Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars as a brand is either dead or getting much better, depending on who you ask about this movie. The halls of the internet echo with the clamor of battle as entrenched armies lob verbal artillery at one another.

I'm going to try to discuss both the good and the bad in the film. Obviously, this will involve spoilers so if you haven't yet seen the movie you may want to wait before reading the rest of the review.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Dreamwork's Trollhunters

Frequent readers of the blog will know that I enjoy shows that hit the sweet spot where kids and adults can both enjoy them. Animated or not, if they give me a good, fun story of Good vs Evil with character development and interesting visuals, I'm in.

Dreamworks and Netflix have hit one out of the park with Trollhunters.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Reading List: Vigil by Russell Newquist

I was honored to receive an Advance Review Copy of Russell Newquist's newest book, Vigil.

I was pretty excited for this one. I greatly enjoyed his debut novel, War Demons, earlier this year, so my expectations were high.

I mean, how do you top spec ops, demons, car chases, a warlock, and a dragon vs helicopter fight?

Mr. Newquist's answer is to give you a modern day paladin who must take on said dragon by himself, on the dragon's home turf, and throw in a hostage and a time limit.

Vigil is superior to War Demons  in several ways. Mr. Newquist keeps the frenetic pacing and high octane action from the first book, but ups his game when it comes to the dialogue and the characterization. The plot was tighter and if the scale is smaller the stakes feel more personal and thus the payoff more rewarding.

Mr. Newquist continues to improve his craft while losing none of the things that made his debut novel enjoyable. I highly recommend Vigil to fans of urban fantasy and am looking forward to more stories in this world.

You can purchase your copy on Amazon.

You can keep up with Mr. Newquist on his blog.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Marvel's Punisher

One of Marvel's best known anti-heroes hit the small screen with a bang in Season 2 of Daredevil.

Now that Frank Castle has finished his Death Wish To Do List, what's in store for the one man assault team?

Spoilers ahead.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Paragons is Really Good!

I finished reading my copy last week and there are some excellent stories in this anthology!

Nightstick by Kai Wai Cheah is wall to wall action-thriller. It is begging to be put to film. Any fan of Jason Borrne, Taken, or Batman is going to love it.

Someone is Aiming for You by JD Cowan is an ode to The Shadow. The mysterious Seeker brings evildoers face to face with their secrets. Great action with some horror elements thrown in.

Blackout by Morgon Newquist is Justice League style heroic action with ::GASP:: an intelligent villain! Fun story and a most intriguing set-up for future stories.

All three stories do a great job with world building and fans of comic book action will be left wanting more. I know I was.

You can find these stories and more for less than $3 on Amazon.

Thor: Ragnarok

The god of thunder is back in his third stand-alone film. We've seen him face family strife and his own arrogance. We've seen him crush two alien invasions and a robot horde alongside Earth's mightiest heroes.

This time, he faces the goddess of Death, the Norse version of the end of days, and Jeff Goldblum as a pompous windbag.

(Some spoilers)

Friday, November 3, 2017

Reading List: Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key by S. D. McPhail

[This review is long, long overdue. I received a copy of S. D. McPhail's debut novel some time ago and I hope she'll accept my abject apologies for not delivering this review sooner.]

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a science-fantasy set in ancient Persia. It follows prince Rasteem, on the trail of a mysterious warlord called The Viper. He follows the trail of this rebel to the city of Dodrazeb, a hidden land full of wondrous art and knowledge. Now Rasteem must uncover the secrets of Dodrazeb and defend both the hidden city and the Persian Empire against The Viper's plots.

If I did not know from hearing the author discuss it herself, there is no way I would have known that this is a debut effort. The characters start as archetypes, but she keeps coloring them in with details until they finally come to life. Her writing is clear, the pacing brisk, and the dialogue very believable.

The best part is the setting. Many historical settings are modeled on Medieval, Greek, Roman, or even Egyptian civilizations, but very few have dealt with Ancient Persia. The very unfamiliarity lends an air of mystery to the tale. You can tell both from the book and from the author's other writings that she is very well versed in the history of this era.

Add to this fantastical elements that would feel at home in H.G. Wells or Jules Verne and you get an even more heightened sense of wonder.

The Origin Key is an excellent blend of action-adventure, palace intrigue, and mythic legend. I enjoyed reading it tremendously and look forward to future installments.

You can keep up with Susan at her blog.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I started watching this series on the recommendation of a friend. The first episode was so good, I backed up and got my wife to start watching it with me.

Set in the Napoleonic Wars in an alternate history Britain, the story follows two gentleman magicians (older recluse Gilbert Norrell and his young protege Jonathan Strange) as they preside over the return of English magic 300 years after it mysteriously faded from the island.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Netflix's Stranger Things Season 2

If you haven't watched the fan letter to 80s movies that is Stranger Things, I don't know where you've been, but you've been missing out. 

Stranger Things is a sci-fi horror movie stitched together from various 80s influences. It's John Hughes meets Steven Spielberg wrapped in Stephen King. The thing that makes it stand out is the love its creators obviously have for the time period, the horror genre, and the medium of film.

The plot follows a group of nerdy middle school friends, their families, and the town sheriff as they discover, investigate, and combat otherworldly forces unleashed by a secret CIA experiment.

Season 2 deals directly with the fallout of Season 1, picking up just short of one year after the events of the first season.

Here are some thoughts on Season 2. Spoilers ahead.

Monday, October 16, 2017


I'm very excited to announce that my short story, The Weight of One Girl, was accepted for publication in Silver Empire's latest anthology!

Also excited to read stories by well respected names in indie fictions, such as Jon Del Arroz, Declan Finn, Kai Wai Cheah, Jon Mollison, and Morgon Newquist.

The anthology is set for release on November 1st. Visit Silver Empire's website for more information.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pushing Daisies

Murder. Resurrection. Mystery. Eternal life. Accidental death. True love. Palindromes. And Pie.

(Mild Spoilers)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Music to Write By: TRON: Legacy by Daft Punk

It's hard for me to think of cyberpunk without the visuals from TRON. I was born the year the original TRON released and wore out the video from my local Movie Gallery as a child. That movie is really all about the look rather than the plot, but as a kid I was transported. And who doesn't want a light-cycle of their very own?

Then in 2010, TRON: Legacy released in theaters. The visuals were again impressive, taking what was unique in 1982 and translating it to today's aesthetic and CGI prowess. But the most striking thing about the film was the music.

Here's just one of the tracks:

Go grab the whole thing and give it a listen.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Firefly: the "Lost Episodes"

Finishing someone else's work is hard, especially in any artistic medium. When it's done well, you get something like Brandon Sanderson's work finishing up The Wheel of Time series.

In that case, characters have the same names and voices, but the world is subtly different. I always describe it to prospective readers as the same picture painted by two different artists in the same school. The landscape, figures, and perspective are all the same, but Sanderson's color palette is brighter than Robert Jordan's. If you placed them side by side, you can tell the difference immediately, but you can see the same spirit in both.

Blogger Nate Winchester has introduced me to something similar with Firefly: the Lost Episodes.

Let me stop right here and deflate the hope balloon. These are not planned production episodes for a revival of the much mourned Joss Whedon series. These are fan creations, and unauthorized at that.

But they're very good. Go read the first script (episode 116- "The Big Stick") and tell me you can't visualize EXACTLY how that would look and sound.

I'm not a huge proponent of fan-fiction in general (I think you should make your own characters and worlds), but this will undoubtedly be the closest I get to hours of television viewing I wouldn't have otherwise had.

Definitely recommended.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Music to Write By: Cowboy Bebop OST by Yoko Kanno

Cowboy Bepop may be the best Japanese anime television show ever made. While this claim could be debated, there is no argument short of a message from God complete with stone tablets that can convince me it doesn't have the best music.

Written and arranged by Yoko Kanno and performed in large part by The Seatbelts, this soundtrack provides the widest, most eclectic collection of music I ever seen attached to a single project. And it fits the show perfectly.

Here's the opening theme to get your day started right.

You can find the various soundtracks on iTunes and Amazon. The first OST and Blue contain most of my favorites, but really you just can't go wrong anywhere with this one.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Reading List: David Gemmell

I was talking geekery with my D&D group this week and it came up that one of them did not know who David Gemmell is. As the self-appointed Geek Geezer in our group, I took it upon myself to rectify this travesty with all speed.

David Gemmell was a British author of heroic fantasy. His breakout novel was Legend, a story of honor, redemption, and the power of hope and legacy. He went on to write over thirty novels between 1984 and his death in 2006. His final work was finished by his wife, Stella, and published in 2008.

He's also the namesake of the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy.

That's right, it's a frickin' battle axe.

 I first read Quest for Lost Heroes in middle school and went on to devour every Gemmell book I could get my hands on. Gemmell's writing is fast paced, action packed, and full of flawed heroes. His strength is in those character archetypes. He somehow reaches into the Akashic Records and pulls up the essence of a particular archetype, then shades it onto the pages with a deft hand.

My challenge to unfamiliar readers is to pick up a copy of Legend and read it. If you can stop yourself from picking up more books by this master of fiction, well, I worry for the state of your soul.

For those inclined, here's a list of his works in chronological order.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Music to Write By: The Vision of Escaflowne OST

I love to write with music on. It influences your mood, prompts new ideas, and gives you something to enjoy when that stupid cursor just blinks at you and mocks your writer's block.

I like to use a lot of classical music or pieces in a foreign language I do not speak, as this keeps me from struggling not to write what I'm hearing instead of what I want.

One of the pieces I return to for writing fantasy is the soundtrack to The Vision of Escaflowne. The anime itself is pretty good, but by far the best thing about it is the music which was arranged by Yoko Kanno and performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.

Here's a sample:

You can find the OST volumes on iTunes and Amazon.

Friday, September 15, 2017


And now for something completely different...

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Netflix's Death Note

Back in the late '00s, I watched a Japanese anime that was recommended to me by friends. The title was Death Note and it was fantastic in execution, though the premise is a little off the wall. The pitch that sold me, and that I think rightly describes the action, was this: "Moriarty vs Holmes as Japanese high school students engaged in a battle of wits over the perfect murder, told from Moriarty's perspective."

Now, Netflix has attempted to provide us with a feature length, live-action adaptation of the popular anime.

How well did they manage that feat?

(Spoilers after the break)

Friday, September 1, 2017

SyFy's Dark Matter

 Do our memories make us who we are? What if they were taken? What if you woke up one day and your past had disappeared? Could you find yourself again? Or would you choose to be different?

And what if you forgot your sins, but they didn't forget you?

(Spoilers throughout)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Music I Wished They'd Make More Of...

...And then I found out that they did!

A lot of music made for television is bad. Most of it is just bland. But every so often, you get a theme that captures everything good about the show or that is just plain fun to listen to.

Here's a couple examples to pick your Monday up.

Alphas- Think a slightly more realistic X-Men.

Not bad, right? In fact, it was so popular the artists went back and recorded a much longer version.

Hellsing (the anime, not the so-lame-its-good movie with Wolverine Hugh Jackman in it)- The ending credits of the show rolled to a close with this:

But did you know that they only used part of the song "Shine" by Mr. Big? Here's the full song:

Friday, August 25, 2017

Reading List: War Demons by Russell Newquist

I was honored recently to receive an advance copy of my friend Russell Newquist's debut novel, War Demons

It's the story of Sergeant Michael Alexander who comes home from war in Afghanistan with more than the usual figurative demons. As he tries to piece together exactly what happened over there, he's drawn into the web of a supernatural conspiracy that hits much closer to home.

This was an incredibly fast read. The author slams the action pedal to the floor and duct tapes it there. Despite the frenetic pacing, the major characters all have a lot of color and life in them. Even some of the minor characters, like a maybe-crazy prophet, are interesting and memorable.

There are some rough edges in a couple characters and some of the plot points may strike you as bit improbable, but the ride is so much fun you won't care.

Mr. Newquist has delivered a solid debut work in the vein of early Larry Correia or Jim Butcher. Fans of the latter two authors will devour War Demons.

You can find more of Russell's work, along with a growing list of excellent authors, at Silver Empire Publishing and keep up with his latest news at russellnewquist.com .

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Marvel's The Defenders

Here it is, the show Marvel has been building toward for years with their four Netflix series.

Given that those four shows range from amazing to almost-fell-asleep, how did this one fair?

Beware spoilers.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The CW Superfriends: Legends of Tomorrow

Time travel.

It's a fun concept and can be a great peg to hang a plot on. It comes in several flavors:

And they didn't even mention the kind with holograms and Knight Rider sensibilities.

Sadly, it is very easy to do time travel badly. How bad? Let's take a look.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reading List: Stand Still, Stay Silent

I've spent the last couple of days bulling through the archives for fantasy-horror web comic Stand Still, Stay Silent.

 Set in the near future after the outbreak of a pandemic, the comic catalogs the adventure of a team of misfits sent into the desolation of the Silent World outside the small hubs of civilization to recover lost knowledge.

Written and drawn by Minna Sundberg, it draws deeply on the mythology of Sweden and Finnland. Sundberg's art is beautiful and atmospheric.

Her writing is also great, with a slow steady build of tension and empathy, punctuated by moments of incredible action. Her characters are interesting and her world building is incredibly detailed.

I highly recommend adding this to your reading list. I'm going to have a hard time waiting on the newest episode.

My thanks to Daddy Warpig, who's archival post pointed me to this gem.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The CW Superfriends: Flash

Next up on our trip through the CW Superfriends, the Fastest Man Alive gets his own show.

Don't blink.

Wait. Now I want to see Flash vs the Weeping Angels.

That does not happen in this show. So what does?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Babylon 5: The Sound of the Future

In my recent post on Arrow, I made mention of the good job Blake Neely did making the show's music unique and memorable.

This was on my mind while continuing my run through of Babylon 5 and I realized I hadn't mentioned Christopher Franke's excellent work on the show.

Franke's music is like nothing else on television before or since. In fact, the music was so integral to the show that when Call to Arms, the prequel movie that launched the Crusade spin-off, aired and didn't have Franke's music behind it, the whole thing felt off. It was like a well made fan film rather than a true part of the Babylon 5 cannon.

I highly recommend you take a listen for yourself or better yet go watch the show.

Here's a taste:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The CW Superfriends: Arrow

The second installment of our look into the CW stable of superhero television series brings us Arrow.

What lessons did the studio learn from Smallville? Is any location more overused that Vancouver? Will the CW ever climb out of Pretty, Pretty Valley?

All this and more after the jump.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

You've Committed One of the Classic Blunders...

The most famous is "Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia".

Russell Newquist has a short review up of Marvel's Doctor Strange. It's good, so go check it out. I'll wait.




Back? Okay, we can dive in. Some spoilers ahead.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The CW Superfriends: Smallville


The word pulls up quaint, quiet middle America. Corn and wheat and white picket fences. And one of the most iconic superheroes of all time.

Though it first aired nearly seventeen years ago, Smallville made waves that are still being felt today. If you've enjoyed any of the CW shows in the past few years, you owe their existence to the success of that first gamble.

Here's my thoughts. I'm reverting the format of the review, for reasons that should become clear.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Netflix's Voltron: Legendary Defender

I finished up the second season of Netflix and DreamWorks re-vamp of the 1980's cartoon series. If you've been without internet for the last year and a half, welcome back. Now go watch this show.


To the review.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

AMC's Into the Badlands

I watched the first season of Into the Badlands on Netflix a while back. Here's my take. Spoilers Ahead.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Netflix's Castlevania

I watched the first episode of the new Netflix animated series based on the Castlevania games.

I hated it.

I had a great rant all saved up to tell you about it too, and then Brian Niemeier went and made all the same brilliant points in this stellar episode of Geek Gab:

Go give it a listen. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Babylon 5: Diplomats, Hustlers, Entrepreneurs, and Wanderers

There's one thing you have to have if you want a story to catch an audience, and that's interesting characters.

How many shows have you watched where the characters are paper thin cutouts of people rather than actual persons? Movies can get away with this a little more, as shorter overall run time and higher action/special effects budgets can limit the boredom. But people want stories about people, even when they're anthropomorphic cars.

This is a two-fold responsibility in the visual medium of television and film. You need writers who can create fully orbed characters and actors who can bring them to life.

Now, not all the characters on Babylon 5 are that interesting (sorry, Warren)

But a great many are. All of the main cast and several supporting characters, such as Bester and Neroon, are given well-rounded motivations and room to grow over the show's five season run.

Better yet, several characters are placed in direct opposition to one another, giving us the basis for some fantastic story arcs. Whether the evolving relationship between ambassadors Londo and G'Kar, the noir-style thriller of Bester vs Garibaldi, or the meta-conflict of....well, watch the show and find out.

If you've already seen the show, who's your favorite character and who's your favorite opposing pair?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Babylon 5: The Closed Circle

Say what you want about J. Michael Straczynski, he understands story structure.

There were always questions about the way Babylon 5 was conceived as a story. The networks weren't sure that a television audience would have the patience for a tale that asks you to hang in there for five seasons to see the payoff. In the age of binge watching Netflix shows, it seems that this is still an active question.

By creating a story framework with definite events mapped out, Straczynski freed up the writers to hang fun, self contained stories off of it and made it possible to add touches of foreshadowing all throughout the show as well.

One episode about halfway through season one of Babylon 5 literally shows you something that will happen in season five. It's completely without context, adds a sense of urgency and foreboding to earlier seasons, and is extremely cathartic in the season five payoff. It rewards careful watching and re-watching.

That sound you hear is Chechov's Gun chambering. It's a trope for a reason and when handled well, it is emotionally satisfying for the watcher (or reader).

(It also allows for time travel plots that are handled in a far more believable way than some more recent shows have done. *coughcoughDCcoughcough*)

I love it. I wish more shows were made in this fashion.

What are some other shows or writers that do structure well, either within episodes or over series?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Babylon 5: Understanding is a Three Edged Sword

Good dialogue is something I really struggle with as a writer, but Babylon 5 has it in spades.

Comedic one-liners: "I don't care if they agreed to wear bunny suits and sing the Hallelujah Chorus."

Grim threats: "Rest assured that while your body may one day be found, it could never be identified from what was left."

Deep questions: "You're getting dressed in the morning, You're pulling on your pants. Do you zip and then fasten or fasten and then zip?"

Clarifications: "Slight difference in how you pronounce. Za-thras. Za-thras. Za-thras. You are seeing?"

And then there's the music critiques:

Seriously, show creator J. Michael Straczynski does some of his best work with small frame dialogues between two characters. Season 3 has an episode where two characters are trapped in an elevator and their interaction is tense, funny, and mesmerizing.

Please post some of your favorite lines or scenes in the comments. I'd love to discuss them.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Babylon 5: Our Last, Best Hope

There's a tendency in a lot of science fiction television to gear everything toward the dark and dystopian. Look at shows like Black Mirror, Dark Matter, Into the Badlands, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Even Firefly, with all its humor and a likable cast, is set in a dystopia complete with both a totalitarian government AND environmental disaster.

Now, these settings are fun to play around in. But for my money, fiction needs hope to entertain over the long haul. Characters, and the audience experiencing the narrative through them, have to believe that their actions matter and that they can make the world better. How can this be done if the Alliance will implacably expand its reach, the Cylons are inescapable because we are the Cylons, and we can never, ever atone for our past?

In Babylon 5, by contrast, the future is a place of possibility and wonder, but to make peace a reality takes constant work from all sides. And hope is the fuel of such action. Characters change and grow because they begin to believe that they can.

This comes through in the very idea of the Babylon Project.

The series plays with this theme of hope in every season. Hope that peace can be maintained, hope that old wounds can heal, that relationships can be restored, that life can have meaning, that sacrifice is not without purpose, that our inheritors will find a better world than the one we were born into.

Part of this comes through in the show's handling of religion. Unlike the subversion or nullification of religion in the other shows, faith in the transcendent is a good thing in the Bab-5 universe. While some characters are shown to distort or misuse religion, legitimate belief is shown to be a source of strength and hope. And this lends motivation for action.

If hope is illusory, then characters can stoically suffer, party in antinomian denial, or kill themselves. If the wheel always keeps spinning, then the best you can hope for is to never see the shake-up in your lifetime. Every action of every character is futile, because nothing lasts.

But, if hope has real grounding beyond the material and if actions actually matter, then hope becomes the driving force behind the scenes and characters can dream and aspire.

In Babylon 5, characters find hope and share it with the viewer. And, to quote one such character, "Hope is all we have."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Babylon 5 is What Sci-Fi is Missing (or My Yearly Pilgrimage to a Place That Doesn't Exist)

When I ask people about their favorite science fiction shows, I see a lot of wistful looks for one show in particular. People get angry or depressed, or angry and then depressed, and go on and on for hours about how they wish they could go back and watch it again for the first time. The halls of the internet echo with complaints that there just isn't more.

Of course they're talking about Firefly.

When I ask them if they've watch other sci-fi shows, the usual grab bag of geek pop culture shows up: Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, etc.

Almost never mentioned is my favorite show, Babylon 5. I consider this show to be one of the best space operas of all time.

I'm honestly not sure why it doesn't get more credit. The show has everything you could want: epic space battles (with some actual tactics; missile interceptors and capital ships say what?), mysterious alien races, ancient prophesies, political intrigue, romance, loss, redemption, telepaths, sword fights, and time travel.

And it does something almost no show ever gets to do: it told a complete story, with a definite beginning, middle, and end. (DS9 is the closest thing I've ever seen to it, and it ran too long and ended up with too many filler episodes.)

This past week, I began my yearly re-watch through Babylon 5. As I go through the seasons, I want to post some thoughts about why I enjoy the show so much and maybe shed a little light on a quiet classic of television.

 I'll start tomorrow with the biggest advantage Babylon 5 has over almost anything else on television today: hope.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Wonder Woman

(This review may contain spoilers)

Expectations: I had been excited for this movie from the moment Diana Prince first showed up in Batman vs Superman. As I stated previously, Gal Gadot was a bright spot in that film and her performance there gave me hope that this movie would be a much better outing for the DC film franchise. I was not disappointed.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Marvel's Iron Fist

Once again, this review is NOT spoiler free.

Expectations: Given Marvel’s track record with these shows, I was definitely looking forward to Iron Fist when it was announced. Then I saw the first trailers. I was...underwhelmed. The lead actor looked the part, there was some mystery initiated in the narration, and we got glimpses of people like Madam Gao to up the ante, but we didn’t get to see much in the way of amazing martial arts.

In preparation for the launch, I spent some birthday cash to pick up copies of the Immortal Iron Fist comics run begun by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja, which were fantastic. After reading them, I was ready to see a mystical monastery, hordes of ninja assassins, a showdown with the dragon Shao-Lao the Undying, and kung fu artistry to make Jet Li ashamed.

I got none of those things.

Easter Eggs: I caught a poster showing Stan Lee’s face in one of the later episodes and there are multiple references to the other Defenders peppered throughout the dialogue.

Opening Sequence: This was a real let down for me. All three previous Marvel Netflix offerings had fitting (in the case of Daredevil, perfectly so) openings and music. Iron Fist’s opening is a CGI rendering of the title character performing kung fu, with the moves leaving swirling lines of wavy, ink-dark tracery behind that is reminiscent of Japanese or Chinese calligraphy. All of this is set to a blend of traditional Eastern music and Tron-Legacy-like techno beat. So far, so good.

However, the color pallet is all dark grays, leaving the lines with less pop. Additionally, at the end of the sequence, the lines reveal nothing. They serve no purpose but to “look cool”. During the first episode, I kept waiting for the pan out to show us Iron Fist’s kata had drawn out the dragon symbol of his power. Contrast this with Daredevil’s opening which hints at both character motivation and actions. Overall, it just felt like a missed opportunity.

Themes: Iron Fist is a show about purpose and the search for meaning. Several characters are caught between who they want to be and what they feel they need to do. Because it relates so closely to Luke Cage’s theme of choices, I can easily see Luke and Danny having common ground in the upcoming Defenders title.

Acting: I don’t have any complaints here. Everyone in the main cast did a solid job. Finn Jones did a good job showing the innocence that a young man who grew up secluded in a monastery would have. Jessica Henwick is very good as Colleen Wing, the martial arts instructor and sidekick, with sweetness and confidence in equal measure. Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey were completely believable as sister and brother duo Joy and Ward Meachum. I think Pelphrey deserves special mention for his work on a character who ends up being as complex as Ward. David Wenham is an utterly human kind of monster as Harold Meachum, Ward and Joy’s father. Rosario Dawson just is Claire Temple at this point. And Wai Ching Ho returns with a good bit more screen time as Madam Gao, manipulator extraordinaire, a role that seems like it was written with her in mind.

Writing: This show has three major flaws and two of them are here.

First is pacing. I completely understand the complaints of slow pacing that began echoing down the tubes that comprise the internet when the show first aired. I think this was deliberate on the part of the writers. The main character meanders through a good portion of his life, pulled this way and that by competing loyalties and goals, and the story meanders with him.

Another reviewer I listened to theorized that, in the age of binge watch television like Netflix and Amazon Video, the writers were trotting out not thirteen distinct episodes, but a thirteen hour origin story movie. I can’t speak to the writers’ and producers’ intentions, but at times the plot feels like it’s true.

As a result, we spend an awfully large amount of time in stories that are centered around people who aren’t the title character.

Which brings up the second flaw: side characters that are more interesting than the main character. I have two in mind specifically: Ward Meachum and Colleen Wing.

Ward starts off as the mirror opposite of Danny. He’s got a family, an important place at Rand Enterprises, and a sense of purpose and drive. He’s also an annoying brat. Over the course of the show, Ward loses his position at Rand, he loses the love of and respect for his abusive father, and loses the purpose that his father had given him by proxy: building the Meachum legacy at Rand.

What Ward does that Danny does not seem to fully do, is replace what he’s lost. He regains his position at Rand, this time on his own terms. He not only stands up to his father, he is instrumental in helping bring him down. He actively tries to protect his sister. And along the way he grows into a sympathetic character. The viewer WANTS Ward to win.

But the best thing about this show is Colleen Wing. She’s the most fully orbed character we meet. The first time we see her on screen, she gives Danny, who she thinks is a homeless beggar, a couple of dollars. The very same scene shows her tacking up flyers for her struggling dojo, underlining her compassion. She continues in that vein, honorably and capably giving of herself and her skills to her students and to Danny. When her love for Danny challenges what she believes, she follows him into certain danger repeatedly and gives up the closest thing she has to family for him.

Compare that to the main character’s story arc. Danny Rand starts off as a homeless orphan who’s been raised by interdimensional warrior monks (in a monastery we never get to see) to be a living weapon in a battle he doesn’t fully comprehend. He abandons those duties, and the only family he’s had for fifteen years, to return to New York. He then, through luck and the compassion of a childhood friend, becomes the billionaire majority shareholder of his father’s corporation. He proceeds to mandate policy changes, despite having no understanding whatsoever of how to run a business. He then abandons his duties as a board member to pursue The Hand, all the while being manipulated left and right by their very agents.

After he’s managed to screw up everything with his lack of focus, his best friend from K’un Lun rescues him and tries to bring him back to fulfill the duties of the Iron Fist. What does Danny do? He pulls rank and insists that, since he’s the Iron Fist, he’ll use his power however he wants and runs off to prevent a monster he set free from destroying the very legacy he came back to claim in the first place.

Not everything about the writing is bad, however. The attempts by both Madam Gao and Bakuto to manipulate Danny into working with them or ignoring them are pretty well executed. All of Harold Meachum’s manipulations, as well as his slowly growing insanity, are laid out with skill.

Danny does have a couple moments showing real growth. One scene that jumps to mind is him asking his office manager at Rand Enterprises for help in sifting information that is related to the activities of The Hand. His concern for her and for the company win her over and we get to see a little charm thrown in with the addition of an origami lotus that he leaves on her desk.

Action: The third and final flaw is this: badly done fight scenes. The Immortal Iron Fist is Marvel’s premier kung fu action hero. Not only do we not get very much of him showing off his skills, especially at first, what we do get is not quite on par with Daredevil in terms of choreography and aesthetic.

In perhaps the worst example of this, Colleen takes on a guard at a Hand compound and takes him out at the end of the fight with a stomp to the head. The camera clearly shows the actress stomping in front of the man’s face. While this is by no means the norm, if fans go in expecting Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and get Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, there is a problem somewhere.

That said, there are several large fights. Danny takes on security guards, hatchet wielding gangsters, Hand trainees, and DEA agents en masse. People are punched, kicked, subjected to joint locks, stabbed, bashed, and shot. There’s a fight in a moving truck that involves kitchen utensils. Danny uses the power of the Iron Fist to break down doors, escape from restraints, and send a group of bad guys flying. Cars get dented and windows shatter.

The most visceral violence occurs in Harold Meachum’s sanctum. He hits his son Ward, then gives him platitudes about how he loves Ward and is doing all this to secure him a legacy. Ward stabs Harold with a wakizashi (a Japanese short sword). Harold kills and disfigures two Hand agents and makes Ward dispose of the bodies. Harold pulverizes his own assistant with the butt of an ice cream scoop.

One final point in the show’s favor is, again, Colleen Wing. With the one unfortunate exception I mentioned above, the choreography for Colleen is quite good. She takes on opponents much larger than her by relying on surprise, speed, superior training, and usually her ancestral katana (a Japanese long sword). She moves like a bouncy ball of doom. In short, she’s portrayed as an amazingly talented martial artist with weaknesses and strengths that are different from the people around her and in keeping with her stature.

Music: Unmemorable. There’s a running gag regarding Danny listening to old school rap and hip hop while he runs through his forms, but aside from that I can’t pick anything out.

Summary: I feel like there was a really good story buried under the slow pacing, but it just didn’t center around Danny Rand, the Iron Fist. For the first time in a while, Marvel has given us an offering that doesn’t seem to understand its audience or its title character. If you’re looking for martial arts action and a compelling hero, skip this and go re-watch Daredevil.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Other Side of the Door

Listening to God is an Astronaut's Suicide by Star and I wrote the following short. Almost certainly not what they had in mind, but great music to write by.

Cirran breathed in the hot, musty air as sweat dripped down his face. The scraping, skittering sounds came from the door again and his hand spasmed on the controls in reflex. He licked his lips, blinking against the glare as the local star crested the lip of the viewscreen.

“Ship. Lock trajectory and initiate maximum available thrust.”

“That course of action is not recomm-”

“Override. Command code ‘Declination’. Serial number 57821, Tango. Confirm.”

“Override confirmed.” Acceleration pushed him into the seat.

A bark of sound welled up from Cirran’s throat, a laugh half strangled by sobs. Tears dripped down to join the sheen of saline on his face and he leaned back in the command chair. He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and tried to calm his breathing. Every breath brought a
hint of copper.

“Hold it together, kid. It’ll be a wild ride.” He could see Daerion’s cocky grin beaming over from behind the transparent faceplate, light from ion shells streaking his visage with neon warpaint.

Something thrummed through the ship and the warning lights began blinking over the propulsion readings. The hum of the engines was gone. In the silence, the scraping of the escapees work on the command deck’s door locks was all the clearer. Cirran pounded on the console with a grunt of frustration, smacking the control stick into a slowly fading metronome. Tick, tick, tick...

Pulse pounding, breaths rasping, Cirran made his way to the security locker. His eyes felt pulled to the corner, but he locked his gaze on the matte grey finish and the serene green glow of the security pad. His trembling hands pulled a small rectangle of bloody cloth from his uniform pocket and he typed in the code. The locker opened with a mechanized whir, revealing the mag pistol and ammunition, a security tac vest, a first aid kit, and a pair of auspex.

He reached for the gun in manic haste. It took three tries to finish loading it. After a second’s hesitation, he pulled out the first aid kit as well. He left the vest and the ‘spex alone. If the escapees breached the doors…

Cirran spun back to the console and his left foot slid out from under him. The med kit went clattering across the deck as he fell backward, arms windmilling out to the sides. His head hit metal with a thud and sharp flash of pain and light. He blinked away the dancing motes and rolled onto his side. He was lucky he hadn’t shot himself when he hit.

He moved to push himself back up and noticed the blood. The actinic tang filled his nostrils. Crimson warmth coated his left side and pooled shallowly over the deck, smeared by his passage.  A tributary led back up the brief steps to the ops station in the corner. Cirran’s eyes followed it against his will.

Mirri’s glassy eyes fell on him with damning weight.

Arclight fell on the arboretum lawn in an argent web, revealing glimpses of pale skin. Green eyes gleamed from the shadows. The breeze prickled his body and brought with it the scents of flowers. Her breath touched his ear.

“We can stay together.”

Cirran staggered away, gagging on bile, on fear, on failure. He hid his face in the command chair, clung to the seat for life. He screamed, shrieked. He pounded on the seat, sobbing.

The doors shook with a clang, then another. He looked up. The prisoners had ditched the subtle method. He didn’t have much time.

Cirran plodded dully to the fallen med kit. Mirri watched him, silent, patient. He felt her anger soften into pity as he opened the case.

She covered her mouth with her hand as he fell on the ice. She skated over in graceful, easy motions. She held out her hand to him. She wasn’t wearing gloves.

“Need some help?”

He reached out and pulled her down on top of him.

Cirran pulled out the injector and the painkiller vial. He loaded the vial and jammed the injector onto the meat of his forearm. A stream of cold ran up his veins and entered his heart. Calm spread soon after. He closed his eyes and imagined his heart beating in time to the blows on the door. Clang. Ba-dum. Clang. Ba-dum.

Behind it all, he could hear...music? A vibration at least. Something vast. Was the ship shivering slightly? Was he?

It took some time for the insanity to ebb. As it did, it left him hollow. He felt light, diffuse.He dropped the injector and scooped up the gun. He stood and turned toward the viewscreen. The star filled the whole of it now. His people called it Clarion, a class A3V, young and bright, its nuclear fires set to last for hundreds of millions of years. In the mythology of ancient Kathar, it was the last note of the song that sung the heavens into being. The destiny of all souls, a guide and waypost to the life hereafter. He imagined he could feel the light from the viewscreen passing right through him. He was a phantom, a ghost, carried on the starlight.

“That’s how you make it through a real engagement, Rook.” Daerion took a sip from his drink. “Fear is hesitation and hesitation is death. So, go in dead and come out alive.”

The clanging sounds shifted, stretching into a creaking. They were almost through. Cirran opened his eyes and turned to the door. It flexed open a half inch, then shut again. Shouts came.

He shifted direction. The gun came up and put four smoking holes in the console. Warning lights flickered and died. Puffs of smoke rose like incense. He turned back to the console and stared at the image of Clarion, blazed it into his mind.

He wondered just what was on the other side of the door.

The gun rose again and fired. Drops of crimson hit the viewscreen, glittering like rubies in the starlight.