“This is the first time Marvel Television has set foot in this hall,” newly-anointed Inkpot Award winner and Defenders mastermind Jeph Loeb told a raucous Hall H crowd at San Diego Comic-Con. “For me to be up here, I’m so grateful to all of you.”
Marvel TV fans had plenty of occasion to return that gratitude. Over the next hour and a half, they got three bits of good news:
1. Iron Fist will get a second season
This was sort of inevitable, even though the show’s first season was meh on both a relative and absolute basis. Unless showrunner Marco Ramirez planned to kill off Danny Rand in The Defenders, it would be awkward for the young tycoon to disappear while all three of his fellow superheroes’ stories continue. And it seems fair to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt and assume that a second season of Iron Fist will correct many of the inaugural effort’s mistakes. (A little lighter on Arrow-lite would be a fine place to start.) For his part, Finn Jones offered what could be interpreted as an excuse for his character’s unremarkable development: “I’ve always thought that Season One of Iron Fist and Season One of The Defenders was Danny’s full arc,” the actor said.
2. Our first look at The Punisher
Jon Bernthal popped out from behind the massive screen, fulfilling Loeb’s promise of guest appearances, and used his stage time to thank the country’s law enforcement officers—presumably because one develops a greater appreciation for law enforcement after playing a hell-bent vigilante. And Frank Castle is hell-bent in the clip that was shown to the assembled audience. If he keeps up his demonstrated pace, it’ll be hard to keep count of the number of different methods the Punisher uses to kill folks in the series’ upcoming first season; this list already includes a truck, a sniper rifle, and a victim’s necktie. Meanwhile, whereas New York is omnipresent in Marvel’s series to date (Loeb called the city “the fifth Defender” when he doled out acknowledgements), The Punisher will do much of his massacring across the South and Southwest. A bluesy guitar riff, played by Punisher with his daughter so as to remind us of the grief that’s compelled his ruthlessness, sets a badass tone for the first-look clip. And Bernthal looks like he’s picked up his breakout right where he left off in Season Two of Daredevil. We’ll have much more to say about The Punisher as it draws closer to release later this year, but for now, count us impressed at its ability to make brutal murder worthy of some chuckles.
3. The Defenders itself
Beyond the four main cast members, the panel consisted of Ramirez, Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing), Debbie Woll (Karen Page), Elodie Yung (Elektra) and an elegant Sigourney Weaver (Alexandra), who got a standing ovation because she’s a living legend and also, by a wide margin, the biggest star Marvel’s Television Universe has yet landed. The panel discussed some typical panel things: Everyone lauded Netflix for taking a leap of Feige-ian faith and allowing Marvel to execute this long-term plan; Charlie Cox mentioned that his contract to play Daredevil included language about The Defenders from the beginning; and, of course, each actor told the show’s fans things they likely already knew about the main characters. That Jessica Jones “doesn’t really want to play with others” isn’t really news. Nor is the fact that Colleen Wing “hasn’t come to terms with what’s happened emotionally” since the end of Iron Fist.
That’s why the excitement didn’t really get underway until Loeb said, “We’re going to show you a clip, and the clip happens to be the exact same length as the first episode of The Defenders.” Cue the audience going bananas, and cue your faithful on-the-ground reporter getting his laser focus on to deliver a quick take on the series premiere.
Without giving too much away, what I can say is this: In its first episode, The Defenders doesn’t feel like a cohesive show, but this is almost certainly on purpose. The most striking aspect of the episode are the vast changes in lighting and color when the series switches focus among the four main characters. Luke Cage’s scenes are all warmly lit, as befits the beloved hero of Harlem basking humbly in the adoration of his community. He’s happy, newly out of prison and returned to the people and place he loves so dearly. Meanwhile, Jessica Jones’ scenes are presented in muted, cold tones; her drinking problem persists, as does her icy exterior. It’s already clear that Krysten Ritter will be the scene-stealer among the central foursome, and that the Marvel TV universe has gone far too long without her. (Season Two of JJ is planned for a 2018 release.)
Beyond its four vastly different visual presentations, The Defenders premiere seems more concerned with bringing the audience up to speed on each character than with building toward the team everyone knows will inevitably form. (This is probably necessary, if only because Iron Fist is far fresher in the collective consciousness than is Jessica Jones or Daredevil.) For now, each of the main foursome retains the feel of his or her own show (which is why the Iron Fist segments are still the weakest), and that’s obviously not tenable over the rest of The Defenders’ first season. My assumption is, as the characters become more closely intertwined—and Luke Cage, it turns out, already knows Foggy Nelson—the series will take on its own distinctive feel, and the stars of the show will shift their performances slightly to accommodate. What remains to be seen is the precise chemistry they’ll share on screen. The assembled cast, naturally, had nothing but the kindest things to say about working together.
Finally, there’s the mystery of Sigourney Weaver’s character, Alexandra. In the pilot, it’s exceedingly difficult to tell whether she deserves sympathy or scorn. Confused and undirected by the emotional contours of Weaver’s journey through the premiere, I settled on “I don’t yet care enough about it to try to figure it out.” Ideally, the remainder of the series will flesh out Alexandra and give her real three-dimensionality, not a hackneyed motive pattern for whatever evil is up her sleeve.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to judge based on one episode of what’s intended to be an eight-episode weekend binge. Until The Defenders spend enough time together on screen, not merely to answer softball questions in front of thousands of people, the jury will be out on the series—and now that Jeph Loeb is an Inkpot Award winner, the heat will be turned up.