The single issue comic book is almost a lost art. These days, it’s far more common to have long story arcs and often times this can allow for several crossovers between other books. While I love long form storytelling, I appreciate the art of telling a succinct and compelling story with just one issue. Sometimes I think it’s harder to tell a story in this way, even harder to find a really good one. Often times, creators only have 22-30 pages to tell such stories. Managing to tell a compelling and memorable story under theses parameters is something that every writer and artist strives to be able to do.

It’s no surprise that comic companies push the long form story. After all, it’s far more lucrative if the reader buys 5 of 5 of a particular story arc as opposed to one comic. Many times publishers simply allowed single issue stories to be told in their series simply to be fillers until the next major story arcs, and often times they were merely that. But every so often a gem would appear. This list focuses on some of Marvels best one shot issues ( in my humble opinion.)

 

 

Edge Of Spider-Verse #2: Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman – by Jason Latour & Robbie Rodriguez

we start things off with a wonderfully crafted tale about Gwen Stacy in an alternate universe. You remember Gwen Stacy? Peter Parker’s girlfriend that died at the hands of the Green Goblin? Well not here. In this universe, it was Gwen Stacy that was bitten by the radioactive spider that gave her super powers, and it was Peter who died. It certainly turns the tables on Spider-man lore.

It also is able to build a fresh character, almost from the ground up. In this world Gwen is in a punk rock and she’s a kickass drummer. Her father is still a Police Chief, and Gwen chooses to follow in his footsteps, just not as a cop. Meeting Spider-Woman, or Spider-Gwen as she is affectionately referred to y fans turns out to e loads of fun. The script is imaginative and fun. The art is energetic and colorful, like her costume. Don’t let the fun tagline fool you, there are some excellent deeper moments in this issue too. Above all the thing this issue does best is introduce a new character that fans like AND telling a fully realized story, while leaving fans thirsting for more. So much so that Marvel decided to give Spider Gwen her own ongoing series thanks to the buzz from this one shot.

 

 

 

Winter Soldier: Winter Kills – by Ed Brubaker, Lee Weeks & Stepfano Gaudiano

This comic was created as a Casualties Of War one shot, and written by Ed Brubaker, (the man who brought Bucky back from the dead) so you know it’s going to be something special even before you crack it open. “Winter Kills” turns out to be a surprisingly melancholic and nostalgic look back to the early days of Bucky’s life. He recalls both, better days and sins past. After all, Bucky is celebrating his first Christmas since the 40’s at the beginning of the story.

But there’s never too much time to go down memory lane for an agent of Nick Fury’s. Sure enough, Winter Solider gets called up on an emergency mission to ” assist” a team of Young Avengers. The young team gets to see a legend at work as chaos ensues. This story balances action, drama, and emotion excellently, even providing moments of levity. The artwork is stellar throughout thanks to pencils by the underrated Lee Weeks. His work really fits in nicely with Brubaker’s noir storytelling style. The last few pages of the story features Namor and it’s my favorite part of the story. Together they trade war stories and even touch on the present and future. A touching issue that allows readers to feel the struggle of repentance and acceptance for yet another man, out of time.

 

 

Spider-man’s Tangled Web # 4 – by Greg Rucka & Eduardo Risso

This particular issue comes with a few accolades from the industry. Wizard magazine ranked this issue #31 on their list of”100 Best Single Issue Comics Since You Were Born”. I actually stumbled upon it because of my fandom of Greg Rucka, Eduardo Risso and Spider-man himself. It’s a simple but intriguing premise… What happens when someone who works for the Kingpin screws up? Like you might expect, the margin for error is next to none, and the poor schmuck working for Kingpin knows it too. One of the best things this issue manages to do is make you care about a character that is completely made up in the 22 pages you are reading. Spider-man is barely even in it, and it doesn’t matter. A masterclass in writing while being awfully cool to look at too.

 

 

Ghost Rider Annual #2 – by Warren Ellis & Javier Saltares

Interestingly enough, this issue happens to be Warren Ellis’s first ever published work, and what a way to start. Ghost Rider has always been a cool character, but he lacked a roster of villains to match his appeal. Annual #2 gives us one frighting villain that makes you take notice… The Scarecrow. I know, I know… Sounds like a Batman ripoff. That’s what I thought until I started reading and then quickly discovered a character that was a lot more demented and messed up than even Batman’s fearsome foe.

In essence, the issue serves as a character study for this new villain. Ellis manages to make Scarecrow fascinating. It’s impossible not to be intrigued by him despite his morbidly evil nature. Eventually Scarecrow’s thirst for fear and power leads him to a standoff with Ghost Rider. It’s a wonderfully tense climax which ends with a brutal finale. Think, a Tales From The Crypt type ending. This issue is a tough find but it’s worth the hunt.

 

 

Marvel Fanfare # 15 – by Barry Windsor-Smith

If you’re looking for a change of pace and tone, look no further than this issue. For those that are unaware, Marvel Fanfare was a series that ran in the eighties that was meant to tell short stories by various acclaimed comic creators. In this issue the main story is featuring the Fantastic Four’s The Thing.Written, penciled and inking the whole story is the legendary Barry Windsor-Smith. What an icing on the cake.

It’s a charming tale that explores the tumultuous, and often humorous relationship between The Thing and The Human Torch. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, particularly on the visual side of things, and funny! There are a few laugh out loud moments for sure. The important thing that this issue hammers home is that behind every prank and annoyance, there’s love.

 

 

Star Wars- C-3po – by James Robinson & Tony Harris

This is a, sort of tie-in with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it’s minimal at best. It’s meant to tell the story of how C-3po ended up with that red arm that he has in The Force Awakens, but it’s so much more than just that. I’d hazard to say that this one shot is better than the movie it’s meant to tie-in with. It’s surprisingly philosophical, exploring themes like freewill, war and the nature of good and evil. It’s brilliantly written by James Robinson, who made his name writing Starman for DC a number of years ago. Tony Harris ( also from the Starman alumni) provides the art that is surprisingly dark for such a bright character like C-3po. Honestly, it feels more like a really good episode of Star Trek rather than Star Wars. That may turn off some but if you like a little more brain than brawn in your science fiction than this one is for you. At the very least it manages to tell a story that doesn’t portray C-3po as an annoying robot and the butt of many a joke. I can honestly say that I see the character with a new respect thanks to this comic.I urge you to seek out this gem.

 

 

Daredevil #7  (Vol 3) y Mark Waid & Paolo Rivera

Winner of the Eisner award for” best single issue”, Daredevil#7 tells a tale about survival, trust and redemption. Matt Murdock( Daredevil), decides to volunteer to take a group of blind students on a field trip when disaster strikes and their school bus gets in a heavy accident. The bus driver is fatally wounded, which leaves Daredevil to guide these kids to safety in the middle of a deadly snowstorm.

One of the best things about Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil was his focus on character, particularly what makes Matt Murdock/Daredevil tick. It’s noted for it’s drastic change in tone, as Waid’s run was considerably lighter than previous iterations of the character. At it’s heart, this story is a very human one. How would we react in a life threatening situation? Especially when there are other lives at stake who depend on you. Matt/Dardevil goes through what we all might go through. Fear, self doubt and regret, but through it all he carries on. It’s not his super powers that make him do that, it’s his sheer will. Something that we all aspire to tap into in moments of crisis. Matt’s determination and will ends up rubbing off on his students which leads to a wonderful climax. No good vs evil here, just an inspiring story. Check this one out.

 

 

Wolverine: Debt Of Death – by David Lapham & David Aja

Wolverine makes an appearance on the list with a tale about honor, loyalty and paying your debts, no matter what. Almost sounds like Wolverine is a Lanniser from Game Of Thrones… Except for the parts about honor and loyalty.

To be honest, Wolverine is one of the characters whom has had TOO many one shots over the years but this one is a real keeper. The creative team of David Lapham and Aja really craft a wonderfully prototypical Wolverine story that every fan of the character should read. It’s as plot driven as it is character driven, but it’s Wolverine’s character that is at the heart of this story. Set in an ambiguous time period, Nick Fury also features in this war tale. I thought it was around the world war II days due to the appearance of giant robots and battlerobo suits but it’s never mentioned as far as I can tell. Regardless of the time period it’s an excellent story. It’s very grounded and not flashy in the typical ” superheroey” way you might expect. The script and story are great but it’s David Aja’s art that really steals the show. His fantastic panel work is a sight to behold. A simple story with various nuggets of complexity peppered throughout. it’s entertaining and engaging and most importantly, it’s Wolverine done right.

 

 

The Incredible Hulk # 420 – by Peter David & Gary Frank

Who would’ve thought that an issue of the Hulk could have such emotional heft to it. The issue covers a very taboo, yet important topic… Aids. Sometimes it can be a bit strange when comics that were created, essentially for escapism cover such heavy themes but this one did an exceptional job with the subject matter. I imagine that it probably hit harder when it actually came out ( 90’s) but in many ways the message is a timeless one and that sadly still affects too many lives.

Hulk’s friend, Jim Wilson has Aids, and he’s running out of time. Of course, the Hulk desperately wants to save his friend and is willing to try experimental measures to do so, but when Jim asks for a transfusion of Hulk’s blood, things get tricky. It’s a moral dilemma for him because giving Jim his blood would mean damning him and others around him, to a life as a monster. The alternative isn’t pretty and Hulk knows it. Meanwhile, Betty Banner( Hulk’s wife) tries to help a man with Aids who randomly called her office. This man has told Betty that he intends to kill himself due to his condition. Heavy stuff.

What this comics does is shine a light on the horror of Aids, homophobia, suicide & depression. It has hopeful moments but it doesn’t shy away from many of the realities of dealing with such an illness. It doesn’t cheapen the problem or trivialize it, which the story could’ve done so easily. It respects the nature of the problem and recognizes that even someone as strong as the Hulk can’t stop Aids. Hulk isn’t real, He could never stop aids in the real world. In a way, the story knows it too . It’s a sad read but it’s also a touching story about friendship and acceptance. Hats off to Peter David and Co. for this one.

 

 

Peter Parker: Spider-man # 35 – by Paul Jenkins & Mark Buckingham

Since we’re on the subject of sad stories, I present issue 35 of Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham’s fantastic run on Spidey. While it is sad, it’s also touching and so very important, at least to me. It tells the tale of a young inner city boy named Jamal and his day to day life. Suffice it to say, the kid has it pretty rough. Some days Jamal shows up to his filthy apartment and finds his mother passed out on the couch from booze. Other days Jamal comes home to find his Mothers drug dealer beating on her. Jamal doesn’t seem to have a father but he does have his hero…Spider-man. He imagines him always being there, watching over him, guiding him, talking to him.

Eventually Jamal’s aunt and teacher desperately try to work with social services to get him out of Jamal’s horrible situation, but it turns out to be an uphill climb. Much like the issue of Incredible Hulk, the story doesn’t trivialize or diminish the real problem at hand. What it does do a bit differently is show the importancethat  these comic book heroes can make in the comic world and in the real world. Spider-man is more than just a well needed escape for this boy. Spider-man is a friend, an example, an inspiration, and even a moral compass. Sometimes we diminish what these heroes really mean to people, especially kids. They’re meant to give hope and point us all in the right direction. Sure, we might outgrow them but we should never forget or diminish their importance.

The reason this issue can be heart breaking is because it understands that while looking at the reality of the world we live in. I’m not sure if i can call the ending of this comic a happy one, but it is a beautiful one. I will admit that even I teared up a bit reading it. If you only check out one comic on this list, it has to be this one. I would especially recommend it to non comic fans. It’s certainly one of my favorite comic book issues of all time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luke Cage, released September 30th as part of a long string of Marvel Cinematic Universe Netflix exclusives, has been met with many positive reviews, scoring a 79% metascore at Metacritic and 80% at imdb.

But while many celebrated its unique contribution to the MCU (myself included), such as its music, predominantly black cast, and thematic parallels to the real world African American experience, I cannot help but point out the crucial flaws that made watching it feel…

Lacking…

At least in comparison to its predecessors: Daredevil 1, 2, and Jessica Jones.

Let’s delve a bit, shall we?

DISCLAIMER: FROM THIS POINT ON, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

luke-cage-cottonmouth

1. One show, two voices

Midway through the season, Luke Cage experiences a shift in sensibility.

The first half established Luke Cage’s adversary, the world, and the theme—which was to act or remain complacent when one has the power to make a difference. With regards to the world, there were a couple of detours in Georgia but as far as the primary antagonist and the theme—these were thrown out the window by the second half.

This isn’t the worst thing in the world but if we were to analyze Jessica Jones and Daredevil, there is an apparent formulaic shift within Luke Cage.

With Jessica Jones, the theme lied in whether the horrible things she’s done were forced by Kilgrave—her nemesis—or whether those deeds were of her own accord.luke-cage-jessica-jones-kilgrave

With Matt Murdock, the theme lied in whether he was capable of protecting Hell’s Kitchen by bringing Wilson Fisk and his hooligans to justice before the law, without the compromise of a single life.

But in Luke Cage, the primary antagonist shifts to two figures (one of who had not been properly established in the first half) and the theme transforms to the preservation of Harlem’s identity and its often forgotten inhabitants—that they too, need a hero of their own.

So, yeah. *blink blink*luke-cage-matt-murdock-wilson-fisk

2. Character Inconsistencies

luke-cage-black-mariah

There were a few characters with unclear formation but the biggest culprit would have to be one of the main antagonists, Black Mariah (Alfre Woodard).

The first half of the show when the show’s villain, Cottonmouth (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), finds himself in a financial bind, his cousin, Mariah, suggests selling the club passed onto him by their matriarchal figure, Mama Mabel.  During the second half, Mariah decides to run the club herself, despite the dubious dealings that take place within, which run counter to her own moral compass of operating responsibly within the confines of the law.

Mariah maintains a degree of moral dignity throughout (or at least, she believes she does) for Harlem’s sake. But not only does she eventually perpetuate Mama Mabel’s criminal legacy, she also willingly commits murder in her efforts to ruin Luke Cage (Mike Colter).

Like… huh? How does murder (not to mention her other vices) operate within the confines of the law?

Pick a side. Run with it. And show your deceit when necessary. Otherwise these characterizations would be a headache to follow.

3. Convenient plot points

Stories are ALWAYS subject to a degree of convenience…

But when Luke Cage’s step brother, Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey), decided to move from Georgia to Harlem—the same place Luke Cage moved to at the conclusion of Jessica Jones—to conduct his crime ring operations…

luke-cage-harlem
Luke Cage and Pop, seated before the show’s most poignant Harlem setting– the Switzerland barber shop.

And when the person that introduced Diamondback into the crime world is the same person that aims to bring Luke Cage into the superhero-for-hire business (that’s to say, Pop)…

Things suddenly have a penchant for being TOO convenient.

Forgive me if I missed it, but why did Luke Cage and Diamondback move to Harlem in the first place?

Diamondback wanted to be a big shot—that’s a little believable, I think? Because Harlem’s where all the criminal wannabes go, right?

But at the end of Jessica Jones, Luke wanted to reinvent himself—OUT OF ALL THE REGIONS IN NEW YORK STATE—in Harlem, too?

Come on…

4. No believable threat

Luke Cage is unique in that his true adversaries are not criminal empires corrupting the city, nor is it a being with superpowers…

luke-cage-crowd

The writing took the story to a different direction by establishing the people of Harlem as the true threat to his identity.

As a result of Mariah’s machinations, the people of Harlem are divided on whether to trust Luke Cage as the city’s hero, perhaps as a companion piece to Captain America: Civil War.

luke-cage-diamondback
This is supposed to look menacing?

This would be a non-ideal plot direction—as it’s recycled—yet acceptable…

 

BUT!

Luke Cage had just single-handedly taken down one of Harlem’s largest criminal operations, made news by keeping thugs out of Harlem’s only Asian-owned business, saved numerous lives, publicly retrieved the stolen belongings of several citizens, and had not killed one single human being indirectly or otherwise…

And I’m supposed to believe that Mariah has effectively turned some, if not most of the populace against Luke?

Couple Mariah with Diamondback, whose claims to villainy are: 1) to procure a limited—I repeat—a LIMITED amount of super bullets that penetrate Luke’s skin and 2) to acquire armour that barely holds a candle to Tony Stark’s…

I was like, “Excuse my mic drop, but can we skip a few months to Danny Rand, already?”

Luke Cage “caged” in mediocrity

To be clear, I’m not a bonafide Luke Cage hater.

I simply want to address the bonerific reviews that more or less pervade quotidian discourse.

luke-cage-prison
Luke Cage, “caged”. Get it? Muwahahaha!

Am I partly spited and motivated by the annoying, “zomg, Luke Cage best Netflix MCU show, hhhnnnnnggg!” comments on Facebook?

Sweet Christmas, abso-friggin-lutely.

But compared to its MCU Netflix series predecessors, Luke Cage simply doesn’t hold up.

With my peace said, hopefully Iron Fist takes the formula “forward. Never backward.”

Aaah, Daredevil, the devil in Hell’s Kitchen.

When Stan Lee and Bill Everett co-created Matt Murdock, I’m sure the duo took everything they knew about Satan and injected him with a crap load of irony. Thus, Daredevil was born; a Catholic, blind vigilante who struggles to spare the villains that enforce the namesake of Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan—a cyclical cauldron of chaotic feasting and suffering.

The imagery that the DD universe evokes is one straight out of good conventional storytelling, where expectations are demonized, inverted to illustrate the gray.

For the hardcore losers-slash-fans of the Netflix series such as I, you’ve probably already binged-watched the second season… and been exposed to the following promotional adverts.

Daredevil St Sebastian Daredevil Punisher Daredevil Karen Page

From TL to B: Daredevil advert/Peter Paul Rubens’ St. Sebastian (1614), Punisher advert/ Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath (c. 1610), Karen Page advert/ Caravaggio’s St. Jerome Writing (c. 1605-1606)

As you can see and as better dissected elsewhere, these adverts are straight out of some of the Baroque period’s most famous oeuvres. Characterized by the use of oil, the exposure to dark and religious themes, and a pregnancy of details, it seems that Baroque art is well-suited to the TV show’s voice.

SPOILER DISCLAIMER: YOU’LL NEED TO HAVE SEEN DAREDEVIL SEASON 2 IN ITS ENTIRETY TO PROCEED.

The imagery here is poignant and reveals A LOT in terms of what these characters will be doing and how they will be developed in the second season.

Matthew (Charlie Cox) remains a vigilante pariah due in part to his concealment of secrets, much in the same vein as St. Sebastian had been tied to a tree and shot with arrows for concealing his faith from the Roman army. Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) evolves from assistant to a rising journalist, devoting herself to the pursuit of truth, just as St. Jerome had devoted himself to the spread of God’s word via his Biblical translations. Newcomer Frank Castle/Punisher (Jon Bernthal) is depicted as David, triumphant over Daredevil-Goliath. No doubt this is a reflection of their ideological disconnect—one sends evildoers to prison to offer a second chance, the other sends them to the nether realm of finality with unadulterated contempt.

I’ve researched the Internet for about 2.2 minutes to see if anyone else has discovered from what artwork Foggy’s and Elektra’s posters are supposed to be derived.

Cuz, you know. Main characters, duh!

Then I got bored and decided to just make sense of them myself.

 

Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson)

Daredevil Foggy Daredevil Matthew inspiration

Keeping in tune with the Caravaggio theme, the first piece of art that comes to mind is The Inspiration of Saint Matthew (1602).

Except Foggy doesn’t really move on to be a devoted gospelist or anything similar. Which brings me to consider options from the Dutch Golden Age.

 

 

 

 

 

Girl with a Pearl Earring (Johannes Vermeer, 1665)

Step aside, ScarJo! Since the Dutch Golden Age was characterized by a degree of secularity, still life images, and landscapes, this banality reflects how Foggy may be perceived in relation to his hot, blind friend.

But that was so season 1.

 

 

Daredevil Foggy Daredevil The Art of Painting

The Art of Painting (Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665-68)

What, another woman? If Karen can be represented by a man, it stands to reason that Foggy can be represented by the reverse.

At first glance, the muse in the painting might seem similar to the woman with the jumbo pearl earrings. Armed with a book and trumpet, the muse is what drives the artist… an inspirer, a supporter, a poet whose weapon is her words. All these reflect who Foggy is to Matt Murdock.

Were we to reexamine Foggy’s promotional poster, however, we shall see that the negative space is almost empty compared to the muse’s surroundings. There is no artist to inspire nor to support; only a newspaper in the foreground that reads, “The Devil in Hell’s Kitchen.”

Season 2 Foggy Nelson comes to realize his internal worth, independent of whatever contributions Matt Murdock might have shared to define Foggy’s identity. The men do not end their friendship but they do drift apart. Foggy crafts his own story and to him, Matt eventually becomes an afterthought as old as the newspaper of yesterday.

 

Elektra Natchios (Élodie Yung)

Small wonder I couldn’t find any interpretations on Elektra’s character poster. It doesn’t seem as dynamic and full as your typical 16th-18th century painting. The best I can offer are those characterized under Spanish Baroque.

Daredevil Elektra Daredevil Immaculate Tiepolo Daredevil Immaculate Murillo Daredevil Immaculate de Ribera

These three paintings by Tiepolo (1767-1768), Murillo (1678), and de Ribera (1635) are all dubbed, (The) Immaculate Conception. Believe me, there are more under the same title but they all maintain recurring ideas and symbolism.

I know what you’re thinking. The parallel between Elektra and the Virgin Mary’s conception might seem really out of left field… but as pretentious over analyses might provide, the puzzle pieces are there waiting to be connected.

In all three Spanish paintings, Mary stands above the world, surrounded by babies beneath her and behind. She is the mother of man, free from original sin, and a figure of praise and adoration.

As we learn from the second season’s conclusion, Elektra is more than an assassin of the Chaste. She is, in fact, the true weapon of the Yamanote—The Hand Ninjas that have been since antiquity. Elektra is the Black Sky, the clan’s figure of praise and adoration.

But how are the dead gentlemen surrounding Elektra significant? Were they ordinary goons, they wouldn’t be. But as members of The Hand, they mirror the babies in the Conception as lifeless worshippers of their patron figure.

How am I sure they’re of The Hand? Asian, HELLO?!

While Mary is the giver of life and the mother of man, Elektra is the palm that links The Hand’s fingers, the sickle-bearing harbinger of death.

Daredevil Judith

Personally, I wish Elektra’s poster resembled the image on the left more …

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1598-1599)

I feel like this better encapsulates Elektra’s most memorable scenes. Not to mention, it is consistent with the Caravaggio schema.

Plus, let’s face it. If there’s anything really out of left field, it’s the Black Sky bit.

 

 

 

Going for Baroque

Okay, so I don’t claim to be an art historian bombarding you with readings that may not even make a lick of sense. But the motivation behind my analyses stems from a dissatisfaction with the advertising inconsistencies. Why have there been Baroqueian allusions to the characters of Daredevil, Punisher, and the ever-annoying Karen Page (not to mention, the references to Michelangelo on two other posters) and not Elektra or Foggy?

Moreover, there really is something to be said about Daredevil’s overall sensibility. The Christianity-based inverted imagery sets the show apart from its contemporaries, Marvel production or otherwise. I’m not religious by any means, but any experience that helps add depth to a show—that gives teasers to what might be expected of a particular character—helps the audience become more than just an audience.

They become participants.

And this effect is something, I feel, is worth going for broke.

It’s no longer a secret that Fox is looking to bring a live-action X-Men series to television. The success of series like Flash, Arrow and Gotham have proven to studios that the demand for live action superhero programming on television exists. For the 15-years the only live action tales to be had featuring Wolverine, Magneto and Nightcrawler were on the silver screen. So far, the experience that the X-Men films deliver in 2-hour movie installments is entirely different than what I got from the X-Men comics that I grew up reading. For every detail that the films get right in terms style and Hollywood bombast, they miss the mark on integral elements of the best X-Men stories. Aside from the action, fans love the X-titles for their heartfelt family dynamics and soap opera style plot twists. You know… the actual stuff that held fan’s interest for the 35-years before the films. I’ve mentioned before that X-Men stories are ripe for television’s long-form narrative delivery. Unfortunately, in 2015, putting an X-Men series on network television is a terrible idea.

When looking at the current batch of superhero shows on television, it’s clear that there is more emphasis placed on hero than on super. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow exist in worlds littered with super powered meta-humans. Each series minimizes the involvement of these characters because super powers are expensive to render on television budgets. Relative to their big screen adaptations, comic book televisions series have extremely tight budgets. For every action set-piece on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the producers have to plan smaller episodes with fewer effects to balance out the season’s budget. Now that we’ve seen Magneto levitate an entire football stadium in X-Men: Days of Future Past, will fans be content with TV budgets? Do fans want a television series in which Cyclops spends more time being “emo” than using his optic blasts? Fans have asked for an X-Men series that strikes an improved balance between action and characterization for years. The trade off is that a television budget means an X-Men series would lean too heavily upon dialogue. Fans don’t want a series where it is too expensive to have superheroes use their powers more than once an episode. Heroes (Heroes Reborn) is returning to the air to fill that void.

Fox intends to take the series in the same direction as their other comic-adaptation series Gotham. The show will take place in the X-Men’s world and center around one of the team’s bit players. The most likely story will focus on Multiple Man as he operates a detective agency. Despite Gotham’s ratings success, Fox’s Batman series has yet to strike a chord with fans of the Batman movies and comic books. Gotham has turned off fans by serving up shallow versions of familiar characters and introducing plots that disrupt the Batman mythology. Gotham doesn’t work for Batman fans because it doesn’t offer well rounded versions of their favorite heroes and villains. Gotham acts less like a prequel and more like a placeholder. Giving X-fans a show based in the world of their beloved mutants and only providing fleeting glimpses of those characters is not the way to go. If Fox uses the Gotham approach  they will just be cashing in on the X-Men’s name recognition by tantalizing fans with a long season of teases.

Before making it to air, Gotham’s initial premise was much different than the current iteration. Early drafts of the series focused on the Gotham City Police Department solving street level crime. The difference from the draft and what is currently airing is that the show did not involve a litany of Batman’s deadliest adversaries. In theory, a Gotham show offering stories about cops chasing crooks who are the guy who works for the guy who works for the Joker or Penguin is an interesting concept. It is unrealistic to expect a network not to pressure show-runners into emphasizing the most marketable aspect of their show (the famous characters). The first several episodes of Gotham felt as though the show’s writers were on pace to introduce every Batman rogue under the sun. Fans were put off by how contextually inappropriate most of these appearances were. In keeping with the Gotham model, X-fans can look forward to a series that offers “D”list X-men villains and watered down adaptations of Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse.  Gotham isn’t the only show guilty of forcing villains into the hero’s timeline far too early.

Despite the lower production budget, TV’s long-form storytelling model makes it the perfect medium for telling X-Men stories. HBO and Netflix are examples of ambitious televison done right. HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s Marco Polo are both programs that are too expensive and ambitious to work on network television.  A 10-13 episode season of X-Men gives writers roughly a dozen hours of television to create expansive stories. 12-hours is enough for talented writers to fit in well-rounded versions of the X-Universe’s large roster of heroes and villains. Disney-Marvel beat Fox to the storytelling sweet spot with their 5-series (Daredevil, A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Ironfist, Luke Cage and The Defenders) mega-deal. Without factoring in inflation, Netflix’s Marco Polo series budget of $90 million is $15 million higher than the budget of Bryan Singer’s original X-Men film. As of 2015 the X-Men brand has proven its global appeal (Days of Future Past earned $116,490,000 in China alone). Wouldn’t a Netflix “X”-series have been a safer bet than the untested and poorly received Marco Polo? A $90 million, 10 part X-men Netflix series would give X-fans the series that they deserve. An X-series requires a large cast of characters, reliance on special effects and epic battles. A proper representation of the X-Men must have more in common with Game of Thrones than Gotham.

When it comes to creating television series, the fantastic, over the top sci-fi and fantasy elements offered in comic books present a challenge. Now that Hollywood understands that putting super heroes on TV is lucrative, market over-saturation is inevitable. Studios love the guaranteed dollars that come with tapping into pre-existing markets. Gotham’s success means that we can expect a flurry of prequel and spin-off television shows about comic book characters that no one asked to see. The television model that Gotham offers is relatively cheap, easy and most importantly, it works. Comic book fans looking to get their live action super hero fix on TV must temper their over-zealousness and not ingratiate themselves to the networks with the keys to our comic book television kingdom. There was a time not too long ago that studios and networks won us over by just pandering to our nerdy niche tastes. In 2015, comic book fans are far past the point of getting excited because their childhood heroes are finally receiving mainstream recognition. So far, slavish gratitude resulted in the hollow fan service that we call Gotham. Comic book fans are at the point where they can demand quality over quantity. The next time you are perusing your favorite blog and see a tasty little tidbit about Fox bringing an X-Men series to television, ask yourself if you believe they are capable of creating the show that you want to see. If not, don’t feel like you are selling out your comic book loving brethren and sistren when you leave a reply in the comments section exclaiming, “No thank you!”

Source: TVInsider.com

 

Theatrical poster for the live-action movie Da...
Theatrical poster for the live-action movie Daredevil starring Ben Affleck. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On January 7th, Marvel and Netflix announced the release date for the latest live-action adaptation of the Daredevil franchise. Marvel’s Daredevil will make its entire 13-episode season available to stream on April 10th, much to the delight of compulsive bingers everywhere.

Fans of the visually impaired vigilante are looking forward to a series that is 12 years clear from the blast radius caused by the much maligned big screen adaptation. The internet’s hate-boner for Ben Affleck still rages on to this day because of the fictional events that transpired back in March of 2003. Still, if you were to weigh that collective nerd rage against the more measured response of film critics you’d objectively conclude that most people didn’t like Ben Affleck in Daredevil. Not an unfair statement, considering that even Ben Affleck didn’t like Ben Affleck in Daredevil.

Affleck animosity aside, the movie as a whole is considered a resounding flop. Yet all the components of a classic superhero movie seemed to be there; a hero born of tragedy, a menacing and well-rounded villain, plus a romantic subplot for whoever the hell cares about romantic subplots. What was it then, that made this movie so unlikeable? Here’s a hint: the exact same things that made this movie so fantastic. Daredevil may just be the greatest superhero movie that nobody liked. Here’s why:

The Tone is Dark, But Not Too Dark

Matt Murdock, for all his efforts advancing the rights of persons with disabilities, still doesn’t stack up against Marvel heavyweights like Spider-Man and the X-Men, both of whom happened to be successfully captivating moviegoers back in 2003. An acrobatic blind man, nimble as he may be, just doesn’t out-cool a dude with a metal-laced skeleton and knives for hands. So rather than punch above its weight class against established blockbuster franchises, Daredevil bobs and weaves in a different direction; it diverges from the flamboyance of contemporary superhero movies by ultimately choosing gritty over grandiose.

 

English: Ben Affleck at the premiere for He's ...
English: Ben Affleck at the premiere for He’s Just Not That Into You. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tone is dark, but not hopelessly so. The film paints a grim picture of a New York that it is overrun with murderers and rapists in order to validate Daredevil’s hard-line, surgery-by-subway approach to crime fighting. However, the gloom is tempered with just the right amount of gaiety so the movie doesn’t spiral into what can only be described as “Dark Knight territory.” Here, our protagonist is not so heartless that he’ll pass up an opportunity to engage in a good old fashioned game of full-contact flirting (or kung fu courting, I can’t decide which bad line I like better) with token love interest Elektra. It is perhaps because this movie walks a tightrope between cynicism and optimism without committing fully to either, that the audience was sold on neither.

 

Daredevil Isn’t Your Friendly Neighborhood Vigilante

So you’ve decided to become a vigilante? Great! Congratulations on taking in the law into your own hands. Wait, what’s that? You say you’re not actually going to execute those rapists and murderers? Oh, you’re going to just rough them up a little then pass them on to law enforcement? In that case, well done, you’ve entirely missed the point of becoming a vigilante. You can go ahead and return that costume. Maybe you can still get back your deposit.

As an aspiring vigilante, you really only have two choices: you either take matters into your own self-righteous hands, or you stay out of the way while the legal system does what it has been put in place to do. There’s no middle ground. A true vigilante believes the legal system doesn’t work, which is why they’ve appointed themselves to bring the lost causes of civilized society to justice.

Matt Murdock understands the dichotomy that exists between being a vigilante and being a law abiding citizen, and he is able to craft his alter-ego accordingly. By day he attempts to bring the legal system of New York back up to respectable standards, and by nightfall he hunts down the criminals who slip through the cracks. Reintroducing criminals back into a failed and/or corrupt system is baffling decision that a lot of comic book vigilantes make. Daredevil isn’t as forgiving at the Batmen and Spider-Men of the world, which might have cost him some popularity points with fans.

Daredevil Doesn’t Waste Time on the Learning Curve

Unlike the majority of cinematic superheroes, Daredevil has his shit together before the end of the first act. We see a few minutes of young Matt bumbling his way into toxic sonar vision, and from there we jump straight to an adult Matt who already has a strong grasp on the fundamentals of superheroing.

Being introduced to a superhero in his prime is a welcome change of pace from watching an emotionally troubled loner blundering through their early days of superherodom. Daredevil’s early days of crime fighting are glossed over, perhaps to the chagrin of the people who like a good old-fashioned origin story.

Kingpin is a More Grounded Villain

Wilson Fisk is a refreshing take on comic book villains, in that he isn’t inexplicably committed to mass genocide or establishing a trans-continental dictatorship. He is just a unethical businessman with simple ambitions: stay in business by influencing and/or murdering anyone who threatens the stability of his organization. In other words, he’s your typical oil company CEO, only with the physique of a steroid-riddled pro wrestler.

The Kingpin doesn’t pursue some otherworldly weapon that will grant him the power to destroy all who oppose him; his weapon is influence, and he is ruthless when yielding it. Though admittedly, an intangible quality is not as resplendent as, say, the Tesseract.

It Isn’t a Traditional Superhero Movie, Mostly

Daredevil is at its best when it doesn’t acquiesce to standard superhero movie tropes. For most of the movie, Daredevil’s take-no-prisoners approach to crime fighting is a welcome deviation from take-all-prisoners approach of most comic book heroes. The choice to kill off the main protagonist’s love interest is an undeniably ballsy move, and one that few superhero movies have tried.

When it does succumb to genre cliches, however, Daredevil falls flat. The kiss in the rain is clearly borrowing (if not blatantly stealing) Spider-Man’s iconic kiss from the previous year. Furthermore, when Daredevil spares the life of Kingpin, it feels like a copout and a thinly veined sequel setup.

Daredevil may have been a critical failure, but it needs to be stated that the movie introduced some relatively innovative ideas to the genre that are now becoming popular in superhero franchises. Perhaps the world of 2003 was simply ill-prepared for the awesomeness that Daredevil unleashed upon it.

Netflix’s Daredevil finally arrived for our viewing pleasure on April 10th. I’m sure most fans have been eagerly awaiting to see what Marvel had to offer under the banner of Netflix. Would it be the same  old same old or would it be something totally different?

The answer is that it’s vastly different than anything Marvel has done. It feels fresh and exciting. Groundbreaking, seeing as it’s the first Marvel property to be showcased solely on Netflix. I’ll be giving you my thoughts on the series as a whole in three parts because I feel it’s essential in getting a the big picture of the entire season and catching little things that may be missed later on.

Part one: Episodes 1-5

One of the things that stands out immediately is the difference in tone compared to all other Marvel projects. It is very dark and quite gritty. It feels much more grounded and the dialogue reflects that as well. At times it feels like an an urban drama with masked men in it, similar to how it’s often been billed ( The Wire with superheroes in it.)

The Story:

One thing I liked right off the bat is that it’s an origin story that does not waste too much time in telling you that it’s an origin story. The flashbacks that are shown serve more to showcase the relationship between Matt Murdock & his father. The accident that creates Daredevil’s powers is only shown in it’s aftermath. It’s all about character building.

Of course we get the instances where Matt and his partner in crime Foggy are set out to establish their law firm. More importantly we witnessed the early appearances of  Daredevil in the early black version of his costume.

So far the first seaons tells us that Daredevil is fresh on the scene, still honing his skills and trying to channel his anger while beating up bad guys. This makes for some entertaining action scenes where we see just how dangerous his world is and how unprepared he could be at times. We also get introduced to Karen Page who will no doubt will be a mainstay on the show. But the really fascinating thing is how they build up Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin. His story is shrouded with mystery and suspense. They do a really good job at showcasing how much power he wheilds and how feared he is in the city of Hell’s Kitchen.

Also introduced in the first five episodes of the show is Rosario Dawson’s character, Claire. She plays a nurse who saves Matt’s life after he was involved in a brutal ambush. I don’t want to spoil too much more because it is better to see it unfold for yourselves.

The Pros:

The characters and their portrayal is definitely one the highlights of the first five episodes so far. Our titular character, Daredevil/Matt Murdoch, is excellently played by Charlie Cox. Thankfully a far cry from Ben Affleck’s version. He says a lot without using his eyes which is quite difficult because they can be so valuable for any actor. He has, all this almost restrained, pent up anger at all times and Cox plays that extremely well. If that’s him during the fight sequences, it is even more impressive because they are extremely demanding. HE is also quite cable of keeping things light when he has too as well.

Both Foggy and Karen are portrayed well enough. They provide a decent amount of levity which is welcoming considering the show’s dark tone. They both feel accurate and seeds are being planted that will hopefully take their story to more interesting places.

The villainous supporting cast is convincing and just threatening enough. But it’s really Vincent D’ Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk which is the high point of the villains. You don’t see Wilson Fisk appear anywhere in the first three episodes actually. When he does show up, You see why he is as dangerous and as feared as he is. There is a particularly brutal scene between he and the member of the Russian Mob that ends, shall we say, bloody. Then on the other side of things, you get a softer almost tender moment between he and his lady friend, Vanessa. A wonderful juxtaposition surely. There’s a wonderful Easter egg during a conversation between the Fisk and Vanessa that is a nice little nod to the comic book version of the Kingpin. See if you catch it.

Some of the best action sequences I have seen on TV in years. The hand to hand combat goes at break neck speed but you see every moment clearly. No shaky cam on this one. One thing that was surprising to me is just how far they pushed some of the scenes. It seems that Marvel is not holding back and it shows that they have not diluted much of the material. One of the highlights of said action sequences is a continuous shot that last for about a minute and a half in episode 2.

Since we are talking about cinematography, it would be prudent to mention what a unique look the show has. it’s very well polished without being too polished. They do a great job of giving you visual nuggets. For instance, the focus on red pops in and out in a tasteful way. Even the show’s intro is well constructed and  at one point showcases the scale of justice that reminds us that justice is blind. Too on the nose or just clever enough? I’ll lean towards the latter.

The Cons:

No major complaints at this point. The only thing that distracts me is the fact that this world supposedly exits in the same world as the Marvel cinematic universe. To me, this show is so different in its tone and style that its like comparing apples and oranges. It’s very clear when you watch a Thor movie and an Iron man movie that these two words coexist. I don’t see any connection with Daredevil aside from the occasional references to events or characters from the Marvel universe.

One important thing to mention is that this is not for kids. If your children enjoyed watching any of Marvel’s cinematic movies, I feel for them because it’s just not made for them. The show contains graphic use of violence, adult themes, cursing, and even explicit amounts of torture. I myself find it at tad extreme at some points. The reason I think this is a minor bad thing is for this is that the Marvel brand is so connected to a light hearted more family friendly tone, that I wonder if they really thought about just how dark they went with it. I can’t complain because as an adult it’s great!

All and all a very satisfying start that could very well lead to being the best live action superhero show of all time. Stay tuned for part 2.

 

Netflix’s Daredevil comes out today and I thought it fitting to put out a little research material that may interest anyone who wants to delve deeper into the world of the man without fear. I’m expecting big things from the show and hopefully it makes up for the less than stellar movie that came out in the early 2000’s. Without further ado, here are my top five recommended Daredevil picks.

5.Daredevil : Gang War

This will be a trend in this post. Frank Miller writes Daredevil really well. IN this story we get two of Daredevil’s greatest enemies ( Kingpin & Bullseye.) gunning for one another. This places our hero in red square in the middle of it all.  We also get a fascinating look at the relationship between The Kingpin & his wife Vanessa. It gives him a human side that is quite intriguing considering the brutality of the character. Honestly Frank Miller’s whole run is worth reading and I feel it is my duty to give a nod to the great Klaus Janson. The unsung hero of many of Miller’s greatest works. His pencil finishes along with his wonderful inks were a huge reason Frank Miller’s early stuff looks as good as it does.

 

 4. Daredevil: Yellow by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

Loeb & Sale work as well together as any duo in comics. They produced one of the great Batman tales in “ The Long Halloween.” Daredevil “ Yellow is a high point in their Marvel work. It’s another type of origin story BUT this time it focuses more on the early days of Daredevil in his original Yellow outfit. It’s exquisitely painted and drawn by Tim Sale. I own this story in an extra sized Hard Cover edition that cemnts the gorgeousness of the art.  Jeph Loeb can be hit and miss. Mostly miss these days but when he’s on he really nails his characters and is one of the best in playing to his artists strength be it Jim Lee, Ed McGuiness or in this case Tim Sale.

 

3. Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil

It’s hard to single out one particular story more than another because the whole arc is so intertwined but if I had to suggest where to begin I would recommend the first seven issues. It’s important to point out that this story takes place after the “ Shadowland” major event that turned Daredevil into a, kind of villain. It’s complicated.

The point is that the story takes place after that event and takes a totally different turn with the character that had not been seen in years. It changes the tone and allows the stories to be lighter and lets Matt Murdock actually be happy and it surprisingly works.  Daredevil is such a streetwise gritty character that the proposition of such a thing seems very strange but it actually becomes a breath of fresh air.  The reasoning for this is sound and you honestly don’t know how long Matt’s positive, can do attitude will hold up to the challenges he will face.  The writing is excellent and the art is ambitious and very different for Daredevil.

 

2.The Man Without Fear – by Frank Miller & John Romita Jr.

Based on the early trailers for the show, it seems to have taken quite a bit from this particular story. It’s entirely an origin tale but one that focuses on the becoming of Daredevil. In fact Matt Murdock does not even appear in full costume until the last page of the story. It’s raw and noir in the style that only Frank Miller can provide. This is actually Frank’s third and final stint on with the character. The artwork from John Romita Jr. Is nice enough. I’m not a huge fan of his particular art style but the man can make action scenes extremely dynamic.   It’s focus on Daredevil’s supporting cast is also worth mentioning. All the important characters are there and flushed out even more. The inter change between Daredevil and his Sensei, Stick are harsh at times but wonderfully entertaining.

 

1. Born Again.  By Frank Miller & David Mazzuccchelli

Frank Miller’s finest hour on the character, in my books.  The Born again story arc was actually Frank Miller’s second stint with the character since his famed first run.  This time Miller decided to team up with his Batman: Year One artist, David Mazzuccchelli.

The results were fantastic.  The collaboration allowed Miller to focus solely on the story and this allowed Mazzuccchelli to put out arguably his best artistic work.  The story is dense and  as dark as any of Miller’s Daredevil tales.  I’d say this is the story that beats Matt Murdock down more than any other before it. You could argue that the death of Elektra was huge as well. However, this one had a betrayal that was so severe it nearly destroyed our titular character. Another huge point to mention is that this story is a particularly important game changer in the battle between Daredevil & Kingpin. Seek it out!

Honorable mentions goes to the work done by Ed Brubaker and Michael lark on their acclaimed run. I’m sure it’s good but I have yet to read it. Same goes for Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s run.