The newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Netflix’s series “The Defenders,” which is out August 18. The show will see the four Marvel street-level heroes already on Netflix — Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Daredevil/Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones) — team up to fight the ancient and mysterious organization known as The Hand.
While many things overlap in these four heroes’ shared universe, they’ve never all met up at the same time. Until now, that is. Here’s what each hero is up to heading into “The Defenders,” based on their own individual shows.
Be warned of spoilers for each hero’s show as you read on!
Matt Murdoch aka Daredevil
“Daredevil” is the first of Marvel’s Netflix superheroes and the only one whose show has already had two seasons. In Season 1, we learned Matt’s backstory. As a child, he was blinded when, after pushing someone out the path of a truck, he was splashed in the face with the dangerous chemicals the truck was carrying. Soon after, he is orphaned when his dad, a boxer who earned a living from rigged fights, was killed after he refused to lose a fight he’d been paid to throw.
He’s eventually taken in by Stick (Scott Glenn), the last surviving member of a secret society called The Chaste, who trains Matt to control his heightened senses (a side effect of the chemicals), and to become a martial arts expert. Fast forward to adulthood and he’s a lawyer with his best friend, Foggy Nelson (Eldon Henson) by day, “masked vigilante” by night. Season 1 of “Daredevil” largely surrounds an ongoing investigation into secretive crime boss Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), which also leads to Nelson and Murdoch hiring crime witness and almost-victim Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) as their office manager. Along the way, Matt becomes friends and allies with nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who patches him up whenever he’s been beaten to within an inch of his life.
The season ends with Matt defeating Fisk, who is sent to prison. In Season 2, Matt experiences some triumph when he goes up against Frank Castle, the vigilante killer known as The Punisher. But things become more complicated when Matt’s ex-girlfriend Elektra shows up and he learns that she is also one of Stick’s trainees. Matt and Elektra’s relationship ended badly, largely because she’s comfortable being a vicious killer and he is not. Now, though, she needs his help dealing with The Hand, an ancient ninja order on the hunt for something called “The Black Sky” (remember that when you’re watching “The Defenders”).
As the season progresses, we learn that Stick is behind this mission as well. Eventually Elektra abandons Matt, but an assassin is sent to kill her — by Stick. He’s known all along the Elektra is actually “The Black Sky,” and decided that her dark side was too powerful to overcome. Spoiler: at the end of the season, Elektra dies (this isn’t really too much of a spoiler, since the same happens in the comics).
The last we see of her, The Hand is taking her body and apparently planning to do whatever it is they do that brings people back from the dead. Meanwhile, it’s implied that Matt Murdoch plans to take a break from being Daredevil.
We learned Jessica’s backstory in Season 1 of “Jessica Jones.” She discovered her powers — which include super strength, enhanced speed and regenerative healing abilities — shortly after the death of her parents and brother in a car accident when she’s adopted by talent agent Dorothy Walker. She used her powers to protect Dorothy’s daughter Trish (Rachael Taylor) from her mother’s abuse, and the two became best friends, but as she got older she did everything she could to ignore and suppress her abilities.
After the events of “The Avengers” — which in the Netflix marvel shows is always referred to as “the incident” — Jessica made a brief attempt to start a career as a super hero. Unfortunately, she crossed paths with Kilgrave (David Tennant), who used his mind control to keep her enslaved for months. The show picks up about a year and a half after she escaped from Kilgrave, at which point Jessica is making a living as a private detective (and spending most of her time slightly drunk). Her new life is thrown into turmoil when Kilgrave returns, and the two face off repeatedly until Jessica finally manages to kill him in the end.
In the midst of her Kilgrave struggles, Jessica meets Luke Cage, who we learn has bulletproof skin and incredible strength. After teaming up to end a bar fight, they hook up, but the relationship didn’t get serious since Jessica is commitmentphobic and Luke was still mourning the death of his wife. We eventually learn Luke’s wife was killed by Jessica, or more accurately by Killgrave, mind-controlling Jessica to do the deed. Luke can’t let that go and leaves, only to end up under Kilgrave’s mind control himself. Kilgrave tries to use Luke to kill Jessica, but Jessica shoots Luke, then gets Claire — who you’ll remember from “Daredevil”– to help save him.
At the end of the season, Luke has left Jessica and Hell’s Kitchen for parts unknown, and Jessica has resumed her private investigation business.
This brings us to…
Following the events of “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” finds Luke laying low in Harlem, working under-the-table at Pop’s Barber Shop. Luke is hiding out, we learn, because he’s an escaped convict. A former law enforcement officer framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Luke managed to escape from prison after being subjected to undergo illegal experiments that gave him his powers.
After Pop is killed by gangsters working for the crime boss Cornell Stokes, AKA “Cottonmouth” (Mahershala Ali), Luke makes it his mission to rid Harlem of Cottonmouth’s gang once and for all. Unfortunately, it turns out the real brains of the operation is Cottonmouth’s cousin, Mariah Dillard, a local politician using Cottonmouth’s ill-gotten gains to fund her rise to power. She ends up killing Cottonmouth and taking over his operation, forming a short-lived alliance with the supervillain Diamondback in the process. Meanwhile, Luke reconnects with Claire Temple (she really is everywhere) and the two of them gradually fall for one another.
At the end of “Luke Cage,” Diamondback is in prison, Mariah’s political career is destroyed but she’s the ruling crime lord of Harlem, and Luke is on his way back to prison. (He surrendered after his real name came out.) At the beginning of “The Defenders,” you’ll see him getting out of jail thanks to a certain supporting character from “Daredevil.”
Danny Rand aka Iron Fist
The last of the four Defenders to premiere on Netflix, Danny is sole survivor of a Himalayan plane crash that killed his billionaire parents. He was subsequently raised in the magical city of K’un-Lun and trained to become a powerful martial artist. Rand eventually becomes the Immortal Iron Fist, mystical guardian of K’un-Lun with the power to harness his chi to turn his body into a living weapon. In Season 1 of “Iron Fist,” Danny leaves K’un-Lun and returns to New York City to see what remains of his parents’ company, Rand Enterprises.
Rand is controlled by his childhood friends, Harold (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup) Meachum, and the three clash over his attempts to have a role within the company. Meanwhile, his biggest adversary in the show is Madame Gao, who you’ll remember from “Daredevil,” and who will have a larger role in “The Defenders.” She is able to make Danny question everything he knows about the Iron Fist, making his own doubts his biggest enemy. But Danny meets Colleen Wing — who sharp-eyed viewers will remember from a stray mention at the end of “Luke Cage” — and the two team up against Gao (and hook up).
Alas, Danny encounters betrayal, first from Ward who, it turns out, has a dark secret and an even darker connection to Madame Gao. Then from Colleen, who it turns out is part of a faction of The Hand opposed to Gao. But by the end, Colleen realizes The Hand is evil and turns on them, while Ward rejects the influences that led him astray and swears friendship and loyalty to Danny. But Danny’s former best friend Davos (Sacha Dhawan) from Ku’un L’un, who is jealous of his power, teams up with Joy, and the two of them plot to kill Danny in a conversation overheard by Madame Gao.
And, yes, Claire does play a part in this story, too. She helps save the life of a chemist that was taken prisoner by The Hand. She also flies to China with Danny and Colleen in an attempt to kidnap Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho). This girl is everywhere!