Saturday, March 12, 2016

Street Level Heroes

This is more about TV.

I'm writing this Friday night around 11pm; the house is quiet, the kids are asleep, the wife's out of town. I plan on putting on a little Netflix (Jessica Jones) and catching an episode or two, but I wanted to blog a couple things while I'm thinking about it...even though I don't plan on posting this for a couple days.

I received a notification from Netflix that the new season of Daredevil is coming out March 18th. Readers of this blog know how much I dig the man in the red suit. The main question, of course, is will the second season be as good as the first? Well, it's going to introduce Elektra, and the first episode (per IMDB) has Daredevil facing off against Frank Castle (AKA the Punisher) so comic fans should be prepared to totally geek out. For me, I have to say that the highlight of watching the trailer was actually seeing Murdoch and Foggy I blogged before, Elden Henson is a breath of fresh air; I forgot how good the chemistry between these actors is, and I found myself (emotionally) moved in just a few second clip. Rosario Dawson again makes an appearance, based on the series trailer, and Deborah Woll (Karen Page) gets 2nd billing in every episode, so I assume she remains prominent, despite the introduction of ex-flame Elektra.

Not Greek.
Elektra appears to retain her Greek-ish heritage (last name "Natchios") but will be played by Elodie Yung, a French woman of mixed French and Cambodian ancestry. Which I find fascinating for all sorts of reasons. It won't be the first time a non-Greek person will have played the popular anti-hero (see Jennifer Garner), but I wonder about the insistence of keeping a character's ethnic identity. I suppose I'm just being picky.

Or am I? There's been quite a brouhaha over the casting of Finn Jones to play Danny Rand in the upcoming Iron Fist series...appears more than a few people were hoping that Marvel and Netflix would take a step outside comic book cannon and cast an Asian-American in the role (you can do your own Google search for "Iron Fist controversy"'ll find several articles). I mean, he IS a martial arts master, right?

Oh, boy.

Not Asian.
I can understand why Iron Fist is a troublesome character. He's got the whole "cultural appropriation" thing going on, plus you know, the "white guy reigns supreme" thing (kicking the ass of Asian martial artists as he takes on the championship mantle from the mystical Asian kingdom dimension). Of course, even making him Asian is problematic because, well, then you get the whole stereotype of "all Asians know karate" thing. Look, I grew up in Seattle and had a lot of friends of Asian ancestry...not a single one did martial arts, and many of them (especially my Filipino buddies) absolutely HATED that stereotype.

Come to think of it, in all the years I practiced martial arts (about a decade of tae kwon do and hwa rang do plus a single, abbreviated foray into chung moo do) all the practitioners I knew were caucasian. Hell, I only ever met one instructor that was Korean, and she'd only started practicing because she was married to her (caucasian) husband who was an instructor and had met her in Korea.

[I did work with a man of mixed Hawaiian and Japanese ancestry who taught aikido, but all the folks I knew who studied aikido...four guys and a girl...were white]

But that's the Seattle experience, and we have a legacy left from Bruce Lee who lived there and ran a school for a number of years before going to Hong Kong to make movies.

Not even American.
So Iron Fist is a problematic figure. The thing is (*sigh*) I LOVE Iron Fist. I've been waiting with bated breath for his series since it was announced years ago. When I was a kid playing Marvel Superheroes, my character was based on Iron Fist (his look, not his powers). The recent series for the character, the "Living Weapon" stuff, is great. I really dug the whole Daredevil-Iron Fist switcheroo (which made perfect sense when you think about it). I love his relationship with Luke Cage...the black-white buddy thing. I love his off-again-on-again relationship with Misty Knight (probably my second favorite female superhero after's the cyborg thing). I love that he's stupid about a lot of things. I love that he's smart about things that are truly important. I love that he got rid of his wealth rather than sitting on it (like Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen). I love that he runs a tiny dojo for inner city kids. He is a very urban superhero (like Cage, like Misty)...he reminds me of real people I've known...good people who are involved with their community and who don't allow themselves to be stereotyped by what they do, regardless of the color of their skin.

For me, the problem isn't that Iron Fist is a white dude. The problem is there's an under-representation of Asian and Asian-American superheroes. Well, male ones anyway...there've been several prominent females, and even some re-skins (if you'll pardon the pun), like the Wasp in Marvel's Ultimate imprint. But male heroes? In Marvel (with which I'm more familiar) you've got Sunfire and Shang-Chi and in DC you've got...what? Samurai from the Super-Friends?

As far as I know, Shang-Chi is the only one who ever had his own title: Master of Kung-Fu. Now there's a walking Asian stereotype for you! Shang-Chi was first published in 1973 (before Iron Fist) and his series ran into the mid-1980s. I mean, if folks really want to see an Asian martial artist superhero, that's the guy you want to bring to the screen...but no one wants to see that. We've got plenty of Hong Kong action films with Asian actors doing martial arts already.

Black Panther?
How about if we make Black Panther Malaysian instead of African? As I wrote before, in a cursory study of diversity in the Marvel universe (among prominent superheroes), black males are over-represented considering their percentage of the American population. And having a black dude named "Black Panther" is right on the same level as having a Chinese guy known as "the Master of Kung-Fu." Black panthers (the animal) are common in the equatorial rain forests of Malaysia (per Ye Old Wikipedia) as well as southwestern China and Nepal. I know Marvel plans on coming out with a Black Panther film...why not cast it with Malaysian actor Zahiril Adzim (the kick-boxer in the critically acclaimed drama Bunohan)? Wouldn't that be a better choice than the (often sad-sack) karate-dude Iron Fist?

[haha. Just joking...I know they've already cast Chadwick Boseman who was great as Jackie Robinson in 42]

The point is, there are a lot of better options for re-imagining characters as non-white heroes than the guy with the dragon tattoo on his chest. Dr. Strange would have been a fine choice (a third generation Asian-American who travels to Tibet and faces culture shock?). Daniel Dae Kim would have made a great Hawkeye (leader of the West Coast Avengers). Probably not Tony Stark (looking at his origin story), but certainly Rhodey/War Machine. Ghost Rider. Any of the X-Men when you think about it (maybe not Thunder Bird). Ant-Man (though I really did enjoy Paul Rudd as Scott Lang). Any of the Fantastic Four could have been east Asian (though having orange rocky skin kind of renders the whole ethnicity thing moot). Spider-Man (isn't he due for a new reboot anyway?).

Yes, I know I'm irritating people on both sides. The point is, it ain't the 1960s. Filmmakers aren't making real CANNON stories anyway...people are driving Teslas and using cell phones and the internet. You don't need to go with "cannon" for race if the rest of the story is getting a facelift. But Iron Fist is a poor choice for a re-skin, in my not-so-humble opinion. Have him get his ass kicked by Asian martial artists if the cultural appropriation thing is too galling for you, and then have his bacon saved by Luke and Misty and Colleen. Heck, that's always been the real strength of his character: his friends and teammates.

[by the way, why does Wolverine get a pass on the cultural appropriation thing?]

Ugh, still haven't talked about Jessica Jones. She really deserves her own post, but I really just want to go watch an episode. Okay, let me just (briefly) say this: Jessica Jones is a good show. It is a HARD show to watch...there's quite a bit of button-pushing that goes on in it: issues like racism and severe abuse and substance dependency and mental illness and other unsavories. It's quite a bit more intense than watching Daredevil beat up human traffickers, and it brings up all sorts of "icky" feelings. But it's well done, and the cast is terrific, especially the leads (Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter as Luke Cage). Ritter especially...she's just so unapologetic as a train wreck of a superhero that you can't help but root for her. And David Tennant as the Purple Man is really slimy...unlike Donofrio's Kingpin, there is absolutely no sympathy for this particular psychopath.

Yeah, Jessica Jones really needs its own post.

Alcoholics really shouldn't date bar owners.
I will say that, with regard to issues of strength, Ms. Jones seems to be right on par with my calculations. In doing my research into superheroes' weights the other day, I came across this article taking Marvel to task for making women who were too skinny for their height and build (kind of a "Barbie doll" syndrome for comics). I haven't researched that, as most of the characters the author cites are superhero women who don't possess "superhuman strength" (the subject of my research), but after reading it, I was wondering how Jones would hold up.

Turns out pretty well. Her official stats have her listed as 5'7", 124# which isn't all that far off from the measurements of the actor who plays the character (5'9", 127#). By my calcs, a super-strong character of 124# with "good" (13-15) physical strength has a Carry/Throw of 3.2 tons. Marvel doesn't list an official limit to Jessica's strength, though it notes that she is able to throw a two-ton police car with ease. Looks about right to me.

[plus, her full strength punch is enough to kill a normal human (oops! spoiler!). That's the same whether you can bench six tons or sixty, folks]

Okay, that's enough superhero talk for one night. Later, folks.


  1. And here I was hoping for chad boseman as a young sisko.

  2. Zahiril Adzim might make an Interesting scifi hero (steel rat perhaps?)

    1. Hmm...when I think of the Stainless Steel Rat, I'm thinking more along the lines of Bradley Cooper (for sheer smugness)...though Anthony Mackie (the new Falcon) could probably pull it off too.

      John Cho would be a good choice as well.

  3. Ritter is 5'9"???

    Argh. She looks a LOT like a friend of mine, which made watching the whole thing weird, and my friend is 5'2", so I just assumed Ritter was only a little taller. Plus everyone looks small next to Luke Cage.

    I understand your feelings about the identity issue and agree with them. I find cultural appropriation a difficult issue because...where does it stop? A lot of the later X-Men are intentionally diverse, so I'm not sure you could reassign all (or almost all) of them without difficulty, but I agree with the urge. Male asians are techno-geeks or martial arts masters. It's cliche. I'd like to see a lot more gender & race blind casting, to be honest.

    1. Me, too.

      But I suppose I'd pitch a fit if I saw some iconic favorite of mine getting a makeover. *sigh*

      As it is, I'm not terribly thrilled with the casting of Danny Rand. I *like* Jones in GoT, though maybe I just dig the whole "gay Lancelot" thing. But...well, I'll withhold (more) judgement till I see him in the role.

      [you forgot "Asian drug dealers" and "gang members" by the way. Most of the Asian-american folks I know work in the social services, and NOT the IT department. But everyone has different experiences/friends, I suppose]

  4. I only found Jessica Jones hard to watch due to the occasional snorting of white writer plot-contrived powder that clearly complimented the script production - but it is worth eye-rolling one's way through the first season.

    1. @ Alexis:

      But you DID watch it.
      ; )

    2. Yep. Like I said, worth it.

      Rolled my eyes, too.

  5. Speaking about casting people of color in traditionally white roles, I haven't heard any controversy about the casting of Idris Elba as Roland in the upcoming The Dark Tower adaptation, but I'd imagine there will be some... thanks to idiots. The only thing that I wonder is how the dynamics between him and Odetta/Susannah might change (assuming the further story doesn't deviate too widely from the books).

    1. @ Fuzzy:

      You probably haven't heard anything because Elba is awesome, and has a ton of "geek creed."

      But, to be honest, what can you do? Cast a Clint Eastwood lookalike/wannabe? For folks who don't know the novels, that would simply make the film look incredibly cheesy/contrived, no? I can read the reviews in my mind's eye: "Matthew McConaughey is no Clint Eastwood."

      I hadn't actually heard they were going to take that series to screen (probably my favorite King works...but I'm partial to both Westerns and fantasy). I hope it will be better than the usual attempts at adapting his novels.

    2. *ahem*

      That should read "geek cred" BTW. Damn spellcheck.