Marvel Netflix Doesn’t Understand Heroism

For some reason people love Marvel’s Netflix offerings. I don’t understand why. About 40% of these offerings is people trying to convince the hero of the story not to be the hero of the story. What happened to the days when being a superhero was all about people with extraordinary gifts who tried to use them to help others when they had the chance? Why does it always have to be a boring slog of self-reflection and self-recrimination? Why can’t Iron Fist just put the suit on, punch some Triads and make New York more safe? For cryin’ out loud, stop making your superheroes boring, self-centered naval gazers. This is not what we signed up to see.

OK, maybe some did but not me.

Sorry, that opening paragraph should have had a rant warning. But I really don’t understand what the primary appeal of these shows is supposed to be. Let’s roll back a bit. Let’s look at these shows, very, very briefly. Daredevil is about a blind lawyer who can fight like ten men and his personal vendetta with the head of organized crime in New York. Luke Cage is about a wrongly convicted felon trying to keep his head down while doing right by the people of Harlem. Jessica Jones is about a woman and her abuse – of alcohol, friends and lovers, and their abuse of her in turn. Iron Fist is about the world’s greatest martial artist feeling guilty.

All four have protagonists that seem to act for selfish reasons, prioritizing how they feel or what they’re mad at over simple, meaningful steps to help others. Of these four, Luke Cage had the most likeable protagonist who, even though he was kind of milk toast, still managed to be funny, charming and powerful as needed. Sadly, even Luke succumbed to the self-recriminations as he tried to make a living and eventually went off the deep end because apparently getting a little money made him go nuts. Iron Fist was getting close to pulling out of the rut, pairing its most interesting, relatable and best written character, Ward Meechum, with lead Danny Rand on a globetrotting adventure as a set up for its next season. Alas, after a season of playing pattycake with murderers and thugs then giving up his powers to his girlfriend for reasons the story tells us about but never shows, Iron Fist‘s audience ran out of patience and dropped it and the show has been canceled. Not without cause, mind you, although I did find it a little disappointing. I liked Ward.

Look, there is a place for deep dives into the psyche of a character, for unpacking what makes people tick and what the price of hard decisions might be. But that’s not the appeal of hero stories. Hero stories generally break down into two categories – aspirational and relatable. Aspirational heroes are people we’d like to be like. They are the Superman or Batman of hero tales, people whose qualities we know no one can ever really have but we’d still like to strive for. Relatable heroes are the Spiderman of heroic stories, people with all the trials we have but who are more on the road to the aspirational goal than we are, just a few steps ahead. Both categories make us feel a little better about what we do to make the world a better place. And they usually make us feel better about the world, too.

After all, if there are so many people putting stock in these heroes, maybe if we all take a step in towards those ideals the world will be a brighter place. These Netflix “heroes” don’t make the world a better place. They just exhaust themselves trying to fulfill their selfish emotional needs.

Many people rate the Marvel Netflix shows far above the, admittedly somewhat cheesy, DC CW shows like Arrow or The Flash. But let’s be real. The Arrow and the Flash go out, do good things for other people, and pull those around them towards doing the same. The extent to which the do it is silly, of course, and others have comment on it plenty. But the point is that they are superheroes. Everything they do has an impact that would be silly to expect in the real world. That doesn’t stop Flash from being an aspirational hero or Arrow from being a relatable one. As heroic shows they’re doing far, far better than the grimy, self-satisfied heroes Marvel Netflix offers.

I tried. I really did. Iron Fist wasn’t a great place to start. But for better or worse, it’s also where I’m ending. I’m done with Marvel Netflix. I just don’t know what people saw in it. Whatever it was, it wasn’t the kind of heroism I was looking for.

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