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.

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.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

captainamerica_wintersoldier7_1020

Captain America: The Winter Soldier opened several weeks ago as I write this. I saw it opening weekend. So why am I just writing this now? I just got back from seeing it in the theater again. I can only think of one other movie I’ve seen more than once in the theater in the last decade if not longer, and I’ll get to that later.

Let me sum it up simply: it’s a brilliant movie. I absolutely loved it. It was everything I’d want in a superhero movie. Fantastic action, great characters that are true to the versions I love from the comics, and a great plot. There were also some very enjoyable Easter Eggs for characters that have both appeared before and not yet popped up.

The action: there were great fight scenes and stunt sequences. Some of the best fighters in the Marvel Universe are in this movie, after all, so that makes sense. Captain America, Black Widow, and Bucky/Winter Soldier are all near the top of the food chain as far as hand to hand goes. They also were mercifully restrained in the “unsteady cam” as I call it, that makes it look like the poor camera operator is getting beaten up in the course of the fight.

This Cap was fantastic. He describes himself perfectly at one point, saying, “I always try to do the right thing.” That’s Cap in a nutshell. His speech near the end when he’s rallying the SHIELD agents was the inspiring, noble hero who, with no powers, manages to lead a team that has included gods, demi-gods, androids, and aliens. That’s who I wanted Superman to be in Man of Steel, and he so very much wasn’t.

Black Widow was the spy comfortable in grey areas, but still on the good side. In the comics, she started as a villain, and she has the questionable background here, too. She’s a lot more ruthless than Cap, and they even play off that in one of their interrogation scenes, and I think they do it very well.

Falcon got introduced here, and he was a great addition. He’s the most different from his comic incarnation, but the changes worked. He’s Cap’s partner, and a brave, dedicated hero in his own right. Even in the midst of combat, he was reveling in the joy of flight and the rush of action. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this was the kind of joy that was almost utterly absent from Man of Steel.

Fury, the master spy and planner, finally got to do something aside from walk into a room and look cool. And, as usual, even half-dead, he was several steps ahead of the bad guys. The Winter Soldier was a great adaptation, with minor alterations from his comic version, but these, too, worked.

The plot managed to show Cap as a hero with an unwavering commitment to being a good guy. It could have been corny, it wasn’t. It tied into the modern age of the War on Terror very nicely. Captain America is supposed to be the inspiring, moral center of not only the Avengers, but the Marvel Universe, and that’s who is here.

There mentions of most of the other Avengers, one way or another. Tony Stark/Iron man came up three times, as well as on a target list near the end. Bruce Banner, the Hulk, was mentioned at least twice. Hawkeye was apparently represented in a very indirect way: Widow wears a necklace throughout the movie. If you look close in a few scenes, you can see it’s an arrow. I don’t know what else that could possibly refer to but the Avengers’ archer. They even mention Dr. Stephen Strange, Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, who hasn’t been in any Marvel films so far, but is rumored to be in contention for a solo movie.

Marvel has done a fantastic job on their movies, and this was one of the best. I mentioned one other movie I’d seen twice in the theater? It was Avengers, which is also not only one of the few movies I own, but the only one I’ve bought on the day it came out.

Ok, I don’t think it was perfect, but my picks are minor. The line they showed in almost every trailer, with Steve saying, “All the guys in my barbershop quartet are dead,” doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. He was a scrawny kid, then a war hero. While they apparently expanded his wartime role beyond what we saw in First Avenger, all that time he sounds like he was in action in Europe. When would he have joined a singing group?

My other minor dislike is how much they’ve made him more than human. He’s supposed to be the peak of human perfection, but this version is much more. He knocks people yards with a single punch, jumps and/or falls many stories without injury, and smashes through walls. When Marvel and DC do their occasional cross-overs, there are the inevitable fights. Batman is most often paired up against Captain America. This version would be a lot less better match in that regard.

Winter Soldier is a fantastic movie. I hugely recommend it. I give it a very rare 5 out of 5 stars.

Some thoughts on the DC and Marvel movies of late

While there are a lot of other decent comic book companies out there, the two big ones are still Marvel and DC. Those are the companies with cartoons, who have characters that people who don’t read comics might actually know. I’ve been a DC fan for most of my life; not to the exclusion of Marvel, but more by way of personal preference. This has slowly been shifting with recent events.
DC Comics did a line wide reboot a bit over two years ago now, and I didn’t like almost every change they made. Not only that, they are already contradicting themselves in their “new” world. Marvel did a bit of a reboot, but it was more re-launching titles and reorganizing teams. My preferences are slowly shifting. This is certainly true in their video projects.

For tv shows at present, I’d have to say they are tied. Marvel has Agents of SHIELD on ABC, which is doing fairly well in its timeslot. It’s not perfect, and a lot of folks complain about it, but it’s fun and has some good visuals. They’ve also made it a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the group of movies featuring Avengers characters (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk), even tying in an episode with the release of Thor II in December. DC has Arrow on the CW, a version of Green Arrow. This, too, isn’t perfect, but it’s enjoyable for the most part, and has had a fair amount of guest stars from the DCU on the show, and others mentioned in passing. Both Marvel and DC have more shows in production, but I don’t have any firm dates about when they’ll actually start airing. Both companies have had many cartoons, all of which for both companies seem to be in hiatus as I write this.

Then we get to the movie schedule for 2014. Marvel has Guardians of the Galaxy coming out. “Guardians” features a lot of obscure characters in space. The movie was teased at the end of Thor II, and there’s been a lot of speculation as to what will happen in the film. I admit, I’d be happier if these Guardians has anything at all to do with the comic book team I used to read (I think only one of them made it to the screen), but I’m at least mildly curious, and it holds the momentum of being part of the Avengers/Marvel cinematic universe.

Also from Marvel this year is Captain America II: Winter Soldier. This is Cap’s second feature film in the current franchise, and will show Cap, as well as Nick Fury and Black Widow. Making their theatrical debuts will be the Falcon, long time Avenger and former partner of Cap in the comics, and the Winter Soldier, from a really big (and fairly well done) story a few years ago in the comics.

Before the Avengers juggernaut got going, Marvel had broken up their film rights, so different studios have different movies coming out. Aside from the above two, later this year will be X-Men: Days of Future Past. Ambitiously, this movie will show the younger cast of “X-Men: First Class” and also the modern day characters from the three X-Men movies. Days of Future Past was a great story in the comics many years ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it. While there’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong, I’m hoping they do it well.

Rounding out Marvel’s various releases this year is the second Amazing Spider-Man movie. I had my doubts when they rebooted Spider-Man, especially so soon after the other trilogy of movies which I really enjoyed (well, except the third one. That was just bad). I was pleasantly surprised to see Amazing Spider-Man was fantastic, and I’m eagerly awaiting this new one.

Looking across the hall, DC has… nothing. That’s right, while Marvel’s various interpretations are coming out with four movies, three of which I’m really excited about, DC is managing nothing. Marvel’s movies recently (from Iron Man forward, I’d say) have been great. In roughly the same time period, DC has done Jonah Hex, Green Lantern, and Man of Steel. Jonah Hex was horrible. I’d have said it was hard to screw up a cowboy movie, but they did. It was part steampunk, part supernatural, and almost nothing whatever to do with the character from the comics. Green Lantern was closer to the comics, but had too much going on as well as being miscast in my opinion. The movie was just plain bad. Also, interestingly, while Marvel is tying their movies closer together, DC went the other way in Green Lantern, with at least one line that made it sound like at the very least, GL and Superman were in different universes. That was a puzzling choice. The reactions to Man of Steel varied a lot. Some loved it, some hated it. I’d say it was a decent action movie and a horrible Superman movie. Tellingly, in the credits, the character is billed as Clark Kent/Kal-El. Maybe even they knew this wasn’t Superman as many enjoy the character.

The only DC movie buzz this year is about the forthcoming Superman vs Batman movie. It won’t be this year, and, last I heard, it was going to be delayed. There was also a lot of negative reactions from fans upon hearing that Ben Affleck will play Batman. Affleck was in the Daredevil movie in 2003, and it was really not a good movie. Many are surprised he’s doing another superhero film.

So, my once favorite company is really falling behind. DC had, overall, made more money in movies until the Avengers came out. Avengers set and broke box office records, and the movies associated with it continue to come out and do well. I can understand not wanting to seem as if you are copying your biggest competitor. But the Marvel/Avengers movies are doing well, and it’s working. Does running in the opposite direction make sense?