Friday, January 23, 2015

Constantine Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 10 - Quid Pro Quo

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



Plot

When thousands of people - including Chas's daughter - fall into magically-induced comas, John, Zed and Chas must track down the dark forces responsible. But will Chas pay the ultimate price to save the day?


Influences

Hellblazer: Original Sins (Zed's background and the mention of The Resurrection Crusade), Hellblazer: All His Engines (a plot involving people in magical comas, including a member of Chas's family) and various Justice League comics involving Felix Faust, especially the recent Justice League Dark series where John fought Felix Faust.


Performances

Charles Halford is excellent throughout, as we see Chas pushed past his breaking point worrying about his daughter.  But for my money his best bit of acting in the whole episode is his wordless reaction to his ex-wife saying, "She's all I have left." regarding their daughter. Chas knows full well his marriage is over but actually hearing the words clearly affect him deeply.

Matt Ryan does a similar job of effective wordless acting later on, as he hugs Renee shortly after Chas blows himself up to stop Felix Faust. The expression on his face says it all regarding his feelings for Chas and how much John regrets having ruined his best friend's life by turning him into a weapon against the forces of evil, in spite of all the good they've done since then.

Finally, Angelica Celaya doesn't get quite as much to do as Zed in this episode but she steals what few scenes she has as we see her showcasing her compassion in trying to comfort Renee while defending Chas' decisions and in trying a new trick with her powers.


Pub Trivia

The episode title - Quid Pro Quo - is a Latin phrase meaning "something for something", referring to an exchange of goods or services where one transfer is contingent upon the other. Or in plain English - you scratch my back, I scratch yours.

The main plot of this episode comes from the Hellblazer graphic novel All His Engines by Mike Carey.  The novel also deals with a number of people being put into comas by a magical influence and John's attention being brought to the matter after a member of Chas' family is stricken. The key differences are that the novel is predominantly set in Los Angeles rather than New York City and that the victim is Chas' granddaughter Trish rather than his daughter Geraldine.

Zed finally drops the name of the group that seeks her - The Resurrection Crusade. She also tells John that the group's leader is her father.  All of this is straight from Hellblazer: Original Sins.

The song that trigger's Chas' flashback to how he gained a number of extra lives is Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear The Reaper.  Curiously, the album cover for the LP the song came from - Agents of Fortune - features a stage magician holding tarot cards, whom bears an uncanny resemblance to DC Comics' magical hero John Zatara.

According to Executive Producer Daniel Cerone, the nightclub fire in this episode was inspired by the Station Nightclub Fire of 2003 where over 100 people died due to outdoor fireworks being used as part of an indoor pyrotechnics display.

Lillian Axe - the band playing at the club - is a real band. Indeed, they were the first hard rock band to be inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

Thanks to John's protection spell, Chas gains 47 lives from the people who died around him when the nightclub collapsed. Lillian Axe - perhaps not coincidentally - have a song titled 47 Ways To Die.

At one point, John drops the name of Aleister Crowley. Described in the press as "the most wicked man in the world", Crowley claimed to be a powerful magician and certainly threw some fairly wild parties.  In the Hellblazer comics, John actually knows Crowley personally and knows where he has been hiding since faking his death in 1947.

As in the comics, Chas' real first name is Francis.  In the comics, he was given the nickname in honor of Jimi Hendrix's producer Chas Chandler.

As in the comics, Renee hates John Constantine with a passion.  In the comics, this was the case even before Renee left Chas during the Mike Carey run on Hellblazer.

Fennel is also the name of the psychic contact John seeks out in All My Engines.  And like in the show, Fennel in the comic is burned to death.  However, the Fennel in the novel doesn't work in an Army Surplus store.

John has never used a cattle prod before.

In All My Engines, the main villain is a demon named Beroul who blackmails John Constantine into dealing with his rivals in exchange for freeing Trish's soul as opposed to a human mage.

Felix Faust is a reoccurring enemy of The Justice League and various magic-using heroes in the DC Universe, who first appeared in Justice League of America #10 (March 1962). Originally a dark sorcerer in 5000 BC, Faust tried and failed to challenge the most powerful wizard of his age and his soul was summarily banished to another realm. In the 1920s, he was able to take advantage of another sorcerer's mistake, took over his body and adopted the name Felix Faust as he resumed his quest for ultimate cosmic power, repeatedly butting heads with The Justice League in the process.

John describes Faust as a lifetime apprentice and second fiddle to the greatest black magicians of his generation. This does match up with the regard most mages have for Felix Faust in the comics, where Faust makes up for his lack of raw power with a talent for research and a willingness to experiment in ways no sane wizard ever would, to say nothing of trading in souls with high-level demons.

As in the comics, John has a glass jaw and is easily knocked out with one punch by Chas.


Arcana

John weaves a Duplicity Spell around the Mill House.  Rather than making the house invisible, it causes people who are looking for the house to wander onto a path leading away from it.

In the flashback, John casts a spell of protection on Chas. Surprisingly, it works despite John being incredibly drunk.  We find out later the same spell was used by Merlin to protect specific knights at King Arthur's request.  If any knight protected by the spell was killed in the company of lesser knights, the spell would pass their lives on to the protected.  In this case, Chas was given the lives of the 47 other people who died in the club fire.

John owns a brush that belonged to Alister Crowley. He says that he always takes it with him on a case when he doesn't have a clue where to begin and later uses it to detect evidence of the soul leaving the body on an unconscious Geraldine.

John also has a leather cord made from the sinew from Achilles' Heel. According to John it is impervious to magic and has the highest tensile strength of anything in this world or any other. Used as a whip, it can cut off the circulation to someone's hand within seconds. John claims it is Chas' favorite trick.

Chapped lips are celestial burn marks and can signify a soul leaving the body.

According to John, separating a soul from the body is the Holy Grail of Black Magic for black magic practitioners and no mortal has ever managed it... until Felix Faust.

Water from the River Jordan can be used as a magical lubricant to ease communication with lost souls.

According to John, only five books contain the spell used to disrupt a seance and kill the medium that was used to kill Fennel, each scattered across the globe by an Irish High King. Zed uses her powers to locate the closest copy of the book.

John knows a spell that can dispel elementary cloaking spells. It involves an evocation to the five elements and six directions.

According to Felix Faust, Karabasan is a named demon who is stealing the souls he has captured. In Turkish folklore, a karabasan is a type of monster - a boogeyman - who preys upon people while they sleep and scares them to death. Karabasan is also the Turkish word for nightmare and the medical term used to describe Sleep Paralysis.

John Constantine and Felix Faust both take a blood oath to honor their agreement, "in the name of Dedi of Dejed-Sneferu - he who endures".  Dedi of Dejed-Sneferu is an Ancient Egyptian magician, who is a character in one story contained with the Westcar Papyrus.

According to Chas, once a magician dies any spells they have cast that are still on-going will be broken.

John makes use of a rock with a hole in it in order to track and detect Karabasan.  This rock is known as an adder stone, but is also known as a fairy stone, witch stone, hag stone or aggri.  Whatever the name, they are all the same thing - a rock that has had a hole worn through it naturally, usually by water.  Looking through an adder stone allows one to see invisible beings and see through magical illusions and glamours.

John knows a spell that can induce sleep. He uses this to put Zed to sleep so she can act as bait in a trap for Karabasan.

The Monkey King is a trickster figure from Chinese mythology. He was a monkey born from a stone who acquired supernatural powers through Taoists practices, including super-strength, great leaping powers and the ability to shape-shift into one of 72 forms. He was also a powerful warrior and no mean spell-caster in his own right.

Zed is briefly able to use her powers to act as a medium and communicate with Geraldine's soul.

The amount of time between when Chas dies and when he comes back to life varies depending on how violent the death was and Chas does feel the pain of each death fully.


Dialogue Triumphs

John:
You've yet to flinch in the face of The Underworld. Why are you so afraid of a man from this one?
Zed: Because he's my father.

John: I've heard it said that nine-tenths of reality is perception. And in my trade, it's eleven-tenths.

John: All those people wasting away by your hand as life passes them by - that is not the legacy you want, Felix.
Felix Faust: And what would you know of legacy? A boastful, smutty, infantile boy? You create magic by accident and insolence while the truly devoted sweat and toil with no reward. You'll never know my magic, Constantine. You will know my pain!

Chas: I've watched other people suffer the consequences of your actions but this is my family! So I'm going to do things my way! Not yours!
John: Yeah?!  And how would you plan to do that?!
(Chas punches John and knocks him out cold. He takes John and puts him in the back of the cab)
Chas: My family's suffered enough because of you.

(As Chas wakes up after slitting his throat)
Felix Faust: A man of your word, indeed.
Chas: I wish that were true.


Continuity

John refers to The Resurrection Army's attempted abduction of Zed in 108.

By the episode's end, Chas is down to 30 lives.

Renee makes Chas a scrapbook fill of photos and stories about all 47 lives he absorbed.  He shows Geraldine the pictures and talks about the friends who are with him every day.

Zed apparently spoke to John's mother and he told Zed to tell John that he wasn't responsible for her death.


Location

Brooklyn, New York.


Untelevised Adventures

Felix Faust and John Constantine have had dealings in the past.

At one point before Chas and Renee were divorced, he missed Geraldine's birthday dinner due to his saving another family from The Monkey King.


John Screws Up

John gets his medium ally Fennel killed.

We find out that Chas' apparent immortality is due to John casting a protection spell on Chas that worked when he didn't expect it to.

(And now, a moment of silence for contemplation as we ponder how John can screw things up even by casting a difficult spell perfectly.)


The Bottom Line

The strongest episode of Constantine to date.  The script is wonderful, the cast is firing on all eight cylinders and everything comes off perfectly. The only downside is the loss of such a great villain as Felix Faust. Then again, it's not like Faust didn't die and come back more than once in the comics...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Red Sonja #14 - A Review

One might think Red Sonja cursed, even if that weren't literally the case. She has a vengeful sorcerer on her trail, an unwanted sidekick in the form of a magicless apprentice mage and the one surviving member of the war-band that killed her family has suddenly reappeared only to have eluded her once more.  The actual magical curse that removed her capacity to forgive even the smallest of annoyances is just the icing on the cake.  Yet that may prove to be the most dangerous thing Sonja has to cope with this night...


I've spoken before of how Gail Simone has revitalized the character of Red Sonja. It occurs to me, however, that I haven't said much about how good the dialogue on this series is. There is much wit and humor, as one would expect, but there are also a number of bad-ass lines, including a new title for Sonja - The Curse of Hyrkania - that is reminiscent of the Dalek's name for The Doctor - The Oncoming Storm.


Walter Geovani's artwork continues to be excellent. Geovani is one of the foremost Sonja artists, being one of the few who can depict a Sonja that is sexy while still appearing dangerous. He also offers up unique and eye-catching designs for every supporting character, so there is no fear of getting any members of the large cast confused.

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #4 - A Review

Freed from a localized time warp, The Doctor seems to have lost one companion but gained two more.  Accompanied by Rani Jhulka (an Indian warrior from 1825) and Priyanka Maratha (an Indian astronaut from 2315), The Doctor uncovers a plot stretching back to a long-dead race of fourth-dimensional beings who once played at being gods on Earth. And in order to save Clara Oswald, The Doctor will have to help the sinister Scindia family recover one of the Swords of Kali - an artifact that could cut the very fabric of space and time!


Robbie Morrison writes one HELL of a Doctor Who story. His supporting characters have well-developed motivations and fleshed-out histories. His villains for this piece - The Kaliratha and The Scindia Family - are one of the more interesting concepts in the series' history. And the whole affair is reminiscent of the classic Fourth Doctor story Pyramids of Mars which utilized Egyptian mythology in the same way that Morrison makes use of Indian legends. There's also a fair bit of witty dialogue through the book that sounds just like Peter Capaldi's snarky Doctor.


Unfortunately, I can't praise the artwork for this issue quite so heavily. The general look is inconsistent - a problem that can probably be credited to the fact that two separate artists worked on this issue. A larger problem is that this inconsistency frequently results in Chandra Scindia - the patriarch of the Scinidia family - being rendered in a manner that can only be described as an Arabic stereotype, which is doubly strange since the character is mean to be an Indian!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 3, Episode 10 - Left Behind

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




Plot

With Oliver Queen still missing some three days after he left to duel Ra's Al Ghul, it falls to the rest of Team Arrow to protect Starling City. But demoralized and disorganized as they are, can they hold-up as an aspiring crime-boss makes a bold move to release hundreds of criminals from prison and form an unstoppable gang?  And if they can't, could a new vigilante take flight in the city's time of need?

In the Hong Kong flashbacks, Ollie and Maseo must work quickly to recover the other half of the compound needed to make Chien Na Wei's bio-weapon if they are to have any hope of saving Tatsu.


Influences

The Green Arrow comics of Judd Winick.


Performances

David Ramsey, Colton Haynes and Emily Bett Rickards are each given a good amount of screen-time to showcase how their characters are coping with the apparent reality of Ollie's death.  Felicity takes it the hardest, of course, and has the most dramatic reaction.  Diggle is the most understated, ironically only losing his cool in the fact of an increasingly unsure Roy, who copes with things by looking inward and questioning his actions... just like Ollie in a crisis.  This episode is written as an ensemble piece for the rest of Team Arrow and the actors all nail their parts.


Artistry

The opening chase scene is of cinematic quality and a feather in the cap of the show's stunt team.


Trivia

Danny "Brick" Brickwell is based on a crime-boss from the Judd Winick run on Green Arrow.

Like his comic-book counterpart, the Arrow version of Brick seems to possess some form of  super-durability that makes him resistant (if not immune) to the effects of ballistic weaponry and bludgeoning damage. He does, however, seem to be less resistant to arrows.

Thus far,the Arrow version of Brick does not seem to possess the super-strength that Brick in the comics had. He also lack's the comic Brick's red skin and increased size. He does, however, possess his comic-book counterpart's talent for hand-to-hand combat.


Technobabble

The Omega element has to be mixed with another compound called Alpha in order to create a viable bio-weapon.

Ray Palmer tries to generate a two second electrical burst at 800 volts through a gauntlet..

When Felicity enters his office, he admits to having trouble  modulating the stress energy tensor.

Ray tried over-clocking the magnetic coils but that didn't work.

Ray then asks Felicity to see if she can get a nanite chip to function.

He later asks if the problem is the transplex interface.


Dialogue Triumphs

(On seeing Arsenal chasing them)
Thug One:
It's him!
Thug Two: I thought he was green!

Diggle: (defensively) I'm more a Glock kind of guy.
Arsenal: I didn't say anything.

Ray Palmer: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Start small!

The scene in which Oliver fails to easily break a window even after Maseo shoots it is rather funny given how easy breaking in through a window is usually made to look on TV and in the movies.

Merlyn: Could you put the gun away? They don't scare so much as annoy me.

Roy: Thea just asked me to talk to The Arrow about finding Oliver.
Diggle: And what did you tell her?
Roy: What else? I lied.
Diggle: Oliver didn't want Thea to know.
Roy: That was then. But now, what's the point?
Diggle: I keep asking myself the same question, Roy.
Roy: Then why do you keep going over the case evidence?
Diggle: Because it helps me keep my mind off of Oliver.
Roy: Doing this without him while we're waiting for him to come back is one thing. But doing this without him WITHOUT him? That's a whole other situation.
Diggle: And what do you want me to tell you, Roy?! I can only see one inch in front of me and this is the only thing in front of me right now.

(After Diggle tries shooting him in the head and nothing happens)
Brick: Smart man. Nobody thinks about going for a head shot.

(After shooting Brick in the back while he was strangling Diggle, causing a grunt of pain)
Arsenal: I guess arrows work a little better on this guy than bullets.

Diggle: He's not coming back. Oliver. I know you don't want to believe it, Laurel. God knows I don'tBut he's not coming back.
Laurel: Are you?  Are you coming back?
Diggle: I don't know. For the first time since I've met Oliver Queen, I don't know what happens next. I know it's silly but... I still like to think of myself as Oliver's bodyguard. I just couldn't protect him.
(Laurel hugs him) 
Diggle: It's funny. He was worried something would happen to me.


Continuity

As this episode opens, it has been three days since the events of A309 and eight months since Slade Wilson's attack on the city.

Diggle wears the Arrow suit for the first time since A105.

Ray Palmer has hated clowns since childhood.

Roy Harper knows Brick by sight.

The blueprint Diggle and Roy find is of the police evidence storage facility. The list they find is case numbers of all the violent offenders convicted in Starling City in the past eight months.

League of Assassins custom demands that any weapon used to kill someone in a duel be left on the dueling site as a memorial to the fallen.

Merlyn brings the sword Ra's impaled Oliver on to Felicity as proof of Oliver's death.

Roy does not usually drink alone.

Thea figured out on her own that Roy was The Arrow's new partner - the man in red.

Felicity is 25 years old.

Felicity quits Team Arrow and resigns from her job at Palmer Electronics.

Laurel takes Sara's wig, mask, gloves and Canary Cry greanades from the Arrow Cave.

Merlyn asks Thea to flee the city with him, never to return.

Oliver plants a tracker on one of Chien Na Wei's men and lets him go so they can follow them back to her base and rescue Tatsu. Maseo swears to repay Oliver for this someday.

In the present, we find Maseo is the one who took Oliver's body from where it fell after the duel.  We find out he took it to Tatsu, whom he did not want to see.  Somehow, she brought Oliver back to life.


The Bottom Line

A solid episode that gives the supporting cast a shot at the spotlight.  As usual, the weak point is Laurel but this is due more to the script than any failing on Katie Cassidy's part. The sad fact of the matter is that Laurel has been isolated from the rest of the cast for so long that she no longer has more than a passing acquaintance to most of the show's important characters.  So there's no chance at the same wonderful interplay we get between Diggle and Felicity or Diggle and Roy because Laurel is absent for most of the episode.  Even when we do see her, she doesn't show any reaction to Oliver's death once she hears about it and does little in the scene where she does find out apart from hug Diggle. Still, we do get to see her in costume for the second time and she doesn't get beaten up this time, so that's something.

Superior Iron Man #4 - A Review

With crime on the rise as The Have-Nots of San Francisco turn to crime against The Haves to pay for their Extermis 3.0 treatments, a new crime-fighting solution is required. Tony Stark has the answer - drones watching everyone who signed his service agreements to make sure that they're safe at all times. Naturally Matt Murdock is less than thrilled about this new development. But what can The Man Without Fear hope to do against The Superior Iron Man?


Tom Taylor does a masterful job of manipulating the reader's expectations with this issue. We don't know quite what to make of this Tony Stark. For every moment he seems to have returned to the wicked ways of the Civil War Tony, we see some signs of the man of compassion he once was. Nowhere is this more clear than in Tony's treatment of a young super-being known as The Teen Abomination, whom Tony defends from SHIELD.


Despite being handled by two inkers this month, the artwork for this series remains undiminished in quality.  Quite often when a book employs more than one inker, it shows. And any disparity in style and skill-level between those two inkers is immediately obvious.  That isn't the case here, thankfully.  Both Cory Hamsher and Tom Palmer do a fine job of enhancing Yildiray Cinar's original pencils.