At long last, the Defenders have joined forces to save New York. In the Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Defenders brings together Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones), who team up to take down the Hand, the secret cabal of ninjas who seek control of New York City. With 8.5 million lives at stake, four loners from very different backgrounds must work together to save the day. But that’s on TV. How did their comics go?
Created by Roy Thomas but named by Stan Lee in Marvel Feature #1 in 1971, the Defenders came together as a makeshift superhero team whose founding members — Namor the Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange, and the Incredible Hulk — all met simply because their paths crisscrossed. The only thing they had in common is that they’d all prefer to work alone, and reluctantly they banded together to protect the planet against Lovecraft ripoffs known as the Undying Ones. When they officially took on the name “Defenders,” their first mission was to fight the techno wizard Yandroth.
Unlike the TV show, the Defenders weren’t preoccupied with “street crime.” Nor did they even have a stable membership. Over the years, the Defenders’ roster changed frequently with a roster that sometimes included heroes like Ghost Rider, War Machine, Captain America, the Silver Surfer, and even Valkyrie, a powerful hero from Asgard who will be played by Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok. Since you don’t send an Asgardian to fight petty criminals, the Defenders actually fought supernatural and mystic threats; it was up to the Avengers to take care of everything else.
It wasn’t until the Netflix shows began when the Defenders shifted into a ground-level defense force. With the popularity of the Netflix shows, Marvel released in early 2017 a new ongoing series titled The Defenders that closely resembles the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With the same four heroes, Bendis envisioned these new Defenders in a city-wide crime saga, which he compared to The Godfather. “I wanted to do a sprawling, Godfather-like epic at the street level of the Marvel Universe,” Bendis told The Hollywood Reporter when the comic was first announced. Bendis hoped the book would be “a modern, elaborate organized crime story that is different than what has gone before” and that he would put them “in the hardest battle for the street that anyone can imagine.”
With about five issues in, Bendis has more or less lived up to that promise, with Frank Castle, aka the Punisher (also gearing up for his own Netflix series) being their most formidable opponent yet. Issue #6 of The Defenders, which will hit shelves in October, will prominently feature Deadpool as a guest character.
But while the Defenders in the comics look more like they do on TV, there are still some key differences. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are dressed like their TV counterparts — Cage has his yellow hoodie, Jessica has her casual leather jacket — but Daredevil has his sleeker, slimmer spandex costume, which he’s worn since the aftermath of Secret Wars. Iron Fist, meanwhile, is also wearing a new costume, a green tracksuit that riffs on the yellow onesie that Bruce Lee wore in his final movie, The Game of Death. On TV, only Daredevil has a costume. Iron Fist, mysteriously, still does not have one.
On TV, the Defenders are a no-nonsense group who would be overpowered against Chitauri or all-powerful gods with Infinity Stones. It’s why it’s unlikely they’ll team up with their more bombastic colleagues in Avengers: Infinity War, but there’s enough chaos right at home that will keep them busy.
Marvel’s The Defenders premieres August 18 on Netflix.