The Marvel Universe is a wondrous and weird place, where a billionaire martial artist can create zero-g kung fu, a tiger can fly a spaceship and a gleaming metallic humanoid that flies through the cosmos on a surfboard can send the tiger's ship on a one way voyage to Jupiter. All of these things happened in the first arc of writer Matt Fraction and artist Terry Dodson's new volume of "Defenders" which came to a close in issue #3 earlier this month. What do the events of the first arc mean for this latest incarnation of the Marvel Universe's weirdest super team? And what happens to them now that they have stumbled upon an ancient and powerful artifact? For the answers to these questions and more CBR News spoke with Fraction about his plans for the series.
In the first three issues of "Defenders" Fraction and Dodson brought together the team of Doctor Stephen Strange, master of the mystic arts; billionaire Danny Rand, who fights crime as the super powered martial artist, Iron Fist; the ruler of Atlantis, Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner; the gleaming Sentinel of the Spaceways known as the Silver Surfer; and Betty Banner, who now spends most of her time as the crimson hued, super strong dynamo known as Red She-Hulk. This eclectic group of characters came together to stop a rampaging monstrosity known as Nul, Breaker of Worlds.
The new Defenders' quest to stop Nul brought them to the enigmatic Eastern European locale known as Wundagore Mountain where they battled a mad man out to destroy all of reality and his anthropomorphic foot soldiers. In the end the Defenders were victorious, but it's not clear how victorious -- "Defenders" #3 climaxed with the team coming face to face with a mysterious and powerful artifact known as the Concordance Engine.
So much of what's happening in "Defenders" is still a mystery, but two things are clear from the first three issues: Fraction is having the time of his life writing the book and he's telling a story with a scope and scale encompassing the entire Marvel Universe. "Our story isn't just about our main characters. It's about the Marvel Omniverse as a whole," Fraction told CBR News. "Or is it Multiverse? Maybe Metaverse? I'm not sure the exact nomenclature we've settled on, but Metaverse sounds good."
One of the reasons Fraction is having so much fun with "Defenders" is because the series allowed him to bring back the narrative captions that used to appear at the bottom of pages in Marvel Comics in the '70s and early '80s. "I remember them as a kid and and I always liked them as an editorial device and a cool extension of the Soapbox page. So the idea of recreating them but messing with them came to me at some point. I went with it and I think it took us awhile to figure out how it was all going to hang together and how to drop those into the production process and make sure that the pages are all correct," Fraction explained. "So there's some stuff I screwed up in issue #2 that will be corrected in the trade. By issue #3, though, it felt like that aspect was where it needed to be."
The captions in "Defenders" allow Fraction to do a number of things like promote other Marvel books, call attention to surreal story moments, provide clues and cryptic notes about some of the book's mysteries, and occasionally they're just bits of fun and strange nonsense. "I have a notion of what those tags are and where they're coming from, but it's all trying to shade and tint the book in such a way that it spins and drives differently than anything else Marvel is publishing at the moment or has ever really published," Fraction remarked. "'Defenders' has kind of the hallmark of being the weird Marvel book. So why not embrace that and go full weird?
"The plot and book specific captions come up during the writing. In issue #3 I had one that said, 'Hey that tiger is flying a spaceship!' When I was going through and adding tags and I got to that page it struck me how that's the definition of a comic book. It's something fun and strange that you just want to stop and appreciate for a moment," Fraction continued. "Then for the captions where we mention other books I go through previews and the write ups of books I'm excited to read. I do all of the copywriting and editorial offers no suggestions. So it's books I want to checkout or want other people to check out. Overall I want readers to feel like they're getting their money's worth. I'm always looking for any place that we can fit more words, thoughts, and presents."
While the captions are a fun and distinctive part of "Defenders" Fraction also makes the most out his panels and pages as well. In the first three issues readers quickly got to know the protagonists and see that even though they're a new team that's not entirely comfortable with each other yet, they're a still team that works well together and doesn't bicker -- at least not that much.
"When you're dealing with a time traveling mad man who wants to destroy the universe it's one of those put up or shut up moments. So they came together as a team pretty quickly," Fraction stated. "Going forward in the second arc though, they're weirdos. So there will be friction, but I don't like moments where it's just the team yelling at each other. I want to see these guys do what they do. The interpersonal sparks will fly, but I want them to come organically from the action."
In "Defenders" #2 readers glimpsed a moment of interteam personal drama when Doctor Strange whispered something into the Red She Hulk's ear, causing her to instantly proclaim her dislike for. "I know what Doc said to her, but I'll never tell. Whatever he said, it scared her so bad it made her turn human. That scene was sort of a demonstration of some of the spooky shit that Doctor Strange knows," Fraction explained. "In that scene the Defenders were locked up and Betty needed to be scared so she could transform back into her smaller human form and fit through the bars. The only thing that's ever really scared her, though, was the Hulk when he was about to kill her. So the Defenders needed to scare her and Doc did it without moving a finger."
The Defenders were imprisoned by the villainous madman known as Prestor John and his army of human-animal hybrids, the New Men. Prestor John was especially incensed because he knew Nul, Breaker of Worlds was coming to Wundagore Mountain for a mysterious and powerful artifact known as the Concordance Engine, which seemed to be connected to other realities and dimensions. The Defenders tried to stop Nul, but it was ultimately another unnamed Prestor guarding the Concordance Engine who defeated the monster. This Prestor was dressed identically to John, and like John he too had the greek letter Omega imprinted on the palms of his hands.
When some long time Marvel readers noticed the omega symbols on the two Prestors palms they may have made a connection to another Marvel character who bears similar markings -- Omega the Unknown, introduced to readers in 1976 by writer Steve Gerber and then reintroduced 31 years later by writer Jonathan Lethem. "There's a pretty explicit connection there. I may have not said anything on the page, but people who are familiar with Omega the Unknown and have read his appearances in "Volume 1" or "Volume 2" will know what I'm suggesting," Fraction explained. "Later we'll get a taste of what the Concordance Engine does, what it's doing, and what it means for the book."
The third issue of "Defenders" ended with the team standing before the mysterious Concordance Engine and Doctor Strange declaring that the safest and best thing to do was for the team to steal the engine. "In issue #4, we'll see that Concordance Engine that was beneath Wundagore Mountain is now in Doctor Strange's mansion," Fraction said. "It's smack dab in the middle of the room with the crazy window and in issue #4 Doc, Danny, and Wong are poring over scrolls and other resources trying to figure out what it is and what it does."
The silent Prestor, dubbed "Prestor Omega," who guarded the Wundagore Concordance Engine will continue his sentry duty when the machine is moved to Doctor Strange's home. "He's the team's silent member. He goes where the engine goes," Fraction said. "And here's a little hint, every engine has an Omega that serves as a protector and guardian. What happened to Prestor John when he lost his engine? Perhaps that's when he lost his mind."
The first three issues of "Defenders" occurred over a span of only about six hours, but for the next several issues Fraction will be spending more time with his cast and allowing readers the chance to get to know them better. "Over the next arc we'll start to see what it means now that they have the Concordance Engine back in the real world," Fraction remarked. "The next three issues are all single focus issues on Doctor Strange, Namor, and Iron Fist. We'll get to see how they go forward now that Engine is in their life."
"Defenders" #4, in stores March 7th, focuses on Doctor Strange and is titled "The French Drop." "The French Drop is [a] sort of flourish that you do while you're doing a coin or card trick. If someone is going to make a card disappear and they throw it in the air to make it vanish, The French Drop would be how you make the card disappear before you even go through the motion of throwing it," Fraction stated. "It's that distraction that draws your eye away from where the trick is actually happening. So this is a fun little story about Doctor Strange pulling off a misdirection. Sort of."
In "Defenders" #5, on sale April 18th, Fraction focuses on the Sub-Mariner and the action moves beneath the waves. "So we've got everybody that can go underwater going underwater," the writer said. "Then in May's issue #6 we're back in New York. The issue is called 'Who is Killing the Immortal Weapons of the World and What Do They Want With Danny Rand?' It's a lot of fun to be able to do an Iron Fist story with those characters again. Plus the Confederates of the Curious, Orson Randall's band of pulp heroes from my "Immortal Iron Fist" run, will show up in the story too."
The Defenders spotlight arc will feature work by regular series artist Terry Dodson and two guest artists. "Issue #5 is by Mitch Breitweiser and Issue #6 is by Victor Ibanez," Fraction stated. "Then Terry is back with issue #7."
While Fraction's immediate "Defenders" plans call for spotlighting his existing cast members, his long term plans call for welcoming some new ones like Nick Fury and Ant-Man. "We'll see those characters as soon as there's an opportunity. We go to Wakanda starting in #7 and we'll have some adventures in Africa. Then we'll get to Fury before Ant-Man," Fraction explained. As things firm up in the Marvel Universe I'll have a better idea, but Fury is coming soon and I suspect both characters will be in the book by the end of the year. That might change a little bit, but we'll see."
"Defenders" #4 by Matt Fraction and Michael Lark is on sale March 4.