November 07, 2013 2:39pm PT by Graeme McMillan
Get to Know Marvel's New 'Defenders'
For those who don't keep up with Marvel Comics, the names of the characters who'll be part of today's newly-announced Netflix deal might seem a little surprising. Sure, everyone knows about Daredevil, if only because of the ill-fated Ben Affleck movie back in 2003. But Iron Fist? Luke Cage? Heck, Luke and Jessica Jones don't even have superhero-esque names.
Don't worry, we've got your back. In case you want to bluff your way through a conversation about the long history of each character, here's a quick guide to the high (and low) points of Marvel's newest next big hings.
Created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in 1964, Daredevil -- "The Man Without Fear!" according to his tagline -- is the costumed guise of Matt Murdock, a lawyer who lost his sight in an accident as a kid. As luck (and comic book logic) would have it, that same accident also heightened his other senses to super-human degrees, giving him radar sense in addition to better hearing, smell, taste and touch than most people.
Initially a relatively light-hearted hero in the Spider-Man vein, the character really came into his own in the 1980s, when Frank Miller took over both writing and drawing the monthly comic in a run that made both his own reputation, pre-Dark Knight, and also Daredevil's. Miller brought an uber-noir sensibility to the character -- admitted, it was noir with added ninjas, but it was the '80s and excess was in -- as well as an ambiguous morality, successfully managing to transform the series into something unlike anything else Marvel was publishing at the time, and one of the best things the company has ever published.
Unfortunately, Miller's success cast a long shadow over the character for years afterwards. After he moved on to other projects, Daredevil became such a dark series that it was almost a self-parody; the character was put through so many trials and tragedies surrounding his personal life and career that they began to feel meaningless, as every new writer tried to create his or her version of Miller's run.
Things finally changed when Mark Waid took over the character with a new series launched in September 2011. Without ignoring what came before, Waid got back to basics with the character, moving him away from the depressive he had become and back to a proactive hero whose life still took the occasional dark turn -- it's just that these days that can happen without launching him into self-destructive spiral.
Talking of self-destructive spirals, the 2003 Daredevil movie may not deserve all of the scorn that's been thrown in its direction since its release, but neither should it be considered the height of what the character has to offer. It could be worse, though; at least a proposed cartoon version of the character from the 1980s, in which he would be accompanied by a super seeing-eye dog,failed to materialize.
A relatively recent addition to the Marvel Universe, Jessica first appeared in 2001's Alias #1, by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. At that point, she was a private detective without any direction in her life. But it was revealed that she, at one point, had been a little-known superhero called Jewel who had retired from superhero-ing after a traumatic incident left her in a coma for months.
After a two-year run of Alias, Jones moved closer to the center of the Marvel Universe, courtesy of a relationship with Luke Cage -- but we'll get to that soon enough.
Alias was an early target for television adaptation following Disney's purchase of Marvel in 2009. A pilot based on the show, titled AKA Jessica Jones -- "Alias" having been used by J.J. Abrams' spy series by that point -- was developed with Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg for ABC, but the project wasn't picked up. As recently as the start of this year, Rosenberg said that Marvel was continuing to consider options for the project.
The product of Marvel's attempt to cash-in on the then-contemporary Blaxploitation craze, Cage was created by Archie Goodwin, John Romita Sr. and George Tuska for 1972's Luke Cage, Hero for Hire series. It was soon retitled Luke Cage: Power Man before becoming Power Man and Iron Fist for the remainder of its thirteen-year run.
Originally, he was an ex-con who received superhuman strength and unbreakable skin as the result of prison experiments before hiring himself out as the superheroic version of a private investigator. That gimmick lasted many years, and included stints in the Fantastic Four and comic book Defenders.
By 2004, however, Cage had given up the mercenary life and settled down into a relationship with Jessica Jones -- something that would eventually lead to them marrying and having a child together. While all this was going on, Cage also joined the Avengers, eventually becoming the leader of the team and being tapped to lead another super-team, the Thunderbolts -- both positions he retired from to be with his family.
From stereotypical thug -- albeit one with the catchphrase "Sweet Christmas!" -- to family man, Luke Cage is the rarest of things for a superhero: one that has been allowed to evolve and grow throughout his existence. The primary Cage text is probably the Bendis run on New Avengers from 2004 through 2013, although the character can currently be found in Mighty Avengers.
Rumors of a Luke Cage movie have circulated for years; Columbia Pictures acquired movie rights in 2003 for a project to be directed by John Singleton, with Jamie Foxx, Tyrese Gibson and Dwayne Johnson being linked to the role over the years. Earlier this year, the rights to the character reverted back to Marvel.
Debuting in 1974's Marvel Premiere #15, Iron Fist was Roy Thomas and Gil Kane's attempt to jump on board the nascent martial arts bandwagon. An orphan raised in a mystical city called K'un-L'un, Daniel Rand gained the power of the Iron Fist -- something that makes his fist "like unto a thing of iron," to use the comic's own exposition -- after defeating a mythical dragon, a victory that also granted him increased healing powers.
Arriving back in New York to investigate the death of his parents, Rand quickly assumes a crime fighting persona that eventually leads to his meeting and partnering long-term with Luke Cage. The two shared the long-running Power Man and Iron Fist series through 1985, and reunited as members of the Avengers in 2010. In between those two periods, the character appeared in a critically-acclaimed series, The Immortal Iron Fist by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja.
An Iron Fist movie was being developed for Kirk Wong to direct with a 2001 production date. When Wong left the project, the project slowly withered on the vine, with constantly-rescheduled release dates and rumored screenwriter hirings. Along with Luke Cage, Iron Fist is a regular character on the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon currently running on Disney XD.