Tag Archives: Marvel Comics

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.

Inexplicably Underused Comic Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Zatanna

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

Who’s that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where should she be?

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

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

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

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

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

2. She-Hulk

Who’s that?

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

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

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

Where should she be?

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

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

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

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

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

3. Robins Who Aren’t Dick Grayson

Who’s that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where should they be?

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

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

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

4. Doctor Doom

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

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

5. Sandman

Who’s that?

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

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

The cool one.

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

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

Where should he be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hard Truths for Geek Media

We are living in the golden age of geek media. Netflix has five shows and counting devoted to The Defenders, comic book shows are nearly half of the CW network’s lineup, and superhero movies and Star Warses account for something like 98% of US box office revenue at the movies.

But it ain’t all good.

No, this is not going to be the “Dan breaks and denounces Suicide Squad” moment some of my friends have been waiting for. There are just some real issues, some growing problems with certain geek-friendly properties worth discussing. As much as we love them, there are some hard truths to face.

Let’s start with my own field of interest.

Maybe there shouldn’t be a Flash movie

There was a time when Warner Bros. and DC Comics were the kings of the superhero movie genre. But mostly because it was when nobody else was really trying.

Behold: Marvel’s best and most successful movie until 1998.

They spent one decade on four Superman movies (two good), one on four Batman movies that start okay, get worse, and end bad enough to almost kill the genre (well, that and Steel), and then started floundering, banking everything on Nolan’s Batman while Green Lantern and what some consider to be the best Superman movie made thus far failed to jumpstart any franchises. Plus Jonah Hex was a trash heap and Catwoman does not belong in this conversation. It’s a rejected Crow reboot that they slapped the word “cat” onto and it should not exist.

Meanwhile, they watched Marvel Studios go from plucky upstart to the most consistently successful film studio in the history of the medium by building a cinematic universe out of their B-list, all leading to The Avengers, which blew the long-awaited Dark Knight Rises out of the water.

Going from kicking Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk’s asses with Dark Knight to being the also-rans in a genre they used to dominate must have stung. Moreso because if they hadn’t been hung up on keeping all of their toys in separate boxes, they could have been doing this over two decades ago.

I kind of picture it like that scene in Brooklyn, where Ailis’ Irish friends are changing under blankets, then see that she just wore her swimsuit under her clothes, and say “Well how long do you think the Americans have known about that? Probably 100 years.” So simple and obvious once you see it done. Surely someone at Warner Bros. saw the road to Avengers and asked “Well why the hell haven’t we done that?” “We felt it worked better not to link up the movies–” “Die in a fire, Ted.”

So they ended up trying to rush their own cinematic universe, attempting a short road from Man of Steel to Justice League. It’s been a rocky journey so far, according to reviews and certain opinions and also all those Razzies Batman V Superman got, but hope exists that they’ll turn it around in coming years. Set visits are generating hope for Wonder Woman, and Justice League… let’s talk about Justice League after Wonder Woman comes out. Or not. We’ll have to see. Their hope is that a successful Justice League movie will drive audiences to solo movies for the rest of the lineup, the same way Avengers managed to convince people to keep watching mediocre at best Thor movies.

But there’s one film that’s having more trouble than anything on their slate.

This guy.

The Flash has already lost two directors and apparently the script has gone back for a page-one remake. It is the very model of a troubled production.  And while I don’t know exactly what’s going on over there… I have a guess.

To the left.

The Flash is already on TV. And doing pretty well. Well enough that it’s the centrepiece (albeit not the originator) of a four-show empire. So this is all speculation, but it seems to me that the Flash movie would end up having to walk a very fine line… too much like the TV show, it’s redundant. Not enough like the TV show, it’s alienating the fanbase they’ve been building for three seasons and counting. And if this is what’s happening, it would mean more studio interference than anything else they’re doing, and yes, that’s going to cost them directors.

So maybe the solution is don’t make the movie.

Any Flash movie is going to have to compete with the TV series’ nigh-perfect first season. The movie would have two hours to tell a story, the show gets 23 (including commercials). The movie could be my first chance to see the Rogues united (the core group have all turned up on the show, but rarely more than two at a time), but Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold is basically perfect, and I’m at a loss as to how they could do better in the movie. I’m not saying it’s another Heath-Ledger-Joker situation but he is a tough act to follow.

I’m not saying cut the character. Have him in the Justice League, just all over the Justice League. Just maybe Flash doesn’t need a solo movie. Hell, DC has a pretty full slate as it is (while fighting for Warner resources with the Fantastic Beasts franchise), and keeps announcing new projects. The Batman still doesn’t have a release date (and just got a director), and now there’s talk of Gotham City Sirens, solo movies for Nightwing and Deadshot, a Suicide Squad sequel, and talk remains of an actual, proper sequel to Man of Steel.

Pretty ambitious. Sure, the grosses were high last year, but they might wanna get public perception on their side a bit more before they get excited. Maybe see how much Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 outgrosses Justice League by. (Look, I’m enough of a DC fan that no amount of BvS or Suicide Squad smack talk will keep me from opening night of Justice League, but even I’m more excited for Guardians.)

But if they have all these movies they want to make, maybe it’s time to drop the one they clearly don’t know how to make. I mean, Marvel doesn’t make solo movies for everyone. Ask Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

In fact, let’s talk Marvel.

Maybe Marvel’s “Everything’s Connected” isn’t working

Ever since Nick Fury popped up after the credits of Iron Man saying “Avengers Initiative,” the key element in Marvel’s success is the idea that all of their film and television properties share one universe, and that they’re all connected. You watch Thor because stuff they do there will pay off in the next big team-up movie.

I mean, you don’t watch Thor movies for fun. That’s just crazy.

But the more they expand into other media, the more cracks are starting to show in the facade.

There’s the little stuff in the movies. The “Why do no Avengers care that terrorists just blew up Tony Stark’s house and then kidnapped the president” or “So after learning that SHIELD was infiltrated by Hydra, the only person Captain America calls for backup is the guy he met while jogging” stuff. But this is nothing new. It’s basic nitpicking comics fans have been dealing with for decades. And two out of three of the big team-up movies have done a fine job smoothing those wrinkles over.

And one had a plot hole for every robot.

But it doesn’t stop there.

The obvious example is Agents of SHIELD. Marvel’s first foray into TV, it was pitched as the connective tissue between movies, but it isn’t. Despite every shoehorned reference Agents of SHIELD makes to the movies, it just isn’t. Whether it’s the feud between Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and his ex-boss, Marvel Entertainment head Ike Perlmutter, or some other nonsense reason, it’s abundantly clear that the film division does not care about Agents of SHIELD even a little. From destroying their very premise in Winter Soldier to their refusal to say the word “Inhuman” to the fact that none of the Avengers have noticed Coulson isn’t dead, the film branch has straight-up ignored everything and anything about Agents of SHIELD.

And now there’s an Inhumans series on the horizon. The Inhumans have been a key part of Agents of SHIELD for three years now, but as of this writing, the Inhumans show has given no indication they’ll connect or cross-over with SHIELD. They have made it clear that this show will not be an Agents of SHIELD spinoff. So their only announcement in regards to what should be their sister show was to distance themselves from it. If another Marvel show on the same network won’t even acknowledge Agents of SHIELD, then is it not time to ask just how exactly “Everything is connected?”

We’re still on that topic but here’s a header to break things up

There’s also Marvel Netflix. Marvel’s Netflix shows are trying to do the Avengers process in the TV format: five seasons of four shows, all leading up to The Defenders this fall. And they’ve been good, for the most part… Daredevil’s second season and Luke Cage’s debut season fell apart in their second halves, but overall they’ve been good. And we’re certainly told that they’re all in the same universe as Captain America, Asgard, and the talking, gun-toting raccoon we all love.

That’s what we’re told.

One of my pet peeves about Marvel Netflix is that while the DCW-verse delights in comic-booky concepts like time travel and alternate Earths and rampaging super-strong hyper-intelligent telepathic gorillas, the Marvel Netflix shows seem to resent being based on comics. Sure, all of their protagonists have super powers, but they mostly stick to grounded, realistic threats (save for one mind-controlling psychopath whose arc was still rooted in very real abuse issues, and one ninja cult story that doesn’t actually make any sense). They have Easter egg references to old Power Man and Jessica Jones comics, but treat them like baby pictures your mother pulled out to show your date.

More than that, they seem to be actively ashamed of being part of the MCU. They will begrudgingly acknowledge the climax of Avengers, but in the vaguest possible terms. Seriously, “The Incident?” The city/country that treats the phrase 9/11 with sacred reverence (except when they don’t) would really call an honest-to-god alien invasion repelled in part by the literal Norse god of thunder something as basic and generic as “The Incident?” What are they, British? And that’s the only reference they’re willing to make. Nothing from any other movie, save for being the only people who seem to remember Hammer Industries from Iron Man 2.

Right. There’s gonna be too much. Time for a “The Defenders Ain’t Care About the Avengers” speed round.

  • We’re two years in and I’ve yet to see Stark/Avengers Tower in the New York skyline.
  • The New York DA starts a crusade against vigilantes, and her main targets are the Punisher (sure) and licensed private detective and one-time-vigilante Jessica Jones. No mention of Inhumans, the Sokovia accords, or freaking Spider-Man. Any of which would be totally germane to the conversation.
  • Aliens invade New York, Asgard exists, Captain America came back from the dead… but New Yorkers still consider mind control too impossible to swallow? For real?
  • For all Luke Cage has to say about the history of Harlem, that time Hulk and Abomination wrecked the place sure doesn’t come up.
  • They talk about the Avengers like they’ll get sued for using the names. “The flag-waver.” “The green guy.” “The blonde dude with the hammer.” You know his name is Thor.
  • None of these people will be in Infinity War. We’d have heard by now.

On top of all of that, they have all the “how does this fit together, where was so-and-so during all of this” issues of the movies, only worse, because they’re all operating within a quick walk from each other. “The Defenders Ain’t Care About Each Other” speed round!

  • If Luke Cage reduced to washing dishes and sweeping floors under the table because he’s on the run from the cops, how is it he owned a bar when we first met him? A bar named after him!
  • I get Luke not wanting to call Jessica for help, things ended poorly between them, but when Luke Cage is being publicly smeared by his enemies, she doesn’t even take an interest?
  • When Luke Cage is in a hostage situation and being framed by the man behind it, she doesn’t call her friend the defense-lawyer vigilante, despite him needing both of those things.
  • Actually, why should she even need to call Daredevil? There was a very public hostage crisis involving a superhuman criminal (as far as the outside world knew), a five minute drive from Daredevil’s house, and he doesn’t swing by? Daredevil doesn’t care about black people.

Okay, sure, they can’t cross-over all the time. It would dilute how special The Defenders is. Probably is. Hopefully will be. And it’s not like Flash and the Green Arrow are constantly popping back and forth, Barry only zips over to help Oliver two, maybe three times a season, but a) the DCW-verse still connects far more often than Marvel Netflix, and b), and this is the important part, Flash and Arrow take place in cities 600 miles apart. All five Marvel Netflix shows take place in New York. No, on the island of Manhattan. New York’s geographically smallest borough. Do not tell me that Daredevil only patrols Hell’s Kitchen, Hell’s Kitchen is two square kilometers, you could walk around it in an hour.

These days the “shared universe” has more holes per yard than chainmail. You can say everything’s connected all you like. But unless it actually connects at some point, it’s all just empty marketing rhetoric. Maybe having one universe for film and one for TV just works better.

Maybe these live-action Disney films are kinda pointless

The problem with doing anything successful is that Hollywood will learn the wrong lesson fast enough to make your head spin. Deadpool and Logan were big hits and critically adored? Suddenly everyone’s looking to make R-rated superhero movies like that was the secret ingredient. Sure thing, DC, people had issues with BvS and Suicide Squad because they weren’t dark and violent enough. That was the problem.

Disney can be particularly bad for this. The wrong lesson thing, I mean. Maleficent was a hit, so they started kicking around other Disney villain origin movies. Don’t get excited. I’m about to explain why that’s bad. Maleficent worked because the idea that the witch from Sleeping Beauty was driven to cursing princesses by a dark and tragic backstory has merit and meat to it. The follow-up with the most traction? Cruella De Vil. The puppy-murdering villainess so lacking in complexity or subtlety they named her “Cruel Devil.” Is anyone really curious what turned Cruella on to puppy coats? Anyone? Was that a question needing answering?

And if that weren’t a bad enough idea to blow all of your Marvel/Star Wars profits on (it is), there is the other trend of making live-action remakes of the classic cartoon. Last year was Jungle Book, this year is Beauty and the Beast, and there’s more coming. But they’re getting dumber as we go along.

Jungle Book at least did something different. Sure they had all the same characters and hit all the story beats but in a different way. I think. Pretty sure. King Louie certainly seems different. But Beauty and the Beast? Every bit of promotion is based around how similar it is to the animated version. Same sets, same costumes, exact same songs. Is this just a shot-for-shot remake with live actors and terrifying CG clock-people? Is that… is that necessary? I mean Hollywood is choked with remakes and reboots as it is, making carbon copies of easily accessible films from the 90s is just making it worse.

Also… “live-action Lion King?” How. How is that live-action. You’re not training lions and having them act it out. No amount of training can make a meercat, a warthog, and a lion hang out and sing Hakuna Matata. It’s not live action, it’s a CG version with some new voices. They’re still using James Earl Jones as Mustafa. Which, sure, there’s no replacing him, but are we entirely sure they’re not just reusing the same audio?

In short. Words have meanings, and this new Lion King will be about as much “live-action” as Monsters Inc.; and if you’re going to remake a movie, do something with it. Make it new. Don’t just re-skin it.

Honestly, thought we learned this with Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.

Obscure Characters Superhero Shows Should Use

Superheroes and comic books are big on both the big and small screens these days, but despite the Marvel empire being built on “Everything’s connected” and DC not having sold all of its shiniest toys to Sony and Fox, there is still a weird Chinese wall between each company’s film and television divisions. DC, as we know, maintains separate film and TV universes and, in most cases, doesn’t allow overlap. Marvel claims to maintain one, consistent universe, spread across the Avengers-based films, Defenders-based Netflix shows, and redheaded stepchild Agents of SHIELD, but Brooklyn 99 and The New Girl cross over more often than any of those branches, limiting the characters the TV branches can use even beyond being banned from using the word “mutant.”

They have, however, found some clever workarounds.

Agents of SHIELD isn’t allowed to use anyone that’s been in a movie, or is a street-level hero in New York, or that Marvel might want to pitch elsewhere. But they have been having one of their better seasons by basing it around a surprisingly effective portrayal of Robbie Reyes, the least popular, least successful, and objectively least cool* version of Ghost Rider. Meanwhile, across the aisle, Arrow’s been having a similar resurgence of quality, and it’s obscure characters all the way down over in Star City. Wild Dog, Mr. Terrific, and Ragman have joined the team, and there have been episodes not only featuring but named after 80s D-listers Vigilante and Human Target (sadly not Mark Valley’s Human Target from the 2010 series getting a Constantine-style revival, but I’ll take any Human Target I can get).

So I say, keep on keeping on with this trend. DC and Marvel each have hundreds of characters to draw on, so why let the big names being embargoed slow you down?

Assuming Marvel Netflix is limited to street-level crime fighters, that Agents of SHIELD can’t touch anyone who could possibly have their own show or movie, and the DCW-verse has to stay away from Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Shazam (though they got Superman this year, so who knows), here’s some characters they should be considering bringing to the small/streaming screen, and some casting thoughts, because welcome to my brain. Hey, I have to live in here.

*No, not because he’s Latino, because he doesn’t even have a motorcycle. You can’t be the coolest Ghost Rider without a flaming-wheeled motorcycle.

For Supergirl: Mary Marvel

mary-marvel

Who’s that?

Maybe you’re familiar with the original Captain Marvel, known for yelling “Shazam!” to get his powers. Ten year old Billy Batson was gifted powers by the wizard Shazam. By yelling his name, Billy became an adult with powers just shy of Superman’s. Also without the vision or breath powers. Lately, they’ve stopped calling him “Captain Marvel” (having grown tired of competing with the many, many Marvel characters with that name) and just started calling him “Shazam” (given that most people call him “the Shazam guy” as it is).

Now, Shazam does have a movie in the works, and even though the only thing I know about it is that Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is playing his nemesis Black Adam, they probably wouldn’t let a different Billy Batson come to Star, Central, or National City. Which is a shame because every day that DC isn’t casting one of the Stranger Things kids as Billy is an opportunity wasted.

But there is another.

Every iteration of Captain Marvel/Shazam begins with Billy, yes, but before long the power of Shazam is being shared by a team. And the first person on that extended list? His long-lost twin (or more recently foster) sister, Mary.

Of all the superhero shows, none have embraced bright, cheerful optimism like Supergirl. But no DC character has, historically, been as bright, innocent, or hopeful as the Marvels, being children given adult bodies with the powers of gods. So I can’t help but think there’s a fun opportunity to have Supergirl need to deal with someone whose unbreakable cheer (and strength) outshines even her own. And while Billy Batson’s probably on lockdown, Supergirl the show has a history of ducking around embargoes by using less known siblings: no Lois Lane, but her sister Lucy; no Lex Luthor, but his sister Lena and mother Lillian are lurking around National City. Having the DEO need to make a road trip to Fawcett City and encountering Mary Marvel would fit right in.

Hell, given her name, you could even fit in a meta-commentary on how, thanks to Zack Snyder, there’s a perception that DC is all grim and dark and broody while Marvel is bright and fun and colourful. Sure, you’re not going to be able to launch a defense of the film branch easily, but still… Oh! Or have Winn or newly gay Alex get a bit of crush on Mary Marvel, only to find out that she’s actually a neonate girl and man was that dream he/she had last night inappropriate in hindsight… Man, this could be such a good episode and they’re probably not going to do it and why do I do this to myself…

Who to cast?

Millie Bobby Brown and Adrianne Palicki.

marys-marvel

If you’re going to do the Marvel Family, you’ve got to do it right. That means big, imposing, adult for the hero, and small child for the alter ego. Adrianne Palicki certainly has the imposing, ass-kicking credentials, although a complicated relationship with DC. She got the lead in a Wonder Woman pilot from David E. Kelley, who proved that he’s much better at writing lawyers than Amazon warrior princesses and thus the infamously bad show wasn’t picked up. She then entered the superhero world as Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse on Agents of SHIELD. But since she was written off the show for a spinoff that, again, didn’t get picked up, she might be willing to jump back to the DC side.

But you can’t skimp on mild-mannered Mary Batson, either, and remember what I said about how perfect any of the Stranger Things kids would be as Billy? Millie Bobby Brown captured the internet’s attention as Eleven for a reason. Mille and Adrianne both have good experience as badass, powerful women, and would make a fun duo as Mary Marvel’s various halves.

Maybe if I yell “SHAZAM!” enough I’ll turn into a staff writer on Supergirl and can make this happen…

For the Defenders (et al): Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu

shang-chi

Who’s that?

It’s kind of all there in the name. A master martial artist who rebelled against his evil father and decided to use his skills for good. He did a turn as an Avenger a roster shake-up or two ago, easily standing as an equal to Captain America, Thor, Spider-man and the others. Also, of all the superheroes based exclusively on “Super good at real-world martial arts” (Karate Kid, Judomaster, Richard Dragon, sort of but not quite Iron Fist), at least this guy’s actually Asian.

See, the Marvel Netflix shows have a problem with Asian representation. A lot of shows do, a lot of western media does, but it’s a little extra notable when every single Asian character in the Defenders franchise is attached to one of two doomsday ninja cults. Sure, yes, having the Asian guy be a martial artist, you’re steering into stereotype. But their bar is currently set low enough that there aren’t many directions to go but up here.

Also, he once used Pym particles to become giant and kung fu-fight a dragon.

There's not much cooler than ninja kicking a dragon in the face.

There’s not much cooler than ninja kicking a dragon in the face.

More people show know about this guy. Oh, and did I happen to mention that his evil father was old-school pulp villain Fu Manchu? How much to I want to see Fu Manchu and Luke Cage go round and round? A lot.

Who to cast?

I would say Mark Dacascos, but Agents of SHIELD already used him as Discount Magneto and they do hate to double-dip… so let’s say Remy Hii.

remyhii1

Remy Hii’s familiar to Netflix as Marco Polo’s Prince Jingim, Kublai Khan’s son and heir. So not only is he familiar to the network, he’s also used to action scenes and the weapons (other than fists and feet) Shang-Chi would be packing. And he wouldn’t be fighting a foreign language (Steven Chow), being over 50 (Steven Chow again), or being someone I haven’t heard of. I am not currently up-to-date on Chinese film stars, I’m sure I’m sorry, let’s move on.

For The Flash: Firehawk

firehawk

Who’s this?

Lorraine Reilly was a senator’s daughter who was fighting a crush on hero Firestorm when she was kidnapped by one of his nemeses, Henry Hewitt, later known as Tokamak, who attempted to imbue her with Firestorm’s powers to use her as a weapon against both her father and Firestorm. He was largely successful, but Lorraine broke free of his control and became a hero in her own right. Although never to the same level as her male counterpart, because comics and sexism and all of that.

Flash already introduced Henry Hewitt in season two (specifically, and fittingly enough, in “The Fury of Firestorm”), already had him turn dark, named him Tokamak, and gave him a fixation on Firestorm’s power set and a grudge against Team STAR Labs. Why not have him try to get some delayed payback by trying to make his own Firestorm? And before you ask “Why have two people with those powers,” Strawman I’m making up, think how many speedsters are on that show right now. Flash, Kid Flash, Reverse Flash, Zoom, Jesse Quick, Savitar… Now consider how many people in Star City, good or evil, have decided that a bow and arrow is their weapon of choice. Actually, don’t bother. The answer is eight. Eight people, not including League of Assassins flunkies, said “Eh, nuts to guns, I’m-a use a bow.” Two Firestorms won’t hurt anything.

So given that a) they already know how to do the effects, and b) Firestorm and the Flash go way back, that’s why they introduced him on that show in the first place, and c) Firestorm is tied up protecting the timestream on Legends of Tomorrow, why not bring Firehawk to Central City? Give Flash someone to team up with who doesn’t star on a different show or live in a different universe.

Who to cast?

You know who’s killing it lately as a woman who has to break free of her maker’s programming? Evan Rachel Wood.

evan-rachel

Dolores is a “host” in Westworld permanently assigned to one of the uglier narrative loops. (Although the finale may suggest why.) As such, she’s also one of the first to attempt to rise above it, and Evan Rachel Wood fully captured her transition from damsel to badass. As a bonus, depending on things go in tonight’s season finale, she may have a steady gig on Westworld for a while, and cable series have different shooting schedules than network, so she’d in theory (and what more does this discussion require than “In theory” have availability for sweeps month Firehawking without danger of getting booked on whatever the next Chicagobased procedural soap drama is.

I mean she might choose to do movies like previous Firestorm Robbie Amell did, but hey, I can hope. Mostly. Sort of. I remember the basic mechanisms of how to– shut up.

For Agents of SHIELD: Abigail Brand, Agent of SWORD

brand

Who’s that?

In his run on Astonishing X-Men, Joss Whedon (who created Agents of SHIELD, which would be handy) introduced a subdivision of SHIELD: SWORD (Sentient World Observation and Response Department), who monitor extraterrestrial races and threats to protect the Earth from invasion. Abigail Brand, half alien herself, is its head.

Marvel and ABC recently announced plans for a new Inhumans TV series. This makes sense, since it was Isaac Perlmutter, head of Marvel Entertainment, who wanted to adapt the Inhumans, and not Kevin Feige, head of the now-separate Marvel Films. Despite the fact that Inhumans have been a major part of Agents of SHIELD for three seasons now (the focus might currently be on Ghost Rider, but the back half of the season is shaping up to again be Inhumans-centric), the new show has been said to be focused on the classic characters such as Black Bolt and Medusa, and will not be a spinoff of Agents of SHIELD. I see two ways this could play out.

First, this could be the first Marvel property to actually acknowledge, and even crossover with Agents of SHIELD. It’s free of the TV/movie division drama, unlike the Avengers; it would be on the same network, unlike Marvel Netflix; it would (probably) be set in the present day, unlike Agent Carter. All the barriers that thus far exist to keep Agents of SHIELD in its own little lonely box would be, in theory, gone. And between Avengers, Defenders, the ratings spike that happens every time the CW shows crossover, and the absolute lack of a ratings bump that happens when Agents of SHIELD does a shoe-horned, one-way, desperate-plea-for-attention excuse for a movie tie-in episode, the network has to know that having Coulson and Daisy/Quake come face to face with Inhuman royalty is the way to go.

Second… they could not know that and not only continue to neglect SHIELD (which they might be considering cancelling once it hits a syndication-friendly 100 episodes), but demand they stop doing Inhuman stuff.

In the first case, SHIELD already established that the Kree, who created the Inhumans, were concerned that they were active again. SWORD would be the perfect way to bring Coulson and Black Bolt together to deal with impending Kree actions. In the second case, Agents of SHIELD would need a new playground, since they’d be kicked out of their current one. In which case, since SWORD and SHIELD have a patently obvious link… it is all there in their names… SWORD could be the new thing for their fifth (and if Marvel won’t let a second ABC show acknowledge them, almost definitely last) season.

Who to cast?

Once upon a time, rumours circulated that Joss Whedon was looking to cast one of his frequent fliers, Felicia Day, in the role for the Avengers movie.

felicia

Obviously that didn’t happen, but that doesn’t make it a bad idea. Felicia Day has the exact geek appeal that Agents of SHIELD and the DCW-verse look for in casting choices. Also she’s familiar with the showrunners from her work on their older Joss-backed projects, Dr. Horrible and Dollhouse. It would be fun to see her take on a more badassed role.

For The DCW-verse in general: Ambush Bug

ambush_bug

Who’s that?

Created by Keith Giffen, Ambush Bug started as a comic relief villain for Superman, only to decide he’d rather be a (largely incompetent) hero, and eventually became popular enough to star in a sequence of miniseries and specials over the next two decades, all from Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming, the definitive Ambush Bug creative team. One of his signature traits became DC in-jokes and satire of DC itself (and some Marvel).

You know that whole “breaking the fourth wall, being aware he’s a comic/movie character” thing Deadpool does that everyone loves? Ambush Bug was doing it nearly a decade earlier. Let me posit something to you… the DCW-verse is in its fifth year. Arrow just celebrated its 100th episode. We’re nearing the point where a show can start to get away with the occasional self-referential humour episode. (Some might argue Arrow’s 100th started this off with the opening speech-referencing exchange “My name is Oliver Queen—“ “We know who you are.” “Everyone knows who you are!”) Supernatural’s done a handful of those over the last few years, and they’re all great.

Ambush Bug’s one power is the ability to teleport anywhere, even between universes. So Ambush Bug could visit all four of the DCW-verse shows for a fun, comic relief, non-crossover crossover. Or just for random episodes. You know, I can picture the DCW-style “My name is Oliver Queen/Barry Allen” opening now…

“My name is Irwin Schwab. That’s not the name I’m super famous for or anything, but—you know, I’m getting off track here. When a scientist of the planet Schwab sent his clothes from his supposedly doomed planet, hoping that his wardrobe would survive, only to have it intercepted by a giant radioactive space spider… I think? That’s what I heard, but I didn’t actually… I mean it sounds right… I found the bug-like suit, and gained the ability to teleport, ambushing people. So, Bug, Ambush, there’s something there, I feel. I discovered a universe full of repeating tropes and gloomy heroes, and now have made it my mission to help these teen soap multiverse heroes be someone else… something else. No, just that first one.”

“Ambush Bug! I am… Ambush Bug. Did I make that clear? Yes? Good.”

Who to cast?

This looks like a job for Danny Pudi.

pudi-danny

Ambush Bug is a little bit crazy and a lot of self-reference. And six seasons (and a movie? Not yet) of nailing quirks, pop culture, and meta-jokes on Community as Abed Nadir prove Danny Pudi’s got the chops to make Ambush Bug a fun addition to the DCW-verse instead of an annoyance only I enjoy.

Will any of these shows do any of this? I don’t know. Frankly I couldn’t have predicted any of the characters Arrow pulled out this year (maybe Prometheus). But they’d all be fun to see.

Comic TV 2016 Part Four: The Top Five

And we come to the end. What are, in my estimation, the top five comic book shows on TV last season, and why. You know the drill, let’s get into it.

5. Daredevil

daredevil-season-2-faq-pic

Premise: Matt Murdock’s war to protect the people of Hell’s Kitchen is complicated not only by a DA out to round up New York’s vigilantes (at least the ones who don’t appear in movies), but by the arrival to the Kitchen of lethal vigilante Frank Castle, and Matt’s dangerous ex, Elektra Natchios.

So we’ve talked about the Punisher. Repeatedly. And for a reason. As long as the Punisher was happening, Daredevil was every bit as good, if not better, than its freshman outing. So why, you might ask, has it slipped from first place to fifth since last year? Because the parts not dealing with the Punisher ended up more lacklustre. We’ll cover that down below. But despite all of the flaws I’m about to list, there’s still enough of the first season in there to make it above average. And what they did well, they did well enough to push Daredevil above Arrow for a second year. Although it was close.

Strengths: All things Punisher. The fight scenes, when you can see them. Deborah Ann Woll is doing amazing work, even if Karen Page’s story gets weird towards the back half. Breaking the season into mini-arcs.

Weaknesses: Okay, we’re gonna need a speed round for all of these plot holes and problems…

  • Elektra’s one of Daredevil’s strongest female characters in the comics. Here she has to decide which male figure is going to determine how she lives her life. That’s… weak.
  • Why did the Hand dig a giant hole? What was that accomplishing?
  • No, wait, the Hand’s big goal, this Black Sky they’ve been hinting at since last year, is just a person who’s good at killing? That’s it? How does that help them rule the world? How does that even help them rule New York, let alone a world filled with Avengers and Inhumans and magic space rocks?
  • The producers are so committed to Matt’s martyrdom that there’s never a fight he wins easily. He has to struggle each time. So the army of ninjas loses some bite when they give Matt exactly as much trouble as the biker gang from episode three.
  • They put a lot of effort into their fight scenes. Maybe if they’d lit a few more of them…
  • Elden Henson seriously whiffs a few of Foggy Nelson’s big emotional moments. He was a better actor last year.
  • How does a legal assistant get a job as an investigative reporter? There have to be dozens of journalism majors for every open newspaper job.
  • How does someone not get fired for spending weeks, maybe longer on a story only to write a junior high essay about heroes?
  • How is the DA targeting New York vigilantes and her number two target (after the Punisher) is licensed private detective and only part-time-at-best vigilante Jessica Jones? Not Spider-man? No Inhumans? No mention of Sokovia, even? I mean, Jesus Christ, Marvel, be a unified universe or don’t.
  • Daredevil sure gets blasé about fighting next to people who are killing people by the end.
  • Every Asian on this show is in a sinister ninja cult. That’s… not great.
  • And how does the season start in a summer heat wave and end at Christmas? Everything seems to happen in a matter of weeks at most, not months.

Feels like a lot, doesn’t it. See, Arrow, if you’d dial back the Felicity drama even a little you’d make the top five easily.

High point: New York’s Finest/Penny and Dime. The best fight, the best Punisher/Daredevil confrontations, Daredevil at its best.

Low point: The Dark at the End of the Tunnel. Poorly lit fights and the Elektra/Hand plot takes a turn for the stupid. Seriously, that’s your endgame? Your Black Sky would have their hands full against freaking Ant-Man, let alone the Vision.

Tips for next season: Turn on some damned lights. Have a better Big Bad, ’cause the Hand flopped hard. Focus on New York if you want but either try to remember that the larger MCU exists, or officially secede. I mean, we’ve seen how multiverses can work…

4. The Flash

The-Flash-Season-2-Premiere-Review

Premise: After the events of last year’s finale, Flash learns that he has opened breaches to an alternate Earth, and drawn the attention of evil speedster Zoom.

Few shows on this list embrace the wacky and weird world of comic books like The Flash. After introducing super powers, time travel, and giant telepathic gorillas in season one, in season two they plunged right into one of DC’s on-again off-again favourite devices since the seminal The Flash of Two Worlds, the multiverse. This helped to propel their early episodes to fun heights. They still manage the best blend of action, humour, and heart. Even if they didn’t quite stick the landing.

Strengths: I haven’t really found a place in these blogs to talk about what an asset to the show Tom Cavanaugh is, but he’s great. Even when the finale handed him one of the most ridiculous comic book nonsense lines of any show this year. Also, new characters Wally West, Jesse Wells, and in particular Patty Spivot ranged from good to delightful. Grant Gustin remains delightful even when Barry is pissing me off. Cisco and Caitlin might not make the supporting character podium, but they did some good work this year. Not only did they bring back the telepathic gorilla, they upped themselves with a giant man-shark.

Weaknesses: First off, Earth Two has the Justice Society, Earth Three has all the evil doppelgangers, come on guys, you know this. That said. The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Barry Allen really did wear thin over the back third. More problematic, when we hit peak Bad Barry Choices, we also ran out of plotline for Zoom. For the last five episodes, there was no nuance, no subtlety, no real surprises. One of the best aspects of Reverse Flash’s plot in season one was that his motivation turned out to be incredibly simple. Zoom’s motivation was also simple, but worse: it boiled down to “Zoom just likes killing.” That’s fine for a one-off villain or Krombopulos Michael, but a season-long villain needs more than that. Ultimately Zoom was a horrible waste of a far better comic villain. A weak ending was enough to knock Flash all the way down to number four. Also, like Arrow, they had to spend some time setting up Legends of Tomorrow, but other than the “Well, need a new Firestorm, I guess” episode, it was low impact.

And man… why’d they have to write Patty out… she was great…

High point: Welcome to/Escape From Earth 2. A high-paced trek through the much-mentioned, until-then-little-seen Earth-2 filled with Easter Eggs (including our first glimpses of Jonah Hex and Connor Hawke, who would later pop up on Legends), fun evil versions of multiple characters, and a big hint towards a coming twist. Not even the first Poor Decision of Barry Allen could sink this two-parter.

Low point: Back to Normal. After a disastrous decision on Barry’s end, Barry learns to adjust to life without powers. Again. Second time in as many seasons. Waiting for Barry to get his speed back slowed the season to a crawl right when it should have been accelerating–that was a lot of speed references in a thing about The Flash, it just happens.

Tips for next season: Okay. I saw what you did at the end of the finale. So let me say this… if you’re doing what we all think you’re doing… don’t drag it out. I’ve been promised a four-show crossover for episode eight, and I do not want it to be a week-long wrap up to TV Flashpoint.

…Actually I want a Flashpoint story featuring characters from all four shows incredibly bad, but I’d rather the other three not to have to put their own stories on pause to make it happen. So maybe try to keep it to four episodes, tops? And then once you’re done, write a better villain. I know you know how.

3. Supergirl

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Premise: Kara Zor-El, strange visitor from another planet, decides she’s tired of living in secret as Kara Danvers, and sets out to protect the world as Supergirl. Just like her more famous cousin.

Remember what I said about embracing comic booky-ness? About 630 words ago? Well, there’s one other show doing it as well as the Flash. And it’s also surpassed its brother show in terms of cheer and hopefulness. Supergirl’s first season delivers all the geeky fun of the Flash’s, plus better blends of combat and special effects, and some delightful surprises for long-term fans and newbies alike. It can be a little cheesy at times, but if you can get past that, there’s a lot to love.

Strengths: Melissa Benoist. Chyler Leigh. The evolution of Hank Henshaw’s relationship to Supergirl. Calista Flockhart takes Cat Grant from stereotypical “mean boss” to a surprisingly effective mentor for Kara’s civilian and super identities. Jeremy Jordan as Winn. Top notch special effects for TV. Max Lord worked well as a recurring antagonist.

Weaknesses: Sometimes the feminism can be a little on-the-nose. And sometimes the dialogue can be a little cheesy or clunky. And Kara and James Olsen could have better chemistry if we’re supposed to be invested in them as a thing.

High point: Worlds Finest. The Flash comes to National City, and it is Ah. Maze. Zing.

Low point: Red Faced. Where to start. The episode has four villain characters, meaning it doesn’t have time to do any of them well; the “women can’t be mad in public” issue is a little ham-fisted (and they mentioned but kind of skimmed past “neither can black men”); what did they spend on that Red Tornado costume, fifteen dollars, maybe sixteen; why is Justice League stalwart Red Tornado a villain at all, shouldn’t he have become good after becoming self-aware; killing Red Tornado and his creator was a waste not only of Red Tornado but of T.O. Morrow, one of DC’s bigger and better mad scientists, and that’s saying something since DC has enough mad scientists that they once formed their own sovereign country

Tips for next season: Well, this one’s hard. Their budget’s getting slashed, so it may be enough of a challenge to keep up what they’ve been doing thus far. We’ll probably get less CG, maybe less Cat, and it may be a challenge finding external locations that look like the California desert hillsides that define the outskirts of National City. Kelowna, maybe. The important thing is to maintain and build on the things you’ve done well that don’t cost megabucks to pull off. Flash and Legends of Tomorrow do okay effects-wise on a CW budget, so can Supergirl. And how excited am I at the possibility of Winn meeting Cisco and Felicity? And Superman’s making a proper appearance? Interesting.

2. iZombie

Izombie

Premise: Promising doctor-turned-zombie Liv Moore works with Seattle PD detective Clive Babineaux to solve murders, by using the visions she gains eating the victims’ brains to feign psychic abilities. Meanwhile, her boss/friend Ravi Chakrabarti finds that even if he can recreate his cure for zombiism, it has unfortunate side effects.

iZombie came back for second season firing on all cylinders. They cut some plotlines that weren’t working (Liv’s family), gave Major a much better story now that’s he’s learned the truth about Liv, Blaine’s way more fun this year now that he’s not the big villain, the big villains they do have are great… sure it’s still a crime procedural based around psychic visions caused through zombie brain consumption, but all in all, iZombie remains thoroughly delightful.

Strengths: With improved stories for Major, the cast doesn’t really have a weak link. We dive deeper into the Seattle zombie population that Blaine created in season one, and the issues Blaine’s having keeping them happy, and how that’s complicated by Vaughn du Clark trying to wipe them out. Personal relationships are allowed to grow and evolve. Really, just about everything works.

Weaknesses: If murder-of-the-week crime procedurals aren’t your thing you might struggle a little with this one.

High point: Max Wager, in which Mr. Boss makes his debut, or Abra Cadaver, in which Liv eats magician brains and it’s the best day for Ravi, but it’s probably Dead Beat/Salvation Army, the two-part finale in which the launch of Max Rager’s newest drink threatens to become a full-blown zombie apocalypse, while Ravi and Blaine must join forces against Boss’ men. And Liv discovers a new player that promises to make season three a whole new thing.

Low point: The Hurt Stalker. Liv eats Stalker brains, and subsequently destroys her life. By the next episode, even Ravi’s desperate to move on from that brain.

Tips for next season: So… that thing that happened in the last few minutes? Let’s just see how that goes.

1. Jessica Jones

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Premise: Super-powered private detective Jessica Jones fights to expose and defeat Kilgrave, the mind-controlling psychopath who once kept her prisoner for weeks on end, out of a twisted sense of love.

Sometimes “bright,” “hopeful,” and “comic-booky” aren’t what you need. Sometimes you want to go the other direction. And if that’s the case, Jessica Jones has you covered. It’s dark, it presents an unlikeable heroine facing a villain that makes your skin crawl, it has streaks of nihilism… it’s also pretty brilliant.

Strengths: The whole cast is top-notch. The series is incredibly bingeable. They never pretend that all of Jessica’s problems have one source or an easy solution. Kilgrave has more depth than most Marvel villains put together. A great introduction to Luke Cage. Best exchange of origin stories ever: “Accident. You?” “Experiment.”

Weaknesses: Agents of SHIELD struggles to be connected to the MCU. Daredevil doesn’t bother much. Jessica Jones seems actively embarrassed to be part of it. When the Avengers are mentioned it’s never by name, merely as “the green guy” and “the flag-waver.” That’s worse than the Supergirl pilot, which seemed full-on allergic to saying “Superman” out loud. Plus I still don’t see Stark/Avengers Tower in the New York skyline, and the whole plot hinges on needing to prove that mind control isn’t impossible in a city where an actual alien invasion was fought off in part by the literal Norse god of thunder. That’s a lot of time I just spent explaining what is, I admit, a minor quibble re: larger franchise continuity. If you don’t care about that, then I’ve got nothing.

High point: AKA WWJD? Jessica and Kilgrave play house as Kilgrave attempts to win over Jessica, and Jessica wonders if she can find a way to redeem the irredeemable. Along the way, they have it out over what, exactly, their past relationship truly was.

Low point: AKA 99 Friends. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s a filler episode, it does end on an awkwardly shot action beat (really more of a tantrum), and you know his name is Captain America, Jessica. “The flag-waver.” Swear to god, if I rewatch this show and catch her namedropping reality TV stars…

Tips for next season: Maybe try mini-arcs, like Daredevil did. Stretching one plotline over 13 episodes can get exhausting. Well, I imagine it might. For people who somehow don’t watch the entire season in two sittings. Whoever they are. Just avoid Daredevil’s mistake and don’t make the last mini-arc poorly-lit garbage.

And that’s the list. Thanks for joining me, those who did, and feel free to leave comments claiming I’m a fool for under/over-valuing something. I’ll just be over here, sulking about having to wait a week for another taste of Preacher.

Comic TV 2016 Part Three: Beginning the wrap-up

I would do another Beyond the Capes section but there’s a lot to cover already and it mostly just would’ve been about Limitless. I liked Limitless and there aren’t a lot of venues to talk about it. But anyway… let’s begin the rankings.

11. Gotham

Gotham

I just… I can’t. I hit a point back in October where I just couldn’t be bothered. Limitless is canceled but this one just keeps going… how is that justice…

10. Lucifer

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Premise: Lucifer Morningstar, having abandoned his post in Hell, helps LAPD detective Chloe Decker solve murders (to her chagrin) while angel Amenadiel tries to get him back to Hell.

I only read one issue of the comic this is based on, but I don’t think there’s any way to hear “A spinoff of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is reimagined as a Castle knock-off” and not think it’s a terrible idea. And yet… there is something there. Most of the appeal is in Tom Ellis’ performance, but there’s a cleverness to the writing at times, and Lucifer’s relationship with his sterner brother Amenadiel is entertaining. Especially in the last two episodes.

Strengths: Tom Ellis. The mysteries-of-the-week aren’t 100% predictable. Lucifer and Amenadiel’s weird sibling rivalry.

Weaknesses: One more time for the kids in the bleachers… it is a knock-off of Castle in which the Devil helps the LAPD solve crimes. Nothing I say can change that.

High Point: #TeamLucifer/Take Me Back to Hell. The two-part finale blows the doors off. Finally, the Amenadiel/Lucifer fight and buddy cop movie we deserved. And a potentially interesting (possibly terrible) twist for next year.

Low Point: Manly Whatnots. Lucifer decides the best way to get over his fascination with his partner Chloe Decker is to double his efforts to bang her. It gets uncomfortable and embraces the weaker aspects of Lucifer’s character.

Tips for next season: More mythology. And less running in circles where “Why does Lucifer’s invulnerability wear off when Chloe’s around.” Also, could one of the human characters figure out he’s not just pretending to be the Devil? Just one? That has to happen eventually, doesn’t it?

9. Agent Carter

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Premise: Peggy Carter transfers to the LA branch of the Strategic Scientific Reserve to investigate a new case… one her superiors don’t want her investigating.

I get that this is still an important show to a lot of people. Agent Carter was proudly feminist and examined the institutional sexism of a period of time conservatives love to call a golden age. But none of that changes the fact that the show lost a few steps this year. The “woman in a man’s world” angle got moved to the villain, so that “woman succeeding in a male-driven group” becomes something to root against. More problematic? “Peggy Carter goes rogue from the SSR because, as a woman, they don’t take her seriously” worked like gangbusters. “Peggy Carter goes rogue from the SSR because they’re being manipulated by the Arena Club (what Agents of SHIELD viewers recognize as a branch of Hydra)” is a lesser copy of that. And it weakens Carter as a character, because if she already lived through the SSR being manipulated by the Arena Club (Hydra’s most successful branch, they seem to already run the US), how on Earth did she miss SHIELD being infiltrated by Hydra Proper? But we know she did. We saw Winter Soldier. Also… it’s a little odd that after a season based around establishing Peggy’s worth beyond being Captain America’s girlfriend, so much of this season revolved around her love life.

Strengths: Peggy’s relationship with Edwin Jarvis. Their oh-so-British banter remained wonderful. The newly revealed and delightful Ana Jarvis. The continued employment of Enver Gjokaj. Chief Thompson’s turn back to the light in the final episodes.

Weaknesses: The Arena Club. Never managing to call Whitney Frost “Madame Masque.” Having ratings that low but still ending on a cliffhanger. Forcing a female lead into a romantic triangle. Spending one whole episode on race relations in the 50s then forgetting about it.

High Point: The Atomic Job. For one episode, Agent Carter became a comic heist flick.

Low Point: A Little Song and Dance. Despite a fun opening musical number, this episode ends with Peggy Carter becoming an “acting tough” version of the simpering girlfriend. Shortly after chastising her ally/would-be suitor Agent Sousa for letting his feelings for her compromise a mission, she allows her feelings for scientist Jason Wilkes to compromise an even more vital mission, risking basically the whole world to protect a man who asked her to let him die. She is not shown the irony.

Tips for next season: At the time of writing there is no next season, but we live in an era of unexpected revivals, the fan campaign to save it is passionate, and frankly, Agent Carter always belonged on Netflix anyway. Short seasons, one plotline, it’s a better fit there than on broadcast. So if the miracle comes… don’t waste it. Found SHIELD. Get it done. You can’t blow this on a third “Peggy Carter goes rogue from the SSR” plot. Two was clearly too many. Imagine a season arc where Peggy reassembles the team from the now-disbanded SSR to solve the cliffhanger from season two, and in the process they become SHIELD. Now that would work.

8. Legends of Tomorrow

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Premise: Rogue Time Master Rip Hunter unites a team of heroes and villains to bring down immortal villain Vandal Savage before he can conquer the world… and kill Rip’s wife and son.

I’ll admit… this one took some time to find its groove. But it was a team adventure featuring some of the best recurring characters of Flash and Arrow, featuring Arthur Darville as a time traveler and Victor Garber as… don’t even care. Love him in everything. That said, Vandal Savage (one of DC’s upper B-list villains who they blended with uninspiring 2000s era Hawkman/Hawkgirl villain Hath-Set) never really clicked as a great villain. And not all of the cast are on Victor Garber’s level. But in the back half, the show really took off. And they managed some impressive twists.

Strengths: Everything/anything Captain Cold. Arthur Darville and Victor Garber. Jonah Hex. The final arc. Wentworth Miller managing to out-badass James Spader with the line “There are no strings on me.”

Weaknesses: Reddit made a running gag out of how often Ray Palmer screwed up. Their habitual abuse of the timeline. Vandal Savage being a lovelorn Egyptian rather than a conquest-hungry caveman. Kendra/Hawkgirl and her frequent reminders of having just been a barista.

High Point: Destiny/Legendary. Legends wraps strong with a strike against the Time Masters, an impressive fight against Savage (in three time periods at once), and a name-drop that has me at the very least excited for another round.

Tips for next season: The last two minutes have my attention. Don’t screw it up. Also maybe make the next female Legend a little stronger than Hawkgirl ended up being.

7. Agents of SHIELD

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Premise: The Agents of SHIELD work with (sometimes against) the government to deal with the rising number of Inhumans caused by a leak of Terrigen, while a branch of Hydra schemes to bring back the One Inhuman to Rule Them All from his exile on a distant planet.

Agents of SHIELD still has two problems. They still burn through plot a little too fast, especially right before the fall finale. A lot of interesting stories got wrapped up in manners too fast and unsatisfying in order to clear the deck before the hiatus. But that’s still better than season one, in which they waited for 16 episodes to even have an interesting plot. Second… they still try to connect themselves to the movies when the movies don’t care about them. They’ve had four movie tie-in episodes in three years and only one of them is good.

Strengths: After three seasons and five radical changes to his character, they finally made a decent villain out of Grant Ward, even if it did involve killing him first. Fitz and Simmons coming together was adorable. Their fight scenes remain impressive.

Weaknesses: Apparently nobody told them that the Civil War movie wasn’t about registering powered people. Guess they wrote their tie-in based on the comics. Like I said, they tossed out too many interesting plots at the fall break. The much-ballyhooed Secret Warriors we’d been promised since the end of season two took forever to show up and were seriously underwhelming. Lincoln the electric Inhuman was never interesting as a character, although they found a way to make his powers interesting to watch in the end. They wrote out two of their best characters way too early for a spinoff that didn’t happen. Although, that said… their cast did need some pruning.

High Point: 4,722 Hours. The show breaks from their format to tell us about how Simmons stayed alive on a hostile planet for… well, it’s right there in the name.

Low Point: Emancipation. The aforementioned Civil War tie-in episode written by people who clearly weren’t shown the Civil War script, ending in a fight between Inhuman heavyweights Hive and Lash that should have been epic but was ultimately disappointing.

Tips for next season: The movie division doesn’t care about you, so stop caring about them. You likely can’t tie-in to Guardians of the Galaxy, so don’t bother trying to tie-in to Dr. Strange. Do like the DCWverse, find a branch of Marvel Kevin Feige doesn’t want (he is still hoarding all the big name Inhumans), and go to town. And do the right thing… bring back Bobbi and Hunter.

6. Arrow

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Premise: After giving up life as the Arrow, Oliver Queen finds himself drawn back to Starling City (now renamed Star City) to join again with his old team behind a new name: the Green Arrow. Just in time to try and prevent magic-powered Damien Darhk and his friends in HIVE from destroying what’s left of the city.

Arrow’s fourth season had its highs and lows. Was it as good as second season? No. Was it still an improvement on season three? Yes. Could they have toned down the Oliver/Felicity drama? Sure. Was it as bad as the malcontents in the Arrow subreddit claim? No. Is anything as bad as that toxic wad of Felicity-hating shitposters claims? No. Screw those guys. There are no actual Arrow fans on r/arrow anymore. The show managed to bounce back from a muddled and emo third season with a more focused (eventually) villain plot, better use of most of its cast, and while Curtis Holt is not quite Ray Palmer (and may never be Mr. Terrific, who by the way is named Michael Holt, why do they do that), he was a solid addition to the cast.

Strengths: Damien Darhk. Curtis. The fight sequences. Oliver beginning to work his head out of his own ass. Finally making good use of Thea as a character. Managing to still have an impact with their fourth major death in four years. And of course, John Constantine.

Weaknesses: While I stand by my dismissal of r/arrow and those who lurk there… I will admit that the Oliver/Felicity drama became a little much this year. Also, the flashbacks are beginning to struggle for relevance. Isn’t a little weird that everything that happens to Oliver in the present mirrors something that happened to him precisely five years ago? And a non-trivial portion of their run-time up until the fall finale was gobbled up in prepping characters for Legends of Tomorrow. But then, the main villain plot never really comes into focus until the fall finale. Hell, we spent the first nine episodes of season two thinking Brother Blood was the main villain…

High point: Haunted. John Constantine fit right into the ensemble. More of that, please.

Low point: Broken Hearts. “Olicity” drama hits its peak as they fake a wedding to lure out a villain targeting happy couples. I’m pretty sure Lois and Clark did this plot better back in the 90s, and that is not something I want to say again.

Tips for next season: Pick a side, people. Oliver and Felicity are together or they’re not. Make a choice, stick to it, and find your drama somewhere other than Felicity’s issues with Oliver’s secrets. Also, consider it a red flag when your episode summaries open with “Felicity and friends,” not “Oliver and the team.” And maybe we can wrap up the flashbacks? I feel you trying to stretch out Oliver’s five years in Hell/on the island beyond five seasons’ worth of flashbacks, and I ask you to reconsider. And please, please, please… we need to see Diggle react to Supergirl, given that he still hasn’t wrapped his head around the Flash.

Soon… a look at the top five.

Comic TV 2016 Part 2: Blood, Words, and Tears

And we continue. We’ve talked about the best characters, now let’s look at who did the best things with said characters.

That was kind of a thin intro. But let’s face it, these get long. Enough jibber-jabber! Somebody hit something!

Best fight!

Thankfully, we are well past the days of spending an entire season building up a fight between Clark Kent and Doomsday only to have it last thirty seconds and involve Clark tackling Doomsday into a hole offscreen. Even effects-heavy shows like Flash and Supergirl know they need decent fight choreo. Which means this isn’t an easy call to make. But I’m gonna give it a whirl anyway.

(Honourable mention: Hive vs. Daisy in Agents of SHIELD for the blend of fight and power use, the one thing I said they were missing last year)

Bronze: Team Waverider vs Vandal Savage, Legends of Tomorrow, “Legendary”

After a full(ish) season of trying and failing to defeat world-conquerer Vandal Savage, the crew of the Waverider finally have a shot at taking him out: which involves fighting him in three different time periods at once.

For a certain definition of “at once.” Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, speedforce, it just works, okay?

(Obviously it’s a little spoilery, it’s the climax of the entire season.)

Silver: Team Arrow vs. the Ghosts, Arrow, “Brotherhood”

Whatever faults Arrow may or may not have had in its fourth season, they still surely know how to put together an action scene. In season four, Green Arrow and his team have been battling Damien Darhk and his mercenaries, known as the Ghosts. One of those limitless armies of faceless minions I’m often complaining about. But one of them turned out to be less faceless than the others, and Team Arrow hits one of their strongholds in order to extract him. Single-take fights, a single-take fight involving a moving elevator, some of the badder-assed moments for Speedy and the Black Canary, and even the Atom gets in on the fun. Hell of a fight.

Gold: Daredevil vs. an entire biker gang, Daredevil, “New York’s Finest”

Look, everything about the third episode of Daredevil’s second season is pretty great. “New York’s Finest” is Daredevil at its best. In the end, Punisher kicks a hornets’ nest full of angry bikers (no, your metaphor is strained!), and Daredevil is forced to fight his way through them after they threaten the building’s super. It’s the season two answer to season one’s infamous hallway fight. It may not actually be a single take like its predecessor, but it makes up for it by being extra badass. And one of the few season two fight scenes that’s properly lit. Enjoy!

Biggest heartbreak!

You’d think it’d be enough to have people in costumes with powers fight each other in awesome ways. But it is not. They also go and create lovable characters, make you feel for them, and then hurt them in terrible ways. Here’s what I’d call the most heartbreaking examples.

There are some mild spoilers. I mean I’ll do my best but they’re gonna happen. Skip to the next section if you’d rather.

Bronze: A Spy’s Goodbye, Agents of SHIELD, “Parting Shot”

At the beginning of season two, we were introduced to freelancer Lance Hunter and undercover operative Bobbi Morse, known to comics fans as Mockingbird. At first, I wasn’t sure why we were bothering with Hunter (Adrienne Palicki as Bobbi made perfect sense). But before long, ex-spouse spies Hunter and Bobbi became two of the show’s strongest characters.

Halfway through season three, a mission to stop the villainous Gideon Malick from extending Hydra/Hive influence into Russia through a coup d’etat goes wrong, when the general Malick is appealing to turns out to be an Inhuman capable of creating a shadow-self to kill people. In order to save Hunter from the shadow, Bobbi does the only thing she can… she kills the general in front of a half-dozen Russian troops. Leading to her and Hunter’s arrest. Coulson does his best to get them out of custody, but to protect SHIELD, they volunteer to be disavowed, cut off from the agency forever.

At the episode’s end, Bobbi and Hunter try to figure out their next move at a bar, when several shots are delivered to them, one at a time, from the rest of the team. They can’t say anything to Bobbi or Hunter, or have any contact whatsoever, lest the Russians get wind of it and re-connect them to American spy agencies, so they give Bobbi and Hunter “A spy’s goodbye.” A final drink (a parting shot, if you will, hence the episode title) and a silent farewell from each team member in turn, ending with Bobbi and Hunter’s oldest friend, gentle giant Mac, tears brimming in his eyes. His probable last goodbye to the people he’s closest with, and he can’t even say anything due to who could be listening. It’s pretty sad, and made all the sadder by the fact that it turns out they won’t be sailing into their own spinoff this fall.

Silver: Alex confesses, Supergirl, “Solitude”

Alex Danvers was forced to do a bad, bad thing, one she knew that Kara wouldn’t be happy about. To save Alex from Kara’s reaction, her boss Hank Henshaw, director of the DEO, takes the blame. This strains Kara/Supergirl’s working relationship with the DEO in general and Hank in specific, and keeping the secret takes a toll on Alex. Eventually, the toll becomes too much, and even as Kara is begrudgingly agreeing to work with Hank again, Alex breaks. Her voice shaking, she tells Kara exactly what happened, then begins to break down as she admits that she let Hank take the fall because she was afraid of losing her sister.

Kara almost walks out, but love overtakes anger, and she gives a comforting hug to Alex, who then truly breaks down. And when Hank tries to leave, Kara shoots an arm out, stopping him, and taking his hand in a silent moment of… thanks? Apology? Or maybe just respect and acknowledgement. It’s a touching moment only slightly undermined by the fact that in the final wide shot, it looks like Hank really doesn’t want to be there.

Gold: The Big Death, Arrow, [episode redacted]

Right from the end of the season premiere, Arrow was warning us that someone was gonna die this year. Someone major. And when it finally comes, towards the end of the season… they made us feel it. Arrow’s known for big deaths, having offed a major character once per year, but between the character’s final moments and the rest of the cast’s reactions, this one hurt. It hurt a lot. And kept hurting for a while, as the aftershocks hit Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.

That’s really all I can/should say.

Worst recurring tropes!

Taking a break from “Best of” for a second, before I get into “best storyline,” because there have been a few recurring story tropes that are starting to bug me. Not my usual go-to trope complaint, Infinite Respawn, it’s really only Damien Darhk that manages a seemingly infinite army of faceless but expendable soldiers. No, there’s some other things.

Bronze: Abandoned plot points

Now, I’m not talking about plot twists here. Those I’m fine with. They keep things interesting. No, this is something else. I’m talking about episodes that open the door for a potentially interesting storyline, but then the writers just say “Nah, fam,” and keep walking. The plot isn’t twisted, it’s just dropped completely. And it happened more than I’d like.

Prime offenders:

  • The Flash: Two characters are given a clear Origin Moment, but as of the finale, the show has actively rejected the notion that they have powers. Look, if you didn’t want her to be Jesse Quick, you didn’t have to keep calling her that.
  • Agents of SHIELD: Simmons is placed in an awkward position: before she’d been swept away to a far-off planet, she and her lifetime friend Fitz had been planning their first date. But on said planet, things very much heated up between her and Will, the handsome astronaut who helped her stay alive. Fitz vows to save Will… but if he does, who will she choose? Well, don’t worry about it. Will’s dead and Fitz gets to have the catharsis of burning the thing that’s wearing his corpse. Simmons doesn’t have to make choices at all.
  • Also, Coulson’s romance with the head of a rival agency sure ended in a goddamn rush but we’ll get back to that.

Silver: “It’s a trap! But what choice do we have?”

Here’s the scenario. The villain has abducted someone close to the hero. They make their demand. Everyone, literally everyoneespecially us in the audience, senses that this is a) a trap, and b) a terrible idea. But the hero tearfully asks what choice they have, and walks right into the goddamn trap. I mean, at least try. At least try, even a little bit, to outsmart the villain. You know they’re going to betray you, and it’s never a desperate person pulling their last job before retiring, it’s always someone truly dangerous, and you’re just, what, falling for it. You couldn’t make a token effort to betray them first?

Prime offenders:

  • The Flash again: Zoom threatens to kill someone close to Barry’s adoptive dad if Barry doesn’t give Zoom his speed. But, see, Barry… if you do give Zoom your speed, he’s going to use it to kill or torments thousands… no, millions of people that you know about, and you won’t be able to stop him. And Barry does it. Zoom even gave up his hostage first! You didn’t even try to double-cross him, and it got a dozen CCPD officers killed and led to the season’s low point.
  • Lucifer: When the season’s only true recurring villain, a corrupt cop saved from Hell to target Lucifer, kidnaps Detective Chloe Decker’s daughter, she’s determined to do whatever he wants. Even though Lucifer makes clear what we all know… he’ll kill them both anyway. There is no way in which Chloe goes alone and walks out alive, but she refuses to even try to think her way out of it. Fortunately, Lucifer ignores her wants and shows up anyway. Unfortunately, since Chloe’s there, he’s not bulletproof, which causes some issues.
  • Arrow: Damien Darhk kidnaps someone close to Oliver to make him drop out of the mayoral race. To his credit, Oliver at least tries to mount a rescue. Sadly, they blow it, Oliver caves, and a supervillain becomes mayor. But at least he tried.

Gold: Women in refrigerators

Named for the time rookie Green Lantern Kyle Rayner came home to find his girlfriend had been murdered and shoved into the fridge, “Women in refrigerators” refers to the unfortunate trope of female characters being killed to service the plotline of a male character. Superman turns evil because Lois Lane was killed, Vesper dying helps shape James Bond into the man he becomes, that sort of thing. We had a few this year. More than I’d prefer.

Obviously spoilers.

Prime offenders:

  • Agents of SHIELD: RIP Rosalind Price, head of SHIELD’s rival agency the ATCU, whose relationship with Director Coulson went from adversarial to adversarial yet flirtatious to authentically flirtatious to blossoming into a kind of adorable over-40 power couple, which is not something network television embraces often… and then it’s over because she’s dead so that Coulson has the necessary motivation to kill traitor Grant Ward. Because agent Hunter being determined to murder Ward at any cost wasn’t sufficient.
  • Agent Carter: Yes, feminist-loved Agent Carter went to the “Women in refrigerators” place. And not a gender-swapped version, because sorry, MRA crowd, “Men in refrigerators” isn’t a thing since it lacks decades upon decades of gender marginalization to back it up. No, Agent Carter did something else… Ana Jarvis, adorable and supportive wife to Peggy’s partner-in-crime Edwin Jarvis, is shot to cover villainous Whitney Frost’s escape. She lives, but we learn her injuries left her unable to have children. We never see her reaction to this news. Only her husband’s. Ana Jarvis’ potentially life-changing sterilization is a story about how it affects Edwin. We sort of expect better than that from Agent Carter.
  • Arrow: No, not what happened to Felicity. Her story is far too dominant in the back half, sometimes eclipsing Oliver’s, to count for this trope. In fact, this one’s kind of fudging the rules… see, they didn’t kill Argus boss and Suicide Squad engineer Amanda Waller to advance Oliver’s storyline. No, they abruptly killed off Amanda Waller for a far stupider reason: because the Suicide Squad movie’s coming up, and DC Films doesn’t like to share. Weak. Sauce.
  • Legends of Tomorrow: I guess since I’m on this subject, the entire plotline is about Rip Hunter’s wife and child being killed, causing him to go rogue from the Time Masters and do everything he does in the first season. So, you know… there that is.

Enough of that. What did storytellers do right this year?

Best Storyline!

It’s kind of all there in the header. So let’s make this quick.

Bronze: Smile, Jessica Jones

While Daredevil broke its second season into multiple story beats, Jessica Jones was still doing the binge-friendly approach of one story spread over 13 episodes. The entire season, save for one filler episode near the start, is Jessica vs. Kilgrave. And sure it drags in places around the middle, but overall, it works.

Silver: The Secret History of Hank Henshaw, Supergirl

When I heard that the head of the Department of Extranormal Operations on Supergirl would be named Hank Henshaw, I was pretty sure I knew where this was going. You may or may not have noticed from all of the everything, but I’m a long-term DC aficionado. You say Ronnie Raymond, I brace for Firestorm. You say the new barista’s named Kendra Saunders, I know to expect wings and a mace. They said Hank Henshaw, and I thought I knew where we were going. I was wrong. The Berlanti And Friends Cape-based Action Fun Factory hoodwinked me, the way they like to do. And instead of what I expected, they did something pretty great.

Gold: Rise of the Punisher, Daredevil

Simply put, the best story on comic book TV, maybe on TV in general, of last year. Daredevil made some mistakes this year, but everything involving Frank Castle worked like gangbusters. Not much else needs to be said.

Next time, the rankings begin.

Comic TV 2016, part one: Characters!

With last night’s season finale of Arrow, I can now call what I believe to be the biggest season for comic book TV in history closed. Which means it’s time once again to rank the superhero/comic book shows, and take a look at who did what best.

Because it’s my blog and I do what I want.

(Gonna drop “Worst,” though, that’s less fun.)

We lost one show from last year, as Constantine went from leading his own show to only having a guest spot on Arrow (with hopefully more to come, said basically the entire internet), but gained three more as Supergirl, Jessica Jones, and the Legends of Tomorrow hit the small screen. Also, this year I’m dropping “beyond the capes” and just inviting Vertigo to the party, so we’ll throw in the improbably successful Lucifer and the sophomore season of iZombie.

(Sorry, no Walking Dead… still haven’t watched it since 2011.)

(And no Preacher. The pilot just aired, they can play next year.)

(Also I will NOT call them “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” or “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” I hate that trend, we know you’re from Marvel/DC already, there’s a better way to announce that.)

Let’s start by looking at the best characters.

Best Male Lead

This should be a harder category to judge, given how dude-heavy the superhero market is. And yet, a few male leads fell short, often through finding themselves under-written rather than a fault in the actor. These are the three who, through a blend of solid writing and great performances, pulled ahead of a crowded pack.

Bronze: Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, Lucifer (a-doy)

Lucifer 2016 TV series Season 1 Series 1 handout ...

Lucifer, a series about the Devil himself living in LA and helping the police solve murders, should be awful. And yet it isn’t, thanks largely to Tom Ellis in the lead role.

There’s an undeniable charm to his take on Lucifer, and the amount of fun he’s clearly having in the role is infectious. Okay, yes, in large doses, his amused surprise voice and general lustiness can get… samey, but he still kept me coming back for an entire season of, and really listen to how ridiculous this sounds, a Castle knock-off in which the Devil helps the LAPD solve murders.

The ridiculousness of the premise bears repeating. And yet thanks to its lead, the show works. If that’s not a testament to Ellis’ skills and the writing of his character, I don’t know what is.

Silver: Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, The Flash

Grant

I’m surprised he slipped a spot too. It’s not Grant Gustin’s fault, Grant is still the best in the biz in many ways. Still funny and heartbreaking. Grant/Barry helped deliver two of the best episodes of other series just through dropping by to lend a hand. But in the back end of the season, Barry Allen just made so. Many. Bad. Choices. Yes, I get it, EVERY character makes bad choices, it creates drama, but it just got overwhelming. Starting in episode 10, it may as well have been called “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Barry Allen.”

I don’t like being that angry at Barry so often. But when he wasn’t screwing up royal, he was still the most noble, most dependable, most lovable hero in a uniform. Sorry, no… in a costume.

Gold: Clark Gregg as Director Phil Coulson, Agents of SHIELD

Coulson

It’s like all of a sudden the writers of Agents of SHIELD remembered what an asset they have in Clark Gregg. Freed of the endless and slow-moving Tahiti/resurrection/space madness plot that dominated the first season and a half, they actually started finding more emotional and engaging things for Coulson to do. From his rivalry/flirtation with ATCU head Rosalind Price, to his unnervingly calm determination to end traitorous ex-agent Grant Ward, to how haunted he was by succeeding in it, to his awkward mismatched-buddy cop partnership with former nemesis General Talbot, Coulson had a lot of great levels and moments this year. And without all of that “Why is he alive” and “What is he hiding from the team” malarkey, he really came into focus as a leader.

This was the most fun Coulson’s been to watch since The Avengers, and it made this the season I remembered why I was glad he didn’t stay dead.

Best Female Lead

What a difference a year makes. From having so few female leads on TV that I had to stretch the definition just to have the category, to having enough that last year’s winners got knocked clean off the podium. Here are comic book TV’s top ladies.

Bronze: Rose McIver as Liv Moore (GET IT?), iZombie

Rose

Frankly last year I did “Beyond the capes” because I wanted to rave about Rose McIver’s performance on iZombie. When zombies on iZombie eat a brain, they take on aspects of the former owner’s personality. Which means every week we meet a new twist on Liv Moore: eternal optimist, magician, fighty stripper, caped superhero, and somehow they all stay Liv at their core. This year Liv found love, lost love, and lost hope as a promised cure to zombieism began to fail, and along the way Rose McIver will make you laugh and make your heart bleed for the pale mortician with a hunger for brains.

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

benoist

Supergirl was a breath of fresh air for people tired of the darker tone of DC’s movies. Or, indeed, some of their TV. She’s bright, smiling, hopeful, colourful, and at the heart of the character is a ridiculously adorable performance from Melissa Benoist. When she smiles, you smile, and when she cries, you cry. It’s a knockout performance as a lovable character that could only be surpassed by, as it turns out, one thing…

Gold: Kristen Ritter as Jessica Jones, Jessica Jones (I reiterate… a-doy)

Ritter

…a knockout performance as a wonderfully UNlovable character that you end up liking all the same. Jessica Jones is hard-drinking, angry, confrontational, violent, and wonderful to watch. She is a great example of what someone more knowledgeable than me on feminist lead characters discussed in an article called “The Importance of the Unlikable Heroine.” For those who didn’t read, a) for shame, b) she talks about how female characters, unlike their male counterparts, are forced into boxes of likeable, ladylike behaviour. I could go on, but this would get long and stop being about Jessica, so… like her or not, you rooted for her. She was compelling to watch, and the first hero of any gender to turn surviving sexual assault into a super power.

There’s room on TV for Supergirl and Jessica Jones, but if forced to pick (and I guess technically I wasn’t but here we are anyway), Jessica has the edge. If only for how she nailed her line when accused of being paranoid… “Everyone keeps saying that. It’s like a conspiracy.” Black Widow wishes she did that well with the same set-up.

Best Male Supporting Character

There are too many great supporting characters on TV to limit them to just one category this year. Most of these shows are made by their ensembles. Flash wouldn’t be Flash without the geeky enthusiasm and wit of Cisco, Arrow finally clicked in its first season when Oliver partnered with Diggle, Karen Page remains the beating heart of Daredevil… It’ll be hard enough just to pick out three of each gender. But let’s give it a try, starting with the dudes.

Bronze: Rahul Kohli as Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti, iZombie

Ravi

As strong a lead as Rose McIver is, the heart and soul of iZombie is her partner/boss and confidant, Ravi Chakrabarti. Ravi provides backup at the morgue, searches tirelessly for a cure to zombieism, and is a best friend to Liv’s ex-fiance Major Lillywhite (yeah, I know, this show does like to be blunt with the naming). He’s also charming and effortlessly funny, such as when a barista tells him a quote is from Ghandi, and he points to himself saying “Clearly I know who Ghandi is. I’m British. He stole the crown jewel of our empire!” And he managed to sum up me watching any episode of Hannibal… after Liv whipped up that week’s brain-based meal, he leaned over her shoulder and let out a whimper of “God help me but that looks delicious…” And hey, a positive and non-stereotypical role for an Indian. And Aziz Ansari didn’t even have to write it himself.

Silver: Wentworth Miller as Leonard Snart, Flash/Legends of Tomorrow

Captain_Cold

Last year, Captain Cold had knocked it out of the park as the Flash’s second best villain (not entirely fair, he had four episodes to Reverse Flash’s entire season). Not only a delight to watch, he posed an actual challenge to the Flash, beating him three out of four times they crossed paths. So it’s no surprise he made the list of “great recurring characters we want to have their own show” that is the cast of Legends of Tomorrow. What I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed, given that his team includes Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer, Victor Garber’s Martin Stein, and Arthur Darville back in a time machine, is that he’d become the show’s MVP. Just the right level of camp, and one of the best character arcs, as Snart goes from being out to steal across history to becoming a true believer in the mission… while his long-time partner Heat Wave did not, leading to a difficult choice. As much as I’d love to see Captain Cold back in Central City leading the Rogues, I’d be sad to see him leave the Waverider. But as it turns out, next year he’ll be doing both. Or neither. It’s really uncertain right now. I just know he’ll be around somehow.

Gold: Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, Daredevil

Castle

In one of the best scenes of Daredevil’s second season, in fact, of superhero TV this year, the main character just sits quietly for like five minutes while someone else gives a monologue. That’s all it took to deliver an amazing scene. Because that’s how good the Punisher was.

Jon Bernthal’s magnetic performance as Frank Castle was the single best thing about Daredevil’s second season. Frankly (sorry, that was an accident) it was one of the best things on TV this season. Daredevil had some faults this year, no getting around it, but the rise of the Punisher wasn’t one of them. No wonder he’s getting his own show, he basically stole this one out from under its lead.

Best Female Supporting Character

Remember that thing I said about ensembles? That again, only now we’re talking about women.

Bronze: Chloe Bennet as Daisy Johnson, Agents of SHIELD

Skye

This wasn’t a sure thing until a few weeks ago. Daisy, formerly known as Skye, soon to be known by her comic alias of Quake, has always been a central figure to Agents of SHIELD, even in the beginning when she wasn’t quite up to it. But season three wasn’t just when they figured out how to use Coulson. Daisy/Chloe finally found her niche, became a badass, and as the resident Inhuman in SHIELD, the voice of her people. But it was the final episodes of the season where she really shone. After having her mind influenced by would-be Inhuman messiah Hive, Daisy finds the belonging she’s always craved… but when her mind is freed, all she’s left with is a horrible slurry of PTSD, withdrawal, guilt for her actions, and crushing grief. And when she finds out she can never get that belonging back… powerful, powerful rage. And Chloe Bennet just nailed it, leading to an amazing fight scene blending some of the show’s better choreo and Daisy’s powers.

Silver: Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers, Supergirl

Chyler

Kara may rely on her friends to help with her crime fighting, but the one person she counts on above all is her adoptive sister Alex. The love these two sisters-by-choice have powers the show more than any other relationship. Also, Alex kicks a certain amount of ass. And I’ve been a fan of Chyler Leigh’s since she and Captain America made fun of teen movies back in 2001.

Gold: Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker, “Jessica Jones”

Patsy

Speaking of sisters-by-choice… Jessica Jones makes every effort possible to shove everyone in her life away from her, but there’s one person who will not budge. Patricia “Trish” Walker, radio personality and former child star of “It’s Patsy,” stands by Jessica no matter what. One could argue that every positive impulse Jessica has is thanks to her friendship with Trish, who Rachael Taylor sells as a friend worth having, no matter what. And as a badass-in-progress. Even when trying to lure out Jessica’s mind-controlling nemesis almost gets her killed, Trish stays in the fight, and remains Jessica’s lifeline until the very end.

Best Villain

So, this is where I got some flak last year for naming Gotham’s Oswald Cobblepot and Agents of SHIELD’s Calvin Zabo instead of Vincent D’Onofrio’s excellent take on Wilson Fisk (Reverse Flash I stand behind). That’s on me, that’s my bad. Let’s see if I can do better this year. It’ll be a challenge, since this season saw a lot of great comic book villains hit the screen… Vandal Savage, Maxwell Lord, Killer Frost, Mr. Freeze… but these three stood out.

(Honourable mention to Agents of SHIELD’s Brett Dalton, who, as always, basically played two characters this year, both villains, one almost good enough for the podium. Six variations on Grant Ward in three seasons, at least three of them decent, that’s a little impressive.)

Bronze: Eddie Jemison as Stacy Boss/Steven Weber as Vaughn Du Clark, iZombie

Or vice versa

 

In season one, the big villain of iZombie was Blaine, formerly a low-level dealer of a drug called utopium, who infected Liv at the fateful boat party that began the zombie plague. But Blaine was too fun to kill off, and couldn’t be the main villain forever. So season two made Blaine a more necessary evil, and gave us larger roles for two of Seattle’s more nefarious businessmen. Each with their own connection to the cocktail that created zombies: a tainted batch of utopium combined with Max Rager energy drink.

Season one introduced Max Rager, its apparent connection to the zombie outbreak, and its possibly psychotic CEO, Vaughn Du Clark. In season two, Vaughn stepped up from simply pushing a product that caused outbursts of zombie-like rage in certain customers (and hiring an assassin to cover that up) to full-on supervillainy, running a secret lab studying zombies, all for the goal of successfully launching his new product Super Max, which was somewhere between Red Bull and Super Solider Serum. And he also lured one of Liv’s allies into hunting down Seattle’s zombie population to cover his tracks. Steven Weber is gleefully amoral in the role, relishing his devious acts, making Vaughn Du Clark one of those villains you love to hate.

And in this corner… season one dropped rumours and allegations about Blaine’s old employer, the kingpin of Seattle’s utopium trade, Mr. Boss (as I’ve said, they love their on-the-nose names). Season two had Liv’s best friend and Seattle ADA Peyton Charles begin putting together a case against Mr. Boss. Soon after, an unassuming man at a barber shop, played by Ocean’s 11’s Eddie Jemison, described a perfect murder that would send chills up your spine, and then later in the episode, strolled into Peyton’s office to update her board laying out Boss’ syndicate. And so did we meet Stacy Boss: mild-mannered accountant-slash-ruthless crime lord, past and future problem for Blaine’s brewing rival drug empire. Stacy Boss is a subtler, but no less dangerous evil than Vaughn, and in his own way is more monster than the zombies.

They’re both a delight, and add new layers of long-term villainy to what is still primarily a murder-of-the-week show.

Silver: Neal McDonough as Damien Darhk, Arrow

Damien_Darhk

Speaking of villains you love to hate.

Last year, Arrow got to use one of DC’s big guns as their Big Bad: Batman nemesis and leader of the League of Assassins, Ra’s Al Ghul. And they whiffed it a little. This year they went the opposite direction, a villain that even I couldn’t place when he was first name-dropped at the end of season three. I probably have every comic that Damien Darhk ever appeared in somewhere in my basement, but I still had to Google him.

And they nailed it.

The sheer glee Damien had in his sinister work radiated out of him. After three years of increasingly angry and/or angsty main villains on Arrow, to have a villain who so relished the role was a breath of fresh air. And more importantly, they had Neal McDonough. He owned every scene he appeared in, no matter which show. So much so that he caused problems for one of the other DCW series villains… comic book A-lister Vandal Savage’s debut in the Flash/Arrow crossover was completely overshadowed by a one-scene cameo by Damien Darhk. Early in the season, I would actually flinch a little when Damien turned up unexpectedly, because he managed to exude that level of grinning menace just by walking into a room.

Neal McDonough gave a masterful turn as a villain we loved to hate. What could be better? Well…

Gold: David Tennant as Kilgrave, Jessica Jones

Kilgrave

…A masterful turn as the villain we hate to love. The one who makes your skin crawl.

Oh man. Kilgrave. I knew, I knew from the second I heard who was cast, that Kilgrave would give us all the jibblies pretty hard. But I think I may have still underestimated it. David Tennant was horrifyingly spellbinding in the role. And how good was Kilgrave as a villain? He was able to create high stakes without putting the world at risk. Kilgrave didn’t want to destroy and/or rule the world, unlike the majority of this year’s Big Bads (six out of eleven, maybe seven, it’s hard to be sure with the Hand). He just wanted to make Jessica love him. But he was power without conscience, an immoral monster able to impose his will on anyone, and that was enough to make him a menace. Plus, thanks to a non-cheery Cracked article, I learned how incredibly effective he was as a powers-as-metaphor representation of abusive relationships and stalkers. Kilgrave rivals Wilson Fisk for Best Marvel Cinematic Universe villain ever, and he was head-and-shoulders above the pack on TV last year.

Next time… fights, stories, and tears.

Marvel’s Civil War? Huh. What is it good for?

I was going to take a break from geek media this week. I really, really was. Even started a different post yesterday. And then… well, and then this happened. In short, Marvel announced that Captain America 3 will feature Tony Stark, and will kick off (or possibly be) an adaptation of their 2006 event miniseries, Civil War.

Let me sum that up for you. After a group of superpowered youngsters trying to launch a reality series attacked a group of super villains in Stanford, Connecticut, leading to a massive explosion next to a school, the US government decides that maybe all these super heroes shouldn’t be running around unregulated and passes a law requiring anyone with powers to register their identity and powers.

I know, right? After a national tragedy the US government attempts to pass laws restricting the thing that made that tragedy possible. What kooky impossible scenario will those comic writers come up with next?

Anyhoo, Tony Stark leads the pro-registration charge, feeling that this law is both necessary and inevitable. Captain America isn’t sure about this, seeing it as encroaching on the liberties of his friends and allies, and when he’s informed by SHIELD that he either rounds up all of his friends who don’t register or gets shot full of tranq darts and thrown in a cell right about now, he goes on the run and forms the resistance.

Since the book was called “Civil War,” I think you can guess where things go from there.

You can see why Marvel Studios might be eager to bring this Captain America/Iron Man slugfest to the big screen, since despite its many flaws and frequent shipping delays it remains one of the biggest Marvel events of the last 10 years (not that the recent ones are anything to brag about, but still). And you know what? I’m not even going to speculate that they decided to do a movie about Iron Man and Captain America fighting because DC is doing a movie featuring Batman and Superman squaring off. Gonna give Marvel the benefit of the doubt here, and say that either this was already the plan when Batman V. Superman was announced, or they honestly don’t give two shits about what Warner Brothers and DC are up to, because why would they need to?

But maybe they should have given this one a little more thought. Because there are some real problems in trying to adapt it.

Here’s some examples.

Need actual armies for a war

The comic Civil War featured two entire armies of super heroes going at it. Dozens of A and B list characters at war in the streets while dozens more C and D list characters got rounded up by Iron Man’s forces. And as a reminder, one of the key issues involved divulging their secret identities to the government.

Right now, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe has eight super heroes.

Eight.

Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, and War Machine/Iron Patriot. Three of them don’t even have powers, and not a single damned one of them has a secret identity. Hell, three of them were government employees until SHIELD shut down, and one of them works for the military!

But that’s not entirely fair. Between now and May of 2016 that number will go up a bit. Between Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and the launch of Daredevil on Netflix, they’ll be up to… let’s see… 12 super heroes. And one, maybe two secret identities.

Still not quite enough for a war, is it? Yes, they could introduce a wave of new super heroes through Agents of SHIELD… but will they? Will they really? They’ve shown no interest in doing that so far, and Agents of SHIELD might not last past this season if their ratings keep sliding. Which is a shame, because unlike this time last year, they really don’t deserve to be cancelled.

But it doesn’t really matter how many C-list heroes Agents of SHIELD introduces. There will still be some glaring absences.

They can’t do half the story

Here’s some key plot points from Civil War that the movies can’t realistically use.

  1. Spider-Man unmasks. The one big jaw-drop moment of Civil War was Spider-Man revealing his identity on public television, because Iron Man said he had to. There is some rumbling that Sony and Marvel might be nearing an agreement regarding Spider-Man, which would allow Marvel to use Spider-Man in their team-up movies, but Peter Parker had been Tony Stark’s right-hand man for months prior to Civil War in the comics. Tony Stark had become his friend, boss,  and mentor, and that’s how he convinced Peter to unmask at all. Even if Marvel and Sony figure this out, they’re not going to be able to establish that bond between Age of Ultron and Captain America V. Iron Man: Dusk of Shwarma. Not unless they do some serious rewrites to Ant-Man.
  2. Tony Stark builds a super human prison in the Negative Zone. As part of the overall theme of “Tony Stark embodies the worst elements of the Bush administration, but we pretend it’s okay that he won for some reason,” Tony Stark built a prison to lock up all the unregistered super heroes in something called the Negative Zone. No, you don’t know what that is. Nor do the majority of the people who watch Marvel movies. So I can’t see them fitting it in. And odds are Fox is going to claim they own it, because it’s linked to the Fantastic Four. Hey, that reminds me…
  3. The Fantastic Four split up. Mr. Fantastic was on Tony’s side from day one, but Invisible Woman and Human Torch sided with the resistance and the Thing decided to emigrate (he didn’t get far). Aside from Cap and Iron Man being at each other’s throats, the Civil War splitting up Marvel’s first family was one of the big emotional beats. And since Fox would rather release a Fantastic Four movie they seem weirdly ashamed to talk about than give the rights back to Marvel, kiss that plot point goodbye. Why did Susan leave Reed? Well, it had something to do with…
  4. That clone of Thor that killed a fellow hero. Iron Man’s side accidentally drew first blood when their cyborg clone of Thor went a little nuts and killed Goliath, a fourth-string Giant Man knock-off. The only reason they had a clone of Thor is that the real Thor had been missing for quite a while, as Marvel had taken the character off the bench for a few years. So even if cyborg clones were something the Cinematic Universe did… and I guess there’s no reason it couldn’t be… why would they have a clone of Thor when the real Thor is right there? Unless he dies at the end of Age of Ultron or something–holy shit are they going to kill Thor in Age of Ultron? It would explain why they aren’t even talking about a third Thor movie…
  5. The Punisher joins Cap but Cap doesn’t know how he feels about that. Doesn’t sound like much of a plot point, but that is literally all that happened of note in issue five. Civil War spent three issues treading water and then crammed all the plot into one big fight scene in issue seven. But anyway, Marvel does own the Punisher again, but they’re not doing anything with him. Unless he turns up on Daredevil (he should), nobody in the Cinematic Universe knows or cares who the Punisher is, so this would be even less of a plot point than it was in the books.

So, yeah. Can’t do any of that. Well, maybe the Thor clone. And the problem is…

There’s not much plot left

Once you’ve taken out Spider-Man unmasking, the Thor clone killing Goliath, the Fantastic Four breaking up, the Negative Zone prison, Spider-Man switching sides, and the X-Men not giving a fuck, there’s barely any plot left. All you really have is Iron Man fights Captain America until the Real Heroes of 9/11 tackle Captain America and shame him into surrendering.

No, I'm not kidding. Yes, it was that ham-fisted.

No, I’m not kidding. Yes, it was that ham-fisted.

And is that really a whole movie? Is it?

Seriously, Civil War was the second most underwritten Marvel event in recent memory (the most underwritten was Secret Invasion, but that’s a whole other rant). Seven perpetually delayed issues with four issues’ worth of story and a hackneyed ending in which Iron Man happily sails a helicarrier into the sunset because normal people didn’t seem to mind all that terrible stuff he did, so it must have been okay. It set up interesting stories, as the Avengers were split into two teams, one team being anti-registration fugitives, and it led to the death of Captain America, but Civil War itself was all sizzle, no steak.

But when did Hollywood start minding that.

Moving along.

The actual plot doesn’t make any sense with the cinematic Avengers

So two things have to happen for this story to get going. Tony Stark has to support a government bill clamping down on super heroes, and Captain America has to oppose it. And both of those things have some problems through the lens of the Cinematic Universe.

Why, why I ask you, would the Tony Stark of the movies go along with this? It makes no sense. No sense at all. This isn’t the comic book Tony Stark who was Secretary of Defense until Scarlet Witch got him fired (yes, that’s basically what happened). This the movie Tony Stark, who basically flipped off a Senate committee while declaring he’d “privatized world peace.” The Tony Stark who, upon joining up with everyone on the SHIELD helicarrier in Avengers, spent as much time trying to figure out what SHIELD was up to as Loki. The Tony Stark who, we’re told, founded his own private spy agency in the wake of SHIELD’s collapse in The Winter Solider.

This is a Tony Stark who gives zero fucks about what the government thinks is best. Unless something in Age of Ultron happens to seriously change his perspective… and yes, I admit that it could… this Tony Stark seems completely unlikely to start chasing down Bruce Banner or Steve Rogers because some senator or general asks him to.

And then there’s Captain America. Cap opposed the registration act because of its violation of civil liberties, especially the “round up everyone who doesn’t give us their secret identity” part. But with no real secret identities in play, what’s driving this act? One theory I’ve heard is the whole “Your powers are too dangerous to be unregulated” angle.

Okay, I was just kidding around in the intro, but everyone sees how this then becomes about gun control, right? And Captain America would be the figure leading the charge against gun control. That’s… problematic. Captain America is always used as the face of what’s morally right in Marvel projects. Maybe it’s because I’m not from a flyover state, but given all the mass shootings that keep happening in the US, having their moral center on the other side of this issue is… well, it’s uncomfortable.

They’re going to make this movie. It’s going to be a hit, especially if rumours that Cap 3 is slowly becoming Avengers 2.5 are true. But it’ll have to be a HUGE hit to pay for all the additional cast it needs. And I thought that somebody should be bringing up all the ways in which trying to make this story work on screen is flawed.