Posted on: March 8th, 2012 REVIEW: The Defenders #4

Defenders 4 FractionToday I’d like to talk about the role of narration. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Buckle up, Buttercup. We’re doing this.

Look back at Golden Age comics (hell, some Silver Age comics too). Every single panel was spelled out. Our narrator held our hands through every step of the way. They didn’t need to. They just assumed readers are dumb (some are…obviously.) And then, the prototypical narrator got kicked out. Replaced by intelligent panel layouts, effective dialogue and movement within the art. I believe, just by reading my generic synopsis of the history of comics, you can tell which I prefer. But then, I run across proper narration. The kind that guides the story instead of dragging it along. I love that narrator. The omniscient commentator. So rarely used correctly.

And then a book like The Defenders comes along. And shakes up my world. Have you read this book? Do you have any idea how much great narrating is done here? Numerous narrators. All at once. Coherent narration.

The Defenders: Currently a super-powered team consisting of Doctor Strange, Namor, Iron Fist, Red She-Hulk and Silver Surfer. Magical punching and kicking with the Power Cosmic. That’s a recipe for success if I’ve ever heard it. And of course, we’re saving the world from collapsing all around us all the while tampering with multiple dimensions and the time-space continuum (boo). In this ongoing, we have a base narrator. Someone offering insight when it’s appropriate. Then we have the internal monologues of the characters that often serve as narration. Then there’s the footer in the page margin that serves as ad space for other Marvel books, repeats important lines, or says lines that sound good but didn’t fit in the dialogue.

The latter sounds distracting. It is. But, damn, I love it. Sometimes I forget about it for a couple pages and have to turn back to see what I missed. That’s a good sign.

This is the Matt Fraction I know and love. Not going to lie to you, I didn’t read all of Fear Itself. I got bored. I blame that on the corporate generated event process. But Defenders? This is a great, great read. Yes, we are punching. But it’s smart punching. All of these characters are written so cocky, they all play against each other with delightful chemistry.

Defenders 4 Fraction InteriorNow, in the beginning, there were the Dodsons and it was good. I love Terry and Rachel Dodson’s interiors in the first arc. They’re great. But great takes time. So the Dodsons were not on Issue #4. That honor went to Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano with Brian Thies. The change was even written into the book. How’s that for thorough? As much as I love the Dodsons, I have to say I thought the art fit very well in this Doctor Strange-centric issue. Mitch Breitweiser will be on Issue #5 with Victor Ibanez on #6.

So many artists, so many narrators. You know why it works? Because the creative team(s) are approaching it with the method of old: art first, script second. I don’t know why that works so well, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t.

Some writers get weighed down with one narrator, Fraction can write an amazing book with up to eight. Issue 4, soon to be 5 and 6 will all be stand-alone issues. But the first arc is fantastic. Pick them all up.

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