Daredevil: a redemption story

At the risk of losing all of my fangirl street cred, I have to make an important confession: I did not hate the 2003 Daredevil movie.  DD 2003The script was weak, granted, and it struggled with tone and motivation (Am I an action movie?  A thriller?  A romance?  Which one will make the most money?).  But the cast was – brace yourself – quite good considering what they had to work with.  Ben Affleck was not the ideal choice, but he was more a victim of  trend than anything (this was, after all, the season of Bennifer – yuck).  Jon Favreau made an excellent Foggy Nelson, and Colin Farrell gave me nightmares as Bullseye. Most of all, this incarnation gave us the gift of Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin in a brilliant turn of blind casting (get it?).  I’m not saying Samuel L. Jackson owes Nick Fury to him exactly, but MCD definitely opened the door. The new series, which debuted on April 10th and is available for binge-watching life-consumption responsible streaming now, is an excellent step in a new direction and it honors the tone of the print character perfectly.  In a risky move, the show marks a departure from Marvel’s formula here by incorporating few to zero special effects; the action is all hand-to-hand, brutally visceral, and difficult to watch yet impossible to turn away from. I love it. There are only two evident weaknesses in Marvel’s armor, and Daredevil brings both of them to light: 1.  S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G The first four or five episodes of season one are amazing, with a few scenes and turns that are already becoming icons in the entertainment industry.  Episodes twelve and thirteen are suitably epic, neatly capping the series and setting the stage for many misadventures to come. In the middle, though…meh.  Part of it may be due to the nature of binge-watching itself; anyone who has devoted a weekend (or even more intensely, a mere day) to the consumption of a series knows, we get a little sluggish in the middle.  We get snacky or have to go to the bathroom, and sometimes maybe we don’t go to the trouble of pausing the show; we just turn it up a little as we go.  Maybe we nod off and miss a few lines, and it doesn’t feel worth backtracking to catch up.  In any case, thirteen hours of solid viewing takes a lot of commitment, and maybe we are missing some key elements of the production in the process. bingewatch It is also likely, however, that the traditional thirteen-episode season structure has become too constricting.  If show runners are required to fill thirteen hours with a story that could be told in ten, the inevitable result is redundant conversations, recycled fight scenes, and repetitive or thinly layered flashbacks (remember season three of Lost?  No one wants that.) Marvel is the pioneer of the universe-launching tent pole project.  Maybe now they can pioneer the however-many-episodes-it-takes-to-tell-the-story-and-no-more-no-less TV season? 2.  Girl Trouble Let’s have a look at the Daredevil character posters, shall we? DD 2015 Do you see the pattern?  Why is it (and I am genuinely asking here) that each of the male characters is facing me directly with grim determination, while the women are looking away?  Okay, so Claire Temple (played with refreshing badassery by Rosario Dawson) has a story line entirely linked to Matt’s so far, but she exhibits a good amount of internal conflict that could easily have made a compelling face-forward poster.  Plus, if she is who we think she is, her significance will only grow; why not let her demonstrate the same ferocity as the boys? Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) is a bit more problematic.  In fact, her ambiguous gaze in an unspecified direction is pretty well appropriate for how her character plays out on the show.  It feels as though the writers wanted her to be an atypical strong female character so badly that they gave her too many story lines (all completely and inconsistently hanging on every male character in the show), thereby inadvertently creating a typical, mostly weak female character.   If hers were the only poster  looking away from the audience, it would have been fitting. (Side rant: Marvel has done an uneven job of representing women so far in the cinematic universe. Black Widow’s portrayal has varied wildly in the movies, depending on the director in charge of her. Gamora began Guardians of the Galaxy as a strong figure and the best fighter of them all, but by the end she was reduced to butt shots and squirming helplessly on the sidelines while the boys did all the important work.  And don’t even get me started on Lady Sif, Thor’s formidable fighting companion who was inexplicably and unforgivably reduced in The Dark World to gazing longingly Thor’s way as he pined for the milquetoast at best Jane Foster.  Ugh.) Despite its weaknesses, Daredevil the series has officially successfully redeemed the character known as The Man Without Fear for the conceivable future.  Here’s hoping we can forgive the mistakes of the past, and let Ben off the hook for Batman vs. Superman (because if DC can’t make that story awesome, it will not be his fault).

dd batman

The Book says Wherein Thou judgest another, Thou condemnest Thyself. -Matt Murdoch

the big reveal

Halloween costumes have been the subject of much colorful discussion this year in my circles.

First there was this cartoon, which I saw posted on several Facebook pages but most notably on A Mighty Girl:

costume dilemma

Somewhat related, several of my coworkers have loudly bemoaned their difficulties in finding the perfect work-appropriate costume that is fun while remaining firmly within our safety and HR-friendly standards.

And scary clown costumes are making headlines, thanks to some disturbing experimentalists in California and Europe, as well as our freaky friends at American Horror Story.

All this talk of dressing up and what to wear and whom to be and how to be it has me thinking.  I don’t believe we actually cover ourselves up in this tradition of donning the perfect disguise / gag / alter ego for the night.  Rather, our choices reveal much more about us than we intend.

halloween 13For example, two years ago, my oldest daughter, in the midst of a tumultuous inner bout with teenage emotional upheaval, chose that Halloween to become Storm, the X-Men team member with control over any type of weather.

My beloved cousin, who moved away this year to law school, is being the Mad Hatter for Halloween: a kinetic, poetic creature driven mad by his craft, but coping through the whimsical interpretation of a comforting domestic ritual: afternoon tea.  (He also happened to escape an unjust conviction and sentence through manipulation of the “law” and an appeal to the Queen of Hearts, who had condemned him.)

Celebrities often dress up in surprisingly tame choices – surprising until you remember that they are already larger than life.  In that case, a simple cat or garden gnome costume is comforting in the other direction: a reflection of things that are ordinary, simple, and safe.

When you consider that the original purpose of wearing a disguise on Halloween had to do with warding off unwelcome spirits and/or attacks against the soul, the expressiveness of our costumes becomes all the more poignant.

I myself am not dressing up for Halloween, and haven’t done so for years.  Whether it’s due to an excess of honesty (I am who I am and I like who I am), crippling indecision, or mere self-deprecation (I don’t feel qualified to wear the one I really want to be), I will leave to your imagination.

Then again, that might tell you everything you need to know.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.  Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.  -Oscar Wilde

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. -Oscar Wilde

 

superpower of choice

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. -J.K. Rowling

Comic-Con International is coming up this week and I am irrationally, inordinately, ridiculously SUPER-pumped for it…especially for some one who’s not even going.

I don’t know how it is that I’ve never been.  Comic-Con is a shining beacon of and for nerdom around the world. Teeming masses of fans, friends, artists, cosplay exhibitionists, geeks, gamers, and not a few of the just-curious descend upon San Diego every year to get the scoop on what’s coming up in all things story-related or comics-inspired.

It used to be overlooked at best and derided at worst twenty years ago; now a Comic-Con panel is THE place to unveil any project that wants to be cool (or at least, wants to make tons of money).  As with any gathering of thousands united around a single cause or idea, it definitely attracts its fair share of nutcases and extremists, but at heart Comic-Con is a giant, fearless celebration of imagination.

I LOVE IT.

I keep thinking to myself, I wonder what Joss Whedon is doing right now?! – because you just know there’s something awesome on deck for the Avengers panel.  I also wonder how many of the attendees are rushing around in a tizzie trying to get their costumes together, how the convention center staff feels about it (anticipation or dread?), and how Zack Snyder can sleep after choosing to enter no presentation at all for Superman vs. Batman.  I am mystified by the games arena (haven’t played a video game regularly since Q*bert) and in awe of the vast array of panels open to the public.  As you can easily surmise, attending Comic-Con someday, somehow is way up there on my bucket list.

Naturally, all of this has me contemplating superhero stories yet again, and how they have grown so rapidly in resonance over the last decade or two.  When I was in high school, fanboys were fodder for bullies and snark, and fangirls were rare, mysterious creatures on par with unicorns.  Now, nearly everyone in the general population of America has a favorite superhero, and every personality quiz will at some point ask what super power you would choose if you could.  We have absorbed the stories (if not yet the fanboys) into mainstream culture and filter many of our own stories through their lens.

It doesn’t take a psychology degree to assess why super powers are so appealing; the answer is all in the origin stories.  A young, bullied nerd becomes an agile, cool, smart-mouthed defender of the defenseless.  A mega-rich, genius inventor of weapons is humbled and dons his armor to end war instead of equip it.  Two orphans – each alone in precise and excruciating ways – derive purpose and power in the very sources of their alienation; one finds the human connection that he craves, the other the isolation that soothes his scars.  It’s easy to find ourselves and fuel our ambitions in their narratives.

In this, the “real” world, I have decided that there is only one visible super power, and every human being on earth has been equipped with it from the first day they entered the atmosphere.  It is the power of Choice.

Choice is everything.  It determines the quality of my every day and the direction of my journey.  It gives me the power to soar over my circumstances or be crushed beneath them, to overpower resistance or be driven by it, to join the battle with the rest of the called or shrink and hide and lose both the struggle and the victory.

Choice determines the course of my adventures and whether they will even BE adventures, or merely an accidental series of unappreciated moments carelessly toppling over each other.

As with any super power, Choice can be used for good or for evil.  It can be mutated to generate toxicity in the form of Judgmentalism, which is the choice to condemn the way others use their power.  The only thing it can’t do is be eliminated, for even doing nothing is itself an act of Choice.

Choice is the greatest power in the world; all others are merely its fruit.