Fan-Cast: James Bond, part 4: Q

“Need I remind you, 007, that you have a license to kill, not to break the traffic laws.” — Q (Desmond Llewelyn)

In light of the latest 007 news, it seems appropriate that I continue my efforts from a few weeks ago of fan-casting James Bond’s closest associates. (Of course, I already had this planned and nearly finished before the news broke.) My latest is for the beloved ‘Q’….

Q

The Four (Major) Qs

As you all know, I’m sure, ‘Q’ (short for “Quartermaster”) is the brilliant and innovative engineer who provides Bond (and other agents) with tricked-out sports cars and various weapons and other devices intended to help keep Bond alive and accomplish his missions. In fact, ‘Q’ is the head of Q Branch/Division, MI6’s fictional R&D labs. As per Wikipedia, “Charles Fraser-Smith is widely credited as the inspiration for Q due to the spy gadgets he built for the Special Operations Executive. These were called Q-devices, after the Royal Navy’s World War I Q-ships….”

The character has been portrayed by six men altogether, though only the four pictured here were in official Bond films by Eon Productions: Peter Burton (1962), Desmond Llewelyn (1963-1999), John Cleese (2002), Ben Whishaw (2012-present). Burton played the armourer “Major Boothroyd” in Dr. No, a character Ian Fleming named after Geoffrey Boothroyd, a firearms expert in Glasgow, Scotland, who had given him some suggestions for improving Bond’s firearms. Boothroyd returned in From Russia with Love, this time played by Llewelyn. But, from Goldfinger (1964) forward, the character was referred to as ‘Q’. Llewelyn died in late 1999 and Q’s assistant, ‘R’ (Cleese), got a promotion in Die Another Day (2002). Alas, ‘Q’ was recast along with everyone else for the Craig-era films.

Llewelyn and Brosnan

I am not aware of any physical description given for Boothroyd/’Q’ by Fleming in the original novels, though there may be. However, the point is fairly moot, since (like ‘M’) the title has been held by more than one individual over the years. Most of them have been relatively slender and at least 6′ tall. Whishaw is only 5’9″, though, and also seems to be the only one under 40. The older, “consummate professional” versions of ‘Q’ are typically of mixed feelings toward Bond, recognizing the agent’s successful track record, yet often annoyed by his short attention span and a “playful lack of respect for his equipment”. There is usually a bit of verbal sparring between the two, though usually limited to lighthearted teasing, nothing heated. Despite this, the respect is mutual. The dynamic is somewhat different with the now-younger and less experienced ‘Q’, but Bond recognizes and appreciates the younger man’s skills.

My preference would be to cast someone in their 40s to 60s, though I’m flexible on height and general build. In addition to my final three, there were only two actors that I seriously considered for the role before ruling them out, and they happen to be my oldest and youngest candidates, respectively. Brendan Gleeson (6’2″,b.1955) has, of course, been in many things over the past three decades, including genre productions like Braveheart, Turbulence, Mission: Impossible II, Edge of Tomorrow, and three Harry Potter films. James Corden (5’8″,b.1978), on the other hand, has been acting (e.g., “Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story”, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman, Gulliver’s Travels, “Doctor Who”) for about 20 years but is most known these days as the popular, silly host of “The Late Late Show with James Corden” here in the States. Though they didn’t survive my “Top 3” cut, I still think either Gleeson or Corden could do a wonderful job — Gleeson in particular playing Q as uptight and humorless, whereas Corden would be best playing it rather more eccentric, perhaps even goofy.

I’m going to throw a couple Americans out for your consideration first. I think you’ll see, though, how these “out of the box” choices might be surprisingly good candidates for ‘Q’. The last (and oldest) might be a more traditional choice….

Masi Oka

A certified genius, Masayori “Masi” Oka (5’6″,b.1974) graduated from Brown University with degrees in math and computer science and a minor in theater arts. He appeared in various small roles in TV and film, while working as a CGI artist for Industrial Light & Magic. He became a genre star with his breakout role as Hiro Nakamura in “Heroes” (and later “Heroes Reborn”). Since then, he has become a semi-regular as Dr. Max Bergman on “Hawaii Five-O” (see pic). His quirky performance and straightforward, somewhat wordy explanations of his findings (to the mild annoyance of the other characters) would, I think, work quite well as a version of ‘Q’, too. If he can’t do a passable British accent, they could have fun with his being a “Yank”.

Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris (6′,b.1973) came to prominence as a child actor playing “Doogie Howser, M.D.”. He also did voice work (e.g., “Capitol Critters”) and appeared in genre shows like “Quantum Leap” and “The Outer Limits”. Later genre work includes Starship Troopers, “Joan of Arc”, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” (see pic), and lots more voice work (e.g., “Justice League”, “Spider-Man”). Since his sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother”, ended, he has appeared in Gone Girl, “American Horror Story”, and stars in the new “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. Harris is multi-talented, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could pull off a good British accent. He could play ‘Q’ as a by-the-book, humorless/sarcastic straight man (pun intended), OR he could play him as a rather fun and eccentric character. Either way, he’d make a great Quartermaster.

Kenneth Branagh

I think the first thing I remember taking note of Kenneth Branagh (5’9.5″,b.1960) in was Dead Again, though I don’t much remember the movie. I was, of course, aware of his work in Henry V, and he went on to do other Shakespearean works, as well. I next saw him in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Robert De Niro. Other genre work includes Wild Wild West, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Valkyrie, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, “Wallander”, and the recent Dunkirk. Branagh is another top-notch talent — heck, he could direct the film, too — who could do a terrific job as a semi-comedic foil / ally for Agent 007. He is also old enough to be a quasi-mentor or fatherly figure for our 30-something Bond.

I can’t decide which one I like best. You?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

DUST, Code 8, and Miami Vice

Are any of you familiar with DUST? I discovered it the other day, when I came across this short video, based on a Dark Horse comic.

“Number 13”

According to its YouTube channel (which I have now subscribed to),

“DUST is the first multi-platform destination for binge watchable sci-fi. We feature science fiction short films and other content from emerging filmmakers with stunning visual effects, captivating plots and complex character explorations. Robots, aliens, space exploration, technology, and human experience are all a part of DUST.”

Sounds pretty cool! In fact, I’ve watched four more and they were all quite interesting and well done. Some very creative and talented filmmakers out there! I just hope I have time to watch more in the future. There’s a website, and you can subscribe to the newsletter and watch the videos from there, if you don’t want to subscribe to the YouTube channel.

I came across another short film, this one by cousins Robbie and Stephen Amell, who I am sure you are familiar with from “Arrow”, “Flash”, and other genre productions. This is a project they put together with a couple friends and got crowdfunded. The setting is “a world where 4% of the population are born with some type of supernatural ability. Instead of being billionaire superheroes, most ‘specials’ live in poverty and resort to crime, forcing the police to become more militarized.”

Follow this link to the short…

Via an Indiegogo campaign, they were able to fund a full-length movie which began production on June 1st, 2017. The movie’s plot involves “Conner Reed (Robbie Amell) [as] a powerful young man who is struggling to pay for his ailing mother’s medical treatment. To earn money, he joins a lucrative criminal world [through] Garrett (Stephen Amell), who works for a drug lord (Greg Bryk).”

They promise “robots, superpowers, and a ton of badass action.” You can find out more about it at code8.com. Current estimated release date won’t be until 2018, possibly that December.

In other news,… it looks like “Miami Vice” may get another reboot, this time on TV. Vin Diesel’s One Race Television production company (working under a deal with Universal TV) has teamed with Chris Morgan Productions to develop the new series for NBC. (Morgan wrote six of the “Fast & Furious” films.) As per Variety,

“Peter Macmanus will write the script, based on the original series. While executive producers haven’t been set, it’s more than likely Macmanus, Morgan, and Diesel will all serve as EPs, along with more staffers from One Race TV and Chris Morgan Prods….”

There have been many reboots in recent years, some good (e.g., “Hawaii Five-O” and “MacGyver” series) and some disappointing (e.g., Miami Vice and The Dukes of Hazard films). And more are on the way (e.g., “S.W.A.T.”). I have mixed feelings about the studios mining so much old material, especially when they rarely retain the quality or charm of the originals. And then they cancel good, new stuff (e.g., “Almost Human”, “A.P.B.”)!

The original “Crockett & Tubbs”

As for this particular effort, I’m not sure we know enough to hazard a guess at what it might be like. On the one hand, having action veterans Diesel and Morgan at the helm is a good sign. On the other hand, the original “Miami Vice” was an iconic, groundbreaking show, with an amazing cast and tone that will be quite difficult to match. I mean, realistically, how can you ever find another Crockett & Tubbs with the chemistry and easy coolness of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, or equal the quiet steeliness of ‘Lt. Castillo’ as portrayed by Edward James Olmos? Plus, much of the original’s identity is wrapped up in the music, fashion, and zeitgeist of the ’80s, such that I wonder if they’ll need to set the new series in the ’80s, too, just to give it a fighting chance.

At this point, I guess I’ll just say that I am curious and hopeful that they can at least put forth a decent product, even if they can’t quite capture the feel of the original.

P.S.  Here’s a fun article — especially for those of us old enough to remember watching the show — re some “Miami Vice” guest stars: “20 Huge Stars You Didn’t Know Were On Miami Vice”.

P.P.S.  There is a connection between the latter two items, btw. Sung Kang, who you will remember from a few of Diesel’s F&F movies, appears in Code 8.

My Top 8 Favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies

Arnold Schwarzenegger — aka “Ahnuld” — just turned 70 years old! Can you believe it?!

Ahnuld posing for *Sabotage*

For a man who is thick on accent and light on acting talent (though both have improved over time), Ahnuld has amassed an impressive number of movies over the past 40 years or so. He is one of the biggest action-movie icons of all time, not to mention a favorite of comedians and impressionists, and his success shows what big muscles, snappy one-liners, a handful of memorable roles, and a lot of hard work and ambition can earn you in Hollywood. Plus, he has that Ahnuld charisma. Despite his faults, he seems like a decent chap, too.

I wouldn’t say I’m his hugest fan, but I *do* like him and have seen (and mostly enjoyed) many of his films. So, I thought it might be fun to come up with a list of my favorites and share them with you. Sort of like what I did with Kurt Russell, but with a little less emphasis on the roles specifically and more on each movie as a whole. I limited myself to those that he (co-)stars in (as opposed to small supporting roles or bit parts).

You will notice that there aren’t any comedies on my list. This simply isn’t Ahnuld’s strong suit. I mean, he has some of the best one-liners in his action movies, but his “comedic stylings” just aren’t enough to carry a movie. If pressed to pick one comedy, I’d go with Twins, in which he co-starred with Danny DeVito. Certainly it was better than Junior (also paired with DeVito), Kindergarten Cop, or Jingle All the Way. (I never saw The Villain (1979), aka Cactus Jack, but I understand it wasn’t so great, either.) I hope the upcoming sequel, Triplets, which adds Eddie Murphy to the mix, will be reasonably entertaining and not rely on too much crude humor or stupidity.

You’ll also notice, I’m sure, that I don’t have either of the Conan movies (or Red Sonja) on my list, either. His first starring role was as Hercules in New York (1970), but the Conan role 12 years later was his first success as an action movie star. For some people, especially those who followed him as a bodybuilder, too, the Conan flicks are “classics”. Personally, I never got too much into the ’80s swords-n-sorcery subgenre (with a few exceptions), even those with a comic book tie-in. Another sequel, The Legend of Conan, has been announced, which will bring Ahnuld back into the title role. Do we really want to see a septuagenarian Conan fighting monsters and barbarian hordes? Hmmm, as long as he’s in decent shape, maybe…

OK, my Top 8 in chronological order…

The Terminator (1984): Any Ahnuld fan has to put this film in any Top X list. I mean, this is the one role that launched him to superstar status. Of course, visionary writer/director James Cameron and the rest of the cast — including Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Winfield, et al. — were also instrumental in creating this amazing sci-fi/action film. But, it was Ahnuld’s portrayal of the time-traveling, cyborg juggernaut that helped to define this movie. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role that would have had nearly the impact. (I have, however, tried re-casting it with a more current crop of stars, much as I recently did for Predator.) There were so many great, memorable scenes! Ahnuld’s Austrian accent wasn’t much of an issue, either, since the Terminator didn’t say much. And, of course, “Ah’ll be back.” has become such an iconic quote that everyone one knows it’s Ahnuld, even if they aren’t sure which movie it’s from.

Commando (1985): I wrote many months ago that I’d like to see a sequel to this film. Ahnuld played Col. John Matrix, a “retired elite Black Ops Commando [who] launches a one man war against a group of South American criminals who have kidnapped his daughter.” Co-starring Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Alyssa Milano, et al., this was the kind of story that makes you root for the hero to “get the girl” and show the baddies that he’s one guy they definitely should *not* have messed with. He brutally punches, snaps, stabs, slices, shoots, and blows up the bad guys in order to find and rescue his young daughter. Violent? That’s an understatement. Plenty of clever (or silly) one-liners, too. (Fun Fact: One of the writers was Jeph Loeb, who went on to write tons of comics and write/produce things like “Smallville”, “Lost”, “Heroes”, and many Marvel productions.)

Predator (1987): In a lot of ways, I suppose Major “Dutch” Schaefer could have been called Col. John Matrix. They are both muscle-bound, highly-skilled commando leaders trying to survive extremely difficult situations against deadly foes. (Kinda like a certain “John J. Rambo”.) This was another iconic film in the sci-fi/action subgenre, and one in which Ahnuld got to fire big guns, smoke big stogies, and show off his big muscles. Some pretty good quotes, too. (For example, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”, “Get to the chopper!”, and “You are one ugly m____rf____r.”) Great cast, cool concept, and Ahnuld gets to match wits, weapons, and muscles with a monstrous alien trophy hunter. What’s not to like?

The Running Man (1987): This one might surprise you, since it isn’t one of Ahnuld’s better known films. But, it sticks in my mind for at least two reasons. First, it’s one of those stories where the protagonist has to fight his way through a number of individual opponents to survive, but this time it’s a deadly game show. Second, the main villain of the piece is played by the original host of the “Family Feud” (1976-1985), Richard Dawson. (I don’t know who thought of that bit of casting, but Dawson actually did a decent job of it.) Maria Conchita Alonso and Yaphet Kotto are in it, too. The costumed and specially-armed foes Ahnuld’s character has to fight are Subzero (Professor Toru Tanaka), Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch), Dynamo (Erland van Lidth), Fireball (Jim Brown), and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura). Fun, fun, fun!

Total Recall (1990): I never read the original short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick, but I very much enjoyed the first big-screen adaptation, Total Recall. (The 2012 remake? Not so much, though it was OK.) Ahnuld’s ‘Douglas Quaid’ is just some working-class guy who suddenly gets his world turned upside-down, not knowing what’s real and what’s implanted memory. The answers seem to lie on Mars, so off he goes! The near-future looks a lot like today — a mix of shiny and grimy, pretty and nasty — but with some mutated humans and some cool tech thrown in. (You need to overlook a scientific impossibility or two, though.) Nice combination of sci-fi, action, and mystery/thriller, with a terrific supporting cast (i.e., Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside). You can just watch it for the action or ponder the deeper, moral & existential questions raised. A real rollercoaster ride and definitely worth the time, imo.

Ahnuld and Jamie Lee in *True Lies*

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): Ahnuld returns as another T-800, but this time one who is programmed to keep the target of another Terminator alive. Very similar yet different from the first one, the film was one of those rare sequels that is arguably as good as its predecessor. (Some might even say better. Not me. But some.) Of course, Robert Patrick’s portrayal as the nigh-unstoppable, liquid-metal T-1000 was a breakout role for him. But, it was still Ahnuld’s (and Linda Hamilton’s) movie. Lots of great action and suspense, along with some humor. Overall, a great movie, sequel or not.

P.S. Can you believe that Edward Furlong, who played young John Connor, just turned 40?!

True Lies (1994): I’m not exactly a fan of Tom Arnold, but he did a fair job here. I like Jamie Lee Curtis OK, and she made a surprisingly good wife for Ahnuld’s secret agent, ‘Harry Tasker’. Throw in Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Eliza Dushku, and even Charlton Heston, and you have a pretty solid supporting cast. Harry has to track down stolen nuclear weapons that are in the hands of fanatic terrorists, while also trying to keep his wife out of danger and still maintain his civilian identity. Loads of action and hilarity ensue, of course, and Ahnuld does well as a globe-hopping secret agent. It feels like a cross between James Bond and a classic Disney caper. Fun for all! (Well, maybe not youngsters.)

Eraser (1996): “A Witness Protection specialist becomes suspicious of his co-workers when dealing with a case involving high-tech weapons.” That specialist is Ahnuld… or, rather, U.S. Marshal John ‘The Eraser’ Kruger, who starts out thinking his only worry is his latest assignment — i.e., the relocation of ‘Lee Cullen’, played by Vanessa Williams. Poor Kruger ends up going on the run with Lee, as they try to avoid being captured or killed by some misguided and/or corrupt Marshals and other law enforcement. In addition to Ahnuld and Williams, you have James Caan, James Coburn, James Cromwell, Robert Pastorelli, Danny Nucci, Mark Rolston, John Slattery, et al. It’s another terrific group supporting Ahnuld and making for a gripping, pulse-pounding action/drama/mystery movie. (Oh, and that alligator scene…!) Two thumbs up!

Of Ahnuld’s more recent films, as of this writing I have not yet seen Escape Plan (2013) (with Stallone), Sabotage (2014), Maggie (2015), or Aftermath (2017). I need to add them to my movie queue, I suppose. Who knows? Maybe after watching them, I’ll be able to round out my Top 10….

What are your favorite Ahnuld movies and why?

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 11

Here’s the latest issue of the quarterly ‘Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter’ for your (hopeful) enjoyment and entertainment. (For the first 10 installments, follow the ‘Mr. Zeus Posts’ link at the top of the page.)

“Close Call!”

I have mentioned in the past that I work out in my basement, both for exercise and as a stress-reliever. I have also mentioned that I sometimes will change things up by flying — very fast — to the middle of nowhere and letting loose — punching, pounding, digging, stomping on very large rocks, the ground, etc. I’ve even been known to carve large objects into a hillside or rock quarry. On one occasion, though, I got sidetracked and never made it out to the “badlands” for my “work out”. And I’m very glad I didn’t, ‘cuz I met my “neighbor” (though he lives a couple hundred miles away) for the first time, and he has been a good friend ever since.

I’ll call him “Joe” in order to maintain his privacy. Joe is a rancher with many acres of property out in Texas. (Montana, too, but he rents that out.) On the evening we met, he and his ranch hands were rounding up some cattle, and I hovered above (and out of sight) to watch. A thunderstorm was rolling in, and they were trying to get the animals — at least 1000 of them — back to the barns before it hit. I kept an eye on the stormclouds and realized that they were moving pretty fast. I also noticed that the cattle were being led across an old, dry creek bed at the foot of some hills with some leftover snow at their tops. I’m no outdoorsman, but something I’d read or seen made me think that the cattle were in danger of being caught in a flashflood, if they didn’t get well away from that creek bed.

I landed around the bend so as not to spook the animals or the men, then I walked up to the nearest hand and asked him who was in charge. Joe rode over and I quickly explained who I was and what I saw. I suggested that I probably had enough time to fly all the cattle — two at a time — at superspeed back to the barns. But, after two trips, I could see that the poor critters were really freaked out, and Joe agreed that we shouldn’t traumatize them if we could help it. The storm was thundering and almost on us, and I suddenly got an idea… Long story short, I managed to dig a big trench half-way around the two nearest hills, buying Joe and his men enough time to get the rest of the herd across the creek bed and around to the other side of another (large) hill before my makeshift moat overflowed and the water rushed down the creek bed. It was raining pretty hard by then, but the barns were only a half mile away, and the lightning & thunder gave everyone — including the cattle — extra incentive to move faster.

Afterward, Joe invited me inside to dry off by his fireplace. We shared a couple of beers and really hit it off. In fact, I drop by his place whenever I can, now. Weather permitting, we typically sit on his porch and admire the view, while talking about whatever’s on our minds. Sometimes it’s business (his or mine), sometimes it’s personal. We talk about sports, politics, religion & philosophy, law enforcement, current events,… whatever. Joe is about 20 years older, so he treats me sort of like a son, which is fine by me. (His son died of cancer as a child, but he has a daughter in grad school.) I love listening to his stories about ranching and serving in the Army and just life in general. He’s a common-sense kind of guy, and very sharp — streetwise, which is an odd term to apply to him, since he doesn’t care for the city. I’ve spent many evenings with Joe, just “jawin'” and listening to his wise words. (Btw, his wife Judy is an awesome cook and a smart, terrific lady, too.) When Joe’s 80-year-old father, Big Jim, joins us, that’s the best! Jim is a real trip, very funny, and also one of the wisest men I know.

“A Man of Many Words”

Someone asked me the other day about my reading tastes and habits. A bit of an odd question for someone like me, since most people assume I don’t have much brains — or intellectual curiosity — to go with the brawn. I’m no genius, but as most of my fans know, I do read on various topics. It’s a practice I started as a kid, slacked off on for a few years, then resumed when I became a superhero. In the past, I have recommended that superheroes get a foundation in various subjects to help with solving crimes, perfecting one’s abilities, dealing with tech, etc., and that involves reading.

I still do some reading along those lines, though I’m not at the moment. I’m pretty busy (see below), but I always try to set aside time to read during lunch (assuming I’m not eating with someone else) and for an hour or so before bed. I also long ago developed the habit of keeping a book with me — either hard copy or audiobook — when running errands or going to an appointment of some sort, when I might have a few minutes of waiting around. Why waste time twiddling my thumbs or flipping through magazines when I could be reading a good book, maybe even learning something? In addition, I usually listen to an audiobook or an educational lecture/podcast while working out in my gym.

What do I read? Well, on the non-fiction front I typically have at least a couple books in progress, sometimes three or four. Topics include American and world history (including biographies), politics & culture, theology, philosophy, popular science, and recently some on writing fiction. Right now, I’m reading a biography titled Churchill: A Study in Greatness by Geoffrey Best. It’s a tad dry in places, but any history buff will enjoy it. Churchill was a fascinating guy! I’m about half-way through a collection of essays by renowned economist Thomas Sowell, too. (Can’t remember the title at the moment.) It’s not as boring as it sounds. Sowell was a columnist for decades, and he wrote about all sorts of political and cultural issues. Very smart man! (His books on economics are actually pretty good, too, and geared more for the average reader.) I’m also just starting a book by Christian speaker/apologist Greg Koukl called The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between. Rather bold and intriguing title, eh? Koukl has a very engaging style and conversational tone, as he explains the basics of the Christian worldview as a picture of reality. So far, I’m impressed.

As for fiction, I read a mix of crime, spy thriller, mystery, action/adventure, sci-fi and fantasy. Over the past couple years, I’ve been re-reading some classics from Isaac Asimov, Philip Jose Farmer, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, and other science fiction legends, as well as getting into some newer stuff — at least, new to me. So, for example, I recently read Asimov’s The Naked Sun (second time) and Haldeman’s The Forever War (first time), and I started series by David Weber, Robert Sawyer, and Kevin J. Anderson. I am now reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time. (Yes, I occasionally read young-adult fiction.) I’m a bit late to the party with the whole Harry Potter craze, since I’m finally finishing the series 10 years after the last book came out. Gotta say, though, I find them highly entertaining! Meantime, I am listening to an audiobook edition of Rules of Vengeance by Christopher Reich. It’s my second book by Reich, and he’s a nice addition to my “collection” of favorite authors. However, my other new discovery, which I enjoy even more, is Gregg Hurwitz. The first book of his I read — well, listened to — was Orphan X, which was excellent. It spurred me on to try one of his older works: The Crime Writer. Very different plot and protagonist, but also very good. If you like the above genres, then you’ll probably like Hurwitz’s stuff, too.

“Q & A”

You might remember an earlier issue of the newsletter where I answered a few questions that people at cons and book signings had been asking me. Of course, people (like, you guys) ask me questions by mail, too. So, I figured I’d round out this issue by responding briefly to a few of those here for everyone’s benefit….

Q: What do you do in your “down time” to relax? (Peter S. from Chattanooga, TN)

A: To be honest, I don’t have much down time, lately. I’ve told you about some of the activities I’m involved with (e.g., part-time crimefighting, working on ILEAD’s Hero Training Program, writing, public appearances, etc.), and they keep me pretty darn busy. But, as I explained above, I do quite a bit of reading — both fiction and non-fiction. My gym workouts are “down time”, I suppose, but hardly relaxing. Occasionally, I find time to chill out with a movie or TV series. (Confession: I own every single Star Trek series and movie on DVD. Also, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica.) In fact, I have been known to host movie parties with friends at my place.

Q: Do you do any work for the environment? (Warren Z. from Portland, OR):

A: I assume you are talking about ecological stuff, protecting wildlife and things like that? Well, I have been involved in a number of clean-up operations following natural disasters — from hurricanes to oil spills. I am concerned about some ecological/environmental issues, but I’m not an activist, by any means. Also, my position is more conservationist than environmentalist. (See this brief explanation of the difference.)

Q: What injuries have you sustained while “adventuring”? (Kelly P. from Fort Hood, TX):

A: Several, but most mend within seconds, minutes, or hours (depending on severity), thanks to my enhanced healing ability. Also, my near-indestructibility makes is pretty darn difficult to damage me. So, for example, high-caliber bullets or explosives at close range might slightly bruise or scorch my skin, but not enough to slow me down, and that stuff heals really quickly. The more serious injuries were a few broken bones (e.g., 3 toes, left ulna, both femurs, 3 fingers, right thumb, 4 ribs) and some internal bleeding/damage from doing battle with the strongest and most powerful foes (e.g., CrimSun, Visigoth, Summerset, the Gargantosaur).

Stay strong!

Another issue hot off the presses!

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Check ‘Em Out!: Entertainment Tropes and a Sci-Fi Museum

Hey!

I wanted to tell you briefly about a couple of websites I recently came across that you might also enjoy.

TV Tropes

As the Welcome statement on the site states, “Merriam-Webster defines trope as a ‘figure of speech.’ For creative writer types, tropes are more about conveying a concept to the audience without needing to spell out all the details.” However, it is online Merriam-Webster’s second definition that is more appropriate here: “a common or overused theme or device : cliché”.

The site, which is no longer limited to TV shows, is all about those plot devices, themes, stereotypes, etc., that frequently show up in various large- and small-screen productions. These tropes and subtropes are given names — e.g., “Book Dumb”, “Let’s Split Up, Gang”, “Lampshading”, or “Rule of Sean Connery” — and then various movies, TV series, and characters are described using these (sub)tropes. (It’s a little bit hard to describe unless you go there.) As you read descriptions of the (sub)tropes, you’ll be saying to yourself, “Oh, yeah, like when…” multiple times. You can browse by genre, media, narrative, topical tropes, or other categories.

In addition to being an “authority” site (sort of), it is also a community. For example, members can go to the “Trope Finder” page to ask fellow-members things like “Do we have this one?” and “What’s the trope about…?” The “You Know That Show…” page is for when you’re trying to remember the name of a show/movie that just escapes you. So, you can try describing it to the community and hope that someone else can identify it for you. Similar pages include “Ask the Tropers”, “Browse TV Tropes”, and “Trope Launch Pad”.

I’m not sure how much I’d actually use this site on a regular basis, but it might be handy to have access for when I do need a research assist. How about you?

Museum of Science Fiction

Did you know there was a Museum of Science Fiction in Washington, D.C.? Well, there isn’t… not yet, at least. The group that runs the site (which I assume is legit) is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization that has been seeking talent and funding since 2013 to make the museum a reality.

Their initial team of 38 volunteers made “significant progress on everything from curatorial aspects such as gallery design and visitor experience to the non-profit management areas of development, project management, education, information technology, public relations, marketing, finance, accounting, and legal compliance.” From there, the first step was to develop “a 3,000-square-foot preview museum where we can test exhibit concepts and new interactive technologies to share a real-time look into this grassroots effort.”

As per the “Preview Museum” page,

“By starting with a small preview museum, doors can open sooner and set the stage for completing the full-scale facility within five years. During this time, the Museum will annually change out the exhibits, stories, and educational content to highlight the best achievements in science fiction and its continuing impact on our culture.

The Preview Museum’s architectural design is modular and highly portable to allow for easy relocation to other cities (such as New York or Los Angeles). After its tour, the Preview Museum will be added as a wing to the full-scale facility….

Our mission is to create a center of gravity where art and science are powered by imagination. Science fiction is the story of humanity: who we were, who we are, and who we dream to be. The Museum will present this story through displays, interactivity, and programs in ways that excite, educate, entertain, and create a new generation of dreamers.”

Meanwhile, they have (co-)sponsored various competitions (e.g., the “Deep Ocean Research and Robotics Competition”) and two annual “Escape Velocity” events — i.e., “a micro-futuristic world’s fair designed to promote STEAM education within the context of science fiction.” They also continue to add content to the museum web-site, and in Jan. 2016 launched the MoSF Journal of Science Fiction, which includes both researched academic articles and short, reflective essays.

If you are curious about the journal’s content, follow the link. Also, here is the Table of Contents for the first issue:

  • Reflecting on Science Fiction, Monica Louzon
  • Biogenetics, The Nation, and Globalization in Paolo Bacigalupi’s Critical Dystopias, Derrick King
  • Gods of War Toke While Riding a Vimana: Hindu Gods in Three Indian Science Fiction Novels, Sami Ahmad Khan
  • Loving the Other in Science Fiction by Women, Karma Waltonen
  • Paul’s Empire: Imperialism and Assemblage Theory in Frank Herbert’s Dune, Amanda M Rudd

As of this writing, three issues have been published (see pic for #3), and they are downloadable for free in PDF format.

I don’t know when I’ll have time to look at this more, especially the journal (though I downloaded all 3 issues), but it all looks & sounds pretty cool to me!

Transhuman Immortal

[Note: The following was originally published as “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way” on my ‘A View from the Right’ blog, but the source and subject matter fall under “science-fiction” (for now). So, I thought you all might appreciate it, as well.]

This blogpost is probably not about what you think it’s about.

Based on the title — a phrase variously attributed to Thomas Paine, George S. Patton, Laurence J. Peter, and “Anonymous” –, one would most likely think it is about leadership in general, or maybe with a business/entrepreneurship or military emphasis. It’s not. The title is from a chapter in the science-fiction novel Transhuman by Ben Bova, and the subject is about the human lifespan and the potential impact of medical/genetic technology that would greatly increase our longevity. In context, then, the title refers to the scientific and political/economic aspects to such a development, but also the societal changes overall. (I guess there is a business aspect, too, come to think of it.)

Many people like to dream about how great it would be if they lived a couple hundred years or more instead of mere decades — preferably in good health, of course. But, we don’t often think through what the effects on modern society might be. It’s an intriguing topic, and I thought that Bova (via his characters) hit on some interesting points. Not every area that would be affected, of course, but some. I considered trying to summarize it all, but it works much better as played out between the characters. So, I decided to cite (with minor edits) some of the conversation from the book. Hope you find it interesting….


SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

“Do you realize what you’ve done?” Rossov snarled…. Shaking his head, Rossov said, “I don’t think you understand what you’ve let loose. Curing cancer. All sorts of people living past a hundred. It’s a disaster.”

“It’s a revolution,” said Luke. “What the hell are you so spooled up about? This is the best news the human race has had since… since Watson and Crick unraveled DNA.”

Rossov moaned. “Death rate going down. Lifetimes doubling. That’s a disaster, Abramson! A f_____ disaster!”

Genuinely puzzled, Luke asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“You’ve ruined Social Security. We’re already going broke with Medicare. And the whole insurance industry, too. You’ve wrecked the American economy.”

“Bull____.”

Jabbing a finger at Luke, Rossov insisted, “The economy can’t survive having a nation full of centenarians! It’ll break the bank.”

Luke felt growing anger simmering inside him. These chowderheads don’t understand, he realized. They don’t understand anything at all.

He rose slowly to his feet. “You just don’t get it, do you? You can’t stop this. You can’t put a cork in scientific knowledge. What I’ve done is just the tip of the iceberg. We have the knowledge, the power, to transform the human race.”

“And ruin the country.”

Change the country. Change the world.” Luke started to pace across the office, but his ankle flared and he sank back onto his chair. Still, he continued. “We’re going to be able to extend human life spans indefinitely, sooner or later. Prevent genetic diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s. Stem cell therapies will repair failing hearts, rebuild nerves and any other tissue that’s been damaged, regrow limbs that have been lost –“

“By killing fetuses,” Rossov growled.

Luke waved the thought away. “We don’t need fetal stem cells. We can take stem cells from your own body. Or regress skin cells to become stem cells.”

“I’ve read reports on that,” said Colonel Dennis.

Turning in his chair to face Rossov squarely, Luke said, “You think we’re going to have a country full of pathetic, creaking old geezers. Well, that’s wrong. Look at me! I’ll be seventy-five in a couple of months, but somatically — physically — I’m like a forty-year-old. And I’m going to stay this way for a long time.”

“That’s the f_____ problem,” Rossov muttered. “Millions of people living to a hundred and more….”

“It’s not a problem,” Luke countered. “We’re entering a new era…. What I’m telling you is that people will be healthy and vigorous all their lives. So they live to be a hundred and fifty, two hundred, so what? They won’t need Social Security or Medicare. They’ll be working, going back to school, starting new careers for themselves.”

Fisk’s eyes narrowed. “They’ll continue to be consumers.”

“Damned right,” said Luke. “They’ll continue to buy cars, homes, take vacation, overseas trips–“

“Have babies,” said the colonel.

“You just don’t understand,” Rossov repeated. “You think your transhumans are going to give up their Social Security benefits, their Medicare, their pensions just because they’re feeling spry and healthy? In your dreams! This is going to destroy the economy.”

“No,” Luke replied. “It’s going to change the economy. And you politicians are going to have to make some real changes to Social Security and Medicare and the rest.”

“Change them? That’s impossible. Political suicide.”

“Then we’re going to have to find political leaders who can make it possible.”

Rossov glared at him.

“Besides,” Luke went on, “this isn’t going to happen all at once. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. You won’t start to see any major effects for another five, ten years.” …

Luke pointed out, “I’m not the only one working in this area. Sure, I’m ahead of all the others, but sooner or later some bright researcher would hit on the same idea. You can’t control everybody. You can’t stop people from thinking, learning.”

Rossov muttered, “And you can’t drop a bombshell like this without dislocating the economy. We’re having a tough enough time keeping Social Security and Medicare properly funded. Now…” He sank his head into his hands.

“Now,” Luke took up, “you’re going to have to get those egomaniacs in Washington to do the jobs they were elected to do. You’ve got at least five years to do it, maybe ten. Instead of trying to stop this transformation, get to work and prepare for it.”

“You’ve never tried to work with the Congress,” Rossov moaned. “You’ve never tried to move the bureaucracy.”

Luke snapped, “Then get out of the way, buster, because the change is coming, whether you like it or not.” …

Rossov looked dubious, but Fisk went on grandly. “Transhumans. It’s exciting. People staying young, vigorous past a hundred. Active.” [To Luke, he said,] “You’re still under contract to me, you know.” … Fisk’s tentative smile widened into a happy grin.

“So you peddle your fountain of youth to the masses,” Rossov growled.

“That’s right,” said Fisk. “And you start getting the government ready for the changes that are coming.” …

“What choice do I have?” Rossov said bleakly.

“No choice at all,” said Luke. “The change is coming. Either you take credit for it and try to lead the country or you’ll get rolled under by it.”

“It’s impossible,” Rossov muttered. “You have no idea how impossible it is.”

Luke shook his head at him. “Listen, pal, you either lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

Rossov isn’t exactly the most sympathetic character in the novel, but I had to chuckle sympathetically at his frustration in this scene. Not only does he need to come around to a new way of thinking, but as the White House’s representative, he needs to get the President on board and then will likely be tasked with getting entrenched politicians, lobbyists, and Washington bureaucrats to wake up to the new reality, too. Poor guy!

This excerpt only briefly touched on matters such as ethics and responsible science. (For example, just because a thing can be done does not mean is should be done.) The book examines some of these questions a bit more but also raises others. There are also the very practical matters of how to implement the life-sustaining treatments going forward, especially since there will be limited supplies, great expense, a variety of reactions by the populace, etc. Quite a complicated mess, both ethically and practically, if you ask me. And figuring out the answers is “way above my pay grade”, though I might return to the topic at some point.

Meantime, give the book a try, whydontcha? It’s a pretty good read — or, listen on audiobook (as I did).

Fan-Casting the Original Predator Movie for Today, part 2

Continuing from last week, let’s finish casting the original Predator movie as if it were being produced today….

“Hawkins”

Bracey

Courtney

Radio operator Rick Hawkins is roughly 6′, give or take, and in good shape but not nearly as brawny as most of the other guys. Shane Black played him as somewhat of a foul-mouthed, comic-reading dork. (But, not *too* dorky.) He held his own for awhile and took out a few guerrillas before being taken out himself by the Predator. Black was in his mid-20s, but there’s no reason we can’t cast someone a few years older. There are probably plenty of actors who would have fun with this role, but for some reason I came up with Jai Courtney (6’1″,b.1986) or Luke Bracey (6′,b.1989). I can definitely see either one of them hamming it up as an annoying, yet very capable, goober.

“Poncho”

Isaac

Bernal

The terrific Richard Chaves played explosives expert Jorge “Poncho” Ramírez in the original Predator. As with Hawkins, he wasn’t nearly as big and muscular as some of the other guys. He had more of a slim and wiry frame and clocked in at 5’10”. With this in mind, I wanted another, non-beefy Latino — under 6′ tall and in his mid- to late-30s — for our “Poncho”. Two talented actors came to mind: Gael García Bernal (5’7″,b.1978) and Oscar Isaac (5’8.5″,b.1979). Bernal can be seen in things like Babel and Salt and Fire, while Isaac is known to genre fans for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and X-Men: Apocalypse. I’d feel comfortable putting “Poncho” in either one’s very capable hands.

“Billy”

Segers

One of the fan-favorite characters from Predator has got to be the Native American tracker, Billy Sole, as portrayed by Sonny Landham. ‘Billy’ was the strong, silent type, who when he did speak revealed a rich bass voice. He knew how to take care of himself, live off the land, etc. All he really needed was a big, sharp knife, and he was good to go. So, when this guy got spooked, you knew you were in trouble! Naturally, we need another tall, beefy Native American, preferably around 40 or so, who can give that similar vibe. No one came to mind, but my research turned up the perfect candidate in Geno Segers (6’3or4″,b.1976). You may have seen Segers in “Banshee” or Bone Tomahawk and noticed that he has the right build and the bass voice, too. I think he’s perfect for the role.

“Anna”

Sellers

Telles

Anna Gonsalves is, of course, the 20-something woman that Dutch’s team rescues & protects, as originally played by Elpidia Carrillo. Keeping Carrillo as the model, we need a cute Latina of slender build. At first, I thought of Alice Braga for the part, though she’s perhaps a little older than I’d prefer. Then I remembered that she already played Isabelle in Predators (2010). (Of course, by casting the original film now, I guess that would put Predators in an alternate timeline.) So, I came up with either Julia Goldani Telles (5’7″,b.1995) (“Nurse Jackie”, “The Affair”) or Rosabell Laurenti Sellers (5’2″,b.1996) (“Mia and me”, “Game of Thrones”), who is actually of Italian descent. Either one works for me.

“The Predator”

DeSantis

The title character is a very imposing creature, quite tall and muscular, with a fearsome visage and arthropod-like external mandibles. (Appearances have changed somewhat from movie to movie, of course.) How tall? Well, certainly the average is taller than the average human. But, the actors portraying Predators on-screen have ranged from 6’2″ (Tom Woodruff Jr. as “Grid” in AVP: Alien vs. Predator) to 7’2.5″ (the late Kevin Peter Hall in Predator and Predator 2). Ian Whyte (7’1″) has played multiple different Predators, even in the same film. The rest were either 6’5″ or 6’7″. They’ve all done great jobs, but I thought it might be nice to get someone totally different in the prosthetics this time.

Singh staring down John Cena

Bjornsson

My first suggestion is John DeSantis (6’9″,b.1977), known for such fare as “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, “Falling Skies”, “Supernatural”, Seventh Son, and many more. He looked quite barrel-chested in “Supernatural” (see pic), but not so much in others. Regardless, he has played many “creatures” over the years, so he should be used to prosthetics and heavy make-up. Next up is Icelandic strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (6’9″,b.1988), whom we have seen in “Game of Thrones” as Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. (Although, Ian Whyte had that role before him.) He is a beast and would probably be the most muscular of all to play a Predator. I think he’d make a great foe for Johnson’s “Dutch”. Finally, upping the size factor another notch, I’d like to see the one-and-only Dalip “The Great Khali” Singh (7’1″,b.1972) suit up. Known for his massive upper body and prognathic jaw, this former powerlifter/bodybuilder and wrestler would make an incredibly formidable, alien antagonist for our commando team. (Especially “Dutch”, who has to go hand-to-hand against him!) He’s the oldest of the three, but roughly the same age as Johnson. So, as long as he’s still in shape…. I can’t decide which one I like best!

There ya are, folks! My casting picks for a present-day version of the original Predator! Can you imagine seeing a heavily-armed “Rock”, White, Oparei, Austin, Bracey, Isaac, Segers, and Sellers go up against a technologically-superior hunter the likes of Björnsson or Singh? Here, take my money!

Fan-Casting the Original Predator Movie for Today, part 1

Original *Predator* cast (well, most of them)

I love(d) Predator (1987).

Not only is it one of Ahnold’s best movies (imho), but the John McTiernan-directed flick is a great sci-fi/action thriller, too. You probably knew that there was a new sequel coming out next year, right? The Predator is being co-written and directed by Shane Black, who played the character of ‘Hawkins’ in the original. But, did you also realize that Predator celebrated its 30th anniversary just a couple weeks ago (June 12)?!

In honor of the occasion (though slightly belated), I’d like to offer my suggestions for casting the original — same characters, same plot — as if it were being made today. Of course, it would be extremely difficult to match, let alone surpass, the original cast. They were perfect and just worked so darn well together! But, I think I came up with a really good lineup. You be the judge…

“Dutch”

The star and leader of the ill-fated team of commandos is Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer. I think we need an actor who is just as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger was — in physical size, fame, and charisma. I considered a couple others (e.g., John Cena), but the obvious choice here seems to be Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (6’4or5″,b.1972). OK, so he doesn’t look like a “Dutch”, but that can be explained in any number of ways (e.g., mixed heritage, adoption, inside joke) and, frankly, wouldn’t even need to be addressed in the movie. We know he’s got the presence and the talent to play a tough, cigar-chompin’, take-charge military leader, as well as the muscles to give a big ol’ Predator a run for its money.

“Dillon”

Next in line is Dutch’s old comrade-in-arms, Dillon. Originally played by Carl Weathers, he needs to be a large black man, almost as muscular as Dutch and roughly the same age. My pick is Michael Jai White (6’1″,b.1967). He’s an avid martial artist and already quite muscular, though he might want to bulk up a little more for this. In the original movie Schwarzenegger and Weathers were both in their late-30s, but for this one Johnson would be in his mid-40s and White is almost 50, if you can believe it! (Looks younger, though, and still kicks @$$.) White mostly does B-movies and voice work, but he has also been in “Arrow” and “Mortal Kombat: Legacy”. He’d make a formidable CIA liaison and former U.S. Army Colonel George Dillon.

“Mac”

For this character, we need another big black dude, even taller than Dutch or Dillon, and preferably in his 40s (though early 50s might do). As played by the wonderful actor/director Bill Duke, medic Mac Elliot was an intense guy who didn’t say much. I could’ve gone a few different ways with this character, but ultimately I liked British actor Deobia Oparei (6’6″,b.1971) the best. He had a supporting role as Doran Martell’s bodyguard in “Game of Thrones” and as an African warlord in Independence Day: Resurgence; he was also in Doom with Johnson (see pic). He’s tall, beefy, and intimidating. Perfect.

 

“Blain”

Austin

When wrestler Jesse Ventura played Blain “Ain’t got time to bleed.” Cooper, he was only in his mid-30s. I’ve opted to go a bit older for my version, but it shouldn’t make much difference. My three candidates — yeah, I can’t decide — are also big, tough wrestlers. At least two of them have wielded large-caliber ordnance for roles before, too. They are Steve Austin (6’0.75″,b.1964), Bill Goldberg (6’3.5″,b.1966), and Paul “Triple H” Levesque (6’4″,b.1969). I think any of them ought to be able to handle the role of the bubble-gum chewing, hard-rocking gunner.

 

Goldberg

Levesque

OK, I need to cut this one a little bit short, since I’m traveling over the next few days. I’ll finish up next week, including finding someone new to play the title character….

Black Panther Will NOT Be the First Black Superhero Movie

I don’t know about you, but I was quite impressed with the Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War. The trailer for his solo movie looks good, too, so I’m looking forward to it. But, apparently, some are touting this as the first black superhero film, and that’s simply not true. (How quickly they forget!) Someone in a Facebook group I belong to (“Geeks Under Grace Community”) brought this up this past weekend, and a few of us had fun coming up with movies from the past three decades where the lead character was a black superhero. Here’s what we came up with (in chronological order):

ABAR: Black Superman (1977) — OK, no one in our group came up with this one. I’d never heard of it, either, until I did a little extra research for this post. As part of the blaxploitation trend of the times (see Honorable Mentions below), this flick was about “the brothers” fighting against injustice at the hands of racist Whites and crooked politicians. “Upon moving into a bigoted neighborhood, the scientist father of a persecuted black family gives a superpower elixir to a tough bodyguard [played by Tobar Mayo], who thus becomes a superpowered crimefighter.” According to one IMDB reviewer, “The movie is actually racist in that it makes every single white person racist against blacks.” Also, “[Abar’s] powers consist of making a constant ‘swoosh’ noise every time he does something seemingly supernatural, and these things are downright hilarious. [For example, he] sees teenagers getting high and wasting time, so he turns them into college graduates (complete with the outfit!).” Despite all this and some atrocious acting, it’s one of those so-bad-it’s-fun movies (watched in context of the times, of course).

The Meteor Man (1993) — Robert Townsend starred as ‘Jefferson Reed’, a “high school teacher from a troubled inner city Washington D.C. neighborhood [who] becomes a super-powered hero and takes on the gang that has been terrorizing his streets.” Sounds somewhat like “The Greatest American Hero” TV series from the early-’80s. Anyway, this action-comedy wasn’t exactly a big hit critically or otherwise, and it lost money, but I think it does have its fans. (I confess, I never saw it.) Lots of familiar faces in this one, including Eddie Griffin, Marla Gibbs, Robert Guillaume, James Earl Jones, Don Cheadle, Bill Cosby, and Sinbad.

Blankman (1994) — This one sounds even sillier, which is probably why I didn’t watch it, either. As per the synopsis on IMDB, “Darryl is a childlike man with a genius for inventing various gadgets out of junk. When he stumbles on a method to make his clothes bulletproof, he decides to use his skills to be the lowest budgeted superhero of all.” One reviewer said, “How could you not enjoy this movie? It was actually enjoyable to watch Damon Wayans’ character make all these far-out gadgets… some of which look totally outlandish, but actually make sense! Sure, the comedy may be a little too goofy for some, but in the end, it helps.” So, maybe I will check it out… when I’m in a goofy mood.

Spawn (1997) — I liked it! It wasn’t great, mind you. But, as I recall, at least it was fairly faithful to the Image Comics series by Todd McFarlane. (It has been a long time since I’ve seen it, though.) The cast was pretty good — Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, Martin Sheen, D.B. Sweeney — and the F/X weren’t bad for that era. (Hopefully, they’ll be even better for the upcoming remake.) Its IMDB rating may not be much better than Meteor Man‘s, but it did OK at the box office. It was also the first serious superhero film with a black lead. (Yes, I know Abar was meant to be “serious”, but it was a low-budget, ’70s cheese-fest.)

Steel (1997) — Premiering two weeks after Spawn was this travesty. Starring Shaquille O’Neal, about the only thing this movie retained from the comics was that the main character is a large black man, an engineer, who builds himself a suit of armor to fight bad guys in. Otherwise, it had no connection to Superman and the rest of the DC Universe. As one reviewer put it, “This film is so bad it reaches a certain quality of lousiness only reserved for the very worst of bad ideas. I mean – Shaquille O’Niell (sic) in a steel suit with a super weapon made from the contents of a lost-and-found at the scrap yard? Please!” Not even the talents of Annabeth Gish, Judd Nelson, or Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft!) could save it.

Blade (1998) — NOW we’re talkin’… The tale of the half-vampire/half-mortal slicing and dicing evil vampires in defense of the human race, while fighting his own (un)natural urges, was the real deal. As one fan put it, “[F]inally my prayers have been answered with Blade. This movie pops right out of the pages onto the screen with sheer violence, blood, martial arts, weapons, fire, the good against evil, etc. Yeah sure a lot of action flicks contain all these goodies, and most of them have bombed. But not Blade, the movie was filmed just right, not going overboard, delivering a good length and never a dull moment.” Wesley Snipes’ bad@$$ery was exactly what was called for, and his co-stars were great, too! As usually happens, the sequels (Blade II (2002), Blade: Trinity (2004) weren’t quite as good, though Blade II performed even better than Blade at the box office. I really need to watch this trilogy again….

Catwoman (2004) — “A shy woman, endowed with the speed, reflexes, and senses of a cat, walks a thin line between criminal and hero, even as a detective doggedly pursues her, fascinated by both of her personas.” This film was another incredibly disappointing adaptation of a comic book character… sort of. I mean, yes, there’s the feline-themed criminal/heroine who attracts the particular interest of a detective. Beyond that, she was virtually unrecognizable as the DC Comics character she was supposed to be. Also, as one IMDB reviewer said, “It was poorly acted, predictable, unenthralling, clichéd nonsense. And that was just the first half hour, at which point, for the sake of my brain and stopping it melting with the sheer tedium, I walked out of the cinema…. Utterly abysmal”

Hancock (2008) — This is actually one of my favorite Will Smith films. If you’re unfamiliar, ‘Hancock’ is a powerful superhero “who has become a joke because of his alcoholism and clumsiness. He has also become the most hated man in Los Angeles. Though he has saved many lives, he also destroyed a lot of property, costing the city millions every time he goes into action. When he saves the life of PR expert Ray Embrey from an oncoming train, the executive is thankful and believes he can restore Hancock’s image as a true superhero….” I would modify that to say it was his being a super-jerk (which was connected to the alcoholism) and recklessness (not clumsiness) that made him so hated. This one was a lot of fun! In fact, I just re-watched two trailers for it, and now I’m in the mood to watch it again. (Adding it to my list…)

Honorable Mentions:

The Last Dragon (1985) — The ’70s & ’80s had several movies with black (anti-)hero protagonists. I think it was a subset of the “blaxploitation” (sub)genre. There were private detectives (e.g., Shaft), drug-dealers trying to leave “the life” (e.g., Super Fly), vengeance-seeking former Green Berets (e.g., Slaughter), martial artists (e.g., The Last Dragon, Black Samurai), even a vigilante nurse (e.g., Coffy). But, they weren’t exactly superheroes, so they don’t really qualify here.

Black Cougar (2002) — I never saw this one, which apparently went straight to video. It sounds a bit cheesy to me, but if you’re in the mood….

So, as you can see, 2018’s Black Panther will *not* be the first black superhero film, nor the first one by Marvel (since ‘Blade’ is a Marvel property). It won’t even be the first good superhero film with a black lead. I can’t help but notice, though, that the three best films above (i.e., Spawn, Blade, & Hancock) were about violent anti-heroes with bad attitudes. (Well, at least part of the time.) Is that a commentary on the movie-going public, or about the studios? Or, was it simply that those are characters that writers enjoy writing and actors enjoy acting? Or, maybe it’s just coincidence? Maybe a little of all of that? I dunno…

I’m really glad that Black Panther will get the full Marvel treatment, headlining his own dramatic, big-budget, action-adventure (and non-comedic) movie. Even better is that it will take place in Wakanda, the mysterious African nation that Black Panther (aka King, formerly Prince, T’Challa) now rules. It will be a great opportunity to not only see a much different region of the Earth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it will allow audiences to experience the very different cultural environment (including warring tribal factions) from which this particular hero comes.

Hope you enjoyed this little historical review. Did we miss any? Let me know if you come up with another….

Upcoming, Live-Action Superhero Series Round-up, part 2

Continuing from last week, wherein we looked at various confirmed, possible, and merely rumored Netflix series that will/would join the four Marvel adaptations so far, this week we’ll review several more superhero shows being developed at other networks. Most of them also happen to be based on Marvel properties, but not all….

Disney/ABC

o I’ve already blogged about the “Inhumans” mini-series coming out this Fall (here and here). As previously mentioned, it will focus on the Inhumans’ Royal Family (as seen in the comics) and will not be connected to “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I have mixed feelings about the casting choices — e.g., Serinda Swan as ‘Medusa’ looks rather disappointing in the pic I saw — but I’m hopeful that the overall story and production will make it worth watching.

Fox

‘The Gifted’

o As we now know, the mysterious “X-men related” show that was being developed over at Fox is called “The Gifted”. The basic premise is that a suburban American couple discovers “their children possess mutant powers. Forced to go on the run from a hostile government, the family joins up with an underground network of mutants and must fight to survive.” This appears to be a new concept and not based on any particular Marvel mutant-themed comics, but there will be a few familiar characters (e.g., ‘Polaris’, ‘Blink’, ‘Thunderbird’). The creative team / producers include many familiar names, too — e.g., Bryan Singer, Jeph Loeb, Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Jim Chory, and Matt Nix. My interest is piqued! (No premiere date but possibly late-2017.)

Hulu

o Based on another popular Marvel comic book series, “Runaways” is about a group of teenagers who discover that their parents are the members of a secret cabal of supervillains. As if there wasn’t enough to be angsty about…. These kids discover that they have unusual skills and abilities of their own and decide to foil their parents’ evil plans. As you might have guessed, the parents do not appreciate the interference, and the kids end up on the run, so to speak. Thus the title. I remember reading several issues of this series when it came out years ago and enjoyed it. I really hope they do a decent job with this adaptation. At least the cast looks good…. (Premieres sometime in 2018.)

Freeform (formerly ABC Family)

o “Cloak & Dagger”: “Two teenagers [Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson] from very different backgrounds find themselves burdened and awakened to newly acquired superpowers while falling in love.” To be honest, I never really got into these characters much. I remember reading a few stories with them — maybe the initial, limited series and a few guest-starring appearances in other titles. But, they never really got me excited. Still, it’s an interesting concept, and I know their fans have been talking for some time about the possibility of these characters arriving either on the small- or big-screen. Well, it’s finally happening, so for their sakes, I hope this is a satisfying live-action adaptation. (Premieres early/winter 2018.)

o Not much is known about the “(Marvel’s) New Warriors” series being developed for Freeform, except that it will be a half-hour action-comedy and apparently features ‘Squirrel Girl’. Now, since debuting in the ’90s, this team has gone through a few different rosters. But, it has always been (mostly) serious, despite the silliness of Speedball, and the ridiculous Squirrel Girl has never before been part of any incarnation of the team. This series “is about six young people with powers living and working together. With powers and abilities on the opposite end of the spectrum of The Avengers, the New Warriors want to make a difference in the world… even if the world isn’t ready.” The team will be led by SG, whose “most important trait is that she has faith in people and teaches them to believe in themselves.” Not the way I’d have gone with this property, but I guess…. (No premiere date but probably 2018.)

You might be wondering if there will be any crossover between the two Freeform series. Well, probably not. As per Karey Burke, Freeform’s Vice President of Programming, “If you know these two properties, they’re not particularly connected. There are many degrees of separation with where they fall in the Marvel universe. But anything is possible with Marvel. Their tones are so wildly different. Cloak is this angst-filled, achingly beautiful, heartfelt romantic drama. And Squirrel Girl is a balls-out comedy.”

CW

‘Black Lightning’

o DC’s latest — fifth, or sixth if you count “iZombie” — entre on The CW will be “Black Lightning”, starring Cress Williams in the title role. The incredibly busy and talented Greg Berlanti is one of the executive producers, along with his producing partner Sarah Schechter. Husband-and-wife team Salim and Mara Brock Akil are writing, with Salim also directing at least the pilot. The show tells the story of Jefferson Pierce, a long-retired superhero who gets pulled back into the biz, when his daughters (who I think also have powers) get involved in some heavy stuff. The trailer I saw looked pretty good, so here’s hopin’…. (Premieres either this October or early 2018.)

???

o The one we know the least about is “Quantum & Woody”, based on a Valiant title by the same name. (I loved the original but haven’t read the new one.) It was a quirky, clever series with fun characters: adopted, adult brothers — one black, one white; one serious, one goofy — who gain superpowers and (naturally) become costumed adventurers. This past March it was announced that the Russo Brothers (“Community”, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War) would develop the property as a TV series, once they wrap The Avengers: Infinity War. Other executive producers include Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari (Ant-Man), who are currently working on Ant-Man and The Wasp. Sounds like a great creative team! But, correctly casting the title characters — with the “odd couple” vibe and repartee from the comics — will be crucial to the show’s success. (No premiere date.)

o Just before going to press, I discovered that DC’s live-action “Titans” series has not only been revived but will begin shooting in September. Apparently, I missed the announcement back in April that it was moving forward, after all. Beside the shoot-date, we also now know that Berlanti (along with Geoff Johns and Akiva Goldsman) is co-developing this one, too, and it will be “part of a brand new digital service from DC Entertainment and Warner Bros.” Does this mean it won’t air on a regular TV or cable channel? I dunno. Regardless, I hope they do the team justice. Teen justice! <<ahem!>> (Likely premieres sometime in 2018.)

I don’t know about you, but I think there is a *lot* to look forward to over the next couple years, and that’s just from this particular subset of our beloved sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure genres. Even if only half of these series catch on, I’ll be happy. (Assuming I have a chance to watch them, that is.)