When the Marvel Cinematic Universe started, Marvel Comics had to be very creative about the heroes they would introduce. The X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man were all owned by other studios, so Marvel started with lesser-read heroes like Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, and Thor. Comic book fans, like myself, salivated because we all knew these stories were leading to Earth’s mightiest heroes teaming up to form The Avengers. In 2012, we got what we wanted, and watched as these titans, along with Hawkeye and Black Widow, took on Loki to save the Earth from an alien invasion.
Netflix is taking a similar path with their Marvel properties (in a new series they are set to debut on August 18, 2017. First, we’re introduced to Daredevil, then Jessica Jones came sauntering across our screens with her foul mouth and alcohol dependency. We loved it! Jessica Jones was also our first taste of Luke Cage, who received his series soon after. Lastly, Danny Rand and his chi exploded on the scene in Iron Fist. Each show was independent: you didn’t need to watch Daredevil to enjoy Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, or Iron Fist. Some characters crossed over, but you could easily watch one without seeing any of the others.
All of that is about to change. The Defenders are coming!
Who are the Defenders?
The Defenders team consists of the four Netflix heroes:
Each has been on their own journey since Daredevil premiered in 2015. In case you need a refresher about what’s been going on before you delve into The Defenders, or if you’ve never seen any of the Netflix shows, I’m going to get you up to speed on our heroes. WARNING: there are mild spoilers ahead.
Matthew Murdock lives in Hell’s Kitchen, a working-class neighborhood in Manhattan. He is one-half of Nelson & Murdock along with his college roommate and BFF, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. Both men work to defend the downtrodden and help their destitute community fight legal battles, sometimes in exchange for desserts, fruit, and promises of payment. By any stretch of the word, both Murdock and Nelson are heroes. Poor heroes, but heroes nonetheless.
Matt has a secret, though, something that not even Foggy knows: When the sun goes down, Murdock switches personas. He transforms from law-abiding and law-practicing citizen into a masked vigilante known as the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.” Not the normal after-hours activity for a lawyer, but everyone has their own hobby.
Raised by a single father and boxer, “Battlin’” Jack Murdock, Matt begins his journey toward heroism when he is struck by chemicals from a truck, causing him to lose his eyesight. He discovers, however, that the accident heightened his other senses.
Right on the heels of this tragedy, Murdock’s father takes a payoff from a mob boss to throw his next fight. He doesn’t want to let his son down, however, and ends up knocking out the other fighter. Jack Murdock is killed in retaliation, leaving Matt alone with his new powers and no one to guide him.
No one, that is, until a blind man named Stick comes to train him.
Stick teaches Matt how to concentrate, to keep his senses from overwhelming him. Stick is a rough teacher, but Matt slowly becomes attached. Stick senses this, and abandons Matt when the young man needs a mentor the most.
Fast forward to present day, Matt uses his powers and training from Stick to protect the residents of Hell’s Kitchen. First, Matt battles against thugs like the Russian mafia, the Yakuza, and the brilliant Wilson Fisk. All of these battles, however, are just the appetizer to a larger fight. Stick reappears in Matt’s life and tells him about the Hand, an evil organization bent on world domination (aren’t they all?), and the Chaste, who fight against the Hand and their machinations. Stick is a member of the Chaste and was training Matt to join the fight to repel the Hand and their plans.
Will Daredevil join Stick? Or will he abandon his mentor like Stick abandoned him?
“Knowing its’ real means you gotta make a decision. One, keep denying it. Or two… do something about it.”
For a couple of months, Jessica Jones’ mind isn’t her own.
Imagine having super strength, and the ability to jump higher than most other people. Imagine having this power, of knowing that you are stronger than anyone who could harm you. Imagine that you can beat up anyone who tries to assault you, that no one is a threat to you…well, a physical threat.
Now, imagine being locked in a nightmare where all your strength is used against you. Where nothing you do can combat the power that’s being used against you.
Imagine your every move is dictated by puppeteer. You cannot eat, walk, talk, brush your teeth, shower, or leave your home unless given permission, and everywhere you go this puppeteer goes, making sure to tug your strings in just the right way. A part of you knows you aren’t in control, that none of what you are doing is your choosing, and you want to fight back. You want to make a right turn when told to turn left. You want to walk away when called to come closer.
But you can’t…and that’s the nightmare.
This is the life Jessica Jones lives before we see her in the first episode of her series. While trying to save someone from being beaten on the street, she is watched by a man. A man with…extraordinary powers. Powers that allow him to control the minds of those around him, to plant suggestions that they must follow. Seeing that Jessica also has extraordinary powers of her own, strength that defies explanation, this man decides that Jessica belongs to him.
The man’s name is Kilgrave, and Jessica follows his commands for several months. In addition to making her his sole companion, Kilgrave plans to use Jessica to find a flash drive containing valuable information. They kidnap a woman named Reva Connors, who knows where the flash drive is hidden, and once Reva reveals the location of the drive, Kilgrave orders Jessica to “take care of her.” While the instructions aren’t clear, Jessica kills Reva, which momentarily breaks the hold Kilgrave has over her.
We see this through flashbacks over the course of the first season of Jessica Jones, and all of this trauma weighs heavy on Jessica’s psyche. The trauma reveals itself in the way she pushes people away, including her friend, Patricia Walker. It reveals itself in the way she drinks alcohol like a thirsty athlete swallows water; in the job she chooses, working as a private investigator, taking photos of untrustworthy spouses committing adultery; in the way she sleeps restlessly and makes rash decisions because she has no idea who she can trust.
With all of these emotions hanging over her, Jessica takes on the case of the missing Hope Shlottman, another victim of Kilgrave. Jessica becomes protective of the young woman when she’s found, and even more so when Hope, under the control of Kilgrave, murders her parents.
Jessica battles against Kilgrave, both physically and mentally, throughout the season. When Jessica closes her eyes and begins to fall asleep, she can still hear Kilgrave in her mind. She spends every waking moment looking for a way to capture Kilgrave, to find out how his powers work, and stop him from hurting anyone else.
Will Jessica be able to stop Kilgrave? Or will her pent up trauma swallow her whole?
“People needed someone who didn’t require a warrant or shield to get things done. Call it a vigilante or a superhero, call it what you will. But like it or not, I finally accepted that that someone had to be me.”
Unlike the rest of his superhero brethren, we first meet Luke Cage on Jessica Jones, not his own series. After everything that happens in Jessica Jones, Luke heads to Harlem to work for Henry “Pop” Hunter, a reformed gang member who owns a barbershop. The barbershop is a respite from all of the violence of the neighborhood; “Switzerland,” as one character calls it. Luke cleans up hair, takes out the trash, and washes towels for Pop. Luke also has a second job as a dishwasher at Harlem’s Paradise, a nightclub owned by the gangster Cornel “Cottonmouth” Stokes. Both of these jobs are comprised of doing ordinary tasks that hide an extraordinary individual.
Just like Jessica Jones and Daredevil, Luke Cage is gifted.
Just like every other Defender we’ve watched so far, Luke has ample trauma with which to deal. A former officer of the law, Cage is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and sent to Seagate Prison. It’s there that Luke gains his powers through a horrible experiment meant to save his life.
The experiment does more than save his life, though. Luke is gifted with super strength and bulletproof skin. And that’s where his troubles begin.
See, Cage was born Carl Lucas, and it’s as Carl Lucas that he arrives at Seagate. It’s as Carl Lucas that he’s experimented on, and as Carl Lucas that he escapes from Seagate. Luke Cage isn’t just a cool name: it’s a persona to escape the past, exist in the present, and build himself a future. A peaceful future, one that doesn’t involve his powers or being a hero.
His plans for that peaceful future are ruined by his sense of justice, by his need to do right by people who cannot do right by themselves. Cage battles against Cottonmouth, and Cottonmouth’s cousin Mariah Dillard, to keep the streets of Harlem safe.
And by doing that, Cage takes his first real steps toward being a hero.
“I’ve been training my whole life for this. This is the one thing I know I can do better than anyone else. I am the only one who can defeat them.”
I have a HUGE fear of airplanes, and what happens to Danny Rand and his parents at the beginning of Iron Fist did nothing to alleviate that fear. A ten-year-old Danny and his parents are flying in their private jet when an engine explodes over the Himalayan Mountains. The plane crashes, and Danny becomes an orphan. As the snow falls around him, a group of robed monks happens upon the young man and takes him to their village.
This isn’t an ordinary village, however: this is the mystical K’un-Lun, one of the Seven Cities of Heaven. Once every fifteen years, K’un-Lun is reachable from Earth, and the Rand’s airplane crashed near the path that connects it to Earth. Over the course of the next fifteen years, Danny trains with the monks, the only outsider allowed to do so. Eventually, Danny is sent by the monks for the ultimate test: fight the dragon Shou-Lao to claim the title of The Immortal Iron Fist, protector of K’un-Lun. Danny fights and defeats Shou-Lao, and earns the ability to channel his chi through his right fist, making it strong as iron (Get it? Iron Fist?!? Yeah, I love comics, too!)
As much fun as training with strange monks and fighting dragons is, Danny misses New York, and his childhood friends Joy and Ward Meecham. When the pathway between Earth and K’un-Lun opens again, Danny crosses over, ignoring his responsibilities as Iron Fist to try and reclaim his family’s company, Rand Enterprises.
The problem is, fifteen years is a long time, and Danny has no proof that he is who he says he is.
Over the course of the season, Danny learns that his return isn’t as comfortable or happy as he figured it would be. He also learns that the sworn enemy of K’un-Lun, The Hand (last seen in Daredevil), have infiltrated New York, as well as Rand Enterprises. The Immortal Iron Fist has his work cut out for him. Is he up for the task?
Now, friends, we can talk about The Defenders, and what this new show might hold for the audience. Many questions are left to answer, including:
- What’s in the hole Daredevil found at Midland Circle?
- How did Jessica Jones get her powers?
- Who are the Hand, and what are their plans for New York?
- What is Stick’s end game for Daredevil?
- And, what will bring these heroes together as a team?
Excited yet? I know I am! I’ll be binge watching the 8-episode series in my best Marvel t-shirt. Head on over to our Marvel Knights store to shop for your own Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, or Iron Fist merch.
Long live the Defenders!