Here are my rankings for Netflix's Marvel comic book shows (spoilers):
- Daredevil season 1. Its success set a high standard for the rest of the Marvel Netflix shows to follow. If it hadn’t succeeded, then it’s possible the other Netflix shows wouldn’t have had as much viewer interest, not as much money allocated, the quality could have suffered as a result, etc. So Daredevil season 1 was exemplary in that respect. What’s more, it was a refreshing turn for Marvel if we contrast the naked realism, the grit and grime of Daredevil with the more (shall we say) colorful and flamboyant Marvel movies (e.g. X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America, Avengers). In fact, Marvel’s Netflix tv series are arguably more sophisticated in literary terms than its movies. Not to mention Kingpin was an excellent counterpoint to Daredevil. A villain who might even be said to outshine the hero.
- Daredevil season 2a. The first half with the Punisher storyline was fantastic. Perhaps equaling Daredevil season 1. We felt Punisher as a real individual, one with searing scars burned deeply into his psyche in the tragic loss of his family, rather than the caricature he usually is portrayed in comic books and lesser films. The character Frank Castle could have been very one dimensional (i.e. all about revenge), but the story here made Castle far more nuanced than he’s ever been. That’s a credit to the writers as well as actor who played Frank Castle i.e. Jon Bernthal. And the contrast between Daredevil and the Punisher, such as in how best to serve justice (lethally or non-lethally), makes for a lively ethical debate.
- Jessica Jones season 1. As others have noted, it’s more psychological thriller than action-oriented (like Daredevil). I thought it worked very well overall, and very much enjoyed it. However, there were some themes which could’ve been better teased out and a couple of storylines which felt tacked on rather than smoothly integrated (e.g. Simpson). Kilgrave was an excellent villain, as good as Vincent D'onofrio Kingpin, and David Tennant did a fine job (I loved Tennant in Doctor Who as well), though the Purple Man was ultimately too powerful. Sort of in the vein of X-Men’s Professor X since Kilgrave could similarly control minds. Perhaps that’s why Kilgrave had to be killed off, because there would be virtually no limit to his power and who he could control (and it was never completely explained how Jessica Jones could resist him, one assumes it had something to do with her superpowers, but what exactly). Jessica snapping Kilgrave’s neck like a twig stands in sharp contrast to Daredevil who has to wrestle his own inner demons about not killing his archnemesis, among other enemies, as if killing even in self-defense is somehow intrinsically wrong.
- Luke Cage season 1a. The first half with Cottonmouth and Mariah, before Diamondback shows up was saturated with African-American culture focused on the culture of Harlem. Luke is in many respects the anti-stereotype of the stereotypical black man (a la blaxploitation flicks) - not loud and angry, but calm, cool, and collected; not drive by an abundance of testosterone, but manly in both brawn and brains, in both physicality and cognition, sharp and intelligent as much as a force of (super)nature - which was a welcome breath of fresh air. The action wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, but perhaps I’ve been overly captivated and thus biased by Daredevil’s amazing martial arts, whereas Luke Cage is more about nearly invincible brute strength in most of its fight scenes.
- Daredevil season 2b. This latter half of the season felt incomplete, which it doubtless was, because it was meant to be a setup for future stories involving the Hand and so on. It also came on the heels of the Punisher storyline, which regrettably only served to heighten the differences between the two - and unfavorably in regard to Elektra. In other words, Elektra’s storyline stood in stark contrast to Punisher’s, and as a result, Elektra’s storyline unfortunately paled in comparison (and I say this as someone who is a fan of Elektra). Her story stood in the shadow of the Punisher. However, there were highlights. For example, the love between her and Matt Murdock was promising, even though it didn’t sizzle quite as much as one would’ve liked. Also, as I’ve alluded, the ending intentionally left several loose ties which show a lot of future potential in the forthcoming season. And, in my modest view, the actor who plays Stick largely embodies the character quite well - a wiry, somewhat noirish and mystic figure, with a wry sense of humor, but chock full of worldly wise common sense, who, at the end of the day, has a heart of gold underneath the tough as nails exterior.
- Luke Cage season 1b. Second half was such a disappointment in comparison to the first half. Diamondback was touted as the nefarious baddie pulling all the strings behind the events of the first half of the season, so much and so often by Shades, but ultimately the Diamondback character proved over-the-top. Diamondback instead seemed too comical rather than menacing or any sort of a real threat. He was supposed to be a bigger and badder villain than Cottonmouth, but he was quite the let-down from the expectations Shades had built up. Actually, I’d say one of Luke Cage’s biggest problems was that it had too many villains (e.g. Cottonmouth, Mariah, Shades, Diamondback, Mama Mabel in flashbacks). Having too many villains in this manner not only diluted the plot, at least more than it ought to have, but it likewise dilutes the viewing audience’s “sympathies” so to speak. Ideally, an audience should root for the hero(es), but love to hate the villain(s). However, Luke Cage built up too many of its villains in such a way that it blunted their overall effect, unlike say with Daredevil’s Kingpin or Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave. Still, the ending of Luke Cage was uniquely good in that not all the villains received their comeuppance but in fact escaped justice (for now), while our hero (voluntarily) went to prison. In short, unlike Daredevil or Jessica Jones, Luke Cage had more of a bittersweet ending, the good guys didn’t entirely win, and the bad guys didn’t entirely lose. All this said, even at its worst, Luke Cage is still a cut above many other comic book shows.