As Iron Fist surges onto screens around the globe, Netflix and Marvel have completed an important stage of their collaborative mission. Despite a controversy or two along the way, the two powerhouses of modern entertainment have successfully introduced Charlie Cox’s Daredevil, Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones, Mike Colter’s Luke Cage and Finn Jones’ Iron Fist. The Defenders, a series set to bring them all together, is already being filmed.
If you were only judging things by the Netflix series, you’d probably assume that The Defenders are a team of street-level heroes from New York with limited power-sets. That’s certainly true of these interconnected shows, but it’s actually a far cry from the comics.
Therein, anyone is eligible for membership of The Defenders. Your powers could be off the charts. You could live nowhere near NYC. You could be so far off street-level that you literally reside in deep space. With that in mind, here are 15 Marvel Heroes You Didn’t Know Were Defenders...
Thanos once set up a dark version of The Defenders, but very few baddies have ever joined the proper team. Antiheroes like Deadpool have made guest appearances, but bona fide evildoers don’t generally join the ranks of The Defenders. Dracula is one exception.
Vlad Dracula, the Marvel Comics version of the iconic vampire, reluctantly sided with The Defenders to take down a rival bloodsucker by the name of Gordski. Other morally questionable Defenders recruits have included Atlas, Junta, Paladin, Krang, and Son Of Satan.
Assuming that the MCU will continue to grow and tackle new genres until the end of time, they’ve got to introduce vampires eventually. The Netflix Defenders world would be an interesting place to plonk them, but, in all honesty, seeing Spider-Man versus Morbius in a big screen spectacular would probably be cooler.
Depending on how well Iron Fist’s addition goes down, the Defenders’ corner of the MCU could go either way with regards to fantastical/magic-y elements. They could add loads, or they could trim right back and stick to the grit.
“DIE, SPACESHIP!” isn’t a line of dialogue you’d expect to hear from a member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s gritty Defenders team, but in the comics, Drax The Destroyer is very much on the roster. In 1995, he joined a branch of the team dubbed the Secret Defenders in a big crossover event.
It’s worth remembering that the comic book version of Drax was a human named Arthur Douglas; he only joined The Guardians Of The Galaxy and became Drax after having his mind moved into a superhuman body. In the comic book universe, then, it makes a little more sense for Drax to join the Defenders. He was an Earthly character in the first place.
But in the shared universe of Marvel movies and TV shows, there’s probably not much hope of a crossover. The movie Drax is an alien, and his main drive is to take down Thanos, so he has little reason to set up shop in New York. Also, although Dave Bautista did used to appear on TV during his wrestling days, he’s firmly a movie star now.
13 Namor The Sub-Mariner
Namor The Sub-Mariner – who predates DC’s Aquaman in the world of water-dwelling, fish-controlling heroics – is a far cry from what you’d expect of a Defender these days. Indeed, there isn’t much gritty realism in the underwater telepathy game. But in the comics, he was actually a vital part of the team and one of its founder members.
The Defenders' first mission, in which Namor teamed up with two of the other heroes on this list, began its run in November 1969. The team wasn't officially named at that stage, though. The series saw three of Marvel’s finest working together to stop an invasion of Earth from some inter-dimensional beasties known as The Undying Ones. More recently, Namor was inducted back into The Defenders for a 12-issue series in 2011.
The live-action rights to Namor are reportedly back at Marvel, after being tied up at Universal for quite some time. But still, it would be mightily surprising if they decided to bring The Sub-Mariner into The Defenders. He’d be far better suited to the wacky world of The Avengers.
12 Doctor Strange
Doctor Stephen Strange is also a founder member of The Defenders. That aforementioned 1969 crossover event - in which Strange, Namor and one other hero fought off The Undying Ones - was originally intended for Doctor Strange’s solo comic book series. But when Strange’s run was cancelled, the Defenders banner was created to house the story instead.
In the years that followed, The Sorcerer Supreme became a recurring feature in The Defenders, often taking a leadership role. His rotating roster of teammates was drawn in from various corners of the Marvel Comics universe, including members of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four (of course, there’s no need here to go into all the legal reasons why they won’t be showing up in the Netflix Defenders).
Strange has also teamed up with Iron Fist multiple times, and is seen to be in a relationship with Night Nurse in a number of comics. Slotting him into the Netflix realm would make a certain amount of story sense, then. Also, Sherlock's continued existence proves that Benedict Cumberbatch is still game for TV work.
Even with that in mind, though, it seems unlikely that Stephen Strange will show up on Netflix while he’s such a bankable movie character. As long as the Doctor Strange film franchise exists, a Netflix appearance is a long shot.
11 Moon Knight
There’s certainly an appetite among fans for Moon Knight to appear in live-action form. The white-suited superhero (real name Marc Spector) has a colourful history: he's a prize fighter turned marine turned mercenary turned schizophrenic superhero. It’s even been suggested that his madness makes him stronger, by filling his bloodstream with extra adrenaline.
By bringing him into the Netflix fold, Marvel could produce a show barmy enough to rival Legion. And in the comics, there is a precedent (albeit it a small one) for Moon Knight to mix with The Defenders. He briefly joined the team in 1977 for a five-issue run, assisting with the takedown of a Life Model Decoy version of the villainous Zodiac team.
As far as anyone knows, Marvel has the rights to the character, so he could feasibly show up on Netflix at some point. The slate is pretty full at the moment, though, with further seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage in the pipeline as well as The Defenders season 1 and The Punisher, so Moon Knight may have to wait in line for a while.
10 Silver Surfer
The Silver Surfer was another early member of the team. After that initial adventure, Namor recruited the shiny-skinned Herald Of Galactus in a 1971 arc to work with him and one other hero (who we’ll get to later) to stop a dangerous weather control experiment. The surfboard-sporting superhero was present when the team was officially named in December 1971.
By now, you’re probably getting the picture: the original Defenders lineup was far more fantastical than the one that’s been slowly assembling on Netflix over the last couple of years. It would take a massive pile of cash to bring the founding comics team to life on screen, but the Netflix edition is much more achievable on a restricted budget.
Also, the team choices made for the Netflix Defenders allow the group to feel very different to the big screen Marvel team, the Avengers. The Defenders are on a smaller scale, concerned with protecting their local communities rather than the world at large. Even if Marvel did have the rights to the Silver Surfer, he wouldn’t really fit with this M.O.
9 Howard The Duck
Like Drax and Moon Knight, Howard The Duck has had one brief adventure with the comic book Defenders. It was a good one, too: in 1976, when Howard was running for President, he became an assassination target.
Doctor Angst and the Band of The Bland (yep, those are genuine villains in the Marvel universe) tried to pull off the hit, but Howard survived with the help of The Defenders. Doctor Strange, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and more came to his aid.
As much as it’s impossible to imagine this story unfolding in live action form, the idea of manoeuvring Howard The Duck over to Netflix could be a strong one. He’s certainly got enough name recognition to succeed, thanks to the comics, Guardians Of The Galaxy and George Lucas’s filmic flop from 1986.
The ongoing adventures of anthropomorphic duck trying to function as a private investigator in the Marvel Cinematic Universe could be really funny to watch. Netflix already has one hit show about talking animals in the shape of BoJack Horseman... why not add another one?
8 Black Panther
Although he’s more closely associated with The Avengers, T’Challa (aka Black Panther) has crossed paths with The Defenders a couple of times. In 1973, when the Avengers and Defenders clashed, Black Panther was present for the battle. And years later, in 2012, he joined forces with The Defenders in a time of political turmoil.
The Defenders went to Wakanda, working with T’Challa to investigate a villain named The Prince Of Orphans from the neighbouring nation of Z’Gambo. A ceasefire was broken, a war was instigated, T’Challa was seriously injured and The Defenders were thrust into a parallel universe. Just another nice easy day at the office, then.
The chances of Black Panther joining the Netflix Defenders are very slim. So far, The Defenders have almost entirely stayed in New York, and Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa recently returned to Wakanda. Some sort of massive crossover, in an event like Avengers: Infinity War, would be nice. But it would be such a logistical nightmare.
In Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., J. August Richards has played Deathlok, a cybernetically enhanced operative whose real name is Mike Peterson, on a few different occasions. He’s been notable in his absence since season 2, though, perhaps because the special effects costs to make the character work are a tad too steep for TV. Perhaps there could be room (and budget) for him in The Defenders someday?
In a 1995 comic book run, the Michael Collins version of Deathlok (who’s not entirely dissimilar to Mike from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) joined the Secret Defenders team, which was lead by Doctor Strange and later Doctor Druid.
The idea that pre-existing heroes could find new life on Netflix - after being unceremoniously dumped in other shows/movies - does sound nice, but the writers would surely prefer to develop their own characters than pick up S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sloppy seconds. It would be cool to get Deathlok back into action at some point, though.
6 Captain Marvel
In 1978, a friend of The Defenders by the name of Dollar Bill released a documentary about the team, letting the cat of their existence out of the bag. Suddenly, the Defenders were a household name, and many superheroes wanted to join. The Defenders are pretty laid-back about rules and formations, and a number of Earth’s mightiest heroes wanted in on that action.
This lead to a story entitled Defenders For A Day, where the Defenders’ ranks suddenly swelled. Among the new recruits were the original Captain Mar-Vell (a military man of the alien Kree race) and Carol Danvers (who gained her powers in a Kree explosion and became the superhero Ms. Marvel, before taking up the Captain Marvel mantle years later). Both Captain Marvels left the Defenders after one massively mismanaged mission.
Brie Larson is set to play Carol Danvers in a big screen Captain Marvel movie very soon, but the chances of getting a star of that magnitude onto a Netflix show seem infinitesimal. Again, at some point, the Avengers (whose ranks Danvers is certain to join) and the Defenders could cross paths, but nothing’s been confirmed on that front yet.
Both versions of Ant-Man have appeared in Defenders teams over the years. Hank Pym (the one played by Michael Douglas in the MCU) served in numerous iterations of the team, in various different guises. For a time he even fought in the Yellowjacket suit, and most recently he battled alongside The Defenders as Giant-Man.
Scott Lang (the one played by Paul Rudd) joined the team a couple of times, too: once to fight an evil group known as the Death Celestials, and on another occasion to stop a reality-warping device from falling into the wrong hands. He kept his Ant-Man moniker both times; he doesn’t change his super-name as often as Pym.
Sadly, the chances of either Ant-Man star showing up in the Defenders are about as tiny as an actual ant. As with Doctor Strange, as long as the films are making money, Marvel would be wary to lessen their value by plonking the same characters onto Netflix. But fingers remain crossed for an ‘every hero ever’ crossover occurring at some point.
4 The Hulk
The Hulk is an interesting one. Due to a rights issue with Universal, Marvel Studios can’t make the solo Hulk movies that everyone wants. This is why Mark Ruffalo’s big green rage monster is slated to appear in Thor: Ragnarok, offering fans something hulky to tide them over until the next Avengers flick.
It’s unclear if Marvel, legally, can use the Hulk in their small screen projects. Even if they can, the Ruff is probably too big a star to appear on Netflix, and the special effects involved in rendering the Hulk would surely be too costly. But still, it’s worth mentioning here that the Hulk is a core member of the Defenders team in the comics.
Along with Namor, the Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange, he was there when the team was named. He fought in the first battle. He’s been in almost every iteration of the team in one way or another. Before it became synonymous with Netflix street-level heroes, the word ‘Defenders’ was very closely associated with the Hulk.
Red She-Hulk and regular She-Hulk have both held spots on the roster, too. Maybe, if the Hulk can't come to Netflix, we could have one of them could? The recent She-Hulk comics, which explore Jennifer Walters’ lawyer life as much as her superheroics, could be a great framework for a binge-worthy series.
3 Nova (Richard Rider)
Richard Rider – who, if you’re unfamiliar, gets his super strength and energy projection powers from the Nova Corps - loves the The Defenders so much that he joined them twice. First, in 1978, he was one of those ‘Defenders For A Day’ who joined after the team went public and promptly left when the first mission turned out to be naff.
Then, in 1994, Nova signed up for a spot on the Secret Defenders team, adding some spacefaring flair to group. At that point, the team also included the likes of War Machine, Captain America, Wolverine and Scarlet Witch. It was quite a force to be reckoned with, and clearly nothing like the Defenders currently being assembled on Netflix.
Richard Rider may well join the MCU at some stage (maybe he’s Sylvester Stallone’s character in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2?), but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever join the NYC-centric Defenders.
Few heroes beat up as many small time New York crooks as Spider-Man. So unlike most of the heroes on this list, Tom Holland's web-slinger would actually be a perfect fit for Netflix’s version of The Defenders. His funny bone could stop the gritty tone from becoming unpalatable over time, as well.
But, once again, it’s likely that Marvel won’t want to spread the Spidey brand too thin, which means that the chances of him guesting on Netflix are slim. Perhaps, though, connectivity between Spider-Man and The Defenders could be established in a different way...
The Kingpin hatches schemes to get Spidey killed all the time, in the comics. Maybe Vincent D’Onofrio’s fantastic take on Wilson Fisk could transition from Daredevil to a Spider-Man movie at some point? It’s fairly clear that this won’t happen in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but there will surely be sequels after that.
Within the pages of Marvel Comics, Doctor Strange recruited Peter Parker - and the Julia Carpenter version of Spider-Woman - for his Secret Defenders team in 1993.
1 Ghost Rider
And finally, a character that would fit really well within the dark confines of the Netflix Defenders: Ghost Rider, who helped Doctor Strange reboot the brand by forming the Secret Defenders in a 1993 comic book run. Danny Ketch was wearing the flaming skull at the time.
Of course, it’s been well established that The Spirit Of Vengeance exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gabriel Luna debuted as the Robbie Reyes version of Ghost Rider during Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, turning in an excellent performance in the process. His origin episode even teased the existence of other leather-clad, burning-head revengers.
Robbie, or one of the other Ghost Riders, would make a fine addition to the Netflix realm. The brooding shtick of this mythos would make the rest of The Defenders seem positively cheery by comparison. But since he debuted on S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s a chance that ABC gets first dibs on a solo series.
As ever, only time will tell how the future of the MCU plays out. Hopefully, in time, the powers-that-be will embrace the idea of broadening the Netflix Defenders' horizons. Perhaps they’ll do that by bringing in some of these guys, and moving the action away from the streets of New York from time to time...