated by Carlos Magno
Colored by Ian Herring
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham

Alexander Jones: AJ, there ain’t no rest for the wicked! The Best Defense continues this week with an issue centered around Namor. What did you think about the King of Atlantis’s new lease on life?

AJ Frost: That wacky Namor. He’s lways got a scheme. In contrast to the Hulk this week, I felt that Namor’s journey was pretty meh in the opposite direction. His bread and butter is the pomp of royalty, which I guess just connect with me as much. It was a fine issue, but it just didn’t pull me in the way that the Hulk did, ya know?

Jones: I still like this issue and think that it carries a lot of ambition. Namor’s arrogance and toxic masculinity definitely came through for me. I also like how writer Chip Zdarsky is sticking with Jason Aaron’s super bitter, ultra-angry version of the character. Namor has always been a little annoying, but he’s supposed to be a little over-the-top right now. Again, I think this is an interesting direction to pair with a team book. I think Zdarsky got his characterization right and introduced a couple of really tense moments that I enjoyed a lot.

Frost: Yeah, man. I dig Chip’s work. But in so many ways, Namor is still a product of ’30s archetypes. He’s always been a bit archaic. I suppose playing around with the formula is good for keeping the character fresh, but not many people are clamoring for a Namor comic anyway (that’s a separate issue, I suppose). For what this issue is, I enjoyed it in the moment. The art is really spectacular even if the writing is a tad hokey. Though the twist ending was really interesting.

Jones: The twist ending was a little silly but in a good way. I grew tired with how Namor seemed to assert himself as dominant so prominently in the newest Avengers issues. This title teases something a little different with the character at the end while showing off his new status quo. What about the writing of the issue didn’t click for you, AJ?

Frost: It’s hard to put my finger on. I think I respect Namor more as an ideal in the Marvel Universe than an actual character. There wasn’t anything bad here, it just didn’t resonate well with me. Just personal preference, I’d say.

Jones: I still think this is a solid script showing the world of Namor. I was actually really excited by the battle and surprised when the Vodans turned on Namor. The beautiful art from Carlos Magno definitely helped get the point across, but I was still enamored with the core conflict all the way through the issue.

Frost: The art is super strong this week and Magno’s contribution here is stunning. The way he conveys water is particularly interesting and his character poses are on point. His work really shows the magisterial side of Namor and the Atlanteans. Really top notch sequential art here.

Jones: Magno is a great artist and the sea is a great use of his talent. I would love to see him on a Namor title on an ongoing basis. Selfishly, I would also love to see him work across The Big Two and take on Aquaman proper. Marvel would be wise to keep a strong hold on his talent going forward. What are your final thoughts on the book AJ? Also, do you think the flashback panels worked here? It sounds like I’m more positive on the issue than you are.

Frost: I’m a bit more mixed. I loved the art but was only mildly interested in the story. I’ll give this a STRONG BROWSE because I do think that this a decent book. Just not one I’m going to remember come next week.

Jones: I liked this issue. I feel like it had lofty goals and a ton of ambition, succeeding on multiple levels. It’s a BUY for me. I am really excited to see the rest of these one-shots and think ‘The Best Defense’ has been an unprecedented success so far!

Final Verdict: Not bad for a sophomore slump! AJ says STRONG BROWSE, while Alexander says BUY!

Winter Soldier #1

Written by Kyle Higgins
Illustrated by Rod Reis
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald

It seems like, ever since Ed Brubaker walked away from the character in early 2013, the Winter Soldier has been somewhat aimless. Sure, he’s been a part of the Thunderbolts, and played an integral role in defeating Hydra-Cap during the Secret Empire event series. But really, where is there to go after you’ve been Captain America? Writer Kyle Higgins and artist Rod Reis are ready to find out, as the first issue of the latest Winter Soldier miniseries gives Bucky Barnes a new mission that’s uniquely suited to the character.

The premise of the series – Bucky helping people who want to change their criminal ways to do so – is basic enough that there’s not a ton of set-up for it needed, and Higgins wisely foregos frontloading the issue with exposition and instead shows readers the Winter Soldier at work. The opening sequence does a great job of hooking readers in before slowing down a bit to establish the status quo for the series (and to get in the Obligatory Tony Stark Appearance that it seems all Marvel first issues now require). It’s a well-paced issue all-around, with an intriguing cliffhanger that raises some fun questions. Higgins also does a nice job of, despite the new mandate for the character, not abandoning his history. The things that were interesting about the Winter Soldier before are still there, even if they’re not the focus of the plot (at least as far as we know at this point). Higgins nails the character perfectly.

All of this is brought to life by Rod Reis’s artwork. Reis’s style has a very Phil Noto-esque quality to it, if a bit sketchier than Noto’s clean lines. I wasn’t sure about how well the art was working initially, but by the end of the issue I was into it. Reis’s art works more effectively in the action sequences than it does the quieter moments here, but it’s still pretty solid throughout. Perhaps the greatest strength from Reis, though, is the coloring work. He again uses a very Noto-esque palette, typically using more subdued hues, but he switches to bold primary splashes, or drops the colors out altogether, during the bigger moments. The colors visually guide the reader through the emotional beats of the story, and it’s really well done.

Winter Soldier #1 is an excellent start to the continuing adventures of Bucky Barnes. As a fan of the character I was sad to see this book downgraded from an ongoing to a miniseries, and after reading the first issue I’m more bummed about it, as Higgins and Reis have a strong grasp on the character and are taking him in an interesting direction. Hopefully this title will succeed and we’ll have more Winter Soldier adventures to look forward to in the future.

Final Verdict: BUY this book for solid writing, interesting art, and an intriguing new direction for a beloved character.

Next week, Miles Morales takes over the pages of his own title. Also, raise a glass! The Thing is getting married.