How to Improve Marvel’s Netflix Shows

“There’s always room for improvement.” — various people at various times

I was thinking about Marvel’s Netflix shows the other day and remembered an article about them that I’d seen a couple months ago. The author, Max Farrow, notes:

“[W]e can’t help but admit that 2017 was something of a stumbling block for the superheroes of Netflix. For all the grit and timeliness of The Punisher, several factors ensured that neither The Defenders or Iron Fist managed to inspire that much enthusiasm in fans. How can Marvel and Netflix get their mojo back, then? What can they do to get their superhero shows on track once more?”

He suggests five ways to do just that, so I figured we could look them over, and I’ll add a few reactions and comments of my own….

1) Stop Killing Villains

Farrow lauds the “fleshed out and highly memorable” main villains (especially as compared to some in the movies) and the “titanic talents” (e.g., Ali, Tennant, Weaver) that have portrayed them. But, he finds it somewhat odd and disappointing that at least twice a major villain has been offed part-way through the series.

“[T]his isn’t to say that show execs can’t, or shouldn’t, kill villains off full-stop. Unique and unpredictable storytelling is a fantastic quality in a series. But, having villain number three die midway through a season is precisely why Netflix shouldn’t opt for it again.”

I agree with him. These were strange moves that interrupted the flow of the respective stories. If they can attract such talent for these roles, why kill them off early? (Of course, it’s possible that they may only want to sign on for 5 or 6 episodes, and that would be a shame.)

2) Kick Ass, But More Efficiently

Farrow lays it out:

“The Marvel/Netflix shows may be gritty character studies, but we wouldn’t love them as much without their alleyway (or corridor) brawls. However, it’s been two years since Daredevil and Frank Castle dished out some quite frankly jaw-dropping beatdowns in Daredevil season 2. Aside from several notable moments in The Defenders, there’s been very little in the way of truly electrifying showdowns since. So, why are these kinds of moments becoming scarcer?”

As Farrow acknowledges, “action scenes are expensive and tricky to film.” But, no matter how “real-life” these shows are, they are still about characters with amazing superpowers and fighting skills. People who tune in expect to see these powers/skills used and, hopefully, not only executed well but in ways that seem authentic and make sense.

“From Daredevil’s radar-sense to Jessica Jones’ limited flight, honing on in [sic] these iconic abilities in fight scenes could really make the Marvel/Netflix shows stand out. Moreover, given enough resources and planning time, a great choreographer would be able to turn these prerequisite punch-ups into something truly special.”

Yes, indeed.

3) Planning Makes Perfect

Unlike the (mostly) “efficiently cohesive, detailed world” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Netflix shows, according to Farrow, seem to struggle with reminding us of their interconnectedness. In particular, he points to “The Defenders” and its slow ramp to get viewers up to speed on “picking up where each of the solo shows left off” and “a lot of work into maneuvering [the characters] into suitable positions for the story at hand.”

At first, I thought he was being a little hard on the writers/producers regarding efforts to a) show us what our heroes were currently up to and b) orchestrate their eventual “team-up” against their common foes. I mean, that’s a lot to juggle. Plus, more generally, the appearances of ‘Claire Temple’, ‘Karen Page’, and other supporting characters help to remind us of the shared city in the other series. But, after re-reading Farrow’s comments, I have to admit he makes some good observations.

“A bit more pre-planning would be hugely beneficial in this regard. Moreover, it would help any inter-show crossovers to feel more natural, such as in the rumored second season of The Defenders. Plus, it will allow for terrific new stories to be told, which change and shape the wider Marvel/Netflix world.

Sure, the shows all feel alike with their similarly grungy Manhattan, but it’s strange how inconsequentially huge events – such as Kingpin’s bombings – are rendered within the context of The Defenders.

It’s even stranger when we consider that all of the characters operate only a few blocks away from each other as well.”

I can’t help but agree with him there, too. This leads into the next gripe/suggestion…

4) Get To Grips With The Wider MCU

When “(Marvel’s) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” debuted on ABC back in 2013, it was essentially a spin-off that followed the “Battle of New York” seen in the first Avengers film. Agent Phil Coulson was the crossover player (with an appearance or two by Nick Fury), and there have continued to be references to stuff from the films sprinkled about in the TV series. Unfortunately, despite the hopes of the fans, connections between Netflix’s Marvel-based series and the MCU movies have been quite slim, with references even fewer and farther between.

“This hasn’t been hugely detrimental to these shows, though. Moreover, The Punisher barely features any inter-world connections and still manages to tell a rich and compelling story without relying on references. However, it is getting to the point where passing lip-service to iron suits isn’t going to cut it anymore.

At what point in the MCU timeline does Daredevil’s showdown with Fisk take place? A year after The Avengers? No one knows. Plus, the lack of Defenders references from the movies are conspicuous by their absence. Surely S.H.I.E.L.D. would have a use for someone like Matt Murdock?”

Farrow is fair to note the various challenges of things like logistics, varying development times, the “notoriously fractious relationship” between the movie and TV divisions, etc. Still, if the Netflix series are firmly set in the same world as the MCU, and I hope they are, then they really need to make a better effort to make that clear. It would only make sense, and it would further please the fans who value such continuity.

5) Shorten The Series

Farrow contends that the thirteen-episode structure of each season of the Netflix shows — except for the “The Defenders” mini-series, of course — is just a tad too long. I’ll let him explain…

“Regardless of what theme each show is exploring, at their hearts they’re superhero stories, right down to their adrenaline-fuelled needs. That isn’t to say they can’t be deep or cerebral (these shows have frequently proved that it’s possible), but they do need that burgeoning, dramatic tension to keep them chugging along.

Unfortunately, because of their structure, the Marvel/Netflix shows can’t sustain this drive for the time that they’re required to. Even the best of these series are forced to tread water for some period of time, be it the opening episodes of The Punisher or those where Kilgrave’s imprisoned in Jessica Jones. When this happens, the bloat sets in and the show grinds to a halt.

Again, it’s not that we don’t love spending time with characters like Jessica Jones. But if the show around them suffers for it, then something’s got to give. And that something is the series’ length.”

My instinct is to deny it. I mean, I love my superheroes (regardless of how much I complain), so the more episodes the better. Right? But, after briefly reflecting, I have to admit that Farrow is probably right, and I’ve even had similar thoughts. Most (each?) of the Netflix shows could probably have been improved by tightening up the writing/pacing, thereby cutting each season down to 10(?) to 12 episodes each.

I’m tempted to add a point or two of my own, but you all already know my gripes and preferences from the reviews I’ve done on these series. (See ‘Review Posts’ link at top of page.)

So, what do you think? Is Farrow unfair or otherwise “off” in his assessments? Am I an “unfaithful” fan for generally agreeing with him? Is ‘Kilgrave’ overrated, ‘cuz Tennant makes Whovian fangirls swoon? Should I stop asking questions? Just wonderin’…

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Catching Up on Star Wars Developments

It has been several months since I reviewed what’s going on in the Disney version of the Lucasverse. So, this week I thought I’d touch briefly on four developments that have since been announced. First, on the current “anthology” front…

1) As of Dec. 2017, the previously announced Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff film now has a production start date of January 2019. It will be based out of the legendary Pinewood Studios UK, home to James Bond, Superman, alien xenomorphs, hobbits, Avengers, and the last four Star Wars films, among many others. Rumor has it they may also do some location shooting in Ireland, perhaps in association with Paint Hall Studio. Most likely release date would be some time in 2020. I’m very curious to find out what sort of story they come up with, when it takes place, and whether or not Ewan McGregor reprises the title role.

As I noted in a post back in Jan. 2016,

“We know that, at some point, Kenobi decided he needed to watch over young Luke — though, from a distance — on Tatooine. Was this “exile” self-imposed? Did other Jedi Masters know and approve? Much of this has been explored in the Expanded Universe (e.g., Kenobi by John Jackson Miller, which has a “Western” vibe to it). So, they could pull ideas from there or come up with something totally new for the new canon. Ewan McGregor appears to be up for it!”

Fingers crossed…

2) Closer on the horizon, of course, is the impending release of Solo: A Star Wars Story on the 25th of this month (May 2018). The production has been plagued by problems and much anxiety. For example, about three-quarters into principle photography, co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired and replaced by the incredibly talented Ron Howard. One of the supporting actors has gone on record (though anonymously) to contrast the two directorial styles as “disorganized and chaotic” under Lord & Miller vs. “controlled and efficient” under Howard.

It seems the original pair, in their element doing light comedies like 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, may have bitten off more than they could chew.

“Phil and Chris are good directors, but they weren’t prepared for Star Wars. After the 25th take, the actors are looking at each other like, ‘This is getting weird.’ [Lord and Miller] seemed a bit out of control. They definitely felt the pressure; with one of these movies, there are so many people on top of you all the time. The first assistant director was really experienced and had to step in to help them direct a lot of scenes.”

On the other hand, experienced master-craftsman that he is, Howard worked “really fast”….

“When he came on, he took control and you could feel it. He got respect immediately. He’s really confident. A really easy guy to work with.”

They re-shot a lot, including many scene-for-scene do-overs, and, as of a few weeks ago, are in post-production. Howard will end up with the “Directed by” credit, while Lord and Miller will be listed among the executive producers.

The other main problem was the performance of the lead actor, Alden Ehrenreich, who struggled to “convincingly channel Ford’s swashbuckling”.

“Trying to mimic Harrison Ford is really tough. Lucasfilm wanted something very specific: copying someone else. Alden’s not a bad actor — just not good enough.”

So, the studio hired an on-set acting coach for Ehrenreich, and the result was reportedly amazing.

“You could see his acting became more relaxed. He became more Harrison-like. The coach helped!”

YAHOOOOO! You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home….

Benioff (l) and Weiss (r)

3) Readers may remember that I blogged on the new Star Wars trilogy being developed by The Last Jedi‘s Rian Johnson. Now, it looks as though Game of Thrones‘s David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have a similar deal. It was announced in February that they will write and produce a separate series (trilogy?) of non-Skywalker-focused films. Production likely won’t begin until at least 2019, and no release dates have been set.

“In the summer of 1977 we traveled to a galaxy far, far away, and we’ve been dreaming of it ever since. We are honored by the opportunity, a little terrified by the responsibility, and so excited to get started as soon as the final season of Game of Thrones is complete.” — Benioff & Weiss in a joint statement

We know these guys are good at handling complex stories with complex characters and large-scale action, so as long as they keep it family-friendly, this could turn out to be a great choice.

4) For those of you who missed it, Jon Favreau is now going to get to play in the Lucasverse, too. Well, perhaps I should say “play again”, since he has lent his acting talents to the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” series and the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story. Since he has written/directed/produced some popular films (e.g., Swingers, various Iron Man and Avengers), you might think they’d tap him for a SW movie. Rather than doing a film, though, Favreau will be writing and exec producing the live-action Star Wars series set for Disney’s new streaming service. He’ll get started once he wraps on the live-action The Lion King film.

“Jon brings the perfect mix of producing and writing talent, combined with a fluency in the Star Wars universe.” — Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm

The streaming platform has a tentative launch date of late 2019.

I’m looking forward — with my usual cautious optimism — to all of these projects. If they can retain the magic and tone of the original films (and animated series), perhaps they can make up for missteps in recent years and rekindle the enthusiasm of young and old fans alike.

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 14

File #: 2018Q2
Subject: new issue of quarterly ‘Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter’
Purpose: readers’ enjoyment/entertainment and (occasionally) education
Author: Mr. Zeus (aka <name unknown>; formerly known as Jacob Szymanski, aka “Hacksaw Jack”)

“What Super Privilege?”

I heard one of the most ridiculous things the other day. You’ve heard of “white privilege”, right? Somebody wrote an opinion piece in a major metropolitan newspaper recently claiming that superheroes have something similar, which he dubbed “super privilege”. (Of course, rather than the privilege of a light-skinned majority, this would be the privilege of a (sometimes) super-powered minority.) Apparently, those of us with superpowers or other such talents that we put to use as costumed adventurers are guilty of taking unfair advantage of this “privilege” to get fame and fortune and who-knows-what. What a load of baloney!

Look, some people who get powers are lucky, no doubt. People like myself have been able to use them to make a decent living. Others don’t get any sort of monetary compensation. Yes, we often achieve a measure of celebrity from it, too. Sometimes, it also results in special treatment at certain establishments who appreciate the attention our presence brings their business (e.g., a restaurant, nightclub, boutique store, sports arena), so we occasionally get a free meal or access to an event, for example. A few of us have been paid to promote products or businesses, and there have been a few who had opportunities to parlay their fame and/or fortune into a business of their own — anything from movie stardom to entrepreneurial ventures (see below). (Heck, I’m doing that now.) But, all of this is no different than what celebrities of all colors and creeds do in the sports and entertainment industries. (Believe me, I know firsthand.) And, as soon as you’re no longer A-list, the offers and opportunities get fewer and farther between.

However, there are those who fear, hate, or distrust us “supers” and call us a menace. (Very similar to what Spider-Man, the X-Men, and other characters experience in the comics.) So, we sometimes get treated quite poorly. I should also mention that not everyone who gets superpowers has it easy. The general public doesn’t usually hear about them, but some people’s powers end up killing them. It may take hours, days, months, or years, and sometimes it is very painful. Those of us who survive the changes usually still have problems to deal with, too. This could be anything from loss of limbs or senses, physical deformity, hypersensitivity to light (or something else), emission of radioactivity, development of cancer, or any number of other conditions that prevent one from having a “normal” life. As for me, my skin became thick and leathery, with a diminished sense of touch. Plus, there are those massive migraines that I wrote about several issues ago. In comparison to others I’ve seen and known, though, I count myself very fortunate.

Super privilege? Hah!

The cold winds of fortune don’t care if you have powers or not (or what sacrifices you might have to make), and neither do the fickle media. The thing to remember is to make wise decisions and take advantage of whatever opportunities you have, regardless of where you come from or what your abilities are.

“Super Barbecue”

Last month, Bravado and I organized an all-day barbecue for superheroes around the world and their significant others. Well, it took more than a month to put the whole thing together, but it was held last month. We rented out a 10-square-mile section of a U.S. national park with a river on one side, flew in a band, had all sorts of games and (literally) tons of food. Heck, Leviathan ate at least a couple tons just on his own! People came and went throughout the day, as some had to deal with emergency calls and previous engagements. (We had a couple people with teleporting abilities lending a hand with “transportation”.) And, naturally, a few couldn’t make it. (For example, half of Vanguard Prime was somewhere in Siberia dealing with a new threat. Olympia had to leave a bit early to give them a hand.) But, I’d guess we had close to 50 heroes show up, plus assorted spouses, children, boy/girlfriends, and we even let a handful of agents/managers join in. There was no baseball diamond, of course, but we improvised a game that spanned half our rented area. We limited use of superpowers to select ones — e.g., strength, flight, elasticity, enhanced vision, telekinesis, etc. But, superspeed had to be kept subsonic, and use of any powers that could damage the park (e.g., fire or other energy beams) were forbidden. (We had a half-dozen park rangers on hand all day to keep us in line.) BrightFire set up an energy-net to keep everything within the agreed-upon 5 square miles (and a thousand feet up), which worked surprisingly well. I’m happy to say, a good time was had by all.

“At the Superhero Retirement Home…”

An added benefit of the barbecue was seeing old friends and associates, including four who are fully retired from crimefighting. Not many of you will remember The Blue Mask, but he was a boxer back in the ’50s who became a part-time, street-level hero in New Jersey. (StormFire introduced us about 10 years ago.) He had to retire after a decade in the biz following a serious injury, but he mentored a couple heroes of the next generation, and we all hold him in high regard for what he was able to do back then — without any powers, yet! He owns a bar and a gym back in Jersey, but I haven’t been able to pop in much since I semi-retired out here. So, it was great to see him. He’s pushing 90 and is wheelchair-bound, but he’s mentally sharp as a tack. Reminds me of a cross between my grand-pops and ‘Mickey’ from the Rocky movies.

I got to hang out with my old buddy, Fazerfist, too. I enjoyed working with him back in our days in the Alliance. I always told him he was too “pretty” to be in that line of work. Then, one day, he lost his powers, and suddenly he didn’t have a choice but to find a new profession. He was pretty bummed out for a few weeks, but after a little counseling and talking with a couple pals (like me), he found his calling. He changed his name and appearance and started taking acting lessons. Now, the world knows him as the movie superstar ‘Gideon Chamberlain’! I kid you not. (I’m not betraying any secrets, either. It’s in his new book being released next week.) That’s right. I am personal friends with last year’s “World’s Sexiest Man Alive!” 🙂

Of course, you have all probably heard of TechKnight and Cyber-Witch, right? If not, TechKnight (aka Randall McCrae) was the armored hero that was popular back in the late-’80s and ’90s. When he retired from superheroing, he was replaced in that superteam (which name escapes me at the moment) by Major Tech. That guy was killed a couple years afterward and the cyborg Cyber-Witch (aka Amanda Johnson-Ruiz) took his place. Meanwhile, McCrae had used his creative engineering genius to build a successful high-tech firm, McCrae Engineering LLC, and some in the crimefighting community were/are his clients. Cyber-Witch consulted on a project a several years ago, and Randall effectively swept her off her feet. (Not easy, since she’s a lot heavier than she looks!) Long story short, they’ve been married for 7 or 8 years and became friends of mine through mutual associates. Great couple!

Time to sign off for this quarter. Stay strong, everbuddy!

‘Til next time…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

Asimov’s “Foundation” Finally Moving Forward?

“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity — a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.” — Hari Seldon, Foundation

It looks as though Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” may finally be on its way to the small screen.

Asimov’s original concept was serialized in Astounding Magazine back in 1942 through 1950. He then fleshed out his time- and galaxy-spanning narrative into a series of books: the “Foundation Trilogy” (Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), Second Foundation (1953)), followed much later by two sequels (Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986)) and two prequels (Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993)). The original trilogy won the one-time Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966. Since Asimov’s passing in 1992, other authors have added to the corpus of “Foundation” stories, with blessings of the Asimov estate but varying commercial and critical success.

Instead of attempting to summarize the, er, foundational framework for Asimov’s novels, I’ll let Wikipedia do it:

“The premise of the series is that the mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30,000 years before a second great empire arises. Seldon’s calculations also show there is a way to limit this interregnum to just one thousand years. To ensure the more favorable outcome and reduce human misery during the intervening period, Seldon creates the Foundation – a group of talented artisans and engineers positioned at the twinned extreme ends of the galaxy – to preserve and expand on humanity’s collective knowledge, and thus become the foundation for the accelerated resurgence of this new galactic empire.”

Itself influenced by Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Foundation series is generally acknowledged as influencing other science-fiction ranging from Star Wars to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as noted individuals including Elon Musk and Newt Gingrich. I remember reading the trilogy and Prelude a couple decades or so ago and generally enjoying them. Of course, I didn’t understand it all. As is typical for Asimov’s writing, they are much more cerebral than action-oriented. For what it’s worth, I always thought the term “psychohistory” was a bit clunky and imprecise. On the other hand, I suppose it does sound like something a sci-fi author might come up with in the 1940s/50s. 🙂

Fox, Warner Bros., and Sony have all attempted at one time or another to get a Foundation feature film off the ground with various big names attached, but they all failed. HBO teamed with Jonathan Nolan to get a series underway not long ago, but they never even got an order for a script. Last June, though, Deadline announced that Skydance Television (Altered Carbon, Jack Ryan) was trying to close a deal with the Asimov estate for them — along with David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight, Blade) and Josh Friedman (“The Sarah Connor Chronicles”, War of the Worlds) — to adapt Foundation into a TV series. Then, just a few days ago, Deadline gave an update. Skydance has concluded their deal with the Asimov estate, with Goyer and Friedman serving as showrunners and sharing executive producer credits with Skydance’s David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross.

Just as surprising (to me, anyway) was the fact that it was Apple who has ordered the straight-to-series development project. But, then, I’m not really up on what Apple has been doing in this area. As per Deadline,

“The project shows a different level of ambition for Apple’s worldwide video programming team led by Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg. In November, they set their first scripted series, a morning show drama executive produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, with a two-season, straight-to-series order. Apple also has given straight-to-series orders to Amazing Stories, a re-imagining of the anthology from Steven Spielberg, a Ronald D. Moore space drama, a Damien Chazelle series, a comedy starring Kristin Wiig, world-building drama See from Steven Knight and Francis Lawrence, as well as an M. Night Shyamalan psychological thriller.”

That all sounds pretty ambitious to me, especially for a fledgling outfit! According to Joseph Keller at iMore:

“The company has said nothing about how these new shows will be distributed, when they’ll premiere, or how much it will cost to watch them.”

Reports are that Apple will be keeping its shows “family-friendly”, too, and that suits me just fine.

For various reasons, many have deemed the Foundation series to be un-adaptable for the screen, and they may be right. However, I am intrigued by the idea — as long as Goyer et al. respect the source material fairly closely, of course — and I hope we are pleasantly surprised by the result. (Obviously, a small-screen series sounds like a much more realistic undertaking for something of such scope, even to adapt just one of the books.) I’m rootin’ for ya, guys! But, just so you know, I am not gonna buy an Apple TV….

Y or Y Not

“Nnnooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!” — me

It seems that an adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan’s popular, critically-acclaimed, dystopian comic book series, Y: The Last Man (DC/Vertigo), has been in development at FX for some time, and I had no idea. How could that happen?!

Originally (2007), New Line bought the rights and had names like David Goyer and D.J. Caruso attached. Caruso wanted to do a three-film saga (which might’ve worked, imho), but he left the project when New Line insisted on a single film. (Bad idea!) They tried again with another group of names, but that fell through when the rights eventually reverted back to Vaughan in 2014, who didn’t like the direction they were taking. When the FX deal was announced in 2015, they had lined up Color Force’s Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson to co-adapt/write with Vaughan. (Vaughan had previously worked on “Lost” and “Under the Dome”.)

“All of the men are dead. But one. Y traverses a world of women — exploring gender, race, class and survival.” — FX’s formal description for the series

Now, they’ve got a showrunner (Michael Green), a newly-signed co-showrunner (Aida Mashaka Croal), a director (Melina Matsoukas), and a fresh, new pilot order. Green, Croal, Matsoukas, Jacobson, Simpson, and Vaughan will all be executive producers.

I quite enjoyed the Y: The Last Man comic series, lo, those many years ago. The premise was intriguing, the title character (semi-pro escape artist Yorick Brown) was a lovable goof, and his little, rascally Capuchin buddy (Ampersand) was cute & funny, too. (Note: It is for “mature audiences”, so a few scenes/elements were a bit uncomfortable for me.) It also had decent storylines and supporting characters, and Pia Guerra’s art was terrific — a perfect fit. Terrific, creative cover art, too. So, when I started to read about this live-action version being made for the small screen, my first thought was an enthusiastic, “Cool!”. But, then I remembered “Runaways”….

“Runaways”, if you don’t remember, is another comic series Vaughan created and wrote a few years ago (but for Marvel). It was recently adapted for the small screen and aired on Hulu. I’m just about finished watching the 10-episode run, but I practically have to force myself. If it was an original series, it would be fine. But, I know the source material (having recently re-read the original 18-issue story arc), and the TV series is such a disappointment. I can understand a few minor tweaks, but there are so many alterations to characters — 2 or 3 missing, others new; others with different ages, physical appearances, “origins”, and/or personality changes –, and the plot is barely recognizable beyond the most basic elements. I keep asking myself how Vaughan could let his creation be so… mangled. But, then I came across this statement:

“These changes are fully supported by Vaughan, who serves as a consultant on the TV series…. [Also,]

‘It was important to me that we do something where people can’t go online and read how this ends or what’s going to happen next.'”

I can certainly understand that concern, but I think they went way too far with the changes on “Runaways”. With that in mind, I kept reading about the “Y: The Last Man” adaptation. Unfortunately, it only got worse, based on Vaughan’s Nov. 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter:

“I wanted to find someone who loved the source material, but didn’t feel so indebted to it that they would be afraid to change it. When [Michael Green] first pitched his take on it to Nina Jacobson, our producer, and me a long time ago, he came in saying he wanted to do something about toxic masculinity. It felt very relevant, and unfortunately I think it’s only become more relevant with each passing day. His take on it was really brave and very different, but exciting as well. I really admire how audacious he’s been with his translation.”

Michael Green at Comic Con

Groan! And, of course (<eyeroll>), it’s Trump’s fault, as Green explained to THR last July:

“It would have been a very different show, and very different development process, had the election not been as horrifying as it was. I had to put the script down for a couple months and really reassess it tonally, because it became a different creature, it became violent protest. It couldn’t not be political, and I had to embrace it, and I had to find my way in, and I had to find a way to channel my own dismay, disappointment and rage into it, while still keeping it what it is. For a minute there I almost walked away.”

“It couldn’t not be political….” Criminy dutch! What a way to ruin a cool idea by feeding into this hysterical, politically-correct, “toxic masculinity” crap! (Can you tell I’m a bit worked up over this?) Fans like me don’t want Green’s “dismay, disappointment and rage” over a political election. We don’t want “very different” and “audacious”, either. We want to see the source material realized with its original tone. That’s what we loved on the page; that’s what we want on the screen. But, Leftist Hollywood rarely gets that, or cares.

At least there was one thing I can get behind regarding Green’s take on it, and it’s something I think my fellow “Babylon 5” fans can appreciate, too….

“‘Whether it is 60, 70 or 80 episodes, I’m gonna pick a number, and I’m gonna stick to it. And I’m gonna write to it. There’s so many brilliant things in that comic, the two biggest are the premise, and the ending.’ He believes Vaughan’s writing ‘toward an ending that he knew’ made the series more ‘meaningful.’ He calls the set length of the series a ‘pact’ with the audience, adding, ‘It will help them to know that we’re ticking down.'”

Obviously, you can do a “last man on Earth” story without resorting to making it a feminist screed. It has been done before. There may even have been a few anti-male jabs in the comic series, but it wasn’t enough to ruin it for me, especially if they were for light comedic effect. So, this “violent protest” of Green’s — with FX’s and Vaughan’s apparent support — has me worried and quite irked, to say the least. I may watch the pilot out of curiosity, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to stomach it for long, if that’s the tone and direction Green’s gonna twist Y into. Sheesh!

Review of Jessica Jones, Season 2

“It took someone coming back from the dead to realize that I’ve been dead, too. The problem is, I never really figured out how to live.” — Jessica Jones

As I watch a series that I know I’m going to be reviewing here, I try to notice things and jot down observations and ideas as I go. When I started watching the second season of “Jessica Jones”, I had a few thoughts, of course, but I couldn’t get into it. It was just more of surly, drunk Jessica treating herself and her friends, family, and associates badly. (I don’t find Krysten Ritter particularly attractive, either, so there wasn’t even that very shallow aspect to enjoy.) Some of those supporting characters were doing mean or stupid things, too. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this review, but I felt sort of obligated.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Then, I started to notice something else. I began to see the parallels between the individual characters’ stories, and I appreciated more what the writers were doing. Yeah, OK, maybe it was obvious to you. But, sometimes I get so wrapped up in other stuff that the finer points — or, perhaps it’s the “big picture”? — get past me.

Trish/Patsy: On the one hand, Trish is so wrapped up in her career, that she’s willing to throw away a relationship with a genuinely good guy. On the other hand, she’s so obsessed with somehow obtaining superhuman abilities of her own, ostensibly so she can be a champion for the people, that she ends up throwing away her career and putting her own health and safety — her life, really — at risk. Along the way, she lies to and manipulates her friends and family, alienates fans, and threatens to destroy someone else’s career (though that guy sorta deserved it). And don’t get me started on her overbearing mother….

Malcolm: This poor guy can’t seem to catch a break. His boss (Jessica) verbally abuses him and constantly takes him for granted. The woman he has a crush on (Trish) finally pays attention, even sleeps with him, but it turns out she’s just using him for her own, selfish reasons. He gets the crap beat out of him, and Trish almost gets him — a recovering addict — hooked on something new and dangerous. His loyalty is constantly being tested. Like they say, with friends like these…. One of the ways he “copes” is by engaging in a few one-night stands — looking for affection or approbation, I suppose. In the end, at least, he starts making some hard choices and gaining some independence.

Jeri: I can see why they replaced frumpy, hetero, male Jeryn Hogarth with an attractive, lesbian version. Much more “exciting”, and it gets the LGBT vote. But, this gal does not have it all together. Her former employee/girlfriend is suing her, and her law partners are trying to kick her out of her own firm. Then she’s diagnosed with ALS. What does she do? Parties with ladies of the night, gets dirt on her partners in order to blackmail them, and sleeps with the homeless girl (and protected witness, of sorts) that she’d given sanctuary in her home. The normally sharp Ms. Hogarth allows herself to be conned into thinking she’d been healed, then her home is burglarized by those she trusted. Ouch!

Janet McTeer as Alisa Jones

Alisa: The character of Jessica’s previously-thought-deceased mother, played by Oscar-nominee Janet McTeer, is introduced. Happy reunion? Not exactly. Turns out, Alisa is the superpowered individual who has been hunting & killing people in Jessica’s orbit. The experiments that gave her the powers (like Jessica’a) also gave her a hair-trigger temper, so she’s got serious “anger management” issues that put those around her in danger. Thus, the faked death and her isolation — with the mad doctor responsible, who she’s fallen in love with — for 17(?) years. Once she finally meets her daughter, they clash both physically and ethically. Will she survive on the run (with or without Jessica), or go to prison for the rest of her life, or is she destined to be killed by law enforcement?

Jessica: As previously mentioned, our protagonist still struggles with many issues, mostly derived from childhood trauma and psychic (and perhaps physical) rape/torture by Killgrave, which she “deals with” by constantly drinking, acting like a jerk, and occasionally banging a random stranger. (Of course, with her enhanced constitution, it takes 3x the usual amount for her to get buzzed, let alone drunk.) Another big factor is the fact that she killed Killgrave (last season), and it is eating at her, such that she wonders if that makes her a “murderer”. Her P.I. business is barely surviving, and now a larger firm is attempting to eliminate the competition one way or the other. Her landlord wants to evict her, and the new super is more than happy to help — at least, at first. Her friends (i.e., Trish and Malcolm) are always “nagging” her. And, then, her murderous mother (who is even stronger than Jessica) enters her life, and Jessica is torn about whether or not to assist the cops in bringing Alisa in versus letting Alisa (and the doc?) escape versus going on the run with her herself. Meanwhile, she has to constantly (try to) keep dear ol’ mom from ripping limbs off of people who she feels threatened by or beating them to death. Oh, plus, she then finds herself (somehow) in a relationship with the formerly hostile new super, which adds unwelcome wrinkles to whatever plan she adopts for the future. Sheesh! Given all of this, I guess I do feel badly for our reluctant hero. She has good reasons to feel angry, frustrated, and to put up those defensive “walls”.

So,… all of the primary characters are dealing with some pretty heavy issues — identity crises, varying types of abuse, perceived betrayal, uncertain futures, etc. –, both personal and business-related. In response, they abuse various substances, have frivolous sexual encounters, do some other rather selfish things, even commit crimes. I’m guessing they all know what the right thing to do is, but it’s a struggle, and they all screw up on several occasions. If they were my friends, I’d be rather disappointed in them, even while trying to be sympathetic regarding their respective “issues”. I have to admit, though, it all sadly has a pretty realistic feel to it. And realism, after all, is a hallmark of these Netflix shows. (Except for, you know… the superpowers stuff.)

On another, related matter…

Personally, I thought the “love scenes” — which there were more of, this time around — were a bit gratuitous. I mean, yes, they made sense within each character’s journey and how they were dealing with stuff. But, we don’t need to see/hear, for example, Jessica getting humped in a bar restroom or Jeri getting high (and making out) with lesbian/bisexual hookers to get the idea. There are less in-your-face, more PG-rated ways of letting an audience know what’s going on (or about to, or just did). Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer more restraint and self-censorship. I guess the assumption is that if they’re doing ‘R’-rated violence, they “have” to do ‘R’- (or, at least, PG-13-) rated sexuality? However, I do appreciate that there wasn’t much, if any, nudity — although, I may have missed something when fast-forwarding past those scenes.

Despite this, I liked Season 2 better than the first one. As terrific as David Tennant’s portrayal of Killgrave was in Season 1, the subject matter was not to my liking. Of course, the theme of “abuse and how to deal with it (or not)” has become central to the series. But, this season felt a bit more… comfortable(?), I guess. I dunno. I also liked the hopeful note that the finale left on for some of our main characters: Mal’s new job, Trish’s recovery (and then some), Jessica’s settling into her new relationship with Oscar. (I suspect, though, either she’ll screw it up in Season 3 or something bad will happen to him. Shame, too, ‘cuz I like Oscar. And his kid.)

Overall, I give Season 2 of “Jessica Jones” a solid ‘B’, maybe ‘B+’.

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2018, part 3 of 3

“What folly is it in me to write trash nobody will read. All my many pages — future waste of paper — surely I am a fool.” — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, in her journal (1825)

Final installment, this week, for the list I began a couple months ago. Unforunately, we missed a couple great anniversaries last year — namely, Bram Stoker’s original Dracula (1897) and the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in print (1887). However, we still have some oldies to celebrate. First off, though…

Superman (1938, 1978): 80 & 40 years

It is difficult to overstate the popularity and impact that the superpowered hero known as ‘Superman’, created by high-schoolers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, has had since his debut in Action Comics #1 back in May (cover-dated June) 1938. Tales of the Kryptonian, Kal-El, and his alter-ego on Earth, farmboy/journalist Clark Kent, have abounded for 80 years. Comic books & strips, novels, radio, TV (live-action and animated), movies, video games, even a Broadway musical, and tons of related merchandise — the character, along with his allies/colleagues and enemies, has become one of the biggest pop-culture icons in the world. He ranks first on IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes; he was named the ‘greatest comic book character’ by Empire magazine; and various Superman works and/or their creators have received numerous industry awards. The character, his popularity, and his symbolism (American, messianic, etc.) have been analyzed by everyone from literary critics to philosophers & theologians.

Of course, over those eight decades, Superman has been portrayed on-screen (and on-air) by many actors. Bud Collyer was the voice of Superman/Kent for the radio serials and Fleischer cartoons in the 1940s. With the jump to movie serials, Kirk Alyn assumed the role, followed by George Reeves, who continued into the first TV series. There have been and are others. But, arguably the most-beloved actor to portray the Man of Steel was Christopher Reeve, who starred in probably the two most popular Superman movies: Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) and Richard Lester’s (w/ Donner) Superman II (1980, but released 1981). Thus, we have our second anniversary, i.e., 40 years since the debut of the Reeve/Donner ‘Superman’. Most fans would agree that Reeve’s portrayal was the best. When you add screenwriting by Mario Puzo (and others); co-stars including Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Glenn Ford, Terence Stamp (and others); and terrific set designs, cinematography, and musical compositions by John Williams (that theme music still gives me goosebumps); it’s no wonder that these two films are so popular and, perhaps, iconic in themselves.

King Kong (1933): 85 years

Yup. It has been 85 years since the giant, quasi-gorilla first showed his ugly mug in theaters. Kong was the brainchild of aviator/adventurer and American filmmaker Merian C. Cooper (who the ‘Carl Denham’ character was based on). Inspired by a book he had as a child about the adventures of explorer Paul Du Chaillu in Africa, as well as an encounter with baboons as an adult, Cooper eventually developed and produced his “giant terror gorilla picture”. Cooper even came up with the iconic ending first, in which Kong climbs a NYC skyscraper with the leading lady (literally) in hand, fights off warplanes, and falls to his death(?), with Denham uttering the memorable pronouncement, “It was beauty killed the beast.” Novelization of the film was actually published a few months before the film was released.

Despite his aggressive behavior, Kong’s solitary life and tragic death, along with certain anthropomorphic traits, endeared him to movie audiences. The big ape went on to star or co-star in several sequel and remake films, animated series, novels, e-books, comic books, and video games over the years. (There was even an Australian musical adaptation back in 2013, and there’s an upcoming Broadway musical planned for later this year.) I, for one, remember thinking it was scary-cool when I first saw the original movie as a kid. The Toho version of Kong (which fought Godzilla and other giant creatures) was dopey-looking, but the one from the 1976 remake was scary-cooler! (I need to watch those again….) The latest version, though, is the biggest and baddest!

The War of the Worlds (1898, 1938, 1953, 1988): 120, 80, 65, & 30 years

With this one, we break the centennial mark! As was common practice back then, the tale was first serialized in magazine format (in the UK & US in 1897), but the completed The War of the Worlds was first published in hardcover in 1898. Its author, of course, was one of the fathers of science fiction, H.G. Wells, who had already found fame as a futurist writer with The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), and The Invisible Man (1897) — all now considered genre classics. An avid follower of Charles Darwin, his works (which included other genres) often reflected a distinctly Darwinian worldview. With its plot of a Martian invasion, this particular novel…

“…has been variously interpreted as a commentary on evolutionary theory, British imperialism, and generally Victorian superstitions, fears and prejudices. At the time of publication, it was classified as a scientific romance…. The War of the Worlds has been both popular (having never been out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, a record album, various comic book adaptations, a television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors. It has even influenced the work of scientists, notably Robert H. Goddard, who, inspired by the book, invented both the liquid fuelled rocket and multistage rocket, which resulted in the Apollo 11 Moon landing 71 years later.” (Wikipedia)

Three of those adaptations are particularly noteworthy. (Well, to me, anyway.) Of course, 1938 was the year that Orson Welles perpetrated his infamous radio dramatization. As per Wikipedia,

“The first two-thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a news bulletin and is often described as having led to outrage and panic by some listeners who had believed the events described in the program were real. However, later critics point out that the supposed panic seems to have been exaggerated by newspapers of the time seeking to discredit radio as a source of information.”

The first on-screen treatment came in 1953, when Gene Barry and Ann Robinson starred in a pretty good film adaptation of The War of the Worlds. But, the one I remember best is the live-action TV series (1988), which was a sequel of sorts to the 1953 movie. The premise was that the Martians had not all died in the 1950s, and the survivors had gone into hiding/hibernation after their defeat. Adrian Paul and Philip Akin were in it (and would both later star in “Highlander” (1993)), but the stars I remember were Jared Martin and Richard Chavez. And, to this day, my brother and I can elicit a chuckle one from the other by mimicking the Martians’ guttural oath, “To life immortal!”

Around the World in Eighty Days (1873): 145 years

It is only fitting that French writer Jules Verne, another “father of science fiction”, has an entry in this list. The idea of traveling around the world was popular in those days, and others before and after would publish both fictional and non-fictional accounts. But, Verne’s was clearly the most popular and longest lasting. More adventure novel than sci-fi/fantasy, it followed British gentleman Phileas Fogg and his new French valet, Jean Passepartout, in their exploits as they attempted to win a bet to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. What happens next involves several colorful characters, dangerous encounters and near-misses, a bit of romance, and a *lot* of time spent on trains and steamships (and a few other things). (Note: The hot-air balloon from the 1956 movie was never used in Verne’s novel.) I haven’t read or watched the story myself, but it sounds like an Indiana Jones adventure, but very different. 😉

At the time it was written, things were very difficult both for France and for Verne personally. But, the writer was intrigued with recent technological breakthroughs and excited about exploring them in his new book. As noted by Wikipedia,

“Rather than any futurism, [Verne’s most popular work] remains a memorable portrait of the British Empire “on which the sun never sets” shortly before its peak, drawn by an outsider. It is interesting to note that, until 2006, no critical editions were written…. However, Verne’s works began receiving more serious reviews in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with new translations appearing.”

There have been many films (live and animated), cartoon series, theatrical adaptations (yes, including musicals), and radio productions. In fact, the first radio adaptation starred Orson Welles (as Fogg) and began the week before he did The War of the Worlds.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818): 200 years

Two hundred years! Holy cow!

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was a mere 20 years old when the first volume of her novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus was published anonymously on Jan. 1, 1818. Quite an accomplishment! Even at such a young age, Shelley had already lived a life full of tragedy and scandal, which figured into her famous tale. According to English professor Karen Karbeiner:

“[T]he novel is her only work to remain in print since its first publication…. From the start, we have been eager to help the monster live off of the page, to interpret the tale for ourselves. Within five years, the first of what would eventually be more than ninety dramatizations of Frankenstein appeared onstage….

Frankenstein is a nineteenth-century literary classic, but it is also fully engaged in many of the most profound philosophical, psychological, social, and spiritual questions of modern existence…. By combining never-before-combined ingredients from her diverse reading, Shelley broke from established tradition and even concocted a new literary recipe known today as science fiction.”

Just as an aside, Victor Frankenstein’s monster (aka “creature”, “daemon”, “wretch”, etc.) does not have the familiar flat-top skull, greenish skin, or electrode bolts protruding from its neck, as seen in the Universal films starring Boris Karloff. It is also quite emotional, sensitive even, and teaches itself to read and speak quite eloquently.

I finally decided to read the novel myself and am working my way through it now. (Technically, I am reading the 1831 revised edition.) The pre-Victorian writing style is a bit wordy but elegant in its own way. I guess you might say that speech moved at a slower pace than it does today, as is true for most things. But, if you like historic period pieces or fantasies that take place in ancient Europe or other lands, you might enjoy the rhythms and picturesque style. But, I have to warn you, it is a tragic tale, and not just for the creature.

I hope you enjoyed this series, dear readers. Maybe, like me, you’ll be inspired to pick up an “old” classic and give it a try.

Fan-Cast: Black Widow

“Hawkeye, your mouth flies faster than your arrows.” — Black Widow

Last November, a somewhat vague comment by Stan Lee hinted that a Black Widow solo film might be in the offing. Then in January, reports started coming out that confirmed this, with Jac Schaeffer attached as screenwriter and a tentative release date — well, year — of 2020. Presumably, Scarlett Johannson will star. She is a big reason for the character’s popularity in the Avengers and related movies, after all.

But, it got me thinking it was time for me to fan-cast our favorite Russian femme fatale. I mean, if Johannson wasn’t necessarily attached to the film — maybe they were looking to reboot the character after Avengers 4 –, who would I give the tight black costume and “Widow’s bite” bracelets to?

First, though, a brief review of the character…

Black Widow

The “origins” of Natalia Alianovna Romanova (aka Natasha ‘Tasha’ Romanoff) are a bit confusing, as there have been conflicting tales. What we know for sure is that she is decades older than she looks, she has enhanced human strength/stamina/reflexes and other abilities (perhaps due to a variation of the Super-Soldier Serum), she was married to a distinguished Soviet test pilot (Alexi Shostakov, who became Red Guardian), and she eventually went to work for the U.S.S.R.’s KJB during the Cold War.

With her gifted intellect and athletic regimen, Romanova mastered multiple forms of martial arts and many blades and firearms, became fluent in several languages, and she is exceptionally skilled in information-gathering and other spy-related talents. In addition to traditional weapons, she has been known to employ an electric “Widow’s bite” via special wrist-devices, which hurt like heck and can stun even a very large opponent. In short, she is a top-level spy and one of the deadliest assassins in the world, making her nom de guerre, “Black Widow”, quite appropriate.

Romanova clashed with both Iron Man and Hawkeye early in their careers, even pitting them against one another, which helped to label Hawkeye a criminal. Shortly afterward, she was seriously injured when trying to defect, and she convinced her then-paramour Hawkeye to turn to the Avengers. Black Widow has had a long, mostly friendly, association with the Avengers ever since, having led at least one team. She has worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. a lot, too. She had a long relationship/partnership with Daredevil and has been romantically linked with Bucky Barnes (aka Winter Soldier). She even co-founded the Champions of Los Angeles, though the team disbanded not long after. Despite these associations with many superheroes and the U.S. intelligence community, Black Widow has spent a lot of time as a solo operator, as well. She even retired for awhile, but that didn’t last.

Since her defection from the Soviet Union, Romanova’s foes have ranged from underworld thugs and costumed criminals to super-spies, super-soldiers, and foreign governments. As a trained spy and assassin, she learned to be very cold, calculating, practical, and it serves her well in her line of work. But, she has softened a bit over the years. Certainly, she has demonstrated compassion and loyalty to her friends, lovers, and toward the victims of her enemies. Still, she is not the easiest person to get to know, and she can be quite hard and brutal. She’s a complicated woman with decades of violence and death — often at her own hands — behind her, and that tends to take a toll on anyone. (Anyone who isn’t a sociopath, that is.)

On to the casting…

Scarlett Johansson (5’3″,b.1984) has done a decent job with the role, but she never quite felt right to me. She didn’t have quite the right look, she’s too short, and I always thought Natasha should retain at least a mild Russian accent. (I know, a good spy would probably learn to speak English without the accent. Still,…) The Marvel wiki lists Black Widow as 5’7″, so I think a range of 5’5″ to 5’9″ is fair. I’d like to cast a natural redhead and/or someone from Russia, but hair-coloring and a good voice coach could make sure those bases are covered, I suppose. She should, of course, be very attractive, able to perform “action moves”, and probably ranging from mid-20s to early-30s (though I might have to settle for mid-30s).

I considered several actresses for the role, mostly from Russia or Eastern Europe: 1) Slovak-born actress/opera singer Apollonia Vanova (b.1966), known for various genre roles, including ‘Silhouette’ in Watchmen and the leading Wraith Queen in “Stargate: Atlantis”; but, she’s too old. 2) Ana Alexander (5’10”,b.1976), a Serbian-born model/actress, has appeared in Glass Trap, a couple CSI series, “Bones”, et al. Great look, but still too old and too tall. 3) Ukrainian-born actress/model Olga Kurlenko (5’8.5″,b.1979), known for roles in Hitman, Quantum of Solace, Oblivion, Momentum. She’s a little too old, as well. 4) I have long thought that French actress/model Eva Green (5’6″,b.1980) (Casino Royale, The Golden Compass, 300: Rise of an Empire, “Penny Dreadful”) would make a great Black Widow, but she’s a tad older than I’m looking for, now.

I eventually narrowed it down to four other talented ladies, whose ages (at the time of writing) range from 32 to 35. They are…

Olga Fonda

Russian-born Olga Fonda (5’6.5″,b.1982) came to my attention a couple years ago while watching the short-lived “Agent X” TV series, in which Fonda played supporting player and enemy agent ‘Olga Petrovka’. Others might recognize her from Real Steel, “The Vampire Diaries”, or appearances in “Nikita”, “Hawaii Five-0”, or “Altered Carbon”. She’s pretty, a native Russian, almost the exact height of the comic character, and has genre experience — even to playing a Russian spy. She’s also trained in martial arts (both armed and unarmed), extreme sports, and likes to do her own stunts Works for me!

 

Yuliya Snigir

The only thing I’ve seen Yuliya Snigir (5’5.75″,b.1983) in is A Good Day to Die Hard (see pic), which I just re-watched a few weeks ago. I immediately thought that this Russian beauty would be perfect to play Natasha Romanoff. She also starred in the Dark Planet movies, Delirium, and Blockbuster. As with Fonda, Snigir is very attractive, Russian-born, and has genre credits. Looks good riding a motorcycle or firing a gun, too, both of which Black Widow has an affinity for. She’d be great!

 

Tereza Srbova

Tereza Srbova (5’8″,b.1983) is a model/actress/singer from the Czech Republic, who I noticed when she guest-starred in a few episodes of “Strike Back” as ‘Major Nina Pirogova’. She has also appeared in “Eastern Promises”, Inkheart, Siren, and The Inside. I’ve only ever seen pics of her as a blonde, but that shouldn’t be a problem. She holds a masters degree and speaks four languages (none of them Russian, though) and has a bit of familiarity with guns (thanks to “Strike Back”). Another wonderful choice to play ‘Tasha!

Emily Beecham

In “Into the Badlands”, British actress Emily Beecham (5’5.25″,b.1985) plays a deadly, red-headed warrior woman, who wears black and calls herself “The Widow”. Too on the nose? Sure, but she has both the looks and the skills, thanks to the martial arts training she and others go through for the show. She has appeared in “Afterlife”, 28 Weeks Later, “Merlin”, Basement, “The Fear”, “The Musketeers”. She also did a little voice work for the “Mirror’s Edge” video game. As long as she can do a decent Russian accent, she’d make a great Black Widow for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There you have ’em. Four lovely and talented candidates to play the lethal assassin/spy/superhero, Black Widow. Choose one, if you dare….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

A New Era for Valiant Entertainment

Valiant Comics were cool.

Solar, Man of the Atom. X-O Manowar. Bloodshot. Harbinger. Rai. Shadowman. Eternal Warrior. Archer & Armstrong. Etc. Lots of great art and great stories, all in a cohesive universe! They even had a different look and “feel” that set them apart from other comic universes.

“The mainstream titles were becoming overwhelmingly art-driven. We wanted to offer the public something that had been lost, namely well-written, character-driven stories.” — Bob Layton, writer/artist and former Senior V.P. of the original Valiant

Solar #3 (1991)

I remember when Jim Shooter and Steve Massarsky launched the new company in the early 1990s, following a failed attempt to buy Marvel Entertainment. (Well, technically, Voyager Communications was founded in 1989, but the first books under the Valiant Comics imprint came out in 1991.) They began by licensing a couple older characters — Solar, Man of the Atom, and Magnus, Robot Fighter — that were originally published by Gold Key Comics in the 1960s. I never really got into Magnus much, but I loved the god-like Doctor Solar. And the artwork by Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton? Awesome!

The company attracted some talented creators, both new and veteran, and the stable of characters and titles grew. Diamond Comics Distributors named it Publisher of the Year in 1993 and, at some point, Valiant became the third largest comic book company in the world. Shooter was forced out in 1992 and Acclaim Entertainment bought the company in 1994. Of course, Acclaim cancelled a few titles in 1996. Acclaim went bankrupt in 2004, and that’s about when I lost track.

I heard about the new Valiant Entertainment which started up in 2005, but I didn’t realize that it was formed by two mega-fans who bought the old company’s assets. (However, the licensed characters Solar, Magnus, and Turok were not part of the deal.) Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari weren’t even out of college when they put together the winning bid. (Actually, they came in 2nd, but the winner pulled out shortly afterward.) They built up a senior advisory board consisting of several former Marvel people and chaired by former Marvel CEO Peter Cuneo. They enticed Marvel’s Warren Simons to join as Executive Editor and eventually put together a stable of enthusiastic and award-winning creative talent, publishing their first comics — reboots of four of the original characters — in “The Summer of Valiant” in 2012.

“It was abundantly clear to me that these guys had a tremendous love for both the medium and Valiant’s characters. They wanted to build the company with a commitment to compelling stories above all else. As an editor who strives to put out great comics on a monthly basis, this was music to my ears.” — Warren Simons

Of course, remember that I said that Valiant Comics were cool? That’s because I haven’t read any from the last few years, so I can’t judge them from personal experience to say if they still are cool. (I am aware that Quantum & Woody, unfortunately, has become politically-charged, insulting to certain groups, with disappointing art and humor. I don’t know about the other titles.) However, they must be doing something right. The new Valiant proceeded to win Publisher of the Year, set sales records, and was the most nominated publisher in comics at the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Harvey Awards.

When Valiant re-launched in 2012, it was also announced that big-screen films were in development for the Bloodshot and Harbinger properties, with names like director Brett Ratner and producer Neal Moritz attached. Other film projects were announced in the ensuing months. Then, in March 2015, Valiant Entertainment got “an undisclosed nine-figure investment from Chinese entertainment company DMG, the co-producers and co-financiers of Iron Man 3.” The money was earmarked for TV and film development, “which one assumes includes the currently-in-development Shadowman, Bloodshot and Archer & Armstrong.”

“[T]aking a stake in the last independent massive comic universe is a strategic investment for DMG that will produce movies and TV that are both appealing and relevant to a global audience.” — Dan Mintz, CEO of DMG

Bloodshot #2 (2012)

As per comicbook.com’s Russ Burlingame,

“The deal likely means that DMG will co-finance all of the projects and assist with international distribution and exhibition[, including in the huge Chinese market]. DMG and Valiant will also be pursuing Chinese licensing for Valiant properties beyond film in publishing, animation and theme parks, as well as toys and apparel.”

That was three years ago. Now, we come to the latest bit of major news on the Valiant front….

In January of this year, DMG Entertainment went from owning 57% of Valiant Entertainment to owning it all, thereby providing Mintz’s “filmmaker-run studio with a treasure trove of world-class intellectual properties and establish[ing] DMG as one of the most valuable and innovative media companies in Hollywood…. The Valiant acquisition is the latest in a string of high-profile strategic moves from Mintz and DMG, the global entertainment powerhouse valued at more than $6 billion. In addition, the company has continued to expand its purview with new initiatives in intellectual property, virtual reality, e-sports and live attractions based on top-tier global franchises, including Hasbro’s “Transformers.””

“Our priority is to build upon Valiant’s vast universe of characters from a filmmaker’s perspective. I’m excited to immerse Valiant’s fans well beyond the stories we tell cinematically — from publishing to gaming to theme parks and beyond.” — Dan Mintz

According to the Wikipedia summary of the deal, Valiant CEO/CCO Dinesh Shamdasani, COO/CFO Gavin Cuneo, and Chairman Peter Cuneo will transition out of the company, though the first two will continue to serve as consultants. No word, yet, on new management, but presumably Mintz will serve in at least a couple of the top spots. Valiant’s publishing team, however, will remain in place, including Publisher Fred Pierce and Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons.

I have no idea what kind of a reputation Mintz/DMG have as filmmakers or businesspersons. (Iron Man 3 and Looper were good and fairly successful, but not great.) I have to say, though, that this sounds like a fantastic development for the Valiant properties to get the stable financial and creative backing they need to proceed with the TV and film productions — probably more. Mintz sure sounds enthusiastic, and I hope he is as driven to make quality, story-driven productions with these characters as everyone from Shooter & Layton to  Shamdasani et al. have been. I hope-n-pray that the film/TV adaptations stay faithful to the comic sources, so that longtime fans can enjoy the original characters they… we… grew to love. And, of course, it would be nice if the comics themselves continue to be well-written and entertaining (and hopefully not objectionable) for all.

Pokemon Battle Tree Strategy

It’s Pokemon stuff, so it must be an Evan Minton guest-post. What more do you need to know? Read, gamers, read!


Pokemon Battle Tree Strategy

by Evan Minton

Ever since Pokemon Crystal, the Pokemon mainstream games have always had a battle facility that you could take on after getting all the gym badges and becoming Pokemon League Champion. Crystal had the Battle Tower, Emerald had the Battle Frontier, Platinum also had a Battle Frontier, Black/White had the Battle Subway, Black2/White2 had the Pokemon World Championships, and X/Y had The Battle Maison. Each of these facilities is designed to be extremely difficult and require you to play competitively (i.e., breed for perfect IVs, EV train, and focus heavily on strategies). Casual Players have no chance of succeeding in these facilities.

In Sun and Moon and in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, the facility is called The Battle Tree. My goal in The Battle Maison was to get 50 wins in the four battle formats available, Super Singles, Super Doubles, Super Triples, and Super Rotations. My goal was to beat 49 trainers and defeat each of the Chatelaine sisters. My Goal in the Battle Tree was to get 50 wins in the 3 formats available; Super Singles, Super Doubles, and Super Multis. Doing this would introduce a special stamp on my Trainer Passport for beating that portion of The Battle Tree. Unfortunately, I haven’t succeeded yet. That said, I have come closer than I ever have before. I got 39 straight wins in The Battle Tree in Pokemon Sun using a specific team that others have used and have gotten all the way to 50 with. I believe that this team is probably my best chance and your best chance of getting 50 wins in the Battle Tree’s Super Singles format.

The Pokemon

First things first. In order to get 50 wins in The Battle Tree, you’re going to need the best team possible. Now, this isn’t to say that this is the only team you can use. After all, if you scower YouTube Battle Tree videos, others have had immense success with teams different from this one. However, this is the team that I have found works best for me, and it’s the one that got me the closest to my goals. Why didn’t I go all the way to 50, then, you might ask? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Mega Salamence is the first Pokemon you’ll want to get. This guy is a massively powerful sweeper. You’ll want your Salamence to have a Jolly Nature because that’s the nature that boosts the Speed stat, and you want your Salamence to be as fast as possible. My Salamence outspeeds the majority of Pokemon in the Battle Tree. As I’ll say below, there are some Pokemon that outspeed Mega Salamence such as Mega Gengar and Mega Alakazam, but 9 out of 10 times, you’ll be going first. So, for maximum speed, make sure the Salamence you breed or Pokegen is a Jolly Nature and has 252 Speed EVs. Mega Salamence is a physical attacker, so you’ll want to EV train it to 252 speed EVs. When it mega evolves, its ability is Aerilate, which changes all Normal type moves into flying type moves. Double Edge hits super hard because it has a base power of 120, plus it gets a STAB boost. As iStarlyTV put it, it’s equivalent to Brave Bird. The downside is that Mega Salamence takes a lot of recoil damage, so you can only use this move two to three times before Mega Salamence faints. Of course, that’s not TOO bad as this move hits so hard that you’ll be getting one hit KOs most of the time. Usually by the second Double Edge, my opponent has been down to their last Pokemon.

Earthquake is on this moveset because it’s really powerful, and it can deal with Pokemon that resist Double Edge. Flamethrower is important for this set because there are Pokemon that you’ll encounter in The Battle Tree such as Skarmory and Bronzong who (1) resist damage from Double Edge and (2) take no damage at all from Earthquake. Flamethrower will do super effective damage on those Pokemon and you’ll be able to take them out. Of course, you’re free to replace it with Fire Fang or any other damaging Fire Type move. The important thing is that you have a fire type move in the slot that can deal with those pesky Skarmory and Bronzongs.

Dragon Claw and Flamethrower are backup moves used when you encounter dragons and floating/flying Steel types, but the primary and most important moves on this set are Double Edge and Earthquake.

Now, some have put Dragon Dance and Return in this slot, which is pretty good too. Return is a pretty strong move in general if your Pokemon has maximum friendship with you, and given the Aerilate ability, you get a STAB boost, but unfortunately, if you don’t run Dragon Dance, Return won’t do as much damage as Double Edge. I prefer not to set up if I can avoid it, as you give your opponent a free turn to hit you and do only The Lord knows what.

You can lead with this Pokemon if you want to, however, I have found that Kartana (who I’ll introduce in a moment) isn’t a very good Pokemon to switch into because you could get hit by a special attack that it can’t handle, so I have typically found it more beneficial to have Makani as my backup sweeper.

Kartana is an Ultra Beast that you can catch in the postgame of Pokemon Sun. You’ll need a Jolly Nature, and maximize its Attack and Speed EVs. Make sure it has 31 IVs in the Attack, Speed, and Defense stats. Pokemon Sun is programmed to ensure that at least 3 of the Ultra Beasts’ stats are up to 31. These are the ones that count. So you’ll need to soft-reset your game until you get one with this nature and EVs. If you don’t get the right IVs, you can level it up to 100 and Hyper Train those stats at Hau’oli City’s mall, however, grinding to level 100 takes a LOOOOONG time. You’d be better off simply soft-resetting.

This Pokemon sweeps so well because of 4 things. First of all, it has a high base attack stat anyway, and secondly, you’ve EV trained it. Thirdly, it has the hold item: Life Orb. Life Orb boosts the attack power of a Pokemon but takes a tiny bit of its HP each turn. Finally, every time Kartana knocks an opponent out, it’s ability Beast Boost activates and raises its attack stat. So if you take an opponent out, Beast Boost activates and that makes it all the more likely that you’ll be able to one-shot the next Pokemon to come out. Take out that Pokemon, and the third Pokemon is going to take EVEN MORE damage!

Leaf Blade gets the STAB boost since Kartana is a grass type. So with everything I mentioned above, you can do some major damage with this guy. Think of this: A STAB boosted, Life Orb boosted, 2X Beast Boosted Leaf Blade! MAJOR DAMAGE! And if the Pokemon is weak to grass type moves, it does even more damage.

Sacred Sword is good for taking out Steel, Rock, and Normal type Pokemon.

Smart Strike is a move that never misses. You will find that some Pokemon will spam evasion moves like Double Team and Minimize. If this happens, you can just spam Smart Strike. No matter how high the evasiveness of your opponent’s Pokemon is, Smart Strike will always hit.

Night Slash is on here because it rounds out the coverage very well. Also, this move has a high critical hit ratio. This means you can do major damage, especially if you’ve gotten a couple of Beast Boosts up.

Toxapex is your defensive wall. Baneful Bunker is Toxapex’s exclusive move. It does the same thing as protect, except that if the opponent physically strikes Toxapex while it’s using it, they’ll get poisoned, so it’s a nice added effect.

Toxic is extremely important because Toxapex isn’t very strong. It’s extremely bulky though. That’s its strength; it’s a defensive wall. The purpose of having this Pokemon on your team is to have one that can take hits insanely well. The strategy is to use Toxic, and then use Baneful Bunker and Recover every other turn. Toxic’s damage increases with each and every turn. Using Baneful Bunker every other turn, you can keep your opponent from doing any damage to you, and any damage that they DO inflict, you can get rid of with Recover.

Recover helps stall out the effects of Toxic for even longer.

Toxic won’t work on Poison type Pokemon like Tentacruel, however. In that case, you’ll want to burn it with Scald. The BURN status will chip a little bit of the opponent’s HP away every turn. The damage won’t increase with every turn unlike Toxic, though. This is what I call Burn stalling. Additionally, the Burn status cuts the Attack power in half, meaning that Toxapex will take even less damage provided that the opponent relies on that stat.

Know Your Enemy

I think the reason I couldn’t get all the way to 50 is that I was focusing solely on MY Pokemon and whether we were at a type disadvantage. Having the right Pokemon is only part of the equation, however. You also need to focus heavily on your opponent’s Pokemon and what strategies they intend on using.

Austin John, on his YouTube Video about The Battle Tree, said that the Battle Tree trainers have specific and set strategies that they intend on using. Unlike real human beings, they won’t be anticipating your every move. For example, if one is running a Gengar with Hypnosis and Dream Eater, the chances are that the strategy this Trainer is going to use is (1) put your Pokemon to sleep with Hypnosis, and (2) spam Dream Eater for damage. John said that he saw a video where the Pokemon had the Insomnia ability (an ability that prevents the Pokemon from being put to sleep), and yet the opponent kept using Hypnosis over and over and over, even though it clearly wasn’t going to work. So if you can analyze The Battle Tree’s trainers, their Pokemon, and the strategies they’re likely to use, your chances of beating them will be higher.

How can you do this? Hackers have data mined the Pokemon Sun and Moon and Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon games and made an online database that shows you all of the trainers you will encounter, what Pokemon they will be using, what items those Pokemon will be holding, and what attacks they will have in their movesets. When you run into, say, “Backpacker Julia” or whoever, just lookup that Trainer’s name in the moveset and their team will be exposed to you. The strategies themselves aren’t listed in the database, you’ll have to use your own discernment for that. What I mean by that is that, if you see that the trainer has an Alolan Muk and this Muk has Minimize, Rest, and Snarl in its movepool, then you can infer that this Muk is very likely meant to be a defensive wall. It’s meant to use Minimize a bunch of times to keep any of your attacks from hitting, and Rest in order to undo any damage you DO happen to inflict on it. Just knowing what moves your opponent’s Pokemon has can give you some idea of how they plan on using them.

Analyze the Pokemon and their movesets, get familiar with the strategies, and battle accordingly. Serebii.net has the database for UltraSun and UltraMoon’s Battle Tree trainers here: https://www.serebii.net/ultrasunultramoon/battletree.shtml

Biggest Threats To This Team

Weaviles with Taunt

You cannot Toxic Stall a Weavile that knows Taunt. For one thing, Weavile is faster than Toxapex and will always move first. Weaviles that know Taunt will use Taunt most likely on the first turn. Why is this bad? Because Taunt prevents a Pokemon from using any moves that don’t deal out damage. This means you can only use Scald, nothing else. You can’t use Toxic. You can’t use Baneful Bunker. You can’t use Recover. You can only use Scald. This wouldn’t be too bad if Toxapex’s Special Attack wasn’t so insanely low. Scald isn’t a sucky move when you run it on Pokemon like Araquanid or Pelliper, who have decent Special Attack stats. But with Toxapex, it does puny damage. This means you’ll only be chipping away at Weavile’s HP slowly, and if Weavile has any HP recovering items like Leftovers, you’re pretty much done for. You’re done for if Toxapex is your last Pokemon, but you might be able to beat it with Mega Salamence or Kartana. Unfortunately, Mega Salamence is 4X weak to ice type moves and faints to them nearly every time, so switching into it could be very risky. If you can get Kartana onto the field and have it use a super effective Sacred Sword once or twice, that would be better.

Milotics With Rest

Some of the Battle Tree trainers (particularly Cynthia) have Milotics. Milotics are a big threat to this team because Mega Salamence is 4 times weak to ice type moves, and most Milotics know either Blizzard or Ice Beam. Secondly, Cynthia’s Milotic in particular could have Rest in its moveset or Recover. If it’s got Recover, that’s better than Rest. Why? Because if Milotic has Recover in its moveset, you can switch into Toxapex and Toxic Stall it. It’ll take longer than most Toxic Stall battles because Recover will recover a good bit of Milotic’s HP, but you’ll get there eventually. However, if it has Rest, you can’t Toxic Stall it. Rest not only restores lost HP, but it also gets rid of the Poison status. Meaning that you’ll have to use Toxic and poison it again. Unfortunately, as soon as Milotic’s HP is down, it’ll use Rest, get rid of the Toxic, and you’ll be back to square one. Additionally, since Toxic’s gradual damage increases every turn, when the Poison status is cured, if you manage to Toxic it again, it’ll take off a very tiny amount of HP. Your best bet is to Leaf Blade Milotic with Kartana, but your best bet is to just wait for your current Pokemon to faint before switching into Kartana. Kartana has a VERY low Special Defense stat, and therefore any special attacking moves (e.g., Hydro Pump, Blizzard, Ice Beam) will likely take it out in one hit. Kartana can outspeed Milotic, so it will move first, but you don’t want to give Milotic the chance to attack at all. You want Kartana on the field, and you want to hopefully land a one hit KO Leaf Blade.

Mega Gengar

This team has served me well. When I played through Super Singles on Pokemon Sun version, I got a 39 win streak. Unfortunately, it ended when I faced Plumeria on Battle Number 40. Plumeria’s first Pokemon was Gengar, whom she Mega Evolved on the first turn. Mega Gengar’s Sludge Bomb did a lot of damage to my Mega Salamence and Kartana. What’s worse is that each turn, Plumeria’s Mega Gengar would always attack first because it had a higher speed stat then my entire team! If I recall, the Pokemon Battle Tree’s database (see below) said that her Mega Gengar’s speed stat was 200! Now, Toxapex could have handled Mega Gengar, I think. I had just switched out Toxapex for Tapu Fini (BIG mistake!). Toxapex, being a poison type herself, could have resisted Sludge Bomb and any other poison type moves thrown at it. Additionally, since it was designed to be a defensive wall, it wouldn’t have taken much damage from physical or special attacks anyway, and any damage it did take could have been recovered with both Leftovers and the move Recover. Given that Gengar is a Ghost/Poison type Pokemon, it cannot be poisoned. You cannot poison a poison type Pokemon. That said, I could have Burn Stalled it. I could have burned it with Scald, then spammed Baneful Bunker and Recover until Mega Gengar finally fainted.

However, while Toxapex could have triumphed over Plumeria’s Mega Gengar, other Gengars that you’ll encounter in The Battle Tree won’t be the same way. Many Gengars run a Hypnosis/Dream Eater combo strategy. Dream Eater is a psychic type move and is super effective on poison types like Toxapex. If you face these types of Gengars, then you’ll want to take them out quickly with a super effective Life Orb boosted Night Slash from Kartana. Don’t count on a super effective Earthquake from Mega Salamence as Gengar’s ability is Levitate which makes all Ground type moves useless against it. However, you can still Double Edge/Return it, given that Mega Salamence’s Aerilate ability turns Normal type moves into flying type moves.

Conclusion

I hope you use this team and succeed in Super Singles. Others have and have gotten 50 wins. Hopefully you and I will, too.

Well, all I can say is that I’ve been Super Single waaay too long….