Arrow: The Calm



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.

Agents of SHIELD: Uneasy Lies the Head

shieldCaution, there be mild spoilers below.  Read on at your own risk, etc.

“Heavy is the Head,” is the second episode of the current season of Agents of SHIELD.  It picks up right where the cliffhanger from last episode ended, and leaves a few characters in a lot of trouble.  There’s also the issue of the Absorbing Man on the loose, although here they just use his name, Creel.

One thing I found a bit confusing about this episode was the personnel issues.  At the end of last season, SHIELD was pretty much just Coulson’s team.  That was it.  Now I know they’ve been trying to get some help, whoever in SHIELD didn’t go over to Hydra, but it seemed to me like they had a lot more people suddenly in the second episode.  That struck me as a bit odd.  Maybe all the extra agents came with the new base they call the “Playground,” but it isn’t really clear, at least not to me.

Many of the scenes set up what are likely going to be ongoing plots for the season.  Talbot is playing Ahab with SHIELD as his White Whale.  For whatever reason, he is so convinced they are the bad guys that he won’t begin to consider that he might be wrong.

Fitz is still recovering from injuries he suffered last season.  He has some kind of lingering brain damage, and his fight to get his brilliant thoughts out is hard to watch.  Ian de Caestecker is doing a great job with that performance.  He’s still hallucinating his former teammate, Simmons, and she seems to be giving him bad advice.  The hallucination almost seems to have some of her specialized knowledge, which is occasionally making me wonder if this is more than just brain damage.  Then again, last season they did a really bad job of keeping their fields of study separate, so this may be more of that.  At times, they didn’t seem to quite grasp the difference between the biologist and the tech genius.  Fitz later gets some help from Mac, another new character who is working with the reduced SHIELD in their science section.

Coulson is also keeping secrets about his own condition.  Whatever was done to him to bring him back after his death in the Avengers movie is still having repercussions, and he’s doing his best to hide it.  That makes a degree of sense, with Coulson now being the Director of the embattled and on the run agency.  May is in on whatever it is, and his helping him both keep it hidden and figure it out.  Ming-Na Wen’s May is a great bad ass, and one of my favorite parts of the show.

Raina, the Girl in the Flowered Dress, who was an antagonist much of last season, is back again.  She manages to survive an encounter with Creel, and then offer Coulson help locating the villain.  As far as I can tell, she’s still working with the Centipede group from last season, and isn’t Hydra at least.  The end of the episode shows her touching the mysterious Obelisk that Creel stole and she tricked away from him.  It glows and then shows weird symbols, that look a lot like the ones Coulson has been carving in his fits of… whatever it is.

Creel, who I thought might be a season-long problem, is dealt with due to some clever maneuvering.  Hunter, one of the mercenaries introduced this season, also gets a lot of screen time.  He’s not a favorite of mine, but he’s fairly realistic as Coulson and Talbot both try to sway him to their side.

I’ve heard rumors about other characters slated to appear this season, and I’m looking forward to them.  SHIELD on the run is an interesting idea, sort of forced on them by the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  I do very much like that, as they are trying to stay out of custody, they are still carrying on with their mission of helping people.  To me, that’s part of what makes them heroes, not just fugitives.

They manage to steal a jet back from their impounded armory, and that gives them several useful edges.  More firepower is good when you are so hugely out-manned and out-gunned.  The captured ship also lets them perfect a cloak for “the Bus” as they call the big plane they used as a headquarters season one.  A nice nod to fans, the stolen aircraft is called a “quinjet” which is the name in the comics of the special ships the Avengers fly around in.

They have a lot of interesting plot lines to work on this season.  SHIELD as heroes on the run, sort of like a higher-tech, better organized A-Team, lends itself to a lot of drama, as does Talbot’s obsessive hunting of them.  Coulson’s condition is a mystery that will keep the fans talking, and cause worry on his team.  We also don’t know yet what happened to the real Simmons, although that looks to be coming up next episode.  And there’s still the matters of Skye’s origin and Ward, their traitor/prisoner.

I enjoyed the episode, like how things are being handled, and think there’s a lot of potential in this show.  I’m certainly sticking around to see what comes up next.

Gotham: Selena Kyle

selenaThe second episode of Gotham, “Selina Kyle,” focused on street kids being kidnaped by people for the “Dollmaker,” a fairly recent addition to Batman’s rogues gallery in the comics. Apparently his career now reaches back before Batman’s own.

I found this to be an uneven episode, with some great scenes and some really odd choices. I’ll go with what I really liked first.

I think Gordon and Bullock had a fantastic rhythm this episode. They aren’t playing, they really are good cop/bad cop, and it’s being handled very well. There was a particularly brilliant interrogation scene, where Bullock refers to Gordon as “Saint Jim” that I thought was possibly the best scene of the episode.

There’s a scene with Selena being hunted on a school bus (it works in context), that evolves into a sort of deadly hide and seek. Given that Selena here is a kid facing an adult foe, I think it worked really, really well. Selena as Catwoman is a thief first and foremost, at least most of the time, and I think playing up her stealth was a good choice.

Edward Nygma, who goes on to become the Riddler in Batman’s time, is an interesting addition. He is apparently a forensic specialist with the police, which works very well with his fondness for solving puzzles, and later posing them as Riddler. He’s been in a short scene in each of the first two episodes, and I thought both were really nicely done of him. I think Cory Michael Smith is doing a great job playing the character.

I also am enjoying the scenes with Jim Gordon and Barbara Kean, played by Erin Richards. Barbara comes across as supporting Jim, and sharing his moral repugnance at the state of the police, but she’s her own woman. She acts decisively at one point in a way that has a big effect on the episode. We can see where her future daughter, Barbara the Batgirl, gets some of her determination to do the right thing.

Among the many other plots swirling around are the power struggle between Fish Mooney (possibly my favorite character on the show, certainly the most fun to watch on several levels) and Carmine Falcone, Detectives Montoya and Allen (important characters in the comics) looking into the “death” of Oswald Cobblepot, and Cobblepot himself on a murderous spree.

The Cobblepot story is one of the ones that isn’t really working for me. He seems to be working his way back to Gotham City from some great distance after his “death” and plunge into the river. How far away did the current carry him? He’s also a lot more ruthless and vicious than he’s usually portrayed. I guess he mellows with age. At the present, he seems to be camped out in a trailer he’s rented to consider his next move.

The depth of the corruption in Gotham comes up over and over. From a cop that leaves a murder scene to check in with a business that makes payments to him to Gordon and Bullock needing permission to investigate a crime in Fish’s territory, it’s a huge mess. Gordon and the Batman will have their work cut out for them later.

I had not realized until this episode that the captain Gordon and Bullock report to was Sarah Essen. In the comics, Essen is a woman Jim has an affair with, and later becomes his second wife. The character on the show so far doesn’t seem to be the same one at all. The comic book Essen is another good cop bordering on hero, the one on the show is part of the corruption. Yes, there’s lots of time for the character to change, but it seems odd to me.

There were mentions of the infamous Arkham Asylum a few times. Arkham is where Batman’s more colorful foes are sent for treatment. Or possibly more accurately, for rests between their escapes. At the time the show is set, it’s closed, but there is talk of reopening it, and the Waynes were supposedly involved in that.

I find it odd to say this about a show set in Gotham that deals with the Bat-mythos in depth, but there is one change I’d make were I in charge: I’d cut the scenes with Alfred and Bruce Wayne. I’ve heard many people say they are not happy with Sean Pertwee’s portrayal of the famous butler, although I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the actor or the script. Alfred inviting Gordon to come see young Bruce was an odd scene, especially when Alfred said for “tea time.” Because every big city cop in America knows when tea time is?

Bruce is being depicted as more or less mentally ill. Yes, there have been comments about Batman being crazy for a long time, but seeing an eight year old engaging in self-harm and possibly OCD issues is disturbing. Nothing against David Mazouz, I liked him on Touch, but his Bruce just isn’t doing much for me.

In fact, I think the scenes with Bruce and Alfred don’t really add anything to the show. The scenes, to me, feel shoehorned in. Do we need to see Bruce playing “How much can I burn myself” or Alfred being worried about his charge? Are they just trying to tie Bruce and Jim closer?

Overall, I’m enjoying the show. I love Bullock with Gordon, Fish is delightfully evil, and Barbara  Kean and Ed Nygma are good supporting characters. I think this show can work well as a cop drama set against a corrupt city. The Batman elements can be used for flavoring. But, while I’m surprised to find myself thinking it, this Gotham needs less Bruce Wayne and Alfred.

I also say that, for an episode named “Selena Kyle” the title character didn’t get a lot of screen time. I found that odd. But then, I find many choices on the show a bit baffling, as I mention above. I’m sticking with it, but hoping for improvement.

Thor #1

thor1I have been a big fan of Jason Aaron’s run on Thor: God of Thunder. He took a god and gave him a story that was, to use an overused word correctly, epic. I was impressed by the entire run, which doesn’t happen too often. So when I heard it was coming to an end, I was annoyed. When I heard it was ending for what sounded like a publicity stunt, I was even more irritated. A female Thor the same month we get a new Captain America. I had a lot of doubts.

I got it partially out of curiosity and partially out of appreciation of Aaron’s talent. The man is very good at what he does, and has a good grasp on the scale appropriate to the God of Thunder. And then the book got another strike against it right off the bat. The situation that leads to Thor’s replacement spins out of the “Original Sin” crossover, and I’m really done with crossovers. I didn’t get that one, so I didn’t know what happened, and was mildly annoyed.

Something or other has happened, what they don’t reveal precisely. Not only is Thor suddenly not worthy to lift Mjolnir, but it won’t “listen” to Odin either. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. Thor is camped out on the moon, and struggles with the hammer, while the hosts of Asgard look on. It could be comic, but it ends up being tragic, another tribute to Aaron’s writing.

Odin, long missing, recently returned in the Tenth Realm series, also by Aaron. As Thor struggles, Odin and Freyja bicker about who leads Asgard (which they keep calling Asgardia. I don’t know when that change kicked in, but I don’t like it). Another crisis emerges, and Thor and the rest finally leave. Mjonlir is left alone on the moon.

A shadowy figure says “There must always be a Thor,” and then a female hand picks up the hammer and turns into, well, a female Thor. This, of course, leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions, like “Who the heck is this?” and “How’d she get to the moon?”, among others.

I was dreading something silly. I didn’t get that. Jason Aaron is a very skilled writer, and I’m curious. Russell Dauterman, who I am not familiar with, did some gorgeous art on this book. It’s truly beautiful. And I must say, while I usually don’t care and don’t even really notice such things, the new cover logo is very nicely executed.

I find myself buying into the premise for now. I want to know what happened to Thor, and yes, I’m rooting for him to get Mjonlir back. But I’m willing to go along for the ride. I want to know who this woman is. Thor has been “replaced” twice before, and always come back. I’m betting he will this time, too.

I’m glad that, from what we can see, Thor is no less heroic. He apparently will keep fighting, even without his signature weapon. I’d be annoyed a lot if he just faded away. I’m hoping that the prior replacements, Thunderstrike and Beta Ray Bill, at least get mentioned in here somewhere. It’s going to seem really odd if they don’t, since they, too, managed to lift Mjonlir.

All that said, I don’t think it was a flawless tale. I don’t mind a female character with the power of Thor, it can be done well. I DO mind Thor’s name being passed on. It’s a name, not a title. Sam Wilson becoming Captain America is one thing, since he’s around the eighth one. But that’s not the same thing.

I also wasn’t wild about Odin and Freyja bickering like, well, an old married couple. They are one, I know. I get it, and Aaron makes the gods more believably human. But something about that was just wasn’t sitting right with me.

I’m intrigued, and I have faith in Aaron at this point, so I’ll be following this story. When the gods are involved, not even the sky is the limit.

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.