The Best Defense: Giffen, DeMatteis & Maguire take on "The Defenders"

Wed, December 22nd, 2004 at 12:00am PST

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Dave Richards, Staff Writer

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[Defenders]
Kevin Maguire "Defenders" Art from Wizard #160, on sale now.
Earth is screwed. A monstrous extra dimensional sorcerer has a scheme to conquer our planet and the only heroes who can stop him are a group that spends more time fighting each other than whatever villain they are up against. This is the premise behind Marvel's new four-issue "Defenders" mini-series by the acclaimed creators of DC's "Formerly Known as the Justice League" mini-series: Keith Giffen, J. Marc DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire. CBR News spoke with Giffen about his new project, working for Marvel and his true feelings about DC Comics "Identity Crisis."

Many super hero teams bicker and fight, but in the end the usually make up and remain a tight family like unit. The Defenders, however, have a very unique group dynamic. "The Defenders are the group that if they seem like they don't like one another, they don't!" Giffen explained, "The Defenders hate one another. They've been thrown together and despise it. There's no love lost between these guys."

Giffen and DeMatteis's original pitch for Defenders was not used, but it did highlight the group's relationships with each other. "I said we want to play the Hulk like Bluto Blutarsky," Giffen told CBR News. "Prince Namor like Niles Crane by way of Jack Benny and Dr.Stange by way of Bob Newhart. We're going to lock them all in a room and watch them meltdown."

When Giffen began work on "Defenders" he asked Marvel editorial which take on the Hulk was currently prevalent. "I got just the answer I wanted," Giffen said. "Which one do you want?"

Giffen and DeMatteis's Hulk is similar to Bruce Jones take on the character. "Our Hulk is not 'Hulk Smash! Like Beans!' but he's not a homicidal maniac either. It's almost like the Hulk you're getting now. Banner's a little bit more 'can do.' He's a hunted man. We wanted a Hulk that wasn't mono-syllabic, but we also wanted a Hulk that could go off at a moments notice."

In his original "Fantastic Four" appearances, Namor was not a pleasant character. Giffen and DeMatteis chose to revive that personality. "The insufferable prick," Giffen said. "Kind of Holier than thou. 'I'm Namor. I'm a prince and you're not.'"

Dr.Strange is the one who assembles The Defenders although he does so very reluctantly. He guides them and holds them together. "Dr.Stange is always the central figure throughout most Defenders stories. He's the most level headed of the crew. Strange is kind of pragmatic. It's kind of ironic the guy who is most steeped in other worldly sorcery is the most level headed realist."

The Silver Surfer was also a member of the original Defenders line-up and makes an appearance in the new mini-series. "I'm not going to say a single word about the Silver Surfer, except there will be fans who will love what we did and there will be fans that hate will what we did. It does not affect the character. He is in my favorite pages of the book even though in the entire four issues he only appears for five pages if we're lucky."

Some die-hard Marvel fans might take issue with Giffen and DeMatteis's portrayal of these characters. They might feel that the two writers are trying to mock and humiliate their favorite characters. Which Giffen said is untrue. "When we go into a project like this and we're going to apply our little 'nyuk, nyuk' we don't take that approach to characters or books we don't like," Giffen explained. "All during our run on 'Justice League,' no matter how goofy we got, we had a genuine fondness for these characters. I don't consider what we do humiliating a character. I think what we do is showing you that some of these characters would be okay to have a beer with."

Showing a character's humanity is essential for Giffen. "They're always people before they're superheroes," Giffen said. "I never cared about Blue Beetle more than I cared about Ted Kord. Guy Gardner was never a Green Lantern to me he was 'Guy Gardner.'"

The Defenders are some of Marvel's most powerful characters and Giffen and DeMatteis have crafted a story where they are pushed to their limits. "Dormammu and Umar have teamed up to finally get it right. The two most powerful pan-dimesional beings are coming gunning for our reality and they win."

Giffen described the tone of "Defenders as being a tongue-in-cheek adventure. The book has many funny moments, but it's not a humor book. "It's not all 'yuk-yuk-yuk' where everyone is throwing whoopee cushions and they're all having a grand old time," Giffen explained. "There is a threat. It's a bad one. Things can go radically wrong. Things do go wrong. Lives are in danger."

The humor in "Defenders" often comes from a human reaction to the horrific. "I think one of the things that we've done that maybe a lot of people look upon us as mocking them is that we really try to give a human being's reaction to circumstances. If you're looking at a giant blob rolling down the street at you to eat you, somebody in the crowd is going to go, 'This is really out there, man. This is fucked up. At one point Dr.Strange will say something like, 'He's got all the power in the world. He's got a huge army. He's like unto a god. Let's get him!' and Sub-Mariner goes 'What? Excuse me? Reality Check.'"

As for the man behind the artists chores on the book, Giffen offered high praise for Kevin Maguire's work on "Defenders." "I'd like to go on record as saying Kevin Maguire draws the best Dormammu I've ever seen. And I'm including Ditko in the mix. Sacrilege, but its that good."

The idea for a new "Defenders" mini-series began when Keith, Marc and Kevin we're still working on "Formerly Known as the Justice League" over at the Distinguished Competition. "Kevin and I had always been bouncing around the idea, 'Wouldn't it be cool to go to Marvel and do this kind of thing with Marvel characters?' and 'The Defenders' always came up. I don't know why, its just something we gravitated towards, and it became like this Holy Grail."

Giffen said Editor Tom Breevort's assistant was instrumental in making "The Defenders" idea a reality. "When circumstances lined up that made it prudent for us to go to Marvel, I called Andy Schmidt and we talked and I mentioned Defenders and we'd be interested," Giffen explained. "From then on Andy took the ball and ran with it. That the book exists is as much due to his diligence and pitching it and pitching it and keeping it in people's faces as our desire to want to do it."

Giffen's work for Marvel, which began when he started writing "Thanos," has creatively recharged him. "The 'Thanos' stuff I have fun with it," Giffen said. "I think any time there is a change you can go with it and make the best of it and feed off the new energy or resent what happened to put the change into effect in the first place."

A lot of people seem to think that Giffen hates and resents DC Comics and "Identity Crisis" because of the death of Sue Dibny, who was a prominent character in his "Justice League" stories from the 1980s. This is also untrue. "There's a lot of people out there trying to make a case for me being pissed off at DC and hating 'Identity Crisis,' and being broken hearted about Sue Dibny," Giffen said. " Hey, reality check, Sue Dibny, she's not even real. No, I'm not angry over 'Identity Crisis' or anything that went on it. Do I have issues with DC? I have issues with everybody! No there are no hard feelings and as a matter of fact I read 'Identity Crisis.' It's a good read and I understand why they're doing it. I get it. I really get it."

"The Defenders" is a four-issue mini-series that launches in June, but if it sells well the book could continue as a monthly series, which Giffen hopes will happen. "I can close my eyes and see the first two years," Giffen said "I'd like to introduce a new villain that could eventually become their main Dr.Doom kind of threat because I really believe in putting characters into the old communal pot and contributing to the universe. I'd like to see some lesser-known characters show up and start populating the book. I'd like to get into why people who so intensely dislike one another are constantly working together."

Giffen, Maguire, and DeMatteis's sole purpose on "Defenders" is to provide readers with an entertaining story. "We're doing four issues of what I think is a real fun comic. We're not trying to score points here. We're not trying to say our way is the best way. If you read the book and you come out of the tale end going, 'You know I got a few chuckles out of this and the story didn't blow.' We Win."

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