Monday, June 9, 2008

The Last Defenders #4

As their mini-series heads into the home stretch, Nighthawk and his ragtag group of rogue heroes are finally face to face with the piper, and he's looking for a little payment. After going behind the government's back to assemble his own team of Defenders without approval, Nighthawk has finally drawn the attention of Initiative leaders Tony Stark and Henry Peter Gyrich, and they have a few choice words for him. Can the team carry on despite their frequent bending of the Initiative's rules?

Writer Joe Casey is doing a fine job of testing the limits of the very theory of a government-operated superhero program. He's poking and prodding at the little details that wouldn't have been defined by the broad, sweeping us-versus-them ideology of this kind of a program, the real world exceptions that couldn't have been imagined when the Initiative was being concocted. Of course, along the way he's filling the page with giant robots, men in spandex with guns and Altantean warrior princes, but you've gotta have a little something for everybody... it can't be all bureaucracy, all the time.

Casey does a fine job of overlapping his subject matter, too. His superpowered fist fights are generally tempered with a fair dose of intelligence and government-instigated caution, while his explorations into the finer points of the registration program are kept short, meaningful and easy to comprehend. He's asking some difficult questions, but he isn't killing his readers with a series of long-winded, complicated answers afterwards. He also manages quite well considering the cast he's given. Sometimes the big names of the industry can be the most difficult to write, considering the vast histories and continuities they drag along with them. Working here, with a team of comparatively clean slates, Casey is free to explore new directions, to more concretely define who these guys are, what drove them to become that, and where they're headed from here.

Jim Muniz has brought a tight artistic direction to the book, light on actual linework but not on substance. His characters bounce off the page with an animated vibrancy, displaying their emotions with little hesitation. Each individual carries themselves differently, reacts to adversity differently, and Muniz effortlessly gives each Defender a unique identity, while still keeping the layout clean and easy to navigate. His action scenes are wonderfully composed in the same vein as Joe Madureira, a fine blend of billowing smoke clouds, falling bodies and firing superpowers. He knows how to balance the weight of his lines to emphasize the shapes of his characters without oversimplifying their appearance. His one glaring weakness is a tendency to overlook his backdrops, but there's usually enough going on in the foreground that any amount of attention to the surroundings would only serve to complicate and overdo an otherwise-beautiful composition. This is a really strong showing for Muniz, who I'm hoping to see more from in the near future.

This is a fine read, a different look at the Initiative program and the Marvel Civil War in general. We've seen the perspectives of the dedicated pro-reg and anti-reg heroes, but here we get a peek at the much more vast grey area in between the two. The Defenders agree in principle with the idea of government-sponsored super teams, but they don't think the Initiative has it right. It's a more realistic look at what would surely be a polarizing real world issue, and as a result it's quite refreshing. With intelligent writing and crisp artwork, Last Defenders is easily worth borrowing, and may yet transition into a must-buy. Keep an eye on it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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