Tag Archives: Geek rants

Breaking Down the DCEU News

So when you devour geek entertainment news the way I do (ie. not dissimilar to Augustus Gloop set loose in the Wonka Factory), San Diego Comic-Con is like being at a lavish Vegas buffet. There’s almost too much, and I want up on most of it, so I guess I’m going to be bloated and uncomfortable later.

That’s the worst metaphor I’ve ever opened with but it is not inaccurate.

So I can’t possibly cover everything that was announced about everything I love that week, be it Arrow (Slade’s back! Yay!), Flash (Tom Felton isn’t back. Boo.), Westworld (Already filming, I guess?), or what have you. But DC made some announcements on the Warner Bros. panel, in addition to releasing a decent and more colourful new trailer for Justice League…

…that admittedly is still hiding how and when Superman shows up… they’ve also begun to clear up a point of contention with the franchise’s future.

Back in 2014, Warner Bros. made as low-key an announcement about their planned slate of DC films as it was possible to make, addressing shareholders rather than Comic-Con attendees. It laid out about nine films over the course of five years, including two Justice Leagues and a far-off Green Lantern reboot. But then 2016 happened. After the negative critical reception and mixed fan reactions to Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad, everything seemed to be in doubt. New potential projects were being announced as in development left and right, whereas their previously announced films, looked shaky, with Flash in particular going into a tailspin of quitting directors and rewrites. So the question became, what exactly is going on over there?

Well, at Comic-Con, they announced… not a firm slate, but certainly their next wave. Their primary to-do list after Aquaman, the only post-League movie they’ve managed to get camera ready thus far. So let’s take a look at what they announced: what we know; what, based on the comics we might expect; and if I resist the urge to believe that everything’s going to be Wonder Woman-good from here (I’d love that but have no hard reason to assume it), how excited should we be?

We’ll skip over Justice League and Aquaman and go right to 2019.

Shazam!

Even before the big panel, news hit that the next DC film to go into active production will be Shazam, which… interesting. That’s interesting in a couple of ways. First, it’s an open declaration that they haven’t completely abandoned their original plan, since Shazam is still aiming for a spring 2019 release. That said, there is a lingering question mark.

Prior to Wonder Woman, the big “stay excited for DC movies” banner was the eventual arrival of proven franchise-saver Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Shazam’s classic nemesis, Black Adam. But the story began shifting… instead of Black Adam being the villain in the Shazam movie, he’d instead be introduced in a solo film, which given how interesting an anti-hero Black Adam has become in the last two decades, honestly seems like a better idea than doing both origins at once. This, naturally, led to some questions about whether Shazam was still on the table.

Well, now Shazam has a rough filming date, a release date, and a director, while all Black Adam has is Dwayne Johnson’s determination to make the movie once his busy schedule opens up. You know, assuming that 2020 presidential bid doesn’t happen.

What do we know?

Shazam has a director, David F. Sandberg. Not a big name, but a promising up-and comer. It starts filming in January/February of 2018, with a projected release date of April 5th, 2019.

With all of that in mind, you’d think we’d know more. Casting rumours about which Stranger Things kid is playing Billy or what Channing Tatum-type is playing his adult self or something. But all we know on that front is that Black Adam won’t be appearing.

What can we expect?

Shazam is about as far as it’s possible to get from the dark, brooding atmosphere that has clung to DC films from Batman Begins all the way to Suicide Squad. It’s the ultimate in wish fulfillment.

Classic origin story: ten-year-old Billy Batson encounters the wizard Shazam, who makes Billy his champion. By saying the wizard’s name, Batson gains the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus (that one’s kinda vague), invulnerability of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. In short, he transforms into a big, muscular, adult superhero who’s basically Superman with no vision powers. For seven decades and change, he went by Captain Marvel, but since Marvel Comics has at least three of their own characters with that name, DC recently laid down arms and just started calling him “Shazam,” since that’s the name everyone knows him by anyway.

So it’s a little weird that this kid-friendly superhero wish fulfillment movie is being handed off to a director best known for horror films, but I guess he’s got a decent eye. If Jordan Peele can jump from sketch comedy to horror and knock it out of the park, maybe Sandberg has more bullets in his gun than making light switches scarier than they need to be. And hey, given that Shazam’s rogues’ gallery is called “The Monster Society of Evil,” maybe a touch of horror background isn’t the worst. Like Monster Squad.

There’s no word yet about what villains we can expect, with Black Adam off the table, but there’s three strong candidates: for brain vs. brawn, there’s Shazam’s own Lex Luthor, Dr. Sivana. For the creep factor: Mr. Mind, a Venusian caterpillar with mind-control capabilities. But I’m placing my money on Ibac.

Ibac brings all of the “like the hero but evil” that origin movies have been using for their villains ever since Iron Man, but without the complexity of Black Adam. Like Shazam, his name’s an acronym of his abilities: the terror of Ivan the Terrible, the Cunning of Cesare Borgia, the fierceness of Atilla the Hun, and the cruelty of Caligula. That gives us more promising action set pieces than Sivana, and builds the acronym-based mythology up, readying us to meet Dwayne Johnson as the wizard’s less noble champion from the ancient mid-East, Teth-Adam.

How excited should we be?

Hard to say. There’s so little to go on here. But the one thing that most gives me hope for this movie is that all the details, from script to overall vision to company approach, are coming in the wake of the bright, hopeful, inspiring Wonder Woman, which means they’re moving in the right direction to tackle Billy Batson. And hey, there’s this rough concept art for the costume.

Wonder Woman 2

I mean, duh. This is a gimme. The most financially successful DC film since 2012, and most beloved since at least 2008. Of course they want to stay in the Wonder Woman business.

What do we know?

It’s said to be set in the 1980s, at the end of the Cold War. The first film’s director, Patty Jenkins, and the co-writer/DC mastermind Geoff Johns are working on the story right now. Gal Gadot will be back as Diana, and to the surprise of no one who witnessed their chemistry, they’re trying to bring back Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman 2, or whatever they call it, will arrive in December of 2019: 30 months after the last movie, one year after Aquaman, and way too damn long from now.

What confuses people is that they still haven’t officially confirmed that Jenkins will be directing. I mean come on. Whatever she’s asking must be worth it.

What can we expect?

Wonder Woman was a triumph for Warner Bros., so I have to assume they’ll try to keep the same inspirational tone that made it a hit. For villains? I don’t know. Diana hasn’t fought a lot of Russians. I, personally, would love to see devious corporate tycoon Veronica Cale turn up, but for reasons I don’t have time to go into. In short, she and Dr. Sivana could open the door for the sovereign nation of mad scientists I used to enjoy in the comics. Or they could have Diana fight personified misogyny in the form of woman-hating telepath Dr. Psycho. Yes, that’s his name. Not odder than Dr. Poison.

Should we be excited?

If they sign Jenkins, yes, absolutely. If they somehow don’t… less so. Because what we really want is “more of that,” and replacing their best director since Nolan would not be the right first step.

And now things get more vague.

The Batman

The 2014 movie slate didn’t include any Batman solo movie, but come on. It was always coming.

What do we know?

We know that director Matt Reeves (the man behind the excellent Dawn of and War For the Planet of the Apes) has taken over from departing director Ben Affleck, and has also started over from scratch on the script. It would be easy to see this as a slam against Affleck and Geoff Johns, who had been writing The Batman up until that point, but it seems to just be how Reeves works as a director.

Reeves approached The Batman the same way he approached the Apes franchise. He went to the studio and said “This is the movie I want to make. This is what an Apes movie I’d want to direct would be,” and then held to his guns against any studio notes pointing in another direction. So it makes sense that he’s starting over on the script. He didn’t sign on to direct Affleck’s Batman idea, he wants to make his Batman idea.

We also know that rumours aside, Ben Affleck will absolutely be playing Bruce Wayne. Affleck has said that he’d be a background chimp in an Apes movie if Reeves asked him to. But Joe Manganiello might be out as Deathstroke. And if that’s why Deathstroke’s back on Arrow, I’m fine with that.

What can we expect?

Reeves promises a noir-esque Batman movie, with more focus on Batman the detective. Which I’m good with. It’s a new take. Big-screen Batman’s just been about the villain punching since 1989. His best big-screen detective work should not be Adam West figuring out that when the solution to the Riddler’s riddle is “an egg,” he means they’re attacking the UN. Other than that? No idea. It’s early days. Whatever story or characters Reeves is considering, he isn’t sharing.

Should we be excited?

I would say yes. Affleck does a good Batman, and Matt Reeves makes good movies. I think we have a good shot of being more Nolan than Schumacher here.

Justice League Dark

No, this would not be the new title of Justice League Part 2, which is absent from WB’s plans. Perhaps they’re waiting until the first one comes out and reassessing, or maybe they don’t want to discuss it openly while the issue of “So is Zack Snyder being replaced, and by whom?” is dealt with.

Justice League Dark is a now-ended title in which the magic-based heroes of the DC Universe unite to tackle magical problems that the Justice League can’t handle. The cast rotated frequently, but typically revolved around wizard con artist John Constantine, sorceress Zatanna, and acrobatic ghost Deadman. Their book might not be running, but they did just get an animated movie on Blu-ray with Matt Ryan reprising Constantine.

What do we know?

That the original treatment for this movie was written by Guillermo del Toro, and every report about the ongoing development has said they’re sticking to it. Probably because they want to keep del Toro’s name on the project as long as they possibly can, because that gives it value. Sadly, the director of Hellboy making a magic-themed DC movie was a dream too beautiful to live.

Other than that, very little. Honestly I’m surprised this got announced as being in the next wave and not Black Adam, all things considered.

What can we expect?

Ideally? A magical Guardians of the Galaxy. A group of misfits who are thrown together to save the world from something no one else can handle. Worst case scenario is Suicide Squad with more spells and less boomerangs. I would prefer the first thing.

Should we be excited?

…I don’t know. I’d like to say yes, but other than the well-done animated movie, I don’t have much to go on. Maybe if they nail down a director, and said director says “We’re going to show the world why Zatanna belongs on the A-list,” I’ll have a better idea.

Batgirl

This right here might be the money movie.

What do we know?

That it’s written and directed by Joss Whedon. What we don’t know is whether signing on to make this movie is what led to Whedon being asked to work on Justice League, or if making a Batgirl movie was part of Whedon’s asking price to write and ultimately direct additional Justice League scenes. Doesn’t matter, it’s happening. Barbara Gordon, Gotham’s premiere lady crime fighter, is coming to the screen in a non-Lego context.

There is neither a name nor a short list attached to the lead role, but if Joss is anything approaching clever, he’ll get JK Simmons to keep playing Batgirl’s father, Commissioner Gordon. I don’t need Batman to show up. I wouldn’t complain, but I don’t need it.

Release date hasn’t been set, but Whedon is expected to start work on it in early 2018, once he’s rested up from reshooting Justice League.

What can we expect?

If he’s focusing on The Killing Joke and Barbara’s recovery from being paralyzed, expect a lot of complaints about a male writer tackling a sexual assault survivor’s story. With luck, he either skips that or only briefly touches on it. With extra luck, maybe he incorporates some of the more recent Batgirl stories, as the defender of Burnside, Gotham’s Brooklyn. Barbara juggles school, work, and fighting upscale crime alongside DC’s most diverse supporting cast. And it’s more targeted to women than men, which would be great for a studio trying to keep the interest of all the women inspired by Wonder Woman.

Keeping Batgirl in Burnside might also help with the fact that I don’t anticipate a lot of overlap between this and The Batman. Reeves and Whedon will probably do their own things. If they want to prove me wrong, and sync their films up, hooray, but Reeves has been clear about sticking to his vision, and after Age of Ultron Whedon is probably wary of having to jam a bunch of awkward franchise-building scenes into his movie.

Should we be excited?

Yes. Yes we should. Though maybe play it cool until filming starts, so the gods don’t try to take it from us like they did Guillermo del Toro’s Justice League Dark.

Flashpoint

And here we hit the controversy.

What do we know?

That the Flash movie is still happening, and is now called Flashpoint. And that one fact has raised a lot of eyebrows and a few alarms.

What can we expect?

The thing about Flashpoint is that it’s less famous for what it was, and more for what it did. Flashpoint was about Barry waking up in a world where his mother wasn’t killed when he was young, but the ripples of this change have made a dark and terrible world, one with no Flash or Superman, one where Thomas Wayne became a more brutal Batman when his son was killed (and Martha went crazy and became the Joker), one on the brink of destruction as Atlantis and Themyscira are fighting a devastating war. Wonder Woman conquered England, Aquaman flooded western Europe, and things are only getting worse.

But what Flashpoint is famous for is DC using it to reboot nearly their entire product line into the New 52, with fresh starts for basically everyone but Batman and Green Lantern. So like Captain America: Civil War, naming it Flashpoint kind of points in a direction.

Some question whether Warner Bros. will use this movie to similarly reboot their film universe. Others, like me, realize that’s probably not the best idea. Whatever you think about the DCEU this far, rebooting it once they finally find their stride is going to look ridiculous. And if Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s Flash break out the way Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman did last year, they’re not going to want to change much. By the time we reach Flashpoint, either their product will be better and won’t need rebooting, or things will have gone wrong and a reboot isn’t going to save them.

Others have asked whether Flashpoint would be used to replace Ben Affleck or Jared Leto, as rumours had claimed Warner Bros. was interested in doing. They must have written all of those articles or videos in the narrow window between Flashpoint being announced and Ben Affleck soundly denying the rumours he was leaving. But hey, you went ahead and posted them anyway, because what’s a little debunking between friends.

Now… there is potential here. There must be, since there’s already an animated movie based on this story, and the third season premiere of The Flash TV show is named after it. Seeing Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa go to war as twisted versions of Wonder Woman and Aquaman could be fun, albeit everything the DCEU is trying to move away from. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Thomas Wayne Batman? That I’d pay to see. But there is that one little nagging problem… if this is your first Flash movie, you don’t have an established Reverse-Flash to be the main villain. The one Barry assumes is responsible for all of this. And I’m not positive there’s a great workaround.

Of course they could be doing the Marvel thing and using the name without using much at all of the story. But if that’s true, man, you could have picked a less notorious name.

Should we be excited?

…Too soon to tell on that one, but so far I’m more concerned. It doesn’t help that instead of finding a Matt Reeves with a Flash story they really want to do, you need to find people willing to make that specific Flash story.

Suicide Squad 2

Time for something simpler.

What do we know?

That Suicide Squad made enough money that they want to make another one. Jaume Collet-Serra, another horror director, is rumoured to be close to signing on, and Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flagg) once expected to film in 2018, but any of that could prove wrong at any moment.

What can we expect?

That Warner Bros. will do their best to keep Will Smith and Margot Robbie involved, because they were seen as the highlights, and Warner Bros. wants very badly to stay in the Harley Quinn business.

Should we be excited?

Finding a less accomplished, easier to control director isn’t a great first step, seeing as Suicide Squad’s problems had “studio interference” written all over them.

Green Lantern Corps

And to wrap up, the last of the 2014 slate still on the table, with Justice League Part 2 and Cyborg absent from the announcement.

What do we know?

That they’re aiming for a cosmic-themed buddy cop movie, with a veteran Hal Jordan training a rookie John Stewart. Who’s going to write, direct, or act in it is up in the air.

What should we expect?

Getting pieces in play for all of the other Lantern Corps would be my guess. The Emotional Spectrum, and the associated ring slingers, are one of the biggest parts of Lantern lore to be added in decades, so I think it’s safe to say we’d see some set up for Sinestro, Larfleeze, the Star Sapphires, ect.

No I’m not explaining who they are. You’re on the internet. Google them if you’re that curious.

We’re at 3300 words? Wow. I do ramble on about this stuff. Okay… um… bye, then.

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.

Dan at the Movies: War for the Planet of the Apes

Okay. So. Can we talk about something? There has been a Planet of the Apes trilogy running over the past six years, essentially a prequel to the original Charlton Heston film (though not canonical to the first prequels to the original, Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes), and what’s weird about it is that despite there being a full trilogy at this point, we don’t think about them when they’re not in theatres.

Let’s be clear. This is not me shouting from a street corner about how the Planet of the Apes franchise is great and only I seem to know it. I am like you. I forget about them as well. I have seen Rise of, Dawn of, and now War for the Planet of the Apes in theatres… I saw Dawn while on vacation in New York freaking City, when I could have been doing infinite other things, and had zero regrets… but unlike all of my other pop-culture interests, I give it no thought between movies. I don’t follow casting news… in fact, I probably heard that Woody Harrelson was in the new one more than once but kept forgetting. I don’t watch and rewatch trailers. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trailer for War. I’ve seen each of them on the big screen, often opening weekend or close to, yet I’m always surprised when a new one shows up in theatres.

As, I imagine, are you.

And the reason, friends, the reason that this is weird? They’re so good, you guys. They are all so good.

The current Planet of the Apes franchise is consistently well-made, well-acted, and has potentially ended on a tense, powerful, emotional finale that challenges Wonder Woman and Baby Driver for best movie of the summer.

And maybe the reason that we keep glossing over it is that Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake was so very, very bad. It was, we can admit that, it was. I saw that one in theatres as well, also on opening weekend, but thankfully at a time when I didn’t need to pay for movies. Because that film had flaws, yo. But no Planet of the Apes film should ever be judged on that Marky-Mark-starring incoherent train wreck. It stands alone and rightfully unloved. And since 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this has become a franchise without a weak link.

So let’s talk about this weirdly forgotten but excellently made trilogy while I still remember it exists and doesn’t have musical numbers.

Stop the Planet of the Apes I Want to Get Off

Not gonna be the last time I reference this. Just to warn you.

But first, an acknowledgement

Brianna Wu, frequent target of internet misogynists who prove that man is, indeed, the real monster, raised an issue about the most recent entry… the female roles aren’t the best. Her assertion is that no female character, human or ape, has a spoken line in the movie. I would counter that three female characters, human and ape, have dialogue delivered via sign language, and shouldn’t that count, but… let’s not get into a debate over what is or isn’t ableism. That is not my purview.

Also, it’s not important whether the exact facts involved in her complaint are correct, the important thing is that she’s not wrong about this franchise lacking when it comes to writing for women. Rise to War, it is a male-driven franchise. I’m sure the first two movies had female characters, save for Cornelia the ape (looking up her name tells me that Keri Russell was in Dawn, which you’d think I’d remember), but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. That’s… that’s a problem. That’s an authentic problem.

So let’s just go ahead and put “Roles for women and POC” on Wonder Woman’s scorecard for “Best movie of the summer,” much as we’ll be giving “Well written villain” to War for the Planet of the Apes. Or Spider-Man: Homecoming. OBaby Driver. LET’S…

Let’s just focus on the apes from here. They’re not great at writing for women, that’s unfortunate, but let’s move on.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Spoilers ahead. And throughout. If you want to watch the whole trilogy unspoiled, oh my God go do that right now. Stop reading this and watch these movies. Otherwise… allons-y.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out a full decade after Tim Burton made the concept look worse than 1960s production values ever, ever could. Some brave soul thought that enough time had passed that people were ready to revisit this brand, and developed an all-new prequel to the 1968 original film. So I guess it’s kind of a reboot, since Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes already did the prequel stuff back in the 70s, but there’s still at least one Easter egg setting up the original movie.

James Franco (James freaking Franco used to be in this series, that seems incredibly weird six years and two films later) plays Will Rodman, a biologist trying to find a cure for neuro-degenerative issues like Alzheimer’s, which his father suffers from. His father being played by John Lithgow (John freaking– no, no, that dude has range, he can be in whatever he likes). So eager is Rodman to find this cure that he does his own off-the-books testing with a baby chimpanzee he names Caesar (mo-cap superstar Andy Serkis), and ultimately his own father. This causes some issues.

First, Caesar attacks Will’s asshole neighbour when he gets hostile with Will’s father, and is taken to, basically, a dog pound for apes. Here Caesar meets a fellow chimp named Rocket and an orangutan named Maurice who, like Caesar, speaks sign language. Rocket (Terry Notary) and Maurice (Karin Konoval) will be two of Caesar’s closest friends and acolytes for the rest of the trilogy, and these three will be the only people to appear in all three movies. Notable amongst the staff of the… I hesitate to use the word “sanctuary,” because these people are terrible… is Harry Potter/Flash star Tom Felton, who is given two of Charlton Heston’s iconic lines from the original movie.

Second… Will’s serum has some unfortunate side effects. Viral in nature, it makes apes super-smart, but is lethal to humans. And spreads really easily. Soon Caesar has enhanced an army of apes, and is charging the Golden Gate Bridge. But not to conquer anything. Just to take his much-abused ape brethren, be they chimp, orangutan, or gorilla, away from humankind to somewhere they can live in peace.

Not that that will be an option.

Also, Will’s asshole neighbour is an airline pilot. So, while infected with this lethal virus, he heads to work at the San Francisco international airport, allowing said lethal virus to go everywhere.

And thus the fall of humankind begins.

This movie is great. It was great. I remember thinking that. And the most important non-ape character (obviously the most important character is Caesar, being the lead of the entire trilogy) might be Tom Felton. The ape pound provides our best look at what will be the central theme of the entire trilogy… hatred and fear of The Other drives us towards war and away from peace and progress. In this case, mistreatment of apes pushes them, once gifted with higher intelligence, towards banding together and leaving the world of humans.

Maurice, by the way, is named after the actor who played orangutan scientist Dr. Zaius in the original movie.

I did warn you.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

This was the hardest one to motivate myself to see. But not so hard that when my parents said to me, on our trip to New York, “Want to see a movie…”

Yes, my parents took me to New York in July of 2014. Just because my travel agent friend had a deal. It was awesome. My parents are pretty great. That is not our topic.

Anyway, my parents suggested a movie, this being a night when we hadn’t pre-booked a show (and maybe it was Monday, and nothing was on? I’m honestly not sure), and down the street from our hotel was a theatre that had re-dedicated itself to being as fancy as possible, so I said “Sure. The theatre down the street is showing the new Planet of the Apes, may as well see that.”

One of the consistently best-made summer movie franchises and I see them largely by accident. This is the whole “nobody thinks about them” thing.

I hadn’t been excited for this one because of the basic plot. The survivors of the “simian flu,” aka that lethal side effect I mentioned from last time, are attempting to rebuild society in the ruins of San Francisco, near Caesar’s ape village. A human named Malcolm (Jason Clarke, who you’d probably recognise from something but never bothered to learn his name) reaches out to Caesar, hoping to build a peace between human and ape. Caesar is down with this, having been raised by a human (who died between films, probably from the simian flu). But there’s a problem. The head of Malcolm’s group, played by Gary Oldman, does not trust these apes at all. And one of Caesar’s top lieutenants, Koba (Toby Kebbell), is a former lab animal who cannot let go of his hatred for humans.

Sidebar… between Caesar, Rocket, and Koba, there were now three past and future King Kongs in the franchise. That doesn’t really mean anything, save that Serkis, Notary, and Kebbell are good at motion capture, but I thought it worth noting.

So anyway, that’s the central conflict. Caesar, Jason Clarke, and Keri Russell think peace between man and ape is possible, but Gary Oldman doesn’t buy it, and Koba is actively trying to start a war.

My one complaint, my only complaint, is that, well, it’s not called Dawn of the Planet of Apes and Humans Who All Get Along and Everything is Fine, so… it’s kind of a foregone conclusion.

Which, depending on your perspective, might only help the movie. It’s an epic tragedy, like the better Godfather movies or The Empire Strikes Back or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which is still one of the best Batman movies. Fight me.

So I didn’t rush to watch it, and it had this thing weighing it down, but it’s excellent, really it is, and it’s vital to understanding what comes next.

And we reach the War

Seeing this was somehow even more accidental than the last one. I only saw this one on opening day because I misremembered a start time and we were 20 minutes late to The Big Sick. But it worked out.

It’s now 15 years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, according to the opening text bursts. The opening text also serves as a valuable tool for those who didn’t see or just forgot about the last two movies, because they summarise the events and highlight the words “Rise” and “Dawn” so there’s no confusion.

In War For the Planet of the Apes, Koba’s choices still loom large. Humans and apes have been at war since Koba started a larger fight. Caesar still pushes for peace, but the nearby human military, led by Woody Harrelson’s unnamed Colonel, are not having it.

Matt Reeves, writer/director of both Dawn and War, indicated that The Colonel also killed Jason Clarke and Keri Russell’s characters from Dawn, but had to cut the dialogue that revealed that. Not surprising, since the movie’s already over two hours, and that dialogue is not strictly necessary.

Matt Reeves and Woody Harrelson steer hard into the comparison between the Colonel and Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. The apes discovering graffiti reading “Ape-pocalypse Now” is actually one of the more subtle allusions.

The Colonel is definitely and unquestionably the Bad Guy. He’s cruel and and merciful, displayed by how he treats both ape-kind and humans he finds lacking.

Did you think we were finished with this?

However, all of his many, MANY misdeeds come from one easy to understand source. He sees where all of this has been going: apes replacing humans as the dominant species. His fear of this eventuality pushes him into truly dark actions, including an attack on Caesar’s ape hideout that leaves some of Caesar’s own family dead. Caesar is then determined to bring down the Colonel in return.

Caesar: Hate. The Colonel: Fear. Thus are our two main themes represented. Maurice even points out that Caesar’s hatred is making him more like Koba, whose hatred of humans caused all of this, and who continues to haunt Caesar through dreams and hallucinations.

Worse than that, several of Koba’s acolytes now work for The Colonel. They’re known as “Donkeys,” for two reasons: 1) they’re basically treated as pack animals, and 2) as the Vietnamese were known as “Charlie” and the Germans were known as “Fritz,” the apes are referred to as “Kongs.” Thus the traitor apes are “Donkey Kongs.” I dig that.

This movie is so good. Aside from another excellent exploration about how hate and fear are destructive to any attempt at civilisation, and how tribalism drives cruelty, Reeves knocks this one out of the park. Serkis is as good or better in this movie as he was as Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Steve Zahn is great as Bad Ape, an unexpected ally they pick up along the way. Karin Konoval’s thoughtful, philosophical, empathetic Maurice has been and remains a series highlight. Newcomer Amiah Miller acquits herself well as Nova, a young human girl who helps bridge this movie and the world of 1968’s Planet of the Apes in a way I’m choosing not to spoil. And Woody Harrelson? He is amazing. He gives Michael Keaton’s Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming a run for his money as the summer’s best villain.

Sorry, Wonder Woman and Baby Driver, you are fighting for third and that’s just how its is.

And the effects. God, the effects. If I didn’t know that the apes are done through motion capture, I would assume that the mask work on this movie was bleeding edge. In other words, the CG on the ape performances is so convincing that if you told me that they actually bred apes who could act this well, I wouldn’t be 100% sure you were wrong.

What I’m saying is that the ape characters look incredibly realistic. More than the last two, the apes carry this movie, and they do not look like CG apes at all. Which means that the performances of the humans behind the apes are able to absolutely crush it, and the CG never once took me out of the moment. Scenes involving Caesar and Maurice were absolutely heartbreaking.

War For the Planet of the Apes moved me in a way that only two movies in the last year have. And not any of the best picture nominees: just Wonder Woman and Rogue One.

A thing I haven’t gotten around to mentioning yet. The latter-day Planet of the Apes trilogy are not action movies. If memory serves, the trailers lean on what action there is. (I say “If memory serves” because I don’t think I’ve watched a trailer for any of them since 2014.) But they aren’t, on the whole, driven by action. All three have a very well-done action set piece in the climax, but the meat of the film is in the drama, not the fighting.

In terms of sheer fun, maybe Spider-Man: Homecoming and Wonder Woman edge out War For the Planet of the Apes, because it is a kind of grim story. I mean, again, the title kind of implies that humans are not going to do well, although this time we are just straight up the villains, so sure, fine. Also, the recurring theme that fear and hate hold us back does not present an easy solution. These movies basically say “fear and hate will screw us over, and there’s nothing we can really do about that as long as the fearful and the haters are in charge.”

But maybe if we all really try, we can move past fear and hate. Maybe we can embrace hope for a better future, and the will to see it through. And if the Green Lantern comics teach us anything, it’s that will backed by hope is unstoppable.

Yes, I went nerdy there. I’m not sorry.

Long story short. Watch War For the Planet of the Apes. And if you haven’t seen the others, track down Rise of the Planet of the Apes and work your way forward. This franchise is too good to be overlooked.

And now my declaration of that fact will live on, even when I forget how good these movies are and assume that only Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and Edgar Wright knocked it out of the park this summer.

Oh, shoot, I forgot about Dunkirk and Valerian. Man, it’s almost enough to make you miss last summer, when you could take all of June off from the movies and miss nothing.

Dan at the Movies: Spider-man Homecoming

Maybe you haven’t seen Spider-Man: Homecoming yet, and want to know what you’d be in for. Or maybe you have seen it, but haven’t been in a fight about your opinion yet. Nathan.

(No, not cousin Nathan, the uppity one– he knows who he is.)

Either way, I’m here for you.

Overall? It’s fine. It’s good. Definitely enjoyable. It doesn’t quite live up to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Mans at their finest, but is a marked improvement from the train-wreck Amazing Spider-Mans. As far as Marvel Studios films go, it’s not quite on par with Guardians of the Galaxy or Winter Solider, not bland and stupid like anything Thor-related… it’s about equal with Dr. Strange or Ant-Man. Fun, enjoyable, but I’m not in a rush to rewatch it like I was with Avengers or Wonder Woman. And kind of still am with Wonder Woman.

Anyone not seen Wonder Woman yet? Should we go do that? Real quick? No, you’re right, let’s finish this first…

I’m really not trying to damn this thing with faint praise, but the overall take is “Fine, fun, good, not Amazing or Spectacular or Web of or other adjectives associated with Spider-Man.” Now… I do have some complaints. But if I just make this review a laundry list of small grievances and nitpicks, it might seem like I’m calling it bad. And I’m not.

So here’s what we’re gonna do. For each nitpick, I’m going to also name something they did well, and we’ll see which I run out of first.

Good: The Boys

Okay. Props where props are due. Tom Holland nails it. He sells both the inherent teenage awkwardness and iconic battle-wit of Spider-Man. He also gets a new twist on the character to play. Tobey Maguire got the origin and the typical comic struggle between the difficulties of young adult life and the fact that Spider-Manning is both a complication to and a release from it. Andrew Garfield slouched his way through two films that were more concerned with setting up sequels and spinoffs that never were than telling a coherent story, but somehow still got the most charming romance.

Holland’s Peter Parker is the best for showing what a joy Spider-Manning is to Peter, while still giving us the first Spider-Man whose eyes are bigger than his stomach. Maguire and Garfield’s Spider-Men fought super-villains because they were the only ones who could (and often because said villains developed a mad-on for Peter and/or Spider-Man). Peter goes after Adrian Toomes and his crew because two months ago he was fighting side-by-side with Iron Man and the Avengers (against other Avengers, but still), and now he’s back to dealing with bike thieves and other low-level crime, and while being Spider-Man is still the best part of his life, he’s getting bored and frustrated. Peter wants to prove to Tony Stark that he’s ready for Avengers missions on the regular.

(Not mentioned: you’d think Tony would be eager for help, since I’m pretty sure there are only three non-fugitive Avengers at the moment and one of them needs technological help to walk, but whatever.)

Peter’s best friend, Ned, is also pretty perfect. He’s the nerdy, over-eager best friend who gets way too into being best pals with Spider-Man. He plays confident (well, him and the AI in the suit Tony made him), and gets a few hero moments of his own. Physically and in terms of characterization, Ned brings to mind Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales’ best pal Ganke rather than anyone in Peter Parker’s supporting cast, but since they’re understandably taking a break from the Osbornes in the wake of Amazing Spider-Man 2, why not create a new best friend?

(Other than if you don’t introduce Harry and Norman Osborne right away, then the Green Goblin story loses impact if you decide to do it later, and need to retcon in this “old friend” and his father we haven’t seen before, but maybe two movies is enough for the Green Goblin. Comics need to go back to the classics way more often than movies, because they have so many more stories to fill.)

No no no. Don’t get sidetracked on how three Green Goblin stories in 20 years is too many for movie audiences but not nearly enough for comics. Stay on target.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve seen… 60% of Tony Stark’s screen time, something like that? But that’s okay. There is precisely enough Tony Stark in this movie. Enough that it never gets old or tired, or threatens to overshadow the actual lead of the movie.

Bad: Still not great with women, are we?

Zendaya does well as Peter’s sarcastic associate Michelle, so good at being wherever Peter is that one could almost assume she’s Peter’s own surly Tyler Durden. I do have one qualm about her character but I’ll come back to it because it’s not germane to “Marvel doesn’t write women well,” since she’s written as well as most of the men.

Marisa Tomei does well with Aunt May, for all that she’s given to do. May’s entire role basically breaks down to two things: worrying about Peter, and having any male character in her radius comment on how hot she is. Which is fairly reductive, for one, but also kind of weird?

Sure, every time they reboot Spider-Man they knock a decade off Aunt May’s age. Rosemary Harris was about 74 when she first played the role, Sally Field was 65, and Marisa Tomei is, in fairness, looking good at 52. But the characters don’t know any of that. They don’t know that Aunt May has historically looked more like Peter’s great-grandmother. People age better now than they did in the 60s. A high school student should have an aunt who looks more like Marisa Tomei than Judi Dench. She’s still more attractive than average, but… can we just all agree that it’s weird and a little bit creepy everyone needs to comment on it?

And then there’s Liz.

Liz is Peter’s love interest. And having said that, I have damn near summed up her entire character. She has little agency, no real development, she basically only exists to be an object of desire for Peter, and to give him a chance at her affections when he’s done nothing to be worth it and everything to let her down, but we’ll come back to that.

So, yeah, Marvel isn’t getting better at writing women in a hurry. Here’s hoping they figure it out before Captain Marvel.

Good: Michael Keaton

When people call Spider-Man 2 one of the all-time great superhero movies (and they do), Doctor Octopus is usually one of the main reasons why. But then Sam Raimi’s trilogy came out before 2008, the year that marked both the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the end of villain-driven superhero movies. Not a coincidence.

Before Iron Man, villains were as important a part of the movie as heroes. In fact, villains got top billing in two pre-Nolan Batman movies. Sam Raimi’s two better Spider-Man movies were as much about Norman Osborne and Otto Octavious as Peter Parker. In fact, the Raimi trilogy only ended on a sour note because Sony forced him to shoehorn Venom into what could have been a good (if unnecessarily retconny) Sandman story. And sure, Joel Schumacher went for quantity over quality with his bad-to-worse Batman movies, but quality was out of his reach from day one. The point is, truly great superhero villains seemed to peak with Joker in the Dark Knight.

Because, you see, Marvel changed the game. Starting with Iron Man, villains became almost an afterthought in their movies. Marvel villains are mostly two-dimensional personifications of the hero’s flaws. Iron Man fights arms dealers, Thor fights characters from Norse myths, and Captain America fights evil supersoldiers and/or manifestations of America’s failure to live up to its own ideals.

As a result, the bar for a good Marvel villain is staggeringly low. But there are a few questions to ask.

1) Is the actor good? Most of the time they are, since actors like being in giant hits, so Marvel ain’t starved for choice. There are exceptions. Ant-Man’s Yellowjacket had basically nothing to work with and Thor: the Dark World’s Christopher Eccleston/Malekith was so buried in makeup and voice modulation he never had a chance.

2) Do the villain’s actions and motivations make any sort of sense? Like I said… the bar is low. Winter Soldier and the first Thor do well at this. The endless series of evil arms dealers out to kill Tony Stark/Hank Pym and sell weapons make less sense, since nothing was stopping them from legitimately selling weapons. Ultron went from zero to “kill all humans” in an eyeblink. And, of course, Malekith’s plot from Thor: the Dark World is just word salad.

3) Is the villain a credible threat without resorting to Infinitely Respawning Henchmen? This is the least important, but it’s a definite nice-to-have. Loki in Avengers needed endless Chitauri to be dangerous (otherwise he couldn’t even hold his own against Tony Stark) and nobody expected Robert Redford to actually go toe-to-toe with Captain America. But then Avengers was about getting the band together and Winter Soldier was about an ideological fight, not a physical one. Well, an ideological fight with punching and explosions.

So… how does Michael Keaton do as Adrian Toomes, known to comics fans but never once referred to in the movie as the Vulture? Pretty damn good.

1) Is the actor good? Yes. The post-Birdman Michael Keaton Renaissance continues.

2) Do his actions and motivations make any sort of sense? Absolutely. Adrian Toomes is one of the better written Marvel villains. His origin is understandable, his motives relatable.

3) Is the villain a credible threat? Oh yeah. The Vulture swooping in is typically where everything goes wrong for Spider-Man. Fighting Toomes himself is much harder than fighting his chief henchman, The Shocker, a Spider-Man villain who could never carry a movie so may as well be a Giant Mook.

So, in short, and without going into spoilery details, Vulture might be one of Marvel’s very best villains.

Bad: We get it. Spider-Manning requires sacrifice.

So remember how Liv as romantic interest meant ignoring heaps of flaws from Peter? That’s because he bails on her constantly.

I get it. Being Spider-Man means doing the important thing instead of the fun thing. This is a classic trope, needing to ditch friends and loved ones to go stop a villain and save the city. But you can overdo it. You can overdo it so easily. Look at the second season of Arrow. It’s greatest flaw (well, definitely top two, depending on your views on Thea Queen) is that every time Oliver needs to have a business meeting or important personal conversation, Digg or Felicity will invariably interrupt with Arrow business. By the late-season moment when Oliver just needs a few goddamn minutes to convince Thea to sign a form to keep them from losing their house and nightclub, and Felicity immediately interrupts him, I was literally screaming at the screen. That is how played out that plot point was.

That was spread over six months. Peter bails on Liz to fight Vulture’s crew no less than four times in two hours. That’s too many. It’s too many trips to that well in one movie.

And it further weakens her character. Peter wants to take her to homecoming, and should that even have been an option after, at that point, he’s bailed on her threes times and come through for her zero times?

And furthermore… the homecoming dance, which lends its name to the subtitle (yeah, yeah, it’s called Homecoming because it’s Spider-Man joining the MCU fold, not because of the dance) has zero impact. It feels so inconsequential given that since Peter has never turned up for any of his non-Spider-Man obligations even once, we know there’s no chance Liz is having a fun Homecoming. Maybe if even one time he had chosen Liz or any high school melodrama/activity over being Spider-Man, even once, the choice of “dance or stop Vulture” would have had stakes, but instead it’s a foregone conclusion the second Aunt May drops him off at her house. When it’s a critical choice, the audience should not be thinking “Again with this.”

Here’s hoping they strike a better balance in 2019’s Spider-Man: Winter Formal.

Good: Peter and his suit

Peter’s experimentation with his Stark-designed suit’s full capabilities is fun, and mocks a few super-hero tropes. His swift and firm rejection of the suit’s more lethal capabilities is a nice break from the kill-happy Avengers, and… sadly… most recent Batman. And his experimentation with “enhanced interrogation mode” is a pretty fun mockery of the “spooky voices” employed by Green Arrow and Batman.

Bad: Michelle is who now?

This one’s a spoiler, but it’s spoiling something stupid. Make your choices and either read on or meet me at the speed round.

Michelle is the sardonic non-friend following Peter through his non-heroic escapades. Sure she treats him with disdain, but she must like him a little, given her dedication to being wherever he is, if only to mock his pain. Michelle’s a reliably fun character and Zendaya plays her well. But then at the end… look, I mentioned the spoiler thing… she says “My friends call me MJ.”

Dun dun DUUUUNNNN! Michelle is actually MJ, aka Peter Parker’s classic love interest, Michelle Jane Watson!

No. Wait. That’s not right.

It’s Mary. Mary Jane. That is what “MJ” stands for, and everyone knows that, because a) only characters in the comics actually call her “MJ,” not real people, and b) we’ve already had three massively successful (financially, anyway) movies refer to her as “Mary Jane.” Not Michelle Jane. That… that isn’t a thing. Nobody thinks that’s a thing.

So like “Laurel” Lance and “Curtis” Holt on Arrow, I’m forced to ask… why? What does changing her name actually accomplish? Were they worried that if Peter had a classmate named “Mary,” we’d know where that was going and not get invested in Peter and Liz? A fair concern. Once Lois Lane turned up on Smallville, it was hard to get too invested in Clark’s turbulent relationship with Lana Lang for the next… Jesus, four years? They kept Clark and Lana going for four years after introducing Lois? Man. That show had no plan. No plan at all.

Sorry. Got distracted.

But if that’s the case, even the Amazing Spider-Man movies managed to find a solution, and it was don’t have Mary Jane in the movie. Because unlike the hollow shell that is Liz, Gwen Stacy is the real deal. In comic continuity, Peter only ended up with Mary Jane because Gwen died, so there’s no sense in diminishing the one thing about the Amazing movies that worked by telegraphing where it’s going more than they already did. Sure it meant cutting Mary Jane out of the second movie, but Amazing Spider-Man was nothing if not willing to cut huge swaths of the movie out even if it left massive plot holes in their place.

Option two, don’t say her name until the end. Entirely doable. There were several other characters of note whose names were never spoken aloud, you could’ve gotten away with not saying “Mary” until the very end.

Or… and I have no evidence for this but it seems plausible… did they name their “MJ” Michelle so that Mary Jane Watson wasn’t black? Because if that’s the case, you fucking cowards. Have a black Mary Jane or don’t.

That might not be the reason. Again, I have nothing I can cite that says it is. But whatever the reason, it’s stupid. It’s just plain stupid. “Michelle Jane” isn’t a thing I can picture no reason to make it one.

I mean I look forward to seeing where they take her in Spider-Man: Spring Fling, but nothing’s going to make me consider this less stupid.

The Aforementioned Speed Round

Okay, let’s speed this up,

Good: The montage of Peter’s street-level attempted heroics was really fun.

Bad: Saying that the movie takes place eight years after Avengers, which came out only five years ago, makes figuring out the Marvel movie timeline really hard. But that’s a whole other blog’s worth of material.

Good: Peter’s suit-based arc works really well. Is he doing this for the glory of being an Avenger, or because it needs doing? (Sure the answer is obvious but it’s about the journey.)

Bad: The trailers gave away too much. There’s not a lot of suspense in the ferry fight.

Good: Donald Glover as Aaron Davis, uncle to Miles Morales. We might never see Miles on the big screen, but it’s nice they opened that door. Also Donald was fun in the role.

Bad: …Uh…

Good: Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr had some fun one-liners as Peter’s teachers.

Bad: I think I ran out. I think I’ve run out of complaints. Let me think… no, Ned, Vulture, Bokeem Woodbine as the Shocker, the ethnic diversity of Peter’s high school, Happy Hogan, the unexpected denouement cameo, the Captain America videos for high schools, all of that worked like gangbusters. Even the fact that high school crap like being popular and getting a date to the dance feel kind of inconsequential when you’re a couple of decades removed from high school isn’t really a flaw, because they are inconsequential compared to keeping giant sci-fi weapons off the street, that’s the point, that’s why he keeps bailing on things to Spider-Man at people.

So, yeah, there you have it. It’s not Earth-shaking, it never moved me the way Wonder Woman did, but it’s fun and decently paced and even when you’re really willing to pick nits the good outweighs the bad. It’s probably worth your time, and is almost certainly better than most of last summer’s tentpoles.

But go ahead and skip 3D and IMAX. I did, and I don’t think I missed anything.

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,

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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.

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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.

The Impossible Dream Comic Stories

You know, it’s a damn shame I already wrote, like, a dozen blogs about The Office, because I could sure say some more things about how lethally toxic Angela and Andy were as a couple. And how I don’t even know who I was supposed to root for in that story.

But no. We closed that book.

So previously I covered big crossover stories that I feel could be done even if they probably won’t. But hey, they already did Invasion!, and I wouldn’t have guessed that, so who knows. Today, though… instead of depressing myself by pitching ideas they could use but won’t, I’ll depress myself a little less by looking at the big, classic stories that neither Marvel nor DC could possibly do justice to.

I don’t know why I do these things either. But it’s no sadder than wondering how Marvel Studios could integrate the Fantastic Four if they got the rights back. I mean it’s pretty clear that Fox is going to keep making terrible Fantastic Four movies every seven years until Emperor Trump shuts down Hollywood for being too liberal and all the studios move to China. I don’t know why, maybe they’re just trying to dilute Marvel’s brand, but it’s clearly going to happen.

So. Allons-y.

1. Secret Wars

Now, there’s a few Marvel event books under this particular banner. The mid-80s miniseries (and subsequent sequels) in which the all-powerful Beyonder gathered the heroes and villains of Earth for a battle-royale on his artificial Battleworld; the infrequently shipping mid-2000s miniseries in which Nick Fury discovers that the nation of Latveria (once and future domain of Doctor Doom, but at the time a democratic ally state) has been funding America’s tech-based supervillains, and thus leads a covert team of to attack, which has consequences down the road; and the most recent Secret Wars, in which a years-long storyline about the Marvel multiverse collapsing ends with the main and Ultimate Marvel universes fatally colliding, and Doctors Doom and Strange saving what they can in a new Battleworld.

I could cover all three of them, but only one really fits here. I don’t think anyone is really clamouring for an adaptation of the original Secret Wars. It’s pretty thin, narratively speaking, which makes sense because it was written to sell a toy line. And it got its name from focus groups finding that kids reacted well to the words “secret” and “wars.” Also, the MCU simply doesn’t have enough interesting, Avengers-level villains to pull it off. That’s why the only way to get all of their film characters (but never their TV characters) together in one movie is to have them fight either Thanos or each other.

The 2004 Secret War has its issues as far as adaptation goes. A) the MCU has no equivalent to Latveria except maybe, maybe Sokovia (who could hardly afford to spend money on American supervillains), and B) there has never been a Marvel movie villain where we had to stop and ask where they get the money to fund and fuel their high-tech weapons. The Marvel movie villains are mostly arms dealers and interplanetary despots, not bank robbers with gimmick suits. But… if they were really inclined… the basic premise would make for a hell of a Captain America sequel. So they actually could do this one if they wanted.

The latest one, however…

Why would they want to?

Because like the great Crisis On Infinite Earths, grand-daddy of the Event Crossover, which we’ll get back to, this event existed to clear the deck. It ended the Ultimate universe experiment, save for Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales, who was brought into the main MCU. It paved away some things they wanted to be done with (the re-aged Steve Rogers, the evil Tony Stark, the still-existing Fantastic Four), and let Marvel start fresh with new ideas. Some new ideas. A couple of new ideas. They didn’t go post-Flashpoint New 52 crazy or anything.

Marvel Studios is coming up on the end of Phase Three, the culmination of over ten years of interconnected films and largely ignored TV projects. It’s also the end of the contracts for their main stars. All in all, a great time to clean house and start fresh. Doing a Secret Wars-type story would let them reboot and recast without going full Amazing Spider-Man.

So why can’t they?

Because for all of the craziness happening, the army of Thors and the wasteland of Hulks and the extra-wastey wasteland of zombies and Ultrons, all of that, Secret Wars was ultimately a story about Victor Von Doom and Reed Richards. Doom is triumphant, he has reforged reality in his own broken image and rules it as a god, and it all falls apart when Reed arrives. The fate of the Marvel multiverse comes down to a grudge match between these two classic, eternal rivals.

And the Marvel Cinematic Universe just does not have an equivalent.

The closest thing they have to a Reed Richards is Tony Stark, but his first and greatest nemesis in the films is himself. Tony can’t exactly wrestle his own arrogance for the fate of everything. They simply don’t have anything or anyone on par with Doom to serve as the other half of the equation. The 2004 Secret War has some elements and characters the films lack, but with a little wrangling Sokovia could replace Latveria, Falcon or Ant-Man could replace Wolverine, and they could just suck it up, stop shunning the TV branch, and put Luke Cage and Daisy “Quake” Johnson in a movie. But they have nothing in their arsenal to replace Doom. Not even Loki.

2. Crisis On Infinite Earths

I’d save this for last but I already went and brought it up, so… here goes. Crisis on Infinite Earths is the grand mac-daddy of all universe-shifting crossovers. DC editorial decided that their complex multiverse of overlapping characters was a little messy and confusing, and thus commissioned a massive event miniseries to tidy things up. Every single character in DC’s stable made at least a brief appearance, even some they’d just acquired. Worlds ended, heroes and villains died, including Supergirl and the Flash, and in the end there was one Earth in which the survivors all co-existed. The DC universe changed forever.

Okay, sure, within twenty years and change there was a multiverse again and nearly every character they’d killed had come back (I can name two who stayed dead, but you don’t know them). Creators who grew up reading comics tend to bring back the stuff they loved as a kid. But, you know… it’s still basically different.

Why would they want to?

Because this is the dream crossover. Forget Supergirl visiting Star City or even the Avengers meeting the Defenders, this is the impossible dream. The stuff fan trailers are made of.

These guys.

I’m talking Grant Gustin racing Ezra Miller. Fellow Supermen Brandon Routh and Tyler Hoechin throwing Henry Cavill a brood-intervention. Stephen Amell and Justin Hartley in an Arrow-off. The Dark Knight meets the Caped Crusader. Get weird with it, and all to stop a threat so big it takes upwards of five Supermen and three Flashes to bring it down.

So why can’t they?

Dude, think about it. Are you really going to be able to talk Christian Bale back into the batsuit? No. No you are not. Michael Keaton won’t be much easier, Christopher Reeve is dead, and 1990’s Flash, Superman Returns’ Superman, both Lois and Clark of Lois and Clark, and the 1970s Wonder Woman are all playing other characters in the DCW-verse.

Plus the only Joker you’re going to be able to get is Jared Leto and nobody wants that.

And which Earth would die to sell the stakes? Smallvile? Lois and Clark? You’re gonna get fans and ex-stars complaining on Twitter whichever you pick.

It’s the impossible dream for a reason. Even a Crisis on Two Earths (comic-wise, the first time the Justice League met the Justice Society), where the TV and film universes collided, would be a bit of an ask.

3. Secret Invasion

In case you were wondering if Marvel naming things based on focus groups liking the word “secret” was a thing of the past… well, we can’t be sure. Maybe writer/architect Brian Michael Bendis just wanted the homage.

Secret Invasion was the culmination of a story Bendis had been cooking since he took over the Avengers books. After a massive prison break which led to the newly formed New Avengers discovering an illegal, black-books vibranium mining operation in the Savage Land run by SHIELD, it becomes clear that some sinister force has infiltrated the global peacekeeping force. And, as time goes by, they learn whatever it is has infiltrated Hydra and the Hand as well. After Civil War splits the team in half, Luke Cage’s rogue Avengers find out who this shadow force is: shapeshifting alien would-be conquerors the Skrulls have mastered a new form of infiltration, one that no hero, despite magic or supersenses or being Reed Richards, could detect even when it was right in front of them.

So the question then began… who was a secret Skrull? Who could be trusted? Did the Skrulls orchestrate Scarlet Witch nearly wiping out the mutants or the Civil War that turned hero against hero? And when a ship full of heroes dressed like it was still the 80s crashed in the Savage Land, were any of them friends finally returned?

The answers were “Five people of note and some nameless SHIELD agents,” “Pretty much everyone,” “No,” and “No, that was just a waste of five incredibly repetitive issues.”

Why would they want to?

It combines both of Marvel Studios’ favourite tropes: heroes fighting heroes, and a climax involving fighting a giant horde of faceless alien minions. Plus, as we’ve learned from Winter Soldier, Civil War, and basing their film franchise around the Infinity Gauntlet, they love harvesting their event books for film plots. Not enough to fully give in to the endless cries for a Planet Hulk movie (looks like one scene from Thor: Ragnarok is all those people will get), but still.

Also, the story leading up to the event book was great. The years-long build-up, from the jail-break through to the secret within SHIELD and all the way to the big Skrull reveal and the two teams wondering who on the other side was a secret Skrull, it was one of the best slow-burn builds in recent memory.

So why can’t they?

Weirdly the fact that the build-up is the only good part of Secret Invasion isn’t the problem. Sure, it was savagely under-written, what with spending five issues on the go-nowhere Savage Land plot while the Skrull Queen gave a series of repetitive, half-issue monologues about change. Sure, the climax is hot garbage, since it boils down to all of the heroes lining up on one side of Central Park, shouting “Hey Skrulls, come fight,” and every Skrull in the global invasion saying “Yeah, sure, be right there.” Sure, the title doesn’t even make sense, since the Invasion stops being in any way Secret by the end of issue one. But the Civil War comic was also badly paced with a half-assed conclusion, and that movie turned out fine.

No, the issue is that there’s no real way to do the build-up. Are they going to slip some hint that not all is well into every phase four movie? That’s just going to lead to awkward, tacked on scenes that draw complaints, like Thor and his Vision Spa in Age of Ultron. And the reveal will make less sense without an established race of hostile shapeshifters like the comics have. Which brings us to another problem… Marvel Studios doesn’t have the rights to the Skrulls. They’re tied up with the Fantastic Four, so Fox owns the film rights. And as we know, Fox doesn’t give these things up easily.

Might make for a good Supergirl season if you swapped the Skrulls for the Durlans, though. Wouldn’t be the first time a Superman-related show stole a story from Marvel.

Inter-company cross-overs

Gonna break the format here, because “Why can’t they” is perfectly obvious. Marvel and DC the publishers don’t really get along these days, a state of affairs exacerbated by ex-Marvel head Joe Quesada pulling some dickish moves back in 2010. Which is sad, because back in the day, DC/Marvel crossovers were a frequent event, from their beginnings in Superman Vs. Spider-Man to the Teen Titans teaming up with the X-Men to the well intentioned but ineptly executed DC Vs. Marvel (or Marvel Vs. DC, depending on the issue number), which at least created the interesting experiment Amalgam Comics. And then after a hiatus, they managed to join forces one last time for the greatest inter-company crossover ever.

BOOM.

JLA/Avengers (or, again based on issue number, Avengers/JLA) is filled with classic moments. The Justice League saw Dr. Doom ruling Latveria, the ruins of mutant nation Genosha, Hulk tearing through the military, and the Punisher shooting up gangs (until Batman broke his own “don’t interfere” rule to whoop on him), and decided that this world’s heroes just don’t try. The Avengers saw Wonder Woman addressing the UN, Superman being deified, and the Flash Museum (“They have a museum dedicated to a speedster!” shouted an enraged and envious Quicksilver. “A museum!”) and decided the heroes of this world overstepped, ruling as gods for the public’s adoration.

It also had the best “fight-then-team-up” sequence of any comic ever… Batman and Captain America trade a few jabs, testing each other out, then Batman essentially says “You might be able to beat me, but it’ll take a while. Want to figure out what’s actually happening instead?” And off they go.

And then history gets twisted, creating an alternate past where the DC and Marvel universes had known about each other for years, to the point of getting together each Thanksgiving like the JLA and JSA used to do. And Hawkeye and Green Arrow exchange the one piece of dialogue that’s missing from most DC multiverse stories (especially this season of The Flash)… “For the last time, we’re Earth One, you’re Earth Two!”

But it’s not to be. If Marvel and DC the publishers aren’t getting along, one can probably count on Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers to be just as reluctant to get into bed with each other. Even if people would pay all the money on Earth to see Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man go three rounds against Batman.

Sadly, this will also prevent comics’ one-time weirdest inter-company crossover…

This is real. This is a real comic.

Archie Meets the Punisher. That happened. That is a thing that two companies agreed to make and paid people to write and draw. Multiple people, actually, because the Archie scenes are all drawn in the Archie house style, while a different artist drew all the Punisher scenes in a more appropriately gritty fashion. It’s fascinating in how audacious it is just for existing, in how committed they are to a team-up that makes no sense and should not be, but still somehow turns out worth reading.

So in that spirit… how much do I want to see Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle set loose amongst the teen-drama-fuelled noir mysteries of the CW’s Riverdale?

So. Goddamn. Much.

It would be so weird and so stupid and so, so mesmerising. But Marvel won’t let their Netflix characters cross over with their own film branch, so that there is a pipe dream. A ridiculous, near-indefensible pipe dream.

Maybe in Riverdale’s fourth season they’ll get desperate enough to do Archie Vs. Predator.

Wasn’t kidding about that one either.

Next time… I return to a long-neglected blog series, discussing things that do exist instead of things that don’t.