2015 was one of the strongest years for small screen comic heroes. From Netflix teaming up with Marvel to create two critically-acclaimed series (Daredevil and Jessica Jones) to the continued success of CW’s The Flash (debuted in 2014), many comic book favorites finally had their chance to shine in front of a mainstream audience. The extended time-span of a television show versus a movie allowed the creators to develop the characters by exploring their complicated pasts, character defects, communication styles, and overall connection to the everyday person. They revealed what made them heroic beyond valiant “save the day” story lines, otherworldly powers, and kick-ass costumes. This year, the masks came off (literally/figuratively) and it took the TV hero revival to another level.
Image Source: Marvel.com
Marvel’s Daredevil did an excellent job of unmasking a hero. After an unsuccessful attempt to bring Daredevil to the big screen in 2003, executive producer Drew Goddard re-imagined the street savior for a Netflix series. Daredevil focused on the relationships that shaped Matt Murdock (actor Charlie Cox) as a man. Viewers experienced the tempestuous relationship between him and his mentor Stick and the effect it had on him as he transitioned toward becoming a hero in the shadows. For Murdock, Stick was both a blessing and curse: he helped him develop his incredible prowess as a fighter yet he contributed to his emotional damage. As a result, the audience is presented with a hero who is often frustrated, angry, and unable to willingly reveal his largest secret to his best friend.
But, despite Stick’s attempt to make him a ruthless killing machine, Matt hung onto his humanity. This can be attributed to his positive relationships in the series. Flashbacks of his time with his boxer father, who lost his life when he took a stand against “match fixing,” shows his father’s continued influence on him to change things he cannot accept. His brotherhood with Foggy represents a source of the steadfast love he didn’t get from Stick. And, his newfound connection to Karen and Claire Temple tap into his gentle side, providing the balance he needs to keep him from diving over the edge. Murdock’s sense of moral compass, not a cataclysmic event, started the twisted chain of events that led to an ultimate showdown with Wilson Fisk. And, although his sleek combat moves and heightened senses were a part of the story lines and dialogue, there was less emphasis on what makes Matt Murdock “super” and more on how he was just a man who was willing to push the limits to make his city safe.
“I’m not seeking penance for what I’ve done, Father. I’m asking for forgiveness…for what I’m about to do.” –Matt Murdock
The first season of Daredevil gave us a genuine version of Murdock: grimacing in pain as he is patched up by Claire, in church confessing sins that have yet to occur, and sharing genuine laughs and smiles with friends. The audience didn’t get a glimpse of his red uniform nor hear his vigilante moniker until the last episode and it was not important. What did matter was Matt Murdock’s brand of hero – a character that fans believe can exist in their own backyard.
Image Source: Netflix
In the same vein as Daredevil, Marvel’s Jessica Jones took the darker approach. But, instead of being a background story, the series followed her life after being a superheroine. Like most daily grinders, Jessica wants to get through the day, get paid, and control her life in the midst of constant curveballs as she works in her detective agency. Fans were intrigued by the person behind the superpowers: cynical, hot-tempered, sharp, confident in her sexuality, and often using alcohol as her coping mechanism of choice.
Jessica’s story reads like the one of a survivor – she’s navigating life after experiences meant to destroy her – and bridges a connection to viewers through real-life issues like manipulation, substance abuse, and PTSD. The resurfacing of supervillain Kilgrave drives Jessica further into paranoia, yet she covers her feelings with a tough exterior. But, her desire to help others and her relationships (Patsy, Luke Cage) helps peel back the mask she wears to the world. Her visible “uniform” is decidedly dark and simple as the focus rests on how she deals with the foundation of their demons. Jessica’s layered disposition and determination to personally take Kilgrave down despite her fears makes her a compelling character whose power lies in her personal agency.
“No matter where I am, even if I’m behind bars, if you try anything I will find out, I will come for you, and it will hurt.” –Jessica Jones
Image Source: CBS.com
The gritty Marvel heroes aren’t the only ones unveiling their truth. CBS may have taken a lighter tone with DC Comics’ Supergirl, but Kara Zor-El’s struggle to stay true to herself while dealing with her forced transition into a superheroine is also interesting. She seems to be the opposite of Jessica with a love of “girly” things and open displays of varied emotions, but she’s not a one-dimensional character. As the show progresses, fans are exposed to a woman who harnesses a proper amount of anger over the exploitation of her powers by her boss, limited control of her heroic destiny, discrimination as a woman, and stupid people. Kara is held under a microscope by people who feel she needs to prove she’s worthy of her birthright and it wears on her self-esteem. She is destined for greatness and gaining the maturity to get out of herself (and haters) out of her way – a lesson most people are trying to learn.
As 2015 comes to a close, these heroes have their first season under their belt. The groundwork of their past and present circumstances is off to a great start. General audiences have been less enthralled with the common tropes of a “superhero story” and more into how these characters are a reflection of humanity – the innate desire to do good that is often waging war against negative centers of influence and inner demons.
Feature Image Credit: Marvel