Yeah, the “Best of 2015” articles have descended upon us, and I’m not going to get in their way. Why? Well, they’re fun to make, and they’re usually fun to read, which is why I’ll be putting out my Top 5 Games, Anime, Movies, etc later this month. That said, this isn’t going to be one of my usual “Best of” lists. Instead, this is really just something odd I noticed when I thought back on this year, and the more I thought about it the more I thought that I should really point it out, because good TV deserves praise right? Also, this serves to highlight the notion that’s been going around right now that we’re living in a “golden age of television,” and that while superheroes may be ubiquitous at this point, they’ve still got more than enough creative value to justify using them for comics, movies, television, and even anime (I’ll get to that last one in a minute). 2015 delivered many great things, but the strangest might just be the swath of shows I’ll be discussing here: Marvel’s two dark, serious, yet thoughtfully mature Netflix series (it feels weird just typing that), DC’s action packed yet fun offerings on the CW (actually, that feels weirder still), and an anime that despite being as weird as... well, an average anime, has come through as one of the best non-American interpretations of the ideal of the Superhero.
Let’s get the more controversial rivalry out of the way, shall we? Actually, let’s get my opinion on the two out of the way first: Jessica Jones is a groundbreaking, well executed, spectacular show, from its acting, to its direction, to the subject matter it covers with a mature and thoughtful tone that’s never been seen before on a show outside of HBO or Showtime. However, all that said, and with everything in consideration, it is not better than Daredevil.
[insert “come at me bro” gif]
Yes, alright, I give huge props to Jessica Jones as to how it handles subjects like rape and sexual abuse in a way that not only feels real, but incredibly innovative given how the show’s main villain (who’s played brilliantly by David Tennant) uses his powers to manipulate people around him against their will, even when it’s to commit horrific actions. And the story itself progresses in a way that you can see happening, from turns and character decisions that can feel boneheaded at times, but are never feel outlandish or out of character. However, this does play into why I say Daredevil is the better of the two: while it does has a story that has been done before in a way (like, say, Batman Begins), but overall it’s just better executed, from its story to its character arcs from the protagonist AND antagonist, and not once does it feel like the writers unintentionally force themselves into a corner. There isn’t a single character in Daredevil that I hate or I feel is underused (I was begging the show to off Robyn at a few points, and Kilgrave’s ultimate fate, while justified and feels like he gets what he deserves, just feels too... quick, and almost too easy for such a vile person), the story’s pace never slows down to the point where I want it to “move on, already” like I did with Jessica Jones a few times, and despite Daredevil having a superhero who can’t lift cars or punch people through walls, it undeniably has the better action scenes, some of which are the best ever put to TV (seriously, watch the hallway scene where Daredevil takes out nearly a dozen goons in one take):
Tell me, is there a single fight scene from Jessica Jones that’s anywhere near as memorable? With Jones, while it arguably achieves more highs than Devil, also slows down more often than Devil, while there isn’t a single episode, not a single plot thread in Devil that I think I could or would want to cut. Both are Great shows; give them both a watch, they are more than worth it. But watch both of them, let them age for a week or even a month, then go back and watch them again. Tell me: which remains more memorable? To me, it’s the one with the man in black, instead of the man in purple.
Alright, let’s move on to the more fun shows from... DC. Huh... actually, the more I think about them, the more these two shows stand out as amazing so many ways. The fact that they’re both on The C-freaking-W of all channels, how despite being owned by the company that produced Man of Steel (one of the most dour superhero movies of all time) that they both manage to have a great sense of fun to them, even how they get damn near every character that shows up on them to stay right and true to their source material. You may not realize it at first, but The Flash and Arrow (despite the latter’s utter mess of a third season earlier this year) are simply astounding, in how they’re both still good shows to watch, and that DC is actually somehow beating Marvel for once. It’s on basic cable I’ll admit, but given how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been playing catch up for a couple of years now, even with Joss Whedon at the helm... I can’t deny my amazement.
The Flash does something no superhero show (or any movie has for a long time, arguably) is doing at the moment: it fully embraces how silly but ultimately fun its universe is, but does so in a way that never feels corny, AND manages to have real drama in it as well. It has one of the best first seasons ever, packing in plot twists that most sci-fi shows would hold off on until four or five seasons down the line, and it makes them all work. Alternate universes, time travel, finding the person who murdered the protagonist’s parents, crossovers with its fraternal twin show: this was all one in the span of one year. I think of it as the best superhero show on right now, if only because it achieves the seemingly impossible goal of wholeheartedly embracing the world it came from, without ever feeling cheap.
Arrow on the other hand... well, 2015 wasn’t its best year. However, season four is doing something weird, but commendable at the same time: it’s showing that the series is more than willing to listen to criticism, learn from its mistakes, and go in directions no one originally thought was really possible. Bring in characters that might seem silly but turn out to be wonderfully enjoyable, such as Damien Darhk, this season’s main scenery chewing villain? Hell yeah. Have the characters actually TALK to each other instead of hiding everything that’ll inevitably blow up in their faces? Of course. Actually go for a lighter tone seen in The Flash, instead of doubling down on a darker path that other shows are doing better? Oh yes. And with both shows setting up for another spin off series, Legends of Tomorrow, it might as well be fact: forget Superman and Batman, Green Arrow and The Flash are truly the World’s Finest.
Being a film student, one concept that I’ve seen again and again, and yet has somehow found a way to usually be both interesting and entertaining at the same time, is when a genre or medium that’s perceived to “belong” to a certain country or system is taken over by an outside creative force, and is “re-made” by said force into something noticeably different, and yet strangely familiar at the same time. Two well known examples of what I’m talking about are films like Pacific Rim and last year’s Godzilla, two kaiju films made by Hollywood that kept the spirit and soul of the original source material (the former having the fun of watching cities be destroyed by giant robots and monsters, the other about nature having its revenge on man’s hubris), but managed to inject new blood into them, thus making them new, good films nonetheless. This also applies to television as well with series like Samurai Jack and Avatar: The Last Airbender. But these are cases when Americans re-imagine a foreign idea; what about when it’s the other way around?
Here’s where studio Madhouse’s One Punch Man comes in: how Japan sees the American mythology that is the superhero. Of the five shows here, this one is unquestionably the most batshit insane, and it is glorious. This is a show that fully embraces how crazy comic books can and do get, and fully benefits from it. It centers on a superhero named Saitama and his journey to becoming a respected superhero in a world that’s packed to the brim with them (there’s a superhero registry that keeps them all on record, and even ranks them alpha-numerically based on strength and skill). The thing about him though is his power: he can destroy anything with literally a single punch, hence the title. And I mean anything. Giant monsters, mutants, robots, literal mountains; no matter what, one punch from him is all it takes. Sounds similar to a certain, well known superhero, doesn’t it? Saitama does have a problem with this though: nothing is ever a real fight for him.
Thankfully, the show has a wide and ever expanding range of characters to keep things moving, from Saitama’s disciple Genos (who’s a cyborg, as you’d expect) to rivals and other superheros who don’t believe that a low ranking hero like him can really be so powerful, to a city that’s almost its own character in how its citizens make sense of and live in such a weird world. Make no mistake though, Saitama is the best part of this show for the sole reason that he is what a superhero should be: strong in both body and personal resolve, but willing to make calls and choices that benefit others instead of him, to do the right thing even when it’s at his expense. He may not be well known, but Saitama doesn’t care: whatever saves innocent people around him is all that matters. And in a sometime callous world, it’s almost refreshing to see that line of thinking when it comes to doing the right thing.
So that’s may first “Best of 2015” list, even if it’s a bit unconventional. But enough about my thoughts, what did you think of these shows, or 2015’s superheroes in general? Comment below if you feel the need, but if you’re someone who says that Jones is better than Devil, I only have this to say to you:
TGRIP is a film student studying in Portland, OR. TAY’s resident Xbox and racing game fan, he also (part time) reviews and does opinion pieces on games, movies, television, comics, and anime. He also runs his kinja sub blog Work(ing Title) In Progress. You can follow this third person narrating weirdo on Twitter @Dennis_wglasses, and his Gamertag on Xbox Live is “Aventador SV”.