Sunday, November 30, 2014

Constantine Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 6 - Rage of Caliban

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




Plot

John and Chas hit the road to investigate a mysterious murder that killed two parents but left their young daughter unharmed.  When the evidence points to a demon as the culprit and a tracking spell leads them to the next likely victims, John will have to face his own inner demons and conquer his fear of failure, lest he condemn another innocent child to Hell!


Influences

Hellblazer #11 (Astra's death & damnation is referred to) and many other stories from the Jamie Delano run on Hellblazer (details of John's past and Chas' past).


Goofs

The bed clothes of Henry's parents change between his first nightmare and when he is possessed.

John says he spent six months in the loony bin, yet in C101 he had only been committed to Ravenscar for three months and it was specifically said that The Newcastle Incident happened three months earlier.


Performances

This episode is a strong one for Matt Ryan, who gets to play John Constantine in all of his conflicted glory.  We see John the Rake in the first scene, as he flees an apartment just seconds ahead of a jealous boyfriend and we also see John at his most vulnerable, confronting a chance to repeat his biggest mistake... and rising to meet the challenge.  Ryan plays all of these moments to perfection.

The interplay between Ryan and Harold Perrineau as Manny also deserves mention and the best bits of the episode feature the two bantering.


Artistry

The sequence with John chasing the possessed Henry into a high-school haunted house is an amusing one while still being somewhat tense.


Pub Trivia

This episode was meant to be the second episode aired. It was delayed in order to hasten Zed's premiere on the show.

The climax of the episode takes place during Halloween night and was originally planned to have aired on Halloween Night in the United States.

The episode's title - Rage of Caliban - is taken from a quote from Oscar Wilde's preface for The Picture Of Dorian Gray. This is itself a reference to Caliban - a monstrous creature from Shakespeare's play The Tempest. The original quote involved the inability of the people of Wilde's time to cope with Realistic and Romantic literature, as they did not wish to see the world for how it was nor how it might be better than it was.

As this episode opens, John is seen being kicked out of a young lady's apartment before her boyfriend enters.  Such one-night stands are common for John in the original comics.

John has a contact who is a paralegal, who is able to get him information on the children whose parents died from Child Protective Services.  John won her trust by helping her dead husband to move on after he started haunting their house.

John's ley line map was penned by a man named Ken Ondaate. This was the true name of Map - a wizard colleague of John's in the comics.

The ley line map also has a note about Alex Holland.  This is likely a misspelling of Alec Holland - the human whose memories formed the being known as The Swamp Thing - a magical creature John Constantine has a long history with in the comics.

One of the magical items in the hideaway is The Sword of Night.  Wielded by the hero known as The Nightmaster, the sword allows the wielder to sense approaching danger, compel others to speak the truth and prevents the wielder from aging.

While holding The Sword of Night, Chas makes mention of someone named Renee he was unable to stop from leaving him.  This is a reference to Renee Chandler - Chas' wife in the comics.

John jokingly tells Manny to get him a gin and tonic while he is in jail. A gin and tonic is John's mixed drink of choice in the comics.

Manny makes mention of John's abusive father and that he had an older sister who tried to protect John from his father.  This is a spot-on reference to John's background in the comics and his sister, Cheryl Constantine.

The Halloween carnival the possessed Henry flees to is held at Veitch High School - named in honor of Hellblazer artist Rich Veitch.

One part of John's journey through the haunted house - his standing before a wall of skulls - resembles a famous painting of John by Hellblazer artist Sean Phillips.

At the end of the episode, John is seen lighting a cigarette while reclining on a car hood. This is the first time we see John actively preparing to smoke.


Arcana

John attempts to glean information from a magical crime-scene by sniffing around it like a blood-hound and licking the walls.

When humanity gained the power of Free Will, angels lost the power to directly influence events on Earth.  This means that Manny is limited in how he can help John beyond offering basic guidance.

John has access to a spell that allows him to see past events within a limited space.  The spell requires that John burn a pre-prepared scroll while chanting an incantation in Mayan.  The smoke created by the burning reshapes to form an image of the past event. (Thanks to @jade_kadir for the correction that the chant was Mayan - not Latin).

Malevolent human spirits are capable of possessing a body in the same way that demons do. They are capable of telekinesis (moving objects through force of will) and leave behind a smell of burning with no evidence of a fire.

The presence of malevolent spirits makes animals uncomfortable yet they have some ability to control animals as well, with Henry staring down a dog that barks angrily at him and commanding a raven to crash into a glass door in front of his mother.

According to John, most people who are possessed become quite chatty about the ordeal afterward and will know the name of the being that possessed them.  John also notes that any spirit can become malevolent upon death, provided they died in a horrible and/or violent fashion.  John also believes the spirits of children are the worst in this regard, "acting out like all brats".

Ley Lines are mystical pathways flowing with electromagnetic energy. Spirits can travel along them like a psychic railroad. John determines that all of the killings took place on the same ley line.

The Sword of Night compels whoever holds it to tell the truth.

John makes use of a magical incense burner to track the murderous child spirit.  The smoke made by frankincense flees away from malevolent energies.

Mandrake Root is a plant with a long history of mystical importance. According to John (and as backed up by Henry's reaction to it) malevolent spirits can't stand the sight of a mandrake root.

Forceful exorcisms of children are the most difficult to perform, according to John.

Three people are needed to hold a seance.

Without the name of a soul, an exorcist cannot free it so it can pass on to the next world nor bind it so it cannot harm others.

John knows a spell that lets him use a mirror to reflect a spirits attack's back upon itself.


Dialogue Triumphs

(After Manny startles him by manifesting behind his back)

John: You know, I've never punched an angel but you are begging for it, mate!
Manny: I could announce my arrival with trumpets. Used to have an entire horns section, back in the day.

John: And what makes me so special?
Manny: Nothing that I'm aware of.  Saint Peter. Ignatius of Antioch, Joan of Arc.... John, they were special.  You're more of a... desperation move.
John: Story of my life, mate!

Chas: So - now what?  We knock on the door?
John: Nah, that never works.
Chas: Why not?
John: "Oh, hello.  We tracked an evil spirit to your house. It might be inside your kid.  Do you mind if we take a look?"
Chas: Yeah, that won't work.
John: No.

John:
Piss off. You made it perfectly clear you're not allowed to help me.
Manny: I said the exact opposite.  What, did the shock therapy destroy your hearing?
John: Alright then.  Go and warn Mommy and Daddy about their little demon seedsend it back to Hell.... oh, and make us a gin and tonic, eh?
Manny: Guidance, John, I can offer you guidance!
John: Aw, thank you very much. I made it through my life without any help from you.
Manny: Are you sure about that? How do you know I wasn't by your side when your father burned you with his cigarette? Or stayed you from suicide when your sister left you alone with him?

John: If humanity is what can save us, then overcoming the damage and weakness in my nature - that may be the part of this battle that I dread most.


Continuity

Zed does not appear in this episode. Chas says at the beginning of the episode that she had an art class.

Chas and John drive around in a beat-up pick-up truck, despite Chas getting his cab fixed in C105. (This is due to this episode being meant to be the second episode aired.)

John chuckles upon being informed he can find Marcello Panneti in a local mental hospital, noting he'll feel right at home - a reference to his voluntary commitment as seen in C101.

Chas has a wife named Renee, who apparently left him.

Manny implies that he was John's guardian angel as a child and refers to John's older sister and abusive father.

The killer is the spirit of Marcello Panneti, whose soul jumped out of his body shortly after he killed his abusive parents.


Location

Birmingham, Alabama


John Screws Up

John tries (and fails) to pose as Henry's school counselor.


The Bottom Line

A good episode that's best bits are the character moments that expand the relationships between the core cast and build upon the rules of how angels and demons operate in the world of the show.  This is not to say the main plot involving a murderous child spirit isn't interesting.  Indeed, the final revelation is an honest surprise!  But the interplay between John and Chas and John and Manny define the theme of the episode - and John's character - far better than this week's crisis.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Superior Iron Man #2 - A Review

Tony Stark's latest invention has revolutionized the world but Matt Murdock isn't sure that's such a great thing.  Murdock knows better than most how appearances can be deceiving and Tony Stark is bound to be hiding something behind his efforts to make everyone beautiful using his new Extremis App.  The devil, as always, is in the details and The Daredevil is about to get into Iron Man's business!


Tom Taylor delivers an amazing issue that is as easily accessible as the first.  Indeed, the only disappointing aspect of this second issue of Superior Iron Man is that it stands on its own a little too well.  The cliff-hanger at the end of the first issue is completely forgotten and the focus here is firmly upon the conflict between Iron Man and Daredevil, without any thought as to who was the mysterious figure we saw speaking with Pepper Potts in the last issue!


Once again, Yildiray Cinar does an excellent job on the artwork for this series. Of particular note is the sequence in which Cinar shows us the world from Matt Murdock's perspective.  It seems nearly every artist who tackles Daredevil has a unique method for conveying Murdock's radar-vison and Cinar is no exception.

Superman #36 - A Review

Ulysses - strange visitor from another world, possessing powers far beyond those of mortal man - has come to the conclusion that humanity is doomed.  Unable to think of any way to turn his amazing powers toward fixing the world of his birth, he has instead elected to take six million people to the Fourth Dimension, to the better world which raised him. Naturally, this is a source of great concern to Superman, who is starting to wonder if the paradise which Ulysses spoke of is truly as grand as he claims.


Geoff Johns understands Superman as few writers today do.  His Superman is the epitome of hope and idealism, as he should be.  Johns also realizes the importance of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to the oeuvre of Superman and does a fine job using them to explore the problems with Ulysses' promises from another perspective.


What can I say about the art of this book that hasn't been said already?  John Romita Jr. is in fine form here, with inker Klaus Janson giving the finished art a much lighter touch than usual, as befits the lighter and brighter aesthetic of Superman compared to other projects JRJ and Janson collaborated on in the past.  This vibrant feeling is further enhanced by the colors of Laura Martin.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

All New Invaders #12 - A Review

Fans of James Robinson's Times Past stories from his classic Starman series would do well to pick up this issue of All New Invaders.  In truth this issue isn't about The Invaders, instead centering upon another classic hero team of yesteryear - Freedom's Five.  The WWI equivalent of The Invaders, this flashback issue is all about four of The Five teaming with the Iron Fist of that era against an even greater menace than The Central Powers - Martians!


This sort of story is Robinson's bread and butter and he weaves new details into the history of the Marvel Universe even as he delivers a ripping yarn.  One nice touch is that The Crimson Cavalier - a French hero who was never given an official history - is retconned as being an ancestor of the mercenary Batroc The Leaper.  Similar development is given to the equally obscure Sir Steel - a British hero whom Robinson reveals was a blacksmith rewarded with the legendary magic armor of England's greatest knight!


The artwork of this issue is something to behold.  Marc Laming teams with Barry Kitson on the pencils for the flashback scenes that take up most of the issue, their usual styles subverted into something that more closely resembles the comics of The Golden Age than their usual solo work.  P. Craig Russell lends a hand with the inks, crafting a finished project that is truly amazing!

Red Sonja: The Black Tower #3 - A Review

In my many years as a comics reader and a critic, I have read an awful lot of Red Sonja comics and a lot of awful Red Sonja comics. So when I say that Red Sonja: The Black Tower #3 is the single worst Red Sonja comic ever written, please understand that opinion does not come from hatred or ignorance. It comes from the scholarly consideration of one who is well-versed in the mythos of Hyboria, who understands just how badly this story conforms to the universe it is supposed to be set in.

When one thinks of the sword and sorcery genre, what comes to mind?  Muscular heroes in impractical armor?  Giant animals and fanged demons?  Sensuous sorceresses and decrepit wizard-priests with a glint in their mad eyes that matches the glint on their sacrificial knives?

How about flying saucers, laser swords and robots?



That is the plot of Red Sonja: The Black Tower #3 in a nutshell.  Having twice escaped the wicked town of Lur with her life, Red Sonja (now sporting an eye-patch and a skunk-stripe for no reason that is ever explained) returns leading an allied army of every damn nation in Hyboria to fight the forces of The Black Tower.  Forces, it must be noted, which have already killed every wizard, pirate band, barbarian horde and noble line that it pleased them to go after.

It's Barbarians vs. Aliens and it's every bit as stupid as the premise suggests. And yet, the biggest problem with this series is not the ludicrous concept more befitting a 1980s syndicated cartoon than the oeuvre of Robert E. Howard.  It is the fact that writer Frank Tieri has a bad habit of telling us the story instead of allowing the text and artwork to show us the story.

What is worse, Tieri throws aside whole sagas in sentences.  How Red Sonja united all of these armies under one banner - or how she tamed a giant dragon so she could ride it into battle - is not explained.  You just accept that Sonja somehow got every nation in Hyboria to work together and that she took a crash-course in dragon-riding from the Pern Correspondence School.


I'm still not sure I can fairly criticize Cezar Razek for his artwork on this series. The artwork is competently done, though it is riddled with explicit gore and gratuitous fan-service - even by the standards of sword-and-sorcery!  For instance, one wonders why Sonja has the body of a very shapely 17 year old cheerleader without any scars or signs of hard-living save for the loss of one eye AND the hair of a forty-something woman.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Flash Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 7 - Power Outage

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



Plot

A battle with an electricity-siphoning metahuman leaves Barry feeling drained.  Literally.  And while this shocking new villain launches an attack on STAR Labs, The Clock King takes hostages at police headquarters... including Joe and Iris West.  The Flash may not be able to save this day, but Central City is not without heroes...


Influences

Flashpoint
(the character of Blackout) and every classic Flash comic where Barry Allen lost his powers temporarily.


Goofs

How is Barry able to fix drinks for an entire line of people at the coffee shop?  Assuming Barry had some training as a barista or that there was an employee guidebook he could read through and that his super-speed would allow him to manually replicate the actions of most of the appliances present (grinding the beans, etc) that still doesn't explain how he'd  know everything the people in-line wanted, as there wasn't any indication that they had already ordered!

The raccoon-eyes make-up on Blackout just looks weird.

The Clock King misquotes Thoreau, saying "As if you could kill Time without wounding Eternity." The original Thoreau quote said "injuring Eternity".  This seems a bit odd given how meticulous he is about everything else.  Nearly as odd as Joe West - who has never shown any inclination towards scholarly reading - recognizing Tockman's quotes.  (Perhaps this was a bit of subtle humor on the part of the writers, showing hidden depths to Joe's character and showing that Tockman is not as smart as he thinks?)


Performances

Robert Knepper is as delightfully unbalanced as ever as William Tockman. He was one of the best villains in the second season of Arrow and it's nice to see him again, though I had hoped we might see him as part of the new Suicide Squad.


Artistry

The music throughout the episode is wonderful, particularly the subtle use of clock sounds around William Tockman.


Flash Facts

Farooq aka Blackout was created for the Elseworlds story Flashpoint, which was set in an alternate universe created by Barry Allen's going back in time and changing the past.  As in the comics, he has electricity manipulation powers.

Barry using his super-speed to get ready for work in seconds and stripping a criminal at super-speed, leaving them unarmed and in their underwear are both running gags from The Flash comics.

William Tockman - aka The Clock King - is a combination of several comic book and cartoon villains who used the name of The Clock King.  I wrote an article about the history of The Clock King, which can be read here.

The Arrow/The Flash version of Clock King seems to be a combination of the original William Tockman version of The Clock King from the comics (same name and the motivation of needing money to take care of a sick sister) as well as Temple Fugate - the Clock King created for the Batman: The Animated Series, with whom he shares an amazing gift for precision and efficiency. He also borrows a number of Temple Fugate's time-related catch-phrases and puns.  (i.e. he comments on the "striking resemblance" between Joe and Iris.  Striking!  Like a clock!)

There are some names among the list of people killed by the particle accelerator accident that Dr. Wells lists off that may be familiar to DC Comics fans.  Ralph Dibny (The Elongated Man), Grant Emerson (Damage), Al Rothstein (Nuklon aka Atom Smasher), Ronnie Raymond (Firestorm), Will Everett (Amazing-Man) and Bea DeCosta (Fire aka Green Flame) . The one common link between all of these heroes is that they all had powers that involved their bodies being changed on the molecular level.

Another reference to the number 52. We clearly see two signs in The Pipeline that label it as Intake 52.

Iris notes that her best friend is always swearing he'll never run late after The Flash apologizes for not being there to save her from The Clock King.  Barry running late is a frequent running gag in The Flash comics.


Technobabble

The homicide victim Barry examines was burned to death by heat in access of 2,400 degrees.

The soot pattern around his body is consistence with that of an arc-blast.  An arc-blast is when high-amperage currents travel in an arc through the air.

Cisco uses the same facial reconstruction software used by archaeologists to identify the homicide victim.  Thanks to Felicity's reprogramming, he can use the same program to match the face he created to a DMV record.

Barry's DNA was changed by the particle accelerator blast.

Blackout does not electrocute people.  He siphons electricity from other sources. His attempt to siphon the electricity from Barry Allen's body results in Barry losing his powers.

By Cisco's estimate, it will take 20,000 kiloamps to jump-start Barry's system.  This is more electricity than is run through an electric chair.

According to Blackout, the average human body generates 342 watts of electricity.  The numbers here seem a bit off, as what limited research I've done on the subject suggests that the average human at rest, generates 110 watts/hr.  However, that increases to 550 watts/hr during vigorous amounts of activity.  Averaging the two numbers comes close to 342 watts but not exactly.


Dialogue Triumphs

(After winding up late for an appointment at STAR Labs after thwarted a mugger who tried robbing him)
Barry:
Sorry guys.  I got a little held-up. (beat) You had to be there.

Barry: I love being The Flash.  I love everything about it. The feeling of running hundreds of miles per hour. Wind and power just rushing past my face. Being able to help people. I'm not sure I can live without it, Caitlin.

Clock King: It should take you less than three seconds to discard any thought of rebellion and comply. I take it I don't need to count out-loud?

Capt. Singh: You've got demands. I want to hear them. But first let the civilians go.
Clock King: Would you prefer I sent them out alive or dead? Please be more specific!

Dr. Wells: You were right. I don't care much for people, Barry. I find them misinformed and short-sighted.
Barry: So why do you do what you do? Why get up in the morning?
Dr. Wells: Because I believe in a better future.


Continuity

As the episode opens, it has been 311 days since Barry was struck by lightning.

The computer in Dr. Wells' secret room is named Gideon.  Gideon is capable of scanning future news media for specific references in a matter of seconds.

Joe West briefly flashes back to the attack by The Yellow Man in F106.

Cisco makes reference to Felicity enhancing the STAR Labs computers in F104.

The Clock King is seen for the first time since A214.

Barry's power loss results in the future being changed, according to the newspaper headline Wells examined.

After the future is changed, the major news story on the day Barry was supposed to disappear was about the United States Postal Service permanently closing down.  Curiously, the other articles have also changed, with the Wayne Tech/ Queen Inc. merger falling through and red skies continuing to threaten the world. (F101)

The Clock King makes reference to his dying sister - his whole reason for turning to crime. She died sometime between A214 and this episode.  His request for a furlough to see her one last time in person before her death was denied by the district attorney of Central City.

Barry makes reference to what Oliver Queen said about him getting his powers for a reason. (F101)

Girder, last seen in F106, is killed by Blackout.

Joe West is surprisingly well read.  He recognizes The Clock King's quotes from Ben Franklin ("You may delay, but time will not.") and Henry David Thoreau ("As if you could kill Time without injuring Eternity.")  Curiously, The Clock King misquotes this last line as "wounding Eternity".

Wells memorized the names of every person killed by the particle accelerator accident.

Blackout's body is put in a body bag and locked in a cell in The Pipeline.

As the episode closes, it is 312 days since Barry was struck by lightning.

Wells takes a blood sample from Blackout's dead body, saying he must learn how it was possible for him to steal The Flash's speed.  The Mist (last seen in F103) can be seen in his cell in the background while this occurs.


The Fridge Factor

Averted, as Iris takes down The Clock King by herself, after palming Eddie's gun while pretending to give him a final kiss.


The Bottom Line

A decent episode but not a great one.  While it's good to see The Clock King again, he seems woefully underused and one wishes for an episode in which The Flash must literally race against time to outmaneuver his plans within plans.  Likewise, Blackout suffers from a ludicrous make-up design and an uninspired power set.  Still, Caitlin Snow gets a few nice character moments with Barry, Dr. Wells gets some more definition and the opening with Barry having fun while using his powers to make his morning easier is as fun as the classic comics.  And even though it is a little forced, it's nice to see Iris saving the day without The Flash having to step in.

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Three #9 - A Review

John Constantine is, to put it politely, up a certain creek without a certain steering implement.  His plan to kill Superman has fallen apart, his one immediately available ally is dead and he's been left alone to face The Wrath of God Himself (i.e The Spectre), two Sinestro Corps members (including Sinestro himself) and a fear-ring empowered Superman who is mad enough to curse openly!  There's nobody who can get ol' ConJob out of this one... but maybe a spirit can save him where No Body can?


Given that the title of this chapter is Dead Man, it spoils little for me to say that everyone's favorite avenging acrobat is the source of Constantine's salvation.  But that's the wonderful thing about a Tom Taylor story and his work on Injustice in particular - there's still plenty of surprises even after the resolution of last week's cliffhanger.

For instance, this issue tackles an interesting question - what happens when Deadman attempts to possess someone who is already possessed by another spiritual force?  Like say, Shazam?  Or The Spectre himself?  The answers to these questions, based on the minutia of the DC Comics universe, are worth the price of the book even if you ignore the riveting story... which you shouldn't!


The artwork is just as wonderful as the story.  Bruno Redondo does his usual stellar job, with dynamic choreography and figures that seem to jump off the page even when they're just standing there talking. And the pencils are made all the bolder by the inks and finishes of Juan Albarran.

The Flash: Season Zero #5 & #6 - A Review

The good news is The Flash has tracked down the circus performers who have been committing crimes all around Central City. The bad news is that all of them are metahumans and their leader - the ring-master Mister Bliss - had his natural talent for manipulating a crowd transmuted into an empathic ability to manipulate emotions and cause hallucinations. Thankfully, Cisco and Caitlin are on-hand to pull-off a speedy getaway when Barry fall into a catatonic state. But what hope do they have against a gang of super-freaks?


This story-line is an interesting one for me to read as a fan of the Starman series which inspired the character of Mr. Bliss.  There, Bliss was a literal demon - an incubus who fed on the suffering of others that had a particular fondness for the suffering experienced by circus freaks who didn't want to be stared at.  This Bliss possesses the same powers and personality but is all too human. It's a new wrinkle that helps separate this carnival of criminals from the Circus of Crime from Marvel Comics.


The artwork by Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur is still a mixed blessing.  Hester's a great artist when it comes to horror and Gapstur does a fine job when enhancing the darker moments of this story and the hallucinations caused by Bliss' power wonderfully.  But the scenes that don't require dramatic shading seem indistinct and half-finished. Again, I have to voice my love for Hester's artwork but wonder if he's really the best artist for The Flash or if he might benefit from being paired with a different inker.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Arrow: Season 2.5 #7 - A Review

Oliver Queen and John Diggle have escaped from the lair of Brother Blood.  But the fight is just beginning.  A vengeful Huntress is waiting for Ollie as he emerges from the sewers... and she's not alone!  Other people - loved ones he's failed - are there to confront Oliver, including his dead parents and best friend, Tommy!


The secret "twist ending" of this issue isn't much of a surprise.  Dedicated Arrow-Heads will guess almost immediately what's going on.  Despite this, Arrow: Season 2.5 #7 is an enjoyable read as writer Marc Guggenheim takes advantage of the gimmick to give us some insight into how the usually close-lipped Ollie views his mistakes.  Amusingly, some of his complaints mirror those of comic fans regarding how the character of Helena Bertinelli was treated when being adapted for the show or how Ollie reacted to Slade Wilson's killing of his mother.  An all-star team of artists worked on this story, giving the whole affair a disjointed feeling as the art shifts along with the visions tormenting Ollie.  For once, this lack of visual continuity works to the story's benefit.


As usual, the Suicide Squad back-up story by Keto Shimizu and Szymon Kudranski is as enjoyable as the Arrow one.  Indeed, it is so enjoyable I wish it was its own comic!  Getting one page every two weeks is a maddening way to tell a story and I'd love to see this as a longer feature.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Constantine Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 5 - Danse Vaudou

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



Plot

The Rising Darkness has come to New Orleans. The restless dead now walk the streets of The Big Easy and are killing random citizens. And John Constantine has put himself on the wrong side of Detective Jim Corrigan - a cop who witnessed one of the strange killings and has little use for supernatural explanations or British con-artists.

Fortunately, Corrigan is quickly made to see the error of his ways. Unfortunately, the trail of accidental resurrections leads to the last magician in the world John Constantine wants to see - Papa Midnite!  But like it or not, the two mages will have to work together in order to fight the shadow that has corrupted Midnite's magic...


Influences

Hellblazer: Original Sins 
(Papa Midnite and John Constantine unite reluctantly to deal with a larger threat), Hellblazer: Damnation's Flame (Expanded background for Papa Midnite, including his sister being given the name Cedella) and various American urban legends.


Performances

Matt Ryan and Michael James Shaw play off of each other wonderfully as Constantine and Midnite.

Angelica Celaya adds a flirtatious streak to Zed that gives the character a new sense of life. And she does a fine job playing up Zed's competence as she spends most of the episode without John backing her up or instructing her.
  


Pub Trivia


The episode title is French for 'Voodoo Dance'.

Detective Jim Corrigan first appeared in More Fun Comics #52 and was created by Superman co-creator Jerry Seigel and artist Bernard Baily. Corrigan was murdered by gangsters but this was only the beginning of his story. Because of this nature of his death, his anger over how it occurred and his religious upbringing, Jim was offered a chance by the archangel Michael to become an agent of justice against those who had defied the laws of God and escaped punishment. Jim agreed and became the human host of the Angel of Vengeance - The Spectre.

Jim Corrigan wears a green suit throughout the episode.  In the comics, Jim Corrigan is frequently depicted as wearing a green suit when he is not in the form of The Spectre, whose robes are also green.

Papa Midnite speaks to a skull who he addresses as Cedella, whom John refers to as "the hotline to Hell".  In the comics, Papa Midnite sold his own sister's soul to a demon, turning her into "a whore in Hell". His sister slept with various demon lords and, through her skull, told her brother about the events and goings on in Hell.  Apparently this is also the case in the Constantine TV Show universe.

Zed has a vision of Jim Corrigan soaked in blood and surrounded by green mist.  This is probably foreshadowing Corrigan's eventual transformation into The Spectre.


Arcana

John makes use of a zoetrope to put Zed into a hypnotic state.  He claims the one he repaired was used by Queen Victoria's personal medium to put people into trances at seances.

John and Chas both make use of a magical bracelet that can detect spiritual activity.  It glows blue if a spirit was nearby recently and green if one is in the immediate area.  John doesn't say precisely what happens when it glows red, save that "we wouldn't still be standing here".

John has some kind of ability to wipe people's minds after he's talked to them.

We see Chas' "survival skills" in action as he is stabbed to death by the masked ghost woman and is briefly left without a pulse. Later, his wounds seal up. Apparently Chas is truly being resurrected but we get no explanation for how it is happening.

Papa Midnite's ritual to speak with the spirits of the dead makes mention of Papa Legba.  In Vodou, Papa Legba is the spirit (or loa) who oversees crossroads, boundaries and acts as the intermediary between the spirit world and the world of man.  All Vodou ceremonies begin and end with an invocation to Papa Legba, whose permission is needed to speak to the souls of the dead or other loa.

Somehow, The Rising Darkness - using the guilt of living people regarding dead people they felt responsible for killing - manipulated Papa Midnite's spells to allow people to speak to the dead and used them to raise the spirits of the dead


Dialogue Triumphs

(As John & Zed are checking in at a hotel and the clerk says she'll return with the keys to their rooms)
Zed: Two rooms?
John: Oh, I'm flattered, love, but we really out to keep this professional, yeah?
Zed: Does that mean that you respect me?
John: (chuckles) I respect everyone I sleep with. But I usually like to get to know something about them first if you know what I mean?
Zed: You want to know something about me? Just ask.
John: Where do you come from? Why are you running? And how bad is it that risking your life every day with me seems like a pleasant alternative?
Clerk (returning): Can I offer you complementary champagne in your rooms?
Zed: No, thank you. I don't like champagne.  (To John) Now you know something about me.

Jim: How do you live with it? The knowledge that all this can be real? How?
John: It marks you. For life. But it doesn't change who you are.

John: Voodoo's nothing but a magical excuse for a party.

(Papa Midnite takes a seat in the back of his car)
Midnite: Pop the trunk. I need to question him.
John: (spinning around to face him from the driver's seat) Have at it, mate! Ask me anything you like!

Midnite: We have to stop this! We have to put these spirits back down!
John: Right.  So it's, ah... WE now, is it?  I could help you, for sure. But ah... I'm going to need something from you.
Midnite: ... your debt is erased.
John: Ta for that. And ah... I have a question. For your sister.
Midnite: ... only if we are successful.
John: Good enough.

John: You know that old song about the hammer that thinks that everything is a nail?
Midnite: No.
John: You may be Grand Poobah of voodoo, mate, but that's one very specific, very narrow modality.
Midnite: And what do you know? Jackass of all trades?  Master of none?

Midnite: Hear us, gods! This spell is of our own creation! We bow to you united!
John: Well, if it's come to that, mate, these are dark days indeed.

Midnite: You are a magpie of magic! A thief of tradition! You steal from other people's cultures and beliefs to suit your own purposes.
John: Oh yeah? Well.. whatever works, eh?
Midnite: It worked wonders on that little girl you sent to Hell.
John: Well, at least it wasn't my own bloody sister -


Continuity

Zed has a vision of Jim Corrigan as a boy, being taught to shoot a gun by his mother.

Chas prefers staying in chain hotels when he travels, apparently so he can build up reward points. John, by contrast, seems to prefer independently owned hotels and the more expensive they are, the better!

We see that Chas has finally fixed his cab, as he drives it for the first time since The Pilot.

John has impersonated INTERPOL agents in the past.

John is a talented escape artist and is capable of picking the lock on a pair of handcuffs and slipping out of police shackles.

Papa Midnite refers to the events of C103 and how John cost him the record with The Devil's voice.

Jim Corrigan recognizes Zed from a missing person's report, but notes the name Zed is not the one he saw on the report. He says the only other time Zed was spotted was on security camera footage when she stole an apple and a stale cheese sandwich from a gas station.

After consulting with his sister, Papa Midnite declares that John will not be able to stop The Rising Darkness.  More, it will be heralded by someone close to John who will betray him.


Location

New Orleans


John Screws Up

John doesn't consider that the guilt of the living might be responsible for the dead being unable to rest.


The Bottom Line

Probably the strongest episode of the series so far.  Most of the show's on-going mysteries get some exploration (Zed's past, Chas' immortality) and Midnite gets some development revealing that he is not quite as evil as he seemed in his first appearance.  Zed gets to stand on her own apart from John for much of the episode and John and Midnite snarking off each other works wonderfully on both the dramatic and comedic levels.  A must see.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #2 - A Review

The Doctor and Clara's trip to the ice planet of Isen VII has unearthed a lot more than the wedding of the 25th century!  A  distress signal triggered by the terraformers that changed the planet into a lush jungle paradise has revealed the resting place of a Hyperion - one of the last of a race of sentient suns so evil and dangerous that The Time Lords of old broke their usual rules on non-interference to try and put an end to their species for all time!  And now it will fall to The Doctor to finish the job...



Robbie Morrison's script perfectly captures the mad science of a typical Doctor Who story.  More importantly, Morrison has a good feeling for the speech patterns of The Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi and the voice of Clara Oswald.  There is a good deal of snark and sarcasm in the script along with one of the most Doctorish Doctor lines ever - "I like to think of myself as a pacifist but sometimes peace is the thing you have to fight the hardest for."

The artwork by Dave Taylor is decent enough.  Curiously, it seems rushed compared to his turn in the previous issue.  Individual panels look fantastic but the overall quality is quite erratic.  The proportions of Clara's face are noteworthy in this regard, with her eyes at times seeming oddly placed on her face.  Thankfully, these strange moments are few and far between and the final product is quite enjoyable.

PREVIEW: Sally Of The Wasteland #5 - A Review

Sally and Tommy have made it to the forbidden city of New Orleans - the only two members of their little band to survive the trip. But the paradise they were promised proves different than advertised. Can Sally save herself, save her man and save the world? Or is she doomed to speed the rest of her life as breeding stock for a scientist who would really need to get out more even if he weren't sealed up in a giant vault underground?!


In my review of the first two issues of Sally of The Wasteland for Kabooooom.com, I praised the series for its originality.  I likened it to the Fallout series of video games, because of how well it imagined a civilization growing out of The American South and what aspects of that society might survive as legend.  There's also a lot of weird mutants and animals made giant by the radiation.

Alas, the originality that made the first four issues of this series a delight is absent from much of this final issue.  This comic will continue to remind readers of Fallout but this time it will be because the villains live in a gigantic underground vault and are known as The Enclave.  About the only difference is that their form-fitting speed-suits are yellow instead of blue.

I say this not to accuse writer Victor Gischler of plagiarism (post-apocalyptic science-fiction doesn't branch as much as other sub-genres) but merely to voice my shock that the ending - which I will say is a satisfying one - should be so typical of the genre when the earlier issues of the series defied expectations so strongly.  That being said, this final issue is still a laugh riot to read.  And the artwork by Tazio Bettin is still as great as ever.

If you haven't picked up Sally Of The Wasteland yet, you should.  It's a B-movie in comic book form and good fun for anyone who doesn't take their action too seriously.  I give the whole series 4 stars out of 5, with this final issue being 3 out of 5.

Sally Of The Wasteland #5 goes on-sale November 26, 2014.

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 3, Episode 7 - Draw Back Your Bow

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





Plot

When Issac Stanzler is abducted during his transfer to Iron Heights and turns up dead with an unusual arrow in his chest, it becomes clear that it isn't the work of just another Arrow copycat. Enter Cupid - an ex-cop turned killer, who became obsessed with The Arrow after he saved her during Slade Wilson's night of terror six months earlier. She's convinced that Starling City's favorite hero is her one true love and she'll do anything to get his attention.

Too bad for her that Oliver Queen only has eyes for one woman.  Unfortunately, she's also being romanced by Ray Palmer, whose interest in Ms. Smoak is far from platonic as much as he may insist otherwise. Love is also in the air at Verdant, where a hot-shot new DJ seems to have designs on club-owner Thea Queen... much to Roy Harper's annoyance.

In the flashbacks, Tatsu must put aside her dislike of Oliver Queen when Maseo goes missing during an operation.  The two will work together to investigate the Triad Maseo was staking-out, hoping it is not too late to save him.


Influences

Andrew Kreisberg's run on Green Arrow/Black Canary (introduction of Cupid), Outsiders (elements of Katana's backstory) and Suicide Squad (mentions of Amanda Waller and the squad, as well as the introduction of Captain Boomerang).

Performances

Supernatural alum Amy Gumenick cuts quite the impressive figure as Cupid.  Reportedly, Gumenick auditioned for the part of Laurel Lance when Arrow first started.  Given the way she carries herself in her fight scenes and her chemistry with Stephen Amell, one wonders if perhaps the casting agents for this show made the wrong choice.

Again, it must be said that Ray Palmer would be the creepiest boss this side of Christian Grey were it not for the charisma Brandon Routh brings to the character.  On paper, without inflection, most of Palmer's dialogue to Felicity and actions towards her would come off as unsettling.  But somehow Routh makes it work, playing Palmer as a geek who can't hold back his passion rather than a true creep.

Artistry

The script for this episode - written by Wendy Mericle and Beth Schwartz - does a great job of establishing Cupid as a character and as a credible threat. Indeed, the show's version of Cupid improves upon the comics version, who was something of a villainous Mary Sue figure.

The best shot of the episode?  When Oliver returns to the Arrow Cave after seeing Ray and Felicity kissing in what was his old office, and how his gaze falls on the fern that she put in the cave ... just before he clears the table in frustration.


Trivia

The arrowhead in the show's logo for this episode is changed from the usual green pointed arrowhead to the red, heart-shaped arrowhead used by Cupid.

The episode title - Draw Back Your Bow - comes from the first line of a song by Sam Cooke titled Cupid.  The song is sung by a boy begging Cupid to shoot an arrow into the heart of a girl who doesn't know he exists but who he's sure he can love better than anyone else.

In the comics, Cupid was originally a woman in an abusive marriage who became obsessed with Green Arrow after he saved her from her husband. Determined to prove herself to the man she now saw as her one-true-love, she donned a costume that was basically a sexy ladies Halloween costume based on Green Arrow's costume and set about killing off the super-villains Green Arrow fought most frequently while pushing Oliver Queen into using more lethal force.  She also tried to kill Black Canary, whom she saw as a rival for Green Arrow's affections.

A later ret-con revealed that Cupid was Carrie Cutter - a special-ops soldier who was part of a mysterious government project called COBALT.  It was in while in COBALT that Carrie received a treatment that enhanced her body and made her fearless but also gave her partial amnesia and caused her to experience all other emotions except fear at an extreme level.  It was also revealed that her abusive husband was not really her husband and that what Green Arrow saw as a man beating a woman was actually Carrie's most recent victim struggling with her after being poisoned.

Cupid was co-created by Arrow Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg during his run on the Green Arrow/Black Canary comic.

Cupid's full name on the show is Carrie Hartnell Cutter.  In the comics, she used Carrie Hartnell as an alias.

Cupid's background on the show is quite different from the comics. Here, she's an ex-cop and SWAT team member who quit the SCPD after undergoing psychological evaluation after stalking her partner. She becomes fixated on The Arrow after he saves her from a Mirakuru soldier during Slade Wilson's attack on Starling City.

Cupid is handy enough as a fletcher to construct her own arrows and had some basic training with explosives.  Cupid may be skilled enough with computers to encrypt a SIM card or she may have seduced hacker Kirby Bates into doing the work for her.

The address Cupid puts in the arrowhead for The Arrow to find is 15 Baron Street.  This may be a reference to both Mike Baron (the color artist on Green Arrow/Black Canary when Cupid first appeared) and the comic in which Cupid first appeared -  Green Arrow/Black Canary #15.

Carrie Cutter is part of a gardening group and she holds local mob boss Joe Gravado hostage in the greenhouse of a business called Sherwood Florist.  Classic Green Arrow fans will recognize Sherwood Florist as the name of the shop that Dinah Lance ran in Seattle during the Mike Grell run on Green Arrow.

The hacker Cupid seduces into helping her locate The Arrow's hideout is named Kirby Bates.  This may be a nod to Hannibal Bates - a criminal from DC Comics whom also teamed up with Cupid against Green Arrow in the comics.  The only common link between the two characters - apart from the last names and criminal pasts - is the fact that both were killed by Cupid once they outlived their usefulness.

Another reference is made to Saint Walker's hospital.  Saint Walker is the name of the leader of The Blue Lantern Corps.

Tatsu Yamashio proves to be an excellent sword fighter, capable of fighting several men at once. This is no surprise to fans of the comics, who will recognize Tatsu Yamashio as the superheroine Katana.

Cupid's drink of choice is a Cupid's Kiss.  This is the name of several real-world cocktails but it is unclear which version Cupid ordered.

The deathtrap that Cupid arranges for The Arrow, handcuffing him to a train-track is a direct nod to a trap that Cupid set for Green Arrow in the comics.  Here, Ollie escapes by dislocating his thumb to break free of the handcuffs.  In the original comics, Black Canary rescued him.

Diggle says that Cutter is "even nuttier than the last woman they had in the Suicide Squad".  This is definitely a reference to Harley Quinn, who shares Cupid's penchant for obsessive love.

Mr. Gardner - the man whose mine Ray Palmer is trying to purchase - is named in tribute to Gardner Fox. Gardner Fox was the DC Comics writer who created the Ray Palmer version of The Atom.

It probably isn't a coincidence that the dress that Ray Palmer buys for Felicity is blue - his favorite color

Ray Palmer officially changes Queen Consolidated's name to Palmer Technologies.  The logo for the company is a blue P, circled by a single electron.

It's revealed near the end of the episode that Ray Palmer's main interest in Mr. Gardner's mine was in acquiring the dwarf-star material inside it.  This ties into a project he is working on called The A.T.O.M. ExoSuit, which resembles The Atom's costume in the comics.  Dwarf-Star Material was also the power source for The Atom's shrinking technology in the comics.

The assassin we see in the final scene of the episode is Captain Boomerang, who we will discuss in more detail next time.


Technobabble

Oliver determines that Cupid's arrowheads are hand-soldered out of high carbon steel.

NPP is an abbreviation for Nitrogen Phosphate Potash. It's the technical term for a variety of fertilizer.

Carrie Cutter suffers from an attachment disorder - an inability to form real, lasting relationships which causes the patient to become fixated on one person.


Dialogue Triumphs

Felicity: This dress? Costs more than my apartment.
Ray: Yeah. Couture, which I'm pretty sure is French for expensive. So, dinner? Purely platonic.
Felicity: There is nothing platonic about couture.

Cupid: If I’m out of my mind then that’s only because that’s what love is - our own little slice of insanity.

John:
You and Ray. Doesn't seem that platonic. Actually, it has Oliver twisted up in knots.
Felicity: Oliver made his choice.
John: And we both know that was the wrong choice.
Felicity: And did Oliver say that?
John: Oh yeah.  Because Oliver's just great at expressing his emotions.

Arrow: (to Cupid, with Felicity listening) I understand that you're hurting and I what it's like to want someone but not be able be with them. How you wish things could be different, but they can't. I can't be with you; I can't be with anyone. I have to be alone.

Captain Boomerang: That's the thing about our work.
(Captain Boomerang throws a boomerang which spins around to stab the thug in the back)
Captain Boomerang: It always comes back to haunt you.


Continuity

Issac Stanzler, from the last episode, is discovered dead, dressed like The Arrow, with an arrow in his chest.

Ollie deduces that Cupid was not Sara Lance's killer very quickly.

Tatsu and Maseo left Japan because it was no longer safe after they angered someone very powerful.

Roy is seen researching the police officer he killed on the computers in the Arrow Cave.

Oliver calls Roy by the codename Arsenal in the field for the first time.

The new DJ at Verdant - who Thea hires despite his braggadocios nature - is named Chase.

Ollie is fast enough to dodge arrows at close range.

Oliver hands Cupid over to Amanda Waller rather than the police, saying that at least as part of The Suicide Squad she might do some good.


The Bottom Line

Arrow needed a great episode to rebound after last week and it got it. Really, the only problem with the episode is that the subplot with Thea and the DJ feels tacked on and not enough is done to explore how Roy is coping with the collapse of his relationship.  Apart from that, one can easily say this is the best episode of Season 3 so far.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Flash Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 6 - The Flash Is Born

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



Plot

A new metahuman criminal has taken Central City by storm - a man of living metal who Barry finds hard to fight.  Partly because his super-strong skin makes him resistant to even a flurry of blows from The Fastest Man Alive. And partly because he's Tony Woodward - the bully who made Barry's life miserable in middle school!

As Cisco and Caitlin put their minds to work on figuring out how to dent Woodward's metal frame and Woodward goes after The Flash's biggest fangirl, Iris West, Barry receives help from an unlikely source - Eddie Thawne.  And Joe West continues the investigation into Nora Allen's murder, interviewing a most unlikely suspect - Harrison Wells!


Influences

The Flash comics of Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Scriver.


Performances

For the first time, Eddie Thawne is given a chance to interact with the cast in a way that doesn't involve his relationship with Iris.  And Rick Cosnett does a fine job of fleshing Eddie out and turning him into a likable character.  The scene where he bonds with a reluctant Barry while teaching him how to box is a charming one and it's nice to see Eddie being given some definition.

By that same token, it's nice to see Harrison Wells building a friendship of sorts with Joe West after weeks of cryptic remarks and secretiveness.  And Tom Cavanagh brilliantly plays up the cool scientist reluctantly opening up.  We all know Wells is up to something and it's intriguing that we still don't know how honest he's being with Joe... or how far he may have gone to hide his past.


Artistry

The scene in which The Flash starts running to take down Girder is a perfect blend of music and special effects, working in harmony.


Flash Facts

For the first time someone besides Barry does the opening and closing narrations.  This time, it's Iris.

Girder was created by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Scriver during their run on The Flash comic. Girder was originally Anthony "Tony" Woodward - a steel worker who was thrown into a vat of molten steel after he s assaulted a beloved female co-worker and the rest of the workers rioted.  The vat contained melted materials from a STAR Labs experiment and that somehow turned Anthony into a man of living metal.

The origin of the show's version of Girder differs from this only in that his death was an accident and that his struggle with co-workers was based around his attacking the manager who gave him a pink slip.

Unlike the show's version of Girder, the comic book version could not transform back to a normal human form.  Also, the original Girder was taller than a normal human.

Girder was given a visual redesign in the New 52 Flash comics, which looks quite close to the TV show version of Girder.  It is unclear what this new Girder's backstory is or how he got his powers, though he is still presumed to be named Tony Woodward.

Girder's criminal career in the comics was relatively short lived as he began rusting and rotting into nothing.  The kegs in the back of Girder's get-away car - from the Rusty Iron Brewing Company - are a reference to this.

The Rusty Iron Brewing Company is located in Keystone City - the sister city of Central City and home of the third Flash, Wally West, in the comics.

A sign when Barry and Eddie visit the Rusty Iron Brewing Company urges people to visit historic Garrick's Wharf.  This is named in honor of Jay Garrick a.k.a. The first superhero to call himself The Flash.

Dr. Wells describes Girder as "a man of steel".  The Man of Steel is probably the most popular nickname for Superman.

It's worth noting that Barry in the comics is a notoriously bad liar and not that fast-on-his-feet when it comes to improvising - something we see in his scene where he tries (and fails) to explain Girder's bullet-proof nature to Eddie Thawne.

Iris' co-worker at the coffee shop is named Stacy.  This may be a reference to Stacy Conwell - a supporting character from the Flash comics in the 1970s.

Iris describes Girder's power as transforming "like an Iron Fist".  Iron Fist is a Marvel Comics hero - a martial artist who focuses his energy into the super-strong punch from which he takes his name.  This is similar to what Barry does later to defeat Girder.

Iris makes mention of investigating another metahuman at the episode's end - a man who is on fire except he doesn't burn up.  This "Burning Man"may be a foreshadowing of Firestorm, whose head - in the comics - does vent flame.

The Man In Yellow leaves a knife in a picture of Iris in Joe's house.  This could be a reference to how - in the comics - The Reverse-Flash killed Iris West.


Technobabble

The gravel Barry pulled from Woodward's car contained 76.8% hematite which was consistent with the mine at Keystone Iron Works.

Barry has to hit Girder at Mach 1.1 (837 MPH) in order to do any damage.  This requires a running distance of at least 5.3 miles.  This is faster than the speed of sound and Barry does generate a sonic boom before he punches Girder.


Dialogue Triumphs

Iris:
To understand what I'm about to tell you, you need to do something first. Can you do that?  Good. Because all of us, we've forgotten what miracles look like. Maybe because they haven't made much of an appearance lately. Our lives have become ordinary. But there's someone out there who is truly extraordinary. I don't know were you came from. I don't know your name. But I have seen you do the impossible to protect the city I love.  So for those of us who believe in you and what you're doing, I just want to say thank you.

(Harrison enters the room in the middle of an argument betwen Cisco and Caitlin)
Harrison: What exactly are we debating?
Cisco: How many bugs Barry swallows in a day of running.
Harrison: (dryly) I look forward to seeing you accept your Nobel.

Cisco: Supersonic Punch, baby!

Tony: Who the hell do you think you are?
Barry: You know who I am.
Tony: Allen?
Barry: The thing that happened to you, Tony, happened to me too. But it didn't just give us abilities. It made us more of who we are. You got strong, I got fast. Fast enough to beat you. You used your gift to hurt people. Not anymore.

Iris: Today I was saved by the impossible  A mystery man. The Fastest Man Alive. Then a friend gave me an idea for a new name.  And something tells me it's going to catch on.


Continuity

Iris' opening and closing narration speeches are callbacks to Barry's opening and closing speeches in The Pilot.

Joe West taught both Iris and Barry how to fight as children.

Girder is imprisoned in The Pipeline at episode's end.

Harrison Wells opened STAR Labs one month after Nora Allen's murder.  He was married to a woman named Tess Morgan, who was also his research partner in Maryland.  He moved to Central City to start over after she died in a car accident.

It is Barry who suggests the name The Flash to Iris.

Joe West is harassed by a super-fast figure in yellow... just like the one that klled Nora Allen.  It leaves a knife in a picture of Iris on his wall.


The Fridge Factor

Though she spends most of the episode as the damsel in distress, it is Iris who delivers the knock-out punch to Girder while he's stunned and in his normal form after The Flash's super-sonic punch.


The Boomerang Factor

While it is personally satisfying for Barry to reveal to his childhood bully that he is the one who brought him down, it's also phenomenally stupid for him to go revealing his secret identity to Girder.


The Bottom Line

A decent episode though not as great as some of what we've seen so far.  Personal connections to Barry and Iris aside, Girder isn't the most interesting villain and the boy/girl/bully dynamic isn't wholly original.  The best bits of the episode involve fleshing out the two most undeveloped characters in the cast - Eddie and Harrison.  Those scenes, coupled with the teaser at the end, raise new questions about the on-going arc of the show that are far more interesting than Barry facing his childhood bully and proving the power of science.  That said, the scene when Barry delivers his first supersonic punch is a great one and sure to warm the heart of every comic fan who was ever bullied.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Three #8 - A Review

John Constantine's plan worked!  With Superman in his clutches and The Ragman on his side, it looks like it is only a matter of time before John will have his revenge against the Man of Steel.  But while John accounted for The Specter's involvement, he didn't plan on the World's Mightiest Mortal entering the battle...


It is a credit to Tom Taylor's skill as a writer that the drama in this series is as well played as it is.  Logically, we know that Superman must survive his encounter with Ragman - we still have two more years of story to get through before the story in the Injustice game begins!  But it is easy to forget that fact as you read this issue and you hope - you honestly hope - that John Constantine might have done the impossible.


Mike S. Miller's heroic artwork is a welcome match to Taylor's script.  Bold and energetic, Miller's splash pages remind one of the classic work of Jack Kirby, with fists aimed out directly at the reader!  Colorist J. Nanjan also deserves praise for the mighty palette used to bring Miller's pencils to life.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Justice League United #6 - A Review

The one saving grace of Justice League United #6 is Jeff Lemire's ability to bring little moments of character into what is essentially one gigantic fight scene. It is these moments that have defined the series so far. And it is these moments with all the little interactions between the regular cast that make the book so interesting.


Alas, most of this book is taken up with the sort of Claremontian battles that have come to define any story involving The Legion of Superheroes.  There are no characters here - merely a loose collection of bodies attached to various superpowers.

These scenes consist of various characters standing around, explaining the action to the reader (Quickly, Ass-Kicking Lad!  Kick the ass of that big guy while I hold him in the grasp of my Magnetic Mind Grip!) while clumsily letting us know their codenames.  It's a shame because Jeff Lemire is capable of so much better than this and the scenes in which his Justice League speak to themselves showcase the difference between the two teams.



As before, the artwork is erratically mixed.  Neil Edwards is a clearly skilled penciler, but too many of his figures seem artificially posed. The best aspect of the artwork is the energetic colors added by Jeromy Cox.

Thor (2014) #2 - A Review

The second issue of Thor provides few clues as to the identity of the mysterious woman who has somehow claimed the power of Mjolnir. It seems clear that she's a woman of Earth and that she has encountered Thor before, but that does little to narrow the field of suspects.  One oddity is that she seems to be possessed by some spirit akin to that of Thor, though her thought processes are still her own.


Jason Aaron is quick to throw out these hints before throwing us into the action, as this new heroine finds herself facing an army of frost giants.  The stakes are high with a team of Avengers frozen, but this war maiden is more than capable of rising to the challenge before her.  Much to the dismay of the frost giants!


As before, the only real weak point of this series is the artwork of Russell Dauterman.  The inks of this book are too thin at times, making the characters and the backgrounds difficult to separate.  This is doubly true in the case of the frost giants and the icy environs around them.  Thankfully, this is a minor distraction at worst and the detailed pencils make up for the lack of detailing.

Batman #36 - A Review

Batman took down a Justice League possessed by Joker Venom.  But now he faces his greatest challenge ever - a Superman with all the madness of The Joker and none of the scruples of The Man of Steel.  And even if he survives, he must still deal with the clown behind the curtain...


It's no surprise that Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Danny Miki continue to deliver one of the best Batman comics in years with this issue, with a thrilling script and atmospheric artwork.  What is surprising is that Snyder manages to put a neat spin on the now cliche Batman Vs. Superman fight, if only by hanging a lampshade on the age-old argument.  Who wins?  Nobody.


The back-up story by James Tynion IV and Graham Nolan is no less enjoyable.  Continuing last month's tale of a number of Arkham inmates telling stories of their encounters with The Joker, this one centers upon a technophobe who killed the family she feared were turning into robots.  It's not a bad story but there's little to separate it from last week's tale save for the circumstances of why this maniac was in Arkham.  Still, Nolan's artwork is a marked contrast from the style of Kelley Jones, who penciled last month's issue, which helps to make the story seem somewhat more unique.

Red Sonja #13 - A Review

At first it seems like a fairly typical day for Red Sonja. Kill an evil wizard and save the nearby village. Easy peasy. Of course, that's all before Sonja finds herself with a wannabe sorcerer as an unwanted acolyte.  And before she spots the one man who escaped justice for the death of her family in the local tavern. And well before she discovers that the dying wizard's death curse was more than words...


Funny is not usually a word associated with Red Sonja comics, but Gail Simone's run on this title has been hilarious.  Do not think this means this issue is lacking in action!  Far from it!  This is still Red Sonja, but it bares the unmistakable fingerprints of Simone's twisted hand.


Simone is well matched by artist Walter Geovani.  Geovani is one of the finest artists working in the business today and there are few who can match him in the sword-and-sorcery department.  He is also one of the few artists who manages the trick of making Sonja seem sexy without being sexualized.

If you've had the misfortune to have not been reading this book, this is a fine issue to start with.  The only bad thing about this issue is that it marks the beginning of the end of the best run Red Sonja has seen in some time.  Savor it while you can, readers!  This is one to remember!

Batgirl #36 - A Review

It's been a stressful week for Barbara Gordon. Bad enough that her home-life has been upended thanks to the presence of a vengeful Dinah Lance (Hell hath no furry like the former best friend whose home you accidentally burned down) and her thesis was endangered thanks to a fragged hard-drive. Now there's a gang of wannabe ninjas on motorcycles who have it out for Batgirl!


Batgirl #36 continues the bold new direction that began in the previous issue.  And yet, despite the changes, the new creative team has fashioned a book that seems like it belongs among the classic comics of yesteryear.  Much like the early issues of Amazing Spider-Man were just as much about Peter Parker's life out of costume as they were about Spider-Man fighting the villain-of-the-month, so too is this book about Barbara Gordon as both a doctoral student and a vigilante.




The artwork by Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart is perfectly suited to this story.  The layout of this issue is reminiscent of many slice-of-life manga, with an irregular grid structure to the panels.  The action sequences of the book continue this aesthetic, with elongated figures and speed lines.

All-New Captain America #1 - A Review

When it was announced that there would be a new Captain America, there was a goodly amount of public outcry.  Even when it was revealed was that this "new" Captain America would be Sam Wilson a.k.a. The Falcon, there was still some trepidation among fans of the series.  It was not that anyone doubted Sam's ability to take up Steve Rogers' shield but more that the entire move seemed little more than a cheap publicity stunt on the part of Marvel Comics.


Unfortunately, the first issue of All-New Captain America does little to refute this idea.  After an opening in which we learn a little of Sam's background and how he came to believe in The American Dream, the rest of the issue is strictly business as usual.  All the talk about things never being the same proved to be just that - talk.  Doubtlessly this will be a relief to those who were enjoying Rick Remender's work on the recent Marvel Now! Captain America series but those hoping for an exciting new direction will be sorely disappointed.


The artwork is similarly competent but unremarkable.  Stuart Immonen's characters look artificially posed but at least the action sequences are well blocked and easy to follow.  The inks by Wade Von Grawbadger are erratic, being limited on some pages to simple black outlines around the characters and so heavy as to obscure the artwork completely on others!  All in all, there is little to recommend this series to those who aren't already reading Captain America.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Constantine Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 4 - A Feast Of Friends

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



Plot 

When John's old friend Gary "Gaz" Lester comes to Georgia, it isn't a social call - it's a call for help. Seems the wannabe wizard/heroin addict somehow captured a hunger demon and his twitchy behavior going through airport security resulted in a TSA agent unleashing Hell on Atlanta.  Literally.

With the CDC going crazy trying to stop what is apparently a real-life zombie apocalypse in the making, it will fall to John to clean up Gaz's mess.  Again.  But can even the cynical Constantine stomach what needs to be done to permanently put this demon to rest?


Influences

The title, plot and a good portion of the dialogue for this episode come from Hellblazer #1 & #2.


Goofs

Some of the CGI for the digital bug swarms is a bit dodgy.

How did Gaz know how to find John in Atlanta in the first place?


Artistry

The sequence in which John shares a vision with the shaman perfectly emulates and expands upon the dream-like nature of the original scene in the comics, including the sharing of eyes.

The script for this episode is a good one, borrowing a bit of Jamie Delano's original dialogue for a number of sequences, such as Gaz's flashback to Sudan and the shared vision between John and the shaman.


Pub Trivia

The title for this episode is taken from the title of Hellblazer #2.  It is also the name of a Doors song.

Gary "Gaz" Lester is identified in this episode as part of the Newcastle Crew, who was there for John's failed to save Astra.  He blames himself for the ritual getting screwed up because he was high and panicked in the middle of it.  John describes Gaz as a rich junkie who he and the rest of his mates only put up with because Gary's dad was rich and Gary had a car.

Very little has changed in Gaz's transition from the comics to the small screen.  In the comics, John described Gaz as a "musician, culture-clone andsmall-time conjurer".  Gaz was part of the Newcastle crew in the comics but he was not stoned at the time of John's failure to save Astra.  Gaz was, however, so useless when it came to magic that John tasked Gaz with trying to track down a cat he didn't really for the ritual when handing out duties to the rest of the crew and he did run screaming at the first sight of a real demon.

One major change from the comics to the show - in the comics, Gaz was part of John's band Mucus Membrane and co-author on their one single, Venus of the Hardsell.  Nothing is said of Gaz being a part of John's band in this episode.

John describes Newcastle as a North England town with horrible weather and an even worse football team.

As in the comics, John is not fond of psychedelic drugs.

John and Gaz are both capable pick-pockets.


Arcana

Zed foresees Manny's approach as a rain of pennies from heaven.

Zed showcases a talent for precognition (seeing the future), retrocognition (seeing the past) and clairtangency (literally "clear touching" aka psychometry - the ability to glean information through touching an object or person).  She also experiences a psychic transference with Gaz, feeling his pain, guilt, addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

The Seal of Solomon is a powerful symbol of protection in Islamic and Jewish mysticism.  It is the symbol upon the Ring of Solomon - a magic ring, sent from Heaven itself, that gave Solomon the power to command genies, demons and other wicked spirits. John paints the seal onto a bottle in order to give it the power to contain the hunger demon.

The enchanted playing card John uses as a fake ID is the Nine of Diamonds.  In tarot cards, diamonds correspond to pentacles and the Nine of Pentacles symbolizes self-confidence, self-sufficiency, independence and freedom - a fitting card for the independent Constantine.

Mnemoth is a hunger demon who manifests as a swarm of carpet beetles (the most destructive pest in the world, according to John) when it is traveling between hosts.  When inside a host, Mnemoth is driven to consume any foodstuffs in the immediate area while the host's body wastes away into an emaciated shell. If no cooked food is available, Mnemoth will eat raw food or attack living creatures in an attempt to eat them.

The Mist is a foul-tasting hallucinogenic root that may be the most powerful drug in the world. Its effects last forever unless one takes the nectar that is the natural counter-agent.

The only way to permanently banish Mnemoth is to trap him in a living human body that has been prepared with sacred symbols carved into its flesh while Mnemoth was inside it. The symbols must be carved with a kusa knife.

John casts a spell that enables him to mind-control a security guard into dancing until an alarm is shut off.


Dialogue Triumphs

No dialogue is spoken, but John's quietly changing the number on the "It has been ___ days since our last incident." sign to "0" is quite funny.

John: Anyone in here who's still alive?!  Preferably not possessed and feeling peckish?

John: You know what I always say... "Everyone has the capacity to change".
Gaz: I've never heard you say that before.
John: Exactly.

John: This demon requires a sacrifice. That's what I learned from the shaman. No cage, bottle or vessel can hold it; only a body. A live human body.
Gaz: Mine
John: ...we could draw straws.
Gaz: It was your plan all along, wasn't it?  That's why it's just you and me here.  You sneaky bastard... my chance... to finally make my life mean something.
John: It won't be quick. Could be days of sheer agony before you die. And there's no going back. Do you understand?
Gaz: There's no better way to go out.  A mage... like John Constantine!

Zed: You're sacrificing him?! You're sacrificing your friend's life?!
John: It was his choice and it was a brave one.  You need to respect that!
Zed: You manipulated him!  You tricked him into it!
John: That demon was one of the most powerful and malevolent entities I've ever come across!  What we did saved countless lives!
Zed: I don't care!  Gary loved you and you betrayed him!  All he cared about was to make you proud of him, for once,  John! Huh?! He wanted to be just like you! Thank God he's not!
John: He came to me!  You think I wanted this?  Any of it?  I told you this would happen.  People around me die.  If you can't handle it, then go!

Another silent but powerful scene is Manny's appearance as he joins John in his sitting with the violently dying Gaz in the episode's conclusion.


Continuity

Zed has never tried any kind of recreational drug in her life.

Chas is gone for the entire episode, finally getting his cab fixed after the events of The Pilot.


Location

Atlanta, Georgia and Sudan.


John Screws Up

John drops the bottle he prepared to trap Mnemoth.

John butters up Gaz in order to convince him to volunteer to sacrifice himself to send Mnemoth back to Hell.


The Bottom Line

A decent adaptation of the original story, though Hellblazer fans may wonder why some of the changes there were made occurred in the first place such as Gaz being identified as John's old band-mate or Papa Midnite being involved in the proceedings.  Perhaps the show-runners feared things becoming redundant since next week's episode will also center around a Constantine/Midnite team-up?  In any case, this is a solid episode but it will probably appeal more to new fans of John Constantine than the old sods.

Still, it's not bad and it could have been a hell of a lot worse.  No pun intended.  Apart from some iffy CGI, the whole affair is good, well-acted and decently directed.  One feels they could have done more to build on the original material, though.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 3, Episode 6 - Guilty

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



Plot

For the past few weeks, Roy Harper hasn't been sleeping well.  After being called out on this for the third time while in the field, Roy goes to Felicity and privately asks for her to conduct a blood test to make sure the Mirakuru is out of his system.  He then confesses the reason he wanted the test and the reason for his insomnia - a reoccurring nightmare in which he kills Sara Lance by throwing arrows into her!

At the same time, a mysterious vigilante is killing gang members in The Glades and all signs point to former professional boxer and gym owner Ted Grant being the guilty party.  Laurel thinks otherwise, having been with Ted when one of the murders occurred but Oliver isn't convinced. Particularly after he discovers that six years earlier, Ted Grant was a vigilante who protected The Glades of Starling City at about the same time another gang leader was killed under similar circumstances...


Influences

Green Arrow: Year One (references to China White), The Cat and The Canary episode of Justice League Unlimited (Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance team up to investigate Ted Grant's involvement in a criminal act) and numerous Green Arrow stories that dealt with Roy Harper failing to live up to Oliver Queen's standards.


Goofs 

The thought occurs with the flashbacks in this episode that Amanda Waller using Oliver as a secret agent in Hong Kong is rather stupid.  Granted it's unfamiliar territory that limits his escape options, it also leaves him sticking out like a sore thumb.

The script tries way too hard to draw a parallel between Ollie's current situation with Roy and Wildcat's falling-out with his sidekick. While it's a nice idea, the differing circumstances of their having killed someone (Roy was under the influence of a mind-altering substance compared to Stanzler being overly-violent of his own free will) are completely different and not really comparable.

The larger problem is that the script has a lot of characters speaking dialogue that it makes no sense for them to be saying.  This includes Stanzler's speech to Roy about Ollie abandoning him, which doesn't make sense because Stanzler knows nothing about what Roy has done or his fears of abandonment.  This also includes Ted Grant's talk with The Arrow later about cutting his sidekick loose before he loses control, which - while well spoken by both J.R. Ramriez and Stephen Amell - doesn't make a lick of sense because Ted Grant knows nothing about what is going on between The Arrow and his sidekick!  Even John Diggle - usually the voice of reason - seems horribly out of character, urging Oliver to cut Roy loose if there's even a chance he really did kill Sara Lance!

Laurel does some truly unethical things in this episode, which are covered in The Fridge Factor.

Oliver does some truly idiotic things, which are covered in The Winick Factor.


Performances

The scenes between Colton Haynes and Emily Bett Rickards are well-acted.  We haven't seen much happen between these two, so it's a nice touch that we get to see that Felicity is the person Roy trusts the most to handle the news of what he thinks he's done without judging him.

J.R. Ramirez is given a good deal more screen time as Wildcat this time and proves to be capable of holding his own against Stephen Amell - both in a fight scene and in a dialogue.


Artistry

The fight between Arrow and Ted Grant in the gym is well-shot and played out.


Trivia

During their storming the gang's hideout, Oliver tells Roy he is on "overwatch".  Overwatch is the name of a new novel by Arrow show-runner Marc Guggenheim. 

Oliver's inability to pronounce the name Chien Na Wei and saying China White instead is a callback to Green Arrow: Year One.

In the comics, Ted Grant is a vigilante, gym owner and ex-professional boxer who fought crime under the code-name Wildcat.  He would later go on to train other vigilantes, including Batman, Catwoman and Black Canary.

In the show, Ted Grant is a lefty who is known as The Sterling Southpaw.  In so far as my research can determine, the comics never specified whether Wildcat was a righty or a lefty.

Ted Grant's gym is located on the corner of 9th and Hansen.  This is a nod to artist Irwin Hasen, who drew the first Wildcat comic back in Sensation Comics #1, which was also the first appearance of Wonder Woman.

Ted Grant's former partner in crime-fighting - Issac Stanzler - is named in honor of Arrow director Wendey Stanzler.

Captain Lance glibly tells Laurel that she knows how to pick them.  Beyond being a reference to Laurel's bad romantic choices on the show, it could also be a reference to the comics, where Dinah Lance has a similar history of dating questionable men.  Even ignoring her history with Ollie, she dated Ra's Al Ghul at one point!

The newspaper in Starling City is The Starling City Star.

Arsenal is the code name that Roy Harper eventually adopted after deciding he had outgrown the moniker Speedy.  It referred to his mastery of multiple weapons - not just arrows.  He eventually became a master of Moo Gi Gong - a Korean martial art based around turning any solid object into a weapon.

Cupid - the woman we see killing a prisoner with a bow at the episode's end - is a villain from the Green Arrow/Black Canary comics and she will be discussed in more detail next week.


Technobabble

Though it is an improvised weapon, Oliver does make use of a boxing glove arrow - a regular arrow thrust inside a boxing glove.


Dialogue Triumphs

Roy: Nothin' much. Just a feeling. A feeling of being not me. Being strong and out of control. But, here's the thing... in those dreams, I killed Sara.
Felicity: And this really had you worried?
Roy: Because the dreams,...they didn't feel like dreams, Felicity, they felt like memories. I actually remember throwing arrows into her. Crazy, right?
Felicity:  (quietly) Yeah. Crazy.

Arrow: That's the second time I've found you with a body.
Ted: I've never killed anybody. I'm being set up.
Arrow: And why should I believe you?
Ted: Because I used to be a vigilante. I used to be you.
Arrow: I've never heard of another vigilante in Starling.
Ted: It was six years ago. I wasn't news; I stuck to the Glades.
Arrow: And these are supposed to convince me? Masks are also useful for serial killers.
Ted: Says the guy currently wearing one.

Arrow: Who else knows about the locker?
Ted: No one. This is where I kept my supplies, a safe place separate from my day job. I'm sure you got one just like it.
Arrow: Mine's bigger.

Arrow: You cannot be serious.
Laurel: I am not on your team. I don't work for you.
Arrow: Exactly. You're untrained.
Laurel: And whose fault is that?!

Oliver: You're playing a very dangerous game, Laurel.
Laurel: I can handle it.
Oliver: No, you can't. Because you haven't realized that it's not actually a game.

Arrow: Ted, your mistake wasn't cutting him loose. It was losing faith in him.

Roy: I'm going to miss this. I feel like I was just starting to get good at it.
Oliver: You are getting good at it.
Roy: That guy? He said I was just another weapon in your arsenal.
Oliver: Well maybe that's what we should call you, then?  Arsenal.

Roy: So I didn't kill Sara. But I am a murderer.


Dialogue Disasters

Stanzler: (To Roy) Don't you get it? He's using you! You're not a human being, man! You were just another weapon in his arsenal! And the second you do something wrong, he'll turn his back on you! He will abandon you!

Roy: Don't abandon me.
Oliver: Never.

Cupid: I'm Cupid, stupid.


Continuity

It is confirmed that Roy did not kill Sara and that his dreams were formed from a jumble of memories and his seeing Sara's face right after he killed a cop in A220.

Oliver learned how to use meditation to clear his head and focus his memory from Tatsu while he was in Hong Kong.


The Fridge Factor 

Again, Laurel proves to have poor judgement in how to exercise her authority as an assistant district attorney. Over the course of the episode, she interferes in an active police investigation where she is the only alibi for a suspected killer. She is somehow allowed to drop all the charges against this Ted Grant without a word of protest from anyone.  And at the end, after it is revealed Ted Grant was a vigilante six years ago, she makes sure he's only charged with crimes for which the statue of limitations has passed.


The Winick Factor

Ollie's hypocrisy regarding vigilante ethics is on full display through this episode. Oliver is contemptuous of Ted Grant when he thinks that Ted was a vigilante who killed people, neatly ignoring just how many random thugs and minions he killed during his first year on the job.  (A major weakness of the script is that nobody calls Ollie on this point). Later, when Oliver helps Roy to remember the truth, he tries to comfort Roy by saying that it didn't matter that he killed some random cop when he was under the influence of Mirakuru... so long as he didn't kill Sara Lance!  To Roy's credit, he doesn't buy Ollie's half-assed justification either.


The Bottom Line

The first bad episode of the season and a serious candidate for the worst episode of the show ever. The script does a lot of good things (the scenes with Felicity and Roy and Oliver and Ted's confrontations, especially)  but it also has a lot of bits where everyone seems out of character, especially Oliver and Diggle. And for a script that is supposed to be focused on Roy, he barely seems to be involved in the action with more time being devoted toward Laurel and Ted Grant than Roy's emotional torment over the revelation that he's killed someone.  Not even the long awaited premiere of the boxing glove arrow can save this one.