Daredevil Season 2 Review

This weekend I posted the following Twitter review of Daredevil Season 2, which runs on Netflix:

To which one of my twitter followers responded that it's not gore-porn if the characters who are perpetrating it are someone morally-averse to whatever it is they are doing.  I think this is a bizarre approach to this topic, and so I am going to briefly expand my review and then talk about what "pornography" is, and how it applies to this topic.

First, Daredevil Season 2.  You know: when we watch Agents of SHIELD on Disney/ABC, what we are getting is the worst possible mix of TV mashed up with existing comics canon. The show is based on a concept which, frankly, was dated when it was in its hey-day: the idea that there is a secret security agency which is both obscure and global, high-tech and invisible, which has both airborn cities (Helicarriers) and elusive but effective agents -- and the update is such a mash-up of throw-away Marvel characters and plot lines that it simply has nothing to rise up to or fill in.  What we get from Marvel/Netflix, on the other hand, is something else.

My take from my jaded perch is that Netflix is sort of covering the old "Marvel Knights" line in terms of content and tone, which means the world is ultimately more realistic/noir than the mainstream movies, and more concerned with entertaining people older than 12 with characters and settings that people who have lived past their first teenaged crush can somewhat relate to.  I have absolutely no qualms with this in theory, and I think that the actual plotting of the 2 seasons of DD and the single season of JJ so far have delivered were compelling.  By a long shot, these stories are the most engrossing Marvel storytelling maybe ever -- but DD in particular has been marred by one thing in particular: hyper-violence and graphic depictions of mutilation and injuries.

So for what I have left to write here, let me offer just a few items: a definition, a distinction, a disclaimer, and a direction.

The definition is this: the standard definition of "pornography" is "sexually explicit videos, photographs, writings, or the like, whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal."  When I co-opt that term to say "gore-porn," I use it to mean "explicitly-violent videos, photographs, writings, or the like, whose purpose is to elicit a cathartic response to violence."  "Gore-porn" is when anyone creates a scene in a movie or TV show which has the obvious purpose to make the violence into a spectacle, and that spectacle has two consequences: an initial gross-out of the audience followed by a desensitizing which causes the audience to want more of the same in more extreme form to get the same response.  There's no narrative reason for the scene to be that explicit -- in fact, the horror the scene creates could be made more poignant but being more subtle.  For example, in the Diner when Frank Castle mutilates a hit man to get information on the Blacksmith, the camera stays on the torture, the punching, the violence -- when the single cut to Karen in the back room listening to the violence and her reaction to it is far more telling than the special effects showing how the man is physically destroyed.  In the scene where Stick is torture by Yakuza, we are forced to watch them use WWII torture techniques on him rather than to merely watch Scott Glenn's face tell us the story in a more personal way.  The story is not advanced by one iota when we are forced to watch the violence, but it s there rather to do something else with the story which, I think, is artistically cheap and morally low.

The distinction I would make here is between the graphic depiction of violence and admitting that violent acts are part of this story.  The one place I would point to in 2 seasons of DD to make this point is in Season 1 when Matt goes into the gang hideout to save the young boy being held hostage and has to fight his way through the final hallway to get to the room the boy is in.

That fight scene is undeniably brutal -- and about half of it happens off camera with sound effects.  Most of the real drama is to see that as the fight progresses, Matt Murdock is clearly spent on the fight -- he gives every ounce of whatever he has to give physically to get to the end of the hall and seek to save the boy.

The difference between that scene and, for example, the scene is season 2 where we look into the mob hang-out that has been shot up by Frank Castle and the establishing shot is made through a large-caliber bullet hole in a victim's corpse ought to be obvious, but I am afraid that it is not to most people.  The violence associated with the Punisher does not merely have a higher death count: it has a far more graphic nature, with more gore and more blood, and human bodies are treated worse than meat.

"Yes, Frank," says the fan of this show who disagrees with me, "but this is actually the point, no? Aren't the showrunners trying to get us to think of the Punisher as a brutal animal who treats his victims are worse than meat?"  Let me say this: we know because of the way Karen Page relates to Frank Castle that this is categorically untrue.  Frank Castle is rather supposed to be a man pressed to the final limit of the human longing for justice, and is willing instead to seek vengeance instead since justice is often too meek for his taste. The way they treat the victims of Frank Castle rather stands in the way of us seeing him the way we finally see him in the final episode as a true enemy of evil.

Having said all that, my disclaimer is this: I am pretty confident that not all violence is naturally excluded from artistic portrayal. (that in itself prolly deserves its own blog post)  All violence is not excluded from art, but let me suggest that it is one thing for us to know that Oedipus has dug out his eyes and another to watch him dig out his eyes.  There is a way to do what ought to be done to advance the story and there are many other ways to stain the story with gratuitous portrayals of violence which do nothing but treat the viewer as if he or she is watching live gladiator combat.

Finally, my direction forward to better art in these Marvel Netflix series is pretty simple: they should try harder to tells the story visually rather than create a spectacle of violence.  The stories themselves are rather complex and interesting without the blood splattering and the open wounds getting the center of the shot for minutes on end.  I admit that some violence is really necessary to tell these stories, but there is a difference between showing the physical cost of the conflict between Matt Murdock and his adversaries and dwelling on the clinic extent of his wounds, as if watching his injuries being sticked up advances the plot or story one iota.

How Dungeons & Dragons fixes all fiction (especially comic books)

You have no idea how much I miss blogging here, at this blog, where there is no pressure to be anything but me and no topics too arcane or non-theological to tackle, and especially: it's OK to blog about comics in a way that a 50-year-old guy who is still 12 on the inside would blog about comics.

First, you should listen to this podcast episode:

In that episode, they talk about something all of us people who were alive before computers who read science fiction and comics also did to greater and lesser degrees: we played (or were forbidden to play) Dungeons & Dragons.  Most of us probably played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (to be fair and completely too-specific), and we owned a bag full of dice and at least three hard-covered books which told us everything we needed to know about the kind of things we might build into a campaign, or that we might happen to encounter in a campaign.

In the pre-computer world, we used a lot of graph paper, and there had to be people who were playing with us and also plotting our rise and fall.  Compared to gaming today, it was actually quite social and quaint.  It looked a lot like a very complicated game of Cribbage, if I am honest, except that nobody since the middle ages wore a robe with a hood to a game of Cribbage.

But before any of this even went that far, we had to build a character, and the most fundamental thing about building that character was his or her alignments.  Now: what does that even mean?  Well, let me show you:


That is a grid I have been working on since listening to that podcast which has to do with character alignments, using the basic system which AD&D uses (or at least used to use).  And: you can see my attempts to puzzle in the basic interesting characters from Marvel Comics into this grid just for the sake of showing how it works.  As a caveat, the diagonal lines are meant to show motivational-outcomes for these alignments, not actual motives.  For example, Reed Richards is in the "vengeance" quadrant of you are reading the diagonals, but Reed isn't motivated by vengeance (notice I spelled it right here), is he?  He's actually motivated by goodness and autonomy -- as opposed to Doom who is motivated by a high view of authority ruined by a poor moral compass.  that's why they are good against each other: they are naturally in competition

And that brings me to the point of this post.  Right now, I think Marvel Comics stink right up to high heaven -- and it's for one obvious reason: all of their characters cluster around the center of this grid.  All of their characters are lame examples of millennial passivism when it comes to bigger questions, and therefor there's not really any drama to be worked out.  All the drama turns out to be low brow and sensual rather than playing out on a bigger table with bigger stakes.

So if anyone is reading this post at Marvel, think about this: the reason the movies are working and the comics are not is that the movies still have characters who are not clustered around the center of the grid.  The more you work to cluster them around the center of the grid, the more boring and unfulfilling the art turns out to be.


It's not the Years, Honey. It's the Mileage ...

As I write this post, it's March 2016, which is 11 years and a few months after the first post was published here.  You know: wow.  That anyone still visits here is also a "wow" item to me, so thanks for that.

But, over time, things change -- and one of those things is my ownership of the domain "kingdomboundbooks.com".  That's relevant to this blog because almost all the images on this blog are warehoused there, and in April 2016 I will no longer be the domain owner for that .com real estate, and all the images here which are stored there will go dark.

That's a big deal because I think while the writing here is competent, the graphics are the heart and soul of the endeavor.  If there's a way for me to migrate the images, I'm going to do it -- but there's probably no way to fix all of them.

Nice to see you all.  Please carry on.