I confess dear readers that I am hopelessly in love with comic book characters. I collected comic books as an adolescent (I was a Marvel guy if you must know) and now as an adult father who does enjoy literature, opera, and other forms of serious high culture I still cannot resist going to the movies and watching my old childhood heroes like Spiderman and Captain America fight the bad guys and see good triumph over evil.
In addition to watching all of the special effects mayhem on the big screen, superhero movies and now TV shows have started to tackle more adult themes – two years ago Marvel’s Captain America was in a movie that took on the theme of the national security state seriously and asked some interesting questions about the trade-off between liberty and safety when fighting terrorism. Then last year, the superhero team The Avengers asked what it would be like to create a sentient being to fight evil on behalf of humanity, making superheroes unnecessary (and what the implications would be when that plan went horribly wrong.)
Now television is getting in on the act, with Marvel Studies teaming up with Netflix to produce a series of gritty, ‘more realistic’ shows that highlight some lesser Marvel superheroes who live in New York City and fight crime with super powers that aren’t quite as spectacular (or require as many special effects!) as those you’ll find in the movies. These shows, and there are two so far: Daredevil and Jessica Jones (with two more planned), have been critically praised as featuring good acting, good writing, and gritty, realistic plots that are compelling and that tackle weighty moral issues.
Take the first series that came out last year, Daredevil – our blind superhero, his blindness the result of a chemical spill, and his other senses augmented as a result (including a special, radar-like sense enabling him to ‘see’ as well, if not better, than most people) has decided to become a vigilante to help the downtrodden and weak in New York – but is conflicted about what he does and seeks the advice of a Catholic priest in the neighborhood to confess his ‘sins’ as he beats up and brings bad guys to justice. This year, the hot new Marvel/Netflix series called Jessica Jones was about a rape survivor, the title character Jessica, and other survivors of traumatic mental experiences who have to figure out how to cope (which Jessica does mostly through booze and sex while at the same time pursuing her rapist who she thought was dead but comes back to haunt her.) Again, issues around vengeance versus justice are explored and the heavier issue of trauma and survival are looked at in depth from a variety of characters’ perspectives.
So what’s not to like? Unfortunately, there is plenty. Let’s start with Jessica Jones, which was the worst offender – to begin, as I mentioned, Ms. Jones decides that one way she will prove to herself and the world that she won’t let anything like a rape get her down is to have lots of sex with men – and don’t even think that a committed relationship is necessary or god forbid, marriage is in the cards. I guess I can be thankful that the series didn’t expose views to unnecessary gratuitous nudity, but the sex scenes were frequent and not much was left to the imagination. Meanwhile, her best friend is also a bit of a sex fiend – getting it on with a different would-be attacker (he was being mind-controlled so she forgave him.) Once again, viewers are just expected to think it is normal and healthy for two young adults to have sex before marriage or even before they have anything resembling a serious relationship – that’s just what two people who like each other do – have lots of sex! And what would a modern superhero story be without a totally unnecessary bizarre subplot involving a lesbian lawyer, her impeding “divorce” to her lesbian “spouse” and her affair with her young, hot lesbian legal secretary. When the writers brought this character into the series I was almost ready to just give up altogether – it was like they just wanted to surround their lead character with the most sexual immorality they could think of while at the same time have her lead a noble and worthy effort to fight one of the most interesting, insidious and evil super-villains ever brought to the screen by Marvel’s writers (and played brilliantly by the British actor David Tenant.)
Unfortunately, Daredevil was only a little bit better – our hero Matt Murdoch (Daredevil’s real name) may have had a guilty conscience when it came to all the bad guys he was beating up at night but not when it came to all the pretty women he was having sex with after those battles! If only we had a scene with Matt going to confession and asking the priest to forgive him for fornication. His good-hearted law partner/friend (‘Foggy’ Nelson) was no better – he liked to jump into bed with pretty women just as much as Matt (as did the principle villain, The Kingpin, who was humanized through his relationship with a woman – which of course included sex.) Again, I can be thankful for small favors that although the series featured lots of sex scenes there was no gratuitous nudity.
What is wrong with television today – every modern person, even Catholic superheroes who go to confession are just assumed to have bought into the sexual revolution lock, stock and barrel and to tell a story in which a leading man (or woman) says no to sex – ‘I want to wait until I’m married so it means something special’ – would just be too weird or strange for the writers to put into one of their characters mouths? Or how about just being coy about the issue and if our characters are dating, let's show them going home to their respective apartments/homes at the end of the date. What does it say about our culture when all our heroes are fornicators and we can’t even rely on the superhero around the block to reject the sexual revolution? Maybe it is time to create our own hero – the Chaste Crusader!