Thursday, December 18, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: The Last Defenders #6

[Concluding my look at Joe Casey's The Last Defenders.]

And, so, we come to the end of our little journey. The Last Defenders have arrived, all that's left to do is actually form the team. Oh, wait... what?

The Last Defenders that have arrived are from the future and here to rescue Kyle Richmond, so he can form the team. Yandroth is surprised, but pleased, because their arrival means that his plans have worked: he's created the Last Defenders. What's interesting is that his threatening of Richmond is the final instigating factor in creating the group, an unintended effect. This seems to comment on the unexpected twists and turns a story can take despite the writer's intention. No matter how much you plot and plan, the story always has a life of its own. Yandroth is nonetheless impressed with the group, which builds on the original team's formula with slight tweaks.

She-Hulk replaces the Hulk as the "brute force" of the team. Hellstrom replaces Dr. Strange as the "occultist." Krang replaces Namor as the "water elemental." And this new Nighthawk replaces the Silver Surfer, and acts as leader. That the Silver Surfer is never mentioned seems a very odd omition on Casey's part. Nighthawk flies and so does the Surfer, giving them both an air theme, but, also, this new Nightawk's costume is also a silvery-greyish-blue in the wings. He looks like a cross between the Kyle Richmond Nighthawk and the Silver Surfer.

There's a lot of action here, which shows off these Last Defenders and they return to their proper time, leaving Richmond to be transported back through other means and to put together the team. This is where the book seems to have be flawed, for me, as the team is put together through a paradox: he assmbles these members only because he knows they're the team he assembles. There's no instigating factor. It's a flaw in the plot, but not in the subtext where the team is put together to satisfy the formula and for reasons unknown. Why do any superhero teams have the members they have? Is there ever a good reason beyond the whims of the writer? As well, it adds to the idea that this team was meant to be.

The team exists outside of the Initiative and is funded by Richmond, who shifts from the fan writer position to that of editor, a role he's more cut out for. He can oversee things, make sure the team/book remains true to its roots and history, while allowing Joaquin Pennyworth to become the new Nighthawk/writer. Pennyworth is more athletic and not as wowwed by superheroes, giving the group a fresh take since the team is made up mostly of non-superhero types--which also remains true to its roots. That Richmond funds the team and works outside of the Initiative is like forming his own publishing house or imprint (ala Marvel Knights).

The issue ends with Yandroth again as he watches the newly formed Last Defenders on their first mission. He explains that this was only the first step and that the team is reality's greatest hope, but also its greatest liability, and we'll see which it is.

Overall, this book managed to balance text and subtext in ways Casey hasn't really been able to do before. In some scenes, the subtext is far more apparent than the text, but that's also reversed in others. The best scenes work on both levels. The various pieces of metacommentary are rarely the main point of any scene, but still easily apparent.

The examination of the various types of superhero teams is also interesting. The first one was too power-heavy, unable to function as a team, because every character (save Nighthawk) had the same skillset. Imagine a baseball team with a great pitcher and then eight slow, power hitters in the field... it wouldn't work. The second iteration was just a team-up, not a full-fledged team and, thus, doesn't work. The third was a group brought together by money, which is a corrupt reason for a superhero team to exist. There was an irony in that issue with Richmond criticising Stark for losing sight of the purity in superheroics after Richmond did the very same thing. The final iteration of the team is a group of people brought together by a common purpose, to make new lives and, maybe, be better for the experience. Is there any better reason?