The credits roll, the lights go up, the raucous applause soars, and Jeph Loeb steps to the microphone. “You think it would be safe to say we probably got that one right?” For those who have followed Marvel TV closely, the context of the comments is as clear as day. 2017 has been a relatively rough year for Loeb and his compatriots. To varying degrees, fans and critics alike have made clear their feelings about all the new MCU properties, including Iron Fist, The Defenders, and Inhumans. Loeb has had to front convention panels where fans laughed in derision, according to some reports. But not tonight. He strides up to the microphone, and like a slumping batter who finally shoots one to the cheap seat, Loeb is confidently basking in a home run.
I’m not going to fully review the show, for a couple reasons. Instead, as we did with the first episode of The Defenders at SDCC, I’m going to give some general impressions of the show. Fear not, I want to spoil nothing for you all, because this show is so good that you deserve to see it in all its glory without anything being ruined.
To begin with, this show does an incredible job of balancing the comic source material with the needs of an adaptation. Nothing felt artificial or misplace to the original vision of Brian K. Vaughn. That’s probably in part because he has been more involved in this project than almost any comic writer with a TV show, at least at Marvel. (He even did an intro for the screening last night.) While all the characters and visuals were spot on to the comics, the writers did make four major shifts in subplots or characterization, as I’m counting. They all work. Three I think are brilliant. In particular, they have made shifts that shore up the biggest weakness in the comics, of which I think there are few. Vaughn’s concept left him saddled with six main characters and twelve villains/parents for whom he had to write meaningful stories. I found half of them in the comics pretty non-descript and often confuse them. You just can’t create 18 good characters in twelve comic books. The series makes shifts here and there that make every almost member of the Pride pop. (One or two I don’t know well after one episode, but the second parent-centered episode I trust will fix that.) All that to say that fans who love the comics will be pleased with the show’s fidelity while also having new surprised to keep them tuned in.
The show’s tone is great. It may have more music than any MCU show, rivaling a show like Luke Cage. Unlike Harlem’s hero, and definitely unlike Inhumans, the music is never front and center (or obtrusive), it’s just setting a constant vibe, like a great DJ at a house party. The show filmed in LA as part of the showrunners’ pitch for the program and the settings work. From the grime of 24-esque crime-ridden neighborhoods to the fantastic mansions of the wealthy to the outdoor hallways of the school, it all feels so SoCal. The opening credits also are a big part of the vibe and they’re the best since probably Jessica Jones. Surprisingly, the show also makes some forays into some important social issues, without dwelling on them. The point is never a particular issue as much as fleshing out how hard navigating high school in 2017 can be. There is less humor than many MCU properties, but legitimate laugh out loud moments do happen.
One note on the MCU-ness of the show, to coin a term. This show is very removed from the universe. I’d go so far as to say that without the Marvel opening credits title card, some people might watch the show with zero awareness that it’s even a comic property. One character is a wealthy inventor, living in LA so I waited for a Stark reference that never came. I still believe that this will be in the MCU (we have no reason to see otherwise), but it is clear from this episode that establishing connections is the last thing on the writers’ mind. They made zero attempts to throw any reference to other shows or films into the mix.
It is hard to go much further into things without moving into a full-on review or spoiling some plot elements. The cast is great, and the casting nailed every character. Special effects were solid, one or two I was iffy on, but it is possible they will do a little tinkering. If not it looks really good still. It was fun to listen to people behind me, who clearly didn’t know the comics. They were obviously enthralled and didn’t know what was coming next. As the episode moved toward the inevitable end and cliffhanger, I heard “This can’t be the end! Don’t leave me here. I want more.” Fans immediately started screaming “give us the second episode” when the screening was over. They did show a teaser for the rest of the season and things look like they will continue along nicely.
The saddest part for me is that it is still seven weeks before the rest of you can see it. I can’t wait for it because it’s going to be one that fans are going to truly love, I think.