Not too long ago, Marvel announced its intent to produce a total of five seasons of television for digital distribution through Netflix’s streaming platform. The series – to focus on established comics characters Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke ‘Power Man’ Cage and Jessica Jones before bringing the four together in a final fifth season titled The Defenders – are to debut in 2015 and run over the next few years. But you knew all that already, right?
In case you’re curious about what to expect from these characters and the story potential inherent, we’ve compiled some biographies as well as an outline of what we think would make the series worth watching come 2015.Next
The skinny on Daredevil is that he was blinded as a child by a mysterious substance and gifted with enhanced senses to compensate which have aided him in achieving physical perfection. He’s generally either really happy or really sour and arguably the biggest Marvel property not to have enjoyed major success in motion pictures.
To be fair, most of you have probably already seen Mark Stephen Johnson’s underrated 2003 version of Daredevil. You know, the one Batman was in. That film and the general Bennifer-fuelled Affleck backlash cast a shadow over the character that has seen a decade pass with not so much as a whiff of a sequel or reboot. There were rumors and aborted attempts, sure, with the most interesting being that Frank Miller (who wrote and drew the series between ’79 and ’93) wanted to direct Jason Statham in the role and that Joe Carnahan pitched a version set in the 1970s, but despite the comic series going from strength to strength in that time, ol’ hornhead has mired in development hell.
There are a number of key stories worth tackling here. Miller’s legacy – the expanded origin and the Elektra relationship – was fairly treated in the 2003 film but could stand to be reintegrated into the new series. His other major contribution to the character was 1986’s Born Again, in which one of Matt Murdock’s exes sells his secret identity for a quick fix and it falls into the hands of The Kingpin, who systematically destroys Matt’s livelihood and reputation before the inevitable comeback. It’s one of the best comics stories ever and deserves wider recognition. It would also fit a thirteen-episode season perfectly if it weren’t for the fact that it depends quite heavily on existing character establishment. Still, if they ever get to a second season, Born Again is the way to go.
Another notable classic is Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s run from around a decade ago, in which an increasingly furious Daredevil elects to and succeeds in cleaning up Hell’s Kitchen despite the throes of a mental breakdown after his identity is revealed to the public. It’s heavy stuff, but one of the best runs for the character. It’s low on superheroics and high on crime drama and would fit the segmented format perfectly.
Whichever way Marvel and Netflix choose to go, there’s arguably too much material available for them to screw it up. By the time it airs they’ll have had over fifty years of stories to choose from and at least three great authors’ work would make for essential viewing.Previous Next
Luke Cage and Iron Fist
Two of Marvel’s most enduringly popular characters who’ve managed to transcend their roots as capitalizations on exploitation cinema, Luke Cage (formerly Power Man) and Danny “Iron Fist” Rand have operated separately but are likely most known for their co-starring role in the Heroes For Hire series.
Cage is possessed of virtually-indestructible skin and considerable superhuman strength as well as being fairly handy in a rumble, which is helpful given his tendency to find (or create) trouble while preserving the safety of New York’s citizens. Iron Fist’s abilities are a little more rooted in the supernatural – he wields a mystical essence that can be harnessed to sharpen his focus, enhancing his already significant prowess as a martial artists, with the drawback that it has a finite supply and requires time to recharge.
Your story potential here is simple enough – have these cats prowl the streets, kicking ass and taking names and helping the helpless and so on. If the four series were to serve separate functions, and they damn well should, this would be where the bulk of the action would reside. Naturally there’s crossover opportunity aplenty between the two, which extends to the pair’s friendship with Daredevil and Cage’s eventual marriage to Jessica Jones. Luke Cage and Iron Fist would arguably work best as a single series, but if Marvel’s determined to handle them separately then the contrast between Cage’s street-level mercenary antics and Rand’s martial arts adventures should make the inevitable team-up episodes that much more dynamic.Previous Next
Jessica Jones, another Brian Michael Bendis creation, first appeared in the award-winning 2001 series Alias and is easily the least well-known of the characters set to debut, yet also potentially the biggest hit. A former superheroine turned private-eye, Jessica is a far cry from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s vision of neatly pigeonholed female types. She’s conflicted, bitter and sleeps with the wrong guys. She fucks up.
Alias was unquestionably a series for adults, running under Marvel’s MAX imprint. With the character now under the watchful eye of Disney, it’s unlikely the profanity and anal sex is likely to make it to Netflix, but there’s much more to the character than that summarised earlier in this awkward self-referential sentence. She’s smart but not clever, brave but not invulnerable. There’s a lot to work with.
Jessica’s relationship with Luke Cage is a high point for both characters and culminates in their marriage the birth of their daughter, though the tease of the reveal of why Jones quit her identity as Jewel and resigned from the superhero game is probably the way to go for Netflix. Going the opposite way – having her quit over the course of the series – just seems like a bad decision to me, and the dramatic potential to be wrung out over ten or eleven episodes of wondering why is bound to draw folks into those all-important streaming binges.Previous Next
How To Get It Right
There’s two ways I reckon Marvel can nail these Netflix shows, and though either one of them would do it’d be nice to see both: give each of them a distinct identity and make sure they’re as unlike Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as humanly possible.
Part of what’s been exciting about the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far is that you’ve got these great auteur directors (plus Jon Favreau) working on sprinkling existing characters with their own directorial tics. The Shane Black Iron Man, the Kenneth Branagh Thor and the Joss Whedon Avengers are still the standouts of the bunch because you really get a feeling that the films were made by people with ideas and style. The lesser efforts – The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World – all of these suffer because they feel so by-the-numbers (most heinously in Iron Man 2’s case, those numbers having been established by the first film).
The reason Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is such a poor show is because it’s stuck someplace between the Avengers-lite of the Whedon B-team (brother and sister in law: see Dollhouse) and an archaic style of presenting, plotting and scoring network television that is in direct conflict with its cinematic progenitor’s genuinely blazed trail. It feels out of date, and is populated by lazy get-rich-quick character types – because they’re barely characters – and continues to coast on the ever-teased promise that one of the movies’ stars might drop by once in a while.
So, the lesson is thus – don’t have these series depend on the movies, have them depend on each other. Let Netflix’s Marvel enjoy a rivalry with the bigger hitters. Create an underdog, from which to create a true success story. Because styling TV series after Whedon projects from ten years ago just ain’t gonna cut it. You wanna be Shield, Marvel? Try Shawn Ryan’s. Detective work, takedowns, dealing with crime in a way that’s just about relatable. Legwork. No gadgets. People working hard to stop crime without millions of dollars.
This is how to make it work.Previous