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Comics Movies

Rest in Peace, Stan Lee

I think most of us know that Stan Lee’s legacy at Marvel for comics is fraught.  Who truly created what, who deserves credit.  That’s covered elsewhere, like the obituary/profile linked above.  I’d like to talk about Stan’s place in my life, as a budding geek who wasn’t sure of his place in the world.

Millenials, for the most part, only know Stan Lee as the kindly Grandpa who pops up in the movies to chew a bit of scenery.  For those of us around in the early 80s through the 90s, Stan was EVERYWHERE that Marvel characters were.  Stan Lee moved to California to hustle them into TV and movies, and he gave it his whole heart.  Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends?  Stan Lee opened every episode.  The Incredible Hulk?  He’s there too.  Every entertainment TV show, late night, daytime, game show, he was always putting Marvel out there.  The consummate showman.

Stan Lee always wore his heart on his sleeve, and his enthusiasm for comics as an art form was infectious.  You knew he was selling you, but he was so darn earnest about it you couldn’t help but grin along.  It helped that he seemed like a genuine good person, trying his best to push, in his own way, for civil rights and equality.  The world would be better than it is now if more people had gotten his message.  Excelsior, Stan.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Venom

I actually saw Venom not long after it came out, and I’m a bit amused at how well it’s done.  It is a deeply weird movie. At times feels like half of it is missing.  Why does the symbiote decide to “help” Eddie Brock save the Earth?  It must not matter, because they don’t tell us!

One thing I have trouble getting past is having Venom with no connection to Spider-Man.  I get that Sony wants desperately to have a whole movie franchise, but this still feels like the wrong play.  But here we are, so is it any good?  NO!  That doesn’t mean there’s not fun to be had.  Tom Hardy has a sort of goofy charm as Eddie Brock when he’s not mumbling his lines.  Riz Ahmed is obviously having fun as the over-the-top Elon Muskish villain.  Michelle Williams has the thankless task of love interest/lawyer Anne Weying, who dumps Eddie after he steals info from her on the villainous Carlton Drake.

Eddddieeeeeeeee

The strangest character in the movie is, of course, the Venom symbiote.  Not because he’s a terrible man-eating monster (as seen on the right), but because he’s kind of a wise-cracking partner for Eddie.  The folks that listed Venom as a buddy cop movie weren’t far off.  It’s almost funny enough that you’d forget that the only way Venom doesn’t kill Eddie’s body is if Brock lets him eat people once in a while!

Look, I wasn’t expecting high art, and I was entertained.  I laughed a lot, but only half of it was probably supposed to be funny.  I *CANNOT* wait for Rifftrax to get a hold of this.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Black Panther

Just when you think Marvel’s formula is getting stale, they shatter your expectations.  Their last movie was a family drama-buddy-action-comedy, Thor: Ragnarok.  There were a few truly serious moments when you stopped to think, but you didn’t have long as you’d be laughing your ass off 30 seconds later.  It’s a big contrast to Black Panther.  Not to spoil too much, at it’s core Black Panther is also filled with family drama, but also powerful political statements.  From the drop this movie has something to say to you about the inequality that drives our modern world.

Sympathetic Villainy

Note:  from here on out, there are spoilers.

The first time we meet Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, we don’t even realize it.  He’s being told the story of Wakanda’s origin by his father, N’Jobu.  N’Jobu is undercover in Oakland, but is disturbed by what he sees happening to people of African descent across the country and world.  N’Jobu assists Ulysses Klaue (last seen in Age of Ultron) in stealing some vibranium, in order to arm oppressed African.  It’s a stark contrast to Wakanda’s isolationist ways, and brings him into conflict with T’Chaka, his brother.  T’Chaka is forced to kill N’Jobu.  Erik is left behind, and the seeds for his rage are sown.  It’s not hard to feel something for Killmonger when you see the tragedy.  Especially later in the film where you get the full picture of just what happened.

Black Panther(s)

I thought Black Panther did a great job of balancing the mystical aspects of the Black Panther mythos with the high-tech.  This far into the MCU, you don’t need to explain the mystical, it can just exist.  We’ve met gods (small G, son) and sorcerers.  It’s okay for T’Challa to go on a spiritual journey and see his ancestors.  It was a fantastic way to keep John Kani’s T’Chaka relevant for one more movie.

Killer Cast

One of Marvel’s biggest advantages has been their casting.  Black Panther might be the best example of this.  We already knew Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, as well as Martin Freeman as Everett Ross and Andy Serkis as Klaue.  Add to that the delightful Letitia Wright as Shuri, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, it’s amazing.  Michael B. Jordan OWNS the Killmonger role, to the point where it’s difficult to look away when he’s on screen.

If you missed Black Panther in theaters (it’s still in many of the larger ones, at least as of now), you owe it to yourself to check it out.  Especially if you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War yet.  The digital copy unlocks May 8th.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – Black Bolt Vol. 1, Hard Time

Volume 1 of Black Bolt’s solo series, subtitled Hard Time, is out.  Writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward fulfilled the promise of the first issue (which I looked at previously) and more.  Ward says a lot about who gets put in prison and why, while not ignoring the kickass fights and teleporting dogs we all crave.

Who is Black Bolt?  Why should I care?

It’s funny, despite the fact that Marvel’s been pushing them for the past few years, AND there was a TV show (which wasn’t great) out this year, AND they are an original creation of Jack Kirby, the Inhumans still feel like a group people don’t know much about.  I think it’s because Terrigenesis is being used in place of “I hit puberty and got my mutant powers” for how to power up new teen heroes.  Everybody’s familiar with a few Inhumans, like Ms. Marvel or Moon Girl, but mostly ignore the Royal Family.

Black Bolt, the silent king of the Inhumans, can speak and shatter mountains.  His voice is a weapon so powerful that he had to be trained from birth to stay perfectly silent (he’s great at parties).  Both his status as king and his necessary silence keep him at arm’s length from most people beyond his immediate family.  This has left Blackagar Boltagon (yeah, that’s his name) as a bit of a blank slate, compared to other heroes who have been around this long.

Doing Hard Time

This series sees Bolt trapped in a crazy prison, his brother Maximus the Mad managing to switch places with him.  He hears a voice, a demand, “NAME YOUR CRIMES!  REPENT YOUR CRIMES!”  He dies, is reborn, and eventually frees himself.  Black Bolt meets his captor and speaks…but nothing happens.  He dies again, and that’s when thing really start.  The other prisoners convince him to work with them on an escape, and it’s a great cast of characters.  The most notable is long-time henchman Carl “Crusher” Creel.  He serves as a sharp contrast to the noble, remote Black Bolt.  My favorite addition to the Marvel universe might be Raava the Unskrulled, a Skrull space pirate who never learned to shapeshift, because she wants her enemies to die seeing her true face.  The book is a great balance between philosophical discussions and butt kicking.

That ART

Christian Ward’s art is gorgeous, from the inky depths of space to bright shocks of color when Black Bolt uses his power, it looks AMAZING.  This might be my favorite comic art since I first encountered David Aja’s work on Hawkguy.  Matt Fraction is actually where I first learned of Ward’s art, in their fever-dream gender-swapped Odyssey comic ODY-C.  I am so glad he’s getting mainstream work, and I sure hope it continues.

Conclusion

If you’re not afraid to think about what we do to criminals and poor people in our world in between all the smashing and crushing, check out Black Bolt: Hard Time.

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TV

How The Inhumans Should’ve Started

The first three episodes of The Inhumans have aired (the fourth is tonight), and they are…not great.  I’m no pessimist, and I’ll probably keep watching, but I have a LOT of thoughts on what went wrong, and how it could’ve been fixed.

Why Inhumans couldn’t be a movie

I actually agree with Marvel that The Inhumans shouldn’t be a movie.  They already caught lightning in a bottle with Guardians of the Galaxy.  Taking a group nobody knows and making them a huge hit may not have worked again.  Plus, you’ve already introduced the idea of Inhumans on TV via Agents of SHIELD.  Why give up that synergy?  It’s one place where Marvel could look to DC for inspiration.  A lot of the fun with the DC TV universe right now is how they can intermingle at will.  Wally West can pop in on Legends of Tomorrow, Felicity can slide into The Flash.  Use that.

Rushed it

“…”  -Black Bolt’s best line of the series

It seems clear to me that the background strive between Marvel’s TV and movie arm had a huge negative effect on The Inhumans.  What we ended up with was a movie-length story stretched to fit 8 TV episodes.  We have no reason to care about the Royal Family.  You can’t even tell whether or not Maximus is in the wrong.  That might work as an action movie where you just keep up a breakneck pace, but for 8 TV hours, nope.

Should’ve been SHIELD

If it were me, I would’ve gone ahead and made this part of Agents of SHIELD.  They had some great success with story arcs last season, and that could’ve worked well here.  You can even start building things the same way.  Triton comes to Earth to rescue an Inhuman, but instead of finding some babe in the woods, it’s Daisy.  I mean, it’s unclear how many times Black Bolt has sent people to Earth to rescue Nuhumans.  Has he really never encountered someone aware of the whole Inhuman society that happened?  How did he find out about Nuhumans, period? Those things break down the more you think about them.  If you bring SHIELD into the mix, you can build from a stronger base.  Maybe the Royal Family team with Coulson/Daisy to help the Nuhumans escape from a shadowy organization that’s hunting them.  You can then build Maximus’s betrayal out over the whole episode arc.  It would also give you time to show just WHY Black Bolt’s rule is a good one.  Because brutal caste systems aren’t usually something we’re supposed to root for.

Marvel missed big with The Inhumans.  On the plus side, the characters exist now in the MCU (albeit the TV branch).  Even if their show is cancelled, there’s no reason they can’t appear further.  In the mean time, read Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s Black Bolt series.

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Review TV

Pilot Season – The Inhumans

I’ve watched the two episodes of Marvel’s new show, The Inhumans, and I’m reminded very strongly of season one of Agents of SHIELD.  With a little of the lackluster parts of Iron Fist thrown in for good measure.  It’s not great, but there is the tiniest of hope in me still that it can get there.

The Basics

Inhumans, in case you aren’t a comics fan or caught up on Agents of SHIELD, are humans who are descended from ancestors who were experimented on by the Kree long ago.  When exposed to a material called Terrigen, they mutat–*Fox kicks in the door*–er, transform in some way.  Some gain cool powers, some might just get a minor change, like a tail or cat ears.  The Inhuman royal family lives on the moon in the city of Attilan, where a rigid caste system somehow keeps the population limited…?  It’s honestly a bit unclear.

The Family

You have Black Bolt, the silent King, who has a voice that can shatter mountains, and Queen Medusa, whose can control her long super-strong hair.  Medusa’s sister, Crystal, can control the four classical elements (earth, fire, water, air).  Gorgon has hooves.  Karnak sees the flaw in all things – he’s one of my favorite Inhumans.  Triton is the acquatic member of the family.  Maximus is Black Bolt’s brother, and seems so far to have no powers from his Terrigenesis (though if they follow the comics that may not be the case).  He thinks the Inhumans belong on Earth.

What Works

They do the best they can with the costumes.  Like most shows, they don’t like covering the heads of anyone expected to emote, and that’s going to be double for Black Bolt, who can’t speak without destroying people.  I’m curious about where they are going with this, which is enough to get me watching the next episode.  I like Ken Leung as Karnak, and Iwan Rheon is good as Maximus.

What Doesn’t

The CGI is lacking for sure.  They seem to have improved Medusa’s hair somewhat, but then they work around that anyway.  Lockjaw is cute but never seems to inhabit the scene, and he’s sidelined too.  A lot of the rest of the acting is subpar, though the dialogue given to them doesn’t help.  My hope is that it improves as you get past the pilot but it’s a Scott Buck show.  There was a lot of exposition to get through, but it’s done as just static infodumps.  Even those would be okay, but the dialogue is clunky.

Where We Go From Here

I was able to make it through the early bits of Agents of SHIELD because I liked some of the characters, and was curious about the mystery of Coulson’s return.  There’s less of an “in” here because you haven’t met any of these people before.  It’s a short season so I’m probably in for the rest (especially with a Kevin Tanchareon-directed episode coming up) but I wouldn’t blame anybody who bailed.

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Review TV

TV Review – The Defenders

With only 8 episodes, I was able to make it through The Defenders over the weekend, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It’s not perfect, and does run into some of the same problems as the previous Netflix shows.  Despite that, there are plenty of really enjoyable bits.

The basics behind The Defenders

The Defenders brings together all the principal players from the Netflix Marvel shows to take on the Hand once and for all.  But it takes some time to do so, starting out by giving us a glimpse of where each character is at the start.  Matt (Daredevil) is trying to live a non-super life, doing pro bono work.  Jessica Jones is avoiding work altogether despite Marcus and Trish trying to get her back in the game.  They are unsuccessful until she gets a strange call after turning down what she thinks is a typical cheating husband job.  Luke Cage is sprung from prison legally, thanks in part to Foggy Nelson.  Danny Rand is hunting the Hand across the globe, but is told they are up to shenanigans in New York.  This sets all our heroes on the path to their first meetings.

What works

We’ve been waiting forever to see some of these characters meet, and for the most part, it’s great fun.  Finally, there are people who roll their eyes at all of Danny’s “I’ve got to focus my chi, brah” antics.  Jessica’s double-takes every time Matt is in costume are worth it, too.  The action is a lot better than in Iron Fist.  Sigourney Weaver is a boss.  Claire is so good it hurts.  The combat, for the most part, works and showcases the different fighting styles.

What doesn’t

There’s a bit of shoehorning as far as “let’s have these characters meet to set up the future”.  There’s a severe lack of ninjas thanks to the updated origin of the Hand.  (vague spoiler) They sort of repeat the surprise villain death that happened in Luke Cage (end vague spoiler).  While I love the interplay between all the characters, they sit and talk just a hair too much.  While the fight scenes are better in general, they are poorly lit.

What’s next

I won’t spoil things, but there’s a pretty huge Daredevil-related cliffhanger, and the show leaves the rest of the Defenders in a much different place.  I feel like we got a worthy finish to what was started way back in Daredevil’s first season, and hopefully the forthcoming seasons can build on it in an interesting way.  If you’d like to know more about what may be coming, try these books:

 

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TV

How to Fix Iron Fist in Season Two

Note: potential spoilers if you’re not caught up on the Marvel Netflix shows.

I talked about Iron Fist‘s first season already, but I’d like to look ahead to the future of the character beyond his next appearance in the Defenders.  Barring something crazy in the upcoming Defenders season, we currently have Danny as the Iron Fist, but only barely.  He can’t summon his chi to both fists at once, can’t keep it there long, and had to be taught how to heal someone and restore his chi reserves by a dude from the Hand.  And (super spoiler alert) he tries to head back to K’un Lun, and it ain’t there, so no way for the Thunderer to maybe give him the pointers he needs.  There’s a fix for this, and it’s straight from the comics:  The Book of the Iron Fist.

Iron Fist: It's Chi

A perfect solution, right?  This would be easily adaptable to TV, though they’d have to shift things to avoid doubling down on the white savior trope.  See, in the comics, the guy that gives Danny the book?  Orson Randall, the previous Iron Fist, also a white dude.  Marvel could easily tweak this, but they could’ve done it with Danny and didn’t, so my hopes aren’t high.  Still, I loved the story, and it heavily involves characters we already know such as Davos and Crane Mother.  It also gets Danny to his full strength, meaning you can amp up the threats he and the Defenders/Heroes for Hire/what have you face in the future.  It’s a no-brainer to me.

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Comics

Comic Book Review – Black Bolt #1 by Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward

Creative Team:

  • Writer: Saladin Ahmed
  • Artist: Christian Ward
  • Letterer: Clayton Cowles

The Inhumans are in a tough spot, as far as the fandom goes.  They’ve been around a long time, created by Lee and Kirby no less.  But they’ve always been a bit of a niche group, mostly centered around the Fantastic Four.  It doesn’t help that in modern times, the Inhumans are being pushed hard by Marvel, and it’s seen by some that it’s to the detriment of Marvel’s Mutant characters.  I’ve never bought that particular conspiracy theory, but it’s left some fans with a sour taste in their mouths.

I’m happy to report that Black Bolt #1 is absolutely worth your time, even if the Inhumans have never been your thing.  The story will follow Black Bolt as he’s thrown in a cosmic prison by his brother, Maximus the Mad.  It’s for the worst of the worst, and was supposed to be Maximus’s new home.  BB’s not alone, however, and chief among the other incarcerated folks is Carl “Crusher” Creel, the Absorbing Man.  If you mostly know Marvel from the movies and TV show, he’s made a few appearances on Agents of SHIELD.  The writer, Saladin Ahmed, has something to say about prison and what happens when you toss people aside, but promises not to forget about the guy who can shout mountains apart.  When you combine that with the insane, trippy art stylings of Christian Ward (ODY-C), I’m definitely in to see what happens next.

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Comics

Marvel Joins Amazon Prime Reading

Just a head’s up for anybody who likes to get their money’s worth out of their Amazon Prime subscription, Marvel is now partnered with Amazon to have their comics show up there (as well as some selections in Kindle Unlimited and Comixology Unlimited).  Those are cool if you already pay the extra subscription fee for either service, but even if you don’t, there’s some very good stuff to check out in Prime Reading.  Here’s my favorites:

Star Wars, Volume 1 and Darth Vader, Volume 1:  When Marvel got the license to publish Star Wars comics, they went big.  Assigning some of their best writers and artists (Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron, Salvador Larroca, John Cassaday, Adi Granov, and others).  These comics both follow on straight out of A New Hope, and they go a long way to re-establishing Darth Vader as the pre-eminent menace in that galaxy far, far away.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1:  If you haven’t read this yet, there’s no excuse.  Kamala Khan matters more than ever in our current political climate, a daughter of Muslim immigrants who fights crime not because of some great tragedy, but was inspired by other heroism in the world.  And the story is a ton of fun, to boot.  G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona made a great creative team (along with Stephen Wacker and Sana Amanat editing and helping to create the character).

Hawkeye, Volume 1:  I’ve evangelized this series before, so hopefully you’ve already read it, but here’s yet another chance.

There’s also some Iron Fist, Deadpool, the first volume of Alias (Jessica Jones), and a few other solid comics.  If you are already subscribed to Amazon Prime, there’s no reason not to use Prime Reading.

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Comics

Marvel’s Biggest Missed Opportunity

It’s kind of shocking how quickly the tables have turned on the big two in the comics industry.  Just a few years ago, while DC was languishing under the “New 52”, Marvel was having a creative boom.  Whether it was Matt Fraction and David Aja bringing a fresh take to Hawkeye, their first headlining Muslim hero, or amazing women taking on important roles in their universe (Carol as Captain Marvel, Jane Foster Thor, SQUIRREL GIRL), things seemed to be looking up for the House of Ideas.  It all came to a satisfying crescendo with 2015’s Secret Wars event, which should’ve allowed Marvel to set up their new universe exactly as they saw fit.  Somebody dead that you need alive?  Go for it.  It was a golden opportunity.

So what went wrong?  To me, it comes down to one thing, and that’s the constant stream of events.  Crossover events can be fun, no doubt, but when you are ALWAYS preparing for the next big thing (and there’s 2 or 3 of them every year), you’re not able to do any justice to the stories of the individual characters.  A rebooted universe, renumbered and starting over to boot, should be all about bringing new readers into the fold.  The guy reading Spider-Man for the past 10 years is in, you know?  The grognards might roll their eyes at yet another renumbering, but as long as the book is still there and Spidey is still himself, they’ll stick around.  A new number 1 issue should be a jumping-on point for the MCU fans, or kids, or whoever it is you want to start reading comics.  But with the constant event cycle churning, you never give that new reader a chance to get to know the character before their life and story are interrupted.

Post-Secret Wars, you rolled straight into Avengers: Standoff!, with Spider-Women and Apocalypse Wars disrupting some of the Spider-centric and X-Men books.  That all led into Civil War II, a sequel event nobody asked for, which included some character assassination of Captain Marvel to boot.  But you barely caught your breath before the Spider-books were disrupted by another event, a Clone Conspiracy revival.  The X-Men and Inhumans fought, a bunch of monsters were fought, and then you may have heard about that whole Secret Empire thing.  It’s exhausting just to read all of that.  Imagine you are a new comics fan, how do you reconcile all of that?  If fifteen to twenty books every month have some event banner on ’em, and put the character building on hold for some other story, why would you keep reading?

I stopped reading comics as a teen mostly because of the event cycle.  While Infinity Gauntlet was classic, I got annoyed at having things happening across multiple books that I couldn’t afford to buy (and that was when comic books were only $1-$1.50).  Your choice was either to not know what was going on, or to stop buying.  What brought me back to comics was my friends raving about the Matt Fraction/David Aja Hawkeye series, which did it’s own thing and built a deep, interesting story about Clint and Kate.  It was funny, it was experimental, and I fell back in love with comics.  I branched out from there, but always with an eye to comics that had a solid running story of their own (Tom King’s The Vision series for example).  The thing is, whenever I might start to get invested in a more mainline comic, it would get interrupted and I would throw up my hands and decide to trade-wait it, or at least see if the event as a whole that was pre-empting my normal programming was worth it.  Spoiler alert:  most of them haven’t been, so I’ve pretty much stopped buying Marvel comics.  There are still some gems here and there (Black Widow, Ms. Marvel although she’s well and truly embedded in the event cycle now, one or two others) but most I’m content to wait for Marvel Unlimited to go on sale again to catch up.

Marvel’s comic books are in fairly dire straits right now – a gimmick Spider-Man issue was number 1, but beyond that, the top 25 is dominated by DC.  Star Wars comics are helping Marvel from being totally embarrassed in the top 100.  When DC can put both double-shipped Batman comics ahead of every Marvel comic but the aforementioned gimmick Spider-Man, you need to make changes.  Some suggestions:

  1. Pare down the lineup.  Marvel released 94 different comics in March.  There were seven different Avengers or related books if you count Great Lakes Avengers (and I’m not counting the Avengers cartoon tie-in book).  Deadpool (or a Deadpool-adjacent character such as Deadpool the Duck) appears in at least 5 or 6 books.  Doctor Strange was in 3!  If you love a specific character, it’s ridiculous to try and follow them.  Trim it down.
  2. Let the stories develop.  I would put this to Marvel as a challenge – the next time the universe is rebooted (and you know they will), let all the comics go one full calendar year telling their own story.  Let the characters shine and develop a following before smashing them against a planet- or universe-destroying entity.
  3. Retain your talent.  Tom King.  Tim Seeley.  Sam Humphries.  James Tynion IV.  It seemed for a while in 2016 you couldn’t go a week without someone new signing an exclusive deal with DC, many of whom had been creating for both companies.  Tom King and Sam Humphries were huge losses in particular.  Marvel has their own stable of talent, but you can’t keep losing creators without it affecting quality.  The same 6 people can’t write all your books, especially if you are releasing 100 a month.
  4. Count the trades and digital sales.  I know they look at the sales, but they are still mostly concerned with monthly sales at your local shop.  Sorry, but not everyone goes to the local comic shop for individual floppy issues.  Especially since they aren’t particularly collectible in modern times.  I much prefer sturdier trade paperbacks, as I share a lot of my comics with my kids.  I also have quite a few in the digital format from various sources (Comixology/Amazon sales, Humble Bundles, etc.).
  5. Keep the diversity going.  Any media is improved by having other viewpoints, so efforts need to be re-doubled to engage with and retain writers and artists of color, women, and LGBTQ+ creators.

Look, as quickly as things went south for Marvel, they can turn it around.  They’ve got a built in audience thanks to the MCU that would love to engage with them, and they only need the content to be there.  This time next year, the roles could be reverse – or we could have a new golden age where Marvel and DC are both high quality at the same time.  Imagine that!Marvel versus DC

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Review TV

TV Review – Iron Fist

I finished Marvel’s latest Netflix series, Iron Fist over the weekend, and I have a lot of mixed feelings.  I became a fan of Danny Rand fairly late, having read the Brubaker/Fraction/Swierczynski/Foreman Immortal Iron Fist series after loving Fraction/Aja’s Hawkeye and Brubaker’s Cap run.  That series pushed a lot of my buttons, since I loved the old Kung Fu TV show (and even the sequel series), martial arts TV and movies in general, and the greater Marvel universe as a whole.

Having said that, as an adult I now know that the set up for Kung Fu and similar media is problematic.  There was talk that Iron Fist might subvert the source material’s issues by casting an Asian man as Danny, but Marvel played it safe.  Having seen the guy they were considering (Lewis Tan), I wish they’d taken the chance but here we are.  I’m not going to hammer them on this point (as many other reviewers and pundits have done so eloquently) but for a company that has led the way in so many other ways with the explosion of comic book media, it’s perplexing that they are going to lag behind on something like this.

Let’s move on to the show itself.  The story revolves around Danny Rand, long thought dead after his parents’ plane went down en route to China.  Secretly raised by warrior monks, Danny is trained to be a living weapon, able to channel his Chi into his fists (or fist, singular, so far) to become…well, I’ll let Roy Thomas tell you:

Iron Fist badassery

Comics!  Anyway, Danny returns to New York City and attempts to restart his life there – trying to get Rand Enterprise back, reintroducing himself to Ward and Joy Meachum (childhood friends/frenemies and the children of his father’s business partner, Harold), pestering dojo leader Colleen Wing, and generally making a nuisance of himself.  The earliest episodes felt the weakest to me.  I don’t think Finn Jones as Danny Rand was all that strong at the emotional aspects, though perhaps those directors were not pulling in a strong performance from him.  The action is weakest in these episodes as well, though Jessica Henwick as Colleen shows a bit of skill.  Still, I found myself most interested in Harold Meachum (yeah, he’s not dead) and his manipulation of events.

And make no mistake, Danny is very easily manipulated.  Despite numerous times this causes him trouble, he repeatedly trusts someone right after they do something somewhat nice for him, or just because it’s a person he knew in the past.  This despite the fact that one of the reasons he left his post – he’s supposed to be guarding the entrance to his mystical adopted home of K’un-Lun while it’s open – was he didn’t want to be a tool used by others.  I think they wanted to show how naive Danny is, with half of his youth spent apart from our society, but he seems to integrate himself back in fairly easily otherwise so it doesn’t quite work.

I know a lot of this sounds negative, but the show does pick up in the back half.  The action improves quite a bit.  I wasn’t surprised at all to see that the episode with one of my favorite fights (drunken boxing!) was directed by Kevin Tancharoen.  We get our requisite Claire Temple appearance, big reveals about the Hand, Madame Gao, Colleen Wing and Davos.  It DOES end on a pretty enormous cliffhanger, but Iron Fist perhaps suffers more than the previous Netflix/Marvel shows because it’s also pulling duty as the lead-in to the Defenders.

In the end, Iron Fist is probably a 3 out of 5.  Luke Cage (which I should probably re-watch and talk about here) is a notch above, and Jessica Jones and both seasons of Daredevil above that.  My next post will be a look ahead, at what the future should hold for Danny if there’s another Iron Fist season.