Marvel’s newest Netflix series “The Defenders,”a highly anticipated gathering of the four superheroes in the TV universe, rolled out August 18 to the delight of comic book readers and superhero fans alike. The team, which consists of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil and Iron Fist, is composed of characters who have each had their own respective solo series on the streaming service, each of which was met with varying degrees of success. While “Jessica Jones” garnered universal praise, “Iron Fist” tanked, marking Marvel’s first critical failure on Netflix. It’s a little hard to believe that so many crazy things go on in a really concentrated part of New York City, but the premise of superheroes requires a little suspension of disbelief already, especially when they all start working together.
Marvel released multiple trailers in preparation for “The Defenders.” Appearances from Elodie Yung, the actress who plays Elektra, and Sigourney Weaver, playing new character Alexandra, confirmed the role of the Hand as the primary antagonist of the series. The last season of “Daredevil” revealed Elektra to be a human weapon known as “The Black Sky,” a tool the Hand sought desperately and finally acquired. Together, Alexandra, Elektra and the Hand’s leader, Madam Gao, appear to have teamed up, thus constituting a force formidable enough to warrant the subsequent formation of the show’s eponymous motley crew.
Historically, the Defenders are known for having an ever-rotating line-up; staple members include the Hulk and Dr. Strange. The Defenders are notably different from other superhero team-ups, such as the Avengers, because they are distinctly not a team. An alien prophecy in the original comic run dictates that the founding members of the Defenders would trigger the destruction of the entire universe should they remain together. (It was deemed a hoax—until it actually happened.) A retooling of the team in the ’90s put Dr. Strange at the helm, as he sent different teams of heroes out for missions under the Defenders mantle.
However, Dr. Strange is strictly part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Movies and television apparently can’t associate, so it makes sense that a new amalgamation of heroes has been ordained for current TV audiences. Marvel announced their plans for the new Defenders in October 2013, and “Daredevil” pioneered the venture in 2015, receiving surprised praise from fans.
Here’s a recap of what has led up to the series: At the end of “Daredevil” Season 2, Elektra Natchios died a stabby death, until a final scene, only moments later, revealed the victim entombed, fed blood through several IVs snaking in from unknown sources. Her resurrectors are the Hand, whose mysterious motives remain unclear beyond the classic world domination shtick. Of the Defenders’ line up, Daredevil and Iron Fist are the only characters to have encountered the organization, with the Hand constituting most of the latter’s storyline. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage faced different threats; Jones confronts her abuser, Kilgrave, in a fatal showdown, before his mind control takes over New York City, and Cage is arrested for a long-forgotten transgression as the true culprits evade justice.
“The Defenders” takes place a few months after the end of “Daredevil” Season 2 and just one month after the events of “Iron Fist.” The premise hinges on the Hand, what their goals are and what their plans are for the Black Sky. Why do they buy up property just to tunnel underneath? These actions imply that lurking beneath New York City is a dormant power waiting to be unearthed.
Unfortunately, comic book fans don’t have the luxury of referencing old story lines; Marvel’s Netflix properties differ from their cinematic counterparts in that they draw from no single source material beyond the origin story. The Avengers very obviously followed storylines such as “Civil War” and “Age of Ultron,” though “adapted” would more accurately describe their allegiance to the original scripts.
The television universe draws inspiration solely from the comics, giving audiences completely unique stories to anticipate. For “Jessica Jones,” this proved to be worthwhile. Portrayals and treatment of rape, abusive relationships and PTSD empowered viewers to conquer their own trauma. “Iron Fist,” on the other hand, was criticized for the character Danny Rand’s origin story, condemnation that would become the linchpin of its subsequent critical failure. An online campaign to cast an East Asian actor as Danny Rand blew up but ultimately did not succeed, instead stirring resentment and claims of cultural appropriation. Financially, though, the show was a hit. Money talks.
“Luke Cage” portrays a majority-black Harlem going through the throes of change but finding the process difficult, as key figures attempt to take advantage of the area. Cage becomes a well-loved vigilante seen by the residents as cleaning up the filth-littered Harlem streets. Both “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” benefit from the lack of a strict comic storyline, because it presents the opportunity for a story more clearly reminiscent of present day issues. Each series strikes a chord with its respective audiences. It is far easier to relate to a character like Jones, who is trying and initially failing to overcome a hideous trauma, than a character like Rand, whose claims to martial arts mastery remain dubious at best.
In addition to this, the current Defenders crew is extremely localized despite being heavily superpowered. The restraints of the TV budget keep the show from reaching astronomical heights. Indeed, the threat Alexandra, Elektra and the Hand pose must be insufficiently world-ending to warrant calling the Avengers to come deal with it. I mean, Daredevil just heavily micromanages a few city blocks.
The current incarnation of “The Defenders” promises to be worthwhile, and early reviews of the miniseries have called it a worthy contribution to the television universe; at the very least, the show is purportedly better than “Iron Fist.” Fans prepared to binge-watch the show, as every Netflix user finds themselves wont to do, will be delighted by the union of the four characters. Sigourney Weaver has already received praise as a villain worth being afraid of. For new viewers, there is no need to watch the preceding solo series, as the first few episodes contain some heavy exposition that explains what you might have missed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go binge-watch the show now.