Facets of Alignment: Chaos

Standard caveat: Alignment discussion is an ongoing, unending battlefield morass of discussion and debate and argument. (And, I would argue, it’s been purposefully set up that way.) You can and should develop your own perspectives on this subject, and if you disagree with what I say here, that’s cool. By all means, let’s talk about it.

Chaotic Good

Chaotic Good people run the gamut from political revolutionaries struggling against an oppressive regime to good guys who don’t much care about the rules to rugged individualists soaked in beneficence. They consider the good of people more important than the actual law, which they view with distrust or contempt. They’re often impulsive and disorganized, trusting instinct over planning, and often never run the same con or strategy twice.

Chaotic Good aims to misbehave, but always for a good reason.

Chaotic Good individuals are susceptible to their anarchic influences, and can easily end up skirting that moral line. Chaotic Good adventurers tend to be good at improvisation when their loose plans inevitably fall apart, and they consider adaptation more important than strictures. They tend to run from responsibility or authority, though sometimes they embrace it in the end because it’s the right thing to do. Their loyalty is to a cause, not to an authority.

Examples: Aragorn is Chaotic Good. Robin Hood is Chaotic Good. Zorro is Chaotic Good. Malcolm Reynolds is Chaotic Good. The Dread Pirate Roberts is Chaotic Good. Elminster is Chaotic Good. Garin Ravalis (from the World of Ruin series) is Chaotic Good.

Chaotic Neutral

Chaotic Neutral revels in chaos and disorder. A Chaotic Neutral person is unpredictable in the extreme and rarely repeats the same stratagem–if they even see it as strategy. They act on their whims and feelings and rarely edit themselves. They rely on themselves alone, take people by surprise, and often take pride in doing both. A Chaotic Neutral person generally has no use for law or authority and make go out of their way to frustrate the efforts of lawful characters and institutions.

Chaotic Neutral is independent, free, and only relies on itself.

A Chaotic Neutral person is marked by a streak of amorality–rarely do they side with a good cause, nor do they let the evil of an action make them hesitate. They need more compelling reasons than “it’s the right thing to do” to prompt them to action. However, despite its reputation, Chaotic Neutral isn’t intended to be carte blanche for “do whatever you want, whenever you want.” Yes, there is that, but Chaotic Neutral goes further. It is a lifelong commitment to defying expectation, trusting your instinct, and undermining expectations.

Examples: V from V for Vendetta is Chaotic Neutral. Deadpool is Chaotic Neutral. Harley Quinn is Chaotic Neutral. Catwoman is Chaotic Neutral. Ilira “The Fox-at-Twilight” Nathalan is Chaotic Neutral. Mask (from the World of Ruin series) is Chaotic Neutral.

Chaotic Evil

Chaotic Evil is our classic sense of what evil is–unpredictable, monstrously bad–and that seems to be intentional in the setup of the nine alignments. In truth, though, it’s no more or less evil than any other evil alignment–just often more obvious about it. This goes to how we pathologize mental illness, and we often make our villains out to be “crazy” and “chaotic,” but that’s another discussion for another time.

Chaotic Evil: Because some people just want to watch the world burn.

Just as Lawful Good isn’t necessarily Lawful Stupid, neither is Chaotic Evil necessarily Chaotic Stupid. We’re all familiar with roving, mad monsters that sow destruction and chaos for pleasure, but one can be quite a bit more subtle. There’s nothing about the alignment that says you have to be loud and bombastic. As long as you work toward the common ill, sow confusion and revel in setting people off their ease, pride yourself on being unpredictable and only serve your own interests, odds are you’re Chaotic Evil.

Examples: The Joker is Chaotic Evil. The drow, orcs, and many monsters are Chaotic Evil. Demons are Chaotic Evil. Ramsay Bolton is Chaotic Evil. Lilten Dlardrageth is Chaotic Evil (though he’s urbane about it). Fayne is Chaotic Evil, though she evolves to be more Neutral over time. Alistra Ravalis (from the World of Ruin series) is Chaotic Evil.

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Nazis are the Bad Guys

So, it’s 2017, and by my count, you’d have to have ignored a LOT of movies, comics, books, and culture to identify with white supremacists/nationalists, the KKK, or nazis in this day and age. (Or maybe rooted for the villains? I dunno.)

(Really, fake geek boys?)

See the classic That Mitchell and Webb routine

Here’s an expansive but by no means exhaustive list of the media that show Nazis and their ilk as bad guys.

Indiana Jones (Nazis)

It’s the American way, really.

Star Wars (Empire = Space Nazis)

“Psst, FU123–are we the baddies?”

Harry Potter (Death Eaters = Magic Nazis)

The metaphor is fairly thick here, guys.

Marvel Comics (Hydra = Comics Nazis)

Even the Joker gets it, Nick Spencer–what’s your excuse?

Wolfenstein (Digital Nazis)

Umm… is that ROBO-HITLER? It… it is.

Inglourious Basterds (Nazis)

Dude, alt-right–it’s your hero, Tyler Durden.

Blues Brothers (Illinois Nazis)

They’re on a mission from GOD.

Call of Duty (Regular Nazis & Zombie Nazis)

I’m gonna take a wild guess that you’re not playing a SS officer in this game.

Bionic Commando (Nazis)

The original was probably better, honestly, but still.

Bloodrayne (Bloodsack Nazis)

You’re a hot redhead vampire who kills Nazis. I mean, c’mon.

Sniper Elite 4 (and the previous Sniper Elite games) (Nazis)

Hitler is even a target sometimes.

Far Cry 5 (White Nationalists)

In case it’s at all unclear–white nationalists are the bad guys.

2018 Midterm Elections (Steve Bannon and a bunch of White Nationalists in the GOP)

Give Bannon a sad. Vote vs. GOP.

What are some of YOUR favorite Nazi/White Supremacist/Nationalist crushing narratives?

Share early, share often!

Further Reading:

The Alt-Right has a problem with Nazis as video game baddies I WONDER WHY THAT IS

THE LIST GOES ON: The AV Club’s List of Games about Nazis as Baddies

 

 

Romance + Compassion: Dawn of Empathy

Spoiler Alert: Wonder Woman is Wonderful

SPOILERS for WONDER WOMAN
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You were warned….
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And yet you persisted….
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Let’s be clear that I really, really loved this movie, for all its occasional flaws. I could spend literally all the free time I have today listing what I loved about the movie, but there’s one particular point I wanted to address, and so I’m going to do that here. As for my review: I really liked it. You might like it too. Go watch it.
Now then.
The Pivotal Question: Does the romance subplot undermine Wonder Woman, making it seem like she “needs a man” to succeed?
Kinda?
Kinda, in that well, the optics are that Wonder Woman wouldn’t have succeeded if she hadn’t fallen in love with, had sex with, and then lost Steve Trevor. (Was he fridged–i.e. killed off to motivate her? Kinda?)
But is that really true?
ROMANCE + COMPASSION: DAWN OF EMPATHY
(Caveat that this flows partly from analyzing the movie in a vacuum and partly from my outside knowledge of–and extreme affection for–the character of Wonder Woman. For a viewer who knows nothing of Wonder Woman, that scene might come off a different way, more in line with what I call the “surface” interpretation.)
On the surface, the movie makes it seem like that moment–seen in flashback–where Steve tells Diana that he loves her (just before he heads off to sacrifice himself for humanity) is the moment where she chooses good, rather than the evil Ares is offering. Well, more accurately, she chooses COMPASSION over destruction, which isn’t quite the same thing as good over evil. And that’s a movie formula we’re very used to: love and sex make everything better. We get invested in a romance and we want it either 1) to work out so we can convince ourselves the heroes live happily ever after, or 2) one character to die and the other character to honor them with some great and epic feat, demonstrating that True Love Wins (TM).
But was that what happened here?
I don’t think so.

He spends a lot of the movie looking at her like “aw geez, man, she so wonderful.”

Look at the context going into that scene. Look at Wonder Woman standing poised to hurl a truck at Dr. Poison–a woman damaged by Man’s World and twisted into something monstrous by her service to the war machine. Dr. Maru is at least as important to the story as Steve Trevor is. And WW sees the value in her–feels sympathy toward her–even when the movie has spent two hours convincing us not to. That is her victory: compassion in the dark and difficult moments.
Diana’s romance with Steve is incidental. The intimacy of their relationship isn’t just between two people. It’s between her and Man’s World, because he is her connection to that world. I think he initially sort of saw himself as pursuing her as a romantic partner, but she never saw them that way. And when he understood how she felt about him and the world (the same way), they became more than romantic. They achieved a level of intimacy beyond–a toxic masculinity shattering thing.
Steve didn’t teach her compassion–she taught it to him. I mean, he already cared about people, but it was in an abstract sense. “I have this mission to do. I have to save all these people.” But in the end, that’s when he understood what it really meant to care about the whole world, because that’s what she did. It was a new level of intimacy he hadn’t been able to achieve–until he met her.
How can you not love someone who teaches you that?
In turn, he served as Diana’s reference point with the world–allowed her to see Men as worthy of her compassion as well as her sisters. Isn’t that how empathy works? In order to feel for people different from you, you need to meet people different from you–get to see them as people–understand their hopes and fears and the scope of their existence?
Spoiler alert: Yes.
And the ascendancy of empathy is not typically something we get in Superhero movies. Especially not DC movies, but all of them. We tend to expect brooding dudes with big muscles who have to blow up or murder a bunch of people and we’re supposed to be ok with it because, well, that’s what was needed to save the world, right?
That’s not what Diana had to do, and she stands above the others for that reason.
We saw a little of it in Captain America and the Winter Soldier–where Cap can only get through to Bucky by not fighting him, but by loving him–but that was very localized between those two people. It didn’t work out between Cap and Iron Man. The relationship between Diana and Steve is painted in similar strokes, but they don’t solve their problems with their fists. They solve it with their hearts.
(And to head off that particular question, no, Steve was not Diana’s introduction to sex and romance. Why would he be? She was living on a whole island of perfectly appropriate romantic partners. They even have a conversation about this on the boat, to hilarious result.)
The interplay between Diana and Steve was pivotal to the movie, because he was her entry point–and ours, in a way. He was the representative of Man’s World: flawed, possessed of both good and evil, partly at fault for what was going on. He was the Good Man–playing a role in the problems of the world without realizing it.
Wonder Woman didn’t come to Man’s World to destroy it or conquer it or even embrace it. She came to fix it–to save it from itself. She couldn’t save Steve–not in body, anyway–but I think she taught him something very important, and vice versa. He would not have given himself for so many others without her example, and she needed him as her access point–but she needed the WORLD to become the hero that she became.
IN CONCLUSION
Will it look to a lot of people like the romance subplot undermined Wonder Woman by making her dependent on a man? Yeah, it will, and it has. You can read lots of articles about that. They muddied the waters–relied over much on this trusted formula about “True Love” and all that.
But I don’t think it was romantic love that won the day.
In order for her compassion to transcend–to know no bounds–she had to know and experience it all. She had to see the destroyed hopes, dreams, and lives of thousands to understand the true horror of war, but instead of breaking, she rose above it. She became more.
When Steve told Diana that he loved her, he wasn’t just saying that he loved her romantically. He loved her the way the Amazons on Themyscira love each other–romantically, platonically, perfectly. He was giving her hope. He was Man’s World, embracing her and conveying to her that her way was right and good and the only hope for ending war (i.e. destroying Ares). And Ares/war was what had just taken Steve from her–that she could still choose love for all people over vengeance for one person was her victory.
That didn’t undermine her. That made her stronger.
A FEW OTHER THINGS
Sex doesn’t threaten Wonder Woman: I do feel that the romantic/sexy-times subplot with Steve wasn’t really necessary. It came off as a hook to get us, the audience, invested in these characters. At least it didn’t have any exploitative/porny scenes. But even if it did, so what? Wonder Woman is allowed to have romantic interests. See = all the Amazons. Love and connection are pivotal to her character. And it’s Chris Pine, I mean, c’mon.
Romantic Supporting Role: Ok, so, Steve was kinda the girlfriend character in this movie. He ranged from kind of adorable to doing some actiony bits to seeming like he might have had a speech impediment when he tried, stutteringly, to talk to Diana or keep his wits about him around the Amazons. And they managed to make him not kind of a misogynist dick, the way he was in the excellent animated version from a few years back. He seemed largely confused about how to say things, even if he very earnestly felt them and cared deeply about his mission. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking “how would this go on, if it were to go on?” Would Diana love him the way he loved her, or would they fall apart the way they did in New 52? I guess we won’t get to see that, but that’s ok. We can move on.
Steve Trevor = Captain America (they’re both named Chris): So, why exactly couldn’t Steve pilot that plane loaded with the weapons of mass destruction into an ice floe, thus ending up in suspended animation for decades, after which he and Diana could be reunited in a long, angst-filled movie where they took down the evil corruption in the government (probably led by Ares, the way he did in THIS MOVIE)? Oh right, there was a timer on those bombs. Oh right, there was a timer.) But hold up, was the timer for only like 20 minutes? Why? Weren’t they planning to fly to London to drop the gas? Don’t they need more than like 20 minutes to fly from Belgium TO LONDON?
Diversity? So, obviously I’m super happy that Diana’s crew wasn’t all white dudes being white and saving the world while white. There was a Middle Eastern dude and a Native American dude and a Scottish dude who, while white, was still dealing with some shit, and Diana helped him in a pretty cool way. That said, WTF with the smoke signals? That was just an odd moment of “heheh, look, Indian does Indian thing.” They didn’t have to do that. In context, I guess it was forgivable, but whose idea was that? (See further reading, below.)
The Oddly Abridged Mythology Stuff: Whose idea was it, exactly, to not mention any of the female Greek gods? I mean, I get that you wanted to simplify it, so you only mentioned Zeus and Ares, but 1) how dumb do you think the audience is that we can’t even handle a couple other names (wait, nevermind, don’t answer that), 2) why kill off the other gods, exactly? Why couldn’t at least Athena survive? I mean c’mon, 3) aren’t the goddesses pivotal parts of Wonder Woman’s backstory? Don’t they give her blessings like the Beauty of Aphrodite, the Wisdom of Athena, that sort of thing? This was a noticeable excision.
The Baby Thing: Until that scene in London, Diana has never seen a baby, and that’s a big deal. That’s why she goes nuts over seeing a baby. But if you’re going to do that, why not make it pay off later in the film? Why not have her, I dunno, talk to Steve about this? Or even see a dead baby in the destroyed village? She is obviously really, really bothered about children being hurt in war, but I feel like this is a missed opportunity to bring things around with a reference to this important piece.
Continuity question: Isn’t Diana in “Supes ❤ Batman: Dawn of Bromance” kind of “retired” from the world? I would have expected that she end up her origin story bitter and sad and removed from public life, but she seems to have been victorious. So why the retreat? Did she go back to Themyscira? Did she go hang out with Etta Candy for the next few decades? What? HURRY UP WITH THAT SECOND MOVIE, PATTY JENKINS!
WW1 = perfect setting for Wonder Woman 1: I was quite skeptical at first, but I feel like this setting perfectly captures the theme and concept. Steve called it at first “The War to End All Wars” (did they call it that at the time?), and WW1 would have seemed truly apocalyptic to the people at the time. This was really, truly WW saving Man’s World from the cycle of war and destruction. Though like all things, it doesn’t *stay* saved and will require constant maintenance. But does this mean Wonder Woman 2 (WW2) will take place during World War 2 (WW2)? And no, that’s not entirely a joke–a bit could be done about Diana attempting to be an ambassador to Man’s World, etc. And I know Batman supposedly only found that one picture of her from WW1, but maybe 1) that was just the *first* picture he found of her, and/or 2) he was just too distracted with lifting all those weights to fight an unbeatable super being (do you even overcompensate, bro?) that he just didn’t notice her appearance during the 40s.
Further Reading
 https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/06/04/representation-matters-chief-wonder-woman-awesome/

Iron Fist is an Entitled White Boy Jerk, pt 2

Marvel: “Hey fanboys, are you socially awkward and don’t care about women’s feelings or autonomy? It’s ok, they’ll sleep with you anyway!”

Fanboys: “Yay!”

. . .

I’m to that point in Iron Fist (spoilers for episode 7, I think) where there’s an entirely unearned sex scene coming up, and it just makes me roll my eyes so hard my head hurts.

“Unearned,” in the sense that the narrative doesn’t justify it in any way.

What about this guy is Colleen Wing supposed to be attracted to?

Is it the bad hair?

The constant disrespect for her teaching methods?

The one or two compliments that he gave her in the last couple episodes? (Compliments that came totally out of the blue, “you’re the strongest person I know,” ah, you’re an idiot, Danny Rand.)

How about the stalking?

The breaking into people’s houses?

The inability to take “no” for an answer?

The vow of celibacy that he apparently swore but discards in a HEARTBEAT as soon as there’s a sexy exotic/erotic Japanese poison woman in the previous episode? (Yeah, don’t think I missed that little gem. [1])

I get that it’s a vulnerable moment with her manufactured anxiety about failing to protect a mostly dead guy, and that Danny tells her some cute stories about little boys being doofuses, but c’mon, seriously? How are we supposed to take this seriously? They’re not Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Heck, they’re not Matt Murdock and Elektra.

Maybe she’s just really into fake-looking chest tattoos.

Yeah, that’s probably it.

Are Colleen Wing’s initials “CW” because this is a CW show? Maybe that’s it.

If that sounds harsh, it’s because Marvel keeps digging that hole for The Great White Hope, and doesn’t seem to realize it’s digging.

Flawed people, I’m cool with–I *prefer* flawed characters, in fact–but I expect there to be narrative consequences to their flaws or an exploration of their flaws.

So far, Danny’s only “flaw” is that he’s too compassionate, refusing to kill the Hand warrior so that Madame Gao wouldn’t kill the damsel in distress. And then he angsts about that, because that’s apparently a good thing.[2]

His seeming inability to respect women or boundaries is a significant flaw, but there’s been zero sign that he’s even aware of that problem, much less that he’s going to address it. And why would he? Even the women he disparaged, disrespected, and harassed fall into his arms without any real effort on his part. No doubt Colleen and Joy will end up fighting over him, because that’s how these rich white boy wish fulfillment stories usually go.

Every episode, I like him less and less, which is pretty remarkable, considering how little I liked him initially.

Jessica Jones, for instance, was an incredibly flawed character who made all kinds of bad decisions and disrespected the hell out of basically everyone, but she suffered for it. She had to earn every ounce of good that happened to her in that show (and there wasn’t a lot of it). Her whole story was a compelling climb up a rugged mountain during a lightning storm without so much as a jacket or even boots.

Danny doesn’t struggle or suffer or have to earn anything. Sure he gets hurt on occasion, but it’s never a big deal. Everything just kinda works out for him, because it’s destiny.

And that’s a lame story.

This is a lame story.

I hope it gets better.

Cheers

Notes:

[1] The Japanese spider lady who fights with sexiness was really, REALLY bad. (Orientalism, anyone?) I mean, I want a Spider Woman show as much as the next hot blooded Marvel fanboy but c’mon.

[2] Also, can we have a conversation about how eastern philosophy is a stand-in for psychopathic disregard for innocent lives here? Maybe it’s an Objectivist thing–that in order to truly excel at your calling, you have to put petty things like morality aside. (Maybe the “Rand” part of his name isn’t a coincidence.) Maybe this is the conversation Marvel wants us to have, but that’s really weird.

(See also, Iron Fist is an Entitled White Boy Jerk, part 1.)

Iron Fist is an Entitled White Boy Jerk pt 1

This regards IRON FIST on Netflix, and contains spoilers for episode 4/5 (not sure which).
At one point, Danny shows up at Wing’s dojo, uninvited (red flag) and clearly unwelcome after he has been stalking her for some time (red flag) and assaulted one of her students (not that he cares, because Iron Fisting or something, red flag), with “takeout” (a catering service from a romantic food place, as a result of his cluelessness, but red flag) so he can “talk to her about something.” (Red. Flag.)
He interrupts Colleen when she’s in the middle of teaching Claire (yay!) how to fight. (You know, that whole female agency/empowerment thing? Gotta interrupt that, right away.) And then he won’t leave despite the fact that they’re in the middle of a lesson. I mean, if he can’t respect women or boundaries, at *LEAST* he can respect actual training sessions, right? Nope, apparently not. (RED FLAG.)
She asks if it’s a date, and he assures her that no, it’s not a date, definitely not, unless *puppy eyes* that’s what she wants. And thank God she says “no, it’s not,” because *Jesus*, man, get it together, just a little. (Also? RED FLAG!)
When Colleen is understandably hesitant to have lunch with him (because ALL THE RED FLAGS!), Claire volunteers to give up the rest of her session and join them for lunch. And note–this is important–Danny says “no, that’s not necessary,” and Colleen says “no, that’s a great idea.”
She is visibly and narratively relieved to have an ally at that table. It’s flagged quite clearly right here.
And then during the conversation, it comes up that Danny has sworn a vow of chastity, and Colleen is OMG relieved, because *Jesus.* But at the same time, creeps sometimes trick their marks into a false sense of security, so she stays super wary. (Which is good, because she’s the best character in this show.)
And the worst part for me, I think, is that we’re supposed to root for this relationship. We the audience are supposed to wonder why Colleen’s not falling into Danny’s arms. Because he’s the hero, of course he gets the girl. (And let’s not kid ourselves here–he will. That’s just how Marvel rolls.)
I’m deeply suspicious of any message that justifies stalkery harassment with “social ineptitude” or “cultural difference.” We get enough of that “oh, he’s just socially inept–don’t mind the sexist rants on Twitter” crap in real life. Danny grew up in a context of respect and acknowledgment of others, right? So why does he do this shit? If I were Danny, I’d back way the hell off and exercise a little patience and, I dunno, *wisdom.*
This is a terrible, *terrible* message that they’re putting out there.
Maybe the show is going to redeem this kind of stalkery, boundary-pushing behavior, then ok, but considering the graceless way they’ve done everything so far, I’m not holding my breath.

Iron Fisting, pt 1

So I’m currently watching Marvel’s IRON FIST, and I haz the thoughts.

I write this review while I’m watching Episode 4 (spoilers for that far), having seen the previous three. I will watch more. Read on to find out why.

Iron Fist: Marvel’s participation in the kung-fu craze of the 70s, translated into today’s world

Let me preface this by citing my own biases: I’m a pretty big comics fan. Within the fandom, I’m probably only considered minor, but I’ve read a lot of comics and know a lot about Marvel’s principal gravy trains. I’ve seen all the Marvel movies, most of them several times each, and more importantly I’ve caught the majority of the references and know what’s going on. I know very little about Iron Fist, however. I’m pretty neutral as regards the character, much like Luke Cage (if I go back and do a review series about that show as well). Haven’t read many of his books or thought much of his crossover appearances. So I’m not coming into this with any particular biases for or against the character, nor do I know much about his supporting cast and rogue’s gallery. This allows me to watch the show without preconceived notions.

I’d also like to acknowledge the review work that has already been done here. There are a lot of critics out there who have disparaged this show for a lot of reasons.[1] There is an important conversation to be had about the problematic ways this show deals with race, orientalism, and the white savior trope, all of which arise from the subject matter and are carried over into the show to some extent. This review entry will not address those in detail, as I haven’t watched enough of the show to present a full opinion on those subjects. In the meantime, there’s lots of reading out there to be done regarding cultural appropriation and the racial politics inherent in IRON FIST.

I’ll get into all that later. For now, I want to talk about the characters and structure of the show, trying to table those major issues for the moment. I have made an effort to watch the show without all of that in my head and just judge it on its own merits.

The result? Kind of a mediocre show that’s just kinda there.

It follows the Marvel Netflix structure pretty well. It follows multiple characters, it uses brief flashbacks that only make sense as you watch the show, it explores multiple themes, it could use more lighting, etc. But for some reason it’s less compelling than other Marvel Netflix shows. It’s ok, and you might really like it, but it’s just not up to the same level as the other Marvel Netflix shows.

Why?

I’ll watch more of the show, but so far, I’m not particularly impressed. The writing is not great–it lacks the sparkle of previous Netflix Marvel shows. The acting is mediocre and some of the scenes could use better direction. The fight scenes are just ok. They do look more like the unglamorous but efficient reality of martial arts–more about holds and leverage and knowing how to move than brute strength. But this is TV, and *superhero* TV at that, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it taken up a notch. I mean, the DAREDEVIL fights were brutal and realistic and great. Compared to those, IRON FIST’s fight scenes are just kinda meh. Think of the DAREDEVIL corridor fight in season 1, episode 2 and the stairwell fight near the beginning of season 2, compared to the fight scene in IF episode 4. It doesn’t feel as epic or immediate or powerful.

As a fantasy writer, I wouldn’t mind it all being a little more fantastic.

But my main problem is, there’s just nothing to latch onto.

In DAREDEVIL, we had Matt’s pathos and drive to punish the wicked, assuaging his own guilt (survivor’s guilt, catholic guilt, lying-to-my-friends guilt, all the guilt). In JESSICA JONES, it was all about trauma and the fallout of sexual assault (something TV/movies almost never deal with). In LUKE CAGE, it was the racial tensions of his situation and the struggles of being black in America.

What do we have in IRON FIST? A clueless white boy who wanders around hoping things will work out for him, and they generally do, because why wouldn’t they? He’s a good-looking white boy, even if he’s an example of a monk character with a low charisma. He’s rich, or at least should be, which he ostensibly doesn’t care about but hires Jeri Hogarth (yay!) to fix for him. What’s he fighting for? What’s his purpose? He says he’s the sworn enemy of the Hand and the dedicated protector of K’un-Lun, but we know almost nothing about that city or that story. When is this show gonna throw us a bone?

This is like reading a book that you think *might* get good, but is just a tedious slog for the first hundred pages or so.

About the Characters:

Finn Jones as Danny Rand is ok, but the material he’s working with is pretty generic. He isn’t Arrow (and that’s good, because he lacks Amell’s charisma or physicality)–his character is much less driven, less in control of himself or his surroundings, etc. I understand that’s part of where he’s coming from (Zen? Buddhism? Some sort of eastern philosophy, the show can’t seem to decide.), but he wanders around the set like he’s some Calvin Klein model on rumspringa. When he interacts with Joy and Steve[1] Meachum, he’s clueless, graceless, and just expects everything to be fine. Yes, maybe that’s the philosophy he comes from, but as pasty and handsome as Jones is, this just comes off as rich white boy entitlement. (And I’ll bet Marvel never addresses this.)

Finn Jones as Danny Rand, the Iron Fist, aka white boy *really* into tai chi

And it’s really weird that Rand would be an entitled white boy, because he didn’t grow up that way. Jones doesn’t have the sense of calm and presence that he needs to come off as believably steeped in eastern mysticism or Buddhism. I don’t want him to be some sort of stereotype, but I want him to bear the mark of his experiences, not look like he spent the last weekend at a yoga retreat + tai chi in the mornings.

And then, when he interacts with the amazing Henwick as Colleen Wing, where he just starts talking to her in Mandarin (which to my untrained ear sounds like they at least made an attempt) or all the bowing or questions her martial arts skills… It’s unclear if he’s really trying to be respectful or if he’s making fun of her. And she knows it, too–you can see it in her face.

(Is this what racial minorities deal with all the time from well-meaning but clueless white people? Spoiler alert: it kinda is.)

I think this is a writing mistake. I think the writers did not consider any of these issues when they crafted this character. Because there are so many ways they could be addressing this, but they aren’t doing that.

Maybe it’s the hair. The messy mass of gold curls has got to go.

Or maybe it’s his tendency to talk down to everyone and ignore their “no thank yous” or just plain “no.” He doesn’t respect anyone’s consent, iron fists his way right through boundaries, he’s somehow above everyone in his own mind, and pretends it’s all him being kind and/or respectful. Rather than coming off as respectful or humble, he comes off as an entitled jerk.

I do appreciate that Jones seems human and disoriented. He’s obviously suffering from severe culture shock, though I’d like to see them play that up more. Have him go into a department store, look around, and just go “why?” Why so much excess? How do people live like this? Marvel could really play this up. We’ll see if they do.

We get a healthy dose of “cruel mental hospital” in episode 2, and it does make us start to wonder whether Danny is really Danny, just like everyone else wonders. You know, after “the Incident,” I’d expect people in the MCU to be a little more credulous when it comes to super powers and mysterious backstories. But I guess it’s reasonable.

Colleen Wing is my favorite character thus far. Not surprising, since the Daughters of the Dragon are great in the comics. Can’t wait until she catches up with Misty Knight.

She’s beautiful, obviously, but she’s also tough, independent, and has more of a moral compass than most of the other characters. She’s way more grounded than Danny with his hippie zen white boy act. And she’s gonna be a great martial presence in the show, assuming Marvel doesn’t frat-boy out and make Danny her savior at every turn. Also, the little nods to her white costume from the comics are pretty great. (The more that happens, the better as far as I’m concerned–episode 4 is very rewarding in that respect.) She’s also not exoticized but allowed to be the cool American young woman she is whilst maintaining her very specific philosophies.

Her arc is thus far about remaining true to herself. Adhering to a code of conduct and behavior based on Bushido vs. the needs of the living in the real world, like money to run her business, etc. We see this when Chris[2] Meachum tries to bribe her to lie on a form to get Danny committed, and then again when she goes to an underground UFC fight, despite telling her students that fighting for money is dishonorable. I’m interested to see where this goes.

Colleen Wing aka the Daughter of the Dragon, scrappy martial arts instructor, and basically the person carrying this whole show

It’s unclear what ethnic heritage Colleen is supposed to have in the show. In the comics, Colleen is a red-haired Japanese-American, having a white father and a native Japanese mother. Henwick is from Singapore, so at least she’s East Asian, but it’s unclear how the show is intending to present her. Danny started speaking to her in mandarin as soon as they met, suggesting he read her as Chinese, but she corrected him pretty quickly and asked him to “speak English or Japanese–I haven’t spoken Mandarin since I was a little girl.” Which suggests she’s fluent in Japanese, which is also the source of the martial arts that she teaches at the dojo (near as I can tell–their exclamations were Japanese, and their prayers in episode 4 are Japanese). And–and here’s the big one–she is all about Bushido, which is the code of honor followed by samurai, who are distinctly *Japanese*, not Chinese.

A Chinese-American fluent in Japanese and only passable in Chinese, who holds herself to the code of Bushido (a Japanese philosophy)? Sure. That’s possible. But I also know TV and films have a tendency to look for “Asian” in their actors, and not be a lot more specific than that.

The part in episode 3 where Colleen spars with Danny is interesting, but probably not in the way Marvel intended. Yes, he’s kind of mansplaining/whitesplaining martial arts to her, but it could be that he’s just talking about a different style than her own, and he’s teaching her. The optics of that aren’t great (white dude better at martial arts than Asian lady! Yay!), and he’s being hugely presumptuous. Which kinda fits in with his “I grew up in a monastery for 15 years and have no social skills of any kind.” But that’s no more an excuse here than it is on Twitter. If a guy is disrespectful to a woman, “he’s awkward” isn’t an acceptable excuse. And Wing did indeed call him out on it, albeit indirectly–she showed him the door–though he managed to weasel his way into her good graces for plot reasons. Obviously, she is fully within her rights to forgive him for being a clueless dick, but I’d like to see Danny come to terms with how inappropriate his behavior often is, and make efforts to make amends. The chances of that seem low, but it’s always possible.

If anything is going to keep me watching this show, it is gong to be Colleen Wing.

On the Meachums:

These are pretty interesting villains. Joy is caught in the middle of it all, though I’m expecting a heel-turn at some point. She reminds me of Laurel from Arrow, mostly because of the hair (I don’t know what it is about haircuts in this show) and because Danny is constantly mooning over her the way Oliver does Laurel. I’m not sure if Joy’s going to be a love interest, but he’s really committed to her. And she twists him around her finger like it’s no big thing.

(Note: See footnote 2, but I’m apologizing in advance for any confusion raised in using multiple names for Ward. The show also confused me, and I’m making a point here.)

Her brother Chet[2] is a cartoonish bully type, but at least we’re seeing some of the reasons for his behavior and outlook. Barron Meachum boasts one of the most punch-able faces in all of these Netflix Marvel shows, and I am very much looking forward to Danny punching him right in the kisser. Or maybe Colleen Wing, which would be even better.

Their father Harold Meachum is intriguing as a behind-the-scenes Kingpin type, and I’m wondering about his moral dimension as well.

Ward and Joy Meachum–spoiler alert, they’re the bad guys

Mostly the value of these characters, as I see it so far, is the discussion of bullying and the ongoing cycle of violence. Trent bullies Danny, Grant is bullied by his father Harold, who was in turn bullied by his father, and probably his before him. It’s the whole fratboy mentality: violence is learned and passed on to the next generation. When will the cycle end, one is led to wonder? Are bullies redeemable? I mean, I’m not invested in Chaz being redeemed–that guy is a major asshole–but they’re setting this up as a useful side story.

Also, yay for Jeri Hogarth and Madame Gao!

Well, I’ll keep watching. You might like it as well.

Cheers,
Erik

[1] A friend of mine recently said that Iron Fist is worse than any superhero movie or show he’s ever seen, including Green Lantern, which is fighting words. 🙂

[2] I know his name is Ward, but he’s such a generic white rich corporate frat boy bully villain that I was initially confused about what his name was supposed to be, even when they’d just said it thirty seconds before. There is nothing that stands out about this character. He’s just “mean entitled white boy.” And so I find myself giving him a succession of such names. See also: Donald, George, Mike, and Dick.

Further reading:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/it-actually-really-really-sucks-that-tv-s-iron-fist-is-1762435382

http://www.cracked.com/blog/how-iron-fist-killed-marvels-winning-streak/

Don’t miss my “Iron Fist is an Entitled White Boy Jerk” series:
That makes it sound like I hate this show, which isn’t the case, but there are things that grate on me. Final review to be written once I finish it.