The quality of art is always fluctuating on this book as new artists rotate in and out every issue or two, but this month is definitely a high point. Jamie McKelvie, assisted by Mike Norton, hits numerous visual home runs. My favorite was easily the page where Black Cat finds John Aman's treasure room. First there's a gorgeous splash page revealing to both the reader and Black Cat all of Aman's innumerable, incredible possessions, and then in the corner we get a close-up panel of Felicia's unadulterated joy over the discovery. I guess it worked for me mostly because you don't often get that kind of absolute elation from a character, especially in the middle of a kingdom constructed out of its ruler's victims' bones. Which reminds me, the details of the horrible backgrounds of Z'Gambo were also expertly drawn, as was the deep horror our heroes feel in the face of it.
And speaking of excellent drawings of our heroes, there are two Defenders-in-action panels in this issue that Marvel needs to blow up into posters or billboards and use as advertising for the series. For the first time since the title began, The Defenders really looked and behaved like a team, and it gave this issue a powerful boost. Just in time for this new level of teamwork, we have the emergence of a remarkably powerful and dangerous bad guy, John Aman. Although he's been setting himself up as an opponent of the team for a while, it is in the dramatic final scene that he firmly establishes himself as their primary rival, at least for the immediate future. And before that, we as readers get our first look into Aman's point of view, and while he's still undoubtedly a mad and dangerous man, it definitely helps to make him more understandable, human, and sympathetic. The absolutely stunningly beautiful terrarium he is so fond of goes a long way in that direction, too.
Getting into Aman's head is a smart move by writer Matt Fraction, who gives all the narrative captions to either Aman or Black Cat and lets the actual stars of the series speak more through their actions than words. It's another move highlighting the idea that these people are really banding together as a unit. We don't need to get inside their heads because we already understand what The Defenders are after and why. So while we watch them continue to chase answers to the mystery of the concordance engines, we're also shown the thoughts of the surrounding characters, filling out the events of the issue by letting the reader in on everyone's perspective. And even though we have new insights into Aman's motives and history, his escape and attack at the end of this issue is still an effective, powerful surprise. What has he done to our heroes, what will become of them, and what will Aman's next move even be? Having these kinds of questions looming after such a satisfying issue is a good sign that the story of The Defenders is back on track.