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.

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Return of Captain EO

As mentioned in the newest episode of The Make Mine Magic Podcast, I got the chance to see Captain EO again on our most recent trip to Orlando and Walt Disney World. Here are a few of my thoughts and observations.

From 1986 to 1996, this legendary seventeen minute music video/short scifi film was the main attraction at the theater next to Journey into Imagination at the EPCOT park in Walt Disney World. The adventure with the heroic Captain EO bringing a 'gift' to the evil fascist Supreme Leader. The gift is music, song and dance, that in the hands (and feet, voice, and body) of EO's Michael Jackson transforms first the soldiers of, and then the Supreme Leader herself (Angelica Huston), into better more positive people. The dark planet, looking very Giger at first is changed into a bight paradise.

Captain EO was the brainchild of Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Michael Jackson, trying to recreate the longform video story style of Jackson's Thriller in a new venue - 3D, or more accurately 4D. This is not just any 3D, but 3D with in the theater effects as well, including shaking chairs, internal light effects, and even misters in the seats. It's full effect. While in the nearly three decades since its debut, 3D effects in the cinema have gotten better, the full effects of this special theater still are pretty spectacular.

In memorial of Michael Jackson death and his achievements with Captain EO, EPCOT brought the attraction back in 2010. It was removed in 1996, though I don't think anyone said it out loud, because of all the legal problems Jackson was having at the time, and it was perhaps not thought he was a good role model for kids.

The stigma hasn't gone. There were jokes about 'kid touching' in line when I was there this past month, but still there were a lot of Michael Jackson fans in line who were very excited about the show. There was a genuine electricity in how psyched people were to see this. It was as if his crimes, supposed or otherwise, had evaporated, and all that mattered was this scifi musical spectacular from another age.

Disney shows the film as it originally played, with the same preshow as well, but calls it The Return of Captain EO, but it doesn't matter what it's called, this silly space opera with wannabe Muppets, and two terrific songs - "We Can Change the World" and "Another Part of Me" - along with coo special effects and great dancing, still dazzles and entertains. If you get a chance, definitely see it at EPCOT while it lasts.

You can hear The Bride and I talk about Captain EO on The Make Mine Magic Podcast in this episode here, and you can also see the film in 2D below. Enjoy.

Friday, April 03, 2015

The GAR! Podcast at the Camden Comic Con 2015

On March 7th of 2015, The GAR! Podcast recorded episodes live at the Camden Comic Con for its second year in a row. This local comic convention has grown in a very short time to one of the events in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area, and is personally the best such event I've ever attended, and that includes shows in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York. The Camden Comic Con rocks.

I'm presenting here a compendium of coverage of the Camden Comic Con from both The GAR! Podcast and Biff Bam Pop!, hopefully you'll be able to find what you're looking for.

The first episode featured interviews with Marie Gilbert and Sarah Hawkins-Miduski of both Biff Bam Pop! and the South Jersey Writers' Group. Sarah also wrote a terrific review of the Con here. Our guest for the con, and my old partner on The All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast, Allison Eckel, and I also talked about the phenomenon of Batgirl-ing, "Teen Titans Go," and the new TV costume for Supergirl. You can check it out at GAR! here and BBP here.

The second episode featured a very special interview with comic creator and writer Bryan J.L. Glass, who talked about the end and origins of Mice Templar; the craft and passion of writing; the creative philosophies of Robert McKee, Joseph Campbell, and Christopher Nolan; worldbuilding; finding the right ending; and yes, even Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Bryan is a friend, and he rocks. You can check it out at GAR! here and BBP here.

The third episode recorded live at the Camden Comic Con featured an interview with Justin Piatt of Unlikely Heroes Studios about Super!, along with some discussion with guests Allison, her son Thomas, and our official intern Frank Kamina Castle about comics and videogames. You can check it out at GAR! here and BBP here.

The fourth and final episode recorded at the con, and released just yesterday, featured interviews with Mark Poulton, Matthew Catron of Locust Moon Comics, and some cool bathing in the afterglow of the con with organizer Miranda Powell and friend of the show and writer/editor for Pronto Comics, Dennis Knight. Please check out Mark Poulton's Kickstarter. Our guests also talk about what they loved most about the con. You can check it out at GAR! here and BBP here.

And for coverage of the 2014 Camden Comic Con, you can see it here, here, and here. Good times.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Arrow S03 E18: "Public Enemy"

As we saw in the last moments of the last episode, Starling City's mayor was shot in the chest by Maseo acting as the faux Arrow. And the next arrow is targeting Felicity. If that doesn't just scream cliffhanger, I don't know what does. Thankfully, because of my vacation, I only had to wait a few hours, unlike you fine folks sweating this one out for a week to find out what happened.

What happened is not good. The mayor is dead. Wow, mayor of Starling City is not a good job to have based on what we've seen the past few seasons. And Ray Palmer took an arrow to the chest to save Felicity, and is at the hospital in critical condition. In retaliation Lance issues a first-degree murder warrant on the Arrow, and reorganizes the anti-vigilante task force with shoot to kill orders if necessary. Bad times.

After extended chase scenes with the Arrow, Arsenal, and Black Canary on the run from the cops - fun but lengthy - R'as Al Ghul takes a hand in the fight. He first leads the police to them, and then does something even more sinister, something that leads Quentin Lance far closer to his doom. R'as reveals the Arrow's secret identity to him. Then, everything becomes clear to Lance.

When Laurel confronts her father, he turns the tables on her. He blames everything on Oliver and the Arrow, from Sara's death to the explosion of costumed maniacs and metahumans both in Starling and in Central City. He started it all, he's to blame. Lance goes on TV and tells what he knows. Police are everywhere, Oliver's identity, and the Arrowcave all compromised - this looks like the end.

Back in Flashback Hong Kong, as you might remember from a few episodes back, Oliver has run into Shado, or who has turned out to be her twin sister. The bad guys come after Oliver, Akio, and her, and they're saved by Maseo and Katana. Our Flashback lesson this episode is about the power of truth, as Oliver tells her that her sister and her father Yao Fei are gone. This is the lesson Oliver uses in the present day.

Oliver turns himself in to Captain Lance, along with a deal arranged by Laurel for immunity for the rest of Team Arrow. Let's not even discuss how unethical it is for Laurel to even be involved with this, but there it is. Lance is losing it, playing the blame game, and giving it to Oliver, when suddenly the Arrow gives himself up - and it's Roy.

Meanwhile Ray might have a blood clot in his brain. He's able to use, through some soap opera shenanigans with Felicity's mom, his own shrinking nanobots to cure himself. Wait, did I say shrinking? This is Ray Palmer after all! I guess the X-0 Manowar armor must have confused me. And then there's the old idea of Felicity having to make a choice between Oliver and Ray. Help, I'm drowning in soap, but at least Ray might be able to shrink away now.

"Arrow" has been suffering this season, perhaps suffering from what one might call SHIELD-itis. There's a lot of build up but very little pay off. I hope there's some coming soon. This is getting tiresome.

Next on "Arrow" in two weeks: "Broken Arrow!"