EXCLUSIVE: Marvel's Head of TV Reveals How 'The Defenders' Will Be Different From 'The Avengers'
By John Boone
"We had some fun."
Jeph Loeb knows how to humbly undersell a Comic-Con visit: Marvel's Head of Television has just come off two Ballroom 20 panels when we meet at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego. During the Luke Cage panel, he also revealed that Daredevil had been renewed for a third season and debuted the first footage from Iron Fist and The Defenders. A day later, he announced that Ghost Rider is coming to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"What's hard for everyone to remember because the movies have such a giant, looming presence, is that Marvel television only started three years ago," Loeb explained. "There was no Marvel television."
During our second annual Comic-Con sit-down, Loeb discussed all things Netflix, as well as bringing Ghost Rider -- yes, the motorcycle rider with a flaming, skeleton head that Nicolas Cage played in the movies -- to TV and whether Agent Carter could live again.
When I spoke with you last year, you told me that Daredevil is a crime drama, Jessica Jones is a psychological thriller, but you weren't ready to divulge Luke Cage's genre. Can you tell me now?
In many ways, it's the making of a hero. The idea is that, "Why would anyone do this job?" At this point in his life, you can't get paid. No one really appreciates it for what it is. And most importantly, he's a fugitive. So, for us, it is a story of redemption. It is the story of the hero's journey.
We also got a small taste of Iron Fist. Will that to be more like a martial arts movie?
You know that we can't just do that! Look, it has some of the most amazing martial arts and all kinds of different martial arts -- not just kung fu. Our hope is to be able to present a story that will surprise people. That's about as much as I can say right now.
Daredevil has now had two seasons, which makes it the first of the Netflix series to do so. Is there anything you learned or that stood out, having that chance to go back and revisit one of these properties?
First, that we were physically capable to do it. To go from shooting one television series in New York to shooting two television series in New York, just in terms of size and scale and looking after two crews and two casts, is very challenging. If I didn't have Jim Chory, who's our head of production and sort of the General Patton of Marvel television and is capable of moving armies all around, we never would be able to do it.
In terms of the growth of the story, the nice part about working with Netflix is that we don't see each season as a continuation of the previous story. It very much harkens to the world of publishing, where you have the Frank Miller, you have the Brian Bendis run, you have the Ed Brubaker run. I was lucky enough to do Daredevil: Yellow. But they feel different. They have different elements to them. Same cast. In many cases, same tone. But a different adventure.
I think that's the thing that makes it so exciting, is you can watch Daredevil season two without having seen Daredevil season one. But if you watch each of them, it's like getting two different books. It's closer to the world of the graphic novel than it is to the world of the ongoing, serialized show.
We know that Marco Ramirez and Douglas Petrie, who did Daredevil's second season, are showrunning The Defenders. What kind of role will Melissa Rosenberg (creator of Jessica Jones), Cheo Coker (Luke Cage) and Scott Buck (Iron Fist) have in it?
We're all very much in the same space, so they offer their input in terms of how their characters would react in that situation. But make no mistake about it, it's Marco and it's Doug and they're the ones that are telling the story. And everyone has the utmost respect for their work and their storytelling.
I think the closest thing that I can make to it is -- in the same kind of way that Joss Whedon sought out all of the creative input from everybody that had worked on Iron Man and Hulk and Captain America and Thor, but he had to make The Avengers its own thing.
Speaking of, The Defenders is often pitched as an Avengers-esque team-up, but for the Netflix shows. How will you differentiate what you're doing with The Defenders from what's been done already there?
First of all, they're very different characters, so it's a very different world. I've always said that The Avengers are here to save the universe -- and nobody does it better! The street-level heroes are here to save the neighborhood and, in many cases, to save themselves. It makes for very compelling drama.
The question that we're asking in this show isn't, "Who's the big bad?" Or, "What neighborhood needs to be saved?" It really is, you've met Matt. You've met Jessica. You're about to meet Luke. You will meet Danny. You will see that each of them are very different people who approach the job -- if I'm going to pick a word -- of being a hero very differently and have a very different attitude about it. They certainly all come from the same place of, "Nobody asked me to do this. This is a choice that I had thrust upon me." Which is very Marvel -- going all the way back to Peter Parker got bit by a radioactive spider. It wasn't a choice of something that he set out to do. It's not like he flew here from another planet and put on a cape and tried to save the world.
These characters are very complex and very rich, so our real question is, "What happens when they get together?" We could do an episode where the four of them just talk about who they are, as opposed to what they're fighting or what's at stake. Obviously, we will have fighting and what's at stake. But that's really what's interesting to us, and one of the things that's awesome about being at Netflix is you can take the time to slow down. This is, for us, an eight-episode event, as opposed to a season of a story. In many ways, we see it as, this is kind of the Olympics, where you get to know all of these athletes in their various sports all throughout their careers, and then once every four years they're going to get together and compete against each other.
Stick's line in the teaser trailer -- "You think you can save New York? You can't even save yourselves." -- seems very telling, then.
That's very much the tone of it. It really is, "How do they interact with each other?" And I'll give you a hint: Not well.
The exciting news out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. panel is Ghost Rider. How do you decide with these bigger characters whether they fit better on the movie side or the TV side?
It's a big conversation that we have with the folks at the Studio, with the folks in New York and [Dan] Buckley and Alan Fine and Joe Quesada. But mostly, it always comes down to, "What's the best story? What's the best way to present that story?"
One of the things that we talked about is, S.H.I.E.L.D. always looked out for the weird, the unusual, the things that were and could a problem for the public. And then had to go deal with that. And whether or not that was in a friendly way or an aggressive way or in just a way that would turn badly. We started to say, "Well, here's a quarter of the universe that we haven't really spent a lot of time exploring. Let's go see what happens if our very real, our very grounded agents who are very much a family have to take on something that is as bizarre and powerful and unique as Ghost Rider." Part of the reason we picked Robbie Reyes, because there are other Ghost Riders in the Marvel Universe, is the relationship between he and his brother. So, even there, there's a family that they're interacting with.
And then there's just something cool about doing Fast and the Furious in the Marvel Universe. Let's just say it.
I know a lot of people were disappointed when Agent Carter ended. There's still so much story to tell. Is that something that could get resurrected somewhere else or Peggy Carter could pop up somewhere else?
Anything is possible. It was not our choice to end Agent Carter. That's a decision that was made [by ABC]. I think sometimes it's challenging when you're a fan, because when you look at the movies, it looks like, "Let's go make this movie!" And they go make the movie. Whereas, in the television division, we have to wait for the network to say, "We want more of these." In this particular case, for whatever their reasons, ABC did not order more Agent Carter.
So, now we have this property and this unbelievably talented actress in Hayley [Atwell] and, you know. Nothing's impossible when Marvel's involved.
Another thing that often happens when Marvel's involved is you leave with more questions than before: Is Loeb's offhanded mention that Luke can't get paid for his hero work "at this point in his life" a reference to Heroes for Hire? If the television side is using Robbie Reyes, could Johnny Blaze still join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, similar to Rosario Dawson and Rachel McAdams both playing versions of the Night Nurse? And when will Peggy Carter get the damn respect that she deserves?!
In the meantime, find out what Luke Cage star Mike Colter exclusively told ET at Comic-Con about his character's "satisfying" origin story and why fans will be so happy with the series.