Thursday, October 30, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 3, Episode 4 - The Magician

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




Plot

Nyssa Al Ghul has returned to Starling City and she is ill pleased to learn of Sara Lance's death. She's also reluctant to work with Team Arrow in tracking down Sara's killer, but she does let Oliver Queen know one thing - Malcolm Merlyn is still alive and Sara's mission was to confirm that fact.

Faced with the return of his oldest enemy, Oliver must decide how much his newly-forged pledge to never kill again means.  All of his allies - Laurel, Roy, Diggle and Nyssa - think he could be forgiven for ignoring the code this one time. Or at least standing aside while Nyssa does what needs to be done. But there is one question nobody but Ollie has considered - what if Merlyn is innocent of Sara's death and the real murderer is someone else?

At the same time, Oliver and Roy work to reestablish their respective relationships with Thea, as she works to restore the Verdant night club to its former glory.  Both of them are still unaware that Thea has known of Malcolm Merlyn''s return for quite some time.  And that he is far closer to Team Arrow than they suspect.


Influences

There aren't any specific story references, but the overall aesthetic of this episode is reminiscent of Chuck Dixon's Green Arrow run, with an idealistic hero trying to maintain his moral code after being thrust into a world of political intrigue and secretive martial artists.  There's also a touch of Dennis O'Neil's Justice League, in which Oliver Queen was the one JLA member willing to stand against the group based on his individual principles, as Ollie does when he suggests that killing Merlyn for the wrong reasons can't be justified by how much Merlyn deserves death for his crimes.


Performances

I have said many unflattering things about Katie Cassidy's performance as Laurel over the past year so please keep that in mind when I say that - for one moment - there is a flash of who Black Canary should be in her performance in this episode, which I dare say is her best in the show to date. When Ollie invokes Sara's memory and asks if Sara would really want Merlyn to die in response to Laurel's demands that Ollie kill Merlyn, Laurel doesn't even blink and says "Yes, I do." in a way that perfectly conveys the sentiment "Yes, I do and you're kidding yourself if you think Sara - who you tried and failed to turn into a hero because she's too vengeful - would not want Merlyn dead, regardless of whether or not he was her murderer!"  It is idealism versus practicality and exactly the kind of argument Ollie and Dinah would have in the comics, though not over this precise point.  For the first time in a long while, Laurel does not feel surplus to the show and she actually seems like a member of Team Arrow in her scenes in the Arrow Cave rather than an interloper.


Artistry

Something clever I noticed about the script by Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle is that Oliver has displayed actual character growth and development beyond his taking up his comic-book counterpart's idealistic code of honor.  Throughout the episode, we see Oliver standing on principle despite how inconvenient it is to him personally.

Does Merlyn deserve to die? Probably, but while Ollie would easily break his oath if people were in danger (remember his killing of The Count in Season 2?) he is ill at ease with killing someone for the wrong reasons. The flashbacks parallel this through Oliver's argument with Amanda Waller.  Ollie is willing to work with Waller to a point but he refuses to tolerate innocent people being threatened to ensure his good behavior and he has strong objections to Waller's scheme to blow up one airplane in the name of killing one target.


Trivia

The episode title - The Magician - is a reference to Meryln's stage name in the original Green Arrow comics - Merlyn The Magician.

According to this episode, The Magician was Malcolm Merlyn's code-name in the League of Assassins as Sara Lance's was The Canary.

Laurel's hair has been getting noticeably blonder over the past few episodes since Sara's death. Has she been coloring her hair as a way or honoring her sister? Or is this a suggestion of what is to come?

Oliver digs through the cans in Sara's hide-out and notes that one of them was her favorite.  Could it be canned chili - a favorite of both Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance in the comics?

Nyssa confirms that Sara's mission in Starling City at the time of her death was to look for Malcolm Merlyn and see if the rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated.

Nyssa confirms that Malcolm Merlyn was a member of The League of Assassins but was allowed to leave provided he continued to work according to their code of honor. The Undertaking to destroy The Glades violated that code, though the specific reasons why are not given.

There are several reasons, based on Ra's Al Ghul's code of honor in the comics, that Ra's might have objected to The Undertaking.  In the comics, Ra's is something of an eco-terrorist and the potential ecological damage that could be caused by Merlyn's earthquake machine would be something he'd find objectionable.  It could also be because of Ra's belief in revenge needing to be handled personally and attacking an entire neighborhood rather than an individual to be sloppy on Merlyn's part. Or Ra's could just find the death of hundreds to be incredibly wasteful and the whole idea of The Undertaking to be far too showy given that The League of Assassins is meant to remain hidden and secretive.

Master Jansen, the Buddhist monk, is named in honor of a character from the comics.  Master Jansen ran the Buddhist ashram where Oliver Queen once took refuge after accidentally killing a young man. Jansen would later become  a Sensei and traveling companion of Connor Hawke - the second Green Arrow.  He was never given a full name in the comics, but here he is named Ken Zhi Jansen.

Nelson Plaza, where Oliver and Merlyn meet, is probably named in honor of Diane Nelson - the head of DC Entertainment.

Ra's Al Ghul - the leader of The League of Assassins - makes his first appearance here and so far seems true to form compared to the character in the comics.  Introduced as an environmental terrorist and an enemy of Batman, he was created by Dennis O'Neil at about the same time O'Neil was redefining Green Arrow as a modern day Robin Hood - two of the greatest achievements of his career.

When we first see Ra's, he is emerging from some kind of pool or spa. This could be a reference to the infamous Lazarus Pit... or it may be an actual Lazarus Pit.


Technobabble

Oliver's new Tracer Arrow uses nanites to tag a target.


Dialogue Triumphs

(After Nyssa says that Merlyn has violated the honor standards of the League of Assassins)
Roy: You guys are professional killers.  That's a pretty low bar.

Oliver: I'm not a killer anymore, Laurel.
Laurel: But Merlyn is! He killed Tommy and 502 other innocent people. How many more people are going to have to die before you put him down?
Oliver: Do you think that's what your sister would want?
Laurel: Yes, I do.

Diggle: You have Felicity monitoring remote from Central City?
Oliver: No, she told me an idiot could run it.
Diggle: I will try very hard not to take that personally.

Oliver: I didn't realize having a conscience was a burden.

(As Laurel is working out at Wildcat's Gym)
Nyssa: I see you've been training. And wearing her jacket.
Laurel: If you're gonna stand there and tell me I'm not strong enough or tough enough, please don't.
Nyssa: Back at the cemetery I would have.  But since then you have reminded me that the strongest metal is forged in the hottest fire.
Laurel: And what's that supposed to mean?
Nyssa: Don't forget to turn your hips. That's where the power comes from.



Continuity

Reference is made to Felicity being away in Central City, as this episode happens at the same time as F104.

Thea has found new investors for Verdant and is already at work on rebuilding the club.

The League of Assassins use "ghost ink" that is revealed when paper is held up to a flame, just like "The List" Oliver was given by his father in the first episode.

The League of Assassin's source that Malcolm Merlyn was still alive was Moira Queen, who revealed she had the means to contact The LOA in 208.

Oliver refers to the events of 220 while speaking with Thea and how he thinks Moira was trying to tell them that Malcolm was still alive before the car crash that ended with her death at the hands of Slade Wilson.

At the episode's end, Roy is now employed as an assistant manager at Verdant.

In the flashback, reference is made to Oliver's refusal to kill Tommy Merlyn in 302.

In the flashback, Ollie makes reference to the climax of Season One's flashback scenes and how he stopped Eddie Fyers from shooting down Ferris Air flight 637 (123).  It is confirmed that the woman we saw giving Fyers orders in Season One was Amanda Waller and that the entire operation - rather than a plot to disrupt the Chinese economy as Fyers claimed - was all to bring about the death of Triad leader Chein Na Wei aka China White - last seen in 202.


Location

The final scene is set in a desert temple.


Untelevised Adventures

We learn that Sara visited with her father at some point in the past, looking for information on Master Jansen.


The Winick Factor

Averted hard, as Oliver manages to hold his own against Merlyn and Nyssa at the same time. One wonders - if Oliver weren't holding back and using non-lethal tactics - if he might have been able to defeat them both?


The Bottom Line

A solid episode that changes the game in a number of ways. We know Merlyn is up to something beyond protecting Thea, but we don't know what. We know an all out war with the League of Assassins is inevitable but we don't know what side our heroes may wind up on. And we're still no closer to knowing who killed Sara Lance and why. Still, all of the cast are given their moments to shine and things seem to be building at a slow boil.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Three #5 - A Review

I know I risk growing repetitive in talking about my love of this comic, but I do love this comic.  If this comic were a woman, I'd be afraid of asking her out for fear that it would ruin our friendship and drive her out of my life forever, leaving me a sad, broken husk of a man doomed to spend the rest of my days wallowing in eternal sadness. It is THAT good!


Tom Taylor fits so many little things into this issue that are just so perfect.  Harley Quinn being presented as a competent medical doctor.  Doctor Fate reluctantly admitting that he isn't really a doctor.  John Constantine being soft enough to lie to a scared little girl.  Klarion The Witch Boy's glee at being able to say a ludicrous thing out-loud.  And best of all, signs that despite all that has happened there is still something of the old Superman - the inherent nobility of Superman - somewhere deep inside the tyrant who now wields the power of fear as a weapon.


All of this is ably illustrated by Mike S. Miller and J. Nanjan with their usual skill and attention to detail.  I particularly like Miller's design for Harley Quinn and the way John Constantine's angry face is reflected in Doctor Fate's helmet.  Nanjan finds the perfect balance between light and dark, with inks that shade without shadowing the pencils.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Flash Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 4 - Going Rogue

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


Plot

Felicity Smoak comes to Central City for a visit, but Barry will have little time to enjoy it even after he escapes Iris' misguided attempts to play matchmaker. A cold, calculating bank robber named Leonard Snart is after a rare Khandaqian gem and he never gives up once he sets his eye on a target.

After The Flash thwarts his first attempt at stealing the gem in route to the museum, Snart turns his treacherous mind toward one question - how do you slow down the fastest man alive?  Luckily, one of his contacts just got a hold of a very special gun. A gun that someone at STAR Labs designed just in case they had to stop The Flash cold...


Influences

Showcase #8 (Captain Cold's first appearance), Superman: The Movie (Barry's line about train travel being safe) and more classic The Flash comics than anyone could name but mostly Geoff Johns' run on The Flash (Johns did quite a bit to develop Snart as a character and co-wrote the script for this episode).


Performances

Wentworth Miller nails the character of Captain Cold, as written by Geoff Johns.  Cool and controlled, but not without a thief's code of honor (no killing cops or guards unless they threaten you first, no harming women or children EVER) and some sense of humor (his treatment of the one boy during his tour of the museum).  If this casting and writing is a sign of things to come with this show's casting, the future is bright indeed.


Artistry

The special effects in the train-crash scene are easily the equal of those utilized for Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past.


Flash Facts

As the episode opens, Barry is testing his ability to multitask by playing ping-pong with Cisco, chess with Dr. Wells and the board game Operation with Caitlin... all at the same time.

Leonard Snart, as presented here, is almost precisely as he appears in the original comics, at least in terms of personality, intelligence and background.

At one point, Barry chuckles about the name Leonard Snart and says it's nearly as bad as Bartholomew.  Barry's full name is Bartholomew Henry Allen.

As in the comics, Snart was the son of an ex-cop, who was an abusive drunk who beat his wife and children.

At one point, Snart mentions a grandfather who used to take him to a crummy diner with a great view.  In the comics, Snart's grandfather was his one positive male role-model and he did indeed take a young Leonard to many different places along his route as an ice delivery man.  He also always bought Leonard and his younger sister ice cream.

As in the comics, Snart begins planning how to stop The Flash after one of his robberies is thwarted by Barry Allen.  However, in the original comics, Snart was caught and began plotting his revenge while in prison.

In the original comics, Snart read up on kinetic energy and thermal motion while in prison.  When he was paroled, he broke into a lab and stole everything (including a miniature cyclotron) he needed to build a gun capable of slowing molecular motion himself.  The show, more realistically, has Snart stealing a weapon capable of slowing The Flash down rather than developing it himself.

In the comics, Captain Cold wore a blue and white fur costume with a hooded coat along with a pair of skier's anti-glare glasses.  His uniform on the show is similar and maintains the same blue and white color scheme with a fur-trimmed hood and anti-glare goggles.

For the record, Captain Cold's weapon of choice is a freeze ray. Not an ice beam. That's so Johnny Snow. Who knows nothing.

The gem Snart is after comes from the country of Khandaq - a Middle-Eastern nation in the DC Universe, best known as the homeland of the Shazam villain Black Adam.

Harrison Wells knows who Felicity is and indeed had considered her as a potential recruit for STAR Labs.

Felicity asks if Barry could run so fast that he would crumble to dust inside his costume.  This is actually what happened when Barry died saving the multiverse in Crisis On Infinite Earths.

Felicity also asks if Barry's accelerated speed is accelerating his aging. This did happen in quite a few classic Flash comics...

The man Captain Cold is speaking to at the end of the episode is named Mick.  Given the references to playing with fire, this is probably Mick Rory - the man who eventually becomes the super-villain Heat Wave.


Technobabble

Surprisingly, Cisco's talk about temperature and speed being opposites is accurate and the explanation he gives regarding how a gun that can slow molecular motion could freeze things solid is taken straight from the comics.

The Freeze Ray gives Barry a third degree case of frostbite and we're told that if it weren't for his accelerated healing factor he would have died.

Cisco's Freeze Ray is powered by a compact cryo-engine that can achieve Absolute Zero.


Dialogue Triumphs

Barry: (off-camera, while running on his treadmill) Wanna see how fast I can run backwards?!
(Loud Crash from off-camera as Caitlin, Felicity, Cisco and Dr. Wells look on)
Caitlin: Don't worry. He heals fast too.

Leonard Snart: Once the armored car called 911 we had 182 seconds before any cop could be on the scene. No one could get there fast enough to stop us. But something did. And you lost your cool. You know the rules, we don't shoot guards or cops unless it's the only option. We don't need the heat.

Felicity: Just go! Stay safe! And I'm talking to air now, which is just weird. And I'm still doing it!

(After Captain Cold destroys a door by freezing it solid)
Guard: Freeze!
Captain Cold: (pause) You want to end up like that door?

Felicity: Remember when you told me you had a little experience, liking someone who didn't like you the same way? That was Iris, right?
Barry: How did you know?
Felicity: It's the little things. The way you linger on her when she isn't looking, the smile you fake to play the part. The quiet dreams you keep to yourself.
Barry: Like you and Oliver. Takes one to know one. I'm afraid it will change everything.
Felicity: It will, but maybe that's not such a bad thing? What is wrong with us? We are perfectly perfect for each other.
Barry: Yet we're sitting here pining for people we can't have. I guess what they say is true. Opposites do attract.


Continuity

The security company handling delivery of the gem Snart is after is Blackhawk Security (A111)

Felicity says she learned about Barry's secret identity by listening in to his and Oliver's conversation from F101/A301.

Caitlin tells Felicity that it's nice to see her again.  It was revealed in A219 that Felicity, Caitlin and Cisco all met when Felicity came to visit Barry at STAR Labs while he was in a coma.

Barry mentions the metahuman villains Marton (F101) and Nimbus (F103).


The Bottom Line

Perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  The introduction of Captain Cold is perfect.  The drama between Felicity and Barry is perfect.  Easily the best episode of the series so far.

The Flash: Season Zero #3 & #4 - A Review

The third and fourth chapters of the Freak Show story-line see Barry Allen having to surreptitiously deal with a number of incidents involving wild animal attacks all around Central City.  The clues he uncovers lead his crew at STAR Labs to conclude that the mastermind behind all this is a carnival owner named Mr. Bliss.  But will that information be enough to prepare The Flash for what he discovers under the big top?


Freed from the constraints of a television show's budget and the boundaries of reality, executive producer Andrew Kreisberg has gone hog-wild with the story for this series and it works out wonderfully. The scripts by Brooke Eikmeier and Katherine Walczak perfectly capture the tone of The Flash TV series as well as the characters involved, even as we're treated to such silliness as The Flash having to raid a local fruit stand to deal with a mob of hungry chimps.


Sadly, the artwork doesn't work quite as well.  Phil Hester is a fine artist but I question if he is the right artist for The Flash.  Hester's style is blocky, with a lot of hard lines. That aesthetic worked quite well on Green Arrow but it doesn't seem to fit a character as fluid as Barry Allen.  The heavy inks of Eric Gapstur don't help matters, but the artwork isn't bad.  It just doesn't seem to fit the characters.  Despite this, fans of the show will enjoy this comic immensely.

Earth 2: World's End #3 - A Review

The most aggravating thing about Earth 2: World's End is a lack of credits by page number for the artists involved.  This annoys me because I need to know who to blame for the fact that Dick Grayson is being drawn like a combination of Mr. Spock and Goku.

I could, in theory, look up each individual artist's name and try and compare this offending page to their other work on-line. But with nine credited artists on this issue alone, that is far more effort than I feel like spending on so mediocre a title.


Mediocre is a strong word, I admit, but it is aptly applied here.  There are many good things about Earth 2: World's End but any greatness is mitigated by the work of less-skilled creators.  The old saying about "too many cooks" has never been more aptly proven.

This applies to both the writing and the artwork.  I've enjoyed the work of Marguerite Bennett and Mike Johnson before and there are a number of well-written scenes with great dialogue throughout the book.  However, the actual plot, as paced by Daniel H. Wilson, leaves much to be desired.


Granting that there are a lot of subplots to balance out, I feel it would be more effective to spend each issue focusing on one or two subplots rather than trying to devote at least one page to each one.  We really need more than one page to convey the scope of Green Lantern's solo effort to rid Rio De Janeiro of monsters.