Tag Archives: Geek rants

Best of Comic TV 2017 Part 1

It’s that time of year again. The time when I go through all the comic book-based TV shows of the year and tell you who did what the best.

Because if I have to think about it, you get to hear about it. That is the arrangement. That is what happens here.

The field has started to get a wee bit crowded, folks, so instead of recapping what ended, what started, etc., let’s just take a look at the players for the 2016/17 season.

Agents of SHIELD: In the wake of the Sokovia Accords (one last desperate link to the Marvel movies), SHIELD is reborn. With a new Director in place and Daisy “Quake” Johnson having gone rogue, Coulson and company deal with Ghost Rider, a mad scientist and his robots, and anti-Inhuman terror group the Watchdogs, all connected by the evil, slightly sentient spellbook the Darkhold.

Arrow: Call it “Green Arrow and the Forgotten Heroes.” After most of Team Arrow went their separate ways at the end of season four, Oliver Queen juggles being mayor of Star City with leading and training a new crew– featuring, among others, obscure DC characters Wild Dog, Ragman, and Mr. Terrific– to take on rising crime lord Tobias Church and the more vicious and lethal crimefighter Vigilante. But waiting in the wings is Prometheus, who’s out to prove that Oliver himself is Star City’s greatest monster.

The Flash: After altering the timeline while trying to save his parents, fastest man alive Barry Allen must come to terms with what he’s done to his friends’ lives, while also fending off Savitar, the self-described god of speed, and his acolyte Alchemy.

Iron Fist: Danny Rand, having gone missing after a plane crash when he was 10, returns to New York to reclaim his place at his family’s company, only to discover that it’s been infested by ninja death cult The Hand. Who as the Iron Fist, protector of the mystical city of K’un Lun, he is sworn to destroy.

iZombie: Eating brains to solve murders gets complicated when the all-zombie private military corporation Fillmore Graves (this show and their gag names) comes to Seattle, looking to make it the new zombie homeland… and word about the brain-eaters gets out around Seattle’s more gun-happy whackjobs. Seattle’s zombie population is stumbling towards Discovery Day.

Legends of Tomorrow: After taking down the corrupt Time Masters last season, the crew of the Waverider are now history’s only line of defence against time aberrations. With their captain missing, they’ll have to get good at it fast to stop the time-travelling Legion of Doom: speedster Eobard Thawne (Reverse Flash), Damien Darhk, Malcolm Merlyn, and some surprise bonus members, who are out to rewrite reality itself.

Legion: David Haller has long struggled with hallucinations and voices, but begins to realise that these aren’t delusions, they’re manifestations of his mutant powers. But something dark and terrible is hiding in his memories, and it’s a threat to David, his new mutant friends, and pretty much the whole world. Loosely based on the X-Men character and set in a non-specific corner of the (or at least an) X-Men film universe.

Lucifer: Lucifer Morningstar, former King of Hell turned bar owner, finds his efforts to solve murders with LAPD detective Chloe Decker complicated by the arrival of his mother, forgotten co-creator of the universe, escaped from Hell and out to reclaim her place in Heaven.

Luke Cage: Ex-convict Luke Cage moves to Harlem, where he finds himself at odds with local crime lord Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and his cousin, Councilwoman Mariah Dillard.

Powerless: Witness everyday life in the DC Universe as Emily Locke moves to Charm City for her new job working for Bruce Wayne…’s vain, idiot cousin Van Wayne as the head of a Wayne Industries R&D department, designing products to protect civilians from superhero battles. It’s Better Off Ted with superhero references!

Preacher: Jesse Custer, a small-town preacher with a shady past, finds himself bonded to an entity called Genesis, which grants him the power to make anyone do whatever he says. He sets out the save the souls of his town, with help from his single-mom assistant Emily, hindrance from his criminal childhood sweetheart Tulip O’Hare, and a little of both from Irish vampire Cassidy. Then things get weird.

Riverdale: Aka “Sexy Archie.” Wannabe musician Archie Andrews, tightly wound girl-next-door Betty Cooper, aspiring crime novelist Jughead Jones, and recovering mean girl newcomer Veronica Lodge deal with a series of intrigues, at the centre of which is the murder of classmate Jason Blossom. From the Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comics and Greg Berlanti, mastermind of the Flarrow-verse.

Supergirl: As both Supergirl and a reporter for Catco World Media, Kara Danvers/Zor-El fights to protect the humans and alien immigrants of National City from anti-alien terrorists Cadmus, while helping recent arrival Mon-El of Daxam find his place on Earth. Sure hope Mon-El isn’t hiding anything…

Not submitted for review: Gotham and Walking Dead. Look, guys, I just… I just can’t. I’m six seasons behind on Walking Dead and not hearing a lot of reasons to catch up, and I considered catching up on Gotham, but when the third season premiere involved the second season’s two worst characters opening a nightclub, I just couldn’t. And everything I’ve heard about season three sounds awful. They are no longer portraying a variation of Batman lore I want to be around. My blog, my rules.

Those are the contestants. Let’s begin!

Best Fight Scene!

With Daredevil taking the season off, this category was Iron Fist’s to lose. And boy howdy did they ever lose it.

Honourable mentions*: The heroes of four series battle the Dominators at the end of “Invasion!” on Legends of Tomorrow; Team Arrow and Team Prometheus’ big throwdown in the finale of Arrow; nearly two complete teams of Legends take on the Legion of Doom in Legends of Tomorrow’s finale, which showed how much better the Legion were as villains than Vandal Savage… the Legends split up to fight three Vandal Savages, and all three kind of went down like punks, whereas against the Legion it took two teams just to keep casualties to a minimum.

*There are 13 shows and a lot of them did good work so we’re going to have to do some honourable mentions this year, deal with it.

Bronze: Bolero, Legion, “Chapter Seven”

It’s not entirely a fight scene… I mean, there is a fight happening. A few fights happening. Just not, you know, entirely punch-related. But it is definitely an action sequence, and it’s visually, musically, and stylistically beyond compare. The only reason it’s ranked this low is because, again, much of it is not technicallyfight sequence in the classic sense.

I’m not going to try to explain what exactly is going on here. It’s… it’s really complex. I promise you that if you watch the show it all makes sense in context but if I just try to explain it I’m going to sound like a crazy person.

Embedding YouTube videos sells these scenes better, but they do kind of tend to get taken down for copyright reasons, so… here it is, but if you haven’t watched the show, it’s not going to make a ton of sense. Or, well, any. But it is gorgeous.

Silver: Meet Cassidy, Preacher, “Pilot”

Our first exposure to Preacher’s Irish vampire Cassidy has him pouring drinks and snorting lines as a bartender on a private plane filled with jovial businessmen. But Cassidy comes across an… enthusiastically annotated bible, and we swiftly learn that the businessmen aren’t as jovial as we thought, and the plane is filled with more medieval weaponry than commercial air allows. Cue one epic ass-stomping.

Video while it lasts.

Gold: “You ready for that noise now?” Preacher, “Pilot”

Yes, Preacher made the list twice. In its first episode. Fight me.

When we meet Jesse Custer in Preacher’s pilot, he’s a broken man. Ineffective as a preacher, quiet and withdrawn, but as the character’s creator Garth Ennis once described a different Preacher character, “in his eyes burn the embers of what was once an inferno.” When a kid in his parish asks Jesse to make his father stop hurting his mother, Jesse tries to look into it, only to find out this is more 50 Shades of Grey than Ike and Tina Turner. But the father, Donny, takes offence. While Jesse is drowning his sorrows, Donny and his buddies, fresh back from a Civil War re-enactment, strut into the bar looking for trouble.

They find it. They find more of it than they anticipated. The bad, bad man Jesse once was is re-awakened when Donnie threatens his own son. (And yes, the fact that they’re dressed as Confederate soldiers when Jesse stomps them down does make it more satisfying.)

Here’s hoping this video is still up when I publish this.

Most Emotional Moment

Given how many shows on this list are, in theory, action-based, you wouldn’t think this category would be harder to whittle down than “best fight.” But here we are. (Spoilers ahead, by the by.)

Honourable mentions: Three moments that narrowly, narrowly missed the podium, because it is Hell of competitive this year: Alex coming out to Kara and then breaking down when Maggie rejects her on Supergirl, because when Alex cries, I cry; Archie punching through a frozen river, bones breaking and blood spilling, in a desperate attempt to save a drowning classmate on Riverdale (Yes, Riverdale, FIGHT ME); Oliver’s confession to the team after falling for Prometheus’ trap on Arrow was both a crushing moment and proof of Oliver’s growth, since a year earlier he would have left certain details out.

Bronze: Major takes the Cure, iZombie, “Spanking the Zombie”

Poor Major Lillywhite.

Ravi’s second attempt at a zombie cure came with some unfortunate side effects: eventually it wears off, and then an indeterminate time after that, your lungs start filling with fluid and, despite your undead nature, you die. The only solution is his third attempt at a cure, but a few days after taking that, you lose your memory, possibly forever. Major’s not thrilled about losing his entire life to amnesia, but midway through the season, his time runs out. Major says a tearful farewell to his two closest friends, knowing that once he takes this injection, soon they’ll be strangers. He and Liv have one last night together before Major becomes human and every happy moment they ever had is swallowed by the fog. It’s sweet, but heartbreaking.

Silver: Oliver’s farewells, Arrow, “Invasion!”

In the middle chapter of last season’s big crossover, all of the characters with significant connections to the previous four seasons of Arrow woke up in a world where the doomed voyage of the Queen’s Gambit never happened, where everyone’s life worked out simpler and happier. Oliver never became the Hood, let alone the Green Arrow, and instead is about to marry a still-alive Laurel in front of his not-dead parents. But it doesn’t take long for him to figure out something’s wrong. And he knows, on some level, that he’s going to have to give all of this up to make it right. He tries to elope with Laurel before the ceremony, just to be married to her for even one moment before she’s gone, but simulation-Laurel doesn’t go for it and soon it’s time. Instead of marrying Laurel, he has to say a final goodbye to his father, mother, and a tearful Laurel. It’s crushing, and Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy rose to the occasion.

Gold: Lucifer’s choice, Lucifer, “Weaponizer”

Lucifer’s little brother Uriel has come to town on a mission: his ability to read patterns and foresee their outcomes tells him that their Mother escaping Hell will lead to her returning to Heaven, being forgiven by their Father, who she’ll then destroy. So he gives Lucifer a choice: deliver Mom to be destroyed by Uriel (not returned to Hell, as they expected, but destroyed entirely thanks to the purloined blade of their sister, Azrael, angel of death… who by the way I’m dy– no, I’m above the feeble wordplay… desperate to see turn up in season three), or he’ll kill Lucifer’s partner, Chloe. Given that he’s already nearly killed Chloe twice by a) moving a skateboard a couple of inches, and b) bumping into someone so they drop their clipboard, then watching the ripples play out, we know he’s serious, and that there wouldn’t be much Lucifer could do to stop him.

Lucifer must make a painful choice. And the consequences of that choice tear him apart.

Best Story

Fire as many arrows as you like, make all the quips you can, fill the show with spectacular action… but while you’re doing that, you’d best be telling a good story.

Honourable Mention: This year’s annual DCW crossover, “Invasion!” didn’t just set a high bar for Netflix’s Defenders series, it set a high bar for the Justice League movie. It progresses stories for everyone, I can watch clips of the heroes just hanging out and celebrating their win over and over, I love that it opens with Barry and Oliver under attack, and closes with Barry and Oliver having a beer and talking about life… Keeping it off the podium was a heartbreaking call to make. But…

Bronze: Agents of Hydra, Agents of SHIELD

Aida, the Life Model Decoy prototype with dreams of free will, teams with the Russian leader of the Inhuman-hating Watchdogs to replace SHIELD’s leadership with LMDs. They place the real versions into a digital world called the Framework, which Aida designed by removing the occupants’ largest regret, starting with Agent May. Only Simmons and Daisy are left free, but they have to enter the Framework to free their compatriots. What follows is an intense, high-stakes, emotional journey through an artificial world ruled by Hydra.

Lovable characters go bad, bad guys become good, long-dead old friends return, new friends are lost, the season’s best villain takes centre stage, and Grant Ward gets a touching send-off, as we see the hero he could have been if not for his twisted mentor. And it all wraps up with the return of Ghost Rider.

Silver: The Secret Origin of David Haller, Legion

There’s a dark secret lying in David Haller’s memories. One he himself only seems occasionally aware of. What that secret is, what it means to the man who may be the most powerful mutant alive, and what that means for the world (nothing good) is the heart of Legion’s first season. It’s twisted, trippy… and pretty riveting.

Gold: “Sanvers,” Supergirl

Supergirl’s adoptive sister, Alex Danvers, never really had much luck in the love department. While season one didn’t go into this much, she certainly didn’t have any love interests. The closest she came was Maxwell Lord, but his occasional attempts to kill her sister really reduced his appeal. But then came Detective Maggie Sawyer.

Alex’s realization that the reason she’s never made it work with men is because she’s really into women, and specifically Maggie, is at times uplifting, heartbreaking, and adorable. Her coming out to Kara was a moving scene, and the pitfalls of her relationship with Maggie were reliably strong plot points. And if that’s not enough, check out this Twitter story about how Alex’s coming out did real good in the world. I mean, I loved Invasion! as much as anyone, but I highly doubt it helped anyone out of suicidal depression.

Worst trend

You know what’s worse than a bad plot point on a show you’re watching? The same bad plot point on five shows you watch.

Honourable mention: I don’t actually mind that four different shows involved the main characters waking up in an artificial reality created and controlled by the villain(s). None of them are bad episodes. Most of the time it was even the show’s high point. I just think it’s weird that there were so many, and three of them were right on top of each other.

Bronze: Who is the villain, anyway?

This one just barely makes the podium, because there’s a spectrum from good to bad. Sometimes not committing to one single Big Bad worked out: Arrow, Flash, and Agents of SHIELD had training villains/mini-bosses while the real Big Bads got their evil ducks in a row, and in most cases it worked. Moving along the spectrum, there’s Riverdale and iZombie, which didn’t present one main villain because they were murder mysteries and we weren’t supposed to know who the killers were right away. How that worked depends on how invested you were in the mystery. It gets murkier with Supergirl, which never committed to a main villain, but then the villains were secondary to the real season arc. Still though, it meant that when the major villains turned up, it got just a blasé “Oh, you again” reaction.

And on the far end of the spectrum we find Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Luke Cage had two to three good or even great villains, then threw them and their plots away to really focus on the half-assed Diamondback, at which point the show fell apart. Iron Fist could not make up its mind about who the main villain was: first it was obviously Ward Meachum, then Madame Gao and The Hand, then out of nowhere came Bakuto and his different branch of The Hand, and then in the finale they decided to ignore all of that for a sudden betrayal from Harold Meachum, finally paying off all of those plot threads that started earlier in the finale.

Some series made multiple villains work, so this only takes the bronze, but when this trend goes bad it goes really bad.

Silver: In name only

So you have a show based on a comic book character. What’s a great way to keep the Fan Service train running? Bring additional, hopefully related comics characters into the supporting cast. A sound idea I’m in favour of. But what seems to keep happening is that the shows are bringing in characters with familiar names who have nothing to do with their comics equivalents, and it’s weird and I don’t care for it. Now, doing your own thing with a character works to a point. I’m not going to trash Flash for not making Vibe a breakdancer who affects an offensively stereotypical Latino attitude around white people like comics Vibe did in the 80s, securing him the status of “worst Justice Leaguer” for years upon years. I’m not even going to get into Arrow or Flash handing characters different first names for no discernible reason (Curtis Holt instead of Michael Holt, or Dinah Lance going by Laurel… changing “Paco Ramon” to “Cisco Ramon” is probably okay, though). I’m not even talking about Arrow tweaking Prometheus or Supergirl making up their own Mon-El story, because of course they did, and they still have enough of the basic elements of their comics counterparts.

And I’m certainly not complaining about changing race or sexual orientation to add diversity. Turns out there are still an overwhelming amount of white, straight, cis-male characters on all of these shows, so black Jimmy Olsen, Latina Maggie Sawyer, and gay Mr. Terrific are doing more good than harm.

I’m talking when a TV version has nothing at all in common with the comic character whose name they’ve been given. Examples.

Supergirl: There is no single shred of Snapper Carr, the Justice League’s teen mascot who grew to be a mentor for young and inexperienced heroes, in Supergirl’s cranky news editor of the same name. Not one molecule.

Flash: Apparently “Gypsy” has become a controversial word, which is fair, since it is technically a slur against the Romani. So why court that controversy by naming a character “Gypsy” if she’s going to have a completely different powerset, costume, backstory, and personality from Vibe’s old Justice League Detroit teammate? The only thing they have in common is gender.

Arrow: Konstantin Kovar was a Russian superhero who worked with the Teen Titans, not a gangster. Just saying.

Powerless: This probably wasn’t the place for rigid comic accuracy, but comic Jack O’Lantern wasn’t a villain and Justice League Europe’s Crimson Fox shares nothing in common with Charm City’s local hero except similar costume aesthetics.

Gold: Secret Identity, Schmecret Identity

Secret identities sure used to be important to heroes. Helped them operate. These days? Luke Cage and Danny Rand didn’t even bother trying to hide their identities, which was stupid for so many reasons. All you need to do to get Flash to tell you who he is is say “How can I trust you when you’re wearing a mask.” It even works if you were trying to kill him an hour ago. The only major character who doesn’t know Kara Danvers is Supergirl is Lena Luthor; even her evil mother figured it out on her own. Entire government agencies know Flash, Green Arrow, and Supergirl’s identities. And things sure would have gone easier for SHIELD if Daisy Johnson had bothered to hide her identity when she went rogue between seasons.

Seems like the only character who can keep his real identity a secret is Lucifer, and he’s trying to tell everyone who he is, they just won’t believe him.

Next time… the best characters.

The Impossible Dream Comic Stories

You know, it’s a damn shame I already wrote, like, a dozen blogs about The Office, because I could sure say some more things about how lethally toxic Angela and Andy were as a couple. And how I don’t even know who I was supposed to root for in that story.

But no. We closed that book.

So previously I covered big crossover stories that I feel could be done even if they probably won’t. But hey, they already did Invasion!, and I wouldn’t have guessed that, so who knows. Today, though… instead of depressing myself by pitching ideas they could use but won’t, I’ll depress myself a little less by looking at the big, classic stories that neither Marvel nor DC could possibly do justice to.

I don’t know why I do these things either. But it’s no sadder than wondering how Marvel Studios could integrate the Fantastic Four if they got the rights back. I mean it’s pretty clear that Fox is going to keep making terrible Fantastic Four movies every seven years until Emperor Trump shuts down Hollywood for being too liberal and all the studios move to China. I don’t know why, maybe they’re just trying to dilute Marvel’s brand, but it’s clearly going to happen.

So. Allons-y.

1. Secret Wars

Now, there’s a few Marvel event books under this particular banner. The mid-80s miniseries (and subsequent sequels) in which the all-powerful Beyonder gathered the heroes and villains of Earth for a battle-royale on his artificial Battleworld; the infrequently shipping mid-2000s miniseries in which Nick Fury discovers that the nation of Latveria (once and future domain of Doctor Doom, but at the time a democratic ally state) has been funding America’s tech-based supervillains, and thus leads a covert team of to attack, which has consequences down the road; and the most recent Secret Wars, in which a years-long storyline about the Marvel multiverse collapsing ends with the main and Ultimate Marvel universes fatally colliding, and Doctors Doom and Strange saving what they can in a new Battleworld.

I could cover all three of them, but only one really fits here. I don’t think anyone is really clamouring for an adaptation of the original Secret Wars. It’s pretty thin, narratively speaking, which makes sense because it was written to sell a toy line. And it got its name from focus groups finding that kids reacted well to the words “secret” and “wars.” Also, the MCU simply doesn’t have enough interesting, Avengers-level villains to pull it off. That’s why the only way to get all of their film characters (but never their TV characters) together in one movie is to have them fight either Thanos or each other.

The 2004 Secret War has its issues as far as adaptation goes. A) the MCU has no equivalent to Latveria except maybe, maybe Sokovia (who could hardly afford to spend money on American supervillains), and B) there has never been a Marvel movie villain where we had to stop and ask where they get the money to fund and fuel their high-tech weapons. The Marvel movie villains are mostly arms dealers and interplanetary despots, not bank robbers with gimmick suits. But… if they were really inclined… the basic premise would make for a hell of a Captain America sequel. So they actually could do this one if they wanted.

The latest one, however…

Why would they want to?

Because like the great Crisis On Infinite Earths, grand-daddy of the Event Crossover, which we’ll get back to, this event existed to clear the deck. It ended the Ultimate universe experiment, save for Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales, who was brought into the main MCU. It paved away some things they wanted to be done with (the re-aged Steve Rogers, the evil Tony Stark, the still-existing Fantastic Four), and let Marvel start fresh with new ideas. Some new ideas. A couple of new ideas. They didn’t go post-Flashpoint New 52 crazy or anything.

Marvel Studios is coming up on the end of Phase Three, the culmination of over ten years of interconnected films and largely ignored TV projects. It’s also the end of the contracts for their main stars. All in all, a great time to clean house and start fresh. Doing a Secret Wars-type story would let them reboot and recast without going full Amazing Spider-Man.

So why can’t they?

Because for all of the craziness happening, the army of Thors and the wasteland of Hulks and the extra-wastey wasteland of zombies and Ultrons, all of that, Secret Wars was ultimately a story about Victor Von Doom and Reed Richards. Doom is triumphant, he has reforged reality in his own broken image and rules it as a god, and it all falls apart when Reed arrives. The fate of the Marvel multiverse comes down to a grudge match between these two classic, eternal rivals.

And the Marvel Cinematic Universe just does not have an equivalent.

The closest thing they have to a Reed Richards is Tony Stark, but his first and greatest nemesis in the films is himself. Tony can’t exactly wrestle his own arrogance for the fate of everything. They simply don’t have anything or anyone on par with Doom to serve as the other half of the equation. The 2004 Secret War has some elements and characters the films lack, but with a little wrangling Sokovia could replace Latveria, Falcon or Ant-Man could replace Wolverine, and they could just suck it up, stop shunning the TV branch, and put Luke Cage and Daisy “Quake” Johnson in a movie. But they have nothing in their arsenal to replace Doom. Not even Loki.

2. Crisis On Infinite Earths

I’d save this for last but I already went and brought it up, so… here goes. Crisis on Infinite Earths is the grand mac-daddy of all universe-shifting crossovers. DC editorial decided that their complex multiverse of overlapping characters was a little messy and confusing, and thus commissioned a massive event miniseries to tidy things up. Every single character in DC’s stable made at least a brief appearance, even some they’d just acquired. Worlds ended, heroes and villains died, including Supergirl and the Flash, and in the end there was one Earth in which the survivors all co-existed. The DC universe changed forever.

Okay, sure, within twenty years and change there was a multiverse again and nearly every character they’d killed had come back (I can name two who stayed dead, but you don’t know them). Creators who grew up reading comics tend to bring back the stuff they loved as a kid. But, you know… it’s still basically different.

Why would they want to?

Because this is the dream crossover. Forget Supergirl visiting Star City or even the Avengers meeting the Defenders, this is the impossible dream. The stuff fan trailers are made of.

These guys.

I’m talking Grant Gustin racing Ezra Miller. Fellow Supermen Brandon Routh and Tyler Hoechin throwing Henry Cavill a brood-intervention. Stephen Amell and Justin Hartley in an Arrow-off. The Dark Knight meets the Caped Crusader. Get weird with it, and all to stop a threat so big it takes upwards of five Supermen and three Flashes to bring it down.

So why can’t they?

Dude, think about it. Are you really going to be able to talk Christian Bale back into the batsuit? No. No you are not. Michael Keaton won’t be much easier, Christopher Reeve is dead, and 1990’s Flash, Superman Returns’ Superman, both Lois and Clark of Lois and Clark, and the 1970s Wonder Woman are all playing other characters in the DCW-verse.

Plus the only Joker you’re going to be able to get is Jared Leto and nobody wants that.

And which Earth would die to sell the stakes? Smallvile? Lois and Clark? You’re gonna get fans and ex-stars complaining on Twitter whichever you pick.

It’s the impossible dream for a reason. Even a Crisis on Two Earths (comic-wise, the first time the Justice League met the Justice Society), where the TV and film universes collided, would be a bit of an ask.

3. Secret Invasion

In case you were wondering if Marvel naming things based on focus groups liking the word “secret” was a thing of the past… well, we can’t be sure. Maybe writer/architect Brian Michael Bendis just wanted the homage.

Secret Invasion was the culmination of a story Bendis had been cooking since he took over the Avengers books. After a massive prison break which led to the newly formed New Avengers discovering an illegal, black-books vibranium mining operation in the Savage Land run by SHIELD, it becomes clear that some sinister force has infiltrated the global peacekeeping force. And, as time goes by, they learn whatever it is has infiltrated Hydra and the Hand as well. After Civil War splits the team in half, Luke Cage’s rogue Avengers find out who this shadow force is: shapeshifting alien would-be conquerors the Skrulls have mastered a new form of infiltration, one that no hero, despite magic or supersenses or being Reed Richards, could detect even when it was right in front of them.

So the question then began… who was a secret Skrull? Who could be trusted? Did the Skrulls orchestrate Scarlet Witch nearly wiping out the mutants or the Civil War that turned hero against hero? And when a ship full of heroes dressed like it was still the 80s crashed in the Savage Land, were any of them friends finally returned?

The answers were “Five people of note and some nameless SHIELD agents,” “Pretty much everyone,” “No,” and “No, that was just a waste of five incredibly repetitive issues.”

Why would they want to?

It combines both of Marvel Studios’ favourite tropes: heroes fighting heroes, and a climax involving fighting a giant horde of faceless alien minions. Plus, as we’ve learned from Winter Soldier, Civil War, and basing their film franchise around the Infinity Gauntlet, they love harvesting their event books for film plots. Not enough to fully give in to the endless cries for a Planet Hulk movie (looks like one scene from Thor: Ragnarok is all those people will get), but still.

Also, the story leading up to the event book was great. The years-long build-up, from the jail-break through to the secret within SHIELD and all the way to the big Skrull reveal and the two teams wondering who on the other side was a secret Skrull, it was one of the best slow-burn builds in recent memory.

So why can’t they?

Weirdly the fact that the build-up is the only good part of Secret Invasion isn’t the problem. Sure, it was savagely under-written, what with spending five issues on the go-nowhere Savage Land plot while the Skrull Queen gave a series of repetitive, half-issue monologues about change. Sure, the climax is hot garbage, since it boils down to all of the heroes lining up on one side of Central Park, shouting “Hey Skrulls, come fight,” and every Skrull in the global invasion saying “Yeah, sure, be right there.” Sure, the title doesn’t even make sense, since the Invasion stops being in any way Secret by the end of issue one. But the Civil War comic was also badly paced with a half-assed conclusion, and that movie turned out fine.

No, the issue is that there’s no real way to do the build-up. Are they going to slip some hint that not all is well into every phase four movie? That’s just going to lead to awkward, tacked on scenes that draw complaints, like Thor and his Vision Spa in Age of Ultron. And the reveal will make less sense without an established race of hostile shapeshifters like the comics have. Which brings us to another problem… Marvel Studios doesn’t have the rights to the Skrulls. They’re tied up with the Fantastic Four, so Fox owns the film rights. And as we know, Fox doesn’t give these things up easily.

Might make for a good Supergirl season if you swapped the Skrulls for the Durlans, though. Wouldn’t be the first time a Superman-related show stole a story from Marvel.

Inter-company cross-overs

Gonna break the format here, because “Why can’t they” is perfectly obvious. Marvel and DC the publishers don’t really get along these days, a state of affairs exacerbated by ex-Marvel head Joe Quesada pulling some dickish moves back in 2010. Which is sad, because back in the day, DC/Marvel crossovers were a frequent event, from their beginnings in Superman Vs. Spider-Man to the Teen Titans teaming up with the X-Men to the well intentioned but ineptly executed DC Vs. Marvel (or Marvel Vs. DC, depending on the issue number), which at least created the interesting experiment Amalgam Comics. And then after a hiatus, they managed to join forces one last time for the greatest inter-company crossover ever.

BOOM.

JLA/Avengers (or, again based on issue number, Avengers/JLA) is filled with classic moments. The Justice League saw Dr. Doom ruling Latveria, the ruins of mutant nation Genosha, Hulk tearing through the military, and the Punisher shooting up gangs (until Batman broke his own “don’t interfere” rule to whoop on him), and decided that this world’s heroes just don’t try. The Avengers saw Wonder Woman addressing the UN, Superman being deified, and the Flash Museum (“They have a museum dedicated to a speedster!” shouted an enraged and envious Quicksilver. “A museum!”) and decided the heroes of this world overstepped, ruling as gods for the public’s adoration.

It also had the best “fight-then-team-up” sequence of any comic ever… Batman and Captain America trade a few jabs, testing each other out, then Batman essentially says “You might be able to beat me, but it’ll take a while. Want to figure out what’s actually happening instead?” And off they go.

And then history gets twisted, creating an alternate past where the DC and Marvel universes had known about each other for years, to the point of getting together each Thanksgiving like the JLA and JSA used to do. And Hawkeye and Green Arrow exchange the one piece of dialogue that’s missing from most DC multiverse stories (especially this season of The Flash)… “For the last time, we’re Earth One, you’re Earth Two!”

But it’s not to be. If Marvel and DC the publishers aren’t getting along, one can probably count on Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers to be just as reluctant to get into bed with each other. Even if people would pay all the money on Earth to see Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man go three rounds against Batman.

Sadly, this will also prevent comics’ one-time weirdest inter-company crossover…

This is real. This is a real comic.

Archie Meets the Punisher. That happened. That is a thing that two companies agreed to make and paid people to write and draw. Multiple people, actually, because the Archie scenes are all drawn in the Archie house style, while a different artist drew all the Punisher scenes in a more appropriately gritty fashion. It’s fascinating in how audacious it is just for existing, in how committed they are to a team-up that makes no sense and should not be, but still somehow turns out worth reading.

So in that spirit… how much do I want to see Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle set loose amongst the teen-drama-fuelled noir mysteries of the CW’s Riverdale?

So. Goddamn. Much.

It would be so weird and so stupid and so, so mesmerising. But Marvel won’t let their Netflix characters cross over with their own film branch, so that there is a pipe dream. A ridiculous, near-indefensible pipe dream.

Maybe in Riverdale’s fourth season they’ll get desperate enough to do Archie Vs. Predator.

Wasn’t kidding about that one either.

Next time… I return to a long-neglected blog series, discussing things that do exist instead of things that don’t.

Inexplicably Underused Comic Characters

“Wait,” you say. “You did this already. I vaguely pay attention to what you write, and you definitely covered this.”

Not so, Hypothetical Strawman. Can I call you H-Straw, by the way? I assume I can, like I assume everything you’d theoretically say.

Anyway, H-Straw, that was obscure characters I thought the various TV properties could use. And frankly, obscure characters are having their heyday. Wild Dog, Ragman, Prometheus, Citizen Steel, the third Ghost Rider, Misty Knight, and Mon-El all have or had prominent roles on comic TV shows this season. Black Lightning is close to getting his own show. The best comic book TV series this season was about an X-Man only hard core fans are familiar with. Powerless has pulled out Global Guardians member the Olympian and Justice League International mainstays Green Fury (later “Fire,” but that only made sense because she was paired with “Ice,” formerly Ice Maiden) and Crimson Fox. Well, sort of Crimson Fox, she actually wasn’t really similar to– I’m drifting.

And bigger than any of that, the most anticipated superhero movie of 2017 stars Rocket Raccoon and Groot, two characters who were greeted five years back not with “At last, those guys,” but “Is Marvel just screwing with us now?”

Today we’re looking at major characters who are bizarrely absent from major live-action adaptations in the bizarre hope that doing so will somehow conjure them into a TV show or movie.

Look, sometimes it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

1. Zatanna

I’ve brought this up in the past, but since it still hasn’t happened, it bears repeating.

Who’s that?

Is Wonder Woman the most powerful woman in the DC Universe? Not quite. Sure she’s up there, given she makes Batman nervous, can go 12 rounds with Superman, and was the God of War for a spell (an excellent story that is tragically being retconned out of canon, but so is goes), but you know what Wonder Woman can’t do? Cripple the armies of Darkseid just by saying “Parademons turn into corgis” backwards.

Daughter of famed magician, Golden Age magical hero, and sometimes mentor to Batman Giovanni Zatara, Zatanna Zatara came onto the scene in the late 60s, becoming a member of the Justice League during the hallowed “Satellite Era,” known as the group’s Silver Age pinnacle.

No, that was not word salad, it makes perfect sense. Welcome to comic books.

Zatanna inherited her father’s powers: she can make almost anything happen just by saying it backwards. She’s been an off-again/on-again lover to John Constantine, had the lady-balls to make a slightly tipsy pass at Batman, but more than that, she’s become a natural leader, as the head of the currently defunct Justice League Dark. She is, without question, the most powerful magic user in DC canon. Well, the most powerful human magic user. Comparing her to the Spectre, the embodiment of divine wrath, or the unquantified power of the ancient and ageless Phantom Stranger is probably unfair.

And her only live-action adaptation so far is two underwhelming episodes of Smallville*, and that is hardly good enough.

*Not… I’m not saying they were underwhelming for episodes of Smallville, but “underwhelming” was kid of Smallville’s default state. At its very best, it whelmed within reasonable expectation.

Where should she be?

They are, possibly, slightly ahead of me on this one. Warner Brothers has been kicking around an adaptation of Justice League Dark for a while, sometimes called “Dark Universe.” There’s an animated Justice League Dark movie out there which might help give the concept legs, or might make it redundant. Sure, my enthusiasm for the project diminished a little when Guillermo del Toro (who first pitched it) left the project, but it’s still kicking around DC films. It’s been rumoured to be one of several scripts DC is trying to get into position to replace The Flash on their 2018 docket. (Which, man, if they want to fill that gap, they are running out of time.)

But it’s not enough to get her into that movie. That’s key, but more important than having her in the movie? She should be the lead. They might be trying to centre it on John Constantine, but that’s a mistake, and not only because it might keep Matt Ryan from playing Constantine in the DCW-verse. It risks Zatanna, DC’s most powerful sorceress, becoming yet another victim of Trinity Syndrome.

Using Guardians of the Galaxy as our model, Zatanna should not be the Gamorra to Constantine’s Star Lord. Zatanna should be the Star Lord, and Constantine the Rocket Raccoon. His character is far better suited to the wise-cracking misanthrope who is half-dragged into doing the right thing.

(Nightmare Nurse is the Gamorra, Swamp Thing is the Drax, Etrigan is the Yondu, and the House of Mystery is Groot, if you were wondering.)

Zatanna’s been the lady in the fishnets for long enough. It’s time for a Zatanna project that lets her be a star.

2. She-Hulk

Who’s that?

Jennifer Walters, cousin to Bruce Banner, needed a blood transfusion to save her life. When Bruce gave her some of his gamma-radiated blood, she ended up receiving a lesser version of his powers, becoming the sensational She-Hulk. While she may not be as strong as her cousin, she does retain her personality and intelligence, something Bruce only managed for a stretch in, I wanna say the 90s?

As such, while extra-tall and green, she still maintains a legal practice.

There was almost a She-Hulk movie back in the 80s, which Bridgette Nielson was supposedly starring it, but it never made it out of script development.

Where should she be?

A while back, there was a run of her comic in which a firm wanted to hire Jennifer Walters… but not She-Hulk. This was a surprising turn when I heard about it, because until then, I didn’t even know Jennifer could change back and forth. I thought she was just She-Hulk 24/7. Turns out she was only in She-Hulk form all the time because she wanted to be. Jennifer likes being taller, stronger, powerful. And, sure, less plain.

This might make for a good TV series. There’s a good story there, one that separates it from the other “female cousin of a better known male hero” show. A powerful woman being asked to keep her power in check by her (presumably) male-driven firm? Or, you know, something Patriarchy related.

Supergirl tackled feminist issues throughout the first season, though in a more scattershot fashion. Jessica Jones did a great job with rape survival and abusive relationships. But as it turns out there are more than two ways to discuss feminism. A She-Hulk series about fear of female power would be a new take on issues that seem all the more important after the first serious female US presidential candidate was defeated by an unqualified garbage monster.

Plus, this would play into what Joss Whedon discovered was missing from the Hulk movies prior to Avengers. The movies spent most of their runtime treating Banner becoming the Hulk as a tragedy, when we as an audience just want the thrill of watching him Hulk out and cut loose. For She-Hulk, those moments when she gets to transform are a release, and we’d be right there with her.

Perhaps ABC could find room for it after the inevitable end of Agents of SHIELD, or if Inhumans doesn’t take off. I know it might seem like a decent fit for Netflix, especially if the lawyer aspects have as much to do with the superhero elements, but it would be more suited to a network, case-of-the-week structure than the Netflix “One story in 13 episodes” model. Also I worry that if Netflix did it, the show would end up being called “The Sensational She-Green-Guy.”

3. Robins Who Aren’t Dick Grayson

Who’s that?

Perhaps the earliest* and most iconic of the Kid Sidekicks in comic book history, Robin has been the title of Batman’s partner since his first appearance way back in 1940. Batman’s had a Robin since the last time America wasn’t doing enough to hold back the Nazis.

(*Some of the pulp stories, like Doc Samson and his contemporaries, might have beaten out Robin, I really don’t know.)

There are five in total, not counting Carrie Kelley from The Dark Knight Returns, which I don’t, because Frank Miller is racist, crazy, and crazily racist, and Batman V Superman gave him too many props as it is.

Dick Grayson is the original, the son Batman never had, the first to move out of his surrogate father’s shadow. As Nightwing, he’s been a hero and a leader in his own right, one so popular that DC head Dan Didio learned he literally couldn’t kill him off if he wanted to.

Jason Todd came second… he was the angry one, picked up off the streets when Batman caught him stealing the Batmobile’s wheels. He’s also the one killed by the Joker, but a couple of decades later he came back, adopting the Joker’s old name of Red Hood. He was a villain for a while, angry at Batman for not avenging him, but gradually worked his way back into the family. He’s still the black sheep, the most violent, and the only Robin occasionally okay with killing.

Tim Drake is the first Robin by choice. Whereas Dick and Jason were orphans Batman took in and taught to be Robins, Tim figured out Batman’s identity on his own, and deciding that Batman needed a Robin, broke into the Batcave and demanded the job. He’s also the first of the Robins to have his own comic. Eventually known as Red Robin, he’s become every bit the leader as Dick through Young Justice and the Teen Titans. He’s probably the smartest, and if you asked any of the other Robins who their favourite was, they’d each say Tim.

Stephanie Brown, usually known as Spoiler but for a time a surprisingly good take on Batgirl, was Robin for a brief period when Tim gave up the job. It turned out Batman only gave her the gig in an attempt to lure Tim, her ex-boyfriend, back into the role. She ended up starting a massive gang war in an attempt to earn her way back– you know, the story only gets ugly from there. Really ugly. Moving on.

And last but least only in stature, Damien Wayne, created by comics legend Grant Morrison at the beginning of a many-year run on Batman. Dick Grayson was the son Bruce Wayne never had, but Damien was the son he didn’t know he did have. Son of Bruce’s lover/nemesis Talia al-Ghul and grandson of A-list Batman villain Ra’s al-Ghul, Damien was dropped on his father’s doorstep (well, the water entrance to the cave) at the age of ten. After spending time with his father, he turned his back on his upbringing with the League of Assassins and devoted himself to being the new Robin. He died at the hand’s of his mother’s soldiers at the end of Morrison’s run, but if death couldn’t keep down Jason or Stephanie (I told you that story got ugly. I TOLD you.) it certainly couldn’t keep down Damien. He’s definitely arrogant, doesn’t always play well with others, but tries his best to be a Robin his father can be proud of. On the outside he begrudgingly tolerates his surrogate siblings, but there are subtle signs he’s come to like at least two of them.

Of these five, the only live action adaptation we’ve seen is Dick Grayson, always as Robin, and the best of them is the one where he’s played by Burt Ward. People are so eager to see Nightwing in something that there was a fan cry to have Nightwing on Arrow, a show that has never acknowledged the existence of Batman.

There is talk of a Nightwing solo movie, but like Man of Steel 2, Suicide Squad 2, Gotham City Sirens, Dark Universe, and basically any DC film project that isn’t Wonder Woman, Justice League, or Aquaman, talk is all there is.

Where should they be?

As long as Fox has a lock on the TV rights to all things Batman, we’re stuck with the movies. But Warner Bros will keep making Batman movies as long as their business model depends on blockbuster film franchises. So, if The Batman starts introducing Robins, you have room to spin them off into their own movies. Pad out the DCEU with Bat-family properties, just like they do in the comic branch. Sure, have a Nightwing movie, but instead of having Batman show up in a similar role to Tony Stark in Spider-man: Homecoming, have Tim swing by. Show the sibling relationship of the Robins. Also Batman, just, you know, less Batman.

BvS already established that Joker killed a Robin, so a live-action adaptation of Under the Red Hood (already an animated movie) could not only introduce Jason Todd’s Red Hood, but also involve Nightwing, and if you fudge the story a little, Tim Drake as well. Then bring them back to the Batcave for Son of Batman (also already an animated movie) and finish the quartet.

Plus there’s every chance that bringing in the younger Robins can help shake off the notion that the DCEU isn’t fit for younger audiences. Of course it would help to, you know, be more suitable for younger audiences.

4. Doctor Doom

Yes I know that Doctor Doom has been in four movies so far. I also know that of the three that made it into theatres, they haven’t come within a parsec of doing Marvel’s Greatest Villain right.

But sadly, a key part of the Marvel Film Formula is “The villain is a one-dimensional representation of the hero’s flaws,” so even if Fox stopped making increasingly worse Fantastic Four movies every seven years out of what at this point I can only assume is spite, and gave Marvel back the film rights, Marvel Studios is unlikely to nail him either. Let’s move on.

5. Sandman

Who’s that?

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman isn’t a classic graphic novel for adult audiences, it’s the classic graphic novel for adult audiences. Sandman was one of several books DC had in the late 80s where they decided “You know what… if we slapped “Mature readers only” on these things, told the writers they didn’t have to be superhero comics anymore… then they could really do some cool stuff,” and started the Vertigo imprint.

The basic premise… well, master author Neil Gaiman could never write a basic premise, but the nickel tour is that the series revolved around Morpheus, aka Dream, one of the Endless. The Endless were nigh-immortal beings who represented various forces driving life: Dream, Destiny, Destruction (who left the family), Desire, Despair, Delirium (formerly Delight, but then drugs happened), and inspiration to goths worldwide in more ways than one, Death.

The cool one.

As his name suggests, Morpheus/Dream* rules over the Dreamlands, where we all go when we’re asleep. And you do not want to cross him if you value your sanity. And then a bunch of fascinating stuff happens, and it’s all amazing and you should just read it.

(*You’re not gonna be able to call him Morpheus much. Thanks, Matrix movies.)

Where should he be?

People have been circling a Sandman movie for decades to no avail. Joseph Gordon-Levitt came closest, but has since left the project. So here’s my hope. My desperate hope. Now that Sandman’s successor as the flagship title of Vertigo, Preacher, is doing well on AMC, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is apparently about to be the best show on TV, maybe, maybe someone will finally realize that you cannot do this story justice in two hours.

Hell, one two hour movie is barely enough time to establish why Dream and Lucifer don’t care for each other, let alone cover the classic story… huh. Pro-tip. If you’re going to write about Sandman, you’re going to need to learn synonyms for “classic…” Um… iconic, vintage, time-honoured… Let alone the exemplary story in which Lucifer gets his revenge by closing up Hell and handing the key to Dream.

Why is that revenge? It takes time to explain that. This is my point. The story is complex and needs time to breathe. A movie would only be enough time for the Dead Boy Detectives introduced partway through.

No, I won’t explain who the Dead Boy Detectives are, read Sandman damn you.

An epic fantasy covering multiple times and a nigh-endless supply of fascinating characters, Sandman could be the “new Game of Thrones” everyone’s been looking for since the old one got an end date.

(The new Game of Thrones is Westworld, but I for one encourage competition.)

I mean… they don’t have to have John Constantine show up, just because he’s in the first arc. I mean they could. That’s an option. And, you know, there’s no strong reason not to ask Matt Ryan to reprise the role. Doesn’t necessarily mean that this hypothetical HBO Sandman show would then be part of the DCW-verse.

That would just be a special little secret for me. Us. For us is what I meant.

Crossover Fodder

So now that Iron Fist is over (and I promise to keep further complaints about Iron Fist to a minimum until June) there’s no doubt one question nerd-show fans have about the year’s big crossover…

How, exactly, is the Greg Berlanti Mask-Based Action Fun Factory (aka the DCW-verse) going to follow up “Invasion!” next season?

Photograph by Art Streiber

No, we’re not talking about The Defenders. Don’t get me wrong, when that launches in August I’ll be checking it out like everyone else, but Iron Fist deflated my enthusiasm a little. And frankly, the first teaser, in which the four leads are standing in an elevator looking about as far from a super-team as it’s possible to get, isn’t helping. Not even Daredevil has anything like a costume, just a suit and tie with a sweatshirt or something tied around his face. So there’s really only two things I want from the Defenders: two swatches of dialogue I’m not too hopeful I’ll get.

Number One:

Matt: “Can I please get my suit.”
Luke: “You look like a damn fool in that getup.”
Matt: “Right, because wandering around telling everyone your real names is working out great for the rest of you.”
Danny: “I’m Danny Rand! From the news!”
Matt: “Yeah, like that.”
Jessica: “We know, Danny. We know.”
Matt: “Say what you want about the mask, but my enemies never just show up at my office.”

Number Two:

Matt: “Damn it, Claire, if you were up against The Hand, how could you not call me?”
Luke: “She probably thought you were busy looking into crime in Harlem. No, wait, that can’t be it.”
Danny: “I like turtles!”

(Look, I said I’d keep it to a minimum. This is the minimum.)

So instead of trying to get psyched about this…

We’re sure this isn’t some Shondaland legal drama?

…I want to talk about how Berlanti and company could follow this.

The one with light, colour, and actual superheroes.

The annual Flash/Arrow crossovers have been a tradition since Flash’s first season. They started small, with the relatively self-contained “Flash Vs Arrow” (in which Team Arrow visits Central City and ends up helping against the rage-inducing Prism) and “The Brave and the Bold” (in which Team Flash returns the favour against Captain Boomerang); they escalated to a world-threatening two parter in “Legends of Yesterday” and “Legends of Today,” which finished the table-setting for the upcoming spin-off Legends of Tomorrow by introducing Hawkgirl, Hawkman, and their vendetta with Vandal Savage; this year, it took the combined heroes of all four DCW shows (although Supergirl really just guest starred, her show did its own thing that week) to save the world from sinister aliens the Dominators.

Eleven heroes from four shows plus two supporting casts against a global alien invasion. How do you top that? I’m sure somewhere in the writers’ rooms there are people desperately trying not to think about that just yet, but it’s coming, and they say this year it’ll be a proper four-show affair. Meaning that hopefully Supergirl’s Alex Danvers, Winn, and J’onn J’onzz will get to play as well.

As it happens, I have some suggestions.

(Yes, I know none of the writers will read this for legal reasons. And other reasons. Still, though.)

(Look, you might not care, but sometimes we rant about things we enjoy to fight off a rapid-onset emotional spiral that makes it hard to even just watch Netflix whee life is a roller coaster.)

Things We Can Rule Out

Sure as eggs is eggs and The Defenders won’t say the word “Inhumans,” there are a few big DC stories that we can probably assume are off the table, due to budget issues and corporate policy holding some things back for the film branch. Examples…

  • Darkseid. Ain’t nobody at the CW going to be facing Darkseid unless Justice League really tanks at the box office. Like, tanks so bad Warner rethinks their commitment to superhero movies. As long as there’s a Justice League sequel in the works, that’s where Darkseid turns up next. And honestly, given how Smallville did Darkseid, I’m kind of okay with that.
  • Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad. It’s the first big event of the current “Rebirth” era, and it’s working out okay, and lord knows I’ve missed its main villain, Max Lord, since he vanished from post-CBS budget Supergirl. But Arrow hasn’t been allowed to use the Suicide Squad since season three. No, if they adapt this, they’d want to do it with Affleck-Batman, Will Smith-Deadshot, and Harley Quinn.
  • Anything Batman related. It’s actually Fox blocking this. They have the TV rights to pretty much everything Batman, and not even cancelling Gotham is likely to get them to loosen their grip.
  • Identity Crisis. An unknown enemy stalking the heroes’ loved ones would have no impact in the DCW. Barry Allen and Oliver Queen are way too careless with their identities, and the Legends don’t even use their codenames most of the time. Their loved ones get threatened all the damned time.
  • Crisis On Infinite Earths. Even if the CW could remotely afford filming an epic battle against the Anti-Monitor for the fate of all of existence, according to Harrison Wells’ future newspaper, it won’t happen until April of 2024.

Season nine’s gonna be off the HOOK. Or awkwardly disappointing.

So, what does that leave us?

So much.

Let’s begin.

1. The Collector of Worlds

The most criminally underused villain in DC’s menagerie is Brainiac. He’s Superman’s number two villain, yet he has not even been hinted at in any of the seven movies Superman’s starred in so far. Sure, James Marsters played a version of Brainiac on Smallville (the “Brain Interactive Construct,” eventually called “Brainiac” for short), but is there anything Smallville did that couldn’t be done better elsewhere? Anything at all?

The answer is “No.”

Supergirl already opened this door by having its season one villain, Indigo, reveal herself as Brainiac 8. (Classic Supergirl move: can’t get Lex, bring in Lena. Can’t use the main Brainiac, bring in Brainiac 8.) So they’d just need to nudge the door a little further.

The pitch: A mysterious skull-shaped ship appears in the skies of Earth-38 (aka Earth Supergirl), which possesses similar technology and abilities as Indigo. Reactivating part of Indigo, the DEO learns that this is Brainiac Prime, aka The Collector of Worlds. While Kara investigates the ship, National City is sealed under a dome and vanishes. Brainiac has shrunk it and sealed it in a bottle. Alex manages to get Winn out with Kara’s dimensional extrapolater before the dome is fully active. If they’re going to find a way to get National City out of the bottle, they’ll need backup and an expert in transdimensional barriers and breaches. And all of that’s in Central City, Earth-1.

Supergirl gathers the others, and after the prerequisite “Brainiac drones follow Supergirl, big fight” sequence, they split into two teams. With Vibe-based portal help from Cisco, Green Arrow leads a covert squad (say… Diggle, White Canary, Vixen, Heat Wave, any of his new team who survives season four) to meet up with Alex, James, and J’onn inside the bottle to defend the city, while the muscle (Supergirl, Flash, Steel, Firestorm) fly the Waverider to Brainiac’s ship so that Team Science (Felicity, Cisco, Winn, Ray Palmer/Atom, Martin Stein, Gideon the supercomputer) can try to crack his technology.

I assume Harrison Wells and the Wests will only be in the Flash episode. Again. But you could get Superman in here. Frankly, you even should. Strand him in the bottle with Alex for preference, and have his powers dwindle the longer he’s in there. Ain’t none of these his show, he doesn’t get to show up Supergirl.

(I haven’t quite stretched that out to four episodes, but do I have to do everything? Because I will. I will do that. Call me.)

The perks: It’s certainly a threat that one-ups the Dominators. And making it a Superman villain makes it easier to start things off on Supergirl, which is the first to air and will need to be the start of the story to avoid another “four night crossover in name only” situation. And splitting the team gives everyone a role to play. It’s a classic JLA/JSA story trick: kick things off with the whole team, then split them into groups before bringing everyone back together. It lets you play with different combinations, like Green Arrow coaching Superman on fighting without his powers, or White Canary and Alex Danvers, who I would pay real money to see kick ass together.

Why they might not do it: Brainiac doesn’t have to be more expensive than the dominators, and Supergirl needs alien ship sets all the time, so I doubt it’s a cost thing. No, if anything’s blocking them from doing this, I’d point to WB brass. Matthew Vaughn is being courted to helm a proper Man of Steel sequel, and they might be holding Brainiac in reserve for that.

The dream casting: Role like Brainiac, you want the casting to cause some excitement. Either a big geek-friendly name like your Bruce Campbells or Scott Bakulas, or a Legacy Casting: someone from a past, related superhero show or movie. Like former Flash John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen’s father, or Supergirl’s foster parents being Helen Slater (1984’s Supergirl movie) and Dean Cain (of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). In this case? Michael Rosenbaum. His seven years as Smallville’s Lex Luthor suggest he’s got the gravitas, and he’s relatively likely to be available and affordable.

2. Forever Evil

The biggest event of the New 52 (that period of DC comics in between the Flashpoint reboot and Rebirth rolling back said reboot) was Forever Evil, in which Earth was taken over by Earth-3’s evil alternate Justice League, the Crime Syndicate of America: Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, Power Ring, Johnny Quick, Atomica, and Deathstorm. Having decimated three Justice Leagues at the end of the crossover “Trinity War” (all of that makes sense, no time to explain, stay with me), the Crime Syndicate is virtually unopposed, and sets to work uniting the villains under them. But a few holdouts refuse to join. With Earth’s Greatest Heroes out of commission, it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Villains to save the day.

Also Batman. Always Batman.

All this one really needs to happen is the existence of the Multiverse and an array of villains interesting enough to lead the story. The DCW-verse has both of those things. Also, since by and large the Crime Syndicate have alternate identities from the Justice League, there isn’t a good reason why the film branch (or Fox) should get uppity about using them.

The Pitch: The DEO finds an unusual object, which is giving off similar signals to Kara’s dimensional extrapolater. Kara, Winn, and Alex head to Earth-1 to seek STAR Labs’ input. As long as Kara’s in town, one of Team Flash (Barry, Cisco, or whatever Harrison Wells is on the team that year) shoots out an invite to Oliver and the Waverider crew for an Invasion reunion party. During the party, the object activates a bridge to Earth-3, allowing the Crime Syndicate to break through. Similar to the comic, Deathstorm (who was created when Earth-3 Martin Stein used the Firestorm Matrix to merge with the corpse of his intern, Ronnie Raymond) traps the majority of the heroes inside Firestorm, leaving only a handful: Green Arrow, Alex, Winn, Heat Wave, Joe West, Wells, and Felicity. (I don’t really foresee a huge role for Felicity but I know the writers, it’s gonna happen.)

Supergirl and Flash find each other within the personalized prisons that Firestorm has become, and begin trying to unite the others and find an escape. On the outside, the few survivors find themselves massively outgunned and in need of backup. With no heroes to turn to*, it’s Heat Wave who sees a solution nobody else thought of… call in the bad guys. The ones the Syndicate doesn’t manage to recruit.

Joe West and Quentin Lance try to rally the Star and Central police forces against the criminal army the Syndicate begins to form. Alex and Winn make a desperation run to Earth-38 (followed by Ultraman, who goes a few rounds with Martian Manhunter until sunlight turns out to be his weakness and he flees back)… Superman is off-planet, J’onn is injured fighting Ultraman, so they try Mick’s idea, and wake up Bizarro. Heat Wave and a reluctant Green Arrow form a villain alliance: Captain Cold (I know he’s dead bring him back just make it happen), Malcolm Merlyn, Bronze Tiger, Killer Frost, Trickster, and as long as I’m fantasizing here, Deathstroke. And when things look bleakest… out comes Gorilla Grodd to even the odds.

I’m sorry about the rhyme. That was unintentional.

Team Villain takes on the Syndicate, and when the heroes escape Firestorm, they clean up the Syndicate’s army of whatever metas-of-the-week the producers could round up.

The perks: Given the sheer volume of villains cranked out by the four shows, some of them were bound to be great. Some of them, sure, are utterly forgettable, but enough aren’t that it would be fun to see them all brought together. Legends of Tomorrow’s Legion of Doom taught us that, and this time we’d get to root for them.

And man, could Wentworth Miller sell the shit out of how Captain Cold took out Johnny Quick (not pictured: his cold gun is voice activated).

Why they might not do it: …Now that I look at it that is a lot of guest stars. A daunting amount of guest stars. Even if John Barrowman and Wentworth Miller renew their contracts to appear on all four shows.

The dream casting: Yeah… this one wouldn’t be cheap. So they might not be able to throw a lot of money at casting the Crime Syndicate. But as long as I’m dreaming the impossible dream here… Tyler Hoechlin is already Superman on Supergirl, let him be Ultraman; Smallville’s Lois Lane, Erica Durance, as Superwoman; see if you can pry Mark Sheppard off Supernatural for a week to be Owlman; I don’t have strong opinions about Johnny Quick, Atomica, or Power Ring, so save money on them; and for Deathstorm, either have Robbie Amell reprise Ronnie Raymond, or make him a stunt man with Victor Garber/Martin Stein’s voice. Ooh, the second one. That. Do that.

*Except Vixen, Hawkgirl, and Hawkman, but that won’t happen. Maybe there’ll be a reference to those three fighting and losing against Johnny Quick and Atomica. Sure, that.

3. The Darkness Within

If guest stars are a problem, why not go with a menace that lets you just use who you have handy?

One of the great tragedies of Constantine’s too-soon cancellation is that they appeared to be getting the pieces in play for a grudge match between DC’s two spirits of vengeance: the often-brutal but usually noble Spectre, embodiment of God’s wrath, and the villainous Eclipso, a former god of vengeance who was imprisoned in a black diamond for going too far.

It’s that second one I want to call attention to here. Back in the early 90s, DC reinvented Eclipso from a lame 60s villain (who only had powers during a solar eclipse) to a dark god capable of possessing anyone who felt anger while touching one of his black gems. Or sometimes manifest himself as the embodiment of their rage. It depends on– not important, not important, started heading down a rabbit hole there.

The pitch: The DEO finds a black gem, and most of the DEO ends up possessed. Kara makes a deal with Eclipso: if he releases her friends, Kara will take their place. Stupid deal, stupid, stupid deal, but it worked on Superman in the comics. As a last ditch defense, as the possession takes hold, Winn sends her to Earth-1, in the hopes that Barry and Oliver can find a way to neutralize her (Guess Superman’s off-planet again, why not). Problem is… Earth-1 has an Eclipso too, and soon they’re both loose, and possessing heroes and villains of Star City, Central City, and the Waverider left and right.

Who can help them bring a magical vengeance god to heel? Who else?

John Constantine to the rescue.

The perks: In addition to fixing the whole “it’s been too long since Constantine has been on one of these shows” problem, unleashing Eclipso saves money on guest stars by having hero fight hero, and it also gives the writers a fun way to progress story lines. Eclipso feeds on his victims’ rage, so this crossover would let every little festering grudge and problem anyone has with anyone else burst out in violent glory. Even after Eclipso is defeated, the underlying problems that he lights a match to will provide story fodder for either the fall finales or the back halves of the season.

Why they might not do it: …Well, would it really take four episodes to tell this one? It could, but you’d have to put some effort into it not getting stale.

Dream casting: Assuming Eclipso manages to manifest at some point, this here is a job for James Marsters, master of the deliciously fun-to-watch charming evil.

Closing speed round

  • The heroes of the four shows get trapped in a grudge match between extradimensional imps Mxyzptlk and Music Meister. Sounds stupid saying it out loud but hey, it could be fun, and maybe introduce Jakeem Thunder.
  • Shenanigans involving the Legion of Superheroes, who have been hinted at on both Flash and Supergirl, and are from the future, which brings in the Legends.
  • An adaptation of Armageddon 2001 (written back in 1991, when 2001 still felt like the far future), in which a time traveler named Waverider (not a coincidence) came back to 1991 to read the futures of the DC heroes in order to learn which one would become the villainous Monarch, turn on their friends, and conquer the world. It was obviously Captain Atom until the last second when it suddenly wasn’t.

What will they actually do? I could not begin to guess. I don’t think they know yet. Like anyone else, they probably want to put this season to bed before thinking about the next one. But they obviously have some love for DC lore, so here’s hoping it’s close to one of these.

Dan Watches Iron Fist (So You Don’t Have To) Vol. 4

And at last, we enter endgame.

I’ll take back a brewing accusation about Davos: he is not the new Diamondback. The big problem with Diamondback in Luke Cage was that while Diamondback the arms dealer had been foreshadowed, Willis Stryker, Luke’s childhood best friend/secret half brother/Spectre-style architect of all of his pain, had not. This supposed key figure to Luke’s backstory leapt up to shout “It was me all along!” out of absolutely nowhere, and seized the third-act reins from better, more compelling villains.

And that ain’t Davos. First of all, Davos has been teased throughout the season. He’s a key character in Danny’s happier K’un-Lun memories. And second, he’s the culmination of something that’s been brewing since Danny’s duel with Gao’s quartet of assassins.

That being, the Iron Fist has abandoned his post.

Davos is here to represent the fact that Danny is supposed to be guarding the entrance to K’un-Lun. It’s a dull and unsatisfying job, since for 15 years at a time there’s no way in, so it’s a lot of standing next to a pile of rocks near a sort of convincing backdrop (the brief glimpses we get of K’un-Lun this episode tell a story about why the show has taken a tell-don’t-show approach to Danny’s time there), but that doesn’t change the fact that he knew what the job was, went after it, and when it wasn’t super-satisfying he ran away the second that became possible.

Davos, who also trained his whole life to be the Iron Fist, is absolutely justified in being pissed off that the guy who beat him to it has gone AWOL.

I mean, we’re not supposed to think he should go guard a pass, we’re supposed to think his greater destiny is protecting New York and maybe being best pals with Luke Cage, but they are not making a case for this so far. Danny Rand barely seems qualified to guard a 7-11 in a nice neighbourhood, let alone a city. Or even whatever the people who have Daredevil saying “I just want to make my city a better place” and then keep him squared away in a two-square kilometre neighbourhood think a city is.

Now Bakuto, he’s more of a Diamondback. We had a perfectly serviceable villain in Gao and her Hand faction, then in the third act Bakuto pops up with virtually no set-up and steals the whole A-plot. We get three whole episodes to try to wrap our heads around what this Hand faction is and what they want, and this was already confusing enough when the original Hand story in Daredevil still makes no sense at all.

If The Hand are going to be the villains in The Defenders, the writers had better be putting some work into figuring out what the hell they even are or why they do anything they do.

Plus, we can add to the list of stolen plot points. They stole “ruin Elektra” from Daredevil, stole “last second villain with no context” from Luke Cage, and “No, that was a different Hydra” from Agents of SHIELD. Seriously now. Steal a plot that worked if you must steal at all.

Episode 11

Episode eleven in a nutshell… after Claire patches up Danny and has words with Colleen about how The Hand were a bag of dicks during Daredevil so why does she think they’re so great, Danny and Davos meet up with Joy and Harold Meachum, who have a plan… since Gao and now Davos haved been laundering all their money through Rand Enterprises, Joy can steal everything back and shut all of their accounts. Their money gone, Bakuto will come looking for it, at which point Danny and Davos will off him.

Joy does not love this plan. Neither the murdering nor her father’s newfound enthusiasm for murdering. Joy would have been happier turning Bakuto over to the SEC and being done with it. But she goes along with the plan because her twice-resurrected father hasn’t been taking “No” very well.

Colleen chooses not to give up Danny’s location to Bakuto, which gets he scooped up by her Hand-loyalist students when she tries to get Danny some anti-biotics. Bakuto expresses disappointment in her choices and commands her students to steal all of her blood. For whatever it is The Hand does with all that blood they steal. Resurrect Elektra to be their secret weapon or whatever, who the hell knows. Colleen escapes just in time to run past Danny so that he can see her and blow the whole “Stake out the compound until Bakuto shows up” plan, because the episode wouldn’t be complete if Danny didn’t screw something up.

Here’s what’s interesting.

This is the first time that we’ve really looked at why Danny is so catastrophically flawed as a hero and as a person. Why he’s dangerously impulsive, quick to anger, and sometimes flies off the handle faster than Wilson Fisk if you interrupt his dinner date. Or for anyone who somehow didn’t watch Daredevil but is still reading this, faster than Donald Trump if you block his Muslim ban. Why every time he remembers his past he grips his head like he’s having a grand mal ice cream headache, something most people who aren’t Rain Man aren’t known for doing.

As Claire learns from Davos, the monks of K’un-Lun are trained to repress all emotion. To take any feelings (like, say, Davos’ anger over Danny being chosen over him as Iron Fist and then bolting) and bury them deep down. Maybe in the ancient times this seemed like a good idea, but… Danny was 10 years old when his plane crashed and he watched his parents die, only to be taken to a monastery where his life involved being beaten with sticks by his new guardians. Danny is sitting on a volcano of trauma and suppressed rage that the monks of K’un-Lun have not only not given him the tools to process, they’ve pushed him farther from processing than you could get with a map and a mission statement. No wonder he’s spent the last few episodes on the verge of a psychotic episode. No wonder he’s so fixated on “avenge my parents” that the idea now ends “by wiping The Hand from the Earth.”

It’s an interesting revelation, and it explains a few things. However, like Bakuto, it is staggeringly late to the party. Danny’s been screwing up too long and too often for this to turn the tide here, right before the end.

(You’d think learning to express and release his emotions is what lets him re-access and properly wield the Iron Fist. Nope. He just, I don’t know, tries harder or something.)

Episode 12

Right off the bat things feel repetitive. Like episode two, someone is strapped to a bed in the exact same mental hospital (with, according to last episode, the exact same doctor, who seems awfully blasé about his last patient punching through a wall and leaving) with a story too crazy to be believed. But this time it’s Ward (turnabout being fair play), and his extreme withdrawal from the synth-heroin manages to make “My father isn’t really dead” seem even crazier than “A literal dragon gave me super powers.”

(I mean it’s post-Avengers New York, super powers are probably way more common than fathers coming back to life, but the dragon part did not help.)

(And no I will not call it post-“Incident,” that is an awful name for the Battle of New York and you cannot convince me Americans would use it. The BBC, sure, but not New Yorkers.)

Bakuto recruits Ward to kill Harold and trap Danny, and we cut to Danny, Davos, and Colleen, who have the exact same “She’s Hand, we can’t trust her” conversation that’s been happening for two episodes, and frankly even the cast seem to be getting bored of it. The whole “Take Bakuto’s money to draw him out” plan falls apart immediately, but not simply because Danny spotted Colleen and lost focus. No, Bakuto was already springing Ward “Remember when I was the biggest asshole on this show” Meachum from the asylum by then. It’s simply that the good guys are bad at everything and the bad guys can magically appear anywhere and do anything they need to.

In other words I’m not super impressed with how the episode is starting. Ward tries to get Joy away from their father, but even without withdrawal symptoms, Ward is incapable of acting like a calm, rational, non-garbage person, so the murder-happy lich father seems like the winning side all the way until Ward pulls a gun. Which is when Bakuto shows up, like Ward arranged, but before Joy is clear, which wasn’t the deal.

Ward’s deal with Bakuto falls apart immediately, as anyone but Ward could have predicted, and soon Danny’s turning himself in to Bakuto to save Joy and Harold’s lives. You know, my second least favourite plot device from last season. The hostage scenes were a little tiresome, because Bakuto is not pulling off “smug” the way a Tom Hiddleston or Neal McDonough would, and that’s all he’s being given to play with, but Harold spending what he thought were his last moments telling Ward he’s a piece of shit and complete disappointment were satisfying. Fortunately, Colleen and Davos ain’t having with this “surrender to Bakuto” nonsense, and come for the rescue the second everyone’s out in the open. Also Danny managed three whole seconds of Iron Fisting, enough to escape handcuffs then go limp trying to hit Bakuto. Insert fail trumpet.

We now hit a kind of problematically stupid sequence. Colleen fights and defeats Bakuto in a suitably over-dramatic rain-soaked duel, then immediately jumps on board with Claire’s “killing is wrong” philosophy and wants to turn Bakuto over to the cops.

There’s a scene in one of the Assassin’s Creed games, where after your epic boss fight against your greatest enemy, the man who had half your family killed, then installed himself as Pope, Ezio Auditore suddenly decides that he’s done with killing (he’s not, he has two more games left). Which… I’m not saying I don’t see his point, but… you have to kill like a dozen guards just to get to this fight. They are all still dead. Maybe this isn’t the time to rethink killing. Maybe that was several dead bodies ago.

I bring this up because Bakuto had a half-dozen bodyguards, and most of them are dead now. Sure, most of that was Davos, but Colleen came at them with a sword, her hands are not clean.

Fortunately for anyone who’s sick of Bakuto’s smug face, Davos doesn’t pick up what Danny and Colleen are putting down, and manages to casually stroll 10 feet, pick up a sword or knife, and shove it into Davos’ heart before anyone thinks to object. Unfortunately, Davos wasn’t around five minutes ago when Bakuto was explaining that you have to take off his head to kill him for good as long as Hand resurrectionists are lurking around, so there’s a non-zero chance he’s back in season two.

Although that can only hurt us if we’re stupid enough to watch it, I guess.

What follows is a surprisingly well-done fight between Danny and Davos with a surprisingly well done emotional conclusion (“surprisingly” because they’ve been consistently screwing both of those things up), in which Danny, in victory, apologizes for leaving Davos without saying anything, which is what he believes Davos is really upset about. Hey, if they wanted to commit to “Davos loved Danny as more than a monk brother,” I’m good with that. But forgiveness isn’t coming, as Davos reminds Danny that the pass to K’un-Lun is unguarded, and that will have consequences.

But is it? That place is filled with people who can fight as well as these two and it is a narrow-ass path, I feel like they could manage this without the Iron Fist for however long it’s open every 15 years. But whatever.

But in any event… Bakuto and Gao are defeated, the Meachums are safe, Danny can Iron Fist again, he a Colleen do a kata to hip hop music which makes them more endearing as a couple than their sex scene… everything’s good, right? Roll credits, show’s over, see everyone again for The Defenders in a few months?

HA! We should be so fucking lucky.

No, Harold sicks the DEA on Danny, having pinned the whole Rand Enterprises drug trade on him. You know, the one that was in full force when Danny was presumed dead and not affiliated with the company.

Because God forbid this show actually commit to a main villain. I know the Meachums haven’t exactly always been on the side of the angels, but there are 53 minutes left in season one, it’s a little late in the game to be pulling this. God damn it.

Fine. Just… just end it, Iron Fist. Just end it. Let’s move on to…

Episode 13

In which a horrific yet bland mishmash of a season attempts a satisfactory conclusion, but doesn’t.

So we have two things happening at Rand Enterprises. Danny Rand is being accused of using his company to traffick heroin, despite having a cumulative, maybe, 18 minutes at said company between being given enough influence to do this and having it taken back for making too many socially conscious decisions. Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t peddling drugs, lots of criminals can put on a friendly public face, but how would he have had time to set this whole network up? And how do they explain it going back more than two weeks if Danny’s behind it? Meanwhile, Harold is trying to take back control, despite having been legally dead for 13 years, which means the second he swaggers into a board room he ought to be under arrest for fraud and tax evasion. And that’s before he announces his plan to have the company sell both Gao’s synthetic heroin and Bakuto’s cure for synthetic heroin addiction, which… if that’s still happening, how would anyone at the DEA still think Danny was responsible for it all?

Remember in Luke Cage, when Diamondback put on a hoodie, killed a cop, and ran off screaming “I’m Luke Cage! Luke Cage, argle bargle bargle, Luke CAAAAAGE!” and it was the laziest frame-job ever? Well it still is but this one is really close and requires massive incompetence at the DEA to pull off. I mean, did they investigate this anonymous tip-off even a little before storming Colleen’s dojo to arrest New York’s most noble businessman? You know how much work it took to get Wilson Fisk into jail? And he was actually committing crimes!

Jesus this is lame. And we haven’t made it to the opening credits.

Let’s recap… at first, our obvious villain was childhood bully and adult asshole Ward “Rooted for the snobs in Caddyshack” Meachum. Then it was Gao and her drug-peddling Hand troops. Then from out of absolutely nowhere came Bakuto and his other Hand troops, because The Hand almost made sense for a second there. And now, in the end, it’s Harold Meachum, who turns out to be the real killer of Danny’s parents.

It is impossible to get a grip on this narrative. Everyone has been a villain at one point or another except Danny and Claire. Everyone has been an ally at one point or another except Dared–

That was a close one.

Everyone but Claire has betrayed Danny, everyone has betrayed someone else for Danny. It’s like they pick their allegiance out of a hat at the start of each episode. And our one stable thing, our rock at the centre of this mess, is World’s Worst Superhero Danny Rand, who is still having psychotic breaks every time he even thinks about his origin story.

So our agonisingly slow last episode mainly deals with Danny, Colleen, Claire, and Ward taking on Harold while Joy decides she’s had enough of all of them. The obvious answer would be for Ward to turn Harold in for the above mentioned fraud and tax evasions, then helpfully point them to Harold’s safe when they subsequently conduct a legal search of his office and secret penthouse lair. But that’s not what we’re doing. Ward gets eyes on Harold, but gets clubbed for being on the wrong side, leaving Danny, Colleen, and Claire alone to break into Rand Enterprises…

…in order to find the evidence they need to clear Danny of the (mostly*) false charges against him…

*I mean he did assault some officers and resist arrest. That did happen.

…while Claire begins to be concerned that an unhinged Danny and ex-ninja death cult member Colleen might kill Harold in the process…

…sorry I can’t do it call Daredevil call Daredevil CALL DAREDEVIL WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, CLAIRE, THIS SHOW HAS RUINED YOU…

[deep breath]

Well if you thought that little break was bad imagine spending half an hour with “ice cream headache” Danny constantly flipping out about his parents. Anyway. Big fight, some cool Iron Fist tricks we hadn’t seen yet, Danny beats but refuses to kill Harold (I mean he impales him on a metal rod but we all know that’s not lethal for Harold at this point), so Ward does it. Turns out that in addition to being beheaded, Harold can be killed through the traditional 80s Movie Villain Death: falling a long way onto something pointy. Big happy ending?

Well, let’s see.

Davos meets with Joy, claiming that Danny destroys everything he touches, and it’s his fault Joy’s life has gone crazy, so they should kill him. She’s not opposed to the notion. Someone rational might point out that her father working with a ninja death cult to sell drugs probably had more to do with it, and that if anything her family has been destructive to hisbut that person is not at the meeting– well, they are, but it’s Gao, and she’s really just eavesdropping.

Ward has made a full 180 from where we came in, and asks Danny to run the company with him. Where has this halfway decent person been this whole time?

Danny begins to decide that maybe his purpose is fighting injustice out in the world, not guarding the path to K’un-Lun until he dies, which would put him on course to being Iron Fist the Less Terrible Superhero… but decides he should still go back and explain himself. He and Colleen make their way to the path… only to find dead Hand soldiers in front of a giant gap where K’un-Lun is supposed to be.

Danny immediately blames himself and begins a spiral into self-hatred, paving the way for a second season of Danny being utterly insufferable, and ensuring that nobody in The Defenders is “the fun one.”

Can we have one Defender not driven by sulky, broody guilt. Between the four of them, plus Flash and Green Arrow this season, it’s getting played out. That show is going to be moody, isn’t it…

It’s, at best, a very slightly more satisfying ending than Luke Cage.

So. Let’s sum up.

Iron Fist as a whole…

  • Danny Rand is an absolute failure as a protagonist. He’s hard to root for, he does zero things well, he’s impulsive, his entire supporting cast can’t stop pointing out how bad he is at this and they’re always right… frankly, even if Tumblr had had its way and they’d cast an Asian, all that would have happened is that Marvel’s first Asian live-action superhero would be their absolute worst superhero. Is that what you want, Asian community? Maybe. I don’t speak for you. None of you would be on board with that.
  • Their inability to pick a main villain makes for an extremely sloppy season arc. Is there even a season arc? Is there a through-line on this? There is no natural flow at all.
  • Bakuto not only came from nowhere, he added nothing to this show except compromising Colleen as a character. The Hand was confusing enough without the whole “multiple factions” angle. Every other plot point could have been done as well or better by Gao, Harold, Davos, or leaving it out completely.
  • Ward’s redemptive arc would have worked better if it had started earlier, because in episode 12 he was still a total putz.
  • Did Claire and Matt Murdock really leave things on such bad terms? I’m going to need a scene in Defenders where she at least tries to explain what Matt did that was so goddamn bad she’d rather fight The Hand herself than call him. A week ago, Claire Temple was the best part of the Defenders franchise. Now she’s a stubborn idiot too proud to call in assistance. I’ll say it again for the kids in the bleachers: if you don’t want Daredevil to show up, don’t create circumstances where it’s obvious that he should.
  • The Netflix model makes the above point worse. There are times on Flash and Arrow when “Call the other guy” seems like it would at least help fix everything, but at least both shows are happening at the same time: we can see what Oliver and Barry are busy with in their own cities. I have no Earthly idea what Matt Murdock’s been doing since season two that he couldn’t help out with Diamondback’s rampage or The Hand taking over Manhattan.
  • The fights were too bad for too long, and there is still a serious problem with lighting, or rather the lack thereof.
  • The Meachum family drama was dead air too often.
  • Everything that happens in season one depends on characters making the worst choices they can, or the villains having magic plot powers that lets them pull whatever they need to.
  • I’m not saying I needed an entire episode of flashbacks to Danny’s 15 years of training. Lordy did I ever not need or want that. But Danny entering a magic cave to fight a dragon to earn the Iron Fist? That you could have found time for. Maybe instead of a second entire episode of “No, you can’t be Danny, he died.” I don’t know what your budget went to that wasn’t that but come on.
  • Between the above point, the lackluster and infrequent action, and spending more time than necessary on boardroom… and I use this word loosely enough to offend its people… “intrigue,” it feels like the showrunners were entirely ill-suited to the concept.

There were fleeting moments where you could see a better show struggling to free itself from the bland tomb it’s sealed into, but then Danny would think about the plane crash and have another rage-headache and we’d be stuck back in this show.

So in short…

It’s bad.

It’s really quite bad.

You wrote a bad show, Scott Buck. Go to your room and think about what you did.

Dan Watches Iron Fist (So You Don’t Have To) Vol. 3

I have talked in the past about one of the primary divides between Marvel Netflix and the DCW/Flarrow-verse… the DCW-verse (post-Flash) embraces all things comic booky, like superpowers and time travel and alternate Earths and rampaging man-sharks. Meanwhile, Marvel Netflix runs as far from that as they can, working to be as grounded and realistic as shows about bulletproof black men or super-strong PIs fighting a mind-controlling psychopath can be. They’re so averse to seeming comic booky that their every Easter egg is delivered with a grimace from the characters, and people talk about “the incredible green guy” like they’ll get sued if they say “Hulk.”

In the past, I haven’t placed value judgements on either approach, understanding that superstrong hyperintelligent telepathic gorillas might not be everyone’s particular taste in whiskey. But in this case, I’m doing it.

If you don’t want your show to be too “comic booky,” maybe you shouldn’t be doing a show about a magic kung fu master fighting a ninja cult.

This is comic book Iron Fist.

He is a full-fledged superhero with a costume and, this is important, a mask. TV Iron Fist is that guy from college who got super into ultimate frisbee, smoked a ton of weed, did a semester abroad, and won’t stop talking about how it “changed his life.”

Arrow did the “I must save my company, but also I must save my city” plotline back in season two, but they did it better, as Oliver Queen actually cared enough about his company that it didn’t take him two episodes to find out they’d given him the boot, and had two identities he needed to juggle, one of which he tried to keep secret from his enemies. Danny Rand, meanwhile, strolls around his office building saying “Hey, anyone know anything about the evil ninja cult that’s using us to sell heroin?” and expecting to be taken seriously. He’s also meeting up with said evil ninjas, maskless, and saying “Hey there, I’m Danny Rand, yes, the one from the news, I’m also the Iron Fist, here to destroy you, and here’s my current address,” and then acting surprised that Madame Gao starts threatening his friends.

I know secret identities haven’t been Marvel Studios’ thing since Tony Stark ended his first movie by announcing his identity to the press. I know that they’re so averse to masks and secret identities and codenames as a concept that Sam Wilson has been in four movies but has been called “Falcon” exactly once. But it’s time they got over it. Danny Rand not even considering having a secret identity, then being upset that his friends are in danger because of him, just makes him look like an idiot.

You’re adapting comic books. Stop being ashamed of that and learn the tropes.

Anyway. On to the back six, which even on better shows have sometimes felt like a long road to the conclusion.

Episode Eight

Our second way in which not being comic-booky is actively making this show worse: on a better comic book show, Ward “donkey punches are too vanilla” Meachum would be riding an experimental rocket sled and hurling around pumpkin bombs by now. Instead, a ragged-looking Ward comes to his father’s penthouse with the necessary equipment to cover up his patricide, and when he finds Danny there, acts surprised that his father is apparently dead, and not only lets Danny take the blame (or rather, take the blame for his theory that The Hand did it), but says everything he can to make it worse and drive Danny away.

And while he does have a point that his life has become increasingly worse since Danny showed up, it is really just his lifetime of non-stop assholery coming back to bite him. But we can’t expect a man who, in the words of John Stewart, survives on an IV drip of angel blood and panda tears to be self-aware enough to see that.

But let’s stop piling on human red flag Ward for the time being, and start piling on walking bad choice Danny Rand. His approaches to every problem are the solutions of a child. He tries to push around Rand Enterprises with all the understanding of stock price and corporate procedures that a tenth-grade education and 15 years of kung fu training can provide. Selling medicine at cost? Not so terrible, no. Closing a chemical plant without firing anyone? I’m as liberal as they come, pro-environment and anti-corporate, but even I know that’s beyond impractical. It’s more of a childish, simplistic pipe dream than Arrow’s recent, laughably vague, “Common sense gun control that respects ownership and safety” cop-out non-answer.

And as for fighting The Hand… even Ward is poking holes in his strategy. Ward, who is spiralling into some sort of blend of Lady Macbeth and the dude from The Telltale Heart, sounds more together and responsible than Danny when he asks why Danny thought an international criminal empire could be brought down by taking out one drug lab, or in Ward’s words, “breaking a few test tubes.” Danny sees his point, but when he meets up with Colleen and Claire, his new plan isn’t better… go to China, find Gao, and… grab her or something. He hasn’t really figured out his endgame, and Claire is fast to call him on every stupid call he’s making. Still, she and Colleen both insist on going to China with him, despite his lacking even 12% of a plan.

Claire doesn’t call Daredevil. Claire will not call Daredevil. I’ll stop complaining about it, but just know that I remain very, very cross about it. How about this… every time I get angry about Claire not calling Daredevil, I’ll just post a picture of a corgi.

Feeling better already.

Before we cut to them on the flight, we check back in with the Meachum siblings. Ward wants to sign the severance agreement and be done with Rand Enterprises (presumably to focus on his ongoing nervous breakdown), Joy wants to fight to stay in control… or so she tells us in a speech that’s so ham-fisted it’s not allowed within ten miles of a synagogue. There’s… there aren’t words. That speech was written an hour before they shot and everyone involved said “Eh, it’s fine, just shoot the stupid thing.”

Away from the corporate filler plot with no compelling reason to exist, and onto the plane, where Danny understandably freaks out about turbulence. Claire questions Danny about his and Colleen’s relationship, sensing that last episode they looked deeply into each other’s eyes and thought “Eh, this might as well happen,” before having the kind of sex movie characters have to indicate their lives are in a rut. This devolves into an argument over the ethics of killing: Claire’s “murder is always wrong” vs Colleen’s “Be less naive, bitch.” Well, that’s the gist of it. One turbulence-induced panic attack/flashback later, the trio is in a part of China that looks just like industrial New York.

Joy and Ward– I don’t care I don’t care I DON’T CARE these two are dead air when Danny’s not around… okay. Deep breaths. That’s only mostly true. Like, 80%. Joy wants to blackmail the board, Ward almost tells her about how their father has been dead for way less time than she thinks, but one more Lady M blood vision and he runs off shouting hurtful, asshole things. Classic Ward exit.

In China, we get our best fight yet, thanks not to Danny but to his drunken-master opponent, a Hand guard who sounds like he’s in a revival of Oliver Twist. “Cor blimey, I’m a servant of The ‘And, innit?” But drunk as he may be, he gives Danny a good working over before Danny spontaneously goes into a rage and beats him half to death.

Seriously, Danny’s inept as a hero and unravelling as a person almost as fast as Ward. Our protagonist, ladies and gents.

In the end he swallows his “She killed my parents” rage and takes Gao prisoner, with no legal status to do so, no plan, the tactics of an unbalanced four-year-old, and a big, fat, “fuck you” waiting for him at Rand Enterprises. (He values that place so much he hasn’t even noticed they kicked him off the board yet.) This should go great. This will all be fine. Nevermind the fact that when the villain is captured this far before the end it always, always blows up in the hero’s face.

Flash and Harrison Wells had a similar kill/don’t kill argument about Grodd a few weeks back. It worked much better than this one. Maybe because Claire’s “Killing is wrong” argument falls slightly flat when you consider that the rest of The Defenders franchise is watering it down to “Killing is wrong… unless it’s Kilgrave. Or the head of The Hand. Or if it’s Elektra doing it next to you. Or if Frank Castle’s doing it to someone you either really hate, or someone who’s Asian. Or if it’s Frank Castle doing it as the star of his own show in a year or two.” Throw in The Avengers and it’s exceptions for… everyone. Just everyone. The Avengers kill constantly.

Basically, Claire advocating against killing the bad guy feels hollow when Marvel Studios decided “Nah, killing is fine” over five years ago, and only one out of four Defenders-based seasons has successfully argued otherwise. I don’t think Iron Fist sparing Gao is going to put the genie back in that bottle.

(Sure, Oliver Queen has dropped his share of bodies, but at least they started giving him crap about that almost right away. Hell, the fifth season is about the damage his murder-happy past is causing.)

Also, half-hearted points for connecting to the other Defenders this episode. The character choice not to even try to involve New York’s leading Hand-fighting vigilante remains breathtakingly stupid, but Claire has been reading and re-reading a letter that’s pretty clearly from Luke Cage, and it’s heavily implied that Joy got her blackmail material from Jessica Jones.

Episode Nine

Maybe now’s a good time to talk about what a failure Danny Rand has been as a hero and a protagonist. Or rather, elaborate. I know I just covered this but there’s more. The Hand have been quick to point out that the job of the Iron Fist is to defend K’un-Lun, which is easier to do when you’re actually in it. Danny fought to earn the position, then once he had it, abandoned his post to go back home. Sure, he is actually fighting K’un-Lun’s sworn enemy, but let’s not pretend he left the magical Brigadooning monastery to hunt The Hand down. He left for selfish reasons then just happened to trip over them in the process. That he is even vaguely fulfilling his duties as Iron Fist is merely blind, stinking, doodah luck.

And now we join him having renditioned Gao to New York with amazing ease (rich white guys aren’t known for being held up by customs, I guess), and tied her to a chair in Colleen’s dojo (which she meekly protests, “meekly protesting” being the sum total of her agency in this scene) so that he can interrogate her about his parents’ deaths. Gao, Colleen, and Claire all raise two very valid questions: 1) what exactly is his plan to make her talk, and 2) is there even a point. What will these answers accomplish. Danny does not have compelling answers to these questions, because that would involve Danny having had a single itty-bitty clue about anything he’s done so far. He doesn’t know how to make Gao talk (Claire suggests he steal truth serum from Rand HQ, because sure, they obviously have that lying around), he can’t tell us why this is so important right now, and when he bumps into Joy on the way he’s stunned to hear they’ve been ousted. He did precisely two things at Rand other than hunt evil ninjas, neither was popular, both were unprofitable, and yet he’s mystified as to how this happened.

He’s a giant bag of suck at this point. It’s episode nine. It’s past time for him to have done something, anything, to prove his worth as the central character of this show.

Moving along.

I’ve talked about Harold Meachum having “faked his death.” This is not 100% accurate. He did die, but made an arrangement to have The Hand bring him back, which is why he was under their thumb. I bring this up now because when The Hand resurrects you, afterwards you don’t die easily. As such, Harold is back among the living, but he ain’t quite right in the head. Sure he’s eager to make amends with Ward, but he’s also gotten a little crazier and murderier than we left him, as his faithful assistant Kyle finds out when he turns down on offer of fancy ice cream. Ward’s at his least dickish this episode (though still on the drugs), but Harold is becoming a problem. If this means Harold Meachum has a concrete role in the end of the season, I’m for it.

After Danny breaks into Rand HQ to steal drugs (again… our hero), things go pear-shaped at the dojo. Colleen’s been poisoned, Gao gets into just everyone’s heads, and some sort of military team breaks into the dojo to claim Gao. Guess The Hand is getting over ninjas. Danny, poisoned Colleen, and Claire fight off the soldiers, and Colleen’s sensei Bakuto shows up.

We’ve seen him once before. I didn’t mention him because he made very little impression. I can’t even remember what he and Colleen discussed. Turns out he knows more about Iron Fistery than Danny does. Guess Danny had a couple of lessons left when he decided to swan off and reclaim his company instead of doing his job.

So Danny happened to bump into someone in episode one whose sensei happens to be an expert in K’un-Lun and reveals this exactly when it’s most needed in episode nine. As coincidences go, this one is extremely weak from a narrative perspective. If Claire had called Matt Murdock–

Sorry.

–and Matt had called Stick and Stick had known enough about Iron Fisticuffs to help them from here, that makes sense, it builds the world, it gets us closer to Defenders. Colleen’s sensei, who we met precisely once, happening to be the exact expert they need? That’s lazy writing.

Anyway, Danny heals Colleen but is burnt out, barely able to stand, let alone Iron Fist. Claire is left alone…

I begin to get concerned how fast I’m burning through corgis.

…while Colleen and Bakuto drive off with Danny, and Bakuto’s people (who I guess he has?) take Gao.

And Ward gets arrested for having drugs in his car, right after meeting with the Triads to find out if his dad can be killed, and learning Harold will probably try to kill either Ward or Joy. Either Ward is right, and Harold planted actual heroin in the car, or the writers already forgot that the synthetic heroin is so chemically removed from the real stuff it’s not even illegal. Let’s be charitable and assume it’s the first thing. This paves the way for Harold to let Joy into his secret penthouse when she comes looking for answers. It is… an awkward reunion.

Also there’s a creepy guy stalking around Rand Enterprises and the dojo, clearly looking for Danny, who can make actually dangerous origami throwing stars out of tin foil. More on him next episode, but I want to flag something. We know he’s after Danny because he’s giving the side-eye to an issue of Forbes with Danny on the cover.

Danny has been back at Rand for a week and a half. And he has been in the office for maybe 12 minutes. When did he do a photoshoot for Forbes? At what point did Forbes decide this was worth a story, send a reporter to get said story, arrange a photoshoot with Danny, and make it to print? When he was hanging around Colleen’s dojo waiting for it to be dark enough to raid the pier? While he was recruiting the Triads to bust up a drug lab? Were they on the plane while he was extrodinarliy renditioning Gao? It makes no sense. Between this and Daredevil’s second season covering half a year despite only having three weeks of plot, tops, it’s like Marvel Netflix writers don’t know how time works on top of not knowing how big Manhattan is.

God damn this show is stupid.

Episode Ten

Double digits. Home stretch. I can make it. I can do this. Deep breaths.

I’ve often said that when your characters are complaining about your plot holes, that’s not a great sign. Keep that in mind when I say that Danny pointing out that Colleen didn’t mention Bakuto for like seven episodes doesn’t make up for we, the audience, being blindsided by his arrival.

And it gets worse.

Turns out that Bakuto is also part of The Hand, just a different branch than Gao (who I guess is also in a different branch than Daredevil’s Nobu?). And Colleen has known the whole time, acting as a sleeper agent working Danny (well, it’s unclear when that started, so the ridiculous coincidence complaint may hold up). So in episode ten, Colleen and Bakuto become the very worst parts of Daredevil (Elektra goes from badass female character to pawn with no agency torn between the male hero and the male villain) and Luke Cage (Diamondback, ie. sudden betrayal from a supposedly important character who literally just showed up out of nowhere with no context).

Come on, Iron Fist, if you’re going to steal from your siblings, steal the good stuff.

There’s a very half-hearted attempt to convince Danny that these are the good Hand soldiers, as opposed to the bad ones that Gao was leading (no mention of Nobu but I’m past expecting it). He doesn’t buy it, and we who’ve known them as an evil ninja death cult since Daredevil last year certainly don’t buy it. So it only exists to accelerate Colleen’s slide into simpering pawn, a fraction of what her character once was.

Danny gets some help escaping from the guy who was stalking him last episode, who bursts to his aid, saying (accurately) “You are the worst Iron Fist ever.” It turns out to be Danny’s best pal from K’un-Lun, Davos. He’s come up a couple of times in Danny’s stories, which keeps him from being a second full-on Diamondback. The second thing that could do that is having him not betray Danny but I think we all know that’s too much to ask. He tells a wounded Danny that since he’s made zero progress against The Hand, can’t summon the Iron Fist (because he’s angry and confused and whatnot and it’s messing with his Chi), and has left an exposed K’un-Lun defenceless (save for its population of exclusively warrior monks), he is a complete and utter failure. He’s 100% correct in this, and it’s hard to react the way I think they want me to, since Danny hasn’t done one thing vaguely competently in ten episodes, so I’m just happy he’s getting called out on it.

He’s bad at being the Iron Fist, he’s bad at being the protagonist of a TV show, he should not have either job. There are three episodes left to convince me otherwise. I am not optimistic.

Oh, right, also Harold kills the board member who hates Danny and the Meachums, and makes it look like suicide (despite the wound screaming “homicide” to me), letting Joy (somehow) talk the remaining board members into reinstating her and Ward… and accidentally Danny as well. Don’t think she intended that. Harold sneaks out of admitting his role in the board member’s death (she only asks if he “had him killed,” not “did you kill him”), and tells joy they’re gonna have to go after Bakuto. Sure, why not.

Frankly, this “rival Hand” business only makes it harder to get a grip on who The Hand are, what they want, and why they do anything they do. And given they’re being set up as the main villains of The Defenders, that’s a problem.

Final note… a video Bakuto has shows that the Iron Fist of 1948 knew to wear a mask. I guess Danny skipped that part of his training as well. God this sack of patchouli is an idiot. the trick isn’t going to be having Davos decide Danny shouldn’t be the Iron Fist, the trick is going to be finding literally any way to make us think he’s wrong.

Three more. How much worse can it get? Guess we’ll find out.

Dan Watches Iron Fist (So You Don’t Have To) Vol. 2

And we continue.

Episode Five

I’m not saying that “Long lost rich kid comes home, returns to his company, tries to mend their greedy corporate ways” can’t be a good show. I’m merely saying it is not the show we were promised. So when half of episode five is devoted to Joy dealing with a class action suit claiming their chemical plant causes cancer, I am already a little annoyed at you, Iron Fist.

After explaining to the opposing lawyer and grieving family members that even if their chemical plant did give all of those people cancer, they didn’t break the law… okay pause button. I’m no big-city lawyer, but in a civil suit, does that matter? OJ was sued, successfully, for wrongful death despite being acquitted of those murders. If a link can be found between the plant and cancer rates, isn’t that the ballgame? Does it matter if they operated within regulations? Does anyone know? I’m really asking.

Anyway. After responding to “Your plant gave my son cancer” with “Cool story, sucks to be you, brah,” Joy asks Ward if maybe they’re the baddies in this situation. Ward takes a break from blowing up orphanages and masturbating to the carnage– that is, refusing to care that Rand Enterprises may be involved in the distribution of synthetic heroin, to say “Nah, it’s just good business.”

Right, the synthetic heroin thing. We’re introduced to The Hand’s new designer drug as three lovely ladies with rollie-sample cases visit three crime lords with their new designer drug. That these drug peddlers are being presented in the exact manner as the stereotypical “hot lady pharmaceutical repyou’ve seen on TV is actually a little clever. They draw a direct parallel between opioid pushers and Big Pharma. Maybe a touch on the nose one episode after Danny drew a line in the sand about overcharging for pills but I’ll allow it.

Danny received a package of said faux-heroin from the Triads, as a way of explaining what The Hand’s up to. Now, flooding New York with synthetic, extra-addictive heroin certainly makes a ton more sense than whatever the Hell The Hand was up to in Daredevil, with their giant mystery hole and thinking Elektra was the key to ruling the world, but it doesn’t really sell them as this big, giant, global threat. All gangs sell drugs. Drugs are great money makers. They basically sell themselves. The Hand could be anyone at this point.

So Danny’s solution to discovering that The Hand is using his company to ship a synthetic heroin (or unbeknownst to him, but tipped to us, manufacture it) so chemically different that it’s not even illegal is to snitch on them to Ward.

I mean, one solution might have been to say “Can we tinker with the formula, make it less addictive and deadly, sell it legally and put real heroin out of business,” but Danny is still gamely trying to be in a kung fu action show, so he wants to put a stop to The Hand’s mundanely sinister scheme. He tries to explain it all to Ward, who either does not or will not follow what Danny’s trying to tell him. But then his story starts with hatchet-wielding Chinese gangsters and ends with talking about a magic dragon, so… might not be entirely on Ward that he didn’t believe Danny just then. Even in a post-Avengers world, if someone tells you that the Triads gave them heroin that proves an evil ninja cult is infiltrating your company because it has a symbol that looks like the magic dragon that made you a living weapon… your first thought is not going to be “I totes believe that and have no questions.” Yeah he was more of a dick about it than he needed to be, but that’s his defining trait.

Anyway, Danny blows off work (if that’s something you can do when you technically don’t have a job) to investigate, accidentally takes responsibility for all that cancer, then misses the board meeting where they discuss what to do about it, as he’s planned an elaborate lunch to try and talk Colleen into helping him stake out the pier, and just hangs out at her dojo until dark.

And in doing so, he meets Marvel Netflix MVP Claire Temple, who’s taking private lessons with Colleen.

Colleen seems to actively resent being part of Danny’s story. Which, sure, I get. Why would she want to be Iron Fist’s token Asian sidekick. (Also, the monks of K’un-Lun apparently taught Danny origami in addition to kung fu. The Asian representation on this show feels really… generic. Like, I’m not sure they see, comprehend, or care about differences between Japan, China, or even India.) And given that she’s repeatedly refused to take Danny’s money, him buying her building so that he can cover her rent by not charging it feels really pushy. But anyway. She gets talked into backing him up, and they eventually head to the pier for some dark sneaking around.

Before that, Joy has to back her brother’s “Don’t settle” play to the board, at the meeting Danny was supposed to be at. While she disagrees with him, and the Board have some great points, she says “Ward has never given us reason to doubt him.”

She says this not knowing that Ward has been ignoring his father’s commands, taking a bunch of pills and knocking them back with bourbon, and eyeing that heroin Danny left in his office. He’s a train wreck right now, which makes my next point even more relevant.

Danny’s not out to Iron Fist his way through the drug dealers (nope, I’m just gonna keep using it as a verb and we’re going to try to ignore its other potential meaning). He just wants to get proof of what they’re doing so that he can show it to Ward. His faith in Ward to do the right thing is, at this point, mystifying. Ward tormented him as a child, has done nothing but oppose him at every step as an adult, and almost certainly has “Kill Spider-Man’s girlfriend in front of him” somewhere in his bullet journal, but somehow Danny still thinks he’ll come around with enough evidence. Boy is he going to be disappointed when he finds out Rand Enterprises doesn’t just facilitate shipping, they manufacture this stuff.

Because there are no drugs in the crates. Just a hidden room where Danny finds the chemist who created the synthetic heroin, and his one guard, who provides our single, solitary action beat. He does put up a bit of a fight, but at this point one random flunky giving Iron Fist a run for his money just feels weird. The chemist gets stabbed in the chest in the process, and thus does Claire get full-on dragged into Danny’s mess, with an appropriate moment of “How do I keep meeting these people and getting into these things.”

And at that point we surpass the ending of Luke Cage for peak “Oh my god, just call Daredevil already.” When Claire didn’t call Daredevil to help Jessica Jones, that made sense. Because he wouldn’t have actually been any help. When she didn’t call Daredevil when Luke Cage needed both back-up and a lawyer, that was egregious. When she finds out that Danny is fighting The Hand, the ninja army that attacked her hospital and which Daredevil hates, and goes from “You’re just some rich kid, you can’t handle this” to “I trust that you and you alone, well, you and my self-defence instructor, are the only ones who can stop them” in about two minutes? That’s character-breaking bad right there. When Colleen said she’d fight with Danny, and he tried to object, Claire should have been saying “You two figure that out, I’m calling Daredevil. You know, the vigilante who fights The Hand a bunch. I have his number, he’s ten minutes from here, you know what, just gonna order him a Lyft.”

Maybe if he’d Iron Fisted something in front of her it would have made more sense, but he didn’t so it doesn’t. If you don’t want Iron Fist to meet Daredevil until The Defenders, don’t create situations where it’s the obvious answer.

But that’s not the worst part. Daredevil’s Madame Gao investigates the container Danny broke out of while the guard explains what happened.

“He punched through solid steel with his bare hands,” he says.

“His hands?” she asks. “Are you sure it wasn’t… his fists?”

The guard fails to say “Well, I literally just used the word ‘punched,’ so… can’t rule it out.”

That exchange is so bad that it would have felt more natural coming out of the bad guy from a Kickpuncher movie. Also, Madame Gao is back, and part of The Hand now, I guess, because Asians are interchangeable and all in gangs or ninja doomsday cults. Except Colleen. So far.

Episode Six

In which the Asian stereotypes flow strong. By which I mean we meet an Asian assassin who’s just katana-murdered a room full of Asian men and is now singing karaoke.

After some mysterious “Bowl with a stick in it” message goes out to him, a woman doing spider-science (let’s all just assume I complained about lack of Spider-Man references), and two chefs, we immediately are thrust back into being asked to care about Ward “glad the Beatles broke up” Meachum’s drug problems. Which, sorry, ain’t happening. Although I begin to suspect that Harold has not filled Ward in about all of The Hand dealings, because he seems genuinely unaware of the whole mess.

Iron Fist is becoming one of those Marvel properties that actually depends on being part of a larger universe to tell its story. Just as The Avengers needed Captain America: First Avenger to establish the Tesseract, so too does Iron Fist’s plot only make sense if you watched season two of Daredevil. All of his claims that he’s destined to fight The Hand, how he’s trained his whole life for this purpose, would feel pretty hollow if we didn’t already have some sense of who they are. Not a great sense, because their arc on Daredevil was basically word salad, but still, we know they’re more than just cutting edge opioid dealers.

Danny continues to blow off the corporate drama at Rand Enterprises, as The Hand has the chemist’s daughter as a hostage. I don’t have a huge problem with that as a plot. A slight problem, sure, because this got old when it was “Oliver blows off running Queen Consolidated to deal with Brother Blood/Slade Wilson,” but my main concern is we don’t get to blow it off too. At first Ward invites himself along on Danny’s search for the hostage, refusing to believe it’s even real and merely intending to drag Danny back to the office for a meeting about this whole “Blowing their defence against the cancer lawsuit” thing, but when they find the severed head of the guard from last week, it all gets way too real for Ward, and we end up doubling down on his drug problem. Again… I do not feel bad for him, given that his defence in the lawsuit is “Eh, so what if we did give your kid cancer, we didn’t break any laws.”

Danny receives and accepts a challenge from The Hand: beat their warriors, get the girl back, and they’ll leave his company. In theory. Which means there’s finally some actual fighting going on. Not much Iron Fisting, no, not until the very end, but he does get to take on the chefs in a blood circle he can’t leave without losing, the spider-lady on the set of a music video for an 80s power ballad, and the karaoke assassin in the Dimly Lit Room of Many Weapons.

Seriously, Marvel Netflix, let there be light already.

While Ward tries to get drugs and Colleen and Claire try to keep The Hand from reclaiming the chemist from Claire’s old hospital, Danny fights his way up the ladder while having a conversation with his old teacher. Who isn’t there. This should be the first, big “Danny Rand kicks asses and takes names” episode… well, that actually should have happened well before now, but anyway… between hallucinating his mentor and being constantly taunted for abandoning his duty to defend K’un-Lun, it kind of looks like he’s just unravelling. Gao breaks the terms of the duel, saying she’ll kill the hostage unless Danny withdraws, and as he helps the hostage out of the building, he keeps muttering to his imaginary friend about whether he should have just let her die. Which she does not find comforting.

So is he just crazy now? Is he being haunted by an imaginary disappointed sensei? This is not making him more likeable as a protagonist, and he already had work to do in that area.

“My honour forbids me” is not an easy notion to hang a relatable decision on. “I’m-a magic punch the bad guys so hard the next doomsday cult is gonna feel it” is much easier. Thankfully, they don’t dilly-dally around and went with the second choice. Mostly. This show hoards the Iron Fist effect like Legends of Tomorrow hoards Firestorm.

(They don’t use it often. That’s what that meant.)

Episode Seven

Stuff happened and junk, I guess?

We’ve reached the halfway point. This is where network shows might be coming back from hiatus and course-correcting if something wasn’t working at the beginning. Might. Not always. Gotham, if anything, over-committed to its flaws in the second half of season one. Netflix shows don’t have that option, since the whole show is released at once.

As it turns out, the halfway point of a Marvel Netflix show is when they start to hit pacing issues.

Iron Fist is no different. Which is problematic, because it already had pacing problems. As a result, this one was just, I dunno, there. It was on, things happened, a lot of them were hard to see because Marvel Netflix is allergic to lighting scenes properly. I didn’t like any of it, I didn’t hate any of it, it just… happened.

Frankly the opening of the episode sums it up, as Colleen patches Danny up from his duel against the Hand thugs, and they eventually have vanilla, passionless sex. They kiss a little, stop, stare at each other for a second, rinse, repeat… it’s generally dull and then it’s over.

What else… I literally just watched this one and it’s already evaporating from my mind… um… right. Danny tries to find out what the connection is between Madame Gao and his father, while also being pressured to apologize to the board for screwing up that cancer lawsuit. These things are complicated when Gao turns up in his office. Which is easy to do, because 1) he announces his real name to all of his enemies, wear a goddamn MASK, Danny, and 2) turns out she works downstairs on the 13th floor, where she runs The Hand’s drug trade, and has for some time. Danny steals an iPad with their entire distribution network, and takes it to Harold…

Blah blah asks the Hatchett Triad for help, yadda yadda worst lit scene so far, blabbity blabbity Gao has gotten the formula and taken it to the Chinese city the Rands were headed to when their plane crashed, big emotion or whatever, I just don’t… I can’t…

Other developments. Danny also tanks his apology, by instead calling Karen Page (who is somehow still a reporter despite spending months on a story and eventually turning in a junior high essay instead) and telling her that they were closing the cancer-causing plant but not firing anyone. The board doesn’t care for being stuck with this plan, despite his claims that it’s the right thing to do, and ousts Danny, Joy, and even Ward, who wasn’t even at that meeting. But maybe they noticed his massive drug problem. Or were looking for an excuse to get rid of him, since one look at his eyes and you know he’s thought about how to properly dismember a prostitute.

Which… fine. This may as well happen. It happened with both TV and comic book Oliver Queen: the story circles around “He’s going to lose the company” for so long that you just want it over with. Also… Danny wasn’t CEO. He had a Board seat as a courtesy, and used it to force some unprofitable moves, and the company’s run by the drug-dealing branch of a ninja doomsday cult, so they probably weren’t going to be on side with his more responsible vision.

Sad fact is the ninja doomsday cult part is largely superfluous from what we know about corporations.

Probable Holocaust denier and definite Jack the Ripper suspect Ward doesn’t know he’s fired yet, though. He was busy. See, at the top of the episode, his father had to kill some Hand thugs when they caught him conspiring with the Iron Fist, who he’d neglected to tell them he knew. So he called in Ward to help dispose of the bodies, which helped push a rapidly disintegrating Ward to the edge. And when Harold takes back all the money Ward’s been embezzling all these years, he snaps and kills his father.

And… sure. Why not. I’m honestly not sure where Harold’s plot was even supposed to be going. All of the Meachum stuff just feels like filler. And needing filler to pad out a man’s quest to bring down a ninja doomsday cult with his magic kung fu is not a great sign of your storytelling abilities, guys.

There’s six left. I think I can make it to the end. Probably. Won’t be easy, but I’ll give it a go. Maybe one of the plots will find second gear.

Dan Watches Iron Fist (So You Don’t Have To) Vol. 1

The key part of Marvel’s grand film and television strategy is “It’s all connected.” As we’ve discussed earlier, this at best doesn’t seem genuine and at worst feels like a ruse, but regardless, they work it hard. Watch Thor so you can fully understand Avengers. Watch Ant-Man because he’s going to be in Civil War. Please, for the love of Buddha and all his wacky nephews, please please watch Thor: Ragnarok, we promise it’s important for Infinity War.

This brings us to Iron Fist.

After two successful seasons of Daredevil, one knockout season of Jessica Jones, and one so-so but well-viewed season of Luke Cage, the last show Marvel Netflix needs to do before all of their heroes unite in The Defenders is Iron Fist. And they’re counting on you to believe that it’s important. But as you may have seen, the advance reviews suggest that Iron Fist is not only the worst show Marvel Netflix has produced, it’s the worst thing Marvel Studios has produced.

The reviews are right. They’re more right than you know.

But that’s okay. I’m here for you. I will take this bullet, and in the next few blogs, allow you to skip this turd pile and just watch Defenders.

Obviously there will be spoilers. The title should have made that clear.

Let’s begin.

Episode one

First off, can we talk about the fact that the phrase “Iron Fist,” not to mention the power of the Iron Fist, doesn’t appear in this episode? Because we should. We really, really should. By the credits of Daredevil’s first episode he’d beat the shit out of human traffickers. By the end of Jessica Jones’ first episode, Kilgrave had made his first move against Jessica. Even Luke Cage’s slow burn opening managed to showcase Luke’s strength and invulnerability by the end of the first hour. Iron Fist devotes its first hour to something a better show would have burned through in twenty minutes.

Scruffy, dirty, shoeless Danny Rand arrives at his family’s company, asking to see his father’s partner Harold Meachum.

Let’s talk about the “shoeless” part.

Danny, as we will learn, has made his way from the mystical kingdom of K’un-Lun back to some unknown but probably Tibetan part of Earth, fought in some underground fighting clubs, went to Morocco, where he acquired a fake Canadian passport in order to make his way into New York… and apparently he did all of that without shoes.

Why. How? He has a fucking iPod but no shoes? Sure, the second episode implies that it’s the iPod he had when his family’s place crashed 15 years ago, but come on. No 2002 iPod had a battery capable of lasting more than 18 months. Tell me that he has magical kung fu powers and I’ll buy it. Tell me he’s still using a 15-year-old iPod and you’ve lost me. But putting that aside, get some fucking shoes, Danny. The monks of K’un-Lun must have at least had slippers.

No, he lacks shoes for one reason and one reason only… so that the next thirty minutes of him trying to convince somebody, anybody, that he is, in fact, Danny Rand, heir to the Rand fortune, it’ll be believable that they assume he’s some crazy homeless guy.

Frankly they believe that longer than actually makes sense. Not in terms of the world as we know it, but in terms of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe they would have us believe this is part of. Nobody is willing to entertain the notion that Danny Rand might not have died 15 years ago like they thought, but has returned. And it would be an impossible notion, save for Steve Fucking Rogers. One of the most famous people alive, who came back from the dead after a plane crash seventy years earlier.

But we’ll let that lie.

Literally all that happens in episode one is people refusing to believe that Danny is who he says he is. He meets with his childhood friends… well, one friend and one bully… Joy and Ward Meachum, the children of his father’s partner… only to be thrown out of the building. Twice. He tries to talk to Joy again, no help. He tries a third time, and she drugs him and sends him to a mental hospital. Sure, along the way he meets martial arts instructor Colleen Wing, and also has a homeless man literally Google the exposition for him (it’s actually worse than I made it sound), but that’s the jist of it.

They spend an entire hour on this. They get to “drugged and sent to an asylum” faster than “Oh by the way, here’s why the show’s called ‘Iron Fist.'”

Now what you should be asking, and what the strawman I’m about to use is asking, is “But are the fights good?” Well, no. There are exactly two fight sequences, which take up slightly less time than the opening scene of Daredevil and are nowhere near as impressive. I can name, easily, at least nine comic book TV series this season with better fight scenes than the first two episodes of Iron Fist*, a series whose opening credits promise martial arts. Frankly, the first big fight scene… and again, the first fight scene of Daredevil established its cred as the baddest-ass fight choreo around… the first big fight scene of Iron Fist looks like they filmed a rehearsal, given the lacklustre speed or energy devoted to it. It doesn’t just pale in comparison to other contemporary shows, it pales in comparison to Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, in which David Carradine’s close-up fight moves had to be shot in slow motion because he couldn’t do them at full speed.

So what we have in the first episode of Iron Fist, a show that should be defined by high-octane martial arts fight scenes, is two very half-assed fights, a villain delivered with all the subtlety of a brick through the window (if Ward Meachum spent his scenes tying women to railroad tracks it would be more nuanced), and a series of highly repetitive scenes in which people assume Danny is homeless and crazy.

Oh, right, also Harold Meachum faked his death and is running Danny’s company from behind the scenes. But he’s played by the most notable person in the cast, so… ah-doy, of course he’s not dead.

Arrow’s pilot isn’t perfect. It has a regrettable voice-over, Thea is whinier than she needs to be, and Ragman isn’t in it at all. But at least they got the “back from the dead” portion out of the way quickly.

*Agents of SHIELD. Arrow. Flash. Legends of Tomorrow. Supergirl. Preacher. Legion, even if they’re mostly telekinesis. Lucifer. Luke goddamn Cage, which is not known for compelling fight scenes.

Colleen Wing: Token Badass Female Character

Episode one introduces her, and lets her see Danny being vaguely skilled, but episode two tries to sell us on Colleen Wing as full on Badass Female Lead.

This has been a thing Marvel Netflix has tried to include for the last year and a half. Daredevil’s first season had two major female characters who tended to get taken hostage and/or need rescue, and since then they’ve tried to course correct. Jessica Jones was chock full of badass women, Daredevil’s second season had Elektra (although we talked last June about how they buggered that up), Luke Cage had Misty Knight (and we’ll talk this June about how they buggered that up), and thus does Iron Fist have Colleen Wing.

Problem is, as of episode four, she’s completely tacked on.

The first act of Iron Fist is devoted to Danny Rand’s return to his company. Which is stupid, it should be about Danny fighting evil ninjas, when will they get to that… sorry, that’s a digression, we’ll no doubt come back to that… anyway, Colleen plays a small role in this because, since Danny saw her putting up flyers for her self-defence classes, she’s one of the four people in New York he knows. She fights in an underground fight club, tries to teach her students self defence and ninja skills, but seems utterly superfluous to the rest of the plot. Maybe that’ll change down the road. But it doesn’t seem like it will.

Also, I don’t know if it’s the filming or the foley or what, but her fights don’t actually seem that impressive. She hits people and we’re asked to believe it’s hard, but they’re not selling it consistently.

Episode Two: Dumber than Episode One

People claim Danny needs a haircut to be taken seriously. This feels silly, since he has an immaculate perm. But this is just one of our problems.

Harold Meachum becomes us, the viewers, in episode two. As a psychiatrist asks Danny standard “I’m assuming you’re delusional” questions, Harold watches from a TV in his secret penthouse lair, shouting “You’re asking the wrong questions! Ask him where he’s been! Why did he come back?” These are the things we ourselves are wanting to know, things that would help us get a toehold on this show and a reason to care about its protagonist (other than Ward Meachum is such an unrepentant dick that you’ll cheer on anyone who makes his day unpleasant). But instead of answering those questions in any detail, we spend another 45 minutes on the “Nobody believes Danny” merry-go-round.

Danny spends episode two in a mental hospital. Joy Beachum drugged him and sent him there. While her brother Ward continues to be an utter asshole under the thumb of his presumed-dead father, Joy begins to realize that Danny is who he says he is. Not that this helps him. It doesn’t. Not this episode and not next episode. He calls Colleen for help, saying that the Meachums locked him up, which would seem crazy and unbelievable if it weren’t for the fact that almost immediately, Ward Meachum (under instruction from his father) shows up to buy her cooperation, offering her big money to lie about feeling threatened by Danny. Again, between openly bribing her to sign a false statement, and his perpetual expression screaming “I have to strangle a kitten to achieve orgasm,” Ward may as well be wearing a sign reading “I’m a Bad Guy.”

In the course of Danny’s so-called “therapy,” we learn a few details about what’s up with him. He trained with the monks of K’un-Lun. He’s the Iron Fist (the first time that’s been said out loud), though it’s vague as to what that means. And he’s the enemy of The Hand.

Yes, that’s right, the presumed Big Bad of Iron Fist is the worst part of Daredevil’s second season. But apparently they’re also the Big Bad of The Defenders, so we’re stuck with them for now.

Things we don’t know at this point but are curious about… why the hell did Harold Meachum fake his death? There is but a hint of an answer 37 minutes in, in what becomes the first interesting thing to happen in two episodes. How is it that Danny, who has been unbeatable in combat thus far, can’t or won’t escape a mental hospital? He claims the drugs he’s been given stop him from accessing the Iron Fist, but a) that turns out not to be true, b) he doesn’t act drugged, and c) he didn’t use it at all last episode and it didn’t hold him back. Why did Danny come back to New York, and why now? No hint. None at all. How did Danny clear immigration with no shoes? I mean, if he has a fake passport, he must have, right? And it’s a fake Canadian passport, they could have turned him away. But there’s no explanation there, either. The no-shoes thing was not thought through even a little.

Things we do cover in episode two: more disbelief and very gradual acceptance that he is who he says he is. Joy and Harold buy into it, and with Harold on board Ward has little option. Even his doctor buys that he’s Danny Rand, and not the made-up name on his fake Canadian passport, but he doesn’t believe the rest of the story. A psychiatrist working in, and believe me I wish I didn’t have to keep repeating this, the city where aliens invaded only to be fought off by the literal Norse god of thunder, doesn’t buy that Danny might have the powers he claims.

What can’t people believe after Asgard was proven to exist. By this point in the Marvel Universe they ask us to believe this takes place in, Thor is a celebrity, Captain America came back from the dead, a scientist can become a giant green rage monster, and Asgard is real. And that’s ignoring the mind-controlling Kilgrave who was all over the media a while back and the Inhuman outbreak that no property but Agents of SHIELD will acknowledge. I mean, if this show and Agents of SHIELD actually co-existed, they’d have to take claims of powers seriously, wouldn’t they? He could be an Inhuman and would need to be registered.

At the very end of the episode, despite his claims that the drugs block the Iron Fist, it finally comes into play as he finds himself under attack from three other patients Ward has paid to kill him. Finally, our big marquee fight, right? I mean, this is the point in Daredevil where we got the infamous single-take hallway fight. But no. Once he Iron Fists… I instantly regret using “Iron Fist” as a verb, it won’t happen again… his way out of his straight jacket, the hired thugs last about three seconds. Which, I mean… that’s appropriate, I guess. I did give Daredevil a hard time about the Hand ninjas not being any harder to fight than the biker gang, so really, these three shouldn’t actually pose any threat to him.

It’s just that we were promised martial arts action, and we are not getting it, and what we’re getting instead is slow, repetitive, and tiresome.

Anyhoo, the bargain-bin assassins lightly pummelled, Danny Iron Fists (it happened again, I’m sorry) his way through a wall and wanders into the night.

Episode Three

The beginning of episode three isn’t terrible. Some of Meachum’s goons show up at Colleen’s dojo, looking for Danny, and her refusal to even pretend to buy into their claims of being the good guys out for her protection are as close to endearing as any character has managed thus far.

Danny finally comes up with a strategy to regain his past life that isn’t “Ask for help from the two people with the most to lose.” I guess the whole “Drugged, woke up in a mental hospital under a false name” thing kind of hurt his trust in Joy. And his plan makes Iron Fist the most interconnected Marvel Netflix show yet: Daredevil’s been name-dropped, The Hand is back, and now he turns to Jessica Jones’ Jeri Hogarth, who apparently interned with Rand Enterprises when he was a kid. And he remembers enough about her that she’s the first person to take him at his word almost immediately. Maybe it’s because she sees an opportunity, given that she takes his case for free, but with the condition that her firm be Rand Enterprises’ new legal team from then on.

We are once again back to this being anything but a martial arts action series. Sure, Harold gets visited by spooky agents of The Hand, and sure, Colleen Wing goes to her student’s illegal fighting ring for cash, but Danny Rand, The Iron Fist, Defender of K’un-Lun, and enemy of The Hand is just attending depositions. The only action sequence he has involves trying to stop one Meachum security thug from burning down a room containing his childhood medical records, their best shot at proving he is who he says he is, given the lack of living relatives or fingerprints on record.

Which should be easy. It’s one guy. Thus far he’s fought off a half dozen security guards so effortlessly that he was only moving at rehearsal speed, taken out three thugs with three punches, and punched through a wall. But this one guy proves too difficult. Danny uses the Iron Fist precisely once, then seems to get tuckered out and fights without it, and boom go the records.

Which… shouldn’t that be proof against the Meachums? This hospital has security cameras, doesn’t it? Someone in Ward Meachum’s employ just committed arson in a hospital, and there are no consequences.

It’s all for nothing, though, because a clay bowl Danny made for Joy turns up with one of his fingerprints in it, and suddenly they have a case. Not the strongest case, perhaps, but by next episode none of this actually matters. Danny follows Ward from the deposition back to his father’s secret lair, only to have Ward try to throw him off the building. It’s faster and less thrilling than you think.

Episode Four

Harold Meachum is, in theory, the/a villain, but in the opening minutes, he became the most likeable character on the show. Danny’s doing fine, despite his tumble at the end of episode three, and Harold has brought him inside, where he swiftly puts an end to all of the “Is it really Danny” nonsense and tries to get the plot into first gear. He basically tells Ward to stop being a tool and settle the lawsuit, then fills Danny in on his connection (and thus Rand Corp’s) to The Hand. It seems that Harold may see Danny as a way to escape the gilded penthouse cage The Hand (possibly led by Madame Gao from Daredevil? Sounds like her, but since when was she in The Hand?) keeps him in.

And so we abruptly, but gratifyingly, enter our second act.

Episode four has a hallway fight that in no way measures up to Daredevil’s famous single-take hallway fight, and an elevator fight that in no way lives up to Winter Soldier. It’s the biggest action beat we’ve had so far, because he actually has to fight through multiple skilled opponents, but compared to any other hallway fight Marvel Netflix has done, it’s subpar. Even compared to Luke Cage just strolling through an entire gang. Minimal Iron Fisting (sorry, it just keeps happening), Danny’s still a little slow and somewhat basic in his moves, but it’s the best we’ve gotten.

It’s still an improvement where this show is concerned. Triads try to grab Joy, angered over Rand Corp trying to buy harbour property they covet, and Danny fights them off. He then confronts them at their headquarters, but the second he mentions that the pier was purchased for The Hand, the entire gang goes “Oh snap. Sorry, sorry, our bad, sorry, have the pier, didn’t know, no beef, man, no beef” and backs off.

I’m trying to decide if Danny describing his time in K’un-Lun is better or worse than devoting an episode to flashbacks about how it went like Daredevil or Luke Cage did. I’m leaning towards better. Origin flashbacks are not my favourite.

Colleen Wing remains basically in her own show, a show about wanting to follow the Bushido but also enjoying underground fighting to make rent. It’s not a terrible show, but it has almost no connection to anything else.

And The Hand appear to be selling drugs with a similar symbol to Danny’s giant chest tattoo. So maybe… maybe… we have a plot.

Next time we’ll see if this is going anywhere interesting, and I’ll probably have more complaints about Ward “definitely has negative opinions about food stamps” Meachum. Seriously, some of the villains this season are just one-dimensional “I hate minorities” moustache-twirlers, but Ward makes them all look as well developed as Wilson Fisk.

Hard Truths for Geek Media

We are living in the golden age of geek media. Netflix has five shows and counting devoted to The Defenders, comic book shows are nearly half of the CW network’s lineup, and superhero movies and Star Warses account for something like 98% of US box office revenue at the movies.

But it ain’t all good.

No, this is not going to be the “Dan breaks and denounces Suicide Squad” moment some of my friends have been waiting for. There are just some real issues, some growing problems with certain geek-friendly properties worth discussing. As much as we love them, there are some hard truths to face.

Let’s start with my own field of interest.

Maybe there shouldn’t be a Flash movie

There was a time when Warner Bros. and DC Comics were the kings of the superhero movie genre. But mostly because it was when nobody else was really trying.

Behold: Marvel’s best and most successful movie until 1998.

They spent one decade on four Superman movies (two good), one on four Batman movies that start okay, get worse, and end bad enough to almost kill the genre (well, that and Steel), and then started floundering, banking everything on Nolan’s Batman while Green Lantern and what some consider to be the best Superman movie made thus far failed to jumpstart any franchises. Plus Jonah Hex was a trash heap and Catwoman does not belong in this conversation. It’s a rejected Crow reboot that they slapped the word “cat” onto and it should not exist.

Meanwhile, they watched Marvel Studios go from plucky upstart to the most consistently successful film studio in the history of the medium by building a cinematic universe out of their B-list, all leading to The Avengers, which blew the long-awaited Dark Knight Rises out of the water.

Going from kicking Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk’s asses with Dark Knight to being the also-rans in a genre they used to dominate must have stung. Moreso because if they hadn’t been hung up on keeping all of their toys in separate boxes, they could have been doing this over two decades ago.

I kind of picture it like that scene in Brooklyn, where Ailis’ Irish friends are changing under blankets, then see that she just wore her swimsuit under her clothes, and say “Well how long do you think the Americans have known about that? Probably 100 years.” So simple and obvious once you see it done. Surely someone at Warner Bros. saw the road to Avengers and asked “Well why the hell haven’t we done that?” “We felt it worked better not to link up the movies–” “Die in a fire, Ted.”

So they ended up trying to rush their own cinematic universe, attempting a short road from Man of Steel to Justice League. It’s been a rocky journey so far, according to reviews and certain opinions and also all those Razzies Batman V Superman got, but hope exists that they’ll turn it around in coming years. Set visits are generating hope for Wonder Woman, and Justice League… let’s talk about Justice League after Wonder Woman comes out. Or not. We’ll have to see. Their hope is that a successful Justice League movie will drive audiences to solo movies for the rest of the lineup, the same way Avengers managed to convince people to keep watching mediocre at best Thor movies.

But there’s one film that’s having more trouble than anything on their slate.

This guy.

The Flash has already lost two directors and apparently the script has gone back for a page-one remake. It is the very model of a troubled production.  And while I don’t know exactly what’s going on over there… I have a guess.

To the left.

The Flash is already on TV. And doing pretty well. Well enough that it’s the centrepiece (albeit not the originator) of a four-show empire. So this is all speculation, but it seems to me that the Flash movie would end up having to walk a very fine line… too much like the TV show, it’s redundant. Not enough like the TV show, it’s alienating the fanbase they’ve been building for three seasons and counting. And if this is what’s happening, it would mean more studio interference than anything else they’re doing, and yes, that’s going to cost them directors.

So maybe the solution is don’t make the movie.

Any Flash movie is going to have to compete with the TV series’ nigh-perfect first season. The movie would have two hours to tell a story, the show gets 23 (including commercials). The movie could be my first chance to see the Rogues united (the core group have all turned up on the show, but rarely more than two at a time), but Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold is basically perfect, and I’m at a loss as to how they could do better in the movie. I’m not saying it’s another Heath-Ledger-Joker situation but he is a tough act to follow.

I’m not saying cut the character. Have him in the Justice League, just all over the Justice League. Just maybe Flash doesn’t need a solo movie. Hell, DC has a pretty full slate as it is (while fighting for Warner resources with the Fantastic Beasts franchise), and keeps announcing new projects. The Batman still doesn’t have a release date (and just got a director), and now there’s talk of Gotham City Sirens, solo movies for Nightwing and Deadshot, a Suicide Squad sequel, and talk remains of an actual, proper sequel to Man of Steel.

Pretty ambitious. Sure, the grosses were high last year, but they might wanna get public perception on their side a bit more before they get excited. Maybe see how much Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 outgrosses Justice League by. (Look, I’m enough of a DC fan that no amount of BvS or Suicide Squad smack talk will keep me from opening night of Justice League, but even I’m more excited for Guardians.)

But if they have all these movies they want to make, maybe it’s time to drop the one they clearly don’t know how to make. I mean, Marvel doesn’t make solo movies for everyone. Ask Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

In fact, let’s talk Marvel.

Maybe Marvel’s “Everything’s Connected” isn’t working

Ever since Nick Fury popped up after the credits of Iron Man saying “Avengers Initiative,” the key element in Marvel’s success is the idea that all of their film and television properties share one universe, and that they’re all connected. You watch Thor because stuff they do there will pay off in the next big team-up movie.

I mean, you don’t watch Thor movies for fun. That’s just crazy.

But the more they expand into other media, the more cracks are starting to show in the facade.

There’s the little stuff in the movies. The “Why do no Avengers care that terrorists just blew up Tony Stark’s house and then kidnapped the president” or “So after learning that SHIELD was infiltrated by Hydra, the only person Captain America calls for backup is the guy he met while jogging” stuff. But this is nothing new. It’s basic nitpicking comics fans have been dealing with for decades. And two out of three of the big team-up movies have done a fine job smoothing those wrinkles over.

And one had a plot hole for every robot.

But it doesn’t stop there.

The obvious example is Agents of SHIELD. Marvel’s first foray into TV, it was pitched as the connective tissue between movies, but it isn’t. Despite every shoehorned reference Agents of SHIELD makes to the movies, it just isn’t. Whether it’s the feud between Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and his ex-boss, Marvel Entertainment head Ike Perlmutter, or some other nonsense reason, it’s abundantly clear that the film division does not care about Agents of SHIELD even a little. From destroying their very premise in Winter Soldier to their refusal to say the word “Inhuman” to the fact that none of the Avengers have noticed Coulson isn’t dead, the film branch has straight-up ignored everything and anything about Agents of SHIELD.

And now there’s an Inhumans series on the horizon. The Inhumans have been a key part of Agents of SHIELD for three years now, but as of this writing, the Inhumans show has given no indication they’ll connect or cross-over with SHIELD. They have made it clear that this show will not be an Agents of SHIELD spinoff. So their only announcement in regards to what should be their sister show was to distance themselves from it. If another Marvel show on the same network won’t even acknowledge Agents of SHIELD, then is it not time to ask just how exactly “Everything is connected?”

We’re still on that topic but here’s a header to break things up

There’s also Marvel Netflix. Marvel’s Netflix shows are trying to do the Avengers process in the TV format: five seasons of four shows, all leading up to The Defenders this fall. And they’ve been good, for the most part… Daredevil’s second season and Luke Cage’s debut season fell apart in their second halves, but overall they’ve been good. And we’re certainly told that they’re all in the same universe as Captain America, Asgard, and the talking, gun-toting raccoon we all love.

That’s what we’re told.

One of my pet peeves about Marvel Netflix is that while the DCW-verse delights in comic-booky concepts like time travel and alternate Earths and rampaging super-strong hyper-intelligent telepathic gorillas, the Marvel Netflix shows seem to resent being based on comics. Sure, all of their protagonists have super powers, but they mostly stick to grounded, realistic threats (save for one mind-controlling psychopath whose arc was still rooted in very real abuse issues, and one ninja cult story that doesn’t actually make any sense). They have Easter egg references to old Power Man and Jessica Jones comics, but treat them like baby pictures your mother pulled out to show your date.

More than that, they seem to be actively ashamed of being part of the MCU. They will begrudgingly acknowledge the climax of Avengers, but in the vaguest possible terms. Seriously, “The Incident?” The city/country that treats the phrase 9/11 with sacred reverence (except when they don’t) would really call an honest-to-god alien invasion repelled in part by the literal Norse god of thunder something as basic and generic as “The Incident?” What are they, British? And that’s the only reference they’re willing to make. Nothing from any other movie, save for being the only people who seem to remember Hammer Industries from Iron Man 2.

Right. There’s gonna be too much. Time for a “The Defenders Ain’t Care About the Avengers” speed round.

  • We’re two years in and I’ve yet to see Stark/Avengers Tower in the New York skyline.
  • The New York DA starts a crusade against vigilantes, and her main targets are the Punisher (sure) and licensed private detective and one-time-vigilante Jessica Jones. No mention of Inhumans, the Sokovia accords, or freaking Spider-Man. Any of which would be totally germane to the conversation.
  • Aliens invade New York, Asgard exists, Captain America came back from the dead… but New Yorkers still consider mind control too impossible to swallow? For real?
  • For all Luke Cage has to say about the history of Harlem, that time Hulk and Abomination wrecked the place sure doesn’t come up.
  • They talk about the Avengers like they’ll get sued for using the names. “The flag-waver.” “The green guy.” “The blonde dude with the hammer.” You know his name is Thor.
  • None of these people will be in Infinity War. We’d have heard by now.

On top of all of that, they have all the “how does this fit together, where was so-and-so during all of this” issues of the movies, only worse, because they’re all operating within a quick walk from each other. “The Defenders Ain’t Care About Each Other” speed round!

  • If Luke Cage reduced to washing dishes and sweeping floors under the table because he’s on the run from the cops, how is it he owned a bar when we first met him? A bar named after him!
  • I get Luke not wanting to call Jessica for help, things ended poorly between them, but when Luke Cage is being publicly smeared by his enemies, she doesn’t even take an interest?
  • When Luke Cage is in a hostage situation and being framed by the man behind it, she doesn’t call her friend the defense-lawyer vigilante, despite him needing both of those things.
  • Actually, why should she even need to call Daredevil? There was a very public hostage crisis involving a superhuman criminal (as far as the outside world knew), a five minute drive from Daredevil’s house, and he doesn’t swing by? Daredevil doesn’t care about black people.

Okay, sure, they can’t cross-over all the time. It would dilute how special The Defenders is. Probably is. Hopefully will be. And it’s not like Flash and the Green Arrow are constantly popping back and forth, Barry only zips over to help Oliver two, maybe three times a season, but a) the DCW-verse still connects far more often than Marvel Netflix, and b), and this is the important part, Flash and Arrow take place in cities 600 miles apart. All five Marvel Netflix shows take place in New York. No, on the island of Manhattan. New York’s geographically smallest borough. Do not tell me that Daredevil only patrols Hell’s Kitchen, Hell’s Kitchen is two square kilometers, you could walk around it in an hour.

These days the “shared universe” has more holes per yard than chainmail. You can say everything’s connected all you like. But unless it actually connects at some point, it’s all just empty marketing rhetoric. Maybe having one universe for film and one for TV just works better.

Maybe these live-action Disney films are kinda pointless

The problem with doing anything successful is that Hollywood will learn the wrong lesson fast enough to make your head spin. Deadpool and Logan were big hits and critically adored? Suddenly everyone’s looking to make R-rated superhero movies like that was the secret ingredient. Sure thing, DC, people had issues with BvS and Suicide Squad because they weren’t dark and violent enough. That was the problem.

Disney can be particularly bad for this. The wrong lesson thing, I mean. Maleficent was a hit, so they started kicking around other Disney villain origin movies. Don’t get excited. I’m about to explain why that’s bad. Maleficent worked because the idea that the witch from Sleeping Beauty was driven to cursing princesses by a dark and tragic backstory has merit and meat to it. The follow-up with the most traction? Cruella De Vil. The puppy-murdering villainess so lacking in complexity or subtlety they named her “Cruel Devil.” Is anyone really curious what turned Cruella on to puppy coats? Anyone? Was that a question needing answering?

And if that weren’t a bad enough idea to blow all of your Marvel/Star Wars profits on (it is), there is the other trend of making live-action remakes of the classic cartoon. Last year was Jungle Book, this year is Beauty and the Beast, and there’s more coming. But they’re getting dumber as we go along.

Jungle Book at least did something different. Sure they had all the same characters and hit all the story beats but in a different way. I think. Pretty sure. King Louie certainly seems different. But Beauty and the Beast? Every bit of promotion is based around how similar it is to the animated version. Same sets, same costumes, exact same songs. Is this just a shot-for-shot remake with live actors and terrifying CG clock-people? Is that… is that necessary? I mean Hollywood is choked with remakes and reboots as it is, making carbon copies of easily accessible films from the 90s is just making it worse.

Also… “live-action Lion King?” How. How is that live-action. You’re not training lions and having them act it out. No amount of training can make a meercat, a warthog, and a lion hang out and sing Hakuna Matata. It’s not live action, it’s a CG version with some new voices. They’re still using James Earl Jones as Mustafa. Which, sure, there’s no replacing him, but are we entirely sure they’re not just reusing the same audio?

In short. Words have meanings, and this new Lion King will be about as much “live-action” as Monsters Inc.; and if you’re going to remake a movie, do something with it. Make it new. Don’t just re-skin it.

Honestly, thought we learned this with Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.

Overthinking The Office Part 9.5: Goodbye, Farewell, That’s What She Said

When I need background noise while writing, more often than not I turn to The Office. And rewatching a show as often as I have means you have thoughts and opinions.

These are the last of mine.

For now.

Preparing for the End

The final episode of The Office takes place one year after the release of the documentary (which happened in the previous episode), as the crew returns to Scranton (just in time for Angela and Dwight’s wedding) to film some bonus material for the DVD. I could spend this last Office blog just walking you through all the ups and downs, twists and turns that lead to that point, but instead I want to talk about endgames. When you know you’re into your final season, you get to decide how you want to go out. Where the final leg of the journey is going, and where your characters will be at the end of it. Clark becomes Superman, Buffy destroys the Hellmouth (and Sunnydale), JD leaves Sacred Heart, the humans and Cylons make peace and settle on a new… no, screw it, God doesn’t know what was happening in that finale. Then, you figure out the best way to get there.

No one in The Office’s ensemble gets neglected in season nine, even the new guys, but the big finale of The Office was always going to revolve around the leads, or at least the firsts among equals in the cast. With Michael gone (and Ryan, who despite being in the opening credits, was never really a “lead”), that’s Dwight, Jim, Pam, and Andy. Now, as melancholy as the early seasons were, and as ongoing a theme as self-deception was, they weren’t going to go out on a sad note like the entire branch being shut down or something. The melancholy days were well past by now. Greg Daniels himself moved past them before stepped back from showrunner after season four. Jim and Pam were together, Michael had met Holly, and the threat of downsizing was massively reduced, if not yet gone completely.

Not everyone gets a happy ending, no. Andy, as we discussed, is at most bittersweet, and his ending best fits the theme of self-deception. Sorry to jump back on Andy, but my latest rewatch has been opening my eyes to the fact that, despite his actual vocal talent, Andy’s not actually that good at a capella. Witness his “guitar solo” in season five’s “Heavy Competition,” his reliance on “Root doo da doo” and awkward falsetto, or just how much worse his attempted father/son duet in “Garden Party” is compared to Walters Sr. and Jr. And in the name of Buddha and all his wacky nephews, for his make-or-break reality show singing audition, he picked the Cornell fight song? Oh, Nard-dog. Success was never yours to claim.

Where was I. Right. Some characters don’t even get an “ending,” per se, because Dunder Mifflin lives on and some people (Phyllis, for instance) just keep on as they were. But they were still aiming for a big, heartwarming ending, and that required two ingredients: Jim and Pam happy ever after, and Dwight K. Shrute as regional manager.

At least, I’m 90% sure that was the plan. After all, Dwight’s British equivalent, Gareth, ended up manager.

So… let’s see how they got there.

Jim and Pam: Marriage in Crisis

As I’ve said in the past, nothing they threw at Jim and Pam’s relationship ever felt like a legitimate threat. Distance only made their hearts grow fonder. No outsider could ever lure them away from each other, be it Mad Men’s Rich Sommer or… Cathy? That was her name, right? Man. She’s like the Silence from Doctor Who, once she’s out of your eyeline you forget she was there…

So in order to create a real conflict for the Halperts to drive their final story, they had to get a little more creative. They had to create a situation in which neither of them is 100% right, neither is 100% wrong… but one of them has to lose. That situation? Athlead.

An old college buddy of Jim’s decides to push forward with a sports marketing company he and Jim had discussed back in the day, and Jim, staring down the barrel of spending the rest of his days selling paper, decides to reverse what he and Pam had decided and jump in. The catch? In addition to soaking up $10,000 of their savings (instead of $5000, which Pam had eventually agreed to), the new company is in Philadelphia. Which would mean uprooting the family and leaving both Dunder Mifflin and Scranton.

And Pam did not spend nine years with Roy because she’s great at change.

In the premiere, while Jim is seeing Pete’s lack of life plan and wondering what happened to all of his own career dreams, Pam is telling Dwight “I happen to like my boring life, and will do what I have to to keep it.” Admittedly she was saying this to explain why she wasn’t going to help with an extremely dangerous and ill-thought-out high wire routine, but still, here we have the seed of their conflict.

And before you leap onto Jim’s side, and I know how easy to do that is, he did not really consult Pam. He joined the company without asking Pam (or more accurately, after Pam and he had agreed against it), doubled their investment without asking Pam, then started living in Philadelphia for half the week, leaving Pam alone with their two young children. Pam was kind of an afterthought in Jim’s new big career/lifestyle, and wow, I have been staunchly pro-Jim in this plot for years but I’m starting to talk myself out of it.

Also Brian the boom mic guy clearly had a thing for her but that didn’t really go anywhere.

The Athlead situation comes as close to splitting up Jim and Pam as anything had since her wedding to Roy drove him to Stamford. At what seemed like the 11th hour, Jim, who had been torn between his dream career and his dream wife, had a moment of clarity as to which of those he could live without, and stepped away from the company he helped found to rededicate himself to his wife and kids. And to subtly pranking the newly promoted Dwight.

Which led to a revelation for Pam. Between disbelief from Darryl (who Jim took with him to Athlead) that Jim could really be happy selling paper, hearing that the company was finally becoming a big success but Jim was passing on being part of it, and seeing him regress from having pride an ambition in his work to slacking off and devoting his energies to pranking Dwight, she had a revelation of her own. Jim saw what Athlead might cost him, Pam saw what asking him to stay at Dunder Mifflin meant giving up. But Jim, being confident in his choice, enlists the Documentarians in pulling off a reassuring gesture you just need to see.

That said. Having seen that Jim was willing to sacrifice his dream career for her, Pam decided that maybe she could sacrifice her safe, stable, boring Scranton life to take a risk with him (even before the fans at the reunion panel PBS organized were firmly Team Jim). Pam sells their house (with the help of Michael’s ex, Carol), and the Halperts leave not for Philadelphia but Athlead’s (now Athleap) new home in Austin, Texas. All is well for the Halpert family.

So they kind of pulled a Gift of the Magi. In order to sail into a new, better life (for Jim because of the dream career and for Pam because after a few months of not having to live with Angela’s snipes and Meredith’s calls of “Little Miss Thing wants attention” she is not even going to miss these people), they each first had to prove that what mattered most was each other. Jim by sacrificing Athlead, and Pam by giving it back.

But the problem with hanging a happy ending on Jim and Pam is that Athlead and Austin don’t change the fact that they got their happy ending way back in season six. New city and better career (for Jim) is a nice bow on an ending that basically just re-affirmed the status quo. So Athlead became the finale’s B-plot, and the Big Happy went to Dwight.

The Face Turn of Dwight K. Schrute

Now there are a couple of issues with hanging a happy ending on Dwight and Angela. The first is that some of the producers (and actor Rainn Wilson) wanted to keep the Dwight train rolling, and were pitching a spinoff called The Farm, which would have involved Dwight and his previously unseen non-Mose family running a new, larger Schrute Farm (Michael Schur was far too busy running Parks and Recreation to play Mose on the regular). So while they waited for word from NBC on whether or not that would go forward, a large part of Dwight’s endgame was put on hold… that part being whether or not Dwight and Angela would ever find their way back together, as all appearances were that Angela was not heading to The Farm.

The other issue is that these are not characters who, by and large, had thus far earned a happy ending. Dwight may have become more beloved by viewers than we would have expected at the beginning, but every time he’d been handed authority he abused it instantly. And Angela has been straight up awful. So some steps would need to be taken to pave a path to happily ever after.

The main one, and that fact that it starts happening early is the reason I think Dwight was always meant to end up regional manager, was getting Dwight to a point where he could be in power and not be a train wreck. This happens in episode four, “Work Bus.” It begins with yet another Dwight-as-authoritarian overstep, but as he and Jim butt heads in a more intense fashion than anything since the snowball fight, Jim actually breaks Dwight, and triggers a rare moment of camaraderie between the old nemeses. Dwight believes himself to be infertile, having been deceived about the parentage of Angela’s baby (while The Farm was still in play, we were all led to believe Dwight wasn’t the father), and Jim convinces him to view his coworkers as his family. Something Dwight even had a German word for to encourage him. And so begins a change in Dwight, from the would-be dictator out to crush or eliminate the staff, to a benevolent dictator who only trims off the truly deserving.

Shortly after taking command (at an occasion where I’m not 100% sure who’s filming it, as the Documentarians should have wrapped), Dwight does fire a couple of people… Kevin (for gross incompetence) and Toby (who in fairness checked out years ago), but he also hires on new people, and treats the remaining staff surprisingly well. And he does eventually live out his old dream of firing Jim, but when it happens, it’s out of love… he fires Jim and Pam before they can quit to leave for Austin, sending them on their way with a year’s salary each as severance.

Now, Angela.

Angela has long been the most insufferable member of the ensemble. Judgmental, bullying, demanding that the staff live up to a repressive puritan lifestyle that she herself consistently fails at living. And she’d been extra smug ever since she got together with (State) Senator Robert Lipton. You remember this… the (State) Senator is secretly gay, and everyone on staff seems to know that except her? We talked about it in season seven, and the fact that this story had a long fuse. Well, the fuse reaches the gunpowder pretty quickly this year, as Oscar starts seeing the Senator behind her back. Which causes, shall we say, tension in the workplace when she catches on. With the documentary’s release imminent, an advance review makes it clear that everything is about to, excuse the expression, come out, and Robert makes a choice: he comes out live on television, and announces his relationship with… his press secretary.

It’s a little heartbreaking for Oscar, to be sure, but Angela loses nearly everything. First she’s forced to stand next to her husband on live TV while he says that marrying her helped him come to terms with his homosexuality, as she showed him how “charmless” he finds the female body. Then in rapid succession, she loses her husband, her home, whatever nanny or team of nannies was tending to Phillip so that she her to rub her perfectly poised supermom routine in Pam’s face, and after being forced into a studio apartment, she even loses her cats. And then the apartment. Plus she’s about to lose her moral Christian reputation, as her years-long affair with Dwight is about to be broadcast to the world. She’s left with nothing but her job and her son (who clearly means slightly less than her cats), and ends up living in Oscar’s walk-in closet.

That would have been an appropriate place to leave her. Lord knows she earned it. But having lost everything humbles her enough that when The Farm fell through, we could be on board with Angela and Dwight getting back together. She is a wreck of a human being when she tries to convince Andy not to quit his job in a futile chase for stardom, and by that point, even I think that maybe she’s suffered enough. And come on… those two dysfunctional weirdos belong with each other. And no one else deserves them.

Plus, the wedding of Dwight and Angela is just weird enough that it’s an appropriately “The Office” way to sign off.

The Finale

At the time, I wasn’t certain how I felt about the finale. It gets most of its joy and sentimentality from characters who spent much of the series playing the villain, and so while it is a delight to watch, I wasn’t sure how earned it all was.

Following the wedding, there’s a farewell party back at the office thrown by PBS. While the network executives whoop it up in the warehouse, the Dunder Mifflin staff and the Documentarians head upstairs for a sweet little goodbye party. Sure, it’s not goodbye for everyone… six of them are back to work on Monday. But this farewell again for at least as many, even before we count the film people who’ve been around filming everyone for the last decade, and a new goodbye for two more, as Jim and Pam won’t be back.

It’s not as beautiful as the final moments of Scrubs’ eighth season finale (stupid ninth season keeping that from any “best series finale” list). But it’s sweet, and it’s funny, the return appearances are pretty perfect, there is the occasional moment to lure out tears. I couldn’t say it was perfect, but I also couldn’t think of a thing I’d change about it. Still can’t.

Key Episodes

“New Guys” for the introduction of Pete and Clark, who are, as I said, delightful. “Andy’s Ancestry” brings Darryl into Athlead. “The Boat” writes Andy out for a while, and “Couple’s Discount” reveals that his return is nothing to be celebrated. “The Whale,” “Suit Warehouse,” and “Stairmaggedon” are the best team-ups of Dwight and Dwight Jr (Clark). “Customer Loyalty” is when Brian makes his entry and the Documentarians take their first full step beyond the fourth wall. “Promos” is when the existence of the documentary fully enters the story.

And “AARM” and “Finale” take us home.

Skippables

Let’s talk “backdoor pilots.” A backdoor pilot is an episode of a TV show that exists to set up a spinoff, rather than give said spinoff a standard pilot episode. Take, for example, the episode of CSI where Catherine follows a suspect to Miami, where she meets up with David Caruso and his CSI team. Then years later, David Caruso followed a perp to New York, where he met the CSI New York team. That sort of thing.

Backdoor pilots can be weird for binge-watchers. On the one hand, Jess on Gilmore Girls travelling to Venice Beach to see his father makes perfect sense. On the other, if you’re watching Bones on Netflix and suddenly a whole episode gets handed over to someone called The Finder, that’s a little jarring. And it’s especially jarring when it’s a backdoor pilot for a spinoff that didn’t get picked up, introducing us to a bunch of characters we’ll never see again.

Which brings us to The Farm.

The Farm was set up through a backdoor pilot in the back half of the season. Dwight’s Aunt Shirley passes away, and her video will gives a challenge: she’ll leave her enormous farm to Dwight and his siblings if they run it together. This is our first time meeting Dwight’s farmer brother (“After I left the army, I bought a 9-acre worm farm from a Californian. Turns out “worm” means something else out there. And, I am now in the business of… pain management. Or, the smoking of pain management.”) and his single mom sister, and our second time meeting his non-Mose cousin Zeke. Some might see this sudden introduction of siblings as being out of left field, like when Frasier invented a father and brother for Frasier Crane that didn’t match and even actively contradicted what we knew about his family from Cheers, but the fact is that they’d always been clear about the Schrutes being a large family. Dwight obviously had siblings, this was just our first time meeting any of them.

First and only.

Between filming the episode and writing the finale, The Farm was rejected by NBC. And in the wake of it all, they began walking back everything that happened. Dwight’s new farm became a sidenote, as his rise to Regional Manager became his one, true endgame. Dwight’s new love interest became just an obstacle for Angela.

And Dwight’s siblings don’t even show up at his wedding.

Kind of makes that episode feel pointless. Although if you skip it, you will miss the final appearance of Todd Packer.

Notable Guest Stars?

So, so many. In terms of returning players, Pam and Jim have to attend Roy’s wedding at the beginning of the season (also appearing, his dolt brother); Jan makes two last appearances (one over the phone) as the new head of the White Pages, the county’s biggest paper client; Josh Groban returns as Andy’s younger, more loved brother; Nancy Carell makes one last appearance as realtor Carol Stills; Todd Packer turns up one last time with drugged “apology” cupcakes; the stripper from Ben Franklin and Fun Run works Dwight’s bachelor party while Merdith’s son (first seen in “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”); and of all people, Devin (unseen since season two’s Halloween, save for a deleted scene) gets hired back to replace Creed.

Also Kelly, Ryan, and even Michael are all back for the wedding. Michael only has two lines, one of which is a final “That’s what she said.”

Lucifer’s Rachel Harris turns up for the wedding as Angela’s sister.

Mr. Show/Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk turns up as a real estate office manager Pam interviews with, who turns out to be a carbon copy of early Michael Scott.

One last Daily Show veteran as Stephen Colbert plays Andy’s old friend/nemesis, Broccoli Rob.

Michael Imperioli turns up as Dwight’s new sensei.

A bunch of athletes someone other than me might recognise pass through Athlead.

Dakota Johnson and Better Off Ted’s Malcolm Barrett are new hires in the finale, replacing Kevin and Stanley.

And Joan Cusack and Ed Begley Jr. are perfectly cast as Erin’s long-lost birth parents.

Final Thoughts

Is The Office perfect? No, it drags in places and the cringe comedy can misfire. The cast is solid, but not quite the sitcom supercasts of Newsradio, Arrested Development, or Brooklyn 99. Speaking of that last one, The Office has left an impressive legacy, serving as the prototype for the knockout follow-up Parks and Recreation and its successor, Brooklyn 99, both from Michael Schur, who has now brought us the hilarious, if entirely different, The Good Place. That dude moves from success to success.

The Office may not be the most clever, nor the most touching, but succeeds at both often enough that it’s endlessly endearing and, to me and others, endlessly rewatchable.

Even if you may never, ever be on board with Angela and Andy as a couple. Jesus, Andy. Way to over-commit to a bad idea.

Thanks for joining me on this journey, those who did. Next time, let’s talk Oscar nominees. Or nerd stuff. A little of both to come.