Ever since their debut in the pages of Marvel Feature #1 50 years ago, there's been something different about the Defenders. They've never had the blockbuster style of the Avengers, or the soap opera unity of the X-Men, or the familial bonds of the Fantastic Four, yet no matter how many incarnations they go through, the super-team keeps bouncing back.
"I think what draws people back to the Defenders is that you never quite get the same thing twice. The Defenders have absolute freedom to get strange - when you pick up a Defenders comic, you shouldn't know what to expect, and usually, you don't," Ewing told SYFY WIRE when asked about what draws him to the team. "Even in-world, they function as a kind of countercultural happening in the uptight Marvel universe - more like a commune than a team, and maybe that's why the classic line is that they're a 'non-team.' I feel like most Defenders just couldn't make it in the Avengers, not because they're any less powerful or heroic, but because they just can't fit into that buttoned-down world of charters, chairpersons and wearing shoes to the meetings. And that's why we all love them - because sometimes, saving the universe involves being guided by the Tarot through deep time travel into unknown psychedelic realities and you need a non-team that can handle those vibrations... and look good doing it."
Next month, Ewing and artist Javier Rodríguez will launch an all-new five-issue Defenders series, featuring a lineup of the super-group representing all different eras of its strange history, as they delve into what Marvel Comics' solicits for the series call "the hidden architecture of reality itself." In the process, they'll venture deep into the past of the Marvel multiverse, meet some unexpected major players, and pay off some storylines that Ewing's been building ever since Marvel Comics #1000 two years ago.
Today, SYFY WIRE is pleased to reveal an exclusive first look at this mind-bending, reality-challenging series in the gallery below, as Doctor Strange, the Masked Raider, the Silver Surfer and other heroes team up for a new era of Defenders stories.
Ewing and Rodríguez's Defenders team of choice includes classic members as well as newer Defenders like Cloud and Betty Banner (aka Red She-Hulk, aka Harpy), but perhaps the most intriguing new arrival to the team is the Masked Raider. Introduced in Ewing's Marvel #1000 story as the wearer of a time-spanning artifact known as the Eternity Mask, the Raider's got a key role to play in this new adventure. That means Ewing's keen to keep the mystery of the person under the mask alive for at least a little while longer, but for those who want a little more insight into why they're so important, he did offer a little more context.
"The mask itself - and I'll keep this as brief as I can - was created by rebel occultists in Camelot, trying to bring down King Arthur on the basis that even a good king is still a king. The mask has the power to make the wearer the equal of whoever they happen to be fighting, giving them an equal chance in any battle," Ewing explained. "It ended up being very helpful in the American Revolution, and passed through the hands of various heroes - and villains - of the 18th, 19th and 20th century before finally ending up with the current Masked Raider, who's at war with a league of evil scientists called the Enclave, run by one Carlo Zota. I think that's everything anyone needs to know. If that grabs you, there's more where that came from."
Though a payoff to the Masked Raider story might be the chief draw for a lot of readers, for Ewing another key appeal of working on the series was Rodríguez, who he previously collaborated with on the Inhumans-centered Royals series.
"Javier is the perfect artist for this project, and he's thrown into this all the way - in fact, we've started working in a much more 'Marvel Style' method than I generally use. I'd say we're more co-storytellers at this point than a traditional writer/artist team, and that means readers will get Javier in full flow," Ewing said. "This was always conceived as a book in the Defenders tradition - strange, psychedelic and different from anything else on the stands - and it takes an artist like Javier to bring all that to life."
So, with the narrative of the Masked Raider and the presence of a collaborator who can make the book look and feel unlike anything else at Marvel right now in mind, where else can readers expect this Defenders series to go? There's still a lot Ewing's keeping under wraps, of course, but one thing he did tease is the emergence of a key figure from the past of the Marvel multiverse: The mother of the man who would eventually become Galactus.
"We've been holding onto this a little bit, but a big part of this Defenders run involves exploring previous Marvel realities. When Secret Wars happened - the latest one - we established that we were now in the Eighth Cosmos, the eighth iteration of reality, and the Marvel Multiverse previous to Secret Wars had been the Seventh. Which makes Galactus' reality - or rather, the reality of the man he used to be before he became Galactus - the Sixth," Ewing explained. "We've embellished on that a little bit here and there - the Sixth Cosmos is all about science, the Fifth is all about magic - but we've never taken a deep dive. And that's what Defenders is for! We're going to take a deep dive back through the multiverses, and on the way, we're going to meet Taaia of Taa - Galactus' Mom. She's a Scienceer of the SIxth Infinity, and she's a whole lot of fun, especially as part of an odd kind of double-act with Stephen Strange."
The deep dive back through the history of the multiverse begins when Defenders #1 hits stores on August 11.