Note: Cameo spoilers ahead for Hawkeye’s season finale and Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Before Disney+, most small-screen Marvel stories lived on their own with few canon concerns, scattered among channels like Freeform and ABC under former head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb. The first crack at an Avengers-level television event connecting several different characters actually happened in 2017 (which honestly isn’t that long ago, but nowadays a month feels like a year), with The Defenders bringing together Netflix’s quartet of street-level shows with street-level heroes. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher, Iron Fist, and Daredevil had each carved out their own little corner on the fringes of the MCU until, well, Disney+ came along, but even before then, a lot about the Netflix–Marvel experiment was simply not working. (I won’t even touch on the many calamities of Iron Fist).
What did work for those shows, however, was the casting. (Again, apart from Iron First, sorry). Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones is my personal favorite, but fans were extremely taken by Daredevil’s Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock and Vincent D’Onofrio’s terrifying Wilson Fisk (Kingpin). Apparently, current Marvel head Kevin Feige is among those fans, as both Cox and D’Onofrio have popped up in high-profile projects this week, officially absorbing elements of Marvel’s Netflix experiment into the greater MCU.
The MCU is majorly in flux post-Endgame, with most of the original Avengers killed, retired, or in new positions and new heroes being introduced at a breakneck pace. Marvel Studios has recently been granted access to a whole new stable of characters thanks to the Walt Disney Company’s merger with 21st Century Fox, Marvel’s newfound peace with Sony over Spider-Man, and the official closure of Marvel’s Netflix outpost. It all gives Feige’s brain trust the opportunity to cherry-pick characters and actors from across these universes and move them around the MCU’s big board as they please. For a particularly flagrant example, look no further than WandaVision teasing us with Evan Peters (Quicksilver from the X-Men films) as Pietro, Wanda’s brother, only to cruelly take him away, his official induction as a denizen of the MCU reduced to a (admittedly well-executed) gag.
Will the same fate befall Cox’s Matt Murdock and D’Onofrio’s Kingpin? Based on their brief reintroductions back into the MCU fold in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Hawkeye’s final two episodes, respectively, it’s still hard to say — despite what the Hawkeye finale may lead you to believe (more on that in a moment). But one thing’s for certain: You can always trust Marvel to hit you over the head with a reminder that, in this phase of the MCU, everything’s connected.
Let’s start with Hawkeye. Following many mentions throughout the season of a “big guy” operating behind the curtain (and some unsubtle tweets from D’Onofrio), the penultimate episode unveiled the twist many saw coming when Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) dropped the bomb to Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) via text that he’s working with Kate’s mother Eleanor (Vera Farmiga). Seeing as Hawkeye is heavily inspired by Matt Fraction and David Aja’s 2012 to 2015 comic run, it seemed inevitable that Fisk–slash–Kingpin would have a role to play in this story — and why not bring him back via D’Onofrio, the man who played him so fiercely and menacingly?
The next major Daredevil reveal is Daredevil himself, or at least Matt Murdock, who appears briefly in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Where Kingpin’s return in Hawkeye felt inevitable, Murdock’s is more of a surprising tease. Sure, keen-eyed fans have been speculating that Cox would return as Murdock ever since the film’s first teaser convinced them that a certain forearm was proof he would appear. Turns out that was actually Stewy (Arian Moayed) from Succession’s arm, but Murdock did pop up ever so briefly in a scene as Peter Parker’s lawyer to tell Peter he’s apparently off the hook for killing Mysterio and then catch a brick thrown into Aunt May’s apartment. The whole thing amounts to little more than a pair of bright-red sunglasses, a quick reflex, and a cheeky line from Murdock (“I’m a really good lawyer”), but in context, it’s a big, red sign that yes, Daredevil is back in the MCU. (Earlier in the month, Feige revealed that if Daredevil was to return, it would be Charlie Cox who’ll don the red horns again, so surprise, surprise.)
So, why are Murdock and Fisk back? And to do what? While Cox’s No Way Home appearance could theoretically be chalked up as just one more cameo in a movie overflowing with them, Hawkeye’s finale inspires more questions than answers about Marvel’s plans for Fisk. Sure, we see Maya Lopez shoot D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, but the camera pans away, and with comic-book movies, if you don’t see the death, then did they really die? Hell, Spider-Man: No Way Home resurrected a couple of villains just for fun. So, our options for Fisk are (a) he’s dead, which is annoying and not nearly as cheeky as Peters’s return in WandaVision, or (b) it was a fake-out, which is equally annoying, but hey, at least he’s alive. And considering Kingpin’s deep ties — both in Hawkeye the series and in the comics — with Maya–slash–Echo, who is set to have her own Disney+ series, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see D’Onofrio pop up again there, desperate for revenge (because everything’s connected).
As for Cox’s Murdock? He also has deep connections to Kingpin and Maya Lopez and could easily show up in Echo, but my better bet is that we’ll see lawyer Matt Murdock spar with lawyer Jennifer Walters in the Tatiana Maslany–starring series She Hulk. Or maybe that’s just my hope. But at the rate Marvel Studios’ TV shows are going, best to brace yourself for anyone appearing anywhere at any time. Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones next, please!