This article contains nothing but major spoilers for Marvel’s The Defenders. If you’d prefer a spoiler free review of the series, click here.
So I have to say, I’m a little surprised by The Defenders. While the show is an excellent return to form for Marvel’s stable of Netflix shows, it’s surprisingly light on Marvel Comics mythology. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (we don’t need easter eggs in every single scene), but given how jam-packed every other season of the Marvel Netflix shows was, I expected a little more. Then again, with all the world building they did in five other seasons of TV, I guess I can kind of understand why this is the way it is.
Anyway, I’m here (as usual) to break down all the cool Marvel stuff hiding in the margins, and hopefully to make your viewing experience a little more fun. But guess what? I need your help. I can’t do this alone! So if you spot anything that I missed (and I get the feeling I missed an awful lot this time around), drop it in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter. Together, we’ll make this the best resource for The Defenders on the internet!
The Defenders Episode 1: The H Word
Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand investigate criminals and fight injustice, unaware their paths are about to cross.
The first thing you have to understand is the team we’re about to know as The Defenders is absolutely, in no way whatsoever, the team that was originally called The Defenders. That squad included Doctor Strange (yep), Namor (what?), the Hulk (for real?!?), and the Silver Surfer (no, we’re not messing with you). It’s only recently in the comics that we’ve had Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist using the name (although everyone except Jessica had, at some point or another, been a member of the comic book team). We have a much more detailed breakdown of all that weirdness right here for you.
If anything, this team bears more relation to the “Marvel Knights” squad Daredevil briefly put together, which included Punisher, Black Widow, Dagger (soon to be on TV with Freeform’s upcoming Cloak & Dagger show), and Shang Chi (who should be a serious candidate for inclusion in Iron Fist Season 2).
– Thanks to Rick on Twitter who pointed out that the poor, dying fella (played by Mark Zaror) that lets Danny know that he should be hunting the Hand in NYC is credited as “Shaft.” Shaft is a member of Stick’s anti-Hand group, The Chaste.
– I’ve been to that impound lot on 49th that they threatened Trish with. It’s an absolute nightmare. Don’t get towed in NYC.
– Is the conversation with Trish and Jessica the first time we’ve heard the word “superhero” actually uttered on any of these shows? Or even in the MCU in general?
– This is a stretch, but I feel like Trish is wearing her Hellcat colors a little bit in these scenes, too.
– You can spot a sign for the “New Harlem Renaissance” on the bus that Luke gets off. Mariah and Shades’ plans from Luke’s series are clearly proceeding as expected, and this will have to be picked up and expanded on in Luke Cage Season 2.
– Claire compliments Misty’s “outfit.” While this is still a far cry from her comics look, that zipped up leather jacket is kind of a step in that direction. We’ll never go all the way there, though.
– The rooftop garden that Alexandra meets Madame Gao in appears to be the same one where Spidey dropped of Mary Jane in the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, right after the (ahem) “World Unity Day” festival/Green Goblin attack/Macy Gray concert.
Luke’s yellow t-shirt and black hoodie is a little closer to his comic book costume, and probably as close as we’re gonna get (other than that insane flashback in season one of his show).
– This is not an easter egg but it’s totally worth noting: I think Charlie Cox’s performance with the young kid Matt was representing marks his finest dramatic moment in the role.
The Defenders Episode 2: Mean Right Hook
As a new conspiracy takes shape, Matt finds old habits are hard to break, Jessica gets in over her head, Luke tracks a lead, and Danny meets his match.
– We get our obligatory reference to “the incident” early in this episode, referring once again to the events of the first Avengers movie.
– Is that Gichin Funakoshi’s Karate-Do book laying by Danny on the floor of the dojo in this episode?
– The crack about how Misty, re: Jessica Jones, “thought she’d be bigger” kind of mirrors some of the dopey internet commentary when Krysten Ritter was first cast in the role. Hard to imagine anyone else now, ain’t it you dummies?
– I’m drawing a blank on both Elmore’s bar and Trouble in Para-Dice as far as Marvel history goes. Can anyone help me out? Are these super deep cuts from early Luke Cage comics?
– OK, this might be the nerdiest thing I end up writing for this entire guide. When Alexandra is hanging out listening to her private classical music concert, she’s overlooking Columbus Circle in New York City. If you walk out the front door of that building she’s in and hang a left and walk about two blocks, you’ll be in front of the building that Sigourney Weaver lived in as Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters. And that’s not all!
Visible from the huge windows in the scene, look just to the right, and you’ll see a tan apartment building. That building is the basis/exterior shots for Lois Lane’s apartment in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. So when Lois Lane is hanging out on her balcony with Superman, she could pretty much see Dana’s apartment from Ghostbusters. Go check it out yourself when you’re in the city!
Speaking of Superman…
– Luke’s “just remember, you started this” is another in what I consider his series of “Black Superman” moments. He’s always nice and polite, but the edge there reminds me of the earliest Superman stories from the late 1930s/early 1940s, as well as George Reeves’ portrayal of the character on the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV show. I could totally here Reeves delivering a line like that just like Colter does here. I catalogued a ton of Superman parallels with Luke Cage here, if you want some more reading.
Wait, I should back up…
So, Luke Cage and Danny Rand are destined to become best pals, and even partners. In the comics, they shared titles like Power Man and Iron Fist and Heroes for Hire. They’re just off on the wrong foot here, that’s all. But this is another superhero trope: before Marvel superheroes can become friends, they first have to fight because of some misunderstanding. It’s the law. Don’t @ me, I don’t make the rules.
– When Jessica is going through the archives, there are a whole bunch of different company names that come up, including Twin Oaks Shipping, Sherwin Holdings, Folgen Corps, and others. I’ve come up blank on all of them in terms of Marvel references. Please correct me if you have sharper eyes than I do!
– Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones have an interesting friendship in the comics. They’ve come to each other’s aid a number of times, with Jessica (and Luke) even serving as Matt’s bodyguards at one point. But what’s really important about how this episode ends is that, like he did with the Punisher, a classic Daredevil trope is having Matt Murdock show up to defend a fellow Marvel Universe resident.
This also mirrors a scene from one of Jessica’s earliest comics, Alias #3, which also detailed their first meeting under similar circumstances, and to which Jessica wasn’t particularly interested in accepting help.
The Defenders Episode 3: Worst Behavior
Elektra’s secrets are revealed. Danny changes his tactics. Matt gives Jessica some legal advice. Luke searches for the White Hat.
– Alexandra once again betrays her true age here with the “Istanbul/Constantinople” slip-up, and now I can’t get that annoying ass They Might Be Giants song out of my head.
– The Elektra “rebirth” sequence is chilling, but the very best part is her emergence from the “coffin.” The way the hand comes out first, that’s a classic cinematic Dracula moment, used in everything from the original Nosferatu, to Tod Browning’s 1931 version with Bela Lugosi and beyond.
Thanks to Adam on Twitter, who pointed out to me that the Japanese glyph on the coffin means “resurrection/rebirth.”
– When Elektra is taking on various sacrificial Hand douchebags, that giant bearded guy looks like a classic martial arts movie heavy. Straight out of central casting from the 1970s. There’s a very specific actor I’m thinking of, but for the life of me I can’t place him, or even name a specific project at the moment. As soon as it comes to me, I’ll update this. In the meantime, feel free to jog my memory in the comments or on Twitter!
– The way Elektra dispatches those ninjas, and the strewn bodies of ninjas all over the place in various states of dismemberment, well, that’s some classic Frank Miller comic book imagery right there….
Overall, while the blending of Iron Fist and Daredevil mythology with the K’un-Lun/Hand connection is pretty much a convenient creation of these shows (one I’m totally cool with, by the way), it makes a little more sense for Stick and the Chaste to be directly in conflict with The Hand, and hence their mutual interest in Danny Rand.
– If you look closely you’ll see that Jessica Jones has a bullet hole in her scarf. That’s a hilarious detail. I can’t remember where that came from, though.
– The Defenders gets its Stan Lee cameo out of the way early this time. You can spot Smilin’ Stan on the same police poster we’ve seen him in on all the Marvel Netflix shows while Jessica is following Matt. Also, that whole following sequence has a really great score. John Paesano did the music for this series, and it’s the first time I think any of these themes are memorable.
– Danny Rand is rocking his classic green color scheme when he meets up with everyone at the dojo, and for most of the series. No proper costume yet, but Finn Jones told us he’s open to it!
– We’ve heard of Midland Circle in these shows before, notably in Daredevil, although I seem to remember it was also mentioned in Iron Fist.
This episode definitely has what I would consider Danny Rand’s best action sequence since he was introduced. And, y’know…I thought I was tired of the whole hallway fight thing, but this one is really tremendous.
The Defenders Episode 4: Royal Dragon
As the Defenders get to know each other over dinner, they’re greeted by a series of party crashers — none of them friendly.
This episode appears to be extra light on Marvel references, other than the return of Daredevil villain Nobu. BUT…
Let’s talk about all of the different names Alexandra has apparently used through history. Well, at least some of them:
Other than her obvious fondness for names that start with the letter “A” throughout, surely a clue in itself, anyone have any ideas if there’s anything in here that might reveal Alexandra’s identity? None of these names are ringing any Marvel bells. Anyone catch any that I didn’t? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!
The Defenders Episode 5: Take Shelter
Elektra’s loyalties are questioned, Colleen clashes with an old acquaintance, and Luke proves he knows how to take a hit.
– The opening of this episode, with the classical music and the goons in the van, kind of recalls the Daredevil season one finale, when Fisk is getting ready to make a break for it.
– I think the fight in the Royal Dragon might actually be cooler than the hallway fight from episode 3.
– When Luke gets hit by a truck, did anyone else get a serious Looney Tunes/Wile E. Coyote vibe? That was amazing.
– Stick telling his four heroes they need to escape into the sewers is totally an intentional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles joke, right? Right. I’m so certain of this that I wrote an entire article about it!
– The costume that Elektra is wearing is really great, and is the closest to her comic book outfit we’re ever likely to see on this show.
– Has anyone in The Hand identified what “the substance” is that grants them immortality? I’m a little fuzzy on this, and to be honest, between this Lazarus Pit like plot device and the stuff about destroying a city to cleanse it, the Ra’s al Ghul vibes are a little too strong for my liking.
– We do get some more clues about Alexandra here, though. She apparently isn’t just the leader of The Hand, she’s the founder! Is her daughter significant? Is any of this helping these clues come together?
– Like Alexandra, I’m not sure if Sowande is actually a stand-in/pseudonym for another Marvel villain. He apparently took out The Chaste, though, so that’s pretty badass!
– The fact that the only way to kill these Hand elders is by beheading them is a nice, Highlander-esque touch.
– It’s great to see Bakuto back as one of the “five fingers of The Hand” as he was too good a villain to kill off at the end of Iron Fist. On the other hand the whole “I tried being dead” line is some hacky dialogue, and these shows are better than that!
– Is it my imagination, or does the Daredevil suit look way better than it did in Daredevil Season 2? It seems more flexible and less awkward.
The Defenders Episode 6: Ashes, Ashes
Stick offers up a theory, Danny finds himself sidelined, and Alexandra learns that it’s not easy being the leader.
So, that official synopsis above sure has a way of both revealing spoilers and underplaying the shit out of them, right?
– I feel like I should know my classical music better in general, especially since it’s featuring so heavily in this series at key/revelatory moments. None of this music gets chosen by accident, so if anyone can shed any light on some of these compositions, I’d appreciate it.
Speaking of which, can anybody help me identify what the paintings are in Hand HQ there? I bet they have considerable significance.
– The idea that Iron Fist is “a weapon not a key” feels like a nod towards the title of one of Iron Fist’s actual comic book titles, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon.
For that matter, when Danny is talking to Luke and says “Luke Cage and the Iron Fist” that’s an intentional nod to one of the comic book titles they shared: Power Man and Iron Fist.
– The fight between Matt and Danny (and the rest of the team) is great, but especially the Matt/Danny stuff. For one thing, these fights are so much better staged than what we got on Iron Fist. For another, you can see the differences in their styles more clearly. Matt is definitely more of a brawler, which calls back to his Dad’s boxing influence.
– When Madame Gao walks in on Alexandra, and we see the start of their conversation reflected in Alexandra’s vanity mirror, it’s about the closest these shows come to doing clever “comic book style” shot framing.
– I was wondering when someone would bring up how Matt can afford an apartment in Manhattan with the work he does. Thanks, Jessica!
– Sandor in the comments has been helping me out a lot (thanks, Sandor!) and he points out that the melody Matt plays on the piano is the Daredevil theme! Now, as for Matt’s piano playing ability, the only time there seems to be any reference to that in the comics is in a handful of Frank Miller stories, and since Miller’s stuff is generally considered the final word on DD, I’ll take it!
– I love Alexandra’s subtle reaction when Madame Gao says “this is what mortality looks like.” Sigourney Weaver absolutely rules.
– Luke is reading The New York Bulletin while guarding Danny. Damn it, guys, doesn’t anybody read The Daily Bugle in this town? When they finally do introduce the Bugle to the MCU, it had better be failing, and only “more pictures of Spider-Man!” will get the circulation up. It’s the only way to adequately explain its absence.
– The long conversation between Elektra and Alexandra appears to take place in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, which was also the site of The Punisher’s arrest in Daredevil Season 2.
– Elektra leading the hand? Yeah, that has definitely happened in the comics before. This is about to get interesting…
The Defenders Episode 7: Fish in the Jailhouse
Matt, Jessica, and Luke embark on a desperate search. Colleen and Claire debate heroism. Elektra tries to recruit an all-important ally.
– First off, the instrumental that kicks this off is a version of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” which is pretty cool. It sounds like an electric arrangement of Nirvana’s famously incredible acoustic performance from Unplugged in New York, and the band also recorded an electric version in the studio, but…this isn’t that. Any idea who it is? Because it’s pretty cool.
– Y’know, I didn’t realize that Charlie Cox got even bigger since Daredevil Season 2 until they put him in that NYPD t-shirt. Dude’s arms are for real.
– I like that Foggy is acutely aware of the danger of Matt’s identity being revealed under investigation. Do you have any idea how many times in the comics it has come out in public that Matt is Daredevil? Like, all of the times. It’s only a matter of time until it happens on Netflix.
– Foggy’s crack about Jessica being “Super Joan Jett” is the greatest thing. You…you do know who Joan Jett is, right? I don’t have to explain that to you?
– The idea that it would take an Iron Fist to open some kind of magical doorway sounds like a familiar story from the comics, but I’m damned if I can remember which one. If any of you know, please tell me!
UPDATE: Eirik on Twitter points out that this could very well be a reference to The Eighth Heavenly City, from the tail end of the essential Immortal Iron Fist comic from 2008-2009. The Eighth City was a kind of hellish dimension, and the idea was that the elders of K’un-Lun could imprison demons there. Might make sense for why there’s a dragon entombed here?
– I can believe all kinds of things: super strength, unbreakable skin, a blind lawyer with radar sense, mystical chi making you a living weapon. But I’m sorry, the idea that Jessica, Luke, and Matt could get ANYWHERE while on a hard deadline via the NYC subway system is a bridge too far. We’d all be dead if that had to happen. It’s an absolute disaster these days.
– Jessica jokes that “We’re not alone” is “an MJ deep cut.” She’s actually referring to “You Are Not Alone” by Michael Jackson. That has nothing to do with Marvel. I’m not sorry.
– Sandor thinks that when Colleen tells Bakuto “not today” when he tries to kill Matt, it’s a Game of Thrones callback (“There is only one thing we say to death, not today” – Sylvio Forel), referencing Jessica Henwick’s time on the show. I’ll buy it!
The Defenders Episode 8: The Defenders
As New York edges closer to disaster, Elektra sees what’s beyond the wall, and the Defenders make a last-ditch effort to save the city.
– So, Danny is basically just hanging out inside the skeleton of the same kind of dragon he punched the shit out of to get his Iron Fist abilities? That’s…pretty cool.
– Jessica’s “this will all be easier once they’re gone” crack sounds like famous last words. Sure, they get rid of the Hand in this episode, but there’s no way Jessica’s life is getting any easier after this.
– Luke is adamant that “no innocents, not a single innocent life” are put in harm’s way during this mission. Again, the MCU’s Superman isn’t Captain America, it’s Luke Cage.
– I love that Madame Gao refers to Jessica as “the unyielding woman.” I expect that on t-shirts and tattoos by next week.
– When Danny and Madame Gao are about to fight she briefly adopts something that looks like a crane stance. A nice reminder that she’s essentially this show’s Crane Mother.
– That’s “Protect Ya Neck” by the Wu-Tang Clan playing during the big fight scene. It’s from their all-time classic first album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the title of which is a reference to an incredible series of kung fu movies that I really hope Iron Fist Season 2 learns from. This isn’t the first time Wu-Tang has been used on these shows (the first track from this album was put to memorable use during the hallway fight on Luke Cage), but man this kicked all kinds of ass.
Listen to it here, because you need more Wu-Tang Clan in your life…
Also note: this song references Spider-Man, which might be the closest we’re gonna get to having Spidey show up in this version of MCU NYC. Or maybe not. You never know, right?
– Misty Knight loses her arm, something that was teased with an injury on Luke Cage but didn’t end up happening. When next we see her, she’s going to have a state-of-the-art bionic arm. The comic book version of how that happened is different, and there’s a great article on it here.
Also, it’s clear that this is the start of the beautiful friendship between Misty and Colleen, and those two have a long history in the comics.
If you look closely at the Patient Care Board you’ll see some great, fun stuff, too…
Phid on Twitter pointed out that “L. Carter” is the nurse on duty attending to Misty. Linda Carter (no, not Wonder Woman) is the original Night Nurse. Remember when we all thought Claire was Night Nurse? But wait, there’s more!
There’s a Dr. E. Wirtham on there. That would be Elias Wirtham, known by his antihero/kinda supervillain name Cardiac. He’s a Spider-Man supporting character, so read into that what you will. There are a few really fun Spider-Man nods scattered throughout this, and I wrote more about Cardiac and more right here!
And that’s not all!
Doctors who are supposed to follow up on Misty are Dr. Tony Isabella and Dr. Arvell Jones. Those are Misty’s creators. But wait, we’re not done!
See the numbers up top? P03-12 is a reference to Misty’s first appearance, which was in Marvel Premiere #21. I think someone just reversed those numbers. It came out in 1975, hence the 555-1975.
– Matt and Elektra’s dialogue at the end, especially Matt’s steadfast refusal to accept that she can’t be redeemed, is reminiscent of Return of the Jedi. Intentionally, I imagine, especially since right after that we see a Hand guy fall to his death down a shaft in a way that certainly reminded me of the Emperor’s death in that film.
There’s a lot going on in this ending in general, so I wrote a much longer article explaining it all in detail.
– Luke and Jessica are destined to end up together, just in case that talk they had didn’t clue you in.
– This is the first time Jessica’s door has been intact since the opening moments of Jessica Jones Season 1. I wonder if in the first episode of season two someone is going to get their head put through it again.
– Danny is clearly inspired by Matt’s sacrifice, and is looking out over the city like he’s Daredevil. Danny did briefly fill in for Matt in the DD costume in the comics, but that’s not what’s happening here. Nishlesh pointed out that Danny is wearing a tracksuit here, and that’s kind of significant. The current Iron Fist costume in the comics resembles a tracksuit…
This isn’t quite the same, but I could see them going with a tracksuit/mask combo rather than a traditional costume. I don’t think we’ll ever get that high collar, though. It’s for the best.
– The nuns are told to “get Maggie” while Matt is bedridden. Sister Maggie is…well…that’s a huge, huge spoiler for Daredevil Season 3. If you really want to go there in potentially spoilery detail, and consider what this all means for the next season of Daredevil, I wrote more about it here.
So? What’s up Defenders? Did I catch everything? Help me out by letting me know what you spotted down in the comments, or holler at me on Twitter. If it checks out, I’ll update this with new information!
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