Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney wrap up their run of "Fearless Defenders" with issue twelve, and a cast packed to the gills with fascinating female characters from both sides of the aisle. Valkyrie's assembled "Sheildmaidens/Defenders" face off with Caroline LeFay and her villainous Doom Maiden cohorts in a muddled battle whose stakes were never quite clear.
Bunn generally does a nice job of wrapping things up here, and the reveal feels not like a cliffhanger but like a natural segue introducing the return of an intriguing villain. However, the book does feel rushed, perhaps simply because he had intended to have more time. The battles, despite including impressive players and three double page spreads, fail to feel sufficiently epic, in part because the stakes themselves are not entirely clear. In the end, the battle especially feels inconsequential and most characters have little to do except pose. Similarly, the emotional beats, though Bunn does his best to tie things up and bring us to natural, if not complete, resolutions, feel shortchanged, especially what he began with Annabelle and Valkyrie.
The biggest problem on this book, and has been since its inception, is the artwork. Sliney is a talented illustrator, but he's simply not playing at a level high enough or consistent enough for this book to look the way it needs to look. Some pages are gorgeous and appear painstakingly rendered, while others feel incredibly thin, with poorly constructed facial expressions, weak storytelling choices, and impossible anatomy. While it's true that the cast Sliney has to deal with was large to begin with and became insanely massive -- a challenge for any artist -- time and again the pages just do not live up to the demands of the story and characters. This issue especially starts strong, with lovingly rendered pages, and quickly devolves into bad anatomy, poor storytelling choices, and inconsistent execution. The double page spreads, intended to invoke the feeling of an epic battle, instead just feel like pretty pin ups that when examined fall apart, the characters appearing more as models posing, rather than warriors battling. To add insult to injury a few anatomy choices are laughable.
When it comes to "Fearless Defenders" there was simply an embarrassment of riches when it came to the characters on display, especially toward the end. It's perhaps that embarrassment of riches that ultimately held this book back, because it never managed to be quite as good as its cast demanded, and in fairness to everyone involved, sometimes less is more. It's hard to give everyone their due in a book so loaded with great characters. For example, the great Elsa Bloodstone has literally one line and no real actions in this issue. Still, for all its weaknesses, Bunn and Sliney clearly loved what they were doing, and I sincerely hope that Marvel continues to see experiments like "Fearless Defenders" less as failures and more as opportunities to learn from so that they may try again.