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.

All New Invaders #11 - A Review

Some time has passed since The Invaders last united.  Thanks to recent events, Steve Rogers now looks his age and Namor - never the most popular of heroes or world leaders - is more hated than ever.  Despite this, Namor is still determined to find and save an apparently mad Jim Hammond - the first man to be called The Human Torch and one of the few Namor considers a true friend.


I've spoken before of James Robinson's gift for fitting exposition into his dialogue.  In most of his stories - such as the Times Past chapters of Robinson's Starman - this was due to flashbacks depicting old adventures relevant to the current adventure.  In this case, Robinson's gift is needed to explain away the current events of the Captain America title as well as the latest Marvel inter-company crossover.  Still, the information is delivered quickly and the proceedings are rounded out with some of Robinson's usual humor without things becoming too chatty.


Unlike last month's issue, All New Invaders #11 allows Steven Pugh ample opportunity to dazzle the audience with an epic splash page or two.  Pugh is even capable of fitting a poster-worthy piece of action-packed artwork into a half-page.  Such ability to depict this level of detail in a confined panel is a rare gift and we are all fortunate to see such talent on display here.

Superman #35 - A Review

There is a moment early on in Superman #35 where Lois Lane declares that "The Daily Planet is finally getting interesting again."  It's a bit of sarcastic meta-commentary on the part of Geoff Johns and Lois Lane is the perfect person to voice the sentiment. Ever since the New 52 reboot, there has been precious little of The Daily Planet staff in the Superman books and very little was done with them the few times they did show up. Lois Lane in particular was reduced in stature, transformed from Clark Kent's friendly rival to a mean girl who kept ignoring nice-guy Clark.


To paraphrase a line from Mark Waid, most of the recent Superman comics put more emphasis on "the Super" over "the man". That is entirely the wrong way to write a Superman story. Geoff Johns knows this and the current "Men Of Tomorrow" arc has centered less upon thrilling action sequences and more upon Clark Kent, as he attempts to teach the technically-human but totally-alien hero Ulysses about morality and what it means to be human. We still get some thrilling action, of course, but the focus is on the spirit of Superman - the friend who always there to help.


Thinking on it, that may be why John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson and Laura Martin were selected to be the art team for this particular story.  JRJ has a well-deserved reputation for being able to put a great deal of heart and energy into scenes of two people just talking.  Colorist Laura Martin modulates the palette subtly throughout the issue, with Superman's usual bold costume colors becoming more muted in the quieter moments. And Klaus Janson does his usual stellar job in making the bright moments all the brighter through creative shadow construction.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Three #4 - A Review

John Constantine's plan to unite Batman's Resistance with a number of willing magicians has run into a little snag.  An ivory-skinned snag in a big green cloak known as The Spectre!  Nobody knows why The Spirit of Vengeance is after them nor is anyone willing to stick around to find out. But escape may prove tricky, if not impossible...


As usual, there is much to admire in Tom Taylor's script.  The characters are captured perfectly and their unique abilities and personalities are well displayed. Drama and comedy are balanced in perfect measure. And I dare say that for all of the great moments in which Batman showcases his sheer awesomeness, Batman going to face down The Spectre with nothing more than his own certainty that a spirit of retribution can't touch him and no back-up plan if he happens to be wrong must number among the ten greatest of all time.


The artwork by Bruno Redondo also manages a unique balancing act.  There is darkness and mystery in the artwork, yes, but there is humor here as well, including a neat little tribute to the great Kevin Maguire.  To say more would spoil everything but it will suffice to say that fans of Justice League International would do well to check this issue out.

Arrow: Season 2.5 #5 - A Review

When the suspect in Laurel's latest case begins spouting off about a leather-masked god named Blood, it hits too close for comfort.  The rest of Team Arrow agrees it bares investigation, even though it's impossible for Sebastian Blood to have returned from the dead.  Meanwhile, Malcolm Merlyn - who would be faintly amused to hear anyone say that the dead don't come back - begins his training of his daughter Thea.

Meanwhile, in Khandaq, the terrorist leader responsible for kidnapping a number of schoolgirls gives the public a name.  He calls himself Khem-Adam - the ancient Egyptian phrase for Black Adam.  More, he claims to be a conduit for the ancient gods and to feel no pain...


The script for this issue by Marc Guggenheim and Keto Shimizu is fast-paced and feels just like a storyboard for an episode of the show.  The dialogue is crisp and hilarious and the action scenes well-played.  As before, I find the Suicide Squad back-up story to be as interesting as the main story and wish more space was being allocated for it, particularly in the wake of this issue's revelation that the terrorist leader for the group we've seen in action so far is Black Adam. Time will tell if we're about to see the first proof of magic in the unified DC Television Universe or if this is just another bone for the long-time comic fans.


The artwork is just as good as the scripts. Joe Bennett and Craig Yeung offer up some fine heroic artwork that is reminiscent of the works of Mike Grell, though not so heavily inked. The equally wonderful work of Szymon Kudranski in the Suicide Squad story is grittier and more realistic by comparison, in keeping with that story's darker aesthetic.

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Episode 10 - In The Forest Of The Night

THE QUICK, SPOILER FREE REVIEW


A light episode that plays with some interesting ideas but ultimately feels like filler pretending at a deepness it doesn't possess.



THE PLOT 

All around the world, trees have suddenly sprung up in all of the major cities and towns. Trees that don't burn and resist all efforts at being destroyed.  The Doctor is on the case, along with Clara, Danny and some of their students.  But the only lead The Doctor has is an odd little girl who sees things that aren't there, who is now lost in the dark and spooky woods...


THE GOOD PARTS

*
A great premise to start with - what if forests suddenly grew up out of everything?

* A lot of great lines and ideas in the script.  Especially the general idea of The Earth literally saving itself from disaster.

* Good direction and imagery, with the camera shooting things from a down-up perspective emulating a child's view of the world throughout.

* Somehow, the child actors here manage to avoid being annoying and the script allows them to act like real kids - clever, without being wise and still sounding like kids - i.e. getting tired and just wanting to go home after a long day and not being astonished at The TARDIS because they don't have any expectations as to what is impossible after a forest grew up out of nothing.

* Capaldi and Coleman continue to sell even the worst bits of every individual script.  Of particular note is the scene where they both try to save the other one, with Clara trying to convince The Doctor to just give up on The Earth and The Doctor trying to convince Clara to come with him.


THE PROBLEMS

* Even by the loose standards of science in Doctor Who, trees generating extra oxygen to shield Earth from the effects of a solar flare is a bit dodgy.  Expect much grousing from the same fans who complained about the idea of The Moon being a giant egg a few weeks ago.

* Nothing much is done with all the fairy tale references apart from falsely building suspense.

* On that note, society at large seems to take the reforestation of the Earth remarkably well from what we see on the news.


THE FINAL VERDICT

In The Forest Of The Night is unlike any other Doctor Who story ever but that isn't altogether a good thing. While there's some good ideas and imagery throughout, the script pushes its fairy-tale symbolism way too far while making too little of it.  Still, the episode largely succeeds but that's due almost entirely to good direction and good performances on the part of Capaldi and Coleman.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Constantine Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 1 - Non Est Asylum

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




Plot

After receiving a message from a dead friend, Master (re: Petty Dabbler) in the Dark Arts John Constantine journeys to America in search of a woman named Liv Aberdine. John's friend was Liv's estranged father and it seems that Liv is about to inherit her father's magical talents for seeing the unseen. Problem is most of the bad things that are unseen don't like to be seen and that makes Liv a very inviting target unless someone can teach her how to escape notice and deal with the bad things that are already on her trail.

But John's problems go beyond paying debts to old friends and playing knight errant for newbie psychics. He's somehow attracted the attention of a guardian angel named Manny, who has a feeling something big and bad is coming and that following John may be his best chance at figuring out what the forces of Hell are planning.  Of course John has little interest in being a canary in the coal mine, until Manny suggests that John might have a chance of reclaiming his soul if he doesn't run away from this fight...


Influences

Various details of John's background come from the Jamie Delano run on Hellblazer. Specific references are made to Hellblazer #1 (the trail of roaches), Hellblazer #4 (the appearance of Zed), Hellblazer #7 (the appearance of Ritchie Simpson) and Hellblazer #11 (The Newcastle Incident and John's battle to save Astra). John's speech at the end comes, in part, from Hellblazer #41 - the first issue of the series written by Garth Ennis.  The appearance of a demonic version of John may be a reference to The Demon Constantine, who first appeared in Hellblazer #94.


Performances

Matt Ryan offers an impressive first outing as John Constantine.  He looks the part and plays the part perfectly.


Pub Trivia

In the comics, as in the show, The Newcastle Incident is what John considers his greatest moment of personal failure. In brief, John botched a magical ritual while trying to save a girl named Astra from a demon named Negral and the mistake cost John his soul and caused Astra to be dragged to Hell. A flashback confirms these basic details are true to the universe of the show, though it leaves out the fine points of how John came to find himself fighting to save Astra.

In the original comics, Astra was sexually abused by her magician father and she accidentally summoned a demon while wishing for something, anything, to protect her.  John and some of his friends summoned a second demon to try and fight the first one and the situation spiraled out of control.  The Newcastle Incident as described by Ritchie in the show matches up with these details, save that he says Astra was merely possessed by a demon and no mention is made of any kind of sexual abuse.

As this episode opens, it has been three months since The Newcastle Incident,

The doctor who interviews John is identified by his nameplate as Dr. Roger Huntoon. As in the show, he was the doctor who ran Ravenscar in the original Hellblazer comics. He also appeared in a number of other DC Comics, as the author of a pop-psychology book about the dangers of superheroes.

The episode opens in Ravenscar Asylum.  In the comics, this is the same mental institution that John bounced in and out of for several years. The biggest difference here is that John is self-committed in the reality of the show. In the original comics, John was committed after being blamed for Astra's death.  John suffered severe physical and mental abuse at the hands of the staff, who were ill pleased at having to care for a child-murderer they felt was getting off scott-free on account of an insanity plea.

Another big change from the comics is that John isn't held responsible for Astra's death by the police, though as in the comics he still blames himself and sees his failure to save her as his greatest mistake.

The scene in which John follows a swarm of roaches to a possessed woman is similar to a scene in Hellblazer #1.

Chas Chandler is introduced on the show as John's oldest friend. While this is true in the comics, there is quite a bit of difference between Chas on the show and Chas in the comics.  In the comics, Chas has lives a delightfully mundane existence as a London cab-driver and has no direct knowledge of magic and how it works. Comic Chas doesn't have the know-how to carve an Eye of Horus and he certainly doesn't have any "survival skills" that let him shrug off being impaled by a power line.

In the comics, Chas somehow managed to survive John Constatnine's friendship longer than anyone else but no explanation - magical or mundane - was ever given for this.

According to Chas, Liv's father died bravely but John cuts him off before he can give any details.

The song playing as the cab is hit by a semi-truck is Social Distortion's cover of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire.

One of the artifacts we see Liv handle in her father's hideout is the Helm of Nabu - a.k.a. the helmet used by a number of magician superheroes who used the name Dr. Fate.  It is sometimes also called The Helmet of Fate.

There is also a mask next to the out-of-sync mirror that bares a resemblance to The Medusa Mask - a magical artifact used by the villain The Psycho Pirate to alter the minds, moods and memories of his victims.

Another item we see in the background bears a resemblance to The Ibistick - the magical wand used by the Egyptian hero Ibis The Invincible.

The three-eyed skull in a glass case that we see among the items in the hideout looks suspiciously like the design for Pandora's Box in the recent DC Comics event Trinity War.

We see the phrase "MORE THAN THIS" written backwards on a black board in Liv's father's lair. This is likely a reference to the magicians in the DC Universe who are able to work magic by speaking or writing backwards, like Zatanna.

The name of Ivy University may ring a bell with DC Comics fans as the college with employs Dr. Ray Palmer a.k.a. The Atom.  Presumably this may be the Atlanta campus, as the original Ivy University was located in Ivy Town, Connecticut.

Ritchie Simpson is another of John's friends from the comics, who made his first appearance in Hellblazer #7. At the time of his first appearance in the comics, Ritchie was the only member of the group of John's friends present for The Newcastle Incident who was still alive.  He was British and worked in a factory. As in the comics, Ritchie is presented as a computer expert whom John recruits for a job. The show's version of Ritchie is an American who is employed as a college professor. He differs from his comics counterpart in that he has to be blackmailed into helping John.

We're told that John's mother died in childbirth and his father blamed him for her death. His nickname for John was "Killer" and he punched John in the head every night "for what you did to your mom."  This matches up with John's abusive childhood in the comics.

John also started studying magic as a teenager, trying to find a way to communicate with his mother's spirit. He was never successful.

We find out in this episode that the demon who took Astra was named Negral.  This matches up with the comics, where Negral was a demon who crossed swords with John on a number of occasions and The Newcastle Incident was Round One.

Once trapped in John's protective seal, Fucifer manifests as a demonic version of John he introduces as "locking eyes with the future".  This may be a reference to The Demon Constantine - a creature made up of the worst aspects of John's personality whom John created back in Hellblazer #94.

Reference is also made to The First of The Fallen - one of the many beings who claims to be a ruler of Hell in DC Comics and the one with whom John would develop a fierce antagonism during the Garth Ennis run of Hellblazer.

John gets into an argument with a bartender over who was a more influential band - The Ramones or The Sex Pistols.  In the original comics, John was a punk rocker before he got into magic and was definitely a devote of the Sid Vicious school of punk.

The final scene depicts a frenzied woman drawing a sketch of John. This is Zed - a character from the comics, who has already been revealed as a series regular.  In the comics, Zed was an artist with her own magical talents and she was a rare match for John in the wits and cunning department.

Some of the paintings we see in Zed's apartment were taken from cover paintings from the Hellblazer comic.


Arcana

Angels feed on the suffering of mortals. This feeding inspires feelings of euphoria in the mortal being fed upon.

Chas carves an Eye of Horus on Liv's apartment door.  The Eye of Horus in an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection and good health.

Liv's ability to see lost souls and spirits is a unique talent few magicians have. John doesn't have the knack, despite Liv's father trying to teach him the trick.

Scrying is the art of locating things with magic.

The demon stalking Liv is named Furcifer. He draws his strength from electricity, lighting and tempests. This gives him the ability to control electronics and dead bodies. He also has some ability to create illusions, as he created a glamour of Astra to convince John to drop his seal

Angels have some limited ability to stop time.

John's Demon Seal is a proprietary design combining a Triangle of Solomon with some Elder Moons and an arcane script.

Under ordinary circumstances, demons cannot manifest without help and the more powerful a demon is, the more help they require. Somehow, the demons are breaking the rules and acting more overtly than is common, in regards to trying to kill Liv.


Dialogue Triumphs

Doctor Roger Huntoon:
We're all powerless against demons.
John: Not all of us, chief.
Doctor Roger Huntoon: That's right. Before you checked yourself in here three months ago, you were working as (glances at John's business card) an exorcist, demonologist and "Master of the Dark Arts?"
John: That says Master, does it? Although I should really change that to "Petty Dabbler". I hate to put on airs.

(As John goes into a crater)
Manny: You shouldn't be down here.
John: I could say the same about you.

John: I'm okay! So flap off!

Manny: Now, I can't change your fate but I can ease your suffering...
John: Go feed off someone else's loss!
Manny: But yours is exquisite!

(After Liv screams at seeing a very much alive Chas Chandler)
Chas; It's okay!  I'm all right! Sorry to startle you.
Liv: But you're - you died!
Chas: Not exactly. It's... complicated.
John: There's a reason Chas is my oldest friend. He has survival skills.
Liv: No-no-nobody could survive what I saw!
John: Excellent!  If you're not confused, you're not paying attention.

Manny: You fail to grasp the stakes here, John. Liv's power is valuable!
John: So's her life!  If Liv was going to join our fight, she had the right to see the risks for herself. All I did was... give her a choice.  Which is more than Astra ever had.
Manny: You said OUR fight. That mean you're going to help us?
John: Well, it's what you wanted, isn't it? (chuckles) And you call ME a con man. (getting up) Pick up the tab, will ya?  You bastards are going to owe me.

John: My name is John Constantine. I'm the one who steps from the shadows, all trench-coat and arrogance.  I'll drive your demons away, kick them in the bollocks, spit on them when they're down and leave with only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack.  I walk my path alone.  Because let's be honest - who'd be crazy enough to walk it with me?


Dialogue Disasters

John's shout of "What's on the way?" while looking up at crane cam shooting away from him is incredibly campy.


Location

Ravenscar Asylum in Northern England and Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. We also see Newcastle, England in a brief flashback.


The Fridge Factor

Granting that she's meant to be our entry point into John's world, Liv comes off as a second-rate companion to Matt Ryan's Doctor.  Small wonder the show's producers decided to replace her.


John Screws Up

We get a brief flashback of The Newcastle Incident.

John nearly falls for a very basic illusion of Astra and nearly breaks the seal he set around Fucifer.


The Bottom Line

A solid start, comparable in tone to the pilot episode of Arrow.  There's enough meat here to give a taste of the magic-side of the DC Universe at large and a fair number of in-jokes for the die-hards. Yet the whole affair is easily accessible to newbies and horror fans who are ignorant of the vast mythology and they'll likely enjoy the series.  Really, the only weak point of the whole affair is the character of Liv and we already know she's out of the series.

Constantine Episode Guide - Format Key


For my Constantine Episode Guide, I'll be using a slightly modified version of the stats I used for my Hellblazer Reading Guide coupled with the same key I used for my guides to Arrow and The Flash, which in turn are based off of what I think is the finest episode guide ever written - Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day & Keith Topping.

Here is the quick rundown.

Plot: A quick summary of the main story.

Influences: Specific media which may have inspired or otherwise influenced a particular episode.

Goofs: Holes in the plot, visible wires during the stunts and other things that don't work the way they should.

Performances: The actors and their craft - how well the characters are played, ignoring how that character may have been differently portrayed in another story.

Artistry: Anything on the technical side of things that is notably well-handled, such as set-design, lighting, sound effects, cinematography, etc.

Pub Trivia: Random things of interest and references to the comics.

Arcana: Fancy speech used to justify the unlikely and/or impossible things that sometimes happen.  Also, anything having to do with the laws of magic.

Dialogue Triumphs: Good lines and funny bits.

Dialogue Disasters: Anything the characters say that make you roll your eyes or snort in disbelief.

Continuity: Direct references to previous episodes.

Location: Where the story takes place.

Untelevised Adventures: Stories that take place off camera, but are referred to.

The Fridge Factor: How badly the female characters on the show are manipulated by the story in order to make the male characters look better.

John Screws Up: Any notable instances of John biting off more than he can chew or having a con blow up in his face.

The Bottom Line: Is it good or bad? Why is it good or bad? How can they make it better/not make it worse?

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.

Justice League United #5 - A Review

I've spoken before about how Jeff Lemire is one of the few modern writers who seems to follow the classic rule that every comic should be written as if it were someone's first exposure to the characters.  It is for that reason - and perhaps because of the delay between issues caused by the Future's End specials - that this issue opens with a recap of just how the new Justice League came together and why Martian Manhunter has now taken on guardianship of a genetically engineered being born of multiple alien species known as Ultra.


This story - as well as the majority of the team going to investigate the sudden activation of the distress beacon of a recently deceased Hawkman - take a backseat to the main focus of the issue, which develops two heroines who haven't been seen in the book much so far and indeed haven't really defined themselves as heroines yet.  One is Alanna Strange, who despite having a space-suit, a brave heart and a ray gun, still isn't quite sure what to make of the destiny that has been thrust upon her and her husband, Adam.  The other is Miyahbin - a young woman who is about to discover her own special powers and her family's legacy as protectors and guardians.



The artwork of Timothy Green II and Joe Silver proves the equal of Jeff Lemire's amazing script.  Green is a grand visual storyteller and he has a gift for drawing interesting inhuman figures, such as J'onn J'onzz or the monstrous Whitago. Joe Silver is a soft touch with the ink pen, but that suits this bright, largely hopeful story just fine.

All in all, if you haven't been reading Justice League United, this is a good issue to start with.

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Three #3 - A Review

Injustice: Year Three #3 sees John Constantine in the unusual role of the general rallying the troops. Uniting Batman's resistance movement with all the magic users interested in giving Superman a good punch up the bracket isn't going to be an easy task. And the arrival of an enemy intent on thwarting the alliance before it begins won't make things any easier.


Tom Taylor has two great gifts as a writer.  The first is an encyclopedic knowledge of the characters of the DC Universe and how they should act. The second is a creative instinct to find the perfect ways to play characters who don't normally interact off of each other in ways that make perfect sense and leave one wondering why we've never seen these characters interact before.  Taylor brings about magic on these pages, from Harley Qunn's immediate attraction to bad-boy John Constantine to Detective Chimp talking to Harvey Bullock, detective to detective, after the later declares that he can't cope with talking animals and magic.


The artwork by Mark S. Miller and J. Nanjan proves a prefect complement to Taylor's script.  Miller offers some wonderful designs for each character and has a particular affinity for drawing unique faces and injecting life and humanity into every expression.  Yes, even the non-human face of Detective Chimp has a distinct sense of humanity, if you'll pardon the phrase.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 3, Episode 2 - Sara

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



Plot

The death of Sara Lance has hit everyone on Team Arrow hard, but they're all responding to it in different ways. As Oliver throws himself into the hunt for Sara's killer - with an increasingly angry Laurel watching from the sidelines - Roy Harper's thoughts turn to his own lost love and spark a search for Thea Queen.  Felicity takes Sara's death the hardest of them all but she has her own problems to worry about, as Ray Palmer doubles down on his efforts to get into her good graces.

Five years ago in Hong Kong, Oliver is given his first test - assassinate a troublesome American who is asking uncomfortable questions.  The American?  Oliver's best friend, Tommy Merlyn, who has come to Hong Kong looking for Oliver!


Influences

The Mike Grell run on Green Arrow (Oliver contemplating his own mortality, Oliver employing his skills as a tracker to investigate a crime scene and Ollie being press-ganged into working for the American government) and The Fall of Green Arrow (Oliver's speech to Laurel about the futility of revenge is similar to the one he gave Speedy)


Goofs

The blood splatter on Sara's body doesn't match her injuries.

How does Oliver think Thea is traveling the world?  Weren't all of their assets and savings snatched up by Isabel Rochev?

How do the two cops in the hallway protecting Elric Kelso not hear his screams when Laurel starts roughing him up?

Why did Kodomo just walk off after he sees Laurel peeking through the glass after he kills Kelso?  He should have seen her talking to him before he took the shot.  (Maybe a mercenary code of honor where he doesn't kill anyone except his targets?)

Quentin drops the questions of why Laurel was questioning a man in police custody and what Laurel was hiding from him far too quickly.

Katie Cassidy's performance throughout much of the episode gives new meaning to the Dull Surprise meme.  She seems less like someone who is coping with the trauma of having seen their sister die in front of them and more like someone who was slapped in the face with a fish.


Performances

Emily Bett Rickards steals the show in this one, managing to play both angry and anguished at the same time as she confronts Ray Palmer over his efforts to employ her.  This episode shows just how much Felicity has grown as a character over the past year and it's hard to imagine the Felicity of Season One standing up for herself like this.

Brandon Routh has a challenging part here, having to both play Ray Palmer as the kind of creep who would go so overboard on trying to get a woman's attention as to buy the company she worked for but not enough of a creep to not try and make an actual emotional connection when he sees that Felicity is honestly hurting.  It's a tough act but he just manages to go into reverse before going full Christian Gray and backs up to park somewhere around Tony Stark.


Artistry

The archery duel on motorcycles is an amazing scene and an Emmy-worthy triumph for the stunt team.

The direction, music and wordless acting in the final scenes, in which we see Oliver sitting alone in his cave, Laurel hugging Sara's stuffed shark, John playing with his daughter and Roy looking at pictures of himself and Thea on his phone before cutting to Felicity accepting Ray Palmer's job offer.


Trivia

This is the first episode with the new intro for Season 3.  It differs from the new intro for the Arrow Season 2.5 comic.

A passing reference is made to Qurac - a fictional Middle Eastern country in the DC Universe.

Felicity says she always imagined Sara as some kind of amazonian warrior. In the comics, Black Canary was a frequent sparring partner of Wonder Woman - an actual Amazon.

Waller is said to want Merlyn "off the board".  This use of a chess term (eliminated pieces are taken 'off the board') may be a reference to Checkmate - another mysterious organization Amanda Waller has been affiliated with besides ARGUS in the comics.

The murder of Tim Kaufman took place at a warehouse on the corner of 3rd and Lemire.  This is a reference to writer/artist Jeff Lemire, who wrote the Green Arrow comic from February 2013 to October 2014.

A picture in the background of ARGUS headquarters reveals that Barack Obama is President in the reality of Arrow and The Flash.

The mercenary Simon LaCroix a.k.a. Komodo is based upon a character from the Jeff Lemire run on Green Arrow.  However, the two characters have very little in common apart from a name. Superficially, Komodo in the comics is a middle-aged Caucasian man whereas the Arrow version is younger, black and Quebecois. In the comics, LaCroix was a protege of Robert Queen who saw himself as the true heir to the Queen empire. He engineered the events that caused Oliver to lose his family fortune in the New 52 universe and framed Green Arrow for murder.

We see that Ray Palmer is changing the color scheme in Queen Consolidated logo from green to blue.  Blue is, naturally, the primary color of The Atom's costume in the comics.

In the final scenes, we learn that Malcolm and Thea are living in Corto Maltese - a fictional country in the DC Universe well known for its corruption. 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 was referred to in 103 as the site of one of Deadshot's most notorious assassinations.  It is named in honor of the titular hero of a series of comics by Hugo Pratt.


Technobabble

Felicity asks Roy if he has any idea how hard it is to ping a clone off a hacked multiplex.

Felicity uses an NSA algorithm to gather information on Kodomo's victims.


Dialogue Triumphs

John:
You okay?
Ollie: (pointing) The killer stood there.   Loose gravel on the rooftop.
John: Oliver...
Ollie: Sara was here.  Scuff marks, back to the edge...
John: You don't have to do this right now, man.
Ollie: It's the only thing I CAN do.

Felicity: Did you do it to make a point? Because I get it.  Loud and clear. You are rich. You are impulsive. And frankly you are the creepiest former stalker that I've ever had to deal with and believe me when I'm telling you THAT is saying a lot and what... are you doing to our old offices?!
Ray: ... hi!

Ray: Felicity, I.. I piss people off on a daily basis. It's.. part of business and... well, being the smartest guy in any given room. I own that. So I have enough experience with people being angry with me to know when they're really angry at something else. You, right now, are not angry at me. What's your something else?

Oliver's understated takedown of the drug dealer who tries to climb away from him.

Ollie: I mean, what if we just - if we go to a local morgue and we find a body that LOOKS like Tommy's?
Masseo: At the Hong Kong morgue?  You've got a better chance of winning the lottery and trying to pay Waller off!

Felicity: How can you stand there being so cold and rational?
Ollie: Because I don't have the luxury of falling to pieces.

Ollie: Earlier today, I was looking at Sara and I realized something. One of these days, it's going to be me. This life that I've chosen? It only ends one way.
Felicity: So that's it?  You're just going to spend your life hiding down here in this cave, waiting to die? I'm sorry. I'm not going to wait with you. Because if there's one thing that today has taught me it is that life is precious. And I want so much more in life than this.


Continuity


As the episode starts, Felicity is chewing out Roy for his request that she rework their phone system. In the stream of technobabble that follows, she drops the terms "clone" and "Multiplex" - references to the villain of F102, which aired the same week this episode premiered.

Sara had a stuffed shark that was her favorite toy as a child.

John comes out of retirement to help Oliver find Sara's killer.

Oliver knows of ten assassins who favor the bow and most of them are in the League of Assassins.

Roy has become competent enough with computers to use Felicity's rig to access FBI documents.

Roy shows Oliver the Dear John letter that Thea left him back in 223.

It's proven that Kodomo couldn't have been Sara's killer, as he committed two killings in Bludhaven on the same night.

Ollie, Roy, John, Laurel and Feliicty bury Sara in the grave that was left in her memorial when she was thought lost at sea.

John and Lyla name their daughter Sara, in Sara Lance's honor.

It is revealed that Malcolm Merlyn and Thea are in Corto Maltese.

Thea is now calling Malcolm "Dad" and is apparently undergoing some kind of training under his supervision.  She is now a competent enough fighter to defeat two opponents with a kendo sword.


Location

Hong Kong.


The Fridge Factor

Even allowing that she is upset, it still seems unlikely that Laurel wouldn't check to make sure her gun was loaded before going after Kodomo.  To say nothing of the stupidity of Laurel using her real name and credentials to gain access to a man in police custody so that she can try and beat information out of him.


The Bottom Line

In the words of Jefferson Starship, "Sara, Sara, Why did it, Why did it, Why did it all fall apart?"

I want to like this episode far more than I think I do. The motorcycle archery "joust" scene is one of the show's finest action sequences to date and the script is a thing of wonder, giving all of the members of Team Arrow a chance to play off one another regarding their feelings for Sara in the wake of her death.  Even Roy Harper gets some much needed development here as he struggles to tell Oliver that he's known for a while that Thea isn't traveling the world as she claimed. But there's no getting around the fact that Laurel's actions in the wake of Sara's death are idiotic in a way that cannot be written off as inexperience or anger in the heat of the moment. Katie Cassidy's wooden performance doesn't help matters and it's telling that her best bit of acting in the episode is in a scene in which she doesn't speak.