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Iron Fist – Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch (Review)

Iron Fist draws its influences from the strangest possible places.

As a rule, the Marvel Netflix shows are heavily rooted in the reinvention of Marvel’s street level heroes that began around the turn of the millennium. There are generally two key creative figures associated with this era, artist-turned-editor Joe Quesada and writer Brian Michael Bendis. Working the bunch of street-level properties, these two figures invented and reinvented a number of characters and concepts that would become a cornerstone of this shared television universe.

Hitting the wall…

Sometimes the influence was rather direct. Jessica Jones draws fairly heavily and literally from Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ twenty-eight issue run on Alias. Sometimes that influence was more conceptual. Luke Cage tells its own unique story, but it is heavily influenced by Brian Michael Bendis’ rehabilitation of the title character during his runs on Alias and New Avengers. In some ways, Daredevil is an outlier, drawing on the iconic eighties run by Frank Miller, but it is still heavily influenced by millennial runs by Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker.

Given this existing framework, there is a very obvious influence from which the creative team might draw. Written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, and illustrated primarily by David Aja, The Immortal Iron Fist was launched in November 2006. The run was launched during the tenure of Joe Quesada and spun directly out of Daredevil. It was also praised by critics and adored by fans for its radical and thoughtful reinvention of the Iron Fist mythos. It was also just plain fun, with Michal Chabon summarising it as “pure, yummy martial-arts-fantasy deliciousness.”

More like bored room, am I right?

With all of this in mind, it seems like Iron Fist should not have to look very hard for an influence. The Immortal Iron Fist was a comic that reinvented a long-forgotten character in a way that made him accessible to modern audiences that had never latched on to Danny Rand. More than that, by focusing on the history and legacy of the title, Fraction and Brubaker had found (some small way) to defuse the potential racial controversy simmering beneath the production. Emphasising the tradition of K’un Lun, The Immortal Iron Fist diversified the mythos.

And yet, in spite of all of that, Iron Fist chooses to draw most heavily and most overtly from the original appearances of Danny Rand in Marvel Premiere and Iron Fist, a run largely forgotten by history and notable primarily as a stepping stone to much greater things.

Hardly gripping.

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The X-Files: Year Zero (IDW) #1-5 (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Year Zero is the best thing that IDW has done with the X-Files license.

There are multiple reasons for that. Most obviously, the five-part miniseries is incredibly charming when taken on its own terms. Writer Karl Kesel offers in incredibly playful script, one full of teases and wordplay that holds together remarkably well without ever seeming heavy-handed or awkward. Artists Greg Scott and Vic Malhotra do an excellent job keeping the comic consistent while clearly distinguishing between its two time periods. The modern day sequences as scratchy and detailed, while the flashbacks are illustrated more like cartoons.

X-over appeal.

X-over appeal.

There is also a clever metafictional commentary underpinning the story that feels like something of a companion to the larger mythology of The X-Files. If the mythology of The X-Files can be read as a secret history of the United States filtered through folklore about aliens and UFOs, then Year Zero positions itself as an origin story for that folklore. It places the origin of The X-Files at the moment those narratives began to change, tying the series into the aftermath of the Second World War in a manner distinct from (but still compatible with) that featured on the show.

More than that, Year Zero is a story that unfolds without a heavy reliance on the mythology or continuity. Given the way that Joe Harris has approached The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11, it is a welcome surprise that the comic does not feature a guest appearance from William Mulder or C.G.B. Spender. There are lots of little winks and nods to the finer details of the show, but Year Zero is more than just a story carved out from a throwaway line of dialogue in Shapes or as an extension of Travelers.

Holding out for a Zero.

Holding out for a Zero.

In fact, Year Zero practically revels in the discontinuity of it all. References to existing stories seem to exist primarily to emphasise the disconnect that exists between them. Given the care the IDW have taken in trying to craft and shape a consistent X-Files continuity, there is something quite refreshing in the cheeky approach taken by Karl Kesel to Year Zero. This is a book that could easily be handed to a casual fan who stopped watching the show around the fifth season, or even to somebody who had only seen a handful of episodes.

However, Year Zero does something far more important. The IDW comics have placed a heavy emphasis on the idea of legitimacy and canon. The comics have worked hard to present themselves as a viable continuation of the franchise. However, a lot of that has involved looking backwards and evoking nostalgia. The Cigarette-Smoking Man returns, Mister X reappears, Alex Krycek is revived. Even the other tie-in miniseries exist to market existing aspects of the brand. Conspiracy is a companion to The Lone Gunmen. Millennium brings back Frank Black.

A beast of a man...

A beast of a man…

Year Zero gives the IDW comics something unique and novel. It creates something fresh and exciting rather than simply repackaging recognisable moments or iconic characters. It gives the IDW line something that never existed in any prior incarnation of The X-Files. The characters of Humility Ohio and Bing Ellinson might be familiar archetypes, but they represent something intriguing. Instead of simply repackaging material and elements that fans loved, Year Zero slots in something exciting and intriguing.

The fact that all of this is done as through what is effectively positioned as a clichéd “origin story” makes it all the more exciting.

Madame X.

Madame X.

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #1-5 – Believers (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Five years can be a long time.

To be fair, there was a six-year gap between the broadcast of The Truth and the release of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, so the gap was not unprecedented. Nevertheless, the fact is that Mulder and Scully had been retired for five years since their last film and eleven years since their last television episodes. Even the most hardcore fans of The X-Files had begun to doubt that the show would ever return in any tangible form. However, the show was entering its twentieth anniversary year, and forces were stirring in the background.

X-appeal.

X-appeal.

Occasionally interviews would surface with David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson mooting the possibility of doing a third feature film. After all, despite the promise made in the opening of The Truth, 2012 had come and gone without an alien invasion or a global apocalypse. The franchise had set its own alarm clock and slept through it. There were still fitful stirrings, suggestions of possible future developments. As the franchise passed what many regarded as its “best before” date, Frank Spotnitz even speculated that fans might be treated to a reboot.

In many ways, the revival of The X-Files began somewhat innocuously. In January 2013, comics publisher IDW announced that they would be publishing a monthly series focusing on the continuing adventures of Mulder and Scully. This was not necessarily news of itself. IDW had a long history of managing licensed properties, such as the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot and the Russell T. Davies Doctor Who relaunch. That was very much their market niche in the comic book industry, especially with nostalgic titles like Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

How the years 'shroom by...

How the years ‘shroom by…

While the launch of the title did suggest that there was an audience for stories featuring Mulder and Scully, it did not necessarily lead to the promise of greater things. Indeed, the announcement that IDW would be publishing The X-Files: Season 10 consciously and clearly evoked the approach that the publisher Dark Horse had adopted towards Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel, running entire seasons of comic book stories that served as the new “canon” for the characters. But nobody was expecting Sarah Michelle Gellar to reprise the role of Buffy Summers.

However, the IDW comic book launch served to bring Chris Carter out of semi-retirement and back into the media spotlight. Joss Whedon had consulted with Dark Horse on Buffy: Season Eight, the prolific television writer and producer was also working on his own concurrent projects that included directing episodes of The Office and preparing Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. In contrast, Chris Carter had been largely silent since the release of I Want to Believe. The launch of the comic book brought him back.

Where there's smoke...

Where there’s smoke…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Aenar (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

The United trilogy does not flow as well as the Kir’Shara trilogy did.

In fact, it is debatable whether these three episodes are best described as a single three-parter or instead as a two-parter with a coda tacked on. After all, the bulk of the action and drama unfolds in Babel One and United, with the penultimate scene of United finding Archer sitting down with the Andorians and Tellarites to begin laying the groundwork for the United Federation of Planets. Even the subplots are neatly tidied up between those two episodes; Trip and Reed get stranded on the Romulan drone in Babel One and rescued by Enterprise in United.

This blue world.

This blue world.

It would be perfectly reasonable to close off the story at that point. The Romulans had been scared off, and Senator Vrax had already made it clear that an embarrassing failure would mean the end of his career and that of Valdour. Even the closing scene of United, revealing an albino Andorian operating the drone ship from Romulus, feels almost tacked on after the previous sequence that had memorably pulled out from the meeting room on Enterprise to emphasise the union of Starfleet, the Vulcans, the Andorians and the Tellarites.

Using that cliffhanger at the end of UnitedThe Aenar pivots away from that to focus on a trip to Andoria. It affords Archer (and Star Trek: Enterprise) one last opportunity to visit Shran’s homeworld.

A cold reception.

A cold reception.

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Star Trek – I, Mudd (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

I, Mudd is delightfully silly.

This is probably the broadest Star Trek comedy episode ever produced. It is very difficult to imagine any Star Trek ensemble outside the original cast pulling off an episode like this. While The Trouble With Tribbles is easily the show’s most iconic comedy episode (and the franchise’s, to boot), there is something rather plucky and endearing about I, Mudd. One of features of the later Star Trek spin-offs was a tendency to take themselves quite seriously. This isn’t a problem of itself, but it does make it impossible to do a show like I, Mudd.

Mudd in yer eye...

Mudd in yer eye…

As with other second-season episodes, there is a sense that the show is stretching its wings a bit. Catspaw was a clear attempt to do a horror story, and Wolf in the Fold was a slasher or occult film in Star Trek form. Episodes like Amok Time and Journey to Babel are very consciously building out the Star Trek universe. Episodes like I, Mudd and The Trouble With Tribbles demonstrate that Star Trek can do comedy.

To be fair, it is perfectly reasonably to argue that shows like I, Mudd led the show to think that Spock’s Brain was a good idea. Still, I, Mudd is just so much fun – demonstrating the sense of goofy and theatrical fun that ran through so much of classic Star Trek.

"Stella, Stella... You're putting me through hell-a!"

“Stella, Stella… You’re putting me through hell-a!”

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Star Trek – The Romulan Way by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

The Romulan Way is the second book in Diane Duane’s “Rihannsu” cycle – although the first book in the series, My Enemy, My Ally was only retroactively distinguished from standard Star Trek tie-ins. Much like My Enemy, My Ally had been roughly contemporaneous with John M. Ford’s The Final Reflection, Duane’s follow-up was published around the same time as Ford’s own sequel to his earlier work, How Much for Just the Planet? Expanding on My Enemy, My Ally, The Romulan Way sees Duane delving more thoroughly into Romulan history and culture.

The Romulan Way was published amid a sea of change at Paramount and Pocket Books in the late eighties, with shifting mandates and objectives for these tie-in books that represented a conscious effort to hem in some of the more creative tendencies of mid-eighties Star Trek novelist. To demonstrate how rapidly things were changing, both The Romulan Way and How Much for Just the Planet? were both published within three years of their predecessors. After this point, it would take Duane another thirteen years to write the third volume in her saga, and John M. Ford would never write another Star Trek tie-in again.

It’s very hard to condone any publishing philosophy that leads to results like that.

tos-theromulanway

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Keeping Trek: Thoughts on Continuity…

Sky is showing Star Trek all this week, and I’ve had the chance to catch it again – great movie. However, it’s got me thinking about the big furry beast which is continuity. Obviously continuity is a big thing within films – making sure the actors and sets look the same from shot to shot – but it becomes a whole other beast when you kick that up a level and are dealing with continuity between distinct individual works. Take the whole Star Trek saga, for a moment. Assuming you discount the hundreds of books, the entire animated series, the unproduced spin-off, various tie-ins and specials, you’re still left with over 600 episodes of television filmed over forty years and eleven feature-length movies which all have to line up nearly perfectly. And if they don’t, you get rampaging fans complaining it’s the end of the world. As much as my inner nerd loves that sort of continuity, I have to confess that I really don’t mind too much if one or two things are sacrificed in order to tell a good story.

Can we put that entire movie where Kirk kills God out of continuity?

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