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Amazing. Fantastic. Uncanny. Marvel’s popularity has grown exponentially in the last two decades, firstly thanks to co-productions like X-Men and Spider-Man, and then, since 2008, with its own movie studio. And the comic company’s success has only increased with the numerous Netflix TV series that are set in the same universe as Marvel’s film epics.
Meet The Defenders: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Think of them as the street-level, streaming alternative to The Avengers.
But which Defender is best? In true Marvel style, let’s pit these heroes against each other and see who comes out on top.
4. Luke Cage
Let’s get this out of the way first: there is no bad Marvel show on Netflix. It’s just that some are stronger than others. It’s ironic, then, that Luke Cage (whose comic alter-ego was, for a while, “Power Man”) should come last in the rankings.
Cage has undeniable style, and is perhaps the most distinctive of these shows. That’s particularly prevalent with the first two episodes, helmed by Paul McGuigan. The director arguably made his name on Sherlock, his visuals influencing the scripts and the series’ very DNA. While his Luke Cage efforts aren’t so twisting, his flair is evident, especially in episode two, Code of the Streets.
Mike Colter debuted as Cage in Jessica Jones, and he plays him brilliantly. He captures the character perfectly, a warmth and heart shining through his powerful exterior. Antagonists, Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) and Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) prove especially sinister, and yet are somehow charming — as long as you don’t cross them.
It certainly has its fair share of moments to make your jaw drop too.
So why do we think it’s the worst of Marvel’s Netflix shows? Sadly, the first episode drags: as we’re already familiar with the protagonist, this season should hit the ground running, but sadly introduces its themes too slowly. In fact, in Moment of Truth, Luke only notably displays his powers once. This is a shame, as the pace does pick up, but having already left too much of its audience behind.
Approaching the Marvel canon, Jessica Jones might not immediately stand out for televisual adaption. Yet Netflix proved it could do the acclaimed comic series justice.
Jessica Jones, created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, is a relative newcomer, having been introduced in Alias #1 (2001), but has remained a key figure in that universe (perhaps due to Bendis’ esteemed position at the company). It’s a great idea: Jess is a private investigator with superhuman strength. She’s an unwilling superhero.
Krysten Ritter’s Jessica is grumpy, sarcastic, at times pretty horrible, but with a caring nature nestled deep within her. Indeed, she’s moodier than her comics counterpart, though the show’s noir tone is a more accurate reflection of Bendis/Gaydos’ vision. As Luke Cage introduced Misty Knight, Jessica Jones also welcomes another comic heroine: Trish Walker (aka Hellcat), played by Rachael Taylor. Their dynamic works well, but the highlight is her relationship with Kilgrave.
Played by Doctor Who‘s David Tennant, Kilgrave’s power is manipulation. You do as he says — without question. Known in the comics as the Purple Man, his obsession with Jess is surprisingly scary. For them both, this is a power play, physically and mentally. Just because Jones has become immune to his persuasions, that doesn’t mean he can’t manipulate her.
It’s a pretty divisive show, however. Again, it suffers from a slower pace. Jess’ job isn’t properly explored, and Will Simpson’s (Wil Traval) potential is never fully realized. This means there’s lots more to be explored.
Nonetheless, Jessica Jones is worth your time.
2. Iron Fist
Yes, it’s a controversial choice, but I stand by this decision. The worst thing about Iron Fist is the critical mauling it got, with the claims that the series is bad being based solely on misconceptions.
The accusations of “whitewashing” appalled true comics fans. Firstly, the whole point is that Daniel Rand (Finn Jones) is an outsider to the mystical city of K’un-Lun, but he overcomes this. And secondly, it could be argued it’s more racist to suggest only people from Asia can learn martial arts.
Ignore the ill-informed press. Take Iron Fist on its own merits, and these really are numerous.
The story is intriguing, exploring a section of the Marvel Universe few other cinematic instalments do — this is more akin to Doctor Strange than Iron Man, making for a very endearing and enjoyable run. Still, there is a melding of the spiritual and the industrial, as Danny is welcomed back to Rand Enterprises (though definitely not with open arms) after a long absence in which he learnt kung-fu.
Its narrative alters quite considerably across its 13 episodes, so Iron Fist is the series that changes its aesthetics most, giving viewers a lot of interesting visuals. You also warm to characters a lot, Joy and Ward Meachum (Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey respectively) in particular. Finn’s portrayal of Danny exaggerates his serious side, but as the first season sees him still struggling to come to terms with his parents’ death, this seems fitting.
The stand-out star is Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing, who is extremely likeable, very capable, and superb in the various action sequences.
Upon its March 17 debut, Iron Fist became Netflix’s most-binged drama of 2017 so far, accounting for 14.6 percent of all streamed shows. This was the highest percentage of any premieres measured, beating Stranger Things, Daredevil, Orange is the New Black… and the critics.
A lot was riding on Daredevil. This was the very first Marvel show made as a Netflix original. What’s more, Daredevil has a huge following, and many of his fans were left bitterly disappointed with the 2003 film starring Ben Affleck. The weight of expectations was scary big.
Fortunately, Daredevil is the Man Without Fear.
Saving a stranger from an oncoming car, Matt Murdock was blinded by radioactive material. But this heightened his other senses, giving him an extra advantage in the form of a radar-like awareness. He can hear liars’ heartbeats increase. He can smell the adrenaline of a would-be attacker. He can “see” in complete blackness. His foes, however, are just as formidable.
Of course, that’s not all Matt is. He’s also a principled man. An attorney. A Catholic. He must stop the evils that are pulling Hell’s Kitchen apart around him, while also questioning how far he goes before he himself turns into a monster.
As Daredevil is one of my favorite heroes, I was anxious about Charlie Cox taking on the part. “That guy from Stardust?!” But he’s incredible. He is Matt Murdock, just as I’ve imagined him since I was three years old.
Similarly, Vincent D’Onofrio is a stunning Wilson Fisk. The Kingpin actually debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man #50 (1967), and has been a big presence in the Marvel Universe ever since. D’Onofrio brings a depth and surprising sadness to the role, and it’s hard not to sympathize with him.
The same can be said of Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) AKA The Punisher. With his rifle trained on the entire criminal underworld, the Season 2 vigilante punishes those who deserve it. Except he’ll stop at nothing. He doesn’t find anything wrong with torture. After all, criminals deserve it. That, he argues, is the only difference between him and Daredevil: Frank will do what has to be done.
The incredible action sequences aren’t the only things that define this show. It’s also Daredevil’s relationships: with his enemies; with best friend, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson); and with his loves, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Elektra (Élodie Yung).
The latter, an iconic Marvel anti-hero, is divisive — her plot strand concerning the Hand becoming a bit messy — but she remains an interesting take on the character.
Daredevil explores the gray line between the good and bad. Watch Season 1 Episode 3, New York’s Finest, as a perfect example of this.
While aficionados might be annoyed that Daredevil’s costume takes forever to appear, this is a wonderful show. In fact, if you were trying to select the best individual episode from all of Marvel’s Netflix titles, you’d have to conclude that Season 1 Episode 2, Cut Man, is, more than any other, a masterpiece.
In Iron Fist, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) claims the super-power folk she’s met are “dark, haunted people”. Never is that more true than in Daredevil.
What Do You Need to Watch Before The Defenders?
To get a proper appreciation of the seemingly-disparate elements that make up The Defenders, you should of course watch all these shows. It’ll be an enjoyable and thought-provoking ride.
But if you’re not into binge-watching and so don’t have time to catch up with everything, I recommend Daredevil, as an introduction to this corner of the Marvel Universe, and Iron Fist, as a further examination of the Hand, topped off with a cliffhanger that might lead into The Defenders.
This is my ranking, but where fandom is concerned, disagreements are inevitable. So what’s your favorite Marvel show on Netflix? And which one can you happily avoid watching? Please let us know in the comments below!