Several months ago now, we reviewed the first issue of Fearless Defenders, the all-female team book written by Cullen Bunn and drawn by Will Sliney. The book was recently canceled, and last Wednesday, the final issue appeared in comic shops.
You’ll notice I didn’t say ‘a fond farewell’ in the title. Well, that’ll be because I had a very strained relationship with this book. In theory, I was very excited for it when it was announced. Fearless Defenders predated X-Men, Marvel’s other all-ladies team book, by several months, and I wished the best for it and from it; I really did. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver.
This is a book that only remained on my pull list by the sheer fact of its existence: I didn’t want to not support a lady-led book, especially one with such a diverse cast and so many queer ladies. Money speaks, and I wanted to make sure Marvel knew what I was saying.
Honestly, though, I feel relieved that this book has been taken off the shelves. It rubbed me the wrong way for a wide variety of reasons, and I felt sort of trapped into buying it despite how much I disliked it.
First and foremost, I still can’t figure out why in seven hells Will Sliney was given this assignment. His art is kind of terrible to begin with, and it’s exacerbated by the ubiquity of awful, Escher-girl tits-and-ass poses in every action scene. Furthermore, Sliney became rather defensive when called out on how cheesecake-y his art was, which is a really annoying response. If a huge portion of a female fanbase tells a man he’s being sexist, they probably should be listened to and not dismissed.
It was a strange and glorious relief to read issue #7, which featured guest artist Stephanie Hans and was gorgeous and respectful—everything the book should have been every issue. If they couldn’t have replaced Sliney with her, they could have at least had Mark Brooks, who did the wildly awesome covers, to do the insides of the book as well.
I was on board with Cullen Bunn’s writing for most of the series, although it was a little too flippant with the fourth wall than I would have liked. The biggest issue in the series was his introducing of a new lesbian character in Dr. Annabelle Riggs and then later killing her off as a way to cause angst for Valkyrie, her romantic interest at the time. The fact that Annabelle was brought back in the next issue as a soul time-sharing a body with Valkyrie seemed like a “Gotcha!” to everyone who was shocked and upset by her death.
The nail in the coffin for me story-wise, though, was issue #9, which was like a weird pseudo-feminist misandry love letter. The stand-alone issue featured a number of male former Defenders, from Dr. Strange to Venom to Hercules, shooting the shit in a bar and waiting for the current all-female Defenders to show up. The guys, in a weirdly heavy-handed patriarchal way, want to make sure the girls are doing Defending the right way—their way. Meanwhile, the women are late because they encountered some bad guys on the street outside the bar, and spend the issue clearly showing the reader that they know exactly how to go about their business. I think in a way this issue was supposed to be a giant fuck you to all the fanboys who were upset that an all-female Defenders book got greenlit in the first place, but using a bunch of usually nuanced superdudes as stand-ins for fedora-clad grumps just left a bad taste in my mouth. Feminism isn’t about making guys look bad or stupid—it’s just about women getting their equal due.
Until female-centric stories are given their fair share of priority by comics publishers, I’m going to continue to support books that feature lots of ladies. I don’t believe this book was canceled, as some might say, because ladies don’t read comics—I think it was canceled because ladies had no interest in reading a semi-terrible story with art that was definitely not targeting female readers. Unfortunately, Fearless Defenders was a prime example of the fact that just having a lot of women does not necessarily make a work feminist or even good at all. If you were considering picking it up, I would respectfully recommend you spend your money on X-Men, Captain Marvel, Young Avengers, or even Hawkeye instead (hey, Kate Bishop is on fire these days).