Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Iron Fisting

Yes, I'm alive (that's an obligatory statement for delinquent bloggers returning from a long hiatus). Been busy and, no, not writing anything. As a result, expect my composition skills to be a bit "rusty."

So just finished watching the Netflix series Iron Fist last night (the fact it took me this long to get through it should tell you something about my schedule). While I'm sure folks would rather hear about something besides another television review...well, I've done the other Marvel series on Netflix and it would seem unfair not to. Also, the show has taken a serious beating by reviewers and I thought I'd offer a bit of a dissenting opinion.

Yes, I've even come to like the beard.

[there will be some minor **SPOILERS**]

As I've written before (I think/hope) a show can be judged strictly by its merit as "good (episodic) television" or by its value as "other-medium-(comic book)-translated-to-TV." I prefer to judge by both, but it's hard for me to watch withOUT considering the comic book it adapts, and I find Iron Fist to be very enjoyable from that perspective. And I'll offer a real 180 turn from most reviewers by commending Finn Jones's portrayal of the titular character: I was surprised at the fantastic job he did with a very complicated character.

[more on this in a moment]

Iron Fist definitely has its failings. Like the other Marvel Netflix offerings, the development of its story and characters is slow for the first episode or two. It also suffers (as did the otherwise excellent Luke Cage) from a rather anti-climactic final episode...at least when it comes to the showdown with the Big Bad. Its pacing, story-wise, is a little stilted at times, and the director/writer has difficulty juggling so many characters without feeling rushed. There's a deftness of handling the material (and communicating the concepts) that is frequently missing. It often feels like their are scenes that are missing, or that were cut, in favor of lingering on some other plot point that (perhaps) didn't require as much time.

But despite this, I quite enjoyed the series. Let me put it this way: Iron Fist is an acquired taste. His comic book is not well known, and never enjoyed the popularity of the Spider-Mans and Captain Americas or the Marvel universe. His status as a second (or third) tier hero is one of several reasons cited by folks who wanted Netflix to reboot the character as Asian-American, to make him more interesting than some "Batman knockoff."

But Iron Fist doesn't...and has never...resembled Batman or Green Arrow or any other billionaire playboy type other than in the most superficial of ways. Batman's wealth exists to explain his vehicles and gadgets and the leisure its afforded him to hone his detective and fighting skills. One of Iron Fist's (multiple) conflicts is his relationship to his wealth, how he reconciles himself to money considering that he's learned to live without it, and has all but taken vows of austerity and poverty...especially in light of the greater good one can do as a philanthropist, compared to punching people.

He's also anything but the smug, self-assured playboy. He constantly makes a hash of things, whether with regard to his attempts at business (he has little to no financial acumen) or with his love life (his long-time love affair with Misty Knight is one of the more realistic on-again/off-again relationships I've seen depicted in comics). The only thing he really knows how to do is fight...and yet he has the whole peaceful, Zen-attitude thing that butts up against that. At the same time, he has this stunted personal development because of his abbreviated childhood (his approach to things is a bit of the wide-eyed innocent-type), despite NOT being raised from birth with some Jedi attitude (he spent his formative years living in wealth and privilege in New York City). He is no stranger to having wealth, but his attitude towards it is that of a child, with no concept of what it takes to earn it, to run a company, to maintain propriety, etc.

It makes him a bit of a shmuck, but a lovable one.

Many reviewers have complained about the inordinate amount of time the show devoted to the boardroom dealing with the Rand Corporation as opposed to the ass-kicking one would expect from a martial arts superhero. But Iron Fist isn't about non-stop fights. I mean, Danny's the Iron Fist...he doesn't get defeated in hand-to-hand combat, so how many fights do you need to see him winning? As with most Marvel characters, much of his story revolves around his private life. And in this case, it's the family drama he shares with the Meachums and his relationship with Colleen Wing. Maybe that doesn't scratch your comic book itch...like I said, Iron Fist is a bit of an acquired taste...but it shouldn't be unexpected.

The juxtaposition of corporate politics and violent takeovers (in The Immortal Iron Fist comic series it's Hydra - not the Hand - that has infiltrated Rand in recent years) against the pulp mysticism of K'un L'un is part of the fun of the series...though to be honest, I found the show worked best when dealing with the pulp elements. Ninjas showing up at Harold's apartment, Danny and Davos reminiscing, the "iron fist" glow effect (which I particularly liked)...these things really helped to emphasize and distinguish Iron Fist from the other Netflix Marvel offerings. They were also fun, and part of the reason I enjoy the comic (I don't get enough pulpy mystic Tibetan fiction in my life).

Why does Danny sometimes lose his mojo and get it back mysteriously? Because it's mysterious and weird and he's young and has an imperfect understanding of his powers. In the comic, mystic enemies are always "stealing his Chi" or damaging it or finding ways to sabotage it...just like villains find ways to overload and disrupt Daredevil's heightened senses (thus hindering his fighting ability). Just like kryptonite puts in an appearance in every Superman film.

There's real sense, and there's comic book sense. From a television-watching POV, I really appreciate Rosario Dawson's normal person, no nonsense straight-talk...and I absolutely HATE watching her take a few karate lessons and holding her own in melee against professional assassins (presumably) trained from birth in hand-to-hand combat. But this is very comic book-y: all sorts of minor characters have, over the years, been "trained" by Captain America (or whoever), becoming capable vigilantes; call it the Rick Jones effect. It's something akin to the movie "training montage" on a separate, parallel scale of silliness.

ANYway...a few last notes:

  • As with Luke Cage, viewers are treated to a double-feature with regard to heroic protagonists, this time with Colleen Wing sharing the handbill. Jessica Henwick, similar to Simone Missick, is a quality casting choice, showing a wide range over the course of the show (and some nice sword-work), but what's doubly impressive is that she's given so much to do. Misty Knight has had a variety of interesting things to do over the years: working with the X-Men, running clandestine organizations, blasting people with a cyborg arm, etc. But Wing's role in the comics has mostly been "Misty's BFF," supporting her, tagging along on adventures (even as an "equal partner") and giving an excuse to incorporate a little "Jap-sploitation" in the comics (why does a half-Chinese girl carry a samurai katana and follow a "bushido code?" Because the sword's more recognizable and "Wing" is easier to pronounce than, say, Watanabe). Here we have an American girl of Asian ancestry (a welcome change to the canon), with a complicated history, the same vigilante lust for violence one finds in male comic characters, and some interesting dichotomies-dramatic splits one would expect in a headliner. Kudos to the writers for offering a complex character in place of a cardboard sidekick...and good work by Henwick in an expressive, believable portrayal.
  • I would have been pleased just to have Colleen Wing by the way (to complete the "Heroes for Hire" set), but the fact that she turned out so cool, makes me happy to see where the next show goes...even if it is "the Defenders" (see below).
  • That being said, the way they've set up Wing's relationship with Rand, it makes it even less likely that we'll see the long-established Knight-Rand romance. *sigh* Still wondering if Jessica Jones will eventually end up with Cage...how could they not when it's such an important part of their books (ah, yes, the soap opera that keeps us reading Marvel). So Misty ends up bitter and alone? Hardly seems fair...I thought that was only Daredevil's destined lot in romance.  ; )
  • It would be difficult to follow-up the strong performances by Vincent D'onofrio (Kingpin), David Tennant (Purple Man), and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali (Cottonmouth), but David Weham is delightfully weird and sinister as Harold Meachum. It doesn't bother me that the viewers were aware of his villainy for the entire series, even as Danny was (characteristically!) obtuse...there doesn't have to be some "big reveal" in these series. And he had some absolutely fantastic moments throughout the series. But the final episode was a little cliche and disappointingly written. In this way, it was reminiscent of Luke Cage's series one finale.
  • Also, enjoyed the Meachum kids, including their flip-flopping (few people are 100% evil or good). Good performances from both Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup.
  • I did not expect Finn Jones to do a good job, and I was clueless as to how the writers would approach the titular character. I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. ALSO, Finn Jones definitely nailed the look of the character from the comic books (at least, The Immortal Iron Fist series) in spite of his curls, and his moves and fighting style are straight out of the comics. I was not expecting Hong Kong action theater, and I didn't think I'd see Bruce Lee (still the greatest martial artist on celluloid, apologies to Chan, Li, and Jaa). What I got was Iron Fist...even the ducking behind cover when facing automatic weapons. I thought it was good, and I look forward to Jones portrayal in the future.
  • On the other hand, while I liked Sacha Dhawan's portrayal of Davos (the Steel Serpent), can I be a little disappointed that he wasn't...um...taller? Also, he's of a radically different ethnicity than Hoon Lee (who plays Davos's father in the show) but...ah, well. It was a good performance.
  • I know there's supposed to be a giant cross-over of all these Netflix heroes (DD, JJ, Cage, Iron Fist), but, man, they do NOT scream Defenders at me. When I hear "the Defenders" I'm thinking the more mystical side of the Marvel universe: Doctor Strange, first and foremost, but also Moon Knight, Gargoyle, Valkyrie, Prince Namor, etc. These street level heroes should really be called Heroes for Hire (except none of them are for hire in Netflix), or maybe Marvel Knights (except that's a stupid name). I'm still looking forward to seeing what they do (I'm guessing something involving the Hand...again), but...well...it's a quibble. I'm allowed a few.

The Defenders(?)...minus Daredevil
Okay, that's enough for now. Wow. Wasn't sure I'd get through a whole post today, but I somehow managed it. We'll see what happens tomorrow.
: )

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Is it February yet? So much for my New Year's resolution to blog more.

Since some folks may be curious, I'll give a very brief rundown. November was a clusterfk on a variety of fronts, save for the always pleasurable Thanksgiving holiday. Fortunately, my family survived and December was much, MUCH better and January continues that trend. Still doing the "stay at home Dad" thing, and it appears this will be continuing for at least a few more months, but I'm good with it. Heck, I'm enjoying it...even getting into the cooking thing a bit...though I'm continuing to scheme ways at monetizing my existence.

[yes, yes...some day I will probably be sticking ads on Ye Old Blog. Fortunately, I'm in a position that such scandal isn't yet necessary]

The fact that both football seasons has ended for Seattle certainly frees up a lot of my free time and energy. Yeah, we got caught up in the Sounders (MLS) last October...more on that later...but the Seahawks are always a timesink of passion. This year, they were a constant source of irritation; the loss to the Cardinals on Christmas Eve was the low-point of the season, and you'd have a hard time convincing me that THAT home loss wasn't the one that cost them a Super Bowl berth. But whatever...go Pats, I guess.

In semi-football news, Games Workshop released a brand new edition of Blood Bowl over the holidays, which I completely missed till...oh, about two weeks ago. Otherwise, I would have thrown it on the Christmas list. As it is, I still picked it up, especially as the boy (six years old, as of last Thursday), has become a fan and player. He'll be painting the new human team who he has imaginatively dubbed The Seattle Seahawks. They've only played one game so far, but it was a barn-burner against the wood elves (coached by Uncle AB...papa was acting as referee for the game). Despite a heartbreaking loss (the elves stormed back from a 3-1 half-time deficit to win 4-3 in overtime), he was impressed enough with the team's performance to make them his permanent side (previously, he'd only used orks).

I'm actually very pleased with the current state of the BB rules. I might post about it later, but my previous gripes (basically, everything since the 3rd edition) have mainly been answered. I do dislike the current version of Mighty Blow (having to pick whether to apply +1 to armor OR injury), but I can live with it. And the new campaign rules (in the new Death Zone Season One supplement) are much improved over more recent iterations (in terms of clarity, efficiency, and balance), but I'll have to play it for a bit to really judge. I really like the current version of the Nurgle team, and I picked up a pack of green stuff in anticipation of doing some serious conversion work over the next month or two. Very excited to pass some infection around the pitch!

Right now, however, I'm trying to get a new team ready for possible play in a local, one-day tournament (cash prizes! yay!). One thing I've learned about mini-painting over the years (at least, regarding myself): it really is best to "strike while the iron's hot." If you get the itch to paint, and you have a few extra bucks (and a few extra hours), there's no better time to just do it. Interest wanes, money and time dry up, and you're left with a stack of unpainted (or unfinished) minis just gathering dust. Some of my best painting work...probably ALL of my "best" painting work...has been done in small periods of time when I seized the moment. So, I'm trying to take advantage at the moment.

My kitchen counter this morning at 6am.
Blood Bowl is great for this, by the way, because the team size is so small and easily managed; no team is larger than sixteen figures (plus a couple odd star mercenary types) and often fewer (you only need 11 minis to field a full team). It's probably what makes the game one of my faves (in addition to the obvious draw of football + fantasy). And the pieces in the new edition are really exquisite...it's doubtful that I, a journeyman painter at best, will really be able to do justice to the little guys...but I aim to try!

Those are the orks I'm currently in the process of priming...using a paint-on primer for the first time in decades (as opposed to the usual spray-on stuff) because, I assume, it's easier on the lungs. They're a long-time favorite of Yours Truly...this should make the fourth such team I've painted over the years, despite a profound non-interest in the orks for pretty much any other war game (too many minis required to field a decent horde). However, in honor or my son's newfound interest in the game, I shall be giving them a new color-scheme inspired by his favorite color: pink.

I plan on calling them Bubblegum Dynamite as I fully expect them to blow up the teams they play.
; )

[Diego, BTW, plans on giving his Seahawks a green-and-blue paint job aimed at aping the Sounders soccer team...should be pretty hip, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out]

All right, that's all I've got time for at the moment...I have a meeting at the kid's school this morning regarding registration for next year. Busy-busy-busy...that's my life these days!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Star Wars Rogue One...

...is an excellent film. It may be my new favorite Star Wars film to date. 

My brother (who watched the film with me and the boy) is lying on my couch as I type this, muttering to himself "huh, I wasn't expecting that," and other non-sequitur nothings as he tries to wrap his head around what he just experienced. Whereas Episode 7 was a new take on an old plot (a remake of the original) this was a much more mature look at the universe created within the genre. It was more a "war film" than (what is traditionally considered) a "Star Wars film." And, as I've written before, I love me some military sci-fi. 

The movie also borrows many of the concepts found in Lucas's original treatment for the first films...ideas that were readily discarded as the script morphed into a space version of Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress.

[see Michael Kaminski's wonderful "The Secret History of Star Wars" for details]

Anyway, I'd write more, but it would include spoilers. Plus, I have a lot of other things to write about besides Star Wars, including other cinema offerings (for example, Moana may be the best Disney film I've seen since Beauty and the Beast. It doesn't have the single, show-stopping "power song" Frozen gave us with Let it Go, but the overall excellence is far more consistent and the story and animation are tremendous. Dwayne Johnson is but one of Moana's many pleasant surprises).

So that's all I'll say for now. My kid called it "a great film," and there wasn't much of anything in the show that pandered to kids. But as far as a magical, kid-like fantasy universe? Yeah. In that regard, this may be the best Star Wars film yet made.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Lone Wolves

Two of the games I picked up the other day were Fantasy Flight's new Star Wars games, specifically the basic boxed set for The Force Awakens, and the many-hundred page hardcover Force and Destiny. I'll have more to say about these in a later posts, but one thing that disappointed me about the FFG books is the lack of character write-ups; there are no stats for the likes of Obi-Wan Kenobi or Darth Vader, for example, even though they're featured prominently on the cover. Likewise, unlike prior licensed SW games (West End and WotC) there's no supplementary books to purchase that include these stars of the Star Wars universe. I semi-interrogated a game shop employee yesterday regarding this, and the explanation was...well, a bit less than satisfactory. For me, such write-ups are important in terms of figuring scale for a system...as well as I like to see how a system models a specific intellectual property in game terms.

[and, yes, I realize I'm one of those people who likes to rip on character write-ups. I still appreciate a starting point for analysis. Especially in a non-level based game like F&D, it would be nice to get an idea of how much XP goes into making an "old geezer Kenobi," for example]

Anyway, after finishing the Luke Cage series, I started looking at the old Marvel Superhero RPG write-ups for the characters in the show (and the other MCU titles also) just to see how close they came to modeling the powers and stats of their comic book counterparts. Some of these I have available to me, some are available from various fan sites on-line (Jessica Jones, as a comic book character, was not published till after TSR had closed down their original MSH line). While they're all pretty close, there are definitely some differences...and since I prefer the show-versions, I thought it would be fun to do my own write-ups based on the characters' portrayals in their respective series.

I've offer the following for perusal to the interested, presumably people who'd like to run an old school MSH game in the same grim and gritty style as the MCU. Keep in mind that Marvel does NOT due "granular" very well, especially at the lower power levels...but MSH is a lot faster (and less legally dicey) to use for write-ups than Heroes Unlimited (my "go-to" game for granularity).

Luke Cage (as "Power Man") and Daredevil were originally published in the 1984 adventure module MH4: Lone Wolves. Even thought this was written for the "basic" Marvel game, the write-ups changed very little with the advent of the Advanced game. As such, my write-ups should be considered compatible with either version of the classic MSH system.


Matt Murdock, Altered Human

Fighting: Incredible (40)
Agility: Incredible (40)
Strength: Good (10)
Endurance: Excellent (20)
Reason: Good (10)
Intuition: Monstrous (75)
Psyche: Good (10)

Health: 110
Karma: 95
Resources: Typical (6)
Popularity: 13 (Good)

Matt is blind, but he has trained and developed his remaining senses to such a degree that he has may operate far beyond the capability of a normal human. He may sense individuals by their smell and heartbeat, even through the exterior walls of a building and can sense objects by the way air passes around them. While being blind limits Matt in some ways (he cannot see color or read signs, for example) he is unaffected by effects (like darkness and flash attacks) that hinder others. He wears special body armor that provides him with Typical protection against physical attacks while not limiting his movement, and he uses a collapsable fighting staff made of Incredible strength material.

Matt is a licensed attorney and possesses the Law talent. He is trained in the use of Blunt Weapons, and has extensive Martial Arts training (the equivalent of A, B, and C in the Advanced game).


Altered Human

Fighting: Excellent (20)
Agility: Good (10)
Strength: Remarkable (30)
Endurance: Incredible (40)
Reason: Good (10)
Intuition: Remarkable (30)
Psyche: Excellent (20)

Health: 100
Karma: 60
Resources: Typical (6)
Popularity: 4 (Poor)

Jessica has some small (Poor) degree of Invulnerability, reducing all damage received by -2 column shifts. She also has the power of Flight (also at Poor rank), which she describes as being "more like controlled leaping;" however, Jessica prefers regular terrestrial means of getting around, for a variety of reasons.

Jessica is a skilled, licensed detective and has the Detective/Espionage skill. She has also received training in Resisting Domination and has developed a discipline of mental exercises to strengthen her will against possible mind control.


Carl Lucas, Altered Human

Fighting: Excellent (20)
Agility: Good (10)
Strength: Incredible (40)
Endurance: Remarkable (30)
Reason: Good (10)
Intuition: Good (10)
Psyche: Good (10)

Health: 100
Karma: 30
Resources: Poor (4)
Popularity: 11* (Good)

*Luke has been accused of a crime he didn't commit. If he is cleared of the charges, his popularity will increase to 21 (Excellent).

Luke's hardened body provides him with Remarkable protection against physical attacks, the equivalent of steel or reinforced concrete. Against energy attacks, his protection drops four ranks to Poor.  His accelerated healing allows him to heal as if he possessed Incredible endurance.

Prior to his time at Seagate prison, Luke was in the Military and possesses this talent, though he dislikes and avoids using guns. He has received significant training in boxing, giving him the equivalent of Martial Arts B in the Advanced game.

[minor characters and villains...including Wilson Fisk ("Kingpin"), Claire Temple ("Night Nurse"), Trish Walker ("Hellcat"), Frank Castle ("Punisher"), Elektra, and Misty Knight...may be updated in a later post. Maybe. Lots of other stuff to write about, too. Popularity for all characters determined based on the rules provided in the Advanced game]

Conspicuous Consumption

One thing about living in the United States again...maybe the ONLY thing in the grand scheme of "things:" the true embarrassment of riches.

Even should you happen to have a shit-ton of money in Paraguay, there's just not all that much to buy. Johnny Walker black label? A new Mercedes? All the potatoes in the supermarket? And then what? If you're lucky enough to be part of the upper class, your main reason for international travel is finding better places to shop. Which is sad for all sorts of reasons.

But HERE...you're far more likely to run out of money than you are to run out of options. The sheer variety...in every sphere of possible consumption...is simply amazing. Every bar has twenty-plus beers on tap. Clothing stores are specific to style, design, and age range range (and utility in the case of sporting wear). Individual game and toy stores have more items than any one kid could play over the entirety of his or her childhood. The Fred Meyer across the street from my house has more stuff than any four "superstores" in Asuncion. And don't even get me started on places like Home Depot and Barnes & Nobles...there is simply no equivalent.

These days there's really not a lot of things I need. That is a damn fact. I got by with so little in Asuncion that now, the sheer bulk of available stuff leaves me a little numb. Small things, simple things...like sharp cheddar cheese or an artichoke or a can of Campbell's chicken noodle...are plenty delightful to a dude who was forced to go without for a while. But the sheer bulk of sellers vying for my attention and consumer dollars, is starting to leave me a little cold. I purchased a mason jar of "apple pie moonshine" just because I could, and drank it solo over a couple evenings...but delicious as it was, I find a certain measure of disgust for my purchase. Who am I trying to impress? My liver?

Still, despite coming back to a house where my home office is absolutely filled with games and books, I managed to drop 'round $300 bucks in the last few days on new, probably unnecessary stuff. And in quite a surprising fashion...I thought I'd become inured against the "impulse buy" over the last few weeks (the moonshine incident, for example, was early in September). Certainly I had made the rounds at the various game stores in my area...talking shop, remaking acquaintances...but I restrained myself from buying anything (besides beer). Truth is, nothing I saw on the sales rack was exciting me to buy anything.

Then I stopped by Arcane Comics.

I'm not sure exactly what exactly I had gone in to browse for, but just talking with the friendly, knowledgable, passionate kid running the store got me excited to throw down cash. He was helpful, he didn't try selling me anything, but he voiced his own opinions in straight-forward fashion. Just a very pleasant retail experience for a guy (me) who had been left feeling rather, eh, detached at other locales. So I bought a bunch of stuff that I most certainly don't need, of both the comic and game variety.

[afterwards, me and the dude had a great discussion on Luke Cage and the MCU on Netflix in general. So nice to find that some folks in the actual comic book community/industry share a lot of my same "layman" thoughts. He is much more optimistic about the upcoming Iron Fist than Yours Truly]

I'll try to talk about some of my purchases...at least the game ones...as I make my way through the books. I'm about 600 pages in on the stuff, but I got two huge, shrink-wrapped volumes that I've yet to open. I'm a little scared to do so.

Oh, BTW: none of this stuff is related to D&D or traditional superheroes. Well, besides the new Power Man/Iron Fist trade paperback I picked up. Good stuff.

"The Boys Are Back In Town"

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Play Misty For Me

My post Wednesday about the new Luke Cage Netflix series left out a lot of things in hopes of maintaining pointed brevity (not usually my strong suit). Some of the thoughts I neglected to mention included the following:

  • New York is an absolutely huge place and for once I watched a series that gave it a real sense of its scale. Like how a single person...even the super heroic Cage...can simply vanish into its immensity, simply by forgoing a flamboyant costume and putting on a hoody. 
  • The writing of the show was both hit and miss. The misses have to do with the overall story arcs and pacing which, a bit like a musical progression in jazz seemed to meander a bit in a way that offended my staid "story sensibilities." However, the hits just kept on coming when it comes to the writing of the characters, which are almost entirely made up of complex, nuanced individuals. The heroes aren't perfect saints, and the villains aren't all irredeemable sinners...in its own small way, Luke Cage manages to capture both the ugliness and beautiful potential that's in all of us.
  • A lot of articles I've read about the series compares it to the "blaxploitation" flicks of the 70s, but I think that's pretty fucking lazy analysis. There are plenty of films out there that use the same formulaic ingredients as blaxploitation (including corrupt authority, street crime, and one misunderstood hardass doing the vigilante thang) that feature white actors with names like Seagal, VanDamme, Stalone, Russell, Swayze, Willis, etc. Despite the music, despite the racial themes, Luke Cage is a series that ignores (or condemns) much of the machismo from those earlier films. This isn't a show about a guy getting over on "the man," and while it's sexy enough, it has little to do with the protagonist's sexual prowess (often an integral part of the blaxploitation genre).

Which leads me to the REAL point of this post: talking about Simone Missick in her role as the show's co-protagonist, Misty Knight.

"I don't seek justice. I stalk it."
Yeah, I sure didn't see that one coming. I was really looking forward to watching Luke Cage (kept checking Ye Old Netflix every week or so to see the status) based on the strength of A) Marvel's previous three offerings (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil 2), as wells B) Mike Colter's turn as the titular Cage character. And, yes, the show managed to keep my rather high expectations high on both counts (Colter is a bonafide star, and his interpretation of the Cage character has turned me into a fan of a hero that...previously...only cracked my top-tier by dint of his team associations). What I was NOT expecting, and what's blown me away the more I've considered it, is the way the show creators decided to double-down on the amount of Hero by giving us huge whopping side of Misty Knight who, as I've mentioned before, may be my second favorite super heroine, after Babs Gordon.

Folks who don't know the comic book history of Misty should know that, like Luke Cage, she's best known as one-half of her own dynamic duo, sometimes known as Nightwing Restorations, sometimes known as the Daughters of the Dragon.

[folks interested in Misty's early comic book history would do well to check out this series of posts at Out of this World from back in 2011]

The comic book Misty appears to be originally inspired by the likes of Cleopatra Jones, Christie Love, and most any Pam Grier character from the 1970's. She's a tough, street-smart ex-cop who runs a private detective agency and battles super-criminals and crime lords with chop-sockey martial arts and a large caliber revolver. The "Marvel touch" (I suppose) is that she sports a bionic right arm, having lost her natural one in the same explosion that ended her law enforcement career. Outside her own stories (alongside her half-Asian partner Colleen Wing), her biggest claim to fame for her first couple decades came as the on-again/off-again girlfriend of Danny Rand (Iron Fist), frequently saving his sorry ass after he'd been whipped by someone tougher than himself. However, in the last decade or so she's been pulled out of mothballs by the powers-that-be and put in charge of a number of different super teams, a kind of cyborg-Oracle type whose lack of superpowers has no effect on her ability to command and lead.

Much tougher than
Electrawoman & Dynagirl.
[I don't know why it is that I love cyborg characters so much. I guess I was a big fan of the $6 Million Dollar Man as a kid...all those fights against Sasquatch and Fembots and whatnot...]

The Misty Knight in Luke Cage is quite the step down from the bionic superwoman leading war-goddesses in Asgard. She's still a New York cop (detective, not beat), and she still has two (non-augmented) arms. She's good at her job, she likes her job, and she's a lot likely to engage in real (well, "TV real" anyway) police procedure than kick ass or blaze away, John Woo style. She also shares nearly as much screen time as Mike Colter (though rarely in the same scenes), making the character feel very much like the co-protagonist of the show, following a parallel story arc.

"Parallel" is the key word, though. She's got her own bag of problems, drama, and baggage to deal with. She has her own history, her own tragic past, much of which is revealed in a great series of one-on-one scenes with her IA investigator (episode 9). Missick is fantastic in the role, bringing humor, grit, and nuance to the character. My understanding is that she's a veteran stage actor, but regardless of whether or not that's true, she brings a smoldering subtlety to the character where someone of lesser skill might instead bring explosive caricature. For an actor, the writing of the Misty Knight character (in this series) is fantastic...it's meaty in all sorts of ways, giving plenty of emotional layers and biz to play with. But you have to have a competent actor to pull it off, and the one they landed is excellent. A lot of internet fans are already calling for a Misty Knight solo series (the same way people were calling for a Punisher series after Daredevil). While that would be cool and all, I have to say that Luke Cage belongs almost as much to Misty as Luke does...they're not quite a dynamic duo, but you're often getting two for the price of one in the show.

Having said THAT...I have no idea how the MCU creators will ever bring this character "up to spec" for those of us who are longtime fans. There was a chance in this season [*SPOILER ALERT*] to blow up both her arm and her career and leave her in a place to form Nightwing Restorations, but the writers didn't take it. And what's more, why should they when they already have a hardboiled detective lady (in the form of Jessica Jones) to run with? Meanwhile, I can't see how this particular version of Misty Knight would EVER fall for a schmuck like Danny Rand...I mean, love is blind and all, but Luke seems to be far more to her taste. And how does one ever get around to dating the partner of the Hero of Harlem?

I mean...sorry, Danny. There is far-fetched (like bionic arms and mystic extra-dimensional kung fu temples), and then there's REALLY far-fetched. You watch Luke Cage and tell me if her character would take Finn Jones over Mike Colter. These MCU shows on Netflix appear to have strict caps when it comes to how much fantasy they'll put into a series.
; )

And Claire thought Luke was
"corny." Jesus, Iron Fist.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Always Forward (Luke Cage)

Yes, I'm back...in the United States, at least, if not as a full-time blogger (settling in takes time, folks). In fact, I realize I should be writing my little "back in the U.S. of A." post first, but...well, Luke Cage, y'all. It's become almost mandatory for me to write these little MCU series reviews. At least this time I managed to hold off until I'd finished binging the whole thirteen episodes.

Before I begin, I'd like to first start with a couple-three caveats: #1 I'm a white dude. #2 While I've read comics since I was a kid, Luke Cage/Power Man was not one I ever read...in fact, I mainly know the guy through his partnership with Iron Fist, whose comics I have spent a bit of money on. And #3 I am not now and have never been a New Yorker. Have never even visited the city save for a couple stopovers at its airports.

[by the way, if you'd like to read a couple of excellent reviews of Luke Cage from folks who aren't some white dude, I'd suggest this one and this other from the The Nerds of Color. Both come at the show from different angles and are well worth the read]

That last caveat (#3) is important. My knowledge of New York comes mainly through films and television shows I've seen over the years. New York is, without a doubt, the most famous city in my country, but I don't know it intimately in the same way that a New Yorker does. All I know is its reputation(s), its glamorizations, its demonizations, its glorification. I've made the acquaintance of New Yorkers over the years, both native and transient. But I have no first hand knowledge of the city. Hell, when I was a kid I thought Brooklyn and The Bronx were the same thing. Until recently, I thought Hell's Kitchen was a fictional neighborhood created by Stan Lee and Marvel comics.

The reason that it's important is that Luke Cage is set almost entirely in the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem. As much as the show is about its titular superhero, it is at least as much about Harlem. Harlem features the same way to the series as NYC as a whole featured to the HBO series Sex and the City. Not only is the neighborhood showcased...it's location, culture, and history is damn near essential to the story being told. 

Now, as a non-New Yorker, I can't say how much of the Harlem on display is factual, how much of it is fictional, and how much of it is semi-historical (borrowed from the comic book fiction which may or may not have been based in factual reality). What I can say is that the way Harlem is displayed works for me in a way that the Hell's Kitchen setting of Daredevil simply doesn't. Hell's Kitchen is like Gotham City to me...oh, look, here's these poor folks and gangs and corruption and their vigilante hero is trying to clean up the streets. It's a setting that seems to exist solely to give the protagonist something to punch out. Harlem is much more than that. It is (or was) the Black Mecca of America before Atlanta...and its name carries cultural significance and resonance to this day. It's not a place to go and punch people. It's a place of cultural pride for many black Americans.

Of course, I'm not a black American, and I never took African-American studies classes in college, nor courses in black American art or music or literature. Those things simply weren't in my sphere of interest. And even so, I still know of Harlem and its cultural importance...that should say something about the place.

SO...as a white dude from the west coast who has historically been only semi-interested in Luke Cage, allow me to say that I believe the Luke Cage series is both culturally significant and important...perhaps the most important entry yet into the Marvel film/TV universe. The fact of its Harlem setting makes it only more so (and appropriately, in my opinion).

Like all the MCU series on Netflix it's well worth binge-watching. I personally love the 13 episode format, not only because of the comic book feel (episodic, right?) but because it allows character and plot development over a 10+ hour span that you just can't get in a 150 minute movie. Following the trend of these series, Luke Cage has only upped the weirdness factor, making references to Thor's hammer, alien technology, and the displaying the comic book mad scientist origin of super powered Cage (unlike, say, Jessica Jones). The series may have street level villains and stakes...saving the 'hood rather than the world, for example...but this is a real superhero show with powers and F/X a lot less subtle than the stuff on display in Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Which, for the comic book fan, is pretty cool, especially considering that the street level view gives the viewer the chance to see these effects in an almost "real world" way. What do you do with bullet-proof skin and super-strength when the issues you face aren't world conquering aliens or genocidal robots or super Nazis or whatever? Here's one vision of that.

However, even with his world shaking abilities...and make no mistake, the guy is badass...we have a decidedly human character in Cage. He's a person many of us can identify with...a dude who doesn't want to be terribly involved in the drama (despite his abilities to make a difference); one more concerned with getting a lady and staying out of jail than with being some sort of "superhero." A guy who wants to do the right thing, but who doesn't want to shoulder the responsibility of being an Avenger-type. And I can dig it. This Luke Cage is a far cry from the comic book caricature of the angry black dude willing to confront Dr. Doom in his castle because the villain welched on a debt. That guy was all about "getting paid" (why else would he form a group called Heroes For Hire?). To their credit, the show creators kept the idea of a reluctant hero, but didn't resort to a two-dimensional stereotype, instead making the character's psychology richly layered, allowing Cage to mature and develop, while still being a hero from the get-go. Cage has his angry moments, but it's not caricature...it's part of an evolving character being drawn into a higher purpose. As with all of Marvel's best characters, there is a dichotomy in Cage...a tension between two conflicting sides of his personality.

This isn't anything new to the MCU series on Netflix, of course...they've managed from the beginning to craft excellent, watchable, richly nuanced shows starring comic book characters. That's not the reason why I call Luke Cage "important" and "significant." No, what makes the show culturally important is that this quality superhero series features black protagonists...normal, living, human Black Americans. Not ancient gods with amnesia (Hancock). Not half-vampires (Blade). Not zombie dudes raised from the dead (Spawn). And in similar fashion to the recent Daredevil and its treatment of Matt Murdoch's blindness, the writers do not shy away from, nor gloss over, the race of the show's characters, nor the racial tensions that exist in our country today. Luke Cage is not some sort of allegory for recent events and issues in the way shows like, oh, say, Boston Legal would use itself as a platform for examining various hot-button-of-the-week topics. But the simple fact of the matter is, race and ethnicity and the color of one's skin still continues to matter in this country, and Luke Cage is a remarkable television show for using the superhero genre (and all its tired tropes) as a lens to examine, review, and reflect upon this section of our culture.

Because love of and enjoyment of superheroes isn't just a white person thing (duh), no matter how flooded the market may be with white (male) superheroes. Superhero stories are wish fulfillment in a near pure form. Wouldn't it be great if we could teleport to work? Or turn invisible when the ex- came around. Or punch out evil with our super strength? Or have the healing power to fight our cancer? Or the suped-up metabolism to have six-pack abs without doing sit-ups or giving up our beer? Everybody can dig on day dreaming and wish fulfillment, escapist fantasies. Most every person who's ever been bullied or persecuted (or worse) has, at one time or another, wished they had bulletproof skin, or laser eyes, or metal claws...some way to fight back, some way to feel powerful after feeling powerless. And it's no secret that people of color in this country have a long and on-going history of mistreatment, in ways great and small, simply due to the fact of their non-whiteness. 

Luke Cage may just be the ultimate anti-bully fantasy.

But while superheroes are enjoyable fantasies, they also act as modern myths and inspirations, something to which we can aspire. Not their superpowers, of course...we can't bombard ourselves with radiation and expect to grow wings and fly. But their actions, their heroism, their altruism, their courage, their compassion, their self-sacrifice...these things can be a beacon for us. Though they are fantasies, superheroes can act as role-models, fictional though they are. We may be drawn to them for the escapist wish fulfillment they provide (in a way we may not be drawn to public servants of a less spectacular nature) and can learn from their examples...both good and bad. Spider-Man's mantra of "with great power comes great responsibility" is based on a cautionary lesson (he paid the price when failing to follow his own motto). Luke Cage is about learning a similar lesson, though with the specific emphasis on standing-up for others. 

[it's funny how people throughout the series are always telling Luke to "take care of himself" - him, the guy with the bulletproof skin - and his constant refrain is "always." In the end, though, he realizes that his "taking care" often involves him keeping his head down, keeping on the run, trying to avoid getting mixed up in trouble and that doing THAT is not only an irresponsible non-use of his abilities, but a disservice to who he is as a person. Taking care of himself, nurturing his soul, eventually comes to mean "taking a stand"]

Having a normal, relatable human person of color to take the reins of a superhero series is nothing to scoff at...it's nothing to throw away, off the cuff. Our minds shape our reality, affecting our health and well-being. To have a show that features protagonists of color doing heroic stuff is powerful. Even if they're not dealing with POC issues (there is never, for example, a scene of Luke Cage being harassed while browsing in a store, nor Luke being pulled over in a case of racial profiling), the mere fact that THEY are on display in all their heroic (and heroically flawed) glory is powerful, validating stuff. If I was black, I'd be saying "it's about damn time." Not necessarily because I'm tired of seeing Spider-Man or Captain America or Batman but just because, hey, let's tell a story that features superheroes (and their arch-villains) who look a little bit more like me. Because the fact of the matter is there are heroes and villains belonging to all spectrums of human pigmentation.

And because, fuck you Hollywood. That's why.

I have a lot more to say about the Luke Cage series, including a discussion of the show's plotting  (it feels like two seasons in one), its excellent cast (I am really digging Rosario Dawson as an anchor for these MCU series, just BTW), discussions of Cage with regard to his gaming profile (important when you're writing what purports to be a gaming blog), plus something that probably needs to be a very, looong post on Misty Knight. However, this post is already uber-long, so that'll all have to wait for a future date...perhaps tomorrow, if I have time.

Anyway, it's good to be back.
: )