Marvel has already cornered the market on interconnected superhero blockbusters, with franchises like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, as well as the company's so-so ABC drama Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which marked the Marvel universe's first tentative foray into television.
But anyone who doubted the long-term ambitions of the company should look no further than today's announcement, in which Marvel revealed that it is partnering with Netflix to deliver no less than four new superhero dramas of at least 13 episodes each, with a miniseries to cap it all off.
The press release didn't reveal the creative team or cast behind any of the new projects, but it did unveil the four comic-book superheroes who will soon be introduced to a mass audience: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.
Who are these new heroes, anyway? Here, a guide to the newest Marvel characters soon to grace the small screen — and the superheroic team they'll (probably) become:
If you've heard of anyone on this list, it's probably Daredevil, the only superhero in the new Netflix deal who has previously appeared on the big screen (in an awful 2003 blockbuster with Ben Affleck in the title role). Daredevil, a.k.a. Matt Murdock, is a lawyer-by-day/superhero-by-night who lives and works in Hell's Kitchen in New York City. He's also blind, but his other four senses have been heightened so dramatically that he can go toe-to-toe with the city's most dangerous supervillains.
The widely despised Daredevil movie may have left a bad taste in audiences' mouths, but there's a reason Marvel is reusing the somewhat tarnished superhero to launch its big Netflix experiment: He's a fantastic, complex character with decades of strong, gritty stories to draw from (particularly those by Frank Miller).
To get a rough idea of what a truly effective Daredevil adaptation would look like, check out this (ultimately unsuccessful) pitch for a Daredevil reboot made by The Grey director Joe Carnahan in 2011:
Pretty impressive, right? Marvel's take will almost certainly be lighter in tone, but you get the idea. And Daredevil's New York setting is even more fascinating in the context of The Avengers, which ended with a large-scale alien attack on Times Square. Ideally, the Daredevil series will serve as a kind of superhero/courtroom drama, with Murdock splitting his time taking on criminals both within and beyond the law.
2. Jessica Jones
Daredevil is probably the flashiest of the new announcements, but Jessica Jones might be the most promising. The onetime classmate of Spider-Man first debuted in 2001, and is a superhero-cum-private detective who specializes in superheroic crimes. Jones's superpowers — which include strength and flight — make her uniquely suited to life as a P.I., and like Daredevil, she operates out of Manhattan.
Despite several ripe possibilities that already exist within the Marvel universe —including Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who was also rumored to be up for a spin-off series — Jessica Jones will be the first Marvel production centered on a female character. Unfortunately, Marvel doesn't own the film and TV rights to Spider-Man, so barring some kind of major corporate arrangement it's not likely we'll see Peter Parker popping up in her origin story.
But Jones has interacted with a wide range of other superheroes, including Daredevil and Luke Cage — a fellow crime fighter who eventually becomes her love interest in the comics.
3. Luke Cage
Luke Cage, who debuted in 1972, was one of the first black comic book characters to headline his own series. After being sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit, he consented to an experiment in exchange for early parole. Though the experiment didn't turn out as planned, it left him with super strength and made him impervious to most attacks, including knife and gunshot wounds.
Upon release, Luke Cage marketed himself as a "hero for hire." Over the course of his career, he's embarked on a series of missions that have led to encounters with almost every major Marvel superhero, from Spider-Man and Daredevil to teams like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. In the context of the Marvel-Netflix shows, what's most noteworthy is his romantic entanglement with Jessica Jones; after a one-night stand, she becomes pregnant, and the two eventually get married. He has also repeatedly teamed up with Iron Fist.
4. Iron Fist
Like the rest of the superheroes in the Marvel-Netflix deal, Iron Fist, aka Daniel Rand, was born in New York — but the story behind his powers are a little more exotic. For reasons too complicated to get into, Rand, a martial arts expert, successfully killed a dragon, and plunging his fists into its heart gave him the ability to focus his chi and gain all kinds of useful superpowers. As you'd imagine, the most useful is his fist; by focusing his energy, he can punch with incredible force.
I wouldn't be surprised if Marvel found a less supernatural way to explain his powers (but then again, they got away with Thor, so who knows?). In addition to his crime-solving partnership with Luke Cage, Iron Fist has had extended encounters with Iron Man and Daredevil, which makes him an easy fit in any number of stories.
5. The Defenders
So where is all this going? Marvel's last project, a miniseries called The Defenders, offers a pretty clear idea. The Defenders is a loosely connected group of superheroes that operates in a manner similar to the Avengers, though the group's missions tend to be smaller and less global in scope. The Hulk was a founding member of the original Defenders lineup, but many, many characters have worked as a part of the team at one point or another — including Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.
It's probably safe to assume that the payoff at the end of the four individual Marvel series will be a team-up akin to a small-screen version of The Avengers, and there's even a decent chance that some of the big-screen heroes will turn up; in addition to the Hulk, Hawkeye and Captain America have also served as members.
With five consecutive Netflix shows in the works, it's clear that Marvel has big, big plans for television — but unfortunately, we won't get to see the fruits of their labor until 2015.