The Guardians of Justice: How Adi Shankar Brought Bootlegs to Mainstream

Friendship is a hard concept to define. It can vary from being overstated to outright unappreciated. Getting a 5am call to hang out is a special type of friendship. It’s one that requires being on your feet, open minded, and a lot of coffee. When a friend calls you that early to go for a walk and chat you know it’s time to put your listening hat on. That’s what friends are there for. But this isn’t about friendship or even defining it. This is about the evolution of an individual from our very first meeting all these years ago. This is about Adi Shankar (and his new project).

The aforementioned 5am call happened in October 2018, which happens to be the last time I had seen Adi. As a native New Yorker, it was almost refreshing to be able to witness the city “open up” with no agenda other than enjoying it. I had nowhere to go or anywhere to be. Adi Shankar is in flowing terms an enigma. The day I met him I was late to an interview with Mike Tyson because I was so intrigued. Yes, I kept Iron Mike waiting. That of course lead to one of my favorite cover issues (biased), but also a window into the mind of one of our generation’s rawest minds. Ok enough with the preamble, but before I do let me toss in an anecdote from that morning. It was the week of New York Comic Con and we weren’t especially far from the Jacob Javits Center, the home of the convention. We were grabbing breakfast and a couple sat next to us and started talking about Netflix’s Castlevania show. Unbeknownst to them Adi is the EP on the show. Adi gets to chatting with them and picks their brain on their thoughts and opinions. As we start heading out (after a 15-minute breakdown of the show) he lets them know it’s actually his show and thanks them for their support. It was not just a humbling moment, but a defining one.

But I digress, life gets hectic and we get busy. A call here, a text there, and next thing you know it’s a little over two years and we’re mired in a pandemic. Every industry had taken a hit, but Hollywood was especially reeling. Movies and shows delayed for months if not years. Sets under scrutiny of testing and staggered schedules. I wasn’t shocked to hear Adi had found his way to Dubai when I got his call. This country was wallowing in toxicity and if anyone had the chance to leave, I wholly understood. For him it went from leaving for egotistical reasons to evolving into an honest moment of self-discovery. He sounds different, maybe more relaxed? He seemed less stressed or not under the weight of the usual pressure I have seen previously. But I’m a writer not a specialist. This is where I first heard of this new project of his. No, not Devil May Cry, or even Captain Laserhawk (two shows I look forward to), but something entirely different. A show that revolves around a Superman type who kills himself on live television. But maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t a suicide. The person looking to prevent an all-out war in the wake of this? The Batman archetype of course. The Guardians of Justice (Will Save You!) is a riveting concept that on the surface seems like an amalgamation of Watchmen, The Boys, and Legion. But you get past that and realize it’s not as dark as The Boys, not as verbose as Watchmen, and not as bat shit as Legion. Honestly, if I can define Adi by a project, it would be this. The setting is almost Tim Burton-esque and the characters pondering and human. It is a dark comedy that sometimes plays as a whodunit. Throw in the fact that Adi is show running, and you are now cooking with gas.

We’ll dive deeper into the intricacies of the show later, but its journey is just as interesting. I had read rumors of it being picked up by HBO a few years ago, but that wasn’t true. “That was a fake news story”، said Adi. “There was a website called that wrote an article saying that like hey HBO is losing this show and that show and what they really need to do to fill the void is give Adi Shankar a deal”، he continued. Chaos is where the best of us operate, and sometimes keeping quiet is enough of an affirmation. Adi was actually just making an experimental vlog series, but that’s not what the industry thought. Of course, HBO was the ultimate stamp of approval, but he didn’t see himself there. The hype became slightly overwhelming leading to some reality distortion. An executive at Disney even called publicly him “the Tarantino of the digital age.” The project, like himself, has evolved since then.

I have been in this industry a while, and one of the most overused tropes is “being unique.” I don’t think it’s just the world of entertainment, but this is the world I’m ingrained in. I remember my first interview with Adi, and the magazine owner at the time was appalled by his eye makeup. He questioned my judgement based on his looks, not even bothering to delved deeper into who this individual was. It reminded me that Adi was really like that onion everyone talks about. On the outside he comes off as someone who is rebelling against conformity, but it’s more than that. It always is. You really tear away a few layers and you get a wide-eyed anime lover who really is trying to do anything but what the normal is. He asks your opinion and sits on your words, rather than try to drown you out. It also is a master class in interviewing since not every question you come up with has an answer or is as great as you think. There was an instance where I through a softball question comparing the environment now and how The Guardians of Justice fits into a post The Boys and Invincible world. Adi’s response was perfect. “I don’t know man. I think things come out when they come out and they get perceived differently, but I don’t know if it’s better or worse”, Adi quickly told me. Most people would have jumped on that lazy question quickly and agreed or concurred, but he didn’t. I appreciated that.

He has been finding clarity in Dubai though, whether it be with his family or his thoughts. In a lifelong search for clarity, this is just another form of it. This clarity includes not just people who look like him, but his parents. “You ultimately are or a big piece of you [are] your parents, so just kind of being around them, observing them now as an adult…oh yeah that’s where that really comes from”، ponders Adi. This is such a poignant take from someone who has been shaking the foundation of an industry since giving us the Bootleg Universe. It reminds me of going backstage of a Motley Crüe show and seeing the band just hanging out with family and friends. Not partying or being “rockstars”, but Tommy and the guys just laughing and doing regular people shit. Fast forward to a half hour later, and we got one of the biggest rock bands jamming with a rollercoaster drum set. It’s less so seeing how the sausage is made and more so lifting a veil. 

So yeah, The Guardians of Justice. There is so much to say. The cast is eclectic and at times bizarre (in an endearing way). I never thought that I’d actually commit to a show that had Diamond Dallas Page as the lead, but here I am. Knight Hawk is the Batman-esque figure (more brutal and man I love that grizzled voice) who is tasked with finding out what actually happened to Marvelous Man (the stoic Will Yun Lee). His search leads him down a path that entangles not just the villains of the universe but the superheroes as well. There is a mist of campiness that fills the show, one that I really enjoy. It seems almost like a play, especially with how scenes are framed. I think this lends to really gaining the most out of your characters. There is so much at play outside of the whodunit aspect. I like that as much as it takes itself seriously, we get a bevy of dark comedy to balance the scale. There is a scene where (no spoilers don’t worry) where a pair of cops are having a very normal “bro” conversation as they make their way through scattered corpses. It’s so jarring and yet fits the show perfectly. Oh, and Denise Richards. Yep, THE Denise Richards. I think I’ve said enough. With everything Netflix has filling their plate, this is the apple pie you save some room for.

It’s hard to be objective when it comes to your friends, trust me I know. You want to always give them the glass half full, or even fill up the rest. Yet, sometimes you have a duty to be honest. Adi still has things to learn and room to grow, but we all do. A sign of a good creator is making other creators want to not just work with them, but also work better. It’s about more than just star power and name dropping. It’s about to doing the damn thing. Whether you have a million dollars or zero dollars. I remember the fiery trail the Bootleg Universe first left. The burnt tracks are still there. Adi Shankar isn’t someone most people will fully appreciate now, but appreciation takes time. All good things do.