With three out of four of Marvel’s The Defenders now on Netflix, let’s look at what distinguishes these street-level heroes from other superhero films and TV shows.
Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage series have been a huge success for both companies and provided a breath of fresh air to the superhero genre. With Iron Fist completing the set of heroes and signifying the last installment before the group team up, Marvel’s The Defenders is due in less than a year. Let’s take a look at what has made these shows such essential viewing.
Each show has had its own slant on the superhero origin story with complex villains, varied leading characters, and their share of amazing action. Through the use of comic book iconography, some celebrated and some lovingly made fun of, each of The Defenders have distinguished themselves in a culture that is overrun with costumed vigilantes by examining the place that each of their heroes has in today’s society.
Marvel’s The Defenders Has a Diverse Team
Apart from Daredevil, which has two seasons, each show is used as an impactful introduction to each character. We get to know them individually before we know them together, as we see what drives each hero to do good, and their responsibilities as symbols to the helpless.
Daredevil is, surprisingly, the anomaly of The Defenders so far, in that the character embraces recognizable superhero tropes. The Matt Murdoch of Netflix Daredevil owes a huge debt to the Frank Miller comic book run entitled “The Man Without Fear”, as the blind, catholic lawyer who battles in the courtroom by day, and brutalizes criminals at night. Throughout season one, Matt goes through the typical origin story: traumatic past due to an accident that blinded him, followed by the murder of his father, to his first shaky steps as a vigilante. It’s not that different to Bruce Wayne’s arc, or the first season of DC shows like Arrow and The Flash. It makes sense that Marvel would begin with Daredevil instead of Jessica or Luke: because his is a particular spin on a familiar story. By the end of season one, with his new armored suit, he has made the transition to fully fledged hero.
Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are a different matter altogether. Unlike Matt, Jessica and Luke choose not to hide their identities for different reasons. Both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are where The Defenders shows break from the pattern. While Daredevil is a symbol of a particular brand of justice, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are symbols of more topical subjects.
Jessica Jones is a symbol of female empowerment, but not an idealized one. She’s a flawed character dealing with alcohol addiction brought on by PTSD. She doesn’t even start off as a hero, instead, she’s a survivor of the mental and sexual trauma, of her time with Killian Kilgrave: making a living as a PI who takes compromising pictures for money to fund her addiction. Throughout the first season, Jessica begins to put her life back together, spurred on by the thought stopping Killgrave. In a time where female-lead superhero shows can be counted on one hand, Jessica Jones is a vital platform to be a platform to examine the place of women in the world, and the evil that men do. Hell, if it didn’t have the Marvel name, it could easily be a hard-hitting drama like The Fall. With the series serious themes and subject matter, the choice to keep Jessica grounded in reality feels right. This comes through loud and clear when presented with her old superhero costume Jessica glibly proclaims that it looks like something a stripper would wear.
Luke Cage has a similar reaction to his own costume from the comics. In episode 4 “Step in the Arena”, Luke steals some clothes after a failed experiment that gave him powers helps him escape from prison. The clothes resemble the comic book characters yellow shirt, with the restraints on his wrists and head completing the look. Luke’s reaction on seeing his reflection is to say he looks like a damn fool. Like Jessica, Luke has outgrown his source material, instead becoming a symbol of his race and culture, something that the shows’ creator Cheo Hodari Coker was passionate about creating.
Luke Cage, like the rest of The Defenders shows, deals with big themes, and issues: from the police’s treatment of black people to gang violence, to the role of religion. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe: which is all about having a great viewing experience, or DC’s Arrowverse: where everyone learns an important lesson through entertaining, if a tad shallow story-telling, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil, are serialised pieces of adult drama with the crazy comic book reality as window dressing.
Details of what issues Iron Fist will tackle when it premieres on March 17, 2017, are sparse. The comic book character is influenced by old kung fu movies, which relates to each episode of the show being named after classic kung fu movie according to the show’s writers. We know from the previous Defenders shows that Iron Fist will be more than a sum of its influences, with Jeph Loeb promising a grounded, character driven show. Whether it will tackle topical subjects like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage remains to be seen.
It could be argued that Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, was the greatest success of Daredevil season two. So much of a success in fact, that Marvel and Netflix have gone ahead and given him his own show. His appearance in Daredevil has given fans some clues about what route this version of Marvel’s most deadly vigilante will go down. In Daredevil, Castle acted like a nightmare image of Daredevil, posing questions about how far vigilantism can go to make a difference, and the difference between revenge and justice. Don’t expect The Punisher to turn up in Marvel’s The Defenders, but he is now part of the ground-level Marvel/Netflix universe, so he could be helping out, or causing major problems for the vigilante team in the near future.
We’ve all been there. It’s Friday night, nothing’s going on, you’re sitting on the couch with a plate of pizza rolls, and you’ve got nothing to watch. What’s that? You all have social lives, and that’s actually just me? Oh.
Well, then for those times when your social calendar empties out, and you don’t have anything scheduled, here are 10 Great Sci-Fi films streaming on Netflix that you probably haven’t seen. Unless you’re like me (I’m sorry) and you watch a lot of movies and have seen this all, in which case [Click here to read more…]
Daredevil may be closer to the norm, and possibly the best example of traditional vigilante TV, but Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are shows that give unique perspectives of gender, and race in the superhero genre, which is why they don’t wear masks.