Alternative Superhero Stories
Do you like the idea of superhero stories but find the typical Marvel block buster highly unsatisfactory? Read up on some great alternatives with better story telling and depth.
I have an affinity for science fiction and superhero movies. Yet many of the worst movies and series that I have seen are superhero and science-fiction stories. Basically I like a good story. But too many science-fiction superhero stories today are all about the action and the special effects. The storytelling and the acting are at the bottom of the list.
I hated pretty much all the big blockbuster Marvel stories that have come to the movie theaters. If you feel the same but you really like to watch some good superhero stories, then what are the alternatives?
In this story I want to cover some of the lesser-known superhero movies and series that I think are quite good and why I think they’re good.
I am going to work my way backwards by talking about the stuff that I have most lately watched. The last stories I have watched are the Netflix stories around the Defenders. You got Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil and Iron Fist.
Of all these I think Jessica Jones had the biggest appeal. A lot of this is due to Krysten Ritter playing Jessica Jones. Jessica Jones is simply a much more fun and interesting superhero character than what you normally see on the screen. She always has the most awesome sarcastic comments. She’s a total antihero. Bad tempered, cynical, and with a major drinking problem. However, this does not capture the character well. There are just so many layers to Jessica Jones’ character. She is also a damaged individual in pain whom you can empathize with. The first season tells a story that is really about surviving abuse in a relationship into a superhero and villain story. Abusive relationships are often described as the abuser almost having mind control over their victim. In Jessica Jones this is literally the case. It’s a supervillain power.
David Tennant also does an amazing job playing this villain called the purple man or Kilgrave. There are a lot of interesting observations and reflections on the nature of evil in his portrayal. Jessica Jones is an atypical superhero story. It’s more like a detective or noir story.
For those who want something more similar to a traditional superhero story, you got Daredevil — my second-favorite in this universe. Daredevil has a lot more action scenes and some pretty amazing choreographed fighting. However, this is not what draws me to the series. Instead it gives a unique and interesting perspective by having the superhero being a blind man. The fact that he is both a vigilante and a lawyer also gives an interesting contrast about the power and the limits of the justice system.
In Daredevil the relationship between his legal partner Foggy and their employee Karen is an important anchor point. You just like seeing them together.
Ironically, in Jessica Jones the entertainment is more about all the broken relationships that Jessica Jones has. Carrie-Anne Moss plays the moral dubious high powered lawyer Jeri Hogarth. She is someone Jessica Jones often has to relate to, but they both have a very complicated relationship to each other. At times they help each other and at other times they sabotage each other. This is a nice touch with all this Netflix series. The side characters such as Hogarth pop up in all the different series. Jessica Jones doesn’t work for Hogarth. However, in Daredevil at some point Foggy is an employee at her law firm. You also encounter her in Iron Fist.
Iron Fist is the hardest series to categorize and evaluate. I would say it is very uneven. There are things about it which are really good and then there are things we can really pull it down. Ultimately the main character becomes too one dimensional.
Luke Cage is an interesting contrast. I don’t find the actor all that interesting or Luke Cage as a character that interesting. However the whole Harlem environment is very well portrayed, and this is something that really elevates the story. In Luke Cage I actually think the bad guy is the best character. Mahershala Ali plays drug kingpin Cottonmouth exceptionally well.
All these stories however happen in a fairly normal world. That is not always the most interesting or exciting. One of the weirdest but also most interesting and best series must be the Umbrella Academy.
This world operates in such a unique way that you’re constantly surprised by things. There’s a certain wonder and joy in discovering how this strange world operates. The story is about a completely dysfunctional superhero family. You got time traveling assassins such as Hazel and Cha-Cha who wear brightly-colored cartoon helmets. Hazel is an assassin who is kind of tired of killing people and just wants a normal life.
The only downside for me is that Umbrella Academy can be ultra violent. I’m starting to get less and less thrilled with violence in movies. Maybe I’m just getting old or maybe it’s being overused as a cheap trick to create drama or excitement.
The Titans is another pretty good superhero series. It’s tied in with Batman and Robin. Rather than the story being centered on Batman, the main character is Robin and he works as a police investigator. It can be dark and a bit uneven but overall pretty good.
I do get tired of stories that are too dark. We also need lighter superhero stories. Shazam is a great alternative. It’s goofy and stupid but it has a good heart. Zachary Levi plays a very likeable superhero. He is the kind of guy you wish you had as a friend. The premise of the story is that a regular teenager suddenly gets superhero powers and ends up looking like a grownup. The problem is that in mind and spirit he is not a grownup and thus does a lot of stupid teenager stuff with his superhero powers.
And finally one of my big favorites is Kick-Ass. It is based on the premise of a regular guy getting the idea to try to be a superhero. It is sort of a meta-commentary on superhero stories as our hero gets his ass kicked and almost killed trying to play a superhero.