How Netflix Chooses Its Marvel Superheroes

Image: Netflix

Over the past 60 years, Marvel Comics has created more than 7000 characters, including hundreds upon hundreds of costumed superheroes. Many boast unique powers and compelling backstories that are ripe for TV - yet only a tiny fraction ever get to star in their own Netflix series. Often - as in the case of Iron Fist - the decision of what and what not to adapt seems bizarre.

During a recent set visit, we asked Netflix Originals' vice president to explain how the company picks and chooses its fictional crime fighters. If you've ever wondered how the process works, read on.

Last week, Netflix unleashed the fourth Marvel superhero to headline his own show: the "Living Weapon" Iron Fist (AKA Danny Rand). Whether you're a casual superhero fan or a self-proclaimed Marvel Zombie, the decision to turn this obscure four-colour Kung-Fu master into a Netflix series seems a bit odd. After all, the character's heyday was all the way back in the 1970s - and he wasn't particularly popular then either. (Indeed, his original solo series was prematurely cancelled after just fifteen issues.)

Then again, the same thing could be said of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and even Daredevil. In their own ways, each was a risky bet, yet they all managed to win over critics and make new fans out of properties that were 'cult' at best. Whether Iron Fist pulls off the same feat is open to debate - but it can't be denied that Netflix's batting average when it comes to Marvel is pretty damn solid.

Which brings us to the original question: just how does Netflix choose its heroes? We posed this question to Allie Goss, vice president of Netflix Original Series and an executive producer on all Marvel Netflix shows. As you'd probably expect, most of the decisions were dictated by the parent company - with every character mapped out from the very beginning.

"A few years ago, Marvel came in to us and pitched a very ambitious project called The Defenders," Goss said. "The idea was four individual shows followed by a limited series that would bring them all together. So when [Marvel] came in it was always those four characters: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist."

Interestingly, Goss said that discussions remained open over whether these characters were the best choice during the creative and development process. In other words, we potentially could have seen a completely different roster of superheroes making up the Defenders. In the end though, Netflix decided that the originally suggested quartet just worked - for reasons both narrative and practical.

"After the success of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, it started to feel like these were the exact right superheroes," Goss said. "They're far more grounded [compared to other superheroes] and they set up the Defenders really well. Because they are "street level" heroes, we're able to explore the characters' stories without getting too consumed with people flying through the air or massive visual effects."

Even the slickest Netflix series can't hope to compete on a visual level with a $300 million superhero movie (the purported budget of Avengers 2) - so the above considerations makes a lot of sense.

When it comes to villains and supporting characters, Netflix has been given more freedom to choose what it wants to show. According to Goss, the series' showrunners typically pitch the stories they want to tell for each season at the early development stage. The suggested characters are then cleared by Marvel - or refused. Goss said the company is very protective of its characters precisely because they are so good.

While Marvel clearly has a hand in much of the creative process, it's up to Netflix to turn the comic books into compelling television.

"What we strive to do on all the Marvel shows is to tell a great character-driven story first and a superhero-driven story second," Goss explained. "At the same time, we don't want to downplay their powers or abilities or the fact that these characters are derived out of comics and graphic novels, because that's what's so special about them."

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Everything You Need To Know About Marvel's Iron Fist Before His Netflix TV Debut

In less than a month, martial arts superhero Danny Rand is heading to Netflix for his own TV show — and he's being heralded as "the fourth Defender" as much as he is by his actual hero name, the immortal Iron Fist. He's had a long history in Marvel Comics, both on his own and as a partner in crime-fighting. So here's what you need to know about Iron Fist before his show premieres on March 17.

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Lifehacker traveled to New York as a guest of Netflix.


    Please Netflix do a moonknight series

      Not likely, atleast people go into Legion knowing that shits going to go crazy. Moon knight is also a little campy for TV, themed weapons are likely to look silly rather than BA.

        Not too much if they play well the "possibly insane?" narrative. Themed weapons and other campiness could be played off as some sort of modern day Don Quixote eccentricities.

      Shang-chi. He totally fits in with these characters.

    I'm not sure why Iron Fist has had such a rough time. It's not as good as the other shows, but I don't think that means it's a 3/10 tv show or anything. David Wenham single-handedly pulls the thing up to a 7/10 enjoyable experience for me at the very least.

      Yes, I am enjoying it so far. (I'm up to episode 7.) It's a bit slow to start, and there are a few iffy moments in the first few eps imo, but it's certainly not the bland snoozefest I was expecting after reading some reviews.

      Finished it over the weekend and I'm very much in the "it wasn't great" camp. My main problems were that the writing and characterisation were poor compared to the other Netflix-Marvel series, and Danny Rand was a tiresome, uninteresting brat.

      It's a little damning when the supporting characters have to carry a show.

        I agree, but I've also found the real strength in the Netflix shows is often the antagonist (except for the second half of Luke Cage). Meachum carries on that tradition very capably despite Rand being kind of dry compared to the other heroes.

        The dialogue is also poor compared to the other series and feels like it's setting up Defenders or rushing in exposition, even when it's not warranted. I kind of wish there was more bland faced Danny saying wacky shit like "my vision is occupied only by total victory" or whatever. Those moments were really fun.

      The casting choice for Rand really lets it down sure it may look like him. But he's often the worst point of any scene.

      And because his fighting skill isn't there you can't justify it by saying well they needed a fighter.

      The other issue is it tells you instead of showing you.

      To me the end had no meaning because it spends so long telling us about things.

      A couple of interesting characters there interspersed throughout. Not only would have made it more concerning but potentially offered other interesting characters to throw into the mix. Ones who know Danny abandoned his post

    Netflix' handling of each Defenders character gives me hope that one day we might see an adaptation of Marvel Now's Hawkguy. World needs more Tracksuit Draculas, bro.

      Unlikely, since they are agreed to be in the same universe as the movies and I don't see them "wasting" Jeremy Renner in a TV series, especially since the MCU's Hawkeye is happily married with kids.

      What they could do is make it a Kate Bishop series, maybe have Renner appear in a couple cameos and then allow Kate to play Hawkguy's best storylines.

    Iron fist is such a plod. Does it get any better after episode 5?

      Yes and no.
      The writing is still shit, the characters are mostly boring, there are tracts of time filled with sawdust; Colleen and Claire can be good in spite of the writing, couple of interesting characters, it's a way to pass the time.
      Episode 6 toys with some good ideas, and while they don't go far they're a fair indicator of the remainder of the season.

      There are some redeeming qualities to the show but I couldn't in good faith recommend it to anyone who wasn't bored and had nothing better to watch.

      I'm going to revise that recommendation: episodes 6, 8, 10, and 11 have enough qualities to make them barely enjoyable. If you must watch the rest of the season, watch those episodes and nothing else.

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