The Sunday Magazine: The Netflix Marvel Universe After Two Seasons

I remember sitting at New York Comic Con in 2012 and being told by Jeph Loeb, the head of Marvel TV, that they had struck a deal with Netflix. The plan was to have four “street level” superheroes living in New York City of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2013 this began with the release of Daredevil followed by Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. The plan was to do as they had in the movies to introduce each character and then team them up in a series called The Defenders. At the beginning of September, the second season of Iron Fist gave each of those original heroes two seasons. It also spawned a spin-off series in The Punisher who was introduced in Daredevil season 2. As Daredevil Season 3 has just started, which I haven’t started watching, I thought it was a good time to look back at what works and what doesn’t.

The first thing which is paramount to success is a good villain. The Kingpin as played by Vincent D’Onofrio in Daredevil has been an omnipresent influence even while in prison in Season 2. As long as he is part of any Daredevil season it will probably be worth watching. The other great villain was from Jessica Jones where David Tenant portrayed the mind controlling Kilgrave. Kilgrave would lead to the PTSD suffered by Jessica in season 2 which again shows how a well-drawn villain has a longer effect than their time on screen. Both Luke Cage and Iron Fist suffered from having villains who were interested in political or corporate power. They are stories but The Kingpin and Kilgrave felt like threats. At no time watching Luke Cage and Iron Fist did the villains really seem threatening.

The one thing they all got right was the supporting cast. So much that many of the characters were able to show up in multiple series. They were working with solid source material but the performances of all the actors in the roles has been remarkable. I want to especially point out Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing and Simone Messick as Detective Misty Knight. If I wasn’t enthralled by the villains in Luke Cage and Iron fist these two women and their interaction was awesome. They are a duo within the comic book world and I am hoping to see a version of that team in the Netflix world.

The one thing they all mostly got wrong were the number of episodes. Even in the best cases thirteen episodes were too many along with a rhythm of storytelling which got repetitive. Six episodes leading to a minor victory which revealed a bigger enemy in the next episode who pressured the hero for four more episodes to a seeming victory only to have the final two episodes culminate in the final ending. If they cut these down to 8-10 episode seasons, without the filler, all of these would have been better across the board. My evidence for that is season 2 of Iron Fist was 10 episodes and it was much better.

It turns out Netflix was doing some assessing too. Both Iron Fist and Luke Cage have been canceled in the last week. I am hoping that this might mean a new series rises from these ashes teaming up the two characters along with Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. There has been no announcement of that but that seems like a series with potential.

My assessment is that the Netflix Marvel series are still a work in progress with the two best, Daredevil and Jessica jones, entering third seasons. The Punisher suffered from many of the flaws of Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Which makes me think season 2 for that series will be pivotal to its survival. At least for now the Netflix Marvel Universe has still not lived up to its potential but that opportunity remains depending on what comes next.

Mark Behnke