Due in large part to grad school, I haven’t read much in the way of books this year, nor watched a lot of movies or listened to new music (OK, that one is on me. Although I loved both Kendrick and Sufjan’s new albums). But what I have been religiously devoted to are comic book adaptations for the screen. Fortunately, this has been a really good year for them and we are living in a golden age of Superhero TV. The following list is fairly comprehensive of the major comic book brands (DC & Marvel), missing two film adaptations (Ant-Man, which will be watched whenever I get around to it, but only because I like Paul Rudd whose talents seem better suited on Parks & Recreation and both Wet Hot Summers; and Fantastic Four, which I was looking forward to watching until reading reviews, similarly for Amazing Spider-Man the previous year) and all-but-one animated adaptation (not a fan of any of the Disney XD shows right now and have yet to watch Bruce Timm’s Justice League: Gods and Monsters). While ranked, only one entry was worse than average.
10) Avengers 2: Age of Ultron – After the amazement that was Avengers and the bomb that was Captain America: Winter Soldier, not to mention the rest of Whedon-y, AoU was a singular let-down. It really felt soul-less and stifled, as if Joss was not allowed to be Joss here.
9) Vixen – Too short to be a thriller with several animated clips on the WB’s web page, but a lot of promise. Here’s to her appearance in the Arrow-verse, and likely in the second season of Legends of Tomorrow.
8) Gotham – If you’re expecting the transfiguration of Bruce Wayne or an origin story for Batman, you’ll be disappointed. Bruce is a snot. This show truly is about its namesake, Gotham, setting the stage for the Bat’s entrance a decade or so later, and its locus is the interlocking dynamics of the obsessed Det. Jim Gordon and the rising-but-petty crime lord Penguin. Jim’s often-singular focus on redemptive violence through the law and his conflicts make for an interesting character study in light of the Black Lives Matter movement (so do many of these shows, though the heroes tend to focus less on petty crimes than on big baddies).
7) Supergirl – It took a while for this show to begin to flex its muscles, to be honest. One definite positive of the show is impetuousness of the main character, which is very much the character of Supergirl. Both incredibly intelligent and ever-ready to risk everything for the ones she loves and sometimes just for the thrill of it. The team she is assembling around her and its take on (an admittedly white, upper-middle class) feminism are both positives and negatives. Martian Manhunter, however, is one of my favorite heroes – a being in many ways stronger than Superman but filled with doubt and loneliness.
6) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “His first name is Agent.” This show has so much double-crossing I’m always interested to see how far ahead of the field Coulson is thinking. And there’s May. I love May.
5) Agent Carter – SHIELD’s main complaint is that it has to stretch its story through an entire season. Agent Carter, however, packs a punch all throughout. Nowhere near as dark as Agents nor Marvel’s Netflix minis, and in this year, that is refreshing.
4) Arrow – Ok, this series was running out of steam and becoming incredibly ludicrous toward the end of its third season. But has it ever atoned for it this season with a villain who makes the great Ra’s Al Ghul seem downright civil. Arrow’s dances with villainous forces and his own darker impulses has always kept the show fresh and moving, escaping one impossible situation through a reckless deception and team-up only to raise doubt and conflict with those closest to him, which he then must rebuild. Oliver Queen’s character arc has been building since the beginning, and now in its fourth season, we are finally seeing the hero.
3) The Flash – Right from the beginning and with few faltering steps between, The Flash has inspired and terrified. Reverse Flash, and particularly the way he was developed in this series as a mentor/killer, may have been the most perfect villain ever, but despite it all, Barry Allen is always Barry.
2) Jessica Jones – Wow. First, this is the most adult of series. Not as in darkest or most violent (it was both) but as well-documented on its themes and addressing of rape culture, domestic violence, white male privilege, and abuser dynamics. Not only that, but we have the most conflicted and reluctant superhero for good reason. But, with the aid of sister-love (and a self-awareness that is able to flood out the manipulative, controlling, gaslighting villainous Purple Man), JJ almost-literally smashes [the personification of] patriarchy.
And, finally, #1:
Daredevil – Frank Miller’s transformation of the character also inspired the eponymous movie and may be why I didn’t totally despise it. This series is a slow-burn and a completely breathtaking bloody thriller as both Kingpin and Murdoch discover themselves. Daredevil’s super power is in perception, and his humanity is tied with his family, with Christian guilt and struggle. This keeps him as possibly the most earthy of all the superheroes, with or without superpowers. My only regret is that Frank Castle will feature in the next season.
I hate Punisher.