I really need to stop doing articles about anything having to do with comic books. It’s not that I’m unqualified to discuss the topic. When discussing DC properties, I yield to Cousin Jose; he’s more ingrained in the DC Universe than I am. But I challenge anyone not named Stan Lee to out-geek me in Marvel’s realm.
Still, Cousin Jose is the comics God of Digital Crack. My wheelhouse is video games, especially old-school video games. It’s in my title: Old-School Gaming Specialist. I promise I will soon cede the discussion of comic-related topics to my brother-from-another-mother.
Because many comic-related topics cross into movies and TV shows, I also have to respect that my other brother-from-another-mother Punisher handles that domain. I will henceforth move away from those realms as well and focus on things like Mega Man, the Nintendo Switch, and the fact that EA is run by Bond villains.
But I gotta jump in one more time into their fiefdoms. Something was written, and I have a lot to say about it. They’ll forgive me; I have Drunken Donuts!
CBR.com recently penned a piece where they ranked the characters in the Marvel Netflix universe from 20 to 1. Since I am both a master and student of the topic, I was interested in their take. While I agree with them on many points, I disagree on an almost-equal amount.
Because I am somewhat pedantic, and because I am a closet-petulant Marvel fanboy, I decided I was going to rip CBR.com on their rankings. This is not a serious dressing-down of the site, though. I am a fan of their content, and author Narayan Liu made some very compelling points when explaining his rankings. But I feel that any opinion piece is open to debate. Plus, I want to be a silly man-child for a bit.
Therefore, I will voice my objections to certain opinions voiced about Liu’s rankings. And I will do so in the most childish, most ridiculous way possible: memes. Specifically, I will rank my disdain for their choices – professionally, of course – using “Your Argument Is Invalid” memes. They will be listed in reverse order from the least to the most epic meme.
Before you ask, Monsignor Liu, yes. I am a silly man-child with delusions of grandeur. You mad, bro?
(Note: please don’t be mad, bro. I enjoyed your article. I just want to have a little fun here.)
Morgan Freeman is a national treasure. Seeing him holding cotton candy is irrelevant despite that. But he’s Morgan Freeman. And he has cotton candy. And you don’t. Yea, you lose.
This is ranked lowest because it’s not that important. I can’t really fault the author here. Culling any list this big to only 20 means that certain characters will be omitted by design. Niu states that very same thing in the article. But I’m being pedantic, and I’m punctuating serious points with childish memes. So I’m pretty much in character here.
Besides, Morgan Freeman has cotton candy.
I could’ve made a case for Trish Walker (Rachel Taylor) being mentioned on the list. To me, she’s a less-prominent but more vocal version of the D.J. in The Warriors. Unlike the D.J., it’s not just her voice. She’s our look into how the average person sees the vigilantes in New York. Trish also wants to steer Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) toward helping those average people. Pop (Frankie Faison) was the moral center that Luke Cage (Mike Colter) used as his guiding principle. He helped guide Cage in the beginning, and Cage’s memory of him pushes Cage to live up to what he felt he was capable of.
But if any supporting character has a case for inclusion in this list, I feel it has to be Turk Barrett (Rob Morgan). He is an extremely low-level hood in the series, but he’s as much of a connective presence as Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple. While Claire is more integral to the heroes’ stories in the Marvel Netflix universe, Turk is the face of the universe’s seediness. If there is anything malicious and overtly bad happening, he just happens to be connected to it in some way.
Turk is an enforcer in Kingpin’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) criminal operations in Daredevil. He plays a role in Pop’s death in Luke Cage. He’s familiar with White Hat’s (Babs Olusanmokun) dealings in The Defenders. And he’s extremely lucky that Frank Castle didn’t kill him in The Punisher when he’s caught doing the one thing he’s best at: gun running.
Yeah, he may not have the clout of the other people listed. But he’s as much an example of how uncaring and corrupt the people in the universe are. Also, I can’t stand his ass!
Foggy Worse Than Iron Fist?
Some stuff is just nonsensical. A picture of Dubya nomming on a cat is nonsensical to the point that it’s mind-numbing. And saying Iron Fist is not the worst part of the Marvel Netflix universe is saying George W. Bush eats cat.
This is more of a personal judgment call than anything based on actual substance. Yes, Eldon Henson’s Foggy Nelson couldn’t be more ridiculous in effort if he spoke with Adam Sandler’s accent from Hotel Transylvania. But Finn Jones was not cast as an ancillary character meant to flesh out a mainline hero. He was supposed to be a mainline hero! More than that, he was supposed to be a hero that struck fear in anyone he faced.
I get it. Jones’s Danny Rand was supposed to be overwhelmed by all of the personal things that took over his life the moment he walked in, barefoot and disheveled, into Rand Industries. But as the Immortal Iron Fist, he’s supposed to be laser-focused on his mission. He’s also supposed to shake off all the doubt and confusion the moment his hands (i.e. MORE THAN ONE!) become glow sticks of ass-whoopage.
Foggy Nelson failed to be a compelling ancillary character – Iron Fist failed to be a badass. That deserves a place at the absolute bottom for Rand. If he’s not there, then poor misu kitty can expect teeth marks from a former President of the United States.
Bakuto Over Colleen Wing?
Then there is something that’s just dumb. Let me reiterate: I respect Narayan Liu’s opinion fully. More to the point, his reasoning makes sense. But then my childishness jumps in and says this opinion is as silly as a man wearing a bread helmet.
Can he at least put butter on that bread? Just wearing that bread all naked around his head is just silly. Plus, his momma is gonna beat his ass!
Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing was my absolute favorite character from Iron Fist not named Zhou Cheng. Though it sucks that her main contribution was reduced to “love interest for Danny Rand” after a bit, she was the one character I really looked forward to seeing kick ass. You know, because DANNY RAND USUALLY COULDN’T!
Niu mentioned that Wing had some scenes where her emotion wasn’t as believable. And…yea. He’s right. But he is ranking Wing lower than Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez), a trouser snake – AND ONE OF THE FIVE FUCKING FINGERS OF THE HAND – who was supposed to be insidiously evil but instead felt like an assistant manager at a Hollister. Niu ranked Bakuto one spot above Wing. I personally wouldn’t believe that Bakuto was the third-best counselor at a YMCA if I saw him wearing the shirt and trying to shepherd 15 kids while wearing a whistle. And he’s more compelling and impactful than a woman who took out UFC-level brawlers in cage fights?
Yeah, I’ll take Wing’s character over Bakuto’s easily. She may have some lapses in character, but Bakuto has lapses in actually being a human being. Thinking the reverse is as dumb as a bread helmet.
Speaking of Zhou Cheng…
Sometimes I wonder why things aren’t spoken about more. Like the ability to use your beard as a way to hold food. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But the fact that it’s nuttier than a jar of Jif means it needs to be spoken about more!
Such is the case with Zhou Cheng (Lewis Tan). He is a minor crony of Madame Gao’s (Wai Chin Ho). The man does nothing more important than guard one of her compounds. He also only has a small scene where he confronts the Iron Fist. But in that scene, he does more to near-PANTS the Iron Fist than the Hand ever could. And he does so with flair.
Why is Zhou Cheng so important that he needs to be discussed more? Because he’s a Drunken Master!
I’ve been into the concept of Drunken Boxing ever since Jackie Chan rammed the phrase into my head. He’s not the inventor of Drunken Kung Fu, but he is the man who popularized it in Legend of the Drunken Master. The martial arts discipline based on the fighting style, Zui Quan, remarkably mimics the mannerisms of a drunk person without a drop of alcohol. Here’s a video showing someone performing Zui Quan.
For the record, I learned of this clip’s existence while amassing research for this article. Another article used the clip as well. It also explored exactly how awesome Lewis Tan’s Zhou Cheng was in Iron Fist. So someone else is talking about it. But dammit, there needs to be more talk!
Remember: Niu found someone less effective than the Immortal Iron Fist, a man who nearly lost to the most OP drunkard ever, in his countdown! That needs to be talked about. Dammit, Niu needed to talk about it! Just like the ability to eat ramen out your beard needs to be talked about. Of course, it’s stupid to think the Immortal Iron Fist nearly got facerolled by a drunk dude! But it happened, and we gotta acknowledge it!
…And Speaking of the Hand…
Bakuto wasn’t even the most compelling of the Five Fingers. I would say it was Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra Reid. She was the bacon taped to the Hand’s cat. And bacon makes everything better.
Prior to The Defenders, Madame Gao was the only real face of The Hand. Bakuto revealed his role as a Finger in Iron Fist. But it wasn’t until Alexandra showed up that I felt The Hand had any real stakes. Before her, I saw The Hand as, “ninjas who don’t know how to ninja well.”
I’m not saying she was the best thing about The Hand. Say what you want about Madame Gao, but the thought of a sweet-looking older woman running a criminal empire is badass. And ninjas have their own cachet, even if they’re as inept as the Foot Clan, as the Hand seems to be. But Alexandra at once humanized The Hand and gave them the sinister face they needed. She was, essentially, bacon taped to a cat. Cats are evil creatures bent on world domination, but that alone isn’t very compelling. But taping bacon to the cat makes the cat more compelling. Because bacon.
The Marvel Netflix Villains
I just finished saying cats are evil creatures bent on world domination. That statement angers my daughter, ex-wife, and some of my best friends. They love cats, in one case unnaturally so. And I kinda get it. Cats are cute. They do cute things when they’re not secretly terrorizing humanity. Cat videos are almost literally what made YouTube into the juggernaut it is today.
But cats are secretly evil and everyone knows this. If someone were to turn the essence of a cat into a bullet, the very fabric of humanity would shudder at the evil unleashed.
That describes the Marvel Netflix villains in a nutshell. And it’s a shame they weren’t given proper credit by Mr. Niu. Don’t get me wrong, he does go into detail about what makes some of them so compelling. I just don’t feel he gave them enough credit for making the Marvel Netflix universe so amazing.
It’s funny when I think about it, but Marvel Netflix has a problem that is the polar opposite of the MCU. Folks who deride the MCU point to their villains as the weak point. And until recently, they had a very valid point. Short of Loki and sorta-kinda the Red Skull, the MCU had no serious villains to challenge them. The list of also-rans is almost painful: Obadiah Stane; Malekith; Whiplash; Mandarin; Ronin the Accuser; Yellowjacket; Helmut Zemo. For a while, the MCU’s villains left a lot to be desired.
In a way, the Marvel Netflix universe has had the opposite problem. For a while, the heroes were not defined by how awesome they were. Instead, they were more defined by who opposed them. Not all the time; we’ll get to that in due course. But some of the best moments for our heroes happened because they were opposed by some AAA-class villains.
The default example for this is D’Onofrio’s Kingpin. The man is a great actor, and he really channeled his abilities into humanizing Wilson Fisk, the crime lord of Hell’s Kitchen. While Charlie Cox is great when he embodies the physical abilities of Daredevil, his character rings pretty hollow in my ears. In fact, I feel more for Karen Page (Deborah Ann Page) at times than Matt Murdock. But when Kingpin is on screen, it’s must-see viewing! Although he is bad, he is human. Both the writing and acting for Wilson Fisk are absolutely on-point. And Daredevil would not be the kickass hero he is if Fisk weren’t the one hounding his ass.
Niu highlighted one instance that I feel best exemplifies what I mean. When Fisk smashed Anatoly’s head in for screwing up his date, you saw D’Onofrio at the height of his powers. Comic book fans know Kingpin is ruthless, but D’Onofrio still managed to sympathize a character as vile as Fisk. Scenes like that made you understand where the villain is coming from. It’s not enough that they’re just evil; there lies a beating heart within the bad guy.
That sentiment is not for Fisk alone. I thought David Tennant embodied both the evil and the insecurity of Kilgrave, aka the Purple Man, brilliantly. Niu agreed; he listed Kilgrave as the second-best character. Tennant is a brilliant actor as well, so his depiction of an abused person who can’t differentiate right from wrong was awesome. As much as Krysten Ritter owned the role of Jessica Jones, her struggle was entirely based on how she had to overcome Kilgrave, how she carried her guilt over what Kilgrave did to her, and how she needed to protect others from him. The fact that she was able to best someone as unconsciously evil as him is a great testament to who she is as a character. That would not be the case if she had to face Justin Hammer.
(For the record, I thought Justin Hammer was the best thing about Iron Man 2. Well, Justin Hammer and seeing Iron Man and War Machine standing together against a shit-ton of mindless robots. Seriously, can we see Justin Hammer dancing again in an MCU movie?)
The best example of a villain done right, though, is Cornell Stokes, aka Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali). For the first half of Luke Cage, he was the asshole that kept showing Luke up simply because he was more influential. Stokes was a crime boss, and he had resources Luke didn’t. Luke would overcome the disadvantage and best him a few times, but Stokes still kept putting pressure. He wanted to break Luke Cage, in one case quite literally. The fact that Cage overcame it helped define Cage as a character more than Pop ever would.
And yet, Cottonmouth was even more sympathetic than Kingpin. Stokes didn’t want the life of crime growing up. He was a gifted musician when he was younger, and he aspired to escape from Harlem and better himself. But Mama Mabel (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) wasn’t having any of that. She wanted Stokes to grow up and take over her crime syndicate. The things she did to turn him, as well as the things she did to marginalize his sister, Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), shaped both of them. They became what they were because of her. And the resentment Stokes felt for what Mama Mabel made him do, despite his love for the woman that was his mother, is present in every scene he is in.
He may have smiled an awful lot, but there was real, tortured evil behind that smile.
Ali made me feel Cottonmouth’s pain every time he flashed that smile. That man was hurting inside, and I was rooting for him as much as I was rooting for Luke Cage to smash Cottonmouth’s teeth into his esophagus. In my eyes, Luke Cage would be nothing more than a strong guy if it were not for his desire to counter Cottonmouth.
Then Mariah had to fuck things up. And then Diamondback (Eric Laray Harvey), with his nutty-ass smile, had to show up and fuck everything up worse.
Yeah, not all of the Marvel Netflix villains worked out well. Diamondback was weak. As I mentioned previously, so were The Hand. I would only count two of the fingers – Alexandra and Madame Gao – as worthy of the name. And the less said about Harold Meachum (David Wenham) the better. Ben Barnes’s take on Billy Russo was very well-done in The Punisher, but he was not nearly the most compelling villain in the Marvel Netflix universe.
For the record, Russo was ranked #12 by Niu, well below Jeri Hogarth. With all respect to Carrie-Anne Moss, I see Hogarth as a different version of Shades (Theo Rossi). Both of them crave nothing more than success. And both are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it. It’s just that they’re at different ends of the spectrum. Hogarth is Chaotic Neutral; she’s not interested in the greater good, only in what’s good enough for her interests. Shades is Lawful Evil. He’s a thug, but he wants to stick to a code. Yea, he’ll pop a cap into you, but there has to be an end to it.
Niu ranked Jeri Hogarth as #3. He ranked Kingpin as #4 and Cottonmouth as #9. The latter two gentlemen helped mold not only their direct opposition but the world around them. Hogarth won a couple of cases and had to be rescued by Jessica Jones. Yes, Niu ranked a successful lawyer over two literal cat bullets.
If someone shot Cottonmouth or Kingpin at me, I wouldn’t just duck. I would attempt to sink into the ground just to avoid them. You can’t rank a lawyer over real “cat bullet” nastiness like that!
I dedicate this meme to Jon Bernthal’s take on Frank Castle, aka The Punisher. If that man doesn’t own a double gun, the thing can’t possibly exist!
Unfortunately, the double gun also signifies that Niu’s decree that The Punisher is the #1 character in the Marvel Netflix universe is bollocks. With respects to Niu, Bernthal, and my podcast-mate, Punisher, a double gun ain’t shit.
When anyone says The Punisher is the best thing about The Punisher, they are making the most obvious point anyone can make: he is the most badass thing walking there. His body count makes Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion jealous. The Punisher mows through adversaries like young children mow through lawn for money.
But Kingpin is alive, despite crossing The Punisher. And worse yet, Kingpin whooped his ass!
In my eyes, fans see The Punisher and think of a double gun. Both look amazing, and both have to be the most powerful thing on the face of the earth. But like a double gun, it’s all just a show of brute force. There is something more powerful and better.
In the case of the double gun, there is the .50 cal machine gun. Sure, it’s not as portable as a double gun. But it’s infinitely more realistic. I live in Florida. I never checked, but I am absolutely sure I can rent time at a large shooting area and fire off a couple .50 cal rounds. But getting my hands on a double gun like Christoph Waltz is wielding above is impossible. And it would rip my arm off at the shoulder if I fired it.
In the case of the Punisher, there is Kingpin. Yea, he’s not as menacing as the double gun that is Frank Castle. But Kingpin laid the absolute smack down on The Punisher hand-to-hand. It’s also canon; Wilson Fisk may look like a fat ass, but that’s actually muscle. When he lays hands on you, it’s gonna smart. It smarted Frank Castle. Hard.
I can withstand a punch from Frank Castle. I wouldn’t be able to talk for three weeks, but I’ll get better. If Wilson Fisk punches me, I won’t be able to handle solid foods. Ever.
And, yes, I’m basing this observation on their respective physical abilities, not their personal portrayals. As much as I love D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk, I equally love Jon Bernthal’s take on Castle. Bernthal comes across as genuinely tortured, indicative of a person whose had everything good in his life taken away. When he dons the skull-clad gear and lays waste to criminals, it’s a sight to behold. But when he allows it, the humanity in him shines through. You see it in his interactions with Karen Page, and you see it when he lets Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) into his good graces. This isn’t a soulless automaton; Frank Castle is a human being, and The Punisher allows his character the chance to show humanity in between the bouts of absolute homicidal rage.
I mean, he let Turk live, right?
But Kingpin beat The Punisher’s ass soundly. And it wasn’t much of a contest. And if Turk would’ve crossed Kingpin, his head would’ve been just as squashed as Anatoly’s.
Niu has Fisk at #4 and Castle at #1. Worse, Hogarth was ranked above Fisk. Again, with respect to Carrie-Anne Moss, HELL NO!
If you can come to blows with The Punisher and not only survive but come out on top, you are the baddest motherfucker around. If you side with the loser in that match, you’re rooting for the double gun. It’s an impressive weapon on its own. But there are stronger weapons out there, and one of them dismantled it.
Oh, and Christoph Waltz can handle you if you’re a double gun. Just sayin’.