The Rise of the Second Tier Heroes

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I’ve been reading comics pretty steadily since the mid 1980′s or so.  Through Junior High, High School, College, and into my notionally adult years.  I enjoy superheroes. I always have.  And through the vast majority of those years, I liked DC Comics better than Marvel.  There was a history to the world, a richness, a complexity of relationships that I didn’t quite see in Marvel.

It’s been a lot of years, and a lot of things have changed at both companies, even their histories within their comic universes.  And, of course, Marvel has had a series of fantastic movies that build a complex world and show their characters very close to the comics selves.  DC, on the other hand, has done a lot of bad movies, but some good tv shows.  Of course, Marvel is getting into that act too.

But Marvel has been doing something else that has really impressed me, and is nearly the perfect opposite of DC’s apparent strategy.  Marvel has launched a lot of new titles.  And while yes, a lot of them have been Avengers or X-Men spin-offs, many haven’t been.  Obscure characters like Iron Fist, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk have gotten their own books.  Black Widow, while a lot higher profile since the Avengers movies, has never been a headliner, and even she has her own, very enjoyable book.

DC, on the other hand, seems to want every book to have either “Super,” “Bat,” or “Justice League” in the title.  They have shown very little interest in developing their lesser known characters.  Worlds’ Finest, which had been about Power Girl and Huntress, was even changed so that it’s now about the Earth 2 Batman and Superman.

Sure, not all the experiments have worked.  She-Hulk is about to be cancelled, but that’s another story.  But Marvel is letting the fans enjoy second- or even third- tier characters in books of their own, not just in big teams where they compete for “screen time” with everyone else.  Sure, Marvel is doing some things that I believe are passing gimmicks, like the new female Thor, or Sam Wilson graduating from Falcon to Captain America.  But I like both those changes, temporary though I believe them to be, and it’s something a bit different.  It’s not endless variations of their two most popular characters.

Both Marvel and DC have big changes coming, and they may well be about to completely change their respective universes again.  There’s no way of knowing what that will do to many of their titles.  But right now, I give Marvel a lot of credit for taking chances with some of their characters who aren’t stars.  And I wish DC would do the same.

Agents of SHIELD: The Things We Bury

CarterOne of the things I am really enjoying about Agents of SHIELD is how well they tie in with the other Marvel projects.  Even this week, there are references to both the first Captain America movie and the upcoming Agent Carter tv series (which I’m REALLY looking forward to).  “The Things We Bury” does a great job bridging the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s past and present.

There are several scenes set in 1945 and later, with Agent Carter dealing with some of Hydra’s agents.  These scenes set in motion events that play into SHIELD’s current problems.  We learn a lot more about Skye’s father, the so-far nameless doctor (I am NOT calling him The Doctor).  His past connects to Hydra, the Obelisk, and many of us think to a recently announced Marvel film.  Hydra’s operations in the 40′s are disrupted when the Red Skull is defeated, as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger.

Coulson puts together a nice, Mission Impossible type of scheme, sending Skye and Trip out to do seemingly random things in Hawaii.  The payoff shows that Fury picked his successor as Director well.  It was an elaborate scheme but it worked.  Coulson is a tactical genius.

Mostly off away from the rest of the cast, Agent Ward, formerly of SHIELD, maybe of Hydra, possibly free-agent bad guy settles some family matters.  This is usually where a lot of people make the joke that Thanksgiving dinners would be really awkward, but I don’t think that will be an issue.  I’m really not sure whose side Ward is on at this point, and I’m not wholly convinced he is, either.

I do like that they finally showed Trip back in the field, but I’m not sure why this was a trade-off.  Both Bobbi Morse and the formidable Agent May end up back at base.  There was a decent explanation as to why Morse wasn’t running and gunning, but May was seemingly left behind because Coulson said, “I said so.”  The process of deciding who goes on which missions seems to be utterly random.

There are a lot of revelations about Skye’s past.  Ward isn’t the only one with a complicated family history.  Her father seems to be perfectly willing to kill anyone who not only gets in his way, but just more or less inconveniences him.

Ok, wild speculation time, so skip this paragraph if you’re so inclined.  Blue skinned aliens have been playing a part of Agents of SHIELD for a while.  We’ve now learned there’s a hidden city, and certain humans have something that ties them back to it, genetically.  Currently in Marvel comics, there’s a storyline going on when they are revealing that some humans (like the current popular Muslim Ms. Marvel) have ties to the hidden race of Inhumans, and their city Attilan.  The Inhumans were created when an alien race called the Kree (who have blue skin) experimented on some humans.  The Inhumans is one of the films Marvel announced for down the road.  And, in at least one interview, it was confirmed the blue aliens on SHIELD are Kree.  So, is Skye’s father, and Skye by extension, an Inhuman?  Or maybe her mother? Or both?  It seems possible, even likely, to me.

What I liked: Trip is out in the field again!  Coulson pulls off a great plan.  Fitz is still improving, and at a slow but believable rate.  They played off both Captain America and Agent Carter very well without it feeling forced.  Hunter and Bobbi have an amusing scene together.

What I didn’t: May isn’t in the field, nor is Bobbi.  Trip didn’t do that well.  I’m getting a bit tired of “Who’s Ward trying to kill this week?”

I’ll give this one a 3.5 out of 5.  I think the show is consistently getting better, and I’m overall happy with the direction it’s going.

Agents of SHIELD: A Fractured House

bobbiCaution minor spoilers ahead.

This week, the Agents of SHIELD deal with “A Fractured House.”  Hydra ups the stakes, framing SHIELD for a brutal attack, and focusing the media and law enforcement on them.  All Coulson’s careful work trying to reach a good working relationship with Talbot, the most visible person tasked with hunting down SHIELD in the wake of the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier is now in danger at best.

Coulson spends a lot of this episode doing damage control, trying to reach out to people who can influence public perception.  He ends up meeting with a Senator who proves to have a surprising connection to SHIELD and Hydra both.  While Coulson is playing politics, Skye has more Lecter/Clarisse sessions in the basement with Ward, who she and Simmons were watching work out earlier.  Ward gets a lot more screen time this episode.  Personally, I was done with him when he proved to be a traitor last season.  I’m not enjoying this back and forth with Skye at all.

Even with things looking so grim for SHIELD, the various personal relationships receive a good bit of focus.  Hunter and Morse try to work together, not easy after what seems like it was an ugly divorce.  Their verbal sparring is amusing, made much better by May’s eye rolls.  When the team goes into action against one Hydra group, I loved that Hunter was the distraction while the two kick-ass women got in place to take out the unit.  There’s a nice role reversal.

While all that is going on, there’s still a lot of tension between former best friends and brain trust Fitz and Simmons.  In a well done contrast, the imaginary Simmons kept helping Fitz with his minor aphasia (the word problems he’s having), where the real one keeps making thing worse.  Fitz is working a lot better with Mac these days than Simmons, and she seems both relieved and a bit stung by that.  I’m hoping that soap opera doesn’t linger all season.

The show changed several things.  Talbot, by episode’s end, appears to have a lot more respect for SHIELD.  He has a nice scene with May about SHIELD’s recent losses.  Also, several things change for Ward, at least one of which many of us have been predicting since last season ended.  And they show us that at least one other person besides Coulson and the late Garret is doing the weird alien writing.

What I liked: May is a force of nature when she’s unleashed, and her fight with the leader of the assassins was GREAT.  Morse is another great fighter, and I’m hoping she eventually makes the transition to her costumed comic book self.  Morse also mentions something about Barton this episode, which was both a good tie to the Avengers and maybe a nod to the tie between the characters (they were married in the comics). Hunter, while serving as a distraction, is also shown to be competent.  Simmons is still royally and understandably pissed at Ward.  The conversation between Simmons and Mac.

What I didn’t: What happens with Ward near the end everyone saw coming.  Trip, who is supposed to be a bad ass field op, keeps sitting at a desk.  Skye’s father, after being such a big thing last episode, is largely dropped.  And seriously if SHIELD is this badly outgunned and out-manned, why are we seeing and hearing nothing about Deathlok?

This was a better episode than many have been.  SHIELD is one of those shows that tends to be a bit erratic.  I’ll give this one a 3.5 out of 5.  And I’m very excited about the Avengers trailer and the Agent Carter commercials.

Agents of SHIELD: Wolf In The Hen House

whitehallAgents of SHIELD goes for another clever title with “A Hen in the Wolf House.”  It works fairly well, all things considered.  They do manage to advance and alter several plot lines, which I appreciate.  Too many shows drag things out far too long, and some resolution here is a really nice change of pace.

Much of this episode focuses on Gemma Simmons and her infiltration of Hydra.  Again, I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers, but there are a few surprises along the way.  It was nice to see more of Simmons (the real one), and even better to see a new character I’ve been a fan of for a long time.

There’s a fair amount of tension between Skye and her mentor/hero Coulson, which I can understand.  He gave her a very tough assignment and withheld information she needs to do it.  Add in the whole thing being tied up with the ongoing mystery about Skye’s father, and there’s a lot that could go wrong there.

What appears to be the season’s big bad, Daniel Whitehall, immortal (or at least very long lived) Nazi, keeps lurking around the edges of things.  Whitehall is being played very creepily and well by Reed Diamond, and he makes a good menacing villain.  He’s not overtly violent like many, but I find myself believing that he could probably do anything and not really care about it.

Fitz also made a good bit of progress this episode with his various injuries and trauma.  Iain De Caestecker is doing a great job playing Fitz’s difficulties.  My only quibble is with the timing of his progress with some of the events of the episode being a bit too coincidental.

Raina, the infamous Girl in the Flower Dress, is in somewhat desperate straights, and makes a pest of herself to Coulson.  She has some decent blackmail, but seriously underestimates Coulson.  While Coulson is usually an amiable guy,  it’s nice to see him as a badass.  He gets some great lines while dealing with Raina.

Apparently, the Obelisk from the season opener is something Whitehall is desperately interested in, and will go to great lengths to get it.  This has some connections to other things in play this episode, and they actually tie them together pretty well in my humble opinion.  There were a few surprises along the way which I didn’t see coming, like tying it back to Skye’s origins.

I won’t rave about the new character revealed in the episode.  I will say I was excited when I first heard the rumors, and think they executed the character quite well.  The role they played here was nicely done, well cast, and tied in to some things from earlier this season.

The end of the episode shows an alliance forming between two of SHIELD’s foes.  Not only does SHIELD have some problems coming their way, but both players involved seem to have a grudge against Director Coulson himself.  As if SHIELD didn’t have enough to worry about being labeled as outlaws and terrorists.

SHIELD is continuing to be a much better show this season, and I’m enjoying the change.  I’m very excited about the new character, and potential connections elsewhere in the Marvel on-screen universe.  And I’m very glad of the improvement in the overall quality.

Agents of SHIELD: Face My Enemy

mayAgents of SHIELD is continuing to be very clever with their titles.  “Face My Enemy” works on several levels for this week’s episode, which I thought was one of their better ones.  To me, this one felt more like a fun spy caper, which is at least some of what I was hoping for from the series in the first place.

We’ve seen a lot of this strange alien language that looks a lot like the old computer flow charts to me.  Now, it’s popped up somewhere new, and both SHIELD and Hydra are after it.  This is almost a Mission Impossible type of episode, with undercover work, impersonations, and some amusing situations.  Coulson and May get sent out to find the artefact of interest, and get a lot of unexpected twists and turns along the way.

The rest of the team isn’t left out of the action, although they probably wish they had been.  An impostor infiltrates the Bus, as they call their high-tech plane, and turns it against them.  In addition to throwing in some drama and excitement, these sequences also show Fitz making some significant progress in recovering from his injuries, which I really enjoyed seeing.  The imaginary Simmons is even pushing him to do better.  I suppose that makes sense, as she’s a part of his mind after all.

The impostor issues get really interesting here.  There’s an incredible fight between a real SHIELD agent and their doppleganger with some really nice moves.  The method of imposture is nicely done, too, as it apparently makes use of something we saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I thought this was a pretty solid episode.  There were surprises, teamwork, humor, and some nice high-tech gadgetry.  Coulson and May reveal a lot more of their history while dealing with current issues.  Yes, this is frequently the requisite, “I’ve mentioned some trivia to later trip up the fake,” plot trope, but it was handled well and gave a good feel for their past cases.

Aside from some really nice fight choreography (and actual choreography), there was nothing hugely stand out here, nothing that made me go “Oh, wow, that was cool.”  But, there was nothing that made me want to hurl something at the tv and ask, “Seriously, what are they thinking?” which, yes, is a low bar, but one many shows fail to get to.

I had fun with this episode, it advanced several subplots, and had some entertaining scenes.  The show has had problems in the past, but this was nicely done.  If they can stay at or above this level of quality, I think some of the people with doubts about the series may come around.

Flash: The Fastest Man Alive

logoBack for episode two, this week’s episode of Flash is one of the speedster’s many nicknames, “The Fastest Man Alive.”  It starts off on a very amusing note.  Many shows have voice-over intros done by the lead character.  This one is by Barry, but he acknowledges that the intros tend to repeat themselves by breaking the fourth wall with the aside of, “But you know all that already.”  That was a nice, not quite in-joke, and counterpart for the heavy, drama-laden shows like the companion show Arrow.

Also differing from many shows, and even comics these days, the show starts with Flash helping people trapped in a burning building.  This isn’t a plot by a supervillain, it isn’t some big scheme, it’s just a disaster in a big city that Flash keeps from becoming a tragedy.  They do use it to show some limitations to Barry’s powers, but it was nice to see a hero, well, being heroic.

The team back at the lab is a bit divided about Barry’s exploits.  Cisco is helping Barry by providing information and guidance, but Caitlin is a lot less happy about it.  Dr. Wells is more in the middle, not as angry as Caitlin, but cautioning Barry that his powers are new and they don’t know what’s happening with them yet.

Like Arrow, Flash seems to be laden with flashbacks.  On this show, they are mostly about Barry’s childhood.  So far, these have been drama flakes that I don’t think improve the show or the stories at all.

Iris so far seems to exist solely as plot device and (unrequited) love interest.  She ends up dragging Barry to a ceremony for humanitarian industrialist Simon Stagg.  Stagg and his bodyguard, Java, are both known from the comics.  Simon Stagg is the man who caused the accident that turned Rex Mason into the freakish hero Metamorpho.  There was a lot of speculation when it was announced Stagg had been cast that Rex Mason would be on the way.

The event is interrupted by a group of gunmen who seem to tie in with a robbery Barry and Joe West were investigating earlier in the show.  Barry doesn’t manage to catch them as his powers flake out again.  Back at STAR, they run some tests which involve a device that looks like another item from Flash’s history, the Cosmic Treadmill.  What they eventually work out is Barry’s powers are burning through his body’s reserves, and he needs to eat a lot more than normal to fuel them.

This isn’t new, but isn’t Barry’s issue.  In the comics, when Wally West first became the Flash after Barry’s death, his powers were a lot more limited than his mentor’s had been.  One of those limitations was the need to eat huge amounts.  They used that same weakness on the original show, and seem to have carried it over here.

Detective Joe West tracks Barry down at STAR and they have an argument.  After Barry storms off, West and Dr. Wells have a conversation about Barry.  While all this is going on, Java meets up with the gunmen from earlier in the show.  The gunmen are all one person, who we eventually learn is Danton Black.  Once again, taken from the comics, this is the real name of usual Firestorm villain Multiplex.

Barry faces Black and gets beaten badly.  The fight does let them figure out more or less what’s going on with Black, that he’s creating duplicates of himself.  Both West and Wells try and fail to get Stagg to lay low during this chaos, which leads to a conversation between West and Wells about Barry.

There are several scenes of Iris and Barry arguing.  I think they’ve fallen into the habit of taking a close friend for granted.  Iris assumes Barry has nothing better to do than help her with her projects, and Barry figures she’ll forgive him for blowing her off over and over.  Between that and the unrequited love interest bit, Iris is becoming my least favorite character on the show.

With a lot of pep-talks and advice from the STAR crew and Detective West, Barry manages to defeat Multiplex.  Multiplex does offer a tragic motivation for his attacks on Stagg, and they make him a more sympathetic character.  Unfortunately, he follows in Weather Wizard’s footsteps as villain of the week who dies at the end.  Too many live action adaptations do this, which negates the entire concept of heroes having recurring foes.

There’s a nice upbeat moment near the end when Barry tells his team he couldn’t be doing his hero routine without them.  It’s a nice, cheerful, team building kind of scene.  Unfortunately, they pretty much completely undercut it by the scene that follows between Wells and Stagg.  Suffice to say that Wells is very, very protective of Flash’s future.

I like the way they are showing Barry.  He’s an actual hero, risking himself to save others, and not acting out of revenge.  I don’t like the darkness that Wells seems to represent.  Whatever he’s come back to ensure or prevent, he’s doing some awful things, and I think Barry would be horrified.  I hope whatever Wells is up to gets explained soon.

I’m still really enjoying the show, but I wish they’d keep it a bit lighter.  The scenes with Barry, Joe West, Cisco, and even Caitlin are good.  Whatever agenda Wells is working is leaving an undercurrent of darkness that I’d be happier without.

Gotham: Arkham

arkhamHere there be spoilers, read at your own risk.

One of my concerns about Gotham was that the cast seemed a bit big to really be workable.  They are handling this by rotating various characters out for different episodes.  This week, Selena gets a vacation while Gordon and company deal with what’s shaping up to be a major gang war.  Selena being out makes sense, that’s not really her area.

What we do get in “Arkham” is a lot of set up for what looks like it might be a really ugly situation.  Apparently, Arkham here refers not just to the infamous Asylum, but a whole area of the city that’s up for redevelopment.  Of course, major urban renewal means major money, and both the Falcone and Maroni gangs want their share.

As if the two major gangs squaring off wasn’t enough to make trouble, there are two wild cards in the mix.  Gordon of course is determined to not let the gangs go to war, spurred on even more by a bit of a guilt trip from young Bruce Wayne.  On the other hand, Oswald Cobblepot is back in town, and he’s taking his own steps.

This week’s killer didn’t really thrill me.  I have no idea who, if anyone, he’s supposed to be in Batman lore.  He has an irrational attachment to a spike-like killing device, which he uses whenever possible.  I’d be tempted to make a wisecrack about doesn’t he know there are guns, but he does use one eventually.  Maybe his obsession with his signature weapon foreshadows all the weird foes Batman will fight in the future?  There’s something in Gotham that twists people to favor a trademark style?

I’ve been enjoying the short appearances of Ed Nygma, the future Riddler.  He’s played well, and he’s very much in character, always believing himself to be the smartest man in the room.  While I enjoy all that, the scene he was in this week was badly done.  It didn’t flow as well as the others, and they make a lot of use of the word “paradox” which they don’t use correctly.

Bullock and Gordon end up working the case, which involves City Councilmen being abducted and killed.  They are still far enough apart that I don’t even think “grudging respect” is the right term, but their different methods are very complimentary.  The tension between their points of view is one of the better parts of the show.

Speaking of tension, Gordon and the lovely Barbara Kean are having problems.  Yes, Gordon is keeping things from her, and she from him.  She does finally tell him both that A) she’s bi and B) she used to be with Montoya.  Personally, I’m not sure I’m getting why he can’t tell her, “Hey, I had to fake a man’s death to prevent the AMAZINGLY crooked cops and gangsters from killing him, me, my partner, and maybe you.”  Irrational secret keeping seems to the hallmark of many of today’s shows, and this is one of them.

The end result of the gangs pressuring the mayor and each other is a compromise no one really likes.  Maroni is going to make money, but not as much as he’d hoped.  Falcone lost prestige.  Fish Mooney is off in the shadows scheming and hiring a new employee in a way that makes “The Apprentice” look like, well, the foolishness that it is.  Young Bruce is also unhappy about the compromise, which undid some of his parents’ last big project before their deaths.

One thing that did impress me this episode was Cobblepot.  Robin Taylor is playing the Penguin-to-be very well.  He’s ruthless, vicious, and deadly, as well as easy to underestimate, just like his comic book counterpart.  His plottings are very important to this week’s episode, and he pulls a few surprises I didn’t see coming.  He’s positioning himself to learn a lot about the mob, weakening both sides, and amassing money along the way, while making himself look good.  It’s a nice bit of both writing and acting.

That said, the episode focused mostly around the gangs, and that’s just not what I’m interested in.  I am hoping the show, which has been picked up for a full season, doesn’t devolve into “Gangs of Gotham.”  I thought the show started strong, but this wasn’t a great episode.

I’m still going to be watching, and at this point, hoping for improvement.  The show seems to be on a slight downward slope, and I’m really hoping that doesn’t continue.

Arrow: The Calm

gara

 

Minor spoilers below, be warned

“The Calm” is the somewhat ominous title of the season three premier of Arrow.  Presumably, this implies “…before the Storm.”  The show opens with Team Arrow working together very smoothly to take down an arms shipment.  As a general rule, when something goes that well for the good guys on this kind of show, it’s a setup.  It was nice to see Roy in costume with a bow, like his comic book version started off as Speedy, Green Arrow’s sidekick.

As the mission comes to a successful end, we also get mini-status updates on the lives of our heroes.  While they beat Deathstroke last season, that doesn’t mean everything is going well for them.  Oliver has lost his company, which means Felicity lost her job, too.  Oddly, this doesn’t seem to be effecting Diggle, which they don’t explain.  Felicity now has a day job, and it’s pretty amusing watching her deal with it and juggle her responsibilities to the team.

One of the cliffhangers from last season was Quentin Lance doubling over and coughing up blood after helping Arrow and company.  Now, he’s back as a Captain, and makes a nice speech praising the Arrow and disbanding the task force that was going after him.  It was a nice little scene, but it shows whoever does the writing knows nothing about how law enforcement works.  If you have a chronic disability (and Q seems to have two, the cane and the heart problems), you can’t wear the uniform and they’ll start the paperwork to have you medically retired.  Oh well, the writers have been consistently screwing up detail about police, why stop now?  Oh, and from Detective to Officer to Captain, skipping Sergeant and Lieutenant?  Not likely.

One of the new characters this season is Ray Palmer, who is apparently taking over Queen Consolidated.  In the comics, Palmer is the alter ego of the Atom, who gets called on by fellow heroes for his scientific genius almost more than his shrinking powers.  Palmer is being played by Brandon Routh, which makes another first as far as I know.  Routh played Superman in Superman Returns, so this is the first time an actor has played two different DC heroes in live action.  Yep, geek trivia.

One of the challenges of doing a show based on Green Arrow is that, despite being around since the 40′s, the character just doesn’t have an impressive rogues gallery, like Superman, Batman, or Flash.  We’ve seen a drug dealer calling himself the Count, selling a drug called Vertigo, based on one of GA’s few foes, Count Vertigo.  The Count is dead, and now someone knew has arisen calling himself Vertigo. He is the episode’s main antagonist, and does improbably well against the supposedly well-trained Arrow.

Something many fans have been clamoring for sort of happens, as Oliver and Felicity actually go on a real date.  Not a diversion, a scheme, an actual date.  Suffice to say it goes badly (like RPG into the restaurant badly), and Oliver retreats into the trope of “My life is too dangerous to let me have a love life.”

Captain Lance (still called Detective by the Arrow folks, just as he was when he was busted down to Officer) is occasionally helping the team in the field, which is not a good idea with his health issues.  Speaking of the Lance family, we get a few more surprises with them.  Laurel seems like she’s actually going to be likable and useful this season, which is a nice change from shrewish and/or addict.  Then we even see Sara come back just in time for Canary to lend Arrow a hand.

The big showdown this episode is at a boxing match where Vertigo hopes to eliminate all his rival crime bosses, and kill a lot of innocent people along the way.  The team goes into action, and the writers throw us another hint of things to come.  In DC Comics, if you touch at all on boxing, you usually end up running across Ted Grant, who is a street level hero called Wildcat.  Well, one of the shots of the ring shows guys in jackets with “Wildcat” on the back.

The team wins in spite of a lot of bad breaks.  You know it’s a bad day when bomb defusing goes awry.  Also, Arrow cleverly decides the best policy to deal with Vertigo’s new drug, which seems to work like Scarecrow’s fear gas (a Batman foe) is to stand there and get hit by it.  Interesting…

There’s a big surprise at the end of the episode that not only did I not see coming, I hadn’t heard any whispers about.  It truly was shocking, and I won’t spoil it here, but I will say it will probably have repercussions through out the entire season, maybe beyond.  I didn’t like it, but I can see, I think, why they did it.

The flashbacks continue, just on a new island.  We see flashes of Oliver in Hong Kong, forced to work for Amanda Waller, and more supporting characters introduced.  I suspect Oliver has a new mentor.

I liked that they brought in Ray Palmer, although I’m not sure about this version.  He seems a bit more ruthless than the good doctor has ever been portrayed.  I’m curious to see what they do with him, and if his costumed identity will eventually show up. Same thing for Ted Grant/Wildcat for that matter.  The also did a nice little nod to the newly debuted Flash tv show, as Barry calls Oliver for advice.

I didn’t like how they handled Quentin.  He seems to be needlessly reckless, and the writers clearly don’t know how police actually work.  I also don’t get Arrow standing still to get drugged, Vertigo’s really impressive hand to hand skills, or his cryptic warning at the end that Arrow gave the Vertigo name power.

I’m not wild about the ending, but I think I see where they are going with it.  It wasn’t the greatest debut, but I’m curious enough to see how they handle the plots they’ve started.  I’ll be sticking around a while.

The Flash: Pilot

flashI’ve been excited about the Flash show since I first heard about it.  I remember the first one, back in the 80′s.  It was a very enjoyable show, and it ended before its time, largely due to bad luck in scheduling.  After that, DC’s speedster only showed up in cartoons, getting a good amount of screen time in Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, and later the sadly short-lived Young Justice.  Some odd combination of various DC comics speedsters showed up on Smallville, but he went by the most recent codename Impulse.

Then, Arrow debuted on the CW.  It wasn’t a completely faithful version of Green Arrow (obviously, look at the name), but it was really enjoyable, and it was a live action version of a second tier DC Comics hero.  It did so well, they started considering another show, and then, a police scientist named Barry Allen showed up in Starling City.  As any DC Comics fan can tell you, Barry Allen is the Flash.

They started appealing to comic fans from the very start.  Barry, played by Grant Gustin, narrates his story, including the phrase, “I am the fastest man alive,” which was a tag line used in many comic books.  That really set the tone, especially for long-time comic fans.

Overall, I loved this debut.  There were so many nice little touches along the way.  Barry’s father is played by John Wesley Shipp.  Shipp played Barry Allen in the earlier show I mentioned.  There are many familiar names thrown in during the show.  I won’t list them all, as I try not to be THAT guy, but let’s just say that even many of the minor characters have a history in the comics.

I will spend some time on the supporting characters.  The scientist running STAR Labs (another long-time DC institution) is Harrison Wells.  I wondered when he first showed up if his middle initial might be “G.”  From the surprise at the end, I might have been closer than I thought.

Wells’ two assistants are Cisco Ramone and Caitlin Snow.  I really have to believe they have plans down the road for these two lab-rats.  Cisco “Paco” Ramone is the real name of the superhero and former Justice Leaguer known as Vibe.  Caitlin Snow is one of several villains in the comics to use the name Killer Frost.  Frost is usually a Firestorm foe, and Robbie Amell, cousin of Steve (Arrow) Amell and formerly of the Tomorrow People, has been announced as playing Ronnie Raymond, AKA Firestorm the Nuclear Man.

One of the detectives we see a good bit of is Edward Thawne.  Again, in the comics, that name has significance.  Thawne comes from the future, and is the name of the Reverse Flash.  I wonder what they have planned for him.  He mentions that he’s read Barry’s blog, so he does seem to have a lot of interest in our Mr. Allen.

The West family has a complicated connection with the Flash legacy.  In the comics, Iris West eventually marries Barry Allen.  Her nephew, Wally, became Barry’s sidekick Kid-Flash, later replacing Barry as the Flash.  In the comics, the Wests were white until the reboot DC did a few years ago, a move that met with mixed reactions.

You can’t have a hero without a villain, and Barry, as he gets his origin told here, has his foe.  A crook named Maddon (Clyde on the show, Mark in the comics) gets weather related powers.  In the comics, Weather Wizard is one of Flash’s recurring villains, collectively known as the Rogues.  They make a choice at the end of the episode that a lot of TV shows and movies choose to, which I won’t spoil but disagree with.  I’ll put it this way: it’s hard to establish the traditional rivalries between some of these characters this way.

Another of Flash’s more savage foes is Grodd, a superpowerful and ruthless gorilla.  Yes it sounds goofy, but he’s actually a terrifying foe.  When Wells is escorting Barry through the ruins of STAR Labs, we see a broken cage labeled “Grodd.”  Foreshadowing, I suspect.  Wells also tests Barry’s powers at a place with a ruined Ferris Air sign.  Ferris is the company that Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan works at.

There was a lot I loved in this debut.  They followed Barry’s origin pretty closely.  They did a great job with the character.  Before he became a superhero, Barry Allen was a crime scene investigator, and a good one.  He contributes to a case with his brain and skills before the accident that gave him his powers.  Barry actually reminded me a bit of Sherlock Holmes, but in brilliance and social awkwardness.  Also, when Barry gets his powers, he shows an absolute joy in using them.  In the age of so many dark, gritty, anti-heroes, a bright, upbeat character is a very welcome change.

As much as I enjoyed it, I won’t say it was perfect.  One classic scene in Barry’s origin is him in a diner, watching a plate fall.  His powers kick in and he sees it slow and even stop.  In the comics, he catches it.  Here, he watches it fall.  Not a big deal, but I think every time you decide to change from your source material, there should be a reason.  I don’t see that the story was in any improved by that change.

In the comics, Barry Allen eventually killed his arch-nemesis Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash.  Barry went on trial for it, and a great source of strength for him was the support of his parents.  When Allen returned from the dead a few years ago, they rewrote his history.  Now, fitting the ever darker age of comics, his mother was murdered and his father blamed for it.  They went with this version on the show, which I find a bit sad.  Here his mother seems to have been killed by some version of Reverse Flash.

My few complaints to one side, I loved this show.  I was expecting to like it, and it was better than I hoped.  I love all the little touches they included, the way they handled Barry, and the hints at what’s to come.  Jesse Martin’s Joe West, a new character, I expected to be annoyed by, but Martin turned in a great performance, and he wasn’t the stereotype antagonist I expected.  They didn’t need to do the cameo by Arrow, but they handled it well.

I was very excited to watch this, and immensely enjoyed it.  I can’t wait to see what they do next, and who from Flash’s long history comes up next.

Agents of SHIELD “Making Friends and Influencing People”

shieldAgents of SHIELD continues its second season with “Making Friends and Influencing People.”  Coulson and his team are still in the difficult position of trying to protect the world while on the run from almost everyone.  Hydra is running around the world, grabbing up any of the remaining SHIELD agents they can find, and then submitting them to the “Faustus process.”   Dr. Faustus is a long time villain in Marvel comics, known for brainwashing his enemies.

The episode spends a fair amount of time with Simmons, the missing member of the team.  Until now, she’s only been seen as Fitz’s hallucination.  They make it look like she’s walked away from the struggle entirely until we see where she’s working.  It was an amusingly done sequence, and answered the questions about where she’s been and what she’s been up to.

Following up on the two part clash with the Absorbing Man, AKA “Crusher” Creel, we see the return of one of the few powered villains from last season– Donnie Gill, known as Blizzard in the comics.  Gill is a former SHIELD scientist who gained powers in an accident when last we saw him.  Now, he’s running around loose, being hunted by Hydra, which brings him to the attention of Coulson and company.  Much of the episode is the race to recruit, capture, or kill Gill.

Among the twists and turns along the way was a scene with Fitz confronting Ward, the team’s Hydra traitor.  Ward was responsible for Fitz’s injuries and brain damage.  Let’s just say that Fitz is not in the most forgiving mood during their conversation, understandably enough.

Skye has gone from kind of helpless tech girl in season one to dangerous field agent this season.  It seems a bit rushed to me.  That sort of training takes a long time.  How long ago were the events of Winter Soldier at ths point?  She’s certainly showing an aptitude for shooting.

Ward is still justifying his actions.  He belittles SHIELD’s compassion for people.  I actually think he’s making himself more unlikable as we see more of him.  Credit where it’s due, he was given the chance to excuse his actions by using the brainwashing excuse, since that plays such a big part in the episode, and he didn’t do it.

I think one of my favorite pieces of the new season is the sort of odd working relationship growing between the brain-damaged Fitz and newcomer Mac.  Mac is a competent tech, if not at the brilliant levels Fitz was.  But, for whatever reason, they seem to be bonding, and Mac is picking up on what Fitz means during some of those painful pauses in his speech.  Some fans online are calling Mac the “Fitz-Whisperer.”

I continue to find the show enjoyable.  The entire cast is fun to watch, although Clark Gregg’s Coulson and Ming-Na Wen’s May steal the show every scene they are in.  The series had some problems last season, especially around the middle.  But, since the tie in with Winter Soldier, I really think the show has gotten a LOT better.  I like that they’re using more actual villains.  I did find it odd that they dropped Talbot’s hunting them and Coulson’s trances completely this episode, but there’s only so much time per show.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the season, especially some more of the characters I’ve heard will be showing up.