Dead Universes (Part IV): Defiant Comics reading order

defiantOf the four Dead Universes I’m currently collecting the death of Defiant was the most disappointing. Valiant had a long enough run that it didn’t feel premature when it died. Marvel did a great job sucking all of the satisfaction out the the Ultraverse after they purchased it from Mailbu, so it didn’t feel like a great loss when it finally folded in on itself. Comics’ Greatest World never quite grabbed me. Defiant, however, was something special that never had the opportunity to reach its full potential. The Defiant universe, much like Valiant, stood apart from the other universes, because it didn’t build itself on the foundation of tired comic book tropes. The Defiant universe didn’t have analogues for Superman, Batman, or the X-Men. Many of the characters that kicked off the universe felt fresh and inspired.

The launch title for Defiant was Warriors of Plasm and it started the reader off not on Earth, but instead a hungry, living, and very alien planet. The planet gives the inhabitants everything they need from itself and therefore it needs to constantly feed. This is done by conquering planets. A rift in the Universe opens and Earth is discovered and it’s this discovery that leads to a quintet of Earthlings receiving powers.

Of those titles starting the universe, and the one that brought me back to this dead universe, was Dark Dominion. Steve Ditko, who only penciled part of the first issue before walking away, deserves a great deal of credit for inspiring what Jim Shooter would eventually create. According to Shooter:

He wanted a character who wasn’t bitten by a radioactive anything, or from another planet, or injected with chemicals. Whatever the character could do that was special, if anything, he wanted to be the result of his own efforts, his own thinking. If empowered, empowered in some novel, creative way by his own mind. And why does it always have to be a young guy? Why not an older man? Steve also didn’t want another muscular bodybuilder type. No mansions, no Batmobiles, no costumes. And no “official” super hero name. A real, regular person name—though he allowed that others who didn’t know his name might call the guy by some more dramatic appellation.

What Shooter produced was a 54-year-old superhero named Michael Alexander who spent his life working to overcome human fears. Pushing his fears aside granted Michael access to the “Quantum Substratum” where he could see the “Dark Dominion.” Stepping into this world allows one the ability to see the true form of fears and how they unknowingly latch onto humans.

At first it’s difficult to see how the first two flagship titles relate to one another. Dark Dominion is John Constantine goes hardboiled detective novel while dropping acid and visiting Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Warriors of Plasm is a touch of pulp sci-fi with Mogo, the Green Lantern living planet, given the consciousness of Galactus and vomiting the entire color spectrum all over himself. As the storylines in these titles continue and its revealed how one is the product of the other it gets a touch dizzying, but its also brilliantly original

To make Defiant even more enticing is the revelation that Shooter intended for the company’s first major crossover event, Schism, to end with the antagonists winning and our heroes defeated.

Well, the Schism was going to be the first time in comics that I’m aware of that one of these giant crossovers ended with the bad guys winning. Basically, Mule was going to end up in control of Plasm. The girl with the psychic ability was going to end up becoming the new sort of central core of Plasm; the brain of Plasm. Chasm was going to end up really ruling the Earth which wouldn’t require too many overt changes; your average person might not know it, but he would be running the whole show. And the only people who would really know about it would be our heroes, who would be reduced to sort of being the French Resistance.

That never came to pass due to a the well publicized frivolous lawsuit by Marvel against Defiant. Shooter would eventually win, but not before the cost of the lawsuit broke the back of the company. Alas.

Building a suggested reading order for Defiant is unique due to the website Shooterswork.com acquiring the creator notes for the unpublished Schism issues. Those notes include a rough timeline detailing events that happened in the other titles and how they would go on to impact the crossover event. I used these notes and my personal knowledge of the series for putting together my suggested reading order.

The first book on this list is War Dancer‘s second issue as it contains four pages that take place 25,000 years in the past. If your goal is to read the series chronologically only read those four pages and move the issue to the second place its listed below. Dogs of War is a bit of an odd duck in the Defiant Universe. Reading up to the second issue is important as it shows what happens to Shooter (not the creator, but a character that shares his name) and Caution after they leave Plasm. Caution separates from Shooter in issue two and goes off to Chris Claremont’s Prudence and Caution. The remaining three issues don’t have much overlap with what’s happening in the rest of the Defiant Universe even though issue five is one of only two Defiant issues to wear the “Schism” crossover logo.

When putting together my reading order I took into consideration independent story-arcs. I like to read arcs uninterrupted if possible, so that’s why, for example, I have Dark Dominion issues seven through nine in one bunch. Other suggested reading orders break up arcs, but are definitely worth considering (here’s a discussion from 2005 about Defiant’s reading order). Feel free to make your own suggestions in comments.

War Dancer #2
Charlemagne #1
Warriors of Plasm #0
Dark Dominion #0
Warriors of Plasm #1-4
Good Guys #1
Dark Dominion #1-3
Warriors of Plasm #5
Good Guys #2
Warriors of Plasm #6
Dark Dominion #4
Good Guys #3-4
Charlemagne #0
War Dancer #1
Warriors of Plasm #7
War Dancer #2
Warriors of Plasm #8-9
Dogs of War #1
Charlemagne #2
Good Guys #5-7
Dark Dominion #5-6
War Dancer #3
Dark Dominion #7-9
Good Guys #8
Dogs of War #2
Prudence & Caution #1-2
Glory #0 (available free for download)
Charlemagne #3-4
War Dancer #4-5
Dogs of War #3-5
Charlemagne #5
War Dancer #6
Warriors of Plasm #10-11
Dark Dominion #10
Warriors of Plasm #12
Good Guys #9
Warriors of Plasm #13

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