Prologue to Writers’ Circle Confidential

So, remember all those times I mentioned working on a web series?

Well, it’s here! It’s live! It’s waiting for you to fall in love with it! All currently released episodes can be found at our website. At the moment, that includes our pilot, The Vicious Circle…

And our deceptively named but even funnier second episode, Funeral for a Friend.

Check ’em both out, we’re pretty sure you’re going to like them.

But the reason I’m here… visitors to Tales From Parts Unknown will soon be getting bonus content. Every Friday, here at Parts Unknown HQ, I’ll be doling out backstage tales from the making of each episode.

So here’s what you should be doing: every Thursday morning, head to our YouTube channel for the newest episode. Watch it, laugh, learn to love again, share it with your friends, use it as an icebreaker to make conversation with your crush*, watch it again… then on Friday afternoon, stop by here for stories of how it all happened. Slightly modified to make me sound more handsome than my co-execs.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to kicking it in Hawaii. Writers’ Circle Confidential starts in three days!

*Not a guarantee. Affiliation with this series has resulted in zero makeouts for myself or Ian. Keith, we’re not sure about. His wife was somewhat pre-disposed to make out with him now and then already.

Companionship

So I finally, after an uncharacteristically long period, have caught up on the eight series of Doctor Who. Which got me thinking thoughts about the Doctor, his companions, their various relationships, and why I’m drawn to some more than others. And what that says.

The early days

In the beginning (of the new series, I have not the time, inclination, or frankly knowledge to go through all of the first eight Doctors’ companions), there was Nine and Rose. The Doctor had just left the endless horrors of the Time War, had just regenerated after wiping out both his own people and the Daleks (he thinks) to end the war while some of time and space was still standing. After years of being alone, a soldier in the war, not even the Doctor as far as he was concerned, something in his new head (possibly a subconscious recollection of the events of Day of the Doctor) told him it was okay to be the Doctor again. Okay to try and connect with people once more. Okay to travel with a companion again. Rose turns to the Doctor for adventure, for a life that a a simple shopgirl could never have, and the Doctor… the Doctor heals. His rage passes. His compassion regrows. And when he’s put in a familiar position at the end of the first series… wipe out the Daleks at the expense of the population of Earth… he refuses. And not long after that, he becomes a literally new man: a warmer, kinder, faster to smile man.

It’s a good story, a solid beginning, but a hard relationship to connect with. After all, how many of us have freshly returned from a war in which we were forced to commit genocide? I haven’t. I feel most of you haven’t either. I suspect it would have made the news. Well, some of the news.

Rose and Ten? Now that’s a different story. Ten was always less cold than Nine, faster to embrace people, even in his lowest moments. And not too hard on the eyes, either. How could Rose not fall in love with the dashing superhero her companion had become? And the Doctor was starting to fall for her as well, but refusing to acknowledge it since a relationship between a 20-year-old human and a 900-year-old Time Lord is… problematic.

Again, not something I really relate to. Even if I do occasionally have feelings for someone younger (not 900 years younger, but when you’re not an ageless god a decade-and-change age gap can feel just as difficult), those feelings are rarely, if ever, returned, so the age thing doesn’t really come into play.

Rose left, breaking not just the Doctor’s heart(s), but hearts all throughout the fandom.

Quickest way to break a Ten/Rose shipper
Quickest way to break a Ten/Rose shipper

And in came Martha Jones to replace her. Now, the Doctor thought he was just doing what he always does when he meets someone interesting, clever, and capable (cute and female also seems to be a plus): offer to show her all of time and space, to save him from running alone.

But what he was actually doing, even if he didn’t realize it, was trying to fill the void left by Rose. Martha, despite being more clever, more useful, and never once tearing a hole in time with her daddy issues, was never more than a replacement Rose to the Doctor, and as she fell in love with him, she was forced to admit that was no way to live, and that she had to move on.

More relatable, sure. Not necessarily to me… well, okay, sure, even I’ve been oblivious to someone else having feelings for me, so I get the Doctor’s side there…

Donna Noble just wanted a greater life than she’d come to expect she was capable of living. She wanted to wander the stars with the Doctor forever, just as friends. Strictly friends. She may well be the best of the Tennant companions, and certainly has the most heartbreaking conclusion, and, yeah, I’ve had friendships with women where we spent an odd amount of time assuring people we weren’t a couple, but where I really began to feel drawn to the Doctor/Companion relationship was…

Amy Pond

The dawn of the Moffat/Matt Smith era had my attention by making the new companion a cute Scottish redhead in a miniskirt, I’ll admit that. But here’s what Amy and Eleven is to me.

Amy Pond was the first face the Eleventh Doctor saw. The first person he met after a prolonged period of self-isolation. Sure, Ten still had his way with people, but he refused to take on companions. All the losses he’d faced, including losing Donna and Rose (again) in one day, were too much. He couldn’t take it anymore. The Doctor who loved and embraced people more than most couldn’t stand to be around them long term. But Amy came to him right as he regenerated into a new man, a man who shared Ten’s love of common people but not always his charm.

Eleven’s more awkward, as we see in his stubborn belief that bow ties and fezzes are cool. And despite being played by the youngest actor ever to take the role, more than most he carried the full weight of his nine (later twelve) centuries of life. An old soul with a young face.

The Doctor and Amy aren’t in love. Amy might be a little hot for him in the beginning, something the Doctor (rightfully) suspects has more to do with an all-too-real reaction to intense and dangerous circumstances–see, the brain releases dopamine, which is also involved in infatuation, and–anyway. Amy loves the Doctor, sure, but she’s in love with Rory. Much as the Doctor is actually falling for River Song rather than Amy. But just because they’re not in love doesn’t make what they have less special. Amy’s not the woman the Doctor loves, or at least not the woman he marries, but she’s important. For centuries, she’s the most important person in his life, the person he can never stop running to.

Why wouldn’t I fall for that relationship? This was 2010/2011. In 2010 and 2011, I was as close as I’d ever been to… well, her. Younger, like Amy. Someone I cared for dearly, like Amy. But not someone I was likely to ever be able to date. But we were close all the same. Very close, those years.

So why wouldn’t I connect to this era? To the Doctor whose charms were muted by an awkward nerdinesss, who was great with a speech but terrible with emotions, and whose best friend was girl he’d always love but never kiss? Why wouldn’t I want that relationship to make sense?

But like Amy, a day came when she disappeared forever.

And like the Doctor… I shut myself off for a while. Because the loss hurt too much to want to feel like that again.

Clara Oswald

For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the BBC put out a series of prints: the silhouetted profiles of the first 11 Doctors, and in their profile, key friends and foes from each Doctor’s run. For Patrick Troughton, Jamie and the Brigadier. For Tom Baker, Romana and K-9. And for Matt Smith, Amy, Rory, and River.

Not Clara.

In fairness, Clara was new. By the time the Matt Smith print came out, she’d been in one episode, went by Oswin, and died at the end.

But eventually a time came when Clara not being on the poster made sense. Because she wouldn’t belong in Matt Smith’s profile. She’d belong in Capaldi’s.

Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor is a harder, colder Doctor. And yet Clara has become the most important person in his life, in a way she never was before his last regeneration. Because after 900 years of defending Trenzalore from his worst foes… the Doctor is afraid of himself. Of what he might be. A Dalek sees into his soul, and finds only hatred. Ex-soldier Danny Pink immediately recognizes him not just as a fellow soldier (something the 12th Doctor despises), but even worse, as an officer (possible, we only know what the Doctor did at the very end of the Time War). Clara… Clara is his lifeline. He can believe that he’s a good man if Clara can believe it, even a little, and when she begins to doubt, it crushes him. But no matter what, he still has her back.

Even towards the end. Clara turns on him, betrays him, tries to threaten him into breaking time itself for selfish purposes… and is then shocked to find he’s still willing to do the impossible to help her. He sums it up with one question:

“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

And man, I dig that. That says so much about several key friendships I have or have had. The people I would do anything for. And yeah, a few of them would do anything right back, but… there are definitely a few Claras out there. The people who make me believe I matter because I matter to them. And so even if they hurt me from time to time, I still find myself willing to walk through fire for them.

Because sometimes you love someone you can’t be in love with. But that’s okay. That’s good. Even when they don’t feel the same. Because while that might hurt… as Amy Pond said, it’s kind of a good hurt.

Thanks for bearing with me. If you did. Something more fun and less introspective next time, yeah?

Oh, hey guys. Long time.

So, hi. Been about a month. That’s… that’s my bad right there. Allow me to explain.

I’ve been too busy writing to write a blog.

“Hm,” I would think to myself. “It’s been a while since my last blog post. Maybe I should–”

And around this point my freelance tech writing gig would drop me an email, needing two to five hours of work done. Which is totally fine because I likes me that paycheck. Well, that direct deposit. The money. You get me.

Now, that’s not every day… if it were every day, I’d have earned enough to hide in Australia for the winter… or at least bug out to Mexico for a few weeks. But there have been other things. Let’s take a stroll and catch up on all things Danny, shall we?

No, come on, don’t leave, I’ll attempt to be funny and stuff…

New play? Check!

I have also been hammering away more earnestly at my latest play script. Which has been… odd. The past year I’ve been branching out into other media, like the impending web series and some… not-yet-successful TV projects. Returning to playwriting after all that feels almost odd. Like visiting an old friend who’s look has changed completely. Plus I decided to take on something extra challenging: a farce. A genre based on precision mishaps and carefully choreographed chaos, all of which is meant to end up maximally hilarious.

So if it isn’t funny, that’s the ballgame.

It probably is. Probably. My last farce was, something we’ll be looking at when Danny Writes Plays resumes. And we’ll talk about this one more when I use it as an excuse to get back to the Writing a Play series I was pondering back before the first draft took six months to finish.

See? Two series I should be continuing. And I’m on it, I’m on it.

Web series? Coming along!

Few things have occupied more of my attention in recent months than Writers’ Circle: the Series, an adaptation of one of my older (but not old enough to have hit the blog yet) scripts. Principal photography is complete(ish). Post production is underway. And you can get all the latest news on our brand-new website, www.writerscircleseries.com.

Coming soon. You're gonna love it. OR ELSE.
Coming soon. You’re gonna love it. OR ELSE.

Creating this show has been incredibly rewarding, and has involved some people who already were or have now become my favourite people on Earth. Well, my favourite people who aren’t Karen Gillan.

Some day, Pond... some day... (painting by Alice X. Zhang)
Some day, Pond… some day… (painting by Alice X. Zhang)

Anyway… I imagine this, too, is something we can discuss later. And repeatedly, since I’ll be ranting about it constantly come January.

Geek news round-up!

Since my last posts were all about the surge in geek news, I guess I should touch on some things. Or more accurately, I guess I’m going to. Here goes. Keeping it brief.

Agents of SHIELD: They did all that I asked. They picked up the pace. The kept the higher stakes. Ward is still interesting. If anything, they’re wrapping up stories too fast. Sadly, their ratings have not recovered, so just when they’ve finally become interesting, they may face cancellation. They lose viewers if they’re off the air for a week, and are about to go on a two-month (at least) hiatus. If their tie-in show, Agent Carter, isn’t a big enough hit to maintain viewer interest and avoid the hiatus ratings dip… well, it gets ugly. Fingers crossed for you, Agent Coulson. Which is not something I’d have said a year ago, after that misstep that was The Well.

Flash: Stay the course, gang, you’re doing super. I am especially a fan of their Captain Cold. He was note-perfect. Not insane, not manic, not out to destroy the world… just a stone-cold (they avoid puns as best they can but there’s no getting around that one) career thief who sees the arrival of Central City’s super-fast guardian as a sign he needs to up his game with stolen weapons. If the rest of the Rogues are this well done, I’m happy as can be.

Marvel’s big announcement: Well, they shut me up about Civil War. And shut up everyone who was pointing out that Sony and now DC both had female-led (and POC-led in DC’s case) movies in the pipeline, and yet nothing from Marvel about rumoured Black Panther or Captain Marvel movies. Here they both come. What struck me as odd about the big announcement? It’s like they were saving all of this for San Diego Comic-con, instead of stealing some of Age of Ultron’s thunder by discussing what comes next. But Warner Bros. forced their hand with their big announcement, so Marvel threw their own Hall H panel-style event so they could have a room full of screaming fans while they laid out Phase Three instead of a room full of Time Warner shareholders. Which, really… is kind of a baller move. So I’ll give it to them.

The DC slate: I’m at a point where nothing DC has announced between now and 2020 has me more excited than Suicide Squad. A group of villains brought together for a high-risk Dirty Dozen-style mission? From the guy who wrote Training Day? I’ll take that, thanks ever so. But what I would like is an official announcement as to cast. Rumours and reports have Jai Courtney (who was pretty good in the underseen and underestimated Jack Reacher) as Deadshot, Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street) as Harley Quinn, Will Smith (the hell?) as Captain Boomerang (the HELL?), Tom Hardy as their boss, Rick Flagg… and also Jesse Eisenberg reprising Lex Luthor and, most surprisingly, Jared Leto as the new Joker.

Now this raises many questions. Is the writer/director being pressured to include more A-list villains? Lex is an odd choice for the Suicide Squad, let alone the Joker. Would the Joker be part of the Squad, or just a cameo to establish Harley Quinn and get him in place for future Batman movies? Will Smith’s one of the last truly bankable stars, what’s he doing playing Captain freaking Boomerang? And I’d love to tackle those questions, or talk about the sometimes wonderfully awkward and strained relationship between Lex Luthor and the Joker, but…

None of this is confirmed. Not a single WB executive or actor’s publicist has said that any of this is official. Not to the best of my knowledge, and I think we all know that my knowledge is… well, as good as anyone with zero industry connections but lots of time and internet on his hands can be. So… average? Around there?

I can’t speculate on how Zach Snyder’s going to do with the Justice League until I see how Batman V. Superman turns out. I have nothing new to say on Wonder Woman until a script is actually written. And I want to be excited for Suicide Squad, but I need to see Fury (same writer/director, similar set-up) and get some official casting news first.

Next time… less than a month’s wait.

Geek TV part four: Arrow

Green Arrow first turned up on television as a rare bright spot in the mostly problematic sixth season of Smallville (well, problematic if Lex Luthor and Lana Lang hooking up gives you the jibblies, as it should). Two years later, he was added to the main cast, as the show adjusted to its post-Lex identity.

In the months that followed Smallville calling it a day, rumours began to circulate that the CW network was looking to fill the Smallville-shaped hole in its schedule with a show about Green Arrow, since the Smallville fans took to him so well.

However.

This would not be a spinoff of Smallville, they made clear. Justin Hartley would not be returning to the role. This would be about Oliver Queen’s early days, in a world without other heroes (at first).

I’d been a fan of Green Arrow since Kevin Smith relaunched the character in 2001. That he might get his own TV show seemed astoundingly improbable: that it would actually be legitimately good seemed miraculous. And yet here we are: Arrow is the gold standard for comic book TV shows.

Sorry, I meant LIVE ACTION TV series.
Correction: LIVE ACTION TV shows.

Which isn’t to say the show is flawless. It is not. But as season two improved on the freshman year, so too can season three build on that momentum. Here’s some thoughts as to how.

Challenges: don’t get sucked into old habits

No series embraced “the illusion of change” like Smallville. This is a storytelling trick familiar to anyone who reads superhero comics: you change things up in a major way while still leaving the door open to put everything back the way it was when you need to. Examples include the Death of Superman, Bruce Wayne getting his back broken in Knightfall, Dr. Octopus taking control of Peter Parker’s body in Superior Spider-man, or introducing a new, more diverse Avengers line-up that totally won’t be tossed out the window when the classic line-up hits movie screens in May.

Only two of these people are in the next movie, and one is the guy they've made even whiter.
Only two of these people are in the next movie, and one is the guy they’ve made even whiter.

But Arrow… Arrow is at its heart a show about evolution. In the flashbacks to Oliver’s time on (or nearish) the island of Lian Yu, we see how he changed from spoiled playboy to the deadly vigilante, known as “the Hood,” we met in the pilot. And in the main storyline, we watch Oliver grow from murderous vigilante “the Hood” to would-be legitimate hero “the Arrow,” and presumably from there to Justice League member Green Arrow.

So this is a show that embraces change. In the vein, here’s some tropes from Arrow’s first two seasons that maybe we could tone down a little.

1. Someone is insufferable

Mostly Thea. I know, you’re on the CW, and the network of Gossip Girls who keep Vampire Diaries about the Next Top Models seems to require a certain percentage of YA melodrama. Thea Queen, Oliver’s younger sister, takes the brunt of this, making her the first season’s least likable character, including the guy who’s master plan was “kill all of the poor people.” Sometimes she improves, but she keeps falling into that “angry pouty brat” place. And when she isn’t? When she’s actually likable? Laurel or Roy just take her place. Someone always seems to be irrationally pissed at the world, especially the part of the world that’s Oliver, and maybe this could be fixed by a five minute conversation, but that just brings us to the next issue…

2. Felicitous interuptus

Any time Oliver has to have an important personal conversation, be it an attempt to salvage a relationship, protect his company, or prevent his family from collapsing under the weight of the latest soap opera twist, you can bet that one of his team, Digg or Felicity, is going to show up with news about this week’s villain. And he’ll have to miss another fundraiser/board meeting/intervention to go shoot arrows at Count Vertigo, because he’s a hero and responsibility and all that.

Guys… I’m your biggest fan. I absolutely am. But even I think it’s getting old. Whatever your lead, Felicity, I’m sure it could have waited five god damned minutes.

3. Oh no! The team’s collapsing!

Again, YA melodrama demands a certain amount of tension between the leads. But elsewhere on the network is Supernatural, which really only has two leads. And let me tell you… Sam and Dean splitting up and getting back together (as a demon-slaying pair of brothers, don’t get ideas) once per season is getting tired.

I’m not saying Oliver, Digg, Felicity, and Roy have to stay best of friends every week, but… there’s a middle ground. Community found it back in season two, when they buried “the gang splits up” as a possible threat once and for all.

Opportunity: get weird

You’ve done something you never did before. You’ve added something that was never there. And it’s something that’s a guarantee against going stale.

With the debut of the Flash, super powers now exist in the Arrowverse. The line was sort of crossed with the introduction of mirakuru last season, but now there’s people who can run faster than sound and control the weather. Sure, most of that’s currently happening in Central City, but that’s no reason not to let it bleed into Starling.

How would Oliver deal with legitimate super powers? He had enough of a struggle with mirakuru, what would he do against someone legitimately bulletproof? In a world with the Flash, Firestorm, and the Atom, is a guy who’s good with a bow still relevant?

Which is exactly what I wanted to see last year, but couldn’t, because that would have meant connecting Arrow to Man of Steel, and that’s been declared as off the table. But now that we have open talks of seeing Firestorm on Flash, and Brandon Routh talking about having seen concept art for his Atom costume, we are clearly off to the races.

Go ahead and work the non-powered villains like Cupid, Komodo, and Captain Boomerang. Bring in non-powered heroes like Wildcat, Manhunter, and Katana. But remember that your big bad this year is an immortal, and your sister show is filling itself with people who have or will have super powers. So go nuts. Embrace the larger world that Flash has opened up, and then shoot arrows at it.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap this up with a look at the last man to the party (in terms of airing dates), John Constantine.

Geek TV Part 2: Gotham

Continuing my look at challenges and opportunities facing geek TV shows, we move on to one that I spoke out against in the past, yet now find myself weirdly excited to watch.

I am more excited to watch Gotham, the Batman show without Batman, than I am to watch the new Kevin Smith movie. I don’t even recognize myself. And yet everything I’m hearing says that the pilot nails it. I did not see that coming.

So apparently Gotham is lurching from “show I’m going to watch every week but hate myself for it” to “show I might authentically enjoy.” But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some pitfalls ahead. And not just over the fact that Bruce Wayne is only 12 in season one, although they continue to get a little mocked for that. But let’s talk specifics.

Challenge: We all know where this is going

gotham

The biggest challenge with prequel stories is that there aren’t a lot of surprises to be had. We know Anakin Skywalker will become Darth Vader. We know the tenuous peace between man and ape can’t last in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, because it isn’t called Dawn of the Planet of Apes and Humans Getting Along in Harmony.

So we know, going in, what’s going to happen here. Oswald Cobblepot will graduate from henchman to sadistic criminal overlord. Edward Nygma will become the Riddler. Jim Gordon will be appointed Commissioner. And eventually, Bruce Wayne will be Batman.

The challenge, then, is making the road to these inevitable destinations worth watching for however many years you run. And this is no simple matter. Let’s consider Smallville, you and I.

Smallville had no plan. Year after year they’d have hints and allusions to Clark’s greater destiny. Year after year Lex Luthor slipped a little further into darkness. But without a clear end date in mind, they had no idea how long they had to stretch this out. When should Lex cross the line from Clark’s best friend to his greatest enemy? When should Clark get into journalism? What season arcs can we have that SEEM to advance these plots but don’t? Or at least, only advance things in a way that we can undo with a Red Kryptonite episode?

Smallville's "Get out of character development free" card.
Smallville’s “Get out of character development free” card.

Eventually, they started pulling the triggers on the big moments because they were in their seventh season and had nowhere else to go. Also, Lex and Lana didn’t renew their contracts.

And this meant that by the last two seasons, what we had was a Superman show that was just afraid of saying “Superman.” Clark worked at the Daily Planet, with Lois Lane, who he was dating, while fighting crime on the side in a costume with a code name. It’s just that his costume was more of a red leather jacket and his code name was “the Blur” because he moved too fast to be clearly photographed, only leaving a red-blue blur in the image (later just red). They were Lois and Clark with less camp and better villains, but still asked us to believe that there were still steps left between Clark and becoming Superman.

And this is the problem you face, Gotham. At one point are you just doing whatever you can to keep the balls in the air? Six to five and pick ’em, if Gotham lasts long enough, Gordon’s going to lose his badge. Suspended, demoted, something, the corruption in the GCPD will overwhelm him, and we won’t really care because we know it can’t last. At one point, Bruce Wayne will reconsider his plan. Maybe when he starts liking girls. But that too can’t last, because there’s Batmanning to be done.

But therein lies your opportunity.

Opportunity: Gotham is an epic tragedy

There is one area in which knowing the outcome doesn’t hold you back, and that is in proper, deep, Shakespearean tragedy. We know from the prologue that Romeo and Juliet aren’t going to grow old together (or at all); Troy is going to fall by the end of the Iliad; and as I said before, we know that Caesar, leader of the apes, will be betrayed and his peace with the humans will crumble. This doesn’t have to rob these moments of their power.

James Gordon is fighting to save Gotham, a city collapsing into crime and corruption, while trying to pull young Bruce Wayne back from the brink of darkness. And the thing is, he can’t. Sure, he will be Commissioner, he will begin to at least reduce the corruption of the GCPD, and he might even put Fish Mooney behind bars (although I doubt it. Five bucks says she meets an umbrella-related end at the hands of her lackey Oswald Cobblepot), but he can’t save the city. Because if one good cop could save Gotham, Gotham wouldn’t need a Batman. And it will. In the end, it will.

So Gordon will ultimately fail, or at least be only partially successful, in his efforts to redeem Gotham, but his failure to “save” Bruce Wayne will accomplish what he couldn’t: creating the man who will be able to stand up to the Riddler, the Penguin, the Joker, and the rest.

And there’s still fun to be had. Who does Gordon convert? Who will his allies be? And how does he manage to rise above the corrupt heads of the department? There’s definitely narrative meat on those bones.

Plus, can I just say this, Gotham? In the right hands, Edward Nygma is fascinating. Read any Scott Snyder story featuring the Riddler. So be those hands. Show us that the Riddler is more than Jim Carrey overacting in green tights.

You had my curiosity, Gotham. Now you have my attention. Don’t waste it.

Tomorrow, my favourite super-hero show gets a spin-off. What do I want from the Flash?

Geek TV Part 1: Agents of SHIELD

We rumble ever closer to the dawn of the new TV season, which will feature no less than six TV shows based on or connected to comic properties, some of which won’t even get cancelled between now and Christmas.

Obviously I’d prefer none, but life has been really drilling in the message that I can’t have everything I want lately.

So to try and keep the number of geek TV cancellations down (and pave the way for the rumoured Supergirl and Titans series I’m hearing about), here’s the first of several posts as to what I see as the challenges and opportunities for some of the key players.

(No, I don’t have any sway over the various showrunners, but when I wrote one of these two years ago about dos and don’ts for Arrow, they did nearly everything on my list, so what the hell.)

Agents of SHIELD: don’t spin your wheels (any more)

Not my actual advice.
Not my actual advice.

Okay. It was a bit of a close call, but Agents of SHIELD is back for season two. It’s possible that the corporate synergy of Disney-owned ABC running a Disney-owned Marvel show made renewal more assured than we thought, but the second season pick-up came awfully late.

Challenge: pick up the pace

When we last left you, Agents of SHIELD, SHIELD had ceased to exist and Agent Coulson (who appears to have a hint of the space madness due to his life-restoring possibly Kree blood transfusion) and his merry band were tasked with rebuilding it from the ground up. Also Agent Ward, the blandest character on a show whose overall characterization could be called lackluster, had finally become interesting when they revealed he’d been a Hydra sleeper agent all along.

The last six episodes were legitimately good, with actual stakes and actual tension and real uncertainty about what would happen. And Patton Oswalt, which is always welcome. It didn’t pull your ratings up, but the fans you still had surely appreciated it. You need some more of that to kick off this new season. Because the fact is, you don’t have enough viewers left that you can afford to lose half of them in your first seven episodes again. And the most important thing you can do to avoid that? Don’t spin your wheels for half a season.

When season one kicked off, we had three big mysteries: how did Coulson come back from the dead after Avengers, what’s the secret in hacker Skye’s past, and some people called Centipede were trying to make their own super soldiers out of a witches’ brew of Marvel movie references.

And then all three plots just sat there until Christmas.

Once per episode you’d remind us something was up with Coulson (and name-drop someone from the movies, which was 95% of your connection to the Marvel cinematic universe for a while). Every once in a while you’d say “Ooo, Skye’s past is mysterious,” or have Centipede pop by and continue being crude knockoffs of the bad guys from Iron Man 3. And so it remained for your first dozen episodes, while you hemorrhaged viewers and good will.

So don’t do that again. We’ve now had a few hints at Skye’s past and Coulson’s resurrection, go somewhere with it. Get into what freaky alien stuff is happening in Coulson’s head, let us know who Skye’s dad is, and have a season arc that doesn’t take 16 episodes to get out of first gear.

Also, Ward’s finally interesting. Don’t let what I assume is going to be a big redemption arc push him back towards bland and dull.

Opportunity: stand on your own

Real talk, Agents of SHIELD. This season? Your biggest weakness is also your greatest opportunity.

Last season, you had two big Marvel movies to tie into: Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: the Winter Soldier. Now, for all the hype about having an episode directly tied to Thor, what we actually got was The Well, an episode which featured vague glimpses of Ward’s childhood (at the time, Ward was still as interesting as drying paint) as the team fought the most one-dimensional, least inspired villains of not only the whole season but of the entire Marvel cinematic universe, in a plot based around Asgardians with zero connection to Thor, Loki, or any of the events of either movie.

The villains from The Well made this guy look like Hannibal Lecter in comparison.
The villains from The Well made this guy look like Hannibal Lecter in comparison.

Then, in April, Agents of SHIELD was kind of forced to respond to the events of The Winter Solider, since they left SHIELD in ruins. And suddenly everything kicked into action. The stakes were high, Coulson’s secret was (partially) out there (even if it only raised further questions), Deathlok had been introduced, and you finally, finally, had a villain who was any fun to watch.

The argument by pro-Marvel pundits (I’ll refrain from calling them apologists) is that you couldn’t do most of this plot until after the Winter Soldier. And that’s true. But guess what, team? There’s nothing to wait for this year.

Guardians of the Galaxy came out a month ago, and while it’s still popular, there is really no way for you to tie it into Agents of SHIELD beyond Coulson’s Kree-blood space madness. It’s not like we’re expecting Star Lord to pop by and explain what Coulson keeps writing on the wall. He’s busy protecting the people of Pawnee. And the next Marvel movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, isn’t until May. By early May, you’ll need to be ramping up to the finale. You won’t have time to throw an Ultron-based monkey wrench into everything.

So on the one hand, you won’t have Marvel movie tie-ins to boost ratings. But then that only worked once. The bait-and-switch Thor “tie-in” led to a two-week ratings spike, but the Winter Solider had no real effect. Well, as Mr. Peanutbutter said… “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, fiddle-dee-dee.” No, wait, that’s not right… David Cross, what’s the expression?

Sorry, got sidetracked there… my point was, you can’t count on the movies to boost your ratings, but you’re also not beholden to them in terms of story. You don’t have to do a half-assed episode about Asgardian whatnots because Thor 2 just came out (seriously, Hawaii Five-O consistently writes better villains than the ones from The Well). You don’t have to schedule all of your interesting plot developments around Age of Ultron. You can tell a proper season story.

Joss Whedon’s name is still on this thing. I know you know how to make a seasonal arc worth watching with villains not pulled out of the NCIS reject drawer. So do that.

Tomorrow: Gotham had my curiosity. Now it has my attention.

Backlashing against backlash

At the risk of slipping into “cranky old man” mode here… what exactly is so great about cynicism? No, hang on, that isn’t even old man mode… my generation was defined by cynicial detachment not so long ago. We embraced it the way the 50s embraced mistaking patriarchy-driven nuclear families for values and morality. But I’m here today to tell you… it is getting out of hand.

We are cynical about everything now. A thing happens, and people across the internet jump up to stomp it down. And I don’t understand what the appeal is. What is so great and noble about responding to an idea with “That’s stupid” and nothing else? What is backlash actually accomplishing?

I put it to you that internet backlash accomplishes nothing. In fact, it’s about as far from accomplishing something as you can get without a warp drive and a time machine. Here’s some reasons why.

Backlashers aren’t contributing anything

Casefile number one: the Ice Bucket Challenge.

It was July when the ALS ice bucket challenge went viral. Dump a bucket of ice water over yourself to spread awareness of ALS and encourage donations. It was mid-August before I became aware of it, thanks to Stephen Amell of Arrow. And his co-stars, Colton Haynes and Emily Bett Rickards, stressed the need for donations on top of spreading these drenching videos. And like all things, it’s drawn its share of internet backlash. People accused this trend of just being the new internet meme, slagging it as hashtag-slacktivism. Just one problem with that label.

The challenge works.

Thanks to the ice bucket challenge, the ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million dollars in one month, five times what they raised in the entirety of 2012. It’s a viral campaign that achieved results, doing more for ALS awareness than naming the disease after Lou Gehrig.

If that’s “slacktivism,” what else is? Movember? The Ride For the Cure? Anything shy of picking up a test tube and trying to cure a disease yourself?

And even if it were, “slacktivism” actually can serve a purpose: it creates a sense of community. Check out this article, written by someone suffering from ALS, for a more insightful look, but the basic premise is that things like Movember or the ice bucket challenge make a person feel like they’re part of something greater when they donate or participate, something that merely giving money quietly and anonymously doesn’t do, and that generates momentum like nothing else.

Others point how few people actually die from ALS as compared to cancer or heart disease. Well, okay, sure, but the fact is that’s partly why the ice bucket challenge was necessary. Because ALS affects such a small percentage, it receives far less funding from governments, and pharmaceutical companies don’t take much interest because the profit margin would be too small. So they need something like this to gain awareness and raise funds, because however few people it affects, they all die, and right now we don’t know why and there is nothing we can do about it. The person dying from ALS doesn’t matter less than the person dying of heart disease, so don’t tell me that fighting this disease isn’t important.

And some say “But it wastes so much water! And hundreds of millions of people desperately need water!” Okay, point taken. Clean, drinkable water is our most precious resource, because we need it to live, there’s only so much of it, and we can’t replace it with something else, unlike oil, coal, or gold. But when it comes to wasting water in North America, the ice bucket challenge is barely, excuse the expression, a drop in the bucket. That fountain outside the Bellagio hotel, you know, the one in the middle of a freaking desert, wastes more water than ice buckets. We could and should do more to conserve water, and on that note, here’s how Matt Damon completed the ice bucket challenge while making a statement for his own charity, water.org.

Feel free to throw them some money if you’re opposed to the ice buckets.

And that’s ultimately my point about cynically discarding something like this because you spot a fault. What are you actually accomplishing? What is complaining about ice buckets doing to make the world better? Not a god damned thing. Blind cynicism is actually worse than slacktivism. At least slacktivism is encouraging people to do something. Trying to tear down causes for being too trendy, or too viral, or for not doing enough for what you define as the right things, is attempting to stop people from doing something good.

Don’t like the ice bucket challenge? Donate to water.org. Plant a Tree For Groot. Eat less meat. Volunteer at a shelter. Do something. But if all you’re doing is mocking a cause because you don’t buy into it, well, you’re just… this.

The cloud hears you. The cloud don't care.
The cloud hears you. The cloud don’t care.

Moving on.

Backlash hurts progress

Casefile number two: Solar roadways.

It boils down to this, if you choose not to click the link or watch the video: the inventors of solar roadways developed a plan to replace the asphalt that covers roads and parking lots with solar cells, that could be used to power cities. That’s the basics. They could also be fitted with LEDs, allowing them to light up in specific ways, such as adaptable, customizable traffic lanes or parking lot layouts or basketball courts or basically whatever.

The fact is, we need a solution to fossil fuels and we need it soon. Electric cars? Great start, except for the fact that the electricity that powers the cars currently comes primarily from coal. We need solar, we need wind, we need some sort of renewable energy that doesn’t change our climate and turn cities into smog-choked hellscapes like Beijing or LA. The solar roadways team thinks they’re onto something that can power and light up our cities, revolutionizing civic infrastructure, and they successfully raised over $2 million through crowdfunding.

But some people didn’t agree with solar roadways as the silver bullet to fix our energy future. And their complaints are actually fairly valid here.

  1. What about the light pollution? All those LEDs add up, especially on highways.
  2. Sure they’re designed to melt away snow, but what about the heavy snowfalls we get up here in Canada? Can it handle them?
  3. Who’s maintaining the solar panels on rural highways?
  4. How are we connecting these panels to the power grid? Wouldn’t conventional solar panels be easier?

Like I said. All of these are valid questions. But the problem is they were all held up as ways that solar roadways were doomed and shouldn’t be backed by Indiegogo patrons. But the way you find answers to these questions is to fund the project.

As a better writer than I once said, in the history of everything that works, there was a time when it didn’t. The light bulb, the telephone, the Tesla electric car, they all faced hurdles and challenges, and had prototypes that didn’t quite work. But with time, effort, and money, they got there. And maybe so can solar roadways. Or maybe they’ll be one more crowdsourced project that took a bunch of people’s money and didn’t do anything with it. But I hope not.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that no idea arrives fully formed. There’s early drafts and experiments and attempted solutions that don’t work out, and all of those have to happen, and most of them require money. So when people see this new idea and say “But they haven’t accounted for northern snowfall, so don’t support them,” that is harming progress. Don’t just tell me not to support that idea, point me to the idea that will work. Show me how to kickstart more solar farms, but until then, maybe let’s give the people trying to accomplish something a chance.

And you don’t want to be the guy who’s shown the future and screams “Burn the witch.” That is helping precisely nobody. In fact, maybe you should think about what your backlashing is saying about you…

It puts you on the wrong side of things

Now let’s really court some controversy. Casefile 3: Kony 2012.

Remember this? The group Invisible Children put out a video whose goal was to make everyone aware of Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, and specifically his tactic of indoctrinating children as soldiers. The video went viral, kits were sold for people to spread anti-Kony stuff around their towns, and a huge “poster everything” event was planned, with the hope of wallpapering the western hemisphere with anti-Kony posters.

And then came the backlash.

Much like ALS above, out came the accusations of slacktivism, and this time they were well earned, since while the end goal of Invisible Children was, in principle, the arrest of Joseph Kony and an end to children being used as soldiers, the only tangible result that Invisible Children were able to create was awareness. Which is, at best, a good first step. Invisible Children never seemed to manage the second.

People picked at how Invisible Children spent its money (primarily travel and video equipment, which isn’t that weird for a company whose primary activity is travelling the world to champion a cause with videos). People said “But Kony isn’t even in Uganda anymore” in an attempt to dismiss the video’s entire message. Which had just two problems as a nitpick: a) the video said he wasn’t in Uganda anymore, and b) in exactly which country is it okay to commit atrocities with child soldiers?

And then the public face of the campaign went a little nuts and was caught masturbating in public and that was about that.

Sure, if the Kony 2012 campaign is remembered at all, it’ll be as a definitive example of slacktivism: shit-tons of awareness raised, nothing actually accomplished. But there was one thing about all the backlash that bothered me.

While they did take an incredibly, soul-crushingly complicated issue, specifically the political realities of post-colonial Africa that allow rebel warlords like Kony to exist, and try to make it far too simple (share this link to save the world!), Invisible Children’s goal was to end a horrifying practice, that being child soldiers. It was Invisible Children vs. Joseph Kony… and Kony didn’t end up as the bad guy. No, according to internet backlash, Invisible Children were the enemy because they weren’t doing enough.

My question is this. If it was child slavers vs. slacktivists, and internet cynics decided to take up arms against the slacktivists… are they not, in some way, picking the side of the child slavers?

No, think about it, nobody was saying “Invisible Children isn’t doing enough, so let’s take the awareness they raised and run with it,” they just said “Why are you spending so much money making videos” or started parody Kickstarters. They weren’t trying to solve the problem Invisible Children wasn’t able to solve themselves, they were just mocking Invisible Children for speaking up.

Kony’s still active, FYI. And the African Union is trying to catch him exactly as hard as they were before. So conrgrats on that, internet backlash. You and Invisible Children finally have something in common: neither one of you has done anything to stop child soldiers.

Ugh. This is getting heavy. Let’s end with something lighter.

It’s just mean

Casefile four…

You know who you are.
You know who you are.

The fact is that all of these internet backlashes, whether they’re sort of defending a war criminal or accidentally announcing “We do not care about people with ALS” are small potatoes. Even Occupy Wall Street will pale in comparison to the day they finally cast a new Iron Man.

You know I’m right. Nothing makes the internet explode more than casting news on geek-targeted movies. A day will come when Peter Capaldi steps down from Doctor Who or Daniel Craig films his last James Bond movie, and when that day comes, we will once more be drowned in Tumblr/Twitter posts decrying the TV/film industry as racists for not casting Idris Elba as the new Doctor/Bond, as well as posts from a much worse group screaming bloody murder over the mere suggestion of casting Idris Elba as the new Doctor/Bond. We saw the social justice crew go nuts over another white male (worse, an old white male) being cast as the 12th Doctor, we saw internet racists (who claim they’re not racists, they just care deeply about character canon) go berserk over black actors playing a Norse god in Thor and the Human Torch in next year’s Fantastic Four movie… and that’s not even what I’m talking about here.

I’m not calling out racism or misogyny or those who campaign against them. I’m instead calling out the nerd rage crowd, the ones who shouted that Heath Ledger could never be a good Joker, or that called Daniel Craig “James Bland,” or who now throw around the term “Batfleck” as a pejorative. Because putting aside the fact that these nay-sayers have been wrong far, far more than they’ve been right (have they ever been right?)…

It’s just mean.

Take Ben Affleck as Batman. Ben Affleck started strong, with an Oscar for writing and a string of action hits. Then he dated Jennifer Lopez, made a few bombs, and was damn near run off the planet because of it. So he pulled back, took some time off, and slowly worked his way back into Hollywood, starting as a director and ultimately returning to the Oscar victory podium as the director and producer of Oscar champ Argo. And for this, for this hard-fought return to respectability, he was rewarded. Warner Bros., the studio he won an Oscar for, gave him one of their most high-profile gigs: he was the next Batman.

And the internet reacted with all the grace and dignity of a prison riot.

Peter Capaldi has been a fan of Doctor Who longer than I’ve been alive. Longer than most current fans have been alive. He watched William Hartnell, the first Doctor, in the role when he was a kid. And now he gets to take on the role himself.

And the internet either shouted “Too old!” or acted like casting another white man was a return to Jim Crow days.

Ben and Peter, lest we forget, are real people with real feelings. Maybe Ben was excited to be trusted with this role. Maybe he was excited to get another spin as a superhero in a (hopefully, please gods let it be) better movie. Maybe Capaldi was thrilled to get a chance to fly the Tardis. And maybe they don’t need jerks on Twitter saying their casting is terrible news because one of them was in Gigli over a decade ago and the other isn’t diverse enough.

In conclusion. You won’t agree with every trend that hits Facebook. Not every viral campaign will speak to you, and some will downright annoy you, but maybe think it through before you decide to tear it down. Ask yourself: what am I actually accomplishing here? Is there a more productive way I could express my disagreement with this cause? Who else is on my side of this argument, and do any of them enslave children? And, most importantly, am I being a jerk? Or, to put it simply…

Seriously, though… go plant a tree for Groot. Before someone starts complaining about that one too.

No more, Mr. “Nice Guy,” or “Nice Guys” Finished at Last

I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this post. But right now I’m not sure I could write about anything else. Because there’s an important conversation happening right now, and while it’s happening I can’t seem to see the point of writing a 2000 word blog post about the trailer for the Flash series.

Which I could. I absolutely could. But not today.

So… here goes. And yes, this will contain course language. This will get a little angry in the middle.

Confessions of a former “Nice Guy”

Real talk: there was a time when I bought into the whole “Girls say they want nice guys but only date jerks, I know this because I’m nice and girls aren’t magically falling for me” myth. I also once believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and a sinister organization with nothing better to do than orchestrate traffic to slow down my commute, but of all of these, it’s the “nice guy” thing I feel dumbest about believing.

Because seriously, I know it’s crazy, but sometimes that one pedestrian running into the intersection right in time to keep me from turning before the gap in traffic closes just feels a little choreographed, you know?

But as I was saying. Maybe it’s movies and televisions repeatedly hammering in the message of “You’ll win her over eventually” or “Nice guys get the girl from being nice, not by being confident and charming and actually asking her on dates,” maybe it isn’t, but I totally bought it. I blamed being single on girls not liking nice guys, not my crippling anxieties that make even talking to a woman at a party my own personal Everest, or my lifelong inability to tell a woman I like her, due to the fact that the first time I tried I picked the worst way I could have imagined. And I can imagine quite a bit.

Now I see the light. Now I’m aware that if a woman isn’t magically attracted to me, it’s probably more my fault than hers. I could probably stand to work out more often and make more than zero effort to convince her I’m worth her time. I can be rejected by a woman and not blame her entire gender for failing me as a person.

So why can’t the rest of us do that.

“Not all men,” but WAY too many

The other week, even before the tragic events in Santa Barbara, I came across a series of memes on Twitter making fun of those who pop into discussions of sexism and misogyny to shout that “not all men are like that.” Example:

Um, sure, fine, but now the boat is sinking. Jerk.

And at first, as someone who abhors rape, thinks women should be able to discuss comic books on the internet without threats of violence, and at the very least leans feminist, I wondered. I certainly don’t want to get lumped in with the asshats who spread misogyny and rape culture, so is saying that not all men are that awful really so bad?

Fortunately, instead of registering with tumblr in order to annoy the people posting these memes with my questions, I thought about it for ten seconds and the answer became clear. Saying “not all men are misogynists” does nothing to address the drooling mass of men who are. And that is the actual problem, a problem made all the clearer by Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree.

In short, if someone’s trying to have a conversation about how all women (Yes, all women, as the new hashtag says) are at some point on the receiving end of misogyny, and how maybe we should be doing something about that, shouting “Not all men” is just derailing the conversation, attacking the woman for bringing it up, rather than the fedora-wearing, slut-shaming, geek-girl-mocking, woman-hating, “nice guy” fromunda stains causing the problem.

And you shouldn’t want that.

Finding a better target

You can’t make violence against women go away by silencing the women who speak out against it, and you shouldn’t want to try. You should want the claim to not be necessary.

If you’re like me, and want geek casting news to be concerned with finding the best actor to play, say, Doctor Who, and not which minority/gender boxes said actor checks off, don’t attack the people saying “why not cast a woman or minority instead,” get angry at the waves of idiots who scream to the heavens at the very idea of casting anything but a white male as Batman. They’re the ones making diversity in movies, TV, and whatnot an argument, when it should be a no-brainer. They’re the ones who don’t get that Idris Elba would be the best James Bond possibly ever because his skin contains an inappropriate quantity of melanin. When the idiots are silenced, then we can begin to defend Peter Capaldi being cast instead of Helen Mirren in calm, rational tones.

Getting tired of hearing people complain that women are underrepresented and/or badly written in comic books and video games? Don’t yell at Anita Sarkeesian, blame the industries that refuse to change, that can’t accept that women might be half of their potential audience. And then blame the dickheads who turned Wonder Woman wearing pants into a controversy that shook the goddamn heavens. Because if you can’t enjoy a comic about Power Girl if her costume doesn’t include a chest window, you need to sit in the corner and be quiet for a while.

Don’t want that cute woman at the club acting like you might try to rape her? Don’t blame her for worrying, blame the irredeemable cockstains who have ensured that all women everywhere have to worried that they might get raped. Blame them, and get angry. Get angry that we live in a world that blames the victims, and refuse to live in a society where only three percent of rapists will be punished for their crimes. Shout down the slut shamers saying “she was asking for it,” drown out those who would say “but sometimes they just make it up,” because if you’re actually more concerned about the tiny number of women who pretend to be raped than the thousands of women who are attacked and receive no justice, we cannot be friends.

We need to go after these wastes of human potential. The sexists, the rapists, the “nice guys” who think holding a door excuses having less respect for women than Fox News has for Obama. The idiots telling feminists “shut up and make me a sandwich.” The MRA activists angered that anyone might want as large a slice of the pie as white men get. The cocksacks drowning women’s blogs in angry comments and rape threats. The men defending Elliot Rodger. In short, the Fedoras. We need to turn on them, tell them they won’t be tolerated. Drag them into the light, tell them their ideas are wrong, that history will not mourn their passing. Because every day, somewhere, somehow, they are hurting people, and it has to stop.

And saying “Not all men do these things” doesn’t do a goddamn thing to stop it.

Hurgh. That’s a lot of vitriol. Let’s see if I can’t impart something positive to wrap this up.

Nice is different than good

As I said in the beginning, I used to think of myself as a “nice guy.” But I’ve had to reassess that over the years. Reading about “nice guy” behaviours and their sense of entitlement led me to think about some of my own actions, and discover that I may have thought I was being nice, but I wasn’t being very good.

And so I’ve taken some advice from Wil Wheaton, in his awesome speech to a couple’s baby girl on why it’s great to be a nerd.

I am not “nice.” I am kind.

Being kind is about understanding that each person you’re talking to is a human being, filled with turmoils and frustrations and fears of their own. Some of them are just jerks, to be sure, but there’s too many of them already, so we can’t afford to add to their numbers.

A “nice guy” performs an act of basic human decency because he thinks it earns him something. When you’re kind, you do nice things for people because you want to live in a world where doing nice things is the rule, not the exception.

Of course, here’s where I’ll lose the Fedoras of the world, because being kind doesn’t magically make women fall for you either. That’s not the point. If you do something nice and expect to be rewarded for it, that’s not an act of kindness, it’s an act of commerce. Being kind is about doing something kind because it’s a better way to live.

I am kind to the people in my life (well, save for the few I’m close enough to that we can safely enjoy a fair amount of friendly teasing). I was kind to the volunteers at Calgary Comic Expo, even if they were telling me I couldn’t enter the Highlander panel. I was kind to the media guests, even if they were charging me for an autograph. I am kind to customers at my work, and to strangers I interact with. And I see the inherent contradiction in saying all these things right after advocating a distinct lack of kindness towards Fedora-kind. But I have my limits.

They hurt my friends. They hurt women I wish were my friends. One day they might hurt my niece, and I can’t have that. They make it harder to build a better world. And they ruined the fedora hat.

I fucking liked fedoras.

Being kind means that I, personally, am not adding to the pool of misogyny drowning our world… but it’s not enough. We gotta drain that pool. Because as long as all women, yes all women, face this sort of abuse throughout their lives, we’ve got work to do.

Five things I want from Geek TV next season

Last time I talked extensively about geek TV projects coming to television next season, which were exciting, and briefly why. Today, I have some specific requests from those shows.

Now, I’m not saying that any TV executives are, in any way, listening to me. I’m not insane. Well, not that brand of insane. But two years ago, as part of an interview process for an entertainment website, I wrote an article about things I wanted from Arrow (it wasn’t actually called “Ways to be better than Smallville” but could have been), and pretty much all of them happened. And then I said “This show would be even better without that voice-over,” and they cut the voice-over a few weeks later.

So what the hell. Here’s my wishlist for some of the shows I’m excited for next year.

Flash: slow build the right things

One of the big stories that will be part of The Flash was set up when Barry Allen was introduced on Arrow: the fact that his mother was killed by something mysterious, his father went to jail for murder as a result, and Barry is on a quest to figure out the truth and exonerate his father. This is based on a recent addition to Flash lore: when Geoff Johns, executive producer on the show, reintroduced Barry to comic readers a few years back, this quest to find his mother’s true killer was one of the twists he added. And then solved.

Which means that comic readers know that this mystery has only two possible answers: either it was the Reverse Flash, travelling back in time to screw with his nemesis’ entire life, or it’s Barry himself, forced to allow his mother to die in order to save the entire world (see The Flashpoint Paradox, now out on DVD, or the Flashpoint graphic novel, for how that makes any sense).

The point is, let’s not make the same mistake Agents of SHIELD did with “How is Coulson alive” and drag things out too long. Mention it from time to time, sure, but as soon as it becomes central to the story, get moving. Don’t linger too long. Fortunately, the showrunners have already discussed the fact that working on Flash Forward taught them that audiences don’t have the same patience for drawn-out mysteries that they had prior to Lost, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

What they should take their time in doing is introducing and building up some of the most complex and interesting supporting characters the Flash has: the Rogues.

The Sinister Six might get their own movie. These guys actually deserve one.
The Sinister Six might get their own movie. These guys actually deserve one.

 

Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and the Trickster. And to a lesser extent, Captain Boomerang and Kadabra. When Geoff Johns first started writing the Flash (years ago, when Barry was still dead), he turned Flash’s Rogues Gallery from a bundle of villains so lame they had to hunt in a pack to deadly menaces whose complicated ethics and deep characterization meant they were almost as much fun to read as Flash himself. Each of these characters could be just as fun a recurring character as Arrow’s Malcolm Merlyn or Slade Wilson, so don’t rush their intros. Make a meal of these guys.

And then use the Suicide Squad to set up a crossover with Arrow. Do a damn crossover with Arrow, you’re the only ones who can.

Constantine: plenty of magic users available

Constantine is not going to be crossing over with the Arrowverse, nor the big-screen Justice League. And that’s okay. It’s not my preference, as I may have indicated, but 300 issues of Hellblazer teach us that John Constantine doesn’t need a larger universe of superheroes surrounding him to be interesting. Hell, as much fun as he’s been in the Justice League Dark, Constantine’s kind of better used in a world without Batmen or hooded archer vigilantes. A world where no Justice League is going to swoop in when things get bad.

There are, however, still DC characters that I’d like to see turn up.

There’s the Nightmare Nurse, a recent addition to DC’s magical line-up. She’s the person to turn to if you need healing from a bad spell or curse, the magical equivalent of the doctor who runs an off-the-books clinic where you can get a gunshot treated without a lot of questions or police. Tell me that wouldn’t be worth having in this show.

There’s Andrew Bennett, star of I, Vampire, a character that made a well-received return to the comics after a few decades of absence. I don’t know if Constantine intends to include vampires amongst the things-that-go-bump the main characters will be locking horns with, but if they do, a repentant vampire trying to protect innocents from his psychotic ex, Mary, Queen of Blood, might be a fun way to do it.

With an aversion to sunlight and shirts, apparently.
With an aversion to sunlight and shirts, apparently.

And there are others. Detective Chimp, a chimpanzee magically given speech and heightened intellect, was a fun part of DC’s magic books a few years back. If they find themselves with extra budget to throw around, Constantine has a long history with the Swamp Thing. Want to give John a contact in the spirit world? Why not Deadman? (Assuming they’re not still trying to give him his own series) But there is one character who, more than anyone, I want to see on this show.

Zatanna.

Mistress of Magic.
For reasons besides the obvious.

Zatanna is one of DC’s longest-running magic characters, a sorceress who uses her ability to cast spells by speaking backwards to fight evil while maintaining a career as the world’s most popular stage magician. Done right, she’s also one of their most powerful characters, since she can do practically anything, as long as she can say it backwards. And she’s got an on-again, off-again romantic history with Constantine, often acting as his surrogate conscience in recent years. I shouldn’t even have to suggest that she’d be a brilliant addition to the show. It should be staggeringly obvious. Sadly that doesn’t mean that it is.

Gotham: Watch the Wire and take notes.

Gotham has already taken great strides to ease my initial dislike of its very existence by promising to avoid the teen soap melodrama that made Smallville a show I watched but never endorsed, and by releasing a not-terrible-looking trailer. Instead, we have a show about the early days of the future Commissioner Gordon and the people who will one day become the Penguin, the Riddler, and Poison Ivy. Also they are threatening to include the Joker, even though the Joker can only be the Joker if Batman already exists, and maybe I’m too hung up on the Killing Joke, but a Joker who wasn’t already a vicious criminal when he fell in the acid works so much better.

I digress.

My point is, this show may focus on Gordon (and, sure, tween-Bruce Wayne), but the villains are also a big part of the proceedings. Oswald Cobblepot’s climb to the top of the underworld is just as much a part of the show as Gordon’s rise in the GCPD. So, if I read the trailer right and know my Batman lore, we have a show based on the cops and criminals of a city beset with crime and police corruption, in which a few select cops are trying to redeem the force and save the city while criminals scheme to gain greater control of the underworld. Turns out, there’s a great show you can learn from that did pretty much all of that, as well as any TV show ever has.

Not something that frequently enters conversations involving Batman.
Not something that frequently enters conversations involving Batman.

The Wire is widely believed to be one of, if not the best, TV shows in recent memory. Possibly ever. And it contains all the elements you need to make Gotham a success. Watch the cops who form a special task group to oppose the Barksdale Organization’s drug trade have to swim upstream against a corrupt and budget-stricken police force driven more by statistics than justice, and see if it can’t instruct you on how to approach Gordon’s working relationship with the GCPD. Want to keep us hooked on the crime side of the story? Check out the clash between gangster kingpin Avon Barksdale and his right-hand man, Stringer Bell, who’s looking to take their drug revenues and build an empire that stretches beyond fighting over street corners. And if you need a new take on the Joker… maybe give Omar Little some thought.

Now even though I’ve started to admit Gotham might not be as bad as I feared, I see little way it could be as good as the Wire. That feels like a pipe dream. But the guy in charge of the series also brought us the excellent HBO show Rome, so despite a few years of slumming it running The Mentalist, I believe he still has something special in him.

Agents of SHIELD: you’re a new show now, act like it

17 episodes into Agents of SHIELD, everything changed. SHIELD collapsed, leaving the central team with no backup, no resources, and little hope. And man does that make for more exciting television. Finally there was a sense of high stakes, which the show had severely lacked up until then. The CGI touchscreen computers that solved every puzzle were gone, replaced with 60s-style spy gear salvaged from a former Howling Commando’s estate. And the dullest character was revealed to be Hydra, making him 500 times more interesting.

So the worst thing they can do now is backslide on all of that.

It’s still unclear what Agents of SHIELD will look like next year. Apparently their sister show, Agent Carter, will involve Peggy Carter running missions for Howard Stark, as she’s been shut out of the post-war spy business. Maybe Agents of SHIELD will involve them doing covert ops for Tony Stark, via his new employee Maria Hill. But hopefully they continue to grow and evolve as a series, rather than sink back into the so-so NCIS: Marvel Universe… no, they were too afraid of using anything Marvel… NCIS: Funky Sci-Fi that they wasted over two-thirds of their freshman season being, while wondering why their ratings were in a tailspin.

Arrow: Now go nuts.

So there was one thing I really wanted from Arrow that the second season not only didn’t provide, and actually hinted it never would: to be part of the same universe as Man of Steel. That’s apparently not happening. DC isn’t trying to have all of their properties connect: the movies will be one world, the Arrowverse another, and all other TV series and animated DVDs will pretty much keep to themselves.

There is a potential here.

For the longest time, DC kept its properties separate and allowed no overlap. Smallville reportedly couldn’t use Bruce Wayne because the powers-that-be thought it would conflict with Batman Begins. But that’s no longer happening: if Gotham is a success, then Batman will be hitting the big screen in whatever Man of Steel 2 ends up being called right as Gotham’s Bruce Wayne is hitting his teen years. Flash will be turning up in Justice League while a younger Flash is still running around on the CW.

So the seal is broken. Multiple worlds, multiple versions of the same characters. Which I posit means you should be able to bring whatever and whoever you want into the Arrowverse. Especially since the Flash is adding the existence of powers into the world, something not present in the first season. So why not go for it, Arrow? Start name-dropping the big guns.

You’ve mentioned companies like STAR Labs (DC’s ubiquitous R&D company), Kord Industries (founded by Ted Kord, known in the 80s and 90s as the Blue Beetle), and Ferris Air (employers of Green Lantern), now name-drop the big boys… WayneTech and LexCorp.

I’m not saying you should start casting the Arrowverse Superman and Batman, in fact hold off on Superman until we see how well superspeed gels with this more grounded world, but lay some groundwork. Let us know that Gotham and Metropolis exist in the same world as Starling City. And while you (hopefully) keep up your great work in building your own little DC Universe, get a little out there. Introduce some more heroes, even ones with powers like Black Lightning or, since Markovia exists, it’s prince, Geo Force. Season two took everything that worked in season one and cranked it up: I can’t wait to see you do that again.

Expo Wrap-up Part Two: the Paneling

So in addition to volunteering and trying to cram as many nerdgasmy experiences as possible into three days, I was also there as an exhibitor of sorts. My company, Scorpio Theatre, was there to promote ourselves and our upcoming production of Who Knows, a Doctor Who tribute show we’re putting up… later this month. Wow. I guess that’s the case now…

This means that for the second year, I was a panelist at the Expo.

We ran four panels over the week, three of which I participated in. Here’s some highlights.

Writing Workshop

On Thursday, myself and the head of the Alberta Playwrights Network were running a script workshop for aspiring writers. The basic plan was that people would send us their scripts, we’d read them, and then give feedback. The amount of scripts we received would determine how long each person got and if we’d have time for walk-ins. We did end up having a walk-in.

The trick was that this panel was at 5:00 on a Thursday. Which meant leaving work early, fighting traffic, finding somewhere near the Stampede to park, finding my panelist badge, and getting to my room. Which I managed… 11 minutes late. And as I burst into my room, I found out that we had an audience.

Wasn’t expecting that.

I’d read the scripts we’d had submitted, and was ready to give thoughts and tips and feedback. I was less prepared to be entertaining while that happened. So, I had to improvise a little. Use specific examples from the submitted scripts to impart general lessons. I also invited some people onstage to do a reading of one of them, because that’s the “workshop as group activity” plan I know.

Ultimately it went well. By hour three it was just us and the remaining writer, but I think we imparted something valuable, and there was definitely one screenplay I hope to eventually see performed (I’d tell you the details but I don’t know how okay the author would be with their synopsis being spread around). Afterwards, we were free to sneak into the acting workshop Scorpio was running next door, see how that was going.

Writing and Directing

This one was excited for. Me and four friends swapping stories and giving tips on writing and directing. Similar to my panel on script writing last year, which was super fun.

Just a couple of things we hadn’t considered.

First, the script writing panel the previous year had just been the three of us. Now there was five. A little bloated, maybe…

Second, writing and directing are fairly separate entities. There’s not a great deal of overlap between them.

Third, this panel involved some of the most verbose people in the company. People who tend to take their time making a point or telling a story. Which is most cases is good, because we usually have pretty cool or interesting things to say.

In fact all of these problems would be minor to the point of not being worth mentioning if it weren’t for the fourth issue: we had 45 minutes.

There’s nothing we can do about that last one. Every panel from Friday on gets 45 minutes. The improv troupe, the professor doing an apparently impressive talk about the narrative similarities between Aliens and Beowulf, Bill freaking Paxton gets 45 minutes and then he’s done. But put that many people who have a difficult relationship with brevity on one panel, and you might not be able to field a lot of questions.

Still, it went well, we had fun, and although it cost me my chance to see the Highlander panel, I’d say it was worth it.

Who Knows

Now this was the big one. The Expo graciously agreed to give us a full panel to plug Who Knows, which was awesome enough in and of itself. They also put us in the second largest room they had, the Boyce Theatre. Well, the second biggest based on last year. There was now also the Expo Pavilion. Not sure which one of those was bigger. But in essence, there’s the Corral, the venue that seats thousands, that gets used for Nathan Fillion or Matt Smith or the Game of Thrones cast, and then there’s the Boyce, that gets used for Wil Wheaton, the cast of Highlander, and now, apparently, us.

Our first order of business: unveil our first promo video.

Second: introduce selected cast members. Third: try as hard as I could not to dominate the entire panel with elaborate answers about all the Who lore this show is soaked in.

Now this one was fun. The audience wasn’t full, but definitely had enough people to justify a larger room. We got some decent laughs on the video, fielded questions from the audience, and hopefully convinced some folk to come see the show. Since, you know, that was the whole point.

I don’t often get to give my thoughts on a project to a seated audience. And I have to say… it’s pretty satisfying.

Expo’s always a good time for me. I get tired from the long days, sore from spending so much time wandering the concrete floors, and it’s by no means cheap, but every time I’m left satisfied and excited for next year.

Maybe I should sneak up to Edmonton when their Expo happens in September… maybe.