A Great Time to be a Geek (superhero zeitgeist)

There has never been a better time to be a nerd. Or a geek. Or a fanboy. Or whatever formerly-pejorative label that those of us of a certain bent now wear proudly because we are a part of, and not separated into a lower class from, the zeitgeist.

There has never been a better time to be a fan of all things comic book, of superheroes in general, and superhero television shows in particular.

Greg Berlanti and his crew are proudly representing DC comics over on the CW. My 10-year-old granddaughter Taylee and I have bonded over these shows, which now include Supergirl, The Flash, The Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and sometimes we watch them together. They are fun to watch and exciting and engaging in that singular CW way. Which is to say that they seem skewed towards a younger demographic and can be a little soap opera-y at times. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a youthful 51-year-old grandfather and can enjoy some 20-something angst with my superhero clashes (sorry: make that “meta-human”clashes). I mean, I think it would have been great if the cast of Dawson’s Creek had been given powers by a particle collider explosion. It’s no accident that Dawson’s dad was also Barry Allen’s.

And then there’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. A little different in tone from the DC shows, but also different from the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), even though Carlson and his crew are technically a part of the MCU. The first half of the current season allowed us to experience the latest incarnation of Ghost Rider on the small screen. This version drives a badass Dodge Charger instead of a motorcycle. The second half of the current season will delve more deeply into Life Model Decoys (LMDs), which is a callback to all those early comic books back when Nick Fury was a Caucasian WWII veteran. I like AOS a lot, and I enjoyed the Ghost Rider arc and the previous stories concerning the Inhumans. Mostly I enjoy the characters on the show, and it’s a pretty large ensemble.

I previously enjoyed ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter, which starred Hayley Atwell reprising her Peggy Carter role from the Captain America movies and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark. Alas, this show was canceled, just as it was getting from good to great. I’m hoping that we get to see more of Ms. Atwell as Agent Carter, but Dominic Cooper is now playing the role of Jesse Custer over on AMC’s Preacher. He’s good there, too, of course, and it’s another comic book property.

Which all leads me to why I’m writing this blog in the first place.

I just finished watching the second season of Marvel’s Daredevil and the first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix. Now, it has just become the year 2017 as I write this. The Jones series came out in late 2015, I think, and Daredevil came out in March 2016. So, I think it’s safe to say that I’m whatever the opposite of a binge-watcher may be called. I am now convinced, after watching these two shows, that this is how my superhero shows were meant to be viewed.

Yes, being on Netflix rather than on one of the traditional outlets does allow for a few more naughty words and sexier situations, and, as an adult (even a youthful one), I’m all for that. But, that’s not the draw for me. It’s also nice not having commercials that I have to fast-forward through, although I will catch myself pausing the playback on occasion to use the bathroom or to freshen my coffee or other adult beverage. Not having commercials does mean, however, that the scripts aren’t written with commercial breaks in mind, like standard television fare, so there is a difference to the storytelling rhythm that I’ve noticed and like. I also like that the violence is more over-the-top, more realistic and even bloody while still being fantasy-based. Neither the Daredevil nor Jessica Jones show would be the same without this violence. Having story arcs that play out over many hours of television time allows for stories that are even deeper than the cinematic ones as well. While I will go see every big-budget MCU theatrical release that comes out (at least until they start to suck), this deeper storytelling is in many ways preferable to me.

For me, it’s not even just about seeing old favorites from the comic book pages brought to life. It’s true that I was a Daredevil fan back in the Frank Miller days (that was a long time ago now), and I truly enjoyed watching Jon Bernthal bring the Punisher to life like no other actor has been able to do before. I also liked seeing the Daredevil/Elektra story played out again on the screen. I’ve managed to block most of the Affleck/Garner movie from my mind, which is a good thing, and I’m decades removed from the original source material, which allowed me to enjoy this new take without being offended by any changes that may have been made. I still hope that Bullseye is a part of the third season of Daredevil, though.

No, it’s not about “old favorites” at all, because I had no idea who Jessica Jones or Kilgrave were before watching her series. These characters were invented long after my comic collecting days. Sure, Luke Cage had been around in his tiara and disco boots (not the same character as the one in this series exactly), and I was tangentially aware of Patsy “Trish” Walker, who was Hellcat in the mid-’70s comics but had existed, as a character name at least, since Marvel’s days as Timely Comics in the ’40s. Jessica Jones, however, was new to me, as was the Purple Man. And, I loved this show without having any prior knowledge of the source material. The show is certainly female-centric, and demonstrates that much of the creative power behind the show is female as well, but it is also tough and violent and moving. A superhero show in which no one ever dons a costume, mask or cape, although David Tennant wears a lot of purple.

I now have the Luke Cage series on deck and plan to begin watching next week. Then the new Iron Fist series premieres in March, I think, with the Defenders coming out later this year. All of this before the next installments of Daredevil and Jessica Jones come out in 2018. Things to look forward to, which is, as I’ve mentioned before, the secret to happiness.

Now, to reiterate my theme. If you like this sort of stuff, there’s never been a better time to be alive.

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