Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Fearless Defenders 7, originally released July 31st, 2013.
Drew: Death is hard to relate to. By it’s very nature, nobody alive has ever experienced it, and people are bad at relating to things that aren’t walking, talking people (which is why we anthropomorphize everything from pets to brave little toasters). It’s no wonder, then, that comics are so notoriously bad at dealing with death — or at least treating dead as dead. Everyone from Superman to Captain America has cheated death, and while we’re often told that it’s “against the rules” to come back from the dead, characters that actually stay dead seem to be the exception, rather than the rule. These days, the death of a character is simply the starting point for the saga of the inevitable return of that character. Fearless Defenders 7 leans heavily into those expectations, but ultimately subverts them, compressing the “saga” into a single issue, and forcing some actual consequences for Annabelle’s death (and resurrection).
The issue finds Annabelle a little out-of-place in Valhalla — her death on the battlefield was more the result of circumstance than of lifestyle. Meanwhile, Valkyrie is hoping to somehow undo killing Annabelle by calling in a favor. That favor turns out to be from Clea, who apparently can bring people back from the dead, but at a cost. That cost? Annabelle and Valkyrie are now sharing a body.
We don’t get to see the fallout of what sounds like an absurd sitcom pitch (“It’s like The Odd Couple if they were one person!”), but I actually enjoyed the buildup to that moment. Writer Cullen Bunn manages to contrast Valkyrie’s single-minded mission with an unsettling dearth of urgency. Val even gets sidetracked for three pages fighting “murder trolls,” an idea so charmingly absurd, I couldn’t help but smile. The effect is an issue that feels strangely out-of-time, which I think works brilliantly for a story set in the afterlife. Of course, some credit must go to guest artist Stephanie Hans, whose etherial paintings seem downright otherworldly when compared to Will Sanley’s more traditional linework. My favorite moments come as Val wanders the afterlife searching for Clea — the halls of Valhalla slowly recede into the myst, and are replaced by rolling hills and breathtaking mountains.
It’s a beautiful issue, which carries the emotional heft of Val’s grief. She’s effectively in the bargaining stage, which would be entirely relatable if, you know, she wasn’t able to actually bargain her friend back to life. It’s a pulled punch in what could have been a beautiful meditation on grief (and maybe taught Peter Tomasi a thing or two), but it’s clear this issue was never really about grief — it was about setting up a Firestorm-esque hero for the team. We debated a bit last month about whether Annabelle’s death constituted fridging, but it’s clear now that Bunn didn’t kill her to motivate anyone. This is much more interesting, and might be enough to bolster my flagging patience with this title.
Annabelle has long been the most fleshed-out character, so I’m glad that she’ll still be around. Similarly, Val has been the least fleshed-out character, so I suppose I’m glad to have a bigger reason to care about her. Still, this team still barely has three members, and I feel like I hardly know any of them. Usually, my favorite issues of team titles are the early issues where we get to know the two or three core members, but seven issues in, I still feel like I’m reading vague stereotypes. Valkyrie’s journey here was a great step in the right direction, but her final sacrifice was played too close to the chest to have any resonance in this issue. My fingers are crossed that we really feel those repercussions in issue 8.
Shelby, I know you were really excited about this title after C2E2, but I feel like the last few issues have failed to live up to those expectations. Did this issue feel at all like a return to form? This was easily my favorite issue of the series, but it’s also unlike the rest of the series. Did this work as well for you as it did for me?
Shelby: Drew, don’t be such a murder troll! Just kidding, who am I to tell you whether or not to be a murder troll? In all seriousness, yes, this issue did work very well for me; not because it’s a return to form for the title, but precisely because Bunn is subverting some big ideas about death, the afterlife, and comic book mechanics in general.
I was most struck by Annabelle’s experience in Valhalla. I have a pretty broad view of religion and the afterlife; I firmly believe that, if you believe in some sort of heaven, that the heaven you imagine is what you make of it for yourself. I’m Lutheran, so my ideas of heaven lean heavily towards clouds, winged babies with harps, and a big set of pearly gates. The idea of someone getting stuck in a different religion or culture’s idea of heaven is both kind of funny and very sad.
It’s laughable to think of Annabelle in Valhalla because it’s so obviously not where she belongs. Not because she wasn’t brave or honorable enough in life, but because a bunch of mead-swilling Vikings is not her crowd. They try to accommodate, sending her some wenches in need of a pillow fight. but no dice. The thought that the manner of your death, not your own personal belief system, determines where you spend eternity is a frightening one. I mean, this is eternity we’re talking about; you shouldn’t have to try to get used to it and just deal, it should be a reward for the life you’ve lived. I love me some feasting Scandinavians as much as the next gal, but I would hate spending the afterlife in Valhalla. That’s why I’m glad for Annabelle’s sake that she doesn’t have to stay.
I’ll be honest, when I saw the first page of this issue, I rolled my eyes, assuming it was another quick and easy death reversal. I thought that by simply bringing Annabelle to life the issue immediately following her death, Bunn was trivializing her death and her sacrifice. I’m happy to say I was wrong, that Bunn is not just Ctrl+Z-ing the situation. Annabelle sacrificed herself for Valkyrie, and Valkyrie in turn is sacrificing herself for Annabelle. Bunn isn’t saying that Annabelle’s sacrifice meant nothing, Val is saying that she herself was not worthy of the sacrifice made and needs to make amends. I like the depth it adds to the character, and I’m really curious to see what this will do to Annabelle and Val’s relationship. Val likes and respects Annabelle, Annabelle has a crush on Va, and now they’re in the same body. Also in that body somewhere is the murderous spirit of rage incarnate that killed Annabelle in the first place. That is some complicated nonsense right there, and I am really excited about it.
This issue feels like a little intermission between the arc we just finished and whatever is next in this title. The only difference is, during this intermission, the players re-wrote a couple parts and changed the scenery and maybe decided to do a different play. I’ve enjoyed this title from issue one, but Bunn is really shaking things up with this issue, and I’m intrigued to see where he will take it from here. And Drew, I’m sorry I called you a murder troll.
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?