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Why The Defenders: The Best Defense Is a Good Mini-Event

For many years, the “Marvel Event” was a staple of the summer comic book publishing calendar. It produced such noteworthy series as Civil War, Secret Invasion and Secret Wars. However, there was also a sense that many readers were suffering from “event fatigue” – how one event seemed to immediately launch into the build-up for the next one and often the stories in standalone titles got shortchanged in order to fit the event. Recently, Marvel has dialed down the big events. They have had things like Civil War 2 and Secret Empire, but overall the events seem smaller and less frequent.

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That is not necessarily a bad thing. There are ways to make a smaller event that leaves a lasting mark. Sometimes these mini-events occur within a related family of books. The “Spider-verse” crossover in Spider-books in many ways paved the way for the success of the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. A recent example of the mini-event working is with “The Best Defense,” a story that features the original line-up of The Defenders: Hulk, Namor, Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer. There is a one-shot for each of the characters and then one Defenders book. So it is only five issues altogether, which is a nice low buying commitment and also lends towards a tighter story.

What was somewhat novel about “The Best Defense” is that each character one-shot is essentially standalone. The issues can (supposedly) be read in any order up to the The Defenders: The Best Defense one-shot, which culminates the event. Personally, I found that the order in which the books were published (Hulk and Namor one week and then Doctor Strange and Silver Surfer the next) makes for the best reading order. However, I am intrigued to see if re-reading the issues in a different order makes for a slightly new impression.

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Each of the character one-shots was written and illustrated by a different team, although it is clear that the writers (if not the artists) were in communication and had planned the overall arch of the series. The Immortal Hulk one-shot was by Al Ewing and Simone Di Meo. Namor was written by Chip Zdarsky and illustrated Carlos Magno. The Silver Surfer was written and illustrated by Jason Latour. Doctor Strange was written by Gerry Duggan and illustrated by Greg Smallwood. In some cases (Ewing), the writer is involved in a current run of a series but in others that’s not the case (Mark Waid is the current writer on the main Doctor Strange run, not Duggan). The Defenders: The Best Defense was written by Ewing and illustrated by Joe Bennett.

The separate writers collaborating on a storylines but individually writing a part of it is not new. That is often how these events have worked (though many others were writing by one person). The results can vary wildly, though. Avengers: No Surrender, which took place across the various Avengers-related titles, was mostly boring with an occasional high point, despite the fact that talented people were writing and drawing the stories. In the case of The Best Defense, I think there was value in focusing on a small group of characters. Each of the four members has their own story and it only intersects, really, at the end. This is the spirit of the original Defenders team: they were often called an anti-team because unlike the Avengers or X-Men, they were not actively meeting, hanging out or living in close proximity. The Defenders came together when events warranted and they did not really considering themselves a team.

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In the past few years, Marvel has been pushing the Netflix version of the Defenders in the comic books as well, with a title starring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and The Iron Fist. Now that those shows are (mostly) cancelled, it will be interested to see if Marvel returns more frequently to the legacy of The Defenders in the comics. Hulk, Namor, Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer were the first of many characters to come and go in The Defenders. I always liked the shifting and ephemeral nature of the book, and I think there is a place for a return to that type of title. For now, though, The Best Defense shows that Marvel doesn’t need a dozen issues and heaps of tie-in issues to produce a good event. While I doubt The Best Defense did as well as Civil War 2 (even though the latter seemed to mostly be panned), there is a place at Marvel for smaller, big stories.


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