September closed with a bang, quite literally. Because I apparently didn’t have enough on my plate, my car decided it needed some attention. I was changing lanes as I approached my exit Thursday after work, and I heard something that sounded like a gun got fired off, then the sound of some obnoxiously loud engine, not unlike the ones my next door neighbor has. What happened was that the exhaust manifold on my car disconnected. It was still hanging on, but without the muffler, it was beyond my tolerance threshold for noise. And it scraped the ground every now and again, so I’m sure that let a few sparks fly. The good news is I was almost home when it happened. The bad news is I had to miss another day of work to take care of it. The worse news is that, cheaper repair or not, it was money I didn’t have. It did get taken care of, though, so I’m back in action on that front.
Having most of the afternoon and evening to kill at that point, I remembered that Netflix had dropped the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Luke Cage. I like to binge through a series like this because when it works, it feels more like a novel I can’t put down. Also, it allows me to get caught up again so I can move back to my other works in progress. But my internet connection made this difficult. It kept dropping connection every half hour or so and resetting. I called up my provider, and they confirmed no outage and no equipment problem, so they set me up a tech appointment… for Sunday afternoon. I managed to knock through nine episodes of before I finally passed out in spite of this stupidity.
Saturday was another game day. It’ll be a while before I get to do this again, just due to scheduling, but it was great to run an aftermath after last week’s ballyhoo. This one was less about combat and more about character building. Plans were made, intel was gathered, that sort of thing.
Sunday, the internet worked again as it should, even though it shouldn’t have. I burned through the remaining episodes of Luke Cage because I was too fried to attempt any sword practice this weekend. I’m sure that’ll catch up to me. The problem with the internet turned out to be every coaxial connection I had was old and done badly, so it just finally gave out. The tech replaced everything on that front, and I’m getting double speeds out of it. So all this time, I’ve been paying for half the speed. Nothing like a bit of knowledge like that to make one feel stupid. I didn’t really accomplish much else when the tech left. Mostly just listened to some music and tuned myself out of the world.
I feel like I should offer some commentary on Luke Cage, as spoiler free as I can make it, of course. On the whole, I was rather pleased, and it was nice to see some comedic pokes at the original costume. The music was… well, I can’t really tell if they were serious or not. The instrumental work sounded like a modern take on 70s television scores. Not in a good way. It was cheesy. And yet, I can’t really say it was bad because if that’s what they were going for, they certainly hit the target. There were plenty of vocal tracks to be had, be it soul, R&B, rap. One of the main locations is the Harlem’s Paradise nightclub, so it served to showcase some performances. These were appropriate and mostly good. I’m definitely over the falsetto vocals though. I can appreciate it for what it is, but after a while, I can simply take no more. Likewise with rap, but I have zero tolerance for rap. It’s just not for me. Even so, the music is definitely on showcase in this series, so it stands out as much as any character.
So far, for me this is Marvel’s second weakest addition to their TV lineup, with Agents of SHIELD take the bottom slot, and that’s kind of a low bar for me. To put this in other terms, I like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and the now-cancelled Agent Carter (which I will sorely miss) considerably more than SHIELD, and Luke Cage almost lived up to the promise. Almost. I had a lot of fun with it, and the actors made it fun. There were a couple of story points about arming the NYPD with advanced weapons that were just as cartoonish as the instrumental soundtrack, but I suppose they were necessary conceits. I kept thinking that in a “real world” scenario where certain negative spotlights were painted on the PD, the public outrage would never allow these weapons in their hands. It was a tightrope act that just doesn’t work.
On the character level, there were stereotypes aplenty for the foundations, and some of them were probably uncomfortable for some viewers. I cut my teeth on pulps and comics, so it’s not a deal breaker for me. Thing is, I don’t know if I can classify what I saw as weak or as relevant. It’s probably a bit of both. All I know is that when something came across as a bit cornball, the writers hung a lantern on it as though that would excuse it. The actors really shined and made these roles their own, rising above whatever they were given to work with. Because we were working with basic “gangsta” templates, nothing in this really felt like a threat. Whatever they did in the writing on Daredevil to make that work, it was serviceable here, but not threatening. Maybe I just don’t respond to street-tough smack talk, and I respond less to Biblical-quoting villainy. I enjoyed the actor playing Diamondback, Erik LaRay Harvey (more on this in a bit), but I was truly bored by the character as a result of how he was written at all levels. The villains that didn’t resort to such gimmicks were fun to watch. To see the threats evolving to fit their situations really worked. What’s perhaps most interesting is that by the time it was over, not every thread was tied up neatly, so there’s plenty to work with on a season two or moving into the Defenders series.
I want to spotlight some actors here. I mentioned Erik LaRay Harvey as Diamondback. Regardless of what I think of the character, Harvey made this work by pulling a card I didn’t expect. One of my favorite character actors is Tony Todd. If I didn’t know better, Harvey was picking up Todd’s playbook and gauntlet and running with it like a man on fire. His is a name I won’t soon forget, and I’ll be watching for more from him down the road. He’s got the voice, the charisma, and a weird Joker-like grin that just works for him. So help me, he moved through the room in a way to live up to his snakelike moniker. I truly think that in the hands of nearly anyone else, this role would have fallen apart. He made it work by sheer force of will. Side note: whichever intern got paid to mark up his Bible needs a regular gig.
Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes threw me off a bit at first. I enjoyed this guy’s work on House of Cards. It’s like he’s got this switch that he can throw to go back and forth between slime and charm, which I’ve seen him do. This time around he positioned that switch around the halfway point for a balance that exuded comic book street tough. As I said, it’s a bit stereotyped the way it was written (that crowned Biggie portrait is all the proof you need), but you could tell he was having fun with it. I can really say this about most of the principle actors. Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard became considerably more nuanced in her performance as we watched her wrestle with her family legacy. She gave it what for, and she came off more than credible even when I didn’t buy the writing at all.
In terms of credible characters where the writing lived up to the performances, my hat is off to both Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Simone Missick as Misty Knight. Colter won me over on Jessica Jones, so it was good to see that promise pay off. Missick proved to be a good foil for him and his character. Both character journeys seem to be in a state of flux at this point, so I’m curious to see how those will come about. The way these performers showed us heroes who wrestle with their concepts of good and evil made them sympathetic and believable. Their codes are in place, and I love seeing that sort of thing. Their world is the part they wrestle with. Theo Rossi as “Shades”… this is the villain I came across respecting on all story levels. He’s smart in a Kingpin kind of way, and he doesn’t overplay his hand at any point. He lets the bigger fish keep their spotlight. When he was first introduced, I was laughing about how generic the character appeared in terms of the (again) stereotyped setup. But he stood out as they gave him more screen time and gave a more solid foundation for some of his fellow villains to build from and play off. Ron Cephas Jones as Bobby Fish is one of those characters I wanted to spend more screen time with. He reminds me of a couple of people I know in real life, and that added to the credibility for me. And finally, I have to give a tip of the hat to Rosario Dawson. Her character Claire Temple is the running thread that will connect all of these series together, and the further along she goes, the better she gets. She doesn’t feel shoehorned in as a character in her position might otherwise feel, and I love that she can hold her own in sheer grit level in pretty much any situation. She feels like an old friend at this point.
I believe next up is Iron Fist. If they can keep up the level of storytelling here, this should be a lot of fun, but I’m ready for Defenders now. I want to see the principles heroes and their support teams interacting, and given the longer format, I think it’ll pay off better than the Avengers films.