Back when Disney first announced that Joss Whedon would be developing a TV series based on a Marvel Comics property, I speculated about which characters might work best for Whedon’s sensibility, and for the realities of a television budget. Among the favorites: bitter superhero-turned-detective Jessica Jones, heroes for hire Luke Cage and Iron Fist, and off-beat non-team team The Defenders.
Whedon ultimately would get involved in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which hasn’t found itself creatively so far, but today Marvel and Netflix announced an ambitious partnership to produce four new series and one miniseries, involving all the characters mentioned above, plus Daredevil, whose rights reverted to Marvel earlier this year when Fox failed to get another movie into production in time.
Beginning in 2015, Netflix will start launching four live-action series over multiple years: “Daredevil” (blind lawyer who uses his extraordinary senses to fight crime), “Jessica Jones” (superhuman who couldn’t cut it as a hero works as a PI), “Luke Cage” (ex-con with indestructible skin) and “Iron Fist” (wealthy martial artist with the ability to make his fist like unto a thing of iron). Netflix has committed to at least 13 episodes of each, followed by a miniseries about The Defenders, a Marvel title that has had many incarnations – most frequently involving the Hulk, Dr. Strange, Namor and the Silver Surfer – but essentially functions as a banner under which any collection of loner heroes (including Cage, Iron Fist and Daredevil at various points in its history) can come together to handle problems they can’t deal with alone. The press release describes this version of The Defenders as “a dream team of self-sacrificing, heroic characters.”
Essentially, it sounds like Marvel is trying to do a TV version of what it did in the movies with “Avengers”: introduce the players one by one in solo vehicles, with each project laying the groundwork for the next one, until they all come together as a team. These are four characters with shared history in the comics – at present, Cage and Jones are married and have a kid (and I live in hope that the nanny, Squirrel Girl, will somehow find her way into one of these shows) – and who have powers that should be cheap and easy to portray on television: super strength for Cage and Jones, Daredevil’s radar sense and Iron Fist’s iron fist.
“SHIELD” isn’t off to a great start in terms of content, but these shows will have a leg up by having pre-existing characters with well-defined traits to work with. “SHIELD” is fumbling around to identify what’s interesting about Coulson, Skye, Ward and the others, while there are decades and decades of comics demonstrating how cool Luke Cage is. Any or all of these characters can be screwed up, whether on the comics page or in adaptations – Ben Affleck as a very forgettable Daredevil, for instance – but the raw material is there for something good.
Meanwhile, it’s another case of Netflix thinking outside the box by committing to this many series, over multiple years, all at once. Even with the power of the Marvel brand, I can’t imagine a broadcast network trying this out, because if the first or second show flopped, you’d be stuck having to air the rest of them over several seasons, possibly culminating in a miniseries featuring a bunch of characters the audience rejected individually. Because Netflix operates with a secret, possibly magical, business model, they can experiment more. It’s easy to imagine comics fans who don’t already have a subscription getting one for one or more of these shows – and newcomers to each show will have the complete seasons of the previous one to binge immediately. On the other hand, if the first series is no good – if they do a bad job with casting, or it looks cheap or is boring – it could salt the earth for the remaining projects, Netflix business model or not.
What does everybody else think? Good idea, bad idea? Given the plan for the project, are these the four characters you’d have gone with, or were you holding out hope for a cool 21st century reimagining of Brother Voodoo?