"The Defenders" #9 definitively shows Matt Fraction ability to deliver on the premise and promise of this series. Our random assortment of heroes are thrown through space and time into a parallel universe that echoes past issues of great comics, but aren't exactly the same. There is a psychedelic pomp on display in grand style that Fraction and Jamie McKelvie both play up perfectly.
This issue is incredibly reference heavy to the point that annotations are almost necessary. There are nods to some very obscure things on nearly every page. However, through the entire issue, the narrative is clear. This isn't an excuse to play cute and forget the overall mission. Fraction and McKelvie still tie everything through a major spy fight and into the next step. They don't lose any substance by adding more gloss and bring something extra each time they allude to back issues.
This comic's strength is often in the disparate characters and the way they carry themselves through situations. Every line and action feels authentic to the character available in the scene, which would be drastically different with another character on the page. This team isn't full of easily interchangeable cookie-cutter generics. Fraction ensures each hero is his or her own unique, fleshed out persona. Danny Rand has an individual perspective and thought process in these scenarios radically different from Doctor Strange or Black Cat.
Jamie McKelvie's art is gorgeous and so well suited to this script. The psychedelic nature of this time/reality hop brings out the best in McKelvie's expressive lines. He knows how to present a character to make readers feel real emotion and stages some fantastic action moments -- the small scene of Nick Fury dropping a whiskey glass while clutching his neck is shown with a canted angle on the frame. It's a cinematic approach parceling up that single frame. There are also two major action splashes that show McKelvie's skill at using every part of the page, left to right, front to back. McKelvie fits an academic level of information in the background and nuances of his work.
"The Defenders" #9 is the best issue of the series so far and a benchmark for the potential of the book. Fraction and McKelvie deliver a whole new world, the speedy descent of its Nick Fury and all the action and strangeness this title needs. The narrative moves in fast, does some damage and moves on. The end leaves the audience entertained with a whole scattering of obvious and subliminal suggestions for other very cool things to check out. Here's hoping the title can keep this high bar aloft as the story of the Concordance Engine continues.