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Marvel Television: Connecting Earth-199999

That’s a lot of nines.  The comics are easy.  Prime universe is 616 and the Ultimate Universe was 1610, which I always thought was a pretty clever reference to the prime universe, but TV and movies have to have six numbers.  Anyway, Marvel TV has gotten pretty bad lately.  I mean, I really liked Jessica Jones season 2, but other than that, the past few seasons of Marvel TV on Netflix just hasn’t been very good, and while it’s pretty easy to say that it’s all been a downhill fall since the glory days of the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, I don’t actually think that’s the issue.  If anything, I think that not only can the shows be improved, without massive cast changes, I think there have been signs of potential improvement in all of the bad shows.

One of the things that made both seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones good was that they distilled the essence of what made their comic book counterparts good.  Neither season of Daredevil was a direct adaption of any of his comic book stories, although perhaps the back half of season 2 leaned too heavily into the death and resurrection of Elektra, but did a good job of tying several of the best elements of beloved and acclaimed Daredevil stories into an interesting and original narrative.  It’s what the Marvel films have been doing for the past decade, with perhaps only one or two stumbles.  It was a low powered superhero story with engaging characters and interesting concepts that was firmly entrenched in the ideas of superheroics in a world of superheroics.  It was the same with Jessica Jones, even though Jessica Jones wasn’t a superhero story, both seasons respected the world they were in and used the setting of a superhero world to tell stories about interesting people within that world.  Luke Cage, Iron Fist and to a somewhat lesser extent, Defenders, doesn’t do this.  These shows tend to try to stand apart from the world they’re in, sometimes outright rejecting or insulting the setting within they’re working.

I’m not trying to argue that Luke Cage needs to be a superhero show, and that any deviation from 70’s era Heroes for Hire comics is heresy.  While I would love to see Luke go after Dr. Doom for $200 (real story, look it up), it’s not something we actually have to do.  In fact, having wholly original stories that could only exist within the context of the world built up in Earth-199999 is something that the Netflix shows should strive for.  What I am saying is that the shows need to stop treating the comics as nerdy little kid shit and start learning to work within the context of what they have.  Grounding Luke Cage as a protector of Harlem and using his powers to explore the ideas of the black experience and the consequences of power, privilege and helplessness is a great idea, but ignoring or slyly insulting the context in which the character exists does no favors to the show.  Luke is a superhero and he’s friends with other superheroes and he fought immortal, undead ninjas underneath the city near the bones of a dead dragon and lives in a city where a wizard came from space to get a necklace and had a knock down drag out brawl with Iron Man, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.  The show doesn’t need to use all of those, acknowledge the Snappening (just set it before Infinity War, no problem) or even comment on them, but it shouldn’t insult the fact it exists within that context.

The other major issue that these shows have is that they’re very disparate.  The Netflix Heroes don’t need to cross over with the movies.  With the production rivalries between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television, that’s never going to happen, but even in a world where Ike Perlmutter and Jeph Loeb weren’t running Marvel TV, there wouldn’t be any reason for Captain America or Spider-Man to show up on the Punisher.  It’s totally fine for the TV heroes, and this includes the Agents of SHIELD I guess, to exist in their own corner dealing with smaller stuff.  One of the best themes of the first season Daredevil was that in a world where there were powerful people, Daredevil was there to clean up the smaller stuff.   Basically, it’s fine for the Defenders to deal with the small scale stuff.  However, that doesn’t mean they need to be so disconnected.  While each show should have their own collection of villains and supporting cast, larger scope across all of the shows would be a great way to make the shows feel more interconnected.  Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk would make for a great Sauron-like figure to tie things together, a larger scope villain connected to much of the goings on throughout New York, possibly not even directly connected.  Mariah Dillard doesn’t need to be a minion of Wilson Fisk, Hell, she could even be a dangerous rival, someone who threatens Fisk more than Matt or Danny ever could, but connecting them would make for great television, and when we get another season of the Defenders, it would make for a nice set up.

Consider how the first and third Avengers movies worked.  There’s a lot of commentary on how Marvel “built up” the movie by having the characters appear in their own films before the Avengers.  This is often used in contrast to Justice League and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice as proof about why those films are bad, but they’re bad on their own merits.  There is some truth to this, it helped the audience know what to expect going in, but what those movies did was have a sense of connectedness and continuity and did so by building on what was already there.  Sure, having Thanos appear in Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and be referenced in other films made great for Infinity War, what really worked was the character work laid in Ragnarok, Civil War, Winter Soldier, Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy films as a means of building those up.  Avengers and Infinity War also did a good job of managing to stand on their own by making stuff like this clear, but the continuity did a good job of helping things along.

There are a lot of things that the Netfilx shows can do to improve.  I think adding a bit of continuity and following in the footsteps of Daredevil and Jessica Jones and not treating the universe as little kid shit to be ignored are the easiest things to do.  Also, Luke Cage season 2 was pretty awful, but that continuity managed to make Danny Rand seem almost like Iron Fist for the first time ever.  Seriously, other than the Daughters of the Dragon bar brawl with Colleen and Misty, the Heroes for Hire scene set to the Wu Tang Clan in Episode 10 was the best thing in the whole series.


Top 5 Series Finales

I don’t do a lot of writing about television, because I’m not actually the biggest fan of TV.  Since the medium tends to be passive, and I’m not in a darkened theater with no way of grabbing my laptop, my brain tends to get bored and fall away.  Also, most of the shows on TV generally hold limited interest for me, but I think that’s less an issue with the medium and more with media in general.  A lot of books, video games and movies don’t hold a lot of interest for me either.  Finally, I also play a lot of video games, and video games take up the same amount of time as television.  If I have to split my time between those two things, I’d have to chose games, since I tend to find them more personally engaging.

That said, if there is a TV show I like, I love the Hell out of it.  I try to not be an evangelist for stuff anymore, but sometimes it can be difficult.  If I like a show and someone brings it up, I tend not to be able to shut up about it.  That’s kind of true about a lot of things for me, but I imagine it surprises people when they find out I actually can engage in the culture at large.  However, one thing I really hate about TV (and video games, too) is that they rarely end well.

I love endings.  A lot of people don’t, but I do.  I like to know that the story is over, whether things end well or poorly for the characters, and where they’re going to go.  Having that knowledge of closure is great for me.  However, because of how television works, a lot of shows just stop and don’t get to have an end point, whether the show gets canceled or a lead actor walks out or something.  It’s sad.  Sometimes, though, the series nails it and knocks everything out of the park.  So, I present my five favorites.  Now, I do have some rules.  The first is that it has to be a finale.  This can include multi parters, but if it’s part of a series of final parts (like Deep Space Nine), I only chose the last episode.  Second, it has to be the final episode, so if a show gets revived, I can’t go with the original finale, even if it’s better, which is why you won’t see the Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings, despite it being my favorite Futurama episode.  Finally, I’m not including any limited shows that lasted one season.  Most anime and Firefly aren’t going to count.  Also, I’m not counting a mini series or anything canceled before it’s time.

One Last Ride- Parks and Recreation

The impetus for this whole list, which I finished watching this morning, One Last Ride remains my favorite episode in a series I loved for years.  I don’t normally follow sitcoms, but Parks and Recreation had some of the most lovable characters and interesting situations.  It helped that it had the feeling of a live action cartoon, which appeals to me a lot.  One Last Ride, however, is the ultimate happy ending.  Flashing forward all throughout the future of the characters, it was inventive to see how everyone would turn out over the next 30 years.

I’m a bit of a sap for happy endings, so it was good to see that everything worked out.  However, what I liked even more was that it showed that their lives continued in the future, and it wasn’t always easy for them.  Parks and Rec was always about people coming together to overcome difficult problems, and that was what they continued to do, even 31 years into the future.  It was a fitting end, with people happy while still working at what they wanted to do.

Not Fade Away- Angel

Angel is my favorite TV show, I’ve seriously seen it 4 times all the way through and it was the first show I got all of on DVD.  Not Fade Away, though, is the perfect ending to the show.  There were a few bumps in the road, with the Circle of the Black Thorn coming out of nowhere, and a few things not getting the resolution they deserved, but none of that mattered, because the last second is one of the best scenes in the whole series.  “Let’s go to work.”

That line crystallized everything about the series in four words.  Good, no matter what the cost, was always worth fighting for, and Angel, staring down an army of demons with the remains of his friends, ready to fight to the death and all he can think is that he wants to kill the dragon, just because it’s cool.  He spit in the face of the Devil and whether or not he would win didn’t matter.  He was going to go out swinging.  I loved it.

What You Leave Behind- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

This is going to be the only Star Trek on the list, but only because Enterprise screwed everything up by dragging in a terrible series finale (aired on the same night on what would have been a great one).  What You Leave Behind is the final battle against the Dominion, and while the Federation triumphs, it’s not without cost.  There’s something poetic about everyone but Bashir leaving the station, with him losing everyone close to him.  It’s a happy ending, but we, like Bashir, are losing everyone we love in the process.  Not because they’re dead, but because they can finally move to where they need to be.

Deep Space Nine was a place for outcasts, a place where people didn’t fit in.  One of the themes of the show was about helping people find their place in the universe, and the seventh season was all about them coming together to do that, even if that meant moving away from everyone you love.  Things worked out for everyone, but it doesn’t make it easy for everyone to move on.

Meanwhile- Futurama

It’s not the Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings, but it was good to see Fry and Leela get the happy life they deserved, even if the universe was frozen while they lived.  Yes, they would get out at the end, with the implication that they would probably finally get together for real in the future, but it’s not easy.  For a moment, it looked like taking the Professor’s reset button would be like tearing their own arms off, but they did it, and when the final credits aired.  Still, “It was a good life,” “Kinda lonely, though?”  “I was never lonely, not even for a minute,” gets me a little bit emotional.

It’s not the best episode, and in later years, some of Futurama’s episodes were more weird than interesting, but it never got bad.  Meanwhile gives a lot of closure to a series that made me happy for my entire adult life.  Much like Angel, it’s one of my favorite shows of all time, and probably one of the only shows I will have on DVD forever.

Destroyer- Justice League Unlimited

Lex Luthor saves the world.  I mean, that’s all that needs to be said, but I mean, there’s also the fight against the forces of Apokalips all across the Earth, villains and heroes uniting and of course, the World of Cardboard speech.  The only issue is that Superman doesn’t get a chance to really cut lose against Darkseid for long enough, but what we get to see is amazing.

It probably doesn’t have the same level of resolution as, say, Epilogue or, well, a lot of other TV shows, but it was a closure on almost 15 years of my life, from the first episode of Batman the Animated Series I saw on my bean bag chair when I was 6 to staying in on a Saturday to watch cartoons with my brother when I was 20, just because I wanted to end it.  I guess this one is more personal than any of them.

Not much under the (red) hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood is a textbook example of what not to do when faced with making a film about Batman, make him tedious, boring and uninteresting.  Under the Red Hood is a wandering, directionless film that manages to miss all of the potential emotional cues and falls flat on the action hooks.

Under the Red Hood follows Batman’s investigation of a new criminal overlord, the Red Hood, who has been quickly taking over Gotham City’s criminal underworld.  Thinking the Red Hood may be Batman’s long thought deceased partner Jason Todd, the second Robin, Batman looks for the truth while trying to shut down Hood’s criminal empire.

Under the Red Hood is, in a word, boring.  It’s a tedious cut-and-paste adaption of the 2005-2006 Batman story, Under the Hood, which should be interesting.  Batman’s formerly dead partner has possibly come back, and he has to face not only this new villain, but the consequences of his failure years before.  It should be a strong, psychologically engaging story about failure, redemption and choice, but instead the plot is an excuse for Batman to fight a grown up, ruthless Robin, stopping every so often to give viewers exposition.

This slows the movie to a crawl.  While beautiful to look at, very few of the fights manage to go beyond simple four-color slugfests and those that do are too short or too ridiculous to really be particularly engaging.  A couple of them are complete level breakers, which should have been left out altogether,  in particular, an overlong scene where Batman and Nightwing fight an Amazo android.  It may have been in the original comic, but here it’s completely pointless and sets up a plot point that never goes anywhere.

Worse, most of these fights are filled with philosophical psychobabble which attempt to peek into the Batman’s head during what should be one of his most emotionally churning cases, but it falls flat, as Batman’s psyche remains mostly unexplored.  It doesn’t help that the mystery of whether or not Jason Todd is the Red Hood is so transparent, all of the drama evaporates.

Thanks to all the cuts and flashbacks to Todd’s death, it’s so obvious that he’s the Red Hood before the film even begins.  Batman spends nearly the first hour of the movie trying to solve a mystery that never existed in the first place, so any attempt at looking into his mind is a failure.  When the first inklings that it might be Todd show up, the audience already knows, and by the time we get to the reveal, the movie is more than half over and there isn’t any time for any emotional evaluation.

While it does try to look into Batman’s mind, it’s really just an excuse for the writers to make Batman fight evil Robin.  The movie doesn’t attempt to compare Batman’s greatest success, Dick Grayson, currently Nightwing and the first Robin (perfectly cast as Neil Patrick Harris) with Todd, who in more than one way is Batman’s greatest failure.  Grayson is a stalwart companion and an equal while Todd is a two-bit thug looking for revenge he doesn’t need, and the movie never bothers to comment on this fact, or does so only briefly and subtly (Bruce thanking Dick for his help, which was an excellent scene)  It doesn’t help that Batman never bothers to reach out to Todd, or look to give him guidance.  He just spews of a bit of self-righteousness there at the end and extends a token hand in friendship before going back and trying to beat the kid’s head in.

In the end, Under the Red Hood is a failure.  It tries, but it just becomes a waste of a perfectly good idea.  Oh well, at least it looked good.

Suddenly, my junior year of high school seems so much weirder

This is going to be a short little rant tonight.  It’s late and I’m preparing to write something kinda big for tomorrow about something I saw on Kotaku.  Anyway, enjoy my confusion.

I think I can officially say “I’m too old for this shit.” At least, I can say it about something.  For anyone too lazy to click the link (or just hover over it), it’s a link to the Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers reboot comic, which is coming off of the heels of Darkwing Duck reboot comic and suddenly, I’m reminded of 2003 when the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out and late 80’s retro was all the rage.  If a comic book about the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers comes out, I’m going to be officially freaked out.

So yeah, this is a weird feeling.  It is now officially my childhood that is being mined for those sweet, sweet nostalgia bucks and I am a little weirded out.  I mean, sure, I was born in the mid-80’s, so GI Joe and Transformers and what have you were part of my childhood, but I’m not old enough to remember when they were new.  I remember when Chip ‘n Dale started and now I’m seeing the last retro launch in a whole new light, and it’s very strange.

I kind of feel like a hypocrite, since I loved the relaunched TMNT, while at the same time I’m asking myself if the world really needs a new Darkwing Duck.  I thought Disney said all they needed to say about Darkwing back in 1995 but apparently it’s getting an ongoing series.  And while the writers at 4Kids did do something with the new TMNT series, I’m right, I am a hypocrite, because the whole thing was designed to cater to fans of the series and was just a simple marketing gimmick to sell some more Turtle toys and I’m going to be this is the same thing.

It’s weird to see this from a whole new light.  I wonder if it means I’m old enough to say “get off my lawn.”

Before I go for the night, I found the new video from MC Frontalot, Spoiler Alert on Kotaku, along with tour dates.  Austin is the closest to me, and that’s way too far away.  A quick warning, the song is full of spoilers, for, like, everything (even the 1980’s!), so be warned.

Max vs. Miriya

Imagine a little device not much bigger than an iPad.  On it, a tiny holographic projector creates lifelike, three dimensional terrain on to a table top in front of a person’s eyes as they control a tiny figure.

Kotaku reminded me why I should be looking forward to “true” 3D games, not wanting them to go away. When people say 3D, I immediately think of the gimmicky movies that give me a headache.  Stupid, painful pieces of crap that simply create an illusion of multi dimensional entertainment instead of exploring it.  Then, Luke Plunkett reminded me of the coolest damn arcade game in the universe: Battloid Attack.

I can just imagine the awesome games you could have in real 3D.  Imagine a Sonic game where terrain is created in real time, or an RPG where the dungeon opens up before the player’s very eyes.   A real 3D experience like the one pioneered in that 28-year-old episode of Macross would be flat out amazing.  It would be like reliving Super Mario 64 all over again, something I’m not sure was possible to do until I rewatched that clip.

A holographic, three dimensional projector could do a lot with gaming, not the least of which would be creating the perfect fusion of portable and console gaming.  Games could be downloaded on to iPad sized projectors which could be brought anywhere.  It’d be awesome.

Unfortunately, we’ll probably get 10 years of crappy headaches, lame glasses and fake 3D before we get transforming planes being projected onto our laps.  Maybe companies will wise up and skip that stage all together, but I doubt it.

Carl Macek, Robotech ‘Creator’ died this weekend

I should be going to bed, but I saw this as I was closing out my windows.  Carl Macek, the creator of sorts of Robotech, died over the weekend from a heart attack.  Readers of Cluttered Mind are sure to know I’m a huge fan of Robotech, even more than the original Macross, Southern Cross and Mopseda.  I know Macek tore apart those anime to bring us Robotech, but I’ll always thank him for bringing me to anime in the first place.

Here’s Minmei singing Stage Fright.  I think it’s a bit more appropriate than the Robotech theme, “We Will Win” or anything by that loser Yellow Dancer.

Like the cruel angel without a sense of mercy…

It's here, and I got it early

Remakes are strange business.  On one hand, they seem somewhat presumptuous, even when done by the original director, as it’s kind of like saying to the source material “oh hey, you’re good and all, but I think I can do you better.”  At the same time though, it’s kind of cool to see a concept updated and looked at from another perspective.  Rebuild of Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone manages to be a remake that is a little bit of both of those sides, and it’s a bit better because of it.

You Are (Not) Alone is a retelling of Neon Genesis Evangelion in a way that will, allegedly, redeem the characters and give it all a nice happy ending.  It follows Shinji Ikari, victim of emotional abuse from his distant father and ordinary high school kid, who is recruited to pilot an Evangelion, a giant robot, to fight off giant Cthuhluesque aliens called Angels.  Shinji deals with these invading horrors while dealing with the pressures of being 14, which is pretty difficult.

You Are (Not) Alone follows Shinji through his fights with the first three Angels, his training to pilot the giant robots and his settling in with his new environment.  After nearly refusing to fight the first time, he gets shacked up with his commanding officer, Misato, who acts as Shinji’s surrogate big sister, and he tries to come into his own.

The first thing about this movie is that the animation is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s amazing how beautiful this looks, even down to the most minute details.  The colors are bright and vivid, a welcome change after the somewhat washed out look of the original, and the movements are fluid and well crafted.

The character designs too, look more well developed.  Not exactly more realistic, or anything, just better drawn than they were, with more detail in the face and clothing.  Rei, the creepy emotionless girl, looked more human than she did in the original, which might be counter to her point, but I thought it was preferable.

Also good is the music.  Not just good, it is literally awe inspiring.  The movie wasn’t just content to remix music from the original score and call it a day, no, the music in this movie is some of the most epic movie music of the year.  Particularly near the end when Unit 01 hefts the giant particle sniper rifle to finish off the sixth Angel.  It has to be seen to be believed (and I can’t find a video, sorry).

Of course, as great as all of this is, it pales in comparison to the writing.  The Eva universe starts out the same, but it quickly goes in a very different direction, and this is a good thing.  The characters definitely seem like they’re on the road to recovery rather than nihilism.  Even Shinji mans up and kicks some serious ass.  Shinji whines still, yes, but it’s a lot more bareable this time, because it really seems like he’s actually going to come out on the other side this time.  Also the characters are still well developed and interesting.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem for this movie is that it will never escape the shadow of its predecessor.  It’s hard to look at this movie without thinking of the original.  Even though, so far, I’ve found it better than the original (which I love), it’s still always going to be compared to Neon Genesis, and the sequels will be as well.

It’s not that it’s inaccessible, in fact it’s a great movie for those who haven’t seen any Evangelion to start, it’s just it is a remake and it’s hard to look past that.  All of the actions of the characters, all of the music, all of the animation will only be compared to Neon Genesis.  It just will not be able to stand on its own.

There are other flaws.  The English voice cast is mostly good, and the returning actors are improved over their original roles, but there are still some really bad choices.  Justin Cook, who is very good mind, tries hard, but he just can’t capture Toji correctly, even if he’s leagues over the person who came before.  Dr. Igagki the younger also suffers a similar plight, and fortunately, she’s not in this movie as much (which is a plus all around).  Also, the first half hour or so is almost exactly like the first two episodes, with some scenes cut out and some awesome CG thrown in to make it look nice.  The real changes don’t come until much later and that’s really disappointing.

Also, it feels kind of short.  Sure, the pacing is great, but they’ve only introduced two characters.  Auska won’t even show up until part 2, You Can (Not) Advance.  That’s so lame.

Rebuild of Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone is an excellent film.  It’s even better than the series it spawned, but because its a remake, specifically a remake designed to redeem the characters and rectify the problems of the original, it comes off as a little presumptious and will always be the Eva Alternate Universe where everyone’s happy and Auska has a new last name.