The Importance of Being Mantis

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What exactly makes Guardians of the Galaxy so beloved within the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe? Aside from the soundtracks, the real driving forces behind Guardians of the Galaxy and the sequel are the protagonists. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 gives everyone character development that takes them from being “Space Avengers” to stand-out individuals. It also introduced Mantis, Ego’s adopted daughter, played by Pom Klementieff. Mantis is a unique character compared to the others in the movie and even in the larger scope of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.

 

Up to this point, the female characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have either been very stoic and efficient in battle (Black Widow, Gamora, Daisy Johnson) or love interests that are relegated to supporting roles (Pepper Potts, Jane Foster). Mantis, however, is neither a love interest nor an action girl. Instead, she connects to the Guardians of the Galaxy by her empathic abilities. The fact that her character arc centers on emotionally connecting with others and sharing her social awkwardness is a breath of fresh air when considering how often people want women in the media to either be tough, strong, and stoic or the emotional damsel in distress or just act as fanservice.

 

Mantis is the first character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I could say is the character who is most like me. Given that the MCU has been around since 2008, it’s hard to believe that it took almost a decade for Marvel to introduce a character like her. It’s not to say that I didn’t like The Avengers or the Guardians or the Agents of Shield or the Defenders. I love all of them to certain extents. However, something that made Marvel comics appealing was that it introduced characters that felt relatable, like an average teenage boy from Queens suddenly getting spider abilities or an average Muslim girl from New Jersey suddenly being able to stretch and shrink her body. While Mantis is by no means an average human being, she was based on a half-Asian human character from the comics. What makes her relatable to me is her social awkwardness and empathic abilities.

 

In an interview with Carson Daly, Pom Klementieff said:

In Marvel movies, we’re used to seeing badass and strong female characters, which I love…But it’s cool to show something else, you know, to show someone who’s less self-confident, who’s a bit weird.

 

Throughout the movie, Mantis connects to the other Guardians, especially Drax (played by Dave Bautista). It makes sense, given that they’re both socially awkward. However, what really seals their friendship is when she uses her empathic powers on Drax as he reflects on the loss of his wife and daughter. She breaks down in tears while he looks out at the beautiful scenery with a smile. It’s not certain whether Drax is at peace with what happened or if he happy that he’s just starting to move on. What is certain is that Drax finally found a friend who understands his grief.

 

Of course, my shipping radar went off the roof with how Drax and Mantis interacted with each other. I find relationships based on emotional connection and attraction very appealing. However, it’s made explicitly clear that Mantis and Drax find each other physically repulsive and do not want to pursue anything romantic. This averts any ideas of the emotional, empathetic one being anyone’s designated love interest.  (Apologies to the Drax/Mantis shippers.)

 

In a world that’s trying to figure out the ideal heroic woman, having a character like Mantis is a step forward in the right direction. It’s important for young girls to know that there are times that call them to be strong, but they shouldn’t discard their ability to empathize with others. The purpose of stories is to create empathy for people we wouldn’t normally connect with. Mantis shows that there is a great strength in being empathetic. Having empathy allowed Mantis to find people who cared for her as a person, a new family beyond just Ego and her empathic abilities actually helped in the inevitable final battle. I seriously can’t wait to see what she does in the next movie the Guardians appear in!

How Can We Be Heroes?

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Question from a reader in regards to my previous superhero post:

We all have the potential to live by their example and be heroes in our own ways, but what problems do we face in life that make superheroes important to us? How does their presence on TV, on film, and in comic books help us?


One of GK Chesterton’s most famous quotes goeth thusly: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

The same can be applied for comic books and all of the adaptations thereof. In Geekpriest, Fr. Roderick Vonhogen (whom you may know for his Star Wars reaction video that went viral last year) has a chapter that integrates his love for comic book heroes with his own coming of age story. I highly recommend you read his memoir because it shows how faith and culture can work together, even in the world of geekdom.

 

Warning: Spoilers for Supergirl, The Flash, and other shows will ensue.

While it’s true that none of us have superpowers or face nefarious villains on a daily basis, we are all given talents, gifts, and special skills that we can use to help make the world a better place. One reason I love Flash and Supergirl is that while the heroes have awesome powers, their real special ability is something that we can all have: the power to believe in the best in people, the ability to empathize and be compassionate towards others.

In a recent episode of The Flash, Barry Allen helps Earth-2 Harrison Wells find another option when faced with the ultimatum of “Drain Flash’s speed or your daughter will be tortured and killed.” In spite of Harry betraying everyone, Barry is willing to help the scientist by offering to save Harry’s daughter, even if that means going to Earth-2 to do so. Keep in mind, Barry basically did all of that without using any super speed. Barry is a selfless person at heart, which means that he’s willing to go the extra mile, with or without his powers.

Another example of ordinary traits being used in an extraordinary way can be seen in the DC Animated Universe direct-to-video movie Superman vs. The Elite. Eric Rodriguez, AKA Channel Awesome’s “Blockbuster Buster,” says that this short movie exemplifies Superman’s greatest power: his strength of will. He does what is right, no matter what.

While we may not face situations where we have to sentence some form of justice on a criminal, we all have the power to try and be compassionate and fair, even towards those who’ve hurt us. In a similar way, we encounter situations where we are called to have conviction and do the right thing, even if it means facing insurmountable odds or a situation where vengeance could be an easier option.

Another reader pointed out that both Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock are not particularly role model material, due to Jessica Jones being an alcoholic with severe PTSD issues and Matt Murdock having Catholic guilt over not being able to save everyone. While Jessica Jones’s cynicism leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I and many other fans of Jessica Jones found her willingness to fight and prevent Kilgrave from hurting anyone else inspiring. And while Catholics are often mocked for having a major guilt complex, some people have used those doubts to find a sense of self-worth. Faith and doubt actually go hand in hand because doubt opens up questions that help further understand ourselves and our beliefs.

I also have a personal belief that nobody is beyond saving or redemption. While it’s true that the characters in Suicide Squad are only doing black-ops missions for the hopes of getting shorter prison sentences, these same villains could’ve been heroes in another universe. There’s a movie in the DC Animated Universe called Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths in which the Justice League find themselves in a Mirror Universe in which the Justice League encountered evil versions of themselves and heroic versions of the villains.

The same can be said for the character of Captain Cold and his complex character development in The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. Although Captain Cold started out as a major villain, he developed a more complex personality when it was revealed that he was very protective of his sister and would not resort to killing in order to get the job done. In Legends of Tomorrow, it’s implied that he resorted to becoming a criminal as a way to survive. He felt as if he had no other choice, given that he lived with an abusive father, and never thought that he could ever be a hero. However, DC Comics showed his heroic potential in an event called Flashpoint in which The Flash creates an alternate universe due to actions he did when he traveled back in time. In this series, Captain Cold becomes a hero called Citizen Cold.

But why bring up the villains at all, you ask? As I said: Everyone is capable of being a hero. We can look at the villains and see ourselves in them. We could’ve taken on a dark path if our circumstances were different and if we made different choices in life. However, even if you or someone you know is on that dark path, these same villains show that there could be a way out of the dark.

The Importance of Superheroes

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It’s easy to write off superhero movies as being all the same. It’s easy to get cynical about comic book movies, especially ones that are dark and angsty (*sideglances at Batfleck and Man of Steel*). But the genre of adaptations based on comic books has come a long way from how they started in the early 2000s and despite what some people may think, it’s not a rinse-and-repeat formula. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if there’s one thing that the current lineup of superheros has shown us, it’s that there are many ways to be a hero, just as there are many ways to be a saint.

WARNING: I’ll be making references to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe AND the DC shows currently on TV, so if you’re one of those people who wants me to pick a side between Marvel and DC, this post is not for you. Also, I’m more familiar with the current lineup of movies and TV shows and not with the comics themselves, so apologies to you diehard comic book fans.

I’m gonna start out with what is being called the “Arrowverse,” AKA the current lineup of shows created by Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg. Arrow is the series most similar to the dark and gritty DC movies we’ve been seeing in recent years. It’s not a perfect show, especially with its soap-opera worthy levels of poor communications and misunderstandings, but my brother, who is a huge fan of the show, loves Arrow because of the characters. He says that the Green Arrow represents “the idea of a ray of light to combat a dark town. I think that things may always get worse before they get better, but you shouldn’t stop when it gets either way.”

Similarly, the protagonists in Daredevil and Jessica Jones are more like anti-heroes because these heroes don’t try to do the right thing for the sake of being good, but for other reasons. Matt Murdock wants to reform Hell’s Kitchen and Jessica Jones wants to believe that she can be a hero, even though she doesn’t think that she’s good. Neither of them realize it, but they are being heroes just by being selfless and putting other people before their own personal happiness. Maybe it’s my Catholic bias, but I liked that (so far) Matt incorporated the advice that Fr. Lantom gives him. And while I still have problems with Jessica Jones, I love that Jessica’s motivations throughout the show are for Hope’s safety as well as protecting humanity from Kilgrave.

In contrast, The Flash and Supergirl both have a more optimistic and idealistic view on heroism. Neither of the titular heroes resort to killing their adversaries. Instead, Flash gets help from his friends and mentors and come up with a smarter plan of action. The best example of this was during the Christmas special “Running to Stand Still.” Facing off against two of his deadliest opponents, Flash works together with his friends at S.T.A.R. labs to prevent a mass bombing. He also helps out a police officer who had a grudge against one of the bad guys. Another example can be seen in the crossover episode with Arrow “The Brave and The Bold” (Arrow Season 3) in which Flash’s team worked together with Green Arrow’s team to stop five bombs in the city from going off all at once.

Supergirl relies on her empathy and willingness to believe in the best in people in order to save the day and her optimism and compassion compel most people to imitate her. A recent example was shown in “Strange Visitor from Another Planet” in which Supergirl helped changed the mind of an anti-alien senator simply by saving her from the Monster (or rather White Martian) of the Week. She also helped her mentor take another step in dealing with his personal grief. (I’m applying this to both Hank Henshaw and Cat Grant.)

One other thing I also like about the latest crop of heroes is that they allow for original conflicts and concepts. Movies with superhero teams such as Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers, and Big Hero 6 show that while heroes may not always get along or agree, they will come together and be heroes when the situation calls for it.

What’s even better is that there are even shows out there that center on people who don’t have any superpowers, but are still considered heroes because their actions go beyond the ordinary. Agent Carter is an awesome show for many reasons, but one thing I love is that none of the protagonists (Peggy, Jarvis, or Howard) have any standard comic book superpowers. Instead, Peggy relies on her intuition and quick thinking in order to save the day. Jarvis trains in martial arts and is always willing to lend a hand. And the only superpowers Howard has are his genius mind and his charm.

The most interesting thing I’ve been seeing in the superhero genre, however, is that every character is given the opportunity to be good. Most of the time, villains are too selfish or sociopathic to want to be good. However, there are more complex villains that have a moral. Legends of Tomorrow and Suicide Squad show that even bad guys have the potential to be heroic under the right circumstances.

In Legends of Tomorrow, there are three characters who are morally ambiguous: Captain Cold, Heatwave, and White Canary. In my honest opinion, these guys have been the most interesting characters to watch. I love their snark, but I also like that they’re trying to figure out their own purpose in a team where most of the characters tend towards following rules or morals. While they don’t consider themselves to be good, Captain Cold is more than willing to help out a “crewmember” in need. Back in The Flash, he establishes his own code of honor with the main hero and goes out of his way to protect his sister. And while I’m on the fence about White Canary partaking in cannabis, she’s efficient in battle and wants to be more than just an assassin. Even the characters with typical morals, such as Martin Stein, are becoming more aware of their flaws as people and are making efforts to change in order to become better heroes.

In short, we need comic book superheroes. Why? Because we all have the potential to be heroes, even without the ability to gain superpowers. Superheroes, in the end, are people who have “an increased capacity to act and exert power and to demonstrate agency.” And as David Bowie said: “We can be heroes, just for one day.”

So go be heroes, people!

Daredevil: A Review of Season 1

I’ve said on here before that I’m a casual fan of superhero stuff at best. I never grew up reading comic books and my first introduction to anything superhero related was the very cheesy cartoon Superfriends. That being said, I’m very glad that I watched Daredevil.

Many people compare Daredevil to Batman and Spider-man. I’ll admit that the parallels are definitely there. Like Spider-man, Daredevil has a sort of supersensory powers and fights in just one district of New York City. And like the many Batman films, Daredevil grew into becoming his own superhero with the help of a mentor and has a day job. Granted, he’s not a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, but he wants to do the right thing.

I want to actually talk about how well the villains are written in this series. Like Batman, Daredevil has a very large Rogues Gallery and in the first season, you see them all working together as an organized crime syndicate. It starts with the Russian brothers, Vladimir and Anatoly. They prove to be more than just some Russian stereotypes.

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They’re the first major villains for Matt to deal with and they don’t disappoint. Although the first encounter was kept off-screen, they were able to beat up Matt so hard that he ended up in a dumpster. They’re also the most sympathetic villains aside from Wesley and Fisk because they wanted a better life for themselves and they have a loyalty to each other that a lot of villain duos don’t have. Anatoly’s death was brutal but the gore was kept off-screen.

It was in the early episodes that we were also introduced to Karen Page.

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Karen started out as a damsel in distress who’s way in over her head. I liked that she actually saved herself half the time that she got into trouble and was able to defend herself every time, even with somebody saving her. Her worst flaw is her naivete. She has this unrealistic view of what justice is and she gets tunnel-visioned about what she wants to the point of putting herself and others in danger. I’m all for being idealistic, but the implications of Karen’s dark and troubled past imply that her idealism came from a really dark place, which is a very dangerous place for idealism to come from. She’s ship-teased with both Foggy and Matt, but given that Foggy is now semi-involved with his old girlfriend, Marci, and Matt doesn’t exactly have anything with Claire, it’ll be interesting to see if the show will tease Karen and Matt in the second season.

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Claire wasn’t as major a character as the hype would lead you to believe. She plays a prominent role in the earlier episodes, but breaks things off with Matt when he seems to take things too far for her. Her flickers of romance with Matt were genuine and sweet, but ultimately, it ended because of the usual “It’s not you, it’s my enemies” trope.

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Wesley James turned out to be the most surprising character on the show for me. He started out as a ruthless right-hand man, but it’s shown that he genuinely cares for Fisk, like a brother or a best friend, and was the only one in Fisk’s crime syndicate that supported Fisk’s growing relationship with Vanessa. He is willing to protect Fisk at all costs and makes sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible. His death came as a shock because he ranked up so high on the villain totem pole that I thought for sure he’d live to see the next season.

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Vanessa was also an interesting character to watch because villain girlfriends don’t usually get that much development. In fact, the last villain girlfriend I remember off the top of my head who had as much development as Vanessa is Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series. Vanessa, however, has all her sanity intact. She’s a woman who’s attracted to powerful men like Fisk, but her love for Fisk is genuine and sweet. It’s shown that her relationship with him actually improves Fisk psychologically, but I’ll get more into that when I talk about the man in question. As much as I love Ayelet Zurer’s acting, I couldn’t help but imagine Stephanie Romanov playing Vanessa in a similar manner. But maybe that’s just the Whedonite in me.

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I loved Ben Urich’s determination and wisdom throughout the season. It was sad to see that his wife had Alzheimer’s and that he couldn’t really take care of her. He also symbolized the journalists of old, who were there to witness history in the making, enduring in spite of the technology and the seemingly growing disinterest in “real news.” I honestly wish that he didn’t get killed off.

Side note, btw: I’m docking points for having Mrs. Cardenas die just to bring Daredevil out into the open. Women getting killed to provoke men into action is a trope I’m not a huge fan of.

Moving on to Matt’s mentors.

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Stick is a mercenary and I don’t have that much love for him. Little Mattie needed somebody with him growing up and Stick dropped the ball by leaving Matt on the premise that he wanted Matt to be a soldier and not a son. Say what you want about the Ninja Turtles, but at least Master Splinter raised the turtles as his own sons and never abandoned them.

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Fr. Lantom, on the other hand, was a more reasonable ally. I want to personally thank the writing team for creating a great portrayal of a Catholic priest. He is neither corrupt nor shown as a living saint, but just an ordinary man with Catholic perspectives. His perspectives on the Devil are, in my opinion, in line with what I learned about the nature of sin and spiritual warfare. The last time I saw a priest portrayed this realistically was Fr. Jack Landry from 2009’s V.

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At first I thought that Foggy Nelson would be this dudebro character, the slacker stereotype who makes the main character look awesome by comparison. Later episodes develop Foggy to act as Matt’s moral conscience whenever Claire wasn’t in the role. I think having Foggy in on the secret was a smart thing because Matt needed to be held accountable in case he took things too far. Foggy may not be a future sidekick, but he helps Matt out when it matters the most. He’s actually got ideals underneath his desire for money, so much so that he was able to persuade his ex-girlfriend to contribute to the cause at the risk of betraying the well-paying law firm she works for.

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Nobu didn’t contribute much to the series aside from possibly bringing in the ninja order called the Hand. He’s strictly business to the point of being borderline volatile. I will give him credit for being the only villain so far to have almost defeated Matt through usage of some pretty sweet weapons. Go ninja, go ninja go!

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Madame Gao, on the other hand, is a force of nature, like a tidal wave. She starts out being a meek and quiet, if not very self-assured woman who happens to be head of a drug ring. It’s implied that her drug ring was more of a cult and that Madame Gao may not be as human as she appears to be. I hope to see her again in the second season.

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Leland Owlsey was supposedly based off of a major villain in the comics, but in the series, he’s seen as the financial manager who keeps his eyes on the big picture. I pretty much called it that he was behind Vanessa’s attempted murder because of his unusual behavior and he proceeded to make things worse for Fisk towards the end of the series. I understand making sure that Fisk keeps on task, but as stated before, Vanessa was actually helping Fisk in accomplishing his goals.

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I love complicated villains. I also love to hate Fisk. He actually garners sympathy at times, but his brutality and ambitions remind me of what separates him from Daredevil. Fisk is shown to be psychologically damaged. Like many a villain, he grew up with an abusive father and a mother who was weak-willed. Killing his father at a young age was a serious shocker and it’s shown in “Shadows in the Glass” that Fisk is still haunted by it. He wants complete control over his life and his ideals to make the city better fall to the wayside when things spiral downward for him. It really stinks that in spite of everything that happened, he’s still going to get the girl, but I love Fisk and Vanessa together too much to really hate it.

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Matt Murdock aka Daredevil has finally come into his own. Matt is shown to have ideals, but he’s more realistic in what has to get done. I don’t like how brutal he can be when interrogating mooks at times. Some of the violence he’s done seems excessive and unnecessary. However, Matt makes up for his pugilism by having his own moral code. He won’t stoop to killing anyone, he’s willing to work with anyone who can help (see his short alliance with Vladimir), and he embraces the idea of being feared, of being the one to keep people on the path of the righteous. Even though he dresses like and takes on the name of “Daredevil,” his story arc also reminds me of Angel. 

But unlike Angel, the series of Daredevil flows a lot more smoothly. There aren’t any filler episodes or soap opera plot lines that take away from the action and character development. There’s room to breathe in scenes here and there, but I can’t think of a scene that feels dragged out. I also like the action sequences and how some scenes were kept off-screen while others were shot atypical from your usual action shot. Yes, the show is dark and gritty, but it doesn’t have the cynicism of shows that have a similar tone. Nor does it reek of nihilism or even anti-nihilism the way that Angel does. Best of all, the angst in this show is not done for the sake of looking cool or adding drama. It’s all justified and the characters open the lines of communication in a realistic manner.

I would recommend the show to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as casual fans like myself. I don’t recommend anyone who has kids to share the show with anyone under the age of 13, but given that some of my second graders play M-rated games, your mileage may vary. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t wait for the second season!

 

 All screencaps are copyright to Marvel Entertainment and Netflix and are used for editorial purposes only.

Daredevil Month: Condemned

The episode picks up where the last one left off: with Daredevil being caught by the cops. However, they were told to leave no witnesses, which implies that they are probably on Fisk’s payroll. This leads to Daredevil beating up the cops and taking Vladimir with him. Once he gets out, one of the cops gets back up and kills Sergei, calling in for backup.

Urich creates what I call the “conspiracy board” in his office, using playing cards and newspaper clippings. One card, a King of Diamonds, has a question mark written on it. He hears a commotion and it turns out that the office is jumping on the story of the explosions happening in Hell’s Kitchen. Urich gets his editor-in-chief to give him the locations and he knows a conspiracy is afoot.

Fisk and Wesley are in a limo, discussing what to do about Daredevil and Vladimir, since Madame Gao is on a tight schedule.

Inside the remnants of one of the exploded buildings, two cops on Fisk’s payroll interrogate a mook who’s buried under a pile of rubble and kill him after they get as much information as they could out of him.

Daredevil takes Vladimir up to an abandoned apartment and tries to get Vladimir to cooperate with him in the hopes of taking down Fisk. Vladimir doesn’t have much of a choice given that he’s bleeding out, but he tells Daredevil where to stick it and passes out.

Foggy and Karen arrive at the hospital with Mrs. Cardenas. Claire comes to their assistance and takes Mrs. Cardenas to the ER. Karen points out that Foggy is bleeding. Claire gets a call from Daredevil asking for help in stabilizing Vladimir’s wounds. Using his super senses, Daredevil pulls a Macguyver and uses a flair to cauterize Vladimir. A nearby cop hears Vladimir screams and goes to investigate. Daredevil quickly takes the cop down and interrogates him. When the cop says that he works for the city, Daredevil reads his heart, determines that he’s not lying and tells him to call off his backup. The cop doesn’t comply. And on top of that, Urich arrives to question the cops that arrive. Said cops are on Fisk’s payroll.

Inside the warehouse, Daredevil handcuffs the cop to a post. Vladimir accuses Daredevil of not being different from him or Fisk. He tells Daredevil what we’ve seen so far and laughs at him for knowing so little about what’s really going on. He gives Daredevil a name: the man who handles the money for all of Fisk’s henchman. But sadly, Vladimir would rather fight than comply. The two of them fall down to the ground floor in the scuffle.

Outside, a news crew arrives in front of the warehouse. The cops try to get Urich to leave, saying that he’s not needed, but he decides to stale. Over in the hospital, Foggy and Karen try to contact Matt, but he hasn’t returned their calls. Karen tells Foggy to stay put while she goes looking for Matt.

Inside the warehouse, Daredevil finally regains consciousness. Vladimir snarks at him, even though he’s pretty close to dying. When his heart stops beating, Daredevil tries to give CPR. A few whacks to the chest later, and Vladimir is alive again. Of course, Daredevil’s just pumping the Russian for information.

Back in the limo, Wesley gives Fisk a radio. Riot officers come into the area. Fisk comes on the radio, asking to talk to Daredevil. Neither of them exchange names. Fisk tells Daredevil that they’re not so different. Of course, all that talk is a huge distraction, allowing a sniper to come in. Fisk plans to frame either Vladimir or Daredevil for the bombings. Daredevil doesn’t claim to be a hero and Fisk tells him that his ideology makes him dangerous. Fisk plans on making Daredevil a hero with some seriously bad publicity.  The sniper on the roof shoots down three cops and Fisk gets the news to spin his story.

At the warehouse, police close in on Daredevil and Vladimir. Daredevil gets a call from Claire who tells him what’s going on. He tells her to take care of herself. The cops come in. Daredevil tries to open a sewer grate with all his strength, but sadly, he isn’t exactly Superman. With Vladimir’s help, Daredevil and Vladimir make their escape. The cops kill Daredevil’s hostage while Daredevil and Vladimir are limping around access tunnels. A cop arrives with a gun at the ready and Daredevil beats him down. Vladimir ends up with the gun in his hand and tells Daredevil that Fisk has way too much power and that Daredevil will have no choice but to kill him. He gives Daredevil the name of Leland Owlsley. Daredevil kicks the door open and leaves Vladimir to face the incoming cops alone.

This episode is a really big contrast to the previous one, choosing to keep the drama focused on one place with very little subplots. This is what TV Tropes calls the “7th episode twist” or the “midseason twist.” Now Daredevil is outed to the public as a threat to the public all the while Daredevil has a girlfriend and power that most mafia dons would envy. Tune in tomorrow to see what happens next.

 

Screenshots are copyright to Marvel Studios and Netflix and are used for editorial purposes only.

Avengers vs Batman/Superman AKA Why Angst Is Overrated

I’ll be the first to admit that I am just a casual fan of superheroes at best. I didn’t grow up reading comic books. I watched anime and read manga (Japanese graphic novels) growing up. However, as I also stated before, I’m always appreciative of stories with good writing and compelling characters. And I’m growing to love the fact that superheroes are becoming a thing.

But there’s something else that I need to bring up: Stories, especially superhero stories, don’t have to be overly dark and angsty in order to be compelling. What exactly is “angst” you ask? Angst is, according to dictionary.com “a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish.” Lots of tv shows and movies use a lot of angst to drive the conflict, creating more drama than your average daytime soap opera and relying on what some people call “pretty people problems,” more commonly referred to as “first world problems.” But while some shows can use angst and actually use it to develop the characters in a smart way (watch Buffy Season 6 and cry your heart out as an example), other shows, and oftentimes, superhero movies tend to be too dark and rely on angst way too much.

The early 2000s saw a lot of movies with characters that were up to their knees in angst such as The Punisher. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were able to balance out the angst with some humor, heartwarming moments, and character development, but The Dark Knight Rises was way too rushed. This brand of brooding would later be passed on to  the current run of Superman films.

Now, I grew up watching Smallville. The show was your usual WB/CW teen drama with soap opera levels of writing and teenage-levels of whining and angst, but in spite of that, I liked that the show didn’t come at the expense of making Clark a brooding Byronic hero. There were still some levels of humor that balanced out the less-than-stellar moments such as everything related to Clark and Lana. The current run of Superman films are a stark contrast to this. They build up Superman to be a man with a god-complex (and yes, even I got sick of the pretentious Jesus Christ comparisons in Man of Steel) and the trailer for Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice looks to be something Frank Miller would feel very proud of. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

Contrast this with the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. While the early days of the Marvel movies had a shaky start with some of the movies doing well (like Iron Man and Thor) while others didn’t (such as the Hulk movies) , the company finally hit the ground running with Captain America and eventually Avengers. They even succeeded in making a movie of one of their more obscure groups of heroes, The Guardians of the Galaxy successful. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll be looking more into Captain AmericaAvengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Now that’s not to say that Marvel has never made overly angsty movies in the recent years. The Spider-Man remakes starring Arthur Garfield are a bit too angsty for my taste and rely way too much on building up questions that never get answered and introducing way too many characters at once. You know, like the writers of Lost and Once Upon a Time. I’m just creating this post to express what I think makes a good story overall.

Spoilers ensue. You have been warned.

You can make a lot of comparisons between Captain America and Superman. Both heroes are seen as American icons and always want to do the right thing, sticking to their ideals and rarely, if ever, resorted to killing to get things done. However, there’s a huge difference between them as portrayed in their films. Captain America is shown to be artistic, sensitive, and self-sacrificing. He wants to stand up to bullies of all sorts, whether it be Nazis or HYDRA. In spite of the fact that he’s a man out of time, he’s socially functional and is great at making and keeping friends. His friendship with Black Widow is hilarious because she keeps trying to set him up on dates and you can totally imagine her being his best man in his wedding. (Whoever he marries, of course, is up in the air.)

You don’t see the Superman from Man of Steel being the guy who makes friends easily. All the characters talk about how important he is and how much responsibility he has on his shoulders. The whole Savior complex has been done a million times and with a lot more subtlety than in this movie. And yes, I do have issues over the fact that Superman killed Zod. Mostly because Superman never kills and what Zak Snyder said to try and justify this murder doesn’t really make that much sense. You know it’s bad when even a casual fan of superheroes calls you out on a glaring inconsistency.

The Superman vs Batman trailer honestly disappointed me. I understand that there was a Superman vs Batman storyline in the comics, but it made it seem like the two heroes are going to go in an all-out war with each other. Contrast that with the Thor’s Hammer trailer from Avengers: Age of Ultron.

When was the last time you ever saw superheroes having fun? Or hanging out with their fellow heroes like a bunch of college kids? I honestly can’t recall that, even from the days of the DC Animated Universe. I mean, it’s one thing to see the Teen Titans having downtime because they’re teenagers, but I felt genuine excitement and laughter as I watched it. It was hilarious to see Tony’s three attempts all failing, including getting War Machine’s help. I loved the look on Thor’s face when Steve Rodgers was able to make Mjolnir budge ever so slightly. It made so much sense that Natasha wouldn’t play along because the guys were clearly having a sizing-up contest and she didn’t want any part of it because she’s mature like that. Plus, Maria Hill is with them, so it’s not like she was the only girl not playing. And then Ultron comes in and totally ruins the moment. The other trailers for Avengers show that there are gonna be major obstacles ahead for the heroes, but what makes Avengers as a whole work is that they’re not just heroes, but also people.

Now take a look at Guardians of the Galaxy.

These heroes aren’t even as well-known as the Avengers or the Justice League. But when I watched it last summer, I had a lot of fun. The moments that come to mind are always the moments that make me laugh, which makes the dramatic climax all the more startling because it still fit the tone of the movie, but came with a shocking death in the end. Thankfully, Groot came back. The funny thing is that these heroes didn’t come with that expectation of doing the right thing hanging over them. They reminded me a lot of the crew of Serenity from Firefly. They aren’t heroes because they wanted to be or because greatness was thrust upon them. Instead they became heroes by chance. So while they’re not as straight laced as Captain America or the Justice League, you know that you’re going to have a fun ride with them.

Maybe it’s just my personal preference, but I always love stories that make me laugh just as much as they make me cry and/or scared out of my mind. The best movies and stories are able to balance out angst with humor and heartwarming moments. Characters are ideally seen as people first and not archetypes or cliches. And while I can allow characters to have moments of tragedy and sadness, it’s always great whenever the characters finally take action and do something to solve their problem.

It’s also why, so far, I like the latest Daredevil. As I said yesterday, I don’t think I ever recall seeing a villain on a human level the way they wrote Fisk in “In the Blood.” Usually, villains already come with a love interest or act more forceful in the pursuit of a love interest. Fisk, on the other hand, is actually nervous and courteous, genuinely in love with Vanessa. Contrast this with Daredevil’s overly angsty predecessor, as reviewed by the one and only Nostalgia Critic:

My latest Daredevil recap will be posted later today, so stay tuned!