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10 October 2016updated 03 Aug 2021 11:41am

How Netflix is making the small screen the home of superheroes – without the tights and capes

From Daredevil to the newly trailed Iron Fist, these series are “more in the streets than in the clouds”.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

We all know we’re in the golden age of television: the small screen has become the home of the kind of serious drama once reserved for film. But what about the not-so-serious cinematic classics, like the blockbuster superhero movie? The Eighties saw movies replace comic books as the superhero’s biggest, most mainstream platform – and now, Marvel’s deal with Netflix may see them rehomed again, to the small screen.

Luke Cage hit the streaming service this month, and at this weekend’s New York Comic Con, the latest trailer for Netflix’s fourth Marvel series, Iron Fist, was unveiled.

Each formal development in the superhero genre changes the content – while straying away from the intense detail of comic book universes, film adaptation tends to see a greater focus on doomed romances, and clear, simplified origin stories that are structured around the moment where our hero dons their costume for the first time. But while film series like Nolan’s Batman pushed the genre to darker peripheries, TV is following suit.

When discussing their first Marvel output, Daredevil, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer described their goal to “go darker than” the movies. “What we love about this particular set of heroes is that they’re a little more down to earth. Costume-wise, and also in that these are gritty crime stories, more in the streets than in the clouds.” Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and this trailer for Iron Fist have a conspicuous lack of capes and tights – instead, we see Danny Rand delivering blows in a suit and tie.

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Even the powers themselves take a back seat. Jessica Jones was celebrated for its villain, whose mind control powers often seem like an extreme portrayal of the controlling charisma of a standard domestic abuser, with Jones herself barely using her powers in the first episodes of the series. The first episode of Luke Cage sees no superheroic abilities until the final three minutes. Much of Iron Fist’s appeal lies in the tempting idea that his power, extraordinary martial arts skill, is potentially attainable for mere mortals.

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Meanwhile, a renewed emphasis on complex, interwoven crime plots prevails – Luke Cage revolves around the empire of an arms dealer, which stretches from nightclubs to government offices. And no matter how many unbelievable abilities enter the picture, the worst violence in both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage remains the kind you might encounter in the real world – be it fist fights, gun violence or rape.

It’s hard to know to what extent Iron Fist will mimic Daredevil, Jones and Cage in tone and plot but, from the short teaser, is seems that this latest series will follow in the footsteps of Netflix’s predecessors. 

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Now listen to a review of Netflix’s Luke Cage on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY: