Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Fearless Defenders 1-4, originally released February 6th, March 13th, April 10th and May 8th, 2013.
Patrick: The premise of first four issues of Fearless Defenders is simple: Valkyrie was tasked with recruiting eight female warriors from Earth to serve as Shield Maidens of Odin, but she put off making the decision for so long that a handful of undead Doom Maidens have risen to take their place. Now no longer a matter of selecting who would make the best — or most cohesive — unit of Shield Maidens, Valkyrie ends up assembling a crew who can best be described as motley – composed entirely of women. This ends up being the series’ greatest strengths: no top-tier characters, no common theme connecting the cast and no expectations as to what this team is capable of or responsible for.
Let’s meet the team.
The badass blonde armored warrior is Valkyrie and the cybernetic super-spy next to her is Misty Knight. As much as Valkyrie is the center of this series in terms of plotting, Misty ends up being the series’ compass, providing the direction that Valkyrie sorely lacks. They’re the core of the series, with Valkyrie acting as the focal point of the plot and Misty acting as the heart. What’s most interesting about jamming these two together isn’t the disparity in their power sets, but the difference in the way they view responsibility. Valkyrie’s been procrastinating for years, maybe decades, and even when the All-Mother forces her to confront the rise of the Doom Maidens, she still hems and haws about selecting Shield Maidens. Come on, Val, show a little initiative. Misty, on the other hand, sees the weird shit going on in Val’s world and tags right in. In fact, Misty almost seems to be motivated by the thrill of the experience of exploring the world of demigods and magic.
Then there’s Dani Moonstar, who sounds like she’s got a whopper of a history in the Marvel universe. The friendly note that accompanies her introduction says that she’s the leader of the New Mutants but is no longer a mutant. I’m not even sure how one becomes “no longer a mutant,” let alone how she’d keep her leadership position in a group she’s no longer a part of. Adding a few dashes of “huh?” to the mix, she’s also revealed to be a valkyrie of Hela, the Queen of the Underworld. It’s for that last quality that she’s kidnapped by as-of-yet-under-explored bad guys and tapped for her connection to necromantic magic and used to revive the Doom Maidens. The great thing about Dani is that, the second she’s released from her bondage, she’s not just ready to take up the fight against the bad guys, but she insists on being on the front line alongside Valkyrie. Also on that front line?
Meet Hippolyta, aka Warrior Woman. That’s Warrior Woman and not (repeat, NOT) Wonder Woman. She’s kind of the “Thor” of this series – she charges fearlessly (and carelessly) into battle at the drop of a hat. Generally, she’s got the muscle to back up this recklessness. She’s part of the group at Hela’s insistence, and recently was also resurrected from the dead. Hippolyta is sort of hedonistic in her re-aliveness: she revels in every act of violence, every spirituous beverage, every heroic pose. But this also means that she’s aloof to a fault – one of the Doom Maidens easily incapacitates her with some kind of charm spell, making her useless until Misty gleefully slaps her (which is probably my favorite moment in the series so far).
Finally, we’ve got Dr. Annabelle Riggs. Annabelle isn’t superpowered in any way – neither does she have any super-cool technology or special training to qualify her as a super-anything. But she’s Misty’s friend, and an archeologist, meaning that she gets wrapped up in ancient artifacts and the ensuing magical consequences – like being summoned to Asgardia. She (possibly accidentally) gets lumped in with Misty and Val when the All-Mother is handing out temporary Shield Maiden assignments. Hilariously, Annabelle puts on a goofy viking helmet and grabs an ax she as no idea how to use and — after a little skeptical stuttering — joins the fight… ish. Annabelle’s not really been able to contribute to the action just yet, but the character goes a long way towards humanizing the rest of the group. She’s got a little flirtation with Valkyrie that the demigod brushes off as your run-of-mill hero-worship. There’s a recurring theme of the covers of collecting these characters (issue 2 looks like a blister pack for an action figure of Dani Moonstar, issue 4 is a paper doll of Hippolyta, and next month looks like a Street Fighter homage), but Anna actually connects with the other women and addresses their feelings, instead of just their function in this whole “Shield Maiden” thing.
Shelby, I’ll be honest – part of what I like about this series is the collectorly nature of this thing, but only because writer Cullen Bunn does such a great job of writing these strong, imperfect female characters. Not only do I feel like I’m getting a crash-course in the female non-mutant heroes of the Marvel Universe, I feel like they’re being filtered to me without the decades of baggage that accompany so many other lady comic heroes. For example, I love that none of these characters are defined by their interactions with men – with the possible exception of Val, whose life was changed when Odin made her a Shield Maiden. But that’s pointedly the history coloring the proceedings and not part of the story itself.
What about you Shelby? Do you find yourself excited at the prospect of auditioning Shield Maidens from every corner of the Marvel Universe, or is there something more you expected from this series? If nothing else, you have to respect the depths Cullen plumbs to find these characters, right?
Shelby: There are a lot of things to like about this title. While it definitely feels like a Shield Maiden gotta catch ’em all situation, Bunn is smart enough to round that out with those imperfect characters you mentioned, as well as a great story. I love the reveal that Valkyrie herself is a Doom Maiden, the Maiden of Rage; not only is it a great twist, it also provides a potential explanation for some of her indecision. Maybe she was unconsciously putting off getting the band back together because she secretly wanted the Doom Maidens to show up. Plus, now we’ve got this extra level of tension between everyone, as she struggles to keep her Viking rage at bay.
I think the most exciting thing to me about this book is not just that it’s almost 100% strong women, even though it is pretty awesome that of all the characters we’ve met, heroes and villains, this book is 84 percent female. I like it because it doesn’t feel like they’re written to be “strong women,” they’re written to be “strong characters who happen to be female.” I know it sounds like I’m splitting hairs on this, just bear with me. With the exception of Hippolyta, these women aren’t extolling the virtues of ladies over those of the dudes, or talking about how they don’t need men, girl power, etc. Hippolyta gets a pass, because not needing men and being vocal about it is kind of the whole Amazon shtick. By not going out of his way to write characters that are specifically strong women, Bunn has created stronger, more believable characters. Turns out, in a lot of ways, men and women are very similar, because we’re all ultimately people. Bunn hasn’t given us female versions of male characters, or a team of women for the sake of having an all-girl group. He’s created a team of individuals who, despite their godliness and cybernetic enhancements, are people just like the rest of us. It’s unique, it’s smart, it’s risky, and so far it’s paying off.
Patrick and I decided to pick up this title after hearing the editor, Ellie Pyle, talk about it at a panel at C2E2. She was overwhelmed by the support of the fans in the room, saying this was a book that had “nothing working for it.” Like Patrick said earlier, there’s no big name to tie this to the rest of the universe, there’s just a couple of deep cut characters on the cover, and oh yeah, they’re all women. But what really sold us was these two ladies.
Three issues in, and they had already put together a team cosplay of Valkyrie and Misty. That was was really clued us in that this title was something unique, something we should probably talk about. Personally, not only do I think Fearless Defenders is doing something very necessary for the medium as a whole, it’s also a really good read. It’s fun, smart, bad-ass, and in issue one it rains blood; need I say more?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?