As a concept, The Defenders has had more runs around the block than almost any other Marvel title. It occupies the same space as Blade comics - a concept that once worked, but simply refuses to do so again. Perhaps it’s the “non-team” angle that has been a fairly constant thread throughout each attempt at revival �" the cast often struggles to find a reason to stay together at all, much less any actual direction.
The original Defenders were a motley bunch at the best of times, assembled for no other reason than because people would buy a comic where the Hulk, Silver Surfer, Namor and Dr. Strange were the core cast. Subsequent attempts have tried re-uniting various combinations of cast members ("New Defenders" & Busiek/Larsen’s "The Order") having a rotating cast (as in "Secret Defenders") and recently, a more comedic take on the team by Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire.
Still, Casey is taking a far more sensible approach to the idea, actively jettisoning most of the staple cast in the first issue, a move guaranteed to upset all three remaining Defenders fans. Instead, he constructs a new team, consisting of Nighthawk, a former Defender, Ex-Invader The Blazing Skull, Ex-X-Man Colossus and She-Hulk. Formed under the Initiative’s authority and placed in New Jersey, they’re an almost willfully crap, if apparently straight, take on the concept.
The Initiative, as an idea, is a great launch pad for new team books. Unfortunately, in this case, it’s only thin cover for the fact that these characters don’t remotely belong together. There’s a certain amount of logic to the cast, both because Stark has chosen them to fit a specific dynamic, and because there’s some suggestion (largely from Nighthawk) that he wants the team to fail. Nighthawk’s insecurity as leader is one of the more engaging elements and almost makes me care about the character. What really makes the book, however, is the attitude of the Blazing Skull, a World War 2 veteran who doesn’t care for political correctness, feels at odds the bureaucratic nature of the Initiative, and just wants to get out there and fight the bad guys. As a result, he gets all the best lines.
Art comes from Jim Muniz, who’s looking not unlike an early Ed McGuinness, though a “co-plot” credit for Giffen suggests that some of the more uneven pages may be because Giffen is taking care of breakdowns somewhere along the lines.
Apparently, "The Last Defenders" is pointedly named as such. Quite how that’s going to pan out, I don’t know - so far, the book’s main flaw is that there’s no real hook introduced that makes them anything more than the budget Avengers, a generic super-hero team just like all the other ones, only utilizing third-tier characters. However, with the appearance of Ex-Thunderbolt Atlas in the offing for a future issue, it’s got my interest in the short term. There’s still a chance for it to distinguish itself somehow.