Drew: Comics love engaging in their own history. Whether they’re rehashing origin stories, resurrecting campy villains, or just making winking nods to their own pasts, comics always find ways to reference their own histories. It makes sense — both creators and fans love comics — but what do you do when the history your referencing isn’t so charming? It’s no secret that comics don’t always have the most enlightened views when it comes to female characters, but what is a writer’s obligation to that history? Should they ignore it? Reclaim it? Embrace it? These are the weird questions Cullen Bunn is forced to address in Fearless Defenders 5, as he blows up the scope to comment on virtually all of Marvel’s female characters.
Valkyrie has taken Hippolyta and Dani to face the Doom Maidens on some remote mountain in Brazil, but things aren’t exactly going well. Fortunately, Misty and Annabelle show up with virtually every female superhero in the Marvel Universe. They turn the tide for a bit, but then Valkyrie switches into Doom Maiden mode, which may mean they all have to fight her, as well.
That’s a short summary, but there’s a lot to keep track of here. In addition to our regular cast, there are eight Doom Maidens in this fight, and Misty brings along a dozen more heroes.
That’s a lot of bodies to keep track of, and it doesn’t help that I have no idea who characters like Colleen Wing or Thundra are. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of space to give each of these characters a proper introduction — Black Cat’s only line is about how similar she is to Tigra and Hellcat.
So, what is the point of bringing in all of these characters? Valkyrie makes a point of saying this is overkill — they only need nine Shieldmaidens. Sure, Bunn might be hoping for the cameo bump from big names like Storm and Black Widow, but I don’t think that could explain deeper cuts like Tigra or Tarantula. No, I think Bunn has introduced these characters in order to open up the conversation from just, say, Valkyrie’s history, to the history of all female characters at Marvel. It’s by no means a subject this title needs to address — Bunn does not need to answer for the way other writers have treated other characters in the past — but I appreciate the way he tackles this subject.
But…what does he really say? Well, not too much yet — again, the pages are a little overstuffed with characters to comment too much on their previous treatment (or to demonstrate how they might best be written in the future). He does, however, find the time to give Annabelle a moment of empowerment, which she desperately needed. Moreover, he shows that Valkyrie sees her as more than the bumbling doofus she’s kind of been up until now.
That kind of empowerment is a bit easier for me to relate to than Valkyrie’s war-making, or Misty’s blaxploitation-inspired attitude (which, I have to confess, I don’t really have enough context to fully appreciate). In that way, I think bringing in these other strong female characters is a great shorthand for Bunn’s own characters. Characters like Captain Marvel and She-Hulk are being treated so well elsewhere, their mere presence adds credibility to Bunn’s work here, and some valuable ballast to this relatively new title.
Shelby, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on bringing in all of these other characters. We’re still getting to know this cast, so bringing in all of these guest stars was a bold choice. It was fun to see some of them, but their presence definitely pulled the focus away from our core cast. Did blowing up the commentary to include all female characters work for you, or did it seem like overkill?
Shelby: Oh, it was absolutely overkill: the best kind of epic, smashing, fighty overkill you can get. Content-wise, this issue was basically an 80s action flick. Bunn is calling in the muscle for an over-the-top duke-’em-out brawl, and I think it’s a ton of fun. The best part of it all is the fact that it’s all women.
Don’t get me wrong, I love comic books, regardless the gender of the hero or heroes on the cover. I love comic books so much that sometimes I get a little numb to the fact that there aren’t as many strong, well-written, and respected female characters as there are male. When a book that focuses exclusively on strong women comes along, I get really excited. Even an issue like this one that boils down to just a fight scene really speaks to something in me. I enjoy reading about badass dudes, but seeing women be just as badass, just as powerful, have just as much agency is special. I feel like a little girl with a new, awesome lady role model to look up to.
Back to the issue at hand, as fun as the all-out lady brawl is, I do think Bunn has some deeper motivation for the massive cameo roll call. Valkyrie is ashamed of her past as the Rage Maiden (best death metal band name ever), ashamed for using Dani, and ashamed for lying to her friends about the whole deal. She speaks of her honor as a sacrificial lamb, and increasing the audience of her shame to the strongest women out there, women she would consider her equals, only makes her dishonor cut even more deeply. There’s also a chance it’s going to take that many people to defeat her.
She’s so angry volcanoes erupted. Not even Atrocitus, in all his rage, can make the Earth erupt. That’s a lot of power; it may take every lady Marvel has to calm her down again. If it does, you can bet I will be there, giddy as a schoolgirl.
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?