After taking their TV game to a new level last year, Marvel continued to make great strides on the small screen in 2016. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave us some interesting Inhuman and demonic storylines, Daredevil Season 2 followed Matt Murdock battling unusual threats plaguing Hell's Kitchen and Luke Cage gave the eponymous hero the spotlight to himself after his debut in Jessica Jones last year. Granted, not everything was sunshine and rainbows (the Agent Carter cancellation still stings), but for the most part, there was a lot to enjoy on Marvel TV, including plenty of compelling new characters.
To celebrate all that Marvel accomplished on the small screen in 2016, we've gathered the 10 best new characters that were introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe on TV. From heroes to villains and everyone in between, these were the folks that were the most memorable and captivating to watch throughout multiple episodes. Even better, most of them will return in the future!
Warning: spoilers for all of 2016's Marvel TV shows are ahead!
10. Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez
Thanks to the Terrigen dispersal in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 finale, Inhumans across the globe found their hidden abilities suddenly awakening. One of those individuals was Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez, who can move at super speed, but is eventually snapped back to the spot where she began running. After debuting halfway through Season 3, Yo-Yo has proved herself to be a valued S.H.I.E.L.D. asset, even though she didn't get off on the best foot with the organization. She also has a great personality, willing to drop a sarcastic comment when necessary, but also loyal to the people she trusts (including Mack, with whom she's had great chemistry). In case her appearances on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aren't enough for you, Yo-Yo's digital series Slingshot just premiered online.
The latter half of Luke Cage Season 2 saw the eponymous hero being targeted by his half brother, Willis Stryker, a.k.a. Diamondback. He used his connections as a weapons dealer to try to destroy the bulletproof man both physically and socially. He nearly succeeded with the former by using the Judas bullets and Hammer Industries power suit, and the latter was temporarily achieved when he framed Luke for Cottonmouth's murder. Willing to scheme from the shadows but also get his hands dirty when necessary, Diamondback was the closest the show came to having a scene-chewing villain ripped straight from a comic book page, and at times, that worked excellently. He may not have been as captivating to watch as Cottonmouth or Mariah Dillard, but we're eager for Diamondback to return in Luke Cage Season 2, not only to see how Dr. Noah Burstein has enhanced him, but also to address unanswered questions about his past with Luke.
8. Whitney Frost
Agent Carter's run ended earlier this year after only two seasons, but thankfully it gave us Whitney Frost before concluding. Even though the MCU's Whitney Frost barely resemble her comic book counterpart, a.k.a. Madame Masque, she was nonetheless a great main antagonist. Used as the MCU's equivalent of Hedy Lamarr, Whitney had found fame and fortune as an actress in Hollywood's Golden Age, but used her engineering skills on the side to researching Zero Matter, a.k.a. the Darkforce. Despite her impressive intelligence, Whitney never received the respect she truly craved, but that changed once she absorbed the Darkforce and became all-powerful. Unfortunately, she also became overconfident, which soon led to her being defeated by the SSR, relieved of her Darkforce abilities and becoming mentally fractured. For the brief time we knew Whitney, she was a character with a lot of depth, and at times a tragic figure.
7. Hernan "Shades" Alvarez
If you're familiar with Game of Thrones, think of Hernan "Shades" Alvarez as Luke Cage's version of Littlefinger. Shades was the guy hanging around the corner doing the bidding of Cottonmouth or Diamondback whenever necessary, but he was also calculating a couple steps ahead to ensure his own survival. It just goes to show that the person in charge isn't always the smartest person in the room. Shades nearly bit the dust towards the end of Season 1 for asking a few too many questions, but not only did he make it out alive, but now he's back in a position of power as Mariah Dillard's second-in-command. It was also a nice touch to have him involved in Carl Lucas' origin story. From his distinctive eyewear to his meticulous planning, Shades cemented himself as one of Luke Cage's best sinister figures, and we're keen to see how he'll use his intellect to cause even more trouble for Luke Cage when Season 2 comes around.
Elodie Yung isn't the first actress to play Elektra Natchios in live action, but her version of the assassin was definitely the more faithful and enjoyable version. After being casually mentioned in a Season 1 flashback (though not named), Daredevil Season 2 introduced Elektra as Matt Murdock's ex-lover from college who resurfaced in the present day to recruit him into helping her battle The Hand. Just like her comic book counterpart, Daredevil's Elektra didn't put up with any bullshit and also kept trying to get the Man Without Fear to succumb to his darker instincts, which made her an excellent source of inner conflict for the eponymous hero. Near the end of Season 2, Elektra sacrificed herself to save Matt and veer from her "destined path." Fortunately, it's been confirmed that Yung will reprise Elektra in The Defenders, so her MCU journey isn't over yet.
5. Mariah Dillard
Rather than follow her cousin directly into organized crime, Mariah Dillard entered the world of politics, which is often just as dirty. Luke Cage saw her trying to improve Harlem publicly as a councilwoman, but privately rely on Cottonmouth's underworld connections to make true progress. It was fascinating to watch Mariah convince herself throughout Season 1 that she didn't have to follow in her family's footsteps, but she was wrong on that front. Once Mariah killed her cousin, she began falling down the slippery slope, until she finally became the thing she tried desperately to avoid: a crime boss. The ironic thing is that now she's more powerful than ever, and judging by the look on her face in the season finale, she's perfectly okay with that. It was an unfortunate fall (we won't add 'from grace'), but now she's fully unencumbered from retaliating against anyone who stands in her way.
4. Ghost Rider
Admittedly, considering how bad the Nicolas Cage-led Ghost Rider movies were, the character could only go up from there. Thankfully, the Robbie Reyes iteration has been the main highlight of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 so far. Paving the way for magic on the TV side of the MCU, Ghost Rider dispensed his special brand of vengeance on those deserving, providing some of the freakiest moments ever seen on the show. Thankfully, the focus wasn't all on the fiery demon, as viewers also learned about Robbie's life and his dedication to his brother. Once it was revealed that his uncle Eli was the main antagonist, that added another personal element to Robbie's inner turmoil, but he remained strong. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. midseason saw Ghost Rider being transported to parts unknown, but Marvel would be crazy not to bring him back to the small screen in the future, be it on this show or in his own spinoff series.
3. Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes
The show was called Luke Cage, but as far as an open-and-closed personal journey goes, Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes was the real winner. Continuing the family crime legacy, Cottonmouth was desperate to become the top boss in Harlem while managing the Harlem's Paradise nightclub as a legitimate front. Unfortunately for him, Luke Cage came into town and messed up his operation. Despite receiving Shades and Diamondback's help fighting the bulletproof man, Cottonmouth's "throne" was slowly toppled, and with each defeat, he grew more desperate to hang onto that figurative crown. The flashbacks halfway through the season painted Cottonmouth in a more sympathetic light and showed that he was never really given a choice on what life path to take, but it was too late. Cottonmouth was killed by Mariah, and he never had the chance to fully grip the power he craved.
2. Misty Knight
Just like her comic book counterpart, Misty Knight served as an NYPD detective in Luke Cage, and thank goodness the show brought her into the fold. Used as the show's primary police figure, it was fascinating watching Misty deal with each new problem that came her way, from learning that her partner was corrupt to figuring out how Luke Cage was connected to all the insanity. She didn't always get along with the eponymous hero due to certain events and circumstances painting him in a bad light, but by the end of the series, she became an important ally. Judging by the Luke Cage season finale, it looks like Misty will move closer to the heroic path she walks down now in the comics, so look forward to seeing more of her when The Defenders premieres on Netflix. Now what are the chances she gets that bionic arm in the MCU?
1. The Punisher
As someone who has never been a big fan of The Punisher, I was surprised by how enjoyable Daredevil Season 2's iteration of Frank Castle was. It could even be argued that this version of the trigger-happy vigilante is the most faithful live action adaptation yet, even if the show couldn't provide quite the same level of violence and gore as the movies did. Regardless, Punisher acted as a significantly more compelling antagonistic force to Matt Murdock this season rather than The Hand. Rather than being a cut-and-dry bad guy, Frank was presented as the Man Without Fear's moral foil, making Matt question whether his decision not to kill was truly helping to make Hell's Kitchen a better place. Later on, Frank's legal troubles and dealings with Wilson Fisk provided some of the show's best moments, and it felt like Punisher had finally been ripped straight from the comic book pages in a proper way. Because this version of the character was so popular, it's not surprising Marvel is giving him a spinoff Netflix series.