Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Flash Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 11 - The Sound And The Fury

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



Plot

Two years ago, Hartley Rathaway had a promising career at STAR Labs but a falling out with his mentor Harrison Wells left him broken emotionally.  Then the particle accelerator accident broke him physically, leaving him permanently deaf and in excruciating pain.

Now, Hartley has used his knowledge of sonic technologies to fix his hearing and empower himself. Calling himself The Pied Piper, he's out to make Harrison Wells pay for his crimes.  For Hartley knows about a secret Dr. Wells has been hiding for quite some time....even from the rest of the STAR Labs team!

Of course The Flash can outrun sound... but can he out-think the mad genius who is out to destroy his mentor and friend?


Influences

Various The Flash comics over the past 55 years, including The Flash #106 - the first appearance of The Pied Piper.


Flash Facts

The episode title - The Sound and The Fury - is taken from the name of a classic American novel by William Faulkner. That title itself comes from a line from William Shakespeare's Macbeth - "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Early in the episode, we get to see The Flash take on The Royal Flush Gang.  We don't get to see if this is the same group of criminals from the Arrow episode Legacies (A106) but it would not be unprecedented for another group to have taken on the name.

In the comics and cartoons, various groups known as The Royal Flush gang formed under the command of various super-villains including Amos Fortune, Hector Hammond and even The Joker! Most versions of the gang featured five members - Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten - although one version in Superman: Man of Steel #121 had cells in cities around the United States consisting of 52 members each.

Iris gets a job with the Central City Picture News. In the comics, this is the name of Central City's major newspaper - their equivalent of The Daily Planet.  In the comics, however, Iris started off as a photographer rather than a reporter.

Hartley Rathaway is based on a classic Flash villain know as The Pied Piper. Born to a wealthy family, young Hartley was found to be deaf at an early age. After an experimental surgery restored his hearing, Hartley became obsessed with sound and sonic technologies. A scientific genius, Hartley found a way to hypnotize people through music and to generate tremendous damage with focused vibrations.

Hartley would later reform and become a social crusader who fought for the poor and needy. He also outed himself as homosexual and became a vocal LGBT activist, noting the irony of his being the first Rogue to "go straight".

In the New 52 universe, Hartley is exclusively dating David Singh - Barry Allen's superior officer. The DCTV universe version of Captain Singh was revealed to be gay in 108.

As in the comics, the DCTV version of Hartley was disowned by his family due to his sexuality.  In the Silver Age comics, he was disowned to his criminal activities.

Iris' unwilling mentor at the Central City Picture News is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter named Mason Bridge. In the comics, Mason Trollbridge was the name of a reporter friend of Wally West - the second Flash.  Trollbridge also had a brief career as the second crime-fighter known as The Clipper.  The first Clipper was a Depression-era hero whom a young Mason had briefly assisted as an unnamed boy wonder.

Iris asks her editor if she should call him Chief. This is a nod to a running gag in the Superman comics, where Daily Planet editor Perry White continually tells people - Jimmy Olsen and Clark Kent in particular - not to call him Chief.

Cisco is caught in the vibrational shockwave of Pied Piper's technology when Hartley escapes the pipeline. Could this be what triggers Cisco's metahuman powers, turning the DCTV version of Cisco Ramon into this world's version of Vibe?

At one point Harrison Wells makes reference to The Norris Commission.  This may be named in honor of Paul Norris - a Golden Age comic artist responsible for co-creating Aquaman, Roy Harper, The Sandman and Sandy The Golden Boy.

The end of the episode marks the first mention of The Speed Force - the energy field in the DC Comics universe that empowers most heroes with super-speed.


Technobabble

The glass in Harrison Well's home did not have any point of impact when it broke.

Magnetic flux is measured by Hall Effect pick-up.

The dual of a parallel R-C circuit is a series R-L circuit.

Everything has a natural frequency Since sound is expressed as a vibration, if the pitch of a sound can be made to match the natural frequency of an object, it can be made to shatter the object. This principal is most frequently observed in a singer holding a note that can shatter glass.

The radio transmitter in The Flash suit broadcasts on a frequency of 1900 MHz.

The Pied Piper has special hearing aids that treat the pain caused by the head trauma he sustained during the particle accelerator explosion.  They also enhance his hearing to the point where he can hear radio waves.

The particle accelerator's anti-proton cavities were converted into confinement cells by Cisco.

Pied Piper was able to devise a hexagonal algorithm that allowed him to track where The Flash was coming from whenever he went to stop a crime to STAR Labs.

Pied Piper's equipment utilizes sonic resonance. The intensity regulator on his gauntlets measures in decibels. The lowest setting is capable of shattering windows. At high levels, it could destroy an entire skyscraper in one blast.

Pied Piper's hearing aid is capable of being refashioned into a device capable of blowing a vault door into pieces. He uses this to escape from The Pipeline.

Harrison Wells makes reference to a 10 volume report issued by the Norris Commission regarding the STAR Labs particle accelerator malfunctioning.

Cisco is unable to track Pied Piper's broadcast signals. He finally tracks Pied Piper by monitoring seismic activity, theorizing his sonic attacks may cause tremors.

In chess, a discovered attack is one you don't see until it is too late to counter.

Wells makes use of a satellite radio to broadcast a signal that will disrupt Pied Piper's technology.


Dialogue Triumphs

Cisco:
We need a picture!
Barry: Pretty sure Rule Number One of having a secret identity is NOT taking pictures in your super suit without a mask on.
Cisco: Oh, come on! Please? This is just for us. Just to document all this.
Harrison: Who knows? Maybe people in the future will want to know how all this happened.

Hartley: We both know what you did. It's time to pay the piper!

The Flash: It's over, Rathaway.
Pied Piper: You know my name? I know some names too. Caitlin Snow. Cisco Ramon. Harrison Wells. I can hear the radio waves emanating from your suit. About 1900 MHz. Is that them on the other end listening? Are they going to hear you die?
The Flash: No. They're going to hear you get your ass kicked.

Pied Piper: Being scooped up by a guy clad in head-to-toe leather is a long-time fantasy of mine, so thanks!

Caitlin: The next time you choose to put our lives and the lives of the people we love at risk, I'll expect a heads up.

Iris: I may not have a lot of experience, but I have -
Mason: Spunk? Grit? Gumption? What is this? A Chick-Lit novel?

Barry: The people we admire aren't always who we'd like them to be.

Harrison: Has Hartley made contact yet?
Caitlin: What makes you so sure he will?
Harrison: Because he's Hartley and he'll want to have the last word.


Continuity

Cisco is a competent enough hacker to change stop-lights.

Barry is now fast enough to take a picture with a camera phone, run into the shot and then run back and catch the phone before it can hit the ground.

Iris is hired as a reporter at Central City Picture News based on her blog. While she intends to become a real reporter, she finds that her editor is only interested in her ability to get scoops on The Flash.

Cisco was hired at STAR Labs one year before the particle accelerator accident.  At that point, Caitlin and Ronnie Raymond had been dating for one year but were not yet engaged.

Rathaway Industries was founded by Hartley Rathaway's grandfather and his father expanded the company. Hartley was poised to inherit everything until he outed himself.

Hartley was responsible for helping design and build the STAR Labs particle accelerator.

Hartley is capable of speaking Spanish, French and Latin.  Cisco speaks Spanish. Caitlin speaks French. Harrison Wells speaks Latin.  Barry, to his embarrassment, did not take a foreign language in school.

Wells confesses to Caitlin, Cisco and Barry that Hartley warned him that the particle accelerator might explode and that he decided to activate it anyway. He later makes the same confession at a press conference.

Cisco is caught in the vibrational shockwave generated by Hartley's technology as he escapes. He is left concussed by the experience.

Wells claimed Hartley left STAR Labs around the time of the particle accelerator explosion. We find out later in a flashback that Wells fired Hartley when he said that he knew that the accelerator might explode. Wells further threatened to ruin Hartley's career if he went public with that knowledge.

At his press conference, Harrison Wells calls on unknown cub reporter Iris West, hinting that he knows something of her destiny to become a great reporter.

Joe West and Eddie Thawne decide to start investigating Harrison Wells after being unable to find anything about his past in his house.

Hartley claims to know where Ronnie Raymond can be found, what happened to him when the particle accelerator exploded and how he can be saved.

Harrison Wells' use of a wheelchair is not entirely an act. We see him loose his ability to walk during Pied Piper's escape from The Pipeline and mutter "not again".

Later, we see Wells using the tachyon device from 109 to treat his unnamed condition,  At maximum output, the Speed Force absorption rate is at 35% and rising, though this is past the acceptable tolerance range.  This is not enough to allow Wells to stabilize. He says he cannot hang on to his speed and he can't control it.  However, Wells notes the tachyon device was only ever mean to be a temporary fix.


The Boomerang Factor

For someone with many secrets, Harrison Wells is remarkably nonchalant about walking around in front of windows that offer a clear view into his home.


The Bottom Line

An interesting episode, but not for the reasons I think the creative team intended.  The Pied Piper is decent enough but what really sells this episode is Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells.  By this point, the viewers know far more than the characters do but even we are in the dark as to what Wells motivations are and just how much of the truth we know... if indeed we even know the truth!  Wells is a manipulator - that much is certain.  But is he continuing to manipulate his employees at STAR Labs even now?  Or does he honestly enjoy their company in spite of his villainous plans?  That is the crux of this episode and Cavanagh plays it perfectly.

Four Fast Thoughts On Fantastic Four (2015) Trailer


1. Could they possibly have made this look any more like a generic sci-fi movie?

2. Am I the only one worried that they seem to be actively obscuring the heroes using their powers? 

3. Meh.

 4. 4 replacing a vowel in the title - because that worked so well for THI4F!


Monday, January 26, 2015

The Flash: Season Zero #11 - A Review

Barry, Caitlin and Cisco were enjoying a nice working vacation in Coast City, testing Barry's powers in a coastal environment to see if he might be the Fastest Swimmer Alive. Sadly, the fun is cut short when Barry gets called back to investigate a strange murder.  One seemingly committed by a walking shark...

The script for this issue is a fun one, with most of the focus being on the interaction between Barry, Cisco and Caitlin.  There's a fair bit of humor with Barry and Cisco cracking wise about the possibility of werewolves and zombies being potentially realities in their post-metahuman world (Caitlin is not amused, naturally) and the writing perfectly captures the spirit of the show.


Phil Hester is back as the series penciler along with Eric Gapstur on inks and, again, I must say that they seem an odd choice for the regular art team on this book.  They are both undoubtedly talented but their style seems at odds with the basic aesthetic of The Flash. The best bits of the artwork occur at the beginning and the end, where we see a shadowy monster attacking its victims at night. Unfortunately, most of the book takes place on a sunny beach in the middle of the day and Gapstur's inks are at their best when they are at their heaviest, strongly defining Hester's pencils.

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.