The Defenders (Netflix)
The latest in a series from Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad and producer-at-large at Family Theater Productions … and a serious comic nerd.
Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, based on Marvel comic books of the same titles. (ADVISORY WARNING: TV-MA). I don’t consider The Punisher‘s lack of superpowers and, thus, his machine-gunning villains to death, worthy of superhero status. So, I agree with Walt Flanagan from AMC’s Comic Book Men on that point.
A Comics Nerd Is Born
I’ve followed comics since the beginning of grade school. The medium fostered a lifelong love for reading and, given the visual nature of comics, I am certain it played a factor in my current work in the film industry.
Comics and graphic novels only recently gained mainstream acceptance as a “serious” art form. Comic-book conventions were once just about the only place a parent (my dad) could look cooler than the nerdy child (myself) that dragged them there. Now, Comic-Cons mark the domain where glamorous stars like Wonder Woman Gal Gadot hang out.
As the medium matured, so did the storytelling. IMHO, Marvel’s Netflix shows comprise the most “grown-up” of the superhero stories. But, how well the streaming giant adapted the four stories — all set and filmed in New York City — varies across the board.
Daredevil: Catholic and Complicated
Daredevil, currently in its third season, stands as the singular best adaptation. I believe it’s no surprise that the show most Catholic — both visually and thematically — earns the top spot. Catholicism recognizes a world very much consumed in darkness, yet still points to the glimmers of hope and light.
Daredevil then inhabits this neo-noir look well in the TV series, surpassed only by the character’s red costume piercing the utterly dark monochromatic world of Mark Waid’s Eisner-Award winning comic book series from 2012. The title character, played by British Catholic Charlie Cox, absorbs a good amount of abuse in his fighting of crime, both in the courtroom as lawyer Matt Murdock — blinded in an accident but with heightened other senses, fearsome ninja skills and miraculous healing powers — and on the streets as the vigilante Daredevil.
Perhaps, the most intelligent thing going over the three seasons is the depiction of evil. Even the best superhero adaptations can’t seem to resist moving from supervillain to supervillain per season or per film. Daredevil sticks with Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) as arch nemesis for the entire series, thus far.
Evil is never forever defeated this side of life. It suppresses itself for a time and looks for ways to seep back in at an unexpected moment. In the current season, Kingpin, undaunted by his stint in prison, decides to cast his corruption net high and wide, involving the overweening FBI as the mechanism to keep local authorities in check, the same local authorities that led to his original incarceration.
Jessica Jones: Ex-Hero and Hot Mess
I found Jessica Jones (first season in 2015; second in 2018) to be the surprising runner-up to Daredevil. Her series truth tells in the “via negativa.” She’s vulgar, promiscuous and addiction-prone. Whereas Daredevil embraces his vocation and indeed his crosses, Jones (Krysten Ritter) tends to run far away from them.
Jessica possesses superpowers, but has long since hung up her cape. So, she fights crime as a hard-nosed private detective, but only does so with half the power God gave her. It’s this superhero “atheism” that leads only to measured professional success and contributes to her many depravities. It’s a road that quite frankly, I could only travel for one season, but her story nevertheless tells the truth of a vocation shirked.
Luke Cage and Iron Fist: Too Much of Good Things
While enjoying Luke Cage, I felt the comic equips him with too great a power: invulnerability to bullets. When that’s what consistently flies in his neighborhood, obstacles are not as tension-filled enough to sustain a narrative.
He’s also too good and earnest a character (with the exception of a weakness for superheroines), so his 180-degree turn to potential villainy at season two’s end seems unrealistic.
Likewise, for Iron Fist‘s Danny Rand (Finn Jones), it’s hard to relate to a billionaire better trained in the martial arts than Bruce Lee and further gauntleted with the supernatural Iron Fist.
The two canceled shows (both after two seasons) should have explored the Marvel canon more deeply. A season of the comic Heroes for Hire with Cage and Rand might have turned them into TV’s latest buddy-cop duo. The episode where Rand appears in Luke Cage’s second season features the best chemistry in either show.
Heroism Loves Company
Indeed, Marvel’s Netflix universe works better with crossovers, and best when all four characters jell together, as seen in The Defenders limited series. As a Church supported by its saints and angels, superheroes remind us we all need a little help from our friends.
UPDATE: Sadly, on Nov. 12, reports came out that Stan Lee, the man behind Marvel, had passed away at 95. From his columns in comic books to his cameo appearances, Lee has been a beloved presence in the Marvel Universe. RIP, Stan Lee … and, as he always closed his columns, Excelsior! More here.
Image: Courtesy Netflix
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