Friday, April 3, 2020

Superhero Media: Daredevil (2003)

I really like this film, honestly, even with the Netflix series being around, I tend to watch the 2003 film more often, despite it's flaws. Some background is needed for this one; I first came across Daredevil (the character) through a crossover with the Spider-Man comics I was reading as a child, I was struck with the image of the horned cowl and the epithet "The Man Without Fear". I grabbed what Daredevil comics I could for a few years (this was before I discovered comic stores), even if old Horn-head was just on the cover. Naturally, I loved Spider-Man (2002), so I was really excited for Daredevil. When I talk to people about this film, I tend to find myself describing it as "a good adaptation of Daredevil, but not a good film in its own right", which I want to modify now that I've seen it again and had a bit of a think. Daredevil is actually a "good" film, by all rights; the narrative works, the cinematography is competent to excellent (depending on the scene), the actors are all good in their roles and the script is fun. 

If I had to put down people's remembering Daredevil as a poor film down to a particular reading, it would be that the film has aged poorly. Daredevil isn't as fun as Spider-Man, or as dark as Batman Begins would be, a few years later, lacks the pace of X-2, basically, it was an overall "B+" effort for the genre at the time, which has been retroactively downgraded in the face of the MCU. Yes, let's get this straight, the cast of Daredevil is actually good, including Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, the play-fight in the playground and the rooftop rain scene[s] between the two are proof enough of that. The late, great Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin and Colin Farrell round out some of the best casting ever to grace a pre-MCU superhero film, but let's not forget Jon Favreau as Foggy Nelson and Joe Pantoliano is still the best Ben Urich in live-action. Despite it's age, Daredevil manages to do some things better than the Netflix series of the same name, especially the "Radar Sense" sequences, which look way better than the newer takes on it. Also, despite having more "time" to do so in the series, the film does a much better job of showing what day-to-day life is like for Matt Murdock as a blind man. 

What really doesn't work in Daredevil? Well, the Nu-Metal soundtrack dates it severely, though I do tend to find Evanesence more forgivable than, say, POD or Crazy Town, if only because Amy Lee can actually sing. The CGI isn't great and far too overused, though I would be remiss not to mention that Ben Affleck's Daredevil costume still looks better than Charlie Cox's, c'mon Netflix! If I were to do a series of lectures on the history of Superhero cinema, Daredevil would play a major part, as I can see in it all of the elements that would come to the fore in the MCU years later. Yes, I'm saying it, without Daredevil, Jon Favreau would not have the experience and knowledge he needed to make Iron Man such a hit. I know I tend to say this a lot, but seriously, give Daredevil another go if you can, it's better than you remember and so much great work has gone into it than people ever seem to give it credit for. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Miniatures Finished: Topiary

I got inspired by an episode of Batman the Animated Series and made some animal Topiary for Poison Ivy to control out of some cheap plastic toys. 

 I'll have to get them on a table to have a game, but I think for $5, they turned out pretty well. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Superhero Media: The Punisher - Season 1

Probably what shocks me the most about The Punisher is how much people enjoyed it whilst I found it painful to watch. There are a few things happening here, firstly, I actually really enjoy the Tom Jane The Punisher film from 2004 and have a soft spot for Punisher War Zone from 2008, as they do pretty decent jobs of adapting the source material, inherit flaws and all. Second, as you've seen before this, I felt the Netflix Iron Fist series was hard done by critics and fans and was much better than anyone seems willing to give it credit for. Third, and final, I'm a big fan of Punisher Comics, especially the Garth Ennis MAX run, which both the Netflix series and War Zone borrow from heavily, though not always successfully. At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, The Punisher is simply too lacking in action, yes I am the same man who constantly rebukes the call for more "R" rated superhero fare, but the Punisher is one of the few characters I really feel demands such extreme content. 

In Narrative Theory, there is a concept often known as the "engagement curve" or "pacing curve", an algorithmic framework for keeping an audience's attention that "good" works of fiction manage to include. Star Wars, The Avengers and Jaws all manage this curve, or pretty close to it. Ideally, each individual episode or issue of a series will follow this curve to some degree, as well as the complete narrative as a whole. To my mind, none of the Netflix Marvel programmes manage the engagement curve very well, each feels a few episodes too long, but this is often difficult to notice with the great casting and binge nature of Netflix viewing. The Punisher was the first time I was bored watching one of these programmes, and, as a Punisher fan, that really pisses me off. There is an episode where the narrative centers around Frank and Micro getting drunk, talking about their wives, then Frank makes soup. What the fuck? I'm not saying that every episode needed extreme violence, but the Punisher makes soup? I had to stop watching for a couple of months after that. 

There are quite a few gunfights in The Punisher, and plenty of over-the-top violence, but they're pretty spread out and Frank doesn't even wear his costume until the last two episodes. Did the writers think that we hadn't had enough of the origin in season two of Daredevil? By the way, the best gunfight in the series doesn't even feature Frank, it involves some Mercenaries and the Feds getting into a shoot-out. I really can't understand how this turned out this bad, the roadmap to this character is in the Garth Ennis comics, "Kitchen Irish", "Up is Down and Black is White" and "Mother Russia" are all prefect stories to adapt to the Netflix model; even cramming two together may actually fill out the bloated 13 episode season. How bad is this? Tom Jane's fan film Dirty Laundry is a better representation of the Punisher than this series. I really hope there's a major change behind the scenes before the next series. What a disappointment.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Thinking Out Loud: Stardust in their Eyes

Regular readers will probably already be aware of my affection for the comics of Fletcher Hanks, especially Stardust the Super Wizard, a unique and inscrutable relic of the Golden Age of Comics. Hanks himself was a drunk, abuser and probable murderer, but his works, especially Stardust, evoke a sense of almost-divine justice and American Fascism that used to be found only in the inter-war period. Stardust, the character, is often compared to the Superman of the period, having such a vast array of powers that he strides like a god through his comics, rather than ever struggling or fighting to have to right wrongs. Stardust often turns up after the damage has been done, when bodies lie broken, wealth has been stolen or cities razed, he brutally punishes the wrongdoers before setting things right with a wave of his hand and vanishing into space again. The comics are quite singular and bizarre, I highly recommend reading a couple, they can be found online without too much difficulty as the character is now Public Domain. I own the complied works of Fletcher Hanks, Turn loose your death rays and kill them all! which is worth a look if you like Golden Age comics. 

What surprised me slightly was the love for Stardust that can be found online, with fan-comics, fan art and several archives of the original comics all out there to find. Check out some of the work at Super Wizard Universe, it varies in quality, but the passion is admirable. Even Image Comics, in their "Next Issue Project" published a new Stardust story, so there's still some genuine affection for the character even though he was last published in 1942. What bothers me is that I don't think the people writing "new" works with Stardust really get the character. Now, I don't mean to sound dismissive of the people that put a lot of work into their comics, but the tendency is to paint Stardust as a kind of Superman figure, compassionate and just, which is simply not indicative of Fletcher Hanks' work. Stardust does not seem to care too much about people getting hurt, only turning up to set things back to status quo after people are already hurt or dead, despite being omniscient and capable of both faster-than-light travel and teleportation. So long as the evil fifth-columnists and mobsters are dead or otherwise punished by the end of the comic, Stardust has done his job and off he goes. 

If I had to put it down to something, I think the appeal of writing Stardust stories isn't so much the character himself, who is highly problematic as a "hero" archetype, but in having a blank-slate version of the Superman "Paragon" to work with as a writer. The Stardusts that can be found in "Attack of the Super Wizards", "Super Wizard Returns" or "Next Issue Project" have more in common with Hyperion, Plutonian or Mister Awesome than they do with the original Hanks creation, which I find a bit of a shame. Sure, I'm very much in favour of postmodernist takes on classic superhero archetypes, but there is so much potential in Stardust as he was written by Hanks, as a mad god with a skewed idea of justice, that it feels like a shame to make him just another take on Superman. Superman has shifted with the times to be something that fits in with the society we have now, whereas Stardust has been frozen in time since the 1940s, an anachronism from a time gone by, that's what makes him interesting and the comics of Hanks unique.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Superhero Media: Kriby Star Allies

The very first video game I owned was Kirby's Dreamland 2 on Game Boy, I don't know how many hours I would have played it for, but the game and character stuck with me, and to this day, I'll play every Kirby game I can get my hands on. When the Nindendo Switch was announced, I promised myself that I wouldn't buy one until there was both a Kirby and a Smash Bros game on it, as they were likely the only games I'd play enough of to make the investment worthwhile. Well, the drop of Star Allies and Smash Bros Ultimate announcement meant I picked up my Switch and, of course, got stuck into Kirby Star Allies right away. Our adventure starts with dark crystal hearts raining down upon the planet of Pop Star and corrupting the inhabitants, once again it is up to fledgling Star Warrior Kirby to save the day. Most Kirby games since Dream Land 3 focus on a gimmick, a new mechanic to tempt in new players, in Star Allies, it is the ability to befriend enemies and run around with a team of allies to help in the adventure. 

The main story of the game is a little on the brief side, but by the end, Kirby has taken down an ancient doomsday cult and battles what can only be described as an Elder God in an epic boss fight unlike anything in any Kirby Game I've ever played. There's enough replay value there with the other game modes and needing to collect all the items, but I can see why non-fans may be a bit miffed by paying full price for this one. Personally, I'm happy with my money spent, because I know I will replay it again and again. An ex-girlfriend of mine had a theory that if you broke the price of a video game down into a price rate based on hours played, you'd get a better idea of what you had actually paid. Say I paid $60 for a game and played it for 30 hours, that's $2 per hour, which is really pretty cheap when you compare it to the cinema, theater or live sports. Personally, I think the price of admission was worth it for one element alone, the Spider-Hat: 

Kirby has spider-powers now! And the hat is, itself, a spider! What more could you want? Actually, the Spider-Power is one of the best in the game when you hit the bosses, spinning the one big or three small webs around the boss will tick their health down nicely. I've been chewing through "The Ultimate Choice" sub-game with the Spider-Powers as a major boost. As good as it is, Kirby Star Allies is never really going to win over a lot of fans, it's a bit too easy, it's not the best thing on the Switch and it's not as good as the previous few Kirby games. I, however, really enjoyed the game and will be drawing a lot of inspiration from it, especially the villains and the expansion to the Kirby "universe". I'd wish for a Kirby game that explores the origins of the protagonist and the mysteries of the setting a little more, but I've seen enough examples like Batman Zero Year and Wolverine Origins to know that such things are always better in my imagination than the reality. Pick this one up if you can, though maybe wait for a price-drop.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Miniature Finished: Frost Giant

Finished repainting a Heroclix Frost Giant; 

 He's a big boy, no plans to do more than one at this stage. 

 Hard to tell from the photos, but the mace is taller than most 28mm miniatures. 

Hasslefree 28mm Bateu is a big guy, but still looks up to the Frost Giant. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Superhero Media: The Defenders

Much like Iron Fist before it, I really struggle to understand the vitriol aimed at The Defenders; there are countless videos on YouTube decrying the series and dissecting why it "doesn't work". What the hell were those people watching? The Defenders is pretty great, hitting all the right notes and the flaws are down to the usual Netflix restrictions like budget and contracts. Starting on their own independent investigations, Iron Fist, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones soon encounter each other and learn of the threat that the Hand pose to New York. Cleverly, much of the story happens in the span of a few days, circumventing the typical pacing problems that plague the Marvel Netflix programmes; even Jessica pointing this out in one episode only highlights the benefits of such an approach. As much as The Defenders follows on directly from Iron Fist, elements do factor in from every series that has come before; Matt is chasing Elektra, Luke is looking for missing Harlem youth and Jessica is following a case. 

The star of The Defenders is Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, the leader of the Hand, getting a brilliant introduction bossing Madame Gau around and revealing that the leaders of the Hand are hundreds of years old. Alexandra uses the last of the Hand's resurrection powder to bring Elektra back as the Black Sky so that the organisation can take the temple hidden under New York and become truly immortal. As New York will be destroyed in the process, our heroes have to band together to save the day, not only the 'big four', but Coleen Wing, Claire Temple and Misty Knight are along for the ride, helping out along the way and in the final battle. The best part of The Defenders, much like in The Avengers, is the friction and eventual camaraderie between the characters, especially Jessica's resistance to the ideas of ninjas, magic and Iron Fist. The first fight, where the four team up to fight goons in a hallway, is extremely well executed, with each of the characters having their own unique style of fighting, the stunt team really did a brilliant job.

As of the time of initially writing this review (July 2018), the next series of The Defenders is on hiatus, as is Daredevil, and Iron Fist seems to have been canceled. I'm hoping that this is more indicative that the Netflix stuff will be brought into the main MCU continuity, but I doubt it. Somehow, despite the quality of production, writing and casting, the Marvel Netflix series have not caught on in a way that Marvel Studios wants to keep producing. If I were a betting man, I'd say that we're likely to see Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter in their roles again, but probably with a recast Punisher and Iron Fist, perhaps even a Heroes for Hire film in a few years' time. These are great characters, with plenty to draw on from their comics, stories like New Avengers (Luke Cage), The Immortal Iron Fist, The Pulse (Jessica Jones) and Guardian Devil (Daredevil) deserve the broader audience that the MCU is attracting. Here's hoping for another Defenders outing at some point.