Agents of SHIELD: Shadows

shieldBetween the finale of the first season of the show, and the tie-ins with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, SHIELD starts off season two in bad shape.  The agency was once a major government power, and now is a handful of agents on the run.  SHIELD was revealed to be infiltrated by Hydra, scientists so evil that even the Nazis thought they were pretty bad.  To the general public, the distinction between Hydra thugs and loyal SHIELD agents is pretty much non-existent.

So, our heroes are on the run, operating underground.  Before, SHIELD was an agency with some covert aspects. Now they are hiding from the government, law enforcement, the public, and one man in particular.  Glenn Talbot has been promoted to Brigadier General since the end of last season.  In the comics, Talbot obsessively hunted the Hulk for years.  Now, that mania seems to be focused on SHIELD.  This is not going to do anything to make Coulson and company’s job easier.

The season opener showed the first live action adaptation of a classic Marvel villain, the Absorbing Man.  In the comics, “Crusher” Creel can turn into whatever he touches.  He seems to do something similar on the show, making him a very powerful foe for a group of non-powered agents.  From the images shown at the end of the episode, he will be a recurring foe.

The opening gave a nod to a different part of the Marvel cinematic universe.  In the late 1940′s, we see several supporting characters from Captain America: The First Avenger.  In addition to a few of the Howling Commandos, they also showed us Agent Carter, who has already been approved for a new, spinoff tv show.  I’m very excited about that, and it was nice seeing her and the others.

The team of agents have more to worry about than supervillians and obsessive Generals.  The finale was tough on them.  One’s being held prisoner, one’s not recovering well from injuries, and another is… well, you’ll have to see the episode.  I was surprised.

The opening scene in the modern era shows the agents, with a few added allies, in action against yet another corrupt SHIELD agent.  The action was nice, and it was set in Alexandria, VA, where I presently live, so that was amusing.  Coulson, the director of the very reduced SHIELD, has a lot stacked up against him, and he sees that things are worse than he thought.  Other personal favorites include Ming Na Wen as the bad ass Agent May, who is back and deadly as ever; and Patton Oswalt, playing various agents named Koenig.  There’s a mystery about whatever his past is: clones? LMDs? Siblings?  We’ll find out eventually, I suspect.  And, of course, Clark Gregg is great as Coulson.

Last season, J. August Richards did a great job as Deathlok.  SHIELD is a fraction of its former self, Deathlok is one of the few supers that would work with them, and… nothing.  He’s not there, not mentioned, nothing at all.  I’m hoping that gap gets addressed soon.

That’s about my only complaint for the season opener.  I’m still enjoying it, and looking forward to seeing where they go next.

Gotham: Pilot

GothamGotham, the new series on Fox, finally premiered after a lot of anticipation.  Billed as the pre-quel to Batman, it starts with the Wayne murders, which started Bruce on the path to the Dark Knight.  Much like Smallville focused on Clark Kent’s glossed-over high school years, Gotham is set in the wake of the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne.

The focus of the show is on rookie detective James Gordon, a long way from his days as Commissioner.  Drawing on the background created by Frank Miller in his “Batman: Year One” story, Gordon is a war vet.  He survived the war, as did his idealism.  As the show starts, Gordon has just made Detective.  The Gotham City Police Department is a corrupt mess, and Gordon is not fitting in with it, which speaks well of him.

While there are many ties to the Batman mythos, I’d argue this isn’t really a Batman show.  We’re long before Bruce dons the cape and cowl, and while there are a lot of familiar names, none of them have donned costumes yet.  It’s a crime drama, after a fashion.  Gordon is dealing with a looming gang war, a compromised police department, and a promise he made to young Bruce Wayne.

The Batman supporting cast showing up adds flavor, but also comes with some difficulties regarding storylines.  Every name comic book fans (like me) recognize comes with a host of limitations.  We know Oswald Cobblepot won’t die before he becomes the Penguin, etc.  The only new major character so far is Fish Mooney , played delightfully by Jada Pinkett Smith.  She’s wonderfully vicious, a menacing presence in a stunning dress.

They are exploring some of the unknown aspects of the characters.  Barbara Kean eventually becomes Barbara Gordon in the comics, later mother of another Barbara, better known as Batgirl.  Here, it’s strongly hinted that Barbara has a romantic past with Detective Rene Montoya.  Montoya was a comic book character, known as both a tough Gotham detective and a strong gay character, which are not as common as they should be.  I suppose this means Barbara is bi, which is an interesting twist.

We see quite a few of the people who will become Batman’s rogues gallery.  The one that surprised me the most was Edward Nygma.  In the comics, he’s the brilliant villain the Riddler.  Here, he appears to work for Gotham PD’s Forensic’s Unit.  One thing this show seems to be establishing is that all of Batman’s major male foes are many years older than he is.  Bruce is child (his age at the time of the murders in the comics is usually eight), while Penguin and Riddler are both adults.  Catwoman and Poison Ivy both seem to be the same as young Bruce, give or take a year or two.  Selina, later Catwoman, is a street kid and thief; Ivy is the young daughter of a man killed by a plot involving both GCPD and the mob.

Gordon’s partner in the series is Harvey Bullock.  In the comics, he’s a slob and a man of very questionable reputation at times.  Here, he’s a corrupt cop.  He’s part of the system, bought and paid for.  He did show a spark of being a good cop when he tried to help Gordon out of a lethal situation, although that didn’t work out well for either of them.

Just like the CW’s Arrow, there are a few little Easter Eggs thrown in for comics fans.  A street address mentioned at one point was on “Grundy.”  Solomon Grundy is a long time DC villain, often clashing with Batman among others.  There’s also a stand up comic auditioning in Fish Mooney ’s club.  Of course, Batman’s best known foe is the Joker.  Is the comic him?  No way of knowing yet, but wondering about things like that are a part of the fun.

This is certainly a grim show, but that’s fitting for Gotham.  It’s always been a dark city.  Watching the writers dodge between elements of Batman’s past is going to be interesting.  Since the show is on Fox, it won’t be connecting to any of the other hero shows on the various other networks this fall.  While making for less promotional opportunities, it also allows for more freedom with the plot.

I thought this was a well done start.  I’m intrigued.  I’ll certainly be watching a few more episodes.  But then, I’m very much a fan of Batman, and DC Comics characters.

Marvel Universe Live!

mulI am coming into this review from two different perspectives, so let me get some background established here.  I’ve been reading comics since the 1980s.  I’ve talked about them, written about them, played superhero-themed games, and watched the shows and the various movies.  I am an unabashed hero-geek.  I’ve never claimed otherwise.

I’ve been working technical theater at a professional level since the late 80′s.  I have seen hundreds of shows, concerts, etc.  “Jaded” might be fair.  I won’t say I’ve seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot.  What’s a special night out for “normal” people is another day/night at work for me.  Live-action adaptions of cartoons/tv shows tend to pretty bad, and dreaded by many stagehands.

So which side wins out for Marvel Universe Live?  I have to admit I was impressed.  Before I get to all the good stuff, I’ll deal with the one negative I noted for the show.  Some of the writing was pretty bad.  Captain America literally spends his off time helping old ladies across the street.  The coolness of one special effect of Thor’s Mjonlir returning to his hand was undercut by his holding it up and yelling, “It’s hammer time!”  This was a bit weak, at the very least.

That to one side, they did some amazing work.  The special effects were great.  The Hulk, part puppet, part stilts, part performer, was massive.  I’m 6’2 and I didn’t come up to his shoulder.  The fight choreography was decent, if a bit brutal by kids’ show standards at times.  The range of the characters was nice.  It was mostly the cast of the Avengers Assemble cartoon (think the Avengers movie with Falcon added), plus Spider-Man, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm.  You could argue that having Storm and Thor in the same show would be redundant, but she and Cyclops spend most of the show as captives.  Hmm.  Just like Cyclops did in X-Men 2.  There’s a pattern forming here.

The plot is fairly simple– it revolves around the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube as seen in the Avengers movie. Loki still wants it, and a lot more villains get dragged in along the way as well.  There is one scene with Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, and Peter Parker as things kick off.  They did a great job making the actors look like their movie counterparts.  The characters, best I can tell, are voiced by the cast of the Avengers Assemble and Ultimate Spider-Man cartoons.

Basically, it’s a fun show.  For hero fans like me, there are a lot of well known characters from comics and movies.  There is action, special effects, and motorcycle stunts to keep the attention of younger viewers.  As I said, some of the fighting might be a bit rough for the very young.  Wolverine makes a lot of use of his claws towards the end of the show.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this show.  It’s arguably a kids’ show, and, as I said, I’m a bit jaded on live performances.  The costumes and special effects were very well done.  It was a nice surprise to see the comic book version of Falcon’s costume (much as I loved Winter Soldier) and Captain Marvel, who hasn’t made it to the movie screen yet.  Even Nick Fury and Maria Hill show up.  The only notable absence from the movies and cartoons is Phil Coulson.

Short version– it’s a highly entertaining performance, aimed at kids, but enjoyable by adults, especially if they are comic book fans.

Batgirl: Futures End

bgfeI really had no intention of buying any of the “Futures End” stories.  One of my objections to the “DCNU” as many call the rebooted DC Universe, is that it’s a very dark, grim, foreboding place.  That has a place, and works wonderfully well for Batman, Dr. Strange, or the Punisher, but as a line-wide trend, it’s not something I like.  When the Futures End promos started coming out, they talked about a darker future for the DC heroes.  Since it was already darker than I wanted, I decided I would pass.

I made the mistake of mentioning that on Twitter.  To my surprise, both Bryan Q. Miller and Gail Simone told me that I should really give the Batgirl issue a try.  Miller wrote the Steph Brown Batgirl, one of my favorite versions of the character, and Simone is in general one of my favorite comic writers.  If both of them were recommending it, I guessed I’d give it a shot.

I’m very glad I did.  Gail Simone managed to sneak a ray of light into the “dark future.”  Several things fans have been complaining about since the reboot happened are addressed in this issue.  We see the return of some beloved characters, and some favorite versions of others who have been in the DCNU.

Avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that there are some wonderful surprises.  Barbara is here, and she’s gathered a team around her.  She suffers a tragic loss as the story starts, and, in those first few pages, I wondered if I’d made a mistake.  But, since I’d already bought it, I pressed on.

Would you believe there’s a League of Batgirls?  I wouldn’t have, but that’s what we get by the end.  Two characters I really enjoyed in the role, plus another who seems to have a lot of potential, are working as field agents for a shadowy figure, a bit like a cross between Charlie’s Angels and Birds of Prey.  We get to see who this Bette Noir is, and how she got that way, and what became of Barbara after she made a really questionable choice in mentors.

As an aside, the “Bette” name may be a tip of the cowl to another character.  Bette Kane was the original Bat-Girl, back in the Golden Age of comics.  She later became the reserve Teen Titan Flamebird, and most recently was revealed to be Kate (Batwoman) Kane’s cousin.  Bette went through some rough times in the Batwoman book before gaining yet another new identity, Hawkfire.

Gail worked some magic here.  I bought the issue reluctantly and I think it was my favorite of that week.  It was great seeing these ladies together again.  I know that Futures End is yet another possible future, the comic equivalent of “Christmas Yet To Come.”  Most of what I’ve seen of Futures End I’d be fine living without.  But I dearly hope we get to see these Batgirls again, all of them.

I loved the issue, and I recommend it to anyone who has ever been a fan of any Batgirl, or even just those who like strong female leads.  It was a welcome surprise by a talented writer. Javier Garron turned in some very fine art, as well.

Oh, and my thanks to Gail and Bryan both for convincing me to get this, and for many years of great Batgirl stories.

Thoughts on the preview of Fox’s “Gotham” show

gothamThis coming fall looks to be a great one for superhero fans.  There are many hero-related shows on several different networks, some returning and some starting.  One of the ones I’m really interested in is Gotham, on Fox.

Now, up front, I’ll say the show puts me in an odd position.  My favorite character in comics is Bat-related, but won’t be in the show.  If Bruce Wayne is just a kid, my hero Dick Grayson (Robin, later Nightwing) is quite possibly not even born yet.  And, since Jim Gordon and his eventual wife Barbara Keen are early in their relationship, we’re also a good ways away from Barbara Gordon, Batgirl.  But I’m still willing to take a look at something, even if my favorite couple won’t be showing up.

All that to one side, prequels can be a mixed bag.  The writers are somewhat limited going in, because we know what happens to many of the characters.  No one important to the Bat-mythos is going to die in a show set before Bruce puts on the cowl.

That to one side, this looks like it could be very interesting.  The murder of the Waynes appears to be a major piece of the show.  Not just the kick off to Bruce’s transformation into Batman, the murder seems to start a lot of dominos falling.  It’s also, in a new twist, witnessed by a very young Selina Kyle, long before she becomes Catwoman.

Gordon, a rookie detective, draws the murder case.  Bringing in some elements of his background from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One story (one of the best Bat stories I’ve read), Gordon is fresh out of the military, and has been away from Gotham for some time.  His love interest is Barbara Keen, one of Gotham’s wealthy.  In the comics, Barbara becomes Gordon’s first wife, and eventually mother to Barbara Gordon, the Batgirl.

Keen’s background is largely unexplored in the comics.  Here, it’s hinted that she’s not exactly squeaky clean.  This comes up in a scene with Rene Montoya, a character from cartoons and comics who eventually becomes the second hero called the Question.  Montoya also has ties to another, as yet unseen or hinted-at character, Kate Kane, the Batwoman.

Two other Gotham cops that appeared in the preview are Harvey Bullock and Crispus Allen.  Bullock has a long run in comics and cartoons.  He’s been a slob, a dirty cop, and even an intelligence agent in various aspects.  This one seems to be a realist, a cop who is bent, but not evil.  Crispus Allen was a more recent character, who, in the comics, was a part of the acclaimed Gotham Central series (as was Montoya).  Allen was murdered and came back as the second mortal host of the Spectre.

A new character debuting here is “Fish” Mooney.  She’s an up-and-coming gangster who appears to employ Oswald (Penguin) Cobblepot.  Since she’s not tied to the mythos, Mooney is a wild card.  They can do anything with her, take her in any direction, even potentially kill her.  She is played by Jada Pinkett Smith.  From the interviews, Smith is relishing the role, and very excited about the show.

They have many other characters, including young Bruce and Alfred, of course.  Those two didn’t get much time in this special.  Selina was shown (almost always crouched which starts looking painful), but not really touched on.  We saw even less of Edward Nygma, known to comics fans as the Riddler.

Getting more attention than any of the characters in the above paragraph were the sets and locations.  They filmed in New York, and then added in pieces to make it look more like Gotham.  Spires, art deco buildings, and gargoyles abound, as they do in most comics.  The sets look great.  There was a lot of detail in the precinct that Gordon and Bullock work in.

I’ll say I’m cautiously optimistic about the show.  I see a lot that can go wrong, but I see a lot of potential.  I still question the decision to scatter DC’s tv rights over many different networks, but I’m hoping the actual shows will be good.

As time allows, I’ll talk about other shows, like Arrow, Flash, Constantine, Agents of SHIELD, and Agent Carter.