Iron Man: and Call my Killer … Modok! Marvel Novel series #6

#6: Iron Man: and Call my Killer … Modok! by William Rotsler.

The author is a four-time Hugo Award winner for his art and the author of many Star Trek novels as well as the author of the novelizations of the movies Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Futureworld. He died in 1997.

By now the cover artist signs his work: Bob Larkin, cover artist for many Marvel magazines.

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

Released May 1, 1979; the book is 189 pages long, although the story begins at page 9.

Gratman: Evanier Electronics is mentioned as a business. Mark Evanier? He had no connection to Iron Man and at the time of this paperback, he worked mainly with DC Comics. However, the next book, #7’s Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts: Nightmare is dedicated to him, so it is likely.

***

AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics, a science-based terrorist group) attacks Tony Stark during a college lecture. Stark, as Iron Man, fights them off successfully but still sustains some harm to his already-damaged heart. Cue origin recap.

One of the sergeants in charge of the failed kidnapping faced AIM’s mysterious leader (we comic book fans – and those who remember the title of the book – have a pretty solid idea who the leader is). The kidnapping having failed, the leader thinks up another cunning plan – he shall create an army of Iron Man suits!

He activates two of his sleeper agents in Stark International to create a diversion to successfully steal the Iron Man armor blueprints.

Modok tries to sell the blueprints to the highest bidder, but Stark outmaneuvers Modok by auctioning off the Iron Man suit directly. At auction, it is bought by an Arabic businessman. Modok kidnaps the businessman and his suit.

Surprise! The suit is really Iron Man himself! He is defeated by Modok and unmasked as Tony Stark.  Stark is then forced to create a new Iron Man suit for Modok’s #1 henchman.

Meanwhile, Happy and Nick Fury & Shield find Modok’s hiding place and attack. Iron Man and the henchman in the new suit duke it out. Ol’ Shellhead then sets his sights squarely on Modok!

***

The author does an excellent job of juggling the superhero action and the “civilian” moments of Tony Stark, Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts and employees of Stark International – we even read moments with the AIM sleepers and soldiers. It makes the novel more … grown up.

It would have made a nice juxtaposition to show Stark creating the original Iron Man suit in Viet Nam with the new suit he was creating for Modok. It would have put the origin flashback near the end of the book, which may have been a drawback being too close to the big finish.

Speaking of that, twenty pages is spent recapping Iron Man’s origins in the jungles of Viet Nam. It is excellently done! The author tells us how Tony met and hired Happy Hogan in a later 15-page flashback. Modok’s origin takes about five pages. More than 20% of the novel is flashback.

Interestingly, I tried to listen to Tony Stark/Iron Man speak in Robert Downey Jr’s voice but could not. Despite his (deservedly) owning the role in the recent spate of movies, and being able to hear his voice in the recent comic books and animated TV shows (where such an imitation is likely done intentionally), I can’t hear Downey speak these lines. Only when he is Modok’s captive and Stark’s dialogue is more smart-alecky and defiant does the current version of Iron Man seep through.

And the author does a wonderful job, despite the sometimes comic-booky dialogue. It does not happen often, but when it does, it is jarring; especially considering how wonderfully the rest of the dialogue is written.

Examples: “Iron Man swears it!” and (I am not kidding you) “I, Modok, knew at once how he hoped to trick me. Me, Modok, he tried to trick!”

Yoda-speak this reads like does…

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

 

Incredible Hulk: Cry of the Beast! Marvel Novel Series #3

The Incredible Hulk: Cry of the Beast by Richard S Meyers. Released March 1, 1979, the first of the Pocket Book Marvel Novel series with a number: 3.

The author is a writer of fiction and non-fiction (including a story for Detective Comics’ 60th anniversary). He has also written for television programs from the New Twilight zone to Columbo to Murder She Wrote. He has written for Playboy, TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. He was inducted into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

The book is 191 pages long, although the story starts on page 11); there is no introduction.

 

While wandering the streets of New York City, Bruce Banner witnesses a mugging. No, not a mugging, a kidnapping. Foremost radiation specialist Dr. Maxwell Wittenborn was being kidnapped. This was the man Bruce came to New York to see!

Bruce tries to stop the mugging/kidnapping and is assaulted by the thugs. All Hulk breaks loose.

The person in charge of the kidnapping, who we later learn is named the General, gives the Hulk his card.  The next morning, Bruce finds the card and goes to the address.

It was a trap! Bruce and Dr. Wittenborn’s two adult children, Tony and Roseanne, are themselves kidnapped and taken to the General’s headquarters in Africa.

After a long sea voyage, Banner and Roseanne escape into the jungle where they fight off pygmy natives, African beasts and the General’s soldiers.

Finally captured by the General, Roseanne is kept prisoner as an … incentive for her father to keep working. Bruce is kept with other prisoners and made a guinea pig for the General’s gamma radiation experiments which, if they work, will help him destroy America!

 

The Incredible Hulk television show was going great guns by the time this paperback was published. Hence two novels in as many years (as well as a “video novel” – scenes from the TV show with word balloons – and a paperback of older Hulk comics).

This novel leans more to the television show than the comic book (compared to the previous comic-book leaning “Stalker from the Stars”). None of the comic book regulars are present – Betty Ross or her father, Rick Jones, etc.  Banner (still called Bruce here, but David on television) was a wanderer and become involved in a crime, albeit a larger one than usually explored in the TV show.

The CBS series never dealt much with world conquerors. But even so this novel deals more with the characters than the action – Bruce’s relationship with Roseanne, the Hulk’s relationship with Roseanne, even the parallel story of the agent assigned to infiltrate the General’s operation.

Probably because of this, we get no origin recap – this is because the way Bruce Banner became the Hulk on the television show is different from the comic book version. The writer did not want to alienate either audience and stuck to vague statements by Banner regarding “bringing out my inner demon”-sort of thing.

When released, this was the kind of novel that would attract readers who were NOT necessarily into comic books. Kind of like the audience of the television show…

A good beginning for a third book in a series!

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Mayhem in Manhattan. Pocket novel, 1978

The Amazing Spider-Man: Mayhem in Manhattan by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. #1 of the Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books Marvel Novel series. Released March 1, 1978.

The writers are well-known to Bronze Age comic book fans. Both had a history of writing and editing the Wall-Crawler by this time.

Len Wein is also known as co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans.

No mention as to who does the interior art (shots of Spidey at the beginning of each chapter). The internet says the cover is by Bob Larkin.

The book is 176 pages long, although the story begins at page 11.

Before that we have a three-page introduction by Stan Lee. Here he is in the full hipster-huckster mode that endeared some fans and irritated others.  In Spider-Man’s case there is not much he can do to overhype THIS co-creation.  I wish Stan would sit down before he leaves us and give us a straight memoir.  Imagine the stories and comics history he can recount without all the PT Barnum-isms. Until then … he’s that favorite uncle who visits on Christmas Eve loaded with presents and then bolts when he hears a police siren.

 

Allen Huddleston was the accountant for a small-time gangster. He worked his way to the top of the organization. His company merged with a legitimate oil company and his career and fortune soared. Then one day, a man made him an offer he had to refuse.

Because of his refusal, this individual – showing signs of superhuman powers, threw Huddleston from his 50-story apartment. The identity of this new boss is easy to deduct to we older readers/Spidey fans (from the villain’s first appearance on page 14).

Spidey finds Huddleston’s body and is (typically) blamed for the murder.

Meanwhile, there is a meeting of the presidents of the 8 largest oil companies in the US. This same bad guy, hidden by a screen, told the eight that they must buy oil from him during the next year. Their oil has been irradiated and rendered useless. By the time the oil can be cleaned up, the year will have passed. This individual – known through the novel as the Master Planner until his real identity is revealed – is set to make millions.

While Spidey investigates the death of Huddleston he finds a taped telephone conversation with Huddleston and the Master Planner. Spider-Man finds that the murder is connected to a manipulation of the eight US oil companies. This leads to some of the Master Planner’s moles in the other oil companies. The Master Planner sets a trap for Spider-Man. There, the Master Planner reveals his real identity.

As the novel progresses, we meet regulars Mary Jane Parker, Glory Grant, Joe Robertson and good old J Jonah Jameson. At first Triple-J is pleasant to others and happy that Spider-Man is accused of murder. As the facts become clearer, he is back to his usual two-dimensional self – brusque, short-tempered and kvetching. But then the authors do something unusual – they give JJJ a personality.  He and Robbie investigate the mystery of the eight US oil company executives meeting in secret. We are reminded that he was once one of the best investigative reporters in the country and are shown why. At the end he confesses to Robertson why he REALLY dislikes Spidey – what about the REAL heroes who work to better mankind every day. “Who do you think is under that mask?” Robbie says. “A man, just like you.”

In the story’s midst we read a two-page origin recap. Quick and simple. Modern movie-makers could learn a lot from this.

Gratmen:  the novel mentions the Ditko Lighting Corporation – an honorara to Spider-Man’s co-creator Steve Ditko.

 

A very fun read. The mystery of whodunnit isn’t that mysterious and the investigation by both Spider-Man and the Jameson-Robertson team is not that complicated. But this isn’t James Joyce. It’s a novel of a superhero aimed at young adults. That isn’t to say it is written simplistically or Wein and Wolfman write down to their audience. But clues are given out easily and freely. The tape Spidey finds tells him who his next contacts are and those contacts leads him into a trap he barely escapes.

His detective work finding the Master Planner’s ultimate hide-out was done well. Spider-Man does some real investigation to find it, but it only takes a page or two.

Likewise, Robertson finds his lead by bribing an underworld contact. Their investigation eventually merges with Spider-Man’s in the final confrontation.

A fun murder mystery cloaked in a superhero mask. A good pulpy beginning to the Marvel Novel series!

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

 

Paul McCartney the Life, a review, part two

Paul McCartney, the Life

By Phillip Norman

A review, part two

Read part one here

 

Some time is spent on Paul (and the other Beatles’) reaction to John Lennon’s murder. Paul’s reaction (“it’s a drag”) has haunted Paul to this day, but Norman goes into detail explaining why Paul said it. He was obviously shell-shocked and it was the only way NOT to lower the careful shield with which Paul surrounds himself.

At this point the book spends less time reviewing his albums and their tracks – focusing on only a few select tracks that have more meaning to Paul’s life at the time (“Get It” was called a weak track for what would be a starring vehicle for Carl Perkins; “Little Willow” written for Ringo’s children after the death of their mother.

Finally, a complaint about the book: pages were spent on the album Off the Ground while the superior prior album Flowers in the Dirt was only given a brief mention and then only connected to his return to touring. There was no analysis of Paul’s writing with Elvis Costello (only his third credited writing partner after Linda and you-know-who). The album contained the song “Put It There” with the lyric “Put it there if it weighs a ton…” one of his father’s favorite phrases repeated throughout the first half of the book. I find that omission strange.

The last quarter of the book focuses on Paul’s interest in the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts and his entry into the classical music oeuvre (a word used, if not frequently, then more than usual in a biography).

The Beatles Anthology, his later albums, his on-and-off relations with George Harrison and Yoko Ono, and Linda’s cookbook and line of commercial vegetarian dishes were also given their due.

Paul’s (and Linda’s) vegetarianism were detailed many times through the book.

 

The last quarter also focuses on death; on the end of things.

The chapters on Linda’s fight with cancer were moving. Her concern over her children was similar to that of Paul’s mother for him and his brother. The author made a point of showing that echo. Paul’s statement on her last moments brings tears.

Paul’s childhood friend, Ivan Vaughn (who shared a birthday with Paul) was almost more so. The author reprints a poem Paul wrote that also brings a tear.

And then George Harrison died.

Odd that Paul’s father’s death in the mid-1970s did not bring on such emotion from Paul or the author. So much of Jim McCartney’s life filled the book – his remarriage, his adopted step-daughter (who provided a lot of commentary through the book), the racehorse Paul bought for him, his various homes, etc. This may be intentional and not an implication of coldness on Paul’s part.

His marriage and divorce from Heather Mills is treated fairly – the author quotes directly from the court documents. Being a book on Paul – and by now the reader can tell where the author’s sympathies lie – Heather comes out of these Chapters as the villain of the story. Here we see a more “tell-all” style than anywhere else in the book by the author including Mills’ quotes about Paul and his children and their retorts.

Paul’s flings and affairs are spoken of frequently during the Beatle years. But after marrying Linda, though, there is no infidelity! None. Not even Heather Mills accuses him of fooling around with other women. For Paul to so strongly adhere to his marriage vows is very much in his character.

Here we read about Macca – the nickname the author uses to describe Paul in his darker moments: his few bouts with public intoxication, his row with a photographer and a fan, his firing employees that were with him for over a decade.

The book ends with Paul’s happier third marriage to Nancy Shevell, a friend of his and Linda’s for many years.

 

In the last chapters Norman gushes over Paul’s children. The reader is unsure if the concern for Heather and James is Paul’s or the author’s. Regardless, we are relieved to learn of their success.

By the way, James’ album Me is good stuff!

Likewise, the readers are also left unsure if the proud boasting of Mary’s and, especially, Stella’s successful careers outside of their famous parents’ shadows are Paul’s or the author’s. (Heather and James also have successful careers, but the author intimates their success came with more struggles).

That’s what good writing does.

Beatrice is not ignored, but is barely mentioned, but that is because she (and the grandchildren) is not yet an adult and is none of our business.

 

The book shows us Paul’s generosity as a lovable public figure and his coldness as a businessman.  He becomes the most irate when something opens a crack in his carefully and sternly-controlled public image or when his equally-protected family privacy is revealed even slightly (the very public divorce with Heather Mills certainly revealed cracks he would rather we not see).

 

An excellent book. After the introduction, I feared the book would be a simple recitation of Paul’s deeds and accomplishments.

Although not a reference book, it DOES list in detail the events in Paul’s life with an eye to the man who lost his mother at 14 while striving to find and maintain his lost family while living in the glass bubble of Beatlemania and its subsequent fame, from the the Ashers to the Eastmans.

 

I listened to the audio CD performed by Johnathan Keeble. It was an excellent series of CDs. The narrator performed the voices instead of doing a strict read-through, but it enhanced the story rather than distracted (as such performances can do). His imitation of Paul was quite good (the other Beatles not so much). Keeble does a wonderful northern/scouse accent. As is usual with narrators that perform a book rather than just READ it, his female impersonations can be distracting with two exceptions. His near-whisper of speaking as Linda captured her shyness and likeability. His Heather Mills was crass and pointed.

 

Paul McCartney the Life is a long read but worth it. Put it on your shelf with the best of the Beatle-related books. It’s a keeper. One hopes that when … the end … finally comes Norman will be around to give a final update.

Many years from now.

***

Paul McCartney the Life by Philip Norman, 978016327961, 818 pages by Little, Brown & Company, published May 3, 2016.

 

Original material copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Michael Curry is a life-long Beatles fan and has written the short story “The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles”, available here on Amazon Kindle.

 

 

Paul McCartney the life, a review (part one)

Paul McCartney, the Life

By Phillip Norman

A review, part one

The author’s name should be familiar to hardcore Beatle fans or Beatle historians.

He is the author of Shout, still a definitive biography of the group. It went to press shortly before John Lennon’s murder in 1980 and was published soon thereafter. The book was a smash hit – it would have sold well despite the timing of its release; it was a good book – and was timely bolstered by the author’s seeming assertion that the group was John Lennon plus three session men. McCartney bristled.

The Lennon lovefest continued with the author’s John Lennon, the Life; again relegating McCartney to that of a lucky hanger-on.

When the author was hired to write Paul McCartney, the Life, the author expected no cooperation from the Macca machine. But to his surprise, he received, if not Paul’s blessing, at least an affirmative nod. The author was given permission to speak to family, current and former employees and fellow musicians.

(Note I left out the word “friends”. Although the author neither says not intimates the fact, after reading the book it seems Paul has no friends other than his very tight-knit family spanning four generations. There’s nothing wrong with keeping yourself to yourself, but it is telling to his personality that there is no Eric Clapton to his George Harrison or no Harry Nilsson to his John Lennon. He had Linda, his kids, his brother, and his dad, aunts, uncles and Ringo – who counts as a brother. That’s all he needs.)

Anyone who called Paul (or his office) to verify Norman’s claim was told, “It’s up to you, but Paul doesn’t mind if you speak to him.”

There are only archival (by that I mean previously published) interviews with Paul, his children, his wives and Ringo. Otherwise the author interviewed nearly everyone else!

Norman explains this in the long introduction; along with his first meeting with Paul when he (Norman) was a reporter in the 1960s. He got to hold Paul’s Hoffner violin bass (Paul tossed it to him – the author describes his mortal fear of dropping it). The author admitted his bias toward Lennon and promised to write a fair book on Paul.

He succeeds.

Paul does not have many demons (unlike Lennon), but he does have his warts. These are shown in the book, but not in a tabloid way. They are explained and in the end the reader is left feeling sympathetic.

 

Paul comes off as a workaholic musician who autocratically keeps a tight rein on his music and image. The only other part of his life that matters is family – where he is a doting husband, father, grandfather, son, brother and nephew.

Paul McCartney the Life is as thick as a cinder block and could stop a bullet. Very little of Paul’s life is left out. Being able to surprise hard-core Beatles fans is a good trick in these later years – but you’ll find SOMETHING you did not know within its covers.

Norman explains how Paul’s love of family was rooted from the beginning with his kind father and mother. His mother’s death was a touching early moment and referred to throughout the rest of the book/the rest of Paul’s life. It weighed on his soul as much as the death of Julia Lennon did to John’s, but not as publicly.

The author also details whence Paul’s love of music came. Not just rock and roll, but varying genres thanks to his father, Jim, who played in his own jazz band.

 

The Beatle years were given their respectful due and comprised the second quarter of the book. The only tabloid-y part of the book came from Paul’s love affairs during the years before Linda.

Much is made of Paul’s non-Beatle interests during the 1960s and emphasizes that he was the first to experiment with things usually attributed to John: Paul was the first to tinker with avant-garde music and film, collect art (he drew and painted, too). He was interested in the latest fashion trends and was the first of the Fabs to grow a moustache (but, always being image-conscious, until the Beatles were finished he NEVER had his hair in anything but variations of the Beatle-cut).

The author describes Paul’s lawsuit to break up the corporate stranglehold of the Business Beatles in grisly detail as well as his public feud with Lennon. The author postulates that if Paul’s kind song “Dear Friend” had appeared on the album “Ram” rather than “Wild Life” it would have saved both sides a lot of hard feelings. I agree.

He began the 1970s with songs and albums that gave the people what they wanted – Beatle-like pop. After a few mis-starts, he formed Wings, a group that were what he wanted the Beatles to become – a performing band.

Here the author begins going into material that most Beatle biographies only gloss over – the story of Wings. He details their gigs. Band members get brief biographies. The making and charting of albums and singles are detailed and reviewed.

He also details the rapprochement with his “estranged fiancé” John.

Paul’s time in a Japanese jail for possession of marijuana is detailed (Norman should be complimented for writing of Paul’s copious history with the weed. His – and Linda and other – drug use is detailed but told in complete neutrality and with no judgment).

The Japan arrest marked the end of Wings (the other band members were forced to leave the country and Paul, at the time, saw that as a betrayal), the end of touring for many years, the end of arena-rocker Paul of the 1970s. Later that year came another ending.

 

My review continues next time.

 

Paul McCartney the Life by Philip Norman, 978016327961, 818 pages by Little, Brown & Company, published May 3, 2016.

 

Original material copyright 2016 Michael Curry

Michael Curry is the author of the short story “The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles” available here on Amazon Kindle.

What Might Have Been: the CW’s Constantine

A DC-TV Primer: the CW Network’s superhero lineup

? … Maybe someday … Constantine

 

From Wikipedia (as I said before, if they are going to do the work FOR me …):

CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON the ONLY (so far)

John Constantine, a demon hunter and dabbling master of the occult, must struggle with his past sins while protecting the innocent from the converging supernatural threats that constantly break through to our world due to the “Rising Darkness”. Balancing his actions upon the line of good and evil, Constantine uses his skills and a supernatural scry map to journey across the nation to send these terrors back to their own world, all for the hope of redeeming his soul from eternal torment.

***

            Rumors of Constantine becoming the fifth DC-CW show were just that – and became wishful thinking among fans of the show.

Like me.

Only the most zombie-like of Marvel zombies will refuse to admit that DC’s horror comics were better than Marvel’s horror comics; even well into the 1990s when Constantine the comic book was in full vigor. (“What about DC’s Wasteland?” “Shut up.”)

Even in their super-hero line, horror would rear its misshapen head with characters like the Phantom Stranger, the Spectre and Dr. Fate – two of those three had fun Easter egg references in Constantine’s run. The show even had the Justice League’s baddie Felix Faust in an episode!

Constantine would have been a repository of all things supernatural in CW’s superhero universe.

Too bad the show was doomed from the start.

 

It had the usual Berlanti Production touches: the main character had a team of followers behind him helping with that episode’s problems. Oh sure after the pilot episode they dumped his first female companion for another without a word, but that happens with pilots. I guess.

Chas was to John Constantine what Diggle is to Arrow – muscle when needed. Like Diggle, he is knowledgeable about the goings-on of the show. He has helped Constantine in the time before the show and does not need an explanation about what kind of baddie he is fighting. He has his own arcane powers that are revealed slowly during the show. Charles Halford plays him wonderfully.

The audience conduit is played by Angelica Celaya as Zed. John and Chas explain that week’s Big Bad to us through her. Her arcane powers of divination help with necessary shortcuts in the show (otherwise how would Constantine know about evil doings in New Orleans?). She is also a great actress playing a great character.

I liked the underused Harold Perrineau as Manny – an angel ally of Constantine but still a pain in the main character’s backside. Although he seemed to be on Constantine’s side, he also seemed to have a different agenda. Constantine didn’t trust him. I didn’t either… He would have played a larger role in the series had it continued (as the final aired episode clearly showed).

 

There was a Big Bad who was (presumably) going to duke it out with our hero in the season finale. Unlike the other Berlanti shows, we never knew who the Big Bad was until late into the season. In fact, the main villain was revealed in the last broadcast show – ending in a bit of a cliff-hanger. It is likely we will never see it resolved.

And mcguffins abounded in the show – there was always a talisman or other thingumabob that Constantine and his crew discovered that would defeat the bad guy (be it human or demon) after the initial failed confrontation. But here it worked. Using a magical devise to defeat the Big Bad makes sense in this supernatural setting…

Perhaps the horror element made us forget this by-now over-used CW super-hero plot device.

 

The original character was based on the musician Sting, but actor Matt Ryan made the character his own. He played Constantine with an exhausted charm. You want to have a drink with him – then run away as fast as you can!

He seemed tired and confused (that is, drunk) most of the time. With his trench coat, he was something of a horror-themed Columbo with a northern British accent. But like Columbo, he always knew what he was facing and (sometimes) knew what he was doing. True, at times it didn’t work …

And intended or not, the thought of Kolchak always bubbled below the surface…

 

One highlight episode was “The Devil’s Vinyl” featuring a satanic LP. The show introduces sometimes ally/sometimes villain Papa Midnite.

 

Perhaps the character will pop up again in the other DC-CW shows as he did in his wonderful appearance in a fourth-season Arrow episode, when Flash, Supergirl or Arrow (again) needs some supernatural help.

constantine_2

I would hate to see them waste an excellent character played by an excellent actor.

All of the episodes are available on CW-Seed. Find them and watch them.

And Happy Halloween!

download

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).

 

DC Legends of Tomorrow, a primer

A DC-TV Primer: the CW Network’s superhero lineup

Thursday: Legends of Tomorrow

From Wikipedia (as I said before, if they are going to do the work FOR me …):

CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE

After the murder of his family by immortal dictator Vandal Savage, time master Rip Hunter travels back in time to the present day where he brings together a team of heroes and villains (Atom, White Canary, Firestorm, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Captain Cold, and Heat Wave) in an attempt to prevent Savage from destroying the world. However, they are opposed by the Time Masters, an organization from the future dedicated to protect and manipulate the timeline as they see fit and a body to which Hunter had sworn allegiance. During their early adventures, they are hunted by the Time Master’s agent Chronos.

***

            Lordie do people dislike this show. Go to IMDB and read some of the reviews.

Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s not THAT bad.

Isn’t it?

I liked the show! I look forward to watching it and am happy when I see it on my Tivo every Friday morning.

But after writing this review I realized there were parts – big parts – that I didn’t like.

In the end I decided the show was a mixed bag.

 

The premise itself is part of the problem: it’s the Gilligan’s Island syndrome. Once they defeat Vandal Savage, the show is over! SPOILER: The last episode proves this out. The gang breaks up and only some of them come back!

 

The show is not as dark as Arrow (despite its premise) and has light moments that rival Flash. The time-travelling premise should be liberating, but instead it seems limiting.

We KNOW they won’t finally confront Savage until the season finale, so the battles with him are incidental from the very beginning.

 

The show provides us with Easter eggs harkening to their DC comics’ roots…

Jonah Hex’s appearance was a highlight.

Finding Per Degaton as a youth made for some interesting moral debates: would you kill Hitler-as-a-child if you could?

Characters from other DC-CW shows pop up; notably Quentin Lance. We spy alternate futures including Diggle’s son taking up the Green Arrow mantel. They are careful in the future – not wanting to spoil anything. But they are also careful in the past when they did not have to be.

Professor Stein, Captain Cold and even Rip Hunter meeting their younger selves provided some good moments, but even I was confused when they snatched some team members as newborns. That plot-thread was quickly forgotten and wrapped up on the next show before the opening credits.

I found the multi-part arc in the 1950s especially disappointing. Racial hatred was only just touched upon. Maybe it was because the story was in Washington state. Jax’s flirtation and dating a white girl created some trouble with goons, but it was no worse than were he beat up by a jealous boyfriend rather than bigots.

Meanwhile, Ray Palmer and Kendra Saunders play a mixed race couple who move into the neighborhood with only the slightest double-takes from the neighbors. Maybe Washingtonians were more progressive in the late 1950s than I thought.

They should have taken a chance and placed the story arc in Old Miss. But I don’t think CW wanted to do that.

 

One complaint that I had about the show from the beginning was the dialogue. Sometimes the characters quipped without having anything to say. Did the actors have to have an equal number of lines? Did the writers once in a while say, “Mick hasn’t spoken for a while…”

I noticed one scene where the camera panned left to right. As the camera passed, each character had a line. People don’t speak in the order in which they are standing.

 

***

            So what DID I like about it?

The characters!

Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell stole every scene as Captain Cold and Heat Wave (although they were mostly called by their civilian names Leonard Snark and Mick Rory). The duo was my favorite part of the show, despite my initial fear that they would be its weakest link (villains? They couldn’t come up with two other heroes?)! The occasional “I like this guy,” from Rory always made me giggle.

Best line of the show was Rory’s: “I need you to burn something.” “About time…”

Snark’s slow turn from bad guy to almost-good guy was the best part of the show. “Why do you care about any of them?” Rory would ask. “I don’t, but they’re on my team, and you watch out for your team.”

Nice.

So was Rory’s very very slowly developing friendship with Ray Palmer.

Speaking of him, Brandon Routh still channels his inner Christopher Reeve. He was excellent as Superman and very good as the Atom. I just don’t think he is given much to work with here. His eccentricity in Arrow became flightiness here.

His romance with Kendra Saunders was not very convincing. Plus the constant reminder that she is meant only for Carter Hall wears thin.

Saunders meeting her previous incarnation in the Old West was a fun few minutes, though.

Both characters were more interesting and better done in Flash and Arrow.

Poor Sarah Lance (the White Canary), despite being played excellently by Caity Lotz, seems bored. The few times the show focuses on her are excellent: her falling for a nurse in the 1950s and rebuffing Snart’s hesitant advances. Maybe the writers weren’t sure what to do with her and her powers. She kicks butt, true, but what can she do against a robot as tall as a skyscraper? Hopefully she will be back on Arrow soon providing some grist for that mill should Legends fail to keep up good ratings.

I like Victor Garber as Professor Martin Stein; always pontificating and irritating his team while providing the viewer exposition. He talks down to the team to provide exposition for the viewer. His “partner” is Franz Dramah as Jax. Their friendship was only explored occasionally and we need more of it.

Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter was also wonderful. His Ahab-like need for vengeance wore pretty thin, though. Savage killed his wife and son! Yes, we know, we were told in the opening credits and two or three times every show – even shows that don’t really feature Savage.

I wish Casper Crump were given more to do as Vandal Savage than preen and smirk. His final battles in the season finale were very good, though.

***

            The show was an exemplary example of Berlanti Productions #1 rule of a Big Bad who fights the heroes throughout the season culminating in the season finale.

But fortunately the nature of the show made it nearly impossible for Rule #2: bad guy (or gal) appears, heroes fight him or her and gets whipped. Team finds flaw and makes a macguffin to defeat bad guy. Arrow does it, Flash does it, even Supergirl. Legends? Not so much.

***

            It’s not a perfect show, but it is fun to watch, and that’s the whole point isn’t it?

***

So what’s next for our legends? It looks from the previews that the show is entering into Doctor Who territory – going to different times and meeting the famous and infamous.

They will be repairing the timeline.

They will also be meeting more heroes (and villains) from the DC roster: Vixen will join as will Steel. They meet the Justice Society of America.

And fight the Legion of Doom! Malcolm Merlin, Damien Darhk, Captain Cold (what!?) and the Reverse Flash gather together to try to defeat our heroes.

I’ll be there. Will you?

 

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).

 

A review of the CW’s Arrow (part two)

A DC-TV Primer: the CW Network’s superhero lineup

Wednesday: Arrow

Part Two

Read Part One here

Arrow the television show and Arrow the character are the Batman of their CW Universe: the flagship, the one the other shows and characters look to for inspiration, guidance and training (willingly and unwillingly for both parties).

Hell of a thing to say for a big Superman fan like me, eh? Like it or not, up until 25 or so years ago I would have said that Superman was the iconic flagship, and would have been correct; but the apparent dislike of the Man of Steel by the editors and writers at DC since have lowered his esteem – at one point making him as laughable as Captain Marvel and the Martian Manhunter were. But that is a whole other blog rant.

When Flash faced his Big Bad Season-Ending supervillain on his own show, the Big Bad taunted him for coming alone. “Who said I was alone?” Flash said. Arrow jumped from the background to stand beside his friend and protégé.

Chills. This is going to be a cool fight! (It didn’t disappoint!)

 

Arrow/Green Arrow was the perfect DC hero for a television drama: a little-known character (but popular in the comic book world) with a simple origin and not a lot of background to burden a program developer.

Millionaire playboy trapped on an island where he learned to shoot arrows. In the early 1970s the character loses his fortune and becomes a social, as well as a crime, crusader.

Quite likely because of the movie franchise, the Batman character was unavailable. In retrospect, it was a good move to go with Green Arrow. Giving Batman the Berlanti treatment would have been fun to watch, but it would not have worked as well.

Let’s face it; Batman’s origins and character are too firmly entrenched. The show would be too burdened by its past (although Gotham – now in its third season – does a great job in re-imagining that past; and is very good in its way, that take on the Caped Crusader would NOT fit in with the DC-CW stable).

 

Being in its fifth season, Arrow shows cracks that are not yet visible in Flash, let alone the sophomore Supergirl or Legends. The cracks are particularly apparent while binge-watching.

The formula (which can quickly become formulaic) for the DC-CW shows started in Arrow:

  1. The uber-baddie that lurks throughout the season culminating in a season-finale final battle. Granted the show does it well: it’s not one long storyline with zero progression {kaff-last-season’s-Agents-of-Shield-kaff}. Other villains show up during the season – some you think MIGHT be the season-finale uber-villain. A viewer can go several weeks without hearing the Big Bad mentioned. This is good.

The show sometimes even makes fun of this: at one point at the Season Three finale, Quentin Lance said (I paraphrase), “a super-villain is threatening to destroy all of Star City? It must be May!” In my opinion that line should proudly stand alongside “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly” and “I saw it in the window and I couldn’t resist it” in TV history.

  1. The mcguffin syndrome that occasionally plagues Flash began with Arrow: bad guy shows himself. Arrow fights bad guy and gets whipped. Arrow’s team finds a flaw and creates a special Arrow to beat bad guy. In between we have scenes advancing the various sub-plots.
  2. The sub-plots: Characters die. They come back. Characters hate Arrow for various reasons (most often of the “I can never trust you again” type) but also come back into “Team Arrow”. (I cringe when I hear or read that term). Quentin Lance seems to hate Arrow in odd-numbered seasons and be his ally in even-numbered seasons.

 

That being said, I LOVE the show! It’s full of comic book Easter eggs (although not as much as Flash) to keep this old viewer happy.

Although even that is not without its faults. Introducing characters like Roy Harper and calling Arrow’s sister by her nickname Speedy pretty much give away their inevitable roles in the show. Their introduction and use of Black Canary was a nice surprise twist, though.

 

By not being tied to a popular back story ala Superman, Batman or Spider-Man, the creators of Arrow can introduce “new” characters: we meet his mother, his father, his sister (I love Willa Holland as Thea Queen – the character grows from self-centered rich girl to a very three-dimensional woman!), Diggle and of course Felicity.

Dave Ramsey as Diggle provides the muscle and back-up when needed and is a great character.

And of course how could I not love she-geek Felicity Smoak played by Emily Bett Rickards?

 

The villains are a mixed breed of one or two-shot baddies to the Big Bad that is finally fought in the season finale. The Big Bads are drawn from DC comics. When John Barrowman was introduced as Malcolm Merlin, we old-time readers knew he was up to no good. Same with Slade Wilson, Brother Blood and Damien Darhk (played by Neal McDonough, who also played Dum Dum in Captain America: The First Avenger movie).

The most surprising Big Bad was Batman villain Ra’s Al Ghul, confirming Arrow’s status as this world’s Batman. Excellently played by Matt Nable; he steals every scene.

For the new season the Big Bad is modern-era villain Prometheus. In the comics he fought the Justice League to a standstill and mutilated Red Arrow/Arsenal.

Uh-oh … once again being a comic book reader may have spoiled part of a future storyline…

 

I’m saving Stephen Arnell for last. The actor who plays Arrow excels at the role even five seasons in – he is serious, but not too Batman-like (read sociopathic) level. Sometimes he even smiles.

 

Oh and by the way, Arrow had Amanda Waller & the Suicide Squad before it was cool. Find those episodes.

 

We likely only have another two or three seasons of Arrow left. Enjoy them.

 

 

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).

 

 

 

Arrow: a primer for the CW TV show! (part one)

A DC-TV Primer: the CW Network’s superhero lineup

Wednesday: Arrow

Part One

From Wikipedia (as I said before, if they are going to do the work FOR me …):

CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASONS ONE through FOUR

The series follows Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), billionaire playboy of Starling City, who spends five years shipwrecked on the mysterious island of Lian Yu.

SEASON ONE: Upon his return to Starling City, he is reunited with his mother, Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson), his sister, Thea Queen (Willa Holland), and his friend, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell). The first season focuses on Oliver rekindling his relationships and spending his nights hunting down and sometimes killing wealthy criminals as a hooded vigilante, following a list of names he discovered in a notebook belonging to his father. He uncovers Malcolm Merlyn’s (John Barrowman) conspiracy to destroy “The Glades”, a poorer section of the city that has become overridden with crime. John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) assist Oliver in his crusade. Oliver also reconnects with ex-girlfriend, Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), who is still angry over his role in her sister’s presumed death. The first season features flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island, and how it changed him; flashbacks in subsequent seasons continue to show how Oliver spent his time and gains the skill-set that shapes him into the vigilante he is.

SEASON TWO: Oliver has vowed to stop crime without killing criminals. His family and allies come under attack from Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), a man from Oliver’s time on the island who returns to destroy everything important to Oliver. Oliver accepts aspiring vigilante Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) as his protégé, and begins to receive assistance from Laurel’s father, Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne). Oliver also gains another ally; a mysterious woman in black, who is eventually revealed to be Laurel’s sister, Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), who survived her ordeal at sea after the yacht sank. In flashbacks, Oliver continues his time on the island with Slade, Sara, and Shado Fei, and depicts how Oliver’s animosity with Slade started.

SEASON THREE: Arrow has become a public hero in Starling City following Slade Wilson’s defeat. Queen Consolidated is sold to wealthy businessman, scientist and aspiring hero Ray Palmer (Superman Returns’ Brandon Routh – watching him on this show makes me wish his Superman movie was more successful and we would have seen more of him). Oliver struggles to bring his family back together, an old enemy returns, and Oliver becomes embroiled in a conflict with Ra’s al Ghul (excellently played by Matthew Nable). After a tragic event and a rocky start, Laurel sets out to follow in Sara’s footsteps as the Black Canary. John Diggle struggles with his new role as a family man, as Oliver no longer wants John in the field after the birth of his daughter, while Felicity Smoak begins a new career as Vice President of Palmer Technologies (formerly Queen Consolidated). In flashbacks, Oliver is forced to work for Amanda Waller in Hong Kong alongside Maseo and Tatsu Yamashiro, and to stop corrupt general Matthew Shrieve from unleashing the Alpha-Omega, which Ra’s al Ghul eventually acquires in the present.

SEASON FOUR: the Arrow becomes “Green Arrow”. He and his allies fight against the terrorist organization H.I.V.E., headed by Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), who is attacking Star City (formerly Starling City). John Diggle is concerned with finding H.I.V.E. and learning the reason for the murder of his brother, Andy (Eugene Byrd), who is later discovered to be alive and a H.I.V.E. soldier. Thea joins the team under the alias “Speedy”, but must learn to control herself while fighting, as she now has a blood-lust that may never be fully quenched as a side effect of the Lazarus Pit. Laurel struggles to bring Sara back after learning of Thea’s resurrection from the Pit. Oliver decides to run for mayor. Despite having found happiness with Felicity (now CEO of Palmer Technologies) and planning to propose to her, Oliver discovers that he is the biological father to a boy he unknowingly conceived nine years previously with a former lover, Samantha Clayton (Anna Hopkins). This discovery destabilizes his relationship with Felicity, his life as the Green Arrow, and his mayoral campaign. Oliver ultimately discovers that Damien plans on detonating nuclear weapons and ruling a new world over the Earth’s ashes. In flashbacks, Oliver is forced by Amanda Waller to infiltrate the organization known as Shadowspire, befriends a prisoner Taiana, and has his first encounter with the mystical idol that is eventually acquired by Darhk.

***

            A review and critique of the characters, the actors who portray them and the plots will come next time…

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).

The Flash! A review of the CW TV show (part two)

A DC-TV Primer: the CW Network’s superhero lineup

Tuesday: the Flash

Part Two (here is part one)

It does not take Sherlock Holmes to deduce this is my favorite of the DC/CW shows The Flash is light-hearted without being silly.

“Light-hearted?” you might say, “Worlds are imperiled; timelines are wiped and sometimes good people die!”

True, but by light-hearted I mean the show still keeps its sense of fun even at the darkest of times. You cheer on the good guys and boo the bad guys. You know things will turn out all right in the end, however tense it might be.

Watch Supergirl episode “World’s Finest” in which Flash appears. The scenes in which they appear together emits so much joy and sweetness it hits you from every angle. There is genuine chemistry between the actors. You don’t see this on TV very often. Good acting, good writing, good show!

Flash sticks to its comic book roots in the Silver Age and Bronze Age. There are lots of Easter eggs that make this old fan smile.

  • There are so many references to the Silver Age Green Lantern – Ferris Air and Coast City are mentioned frequently and we even see a flight jacket with a “Jordan” name patch – that I think an appearance by the ring slinger is inevitable in the years to come.
  • Even their casting harkens back to loyalty and tradition: Barry Allen’s father (John Wesley Shipp) played the scarlet speedster in the 1990 TV show. Great casting – when I first read that he was playing Barry’s father I was excited! When I heard that Jay Garrick would appear in season 2, I thought, “Too bad, Wesley Shipp would have made the perfect Jay Garrick!”
  • Even the villains give homage to the past: the Trickster is played by Mark Hamill (do I REALLY need to tell you about that OTHER role he played), who played the Trickster in the 1990 TV series. Watching him chew the scenery is a delight.

Jesse L. Martin, who plays Iris and Wally’s father (and Barry’s adoptive father) is always a highlight. His role as a policeman harkens back to his Law & Order days. But characterization was not L&O’s forte. What a treat to see him laugh heartily, mist up as he gives fatherly advice, etc. He is superb…

Grant Gustin is no slouch either. As Barry Allen and the Flash you can feel his joy in playing the character. “I love being a hero,” Flash often says. Through Grant’s acting, it shows.

I would be remiss not mentioning Carlos Valdes as Cisco. He plays the viewer’s role in the show: giving names to the heroes and villains, encouraging Flash to fight the good fight, creating the mcguffins that beat the bad guys. He is us.

Rounding out the crew of Flash’s allies are Danielle Panabaker as the beautiful uber-nerd Caitlin Snow. She started off as a cold fish but warmed up to the Flash (and us) pretty quickly. Her “date” with Barry in the karaoke scene is a must-watch. I hope her role in Season 3 is better than the love-sick hostage of Season 2, though. The character and the actress deserves better.

Candace Patton as Iris West is stunningly beautiful (just think if she were real: her dad’s a policeman, yeek!) and plays her up-and-down relationship with Barry well. Both Iris and Barry learn what we comic book fans have known for almost 50 years – they are destined to wed. But with all the time tinkering; will they?

The villains (super or otherwise) are also fun. One of the best part of the Silver/Bronze Age Flash comics was his Rogue’s Gallery. The fiends are second only to Batman’s slate of bad guys. The only one NOT to appear so far is Abra Kadabra; and with all the time-traveling taking place in the show this is surprising. I think even the Top showed up (I might be wrong, though). Mordant blue, even the TURTLE shows up!

The show has its flaws: most obvious is the character’s past. When Wally West shows up, we old comic fans have a fair idea where his character will eventually lead. Characters with familiar last names (Thawne) spoil any surprise to old readers of the comic. There is no Black-Canary-bait-and-switch ala Arrow, although with Edward Thawne, they try.

Binge watching reveals another flaw in the show: sometimes it tends to wallow in formula. Villain is introduced, Flash confronts villain and gets his ass handed to him, Flash’s back-up team propose a solution using Star Trek Next Generation-esque technobabble, they create a mcguffin to help Flash/use an everyday devise to help Flash, Flash confronts villain again and defeats him. Insert subplots at any point (Barry loves Iris, Iris loves someone else or visa versa/team member might be bad guy/bad guy might be good guy).

Maybe it is a problem inherent in the premise, but they use it too often. Supergirl and Arrow use that formula, too.

A final issue that gnaws at me (and not just Flash, but with all DC/CW and other programs as well), is the season-length storyline that concludes with the big season finale. A super-supervillain is hinted at from episode one and introduced about four or five shows in. Other plots and villains come and go, but the super-supervillain plot keeps seeping to the surface – usually given the main plot-point every few episodes. The last three or four shows of the season deal exclusively with defeating the BIG baddie.

This is tedious for the casual watcher and eyerolling for the loyal fan. It became something of a joke at one point in Arrow: “Some supervillain is threatening to destroy the entire city? Must be May!”

For Season One of Flash this was acceptable, as everything about the show is new. By the end of Season Two, a new viewer will be lost, or should I say Lost. If the “previously on…” segment takes more than twenty minutes, you’ve lost your audience. Flash is in danger of that.

I can’t even tell you the events of Season Three without giving spoilers for Season Two (although the ads are giving it all away – it HAS to, to be effective)! All I can say is Barry regrets what he did and is trying to change the people and things he has affected!

The show is also in danger of becoming one long storyline (ala Agents of Shield). Which is fine if you are fan of that, but the real danger comes as lack of story progression: no plot advancement with the good guys facing failed plans and disappointed goals for 20 episodes (ala Agents of Shield) leaving the viewers frustrated and looking elsewhere (ala Agents of Shield).

In other words, every show will become “Villain is introduced, Flash confronts villain and gets his ass handed to him, Flash’s back-up team propose a solution using Star Trek Next Generation-esque technobabble, they create a mcguffin to help Flash/use an everyday devise to help Flash, Flash is defeated anyway, repeat twenty times, Flash wins in episode 22, but it is revealed the enemy lives and will square off again next season. Repeat until cancelled.” (ala Agents of Shield).

See what I mean?

But let’s hope Flash doesn’t descend to that. There is too much love in the show, I think. And there is too much love OF the show to make me think otherwise!

 

Arrow is next…

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).