Boba and the Peacemaker

(Inevitable spoilers ahead for Book of Boba Fett, Peacemaker, and The Suicide Squad, but I’ll try to keep it minimal)

Two shows hit streaming in late 2021/early 2022. Both took (mostly) the weekly release strategy. Both–no, no, I did this “How many parallels can I find” schtick with Supergirl and Lucifer and I absolutely stretched it a little… and the shows are in the title… okay so let’s just get started.

Image: Disney

A week before Christmas 2020, Disney+ wrapped their second season of hit series The Mandalorian by teasing that instead of/prior to season three, they were launching a new show, The Book of Boba Fett, after having Temura Morrison turn up throughout the season as a surprisingly not eaten-by-Sarlacc Boba Fett. Because that’s how season two of Mandalorian rolled: Din Djarin/Mando and his little buddy Baby Yoda/Grogu going from recognizable character* to recognizable character picking up sub-quests until he was ready to form a squad to take on Moff Gideon.

*I mean… recognizable if you watched Clone Wars and/or Rebels.

Boba Fett’s been a fan favourite character for decades, because… um… let me check my notes… because he had a sweet action figure back in the 80s. He was such a favourite that a Boba Fett movie was one of the earliest movies Disney was pitching when they bought Lucasfilm. Then Solo disappointed at the box office and the whole “cinematic Star War every year” plan got rethought. But despite basically making a better version of a Boba Fett show with Mandalorian (a new character having new adventures in basically the same badass suit), they circled back to it with Book of Boba Fett. Seven episodes devoted to everyone’s favourite featured extra from The Empire Strikes Back, spinning off from The Mandalorian and moving into the palace from the opening sequence of Return of the Jedi to become a crime boss. I certainly see the logic behind this series. It’s extremely cynical logic, based on how to exploit an IP more than “we have a story that needs telling,” but that seems to be Star Wars these days. Thanks again for that to the toxic wastes of time that pitched a tantrum after Last Jedi and scared Disney away from trying to innovate.

End result… it’s fine. Basically mostly fine. Some issues we’ll be unpacking later, as you must have suspected. But let’s rip off this Band-Aid… I don’t know why it’s called The Book of Boba Fett. There is no book. No implications of a book. Could have been The Ballad of Boba Fett, all I’m saying.

And in this corner…

Image: Warner Bros.

As the Snyder Cult loved to complain, nobody really asked for Peacemaker. But how could we. It’s a show spinning off a character from a movie that, when the show was announced, hadn’t come out yet. Mad genius James Gunn, stuck in the same quarantine and dealing with the same anxiety as the rest of us, hammered out an eight-episode series for one of the characters of his upcoming The Suicide Squad. Actually three characters, one of the squad and two members of their tech support team. Not the ones cued up to be audience favourites. Not Harley Quinn or Bloodsport or Ratcatcher II. John Cena’s peace-loving mass-murderer, Peacemaker.

And yeah, Cena’s good in The Suicide Squad, he’s a fun character, right up until the moment he isn’t, at which point he transitions to being one of the most hateable characters in the movie. Not the most. That’s General Suarez. Maybe Presidente Luna. Actually Amanda Waller’s not here to make friends either, and the Thinker… okay he’s somewhere between third and fifth most– Blackguard, right, screw that guy– third and sixth?

Anyway he wasn’t exactly primed to be the first cast member we’d want to see next, but Gunn clearly had an idea he liked, and set about to take this character we’d been booing and dig into why he is like he is, what made him into this, and make us feel bad for him. Make us like him, root for him, want him to succeed… partially because if he doesn’t succeed, humanity is pretty screwed.

All this with Gunn’s blend of laugh-out-loud humour, fun characters with strong arcs, and some truly, unexpectedly, gutting emotional moments. Peacemaker started from nearly the opposite position as Book of Boba Fett, but found everything the other show was lacking.

So I wanna do a compare/contrast: look at the reasons that Book of Boba Fett was basically okay but hard to recommend, and what Peacemaker did differently to wind up an incredible ride and the most-watched streaming show in the world while Boba Fett was still happening.

To begin with, the protagonists.

Pop Culture 2021: A Review

So with the prior year wrapped up, various critic groups are releasing their best-of lists, and it feels like they’re getting more attention than usual, because the Second Annual Plague-Time Oscar nominations are months away, and the Golden Globes got busted so hard for being too white they’re not even getting televised this year so honestly why do we care. The LA Critics Association gave out awards and the internet’s AV Club named their top 25, and both seemed to learn the lesson of Parasite, as the top film for the former comes from Japan, and far more of the latter’s list came from outside the US than in.

And god damn I don’t want to watch most of it.

Listen to this fucking description for Days, number 24 on the AV Club’s list: “What passes for a plot is mostly mundane activity, the dialogue reduced to an unscripted, un-subtitled minimum. Yet those who can adjust their attention span to Tsai’s demands on it will discover a film fluent in the loneliness so many have endured these past couple years.” Fuck you. I know it’s been lonely since that first lockdown, I have lived that, and with (for my region) a fifth lockdown on the horizon, I don’t need to watch a slow, intentionally dull film about how one erotic encounter breaks up the monotony of an empty existence to know that plague times are emotionally taxing. If one thing goes wrong at work, I go into an emotional spiral for hours, because life in 2021 does not provide enough joy to cushion a difficult work moment.

Let me turn the mic over to this TikTok about Spider-Man: No Way Home being a huge hit and Ridley Scott’s apparently excellent Last Duel not to explain the issue here.

@blackpnwlady

#stitch with @indigodetry i told yallll #spiderman #marvel #comicbook #film @navthepoet @straw_hat_goofy

♬ original sound – Kiki From the PNW

I have seen, at time of writing, two films from the AV Club’s list (The Power of the Dog, and West Side Story, which I’m sure we’ll talk about it when I rank Oscar nominees), actively want to see one other (The French Dispatch of The Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun), and would be okay seeing four others (including, yes, the one that features sex with cars, Bumblebee crawled so that Titane could run), but…

I would trade the entire list and every remaining Golden Globe nominee for a second season of Hawkeye. And Hawkeye isn’t perfect, it has too many plot threads for six episodes to tie up in a satisfying way, but it surely was a fun ride. Whereas Oscar Season 2020 was nothing but tough hangs, so nobody can be blamed for not rushing to check out Oscar Season 2021.

So instead, let’s talk nerd stuff.

Several pop culture franchises made some big flexes in 2021, and not all of them necessarily worked, but a lot of them point to some issues facing the entertainment industry right now I want to talk about, so let’s talk about them. I, a sometimes regionally notable playwright who works in a hotel, will break down the biggest problems facing the world’s largest media conglomerates, why not.

And maybe touch on why I liked Hawkeye, we’ll see.

First off, how’s Marvel doing?

On Saying Goodbye: Supergirl and Lucifer

Two TV series I’ve loved both ended recently. Both were based (to varying degrees) on comics from DC. Both ran for six seasons of differing lengths. Both were saved from premature cancellation. Both have been near the top of my annual comic TV rankings at various points. Both have had lead actors so great that their title characters have regularly appeared on the Best Lead podiums, with supporting characters often doing likewise. Both knew they were heading into their last season. Both had a role to play in Crisis on Infinite Earths okay I’m stretching these parallels too far now I see it too.

The Morning Star and the Maid of Might

It’s Lucifer and Supergirl. We’re talking Lucifer and Supergirl.

One ended with a tight ten episodes, a steady string of comedic highs and powerful emotional punches that were so moving towards the end they’ve lived rent-free in my head ever since, compelling me to start a series rewatch from the pilot. The other… went a different way.

Lucifer started on Fox, seeming to be just another murder-of-the-week procedural, only the straight-laced cop’s quirky partner was the literal Devil instead of a mystery writer or guy who’s good with math or fake psychic or less fun fake psychic or fake psychic who’s actually a zombie, then stealth-transformed into an incredibly watchable deconstruction of biblical figures, and a compelling examination of family, love, justice, how we build our own Hells, and what it means to be human. Also sex jokes and musical numbers. It got cancelled after three seasons, and seemed doomed enough that I wrote a eulogy for it, but was saved by Netflix and came back to do three admittedly shorter seasons that enjoyed some freedoms from network standards (less than you might expect but far from none) and turned out to be possibly their best work.

(I say “possibly” because it’s hard to declare any season lacking regular appearances by Tricia Helfer as either Lucifer’s scheming divine mother or her slightly unhinged host body Charlotte Richards to be their best.)

Then it looked like season five would be it… but Netflix said “No, hang on, one more. We want one more.” So we got two consecutive seasons of series-endgame high stakes, and it was delightful.

Supergirl started on CBS, the third entry from the Greg Berlanti Superhero-Based Action Fun Factory, known better as the Arrowverse, though was not yet part of said Arrowverse. It was in the same mold as The Flash but tried to stand alone… until ratings slid and they had Flash drop by for a crossover bump. CBS was willing to call it a day after one year, but kid sibling network the CW picked it up, bringing Supergirl into the Arrowverse proper. The move to Vancouver and reduced budget meant some lost cast members, new sets, streamlined story elements, and dropping a Supergirl/Jimmy Olsen romance that lacked spark. They became the most unabashedly political superhero show, taking stands for immigrants and refugees, striving for quality LGBTQ+ representation (if never enough for the Supercorp ‘shippers, we’ll circle back to that), crusading for hope over fear, compassion over hatred, lifting each other up instead of yielding to cynicism.

I’ve talked in the past about how a show in its final season that knows it’s in its final season can be a sight to see. They have the chance to pull some big moves, to look back at how they get here and build to a conclusion that pays off how far we’ve come. Or you can go the Game of Thrones route and screw the pooch so hard you wipe out any affection your viewership ever had.

So let’s look at these two shows, how they approached their last season, and through comparisons to other final seasons of note, perhaps I can show how one show’s final season soared, and one kinda tripped on their own cape.

Let’s start with the title characters, because hoo boy is that the elephant in the room for one of them.

Next Page: Our heroes

Best of Comic TV 2021: The Rankings!

Alright. Here we go. The full rankings. Maybe you have some theories about what’s near the top, based on who kept getting mentioned, and who might be closer to the bottom, based on who hasn’t been mentioned at all. Will this be the first year a freshman series doesn’t win, or will the Disney+ era of Marvel keep the tradition going? Let’s find out together! Well, not together, I already know… anyway.

But first…

In Memorium

Farewell to some shows that have left us this season, for good or ill…

Agents of SHIELD. First in and very nearly last out of the pre-Disney+ Marvel TV era. It took work to make this show as reliably charming as it was for so long. They had a show with no recognizable characters except Phil Coulson, that claimed to be in the MCU but could almost never get permission to use major Marvel characters, that had to wait 16 episodes to be allowed to have a plot, that got no love or recognition from any other live-action Marvel property, even f**king Inhumans… and it was perhaps the most consistently entertaining and most loved pre-Feige Marvel TV show. Maybe season five was the stronger “final season,” but this adorable band of scrappy misfits/leading experts in their fields kept me invested to the end, even though the last handful of episodes made that super tough. I’m gonna miss the core cast for a while, because whatever the die-hard “it’s all connected” fans think, we won’t be seeing them again. (Seriously, stop speculating that such-and-such SHIELD character is turning up on so-and-so Marvel project, it likely ain’t happening.)

Black Lightning: Honestly this one was a surprise. It’s the first CW superhero show to end after less than six years. Maybe shooting in Georgia made it harder, I don’t know, I just know that it felt like the Pierce family, gadgeteer/tailor/ex-black ops agent Gambi, and albino crime lord Tobias Whale still had some mileage in them.

Jupiter’s Legacy: Are we surprised this one’s cancelled? It had no buzz. Almost nobody was talking about it, and the ones who were weren’t being complimentary.

Stumptown: Damn it, I thought I was getting more of this. Damn COVID for derailing the entire entertainment industry and damn you ABC for giving me hope and taking it away. We all deserved much more of Dex, Grey, Tookie, and the gang. I’m confident I’ll see Cobie Smulders and Jake Johnson in something before long, but less confident it’ll be this good.

WandaVision: Like Watchmen before it, they had one story to tell, told it very well, and left it there. Honestly I don’t know how you even could do that show a second time.

That melancholy business complete, time for the rankings, and capsule reviews that vary wildly in length based on whether I’ve discussed this show already. Let’s begin!

(Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn’t cancelled, Falcon and the Winter Soldier got called up to the majors, instead of a second season they get to be Captain America 4 in Phase Five.)

Next Page: The participation trophies

Best of Comic TV 2021: The Characters!

This part gets tougher every year. More prestige shows drawing top talents, more top talents being discovered on smaller shows… on my spreadsheet (of course I have a spreadsheet, we went over this at the end of Art Vs Commerce, I am absolutely that geek), I used to flag people as green (top performances), yellow (decent but less exceptional), or red (uninspiring), but it’s been ages since I had fewer than six people flagged as green in the most categories. I basically gave up on any other colour, each year has at least one category that’s a game of inches between five to eight amazing performances.

So here’s the results of some tough, sometimes nigh impossible choices.

(Yes, I still have these categories split by gender. When comic book TV has enby, genderqueer, or genderfluid characters other than the sentient teleporting street, I’ll add a category for them as well. For some reason I love adding categories.)

The Support Staff
Guests and Newbies
Teams and Schemes
Our Heroes

Next Page: The Scene Stealers

Agents of SHIELD: Requiem

What does Agents of SHIELD’s final season tell us about the series as a whole, and what sort of final season was it?

Image: ABC

The year was 2013. A year and change after The Avengers changed the game for the film industry. Marvel Studios had gone from uppity newcomers to the juggernaut of Hollywood, and it seemed like they were announcing their intention to conquer TV as well, starting with the unexpected return of recently deceased fan-favourite character Phil Coulson in Agents of SHIELD, created by Avengers writer/director and nerd icon Joss Whedon.

We did not yet know that Marvel Studios and Marvel TV were very different entities, and once Joss Whedon stopped working for either, the connections between the two would suddenly and irrevocably cease. Or that Joss’ ex-wife would publicly air his infidelities, and Ray Fisher would openly complain about his behaviour during the Justice League reshoots, leading to some shit from Buffy coming up, and now liking Joss Whedon is a problem…

So to get past that, we’ll instead credit Agents of SHIELD to its true showrunners, the husband and wife team of Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.

Agents of SHIELD was Marvel TV That Was’ first salvo, and it was nearly the last show standing, with its final season airing after Cloak and Dagger, Runaways, and all of Marvel Netflix wrapped up, knowingly or otherwise. So they’d be first in/last out… except that similar to Fox’s X-Men franchise limping across the finish line with the long, long delayed New Mutants, apparently Marvel decided to film and release supernatural series Helstrom despite the fact that the shows based on better known characters it was supposed to be paired with were all cancelled when Kevin Feige shut down Marvel TV. Seriously, everything got shut down, but they still said “Go ahead, do a season of Helstrom.” That show had better not end on a cliffhanger.

In any event, Agents of SHIELD had its work cut out for it. Other than Coulson, the show starred no familiar Marvel names, just a bunch of original characters. The most notable name in the cast had to be Street Fighter and Mulan’s Ming-Na Wen, who is not the household name she goddamn deserves to be. People expected weekly crossovers to the movies, but the movies never ever acknowledged them back. Other than a couple of appearances each from Thor’s Lady Sif, Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, for known Marvel characters they were mostly restricted to at best C or D-list villains for the first three years. And because they debuted seven months before Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they weren’t allowed to have a plot until episode 16 or so, meaning that the first season moved at the glacial pace of early Lost and played more like NCIS: Fringe Science than something connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only wouldn’t the movies recognize or acknowledge them, neither would other Marvel TV shows, not even the ones on the same network. You were NOT good enough to pretend to be above AOS, Inhumans.

And yet.

And yet.

Somehow despite all of this, despite everything working against them, they managed to be Marvel TV’s longest running and, according to studies, most popular series. And there are reasons for that, and also reasons why it’s always been a middle-of-the-pack show in this blog’s annual rankings… save for the one year it came last because the bar was much higher and their “Oh crap we’re still on the air now what” sixth season couldn’t compete.

The final season of Agents of SHIELD wrapped up recently, in which the Agents found themselves jumping through history, trying to stop a race of robots called Chronicoms from wiping out SHIELD in the past to facilitate their invasion in 2019. And much like The Punisher’s final season allowed us to examine Marvel Netflix as a whole, the final season of Agents of SHIELD shines a light on everything the series did well, and all the places they struggled.

Let’s begin with our core cast, the nobodies who became fan-favourites.

Next Page: The titular agents

Girls Save The World: Stargirl and Warrior Nun

Images: Warner Bros. and Netflix

Let’s do a quick look at the world, shall we?

The leading voice in fighting climate change is a Swedish teen girl, furious that inaction by world leaders has jeopardized her chances of having an adulthood. Some of the strongest responses to both COVID and gun violence are coming from New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. My home province has been steadily collapsing ever since all the right-wing idiots decided to vote out the woman running it and replace her with an inept hillbilly out to privatize health care during the worst health crisis in living memory. And to my left-leaning ears, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seems to be the only person in Washington talking any sense.

Seems obvious to me, if anyone can save the world, and the world needs some saving… it’s gonna be the ladies.

So it’s fitting that Quarantine Times brought us two teen girls with a mission to save the world: DC’s Stargirl, featuring a character DC wunderkind Geoff Johns created in the 90s as a tribute to his sister who died in a plane crash; and Warrior Nun, based on a manga by Ben Dunn. On the surface, they seem very different, but they have some interesting connections in the ways that they’re completely opposite.

Today I’d like to get into all of that, but before I can, let’s cover…

The Basics

Stargirl: Teenager Courtney Whitmore finds her life upended, as her mother Barbara (Amy Smart, nice to see her again), her step-father Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson, doing pretty great), and step-brother Mike leave Los Angeles for Barbara’s childhood home of Blue Valley, Nebraska. Nothing seems to be going well… until among Pat’s things Courtney finds a powerful weapon called the Cosmic Staff, which is slightly alive and has chosen her to wield it.

See, ten years ago, on the same night when Courtney and Barbara lost touch with Court’s father, Pat was the sidekick to Starman, leader of the Justice Society of America… but nearly all of the JSA were killed in battle with the incredibly cleverly named villain group the INjustice Society of America… cold and cruel telepath/telekinetic Brainwave, master tactician the Gambler, the musically-powered Fiddler, the magical Wizard, deadly fighters Sportsmaster and Tigress, evil scientist/slightly immortal Japanese war criminal Dragon King, the hulking monster Solomon Grundy, The Shade (who doesn’t really appear as apparently he rage-quit the group a while back), and their ice-powered leader Icicle.

And damn, can we give props to Geoff Johns and the other writers for going to DC leadership, saying “Which villains can we use on this show,” being handed Sportsmaster and Icicle, and still somehow nailing it.

Courtney decides that the staff chose her because Starman is her long-absent father, and the reason he never showed up for Christmas ten years ago (or ever since) is because that’s the night the JSA fell. And so despite constant protests from Pat that this is far too dangerous and Starman is not her father, because despite a resemblance to the blurry photo Court keeps in a locket, her father was not named Sylvester Pemberton*, she takes up the staff and becomes Stargirl, and not a moment too soon, because the ISA have pretty much taken over Blue Valley, and they are up to no good. So Courtney turns to the outcasts among her new classmates to build a new Justice Society to take them on… while Pat breaks out the giant robot armour he’s been working on to begrudgingly help as S.T.R.I.P.E.

*I’m probably the only one who was bothered by the fact that there have been at minimum six different heroes who called themselves Starman and Sylvester Pemberton, the Star-Spangled Kid, was not one of them… but I get it. Comics-Courtney initially adopted the legacy of the Star-Spangled Kid, then became Stargirl when Starman #5, Jack Knight, gave her his cosmic staff to carry on in his name. For the TV version, it’s hell of simpler if she takes her inspiration from one person, so sure, make Sylvester Starman, it cleans things up.

Warrior Nun: for centuries, the fighting nuns of the Order of the Cruciform Sword have battled demons on Earth, with weapons made of an unearthly metal called Divinium and under the leadership of the Warrior Nun, who is bonded with an angel’s halo, giving her powers and abilities to fight the demons that possess humans for evil purpose, and with some more difficulty, the hulking Tarask demons that seem to hunt the Warrior Nun.

After an ambush on the Order, led by people who somehow know the Warrior Nun can be killed with Divinium and also have some, the current Warrior Nun dies, but instead of her heir apparent Sister Lilith, the halo ends up inside recently deceased 19-year-old Ava Silva (Alba Baptista), who has spent most of her life a quadriplegic living under the care of an abusive nun. This is not seen as a great result for the Order, as Ava doesn’t have a strong interest in fighting demons for the church that made her life even more miserable than the car accident that crippled her and killed her parents already had. Plus not-quite-nun Shotgun Mary is out to uncover the conspiracy behind the assassination of previous Warrior Nun Sister Shannon (who it’s strongly implied was Mary’s girlfriend); scientist CEO Jillian Salvius thinks she can use Divinium to build a portal to heaven; and papal candidate Cardinal Francisco Duretti thinks the Order needs some restructuring. It’s a hectic time. Sure hope there aren’t any shocking revelations coming about the Order’s history, boy that wouldn’t help anything.

Similarities

So already we see a few common threads between Stargirl and Warrior Nun. Both have teen girl heroes (although Ava is only barely still a teen); both invest a lot into the ideas of legacy and destiny; both have their heroines inheriting a weapon capable of deciding who is and isn’t worthy to wield it (the halo sometimes rejects an unworthy host, I failed to mention that); and each has a reluctant mentor figure who is convinced she shouldn’t have said weapon but were rejected from wielding it themselves. But once you get past those similarities, it’s a little interesting how these two shows tackle their first seasons in completely opposite ways.

Next Page: Our leading ladies

Best of Comic TV 2020: The Rankings!

Remember that time John Oliver did a deep-dive into the US bail system, and how it’s weaponized to keep lower-income people, especially African-Americans, in jail? The best way to combat that right now is The Bail Project, a charity committed to paying the bail of those who can’t afford it, so that, say, being arrested for protesting police brutality doesn’t financially cripple you. Visit them at https://bailproject.org/, spread the word, and if you can spare a donation, they can always use it.

Back to it.

Okay, here we go… 21 shows ranked! And let me say… this might have been the highest-quality season since I started doing this. Shows that would have made the top ten easily in previous years, if not the top five, are down where we used to find shows I’d make fun of. There are some very high highs, but none of the low lows that marred previous years. No Iron Fists or Inhumans, or even bland Cloak and Daggers or wildly inconsistent Gothams. The worst we have is “Okay, but not nearly their best work.”

But first, press F to show respect to the following fallen shows.

In Memorium

  • Arrow. How crazy is it that the grand mack-daddy of all superhero crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths, got adapted on network television all because of the success of a show about Green Arrow, of all people? Arrow wasn’t always the best Arrowverse show… actually according to these annual rankings, it wasn’t ever the best Arrowverse show from the first year there were other options… but, as the name suggests, without it, there wouldn’t be an Arrowverse. No duelling speedsters, no spaceship full of time travelling misfits, no annual crossovers putting Defenders to shame over and over… no Beebo. You did good, Arrow.
  • iZombie. In the general scheme of things, five seasons was pretty much just right for their overarching storyline of the zombie outbreak and subsequent conflict with humanity. In another sense, five seasons was never going to be enough time to spend with Liv, Ravi, Clive, Major, Payton, and even ne’er-do-wells Blaine and Don E. This show was a delight, and I’ll miss its core cast for a long time. You were the least faithful to your source material of any show I’ve covered, lacking even a character in common with the comics, but you were special while you lasted.
  • Krypton. I admire Krypton’s dedication to self-improvement. From halfway through the first season, they did their best to find more interesting takes on their story. And they delivered a decent Lobo, a solid General Zod, and by second season a really interesting Brainiac. They were just way too confident they’d have as much time as they wanted to tell the story, and that was not the case. So… are we done with shows about the pasts of famous heroes named after the place they’re from? Smallville lasted a decade, sure, and Gotham made it half that, but Krypton is over after twenty episodes and Metropolis seems to have died in development. So… we’re done?
  • Legion. Some shows can’t run indefinitely. Some shows need a set plan. And Legion was one of those. Noah Hawley brought us a three-act story told over twenty-seven mesmerizing episodes, with a stellar cast and visual flair like nothing else. There has never been a show like Legion. There may never be again, because you can’t be Legion if you’re trying to be like something else.
  • Preacher. To my chagrin, I think Preacher’s legacy will be how weirdly unbalanced the pacing was. The slow-burn first season and the final season’s race for the finish line almost feel like different shows. They spent three years really digging into key moments from the comic run, then when AMC said they had one year to wrap it up, they had to slam on the gas to get to the climax. Still… they delivered an amazing, gonzo yet character-driven adaptation, one which provided some key lessons (including not taking your time in early seasons) for the even-less-probable Garth Ennis adaptation The Boys. I wish it had run another four years, but I’m glad I had it while it lasted.
  • Swamp Thing. We hardly knew ye, Swamp Thing. You delivered the exact Swamp Thing series we needed, a perfect fit to the R-rated tone of every other DC Universe show they’d made (prior to Stargirl). You had great takes on a lot of DC’s magic characters, characters I’m mad I won’t get to see again. Apparently, the only people who didn’t think a dark, horror-themed Swamp Thing was the way to go were the people running your network. Idjits. Here’s hoping the CW reairing it in a desperate bid for fall programming leads to a revival.
  • Watchmen. Series creator Damon Lindelof brought us a collision of the dark side of America’s history and the possible future of Alan Moore’s world of masked crimefighters, twisted masterminds, and one living god with a broken view of time, mixing real-life atrocities and racial tensions with the aftermath of the Watchmen graphic novel, and it was great. He poured every idea he had into this one season… meaning he had nothing left in the tank to keep it going. Like Alan Moore before him, he never envisioned a follow-up. So for now at least, Watchmen ends again as one self-contained story, and we should be thankful we got it.
  • Marvel TV as we knew it. For the past half-decade, there were two sides to live-action Marvel entertainment… Marvel Studios, as run by Kevin Feige, reporting directly to Disney; and Marvel TV, run by Jeph Loeb, reporting to Feige’s former boss Ike Perlmutter. And while fanboys clung to the hope that the Marvel TV characters would appear, or at least be referenced, in any of the movies, people paying attention (such as me, hello) could tell they were very clearly separate worlds that would never mingle. But now Feige has been put in charge of the movies, TV and comics, so Marvel TV as we knew it now yields to Feige’s empire, and everything from before is cancelled. And maybe that’s for the best, because while we might lose the smaller, street-level stories like Daredevil or Runaways, frankly Jeph Loeb brought too much of Smallville’s old “No flights, no tights” aesthetic to Marvel TV, leading to an apparent fear of seeming “comic-booky” that made the whole franchise a little… bland. Basic. Routinely embarrassed of their source material. (Google, find a supercut of Marvel Netflix characters hating their costumes from the comics–no? Damn it.) The fanboys are waiting for the Defenders, Runaways, Agents of SHIELD, and Inhumans to find their way to new seasons on Disney+ or Hulu, but… I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Expect, at best, reboots. Eventually. Probably best to say goodbye to them all now and beat the rush later. So farewell, Cloak and Dagger; bon voyage, Runaways; via con Dios, Agents of– what’s that? Still on? For how many weeks? Huh. First to arrive, last to leave, I guess.

Honourable mention: I don’t include animated series in these things because a) that feels like a hole with no bottom and there are already 21 shows on the list… again…; b) I don’t know how to find most of them; c) I’d mostly be comparing cartoon shows made for pre-teens to Preacher and how do you even do that, even Riverdale was a stretch. But all of that said, if you can find a way to watch Harley Quinn, then do it, because oh my god it’s so hilarious, and also weirdly heartfelt. Do what you have to, but check it out.

Now let’s do this thing.

Next page: The Also-Rans

Best of Comic TV 2020: The Best Characters!

Apparently YouTube videos whose ads donate to BLM charities are a moving target, as YouTube pulled the last one right after I posted it. I’ve replaced it with this one, which hopefully also works, so give it a spin, and while you’re doing that, check out this list of ways you can help fight racism. Find something that works for you, then meet me in the next paragraph.

No, really, I’ll wait, go do that. Done? Okay, let’s get going.

Alright nerds, we’re through the technicals, into the performances. Some of the most brutal, hard to call categories coming at you, ’cause there was some talent this season.

Let’s see if I can do them in a sensible order for once.

The Wentworth Miller Award For Best Guest Star

Putting aside series regulars and major recurring characters, who brought something special to their limited appearances, as Wentworth Miller did on The Flash as Captain Cold?

These people did!

Honourable mentions: Haley Joel Osment as a formerly famous child hero on The Boys was just perfect casting; Neal McDonough made one last appearance as Damien Darhk on Legends of Tomorrow, and was delightful as always; and of all the alumni they brought back for Arrow’s final season (damn near all of them), the one who most reminded us what they brought to the show, and how much they’re missed, was Paul Blackthorne as Quentin Lance. His brief reunion with Oliver and Earth-2’s Laurel Lance was particularly emotional.

Bronze: The Crisis Cameos, Crisis On Infinite Earths

And that’s just episode one.
Images: CW

Really all I can do here is present a complete list, except for the dozen and change that were pretty clearly recycled footage from DC Universe streaming shows.

Robert Wuhl reprising Knox the reporter from 1989’s Batman; Burt goddamn Ward reprising Adam West’s sidekick Dick Grayson; Wil Wheaton as a doomsayer; The Tick’s Griffin Newman hosting a trivia night; Erica Durance as both Supergirl’s Alura and Smallville’s Lois Lane; Johnathon Schaech reprising Jonah Hex; Tom Welling back as Smallville’s Clark Kent (punching out Lex Luthor, no less); Kevin Conroy from Batman: The Animated Series bringing his iconic Batman voice to live-action for the first time; patron saint of this category, Wentworth Miller, as the voice of Leonard Snart on an alternate-Earth Waverider; Tom Ellis bringing Lucifer Morningstar to the Arrowverse, face to face with John Constantine; Ashley Scott back in costume as the Huntress from the short-lived Birds of Prey series; John Wesley Shipp reprising his 1990 Flash one last time; Black Lightning finally joining the crew; Ezra Miller giving us a brief meeting of the cinematic and television Flashes; and original Crisis author Marv Wolfman hitting Flash and Supergirl up for autographs (he loves the team-ups, you see).

Is that everyone? I think so? And each one delightful.

(If I had to pick one, it’d be Tom Ellis by a nose, but I don’t so I won’t.)

Silver: Thomas Lennon as Mr. Mxyzptlk, Supergirl

The mischievous imp, less travel-size than the classics.
Image: CW

A quick lampshade-hang about why they’ve swapped out the original actor for someone less dreamy, and Mr. Mxyzptlk came back to Supergirl, and he came back doing what Mxy does best… being an adorable trickster and screwing with the fourth wall. And Thomas Lennon excelled, always finding the humour in Supergirl’s 100th-episode trip backwards through the past four seasons, as Mxy and Kara tried to find a moment to tell Lena Luthor the truth about Kara that maybe wouldn’t destroy either their relationship or the world. Some of them destroyed the world.

I could really go for an annual Mxyzptlk appearance, if that’s an option.

Gold: Jemaine Clement and Jason Mantzoukis as Oliver Bird and the Big Bad Wolf, Legion

Legends square off.
Image: FX

I feel like we discussed this episode and it’s rhythmic climax plenty last time. So for now I’ll just say that it was an immense delight seeing Jemaine Clement back, and the only thing that improved it was having Jason Manzoukis show up as the (symbolic) Big Bad Wolf, shouting to Oliver not to wait before teaching the baby about syphilis.

And then they rap battled. Come on.

Such a great episode, and these two (with help from Jean Smart) really anchored it.

The Tricia Helfer Award for Rookie of the Year

What new characters on an established show really brought something special, like the way Tricia Helfer’s Goddess Charlotte kicked Lucifer up to the next level?

Honourable mentions: Switch on Legion made the entire season three story possible, but she sometimes felt like more of a device than a character; Connor/Superboy was a fun addition to Titans, but he more created his own subplot than added to what had been the main story; Natalie Dreyfuss was great fun as Ralph Dibny’s long-awaited true-love-to-be Sue Dearbon on The Flash, but was only in three episodes, and due to reasons probably won’t be back.

Read on!

Bronze: Iain Glen as Bruce Wayne, Titans

He’s a dark knight but a silver fox.
Image: DCU

I’m not a big fan of “middle-aged Batman” in general, and I’m not sure what Glen was going for with that Brooklyn accent… sometimes it seems “neutral American” is too tricky an accent, so actors from, in this case, Scotland, aim for something more regional… but damn having Bruce Wayne around was a good and necessary addition to this show. Given how much of Titans revolves around Dick’s difficult history with his complicated surrogate father, never seeing him throughout season one was kind of awkward. Whether Bruce was there in person, or an illusion created by Raven, or a hallucination brought on by Dick’s guilty conscience*, Bruce added a lot to the season, and if you could roll with the accent, Glen was kinda killing it.

*That last one was actually pretty great, and involved Bruce Wayne doing the Batusi with burlesque dancers, and it was amazing.

Silver: Naomi Ackie as Bonnie, The End of the F***ing World

There aren’t many stalkers on TV this enjoyable to watch.
Image Netflix

Series one of The End of the F***ing World was about James and Alyssa running from their traumas; series two was about having to confront the consequences. And so it made sense to have the consequences of their crime-ridden road trip personified in Bonnie.

The End of the F***ing World has always been about broken people finding inadvisable ways to face their traumas, and series two brought a new style of trauma to the mix in angry, confused, vengeful Bonnie. “I learned about punishment from a young age,” she tells us. Bonnie was raised with abuse and discipline instead of love, and now she has them mixed up in her head. Led astray by what she thought was love, she was personally wronged by the events of series one, and has come to deliver punishment to James and Alyssa. Poorly thought-out, at times hilariously inept punishment. Bonnie makes our road-tripping duo into a trio, and was a welcome addition.

Gold: Shayan Sobhian as Behrad Tarazi, Legends of Tomorrow

Sure he’s been in the gang for two years, but… had he been in the gang for two years yesterday?
Image: CW

In the third season finale, hacker and freedom fighter from the future Zari Tomaz finally altered her past/our present enough that her dystopia never happens… which means that her family was never hunted by a government that hated metahumans and also Muslims (I think we know any fascist American regime, fictional or currently-in-progress, is gonna come at Muslims), so her brother Behrad was never killed by ARGUS agents, so she never inherited the Zambesi air totem from him… and never joined the Legends. And also her last name is Tarazi now? Don’t fully get that last bit. But anyway, the last moments of the previous finale saw Zari erased from the team’s history… and replaced by Behrad.

So that left Shayan Sobhian with a bit of a trick to pull off… make this new character feel like a long term part of the team, make his relationships with the other Legends feel lived-in, and make us like him enough that we’d be invested in him sticking around instead of checking our watches wondering when “Internet Celebrity Zari” was going to blow over and things would go back to the way they were last season.

And damned if he didn’t nail it.

Behrad instantly felt like an old friend. Whether he was being best bros with Nate and Ray, or revealing that he’d had a secret tryst with Charlie the shapeshifter (which they probably kept on the DL since her primary form looks exactly like Nate’s ex), or dealing with his vain, shallow older sister Zari finding out he’s a time traveller, Behrad was a welcome addition from episode one, and I was quickly frightened something bad was gonna happen to him since he was only credited as a guest star.

And his presence let them do something fun and new with Zari, which was neat.

Next page: The supporting players

Best of Comic TV 2020: Here we GO!

Before we get started… I’ve been sitting on these blogs for a week, because given all of the everything… this felt horribly frivolous. But as protests continue, we all need an occasional break, so I’m taking a piece of advice from someone more knowledgeable than I am in these matters (keep listening, keep learning)… release your art, but also take a moment to point people to ways they can keep helping ensure that Black Lives Matter. Today, I present this: this playlist is a way to support bail funds if you can’t afford to donate. Just throw this video on while you read, and make sure you’re not blocking ads because the ad revenue is going to a good cause.

And now, on with the show.

Another TV season comes to an end, and once again I’ve spent twelve months devouring all (well, many) forms of comic book TV, and I’m here to share with you what my exhaustive research tells us is the best of the best! Who had the best fights, elicited the biggest sobs, featured the best casts, and many more!

Specifically of shows that ended their seasons between July 1st of 2019 and June 3rd, 2020. With these specific exceptions.

Walking Dead: I don’t wanna and you can’t make me.

The Riverdale of it all: I am not the target audience of Riverdale. That’s fine. I don’t have to be. There is so much media that is geared specifically towards me that it’s fine that some of it isn’t. But it hardly seems fair to rank shows meant for a younger female audience against shows weirdly targeted right exactly at me, so I’m leaving out all of the Riverdales. That includes Riverdale Prime, Spooky Riverdale (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), and Sex And The City Riverdale (Katy Keene, which could not be less targeted to me).

With that in mind, here’s what we are covering, with links to reviews where they exist.

Sadly, due to Plague Times (or lack of vision by the DC streaming service), a few of those shows didn’t get proper season finales. Which I’m trying my best not to hold against them, but maybe they had a lot of plots going on and maybe I was really eager to get to the point where they started connecting in a more clear way and I don’t know I would have liked to see how they stuck the landing.

Anyhoo, let’s get into the technical awards, starting with what I keep telling you is one of my favourites.

Next page: Biff! Sock! Kapow!