The Punisher and Other Netflix Original Marvel Series

Netflix has created several series show-casing anti-heroes with generally lesser powers than The Avengers. Although with Tony Stark having no powers and Luke Cage being pretty formidable, that could be debated. For whatever reason, these Netflix Marvel characters are the 2nd string, T.V. rather than movie-worthy. But because T.V. allows more time, we can be more fully involved in the superhero’s suffering, what motivates them and their personal lives. Netflix has also permitted more flexibility in brutality limits in each series so they best reflect the hero. If you’ve wondered about these shows, and how they fit together, this is a brief post on the ones I liked, didn’t, and their chronology in the Netflix Marvel universe.

The Punisher is Netflix’s most recent release. Though gory and grim, the unfolding of the story with numerous flashbacks, and well-crafted secondary characters and villains makes The Punisher one of their best. The making of Frank Castle’s mind is complex, like the crafting of fine steel, but in the end, he’s a razor sharp knife without ambiguity. So refreshing. Of all the Marvel superheroes (except Wolverine) none of them has the corner on bloody wrath like Frank Castle, played by Jon Bernthal from the first two seasons of The Walking Dead. The show spends quite a bit of time parsing out right and wrong through interactions with other characters. I never felt it was heavy-handed: Frank Castle is on the very edge of how violent and savage even an anti-hero can be. His bedraggled side-kick is quirky, likable and reasonable, and is written so he confronts Frank without the self-righteous whininess that is, alas, more common.

Unfortunately, to fully appreciate this series, one first has to watch Daredevil, and Daredevil is not as good.  Kind of whiny (especially the side-kick). I felt lukewarm about it.

This article describes the chronological order of the Netflix Marvel series to date. To summarize:

Daredevil, season one.  Meh. However, the Daredevil code of no killing no matter what may appeal to some.

Jessica Jones.  Thoroughly enjoyed this series. The vibe is film noir. There are some references to Daredevil, season one, but they aren’t critical. Introduces Luke Cage.

Daredevil, season two. The Punisher introduction is the best part of this series, and it’s worth watching for that reason alone. If you want to skip it, but plan to watch The Punisher, this article summarizes the Frank Castle elements in the Daredevil series.

Luke Cage.  I liked this series as much as Jessica Jones, but the setting and supporting characters were even better. A whole imagined Harlem reality dark and sultry. The music’s great: here are seven samples of it. Not music I usually listen to but it brought great depth to the story and the setting. A significant character in this series is from Daredevil, season one, but, again, I don’t think it’s necessary to watch Daredevil.

Iron Fist. I tried one episode… maybe I’ll try it again.

The Defenders.  Missed this somehow, and this review is not encouraging. But Sigourney Weaver is the villain, so I’ll give it a try just as soon as I finish The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Punisher.  If brutality doesn’t bother you, watch it!

If I had to rate the ones I watched from best downward, it would be The Punisher, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, DD season 2 and DD season 1.

Justice League — Nice Moves No Soul

6 out of 10; maybe a 5 out of 10 due to a waste of potential, and my dashed hopes and expectations. As I watched the movie, I wondered what was wrong, because a lot of it was right and yet there was no pulse. The thrill of caring was missing from a lot of the movie. Sometimes the actors and characters rose above the unremittingly gloomy fabric of the movie, but these were heroic acting anomalies and not the norm. In general, the movie was too dark, and the characters too psychologically flat or inconsistent. Even the music took itself too seriously. Josh Whedon, who directed the last twenty-percent of the movie, let me down.

It seems obvious where Josh Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Avengers, Age of Ultron) added in material to try to save the move. Likely any witty repartee, which is the basis of all of his successes, but here, it failed and he should have been able to see that it would. It was like taking a formal Victorian funeral dress, black and draped, and sprinkling a dozen small pink flowers onto it. They don’t help that dress; they just seem odd. Mired in darkness, the comic wit came and went too fast to be humorous, often handled badly by an actor who can’t do comedy or can’t wrap their head around doing it in their super serious superhero role. Ben Affleck actually did the best job trying to bridge the gap. I imagine Batman gripping each side of a bottomless chasm and grunting with the effort.

Alfred the Great

And now we get to why Alfred is the picture I chose for this movie because he exemplifies the fundamental flaw with this latest Batman version. (As this has been showcased in two previous movies, this is not a spoiler.) In Batman’s past, for me, Alfred was the highlight of every show: Batman’s foil. Humor against grim seriousness, love against cold, relentless duty. And Alfred humanized Batman by forcing him, from time to time, into his more kindly reality. This new Alfred is just as grim as Batman. He would not shed a tear at Batman’s grave. He’d probably be disgusted and make a slightly clever sneering comment. Without Alfred humanizing Batman, all other efforts in the Batman scenes were beyond even Joss Whedon’s magical touch or Ben Affleck’s competence.  Alfred is but one example of why this movie couldn’t be fixed in the last twenty percent of its creation, and why Josh Whedon shouldn’t have tried. It turns out, while Josh does great work, he’s not a film-making superhero. Sigh.

The fight scenes are well done. Wonderwoman and the Amazons were enjoyable, as always. The CGI villain, again, flat, which seems to be the norm in most superhero movies these days–might as well put angry faces on meteors coming to flatten earth.

SPOILERS BELOW

  • The Superman scenes with Lois and his mother were great. Amy Adams brings the human touch to every scene she’s in. Henry Cavill did a good job, too. For me, their scenes were the best in the movie.
  • Cyclops couldn’t control his body in one convenient part to add a fight scene but otherwise had no problems. Whatever’s going on with his merger of body and machine should have been handled more consistently and with enough detail for this conflict to be understandable. It also could have been used to bring drama to other scenes.
  • The Cyclops arc from being angry at being alive to wanting to live was handled well, and with very little screen time. It doesn’t take a lot of time to get it in there.
  • The Flash was supposed to be the comic relief, and he was, but it was too much to put on his little whippet shoulders with Batman as his straight man.  It didn’t help that I’d just seen Civil War the night before, where Spidey blew a similar role out of the park.
  • As Aquaman, Jason Momoa has brooding violence and sexuality down pat and can handle dark humor. Sensitivity did not work for him in the one scene he had to try it. Very awkward. The scene in Atlantis contained too little of his backstory and was too rushed, so we didn’t care anyway. A Nicole Kidman cameo as Atlanna, Aquaman’s mother, showing the conflict between them, would have done wonders for the Aquaman character and storyline.
  • The scenes with the normal family in the midst of tribulation were too rushed to care about them. I think it should have been cut to make room to provide more depth to Cyclops and Aquaman.
  • There were hints of (maybe) lust and affection between Batman and Wonderwoman, but they were too subtle and unfortunately all verbal. Wonderwoman was her least interesting in this movie and will continue that trend if she remains in icy widowhood. Next movie had better show some fire!

Salsify Experiment

To start at the end, Salsify tastes a lot like artichoke heart, or Jerusalem artichokes. That was a great relief, as it was called “oyster plant” in Victorian times.

I’d never heard of salsify and so was intrigued when I saw it on the Johnney’s Selected Seeds website. I bought some seeds and planted a short row–only two feet because this kind of thing usually ends in sad plants that hardly produce. The salsify plants came right up and thrived with no sign of disease or insect damage and when I dug them up six months later, there were roots! One caution, I tried a second planting mid-summer and these did not thrive and did not produce at all.

These plants are Mammoth Sandwich Island salsify. Mine didn’t grow as big or uniform as advertised, but that’s to be expected. I planted the seeds on May 15th and dug up roots on November 14th–after a few nights in the low 20s. I’d read that leaving the roots in the ground through a few hard frosts mitigates the horrible oyster flavor. Even so, it was with some trepidation that I processed the roots.

There are several salsify recipes on the internet, but I tried a simple one first so I could tell what the root actually tasted like. A consistent bit of advice is to immediately put cut roots in water with “a little” lemon juice to keep them from turning dark, which they will do far more quickly than potatoes. I did this, but as they were immediately put in water to boil it probably wasn’t necessary.

I cut off the small roots and greens, put the whole roots in a pot of water and boiled until just soft. Then I cooled them under running water and easily peeled off the outer coating with my fingers. Sliced up they look like white carrots. I sprinkled seasoned salt on them and fried them in butter on medium. Unlike potatoes, they sucked up all the butter, so I was glad I hadn’t used very much. When they were browned on the one side, I flipped them for a few minutes and then served.

There was no oyster flavor at all. My husband and I both liked them, and I do appreciate a plant that’s no work–next year I’ll plant a lot more of them. To try to get longer roots, I may dig in some sand.

According to Johnney’s Selected Seeds, what I planted is the ‘classic’ salsify. If you google images of ‘salsify’, you’ll see some of them show black cylinders, long and thin.  Evidently, these black roots are an entirely different plant, also called salsify or more accurately, scorzonera. If you’re interested in these roots, here is a short article on the differences and how to grow them.

 

House Dogs, Yard Dogs and Wolves (flash fiction)

It was a large house with many rooms, big enough for us to run and play. The carpets were thick, the water was pure, and the air smelled clean except for the comforting odor of cooking steak and an occasional wisp of wood smoke. Logs burned in several fireplaces, and in front of them were soft mats for sleeping and staring contentedly into the flames.

Our fur was thick and glossy, our bodies moved quick and sure, and we knew nothing of pain or death or fear. We were never lonely, for we had each other, and our master came to pet and feed us each day. His hands would run through our fur, caress our heads and rub our chests, showing us his love, and making sure our bodies were strong and healthy. We adored him and would gaze at him with steady brown eyes whenever he was near, and as he moved from place to place in the house, caring for us. His face was kind, and his hands were gentle and warm.

Each day he would leave us, and go out the front door—a door he never shut. He would turn and say, “Stay,” and then move out of our sight until the next day when he would come to care for us and love us again. We didn’t pay much attention to that word: “Stay.” We didn’t want to leave, and so the word did not hold our attention.

We lived in the house for a very long time and were happy. Then, one of us noticed musky smells on the breeze that sometimes puffed into the door. Some of us started sitting near the door, watching the clouds and the trees move in the wind. The air smelled interesting near the door. Shadows moved through the trees, and we wanted to see them, to smell them, but the word, “Stay,” held us. That word started to irritate us, but we’d forget that, and the smells and the flicking shadows, whenever our master was near. When he was near, stroking our backs, our love for him still consumed us.

We wondered why he left us. Where did he go? We watched by the door but never did see him after his back rounded the curve towards the barn. Sometimes, while we watched and sniffed the breeze, the shadows would come out of the woods, and we’d see creatures we’d never seen before. Some of them smelling of raw meat, the meat before our master cooked it for us. They’d show themselves for only a moment, and then flit or run or slither away. They didn’t have to “Stay.”

One day three large creatures burst out of the woods and ran right towards the door. Their meaty smell shot desire through our bones. They snorted when they saw us and turned and ran away, leaving the scent of fear on the air behind them. One of us howled and took off, and all of us followed. Our legs were long and fast, our hearts and lungs strong, and we ran and ran with the wind in our fur and the sight of thrashing legs ever in front. We leaped fallen trees and streams and ran through shadows and sunlight, and grass and trees. Then one of us caught a piece of a fleeing animal, and we all bit into it, tearing and ripping it until it stopped moving. Blood filled our mouths and joy filled our hearts.

We ate and tussled in the sunlight and the breeze, and the smaller dogs got less to eat, but we all had enough. It was good out here. The meat we caught ourselves was warm, juicy and indescribably sweet. The intoxicating smell of blood was all over us and in the dirt where we rolled, covering our fur in a mantle of victory.

Then we heard him, walking through the woods calling our names. We ran away and hid, and didn’t go to him. Eventually, he left. A few of us followed, whining, wanting both freedom and his love. They told us he shut the gate to the yard and the door to the house. He told them he’d let them in the yard from time to time, but most of us didn’t care. We had animals to run down and eat, streams and ponds for water, and we liked it outside. No one told us to “Stay.” We became wolves, strong and free.

But those dogs that sometimes went in the yard tried to tell us what to do. They told us to live near the yard, to do this and to do that. Some of us did, but most of the time most of us ignored them. We didn’t like those dogs that lived near the yard. They weren’t wolves, free and strong, and they weren’t house dogs, healthy and clean. Many of them were pathetic weaklings, whining by the gate one moment, running with the wolves the next.

Then one day a yard dog came through the woods telling us the gate was open. He didn’t want to run with us. Sometimes he would follow, but only to woo some of us away. He weakened our pack. We killed him, but others came crying out, “The gate is open. The master will care for you in the yard.” We killed most of them, too, but they kept coming. The weaker wolves followed them back to the yard. Even though they never saw the master, except in their dreams, they begged us to join them in the yard. They told us life after death would be glorious for yard dogs, but they still whimpered with fear when death was close, so we don’t believe them.

A few of the wolves that entered that gate are different. They howl to us but never leave the yard. They just stay, looking happy and contented, like so many idiots. They don’t even have the sense to fear death or grieve for the dead. Their howls travel like a siren call on the wind, quiet but always there, unceasing. At night, when there are is no blood or struggle to distract us, some of us have to cover our heads with paws to block the sound and control our foolish yearning.

From time to time, we smell cooked meat and wood smoke in the woods and know it is the master, luring us. We ignore him; he’s still trying to tell us what to do. We see no reason to listen to him. He could care for us in the woods, but he won’t. Sometimes we’re diseased, and sometimes we starve. We die cold, alone and in pain. If he really loved us, he wouldn’t let us know fear and pain, he wouldn’t let us die, he wouldn’t make us ache for the touch of his hand.