While the watchword for Marvel Comics' ongoing Marvel NOW! rebranding of its core titles has been "hostile takeover," one of the most radically different relaunches in the line is this week's "Fearless Defenders." Recasting the superteam name as a banner for an all-female cast is both a brand new beginning for the likes of Valkyrie and Mist Knight, but it's also a continuation for the work writer Cullen Bunn did on Marvel's preview event tie-in "Fear Itself: The Fearless."
These topics and many others surrounding the new Defenders team got a working over in recent weeks as Bunn and artist Will Sliney teamed up on the CBR Message Boards for an open Q&A about the book, and we're happy to present the highlights here in advance of "Fearless Defenders" #1's Wednesday debut.
"I came up with the pitch for 'Fearless Defenders' about halfway through writing 'The Fearless.' The idea certainly helped to guide where 'The Fearless' headed in the end," Bunn explained. "This is definitely a case of I had an idea that would give a group of great characters a reason to get together... and they just happen to all be female."
The concept of bringing together an all-female cast in a marketplace dominated by male readers generally happy to support he-man heroics didn't scare the writer off, though. "I'd be afraid to fail if this was 'X-Avenger Titan League Of America' (Guest starring Deadpool). That's just the nature of comic books. Any book is a risk. And it'll be up to the reader. Yeah, these are mostly unknown characters, but they all have fan bases, and this will be just about the only place you'll see these characters. We'll see. If the readers don't want a book that's different... that features characters that aren't over-saturated... that just so happen to be a diverse group of women... well, at least I gave it a shot and had fun doing it."
And as the story gets underway, Bunn knows what thematic and superheroic underpinnings will drive his story. "Norse mythology is part of the story, especially the first arc, but I think we're building the world a little, too. I don't think it will be so mythology heavy that we'll lose people," he explained.
"As for how much of Marvel we plan to represent? Well I simply want to draw everybody, and I won't be happy until I do," Sliney added of his hopes for how big the book can get in terms of its cast. "For me [who I want to include most] depends on two things. Firstly, on a nostalgic basis it depends on how much I liked the character when younger, and secondly, it's purely down to how much fun they are to draw. For that reason Val and Misty balance out for me. I loved everything Asgardian when younger but Misty can push herself a little more when it comes to expressions.
"I really like the idea of building the team over the issues," the artist continued. "It's adding to the journey that the characters are taking and allows the series to go in far more directions than ones that would be laid out were the full roster to be revealed already. It's also allowing each character to have a more impact-full moment as they join."
As for the full scope of the team outside the two lead heroines, Bunn said, "It will be a strictly female team, but that doesn't mean a male character won't try to join!" The writer also promised some connection to the original Defenders franchise. "In a lot of ways, I had a shot at the original team. The mini-series 'Fear Itself: The Deep' was originally a Defenders spin-off, but the title changed for various reasons. But, yes, I love that group...[Our team] will call themselves The Defenders in terms of being a super-team (when they call themselves anything). You will definitely see some ties to the previous Defenders series."
The team members that will show up across the run will be drawn from a wide variety of Marvel stories past and present, but Knight and Valkyrie will lay the foundation. "Misty was always in consideration for the team because she brings so much to the table in terms of history, connection to the Marvel Universe, character, and coolness," Bunn said. "At first, though, I wasn't sure where she would show up. I think our editor Ellie Pyle was the first to suggest that she should be Valkyrie's sole partner, at least for an issue. From that suggestion, the idea sort of took off. I think Valkyrie and Misty are going to become one helluva a team in the Marvel U... and their interaction is something I simply love."
Other members included in the run will be New Mutant Dani Moonstar and the Marvel version of Amazon Hippolyta. "As of issue 4, I realized that I like the dynamic between Dani and Hippolyta just as much," Bunn said. "Hippolyta has been around for a long time (in mythology and at Marvel) and this version of the character... especially this version... is pretty different from any other interpretation."
Sliney is trying to make his own mark on Moonstar, who will show up in a slightly altered version of her original costume. "We first see her in her street clothes but that will obviously change over time. That's all I can say for now. If I was to go on with my own original designs I think its important to see where the character is personally at the time as well as paying tribute to the previous designs." Bunn added, "Dani's costume is something Will and I need to discuss with editorial...Dani's leadership abilities will be important to the team. I was always a big fan of Dani's ability to manifest the fears of others."
As for heroines who won't make it on the team, the writer revealed, "Kate Bishop and Dazzler were both on the list at one point, but their involvement in other books changed that." However, he was quick to note that "I'm not sure there are any real 'can't gets.' Even if they can't be on the team because of other involvement (like Gamora), there is nothing to say they couldn't appear as a guest star." He added that Spider-Woman will appear at some point.
"Here's a little known fact: At one point, the Enchantress was actually going to be a reluctant member of the team. But that is not currently in the cards. How many blonde Asgardians can one team handle? That said, given Amora's back story with Valkyrie (and that she is one of my favorite characters), she will certainly appear. Even before she appears, you'll see the repercussions of her past dirty dealings."
Bunn continued, "As for surprises... that's a definite. There are new characters coming. And there's an existing character who will be joining the team that I'm sure no one will be expecting. And she's awesome. I'm really excited about the issue when she shows up." He also was asked about any British characters that could work into the mix, saying, "Definitely. It might be too early for me to remember who and when. Isn't Elsa Bloodstone British?"
"Early on in writing the first arc, it was suggested that I could bring a dead character back," the writer explained when asked about "lost" Marvel characters getting a resurrection. "Looking at my options (and looking at how we planned to bring someone back) Hippolyta made the most sense and brought the most to the group. the fact that no one expected her means she was perfect for this kind of team! All you'll need to know to follow the character from the beginning will be revealed. I will be sprinkling in some history along the way, but you don't need it to get started. Actually, that's how I'm approaching every character in the book." Dead characters mentioned in the discussion but unlikely to appear included Echo, Jennifer Kale and Phyla Vell.
"I was asked [about who I'd bring in] months back by the team back in NYCC and I put my vote in for the Black Cat. I can't say yet if she appears," Silney teased. Meanwhile, Bunn said, "I'm sure [Talisman of Alpha Flight] will appear at some point. I'm not joking. If you have a favorite lady of Marvel, she WILL be featured in the book at some point if I have half a chance. But she will not be the magic user of the group (at least not initially). That role is already claimed."
Overall, the forces that bring the women to this team "will be different for every character. For some, it will be a sense of duty and honor. For others, a feeling of belonging. For some, it will be adventure. And some who are offered the role of Shieldmaiden will turn Valkyrie down cold."
As for who the fearless women of the book will be facing off against, Bunn said, "I've been keeping the villain under wraps a bit... but here's a teaser. She's not been seen before, but she has ties to two of the most dangerous villains in the Marvel Universe." He later added, "The villain from the first arc will be causing trouble for a while to come. But she won't be the only villain. There will be some new threats, some existing bad guys showing up, and a rogue's gallery VERY specific to the Fearless Defenders."
Asked about how this book will compare to the all-female "X-Men" book being prepped by Brian Wood, Bunn said, "I haven't seen any more of Brian's new 'X-Men' book than you guys, but I think it is safe to say that he and I have different approaches. I like his work quite a bit, but comparing the two of us is apples and oranges. Strictly from a tone perspective, the books will be vastly different. And the other difference will be that X-Men is a mutant-focused books, and 'Fearless Defenders' is going to be wildly diverse in terms of the team.
"I've written 4 issues and I'm currently working on issues 5 and 6. I've plotted out the next six issues. Beyond that, I have a much bigger story in mind, but it hasn't been outlined in detail."
Fans wanting to support the series beyond its opening arc can get their start tomorrow at comic shops everywhere. And stay tuned later this week on CBR for a Commentary Track going inside "Fearless Defenders" #1 with Bunn and Sliney.