Wednesday, May 25, 2016

DC Universe Rebirth

This was supposed to be the book of the week, the big comic book event, but Marvel Comics trumped it by making Captain America a Hydra agent. Yeah, it sounds like a headline from the Bizarro World doesn't it? I guess that clinches it. Marvel Comics hates superheroes more than Fredric Wertham. But while Marvel is stumbling backward into darkness, DC Comics is forging forward… to rebuild their broken universe, their broken characters, and reach out to readers old and new, rather than drive them away.

On point with this endeavor is writer Geoff Johns, who after fifteen pages of DC Universe Rebirth had me smiling. I don't smile at DC Comics, not in a long time now. The story follows Kid Flash, the real Kid Flash, Wally West from the old days, as he tries to find his way out of the Speed Force, and contact his old friends to warn them. Yeah, warn them of a danger that may have caused the New 52 Universe, and apparently no, it wasn't Flashpoint.

And about that, for those who haven't read it, here come the spoilers, so act appropriately. While I loved Watchmen, even the movie, the videogame, and a few of the prequels even, I have never been one of those fans that held it up as holy and untouchable. Alan Moore has written a few good comics, yes, but he is not a god. So the core thrust behind what caused the New 52 Universe and stole a decade from my favorite heroes and sliced and diced their memories is okay with me. I actually kinda dig the idea, and can't wait to see it further explored.

Now that that is out of the way, I can talk about how much I enjoyed this book. I loved seeing Wally again, and his tour of the New 52 Universe made things even better as we got to see Batman, Johnny Thunder, the Atoms, the Blue Beetles, maybe Saturn Girl, and so many others. I loved seeing Wally's origin relived through new artists' eyes, and the mystery of the three Jokers, the sadness of a Green Arrow and Black Canary who don't know each other, Aquaman's proposal to Mera, and really, who didn't cry when Wally encountered Linda Park, and then Barry Allen.

I honestly don't know which, if any, of the new DC Comics I will be picking up, but I will say this - they have my interest, and I sure as hell enjoyed this issue, and want to see what comes next! What did you folks think?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Arrow S04 E22: Lost in the Flood

In the last episode of "Arrow," the town of Havenrock was nuked in order to save the much more populous city of Monument Point. The unavoidable death toll is in the tens of thousands instead of millions. The disaster has made Damien Darhk near invincible. He's powerful enough to kill Green Arrow and Spartan, but he doesn't, so they will live long enough to die in the armageddon when Darhk gets the rest of the missile codes. Rookie James Bond villain mistake - always kill the heroes, always.

Felicity is taking it hard, and she had a hard choice, she didn't want anyone to die. They're going to need help to keep the codes from Darhk, so she enlists Curtis, who more than a little starstruck by her hacker dad, the Calculator. I loved when he said to Felicity that she now made so much more sense, and also the WarGames reference. Of course, in retaliation Darhk enlists Cooper Seldon from "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" to work the opposing side of the hack. I loved the Eye of Sauron on the screens when Cooper took over the Team Arrow computers.

Meanwhile Thea is being held prisoner by dear old dad Malcolm Merlin inside Darhk's Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (yeah, I went there) after Anarky killed her boyfriend, who was not Dr. Davis after all. Anarky, who's hunting Darhk, may actually be more of a monkey wrench in his plans than Team Arrow. I am so sick of deus ex machina in these superhero shows of late, Anarky better not be the one to take out Darhk.

While Felicity is called away to deal with the domestic trainwreck that is her parents, and Green Arrow and Spartan discover Darhk's underground EPCOT, Quentin Lance is alone in the Arrowcave. It's during this time that Sara Lance returns from her time journey with "DC's Legends of Tomorrow." If you watched the season finale the next evening you know what happens when she learns Laurel has been killed. Like on "Doctor Who," Laurel's death is a fixed point in time and cannot be altered. Sara returns to the time stream.

On Flashback Island, Taiana is possessed of the power of Reiter's Khushu Idol, and planning to bring it home to her village to take revenge on the warlord there, a guy named Kovar. Interesting, the only Russian named Kovar in the DC Comics Universe is the superhero Starfire/Red Star, decidedly a good guy last I checked. Unfortunately, Reiter is still alive and isn't letting anyone leave with the idol.

Back at Darhk's Noah's Ark/EPCOT Thea been drugged and wants to kill Oliver. Merlyn steps in and says the most truthful thing that's ever been said in four seasons of this series. Oliver has always had an inability to do what is necessary. What's he going to do? It's already been established he's not going to kill Merlyn. Only John Barrowman. Cold hard truth. And right there, with those words, Merlyn takes the crown as Green Arrow's archenemy.

Inside the Ark, things have gone to hell, for exactly the reasons I had feared. Team Arrow has nothing to do with actively defeating the bad guy, again. While they stopped Darhk from getting the missile codes and foiling his plan, it's Anarky who makes the crushing blow. While the whole ark city is going up in white dwarf star alloy powered flames, little Lonnie Machin kills Ruve Adams.

As you can imagine, Darhk is at the end of his rope. And why he didn't kill Merlyn for his continued failures is beyond me. Malcolm and Oliver are just different sides of the same coin. As Darhk visits Felicity, Curtis, and Donna he promises to bring hell to them.

For my other reviews of the entire "Arrow" series, click here. And if you'd like to discuss this episode and anything else in the Arrowverse, please join the Arrow Discussion Group on Facebook.

Next: Schism, the season finale!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jessica Jones S01 E08: AKA WWJD?

Here's the problem, and it's a most disturbing one. David Tennant, who plays Kilgrave here, and played The Doctor for several years on "Doctor Who," is so damned charismatic. As one of the most diabolical and immoral villains of the Marvel Universe, when he's trying to be nice, trying to get into Jessica Jones' good graces, we almost believe him, as if we too have been influenced by his powers...

In a bit of stalker-ish sociopathology Kilgrave has purchased Jessica's childhood home, refurnished it just as it was, invited her to live there with him, all done without the benefit (?) of his powers. To say this is effed up is an understatement. Mutual consent, her choice, and her love, is all that he wants.

The edge is thick in the air as Jess tours the home of her past surrounded by ghosts, as well as Kilgrave, and his paid bodyguard Hank, plus a chef and a maid. Through dinner, breakfast, conversation with a neighbor, Kilgrave tries desperately for domestic bliss, all with the undercurrent of sociopathic house arrest.

Trish calls, worried about Jess, and worried about her new beau Will Simpson. He's gone AWOL. We find he's in the house, has planted a bomb to finish off Kilgrave once and for all. Jessica disarms it and sends Will packing. When Trish does catch up to him, he still doesn't tell her the truth - what else would one expect of a future super-villain? Instead he tries to convince Trish to forget about Kilgrave, and that Jessica can take care of herself.

All of it however pales in comparison to the heated discussion at the heart of the episode. Kilgrave raped Jessica. He raped her physically, mentally, and emotionally. He is a true monster. He may have given her everything she wanted, pampered her with fancy clothes and hotels and restaurants - but she wanted none of it. Not to make light of the situation, but bottom line, no means no.

Just when the writing veers into something real, it slingshots back to supermax idiocy. Jessica tries to make the Purple Man a force for good. It's a fun idea, it's a comic book idea, and not one fitting to the psychological crime noir that is "Jessica Jones." Somewhere along the way, and especially in this talky flip-floppy episode, the show has run off the path.

As much as I worried early on about the chemistry between Jessica and Luke Cage, perhaps I should have been more worried about it between her and Kilgrave. Their scenes together are not as tense as they should be. Separately and reacting to each other they are great, but together on the same side, no. It's just one of the flaws of the show, like the Jeri Hogarth divorce that I just don't give a crap about.

But it always comes back to Kilgrave. As earnest and charismatic as the monster is, he always defaults to evil, from having knives at the throats of the paid help to the humiliation of Jessica's neighbor to the brutal final ending of this episode, Kilgrave is ever the villain. Thankfully Jessica remains true to herself as well... even if I never expected her to fly...

Next: Sin Bin

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Monsters Are Back

In this season of "Penny Dreadful," we have moved beyond the world of the penny dreadful and into the one of its American counterpart, the figuratively more expensive dime novel. As the protagonists have all gone their separate ways and formed new alliances - Lily and Dorian, Hecate and Ethan, Victor and Henry, Malcolm and Kaetenay - and spread to different corners of the world, it gives the show an HBO vibe with quick cutting to display the many characters. This tact also builds anticipation for when our 'heroes' once again meet and merge subplots.

As a fan of the original stories I was excited to see Caliban/John Clare, our Frankenstein monster, in the Arctic. I was yet equally excited to see him searching for his lost past in Chinatown. Might it be too much to wish for an appearance by another Victorian villain, Fu Manchu? Or might the legal rights be too difficult to navigate?

The concept of Victor Frankenstein and Henry Jekyll (a black man in this continuity) being old school chums and fellow outcasts is a charming and imaginative one. I like it quite a bit. Their clashing and contrasting philosophies of science and the evil of man make their partnership one of both madness and wonder, and I love that they are currently quartered in Bedlam, the prime place to conjure horror of that age. Think how they could anger God together.

I applaud the addition of Patti Lupone to the cast, though not in the part she had been playing (and should have gotten a Emmy for, the Cut-Wife), but as Dr. Seward, a gender-switched version of the character from Dracula. Notably she is a distant relative of her former role, and is not the only new addition from that book. We also have Renfield, complete with fly obsession, as her secretary and the titular monster himself in the guise of Alexander Sweet currently romancing Seward's patient Vanessa Ives.

Dracula is of course not the only big bad waiting in the wings, as Lily and Dorian Gray are still plotting a domination of the human race and are teaching a young girl, Justine, their evil ways. Reeve Carney and Billie Piper are deliciously evil and have certainly come a long way from Spider-Man and Rose Tyler, Defender of the Universe.

Patti Lupone is not the only new cast member this season, there's also award-winning Native American actor Wes Studi. Unfortunately he is filling the role of the magical Negro that Danny Sapani's Sembene thankfully avoided in the first two seasons. Hopefully there is more than meets the eye with his Kaetenay character in the dime novel sequences of this season.

I am unsure where the subplots in the American West are going, even though I am enjoying them the most, but I do hope the London stories end with that old kaiju eiga trick of turning the monsters against each other. That would be awesome. Either way, I'll be watching this season.

For a different point of view on "Penny Dreadful," please check out friend and author Marie Gilbert's reviews of the series here at Biff Bam Pop!.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Jessica Jones S01 E07: AKA Top Shelf Perverts

We had a short reprieve in the last episode, but just like that, the horror is back. We open on Kilgrave rooting through Jessica's office in the dark, taking a leak (something I never imagined I'd see a "Doctor Who" title actor do), and then greet one of her creepy twin neighbors at the door. It's Ruben, one half of the couple that makes Cersei and Jaime Lannister seem normal. When Ruben admits to Kilgrave that he loves Jessica Jones, the Purple Man leaves his corpse in her bed as a gift.

David Tennant's Kilgrave is surely the most terrifying super-villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yeah, and I'm counting Thanos the space God who worships death. Tennant, through simple facial expressions, gestures, posture, and a modicum of dialogue, is simply chilling. While the tone of "Jessica Jones" has been primarily that of modern film noir, there have been moments of pure horror, and they belong solely to Kilgrave.

The Purple Man, or Zebidiah Killgrave as he's known in the comics, was at first a rather silly villain, created by Stan Lee and Joe Orlando. A Croatian mutant who actually had purple skin and hair, he was chiefly a Daredevil villain. I was aware of him years before I ever actually read a story with him in it. I first saw him in the Emperor Doom graphic novel where Doctor Doom used him as a weapon against the Avengers and the Champions, and eventually enabled the armored monarch to rule world temporarily.

Largely considered a joke or one-note villain, he vanished from the comics for years. He fathered a daughter, the Purple Girl, who appeared with Alpha Flight briefly. Killgrave would reemerge triumphantly and horrifically in the pages of Alias, under the creative power of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, as a major force in the backstory of Jessica Jones.

David Tennant, most well known as The Doctor in his tenth incarnation, brings the villain to life here on "Jessica Jones." He's not purple but wears it, has a strange supernatural glow of the color, and all of his lighting has that weird hue. A vastly better and moodier effect, I must say, than actual purple skin. The showrunners also altered the spelling of his name, and have yet to call him 'the Purple Man,' all of which I'm fine with. But I'm never going to look at The Tenth Doctor the same way again, Tennant is that scary.

With the murder of Ruben, Jessica is at her wit's end, and has come up with an insane plan. A ridiculous plan, if I may, one more fitting an episode of "I Love Lucy" than a 2015 entry in the Marvel/Netflix Television Universe. She's going to get herself arrested and put in a supermax prison, and when Kilgrave comes after her, they'll trap him there. I'm waiting for Ethel Mertz to join Team Jones any second now.

The rest of the cast revolves around her as she finalizes plans. Pre-Hellcat and Proto-Nuke are still going at it like high school kids, but Trish does know where to find Kilgrave's bodyguards. They're helping him move in. To the house that he bought last episode. Jessica's childhood home. And for some effed up reason Simpson isn't telling Trish what he sees, he lies to her. He even sees what happens at the end of this episode before the credits roll... is he still in Kilgrave's thrall?

Jessica moves through the episode preparing her goodbyes, like stopping by Luke's bar, making sure Jeri can be her lawyer, and threatening Trish's mom (Jessica's foster mom) to leave her daughter alone. Both Trish and Malcolm try to talk Jessica out of her plan to no effect. And Robyn, now told by Malcolm that her brother was involved with Jessica, is weirder than ever. Wait 'till she finds out what really happened to Ruben.

Malcolm, now that he's straight, is a great character. If the rumors are true and he will also be in "The Defenders" on Netflix, I wouldn't mind at all. Eka Darville is very good. And as long as Trish is there as Hellcat, I'll be happy.

When Jessica turns herself in to the police with the severed head of Ruben in tow, we get a return of Clarke Peters from "The Wire" as Clemons but he's sadly given little to do. Kilgrave has invaded the police station and made everyone pull guns on each other. He wants her released, and for her to come home - but it has to be of her own choice.

In the end, with nothing else to do to stop him, and no other way to save others from him, Jessica goes home, to Kilgrave...

Next: WWJD?