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Monday, September 19, 2016

Static Thoughts - 8 Possible Defenders Villains

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One of the most impressive things about Marvel is how well they’ve managed to colonize so many different forms of media successfully.  After successfully establishing themselves as the cinematic guardians of pop culture they’ve now moved on to be the best and most ambitious thing on Netflix.  

Sure, Daredevil might be flawed by Jessica Jones is the best superhero show we’ve yet seen and Luke Cage is shaping up to be the black superhero fantasy we’ve needed for two years now, at least. 

All of this is leading up to The Defenders series next year, which will see a crossover of Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and the upcoming Iron Fist series.  So far the villain of Defenders has been pretty clearly the Hand, the magic ninja clan from Daredevil but recently Vincent D’Onofrio made statements that his villain Kingpin might return for Defenders.  Given this and how many loose threads tie through the MCU I’ve compiled a list of 8 possible villains we could see in The Defenders.

These guys are the obvious choice and by far the worst of the bunch.  The Hand has always skirted right up against that racist line that a lot of 1980s ninja groups flirt with.  They’re not as overtly bad as some Marvel bad guys like Yellow Claw, but they’re hardly ideal and despite Daredevil season 2’s attempt to rehabilitate them they’ve yet to move beyond that.  

Their “magic ninja” set-up is shockingly empty in comparison to the thematic resonance of other Netflix villains, and the level of obfuscation surrounding their methods and motivations keeps them too distant to get invested in. 

The only reason the Hand could work as an antagonist is that they have the most access to interesting henchmen.  Just visually speaking it’d be more engaging to see Luke and Jessica throw down with a horde of ninjas on New York rooftops rather than a bunch of nameless crime mooks.  

What’s more, their mystic ninja mumbo jumbo means they’ve got the easy ways of threatening all of New York, which would make them a threat that genuinely requires the entire Defenders line-up. 

Of all the obvious choices this one is easily my favorite.  For better or worse D’Onofrio has become the biggest name supervillain in Marvel’s line-up and could easily hold his own against an entire superhero team like the Defenders.  

We’ve already seen that he could take on Daredevil and while I don’t think he could handle someone with real powers his money and influence could pull together some folks who could.  That’d be what I’d most like to see out of the Defenders series, a group of villains that were equal to the task of dealing with the heroes rather than more henchmen supporting a single big bad. 

Kingpin would make the most sense for that approach, even though the Netflix universe is still pretty lacking in villain potential.  Still, Marvel now seems to have access to the full Spider-Man roster of bad guys so if they wanted to crib some of them for the Defenders like Hydro-Man or Shocker it’d be a pretty smart way to deal with threats of Luke Cage or Jessica Jones caliber. 

This one has been stewing in the background of the Marvel universe since Thor so it’d be great to see it finally paid off.  They’ve mostly been a throwaway background detail, with the “Roxxon” logo or name popping up as a corporate brand in a ton of various Marvel productions.  

I’ve had my eye on them for awhile as their comic book counterparts are actually a really big deal in the comics.  In the books, Roxxon was key to a major storyline revolving around the Serpent’s Crown, an incredibly powerful mystic artifact.  It’s precisely the kind of thing that you’d need a team of heroes like the Defenders to deal with and the company’s prominence throughout the Marvel universe could be a long form set-up for that storyline.

The second reason I could see Roxxon and the Serpent Crown playing a key role in Defenders is the company’s ties to the mercenary group the Serpent Society.  The Serpent Society is a team of snake-themed assassins, 2 of which are featured as villains in Luke Cage.  Between that and Roxxon’s prominence, I could see Defenders functioning as a throw down between Hell’s Kitchen’s heroes and the snake-themed forces of Roxxon. 

This idea might’ve seemed way off in the past, but lately, it’s gotten more and more likely.  If you don’t know them, the Thunderbolts are Marvel’s equivalent to the Suicide Squad: a team of super villains working towards the greater good.  

The team has been through a ton of different iterations with even more members, but there are enough former members already established in the MCU to make up a version of the group.  Three of the team’s bigger names have already appeared in the Netflix shows: Punisher, Elektra, and Nuke, the pill-popping super soldier from Jessica Jones.

While I don’t think we’ll see big-name members like Red Hulk or Baron Zemo in a Netflix adaptation the Thunderbolts could work as Defenders antagonists that are tied to the various accidents and experiments that created Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.  

Introducing them as a US funded and government controlled answer to the Avengers.  A super villain staffed black ops wetwork team working for DHS that created the Defenders as a byproduct and are now looking to clean up the mess. 

I know these guys were technically defeated in Iron Man 3, but Hydra was also defeated in First Avenger so there’s no reason they couldn’t come back for another outing.  It’d honestly be a shame if A.I.M. ended up ultimately shelved after one very limited run given that they’re one of the core villain groups of Marvel Comics.  Seriously, after Hydra, these guys are the premiere super villain organization, specializing in crazy sci-fi concepts that are unique and innovative. 

There’s nothing yet that might link A.I.M. to the Marvel Netflix universe but, at the same time, there’s plenty of super science and other weirdness floating around the Netflix corner of the MCU to support their involvement.  The real great thing about AIM is that their tech would enable a lot of the more visually impressive Marvel bad guys who might not have the personality to back up their powers.  

Folks like Whirlwind or Plant Man or Ghost might not be cool enough to sustain a whole movie or TV show but as henchmen, they’d fit.  Plus, there are plenty of masterminds linked to AIM worth doing like Modok or the Controller. 

I’m probably going to be rolling this choice out quite a lot in future but in case you don’t know here’s the deal.  After the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, was revealed to be a washed up British actor that AIM had hired to be the front man of their super villain organization fans were furious.  Eager to placate their audience, Marvel decided to address the issue in a very bizarre manner.  

See, the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 had been using the symbol of the 10 Rings, the terrorist group that had kidnapped Tony in the first Iron Man movie.  So, in the Marvel short ‘Hail to the King’ it was established that the REAL Mandarin, who’s presumably a more faithful version of the comic book super villain, led the 10 Rings.

Marvel hasn’t followed up on the Mandarin or the 10 Rings since that short but they do technically exist as part of the Marvel Universe.  What’s more, they’re the perfect fit for the Asiatic ninja bad guys Marvel Netflix has favored in Daredevil and presumably will favor in Iron Fist.  

Speaking of, Iron Fist is set to include fellow kung-fu hero Shang-Chi. In the comics, Shang is the son of Fu Man Chu, the incredibly racist yellow peril literary villain.  That wouldn’t fly in live action but having his dad be the Mandarin, setting up the 10 Rings as Defenders villains could be a good way to make Iron Fist more relevant to the proceedings given how much of an outsider it is. 

Honestly, this would be the smartest choice for a Defenders antagonist, especially if Agents of SHIELD squeaks its way into a 5th season to coincide with Defenders.  Part of what’s made the Marvel Universe so successful is the idea that events matter in this reality, that even if characters don’t die their decisions and actions have broad and lasting consequences.  

A lot of that got forgotten during phase 2 so now is Marvel’s chance to re-establish that and it’s already happening.  The 4th season of Agents of SHIELD has already been shaped by Civil War, with the agents hunting down unregistered superheroes.  Taking that idea to its logical conclusion would be an excellent way to finally wed Marvel’s two episodic universes. 

None of the heroes of Hell’s Kitchen are really the registering type but, at the same time, none could truly stand against SHIELD alone.  Joining forces to stand for free and open community policing for citizens and by citizens would be a powerhouse move and imbue the registration debate with some serious teeth.  

People forget this now but during the registration years in the comics, SHIELD got real ugly, with whole teams of anti-superhero operatives known as cape killers.  They even conscripted supervillains to take down unregistered heroes, and folks like Luke Cage and Iron Fist were their biggest targets.  Adopting that mentality now, putting SHIELD in the role of government boogeyman at a time when we can’t seem to trust our law enforcement would make Defenders an instant must-watch. 

And now for the traditional Lido Shuffle “it’s not going to happen but just imagine if it did!” list entry: The Leader, gamma-enhanced super-genius and archenemy of the Hulk.  For those who’ve forgotten, the Leader actually has been established as part of the MCU.  

His civilian identity showed up in a radically re-imagined form in 2008’s Incredible Hulk, now working as Dr. Samuel Sterns and played by Tim Blake Nelson.  Sterns was communicating with Banner about how to cure him of his Hulkness.  Near the film’s conclusion, Sterns got a cut on his head that some Hulk juiced spilled into causing bad CGI, basically suggesting he could become the Leader in any possible sequel. 

Sterns was never followed up on, like most of the elements from Incredible Hulk as the film’s underperformance kept Marvel from really investing in further outings.  However, given that General Ross has already returned to the Marvel fold in Civil War, there’s no reason Sterns couldn’t return as well, maybe with a recast explained away by his gamma transformation.  

While Sterns wouldn’t be the ideal Defenders foe (that’s probably a tie between SHIELD and the Mandarin), he would definitely be an interesting one.  He’s one of the true masterminds of the Marvel comics and his gamma powers could be a nice angle for the Netflix universe, especially if Marvel wanted to debut She-Hulk for their Netflix Phase 2. 

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