I feeling wistful, in a mood to reminisce about moments from my youth, and I find myself pondering a little stop-motion animation that ran for a short time in the 80’s, and though it was originally released before I was born I was fortunate enough to experience a great deal of it thanks to the miracle of VHS.
The forty episode run featured the young manservant of dark and clearly haunted castle, Berk cleans, cooks and generally tends to the every whim of The Thing Upstairs, a disembodied voice with generally disgusting body parts. Berk’s only company is Boni, an animate skull prone to headaches and pessimism, and a fat and hyperactive arachnid called Drut. The regular five-minute interludes into their lives and their daily activities always coincide with the appearance of some terrible entity or dark monstrosity that has emerged from the dread portal in the cellar, The Trap Door. (more…)
The much maligned moral alignment system has something of a bad history. In past editions of Dungeons & Dragons it’s been too restrictive, poorly explained and interpreted worse still, but take some time with it, break free of its constraints and bend the rules a little and it can actually be as useful a method of categorising and guiding the decisions and progression of a character as giving them a Myers-Briggs personality type, or a background. And of course it needn’t be restricted to a D&D or fantasy character.
Lawful Good! The alignment most commonly associated with the gleaming warriors of god, the Paladins and Clerics, or the guy who inevitably gets attacked by the barbarian for getting in the way of unrestrained carnage once too often. Having an LG character in the party can often feel like being lumbered with a chaperone or a policeman, everyone has to be on their best behaviour because the LG can’t stand by and simply watch as the less restrained members of the group do what needs to be done. An LG might be so inclined to hand over inordinate amounts of loot to charities and those less fortunate because it’s the “right thing to do” which is often a major source of conflict. (more…)
At last, the final Defender steps into the lineup. We pass from noir and pulp into a more Wu-Xia film style, the student’s voyage of discovery, facing his enemies without and within, trust is gained and lost, demons are mastered, and the day is… well. Iron Fist drew a lot of hatred before release on two grounds, the first was cultural, the second was quality. Let me start by addressing the cultural matter as briefly and succinctly as I can. We try and avoid getting into controversial matters where we can but this needs to be said:
A: If we make a martial arts series starring an asian guy it’s a racial stereotype.
B: If we make a martial arts series starring anyone else it’s cultural appropriation.
C: This is called a no-win scenario.
D: Danny Rand was always a white guy! It’s kind of the point, child of rich industrialists plunged into a culture where he is out of place, his competitive nature drives him to obtain the highest honour in K’un-Lun… but that’s backstory, I’ll get back to that.
I’m not trying to offend anyone here, this is a cold statement of fact. Can we please judge Iron Fist on it’s quality? It won’t end any better.
In The Green Corner – Danny Rand
My name is Danny Rand. After fifteen years in a pocket dimension I have returned home to save my city, but in order to do that I need to become something else… a ten year old having a tantrum.
Ok, that may not be an entirely fair comparison, but it’s an easy one to make. Both return home from a long period of intense and at times mystical training with a mission in mind concerning the company that their parents own, and have to struggle to reclaim their company from the hands of those who are responsible for some serious criminal activity in the area. Oliver Queen has learned a great sense of personal responsibility over the course of several seasons, but by this point he’s already overcome his juvenile habits over the course of five years of torturous “education”.
So why am I still getting “brat” from Danny Rand after fifteen years of discipline, martial arts training, and spiritual guidance?
The duty of the Iron Fist is to guard the gates of K’un Lun, a pocket dimension, a slice of heaven, one that’s sought by many but who is only accessible every fifteen years. Danny wants, and obtains the role because of his natural competitive nature, but for reasons listed in the spoiler below he returns to New York. He is the sworn enemy of the Hand, the drug-dealing ninjas we’ve come to know and love, so when he discovers they’re heavily active in New York he sets about efforts to root them out.
Minor spoilers, When he has begun his duty he realises how tedious the life of an Iron Fist will be, Danny ups and leaves. This has a rather predictable outcome, which becomes more predictable when he’s reminded constantly about the duty he has shirked, nut not only is this a wholly predictable ending but the “grand reveal” is badly composed and blandly delivered. End Spoilers.
Finn Jones – who you might recognise as Loras Tyrell – does his best, he manages quite a bit with the material like Rand’s struggle to overrule his emotions in order to harness his powers, the realisations that he hasn’t even begun to discover his powers and purpose, how his trusting nature finally collapses under betrayal after betrayal and the need to embrace his enemy to destroy someone he thought was a friend. Let’s not blame Finn Jones here, it’s not his fault that the Fist’s powers just manifest whenever most convenient and vanish whenever most dramatic, or that Rand can’t spot the bad guy staring him in the face, or just accept his damn responsibilities! He’s got a hard task to win us back for the dramatic finale…
In Every Other Corner – The Hand
It’s not entirely fair to lay the blame for the boring story at the feet of the protagonist, bringing the heroes down to street level has brought a new level of threat to the previously indomitable “super-hero”. Daredevil faces down a ferocious beast of a man presiding over a kingdom of fear, Jessica Jones is pursued by a man who can control anyone with a voice and wants her absolutely, Luke Cage‘s most terrifying enemy is his own skin when he needs medical attention.
Where was the terrifying power of the Hand we have come to fear throughout the Defenders series so far. Daredevil series 2 showed us how terrifying ninjas can be! Oh sure we can laugh off Naruto and guys in pyjamas right up until we watch the hospital siege, or the raw power of Madame Gao, the one person in the world who earned the fear and respect of Fisk. We know that the Hand can raise the dead, but the methods by which they do this are horrifying beyond description, certainly far beyond your Saturday morning Spider-Man.*
So where were the Hand in Iron Fist? Manipulating Rand Enterprises, selling heroine to keep the “ghetto” down, and helping kids get out of that ghetto so that they show absolute gratitude to the Hand for giving them a purpose. Cunning, terrible, not scary! And Madame Gao – who should have been a centre piece for the series and the kind of silent dread the Hand could bring – started Iron Fist looking like a real master, a floor to herself right under Danny’s nose to run her criminal enterprises, an undead corporate tool under her heel, and a legion of killers at her disposal, none of which she needs as she floors the greatest heroes in the world with a touch and hobbles away. That lasts for a few episodes towards the beginning and then… nothing.
That leaves Danny to face off against a bunch of kids while he deals with his angst.
Fortunately they’re not the only threat to the Iron Fist’s fragile ego.
Meachums, Meet the Meachums
A highlight! And a big one. Former childhood friends of Danny and the children of co-founder of Rand, Ward and Joy Meachum have been running Rand Enterprises for quite some time following the death of father Harold. Tom Pelphrey plays Ward as the rage-filled, pill-popping, and tortured pawn of several higher powers. He goes off the hinges and spirals out of control only to be pulled back from the brink shortly after falling into it. Jessica Stroup is the kindly but business savvy sister Joy trying to understand how an old friend could suddenly return from the dead, deal with her brother’s lies and drug addiction, and slowly breaking under the strain.
And finally Harold, not dead, in hiding in a luxurious penthouse from which he controls the actions in Rand Enterprises via a network of puppets including his beaten and belittled son. David Wenham plays the abusive father excellently, he keeps telling his son that everything he’s doing is for him, so Ward should do everything he’s told because he’s an idiot and owes his father everything. This has been made worse by the fact that he was resurrected by the Hand to do their bidding; not only does he channel his frustration at being out of control of his life into his son, the process makes the recipient more and more likely to lash out at those you love.
By gods, I love Harold Meachum! A couple of spoilers in this paragraph but it’s worth it. The scene where he rises out of the swamp like some morbid Solomon Grundy and stumbles around recovering from death is darkly comical in a way that unnerves you just enough to brace for every terrible thing he does from that point onwards. You feel the tension whenever he and Joy are in the same room, “Dear god Joy, get away from him!” and the escalation of his hatred towards his son is stunning. I’ve seen Wenham in a variety of very different roles but I’ve never seen him as terrifying before.
The entire Meachum family makes Iron Fist worth watching, and elevates it to merely second worst in the Defenders series so far.
All Together Now
Between Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and a season of Daredevil that didn’t quite meet standards, I feel like we’ve had a rough ride to get to the Defenders. It was an amazing start, Daredevil set one hell of a tone for Jessica Jones to build onto. We’ve gone through the best of noir, shot for pulp and made a half-hearted attempt at Wu-Xia, so if we can pull it out of the bag for our ensemble piece I’ll be happy enough.
There’s every chance that the Defenders may very well cast Iron Fist in a light that makes this series more enjoyable. Truth be told there’s a lot went by that was too unremarkable, and so I haven’t remarked on it. Colleen Wing, Davos, a few moments where I feel like the narrative was trying and failing to make us wonder what the truth was. Actually I can sum all three up in one go, we made to wonder if the Hand really are the bad guys (yes, yes they are) because of Davos’ affirming of Danny’s constant repeating that the Hand are evil and must be stopped, Colleen makes a fair point about how they blindly accept what they’ve been told and how the Hand have done great things for these kids but – oh no wait I guess actually they are bad, moving on.
The presence of Davos and the symbol of the Steel Serpent all but confirms Gao as Crane Mother at this point, along with a casual remark concerning The Order of the Crane Mother. If that’s the case a short delve into storylines involving them both point to a narrative in which Jeryn Hogarth (Jeri to us watching along at home) is likely to get kidnapped and saved by Colleen Wing and Misty Knight. It would also make Gao something far more terrifying than we have even glimpsed so far.
Do I need to mention Claire Temple at this point?
Yes, I do. Because dammit she’s the only one who demonstrates that the Hand are a terrifying force to be reckoned with, and gives us a horrifying account of the hospital siege and the events that led her to wander New York trying to make herself better and stronger. But to be honest, her vehemence only serves to highlight how ineffective the Hand are this time around, and I was more terrified of the hospital administration than the ninjas. Plus now Claire has sweet claws!
There’s more I could easily cover, but Iron Fist simply doesn’t grab you as thoroughly as it should. I’m suddenly a little concerned for the future of the series. At least I was until Netflix showed us this:
*I’ve been reading a lot of Carnage comics of late, and I’d actually like to see Spidey get the R-rated treatment just to see the horror that the more interesting Marvel villains can wreak.
It looks like the Warner Bros/Lego tag-team might have a far grander future ahead of them than expected. It might also be the salvation of DC on the big screen, if a somewhat comical take.
Lego Batman was something of a breakout star in the original Lego Movie (2014), perhaps based on Will Arnett‘s performance, more likely the epic song he wrote. LB is a perfect and childish parody of the comic-book Dark Knight, blending in the campy Caped Crusader, we saw him initially to be an overblown stereotype of dark and brooding, playing off every move he makes as super-cool and totally intentional, and to my mind the writers used the members of the Justice League perfectly. Green Lantern’s powers are pointless in a world where anyone can create anything, and the innate magic of imagination basically renders Superman useless, Wonder Woman is probably fine, but the ingenuity and creativity of Batman makes him the perfect Master Builder, although one with a limited colour palette. (more…)
After far too long of obfuscating and debating and delaying, I am finally getting things together to bring to Shrewsbury the get-togethers that have been so loved in Bristol, the GeekOut Meets. Those of you already on our Facebook page may have noticed the event popping up on their feed with an inaccurate photo attached from the other geek-event I’ve been touting, e-Collectica games days. So why the delays?
Well Shrewsbury’s geek calendar is very busy! Weekly, monthly, annually we have something to appeal to those with a taste for tabletop games and comic books, as well as a smattering of those that reach out to other interests. Certainly if you feel your tastes are not catered to, come along to one of the first Shrewsbury Meets and tell us. Who knows who you might stumble upon, or what the future of Shrewsbury Meets might hold. (more…)
There is something intensely beautiful about Babylon 5, despite the age and the increasingly dated characters. It has an aesthetic of its own that sets it apart from any science fiction before or since, and perhaps that’s in the design of the universe, the uniqueness of every race and their diversity, perhaps it’s in the epic musical score that underlies those moments of intense action or dramatic importance. Personally, I think it could be the philosophies and views espoused in the series, both subtly and overtly.
There is a scene in the episode “There, All Honour Lies”, very brief, in which Kosh is teaching Sheridan lessons that he will need to win a war of minds with the most powerful military forces in the galaxy. In the lesson, Sheridan is ushered into a dark place of the lowest part of the station, crawling on his hands and knees where he is greeted by a hunched and faceless figure who sits in silence until given something. Sheridan carries no cash, but instead places the metal bar that denotes him as command staff into the beggars bowl. As soon as he does, the dark chamber comes alive with shrouded figures identical to the beggar, singing in one angelic voice as the angelic Vorlon stands outside, entranced. One moment of perfect beauty.
The inquisitor sent by the Vorlons to “test” Delenn and Sheridan asks one question, over and over, “Who are you?“. Names, ranks, titles, none of them are the right answer, and he inflicts pain and suffering until both of them acknowledge that as individuals they are meaningless, but that their role stands for something. It is not long after this moment that the actions of Earth cause the crew to denounce and declare independence from Earth, and symbolically shed their uniforms, replaced by a blank uniform devoid of symbols.
Sheridan offering up his command bar builds upon that image. By taking away his symbol of command he takes a step towards humility, making himself more equal to the humble surroundings, connecting to them and appreciating them. In removing a label given to him by others he becomes more his own man, allowing him to define himself. Every step takes him away from a faction and makes him a part of the greater whole. You witness the moment of revelation on his face – kudos to Bruce Boxleitner for that subtle moment – and he embraces a new enthusiasm from that moment on.
Finding Beauty Everywhere
Much like when he visits G’Kar in his telepathic fugue, Kosh offers another lesson of light in places of shadow, hope in the midst of despair. Desperation causes us to resort to incredible measures, but a moment of clarity when the universe is crashing down around your ears is the only way to resolve the worst of situations. On their way down to the choir, Sheridan makes an off-hand comment about how Security Chief Garibaldi would go mad if they found them down in Brown Sector he’d go mad, just to impress how dangerous that part of the station is as a last-minute exaggeration before that singular moment of perfection.
Kosh lays the groundwork for a moment that comes later, for which a minor spoiler alert is in order – At Z’ah’adum, when Sheridan plummets to his death he is found by Lorien the First One, who encourages him to give in to the darkness utterly, to stop struggling and clinging to life and simply die, or else he could not be resurrected. Would Sheridan have simply lay down and died without the lesson, or would he have fought on, ultimately dooming himself and the galaxy in the process?
A Note On The Song
The song is Puer Natus Nobis Est, a Gregorian chant for Christmas. A Latin song for a human holiday rather puts pay to the notion of the choir being pac-ma-ra, but let us look at the translation:
A child is born to us and a Song is given to us upon whose shoulders authority rests,
and His Name shall be called, the Angel of Great Counsel
Sing ye to the Lord a new song for he has done wonderful things…
Incomplete, but sufficient for now. The Christ comparison is easy to make, a saviour who dies and is reborn, nice and easy, but Puer Natus Nobis Est never mentions the name. Sheridan bears the woes of his government while facing down a great darkness, but would also come to be the highest authority in the galaxy as head of the Interstellar Alliance. The Angel of Great Counsel could refer to Sheridan’s power to resolve more with words and advice than with application of military force.
I’d be open to other opinions on the choice of song. It’s not enough to merely dismiss it as a beautiful chant and a comparison to a saviour character, the use of Peur Natus has relevance, for which I am open to debate, please join me in the comments or over on our Facebook page.
I would challenge anyone to watch this particular moment in Babylon 5 and draw their own conclusions. It is beautiful, poignant, and not discussed nearly enough.
Religious themes run through Babylon 5 like veins, angels and demons, faustian bargains, prolonged discussions on the nature of the soul and gods, but it’s no mere battle of good vs evil. Even the character you might believe farthest fallen shows himself capable of redemption, and his most bitter and vengeful enemy manages to forgive him.
This is the tale of Ambassador G’Kar of the Narn, last of the governing body known as the Kha’Ri. Proud, stubborn, and wrathful, G’Kar represents a people who have suffered greatly at the hands of the Centauri, centuries of slavery and oppression, their homeworld ransacked of its resources, and countless deaths even before the bloody struggle for liberation. The role is played by Andreas Katsulas, and given that the role calls for a great deal of emotional extremes backed by incredible gravitas, all under a layer of prosthetics, it was a tall order made of him. (more…)
“Joel,” you say to me in a thinly veiled premise, “why have you never reviewed Grim Dawn?”
I say nothing because there is a hot mug of set-up to my face.
“I mean,” you continue “You’ve spoken about it, ranted about it, shoe-horned it into a Top 10 wherever you could. It’s been a year since the Hack-and-Slash ARPG by Crate Entertainment was released and you’ve clocked seventy hours of game-play, and yet I still haven’t read a review from you.”
“Look over there!” I point. You politely indulge my poor deception and turn in your equally fictitious seat, “Never mind it’s dead now. Hey, look at this!” (more…)
Now to start going deeper.
It is clear which actors truly loved what they were doing in this series, and while the series also has some golden examples of terrible acting it also features some of the best performances in science fiction history. I’d like to start with Peter Jurasik in the role of Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari. There will be spoilers in abundance from this point onwards…
Mollari begins our story as someone forgotten by his government, given a position deemed to be of negligible importance, representing the Centauri Republic in the Earth Alliance diplomatic and trade station just about to open it’s doors. Given the fate of the previous Babylon stations it was practically a death sentence for any sent to take the job, so Mollari is found to be living his life to the decadent extremes that his people are accustomed to, cramming his life with as much joy as he can before he’s either killed or dragged home. (more…)