Netflix’s Phase 1 Marvel Series: Which Defender Did It Best?

Netflix’s Phase 1 Marvel Series: Which Defender Did It Best?

Netflix’s Phase 1 Marvel Series: Which Defender Did It Best?

With The Defenders‘ finally releasing on Netflix this weekend, we will finally have answers to the questions that Marvel’s been seeding in their TV series for the past two years.  The Hand, Elektra, Madam Gou… all will finally come to a head in the small screen’s answer to The Avengers.

But for all the success that Marvel’s had through the streaming service, they’ve had their fair share of false starts as well.  From the near-universal revulsion of Iron Fist to Elektra’s mixed reception in Daredevil Season 2, it’s been a learning process for the entertainment mogul to learn how to not only handle their second string heroes, but how to handle their shared universe on a drastically smaller scale.

Some, naturally, worked out better than others.  Others… let’s just say that you don’t need to see them a second time.

Netflix’s Phase 1 Marvel Series: Which Defender Did It Best?

5) Iron Fist — While I will concede that Iron Fist is easily the least successful Netflix series, I don’t think that all the doom and gloom thrown its way by critics at large has been entirely warranted.  Essentially Chinese-inspired Thor, the series was always going to require a far larger budget to work than Netflix was willing to dish out.  Danny Rand’s obscene wealth made him a poor fit for what Marvel effectively branded as a team of working class heroes, and the fact that so much seemed lifted directly from Arrow did nothing to help that fact.

And although it’s the only series I don’t think anybody really needs to see a second time around, there was enough done well over its thirteen episodes to justify watching it to completion.  Colleen Wing was a revelation for Marvel’s small-screen efforts, giving an extra shot of color in what is already the most diverse superhero lineup around.  Although it took longer than necessary to get going, it wound up in a satisfying place in time for the season’s finale.  Besides, leading into The Defenders, it provided us with the most substantive look yet into the workings of the Yakuza-styled Hand organization.

Netflix’s Phase 1 Marvel Series: Which Defender Did It Best?

4) Daredevil Season 2 — Even more than Iron Fist, the second season of Daredevil is a really mixed bag.  Its narrative is all over the place, its pacing is inconsistent and its second half doesn’t come close to living up to its first half, no matter how hard it tries.  The Punisher was easily enough to fill out the entire season, and the second half with the Hand and Elektra seemed shoehorned to lay the groundwork for The Defenders.

That said, that first half — with the Punisher as some kind of anti-heroic Zodiac Killer — is probably as good as any of these Netflix series ever got (even better than what I picked as my #1 choice for this list).  It organically develops the complications in Matt Murdock’s life, from his relationship with Karen Page to his strained friendship with Foggy, from the begrudgingly thankful police force to the cryptically antagonistic DA’s office.  As far as I’m concerned, those first four episodes are all you need.

Netflix’s Phase 1 Marvel Series: Which Defender Did It Best?

3) Luke Cage — Officially the highest rated anything in the MCU — movie or otherwise — it’s clear that Luke Cage benefitted as much from ideal timing as it did from a rock-solid group of creative minds working on it.  Attempting to capture the “Black Experience” in a single character, they run the gamut from the streets of Harlem to wrongful imprisonment to the community’s complicated relationship with law enforcement.  And between Luke, Misty, Cottonmouth and Mariah, it certainly has a lot of perspectives to draw from.

As a series, Luke Cage is probably the greatest collection of talent in any of these series.  Sure, Daredevil might get Vincent D’Onofrio and Jessica Jones might get David Tennant, but Cage gets newly minted Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali and an inspired find in star Mike Holter.  And at a time when studios like HBO are content to greenlight sympathetic “what if the South won the Civil War” dramas, it’s refreshing to delve this deeply into how often-silenced minorities live on a daily basis.

Netflix’s Phase 1 Marvel Series: Which Defender Did It Best?

2) Daredevil Season 1 — I still can’t believe that Marvel was able to save this franchise from the shadow of that terrible Ben Affleck movie from 2003.  Marvel’s first foray into the dark world of Netflix, they miraculously did everything right.  From a knockout lead in Charlie Cox to arguably their best villain in D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, there is not a single out-of-place moment in its entire thirteen-episode run.

More so than all the series which followed, Daredevil Season 1 feels like a complete story all on its own.  It doesn’t rely on crossover characters or Defender lead-ins: just good, old-fashioned storytelling.  In a shared universe increasingly defined by all the other franchises cohabitating with it, that’s an increasingly rare luxury.

Netflix’s Phase 1 Marvel Series: Which Defender Did It Best?

1) Jessica Jones — In a lot of ways, Jessica Jones has fallen by the wayside among Marvel’s Netflix series.  It received stellar reviews and a passionate fanbase on its release, but most Marvel fans seem to have settled on liking on series or the other more.  Daredevil did it first, Luke Cage did it loudest and even Iron Fist has the distinction of doing it most recently.  But it was unassuming Jessica Jones that did it best.

Kilgrave — better known in the comics as Purple Man — is unquestionably Marvel’s best villain to date.  While most credit Kingpin as holding that honor, I can’t think of a single thing that he did which Kilgrave didn’t do better.  Not only does he have the “evil mastermind” routine down to a T, his specific power set would make him more than a match for actual Avengers, never mind the street-level detective drinking herself into a stupor every night.  He escalated nicely with the events of the series and, with his psychological hold over Ms. Jones, was never absent the action for too long.


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