We are living in an era when comic book characters are leaping directly off of the page and onto the big screen in ways that we couldn’t have possibly imagined previously. Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are all essentially spitting images of their comic book counterparts, and that authenticity has been a hallmark for Marvel Studios. In the past few years, however, Marvel TV has expanded the boundaries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by adapting the darker and more realistic side of their universe and in the process has begun taking more creative chances.
Easily the most critically-acclaimed of Marvel’s TV projects is a string of Netflix shows including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and this month’s Luke Cage. These shows represent the more grounded side of the MCU, where the stories focus on private investigators and lawyers, all of whom have special abilities which they wield for vigilante justice.
The first show to start off the path to The Defenders was Daredevil, which stars Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) as the troubled Matt Murdock. Murdock has a series of characteristics that sets him apart from other heroes, including being a devout Catholic, his blindness, his overwhelming sense of guilt, and his red hair. In a recent appearance at a panel for Dragon Con in Atlanta, the English-born actor was asked why he doesn’t dye his hair to match his comic book counterpart’s look. According to Daily Dragon he responded, “We tried. It looked really weird.”
This might be one of the biggest visual changes to any of the major Marvel superheroes so far, but is rarely even thought of or mentioned in articles or forums – most likely because it doesn’t change who Matt Murdock (or Daredevil) is in any tangible way. While Ben Affleck took a swing at the character in 2003, Cox is undeniably the face of Daredevil in modern times. In two seasons, Daredevil has laid the foundation for Marvel’s darker stories and world, much in the way that Iron Man did for the larger universe. So it’s hard to debate the creative choices that were made for the character.
The ongoing debate over comic-to-film visual authenticity is seemingly rekindled every time a comic book character is recast in a major film. Another traditional Marvel redhead, Mary Jane Watson, has been making a lot of headlines as well. It was recently revealed that actress/singer Zendaya may have been secretly cast as Mary Jane in the upcoming reboot, Spider-Man: Homecoming. This incited loud concerns that the African-American actress may not have “the look” for the part, due to her lacking the natural hair color of Mary Jane. Hopefully Cox’s highly praised performance will serve as a reminder that sometimes the details of a character’s look aren’t as important as finding an actor who embodies the spirit of the character.
Daredevil season 1 & 2 and Jessica Jones season 1 are now available on Netflix. Luke Cage season 1 will arrive on September 30th, 2016. The Defenders and Iron Fist arrive in 2017. Release dates for Jessica Jones season 2, The Punisher and Daredevil season 3 have not yet been announced.