Just this morning (Thursday, Nov 7 for you time travelers), Marvel Studios, Disney, and the Shinehardt Wig Company announced that they’ve made a deal with Netflix to create FOUR live-action television shows starring Marvel superheroes, tentatively set for 2015. The shows will be Netflix originals, not unlike “Orange is the New Black,” “House of Cards,” and the most recent season of “Arrested Development.” The plan is to have one thirteen-episode season that each follows one hero, and then the storylines would converge in a giant-sized miniseries that would team the heroes up as “The Defenders” to deal with some suitably epic threat.
The announced heroes who’ll be getting their own shows are Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones. Daredevil was famously played by Ben Affleck’s chin, but most of these heroes haven’t received much mainstream coverage. Marvelites are quite familiar with the characters – all of them have been in the comic book Avengers (except maybe Jessica, but she was at least the baby mama of an Avenger), and all of them have had large roles in Earth-shaking events. For the average movie and TV afficianado, however, they might as well be “Pie-Man,” “Yahoo Yogurt,” and the “Baconator.” I didn’t eat breakfast.
Anyway, here’s a handy guide to the new Marvel shows coming your way!
The Affleck’s hot-and-cold turn as Daredevil has been well documented, attacked, and defended on every level. But merits of the movie aside, we know this – Ben’s not going to be strapping into red leather anytime soon or ever again – he’s busy being the most famous superhero in the world.
If you’ve never seen the flick: Daredevil is “The Man Without Fear,” an acrobatic, martial arts slingin’ superhero with quite the gimmick: he’s blind. He’s learned to “see” his environment using echolocation, much like a dolphin. And also like a dolphin, his alter ego is a lawyer during the day. Matt Murdock often specializes in hard-luck cases, and has even been known to defend fellow superheroes from public prosecution in court. Daredevil stalks the streets of “Hell’s Kitchen” in New York, generally dealing with street-level problems and organized crime.
Daredevil is unique because they managed to cram most of his major arch-nemeses into one movie (which was probably part of the problem.) Antagonists that you might see on your Netflix-enabled television, game console, computer, phone, or retinal implant include:
Kingpin – A zoftig but weirdly muscular crime lord, Kingpin actually began life as a Spider-Man villain. However, he’s since migrated to the Daredevil title, and is generally considered his greatest enemy. Kingpin is everything Daredevil is not – wealthy, connected, selfish, and manipulative. Kingpin represents all the things that made Daredevil put on the costume in the first place: the seedy underbelly of the city that ruins lives, takes advantage of the poor and the weak, and offers poisonously false hope to people who have none. You can expect Kingpin to be the Big Bad behind whatever drama is to befall the Guardian Devil.
The Purple Man – A master of mind control, the Purple Man gives Daredevil a supernatural foe to fight that will help bring him into the Marvel Universe at large. He’ll be a constant reminder that crime lords and drug addicts aren’t the only problems in the world, and that people with amazing abilities are everywhere. Plus, the Purple Man is a depraved freak and pervert, just the kind of guy that needs one of Daredevil’s billy clubs in his adam’s apple.
The Owl – One of Daredevil’s oldest enemies, the Owl is a corrupt Wall Street exec turned super-powered criminal. He’s sort of an evil Iron Man, funding and inventing technology that allows him to do all kinds of horrible things to people. His powers have swapped around a dozen times, but in general he’s vicious, creative, and resourceful. If they choose to keep Kingpin in the background for awhile, there’s a good chance the Owl might step up as an early villain to kick things off.
Luke Cage was one of the first black super-heroes to star in his own title, and has been a major part of the Marvel universe for many years. He was formerly a criminal who was used as a guinea pig in a lab experiment. The experimental drug didn’t work like it was supposed to, but it did give Luke Cage super-strength and impenetrable skin. From there, Cage went on to become the “Hero for Hire,” a sort of mercenary superhero that helped people for cold hard cash.
Luke is a smart character to use for television, for a few reasons. The first and foremost is that his powers are relatively inexpensive to film – a theme you’ll notice with all four of these heroes. Superstrength basically just involves a prop team with a lot of styrofoam, and “impenetrable skin” is even cheaper. He’s also a great character, with a lot of flaws and a lot of heart – he often operates as the “blue collar” voice in a world filled with millionaires and PhD holders. The third reason, of course, is that he’s a man of color, a much needed injection into an otherwise lily-white Marvel universe.
Luke tends to deal with other people’s villains, druglords, and criminal organizations – the potential cross-over with Daredevil especially are staggering. A few of his more commonly-fought villains include:
The Bushmaster – Another crimeboss, he basically has Luke Cage’s powers. The second Bushmaster had more snake-themed abilities, including fangs and a wacky suit that will probably not show up in the show. Still, an evil crime boss with Luke’s powers is almost guaranteed to show up in this upcoming Netflix show, whether they call him “Bushmaster” or John McIver.
Sons of the Serpent – A good option if they want to include some political commentary, the Sons are a secret organization of racists and Neo-Nazis trying to corrupt America and supress minorities. As the major black superhero representative in the Marvel U, Luke Cage has tangled with them on multiple occasions.
Warhawk – Another good opportunity for relevant discourse, Warhawk was a war vet and a CIA assassin who was given superpowers (also similar to Luke Cage) and went nutballs. He’s an explosive and gun expert, he’s great at killing, and provides lots of opportunity to talk about government corruption, spying, and military veterans.
Probably the most difficult television show to sell to a mainstream audience, Iron Fist is a mystical martial arts superhero who came around when Bruce Lee and the Kung Fu television show were exploding successes. Many of the tropes are achingly familiar – young man goes to a temple renowned for its mystical martial arts training. He becomes the best student, through non-traditional training methods like slapping water, fisting buckets of sand, waxing both “on” and “off,” etc. It’s easy to think, “Meh, I’ve seen this show/movie a dozen times.” It’s like the Karate Kid, but with a big yellow mask.
Except Danny Rand becomes the “Immortal Iron Fist” by punching a dragon to death and bathing his hands in the dragon’s molten heart. That’s, you know, new. Iron Fist became a perennial ally of Luke Cage, and the two of them are most famous for being the “Heroes for Hire” team that busted noggins for cash and glory. Except for the dragon-punching incident, Iron Fist’s powers are also relatively low-budge. Get a good fight coordinator and a solid director, and Iron Fist scripts only have to be about 12 pages long, interspersed with: AND NOW IRON FIST HAS A BITCHIN’ FIGHT SCENE. IRON FIST WINS.
Plus Rand is rich, so you get some boardroom drama that helps to spice up the “seedy underbelly” all four of the shows seem to be going for.
Master Khan – A human wizard from the magical city where Iron Fist received his training, he’s the mental counterpoint to Iron Fist’s physical threat. Khan would serve well as a primary antagonist – he fits in with Danny’s origin, he’s a clever schemer, and he could cook up all kinds of long-range trouble for Iron Fist. He’d essentially be the Power Ranger’s “Rita Repulsa,” tossing monsters, spells, and threats at Iron Fist from a distance until the ultimate confrontation came.
Steel Serpent – A kind of anti-Iron Fist, Steel Serpent was an exile from the mystical city where Rand obtained his powers. He’s wanted the title of “Iron Fist” his entire life, but was never able to obtain it. Naturally, he hates Iron Fist, and is constantly trying to gin up ways to steal his powers and his title. He’s a great TV villain because his motivation is obvious, his threat is real, and he’s just as good of a martial artist as Iron Fist, meaning their fights would be frikken amazing.
Bushmaster (again) – If these shows are going to cross-over, having Iron Fist take on Bushmaster (like he did in the comics) is a great way for Iron Fist and Luke Cage to meet. Plus, he’s a rich dude (like Iron Fist), meaning they’d get to snarl at each other during gala events and the like.
Though she’s the least famous of the four heroes, Jessica Jones’ story makes for the most easily adapted into a TV show. She was once a third-tier superhero named “Jewel,” and gained super-strength, flight, and extreme durability from a chemical spill. However, whilst heroing around, she was attacked and kidnapped by the villain the Purple Man, who put her through a grueling mind-control carnival of horrors for months on end. She was eventually brainwashed into his slave, and sent to kill Daredevil. Crossover potential, party of two.
Eventually she gets cured from the Purple Man’s influence, but the awful experience was too much for her. Plus, she was such a nobody as a hero that none of the superhero community even noticed that she’d disappeared for months. She hangs up the cape, and becomes a private detective in order to help people. She’s a very bitter, interesting girl who’s faced the worst the world has to offer and still wants to do good. She deals with a lot of street level crime, but stays out of the superhero game. She makes a great counterpoint to the high-flying, technocolor antics of Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.
The Purple Man – alias Zebediah Kilgrave (!), the Purple Man has the Agents of GUARD guarantee to show up as Jessica Jones’ primary villain. He received his mind-control powers and purple skin from (you guessed it) a chemical spill, and has been violating his way through the Marvel U ever since. He’s one sick pup, and his crimes are a cut above the standard supervillain schtick. He’ll be the kind of villain you’ll really want to see dead, and his history with Jones, and being responsible for her current lifestyle, is an easy plotline to mine. Plus his cross-over with Daredevil is perfect for the universe they’re tying together.
Criminals, Fools, and Victims – Jessica Jones, as a retired superhero, doesn’t have a whole lot of villains. However, as a private eye, expect her to be dealing face to face with noirish criminals and scoundrels. This also allows her to bump against the doings of guys like the Kingpin and the Bushmaster listed above, creating a sort of down-to-Earth level view of the perps and victims tied up in the super-crime game. Expect her to be the lens pointed at the real people being affected by crazy events.
The four TV shows are announced to converge in a mini-series called “The Defenders,” teaming the four heroes up for one massive event. In the comics, the term “Defenders” is sort of a rotating title with no permanent meaning. The Defenders are never an evergreen institution – almost every hero in the Marvel Universe has been a Defender at one time or another. It’s sort of a “deputizing” method, basically a signal to the world that a group of heroes is about to temporarily ally in order to kick some ass.
The only real constant with the Defenders is that they usually deal with otherworldy events (demons, wizards, dragons, etc), and that usually Doctor Strange is involved in one capacity or another. Doctor Strange is the “Sorcerer Supreme” of the Marvel Universe, a Swiss-army knife of a character who helps the heroes in generally mystical events. He’s the “Professor X” of magical affairs, meaning he’s powerful, wise, and most likely to get knocked out half-way through the second act of the story so the weaker heroes can solve the problem.
Whether or not Marvel is hinting that Doctor Strange might show up is up for debate, but expect 2015 and 2016 to be a damn exciting year for Marvel television.
Though you’ll need to pony up around 7 bucks a month for the pleasure. Which you should do. Because Luke Cage, that’s why.