Posts by Author: Christopher David Lawton
 

Can Heroes Be Saved?

Heroes-Featured-ImageThe year is 2006. It’s the height of the aughts, and Daniel Powter was having a “Bad Day.” I was a struggling journalist in Western Nebraska, trying to stay awake in the midst of local city council meetings and agricultural reports. Ideal Comics was just starting, a small, but slightly illuminous light on the landscape of independent comicdom. It was a weird time, is what I’m saying.

In this midst of all of this, I — along with millions of other comic book fans — became enamored with Tim Kring’s Heroes, a TV show focused on people who discover amazing abilities and have to decide what they want to do with them. The show was fresh and interesting, featuring a strong script, fantastic storyline, and great performances by all of the principal actors. There was mystery and intrigue, and action and suspense, all along with this underlying question of what makes a hero. It’s not an original question by any means, but it was one of the few times that primetime TV had attempted to address it, and comic book fans like myself were hooked.

At least with the first season.

Now, I fell off the bandwagon about four or five episodes into the second season. I was struggling to stay interested, and I ultimately lost that battle. From what I hear, though, I jumped shipped at a good time. The series quickly went downhill, and the following two and a half seasons are often the target of ridicule from fans that had previously praised the first season. I eventually pushed the series to the back of my mind, content with the idea that I had dodged a bullet. Clearly, I didn’t really miss anything.

A few weeks ago, though, that all changed. My wife found Heroes on Netflix and, finding the idea interesting, started watching it. She had never seen the series before, but she was quickly hooked on the first season as most people are. I watched in the background, as I worked on my computer and such, and slowly found myself drawn in again. Trust me when I say that the first season of Heroes is good TV. It is as well-written as I remember, and it definitely holds up even ten years later. Before long, I found myself rewatching this series with her, all of the feelings from when I first watched the show returning.

But, there was a major change this time. When season 2 came on, I didn’t stop. I just kept on watching. Over the past few weeks, we have watched all four seasons of Heroes, and as of writing this, we only have the series finale left which we’ll most likely watch tonight. I can see a lot of the problems that people have with the series, and I can definitely agree that it went downhill in seasons 3 and 4. I’m not sure it’s as bad as I’ve heard some people say, but I might feel differently had I watched every week, rather than binge-watching them all in one shot. I know there were a few episodes of the third season in which absolutely nothing happened, and I would have definitely felt robbed those weeks, had I been a regular watcher. Binge-watched, though, it’s not God-awful. It’s not good, but it’s not God-awful.

Heroes-1In light of such criticism of the series from the die-hard fans, I’m actually a little surprised that NBC is choosing to reboot the series with a new mini-series called Heroes Reborn. This new series starts in less than a week and looks to feature a few returning characters, along with a host of new faces and powers. Some people are seeing this series as a chance for NBC to right the wrongs of the past. Others — the more cynical of us — believe that NBC is just banking on our nostalgia, looking to cash in any goodwill it has remaining from the brilliant first season. I’m not sure where I fall in that camp, but I do believe there are a few things NBC can do with this series to avoid some of the pitfalls from the first series. While these ideas are in no way a fix for all of the problems that the series encountered, I do believe a few of them can help rebuild some of the magic contained within the first season.

(Note: I should state, right now, that I have not watched any of the webisodes that bridge the gap between the two series. We’ll probably watch them this week. So, any ideas I have here that conflict with those webisodes — forgive me in advance. Maybe I’ll write an addendum after I watch them. Also, forewarning: spoilers abound. So, beware.)

First and foremost, keep all of the characters focused on a singular goal. In the first two seasons — the best seasons, really — there was a strong drive for each character, culminating in a single event, a climax that held the fate of the world in its hands. Later seasons saw all of the characters branching off into their own directions, and the storylines all started to break down. You had story ideas start and then stop. You had characters with completely separate storylines from the main story, who were then clumsily shoehorned in at the last moment to bring together some sort of coherency. The first season — and even the second to a point — felt like a self-contained story, involving multiple threads that were all related in some way. The later seasons, not so much.

Second, along those lines, stop introducing storylines and then abandoning them. In the third season, Claire made such a big deal about losing the ability to feel pain. She talked all about how she couldn’t feel anything anymore, and she was worried about how eventually, she might even lose her emotions. Then, the eclipse happened, and it was never, ever mentioned again. Even if a storyline is bad, at least give us some resolution. In the fourth season, Hiro got a brain tumor, Peter went to Georgia to get the healing power, and then nothing. Two episodes in to the storyline, Peter got a new power, and the storyline jumped ship. Part of the joy of the first season was seeing all of these different threads come together. Do that again.

Third, stop giving people random powers. In the first season, Isaac Mendez’s power was very useful. The writers were able to storyboard entire events through Isaac’s paintings. The second season did the same thing. With Mendez’s death, however, the writers lost that crutch. To fix this, they basically gave the power to Matt Parker — for some reason that isn’t explained all that well. Something about a prophecy or a line of prophets or something. I don’t know. There’s no reason for Matt to have the future-painting ability, so why give it to him? Hiro went through the same spirit walk that Matt did in Africa — why not give the power to Hiro? Since Hiro’s ability is time-travel, that seems like a better fit. Later, Ando was given some sort of boost ability which is never referenced again, his power basically becoming red lightning bolts. Mohinder is then given a bunch of generic powers. None of these additions enhanced the story at all, and most of the time, they were only there for the sole purpose of moving the plot along. Bad form.

And, lastly, give me a well-defined villain who I can’t stop watching. Before he started all of the emotional angst of later seasons, Sylar was a great villain. He was sinister, and he was scary. Plus, he was a great foil to Peter, who was quickly becoming the “star” of the hero side. Most importantly, he had direction and purpose. He had a clear motivation that made sense. To a somewhat similar degree, I think you had the same thing with Adam Monroe in the second season. His motivation made sense. After centuries of seeing humans piss away the world, I’m sure I would feel like hitting a big old reset button myself. Compare both of them to Samuel Sullivan in the fourth season. I have no idea what his goal or motivation is. Is it the woman? Is it hatred? Is he evil? I have watched 17 episodes of this fourth season in the last week, and I have no idea what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. Now, again, I haven’t watched the finale. But, I can’t possibly see how they could possibly pull that out in forty-five minutes. At any rate, they haven’t done it for the entire season, which seems like a waste. I think he could have been a cool character had they spent some time giving us an understanding of who he is and why we should care about him. We need a good villain to keep us watching.

I don’t know if they’ll be able to pull any of this off with the new series. Tim Kring is coming back, and that’s a good sign. I think his vision is much of what guided the first season. For all I know, though, they’ll drop the ball again, and we’ll further the crapstorm that was seasons 3 and 4. I do know that the characters are there, and the ideas are still cool. If done right, I think the new season could be a return to form for the series. Here’s hoping.

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R.I.P. Yvonne Craig (1937 – 2015)

Craig2Yvonne Craig died this week, and that makes me sad. For most of us, Craig was known as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl on the ultra-campy 1960s Batman TV show. Along with Adam West and Burt WardCraig fought famous Batman villains, like the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, and Egghead in the show’s final season from 1967 to 1968. It was, of course, in reruns that this role continued to make her famous, and continues to make her well-known throughout much of the comic industry. Even if you’re not a fan, you’ve most likely seen an episode or two of the Batman series, and you’ve most likely seen a bit of Craig’s most excellent portrayal of Batgirl.

I don’t want to spend too long talking about Craig’s life. There are plenty of obits all over the Internet that are doing exactly that. A simple Google search will net you plenty of information about where she was born, when she started acting, her roles outside of Batman, and how she died. I don’t want to spend too much time worrying about all of that. Now, I’m not avoiding that because it’s not important. It is. I just want to spend the limited time I have here, as I write this on my lunch break, to celebrate the importance of Craig’s role as Batgirl on a campy 1960s superhero TV show.

No one is going to argue that Batman is a masterpiece of TV storytelling, or even a masterpiece of superhero narratives. The show is campy as heck. Fun, but campy as heck. The puns are groan-worthy, the villainous plots are simplistic, the fights are silly, and the storylines are all formulaic. Despite that, though, the show — for better or worse — shoved Batman into the general consciousness, pushing him near the top of the recognizability list of comic book characters. The show basically made Batman a household name, turning him into a pop-culture icon, a status he maintains today. Whether you enjoy the show or not is irrelevant. This show IS important to the Batman mythos, campiness and all.

And for all of this status, the show really only has one concept to thank: its characters. As mentioned before, nothing else in the show is all that well-done, but the characters themselves are memorable. From West’s Batman to Caesar Romero’s Joker to Burgess Meridith’s Penguin to any of the other bright and colorful characters that graced TV screens every week, these representations remain first and foremost in the minds of people that watched this show growing up. Mind you, the numerous portrayals of these characters in media since may overshadow them a little; however, when you mention some of these characters to the average Joe on the street, chances are the portrayals from this TV show will immediately spring to mind.

And in the midst of this stood Yvonne Craig with her purple outfit, red wig, and sweet motorcycle. Introduced in the comics only two years earlier, the appearance of Barbara Gordon in this show was important for a number of reasons. First, it was one of the first portrayals of a female superhero in television and film. Ten years before Lynda Carter spun into her Wonder Woman costume, Craig donned her cowl to punch the Joker with a Ka-Pow! She stood on the same ground as Batman and Robin, often saving them from whatever dastardly deathtrap the villain of the week had caught them in. And, in doing so, she inspired girls young and old the world over.

I talk a lot about how representation is important, and Craig is case in point. Right now, you can do a single Google search to find countless stories of young girls for whom this show was a gateway drug into the world of comic books, and Craig’s Batgirl is at the top of the list of the reasons it resonated so much with them. Representation in media is important, because we all want to imagine we’re comic book characters fighting crime, and that’s made much easier when we can identify with them, much easier when the characters look like us. Now, as a white male, it’s easy for me. I have a million comic book characters I can pretend to be. I can pretend to be obscure characters from the 1930s, or I can pretend to be the latest big-name superhero to grace the silver screen. They’re, for the most part, white and male. But, you go outside of my group, and you find the pickings slim. People who don’t look like me? They don’t have a ton of options.

But for the past 50 years, from broadcast to reruns, Yvonne Craig has helped to fill that role, and she did it well.

Craig1And because of this, I think it’s important to note that her portrayal is also a counter to one of the traditional arguments people trot out regarding diversity in comics: Companies only do it as a quick cash-grab. In Batman, Batgirl was exactly that. Ratings were lagging, so they thought if they introduced a female character, they could keep things going for a little while. It didn’t work, of course — the show only lasted one more season. But, that doesn’t change the fact that the producers only introduced her to try and make a little more money. To that, I say this: Who cares? She was only on the show for a season, but look at what she inspired. The motivation for including her is irrelevant, but the result of including her is important. And the result of her inclusion in the show is a ton of little girls watching a superhero show and wanting to become Batgirl.

And that is awesome.

The other reason that Yvonne Craig is so important is that the show did much of the same for Batgirl as it did for Batman. Batgirl had only appeared in the comics for a couple of years before she was introduced to the TV show. Without the show, who knows if she would have continued. And then, without her, we wouldn’t have Oracle or Cassandra Cain or any number of other female heroes inspired by her. And I think that so much of that public awareness is due to Craig’s portrayal. As previously mentioned, she stood up with Batman, completing her own stunts and proving Batgirl as a viable member of the bat-mythos. I don’t know if you can say that we definitely wouldn’t have our idea of Batgirl without Craig, but there is definitely a strong chance of that. The Batman comics were already faltering during the 1960s, and DC was considering cancellation entirely. What saved the comics were editor Julius Schwartz and Batman, the TV show. So, I don’t think it’s a far cry to state that Craig is to thank for the popularity of Batgirl, a popularity which allowed her to continue as a character for the past fifty years.

Craig lost a fight with breast cancer this week, a fight she had been taking on for nearly two years. My condolences go out to her friends and family in this time definitely, but also, my condolences go out to anyone who Craig inspired with her costumed escapades. I can understand what she meant to you on a theoretical level, but I can’t truly understand how important her portrayal was. I’m not equipped to do so, and my experience in this world is different from yours. With that said, I do praise Craig for doing what she did, and I hope I’ve honored her memory with this post.

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Re-Evaluating “The Killing Joke”

The Killing Joke 1At San Diego Comic-Con a few weeks ago, Bruce Timm announced that he would be producing a direct-to-video animated version of “The Killing Joke.” This was cause for much celebration for many fans on its own, but their celebration was soon heightened by the announcement that Joker veteran Mark Hamill would be returning to do the voice of the Joker. While either of these announcements would have been enough to produce massive amounts of excitement on the part of fans, together these two announcements create something new, something entirely different, something larger than life. You have one of the most iconic voices for the Joker combined with one of the most famous Batman stories. It sounds to me like an idea that prints money, and judging by the response from the fans, I’m not far off.

And this is something I find a little disturbing.

I get the Hamill thing. His version of the Joker is really one of the best of all time, and his voice and laugh have become associated with the character in many fans’ minds. I know I’m not the only one to hear Hamill’s voice when I read the Joker in the comic books. Any time he revisits the character is exciting and very welcomed.

I, like many other people, struggle with the choice of “The Killing Joke” as the story to adapt. I didn’t always feel this way. When I first purchased this book off a sale shelf for about five bucks, I was blown away. I felt like the story was complex, providing an excellent backstory for the Joker, while still maintaining an air of mystery for the character. I thought he interactions between Batman and Commissioner Gordon were all extremely well-done, and the ambiguous ending was remarkably thought-provoking in every way. Over the years, though, as I’ve grown as a writer, reader, and person, I’ve started to question that original assessment. I’ve started questioning if this story really deserves as much praise as it receives. Continue reading

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Terminator: Genisys Review, or Why I Hate Time Travel

Genisys-3There’s a riff in a classic Season 8 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where, after one of the characters in the movie Overdrawn at the Memory Bank comments “I’m bored!,” Tom Servo responds to his fellow riffers with, “Okay, which one of us said that?” I experienced a similar sensation while watching Terminator: Genisys when Kyle Reese says, “time travel makes my head hurt.” I looked around the theater and wondered, “Okay, which one of us said that?”

Terminator: Genisys is not the worst movie ever made. It’s not even the worst Terminator movie ever made. That said, it’s certainly not a good movie. This attempt to reboot the franchise with a fresh timeline, similar to 2009’s Star Trek, tries its best, but ultimately unravels the series’s own ethos, leaving us with a mess of a movie, and one that will most likely spark a hatred of time travel movies for many movie goers for many years to come. Continue reading

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Chris Watches TV: Humans, Episode 01

Humans-1I’ve always loved a good science-fiction story about robots. More than space travel and post-apocalyptic futures, my favorite science-fiction stories are the ones about blurring the lines between man and machine, between real and artificial intelligence. Whether the robot seeks to help or harm, when the servos start to click and turn, I start reading, or as in this case, watching.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into Humans. I had seen the commercials, and I was intrigued. It wouldn’t be the first story to question the line between humanity and robotics, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But, the production value seemed high, and I like William Hurt, so I felt it was something I should try. Ultimately, I’m happy I did. While the first episode felt a little slow, there was enough there to bring me back next week, which I suppose is all I can ask from a serialized TV show.

Humans tells the story of a parallel present in which the world is obsessed with Synths, androids that are programmed to serve humankind. The first episode is split into three different storylines, each of which focus on a different relationship between humans and their Synths. The first is about Joe Hawkins, a stressed father trying to take care of his home and three children in the absence of his wife, Laura, who has been called away for some work issue. At the end of his rope, Hawkins purchases a new Synth on a 30-day loan, which the family soon names Anita. Throughout the episode, Anita serves the Hawkins family as a faithful servant, though she has moments here and there that tell the viewer that things with her aren’t quite what they seem. For example, early in the episode, while the other Synths in the factory are shut down the for night, Anita stares up at the moon. It’s a subtle touch, and one that becomes more and more overt as the episode progresses. When Laura finally returns home, she is taken aback by her husband’s actions. She distrusts Anita, but also feels pushed to the side by the rest of the family.

The second storyline also involves Anita, but begins five weeks before the Hawkins ordeal. Five figures are walking through a forest, Anita among them. One of them, the clear group leader, asks the other four about their charge levels, cluing us into the fact that at least four members of the group are Synths. Later, three of the Synths are captured by junkers, leading the group leader, Leo, to head off to London to track them down. Included in the synths stolen is Anita, which explains how she eventually comes into the service of the Hawkins family.

The third, and final storyline, is my favorite. Hurt plays an old man, who is attempting to keep his older-model Synth from being replaced. The viewer quickly learns that this man is a widower, who feels an almost fatherly kinship to the Synth, Odi, who appears to be some sort of connection to the man’s deceased wife. It’s a touching story, and one that drew some real emotion out of me. It’s a relationship that I hope the show explores into the future.

Humans-2Throughout the three storylines, there emerges a very common theme: the emotional impact that occurs when the line between human and android begins to blur. If there’s a point at which artificial intelligence surpasses the human mind, Humans takes place right smack dab in the middle of it. Humanity is on the cusp of some real stuff going down, and we, the viewers, are getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe. The writing, at least in this first episode, is fantastic. The three storylines are weaved throughout the entire first episode seamlessly, and the acting, especially from Hurt, and Colin Morgan, who plays Leo, go a long way to show how strong the bonds between humans and Synths can get within this world. There’s a subtlety to a lot of the interactions between the characters, and as an emotional character drama, they hit the nail on the head.

That said, with as much as I enjoyed the first episode, I’m not sure Humans has me hooked quite yet. It’s well-done, but I’m not seeing them break much new ground in this series so far. Books, movies, and even other TV shows, have focused on similar themes and explored them fully. I’m not sure if Humans can find even a sliver of an original statement to make on such heavily tread ground.

The series is only eight episodes long, so they don’t have much time to prove me wrong, but I still hope they do. As I said in the intro, I am a huge fan of science-fiction focused on robotics, and I’d hate to see such slick production values wasted on a boring and overdone story.

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Webcomic Review: Camp Weedonwantcha

WDW-1I love webcomics. Over the past two decades, I have moved here and there throughout the websphere, trying different comics, adding a few to my daily reading list, and removing the occasional comic that starts to lose me. I have actually been reading a handful of comics, like Penny Arcade and PVP, fairly consistently since they came online way back in the infancy of the industry. I have watched as many of these old guards worked to shape and define what the webcomic industry could become, ultimately paving the way for various newcomers to the medium over the past years.

Unfortunately, I have often become so embroiled in this old guard, that I approach any of these new artists with trepidation and fear, a rake in my hand ready to shake at them if they step on my lawn. Usually, when I do dip my toe into something new, I am greeted by the downside of having such established titans create the industry. I can’t tell you how many webcomics I’ve read that involve two gamers, one straight man and one fool, who sit on their couch and play video games. In fact, for the longest time, this was a fairly accurate representation of most video game webcomics. So much so, that I actually created such a Penny Arcade rip-off back when I started writing comics in the early 2000s. I’m not going to link to such embarrassment. There’s something called Google. If you really want to find it, I’m sure you can.

Sometimes, though, when I find a new comic, I’m pleasantly surprised. I not only find something that is enjoyable to read, but something that challenges me as a writer and creator. Such is the case with Camp Weedonwantcha by Katie Rice. Continue reading

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Fans First #4: Movie Editions

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It’s a film-focused nerdcast this week, as Chris and Barry take on the major announcements from Marvel and DC regarding their cinematic universes, and the rumors that invariably sprung forth.

If you’re having trouble with the player, or if you want to download the podcast directly, check out this link.

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Fans First Podcast #3: Tight Pants

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In this episode, the guys talk about Batman and the sequel to Labyrinth. Also, Barry takes us to the Concession Stand to talk about Kite and The Judge. They may also talk about tight pants every now and then.

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Fans First Podcast #1: Whovian Fever

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In this inaugural episode of the podcast, the guys discuss Dr. Who, Gotham, and the Keanu Reeves star vehicle, a Boy and His Dog.

Direct Download (You can also find the Podomatic app on both Android and iPhone! Search for Ideal Comics!)

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New Site Tour!

tour-starts-hereIf you’re here, there’s a chance you’re interested in finding out what this new Ideal Comics site has to offer. Look no further than this post right here. Let’s begin the tour.

If you’ll look above, this post, you’ll find our primary menu. “Home”, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, will take you back to the homepage. “Features” will take you to a page showcasing original article and content by Ideal Comics staff and others. The “Contributors” page focuses on the artist and writers that are making this new Idealcomics.net great. The “Comics” page gives you all sorts of information about the comic stories that we publish here at Ideal Comics. The last page on the menu is the “Extras” page, where you’ll find all of the things that don’t quite fit into other pages, including artwork and background on our universe.

If you move to the bottom of the page, you’ll find important, boring company information, such as company information, staff bios, submissions information, advertising, press releases, and company contact information.

Now, this is a fairly quick tour, and there’s definitely much more to see. And this content will only grow in the coming weeks. We consider Ideal Comics to be everything great about comics, and we’re so happy you’re here for the ride.

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