In Marvel's Cinematic Universe, the big explosions and the shiny costumes play with all the big money, but in Marvel's Netflix corner, they get the opportunity to display actual characters. In fact, through the serialized television format, Marvel can more directly recreate the comic book model for the screen. Five different heroes have now developed their stories, step by step, episode by episode, and each has taken the time to define character flaws and strengths.
With the exception of Daredevil, the other shows, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Punisher are just entering their second seasons, meaning they spent all of their opening round on an origin or some other form of introduction. For the purposes of this list, the main characters have been left off, as their stories are sure to evolve and change. Here are twenty other characters the Marvel Netflix shows have brought to the world: Ten Marvel Netflix Characters They Got Right, And Ten They Trashed
20 Right - Stick
Scott Glenn portrayed Stick, Daredevil’s mononymous mentor. Every hero needs a teacher, Stick took the young Matt Murdock under his wing to teach him the ways of extreme sensory perception and martial arts. He frequently collaborated with The Defenders on and off of the main action. Until his death, he was a general in the fight against The Hand, instrumental in their eventual defeat.
Glenn himself played the ornery grandfather expertly, filling his scenes with equal parts scratchy voice and quick wit.
Seasons one and two of Daredevil take the time to develop his character in several different directions, so the quasi father-son relationship with Murdock is one of the most emotional in the universe.
19 Trashed - Elektra
The latest attempt at putting the Elektra character on screen hasn’t gone any better than the previous ones, unfortunately. Elodie Yung brought a good emotional depth to the character, but the amount of story role she was written felt like a bit of a wild ride.
The scenes she and Daredevil had together showed promising chemistry, Elektra should simultaneously bring out the best and the worst in Matt Murdock. However, it was hard for audiences to ever relate with or root for her character. Her motivations and actions didn’t line up with her heroism, then she's evil for a while as the Black Sky. After her death, Daredevil might be better off moving on.
18 Right - Madame Gao
Nothing would surprise us from Madame Gao in the coming seasons of Marvel’s Netflix shows. Wai Ching Ho brings a performance full of quiet power as a founding member of The Hand and the most well connected villain in the Marvel Universe.
Whether she’s manipulating the Kingpin six ways from Sunday or casting sideways glances at Danny Rand, Madame Gao is playing the long game.
She’s cultivated her chi for a millenium and she’s always thinking seven steps ahead. As of the events of The Defenders, Madame Gao collapsed with the rest of The Hand, but we wouldn't be surprised to see her character resurface.
17 Trashed - Foggy Nelson
If you’ve been following the career of Elden Henson since he played a bully with a heart of gold, Fulton Reed, in The Mighty Ducks franchise, you were delighted to see him appear as Foggy Nelson, Matt Murdock’s under appreciated sidekick. Henson is hilarious in the role, but this version of Foggy keeps feeling out of place and in the way.
There are serious teamwork issues in the firm of Nelson and Murdock. A superhero/sidekick dynamic demands mutual respect, and there’s a lot animosity, usually, strangely, coming from Murdock. Daredevil’s a disaffected loner, sure, but until he opens up to Foggy, Henson’s character is stuck as the comic relief.
16 Right - Kingpin
Right off the bat: Vincent D’Onofrio is a Law and Order Hall of Famer, therefore he can do whatever accent he chooses. Now, the rest of the character is completely on point, no excuses necessary. Wilson Fisk’s line between calm and completely unhinged is shooting through every one of his scenes. Then, in the middle of season one, he really does bring the audience over to his side ever so slightly, the true mark of a compelling villain.
Kingpin loved, lost and got locked up all in that first season, then he spent the second one behind bars, still operating at all time evil.
Daredevil season three will see another rise of Kingpin; honestly, we’re not sure who’s side we’re on.
15 Trashed - Shades
Shades, played by Theo Rossi, is Harlem’s sleaziest gangster in Luke Cage and not in the good way. Audiences were immediately uncomfortable when they were first introduced to Shades as an imported hired hand in Cottonmouth’s club. From there they continued trying to love to hate him as he lied, cheated and killed his way up the ladder, basically the Littlefinger of Harlem.
There’s nothing wrong with naming characters after their physical characteristics, but not when it comes at the expense of actual characteristics. Everything we learned about Shades in that slow burn eight episodes of Luke Cage’s first season is completely contained in that name and it just wasn’t enough.
14 Right - Cottonmouth
Before winning an Oscar with Moonlight, Mahershala Ali played the reluctant godfather of the club, Harlem's Paradise, Cottonmouth.
The sensitivity Ali brought to the role made him perfect for the sprawling monologues and introspective artistry that defined Cornell Stokes' brand of crime.
Wounded, complex, Ali’s Cottonmouth moves beyond good and evil, giving a caricature of how one can get caught up in the momentum of the family business to the point that they sacrifice their own sense of self. Our only regret is that he won’t be back for Luke Cage season two.
13 Trashed - Diamondback
The first time Diamondback splashed on the screen, he caught everyone completely off guard, firing a rocket launcher at Luke Cage. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. At its leisurely pace, season one unfurled Willis Stryker's backstory and his setup as Luke Cage’s half brother, but this blast from the past had the same shock and awe effect as the rocket launcher.
While the hero-villain dynamic felt pretty one sided, Erik LeRay Harvey brings an electric performance and tries to fill the character with obsessive psychosis for hunting down his half-brother. Unfortunately the two never quite line up and Diamondback functions as a ‘D’ or ‘E’ level priority for the broader story.
12 Right - Misty Knight
Representing the NYPD proudly, Detective Mercedes “Misty” Knight, acts as the voice for justice through The Defenders' heroic journeys. Simone Missick plays the character to her fullest as her arc makes her an extremely empathetic protagonist.
She steals the show in Luke Cage, clashing, contrasting, and ultimately complimenting Colter’s leading role.
At the end of The Defenders miniseries, she loses her arm. Following in the footsteps of her comic book namesake, fans can expect her to come back with some form of robotic prosthetic. With that new addition, the word sidekick just doesn’t fit, so look for Misty Knight to become a full fledged Defender in the future.
11 Trashed - Micro
The Punisher, Marvel’s latest Netflix epic, goes into a deep character piece on Frank Castle’s road to recovery, after the events that lead him to fake his own death at the end of Daredevil season two. Micro becomes Castle’s closest confidant on his quest to get revenge for his family's murder and close the case that sent him into hiding.
Ebon Moss-Bachrach brings a lot of life to Micro, making him a down to earth character, but there was an opportunity to add lightness to that series that Micro really missed out on. David Lieberman added too much density to the story, further complicating Punisher’s burden, rather than shining through it.
10 Right - Mariah
New York City is showed off in each series and Harlem becomes a rich setting for Luke Cage. Mariah Dillard acts as the conduit, channeling that history and complexity right into the story. Alfre Woodard is responsible for making that connection possible, when Mariah come into scenes, the weight of her political connection anchors the entire premise.
Mariah’s character also shows how these franchises are succeeding in being relevant and grounded in their superhero stories.
Giving audiences that intimate look at everything Mariah tries to achieve politically, but also the facts of her life that she fails to overcome, says a lot about how stories can talk about reality.
9 Trashed - Harold Meachum
After Danny Rand’s parents died in a plane crash, his father’s business partner, Harold Meachum, assumed control of Rand Enterprises. As we learn through the first season of Iron Fist, that was only the first stage of the elder Meachum’s hostile takeover, as he goes on to pursue immortality and murder plenty of innocent civilians in his megalomaniacal rage.
David Wenham plays the evil businessman, but he’s pretty much working with charisma alone. The roots of this character’s villainy are at once cliched and completely out of nowhere. Audiences can look forward to his eventual defeat, but every step along the way is a slog.
8 Right - Karen Page
Karen Page holds these characters down at their street level in a really good way. Deborah Ann Woll provides the voice of the people through Page, who turns from an innocent bystander to reporter to reliable ally for the cause. Woll’s performance convincingly sells a character struggling to accept her own bravery every day.
Karen Page is constantly swept up in the story and shows that you don’t have to be super to be a hero.
Once she becomes a journalist, Karen Page can also act as a really good foil to the dialogue around superhero ethics, vigilantism and community safety. In her hands, the stories around the periphery of the action, the meaning behind the Marvels, can be explored and debated.
7 Trashed - Joy Meachum
This family is all over the place. If anything could forgive the Danny Rand character choices, it may be that growing up with the young Meachum siblings might explain why he acts the way he does. Watching season one of Iron Fist, it’s not at all clear if Joy or her brother Ward are redeemable at all.
Jessica Stroup played each episode as this character by ear, it seemed like. At first, like Joy Meachum might become an ally that could help Danny Rand retake his company, but she goes back and forth, not being able to make up her mind. She’s definitely a reason all of the Meachum family "palace intrigue" sunk that first season.
6 Right - Colleen Wing
Probably the brightest spot in Iron Fist season one is the development of Colleen Wing. Jessica Henwick is the archetype for how to start as skeptical citizen and become a supportive superhero ally. It helps to be a martial arts master already, with dojo space. At heart, Colleen is a teacher, teaching martial arts before she met Danny, so she’s the perfect pairing to the nascent, whiny Iron Fist.
Her arc and romance work really well throughout that first season too, which is saying something.
She begins as a member of The Hand, brainwashed by Bakuto, then she and Danny end of saving each other, developing an earned relationship. Colleen Wing is easily on the Mount Rushmore of Marvel Netflix sidekicks.
5 Trashed - Davos
One of the biggest obstacles Iron Fist faced was the presentation of the mystical land of K’un-Lun. Instead of doing a bunch of sequences there, (or interstitial flashbacks like Arrow), Davos served that purpose as a character, acting as the last link between Danny and his training.
If overcoming Davos was the last step in his hero’s birth, no one told Danny Rand. The drama between those two never really felt earned because their relationship felt too forced. Sacha Dhawan leaps across the screen amazingly and his scenes allude to some depth of character, but it just didn’t fit in the story.
4 Right - Kilgrave
Jessica Jones season one gives audiences a fantastic female hero pitted against a fantastic male villain and doesn’t run away from any of those gender connotations. The enmity between those Jessica and Kilgrave was intimate, personal, complex, earned, and chilling on screen.
David Tenant brings Kilgrave to life with exactly the level of plausible despicability needed to hit the villain sweet spot.
The whole series succeed when it sets the fans up for a set of expectations and then lets Jessica Jones stomp all over them. Kilgrave’s mind control abilities are explored throughout the series and his argument is fleshed out in its entirety before his eventual, beautiful collapse.
3 Trashed - Ward Meachum
One can imagine the conflict in developing characters for the Iron Fist franchise. They have to introduce a billionaire character, Danny Rand, and make him sympathetic to a broad audience. In order to build that sympathy, they dive into a picture of what that upbringing could have been like if his parents didn’t die. Enter the Meachum family and Danny’s pseudo brother bully, Ward.
Tom Pelphrey plays Ward Meachum, the tragic millionaire who gets boxed in by his crazy father, the corporation he’s running, and his substance habits. The character never did quite achieve that sympathy from audiences; they still hated to hate him even after his eventual downfall.
2 Right - Claire Temple
Bow down before Rosario Dawson, Claire Temple, and her dominance of the Mount Rushmore of heroic support allies. This is arguably where these shows all succeed the most, presenting anchors to keep each hero grounded: the nurse, the teacher, the journalist, the detective and the sibling.
Characters like Claire Temple are where street level heroes are brought into existence and more importantly where the weight and relevance of these shows to the public zeitgeist is really weighed.
Questions of the people, of the ethics of justice, how are problems solved and criminals put to justice, how are communities kept safe, are all argued between the superheroes, and these characters, the every day heroes keeping the debate alive.
1 Trashed - Alexandra
The latest Marvel Netflix drop came with the exciting team up of all four Defenders to fight the big bad boss of The Hand, Alexandra, played by the great Sigourney Weaver. Everything that makes these morality tales of good and evil interesting evaporated when the story steered toward this villain.
The Hand’s motivations have always been pretty vague, but they were washed out even further by Alexandra’s turn at the front of the organization. Despite a great performance, there just wasn’t any depth there. What started as a universe telling human stories in heroic costumes ended up feeling like humanoid ninja turtles fighting a villain crossed between Shredder and Ultron, played by the great Sigourney Weaver.
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