Superhero and Comic Books

For Children Of All Ages

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

If you’ve followed, or are a fan of Guillermo Del Toro’s work as a film director, you’d be well aware of his bent for the fantastic and the impossible. He is the man who brought Hellboy to life, and gave us the monster fest that was Pacific Rim. Naturally, news of his collaboration with Dreamworks Animation and Netflix to produce an animated series was one that caused quite a stir. The result of this collaboration, Trollhunters, premiered on Netflix this Friday.

Trollhunters takes on the story of a 15-year-old boy, Jim (Anton Yelchin, who unfortunately, passed away this year), who is chosen by a magical amulet to become the Trollhunter – a hero who must protect both good trolls and mankind from evil trolls. Jim is helped in his mission by his best friend Toby (Charlie Saxton), and Blinky (Kelsey Grammer), a good troll who takes it upon himself to train Jim in the ways of the Trollhunter. Jim must now train, and defeat the evil troll Bular (Ron Perlman) who will stop at nothing to destroy the amulet and claim both worlds.

The series has twenty-six episodes in total, and they’re fairly short, with each clocking not more than twenty-five minutes, making them the perfect little work break, or the perfect binge, depending on how you watch Netflix shows.

It must be said though, that there is nothing in Trollhunters that’s particularly groundbreaking by way of story or characters, which is disappointing considering that someone with the caliber and whimsy of Del Toro is directing it. Trollhunters just has all the usual Dreamworks tropes – the underdog who is suddenly thrust with a hero’s responsibility, the sidekick who also provides comic relief, the adolescent love interest, adorable creatures and a fierce villain, who are all put together with the stunning animation that has become Dreamworks’ signature. The troll worlds are beautifully constructed with meticulous attention to detail, and the Man vs. Troll fights are impressively choreographed. The dialogue is fast and has plenty of humour, again, something that’s become standard with anything that Dreamworks produces. Occasionally, there are moments that stand out, like Jim’s interest in cooking and baking, and the way he takes care of his overworked mother, but there is nothing that particularly makes you go whoa, I’ve never seen this before – especially when you’ve watched How To Train Your Dragon, which is very similar in terms of storyline and characters.

That isn’t to say that the show is not fun, though – it’s immensely enjoyable to watch. In a time when television is getting darker and edgier, Trollhunters’ simplicity is actually its selling point. It’s light, visually arresting, clean, and possesses neither the pandering that kids’ shows today are in excess of, nor the risqué jokes that adult animation shows are infamous for. Trollhunters is a show for children, yes, but of all ages.

{Trollhunters is presently streaming on Netflix}

Gangs of New York

{Previously published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Marvel’s Daredevil isn’t a conventional superhero. Blinded as a boy in a freak accident which involved nuclear chemicals, Matt Murdock doesn’t have super strength or fantastic abilities – he is human, but with a heightened sense of things around him – He can listen to heartbeats, he can listen to conversations across a wide radius and he can sense movement better than people with vision do. After his boxer father becomes a victim of gang violence, the young, orphaned Matt, is picked up by a mysterious old man called Stick, who teaches him how to fight. After Stick decides that there’s nothing left to teach, Matt goes on to study law. Matt Murdock, defence attorney by day, becomes Daredevil, vigilante crime fighter by night.

Netflix’s production of one of the most intriguing, and human superheroes is very dark, sometimes literally (there are very few scenes which involve daylight, and even those have a constant gloom that pervades Daredevil’s New York City). The show also does not mince violence either. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed studies in brutality, where blood is spilt with the carelessness that one would associate with milk or water.

In the first season of Daredevil, we see Matt (played by Charlie Cox), just getting comfortable with his role as protector of Hell’s Kitchen, the area in New York where he is born and raised. Hell’s Kitchen is infested with gang violence, and the more Matt tries to smoothen things out, the more he realises that it isn’t a molehill which can be removed, but a veritable mountain that has been put into place by a gang boss who goes by the name Kingpin. Being an undercover hero trying to uncover a city’s dark secret is tough work, and the challenges they pose are best represented by Matt’s necessary friendship with a nurse, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) who works a night shift at the General Hospital. It isn’t long before Matt’s day job as a defence lawyer is affected, either. He must do all that he can to ensure that his best friend and partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) doesn’t get wind of his newfound hobby.

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Usually, in superhero shows, one sees very clear demarcations between good and bad. We have the hero, he is a good man, sometimes a wronged man, but most definitely a man with a gift, who must put it into use protecting people, and we have the bad man, an overall unappealing person who thinks about nothing but evil. The makers ensure that the audience doesn’t spend too much time wondering who to root for. Daredevil though, takes on a different path. The evil, awful villain and “Kingpin”, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) is given a love story, and a rather tender one at that. Matt, on the other hand, is made to question himself multiple times about his own intentions with respect to protecting his city. After all, he constantly advises people to believe in letting the legal system take its course while wearing uncomfortable spandex and beating people up at night, making his own moral system a very murky shade of grey.

Daredevil is a series about a vigilante hero who is flawed, and a series which proves that you don’t need incredible super powers to be interesting. You only have to be human.

{Marvel’s Daredevil is presently on Netflix}

In A Flash

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Barry Allen is just your average physics nerd who works in the forensics department of the police station. He is struck by lightning in a freak accident, put in a coma for nine months, and wakes up to find that the lightning has bestowed him with super speed and a new set of abs. He also learns that it isn’t just him who was on the receiving end of the lightning, and that there are other “meta-humans” in the city who have great powers, but not necessary good intentions. Barry, although initially doubtful about his abilities, with the help of the scientists who restored him from the coma (and were also the cause of the freak accident), brings down a meta-human who has the power to control the weather. While most superhero shows would take half a season to reach this point of the story, The Flash wraps it up in the very first episode.

The show moves at the same breakneck speed that the fastest man on earth does. Barry takes down evil meta-humans with the help of his team, comprising Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the genius who revives Barry from his coma, and whose failed machine was the reason behind the lightning in the first place, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), in-house computer whiz and the inventor of all of The Flash’s cool weapons and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), the moody but brilliant genetic scientist. The show for most part follows a “villain of the week” format while character development is relegated to the background, keeping the show light, and more importantly, easy to catch up on.

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Grant Gustin, former Glee star, is entirely believable as The Flash, and the fact that he plays an adorable 20 something who uses his super speed to sneak in an extra hour of sleep in the morning, makes him a refreshing change from the usually brooding, pensive brand of superhero which we are so used to today. The show’s creators throw plenty of unexpected jokes throughout the show, and even play on pop culture by bringing together the Prison Break brothers (Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell) as the deadly co-villains Captain Cold and Heat Wave. The Arrow, a vigilante hero and a friend of Barry’s (who has his own show as well) also makes frequent appearances, making both shows more cohesive with the comic books they were inspired by.

While there is plenty to like and enjoy about The Flash, it isn’t particularly perfect. The complete lack of chemistry between Barry and the supposed love of his life, Iris West (Candice Patton). Iris is the daughter of Joe West (Jesse Martin), a policeman who takes Barry in and raises him after his mother is murdered under mysterious circumstances. Iris and Barry are raised together, best of friends, and practically siblings. Barry pines for Iris as she dates Joe’s handsome young partner Eddie Thawne (the excellent Rick Costnett). While television can make us buy anything these days, the Iris-Barry-Eddie love triangle feels forced, and their time together on screen feels like time wasted.

Overall though, The Flash is something a lot of superhero franchises aren’t – fun. While it isn’t a show that is going to lend itself to serious cultural commentary, it is definitely one that does justice to the league it belongs to.

{The second season of The Flash is presently running on Colors Infinity}