Category Archives: Dan on TV

Fandoms Gone Wrong

The Dark Sides of Fandoms

Oscar Wilde once said “This club would be amazing, save for its members.”

No, he didn’t. That was a lie and I’m sorry. This just seemed like a topic that deserved to open with a pithy quote and I couldn’t think of one and now it’s opened with deceit. But I’ll try to win your trust back.

Being a fan of things is fun. Liking things is great. The shows and movies I love, I love actively. I track casting announcements and character reveals, watch and rewatch trailers, and love to talk about them with fellow fans.

The trick is, I don’t often have a lot of fellow fans in my social group. That’s not their fault. It’s not an issue of fault. It’s the curse of living under Peak TV. Nobody has unlimited time to watch TV, so they might not get to the show you love because what TV time they have is spent between the shows they love and trying to catch up on one of the thirty thousand shows someone in their lives or online has desperately said “You must watch this!”

Yes I did write an entire blog saying “Watch American Gods, damn your eyes,” yes that makes me part of the problem, no I’m not sorry.

But hey, it’s the age of the internet, right? If only two people you know are up-to-date on Preacher, you can always find a forum or a subreddit or something, can’t you?

Well… not always. Sometimes they get weird about it. Sometimes the fandoms devolve into forums of complaints and shitposts and massive, massive negativity. And sometimes there’s just one vocal minority that makes things difficult for, in this case, me. But maybe you. I don’t know, I don’t live in your head.

Allow me to discuss my least favourite parts of the fandoms I suppose I’m part of.

Supergirl: “Supercorp”

I have no problem with “shippers,” people who pick two characters from the show/book they love and say “These two should be in a relationship.” I’ve probably even been a shipper more than once, as I was weirdly invested in Jeff and Annie getting together on Community and consider any romance plot in Mass Effect that isn’t Shepard and Tali to be a waste of time. I don’t even have a problem with the crack shippers, the ones writing slashfics about Ron Weasley getting it on with Hagrid’s giant half-brother Grawp.

I don’t know if that slashfic exists, but knowing what the internet is capable of, I have little reason to believe that it doesn’t.

Back in the day, I was in a fan group for Due South, and there was a vocal contingent who thought straight laced Mountie Constable Fraser and rough-around-the-edges Chicago cop Ray Vecchio were definitely more than friends. Every glance, every casual brush of hand on shoulder was picked apart and held up to the world that this ‘ship was just as canonical as what happened on the actual show. And I thought, fine, sure, you’re wrong, but who does this hurt.

Supercorp, on the other hand.

Supercorp is the name for the Supergirl shippers convinced that Kara Zor-El and Lena Luthor are soulmates. I discussed this back in the Comic TV Wrap-up blogs, and how Kara and Lena’s friendship is very touching but neither of them have ever expressed interest in same-sex relationships.

Supercorp fans aren’t overly concerned about that, but that’s not the problem. LGBTQ fans have every justification in saying “Wouldn’t it be great if X media character were also LGBTQ,” because it’s not like there’s this huge surplus of LGBTQ leading characters and they’re trying to demand even more. That would be straight white men.

So if you want to launch a Twitter thread of potential girlfriends for Brooklyn 99’s Rosa Diaz, more power to you. But Supercorp… Supercorp can get a little nasty about it.

But don’t take my word for it. In the below video, iZombie star and all around great person Rahul Kohli discusses his run-in with Supercorp.

See, Rahul Kohli was brought onto Supergirl for an episode as Lena’s ex-boyfriend, arriving in National City with a new breakthrough. And as soon as that was announced, Supercorp went ballistic, getting angry not just at the show for having Lena be into someone other than Kara, but at the delightful Mr. Kohli just for daring to accept an acting job.

Once the episode aired, they calmed down, likely because his character did not actually provide an impediment to Kara and Lena hooking up, but until that point they were toxic. Especially compared to the more benign shippers amongst the iZombie fanbase, whom the cast love. He compares iZombie shippers to football (soccer) fans, cheering on their favourite teams, and Supercorp to soccer hooligans, starting riots when things don’t go their way.

Look… I get it. I get that when two characters seem perfect for each other but the writers just won’t see it that can get frustrating. It must have been especially frustrating when these fans were growing attached to Lena and Kara as a couple while the writers were devoting the season’s main arc to hooking up Kara and Mon-El.

But here’s the thing.

I thought Buffy and Riley made a good couple. I never wanted Willow and Oz to split up. Marcus Cole died before he and and Commander Ivanova could be together. And as to what happened with Wesley and Fred on Angel, I wanted Joss Whedon tried at the Hague. 

But I didn’t freak out. I didn’t drown these shows in angry letters or emails (Twitter not having existed at the time). I just accepted it and moved on. The risk of shipping a couple is that your ‘ship might not sail, and you just have to roll with that.

So maybe tone it down and cool it on the Supercorp memes a little.

Arrow: Anti-Olicity

Apparently the Arrow fandom on Tumblr is massively obsessed with Oliver Queen getting with Felicity Smoak. So I hear. It sounds right, but it’s hard to be sure. I go on Tumblr the way someone who goes to an all-inclusive resort near Cancun and never leaves the pool has “been to Mexico.”

What I do know is that original Arrow subreddit went about as far in the other direction as it was possible to go. Over the course of Arrow’s fourth season, r/Arrow went from being a place where fans could discuss the show to a horrid, toxic pit of hatred for Felicity and executive producer Mark Guggenheim, known condescendingly as “Uncle Guggie,” who this pile of whiny sulk-beasts blame for everything they feel has gone wrong with the show since season two. It got bad enough that people who actually like Arrow had to form a second subreddit to get away from them.

Again. It’s not like I don’t somewhat see their point. Fourth season leaned way too hard into the Olicity stuff. Really held the show back. Freed of that weight, fifth season soared, but that hasn’t stopped the r/arrow crowd from complaining about “Fefe” and “Uncle Guggie” and “organic.” I know this, because even though I fled r/arrow over a year ago (right before they re-skinned the subreddit to be a place to discuss Daredevil, aka “peak shitpost”), those malcontents still turn up in all the other DCW subreddits.

Because that is what makes them worse than Supergirl fans who didn’t love Mon-El or Flash fans who never got over Patty Spivot being written out. The volume. The oppressive, insistent volume. If you don’t enjoy Felicity, if you thought season four had too much romance, that’s your right and no one can force you to think otherwise. But screaming about it everywhere, in subreddits that don’t care about this, knowing that actual fans had to build a sanctuary away from you, that’s just being obnoxious.

Example. If you, at any point in the last six years of Game of Thrones (or 21 years for those of you reading the novelizations), have liked, sympathized with, or worse, rooted for Cersei Lannister, I think you are wrong, dead wrong, and should seek therapy, because she is the absolute worst and if you try to tell me otherwise I will fight you. With words and counter-arguments, I mean. It’s just a TV show. And/or partially complete book series.

What I don’t do is seek out conversations about Game of Thrones and jump in to make sure everyone knows I hate Cersei. I do not interrupt conversations about Arya to take cheap shots at Cersei. And I certainly don’t bring up how awful Cersei is when people discuss 300 or Dredd or anything else Lena Headey happened to be in.

Because I respect people’s rights not to care that I don’t like a fictional character.

(Sure, all of you just heard about it, but not, like, in graphic detail.)

But the malcontents at r/arrow just can’t manage that.

Doctor Who: The Anti-Moffats

No, we’re not talking about all the dudes threatening to quit watching Doctor Who because the new Doctor is a woman. I’m following Sixth Doctor Colin Baker’s lead and hesitating to even call them “fans.” I’m talking about people who’ve been complaining about the outgoing showrunner.

So here’s where I court controversy, because while I don’t personally know any Supercorp people, and my friends who didn’t love seasons three and four of Arrow are all low-key about it… I do know some people that aren’t fans of Steven Moffat. As such, I’ll try to be gentle here. But I must be honest.

To me, people who think Steven Moffat “ruined Doctor Who” are like the movie Tree of Life. I don’t understand you, and I don’t particularly want to.

I don’t think Moffat’s bad at writing women. Amy Pond, River Song, Bill Potts, they were all stronger women than Rose Tyler, whose daddy issues nearly destroyed the world, or Martha Jones, doomed to pine over the Doctor while he brooded over Rose. And trust me, things weren’t reliably better in the 60s-80s. Okay, yes, Clara’s Impossible Girl storyline was problematic, and if you didn’t like Danny Pink, she didn’t bounce back much in season eight. And yes, Amy, River, and Clara all were introduced by having some mystery attached to them. But I don’t think that ruins them as characters. And you know what, even Clara had her strengths. She was able to look an ancient god in the eye at his most volatile, and essentially whack him with a rolled-up newspaper saying “No. Be better. Be a Doctor.” And she was the first companion to say “I’ll travel time and space with you, but when I want to. And I’ll have my own life in the meantime.” (Until… well, we don’t need to discuss her entire multi-year arc right now.)

I don’t think Moffat has a problem with Deus ex Machina. Or if he does, he wasn’t nearly as bad as Russell T. Davies. Next to a) Rose using the Heart of the Tardis to gain the magical ability to disintegrate Daleks and scatter the words “Bad Wolf” through history; b) Martha convincing people to say the word “Doctor” so much that he suddenly gains a whole new set of super powers and can retcon an entire year; or c) Donna suddenly gaining Time Lord intelligence just long enough to find the “kill all Daleks” cheat code on one of their own consoles, 13 incarnations of the Doctor joining forces to hide Gallifrey in a frozen moment of time or rebooting the universe with a second Big Bang seem downright logical. Hell, “The Wedding of River Song” makes perfect sense and even feels earned.

Steven Moffat wrote what might be my favourite incarnation of the Doctor, 11. When Davies was in charge, Moffat wrote the best episodes of each season: “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” “Blink,” “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” which only gets sadder when you know the rest of River Song’s story. Many of my other all-time favourites are also Moffat-written. “The 11th Hour,” which may be the best introduction episode for a new Doctor ever. “The Beast Below.” “Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon.” “Listen.” “A Christmas Carol.” “The Snowmen.” “The Bells of St. John.” “Last Christmas.” “The Magician’s Assitant/The Witch’s Familiar.” And my all-time ride-or-die favourite,Day of the Doctor.” Two of my other favourites happened under Moffat’s watch: “The Lodger” and “Vincent and the Doctor.”

And the characters Moffat added to Doctor Who. The incredible characters. Even beyond creating three Doctors (including John Hurt’s War Doctor). Amy Pond. Rory Williams. River Song. Canton Everett Delaware III. The Paternoster Gang. Bill Potts, the first openly gay companion. Nardole. The Weeping Angels. And Missy. Wonderful, deadly, perfect, terrible Missy.

And even freaking Handles. Steven Moffat moved me to tears when a severed Cyberman head died.

That is what the Moffat era of Doctor Who is to me. A time of joy and pain and laughter and tears and wonderful friends, majestic hellos and tragic farewells… with just that one rough patch as season eight found its feet. So with all of that in mind, if you say to me “Moffat ruined Doctor Who and now I can’t watch it…”

Nothing mean. You’re not a jerk. You’re not toxic. I’m not gonna yell at you or demean you or insult you. That would make me like the groups I just finished complaining about, and The Doctor wouldn’t stand for that sort of shabby behaviour, even in his defense. I’m just sad. Sad you can’t see the last six seasons like I did.

And hey, it’s Peak TV. If Doctor Who’s not your thing, try American Gods or Fargo or Legion or iZombie or something I don’t watch that suits your taste. But if you try to convince me that I’m wrong, we might have words.

The Flash: “Barry f***ed the timeline”

I get it. We all get it. Barry Allen was, from time to time, a little careless with time travel for the first two seasons. And only visiting the future instead of mucking with the past in season three wasn’t the biggest improvement. But “Barry fucked the timeline” shitposts and comments have become so widespread that the “Damn it Barry” meme for “this timeline is screwed up” have spread beyond Flash TV fandom.

And the thing of it is? In the first and third seasons, the Big Bads are from the future. Savitar came from the future with an endgame that involved screwing with all of history. And Reverse-Flash’s storyline (which was great) begins with Eobard Thawne irrevocably altering Barry Allen’s history. But Barry tries to undo Thawne’s damage to his own life, or travels to the future to get on equal footing with Savitar, and everyone loses their goddamn minds.

Maybe we can let him off the hook about that next season?

That’s about it on that one. Explains itself pretty simply.

So… bye.

Best of Comic TV 2017 Part 5: The Top Four

Okay, let’s wrap this thing up already. Hey, I’m as eager as you are, I started writing these in March.

Ladies and gentlemen, Danny G’s Top Four Comic Book TV Series of 2017. Brace yourself for some surprising comeback stories.

4. Arrow

Arrow had a couple of rough seasons there. After the operatic battle of Oliver vs. Slade in season two, they floundered through the mopey Ra’s Al Ghul story of season three and pushed magic and relationship drama too hard in season four, but in season five they found their groove again in a big way.

Strengths: Stephen Amell may have given his best performance this year, and Oliver Queen has clearly evolved as a person… even if he backslid on the whole “no killing” thing.

Oliver/Felicity drama was, as requested, kept to a minimum.

After two years of decreasing relevance, the flashbacks actually felt important this year. Past-Oliver’s journey towards being season one’s “The Hood” completed, and his return to the island of Lian Yu put a perfect capstone on his “five years in Hell.”

The flashbacks also featured the return of David Nykl as Oliver’s wacky Bratva buddy from his island days, Anatoly Knyazev. He’s always fun. Shame they’re not getting along in the present.

The new team worked out well. Wild Dog took some warming up to but he got there, Ragman was great (while he lasted), Curtis became Mr. Terrific, T-spheres and all, and the new Black Canary is nicely badass.

Speaking of the new Black Canary… I thought they were going to go the Jefferson Jackson route and invent a new character, but when her name turned out to be “Dinah Drake?” That’s the Golden Age and current Black Canary’s maiden name. They introduced a new Black Canary without creating a new Black Canary. Respect.

Episodes that not only featured but were named after obscure characters Vigilante and Human Target? Nice treat for me. Not “Third season of the Human Target TV show” nice but I’ll still take it.

Tobias Church was a great warm-up villain for the new team. Casting Wire veteran Chad L. Coleman certainly helped.

Prometheus might not have made the podium, but he may well be the most chilling comic TV villain this side of Kilgrave. And they found a great way to fool us as to who he was… 

Spoilery spoilers

Adrian Chase may have been an obvious answer in retrospect, but I was too busy thinking he was Vigilante. That is, after all, Vigilante’s name in the comics.

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Oliver forming his own Legion of Doom to face down Prometheus was pretty cool, and involved the return of Slade Wilson. That’s always worth celebrating.

Quentin and Thea made a better duo than I’d have guessed four years back.

Dolph Lundgren. Nice get, Arrow.

Weaknesses: Prometheus was so good at his job that it began to get oppressively dark at times.

…Did they just kill [REDACTED] in the finale? The actor certainly thinks so. Aw. I do not love that.

Why’d you guys write out Ragman? I liked Ragman. He was the best of the new gang. That was a dick move, you guys. I mean I’ll forgive it if Constantine helps him get his powers back next year, but until then…

Four years without a major cliffhanger and you pull that. Thanks, jerks.

High Point: “Invasion!” Now, naming the crossover episode seems as damning to the rest of the season as naming the premiere, but hear me out… “Invasion!” wasn’t just Arrow’s chapter of the big crossover, it was also their 100th episode. And in the middle of this time-travelling, space-faring battle between alien invaders and heroes from two alternate Earths, they managed a perfect, emotional, alumni-filled tribute to the previous 99 episodes. It gave Oliver just the right sense of contentment with his life for Prometheus to stroll in and destroy almost immediately after.

Low Point: “Spectre of the Gun.” Arrow tries to take on gun control, but spends so much time trying to play both sides of the issue that the best answer they come up with is “Gosh, that is a stumper.” After which Mayor Queen proposes “common sense gun laws both sides can agree on” with no, I say no elaboration as to what those might be.

MVP: Stephen Amell. He brought his A-game this year and it rooted the season.

Tips for next season: The end of this year and the end of the origin flashbacks screams “New beginning.” Let’s chase that. (Also how about that thing I said about Ragman and Constantine?)

3. Lucifer

…What. How. How. How did this happen. How did Lucifer go from last season’s guilty pleasure to this season’s appointment viewing? Three words: The Goddess Charlotte. The arrival of Lucifer’s Mother brought the show’s mythology to a whole new level, making it so much more than just a crime procedural about Lucifer helping a straight-laced police detective solve murders. Although it is still that.

Strengths: Nearly every member of the cast was given better material this year. Dan went from “Detective Douche” to a more relatable, likable, rounded out character; Amenadiel went from stubbornly trying to drag his brother back to his post in Hell to struggling with a loss of faith in his Father in the face of his Mother’s arrival; Maze began to define herself outside of “Lucifer’s flunky;” Dr. Linda became the first of the human characters to realize Lucifer isn’t just pretending to be the ex-King of Hell, and had to wrap her head around having clients/friends that include angels, a demon, and the co-creator of the universe; Aimee Garcia is a delightful addition as the perpetually upbeat CSI Ella Lopez; even Trixie, Chloe and Dan’s daughter, was a more fun character this year. And Lucifer himself got a lot more to play with, as his family dynamics expanded beyond “I hate my Dad” and “Screw you, Amenadiel.” Basically, nearly every part of this show was working on a whole new level.

Nearly.

Weaknesses: Two problems.

First, while the new mythology is unquestionably a value add, it did sometimes mean that the murders-of-the-week didn’t get the attention they needed. And given that they took up a chunk of the screen time and were the focus of at least three characters each week, that’s not ideal.

Second… Detective Chloe Decker, in theory the second of two leads, was stuck in a difficult place this year, narratively speaking. While they did give actress Lauren German some fun or meaty material to play with, she was kept at arms’ length from the central plotline, and for an awkward reason. At the mid-season break, Charlotte learns a major secret about Chloe, one she herself doesn’t know and isn’t in a position to understand. So it’s Clara Oswald’s Impossible Girl story all over again… the story is about Chloe, but Chloe herself can’t participate in it, which ultimately weakens her as a character.

High point: “Weaponizer/Monster.” Lucifer and Amenadiel’s little brother Uriel comes to town, on a mission to bring down their Mother. For Lucifer the show and Lucifer the character, everything hits a new level from here.

Low point: …Honestly hard to think of one. My first guess would be “Lady Parts,” for Lucifer’s weirdly newfound obsession with distraction as a lifestyle, but no episode with such a memorable “girl’s night,” drunk Amenadiel joining undercover work with Lucifer and Dan, or less-drunk Amenadiel sulkily defending his choice in drinks (“But cosmos are yummy,”) could be a low point. And hedonistic, carefree Lucifer needed a last ride before Uriel’s arrival. Hmmm… I guess “Homewrecker,” maybe? I mean I don’t remember disliking it but it seems largely forgettable compared to the others.

MVP: Totes Tom Ellis. He was already the best part of this show last season, but he reached new levels this year.

2. Legends of Tomorrow

Does the Berlanti Cape-based Action Fun Factory only have so much fun to go around? Because while The Flash lost a step this year, Legends of Tomorrow found it. They went from the Joey Bishop of the DCW Rat Pack to the Frank Sinatra. They– was that enough metaphors? Too many?

Cutting loose the boat anchor (never enough metaphors) that was the Vandal/Hawkgirl plot certainly helped. Freed of their weakest characters (and, sadly, two of their best for parts of the year), Legends season two took on a more classic story structure: a race to collect the various parts of the magical MacGuffin before the bad guys get it and do something bad with it. It’s a classic for a reason, and it allows for more give and take, successes and failures, making for a more dynamic arc than last year’s “The Gang Continues to Fail at Killing Vandal Savage,” or indeed “Will Flash beat Savitar this week? LOL, no, it’s only April.”

Plus they made better use of time travel as a central plotline, meaning more fun time travel adventures and less brooding around the Waverider about how they haven’t made any progress. Legends of Tomorrow became the most fun and most clever show in the DCW-verse’s line-up.

Strengths: The Legion of Doom. A great showcase for three of their best villains. John Barrowman and Neal McDonough brought just the right amount of evil camp, and played well off of Matt Letscher’s Eobard Thawne. And they all had concrete and clear motives, unlike some of the year’s villains.

The Legends themselves were pretty great this season. Amaya/Vixen was a far better character than the departed Hawkgirl. Just far better. Nick Zano’s Nate Heywood strutted into the cast like Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five: the missing ingredient we didn’t even know we needed. The nerd-fun of the show got cranked way up as historian Nate and scientist Ray Palmer geeked out over time travel and movies together. Ray stopped finding new ways to screw up every week, bringing an end to the Ray Palmer Screw-up Counter. A more sedate Mick Rory/Heat Wave became a more interesting character. Arthur Darville got to flex a little more this year. And Amy Pemberton, after over a season and a half as the voice of the Waverider’s computer Gideon, actually got to be on screen. And it worked out to be delightful.

More, better, and better used time periods.

The finale found a fun and interesting way to raise the stakes and make the Legion as dangerous as they deserved to be.

Weaknesses: Thanks to Arthur Darville filming the third season of Broadchurch back in England, Rip Hunter went missing for sevenish episodes. That’s a lot of episodes without one of my absolute favourite characters. And with Captain Cold not back full-time from season one, that was two absolute favourite characters gone. That only left me, like, three absolute favourite characters! Four with Damien, I guess…

I guess there’s no keeping love and romance drama off the Waverider, huh. Well, it was better this year, at least.

They rushed “Doomworld.” Rushed it and didn’t commit to it.

Can’t say I’m super happy with how they used Rex Tyler and the Justice Society. Or more to the point, how they didn’t.

High point: Either “Raiders of the Lost Art,” in which Rip returns, stopping the Legion means convincing a young George Lucas to stay in film school, and the action beats get Star Wars-y… or “Fellowship of the Spear,” in which Captain Cold returns, stopping the Legion requires help from a young J.R.R. Tolkien, and the plot becomes Lord of the Rings-y. Sure, the bit wasn’t subtle either time, but it was charming enough to work.

Low point: “Shogun,” which is best summed up by the “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” meme Reddit gave it…

No one was their best self that week.

MVP: A tough call with Victor Garber and Brandon Routh in the cast, but it’s Caity Lotz as Sara Lance. Taking over as captain in Rip’s absence, she became a great leader, and worth hanging the finale on. Also, with the man who killed her sister in the Legion, she had the highest stakes without going full “Vandal kills my family.”

Tips for next season: More like that, please. And stop writing out Rip Hunter he has to be on this show forever I can’t take any more time travel shows writing out Arthur Darville.

1. Legion

…Where the Hell did this show come from?

[checks IMDB] Oh. The creator of the Fargo TV show. Gotcha.

The thing about Fox’s X-Men cinematic universe is that they do not super care about how all of their properties link together. While this could prove frustrating to anyone trying to figure out how the timeline of the X-Men films works (spoiler: it doesn’t), it means that creators are free to pitch something like Logan, which doesn’t fit neatly with the rest of the franchise, but also doesn’t care. They’re just doing their own thing and trying to do it well. Marvel Studios is selling themselves on “Everything is connected, trust us,” so it sticks out when something obviously doesn’t fit (looking at you, Defenders). X-Men? Their projects have an atmosphere of “Don’t worry about it, just relax and enjoy.”

And thus did Noah Hawley sell the FX network on an X-Men show that features several mutants, but never explicitly admits the existence of the X-Men*. And thanks to the loosey-goosey nature of the X-Men franchise, its self-contained nature doesn’t irritate the viewer like, say, Claire Temple deciding to fly to China to fight ninjas rather than call Daredevil. In fact, the whole show works like gangbusters.

*They hint at Professor Xavier kinda strongly toward the end, though.

Strengths: Legion is more visually daring and inventive than any show on TV, superhero or otherwise, this side of American Gods. (And there is no shame in coming in second to American Gods.)

The costumes, the sets, the angles, every single aesthetic choice is a little fascinating.

Jemaine Clements of Flight of the Concords turns up around the half-way point, and pushes the show to a whole new level of surreally cool.

I mentioned the thing about Aubrey Plaza killing it on this show as Lenny, right? Well it bears repeating. She’s the highlight of a cast that’s already above average across the board.

At a tight eight episodes, it’s all thriller, no filler. Marvel Netflix could learn a thing or two about Legion’s pacing.

You don’t need to have seen a single X-Men movie or have read a single comic to follow the story.

David and Syd, the slightly star-crossed lovers who can only touch each other in the astral plane, are competitive with Alex Danvers and Maggie Sawyer as my favourite couple in comic TV.

The supporting cast is really solid too. Maybe they didn’t make the “supporting cast” podium, but there’s not really a weak link.

Not many TV shows could write a soundtrack better than what Blake Neely does for the DCW shows… but Jeff Russo pulls it off.

I’m personally fascinated by how timeless the show makes itself. The characters have a modern feel, but the costumes and sets are out of the 60s/70s, and they’re packing 30s-style tommy guns. It really frees the more continuity-obsessed mind from trying to place it in X-Men continuity when you can’t even be sure what decade it takes place in.

The eeriest rendition of “Rainbow Connection” you’ve ever heard.

At the very end, they managed something with the sinister mutant-hunting Division Three that Supergirl and Agents of SHIELD couldn’t with Cadmus or the Watchdogs: they gave the group based around hunting a minority (mutants, in this case) depth and levels. They dared us to sympathize with someone they’d set us up to hate.

Weaknesses: The season finale could have contained more closure. But hey, at least we already know season two is on the way. Eventually.

High Point: I wanted to say Chapter Four, which opens with Jemaine Clements talking directly to the audience about the two types of stories we tell children, but then Chapter Seven blew the doors off the place. The chalkboard, David’s “rational self,” Bolero… it’s hard to think of a scene from this episode that wouldn’t have been the single best scene from any other show.

Low Point: The worst thing I can say about any episode is that Chapter Six, from a narrative viewpoint, isn’t really my bag. But without it, you couldn’t do Chapter Seven the way they did. 

Spoiler

Of the three shows that did “Heroes wake up in an artificial reality created by the villain,” Legion did it best. Legends of Tomorrow rushed it and under-sold the Doomworld dystopia, whereas Agents of SHIELD spent nearly their entire third act in the Framework. SHIELD was too hot, Legends too cold, Legion was juuuust right.

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And it gave us this scene, which (trust me) does make perfect sense in context. I’m really not selling this as a “low point,” am I…

MVP: Dana Gonzales and Craig Wrobleski, the cinematographers. The visuals alone would have pushed this show into the top five. Best shot show I’m watching.

Tips for next season: Look… you don’t need to do it, but Patrick Stewart has apparently said he’ll reprise Charles Xavier one last time to be on this show, and I simply do not see how it could possibly hurt. Or get James McAvoy. Or have meeting Stewart-Xavier trigger a psychically implanted memory of McAvoy-Xavier. You never need to say “X-Men,” and we certainly do not, Lord but we do not need Wolverine to show up, but maybe just this one thing?

And that’s the end. The highlights of the best 13 of 15 comic book shows. Well, the best 12 and Iron Fist. Was it only two years ago that I only ranked seven shows? Man. Well, at least next season this process won’t get even more comp–

…Oh no.

SON…

…OF…

…A…

…BITCH.

*Sigh.*

Okay. Meet back here next summer. Until then, Other Things.

Best of Comic TV Part 4: Middle of the Pack

And we continue.

8. Supergirl

Supergirl vs. Riverdale was a tougher call than I could have expected a few months back.

The shift from CBS to the CW had an impact in ways I wouldn’t have expected, resulting in a different show than last season. But the important elements remained. And what ultimately pushed it above its teen soap competition is that the writers looked at Trump’s America and said “Hell no.” Witness ex-Wonder Woman Lynda Carter as the President and the title of their finale, “Nevertheless She Persisted.”

They never settled on a primary villain, no. Lillian Luthor and Cadmus took the lead for the first act, but then in the end the villain plot shifted to “Mon-El’s Mother Has a Savage Overreaction.” But I’m not calling that a weakness, like I did elsewhere, because in this case? The villain doesn’t define the season’s arc. Supergirl’s season isn’t “Supergirl Vs. So-and-So.” It’s “Supergirl and Mon-El: a Star-Crossed Romance.” Now whether the central plot of the season being Kara’s challenging relationship with newcomer Mon-El is a strength or weakness depends entirely on your own perspective.

Strengths: In season one, National City’s alien population was limited to Supergirl, Martian Manhunter, and the escapees of Kryptonian prison Fort Rozz. All of a sudden there’s a large population of non-criminal aliens, enough that they have their own bar. Many of them are refugees, and now the DEO is as dedicated to protecting aliens as tracking them down. At a time when the ruling party of their country is trying to build border walls and ban Syrian immigrants, when Marvel Comics has turned Captain America into a full-on Nazi, Supergirl came out as proudly, vocally, passionately pro-refugee and pro-immigrant. This is what Supergirl (and SupermanDC films) should be, the hero standing firmly beside what’s right, even when the mob is trying to back what’s wrong.

They really spent the summer looking at the previous season and asking “What works, what doesn’t, how can we simplify.” Winn left CatCo to work for the DEO, centralizing all of Kara’s superheroing there. Kara and James Olsen had no chemistry, so their romance came to a screeching halt, and her romance with Mon-El felt more earned.

Alex realizing her sexuality, coming out, and finding love with Maggie Sawyer wasn’t just one of the best done romances on TV this year, it also did real good in the world.

While he has nothing, and I mean nothing in common with his comic book namesake, Snapper Carr worked out well. Curmudgeonly? Sure, but every time he clashed with Kara he not only had a reason, he was usually right. He opposed Kara’s hiring because she had no experience. He wouldn’t let her print an opinion piece as news. Later he wouldn’t print her story on aliens being abducted only because she lacked verifiable sources. When he fired her, he had cause, and when she understood that and made it right, she was welcomed back. Snapper was a curmudgeon, yes, but he was a curmudgeon because he cares about responsible journalism. Snapper Carr never would have let Karen Page publish her stupid grade school essay about “what makes a hero” and call it “news.”

Also, props to the writers for allowing Kara not to be brilliant at her new reporter job right away.

Lena Luthor. She’s complex, she’s interesting, her friendship with Kara is well-done, and the seeds of its destruction are well-planted.

Not all of the fandom agrees with me, but I found Chris Wood effortlessly funny and charismatic as Mon-El.

I’m glad they didn’t have Winn become consumed with bitterness over being rejected by Kara and turn to the dark side, because Jeremy Jordan is delightful in that role and I prefer him as he is.

Weaknesses: A sad consequence of moving production to Vancouver was losing Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant for most of the season. Her triumphant return for the last two episodes instantly reminded us how much she’d added.

Also gone? Maxwell Lord and Lucy Lane. After being major players in season one, they not only vanish, no one even says their names.

The writers had no idea what to do with James Olsen this year. As interim CEO of CatCo he did virtually nothing, partially because CatCo stopped being a hub for the story and partially because having Kara run to James when Snapper was mean to her would have been an awful character choice. So they turned him into a masked vigilante, but still could only barely fit him into the story.

On that note. “You can’t be a superhero, James, you don’t have powers!” says Kara, weeks after calling Green Arrow one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I guess she has higher standards for heroes on her own Earth?

Cadmus were fairly one-dimensional as villains (“We hate aliens! Grr!”) and Rhea, Queen of Daxam, wasn’t much better (“My son has a girlfriend? I’ll conquer her planet!”). I dig that they represent the worst parts of the current US administration (xenophobia and elitism, respectively), but it doesn’t make them interesting. Plus they’re still pushing Livewire as Supergirl’s “nemesis.” No, man, just no.

High point: I don’t love what calling the season premiere the high point implies about the season to come, but it is legitimately hard to top “The Adventures of Supergirl” and “Last Children of Krypton.” Tyler Hoechlin made his debut as Superman, and not only was he a great Man of Steel, he and Kara made a wonderful double act.

Low point: “The Darkest Place.” Supergirl falls into one of my least favourite tropes from last year, and Hank Henshaw returns, declaring himself “The Cyborg Superman.” Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, only in the context of the show, it makes basically no sense.

MVP: Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers. There is no emotional beat this woman can’t sell.

Advice for next season: That portal thing that happened at the end of the finale? That’s a time portal, right? To the 31st century? Opening the door for the Legion of Superheroes? It had better be.

7. Agents of SHIELD

I will give Agents of SHIELD this… no show on this list has been so devoted to self-improvement and course correction. Each season has managed to improve on the one before it, meaning season four is their best work. Splitting the season into mini-arcs (Ghost Rider, LMD, and Agents of Hydra) made for a season that rarely felt drawn out. When the show moved from Ghost Rider to LMD after the winter hiatus, we had a sense of closure on Ghost Rider and its main villain before things began to transition to Dr. Radcliffe, his poor choices regarding robots, and the Framework. That said… trying to address all three arcs with one finale proved a leettle tricky.

Strengths: All of the main cast did great work this year. Fitz and Simmons in particular excelled as the heart and soul of the team (even if sometimes the heart was supposed to be Daisy).

Diego Luna as Ghost Rider was better than I ever expected the third, least popular, and objectively least cool (He doesn’t. Even. Have. A motorcyle.) Ghost Rider to be. His arc got the season off to a good start.

John Hannah’s well-meaning but ethically flexible mad scientist, Dr. Holden Radcliffe, was a great addition to the year’s blend of magic and sci-fi. He flipped from ally to enemy and back again in ways that made sense. His melancholy last scene was pretty much perfect.

As indicated earlier, Mallory Jansen did an amazing job as Aida, Holden Radcliffe’s prototype Live Model Decoy.

I’ve liked Jason O’Mara since the US remake of Life on Mars, so having him as Jeffrey Mace, the new Director of SHIELD, was a bonus. One day he’ll be on a show for more than one season. One day.

The artificial world of the Framework allowed for the return of the late Agent Triplett and for a satisfying coda to Grant Ward, truly heroic for the first time, even if he was just computer code.

Weaknesses: The Watchdogs were bad. They were just bad. Okay, sure, I am on board with demonizing hate groups, especially now. So maybe humanizing a group of people based around hating people different than them wouldn’t have been a great idea. The problem is, they were the main villain for most of the LMD arc and frequent villains throughout Ghost Rider, and they just weren’t interesting. Also, even with everything that is happening in the government now, I find it hard to believe that a Senator could go on TV and say “I don’t care if a known hate group was proved to be behind the attack, I still think it was [metaphor for real-world minority],” and not get called out more.

The Senator and Watchdog stooge in question, Senator Nadir, was played by Parminder Nagra. I normally like Parminder Nagra. But Senator Nadir was so devoid of interest that I rolled my eyes when I saw her in the credits. They ruined Parminder Nagra.

The head of the Watchdogs is so one-dimensional that even the other characters don’t care about him or his motivations. And yet of all the villains this season, he’s the only one still alive. Great. More of his nonsense to come. (It doesn’t help that he’s played by Zach McGowan from Shameless. Once you’ve seen a close up of someone singing “Kiss From a Rose” while orgasming it’s a little hard to take them seriously as a figure of menace.) Ghost Rider and Agents of Hydra could have propelled this show into the top five, but man, the Watchdogs just dragged it down.

I wasn’t thrilled with how they ended poor Jeffrey Mace. It felt hollow.

Having Mack refuse to leave the Framework because he couldn’t leave behind his artificial daughter just added weaker drama to a finale that wasn’t exactly struggling to fill the time. “Mack, this world isn’t real” might not have been persuasive, but “Mack, this world isn’t real and is in the process of being turned off” should have been.

High point: “Self Control.” LMD may not have been their best arc, but it ended strong, as four of the core team is replaced with LMDs. But which? Things get tense as the robots begin to take over and the humans desperately try to figure who they can trust.

Low point: “Wake Up.” Senator Nadeer begins to overstay her welcome as it becomes clear that May ain’t escaping the Framework any time soon.

MVP: Mallory Jansen came close, but it has to be Iain De Caestecker. Fitz and Simmons finally a couple was adorable. Fitz working with Radcliffe on Aida made it seem like maybe this whole LMD thing might be a good idea. Fitz in the Framework was chilling. Fitz trying to come to terms with what he did in the Framework was heartbreaking.

Advice for next season: …Wait up. Is it happening? Are you doing it? Is SWORD showing up? Oh do say yes. But besides that… you hit a wall at the end of this season, where your ambition eclipsed your budget. What could have been an epic showdown between Ghost Rider an ex-robot with a body made of dark matter and filled with Inhuman powers became as brief and anti-climactic as the worst fights from Smallville because you ran out of money. Budget better.

5. iZombie

If there’s one thing that marathoning the first two seasons of iZombie while waiting for the third to wrap up taught me, it’s how good this show has been at discarding plot elements that don’t work. Liv’s family hasn’t been seen since the premiere of season two, and nobody missed them. Major’s addiction to utopium was mercifully brief. Would-be crime lord Blaine is way more fun as a loveable rascal than the teen-murdering pure-villain of season one.

That said… previous seasons balanced murders-of-the-week with a season-long villain arc that has historically built to a satisfying and (often literally) explosive finale. This season… we had zombie-run military organisation Fillmore Graves trying to build a home for the zombie nation, a group of paranoid gun nuts hoping to wipe out the zombie nation, and like a half dozen various mysteries and conspiracies, only some of which paid off in the end.

Still good… just a little more scattered.

Strengths: The cast is fantastic. Rose McIver always makes the many minds of Liv Moore a fun ride, but the supporting cast all had great material this year and none of them let it down. Major got to be more fun (seriously, Robert Buckley is too good at comedy to keep getting the grimmest plots every year), Rahul Kohli got the flex his dramatic muscles more as Ravi (though his dry wit remains a highlight), Clive got to be in on the secret at long last (technically that happened last season, but here’s where it kicked in, plotwise), Blaine had himself a roller coaster, and Payton is a regular now. There’s no weak links in that gang.

My rewatch also taught me that they established the District Attorney of Seattle’s name is “Floyd Baracus” early season two. Given this show’s established love of gag names, how did it take me a year to spot “DA Baracus?” I pity the fool who doesn’t get that one.

Another veteran of creator Rob Thomas’ cult favourite series, Veronica Mars, showed up in the back half of the season, as Jason Dohring plays Fillmore Graves’ stern commander Chase Graves. That was a fun addition.

Rolling on D&D geek brain, Liv gathers the gang for Dungeons and Dragons to trigger a vision. One of the gang’s reaction is… priceless.

A Clive-centric episode did a great job explaining two facts we learned about him in season two: his hatred of abusive fathers, and his obsession with Game of Thrones.

The side effects of the zombie cure opened the door to a new twist on the brain business. Let’s just say that a bunch of zombies on enhanced choreographer brain was the best thing ever.

There are plenty of zombie stories out there, but zombies and humans trying to find a way to live in harmony as discovery looms close? That’s new.

Weaknesses: Season one had the cohesive plot of Meat Cute: Blaine’s brain-supply front stocked with murdered teenage runaways, and Major’s quest to bring it down. Season two was all about Max Rager, and CEO Vaughn du Clark’s attempt to clean up the zombie problem while using them to perfect his new drink, SuperMax. Both ended with big bang climaxes at the central business in question. This year… it’s just this mishmash. The climax does less to pay off the season’s stories than it does to set up next year. Some of those stories don’t really get paid off at all. To wit…
-Fillmore Graves CEO Vivian Stoll had a vendetta against the zombie who turned her husband in order to extort him for brain money, ie. Blaine. But having set that plot up, it vanished into the ether mid-season, never to be paid off.
-So… did the people behind the zombie family murder in the premiere also steal Ravi’s zombie cure doses? How did they know about them? They never came back to that. The cure was simply wished to the corn field so that Liv couldn’t have it.
-And were they also behind the murder of the dominatrix from Spanking the Zombie, and the subsequent murder of the guy who did it? I guess, but I’m not positive why. That one also just fizzled out and really added nothing.

The problem with making the surprise murderer/conspirator the character you least suspect is that it also might be the character you least care about. Everything hinged on that reveal and it was kind of… meh.

Payton tells apparently amnesiac Blaine, who she knows to have been a murderer, drug peddler, and scoundrel of the first order, “We can only hook up if you don’t get your memories back,” and expects him to come clean if they do. Come on, Payton, you are smarter than that. Feigning amnesia to get with you wouldn’t even make Blaine’s top ten sins. I know he’s easy on the eyes but come on.

Perpetual henchman Don E. is sometimes fun, but… he’s the most annoying kind of side-villain. The one who assumes that because he works for a guy with a plan, he can be the guy with the plan, yet his every attempt fails catastrophically. Eventually I get tired of Don E. screwing over Blaine and causing catastrophes in his solo work and just want to see him get stomped on.

Major is still getting the grimmest storylines. They’re better than his one-man crusade against Meat Cute and his fling with utopium, but “shunned by society” Major is still a bummer. No, I’m not making a “major bummer” joke. I am above that (right at this moment), and it would only lead me into ranting about how great that comic book was.

High point: “Spanking the Zombie” provided one of the more fun brains for Liv; fun return appearances for Ken Marino’s slimy defence attorney and Daran Norris as Johnny Frost, the weatherman (and eventual anchorman) who manages to be a person of interest in Seattle’s most scandalous murders; and a heartbreaking choice for Major. So it’s definitely either that or “20 Sided, Die,” featuring Team Liv’s D&D session.

Low point: I think “Some Like it Hot Mess” is what knocked Liv out of contention for best female lead. The first of too many “train wreck brains,” brains that barely help with the murder-of-the-week but do wonders to screw up Liv’s life. Last year’s low point was also a train wreck brain episode, and for a reason. On Smallville I’d call such occurrences “Red Kryptonite episodes,” in which Clark’s personality is changed just long enough to break any progress his relationship arcs had made in the last fifteen episodes, and they are never something you want to be compared to. That said… after Liv sloppily dances her way across the morgue, Ravi’s reaction of “Hot mess club girl brain, you say,” was priceless. Also, if you enjoyed Blaine and Payton as a couple, you’re wrong and I don’t like you. Okay, that was too mean, you’re alright, let’s get a beer sometime.

MVP: Still Rose McIver. Everyone crushed it at points of the season, but like or hate her current brain, no one crushes it like Rose. (I also love that Liv in human-passing wig and makeup is Rose McIvor with her natural hair and skin tone. If Liv had had to disguise herself as a human from Rose’s home country, New Zealand, that would have been even better.)

Advice for next season: …I got nothing. Pretty sure you just blew up the whole premise in that finale, so I don’t know what to tell you. Except maybe give Major a freaking break.

5. Preacher

Preacher is based on a cult but beloved graphic novel from the 90s, but managed to find a way to be satisfying to fans of the comic while still charting their own path. They provided what would have been easily the most gonzo show of the year, had the trippy Legion not come along.

Strengths: The cast is superb. All of them. I could spend another 500 words praising them individually but it’s just all of them. Okay I’ll mention one in particular… Jackie Earle Haley. He’s amazing in basically everything and it’s not different here.

The direction is really solid. A lot of the CW shows get flashy in the action scenes then go more basic in the dialogue, but Preacher has a consistent visual flare that puts it a cut above.

The characters are, on the whole, all pretty fascinating.

It looks like they’re moving Arseface from his role as running gag in the books to replacing the spectral John Wayne as Jesse’s spirit guide. I dig it. That makes sense if you read the comics. I don’t have room to explain it here.

It feels like I’m underselling this one but this got so damn long, you guys…

Weaknesses: Sometimes it felt like they spent the first five episodes throwing crazy shit at the screen before they finally got around to telling a story with it. It’s primo crazy, but it takes a while to form a narrative, and that doesn’t help the pacing. That said… the plot became more cohesive as the show went on, which gives Preacher the edge over iZombie, which went the other way.

Also, if you don’t follow the comics, some of it won’t make much sense. They get around to explaining why every second episode has some sinister cowboy, but the guy in the white suit with the alarming taste in movies? Sure, I know who that is, but Johnny or Jenny First-timer won’t, and they won’t find out until season.

And I didn’t love how disconnected Tulip was from the main story. She’s just off on her own, in the slowest-moving plot, trying to talk Jesse into joining her for some vengeance. It’s a plot that by necessity spins its wheels, since there aren’t many places it can go, and meanwhile there are freaking angels getting in fights with a vampire.

High point: “Sundowner.” Jesse learns the truth about Genesis, there’s an incredible and hilarious fight scene, and we’re not even at the credits yet. The plot kicks into high gear and still finds time for some great character moments.

Low point: “The Possibilities.” Jesse has this new power he’s finally noticing, but Tulip wants him to go get revenge on a former associate of theirs, and nobody knows Cassidy’s a vampire, and this is the one where you start to wonder if all of these elements are going to come together in some sort of satisfactory fashion. And I’m telling you, newcomers might not remember that “Grail Industries” is a thing by the time you get back to that.

MVP: Joe Gilgun as Cassidy. Any scene he’s in pops.

Advice for next season: You have our attention. Stop trying to get our attention with wave after wave of unconnected gonzo craziness and just tell the story. (Which, two episodes into the second season, it seems like they are.) Oh, if we’re doing Jesse’s childhood, could you make it less grim than the comics did? Five months that story ran and four of them were just oppressive. (Fifth was damn satisfying, though.)

Okay. Next time, we finish this.

Best of Comic TV 2017 Part 3: The Rankings Begin

Let’s get down to it. Time for the rankings.

13. Iron Fist

Oh lawdy, did they bollocks up this one.

Strengths: …um… David Wenham seemed to be having fun? And Ward Meachum somehow went from “irredeemable asshole” to “most fascinating character.” Not positive how that happened.

Weaknesses: I believe I have spoken on this in no small detail. But to recap… it’s a bland, scattered, cautionary tale about corporate edict steering the creative side. Iron Fist wasn’t made because someone was passionate about bringing Iron Fist to the screen. At least I assume not, because it’s impossible to guess what their dream Iron Fist story might have been from this mishmash of conflicting story threads. No, they needed an Iron Fist show to finish setting up The Defenders, so they hired people to film one. And given the amount of time we waste on Rand Enterprises corporate drama, and how little kung fu superheroing takes place, it doesn’t seem like any of the writers actually wanted to be doing Iron Fist. The entire season has the feel of everyone involved saying “Eh, it’ll do.”

And you only gave the lead 15 minutes to learn his fights? No wonder they look like you filmed a rehearsal. Jesus, people.

High point: Episode 12, “Bar the Big Boss,” could have been the most satisfying Marvel Netflix season finale since Jessica Jones, save for two things. 1) The plotlines it wrapped up (in decent fashion) had only started two episodes ago; 2) It was not, in fact, the season finale. It’s like they wrapped the show, put a nice bow on it, and suddenly remembered they needed to do one more. But, you know… everything before that moment was as good as Iron Fist got.

Low Point: The joke would be “With the entire season this bland, it’s hard to pick,” but it’s episode two, “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight.” Nothing of merit happens in this episode that couldn’t have happened in episode one. Two episodes in, and the show was already spinning its wheels.

MVP: Tom Pelphrey as Ward Meachum. In my 10,000 or so words tearing Iron Fist apart back in March, I took many a shot at Ward, and how cartoonishly dickish he was from word one. What I didn’t find time to get into is how well Tom Pelphrey nailed it. In a show that didn’t so much have “character arcs” as “a bunch of largely random and often self-contradictory so-called ‘character beats,'” Tom Pelphrey made Ward’s journey from “utter tool” to “drug addict on the verge of a nervous breakdown” to “legit friend and ally to Danny” actually feel like a somewhat natural progression. Sure I’ve complained that the Meachum plots were often dead air, and will continue to do so, but still, props to Tom for managing that much with a character I was ready to write off by the end of the first hour.

Advice for next season: You did everything badly. Everything. Every single thing about your show was on the spectrum from “flawed” to “terrible.” And until you grasp that, maybe a second season isn’t the best idea. But since it seems inevitable, start here: Danny Rand is a superhero with magical kung fu powers. Anything that is not serving that concept, drop it. If that’s not what you want to write for, quit.

And schedule time to rehearse some decent fight scenes, damn your eyes.

12. Luke Cage

After two years of Marvel Netflix topping the list, we have arrived, readers, at The Year When Marvel Netflix Got Its Ass Kicked by the CW.

And it’s not because everyone on the CW was trying their best.

Strengths: The soundtrack is pretty killer. The “battle for the soul of Harlem” between Luke and Cottonmouth had promise. As did Detective Misty Knight. And not enough good things can be said about Mahershala Ali (who doesn’t seem to know how to give less than a great performance) and Alfre Woodard as Cottonmouth and Black Mariah. Mariah and her henchman /mentor Shades have a fascinating relationship in the back half. Also, given how gleamingly white most superhero properties are (13 shows covered here, 11 with white protagonists), it’s refreshing to have a show so unapologetically black, and invested in the history of Harlem.

Weaknesses: Hoo boy.

Maybe Marvel Netflix should try shorter seasons. They are having real trouble filling 13 episodes. Luke Cage starts slow, gets interesting in the middle, then falls apart at the end. And it’s not just 

the death of Cottonmouth,

[collapse]
it’s the fact that it’s followed by absolute garbage. They had two strong villains, but they throw them both aside in favour of Diamondback, who is just dull and empty. And he comes out of nowhere! Not Diamondback the gun dealer, no, but how did they spend an entire hour on Luke Cage’s origin and they still couldn’t set up this supposed childhood best friend of Luke’s until he bursts out of the shadows, with zero context, screaming “It was me all along!” I get, I get that if they introduced him earlier we’d have guessed he was a villain, but just because the twist is obvious doesn’t mean you get to just skip the build-up and go straight to the reveal. The twists on The Flash aren’t exactly hard to spot, but they make them work. Moving on.

No, I’m not. Because the other thing that sucks about Diamondback is that the whole “battle for the soul of Harlem” goes right out the window. Diamondback ain’t give a fuck about the soul of Harlem, he just wants to destroy Luke for reasons we didn’t even know were a thing ten minutes ago.

Remember back when I wrote about hard truths for geek media, and listed a bunch of plot holes between all of the Marvel Netflix shows? Well, all of them were from Luke Cage. (Iron Fist not having dropped yet.) Again, I get not wanting to have all the Defenders meet before the big show, but in this case? The absence of Daredevil and Jessica Jones only makes sense if you assume Manhattan is the size of greater metropolitan Los Angeles. If Luke were in Compton, and Jessica in Burbank, and Daredevil broodily guarding Anaheim, then sure they wouldn’t cross paths much. But as it stands, they’re all a ten dollar cab ride away from each other, so a highly publicised hostage situation involving Luke should have drawn everyone else’s attention.

And Misty Knight would have been a contender for female lead, except for this… she’s set up as this master detective, able to rebuild a crime in her mind just by examining the scene. But a) she can’t tell her partner’s on the take, b) she can’t tell Luke’s a good guy, and c) she falls for the laziest frame-up I’ve ever seen. Diamondback throws on a hoodie, kills a cop, and runs off shouting “Luke Cage! I’m Luke CAAAAAAGE! Argle bargle bargle Luke CAAAAAAAGE!” and everyone falls for it! If it’s that easy to frame a guy, then I’m off to New York to shoot at bankers while shouting “MITCH MCCONNELL, MOTHERFUCKERS!”

High point: Probably “Manifest,” where shit gets serious and Mariah makes her big play.

Low Point: “You Know My Steez” provides a perfunctory-at-best final battle between Luke and Diamondback while they desperately try to pretend that the “battle for the soul of Harlem” didn’t end six episodes earlier. And then they end on a cliffhanger that will have to resolve, and be resolved quickly, on The Defenders. Because if Luke spends more than an episode in a different city than the other three, that will suck. Iron Fist’s cliffhanger wasn’t great, but at least they can put a pin in it for a while.

MVP: Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth. Was a time I wanted to give this to Claire Temple, who usually ends up a highlight of each Marvel Netflix show, but every highlight of this show you could name revolves around Cottonmouth somehow. Could’ve been Mariah if Diamondback hadn’t sucked the air out of her plot the second it got its sails up.

Advice for next season: Look, I’m not saying don’t have a third act plot twist. I’m just saying don’t throw out your only interesting plotline for something lame and hackneyed. Actually avoid “lame and hackneyed” altogether if you could. Just… just do better. Do significantly better.

And try to make The Defenders a little bit fun? “Invasion!” set the bar pretty high.

11. Powerless

Powerless put a lot of work into being as funny as it was, from binning their original concept as an insurance company to firing the showrunner who pitched it being about an insurance company to spending a few episodes experimenting on the best way to write this new idea. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed their approach of being Better Off Ted with DC references, but the problem with being similar to Better Off Ted is that that is a damned hard show to live up to.

Look, you should probably just go watch Better Off Ted and come back. I can’t promise I’m done referencing it and it’ll just get confusing if you haven’t seen it, and it was so good you guys.

Strengths: When they really steered into the “Life in the DC Universe” angle, it worked well. When lead character Emily accidentally started dating a henchman of the Riddler (played by iZombie’s Robert Buckley, whose comedy skills are sorely underrated), for instance. That episode was hilarious. Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk were reliably funny, and I came to enjoy Ron Funches (even if he’s no Donald Glover, Danny Pudi’s former partner in crime from Community). Natalie Morales made a good Green Fury, which is not a character I expected to see a live action version of any time soon.

Weaknesses: Sure the show is set in the DC Universe, but it also weirdly avoided it, or misinterpreted it. Charm City? DC comics doesn’t have enough made up cities? Do we need to keep inventing new ones? Couldn’t this have just taken place in, like, Sacramento or something? Also, their depiction of Crimson Fox and Jack-o-Lantern were way, way off.

Beyond that… Emily never really found her stride as a lead. I get what they were going for, but it never fully clicked. And I never fully warmed to Wendy, the annoying co-worker. She didn’t turn me completely off the show like Mimi from Drew Carrey, but I didn’t love her like Danny Pudi’s Teddy or Alan Tudyk’s boastful yet insecure Van Wayne.

High point: Either “Sinking Day,” where the staff has to host a delegation from Atlantis to win their business, or “Emily Dates a Henchman,” in… which… well, you can probably guess.

Low point: The pilot, “Wayne or Lose.” While undoubtedly an improvement over the original pilot, they had not fully found the fun yet. Might explain why they didn’t really find an audience.

MVP: Gonna go with Danny Pudi as Teddy. Reliably funny with a more likeable character than Alan Tudyk’s Van Wayne.

Advice for next season: Sadly this won’t be necessary. I guess it’s too much to hope that Emily and her team could find work in Star City at… whatever Queen Consolidated is these days. Palmer Technologies? They’re still around, right? Yeah. Yeah, that’s too much to hope.

10. The Flash

Okay, so, remember when I said not everyone at the CW was trying super hard?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy The Flash, and would rewatch all 23 episodes of season three in one sitting before reliving the back third of Luke Cage or episode two of Iron Fist, but… From tied for first two years ago to tenth. That certainly looks like an alarming slide. How did it happen? The same reason Ocean’s 11 is one of my absolute favourite movies but I would break from shackles to avoid Ocean’s 12: they lost the fun. At first Arrow was the brooding one and Flash was the fun one, but then last year Supergirl was the fun one, and this year it’s Legends of Tomorrow, and each time The Flash gets sulkier, but you know what? You’re allowed to have more than one fun one, CW.

Strengths: Still the most unapologetically comic-booky show on the air, and after Iron Fist, I am officially calling “refusal to be comic booky” a weakness, not an equally valid choice. The cast is still quite solid, even if their characters were on the sulky side this year. And while the season arc wasn’t particularly well paced, they stuck the landing better than last year with a more satisfying finale. The long-awaited Killer Frost arc worked out to be everything we’d hoped.

Tom Felton turned out to be a great addition to the cast. His Julien Albert was a reliably well-done character, his arc from Barry/Flash’s rival/enemy to genuine friend was well done, and I’m glad he appears to be sticking around for another year. I do wonder… did he officially request no “Harry Potter” jokes? Because Julien name-dropped Planet of the Apes but Cisco made zero Potter references.

Two words… Jesse Quick. More of her next year? (Fine, seven words.)

There was never much doubt who Alchemy was going to be, but they went somewhere interesting with it. The Alchemy reveal was so much more than “Well of course it was that guy.”

The reveal of Savitar’s true identity wasn’t a surprise, as they drew it out long enough for the internet to have guessed it months earlier, but it did have one interesting twist. And the best part is?

Giving away the ending, if you care.

After “Barry messing with time” was the metaphorical big bad of half of the season, the literal Big Bad actually was “Barry messing with time.” If this is the end of Barry messing with time (and please let it be), that’s a good way to end it.

[collapse]

Weaknesses: After threatening to destroy the entire multiverse last season (if there is such a thing as “too comic booky,” it is the line “You’re using the magnetar to destroy the multiverse”), they went far more personal this year… the big threat turned out to be “Iris is going to be killed and then Barry will be sad.” A more personal arc isn’t the bad part, but devoting over half the season to Iris being refrigerated isn’t great.

The best villains have understandable, even relatable motivations. Savitar wanted “to be a god.” To what end, exactly? I mean… does he want to remake the world, or… what’s the end game here, guy? And why was killing Iris at one exact moment, no earlier or, it turns out, no later so important to that?

Brooding Barry and sulky Cisco got old.

The time travel mechanics on The Flash don’t make tons of sense and clash with how time travel works on Legends of Tomorrow and there’s never going to be an explanation besides “speedforce, bitches,” and if that bothers you I can’t help you.

After a season of anticipation, the Flash/Supergirl musical was kind of a let down. The songs didn’t drive the story like they should in a musical, and… who exactly is the Music Meister and why did he do all of this? I don’t know. I don’t think they know.

The filler villains-of-the-week are just getting thin.

High point: “Infantino Street” is a close second for having Barry and Captain Cold work together on a heist that involves King Shark, and if you don’t love every part of that you don’t get me. But I’ll say it’s “Attack on Gorilla City/Attack on Central City.” Could they afford a two-part episode involving Barry fighting an army of gorillas? Not entirely. Was it great? Yes. Certainly the best Grodd episodes yet. Plus two Harrison Wellses, Jesse Quick working with Kid Flash, Julien excited for a field trip to Earth 2, and a great Wells mentor moment, as “Harry” Wells of Earth 2 helps Barry turn away from killing. That’s how that’s done, Iron Fist.

Low point: “Untouchable.” A half-assed meta-of-the-week, “How could you keep this secret from me,” Iris in danger as plot point, and “I wasn’t fast enough!” It’s all of Flash’s worst or most tired narrative devices in one big slurry.

Advice for next season: You’ve leaked that next year’s big bad won’t be a speedster. That’s good. Evil speedsters were getting played out. Some other things you could move on from… 1) Villains from the future who know everything about Barry and the team because from his perspective they’ve been fighting for years. 2) The Big Bad being Barry’s fault. Maybe the opening monologue could not involve “I did a thing and exposed our world to new threats” next year. 3) “We have to keep this secret from the team.” Come on, guys, that has worked out zero times.

And above all… your filler villains are getting weak. I know the Big Bad can’t carry every episode, because the pacing can’t handle it, and I know you can only afford so much Gorilla Grodd, but this is what the Rogues should be for. You need better filler villains, you need the Rogues to unite… short version? You need Captain Cold back. In just the worst way.

9. Riverdale

I mean what the hell. What the hell. I started watching this as a lark, expecting to hate-watch it for a month, have a good laugh, and move on, and now I’m legit hooked on it. Sure, it’s soapy trash with a familiar brand slapped on top of it, but it’s the best kind of soapy trash with a weirdly appropriate brand slapped on top of it. The teen characters are decently complex, to the point where even uber-mean girl Cheryl Blossom has her moments of humanity. The parents can be a bit more straight-up-evil, especially the gothic horror parents that are Cliff and Penelope Blossom and the vicious, judgmental, often cruel Alice Cooper.

Alice Cooper as in Betty’s mother, not the heavily made-up 70s rocker of the same name. Though what a show that would be…

Strengths: I kind of love the Betty/Veronica friendship that springs up in the opening episodes. And by episode two, they steer away from the Archie/Betty/Veronica triangle as hard as they can. Okay, there’s a hint still there, and probably always will be, but Betty and Veronica refuse to allow it to come between them, nor allow Archie to define them. They’re too clever, too strong, too independent to allow some redheaded wannabe-singer’s affection to rule their lives. (One of them gets with Archie eventually, but it’s earned.)

“Emo crime novelist/narrator” doesn’t sound like Jughead, but it works better than you’d think.

Luke Perry is surprisingly good as Archie’s dad, well-meaning construction company owner Fred Andrews. He’s the only good parent on this show, but not so glowingly good that he becomes some sort of saint.

For a show based around a grimmer, darker version of Riverdale and its denizens, Archie is still unflinchingly good. Sure, he makes mistakes and hurts people now and again, but not because he’s malicious, because he’s a 16-year-old boy and thus is statistically likely to be an idiot. He’s no boy scout, but Archie Andrews always wants to do right by his friends. And even his enemies.

There are some interesting and twisted turns on the road to finding out the who and why of Jason Blossom’s murder.

The producers really take “But does this character need to be white” to heart. Josie and the Pussycats went from one-third to entirely black, Reggie’s Asian, Veronica Lodge and her mother (and, based on the recently announced casting, her father) are Hispanic, and it all works. If characters with the aggressively white names “Hiram and Hermione Lodge” work as Hispanics, ain’t nobody got an excuse to keep whitewashing everything.

As hinted earlier, there is a scene in the finale with Archie and a frozen river that might be in the top three but is still one of the most moving scenes of any show on this list. Way better than anything in Iron Fist.

Weaknesses: For the supposed main character, Archie surely spends a lot of the season in the least interesting stories. Everyone else has murder, intrigue, an evil father figure manipulating the town from prison, a secret asylum, teen homelessness, a brewing clash between the rich and poor sides of town… and while all of that is happening, Archie just wants to sing and play football! Truly, nobody suffers like Archie Andrews.

Perhaps this happened because while all of the other stuff was being established, Archie was busy in their one real misstep: young, sexy Miss Grundy having an affair with Archie. It was gross and weird. Thankfully it didn’t last long.

Sometimes the dialogue, especially Veronica’s, can be a little too hip and self aware. From trying to decide which Truman Capote book Riverdale reminds her of in the pilot to saying “At the risk of failing the Bechdel Test” before asking Betty a question about Archie in the finale, it’s sometimes a little much.

I get why people think that Jughead liking girls is a step backward for asexual representation, since that just recently officially became comic canon. I don’t mind it, but I do mind his blasé attitude towards hamburgers.

Colour-blind casting is good, but a point was raised to me not long ago… with the exception of one scene in which Josie informs Archie that he can’t possibly understand the realities of life as a black woman, there’s not really any insight into race. The fact that the Lodges are Hispanic and Reggie is Asian is never brought up, so what their racial experiences would be like is unexamined. Look, guys, I’m very, very white, so I don’t know what to tell you here. I honestly don’t know which outweighs which, colourblind casting or having something to say about what challenges football star Reggie would have being Asian in a small town. A topic for people with more experience than I have.

High Point: Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats, Kill! Kill! has a few major revelations in the Jason Blossom case, a good showcase for the most underrated character, Val (my favourite of Josie’s Pussycats), and really shows us exactly why Josie is the way she is. And some decent songs.

Low Point: Chapter Ten: The Lost Weekend. Betty ignores Jughead’s negative views towards birthday parties, Archie is a dick about Val, Cheryl Blossom loses what humanity she’d gained, and a revelation about Alice Cooper’s past doesn’t go anywhere. There is a key moment between Archie and Veronica, though.

MVP: Lili Reinhart and Camilla Mendes as Betty and Veronica. This is not a show about Archie and his Pals and Gals. This is Betty and Veronica’s show, which they graciously allow Archie and Jughead to be in. Betty and Veronica are forces of nature when challenged, and Lili and Camilla are crushing it.

Advice for next season: I’d hoped for an exciting casting announcement for next season’s probable main villain, Hiram Lodge, but they went ahead and cast someone I’d never heard of and have never seen in anything. Damn shame. Grabbing a Lou Diamond Phillips or even a Richard Grieco would have been fun and on-brand given how many 80s/90s icons are playing parents on this show. So you let me down there, but you do have a way to make it up to me. Four words… Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Do it. Make it happen. I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense, I want this more than anything.

And as to how the finale ended? Undo it. Undo it. UN. DO. IT.

I thought I could fit all 13 rankings into two posts. How naive I was. Turns out I had a lot to say about Riverdale.

I’ll try to speed this up and spend less time slamming Iron Fist. It’s just, it’s just, it’s a cautionary tale for nearly every instance.

Best of Comic TV 2017 Part 2: Best Characters!

Doing characters second this year because there are a lot of categories and summing up 13 shows took up a lot of space. New faces, a few surprises, and a few obvious answers await. Here goes.

Best Male Lead

Honourable Mentions: Preacher’s Jesse Custer is an interesting character played well by Dominic Cooper, but this being a ten episode origin story, and him spending the second act kind of mad with power, means he doesn’t quite make the podium as a protagonist.

Bronze: Dan Stevens as David Haller, Legion

Dan Stevens, an actor I was largely unfamiliar with due to not having watched much Downton Abbey, does impressive work as David Haller, a man struggling for sanity only to learn the depth of his true powers. Sure, it takes him a while to accept who he truly is, but it’s a journey worth taking.

Silver: Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, Arrow

Arrow’s fifth season put past and future Oliver through three kinds of ringers, and Stephen Amell upped his game to meet the challenge. Oliver’s struggles against his past, and his fight to earn his future, led to Amell doing his best work.

Gold: Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, Lucifer

Stephen Amell wasn’t the only one bringing his work to a new level. Tom Ellis’ work on Lucifer was already excellent in season one, enough to keep me watching a show I’d considered ridiculous in premise, but this year? Gone was his over-reliance on “amused surprise and lustiness.” His reaction to the events of his brother Uriel’s visit are heart-rending. His attempts to deal with his mother go from intense to hilarious. When Lucifer’s on top, he’s a delight. When he’s broken, you break with him, and Tom Ellis is charismatic and captivating throughout.

Best Female Lead

Honourable mentions: Ruth Negga did great work as a largely re-imagined Tulip O’Hare on Preacher, but the first season kept her on the sidelines in a go-nowhere plot too long; Rose McIvor always does great work as Liv on iZombie, but this wasn’t her character’s best year; Riverdale haters probably don’t want to know how close Betty and Veronica came to the podium.

Bronze: Rachel Keller as Syd Barrett, Legion

Syd Barrett did not exactly win the mutant power lottery. If she touches someone, they instantly switch bodies. (The weird part is that when it wears off, their bodies switch places, not their minds.) This led to an uncomfortably tragic moment in her youth that may have helped her end up in the same mental hospital as David, where despite being unable to touch, they fall in love.

But make no mistake, Syd is no one’s damsel or passive love interest. If anyone’s saving anyone, Syd is saving David. Their allies and enemies may be fixated on his power levels, but Syd just sees the sweet, sensitive, scared man she fell in love with. And if any conspiracy, mutant-hunting black ops group, or sinister [REDACTED] want to threaten him, they have to go through her.

And she does not make that easy to do.

Silver: Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Zor-El, Supergirl

The training wheels are off in Supergirl’s second season. Kara spent season one learning the ropes, but she opens season two working alongside Superman as an equal, and closes it taking his place as Earth’s champion (his words, not mine). Along the way she becomes an advocate and defender to refugees, immigrants, and the downtrodden. And above most characters this season (save for David Haller and, weirdly, Archie Andrews), it’s her innate goodness that shone through. Punching is rarely Supergirl’s opening move.

And Melissa Benoist is just delightful.

Gold: Caity Lotz as Sarah Lance, Legends of Tomorrow

Sara “White Canary” Lance has been many things since being introduced back in Arrow’s second season: island survivor, reformed assassin, Starling City vigilante, corpse, feral ex-corpse, and time travelling renegade. But when the Waverider’s captain, Rip Hunter, went missing at the start of season two, Sara had to take on a new role: leader. After a brief, fumbling attempt by Martin Stein to take command, it became clear that only Sara could captain the Waverider in Rip’s absence. And by the time he came back, it was equally clear that she was better at it than he ever was.

And it’s not just the writers trying to force this despite nothing in the writing backing it up, Sara stepped up. She rose above her desire to alter time by killing Damien Darhk (not that he’s easy to kill), led the team through multiple successes, and held the line against the Legion of Doom. When it falls to Sara to put things right in the end, it’s earned.

And let’s admit, Caity Lotz is pretty badass when she wants to be. No wonder even Camelot’s Queen Guinevere has a crush on Sara.

Best Supporting Male

Honourable mentions: Freed of his unrequited crush on Kara, Supergirl’s Winn Schott was pretty delightful this year; the iZombie writers finally learned how to exploit Robert Buckley’s gift for comedy, meaning Major finally got some fun material this season; Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk were often funnier than their material on Powerless; and despite some poor choices his character made, I’ll always enjoy iZombie’s Rahul Kohli’s take on Ravi Chakrabarti.

Bronze: Tom Cavanagh as the Harrisons Wells, The Flash

Tom Cavanagh’s had an odd journey on The Flash. First he was Barry’s secretly sinister mentor, Harrison Wells, but when that character wrapped up at the end of season one, the producers rightfully couldn’t let Tom go. And so we were introduced to Harrison Wells’ Earth-2 doppelganger, known as “Harry” for simplicity. And this season, Earth-19’s “HR” Wells took his place for most of the season.

HR isn’t the scientific genius that the others were; he’s a novelist with a talent for helping actual geniuses (like his partner in founding Earth-19’s STAR Labs) find their big ideas. More important to the season, he doesn’t have any of Harry’s stern and abrasive nature. HR’s peppy, coffee-addicted (Earth-19 lost its coffee crops to a blight), drumstick-twirling cheerleader provided comic relief in The Flash’s mopiest season to date. And when the season wrapped, he broke our hearts.

Cavanagh isn’t the only Flash actor to pull double duty (or even triple), but he is the only one to make fans forget that they were both the same actor.

Silver: Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Agents of SHIELD

One half of Agents of SHIELD’s most adorkable duo, Fitz had a hell of a ride this year. At first all was well as he was finally together with his longtime love Jemma Simmons, although new SHIELD policies kept them apart at the office. But as Holden Radcliffe became a surrogate father figure, Fitz found himself getting deeper involved in Radcliffe’s off-the-books robot research, especially Aida, the AI that’s slowly becoming sentient and making her own plans. Which brings us to where he became truly impressive this season.

When Aida creates her own Hydra-controlled world in Radcliffe’s Framework, she arranges for Fitz to be her right hand. Fitz transforms from the sweet, lovable gadgeteer we’ve known for the past 3+ years to the cruel, cold-hearted, Inhuman-butchering second-in-command of Hydra, led to the dark side by a functional relationship with his father. Hydra-Fitz is chilling, which would be an impressive enough turn for the character, but there’s more. When Simmons practically drags him out of the Framework, real-world Fitz is shattered by what he did. Every line he crossed, every evil act he authorised, and the two real lives ended by his actions in the Framework crush him. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and it’s anyone’s guess how he comes back from this.

Gold: Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy, Preacher

“I am a 119 year-old vampire from Dublin City. And I’m currently on the run from a group of vampire-hunting religious vigilantes who keep tracking me down somehow. What else? I’m a right-handed Sagittarius. I love Chinese food. I’ve never seen the Pacific Ocean. And I think that The Big Lebowski’s overrated.” It’s that last part that sticks in Jesse Custer’s head at first and leads to a great running gag.

You wouldn’t think a hard-drinking, drug-abusing vampire would become Preacher’s moral center. And while that title sometimes falls to Eugene/Arseface, when Jesse’s crossed a line, it’s Cassidy who’s there to call him out. When angels are out to vivisect Jesse, Cassidy’s got his back. And Joseph Gilgun was the most reliably entertaining member of a particularly strong cast.

Also, the sequence in which Cassidy casually explains how vampirism works by answering a series of short questions from Tulip is one of my favourite “explain the magic” moments.

Best Supporting Female

Honorouble mentions: Dr. Linda, Maze, and Ella are all super fun on Lucifer. Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple might have made the podium for Luke Cage if Iron Fist hadn’t worked so hard to ruin her as a character.

Bronze: Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons, Agents of SHIELD

The other half of Agents of SHIELD’s most adorkable couple also had a great year. The difference being that Simmons didn’t wait until after the Framework to break our hearts.

That Elizabeth Henstridge is an asset to the cast of SHIELD shouldn’t surprise. She anchored what might be the show’s best episode last season, and starting with a riveting performance in the paranoid “Self Control,” she was the heart of the show’s best arc. She fights to prove that the Fitz she loves is still somewhere inside Hydra’s cruel Doctor throughout Agents of Hydra, and is almost as crushed as Fitz himself when he comes out broken by his virtual misdeeds. Daisy’s in theory the lead of Agents of Hydra, but Simmons is doing the emotional heavy lifting, and doing it well.

Silver: Danielle Panabaker as Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost, The Flash

It happened. The moment comic fans have been expecting since Caitlin Snow first appeared on Arrow’s second season (or, if you surf entertainment sites like I do, since they announced her casting). We got a tease of it last year, thanks to Caitlin’s evil Earth-2 doppelganger. But after Barry’s Flashpoint meddling with time, in season three STAR Labs’ resident biologist began her transformation into cold-powered and cold-hearted Killer Frost. She spent months trying to hold her powers and the accompanying shift to her personality at bay, but when her would-be love interest Julian Albert unleashes her powers to save her life, Caitlin Snow dies and Killer Frost takes her place.

But this new Killer Frost is better and more interesting than her pure-evil Earth-2 doppelganger. Sure she’s quick to turn on her former friends and side with Savitar, but Caitlin isn’t all gone yet. There’s an ember of her past self still fighting against Killer Frost’s vicious instincts, and Panabaker’s doing a great job of playing it. It’ll be fun to see where that leads next season.

Gold: Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers, Supergirl

Chyler Leigh has acting superpowers. When Alex Danvers cries, you cry. When Alex is happy, you get a contact high. When she straps on a Kryptonite-powered battle suit to help her sister go round and round with Metallo, you cheer.

And Alex also got to be part of one of the season’s best love stories, as working cases alongside police detective Maggie Sawyer leads to Alex coming out and finding love for the first time in her life. It’s a moving story that Leigh absolutely crushes.

Best Villain

Honourable mentions: There was some great villainy happening out there this year. From Jackie Earle Haley’s disturbingly calm but vicious Odin Quincannon on Preacher, to [REDACTED]’s fantastic heel turn as the near-unbeatable Prometheus on Arrow, to Teri Hatcher’s legacy casting as Queen Rhea of Daxam on Supergirl, to Mahershala Ali’s too-brief performance as Cottomouth on Luke Cage, to the overbearing Alice Cooper and the Gothic horror of the Blossom family on Riverdale. And the only thing holding back Lucifer’s Goddess, aka “Charlotte,” is that I’m not always 100% convinced she’s really a “villain,” per se. Okay, sure, the plagues and the floods turned out to be on her, but still.

There are, however, still three standouts.

Bronze: The Legion of Doom, Legends of Tomorrow

Not entirely indicative of the team.

There’s a moment in season two of Legends of Tomorrow when Rip Hunter, thinking he’s a film student, complains that his film about rogue time agent Rip Hunter is failing because his villain (clearly meant to be season one’s Vandal Savage) has no menace, and was possibly miscast. Damning but accurate shade thrown at their own first season. Moments later, Malcolm Merlyn and Damien Darhk stroll up to him. “See?” he says, “That’s better.” A little self-congratulatory, but again, accurate.

Legends of Tomorrow was born out of making a team from the DCW-verse’s best supporting characters, and they took the same approach to building the Legion of Doom: a collection of their best villains (save for Deathstroke). Matt Lestcher’s Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash, Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk, John Barrowman’s Malcolm Merlyn, and some surprise bonus members provide the perfect blend of menace and camp for the Waverider crew’s second season. They’re up to all kinds of bad, to be sure, but they’re almost too fun to watch to root against.

Silver: Mallory Jansen as Aida, Agents of SHIELD

Aida wasn’t the villain for a lot of the season, but only because they gave her time to grow into the role. She began as Holden Radcliffe’s Life Model Decoy prototype, a computer in a human-looking body, programmed to assist Radcliffe and preserve life. Exposure to evil spellbook the Darkhold grants her sentience, but not free will. She can’t break her programming, but she can bend it just enough to launch a plan… trap key SHIELD personnel in Radcliffe’s artificial world, the Framework, then use it and the Darkhold to build herself a human body loaded up with Inhuman powers. But also with human emotions she isn’t prepared to process. While positive emotions give her a sense of incomparable bliss, despair and rage send her over the edge.

It’s not just the best character arc of any villain this season. Most protagonists should have been so lucky to have an arc that good. And Mallory Jansen is great in it, nailing the transition from Siri with a body to an all-powerful mega-Inhuman driven crazy by her first taste of heartache. And as a bonus, the ex-girlfriend Holden modelled Aida after, which let her use her natural Australian accent. Always a plus.

Really, only one thing could beat an arc like that…

Gold: Aubrey Plaza as “Lenny,” Legion

There weren’t many performances, comic book TV or otherwise, than can compare with Aubrey Plaza’s unhinged tour de force as Lenny, the voice in the back of David Haller’s head, the bad influence in every low moment of his recent life. I can’t say much about Lenny without giving away chunks of the story, which I’m loath to do, but I can say that Aubrey Plaza is nothing short of magnetic every time she’s on screen. She’s the voice of reason. She’s an enabling fellow addict. She’s doubt made flesh. She’s Tim Burton as a silent film monster. As a friend put it, she ranges from calm to chaotic to malevolent to sensual to violent to vulnerable to playful to sympathetic to sinister, sometimes in the course of a single episode. Sometimes in the course of a single scene. She is, simply put, impossible to top.

And that’s not even telling you what she’s doing.

Rookie of the Year

New category this year! See, sometimes a new character comes along who breathes whole new life into a show. This category is for new characters in established shows who really added something.

Honourable mentions: Many, because it’s harder to find a new character not worthy of a mention. Chris Wood and Floriana Lima were both great as the Danvers sisters’ new love interests on Supergirl, Mon-El and Maggie Sawyer; Aimee Garcia as the LAPD’s delightful new CSI Ella on LuciferJason O’Mara as SHIELD’s new director, Jeffrey Mace; and just barely off the podium is Nick Zano as the Waverider’s new steel-skinned forensic historian Nate Heywood on Legends of Tomorrow.

Bronze: Tom Felton as Julien Albert, The Flash

I basically created this category to give a shout-out to Tom Felton’s CSI/meta-human expert Julien Albert, even if he didn’t make it to the top. Felton was a great addition, gradually and naturally evolving from Barry’s rival/nemesis to a truly valuable member of Team Flash. He had the edge and the know-how of earlier variations of Harrison Wells (the season three edition lacking both), with enough heart under his crusty exterior that you root for him just the same.

Silver: Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor, Supergirl

Lena Luthor arrives in National City looking to redeem both Lexcorp and the Luthor name following her brother’s arrest in Metropolis for, I don’t know, something related to trying to kill Superman, I assume. Can she be trusted? Is she truly out for redemption, or will she eventually follow in her brother’s footsteps? Who knows. McGarth perfectly walks the line between earnestness and darkness. What we do know is that her friendship with Kara feels real and heartfelt. Kara truly believes in Lena, and Lena’s gratitude for that blooms into one of the show’s closest friendships. Maybe it’s doomed to turn sour, like Clark and Lex, maybe not… I mean, Lena’s more sinister mother Lillian has a point, Lena might not react well to being literally the only major character who doesn’t know Kara’s secret identity. But if it does go bad, it’ll be heartbreaking. Smallville wishes they’d done Clark and Lex’s doomed friendship this well.

(There are those in the fandom who feel Kara and Lena make a better couple than Kara and Mon-El. But since neither of them has indicated being attracted to women… it just feels like seeing two women bonding and yelling “Now make out!” Which is just a gross thing to do.)

Gold: Tricia Helfer as “Charlotte,” Lucifer

Well why even do this category if gold isn’t going to the Goddess Charlotte? No new addition, or returning player for that matter, did as much for their show as the tumultuous arrival of Lucifer’s mother, trapped in the slightly murdered body of adulterous lawyer Charlotte Richards. Her very presence brought the series’ mythology to a whole new level, and Helfer nailed it. “Charlotte’s” love for her angelic children, disdain for humanity, and confusion about how to function on Earth are all spot-on. And even if none of that were true, she’d nearly have this category locked down just from her hilarious delivery of Charlotte’s views of humanity: “All they do is eat. Then later the food comes out changed. And not for the better!” or “They breathe through their mouths and will NOT. SHUT. UP about something called ‘gluten.'”

Best Guest Star

Second new category! Sometimes a guest star makes enough of a splash that you wish their appearance weren’t so temporary. I’m defining this as guest stars outside the main ensemble, which includes both credited principals (eg. Buffy, Willow, or Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and major recurring characters (eg. Tara, again from Buffy, who was only a credited principal for one episode but was consistently around for three years). Which sadly means no love for Arrow’s Anatoly, ’cause he was around all the time, or Jemaine Clement’s Oliver Bird on Legion, because he’s basically part of the ensemble.

Honourable mentions: Michael Imperioli’s game-changing guest spot as Uriel on Lucifer; Natalie Morales’ dry wit as the only live-action Green Fury I’m ever likely to see on Powerless; Gabriel Luna as a surprisingly effective Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD; Timothy Omundson as a mental patient who might be Lucifer’s Father.

Bronze: Dolph Lundgren as Konstantin Kovar, Arrow

Oliver Queen has been through some dark and scary things over the last five years of Green Arrowing and the previous five years of flashbacks. Shipwreck, torture, arrow wounds, having his life force magically drained… but very little of it seemed as scary as getting worked over by Dolph Lundgren. As Russian gangster Konstantin Kovar, Lundgren was perfectly cast as the final boss of Oliver’s flashback journey from playboy to The Hood. And their final confrontation made for a surprisingly good capstone to the flashback saga, even with the way they meandered in seasons three and four.

Silver: Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, Supergirl

Supergirl’s more famous cousin finally came to visit at the top of Supergirl’s new season, and he was basically perfect. Hoechlin’s Superman had the folksy charm, positivity, and innate goodness that some people feel is missing from Henry Cavill’s version. He played well against basically everyone. Obviously he can’t come by super often, because nobody wants Supergirl to be overshadowed on her own show, but when he can swing by, it’s special.

Gold: Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold, Flash/Legends of Tomorrow

The DCW-verse has made its share of mistakes. Laurel’s pill addiction, mixing up Earths 2 and 3 (although pretty much only I care about that one), introducing Jason Rusch before they knew they were going to need a replacement Firestorm, uninspired versions of Ra’s Al Ghul and Vandal Savage… but nothing was quite as big a mistake as killing off Captain Cold at the end of Legends of Tomorrow’s first season.

Yes, it was a good scene, yes, he had a killer final line, yes it was a fitting end to his season arc. But every time Leonard Snart swaggers onto the screen, we’re reminded of what a perfect addition to the Flash world and crewman of the Waverider he was. This year he haunted his ex-partner, was present for the origin of Mirror Master (who is not filling his shoes), and helped Flash steal an alien power source that was guarded by a giant man-shark, and all of it was great, and it all me sad he’s not around more.

Okay. Next up, the rankings. Brace yourself, there’s a lot to cover.

Best of Comic TV 2017 Part 1

It’s that time of year again. The time when I go through all the comic book-based TV shows of the year and tell you who did what the best.

Because if I have to think about it, you get to hear about it. That is the arrangement. That is what happens here.

The field has started to get a wee bit crowded, folks, so instead of recapping what ended, what started, etc., let’s just take a look at the players for the 2016/17 season.

Agents of SHIELD: In the wake of the Sokovia Accords (one last desperate link to the Marvel movies), SHIELD is reborn. With a new Director in place and Daisy “Quake” Johnson having gone rogue, Coulson and company deal with Ghost Rider, a mad scientist and his robots, and anti-Inhuman terror group the Watchdogs, all connected by the evil, slightly sentient spellbook the Darkhold.

Arrow: Call it “Green Arrow and the Forgotten Heroes.” After most of Team Arrow went their separate ways at the end of season four, Oliver Queen juggles being mayor of Star City with leading and training a new crew– featuring, among others, obscure DC characters Wild Dog, Ragman, and Mr. Terrific– to take on rising crime lord Tobias Church and the more vicious and lethal crimefighter Vigilante. But waiting in the wings is Prometheus, who’s out to prove that Oliver himself is Star City’s greatest monster.

The Flash: After altering the timeline while trying to save his parents, fastest man alive Barry Allen must come to terms with what he’s done to his friends’ lives, while also fending off Savitar, the self-described god of speed, and his acolyte Alchemy.

Iron Fist: Danny Rand, having gone missing after a plane crash when he was 10, returns to New York to reclaim his place at his family’s company, only to discover that it’s been infested by ninja death cult The Hand. Who as the Iron Fist, protector of the mystical city of K’un Lun, he is sworn to destroy.

iZombie: Eating brains to solve murders gets complicated when the all-zombie private military corporation Fillmore Graves (this show and their gag names) comes to Seattle, looking to make it the new zombie homeland… and word about the brain-eaters gets out around Seattle’s more gun-happy whackjobs. Seattle’s zombie population is stumbling towards Discovery Day.

Legends of Tomorrow: After taking down the corrupt Time Masters last season, the crew of the Waverider are now history’s only line of defence against time aberrations. With their captain missing, they’ll have to get good at it fast to stop the time-travelling Legion of Doom: speedster Eobard Thawne (Reverse Flash), Damien Darhk, Malcolm Merlyn, and some surprise bonus members, who are out to rewrite reality itself.

Legion: David Haller has long struggled with hallucinations and voices, but begins to realise that these aren’t delusions, they’re manifestations of his mutant powers. But something dark and terrible is hiding in his memories, and it’s a threat to David, his new mutant friends, and pretty much the whole world. Loosely based on the X-Men character and set in a non-specific corner of the (or at least an) X-Men film universe.

Lucifer: Lucifer Morningstar, former King of Hell turned bar owner, finds his efforts to solve murders with LAPD detective Chloe Decker complicated by the arrival of his mother, forgotten co-creator of the universe, escaped from Hell and out to reclaim her place in Heaven.

Luke Cage: Ex-convict Luke Cage moves to Harlem, where he finds himself at odds with local crime lord Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and his cousin, Councilwoman Mariah Dillard.

Powerless: Witness everyday life in the DC Universe as Emily Locke moves to Charm City for her new job working for Bruce Wayne…’s vain, idiot cousin Van Wayne as the head of a Wayne Industries R&D department, designing products to protect civilians from superhero battles. It’s Better Off Ted with superhero references!

Preacher: Jesse Custer, a small-town preacher with a shady past, finds himself bonded to an entity called Genesis, which grants him the power to make anyone do whatever he says. He sets out the save the souls of his town, with help from his single-mom assistant Emily, hindrance from his criminal childhood sweetheart Tulip O’Hare, and a little of both from Irish vampire Cassidy. Then things get weird.

Riverdale: Aka “Sexy Archie.” Wannabe musician Archie Andrews, tightly wound girl-next-door Betty Cooper, aspiring crime novelist Jughead Jones, and recovering mean girl newcomer Veronica Lodge deal with a series of intrigues, at the centre of which is the murder of classmate Jason Blossom. From the Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comics and Greg Berlanti, mastermind of the Flarrow-verse.

Supergirl: As both Supergirl and a reporter for Catco World Media, Kara Danvers/Zor-El fights to protect the humans and alien immigrants of National City from anti-alien terrorists Cadmus, while helping recent arrival Mon-El of Daxam find his place on Earth. Sure hope Mon-El isn’t hiding anything…

Not submitted for review: Gotham and Walking Dead. Look, guys, I just… I just can’t. I’m six seasons behind on Walking Dead and not hearing a lot of reasons to catch up, and I considered catching up on Gotham, but when the third season premiere involved the second season’s two worst characters opening a nightclub, I just couldn’t. And everything I’ve heard about season three sounds awful. They are no longer portraying a variation of Batman lore I want to be around. My blog, my rules.

Those are the contestants. Let’s begin!

Best Fight Scene!

With Daredevil taking the season off, this category was Iron Fist’s to lose. And boy howdy did they ever lose it.

Honourable mentions*: The heroes of four series battle the Dominators at the end of “Invasion!” on Legends of Tomorrow; Team Arrow and Team Prometheus’ big throwdown in the finale of Arrow; nearly two complete teams of Legends take on the Legion of Doom in Legends of Tomorrow’s finale, which showed how much better the Legion were as villains than Vandal Savage… the Legends split up to fight three Vandal Savages, and all three kind of went down like punks, whereas against the Legion it took two teams just to keep casualties to a minimum.

*There are 13 shows and a lot of them did good work so we’re going to have to do some honourable mentions this year, deal with it.

Bronze: Bolero, Legion, “Chapter Seven”

It’s not entirely a fight scene… I mean, there is a fight happening. A few fights happening. Just not, you know, entirely punch-related. But it is definitely an action sequence, and it’s visually, musically, and stylistically beyond compare. The only reason it’s ranked this low is because, again, much of it is not technicallyfight sequence in the classic sense.

I’m not going to try to explain what exactly is going on here. It’s… it’s really complex. I promise you that if you watch the show it all makes sense in context but if I just try to explain it I’m going to sound like a crazy person.

Embedding YouTube videos sells these scenes better, but they do kind of tend to get taken down for copyright reasons, so… here it is, but if you haven’t watched the show, it’s not going to make a ton of sense. Or, well, any. But it is gorgeous.

Silver: Meet Cassidy, Preacher, “Pilot”

Our first exposure to Preacher’s Irish vampire Cassidy has him pouring drinks and snorting lines as a bartender on a private plane filled with jovial businessmen. But Cassidy comes across an… enthusiastically annotated bible, and we swiftly learn that the businessmen aren’t as jovial as we thought, and the plane is filled with more medieval weaponry than commercial air allows. Cue one epic ass-stomping.

Video while it lasts.

Gold: “You ready for that noise now?” Preacher, “Pilot”

Yes, Preacher made the list twice. In its first episode. Fight me.

When we meet Jesse Custer in Preacher’s pilot, he’s a broken man. Ineffective as a preacher, quiet and withdrawn, but as the character’s creator Garth Ennis once described a different Preacher character, “in his eyes burn the embers of what was once an inferno.” When a kid in his parish asks Jesse to make his father stop hurting his mother, Jesse tries to look into it, only to find out this is more 50 Shades of Grey than Ike and Tina Turner. But the father, Donny, takes offence. While Jesse is drowning his sorrows, Donny and his buddies, fresh back from a Civil War re-enactment, strut into the bar looking for trouble.

They find it. They find more of it than they anticipated. The bad, bad man Jesse once was is re-awakened when Donnie threatens his own son. (And yes, the fact that they’re dressed as Confederate soldiers when Jesse stomps them down does make it more satisfying.)

Here’s hoping this video is still up when I publish this.

Most Emotional Moment

Given how many shows on this list are, in theory, action-based, you wouldn’t think this category would be harder to whittle down than “best fight.” But here we are. (Spoilers ahead, by the by.)

Honourable mentions: Three moments that narrowly, narrowly missed the podium, because it is Hell of competitive this year: Alex coming out to Kara and then breaking down when Maggie rejects her on Supergirl, because when Alex cries, I cry; Archie punching through a frozen river, bones breaking and blood spilling, in a desperate attempt to save a drowning classmate on Riverdale (Yes, Riverdale, FIGHT ME); Oliver’s confession to the team after falling for Prometheus’ trap on Arrow was both a crushing moment and proof of Oliver’s growth, since a year earlier he would have left certain details out.

Bronze: Major takes the Cure, iZombie, “Spanking the Zombie”

Poor Major Lillywhite.

Ravi’s second attempt at a zombie cure came with some unfortunate side effects: eventually it wears off, and then an indeterminate time after that, your lungs start filling with fluid and, despite your undead nature, you die. The only solution is his third attempt at a cure, but a few days after taking that, you lose your memory, possibly forever. Major’s not thrilled about losing his entire life to amnesia, but midway through the season, his time runs out. Major says a tearful farewell to his two closest friends, knowing that once he takes this injection, soon they’ll be strangers. He and Liv have one last night together before Major becomes human and every happy moment they ever had is swallowed by the fog. It’s sweet, but heartbreaking.

Silver: Oliver’s farewells, Arrow, “Invasion!”

In the middle chapter of last season’s big crossover, all of the characters with significant connections to the previous four seasons of Arrow woke up in a world where the doomed voyage of the Queen’s Gambit never happened, where everyone’s life worked out simpler and happier. Oliver never became the Hood, let alone the Green Arrow, and instead is about to marry a still-alive Laurel in front of his not-dead parents. But it doesn’t take long for him to figure out something’s wrong. And he knows, on some level, that he’s going to have to give all of this up to make it right. He tries to elope with Laurel before the ceremony, just to be married to her for even one moment before she’s gone, but simulation-Laurel doesn’t go for it and soon it’s time. Instead of marrying Laurel, he has to say a final goodbye to his father, mother, and a tearful Laurel. It’s crushing, and Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy rose to the occasion.

Gold: Lucifer’s choice, Lucifer, “Weaponizer”

Lucifer’s little brother Uriel has come to town on a mission: his ability to read patterns and foresee their outcomes tells him that their Mother escaping Hell will lead to her returning to Heaven, being forgiven by their Father, who she’ll then destroy. So he gives Lucifer a choice: deliver Mom to be destroyed by Uriel (not returned to Hell, as they expected, but destroyed entirely thanks to the purloined blade of their sister, Azrael, angel of death… who by the way I’m dy– no, I’m above the feeble wordplay… desperate to see turn up in season three), or he’ll kill Lucifer’s partner, Chloe. Given that he’s already nearly killed Chloe twice by a) moving a skateboard a couple of inches, and b) bumping into someone so they drop their clipboard, then watching the ripples play out, we know he’s serious, and that there wouldn’t be much Lucifer could do to stop him.

Lucifer must make a painful choice. And the consequences of that choice tear him apart.

Best Story

Fire as many arrows as you like, make all the quips you can, fill the show with spectacular action… but while you’re doing that, you’d best be telling a good story.

Honourable Mention: This year’s annual DCW crossover, “Invasion!” didn’t just set a high bar for Netflix’s Defenders series, it set a high bar for the Justice League movie. It progresses stories for everyone, I can watch clips of the heroes just hanging out and celebrating their win over and over, I love that it opens with Barry and Oliver under attack, and closes with Barry and Oliver having a beer and talking about life… Keeping it off the podium was a heartbreaking call to make. But…

Bronze: Agents of Hydra, Agents of SHIELD

Aida, the Life Model Decoy prototype with dreams of free will, teams with the Russian leader of the Inhuman-hating Watchdogs to replace SHIELD’s leadership with LMDs. They place the real versions into a digital world called the Framework, which Aida designed by removing the occupants’ largest regret, starting with Agent May. Only Simmons and Daisy are left free, but they have to enter the Framework to free their compatriots. What follows is an intense, high-stakes, emotional journey through an artificial world ruled by Hydra.

Lovable characters go bad, bad guys become good, long-dead old friends return, new friends are lost, the season’s best villain takes centre stage, and Grant Ward gets a touching send-off, as we see the hero he could have been if not for his twisted mentor. And it all wraps up with the return of Ghost Rider.

Silver: The Secret Origin of David Haller, Legion

There’s a dark secret lying in David Haller’s memories. One he himself only seems occasionally aware of. What that secret is, what it means to the man who may be the most powerful mutant alive, and what that means for the world (nothing good) is the heart of Legion’s first season. It’s twisted, trippy… and pretty riveting.

Gold: “Sanvers,” Supergirl

Supergirl’s adoptive sister, Alex Danvers, never really had much luck in the love department. While season one didn’t go into this much, she certainly didn’t have any love interests. The closest she came was Maxwell Lord, but his occasional attempts to kill her sister really reduced his appeal. But then came Detective Maggie Sawyer.

Alex’s realization that the reason she’s never made it work with men is because she’s really into women, and specifically Maggie, is at times uplifting, heartbreaking, and adorable. Her coming out to Kara was a moving scene, and the pitfalls of her relationship with Maggie were reliably strong plot points. And if that’s not enough, check out this Twitter story about how Alex’s coming out did real good in the world. I mean, I loved Invasion! as much as anyone, but I highly doubt it helped anyone out of suicidal depression.

Worst trend

You know what’s worse than a bad plot point on a show you’re watching? The same bad plot point on five shows you watch.

Honourable mention: I don’t actually mind that four different shows involved the main characters waking up in an artificial reality created and controlled by the villain(s). None of them are bad episodes. Most of the time it was even the show’s high point. I just think it’s weird that there were so many, and three of them were right on top of each other.

Bronze: Who is the villain, anyway?

This one just barely makes the podium, because there’s a spectrum from good to bad. Sometimes not committing to one single Big Bad worked out: Arrow, Flash, and Agents of SHIELD had training villains/mini-bosses while the real Big Bads got their evil ducks in a row, and in most cases it worked. Moving along the spectrum, there’s Riverdale and iZombie, which didn’t present one main villain because they were murder mysteries and we weren’t supposed to know who the killers were right away. How that worked depends on how invested you were in the mystery. It gets murkier with Supergirl, which never committed to a main villain, but then the villains were secondary to the real season arc. Still though, it meant that when the major villains turned up, it got just a blasé “Oh, you again” reaction.

And on the far end of the spectrum we find Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Luke Cage had two to three good or even great villains, then threw them and their plots away to really focus on the half-assed Diamondback, at which point the show fell apart. Iron Fist could not make up its mind about who the main villain was: first it was obviously Ward Meachum, then Madame Gao and The Hand, then out of nowhere came Bakuto and his different branch of The Hand, and then in the finale they decided to ignore all of that for a sudden betrayal from Harold Meachum, finally paying off all of those plot threads that started earlier in the finale.

Some series made multiple villains work, so this only takes the bronze, but when this trend goes bad it goes really bad.

Silver: In name only

So you have a show based on a comic book character. What’s a great way to keep the Fan Service train running? Bring additional, hopefully related comics characters into the supporting cast. A sound idea I’m in favour of. But what seems to keep happening is that the shows are bringing in characters with familiar names who have nothing to do with their comics equivalents, and it’s weird and I don’t care for it. Now, doing your own thing with a character works to a point. I’m not going to trash Flash for not making Vibe a breakdancer who affects an offensively stereotypical Latino attitude around white people like comics Vibe did in the 80s, securing him the status of “worst Justice Leaguer” for years upon years. I’m not even going to get into Arrow or Flash handing characters different first names for no discernible reason (Curtis Holt instead of Michael Holt, or Dinah Lance going by Laurel… changing “Paco Ramon” to “Cisco Ramon” is probably okay, though). I’m not even talking about Arrow tweaking Prometheus or Supergirl making up their own Mon-El story, because of course they did, and they still have enough of the basic elements of their comics counterparts.

And I’m certainly not complaining about changing race or sexual orientation to add diversity. Turns out there are still an overwhelming amount of white, straight, cis-male characters on all of these shows, so black Jimmy Olsen, Latina Maggie Sawyer, and gay Mr. Terrific are doing more good than harm.

I’m talking when a TV version has nothing at all in common with the comic character whose name they’ve been given. Examples.

Supergirl: There is no single shred of Snapper Carr, the Justice League’s teen mascot who grew to be a mentor for young and inexperienced heroes, in Supergirl’s cranky news editor of the same name. Not one molecule.

Flash: Apparently “Gypsy” has become a controversial word, which is fair, since it is technically a slur against the Romani. So why court that controversy by naming a character “Gypsy” if she’s going to have a completely different powerset, costume, backstory, and personality from Vibe’s old Justice League Detroit teammate? The only thing they have in common is gender.

Arrow: Konstantin Kovar was a Russian superhero who worked with the Teen Titans, not a gangster. Just saying.

Powerless: This probably wasn’t the place for rigid comic accuracy, but comic Jack O’Lantern wasn’t a villain and Justice League Europe’s Crimson Fox shares nothing in common with Charm City’s local hero except similar costume aesthetics.

Gold: Secret Identity, Schmecret Identity

Secret identities sure used to be important to heroes. Helped them operate. These days? Luke Cage and Danny Rand didn’t even bother trying to hide their identities, which was stupid for so many reasons. All you need to do to get Flash to tell you who he is is say “How can I trust you when you’re wearing a mask.” It even works if you were trying to kill him an hour ago. The only major character who doesn’t know Kara Danvers is Supergirl is Lena Luthor; even her evil mother figured it out on her own. Entire government agencies know Flash, Green Arrow, and Supergirl’s identities. And things sure would have gone easier for SHIELD if Daisy Johnson had bothered to hide her identity when she went rogue between seasons.

Seems like the only character who can keep his real identity a secret is Lucifer, and he’s trying to tell everyone who he is, they just won’t believe him.

Next time… the best characters.

Let’s Talk American Gods

American Gods is a 2001 novel from master fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. It’s one of my favourite books. It’s also a 2017 TV series that happens to be the best thing on television, and y’all need to know about both of them.

Now, you might have a reflex to judge this, if you’re like me and have really gotten over movies or horror anthology shows slapping the word “American” in their title for… why do they do that, exactly? Because American Beauty and American Pie were successful?

I get using it in American Sniper, because unless you really drape that story in aggressively jingoist patriotism all you have is a story about a racist who likes shooting brown people that does a terrible job of portraying PTSD, but what is, say, American Horror Story gaining by slapping “American” on the title? Is it necessary? Is it helping? When the international market is more important than ever?

But for any of you that do have my weirdly specific issue, rest assured that in this case, it’s earned. The rest of you probably just wonder why I’m still talking about this.

The Basics

The basic plot of either American Gods is this: ex-thief Shadow Moon is released from prison just in time to attend his wife’s funeral. On the way he meets enigmatic conman Mr. Wednesday, who wants to hire Shadow to be his body man. Wednesday takes Shadow on a road trip through the back roads and small towns of America, where he learns a hidden truth: gods are real, and they’re everywhere.

People believe in gods because they exist, but gods exist because people believe in them. From the Bering Straight until relatively recently, every time that people came to the American continent and worshipped their god(s), said god(s) would appear in America. But worship dwindled, and with it, the gods’ stature and power. And in their place, new gods are rising, representations of what the modern world worships: Media, the Technical Boy, and their mysterious leader Mr. World. War is brewing between the old gods and the new, and Shadow is stuck in the middle.

The Book

Gaiman’s novel is a sweeping epic that still manages a languid pace, which is perfect for how the story unfolds. Shadow and Wednesday move from town to town, encountering and attempting to recruit gods from various pantheons, and Gaiman relishes in exploring how they’ve acclimated to modern day America.

And sometimes he just puts the main story on pause for a “Coming to America” story, about gods or human lives they’ve touched along the way.

It’s a story about faith, and how it affects people’s lives. It’s a story about immigrants, if “coming to America” wasn’t enough of a clue there. It’s a story where a major character can just hang out in small town Wisconsin for the winter and it’s still fascinating.

The Series

American Gods has been adapted to television in part by one of my all-time favourite TV writers, Bryan Fuller. Fuller was behind the delightfully whimsical fantasy procedural Pushing Daisies, and the gorgeously shot nightmare fuel that was Hannibal. That one’s particularly relevant.

Hannibal used the original Hannibal Lector novels as a loose guideline. Fuller’s team wove the backstory of the Red Dragon novel into some of the most compelling television you could ask for. The relationship between Hannibal and his friend/nemesis, haunted profiler Will Graham, is both hunter/prey (though which is which constantly shifts) and a touching yet seriously twisted bromance. And through all of his work is a visual flair unlike anything else on television.

Which makes him basically perfect to take on this story. The visual style of Pushing Daisies and Hannibal brings American Gods to lush life beyond what I could have hoped for, and the writers have an instant rapport for Gaiman’s characters. Ian McShane’s take on Mr. Wednesday is incredible, Ricky Whittle is nailing Shadow, and the guest cast is filled with great choices. Peter Stormare’s Czernobog, Gillian Anderson as the many faces of Media, Kristen Chenoweth as Easter… and I didn’t know Orlando Jones could even be as good as he is as African trickster god Anansi/Mr. Nancy, a character from the novel so beloved that he got a spin-off.

And all of that is putting aside the fact that they’ve formed an improbably compelling duo out of two more minor characters: Shadow’s dead wife Laura and Mad Sweeney the Leprechaun. The unapologetically unpleasant Laura Moon and the hilariously put-upon Mad Sweeney are such strong characters that Shadow and Wednesday can disappear for entire episodes and you don’t even mind.

Diverting From the Course

At first, they’re pretty faithful to the source material. Entire sequences in the first three episodes seem to be chapters lifted directly from the book and brought to exquisitely vivid life. Exquisite, gorgeous, sweet-yet-holy-hell-graphic life. That… doesn’t last. By the halfway point of episode five, we’re in completely uncharted territory.

Well, not completely, necessarily. They’re still on the same basic path, they’re just taking some diversions along the way.

Normally “diversion from the source material” is the opening salvo of a massive nerd rant about “How dare they change so-and-so,” but not today, readers, not. Today. Too many things I’ve seen have done well with diversions from their source material. Preacher spent its entire first season in a town that blew up in the first issue of the comic (with a villain who didn’t show up until year four), and it’s great. iZombie has almost nothing in common with the original comic and it’s one of my favourites. And apparently the novelizations of Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and something) have all sorts of superfluous characters and apparently go-nowhere plots (Lady Stoneheart seems to lift right out) that the show does fine without.

(By the way… TV fans spent five seasons saying “No spoilers no spoilers” to book fans, and then the very instant the TV show passed the books, spoilers everywhere. That was messed up, guys. That was a messed up thing we did. Or let the entertainment media do.)

But most relevant? Hannibal.

Bryan Fuller knew Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lector novels inside and out, but his goal wasn’t to do a chapter-by-chapter remake of Red Dragon. Hell, it took two and a half seasons to get to Red Dragon. Instead he used the characters and backstory of the various novels to weave his own story about Will Graham and Dr. Lector, and it was amazing. So if he wants to add his own digressions, his own spin on Gaiman’s story, he absolutely has my trust.

Especially since Gaiman is an executive producer and is around to say “Yes, sure, do that, that’s neat.”

Similar to the highly underrated Before Watchmen comics– yes, I called Before Watchmen underrated, fucking fight me– Fuller takes single chapters and minor characters and brings them into the spotlight, expanding on characters only glimpsed in the book. And sure, fine, okay, there are plot points and character meetings happening in the back half of the series that in no way happened in the books. But you know what, that’s fine. It’s fine. Because A) if I haven’t been clear, they’re great, and B) the worst, the worst thing they could have done is try to just cram the entire book into one season. Even if it had been longer than eight episodes. Racing through this story would have killed it.

Okay, there is middle ground between “racing through the story” and “padding said story with new stuff,” but I refer you back to point A. If Fuller going off-book brings us Corbin Bersen as a white nationalist Vulcan, Lost/Justified’s Jeremy Davies as Jesus Prime*, and an early confrontation between Wednesday, Crispin Glover as Mr. World, and Gillian Anderson as Media as Marilyn Monroe? I say bring it on.

*The novel admits the existence of various regional Jesuses but avoids having any turn up. The TV show has dozens.

So Which Should You Try?

Well that’s kind of up to you. Both are excellent in their ways. I guess the question is, are you in it for the destination, or the journey?

If you want to know the full story ASAP, the show is no help. They are in no rush to get through the events of the novel. The first eight-episode season barely makes it a fifth of the way into the book. (Sure, spending two entire episodes on non-Shadow/Wednesday stories and one entire episode and chunks of two more on new Shadow/Wednesday stories slowed them down just a smidge.) I doubt they’ll even reach Lakeside, Wisconsin until season three or four. So if you’re impatient, read the book. Just devour it. Get all up in all 600+ pages of that long and winding sumbitch. Then read it again and savour each chapter.

Sure but you’ll know how it ends. Might end. Assuming the ratings stay high enough to see it through, the TV show might not end with the end of the book. In addition to the spin-off, Anansi Boys (which some have said Gaiman wrote to prove that the late, great Terry Pratchett didn’t write all the jokes in their classic collaboration Good Omens), Neil Gaiman is reportedly working on a sequel. And since he’s better at getting these written than George RR Martin*, it’ll be done and in stores by the time the series catches up, and that’ll be another five seasons right there.

*Relax, Song of Ice and Fire fans, by “better” I just mean “faster.” I’m not saying Gaiman’s objectively a better writer than Martin. You might have inferred it, I might be thinking it, and it’s true, but I didn’t say it.

And take it from someone who’s read the book multiple times… knowing where they’re headed isn’t detracting from the ride. I mean, you heard me mention the new stuff, right? And my opinion on it was clear?

On the other hand, if you don’t mind spending a few years making your way down a long, winding, and fascinating road, and would rather have no idea where it’s going, then watch the show. I’ll do my best not to spoil anything for you.

But pick one. Book or TV series, it’s going to be brilliant. So pick one. Read it, watch it, get on it.

Get on it.

Get. On. It.

(This has been “Dan heartily endorses American Gods.” Thanks for tuning in, see you next time.)

Inexplicably Underused Comic Characters

“Wait,” you say. “You did this already. I vaguely pay attention to what you write, and you definitely covered this.”

Not so, Hypothetical Strawman. Can I call you H-Straw, by the way? I assume I can, like I assume everything you’d theoretically say.

Anyway, H-Straw, that was obscure characters I thought the various TV properties could use. And frankly, obscure characters are having their heyday. Wild Dog, Ragman, Prometheus, Citizen Steel, the third Ghost Rider, Misty Knight, and Mon-El all have or had prominent roles on comic TV shows this season. Black Lightning is close to getting his own show. The best comic book TV series this season was about an X-Man only hard core fans are familiar with. Powerless has pulled out Global Guardians member the Olympian and Justice League International mainstays Green Fury (later “Fire,” but that only made sense because she was paired with “Ice,” formerly Ice Maiden) and Crimson Fox. Well, sort of Crimson Fox, she actually wasn’t really similar to– I’m drifting.

And bigger than any of that, the most anticipated superhero movie of 2017 stars Rocket Raccoon and Groot, two characters who were greeted five years back not with “At last, those guys,” but “Is Marvel just screwing with us now?”

Today we’re looking at major characters who are bizarrely absent from major live-action adaptations in the bizarre hope that doing so will somehow conjure them into a TV show or movie.

Look, sometimes it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

1. Zatanna

I’ve brought this up in the past, but since it still hasn’t happened, it bears repeating.

Who’s that?

Is Wonder Woman the most powerful woman in the DC Universe? Not quite. Sure she’s up there, given she makes Batman nervous, can go 12 rounds with Superman, and was the God of War for a spell (an excellent story that is tragically being retconned out of canon, but so is goes), but you know what Wonder Woman can’t do? Cripple the armies of Darkseid just by saying “Parademons turn into corgis” backwards.

Daughter of famed magician, Golden Age magical hero, and sometimes mentor to Batman Giovanni Zatara, Zatanna Zatara came onto the scene in the late 60s, becoming a member of the Justice League during the hallowed “Satellite Era,” known as the group’s Silver Age pinnacle.

No, that was not word salad, it makes perfect sense. Welcome to comic books.

Zatanna inherited her father’s powers: she can make almost anything happen just by saying it backwards. She’s been an off-again/on-again lover to John Constantine, had the lady-balls to make a slightly tipsy pass at Batman, but more than that, she’s become a natural leader, as the head of the currently defunct Justice League Dark. She is, without question, the most powerful magic user in DC canon. Well, the most powerful human magic user. Comparing her to the Spectre, the embodiment of divine wrath, or the unquantified power of the ancient and ageless Phantom Stranger is probably unfair.

And her only live-action adaptation so far is two underwhelming episodes of Smallville*, and that is hardly good enough.

*Not… I’m not saying they were underwhelming for episodes of Smallville, but “underwhelming” was kid of Smallville’s default state. At its very best, it whelmed within reasonable expectation.

Where should she be?

They are, possibly, slightly ahead of me on this one. Warner Brothers has been kicking around an adaptation of Justice League Dark for a while, sometimes called “Dark Universe.” There’s an animated Justice League Dark movie out there which might help give the concept legs, or might make it redundant. Sure, my enthusiasm for the project diminished a little when Guillermo del Toro (who first pitched it) left the project, but it’s still kicking around DC films. It’s been rumoured to be one of several scripts DC is trying to get into position to replace The Flash on their 2018 docket. (Which, man, if they want to fill that gap, they are running out of time.)

But it’s not enough to get her into that movie. That’s key, but more important than having her in the movie? She should be the lead. They might be trying to centre it on John Constantine, but that’s a mistake, and not only because it might keep Matt Ryan from playing Constantine in the DCW-verse. It risks Zatanna, DC’s most powerful sorceress, becoming yet another victim of Trinity Syndrome.

Using Guardians of the Galaxy as our model, Zatanna should not be the Gamorra to Constantine’s Star Lord. Zatanna should be the Star Lord, and Constantine the Rocket Raccoon. His character is far better suited to the wise-cracking misanthrope who is half-dragged into doing the right thing.

(Nightmare Nurse is the Gamorra, Swamp Thing is the Drax, Etrigan is the Yondu, and the House of Mystery is Groot, if you were wondering.)

Zatanna’s been the lady in the fishnets for long enough. It’s time for a Zatanna project that lets her be a star.

2. She-Hulk

Who’s that?

Jennifer Walters, cousin to Bruce Banner, needed a blood transfusion to save her life. When Bruce gave her some of his gamma-radiated blood, she ended up receiving a lesser version of his powers, becoming the sensational She-Hulk. While she may not be as strong as her cousin, she does retain her personality and intelligence, something Bruce only managed for a stretch in, I wanna say the 90s?

As such, while extra-tall and green, she still maintains a legal practice.

There was almost a She-Hulk movie back in the 80s, which Bridgette Nielson was supposedly starring it, but it never made it out of script development.

Where should she be?

A while back, there was a run of her comic in which a firm wanted to hire Jennifer Walters… but not She-Hulk. This was a surprising turn when I heard about it, because until then, I didn’t even know Jennifer could change back and forth. I thought she was just She-Hulk 24/7. Turns out she was only in She-Hulk form all the time because she wanted to be. Jennifer likes being taller, stronger, powerful. And, sure, less plain.

This might make for a good TV series. There’s a good story there, one that separates it from the other “female cousin of a better known male hero” show. A powerful woman being asked to keep her power in check by her (presumably) male-driven firm? Or, you know, something Patriarchy related.

Supergirl tackled feminist issues throughout the first season, though in a more scattershot fashion. Jessica Jones did a great job with rape survival and abusive relationships. But as it turns out there are more than two ways to discuss feminism. A She-Hulk series about fear of female power would be a new take on issues that seem all the more important after the first serious female US presidential candidate was defeated by an unqualified garbage monster.

Plus, this would play into what Joss Whedon discovered was missing from the Hulk movies prior to Avengers. The movies spent most of their runtime treating Banner becoming the Hulk as a tragedy, when we as an audience just want the thrill of watching him Hulk out and cut loose. For She-Hulk, those moments when she gets to transform are a release, and we’d be right there with her.

Perhaps ABC could find room for it after the inevitable end of Agents of SHIELD, or if Inhumans doesn’t take off. I know it might seem like a decent fit for Netflix, especially if the lawyer aspects have as much to do with the superhero elements, but it would be more suited to a network, case-of-the-week structure than the Netflix “One story in 13 episodes” model. Also I worry that if Netflix did it, the show would end up being called “The Sensational She-Green-Guy.”

3. Robins Who Aren’t Dick Grayson

Who’s that?

Perhaps the earliest* and most iconic of the Kid Sidekicks in comic book history, Robin has been the title of Batman’s partner since his first appearance way back in 1940. Batman’s had a Robin since the last time America wasn’t doing enough to hold back the Nazis.

(*Some of the pulp stories, like Doc Samson and his contemporaries, might have beaten out Robin, I really don’t know.)

There are five in total, not counting Carrie Kelley from The Dark Knight Returns, which I don’t, because Frank Miller is racist, crazy, and crazily racist, and Batman V Superman gave him too many props as it is.

Dick Grayson is the original, the son Batman never had, the first to move out of his surrogate father’s shadow. As Nightwing, he’s been a hero and a leader in his own right, one so popular that DC head Dan Didio learned he literally couldn’t kill him off if he wanted to.

Jason Todd came second… he was the angry one, picked up off the streets when Batman caught him stealing the Batmobile’s wheels. He’s also the one killed by the Joker, but a couple of decades later he came back, adopting the Joker’s old name of Red Hood. He was a villain for a while, angry at Batman for not avenging him, but gradually worked his way back into the family. He’s still the black sheep, the most violent, and the only Robin occasionally okay with killing.

Tim Drake is the first Robin by choice. Whereas Dick and Jason were orphans Batman took in and taught to be Robins, Tim figured out Batman’s identity on his own, and deciding that Batman needed a Robin, broke into the Batcave and demanded the job. He’s also the first of the Robins to have his own comic. Eventually known as Red Robin, he’s become every bit the leader as Dick through Young Justice and the Teen Titans. He’s probably the smartest, and if you asked any of the other Robins who their favourite was, they’d each say Tim.

Stephanie Brown, usually known as Spoiler but for a time a surprisingly good take on Batgirl, was Robin for a brief period when Tim gave up the job. It turned out Batman only gave her the gig in an attempt to lure Tim, her ex-boyfriend, back into the role. She ended up starting a massive gang war in an attempt to earn her way back– you know, the story only gets ugly from there. Really ugly. Moving on.

And last but least only in stature, Damien Wayne, created by comics legend Grant Morrison at the beginning of a many-year run on Batman. Dick Grayson was the son Bruce Wayne never had, but Damien was the son he didn’t know he did have. Son of Bruce’s lover/nemesis Talia al-Ghul and grandson of A-list Batman villain Ra’s al-Ghul, Damien was dropped on his father’s doorstep (well, the water entrance to the cave) at the age of ten. After spending time with his father, he turned his back on his upbringing with the League of Assassins and devoted himself to being the new Robin. He died at the hand’s of his mother’s soldiers at the end of Morrison’s run, but if death couldn’t keep down Jason or Stephanie (I told you that story got ugly. I TOLD you.) it certainly couldn’t keep down Damien. He’s definitely arrogant, doesn’t always play well with others, but tries his best to be a Robin his father can be proud of. On the outside he begrudgingly tolerates his surrogate siblings, but there are subtle signs he’s come to like at least two of them.

Of these five, the only live action adaptation we’ve seen is Dick Grayson, always as Robin, and the best of them is the one where he’s played by Burt Ward. People are so eager to see Nightwing in something that there was a fan cry to have Nightwing on Arrow, a show that has never acknowledged the existence of Batman.

There is talk of a Nightwing solo movie, but like Man of Steel 2, Suicide Squad 2, Gotham City Sirens, Dark Universe, and basically any DC film project that isn’t Wonder Woman, Justice League, or Aquaman, talk is all there is.

Where should they be?

As long as Fox has a lock on the TV rights to all things Batman, we’re stuck with the movies. But Warner Bros will keep making Batman movies as long as their business model depends on blockbuster film franchises. So, if The Batman starts introducing Robins, you have room to spin them off into their own movies. Pad out the DCEU with Bat-family properties, just like they do in the comic branch. Sure, have a Nightwing movie, but instead of having Batman show up in a similar role to Tony Stark in Spider-man: Homecoming, have Tim swing by. Show the sibling relationship of the Robins. Also Batman, just, you know, less Batman.

BvS already established that Joker killed a Robin, so a live-action adaptation of Under the Red Hood (already an animated movie) could not only introduce Jason Todd’s Red Hood, but also involve Nightwing, and if you fudge the story a little, Tim Drake as well. Then bring them back to the Batcave for Son of Batman (also already an animated movie) and finish the quartet.

Plus there’s every chance that bringing in the younger Robins can help shake off the notion that the DCEU isn’t fit for younger audiences. Of course it would help to, you know, be more suitable for younger audiences.

4. Doctor Doom

Yes I know that Doctor Doom has been in four movies so far. I also know that of the three that made it into theatres, they haven’t come within a parsec of doing Marvel’s Greatest Villain right.

But sadly, a key part of the Marvel Film Formula is “The villain is a one-dimensional representation of the hero’s flaws,” so even if Fox stopped making increasingly worse Fantastic Four movies every seven years out of what at this point I can only assume is spite, and gave Marvel back the film rights, Marvel Studios is unlikely to nail him either. Let’s move on.

5. Sandman

Who’s that?

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman isn’t a classic graphic novel for adult audiences, it’s the classic graphic novel for adult audiences. Sandman was one of several books DC had in the late 80s where they decided “You know what… if we slapped “Mature readers only” on these things, told the writers they didn’t have to be superhero comics anymore… then they could really do some cool stuff,” and started the Vertigo imprint.

The basic premise… well, master author Neil Gaiman could never write a basic premise, but the nickel tour is that the series revolved around Morpheus, aka Dream, one of the Endless. The Endless were nigh-immortal beings who represented various forces driving life: Dream, Destiny, Destruction (who left the family), Desire, Despair, Delirium (formerly Delight, but then drugs happened), and inspiration to goths worldwide in more ways than one, Death.

The cool one.

As his name suggests, Morpheus/Dream* rules over the Dreamlands, where we all go when we’re asleep. And you do not want to cross him if you value your sanity. And then a bunch of fascinating stuff happens, and it’s all amazing and you should just read it.

(*You’re not gonna be able to call him Morpheus much. Thanks, Matrix movies.)

Where should he be?

People have been circling a Sandman movie for decades to no avail. Joseph Gordon-Levitt came closest, but has since left the project. So here’s my hope. My desperate hope. Now that Sandman’s successor as the flagship title of Vertigo, Preacher, is doing well on AMC, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is apparently about to be the best show on TV, maybe, maybe someone will finally realize that you cannot do this story justice in two hours.

Hell, one two hour movie is barely enough time to establish why Dream and Lucifer don’t care for each other, let alone cover the classic story… huh. Pro-tip. If you’re going to write about Sandman, you’re going to need to learn synonyms for “classic…” Um… iconic, vintage, time-honoured… Let alone the exemplary story in which Lucifer gets his revenge by closing up Hell and handing the key to Dream.

Why is that revenge? It takes time to explain that. This is my point. The story is complex and needs time to breathe. A movie would only be enough time for the Dead Boy Detectives introduced partway through.

No, I won’t explain who the Dead Boy Detectives are, read Sandman damn you.

An epic fantasy covering multiple times and a nigh-endless supply of fascinating characters, Sandman could be the “new Game of Thrones” everyone’s been looking for since the old one got an end date.

(The new Game of Thrones is Westworld, but I for one encourage competition.)

I mean… they don’t have to have John Constantine show up, just because he’s in the first arc. I mean they could. That’s an option. And, you know, there’s no strong reason not to ask Matt Ryan to reprise the role. Doesn’t necessarily mean that this hypothetical HBO Sandman show would then be part of the DCW-verse.

That would just be a special little secret for me. Us. For us is what I meant.

Crossover Fodder

So now that Iron Fist is over (and I promise to keep further complaints about Iron Fist to a minimum until June) there’s no doubt one question nerd-show fans have about the year’s big crossover…

How, exactly, is the Greg Berlanti Mask-Based Action Fun Factory (aka the DCW-verse) going to follow up “Invasion!” next season?

Photograph by Art Streiber

No, we’re not talking about The Defenders. Don’t get me wrong, when that launches in August I’ll be checking it out like everyone else, but Iron Fist deflated my enthusiasm a little. And frankly, the first teaser, in which the four leads are standing in an elevator looking about as far from a super-team as it’s possible to get, isn’t helping. Not even Daredevil has anything like a costume, just a suit and tie with a sweatshirt or something tied around his face. So there’s really only two things I want from the Defenders: two swatches of dialogue I’m not too hopeful I’ll get.

Number One:

Matt: “Can I please get my suit.”
Luke: “You look like a damn fool in that getup.”
Matt: “Right, because wandering around telling everyone your real names is working out great for the rest of you.”
Danny: “I’m Danny Rand! From the news!”
Matt: “Yeah, like that.”
Jessica: “We know, Danny. We know.”
Matt: “Say what you want about the mask, but my enemies never just show up at my office.”

Number Two:

Matt: “Damn it, Claire, if you were up against The Hand, how could you not call me?”
Luke: “She probably thought you were busy looking into crime in Harlem. No, wait, that can’t be it.”
Danny: “I like turtles!”

(Look, I said I’d keep it to a minimum. This is the minimum.)

So instead of trying to get psyched about this…

We’re sure this isn’t some Shondaland legal drama?

…I want to talk about how Berlanti and company could follow this.

The one with light, colour, and actual superheroes.

The annual Flash/Arrow crossovers have been a tradition since Flash’s first season. They started small, with the relatively self-contained “Flash Vs Arrow” (in which Team Arrow visits Central City and ends up helping against the rage-inducing Prism) and “The Brave and the Bold” (in which Team Flash returns the favour against Captain Boomerang); they escalated to a world-threatening two parter in “Legends of Yesterday” and “Legends of Today,” which finished the table-setting for the upcoming spin-off Legends of Tomorrow by introducing Hawkgirl, Hawkman, and their vendetta with Vandal Savage; this year, it took the combined heroes of all four DCW shows (although Supergirl really just guest starred, her show did its own thing that week) to save the world from sinister aliens the Dominators.

Eleven heroes from four shows plus two supporting casts against a global alien invasion. How do you top that? I’m sure somewhere in the writers’ rooms there are people desperately trying not to think about that just yet, but it’s coming, and they say this year it’ll be a proper four-show affair. Meaning that hopefully Supergirl’s Alex Danvers, Winn, and J’onn J’onzz will get to play as well.

As it happens, I have some suggestions.

(Yes, I know none of the writers will read this for legal reasons. And other reasons. Still, though.)

(Look, you might not care, but sometimes we rant about things we enjoy to fight off a rapid-onset emotional spiral that makes it hard to even just watch Netflix whee life is a roller coaster.)

Things We Can Rule Out

Sure as eggs is eggs and The Defenders won’t say the word “Inhumans,” there are a few big DC stories that we can probably assume are off the table, due to budget issues and corporate policy holding some things back for the film branch. Examples…

  • Darkseid. Ain’t nobody at the CW going to be facing Darkseid unless Justice League really tanks at the box office. Like, tanks so bad Warner rethinks their commitment to superhero movies. As long as there’s a Justice League sequel in the works, that’s where Darkseid turns up next. And honestly, given how Smallville did Darkseid, I’m kind of okay with that.
  • Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad. It’s the first big event of the current “Rebirth” era, and it’s working out okay, and lord knows I’ve missed its main villain, Max Lord, since he vanished from post-CBS budget Supergirl. But Arrow hasn’t been allowed to use the Suicide Squad since season three. No, if they adapt this, they’d want to do it with Affleck-Batman, Will Smith-Deadshot, and Harley Quinn.
  • Anything Batman related. It’s actually Fox blocking this. They have the TV rights to pretty much everything Batman, and not even cancelling Gotham is likely to get them to loosen their grip.
  • Identity Crisis. An unknown enemy stalking the heroes’ loved ones would have no impact in the DCW. Barry Allen and Oliver Queen are way too careless with their identities, and the Legends don’t even use their codenames most of the time. Their loved ones get threatened all the damned time.
  • Crisis On Infinite Earths. Even if the CW could remotely afford filming an epic battle against the Anti-Monitor for the fate of all of existence, according to Harrison Wells’ future newspaper, it won’t happen until April of 2024.

Season nine’s gonna be off the HOOK. Or awkwardly disappointing.

So, what does that leave us?

So much.

Let’s begin.

1. The Collector of Worlds

The most criminally underused villain in DC’s menagerie is Brainiac. He’s Superman’s number two villain, yet he has not even been hinted at in any of the seven movies Superman’s starred in so far. Sure, James Marsters played a version of Brainiac on Smallville (the “Brain Interactive Construct,” eventually called “Brainiac” for short), but is there anything Smallville did that couldn’t be done better elsewhere? Anything at all?

The answer is “No.”

Supergirl already opened this door by having its season one villain, Indigo, reveal herself as Brainiac 8. (Classic Supergirl move: can’t get Lex, bring in Lena. Can’t use the main Brainiac, bring in Brainiac 8.) So they’d just need to nudge the door a little further.

The pitch: A mysterious skull-shaped ship appears in the skies of Earth-38 (aka Earth Supergirl), which possesses similar technology and abilities as Indigo. Reactivating part of Indigo, the DEO learns that this is Brainiac Prime, aka The Collector of Worlds. While Kara investigates the ship, National City is sealed under a dome and vanishes. Brainiac has shrunk it and sealed it in a bottle. Alex manages to get Winn out with Kara’s dimensional extrapolater before the dome is fully active. If they’re going to find a way to get National City out of the bottle, they’ll need backup and an expert in transdimensional barriers and breaches. And all of that’s in Central City, Earth-1.

Supergirl gathers the others, and after the prerequisite “Brainiac drones follow Supergirl, big fight” sequence, they split into two teams. With Vibe-based portal help from Cisco, Green Arrow leads a covert squad (say… Diggle, White Canary, Vixen, Heat Wave, any of his new team who survives season four) to meet up with Alex, James, and J’onn inside the bottle to defend the city, while the muscle (Supergirl, Flash, Steel, Firestorm) fly the Waverider to Brainiac’s ship so that Team Science (Felicity, Cisco, Winn, Ray Palmer/Atom, Martin Stein, Gideon the supercomputer) can try to crack his technology.

I assume Harrison Wells and the Wests will only be in the Flash episode. Again. But you could get Superman in here. Frankly, you even should. Strand him in the bottle with Alex for preference, and have his powers dwindle the longer he’s in there. Ain’t none of these his show, he doesn’t get to show up Supergirl.

(I haven’t quite stretched that out to four episodes, but do I have to do everything? Because I will. I will do that. Call me.)

The perks: It’s certainly a threat that one-ups the Dominators. And making it a Superman villain makes it easier to start things off on Supergirl, which is the first to air and will need to be the start of the story to avoid another “four night crossover in name only” situation. And splitting the team gives everyone a role to play. It’s a classic JLA/JSA story trick: kick things off with the whole team, then split them into groups before bringing everyone back together. It lets you play with different combinations, like Green Arrow coaching Superman on fighting without his powers, or White Canary and Alex Danvers, who I would pay real money to see kick ass together.

Why they might not do it: Brainiac doesn’t have to be more expensive than the dominators, and Supergirl needs alien ship sets all the time, so I doubt it’s a cost thing. No, if anything’s blocking them from doing this, I’d point to WB brass. Matthew Vaughn is being courted to helm a proper Man of Steel sequel, and they might be holding Brainiac in reserve for that.

The dream casting: Role like Brainiac, you want the casting to cause some excitement. Either a big geek-friendly name like your Bruce Campbells or Scott Bakulas, or a Legacy Casting: someone from a past, related superhero show or movie. Like former Flash John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen’s father, or Supergirl’s foster parents being Helen Slater (1984’s Supergirl movie) and Dean Cain (of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). In this case? Michael Rosenbaum. His seven years as Smallville’s Lex Luthor suggest he’s got the gravitas, and he’s relatively likely to be available and affordable.

2. Forever Evil

The biggest event of the New 52 (that period of DC comics in between the Flashpoint reboot and Rebirth rolling back said reboot) was Forever Evil, in which Earth was taken over by Earth-3’s evil alternate Justice League, the Crime Syndicate of America: Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, Power Ring, Johnny Quick, Atomica, and Deathstorm. Having decimated three Justice Leagues at the end of the crossover “Trinity War” (all of that makes sense, no time to explain, stay with me), the Crime Syndicate is virtually unopposed, and sets to work uniting the villains under them. But a few holdouts refuse to join. With Earth’s Greatest Heroes out of commission, it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Villains to save the day.

Also Batman. Always Batman.

All this one really needs to happen is the existence of the Multiverse and an array of villains interesting enough to lead the story. The DCW-verse has both of those things. Also, since by and large the Crime Syndicate have alternate identities from the Justice League, there isn’t a good reason why the film branch (or Fox) should get uppity about using them.

The Pitch: The DEO finds an unusual object, which is giving off similar signals to Kara’s dimensional extrapolater. Kara, Winn, and Alex head to Earth-1 to seek STAR Labs’ input. As long as Kara’s in town, one of Team Flash (Barry, Cisco, or whatever Harrison Wells is on the team that year) shoots out an invite to Oliver and the Waverider crew for an Invasion reunion party. During the party, the object activates a bridge to Earth-3, allowing the Crime Syndicate to break through. Similar to the comic, Deathstorm (who was created when Earth-3 Martin Stein used the Firestorm Matrix to merge with the corpse of his intern, Ronnie Raymond) traps the majority of the heroes inside Firestorm, leaving only a handful: Green Arrow, Alex, Winn, Heat Wave, Joe West, Wells, and Felicity. (I don’t really foresee a huge role for Felicity but I know the writers, it’s gonna happen.)

Supergirl and Flash find each other within the personalized prisons that Firestorm has become, and begin trying to unite the others and find an escape. On the outside, the few survivors find themselves massively outgunned and in need of backup. With no heroes to turn to*, it’s Heat Wave who sees a solution nobody else thought of… call in the bad guys. The ones the Syndicate doesn’t manage to recruit.

Joe West and Quentin Lance try to rally the Star and Central police forces against the criminal army the Syndicate begins to form. Alex and Winn make a desperation run to Earth-38 (followed by Ultraman, who goes a few rounds with Martian Manhunter until sunlight turns out to be his weakness and he flees back)… Superman is off-planet, J’onn is injured fighting Ultraman, so they try Mick’s idea, and wake up Bizarro. Heat Wave and a reluctant Green Arrow form a villain alliance: Captain Cold (I know he’s dead bring him back just make it happen), Malcolm Merlyn, Bronze Tiger, Killer Frost, Trickster, and as long as I’m fantasizing here, Deathstroke. And when things look bleakest… out comes Gorilla Grodd to even the odds.

I’m sorry about the rhyme. That was unintentional.

Team Villain takes on the Syndicate, and when the heroes escape Firestorm, they clean up the Syndicate’s army of whatever metas-of-the-week the producers could round up.

The perks: Given the sheer volume of villains cranked out by the four shows, some of them were bound to be great. Some of them, sure, are utterly forgettable, but enough aren’t that it would be fun to see them all brought together. Legends of Tomorrow’s Legion of Doom taught us that, and this time we’d get to root for them.

And man, could Wentworth Miller sell the shit out of how Captain Cold took out Johnny Quick (not pictured: his cold gun is voice activated).

Why they might not do it: …Now that I look at it that is a lot of guest stars. A daunting amount of guest stars. Even if John Barrowman and Wentworth Miller renew their contracts to appear on all four shows.

The dream casting: Yeah… this one wouldn’t be cheap. So they might not be able to throw a lot of money at casting the Crime Syndicate. But as long as I’m dreaming the impossible dream here… Tyler Hoechlin is already Superman on Supergirl, let him be Ultraman; Smallville’s Lois Lane, Erica Durance, as Superwoman; see if you can pry Mark Sheppard off Supernatural for a week to be Owlman; I don’t have strong opinions about Johnny Quick, Atomica, or Power Ring, so save money on them; and for Deathstorm, either have Robbie Amell reprise Ronnie Raymond, or make him a stunt man with Victor Garber/Martin Stein’s voice. Ooh, the second one. That. Do that.

*Except Vixen, Hawkgirl, and Hawkman, but that won’t happen. Maybe there’ll be a reference to those three fighting and losing against Johnny Quick and Atomica. Sure, that.

3. The Darkness Within

If guest stars are a problem, why not go with a menace that lets you just use who you have handy?

One of the great tragedies of Constantine’s too-soon cancellation is that they appeared to be getting the pieces in play for a grudge match between DC’s two spirits of vengeance: the often-brutal but usually noble Spectre, embodiment of God’s wrath, and the villainous Eclipso, a former god of vengeance who was imprisoned in a black diamond for going too far.

It’s that second one I want to call attention to here. Back in the early 90s, DC reinvented Eclipso from a lame 60s villain (who only had powers during a solar eclipse) to a dark god capable of possessing anyone who felt anger while touching one of his black gems. Or sometimes manifest himself as the embodiment of their rage. It depends on– not important, not important, started heading down a rabbit hole there.

The pitch: The DEO finds a black gem, and most of the DEO ends up possessed. Kara makes a deal with Eclipso: if he releases her friends, Kara will take their place. Stupid deal, stupid, stupid deal, but it worked on Superman in the comics. As a last ditch defense, as the possession takes hold, Winn sends her to Earth-1, in the hopes that Barry and Oliver can find a way to neutralize her (Guess Superman’s off-planet again, why not). Problem is… Earth-1 has an Eclipso too, and soon they’re both loose, and possessing heroes and villains of Star City, Central City, and the Waverider left and right.

Who can help them bring a magical vengeance god to heel? Who else?

John Constantine to the rescue.

The perks: In addition to fixing the whole “it’s been too long since Constantine has been on one of these shows” problem, unleashing Eclipso saves money on guest stars by having hero fight hero, and it also gives the writers a fun way to progress story lines. Eclipso feeds on his victims’ rage, so this crossover would let every little festering grudge and problem anyone has with anyone else burst out in violent glory. Even after Eclipso is defeated, the underlying problems that he lights a match to will provide story fodder for either the fall finales or the back halves of the season.

Why they might not do it: …Well, would it really take four episodes to tell this one? It could, but you’d have to put some effort into it not getting stale.

Dream casting: Assuming Eclipso manages to manifest at some point, this here is a job for James Marsters, master of the deliciously fun-to-watch charming evil.

Closing speed round

  • The heroes of the four shows get trapped in a grudge match between extradimensional imps Mxyzptlk and Music Meister. Sounds stupid saying it out loud but hey, it could be fun, and maybe introduce Jakeem Thunder.
  • Shenanigans involving the Legion of Superheroes, who have been hinted at on both Flash and Supergirl, and are from the future, which brings in the Legends.
  • An adaptation of Armageddon 2001 (written back in 1991, when 2001 still felt like the far future), in which a time traveler named Waverider (not a coincidence) came back to 1991 to read the futures of the DC heroes in order to learn which one would become the villainous Monarch, turn on their friends, and conquer the world. It was obviously Captain Atom until the last second when it suddenly wasn’t.

What will they actually do? I could not begin to guess. I don’t think they know yet. Like anyone else, they probably want to put this season to bed before thinking about the next one. But they obviously have some love for DC lore, so here’s hoping it’s close to one of these.

Dan Watches Iron Fist (So You Don’t Have To) Vol. 4

And at last, we enter endgame.

I’ll take back a brewing accusation about Davos: he is not the new Diamondback. The big problem with Diamondback in Luke Cage was that while Diamondback the arms dealer had been foreshadowed, Willis Stryker, Luke’s childhood best friend/secret half brother/Spectre-style architect of all of his pain, had not. This supposed key figure to Luke’s backstory leapt up to shout “It was me all along!” out of absolutely nowhere, and seized the third-act reins from better, more compelling villains.

And that ain’t Davos. First of all, Davos has been teased throughout the season. He’s a key character in Danny’s happier K’un-Lun memories. And second, he’s the culmination of something that’s been brewing since Danny’s duel with Gao’s quartet of assassins.

That being, the Iron Fist has abandoned his post.

Davos is here to represent the fact that Danny is supposed to be guarding the entrance to K’un-Lun. It’s a dull and unsatisfying job, since for 15 years at a time there’s no way in, so it’s a lot of standing next to a pile of rocks near a sort of convincing backdrop (the brief glimpses we get of K’un-Lun this episode tell a story about why the show has taken a tell-don’t-show approach to Danny’s time there), but that doesn’t change the fact that he knew what the job was, went after it, and when it wasn’t super-satisfying he ran away the second that became possible.

Davos, who also trained his whole life to be the Iron Fist, is absolutely justified in being pissed off that the guy who beat him to it has gone AWOL.

I mean, we’re not supposed to think he should go guard a pass, we’re supposed to think his greater destiny is protecting New York and maybe being best pals with Luke Cage, but they are not making a case for this so far. Danny Rand barely seems qualified to guard a 7-11 in a nice neighbourhood, let alone a city. Or even whatever the people who have Daredevil saying “I just want to make my city a better place” and then keep him squared away in a two-square kilometre neighbourhood think a city is.

Now Bakuto, he’s more of a Diamondback. We had a perfectly serviceable villain in Gao and her Hand faction, then in the third act Bakuto pops up with virtually no set-up and steals the whole A-plot. We get three whole episodes to try to wrap our heads around what this Hand faction is and what they want, and this was already confusing enough when the original Hand story in Daredevil still makes no sense at all.

If The Hand are going to be the villains in The Defenders, the writers had better be putting some work into figuring out what the hell they even are or why they do anything they do.

Plus, we can add to the list of stolen plot points. They stole “ruin Elektra” from Daredevil, stole “last second villain with no context” from Luke Cage, and “No, that was a different Hydra” from Agents of SHIELD. Seriously now. Steal a plot that worked if you must steal at all.

Episode 11

Episode eleven in a nutshell… after Claire patches up Danny and has words with Colleen about how The Hand were a bag of dicks during Daredevil so why does she think they’re so great, Danny and Davos meet up with Joy and Harold Meachum, who have a plan… since Gao and now Davos haved been laundering all their money through Rand Enterprises, Joy can steal everything back and shut all of their accounts. Their money gone, Bakuto will come looking for it, at which point Danny and Davos will off him.

Joy does not love this plan. Neither the murdering nor her father’s newfound enthusiasm for murdering. Joy would have been happier turning Bakuto over to the SEC and being done with it. But she goes along with the plan because her twice-resurrected father hasn’t been taking “No” very well.

Colleen chooses not to give up Danny’s location to Bakuto, which gets he scooped up by her Hand-loyalist students when she tries to get Danny some anti-biotics. Bakuto expresses disappointment in her choices and commands her students to steal all of her blood. For whatever it is The Hand does with all that blood they steal. Resurrect Elektra to be their secret weapon or whatever, who the hell knows. Colleen escapes just in time to run past Danny so that he can see her and blow the whole “Stake out the compound until Bakuto shows up” plan, because the episode wouldn’t be complete if Danny didn’t screw something up.

Here’s what’s interesting.

This is the first time that we’ve really looked at why Danny is so catastrophically flawed as a hero and as a person. Why he’s dangerously impulsive, quick to anger, and sometimes flies off the handle faster than Wilson Fisk if you interrupt his dinner date. Or for anyone who somehow didn’t watch Daredevil but is still reading this, faster than Donald Trump if you block his Muslim ban. Why every time he remembers his past he grips his head like he’s having a grand mal ice cream headache, something most people who aren’t Rain Man aren’t known for doing.

As Claire learns from Davos, the monks of K’un-Lun are trained to repress all emotion. To take any feelings (like, say, Davos’ anger over Danny being chosen over him as Iron Fist and then bolting) and bury them deep down. Maybe in the ancient times this seemed like a good idea, but… Danny was 10 years old when his plane crashed and he watched his parents die, only to be taken to a monastery where his life involved being beaten with sticks by his new guardians. Danny is sitting on a volcano of trauma and suppressed rage that the monks of K’un-Lun have not only not given him the tools to process, they’ve pushed him farther from processing than you could get with a map and a mission statement. No wonder he’s spent the last few episodes on the verge of a psychotic episode. No wonder he’s so fixated on “avenge my parents” that the idea now ends “by wiping The Hand from the Earth.”

It’s an interesting revelation, and it explains a few things. However, like Bakuto, it is staggeringly late to the party. Danny’s been screwing up too long and too often for this to turn the tide here, right before the end.

(You’d think learning to express and release his emotions is what lets him re-access and properly wield the Iron Fist. Nope. He just, I don’t know, tries harder or something.)

Episode 12

Right off the bat things feel repetitive. Like episode two, someone is strapped to a bed in the exact same mental hospital (with, according to last episode, the exact same doctor, who seems awfully blasé about his last patient punching through a wall and leaving) with a story too crazy to be believed. But this time it’s Ward (turnabout being fair play), and his extreme withdrawal from the synth-heroin manages to make “My father isn’t really dead” seem even crazier than “A literal dragon gave me super powers.”

(I mean it’s post-Avengers New York, super powers are probably way more common than fathers coming back to life, but the dragon part did not help.)

(And no I will not call it post-“Incident,” that is an awful name for the Battle of New York and you cannot convince me Americans would use it. The BBC, sure, but not New Yorkers.)

Bakuto recruits Ward to kill Harold and trap Danny, and we cut to Danny, Davos, and Colleen, who have the exact same “She’s Hand, we can’t trust her” conversation that’s been happening for two episodes, and frankly even the cast seem to be getting bored of it. The whole “Take Bakuto’s money to draw him out” plan falls apart immediately, but not simply because Danny spotted Colleen and lost focus. No, Bakuto was already springing Ward “Remember when I was the biggest asshole on this show” Meachum from the asylum by then. It’s simply that the good guys are bad at everything and the bad guys can magically appear anywhere and do anything they need to.

In other words I’m not super impressed with how the episode is starting. Ward tries to get Joy away from their father, but even without withdrawal symptoms, Ward is incapable of acting like a calm, rational, non-garbage person, so the murder-happy lich father seems like the winning side all the way until Ward pulls a gun. Which is when Bakuto shows up, like Ward arranged, but before Joy is clear, which wasn’t the deal.

Ward’s deal with Bakuto falls apart immediately, as anyone but Ward could have predicted, and soon Danny’s turning himself in to Bakuto to save Joy and Harold’s lives. You know, my second least favourite plot device from last season. The hostage scenes were a little tiresome, because Bakuto is not pulling off “smug” the way a Tom Hiddleston or Neal McDonough would, and that’s all he’s being given to play with, but Harold spending what he thought were his last moments telling Ward he’s a piece of shit and complete disappointment were satisfying. Fortunately, Colleen and Davos ain’t having with this “surrender to Bakuto” nonsense, and come for the rescue the second everyone’s out in the open. Also Danny managed three whole seconds of Iron Fisting, enough to escape handcuffs then go limp trying to hit Bakuto. Insert fail trumpet.

We now hit a kind of problematically stupid sequence. Colleen fights and defeats Bakuto in a suitably over-dramatic rain-soaked duel, then immediately jumps on board with Claire’s “killing is wrong” philosophy and wants to turn Bakuto over to the cops.

There’s a scene in one of the Assassin’s Creed games, where after your epic boss fight against your greatest enemy, the man who had half your family killed, then installed himself as Pope, Ezio Auditore suddenly decides that he’s done with killing (he’s not, he has two more games left). Which… I’m not saying I don’t see his point, but… you have to kill like a dozen guards just to get to this fight. They are all still dead. Maybe this isn’t the time to rethink killing. Maybe that was several dead bodies ago.

I bring this up because Bakuto had a half-dozen bodyguards, and most of them are dead now. Sure, most of that was Davos, but Colleen came at them with a sword, her hands are not clean.

Fortunately for anyone who’s sick of Bakuto’s smug face, Davos doesn’t pick up what Danny and Colleen are putting down, and manages to casually stroll 10 feet, pick up a sword or knife, and shove it into Davos’ heart before anyone thinks to object. Unfortunately, Davos wasn’t around five minutes ago when Bakuto was explaining that you have to take off his head to kill him for good as long as Hand resurrectionists are lurking around, so there’s a non-zero chance he’s back in season two.

Although that can only hurt us if we’re stupid enough to watch it, I guess.

What follows is a surprisingly well-done fight between Danny and Davos with a surprisingly well done emotional conclusion (“surprisingly” because they’ve been consistently screwing both of those things up), in which Danny, in victory, apologizes for leaving Davos without saying anything, which is what he believes Davos is really upset about. Hey, if they wanted to commit to “Davos loved Danny as more than a monk brother,” I’m good with that. But forgiveness isn’t coming, as Davos reminds Danny that the pass to K’un-Lun is unguarded, and that will have consequences.

But is it? That place is filled with people who can fight as well as these two and it is a narrow-ass path, I feel like they could manage this without the Iron Fist for however long it’s open every 15 years. But whatever.

But in any event… Bakuto and Gao are defeated, the Meachums are safe, Danny can Iron Fist again, he a Colleen do a kata to hip hop music which makes them more endearing as a couple than their sex scene… everything’s good, right? Roll credits, show’s over, see everyone again for The Defenders in a few months?

HA! We should be so fucking lucky.

No, Harold sicks the DEA on Danny, having pinned the whole Rand Enterprises drug trade on him. You know, the one that was in full force when Danny was presumed dead and not affiliated with the company.

Because God forbid this show actually commit to a main villain. I know the Meachums haven’t exactly always been on the side of the angels, but there are 53 minutes left in season one, it’s a little late in the game to be pulling this. God damn it.

Fine. Just… just end it, Iron Fist. Just end it. Let’s move on to…

Episode 13

In which a horrific yet bland mishmash of a season attempts a satisfactory conclusion, but doesn’t.

So we have two things happening at Rand Enterprises. Danny Rand is being accused of using his company to traffick heroin, despite having a cumulative, maybe, 18 minutes at said company between being given enough influence to do this and having it taken back for making too many socially conscious decisions. Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t peddling drugs, lots of criminals can put on a friendly public face, but how would he have had time to set this whole network up? And how do they explain it going back more than two weeks if Danny’s behind it? Meanwhile, Harold is trying to take back control, despite having been legally dead for 13 years, which means the second he swaggers into a board room he ought to be under arrest for fraud and tax evasion. And that’s before he announces his plan to have the company sell both Gao’s synthetic heroin and Bakuto’s cure for synthetic heroin addiction, which… if that’s still happening, how would anyone at the DEA still think Danny was responsible for it all?

Remember in Luke Cage, when Diamondback put on a hoodie, killed a cop, and ran off screaming “I’m Luke Cage! Luke Cage, argle bargle bargle, Luke CAAAAAGE!” and it was the laziest frame-job ever? Well it still is but this one is really close and requires massive incompetence at the DEA to pull off. I mean, did they investigate this anonymous tip-off even a little before storming Colleen’s dojo to arrest New York’s most noble businessman? You know how much work it took to get Wilson Fisk into jail? And he was actually committing crimes!

Jesus this is lame. And we haven’t made it to the opening credits.

Let’s recap… at first, our obvious villain was childhood bully and adult asshole Ward “Rooted for the snobs in Caddyshack” Meachum. Then it was Gao and her drug-peddling Hand troops. Then from out of absolutely nowhere came Bakuto and his other Hand troops, because The Hand almost made sense for a second there. And now, in the end, it’s Harold Meachum, who turns out to be the real killer of Danny’s parents.

It is impossible to get a grip on this narrative. Everyone has been a villain at one point or another except Danny and Claire. Everyone has been an ally at one point or another except Dared–

That was a close one.

Everyone but Claire has betrayed Danny, everyone has betrayed someone else for Danny. It’s like they pick their allegiance out of a hat at the start of each episode. And our one stable thing, our rock at the centre of this mess, is World’s Worst Superhero Danny Rand, who is still having psychotic breaks every time he even thinks about his origin story.

So our agonisingly slow last episode mainly deals with Danny, Colleen, Claire, and Ward taking on Harold while Joy decides she’s had enough of all of them. The obvious answer would be for Ward to turn Harold in for the above mentioned fraud and tax evasions, then helpfully point them to Harold’s safe when they subsequently conduct a legal search of his office and secret penthouse lair. But that’s not what we’re doing. Ward gets eyes on Harold, but gets clubbed for being on the wrong side, leaving Danny, Colleen, and Claire alone to break into Rand Enterprises…

…in order to find the evidence they need to clear Danny of the (mostly*) false charges against him…

*I mean he did assault some officers and resist arrest. That did happen.

…while Claire begins to be concerned that an unhinged Danny and ex-ninja death cult member Colleen might kill Harold in the process…

…sorry I can’t do it call Daredevil call Daredevil CALL DAREDEVIL WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, CLAIRE, THIS SHOW HAS RUINED YOU…

[deep breath]

Well if you thought that little break was bad imagine spending half an hour with “ice cream headache” Danny constantly flipping out about his parents. Anyway. Big fight, some cool Iron Fist tricks we hadn’t seen yet, Danny beats but refuses to kill Harold (I mean he impales him on a metal rod but we all know that’s not lethal for Harold at this point), so Ward does it. Turns out that in addition to being beheaded, Harold can be killed through the traditional 80s Movie Villain Death: falling a long way onto something pointy. Big happy ending?

Well, let’s see.

Davos meets with Joy, claiming that Danny destroys everything he touches, and it’s his fault Joy’s life has gone crazy, so they should kill him. She’s not opposed to the notion. Someone rational might point out that her father working with a ninja death cult to sell drugs probably had more to do with it, and that if anything her family has been destructive to hisbut that person is not at the meeting– well, they are, but it’s Gao, and she’s really just eavesdropping.

Ward has made a full 180 from where we came in, and asks Danny to run the company with him. Where has this halfway decent person been this whole time?

Danny begins to decide that maybe his purpose is fighting injustice out in the world, not guarding the path to K’un-Lun until he dies, which would put him on course to being Iron Fist the Less Terrible Superhero… but decides he should still go back and explain himself. He and Colleen make their way to the path… only to find dead Hand soldiers in front of a giant gap where K’un-Lun is supposed to be.

Danny immediately blames himself and begins a spiral into self-hatred, paving the way for a second season of Danny being utterly insufferable, and ensuring that nobody in The Defenders is “the fun one.”

Can we have one Defender not driven by sulky, broody guilt. Between the four of them, plus Flash and Green Arrow this season, it’s getting played out. That show is going to be moody, isn’t it…

It’s, at best, a very slightly more satisfying ending than Luke Cage.

So. Let’s sum up.

Iron Fist as a whole…

  • Danny Rand is an absolute failure as a protagonist. He’s hard to root for, he does zero things well, he’s impulsive, his entire supporting cast can’t stop pointing out how bad he is at this and they’re always right… frankly, even if Tumblr had had its way and they’d cast an Asian, all that would have happened is that Marvel’s first Asian live-action superhero would be their absolute worst superhero. Is that what you want, Asian community? Maybe. I don’t speak for you. None of you would be on board with that.
  • Their inability to pick a main villain makes for an extremely sloppy season arc. Is there even a season arc? Is there a through-line on this? There is no natural flow at all.
  • Bakuto not only came from nowhere, he added nothing to this show except compromising Colleen as a character. The Hand was confusing enough without the whole “multiple factions” angle. Every other plot point could have been done as well or better by Gao, Harold, Davos, or leaving it out completely.
  • Ward’s redemptive arc would have worked better if it had started earlier, because in episode 12 he was still a total putz.
  • Did Claire and Matt Murdock really leave things on such bad terms? I’m going to need a scene in Defenders where she at least tries to explain what Matt did that was so goddamn bad she’d rather fight The Hand herself than call him. A week ago, Claire Temple was the best part of the Defenders franchise. Now she’s a stubborn idiot too proud to call in assistance. I’ll say it again for the kids in the bleachers: if you don’t want Daredevil to show up, don’t create circumstances where it’s obvious that he should.
  • The Netflix model makes the above point worse. There are times on Flash and Arrow when “Call the other guy” seems like it would at least help fix everything, but at least both shows are happening at the same time: we can see what Oliver and Barry are busy with in their own cities. I have no Earthly idea what Matt Murdock’s been doing since season two that he couldn’t help out with Diamondback’s rampage or The Hand taking over Manhattan.
  • The fights were too bad for too long, and there is still a serious problem with lighting, or rather the lack thereof.
  • The Meachum family drama was dead air too often.
  • Everything that happens in season one depends on characters making the worst choices they can, or the villains having magic plot powers that lets them pull whatever they need to.
  • I’m not saying I needed an entire episode of flashbacks to Danny’s 15 years of training. Lordy did I ever not need or want that. But Danny entering a magic cave to fight a dragon to earn the Iron Fist? That you could have found time for. Maybe instead of a second entire episode of “No, you can’t be Danny, he died.” I don’t know what your budget went to that wasn’t that but come on.
  • Between the above point, the lackluster and infrequent action, and spending more time than necessary on boardroom… and I use this word loosely enough to offend its people… “intrigue,” it feels like the showrunners were entirely ill-suited to the concept.

There were fleeting moments where you could see a better show struggling to free itself from the bland tomb it’s sealed into, but then Danny would think about the plane crash and have another rage-headache and we’d be stuck back in this show.

So in short…

It’s bad.

It’s really quite bad.

You wrote a bad show, Scott Buck. Go to your room and think about what you did.