Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!

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Marvel continue to tempt me with their extraordinary cover designs that are leaving many other publishers in the shade. Coming to Fearless Defenders blind of recent continuity, I had high hopes for this all female line-up, and was promptly swept off my feet.

fearless defenders 02 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!
Fearless Defenders #1 was an impulse buy – I picked it up along with a few other titles on the shelves on my new journey of Marvel discovery after being impressed by Hawkeye and Young Avengers. I’d heard a little about the new book from Bunn and Sliney but I hadn’t paid much attention as it didn’t seem to feature characters I immediately recognised. It was the cover that leapt out at me – two women fighting off the villainous hordes, in practical yet sexy clothing (no heels!), fighting back to back with sword, axe, and guns, and hey… a bionic arm? Whaddaya know, I do remember Misty Knight!

fearless defenders 01 197x300 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!Both the first and second issues take their time introducing the various players, with Misty taking centre stage in #1, kicking ass and taking names. Her friend, archaeologist Dr. Annabelle Riggs is sweet and slightly reckless, accidentally unleashing the aforementioned hordes, leading to the appearance of the mighty Valkyrie. As she and Misty do their stuff, the dynamic of this title really comes to the fore – it’s a buddy cop comic essentially, the two of them trading on their different personalities to provide highly entertaining banter as a team of strong women forms around them. The plain talking Misty and the very Asgardian Valkyrie mesh well together almost immediately, the writer sidestepping the all too familiar trope of having lead ladies clash their personalities for pointless melodrama.

fearless defenders 03 200x300 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!And speaking of pointless melodrama, let’s have a quick peek at the general reaction to #1 on the internet. Ah yes, “pointless”, “fanservice”, “socially inept”, “gratuitous”, “ill timed and forced”, and “pandering”. Whatever could these people be talking about? Well you know already of course, it’s the kiss between Annabelle and Valkyrie, the former planting a surprise smooch when saved by the latter. No more out of place you might think that the many women who reward Stark, Storm or Odinson with a quick lip attack after being saved from a burning building/tweet/spaceship and certainly less awkward than the costumes-stay-on sex favoured by Gotham’s finest, yet because both kisser and kissee were in this case both women, it gets called pandering. And the non-straight women who read comics rose up and replied, hell yes, pander me harder.

fearless defenders 04 200x300 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!If Valkyrie swoops to your rescue the next time you’re being attacked by the undead, I defy you not to want to kiss her. Annabelle just had the ovaries to go ahead and do so, time from her perspective slowing down to savour the moment, and the Asgardian warrior did not seem terribly put out. On the contrary, #2 hints that it might be something she’d like to revisit at a later date, if you know what I am saying, hurr hurr.

If the cover to the first issue was enough to hook me, the second was what put it on my pull list. Well, the cover and the last page combined. Which I’m not going to spoil even though I really want to. Bah.

In this issue we are introduced to Dani Moonstar, and while my vintage Marvel reading did prod my memory with regard to Valkyrie and Misty, I admit that with Dani I was at a bit of a loss. However, enough information was fed to me in a few pages to give me some background, and I think prove that this book is very accessible for any new readers. And she pretty much kicks ass, despite the lack of powers. What really hit me again in this issue – and it’s a shame that this is something that leaps out – is again the lack of overt sexualisation of the characters. They are powerful and sexy women sure, but they are portrayed as heroes rather than just hot girls with their clothes torn off in towering heels.

fearless defenders 05 200x300 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!It’s a little slower than the first issue, perhaps inevitable for plot building, but the opening sequence with Dani is terrific, as is the small diner scene between Valkyrie, Misty and Annabelle. Valkyrie’s failure to find new shield maidens is interesting given just how saturated this universe is with superwomen, and how readily she teams up with her new friends. I’m interested to see where this is all leading.

Each issue has been deliciously self-contained, demanding the reader is desperate for the next issue while also layering the characterisation deftly. It’s a bold move to be in the second issue and still have one of the three main players completely separate but it works well here, both in the short term and (I’d imagine) for the trade collection.

Yes there are tits. There is indeed ass. But for the first time, I get the sense that this is cheesecake that isn’t being aimed primarily at the male readers. There is a whole other demographic out there that loves reading about smart, sassy women who happen to be fantastically gorgeous without being objectified for the male gaze.

As a self-confessed fan of Catwoman, and an ardent supporter of more diversity in women characters in comics, my mantra is frequently this: “There’s nothing wrong with cheesecake. But it’s not all we want to eat.” In this case however… well this is damn fine and well written cheesecake.

fearless 01 150x150 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!fearless 02 150x150 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!fearless 03 150x150 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!

fearless 04 150x150 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!fearless 05 150x150 Mini Marvels: Fearless Defenders, Cheesecake for Women!

PS – can I get my Catwoman/Nightwing cheesecake now please DC?

Fearless Defenders #2
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Will Sliney
Colourist: Veronica Gandini
Cover Artist: Mark Brooks
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Ellie Pyle
Publisher: Marvel

[Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter]

Comments

  1. Leandro M. Duarte says:

    Great write-up. So far I’ve only read the first issue, but it left me wanting for more. It was a bit slight, yes, but it was fun and, being a US$ 2,99 book, I’m willing to overlook some of the shortcomings.

    People have criticized the book for the supposedly cheesecaky poses of the female cast. To some extent I agree: Misty Knight surely has a high capability of bending her back. However, that problem hasn’t afflicted any other of the cast members, which makes me think that Misty Knight’s poses are an attempt to convey personality by the way the characters move and phisically behave. It could be toned down a bit, but it is not completely gratuitous.

    And those covers??? This book has some of the best covers.

  2. Pink Apocalypse says:

    Because nothing says ‘feminist empowerment’ like fighting fuck-toys! Especially when they cater to male gaze and ‘lesbian’ fantasies! Yay!!

  3. Slade says:

    Dr. Riggs is cute, but I’d rather see Val hook-up with Moonstar. :)

  4. Mark Brooks is wayyyyy too good an artist to be drawing covers for a Cullen Bunn book. Can we get him doing interiors on something good?

  5. Nice review! I enjoyed the book too, and Bunn has been doing great things in comics lately!

  6. Carter says:

    I generally don’t care one way or the other about the kiss or sexuality of the characters but I am *extremely* bothered by the way Valkerie’s, um, chest-protection is drawn. It’s so unnatural looking that it’s the aspect of the book that feels like pandering. Even on the covers. It’s like she has the worst porn-boob-job ever. How they let that by when reviewing her costume baffles me.

  7. Synsidar says:

    I looked at the FEARLESS DEFENDERS #2 cover–you’re right. The metal cones jutting out from her chest make no sense as clothing, and since they’re not weapons– If she’s going to wear leather, then provide her with a leather top that is actual clothing. It’s as though the people at Marvel Editorial think that unless she has those cones, she’s just not the Valkyrie.

    SRS

  8. It’s not so bad with the full armour set from FD 4 and FD 5’s covers. I can see how people who’ve just been introduced to the character feel it’s pandering. On the other hand, that’s really been her outfit (mostly sans pants…so I’m glad she at least now has those) for 40 years…a fair chunk of it as a fairly haughty misandrist of a demigoddess.

    They’ve tried different outfits on her before (there’s been an all gold one and a white one)…and they just haven’t quite clicked. Her sword even used to have the power to conjure up any outfit she wanted, hah. I imagine, if this series does well though, we might get a chance at getting a new casual attire for her. At least, maybe for when she does street level missions. Like, she wore jeans and a pretty sweet leather jacket over her “armour ” in one of the early issues of Secret Avengers a couple of years ago.

    As a longterm fan of the specific character, I’ve gotten used to just suspending my disbelief on that part of her get-up, especially since, well, it does have slightly more basis than, say, Wonder Woman’s bustier. Then again, it’d be nice if they could move away from Wagner when they conjure up Valkyrie. Honestly, for the moment, the full metal get up is a pretty good alternate, even with the impractical cones.

  9. Carter says:

    Oh, I’m familiar with her character and her outfit and I know that’s a traditional part of her costume. I just can’t imagine the logic of giving her a new, more modern, less cheesecakey look by giving her pants but then looking at those two half-cannonballs on her chest and saying, “Yeah, let’s keep those. In fact, let’s make them super obvious.”

    At no point did they bother me in, say, Secret Avengers. Here? Totally pulls me out of the comic.

  10. The Beat says:

  11. Pink Apocalypse – “Because nothing says ‘feminist empowerment’…”, including this review? Cheesecake that has gone down well with many women readers, particularly non-straight women, is not the same as a feminist text for a myriad of reasons.

    Carter – hopefully we’ll see more of Valkyrie in her civvies, as in #2 you do see a little and it’s clear her bust isn’t quite that ginormous. Mind, as an Asgardian Goddess she can have big bazoombas if she wishes :D

    Perhaps if the silver was toned down a tad, like with Thor’s less vintage outfits?

    Heidi – misandry, omg :P

  12. lcg16 says:

    Hmm…maybe it is that. If they actually coloured it more like well-worn armour, instead of polishing it up shiny…More steel than silver, it won’t be so obvious. Then again, the generally drabber colour scheme in Secret Avengers didn’t make it seem so obvious, in general. And yeah, just like any armour, I think it’s not like…its completely fitted to the body part it contains.

    At the same time, they were really showing off her bod in certain issues in SA as well, and in a definitely more male gaze oriented way than here, I’d think. The only difference was she wasn’t always in her usual armour, due to the undercover situations.

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