I can remember being a kid and watching superhero TV shows and movies. I loved the fantasy and the escape to some other world than mine. I can also remember feeling like I wish those superhero worlds were a little closer to what I imagined in my head. Not the safe worlds of Christopher Reeves’ Clark Kent and Adam West’s Bruce Wayne. Something that felt as if it was happening in the same world I called home. A place where my hometown was pulled into the void of imaginative minds like Stan Lee, Alan Moore, and Frank Miller. Those were worlds I wanted to see when I watched fantasy. It was the “Calgon, take me away” moment, but for a 10-year old. Star Wars acted as that for me through most of my younger years. It was fantasy but it felt real. Tatooine’s harsh deserts, Endor’s Redwood Forest-like atmosphere, and Hoth’s frozen Antarctic-like environment made these strange worlds from a long time ago seem not so foreign to me. I needed something that bridged the gap between my world and those fantasy worlds.
Tim Burton’s Batman was the first comic book movie that added that grit of real life into the comic book movie. Burton used Frank Miller’s Dark Knight tale as the foundation for his film adaptation. It may have moved around a bit and took liberties, but the dark and seedy Gotham Miller shined a dim light on shone through. Well a hell of a lot of years later and I think I’ve found the perfect superhero adaptations. Two years ago Netflix premiered the first season of their collaboration with Marvel in Daredevil. It was this beautifully shot piece of TV/cinema hybrid about the Stan Lee-created blind lawyer by day/vigilante by night Matt Murdock. In it Charlie Cox played Murdock, the lucky with the ladies do-gooder lawyer starting up his own law firm with best friend Foggy Nelson, played by the annoyingly lovable Elden Henson. Both as himself and as Daredevil, Murdock takes on sex traffickers, crooks, thugs, crime lords, his own mentor Stick(played by the excellent Scott Glenn), and the Kingpin himself, Wilson Fisk(played with perfection by Vincent D’Onofrio.) It was gritty, violent, well written, acted, shot, and took great care to make you feel for these characters(even the not-so nice ones.)
Last November the next Marvel/Netflix creation hit the streaming service. Jessica Jones was about a former superhero-turned-private eye after realizing she wasn’t nearly as super as some of her compatriots in the super hero world. It starred the wonderful Krysten Ritter. Ritter plays Jones as a no-nonsense private dick that mainly finds cheating spouses for spurned partners, staying out till all hours of the night, drinking too much and generally hiding from the rest of society when she can. She finds a flawed kindred spirit in bar owner Luke Cage, aka Powerman. They find partners in themselves of equal strength that works well in both street brawls and in-between the sheets. The main villain on the first season of Jessica Jones is the Purple Man, played by my favorite Dr. Who David Tennant. He can control people just by speaking to them, which is what he did to Jones prior to her becoming a private eye. It’s yet another beautifully crafted series that takes a not-so famous hero from the Marvel world and turns them into something relatable. They take them from the skies and alternate dimensions and put them in the streets where we could pass them as we walked to get a bagel or a cup of coffee.
Finally, just a couple months ago Luke Cage was released. It stars Mike Colter as the Powerman himself, hanging out in Pop’s barbershop trying to just keep to himself and not get involved in anyone’s affairs but his own. Of course that doesn’t last long as he gets pulled into the world of Harlem kingpin Cornell Stokes, aka Cottonmouth(played beautifully by Mahershala Ali), his crooked politician cousin Mariah Dillard(the always great Alfre Woodard), and the deadly and mysterious Willis Stryker, aka Diamondback, played with viciousness by Erik LaRay Harvey. There’s good cops and crooked cops, more bad guys, and a helpful and tough nurse named Claire Temple played by the always great Rosario Dawson(she shows up as Claire in both Daredevil and Jessica Jones, too.)
If you ask me, this is the absolute best way to tell stories like these. Instead of shoving all these amazing characters and ideas into a single 2 hour movie that condenses them down to just essence and moments of brilliance, you spread it out into 10 to 12 45-50 minute episodes. This allows time to get to know these characters. You invest in their lives and their struggles. This is true storytelling. When you condense these storylines down to fit into the 2 hour timeframe of a popcorn flick for a Friday night at the local cinema you’re left with a hurried story that leaves you wanting. It leaves you with just some fight scenes and explosions. No real emotional investment. With The Avengers, X-Men, Batman, Superman, and the like we’re all so familiar with these characters that we can just jump right into a film and not miss a beat. 2 1/2 hours at the cinema with these old friends is all the time we need. With these lesser known characters having serialized shows we’re being taken behind the curtains and seeing what it’s like to be “super” among the common folks. This is street level super. Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage are the common folk superheroes. They came from where we came from. They’re flawed; they drink, they swear, they screw, and their morals can sometimes be questionable.
They’re just like us.
And just because these are superhero shows doesn’t mean they’re for kids. Not all superheroes are geared towards kids. These characters were written not with the dreams and fears of children in mind, but of grown men with real-world problems in their minds. Violence, crime, racism, crumbling societies, and bullet-riddled inner city streets. These heroes were created not to battle aliens, super villains, and the Nazis. They were created to battle street thugs, drug dealers, crime lords, and those that want to control our lives in ways we don’t want them to. What we have in Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage is walking the beat superheroes, warts and all.
I love everything about these shows. I’m obsessed with them, really. They’re everything I’ve ever wanted in a superhero show. Violence, humor, tragedy, sex, and perfect casting that all come together to make pivotal entertainment. And yes, the scores for these shows are spot on. So much so that I had to buy the scores when they were recently released by Mondotees. Colorful, beautiful artwork, they sound amazing. Daredevil and Jessica Jones arrived last week. Luke Cage will be here soon, hopefully.
If you havent’ watched these shows yet, what the hell are you waiting on? Get on it. Iron Fist hits in March. Get. On. It.