Today I’ve got a comprehensive update to a team guide – The Defenders – The Definitive Collecting Guide and Reading Order!
The Defenders have waited a long time for their year in the spotlight – since their debut as a team in 1972! Finally, 45 years later, it’s The Defenders time to shine with their own Netflix series and no Avengers or X-Men movies to outshine them.
But, wait… do these 2017 Defenders have anything to do with their 1972 counter-parts?
It’s kind of a long story, but I’ve got the Cliff Notes for you Keep reading to learn all the highlights, including Defenders 1972 vs Defenders 2017, all the newest collections, and the overall percentage of Defenders comics we’ve seen collected in color.
Who are The Defenders?
The Defenders were one thing up until this year, and now they’re something else.
Originally, The Defenders could be thought of as a sort of “Doctor Strange Team-Up.” That’s because their formation was an outgrowth of what was meant to be the final arc of his 1968 series, but instead spilled over into Namor and Hulk’s titles when Strange was cancelled. The team later added Silver Surfer to form its original quartet and soon thereafter Valkyrie for Marvel’s typical Silver Age “Dudes and One Lady” formula.
That gave The Defenders a few distinct characteristics that would maintain throughout many of their subsequent runs. They were a mismatched team of loners and cast-offs. They were defending Earth and our reality from a frequently more-esoteric and often-mystical set of threats than The Avengers.
Finally, in many instances, the Defenders power levels are quite high for Marvel team book standards. That would eventually decrease during the original run, the middle of which starts to resemble the Netflix incarnation with members like Luke Cage and Hellcat.
The Marvel Universe on Netflix has altered that Defenders definition in a way that was immediately reflected in the comics this year. Netflix’s Defenders are a street-level, lower-powered team dedicated to protecting a city and community from problems that might be too small for the globe-trotting Avengers to notice.
While the change of concept was annoying when first announced at the beginning of the Marvel/Netflix deal, after a few years of development it makes a lot more sense. Where the classic Defenders lacked for definition and often felt like an Avengers B-team, this new iteration feels distinct from The Avengers (and actually solves a lot of the scope creep of The Avengers being a name for any kind of heroes doing anything anywhere).
Getting started with The Defenders
While there are a few repeated foes and tropes across multiple runs of Defenders, they aren’t a team with an overall continuity in the same manner as the X-Men. Thus, getting started is less about where to jump into the story and more about where there are enjoyable chunks to read.
If you want the classic beginnings of The Defenders (and especially if you enjoy Doctor Strange), you can start with their first Marvel Masterworks. Keep in mind, these are Silver Age comics – they might read in a clunky way to you.
If you like the loose concept of The Defenders protecting our reality but want something modern, read The Defenders by Matt Fraction in Volume 1 and Volume 2. It’s a dizzying, high-concept, self-contained story that’s cut slightly short, but it’s still a fun read.
Finally, if you dig Netflix’s street-level Defenders, you can leap directly to Defenders (2017), Vol. 1: Diamonds Are Forever, out next month. However, you might also want to check out the 2013 Mighty Avengers title, which features a similar cast and scope to the new comic and Netflix show. (In fact, during Secret Wars, that title actually became Captain Britain and Mighty Defenders for two issues).
The Newest Collections
2016 saw a lot of collected Defenders, and 2017 continues the trend with a pair of big gap-filling collections plus one new one.
First, Marvel finished collecting the 1990s Secret Defenders series with Deadpool and the Secret Defenders. Nevermind you that Deadpool is only in a trio of issues of the 14 in this collection – he sells books! (FYI, the first half was christened Doctor Strange and the Secret Defenders and released last fall to take advantage of his movie buzz, but Strange is actually in the title.)
Then, at the end of August Marvel released Defenders Epic Collection: Ashes, Ashes (Epic Vol. 7). This gave us our first color reprints of #110-111 & 115-121, meaning we now have the entire end of the 1972 series covered in color reprints and just a decreasing gap in the middle to fill in. (More on that below.)
Finally, as mentioned above, Defenders (2017), Vol. 1: Diamonds Are Forever collects the first arc of the Bendis-penned, TV-friendly team-up of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.
Maybe You Missed…
If you just saw Thor: Ragnarok and are loving some Valkyrie, she’s a classic Defenders member that probably won’t have much to do with the new team. However, you can get a massive Valkyrie and Misty Knight fix from Fearless Defenders, a Marvel Now title that was only tangentially Defenders-esque.
Instead, it was more like “Women of Marvel Team-Up” headlined by that awesome pair of worthy warriors (plus Danielle Moonstar and Clea), and it was a blast to read from front to back. Read it all in Vol. 1: Doom Maidens and Vol. 2: The Most Fabulous Fighting Team of All.
Current Collection Status
How well-covered are The Defenders in reprints? Let’s take a look! Note that this chart includes the forthcoming Defenders Marvel Masterworks Volume 6 in its tally.
|1969||Before The Defenders||8||8||8|
|1992||“Return of the Defenders” Annuals||4||4||4|
|2001||The Defenders, Vol. 2||12||0||0|
|2005||The Defenders, Vol. 3||5||5||5|
|2008||The Last Defenders||6||6||6|
|2011||Fear Itself: The Deep||4||4||4|
|2012||The Defenders, Vol. 4||12||12||12|
|2017||Defenders, Vol. 5 [Netflix team]||6||6||6|
That’s a solid showing for a team that’s spanned decades with an inconsistent line-up, but it’s even more exciting when you realize that 71 of those color issues have been reprinted in just a two year period from the middle of 2016 to May of 2018.
That means if I had written this post at the beginning of 2016, the color coverage wouldn’t even cross the 50% mark!
I suspect we’ll see another Defenders Epic Collection in 2018, but it’s most-likely to be Volume 1, so we won’t get any new coverage there. Perhaps with Hulk and Doctor Strange in Infinity War we could finally get a Complete Collection of the 2001 series plus The Order, which now represents the longest gap in the series’ reprint chronology.
Want to know how to own nearly three quarters of all Defenders issues ever printed? Head to the Guide to Defenders to fill in the gaps in your collect.