Review of Iron Fist (Netflix series)

“You are the worst Iron Fist ever.” — Davos

I had originally meant to do a “Mr. Zeus” installment this week. But, I decided I’d better do this review while the show is still relatively fresh in my mind. Some of my comments may be briefer or less systematic than usual. We shall see…

For the most part, I’m going to ignore the many missing or changed details in this version of Danny’s becoming an orphan, the Rand connection to K’un-Lun, the introduction of Colleen Wing, etc., from the comics version. Unfortunately, the bulk of my comments will still probably be negative, so allow me to start with something positive: I liked the opening credits. The music was good, with a sort of Asian/mystical feel to the electronica vibe. The dark-ish mood and swirling, inky effect with the semi-slo-mo kung fu guy worked for me. I don’t know if that guy was real or totally CGI, but he looked like a good fit for Danny/Iron Fist.

Speaking of which, as you might guess from my earlier fan-casting for the title character, I thought Finn Jones was all wrong. True, the studio didn’t cave in to demands to make the character Asian. Jones is also the right age, height, and has blonde hair. But, Iron Fist should’ve been more muscular and athletic looking, and his hair should’ve been cut shorter and straight. (And get rid of the beard, too.) As for the portrayal of Danny, I don’t know whether to blame Jones, the writers, or the directors — probably a bit of all of them.

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

Finn Jones as Danny Rand

Danny’s seeming naivete and other mannerisms were annoying, as were his fits of anger and going off half-cocked at the end. He acted like a child. And what were those “episodes” toward the end, when he’d grab his head and his vision got blurry (or, at least, ours did)? Sometimes, he had a memory flash from the plane crash or K’un-Lun. What was that about?

We never really got satisfying answers either for Danny’s abandoning of K’un-Lun or even for Colleen’s going against her own principles when she did the cage matches. In fact, motivations in general were a weak point.

Danny’s fighting skills were, shall we say, rather underwhelming. Dull. Poorly choreographed and/or poorly edited. If it wasn’t clear before, the last couple episodes confirmed that he had a *lot* more training to do. But, imo, he should never have received the powers and responsibilities of the Iron Fist (w/ tattoo) at his current skill level. He should have been even better than Daredevil, but at this point, I think DD would put him down easily.

He says that he spent years training in martial arts, which includes controlled breathing *and* controlling his emotions. A minute later, he’s freaking out over air turbulence, and Claire has to calm him and get him to focus. What?! Same goes for his anger issues.

If (like he told Ward) the only time he drove a car was as a 10yo on his dad’s lap, how is Danny driving around NYC on his own a couple days later? For that matter, if he’s been stuck in extradimensional K’un-Lun for 15 years, why does he seem so unfazed by — even familiar with — NYC? A few familiar buildings and landmarks, sure. But, I’d like to have seen more fish-out-of-water behavior.

Casting for Colleen was good. Jessica Henwick is certainly an attractive woman of mixed Asian & Anglo ethnicity with martial arts skills. In fact, she was much more impressive in that area than Danny was. (She showed what she could really do, even without the sword, in those cage matches!) On the other hand, she’s too short and her hair is supposed to be medium brown to auburn. Still, she was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing series. (I’ll even forgive the fact that Danny’s supposed to have a romantic relationship with Misty Knight, not Colleen. That is, if they wanted to stay faithful to the source material. In the Marvel-Netflix world, though, Colleen is a better match for him.) Claire (Rosario Dawson) was another one. It was nice to see her involved and continuing to connect the various series together. Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss) makes a couple of welcomed appearances, as well.

Not sure about the Meachums, as I don’t remember that much about them from the comics. I will say, though, that that is one supremely dysfunctional family! I despised the manipulative Harold (David Wenham), who treated his son like $#!+ — and that was even before the, er, violent physical exchanges. Of course, he was supposed to be a total jerk, so… well done! I thought I was gonna really hate Ward (Tom Pelphrey), too, but I ended up just pitying him. I wanted to like Joy (Jessica Stroup) more, and she had her moments, but she ended up disappointing me, too. (Especially the final scene.)

What to make of Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho)? She is formidable, but inconsistently so. One day, she exhibits the ability — presumably through focused chi or some such thing — to “knock” someone several feet when she is standing several more feet away from them. (Think telekinetic “shove”.) A day or two later, though, she’s all scared when Danny charges her and she doesn’t even try to defend herself. What’s up with that? Was the latter behavior merely an act in order to give her more opportunities to get in the heads of our heroes?

I question the wisdom of using The Hand again as the “big bad”, especially since we know they will show up in “The Defenders” and/or season 3 of “Daredevil”. Surely, the writers could have found another evil organization to use from Marvel’s stable or even created a new one. Even though there was the interesting twist toward the end with the competing factions, I feel like The Hand was underutilized except as another connecting thread with the other shows. Their fighters weren’t very impressive, either, and they’re supposed to be among the deadliest in the world.

I hesitate to delve into the various other issues with the plot. Instead, I point you to this excellent review by Mike Floorwalker at Looper, which I fortunately read as I was finishing this up. He briefly discusses plot holes, inconsistencies, plodding development, lack of humor, “shoehorned-in moral conflict”, et al. In my opinion, most of his observations are right on the mark.

A few quick, final comments…

o Interesting casting for Davos (Sacha Dhawan) and Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez). I wouldn’t have gone that way, but I suppose they did adequate jobs. Physically not very impressive, though. No clue why Davos, who I always thought was East Asian in appearance, is played by someone of Indian descent with a Manchester accent, either.

o There was not enough of K’un-Lun, and I think there should have been flashbacks of Danny training with Davos (since they changed the Davos character and made him Danny’s peer) and under the instruction of Lei-Kung the Thunderer.

o The “iron fist” F/X was decent, I suppose.

As usual, I really wanted to like this character/series, especially with its connection to the other Netflix series. It could have been spectacular. Unfortunately, it fell *well* short of its potential. I got the feeling that the series’ creative minds might have known the basics about Danny Rand / Iron Fist — they had some facts about his history, abilities, etc. — but they didn’t really understand the character.

If I were to grade the four series, I’d give “Daredevil” an A-, “Jessica Jones” a B-, “Luke Cage” a B or B+, and “Iron Fist” a C- (and that might be a bit generous). I haven’t read a lot of other reviews, but from what I have heard/seen, the general consensus agrees with me. I just hope that the creators learned something from the criticism and make some positive changes for “Defenders” (though that has already filmed) and any future Danny Rand / Iron Fist appearances.

P.S.  We never saw the iconic costume, either. (That yellow & green robe doesn’t count.) At this point, I’m sort of glad.

Review of Luke Cage (Netflix Series)

”There’s something powerful about seeing a black man that’s bulletproof and unafraid!”  — Method Man in “Luke Cage” cameo

I’m a day late with this post — sorry ’bout that. Blame it on my having been on vacation for over a week and now trying to catch up on stuff. Speaking of vacation, I managed to finish watching “Luke Cage”, so I decided to push up my review by a couple weeks.

luke-cage-netflix-cast-600x264

Primary cast for “Luke Cage”

As some of you probably realize, the “Luke Cage: Hero for Hire” character was created in the 1970s to capitalize on the Blaxpoitation film craze. Much of the writing — by white guys unfamiliar with actual Black culture — involved stereotypes and often inauthentic dialogue. Nowadays, some people would call it downright racist, but I don’t think that was the intent. “Ignorant” and “misguided” would be fairer descriptions of the creators/writers themselves. Some of the storylines were pretty hokey, too, but that’s par for the course in comics. Still, Cage is a beloved character who has evolved over the decades, often written by Black writers, and losing much of the Blaxploitative aura.

The challenge, then, for Netflix’s production was to make a series about this character, in a particular environment, that resonated with the person of color in 2016, while drawing heartily from the source material and providing nuggets of nostalgia. Not an easy task, but I thought showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker et al. did an admirable job.

Let’s break it down, beginning (as usual) with the main characters….

Luke Cage (aka Carl Lucas): I probably wouldn’t put cage in my personal Top 10 Marvel characters, but I have read enough material with him in it that I find him an intriguing character. So, I’m really glad he’s getting the live-action treatment. I have commented previously regarding the choice of Mike Colter to play the role, so I won’t repeat it here, other than to say Colter continues to do a great job as this Luke Cage. It’s a more toned down, stoic, and definitely not stereotypical version of the character, which probably works better than trying to adhere too closely to the 70s version. I also understand why the original, disco-influenced, bright yellow-n-blue costume with upside-down steel tiara and huge chain for a belt would not have worked for 2016 sensibilities (not to mention Cage/Colter’s self-respect). However, I very much appreciated the “Easter egg” that had him in a version of that outfit in the flashback scene following his prison escape. The handful of “Sweet Christmas”es were great, too.

In case you didn’t know, the comics version of Lucas/Cage was never a cop, though his father was. He did go to prison as the result of being framed by Stryker. Why they made him a former cop (also framed) for this series, I’m not sure. Maybe to strengthen the idea of his instincts to help and protect people? (Given the attitude toward cops by a lot of the Black community these days, that’s a little surprising.) It irked me at first as an unnecessary change, but I’m OK with it.

Finally, I would have liked to see Cage get truly enraged when fighting a group of bad guys. I don’t know if they didn’t do this in order to avoid the “angry Black man” stereotype, or just because this version of Cage is generally more reserved. Still, I want to see what he’s really capable of when ticked off. He also had that opportunity in his big fight with Stryker, but they opted to do that differently, too. (It was kind of frustrating, IMO.) Otherwise, I thought Cage’s characterization was pretty good, especially for a current-day, live-action adaptation. (See related comments under ‘Plot’.)

15-luke-cage-1-w529-h352Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes: Mahershala Ali is a talented actor, and I’ve appreciated him since first seeing him years ago. He has a reserved intensity that really worked for this role. The Stokes character is a complex mix of mid-level underworld boss, businessman, street punk, and frustrated musician. I could feel the stress and annoyance he felt as his mini-empire began to crumble around him, all while being badgered by his cousin, who had her own issues and selfish concerns. The fact that he was far more than a two-dimensional villain made him all the more intriguing. I have to admit, though, that his tendency to burst out in often-derisive laughter got to be tiresome toward the end. (And what a sudden, gruesome “end” it was!)

Incidentally, the original “Cottonmouth” was an older guy with a white unibrow and mustache, sharpened gold(?) teeth, and an affinity for green pimpsuits with a matching hat. He was also the guy whose drugs Stryker stole and framed Lucas with. I’m not surprised they decided to throw most of that out, but at least this version was still a drug dealer and a snappy dresser! Also, as far as I can tell, he is still alive in the Marvel Comics Universe.

Det. Misty Knight: Giving the beautiful Simone Missick the role of Misty Knight was close-to-perfect casting. She has the look and talent (and big hair) that brings this strong, confident, intelligent woman to life. She’s a little different than I picture Knight, but not enough to be an issue.

I had forgotten that Knight was a cop before becoming a private investigator, but I’m happy that the powers-that-be retained this for the Netflix version. I’m a little unsure what to make of her “special ability” to reconstruct a crime scene in her mind. Is this supposed to be superhuman? Or, just an unusual, but still “natural”, finely-honed talent of a police detective? On another matter, I was surprised at how quickly her arm healed. I thought for sure it would need to be amputated, thereby providing an opening for her to get a bionic arm. (In the comics, she lost the arm in a bomb blast.) But, nope… didn’t happen. Either way, I enjoyed the character, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing more of her in future series.

(Black) Mariah Dillard: I always enjoy Alfre Woodard’s performances, but this was one of those characters that I can’t decide about. Well, I despise the character for many reasons, which I guess is what we’re supposed to do, even though I sorta-kinda feel bad for her, too. But, I can’t decide if Woodard was the right person to play this role. For some reason, she seemed out of place. Or, maybe it was just me, struggling with what to think of the character. In the comics, “Black Mariah” was an even more despicable character, but she looked more like an obese version of the “Mama Mabel” character we saw in flashbacks. (Btw, Mabel was played by Samuel L. Jackson’s wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson.) I will say, though, that Woodard did a fine job with this complex character, showing her frustrations with her cousin and her career failures and being “forced” to do things she would rather not. Her relationship with Shades, though, has taken a couple of disturbing twists and turns. Speaking of…

Hernan ‘Shades’ Alvarez: Apparently, there is a “Shades” character from Stryker and Lucas’s shared past in the comics. He was a fellow-member of The Rivals gang who ended up in Seagate Prison, where he was one of those abused by the sadistic prison guard, Rackham. But, many of the details are very different from what we saw on-screen — e.g., no connection with Mariah. Theo Rossi’s version is sort of interesting, yet something about him bugs me. Not sure if it’s the character or the actor. (I’ve never watched “Sons of Anarchy”, but I know I’ve seen him in something.) I was looking forward to seeing Shades get his butt handed to him, either by Cage or Misty, but it didn’t happen. I’m guessing he’ll show up again….

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

Det. Rafael Scarfe: The comics version was indeed partnered with Misty Knight, but he also had a history with Colleen Wing, Danny Rand, and Daredevil. He was a good cop who later “went rogue”, but he was never corrupt. So, it makes one wonder why they totally rewrote the character for Netflix. I guess they wanted another character from the comics that was relatively disposable. (I’ll note that the original was tougher and less cynical.) Frank Whaley did a good job with him as written, but it was a waste of a decent character, if you ask me.

Claire Temple: I was glad to see Rosario Dawson’s “Claire” not just pop up again but get fleshed out a bit more. She is both a likable and useful character, and I appreciate how she has become a friend, encourager/motivator, and budding romantic interest for Cage. (Question: Will Cage ever partner with, and eventually marry, Jessica Jones, as in the comics?) She is a welcome thread tying the different Netflix/Marvel series together, though she isn’t scheduled to appear in “Iron Fist”. I like that she’s a girl from the ‘hood who can take care of herself, but I also like that she is apparently gonna take martial arts training from Colleen Wing. Good for her!

Willis ‘Diamondback’ Stryker: While the snakeskin suit worn by the comics version would probably have been too much, I thought this over-the-top villain was played quite well by Erik LaRay Harvey, who even looks like the original. I don’t remember seeing Harvey in anything else, but I thought his portrayal of this murderous psychopath was right-on. Stryker isn’t exactly complex and is not much more than an eccentric thug, when it comes down to it. But, if that’s what they were going for — and pretty close to the comics, too — then that’s what they got. What I didn’t like was that they minimized the character’s fascination and proficiency with knives, both conventional and modified. Not sure where the Bible obsession came from, either. On the other hand, they did keep the childhood friendship with Lucas/Cage, followed by betrayal.

Now for a few supporting players…

I loved Frankie Faison as “Pop” and was sorry he wasn’t in more episodes. He was a voice of reason, encouragement, and (when necessary) admonishment, not just to Cage but to the younger guys who frequented the barbershop. Dare I say it, “Pop” was a much-needed father-figure to some. I think the character was new for the series, which is fine. The chess-playing Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones) was, I think, another new character and one I enjoyed. As an older guy, he also had some wisdom to lay on the younger folk, and I liked his efforts (with Cage) to keep the barbershop an ongoing concern in Pop’s honor.

Dr. Noah Burstein and his controversial experimentation on select prisoners at Seagate was, of course, straight out of the comics. This version was ably played by Michael Kostroff. It was good to see Reva (Parisa Fitz-Henley) show up in a few episodes, even if it still left a lot of questions regarding Cage’s and her relationship. There is also now some question about her knowledge or participation in Burstein’s experiments and possibly Rackham’s fight club. I should note that Reva in the comics had nothing to do with Seagate and was actually the girlfriend of young Willis Stryker, then of young Carl Lucas, and the cause of the rift that developed between them. Regardless, as a love who was tragically lost, she represents a crucial element to the history and person of Carl Lucas / Luke Cage.

Additional, essential elements to the story…

luke-cage-logoPlot: I thought it was a pretty decent plot, as these things go. Not stellar, but not bad. We see our hero struggling to figure out both who and what he is — ex-cop, ex-con, Black man, disillusioned preacher’s son, victim of betrayal, hero?, vigilante?, freak?, etc. — all while confronting threats to himself, his friends, and his community. He wants to be left alone, but at core he is a good man who can’t stand by while injustice is done to those he cares about. Colter did a pretty good job conveying this struggle, and I admit that someone with more muscles but less acting experience would not have been able to pull this off.

There is also the aspect of the “social commentary” — i.e., racism, oppression, and the struggle for minorities (especially Blacks) to “make it” in America. It was laced throughout much of Stokes and Dillard’s speech, as well as popping up here and there from others (e.g., Pop, Bobby Fish). There were false accusations made against Cage, resulting in the cops hunting for him. But, the accusers were both black and white, cop and criminal, so it didn’t come off as race-based. If the “commentary” had been more heavy-handed, it might have annoyed me; but, it did sound/feel authentic to me. Also, Cage’s mini-speech at the police station (in the finale) helped to explain the mindset (his in particular), as did Method Man’s on-air rap.

There were a few plot holes and unanswered questions. For example, what about the Judas Bullet wound in Cage’s shoulder? Was there shrapnel in there, or was it a through-and-through? But, I don’t remember any glaring inconsistencies. (Feel free to comment below on anything you remember being mishandled or that should have been resolved but wasn’t.)

Lastly, I loved the many “Easter eggs” — i.e., references to people, places, and events from the Marvel-based movies and the other Netflix/Marvel series, as well as a couple that haven’t appeared, yet. It really helps the fans know that the creators are building an interconnected “universe” with all of this stuff, and that they respect the source material we all grew up on.

Music: Right from the outset, this series had a distinct sound and feel to it. It began with the opening theme, which had a definite 70s vibe (though it could have been a bit stronger, imho). But, it continued with the jazz and R&B tunes performed in Stokes’ nightclub, Harlem’s Paradise. The live acts at the club are all real-life professionals — e.g., Charles Bradley, The Delfonics, Faith Evans — whose music spans the 60s thru the 90s and beyond. I’m not personally a fan of the style (though a couple tunes were catchy), but the songs fit the setting of the series and sometimes the particular scenes.

F/X: Of course, I am primarily referring to the demonstrations of Cage’s superstrength and durability. There were occasions where I thought he put a little too much effort into something that should have been very easy for him (e.g., ripping a door off its hinges). But, overall, I liked the way he smacked, shoved, and tossed around punks and crashed through doors and walls. His shrugging off of bullets was on point, as well, including the fact that the ricochets can be dangerous. And Cage’s irritation at frequently needing to replace his bullet-ridden clothes made for a bit of welcome humor.

luke-cage-netflix-trailerThe “Judas Bullets” could have used a little more explanation about their origin and how they were able to bore into Cage’s flesh. (Or, did I miss it?) But, they were a good plot device for making Cage vulnerable (to a select few) and putting his life temporarily in jeopardy. I appreciated the nod to the source material by having the Judas bullets (and special gun?) be manufactured by weapons dealer Justin Hammer. Same goes for Stryker’s special gear, except that the “supersuit” looked kinda goofy, and it made no sense to me why Cage didn’t just punch or rip off the power pack early on in their big fight. (Of course, then there wouldn’t have been much of a fight….)

The Verdict: Overall, despite the things I was a little disappointed in or would have handled differently, I very much enjoyed “Luke Cage”. I rank it slightly below “Daredevil” and above “Jessica Jones”, and I look forward to seeing Cage (and Claire and Misty) in “The Defenders”, as well as (hopefully) a second season of his own.

Review of Daredevil (Netflix series), Season 2

Daredevil_Season_2_Trio_PosterYes, yes, I know. Season 2 was released ages ago and everyone has already watched it and read all the reviews they care to. But, as I’ve said before, I don’t binge watch, preferring to spread the good stuff out over time. As it was, I watched two episodes each every Sunday and Wednesday, so I finished up a couple weeks or so ago. Then, I wanted to get the Axanar post and the quarterly Mr. Zeus post out, so… now I’m finally getting around to my second Daredevil review. I hope it’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

To be honest, initially I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the time reviewing Season 2, since I had the Axanar review and a follow-up “Supergirl” review planned. I’d also said just about all that I wanted to about the casting and about these versions of the characters in my Season 1 review. But, this time they gave us Punisher and Elektra, plus some, you know, character development in & between the central three, so I almost felt obligated to say something. But, I may not be quite as verbose as in the first review.

Spoiler! Spoiler! Spoiler! Spoiler! Spoiler! Spoiler!

Regarding those central three, I maintain that the characters could have been better cast, but they’re growing on me. I always thought Foggy should be more supportive of Matt’s nightly exploits, so I’m having to mentally get past their verbal sparring. Still, Elden Henson’s doing a fine job. I am more impressed with Matt/DD and Karen, though. I still think Charlie Cox’s jawline is a giveaway, and I would prefer that he be redheaded and more muscular. Nevertheless, Cox does a great job bringing a conflicted Matt Murdock / Daredevil to life. (Not sure how much he is in the DD action scenes and how much is a stunt-double. Probably almost all the latter.) Seems like the big cases/problems they deal with are due to Karen’s determination to solve puzzles — and, y’know, dogged determination to see justice done. I’m of two minds about her being such a forceful character. Not that I don’t like strong women, but I don’t remember the comic version doing that. I guess they couldn’t have a the 2016 TV version be a simple receptionist/secretary. The character is growing into herself, as they say, and that’s usually a good thing. I’m also appreciating Deborah Ann Woll’s talent more. I’m glad they finally decided to pair Matt and Karen romantically — some nice scenes there — though it sure didn’t last long. I still think he should reveal his secret to her — c’mon, already! It would explain so much of his behavior, and she could cover for him, etc. (Like Foggy should be doing.)

There may have been additional, minor, recurring characters, but I’ll limit my comments to the top seven. I hesitate to even call Wilson Fisk / Kingpin a “minor” character, but he was only in 3 episodes this time. That said, his scenes were memorable and his actions significant to the plot. I may not care for the Netflix version of Fisk’s personality & eccentricities, but I can’t fault Vincent D’Onofrio, who always gives a riveting performance. I haven’t decided if I like Sgt./Det. Mahoney (Royce Johnson), but I guess I can understand his uncertainty about DD’s activities and whether or not to help him. In Season 1, I didn’t like Ben Urich’s editor, Mitch Ellison (Geoffrey Cantor), especially when it seemed he might have been corrupt. But, now he’s turning out to be a decent guy and a good new mentor for Karen. It was great to see Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) back again, too, if only for 3 episodes. She’s a great character, even if (like Foggy) she isn’t entirely supportive of Matt’s extracurricular activities.

Some of the cast of "Daredevil" Season 2 at AMC Lincoln Square on Thursday, March 10, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Some of the cast of “Daredevil” Season 2 at AMC Lincoln Square on Thursday, March 10, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The returns of the next three were just as surprising — to me, anyway — as that of Fisk. Not entirely unforseeable, but I hadn’t heard/read any rumors that any of them might show up. The mysterious Madame Gao’s (Wai Ching Ho) cameo was welcome and satisfying, if brief. (Hope we see her again.) Nobu (Peter Shinkoda), the Hand’s formidable warrior, seemed less impressive in his fights with Daredevil this time. Although, that “resurrection” trick is pretty good. The appearance of Stick (Scott Glenn) was both enjoyable and exasperating. Man, that guy’s a royal pain in the butt (among other places)! Still, I wouldn’t wish that torture he endured on anyone.

Now for the new vigilantes/assassins on the block… Elektra was OK — certainly attractive — but not close enough in look or mannerism (imo, anyway) to the original for my liking. (E.g., should be a little taller and could stand to have more meat on her bones.) She had some great moves, though. Since Elodie Yung is a black belt, I wonder if they bothered with a stunt double…. I was glad that they at least retained some aspects of her “origin” story and early relationship with Matt from the comics. Not enough, though. I’m not sure if I want her back in another season (if there is one), but events from the Season 2 finale make me think she will be. Frank Castle’s portrayal was mostly satisfying, but not entirely. Jon Bernthal was a pretty good casting choice, though I’d have liked to see him bulked up a bit more. I expected Punisher to be very cold, emotionally distant, as he initially was. But, then, between the talks with DD and the scene in the hospital with Karen in ep. 6, they humanized him a bit. Not sure I approve of that choice for his story. Also, the hospital pursuit scene reminded me of something from a Terminator film, as did the times when he unloaded tons of firepower on his targets. THAT’s the sort of “machine” Frank needs to be! Lastly, I was glad that they finally gave him his trademark skull-shirt at the end. If Netflix goes forward with a Punisher series, that symbol must be front-and-center.

Plot-wise, this season had a different feel to it than the first did. I guess that’s because the core of it was less of an origin story and more about our hero coming to terms with who he is and what he does, and how that affects his career and those around him. Thrown in an old flame who has a few dark secrets, a returning SOB of a mentor, and a gun-happy vigilante/client, plus a few other surprises, and it makes for a pretty exciting time in the old town tonight… and the next night… and the next. I admit, there were parts that seemed to play slow, or where I didn’t like where a relationship was going, or I was frustrated with changes from the source material. (Not surprising, eh?) But, the occasional surprise revelation or twist helped keep it interesting, and it was generally quite fun.

Amazing cosplayers, Kevin Porter and Tatiana DeKhtyar

Amazing cosplayers, Kevin Porter and Tatiana DeKhtyar

The costumes… I’m OK with Daredevil’s red-n-black outfit, I guess, though I would prefer a few changes. For example: more red, simpler, without the black leather/kevlar inserts (especially on the abdomen). I am thrilled, however, that he finally got his extendable, nunchuk-like billy club! That was cool! Ditto for Elektra: her costume should be all red (like Yung wore in G.I. Joe: Retaliation), but at least she eventually got her trademark sais. True to form, Castle stole a *lot* of ordnance from the bad guys and then used it in his war against them. Bravo! I already mentioned his skull-shirt making an 11th-hour arrival, but at least he was predominantly in black the whole time — minus the white prison jumpsuit, of course.

With or without weapons, the fight scenes in this series remain a highlight. They are simply some of the most brutal stuff written and choreographed for the small screen, and they are exactly what is called for in a realistic portrayal of these sorts of characters — mobsters, biker gangs, hardcore prisoners, martial artist warriors, vigilantes — in this sort of environment. Guns, blades, fists, and whatever else may be at hand… they’re all deadly weapons. Not for the squeamish! (Major props to the stunt team, by the way!)

Overall, I thought Season 2 was an enjoyable and worthy successor to Season 1. Looking forward to more….

Review of Jessica Jones (Netflix Series)

It took me awhile (as usual), but I finished watching “Jessica Jones” shortly before the Christmas holidays. If you are curious what I thought of it, then you’re in luck! 😉 This review won’t be quite as long or in-depth as the one about Season 1 of “Daredevil”, but I do have a few things I want to get of my chest.

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this one as much as I was DD, and I expected to not like it. I liked the title character well enough (from what I remember of the comics), but I never cared for Killgrave, and a story involving the murderous creep who can control people’s minds and effectively mind-rape them (or force them to do… whatever) did not appeal to me. I also didn’t care for the casting choice of Krysten Ritter to play Jessica. And, of course, the originalist fanboy in me was not looking forward to the various ways the writers/producers would surely change the character(s) from their comic-book counterparts.

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Jessica Jones poster art for Netflix seriesAs it turned out, the story was OK, with its various plot points and characters weaving in and out. But, not great. While we did find out some of what Killgrave did to Jessica and others and the psychological aftereffects, the show didn’t have quite as twisted a tone or feel to it as I was afraid it would — and, considering what it did have, I suppose that says something about my imagination. So, that was actually a bit of a relief. However, it was somewhat slow in parts and didn’t really carry the sense of suspense that it could have and that I hoped for. At least, they did preserve the basics of Jessica’s personality and history, both as a former superhero-turned-private investigator and in regards to her time under Killgrave’s control.

We didn’t get to see Jessica (or Luke) use superpowers as much as I would’ve liked. I suppose this can at least partially be explained by her disillusionment with the whole superheroing thing and a general reluctance to be reminded that she is a “freak”. As with Daredevil, the Visual F/X were minimal and made significant use of camera angles and cutaway editing and such. In one of the earlier episodes, Jessica explained that she can not so much fly (though I think she could in the comics) as leap long distances; but, we never once saw her do this. Mostly, we just saw her wrench locked doors open and jump several yards up or down. Again, a little disappointing. However, the knock-down-drag-out fight with mind-controlled Luke was pretty good and demonstrated that they are pretty evenly matched, though both were holding back a little.

Now, a few words about the main characters….

Jessica Jones: I always thought the comic version of Jessica was cute and likable, despite her problems (see below). I know Ritter has done some modeling, but I only find her to be moderately attractive, so I would have preferred a different look. More to the point, her look didn’t really fit the character in my eyes. Still, she was the right age (i.e., 30ish) and a decent actor. The character is known for her bad attitude, foul mouth, chain-smoking, and drinking problem. Most of these were present, but I noticed that for the show they eliminated her chain-smoking, likely ‘cuz that’s not politically-correct these days. (But alcoholism is, apparently.) I expected more F-bombs, since it isn’t network TV and the comic character drops them regularly, but somebody apparently decided Jessica’s speech shouldn’t be quite so profane. (I don’t have a problem with that, btw.) Overall, though, I guess Ritter did a decent job.

Kilgrave: I am of two minds regarding Kilgrave, similar to how I was with the portrayal of DD’s nemesis, Wilson Fisk. On the one hand, David Tennant does a wonderful job (and probably had a lot of fun with it) playing the morally-deficient narcissist, who turns out to have serious mommy/daddy issues. You can sense the glee with which such a character would wield such mind-control powers, forcing people to cater to his every whim. (He truly was short-sighted, though, which I suppose we can chalk up to his obsession(s).) On the other hand, I would have preferred a closer match with the comics’ “(Zebediah) Killgrave, the Purple Man”, Soviet spy turned supervillain. I’m not too surprised they didn’t give the character purple-dyed skin, but I would have liked to see more than just a purple sport coat as a nod to the original. (Perhaps he could have temporarily turned purple whenever he used his powers?)

Luke Cage: Mike Colter is a better Luke Cage than I had anticipated, though ideally the character should be a little taller, have more muscle mass, and act/sound a bit more “street”, in order to be faithful to the source material. I was a bit surprised at how much screen time he got (i.e., he was in half of the episodes), given that this was Jessica’s show and Luke will be getting his own. But, the reasons and connections with the main plot worked for me. It seemed a bit soon for them to get involved, though, and I also could have done without the “love” scenes, even if there wasn’t a lot of skin. Overall, though, I enjoyed the character and look (luke?) forward to seeing more of him in “Luke Cage” and “Defenders”.

Jeri Hogarth: In the comics, Jeryn Hogarth is an ethical, very business-savvy lawyer-turned-executive, who worked first for Wendell Rand and then for his son, Danny (aka Iron Fist). That Hogarth, it should be pointed out, is a 50-something, heterosexual male. In this show, Jeri Hogarth appears as a morally-challenged shark of a lawyer, who occasionally hires Jessica Jones — no mention of Rand — for P.I./strongarm work. This Hogarth is a 40-something lesbian, who is cheating on her “wife” with her secretary/assistant. I didn’t mind the gender-swap, but also making her a lesbian was too much of a PC push for my taste. Beyond that, making her such a cold-hearted jerk was disappointing, too.

"Jessica Jones" (partial) cast shot

“Jessica Jones” (partial) cast shot

Malcolm: The “Malcolm” of the comics is a “superhero nerd” teenager with glasses, white, kinda short. Instead, we get a 6′ tall black junkie (though we can blame that last bit on the villain) with a weird afro and an existential crisis in the making. I guess I can understand them not wanting some nerdy kid bugging Jessica, especially since they really minimized her doing work that had to do with powered individuals. On the other hand, the original “Malcolm” still could have filled the role that this one did. I actually liked the character OK and thought the actor did a fine job, but I can’t help but wonder if the change was made mostly in the name of diversity.

Trish Walker: It has been a long time since I read the “Alias” series, so I didn’t remember if Trish (formerly “Patsy”) Walker was friends with Jessica Jones in the comics. I looked up both characters on Marvel’s Wiki and found no connection. That said, I liked how the writers/producers worked her into the story and into Jessica’s past. Not sure I would have cast Rachael Taylor, but she did a good job. I also like how the character has a personal Krav Maga trainer, such that she can hold her own in a fight. In fact, I wonder if they are planning to have her join the “Defenders”. She might not have powers or a feline theme or wear a costume (though we know she was keen on Jessica wearing one back in the day), especially since her character in the comics, aka Hellcat, was a member. Could be a cool surprise, though.

Robyn & Ruben: What was with the freaky-twin neighbors? They weren’t just plain weird (and possibly incestuous), they were annoying, and the girl, well, I think I hated her even more than I did Jeri. I suppose they played their roles in the story satisfactorily, but I just didn’t care for them. (Well, I did feel bad for Ruben, and I admit to feeling sympathy for his sister after his “disappearance”.)

Det. Oscar Clemons: Now, I didn’t realize this when watching the show, but NYPD Detective Clemons actually appeared in an issue of Punisher a few years ago. I liked his portrayal in the show by Clarke Peters. (Sort of reminded me of his role as a detective in “The Wire”.) It’s too bad he won’t be around to try to stop the Netflix version of the Punisher.

Sgt. Will Simpson: This character was loosely based on the comics character of Frank Simpson (aka Nuke), an unbalanced black-ops operative who joined “Project Homegrown”. This experiment turned him into a “partial cyborg with a sub-dermal mesh able to deflect bullets, and a second heart that, working in conjunction with some Adrenaline Pills, controlled his aggression, leaving him addicted as well.” For the Netflix series, Simpson retained the military background and use of a combination of red, white, & blue pills to control his enhanced aggression. The comic version also has a connection to Daredevil, but not to Jessica Jones or Trish Walker. Frankly (pun intended), I don’t care much for either version of the character.

Claire Temple: It was a pleasant surprise to see Claire again, even if just for one episode. Besides being a great character and portrayed by a talented actress, she reminds the viewer that the show shares a reality with Daredevil.

In a nutshell, I didn’t enjoy “Jessica Jones” as much as I did “Daredevil”. But, there was some decent acting and some interesting character development and other plot points. IF it ends up getting a second season (which has not been determined as of this writing), I’ll probably watch. I just hope it is a little more action-oriented and shows Jessica using her powers more, as well as doing some smart detective work.

Headline Miscellany

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen several announcements in genre news that I thought were worth commenting briefly on. You may have seen them already, but please indulge me while I give my two cents’ worth (or less) on each. Give your own in the comments, too, if you feel led….

TV/Netflix News

nbc-the-a-team-keyartA-Team:  I thought the movie version from a few years ago was just OK and only liked half of the casting choices. If they want to bring it back to TV, I guess that’s cool… as long as they stay faithful to the original. Sounds like they’re going to make at least one of the main characters female. As long as it isn’t B.A., I guess I can deal with that… maybe. Btw, I started fan-casting for an A-Team reboot long ago, so I’ll have to share those ideas in the coming months.

Iron Fist and Moon Knight:  If the rumor is true about “Iron Fist” getting scrapped (or, at least, postponed), that would be disappointing but not entirely surprising, given the problems with casting and developing a workable concept for the series. (I wonder if they’ve considered bringing in some Hong Kong talent….) It would be a shame not to see the other half of “Power Man and Iron Fist”/”Heroes for Hire” in the Defenders. On the other hand, the possible replacement with Moon Knight works for me. Not clear if MK would be part of the Defenders, but he has been in at least one version of the team in the comics. Regardless, I’ve already expressed my desire to see an MK series, so how could I say “no”?

X-Men:  Well, not X-Men, exactly, but it looks as if not one but two new shows are being developed involving some of Marvel’s not-so-Merry Mutants. The first is “Legion”, named after the illegitimate son of Charles Xavier and Gabrielle Haller, who happens to be off his nut (i.e., crazy) and incredibly powerful. The second will be a look at “The Hellfire Club” as it existed in the 1960s. Not sure how I feel about “Legion”, especially when there are, imho, several better options. But, a look at the clandestine mutant elitists know as “The Hellfire Club” could prove quite intriguing, and setting it in the 60s is an interesting twist.

TV/Movie News

(Teen) Titans and Birds of Prey(?):  It’s about time we heard something about this. We got a little news in May and then September that the “Titans” TV show is still in development at TNT. Now, we may be getting a Teen Titans movie, too! I was never a huge Titans fan, but I do like several of the characters, so this could be pretty cool. The quoted line that led to the speculation about a Birds of Prey movie, too, is not that clear to me. I read it as referring to the Teen Titans movie possibly having an “all female cast”. But, if they do it right, I am totally in favor of a big-screen Birds of Prey, as long as the connection to Batman and other heroes is there.

Movie News

Xenomorph (H.R. Giger)

Xenomorph (H.R. Giger)

Aliens and Prometheus:  The first part of this is that Scott is now insisting that his Prometheus 2 be scheduled to shoot before Alien 5, which is probably fine, since Blomkamp is still refining his story and script. (Downside, ofc, is that this may delay Alien 5 another year.) A few weeks later, Scott announced that his film will now be titled, Alien: Paradise Lost. This strengthens — or, at least, confirms — its connection to the Alien films. Uncharacteristically, Scott even hinted at “connections with Ripley”, the return (or would that be the debut?) of the classic xenomorph, and big plans for the android David’s severed head. Scott is 77, which may factor into his reasons for this accelerated pace. For me and the rest of the fans, I think it’s a good thing.

Superman:  A bit of bad news, this one. Rumor has it that the much-anticipated Man of Steel 2 is on indefinite hold. Truth be told, though, it’s all a bit sketchy, with nothing definitive coming from the studio or reliable sources. Far as I could tell, we never had any projected dates for production or release, anyway. Still, this is a bit disappointing, and I hope everything comes together in the near future. I’d really like to see Henry Cavill’s Supes in solo action, with focus on him and his classic foes, while he’s still in his 30s.

Men in Black:  I don’t know about this…. MiB is due to return with another trilogy (could be great!) but without Will Smith (could spell disaster). So much of the success of the first trilogy was the characters played by Smith and Jones and their odd-couple chemistry on screen. This makes me dubious of another trilogy’s success without either star. But, who knows? There may be another perfect pair ready to be cast that could — along with clever stories/scripts and F/X — give the franchise three more blockbusters.

Indiana Jones:  According to Spielberg, “I’ll probably do an Indy 5 with Harrison.” This confirms what both (Spielberg protege and current Lucasfilm president) Kathleen Kennedy and producer Frank Marshall have hinted at earlier this year, though there is no script and it will probably be awhile. Of course, if they want to have Ford, 73, actively involved, they better get a move on! One possibility is to have an elderly, possibly ailing, Indy (played by Ford) bookend the movie, as he relates a tale of his younger years to his (grand)children. Not sure how I feel about Chris Pratt (suggested by some) playing that younger version of Indiana Jones, but casting will be crucial to capture that same, lovable, swashbuckling swagger.

Die Hard:  Not sure how I feel about this. I thought the last installment was fun, yet it lacked a little something. Making a prequel could be a great idea, or it could really suck. Willis’ unique presence — the attitude (inc. the ever-present smirk) and delivery of great one-liners — is what made this franchise so popular. Without him, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. Casting the young John McClane is key, along with a great script and director, of course. (Just as it will be for any Star Wars prequel featuring a young Han Solo, or the Indiana Jones prequel mentioned above.) If it doesn’t all come together, they should just let the franchise rest in peace.

UPDATE, 10/22/2015:  Of course, this came out the day after I published this post….

Krypton:  “It takes place 200 years before Man of Steel.… [W]e’ll learn about the politics of the world. We’ll learn about the culture, the art, all the different guilds… a lot of different locations… some of the other moons, which is kind of cool.” That all sounds cool to me. Lots of opportunity to expand on what we “know” about Krypton and its peoples. I’m sure the creators are having a lot of fun mapping it all out. Now, how about an estimated release date…?

7 Marvel Properties that Should Be on TV (Part 2 of 2)

Continuing on from last week’s Part 1, here are four more Marvel properties I think could be successfully adapted into live-action TV series (by which I mean to include cable and Netflix). I have a pretty good range of types of heroes, settings, and time periods, too. As always, I hope you like ’em…

Nova (original costume)

Nova (original costume)

Nova: I am fond of teenage superhero stories, so I was trying to come up with such a character for this list. While I considered the new “Ms. Marvel”, I opted for Richard Rider from the original “Nova” comic series. (Note: I am unfamiliar with the Sam Alexander version.) Some details would have to change to comport with the MCU, of course — e.g., the reason that a Nova-Prime would recruit a random human, since Xandar and the Nova Corps are very much alive and well in the MCU, unlike in the comics. I would not have him joining the New Warriors (or Avengers or Defenders) anytime soon, though. I think this series should focus on the “cocky and humorous” young hero getting accustomed to his new, alien powers, while trying to live up to his potential and the expectations of others. Most of the action would involve regular criminals, as well as supervillains like Diamondhead, Powerhouse, Sphinx, and maybe a Kree or two. Of course, the show would also include teen angst and family drama and feature Rider’s brother & buddies from the comics. Eventually, he would be introduced to the larger, interstellar community, perhaps even spending some time training with & fighting alongside the Nova Corps on Xandar. All in all, this could definitely work as a fun action series with connections to the already-established “cosmic” elements of the MCU.

Warriors Three

Warriors Three

Warriors Three: Besides the aliens seen in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers films, another aspect of “cosmic” Marvel is Asgard and the rest of the Worlds of Asgardian cosmology. We have seen a bit of this in the Thor movies, but there is so much more to explore, and I think a series starring the Warriors Three (and friends) is just the vehicle to do it. There are any number of reasons to send these guys off to the Nine(?) Realms — e.g., rescue missions, military battle, espionage, diplomacy, or boredom leading to regular ol’ adventuring. We’ve got exotic locales and their equally-exotic inhabitants — from the Frost Giants of Jotunheim to the Fire Demons of Muspelheim; from the honored dead of Valhalla to the dishonored dead of Niffleheim; lands of Dwarves, Elves (Light & Dark), and the humans of Midgard (aka Earth). Our three main heroes — Fandral the Dashing, Hogun the Grim, and Volstagg the Voluminous — would sometimes be accompanied by Balder the Brave and/or the Lady Sif. The general mood and setting would have a medieval look & feel to it, obviously, but with the distinctive aspects of the Marvel versions of these beings & worlds. And, of course, there would be the connection to the larger MCU. How canst thou refuse?!

Howling Commandos (MCU version)

Howling Commandos (MCU version)

Howling Commandos: Whereas the “Warriors Three” would have the look of a period piece (from a Midgardian perspective), this one truly would be. This series would, of course, feature “Dum Dum” Dugan, Gabriel Jones, “Izzy” Cohen, “Pinky” Pinkerton, “Rebel” Ralston, Jim Morita, and maybe a few others. (Unfortunately, no room for Sgt. Nick Fury, since he wasn’t there in the MCU version. Might get a cameo from Cap or Peggy Carter, though.) I see two ways to go with this one. First, it could take place during WWII, showing the boys on both covert and overt missions for the Allied Forces. Or, the series could be a companion piece to “Agent Carter”, following the Howlers on various, specialized post-war missions all over the world. (Could even jump ahead a few years to the Korean War.) Either way, there is plenty of fodder for a war-based drama, especially with an elite, yet unorthodox, squadron like the Howling Commandos. In addition to your average Nazis, there are big-baddies like Baron Zemo, Baron Strucker, the Red Skull (or, at least, his underlings), and there is plenty of room for new villains, along with the typical frustration of dealing with military and governmental bureaucracy. There are also rivalries to be explored with other elite squads (e.g., Sgt. “Bull” McGiveney’s Maulers). Needless to say, I think such a series could be a lot of fun.

Rawhide Kid

Rawhide Kid

Rawhide Kid: My final suggestion is for another historical drama, this one of a Wild West flavor. I seriously considered Two-Gun Kid (aka ex-lawyer Matthew Hawk), but Rawhide Kid (aka Johnny Clay, aka Johnny Bart) has an added twist in that he is an outlaw, despite fighting crime. (And, no, I am not advocating the effeminate gay version from the “Slap Leather” mini-series (2003).) I think the pilot could establish his “origins”, including being orphaned in a Cheyenne raid, adopted by a Texas Ranger who taught him how to shoot, and the events in Rawhide, TX, that kicked off his gun-fighting career. Subsequent episodes would see him earning a reputation for taking down nasty criminals of all sorts, then his encounter with a corrupt sheriff who tried to arrest him under false pretenses, and the escape that branded him a “wanted man”. From then on, the show would be part-“Rawhide” (i.e., the old Clint Eastwood series), part-“The Fugitive”. I think there could be a lot of fun stories — a mix of action, drama, with doses of humor — as we watch our young hero develop personally and professionally, continuing to fight real bad hombres (e.g., murderers, cattle rustlers, bank robbers), while staying a step or two ahead of the authorities. Adding in characters like Reno Jones, Wolf Waco and his gang, US Marshall Ben Carson, the Cougar, Masked Maverick, and Marko the Manhunter might be fun. But, it could get really interesting to have the Kid interact with other Marvel heroes and villains like Two-Gun Kid, Ringo Kid, Night/Phantom Rider, Kid Colt, Pinkerton agent Caleb Hammer, and various time-travelers, as in the comics.

‘Nuff said.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2015.

7 Marvel Properties that Should Be on TV (Part 1 of 2)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some ideas I had for DC properties that I thought would make cool TV/Netflix shows. As promised, this week and next I’ll do the same for Marvel properties. It’s not as easy as it may sound, especially when trying to balance a mix of interesting characters and genres without breaking special F/X budgets. But, I think I came up with some fun stuff.

First, I should explain a couple conspicuous absences. Any talk about possible TV series based on Marvel characters has got to include something X-Men/mutants related, right? But, we already know that one is in development, and I already discussed several possibilities for it and my preferences in my “Jack Bauer and the X-Men” post. I have not included a “Punisher” series in this list, either, even though I would love to see one, because one is likely to spin off from season 2 of “Daredevil”, anyway.

F.y.i., I played with the idea of a “Daily Bugle” series, but decided that to really work, it would need to have a lot of superheroes & villains popping up not just in print but on-screen. Since the Bugle is in New York, as are most of the major heroes/villains, that would probably not work out logistically or legally, particularly with those claimed for the big screen. Some have suggested a “Spider-Woman” series, and I’d be fine with that, but Netflix already has a female private investigator (i.e., Jessica Jones). On the other hand, the characters are different enough that it might work. (Dakota North would be another possibility, if they did decide to have another female P.I.) Finally, another idea I considered was “Thunderbolts”, based on the original concept of a band of new superheroes, who are actually supervillains seeking to gain & exploit the public’s (and government’s) trust. But, ultimately I dropped it, because I wasn’t sure it could be done without significantly re-working many of the characters, connections to the Avengers, etc.

Alright, here are my first three suggestions…

845482-moon_knight__005_017_018_copy_01_superMoon Knight: I know I’m not the first to suggest it (though I did think of it quite awhile ago), but I think a show based on the Moon Knight has a ton of potential. If you aren’t already aware, MK is part Batman, part Punisher, with some unique “issues” and abilities thrown in. Marc Spector is a former Marine-turned-CIA operative-turned-mercenary who died(?) and was brought back by the Egyptian moon god “Khonshu”, which inspired the Moon Knight persona for fighting crime (and Khonshu’s enemies). He also created for himself the identities of successful financier “Steven Grant” and taxicab driver “Jake Lockley”, both of which serve his purposes as adventurer/vigilante. So, we have a rich guy with deadly skills and fancy toys who fights crime in costume (sound familiar?), who also struggles with keeping his multiple personalities straight; plus, there is the mystical connection with his serving as the “Fist of Khonshu”. With friends & associates like ‘Frenchie’ DuChamp and Marlene Alraune, as well as foes like Bushman and Taskmaster, I see lots of opportunity for fun and intriguing stories involving a boatload of action and drama. There should be the occasional reference to characters and events from other shows and movies to demonstrate a shared “universe”, too. Also, can you say “Marvel Team-up”? [Note to self: I really need to fan-cast this guy.]

Shang-Chi

Shang-Chi

Shang-Chi: Created in the wake of Bruce Lee’s death, the “Master of Kung Fu” has the dubious distinction of being the son of criminal mastermind/sorcerer Fu Manchu, who trained him as an assassin. He has connections to the Avengers, Heroes for Hire, and the British intelligence community, as he has worked as both spy and adventurer/crimefighter. But, all he really wants to do is live the simple life of a fisherman. I think these and other characteristics make him different enough from Danny Rand (aka Iron Fist) to justify a second show centered on a martial artist. I see it having elements of the old “Kung Fu” series, where our hero wanders all over the globe (e.g., Hong Kong, England, USA), reluctantly either finding himself encountering injustice that needs to be addressed or being contacted & persuaded by other heroes and intelligence agencies to lend them his particular skills and knowledge. With the right vision, writing, and casting, I think such a series could be both charming and action-packed — sort of like Bruce Lee.

 

Agent 13 (aka Sharon Carter)

Agent 13 (aka Sharon Carter)

Agent 13: I would love to see a current day “spy” series that is more James Bond-ian than what we have with “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Black Widow could work as the protagonist, but her being a major player in the MCU probably puts her out of the running. But, Sharon Carter (aka “Agent 13”), whom we have seen played by Emily VanCamp in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and returning for Captain America: Civil War, is a distinct possibility. “Agent 13” is, therefore, already established as a live-action character, and I can see her branching off into a series of her own, much like her aunt Peggy did in “Agent Carter”. As a (former?) S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, she has connections to Captain America and Fury, who might make the occasional cameo appearance. (She and Cap were lovers for quite a while in the comics.) I imagine the show being about Carter going undercover on various missions, some related to but mostly separate from the events in the MCU and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” She might report directly to Fury, but it would probably make more sense for her to report to either Coulson or another high-ranking officer that survived the Hydra massacre/purge. Or, if she stays at the CIA (as per the end of Winter Soldier), that opens up a whole ‘nother realm of possibilities.

That’s enough for this week. I’ll discuss the other four next time. I think you’ll like ’em. ‘Til then…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2015.

7 DC Properties that Should Be on TV (Part 2 of 2)

Continuing on from last week’s Part 1, here are four more DC properties I think could make great TV series, ranging from regular cops to super-cops (sort of) to superheroes to super-science. (Just to be clear, I am proposing live-action adaptations.) Heck, maybe somebody from DC will see my ideas and pass ’em on to the relevant people. Yeah, I’m dreamin’ again.

I know some DC fans really want to see The Question (aka Vic Sage) adapted for TV, and I’d be OK with that. But, I was never a big fan of the character, so if I had my choice of DC-based (private?) detectives, it would be…

Martian Manhunter (J'onn J'onzz)

Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz)

J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter: Reece Jones at MoviePilot.com suggested adapting JJ, but I’d been thinking about this for a long time. I didn’t much care for the “Smallville” version, and it just seems like the character is being neglected in the DC Cinematic Universe, too. He’s a great character with lots of potential, so maybe a TV series is where he can find a home. What I would like to see is J’onn working as either a police detective (as he has done in the comics) or a private detective, preferably in a city other than Gotham or Metropolis. (I think he lived & worked in Denver for awhile in the comics.) The series would focus on his cases, which he works mostly in human guise but, of course, he would need to surreptitiously use his superhuman powers — e.g., flight, superstrength, invisibility, shapeshifting, phasing, telepathy, etc. — from time to time. Maybe some of those powers will be reduced in strength or even gone. (Temporarily?) Occasional references to past and present cases with the JLA could be fun and interesting to see him explain his absences to friends & co-workers. Or, maybe he could be on a self-imposed hiatus from the JLA. There would be personal and professional tension, as he tries to live life as a human (most of the time, anyway) and perhaps struggling with Martian-specific issues and memories of his dead family & race. The right take on all of this — drama, action, suspense, with a dose of humor — could be just what the Martian Manhunter needs to get the live-action respect he deserves.

Continuing with the police detective genre…

Gotham_Central_Vol_1_1Gotham Central: Unfortunately, this one will never happen (in the near future, at least), since DC already has a GCPD show called “Gotham”. While I am enjoying that show, I would much prefer that they had done one based on the acclaimed “Gotham Central” comic series. As such, it would take place when Batman was already a well-established vigilante hero and many of the familiar villains had also been around awhile. The series would, of course, be a police procedural “cop show” — sort of a Gotham-style “NYPD Blue”. Assuming it followed the comic series pretty closely, it would be set post-No Man’s Land, after Gordon had re-staffed the GCPD but then retired, leaving Michael Akins as Commissioner. The focus would be on detectives like Renee Montoya, Crispus Allen, Marcus Driver, Romy Chandler, Nathan Patton, Sgt. Jackson Davies, Capt. Maggie Sawyer, and others. Costumed heroes and villains would turn up for some story arcs, but most of the detective work and arrests would be by Gotham’s Finest. OR, the series could be set at a different time, when Gordon was Commissioner and Bullock part of the crew. In that case, it might be possible to keep the appearances of costumed types to a minimum, maybe limited to being in shadow, at a distance, or captured briefly on camera. The idea would be to focus on the cops, of course, as they deal both with normal crime/criminals and with the weird crazies that Gotham is infamous for. Throw in a frustrated assistant district attorney or two, and that is the kind of show about law enforcement in Gotham City that I’ve been wanting to see. It’s been a few years, but I need to read “Gotham Central” again. I wonder if my library has the TPBs….

250px-BirdsofpreybloodandcircuitsBirds of Prey: As you may know, there was a “Birds of Prey” TV series over a decade ago that didn’t last long, and deservedly so. (I still watched it, of course. Dina Meyer and Ashley Scott were HOT!) But, I think we can re-use the title. What I would prefer to see developed would be an Oracle-centered team straight out of the comics, with her calling upon various female heroes (e.g., a seasoned Black Canary, Batgirl, Huntress) and even villains (e.g., Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy) to go on missions for cases Oracle is working on. The emphasis would be on cases mostly independent from or, at best, peripheral to those Oracle works on with other members of the Bat-family or the JLA. But, there could be fun references to those other heroes, villains, and stories from the comics. This would be a total “girl-power” series, but it might make an interesting companion show for “Gotham Central”….

 

Project Cadmus (principal characters)

Project Cadmus (principal characters)

Project Cadmus: This series would be quite different from the mostly street-level crimefighting of the above proposals. From the DC wiki, “Project Cadmus is a scientific research center located just outside of Metropolis. It is primarily known for its achievements in genetic engineering and its human cloning capabilities. Its notable creations include the Golden Guardian (a clone of the original Guardian) and Dubbilex, a DNAlien telepath who resembled a tall grey alien with horns.” If I remember right, some (all?) of those who work there also have living quarters on-site. The premise, then, would be to follow the personal and professional activities of Director Mickey Cannon, Security Chief Jim Harper (aka “(Golden) Guardian”), Dr. Serling Roquette, Dubbilex, and various other residents as they deal with clones, mutants, scientific discoveries, technological breakthroughs, experiments gone wrong, pressure from the military, industrial espionage, sabotage, personnel issues, ethical questions, etc. Oh, and a superpowered hero or villain might stop by — or be created? — on occasion, too. Plenty of exciting elements for weekly action and drama….

What do you think? I tried to stay away from concepts that would require heavily F/X-laden episodes all the time, because those usually mean huge budgets. On the other hand, anything involving occasional use of superpowers, advanced tech, and/or intense action is going to involve some cool F/X, and that’s pretty much expected with a comic adaptation. I also tried to present a variety of characters and settings — from research labs to police precincts to average joes/janes “on the street”. I think you will agree that there is a lot of potential. I just hope the powers-that-be at DC & Warner Brothers are smart about realizing that potential.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2015.

7 DC Properties that Should Be on TV (Part 1 of 2)

We can never have too many TV series based on comics, right? (Well, assuming they aren’t cheesy.) With recent hits like “Arrow”, “The Flash”, and “Daredevil” (yes, I lump Netflix in with “TV”), networks are getting increasingly adventuresome and willing to try new things. “Supergirl” will makes its official debut in October, and we already know about a few more shows in various stages of development and production — e.g., “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”, “(The?) Titans”, “Krypton”, and Netflix’s growing stable of Marvel-based series.

Over the past three months, I’ve seen at least three comics- & movie-oriented sites publish articles proposing ideas for what other Marvel and DC properties should be adapted for the small screen. There were several concepts floated, and I agreed on a couple, but the rest I either thought were much better suited for the large screen (e.g., “Jack Kirby’s New Gods”) or just wasn’t sure it could hold its own as a series (e.g., the goofy “Major Bummer”). So, I got thinking about what comic characters/titles I thought might make fun TV series. I’ll give you my Top 7 from DC now, and in a few weeks I’ll do the same for Marvel….

Steel (John Henry Irons)

Steel (John Henry Irons)

Steel: Lan Pitts at Comicbook.com suggested Steel, and I like the idea. (Yes, there was already a big-screen Steel movie starring Shaquille O’Neal, but we don’t talk about that in polite company.) As loyal Superman readers know, John Henry Irons is a gifted mechanical engineer and inventor who became one of the replacement “supermen” in the “Reign of the Supermen” story-arc, following Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday. He later became friends with the resurrected Superman, and the armored “Steel” became a respected member of the superhero community. I think the best time to place the series would either be in the early days, when Superman was still considered dead, or much later, when Irons was semi-retired as a hero and trying to focus on making his Steelworks facility a successful developer of non-lethal weapons and other equipment for groups like Metropolis’ Special Crimes Unit. During the latter period, his teenage niece, Natasha, also lived with him. This could make for a nice combo of hero-ing, business, and family struggles.

h_dialDial H for Hero: I can’t remember what I read or heard in passing recently that reminded me of this title, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of adapting the “everyman hero” series for TV. If you are unfamiliar, the basic premise is that there is a mysterious device that looks like an old phone dial with ancient runes on it, which enables an ordinary person to temporarily become a superpowered being — complete with name & costume — by dialing H-E-R-O. (These superheroes are usually brand-new, but on one occasion the dial caused its owner to become a duplicate of an existing superhero, Plastic Man.) Dialing O-R-E-H returns the person back to normal. In some versions, other words could be spelled out on the H(ero)-Dial with varying repercussions. Also, sometimes the possessor of the dial was able to either subconsciously or actively influence the results. I envision “Dial H for Hero” for TV as a sort of anthology series with several people using the dial each season. Either each episode is self-contained or, better yet, have 3- to 4-episode story-arcs. Maybe a mix. Not only would there be the opportunity to tell different kinds of stories with different kinds of protagonists with different sets of powers (costume optional), but it also allows for jumping around to different locales in the DC Universe. Sounds like a lot of fun to me!

Blue Beetle (Ted Kord)

Blue Beetle (Ted Kord)

Blue Beetle: I admit I’ve never been a huge Blue Beetle fan, but the idea does have potential for a live-action adaptation. Reece Jones at MoviePilot.com suggested adapting the Jaime Reyes version. That might work. I remember reading the first several issues of his comic series years ago, and the teen character was likable and had an interesting origin story. It incorporated the alien scarab, which also gave the original Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett, his powers. If done right, it could have a fun, Spider-Man-like vibe. My preference, though, would be to do the Ted Kord (New Earth) version of Blue Beetle. Assuming it is true to the source material, that could make for some humorous hijinks action as the commercial tech company CEO develops gadgets and plays superhero. The Bug ship would be a kick to see, along with some of his other weapons. Maybe pair him up with Booster Gold on occasion to escalate the hilarity? (Of course, it might also make sense to have Booster appear in “Legends of Tomorrow”, given his time-traveling and connection with Rip Hunter.)

That’s enough for this week. I’ll discuss the other four next time. I think you’ll like ’em. ‘Til then…

Review of Daredevil (Netflix Series)

“It ain’t how ya hit the mat. It’s how ya get up.”  — Battlin’ Jack Murdock

daredevil0107151280jpg-7f7705_1280wI never binge-watch any TV show — partly because I have many other shows I like to keep up with, partly because I like to make a good thing last a long time. That said, when Netflix released all 13 episodes of “Daredevil” at once, I thought I might be too weak to control myself. But, I managed. In fact, it was 5 days until I even saw the pilot and a full week until episode 2. Meanwhile, the rest of the world — I imagined, at least — were watching multiple episodes per week. Just like with other cult-favorites — e.g., “The Walking Dead”, “Game of Thrones”, “Orphan Black” –, I was several episodes behind everybody else.However, when a recent vacation threw my usual TV-watching schedule all out of whack, I took the opportunity to watch a few more “Daredevil” episodes. Then, I kept to a mostly bi-weekly schedule, and… I finally watched the season finale last week. So, this will be my first review of a new series where I watched the whole season first. I wonder, are there any genre fans who haven’t already watched the entire series by now? (If so, consider this a SPOILER ALERT!, though I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.)

I will admit that, as usual, there were changes from the comics that annoyed me. And, yes, I’ll refer to some of them below. But, for the most part, I will try to contain myself. In fact, I have to say that, despite my being irked by certain changes, overall the characters and the feel/tone of the show was… shall we say, reasonably faithful to the source material. Plus, whether I liked the casting or the writing or not, I thought all the performances were top-notch.

I thought the seasonal arc made for a decent story, paralleling Murdock’s initial efforts in crime-fighting with Fisk’s start as a mover-n-shaker in NYC, both in the criminal underworld and as an ostensibly (but not really) legit real estate investor and city benefactor. (More on them below.) Or, as producer Jeph Loeb put it more simply, “This season is about both the rise of the hero and the rise of the villain.” It made for pretty good drama and was certainly about more than just a costumed crimefighter battling punks and villains. (Especially since Murdock didn’t get a real costume or the titular nom de guerre until the final episode.) At the risk of using some overused descriptors, there was a very realistic, “gritty”, street-level feel to the series. This was partly due to the lack of any flashy superpowers but also because the fights were rather nasty & violent. Bone-crushingly, sinew-tearingly, flesh-rippingly, blood-drippingly brutal, in fact. And that’s a good thing.

Now, allow me to give my reactions to and impressions of the primary and main supporting players, beginning with the good guys:

Matt Murdock/Daredevil is quite impressively portrayed by a British actor who was not previously on my radar (pun alert!), Charlie Cox. Even if I had heard of him, I would never have thought of casting him for this role. In my opinion, the role calls for someone a bit taller and more muscular. (I suppose he might bulk up more for the second season.) Also, there is something about his mouth & jawline that doesn’t look right behind the mask, and I think it would be quite identifiable by anyone who knows Murdock fairly well. That could be a problem when you’re trying to keep your identity a secret. Plus, he didn’t seem to try to mask (hah!) his voice, either. So, for those reasons, Cox isn’t my ideal casting. But, he does have talent and did a terrific job showing the different sides of Matt Murdock — from loyal friend to driven vigilante. Also, it was good to see him struggling (as in the comics) with what he thought he needed to do “on the street” and when dealing with Fisk et al., as opposed to what the law allows and what his Catholic faith would seem to allow.

Daredevil_Armor_SuitI don’t know why, but the people who adapt comics for the screen seem to have an aversion to red hair, especially for the heroes. Both Barry Allen (aka “The Flash”) and Matt Murdock are supposed to be redheads, but they both have dark hair on TV/Netflix, and I haven’t read anything about why they couldn’t apply a little coloring to keep the character authentic. Is that really too much to ask? Anyway,… Regarding Matt/Daredevil’s abilities, the martial arts and gymnastics were well-done. They need better F/X to demonstrate use of his radar-sense, though. As for the costume, it definitely looks bad@$$! (Or, DD looks bad@$$ in it.) I don’t know if he’ll ever get it completely red, but I think I can accept the red/black combination. Now, if we can just get a swingline (or whatever) to eject from the billy clubs, so we can see him swinging between buildings and onto rooftops and such….

Franklin “Foggy” Nelson is ably played by baby-faced Elden Henson, another actor that I was not familiar with. I know I’ve seen him here and there, but nothing really stands out in my mind. I don’t know if I would have considered him for Foggy, though he does fit the general physical description. On the other hand, the character was written as a bit more jovial and playful (and with longer hair) than he is in the comics. I would have preferred sticking to the original characterization, but maybe they decided the show needed someone who was (usually) a little more fun and able to joke a bit amidst the doom & gloom. I didn’t care for his relationship with the lawyer (their former colleague) at the big firm. It just seemed like a really unlikely pairing, and the only reason he let her treat him like that was because she was hot and would “sleep” with him.

Deborah Ann Woll does a fine job as Karen Page. My gripes are that she is too tall and, to be honest, not pretty enough. (My personal preferences, of course.) She can look quite attractive, especially with red hair. I just wanted someone with a very different look. So, I obviously would not have cast her. But, acting-wise, I thought she was very good. They obviously gave her a different “origin” than in the comics and had her be more personally involved in the case(s) in the show. There were hints at her instant attraction to Matt but a growing attraction to Foggy. (Of course, she spent more time with Foggy, who is also a more open person.) It will be interesting to see how her relationships with her two bosses develop next season, as well as how involved she gets in the cases. Also, will Matt reveal that he is Daredevil to her? I suspect he will, especially if they get romantically involved, though I don’t think it is as necessary as it was to reveal it to Foggy.

Ben Urich is played by the terrific actor/director Vondie Curtis-Hall. He did a great job as the dogged-yet-weary investigative journalist. Unlike in the comics, they gave Urich some extra, emotional stuff to deal with — namely, his wife’s slowly succumbing to dementia and the financial struggles to continue her care. His interactions with Karen Page were interesting, and I can’t help but wonder if she will eventually start a blog of some sort. (Sort of like Iris West did in the early episodes of “The Flash”.) The Urich character is white in the comics, and as usual, I would have preferred a white actor. However, Urich’s race is not integral to who he is, so I did not mind the change. And, while Curtis-Hall is a few years older than the character should be at this stage in DD’s career, I couldn’t have asked for a better talent to portray him. That is what makes Urich’s fate in this series doubly troubling. (I think it was a mistake.)

daredevil-tv-series-on-netflixTo be honest, I don’t remember the Claire Temple character from the comics. Maybe she appeared at a time when I wasn’t reading “Daredevil” for awhile? A quick check of Marvel’s wiki reveals that she had connections with Luke Cage and Bill Foster (aka “Black Goliath”) but it says nothing about Daredevil. (Will she show up in Netflix’s “Luke Cage” series?) Nevertheless, I think Rosario Dawson was a great choice, and she knocked this version of Claire out of the park. As suspected, Scott Glenn’s portrayal of Matt’s gruff, pain-in-the-butt mentor, “Stick“, was spot on. My only complaint is that he was only in one episode! We need more Stick, even if only in flashbacks to young Matt’s earliest training. Matt Gerald’s Melvin Potter is also pretty good. I think the writers made the character a bit more dim-witted than in the comics, but generally they got him right.

Fisk’s “business associates” are an interesting bunch and each deserve a brief mention. The Russians, Vladimir and Anatoly Ranskahov, are played by Nikolai Nikolaeff and Gideon Emery, respectively. The characters were stereotypical, macho bullies — Vladimir in particular — but well played. Too bad they weren’t around longer, but they did serve as, er, object lessons re doing business with Fisk. Yakuza representative Nobu is played by Peter Shinkoda, who brings a sufficiently serious (and cocky) air to the character. Wise and wizened Madame Gao is a great character, played by the wonderful Wai Ching Ho. I hope we see more of her next season, or maybe after that. The only “business associate” not created solely for the Netflix series is that of ruthless financier, Leland Owlsley. The comics version creates his own small criminal empire, calling himself “the Owl” and his organization “the Owl’s Gang”, and becomes one of Daredevil’s persistent foes. He also gains powers of limited flight, enhanced strength, enhanced senses, and sharp talons. Of course, this version pushed Fisk too far and will not be able to do any of that. (He did refer to a son, though.) Still, Bob Gunton does a fine job playing the role of the perpetually perturbed “money guy”.

Famed Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer was an interesting choice for Vanessa Marianna. I would never have thought of her for it, but, of course, she did a wonderful job. (I don’t find her particularly attractive, but that’s neither here nor there.) Though I don’t know a lot about the comics version, I do know that she and Fisk married and had a son long before Daredevil appeared in Hell’s Kitchen. In fact, the adult Richard Fisk would become a deadly thorn in his parents’ side. That Vanessa was eventually driven to try to clean up the underworld (while Wilson was out of the picture for awhile), but died of “heartbreak”. I am curious how any of this may play out in the Netflix series, though I doubt there will be any Fisk heir to cause trouble. I also wonder if Vanessa will get the white streak in her hair like the original has.

Toby Leonard Moore does a great job as Fisk’s multi-talented and always reliable right-hand, James Wesley. In the comics, the character is never given a first name, seems rather quiet and bookish, and is only seen in four issues of “Daredevil” — in the “Born Again” storyline (see below). Moore’s Wesley is a bit more calm and cold-hearted, but it works for this version, this Fisk, this story. I just wish we could see more of him next season. (Perhaps a twin or clone…?)

My thoughts & feelings about Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk are rather mixed. On the one hand, D’Onofrio is a wonderful and talented actor who did a terrific job revealing the intellectual and emotional layers of the latest screen-version of Fisk. Some might even say it was “masterful”. There were interesting eccentricities — from Fisk’s social awkwardness (especially with Vanessa) to his oddly-paced speech patterns to his sudden and deadly fits of rage. The problem for me is that none of that — with the possible exception of the rage — is part of the Fisk/Kingpin who I grew up reading. The comics version is much more confident, for one thing. He is also clearly a brutish thug with only a veneer of control and respectability. D’Onofrio’s version, it could be argued, was that, but it just wasn’t the same. These and other elements (e.g., the bit with his mother) make me think that the writers/producers were trying to make Fisk more relatable and sympathetic, despite his ruthlessness. IMHO, this was a wrong move.

kingpin-netflixThen there are the physical issues. D’Onofrio is in his mid-50s, which seems a little too old for this stage in his and DD’s careers, but that’s a minor point. While D’Onofrio is a large man, 6’3.5″ and barrel-chested, he is nowhere near big enough to fill the Kingpin’s shoes. However, I have to admit that it would be difficult to find someone who is over six-and-a-half feet tall, roughly 450 lbs. of muscle, and have sufficient acting ability to do the character justice. (Btw, Fisk is supposed to be trained in multiple martial arts, sumo being his primary discipline, and the comics often show him working out.) So, that being said, D’Onofrio was probably quite a coup.

Fisk’s character arc, if you can call it that, had two major focuses: 1) dealing with his criminal business associates as they all tried to keep their plans on track; and, 2) figuring out how to attract the lovely art dealer, decide how much to tell her about his business, and then allow himself to be loved (or some such thing). Of course, Murdock vexes Fisk et al. in both of his identities, which was very faithful to the source material. The bit about Fisk’s childhood was, as far as I remember, not in the comics, but it was believable for someone who turned out the way he did, and it served the writers’ apparent purpose of making him a tragic figure. Not sure how I feel about that. What was more interesting was how they gave Fisk a real love for Hell’s Kitchen, much like Murdock’s own, so that he really is trying to help in his own, twisted way.

I don’t think anyone ever called Fisk “(the) Kingpin (of Crime)” in this season of the show — perhaps because he is only beginning to form his criminal empire. If he returns for season 2, perhaps he will then take on that appellation. I also hope that he will begin wearing his trademark white suits and carrying his jewel-topped cane. Those nods to the comics would help fans like myself accept him even more as “The Kingpin”.

Despite my misgivings over areas that break from established comics history & characterization, I greatly enjoyed Netflix’s “Daredevil”. As I said, for these versions of the characters, the performances were fantastic. The story was pretty good (though not great), and I eagerly await the second season, which we already know will include Frank Castle (aka “The Punisher”). Hopefully, we’ll get a few more familiar faces — Bullseye? Elektra? Rosalind Sharpe? Avengers cameo? Keep your fingers crossed….

P.S.  I highly recommend reading the TPB titled Daredevil Legends Vol. II: Born Again (or, just Daredevil: Born Again) by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, which reprints one of the best and best-known story arcs for the title and possibly within all of Marvel. One might even call it “iconic” in many respects, in terms of characterization of the main characters — especially Matt/DD and Fisk/Kingpin. (Note, this is the one where Karen betrays Matt by selling his secret identity in exchange for drugs.) There have been other notable runs, of course, but this one is certainly representative of a significant time in Matt/DD’s life and career(s), not to mention Karen’s. It also demonstrates Fisk’s physical size, the size of his empire (at one time, anyway), and just how patient, sadistic, and menacing he can truly be.