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Luke Cage – The Main Ingredient (Review)

The second season knows what the audience is waiting for.

From the moment it was announced that the lead-up to The Defenders would include standalone series for Luke Cage and Iron Fist, fans anticipated the pairing of Luke Cage and Danny Rand. Even before Luke Cage, let alone Iron Fist, had premiered, fans were clamouring for a team-up miniseries. As early as November 2016, following the release of the first season of Luke Cage, actor Mike Colter was teasing the inevitable collaboration between these two character, “Yeah, we’re getting ready to do Heroes For Hire eventually, come on. We’re gonna do it.”

There’s a credible argument to be made that comic book fans were more excited about seeing Luke Cage and Danny Rand on screen together than they were to see the characters teamed up with Matt Murdock or Jessica Jones. After all, the characters have a long shared history. Both originated as part of Marvel’s engagement with exploitation cinema during the seventies, thrown together into the same comic book as a pairing when neither character could keep a solo title afloat. Iron Fist and Power Man merged together to launch Power Man and Iron Fist in April 1978.

The unlikely combination of grounded bulletproof black man and aloof rich white kung-fu master stuck a chord with audiences, creating a comic book that was utterly unlike anything else on stands. While neither character could sustain a solo book for an extended period, Power Man and Iron Fist sold well enough that it went from a bimonthly title to a monthly book in May 1981. The series ran for seventy-six issues, finally retired in September 1986, reflecting the changes in an industry about to be rocked by Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Danny Rand and Luke Cage have a long shared history together. Still, it is remarkable that Luke Cage managed to pull off this minor organisational feat. Barring Luke’s introduction in the first season of Jessica Jones and Frank Castle debut in the second season of Daredevil, Marvel Netflix series generally focus on crossovers of supporting cast members: Jeri Hogarth appearing in A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen, Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch, Eight Diagram Dragon Palm and Dragon Plays with Fire or Foggy Nelson appearing in AKA Sole Survivor and All Souled Out.

Still, Danny Rand’s guest appearance in The Main Ingredient might be the best thing that has been done with this iteration of the character.

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The Defenders – Worst Behaviour (Review)

One of the big issues with The Defenders is that it works a lot better as a weird cross-cutting fusion of four different television series than it does as a single cohesive narrative.

The H Word and Mean Right Hook feature a few small crossover between primary and supporting characters; Foggy and Luke, Misty and Jessica, a fight between Luke and Danny, a quick tease of Matt and Jessica. Otherwise, the four lead characters seem to operate in isolation from one another, continuing threads and themes from their own shows, even as they inch closer and closer together. Worst Behaviour and Royal Dragon finally bring the big four characters together, while still trading on the incongruity of this team-up.

Privileged information.

This tension provides the first half of The Defenders with a compelling narrative hook, an interesting set of internal conflicts between various genres and styles and conventions. In contrast, a lot of this tension evaporates in the second half of the season, as The Defenders figures out exactly what it wants to be in Take Shelter and Ashes, Ashes, before devolving into a familiar and distracting chaos with Fish in the Jailhouse and The Defenders. The first half of the season is compelling, because it seems to be about more than wave-after-wave of generic ninja.

As the team begins to cohere in Worst Behaviour, worlds begin to collide. There is something sublime and ridiculous, as the audience comes to realise that a blind vigilante might coexist alongside a super-strong alcoholic private investigator, a bulletproof social crusader and a billionaire martial arts expert. It is weird, wonderful and jarring. The Defenders manages an interesting frisson in Worst Behaviour.

Lift off.

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41. Crossover (-#35)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The Bottom 100 is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, a trip through some of the worst movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Preston A. Whitmore II’s Crossover.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 35th worst movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story feels torn between two extremes.

On one extreme, it is an epic war movie about a universe that is caught in turmoil. Through the lens of science-fantasy, Rogue One can tease out all manner of interesting ideas about the conflict at the heart of the Star Wars franchise. What does an interstellar war look like in the early years of the twenty-first century? What is the view of this epic confrontation from outside the cockpit of an X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon? There are points at which Rogue One almost plays as a war film that just happens to be set within the Star Wars universe.

Too TIE-d to continuity?

Too TIE-d to continuity?

On the other extreme, Rogue One often feels like a collection of deleted scenes intended to bridge Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith to Star Wars: Episode VI – A New Hope. The basic premise of the film involves the theft of the Death Star plans that propel the plot of A New Hope, which should be enough to connect it to the parent franchise. Instead, the film is saturated with cameos and callbacks. While it makes sense for a number of minor characters to overlap, Rogue One contorts to include two of the franchise’s biggest characters.

So Rogue One is trapped between being an exciting and exhilarating glimpse of an existing franchise from a new perspective, and feeling just a little bit too much like fan fiction. It is no surprise that the former is much more interesting than the latter.

Watered down?

Watered down?

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rapture (Review)

Faith can be a tricky issue.

At one point in Rapture, the primary cast take a moment to reflect upon it. Kira tries to explain her belief in Sisko and the Prophets to Dax and O’Brien. She struggles. They have difficulty understanding how Kira can invest so much certainty in something so intangible. Eventually, Worf interjects. “Do not attempt to convince them, Major,” he urges her. “They cannot understand.” Dax is a little surprised by Worf’s interest in the topic. “Since when did you believe in the Prophets?” she asks. Worf responds, “What I believe in is faith.”

Gotta have faith.

Gotta have faith.

It is a short conversation, but one that reveals a lot about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. As a rule, the Star Trek franchise tends towards a strong atheism, rejecting notions of religion and spirituality as the hallmarks of an underdeveloped civilisation; Return of the Archons, The Apple, For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky, Who Watches the Watchers?, Devil’s Due, False Profits, Chosen Realm. This makes a certain amount of sense, given that the franchise prides itself on its rationalism. However, it also feels a little narrow-minded.

Rapture might just be the franchise’s most compelling exploration of unquestioning faith, a harrowing portrayal of devotion and inspiration that captures at once the ecstasy of unwavering belief and the discomforting aspects of watching someone embrace something outside a rational frame of reference. Rapture is a mesmerising piece of television.

"I, for one, welcome our new Klingon overlords."

“I, for one, welcome our new Klingon overlords.”

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The X-Files: Conspiracy (IDW) (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.

IDW is quite different from Topps and Wildstorm, the two prior comic book companies to hold the license for The X-Files.

Part of that simply reflects changes in the comic book industry over time, with a greater fixation on concepts like shared universes and continuity, along with an increased emphasis on the importance of “the canon.” Part of that is simply down to the way that IDW operates as a publisher. The company is the fourth-largest comic book publisher in America, behind Marvel, DC and Image. While the company publishes a number of creator-owned properties, its success has largely been based around licensing properties.

A mutant phenomenon...

A mutant phenomenon…

In doing so, the company has adopted a model quite close to that of Marvel or DC. It tends to organise its books around these properties in the same way that Marvel or DC might organise themselves around the so-called “families.” Much like books like Detective Comics, Nightwing or Batgirl are considered part of the “Batman” family or books like Wolverine, Namor and X-Force fall under the X-Men banner, IDW tends to group its books into familiar families based around licensed properties. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

It is not uncommon for each of those lines to support multiple books. For example, the company would publish a number of miniseries as companion pieces to their monthly Star Trek or Doctor Who comics. The same would be true of The X-Files: Season 1o, with the company publishing a number of tie-in books around that. Year Zero and Millennium are the most obvious example, providing the company with the opportunity to publish several branded X-Files books within the same month.

I bet super soldiers wish that they could do this.

I bet super soldiers wish that they could do this.

At the same time, the company engages with its properties in much the same way that Marvel or DC might. Marvel and DC tend to fall into a pattern of massive so-called “events” that serve to draw particular books away from their own internal narratives and towards a more “epic” story. Civil War focused on a fight between Captain America and Iron Man, but crossed over into over one hundred comic book issues published over seven months. There are countless other examples, from House of M to Crisis on Infinite Earths to Siege to Final Crisis.

IDW has organised several of its own blockbuster events to tie together its own licensed properties; Infestation and and Infes2ation come to mind. To celebrate the landing of the license, it was decided that the 2014 crossover would be themed around The X-Files. It is just a shame that the result was terrible.

We ain't afraid of no ghosts...

We ain’t afraid of no ghosts…

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Batman – Knightfall (Review/Retrospective)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Knightfall is one of the definitive Batman stories.

That is, to be clear, not the same as saying it is one of the best. Knightfall is far too chaotic and disorganised to rank among the best Batman stories ever told. This becomes particularly obvious when the story enters its second and third act, as everything falls to pieces and the saga sort of sputters out rather than coming to a clear end. Indeed, this problem can be seen even in the nineteen-issues-and-change introductory arc; the creative teams start with a strong focus and clear direction, but this quickly descends into anarchy as the story builds a forward momentum.

Batman just snapped...

Batman just snapped…

At the same time, there is something striking and ambitious about Knightfall. It is no surprise that Denny O’Neil considers it one of his crowning accomplishments as editor of the line. Asked to name his favourite Batman arc, O’Neil replies, “I guess it would be Knightfall because it involved me so deeply–I worked on it as a comic series, a novel, and a radio show. It was a very steep mountain to climb, but we climbed it and that was satisfying.” There is no denying the influence and success of the arc.

In some respects, Knightfall is an astonishingly cynical piece of work. It is quite blatantly designed as a crossover with a high-profile guest cast and killer high concept. Indeed, Knightfall could be seen as a headline-grabber in the style of The Death and Return of Superman, but with the added hook of Batman’s iconic rogues gallery. After all, it was the nineties, the era of sensationalist headline-grabbing sales stunts. It could be argued that comics (and mass culture) have always been stuck in this cycle, but it was particularly evident in nineties comic books.

All of Batman's greatest adversaries... ... and Maxie Zeus.

All of Batman’s greatest adversaries…
… and Moench.

However, Knightfall has two core virtues that go a long way towards excusing the confusion and excess at the heart of the story. The first is that there is a sense that the writers seemed to have a (very) rough idea where they would like to end up, even if the journey was not mapped in advance. While the plot resolves with a convenient and contrived twist, at least it does not hinge on Bruce magically waking up from a coma. More than that, though, there is a sense that Knightfall is actually trying to say something about its central character.

For all the noise and static along the way, Knightfall is essentially a story about Batman means in the context of the nineties.

Armoured and dangerous...

Armoured and dangerous…

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