The Defenders: A Grand Tradition
Extrapolating from releases Marvel has issued regarding their upcoming Netflix lineup, it is apparent there is going to be a huge overhaul of the Defenders brand - no longer will they be defending the entire East Coast (or West Coast), the planet, Unknown Planes of Existence or the cosmos - they'll be defending the streets of New York City - specifically, Hells Kitchen.
Hmmm... not quite what I was expecting when I was infused with the news prior to the reviews of the show that would bruise the egos of the evil DC Empire.
Marvel's Defenders were a powerhouse that rivaled the Avengers and the Justice League of America
The rolls of Defenders include such luminaries as Hercules; Namor, Prince of Atlantis; Silver Surfer; Valkyrie; The Incredible Hulk; Hawkeye (who, when present, generally led the team); and, the inimitable Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange (who generally was the coalescing factor that brought the players together as needed).
From Wikipedia: The origin of the Defenders lies in two crossover story arcs by Roy Thomas prior to the official founding of the team. The first, in Doctor Strange #183 (November 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), and The Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970) occurred when the Dr. Strange series was canceled and the storyline was completed in the other series. Dr. Strange teams with Sub-Mariner, then the Hulk to protect the Earth from invasion by Lovecraftian inter-planar beings known as the Undying Ones and their leader, the Nameless One. Barbara Norriss, later the host of the Valkyrie, first appears in this story. In the second arc featured in Sub-Mariner #34-35, (February–March 1971), Namor enlists the aid of the Silver Surfer and the Hulk to stop a potentially devastating weather control experiment, inadvertently freeing a small island nation from a dictator and facing the Avengers under the unofficial name of the "Titans Three".
Cameos and co-starring roles were doled out to the Black Knight; Hellcat; Clea (niece of Dormammu and disciple/love interest of Doctor Strange); Nighthawk; Luke Cage, Power Man; Daredevil; Moon Knight; Ms. Marvel; the [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073); and a host of others.
The Defenders were a Non-Team
At one time, after the departure of [Doctor Strange](movie:559685), Hulk, Namor and the Silver Surfer (considered to be the four founders of the group), the Beast of X-Men fame organized the group as a team and even managed to obtain governmental clearance for its members as the New Defenders.
Writer J. M. DeMatteis provided the concept for this collection of heroes then, after a few issues (6), realized he had gone the route of a commercialized / standardized superhero team and his creative juices dried up. His muse was more anarchic / free form and this was not that. He handed the whole thing off to Peter Gillis and the series went for a total of 152 issues before the entire team was killed off or dispersed into X-Factor.
Prior to that (and after), the Defenders were whatever individuals that were required collected by whatever leader recognized the need (usually Doctor Strange) and their commission was to resolve whatever crises had arisen. No problem; no paperwork; no roster to keep up; no rules - need a team; gather what you need and go do what needs be done.
Need I say more?
This collection of heroes (and a few anti-heroes) had the capacity to save the galaxy - or Lady Godiva - whichever...
UPDATE (11/22/14): Each character series is scheduled for 13 episodes - not 8 - so, the start dates have been adjusted below: Daredevil (May, 2015); Jessica Jones (August, 2015); Luke Cage (November or December, 2015); Iron Fist (March, 2016); & Defenders (around June, 2016 - still scheduled for 8 episodes). There are a total of 60 episodes scheduled across the 5 shows.
Beginning in May, 2015, actor Charlie Cox will bring the hero Daredevil to the one-eyed brain-sucker via Netflix. If you weren't aware, Daredevil has been a member of the Defenders from time-to-time and was able to perform whatever function for which it was deemed he should be present when he was called upon.
Matt Murdock hails from Hell's Kitchen in New York having grown up the son of an immigrant Irish boxer. He was splashed with a chemical that caused him to lose his sight - but immensely upgraded his other senses to the point of his being able to now "see" using a form of sonar and feel for movement within the atmosphere around him (sneaking up on him is not advised as it would be quite useless).
After that, a new series featuring Jessica Jones will make it's Netflix debut. New Yorker Alexadra Daddario (we loved her as Annabeth in the Percy Jackson movies); Pennsylvanian Krysten Ritter (Jane Margolis in Breaking Bad and, apparently, no relation to TV's John Ritter or his dad, Country Music legend Tex Ritter); Aussie Teresa Palmer (Julie in Warm Bodies); and fellow Aussie Jessica De Gouw (Huntress / Helena Bertinelli in CW & DC's Arrow). I'm not sure how being in a DC series and a Marvel series will work out for De Gouw, but, she seems to be up for it - and, possibly, her Huntress role is about to expire over there making her available over here. My hope is for Daddario - her exploits in Percy Jackson caused me to fall in love with her as an actress.
Jessica Jones attended Midtown High School (as Jessica Campbell). Those of you who follow Spiderman will recognize Midtown HS as the same school as attended by one Peter Parker. Jessica had a crush on Peter, but she was too shy and backward to approach him and was (according to the retconned story) present when Parker was bitten by the radioactive spider that gave him his powers.
She was riding in a car with her family when the car was struck by a military convoy carrying some radioactive chemicals. The rest of her family died on the scene or soon thereafter and Jessica spent the next several months in a coma. She was eventually awakened by the stirrings of Galactus outside her hospital room.
She was adopted by the Jones family giving her the name she uses in the series (she would later marry her good friend and associate, Luke Cage, and they would have a daughter). As time went on, she discovered that her exposure to the irradiated chemicals carried by the convoy that killed her family had given her extraordinary abilities: super strength, limited invulnerability and flight. Using these abilities, she embarked on a career as a super heroine, Jewel.
That went well, until she was captured, tortured and brainwashed by Zebediah Killgrave, the Purple Man. As his slave, Killgrave sent her to kill Daredevil, but he erroneously directed her to the Avengers mansion. She was defeated and injured in a battle with the Avengers and was rescued by Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel at the time, who had known and befriended her when she was a heroine).
Danvers turned her over to S.H.I.E.L.D. who, with the help of X-Men's Jean Gray, recovered Jessica from the control of Killgrave. Jean even implanted a special mental command that would prevent Jessica from any further mind control. However, Jessica was so demoralized at having been gone for eight months without being missed by anyone that she gave up her Jewel identity and opened a private detective agency known as Alias, Inc. (note that this was well before the Jenifer Garner Alias TV series). In fact, the original concept for the new show had it named "aka Jessica Jones" because the "Alias" title had already been taken.
Update (12/5/2014): Jessica Jones has been cast! Three Hurrahs for Krysten Ritter! I was hoping for Daddario, but we all know, Marvel don't make mistakes when they cast. Congrats Krysten!
With Daredevil starting in May, 2015, and going for 13 episodes, I will assume (probably incorrectly) that the plan is for Jessica Jones to begin "airing" in August of that year.
At the conclusion of Jessica Jones, Marvel and Netflix plan to bring on the next member of their foursome: Luke Cage, Power Man. Terry Crews has campaigned for the role, but, last I'm hearing, he is not in consideration. Lance Gross (Calvin Payne in the TV series House of Payne); Mike Colter (a colonel in Men in Black 3 and a CIA tactical leader in Salt); & Cleo Anthony (Derek in the TV series Transparent); apparently, are the front-runners for the Power Man gig. I'm not sure what has happened to Crews for him to no longer be in consideration, but he would be my overwhelming choice for the role.
Luke Cage was born in Harlem as Carl Lucas. Living in Harlem as a black kid, he got into a lot of gang-related trouble and was, eventually, sent to prison. While in prison, Lucas - looking for a better way - volunteers for experimental cell regeneration based on a variant of the Super-Soldier process previously used to empower Warhawk. Lucas is immersed in an electrical field conducted by an organic chemical compound. While the experiment is ongoing, he is left unattended and a vengeful guard alters the process hoping to maim or kill the young man. His treatment is accelerated past its intended limits, inducing body-wide enhancements that give him superhuman strength and durability. He uses his new power to escape Seagate Prison and makes his way back to New York, where a chance encounter with criminals inspires him to use his new powers for profit (source: Wikipedia).
As "blaxpoitation" movies of the '70s winds down, the character finds himself unable to maintain a stand-alone title and his story (and his Heroes for Hire business) are soon merged with that of Danny Rand - Iron Fist.
Update: Andrew Habashy has just posted his notice that Netflix is Searching for Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Great minds think alike!
Update 2 (12/5/2014): Mike Colter has been announced as your new Luke Cage! Looks like everyone's fave for the part, Terry Crews, may just have been a tad bit old (or a tad bit to unserious?). I don't think Terry is done, though... look for him to pop up, somewhere!
To my knowledge, no casting rumors pertaining to Iron Fist have been posted. It's still a considerable distance into the future as, if Jessica Jones starts in August and Power Man starts in November or December, Iron Fist likely won't begin streaming until around March, 2016.
The story of Iron Fist piggybacked on the enormous popularity of the TV series, Kung Fu, starring David Carradine. Marvel's comic book series had a strong following for the duration of the television series then began to tail off. So, Marvel combined his story with that of Luke Cage and made him one of the Heroes for Hire.
Daniel Rand was born to Wendell and Heather Duncan Rand in New York City. The Rands were an extremely wealthy family having made fortunes as entrepreneurs. The elder Rands died attempting to return to Wendell's childhood, adopted home of K'un-L'un. He had discovered the mystical city as a young boy and, during his time there, had saved the life of the city's ruler, Lord Tuan and was adopted as Tuan's son. Growing restless, a now-adult Wendell left the city and returned to the States to build his fortune.
Upon the death of his parents (who were attempting to return to K'un-L'un), nine-year-old Daniel is taken into the city of K'un-L'un and, because of his parentage, is trained there to be a master of the martial arts. He proves to be the most gifted of Lei Kung's (the Thunderer) students. At 19, Daniel is given the opportunity to seek the power of the Iron Fist by fighting and defeating the dragon, Shou-Lao the Undying, which guards the cave that houses the molten heart that had been torn from its body.
During the battle, Daniel throws himself against the scar of Shou-Lao, which burns a dragon tattoo into his chest. Having killed Shou-Lao, he enters its cave and plunges his fists into a brazier containing the creature's molten heart, emerging with the power of the Iron Fist. It is later revealed that Daniel is part of a long lineage of Iron Fists.
When K'un L'un reappears on Earth after 10 years, Daniel leaves to find his father's killer. Returning to New York, Daniel Rand, dressed in the ceremonial garb of the Iron Fist, seeks out his father's murderer, Harold Meachum, now head of Meachum Industries. After overcoming a number of attempts on his life, he confronts Meachum in his office, only to find the man legless—an amputation carried out when, after abandoning Daniel and his mother, he was caught in heavy snow and his legs became irreparably frostbitten.
Meachum accepts his fate and tells Iron Fist to kill him, but, overcome with pity, Iron Fist walks away. As Daniel walks away, Meachum is murdered by a mysterious ninja. Meahum's daughter, Joy, blames Iron Fist for the death of her father. Eventually, Iron Fist clears his name and begins a career as a superhero, aided by his friends Colleen Wing and Misty Knight, falling in love with the latter. Notable adversaries in his early career include Sabretooth, the mysterious Master Khan (whom the ninja that killed Meachum once served), and the Steel Serpent, the exiled son of Lei Kung, who coveted the Iron Fist power (source: Wikipedia).
The Gritty Defenders
At the conclusion of the final story of the four heroes (each going for thirteen episodes), Marvel and Netflix plan a combined adventure for the quartet. Friends on the street, these "Defenders" and their friends endeavor to rid Hell's Kitchen of the vermin that infest it. There will be no cosmic adventure - no mystical mayhem - no occult experiences that would have been found in Doctor Strange's Defenders. No, these Defenders guard the streets of Hell's Kitchen in New York City. Dedicated to each other and to their community, they strive to build and enhance their community and to protect those that live there - to Defend those streets that have become their home.
If I have the timeline correct, the Defenders will likely begin streaming around June, 2016 and is scheduled to last for four episodes (a total of 60 including the series for the four members of the group). After that, should these shows prove audience-worthy and Netflix is made happy, Marvel will probably partner with the online service again with some other street-level, gritty, dark adventures.
I can see the Punisher, Werewolf-by-Night, Tomb of Dracula, Man-Thing and one of my favorites, Moon Knight, hitting the streamways where the dark and morbid can play without fear of the censors and the efforts of the faint-hearted ending their existence.