Daredevil’s second Hell’s Kitchen hard case hits Netflix today, and with it comes two major additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Élodie Yung’s enigmatic sai-wielding Elektra (already praised by critics as a scene-stealing highlight) and Jon Bernthal’s relentless gun-toting Punisher (already praised by me as a terrifying force of nature).
The criteria for selection was simple: characters had to fall clearly within Marvel film rights (sorry, merry mutants), be of limited interest for film and prime time production (bye bye, Ms. Marvel) and be capable of working within the constraints of a reasonable Netflix effects budget (you’ll get yours someday, Ghost Rider). The first wave of Netflix heroes—Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist—all share a New York City home base, but there’s no reason Marvel can’t push the (geographic) boundaries in phase two, and shake up the grim-and-gritty tone for something a little more…bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
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Thanks to Buffy, True Blood and myriad other vampire hits, we know that fanged foes can be done well on a budget, and given that Blade's trilogy of films helped ignite the comic cinema era in the first place, the Daywalker is still something of a household name. Much like Daredevil before him, bringing Blade to Netflix would be seen by fans as both an expansion of the MCU and a mea culpa for the atrocious final cinematic outing, Blade: Trinity, as well as the short-lived Spike TV show. The MCU has so far stopped short of going full-tilt magic, but Doctor Strange is set to blow that hesitation out of the water in November, clearing the way for more supernatural stories to hit the screen. Possibly too-dedicated original Blade actor Wesley Snipes has even suggested that he would be willing to reprise his 1998 star turn!
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The downside to adapting Darkhawk for Netflix is that you'd really have to wipe the slate clean—Queens-born Christopher Powell's origin is complicated in the classic Marvel '90s manner, with strange aliens and robots and other-dimensional nonsense. The upside to adapting Darkhawk for Netflix is that very few fans will care if you wipe the slate clean. Make him a tough-luck New York teen who comes into possession of an alien artifact (hello, Guardians tie-in!) and uses it to follow Spider-Man's heroic example. Powell would also be an excellent opportunity for Marvel to flip the script and cast a person of color—and maybe even explore the MCU's first major LGBTQ+ character. The key attraction here is that Darkhawk fans are too few to matter, making him a nice tabula rasa for Netflix producers.
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Asgardians may currently be the pagan pantheon of choice in the MCU, but there's ample room for Hercules to enter the fray without stepping on any god-sized toes. By stealing a page from Ultimate Thor's playbook, a Hercules series could tease out the question of whether the mighty hero is really a demigod at all—or just a delusional do-gooder with outsized strength. The last two solo Herc books have put the Lion of Olympus in street-level scenarios, and Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente's longtime work with the character provides the perfect comedy-action template—as well as the groundwork for introducing Amadeus Cho, one of Marvel's best recent creations and the perfect intellectual balance for a big burly Greek who likes to hit things with a mace.
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Heroes for Hire
Luke Cage and Danny Rand may be the pair most associated with the Heroes for Hire moniker, but bionic-armed Misty Knight and Kung-Fu combatant Colleen Wing deserve to lay claim to the title in the MCU. ("Daughters of the Dragon" gives too much of a Game of Thrones ripoff vibe.) Given that Marvel has been (rightly) criticized for its lack of starring-role diversity and its decision to stick with a white Iron Fist, putting the spotlight on a black leading lady and her half-Japanese best friend (not to slight Colleen, but she's always played second fiddle to Misty) would help bring in new audiences and broaden the face of the MCU. We already know that Simone Missick is playing Misty in the Luke Cage series, so the groundwork is laid. Play up the hardscrabble element of two young women in New York and depict a strong female friendship in the MCU, and there's potential here for a more serious, super-powered take on Broad City.
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Loki, Kingpin and the Purple Man have all thrilled and chilled as villainous breakthroughs in the MCU, but their popularity is bolstered by the forgettable quality of nearly every other antagonist yet far. Pushing demon-powered crime boss The Hood into the Netflix spotlight could give Marvel its own Suicide Squad spin should that villain-led film prove popular, while simultaneously setting up a major future threat for the Defenders and their heroic peers. Brian K. Vaughan and Kyle Hotz's original mini-series provides a uniquely twisted hard-luck origin for Parker Robbins, and his rise to ringleader status would give producers an excellent opportunity to fold in the kind of c-list villain cameos that excite diehard fans. TV watchers love a good anti-hero story, and bringing The Hood and his trusty twin Hell-pistols to Netflix would test how far audiences will sympathize with a truly evil protagonist.
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Vigilante fans were calling for a Punisher series as soon as Jon Bernthal's casting was announced, but the skull-emblazoned criminal-killer seems scariest and most effective in limited doses. Enter Moon Knight, long dismissed as "Marvel's Batman" but recently revived under the steady hands of Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire as one of the most compelling and creatively flexible weapons in Marvel's street-level arsenal. Like the Punisher, Moon Knight is willing to take bad guys off of the streets permanently, but rather than Frank Castle's unflinching single-mindedness, Marc Spector must copes with multiple warring personalities. It's an acting showcase to die for, and Shalvey and Bellaire's re-envisioned costumes—especially the stark white suit—are already screen-ready. Just adapting the Ellis/Shalvey/Bellaire issue that homages The Raid would more than justify the price of a Netflix subscription.
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Runaways has been in various circles of live-action production hell for years (and, come to think of it, print publication purgatory too), but Netflix might just be the saving grace for this misfit assortment of teens who discover their parents' villainous proclivities. Aside from Molly's mutant DNA, all of the kids' origins are unconnected from deep Marvel lore and thus easy to explain to a fresh audience. Nico and Karolina's powers could be used sparingly (and will tie the series to both the magic shenanigans of Doctor Strange and the space-bound wonder of Guardians of the Galaxy), and you just know True Believers would be willing to wait until the eleventh hour for a glimpse at Gertrude's dino buddy Old Lace. Casting this many competent teen actors is never easy, but Runaways has all the makings of a self-contained crossover hit and deserves more storytelling room than a single film outing would allow.
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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
With DC entering the comedy ring with the Office-inspired Powerless sitcom, now is the time for Marvel to diversify its tonal offerings and bring Doreen Green and her rodent pals to Netflix streaming. A longtime joke of a character, years of nurturing by Dan Slott and an absolute breakthrough run by Ryan North and Erica Henderson means Squirrel Girl is actually a viable leading character rather than a deep-continuity punch line. With countless cameo opportunities (she defeated Thanos, you know), Unbeatable Squirrel Girl could very well be Marvel's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
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Marvel and DC love trolling each other, so just imagine the reaction at Warner Bros. if Marvel announced a Wonder Man series just as DC finally got Wonder Woman up on the big screen. Hollywood hero Simon Williams has always been a second-tier Avenger at best, and his ion powers would test budget lines, but his relative lack of committed fans means Netflix could play fast and loose with his existing characterization and go full-blown "Marvel's Entourage" with Wondy as an ego-loaded leading man dealing out reluctant justice between casting calls. Revise his origins to tie in with the Inhumans or Kree and plop him in Los Angeles to help expand the MCU's playground. He even comes equipped with a surprisingly solid villain: the sickle-handed Grim Reaper, his own biological brother!