Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney's "Fearless Defenders" has suffered from growing pains since inception. While the writing and character work is coming together nicely, "Fearless Defenders" #12 still has serious art problems to work out before this book can be considered a contender.
Bunn's feisty tone and sassy energy on this book has really gelled in the last couple issues. He's got a great handle on the voices, and the characters are blending well together amidst the bombastic dark skewing adventure he weaves. The writer assembles a magnificent group of superheroine guest stars from Hellcat to She-Hulk. He gets some good jokes and decent mileage out of some of the extremely brief pairings while others (I'm looking at you, Storm and Captain Marvel) come off as nothing more than awkward needless exposition. Still, it's hard to remember a time this many Marvel women were assembled together on the page, and using Misty Knight's "Heroes For Hire" gig as the catalyst is brilliant.
Sliney is getting better with every issue. His take on Valkyrie, Misty Knight, Dani Moonstar, Hippolyta and even Dr. Annabelle Riggs is stronger and far more consistent than readers have seen in previous issues. Sliney also does a good job with the massive guest-starring cast, which is no small feat. Unfortunately, the action scenes are terrible. It's hard to tell what the action is in each panel as everything is far too busy and crowded. It all just looks like random destruction. There's zero suspense and it's impossible to care or get excited by any of it because it's plain difficult to discern. In many cases, the wrong moment has been chosen, as if whatever came just before or just after would have been superior to what actually appears. In a book that is basically a giant battle (and one that should have been incredibly cool), it's a huge problem.
Even worse than the failed action however is that the entire issue builds to a climactic change in Valkyrie -- both emotionally and physically -- both of which fall utterly flat. As readers, we're supposed to be absolutely floored by Val's transformation and the implied and outright implications of it. But as rendered, it's a non-event. If not for Bunn's writing, I wouldn't realize that anything particularly special had happened at all.
"Fearless Defenders" is a book I want to love, this issue even more than the previous, considering the absolute dream cast and glorious guest stars. Bunn has found a tone and style that is really gelling, but the art is just wrong. It's ill-chosen tonally, and not quite at the skill level it needs to be for this book to survive, let alone thrive. Marvel is quick to cancel books that don't perform, but I hope they'll give "Fearless Defenders" the time to find its groove and the right artist, before cutting its life short.