Marvel's pocket universe of interconnected Netflix shows got considerably smaller this month, but that could be paving the way for some very exciting growth.
Over the past three-and-a-half years, Marvel Television has used the ambition and widespread appeal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to grow a tonally different small-screen offshoot with streaming giant Netflix, launching a world of street-level heroes with Marvel's Daredevil in 2015 that has since grown to include a cumulative 11 seasons of television spread across six series. The shows have garnered a wide range of reactions from acclaim (Marvel's Jessica Jones Season 1) to bafflement (Marvel's Iron Fist Season 1), but one thing most Marvel fans seemed to agree on is that the little world within New York City that Marvel and Netflix built together was worth watching, particularly as the supporting casts of each respective show grew more compelling and the crossover potential within each series grew more promising.
Then, earlier this month, Netflix dropped the axe on Iron Fist after two seasons. For some viewers this wasn't exactly surprising. While Iron Fist has its defenders (get it?) and definitely produced a standout supporting star in Jessica Henwick's Colleen Wing, it was widely perceived as the weakest of the Defenders universe crop of shows.
Then things got more shocking on Friday when Marvel's Luke Cage, a show that seemed to grow its potential in its second season after a very strong debut, was also canceled, the same day that Daredevil arrived on the streaming service for its third season. Just like that, two shows many fans considered to be relatively safe were gone in less than a month, and we're all left wondering exactly what Netflix is doing with its Marvel universe even as we're still completing our respective Daredevil binges and waiting for more news on Jessica Jones Season 3.
First, let's get the obvious issue out of the way first: This could quite easily be a business decision that we don't know the ins and outs of just yet. We've known for some time now that Disney is gearing up to launch its own direct-to-consumer streaming service that will include original programming from its two most profitable franchises: Marvel and Star Wars. For all we know right now, Disney simply directed Marvel Television to being shifting resources for the reported live-action shows developing for that service, or they couldn't reach an agreement with Netflix to keep these two series going when they could easily migrate certain elements over to their own platform. The details are still murky, and Netflix insists it still has control over all of its Marvel shows for the moment, but it's very easy to imagine something like that being the case.
That said, we don't know that to be the case right now, so let's choose to think optimistically here as fans of what Marvel and Netflix have built together.
Let's look at it narratively. Iron Fist and Luke Cage are gone as ongoing TV concerns, but the characters are still very much alive in the Netflix world. Luke Cage finished its second season with the title character essentially taking benevolent control of Harlem as the new owner of Harlem's Paradise, and his ally Misty Knight is still very much around, so much so that she had a huge role to play in Iron Fist Season 2. That very season of television, which arrived just last month, also featured significant shifts in the New York City power structure, as Colleen Wing took over the power of the Iron Fist and seemed quite ready to handle it in a positive way, while Danny Rand took off an international quest to find some new sense of fulfillment. Oh, and Misty's stint on Iron Fist? It was largely spent hanging out with Colleen as the two worked together to unravel a mystery.
To say there are a lot of fertile new threads at work in both shows right now is an understatement, and it would be very strange if Netflix just kept its other Marvel shows going while simply making passing references to the Unbreakable Hero of Harlem and the woman with the glowing sword keeping Chinatown in check and occasionally beating bad guys with her best pal, the NYPD detective with a robot arm.
More importantly, though, the other shows shouldn't have to gloss over the loss of these storylines and characters, because the smart thing to do right now from an entertainment standpoint (again, keeping in mind that business interests may be pointing elsewhere and there's nothing we can do about that) is to lean into them. Luke Cage began its life as a show about a man who wanted to do good trying to find his place in his city, but it's clear after Season 2 that Luke has embraced a clear direction and pushed forward with the kind of hero he wants to be. Iron Fist arguably never worked as a show about Danny Rand anyway, but even if you like that character it's clear that he's also embraced another direction, just as Colleen Wing has embraced hers and Misty Knight has found renewed strength.
With all of this in mind, we can mourn the loss of these two show... or, we can ask for two new series in their place: Heroes For Hire and Daughters of the Dragon.
Picture this: Danny Rand, after traveling the world to unravel the secrets of the dark dealings that spun much of his Season 2 story, returns to New York City to find his old buddy Luke Cage set up in Harlem and in need of an extra hand (or fist) in his fight. Now that he has such a prominent headquarters, people are coming out of the woodwork to ask for help, and many of them are willing to pay. Danny, disillusioned with the state of the world and in need of stable friendships in his life, agrees to join up, and the Heroes for Hire set up operations in Harlem's Paradise.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, Colleen Wing is adjusting to life as a vigilante hero in her own right, protecting her turf and saving the innocent with the help of her Iron Fist-imbued katana, but she too could use some help. It's hard to keep all the angles in mind, particularly when you don't necessarily have a mind naturally suited to chasing criminals and their operations. So, she turns to one of her martial arts students and friends, who also happens to be connected to the NYPD, and suddenly Colleen and Misty are on the streets together, cracking jokes and kicking ass.
Sure it's a logistical stretch at this point, given how little we know about the potential futures of these characters, but think of how much fun it would be for Netflix to transition from shows about singular heroes to embracing the ensemble potential of this interconnected cast even more. It allows much more interplay between the strongest characters, allows Luke to bring the best out in Danny and Misty to bring the best out in Colleen, and it creates even more crossover potential that could be brought to the fore without ever having to disturb the continuity of Daredevil unless the showrunners wanted to.
Will it happen? Maybe not, but these characters don't deserve to die on the vine, and they don't deserve to be relegated to cameos in other future shows. Danny Rand, Luke Cage, Colleen Wing, Misty Knight and all of their supporting players still have tremendous opportunities for fun in the Netflix sandbox. All Netflix and Marvel have to do is let them play.