Girl Power!, part 2 of 2

“Another day, another alien to punch.” — Captain Marvel

Last week, I noted the historical dearth of female titular leads among superhero films and TV series, as well as the recent trend in a positive direction. In particular, we looked at several current such projects based on DC-based heroes (and villains). So, as promised, this week we will review those in development on the Marvel Comics side of the fence. But first…

Independent:

Red Sonja, the “She-Devil with a sword” (also created by Conan’s Robert E. Howard), is getting a new film adaptation. I almost included this under the Marvel listings, because Marvel held the comic license for so many years, but Dynamite Entertainment owns it now and has closer ties to the movie production. Technically, I’m not sure “sword and sorcery” should be lumped under “superheroes”, either.

This one has been in development (sort of) since Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan were attached to it in 2008/2009. The failed reboot of Conan the Barbarian (2011) was a setback and by 2015 it was truly in “development hell”. Last November, though, Millennium Media announced it was financing/producing a Red Sonja reboot and putting it on the fast-track. Millenium’s Avi Lerner (The Expendables) said,

“We have been waiting for the right time for this remake, and with the success of Wonder Woman, the audience has spoken. They want female heroes.”

Lerner is producing with Joe Gatta (the Conan reboot) with support from Mark Canton (300) and Courtney Solomon (Cake) of Cinelou, among others. No casting news, but Bryan Singer is directing and Christopher Cosmos and David N. White are writing the screenplay.

Marvel:

Captain Marvel

1) Ever since a Captain Marvel solo film was announced over two years ago, fans have been waiting with great anticipation. The character has become quite popular in the comics, so it makes sense that Marvel would want to capitalize on that by making her their Phase 3 “big gun”. In a sense, she is Marvel’s answer to Wonder Woman — an incredibly strong (in more ways than one) and complex female hero, who they hope can carry a film on her own. While I might not have thought to cast Brie Larson in the role, I am optimistic that she can pull it off.

Captain Marvel, which is due out next March, puts the character in the 1990s and sends her into space. So, audiences will see her “origins” and an explanation for why she hasn’t been on Earth for awhile. Those “origins”, by the way, are being altered a bit from the comics, in order to reduce the parallels with DC’s Green Lantern. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck — frequent professional collaborators and now married, as well — are co-directing the film. They are also credited with the screenplay, along with five other women. (I wonder how that worked! Fifteen minutes’ worth of screen-time apiece?)

2) Probably the other most-anticipated, female-led Marvel movie is Black Widow. Finally! She has guested in a few of the other Avengers’ solo movies, but hasn’t got her own. But, as of January of this year, it was finally confirmed that Scarlett Johansson would be reprising the ‘Natasha Romanoff’ / ‘Black Widow’ character in a solo film of her own. The character has been around in the comics for quite awhile and is much older than she looks, so there is plenty of fodder for source-faithful stories.

There is no release date as yet beyond the tentative year 2020. No known plot, either, though it will probably be a prequel to her previous appearances. (I’m hoping for a cool, Cold War spy flick!) Nicole Perlman (treatment) and Jac Schaeffer (screenplay) have writing credits, according to IMDB. Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome) is directing, while Victoria Alonso shares exec producing credit with her usual Marvel partners (Stan Lee, Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito).

3&4) Not long after Sony confirmed (early 2017) that Tom Hardy would be starring in their Venom movie, the studio announced it had hired Gina Prince-Bythewood (Marvel’s “Cloak and Dagger”) to direct and do some script rewrites on Silver & Black, which would unite the Black Cat and Silver Sable characters. Black Cat, of course, is Felicia Hardy, a cat burglar who alternately flirts and fights with Spider-Man. (Yes, it’s an obvious “rip-off” of the Catwoman/Batman relationship, though that’s about where the similarities ended.) Silver Sable is Silver Sablinova, who led the Symkarian mercenary group “The Wild Pack” (whom she “inherited” from her father) and founded Silver Sable International. No surprise, Spidey has been known to both clash and team up with Sable (with or without the Wild Pack).

Black Cat and Silver Sable

An early report described the plot as having Sable hired to track down Black Cat, and several other costumed characters would make appearances. The movie would end with Sable assembling an Avengers-like, all-female team. There were other reports but, long story short, that project stalled out. Then, early this past August, Sony announced that they were replacing the team-up with solo Silver Sable and Black Cat films, with the latter being first in the queue. According to Sanford Panitch, president of Columbia Pictures and overseer of Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters (SUMC),

“We believe Black Cat is enough of her own character with a great backstory and a canon of material to draw from to justify her own film.”

No release dates or much else to report. Last I read, Prince-Bythewood’s involvement with either film is uncertain, but if she doesn’t direct, Sony still plans to hire a female for the job. I will note that I don’t see a Black Cat entry on IMDB, yet, but I do see one for Silver Sable. It lists Prince-Bythewood as a producer and Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Captain Marvel, Tomb Raider reboot) as writer.

5) I recently discovered several lesser-known Marvel characters from the Spidey books that Sony has plans to make solo films about, thereby attempting to further expand their Spider-Man-related universe without Spider-Man (‘cuz they don’t have the rights to him). One of those characters is ‘Jackpot’, a young costumed crimefighter who got her powers from a mix of Mutant Growth Hormone (MGH), anabolic steroids, and other drugs. She appeared in a handful of issues back in 2008. That’s it. So, while they could make a workable story about her without the Spider-Man connection, ya gotta ask, “Why?”

6) Now, for the small-screen we have a new series in development for ABC by Allan Heinberg. You may recognize Heinberg’s name from his many years as a TV writer and producer or maybe from the fact that he wrote the screenplay for Wonder Woman (2017). The series will follow an all-female team of Marvel heroes. Who? Dunno. At this point, we don’t even know if they will be big names or “lesser known characters.” What we do know is that Heinberg will executive produce (with Jeph Loeb, of course) for the Marvel TV / ABC Studios joint project.

To be honest, I’m not big on sword-and-sorcery these days (exceptions being GoT and anything by Tolkien), so I’ll probably skip any Red Sonja flick. I’m definitely interested in the Captain Marvel and Black Widow movies, though. Those ladies are bad@$$! I’m hopeful that the Black Cat and Silver Sable productions get done and done well, ‘cuz those are fun characters that might be able to carry their own films outside of a strong connection to Spider-Man. I’d love to see a heist/caper movie and a manhunt, respectively. Jackpot I couldn’t care less about and, if Sony gets a clue, they will hopefully realize that the odds are stacked against it being a success and just kill the project. As for the ABC TV series, it sort of depends on what characters and direction they decide to go, but for now, color me intrigued.

Just so you know, I am not a feminist, so that’s not where I’m coming from on this subject. Naturally, then, I don’t want to see strong “feminist” themes pushed in these projects. But, I do appreciate that this is one genre where women tend to get the short shrift. That’s a real shame, because there are some great female characters and talent. So, despite some reservations, I am pleased to see efforts being made to correct this situation. As long as there are good stories told with quality talent and production values, I look forward to seeing them. And, of course, the more faithful to the source material the characters are, the better.

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Girl Power!, part 1 of 2

“I’m havin a bad day! I’m sick of people tryin’ ta shoot me, run me over, or blow me up!” — Harley Quinn

While it’s true that we have had strong, kick-butt women on both small- and large-screens for some time, they have been noticeably rare as leads — especially in the superhero subgenre. The notable exception is the “Wonder Woman” series from the 1970s. (I think I still have a crush on Lynda Carter!) There have been some strong female characters in more recent DC-based TV shows (e.g., “Arrow”, “The Flash”). But, it wasn’t until Oct. 2015 that they debuted their first female headliner in decades: “Supergirl”. Roughly a month later, Marvel/Netflix gave us their own female star: “Jessica Jones”. Then, of course, there was the spectacular success of the Wonder Woman solo movie in 2017.

With the popularity of these characters and others in the superhero films of the past decade or so, the studios appear to be more willing to invest money and talent on female-led productions. (That includes not just the stars but writers and directors, too.) In fact, I’ve seen several announced in the news of late, so I figured we’d review what is on the roster.

DC:

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn

1) Following Margot Robbie’s fan-fave portrayal of ‘Harley Quinn’ in Suicide Squad, she lined up several spinoffs in which she would reprise the role. One of them was Gotham City Sirens, which would ostensibly team her up with versions of Catwoman and Poison Ivy. There hasn’t been much news on this for awhile, and there is no targeted release date; but, as of last December, director David Ayer said the project was still “in development” and he was still on board to helm it. The same report says that Christina Hodson was doing the writing.

2) Robbie is also trying to get a ‘Harley Quinn’ solo movie off the ground, though I haven’t heard or seen anything since the initial announcement. Good luck!

3) The one HQ project that seems to have the most momentum, though, is Birds of Prey. Produced by Robbie (and based on her idea), written by Hodson, and directed by Cathy Yan, this one will team her up with Huntress, Black Canary, Renee Montoya, and possibly Cassandra Cain (aka ‘Batgirl’).

“I pitched the idea of an R-rated girl gang film including Harley, because I was like, ‘Harley needs friends.’ Harley loves interacting with people, so don’t ever make her do a standalone film. She’s got to be with other people, it should be a girl gang. I wasn’t seeing enough girl gangs on screen, especially in the action space. So that was always a big part of it.”

That comment about never putting HQ in a standalone film seems odd, given her own intent to make such a film. From the context, though, I’m guessing that by “standalone” Robbie actually meant a story where she worked alone, with no allies. I suppose a “solo” film might have her working with and/or on behalf of non-costumed persons.

Currently slated to begin production on Birds of Prey in Jan. 2019, recent reports have the following actresses among those testing for the main roles: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Justina Machado, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Roberta Colindrez, Margaret Qualley, Cristin Milioti, Sofia Boutella. Interesting…

4) On the small-screen, “Supergirl” is set to introduce Kate Kane, aka ‘Batwoman’, and spin her off into her own series next year. Although there have been plenty of LGBTQ characters in the DC shows, this will be the first to star in her own series, and she’ll also be portrayed by an LGBTQ actor — Ruby Rose. Caroline Dries will write and exec produce. Other executive producers include Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter, and Geoff Johns.

To be honest, neither the LGBTQ angle nor the purported “social justice” emphasis appeal to me. But, Rose is gorgeous, intense, and has some fighting skills, so I may check it out, anyway.

5) This was a surprise to me, ‘cuz I didn’t think the character had sufficient name recognition to center a project on, but “Stargirl” is getting her own live-action series. Not to be confused with the upcoming TV movie of the same name (but different subject), this one will also not be the 1940s-era version as played by Sarah Grey in “Legends of Tomorrow”. However, the eponymous central character will indeed be a teenage ‘Courtney Whitmore’, who “inspires an unlikely group of young heroes to stop the villains of the past.” Apparently, this will be a reimagined version of both her and the Justice Society of America.

Brec Bassinger

Creator/showrunner Geoff Johns gushed about his new star:

“There is no other character in comic books more special to me than Stargirl. [Note: He created her in the 1990s and named her after his deceased sister.] And after searching far and wide, I can say there is no other actor on the planet that embodies her more than Brec Bassinger. Brec’s warmth, strength, humor and positive energy are core to who Courtney Whitmore is. I’m so grateful she’s signed on for the role.”

I’ll take your word for it, dude, since I’m not familiar with Bassinger. But, of course, he’s right about Courtney Whitmore’s personality, and I’m glad he retained that aspect in this reimagination. The series, which will air on the new DC Universe subscription service, will debut sometime in 2019. Not surprisingly, Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter join Johns as executive producers.

6) Back on the big screen, we have Supergirl. That’s right, the Girl of Steel is getting another film adaptation. (Hopefully better than the 1984 version, starring Helen Slater.) Not much is known about it, as it is still in the very early stages of development. However, it looks like Oren Uziel is working on a script, and Reed Morano is being courted to direct, though I haven’t heard that she’s signed on, yet. Reports are that this will be a “a new iteration”, so no Melissa Benoist or any ties to TV’s “Arrowverse”. Whether or not it will tie into the existing DCEU filmverse is still uncertain.

I’m not a huge fan of Robbie’s oversexualized ‘Harley Quinn’ (based on the comics’ Prime Earth version, of course), being more a fan of the original (New Earth) version in the jester outfit from the animated TV series & movies. I’m also of two minds about making murderous psychos into “heroes”. But, the Gotham City Sirens and Birds of Prey intrigue me enough to check ’em out. “Stargirl” could be fun. Not sure how I feel about a Supergirl movie concurrent with the TV series, but if done well, I might even like it better.

That’s a pretty good crop of new projects, wouldn’t ya say? And, we’re only half-way through, since I have yet to cover the Marvel-based stuff. ‘Til next week…

Review of Iron Fist, Season 2

“Chance always looks like fate in the tail lights.” — Colleen Wing

I have to say, I didn’t think it would happen. As far as I could tell, the reviews from Season 1 of Netflix’s “Iron Fist” were uniformly bad. The star, the story, the fight scenes, et al., just about everything was disappointing. Yet, for whatever reasons, the powers-that-be decided to renew it for another season. Now that Season 2 has aired and I’ve had a chance to view it, I’ve got a few thoughts to share….

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

Frankly, I didn’t want to see the Meachums or Davos again. I’d had enough of the Meachum family drama and Davos’ sulking in Season 1. I was hoping for someone new and exciting. But, once again the Netflix team decided to bring back the initial, surviving (pseudo-)villains for another go ’round. Of course, as the story picks up, everyone is dealing with the aftermath of the first season’s revelations and events. Joy and Davos have let their bitterness, jealousy, and frustration twist them, so that they are willing to put aside their differences and go to great lengths in order to get revenge on Danny Rand. Meanwhile, Ward is attending (though not participating in) N.A. meetings and trying… sorta… to be a better person. But, as his sponsor says, “You lead with @$$#0l3!”

Aside from the machinations of Joy and Davos, we have the threat of a nasty gang war, as the Triads vie for dominance following The Hand’s disappearance. It occurred to me that this seemed like a plot device borrowed from “Luke Cage”, where much the same happened over in Harlem. Another similarity was that one antagonist — Davos, in this case — is angry ‘cuz he feels like his birthright was stolen from him. Sounds a lot like the pain in Luke’s butt named ‘Bushmaster’.

I loved that Colleen Wing was such a big part of this story. Adding Misty Knight into the mix was like frosting on the cake. (These two ladies are lovely and bad@$$! Ahem…) I’ve mentioned before how much I’d like to see them spin off into their own “Daughters of the Dragon” or “Knightwing Restorations” series. So, Misty’s suggesting to Colleen about becoming an investigator — even though she was thinking “cop” — and then that talk near the end about “Knight… Wing… it’s got a little ring to it.” is all a very good sign.

Regarding Colleen “teaching” the injured Danny, I don’t get it. He lost strength and mobility in his leg; he didn’t lose his martial knowledge and skills. He’s supposed to be a better overall fighter than her, than just about anyone, anyway. What the heck is she supposed to teach him? Train with him? Sure. Teach him? Hmmm… Maybe the equivalent of a physical therapist forcing him to get back into shape, I suppose. Another thing I don’t get is why Danny and Colleen’s relationship was negatively affected by her training him or getting the Fist or… whatever. What did I miss?

Walker and Davos

The Mary/Walker character(s) was… interesting, but odd. While she was formidable, her fighting seemed somewhat brutish, lacking much style or grace. Maybe that’s because she was taught by the military, as opposed to in a “real” martial arts dojo or a mystical lost city like K’un-Lun? I dunno. Walker comes across as a bit “off”, certainly menacing, but not quite as skilled as one might think she’d be. I would not have picked Alice Eve for the part (though I’m not really that familiar with her work). Still, she did a decent job. Not as nutso as “Typhoid Mary” from the comics (though that version tangles with Daredevil, not Iron Fist), but there’s time for a psychotic break next season(?), I suppose. At least, Walker is now aware that she & Mary share headspace with a third, even more violent persona. Could be interesting, especially if she crosses over into the “Daredevil” series.

The new showrunner, Raven Metzner, appears to have recognized the pacing issues that other reviewers and I have spoken of re the Netflix/Marvel shows. This was mostly fixed with tighter writing, but shrinking the season from the usual 13 down to 10 episodes (as was also recommended) helped, too. Yay!

I have to admit, the Danny Rand character continues to improve. I first mentioned this in my review of Luke Cage’s second season (in which Danny cameoed), noting that he seemed a bit more mature and centered. This was the case for the first few episodes here, but then he wavered a bit as his issues both with Davos and with the Fist itself led him to giving it up. I didn’t care for the “addiction” angle, to be honest, but it did lend itself to a nice parallel (and empathy?) with Ward Meachum’s issues. Best of all, though, were the improvements in the fight scenes, especially Danny’s. I read somewhere that Finn Jones (who plays ‘Danny’) started training — martial arts, weights, yoga — 5 months before the season even began production. He and Jessica Henwick (who plays ‘Colleen’) were in great shape and did most of their own stunts, and it shows. Plus, the producers hired a new fight choreographer, Clayton Barber (fresh off of Black Panther), which led to marked improvements in the fight scenes over those in Season 1. Still not up to the level I would expect for the Iron Fist, but getting there.

Storywise, it seemed odd to me that the power of the Iron Fist — normally only given to the winner of a ritual combat, followed by confrontation with an immortal dragon — could be stolen/transferred the way that it was from Danny to Davos, and then from Davos to Colleen. I’m also somewhat unsure how I feel about Colleen now being the Immoral Iron Fist. Not that there is anyone more worthy. I suppose one could point out that the series is titled “Iron Fist”, not “Danny Rand”. Apparently, this change also gave Danny an opportunity to learn some new stuff during his travels in Asia with Ward. But, I trust that next season will at some point have Danny regaining the title — though, hopefully less painfully for both Colleen and him. (Note: She does look pretty cool with the white Fist, and the glowing katana, too.)

Speaking of Danny’s quest to discover the secret history of the Iron Fist, I noticed that the identity of the person whose remains Davos had shipped was “Orson Randall”. In the comics, this was the wielder of the Iron Fist prior to Danny. They met and had some adventures in the Immortal Iron Fist comic series, most of which I read in trade paperback. Randall is already dead in the Netflix/Marvel universe, but it could be interesting if the writers incorporate other aspects of that story into the show — e.g., other Lost Cities and their own defenders.

Misty and Colleen

Beyond the other positive aspects I’ve mentioned, the character development this season was impressive. I may not have wanted to see Davos or the Meachums again, but I have to give props to the actors and writers alike. In fact, episode 6 stood out to me as having some of the best dialogs between Colleen and Misty and between Ward and Joy, though there were more in the last couple episodes. (The bits with the guy leading Davos around the city from target to target were “fun”, too.) As for Davos, on the one hand, I don’t find him physically imposing at all, being on the short side (though perhaps slightly more muscular than Danny). On the other hand, his unpredictability, simmering anger, thirst for vengeance, and impressive fighting skills did make him a force to be reckoned with. As with Finn Jones, I would probably not have cast this actor (Sacha Dhawan), but he has brought this very driven, self-righteous character to life as written.

On a brief note, I appreciated the additional nods to the design and colors of the classic Iron Fist costume in the flashbacks and in the remains of the costume in the coffin. I have a feeling we’re never going to see Danny Rand in that costume, per se, but perhaps we’ll get a modified version. Someday…

Overall, I agree with the consensus that Season 2 of “Iron Fist” was a huge improvement over Season 1. In fact, whereas I gave that first season a grade of ‘C-‘ (at best), I’d give this season a ‘B-‘ … maybe even a ‘B’. This puts it, imho, just behind “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage”. (DD is still the one to beat.) 🙂

Review of Luke Cage, Season 2

“Look… We can take Door Number 1, 2, or 3. Guess what? All the prizes suck!” — Luke Cage

Continuing my tradition of reviewing every season of the Marvel/Netflix shows, I present my observations re season 2 of everybody’s favorite bulletproof brutha from Harlem, “Luke Cage”. (See review of season 1 here.) But, before I go any further, I must lay down the requisite…

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

It was great to see Claire and Misty and Bobby again; not so much Mariah and Shades. More on that later. First, though, a few words about the primary newcomers: Bushmaster and Nightshade.

Not surprisingly, this version of John ‘Bushmaster’ McIver varies quite a bit from that in the comics. The comics version was indeed a muscular Black man from the Caribbean (though St. Croix, not Jamaica), but he wore a white and gold costume. He was a Maggia-connected crime boss whose main foe was Iron Fist and whose primary obsession was Misty Knight. He even hired Luke Cage to kidnap Misty. His strength and durability came from forcing Dr. Noah Burstein to replicate the process he used to transform Cage (aka Carl Lucas) back at Seagate Prison. No martial arts, no addiction to some nightshade concoction, and no connection to or grudge against the Stokes family.

I can see why the writers/producers changed several aspects to fit into the Netflix series story, but it still annoys me. The character (ably played by Mustafa Shakir) was better than season 1’s ‘Diamondback’, and at least as complex as ‘Cottonmouth’ had been. Still, I’m not sure I want him to return. (Plus, the Patois he and his Jamaican cronies (and family) spoke was a pain to try to follow, though I have to admit I got better at it as time went along.) His was a tale of vengeance, grounded in an inter-family feud fueled by murder & betrayal a generation ago. But, he seemed inconsistent in both his rationale and his brutality. I felt little sympathy for him, only for those who suffered because of their nearness to him.

While Tilda Johnson was never actually called ‘Nightshade’ on the show, the comic version is. That ‘Nightshade’ was a Harlem-bred sista with a penchant for revealing, black leather outfits. (That is, until she took over the name and full-body costume of ‘Nighthawk’.) Rather than a doctor with an affinity for “natural remedies”, the comics’ Johnson was a brilliant young student who used her extensive knowledge of genetics, cybernetics, and physics to build her criminal career. She apprenticed under Yellow Claw (who gave her the costumed identity of ‘Deadly Nightshade’), fought the likes of Captain America and SHIELD, escaped from prison and built a small criminal empire, only to be brought down by… Power Man and Iron Fist. At one point, she joined Misty Knight’s Crew of villains hired to fight other villains. Later, the vigilante Nighthawk saved her life, and she turned over a new leaf, becoming his partner/weaponeer/mission control.

Shakir and Dennis

Obviously, the comics version has quite a different look, vibe, and history than we see on “Luke Cage”. She develops connections of a sort to Luke and Misty on the show, of course, but they are very different. The connection to the Stokes family and legacy is totally new. So far, the TV version hasn’t done anything illegal, either, except maybe that one time she helped Bushmaster attack the nightclub. (Patty Hearst Syndrome?) The actress (Gabrielle Dennis) is certainly easy on the eyes, but I’m not sure how I feel about this version of ‘Nightshade’ or whether I want her to return.

Now, on to the rest of the show…

It was a pretty good plot, all things considered, and it really accomplished a lot. However, I feel I should at least mention the matter of pacing. As discussed in a previous post, even the best of these Netflix/Marvel series could benefit from slightly tighter pacing, and this was no exception. I can’t remember specifics anymore, but at a few points, things just seemed to drag a bit. I’m not quite sure how to fix this.

I do know that I would love to see more (super)heroics — fights, surveillance, rescues — by our heroes, especially Cage. What we did get to see was great when it involved the henchman and other normal folk. When it came to Cage’s fights with Bushmaster, though, Cage looked pretty stupid. It wasn’t until their final showdown that he seemed to have learned anything. Or, maybe he was just more focused?

Luke has always relied on his size and his fists, and the experiment gave him enhanced strength and a bulletproof hide. (Now, apparently, even the Judas-rounds aren’t lethal, either.) Most of the time, he can just plow through the punks and gangsters that come after him. But, after his encounters with Diamondback last season and Bushmaster this season, I hope he finally realizes that he needs to fight smarter. I don’t expect him to become a student of the martial arts, but I’m hoping Danny and/or Colleen can give him a pointer or two. Speaking of…

Despite my disappointment with the Iron Fist series and character, I actually didn’t mind that Danny Rand showed up here. He and Luke had some good scenes, especially the warehouse fight. He finally chopped some of the curls, which I thought gave him a more masculine look. He also seemed slightly less odd, more mature, more sure of himself. Still kind of annoying with the constant “be still” and chi stuff. But, I understand that he was trying to help Luke get “centered”, so he could be more at peace and more effective.

Shades and Mariah

I gotta say, both the writing and acting was particularly good. And the characters were not two-dimensional, either. As the story moved along, we learned that the main characters and their stories were much more complex than expected. Even Mariah and Shades (though I still dislike them). In fact, some of the best acting was a) in the argument between Luke and Claire (ep.4?), b) the dialogues between Shades and Comanche (ep.6), c) some of Misty’s stuff (both working the case and dealing w/ her injury), d) the bits between Luke (aka Carl) and his father (played by the late, lamented Reg E. Cathey), and even some of those scenes between Mariah and Shades and between Mariah and Tilda. Powerful stuff!

Regarding ‘Black Mariah’ herself, here’s a nice summary by Kim Taylor-Foster at “Fandom”:

“One of the most interesting things about Mariah Dillard is her ability to manipulate. And not only the people around her, but the audience too. On numerous occasions, we feel for her. Her crocodile tears work on us, and every time we fall for it. She’s not so bad, we think. Circumstances have made her like this; there’s some good inside; she’s misunderstood; she’s coming around – but every time she reveals she’s the unfeeling, selfish “monster” her daughter describes her as.”

Yep. Mariah had an interesting journey into darkness in these two seasons of “Luke Cage”, and I, for one, am happy that she finally met her gruesome end. (I actually anticipated how it was gonna happen, too.)

As in season 1, I wasn’t sure what to think of the Shades character, and I’m not sure how much of that is due to the writing and how much due to the acting. Regardless, I was actually a bit surprised that Shades finally said “enough is enough” to Mariah — even more so that he gave a full confession to the cops and helped to put her away! Despite the horrible things we have seen him do, we discovered that he has self-imposed limits, parameters within which he operates. As Mariah got increasingly brutal and involved in things she never could have imagined just last season (prior to killing her cousin, anyway), Shades found himself stretching his own limits, and not in a good way. I can respect his final decision, even if it was long overdue and there was, of course, a strong element of self-interest and self-preservation.

Misty Knight’s journey was entirely different but at least as interesting. The combination of dealing with her injury (followed by getting the prosthetic arm), trying to figure out her place in (or outside of) the police department, and then the specifics of the case(s) she was working on — made the more difficult by Cage, Det. Tyler, and even the late Det. Scarfe — all made for a physically and emotionally exhausting few days, I’m sure. While I’m happy that Misty’s value was recognized by the top brass who offered her the Captain’s position at the end, I’d rather see her move toward becoming a private investigator and teaming up with Colleen Wing, like in the comics. But, hey, at least she now has her bionic arm!

Misty and Luke kickin’ butt

As for our hero, Luke Cage, the dude has been put through the physical and emotional wringer yet again and, I think, has come out all the stronger for it. The character really is developing into a true hero, even as he stumbles through everything life throws at him. He’s often reluctant (especially at the beginning) and often makes mistakes. But, with the help and advice of family & friends (whether solicited or not), he pushes through and gets the job done. I would’ve liked if Claire had stuck around for more episodes, but I understand why she had to go, both character-wise and plot-wise. I’m sure it helped Cage to know that at least she was out of the line of fire, so to speak. After the various dominoes (and players) fell, someone was going to fill the power vacuum. Cage decided that he was the logical choice to save his home from the various criminal organizations, so he “stepped up”. I like it, though I also understand Misty’s reservations. It remains to be seen just how “dirty” he will get in his efforts to protect Harlem. But, we’ll probably have to wait until Season 3 for that.

After we were introduced last season to the reason for Cage’s estrangement from his father, Rev. James Lucas, I didn’t think the writers would pursue it any further. I was wrong. At first, I thought it was an unnecessary complication to season 2’s plot and, of course, Cage’s life. I also didn’t think I would like the Rev character. But, when I realized that he was genuinely penitent for his past marital infidelity and his treatment of Cage (er, Carl), I wanted them to make peace. And, lo and behold, they did! With Cathey’s subsequent passing, it’s a shame they won’t be able to follow up on this reconciliation.

As with the first season, intertwined in the plot was some “social commentary” — i.e., re racism, oppression, the struggle for minorities (especially Blacks) to “make it” in America, police corruption, etc. Also, as I said before, “If the ‘commentary’ had been more heavy-handed, it might have annoyed me; but, it did sound/feel authentic to me.” I will also note the constant use of the N-word. Unfortunately, that is probably also authentic. It was a bit jarring to me at first, but then I realized that this series is essentially a 13-hour, ‘R’-rated movie. So, nasty words and profanity is to be expected. In retrospect, I’m a bit surprised (and pleased) that other “harsh language” was not more common. Only one “love scene”, too, as I recall.

A few random comments:

o Is it just me, or did Cage’s hoodie in the first fight not get any bullet holes? All the others did.
o The ‘Night Nurse’ song was kinda stupid.
o If Hollywood ever needs someone to portray Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Alfre Woodard would be perfect!
o Nice cameo by Colleen Wing! Both the scene in the dojo ring and the one in the bar were appreciated, as we got to see Misty come to terms with her injury & situation. Plus, we got a great fight scene!
o Misty sure adapted to her prosthetic arm in a hurry! Ya gotta love comic-book science….
o Did you catch the Stan Lee “cameo”?

I would like to think that this season was also the end of the Stokes/Dillard arc. I would really like to see someone/something totally different for Luke to battle in the presumed third season. But, given the way things were left, I’m guessing we will see Tilda/Nightshade return to “get what’s hers” (i.e., the nightclub) — possibly with Bushmaster’s help, possibly in competition with Bushmaster. I hope we’ll see more of Annabella Sciorra’s Italian mob-queen character, Rosalie Carbone. (If so, will Punisher show up? They have a history…)

Final score: I gave season 1 of “Luke Cage” a B/B+. Season 2 rates a little higher, I think — say, a B+, bordering on A-.

How to Improve Marvel’s Netflix Shows

“There’s always room for improvement.” — various people at various times

I was thinking about Marvel’s Netflix shows the other day and remembered an article about them that I’d seen a couple months ago. The author, Max Farrow, notes:

“[W]e can’t help but admit that 2017 was something of a stumbling block for the superheroes of Netflix. For all the grit and timeliness of The Punisher, several factors ensured that neither The Defenders or Iron Fist managed to inspire that much enthusiasm in fans. How can Marvel and Netflix get their mojo back, then? What can they do to get their superhero shows on track once more?”

He suggests five ways to do just that, so I figured we could look them over, and I’ll add a few reactions and comments of my own….

1) Stop Killing Villains

Farrow lauds the “fleshed out and highly memorable” main villains (especially as compared to some in the movies) and the “titanic talents” (e.g., Ali, Tennant, Weaver) that have portrayed them. But, he finds it somewhat odd and disappointing that at least twice a major villain has been offed part-way through the series.

“[T]his isn’t to say that show execs can’t, or shouldn’t, kill villains off full-stop. Unique and unpredictable storytelling is a fantastic quality in a series. But, having villain number three die midway through a season is precisely why Netflix shouldn’t opt for it again.”

I agree with him. These were strange moves that interrupted the flow of the respective stories. If they can attract such talent for these roles, why kill them off early? (Of course, it’s possible that they may only want to sign on for 5 or 6 episodes, and that would be a shame.)

2) Kick Ass, But More Efficiently

Farrow lays it out:

“The Marvel/Netflix shows may be gritty character studies, but we wouldn’t love them as much without their alleyway (or corridor) brawls. However, it’s been two years since Daredevil and Frank Castle dished out some quite frankly jaw-dropping beatdowns in Daredevil season 2. Aside from several notable moments in The Defenders, there’s been very little in the way of truly electrifying showdowns since. So, why are these kinds of moments becoming scarcer?”

As Farrow acknowledges, “action scenes are expensive and tricky to film.” But, no matter how “real-life” these shows are, they are still about characters with amazing superpowers and fighting skills. People who tune in expect to see these powers/skills used and, hopefully, not only executed well but in ways that seem authentic and make sense.

“From Daredevil’s radar-sense to Jessica Jones’ limited flight, honing on in [sic] these iconic abilities in fight scenes could really make the Marvel/Netflix shows stand out. Moreover, given enough resources and planning time, a great choreographer would be able to turn these prerequisite punch-ups into something truly special.”

Yes, indeed.

3) Planning Makes Perfect

Unlike the (mostly) “efficiently cohesive, detailed world” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Netflix shows, according to Farrow, seem to struggle with reminding us of their interconnectedness. In particular, he points to “The Defenders” and its slow ramp to get viewers up to speed on “picking up where each of the solo shows left off” and “a lot of work into maneuvering [the characters] into suitable positions for the story at hand.”

At first, I thought he was being a little hard on the writers/producers regarding efforts to a) show us what our heroes were currently up to and b) orchestrate their eventual “team-up” against their common foes. I mean, that’s a lot to juggle. Plus, more generally, the appearances of ‘Claire Temple’, ‘Karen Page’, and other supporting characters help to remind us of the shared city in the other series. But, after re-reading Farrow’s comments, I have to admit he makes some good observations.

“A bit more pre-planning would be hugely beneficial in this regard. Moreover, it would help any inter-show crossovers to feel more natural, such as in the rumored second season of The Defenders. Plus, it will allow for terrific new stories to be told, which change and shape the wider Marvel/Netflix world.

Sure, the shows all feel alike with their similarly grungy Manhattan, but it’s strange how inconsequentially huge events – such as Kingpin’s bombings – are rendered within the context of The Defenders.

It’s even stranger when we consider that all of the characters operate only a few blocks away from each other as well.”

I can’t help but agree with him there, too. This leads into the next gripe/suggestion…

4) Get To Grips With The Wider MCU

When “(Marvel’s) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” debuted on ABC back in 2013, it was essentially a spin-off that followed the “Battle of New York” seen in the first Avengers film. Agent Phil Coulson was the crossover player (with an appearance or two by Nick Fury), and there have continued to be references to stuff from the films sprinkled about in the TV series. Unfortunately, despite the hopes of the fans, connections between Netflix’s Marvel-based series and the MCU movies have been quite slim, with references even fewer and farther between.

“This hasn’t been hugely detrimental to these shows, though. Moreover, The Punisher barely features any inter-world connections and still manages to tell a rich and compelling story without relying on references. However, it is getting to the point where passing lip-service to iron suits isn’t going to cut it anymore.

At what point in the MCU timeline does Daredevil’s showdown with Fisk take place? A year after The Avengers? No one knows. Plus, the lack of Defenders references from the movies are conspicuous by their absence. Surely S.H.I.E.L.D. would have a use for someone like Matt Murdock?”

Farrow is fair to note the various challenges of things like logistics, varying development times, the “notoriously fractious relationship” between the movie and TV divisions, etc. Still, if the Netflix series are firmly set in the same world as the MCU, and I hope they are, then they really need to make a better effort to make that clear. It would only make sense, and it would further please the fans who value such continuity.

5) Shorten The Series

Farrow contends that the thirteen-episode structure of each season of the Netflix shows — except for the “The Defenders” mini-series, of course — is just a tad too long. I’ll let him explain…

“Regardless of what theme each show is exploring, at their hearts they’re superhero stories, right down to their adrenaline-fuelled needs. That isn’t to say they can’t be deep or cerebral (these shows have frequently proved that it’s possible), but they do need that burgeoning, dramatic tension to keep them chugging along.

Unfortunately, because of their structure, the Marvel/Netflix shows can’t sustain this drive for the time that they’re required to. Even the best of these series are forced to tread water for some period of time, be it the opening episodes of The Punisher or those where Kilgrave’s imprisoned in Jessica Jones. When this happens, the bloat sets in and the show grinds to a halt.

Again, it’s not that we don’t love spending time with characters like Jessica Jones. But if the show around them suffers for it, then something’s got to give. And that something is the series’ length.”

My instinct is to deny it. I mean, I love my superheroes (regardless of how much I complain), so the more episodes the better. Right? But, after briefly reflecting, I have to admit that Farrow is probably right, and I’ve even had similar thoughts. Most (each?) of the Netflix shows could probably have been improved by tightening up the writing/pacing, thereby cutting each season down to 10(?) to 12 episodes each.

I’m tempted to add a point or two of my own, but you all already know my gripes and preferences from the reviews I’ve done on these series. (See ‘Review Posts’ link at top of page.)

So, what do you think? Is Farrow unfair or otherwise “off” in his assessments? Am I an “unfaithful” fan for generally agreeing with him? Is ‘Kilgrave’ overrated, ‘cuz Tennant makes Whovian fangirls swoon? Should I stop asking questions? Just wonderin’…

Y or Y Not

“Nnnooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!” — me

It seems that an adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan’s popular, critically-acclaimed, dystopian comic book series, Y: The Last Man (DC/Vertigo), has been in development at FX for some time, and I had no idea. How could that happen?!

Originally (2007), New Line bought the rights and had names like David Goyer and D.J. Caruso attached. Caruso wanted to do a three-film saga (which might’ve worked, imho), but he left the project when New Line insisted on a single film. (Bad idea!) They tried again with another group of names, but that fell through when the rights eventually reverted back to Vaughan in 2014, who didn’t like the direction they were taking. When the FX deal was announced in 2015, they had lined up Color Force’s Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson to co-adapt/write with Vaughan. (Vaughan had previously worked on “Lost” and “Under the Dome”.)

“All of the men are dead. But one. Y traverses a world of women — exploring gender, race, class and survival.” — FX’s formal description for the series

Now, they’ve got a showrunner (Michael Green), a newly-signed co-showrunner (Aida Mashaka Croal), a director (Melina Matsoukas), and a fresh, new pilot order. Green, Croal, Matsoukas, Jacobson, Simpson, and Vaughan will all be executive producers.

I quite enjoyed the Y: The Last Man comic series, lo, those many years ago. The premise was intriguing, the title character (semi-pro escape artist Yorick Brown) was a lovable goof, and his little, rascally Capuchin buddy (Ampersand) was cute & funny, too. (Note: It is for “mature audiences”, so a few scenes/elements were a bit uncomfortable for me.) It also had decent storylines and supporting characters, and Pia Guerra’s art was terrific — a perfect fit. Terrific, creative cover art, too. So, when I started to read about this live-action version being made for the small screen, my first thought was an enthusiastic, “Cool!”. But, then I remembered “Runaways”….

“Runaways”, if you don’t remember, is another comic series Vaughan created and wrote a few years ago (but for Marvel). It was recently adapted for the small screen and aired on Hulu. I’m just about finished watching the 10-episode run, but I practically have to force myself. If it was an original series, it would be fine. But, I know the source material (having recently re-read the original 18-issue story arc), and the TV series is such a disappointment. I can understand a few minor tweaks, but there are so many alterations to characters — 2 or 3 missing, others new; others with different ages, physical appearances, “origins”, and/or personality changes –, and the plot is barely recognizable beyond the most basic elements. I keep asking myself how Vaughan could let his creation be so… mangled. But, then I came across this statement:

“These changes are fully supported by Vaughan, who serves as a consultant on the TV series…. [Also,]

‘It was important to me that we do something where people can’t go online and read how this ends or what’s going to happen next.'”

I can certainly understand that concern, but I think they went way too far with the changes on “Runaways”. With that in mind, I kept reading about the “Y: The Last Man” adaptation. Unfortunately, it only got worse, based on Vaughan’s Nov. 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter:

“I wanted to find someone who loved the source material, but didn’t feel so indebted to it that they would be afraid to change it. When [Michael Green] first pitched his take on it to Nina Jacobson, our producer, and me a long time ago, he came in saying he wanted to do something about toxic masculinity. It felt very relevant, and unfortunately I think it’s only become more relevant with each passing day. His take on it was really brave and very different, but exciting as well. I really admire how audacious he’s been with his translation.”

Michael Green at Comic Con

Groan! And, of course (<eyeroll>), it’s Trump’s fault, as Green explained to THR last July:

“It would have been a very different show, and very different development process, had the election not been as horrifying as it was. I had to put the script down for a couple months and really reassess it tonally, because it became a different creature, it became violent protest. It couldn’t not be political, and I had to embrace it, and I had to find my way in, and I had to find a way to channel my own dismay, disappointment and rage into it, while still keeping it what it is. For a minute there I almost walked away.”

“It couldn’t not be political….” Criminy dutch! What a way to ruin a cool idea by feeding into this hysterical, politically-correct, “toxic masculinity” crap! (Can you tell I’m a bit worked up over this?) Fans like me don’t want Green’s “dismay, disappointment and rage” over a political election. We don’t want “very different” and “audacious”, either. We want to see the source material realized with its original tone. That’s what we loved on the page; that’s what we want on the screen. But, Leftist Hollywood rarely gets that, or cares.

At least there was one thing I can get behind regarding Green’s take on it, and it’s something I think my fellow “Babylon 5” fans can appreciate, too….

“‘Whether it is 60, 70 or 80 episodes, I’m gonna pick a number, and I’m gonna stick to it. And I’m gonna write to it. There’s so many brilliant things in that comic, the two biggest are the premise, and the ending.’ He believes Vaughan’s writing ‘toward an ending that he knew’ made the series more ‘meaningful.’ He calls the set length of the series a ‘pact’ with the audience, adding, ‘It will help them to know that we’re ticking down.'”

Obviously, you can do a “last man on Earth” story without resorting to making it a feminist screed. It has been done before. There may even have been a few anti-male jabs in the comic series, but it wasn’t enough to ruin it for me, especially if they were for light comedic effect. So, this “violent protest” of Green’s — with FX’s and Vaughan’s apparent support — has me worried and quite irked, to say the least. I may watch the pilot out of curiosity, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to stomach it for long, if that’s the tone and direction Green’s gonna twist Y into. Sheesh!

Review of Jessica Jones, Season 2

“It took someone coming back from the dead to realize that I’ve been dead, too. The problem is, I never really figured out how to live.” — Jessica Jones

As I watch a series that I know I’m going to be reviewing here, I try to notice things and jot down observations and ideas as I go. When I started watching the second season of “Jessica Jones”, I had a few thoughts, of course, but I couldn’t get into it. It was just more of surly, drunk Jessica treating herself and her friends, family, and associates badly. (I don’t find Krysten Ritter particularly attractive, either, so there wasn’t even that very shallow aspect to enjoy.) Some of those supporting characters were doing mean or stupid things, too. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this review, but I felt sort of obligated.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Then, I started to notice something else. I began to see the parallels between the individual characters’ stories, and I appreciated more what the writers were doing. Yeah, OK, maybe it was obvious to you. But, sometimes I get so wrapped up in other stuff that the finer points — or, perhaps it’s the “big picture”? — get past me.

Trish/Patsy: On the one hand, Trish is so wrapped up in her career, that she’s willing to throw away a relationship with a genuinely good guy. On the other hand, she’s so obsessed with somehow obtaining superhuman abilities of her own, ostensibly so she can be a champion for the people, that she ends up throwing away her career and putting her own health and safety — her life, really — at risk. Along the way, she lies to and manipulates her friends and family, alienates fans, and threatens to destroy someone else’s career (though that guy sorta deserved it). And don’t get me started on her overbearing mother….

Malcolm: This poor guy can’t seem to catch a break. His boss (Jessica) verbally abuses him and constantly takes him for granted. The woman he has a crush on (Trish) finally pays attention, even sleeps with him, but it turns out she’s just using him for her own, selfish reasons. He gets the crap beat out of him, and Trish almost gets him — a recovering addict — hooked on something new and dangerous. His loyalty is constantly being tested. Like they say, with friends like these…. One of the ways he “copes” is by engaging in a few one-night stands — looking for affection or approbation, I suppose. In the end, at least, he starts making some hard choices and gaining some independence.

Jeri: I can see why they replaced frumpy, hetero, male Jeryn Hogarth with an attractive, lesbian version. Much more “exciting”, and it gets the LGBT vote. But, this gal does not have it all together. Her former employee/girlfriend is suing her, and her law partners are trying to kick her out of her own firm. Then she’s diagnosed with ALS. What does she do? Parties with ladies of the night, gets dirt on her partners in order to blackmail them, and sleeps with the homeless girl (and protected witness, of sorts) that she’d given sanctuary in her home. The normally sharp Ms. Hogarth allows herself to be conned into thinking she’d been healed, then her home is burglarized by those she trusted. Ouch!

Janet McTeer as Alisa Jones

Alisa: The character of Jessica’s previously-thought-deceased mother, played by Oscar-nominee Janet McTeer, is introduced. Happy reunion? Not exactly. Turns out, Alisa is the superpowered individual who has been hunting & killing people in Jessica’s orbit. The experiments that gave her the powers (like Jessica’a) also gave her a hair-trigger temper, so she’s got serious “anger management” issues that put those around her in danger. Thus, the faked death and her isolation — with the mad doctor responsible, who she’s fallen in love with — for 17(?) years. Once she finally meets her daughter, they clash both physically and ethically. Will she survive on the run (with or without Jessica), or go to prison for the rest of her life, or is she destined to be killed by law enforcement?

Jessica: As previously mentioned, our protagonist still struggles with many issues, mostly derived from childhood trauma and psychic (and perhaps physical) rape/torture by Killgrave, which she “deals with” by constantly drinking, acting like a jerk, and occasionally banging a random stranger. (Of course, with her enhanced constitution, it takes 3x the usual amount for her to get buzzed, let alone drunk.) Another big factor is the fact that she killed Killgrave (last season), and it is eating at her, such that she wonders if that makes her a “murderer”. Her P.I. business is barely surviving, and now a larger firm is attempting to eliminate the competition one way or the other. Her landlord wants to evict her, and the new super is more than happy to help — at least, at first. Her friends (i.e., Trish and Malcolm) are always “nagging” her. And, then, her murderous mother (who is even stronger than Jessica) enters her life, and Jessica is torn about whether or not to assist the cops in bringing Alisa in versus letting Alisa (and the doc?) escape versus going on the run with her herself. Meanwhile, she has to constantly (try to) keep dear ol’ mom from ripping limbs off of people who she feels threatened by or beating them to death. Oh, plus, she then finds herself (somehow) in a relationship with the formerly hostile new super, which adds unwelcome wrinkles to whatever plan she adopts for the future. Sheesh! Given all of this, I guess I do feel badly for our reluctant hero. She has good reasons to feel angry, frustrated, and to put up those defensive “walls”.

So,… all of the primary characters are dealing with some pretty heavy issues — identity crises, varying types of abuse, perceived betrayal, uncertain futures, etc. –, both personal and business-related. In response, they abuse various substances, have frivolous sexual encounters, do some other rather selfish things, even commit crimes. I’m guessing they all know what the right thing to do is, but it’s a struggle, and they all screw up on several occasions. If they were my friends, I’d be rather disappointed in them, even while trying to be sympathetic regarding their respective “issues”. I have to admit, though, it all sadly has a pretty realistic feel to it. And realism, after all, is a hallmark of these Netflix shows. (Except for, you know… the superpowers stuff.)

On another, related matter…

Personally, I thought the “love scenes” — which there were more of, this time around — were a bit gratuitous. I mean, yes, they made sense within each character’s journey and how they were dealing with stuff. But, we don’t need to see/hear, for example, Jessica getting humped in a bar restroom or Jeri getting high (and making out) with lesbian/bisexual hookers to get the idea. There are less in-your-face, more PG-rated ways of letting an audience know what’s going on (or about to, or just did). Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer more restraint and self-censorship. I guess the assumption is that if they’re doing ‘R’-rated violence, they “have” to do ‘R’- (or, at least, PG-13-) rated sexuality? However, I do appreciate that there wasn’t much, if any, nudity — although, I may have missed something when fast-forwarding past those scenes.

Despite this, I liked Season 2 better than the first one. As terrific as David Tennant’s portrayal of Killgrave was in Season 1, the subject matter was not to my liking. Of course, the theme of “abuse and how to deal with it (or not)” has become central to the series. But, this season felt a bit more… comfortable(?), I guess. I dunno. I also liked the hopeful note that the finale left on for some of our main characters: Mal’s new job, Trish’s recovery (and then some), Jessica’s settling into her new relationship with Oscar. (I suspect, though, either she’ll screw it up in Season 3 or something bad will happen to him. Shame, too, ‘cuz I like Oscar. And his kid.)

Overall, I give Season 2 of “Jessica Jones” a solid ‘B’, maybe ‘B+’.

A New Era for Valiant Entertainment

Valiant Comics were cool.

Solar, Man of the Atom. X-O Manowar. Bloodshot. Harbinger. Rai. Shadowman. Eternal Warrior. Archer & Armstrong. Etc. Lots of great art and great stories, all in a cohesive universe! They even had a different look and “feel” that set them apart from other comic universes.

“The mainstream titles were becoming overwhelmingly art-driven. We wanted to offer the public something that had been lost, namely well-written, character-driven stories.” — Bob Layton, writer/artist and former Senior V.P. of the original Valiant

Solar #3 (1991)

I remember when Jim Shooter and Steve Massarsky launched the new company in the early 1990s, following a failed attempt to buy Marvel Entertainment. (Well, technically, Voyager Communications was founded in 1989, but the first books under the Valiant Comics imprint came out in 1991.) They began by licensing a couple older characters — Solar, Man of the Atom, and Magnus, Robot Fighter — that were originally published by Gold Key Comics in the 1960s. I never really got into Magnus much, but I loved the god-like Doctor Solar. And the artwork by Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton? Awesome!

The company attracted some talented creators, both new and veteran, and the stable of characters and titles grew. Diamond Comics Distributors named it Publisher of the Year in 1993 and, at some point, Valiant became the third largest comic book company in the world. Shooter was forced out in 1992 and Acclaim Entertainment bought the company in 1994. Of course, Acclaim cancelled a few titles in 1996. Acclaim went bankrupt in 2004, and that’s about when I lost track.

I heard about the new Valiant Entertainment which started up in 2005, but I didn’t realize that it was formed by two mega-fans who bought the old company’s assets. (However, the licensed characters Solar, Magnus, and Turok were not part of the deal.) Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari weren’t even out of college when they put together the winning bid. (Actually, they came in 2nd, but the winner pulled out shortly afterward.) They built up a senior advisory board consisting of several former Marvel people and chaired by former Marvel CEO Peter Cuneo. They enticed Marvel’s Warren Simons to join as Executive Editor and eventually put together a stable of enthusiastic and award-winning creative talent, publishing their first comics — reboots of four of the original characters — in “The Summer of Valiant” in 2012.

“It was abundantly clear to me that these guys had a tremendous love for both the medium and Valiant’s characters. They wanted to build the company with a commitment to compelling stories above all else. As an editor who strives to put out great comics on a monthly basis, this was music to my ears.” — Warren Simons

Of course, remember that I said that Valiant Comics were cool? That’s because I haven’t read any from the last few years, so I can’t judge them from personal experience to say if they still are cool. (I am aware that Quantum & Woody, unfortunately, has become politically-charged, insulting to certain groups, with disappointing art and humor. I don’t know about the other titles.) However, they must be doing something right. The new Valiant proceeded to win Publisher of the Year, set sales records, and was the most nominated publisher in comics at the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Harvey Awards.

When Valiant re-launched in 2012, it was also announced that big-screen films were in development for the Bloodshot and Harbinger properties, with names like director Brett Ratner and producer Neal Moritz attached. Other film projects were announced in the ensuing months. Then, in March 2015, Valiant Entertainment got “an undisclosed nine-figure investment from Chinese entertainment company DMG, the co-producers and co-financiers of Iron Man 3.” The money was earmarked for TV and film development, “which one assumes includes the currently-in-development Shadowman, Bloodshot and Archer & Armstrong.”

“[T]aking a stake in the last independent massive comic universe is a strategic investment for DMG that will produce movies and TV that are both appealing and relevant to a global audience.” — Dan Mintz, CEO of DMG

Bloodshot #2 (2012)

As per comicbook.com’s Russ Burlingame,

“The deal likely means that DMG will co-finance all of the projects and assist with international distribution and exhibition[, including in the huge Chinese market]. DMG and Valiant will also be pursuing Chinese licensing for Valiant properties beyond film in publishing, animation and theme parks, as well as toys and apparel.”

That was three years ago. Now, we come to the latest bit of major news on the Valiant front….

In January of this year, DMG Entertainment went from owning 57% of Valiant Entertainment to owning it all, thereby providing Mintz’s “filmmaker-run studio with a treasure trove of world-class intellectual properties and establish[ing] DMG as one of the most valuable and innovative media companies in Hollywood…. The Valiant acquisition is the latest in a string of high-profile strategic moves from Mintz and DMG, the global entertainment powerhouse valued at more than $6 billion. In addition, the company has continued to expand its purview with new initiatives in intellectual property, virtual reality, e-sports and live attractions based on top-tier global franchises, including Hasbro’s “Transformers.””

“Our priority is to build upon Valiant’s vast universe of characters from a filmmaker’s perspective. I’m excited to immerse Valiant’s fans well beyond the stories we tell cinematically — from publishing to gaming to theme parks and beyond.” — Dan Mintz

According to the Wikipedia summary of the deal, Valiant CEO/CCO Dinesh Shamdasani, COO/CFO Gavin Cuneo, and Chairman Peter Cuneo will transition out of the company, though the first two will continue to serve as consultants. No word, yet, on new management, but presumably Mintz will serve in at least a couple of the top spots. Valiant’s publishing team, however, will remain in place, including Publisher Fred Pierce and Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons.

I have no idea what kind of a reputation Mintz/DMG have as filmmakers or businesspersons. (Iron Man 3 and Looper were good and fairly successful, but not great.) I have to say, though, that this sounds like a fantastic development for the Valiant properties to get the stable financial and creative backing they need to proceed with the TV and film productions — probably more. Mintz sure sounds enthusiastic, and I hope he is as driven to make quality, story-driven productions with these characters as everyone from Shooter & Layton to  Shamdasani et al. have been. I hope-n-pray that the film/TV adaptations stay faithful to the comic sources, so that longtime fans can enjoy the original characters they… we… grew to love. And, of course, it would be nice if the comics themselves continue to be well-written and entertaining (and hopefully not objectionable) for all.

Inhumans Mini-Review and Fan-Cast

Yep, I did it! I watched the “Inhumans” mini-series.

I have to say, it didn’t suck as badly as I’d expected, based on some comments I’d read. But, it was very disappointing. As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve liked the Inhumans, especially the Royal Family, since their early appearances in the Fantastic Four comics. So, although I realize they might not be the easiest to adapt to live-action, what with the supersized dog and the leader/king who can’t speak (without destroying stuff, that is), I was still hoping for a decent show. So much for that idea…

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Now, there were positive points. For example, I thought Lockjaw looked great, and his teleportation effect was cool, too. Other visual F/X were good, and they got the general color schemes for the characters right. Triton was surprisingly bad@$$. (I don’t remember him being so deadly in the comics, but then I haven’t read any Inhumans stories in several years.) What else? Um,… the girls were cute, and, uh,… I’m sure there was something else I liked….

One annoying thing I noted early on was when otherwise-intelligent people kept doing stupid things or *not* doing sensible things. For example, I realize that Black Bolt’s sign language would not have been understood by Americans, but why didn’t he at least try to communicate with the police? He (and his family) obviously knew a lot about some Earth things, including how to read/speak/understand English. Couldn’t he have written stuff down? Also, how did he not realize that stealing would bring attention from law-enforcement? Then there’s Medusa, who didn’t think to take Auran’s comm unit. Also, since she must have known of Auran’s incredible healing ability, why didn’t she make sure Auran was dead after their battle, or at least shackle or tie her up?

There were inconsistencies, too, like Gorgon’s boots being shaped like hoofs (as they should be), and then later just looking like normal boots.

The writing and acting was generally bad or lackluster. I’ve seen some of the actors before, and they didn’t suck then. So,… do we blame the director? Black Bolt in particular was odd. For one thing, I kept thinking I was watching Jim Caviezel, ‘cuz Anson Mount looks so much like him. Something about the set of the jaw and the eyes, I think. But, while Mount was forced to do much of his acting via his eyes, I’m afraid it just didn’t work. His range of expression seemed to be stuck between alarmed, frustrated, and just plain bewildered. (I don’t remember his performances in anything else, so I can’t say if he has displayed much more depth or range.)

And Maximus? I was really looking forward to a raving madman. After all, they don’t call him “Maximus the Mad” for nothing. But, what we got was a better-behaved Ramsay Bolton who just wanted to be one of the cool kids. Sigh!

Another disappointing thing was the limited displays of Medusa’s and Karnak’s powers. I think I read a critique somewhere that said her prehensile hair wasn’t a good effect, but I thought it was decent. In my opinion, shaving her hair off in the beginning, while a dramatic plot point (and true to a comic storyline, I think), was a bad move. We fans want to see Medusa (and her hair) in action! (Also, Serinda Swan looks <much> better with hair.) As for Karnak, they made a point of injuring him to reduce his amazing analytical abilities, which then gave him a crisis of confidence. Related to this was his limited fighting. Was this intentionally done, because Ken Leung has little-to-no martial arts ability? Again, I wanted to see Karnak the Shatterer kick butt! He had a couple OK scenes (though one took place mostly in the dark) — and it was kinda cool the way they showed him calculating trajectories and probabilities and such — but he could/should have been <so> much better. (Props for giving him the facial tats, but why no enlarged cranium?) Wish we had seen more of Triton, too. He must’ve been reveling in having all that water to swim in! And we didn’t get to see Black Bolt fly, either, dangit!

In the end, I suppose I would have chosen a different story that allowed everyone to better showcase their powers.

Alright, I’ve said enough about that. Now, I’d like to present my choices for if I were to cast the Inhumans Royal Family. I won’t get into Inhumans history or powers/abilities or (for the most part) the actors’ resumes, this time. Let me say up front that, as usual, I tried to stick to the general height (within reason) and build of the characters as seen in the comics. Also, I think Black Bolt is one of the oldest of the royal siblings & cousins, so I put him at mid-30s to 40. Crystal would be the youngest at early- to mid-20s. Everyone else should probably be late-20s to late-30s.

Philip Winchester

Nicole Steinwedell

I considered both Ryan McPartlin (6’4.5″,b.1975) and Eric Dane (6’1″,b.1972) for Black Bolt, but they’re both a little older than I preferred, and McPartlin’s a little too tall. So, I went back to someone I’ve recommended for other square-jawed hero roles: Philip Winchester (6’1″,b.1981). For Medusa, I wanted someone who could play both regal and compassionate queen, preferably redhead (though that’s going to be CGI, anyway), and (here’s the toughest part) tall. Either Eva Green (5’6″,b.1980) or Emily Beecham (5’5.25″,b.1984) would be great, except Marvel’s wiki puts Medusa at 5’11”. It is really tough to find good actresses in that height range. But,… though she is usually blonde, I think Nicole Steinwedell (5’11”,b.1981) fits the bill! (I even found a pic of her in a purple/violet dress!)

Roman Reigns

Nicholas Tse

The warrior Gorgon is tall (6’7″) and muscular, so I thought a wrestler might be a good choice. In fact, it didn’t take me long to realize that Joe Anoa’i (aka Roman Reigns) (6’3.25″,b.1985) is practically perfect. I mean, look at this guy! Put him in hoof-boots, and he might even reach 6’7″. Karnak, on the other hand, is a foot shorter and slimmer (though still muscular). It has never been clear to me if he is supposed to be Asian-looking. (Sometimes, he even looks French to me, for some reason.) But, that’s the way the series went with the character, and I agree. Jet Li (5’6.25″,b.1963) might’ve been a fair choice, but he’s too old and still has a thick accent. So, my vote is for Nicholas Tse (5’9″,b.1980), who is an actor & martial artist who happened to go bald for a recent part (see pic).

Andy On

Saoirse Ronan

Medusa’s baby sister, Crystal, is a pretty strawberry-blonde who clocks in at 5’6″. I decided to go with the talented Saoirse Ronan (5’6″,b.1994), known for her work in Atonement, The Lovely Bones, Hanna, all before she turned 17. She could certainly play young Crystal with some depth. (Coincidentally, in recent years Crystal was married to (and subsequently separated from) Ronan the Accuser, the Kree warrior/judge.) As for Karnak’s older brother, the water-breathing Triton, I opted for another martial artist/actor: Andy On (5’11”,b.1977). (I would’ve considered him for Karnak, but he’s too tall.) He is a little older than I’d like for the role, but he has the right build, and I think he can easily pass for 30-something.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, we have Black Bolt’s younger brother and intermittent enemy, the evil and treacherous Maximus. I saw someone else fan-cast Joaquin Phoenix (5’8″,b.1974), who coincidentally played ‘Commodus’ to Russell Crowe’s ‘Maximus’ in Gladiator. While a little older and shorter than preferred, I agree that he could’ve been a great Maximus the Mad. While Maximus has had a number of different looks (i.e., costume, armor, hair, build), it was a more recent version (rightmost pic above) that made me think of Dominic Rains (6′,b.1982). If Rains looks familiar, it is because — and here’s another one of those interesting connections — he has been playing the evil (insane?) Kree overlord/station-commander, Kasius, on the current season of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, who creates Inhumans for his own entertainment and profit. Perfect, no?

Rains as Kasius

Dominic Rains

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that is an Inhumans movie/series I would love to see!

This concludes our review/fan-cast combo for the Inhumans Royal Family. Hope ya liked it! Don’t be afraid to leave a relevant comment below….

Review of The Defenders (Netflix)

“It’s been a long week.” — Jessica Jones, “The Defenders”

The much(?)-anticipated “The Defenders” mini-series has finally been released, capping off the first four Marvel/Netflix series. I finished watching it a few days ago, so I have a few thoughts to share….

You probably figured I’d put out some sort of review, right? Regular readers already know how I feel about the actors and these versions of the characters from my earlier reviews, so I won’t say too much on that front. (Too many to link to here; just do a search on “Netflix” or go to the Reviews page linked above.) I assume most people who are interested in the show have already watched it, but I’m adding a Spoiler Alert, anyway.

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

Let’s start with… I liked the opening/closing credits music. It reminded me of a cross between those for Daredevil and Iron Fist.

I also really appreciated the getting-to-know-each-other scene at the Chinese restaurant, after our heroes survived their first team-up. It was reminiscent — probably intentionally so — of the shawarma shop scene at the end of Avengers.

Our heroes all remained very much in character. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones did their usual strong-guy/gal thing, smashing, slamming, punching, and kicking the crap out of The Hand’s lackeys. Nothin’ pretty. Luke also got to play “human shield” on occasion. (I think he actually enjoys it, despite the costs to his wardrobe.) Once he was on board, Matt Murdock / Daredevil re-confirmed that he’s the best fighter of all of them, in my opinion. However, he also takes some chances — specifically, re Elektra — that put himself and others in danger. Of course, the writers can make even foolish decisions turn out to be the “right” ones in the end.

Each of these three, at some point along the way, had their doubts about taking on The Hand, preferring to stay out of the “war” or just not ready to go “all the way”. But, they realized the threat that The Hand represented to the people of New York (and likely beyond), and they stepped up. They knew they might not survive, but they were the city’s only real chance. That’s what makes them heroes.

I would really love to see Daredevil pair up with Cage. That could be an awesome partnership. (Cage and Rand, not so much.)

Not surprisingly, I thought Danny Rand / Iron Fist was quite disappointing. Without the chi-powered fist, his fighting skills are still mediocre — clumsy-looking, even. Good thing The Hand seems to only have mediocre-level soldiers, rather than the ninja-assassins from the comics. (Elektra aside, of course.) He also continued with the part-petulant child, part-stranger-in-a-strange-land bit, while never understanding why people aren’t impressed by his “I am the immortal Iron Fist” claims, followed by tales of dragons and mystical cities. Sheesh! Either give it a rest, or at least show off the “fist” a bit earlier.

Colleen Wing’s presence mostly made up for that of her boyfriend. She’s attractive, passionate, willing to do what needs to be done, and brings some much-needed skill with bladed weapons to the good-guy side. She seems to start many fights by charging at her opponents, which doesn’t seem too smart to me, particularly when it’s a superior fighter like Bakuto. Then again, it’s not like she’s gonna surprise him/them, especially beginning from several feet away. Maybe the head-on approach is best, just to get the fight underway?

Some of the best acting in this series was in scenes with the Colleen and Claire characters, especially the one where Colleen briefly broke down in tears. Well done, Miss Henwick.

Claire’s how-did-I-get-myself-into-this reflections and lines were welcome as usual. She really is the heart of the (non-)team, and not just because she is the acquaintance that they all had in common. She also probably surprises no one more than herself that she is still in the thick of it and, well, not dead, yet. Like Colleen said, Claire’s a hero, too.

It was nice to see Malcolm, Trish, Karen, and Foggy, too, and to find out what they were up to since we last saw them. There wasn’t much for them to do in this story but hide out. But, it made sense in the plot to have them involved, since they were the closest associates of our heroes. However, it still seems odd to have them essentially camp out in the police station, when the cops never really understood what The Hand was or how dangerous they were.

Misty Knight… yowza! (Ahem, sorry.) The lovely Detective Knight returns! Yay! (“Detective Knight” sounds like a twist on a certain Distinguished Competition’s pointy-eared vigilante, doesn’t it?) She continues to be frustrated by our heroes, but she comes through in the end and supports, even aids, them. Yay, again! She pays a dear price for it, though, since she (finally) loses her arm. Triple-yay! That’s right, I’m glad she lost her arm, ‘cuz that means she will probably, eventually, get a super-strong bionic arm, just like in the comics. (I have a feeling her benefactor will be Rand, though, instead of Stark.) Then, she just needs to become a P.I. and partner with Colleen Wing, and I’ll be a happy man. (Especially if they get their own series!)

It sort of makes sense that Stick would be the one to unite — however reluctantly — our heroes. Or, at least, try to keep them together after that initial big fight. (Btw, since we already know these Netflix shows take place in the same world as the films, it would have made sense to have someone say something like, “Why not tell those Avengers guys? Let them HANDle it!” OK, maybe without the pun.) I’m a little surprised that they killed him off, but not real disappointed. For one, he was getting annoying; for two, with The Hand out of commission (thankfully, at least for now), there’s little reason for Stick to show up, and this should help our heroes — well, Matt, anyway… and Elektra — move on.

I hate to say it, but Sigourney Weaver looked… old. But, then I realized she’s 67, so she’s allowed to have a few wrinkles and such. Don’t know that I would have thought of her as a villain for this series. But, as the Alexandra character was written, she was a decent choice. We suspected they would bring Bakuto back, as well as the ever-present and deceptively powerful Madame Gao. The other two new Hand leaders — Murakami and Sowande — seemed formidable at first. But, the latter was too easily defeated, and the former was ultimately not that impressive.

I have mixed feelings about the whole Elektra thing. I mean, we already knew she was being resurrected by The Hand, so she’d probably be involved in another series storyline. And, it makes sense the way it was done and why. I think. Her betrayal of Alexandra was a surprise, which made for a nice plot twist. However, I don’t understand why she suddenly became so cold, amoral, etc. I guess it had something to do with her soul being affected (seared? tainted? infected?) by her brief time on “the other side”. I don’t remember hearing a good explanation for her behavior, but maybe I just missed it or didn’t put the pieces together.

If Elektra survived and if she eventually returns (though hopefully not for awhile), I hope she becomes more the assassin-for-hire that comic readers are familiar with. One with a damaged, yet still present, moral compass and ethical code.

The overall plot wasn’t bad, though it seemed to take a little while to get moving. Definitely room for improvement here and there, which might have been do-able if they had another episode or two to work with. Or, maybe fewer episodes would have forced them to tighten it up and get to the good stuff sooner. For the most part, though, the four heroes’ individual stories came together fairly well. It all flowed OK (though the earlier episodes were a bit rocky), and there was some good character development. (Even Rand.) Most of the interaction between our heroes was good, too, and I appreciated the occasional doses of humor.

Open questions: Why didn’t the NYPD file a report? Why wouldn’t they charge our heroes with terrorism? I’m not saying there isn’t a plausible way around it, with Jeri Hogarth (and Foggy, of course) coming to their aid. (Even “The Defenders” sometimes need a legal defense of their own, right?) But, the “wrap-up” at the end seemed too easy.

Overall grade: When feeling generous, I’m tempted to give “The Defenders” a solid ‘B’. Other days, I might go as low as a ‘C’. So, let’s split the difference and go with a ‘C+/B-‘.