Fan-Cast: FF Villains, part 2: Doctor Doom

“No one rivals Doom! NO ONE! Doom is supreme! There is no power on Earth, no intellect in all creation to equal mine!”  — Doctor Doom, FF #258

When people think of the Fantastic Four’s arch-villain, Doctor Doom is the only logical choice. (Assuming they can only have one, that is.) So, why did I wait until my second FF villains post to cast him? Simply put, I had Puppet Master written up and was finishing Mole Man, when I realized that I had plenty for one post. Plus, there was no reason I had to stress out over trying to get a third done in time, so… I held off ’til this week. Please forgive me. I hope it was worth the wait….

doctordoom_Doctor Doom

Victor von Doom was born & raised among the much-maligned and persecuted Zefiro gypsies in the small Eastern European country of Latveria. He lost his mother (a practitioner of sorcery) when he was four and his father (a healer) when he was eleven, both indirectly due to conflicts with the King and his soldiers. He spent his youth applying his amazing intellect to mastering both science and sorcery and even then vowed to use his knowledge to rule the world.

Doom’s early scientific feats brought him to the attention of both the U.S. military and the scientific establishment. He accepted a full scholarship to State University, where he met Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. The arrogant and reclusive Doom became intellectual rivals with Richards, their competition being quite tense yet productive. (Doom’s work in robotics and time travel were financed by the U.S. military.) Meanwhile, he also continued with his study of the mystic arts, and his experiments in this area sometimes included scientific apparatus. During one of these experiments, Richards happened by and noticed a calculation that was off. Doom refused to listen, and the experiment failed, scarring Doom’s face. He blamed Richards, and thus their rivalry became even more serious and, at times, deadly.

doom-throneGoing into hiding, Doom continued his scientific and sorcerous efforts, including a working prototype of his Time-Platform. A soul-searching trek in the Himalayas led him to a secret order of monks who saved his life. The monks were masters of both technology and mysticism, and he spent the next 5 years mastering all they knew and then some. He became their leader and insisted they call him “Doctor Doom”. When he heard about Richards’ experimental space ship, he became enraged. Then he designed his iconic armor, built by the monks, which serves to cut him off both physically and emotionally from the world. His impatience caused him to don the mask before it finished cooling, thereby grafting it to his face and causing incredible pain.

From there, Doom reunited with the Zefiro tribe and managed to liberate Latveria from King Vladimir’s harsh rule. However, Doom’s rule has been at least as harsh on his subjects, if not more so. He demands absolute loyalty, immediate and unquestioning obedience, and will maim or kill anyone who disobeys or even annoys him. Doom went on to challenge and attack Reed Richards and the rest of the Fantastic Four multiple times over the years. In addition, Doom has fought many other superheroes and villains alike, often personally but also using his Doombots and/or via Machiavellian machinations behind the scenes. There have been occasions when Doom has allied himself with “good guys” to meet a mutual threat. (Current comics even have him forsaking his old ways and taking on the mantle of Iron Man in a quest for redemption and meaning!) But, Doom is at his megalomaniacal best as the incredibly cunning and powerful arch-villain with one of the most brilliant minds (and matching ego) in the world.

Historically, perhaps the three passions that most drive Doctor Doom are 1) his loyalty to Latveria and his Zefiro gypsy clan in particular; 2) his mission to retrieve the soul of his deceased mother from Mephisto; and, of course, 3) his all-consuming hatred for Reed Richards and the desire to prove himself Richards’ intellectual superior.

victor_von_doom_earth-616_from_thor_vol_1_600It has been said that Doom’s greatest weapon is his super-genius intellect, with which he has designed various versions of his amazing, nuclear-powered, titanium armor, which gives him superstrength, invulnerability, and several offensive and defensive weapons. With a knowledge-base that covered a wide breadth of scientific disciplines, he has also built many other weapons, a time machine, advanced robots (aka Doombots and the Latverian Servo-Guard), and other technological wonders. He is an accomplished martial artist, athlete, swordsman, painter and pianist. His will is so great that he has resisted psychic assaults and attempts at mind-control, though this may have been at least partially a side-effect of his mystical endeavors. Beginning with the mystic artifacts and affinity for sorcery inherited from his mother, Doom has at various times taught himself and been tutored by Dr. Strange and Morgan Le Fay. But, it was his diabolical pact with a trio of demons called the Hazareth Three that, for a time, granted him magical powers that put him on par with the greatest sorcerers. (At another time, he even acquired the Beyonder’s god-like powers. Yikes!)

We already know that Doom’s personality is that of an elitist, self-righteous tyrant. So, let’s move on to his physical appearance. Marvel’s wiki lists Doom as 6’2″ (6’7″ armored), 225 lbs. (415 lbs. armored), with brown hair and eyes. For many years he had facial scars, which were generally hidden beneath his mask. Aside from the scars, he is an attractive man, well-built and in excellent physical shape. The hair can always be dyed, of course, and muscle can always be added. I would prefer to keep our Doom over 6′ tall but probably not over 6’4″ — just enough to be imposing, especially when in full armor. Speaking of which, I have not been impressed with the two big-screen versions of Doom, and part of that was the attempt to merge him with his armor is some way, making him some sort of cyborg/mutant. (Don’t care for the early Ultimate version, either.) No, he needs to be a man in heavy armor — deceptively high-tech armor, but armor nonetheless — and it should look very close to the classic version seen in these pics. As for Doom’s age, I decided to go with a slightly older version (as I did for my FF casting), so somewhere in his mid-30s to mid-40s. Oh, and a nice baritone voice would be ideal, preferably with an accent that sounds like he is from Eastern Europe.

So, who might possibly play this iconic character?

First up is Goran Visnjic (6’4″,b.1972), the Croatian-born actor who became a TV heartthrob during his many years on the U.S. TV series “ER”. He has also appeared in The Peacemaker, Practical Magic, Spartacus (TV movie), Elektra, “The Deep”, “Leverage”, “Extant”, and is currently co-starring in “Timeless”. He has the Eastern European look, general build, and accent we want. Assuming he packs on a few pounds, I think he could be a great Doom.

Goran Visnjic in "Timeless"

Goran Visnjic in “Timeless”

goran-visnjic-black-shirt-arms-crossed

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next we have Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (6’1.5″or2″,b.1970), a square-jawed native of Denmark best known for his portrayal of Jaime Lannister, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, in “Game of Thrones”. His other genre credits include Black Hawk Down, My Name Is Modesty: A Modesty Blaise Adventure, Kingdom of Heaven, “New Amsterdam”, Blackthorn, Oblivion, A Second Chance, and Gods of Egypt. Denmark isn’t Eastern Europe, but having lived & worked in Europe, he could probably come up with a satisfactory accent. He’s not my fave pick, but he could do a good job.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in *Gods of Egypt*

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in *Gods of Egypt*

nikolaj-coster-waldau-sitting-three-piece-suit

 

 

 

 

Finally, I found another Eastern European candidate in Michal Zebrowski (6’2″,b.1972). I’m not familiar with this actor’s work, since most of it is in Polish, but he does have a few relevant credits. He was in With Fire and Sword, The Hexer (see pic), The Pianist, Army of Valhalla, and The Vulture (aka Sep). With dark hair and a few pounds of muscle, Zebrowski could be an excellent Doctor Doom!

Michal Zebrowski in *The Hexer*

Michal Zebrowski in *The Hexer*

michal-zebrowski-black-coat-and-scarf

 

 

 

 

 

Comments? Critiques? Not sure when I’ll get around to a “Part 3″, but I’m sure I will eventually. Which FF villains should I cast next?

P.S.  Last minute idea: For a 30-something Doom, what do you think of Superman himself, Henry Cavill (6’1”,b.1983)? Inspired casting or stupid?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Fan-Cast: FF Villains, part 1: Mole Man and Puppet Master

“You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies.”  — Oscar Wilde

At the end of last week’s “fantastic fan-casting” exercise, I said I might do some villains next time. I was right! There are many to choose from, of course, but I picked three of the FF’s earliest foes, whom I also happened to have some pretty good candidates for. (Well, I think so, anyway.) While working on it, I realized I needed to limit this post to two and save the third for next week. As with the last post, I’m attempting multiple characters, so I’ll try not to expound too much on any of them. First off…

Puppet Master

Puppet Master

Puppet Master

The villain known as “Puppet Master” is Phillip Masters, a native of Transia whose boyhood hobby was sculpting figures from clay found near the base of Wundagore Mountain. Moving to America with his parents, young Phillip continued to sculpt as an escape from the bullying of his classmates. What no one knew at the time was that continued exposure to the slightly radioactive clay was causing a mental imbalance. (The clay was later revealed to have mystical properties, as well.) Following a difficult childhood, Masters studied biology in college and became business partners with his college roommate, Jacob Reiss. Reiss died in a tragic explosion, and Masters married his widow. His new step-daughter, Alicia, was blind but a very talented artist. Many years later, she would become the girlfriend of Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) and a trusted friend of the Fantastic Four. (Unfortunately, that also meant she would become a frequent pawn of her stepfather, despite the fact that he genuinely cares for her.)

Phillip, on the other hand, became increasingly unstable and criminal in his pursuits. He discovered that, by fashioning a “doll” from his special clay in the likeness of a real person, he could mentally control that person. By manipulating the doll, he could make the person move in the same way, even when many miles away. With enough concentration, he could completely take over the person’s mind and even alter his/her memories. I should also note that Masters became quite skillful at building toys, too.

Masters was always a bit strange, quirky, but his growing insanity over the years made him increasingly unpredictable and dangerous. Early depictions made him out to be rather “dumpy”-looking, and he wore colorful clothing. But, his more “classic” look is the slender, odd little man in the above pic, often wearing an artist’s smock. He is white, bald, and appears to have an unusually wide mouth. (Or, maybe it’s just his diabolical grin.) Marvel’s wiki page lists him as 5’6″. As for his age, I’d say somewhere in his 50s, maybe 60-ish.

I think the actor that comes closest to Masters’s unusual looks and also roughly the same height is Clint Howard (5’7″,b.1959). (Not sure how slim he is these days, though.) Howard, of course, is the older brother of actor/director/producer Ron Howard. He is known to Trekkies for playing a very odd child/alien in the TOS episode “The Corbomite Maneuver”. His adult credits in genre fare include The Rocketeer, “Space Rangers”, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, “The Outer Limits”, “Total Recall 2070”, “Star Trek: Enterprise”, “Heroes”, “Fringe”, etc. Now, if we wanted to go with someone taller and more sinister-looking, I think Mackenzie Gray (6′,b.1957) could be terrific! Seen recently as a Kryptonian in Man of Steel, Gray will also be a regular in the new “Legion” series. (Debuting tonight!) He has also been in “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues”, “La Femme Nikita”, “The Net”, “First Wave”, “Andromeda”, Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers, “Knights of Bloodsteel”, “Smallville”, “Spooksville”, and he has done a bunch of voicework, too. (Somewhat ironically, he stars as a dying sculptor in a drama this year titled Heart of Clay.)

Clint Howard

Clint Howard

Mackenzie Gray

Mackenzie Gray

 

 

 

 

 

 

harvey_elder_earth-616_from_official_handbook_of_the_marvel_universe_vol_1_7_0001

Mole Man

Mole Man

Harvey Elder is an overweight & squat, extremely near-sighted man, 4’10” tall, with poor posture and a humongous nose. Not surprisingly, he suffered a lot of ridicule both as a child and an adult. He became a skilled scientist, but the taunting and pity (including by the woman he loved) led him to quit is job. He traveled a lot, following legends to find a “land at the center of the Earth”. While he didn’t find quite was he was looking for, Elder did stumble upon Monster Island and later an underground realm dubbed ‘Subterranea’. In Subterranea he found a race of semi-humanoid creatures known as Moloids, who made him their king. He discovered and mastered some highly-advanced machinery long-abandoned in the caves by the Deviants. Elder has also encountered and learned to control several large, non-humanoid monsters within the wide network of caverns lying miles beneath Earth’s surface. Finally, he has somehow gained a measure of longevity and developed a “radar sense” of sorts, while living & working for years in his dark, subterranean empire.

Calling himself the Mole Man, Elder uses his monsters, Moloids, and advanced tech to wreak havoc on “surface-dwellers”, steal various objects, and, of course, get his revenge on his enemies and the world at large for treating him so poorly. His long-time enemies include the Fantastic Four, as he was the very first “super-villain” they encountered after gaining their powers. (Fantastic Four, vol. 1, #1) Elder may be sensitive about his physical form and a resentment for those who mocked him, but he has developed a superiority complex over those who live above ground. While not much of a physical threat on his own, his loyal minions, familiarity with the subterranean geography, and use of technology have made him a surprisingly dangerous and resilient foe.

Casting this poor guy is really tough, and obviously no one is going to be this short, fat, and ugly. (Not without prosthetics, at least.) I’m happy to cast a couple of talented actors who are somewhat on the short side, though. Paul Giamatti (5’9″,b.1967) played a (disappointing) variation of another Marvel villain, the Rhino, in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 not long ago. He has had roles in Saving Private Ryan, The Negotiator, Safe Men, Planet of the Apes, American Splendor, San Andreas, and has done some genre voicework, as well. My second choice is Timothy Spall (5’8″,b.1957), whom you may remember as Wormtail in the Harry Potter movies. He has also appeared in Crusoe, Dream Demon, “Red Dwarf”, “Young Indiana Jones”, Immortality, Death Defying Acts, Enchanted, From Time to Time, and Assassin’s Bullet. (Downsides are that he’s about to turn 60, and he has slimmed down since this pic was taken a couple years ago.) I’d be quite happy with either of these guys.

Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti

Timothy Spall

Timothy Spall

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far, so good? Doctor Doom is up next, so, until next week…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Fan-Cast: Fantastic Four

“[Y]ou didn’t think to account for our personalities. The inner strength that my family has, that I’ve seen grow with us through the years. You forgot to include that in your calculus. If we’re down, we rise. If we fail, we try again. If we lose the battle, we win the war. And that is what makes us… the Fantastic Four!”  — Mister Fantastic to the Quiet Man

I’m going to try something different this time and fan-cast a whole team in one post. To do so, I’m going to have to cut down on the amount of text. So, since readers of this blog likely already know who the Fantastic Four are and at least the basics of their “origin story”, I’m going to skip all that, along with most of their history.

ff-classic-artFirst, a few notes about physical appearances and ages. We know that all four of our heroes are/were attractive and physically fit — even moreso in later years. All four are Caucasian. The Storm siblings are blonde, whereas Reed and Ben both have brown hair, with Reed’s temples having turned white in his late teens. Reed’s build was originally on the slender side, though his powers allow him to look more muscular. Ben, of course, was always stockier and more muscular, even before he transformed into The Thing. Reed’s height is listed as 6’1″, Ben’s at 6′, Sue’s at 5’6″, and Johnny’s at 5’10”. I would prefer to stay within 2-3 inches either way for each of them. It should be no surprise that my casting choices try to retain the classic appearances of the characters, though I realize that some things (e.g., hair color, eyewear, muscularity) can be altered in the service of playing a role.

According to Marvel’s wiki page, Reed — of Prime Earth, not “Ultimate” — had attained four degrees by the time he was 18 years old. While working on his fifth, he roomed first with Victor von Doom and then with his soon-to-be best buddy, Benjamin J. Grimm. I’m not sure about Doom, but it says this was Ben’s freshman year, so he was roughly the same age as Reed. (However, I read elsewhere that Ben was a few years older. This may be an effect of ret-conning.) Ben later joined the U.S. Air Force, where he became a highly-skilled pilot, and Reed went on to build his first experimental rocketship.

While working on yet another degree at Columbia University, Reed’s landlady’s niece, Susan Storm, developed a crush on him. She was only 12 (though other sources say she was older), and I’m guessing Reed was 22 to 24 years old by then. When Sue started college, she went to California where Reed was working on his project, and they began dating. By the time of the ill-fated accident that gave them their powers, Sue was no longer considered a “teen”, so she must’ve been at least 20 years old. This would put Reed and Ben in their early 30s. Johnny Storm, however, was referred to as an adolescent teenager. My sense of him was that he was maybe 4 to 5 years younger than Sue, give or take. So, for argument’s sake, at the time of the accident they were 15 (Johnny, who we remember is Peter Parker’s peer), 20 (Sue), and 30 (Reed & Ben).

ff509That having been said, while it would be nice to see casting match these ages, it might not be all that easy, and I certainly haven’t come across 15 and 20 year olds that fit the bill for Johnny and Sue. So, I have no problem casting them both in their early- to mid-20s (though the actors might be slightly older), as was done in the last FF movie. I would also understand if those casting for the next screen version decide to make Ben a few years older, which would be believable for giving him time to become a noted test pilot/astronaut. Or, they could even make Reed and Ben in their late-20s, but I wouldn’t go any younger than that. This all assumes that the next movie begins with the FF’s “origin story”. But, it wouldn’t have to. The characters can be further along in their careers as heroes and, therefore, a few years older.

Personality-wise, we have 1) the super-brilliant, sometimes distant and absent-minded Reed Richards (aka the super-elastic Mister Fantastic); 2) the streetwise, cigar-chompin’, somewhat impatient but ever-dependable jock-turned-pilot Ben Grimm (aka the super-strong, rocky-hided Thing); 3) the empathetic, commonsensical, oft-maternal, stronger-than-she-knows Susan Storm (aka the mistress of invisible force-fields, Invisible Girl/Woman); and 4) the immature, thrill-seeking, sometimes hot-headed Johnny Storm (aka the aptly-named Human Torch).

Beyond all that, the most important thing is that the actors have not only the talent but the necessary chemistry together. After all, while only two are related by blood, these characters really do become a close-knit family, as well as a well-oiled team of explorers/superheroes. That family dynamic really needs to come across on-screen for any FF movie (or series) to work.

Now, rather than suggesting two to four candidates for each character individually, allow me to present to you two possible teams. Feel free to mix-n-match, though….

Tom Mison

Tom Mison

Greg Finley

Greg Finley

Eliza Taylor

Eliza Taylor

Lucas Till

Lucas Till

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first team has Reed and Ben in their early 30s, as played by Tom Mison (6’1″,b.1982) and Greg Finley (6′,b.1984), respectively. Mison is best known for the “Sleepy Hollow” series, but he can also be seen in Mysterious Island, an episode of “Inspector Lewis”, and various romance/comedies. Finley has appeared in several episodes of “The Flash” and “iZombie” lately, but he has also been in Hypothermia, “Star-Crossed”, and episodes of “CSI” and “Law & Order: SVU”. Then we have a 20-something Sue played by Eliza Taylor (5’5″,b.1989). She is best known in the U.S. for her starring role in “The 100”, though she’s also appeared in The November Man and Patrick. Finally, the role of Johnny in his early- to mid-20s goes to the youthful Lucas Till (5’10”,b.1990). Till, whom others have also suggested for Johnny, is known for portraying Alex Summers/Havok in the X-Men films and most recently in the title role of the new “MacGyver” TV series.

James Badge Dale

James Badge Dale

Domenick Lombardozzi

Domenick Lombardozzi

Brittany Snow

Brittany Snow

Luke Bracey

Luke Bracey

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second team is a little older, with Reed in his mid- to late-30s and Ben pushing 40. Our stretchy team-leader is played by my first choice, James Badge Dale (5’10”,b.1978), whom you may recall from “24”, “The Pacific”, “Rubicon”, World War Z, and 13 Hours. The role of Benjy goes to Domenick Lombardozzi (6′,b.1976) from “The Wire”, “Breakout Kings”, “Boardwalk Empire”, Bridge of Spies, and “Rosewood”. (While looking for a photo of him for this post, I found that someone else cast him for Ben, too. Great minds…. I will note that I think Lombardozzi’s voice is all wrong for Ben/Thing, so he’d either need to learn to talk without his usual Bronx accent and/or someone else’s voice would need to be dubbed in.) Sue is in her mid- to late-20s and portrayed by Brittany Snow (5’4″,b.1986). Snow can be seen in “American Dreams” and the Pitch Perfect movies, along with such genre fare as Prom Night, Black Water Transit, and the upcoming Hangman. Sue’s younger brother Johnny is played by Luke Bracey (6′,b.1989), who is known for his roles in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The November Man, the Point Break remake, and the recent Hacksaw Ridge.

Alright, those are my picks for Marvel’s First Family — not counting Reed and Sue’s kids that come along later, of course. I’m thinking it might be time to fan-cast some villains next. We’ll see…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Jack Bauer and the X-Men: The Sequel

“Tick-choom! Tick-choom! Tick-choom! Tick-choom!” — “24”-style countdown timer

In my “Jack Bauer and the X-Men” post of a couple years ago, I briefly discussed the possibility of “24” returning in some form, with or without Kiefer Sutherland’s involvement. I quoted Dana Walden, Chairman and CEO of FOX, who said,

“First of all, we’re not talking about continuing the show without him. We’re talking about whether there’s one installment that he’s not in. Jack Bauer could come in very organically in the story, or [producers are] prepared to do something that would be the one installment without him.”

24-legacy-promo-posterWe will soon see what this initial, Bauer-less attempt at re-vitalizing the “24” series will look like. “24: Legacy” will premiere on Feb. 5, 2017, on the Fox Network. Corey Hawkins stars as Eric Carter, “A military hero who returns to the U.S. with a whole lot of trouble following him back. With nowhere else to turn, the man asks CTU to help him save his life while also stopping one of the largest-scale terror attacks on American soil.” (IMDB plot summary)

It’s too bad Kiefer Sutherland opted not to return (though he did exec produce 1 episode), but I am still optimistic and looking forward to the new show — even though there are only 12 episodes. Does it bother me that the new central character is so different — younger? blacker? a CTU outsider? Of course not. As long as the actor is talented and a good fit for the (hopefully likable) character, and as long as the story is well-written and compelling, with the usual “24” drama, then I’m more than willing to give it a chance. Some continuity with the original series would be nice, though. (I don’t see any of the recent players in the cast list, but it does look like Carlos Bernard’s ‘Tony Almeida’ will show up in an episode. Isn’t he still in prison?)

In the aforementioned post from 2015, I also discussed the announcement by Gary Newman, Co-chair of FOX Entertainment, that a live-action, X-Men-related TV series was in development. Without further details available, I looked at a few possibilities for what it might be about. Well, Marvel & Fox seem to have had other ideas. (Although, “New Mutants” is being made into a big-screen film!)

One concept that was in development for awhile, “Hellfire” (based on the “Hellfire Club” of elitist, mutant supervillains from the comics), was cancelled several months ago. CBR’s Anthony Couto notes that exec producers/showrunners Evan Katz and Manny Coto left “Hellfire” to work on “24: Legacy”. In its place is an “Untitled Fox Marvel Project” by writer Matt Nix (“The Burn Notice”). As reported by Variety‘s Elizabeth Wagmeister,

“[It] will focus on two ordinary parents who discover their children possess mutant powers. Forced to go on the run from a hostile government, the family joins up with an underground network of mutants and must fight to survive.”

Bryan Singer, Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Jeph Loeb, Jim Chory, and Nix will all serve as executive producers.

“There’s comic book adventure, emotional and complicated relationships and a rich, existing mythology from which to draw. With the brilliant production crew behind this project, it has all the makings of a big, fun and exciting new series.”  — David Madden, president, entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company

legion-promo-posterMeanwhile, Fox & Marvel have also been developing “Legion” with Noah Hawley (“Bones”, “Fargo”) over at FX, and that series is going to debut just three days after “24: Legacy” (i.e., Feb. 8, 2017). The executive producers include Singer, Donner, Kinberg, Loeb, Chory, John Cameron, and Hawley, with Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) in the title role. Only eight episodes on order, so far.

“David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, is a haunted man with power beyond comprehension. His power does not come free, but at the steep cost of David’s mind. Plagued by numerous split personalities — each commanding a different aspect of his power — David is trying to find his way back to sanity. But he’s getting tired and about to give up until he meets the girl of his dreams.”

I remember Haller/Legion from my X-Men-reading days, along with the fact that he was Charles Xavier’s bastard son with Israeli diplomat Gabrielle Haller. I remember him being a scary dude, too. (Nothing like an incredibly powerful, mentally unstable, and emotionally volatile mutant to shake things up!) He also had hair that stood straight up about a foot or more atop his head. That eccentricity probably won’t make it into the FX series. In fact, other than his being diagnosed (accurately?) with schizophrenia, it is unclear how closely this version of Haller/Legion will hew to the original or how much it will connect to other Marvel-based shows or movies. According to Hawley,

“It’s a little more of a fable in my mind. If you were to say, ‘Where is it, and when is it?’, it’s not exactly clear, I think. And a lot of it is because he’s not exactly clear. It’s the world as perceived subjectively on some level. The recent ‘X-Men’ movies, starting with ‘First Class,’ are rooted in a time period and a world and playing with history in interesting ways. This isn’t doing that… It’s a standalone kind of thing.”

Here’s the trailer:

I won’t say I’m “psyched” for it, but I am intrigued….

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.

Notes on Fantastic Four (2015)

Yes, I finally got around to watching last year’s disappointing reboot of the Fantastic Four. So, I put together a brief review in the form of a few notes, much like I’ve done in the past. I’ll try not to give away any major plot points or character-specific stuff….

As with its 2005 predecessor, the acting was fine (though not great) for what they had to work with, which was a so-so (definitely not great) story & script. Unfortunately, that meant that the characters were relatively dull, too.

Fantastic_Four_2015_poster1) Reed Richards — I don’t know. Miles Tellar is a good enough actor, but he didn’t quite look the part. He played “science nerd” OK, I guess. On the other hand, Reed seemed to be just a tad bit too socially well-adjusted. I always thought he was more socially awkward, especially in his earlier years, often distracted by scientific problems/projects. My guess is he would likely be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. (Just my take on it, of course.) Even without that consideration, some of his behavior was a little different than I think it should have been. Nothing major, though.

2) Susan Storm — Given that they were going with the brainier, scientist version of Sue (a la “Ultimate” universe), she was fine. I would have preferred a different look for her, though — like, maybe, Julianne Hough. I am guessing she was supposed to be roughly the same age as Reed (~18-20yo?), though she may have been a little older. The romantic interest between Sue and Reed was just barely hinted at, though mostly one-sided by him. Same goes for Doom’s interest in Sue. Sue’s relationship with her adoptive brother didn’t seem very close; or, maybe they just aren’t an emotionally demonstrative family.

3) Johnny Storm — Would have liked to see Johnny involved in more “adrenaline rush” activities and exhibiting more playfulness, which are essential parts of his personality. (This was a detail that the 2005/2007 films got right.) It was also a little odd to see him working with the team on the final teleportation device. (I think this may have been the case in the Ultimate version, too. Can’t remember for sure.) Given his interest in fast cars, I guess it does make sense that he had some skills in mechanics and/or engineering. To stay in keeping with the comics, it should have been made clear that he was a few years younger than Sue.

4) Ben Grimm — He may have been athletic, but he was way too small. Why couldn’t they get someone who was about 6′ or so and looked more like a stereotypical, beefy jock? His childhood/family life fits the character, though it would have been nice to hear a reference to Yancey Street and the gang. As for his “Thing” form, I liked it OK, though I prefer the classic, more “rounded” and heavy-browed version (as in the previous big-screen incarnation). This one reminded me of the Stone Men (aka Kronans) of the planet Ria. Also, his voice needed to be deeper — rumbly, even — to go along with the massive form.

5) Victor von Doom — They got this character all wrong, yet again. In appearance (pre- and post-transformation) and sound (no accent) and attitude (cocky, but not imperious) and abilities (some sort of freaky psychokinesis?), he still was not the iconic figure from the comics. Why?! Why is this so hard to do? Or, alternatively, why do the powers-that-be shy away from portraying him on screen the way he has always been written? Surely, there must be some 30-or-younger actor from Eastern Europe who could pull this off. Say,… Dawid Ogrodnik. On the plus side, at least he wasn’t some disillusioned computer hacker named Vic Domashev, as had been the rumor.

6) Dr. Franklin Storm — The comics don’t give him a lot of characterization, other than being a brilliant scientist who cares immensely for his children. He doesn’t often spend time with them or show affection in other ways, being very focused on administering the scientific think-tank at the Baxter Building. From what we saw and heard, this version of Storm is pretty much on target with that, though perhaps a little more attentive.

OK, now for a few more general comments about the film…

Fantastic_Four_(2015_film)_poster_0071) Given that Reed seemed to join the Baxter Foundation after high school, I am guessing he was about 17-18 years old. (Though, you’d think a brain like him would’ve skipped a couple grades.) Possibly more like 19-20yo, if he took some college in between times. Ben and Sue would’ve been roughly the same, Johnny even younger (16?), though Victor was probably a couple years older. However, all of the actors looked to be a few years older than those ages,… which they actually are, of course.

2) I recognized a couple early scenes adapted from Ultimate Fantastic Four, but they didn’t feel quite right. Lighting too dark; Baxter Institute looked/felt too “normal”.

3) Without giving anything away,… I’m not sure how I feel about the events that followed the accident. They didn’t follow either the original or Ultimate versions. The antagonism against Reed just felt… wrong.

4) There was no mention of “unstable molecules” (that I recall) in the post-accident uniforms’ composition. Plus, Reed was wearing something else, yet it stretched when he did. What’s up with that? If there is a sequel, will they reveal that he discovered something that allows uniforms to “cooperate” with their powers.

5) The fact that Dr. Storm and Johnny were not Caucasian was fine, of course, and the brief mention of Sue being adopted resolved that question.

6) I thought the special F/X were pretty good, despite that being one of the facets the film got criticized for. Maybe I would change my mind upon a second viewing, when I had time to see them again?

7) The fights were rather lacking. I assume the original, one-by-one attacks on Doom in the finale were meant to show they couldn’t beat him on their own — which Reed stated explicitly a couple minutes later. (A bit on-the-nose, if you ask me.) But, then the coordinated effort, especially Ben’s haymaker, was telegraphed so obviously that Doom deserves to get beat for still falling for it.

Overall, a fairly interesting variation on the FF origin story, but not quite satisfying. Too dark, for one thing, both visually and in tone. (Might’ve worked a little better as a graphic novel.) Familiar characters weren’t left familiar enough to feel like the “friends” fans were expecting. Or, at least, not this fan. Still,… it didn’t suck as much as some of the reviews (when it came out) led me to believe.

736784-namor3What can we expect going forward? Well, at one point, it looked like Fox and Marvel had worked out an agreement that put the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, and Galactus back under control of The House of Ideas (i.e., in this case, Marvel Studios). But, more recent reporting indicates that Fox still has the rights and may try for a FF sequel or reboot around 2020. Of course, that could be inaccurate or could change in the future. One interesting piece of related news is that the rights to Namor, the Sub-Mariner, are back with Marvel Studios. (Yet another imperious foreigner with a thing for Sue!) If Marvel also regained control of the FF, they could introduce Namor and the Atlanteans as the villain. He/they could return as an ally in a sequel down the road. This could be really cool, if done right and, of course, faithful to the source material. Keepin’ my fingers crossed….

P.S.  I really need to fan-cast the FF!

Artist Appreciation Day: Alex Ross

For sometime, now, I’ve been wanting to post something in tribute to my favorite comic & graphic novel artists. There are quite a few — both “regular” artists and “painters”, some of whom specialize in covers and some who do mostly interiors and others who do a lot of both. Since I don’t really follow the current batch of “new artists” (i.e., since I stopped collecting 7 or 8 years ago), my faves have been around awhile. But, I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of all their work and didn’t want to take a ton of time researching individual careers. Plus, I wasn’t sure how much you, my readers, would tolerate of my reminiscing, etc.

Aaaanyway, I finally decided that, once in a while, I would just pick one of my favorite artists to honor with a post dedicated to them — minimal text + an assortment of sample images displaying their talent. Who better to start off with than “the Man” himself, Alex Ross? He captures both the physicality and the psyche/emotions of his subjects *so* well that really does bring them to life! Simply awesome!! The tough part is choosing which ones to feature here…

With Ross, I suppose it is only natural to begin with the limited series that gave him his big break — “Marvels” (1994). I grabbed this image because it shows all four covers (plus Ross in the upper right corner), but he also did the interiors.

Marvels covers - Alex Ross

And he only got better from there, as evidenced by his next big project (inc. interiors), which garnered him even more avid fans and critical accolades alike: DC’s “Kingdom Come” (1996). Hard to believe that was 20 years ago! Unfortunately, we can’t see all four wraparound covers, but this poster is still pretty cool…

poster-kingdomcome

For a little compare and contrast fun, here’s a diptych showing classic line-ups of DC’s Justice League and Marvel’s Avengers…

JLA Avengers diptych - Alex Ross

Here’s a nice triptych of DC’s “Trinity”…

DC Trinity triptych - Alex Ross

Before I leave DC, here’s a popular piece of everyone’s favorite Joker and Harley Quinn doing the “Tango of Evil”…

Joker & Harley, Tango of Evil - Alex Ross

I had to get Spidey, the Fantastic Four, and a couple “editions” of the X-Men in here, too…

Special TV Guide cover

Special TV Guide cover

 

Fantasticfouralexross-500x500

Original X-Men

Original X-Men

 

Classic, Uncanny X-Men

Classic, Uncanny X-Men

And, we’ll wrap up with a few sci-fi faves…

Star Trek TOS - Alex Ross

star-wars-1-alex-ross

(Original Battlestar Galactica, riffing on classic Star Wars poster)

(Original Battlestar Galactica, riffing on familiar sci-fi/fantasy poster pose)

I’d love to display more (e.g., Daredevil, Hulk, Iron Man, Astro City, Squadron Supreme, etc.), but I gotta stop somewhere. Hope you enjoyed the unauthorized Alex Ross gallery. If you have the dough, go buy some of his prints at alexrossart.com.

Have a Great Day (or Night, as the case may be)!

Fan-Cast: Luke Cage

“Sweet Christmas!”  — Luke Cage, very 70s-sounding catchphrase

Naturally, when I started fan-casting the stars of the Marvel/Netflix series, I began with Daredevil and his primary supporting characters. For some reason, I skipped over Jessica Jones, but I’ll get back to her. Then, due to some attention he/it was getting in the press, I jumped to Iron Fist, even though his series won’t debut until 2017. Now, I decided to go ahead and fan-cast Luke Cage, whose series will debut at the end of this September.

Of course, we have already met the live-action Netflix version of Luke Cage in the “Jessica Jones” series, as played by Mike Colter. As I said in my review of that series, “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 stand by that. However, it is becoming increasingly evident how difficult it is to find someone who has the right look, build (especially w/ big muscles), and has any acting talent. (More on that in a moment…)

Luke Cage

Luke Cage - old-styleFor those who aren’t all that familiar with Luke Cage from the comics, I’ll try to boil it down for you…. Carl Lucas was a gangbanger from Harlem who eventually tried to go straight. His best friend, William Stryker, was still in the gangs and made the mistake of ticking off the Maggia (aka The Syndicate). Maggia thugs gave Stryker a serious beating, until Lucas stepped in and fought them off. Unfortunately, Stryker blamed Lucas for his girlfriend breaking up with him, so he framed Lucas for heroin possession. Lucas went to prison, where he was consumed with rage and resentment, and he was not exactly a model prisoner. After a transfer to Seagate Prison in Georgia, he also became the target of a brutal prison guard. Lucas agreed to be experimented on by Dr. Noah Burstein, who had developed a variation of the Super-Soldier process. The sadistic guard tried to sabotage the experiment, in hopes of injuring or killing Lucas. In the end, the experiment was more successful than anticipated, and Lucas gained superhuman strength (which has greatly increased in the years since), stamina, and durability (including bulletproof/knifeproof skin).

Luke-Cage-Marvel-Comics-Max-era-aLucas used his new powers to break out of prison and escaped to New York, where he adopted the name “Luke Cage” and worked as a “Hero for Hire.” For awhile, he gave himself the professional moniker “Power Man”, but he later dropped it. Over the years, Cage has battled many conventional and costumed and/or powered criminals, including his old friend Stryker. He was eventually cleared of criminal charges and became friends and even colleagues with many superheroes — e.g., Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Punisher, etc. He has worked in various incarnations of the Defenders, Avengers, and (briefly) Fantastic Four. But, he is best known for his repeated partnering with Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist, sometimes under the business name of “Heroes for Hire”. Cage and Rand are also frequently joined, personally and/or professionally, by the bionic-armed Mercedes “Misty” Knight (who will debut in “Luke Cage”) and the katana-wielding Colleen Wing (who will debut in “Iron Fist”). In later years, Cage met, befriended, dated, fathered a child with, and then married the superpowered Jessica Jones.

Luke Cage - very ripped white t-shirtLuke Cage is a very tall (6’6″), heavily-muscled (400+ lbs.), African-American male. The early 70s version (see 1st pic) has him with a short afro, and in the early 2000s (see 2nd pic), it was a bit closer cropped. Nowadays, he shaves his head and sometimes has a little facial hair (see 3rd pic). He is generally a pretty laid-back, cool cat (does that sound 70s?). But, if he gets ticked off, look out! He is a “self-taught hand-to-hand combatant with years of street fighting experience” and additional training with Iron Fist. He can also toss around Mack trucks and go toe-to-toe with some of the biggest superpowered bruisers out there. He has a big heart (metaphorically speaking) and is steadfastly loyal to his friends, come thick or thin. He is smart, self-educated in the law, knows several languages, and is an inspiring and charismatic speaker. But, any portrayal of the character should not forget that he spent several years in a criminal gang in Harlem, and he feels most comfortable on those streets.

I’m pretty sure Cage was in his early 20s when he got his powers. For a live-action depiction of his “origin”, I certainly wouldn’t want the actor to be over 30; mid-20s would be better. But, given Cage’s physical attributes, it is hard enough to find someone that comes close, no matter what age. And, of course, it would be nice if he had some acting talent. As usual, I considered several actors and athletes, most of which I rejected for being too old, too short, too pretty, too ugly, not black enough (e.g., “The Rock”), etc. I figured my best bet was to ease up on the height requirement — say, keep it to at least 6’2″ — and then find someone under 40 with some muscles and, if need be, hope he is willing to bulk up even further. Terry Crews (6’2.5″,b.1968) looks great and is in amazing shape, but he’s already in his late 40s. Similarly, wrestler Bob Sapp (6’5or7″,b.1973), whom I suggested to play “B.A.” in The A-Team, though he is a few years younger. Others I looked at include Henry Simmons (6’4″,b.1970), LaMonica Garrett (6’2″,b.1975), Mario D’Leon (6’5″,b.????), Boris Kodjoe (6’3.5″,b.1973), Billy Brown (6’2.5″,b.~1970), Michael Jai White (6’1″,b.1967), Erik King (5’8or10″,b.1963), Mark “Rhino” Smith (5’10”,b.1969). Then, I went looking at a few more wrestlers, bodybuilders, even football players. [Note: It is amazing how many professional bodybuilders are/were under 5’9″!] I found Quentin “Rampage” Jackson (6′,b.1978), Bobby Lashley (6’1″,b.1976), Phil “The Gift” Heath (5’9″,b.1979), Lee Haney (5’11”?,b.1959), Ettore Ewen (aka Big E Langston) (5’11”,b.1986), Lincoln Brodrick (6′,b.1984), and, finally, my top three candidates for Cage…

Brian Orakpo

Brian Orakpo

Brian Orakpo (6’3or4″,b.1986) obviously has the required minimum height and muscles, accompanied by athletic prowess. He is a linebacker who played several years with the Washington Redskins, before moving to the Tennessee Titans in 2015, and he is known for both his speed and strength. But, his main advantage here is his youth. On the other hand, as a professional football player, he has the least experience as an “entertainer”. I have no idea if he has any acting talent.

Titus O'Neil

Titus O’Neil

Titus O’Neil (6’4″ (billed at 6’6″),b.1977) — real name Thaddeus Michael Bullard Sr. — is a retired pro-footballer who is now a popular wrestler with the WWE. He is older than I would prefer. Otoh, he is (obviously) another biiiig dude who could play our hero. The fact that he is used to playing a role and performing for the audience gives me hope that he might have some acting chops, as well. O’Neil and Orakpo both have fairly deep voices, too, which I think Cage should have.

 

 

Ezekiel Jackson

Ezekiel Jackson

Rycklon Stephens, aka Ezekiel Jackson (6’3or4″,b.1978), is another tall and (very) muscular wrestler — formerly WWE, now independent — who just might do “Luke Cage” justice. He is the most massive of our three candidates, which works in his favor for this role. As with O’Neil, I am cautiously optimistic of his acting ability. Unfortunately, his voice isn’t as deep as those of the other two, which works slightly against him. Still, can you imagine finally having a superhero on-screen with a physique like that?

Comments?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.

Fan-Cast: Iron Fist

Since Marvel/Netflix seem to be having a rough time getting some traction on the “Iron Fist” series (or, at least, last I read), I decided to help them out with some casting suggestions for the central character, Danny Rand, aka (the) Iron Fist. It’s the least I could do….

Iron Fist

Iron Fist crouching pose with fiery fistDaniel Rand is the son of successful businessman Wendell Rand, who had ties to the extra-dimensional realm of K’un-Lun, and his wife Heather. Wendell and Heather were killed during a trip to Tibet when Daniel was nine. Young Daniel spent the next decade in K’un-Lun, where he was trained in the martial arts by master Lei Kung the Thunderer. When he was 19, Daniel successfully battled the mystical dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, leaving him with the distinct brand of a dragon on his chest and granting him the abilities, title, and responsibilities of the “Iron Fist”, protector of K’un-Lun. The abilities in question included a general manipulation of his enhanced chi (e.g., for enhanced senses, healing, environmental adaptation) and the power to focus that chi energy into his fist, making it “like unto a thing of iron.” In later years, he learned additional ways to vastly augment and manipulate his chi for varying physical and psychological effects. He is a master of multiple martial arts fighting styles and other disciplines, as well as being at “peak human level of strength [for] a man of his age, height, and build that exercises intensively.”

Daniel Rand returned to America, where he took over his father’s business, aided by his father’s friend, an attorney named Jeryn Hogarth. In his “off hours”, and often when he should have been more involved with his business, Rand fought criminals of various types, “normal” and costumed, as “Iron Fist”. Sometimes referred to as “the Living Weapon”, Iron Fist is one of, if not the, most powerful & skilled martial artist(s) on the planet. He has teamed up with many different individuals and groups over the years, including Spider-Man, Daredevil, and incarnations of the Avengers and Defenders. But, he is best known for his frequent partnerships with Luke Cage, aka Power Man I, sometimes under the business name of “Heroes for Hire”. Rand and Cage are also frequently joined, personally and/or professionally, by Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, who do bodyguard and investigative work under the banner “Knightwing Restorations”. Rand’s enemies have included businessmen like Harold Meachum and Norman Osborn, as well as costumed villains such as Sabretooth, Davos (aka Steel Serpent, also from K’un-Lun), Master Khan, Robert Hao (aka Chaka Khan), and Nightshade.

iron_fist_v2_by_uncannyknack-d7pzp0bWhile I don’t remember much from Iron Fist’s early comics, I do seem to remember that he is generally level-headed. Not always responsible, but level-headed. Sometimes he gets angry of frustrated, but his training has helped him to maintain an even keel. He can be quite serious when necessary and very focused (also enhanced by his training), but he is also known to have a healthy sense of humor.

Despite the clearly Asian nature of his background, Daniel Rand has always been blonde and Caucasian-looking. There has been some talk of casting an Asian, or half-Asian, but others (like myself) think that would be a bad idea. Marvel’s wiki says Rand is 5’11”, 175 lbs., so I think a height range of about 5’10” to 6’1″ would be fair. How old? Well, if we stick to the source material, he became “Iron Fist” at 19 and returned to America shortly thereafter, when the once-every-10-years mystical conjunction between Earth and K’un-Lun reappeared. According to recent reports, the Netflix show will begin “just as Rand has returned to the Big Apple, after having gone missing from [the] city for several years.” It isn’t clear, though, if this will be his first time in NYC since becoming the Iron Fist nor how closely it will stick to the comics when it comes to K’un-Lun. But, rather than going with a 20-year-old businessman/superhero, I am guessing the show’s producers will want someone a bit more mature. So,… I think our best bet is casting someone in his mid-20s to early-30s.

Years ago, I thought David Paetkau (5’10”,b.1972) from “Flashpoint” would make a great Danny Rand, but he’s already in his mid-40s, so… too old. Martial-artist-turned-actor Scott Adkins (5’10”,b.1976) is too old, too, but he might make a good Davos/Steel Serpent (i.e., archenemy of Iron Fist). Also considered but deemed to be a little too old are Travis Fimmel (6′,b.1979) (“Vikings”), Charlie Hunnam (6’1″,b.1980) (“Sons of Anarchy”), and Alain Moussi (6’0.5″,b.1981) (Wings of the Dragon), though the last one could do all his own fights/stunts. (A Moussi vs. Adkins fight could be epic!) Model/actor Julien Kang (6’3″,b.1982) is too tall, plus he is half-Asian, so he probably wouldn’t look “natural” as a blonde. I like Jason Mac (6’2″,b.????), but he’s a little too tall and might be a little too old. Rick Cosnett (5’11”,b.1983) (“The Flash”) is a possibility, but his voice grates on me. I even considered UFC-fighter Alexander Gustafsson (6’5″,b.1987), but he’s way too tall and has no acting experience. Freddie Stroma (5’11.25″,b.1987) — Cormac McLaggen in the last three Harry Potter films — is a strong contender and gets an ‘honorable mention’. Finally, I considered Alexander Ludwig (6’2″,b.1992) but decided he is slightly too young and slightly too tall.

My top three candidates range in age from 26 to 33 (at this writing), so there’s one for each end of my preferred range and one right in the middle. They are…

Luke Bracey

Luke Bracey

First up is Luke Bracey (6′,b.1989). He hasn’t been around all that long, but genre fans may remember him from G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The November Man, and the recent Point Break remake. So, he’s familiar with action-oriented roles. He has the right height and build, and he definitely has the blonde “dude” look down. I think he’d make a fine Danny Rand / Iron Fist.

 

 

 

Chris Zylka

Chris Zylka

Next, Chris Zylka (6′,b.1985) can be seen in the Canadian series “The Secret Circle” and movies like Shark Night 3D, Piranha 3DD, The Amazing Spider-Man (as Flash Thompson), as well as the current series “The Leftovers”. So, he’s a physical match and he has genre cred. Could be just famous enough — but not too well-known — to make a great Danny Rand / Iron Fist.

 

 

 

Travis Van Winkle

Travis Van Winkle

If Travis Van Winkle (6′ or 5’11.25″,b.1982) looks familiar, then you may have followed my suggestion to watch “The Last Ship”. But, he was also in Bloodwork, 247°F, the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th, Asylum, Transformers, and appeared in several TV shows. I think he has a great look that would be just perfect for Danny Rand / Iron Fist.

 

 

 

Alright, lads and lasses. I gave it a shot, and I think I found some decent candidates. I hope Marvel/Netflix can do at least as well!

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.

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.