With the summer blockbuster season over, all eyes have turned back to Netflix and their upcoming Marvel miniseries, The Defenders.
And hype is high for this one. We’ve got Matt Murdock–the Hero of Hell’s Kitchen, Luke Cage–Power Man, Jessica Jones–Jewel (although, probably don’t call her that), and Danny Rand–the Living Weapon (despite the disappointment that was Iron Fist), all teaming up to face their greatest enemy of all: playing nice with others.
With only eight episodes to work with, this crossover event should be able to avoid the second-act slump that characterizes many of these Netflix/Marvel Cinematic Universe shows. Plus, with no backstories to delve into, having already addressed them in each of the characters’ self-titled solo series, the plot should be able to maintain a more satisfying forward momentum. We’ve seen what they can do on their own. They might not have been fighting aliens during the infamous Battle of New York, but any one of them can easily hold their own against the everyday threats plaguing their city. From crime-lords and evil corporations to ninjas and mystical threats from another realm, these four have seen some shit.
Actually, with four such big personas operating out of the same city, the hardest to part of this to believe is that it’s taken them this long to meet. Especially when you consider their comic book counterparts have worked together in some capacity almost constantly since their conception.
Back in 1971, three unique Marvel heroes were brought together to face a threat too great for any one of them to handle alone. First appearing together in Marvel Feature #1, the Hulk, Dr. Strange, and Namor the Sub-Mariner were the first heroes to claim the team title of Defenders.
That’s right, the original Defenders line-up didn’t include any of the Marvel/Netflix crew, and until the latest incarnation of the comic–which is based on the upcoming show–only Luke Cage and Iron Fist had ever even been affiliated with the group.
The Defenders have never been a team like the Avengers or the X-Men, they really only work together out of necessity. They are always a team of individuals first and foremost, so in that way, the creators of the show were smart to adopt the title for their band of misfits. We’ve already seen in the trailers that none of them seem to be particularly thrilled to be working together.
Since it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing the MCU’s Dr. Strange and Hulk teaming up anytime soon–or that we’ll be seeing Namor at all–it’s safe to say that the title was available. It was also a much more fitting title than Heroes for Hire, Luke Cage and Iron Fist’s original partnership and the series where they met and worked with many of their now allies.
Heroes for Hire was exactly what it sounded like: for a fee, Power Man and Iron Fist would come help you out with your problems, be it stopping dictators or saving kittens from trees. As long as you could afford their help, they were happy to give it. Not to mention that Luke and Danny’s bromance is legendary in the Marvel world. Although they’ve been in plenty of recent stories together, it wasn’t until the 2016 series of Power Man and Iron Fist that Luke and Danny actually started working together again. The series shows them as friends first and heroes second and it’s fun to see these two incredibly different characters interact.
Other characters you might recognize include Colleen Wing and Detective Misty Knight, both of whom originated in Iron Fist’s first series and have often been regularly occurring characters in Luke and Danny’s adventures ever since. While these kick-ass ladies have often worked with the boys, they’ve never officially all worked together as an official team. Misty and Colleen later went on to form their own club, Daughters of the Dragon, which absolutely deserves to be its own Netflix spin-off series.
These characters were all created during a very politically tumultuous time in American history. Luke Cage and Misty Knight were the results of the Blaxploitation genre in the 70s. Similarly, Iron Fist and his martial arts contemporaries were a reaction to the rise in popularity of kung-fu films about the same time. Danny Rand’s origin also bears the stamp of Imperialism, being a white man who went to a foreign land to learn their magic and style of fighting and can now do it better than anyone. As such, these characters have been involved in plenty of controversy regarding race and representation over the years. Whether or not they’ve been successful in their portrayal of these very sensitive issues, Netflix has made an effort to use these characters in a similar fashion in order to continue the conversation, something that hopefully isn’t going to be stopping anytime soon.
Although he only occasionally works with them in the comics, Matt Murdock has been a long-time friend of both Danny and Luke, with Danny actually filling in as Daredevil for a time during the Civil War event while Matt was out of commission.
Despite never having officially been a Hero for Hire, Jessica Jones is a licensed and paid private investigator in both her show and the comics. She was actually hired to be Matt’s bodyguard, along with Luke, who she’d met before and had a one night stand with. This is similar to how events played out early on in Jessica Jones, although there may or may not be any long term plans for Jessica and Luke to get together, despite the fact that they’re actually married and have a kid together in the comics–who they named Danielle after their mutual bestie, Danny Rand.
For a look into Jessica and Luke’s tumultuous relationship, check out Alias written by Brian Michael Bendis. There’s a constant supply of flirty banter flying back and forth between the two even before they get around to admitting that they might have feelings for each other–which happens on the last page of the last issue, but better late than never. It’s the precursor to The Pulse also written by Bendis, which is more about Spider-Man and journalists at the Daily Bugle but has some really nice scenes with Jessica and Luke talking about the future of their relationship.
Instead, at the end of Luke Cage and during the events of Iron Fist, Luke and Claire Temple are actually the ones in a relationship, despite her early involvement with Matt in the first season of Daredevil, who has since become romantically involved with Karen Page.
And then there’s Danny–who need to grow the hell up before he should be in a relationship with anyone let alone Colleen Wing, ex-Hand agent–who has been in an on-again-off-again relationship with Misty Knight in the comics. Yep, the same detective who had a brief romantic liaison with Luke at the beginning of his series.
All of which is to say that there is absolutely no reason why it should be awkward for these people to work together. Nope. None at all.
If you’re looking for something to read to tide you over until the series comes out, there is a new Defenders series which is inspired by the show but keeps to the current Marvel comics canon.
Aside from that, there really isn’t an easy reading list to prepare you for this series. The NMCU has done a great job becoming its own thing, drawing from the comics without relying on them, and fitting in nicely with the overarching MCU.
I mentioned several of the character’s origin comics before, and while those are interesting, for a more nuanced look at the characters, it’s actually better to stick to more recent comics, with the Shadowland event being the most memorable.
Daredevil has taken over leadership of the Hand, intending to make them a force for good. Instead, he becomes possessed and gets manipulated into using the Hand to dole out his own personal brand of justice. Luke Cage, along with Iron Fist and other heroes, to team up with unlikely allies Punisher and Kingpin in an attempt to stop him. The series deals with some pretty heavy stuff, making many of the heroes question what right they have to decide how the law is upheld. Many side characters like Foggy and Misty have a chance to shine, showing that you don’t need superpowers to make a difference. Plus, Colleen gets a pretty great spin off in Shadowlands: Daughters of the Shadow.
The entire Defenders mini-series will be up on Netflix on August 18.