Thursday, October 23, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 3, Episode 3 - Corto Maltese

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.



Plot

After Felicity tracks Thea's cell phone signal to the island nation of Corto Maltese, Oliver and Roy book the first flight out to try and bring her home.  John also comes along, nominally to help out but also to check up on an old friend of Lyla's - an ARGUS agent named Mark Shaw who may be in trouble.

Back in Starling City, Felicity adjusts to her new job working with Ray Palmer, which turns out to be nothing like she expected. Meanwhile, Laurel struggles with her depression over Sara's death by throwing herself into her work and her AA meetings - neither of which seem to offer her the satisfaction she imagines she'd get from beating bad people senseless.  But Laurel has plans that go beyond taking boxing lessons from professional boxer Ted Grant...


Influences

The Green Arrow comics of Chuck Dixon (exotic setting, conspiracies involving government agencies and a focus on gun-play over archery in the action scenes) and JLA: Year One (Black Canary receiving her first fighting training from boxer Ted Grant)


Goofs

Laurel accuses Ted Grant of committing perjury when he lies to her.  Legally, perjury can only occur under oath in a trial setting.  Technically, he might be committing obstruction of justice but Laurel has no way of proving it.

For that matter, shouldn't the police be the ones investigating a robbery suspect's alibi rather than an assistant district attorney?

How do Laurel and Quentin know who Erica's boyfriend is or how many warrants he has out for his arrest? Granting that either of them could probably come by that information easily enough in their day jobs, it doesn't seem like the sort of thing Quentin would look up, being as serious about the sanctity of Alcoholics Anonymous as he is.

Laurel was able to hold her own against a professional bouncer back in Season One, so why - with all the self-defenses classes she's reportedly taken - is she unable to fight a man she has the drop on?


Performances

Willa Holland transforms Thea Queen into an entirely different character in this episode. And the new edge to the character is quite welcome.

On the same note, Colton Haynes gets the most material to work with he's gotten all season and we see how much Roy Harper has changed as a character in six months as he confronts Thea. Haynes also offers up some nicely understated comedic acting in his non-verbal responses to Oliver using a gun to shoot someone.

J.R. Ramirez wows in his first brief appearance as Ted "Wildcat" Grant. Portrayed as a fighting man of simple tastes who isn't as dumb as he acts, Ramirez has a natural charm that matches the charisma of the character from the comics.


Trivia

The episode title comes from the fictional island nation of Corto Maltese - a fictional country in the DC Universe, located off the South American coast. Originally created by Frank Miller as the site of a rebellion that was backed by the US Government in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, it has become a catch-all location for shady dealings or stories requiring a modern-day Banana Republic.

Thea uses the name Mia as an alias - a reference to Mia Dearden, the second Speedy and Oliver Queen's adopted daughter in the comics.

In the original DC Universe, Mark Shaw was one of several costumed vigilantes who used the code-name Manhunter.  He had his own solo series in the 1980s and was a member of the Suicide Squad under Amanda Waller's command at one point.  In the New 52 universe, Mark Shaw is a U.S. Marshal who is described as one of the best man-hunters alive.  The Arrow version of the character appears to be an amalgam of both versions of Mark Shaw.

Ted "Wildcat" Grant was a professional heavyweight boxer turned vigilante, who first appeared in Sensation Comics #1 (Janaury 1942 - also the first appearance of Wonder Woman).  In later years, Ted Grant was retconned into being a founding member of the Justice Society of America and was said to have had a hand in training several next-generation vigilantes in the art of boxing, including Batman, Catwoman and - most notably - Black Canary.

Laurel asks Ted Grant about one of his students - Tom Branson.  In the original comics, Tom Branson was the name of Ted Grant's illegitimate son who developed the power to turn into a half-man/half-cat form.  Ted began training his son to take over the Wildcat name - a legacy Tom didn't feel up toward embracing, though he did fight crime under the code name Tomcat.

Felicity's new personal assistant is a man named Gerry Conway - named in honor of the legendary comic creator.  Gerry Conway is probably most famous today for being one of the few writers to write both Justice League of America and The Avengers, co-creating The Punisher and writing The Death of Gwen Stacy story-line for Amazing Spider-Man.  He also created the original character of Felicity Smoak as a supporting character in Firestorm.

Mark Shaw's buyer for the ARGUS database is a man named Armitage.  This is likely a reference to Milo Armitage - an arms-dealing criminal who was a reoccurring villain in the Chuck Dixon Green Arrow comics and the step-father of the second Green Arrow, Connor Hawke.

Oliver's turning the contents of a hotel room into make-shift bows and arrows has some precedent in the comics where Ollie is a gifted fletcher and bowyer. The most infamous example of this probably came during Kevin Smith's Green Arrow run, when Ollie was able to use a harp and kebab skewers as weapons in a fight against The Riddler while in a fancy restaurant.

The blueprints Felicity recovers for Ray Palmer are for a number of advanced weapons labeled O.M.A.C.  This is a reference to a variety of advanced technologies in the DC Universe including One Man Army Corps, Omni Mind and Community and Observational Metahuman Activity Construct.


Technobabble

Ollie makes use of a non-lethal trick arrow that functions somewhat like a fishing pole, letting him snag a target then pull it towards him.


Dialogue Triumphs

Malcolm:
So why did you reach out to me?
Thea: You reached first.
Malcolm: Still...?
Thea: I don't want to feel this pain again. I don't want to hurt. Ever. Never again. And you seem like someone that can teach me how not to.

(After Ollie declares his intention to go find Thea, Roy goes to his own weapon case and pulls his bow)
Ollie: What are you doing?
Roy: Thea left because of the lies I told. I have to make things right.
Ollie: No... what are you doing?  You can't travel with that.
Roy: I've actually... never been on a plane before.

(Laurel questions Ted Grant about one of his students involvement in a robbery)
Ted: Well, that's not possible. Because Tom and I were sparring last night.
Laurel: Mr. Grant, do you know that lying to the district attorney is against the law?
Ted: If by that you mean am I willing to lie in order to keep a good kid who just happened to make a stupid mistake out of jail, I think you know my answer.
Laurel: Are you admitting to perjury, Mr. Grant?!
Ted: Now that's a big word.  I'm just a dumb fighter... right?

Merlyn: Every warrior must learn the simple truth: That pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.

(As they discuss business in Oliver's old office)
Ray: I need to get back to work
Felicity: Then why are you leaving your office?
Ray: I'm not.  I'm leaving yours.

Laurel: Felicity, I need a favor.
Felicity: Are we... favor friends now?  Are we friends?!

(As Roy stares at him after Ollie has John toss him a pistol, which he uses to shoot five men) 
Ollie: I never said I didn't know how to use a gun!

And all of the scene in which Laurel asks Oliver to train her, saying she has a fire inside that only attacking a bad man could quench and Oliver asking her to consider what would happen to her father if something happened to her and further saying that Sara would never forgive him if something happened to Laurel.


Continuity

The episode opens with a flashback to 223, showing Thea leaving Starling City with Malcolm Merlyn.

Ollie speaks fluent Spanish.

Merlyn trains Thea to cope with pain by pouring boiling water over her hand.

Thea has had her hair cut shorter and can now speak fluent Spanish. She works as a waitress at a cafe.

Ray Palmer makes reference to terrorists blowing up Queen Consolidate's Applied Sciences division in reference to Team Arrow's actions in 219.

Ollie tells Thea about how his father killed himself in order to save Ollie's life, as seen in 101. He does not mention that Robert Queen killed another person before doing so.

Milo Armitage was also mentioned in 212, where he hired Bronze Tiger to steal Malcolm Merlyn's spare earthquake generator.

Oliver is shown to be capable of creating jerry-rigged bows and arrows from the contents of a hotel room.

Ollie can indeed use a pistol.

Shaw's motivation for turning on ARGUS was revenge, not profit.  He makes reference to doing horrible things under Amanda Waller's commands and wanting to strike back at her.

Laurel apparently reported the abusive boyfriend to the SCPD.  She also begins training with Ted Grant.

Felicity asks for time off to go visit a friend who was struck by lightning.  This is clearly a set up for the following week's episode of The Flash, where Felicity pays a visit to Barry Allen in Central City.

Nyssa Al Ghul, not seen since 223, shows up in the Arrow Cave demanding to know where Sara is in the final scene.


Location

The island nation of Corto Maltese.


The Fridge Factor

It's a bit difficult to say which scenes make Laurel look the worst this week. As a lawyer, she looks incompetent, being outsmarted in a battle of wordplay by Ted Grant. She comes off as a complete hypocrite given that she grills Ted Grant on his willingness to lie to protect a good kid who did a dumb thing and yet she's willing to violate the sanctity of her AA meetings' anonymity to seek information so she can go after an abusive boyfriend. She attempts assault on said abusive boyfriend rather than go through proper legal channels. She gets her butt kicked, despite having had quite a bit of self defense training and holding her own against two bar bouncers back in Season One. Her desire to become a vigilante seems born entirely out of her seeking a new adrenaline rush to replace booze and pills rather than honoring her sister's memory or a desire to help people and she says as much at the episode's end. She doesn't stop to consider what her death might to do her father, especially given that he has no idea Sara is dead thanks to her lying. Finally, she turns to Ollie to ask for training, which he refuses on the grounds that Sara wouldn't want it and how Laurel's death would destroy her father, which - granting that is not his choice to make - shows a lot more respect for Quentin than he's gotten from his own goddamn daughter!


The Bottom Line

A solid episode which pushes all of the established cast's personal sub-plots forward a little bit and handles all of them well, with the usual notable exception. Thankfully, the script hits all the right beats regarding Laurel's story (training with Ted Grant, going after abusive men) and Oliver is quick to point out everything that would be wrong about his training Laurel to do what he does.  Laurel may be annoying and Katie Cassidy's performance flat but at least she is allowed some agency in how she's going about what she's doing.. unlike the last revenge-minded woman Ollie tried training.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Flash Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 3 - Things You Can't Outrun

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.




Plot

As Barry and Joe reopen the investigation into Nora Allen's murder, a number of gangsters are killed mysteriously. With all the signs pointing to a metahuman being responsible, it will fall to the brilliant team at STAR Labs to construct a prison capable of holding super-powered criminals.  This requires reopening their old particle accelerator and reopening some old wounds. And as Caitlin Snow struggles with memories of the fiancee who died a hero's death saving Central City, Barry will struggle with a murderous man made of living toxic gas.


Influences

The Flash: Rebirth (the background with Barry's mother being killed and his father framed for the murder), The Golden Age Starman comics of Gardner Fox (The Mist) and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films (Barry's opening and closing narration)


Performances

Danielle Panabaker proves to be far less cool in this episode than in previous outings as Caitlin Snow. We get to see the character warm up a little in the flashbacks and her character in the present is given further development as we see why she has been so reluctant to let Barry run off into danger.


Artistry

There's some nice artistic design - to save nothing of situation-based irony - in the locations where The Mist attacks his victims.  All of the locations are sealed behind glass (the front room of a restaurant, a mall elevator and the visitor's room of a prison) and resemble, in some fashion, a gas chamber.


Flash Facts 

When accused by Joe of saving people just for the glory, Barry says that he doesn't expect people to build a museum in his name. In the comics, this is exactly what the people of Central City did to honor him in The Flash #154 (August 1965).

Joe West notes that Iron Heights isn't equipped to handle metahumans.  This is ironic, as the original Iron Heights prison from The Flash comics was a prison specifically built to handle super-powered criminals.

The flashbacks for this episode give us our first glimpse of Caitlin Snow's fiancee, Ronnie Raymond. In the comics, Ronnie Raymond was one of the two men (the other being scientist Martin Stein) who united to become the superhero Firestorm after both were caught in an accident at a nuclear power plant.

Before the particle accelerator is activated, Harrison Wells says he feels like he's been waiting for this day for centuries.  This may be a bit of foreshadowing given some of the fan theories of Wells being a time-traveler from the future.

In the original police interview regarding his wife's murder, Dr. Henry Allen explains that his wife was stabbed to death and that the reason that his fingerprints were on the murder weapon were because he had to stabilize the knife while trying to treat her wounds.

Ronnie Raymond's given occupation here is structural engineer.  He was responsible for putting together STAR Labs' particle accelerator.  In the original comics, Ronnie Raymond was a high school student with little inclination toward science or school work in general.

Caitlin says that Ronnie compared the two of them to fire and ice.  This is a reference to their code names from the comics - Firestorm and Killer Frost.

The Central City Mall has a Big Belly Burger.  DC Comics fans will recognize this as the name of a popular fast-food franchise from the DC Universe.  Arrow fans may recognize it as the name of the restaurant that Diggle's sister-in-law ran in Starling City.

In the comics, airborne poisons are one of the few effective ways to neutralize The Flash. He still needs to breathe oxygen like a normal person and his hyperactive metabolism will circulate the poison around his body faster than normal.

In another nod to the comics, Caitlin notes that she can't give any anesthetic to Barry when they perform surgery on him since his hyperactive metabolism will burn through anything they inject into him before it can affect him.

The Mist's real name in this episode is Kyle Nimbus.

The word nimbus means "dark cloud".

In the original DC Comics, The Mist was the arch-enemy of the Golden Age superhero Starman. His real name was never given in the original Golden Age comics. The 1990s Starman series gave him the first name Kyle but no last name.

This version of The Mist was a hitman before he gained superpowers. The original Mist was a soldier and a scientist.

This version of The Mist transforms into a poisonous gas - Hydrogen Cyanide. The original version of The Mist transformed into an unidentified narcotic gas that allowed him to put people to sleep or - in some stories - a suggestible hypnotic state.

When Barry sees his father in the visiting room at Iron Heights, he vibrates his face at super-speed, causing it to blur from his father's perspective.  This was a frequent trick used by The Flash in the comics when Barry Allen had to either operate without his costume or work in close proximity to someone who might recognize him as Barry Allen.

Caitlin has a fondness for ice cream.

According to Henry Allen, Barry was a late bloomer, being the last child of his age to learn how to walk. When he took his first steps, he ran straight to his mother.

We see Iris' blog on The Flash - "The Streak Lives".

Harrison Wells had some kind of pre-knowledge of what would happen to Barry Allen, and was watching him through a camera in his secret room on the night of the particle accelerator explosion.


Technobabble

In the Police Code used in Central City, a 237 is Public Indecency.  A 239 is a Dog Leash Violation.

Barry notes that the men killed in the restaurant showed signs of hypoxic asphyxia, consistent with exposure to poison gas.

The Mist's attacks do not leave poisonous gas residue behind but they do leave behind traces of his DNA.

The Mist turns into a mixture of hydrogen cyanide and a sedative.  Hydrogen cyanide is one of the chemicals used in American states where the gas chamber is used for administering the death penalty.

The cell containing The Mist is powered by an 8.3 tesla superconducting magnet.  This is approximately 100,000 times the strength of Earth's magnetic field.


Dialogue Triumphs

Barry: It doesn't matter if you're the slowest kid in gym class or the Fastest Man Alive - every one of us is running. Being alive means running. Running from something. Running to something. Or someone. And no matter how fast you are, some things you can't outrun. Some things always manage to catch up to you.

Harrison: Now that we have a sample, we'll get to work analyzing it. Figure out the make-up of the poison. Maybe get a clue as to his human identity.
Cisco: Or a least a way to stop him from turning into g a mist.... The Mist! Okay! That's his name. End of discussion.

Joe: I have been a cop for almost as long as you've been alive.  So you should know putting on that suit does not make everybody safe.  For every person you save, there's going to be somebody you can't. And the hardest thing you're going to have to face is not some monster out there with powers. It's going to be that feeling of uselessness when you can't do anything. Or the guilt that weighs on you when you make a mistake. Some things, Barry, you can't fight. Some things you just have to live with.

Caitlin: He saved so many lives that day. And no one will ever know what he did.
Barry: I do. He was a hero.
Caitlin: I didn't want him to be a hero. I wanted him to be my husband.

(As Barry wakes up in a chair while watching Joe in his hospital room)
Joe: Been a while since I watched you sleep.
Barry: Rescuing you is exhausting.
Joe: (chuckling) I really miss the ability to be able to ground you.
Barry: Sorry I went and grew up.

Iris: Dad, the thing is -
Joe: - you two are dating.  I know.
Iris: You do?
Joe: I am a detective, remember? And both of you are lousy liars.
Eddie; So you're not mad?
Joe: Oh, I'm mad. If the doctor hadn't confiscated my gun, we'd be having an entirely different conversation.

Barry: I thought being The Fastest Man Alive  would make my life easier. That I could outrun anything. Turns out no one can outrun pain.  Life is tragic. But it's also precious. And sweet. And extraordinary. And the only way I know to honor my mom's life is to keep running.


Continuity

We see clips from F101, depicting the press conference before the STAR Labs particle accelerator was activated.


The Boomerang Factor

The Mist must have some form of defensive reflex to be able to shift into a gaseous form faster than The Flash can move in to punch him.


The Bottom Line

A solid episode that gives Caitlin Snow some much needed character development and even gives comic-relief Cisco Ramon a chance to show some depth.  Comics fans may quibble about some of the changes made to the characters of The Mist and Ronnie Raymond but they prove largely to the benefit of the story, with The Mist being upgraded to become a truly effective menace to The Flash and Ronnie Raymond becoming an earnest and heroic young man compared to his goof-off comic book counterpart. The only real weak spot is the on-going romance between Eddie Thawne and Iris West, but it's worth suffering through for the brilliant pay off of Joe's response.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Episode 9 - Flatline

THE QUICK, SPOILER FREE REVIEW

One of the best "monster of the week" episodes in the show's long history, there's not one note played wrong.  This may well be the best episode of the series once all is said and done and the final four episodes have a high bar to clear.



THE PLOT

The TARDIS winds up about 100 miles away from Clara's home as The Doctor and Clara return from their latest adventure. That is not so unusual. What is unusual is that The TARDIS is slowly shrinking and people are disappearing from the local neighborhood as strange graffiti resembling the missing people is appearing on walls around town.  And when The Doctor becomes stuck inside a toy-sized TARDIS, it will fall to Clara to step into the role of The Doctor as a menace from another universe touches our world!



THE GOOD PARTS

* The script by Jamie Mathieson is a perfect balance of horror, comedy and action.

* The Boneless are a truly terrifying monster - not only for their instantly lethal touch but because of an alien nature that is Lovecraftian in scope. By the episode's end, we still have no idea precisely what they are or what their intentions and purpose in attacking people are.  We don't even know if they realize what they are doing!

* Many of the episodes this series have focused upon the relationship between The Doctor and Clara but none have done so quite so effectively as this episode. We are shown how Clara views The Doctor in her attempts to be a proxy Doctor - with much banter and snarking, of course.  And it is telling indeed that The Doctor asks if that's what he really sounds like - once in a moment of offense and once in a moment of revelation.

* By that same token, any doubt as to The Doctor's feelings about Clara and humanity in general and his having become nothing more than a mean old man in this incarnation are put to rest as The Doctor praises Clara's performance as The Doctor and her companion, "the florescent pudding brain" Rigsy. This Doctor may have the lowest threshold for suffering fools gladly of any Doctor in history, but he will give credit when credit is due.

* Fenton, the curmudgeonly supervisor, provides an interesting contrast to The Doctor and  a further denial of The Doctor being a mean old man at hearts. Here, we have a truly awful man who views people as expendable and doesn't give a damn about people dying so long as it isn't him that did the dying.  And again we have the theme of The Doctor's trying to be a good man being the thing the redeems him, even as he harbors some monstrous thoughts.

* As before, Capaldi and Coleman play off of each other perfectly.

* It's a nice touch that, despite being inspired by The Doctor's example, Clara's plan for fighting The Boneless is her's and her's alone.  As is her solution for The Doctor escaping when his powerless TARDIS falls onto a train-track with trains approaching.

* Every Doctor has at least one speech that - for better or worse - define their character. I believe that Capaldi has found his with this speech...

"I tried to talk. I want you to remember that. I tried to reach out, I tried to understand you, but I think that you understand us perfectly. And I think that you just don’t care. And I don’t know whether you are here to invade, infiltrate or just replace us. I don’t suppose it really matters now. You are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play, so it seems that I must play mine – The man that stops the monsters!"


THE PROBLEMS

* The only real problem with the script - and this is not a pun - is that the supporting cast are incredibly two-dimensional.  Fenton exists purely to be an obstacle and a symbol of what The Doctor is not. Rigsy is the standard "hidden layers" one-off companion.  Everyone else - and again, this is not a pun - is just a part of the background.



THE FINAL VERDICT

An instant classic, with a great monster, witty dialogue and a perfect balance of horror and humor. This may be the new Blink - the episode for introducing complete newbies to Doctor Who.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Earth 2: World's End #2 - A Review

Taken on the level of a summer blockbuster, Earth 2: World's End #2 is an enjoyable story. Building upon last issue's explosive climax, our heroes scatter around the world to deal with the reactivation of the four Apokolptian fire-pits and the emergence of four apparently dormant villains from that evil world.  The first one they encounter is K'li - a preteen girl who raises the dead and introduces herself as an avatar of War.


There's a lot of good action sequences here, but this book suffers in comparison to the monthly Earth 2 book.  There, we had amazing action but we also got a number of good character-building scenes. The closest we get to that here is the implication that Lois "Red Tornado" Lane really hates zombies because they remind her of her own status as a dead woman's spirit in an inhuman body.


As before, the artwork is all over the place.  There are a number of artists with a number of conflicting styles and the final effect is not a positive one. Stylized renditions of our heroes clash with more realistic artwork and naturalistic action scenes look awkward next to more forced poses.

On the whole, I see little reason to pick up this book unless you, like me, are deeply interested in the final fate of Earth 2.  Even then, the lackluster artwork may drive me away from this story.  I really wish DC Comics would assign different art teams to individual issues rather than having multiple artists doing a few pages in each issue of these extended series.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Red Sonja: The Black Tower #2 - A Review

In my review of the first part of Red Sonja: The Black Tower, I said that this was sword-and-sorcery of the old school - bloody and visceral with little sense of nuance.  For a moment as this second chapter opens, it looks like we might get something more.  True, we start out with lavish illustrations of men in combat and scantily-clad whores with purple prose about how the city of Lur fell into decadence and violence after the arrival of the titular tower.  Then we are given a vision of a mystic sisterhood who rise up, and use the dark magic generated by the tower to smite the wicked.


Alas, the Sisterhood of the Black Tower appear for all of one page. And with the passing of one paragraph, we learn how they were all killed and a number of warlords came and fought over the city, with the eventual winner was the same mercenary leader to whom Sonja delivered the unkindest cut of all in the previous issue.  Sonja herself does not show up until this issue is about a third of the way finished, sporting an eye-patch.  We are then told that her eye was lost in a battle off-camera.

And there are the three biggest problems with The Black Tower in a nutshell. It is a Red Sonja comic for which Red Sonja barely figures into the plot. We are told, not shown, the better portion of that story. And what few bits of the story are interesting or original are quickly discarded in favor of mindless, gory action.


In this regard, I really can't fault artist Cezar Razek too much.  Razek is good at drawing what the script requires - nearly naked women and a lot of blood and severed body parts.  I can, however, fault him for one of the most ludicrous monster-designs this side of a First Edition D&D Fiend Folio.

Red Sonja: The Dark Tower is not merely a bad Red Sonja comic. It is a bad sword-and-sorcery comic. Indeed, I would go so far as to say the issue has but two saving graces. The first is that this story can easily be dismissed as a tall tale involving Sonja - a legend with little truth. The other is that the conclusion of this issue - in which an army of robots with lightsabers show up - is so ludicrously awful that this comic promises to pass the event horizon of merely being bad and become so awful that it demands Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbet riff upon it.