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The Defenders: Everything we know about Marvel's superhero team-up series

They’re a super-team that’s super, if not quite a team… yet

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New York’s four super-friends are about to save the city.

If they can get along, that is. Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) are super, but they’re certainly not friends when they unite in Netflix’s The Defenders. And without delving into spoilers, EW’s guide below to everything you need to know about the show will prepare you for the eight episodes to come. Consider it your superhero training montage — only it’s for superhero-watching.

Meet the freewheeling four.

Sarah Shatz/Netflix

From the beginning, The Defenders was planned as the endgame for the Marvel-Netflix small-screen heroes. Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb told EW that he conceived of the show while watching The Avengers for the fifth time on DVD back in 2013, and from there, came up with a plan to roll out individual series for four different street-level heroes, who would ultimately unite over a major (yet still street-level) crisis in New York City.

Netflix stepped in to help as Marvel sought an outlet for the projects — one that, since its start, would produce at least 60 episodes of binge-able content. From there, the universe chose showrunners, cast its stars, and rolled out each of the stand-alone series with Daredevil arriving first, Jessica Jones second, Luke Cage third, and Iron Fist last. Daredevil also released a second season, has a third in the works, and a spin-off focused on season 2 antihero The Punisher, while Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have been renewed for second seasons.

Sarah Shatz/Netflix

So who are these reluctant superheroes? Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil, is a blind lawyer who takes justice into his own hands at night as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. He’s guided by his faith, yet also tormented by it, always questioning whether what he does to criminals is morally right. Jessica Jones, meanwhile, had been a wannabe crimefighter after discovering her superpowers (mostly super-strength, and “flying” by leaping really high), only to be taken advantage of by the mind-controller Kilgrave. The ordeal left her scarred and reclusive, but she continues to try to help others as a private investigator running Alias Investigations. Luke Cage also struggles with his past: Born Carl Lucas, he was wrongfully incarcerated in prison and imbued with unbreakable skin and super-strength, before eventually becoming embroiled in a crime boss’ plot in Harlem. Lastly, Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist, is a martial arts master with mystical powers who trained in the faraway city of K’un-Lun — but in his first season, he abandons his post as the protector of K’un-Lun and returns home to New York, where he’s followed by members of the Hand, the sworn enemy of the Iron Fist and ongoing foe to Daredevil.

To sum it all up, however, all four are orphans who are finding their paths as heroes, and at the start of The Defenders, each of them is at a different point in their vigilante careers — and definitely not into joining a so-called superhero team. Charlie Cox told EW that the Man Without Fear has become reluctant to don his suit and fight for Hell’s Kitchen since losing Elektra to the Hand. Krysten Ritter teased that Jessica Jones has become more well-known than ever around the city after taking down Kilgrave, but she’s not one to bask in the spotlight. Mike Colter explained that Luke Cage will quickly be let out of Seagate Prison and prove to be the most mature of the Defenders. And as for Iron Fist, Finn Jones says his character will play an integral part in building the team, despite their reluctance to become one.

Worlds — make that neighborhoods — will collide.

Sarah Shatz/Netflix

But enough about the individual shows. The foursome has all been introduced, and each series has planted seeds for what might bring them onto the same side. Showrunner Marco Ramirez (who worked alongside EP Doug Petrie on Daredevil season 2) says The Defenders will “feel like a continuation of all the shows… the next step for all four shows” and will also be “one satisfying, self-contained piece.” And as far as juggling all the meetings, Ramirez says to remember that characters have already “cross-pollinated from one world to the other” — Jessica and Luke know each other, for example — so it’s not much of a stretch to have them cross paths in their journeys.

As for how they cross paths, well, their first meeting is in — surprise, surprise — a hallway. Hallway fight scenes are a Marvel-Netflix staple at this point, so of course the heroes have to meet in one. (And then ride an elevator together in one.) But it won’t be easy for them to get along: Ritter says Jessica and Matt will have a “cat-and-mouse” dynamic, for example, while Colter says Luke will have to act as the “conciliator” for the group.

A “street-level crisis” arrives in New York.

Sarah Shatz/Netflix

No, Sigourney Weaver isn’t the “street-level crisis,” as Ramirez put it, but she does play a big part in threatening the city in which all four Defenders live. For EW’s first look cover story, Ramirez teased Weaver’s mysterious character, Alexandra, as an “utter badass.” And judging by the official trailer — go here for the screenshots-fueled deep dive — she’s also ready to take the Defenders down.

But what exactly is Alexandra up to, and who is she? The previous series shed some clues. Instead of watching them all again (that’s a long weekend of bingeing you’re up for it), catch up on the biggest takeaways and unanswered questions from the final standalone series, Iron Fist. Highlights include the fact that there’s more than one type of Hand, the shady organization with that annoying ninja army; Danny Rand ran away from K’un-Lun instead of embracing his responsibility to protect K’un-Lun; and oh right, Elektra’s coming back to presumably wreak havoc as the weapon Black Sky.

On top of all that, the preceding series have also tossed out key words and phrases like IGH (seen at the end of Jessica Jones) and Midland Circle (seen in Daredevil season 2 and Iron Fist) that very likely have something to do with whatever Alexandra’s cooking up. And for even more clues, take a closer look at EW’s exclusive photos or look out for Marvel and Netflix’s Comic-Con panel with the cast. (The last con the cast attended, which happened to be the first time they met, was “insane,” as they put it.)

The team’s bigger than these four.

Sarah Shatz/Netflix

There are only four Defenders, but there are more than four heroes to save the day. Joining the core four from the one-off series are supporting characters Colleen Wing (played by Jessica Henwick, who teased that the series begins with Colleen not in New York), Misty Knight, Trish Walker, Foggy Nelson, Jeri Hogarth, Karen Page, Stick, and of course, Claire Temple, a.k.a. Rosario Dawson, who’s appeared in every series leading up to The Defenders and plays an important role in guiding the Defenders to each other. Oh, and speaking of connections… here’s what Loeb has to say about whether the Marvel-Netflix shows will ever cross over into the films.

And even if all of the Marvel characters never meet each other, at least we can understand how all the pieces fit together. Here, Entertainment Weekly: The Show has created a handy guide to understanding everything going on in Marvel, both on the big and the small screen.

Look out for color palettes.

Sarah Shatz/Netflix

To seamlessly merge the four standalone series’ distinct tones, the crew color-coded the characters. In some scenes, like the dinner shown above, lighting that matched the characters’ associated palettes — red for Daredevil, purple and blue for Jessica Jones, yellow for Luke Cage, and green for Iron Fist — helped echo their newly united front. (It was also the thinking behind EW’s cover shoot, which emulated the series’ work.)

And The Defenders isn’t meant to be the end of the four heroes’ stories. Loeb says he hopes the series continues to expand Marvel’s small-screen universe, and with future seasons of DaredevilJessica Jones, and Luke Cage in the works, it’s likely the Defenders will have to call on each other for help again, even if the miniseries is meant to stay a miniseries for now. Still, if a second season of The Defenders happens, at least we know Ritter’s all in.

The Defenders hits Netflix August 18.