Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Luke Cage season 1
With the recently-released Luke Cage now in the bag (you can read our early reviews, continuity explanations, and collection of best moments), three quarters of the street-level superheroes that will comprise the Defenders have been firmly established in the Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And although we still have to wait for Iron Fist’s arrival next March, there’s much that we can gather to start to put together a rather clear picture of just what, exactly, the story will be in the upcoming Defenders miniseries.
There’s a very clear parallel between what Marvel TV is doing here with these five (well, six, if you include the Punisher spinoff – which may enter the fray sooner than expected) series and what its big-screen sibling, Marvel Studios, did with Phase 1 of the film franchise - right down to the number of storytelling units being deployed (five movies in one, and five seasons in the other) before the giant crossover lands.
And just as movies like Iron Man laid the groundwork for an eventual team-up in post-credits scenes, so too does Luke Cage add a few more building blocks for the eventual Defenders crossover. Let's take a look at a few of the clues that Power Man dropped for us in his first solo outing.
Where Luke Cage Leaves Off
Centering around the bulletproof vigilante known as Luke Cage (Mike Colter), the series moves the action from Hell’s Kitchen, the setting of the two previous series, and uptown to Harlem. As such, the central plot is focused on establishing Luke as a hero rather than directly setting up The Defenders – but there’s a lot more going on behind the narrative scenes, and what little plot carryover there is promises to be nonetheless considerable.
Let’s look at the ending of the finale. Thanks to his crafty nemesis Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), Luke Cage is publicly outted as Carl Lucas, a fugitive from Georgia’s Seagate Prison, which leads to the US Marshals tracking him down with the intent of returning him to jail. Given the season’s overriding character focus on Luke learning to stop being on the run and to stand his ground (more on this in just a little bit), he decides that he’ll go willingly back to jail to serve out the rest of his sentence - a generous move, since he could punch his way out straight through the walls at any time.
But there’s a glimmer of hope here: a file full of paperwork that proves Carl was framed, which would result in Luke’s freedom to go and defend New York with his fellow Defenders. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawnson), who has been a regular cast member in both Daredevil and Luke Cage, promises to put Luke in touch with the Devil of Hell's Kitchen himself, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a gifted lawyer who will undoubtedly be able to win Luke’s case. It’s our best guess that Defenders will open with Luke still in Seagate, meeting Matt for the first time, or with their trial in court just finishing up, making Luke Cage a direct bridge to its successor miniseries.
The “Night Nurse” (a name from the comics that was finally applied to Claire’s character in the home stretch of Luke Cage, if only in passing) isn’t be the only familiar face from Luke Cage who is set to return in The Defenders. Detective Misty Knight (Simone Cook), who is herself a superhero in the source material, is also officially confirmed to make an appearance. Her involvement promises to be an important one, based on how much time was dedicated to her character development in Luke Cage.
No, she probably won’t be getting that Tony Stark-designed robotic arm, but given that Misty’s learned to trust Luke and his heroic/chaotic ways, she’s an important friend to have; helping to keep the city together while the four protagonists take care of the main action.
Where Daredevil Left Off
Luke Cage's finale may not seem like much carryover, but it’s actually considerably solidified once we add in everything from Daredevil, which acts like Netflix’s version of the Iron Man films: getting two installments and establishing a number of various narrative pieces-parts that will more than pay off in the team-up climax. As such, a brief recap for those viewers not familiar with Daredevil’s two seasons may be in order.
Although the show initially presented itself as a dark, gritty, organized-crime-based story, a more mystical core slowly revealed itself across the first group of 13 episodes before fully blossoming in the second season. It turns out that Hell’s Kitchen has gotten itself caught up in a millennia-old struggle between two rival factions: the Hand, a clan of ninja warriors who seem to obsessively hunt the world for “weapons” called the Black Sky; and the Chaste, an organization whose sole existence is to prevent the Hand from dominating the world. Matt Murdock gets swept up in this eternal conflict as a boy, when he’s secretly trained by a blind martial arts expert, known only as Stick (Scott Glenn), in preparation for “the war.” Once the adolescent Murdock reaches a certain physical (and emotionally dependent) point, he’s abandoned, left to become a lawyer and a street-prowling vigilante on his own – or so he thinks.
Right underneath Daredevil’s nose, the Hand arrives in New York, using the Yakuza’s already-established structure and contacts, and begins to dig a massive hole in the ground underneath the city that never sleeps, though the reason why is never divulged (our best guess is that it’s being saved for The Defenders as opposed to Daredevil’s third season). Then there’s also the attempt to smuggle in these Black Skies, which are revealed to be people – living weapons that are so powerful, they are destined to lead the ninja in their global conquest. While Stick resurfaces in Matt’s life fast enough to murder the first of these – a young Asian boy – he’s unable to fell the second: Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung), a woman who’s also been trained from a young age by Stick and who was ordered to surreptitiously continue Murdock’s training in college, posing as his girlfriend.
In the second season finale, Daredevil and Elektra team up once again in order to foil the Hand’s ongoing operations, whatever they may be, but the ninja warriors inadvertently slay their Black Sky during combat. Stick and Matt mourn her death, but the Hand exhumes her body and places it into some type of resurrection chamber, which they somehow use to ensure eternal life for their most important members.
Given the existential threat that the Hand represents – and given the fact that Stick himself features prominently in the Defenders’ teaser trailer – it’s safe to assume that it will be the greater-than-great threat that will cause all four of the vigilantes to unite together as the Defenders, stopping the clan from decimating New York City (not to mention the rest of the world). This would mean Elektra’s return, as well, and just possibly the Punisher’s - yet another street prowler who finds himself assisting newfound ally Daredevil’s forays against the ninja.
Assuming Matt Murdock is able to get Luke out of prison, Harlem's hero will be there to witness the ages-old struggle between the Chaste and the Hand firsthand – and may be pressured to help out by Claire, who can personally attest to the organization’s resurrection abilities. Once on board, Luke could recruit his ex-lover Jessica Jones in the war.
This is where Luke Cage’s central themes of identity and reputation, and how far one is willing to go to defend them, can come into play – the miniseries is called The Defenders, after all. From this early vantage point, not having any official details from Defenders to play off of at all, it would seem that the most exciting part of the series will be to see how the four heroes’ identity grows to include one another, as well.
Both Daredevil and Luke Cage (and, to a lesser extent, Jessica Jones) have laid the seeds for Manhattan's heroes to eventually team up, as well as the groundwork for who their enemies will be. The big connecting bridge, however, will be Iron Fist, which is said to have more villains than any of the other series (a tall order, since Cage had four key villains in play). Where there are a number of antagonists who could be the core threat, the fact that Danny Rand is trained in Eastern martial arts means that the Hand's ninja would be a natural fit for the show.
There's also a good chance that one or more of the other Defenders will make an appearance in Iron Fist, in order to establish a connection before they all team up; after all, New York City isn't that big, and costumed heroes tend to attract attention.
Daredevil seasons 1 and 2, Jessica Jones season 1, and Luke Cage season 1 are now available on Netflix. Iron Fist will arrive on March 17th, 2017, followed later that year by The Defenders. Release dates for Jessica Jones season 2, The Punisher and Daredevil season 3 have not yet been announced.