How Marvel Studios Defenders Decision Changes the MCU’s Required Reading

An already massive shared universe became supermassive in early January when Marvel Studios retconned Marvel Television’s Netflix series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following the release of Echo, three seasons each of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, two seasons each of Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Punisher and one season of the crossover event series The Defenders were added to Disney +’s MCU “Timeline Order” subsection, indicating that the events depicted within those series are now part of the Infinity Saga. For fans of those Netflix series, January 5th will be a day long remembered as great characters like David Tennant‘s Kilgrave, morons like Finn Jones‘ Danny Rand and the events that took place at Midland Circle now stand on the same footing with Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki and the Battle of Wakanda. However, for fans who are just now coming on board, the idea of catching up on even more content can be a bit daunting. Is it necessary to consume all 161 episodes of Marvel Television’s Netflix Defenders-verse series in order to keep up with the MCU’s current events?

What is The Defenders-Verse?

In 2013, 5 years after the MCU kicked off with Iron Man, Disney and Netflix reached a deal that allowed the streaming service to develop four live-action series based around some of Marvel Comics’ “street-level” heroes: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The original deal called for a 13-episode series to be developed for each character with their stories intersecting in a crossover events series, The Defenders. Ultimately, each of the series were granted at least a second season and, in 2016, following the character’s debut in Season 2 of Daredevil, a spinoff series centered on Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, went into development.

In late 2018, Netflix began cancelling the series individually and by February 2019, the Defenders-verse died a quiet death in the trades. In March 2022, the series were all removed from Netflix’s streaming platform and appeared on Disney Plus as The Defenders Saga and were not included in the MCU Timeline or the Infinity Saga.

The Defenders Enter The Multiverse Saga

After Avengers: Endgame put a bow on The Infinity Saga, Marvel Studios began a new chapter in its shard universe. Comprised, like its predecessor, of three phases of storytelling, The Multiverse Saga simultaneously continues the stories of characters from The Infinity Saga while also introducing brand new characters into the narrative tapestry. The new saga also came with a major change for Marvel Studios as they began to develop and produced both live-action and animated canonical streaming series for Disney Plus. Though there had been some talk of the Netflix series being revived on Disney Plus, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige indicated in 2021 that the studio was focused on their own series but also–as is the way of The One Above All–said he’d “never say never” and that the characters could now appear in MCU projects.

In November 2021, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk made a surprise appearance in the streaming series Hawkeye, who he said he believed to be the “same character” from the Netflix series. One month later, Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock appeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home. In July 2022, it was revealed that the two stars were set to reunite in the Marvel Studios streaming series Daredevil: Born Again. In September, Feige made it clear that Born Again was not a continuation of the Netflix series, something that was reiterated by Cox a month later when he referred to the series as “a whole new deal.

Despite the apparent clarity on the issue, for two plus years, Marvel Studios remained mum on whether or not the characters appearing in their projects were the same versions of the characters depicted in the Netflix series or Multiversal Variants. In October 2023, a foreward from Kevin Feige in Marvel Studios The Marvel Cinematic Universe An Official Timeline made a distinction between projects that he considered Multiversal canon and ones that were set on the the MCU’s Sacred Timeline, indicating that the book only contained projects that took place on the latter. None of the Netflix series were included in the book.

On the Multiverse note, we recognize that there are stories – movies and series – that are canonical to Marvel but were created by different storytellers during different periods of Marvel’s history. The timeline presented in this book is specific to the MCU’s Sacred Timeline through Phase 4.

On January 3rd, 2024, Head of Streaming, Television, and Animation at Marvel Studios, Brad Winderbaum, revealed that the Netflix series were now considered canon, just two days before they were moved to the MCU Timeline Order section of Disney Plus. “So, I can say that up until this point, we’ve been a little bit cagey about what’s Sacred Timeline and what’s not,” said Winderbaum. “That was born, frankly, out of a period at the studio where we were like ‘we have to stick the landing with Avengers.’ It was another part of the company developing the Netflix stuff; we were aware of what they were doing, they were aware of what we were doing, but it was a lot.. it was a lot to balance anyway,” he explained. “But now that some time has passed, now that we actually see how well-integrated the stories are, I personally, Brad Winderbaum, will confidently say that they are part of the Sacred Timeline.

Ahead of the resumption of production on Daredevil: Born Againwhich was paused due to the WGA and SAG strikes, allowing for a complete creative overhaul on the projectD’Onofrio revealed that the studio had made the decision to reverse course and directly connect its new project to the events of Netflix’s Daredevil and so, the retcon was on.

During our restart of all the creative on Daredevil: Born Again, all the creatives got together and said, “Look, this is how we’ve got to do it now.” So we are for sure only speaking about it in terms of being directly connected to the original Daredevil, and that’s a great thing. It brings in a lot of cool stories and all the collateral story that happened in those original three seasons. So we now get to start this Born Again situation with all of that history behind us and the outcome of all that history. So we’re all talking about Daredevil: Born Again in those terms now.

Vincent D’Onofrio speaking to Adam Barnhardt on Born Again

On January 13 2024, Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll were added to the cast of Daredevil: Born Again after having been reportedly left out originally. On January 23, 2024–one day after production on the series resumed–Wilson Bethel, who portrayed Benjamin “Dex” Pointdexter in Season 3 of Daredevil, joined the cast as well.

The Verdict

With the Defenders-verse series having been firmly established as pre-Multiverse Saga canon, fans have begun to question if they’ll need to take in all 39 episodes of Marvel Television’s Daredevil series in order to understand and enjoy Daredevil: Born Again and potential future streaming series and films. The answer is no.

As the MCU continues to grow, fans–especially those who are new to the shared universe–are feeling the burden of the ever increasing number of projects as”required viewing.” Indeed, a common refrain online, from fans and critics alike, is that the MCU has become too big and that an understanding of new projects is too dependent on having a deep understanding of those that came before. In adding the Netflix series to the Sacred Timeline, Marvel Studios just added 161 episodes of “homework” that would take 144 hours and 6 minutes to consume. Even if a fan wanted only to watch all 3 seasons of Daredevil to prepare for Daredevil: Born Again, it would take them over 34 hours to do so. Asking fans who haven’t already seen those to do so in order to understand and enjoy what’s going on in your new show is unreasonable and would only further the negativity already building towards the studio on message boards and on social media.

And if you think Marvel Studios isn’t aware of what’s out there and listening, you’ve got it wrong. Over the course of its 3 season run, Daredevil built an enormous online following. In October 2018 when it was announced that Netflix had canceled the series, the Save Daredevil movement began online. In 2021, when Cox and D’Onofrio returned to their respecitve roles, and again in 2022 when Daredevil: Born Again was announced, the group, now known as We Saved Daredevil, celebrated, assured that their passion and online presence helped force Marvel Studios decision. Simply put, if you think Marvel Studios was listening then, you have to think they’re listening now and they hear loud and clear that “required reading” is not something fans want to spend days, weeks and months catching up on to enjoy a show. And so…

Marvel Spotlight

marvel spotlight

With Echo, Marvel Studios debuted a new production banner: Marvel Spotlight. The purpose of the new banner was made very clear by Winderbaum and Marvel Studios: “viewers don’t have to watch any other Marvel series to understand the plot” of a Marvel Spotlight project.

Marvel Spotlight gives us a platform to bring more grounded, character-driven stories to the screen, and in the case of Echo, focusing on street-level stakes over larger MCU continuity. Just like comics fans didn’t need to read Avengers or Fantastic Four to enjoy a Ghost Rider Spotlight comic, our audience doesn’t need to have seen other Marvel series to understand what’s happening in Maya’s story.

Brad Winderbaum on Echo’s Marvel Spotlight branding

Prior to the revelation of when Marvel Studios chose to make the Netflix series canon, D’Onofrio stated his belief that Daredevil: Born Again, like Echo, would be produced under the Marvel Spotlight banner. While he was clear that the statement only reflected his opinion, given the growing public sentiment that the MCU’s supermassive runtime is making it hard for fans to feel connected, it would certainly work in Marvel Studios’ favor to roll Daredevil: Born Again out as a Marvel Spotlight project. That doesn’t mean that the events of it can’t dovetail into other projects (indeed, it’s very likely that its plot will tie directly to Spider-Man 4), only that everything fans NEED to know to understand and enjoy it will be explained within the series itself. While Marvel Studios clearly designed Marvel Spotlight on the fly and could have done a better job with the exposition necessary to understand Echo, they have plenty of time to get it right in Daredevil: Born Again, which isn’t expected to debut until 2025.

By making it a Marvel Spotlight project–and hopefully continuing to make sure fans know what that means–Marvel Studios subsequently makes the consumption of Marvel Television’s Netflix series, which all took place during The Infinity Saga, an option rather than a requirement. Fans who have watched them or chose to watch them ahead of Daredevil: Born Again will obviously find themselves with a deeper, more full understanding of character relationships and interactions and, as a result, may find themselves feeling fulfilled and content as completists. However, knowledge of 34 hours worth of story should not be used to gatekeep and prevent new fans from enjoying the next live-action story of one of Marvel Comics’ greatest characters.

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