Want more Defenders? How about heading to the source for the reading that will tide you over until the next Netflix series comes out?
But first, let’s get this out of the way: while the comic book Defenders are mostly like their Netflix counterparts, there are some surprising differences. For example, in the comics:
- Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are married, and a have a kid (whose super-power is adorableness).
- Luke “Power Man” Cage and Danny “Iron Fist” Rand have had a long partnership as “Heroes for Hire”.
- Danny Rand has had a long-running romantic relationship with Misty Knight, who has a bionic arm.
- Misty Knight and Colleen Wing have had a long partnership in the “The Daughters of the Dragon” private investigators firm.
- Matt “Daredevil” Murdock has had a long history with Elektra and The Hand, who have nothing to do with Iron Fist’s mystical hometown, K’un Lun.
If you watched Defenders closely, you might have noticed that some of the above may still happen on TV. If you haven’t, you may want to check out our spoiler-free review here, and re-examine your life choices.
Meanwhile, the comics are slowly re-inventing themselves to look more like Netflix.
So let’s explore:
There have been 181 issues of four comic book series titled The Defenders since 1971, not counting annuals, crossovers and the five issues of Giant-Size Defenders. (The book was giant-size, not the characters.)
You can ignore all those.
Read instead the latest The Defenders series, which is the fifth to bear that name but the first to star Luke Cage, Daredevil, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones. They are currently battling a mysteriously resurrected Diamondback (here he’s just Luke’s childhood frenemy, not his half-brother).
It’s a good read, written by Marvel superstar Brian Michael Bendis (the dialogue about Luke thinking Daredevil’s real name is “Gary” is laugh-out-loud funny), with lovely photo-realistic art by David Marquez. Oh, and you also get appearances by The Punisher; Night Nurse (who is Linda Jane Carter in the comics, not Claire Temple); Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich not dead in the comics); and Spider-Man foes Black Cat, Hammerhead, and Kingpin.
The Defenders 5.0 is currently on its fourth issue, so it should be easy to catch up.
When discussing Daredevil, the Unwritten Rules of Comics Journalism require writers to remind everyone that it was Frank Miller who put the character on the map with The Elektra Saga in the early 80s. Those issues, available in more reprint formats than you can shake a fidget spinner (RIP) at, introduced Stick and Elektra; established Bullseye, The Hand and Kingpin as Daredevil enemies; and changed Daredevil himself from a low-selling acrobat/boxer to the popular acrobat/ninja he is today.
But there is a lot more to Daredevil than that. It’s worth starting with Daredevil by Mark Waid Vol. 1, a hardback that collects the first seven issues of a long run by writer Mark Waid and artist Christ Samnee. It’s almost the opposite of the cynical, rough-edged Miller run, with a much more light-hearted DD and smooth, fluid illustration. If you like it, there are many more volumes by this award-winning duo, most of them gems.
We’ll also throw in Daredevil: Back in Black Vol. 2 - Supersonic, a collection from the current series. It’s a well-done title, written by Charles Soule with a variety of artists, and this particular run features Elektra, so you get an idea where these two crazy kids stand with each other currently.
There aren’t a lot of great solo Cage stories; the character seems to work better in a group setting. But the first nine issues of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, available in a variety of reprint formats, are always recommended reading, because that title includes the scene where Cage travels to Latveria to collect on a bill owed by Dr Doom. Seriously, he wants his money.
Danny Rand’s first 15-issue series was drawn by legendary artist John Byrne, and is one of the best. But for the “wow” factor, check out Immortal Iron Fist Vol. 2: The Seven Cities of Heaven. Written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, with art by David Aja and others, this is the story that explosively expanded and explored the Iron Fist mythology.
Fraction and Brubaker had already introduced the idea that Iron Fist was a title, and had introduced the previous one, a soldier of fortune named Randall Orson. In Seven Cities, Rand discovers that K’un Lun is just one of seven mystical cities, and each has its own “immortal” champion, including Bride of Nine Spiders, Dog Brother No. One, Fat Cobra, Prince of Orphans, Steel Phoenix and Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter. This being comics, he had to fight them all in a tournament - reminiscent of Enter the Dragon, one of the movies that launched the kung fu fad of the 70s, which in turn gave us Iron Fist to begin with.
Power Man and Iron Fist
We said these guys had a long history!
To get the skinny on how these two mismatched characters became friends and partners, plus a lot of Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, look no farther than Power Man and Iron Fist: Heroes for Hire Epic Collection Vol. 1, which collects their first 23 issues together.
That’s pretty pricey, so if you’re on a budget, the most recent Power Man and Iron Fist series (2016-17) is pretty good. Featuring the characters after Luke’s marriage has broken up the Heroes for Hire team, it’s got a lot of humour and heart, although the art is a little too cartoony for my taste.
Check out Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Boys Are Back in Town for the first six issues.
Jessica Jones first appeared in her own series, titled Alias, which was more-or-less adapted to Netflix in the first season of Jessica Jones.
Her second series, The Pulse, is pretty important in that it was here, while she was working for The Daily Bugle, that her pregnancy by Luke Cage was revealed. But it came across as overly familiar territory, without the couldn’t-care-less sizzle of Alias.
All gifs via GIPHY
Which is why I’m recommending her current series, named simply Jessica Jones. It reunites the original Alias team - writer Brian Michael Bendis, cover artist David Mack and interior artist Michael Gaydos - so it might as well be a continuation of that sensational first series. Except that Jones is married and has a kid, of course, which is a formidable set of responsibilities for a private investigator.
Jessica Jones is on its 11th issue, so it should be easy to catch up on the whole series, especially with one trade paperback already out.
Which should keep everyone busy and happy until November. That’s when The Punisher arrives on Netflix, and new reading assignments will be handed out!