It was 2013, Marvel had just recently finished wrapping up their first phase of films with the release of Avengers in 2012. Agents of Shield, Marvel’s first TV program set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, had just premiered. After the success of the Avengers team-up, Marvel was obviously looking to capitalize on the momentum by setting up new teams, on the big screen and on TV. With that, Netflix and Marvel announced a smorgasbord of new shows set within the MCU, starting with Daredevil and culminating in a Defenders team-up, similar to the strategy that made Avengers as big as it did.
Now, all of these years later, the Netflix era is over, with all shows in their wheelhouse being canceled. The shows are leaving Netflix to take their place in Disney’s streaming services, and the characters are being integrated into the MCU proper after debates about their status in the canon. I want to take this time to take a look back on this era of the MCU, to appreciate what it brought us, and to theorize about where we go from here.
When Daredevil was announced, I was 16 – a teenager already obsessed with Marvel after liking the characters when I was younger – but fell in love with them through the MCU’s first introduction in Iron Man when I was 11. When news came of that these series are M-rated, with blood and gore and more adult themes, you can guess how excited I was. The possibility of Marvel always having something going on. Different themes from action adventures, comedies to even horror seemed promising, especially with the atmosphere promised from the initial reveals and fanfare. We know now that this dream wouldn’t come to fruition until Disney+, and even then, new genres are still only being played with. The hype and possibilities were high over my head in 2013, creating the vision of a perfect MCU.
Daredevil delivered on its promises. When it was released in 2015, I was a senior in High School. At the time, I was overhyped for the new shows and the anticipation was killing me. Finally, the show launches, and I’m there watching day one. Oh boy, did the show start slow for someone that was hyped as I was. However, after the second episode, I was hooked. Easily becoming my favorite TV show at the time, Daredevil was exactly what I wanted. Following one of my favorite characters, witnessing awesome combat with all the blood a teenager could want, and all set within the MCU. What more could a person ask for? The rest of the shows didn’t matter to me since I didn’t know the characters, Daredevil was what mattered to me, and not only did it deliver, it almost immediately was ordered for a second season. So, I was content.
I was content until Jessica Jones released in late 2015 and showed me that Daredevil was just the tip of the iceberg. Without any knowledge of Jessica or her villain, it didn’t immediately click with the show as I did with Daredevil. I was, of course, going to give it a try. From the first episode, Jessica’s attitude and sarcasm gripped me. Being a bit of a sarcastic person myself – emphasis on a bit – and growing up with more of the same, I love characters that speak their mind. Not only did her character grip me, but the ominous Purple Man has stood firm in my top 10 villains of all time. The abilities of the character on top of the stellar performance by David Tennant is definitely a force to be reckoned with. However, aside from the two lead characters, Jessica Jones also introduced me to the incredible Luke Cage, and apparently, I wasn’t the only fan impressed with the character. Originally slated to be the last show to premiere before The Defenders, Marvel wanted to ride on the momentum of the new fan-favorite character being introduced in Jessica Jones and fast tracked production.
Arriving in 2016, Luke Cage followed up the storyline established in Jessica Jones. At this point, I was addicted with Netflix’s Marvel properties during my time in college. After two absolutely steller seasons of Daredevil and the arrival of the Punisher into the fold, as well as a tremendously good season of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage had a lot to deliver. Arriving with positive reception, I look back at that time and remember the fans not welcoming the show with open arms like with the two previous entries. Likely due to Cage’s decline in the second half of the season, the show was great, I even skipped a lab class to binge it in my college library, but it was the first minor dip from Marvel and Netflix. The show also introduced Iron Fist, which fully lead to the decline.
Iron Fist was constantly criticized and for good reason. The fighting choreography is lackluster at best, the writing was sloppy, and the entirety of the first season is a definite stain on Marvel’s pretty great track record. At this point only having negative reviews for Thor: The Dark World and The Incredible Hulk on the movie side of things and the lukewarm reception to Agents of Shield, Iron Fist definitely marked a critical point for Marvel TV. Lead by Scott Buck, the show ended with fans severely disappointed. I remember going into the show incredibly hyped after everything so far. Reviews started to hit the day before, but most of them were only for the first few episodes. So, I thought maybe it gets better. Even with some good characters, the show just did not deliver. Leading into The Defenders, this was definitely a bad look and a momentum killer going into the long promised team-up.
The Defenders launched on my birthday in 2017. Even after Iron Fist, I remember being cautiously optimistic. Even if that show wasn’t great, this one was no longer in Scott Buck‘shands and has had time to develop. Alas, the show launched to mostly positive reactions, but suffered from pacing issues, a pretty lackluster story, and a crutch of once again using the Hand as villains. The show definitely could have delivered on those initial great seasons of TV that lead us there. It was said to be the least viewed show of the Netflix-Marvel shows, with a considerable drop in viewership. To me, this marked the downfall of the Netflix-Marvel era, even if we still got some great projects after.
Following The Defenders, Marvel and Netflix attempted to capitalize on the success of the previous shows, without the major team-up this time. Daredevil got an incredible third season, largely considered to be one of the best seasons of Marvel TV to this day. Jessica Jones received two more seasons after an agonizingly long wait. Luke Cage and Iron Fist got another season each. Daredevil even received a spinoff in the form of two seasons of the gruesome series The Punisher. Even a few more spinoffs like Heroes for Hire were rumored. The Netflix shows looked to be getting back on track, and then in October 2018, the cancellations began.
Shortly after its second season, which started to deliver a more quality experience compared to the first Iron Fist was cancelled by Netflix. Considering it was the worst reviewed show in the bunch, and rumors were flying of a possible Heroes for Hire spinoff, doom and gloom didn’t quite set in yet. Then, just a week later, Luke Cage was the second causality. Once again thanks to the Heroes for Hire rumors, fans felt like this could just be in anticipation of that show, I mean, both of those characters are in the team in the comics.
Then came December 2018: Daredevil, the flagship show in Netflix’s Marvel arsenal, was cancelled despite a critically acclaimed and adored third season. At this point, we all knew the Netflix era was over. The Punisher and Jessica Jones both ended their final seasons and were also added to the cancellations. By February 2019, all of the Netflix Marvel shows were cancelled, finishing the era for good.
Up until recently, you could watch the back catalog of these shows on their original home over at Netflix, but as the deal ends, Disney is regaining those rights. They are expected to remove the shows in March 2022 and move the shows to their international streaming services like Disney+, Star+, and Hulu. A definitive home is not yet known.
While the Netflix Marvel era might be done, the characters they shaped and the stories they have built are not forgotten. From Matt Murdock appearing in Spider-Man: No Way Home to Wilson Fisk’s return in Hawkeye, it is clear that the story of these beloved characters may be just starting. The history will always be there for generations of new True Believers to adore, but their return may be some of my most anticipated moments in the MCU even with things like Secret Invasion coming up. I literally grew up with these characters as you can tell from my writing above, and I cannot wait for a new generation of Marvel fans, even if just a few years later, to discover these stories for themselves.