Thursday, April 30, 2015

Marvel's The Avengers - Three Years Later

I reviewed Marvel's The Avengers right after I saw it, three years ago, and although I have seen it numerous times since then, I thought it might be fun to take a new look at it on the eve of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The movies have many franchises, among the biggest and longest are James Bond and Godzilla, but neither really depends on any kind of serious internal continuity or connection to each other. To an extent, the Universal horrors worked the same. Each film represents its own story and doesn't really need the others to be seen. Star Wars and later Star Trek play it differently as you do need to see the others, as it's more of a longform movie serial.

No one really tried to do an internal continuity on this scale until the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All of their 'phase one' led up to this moment - Marvel's The Avengers. This is House of Frankenstein as an endgame. We can't wait to see our heroes, and then we can't wait to see them together. Everyone is given room to move, time to shine, and still we are wanting more. From Iron Man's AC/DC entrance to Black Widow turning the tables on a brutal interrogation to Captain America going hand to hand with Loki - everyone gets a chance to shine solo until it's time to work together.

Then there's the reality of what we're really seeing. This is a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie, this is the S.H.I.E.L.D. movie. Had the series been like this, it would have been a surefire hit. Witness the majestic Star Trek-like launch of the Helicarrier, the huge bridge, the glee and command that Coulson has in the flick, all of this should have been the basis for the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." TV show, rather than what we got.

This is the S.H.I.E.L.D. show we wanted. Did they dismantle the Helicarrier set as soon as filming was done? They could have used that. Maybe Samuel L. Jackson or Cobie Smulders could have recorded more footage for the show, but from other locations rather than going to the series set. And would we have really minded recycled footage from this movie in the show? I think not.

There is joy in the chemistry of the characters, and the actors. Without the shadow of Civil War over them, Captain America and Iron Man are friends and partners, Hawkeye and the Black Widow share moments, and Mark Ruffalo subtly steals the show as the buffer between all parties, even his CGI counterpart does his share of scene stealing. Loki is delicious, Fury is perfect, and the movie remains the best comic book superhero movie ever…

…at least until I see Avengers: Age of Ultron later tonight…

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Daredevil S01 E04: In the Blood

Daredevil has not been making friends with the Russians. This episode we get a bit of background on the Ranskahov brothers, Anatoly and Vladimir, who run the human trafficking (and apparently gypsy cabs as well) in Hell's Kitchen. Daredevil has been hitting them hard, but I think now, they hit back hard. For their sakes, let's hope they pick their targets carefully.

Previous threads from the personal war against the Russians haven't been forgotten. Claire Temple is still playing Night Nurse from hiding on her cat-sitting job, and doing impromptu therapy, both physical and emotional, with our hero. Again, character chemistry is the name of the game here at "Daredevil."

The brothers Ranskahov, even though gaining Prohaska's holdings from "Rabbit in a Snowstorm," are still coming up short for their employer. Wesley mocks them openly, expressing disappointment from Madame Gao in drugs and Mr. Nobu, who some on the interwebs has suggested is affiliated with The Hand. Wesley requires they solve their masked vigilante problem, after all, it's not like he's got an iron suit or a magic hammer. Nice. The brothers are less than accommodating, pushing their luck. This could be bad for them, and is.

In the background, Karen Page fills time continuing to beat that United Allied dead horse, and is trying to convince Ben Urich to take the case. And I know Foggy Nelson exists solely as comic relief, but here, in this excellent show, his brief appearance in this episode seems a real waste of Elden Henson, especially when we've seen how good he can be in this series. Actually in this case and this episode, it's also a waste of the actors playing Karen and Ben as well.

Vincent D'Onofrio is quite intriguing as the Kingpin. One watches him as one might a new baby in a non-baby-safe house, or a feral cat rescued from the rain to one's dry home. He is subtle and fidgety, like a shy schoolboy asking the art dealer Vanessa (in the comics, his wife) out to dinner, yet the whole time he carries an air of menace, as if ready to explode at any second.

At dinner, D'Onofrio reveals slowly more of his motive, his backstory, if you will. He is charming, but his facial reactions betray the opposite. If Vanessa had any sense, she would run, run and not look back. All this, Vincent D'Onofrio does almost wordlessly. His is a performance to watch, amongst many. Let me say right here, right now, if the Emmys ignore "Daredevil," we will know who the real criminals are.

As for the Russians? Do not mess with the Kingpin. Ever. We know the face of true evil when Wilson Fisk beats Anatoly to death in the episode's brutal last moments. One could assume the Russians will fall in line now.

And mainstream action? We already know this show has some of the best action scenes ever filmed for TV. The dark sequence where Daredevil saves Night Nurse, neither going under those names yet, is beautiful, the master stroke of geniuses who know what fight scenes and action should be about. Love it, and can't wait for more.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cooley High

On the surface, Cooley High is chiefly remembered as the 'black American Graffiti' or the loose basis for the TV series "What's Happening!!," but it was far more than that. Set in 1964 in Chicago's infamous Cabrini-Green, Cooley High was a realistic, sometimes brutal, slice of life about growing up in those projects, but through all that it was also funny, poignant, and hopeful.

The film was written by Eric Monte who had grown up in Cabrini-Green and like Preach's character, had always wanted to be a writer. He moved to LA and hooked up with Mike Evans, then playing Lionel Jefferson on "All in the Family." Evans encouraged Monte to write leading to scripting jobs. Together, Evans and Monte would go on to develop both "The Jeffersons" and "Good Times," with the latter TV family actually living in Cabrini-Green.

Television proved too controlled and sanitized for Eric Monte however, so after recording hours of his growing up experiences in Chicago on tape, he wrote the screenplay to Cooley High. Glynn Turman, the fantastic actor from "The Wire," and currently "House of Lies," played the sixteen year old Preach at twenty-seven, and his best friend Cochise was portrayed by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, best known as Washington on "Welcome Back Kotter." Pre-SNL Garrett Morris played a teacher, but predominantly the rest of the cast was residents of Cabrini-Green where Cooley High was filmed.

That boost of reality from the people and locations of Chicago brought the childhood of Eric Monte alive. The cast was having fun, and living the story on screen. Nothing beats the zoo scene with the gorilla throwing feces, mostly because it was unscripted and really happened. And as a kaiju eiga fan, I absolutely love the sequence in the movie theater where Godzilla Vs. The Thing is playing. It is a perfect blending of action in the theater and on the screen.

Cooley High with its comedy, tragedy, good times and bad was set to a sixties Motown soundtrack, some of the best music ever made. Unlike the somewhat comparable American Graffiti, these songs are still relevant and have meaning, resonance. Amazing soundtrack. It's real, and that's what sets Cooley High apart, this isn't just a coming of age story - this is Eric Monte's coming of age story, his life, his real world.

ABC adapted the film to a pilot that audiences did not love, so later they retooled it with new characters to become "What's Happening!!" with lead character Raj bearing only the slightest resemblance to Preach. Later Eric Monte would sue for more money
regarding his various contributions to television, after which he was pretty much blacklisted from the industry. Bouts with drugs, bankruptcy, and homelessness have not made his life easy since.

Cooley High remains a classic, not just of black cinema, but cinema period. Definitely worth watching, must see, if you haven't already.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Daredevil S01 E03: Rabbit in a Snowstorm

Turk Barrett, or just plain Turk, is not just a fixture in the Daredevil mythos, but also in Marvel Comics New York. He is the underworld everyman, every bad guy default henchman, the street tough with connections - but who ultimately posed no threat. He's worked for the Kingpin, the original Fixer, and Mister Fear among others, stolen and worn super-villain armors, and fought the likes of Iron Man, the Punisher, the Black Panther, Night Thrasher, and Daredevil.

My first exposure to the character was in the first Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game from TSR back in the eighties. The game did not have metal figures to place on combat maps like many RPGs of the time, instead there were cardboard fold-ups. There were well over one hundred of them, depicting the major super heroes and super-villains of the Marvel Universe, and Turk was one of them. Yeah, apparently he was that important.

The first time we see Daredevil in action in episode one, "Into the Ring," Turk is there, as a matter of fact, he's the guy taking the biggest beating. Here, as in the comics, 'crime does not pay' is a saying that Turk never remembers. At the end of that episode, we see him getting a second chance selling guns, and that's where we find him here, selling his guns. One of them falls into the hands of an assassin set to throw the Russians into chaos.

There are lots of connections in this episode, and Turk is really the least of them. Matt takes a moment to talk to the priest from the first episode outside the St. Agnes church. His name is Father Lantom, who has appeared in the Runaways comic, and the church is the same one where Skye was found as a child in "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." It is all connected.

Also more important than Turk, or Lantom or St. Agnes, is the first appearance of reporter Ben Urich. The character has switched races, much like Heimdall in Thor, and also switched allegiances of his profession. Because of the whole Marvel/Sony/Spider-Man thing, Urich can't actually work for the Daily Bugle here on "Daredevil," but has to write for the New York Bulletin instead. That's okay though, that's easier to deal with than Ant-Man and the Wasp not being in the Avengers at least…

Vondie Curtis-Hall is no Joe Pantliano (from the Dardevil movie) in the role of Urich, but he is a pro, a great character actor that folks most likely know from "Chicago Hope." His wife is the brilliant Kasi Lemmons, the director of The Caveman's Valentine, Talk to Me, and one of my absolute favorite films, Eve's Bayou. His portrayal lends a very cool and very real vibe to the show that reminded me in a good way to "The Wire." Yes, I said it, "The Wire."

In the comics, Ben Urich works frequently with Daredevil, Spider-Man, and the Punisher, and his investigations have exposed the identities of several heroes and villains, Daredevil and The Kingpin among them. Vondie Curtis-Hall kicks up the quality of this character, and I'm looking forward to more of him in this series. I feel for him, and his ailing wife. My heart breaks as a writer knowing that his wife's hospital care are definitely aiding his decision between his passion for journalism and keeping his job. Writers need to follow their bliss, to quote Joseph Campbell, but Urich is chained by his hard reality.

Much of the episode revolves around Wesley hiring Nelson and Murdock after an assassin murders Prohaska in a bowling alley with one of Turk's guns. It's a test. Let's see what they're made of, what they can do, if they are dangerous - it's what the big bad is thinking. Maybe we'll need a lawyer sooner or later. Karen is shuffled off to a subplot where she's asked to sign off on not talking about what Union Allied tried to do but can't. There's more to this, and her, than meets the eye.

There is a very nice juicy scene between Wesley and Leland Owsley. I can see the beginnings of The Owl here, his mannerisms, etc. This could be very very good if they go in that direction. With a second season just announced, would they use The Owl as a baddie, or go right to Elektra? I suppose it's sadly unlikely. The Owl became a forgotten character, as opposed to daredevil arch-foe when Frank Miller, Kingpin, Elektra, and Bullseye all took center stage. We Silver Age Marvel Comics readers can dream though, can't we?

There is great use of Matt's powers while trailing Wesley and in the courtroom later. There's precious little fighting or even Daredevil in this episode, but everything else is so good one doesn't notice. That said, I hope that what we have seen the past two episodes - the "Kung Fu" move of only having action in the last five minutes - will not become the pattern.

Speaking of endings, we not only finally get a name for our big bad, Wilson Fisk, but we see Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin as well. We see him admiring a stark white painting, where we get the title of this episode, and beginning his romance with a woman, who in the comics will become his wife. D'Onofrio's Fisk is childlike, with a sense of menace, frightening indeed. I think I am going to dig him very much...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Arrow S03 E20: "The Fallen"

The big cliffhanger last time on "Arrow" was the seeming death of Thea at the hands of R'as Al Ghul. This was obvious the Demon's endgame in getting Oliver to do what he wants. And what does R'as want? He wants a heir, similar to his motives as a Batman foe, but some things have been unclear.

R'as indicates he's been the Demon's Head for hundreds of years, but never comes right out and says he's immortal. If he's immortal why does he need an heir, and why imply this transition has occurred before? The "Arrow" showrunners have been very careful not to use the proper term from the comics of R'as' resurrections - the Lazarus Pit. Instead, they have implied he has access to waters that heal, a fountain of youth if you will. They break that rule this episode.

We open on Oliver finding Thea, rushing her to the hospital, where they can only stabilize her to a vegetative state, comatose, dying slowly. When he sees Maseo signaling a meeting, Oliver is told that R'as will revive Thea, if Oliver takes his place as heir to the Demon.

When he discusses the choice with Team Arrow, Malcolm explains about, and uses the term, the Lazarus Pit, for the first time. It can rejuvenate, and restore the dead to life, but he warns that the one who is lost is not the one who comes back. They are changed, in their soul. Whether it works or not, Team Arrow is going to Nanda Parbat.

After a teary breakup and goodbye between Ray and Felicity, and terse words between Oliver and Malcolm, Team Arrow is off, assumedly with the Atom watching over Starling just in case the super-villain of the week is on schedule. It's notable I think that after she breaks up with Ray, Felicity boards the plane with her hair down, as she previously had for Barry and Ray, as opposed to up, as she usually does with Oliver.

The brief encounter between Diggle and Maseo is intense and telling, especially between two fathers and friends of Oliver. It is character moments like this, that stand above the soap stuff, and elevate "Arrow," and there have been damn few this season.

My first encounter with R'as Al Ghul in the comics, from Batman #244, which I've talked about before, also featured an emergence of R'as from the Lazarus Pit. The Demon was enraged, mad, violent, and possessed of superhuman strength. I was impressed to see that version of the Pit's effects carried over to the TV version. If only momentarily, Thea is a crazed animal, followed by confusion.

And then... "so that happened." After confronting and threatening R'as, the Demon tells Felicity she needs to tell Oliver how she feels before it's too late. She does, and what we've been waiting for for so long happens. Ollicity consummated. I'm glad it happened finally, and was done so well and tastefully for TV, but one thing really irks me. It happened because R'as pushed Felicity. There's just something both wrong and icky about that.

As if making love to Oliver wasn't insane enough, what Felicity does next is totally cray-cray. She drugs him into unconsciousness and tries, with the help of Team Arrow, and Maseo, whose chat with Diggle weighed on his soul, to smuggle him out of Nanda Parbat. Oliver wakes up however and puts a stop to it. And same old one-night-stand stubborn Ollie sends them on their way, while he stays, ready to be transformed into Al Sah-Him, heir to the Demon.

The parallel storyline in Flashback Hong Kong involves Oliver, Maseo, and Katana trying to stop General Shrieve from attacking China with a deadly bio-weapon. Like a Superboy story from the 1950s, this is a flashback that doesn't hold much bite. Just as we know Superboy grows up to be Superman, we know China isn't hit with a bio-weapon. I was also amused by all the gunplay in the one chase scene - no one involved appeared to be able hit anything, it was like everyone was a Stormtrooper. No real cliffhanger there.

Next: "Al Sah-Him!"

For my other reviews of the entire "Arrow" series, click here. And if you'd like to discuss this episode and anything else in the Arrowverse, please join the Arrow Discussion Group on Facebook.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Return of Penny Dreadful

The Showtime series "Penny Dreadful" by John Logan returns to the air on May 3, 2015, even though the first episode of the second season is currently available OnDemand and on YouTube.

The series, taking on its titular genre much the same way as the films Pulp Fiction and True Romance, and the HBO series "True Detective," is a mad cross between The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Monster Squad with a strong steampunk sensibility. Taking its cues from classic Victorian monsters and turn of the century pulps, we get to see the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and others at odds with other forces of evil and shades between.

John Logan has an awesome pedigree over and beyond this series, including providing scripts for Hugo, Gladiator, one of my favorites RKO 281, The Last Samurai, Any Given Sunday, Skyfall and the upcoming Spectre. He also pens the season two opener, which picks up the story seamlessly from the year before.

The stellar cast returns as well, all amazing and compelling. Demons and witches are stalking about, Billie Piper from "Doctor Who" presumably will be adjusting to her new role as the monster's bride, and a wax museum of horrors has been added to the mix for atmosphere. This should be an intriguing second season.

For another view of the series, check out the recaps of "Penny Dreadful" by my friend Marie Gilbert over at Biff Bam Pop! right here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Edible Artistry

Recently we vacationed for a week in Walt Disney World. For those that know me and The Bride, you know this isn't unusual, but this was a special trip, one to celebrate a landmark birthday for The Bride. One of the things she had planned was dinner at Teppan Edo. This is the rather expensive and fancy Japanese restaurant located in the Japan section of the World Showcase in EPCOT. We had been before, and always had a great time and great food.

We love Benihana, but to be clear, Teppan Edo is Benihana amped up to a thousand. The food, the show, the service, all make Benihana, a place we love, look like amateurs. All that and a bag of chips, plus that wonderful Disney touch - that's why we love Teppan Edo.

Now a trick for visitors to Walt Disney World (and if you want more tips, why aren’t you listening to The Make Mine Magic Podcast?) is when it's your birthday, your anniversary, or any special occasion, ask customer service if you can have a button that says so. Everyone will know if you're wearing it, and wish you good tidings. And if you're at the restaurants, sometimes you get bonuses, like a treat, a dessert, or what The Bride got on this adventure.

Our chef, using the makings on the hot grill for our appetizer, created art. Over the course of several minutes, he painstakingly sculpted this Minnie Mouse for her out of onions, carrots, and noodles - and then we all ate it. The chef even let The Bride get up and cook a little as well, and she even got a chef's hat. It was a wonderful time for all.

You can hear more about the dinner on this episode of The Make Mine Magic Podcast, and more on the trip as a whole in later episodes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

GAR! 100!

We'll be celebrating the one hundredth episode of The GAR! Podcast in just a couple weeks, and we'd love you to help. We're doing a good old-fashioned Ask Me Anything, just like on Reddit, but not. No Reddit, Glenn hates Reddit.

If there's something you'd like to ask Glenn or Ray, anything, just shoot us a line at GAR! Podcast at Gmail dot com, or leave a comment below, or leave one right here at the main podcast page.

Better yet, hit us up on Twitter with the hashtag #GAR100 and your question for us. Ray Cornwall is at Twitter at @raycornwall and Glenn Walker is at Twitter at @monsura.

Soooo… what do you want to know? We'll answer, or dodge, almost any question you can throw at us. Remember, it is a family friendly show, folks, so play nice. #GAR100!

The GAR! Podcast is also available on iTunes and Stitcher. We're also on Facebook here and here, and on Pinterest. Contact us directly here, and thank you to Biff Bam Pop! for promoting us every Friday, they rock!

So let's get those questions coming, what do you want to know about GAR!?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Arrow S03 E19: "Broken Arrow"

Here's where we stand. Because Oliver won't become the next R'as Al Ghul, R'as has promised to destroy him and make his life a living hell. That campaign started by framing the Arrow for multiple murders and culminated last episode when R'as revealed to Quentin Lance that Oliver Queen was the Arrow.

Lance announces to Starling City this fact and vows to bring him in. With no other options, Oliver turns himself in. Then while en route to Iron Heights, Roy attacks the police convoy and confesses that he is the Arrow. Of course that's not where we start. We begin with Starling National Bank under attack by some sort of power surge after hours. Not a power surge, a metahuman, with red death vision... Deathbolt.

In the comics, there's this thing called retroactive continuity. They are stories set in the past, written later, and chronicling events that we previously did not know existed. Deathbolt is the product of that. We already know that the showrunners have a thing for the characters of the Golden Age. We've seen Wildcat, Solomon Grundy, and over in "The Flash," the Mist, now Deathbolt.

Deathbolt first appeared in All-Star Squadron, a comic from the 1980s that told the adventures of the Justice Society during World War II. Jake Simmons was a murderer experimented on by the evil Ultra-Humanite until he became a living electrical battery. Extremely powerful and not a nice guy, Deathbolt was one of the more dangerous super-villains of the retroactive Golden Age. Here Doug Jones plays the just as dangerous, but slightly less flamboyant version.

Lance and the police make a raid on the Arrowcave that sounds so much more dramatic than it is, reminding me somewhat of the 1960s "Batman" TV show when the bad guys would get into the Batcave. Come on, powers that be, I know that's a comparison you don't want to hear again, so get it together. So while Roy's in jail, and the police are dogging Oliver, a plan is hatched, one probably gotten from watching "The Flash" the night before... an Arrow/Atom team-up to go get Deathbolt.

The chatter between Felicity and Oliver, with Ray in the field is fun, but something tells me it would have been much more fun on "The Flash." They are really trying to work their best day/night, Metropolis/Gotham vibe with Central/Starling here. But seriously, the jokes would have been much funnier if someone just turned the lights up in the Arrowcave. Annnnd also never send someone in armor to fight a human electrical battery.

In Flashback Hong Kong, it seems as if Oliver is getting played, and he, as well as Maseo, Katana, and their son Akio are in the middle of some weird test or game between Amanda Waller and General Matthew Shrieve. At best, in a packed episode like this, even the best of a flashback can only do so much. I suppose it's nice to see skinny Waller again, and equally nice that Shrieve hasn't been forgotten.

Remember that aborted feature film that was in the pre-production works for while - Supermax? The plot had Green Arrow convicted of a crime he didn't commit and placed in a supermax prison full of super-villains, sort of an Escape from Alcatraz with super powers. The scenes with Roy in Iron Heights kinda reminded me of that even though it never got made. I'm pretty sure what we saw would have been pretty close.

The killing of the Speedies really took me by surprise. I was expecting neither, and it's a shame to see Roy go. I think it's a given that Thea is coming back, but I wonder if Roy might not be back somewhere down the road as well. I guess we'll be finding out all about R'as' fountain of youth very soon now.

But that will be on "Arrow," there's still one mystery that will be solved in an upcoming episode of "The Flash." Once Deathbolt is defeated by terrific teamwork between the heroes, Ray takes the villain for imprisonment in the pipeline beneath the particle accelerator in Central City. Cisco had theorized Deathbolt was another metahuman empowered by the accident, but it's just not so.

Jake Simmons was in Opal City at the time of the explosion, not Central City. Where did he get his powers? In the comics, it was the Ultra-Humanite, who knows in this case? Speaking of the comics, Opal City is the home of Starman, and another pipeline inmate, the Mist, was his archenemy. Deathbolt had some solo clashes against that hero as well. Two Starman villains in the pipeline? Could they be getting ready to introduce Starman the way they did Firestorm, slowly but steadily?

Next: Team Arrow goes to Nanda Parbat in "The Fallen!"

For my other reviews of the entire "Arrow" series, click here. And if you'd like to discuss this episode and anything else in the Arrowverse, please join the Arrow Discussion Group on Facebook.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Daredevil S01 E02: Cut Man

This episode introduces us to Claire Temple AKA Night Nurse, which is a bit of an anomaly, because in the comics, they're two different people. Here in the series she's played by Rosario Dawson, one of my favorite actresses, because of her talent, her looks, and that rooftop dance sequence in Clerks II. Be still, my heart.

We open on a trail of blood leading to a dumpster, in which Daredevil lies close to death. A neighbor kid taking out the trash alerts Claire, who he knows is a nurse. They bring Matt to her apartment. He's been beaten, stabbed, and refuses to go to the hospital. Whoever did this will kill everyone to get to him. He drops back into unconsciousness, and flashback territory.

Flashbacks have been an interesting storytelling tool so far in "Daredevil." Much like "Arrow," though notably less obvious and with smoother segueways, they not only tell us about the past and Daredevil's origins, but also shed light on the present day circumstances and predicaments. This one has a pre-accident Matty sewing up his dad after a big fight he lost by knockout. We get a sense of the boy's life, and his relationship with his father

In the comics, Claire Temple is purely supporting cast. She was originally Dr. Bill Foster's ex-wife. He himself a support character for a long time before he eventually became Black Goliath, then Giant-Man, and then Goliath before being killed by Thor's clone in the superhero Civil War. Yeah, I know, more than you wanted to know. She also spent some time as the on-again off-again love interest of Power Man, and that might be the key comic connection here as the third Marvel Netflix series will be "Luke Cage."

Despite being pulled from obscurity and recently gaining popularity under the pen of writer Brian Michael Bendis as a supporting character to Doctor Strange and the New Avengers, Night Nurse has been around much longer than most folks think. Linda Carter who would someday actually use the codename Night Nurse first appeared in the pre-Marvel Atlas Comic titled appropriately enough Linda Carter, Student Nurse way back in 1961.

A decade later when Stan Lee wanted to introduce comics to interest girls specifically, in some cases created by women, he brought out The Cat, a super cool heroine who later spun off into two other super cool heroines, Tigra and Hellcat; Shanna the She-Devil, who would later partner with another Savage Land jungle hero, Ka-Zar; and Night Nurse. In this last one, he reintroduced Linda along with two colleagues in this tense drama, hospital-based with no apparent connection to Marvel's superhero universe. Sadly these comics didn't last long, but the characters were remembered and loved.

Bendis brought Linda Carter back in a 2004 Daredevil comic, where she had taken on the name Night Nurse. Now a doctor, and having been saved at some point by a superhero, she had decided to pay it forward, giving medical aid to superheroes who needed it. Her first few 21st century appearances involved heroes from the Marvel Netflix series - Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, so it's really no wonder the character has been included here. One might imagine the merging of Claire with Night Nurse could also be to avoid confusion with that other superhero actress Lynda Carter.

Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple is very much the Good Samaritan, almost a soulmate for the Nelson and Murdock law office. And she works well with Charlie Cox, all of the actors so far are perfect fits. The details she gets from the beaten Matt are sketchy and elusive, no matter how she tries to pry his secrets from him, yet she helps him. It's the right thing to do. I can't express how nice it is to see so many good characters in a grim and gritty superhero show. Claire gets her superhero wings in this episode.

Of all the good things I can say about this episode, it must be said, and it must be recognized - "Cut Man" is what would be considered on network a filler episode. The thrust of the story is simple, but surrounding it, and supporting it are character and plot bits, like the flashbacks mentioned above. We get to see what wonderful chemistry Elden Henson's Foggy and Deborah Ann Woll's Karen have. Both actors continue to impress.

Much of the support, the flashbacks, involve Matt's father's fight with the young Crusher Creel. It's a fight in which the elder Murdock is supposed to take a fall, but wins by knockout. It's his last. I imagine we will be seeing bits and pieces of the complete Daredevil origin in this way throughout the series. The father/son theme is strong as the kidnapping of a boy from his dad is the case that gets Matt beaten by the Russians to begin with.

Again there is that unbearable level of evil to the villains. Even the police have been infiltrated. The Russians and their human trafficking were among Daredevil's first targets. And of course at the end we are treated to another amazing fight scene, this time with a fixed camera in the confined space of a hallway, nice. I am loving this.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Daredevil S01 E01: Into the Ring

I'm not a big Daredevil guy. I know, a lot of you are thinking that's blasphemous. The truth is I'm also not a big Frank Miller fan. And while I acknowledge he did good work on the character, I can never really get past the idea of why a comics creator who so clearly hates superheroes would ever want to work in superhero comics.

My Daredevil is the first one I encountered - the swashbuckling superhero who partnered with the Black Widow and protected swinging San Francisco. Yeah, I know, that was a loooong time ago. I also liked the Ben Affleck Daredevil film, so there you go. At least I didn't say I liked the Rex Smith version.

All that said, when I first heard about the Netflix "Daredevil" series, I was immediately enthralled as it had Steven S. DeKnight as one of the showrunners. DeKnight is the man. Over on Starz, for several seasons, and throughout a tragedy and a recasting, he produced "Spartacus," perhaps one of the most brutal, dynamic, and spellbinding shows I've ever seen. If anyone could do Daredevil justice, it would be him. After watching the first episode, it's all true.

Unlike other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this series takes place in Hell's Kitchen, just several blocks of one of the poorer sections of New York City. Daredevil exists in the same universe as the Avengers, but he's not going globetrotting, fighting gods, or headed to space, but he is solidly here. Hell's Kitchen has cheap rents and is being rebuilt after the Battle of New York, courtesy of the Avengers. Simple cause and effect. This is a world where super powers exist, but they do not really touch this corner of the Universe.

Charlie Cox, who was one of the best parts of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," is cast in the dual role of Matt Murdock and Daredevil, far exceeds expectations. It is one thing to look at him, look at his body of work, and then actually watch him on the screen as the blind fury. He plays both roles splendidly. And his chemistry with Elden Henson's Foggy Nelson is one of the best things about the show, as well it should be. Henson's acting resume is impressive, and I'm delighted to see him here.

The episode opens with what else, the essential origin of Daredevil, a young Matt Murdock in an accident where radioactive materials get in his eyes. He goes blind, but develops a 'radar sense' that allows him a type of seeing similar to a hyper-advanced bat, through sound bouncing off objects. Yes, it's very hokey, but we're also talking Stan Lee in the Silver Age of comics. This is how they rolled back then. And thus he becomes Matt Murdock, Good Samaritan lawyer by day, masked vigilante Daredevil by night.

Our second scene is pure Miller, who introduced the religious aspect to the character. Matt is in a confessional, giving viewers a quick rundown on his dad, boxer Battlin' Jack Murdock. Did everyone else catch the Easter egg with Crusher Creel, AKA the Absorbing Man? But the big point of the confession was that Matt is there to ask forgiveness for not what he has done, but for what he's about to do.

What follows next is what I was so excited about when I heard McKnight was doing Daredevil - the potential of the fight scenes. As our hero takes down the baddies to stop a slave trade, there are no swords or animation as in "Spartacus," but the action sequence is amazing. This, along with the chemistry of the actors, will be the highlight of the series. And major props to Philip Silvera, the fight coordinator, this is all his prize.

A word or two about the costume. While we know that eventually we will get the traditional red outfit, it's even heavily hinted at in the bloody animation credits sequence, this black thing is what we start with. I didn't mind it, this cross between Rex Smith's outfit and the one from The Man Without Fear. The black with the red highlights works, even in the rain, I just miss the horns.

Action series, superhero series, check, check, but what we really have is a crime drama. That where Karen Page enters the equation. Karen goes back to the old days of Daredevil, and was unfortunately destroyed during the Miller era (I've been told it was Kevin Smith who did the damage, but by that time, because of Miller, I was no longer reading). Her casting, in the firm of actress Deborah Ann Woll, from "True Blood," was one of the few things about this series I was worried about. I needn't have worried, she's perfect.

The thrust of the episode involves a conspiracy Karen stumbled over to rebuild Hell's Kitchen after the Chitauri invasion and how everyone wants a piece of the pie, but it goes deeper. Though unseen, except through his harbinger Wesley, deliciously played by Tobey Leonard Moore, the real villain here is the Kingpin. Wilson Fisk will be played by Vincent D'onofrio, who has promised his will be the definitive version of the character.

A rooftop meeting of Kingpin's pseudo-Legion of Doom introduces us to the lesser villains who will be challenging Daredevil this season. Madam Gao and Leland Owlsley (The Owl!) stand out. There is definitive sense of evil to the unseen Kingpin, especially in the montage scenes toward the end of the episode. He does not play, and you do not mess with him. Of course Daredevil has made himself a serious enemy.