Logan’s Heroes

On Mangold and Stevens’ icons and the imitations.

 

[WARNING: THIS PIECE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH LOGAN AND SHANE. SEEING BOTH BEFORE READING IS IDEAL, BUT ONLY LOGAN IS NECESSARY]

 

I keep going back to Shane.

Not unwarranted by any means, instead it’s hard not to considering the way that James Mangold utilises segments of the 1953 film within his own during the casino interlude, but Logan walks the path of George Stevens’ Western in more ways than just this. This is most relevant in discussing the farmhouse sequence in which the trio of Logan (Hugh Jackman), Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen) are taken in by the Munson family, its patriarchal figure portrayed by Eriq La Salle, where Logan finds himself on the border of peace and violence. The tectonic plates where shift, sizable or minimal, can cause shake-ups –– the same conundrum that Alan Ladd’s titular character found himself in, in 1953.

Evidently indebted to Stevens’ film, Logan deals with the push and pull of those two states and the battle of the self, although this (presumed) final outing for Jackman’s portrayal also assumes it necessary to demonstrate this with an overt physical battle. Films are by no means required to be subtle –– Darren Aronofsky plays with this same notion in Black SwanHell or High Water, an actual Western, utilises its opening shot of a graffitied wall to directly state its theme and The Departed ends with a shot of a rat, that has simultaneously become both joke and verbatim for already obvious symbolism –– and even the genre that Logan most wishes to be taken as, a Western, has never required such a caveat, indicated by not only the aforementioned Hell or High Water, but also in the way that HBO and Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy’s Westworld lampoons a staple of the genre, asking participants to decide whether they want to be a black, or white, hat.

While Logan, the character, may not be enamoured by Shane, leaving Charles and Laura to watch, Logan, the film, is clearly so, walking in the footsteps of the Ladd who came before, until the end, in which Mangold makes a key diversion. Logan does not end with its hero walking off into the sunset, as Laura calls his name, neither sure if he will finally fall when he crosses the hill, from a wound inflicted in the final fray. Instead, and if we accept this to truly be Jackman’s last performance as the character, both in the timeline of the X-films and the production of those films, we see Logan die, but also understand that both the young and the old, the peaceful and the violent, the student and the teacher can finally rest.

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It’s a resonant idea, the reason that so many have attested to shedding a tear for what many consider one of the consistencies in a franchise which has gone through turbulent times to say the least.

However, I don’t believe that it’s as perfect as it could be and the reason that this feeling refuses to leave my side, is down to the elements existing within the film as is –– this isn’t a call for Cyclops or Nightcrawler to have been involved within a climax, instead the opposite. James Mangold, has proven himself capable of making multiple types of film, two types being: Westerns and proto-Westerns. 3:10 to Yuma falls under the former, Copland and Logan, under the latter. Mangold is clearly both in love with, and indebted to, the Western, from the way he loves to shoot the desolate landscapes in wide shots, to the already mentioned links to Shane, and this is where the issue arises. As much as this film tries, it can’t be ShaneLogan is a film whose cast consists of comic book characters from a pre-existing universe, and as a result of this, compared to a film like Persepolis or the upcoming Atomic Blonde, that link to the genre precludes all other possible classifications.

As a result of that, Logan utilises one of the genre’s frequently used tropes, clones, for both good and bad. The former, X-23/Laura Kinney, is great, more impressive than many breakout child performances because Keen’s initial impression on the audience is conveyed while mute, and after she breaks her silence, she and Logan have a dynamic much like Shane and Joey. The latter, X-24, played by Jackman, is not and his importance to the plot of the film allows us to clearly mark the point where the film drops-off –– when it cuts in order to show his POV from a room in a facility –– and unfortunately, never recovers. Essentially, X-24’s existence makes subtext into text, a narrative decision not required.

The comics that fill this world already go to demonstrate that Logan is feuding with someone who shares his appearance, a former self, one that has also been immortalised, in these works and the minds of children. If you will, these comics have become the dime novels of this world, embellishing events in order to make them more exciting. Eden isn’t real, at least not as the issue presents it. Instead, it becomes a reality, if only for a precious moment, thanks to the children, who saw this adventure in its paneled glory, and were driven to make it true. Logan was already in a battle with himself, attempting to prove that he could be the costumed man in the comics.

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I feel that it would have been more appropriate that the allegorical gunslinger, the legend, is in conflict with what became his legend.

My problem with Logan isn’t exclusive to this film as I feel similarly about The Wolverine and the inclusion of the Silver Samurai. Much like then, I wish that Mangold had been able to go all the way with regards to their respective inspirations, but it feels like a bigger flaw here, because not only does Logan have less faults overall, but it’s also closer to true greatness. As mentioned, Mangold has shown himself capable of making both Westerns and proto-Westerns. In its decided permutation, Logan would like to be Shane, but it can’t because of its comic book links. Simultaneously, I don’t think that Logan can be the best comic book film because it is those tenuous tropes, those links to the genre that hold it back.

I keep going back Shane because it told the story Logan was almost able to tell and because clones never have the essence of the original.

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Luke Cage has Multiple Avenues it Could go Down, but is Content to Go Around the Roundabout

The show exemplifies numerous problems with the Netflix model, but also seems comfortable operating with these problems.

[WARNING: SPOILERS. WATCH THE SHOW BEFORE YOU READ]

There are things you never really want to write. A eulogy, that term paper you’ve held off on doing and now it’s the day before because you thought it was a bright idea to spend your time writing a review of a Netf–– and then there’s a less than glowing review. It’s easy to write about something you love, you have all of these elements that spoke to you. More than likely, the consensus is that it’s liked and so you can get away with surface detail:

  • “the direction is amazing”
  • “O-M-G [actor/actress’ name] is incredible in this”
  • “It’s so well written”

The next item on the list is something you hate for similar reasons if it’s widely panned, then if you love/hate something which goes against the consensus. When this situation occurs, then you find yourself pushed for reasons and your criticism or elements that you like need to be more specific. Case in point, I loved the new Ghostbusters, but it wasn’t just enough to say this in a comment online, it required a mini thesis about why I liked it and a response to the people replying and telling me that the movie’s misandrist because the quartet shot the big bad ‘in the dick’. [Which isn’t true, it’s a PG-13 movie. No one’s hanging dong and maybe you’re projecting if you saw that and though Ghost Dick]. On the flipside, Suicide Squad is a movie I loathed and represents everything that needs to die in summer blockbusters. While it didn’t have major acclaim from every avenue, people liked it as a popcorn movie, so for me to then abhor it – I needed to break down why I felt the movie was monotonous or doesn’t live up  to what the cast suggests with regards to diversity.

It’s harder to write something about a show that just is. I didn’t like Daredevil S2 after I finished, but at the time I just considered it average. Now having seen Luke Cage, I would happily say that it’s on the level of Luke Cage. Problem with that is that I don’t like Luke Cage. It’s disappointing and seems okay with this. While DD S2 feels like a bigger trainwreck, it’s at the very least, trying to achieve something. Whereas Luke Cage isn’t a disaster that can be dragged beyond belief, but I also can’t find much to like.

I wasn’t able to binge watch the show in a day like I have the previous MCU Netflix shows. Normally I find that watching them in one day breaks me because no Netflix dramas have been able to fit their episode orders and lengths perfectly yet. The closest they’ve has gotten is Stranger Things. For the record both Horace and Pete and The Girlfriend Experience have. Part of me hoped that spreading it out over a weekend would allow me to savour the good parts. Instead it gave me multiple opportunities where I had no desire to push forward.

This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have good parts. The cast the show has assembled is wonderful, the soundtrack is great and the first two episodes are decompressed, but present some choice scenes that make comparisons to The Wire appropriate. The stuff in the Barbershop gives character to Harlem and the shootout in the pilot suggests the show will be dealing with some thematically relevant content to today’s world. As the show progresses, these elements drop out and leave a show that meanders too much. Mike Colter is good as Cage, but could be great if he had more than stoic available to play and if he had an actual plot which his hero’s journey could link to. A show can make a location a character, but a character needs a story.

The standout part of the show is Misty Knight, played by Simone Missick, but even then her story doesn’t have enough plot to fill a 13 episode arc and also shows a key problem of the show. Which I’ll affectionately call the Bloodline effect.

Essentially Bloodline is a show that circles the drain of drama, going round and round, but never committing with not only too many episodes, but episodes which are too long. Even when it pulls the trigger, it can’t push beyond that [see: Ben Mendelsohn]. So the Bloodline Effect is when a show seems very happy to savour in it’s setting without doing anything with it. Misty’s arc shows this in that in the final third of the season she gets shot in the arm and instead of using this as the reason to give her the metal arm we expect the character to have, it just gets resolved and her arm heals. When she’s being interrogated, we spend 30 minutes of the episode as her colleagues attempt to get her to crack only to reach a point where she repeats what she’s been saying all along and gets her gun back just because… I dunno, rule of three?

This reluctance to commit to drama is only hampered by how comfortable the show is with being generic. Cheo Coker worked on SouthLAnd. That show once attached bulletproof vests to a car to make a mobile position during a shootout. Luke Cage kills a mentor for motivation. Has a hallway scene. Luke and Claire walk around and talk about staying friends. There’s a cop on the take who gets killed, a daring escape, a situation where cops take an episode before they breach into a location. These aren’t just familiar to drama, but Marvel’s Netflix shows. The show just feels uninspired.

[As a brief aside, if goons could stop shooting at Cage after we and everyone knows that he’s bulletproof, that’d be swell]

The monologues also exemplify these. People quote bible verses ad nauseum, but Age of Ultron used them and made them powerful/relevant. Chess analogies are played out. This comes less than 12 months after Bokeem Woodbine delivered a monologue about the freaking Jabberwocky. That kind of thing stays with you, ones about pawns don’t.

It goes further off the rails when Cottonmouth gets booted out of the plot to make way for Diamondback, a villain who seems to have stumbled away from the Joel Schumacher version of this show (with a costume to ) Heck, Luke himself gets shot for a second time with a Judas bullet and falls onto the back of a garbage truck. But when we find him next episode, he’s on the streets again, shot, but what’s the point of ending on that dour note if he’s going to be walking it off within twenty minutes of show.

And now we come to the bit which I’m not entirely sure about. The New York Times review essentially says that the show is too black, but I don’t think it’s black enough. It’s here I should probably mention I don’t know whether I’m correct with this stance, I’m not black and could be missing a key element [If I am, then I’d appreciate having it explained to me]. Anyways, yes, Luke Cage wearing a hoodie and being bulletproof is a statement which is undoubtedly important enough for many people and it would be remiss to discount this. It would also be dishonest to skip over the fact that the final four or so episodes bring in some ideas – the dash-cam scene in Episode 9 and the montage in Episode 12 both broach the idea of theme and it certainly deals with them better than UnREAL did – seriously Season 2’s sixth episode is a horrible way to approach a black character being shot by police. [For those that haven’t seen it, it asks how does the white protagonist feel about this and is sloppy in set-up]. Like I said, that first episode shows a black teen getting shot and when I saw that I thought the show would be grappling with these ideas head on. It doesn’t really. The other two elements are attempts, but come too late to make significant difference and are counteracted by the way that Mariah takes a rally about the death of a black teen as opportunity to turn the crowd on Luke Cage. There’s a piece from The Ringer that I’ll link below along with the NYT piece. While I don’t wholly agree with it, I also don’t wholly disagree, just I don’t think Luke Cage does enough as say Atlanta which has provided infinitely more poignant storytelling in a fraction of the time thus far.

Before we conclude this I’ll add in two things which annoy me quite a bit. The first is making Reva part of the program that gives Luke his powers. She doesn’t need to be evil and hinders his arc thus far from Jessica Jones. The second thing annoys me even more, but it’s twofold:

  1. The Luke/Claire romance is a horrible idea that not only makes their conversations prior to the end of the season redundant, but goes against how she was characterised in Daredevil where she passed on Matt’s advances. Now if you’ll allow me to take off the wannabe critic hat and replace it with the comics fan hat – I’m mad with how Jessica is treated. Not only is she considered a rebound chick, but this relationship makes it difficult to bring her and Luke back together. Jessica Jones #1 comes out this week, I’m reviewing it for Newsarama come next Monday and I’ll be furious if it does something on this level.
  2. Rosario Dawson deserves better than this.

So that’s where I’m at. I may be tapped out when it comes to Netflix hype for the next two years unless Melissa Rosenberg swoops in and takes everything over. I strongly dislike Daredevil S2 and that feeling only grows the longer I spend detached from it so I’m not going to get excited about S3 because I expect them to flounder again, same thing applies to Defenders considering that Ramirez/Petrie are in charage, the Punisher bores me and will only have my interest if they attempt Rucka’s run and after this, why should I expect Iron Fist to grapple with the themes it has open for exploration?

Luke Cage is a Netflix show. If you’re the type to binge watch every show they put out and call it amazing, then great, I wish I had your ability to enjoy things. If you like them, but have issues, you may have significantly more issues with that than usual. If you’re like me in that the ‘prestige’ of Netflix never sucked you in, then it may be safer if you just give this a skip. Luke Cage could have been a show with a strong important message that stretched beyond the surface based on how it’s titular character dresses, instead it’s as pedestrian as the attire would suggest in any other climate.

Guess I’ll just take this hype and invest it in Legion.

RATING: 5/10

LINK DUMP

https://theringer.com/luke-cage-black-conservative-f5be622daf67#.mprh533pi

Give a read of these and see what you think and where you lie on the spectrum.

Silence Speaks Volumes in ‘Astonishing X-Men’

The art of letting the art speak.

[Warning: This is talking about Astonishing X-Men. #4 specifically, but it will also be discussing moments later in the run. You have been warned.]

Brian K. Vaughn wrote an introduction for the first OHC of Astonishing X-Men. He states that your first X-book is “a drug”, not a comic. One that you find in your youth, shows you outcasts that find a place in the world and do some good. One that’s never as good as that first hit.

Joss Whedon, John Cassaday, Laura Martin and Chris Elliopoulos created my first hit and while BKV was lucky enough to have Astonishing remind him of his first hit, I’m still waiting for another Marvel book that compares to their phenomenal 25-issue run.

It’s feels weird writing about this run, because everyone knows it, it’s part of the modern X-trinity (along with Morrison’s New X-Men and Remender’s Uncanny X-Force). There are moments that should instantly spring to mind [we’ll be talking about what I think is the biggest in the book today]. The homages to Claremont’s run sprinkled throughout, the red page when the Sentinel attacks, when Emma tries to break Scott’s psyche in a way that gives off Restless from Buffy vibes, “Astonished, Ms Pryde”, the final monologue of the run and basically everything with Kitty and Colossus.

Many of these are powerful for Joss’ dialogue, but they’d just be words on a page if not for Cassaday whose work here and in Planetary proved him to be one of the truly great dynamic artists of the modern age. What’s most impressive about his art is how his chooses his angles of framing, but always keep them clean.

In Planetary, Ellis utilised a decompressed style of writing that allotted enough time to the action beats so Cassaday could gradually push in or pull out to find the focus of the scene all the while showing off his expert blocking and choreography with grand fights and there’s no shortage of beats like that present in AXM.

I mean there’s a giant bullet, a Sentinel and a room of terrorists that need to be taken down with precision to minimise casualties. But Joss is a man who loves his back and forth banter, so Cassaday takes this opportunity to let his camera go anywhere.

Screw the shot/reverse shot and minimal coverage approach that’s the go to in any form of media, here Cassaday steals Baz Luhrmann’s camera and lets it weave through the players in the scene, creating a dolly shot that can arc, pitch, crane, reverse and push in. And today we’re going to look at his finest moment.

X-Books are already Context Heavy, So I should probably Set the Scene

Cyclops decides the X-Men need to be superheroes again. There’s a cure that can apparently make mutants normal. Kavita Rao made it. She works for BeneTech. Beast goes to see her. Gets a sample. When he tests it, there’s a DNA match, Cyclops assumes he’s talking about Jean Grey. They infiltrate BeneTech, Kitty breaks off from the team and heads further down. The rest of the team finds a body, it’s not Jean. Meanwhile Kitty touches down on solid ground as seen below.

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[Thanks to Mathieu Dubé for providing screenshots of the pages]

This is a sequence that had X-fans elated when the issue came out and for good reason. Colossus had died a few years prior when the Legacy virus was a thing. And now he got a triumphant return. But like I said, AXM was my first X-book, I’d never seen him die previously, I didn’t know how he and Kitty were linked and then I saw the third and fourth pages and got everything.

Okay… So?

So it conveys everything in a pair of pages that when Joss saw it, he decided that they didn’t need the words, they were perfect as is. You can notice how Kitty’s monologue is consistent until that point and then it’s minimal dialogue from there. Those first two pages slowly drop out how many words are in each panel then it’s silent. Then, Kling! An X-Fan can guess what that means. The third page shows Kitty and Colossus, right behind her. They share a brief look before he looks (and runs) straight through her as she stands in place. She touches her heart, the flame has been re-lit. It juxtaposes the fight with Kitty processing the moment. On pages 5 and 6 Colossus is the focus, Kitty’s trained on him and we are as well. Time seems to slow for the couple – Colossus throws a goon in the third panel on the left page and it finds its mark in the second panel on the right. All the while, Kitty’s calling for him to stop. When she tells him “You’ll kill them”, he sheds his metal skin and becomes human. To him, it looks like he can finally stop fighting. He’s died and now gets to live in peace with Kitty. To her, this sequence started with her looking down into the unknown, something that wasn’t on the map. The sequence ends in the same way, one new unknown.

Now taking a look at Cassaday’s framing; those first two pages consist of mainly close-ups on Kitty making her our focus. When there are other elements in the frame like in Panel 6 with the guards, she’s still on the closest plane to us. A nice touch is that when the soldiers spot her on Page 2, that panel is practically on the same level as Page 1’s sixth panel so we can tell it’s the same group of guards. Then you get the big splash page of Kitty and Colossus, followed by that look on Page 4. Kitty’s still closer to us, but Colossus occupies just as much, or even more of the frame which establishes him as a major element of the scene in an instant. Page 4 then pulls them apart when Colossus rushes out of the fixed frame to take on the guards. The final half of the scene then gradually overcomes them being pulled apart. There’s a lot of close-ups that isolate them from each other, on Page 5 when Kitty is rushing over, she’s now the one furthest away in the frame, at the end of Page 6 they finally occupy the same space, but the camera is pulled back which we then expect will push back in as they finally reunite and that starts to happen. The first panel pushes in closer, but doesn’t show them both, the second panel is looking up at Kitty which lets us know despite the display of Colossus’ strength over the previous couple of pages, she’s in control. Then the camera pulls out again when he seems broken and surrounds them with darkness. It establishes that this isn’t the happy reunion you were hoping it was – there’s still a lot of distance to overcome.

Words could state this outright be it dialogue or Annie Hall style subtitles that reveal our real feelings, but sometimes they’re not needed. Sure, a picture is worth 1000 words, but a look can say everything when we don’t know the words to say what we want to say.

Thanks for reading.

PS. Apologies for this being short, I’m ill and rushing about to move back to [REDACTED] for uni and I’m living in a house this year, not campus accommodation so there’s work to be done, and then I’ve got a big piece planned so I want some lead time on that. Anyways, next week – Darwyn Cooke. Auteurs. Stories. I promise that’s more in-depth than this was. Then the week after, the big piece. Hopefully.

Link Dump

https://www.comixology.co.uk/Astonishing-X-Men-2004-2013-4/digital-comic/418?ref=c2VyaWVzL3ZpZXcvZGVza3RvcC9ncmlkTGlzdC9Jc3N1ZXM

Link to the issue on Comixology, the rest of the run is available on there in single issue and trade form. The run is also on Marvel Unlimited. If you want to read it physically then it’s available in 4 regular sized trades, two ultimate collections, two oversized hardcovers or the omnibus. The latter two formats are out of print, but you may be lucky enough to stumble across a copy.