By almost all accounts, Marvel’s experimentation with Netflix original series has been a resounding success. Both Daredevil and Jessica Jones were well received by critics and fans alike, and as a result we’re on our way to a full-fledged Marvel/Netflix empire. Crafted as a sort of little brother to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (though technically a part of that universe), the Marvel/Netflix project is on the verge of releasing two more character-centric shows, before ultimately producing the ensemble series The Defenders. That series is expected to be released in 2017.
But the question, in the meantime, will be how well Marvel and Netflix can elevate two characters who are relatively unknown, at least in the context of modern superhero culture. To this point, these series have actually dealt with both sides of this idea, with one series handling a fairly popular character and the other introducing something fairly new to a lot of fans.
Frankly, Daredevil had a lot to work with. Before debuting in the 2015 Netflix show, the character (and his sidekick/love interest/antagonist Elektra) had been involved in films in the early-2000s. Additionally, both Daredevil and Elektra are essentially part of the core cast of Marvel comics characters that even casual fans know about, and as a result have often featured in games, costumes, toys, and more. In fact, one of the areas of entertainment where you can most reliably find popular Marvel characters is in online casino arcades. Looking through the featured reviews of online gaming platforms, you’ll find Marvel licensing agreements with several of them. And at those platforms, some of the most popular character subjects aside from the Avengers characters are Daredevil and Elektra. Those games existed before the Netflix series, which speaks further to the fact that these were pretty established figures.
Jessica Jones, on the other hand, was known primarily to legitimate comic book fans rather than casual observers or fans who were first attracted to Marvel through the last decade’s films. Marvel and Netflix made a shrewd move in casting Krysten Ritter for the role, after the actress gained enduring popularity as a supporting character on AMC’s Breaking Bad, and more importantly the show was written and presented in terrific fashion. Ritter was wonderful and the tone of the show was grittier and more grounded in reality than your average superhero project. Furthermore, some have suggested that David Tennant’s Kilgrave may be the MCU’s best villain. It was a far riskier show than Daredevil, but it seems to have been a serious success, both in general and in its capacity to establish Jessica Jones moving forward.
Now we’re on the cusp of two more shows — Luke Cage and Iron Fist — that will face a similar challenge to the one Jessica Jones dealt with in the aftermath of Daredevil’s success. There’s now a standard for these Marvel/Netflix series, and these new shows will have to meet it without the luxury of characters that are particularly well known. So can they do it?
Luke Cage seems to be in a pretty good position, and probably has more to work with. Actually, getting back to the idea of Marvel gaming appearances boosting characters’ reputations, both Cage and Iron Fist have been included in some recent games that should serve them well. If you look through some of the gaming options among Marvel’s apps, you’ll find a few different opportunities to embody Luke Cage and Iron Fist (as well as a massive roster of additional comic characters) in some popular games. But while this benefit will affect both characters, Cage also has the advantage of having been a part of the Jessica Jones series already.
Played by Mike Colter, the character owned a bar and became a love interest and part-time superhero ally to Jessica Jones. But he was also a little bit of a mystery, and in the Luke Cage show debuting in September, we’ll learn a little bit more about where he comes from and what he does on his own time. A recent traile hinted at a somewhat typical origin story (“I was put in a tank like some exotic fish, and came out with abilities,” the character says), but also showed off a pretty unique atmosphere for a Marvel project. Cage will be the studio’s first black superhero to headline his own project, and to emphasize this fact it looks like the show will represent African-American culture more effectively than any other superhero project by leaps and bounds. The show appears to embrace the history and culture of Harlem the same way Daredevil treated Hell’s Kitchen almost as a sort of character and, the soundtrack looks to be infused with hip-hop (a de
turn for Marvel), and the cast seems to be largely made up of minority actors. Frankly, it’s about time Marvel did a project like this, and if it’s as good as its Netflix predecessors, Luke Cage will become a big deal.
By contrast, Iron Fist looks like a total wildcard. We did get a first look at the show at San Diego Comic Con, and it certainly looks as if it will be tense and exciting. But we have yet to see a more detailed trailer, and we know a great deal less than we do regarding Luke Cage. It’s less clear what the show will look or feel like but it does seem from the sneak peek as if there will be some eastern Asian influence. Perhaps something in line with the Doctor Strange film Marvel is releasing late this summer. But really, that’s about all we’ve got. It is worth noting that Marvel and Netflix have followed a similar strategy to that of casting Ritter as Jessica Jones, in that they’ve nabbed a recognizable actor from a hit show to embody a character many might not know. This time it’s Finn Jones, who was Loras Tyrell on Game Of Thrones.
We’ll know in a few months how well these shows wind up doing. It’s a lot to ask for them to be as successful as Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but at this point it’s also hard to lower expectations.