It’s not the popular opinion, but here is one woman thrilled to hear about the cancellation of Cullen Bunn and Will Silney‘s Fearless Defenders. The apparently too-small (despite the outpouring of lamentation across the internets) community of its readers, however, are understandably distraught about it. I say understandably, because the most common lament is about the loss of an all-female ass-kicking team of some of the coolest superladies in comics.
It’s true. The comic promised new life for fan favorites who’ve been lost in blurry backgrounds of splash pages and random panels across Marvel comics for some time now. Fearless Defenders was supposed to give us a no-nonsense leader in the born-leader Misty Knight, a powerful Dani Moonstar unleashed from the strictures of X-Men adolescence, and a snarky Elsa Bloodstone rescued from the obscurity of third-tier heroics, serving up one delightfully geeky bouquet of big personalities and heavy hitters. But instead it gave us “Ya Ya” feminism and a thinly-veiled boyhood fantasy realization starring Valkyrie.
Cullen Bunn even admits in the issue #1 letters column that he was all about this project because he’s always wanted to write Valkyrie. And the preference shows… Valkyrie had an interesting storyline, complete with a one-sided lesbian love affair, a little existential rage beast dilemma, and a mission from god or something (one that she basically lazily failed at). And every other character was just kind of there… for some flimsy reason or another; it certainly can’t be because they actually like each other. Their chemistry is basically defined by caustic sarcasm, bravado, and what looks like barely concealed tolerance of each other. Seriously, the motivations for each character to be a part of this new all-women team were about as flimsy as Misty’s belly shirt.
Taking a bunch of awesome characters, each of whom could easily lead their own comic, and turning them into Valkyrie side-kicks is just the first problem. As great as it’d be to see another all-female team in comic book land, there are just so many other reasons I’m so very unsad to see this comic go:
2. We’re women and we’re so awesome! Girl power! Ya! Superheroes or Spice Girls?
Feminism is awesome. A superhero team comprised of all women is awesome. Given the fact that there have been so so many all-men super teams throughout comics history, it’s pretty sad that there haven’t been more all-women teams. But it’s probably because whenever the women get together to do some bad guy punching they’re so distracted by the fact that they’re all-women that they spend the whole time cheering about it and sticking their tongues out at their boyfriends who didn’t think they could do it.
Yea… so there was an entire issue dedicated to the men in these women’s lives being all wompy and imposing their textbook male privilege on their womenfolk by trying to encourage them to disband. The women, though, are of course too strong for all of that nonsense so they show off their baddie-punching skills they roll their eyes at the menfolk and promptly humiliate them for their efforts. Female empowerment is awesome, but issue #9 read like a third graders review of the Spice Girls movie.
Compare Fearless Defenders to Brian Wood’s all-female team in X-Men and be ready for a study in contrast.
2. Did you know that lesbian women are attracted to all other lesbian women always?!
Okay. Annabelle Riggs was awesome, a great redeeming quality of the series. She was a marvelous contrast, and later a great and almost too literal foil, to the high, mighty, I’m-basically-a-god Valkyrie. And it’s wonderful to see more LGBTQ characters in comics, but, as many fans expressed frustration about, she was basically “put in a fridge” with the whole body-switching nonsense, which seemed more like an easy out from having to actually explore Annabelle’s crush on Valkyrie and Valkyrie’s (not-exactly) rejection. Then, just in issue #10, came another hit. A second lesbian character appeared! And lo! Annabelle immediately gaydar-ed her and was trying to tap that (possibly statutory style…), because, apparently, lesbian women in the Marvel universe are so thirsty for it that they basically set the bar at “is she gay?”
3. The covers…
Everyone’s been harping on this one. Some fall on the side of “they’re fun!” and others are squarely in the camp of “wtf?” The covers were indeed fun, drawing on different concepts and pop culture fads, like a paper doll Valkyrie. Fun! I’d love to see something like that in the letters column or in a back promo page or something, but does that really belong on the cover? I suppose it depends what you think covers are for, but I think most comics artists would probably agree that the cover should in some way capture or represent the story that the issue tells… ideally. Too often with Fearless Defenders it was a serious stretch. And their worst they gave the impression that the content would be as frivolous as the covers. Of course there are other types of gimmicky covers, like the ones that tease a superhero’s death or otherwise dramatize what happens inside to get you to pick it up. So maybe Silney and Bunn were going for a spoiler-free, drama-free, anti-marketing strategy or something… Either way, the cover is what gets folk to pick it up in the store. So if sales were the problem…
4. We Don’t Have to Throwout the Heroes With the Comic!
The biggest reason I’m not sad to see this comic go is that with the death of Fearless Defenders the dope super women who composed the team now have a chance to join other teams and become major players in other comics. While Fearless Defenders was pretty bad, it did give us a Misty Knight, Dani Moonstar, Elsa Bloodstone, and Annabelle-possessed Valkyrie back in action. So maybe other heroes in the Marvel verse will get word that these ladies are taking names and, given all the crazy ish going down with the Avengers, maybe they’ll give them a call. I hear Luke Cage and crew could use a hand.
Here’s hoping a strong writer with some solid knowledge of and enthusiasm for the characters will get her hands on some of these heroes and do them justice. That’s not to say Cullen Bunn is a bad writer. Not at all. The man has shown his chops on several other titles including The Sixth Gun, but this was like a bad marriage, or better yet like a polygamous marriage where Valkyrie was wifey #1 and everybody else got cleaning duty.
It’s sad to see an all-female super team composed of such amazing characters go, but (barring our high hopes of seeing some of them lead their own comics) we’d rather see them well-written. In all fairness Fearless Defenders had some good elements (like Annabelle Riggs!) but they were mixed in with a lot of bad. Representation is only part of the equation; the bigger problem facing women characters in comics is how they’re represented. And sorry, but we can do better; we don’t have to settle for just any old female-led comic.