Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Defenders (Part 1)

The last 24 hours have been pretty shitty by my standards. Yes, I managed to get my huge yard project done, but then I had to deal with my brother's jackassery. Having an alcoholic friend or family member can be rough for anyone, but when "alcoholic" meets "asshole-ness" (as it so often does), it can be a real shit-show to deal with.

So it was that I had to show my brother the door this morning at around 10am. I've been decompressing ever since.

[I say this not to elicit sighs or sympathy or well-wishes, by the way. I'm just trying to explain the space where my head is, at the moment, and a little bit of the why]

The best Marvel casting since Iron Man.
ANYway, one thing about being awakened in the middle of the night and being unable to find sleep due to mental stress (or whatever), I finally had the chance to finish watching the last couple episodes of The Defenders series on Netflix. I wanted to finish it, before writing about it. What I want to write, what I hope to write may take me a little while to get off my chest...I've got more than a few things to say, even (possibly) tying it back to earlier series in this Marvel NY Universe. However, I'll give you the short version for those who hate reading through those "wall of text" posts I've been known to write:

The best thing about The Defenders is the cast. The worst thing about The Defenders is the writing. If you are a fan of these characters' comics, it is fun to watch. If you are a fan of the previous Netflix Marvel series, it is fun to watch. Judged by the cast, it might be (might) the best of the Netflix Marvel series so far. Judged by the writing, it is certainly one of the worst...if not THE worst.

That's the TL;DR, spoiler free version. I'd recommend the series; it's only eight episodes. However, I understand a lot of people have a lot more important stuff to do with eight hours of their time. Like running a marathon D&D session. Like watching 2 to 3 MLB games of their local team (assuming that, unlike Seattle, you've got an MLB team with a snowball's chance in hell of making the post-season). Like getting a good night's sleep (or two night's sleep if you are the parent of a new baby or infant child). Or like streaming the entire season of Game of Thrones, back-to-back, once the season finale airs this Sunday.

But if you do want to make the time for the show, I'll be happy. After all, I'm a fan and I'm looking forward to new seasons of ALL these Marvel shows with the hope-hope-hope that they'll so a better job with them...and the more people that watch The Defenders, the more likely said shows will get made.

[okay...thus ends the short version of my commentary; here comes the looooong version. And, yes, there will be **SPOILERS**]

I am a fan of the "Defenders." Not the actual, comic book Defenders mind you...the super group led by Doctor Strange, and often featuring similar "heavy hitters" of the Marvel universe (the Silver Surfer, the Hulk, and Prince Namor were all regular team members). No, I was never a big fan of the comic. But I am a fan of these Defenders, the Netflix television heroes based on a certain group of street level superheroes.

And when I say I'm a fan of these Defenders, I am talking specifically about the characters...not the series (The Defenders television series). I'm only watching The Defenders (TV series) because I'm a fan of the Defenders (characters). The series itself hasn't yet convinced me. In other words, it's not the plot or story arc of the show that's causing me to watch the next episode...it's the heroes and the actors who are heroically portraying them.

And I really do mean heroic. As far as I'm concerned, there's some really careless writing going on in this show, and the actors are selling it as hard as they can. I'm not talking about poor dialogue, I'm talking about poor characterization. Like Misty Knight carrying a torch for Luke Cage since his season ending, and when the first place she finds him (after he gets out of prison) is in the arms of Claire Temple and she's just like, hey, it's all good, nonchalant. Like Luke Cage being all buddy-buddy with Jessica Jones when the last time he saw her (in her series) he was basically like, "Bitch, I hate you and I would punch a hole in your head if I didn't have some code of honor." Like Matt Murdoch basically falling apart as a vigilante hero after he had (finally) seemed to come to grips with his secret identity, even revealing it to Karen Paige, accepting his role in his city's superhero fabric.

Jesus H. Just some real fucking continuity issues.

And yet I have such high praise for the actors playing these roles. They are giving their hearts and souls here...almost like they're desperate to hold onto a lucrative gig. And perhaps they are...the title roles aren't being played by big name movie stars. It's like watching the rookies try to make teams during the NFL preseason...these actors are leaving it all out on the field, even when the writers are fucking all their shit up.

Oh, boy...the writing. Fucking ninjas. Again.

At least this season there was no one dressed like an actual, stereotype black-cowled ninja (unlike the first two seasons of Daredevil and...probably, I can't remember...Iron Fist). Maybe one of the producers is reading my blog, as I know I've written this before: in comics, ninjas are cool; not so much (rather, not at all) in live-action television. I think people have been aware of this since the 1984 television series The Master (starring not-really-Asian-looking Lee Van Cleef). Man, I remember watching that show. And I remember thinking, why is this old geezer dressing up like a ninja and kicking ass? He's so old!

So, yeah, fucking ninjas. Again. I don't know why they decided to mine this particular vein of villainy to bring the Defenders together. There were plenty of interesting story arcs to pursue from the other Netflix series. The mysterious shadow corporation responsible (apparently) for both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage's powers. Daredevil's acceptance of his role as NY's Batman and the Kingpin's desire for revenge. Davos and the Meachum's machinations on Danny Rand. Colleen's newfound love of Fight Club. Etc. Yeah, I could rant for a while on this subject, and it's probably best to address it all in individual character notes.

[wait, what, JB?]

Despite all this...the poor writing, poor plotting, poor continuity, and all the fucking ninjas...despite of these many and varied complaints, it is still a real joy and pleasure to watch this cast work their craft (i.e. "acting") and interpret these characters. And it may be even more fun for me, because I'm a big fan of these street-level superheroes.

Daredevil, of course, I've been a fan of from way back. Well, since the 1980s, which is way back for a lot of folks (30+ years!). I was always fascinated with anything vaguely satanic, and a dude in a devil costume fit the bill (I was also a huge fan of Ghost Rider, back in the day).

The stuff with DD and Electra and The Hand (the ninjas) was great...the best of his comics. But the stuff with him and the Kingpin (and Typhoid Mary and all that) was great, too. And it was actually because of Daredevil that I first became interested in the likes of Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and the Daughters of the Dragon.

See, while I always liked the swashbuckler look of Iron Fist, his character died long before I ever picked up a Power Man & Iron Fist comic. However, a while back (circa 2006) there was a Daredevil/Iron Fist crossover (yes, turns out Danny wasn't really dead. Duh, comics) where they switched costumed identities, in order to prove Murdoch wasn't really Daredevil. It made perfect sense, really...both characters are about the same height and build, both are caucasian, both have a similar "power suite" (superior martial arts ability; one due to enhanced senses, the other due to mystical, other-dimensional training and chi mastery). While Danny acted as Daredevil (and covered up that glowing fist), Murdoch was off in Kun-Lun fighting some other-worldly martial arts tournament for the Iron Fist.

Okay, it wasn't ALWAYS
covered up...
It was a pretty cool idea and one that made me dive headfirst into the Immortal Iron Fist, and his history...which, of course, led me to the Daughters of the Dragon (Misty and Colleen) and Luke Cage, as well as Luke's on-going family life and relationship with Jessica Jones and her whole story (Alias Investigations, the Purple Man, etc.). These days, I know more about these street level superheroes than the X-Men (have the X-Men done anything new these days?).

And why O why is that? What kept me digging into their backstories (and back issues)? Nothing more than the fact that they are a super cool and under-appreciated bunch of heroes with some very good story writing (at times) and some very interesting conflicts that work well on a small scale...none of this saving the world (or universe) shtick, we've got problems right here in the 'hood, y'all. And that's different, and that's interesting, and in some ways it's important.

Life is built on the "small-scale." Individual relationships matter. Family matters. Friends matter. These things shape us...our perceptions, our opinions. And our perceptions and opinions shape our decisions and our actions. No matter what our sphere of influence.

Why does Donald Trump behave as he does? Think about that for a moment. Consider his upbringing. Consider his young adulthood. Consider his life to this point. How have those things gone into making this man the person...the president...he is today? When you think about his origins (and I'm not just talking about his parents or elementary school...I'm talking about everything that led him to this point, including more than a decade as a popular television celebrity), is it very strange that he acts in the disconcerting manner that he does? Sure, it's strange that people voted for him to run the most powerful nation in the world. But when you consider the building blocks of his life's experiences, you can see how he was shaped into the man he is.

Small things impact us and influence us.

And so I am a fan of small-scale superheroes and their stories: Matt, Jessica, Luke, Danny, and their various associates. I should say I was already a fan of them in comic books...but I am becoming more and more of a fan of them in these Netflix shows. And that is despite the writing which -- perhaps because of the need to bring these four together for The Defenders crossover series -- seems to have gotten worse and worse. No, it is entirely due to this magnificent ensemble cast, and the way they embody their characters.

But I'll talk about them individually in a follow-up post (this one is getting huge). My last thought (for now), is that The Defenders is like a limited issue comic run written by people who may not have the best grasp of the characters they're using...people willing to sacrifice nuance for the sake of a cash-grab crossover event that will see fans of different titles all pony up the dough to make sure they're collection of [insert favorite hero] is complete.  It's like that...but it's different. Because those limited issue micro-series in comics are notorious for having lesser art (after all, a character's normal illustrator isn't necessarily working on the crossover title)...whereas here we have the exact same actors breathing life into these characters. That helps me forgive a lot of the bad in The Defenders.

All right. More later.


  1. I look forward to your further musings on the subject.

    I personally really liked the series overall, but found one element above all others so weaksauce as to bring down what would have otherwise been a great show (as opposed to it just being a good show).

    It wasn't the writing (which I agree was week), it wasn't the continuity (this takes place sometime after the others - things change), and it wasn't the ninjas (Ninjas are a staple of low-powered comic heroes. I don't generally care for street-level supers, but if you're going to have them you're gonna have ninjas).

    No, it was Danny Rand/Iron Fist.

    Daredevil is shown to be a clearly better fighter. I don't know if that was a conscious decision, whether the actor playing Matt is just more athletic, or...I just don't know.

    All I know is that between the actor's lack of onscreen presence, the weak fighting choreography given to his moves, his awful dialogue...ugh. It was like watch the three great heroes of New York, and some punk kid wannabe.

    Could not stand him, and he is nothing like the Danny Rand of comics.

    Anyway, I await your next post. Sorry to rant a bit. Cheers!

    1. @ Adam:

      Hmm, I disagree (regarding Iron Fist), but I may be coming to it from a different perspective seeing as how my first introduction to the character was through the Immortal Iron Fist comics.

      I actually like how his martial arts are portrayed.

      However, I'm not trying to dis your rant (people are definitely allowed to rant here), and you are not the first person to complain about either aspect of the Rand character in the series.

      But I'll be talking about him more in a later post.
      ; )

  2. I hope whatever comes next for the Netflix Marvel shows moves to something other than the Hand.