"Defenders" #7, although smack in the middle of a storyline, feels fresh and clean and more like a nod to old-school "Strange Tales" than a modern-day issue of "Defenders." That's due in large part to the issue opening with a lengthy Black Cat sequence that covers nearly one-third of the issue. Fraction produces a secret society interested in artifacts and has secured the talents of Black Cat to acquire them. It's a fun romp that gives Black Cat a chance to shine, but it doesn't do much to sell this book as "Defenders."
When the Defenders do finally appear, they're flying in a plane piloted by Silver Surfer (really) on their way to Wakanda. Naturally, that serves up an appearance by the Black Panthers: T'Challa and Shuri. Black Panther (T'Challa) appearing in this issue is a highlight and Marvel could certainly do worse than to bring the Dodsons back to work on him in the near future. The Dodsons' tightly polished artwork, punched up by Sonia Oback's colors, blend the Panthers nicely into this issue while helping to define Wakanda in a visually striking manner worthy of closer exploration.
Fraction writes a relaxed T'Challa, which is quite a contrast to some other writers' take on the one-time ruler. It's refreshing and sells Panther as a ready ally, not a sneaky acquaintance, and the character fits in nicely with Red She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange and Iron Fist. In a nice bit of cross-marketing, Fraction seizes the opportunity of Panther's appearance in this issue to use his margin messages to promote the Essential Black Panther trade.
Naturally, as can only happen in comics, Panther's journey with the Defenders is set for a collision course with Black Cat. That impact will occur in the next issue as Jamie McKelvie replaces the Dodsons on art. For now, however, the Dodsons do a great job of making this one of the most enjoyable issues of the Defenders to date. This title opened with a visit to Wundagore and the inclusion of Black Cat, Black Panther and Wakanda simply solidifies the wide-ranging nature of this comic while giving those marginal characters and locations a chance to shine.
"Defenders" is a book that has vexed me more often than not lately, largely due to the extra dollar in the pricepoint. With this issue, Marvel tacks on a free digital code, which helps justify the four quarters a bit -- and combined with the apparent direction of this title, this book has fresh legs.