It’s not long now until the hotly anticipated release of Marvel’s latest Netflix show The Defenders, and while fans of the MCU are undoubtedly abuzz with excitement for the show -- which serves as a culmination of Netflix’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist properties -- the Defenders as a team have never quite gotten the attention they deserve, especially compared to the Avengers. This is likely in part due to the Defenders’ status as B-list team, after all Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones are hardly household names in the same way that Iron Man, Captain America and Spider-Man are, right?
Thing is, not only are these characters completely absent from the original line up of the Defenders, but they’re a very recent incarnation of the team -- as in 2017 recent. While the characters have individually popped up as team members over the years, the core of the group usually consists of several different characters, some of which are even “A-Listers” within the MCU. With the incredibly varied roster of characters associated with the team since its creation, why is it that more people don’t talk about it? Maybe it’s about time that changed. Here are 15 MCU characters you didn’t know were Defenders.
Believe it or not, the Mad Titan himself has served as not only a member of the Defenders, but as a founder of one of the teams as well. Assembling an all-villain team of Rhino, Super Skrull, Titanium Man, Nitro and Geatar, Thanos coerces the band of evil-doers into helping him kidnap and put an end to an ancient prophet known as the Oracle of Ancient Knowledge, who plans to kickstart a Holy War across the Universe.
Naturally, Thanos’ plans, whilst appearing altruistic on the surface, are ultimately selfish -- with Thanos seeing the Oracle as an obstructive nuisance who could halt his own villainous plots. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Thanos strands his team in space once the task is complete, and resumes his usual dastardly plans. Now there’s the Thanos we know and love.
A founding Avenger (and oftentimes reluctant one), it should come as no surprise that Bruce Banner is another consistent presence in the Defenders’ canon, with his unmatched strength and brilliantly dim personality creating some fun dynamics in the ever-changing team. In fact, the Hulk’s presence in the Defenders is such a key part of the formula that even when Bruce himself isn’t present, there’s more often than not an analogue of the character on the team to fill his role.
Sometimes it’s She-Hulk, Lyra, Red-She Hulk or even Drax the Destroyer (as you'll see a little later) that fills the giant Hulk-shaped hole he leaves behind. Serving as the brawn to Doctor Strange’s brains, the Hulk is a quintessential member of the Defenders; all the more reason to hope the Netflix shows and MCU movies get the opportunity to cross-pollinate at some point.
After getting rejected by both Scarlet Witch and Black Widow in rapid succession (we've all been there), Hawkeye decides to leave the Avengers, feeling neglected and ignored by the rest of his team. Deciding to make a name for himself as a solo superhero, Clint soon runs into the Hulk and the rest of the Defenders, making the decision to join them on their mission to take down the Atlantean villain Attuma for one simple reason -- he thinks Valkyrie is hot.
While he only remains a member of the team for a small handful of issues before moving on, he manages to prove himself as a valuable hero during that time, which helps heal the bruised ego he secured throughout his tenure as an Avenger, which he eventually would become again for many years to come.
12 DOCTOR STRANGE
Perhaps the most important character in the entirety of the Defenders’ history, Doctor Strange usually serves as the de-facto leader of the group, despite their frequent insistence as a non-team of sorts. A mainstay of the title, Doctor Strange is the hero who frequently seeks out and puts together the various incarnations of the team, usually in response to a specific threat.
With Stephen Strange being amongst the wisest minds in the Marvel Universe, it’s not often heroes turn down his offer to join the team, and his status as the Sorcerer Supreme cements him as one of the most respected heroes on the planet. All of this makes him the ideal figurehead of the group -- even if he doesn’t consider himself to be as such -- and Strange remains one of the three “founders” of the Defenders alongside Namor and someone you'll see later on the list.
11 WAR MACHINE
When Doctor Strange formed a new-team of Defenders in the early '90s -- known as the Secret Defenders -- he decided the team would become a much more fluid organization with less rigidity in its core structure. Consisting of a revolving door of Marvel superheroes, some members would join on a mission-by-mission basis, leaving after the job was done to make room for new heroes, while others would stay for several issues before departing.
James Rhodes, AKA War Machine, was among these heroes. Fighting alongside Thunderstrike and Silver Surfer, War Machine helps put a stop to a rampaging Nebula, who plans on nuking Titan after escaping her imprisonment following the events of “Infinity Gauntlet”. Proving himself to be an essential member of the team, War Machine manages to save Silver Surfer after he’s strapped to the nuke, before disarming the weapon itself; ultimately allowing the Surfer to finish off Nebula.
Although she hasn’t appeared in the MCU just yet, Valkyrie is set to appear as a prominent character in this year’s Thor: Ragnarok -- and if the trailers are anything to go by, she looks fantastic. Appearing frequently throughout the history of the Defenders, Valkyrie is one of the most important characters in the team’s storied career.
Consistently serving as a core member of the team, Valkyrie was also a founder of the New Defenders, with her potent Asgardian powers and incredibly fierce loyalty setting her apart from any of the other heroes. Unparalleled as an ally, Valkyrie is perhaps the most underappreciated character on the whole team, and her unmatched devotion to the cause has served as the glue keeping the Defenders together for many, many years.
Weirdly enough joining the Defenders in the pages of Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the rest of the team investigate a supposed arson committed by Human Torch, only to become embroiled in the sinister plans of Doctor Doom. As you’d expect, the team ends up victorious, and Spider-Man stays with the team for a little while afterwards -- even partaking in the mission undertaken by Scarlet Witch and Captain America, which at this point has to hold the record for the most A-list Defenders team.
Given that he’s a New York-based street-level hero, Spider-Man is another character that could’ve made a memorable appearance in Netflix’s The Defenders, if only Marvel’s Netflix and MCU properties weren’t so insistent on keeping their distance from each other, although the show may prove to be a little too bloody for the likes of Peter Parker.
8 HANK PYM
Despite the fact that Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is the central version of Ant-Man in the MCU, Hank Pym is definitely the character most synonymous with the role, with Pym having a long, convoluted, and often controversial history as a hero. It’s weird then that while Pym has joined the Defenders team on several occasions, he’s never actually done so as Ant-Man.
First appearing as a recruit in Defenders #25 all the way back in 1975, Hank was donning the Yellowjacket identity at the time, and joined the Defenders after helping them to take out the nefarious Sons of the Serpent. The next time Pym took on a Defenders membership was in Secret Defenders #18, where he joined the team under the guise of Giant-Man alongside Luke Cage and Iron Fist -- two of the characters set to appear in Netflix’s incarnation of the Defenders team.
7 SCARLET WITCH
Scarlet Witch became a member of the Defenders for several issues of Secret Defenders, where she put her potent magical abilities to use, helping the team put a stop to Xandu -- a villain with similarly magical powers. Like many of her colleagues, she didn’t stick around for too long before departing from the team with little explanation -- perhaps there wasn’t much need for two magic-based heroes on the team with Doctor Strange already leading the charge.
It’s odd that the team wouldn’t approach her for help again however, given that her overpowered abilities could’ve pretty much stopped most of the Defenders’ foes in their tracks. Taking into account her long, tumultuous history with Avengers as well as her own personal conflicts though, she probably has a hell of a lot on her plate at any given time.
One of the main characters in the Netflix hit Jessica Jones, Patsy Walker will also have a presence in The Defenders, although she sadly won’t be a member of the team given the fact that she hasn’t taken on the mantle of Hellcat (at least as of yet). Hellcat has been a recurring character in the Defenders comics however, joining during the original run of the series in Defenders #44, where her scrappy attitude and impressive combat skills served the team well.
She even took on a rogue sect of the Defenders known as The Order -- who of course had plans to conquer the world -- in Defenders (vol. 2) #1, with Patsy assembling a rival team of Defenders consisting of She-Hulk, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Namorita, Clea and Ardita to tackle the threat.
5 DRAX THE DESTROYER
Yet another addition to the Secret Defenders’ roster, a very different-looking Drax (complete with a purple cape and skull-adorned belt) joined fellow Defenders Deathlok, Dagger and Doctor Druid in their fight to keep the ancient entity known as Slorioth from rising to power. Sadly, Secret Defenders ended its 25-issue run only two issues after Drax entered the fold, meaning readers wouldn’t get to see any more of the character’s career as a Defender.
However, in the short time he was on the team, he was still a fun presence straight to the end. Drax was a standout within the group during a period in which the Secret Defenders had become unrecognizable, with none of its core members remaining in the roster, and he deserves credit for that alone. Here’s hoping that the MCU’s Drax will get to crossover with the Defenders someday, as unlikely as that is.
4 BETTY ROSS
While the MCU’s version of the Betty Ross character hasn’t made the dramatic transformation into Red She-Hulk yet (and almost certainly never will), the comic book incarnation of the character was revealed to have developed her ultra-aggressive alter-ego during the “Fall of the Hulks” storyline. Becoming a member of the Defenders in Matt Fraction’s underappreciated run on the series back in 2011, Betty pretty much joins the team for the fun of it.
She agrees to help her allies hunt down and destroy the Breaker of Worlds, Nul, on the condition she can bring her ‘big-ass sword’ along for the ride. With strength to rival the Hulk’s and a fiery, no holds barred attitude, Betty makes a valuable addition to the team, and getting to see her interact with such a disparate group of superheroes is one of the things that makes the series so much fun.
Another character who only served the Defenders very briefly as a “Defender for a Day”, Falcon helped the team take out a group of super-villains who declared themselves as Defenders following a documentary on the heroes that sparked a PR nightmare. Forming an instant rivalry with the similarly avian-themed hero Nighthawk, the duo is soon forced to put their differences aside to deal with the rampaging villains, who they eventually bring to justice.
As with the majority of the heroes in the story, Falcon doesn’t stick around after the mission is complete, which is a shame. Offering a fun dynamic with the team (particularly Nighthawk) and valuable experience as Cap’s right-hand man, Falcon was one of the stand-out characters of the story, and would’ve been a great fit as a permanent member of the team.
For those wondering exactly who Prowler is and where he’s appeared in the MCU, he recently had a small role in Spider-Man: Homecoming, played by Donald Glover. In fact, if you were paying close attention you might’ve noticed his Prowler alias appearing for a split second on the character’s dossier as Spider-Man attempts to track him down.
A criminal-turned-vigilante, Aaron Davis is actually the uncle of Miles Morales, the Spider-Man of the Ultimate Universe. Prowler joined the Defenders very briefly with a whole host of other heroes for a single mission as one of the “Defenders for a Day” -- and despite the fact that it was an alternate version of the character, the suit, powers and status as an antihero associated with Prowler were still very much present in his appearance.
1 CAPTAIN AMERICA
Back in 1993, Captain America took a brief break from his hectic schedule to assist the Defenders for a handful of issues of Secret Defenders. He was a member of the team during the same period that Scarlet Witch was also on the roster, assisting her in the battle against Xandu. In fact, Cap more than lived up to his reputation as one of Marvel’s most impressive heroes, saving the entire team from the villain’s clutches almost single-handedly after being rudely dismissed by Doctor Strange earlier in the story.
Bringing a certain star-power to the team, it’s weird that he hasn’t made more appearances in the title over the years, especially given the loose structure of the team and prominence of Cap’s closest allies throughout the different Defenders titles.
Which MCU character do you hope one day shows up in The Defenders? Sound off in the comments below!