FEARLESS DEFENDERS #12/ Written by CULLEN BUNN/ Art by WILL SLINEY/ Colors by VERONICA GANDINI/ Letters by VC’s CLAYTON COWLES/ Published by MARVEL COMICS
The adventures of the Fearless Defenders, the most fabulous fighting team around, have come to an end at issue #12. It’s been a pretty good ride for the most part, though not without its flaws, and its finale in particular leaves many things to be desired (one of which is issues #13+).
Issue #12 is an off issue. Sliney and Gandini’s art is as good as it always is, and Bunn’s dialogue and character work (particularly for Misty Knight) are still good. It’s the story that’s the problem. This is a really disjointed and incongruous issue. Fearless Defenders #12 feels as if Bunn fast-forwarded to the end of his grand plan for the Defenders but left the rest of us in the dark over what we missed. Valkyrie is mad at Annabelle and the All-Mother for strange reasons that seem to come out of nowhere. Caroline LeFay has finished gathering her Doom Maidens, and the gals tracked her down somehow. Caroline’s plan is foiled with something of a deus ex machina. And even then, the end is not really a conclusion. The saga of the Fearless Defenders has wrapped but the ending is a lead-in to a third arc. There’s not really a finish, just a “The End” slapped over what should naturally read “To Be Continued.” It’s weird and above all else unsatisfying, but nothing new for the second half of the series.
Fearless Defenders had been undeniably jumpy for the last few issues. Looking back at #11, which was a mostly good issue on its own merits, there was some serious incongruity from #10. Plot threads like Ren’s desire to find her missing parents were dropped without a second thought, the gals didn’t really deal with New York’s cocoon problem, and the transition to the Amazons’ home from NYC was pretty jarring. Issue #10 was also disjointed from #9, which was somewhat excusable due to tying into Infinity, and #9 was disjointed from the entire story thus far so Bunn could make fun of the demands of dudes on the all-woman team. And that was a delight, but looking back, was it really necessary? Wouldn’t it have been better to continue the story in #8, and maybe follow up with that helpful and potential Shieldmaiden brood sleazoid (who, disappointingly, was never seen nor heard from again)? These diversions made for a really confusing second half of the series. Issues #1-6 were very solid narratively: Point A lead to Point B lead to Point C lead to Point D, and so on. But in #7-12, Point A lead to Point B lead to Point M lead to Point W.
The jumpiness is likely a result of the creative team knowing the axe was about to fall. It’s understandable for Bunn to want to hit some good plot beats before he wraps, and the conflicts that were brought up in the last few issues (Hippolyta re-establishing and then butting heads with her Amazons, Ren’s relationship with Annabelle and maybe her parents, Val’s beef with Annabelle and the All-Mother) could have made for excellent fully-extended arcs. But those ideas were just hit in a way that made them weird and nonsensical. It would have been a much better idea and made for a much stronger, more cohesive story if Bunn had just stuck to whatever arc he was originally planning instead of jumping all over the place. Maybe we would not have gotten to see as much of the Defenders’ stories as we did, but two good arcs are better than one good arc and one bizarrely inconsistent arc. As a wrap to the series, #12 is an unfortunate wash.
Fearless Defenders may not be going out with a satisfying bang and the last few issues may be disjointed in the grand narrative, but on their own they are fun and on the whole it’s been an excellent series. Marvel’s getting a new wave of female-lead titles next year, but none of them are going to fill the void Fearless Defenders leaves behind. Issue #12 may be the weakest issue of the series by far, but it’s still Fearless Defenders. It’s a series worth supporting, particularly for those of us who want more gender diversity in Marvel.