TV Shows
 

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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Since I’ve Been Gone

summer comicsHello, hello, Internet and Ideal Comics faithful! I know it has been several months since you last heard from me. And though I have been away from the keyboard I have not been idle. I’m sorry, what is that? What was I doing? Well, I reckon I do owe you something–some frail thread of explanation or excuse. In short, I have been busy.

So the last time I was here, I had just returned from ‘Free Comic book Day’ with a stack of comics six inches deep, including 45 free comics and a few not-free ones. While I am still trying to work through the freebies, i have had a great time with several of the DC Convergence titles, especially Aquaman and Batgirl featuring Steph Brown (some day I will write about Steph Brown but not today); as well as Lucas/Disney/Marvel‘s Kanan: The Last Padawan! 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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Down the Wire (Volume 1)

The-WireWhen I sat down to do my column this week, I was a bit torn. See, normally, I spend the better part of two or three days just trying to find something to write about. This week, though, I was struck with a bunch of different topics, all of which I thought would be super fun to discuss, and about each of which I thought I would have more than enough to say. How do you choose? I briefly considered going to the race track and randomly assigning each column topic to a separate horse and just let the racing gods decide my fate. Ultimately, though, I determined that was a less than ideal road, since horses scare me, as do people who frequent race tracks in the middle of the week, or on the weekends for that matter.

Instead, I decided I would combine my topics into one giant, super, Voltron-like column, in which I would simply move from one topic to another, laying out some brief and quick responses on a variety of issues. So, without further ado, let’s begin our journey down the wire in the magical land of television, a vast wasteland, as Newton Minnow once called it. Continue reading

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A Galaxy Far, Far Away (Part 1)

Star Wars Holiday SpecialWith the passing of midnight, we say goodbye to yet another Christmas, another opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ and commercialism. Goodbye, dear Christmas. See you in twenty-fifteen. Now, this column isn’t about Christmas. My cohort already did a great job of covering that earlier this week. No, this column is about something entirely different. This column is about another famous holiday. No, not Boxing Day. Though, technically, it is Boxing Day.

Happy Boxing Day, everyone.

No, this column is about my other favorite holiday. The truly most wonderful time of the year. I am talking, of course, about Life Day. For those who have seen it, the Star Wars Holiday Special is certainly a treat, a venture into life after A New Hope. Originally broadcast on November 17th, 1978, the Holiday Special centered on Chewbacca’s family preparing for Life Day, a Wookiee holiday similar to Christmas, and Han and Chewie’s attempts to get the loveable furball home to Kashyyyk in time for the celebration.

In addition to including the classic characters from the trilogy, Han, Luke, Leia, C3PO, R2D2, and Darth Vader, the special also introduces Malla, Chewie’s wife; Itchy, Chewie’s father; Lumpy, Chewie’s son; Saun Dann (Art Carney), a human trader on Kashyyyk; Ackmena (Bea Arthur), a cantina owner on Tatooine; and Jefferson Starship (Jefferson Starship). The special itself is a silly little program, mixing an odd story about Life Day with an even odder mish-mash of musical and comedy acts, creating what is potentially the only variety special in history based on a science-fiction franchise.

It’s no secret to anyone who has seen this thing that it’s sort of the black sheep of the Star Wars universe. George Lucas, himself, once famously said that he wanted to track down every copy and smash them with a sledgehammer, and that guy wrote and directed Attack of the Clones. On the whole, it’s not great, but there are some very important things to note.

  • Firstly, can we all just celebrate the fact that because of this special, comedic greats Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and Harvey Korman are all part of the Star Wars canon? Now, I know that since Disney bought Lucasfilms, the Star Wars canon is kind of messed up, but what they say doesn’t really matter. In the heads of the fans, the extended universe is still roughly canon somewhere, and in that canon, Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and Harvey Korman.
  • On the flipside, though, if we acknowledge that, we have to acknowledge that Jefferson Starship also exists within Star Wars continuity. I have nothing personal against Jefferson Starship, I guess, but I don’t really dig the tunes they lay down. The song they perform on the special, “Light the Sky on Fire” is about as boring as it gets in late 1970s rock music.
  • There’s also a really, really odd musical sequence starring veteran actress, Diahann Carroll, in which she plays a holographic “fantasy” enjoyed by Itchy, in what can only be described as, uh, well, disturbing. It isn’t that I don’t want to see an old wookiee get aroused, it’s just that I, well, yeah, no, it’s totally that I don’t want to see that.
  • The film features an animated sequence, which serves to introduce the character of Boba Fett. It’s an amazing piece of animation, and truly the best part of this special. It’s also the only piece of the special to ever receive a home video release as a special feature on the 2011 Blu-Ray release of the original trilogy.

 

  • The empire actually feels menacing in this special. I mean, in Episode IV, they are certainly menacing. They blow up an entire planet, for Lumpy’s sake, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s because so much of what they do is off-screen. We never see them kill Owen and Beru, or torture Leia, or anything else. It’s all alluded to through the aftermath. We do see them blow up Alderaan, but even that is on a viewport, far-removed from any sort of engaging connection. In this special, however, they directly interact on-screen with members of the rebellion, and there’s definitely a troubling dynamic there. When a stormtrooper threatens to beat a Wookiee child, it’s disconcerting to say the least.
  • Thankfully, this special finally gave some lyrics to some of those classic Star Wars tunes we all know and love. Ackmena sings a lovely tribute to alcoholism called “Goodnight, but Not Goodbye” set to the music of the Mos Eisley cantina band. At the end of the special, Leia closes us out with a musical tribute to Life Day, set to the Star Wars theme. I don’t know about you, but I’ll definitely be singing these lyrics the next time I watch the movie.

In all seriousness, one of the most interesting things about this special is the period of time in which it came out. In 1978, Star Wars fans were still two years from Empire Strikes Back. At this point, there was only one vision of life after Episode IV, and that was the Marvel comic book series, which we’ll talk about a bit next week. For the average fan, this was the first picture of what happened after the movie. And I think that’s important to note, because if nothing else, it foreshadowed not only how big a behemoth Star Wars would become, but also how much the public wanted to see what would happen next.

SW1And it’s certainly not the last glimpse we’ve been given into this time period of the universe. In 2013, Dark Horse comics released Star Wars, a series set in the immediate months after the destruction of the Death Star, following the further adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. The series, written by Brian Wood, deals with a struggling rebellion attempting to recover from the loss of its base on Yavin IV, and an empire struggling to rebuild after the destruction of its massive battle station.

A few weeks ago, the first six issues (the first storyline, In the Shadow of Yavin) were collectively sold for $2.99 on Dark Horse Digital, and I jumped at the opportunity. I had heard good things about the series, and I thought it would be a fun opportunity to check it out. While it’s certainly no Holiday Special, it is a terrific story, and one I’m sad to see go (more on that in a second).

This first storyline follows the rebellion’s attempts to find a new base of operations. After the destruction of Alderaan, even worlds traditionally sympathetic to the rebellion stand in fear of the sheer power of the Empire. As the alliance explores worlds on the outer-rim, they are constantly ambushed by Imperial forces, and it doesn’t take long to realize that these encounters are not coincidences. There’s a mole in the Alliance, and Rebel Leader, Mon Mothma, is dedicated to rooting him or her out. She tasks Leia with hand selecting a secret squad of pilots to work independently to both find a new home and ferret out the leak. While all of this is going on, Han Solo and Chewbacca have been sent to Coruscant, the Imperial capital, where they will purchase new weapons and supplies for the Alliance from an Imperial contact. But nothing is as it seems, and Han and Chewie are forced into the Coruscant underground, with Boba Fett hot on their heels.

Wood captures a lot of subtle nuances within the stories and characters that add quite a bit to the mythos. We see Princess Leia mourning her homeworld in the late night hours, when she’s not overworking herself on keeping a struggling rebellion alive. We see Darth Vader struggle with failure at Yavin IV and the emperor’s disapproval, while also realizing the importance of the name Skywalker, and what that all means. We see Han Solo sticking with a rebellion he doesn’t believe in, because at the moment, it provides protection from other more menacing forces that want to kill him. We see Luke Skywalker, the hero of Yavin, brash and cocky, and ready to take on the empire full-steam. And all of this works so well, helped along by the art of Carlos D’Anda, who captures the characters and settings in such a dynamic fashion.

The comics are fun romps through this portion of the Star Wars timeline, and they’re great examples of what Dark Horse could do, when they used the license correctly. Since they started publishing Star Wars comics in 1993, Dark Horse has had its fair share of ups and downs, with some stories excelling, while others falling far short. Woods’s Star Wars, is definitely an up, and one I recommend whole-heartedly.

It’s actually the first Star Wars comic I’ve read in a few years, which makes its cancellation much sadder. The series ran through issue #20, getting canceled in August of this year. And while I’m not entirely sure of sales figures, and if they had anything to do with it, I think a lot of that decision may rest in the fact that next week, after over 20 years, Dark Horse will stop publishing Star Wars comics. Since Disney owns both Marvel Comics and Lucasfilms now, it makes sense that they would move comic book duties into the mouse’s Empire, but it’s still a little sad.

What’s even worse is that all titles will be pulled from the digital catalog, meaning if you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, you might not get that chance after December 31st. You can always track down the floppies or trades, and some of the stories will be reprinted by Marvel, but it’s a damn shame that some great comics are going to disappear from the digital channels as of January 1st. I guess, if there’s a lesson here, it’s that you should buy up any digital copies of these comics now, before you lose your chance. The comics will still be available to read on your cloud; you just won’t be able to purchase them.

Of course, anyone who knows the history of Star Wars comics knows that this won’t be the first time that the House of M has taken on the Star Wars universe. But, that’s a column for another time. Specifically, next week. Be sure to come back next Friday, when I take a look at both the history and the future of Marvel’s Star Wars comics!

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Gotham: The Waynes… And Those Other Guys.

gothamAs of this week, I have watched two episodes of Gotham, DC’s latest attempt at opening the wallets of non-comic consumers and attracting some of that sweet, sweet casual fan money. And, to be fair, the TV strategy has worked well for them. Smallville was huge. Arrow has gained some real ground. It makes sense that they would throw some weight behind Batman, especially with the popularity of the Nolan bat-films.

I understand Gotham. I like Gotham. I’m just not quite sure what I think about Gotham.

If you listened to last week’s inaugural Fans First nerdcast, you know that my wife and I both thoroughly enjoyed the pilot. And I certainly enjoyed the second episode. The show is dark and moody, and Gotham City just looks like it should. The Nolan influences are strong in this series, but that’s a good thing. The dark, gritty atmosphere works very well with the story they’re telling, and because of this, Gotham City almost becomes a character within the show, which is exactly as it should be.

The characters themselves are all fairy well done. Donal Logue kills it as Harvey Bullock, providing as much humor as you can in light of this recent no-jokes DC era. Earlier this week, Barry and I were talking about how much Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Fish Mooney character brings to the show with her dark humor and ice-cold demeanor. And Ben McKenzie does a great job as Jim Gordon, though I currently find him to be kind of boring, something I assume will change as we move closer to the impending “war” that Penguin predicted in the pilot. Gordon’s already grown slightly more interesting by the second episode, as he tries to pretend he’s dirty, so he can clean up the city from the inside. That seems like a very Jim Gordon thing to do.

Even the side-characters, the cameos, feel right within the show. It makes sense to me that Edward Nigma would work as a forensic anthropologist, sort of like Dexter, before becoming the Riddler. I can buy that. Same with a 14-year-old street thief named Selina Kyle and a low-level thug named Oswald Cobblepot. These all make sense.

On paper, Gotham gets everything right, and as I’ve said, I am enjoying the series. Something is still nagging at the back of my mind, though. And I think what’s nagging me is what the show actually says about how little Warner Bros. and DC understands about how to successfully use their comic properties in non-comic media.

The biggest issue is that the show can’t seem to figure out its audience. I think it’s fair to say that people know Batman and most of his villains. DC, and maybe Warner Bros., however, don’t seem to believe that. I don’t know if they think the audience is stupid, or if they’re easily scared off. But, they seem to want to spell everything out for the audience. It’s why they changed the name of Pamela Isley to Ivy Pepper, so they can call her “Ivy” as she takes care of a houseplant. It’s why Bullock says the word “riddle” fifty-million times the first time we see Edward Nigma. For some reason, those involved with the show seem to feel like some of their audience members may not know who these characters are, and the writers bring the show down a bit by preaching to those few watchers on that level exclusively. That’s why we get Selina Kyle insisting she be called “Cat” in what can only be the most awkward conversation ever held by a police detective and a street thief. You can almost see the show producers in the background shouting, “SEE? SEE? DO YOU SEE? SHE’S CATWOMAN!”

The biggest offender, and the one I’m going to talk about today, is the opening death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. As with every almost every other on-screen depiction of Batman, Gotham opens with the brutal murder of the Wayne family right in front of a young Bruce Wayne’s eyes. Of course, Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock are the responding detectives, and it appears that the major story-arc of at least the first season is the hunt for the Wayne’s killer. My issue with this is that it all seems really pointless to include this scene. I’m not the first to make this criticism of origin stories, but people, I think we all know how Batman became Batman. Do we really need to see this story again?! DC and Warner Bros. appear to think we do.

Compare this to a Marvel movie, like Guardians of the Galaxy, in which only one character receives an on-screen origin story, and even that’s brief and it doesn’t really explain much. Rocket Raccoon has one of the more emotional origin stories in the movie, and it’s pretty much told through a drunken rant after a barfight. Eventually, people, even non-comic fans, are going to get tired of seeing the Wayne parents killed in Crime Alley, and unfortunately, one of the more emotional turning points in comic book history will start to bore its audiences. You would think that by 2014, DC and Warner Bros. may have figured this out, but Gotham still opens with that familiar scene. It’s like they’re so scared of losing their potential non-comic audience that they feel the need to keep the series firmly rooted in familiar territory, and in doing so, they kind of talk down to the audience.

By now, you’re probably wondering, “So what?” Well, unfortunately, in this case, I think talking down to the audience actually does damage to the ethos of the series. Before its debut, Gotham was advertised as a prequel story for all the characters in the Batman mythos, especially Jim Gordon. We knew that Bruce Wayne was going to be a character in it, but we were led to believe the spotlight would definitely shine on the other characters, such as PenguinRiddler, and Catwoman. It was fresh and original, and I was excited for it. A Batman story without Batman. I was skeptical, of course. I wondered if the show could carry its weight without the caped crusader. Well, now, I’m not so sure it has to.

By opening the series with the murder of the Waynes, and making sure that at least the first season arc is about solving that crime, the showrunners are making an active choice to make this a series about how Bruce Wayne becomes the man that can become Batman. It’s like they don’t trust the audience to make certain connections, so they spell things out. And the real victims are the Waynes, who are shot over and over again with each new media property. And, unfortunately, this decision leaks out into other areas of the show. We lose out on a lot of time that could have been used to develop those side characters through literary devices other than clumsy dialogue. The great and wonderful cast of Gotham is reduced to occasional on-screen cameos, while the writers shine the spotlight on Master Wayne. We’re stuck in familiar territory, while right over the fence, a wonderful lush land of awesome and unique stories waits.

I get why they do it. They believe that by not focusing on Bruce Wayne, audience members won’t get the show. As I said earlier, they don’t understand their audience — and possibly TV audiences in general. After all, shows like Breaking Bad and Scandal are immensely popular, despite the fact that their characters were not familiar to audiences before the story started. Gotham actually has a leg up on those other shows, because people know most of these characters from the other Batman shows. Gotham could get away with a slow, methodical journey into this mythos, but the producers refuse to, and I think that decision hurts the show in the long run.

I will continue to watch Gotham, because I am enjoying it. I like the characters and the atmosphere, and I thought the second episode of the series was much better than the first. It felt more natural and organic, and it seemed like the characters were really starting to develop some chemistry together. I’m excited to see where it all goes from here. Hopefully, now that a lot of the introductions are done, the characters will have a chance to develop into something more than just cameos. Because those are the stories I want to see.

You’ve given me a great city, Gotham, a city that breaks people. Now, show me all of the ways it does.

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