Tagged: Hell’s Kitchen

Mindy Newell: Wilson Fisk and Hell’s Kitchen

 

Wilson Fisk

“Today, the only reminder that this stretch of (Manhattan’s) SoHo was once a forest of filling stations known as Gasoline Alley is a coffee shop of the same name that sells single-origin coffee beans from Burundi.” Sarah Maslin Nir, “With Gas Station’s Closing, A Fuel Desert Expands in Manhattan,” The New York Times, April 22, 2016

“On a block where a kebab could once be had at 2 a.m. from Bereket, the 24-hour Turkish restaurant that was forced to close in 2014, there will now be a 30,000-square-foot Equinox gym and spa with a lounge and juice bar; condo residents will be able to access the two-story gym through a private entrance. Gone too, are places like Ray’s Pizza and Empanada Mama. While such spots and the unmemorable single-story buildings that once housed them could not claim any historic significance, they were popular haunts that gave the area its character…” • Ronda Kaysen, “Alongside the Pastrami, Luxury Condos,” The New York Times, April 24, 2016

When we drive out to Long Island to celebrate Passover and other good times with the family, we go through the Holland Tunnel, up the Avenue of the Americas (also known as Sixth Avenue) to Houston – pronounced House-ston for you non-New Yorkers in the audience – then make a right onto the Bowery, a left onto Delancey and over the Williamsburg Bridge to the BQE – the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway for you non-New Yorkers in the audience, which, by the way, rarely deserves the “express” in its name – to the LIE – the Long Island Expressway, which also rarely deserves the “express” in its name. The most interesting part of the drive has always been through downtown NYC and the Lower East Side.

Over the years I have marveled (no pun intended) at the changes on the Lower East Side as gentrification and real estate developers have mutated the ramshackle buildings and tenement apartments into glass-and-steel buildings, luxury lofts, and upscale storefronts. Boy, has the neighborhood changed! The streets on which so many of our immigrant ancestors first claimed their status as Americans and which were indelibly imprinted in the public’s minds in movies like Crossing Delancey, Godfather II, and When Harry Met Sally are disappearing, only to be witnessed as black-and-white pictures from a Ken Burns documentary.

But one beat-up, dirty, and unobtrusive “landmark” remained: the gas station at the corner of Lafayette and East Houston, opposite the Puck Building. It was always there. The last surviving “member” of “Gasoline Alley,” it closed on Thursday, April 22, soon to be replaced by another glass-and-steel building with luxury lofts and upscale storefronts.

So what does this all have to do with comics?

Well, nothing much, really, except that in preparation for watching the second season of Daredevil on Netflix, I “rebinged” on the last half of its first, so that the “new” Lower East Side’s redevelopment into a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous episode, a “private” community for the 1% – or is that 0.25%? – seemed to especially hit me hard this year; I felt a mixture of poignancy for what has been lost, anger at the disrespect to history, and, yes, I admit it, an appreciation of the new metropolitan beauty of downtown. And I also thought of all those obscenely rich real estate developers and their corporations. Which made me think of Wilson Fisk.

Now I’m not accusing anyone of blowing up whole blocks or of killing tenants reluctant to move; still, Fisk’s plans for Hell’s Kitchen – which these days barely resembles the streets on which the Jets and the Sharks danced and rumbled in West Side Story – and, more specifically, what happened to Elena Cardenas and the apartment building in which she lived are only an extrapolation of what actually happened…

Built in 1881, making it the second-oldest apartment house in New York City, the Windermere sits at the corner of 57th Street and Ninth Avenue. In 1980, the owner, Alan B. Weissman, wanted in on the booming redevelopment and gentrification that was the first phase of the rezoning of Hell’s Kitchen by New York Cit, so he set about trying to get the tenants to leave. Apartments were broken into and ransacked, doors and locks were broken, prostitutes and junkies moved in, and the occupants claimed, in court, to have received death threats.

Weissman was never directly linked to these activities, but his managers were sent to jail and he and wife ranked #1 in the 1985 Village Voice edition of “The Dirty Dozen: New York’s Worst Landlords.” In 2007, the New York City court system ordered the building and the seven remaining tenants protected, despite the derelict living conditions. the state of disrepair of the Windermere itself. and the demolition of its neighboring buildings as redevelopment boomed. The tenants were finally forcibly removed in 2007 by fire department, citing dangerous conditions, and the building has remained empty. Last year, the new owner, Mark Tess, was named to the “25 Worst Landlords” list by the city’s Public Advocate office.

Fisk’s dream to remake Hell’s Kitchen stemmed, I think, from a desire to wipe out the memory, the last vestiges, of what happened in that dirty little rat hole of an apartment somewhere in the dregs and darkness of Hell’s Kitchen. (Spoiler alert – though you’ve had a year to catch up, and if I can do it, you have no excuses: For those who haven’t watched the first season Daredevil, Fisk committed patricide – justified, im-not-so-ho, since his father was a total piece of shit in every way imaginable–in defense of his mother.) And, oh, yeah, he was also a megalomaniac. But once you kill your father and get away with it, belief in your own indestructible power can be, um, inspirational.

Foggy and Matt of Nelson and Murdoch, Attorneys-at-Law, through the power of the courts, managed to get Fisk into federal custody. But one New York institution went another way.

From “Alongside the Pastrami…”:

While other New York City institutions have succumbed to the insatiable appetite of a hungry real estate market, the 128-year-old Katz’s Delicatessen, with $19.95 pastrami sandwiches and a legion of fans, found a way to hang on.

“Last year, the family-owned deli at 205 East Houston Street sold two neighboring properties and its air rights for about $17 million, paving the way for a developer to build an 11-story condominium next door. The arrangement ensures that, for at least another generation, New Yorkers will be able to get corned beef and brisket at the Lower East Side deli that was immortalized in the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally.

“The sale was part of a $75 million acquisition of 12 single-story commercial spaces that spared Katz’s, but sealed the fates of all of the other mom-and-pop businesses on East Houston Street between Orchard and Ludlow Streets. They were all displaced to make way for the new condo. Sales are set to start by the end of the month at 196 Orchard, with prices for the 94 apartments starting at $1.075 million for a 551-square-foot studio.”

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Joe Corallo: Jessica Jones’ Sexuality

jessica+jones+netflix

Hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a nice one. I used some of the time off from the work I had to finish up Marvel’s Jessica Jones. I’ve read articles like this one about how the show is queer-inclusive, and have seen that term being thrown around elsewhere since. I’m using my column this week to make what I feel is an important point: Jessica Jones is in absolutely no way queer-inclusive.

Please be advised that there are SPOILERS ahead for both Jessica Jones and Daredevil.

Prior to Jessica Jones premiering, speculation was abound that she may end up being Marvel’s first queer lead. She is not. The speculation was based on her close relationship with Trish (Patsy) Walker. Trish and Jessica are sisters through adoption. They do tell each other they love each other. That’s because they are sisters. No other reason. This isn’t opening the door to a queer relationship later on. They both have a very full and active sex life with exclusively cis male partners in the show.

The fact that this caused speculation of any kind shows just how starved audiences are for queer representation in comic book properties, and I hope that Marvel takes note. That being said, let’s please end any continued speculation on Jessica Jones’ sexuality until we have a real reason to think of her as anything but straight.

Jessica Jones features one important queer character, Jeri. In the comics the character of Jeri was a man, so in the show they gender swapped that character while keeping the sexuality of that character the same. You could make the argument that she could easily be swapped with a man and it would have had no impact on the show at all outside of reducing the queer representation.

Jeri is a cis white lesbian, or at least an assumed lesbian since we don’t know about her sexual history beyond her ex and her current lover. Her lovers are also cis white and assumed lesbians. Unlike Jeri, they’re both blondes. We even get a “steamy” fully clothed almost sex scene in Jeri’s office with her assistant that goes out of its way to make sure we don’t see anything too scandalous, despite the show being described as “sex positive.” Wow, that’s some extensive queer representation there! Seriously though, one of those characters couldn’t have been openly bi, nonwhite, or something else to be even a little more inclusive?

Making Jeri an assumed lesbian in the show was a smart move for Marvel. It allows for two additional, albeit minor characters, to also be queer, thus upping the level of perceived queerness in the show. However, that’s not how being queer-inclusive works. This is New York City in 2015. Even more so, this is Hell’s Kitchen.

This is a place in New York City that currently has a fairly large and well known queer population. Largely cis white gay or bi men, but still very much a queer population. By not showing queer characters in the background, active queer bars or clubs that Jessica could have gone into, a case someone can try to hire her for involving a queer character, even openly queer people living in her building, Marvel is hetero-washing New York City. Whether this is intentional or not, it’s something that needs to stop happening and we can and should demand better. This isn’t a demand for more representation than we deserve. It’s a demand for accurate representation of the world as it is now, and without that I can’t consider this show queer-inclusive and you shouldn’t either.

Getting back to Jeri, she’s also not a particularly good person in the show. She’s shown as more likely than not being unfair to her ex and trying to keep her ex from money that she’s entitled to herself. Jeri also seemingly manipulates her current lover into killing Jeri’s ex. That’s right, one of the minor lesbians kills the only other minor lesbian. This all occurs while Jeri thoroughly betrays Jessica in a way that results in people getting killed and Kilgrave gaining the upper hand.

So not only do we have little queer representation, the representation we get drops from three characters total to two. One of them winds up in prison and the other one continues being a cutthroat lawyer and an untrustworthy friend of Jessica’s. Clearly queer viewers got some strong characters in this show to look up to!

Marvel’s Jessica Jones is not queer-inclusive. If anything, it hetero-washes its setting, just as Daredevil did. I’m not discouraging anyone from watching and enjoying this show, but I am discouraging people from spreading around the notion that this show is queer-inclusive.

That’s not the only diversity related issue Marvel’s Netflix shows have been lacking in, like how both shows feature only one older black man in a senior position helping our heroes that gets killed towards the end. What’s up with that? But that’s another story for another column.

Emily S. Whitten and The Very Real Jessica Jones

jessica_jones

Well, Jessica Jones, you have my interest. So: I haven’t seen all thirteen episodes of Marvel and Netflix’s Jessica Jones yet (hey, la Casa de Emily gets busy around the holidays), but I did get in a good four episodes with my Marvel watch party buddies, and all of us were left wanting to see more.

I was excited about Jessica Jones before it came out and so far, I haven’t been disappointed. The show is in line with Daredevil in feel, but possibly even grittier in atmosphere; and by that I don’t mean harsher – I mean more real. Jones is a relatable “superhero,” primarily because she’s not a superhero. She’s a regular person in many ways – in the sense that she’s not perfect, she doesn’t have her life together, and she’s not stellar at picking the wisest way to handle a crisis.

She’s also rude, abrasive, and somewhat paranoid – but given the world she lives in, instead of putting me off that actually makes me like her, because it’s probably how a lot of us would react if we were dealing with the guilt, trauma, and danger she’s experienced. And I mean, yes – she also happens to have superpowers. But they are not the biggest focus of the current storyline, nor are they a solution for her problems. I like that, because I like seeing the less-than-perfect side of a “gift” like superpowers. And, because the sheer normalcy of her issues highlights the challenges raised by her special abilities.

I also really enjoyed seeing those abilities slowly being displayed. With Jones, you don’t get a lot of flashy, showy superhero stuff – what you get is someone who’s trying to do her job like a regular person, but resorts to lifting a car’s back wheels off the ground just as much as is needed to stop the criminal she’s trying to serve a subpoena on from getting away. You get someone who, rather than leaping tall buildings in a single bound, jumps high enough to awkwardly shimmy onto her best friend’s balcony when she needs to borrow some money. That’s not to say that her powers aren’t impressive (and I am sure I will see more as I continue the season); but that the way they are introduced is the more interesting for being revealed in very utilitarian situations.

And then, of course, sometimes for being abused – as when a couple who are enraged by the destruction that took place in New York during the Avengers movie tries to take out their anger on her as one of the superpowered bunch. Instead, they end up being treated to a rage-tantrum in which Jones tears up their house while, quite rightly, pointing out that she’s also dealt with unfair loss and pain, but isn’t blaming random people for her suffering. (And I also liked the allusion to The Avengers and the consequences of the destruction in the city – too frequently superhero stories don’t really address the collateral damage and trauma to civilians caused by Spidey or Superman or the Avengers or whoever pursuing a bad guy across a city. I don’t like the awkward way Jones refers to other superheroes without naming them, and I’m not sure if that’s because of a rights issue or weird scripting – but that’s a small complaint).

It was also a treat seeing Luke Cage’s abilities being brought to light. The introduction of his fighting style was pretty hilarious – the way he rolled his eyes at the barroom brawlers trying to pick a fight, and then knocked one out with the most casual backhand I’ve ever seen. And it was perfect for the style of this show and the aforementioned utilitarian aspects of superpowers being highlighted. The introduction of Cage generally is something I’m enjoying; including the slow build of his backstory and character as he gets to know Jones and more about her past impact on his life is revealed.

That’s another thing the show is doing well – the slow build. I realize that a lot of people may want to see a pilot that is chock-full of information and really grabs them in one sitting; but since this show has the opportunity (as did Daredevil) to grab an audience over a series of episodes that are all immediately available to watch, I don’t mind that it’s taking advantage of that still rather new media “format” to adopt a somewhat decompressed style of storytelling. It makes some aspects of the story, like the introduction of new characters, such as Patsy/Trish Walker, feel much more natural and real. While the initial focus of the show is Jones, and we don’t, at first, even know exactly what her past relationship with Walker is, the development of that and of Trish’s personality, from a perfectly put-together radio host to a more nuanced person who deals with a troubled childhood and a current intense fear of danger after what happened to Jones before the events of the show, is enjoyable because it’s not particularly hurried. There’s no info dump, and that’s a relief.

The decompressed style also allows for incorporation of characters like Will Simpson and Malcolm Ducasse without the feeling that they’re being thrust in our faces, and with a greater chance that we won’t see plot points involving them way ahead of time. It allows us to feel with Jessica as she, e.g., discovers that one of the few people she regularly interacts with and has generally tried to help and sort of look after is actually spying on her and betraying her movements to her enemy. In other words, it makes them less predictable bits in a Jessica Jones-centric story, and more like parts of a fully imagined world she happens to move through and interact with without knowing how any of her choices are going to pan out.

That world has a great noir-ish feel; it’s definitely not today’s New York, but is older in style and more homey while at the same time feeling more dangerous. (Although I did notice the reference to the 5th Avenue – Bryant Park entrance to the 7 line and wonder if that little homage to the newest way to handily access the Javits Center for New York Comic Con was intentional.) Yes, there are big fancy glass-and-metal skyscrapers housing, e.g., high-powered attorneys who pay Jessica to deal with difficult issues; but there are also neighborhood bars that have clearly been around forever and are definitely not part of some big chain or conglomerate, and buildings that may not be up to code but definitely have a lot of “character.”

Jones’ New York is both a setting I feel like I’m experiencing through her eyes, and a place that fits well with the world as seen through the lens of Daredevil; which bodes well for an eventual melding of the two. I like the way it does feel just slightly different from Murdock’s world; and hope that when Cage gets his own show, and Iron Fist his, we also get slightly shifted perspectives of Hell’s Kitchen through their personal experiences and views.

Speaking of high-powered attorneys, I’m enjoying Carrie-Anne Moss’s role as Jeri Hogarth, a hard-nosed, cynical lawyer who is also in the midst of an acrimonious divorce from her wife while engaged in that most clichéd of affairs, a romance with her younger, prettier secretary Pam. I’m also enjoying the way they’re exploring that side-plot – through sad little scenes like Jeri taking secretary Pam to lunch and running into wife Wendy Ross-Hogarth, who reveals to Pam that they are about to enter the restaurant where Jeri proposed to Wendy. The whole scene is awkward and painful for everybody in a way that is very realistic, and I appreciate as well that it shows this interaction with a same-sex couple, highlighting that the ugly issues involved in divorce span across all pairings in relationships.

In the same vein I appreciate that all of the women of this show are allowed to be unlikable. They’re allowed to be harsh, and imperfect, and paranoid, and weird, and humorous, and passionate, and ruthless, and loving, and conflicted, and scared, and tough, and smart, and successful, and fatalistic, and stupid, and angry, and cruel, and destroyed, and determined – and all in the mixed-together, messy way that real people are. There are no female characters in this show who fall into a stereotypical category; and the same goes for their relationships with the other characters.

And as we’re talking about relationships, one of the most important ones is Jones’ relationship with the villain of the story, Kilgrave, and it’s as fascinatingly disturbing as he is. We get to see glimpses of her past with Kilgrave as the plot moves along – and it’s creepy and sad to see the Kilgrave of flashbacks playing with her like a living doll subject only to his whims, dressed up for a night on the town, or told to casually dispatch an innocent woman using her superpowers. It’s sad as well to see her current suffering from the PTSD left over from what Kilgrave made her do. It heads up the point that no matter how strong she or any hero is, they can still be vulnerable, and their powers are not a magic cure-all.

It also addresses how slow to heal psychological wounds can be. As we see more of Kilgrave in the present we see how truly sadistic his use of his powers really is, Krysten Ritter realize that the magnitude of his past abuse of Jessica could be anything. When he, for example, doesn’t even allow people to retain the basic dignity of using a restroom to go to the bathroom when he’s bending them to his will, it shows his inherent cruelty and his all-encompassing disregard for anyone but himself. And when we realize how much of his will is focused on exacting revenge on Jones, who managed to defy him and also left him for dead, her paranoia and barely controlled reactions start to make a whole lot of sense.

I also appreciate that the show doesn’t try to present any of this as acceptable – it’s wrong, and twisted, and not even the littlest bit okay. And it results in a view of the villain that’s intriguing because it shows us just how petty and pathetic he is, despite how powerful he also is. The contrast between what he can do and what he uses his ability to do shows how truly despicably small he is; and reflects perfectly the truth of an abuser’s personality. It’s a nuance that a lot of shows don’t manage to get across; but this show really sticks the landing.

Yes, indeed there are many things this show is doing well; and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me as I finish the season. So off I go to see what other crazy things are about to go down in Jessica Jones’s New York; and until next time, Servo Lectio.