Cypher

The following piece of original fiction is over 20 years old.

I seem to remember being inspired in part by a TV movie, but the title and plot have long since faded from memory. (Well, mine, anyway.) Originally, I wrote it longhand… in pencil. (You remember those, right?) But that copy disappeared, probably around the time I moved from NJ to FL 8 years ago. I thought it was lost until a few years ago, when I found a partially-corrupted text file version. I managed to salvage it, but the second half was gone. I was considering posting it here, anyway, but held off.

Then, a few days ago, while going through some old boxes of stuff, I found my handwritten copy with both parts! Plus notes to explain what’s going on! Yay! So, I’m able to share the whole thing. (There are additional notes for a Part III, but I’m gonna hold onto them, in case I ever get the urge to continue the story in another post.) Not that it’s anything fantastic. But, it was my first foray into fiction-writing since my college years, and I thought it turned out pretty good.

The style of narrative should be a familiar one: protagonist gets thrown into an awkward situation with little helpful knowledge (and, in this case, a dose of amnesia), and the reader discovers things at the same time as the protagonist does. I tweaked the text just a tad to eliminate an inconsistency and improve the flow, but it’s mostly intact here….

“Cypher”

Part 1:

bald-head-side-view-with-three-question-marks_318-48742Sand.

That was the first thing he was aware of when he came to. It was in his mouth, and it did not taste very good. He tried spitting it out, but he just got more sand on his dry lips. The gritty substance seemed to be all over him. He could feel it on his hands and face and in his clothes. As he started to turn his head, he became aware of a melange of odors assaulting his nostrils. Fish… dead fish and brine. That was most obvious. Wet wood, candy, rubber,… and a faint wafting of smoke.

He suddenly realized he had been lying face down in the sand and, apart from his feeble attempts at spitting, he had not moved since becoming conscious. He tried to open his eyes to see where he was, but there was only a gray fuzziness at the edges of a field of black.

“Am I blind?,” he thought. It occurred to him he should panic at that, but somehow it did not bother him too much. It was as if his subconscious knew the condition was either normal, or temporary, or both.

Slowly, however, his remaining senses seemed to start kicking in. He became aware of sounds, faint confirmations that the world around him was feeling a bit less out-of-sorts than he was. He heard, and then felt, the gentle surf lapping at his feet. His shoes and the lower half of his pantlegs were obviously soaked, but the water was warm and he felt no chill.

Hesitantly, he moved arms and legs into position and pushed himself onto his hands and knees. His whole body felt stiff and he sensed that he had a few cuts and bruises, but he did not seem to be in any real pain. His shoulder bumped something which, upon further tactile examination, appeared to be a log about four feet long and nearly a foot thick, lying on its side and slightly slick to the touch. As he eased himself into a sitting position on the log, he started trying to fit some of the pieces together.

He was on a beach somewhere, but he did not know which beach or even why he was there. Probably not to swim, as he was fully clothed and had no swimming trunks on beneath his pants. Judging by his physical condition, he had either fallen and injured himself, or he had been involved in some sort of scuffle and then abandoned. Had he been mugged? He had no wallet, but that was not proof in itself of foul play. He had no watch, but somehow he knew he neither owned nor needed one. Furthermore, he seemed to know exactly what time it was — 11:23pm on Friday, September 6, 2013.

He was, however, wearing what felt like a man’s wedding band on his left ring finger. Either he had stumbled across some rather inept thieves, or he could rule out being mugged. Beyond that, he had no idea where he was, how he got there, what happened to him, or, despite his uncanny awareness of time, how long he had been lying unconscious in the sand. What was most disturbing, however, was the fact that he had no idea who he was.

Part 2:

under-a-pier-at-night“Young man, I said, ‘Are you alright?'”

He jumped and spun around at the sudden sound, startled out of his introspection. Squinting into the darkness of his slowly clearing vision, he thought he could make out the stocky figure of a dark-skinned man standing less than twenty feet away. He had been so absorbed in his self-examination that he had not noticed the stranger’s approach in the semi-damp sand.

“Easy, son. I don’t want any trouble. I just saw you sitting there on that log with your head in your hands, and I thought you might be sick or hurt or need some help.”

The black man continued to appraise him with a kind but wary eye.

“Hey, is that some kind of karate move or something?”

Only then did he realize he had instinctively gone into a defensive, semi-crouching stance when he first heard the man’s voice.

“Tae kwon do, actually,” he responded automatically while taking note of how dry his mouth was. Sensing an absence of hostility from the stranger, he began to relax a little. How do I know tae kwon do? And how much do I know?, he thought. Judging by his reflexive actions of a moment ago, he was probably well-trained, at least.

“I took a class down at the ‘Y’,” he said. It seemed his instincts were also telling him “Never let the other guy know how much you know until absolutely necessary.” He could hear it in his mind, as if it were part of a lecture. But from where?, he wondered. Was it really from a public self-defense class?

“Say, you do look banged up a bit,” the stranger observed as he approached cautiously. “Why don’t you let me have a look? I’m a doctor.” The black man started giving him a cursory examination, then stopped. “The moon may be ‘big and bright’ tonight, but other than a couple minor cuts and bruises on your face, I can’t see diddly. Why don’t you come back to my place, and I’ll get you patched up and maybe throw in some hot chocolate if you like. C’mon, it’s only about a quarter-mile back up the beach,” he said, gesturing behind him with his thumb. “And, besides, it looks like we could both use someone to talk to tonight.”

He considered his options and, given his situation and the seemingly genuine concern and kind offer from this friendly stranger, he decided not to look a gift-horse in the mouth.

“Alright,” he said, “I guess I could use a little medical attention. And the hot chocolate sound pretty good, too.” Besides, he thought, if this guy was involved with whomever or whatever happened to me, why would he come back now? And why the ‘good samaritan’ act?

“Fine,” said the stranger, taking him by the elbow and leading him slowly back the way from which he had apparently come. “Lean on me if your legs seem weak or you feel dizzy. You may have a concussion. By the way, I’m Amos. ‘Dr. Amos J. Thibodeaux, M.E.’, if you want the business card version. But, you just call me ‘Amos’.”

The two began walking quietly side by side, each immersed in his own thoughts as the surf whooshed gently on the beach, making the occasional bid to caress their feet. The younger of the two glanced back at where he had just been and realized he had been lying just outside the shadow of a huge pier. On the land beyond the pier, he could see and hear the workings of a small amusement park. That would explain the cotton candy smell, he surmised, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a breeze tonight. I wonder how I could smell it so well, especially with the stinky dead fish smell being so strong. But, that should be the least of my worries. I still don’t know who or where I am or why I was lying unconscious under a pier in the middle of the night.

Notes:

bionic-eye-implanted-in-old-blind-man-to-seeo  He, aka “Cypher”, is a cyborg with an organic brain, cloned from one “donor” (supposedly without memories), but partially “programmed” with engrams of another. He has a computer-enhanced memory, processing, etc. Everything that happens to him or is detected with his enhanced senses is recorded and backed up to “the cloud” every hour. [I just added that bit, since “the cloud” wasn’t a thing when I first wrote this.] He can interface and up/download data on any known system.

o  Occasionally, he has memory flashes from both the original brain donor and the engram “model”.

o  Eventually, he will discover that his “creators” were not entirely benevolent and that he was programmed with some rather violent urges and deadly skills.

o  He also discovers that the incident which ended up with him being beaten and left on the beach was due to betrayal by another synthetic human.

Apparently, I later spent some more time thinking about how I might further develop this concept into a complex, three-part story. I had totally forgotten about it, but I found my old notes about this on another sheet of paper just the day before yesterday. So,…

Notes II:

First novel/chapter originally develops that Cypher was created by a benevolent organization, then it ends with a twist to indicate that Cypher was built by and/or working for “bad guys”. Second novel/chapter develops this further but ends with another twist, indicating he may have worked for/with “good guys”, after all. Third novel/chapter expands on this, finally revealing his true origins/mission. It would be something along the lines of:

1) “Created” by benevolent organization that was partially funded by U.S. Dept. of Defense.

2) Top-secret group within the intelligence community convinced (bribed? coerced?) one of the scientists involved to deliver the first successful “product” of the Proteus Project (i.e., Cypher) to them.

3) This group then trained Cypher/Proteus for an undercover mission to infiltrate and expose a rogue faction (“bad guys”) within the intelligence community.

4) While on this mission, he is ambushed, beaten, and left for dead on the beach.

– fake pulse is temporarily damaged
– experiential memory is 99% erased, and link to back-up memory is damaged; so, even if he knew he had it, he couldn’t access it
– eventually, limited self-repair of functions are able to restore the link

5) If Cypher ever gets full (back-up) memory restored, it won’t be until end of third novel/chapter.

There ya have it! The genesis of “Cypher”. Hope y’all found it enjoyable.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Fan-Cast: Highlander Reboot

“There can be only one!”

Ah, the Highlander! Great concept, awesome film (1986)! (I’m sure I don’t have to explain what it’s about, right?) Perfect? No. But, despite a few flaws, I would easily rank it among my favorites. The sequels, on the other hand, left a *lot* to be desired. (Not sure I even watched the last couple.) The “Highlander” TV series was fairly popular — my brother was a big fan –, though I never watched much of it or the TV movie follow-up. I’m not sure I ever watched the (ironically) short-lived “Highlander: The Raven” spinoff series, either. (I found series star Elizabeth Gracen quite attractive, however.)

highlander-titleIn case you were unaware, Lionsgate has been trying since 2008 — when they acquired the rights — to breathe new life into the franchise. It was announced last month that Chad Stahelski, one of the John Wick co-directors, has signed on to helm the Highlander reboot film. This follows false starts with various other directors (e.g., Justin Lin). Also, Ryan Reynolds was once attached as the lead, Dave Bautista as The Kurgan, and Tom Cruise rumored for Ramirez. I hope we dodged that bullet! (I’m OK with Bautista, but I think the other two would be big mistakes.)

Here’s what Stahelski had to say:

“I’ve been a huge fan of the original property since I saw it in high school. Such great themes of immortality, love, and identity are all wrapped up in such colorful mythology. I can’t think of a better property that gives the opportunity to create interesting characters, mythic themes and action set pieces.”

The studio is looking for new writers to tackle the project. I know the screenplay probably won’t exactly mirror the original movie, but I really hope they keep at least the main story and characters, not to mention much of the look, feel, and themes of the original. Also, the music in the original was, I think, a big part of its appeal. So, I hope they re-use at least a couple of the Queen songs (e.g., “Princes of the Universe”, “Who Wants to Live Forever”). Unfortunately, Michael Kamen passed away several years ago, so they can’t bring him back as composer/conductor for the orchestral pieces. Maybe Danny Elfman? No news, yet, about potential stars, so I offer my suggestions below.

Note: I am limiting myself to the 4 principal characters — yes, I’m assuming they’ll still use ‘The Kurgan’ — but addressing them all in this one post. So, in an effort to cover multiple candidates for each, I will be much more limited than usual in the accompanying text. Slight change to format, too.

Connor MacLeod / Russell Edwin Nash

Using the 1986 movie as our reference point, the main character is a 30-ish-looking Scotsman, perhaps 6′ or a little less, with a fit but not overly-muscular build. (Christopher Lambert (5’11”,b.1957) was in his late 20s at the time and not particularly muscular.) I’d like to get a native Scotsman for the role, but the important thing is that he can do a good (and understandable) Scottish accent. (Almost anything would be better than the French(ish) accent that Lambert had. Was he even trying?!) Oh, and he should look competent wielding a broadsword.

Not being familiar with a *lot* of actors from the UK, I went looking at the cast of “Game of Thrones” and found one that might fit the bill. Gethin Anthony (5’9.75″,b.1983), who played Renly Baratheon, is the right build and just within height parameters. Canadian heartthrob Ryan Gosling (6’0.5″,b.1980) is my oldest candidate but can still pass for early 30s. He’s a fine actor and even has some Scottish heritage. Then, we have the Australian Jai Courtney (6’1″,b.1986), who is exactly 30 (at the moment, anyway). He is perhaps a little beefier than the other two, but that’s OK, and he has been racking up an impressive genre resume.

Gethin Anthony

Gethin Anthony

Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling

Jai Courtney

Jai Courtney

 

 

 

 

 


Brenda J. Wyatt

Miss Wyatt, the love-interest who first gets onto MacLeod’s trail in modern-day NYC, was a forensic scientist working for (with?) the NYPD. I hope they retain that aspect of the character, though “investigative journalist” — however stereotypical — might be acceptable. The only real requirements here are that she be attractive, roughly the same age as the lead, have on-screen chemistry with him, and be believable in the part. Without elaboration, I present the following three lovely and talented actresses who could fill the role: Scottie Thompson (5’7″,b.1981), Sarah Lancaster (5’8.5″,b.1980), Megan Markle (5’7″,b.1981).

Scottie Thompson

Scottie Thompson

Sarah Lancaster

Sarah Lancaster

Megan Markle

Megan Markle

 

 

 

 

 


Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez

Since my ideal pick, Ricardo Montalban, is long dead and gone, I’ve managed to come up with a few more suggestions for this Egyptian immortal who long-ago adopted a Spanish name & identity. I’m flexible regarding height and build, though within reason, but preferably reasonably fit and believable as a master swordsman. Sean Connery was in his mid-50s when he played the part. My preference would be to cast someone pretty close to that, but the right person might convince me to go younger or older. The actor must also be credible in the role of MacLeod’s teacher/mentor, of course, and Connery’s shoes — though he may have seemed an odd choice at the time — will be hard to fill.

Assuming the producers go with a Latino, “Game of Thrones”‘s Pedro Pascal (5’11”,b.1975) might be an interesting choice. The main drawback here is that he’s in his early 40s. Antonio Banderas (5’8.5″,b.1960), on the other hand, is a tad on the short side but might be just right. We know Banderas is adept at both drama and humor, often mixing the two. Also, like Pascal, he has some experience with swordfighting. Finally, while I couldn’t find an Egyptian actor, I found one who once played an Egyptian mummy. Arnold Vosloo (6’2″,b.1962), who is actually South African, could be a great Ramirez. He’s the correct age, and I know he’s got the talent. (Note: I purposely chose pics of Vosloo and Banderas with beards to show the gray, like Connery’s Ramirez, though he had much less.)

Pedro Pascal

Pedro Pascal

Antonio Banderas

Antonio Banderas

Arnold Vosloo

Arnold Vosloo

 

 

 

 

 


Victor Kruger / The Kurgan

The Kurgan, as played by the terrific Clancy Brown, is truly a great genre villain. His imposing physicality, deep voice, Goth-cum-punk appearance, ruthless and somewhat psychotic behavior combine to make him a beloved baddie. I don’t expect the reboot to have the Kurgan look and act exactly the same, but I hope he is still a mix of brooding and psycho-killer. (More than just a “Terminator”, anyway.) Brown (6’3.5″,b.1959) is actually a couple years younger than Lambert, putting him in his mid-20s during filming. However, I think it better to find someone who is in his 30s, possibly 40s. He obviously must be physically imposing, so I propose a few athletic candidates that are over 6’6″.

Ex-NFLer Matthew Willig (6’6.5″,b.1969), whom we saw as “Lash” on Season 3 of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, has the right look. Robert Maillet (6’10”,b.1969), from “The Strain” and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, has a similar look. Of course, Willig and Maillet are already heading into their late 40s; but, they are also still very physically fit and active. Oh, did I mention that Maillet went by “Kurrgan” when he wrestled for the WWF? Now, for someone younger, slightly shorter, but even beefier, there’s always Icelandic Strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (6’9″,b.1988), who played Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane in “Game of Thrones”. Not sure about Willig, but Maillet and Björnsson have each done some swordfighting, too.

Matthew Willig

Matthew Willig

Robert Maillet

Robert Maillet

Hafthor Julius Bjornsson

Hafthor Julius Bjornsson

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, that’s it for this Fan-Casting exercise. Let me know if you liked any of my picks, OK? L8r…

If I Could Have a Superpower…

Have you ever wished you had superpowers?

Silly question. If you are reading this blog, chances are that at some point — whether in childhood or earlier today or anytime in between — you thought it would be awesome to have some superhuman ability. Superspeed like the Flash, or telepathy like Professor X, or X-ray vision like Superman/girl could all come in handy in the course of your day, whether at school or work or home or… just about anywhere. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ve also imagined patrolling your city/town/neighborhood, maybe while wearing a cool costume/uniform, using your powers for good (hopefully).

little-superheroesSuperhero geek that I am, I was thinking about this again the other day and decided to come up with my personal “Top 5” wished-for superpowers. Not some god-like abilities of destructive power or matter-energy manipulation, but more “average” powers with some sensible limitations. I also avoided things like martial arts and detective skills, since those are abilities that normal humans can gain on their own. A couple of them were easy, but the rest required a bit more thought. Here’s what I came up with:

1) Superstrength: Ever since I started reading superhero comics and watching shows like “The Six Million Dollar Man”, I wanted to be superstrong. I just thought it would be so cool to have the sort of physical strength that could not just beat up bad guys but benchpress large vehicles, rip trees out of the ground, and dig/punch my way through a mountain to save the damsel in distress — or trapped miners. Whichever. Such dreams are not uncommon for skinny, nerdy, unpopular kids like myself. (Ever wanted to teach a bully a lesson?) I’d still like to have superstrength, of course, assuming I could control it and that I wasn’t built like too much of a freak. Twisting crowbars into pretzels and stopping a speeding truck in its tracks are always impressive demonstrations, not to mention intimidating to criminals of various sorts. Yep. This is my #1 wished-for superpower.

2) Invulnerability (aka Superhuman Durability): This particular “power” often accompanies superstrength, sometimes in a rationally connected way (e.g., unusually dense organic tissues) or just ‘cuz the creator thought it would be cool/helpful. But, the two abilities don’t necessarily go together. Obviously, my preference would be to have both. On the other hand, it might be interesting to have some sort of power that granted me a measure of invulnerability — say, from bullets, knives, explosives, etc. — but without any enhanced strength. This could come in the form of an energy field surrounding my body that kicked in within nanoseconds of any ballistic type of threat. (Of course, in this instance, I’d still be vulnerable to slow, up-close attacks.) This ability would come in quite useful for search-n-rescue work, and it would minimize my budget for band-aids and stitches. (An acceptable alternative would be superhuman regenerative abilities.)

3) Flight: Right up there with superstrength, I’ve always thought it would be very cool to be able to personally fly, especially unaided by technology. Used to have actual dreams where I did, though sometimes it was more like “leap(ing) over buildings in a single bound.” Along with the actual flight ability, I would prefer to have other anatomical alterations that allow me to breathe at high speeds and altitudes, and it would be nice if I didn’t need to wear goggles to protect my eyes. Yeah, zipping around through the skies would be pretty sweet! But, as a superhero/adventurer, I would need some other abilities and/or technology to be truly effective. Also, I wouldn’t want to be limited to just moving at a few miles per hour. The faster, the better! And, speaking of fast…

04_11_superheroes_1000x10554) Superspeed: Who wouldn’t want to be able to outrace a train… or a speeding bullet (ave. 1700 mph)… or even approach the speed of light itself? Of course, along with the ability to run (or fly) at such speeds comes associated enhancements like superfast reflexes and a brain that processes information many times faster than normal. Think how many people you could save, how many crimes you could stop, how productive you could be! That’s why it is sometimes frustrating to watch “The Flash” on TV; the writers don’t take creative advantage of the character’s full abilities. (But, I don’t want to get off on a tangent about the show.) As with superstrength, it might take a little while to learn to control the speed powers and adjust to living an otherwise “normal” life, especially if my body’s natural state was no longer in sync with the rest of the world. But, if Barry Allen and Wally West can figure it out….

I’m torn between the next two, so I’m calling it a tie for #5:

5) Shapeshifting: Some people might prefer to have super-stretchy powers like Mr. Fantastic or Plastic Man, since they can often “morph” into different, complex shapes. But, I would prefer something along the lines of what Martian Manhunter does. Namely, he can alter his body’s shape and features to mimic just about any person or creature, ranging in size from a fly to “enormous sizes comparable to skyscrapers”. MM is also quite adept at imitating the behavior and mannerisms of those he mimics. (I haven’t figured out how he alters his clothing, too.) This ability would prove quite useful, particularly in detective work and in going undercover, not to mention avoiding cops, press, bad guys trying to hunt me down, etc. I imagine shapeshifting could be a lot of fun at parties, too.

5) Telekinesis: A very literal example of “mind over matter”… the ability to lift, push, pull, and otherwise manipulate matter — solid, liquid, gas, maybe even plasma — via conscious, directed thought. Regardless of how one might explain such an ability, I’m sure you would agree that it would be very cool to have it. Someone once said, “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.” I think I could scare a few into thinking they were encountering a ghost or demon or something. On the other hand, it might be more satisfying to simply batter them with heavy objects while maintaining a safe distance. Either way, telekinetic abilities would be quite useful on many occasions, whether foiling the plans of a criminal overlord or pranking some jerk who used two parking spots for his sports car.

Any one of these would be amazing to have, but multiple powers would, of course, be fantastic! Not sure I’d want to risk an “origin story”, though. Unless you’re “born that way”, those can be rather painful. I’d also prefer to continue looking human, thankyouverymuch.

What about you? If you had a choice to gain one or more superhuman abilities, what would they be?

24 Quotes About “24”

“You are gonna tell me what I want to know. It’s just a question of how much you want it to hurt.”  — Jack Bauer, Season 5

secretsof24Last Christmas (2015), I received a copy of the book Secrets of 24: The Unauthorized Guide to the Political & Moral Issues Behind TV’s Most Riveting Drama as a gift. (Note: It was published prior to the debut of Season 7.) It’s a great choice for me, since it mixes the subjects of my two blogs. I haven’t yet worked it into my reading schedule, but I was recently skimming it and got an idea for a blogpost. This one, in fact.

Interspersed throughout the book’s text — which includes articles by and interviews with various journalists, writers, actors, experts of different kinds, etc. — are little sidebars, “quick takes on the facts, humor, and breadth of voices and ideas generated by ’24′”. So, I have chosen 24 of my favorites to share with you. A few are funny or merely informative, but most give insight into the show, the central character of Jack Bauer, and their influence by and on American culture. Hope you like…

“We do want democratic process, but we also want justice. And the show allows us to have both, and that’s why we love it.”  — David Heyman, terrorism scholar, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Among the boldface names who are fans of the show: Dave Barry, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Jim Cramer, Billy Crystal, Tony Danza, Trent Dilfer, Geena Davis, Bill Gates, Laura Ingraham, Stephen King, Rush Limbaugh, John McCain, Jim McMahon, Donald Rumsfeld, Seal, Barbra Streisand, Clarence Thomas, and Tina Turner.

“We always had the idea of this King Lear story, of Jack being the prodigal son, the guy who was his father’s favorite but turned against his dad, and the less favorite son took over the empire. In some ways, you get to see that his family is his destiny.”  — ’24’ executive producer Howard Gordon on the plan to give Jack Bauer “genetic responsibility for a lot of the misery by association” in Season six, when he duels with both his brother and his father

“An America that looks to Bauer rather than Batman is an altered nation indeed.”  — Ezra Klein, blogger and writing fellow, The American Prospect

o  Jack Bauer has been to Mars. That’s why there’s no life on Mars.
o  Superman wears Jack Bauer pajamas.
o  How many CTU special agents does it take to change a lightbulb? Twenty. Nineteen to set up a perimeter, while Jack Bauer tortures the lightbulb into revealing the whereabouts of the socket. [Ed. Note: I think the better answer is, of course, twenty-four.]
— sampling of Internet humor about ’24’

“The show reflects where we are in the culture at this moment in time. Every generation has it. There’s social transformation going now in the way we see the world, domestic policy, foreign policy, domestic intelligence, and foreign intelligence. All these things are becoming blurred, as are the questions that we have to face on morality. And the show does a really great job of trying to put those questions on a personal level for all of us. We’re all Jack Bauer in our hearts.”  — David Heyman, terrorism scholar, Center for Strategic and International Studies

“I have fallen in love with another man. For the past five months we have been meeting in a dark room every Sunday night, while the children are tucked up in bed and my husband snores upstairs. It is crazy because I know he would love him too, but he lacks the stamina that this relationship requires. So it’s just me… and Jack Bauer…. His sense of duty is unbreakable. His idea of a hot date is to bundle you into the boot of a mercenary’s car and he is more interested in speed-dialing the office than sex. Yet there is a vulnerability about Jack where women are concerned. Tenderness even. He would lay down his life to get you home safely and maybe, just maybe, this time you could make him stay.”  — Sheila McClennan, The Guardian (UK)

24-seasons-1-6“Characters that push things over the limit are interesting characters. It’s very natural to create a character like that in the world of terrorism because there are so many difficult moral, ethical and legal dilemmas, political dilemmas, that constantly arise. You want a character that’s over the edge a little.”  — Robert Cochran, co-creator, ’24’

“When men watch Tony Soprano and Jack Bauer they enter into a contract with the characters. They watch and savor the brutality but recognize how pathetic these heroes are. Guys watch TV shows such as ‘The Sopranos’ and ’24’ and see all the horror, humiliations and complications of being male. Tony Soprano and Jack Bauer are not role models to emulate. They are case studies to brood upon. They are a warning. Every man knows that.”  — John Doyle, Globe and Mail (Toronto)

According to co-creator Joel Surnow, the first few episodes of ’24’ were heavily influenced by the movies Three Days of the Condor, La Femme Nikita, and The Day of the Jackal. But these episodes were “in the can” before 9/11. Afterward, and in fact for every season after the first, Surnow says the plots were influenced by “real events.”

“While we don’t try to represent any kind of real truth — obviously 24 hours in the format makes it impossible — we try to, I think, present an essential truth, or an essential problem. So when Jack Bauer tortures, it’s in a compressed reality… We try to compress these arguments and these issues and dramatize them in obviously very unreal ways, but hopefully in dramatic and compelling ways. And that’s really ultimately our master… making a compelling, ‘adrenalized’ TV show.”  — Howard Gordon, executive producer of ’24’

“’24’ dispenses with the politically correct evasions that pervade prime time episodic television…. It identifies the terrorist enemy without flinching and lets the good guys fight to win — without apologies.”  — Christian Toto, The Washington Times

“In this age of terror and worldwide insecurity, ’24’ created the illusion of an all-American superagent on whose watch the bad guys, whether Muslims or Russians or shady white men, would inevitably blow off their sorry behinds. It was political comfort food.”  — Andrea Peyser, the New York Post

“’24’ was well into production when the terrorist attacks on September 11 happened. The effect on the show was that Fox’s legal department reviewed the first few episodes and made us recut the sequence where the 747 blows up at 36,000 feet (11,000m). Fox did not want to show the actual plane exploding in the air. It also meant that an extensive aerial sequence which was to have been shot by a second unit downtown was shut down and we had to substitute Glendale for downtown.”  — Jon Cassar, director and producer of ’24’

Over six seasons, the enemies depicted on ’24’ have included mercenaries, Serbian nationalists, Arab terrorists, American oil executives, Mexican drug lords, corrupt British businessmen, the Chinese, pseudo-Chechen terrorists, a vast right-wing conspiracy based in the White House, more Arab terrorists, rogue Russian officials, and, of course, Jack Bauer’s own father and brother.

Season 3 cast

Season 3 cast

By inflicting beatings, injections, and the electric shock delivered by a taser gun during an episode in Season 2, the show earned the Parents’ Television Council’s Least Family-Friendly Program citation for the week. The PTC also calculates that out of the 624 instances of torture on TV from 2002 to 2005, ’24’ accounted for more than 67 such scenes, making it no. 1 in torture depictions.

Former president Bill Clinton has said he is a big fan of ’24’, even though the show is run by “an über right-wing guy” (referring to Joel Surnow). He thinks the show is fair in making both Democrats and Republicans look equally evil.

“Bauer keeps fighting, of course, but for people, not politics. “24”‘s ideology — Jack Bauerism, if you will — is not so much in between left and right as it is outside them, impatient with both ACLU niceties and Bushian moral absolutes.”  — James Poniewozik, Time magazine

“What the show tries to do is capture an emotional and psychological reality of living in a world where terrorism is a threat. If you are looking to us for realistic advice on how to fight terrorism, we’re all in real trouble.”  — Robert Cochran, co-creator, writer, and producer of ’24’

“The show may even work as a kind of inoculation, jolting us with a little dose of manageable terrorism or nuclear threat or biological warfare as a balm to our deeper, unspoken anxieties.”  — Charles McGrath, the New York Times

“You don’t need to watch ’24’ as a kind of primer on moral philosophy, but you probably should.”  — Brian M. Carney, the Wall Street Journal

“On ’24’, there are a few very good people, a few very bad ones, and in between a lot of question marks who can upend the plot (and the political analogies). That may be the biggest lesson of ’24’ in the Iraq era: don’t stubbornly hang on to your preconceptions when the facts on the ground change.”  — Time magazine

“I would agree that ’24’ is a genuine New Thing Under the Sun, not really a serial at all, but the world’s first überseries.”  — Stephen King, best-selling novelist and ’24’ fan

“We certainly can’t say with any certainty that cyberterrorism doesn’t exist, and can’t say it didn’t occur… but there is little doubt in my mind that, years from now, this will be a primary method of attack, a primary theater of operations, if you will.”  — Amit Yoran, vice president of managed security services operations, Symantec Corporation

And,… I’ll leave you with a bonus quote (not in a sidebar) from Leslie Hope, who played Teri Bauer in Season 1:

“I may be having the best time of my life…. Kiefer is gracious and generous, has the patience of a saint, is a good listener, and his butt looks awesome in his Wranglers!”

I think I’m gonna move this book up a few notches in my to-read list. Now that I’m in the mood for it, I may have to add the show to my re-watch (again) list, too….

SuperThankful

A little change of pace this week. Given the particular holiday we (in the U.S.) are about to celebrate, I thought I’d name a few things I am thankful for — but, geared to the subject matter of this blog, of course.

Main floor at Salt Lake Comic Con 2014

Main floor at Salt Lake Comic Con 2014

1) I am thankful that being a fan of sci-fi/fantasy and superheroes is much more culturally accepted, these days. It wasn’t all that long ago when such things were considered “nerdy”, “square”, or “uncool” by default. Now, a lot of the “cool kids” like this stuff, too. (Similar thing can be said about computers and other tech.) Comic and Star Trek/sci-fi conventions used to be the domain of Trekkies and other social outcasts. Nowadays, there is a much wider audience and, thus, fandom for such things. We can boldly wear our “geek” hats — and, sometimes, complete cosplay outfits — with much less fear (within some environments, at least) of getting mocked or beaten up.

2) I am thankful that Hollywood has discovered that this growing fanbase makes both small-screen and big-screen genre productions much more likely to make money, especially when done with great care and attention to talent, script, and production values. (Even SyFy Channel is putting out some decent stuff these days.) It used to be that most movies of this sort were pretty cheesey — sorta like the genre TV shows.

I would say that Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), and Alien (1979) ushered in a new era, showing fans and studios alike what was really possible. On the TV side, while classics like the original “Doctor Who” (1963), “Mission Impossible” (1966), and “Star Trek” (1966) broke new ground, I think shows like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987), “Babylon 5” (1994), and “Smallville” (2001) continued to push the boundaries and gain new fans. Now, we have several genre movies every year and more TV shows (and I include Netflix and cable here), regular and mini-series, than anyone can keep up with.

3) I am thankful for the incredible technological innovations in Visual and Special F/X that allow starships, aliens, strange worlds, magic, and superpowers to come alive in a much more realistic fashion than even just a couple decades ago. These have, of course, been instrumental in the success of many sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure shows and films. (Can you imagine trying to do The Matrix, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Avengers back in the 1980s or before?!) Sometimes they can be disappointing or overused, sure. But, when done right, the F/X can be pretty darn AMAZING!

4) I am thankful for the advent and development of social media — blogging in particular — that allows people of all kinds from all over the world to share their love of and enthusiasm for comics, anime/manga, games, books, TV shows and movies, etc., with each other. And, in many cases, we can do so for free (or very cheap) and nearly instantaneously! Do you realize how incredible that is? When I was a kid, this kind of connectedness was itself the stuff of science fiction. (Even ARPANET was in its infancy.)

5) I am thankful for you, my readers. Yeah, yeah, I know. But, although we don’t get much commentary on the posts, I do see slight increases in page views (and the occasional spike). So, I know you’re out there, reading my rants, opinions, fan-castings, and other “quantum musings” — over 160 of them since I started the blog 2 years and 9 months ago. (Hopefully, you’re also referring your friends, too.) Thanks again, everyone!

Add it all up and I am “SuperThankful” that I live in a time and place where I can enjoy all of the above with all of you….

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bits-n-Pieces II

To be honest, I wasn’t able to focus on a regular post this week. So, as I’ve done on a couple past occasions, I’m going to make relatively brief comments on a handful of recent genre announcements & developments….

Small Screen

star-trek-discovery-1920Item #1: A few things have developed re the upcoming ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ series since I last blogged about it in August, but even then I didn’t comment on everything we knew. For example, producer Bryan Fuller had said that the show’s primary protagonist will be a female Lt. Commander (a la Majel Barrett’s “Number One” in the original TOS pilot). There will be more “diversity” in the ship’s crew, particularly in terms of one or more LGBT characters. I’m not thrilled about this, though I’m not surprised for a number of reasons — e.g., the “progressive” nature of the franchise, Hollywood’s push for LGBT characters, Fuller is a part of that community, etc. He also indicated that they will push the Star Trek boundaries by possibly having a bit of nudity and more profanity. I’m not thrilled with this, either. I guess they can get away with it, since it won’t be on network TV; but, it also flies in the face of one “rule” Paramount/CBS has always had about keeping all Star Trek productions — including fan-made — “family friendly”. If they do proceed with this, I hope it is quite limited. Fortunately, Fuller did say,

“Star Trek’s not necessarily a universe where I want to hear a lot of profanity, either.”

In September, it was announced that STDisc’s debut was being pushed from January to May 2017. I had mixed feelings about this, but I’m not mad; if they need the extra time to make a great show, they should take it. Then Variety broke the story that Fuller had stepped down as showrunner, due to scheduling conflicts. Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts (and Alex Kurtzman?) stepped up as co-showrunners, while Fuller remained as executive producer. This caused a lot of hubbub re the show’s direction, but Fuller remains the chief architect.

“Fuller has penned the first two scripts for “Discovery” and has hammered out the broader story arc and mythology for the new “Trek” realm.” — Variety

Given his intentions, I obviously have mixed feelings about this. (I like his idea of making it less episodic and having a multi-episode story arc, and I’m intrigued with the concept of making the ship’s captain merely a supporting player.) It was also indicated that Romulans may be the primary villains in the series, and that would seem to work for the era in which it will be taking place (i.e., 10 years prior to ST:TOS).

Item #2: Just a couple days ago, Marvel announced that it is teaming up with Disney|ABC Television Group and IMAX to develop a “Marvel’s The Inhumans” TV series. It will actually debut the first two episodes in IMAX theaters in September 2017. (That’s fast!) Not only is IMAX co-financing the project, but the IMAX cameras/tech will provide enhanced imagery and visual effects. Cool! Oh,… after the debut in theaters, the full 8 episodes will show on ABC starting in the Fall, “with additional exclusive content that can only be seen on the network.” Very cool!

1173129-inhumansThis show will not be connected to “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (This likely also means there will not be an Inhumans movie connected to the MCU.) So, the “inhuman” characters we have seen in the S.H.I.E.L.D. series will not be involved in this one. In fact, the new show will be centered on the Inhumans’ Royal Family that fans know from the comics and animated series (see pic).

I was always a fan of the Inhumans, with their unique society and ties to the Fantastic Four and X-Men (and the Kree race, of course). I look forward to seeing the city of Attilan and its odd denizens. If they do this right, I will be a very happy camper! (I feel a multi-part fan-casting coming on….)

Item #3: Another very recent announcement came from HBO — namely, there are official talks with author/creator George R.R. Martin about a “Game of Thrones” prequel show to follow the fan-favorite series. No details, as yet. As per HBO programming president Casey Bloys,

“[I]t’s still kind of preliminary ongoing talks. There are [time periods within GoT history] we are exploring, but I wouldn’t point to any one and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”

Big Screen

Item #4: OK, part of this has been known for a few months, but stick with me…. For quite awhile, there was some question about whether or not we would see a new Batman solo movie or a proper sequel to Man of Steel. Now, the answer to both is “Yes!” Actually, it was back in Spring of this year (2016) that we found out Ben Affleck would be co-writing (with DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns) and starring in a Batman solo movie. Affleck was determined to complete a script he was happy with before he would begin filming. He also said he wanted to create an original story, borrowing familiar things from the comics, and that he wants to showcase Batman’s detective skills. (Amen to that!)

In the Summer it was confirmed that Affleck would be directing, and the tentative title is “The Batman”. More recently, Joe Manganiello signed on to play Deathstroke — presumably the main villain. The film is currently scheduled for release in Oct. 2018.

As for the Man of Steel 2, in August 2015 we got conflicting reports that George Miller would be directing and that the film was on “permanent hold”. But, a year later TheWrap announced that a Man of Steel sequel was finally in active development at Warner Bros. and “a top priority for the studio”. Henry Cavill’s agent, Dany Garcia, confirmed this in an interview with Newsweek in September, saying:

“[Cavill and I have] been in a five-month period of time where he’s re-strategizing, acquiring property [for his production company Promethean], he’s filming [Justice League] now, he’s in development for the Superman standalone… he’s beginning to expand that world.”

Man of Steel 2 likely won’t arrive in theaters until late 2019.

I have to say, I am psyched for both of these. Yes, I know: “It’s Batfleck!”… “Man of Steel and DvJ were too dark!”… “They changed too much stuff.”… yada, yada. I have already explained in previous posts that I share some of these concerns and also why I’m OK with other aspects. My hope is that the respective creative teams will respect the fans’ input and address those “problems” in the new films. For example, I am fine with a darker, more violent and cynical Batman at this stage in his career. But, I want the Superman film to have a more positive, brighter tone, both visually and thematically speaking.

negasonic-teenage-warhead-ego-the-living-planetItem #5: Only a couple days ago, it was reported that Marvel and Fox had worked out a “backroom deal” to trade characters. Well, not “trade” exactly, and this actually happened a couple years ago….

You may or may not remember — I always get this stuff confused — that 20th Century Fox owns the cinematic rights to all things X-Men related (including Deadpool), among other things, while Marvel Studios owns the cinematic rights to Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers. While developing Deadpool, the writers decided they really wanted the Negasonic Teenage Warhead character — or, at least, a differently-powered character with that name — but Marvel owned it. Marvel agreed to it but on the condition that they get to use Ego, the Living Planet, (owned by Fox) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Thus, the deal was struck.

This is big, because it shows that these two studios, who don’t always get along, can negotiate agreements to trade/loan characters to each other. All it takes is a mutually beneficial trade, and (hopefully) everybody — including the fans — wins. I hope this is a sign of things to come, so that other beloved characters can show up cross-studios, as it were.

Item #6: Finally, speaking of Deadpool… You probably already know that a sequel is already in pre-production and scheduled for a March 2, 2018, release. (Of course, first they need to replace the now-departed director, Tim Miller.) It is rumored to co-star Rich Sands as Nathan Summers / Cable. But, the studio is so confident in the franchise that it has already greenlit Deadpool 3. This one is rumored to include some version of the mutant team known as X-Force. (No idea what this means for Jeff Wadlow’s planned X-Force movie. Could be a jumping off point, I suppose.) Could be great news for Deadpool and X-Force fans!

Fin.

What I’ve Been Watching II: Swords, Tats, and Amnesiacs

“One: What’s your name?
The Android: I possess no personal designation.
Six: Yeah, yeah, there’s a lot of that going around.”

Over the past couple months, I finished watching the first seasons of three new TV series that I thought you all might be interested in. (Of course, maybe you’re already watching them. I dunno.) As it happens, they represent three subgenres (or more) and, as I realized later, they are all tied together.

Well, no official ties, which would be kind of difficult, given that they are on different networks. But, I noticed plot elements that connect them… sort of. The stars of “Dark Matter” (Syfy) — the characters, not the actors — are amnesiacs and one of them wields a sword; one of the main characters in “Into the Badlands” (AMC) wields a sword and has lots of tattoos; and the central character in “Blindspot” (NBC) has lots of tattoos and is amnesiac. See the thread? Well, I thought it was interesting….

BLINDSPOT-- Pictured: "Blindspot" Key Art -- (Photo by: NBCUniversal)

Blindspot: Some of you might remember that I already wrote about this series in the first “What I’ve Been Watching” post back in January. Of course, at the time I had only watched 2 episodes, so it was just my first impressions. I repeat here my opening description: “The lovely Jaimie Alexander (“Kyle XY”, Thor) plays a mystery woman with amnesia and tattoos all over her body. The tattoos lead to (potential) prevention of crimes and acts of terrorism, and Sullivan Stapleton (“Strike Back”) is the FBI agent assigned to her case.” [Note: There are other members of the team, too.] I then went on to express concern about the story already revealing some of the mystery of “Jane Doe”‘s past.

I stand by what I said then about my preference for waiting several episodes before doing this. But, by spreading out pieces of the mystery via multiple flashbacks and occasional revelations to Jane herself, they have done a pretty good job of keeping the audience engaged and wanting more — sort of like “Lost”. Of course, there is still plenty more to reveal, as I’m sure they are doing now in Season 2. There have been twists, subplots, and confrontations along the way to heighten the tension and the anticipation factor. My only real gripe is that I wish Alexander would/could show a little more range in her acting; on the other hand, many real people have a limited range of expression, too. Maybe that’s just how she’s playing the character….

into-the-badlands-poster-on-parchmentInto the Badlands: I really wasn’t sure what to expect for this show. The genre-mix is post-apocalyptic feudalism with martial arts and a slight Western flair. It follows Sunny, the regent (i.e., chief clipper, or warrior/enforcer) for Baron Quinn, and M.K., a lost boy with a dark secret, who wants Sunny to help him reach a legendary city beyond the Badlands. Of course, considering Sunny’s job, his murderous and slightly paranoid boss, and all the scheming and precarious alignments between barons, there just doesn’t seem to be a good time to sneak away. Factor in Sunny’s girlfriend, Quinn’s family and health issues, the baroness (Emily Beecham’s “The Widow”) looking for the mystery boy, etc., and things get quite complicated.

Hey! I just remembered that M.K. seemed to be missing some memories of his childhood, so he fits the amnesiac thread, too.

I found myself equally intrigued by what might happen next and frustrated that Sunny and M.K. still hadn’t managed to plan, let alone carry out, their escape. (Yes, Sunny does eventually decide he wants to leave, too. If only….) The talented Daniel Wu (Europa Report, Warcraft) exec produces and plays Sunny, which gives him an opportunity to show off his sword-handling and other Wushu skills. Baron Quinn is played with sadistic glee by Martin Csokas (LotR: The Return of the King, Kingdom of Heaven). It really is a fascinating concept, with all the personal and political intrigue, and it needs a larger canvas to give one the full picture. Maybe the second season will do that.

dark-matter-posterDark Matter: Originally, I was going to talk about “The Expanse”. But, I lost enthusiasm for the show about half-way through. I followed it with “Dark Matter” and enjoyed this one much more. I fully admit that the other show is more complex, but that was actually part of the problem for me. I was in the mood for a sci-fi show whose premise and environment I could grasp relatively quickly and whose main characters I could (mostly) like. That’s why “Dark Matter” fit the bill.

The pilot opens with six individuals awakening from stasis, the only inhabitants on a medium-sized spaceship in the middle of nowhere. They have no memories of who they are or how they got there. Despite the fact that we (and they) discover in a later episode that they are a rag-tag team of mercenaries with serious criminal pasts, and two of them are not easy to get along with, they are still an intriguing and generally likable crew. Each is a very different personality type with a certain set of skills, and they somehow manage to work together (usually), as they search for answers about their pasts and try to survive the present. The crew each also struggles internally with what they were and what they want to be, now that they essentially have a second chance at life. It makes for some fun episodes. Oh,… they also have a “female” android to help pilot and maintain the ship, monitor sensors, etc. She has turned out to be a valuable member of the crew and an intriguing character, as well.

I realize that by comparing it to a “more complex” show, you might assume “Dark Matter” is poorly written and has two-dimensional characters. But, that would be a mistake, ‘cuz it isn’t and they aren’t. Also, despite what some have said, I think the F/X — minimal though they may be — are just fine.

Action, mystery, suspense, drama, romance — it’s all there! These three series aren’t perfect, and I’m sure there are people who hate them or think they are stupid or boring. But, I (obviously) think they are pretty good and enjoy them for what they are — genre-themed, escapist fun. Maybe you will, too.

Review of Luke Cage (Netflix Series)

”There’s something powerful about seeing a black man that’s bulletproof and unafraid!”  — Method Man in “Luke Cage” cameo

I’m a day late with this post — sorry ’bout that. Blame it on my having been on vacation for over a week and now trying to catch up on stuff. Speaking of vacation, I managed to finish watching “Luke Cage”, so I decided to push up my review by a couple weeks.

luke-cage-netflix-cast-600x264

Primary cast for “Luke Cage”

As some of you probably realize, the “Luke Cage: Hero for Hire” character was created in the 1970s to capitalize on the Blaxpoitation film craze. Much of the writing — by white guys unfamiliar with actual Black culture — involved stereotypes and often inauthentic dialogue. Nowadays, some people would call it downright racist, but I don’t think that was the intent. “Ignorant” and “misguided” would be fairer descriptions of the creators/writers themselves. Some of the storylines were pretty hokey, too, but that’s par for the course in comics. Still, Cage is a beloved character who has evolved over the decades, often written by Black writers, and losing much of the Blaxploitative aura.

The challenge, then, for Netflix’s production was to make a series about this character, in a particular environment, that resonated with the person of color in 2016, while drawing heartily from the source material and providing nuggets of nostalgia. Not an easy task, but I thought showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker et al. did an admirable job.

Let’s break it down, beginning (as usual) with the main characters….

Luke Cage (aka Carl Lucas): I probably wouldn’t put cage in my personal Top 10 Marvel characters, but I have read enough material with him in it that I find him an intriguing character. So, I’m really glad he’s getting the live-action treatment. I have commented previously regarding the choice of Mike Colter to play the role, so I won’t repeat it here, other than to say Colter continues to do a great job as this Luke Cage. It’s a more toned down, stoic, and definitely not stereotypical version of the character, which probably works better than trying to adhere too closely to the 70s version. I also understand why the original, disco-influenced, bright yellow-n-blue costume with upside-down steel tiara and huge chain for a belt would not have worked for 2016 sensibilities (not to mention Cage/Colter’s self-respect). However, I very much appreciated the “Easter egg” that had him in a version of that outfit in the flashback scene following his prison escape. The handful of “Sweet Christmas”es were great, too.

In case you didn’t know, the comics version of Lucas/Cage was never a cop, though his father was. He did go to prison as the result of being framed by Stryker. Why they made him a former cop (also framed) for this series, I’m not sure. Maybe to strengthen the idea of his instincts to help and protect people? (Given the attitude toward cops by a lot of the Black community these days, that’s a little surprising.) It irked me at first as an unnecessary change, but I’m OK with it.

Finally, I would have liked to see Cage get truly enraged when fighting a group of bad guys. I don’t know if they didn’t do this in order to avoid the “angry Black man” stereotype, or just because this version of Cage is generally more reserved. Still, I want to see what he’s really capable of when ticked off. He also had that opportunity in his big fight with Stryker, but they opted to do that differently, too. (It was kind of frustrating, IMO.) Otherwise, I thought Cage’s characterization was pretty good, especially for a current-day, live-action adaptation. (See related comments under ‘Plot’.)

15-luke-cage-1-w529-h352Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes: Mahershala Ali is a talented actor, and I’ve appreciated him since first seeing him years ago. He has a reserved intensity that really worked for this role. The Stokes character is a complex mix of mid-level underworld boss, businessman, street punk, and frustrated musician. I could feel the stress and annoyance he felt as his mini-empire began to crumble around him, all while being badgered by his cousin, who had her own issues and selfish concerns. The fact that he was far more than a two-dimensional villain made him all the more intriguing. I have to admit, though, that his tendency to burst out in often-derisive laughter got to be tiresome toward the end. (And what a sudden, gruesome “end” it was!)

Incidentally, the original “Cottonmouth” was an older guy with a white unibrow and mustache, sharpened gold(?) teeth, and an affinity for green pimpsuits with a matching hat. He was also the guy whose drugs Stryker stole and framed Lucas with. I’m not surprised they decided to throw most of that out, but at least this version was still a drug dealer and a snappy dresser! Also, as far as I can tell, he is still alive in the Marvel Comics Universe.

Det. Misty Knight: Giving the beautiful Simone Missick the role of Misty Knight was close-to-perfect casting. She has the look and talent (and big hair) that brings this strong, confident, intelligent woman to life. She’s a little different than I picture Knight, but not enough to be an issue.

I had forgotten that Knight was a cop before becoming a private investigator, but I’m happy that the powers-that-be retained this for the Netflix version. I’m a little unsure what to make of her “special ability” to reconstruct a crime scene in her mind. Is this supposed to be superhuman? Or, just an unusual, but still “natural”, finely-honed talent of a police detective? On another matter, I was surprised at how quickly her arm healed. I thought for sure it would need to be amputated, thereby providing an opening for her to get a bionic arm. (In the comics, she lost the arm in a bomb blast.) But, nope… didn’t happen. Either way, I enjoyed the character, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing more of her in future series.

(Black) Mariah Dillard: I always enjoy Alfre Woodard’s performances, but this was one of those characters that I can’t decide about. Well, I despise the character for many reasons, which I guess is what we’re supposed to do, even though I sorta-kinda feel bad for her, too. But, I can’t decide if Woodard was the right person to play this role. For some reason, she seemed out of place. Or, maybe it was just me, struggling with what to think of the character. In the comics, “Black Mariah” was an even more despicable character, but she looked more like an obese version of the “Mama Mabel” character we saw in flashbacks. (Btw, Mabel was played by Samuel L. Jackson’s wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson.) I will say, though, that Woodard did a fine job with this complex character, showing her frustrations with her cousin and her career failures and being “forced” to do things she would rather not. Her relationship with Shades, though, has taken a couple of disturbing twists and turns. Speaking of…

Hernan ‘Shades’ Alvarez: Apparently, there is a “Shades” character from Stryker and Lucas’s shared past in the comics. He was a fellow-member of The Rivals gang who ended up in Seagate Prison, where he was one of those abused by the sadistic prison guard, Rackham. But, many of the details are very different from what we saw on-screen — e.g., no connection with Mariah. Theo Rossi’s version is sort of interesting, yet something about him bugs me. Not sure if it’s the character or the actor. (I’ve never watched “Sons of Anarchy”, but I know I’ve seen him in something.) I was looking forward to seeing Shades get his butt handed to him, either by Cage or Misty, but it didn’t happen. I’m guessing he’ll show up again….

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

Det. Rafael Scarfe: The comics version was indeed partnered with Misty Knight, but he also had a history with Colleen Wing, Danny Rand, and Daredevil. He was a good cop who later “went rogue”, but he was never corrupt. So, it makes one wonder why they totally rewrote the character for Netflix. I guess they wanted another character from the comics that was relatively disposable. (I’ll note that the original was tougher and less cynical.) Frank Whaley did a good job with him as written, but it was a waste of a decent character, if you ask me.

Claire Temple: I was glad to see Rosario Dawson’s “Claire” not just pop up again but get fleshed out a bit more. She is both a likable and useful character, and I appreciate how she has become a friend, encourager/motivator, and budding romantic interest for Cage. (Question: Will Cage ever partner with, and eventually marry, Jessica Jones, as in the comics?) She is a welcome thread tying the different Netflix/Marvel series together, though she isn’t scheduled to appear in “Iron Fist”. I like that she’s a girl from the ‘hood who can take care of herself, but I also like that she is apparently gonna take martial arts training from Colleen Wing. Good for her!

Willis ‘Diamondback’ Stryker: While the snakeskin suit worn by the comics version would probably have been too much, I thought this over-the-top villain was played quite well by Erik LaRay Harvey, who even looks like the original. I don’t remember seeing Harvey in anything else, but I thought his portrayal of this murderous psychopath was right-on. Stryker isn’t exactly complex and is not much more than an eccentric thug, when it comes down to it. But, if that’s what they were going for — and pretty close to the comics, too — then that’s what they got. What I didn’t like was that they minimized the character’s fascination and proficiency with knives, both conventional and modified. Not sure where the Bible obsession came from, either. On the other hand, they did keep the childhood friendship with Lucas/Cage, followed by betrayal.

Now for a few supporting players…

I loved Frankie Faison as “Pop” and was sorry he wasn’t in more episodes. He was a voice of reason, encouragement, and (when necessary) admonishment, not just to Cage but to the younger guys who frequented the barbershop. Dare I say it, “Pop” was a much-needed father-figure to some. I think the character was new for the series, which is fine. The chess-playing Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones) was, I think, another new character and one I enjoyed. As an older guy, he also had some wisdom to lay on the younger folk, and I liked his efforts (with Cage) to keep the barbershop an ongoing concern in Pop’s honor.

Dr. Noah Burstein and his controversial experimentation on select prisoners at Seagate was, of course, straight out of the comics. This version was ably played by Michael Kostroff. It was good to see Reva (Parisa Fitz-Henley) show up in a few episodes, even if it still left a lot of questions regarding Cage’s and her relationship. There is also now some question about her knowledge or participation in Burstein’s experiments and possibly Rackham’s fight club. I should note that Reva in the comics had nothing to do with Seagate and was actually the girlfriend of young Willis Stryker, then of young Carl Lucas, and the cause of the rift that developed between them. Regardless, as a love who was tragically lost, she represents a crucial element to the history and person of Carl Lucas / Luke Cage.

Additional, essential elements to the story…

luke-cage-logoPlot: I thought it was a pretty decent plot, as these things go. Not stellar, but not bad. We see our hero struggling to figure out both who and what he is — ex-cop, ex-con, Black man, disillusioned preacher’s son, victim of betrayal, hero?, vigilante?, freak?, etc. — all while confronting threats to himself, his friends, and his community. He wants to be left alone, but at core he is a good man who can’t stand by while injustice is done to those he cares about. Colter did a pretty good job conveying this struggle, and I admit that someone with more muscles but less acting experience would not have been able to pull this off.

There is also the aspect of the “social commentary” — i.e., racism, oppression, and the struggle for minorities (especially Blacks) to “make it” in America. It was laced throughout much of Stokes and Dillard’s speech, as well as popping up here and there from others (e.g., Pop, Bobby Fish). There were false accusations made against Cage, resulting in the cops hunting for him. But, the accusers were both black and white, cop and criminal, so it didn’t come off as race-based. If the “commentary” had been more heavy-handed, it might have annoyed me; but, it did sound/feel authentic to me. Also, Cage’s mini-speech at the police station (in the finale) helped to explain the mindset (his in particular), as did Method Man’s on-air rap.

There were a few plot holes and unanswered questions. For example, what about the Judas Bullet wound in Cage’s shoulder? Was there shrapnel in there, or was it a through-and-through? But, I don’t remember any glaring inconsistencies. (Feel free to comment below on anything you remember being mishandled or that should have been resolved but wasn’t.)

Lastly, I loved the many “Easter eggs” — i.e., references to people, places, and events from the Marvel-based movies and the other Netflix/Marvel series, as well as a couple that haven’t appeared, yet. It really helps the fans know that the creators are building an interconnected “universe” with all of this stuff, and that they respect the source material we all grew up on.

Music: Right from the outset, this series had a distinct sound and feel to it. It began with the opening theme, which had a definite 70s vibe (though it could have been a bit stronger, imho). But, it continued with the jazz and R&B tunes performed in Stokes’ nightclub, Harlem’s Paradise. The live acts at the club are all real-life professionals — e.g., Charles Bradley, The Delfonics, Faith Evans — whose music spans the 60s thru the 90s and beyond. I’m not personally a fan of the style (though a couple tunes were catchy), but the songs fit the setting of the series and sometimes the particular scenes.

F/X: Of course, I am primarily referring to the demonstrations of Cage’s superstrength and durability. There were occasions where I thought he put a little too much effort into something that should have been very easy for him (e.g., ripping a door off its hinges). But, overall, I liked the way he smacked, shoved, and tossed around punks and crashed through doors and walls. His shrugging off of bullets was on point, as well, including the fact that the ricochets can be dangerous. And Cage’s irritation at frequently needing to replace his bullet-ridden clothes made for a bit of welcome humor.

luke-cage-netflix-trailerThe “Judas Bullets” could have used a little more explanation about their origin and how they were able to bore into Cage’s flesh. (Or, did I miss it?) But, they were a good plot device for making Cage vulnerable (to a select few) and putting his life temporarily in jeopardy. I appreciated the nod to the source material by having the Judas bullets (and special gun?) be manufactured by weapons dealer Justin Hammer. Same goes for Stryker’s special gear, except that the “supersuit” looked kinda goofy, and it made no sense to me why Cage didn’t just punch or rip off the power pack early on in their big fight. (Of course, then there wouldn’t have been much of a fight….)

The Verdict: Overall, despite the things I was a little disappointed in or would have handled differently, I very much enjoyed “Luke Cage”. I rank it slightly below “Daredevil” and above “Jessica Jones”, and I look forward to seeing Cage (and Claire and Misty) in “The Defenders”, as well as (hopefully) a second season of his own.

Ghosts of My Country

butch-guice-captain-america-theater-of-war-ghosts-of-my-country-no-1-cover-captain-americaA few years back, Marvel Comics published a series of one-shots written by Paul Jenkins that centered around Captain America’s involvement in different wars. The final issue, titled “Ghosts of My Country”, features vignettes spanning from the American Revolution to the events of 9/11/2001. Throughout, various characters (e.g., John Adams, Francis Scott Key) seem strangely inspired to compose or recite verse about, well, “a ghost of my country…”. Having just read it (in the Captain America: Theater of War hardcover), I thought it was interesting and have assembled the scattered lines together for your consideration….

[Note: Normally, I’d have released this closer to Veterans’ Day (11/11/2016), but I needed something to schedule for while I’m on vacation this week.]


Ghosts of My Country

“I hear a ghost of my country
Made real on this day in July.
I am wrested from tyranny’s clutches
By the sound of its birthing cry.

We are bound by a fair declaration
Of which I am a proud engineer.
I hear a ghost of my country;
‘Tis the promise of all I hold dear.

I hear a ghost of my country
Through the rain and the treacherous air,
Through the thunderous noise of the cannons,
Through the sound of the bugle’s blare.

I see a battery of angels
That no rocket’s red glare will obscure.
The ghosts of my country are calling
that my country will ever endure.

I see a ghost of my country,
In whose men it is clearly defined!
With the glory of God to protect us,
We’ll stand and we’ll hold to the line!

Though we face the greatest of perils,
We will neither surrender nor flee!
I see a ghost of my country, boys!
And that country will always be free!

I hear a ghost of my country,
A specter of what we will be.
It is born of our nightmarish actions;
It is guided by hellish decree.

It calls with a voice full of anger;
It thrives on a message of hate.
I hear a ghost of my country now;
It’s a voice that I helped create.

I dream of a ghost of my country;
I dream of familiar skies.
Though our voices are silent,
We still dream of home
And a thousand unspoken goodbyes.

I see a ghost of my country…
…I see a ghost of my country…
…I see a ghost of my country…
…I see a ghost of my country…
…I see a ghost of my country…
…I see a ghost of my country…

ghosts-of-my-country-final-pageI am a ghost of my country;
Of my country I will always be.
I have weathered the storms of my enemies
In the name of the Land of the Free.

I have tested resolve to its limit,
I have slipped from the confines of Earth.
For all of my days I have sworn to uphold
The ideals of the place of my birth.

I am a ghost of my country;
Of my country I will always be.
I am born in the heart of a nation,
My sweet land of liberty.

I dwell in the souls of the fallen;
I breathe life to their just memory.
I am a ghost of my country,
And my country’s a ghost of me.

Quite a mix of emotions, eh? It’s even better with pictures!

Shortly before the issue came out, Jenkins — who is a British ex-pat, btw — was interviewed about the series. Here’s what he said about “Ghosts of My Country”:

“That one to me is by far the most special. It’s my love letter to Captain America. Without giving away too much, it’s about what Captain America must really be. When we see him and see his shield and his flag-based uniform, he is the sum total of all of the most important and meaningful and meaningless and mundane and intense moments throughout the history of the U.S. He is the personification of America. It’s called “Ghosts of My Country” and we journey across time to see Cap as the ghost of his country. He exists throughout all of the most important moments of American military history. He was there. And he was there because the sum total of everything that was happening made him come alive. It’s kind of a strange concept I suppose, but he is alive because of everything these soldiers did…. Every American soldier brings Captain America alive.”

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 8

The latest issue of the Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter…

Hi, gang! (We need a name for my fans…. Zeusites? Zeusians? Thunderers? Help me out here….)

I think I’m gonna try a slightly different format this issue. Using a typical Question-n-Answer style, I’m going to address a few of the questions that people at cons and book signings have been asking me lately. See how many of them you already knew the answers to. Anyone who has heard me talk about all of these must be superfans! (Super-Zeusians?) OK, first up…

Q: What’s with the name of your newsletter? Do you think you’re brilliant or something?

The Birth of Minerva (by Rene Antoine Houasse)

The Birth of Minerva (by Rene Antoine Houasse)

A: Hah! Hardly! Growing up, I was a big fan of Greco-Roman mythology. I forget what grade I was first introduced to it, but I loved reading about gods and demigods and heroes and monsters and all that crazy stuff. Didn’t believe any of it, of course. But, that stuff is like comic books for the ancients. In fact, several heroes and villains I know or know of have been inspired by characters from those old tales. I’m one of them! You knew that, right? (A few even claim that they are those characters from the myths and legends!)

As Wikipedia will tell you, Zeus (aka Jupiter to the Romans) was “the sky and thunder god in ancient Greek religion, who ruled as king of the gods of Mount Olympus.” That’s why I incorporated the thunder-n-lightning shtick into my superhero identity. Anyway, one of Zeus’ many children was Athena (aka Minerva), the goddess of wisdom, courage, law & justice, and a bunch of other stuff. But, Athena wasn’t born the normal way. After sleeping with Metis, goddess of crafty thought and wisdom, Zeus remembered a prophecy that Metis’ children would be more powerful than their father. Rather than just killing Metis, he swallowed her; but, it was too late, because she had already conceived. Zeus later got a terrible headache and one of the other gods tried to help by splitting Zeus’ skull with an axe. (Doesn’t sound like “helping” to me!) When he did, Athena jumped out, fully grown and armed, and shouting a war cry. Weird, I know. But, that was the inspiration for the title of this newsletter. Plus, it’s sort of a play on words, since I, Mr. Zeus, am putting my own thoughts down on “paper”.

Q: Where do you live? Also, do bad guys ever find you and try to fight, even though you’re retired?

A: Well, now, if I told you (and everyone reading this, which might include bad guys) where I lived, then that would be a problem, wouldn’t it? Other than mentioning the region of the U.S. where I live, I have been very careful not to give away too much. There are three reasons: 1) fans, 2) press, and 3) villains. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love all my fans, and I really appreciate their/your loving me in return. But, just like other celebrities, I sometimes get hounded by the press, and I like to have a retreat to get away from it all. I don’t have millions of dollars, so I can’t afford a big mansion with lots of security like some movie stars, singers, and athletes. But, I found a modest-sized place where I can have some privacy.

When I was wrestling as “Hacksaw Jack”, my real name — Jacob Szymanski — eventually became known to the public. (I think it was in a magazine write-up about up-n-coming wrestlers.) When I started superheroing as “Mr. Zeus”, I didn’t advertise that I used to be Hacksaw Jack, ‘cuz I wanted my new career to be a “fresh start”. I originally kept an apartment and credit card in the Szymanski name; but, once I moved into the Atlantia Compound, I had living quarters and an expense account. When I retired, I legally changed my name, and my attorney and I created a network of shell companies through which I own my home, car, etc., and get paid for conventions, signings, royalties, and those other jobs I’ve written about.

Before you ask, no, neither my new name nor my company names have any connection to my old name or Greco-Roman mythology or anything like that. That would have been cool, but then the wrong people — from stalkers to former enemies looking for vengeance — would probably figure it out too easily. I’d like to avoid any such surprises, thank you very much.

dangerous-diamond-shaped-signQ: What does your family think of your superheroing? Have they ever been in danger?

A: I don’t talk about my family much, but here’s the scoop. My father died a long time ago, when I was a little kid. My younger sister died of a rare disease when we were teenagers. (One day she seemed normal, the next she started exhibiting weird symptoms. She was eventually diagnosed and within a few months, she was gone.) I never met my stepbrother, since he was in the military and deployed overseas when my Mom married his Dad. He never visited us, and then he was declared M.I.A. shortly after I graduated high school.

My Mom and stepdad weren’t exactly thrilled with my wrestling career, what with all of the violence. So, you can imagine what they thought when I transitioned into superheroic adventuring. Of course, once I showed them my newfound abilities — especially the invulnerability and superstrength –, they were somewhat mollified. As the months and years passed, and they saw not only that I could handle myself but that I was making a difference, they grew to accept my chosen profession and not worry about me so much.

I can only think of two times when they were in danger that had anything to do with my superheroing exploits. Once, early in my career, I was walking with them at night in the city, when we were mugged. Well, almost. There were street punks — one with a gun, and the others had knives. I hesitated to do anything for fear that my parents might get hurt; but then one of the punks made a move toward my Mom. I grabbed him by the wrist and flung him into the guy with the gun. Then… well, let’s just say that it helps to have skin that is impervious to most knives and bullets, though the guy with the gun didn’t even get off a shot. They weren’t in any shape to mug anyone for a few days after that, either. (We called the cops to arrest them, of course.)

The second time happened a few years later, when my Mom was at a concert with some friends. Some wannabe terrorist decided to blow up that concert hall with over 4000 people in it. He had no idea my Mom was there, but I did. I heard the call on a police scanner and rushed over. I found his bombs and, with the help of the local LEOs, got all but one of them defused without any casualties. (The final bomb had a glitch, and I managed to toss it into the bay before it exploded.)

By the way, my Mom and stepdad have since retired and moved… somewhere I won’t mention, ‘cuz they prefer the safety of anonymity. (They use government-approved aliases, too.)

Q: What’s happening on the writing front? Any books coming out?

A: I got a book deal! “But, don’t you already have one?”, you ask. “You’ve already written two books.” True, but Capes, Masks, & Tights — Oh My! and The Rise of Mr. Zeus are non-fiction and largely autobiographical. The sequel to Rise is still in the planning stages, too. But, this new contract is for a fiction novel co-authored with Phil Prendergast. Remember how I mentioned meeting him back at last year’s Hype City Sci-Fi and Comic Convention, and we discussed working together? Well, this is that. (Did you know that, before his success with “Shadows of Eternity” graphic novels, Phil wrote a half dozen popular adventure novels under the pseudonym “Taryn Vail”? OK, you probably knew that, but I didn’t. Shame on me.)

story-by-robert-mckeeI resurrected a few story ideas I had several years ago but wasn’t able to follow up on — being an unknown quantity when it came to fiction writing, no publisher was interested — and showed them to Phil. One idea was a heroic epic that takes place in ancient times. (Not sure if it will be in a real place like ancient Greece or some imaginary land like Cimmeria.) Another was a futuristic war adventure. One was a murder mystery involving a rather unusual and somewhat eccentric character. The last one was a straight-up superhero story.

Phil liked them all but favored the murder mystery, so once I flesh out the plot some more, he’ll write a first draft, and we’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, he has agreed to be my writing coach, and now he has me reading Story by Robert McKee. (Highly recommended for all aspiring fiction writers, by the way. Peter David is another genre author who swears by it.) If the collaboration goes well and the book sells decently, there is an option for two more novels co-authored by the two of us. After that, I’m hoping for an opportunity to fly solo (no pun intended).

Q: What is your favorite color?

A: Purple, of course.

Q: What are your Top 3 favorite TV shows ever?

A: “24”, “Alias”, and the original “Star Trek”.

Q: What musical artist are you somewhat ashamed to admit that you listen to?

A: Err, Just… no, Celine Dion.

Alrighty, that’s enough of that! Stay strong, my friends!

End transmission…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.