Iron Fist share much of it’s DNA with the Daredevil series. They could be brothers or maybe cousins but Daredevil was the one that went to college and got a job that it worked hard to make pay off. Iron Fist is the one who saw how well Daredevil did and tried to follow in its footsteps without understanding the finer points.
What it wanted to be was a 80’s kung fu movie like the Last Dragon, Big Trouble in Little China, or even like 90s action movies that were not as gritty like Only the Strong, Die Hard (I know it was ’88), or even Iron Monkey. What it ends up being is like a b-grade action 90s action movie, ironically, like the original daredevil (when you see the chick with the spider stuff, try not to imagine her in a bad 90s flick).
At it’s best, and that’s near the end of the series (a trend with a lot of the Netflix series), it’s a fun series about Danny and Connie running around New York, one with a glowing fist and the other with a katana, fighting a bunch of thugs in suits. When it remembers to be about mystic kung fu bullshit, it borders on being great. However, and I suspect this is either a directorial issue or budget constraints, we don’t get much of that (sorry). The series doesn’t follow the ethos of “show, don’t tell”. Rather than get a single scene of teenage Danny running around the streets of K’un-lun we have to hear Danny telling us about the stew some monk made. I can count on 1 hands the number of scenes we had even NEAR K’un-lun. This kind of brings me to the meat of the problem with Iron Fist- the Meachums and their talking.
(MINOR Spoilers in the following paragraph. Nothing past the first episode.)
The Meachums, as you find out in the first episode, are the Rand family’s best buddies and also kind of co-founded/co-ran Rand Industries. Skipping past all the spoilers- they are boring. They should have been, at best, a B-plot. They add some depth to Danny and his background but, overall, I actually got bored a few times with them. I get Danny isn’t the brightest bulb in the pack (I’ll get to that later) but, and this isn’t a spoiler, just about every time Danny trusts the Meachums they screw him over. Like… habitually. Like, it’s their religion or something to mess with Danny- even in his childhood- and he is like oblivious to this. They are literally in the plot only to cause problems for Danny that he is only tangentially involved with. Now, I only bring this up because there is WAY MORE INTERESTING STUFF HAPPENING and they use the Meachum stuff as very badly disguised padding.
(Minor spoilers end)
Now, the guy who plays Ward Meachum, Tom Pelphrey, owns every damn scene he is in. Guy came up as a soap opera actor and just kills it. He chews the scenery at every opportunity he gets but his plot really has no weight or connection to superhero stuff. Hell, David Wenham who plays another Meachum also kills it. They both easily outclass Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick, which is ok because they are decent in their own right.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I’ve heard the cries of “Danny Rand should have been Asian!”. No, he shouldn’t have. This is a story deeply set in New York, centers on a lot of big business white guys, and the fact that he’s the perfectly expected poster boy for a fortune 500 company (what you’d expect) works for him. White dude doing Kung Fu is half the story in this case. One thing I was thinking, while watching it was, “I… dunno. Might have been a bit racist to recast the ethnicity of the only martial arts superhero thus far as asian.” Now, if they had- it would have been fine. They did it with Colleen Wing (Well she was… kind of part Asian) and nothing exploded. Wouldn’t have ruined anything, they could write around it, and (as I’ve expressed above) this series didn’t dig deep enough that the change would have ‘ruined it’. (Related note: Know who’s killing it in a role that I’d normally assume would be cast as a white dude? Daniel Wu in Into the Badlands. Go watch that.)
There ARE high points. Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing is a fun character who adds a lot of credence to the series that wouldn’t have been there if she hadn’t. They did a solid job on tackling childhood trauma and the visual representation/narrative impact was well applied. Some people didn’t dig the fight scenes- I really did. They don’t have a lot of spinning backflips and focus a lot more on quick parries, competent countering, joint manipulation, and even some great scenes of groundwork (which you never see!). When it remembers to be about kung fu antics- it’s awesome. Monks and meditation, spiritual new age woo, guards that are oddly armed with martial arts weapons, grand duels- it’s a lot of fun.
Finn Jones- you did a passable job. Unfortunately you were not who we expected. Krysten Ritter was a tour de force, Mike Colter brought the material to life in a sophisticated by quiet way, and Charlie Cox was probably better than we expected. Finn… was ok. This series needed a guy who lived and breathed martial arts. They got a guy who STARTED his training for the show. Not a guy who was in love with it and then happened to be cast. Go rewatch the old Green Hornet show- Bruce Lee was on display in every fight scene he had (I mean… it was campy stuff but he was clearly in love with it). Finn Jones… well he looks good with his shirt off and seems to “get” the slow stuff like tai chi and meditative poses. He’s not a natural and it shows. As an actor- he does ok. He never really hits home but they could have made a worse casting choice.
Overall, this series suffers by comparison. It’s a SOLID show. Please, if you take anything away from this, take that. It’s a show worth watching but when you imagine what it COULD have been and when you compare it to the other Netflix Series? It’s a let down. So? B+. I’d watch it again (and will with my wife) and I’m looking forward to see Danny back in the Defenders. He’ll be a good balance to the others and there were a lot of good plot points that will set up the Defenders series this fall (expected).
7/10- give it a watch
All Winner Society
Staff: Rodney Lockett, Joe DeSantos, Lawrenz Lano
Generic characters, doing generic things, spouting generic lines, for generic reasons.
So today I got my teeth on the “All Winners Society” by Iron Gate Comics. I like superhero stories and I dig team ups. So the name of this comic reminded me of All-Winners Squad, an obscure comic team made in the late 40s so I figured I’d give it a read. The cover looks schlocky and a little low budget so I’m expecting great and/or terrible things from this one so I’m going in excited for one of those two.
So let’s get this out of the way- the art is on the low end. It’s decent enough, but the graphic design work on this comic is just downright terrible. The cover has difference clouds rendered by Photoshop for the background, the names of characters are hard to read over stuff, generic fonts are used, and everything looks like it was laid out by a 1st year graphic design student. I don’t normally comment on coloring in particular but they just decided to slap one color on characters and add shading via their lines. Not a single use of complex colors is in this comic and they make liberal use of high contrast primaries- which is just ugly looking. Heck- on page 9 they just have a character who is entirely colored one color (and later color them more complexly).
I’m also not entirely convinced some of these images were not just traced. The poses seem stilted, expressions awkward, and nothing seems to cohesively bind a scene together. And that’s unfortunate- because some panels are much better set up. This comic is obviously a throwback to golden age comics but it’s really not picking from the best parts of it. I don’t think the low-budget art was a “design choice” but a matter forced on them. There are issues with perspective (page 12 is a good example), with consistent proportions, backgrounds, the sequence of actions, and a whole host of other things. Most of the character designs are clearly just pastiches of other mainstream characters or just uninspired. I really went into this comic expecting good things but it was just a nightmare.
The lettering is as bad as the artwork. It’s cramped, small-texted, and shoved right up against the edges. You’d think the letterer had never heard of smallcaps for their text layout and every dialogue balloon is laid out using the rounded corner shape creator from Illustrator.
Writing / Story:
Our setup is as generic as the artwork. We get a hefty dump of exposition dropped on us on the first page. It is 1944, the NAZIs have time travel, it is being testing, team has to stop them. The dialogue is painful, most spoken dialogue is expolistional, you can predict every action, the attempts at character development are superficial, and it all just falls flat.
The problem with a team-up book is that you don’t get a chance to connect with characters. You have over a dozen characters running around with little or no introduction (mostly the latter). They are generic characters, doing generic things, spouting generic lines, for generic reasons. It lacks any sense of subtlety or complexity- even by Golden Aged standards .
The overall plot is really just one big fight scene- the generic good guys vs the generic bad guys. (We don’t know WHY one group is evil. Just that they decided it was) That might have been interesting but we don’t know (and are not told) what the character’s powers are thus we have no idea of the stakes. If one character can take bullets to the chest (like we see on page 13), should we be scared when someone else is shot at? Hell- by the end of it I wasn’t even sure who was on what team. The scenes just flip between timelines with no heads up and with so many characters you just met- you just have to try to keep track of who is doing what to who is what timeline. Sometimes they remember to mark it (see page 4 and 20) but other times they just skip it entirely (like why wasn’t it on page 7 during the establishing shot of the “modern” team. Only learned the date on page 23) It’s a total mess.
I will note that it was a nice touch to see some characters from other publishers (changed enough for legal reasons) on page 21. Always a fan of Black Terror for some reason. Not sure it adds much here- it’s a bizarre choice to have a “Ga! I know that guy! He is supposed to be Cat Man!” moment during a somber scene. Kind of a tonal disconnect.
The end of this comic notes that “This project started out as a bunch of strangers playing Cities of Heroes and having a common interest in golden age heroes.” and that REALLY shows. It’s a super-generic slugfest with characters we have no emotional attachment to that someone REALLY wanted to make. This comic suffers from the all too common “generic hero comic” syndrome. They think putting together the same tropes that they see in superhero comics makes it a good comic and it always lacks it. At least superhero comics like iHero TRY to do something new (even if they totally fail at doing it). Now I’ve reviewed comics that use this premise and have a lot of fun with it. One of my favorite comics like this was The Misadventures of Electrolyte and The Justice Purveyors and you can DO the campy pulp-era aesthetic well, even if your art isn’t outstanding (see Crunch: Revenge) so long as you know what you are doing. This is an amature effort- a novice playing with concepts they’ve seen rather than inherently understand. The creative process has to generate these tropes- the tropes should not dictate the creative process.
Art: 3/10 [Not good.]
Lettering: 4/10 [Legible.]
Plot: 2/10 [Generic, uninteresting, slugfest.]
Novelty: 1/10 [Everything is generic.]
Staff: Joey Haas and Megan Rosa
I got to use the line, “The writing reminds me of a fart joke.” in this review.
Ever sit around with your friend and make stupid jokes that only you find funny but laugh yourself silly over? That’s pretty much what we’ve got today- except someone took the time and effort to draw it out as a comic. Love it or hate it- it’ll be an interesting ride. So strap in kiddies we are jumping into “The Ultimate Alliance” by JH Publishing.
So let’s get this out of the way- this art could have been drawn by a talented 7 year old. It’s not good and I get the idea that it’s not trying to be good. This is a fun passion project and I can’t give them shit over the fact that they are not professional artists. Hell- I don’t know if having professional quality art would have improved it. If anything it kind of accents the kind of low-budget schlock-comic ascetic. Intentional or not, it kind of works. It almost approaches the level of being “so bad it’s good” but I can’t bestow that moniker to it because I’m only like 75% sure that’s really what they were going for.
One thing of note for this is that, while the artwork is not great- I’m never confused about what is going on. It’s simple, gets the point across, and ties into the written aspect of the comic. Sure the artist might have a boiling hatred for the art of correct perspective, proportions, and consistency but at least I knew what the hell was going on. Some comics, particularly more artsy ones, often have dark and confusing scenes in them.
It’s a full color comic and it’s light and cartoony and the lettering matches. The dialogue boxes are rough squares with vibrant stock colors behind them. While it never gets to the point where it’s hard to read it’s not exactly stellar. However, see the above paragraph for my thoughts on the quality of artistic elements of this comic.
Writing / Story:
The writing reminds me of a fart joke. Everyone considers it really crude, laughs in their head about it, but is too polite to laugh out loud. Is it good? Not really. Is it entertaining? Sure, why not. I mean we’ve all got that stupid idea bounding around our head that when you tell your friend about it they laugh. Does that mean it should go into a comic for widestream consumption? Probably not. The comic is filled with in-jokes you probably won’t get, simplistic (even crude) humor, and a complete detachment from the expectations you have about a good comic. It kind of reminds me of those little golden-age humor comics that were basically all about slapstick humor and bawdy jokes. I’ll admit- I chuckled once or twice but I wouldn’t call it ‘good’ per se.
I will give it some points however. It does some things right that a lot of indie comics don’t. Obviously there is the tone- a lot of indie superhero comics straddle the line between wanting to be serious and wanting to make fun of comics. When that happens it kind of ends up in this weird middle ground where it’s not funny and it’s not really serious either. This comic commits the to “screw it- let’s just make bad puns and fly around in an ox-copter” end of the spectrum and I can respect that. However clumsily it does it, it also does something kind of brilliant with its pacing. It takes a few pages to set up the characters (in their civilian identity) than just does straight up “information” page on them once they become their alter egos. It works better than you’d think. I mean they are one note characters, but at least they introduce them right. None of this “EXPOSITION DUMP” that a lot of indie hero comics are so fond of putting in their comics. Short, sweet, and to the point- even if handled like a mad ape.
Ultimately this is a weird, very personally motivated, in-joke of a humor comic. It’s one of those things that I couldn’t avoid reviewing- it brings me back to my roots. I LIKE to review comics with bad elements to them and shout about the good parts. This one was a perfect fit. It is REALLY dumb and has pretty solidly bad art but it was clearly a labor of love and it knew what it wanted to be. I’m not going to recommend it or give it high praise but, you know what, it’s better than you’ll think it is when you look at the first page.