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Marvel’s Netflix Universe, Ranked by Season

Just after Marvel Studios celebrated its 10th anniversary, another arm of Marvel is celebrating – with the release of Iron Fist season 2, we now have 10 seasons of Marvel’s Netflix Universe. Seems like a pretty good time to break down the ranking so far, right? We have two seasons each of the four Defenders – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist – and one each of the Defenders show itself and the Punisher. 10 total. So let’s break down our top 11 ranking.

It’ll make sense shortly, I promise.

11. Iron Fist, Season 1

(Check out our review here.)

If I was going to call any part of the Marvel Netflix Universe straight-up bad, it’s the first season of Iron Fist. Netflix took a funky, goofy, colorful character with a silly origin story and turned his life into a boardroom drama with a secret Frankenstein monster. Danny Rand was a petulant, boring dork who would tell anyone and everyone that he was:

  • Danny Rand
  • The Immortal Iron Fist
  • The Protector of K’un-L’un
  • The Sworn Enemy of the Hand

It got old fast. Colleen Wing was really the only likable character, unless you count Madame Gao – but she’s from Daredevil.

Iron Fist is the only Marvel Netflix show that I would tell you without hesitation to skip. The 13 hours that it would take to watch this show could be spent jamming a fork into your arm instead, which would be more rewarding. Or you could binge the entirety of The Good Place, a show that’s actually good.

Whatever you do, avoid Iron Fist season 1.

10. Luke Cage, Season 1, Part 2

(Check out our review here.)

It’s Luke’s fault we’re taking things all the way up to 11. Few shows in this list start and end so differently. We’ll get into what makes the first half of Luke Cage so special later. After a certain event, though, the entire show changes. We get a silly villain whose motivations don’t feel at all realistic chasing down Luke while he goes to Georgia to get his groove back. The writing takes a turn, and the rest of the show goes with it. The Marvel Netflix universe is rooted in a feeling of realism, and in a smart combination of comic-book roots and drama meant for adults. Villain Diamondback is a remnant of the comic books that is used poorly and feels wildly out of place compared to the rest of Luke Cage – and the rest of Marvel Netflix.

9. Jessica Jones, Season 2

(Check out our review here.)

I want to talk about Jessica Jones season 1 here because its quality is part of why it’s so obvious that Jessica Jones season 2 is a dud. I left the first season in love with all the characters. All these broken people working to put themselves back together as life tries to pry them apart board by board made me feel like I was surviving along with them. The second season asked the simple question, “but what if all these people were just the absolute worst, and also we undid important story beats from season 1?”

I ended the season hating the way characters I loved were treated. Very little of the behavior in the season made sense to me. Smart people did dumb things, made bad choices, and worked to actively hurt the people they’d held onto in the first season.

But the thing is, Krysten Ritter is an absolute blast as protagonist Jessica Jones, and the season is worth watching just to see her play a character that she seems to have fully inhabited.

8. Marvel’s The Defenders

(Check out our review here.)

After years of waiting, we finally got to see all our heroes come together. The machinations of the mysterious organization known as the Hand came to a head in The Defenders, and it forced the four misanthropic characters into the same room. Danny Rand insisting that he’s the Immortal Iron Fist (etc), Matt Murdock growling about how this is his problem to deal with from underneath a mask. Luke Cage looking confused and Jessica Jones looking appropriately fed up.

The show stumbled, though, as it tried to deliver, thanks in part to baggage of some of the worst parts of preceding seasons. The Hand is a neat idea, but Iron Fist and parts of Daredevil ended up souring it. By the time The Defenders came along, we were kind of ready to just be done with it. Worst of all, the show criminally underused one of the world’s great gifts to Hollywood, Sigourney Weaver. Despite being the head of an undying body of gifted schemers, she had almost nothing to do except seem immortal and then not be immortal.

All this while Danny continues to be the worst part of the Marvel Netflix universe and just absolute torture to watch.

But there are some great character interactions some awesome fights, and some much-needed closure on that whole Hand thing. Watch it for fights, for Colleen Wing and Misty Knight, for Madame Gao.

7. Iron Fist, Season 2

(Check out our review here.)

It’s tough not to leap over a hurdle when it’s set as low as the first season of Iron Fist, but at least Iron Fist‘s second outing managed to jump it.

The season isn’t without its letdowns – the male characters are kind of dull and kind of dumb. But Danny is significantly easier to watch – he’s no longer a detractor, even if he might be the show’s weakest link. Meanwhile, Colleen Wing and Misty Knight are heading toward becoming the Daughters of the Dragon, and Colleen goes into every fight with a grin on her face and it makes her a joy to watch.

The show tries too hard to redeem unredeemable characters and doesn’t give its villain very good reasons to be as terrible as he is, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. Don’t miss Colleen and Misty’s fight against the Crane sisters.

6. The Punisher, Season 1

(Check out our review here.)

The Punisher is a latecomer to the proceedings and kind of an outsider as a result. The show feels very different in tone from the other stuff Marvel and Netflix have done together, but it works well thanks to Jon Bernthal’s aggressive performance as Frank Castle.

The Punisher is essentially about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, told from a bunch of different angles. By sticking with this theme, we see Frank’s humanity through his grimdark exterior, and he shows enough of his belly to make his claws feel truly sharp.

The fights are very different in tone from the rest of the MNU, but they’re satisfying and cathartic. The Punisher lives up to his name, even if the show isn’t quite up to the standard set by his first appearance.

5. Daredevil, Season 2

(Check out our review here.)

That brings us to Daredevil‘s second outing. Having graduated from vigilante to extremely-well-armored vigilante, Matt Murdock is now Daredevil and acting like it.

The second season’s first half is elevated by the introduction of Frank Castle – the Punisher. This murderous character exposes Matt Murdock’s hypocrisy and drives him to whittle down what it means to be a vigilante in pursuit of justice. Charlie Cox and Jon Bernthal play off each other incredibly well, and the whole arc is one of the most satisfying in all of these shows.

Meanwhile, the second half of the show drags the first half down, but it’s not quite the night-and-day situation that forces me to split up Luke Cage. Matt Murdock is enough on his own to hold up a show, and even Elektra Natchios can’t really drag him down. Even if I really want to call her Electric Nachos.

4. Luke Cage, Season 2

(Check out our review here.)

Now we’re into the shows that sport cohesive, interesting stories with great writing and acting that seem to understand their characters. Luke Cage season 2 makes up for the sins of season 1.

Luke burst onto the Harlem scene in season 1, taking on its criminal elements and making a name for himself. By this time, he’s now the Harlem Hero. There’s a tracking app, a kid has even named himself Luke’s personal videographer. That stuff is taking a toll on Luke, clearly, but crime doesn’t stop to wait while heroes deal with their feels.

While Luke is working through what it means to be a hero and to have so much riding on his shoulders – heroes in 2018 have to be perfect, have to stop every crime, and can never sleep – a man calling himself Bushmaster is banging heads with Mariah Dillard (STOKES), attempting to take back what he feels his family is owed – at any cost.

This season is about leaving one’s past behind. Luke has to reconcile with his father. Mariah wants to reconcile with her daughter. Shades – the show’s best asset, easily – has to deal with his history as a convict, his messy relationship with his best friend, and his place as Mariah’s boytoy. But it’s also about letting your ego get the better of you. Luke is bearing a big burden as Harlem’s Hero, and Mariah feels she owns Harlem and that Harlem owes her. Hubris is a concept, not a villain, but it’s here to trip up these overconfident people.

Luke Cage season 2 is filled with great performances and is one of the seasons I can look at and say, yes, this Marvel-Netflix experiment is a success.

3. Daredevil, Season 1

(Check out our review here.)

Daredevil started it all, and it’s one of the best of the bunch. Daredevil was a revelation when it came out back in 2015. The first season elegantly wove together years of comic-book storylines into a tale that treated comic-book silliness seriously. We saw Matt Murdock in his old-school black-bandanna vigilante outfit as he started to delve beneath the surface and into the seediness of Hell’s Kitchen.

Most importantly, we got one of Netflix and Marvel live-action’s greatest villains in Wilson Fisk. This theme will carry through as we finish out this ranking. Great villains make heroes more interesting, and Wilson Fisk definitely makes Daredevil more interesting.

It’s hard to look at Fisk and nail him down as evil, because he’s coming from a place of love. Fisk wants to improve the city he lives in, and he’s willing to sacrifice a lot to do it. He’s complicated and tragic, a nervous man with terrifying anger issues. He has few friends, few allies, and he makes sure his enemies don’t last long. But underneath that love, it turns out he’s not sacrificing much of his own life. Instead, others are put at risk and put into danger to shape the world into his idealistic view.

As the hero and villain dodge and weave to catch each other without getting caught themselves, we’re treated to some of the best action in the Marvel Netflix catalogue. The hallway fight in episode 2 is infamous. Matt’s fights against Russian mobsters and Madame Gao are memorable.

Daredevil season 1 felt like a comic book come to life in the best possible way.

2. Luke Cage, Season 1, Part 1

(Check out our review here.)

Again, it’s all about the villain. In the first half of Luke Cage, we’re treated to the duo of Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and “Black” Mariah Dillard. What makes them so much fun is that neither are villains. Cottonmouth wants to fix his community and respect tradition, while Mariah wants to leave her family’s criminal history behind and make her way as a politician.

Luke Cage and Cottonmouth want the same thing, but come to blows when they try to approach it from very different directions. Mahershala Ali shines as Cottonmouth and brings out the best in both Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard. He’s so cool, smart, and at the same time misguided that you can’t help but hope for the best from him.

And then, Mariah bludgeons him to death with a mic stand and the show goes to hell. But this first half of Luke Cage is some of the best stuff in Marvel Netflix.

1. Jessica Jones, Season 1

(Check out our review here.)

That brings me, finally, to the first season of Jessica Jones. Nothing else from this collaboration works quite like Jessica Jones. Nothing quite weaves together so completely into a single tapestry the way Jessica Jones does.

Everything about the show ties back into the single theme of surviving abuse. While it might be fun to debate who would win in a superhero battle, many of the best superhero stories focus not on what the hero’s powers can solve, but what they can’t. Jessica Jones’ superstrength can’t make her heart or mind heal from the extensive trauma she went through.

Enter Kilgrave. David Tennant brings a lethal immaturity to the character known in the comics as the Purple Man. This character is cruel and frightening in a way few other villains are. He knows what he wants, and it’s impossible for him not to get it. In fact, Jessica Jones is the only thing out of his reach, and that drives him crazy.

We see many of the classic elements of an abusive relationship play out through the lens of a superhero story. Kilgrave is the ultimate manipulator, and his powers don’t even have to be in effect to make it work all the time. We watch Jessica blame herself, then him, then herself. She reaches out to make friends, but Kilgrave turns them on her. She tries to move on with another relationship, but her fear brings out the worst of that relationship, too. Her friend Trish seems to have everything figured out, but we see some of Jessica’s trauma echoed in her own. Kilgrave puts her in impossible situations meant to trap her, forcing her to try to help him change the way so many people in abusive situations have to do.

Through it all, though, Jessica fights and those close to her fight, and cling to each other. She survives.


Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...

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