Everywhere you go, from the cinema to your own living rooms, you’re surrounded by garishly clad superheroes fighting for truth, a franchise, justice, action figure sales, and the American way.
The heroes of popular US shows like Arrow, The Flash, and Agents of SHIELD show just how epic comic book stories can look on TV. The shows have made goofy concepts like freeze guns, magical life-enhancing pools and super serums almost plausibly outrageous rather than batshit outrageous.
Arrow and The Flash are two flagship shows forming a DC TV universe that’s entirely separate from its fledgling cinematic world. The main cast are typically equipped with model looks, using any excuse to throw off their shirts and display their abs-that-have-abs.
To keep up with appearances and give viewers a break from watching Lycra fetishists hitting things, there’s plenty of Hollyoaks-style drama, which no one really cares about; love triangles, affairs, secret children, murder plots, and university extras stabbing each other in the back for screen time. The glossiness blinds the audience from crater-sized plot holes and copy-pasted storylines.
Arrow, The Flash, Agents of SHIELD, Daredevil, and a few upcoming shows like Legends of Tomorrow, Jessica Jones, Supergirl, all promise to chronicle the adventures of altruistic do-gooders. The characters possess some complexities but basically fit stock archetypes: the ‘Bad-Ass Vigilante Hero’, the ‘Youthful Optimist’, or the ‘Faithful Sidekick’. Despite some seemingly selfish deeds, or slightly questionable methods, these heroes do what they do for the greater good.
Popular British comic heroes possess almost entirely different character traits. They’re self-serving, unsociable, witty arseholes – the perfect personality type to headline a UK TV show and save the nation from pale Doctor Who imitators. Adapting the adventures of these heroes would result in a surefire hit for any network.
Judge Dredd is one of the most famous and recognisable characters to originate in a Britain. He’s a “street judge” patrolling Mega-City One, and he has the power to arrest, convict, sentence, and execute anyone he finds guilty of any number of crimes. He’s the face of an authoritarian fascist regime, which would usually make him the enemy. Dredd is an entirely original hero, handing out lawful justice instead of the vigilante kind – like Batman in a police uniform.
Dredd’s adventures are filled with violence, death, moral dilemmas, dark humour, and scathing satire. They’re fun and smart, in an unpretentious way. With exciting storylines and unforgettable characters, the comics are screaming out to be adapted for TV. The Apocalypse War forces Dredd and his men to adopt guerrilla techniques to combat a Soviet invasion in the wake of a devastating nuclear attack – feel-good stuff. And America is a romance that puts two would-be lovers on opposing sides, told from the perspective of America Jara, who the Daily Mail would brand a ‘loony lefty’. More than any other comic, Judge Dredd skewers the world we live in to point out how truly absurd it is.
Tank Girl is completely different to Judge Dredd or any of the mainstream American comics. It can can only be described as totally and utterly insane. Aided by her motley crew and her mutant kangaroo boyfriend, Tank Girl rides around post-apocalyptic Australia in… you guessed it… a tank, facing off against ninjas, time-travelling archeologists, mafiosos and bounty hunters. She’s a beer-guzzling, chain-smoking, gun-toting, sex-crazed riot grrrl who refuses to take shit from anyone. She’s the bad-ass, not the pretty female sidekick who follows the hero in the hope of settling down and having babies with him. Fuck that. Tank Girl is absurd, irreverent and surreal, and the strip’s star is the comic world’s first truly anti-fashion icon.
Despite the quality of their comic strips, Tank Girl and Judge Dredd have both suffered from appalling big-screen adaptations that failed to grasp the essence of their characters. But TV would allow them to grow, develop and earn the respect they deserve, and encourage viewers to embrace heroes that American networks wouldn’t touch. They exemplify the creative boundaries that British comics are continuously breaking, and they’re worth a shot on the small screen. It’s better than watching Desperate Dan eating cow-pies and punching Cactus Man.