One step ahead of the curve, Marvel Comics has done it again.
DC had its chance. Before they gave us “Superman Returns,” the sequel nobody asked for and, after seeing it, nobody wanted, they could have given in to fan demand and turned “Smallville” into a major motion picture. Why look for another guy to play Superman when Tom Welling had been playing him for years? The rights to entire DC Universe have been in the hands of Warner Brothers for decades, and there was nothing saying that movies and television had to be separate mediums, yet that has always been the unspoken “rule.”
Sure, movies have been adapted into TV shows and vice versa, but why can’t they all tell the same story in the same continuity? Why can’t they be used interchangeably over a period of years to continue that story rather than just serve as a big budget finale to a small budget show? Marvel is partnering with Netflix to do just that.
It started with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC. After record-breaking ratings, they knew they were onto something by continuing the Marvel Cinematic Universe on TV, though the ratings have dipped without the constant appearance of superheroes fans are familiar with. There won’t be any shortage of that in their next venture, where four Marvel heroes will be given four separate series on Netflix that will cross over and culminate in a mini-series based on “The Defenders” – Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones.
So what’s the big deal, you ask? Superheroes are being adapted all the time… but not like this. What’s groundbreaking about it is there’s no big wait. Marvel Studios can only afford to produce two or three movies a year, and with their hands full with Avengers characters, fans would have to wait years and years to see some of Marvel’s other characters go into production. This streamlines the process by getting these characters into major media by 2015, and it also tests the waters with some lesser known heroes to see if the public is interested in shelling out $10-$20 a ticket to see their adventures on the big screen. The best part is that they could potentially make the jump at any time, so any of these characters could show up in an Avengers movie if need be, or a big screen character could come help The Defenders if they wanted to.
As television continues to become more cinematic in its storytelling anyway, this just makes sense. So who are these characters, and why should you care? You sure are asking a lot of questions, but I’m happy to answer them.
Daredevil: Unfortunately best known for that mediocre Ben Affleck movie, this will likely be a much different adaptation of the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen. When Matt Murdock can’t get justice in the courtroom, Daredevil makes it right as a vigilante. One of Marvel’s darker characters, viewers should be in for some gritty action – Frank Miller, creator of “Sin City,” wrote some of ol’ Hornhead’s best stories, so expect crime drama and bloody street fights if this one is done right.
Luke Cage: Also known as Power Man, Cage was introduced in the ‘70s, but he’s more than just some leftover Blaxploitation character – he’s one of the strongest black characters in comics. Jailed for a crime he didn’t commit, he underwent an experiment in exchange for parole that gave him unbreakable skin and superhuman strength, which he used to make himself a hero for hire.
Iron Fist: Also introduced in the ‘70s following the popularity of Kung Fu films, Danny Rand was the son of a rich businessman before studying martial arts and becoming one in a long line of Iron Fists to avenge his father. He eventually teams up with Power Man to become Heroes for Hire, so there should be some crossover here.
Jessica Jones: Unlike the aforementioned heroes, Jones has only been around since 2001, introduced in a book called “Alias” that has no connection the TV show. Orphaned by a car accident that led to a chemical spill that gave her flight, super strength, and invulnerability, she tried the superhero business for a number of years before starting her own detective agency instead. She eventually gets together with Cage, so maybe we’ll see that on screen as well.
The Defenders: While none of these characters were original members of this “non-team” of rotating outsiders in the comics, it makes sense to use this as a vehicle to bring them all together. The question is, “Who will they fight?” The possibilities are endless, and who knows who else they may introduce? Marvel clearly has a game plan going into the next several years, and if the gamble pays off, fans are in for a shared universe of potential entertainment.
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.