Netflix’s in-depth look at Marvel’s street-level comic book heroes comes to an end with the third season of Jessica Jones. Even though the reason these shows went away boils down to corporate skullduggery, the seasons fans got were a rare gift from the two media giants. Instead of just a couple of hours every few years, we got 13-episode story arcs for some of the lower-tier characters who might not be able to capture the cinema-going audience’s attention. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and even Iron Fist, were stories we’d never see on the big-screen. Thankfully, Netflix and Marvel Television teamed up to bring fans these characters’ stories in a way they hadn’t before. A gamble on both their parts, now that the partnership is over, some ask: “Who got the better deal?” Only the answer isn’t Marvel or Netflix, but rather all the comic book hero fans who can rewatch these series forever.
Why Did It All Fall Apart?
In 2013, fresh off the success of The Avengers, Marvel Studios realized they were poised for media dominance. However, the ambitious nature of the Marvel plan was to not just take over box offices, but to make their mark on television, too. Along with network dramas like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, Marvel Television sought a more premium outlet that allowed for more mature superhero stories. They considered traditional cable channels, Amazon, but eventually decided on Netflix. Rated “TV-MA” these four series featured darker themes, more intense violence, and kept their focus more on the characters than the superheroics. Of course, now that Marvel’s parent company Disney plans to launch its own streaming service this fall, that meant this unique partnership had to end.
Still, the Marvel Netflix universe was almost as ambitious as its big-screen counterparts. Four series, with four separate showrunners and crews, focused on four different superheroes. Once all four had their first seasons, (and Daredevil its second) these disparate heroes teamed up in an eight-episode miniseries called The Defenders. Like the solo shows that preceded it, while there was plenty of action, it was the characters and their relationships that took center stage. This unique approach to superhero stories confused and frustrated some fans. The first seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage premiered to universal acclaim. However, Iron Fist, the second seasons of its predecessors, and the team-up series itself met with mixed-to-negative reviews. Simply put, even if Disney wasn’t launching a streaming service of its own, Netflix likely would have canceled these series since Marvel properties are so expensive to license.
The Marvel Netflix Universe Will Stand the Test of Time
Right now, we live in a golden age for geek culture. Fans in their mid-thirties and older remember a time when the idea of one comic-book-centered show seemed like a longshot. To have had four expertly produced, beautiful to look at, and, yes, fun to watch series on Netflix is a gift we dared not even wish for. Because of the specifics of the contract, these shows will stay on Netflix for the foreseeable future. With the benefit of hindsight, fans will be able to see how great they were, even the much-maligned Iron Fist. These shows told stories about deeply flawed heroes, who didn’t make their way through the Hero’s Journey in under two hours. These street-level saviors were imperfect, which made them all the more realistic. We love Captain America because he makes all the right decisions. Luke Cage or Jessica Jones or Matt Murdock (and definitely Danny Rand) do not. In fact, they screw things up as much as they save the day. That’s what makes them so lovable and so true to the comic book heroes that inspired them.
This Is Not the End
Even though the days of the team-up between Marvel and Netflix are over, that doesn’t mean it’s the end for these sort of shows. In fact, we might not even have seen the last of these characters. Disney+ will feature a number of series produced the movie side of Marvel Studios, including a limited series starring Tom Hiddleston’ Loki, WandaVision featuring Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen, The Falcon & The Winter Soldier starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, and a series featuring Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. Hulu is also in the Marvel business, with the original series The Runaways, a forthcoming Ghost Rider series, and a trio of animated shows about some of their weirder characters. Kevin Feige, the man behind Marvel’s success, also said he’d love to do more with the Netflix characters, but they have to wait two years from their last appearance on the streaming service.
Even if this really is the swan song for the Netflix-originated characters, their legacy will be long felt in the television business. They proved that dark, long-form stories about less popular Marvel heroes can be a huge success.