After dazzling in each of their own shows, four Marvel superheroes are finally coming together on Netflix. But how did they get there? Here’s our primer on all four squad members, so you’re bang up-to-date for when ‘The Defenders’ hits Netflix on 18 August.
SPOILER ALERT – it goes without saying that this article reveals facts and secrets about the ‘Daredevil’, ‘Jessica Jones’, ‘Luke Cage’ and ‘Iron Fist’ series.
Blinded as a young boy, this righteous, but tough guy has grown up to be a lawyer, turning down big money offers to partner with his best friend Foggy Nelson in a practice of their own based in Hell’s Kitchen – the neighbourhood where they grew up.
Things start to ramp up when they find themselves representing Karen Page, a young woman framed for a murder which turns out to be part of a huge criminal conspiracy. At the centre of that conspiracy is Wilson Fisk (aka the Kingpin). Fisk is the leader of a sinister cadre of organised crime bosses who are looking to consolidate their power and take over the New York underground.
Desperate to bring them down, Matt – who can ‘see’ thanks to his heightened reflexes (which also helpfully allow him to be a brilliant fighter) – uses martial arts skills he acquired from his mysterious mentor and surrogate father, Stick.
Far from an invincible superhero, Matt frequently finds himself battered and bruised, leading to tensions with his friends, while his violent night-time activities cause him to battle his Catholic faith. The end of season one sees him managing to bring down Wilson and send him to jail.
The second run increases the stakes by introducing both The Punisher and Elektra Natchios. Elektra is an old flame of Matt’s whose arrival coincides with the increased presence of the Hand, a mysterious ninja cult seen in season one who appear to have the ability to conquer death and are searching for a mythical weapon called Black Sky.
Meanwhile, The Punisher (aka Frank Castle) is a bloodthirsty vigilante hellbent on murdering the people who killed his family. Murdock’s reluctance to share his secrets with Foggy (his best friend) causes them to fall out.
The season finishes with Matt and Elektra trying to destroy the Hand once and for all, only for Elektra to sacrifice herself to save her former beau. Matt reveals to Karen Page that he’s actually Daredevil, Foggy joins another law firm, Frank Castle ‘becomes’ The Punisher and the remains of the Hand exhume Natchios’ body and insert her into an ancient machine, possibly turning her into Black Sky…
A boozy private eye with exceptional strength and haunted by a violent past, Jessica works as an investigator for a lawyer called Jeri Hogarth, often involving cases with gifted people.
The sole survivor of a car crash which killed her family as a kid, she was adopted the family of a child star called Trish Walker, who becomes Jessica’s best friend. Her medical bills while recovering from the crash were paid by a mysterious company which seems to have bestowed powers upon her.
Jessica turns to drink to cope, but the life she is trying to blank out with alcohol is brought back into horrifying focus thanks to the case of Hope. Hope had murdered her parents because she was told to by a man called Kilgrave. After being experimented on as a child, Kilgrave can control minds and (as well as Hope) had previously kidnapped Jessica and made her do unspeakable things.
One of the awful acts Jessica committed was murdering a young woman, who it turns out was the wife of Luke Cage, a fellow gifted human with superhuman strength and impenetrable skin. The pair falls into a fractured affair, although she eventually reveals to him that she killed his wife.
Desperate to destroy Kilgrave and prove Hope innocent by knocking him out with surgical anaesthesia, Jessica Jones is both helped and hindered by Will Simpson, a former soldier-turned-cop with special powers. Meanwhile, Kilgrave plays with his former slave, finally acknowledging that he loves her as she was the first person to say no to him. Kilgrave’s powers are revealed to be a nefarious virus to which Jessica may somehow be immune (though she doesn’t tell Kilgrave). She thinks she might be able to convince him to use his powers for good, but to no avail.
After Hope kills herself and Kilgrave takes Jessica’s best friend hostage, it looks like Jessica will finally succumb to her manipulator’s will once and for all. But she is able to rebuff his command and breaks his neck, while her exploits start to inundate her with potential clients.
Her trauma however, remains firmly intact.
Last time we saw him in ‘Jessica Jones’, Cage had set fire to his own bar on Kilgrave’s instruction and fought Jessica before she shot him in the head (his invulnerability meant he was able to walk away from that with brains intact).
Now sweeping up hair at a Harlem barbershop and working as a dishwasher in a gangster’s nightclub, we discover Cage is actually Carl Lucas, a cop who was framed for a crime and jailed. While he was locked up, he ended up falling for the prison psychologist Reva (who later became his wife) and uncovering bizarre experiments on inmates.
After he was almost killed by the prison governor, he undergoes one such experiment, leading to his super-strength and unbreakable skin. After escaping from prison, he changed his name to Luke Cage and settled into anonymity, only to find himself searching for the truth when Reva is killed by Jessica Jones (under the influence of Kilgrave).
Luke’s prison past comes back to bite him in the shape of Willis Stryker (aka Diamondback), a man of seething rage who turns out to be Cage’s half-brother. He also introduces the only thing that can maybe penetrate Luke’s shell – ammunition made from alien metal known as Judas bullets.
The man who performed the prison experiments on him returns and Cage finds out that his wife had chosen him as a possible guinea pig even before he was critically injured, much to his disappointment.
Cottonmouth is killed by his cousin, councilwoman Mariah Dillard and Diamondback returns with a supervillain suit that enables him to fight Cage mano y mano, with Luke eventually overpowering him.
Unfortunately, federal agents now know that Luke is actually Carl, Cage has to pack up and head back to federal prison, with potential love interest Claire promising him she’ll get him a good lawyer.
Said lawyer just happens to be Matt Murdock – aka Daredevil!
It’s not surprising that the residents of New York and Rand Enterprises are surprised when a scruffy dude claiming to be Danny Rand (billionaire heir to the corporation) arrives back in town having been missing for 15 years. Not only is he unrecognisable, he’s got martial arts skills up the wazoo and the last thing anyone heard about him was that his family’s plane had crashed in the Himalayas.
Turns out that Danny survived the crash and was taken to the mystical place K’un-Lunby, which exists in an alternate dimension that sporadically reconnects with Earth.
Back in the Big Apple, Danny befriends dojo owner Colleen Wing and tries to convince everyone he’s Rand Enterprises’ rightful leader, a conglomerate that has since been run by his childhood friends Ward and Joy Beachum (with their shady father Harold Beachum pulling strings behind the scenes).
Not only that, but his training means he can summon the power of the Iron Fist and is the sworn enemy of the Hand, who are beginning to take over the criminal underworld of New York, helped, in part, by drug lord Madame Gao (who also features in ‘Daredevil’).
Harold Meachum turns out to be controlled by the Hand and is also revealed to be the one behind the Rands’ plane crash all those years ago. Unfortunately for him, his plans come back to bite him when he’s killed by his son, Ward.
Danny’s return to New York spells danger for him too, not least from Davos, a former training partner of Rand in K’un-Lun who wanted to become Iron Fist himself.
In the final scenes of the season, Davos decides that Danny has to die for the abandonment of his principles. Meanwhile, Danny and Colleen have returned to K’un-Lun to find dead Hand assassins scattered around its entrance…
What’s going to happen next?
So what do we know about the new series? Well, for starters the team doesn’t properly meet until the third episode.
Matt was trying to hang up his cowl at the end of ‘Daredevil’ season two, so is reluctant to get back into the superhero business. And let’s face it, none of our protagonists are known for playing well with others.
Jones in particular has to get used to being around Luke Cage again, while Daredevil’s moral compass is sure to be tested by the others’ more flexible ethical code.
But the emergence of shadowy crime boss Alexandra and the continued rise of the Hand – which will see the return of Elektra, with amnesia and seemingly under their control – means that the foursome are forced into action against an evil potentially bigger than any of them have encountered before.
They’ll be joined by their respective sidekicks and partners throughout the season and remember that each of the quartet will also be getting another season of their standalone shows, so while we get the thrill of team banter and expansive fight scenes, a lot of the emotive stuff could well be saved for when they return to their respective solo worlds.
Nonetheless, expect fireworks.
You can watch all episodes from season one of ‘The Defenders’ on Netflix from 18th August.