Some weeks, you don’t record a podcast when you’re ready. You record when you’re awake.

Rob had a long weekend of late nights being on call for his day gig, leading to a slim, two-hour window where he’d had enough coffee to be able to say something longer than his own name, yet not enough liquor to actively slur those things. And this strange state put him in a mood to rant. About the golden days of Marvel after the bankruptcy and before Civil War, when they were willing to take chances. About acceptable Mark Millar stories. About how Batman’s most driving personality trait might be hoarding. And, God help us, how there might be redeeming qualities to Secret Empire.

So strap in: this is a weird one, and we talk about all of those things, plus:

  • Old Man Logan #25, written by Ed Brisson with art by Mike Deodato, Jr.,
  • Secret Empire #4, written by Nick Spencer with art by Leinil Francis Yu,
  • Dark Days: The Forge #1, written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, with art by Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr., and:
  • The Defenders #1, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Marquez!

Ah, we have disclaimers:

  • This show contains spoilers. If you don’t want to know Captain America’s political affiliation on Secret Empire, well, you’re not alone, but you have also been warned.
  • This show contains adult, profane language, and is therefore not safe for work. We talk about Batman being a Howard Hughes style hoarder. That involves Mason Jars. You want your mom to know what’s in those jars? Then get some earbuds.

Thanks for listening, suckers!

Defenders #4 has almost no action. It is a team book that features the team for exactly one page. It blatantly rips off a Bill Hicks joke – and acknowledges the rip right on the same page. And yet it is one of the finest comics you will read this week – and this is a week of some good Goddamned comics.

While this issue continues the story arc established in the first three issues – the team has discovered some kind of magical construct that can grant wishes and is trying to discover its origin – it is, for all intents and purposes, a one-and-done. It is a perfect place to jump into the title, and one hell of a story with which to get acquainted. Because unlike many comic books, this issue is about something: loneliness, longing and isolation. Superhero comics, everyone!

Levity aside, this issue is a rarity in superhero comics: a truly character-driven story. Not to denigrate the genre that I love so desperately, but let’s face reality: probably half the characterizations are along the lines of any hero in a big, fun action flick – entertaining, thrilling, and about as deep as a urine sample. Sure, you get the occasional deeper character study in, say, Spider-Man, but you need to buy a lot of issues where he’s in outer space swapping insults with The Human Torch to get them (And make no mistake: I like that stuff!)… and even when you do, half the time they’re about something ridiculous, like Peter Parker negotiating with the devil. And as much as I love, say, The Punisher, I don’t read it for any insights into the human condition. I read it for insights into the human cadaver. But I’m getting off track here.

In a sentence, The Defenders is Matt Fraction trying to write Warren Ellis’s Nextwave.  Nextwave was some of the biggest, purest, dumbest comics fun I’ve see in years before or since, so there are worse things to aspire to.

Does Fraction succeed? Kinda. And for now, “kinda” is good enough.

For those not familiar, The Defenders was born as a team book back in the 70s, and they were the very definition of Nobody’s Favorite – a bunch of second-stringers, to the point they were led for a while by Marvel’s knockoff pastiche of Batman (Yes, there is another one besides Moon Knight). The book consistently came in behind Marvel’s big hitter team books, Avengers and X-Men, and died mostly unmourned in the early 80s. To give you an idea how a lot of people felt about it, one of the most recent revivals was helmed by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire – the guys behind Justice League in the 80s, which was another team of inveterate second stringers – and, as they eventually did with Justice League, they played the Defenders mostly for laughs.

The original Defenders series was only notable for being a place where more experimental writers like Steve Gerber could run wild – they teamed up with Howard The Duck once, for Christ’s sake. And it seems to be in this spirit that Fraction is trying to ground his new Defenders.

The lineup is just about the same as it ever was – Dr. Strange, The Silver Surfer, and Namor, with Red She-Hulk thrown in instead of The Hulk, probably because Ike Perlmutter will be damned if he pays four people to draw The Hulk on a monthly basis. Fraction also throws Iron Fist into the mix; an optimist might say it’s because Fraction made his Marvel bones writing Iron Fist with Ed Brubaker… a pessimist might say it’s because he’s developed a taste for giving comics fans the fist. But I digress.