Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: The Last Defenders #2

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's The Last Defenders. New posts randomly over the next week.]

One mission/story in and the New Jersey Defenders has been discontinued/cancelled by Tony Stark. Now, as you'll recall, this team and line-up was his idea, but does he blame himself? No, no, no, he blames Nighthawk and the rest of the team. The blame placed on Nighthawk is especially bad, because the Defenders are his baby, he's the fan, and he tried his best to make it work under the guidelines provided--and even protested the idea--but it didn't... how is that his fault?

The team fought the Sons of the Serpent in Atlantic City, which caused a lot of damage when Quetzalcoatl is summoned. Now, the damage caused isn't actually that out of the ordinary, particularly for the Avengers (look at the first story in Mighty Avengers, for example), but, here, there's something not just wrong with it, there's something almost obscene about it. Now, I read the damage done here as the reaction of the readers to the new team: they hate it. They hate that it's Nighthawk and three people who don't "belong" in the Defenders. And, since this is a C-level team that relies on the hardcore fans, it cannot survive such a backlash the way the Avengers can. The Avengers can piss off fans and still sell huge, but the Defenders needs its fans.

Which is why Stark shutting it down is so hypocritical since the fault lies with him, not Nighthawk who wanted to give the fans what they wanted. He blames Nighthawk's lack of leadership, like a company blaming a writer for not making an editorially mandated book work despite the writer arguing that it's a mistake beforehand. Stark's dialogue here is revealing as he says, "IF WE CAN STAY AHEAD OF THE PRESS ON THIS FIASCO, WE MAY BE ABLE TO REVISIT THIS IDEA... / ...IN A YEAR OR SO. [/] NEEDLESS TO SAY, I THANK EACH OF YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. SORRY IT DIDN'T WORK OUT." Not only is his tone very casual, but the idea that they may just come back to the idea in a year or so speaks to the cyclical revamping of failed concepts that seem to happen every couple of years.

As well, in this opening scene is further commentary by the Blazing Skull that Nighthawk may just not be cut out to be a hero--almost suggesting that the fan shouldn't write, but but should edit. This is an idea I'll come back to towards the end of the series.

The second half of the issue has a fantastic scene between Hellstrom and Yandroth that accomplishes nothing except add a token flashback scene to give Hellstrom's eventual involvement in the team more weight. Here, Casey is obviously doing nothing more than taking the piss. Nothing of any significance is expressed, Yandroth just goes back in time and meets with Hellstrom, promising that, in a few decades, the meeting will have significance. This is a jab at the trend of constantly adding little flashback scenes in a character's past that tie into the current story, but do nothing else. Yandroth, as I said last time, is the professional writer and his job is to give these events more weight and signifance--what better way than to add an event to the character's past?

The issue ends with Nighthawk and She-Hulk forming the second iteration of the Defenders in this book, which I may as well call the Dynamic Duo Defenders. They infiltrate a Sons of the Serpent facility to rescue missing SHIELD agents, including Joaquin Pennyworth, who has some connection to Kyle Richmond--and little tolerance for superheroes. He is a professional and thinks people in costumes are idiots. Let's say that he also represents a certain segment of the writing community, but will find himself soon waist-deep in superheroes.

She-Hulk's role is less clear... perhaps the artist who believes in the fan writer's vision? Or maybe she has no real subtextual role. Her interplay with Nighthawk is a lot of banter, a lot of bickering. The Dynamic Duo Defenders is very much a team-up book ala Hawk & Dove or Green Arrow & Black Canary or something similar. A minimalist approach to the team full of sexual tension and two opposite personalities brought together for a common goal. Will it work out? No. Nice try, though.

Oh, and, as Matt pointed out in the comments and I was going to mention at some point, I want you to take note of the covers as each shifts from popular artist to popular artist until finally settling on a Jim Muniz cover when the Last Defenders come into being. There's a point to that, don't you think?

Next issue: the Dynamic Duo Defenders die and we get another version of the team. Three in three issues... hoo-ha.