WARNING: The following article contains SPOILERS for Marvel's The Defenders
If there was any doubt that Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist were all building towards one major story, then The Defenders shows it was the producers' plan for Netflix all along. Now that the team-up series has arrived, and Phase One of the Netflix road map has been completed (with the next series being teased) fans can enjoy not only the action, the dialogue, and the conflicts... but the Marvel Comics Easter Eggs, too.
It would have been enough of a victory for The Defenders to be one of Netflix's biggest premieres, but the series did so much more: showing the way forward in Phase Two of Marvel's Netflix storytelling. Assuming that viewers know their Marvel Comics history well enough to spot the clues...
Needless to say there will be SPOILERS in our list of Marvel's The Defenders: Easter Eggs & Marvel Connections.
13 The Renaissance Lives On
The first season of Luke Cage took an unexpected turn for a Marvel property by putting its hero in prison by the season's close - and leaving the two masterminds of some nasty social manipulation to keep up their cause. As the new leaders of Harlem's Paradise and the crime community that flows through it, Shades (Theo Rossi) and Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) are left to expand their empire beyond that of Cottonmouth. And when Luke Cage returns home in the first episode of The Defenders, it seems they're still using an old marketing campaign.
Turk later suggests that the villains disappeared after Luke's arrest, but when Luke exits the bus taking him into Manhattan (past Pops's old barber shop), an advertisement for the 'New Harlem Renaissance' can be seen plastered on its side. Fans of Luke Cage will remember the phrase as the slogan of Mariah's double dealings: promoting advancement, but working to milk Harlem for all it was worth. Apparently, they're not softening their stance, either. That's Madam C.J. Walker, the famous African American activist visible on the ad.
12 Throwback To Jidenna
The series does its best to keep each character's own visual style intact, soaking the interiors of Luke Cage's scenes with yellow light. But the visual Easter Eggs are also linked to ones viewers have only heard in Luke's own season. We're referring to the wall art when Luke goes digging into the late night employment of Cole (J. Mallor McCree).
Cole may be too young to frequent Harlem's Paradise, but he would obviously have been a fan of their musical appearances. The artwork for Jidenna's "Long Live The Chief" can be seen on Cole's wall, and even if viewers don't know the artist, they know the song. Jidenna actually appeared in the first season of Luke Cage performing that very song on the Paradise stage in Episode 5.
11 Return To The Roof... Again
The first meeting between Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) and Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) helps establish the real evil forces at work, but fans may have missed one inversion of power made explicit in shooting locations. In Daredevil Season 1 Madame Gao became the obvious figure of mystical importance when Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio) put on his best skills of charming subservience, honoring Gao by meeting her in a quiet rooftop garden.
In The Defenders, it is Gao who is brought to meet Alexandra in almost the exact same spot. This time around, fans can see for themselves the even greater connection to Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie. All of the scenes were set in the same location, but in The Defenders, the shot placement from Spider-Man is almost identical.
10 Tsukamoto Sword
When Danny and Colleen go searching for the operations of The Hand in New York, they quickly stumble across a samurai blade - one Colleen quickly refers to as "a Tsukamoto." She can barely bring herself to touch it, simply observing it... and noting that the one before them has been sharpened. And you don't sharpen a Tsukamoto unless you plan on using it. But the reference here has little to do with martial arts, at all.
The line is almost certainly a reference to Shinya Tsukamoto, a Japanese cult film director who earned his place in cinema history with Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988). Sharing a name with Marvel's movie poster boy, the film helped ensure that Tsukamoto would be seen as the true master of not Japanese martial arts films, but Japanese cyberpunk.
9 Callback Punch
Marvel fans got the chance to see just how strong and compelling a character Luke Cage was when he debuted in Jessica Jones, helping break up a bar fight without breaking a sweat. But it wasn't until his solo series that he demonstrated his true durability. It was there that he walked into a group of Cottonmouth's men shaking down a local business, with the camera zooming in on a slow-motion look at one gangster's punch.
In that first scene, his fist smashed into an unbreakable human, barely moving Luke's jaw an inch as the bones in his hand snapped. When Luke faces off against Danny he thinks the same will happen. Fortunately, the exact shot is repeated, with Danny's glowing impact and the shock on Luke's face caught in super slow motion.
8 Eye-Catching Sai
The structure of The Defenders throws audiences through a bit of a loop, when Elektra is shown resurrected by The Hand to battle other members of the team - and then her origin story is explained in Episode 3. And we do mean origin story: Elektra may have appeared in a season of Daredevil, but she's been returned to the mind of a child when brought back to life. A deadly, superstrong child.
The first sign that the person Elektra used to be remains somewhere in her mind comes early on, when Alexandra lead her into a wide selection of weaponry. Elektra ends up choosing a pair of wakizashi (short-swords), but the presence of a pair of sai - her traditional signature weapon and the ones used in Daredevil - gives her obvious pause.
7 Stan Lee Cameo
It wouldn't be a Marvel release without a cameo from comic book legend Stan Lee, and he continues his trend of appearances as a spokesperson for the NYPD of Marvel's Netflix universe here. Having previously shown up in a framed photo in Daredevil, and later as part of an NYPD awareness campaign, he's now even more visible on the streets of the city.
When Jessica realizes she's being tailed and turns the tables on Matt, keep your eyes off of the action at hand. Shortly before Jessica pulls her reversal on Matt, Lee's face can be seen on a large poster. Once the camera switches to follow Matt instead, the same advertisement can be seen from the reverse angle.
When the four heroes finally join forces to take on The Hand, they're thrown into intense combat immediately. They eventually get the chance to talk about the plan in greater detail, and fill eachother in on their personalities and powers. Jessica, it turns out, isn't that big 0n mysticism or magic... or the moniker of 'the Imoortal Iron Fist.' Instead, she refers to Danny Rand as "Ironclad."
The line may seem like a demonstration of how little attention Jessica has paid to Danny's origin story or 'destiny,' but Ironclad is a Marvel Comics villain. You can guess his power set, but we doubt there's anything more to this reference than a small wink to the fans.
5 Protect Ya Neck
There's no question that Luke Cage elevated the musical game of the Marvel Defenders universe, so it's no surprise to see the final showdown get some audio accents. When Danny unleashes his Iron Fist on Madame Gao, the action is immediately accompanied by the Wu Tang Clan's "Protect Ya Neck." It's a perfect choice of song for the four heroes beating their enemies one after another, but it's also a fun inside joke for fans who know the song, and group.
It's hard to overlook the fact that when Iron Fist was announced, many had to clarify that it wasn't the same as the film The Man With The Iron Fists starring RZA, a Wu Tang member. Or the fact that Method Man cameo-ed as himself in Luke Cage. The song choice here is a perfect storm, since it includes the line - clearly heard in the fight scene - "Swingin' through your town like your neighborhood Spider-Man."
4 Misty's Arm
The Marvel movies may keep injuries and wounds to a minimum, but the Netflix shows have seen their stars take far more serious blows. None worse than Misty Knight (Simone Missick) who loses most of her right arm in the final episode of the series. It's a tragic injury no matter how you look at it, but the comic book fans were probably experiencing more complex emotions when the attack actually happened.
That's because of Misty's most notable detail in the comics: her bionic arm allowing her to be even more effective in a fight. Fans have been demanding a chance to see a series based on Marvel's Daughters of the Dragon - starring Misty and Colleen - and a bionic arm may be the thing to get them there.
3 Night Nurse Finally Confirmed?
When Colleen pays her visit to Misty, casual viewers may be too distracted with her grief, or Misty's promise of a bionic arm to take in the surroundings. The cards, flowers and balloon show that Misty has no shortage of friends and admirers (no surprise there), but the real bombshell is on the Patient Care Board on the wall behind Colleen.
The board identifies a "L. Carter" as one of Misty's caregiver, who fans will know better as Linda Carter a.k.a. Night Nurse. A regular in the world of New York's street-level crimefighters, Night Nurse has been absent (but vaguely homaged in both Rosario Dawson's character and Rachel McAdams's in Doctor Strange). Until now? Also worth noting is the mention of 'Dr. E. Wirtham,' a reference to the Marvel villain Cardiac, and Marvel writer/editor Tony Isabella, no stranger to Power Man and Iron Fist.
2 Sister Maggie
It isn't just Matt Murdock's ex-girlfriend who makes him a central figure in the larger Defenders story - its final scenes also show that the hero's next season could be a massive one. When Matt is revealed to have survived his ordeal - as if anyone assumed otherwise - he is shown to be recovering in the care of unidentified nuns. When he begins to rouse himself, the nun at his bed tells someone off-screen to "get Maggie."
How big a deal is that name? Well, it's probably a sign that Matt is about to be cared for by an anonymous nun named Sister Maggie... who he later realizes is actually-- you know what, you can read more about the Daredevil/Maggie connection here, since it's a pretty gigantic spoiler for Season 3 to go any further.
1 The Punisher is Coming
Marvel fans know that if they sit through the credits they'll have their patience rewarded in one way or another. It apparently also goes for the Netflix shows, since there's also a surprise waiting at the end of Defenders season 1. It's the first teaser trailer for The Punisher, showing how Jon Bernthal's Daredevil character is putting his freedom to use in "coming to collect" on those who have crossed him.
So there you have it Marvel fans: every subtle nod to the comic book mythology, concealed reference to another Marvel property, and and hint of what's to come from The Defenders in the future. There are sure to be more, so let us know if you've got any that should be added to our list.