Marvel at Netflix: Intersecting Comics and Transmedia

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Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)



Well, that happened.

Not content with ruling the big screen when it comes to comic book movies, Disney/Marvel has inked a rather epic deal with Netflix: four series with 13 episodes each, all leading up to a final team-up miniseries. The subjects of those series: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones. And if that wasn’t a sweet enough deal for fans, the deal is also part of a broader arrangement between the two that grants Netflix exclusive, first-run subscription rights to Disney and Marvel films. Any number of comic book sound effects would be appropriate in response, but President of Marvel Entertainment Alan Fine has a slightly more measured response.

“This deal is unparalleled in its scope and size, and reinforces our commitment to deliver Marvel’s brand, content and characters across all platforms of storytelling. Netflix offers an incredible platform for the kind of rich storytelling that is Marvel’s specialty,” said Fine. “This serialized epic expands the narrative possibilities of on-demand television and gives fans the flexibility to immerse themselves how and when they want in what’s sure to be a thrilling and engaging adventure.”

Once you get over the initial shock of it all, the reality settles in that this is a very, very awesome and groundbreaking deal. That Marvel continues to delve into its wealthy library of characters is great. Fans have long been clamoring for a movie about Luke Cage, but a series will gladly be accepted as well. The fact that both Iron Fist and Jessica Jones are also getting the Netflix treatment is an added bonus, giving fans even more Marvel characters that the everyday fan may not be too aware of. These three characters actually have quite a storied history in the Marvel universe, often playing an integral part in many storylines and team-ups.

The Daredevil news is very intriguing. Earlier this year, the rights to produce Daredevil films were with 20th Century Fox. Since a new movie never materialized, the rights reverted back to Marvel, giving them the option to add a series about the character. Daredevil is obviously the highest profile of the four new series leads and his inclusion definitely adds some credibility and star power to the other series. That’s not to say the other series can’t be carried based on the merits of the individual stars, but adding in Daredevil ensures that at least that series will be watched. The obvious hope after that is that viewers stick around for the other series as well.

The less exciting side of the Daredevil news is that fans likely won’t be treated to Frank Miller’s vision of the character. Daredevil was born and bred in Hell’s Kitchen, a product of both a severe disability and less than ideal living conditions. He’s a character who thrives on grit and the recent acquisition of Marvel by Disney means the Netflix version of the series may be a little more on the lighter side. That definitely doesn’t preclude the Daredevil show to be awesome; in fact, the character himself is one of the most underrated and underused in the Marvel universe. He’s a lot like Punisher though, in that the character really needs darker storylines to be truly successful.

The cherry on top of the deal is that the series will lead up to a team-up event in The Defenders. The group has been characterized primarily as a rotating group of characters who don’t really focus on the team aspect of things very much. That makes the grouping of Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones work that much more evenly. Marvel is mimicking in the series what they’re doing in the movies, as it’s a formula that’s proven to work exceptionally well. Introduce the viewer to peripheral characters and then team them up against a greater foe. It will make the individual series that much more worthwhile to watch.

A major concern is how much money Netflix and Disney will put into the production. It’s clear that Netflix isn’t shy about breaking out the checkbook if need be and all of the characters chosen don’t really require the same type of special effects as say Iron Man or Thor. Disney has wanted to rein in the spending just a bit, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has proven that they’ll spend money where it needs to be spent in order to make something look good. Both sides of the deal seem willing and able to put up some good financing to make these shows look relatively authentic That money goes beyond special effects though and here’s hoping that some solid actors, directors and writers are all brought in as well to offer a complete package worth watching.

Five years ago, the thought of Iron Man being a smash success seemed like such a foreign concept. Thor getting a movie seemed like a non-starter and Captain America seemed like a relic of the past. The thing is, all three characters have proven capable of generating a more than rabid following. Now, Marvel is working on a sequel to the Avengers (with the aforementioned characters), a Guardians of the Galaxy film and there’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. show on television. Out of the House of M, X-Men are about to get all Days of Future past on everyone, Spider-man is hitting his fifth film and Wolverine is a fan favorite. The point is, Marvel is putting their entire universe on display and fans are really digging it.

While this deal likely won’t do anything for the comics themselves, it will expose new audiences to new sections of the Marvel Universe. Comics are moving away from being about the stories in the books themselves towards transmedia adaptations. It also answers years of fans begging for some of the characters to get the film treatment and does it in a way that’s a lot less committal for Disney. They can play with these new characters without the mammoth box office expectations that come with a tentpole release. And probably the best thing is that—since this is Netflix—you can binge watch the series and really get sucked in. If there’s anything that makes comic book series shows even better is being able to watch them all at once.


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