Cinematic universe or Cinematic multiverse?

It is, as Hardison from Leverage often said, the Age of the Geek. And nothing drives that point home like the massive surge in superhero properties being adapted to the big and small screens. There are those in the media questioning whether the market’s getting saturated, but my opinion remains largely unchanged:

I'm pretty much okay with it.
I’m pretty much okay with it.

The two largest players in the superhero market, Marvel and DC, are developing two very different tactics to exploit this.

Marvel, as anyone in western society is now aware, has the Marvel cinematic universe, a series of interconnected films that range from “kind of okay” to “amazing” in terms of quality, but “acceptable” to “massive hit” in terms of box office. After Guardians of the Galaxy became the year’s biggest success story (beating out Captain America, the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Transformers) despite having no A or even B list characters, Marvel Studios is seen as pretty much bulletproof at the box office. They’re also trying to expand into television, but Agents of SHIELD’s so-so reception and slow-bleed ratings mean it’s come the closest to being their first failure, it remains to be seen how Agent Carter will do at midseason, and their Netflix series are still at least a year away.

DC, on the other hand, is swiftly moving to dominate the television landscape. Arrow is into its third season, and now has a spinoff in the Flash; Gotham has opened strong on Fox; Constantine and iZombie are still on the way; and deals are in the works to bring the Titans and Supergirl to TV next year. If even half these projects achieve Arrow-level success (the first step towards Smallville-level success, something I am defining here exclusively by its ten-year run and not how warranted said run was), DC will be dominating the TV market. On the other hand, they haven’t had a movie that’s an unqualified success since 2008. Since The Dark Knight, they’ve managed “moderate hits that aren’t fondly remembered” (The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel) and “outright failures,” (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex), with their next big movie raising a few concerns.

But who’s dominating which medium isn’t what I wanted to talk about. No, it’s clear that both companies want a piece of all the pies. The difference in tactics comes down to how their various properties are interacting. Marvel and DC have taken different paths here, with Marvel bringing all of their film and TV projects into one shared universe, while DC has built a Chinese wall in between film and television, and with their shows already spread across three networks (five by next year if everything goes forward), that looks to get worse before it gets better.

So let’s take a look at each strategy. See how they stack up.

Pro for Marvel: Everything is connected!

Well, everything except Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. You know, the A-list properties.

This is slightly harder to describe than I thought. Let’s try a story.

There’s a moment in Batman Forever when Bruce Wayne asks newly orphaned Dick Grayson what he’s going to do next. “The circus must be halfway to Metropolis by now,” he says. And so excited was Young Me in that moment, that quick little reference to Superman’s home city, that I barely even noticed how wooden Val Kilmer’s delivery was, and briefly forgot how ridiculous this movie was in general. And this is something Marvel movies manage each and every time. They are filled with references to each other and Easter eggs pointing elsewhere in Marvel lore.

And if one quick reference to Metropolis can brighten Batman Forever, imagine what that can do for movies that are actually fun, like Iron Man or Captain America. Or, to a lesser extent, Thor. And when all the various characters get to interact in one movie? Well, The Avengers happens. A massive success that everyone loves. Yes, okay, getting Joss Whedon to write and direct it certainly helped. Just throwing all the characters into one movie and hoping it works out isn’t a recipe for The Avengers, it’s a recipe for the largely reviled third X-Men movie.

Yes I am looking right at you when I say that, Zach Snyder. DO NOT SCREW UP THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, I AM NOT 20 ANYMORE, I MIGHT NOT GET A SECOND ONE IF YOU SCREW THIS UP.

Ahem.

That said, the interconnected Marvel Universe is also a demonstrable cash cow. Not only was the Avengers a massive success, every single movie since then has enjoyed a bump. Iron Man 3, Thor: the Dark World, and Captain America: the Winter Soldier all out-grossed their predecessors (something not every superhero franchise has been able to say lately), and Guardians of the Galaxy rode the Marvel name to box office supremacy.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is working so well that everyone wants a piece of the action. Warner Bros./DC is trying to bolt right to the big money by fast tracking Justice League instead of spending the time/capital on individual franchises. Despite the demonstrable diminishing returns on their current Spider-Man plans, Sony is trying to build their own cinematic universe off Spider-Man and his various… villains? That’s the plan? Really? That is going to crash and burn so hard… Fox is rejuvenating the X-Men (and releasing a Fantastic Four movie they seem weirdly reluctant to talk about), and Universal is trying to get into the game by making a connected universe out of Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein. Which could work…

…or it could not.

Spoiler: he was an archangel the whole time. There was no need for that.

On the other side of the fence…

Con for DC: Everything is in a silo

Meanwhile, everything DC is doing is compartmentalized. There’s the new cinematic universe they launched with Man of Steel, and are trying to kickstart into full Marvel mode through Batman V. Superman: Cameos of Justice. Then there’s what’s known as the “Arrowverse,” the CW TV universe that started with Arrow and has expanded into the Flash. Constantine’s off on his own on NBC, and Gotham isn’t tying into anything.

Nor should it, really. I mean, they snuck in a Queen Consolidated Easter egg in the second episode, but really this show should take place at least a decade before Oliver’s fateful voyage on the Queen’s Gambit, 15 years before his return to Starling City.

So no, Stephen Amell’s Arrow and Grant Gustin’s Flash will not be joining Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and the rest of the BvS cameos in the Justice League movie. Nor will John Constantine be swaggering into Starling or Central Cities. Which is a little sad in its own right, but there’s a bigger problem.

Have separate continuities if you want. DC is often built around the idea of a multiverse anyway. It’s the fact the characters from one continuity seemingly can’t appear in any of the others for fear of confusing the audience or whatever that’s killing us.

Smallville was banned from having Batman or Bruce Wayne appear. They brought in Green Arrow, Flash/Impulse (long story), Cyborg, Hawkman, Aquaman, Black Canary, the Legion of Superheroes, even Booster Gold… but never Batman, because they didn’t want to mess with the films. And now Batman, Superman, and their respective cities are verboten to the Arrowverse. Reportedly, the producers of Flash were told to cut a Luthorcorp Easter egg from the pilot, and it remains to be seen what sort of crackdown on Bat-verse references is going to spill out of Gotham being on the Fox network.

There is some small hope that it might be less stupid going forwards. The president of the CW network teased the possibility of Arrow crossing over with the proposed Titans series heading for TNT. And Supergirl will share a showrunner with Arrow and Flash (besides the ever-present Geoff Johns), and its network, CBS, is from a corporate perspective the CW’s older, more successful brother, both of them being owned by Warner Brothers, owners of DC Comics. So there’s some talk that Supergirl might not necessarily stand alone like Gotham or Constantine.

Except how would either of those even work? Arrow has had zero mentions of Batman, Gotham, Wayne Enterprises, anything (the leaked pilot of the Flash does, but it remains to be seen if that lasts until broadcast). How do you have a Titans show, starring Batman’s ex-sidekick Nightwing, cross over to a show where Batman doesn’t exist? Moreover, there are no aliens in the Arrowverse. They just introduced superpowers on the Flash, but neither series is currently touching aliens. So how do you have Starfire? And if there’s no Superman in the Arrowverse, does it even make sense to have Supergirl?

And it doesn’t even have to be like this. When Superman Returns came out, Smallville was still on the air. Whatever prevented Superman Returns from being the franchise launcher they hoped, people being confused by the multiple Clark Kents wasn’t it. And the producers of Gotham certainly aren’t planning to pack up and call it a day when Batman V. Superman opens partway through what they hope to be their second season. And their animation division keeps cranking out product regardless of what the characters are doing in live action.

Marvel can’t have Spider-Man or the X-Men turn up in the Avengers because they sold the film rights in order to keep the doors open after the comic crash in the 90s. Warner Bros. doesn’t have that excuse, yet they act like that anyway. And it’s maddening sometimes.

However.

Con for Marvel: Everything’s connected, but nobody’s talking

The Marvel cinematic universe has introduced film and TV audiences to a nitpick comic fans have known and traded for years: “Why wouldn’t [x-character] call [y-character] for help?”

Happens all the time. “Superman could have stopped the riot in Arkham Asylum in five seconds. Why not call him?” Or, one I asked recently, “Captain America is the head of SHIELD, why is he letting a crooked weapons developer and the general in her pocket push Iron Man around like this?”

And while answers exist (Batman is able to protect Gotham because the criminals are afraid of him, not because they’re afraid that he’ll tell on them to Superman if they’re too mean), the single greatest argument against this nitpick is “He was busy, read his book.” Of course Captain America couldn’t bail out Iron Man, he’s been going through hell with the Red Skull. Of course Wonder Woman couldn’t come to Gotham, she’s been dealing with civil war on Olympus for months. Of course Green Lantern hasn’t been around to help the Justice League, shit is falling apart out in space.

The movies don’t have that. Avengers movies aside, we check in with Tony Stark or Captain America once every two years. Less than that for the Hulk. So we don’t have any idea what they’re doing between movies. So here’s a quick list of questions that arise when everyone’s movie is connected but nobody appears in each other’s movies because Robert Downey Jr. isn’t free. (Some spoilers for The Winter Solider and Iron Man 3)

  • Tony Stark’s house gets blown up by terrorists, after which said terrorists kidnap The President of the United States off of Air Force One, and nobody thinks that maybe SHIELD should get involved? Captain America has nothing to say about any of this?
  • Captain America has to bring down three heavily armed helicarriers in the Winter Solider, and for backup he brings Black Widow and some guy he met while jogging? This doesn’t seem like something that Tony Stark, the guy who helped design the helicarriers, or Bruce Banner, the unstoppable rage monster, might be useful for?
  • Actually forget them. Where the hell is Hawkeye? Black Widow finds out SHIELD is compromised and Clint Barton wasn’t her first phone call? They were partners! She joined the Avengers to help out Hawkeye for gods’ sake, and when their mutual employer turns on her, she doesn’t even try to get word to him? He even has experience bringing down helicarriers! Managed it with two fucking arrows!
  • And where the bloody hell is Thor since his last movie? He left Asgard at the end of the Dark World to hang out with Jane, and since then… what? Just bumming around Europe? “Pagan anarchists” (oy…) got their hands on an Asgardian weapon, an Asgardian criminal was on a rampage in the southern US, and Captain America was being hunted for treason, and Thor just doesn’t give a shit.
  • Everyone knows Coulson’s alive again, right? I mean, that’s got to be clear by now. He wasn’t exactly keeping his head down in the first season of Agents of SHIELD, and now he’s being publicly hunted by the US government. I have to believe Tony Stark would have noticed he’s not dead by now.

Swear to god, if they open the second Avengers movie with the team hanging out together and the implication that they’re in regular contact, fans would be within their rights to riot.

But that aside, there’s another problem with the Cinematic Universe’s approach.

Pro to DC: no one is beholden to anyone

The greatest flaw of Agents of SHIELD’s first season is that they didn’t have an interesting plot or an engaging villain for 15 episodes. Their money storyline involved the Hydra revelation from Winter Soldier, so they couldn’t really kick that off until after Winter Soldier had opened: eight months and sixteen episodes into the season. As a result, and I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, they hemorrhaged viewers and good will and only barely squeaked out a renewal thanks to corporate synergy making low ratings acceptable. The fact that they did nothing but spin their wheels up until that point is a whole other conversation, but the fact is their first season’s stories were beholden to the Winter Soldier’s release date. It remains to be seen what impact Age of Ultron will have, but for their sake, I hope it’s “none,” or at least “none until the third season” (if there is one, given that their second episode this season tied their series low point).

The Arrowverse doesn’t have that problem.

The Arrowverse can do whatever the hell it wants to do. We’re not going to connect to the Justice League movie? Fine, we’ll build our own Justice League with the Atom and Firestorm. Can’t use Batman? Fine, but we’ll borrow whichever of his villains you aren’t using. Ra’s Al Ghul’s available now, right?

In a strictly narrative context, they don’t have to hold anything back until the next movie opens. They’re not beholden to Zach Snyder’s plans. They can crossover as much or as little as they like, and when finale season rolls around, I imagine both Flash and the Arrow will be a little too busy with their own problems to come bail each other out.

Likewise, Gotham is free to play around. They won’t have to stick to someone else’s vision of Batman or the Penguin’s journeys. I doubt they’ll get too experimental, but they have some breathing room.

So while not being connected to the movies or several of the other series can be frustrating, it’s also the reason Arrow is thriving while Agents of SHIELD fizzled.

Also, nobody ever has to ask where Superman was during the Starling City earthquake.

Wrapping up

So the two strategies have their strengths and weaknesses. Linking all the movies works like gangbusters (a few narrative holes aside), but letting TV shows do their own thing seems to be working out better than chaining them to a movie release schedule.

Do I want to see Titans and Supergirl cross over with Arrow and Flash? Damn right I do. Am I afraid that the Flash won’t be in the Justice League? Damn skippy I am. But am I glad that they’re getting to tell their own stories on their own terms? You’d better believe it.

Geek TV conclusion: Constantine

An extremely hectic weekend means this is coming a couple of days late, but here we go.

And so we come to the end of my look at upcoming comic book TV shows, what they should avoid, and how they can set themselves apart. My only regret? I seem to have done them in no particular order. Not even broadcast order, since Gotham’s pilot comes the day before Agents of SHIELD’s premiere.

But that’s neither here nor there. Ladies and gentlemen, readers of all ages… Mr. John Constantine.

Simplest costume, also kind of the best.
Simplest costume of everyone we’ve covered, also kind of the best.

Coming in late October (sensibly close to Halloween), Constantine is based on the DC/Vertigo (DC’s mature readers line) comic Hellblazer, and oddly not on the current DC comic Constantine. Well, they both star the same guy, but since the TV show isn’t about to cross over with the Justice League anytime soon, it’s clearly more based on Hellblazer.

John Constantine is a surly, somewhat amoral magician and conman who, to his frequent annoyance, is one of the few people capable of keeping demons and/or monsters at bay and defending the Earth. He’s been lurking around the comics for three decades, first as a supporting character to Swamp Thing, then as the star of his own comic (the longest running in Vertigo history), and currently as a rogue mystic in the main DC continuity, star of his own book and one of the few consistent faces in the occult super team Justice League Dark.

There was also a movie starring Keanu Reeves but we needn’t discuss that.

And now he’s coming to television. And I’d like him to stay there for a while, so here’s what I see as ways for him to do that.

Challenge: Don’t just be a crime procedural with demons

I get it, Constantine. Procedurals are popular. From the CSIs to the NCIS’s to Castle and Bones and the Hawaii Five-0 team. They’re comfortable and don’t challenge the viewer. But trying to mimic them is where everything started to go wrong for Agents of SHIELD. They sold themselves as Marvel movies come to television, and then delivered NCIS: Fringe Division. Only less cool than the tie-in the Fringe implies.

Not that the procedural format is easy to avoid. Many, many shows I like still require a certain amount of “case of the week.” Most of them US basic cable dramadies: Burn Notice, White Collar, Leverage, mismatched pairs/teams solving problems while, and this is the important part, dealing with some larger plot in bits and pieces.

Now from the trailer, it looks like this is happening. Something sinister is hinted to be on the horizon, and Constantine is right at the center of it. That’s good. That’s a good start. But what’s going to separate you from the bland procedurals is what you do with this. The Mentalist and early Agents of SHIELD had larger plots as well: the Mentalist was hunting Red John, the serial killer who murdered his family, and Agents of SHIELD had its weekly hints about Coulson.

But they didn’t go anywhere.

I gave up on the Mentalist when it was clear that they would never truly make any progress in catching Red John until the show was over, and that stretching this plot out was practically giving Red John magic powers. Seriously, he kidnapped a medium that the Mentalist (no, I cannot be bothered to look up his name right now) liked, then somehow convinced her that she was dead, haunting the Earth, and could only be contacted by seance.

Even if you DO believe in hypnotism this feels like a stretch.

I already discussed what Agents of SHIELD did wrong for its first dozen episodes, so let’s move on.

The key is to use procedural, case of the week elements and build something bigger, darker, and more sinister. Look at Hannibal. It dressed itself up as a crime procedural that happened to be darker than most, and used that to create a visually gorgeous masterpiece unlike anything on television. Your key move here? World building. The magical world of DC, and Vertigo before it, is a rich and complex place filled with rival magicians, demons, gods, and cults. There is so much you can do with all that.

Oh, yes, also don’t forget that your lead character is a lying, scheming, con artist whose saving grave is that he happens to target the bad guys more often than the good. You might not be able to show him smoking on screen (for serious, NBC? That’s just–wow), but don’t lose sight of any of that.

Opportunity: I mentioned world building, right?

Remember all those rival magicians and whatnot I just mentioned? Well, good news: nobody else doing DC stuff on television or in movies is using them. Well, none of them except Shazam, but that lot barely count. Gotham and Arrow aren’t even touching magic, none of the magical characters are on Zach Snyder’s Justice League radar, you can go to town here.

Good first steps I’ve seen involve sneaking the Helmet of Fate into an early episode, opening a door for Doctor Fate to return to television (following a two episode stint on Smallville). Jim Corrigan has been cast, which presumably will lead to an appearance by his alter ego The Spectre, the personification of the wrath of God. And if the success of Arrow and sharp drop in ratings for early Agents of SHIELD teach us anything, it’s that audiences do eat this stuff up. Building your show’s universe with characters from the comics is a trickier path for you, since the magical characters lack the recognition of Deadshot, Deathstroke, and the Flash, but there’s still some great potential here. I’ve discussed this in the past, but here’s my wishlist, complete with casting suggestions. Hey, Arrow keeps casting people I like in their show, and they’re doing pretty well for themselves.

1, The Phantom Stranger

Proper spooky.
Proper spooky.

Phantom Stranger has been lurking around magical events in the DC universe for a while now. He’s a mysterious entity, who appears when he’s needed, and typically assists other heroes in overcoming something big and mystical. In the current continuity, they’ve made it pretty clear that he’s Judas Iscariot, cursed to wander the Earth as a stranger to all while running odd jobs for God as punishment for his betrayal. I mean, they never say the names “Judas” or “Jesus,” but it’s still really clear. That said, I’d advise skipping that while you’re on network TV.

He works for this show because he exists between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Neither angel nor demon, he’s exactly the sort of ominous ally Constantine might need while he’s trying to work the two factions against each other (side note: please have him work Heaven and Hell against each other, that just seems obvious).

Casting suggestion: Idris Elba. The thing the Phantom Stranger needs most is gravitas. It’s got to be clear that if he’s here, something serious is about to go down. And the more imposing he is, the more fun it’ll be when Constantine doesn’t give a fuck about how imposing he is. And if there’s one thing Idris Elba can seriously bring to the table, it’s power and gravitas.

2. Swamp Thing

Proper swampy.
Proper swampy.

As I said above, Constantine and Swamp Thing go way back. And when you’re ready to move beyond angels, demons, and ghosts (which you should), Swamp Thing opens doors to the elemental realms. He’s the guardian of the Green, the force that links all plant life. And this frequently puts him at odds with humanity. Admit it, it’d be fun watching John have to match wits with a plant monster. If I have to explain further I’m not sure we can be friends. I mean, do I have to draw you a diagram here? He’s Groot with an expanded vocabulary.

Casting suggestion: Ron Perlman or Clancy Brown. Hellboy or the Kurgan. Even before you put the prosthetics on, they’ve got the size, the gruff demeanor, and the deep, booming voice needed to bring Swampy to sinister yet slightly lovable life.

3. Eclipso

Proper... I got nothing, sorry.
Proper… I got nothing, sorry.

Post-90s Eclipso is a textbook attempt to redeem a silver age concept that was a little ridiculous. Originally a super villain that only came out during eclipses, Eclipso was re-invented in the 90s as a god of vengeance who had gone rogue and was imprisoned in a black diamond. If you hold the black diamond (or a fragment thereof) and feel rage, Eclipso will either possess you (if you want to harm the object of your rage yourself) or manifest as a construct (if you want the object of your rage harmed but not by you), take your vengeance, and then just go nuts on the world in general. Well, as long as he stays out of direct sunlight.

Constantine’s an exorcist. Eclipso would make for a hell of a recurring nemesis.

Casting suggestion: Robert Englund. Eclipso is cruel, vicious, and fancies himself as having a wicked sense of humour, so who better than Freddy Krueger?

4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ZATANNA.

Proper. Just proper.
Proper. Just proper.

Zatanna is the most powerful sorceress in the DC universe. She can basically make anything happen just by saying it backwards. She’s put in some time with the Justice League, primarily back in the late 70s/early 80s, but typically works solo. Like Dr. Fate, she’s no stranger to television, having popped by Smallville a couple of times, but she’d fit in much better here.

In any continuity, Constantine and Zatanna have history. Former lovers turned occasional allies, even if the alliance is sometimes reluctant on Zatanna’s side (he is, as I have implied, not the easiest guy to get along with). In current comics, she’s also his surrogate conscience. She pushes him to do the right thing, when it’s often clear the wrong thing suits him better. It’s even implied that she used magic to try and alter his personality to be more heroic, because noble though she tries to be, sometimes she’s willing to cross lines other Justice Leaguers wouldn’t. Which caused some problems during the classic story Identity Crisis that I don’t have time to go into.

She’s an ideal addition to Constantine’s supporting cast. She is the ideal addition to Constantine’s supporting cast. And if she’s popular, which how would she not be… maybe a spin-off would be in order? And if that happens, I know a writer you could get for relatively cheap to work on it. (Hint… it’s me. Me over here. This guy.)

Casting suggestion: Sarah Jones. She’s taken a couple of swings at television already (as the FBI agent tasked with hunting down time-displaced criminals in Alcatraz and the morally shady count room manager for the Savoy casino in Vegas), but nothing that’s lasted past a season. But she’s got a great intensity and a habit of outshining more famous co-stars like Sam Neill or Dennis Quaid. She needs a hit like I need Zatanna in this show. And then on her own show. Which you could hire someone else to run, if you needed to… Bryan Fuller’s probably too busy between Hannibal and American Gods, isn’t he? Damn it, why can’t he just write everything…

And that’s the lot. Well, okay, there’s also Agent Carter and iZombie, but they’re not until mid-season and I do not have much to say about them. And Supergirl and Titans haven’t been officially picked up yet (although Supergirl’s super close–I apologize for the wording, I see now that was the wrong thing to do). So we’ll call that a wrap.

Next time… other stuff. It’s been a busy day, I’ll figure that out later.

Geek TV Part 3: The Flash

Way, way back in 1990, in the wake of the massive success of Tim Burton’s Batman, CBS launched a TV show based on DC superhero the Flash. And 14-year-old me couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was the one thing I most looked forward to watching every week. But sadly it didn’t last beyond one season, breaking my puberty-riddled heart.

And now, 24 years later (you go to hell remorseless march of time, you go to hell and you die), the Flash is coming back to TV, this time as part of a larger televised DC universe, the Arrowverse.

Which is ultimately going to be an awkward name for this thing but since it all grew out of the TV show Arrow, here we are.

At least eight easter eggs in this poster.
At least eight Easter eggs in this poster.

From the trailer, it’s looking hell of solid. So let’s talk about how they can go the distance this time.

Challenge: biting off more than you can chew

One of my concerns two years back, when Arrow was starting out, I was a little concerned about how the fight sequences would go. You see, we were just coming off of ten years of Smallville, a series that habitually half-assed its action sequences. For a show that never looked low-budget, Smallville surely didn’t know how to do a fight scene.

Seriously, they spent all of season eight building up to a climactic battle between Clark and Doomsday, and when it finally happened, it lasted less than a minute. Boiled down to a few punches from Doomsday and a charge-tackle from Clark that disposed of Doomsday off-camera. Which would be bad enough, but the season 10 fight between Clark and Darkseid was even worse.

Now, Arrow has it down. Their fight scenes are spectacular. But a fight scene on Arrow only needs choreography, stunt men, and some arrow work. A fight scene between Flash and Captain Cold involves super-speed effects and ice blasts.

And that’s just one of the Rogues, Flash’s primary band of villains, three of which have already been cast. We’re talking flame throwers, ice guns, people jumping in and out of mirrors, the Trickster might not be so tough, but you see my point?

And that’s just the Rogues, who I feel I should point out ought to be recurring villains for basically the entire series. In the pilot alone, two other villains and a major DC event get hinted at. First of all, in the flashbacks to the death of Barry’s mother, we get a glimpse at what is clearly supposed to be the Reverse-Flash. Not so hard, it’s just more super-speed effects. If they can make Barry move at super-speed (they can), Reverse-Flash is just a reversed colour palette.

Second… Grodd.

The murder ape.
The murder ape.

Grodd, for those who don’t know, is a hyper-intelligent telepathic gorilla from a hidden society of super-advanced apes called Gorilla City–yeah. Comics are weird. But he’s a blend of telepathy, genius intellect, animal savagery, and a fanatical devotion to gorilla supremacy that elevates him from “evil talking monkey” to one of Flash’s deadliest foes. There’ve been two Grodd-related Easter eggs in promos for the Flash (check out the sidewalk on the lower left of the poster up above), and one pretty clear shot from the pilot that indicates they want Grodd to show up eventually.

Kind of hard to misinterpret.
Kind of hard to misinterpret.

The producers have straight up admitted that they haven’t figured out how to do Grodd on TV yet, but that they hoped Dawn of the Planet of the Apes might do some of the heavy lifting there. We’ll see… Arrow dropped hints and name-dropped Ra’s Al Ghul for two seasons before having him turn up, so they’ve got some time to figure this out.

And third… in a twist-end scene I shan’t spoil, they clearly refer to what remains the biggest, boldest, and possibly best event book in DC history: Crisis on Infinite Earths. They use the word “crisis” and refer to “red skies,” one of the hallmarks of Crisis on Infinite Earths and its follow-ups.

Guys… Flash producers… I love you all, but that is not a term you should throw around lightly. Because some of us… mostly me… possibly only me… want to see Crisis on Infinite Earths adapted to some sort of screen, but let me be clear: a Crisis on Infinite Earths that doesn’t combine the Nolan Batman movies, the current Justice League/Man of Steel crew, the Arrowverse, Gotham, Constantine, and what the hell, Superman Returns and Smallville into one worlds-spanning epic is not worthy of the title. So while you have bought yourselves until season nine before you have to worry too hard… tread carefully.

These are all big, expensive things, and they are all things that you are name-dropping, not just things on my Flash series wishlist (although they are all on that list, they really, really are). And I worry about the expense involved in doing them right because the climax of the pilot, in which Flash battles a proto-Weather Wizard (the real Weather Wizard, I maintain, is yet to come), comes down to a two-minute showdown based around Barry running really fast in a circle.

You’re going to have to do better than that when Grodd shows up.

Opportunity: embrace science

One of Flash’s catch-phrases used to be “Flash fact.” He’d use science as a weapon, figuring out how to use his speed to save the day through an understanding of physics, and then explain how it worked through his Flash facts. That was very much a silver age thing (since Barry Allen spent the first two and half decades after the silver age being dead), but one of the first things he said when he was brought back from the dead in Final Crisis (don’t ask, we don’t have time) was “Flash fact.”

And on the show? He’s already a science nerd. He got more excited about the potential of the Central City particle accelerator (which looks spookily similar to the Vancouver hockey arena) than seemed healthy. He’s a forensic scientist (as Barry is in the comics). And in his Flash duties, he works with a physicist, a biologist, and an engineer. This shouldn’t be a show afraid of being smart.

Not all of Flash’s fights have to boil down to “run really fast and punch bad guy in the face.” I gave you a hard time about a climactic battle involving running really fast, but actually, that is what I’m talking about. Using his speed in creative ways to beat the villains and save the civilians. Just don’t go to the “run in a circle” well too often either.

And it’s not just Flash: his villains are creative too. Captain Cold’s gun doesn’t just shoot ice: it can slow molecular movement. This makes things cold, sure, but it can also make fast things move slower, a key ability to have when you’re fighting a super-speeder.

Not to mention the fact that his future nemesis best friend Harrison Wells is a leading particle physicist. If you’re not at least trying to make science look good in this show, what are you doing?

Next time: what am I hoping to see as Flash’s parent show, Arrow, moves into season three?

Geek Talk Junk Drawer

It’s Thursday, things are slow, I’m listless and a little agitated. This would be a perfect time to lose myself in another hilarious and slightly heartbreaking episode of Bojack Horseman, My New Favourite Thing… only I’ve run out. There are no more. Not until next year. And I don’t seem to have the attention span for much else.

So let’s chat, you and I. Let’s pass some time on these here interwebs by discussing things that wouldn’t fill a full blog. Which might be difficult because apparently I had 2,000 words’ worth of things to say about the new Sin City movie, when “Two hours of sub-par to terrible Sin City fan fiction” would have summed it up.

But this will spare all of you from getting an earful about Bojack Horseman. It’s hilarious, it’s got a surprising amount of heart and emotion in the back half of the season, Will Arnett and Alison Brie are both in it, just go watch it already.

New Doctor!

Check it!
Check it!

Part of loving Doctor Who is learning to accept new Doctors, even if you’re not ready to. I was just a kid when I heard that Tom Baker was leaving. I was taken completely by surprise when Colin Baker changed into Sylvester McCoy (despite it having been a rerun… this was pre-internet, there weren’t easy ways to learn these things). I was heartbroken when I learned Christopher Eccleston was only doing one season… and those were the easy ones. I may have actually screamed “NNNOOOOO!” out loud when word got out that Matt Smith was moving on.

But now the new guy, Peter Capaldi, aka. Twelve, has had two episodes to establish himself. And I think he’s doing okay. He has a sterner style, which sets him apart from Ten and Eleven. He wants to be a good man, but isn’t sure he is (something he has in common with Bojack Horseman–sorry, sorry, it just slipped out). And Clara’s finally getting more to do, after the whole Impossible Girl story kind of prevented her from being properly developed. All in all, Capaldi’s crushing it, and they still have my devotion.

But I haven’t figured out his theme music yet.

Not the opening credit theme, of course I know that. The in-episode theme music. Nine had The Doctor’s Theme, Ten started with that, then switched to The Doctor Forever in season three before returning to an amped up Doctor’s Theme in season four. The Doctor’s Theme played for the last time (well, until the 50th anniversary) in Ten’s final moments, and when Eleven began his tenure in the 11th Hour, so too debuted I Am the Doctor, which later evolved into The Majestic Tale (of a Madman in a Box). And as someone who clearly thinks about background music in TV shows a lot, those two were my favourites.

I don’t know the 12th Doctor’s theme yet. Sure, there’s some Youtube videos claiming to have it, but I need to hear it in action. I need to hear it against the Doctor telling the Atraxi to run, or facing down the Silence alongside River Song and the Ponds. I probably have, I just haven’t figured out what it is. Guess I should rewatch Deep Breath and Into the Dalek when I get a chance.

There are worse fates.

Shazam’s getting a movie!

Shazam-Or-Black-Adam

This has been running around the web for a while, but the rumours and suggestions have finally been confirmed: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be playing Black Adam in an upcoming Shazam movie.

Seeing a lot of blank looks out there. What? You didn’t know reading my blog activates a camera in your computer/phone? I am always watching.

Erm… by which I mean, what, you don’t know Black Adam? Let me explain.

When I say the word “Shazam,” you think of Captain Marvel: a kid named Billy Batson who shouts the word “Shazam” and turns into an adult with magical powers that make him a nigh-equal to Superman. Black Adam had the powers of Shazam centuries earlier, but his more… forceful way of defending his home nation of Khandaq (think ancient Egypt turned into modern day Iraq) got him shut down by the wizard who made him his champion (that wizard being Shazam). But when Captain Marvel comes onto the scene, Black Adam finds a way to come back. So, Captain Marvel is the kid-turned-hero, and Black Adam is his nemesis.

That’s the classic stuff. Fast forward to today. Now Billy Batson’s alter ego is just called “Shazam,” because DC got tired of never being able to put “Captain Marvel” on the cover of a book thanks to their competitors, and decided that if everybody mostly knows him as the Shazam guy, they may as well call him Shazam and be done with it. I still haven’t fully adapted to that but it’s happened.

Black Adam, meanwhile, is still a primary nemesis of Captain Mar–Shazam, but he’s not always a straight up villain. While writing Justice Society back around the turn of the century, Geoff Johns altered the character: no longer was he a modern day thief who accessed the powers of Shazam to become Black Adam, but was instead the original reborn in the modern era. And the original never saw himself as a villain, simply the protector of the Khandaq who draws a different moral line than some prefer. In the last fifteen years he’s crossed the line to hero almost as often as he’s been a villain. He served in the Justice Society for years, possibly outlasting Captain Marvel*. Most recently, in the event book Forever Evil, when the Crime Syndicate (an evil version of the Justice League, I’ll spare you the explanation) wiped out most of the superheroes and conquered the Earth, Black Adam was the first of a small band of villains to step up and try to bring them down.

So Black Adam isn’t a mustache-twirling, magic-space-rock-wielding world conqueror like so many other superhero movie villains lately, and talk from Dwayne Johnson and the studio is that they’re going to keep him on that blurry line between villain and anti-hero, which I for one am excited to see.

Less excited by the rumours that Shazam will not connect with Justice League, but… well, we’ll see.

*Interesting story with no connection to Black Adam: Captain Marvel left the JSA in disgrace after his budding romance with teenage hero Stargirl (who had discovered that he was actually a teenager himself) was discovered by either the golden age Flash or Green Lantern, who, not knowing that Captain Marvel was really teenager Billy Batson, obviously disapproved. Cap left the team rather than reveal his true identity/age, because “too many people know, and it always changes things.” Sad story, but interesting reading. Anyhoo.

Supergirl back on TV?

Supergirl

New in the rumour mill: DC may be shopping around a Supergirl TV series. Now, this is a very young rumour, and even if it is totally accurate, a lot can go wrong between here and being given a series order, if two failed pilots for Wonder Woman and one for Aquaman teach us anything. But I like the idea. There is a risk that, even though the CW is currently believed to have passed, the makers might embrace the teen soap opera that defined Smallville and remains a part of Arrow. But you know what? Let ’em. As I said in an earlier post, Supergirl (well, Kara Zor-El) has never been better written than when they were targeting her towards younger women/girls. So I say, even in the face of ten years of Smallville striving to prove me wrong, it can work. But maybe try to make it more like Arrow and less like Smallville. In fact, always do that.

But making it appeal to girls without becoming female-oriented-Smallville, or Gossip Girl with super strength, is only challenge one. Well, challenge two, after getting a network to bite.

Next challenge: is this another stand-alone like Constantine? Or will they tie it into one of their other properties? And that’s a trickier question than I like. Because I don’t know that I want a Supergirl series set in a world where Superman doesn’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong: Supergirl’s been around long enough that she deserves an identity of her own, rather than being defined as “Superman’s cousin.” The current writers of her book are trying, but her more famous relative is never that far from her narrative. A weekly series (or Netflix series) might give her the chance to be her own character as well. So I’m not saying I need Henry Cavill to pop by on a regular basis, but… Superman should still exist. Putting each character in their own box, where no other DC character is allowed to be, is something I’d hoped DC was moving past.

So that means I also don’t want Supergirl to join the Arrowverse, something that feels alien to say. But it’s true, for the same reason I don’t want Nightwing showing up: for all the characters that they’re adding to the Arrowverse, Superman and Batman aren’t on the list, and Nightwing without Batman doesn’t even make sense. Ra’s Al Ghul, okay, fine, he can exist without overt references to Batman, but not Nightwing. Why not use any other similar character, like Blue Beetle or the Question or Manhunter? Oh, right, they are using Manhunter… no not the Martian one, one of the other 20 DC characters named “Manhunter.”

Right, sorry, Supergirl. There may be super powers in the Arrowverse now, thanks to the Flash, but no aliens. And if we’re going to add Kryptonians, let’s start with the big guy. Or if you want a Supergirl type, introduce Wonder Woman, or Hawkwoman, or Big Barda–no, no, bad call me, you do NOT want Apocalypse and the New Gods on TV, you want them in the Justice League movies. That last bit might not have made sense to you. But you’re reading this on the internet, and I assume you know how Google works. Must I hyperlink everything?

That said... there are worse characters you could introduce in Justice League...
That said… there are worse characters you could introduce in Justice League…

Anyway. A Supergirl TV series that ties into Man of Steel and Superman V. Batman: Dawn of A Thousand Internet Complaints may be too much to hope for. But a Supergirl series where Superman is nowhere to be seen is like, I don’t know, making a TV series about Batman’s daughter where Alfred is a main character but Batman himself is never seen or heard from.

Hint: that didn't work.
Hint: that didn’t work.

The New Pornographers have a new album!

Finally… if you can listen to this without feeling at least a little happy, I feel sad for you.

Until next time, have a good day and WATCH BOJACK HORSEMAN.

Let’s talk geek controversy

People who know me know how closely I follow geek entertainment news. Mostly they know it from those meetings where everybody sits me down and tries to explain how my obsession with geek entertainment news has affected them, and then I yell “No, the showrunners of Agents of SHIELD need an intervention!” and then come the tears… We have fun.

Anyway, some geek news as of late has caused ripples of controversy. Allow me to explain a few of them, and why I think they’re kind of a big deal. Well, as much of a big deal as movies based on superheroes are capable of being.

Ant-man shenanigans

What’s the deal? For eight years, as long as there has been a Marvel Studios, filmmaker Edgar Wright was pitching a movie based on Ant-man, a character who couldn’t possibly have been at the top of anyone’s list to give his own movie.

Not that the list couldn't use an edit.
Not that the list couldn’t use an edit.

Edgar Wright is behind such cult favourite movies as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, and The World’s End. He is a filmmaker of singular vision. He may not have the box office clout of a David Fincher, but damn he’s got the talent. And for nearly a decade he’s been asking for the chance to use those talents on a movie about Ant-Man. Only to pull out of the project right before it was due to start filming.

It’s now generally known that the reason for this split was that Marvel, late in the game, requested script changes Edgar Wright didn’t want to make. Whatever Wright had planned, it was too big a break from the Marvel model, and they wanted to correct that. A move not everyone on Team Marvel agrees was a great move.

Huh. Their other cult-favourite writer/director. Go figure.
Huh. Their other cult-favourite writer/director. Go figure.

Since then, other writers (three and counting) have been brought in to rewrite the movie, because nothing says “Quality movie” like four different screenwriters.

Why does this matter? A lot of the buzz following the split looked at what this might mean for future Marvel films. Are they anti-auteur? Why is a company that built its reputation being different and taking risks now pushing for safety and sameness? Were they worried that Guardians of the Galaxy might be their first failure? (Announcing a release date for the sequel before it was released says no, and their box office to date says they never needed to be) Will they have trouble attracting actors if they’re going to make a habit of changing the entire project (at least the script and director) after everyone’s already signed on? The cast committed to Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man, after all, not the version they’re ultimately shooting.

But that’s not why it matters.

First of all, those are questions thought up by a media that loves a good downfall story. Marvel’s on a winning streak on the big screen. Nine movies in, and eight are unqualified hits (Incredible Hulk didn’t bomb, but they’ve certainly been reluctant to talk sequel). Their movies have flaws, yes, mostly their inability (or unwillingness) to write good villains… fine, except for Loki that one time… but they’re reliably fun to watch and typically make a decent profit, and as long as that second thing is true, losing Edgar Wright will not hurt them as a company. Actors like being in blockbusters, so as long as the movies are hits, Marvel won’t have problems finding casts. It probably won’t even hurt Ant-Man’s box office much. More people were going to watch it based on “From the studio that brought you Avengers: Age of Ultron” than “From the director of Shaun of the Dead.” That’s just a fact.

It matters because it’s sad.

It’s sad that Edgar Wright chased this project for so long only to have it mutate into something else, something he couldn’t be a part of. It’s sad that Edgar Wright will never get to make his Ant-Man movie, and it’s sad that we won’t be able to see it. Because while I don’t know what the new writers are changing, or how much if any of Wright’s original story will still be there, I have seen every movie Wright has directed, and each and every one of them is amazing. So I cannot believe that this new Ant-Man movie will be anywhere as good as Wright’s would have been.

Doesn’t mean it won’t still be worth watching. Most of Marvel’s product is. But it could have been more. And it’s sad that the world’s most consistently successful film studio is now publicly against doing things differently.

Lady Stoneheart

What’s the deal? Game of Thrones is huge these days, but the fandom is split into two factions: those who read the books, and know it better as “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and those (like myself) who are just watching the TV show. As such, discussion of Game of Thrones (the show) is carefully divided, so that fans of A Song of Ice and Fire (the books) can discuss things without spoiling it for those of us who haven’t been reading ahead.

A covenant that was broken in the wake of the fourth season finale.

Now I’ll do what most websites didn’t and refrain from spoiling anything. Suffice to say, many of the book-reading fans expected the fourth series to end with a jaw-drop moment from the end of book three (which is approximately where they’ve gotten), that jaw-drop moment being the arrival of a character referred to as Lady Stoneheart. When the Lady didn’t appear, the internet went crazy, wondering why she wasn’t there and if we should expect her next season, spoiling who she is for the TV crowd all the way. Even the article headlines and choice of photos made it hard not to know what they were talking about.

As it stands, the producers are not claiming Lady Stoneheart will be turning up next year. They could just be lying in an attempt to preserve the surprise… which would be odd, given how badly that blew up in JJ Abrams’ face with Star Trek: Into Darkness (of course he was Khan, he was always going to be Khan, telling us he wasn’t was wasting everyone’s time). Maybe they’re hoping a few people remain unspoiled that they can shock in the fifth season premiere. Or maybe they’re authentically leaving her out. Which… seems problematic.

Why does this matter? Because this would mean one of two things, and they’re both bad signs.

Option one: they’re just skipping her. By and large, Game of Thrones has stayed pretty close to the source material. But they have left the odd thing out, and everyone from die-hard book fans to author George R.R. Martin has clucked their tongues at the showrunners over it. Some of what they’ve left out seems inconsequential (does it really matter whether someone’s death was called a suicide rather than framing some musician we haven’t seen since book one?), some of it less so (Rhaegar Targaryen might have been long dead when the series started, but he may have a larger impact than the show has suggested), but I’m not sure dropping an entire storyline is a good idea.

Especially since they might need to add stuff to fill the gap, and they do not have a strong track record. Season four, they invented a story involving the Night’s Watch mutineers in order to boost Bran Stark’s screen time, and all it brought to the series was a) yet more rape, right after they were (rightfully) accused of having too much rape as it was, and b) a near-miss where Bran and Jon Snow almost find each other but don’t, which we already did in the third season finale, and also almost finding family but then not has basically been Arya’s entire story for two seasons. The Caster’s Keep arc was pretty much pointless, so I’d kind of prefer they stick to the books rather than keep trying to add things.

Option two: they’re leaving out Lady Stoneheart because she’s ultimately not that big a deal. They’ve read book five, had some conversations with George R.R. Martin, and know that the Lady Stoneheart plot is short-lived and doesn’t impact anything, so they’re giving it a miss. In which case fuck you George R.R. Martin.

Which is apparently mutual.

I get wanting to subvert expectations. I get wanting to be unpredictable. But three times now, George Martin has taken a character I like, given them a plotline I want to see play out, and then ended it with a swift death for the guy I’m rooting for and a victory dance for Cersei goddamn Lannister. It’s getting old, and if it turns out Lady Stoneheart also ends in betrayal and swift, pointless death, then I will hold this over the head of every single person who tells me to read the books, because at that point I no longer consider the books worth reading. Because you can’t be “unpredictable” by doing the exact same thing over and over.

New look for Batgirl!

What’s the deal? Recently, DC announced a new look and a new direction for Batgirl, one which is seemingly directed towards teen girls. There was the usual wailing that comes whenever Gail Simone stops writing Barbara Gordon, but most of the reaction has been positive. Fan art of the new costume is already spreading.

It is pretty snazzy.
It is pretty snazzy.

In addition to the new look, Batgirl will be more immersed in youth culture. The most valid critique I’ve heard of this is that the new look and approach would have been better suited to Stephanie Brown, who briefly held the mantle of Batgirl prior to the New 52 reboot, than Barbara Gordon, who’s been through a bit too much to pull off the carefree youth angle. But you know what? Fair as that may be, I’m not certain I care.

Why does this matter? Because a Batgirl aimed at younger women is a bloody brilliant idea, that’s why.

I’ve accepted the fact that enough things are targeted at us 30-something (and up) white dudes as it is, and maybe other demographics could have a turn. Women like comics, women would like to be able to enjoy comics, so writing a comic with women, even girls, in mind is a good plan.

And yes, absolutely make it a major character like Batgirl.

Besides, I remember the last time DC tried this. Pre-New 52 they made Supergirl a book for younger female readers. They made her more relatable to teen girls, made her… proportions less exaggerated, her costume less form-fitting and her skirt a few inches longer (with the editorial mandate of “I never want to see Supergirl’s underwear again”), and not only did this not ruin the book, that was as good as Supergirl’s comic has been since Peter David stopped writing it over a decade ago. I still read Supergirl, but I miss her teen-girl-friendly days.

As incoming writer Cameron Stewart said, “One young girl being inspired by Batgirl is worth 20 dudes complaining that the costume looks ‘hipster.'” And that’s a sentiment I can get behind.

Just need to catch up on my comics so I can actually start reading it when it comes out…

Black Captian America and Girl Thor

What’s the deal? Meanwhile, over at Marvel, upcoming storylines will see Captain America lose his super-soldier-ness, and Thor no longer be worthy of Mjolnir, meaning they’ll both need replacements. Steve Rogers will pass his title and shield to Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, recently seen in the Winter Soldier movie, while Thor will be replaced by a female Thor.

Which, well, is kind of weird. Marvel’s been shouting “No, she’ll BE Thor!” rather than a different character wielding the power of Thor but keeping their own name, like Beta Ray Bill, Thunderstrike, or anyone else who’s done that ever. This woman (not sure what her name was earlier) will be Thor in the same way Donald Blake was Thor way back when, a story mechanic that was dropped decades ago and retconned out of existence a few years back. So that’s… that’s weird, is what it is, but that’s not what really strikes me as uncomfortable about all the press Marvel has been seeking out around these stories.

Why does this matter? Because diversity in comics is important, and I’m not sure they’re doing it right.

I’m not saying making Thor a woman or Captain America a minority is the wrong move. Making Batman black or Doctor Who a woman or what have you will have far more impact than introducing a new minority superhero whose comic gets cancelled a year or two later then drifts into obscurity. But… well…

Every single thing I know about Marvel comics says one thing: this will not last. In recent years, Marvel had Bucky take over the title of Captain America, used a mind-swap to turn Dr. Octopus into the Superior Spider-man, killed major characters off… but almost none of it took. Most deaths lasted less than two years, in one case less than two months. Steve Rogers was back from the dead right around the time his first movie opened, and Peter Parker was Spider-man again right in time for Amazing Spider-man 2 to hit theatres.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is out next May, and if Steve Rogers and male Thor haven’t reclaimed their titles by then, it’ll be a small miracle given Marvel’s track record. And if Sam Wilson hasn’t stepped down by then, he will when Captain America 3 opens the year after.

And the thing is, Marvel is the only company to actually pull something like this off long-term. In their Ultimate line, Peter Parker’s been dead for years now, and half-black, half-Hispanic teenager Miles Morales has been in his place, and that book is thriving (Ultimate Spider-man has long been the best, and often only good book in that line). But it seems powerfully unlikely that that’s what’s happening here. This looks to be two short term stories that Marvel’s crowing about like they just re-wrote the rulebook or something.

And that’s ultimately the issue I have. A black guy taking over the role of Captain America for eight months would be a non-issue if they weren’t shouting from the rooftops about what a bold move it’s going to be. Crowing about how progressive they are for character changes that almost certainly won’t last just feels… tacky.

Favourite Things Speed Round!

There’s something missing from my life.

Who Knows, the Doctor Who tribute play I’d been directing since March, came to an end a week and a half ago. And for all my attempts to stay busy and avoid the typical post-show crash of depression… I miss it. I miss seeing my delightful cast every day. I miss waiting for the gasps from the audience when the Dalek made its appearance. I miss the cheers we’d get from certain houses when a notable costume turned up, like when Roger entered as the Master at the top of act two, or when Sarah James emerged from the vent in Amy Pond’s kiss-a-gram outfit. I miss it all… but I can’t have it back.

So, rather than dwell on things left behind (after all, first rehearsal for Frost/Nixon is but 12 days away), let’s do a speed round of Favourite Things that never really seemed worth a full post.

Allons-y! (Damn it, now I’m just depressing myself…)

Welcome Back, Potter

I would do a whole piece on Cracked Studios, and attempt to review each of their three (thus far) series, but every time I try I lose steam something hard. It’s like, “Why am I writing this down, and why would anyone read it?” So instead, let’s just cover everything I like about the latest (and most publicized) series, Welcome Back, Potter.

First, let’s be real, I find Michael Swaim and Daniel O’Brien hilarious, and Katy Stoll to be funny, engaging, and super cute. Put these three together in a parody of anything and I’m going to watch it.

One of my favourite After Hours episodes, also written by Swaim, is the one where they tear apart Harry Potter. It’s not that I dislike Harry Potter (I don’t), but whether we’re talking books or movies, that series has some holes, and Swaim knows how to exploit them for laughs. The notion that 12 year-old Harry Potter (should have been 11, but whatevs) would, upon learning he’s destined to fight the most evil wizard who ever lived, simply book it for America and hide tickles me. As do various other shots at Potter lore, from wondering if they tried to fight Voldemort with anything besides young orphans to the fact that wizarding school gives you zero prep for life in muggle world, to the fate of the Dursleys in a world where Harry lacked adult supervision (they had a run-in with some water moccasins).

It’s a fun series, and Daniel O’Brien’s take on Ron Weasley as a Jersey Shore guido (“I deeply regret so much of how I look and act. OH!”) is reliably amusing. Michael Swaim has been pushing it with behind-the-scenes videos and articles, so he clearly want to make more, and I’m hoping he gets to. Thus, me plugging it.

5-second Films

The mission statement of 5-second Films is a simple one: wasting your time, but not very much of it. For several years, the team put out a video every day, each lasting only five seconds (well, plus two seconds of opening credit and one second of closing). Somehow I managed not to hear about them until just recently, despite the fact that they got popular enough to feature guest appearances from Patton Oswalt, some of the Cracked staffStan Lee, Larry King, Weird Al, and Freddie Wong.

Look, this one’s pretty simple. And if all of those links aren’t swaying you, here’s a sampler.

Their output has diminished recently, as they’ve been working on a feature length film based on one of their videos, Dude Bro Party Massacre Three. Or maybe they actually were concerned that the rise of Vine made them obsolete. I don’t know. I’m not internet-famous enough to have spoken to them personally. But it’s probably the movie thing.

That said, if you’re just discovering them, like me, there are hundreds upon hundreds of five second comedy films to check out (and five really depressing ones from Bummer Week), so have at.

The Flash Trailer

I watch this a lot.

Okay. Lightning round.

  • Even people I know who don’t watch Arrow are talking about how good this looks. For me, a massive fan of Arrow? I cannot wait.
  • Harrison Wells (guy in the wheelchair, aka JD’s brother from Scrubs) seems to have a secret room somewhere. Six to five and pick ’em he’s betraying Barry by the end of season one.
  • Some people complain that they’re giving Flash his own team right off, instead of building it organically like Arrow did. On the other hand? One of his team is Caitlin Snow, better known to comics fans as Killer Frost, so between her and Wells this might not be the reliable inner circle that Oliver Queen has.
  • They call the bad guy, generally believed to be classic Flash villain Weather Wizard, “Clyde Mardon,” which is actually the Weather Wizard’s brother, and the man he stole his weather powers from. So if he doesn’t survive the pilot, don’t panic. I’m sure the Rogues are coming.
  • Barry’s father is being played by John Wesley Shipp, the star of the last Flash TV series. Come on, that’s cool.
  • The addition of legit super powers to the Arrowverse is everything I’ve been waiting for.
  • I’m not saying that if enough people watch this, they will cross over Arrow and Flash into the Justice League movie (in fact it is all but assured that they won’t), but it could not hurt.

My webseries films soon

It’s coming, dear readers. Writers’ Circle: the Web Series is mere weeks from rolling. When that starts happening, you’re going to be hearing about it. A lot. I’m not sorry. It’s just what has to happen.

Also, it’s going to be amazing, so you’re going to want to be in the loop.

Next time… I don’t know. I’m hoping by next time I’m past this “Nothing seems worth blogging about” thing and ranting about nerd stuff again. Or, you know, something like that. Well. Until then.

My New Favourite Thing: Geek TV News

So this week was the network upfronts, when the US networks announce what new shows will be hitting screens next season, and what bubble shows have gotten the axe. And I have… some reactions. There was enough good news (for me, at least) to file this one under My New Favourite Thing… save for one piece of news. But we’ll call the upfronts this week’s New Favourite Thing just the same.

Allons-y.

Gotham

Okay. I have spoken out against this show in the past. “Smallville but about Batman” seemed like a woefully bad idea. But the trailer… the trailer does not look awful.

And I just want to get this out of the way: yes, I complained about the series existing. Yes, I was afraid of watching another Smallville. But that’s because I knew, deep down, that if this show made it to air, I was going to be watching it. And the trailer not being terrible doesn’t dissuade me from that being an inevitability.

As a bonus, it may not be full-on Smallville. It certainly helps that it’s on a network other than the CW, which seems contractually obliged to slather a minimum amount of teen soap-opera and pretty 20-somethings on anything they air. So it may not be about Bruce Wayne going through puberty and moping over not being able to ask out Selina Kyle because he needs to focus on his Batman training. It’s more about the struggles between the cops and the criminals, in particular Jim Gordon, freshly arrived in the GCPD, and young Oswald Cobblepot, climbing the ranks from low-level henchman to, ultimately, the Penguin. And there might yet be some material to mine here.

Will it turn out that Bruce’s parents’ death is part of a larger mystery? Maybe. Would that be a stupid thing to do? Yes, absolutely. The whole “Become a bat” thing hinges on the fact that his parents were killed in a random street crime, thus to make sure no other child suffers as he did he needs to take on all criminals, not because they posed a threat to some sinister organization. (Although if the showrunners wanted to sneak the Court of Owls into the works, I wouldn’t complain.)

But there is a chance that I won’t have to hate myself too much when I ultimately start watching it in September.

The Flash

This one, on the other hand, I’m nothing but excited for.

THE-FLASH-Full-Suit-ImageTwo years ago, I learned that the CW, looking to replace Smallville, had greenlit a TV show based on Green Arrow, albeit a new take on the character and not the continuing adventures of the Smallville version. That a TV show based on Green Arrow, a character I like but not exactly an A-list DC superhero, would even exist seemed improbable. That it would a legitimately good, sometimes great series was nothing short of miraculous. And now the producers have gotten the go-ahead for their spinoff featuring Barry Allen, the Flash.

Arrow has been soaked in DC lore, filled with Easter eggs and reference characters, and Flash looks to be even more so. There are already three supporting characters pulled right out of the comics. Eddie Thawne of the Central City Police sounds like a play on Eobard Thawne, better known as Flash’s arch-nemesis Zoom, the Reverse Flash (that is not going to sound less ridiculous out loud but he actually is pretty deadly)…

If you were paying attention, they already foreshadowed him on Arrow.
Laugh at his name and he might run into the past and kill your parents right in front of you.

STAR Labs scientist Caitlin Snow sounds like she may be destined to become her comic book counterpart Killer Frost…

Not a good guy. If that wasn't clear.
Not a good guy. If that wasn’t clear.

And her associate Cisco Ramon has been making a comeback lately as Vibe, once upon a time the most regrettable Justice Leaguer.

Made Aquaman look like Batman with a lightsaber.
Made Aquaman look like Batman with a lightsaber.

With his uncomfortably over-the-top Latino streetwise attitude and powers derived from… erm… breakdancing, Vibe has long been seen as a cautionary tale about trying to create new superheros while freebasing cocaine, as I’m pretty sure was standard practice for most of the 80s. Not just comics creators, pretty much everyone was on cocaine in the 80s. DC head honcho/Flash executive producer Geoff Johns is on a mission to redeem Vibe, having rebooted him in the comics…

LESS lame, I'll give him that...
LESS lame, I’ll give him that…

…and now sneaking him onto TV. We’ll see how this goes.

So yes, absolutely I’m excited to see the Flash return to TV. I enjoyed it in the 90s (that show holds up better than I expected), I enjoyed the Arrow two-parter that introduced Barry , and I’m excited to see actual super powers added to the Arrowverse, which remains the best comic property on TV. Yes, by all means, give me The Flash as a companion show to Arrow.

Elsewhere, also on the CW…

iZombie

I don’t know much about the comic iZombie. I read a preview for it that looked intriguing, but never got around to picking it up. Basically, a young med student finds herself turned into a zombie, needing to consume brains. So she feeds off corpses, and in the process also absorbs the dead person’s memories. Which gives us our TV show’s premise: she helps solve murders, using the victim’s memories to help her. Not entirely unlike Pushing Daisies, where Ned the Piemaker could revive the dead just long enough to ask who killed them. And it’s from the creator of Veronica Mars, and co-stars Mr. Sark from Alias, so what the hell, I’m on board.

And there’s still more comic-based news…

Marvel’s Agents of stuff

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is back for a second season, and will be joined on ABC by Marvel’s Agent Carter, a spinoff series for Captain America’s love interest from his first movie. Now, Agents of SHIELD did not exactly hit the ground running. Their larger plots moved too slow, they spent too long being weirdly reluctant to use anything from Marvel comics, their villains made the killers-of-the-week from Hawaii Five-0 look like Heath Ledger’s Joker (We’re pagan anarchists, so we’re smashing things! Because, um, anarchy! Right?), the high-tech touchscreens they used to solve every problem were dull, and their cast was a little bland, especially leading man Grant Ward.

Gonna spoil some stuff now.

But then came Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Then came the fall of SHIELD, following the revelation that they had been utterly, thoroughly infiltrated by Hydra, since the very beginning. And for Agents of SHIELD, everything changed. And it suddenly became a show worth watching for something other than Agent Coulson. Bill Paxton gave an amazingly compelling face to their season-long nemesis, the Clairvoyant. The head of the AIM-from-Iron-Man-3-knockoff Centipede was not a precog, just a high-ranking SHIELD agent who was actually Hydra the whole time. Even more amazing? Agent Ward finally became interesting once they revealed that he, too, was Hydra. It took them 17 episodes, but Agents of SHIELD has finally become a show worth renewing, so I’m interested to see where they go from here (with SHIELD dismantled, backsliding to the show they used to be is pretty much impossible).

And Agent Carter might be okay as well. Peggy Carter was no Phil Coulson, and I worry that they’ll feel a need to remind us she kind of dated Captain America for a bit way more often than they need to, but we’ll see how they do.

Okay, that’s Marvel (who could probably cut back on putting “Marvel” before the name of everything they do… “Marvel’s The Avengers” was necessary for copyright reasons, but “Marvel’s Agent Carter” is pushing it). Back to DC, because there’s still more.

Constantine

Ever since bringing him out of their mature readers line and back into their mainstream comics, DC has been milking John Constantine, magician and conman who sometimes begrudgingly saves the world from demons and monsters, for all he’s worth. And now he will officially be coming to NBC in his own show. I have to say, they have nailed his look…

Not that it's hard to do.
Not that it’s hard to do.

…and the descriptions of the show imply they’re capturing his edge as best they can on a broadcast network. Okay, fine, they didn’t cast Mark Shepard (still time to get him in as a recurring villain), and unlike Flash it’s basically guaranteed to never cross over with Arrow, likely existing in isolation from all other DC properties. But I’ll allow it. Constantine doesn’t need crossovers to be cool. And it might not be on HBO, but just look at what NBC lets Hannibal get away with. Oh, hey, that reminds me…

Hannibal

Third season! Despite being chronically low-rated, Hannibal has scored a renewal once again. I’ve already discussed my love for this show, despite its overwhelming grimness, and the opportunity to get more, to see the show continue to inch its way towards the events of Red Dragon, is definitely good news. I’m used to losing the shows I love: Fox lives to cancel geek-friendly shows, and I still recall the year ABC cancelled six shows I liked or loved in one season. But NBC… NBC gave Chuck five seasons when the ratings never fully justified it, so they’ve earned some love from me.

Even though not all their news thrills me.

Community

After five seasons on the brink of cancellation, two of them as a mid-season replacement with vague commitments to air eventually, Community has finally come to an end.

I’m of mixed feelings. At it’s best, Community was the sharpest, funniest, and smartest comedy on television, with gags ranging from broad to so subtle you barely see them, and one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory. At it’s worst, it was a desperate attempt to trade on mass-market quirkiness, inside jokes and references to fan-favourite episodes. Season four, in other words. The year NBC thought they could live without the series’ creator, Dan Harmon.

A year ago the only reason anyone would have been sad to see Community go was that it would be a shame for a show that used to be so brilliant to end on the worst episode they’d ever done. But then, miracle of miracles, Dan Harmon was re-hired to run the show, and they pulled themselves back from the brink. They weren’t at their peak, especially after Donald Glover left, but they were Community again. But now that’s over, with our final sentiment being Abed’s claim that if they weren’t back soon, it was because an asteroid had hit the Earth and killed everyone. “And that’s canon.”

Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe Community should end now, while they were still a show worth loving, before sinking back to where they were a year ago, somewhere between self-parody and Community fan-fiction masquerading as the real thing. I’ll miss the Greendale gang, to be sure, and if a cable network throws them a lifeline (something that gets rumoured every time a cult favourite gets cancelled but only rarely happens), I’ll follow them, but for now… you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Right now we can believe the sixth season (and the movie) would have been hilarious. An actual sixth season might have proved us wrong, especially if losing John Oliver (again) and Jonathan Banks (surprisingly effective replacement for Chevy Chase) hurt the show as much as losing Donald Glover or Dan Harmon.

That said, if a Kickstarter titled “Fine then, FIVE Seasons and Movie” turns up, I’m on board.

Any or all of the shows I’ve mentioned could be joining Community on the scrap heap by Christmas. But hopefully they don’t, because most of them sound fun.

 

 

 

Five comic-related TV series that would be better than Gotham

Is it apparent yet that I take a particular interest in comic-related properties? Especially the ones from DC? Well, we’re back on that topic for the nonce. What’s key this week is that we had another announcement from Fox regarding its upcoming series Gotham. Apparently it’s young Bruce Wayne, not Captain Jim Gordon, who will be the main character of this show about Gotham before Batman. 

I keep waiting for some piece of news about this series to make me in any way excited to see it. No, that’s not true… I keep waiting for someone involved in this series to say “Just kidding, we’re not making this show at all. Can you imagine? Wow. That would be awful.” Because everything they’ve announced has sounded terrible so far.

“It’s about James Gordon before Batman, featuring Bat-villains before they were the Bat-villains!” No.

“Twelve year-old Bruce Wayne will also appear on the series!” NO.

Actually he’ll be the main character! The series will follow him from childhood in the first episode to finally putting on the cape in the last episode!” NO. “We’ll have early versions of the villains too! It’ll be just like Smallvi–”

AM I STUTTERING, FOX?

I watched Smallville. I watched Smallville for an entire damned decade. I have, in weaker moments, considered picking up the complete series box set on DVD. But I don’t want to do it again. One of the things I love about Arrow, one of the things that’s made it easier to convince others to watch it? It’s not Smallville. It’s an improvement on Smallville in nearly every way, most notably in that Oliver might not be calling himself Green Arrow yet, but in the very first episode he was still fighting crime with a god damned bow and arrow.

In short, of all the projects circulating based on comic properties, this one is the absolute least appealing, and yet it’s the one that’s basically guaranteed to be on TV screens by year’s end. They’ve been greenlit without even shooting a pilot. The Flash series doesn’t have that kind of guarantee. Millions of dollars will be thrown at a series that has the most “This is a bad idea” red flags coating it since they made a TV show about cavemen from an insurance commercial.

So, here’s five TV series based on comics they could make instead that would be nigh-infinitely better than ten years of Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and Edward Nygma dealing with high school and peer pressure.

1. Gotham Central

This is the one that occurs to literally any DC comic fan a few seconds after they hear about Gotham. So let’s start here. It’s about the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham City Police Department, attempting to solve crimes without leaning on the Bat-signal. This almost was a TV series back in 2003, but after Birds of Prey crashed and burned Warner Brothers put a halt on all Batman-related TV (well, live action, anyway). So here’s how they could make this a great series.

Premise: Commissioner James Gordon (who wasn’t in the comic but we’ll put him in the show as a recurring character) struggles to root out the corruption that infested the GCPD prior to his appointment, in a cautious alliance with the Batman. His greatest accomplishment in the public eye, the Major Crimes Unit, is also the biggest source of tension in the department itself, as key positions were given not to GCPD veterans, but to transfers from Metropolis, such as openly gay Captain Maggie Sawyer. After one of their own is killed in a drug bust that brought them face to face with Mr. Freeze, MCU detectives Marcus Driver and Rene Montoya make an appeal to Sawyer and Gordon: no Bat-signal. They’re going to catch Freeze themselves, to prove that Gotham cops can solve Gotham crimes… even if some of them, like Montoya’s new partner, are more used to the squeaky clean streets of Metropolis.

Now, you couldn’t have Bat villains every week, and sometimes they wouldn’t be able to get the win without Bat-assistance, so this could descend into a bland “procedural with sci-fi elements,” like Agents of SHIELD in the first half of its debut season. So to avoid this, let’s have some long plots. Specifically, something you often see in better Batman stories: the growing tensions between established organized crime families like the Falcones and the newly emerging “freak mafias” under figures like Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot, Roman “Black Mask” Sionis, and the real crazies like Joker, Scarecrow, and Two-Face. Make Penguin, Black Mask, and Carmine Falcone regular players to give the MCU some big bads to contend with as they struggle to shut down the gang violence.

Cast:
Jason O’Mara (Life on Mars, Terra Nova, Vegas) as Detective Marcus Driver, GCPD veteran out to redeem the department by proving real cops don’t need the Batman to solve crimes for them.
Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) as Renee Montoya, personal protegee of Jim Gordon who as a uniformed officer dealt with the worst Gotham’s streets and precincts had to offer.
-as long as I’m dreaming, Idris Elba (The Wire, Thor) as Montya’s new partner, Crispus Allen, a Metropolis transfer disgusted by the corruption that still infests the GCPD.
Sarah Jones (Alcratraz, Vegas) as Maggie Sawyer, head of the MCU, who transferred from dealing with crimes involving aliens, monsters, and Superman in Metropolis to worrying that every unsolved homicide might be the Joker in Gotham.
Victor Garber (Alias, Eli Stone) as Carmine Falcone, fighting a two front war against Gordon’s attempts to root out his crooked cops and the Penguin’s attempts to rule Gotham’s underworld, all while trying to keep his son Alberto’s growing psychosis hidden.
Mark A. Sheppard (Firefly) as the Penguin, Gotham’s second biggest (and rising) mob boss, whose vicious and unforgiving nature makes him a terror despite being short and seemingly harmless.
Peter Krause (Six Feet Under, Sports Night) as Jim Gordon, Gotham’s top cop on a mission to redeem his department and his city.
David Marciano (Due South, the Shield) as Jim Corrigan, the corrupt head of CSI, whose side business of selling key bits of evidence is endangered by Gordon’s crusade. He’ll be driven to greater and greater lengths to keep his activities hidden.

Other stories: With the Falcones in the cast, make season two a loose adaptation of The Long Halloween; no adaptation of Gotham Central would be complete without including Half a Life, in which Montoya is outed as a lesbian and kidnapped by an amorous Two-Face, and Soft Targets, in which Joker starts picking off cops and civilians with a sniper rifle; the Black Mask launches a savage and destructive bid to make himself the king of Gotham’s underworld, which forces an uneasy alliance between Falcone and Cobblepot, but will the MCU play ball with the devils they know to stop something worse?

God this series could be so good I just depressed myself.

2. Starman

One of the best superhero comics of the 90s, featuring reluctant legacy hero Jack Knight.

Premise: Decades ago, scientist Ted Knight created the cosmic rod: a weapon powered by cosmic radiation Knight was able to harness. For a brief time, he used the rod to fight crime as Starman, defender of Opal City, until his mental breakdown. Now he’s passed the rod to his son David… but when David is shot dead by the son of Starman’s oldest enemy, the Mist, it falls to Ted’s younger son Jack to take up the mantle and save the city from the Mist’s comeback crime wave… with the unexpected aid of immortal supervillain the Shade.

Cast:
Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) as Jack Knight. He’d rather just buy and sell antiques and collectibles, but after his brother’s death he makes a promise to his father to carry on the mantle of Starman part time, growing from reluctant protector to true hero.
Alan Alda (MASH) as Ted Knight, genius inventor, who struggles with depression and guilt over misuse of his earlier inventions. Jack’s promise came with a catch: Jack will be Starman if Ted tries to turn the energy he uses for the rod into a new, global energy source.
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) as the Shade, an apparently immortal villain with deadly shadow-based powers. When Ted Knight was Starman, the Shade was robbing banks for fun, but comes out of retirement when the Mist’s crime wave threatens his preferred home, Opal City. He becomes an ally to Jack.
Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) as Nash, aka the new Mist. The Mist’s son Kyle is his heir apparent, and his daughter Nash a shy, stuttering disappointment. But when Jack kills Kyle to avenge his brother, Nash sets out to make herself a true villain, becoming a more deadly Mist than he brother ever was.
Mark A. Sheppard (Supernatural) as Jake “Bobo” Benetti, a former small-time supervillain who, after a few bank robberies, decided being super-strong and tough didn’t mean evil was the life for him. Becomes a reluctant hero in his own right.

Other stories: A series obsessed with the past and future, you’d have flashbacks to Ted’s Starman days and, why not, a season set in space as they adapt the classic arc Stars My Destination. Also of note is the O’Dares, for whom being Opal City cops is the family business. Black sheep Matt is corrupt at first, but his past life as legendary Opal city lawman Brian Savage calls out to him, and with the Shade’s help he works to undo the damage he’s done to his city and family name.

3. The Boys

Based on the graphic novel series by Garth Ennis, in which… oh, who am I kidding. This is a series about super heroes that makes Game of Thrones look like the Gilmore Girls, no network would touch this thing.

3. Top Ten

Another cop series, this one set in a world where literally everyone has powers. Not just powers, but costumes and code names to match. In this world, Top Ten are the cops.

Premise: Like I said, everyone in the world has some sort of power, so the local precinct of Top Ten must deal with crimes involving aliens, robots, gods, and super-powered serial killers. All part of a day’s work.

Cast:
The book has a huge cast. I’ll stick to the highlights.
Amber Tamblyn (House, the Unusuals) as Robyn “Toybox” Slinger, the new girl on the force with a small arsenal of toy-sized robots suited for light combat, forensics, and other tasks.
Adam Baldwin (Firefly) as Jeff Smax, Robyn’s partner, a grizzled veteran officer who happens to be a massive, blue, super-strong, nigh-invulnerable half-ogre from a fantasy realm who joined Top Ten after a failed career as a dragon slayer. Oh yes, he also has an intimate relationship with his twin sister, because in his home dimension that’s apparently okay.
H. Jon Benjamin as the voice of Kemlo “Hyperdog” Caeser, the talking dog in a human-shaped exoskeleton that’s the sergeant in charge of the division.
-Mark A. Sheppard (Battlestar Galactica) as Duane “Dust Devil” Bodine, a cowboy-themed veteran trying to break in his rookie partner.

Other stories: Avoid the trap of being just a procedural with powers through the original book’s long arcs. A murder in the robot ghetto that leads to a drug lab and a conspiracy that goes all the way to Top Ten’s bosses in Grand Central, an alternate reality where Rome never fell (although the locals claim everyone else is from “an alternate reality where it did”), and the serial killer known as the Libra Killer, which connects to legendary “science heroes” the Seven Sentinels. Beyond that? Keep the tongue in cheek homages to classic comic characters and stories flowing. Make sure to include the story where Balder, brother of Thor, is killed by Loki in the God Bar, causing Smax to deliver the classic line “Nobody move in a mysterious way.”

Also the one officer who delivers the “official warning” before raiding a drug lab: “Ahem. Hey you in there, you’re dead.”

4. Frontline

Front_Line

Spinning out from the woefully short-lived series The Pulse, reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd start the news site frontlines.com to report on what’s really happening in the super powered world.

Premise: Ben Urich becomes a leading force on reporting on the new, stranger world that has arisen in the wake of the Battle of New York (which we know as the climax of the Avengers), but is let go when his paper downsizes its reporting staff in favour of pulling stories off the wire. Sally Floyd convinces him to become a more responsible Rising Tide, investigating the hidden stories behind SHIELD, AIM, the Dark Elf incident in Greenwich, and everything else happening in the Marvel cinematic universe, only through journalism instead of cyber-anarchism. So basically, all that stuff we thought Agents of SHIELD was going to do.

Cast:
John Schneider (Smallville, Dukes of Hazzard) as Ben Urich, veteran journalist out to expose the truth behind this new wave of heroes, gods, and monsters.
Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings, Scrubs) as Sally Floyd, who pulls Ben into the world of cyber-journalism.
-Mark A. Sheppard (Leverage) as their contact at SHIELD, who sometimes gives them legit scoops and sometimes feeds them disinformation for his own ends, and it’s hard to be sure which he’s doing at any given time.

Other stories: We all thought Agents of SHIELD was going to be the glue holding the Marvel cinematic universe together. Well, it isn’t. But the fact that we’re this disappointed that it isn’t shows there’s a market for that. And with four new street-level series hitting Netflix soon? There’ll be even more to glue together. Frontline would do what the various Frontline miniseries always did: show us what’s happening off camera during the big events.

5. Transmetropolitan

Warren Ellis’ classic cyberpunk graphic novel set in a chaotic dystopia that’s uncomfortably similar to the modern day, starring rage-filled journalist Spider Jerusalem.

Premise: Renegade gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem is living a quiet life hidden in the wilderness, having become disgusted with society in the aftermath of the previous presidential election. Sadly for him, he still owes his publisher two more books, and when they track him down to his mountain hideaway to remind him of his debt, Spider returns to The City, a sprawling metropolis where consumerism, sex, and drug culture have run amok. With the aid of his “filthy assistants,” as he calls them, Spider attacks the establishment through his articles, eventually being drawn back into the political arena as his old nemesis, “the Beast,” seeks re-election against a charming challenger, Gary “the Smiler” Callahan (largely believed to be a satire of British PM Tony Blair).

Cast:
John C. McGinley (Scrubs) as Spider Jerusalem, the crazed journalist out to save or destroy society by shoving its face in The Truth.
Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) as Channon Yarrow, the original “filthy assistant” who also served as Spider’s bodyguard.
Mila Kunis (Black Swan, That 70s Show) as Yelena Rossini, his second “filthy assistant” who gradually grows into his apprentice.
Louis CK as Mitchell Royce, Spider’s long-suffering editor and the one person who might qualify as his friend.
-Mark A. Shepard (Doctor Who) as “The Beast,” incumbent president.
Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex, Frost/Nixon) as The Smiler, the opposing candidate who seems like the lesser of two evils… at first.

Other stories: In addition to Ellis’ long-plot of Spider and the Smiler, do what sci-fi does best, man. Hold a mirror up to society and show us what we’re doing wrong. Wield The Truth as forcefully as Spider Jerusalem does. Take particular aim at cable news, as broken and dysfunctional an industry as you could name. And make Yelena’s transformation from “rich guy’s daughter with an internship” to “woman who could destabilize a government with an op-ed” one for the ages.

So, there you go. Five TV shows that in a just world would each be ten times more critically acclaimed and as much as twice as popular as “Smallville with Batman.” Six seasons and a movie for each one or we don’t deserve nice things.

And yes, Mark Sheppard has to be in each one. Because that’s how it works. You make a show with geek appeal, and then you put Mark Sheppard in it.

And the best part, Warner Brothers and Marvel Studios? One or the other of you already owns every single character, title, and major plot I’ve mentioned. You can take any of these ideas and run with them, and not owe me a damned thing, and I’ll just be happy the project is happening.

Although, that said… if you need a cheap showrunner, I’m available.

Talkin’ ’bout Wonder Woman

So the word is out, and the word is “Wonder.”

Well that sentence didn’t help with anything. Off to a brilliant start here. I’ll elaborate. Warner Brothers has announced that yes, indeed, at long last, Diana of Themyscria, better known as Wonder Woman, First Lady of DC Comics, will be making her big-screen debut… as the second female lead in a movie about Superman and Batman.

I kid, Warner Brothers. I kid because until she has her own movie you’re not trying hard enough.

Furthermore, she’ll be played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress I know almost nothing about.

 

Ta-da.
Ta-da.

She’s mostly known for the Fast and the Furious franchise, but since I’ve only seen approximately 0.6 Fasts and Furiouses I can’t comment on her resume. Some people out there are already complaining based on her physicality. Some wonder if she’s tall enough. Apparently she’s 1.75 metres, or 5’9″ tall, which makes her three inches taller than this guy:

Cute lil’ fella.

Some complain she’s too slender, that Wonder Woman should be more muscular. Well. There’s nothing to be done about that. It’s not like actors have ever had to bulk up for a role ever. It’s not like anyone who had just finished playing an emaciated stick figure immediately went on to play the goddamn Batman.

CONSECUTIVE. MOVIES.

So no, I am not going to dump on Ms. Gadot. Frankly, I like the fact that she’s not American: Wonder Woman should seem a little foreign. Mediterranean would have been the preference, but Israeli is fine. I’m going to offer her the same courtesy I gave Ben Affleck and wait to actually see the movie before I judge.

Instead, let me explain why I care. Why I want to see a great Wonder Woman in the movies. Aside from the obvious answer suggested by the fact that I started this article while wearing my Green Lantern robe and watching the Flash make his debut on Arrow while statues of Wonder Woman and Zatanna gaze down from my nerd reliquary.

Wonder Woman is a warrior princess on a quest for peace. Her love for humanity is stronger than death itself, but she maintains a fierce opposition to the cruel and the merciless. She doesn’t start the fight, but always finishes it. And now, here’s some of my favourite stories about Wonder Woman.

The Greg Rucka years

Before Greg Rucka took over Wonder Woman, I hadn’t been reading her book for years. John Byrne had written and drawn it for a few years, and when he left, there was such a sudden drop in quality I had to leave. Then Greg Rucka took over, and it became a whole new thing.

Rucka brought a new spin to the idea of Diana being her people’s ambassador to Man’s World, by emphasizing the “ambassador” part. She got an embassy, and a staff. Rucka’s Wonder Woman spent as much time attending state dinners and promoting charities she believed in as she did battling villains: at one point her publicist, Mr. Garibaldi, explained to the new guy (and our POV character for life at the embassy) that “This charity is important to her. She’s not taking calls from the Justice League tonight, she’s certainly not taking calls from the media.”

In the collection Eyes of the Gorgon, Garibaldi’s children were turned to stone by Medusa. Diana took her on, blinding herself with snake venom to avoid Medusa’s gaze. She stayed blind for several issues, and showed why, in the right hands, her compassion is every bit as strong as her sword arm: granted a favour for winning a victory for Olympus, she rejects the offer to restore her vision and asks that the Garibaldi children be restored instead (Athena threw in the restored vision for free, she was cool like that).

He also gave Diana her own Lex Luthor in genius industrialist Veronica Cale, who explained herself with “I built myself up from nothing to corporate titan. If there is a Wonder Woman in the world, it’s ME.” Cale later went on to be the president of Oolong Island, a former Chinese facility turned independent nation populated exclusively with mad scientists.

Rucka courted controversy in the Infinite Crisis tie-in Sacrifice, which would take a whole second article to explain. He made it clear: Wonder Woman doesn’t want to kill anyone…

Doesn’t mean she won’t.

Max Lord has mind-controlled Superman in being his ultimate weapon.
Do not screw with Wonder Woman.

Lasting from issue 195-226 (of Vol. 2) it’s a sadly short run that I wish were easier to find in trade paperback.

Wonder Woman and Batman… good idea?

In Joe Kelley’s run on JLA, Wonder Woman and Batman ended up sharing an unexpected and passionate kiss right before launching a suicide mission (they died, but got better) that led to an awkward flirtation. After a few months of ducking around the cape-wearing elephant in the room, Wonder Woman uses a VR machine at their headquarters to try and figure out what might happen if she and Batman started a relationship. The machine provided many alternatives: in one possibility, Diana helped Bruce let go of his anger and broodishness, and together they made Gotham a utopia. In another, they dragged each other down the opposite path, and became thrill-killing vigilantes. And in one possible future, she arrived too late to save Batman from being horribly killed by the Joker. At which point this happened.

DO NOT. SCREW. WITH WONDER WOMAN.

At the issue’s end, they decided they probably shouldn’t be together. Now, as to contemporary Batman’s thoughts on Wonder Woman and Superman being a couple…

Batman is scared of Wonder Woman

Batman was not happy to learn Superman and Wonder Woman had been getting romantic recently, but not out of jealousy (Bruce Wayne’s dance card has been as full as he can manage lately, thanks).

A recurring story point is the idea that Batman has built contingency plans to take down each member of the Justice League if they go bad. It was first introduced in the Tower of Babel arc, in which Ra’s al Ghul steals his plans, which was adapted into the animated DVD “Doom.”

New 52 Batman also has contingency plans for the Justice League, which came to light when his Kryptonite was stolen from the Batcave.

One box per hero.

In explaining why he had Kryptonite in the first place, Batman shows Superman his collection of secret plans/weapons, including the contingency plan he developed to bring himself down if necessary. But the twist, and the reason why Batman was nervous about a Clark/Diana relationship? It’s in the box he made for Wonder Woman.

When Batman can’t come up with a plan, there is no plan.

Batman always wins because Batman always has a plan. People just assume Batman can take Superman in a fight because Batman knows how to exploit every weakness Superman has. But Wonder Woman has no weakness. And thus even Batman’s a little afraid of her.

Greek tragedies

And now a word on recent Wonder Woman stories. The word is “great.”

Current writer Brian Azzarello has been focusing on Wonder Woman’s screwed up family, otherwise known as the Greek gods. When a pregnant woman named Zola turns to Diana for help, Diana learns that she’s being targeted by a jealous Hera, queen of the gods, for unbeknownst to Zola her baby’s father is Zeus. Zeus himself has gone missing, and a power struggle breaks out amongst the gods, but a prophecy states that a child of Zeus will kill the king and conquer Olympus, meaning that everyone out to steal the throne is also out to kill Zola’s baby, just in case.

This run has been filled with great visual reinterpretations of the gods, the kind of soap opera theatrics that the Greek myths basically invented, and a great view of the differing aspects that make Wonder Woman a great character. Azzarello shows her compassion, her love for all mankind, her dedication to protect the innocent, her disdain for war. But he also reminds us to never, ever mistake that compassion for weakness. Because if you make her, she will drop you like third period French.

And that’s what I hope to see in the movies. A woman of strength, both physically and strength of character; a woman of peace who is unafraid of combat. A champion of the powerless capable of inspiring awe in the powerful.

So don’t let me down, Zack Snyder.