With Luke Cage season 2 fresh on our screens, we’re ranking the best and worst of Marvel’s Netflix series.
From the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen to the strongest woman alive, from the unbreakable man to the vengeful father and that kid who said he killed a dragon, Marvel’s Netflix series have given us a smorgasbord of shows to enjoy. But though the Defenders (and the Punisher) may occasionally combine forces on the small screen, we think it’s about time these guys went toe-to-toe in a test of quality.
And so we present Hypable’s totally objective and absolutely correct ranking of every Marvel/Netflix collaboration! We’re totally right… but let us know if you disagree!
#1: ‘Jessica Jones’
It may be a controversial pick, but Jessica Jones comes in uncontested at our top spot. A profound study of trauma, addiction, and mental illness, Jessica Jones tells a unique story of female interiority. The world outside of Jessica’s mind may be prickly with dangers both natural and supernatural, but her demons are ultimately inside her head. The series plays constantly with tone, surprising and twisting our expectations — as gruesome as Jessica’s mind and the world around her may be, a razor-sharp sense of humor perseveres through all the blood and murder.
Jessica herself is about as crunchy a protagonist as one could hope for, defiantly imperfect even as her compassion trembles toward true North. Her deep and complicated connections with the characters who surround her are bracingly refreshing, even as Trish, Malcolm, Jeri, and the rest grapple with their own ugly demons.
Jessica Jones certainly isn’t perfect — its representation of women of color leaves much (much!) to be desired, and the second season lacks the cohesion and bite of its predecessor. Still the show’s genetics are (if you’ll forgive a pun) so strong that hope persists for a season 3 that shines beyond Jessica Jones‘ already impressive accomplishments.
#2: ‘Luke Cage’
Luke Cage comes in at a close and powerful second (and who knows where we’ll be when we’ve had time to digest Luke Cage season 2!) Steady and subtle, the story of the unbreakable man was the first of Marvel’s Netflix series to truly ground its superheroics in New York City’s rough-edged personality. (No, Daredevil doesn’t count.) With Harlem as backdrop, motivating force, and indeed its distinct own character, Luke Cage not only set people of color firmly in the long-denied Marvel spotlight, but realized their stories with profound realism.
Luke Cage is a story that took its time, an exercise in careful and occasionally brutal pacing. It’s tale of layers — hidden histories, haunted families, decades of injustice and lies — that at times became difficult to parse.
But grounded by Luke’s reluctant but unmitigated heroism, studded with complex heroines like Misty Knight and Claire Temple, and villains like Cottonmouth, Shades, Mariah Dillard, and Diamondback, Luke Cage left its viewers with inspired the kind of conversation and thought that only the greatest TV shows can achieve.
Oh Daredevil, our prodigal Netflix son. There’s no question that the success of Daredevil‘s first season paved the way for the passion and excitement with which the rest of the Defenders were greeted — and for good reason. At its best, Daredevil is slick and moody, replete with action set pieces that redefine what can be accomplished in a small-screen format. Matt Murdock is rebuilt as Hell’s Kitchen’s guilty violent savior; his allies are interesting, and his enemies — or at least the singular Wilson Fisk — are transformative.
But at its less successful points (and there are several) Daredevil falls into the ruts of rote superhero storytelling with which we are, by now, intimately familiar. There is a tendency to let the fight scenes substitute for story, for Matt’s internal conflict to revolve endless without resolution. Worse, an uncomfortable and persistent strain of Orientalism also hangs about both seasons of Daredevil, that the show never comes close to acknowledging.
Daredevil is entertaining, no question about that — and there’s no shame at all in offering pure entertainment. But with so many superheroes in Marvel’s market alone, it’s left us wishing for something a little meatier on that devil’s bone.
#4: ‘The Punisher’
We first met Frank Castle in Daredevil season 2, where he presented a violent and unforgiving alternative to Matt Murdock’s ultimate goal to clean up the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. Frank may have been looking for revenge after what happened with his family, but he wasn’t in the wrong. He killed killers and he was damn good at it.
The Punisher gave us exactly what we expected from his solo outing: lots of blood, guts, and gore. At the very least, The Punisher was a cathartic experience. It showed Frank trying to acclimate to a quiet life, which is what you’d think we’d all want after the tumultuous events of Daredevil season 2. But in reality, it’s immensely satisfying to see Castle systematically take down his opponents with unrelenting drive.
On the other hand, The Punisher is full of both gun violence and physical violence. This is the core attribute of the character, but it also hits a little too close to home these days, given the current state of the world. – Karen Rought
#5 ‘The Defenders’
The Defenders trudges in at number five for one major reason: It is not Defender-y enough.
The long-awaited mini-Avengers team-up isn’t bad. It’s competent, if often kind of plodding comic book television, and it’s certainly always cool to watch Sigourney Weaver wither her way through scenes likes a human scythe. But after years of anticipation, the eight-episode Defenders felt less like an exhilarating combo-crew, and more like that homework assignment you just knew you’d have to get to at some point.
The Defenders is slow. It keeps our heroes apart much more than they ever are together (which is the reason we showed up to this party in the first place!), and The Defenders seems to care a lot more about resolving the twining (and again, Orientalist) mysteries of Daredevil and Iron Fist than it does throwing Matt, Jessica, Luke, and Danny together and delighting in what results. There’s nothing wrong with a mystery or two, but Marvel’s failure to read the room on The Defenders stands out like a bruise.
There are great moments, there’s no question — scenes where the fire and wit and pathos of our four protagonists ignites something truly delicious. But The Defenders is like arriving at a meal and being served half a dessert; a little sweetness can’t make up for this big of a mistake.
#6: ‘Iron Fist’
Iron Fist‘s dead-last ranking is probably the least surprising thing about this list. One Hypable writer recommended that we rank “waiting in line at the bank, a trip to the dentist, and going to the DMV” ahead of Iron Fist, but to be fair, none of those things have been made into Netflix series.
The problem is, they still might be better than what we’ve got here. Iron Fist is a shaky enterprise at best, populated by secondary characters who reek of mediocrity (what even is Howard Meachum, and why is he here?) and woven around a mythology of dragons and floating cities that the show is much too scared to ever embrace.
But of course, the most awful sin is this: Iron Fist‘s foundation is Danny Rand, and a more unlikeable, unbelievable, and uncompelling hero would be difficult to conjure. Simultaneously petulant and overeager, self-righteous and selfish, Danny Rand is a protagonist born of the sad fantasies of men who are a lot less talented than they think they are. He is the dark hole into which all of Iron Fist collapses, with poor Colleen Wing clinging stubbornly to the rubble, desperate not to be devoured by that sucking maw.
Iron Fist is a show for fans who don’t deserve very much, and Marvel fans — widely a loyal, game, and interested bunch — most certainly deserved better. But we’re definitely getting a season 2, so start digging a hole for your expectations.