Before this issue, I'm not sure I could have accurately summarized the plot of this opening arc of Fearless Defenders. The concept was clear: Valkyrie assembles a new team of valkyrior made up of various Marvel superheroines. But the details of the threat this team is meant to battle against were a bit hazy for me, because the opening two issues were just too scattered/unfocused for me to sink my teeth into the story. Here, Writer Cullen Bunn takes considerably more care to ensure that everything is clear and understandable, and the result is a comicbook I found much easier to follow.
The other aspect of this title that seems to have finally fully clicked three issues in is the voices of the cast. Not that they all sounded the same before, but in this issue everyone was a bit more nuanced and fleshed out in terms of their personalities. They felt like a team. A new team, to be sure, still grating each other's nerves and learning each other's skills, but nevertheless a cohesive band of distinct individuals with their own viewpoints and attitudes toward a shared goal. Hippolyta may be the least three-dimensional, but she is also the funniest, so I can forgive some flatness in exchange for jokes. I feel similarly about new character Annabelle Riggs, whose role is mostly just to say that she doesn't belong on the team, but in a mostly endearing and humorous way. There's a strong sense of humor throughout the issue, actually, and it is yet another element of the series that seemed absent or at least weaker in the earlier installments.
Sadly, even though Bunn is finally on point with much of his script, there are still some areas that need improvement. The largest of these is primary antagonist Caroline Le Fay, who is about as generic a bad guy as I've ever seen. Her speeches are overly expository and entirely uninspired, to the point where she herself seems disinterested in them. The goal of destroying the world is extremely tired and trite, and her reasons for being so evil and crazy thus far amount to the fact that she was beaten as a child. Yeah, Caroline, so were innumerable other character in innumerable other stories, so give me a reason to give a shit or shut the hell up. Does she even ever stand up in this issue? Certainly she spends most of her time seated which, again, makes it seem like she herself is unenthusiastic about what's going on. The Doom Maidens that Caroline and her people raise are somewhat interesting, but still not original enough conceptually for me to be all that invested. And without a fresher main villain to back them up, they fall that much flatter.
Really, I think my problem with Fearless Defenders is that it feels like the world's most generic superhero book, but with women. If our world were run by women instead of men, we would have seen this series done a thousand times over, probably in both significantly worse and better ways. Of course, we don't live in that world, so I give some credit to Marvel, Bunn, and artist Will Sliney for simply producing an all-female title, but...it should still be something more. Thus far, it has only barely achieved the status of dull, run-of-the-mill cape comic with ladies on both sides of the conflict. If nothing sets it apart other than the gender of the characters, it isn't doing enough.
Sliney, at least, reins in the T&A this issue. He still can't draw breasts without them looking inflated and stiff and weird, but at least there are no angles in this issue overtly designed to draw attention to the ladies' anatomy. His designs for the Doom Maiden costumes---I am assuming these are new villains? If not, and someone else designed them, apologies---are definitely more bathing suit than battle armor, but again, he does not call direct attention to that fact, and the women inside the outfits are by no means sexy. So significantly less objectification this month than we've seen in the past from Sliney, though I'm not entirely sure that's even a compliment. "Good job, man! You were hardly sexist at all!"
Sliney's art is otherwise just fine, boiler plate superhero stuff in the same vein as Bunn's script. At least they match in that respect, and Sliney does everything just right. Solid layouts that also vary, strong and clear action sequences, and a strong sense of who each of the characters are. Though, just as she is in the script, Le Fay looks far less finished and detailed and...alive than the heroes of the story. Otherwise, though, all the valkyrior and all the Doom Maidens are distinct and unique and immediately recognizable on every page, which feels like common sense but is not something you always get in a team book. So props to Sliney for what is overall an easy-to-read style of visual storytelling. It may not dazzle, but it never deeply disappoints.
Three issues is typically the first mark where I reexamine a title I am following and decide whether or not to cut it from my pull list. Fearless Defenders definitely made a case for itself with this issue, but I'm afraid it may only have climbed from "definitely dropping" to "probably still worth dropping." No final decisions until I reread all three issues, but I'm afraid it's just too bland a series to keep me around.