The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Yet Another "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Think Piece


I loved it. Bye, now.

Okay, I suppose the three of you that still follow this blog would like to read more of my thoughts on the new "Star Wars" movie. I'm not sure what I can say that hasn't already been said by others, so I'll do my best to be consistent.

When I mention franchises that broke my heart, "Star Wars" is at the top of my list. "A New Hope" is a very good movie. "The Empire Strikes Back" is a very great movie. "The Return of the Jedi" is a pretty bad movie, but it has elements in it that I love. Now, I'm not old enough to have seen these in theaters during their original runs, I juuuust missed being born early enough to do so. But I had "A New Hope" on VHS (the first release of it on VHS) at home, and I repeatedly rented "The Empire Strikes Back". My local video rental store (look them up, they totally existed once upon a time) didn't have "The Return of the Jedi" so it eluded me for several years, until I caught it on TV one day. You see, you young whipper snappers, we didn't have the internet in those days, and VHS tapes cost upwards of $50 to buy, so seeing movies that our local video stores didn't carry came down to luck. Anyway, I watched "Return of the Jedi" only to be disappointed by it, largely. I didn't like Ewoks then, and I don't like Ewoks now.

Then came the Special Editions, and changes aside, it was an awesome feeling to experience these movies on the big screen. Then, the franchise broke my heart. George Lucas released his three prequels and all but destroyed something I truly loved. "Star Wars" was dead to me. For a longer explanation of why the prequels failed as movies, I will refer you to Mr. Plinkett's Star Wars Prequel Reviews at Red Letter Media... which also double as the most extensive and informative film studies class you can take for free and from the comfort of your own home.

When Disney bought "Star Wars", I predicted that it would be the best thing that could happen to the franchise, but mostly because I had hoped that the unaltered original movies would be released on Blu-ray; so far we have yet to see any real sign of that. When Episode VII was announced, I rolled my eyes. I didn't care. Keep in mind, the franchise was dead to me. I did watch "Star Wars Rebels", but was lukewarm to it (which, honestly, was carryover of my disappointment in the prequels; I have since re-watched it and would give it a much higher score than I did earlier in the year... and I can call myself a fan of the show, now). The fact that J.J. Abrams, a director I loathe, was attached to it didn't help.

The first trailer came out for "The Force Awakens" and I was unmoved. But, as the release date approached, I'm not sure what was going on, but the marketing was doing its job. The right things were being said, the right images were being released. Despite myself, I was beginning to get excited. It also helps that Kieron Gillen's "Darth Vader" comic book was excellent, as was Greg Weisman's "Kanan" comic. Darth Vader's return to form in "The Siege of Lothal" did a lot to remind me why I loved that character after the prequels destroyed him... even something as innocuous as a Death Battle between him and Dr. Doom (which Vader lost) helped.

Finally, the movie came out, and I was there on opening day.

SPOILERS!

I loved it. I didn't know I was going to love it, I wasn't prepared to love it. At best I thought I'd walk out of there saying "That was fun, I liked it." But, no, I loved it. I already cannot wait for Episode VIII.

This movie looked and felt like a "Star Wars" movie. A good "Star Wars" movie. It wasn't filmed entirely in front of a green screen. They went out and shot at actual locations, built actual sets, and used beautiful practical effects. Yes, there was CGI, but it was well utilized. I'm not against CGI, just use it smartly. Don't do what George Lucas did in the prequels. That was embarrassing.

The lightsaber duel at the end was better than any lightsaber duel from the prequels. Where George Lucas gave us these overly-choreographed dances that lacked any kind of authenticity to them (along with people shouting things like "From my point of view the Jedi are evil!") I've seen fights in GI Joe cartoons that felt more real than that, and one of those fights had a man in a gold snake costume use a live snake as a javelin so he could impale a guy. When Kylo Ren battled Finn and Rey, this felt like a real fight. There was no wire work, no back flips, no unnecessary moves; I thought these people were actually trying to kill each other. It was more down to Earth than any fight in the prequels, and there was a lot more grace to it at the same time.

This movie was all about passing the torch to a new generation of characters. Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, Kylo Ren, and the rest. And it was successful at this. Each of the major new characters was automatically endearing and intriguing. We found ourselves asking the right questions thanks to a great script, and the actors were natural and charismatic in their roles. Oh... charismatic, natural acting in a "Star Wars" movie, how I have missed this.

Daisy Ridley as Rey is great. Her performance is terrific, and as the Luke Skywalker for a new generation, she gets the job done. At this point, I firmly believe she is Luke's daughter. It's not just that she is a natural at the Force as Luke and Anakin were before her, it's not that their lightsaber called to her; it's also the vision that Kylo Ren saw in her head of a vast ocean and a green island... which, living in the desert, Rey would have never even thought existed. And, hey, where did Luke turn out to be? Why was she dropped off in Jakku? Good question, but one that I am confident will be answered next time.

Now, I suppose I should address the accusation that she's a Mary Sue. I've seen that one all over the internet for several days now. Okay. Bull & Shit. A Mary Sue is a poorly written author-insert character. Who's author insert is she? Abrams'? Kasdan's? No. Yes, she is naturally in tune with the Force, but so was her father (who blew up the Death Star the first time he really used it) and her grandfather (who accidentally blew up the Trade Federation's control ship). I know I shouldn't use the next words I'm about to use, but I'm going to say it anyway. Had Rey been Ray and a male, you wouldn't be hearing the words "Mary Sue" or any variant at all. And you will never convince me otherwise. I know it and, deep inside, you know it. So, if you're whining and crying that Rey is a Mary Sue, throw yourself into an incinerator.



What I would also like to comment on is that Rey has become a terrific role model for little girls the world over. Walk into a Disney Store now, you'll see them buying, or asking their parents to buy them, Rey merchandise. They're seeing they don't need to be princesses. They can be badasses. Disney tapped into something that most of us knew was already there, and it's a wonderful thing. Marvel, maybe you should have made that Black Widow movie, hmm? DC, maybe you should have gotten a Wonder Woman movie out long ago.

John Boyega as Finn was a great character as well as a great bait and switch. Look at the trailers and the marketing, who's wielding the lightsaber in all of those? It's not Rey. But Finn was a very endearing character in his own right, someone taken as a baby, raised and conditioned to kill that still had a conscience. I thought the friendship that developed between him and Rey was lovely, as I doubt either of them had made any significant connections with any other sapient being prior to meeting each other. I also really enjoyed watching someone who wasn't adept at using the Force, lacked the potential, attempting it.

Our third major character is Kylo Ren. What a great new villain. This is what the Anakin Skywalker of the prequels should have been. Unlike Hayden Christenson, Adam Driver can act, and he does it so damn well. You see a messed up young man, and you see a murderous warlord. As the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, he's Darth Vader's grandson that was seduced by the dark side. Han tries to reach him, and is killed for it. Personally, unlike Vader, I think there's no coming back for Kylo Ren; at least I don't think there should be. Vader may have been redeemed, but I don't think we should see that story beat repeated. Kylo Ren looked great, sounded great, and his chaotic lightsaber matched him perfectly. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Rounding out the last of the major new characters is Poe Dameron played by Oscar Issac. We don't see too much of him in this movie, but I expect we'll see more of him next time. He's obviously being set up as the new Han Solo, so I can understand why he wasn't in the movie much...

... when we had Harrison Ford here as the actual Han Solo. I can't describe how happy I was to see Han again after over thirty years. Ford's return as an older Han was everything his return as Indiana Jones in 2008 should have been. Ford is like an old fashioned movie star, you seldom see that kind of charisma anymore. Now, Ford's complicated history with Han Solo has been well documented. At first, I was surprised that he was returning to the role. It couldn't have been for the money, he doesn't need it. Then, it quickly hit me why. Lawrence Kasdan was announced as the screen writer, and I knew. They were going to do what they wanted to do in "Return of the Jedi" before being overruled by George Lucas. I wouldn't be surprised if it was written into Ford's contract. So, when Han approached his son on the cat walk, I knew it was coming. The hairs on my body stood up, and... it was still a punch in the gut. This character that I grew up with, a character so firmly ingrained in not just American pop culture, but the world's pop culture, dead... at the hands of his own psychotic son. It was right. It was perfect.

I will admit, I firmly believe, to this day, that "Return of the Jedi" would have been a better movie if Han had bit the dust there. Watch it again, Harrison Ford is phoning it in, and Han Solo is given so little to do in the movie. But, in the big picture, now that this movie exists, I'm glad Han survived. It took thirty-two years to redeem that misstep, but we're finally here

And, I'm not ashamed to admit, I kinda teared up a little when Han and Leia saw each other again. Chemistry! In a "Star Wars" movie! How I've missed it!

The humor in the movie was perfect, it was genuinely funny. It never felt juvenile. It came out of who the characters were, and how they played off each other. Not pointless slap stick. No one stepping in a pile of alien feces. I laughed at the right places.

It wasn't perfect, there were short comings. I felt there were a few too many retreads of the first movie. After this, I hope planet killing super weapons are a plot point that will be put behind us. Thankfully, that was just backdrop, something for the rest of the cast to do while the real plot unfolded before us with Rey, Finn, Han, Chewbacca, and Kylo Ren. It was a short coming without being even close to a crippling flaw. Also, the villains outside of Kylo Ren, like General Hux and Captain Phasma, got the short end of the stick, but I'm sure we'll see more of them over the next two movies, so I can't complain too much.

It was a very safe movie, and I think that was a smart move. Considering how almost universally loathed the prequels were, "The Force Awakens" had to remind us why we fell in love with a galaxy far, far away to begin with; all while acting as a launching point for the new direction. I suspect that now that this is out of the way, we're going to really cut loose. If history repeats itself, Episode VIII will be even better than this. And Episode VIII is being directed by Rian Johnson. Know who he is? He directed a few "Breaking Bad" episodes, specifically "Ozymandias" aka the most traumatic hour in the history of television, so we've already got a director that's better than Abrams, just as Irvin Kershner was better than George Lucas.

I already saw the movie twice, I can't wait to own the Blu-ray, and overall, I give it an A-.

Rey is going to lose a body part in the next movie, isn't she?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Retro Review: Webworld



Oh, "Transformers". I have such a complicated history with you; some of my earliest memories were playing with your toys and watching your cartoons, then you eventually ended up on the list of franchises I loved that I felt betrayed me. I didn't like Armada, Energon, or Cybertron; I did love Animated, only for that to be killed to make more room on the shelves for toys based on Michael Bay's abominable movies... specifically, "Revenge of the Fallen".

Lately, however, I have been in a reconciliatory mood with franchises that broke my heart. In the case of "Transformers", my brother and other friends had spent two years recommending the current IDW comic books, and I finally broke down and read them. They're good. Really good. I then proceeded to re-visit some of my favorite episodes of "Beast Wars" and the classic series, and decided that I would write a review of my favorite episode not of Generation One, but of the entire franchise.

"Webworld" is an episode of Generation One's third season, the infamous post-movie episodes. I'm not afraid to say that this is the best season of Generation One, as a whole. And I've noticed that history has vindicated it since the shows came out on DVD. In the 1980's, it wasn't so popular. Optimus Prime was dead, the old favorites were dead or cast aside in favor of a new (and, in my opinion, superior) cast of characters. No longer did the show take place exclusively on Earth, but became more of a space-faring science fiction series. Also, and while there were a lot of clunkers in there, the better episodes tended to be a lot more sophisticated than anything out of the first two seasons. They're not "Batman the Animated Series" or "Gargoyles", but they were a step towards the more mature fare we would see later. And I think that's been noticed more by fans who have gone back and watched the series on DVD through adult eyes.

"Webworld" was written by Len Wein and Diane Duane, and right there you realize you're in for something special. Wein is most famous for the creation of Wolverine during his time at Marvel Comics. Diane Duane has written many novels, a few episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", and as an unabashed "Gargoyles" fanboy, I will point out that she wrote "The Hound of Ulster". The animation in the episode is, well, kind of crummy, but the script makes up for any of those short comings.

The episode opens with Galvatron, Cyclonus, Scourge, the Sweeps, and Soundwave attacking a small group of Autobots mining a mineral on an asteroid belt. In his madness, Galvatron proves to be more of a danger to his own troops than the Autobots, allowing the Autobots to easily escape. When they return to Charr, two other Decepticons threaten Cyclonus with mutiny unless something is done about Galvatron's madness.

Side note, Galvatron's madness was caused when, during the climax of The Movie, he was tossed from Unicron into the depths of space, where he landed on Thrull, a lava planet, and spent weeks or months submerged, and his metaprocessor melted. Just for fun, here's where this all started:


The Quintessons appear, and take advantage of Cyclonus' desperation to help his mad leader, by pointing him in the direction of the planet Torqulon, a planet that specializes in psychiatry. Cyclonus tricks Galvatron into going to this planet where he is captured and taken into, not custody, but therapy. The Torqulites attempt several methods of therapy from talking about his problems, shop class, acting out his problems, etc. Each attempt ends with Galvatron attempting to escape and murder one or several people. These scenes are both amusing and sad at the same time.

Once it becomes clear that therapy is useless, the Torqulites attempt to plug Galvatron into their planet's central computer, and effectively lobotomize him. Torqulon itself is a living, organic computer, you see. Cyclonus objects and when he and the Sweeps attempt to rescue their deranged leader, they themselves are restrained as Torqulon begins to destroy Galvatron, and accesses his mind... only to be infected by Galvatron's madness and go crazy itself. Galvatron then breaks free and proceeds to destroy the planet's central memory core before destroying the Torqulites' entire civilization.

Wow.

I love this episode, I do. It focuses on my favorite Decepticons. Galvatron and Cyclonus are characters that I have loved for many years. They may not be as well known as the more famous Megatron and Starscream, but they are terrific characters. Cyclonus was a loyal second-in-command. Maybe too loyal for his own good. You so seldom see villains, especially in that era actually regard each other with concern, and caring for each other's well being... hell, it's still rare today.

More than that, I am surprised this script was approved and the episode was green lit. The Autobots are only in it for three minutes at the beginning. This is an episode that focuses exclusively on the Decepticons, our villains. Galvatron, the season's Big Bad, is helpless throughout most of the episode, and we begin to sympathize with him and his plight. The episode contains no big battle scenes of note, there is no good versus evil. It's not even shilling new toys. It's about a lieutenant taking his mad leader to receive help. It ends with Galvatron destroying an entire planet. Again, this is still rare today.

I think it's the best episode of the series, and while it's still a product of its era, and despite the mediocre animation, I still can't help but give this episode a solid A. It's just remarkable.

My next post will be about another franchise that broke my heart in the past, but I've been feeling reconcilatory towards. Stay tuned for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens".

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Why Fergus Went Right Where William Went Wrong




It's no secret that I love Crowley from "Supernatural". It's been pointed out by others that he's the personification of my id. I think Mark Sheppard's performance as Crowley is perfection. Likewise, I loved the character of Spike from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and James Marsters' performance. What do both of these characters have in common? They're both villainous, snarky assholes from Great Britain, and both villains proved to be so popular that not only were they not killed off, they were promoted to series regulars. However, execution is everything and one of these shows went wrong in its approach and, shockingly, it wasn't "Supernatural."

Spike first appeared in the second season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where he was introduced as a starter villain who would have died halfway through the season, paving the way for his girlfriend, and perhaps the true villain of the season, Drusilla to take center stage alongside Angelus (once Angel lost his soul). Dru gets a lot of background build up throughout the first half of the season, while Spike tries to restore her to full power. Along the way, Spike becomes massively popular and when the mid-season arc hits, he is spared... crippled and moved to the side, but spared. The decision to spare Spike was a good one, as he had great chemistry with everyone around him, alongside being a charming, viciously evil killer.

The second season ends with Spike deciding that he wants to help save the world, but not for altruistic reasons. He likes the world, prey is easy to find, and he wants Dru back... who has now sided with Angelus. He allies himself with Buffy so he can escape with Dru, and at one point just leaves Buffy to die at Angelus' hand with a simple shrug. Between seasons, Dru dumps Spike and he returns to Sunnydale as part of an effort to win her back over. It fails, and then he returns to Sunnydale a year later to gain power, before fleeing and returning yet again for vengeance only to be captured, neutered, and forced into an uneasy alliance with Buffy where his role pretty much becomes the snarky, sarcastic asshole who calls her an idiot. He was brought in to replaced Cordelia Chase who had moved over to "Angel" only the producers realized that the character of Anya did it better, so rather than write Spike out, they arrived at a different solution.

And this is where Spike, as a character, lost me. Out of no where, he fell in love with Buffy. His enemy. The girl he had been obsessively trying to murder for three seasons and counting. What's worse, we have a flashback retcon that the real reason Dru dumped him was because she knew he was in love with Buffy and that's why he helped Buffy defeat Angelus... never mind that doesn't correspond with anything we saw on screen. He didn't help Buffy save the world, he left her to die and escaped with Dru. He spent his one appearance in season three conspiring to win back Dru. The whole "he was in love with her all along" retcon doesn't gel with anything we have seen because that didn't exist in the writing and directing of the show up until now. It was clumsily inserted in and, in my opinion, it never worked. Ever. Now, I won't deny that Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters had a ton of chemistry, but that didn't make the writing to exploit that chemistry any less lazy.

Spike fared much better once he moved over to "Angel". While the foundation was flimsy, he was an antagonist to the titular character, which is a role he played far better than love interest.

Now, where did Crowley go right? He was a cunning, pragmatic, demon who helped the Winchesters defeat Lucifer and then rose to the position of King of Hell. He didn't help them due to altruism, he did it out of self preservation. He knew Lucifer would wipe out demon kind once he was done with humanity. So, right there, working with the Winchesters was something he was willing to do in his very first appearance. From there on out, he had schemes which the Winchesters would foil, or where they would play as his unwitting pawns. He was a dangerous enemy, but he also positioned himself as the devil they know, as his position might be usurped by a demon that wasn't as pragmatic and might do damage on a grander scale.

Crowley became a regular in season nine, following an attempt by the Winchesters to cure him of being a demon by injecting him with human blood and restoring his mortality. The cure was incomplete, but Crowley had enough blood in him to restore some of his humanity, it made him want to feel something. He remained a scheming bastard, but he grew fond of the Winchesters in a creepy way. He was still willing to manipulate them, and even kill them, but in his own way, he liked them. In short, he never stopped being a villain. When he and Dean Winchester had "their summer of love", it was when Dean was temporarily a demon inflicted with the Mark of Caine. Yes, Crowley was fond of him, but he was also a powerful resource. Later that season, when his mother, Rowena returned, he tried to forge a connection despite griping about her abusing and abandoning him centuries ago... that didn't work out, and they became bitter enemies. When Sam Winchester failed to kill Crowley (as part of a deal with Rowena to remove the Mark of Caine), Crowley bled out all the human blood that he had been injected with, consumed, and was back to his old self, all while thanking Sam for reminding him what he was.

Now, why did Crowley hang out with the Winchesters, Castiel, and continue to tolerate Rowena (between the two trying to kill each other). Even at the height of his powers as King of Hell, he was surrounded by sycophants and traitors. He had no love or respect for either. Traitors gave him something to do, while sycophants just bored him... yes, he enjoyed the worship, but that gets old. The Winchesters were a challenge. Castiel was a challenge. Rowena was a challenge. They stood up to him. They made him work harder at whatever his current plans are. He enjoyed that. He respected that. He found their company preferable. Remember when he told Bobby, shortly after claiming the throne, that he was beginning to sympathize with Lucifer's plot to spike every demon from existence?

Where Crowley goes from here, we have yet to see. But, and while it pains me to say this because, if I'm honest, as a whole "Buffy" is probably the better show than "Supernatural" (particularly if we're talking about the post-Apocalypse seasons), this is an area that "Supernatural" stands heads and shoulders above Buffy on. Is it absurd that Spike and Crowley survived for so long? A little. But "Supernatural" justified the continuing presence of their evil, snarky, Brit more than "Buffy" did. All because of one thing, "Supernatural" never forgot what Crowley was.

EDIT (2017): Well, as of the end of season twelve, Crowley is now dead and it seems to be permanent (since Mark Sheppard has supposedly departed the series). And, while I had issues with things leading up to Crowley's death as well as its handling, I still hold the opinion that Crowley's redemption arc was far more believable than Spike's ever was). After his humanity was partially restored, he wanted emotional connections. It's why he tried to befriend the Winchesters (while still antagonizing them). It's why he reached out to the mother he loathed, why he was emotionally broken by his son, Gavin, choosing to go back in time to die. And I'm sure that's partially why he wanted to raise Amara/The Darkness as his own, and why he contemplated trying to raise Lucifer's spawn. For all his talk of wanting power, Crowley wanted a family. And, in the end, he found one in the Winchesters. However, despite all that... his final actions were motivated as much out of spite as they were about anything else. Spite towards Lucifer, and spite toward demon kind.

It was a slow build, but far more organic and believable than Spike, out of no where, having a dream about making out with Buffy and realizing he'd been in love with her all along.  For all of it's flaws, when Crowley died, I was stunned. Shocked. When Spike died (in Buffy season seven), while trading declarations of love with Buffy, it was hollow... devoid of emotion or logic. And while the road to Crowley's death had logical issues I could rant about for a day and a half, the emotional build up was there, I will not take that away from it.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Romanticizing Abuse - Joker and Harley

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD!

Let me be clear, if you are a fan of the Joker, I have no problem. If you are a fan of the of the Joker and Harley Quinn, I have no problem. If you find their story and dynamic fascinating, then I have no problem. Hell, I find them to be great characters with an interesting story and dynamic. But if you find it romantic, cute, and something to aspire to in your own relationship, then, quite frankly, you either missed the point, you're an idiot, or you're just plain sick.

What prompted this entry? For a while now, I've been seeing these memes of Joker and Harley popping up as a lovey dovey couple and a romance that "weirdos in love" should aspire to. And it's not just one or two people I've seen doing it, it's a lot of people. Fans of comics and even comic creators have been doing this. And I stare at them all dumbfounded.

Here's a few examples. There are more. There are a lot more.







Several years ago, a friend of mine told me that she was creeped out by people who got tattoos of the dark mark from JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. To her, the dark mark represented racism, fascism, outright Nazism. In the series that is definitely true, but for real life I admit I thought she was taking it a little bit too seriously. I understand her point of view better now when I see all of these postings, means, pictures, etc that people are posting for their significant others of the Joker and Harley Quinn as if this is the relationship they want to have. And it sickens me.

The Joker doesn't love Harley Quinn. In his own words, Harley is his "henchwench". Nothing more to him, nothing less to him. She is a tool. She is being used. She is being abused. She goes crawling back for more. This isn't a love for the ages, this is Nicole Brown Simpson and OJ. This is Edward being creepy and controlling of Bela as written by people who know better than Stephanie Meyer. This is NOT SOMETHING TO ASPIRE TO!

If you "weirdos in love" want to aspire to any romance, Gomez and Mortica Addams comes to mind. There are also much better villainous couples out there.

As for why Harley and Joker are a vile relationship to emulate? Let me start with a video I've been posting in response every time I see that meme.


Can't watch videos? Let's take a look at key pages from the comic that was based on.




Still not good enough? Still not convinced? Then let's take a look at the real life equivalent of all this.


Every time you say you want what Joker and Harley have, this is what you're saying you want.

*Drops the mic*


Friday, August 7, 2015

This Isn't Good-bye



There are millions of thought pieces going up around the internet about "The Daily Show" and Jon Stewart, mine will just be one of those millions and I will be lucky if more than five people see this one. But I don't care how many see this. My thoughts are mine alone, and free to be shared with whomever is interested in them.

To say that I was gutted when Jon Stewart initially announced his retirement would be an understatement. I am not ashamed to admit that I was depressed about it for a week. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has meant a lot to me. It was a lifeboat in a sea of, well, bullshit. A sea that we as a species have been navigating since, well, since long before I was born, since our ancestors came down from the trees and decided not to write evolution off as a bad idea.

When Jon Stewart took over for Craig Kilborn, I don't think he had any idea what he was getting into. Nor do I think any of us have any idea what we were in for. I remember those early shows. Jon's suits didn't fit, he was still working with what was left of Kilborn's tenure as the show adjusted. Adjusted into the fifth estate as one of the few sources that when it couldn't speak the truth, at least cut through the bullshit so we could discover the truth for ourselves.

Jon Stewart also tried to make us all aware of our own bullshit. No one is immune. We are all wrong sometimes. Own your wrongness. Learn from it. Even Jon Stewart has, more than once, on the air. But some people just cannot, will not examine their own bullshit. Just about every hardcore right winger I know HATES Jon Stewart. I suspect it's because right wingers consider their ideology so sacred and it's purveyors so God-like that any degree of critique, lampooning, disrespect or seeing through it is simply unacceptable. They are completely incapable of handling any dismantling of their rigid "belief" system so rather than try to learn from it, they not only reject it but they come away even more convinced that they are right and he and his supporters are as wrong as one could possibly be. Stewart actually made right wingers cling to their ideology even harder than they would have otherwise. It's called "The Backfire Effect"... when your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger. I figured the Backfire Effect was a side effect of turning politics into identity. When you criticize a Republican policy, Republicans think you're criticizing them personally. "I don't think the Iraq War was such a good idea..." "OH YEAH, WELL LET ME TELL YOU A FEW THINGS ABOUT YOUR MOTHER YOU ASSHOLE!" It's an immature reaction no matter who's doing it. But Republicans have re-framed the argument so that disagreement IS hostility. "I don't think the Iraq war was such a good idea..." "OH WHY ARE YOU SO FULL OF HATRED FOR TRUE AMERICAN HEROES?!?!!?!?"

I've been watching "The Daily Show" for sixteen years. I've never missed an episode, and if I did I made sure I got caught up on it later. I've been in the live studio audience for the show three times. I tried to get tickets for one more show, after he announced his retirement, but it wasn't meant to be. Did Jon Stewart influence my political thinking? Everything is an influence one way or another. Re-read my previous paragraph about "The Backfire Effect". So, I'm going to say yes. I like to think that, more than anything, while making me laugh he also helped tune my bullshit detector and sharpened my sword to cut through the bullshit.

Watching all of the former correspondents show up to bid Jon a fond farewell was like doing it myself. It was like a graduation and a reunion all at the same time. It was funny and touching, and I wish I could transcribe what I felt watching this without rehashing what I wrote about the finale of "The Colbert Report" last December.

I'll give my blog to Jon Stewart for a moment, transcribing his final monologue to us, the audience.

"Bullshit. Is everywhere. Bullshit is everywhere. There is very little you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit. Not all of it bad. Your general, day-today, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. Or, at the very least, innocuous. 'Oh, what a beautiful baby. I'm sure it'll grow into that.' That kind of bullshit, in many ways, provides important social-contract fertilizer. It keeps people from making each other cry all day. But then there's the more pernicious bullshit. Your premeditated, institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bullshitocracy.

"It comes in three basic flavors. One, making bad things sound like good things. Organic, all-natural. Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn't sell. Patriot Act. Because 'are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records' Act doesn't sell. So whenever something's been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it's been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit.

"Number two. The second way. Hiding the bad things under a mountain of bullshit. Complexity. You know, I would love to download Drizzy's latest Meek Mill dis. Everyone promised me that made sense. But I'm not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy's iTunes agreement. So I'll just click 'Agree' even if it grants Apple prima nocte with my spouse. Here's another one, simply put. Simply put. Banks shouldn't be able to bet your pension money on red. Bullshitly put, it's, hey, this Dodd Frank. Hey, a handful of billionaires can't buy our elections, right? Of course not. They can only pour unlimited anonymous cash into a 501(c)4, otherwise they'd have to 501(c)6 it, or funnel it openly through a non-campaign coordinated super PAC... I think they're asleep now, we can sneak out.

"And finally, finally, it's the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. 'We can't do anything because we don't yet know everything yet. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay marriage vaccines won't cause our children to marry goats who are going to come for our guns. Until then I say to teach the controversy.'

"Now, the good news is this. Bullshitters have gotten lazy and their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time. Like an "I Spy" of bullshit. So, I say to you tonight, friends. The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something."

He wasn't going to be around forever. We need to pay attention ourselves. We need to hold the government and media's feet to the fire and not allow them to distract us with petty bullshit. Will there ever be another Jon Stewart? I think the best thing we can do is all try to be more like Jon Stewart, because Bullshit Mountain isn't going anywhere. But, if we're vigilant, we can prevent it from spreading.


You kept me sane in difficult times. Take care.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Here's What I Don't Get



Say you hate Jessica Jones as a character, no one bats an eye.
Say you hate Gambit as a character, no one bats an eye.
Say you hate Luke Skywalker as a character, no one bats an eye.
Say you hate the Fantastic Four or the Flash as characters, no one bats an eye.
Say you hate Wolverine as a character, no one bats an eye.

But, if you say you hate Superman as a character, it’s like going to your grandmother’s church and spitting in the face of a statue of Jesus Christ hanging over the altar. You get lectured, people sending you articles about how wrong you are, and told you’re a horrible, awful person.

For God’s sake, Superman is a fictional character. Demona from “Gargoyles” is my favorite character of all time, and I don’t care if someone hates her as a character.

Explain it to me! Explain!

For gods’ sake, Superman isn’t even the first superhero. Ever heard of the Scarlet Pimpernel?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why I Dislike JLU's Cadmus Arc


"I think I'll wear this to the State of the Union."

This is one of those entries that I know I'm going to get killed over, but this is my opinion. If you don't like it, well I am confident you will let me know.

The DC Animated Universe is, in many ways, the "Star Trek" franchise of animation. So many interconnected shows, in a semi-coherent universe. Like "Star Trek", most of it wasn't really serialized. There would be call-backs quite a bit and continuity nods, but most of it consisted of stand alone episodes and occasional multi-parters. Deep Space Nine broke the mold later in it's run when the Dominion War began to heat up, and when Justice League Unlimited came about, into that show's second season, it tried something no other DCAU series ever attempted. An ongoing story arc.

"My known association with this man should guarantee my front runner status."

The Cadmus arc came about as a response to the idea of the Superman and the Justice League going rogue, as they could easily subjugate or even destroy the world. The League answered to no one. There was no oversight, and no accountability. So Cadmus was founded by Amanda Waller as a means to level the playing field, and bring the League down if necessary. I thought the idea was fascinating and had a lot of promise.

Sadly, I thought the Cadmus arc didn't live up to the promise it had shown. The fact is, the League can be dangerous. Cadmus was a natural response. But the moment things got too nuanced, out comes the convenient bad guy for them to punch in the face. As Hawkgirl said "less talking, more hitting." We discovered that Lex Luthor was funding Cadmus as a means to discredit the League, as well as running for President of the United States in an orchestrated scheme to piss Superman off. Now I need to get into this. I am not a fan of the DCAU version of Lex Luthor. At all. Clancy Brown's great voice aside, this version of Lex Luthor belonged in the 80's as he was no more competent or interesting than the likes of Skeletor. 

"George Dubya got arrested for drunken disorderly conduct once. I should be fine."

And why was his campaign for President such a concern anyway? The man was openly a supervillain and had been arrested and convicted of selling weapons to terrorists (in a post-9/11 world!) When he announced he was running, Superman shouldn't have been nervous, Superman should have just raised an eyebrow. The League should have been laughing at the very idea. It's like Donald Trump running for President x 100. Donald Trump has no chance of actually winning the presidency. The DCAU version of Lex Luthor should have even less of a chance. Imagine if Greg Weisman had Demona, not Dominique Destine, but Demona run for President with a legitimate shot at winning it. Imagine if Marvel had the Green Goblin becoming the most powerful man in the United States government, it's that stupid... oh wait, that last one actually happened. Whoops.

If you remove Lex Luthor and Brainiac from the Cadmus arc, it would have been much, much better. More interesting. More nuanced. More mature. Such potential, but sadly that potential was squandered. And if they really, really wanted to use Lex Luthor in this fashion, they should have thought ahead and not had him be openly a supervillain leading the Injustice Gang. Once they did that, Luthor's role in the Cadmus arc was no longer probable or believable and they should have found another candidate to fill the role. Lex Luthor becoming Secretary General of the United Nations at the end of "Young Justice" wasn't the same crime because while we in the audience as well as the League and the Team know what Lex is, as far as we know he's never had his image tarnished to the public. Such is the beauty of planning ahead.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron


Well, that was... big. No wait, big isn't an adequate enough word. That was huge. After this, I understand why "Avengers: Infinity War" is going to be divided into two movies. If "Age of Ultron" was huge than "Infinity War" has got to be gargantuan. But was "Age of Ultron" good? Having slept on that, my answer is "yes, but..."

It was great to see these characters all come together again. More than that, it's nice to see a film series where characters actually seem to develop as opposed to playing the exact same beats over and over again throughout sequel after sequel. Thor is now a thinker as opposed to a berserker rage warrior, he takes the time needed to get answers instead of going in half-cocked with his hammer. Captain America has grown into his role as the leader of these heroes. The Black Widow has learned to open up and not constantly be on guard and on mode 24/7, but vulnerability leads to heartbreak. Bruce Banner is an even more broken man than he's been before. Tony Stark has created his biggest blunder, and nearly destroyed the world... I hope that when next we see him, he's learned from it; but given that we'll be seeing him next in "Captain America: Civil War", it seems like he's going to be taking responsibility a bit too far (to say the least).

For those of you like me who were disappointed that Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye had way too little to do in previous movies, or felt like an afterthought in the first "Avengers", this movie is one big apology. Hawkeye really gets to shine, we get to know not just Hawkeye but Clint Barton. What motivates him, why he does what he does, and that he is every bit the snarky, sarcastic smart ass that he was in the comic books. Like a lot of other things, it's Ultimate's background with 616's characterization. I was very happy with Hawkeye.

And then there's the villain of the piece, Ultron. I thought he was great, James Spader was great. Genuinely creepy. Menacing. Psychotic. A being of pure rage and hate. Everything the Ultron of the comic books is, but altered since Hank Pym did not create him. An artificial intelligence created to bring peace in our time, and to do that he's decided to destroy humanity, because what greater source of chaos and destruction is there than humanity? It's a story we've seen told with A.I.'s many times, but few of them contain such rage, psychosis, and snarky sarcasm. Now, I've seen a lot of people complain about Ultron being snarky and sarcastic, that he's supposed to be a cold, emotionless killing machine. I ask if these people ever read a comic book, because Ultron is sentient, Ultron laughs, Ultron is rage and hate, and snark and sarcasm. Now, as opposed to the comics, some have complained that he's too snarky and sarcastic. Gee, I don't know, it's almost as if this version of Ultron was created by Tony Stark.

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were fun additions who I wish had gotten more to do, but we'll see more of at least one of them later. The strength of the shared universe aspect of these movies is if you feel a character is getting the short end of the stick, they'll get more time later on; Hawkeye being the prime example at the moment. I thought that Scarlet Witch's powers were really effectively done, especially for a character who's abilities in the comics have always been rather vague and not that well defined. Quicksilver, well, he was a better character here than the version in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" but he didn't have anywhere near as good a sequence as the DOFP version did when they busted Magneto out of prison. So, which version was better? Your mileage may vary. If character means more to you, than AoU Quicksilver was better, if powers mean more, than DOFP is better.

I refuse to spoil Vision, just go see it. All I will say is that I am happy with Vision.

Also, I absolutely loved that the Avengers' first priority during battle scenes was saving lives. Even when it was just Tony Stark against the rampaging Hulk, Tony made it his first priority to get the enraged beast away from civilians, it was easier said than done, but at least he tried. You see, Zack Snyder?! YOU SEE?!

So in terms of basic story and character, I was happy with what we got. For me, the characters are the most important aspect of any movie, and thankfully they got that right. Unfortunately, here comes the "but." And it's a big "but."

I thought the editing was lousy. Too much was happening at too fast a pace with too many people to keep up, and for me as a guy who lives and breathes Marvel, this is a pretty big problem. I mentioned this on Facebook last night and a friend of mine, a Mr. Frank Paur (who you might remember as the Supervising Director of "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes") had this to say: "I can understand why Joss Whedon wouldn't take another Marvel movie right now. It's hard to top Avengers 1, and the sheer magnitude of all the characters has got to be a nightmare. I completely understand the editing choices". And he is right. Considering everything, I do understand the editing choices, but it was too big a movie for the run time, and I wish that announcement by Amazon that the Blu-ray was going to be an extended edition hadn't been debunked, because this movie needed more time to breathe, and more time with everybody. This is why I am glad that "Avengers: Infinity War" will be two parts instead of one, because just about everybody will be coming back along with Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and the Guardians of the Galaxy along with Thanos, Loki, and who knows what other villains. "Lord of the Rings" didn't have a cast as big as "Avengers: Infinity War" is going to.

I also didn't care for how the action sequences were filmed. Why? Too much Michael Bay shaky-cam. The worst offender being Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor vs. Hulk. Not that there weren't moments there that I didn't enjoy, mostly brought about by Tony Stark as a character, but I didn't like how it was shot. The first "Avengers" movie had a much cleaner, far less kinetic style of photography to it. There were moments where the only reason I was able to tell what was happening or who was who were the different colors everybody was wearing. Also, there was one action sequence too many, there should have been more of a break before the final battle sequence... which, I do admit, was one of the coolest set pieces I've seen in a movie in a long time.

Another big issue, and this is an issue that's been building up for a long time, a few paragraphs up I mentioned a strength of the shared universe aspect. But, sadly, the shared universe has become a double-edged sword. There was so much set-up for future movies, it often came at the expense of this one. Remember how big a problem this was for "Iron Man 2"? Yeah, it's kind of like that. While worrying about Ultron, the seeds for "Captain America: Civil War", "Thor: Ragnorak", and "Avengers: Infinity War" are being sowed, which is fine, but I could have done with less sowing. I'm sure this will play better when all the Blu-rays are on my shelf and I am re-watching them, but when you're waiting years for the seeds to bear fruit, it's annoying. This was very much a middle episode. But, unlike some other middle episodes ("Desolation of Smaug", I'm looking at you!) at least it had a beginning, middle, and end (which makes me realize I was way too kind to "Desolation of Smaug", this movie was even more packed than that but managed to be a lot more self-contained). Once again, thank gods that "Infinity War" will be in two parts, after seeing this, that's the only way to do a movie that huge.

The worst part of the viewing experience wasn't the movie itself, it was two things. The audience we sat with was very obnoxious. Teenagers who wouldn't shut up, wouldn't stop laughing at inappropriate moments, and thought their own jokes were so damn funny. This happened the first time I saw "Captain America: The First Avenger", which killed my enjoyment... of course further viewings without such an audience improved the movie's quality for me, so I hope a future viewing of "Age of Ultron" without an audience will allow me to pay closer attention to what was going on, and make it more coherent for me. The second problem was, someone in the projection booth messed up during the last ten minutes, and the picture and audio fell completely out of sync. I'm talking about picture at least forty-five seconds before sound... at first I wondered if it was a strange editing choice, but nope. Thankfully, they let us re-watch the last fifteen minutes after a thirty minute wait. But these two unfortunate elements really sucked the fun out of the evening.

And, I realize this is a cop out, but I am not giving the movie an overall grade at this time. I need a second viewing because I initially wrote a very negative review of "Captain America: The First Avenger" only to re-evaluate it later with a second, better viewing. So, you'll get my grade when I do my end of the year grading, and have seen the movie on Blu-ray in my own house on my sixty-five inch HD-TV.

Farewell, Joss. Russo Brothers, it's your turn.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Vindication!


Joss Whedon is my master now.

Yes, the TV show that I have hated more than any other, the one that most disgusted me, that I couldn't help but look down on people who like it because it is so terrible has been Goliath Chronicled!

I think I'll quote Joss right now.
The Coulson thing was, I think, a little anomalous just because that really came from the television division, which is sort of considered to be its own subsection of the Marvel universe. As far as the fiction of the movies, Coulson is dead.
So, there you have it. There's more out there, but Joss Whedon has declared that "Special Snowflake & The S.H.I.T. Squad" is not canon to the movies. You will never ever see Coulson in a movie again. You will never see Agent May in a movie. You will never see the two annoying scientists in a movie. You will never see HYDRA's Block of Wood in a movie. You will never see Special Snowflake in a movie. The show itself does not matter.

Short of cancellation, I cannot think of a more vicious blow to strike against this disgusting TV show. I mean, those of us with good taste and common sense knew it didn't matter, but damn, even Joss Whedon doesn't like it. Yes, this put a big ol' grin on my face.

Oh, joygasm!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky


"I’ve known good criminals and bad cops, bad priests, honorable thieves. You can be on one side of the law or the other. But if you make a deal with somebody, you keep your word. You can go home today with your money and never do this again. But you took something that wasn’t yours, and you sold it for a profit. You’re now a criminal. Good one, bad one, that’s up to you."

And that quote, from the great Mike Ehrmantraut, defines how, not only the world created by Vince Gilligan works, but perhaps how our real world works as well.

As I have mentioned previously, I looked forward to this show with a lot of trepidation. Lightning seldom strikes twice in the world of pop culture. Sequels and spin-offs are a dime a dozen, but good sequels and spin-offs are a rare jewel. "Better Call Saul" is something even rarer, not just a good prequel, but a great prequel. I hope George Lucas is paying attention, because this is how it's done.

I've heard some criticize this first season by saying that it didn't really know what it wanted to be. Was it a crime show? Was it a lawyer show? What was this show? Why did it take so long to find its footing? Unlike many other shows which struggle in their first season, I have to believe this was deliberate. It wasn't the show that didn't know what it wanted to be, it was Jimmy McGill who didn't really know what he wanted to be. Did he want to be the respectable attorney, James M. McGill, Esq for himself, or because he wanted his brother, Chuck to be proud of him? Or was Slippin' Jimmy really who he wanted to be? Exactly who is Jimmy McGill? I don't think he honestly knew, until he stood in that parking lot, James M. McGill, Esq in front of him, Slippin' Jimmy behind him, and thought about his respectable blood brother, Chuck, who would always see him as a scumbag, and his brother from another mother, Marco, who did love and respect him. The choice was as clear as day, and Bob Odenkirk deserves an Emmy nomination, although I suspect he will lose to Jon Hamm this fall.

Michael McKean, who plays Chuck McGill, summed up Jimmy's new outlook appropriately when, in an interview with Salon when he called it "the American escape hatch", and he said the following: "If everything else goes off in your face, if your family can’t stand the sight of you, if you can’t hold a job, if you can’t stay away from drugs and booze, well, at least you can make a lot of money and have all this f-you money stacked up." And it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Chuck did say that "Slippin' Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun," and the grand tragedy being that it didn't have to be this way. Had Chuck given Jimmy a chance, just a small chance, Jimmy would never have become Saul Goodman, criminal lawyer. But now, his path is just beginning, a path to Walter White and, maybe ultimately, maybe not, a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska. I just hope that Chuck gets over his mental condition in time to see the first Saul Goodman commercial.

Jonathan Banks' return to this world as Mike Ehrmentraut was more than welcome... suck it, "Community" fans, Jonathan Banks is our's MWA HA HA! But hey, you guys have Keith David now, I think that's a fair trade. Anyway, Mike's return is more than welcome and, as a good prequel should do, makes his death during "Breaking Bad" all the more tragic. We knew he was motivated to provide for his granddaughter, but we didn't know exactly why. Banks himself, when they were filming "Breaking Bad" contributed the idea that would later become the key to his arc in this prequel, that Kaylee's mother wasn't Mike's daughter. And since we never saw a sign of Kaylee's father in "Breaking Bad", that meant one of two things, which eventually culminated in one of this season's highlights, the episode "Five-O" where we learn that Mike blames himself, in part, for his son's death in a performance that should earn Jonathan Banks an Emmy. Jimmy and Mike, although not allied yet, will make a great duo. This one man who doesn't quite know who he is, and another who knows exactly who he is.

If there is one hope I have for the second season, I hope Kim Wexler, played by Rhea Seehorn, has more to do. I am confident she will, because her own history with Jimmy is still pretty nebulous, and probably by design. Are they just friends? Were they more than friends? It's clear that Jimmy has stronger feelings for her than friendship, and she probably does as well. As the season closed, she practically handed Jimmy the chance to be James M. McGill, Esq. A chance he didn't take as he chose the path that will lead to Saul Goodman, if he isn't Saul Goodman in all but name already. Will there be fall out? Why do I ask? This is Vince Gilligan's universe, a universe very much like our own, of course there will be.

The writing is as sharp as anything else on television and, just like "Breaking Bad" before it, the cinematography is second to none on television. As a film school graduate, I cannot think of a set I would rather work on than this one. It's the most beautifully shot show on television, and every shot is calculated to mean just as much to the narrative as any line of dialogue. This is why audio-visual technology was invented in the first place. The best show on television? Easily.

Not bad for a show that started out as a joke in the writer's room. My overall grade for this season? I give it a Saul, because it's all good, man.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I won't watch that, it's live-action!

Growing up as a fan of various animated TV shows, I would often have people look down their noses at it because it was animated. "Oi, why should I watch a cartoon. Cartoons are for kids", and I always, always believed those people were being closed-minded and missing out on some damn good television.

Now, as a thirty-three year-old man, I am finding the same attitude from some animation fans towards live action. They won't watch a show because it's live action, just aren't interested. Which is their prerogative, but they are closing themselves off to some damn fine television. But what gets me is this, I know they've heard similar about animation while growing up, and one would think they would learn to not be so closed-minded.

Then I ask myself if I've become anti-animation. I do not think so, there just doesn't happen to be any animated shows currently on the air that appeal to me, aside from waiting for the sixth season of "The Venture Bros." I hated "Legend of Korra", was kinda lukewarm towards "Star Wars Rebels", and I think Marvel's current animation output is atrocious. I still don't understand "Adventure Time", nor do I care about "Gravity Falls". I'm sure another animated series that I care about will come along eventually, but aside from "The Venture Bros.", it just doesn't exist at this moment in time.

Meanwhile, I think "Better Call Saul" is turning out to be a masterpiece. I really enjoyed the third season of "House of Cards", I was very pleasantly surprised by "Agent Carter" and "Arrow". I await the fifth season of "Game of Thrones" with breathless anticipation, and I look forward to the Netflix "Daredevil" series. But gods knows there's a lot of crap on live action. My feelings for a certain show airing on ABC are a matter of public record now, and I thought "Gotham" turned out to be crap.

What's next for animation? There's really nothing in the pipe I'm looking forward to, except for when Greg Weisman's next series is announced. Aside from that, the number of shows that appeal to me are practically zero. Meanwhile I've recently re-visited "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes", "Young Justice", "Avatar: The Last Airbender", and I re-visit "Spectacular Spider-Man" constantly for my podcast; and I'm planning a "Gargoyles" re-watch soon as well as one for "Batman: The Animated Series" and "Transformers Animated". All shows I really enjoyed and still enjoy.

I love animated shows and I love live action shows. I do not believe one medium is inherently superior to the other, but at the end of the day, mediums aside, "Breaking Bad" is superior to "Transformers" and "My Little Pony". It just is.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Agent Carter - Season One


What can I say, I loved it! I thought it was great! It left me wanting more. I wish I could write a longer review, but it's difficult when all you're saying is "I loved it", because I could find no fault in this series.

Marvel's greatest heroes are not and never have been about their powers or costumes. Spider-Man is about responsibility. The X-Men are about overcoming bigotry. Iron Man is about being a hero despite your personal flaws. The Fantastic Four are about family. Peggy Carter is about succeeding in a world that would rather patronize you. In the wrong hands, this could easily be heavy handed, but "Agent Carter" was woven by talented people both in front of and behind the camera, and I am glad they went in the direction they did, as we have sadly seen that this is a message that bears repeating.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the bromance between Peggy and Jarvis is the greatest platonic friendship between a woman and a man that I've ever seen on television. It's actually tragic how rare this sort of thing is, but never, not once, did I ever think about these two getting together while watching it. And what makes this even more amazing is that there is chemistry oozing between these two, but it's not romantic chemistry at all. Hell, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman have more erotic chemistry between them than Peggy and Jarvis. Well done.

Although her real name wasn't revealed, I still believe that Dottie Underwood is Yelena Belova. As an antagonist, she was great with a genuine sense of menace. As was her boss, Johann Fennhoff (Dr. Faustus in the comic books), a genuinely creepy villain seeking vengeance against Howard Stark... Dr. Faustus, now there's a character I didn't believe would ever appear outside the comics.

I know that, as a viewer and a critic, I've had a difficult relationship with Marvel's Television division. I do not need to reiterate my thoughts on their TV output over the last three years, and as I've previously said, I went into this show with a chip on my shoulder. And now, while it's not the greatest TV series I have ever seen, that doesn't mean I didn't think it was great television. It did more than alleviate my fears, they made a timeless classic... and in a day and age where very few of the TV shows I watch don't star a villain protagonist, it's nice to have the leading character be a genuine role model, someone to look up to. I give the series an A+ and I am sitting here, biting my nails, hoping for a second season.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Star Wars Rebels


And so that was season one... my feelings about this show are pretty mixed, I must admit.

The voice cast was fantastic. I'll start with my favorite character, and cast member. Vanessa Marshall is bringing a lot of passion to the character of Hera, passion that matches her own for this franchise. I've attended the "Star Wars Rebels" panel at New York Comic Con that she was on, and her passion and fandom for "Star Wars" and this show is infectious. It is always delightful to see someone who loves their work the way Ms. Marshall does. She brings her all to this show, and it more than pays off. Hera is a terrific character.

I raised an eyebrow when I heard that Freddie Prinze Jr. was cast as Kanan, mostly because I will admit that he's an actor I've always underestimated. But he did well, he brought a lot of humanity to a Jedi, after George Lucas spent the better part of the 2000's stripping them of any humanity they had. I rather liked the idea of this guy who never really finished his training being forced to take on an apprentice. We've seen the wise mentor a million times already, so a mentor with just as much to learn was a nice change of pace.

Tiya Sircar as Sabine and Steve Blum as Zeb bring a fun element to two characters who could have easily been annoying comic relief sidekicks, Zeb especially. They all round out a cast that feels like a Y7 "Firefly" cast, and I did enjoy them.

Unfortunately, most shows have a weak link, and this show's is Ezra. It's not voice actor, Taylor Gray's fault, he does well. But I don't think the character ever recovered from a very weak introduction, where he was a more annoying Aladdin, right down to being referred to more than once as "street rat". Ezra is the audience surrogate character, and a fine line needs to be walked, otherwise you end up with another Wesley Crusher, which this show, sadly, did. Before the season finale aired, a friend of mine speculated that Kanan was going to die, and I responded with "can't they kill Ezra instead?" He's not unsalvagable, but going forward, I think the wise move would be to downplay him, but as he is the lead, that's unlikely.

Finally, we have the Inquisitor. Jason Isaacs was terrific, he had a terrific visual, and there were moments where he was genuinely menacing, particularly in his first appearance and his last appearance. Unfortunately, somewhere in between, he began to feel very Saturday morning, as villain decay set in pretty quickly. Considering how powerful he seemed in his introduction, it began to strain credibility that he couldn't catch these rebels. More than that, I wanted to know more about him. Who was he? Where did he come from? How did he become so adept at the Dark Side of the Force? Was he an apprentice of Darth Vader? Did he have greater ambitions? What was his deal? Well, considering how the season ended, I doubt we'll find out now. All the ingredients were there, I just wish they were taken farther.

The show's last three episodes were probably its best, when Grand Moff Tarkin arrived and made the Empire formidable after many episodes of being, well, very Saturday Morning. There was an epic feel to it that felt like the original films. The way the season ends, it feels like it could lead in to "A New Hope" pretty seamlessly, both in learning about the existence of a larger Rebel Alliance, as well as the final scene with Grand Moff Tarkin bringing Darth Vader in to help him hunt down them all down.

Overall, it's a B-/C+ show. It's the most I've enjoyed "Star Wars" since the 1980's. I think the main protagonist is weak, and I do not care for 3-D animation, which I find much more limiting than traditional animation. But there is a lot of good in there, despite some big glaring flaws. It's one of the better entries in a franchise that broke my heart a very long time ago, in a theater that isn't so far away.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Better Call Saul


Like so many others, I was looking forward to "Better Call Saul" with trepidation. Disappointing spin-offs are a dime a dozen. For every "Frasier" or "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", there is a "The Tortellis" or "Star Trek: Voyager" or "Legend of Korra". While normally it would be too soon to say, after the spectacular two evening premiere of this "Breaking Bad" spin-off, I am confident that this will, at worst, go into the "good spin-off" category... and if it keeps up this quality, or exceeds this quality, it just might become the greatest spin-off of all time.

Like "Breaking Bad" before it, we are watching the transformation of our protagonist. Walter White was an egotistical, yet beaten down by life, cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who transformed into the murderous, methamphetamine kingpin, Heisenberg. Here we will slowly watch fast talking, down on his luck, lawyer, Jimmy McGill transform into criminal lawyer, Saul Goodman. And yet, thus far I don't feel like we're going back to the same wall. Walter and Jimmy are both very different people, in very different situations, likewise Saul while shifty and crooked is still someone you'd want to have a beer with while Heisenberg was someone to be avoided at all costs.

I was enjoying the show from the first moment, but as soon as we got to the New Mexico desert, where Jimmy and his two scammer cronies were facing execution at the hands of Tuco Salamanca, this is where we began to see the sparks of Saul Goodman. Jimmy is a natural performer, as many good lawyers are. And right there, when he talked his way out of an execution and talked Tuco into letting his cronies off with a single broken leg, each... Jimmy was finally in his element, he even later pointed the experience out as a good thing. He's found his audience. And when he retorts to the accusation of being the worst lawyer ever with "I got you off of death row to six months of probation, I am the best lawyer ever", you can't help but agree with him.

The two-part pilot did everything it needed to do, it re-introduced us to Vince Gilligan's Albuquerque and built up Jimmy's supporting cast, from his brother, Chuck, to his new business associate, Nacho. Michele McLaren and Gilligan's cinematic directing for the small screen made a very welcome return as I am confident enough to say that, like "Breaking Bad" before it, "Better Call Saul" will be the most visually beautiful show on television. Gilligan's use of cinematography would make Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock proud, and television is lucky to have him. It's like "Breaking Bad", but very much its own series.

So let it be known, a spin-off to a much beloved series just took a popular supporting character, successfully built him a supporting cast consisting of potentially interesting characters, all portrayed by actors who are not thespianly challenged. Sharp writing and cinematic directing has been brought to this spin-off. It can be done! It has been done!

Do you need to watch "Breaking Bad" to appreciate this? No. But you'll get so much more out of it if you have. Long time fans are rewarded while new fans are welcomed with open arms. Besides, when a show opens up in a courtroom with three nineteen-year-old hooligans on trial for breaking into a morgue and having sex with a decapitated head, you know you're in for something very special. I give it an A+

Monday, February 2, 2015

Spider-Girl

This is what "Batman Beyond" should have been. 

Very recently, I plucked down about $150 at my local comic book shop and purchased seven Spider-Girl trade paperbacks. All five volumes of "Amazing Spider-Girl" and both volumes of "Spectacular Spider-Girl" which conclude the series. I wish Marvel would release trades of "Spider-Girl", covering those initial one hundred issues before the relaunch, but it has yet to happen. I loved this series. Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz were just a dream team on a book that was obviously a labor of love, more so than any other comic published by Marvel and DC in the last twenty years that I can think of.

For those of you who don't know, "Spider-Girl" stars May "Mayday" Parker, the daughter of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. After she was born, she was kidnapped by Norman Osborn before being rescued and returned to her parents. When she was around two years-old, Peter and Osborn had their final battle where Peter lost his leg and Osborn lost his life. Peter then became a forensics scientist for the NYPD and focused on raising his child, who's own spider powers manifested when she was sixteen... and well, with great power there must also come a great responsibility. So Mayday becomes a superhero, herself. She finds her own allies, make her own enemies among a new generation of superheroes and supervillains.

I think what I like most about Mayday is that while she is very much both of her parents' child, she's very much her own person. She feels just as real as either Peter or MJ did in their best stories without ever feeling like a gimmick. Watching her develop and grow over the course of this series feels organic and believable. She has just as rich a supporting cast as her father, and she, herself, is great. In a medium with a very disappointing lack of great female protagonists, Mayday distinguishes herself by being everything a protagonist, regardless of gender should be. Also, unlike most female comic book heroes, she's never objectified. Oh, she's sexy, don't get me wrong, but without any male gaze cheesecake. She's smart and tough, but she also has her vulnerabilities, insecurities. She's trying hard to live up to her father's standard, as well as maintain a normal life which in itself provides relatable angst without a background in darkness and tragedy. Not that those kinds of backgrounds should be avoided, but it's hard to just have a hero living a relatively normal life without tragedy and still be compelling, something which Superman tries and fails at (and don't mention Krypton, he has no memories of that). In fact, there's a point in the series when a character called Mayhem (who I will not be spoiling), with a different outlook than Mayday's says it's time for a darker, grimmer kind of superhero... clearly Tom DeFalco hanging a lampshade on a majority of modern comic characters. So, in a way, Mayday is very much a response to the dark and grim 90's.

The series is compelling, and fun. It's not written for the trade the way most modern comics are. Don't get me wrong, there are arcs running through the series that make great trades, but each individual issue packs more story in them than the majority of modern comics. While it's definitely not like comics of old, it often reads like a hybrid of classic and modern comics in a way that works... this is the model modern comics should have been based upon, as opposed to comics by the likes of Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis. And as far as writing a Spider-Man for a new generation, this succeeds at it where Bendis' "Ultimate Spider-Man" failed. It respects the mythos without handcuffing itself to it, and forges its own path... in a similar manner that "Spectacular Spider-Man" the animated series would do later. Both series have a similar tone to them.

Sadly, recent times have not been so good to Mayday, but I still hope we'll see her and her family again under DeFalco and Frenz's pen. Overall, I give the series an A+

Sunday, January 25, 2015

All This And Gargantua-2


If you were to ask me what I think the three objectively greatest animated series are, I would say "Gargoyles", "Batman: The Animated Series", and "The Venture Bros.". If you were to ask me what I think the greatest animated series to be in production over the last decade are, I would say "Avatar: The Last Airbender", "The Spectacular Spider-Man", and "The Venture Bros." And if I had to list my three personal favorite animated shows of all time, it would be "Gargoyles", "The Spectacular Spider-Man", and "The Venture Bros." Yes, I am serious. "The Venture Bros." is one of the greats, and is criminally underrated.

Like "South Park" before it, "The Venture Bros." was created by two guys, Jackson Publik and Doc Hammer who work out of a hole in the wall, doing most of the work themselves. They write it themselves, produce it themselves, do most of the directing, and voice acting, and work with a skeleton crew. Their commitment to not only maintaining but enhancing the quality with every new season results in a very long gap between seasons, sometimes two years or more. But I'm used to it at this point, and I am more than happy to wait longer for a quality production than to see something released that's not up to snuff.

It's been a wild ride aboard the X-1 with "Dr." Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture, Brock Samson, Hank and Dean Venture, and Sgt. Hatred.The show premiered in 2003 and has "recently" concluded its fifth season with a sixth on the way. To tide us over, JackHammer have given us this hour long special that was meant to be the two-part fifth season finale before their episode order was cut short. Did it succeed? Hell and yes!

Many long running plot elements were brought to a head, a lot of the fat was trimmed, and it was glorious. "The Venture Bros." is one of those rare shows that has no bad episodes, but this special was something else. "All This And Gargantua-2" could have been sold to us as a movie and I would not have called bullshit. The scope was epic, the way JackHammer manages to balance such a gigantic cast is sheer are in and of itself... and these characters, my god... nothing and no one is wasted.

The basic premise centers around the completion of Gargantua-2 by Jonas Venture Jr. An element that's been running since early in the fourth season, after Gargantua-1 was introduced in the first season and destroyed in the second. Meanwhile, the members of the Guild of Calamitous Intent's Council of Thirteen are being murdered under mysterious circumstances, while their leader, the Sovereign (who may or may not actually be David Bowie... don't worry, this gets resolved) is preparing for war. There are other story lines running through here. Rusty's inferiority complex and jealousy of Jonas Jr., Phantom Limb's desire to advance himself and his Revenge Society, and so much more.

The writing is as sharp as a diamond saw, the animation beautiful, and so much is being juggled without it feeling forced or like too much. I wanted more. I wished the special was ninety minutes so I could spend more time with each element, but that's not a complaint so much as it's me being greedy.

While closing many doors, it opens new ones with a sixth season that will air... eventually. It's always getting better, and I can't wait to see what will happen next even though I'll have to.

A+

Monday, January 19, 2015

Top Twenty-Five Favorite Fictional Characters

So, inspired by Pterobat's "Peculiar Olympians", and Doug Walker's Top Ten Favorite Characters, I decided to write up mine. I also decided to give myself the rule of one character per franchise... otherwise I'd end up with six characters from "Gargoyles". Also, I decided to post them in alphabetical order instead of attempting a ranking, because we all know who #1 would be, and what's the point of doing a countdown anymore, because on any list she qualifies to be on, she'll be #1.

Anyway, here we go, consider this post my way of celebrating five years of this blog.



Nancy Botwin - While "Weeds" petered out with a whimper, I never lost my love for this character. Nancy Botwin's middle name may as well be trouble because that's where she always finds herself. She seeks it out. She gets a high off of it. She may even get herself off to it. An upper-middle-class suburbanite soccer mom whose husband drops dead, she becomes a marijuana dealer to support her family's lifestyle because any retail job she qualifies for wouldn't maintain it... but really, she'd be bored with a retail job. A series of wrong decisions leads her deeper and deeper into the underworld where she marries a crooked DEA agent, and after he gets killed, she marries the head of a powerful Mexican cartel... he dies to. Even the nice rabbi she later marries dies. Everyone she marries dies although not at her hands; a truly passive black widow if there ever was one. And you know what, in a way, I can relate to this. I don't want to live a boring, "normal" lifestyle. Part of the reason I went to film school in Hollywood, aside from my passion for film and television, was the more exciting, fast paced lifestyle. I don't want a career in an office building, or to manage some retail outlet. None of that. Nancy didn't want to be a normal person, and neither do I.


Al Bundy - I've been laughing at Al since I was eight years old, at least. Let me get this out of the way, I find his misogynistic outlook to be deplorable. But I don't have to agree with a character for them to be a favorite, as this list goes on, you'll find many more characters I disagree with. Al Bundy is a pig, plain and simple. When things briefly start going well for him, he does treat his family better. But, he is such a scumbag, it's fun to watch him lose. However, despite it all, I still feel some sympathy for him and Ed O'Neil brings so much humanity and comic timing to the character that he endears himself to me despite the fact that I disagree with him. He isn't someone I would ever want to be friends with, but the thing that does endear him and his family to me the most is for as often as they will be horrible to each other, they'll unite when threatened by an outsider, and there's something to be said for that.


Captain America - Cap's presence on my list surprises me as I'm sure it does some of you. I'm not usually a fan of the Big Good archetypal character. I don't care about Superman or Optimus Prime. I'm not even jingoistic in the slightest. So why Captain America? Why Steve Rogers? Because, at his best, he represents the best of us, our ideals. He will do the right thing no matter the consequences, even if that makes him a traitor... because he represents the idea, not the reality. I don't usually like to get political here but the United States has committed really atrocious actions not only in the last thirteen years, but for many years before that. Our country has never been close to being as great as we want it to be. Slavery, the Alien and Sedition Act, Jim Crow, McCarthyism, overthrowing democratically elected governments and installing our own puppet dictators, the invasion of Iraq, torture, I could go on. But, in comic book land, Captain America would be the first to say that this is wrong, this is not what we were founded upon, and we're acting little better than our enemies. I think that's what made the events of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" resonate with so many people, definitely me, HYDRA's take over of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a very powerful allegory. Besides all that, Steve Rogers is an interesting character in and of himself, especially as a man out of time which is played for drama as opposed to the fish out of water laughs.


Eric Cartman - Oh, how do I love this little bastard. Let me count the ways. If Captain America represents our ideals, Cartman is an indictment of our worst traits. Selfish, lazy, egotistical, glutinous, xenophobic, and wrathful. Matt Stone and Trey Parker wanted to create the next Archie Bunker and succeeded all too well; they held a mirror up in front of America and forced us to take a good long look at ourselves, and what did we get? One of television's most entertaining characters of all time. It's fifteen kinds of fun to watch him scheme, and even more fun to watch him get his ass kicked. I never get tired of watching him.


The Reverend Sir Doctor Sen. Stephen T. MOS DEF Colbert, D.F.A., Heavyweight Champion of the World** La Premiere Dame de France - For nine years, he made me laugh. Comedian Improv performer, Stephen Colbert, created one of the truly great TV characters when he crafted his "well meaning, poorly informed, high status idiot" of a character who has done more to educate and inform the country than most of our so-called journalists and reporters have in a very long time. From his failed bid to run for President, to showing America just what a SuperPAC is and why they're a bad idea, to sitting down with the likes of Paul McCartney, President Barack Obama, and Smaug the Dragon... and asking harder questions than Meet the Press, or getting them to admit that smoking coke and enjoying prostitutes is a fun thing to do. I was legitimately depressed a month ago when he said good-bye to America one last time and flew away into immortality. You'll be forever in our hearts, Stephen. Who will be there to put us On Notice?


Michael Corleone - We all go through a phase where we're embarrassed or ashamed or just flat out hate our families. While Michael never hated his family, it was clear early on that he wanted to pursue a life apart from the family business. But fate and circumstances interfered and Michael not only was forced into the family business, but he soon became the head of the family... and it soon destroyed any semblance of the life he could have otherwise had. From war hero to brutal criminal to losing his family all culminating in the murder of his brother. Michael Corleone became exactly what he tried hard not to become.

Artemis Crock - When I first started watching "Young Justice", I knew I was going to like Artemis. What I did not realize at the time was just how much this character would endear herself to me. Strong and tough, yet vulnerable. Artemis came from an awful background. A mother who was in prison, a father who was the chief enforcer for a secret society of the world's greatest villains, and an older sister who served Ra's al Ghul. How's that for a family? But that's not all, she ends up sort of being adopted into the Arrow family and all but marrying into the Flash family... the girl is connected without any of it feeling forced of contrived. Her arc just spoke to me, unlike the previous entry on this list, she didn't let any of her families define her. A shame the series got cut short, I would have loved to see what was next for her.


Crowley - Crowley was once a human tailor who sold his soul for a bigger dick, before becoming the demonic King of the Crossroads, making deals with humans for their very souls, and being so good at it that he was Lilith's right-hand. A pragmatist at heart, caring only for his own self-interest, he helped the Winchesters defeat and re-imprison Lucifer before becoming the King of Hell, himself. Smart and cunning, he runs Hell like a business, always seeking to expand his power and reach. He is also the only one who doesn't underestimate the Winchesters, and when their usefulness to him ended, he made every move to eliminate them. Right now, for as weak as the show has gotten, I want to see where his current plotline with his returned mother, Rowena, will take him.


Demona - I've talked about her ad nauseum, so I'll be brief. At the most minimal of glances, she seems very typical. We’ve seen genocidal human haters before. But scratch the surface, even a little, and we get the deepest creation of not only the series, but one of the deepest creations in the realm of fiction. She has a guilt complex that makes Peter Parker’s look tame by comparison, but she spreads it around to everyone else rather than internalize it. And considering how much she has to feel guilty over, this makes her arguably the most dangerous character in the series. Demona created her own pain, and she intends to wipe out every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth just to justify every damned stupid choice she ever made. Despite all of that, she is an eternally conflicted character. She is not a one-dimensional cut-out. Deep inside, she knows she’s wrong, she knows what she did. But she cannot and will not acknowledge that. Demona is an endlessly fascinating character. We’ve never seen anything like her in the realm of western animation before her debut, and I don’t think she’s been replicated since. Why? I don’t know. But lightning has been caught in a bottle, and I am rather happy that no one has attempted to imitate this unique and perfectly conceived character but tragically flawed person.


Doctor Doom - The archetypal supervillain and definitely the biggest gun in Marvel's pantheon of villainy. Doom is arrogant beyond all measure, and as smart as anyone you'll ever meet. He is so prideful he always keeps his word... as he interprets it. Ruler of the tiny nation of Latveria, and recognized by the world abroad... his enemies can't just send him to prison. But more than that is his fascinating backstory, and his desire to save his mother's soul from Mephisto and bring peace to the world... under his iron rule. Doom might be the leader the world needs. If we were willing to part with our freedom. But he'll always set that aside because he cannot live with the fact that just for one moment, Reed Richards was smarter than him.


Galvatron - With great power comes great insanity, Galvatron has always been my favorite transformer, always. From his debut in "Transformers: The Movie" where he was forged in the fires of a dark god, to when he was pulled out of a lava pit emerging as a mad man in "Five Faces of Darkness", to his appearances as a psychotic engine of destruction in Simon Furman's comic books. Galvatron works for me, always has. His design is spectacular, and there's always been a lot more to him than just being some insane loose cannon (figuratively and literally). His relationship with his second-in-command (and favorite punching bag), Cyclonus, was always interesting and pretty deep for an 80's cartoon. I've always preferred him to Megatron. Megatron was a perpetual loser; Galvatron was a perpetual loser with unlimited entertainment value. Feared by Autobot and Decepticon alike, along with the testicular fortitude to stand up to an eldrich abomination, I'm more than happy to show respect and shout "Hail Galvatron!"


Gandalf - Gandalf is, without a doubt, the archetypal wizard. He has long been my favorite character in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, from the moment I saw the Rankin Bass animated production of "The Hobbit" then read all of the books and got to watch Sir Ian McKellan's masterful performance of the grey wizard. Inspired by iconic characters such as Odin and Merlin, Gandalf has always been more than he appeared, showing up to advise the people on how to defeat evil without ever doing the job for us. But once you read "The Silmarillion", you learn that Gandalf is a Maiar spirit, a lower level angelic, named Olorin wrapped in a meat suit and sent into the world, tasked to help us defeat Sauron... but I love the most about this reveal is that the reason he was chosen was because he was afraid of Sauron. So his journey wasn't just to help us grow into who we needed to be to defeat Sauron, but a journey of growth for himself. We all learned a lot from Gandalf just as he learned from us.


Rupert Giles - I must have a thing for characters who are mentors, I just listed Gandalf (and while he's not on this list, I always loved Obi Wan in the OT), and now here's Giles. Giles was quite the revelation, when he first shows up, he appears to be your standard, stuffed shirt English librarian who ends up being the butt of jokes. But he is anything but as he ends up becoming the father figure to not only Buffy Summers, but just about every single one of her friends. While at times he seems a bit out of touch, he can give as well as he gets in the snarky sass department. But Giles has a past, as he was once more of a chaotic teenager than any of them. I felt the show lost something when Anthony Stewart Head left the main cast, while he continued to make appearances, his loss was one of several elements that helped the show diminish. I thought he was integral, and despite all appearances, he can kick your ass. Rupert Giles, don't judge a book by its cover.


G'Kar - When we first meet G'Kar, we think he's going to be the villain of the series. A bitter, vengeful ambassador from Narn. For a hundred years they were occupied by the Centauri, enslaved, tortured, killed, before the Centauri withdrew due to their declining empire. Now the Narn are expanding and they want vengeance. When the show opens, this is the status quo, and G'Kar, while likable, is a bitter extremist to be foiled. Then the second season happens and the galaxy is turned upside-down when the Shadows come and start knocking over all the ant-hills. The Narn are enslaved by the Centauri once more, and G'Kar is thrust back into being a resistance fighter. But things go differently this time, he has a spiritual awakening and as he learns to work with others, he comes to better understand others, and while he can't ever forgive the Centauri for what they did, he can learn to stop hating them. It is a journey of spiritual growth seldom seen on television, and it was moving to watch.


Griffith - Where the hell do I begin? I despise Griffith. Griffith is, very possibly, the most evil character I have encountered in the realm of fiction... aside from Morgoth and Sauron. Griffith is what happens when ambition festers and grows like a disease. Not that ambition is a bad thing, but Griffith took it to a whole new level. He grew up poor, formed his own mercenary hand, and became the champion of Midland with his eyes on marrying the princess and becoming King. What went wrong? He allowed himself to get personally attached to his favorite toy, a soldier named Guts. He lost it all, got tortured for a year, crippled, his tongue got cut out and then he sacrificed the troops and friends who loved him so he could be reborn as Femto, the fifth and final member of the God Hand before raping Caska (his most fanatically loyal and devoted follower, and Guts' love) in front of Guts while she was pregnant, infecting her fetus to eventually create a vessel for him to return to Earth in. Now he's in the process of conquering humanity as a seemingly ordained messianic figure... the Hawk of Light. His story is not over yet, but Griffith is the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. Especially since we go through what Guts goes through as all of this is revealed. Griffith is proof that you can hate a person but love a character.


Tyrion Lannister - This one was love at first sight. One of the most intelligent power players in the kingdom, Tyrion knows how to live life. Whether it's food, drink, or the company of women; Tyrion revels in his hedonism. He's also clever, and a real power player. But sadly his greatest weakness is that he has a big mouth. He will speak his mind, and while watching him tell off awful people like Cersei and Joffrey makes us smile, it ultimately bites him in the ass. I can relate to that, as I have a history of speaking my mind when it is better to just hold my tongue. On top of it all, he is another victim of an awful father, something else I can and do relate to. His final scenes of the fourth season were very cathartic. I think what I love most about Tyrion is his lack of shame. He knows who he is and he's comfortable being that. But with the end of last season, his status quo has truly changed and it will be interesting to see where he goes now that he is out of his comfort zone.


Lucifer Morningstar - He's the Devil. 'Nuff said. ... okay, I'll say more. Lucifer is everything Mephisto should be. Clever, cunning, scheming, and the ultimate rebel. He gave up the throne of Hell and handed the key to Dream of the Endless just to screw with him. He created his own existence so Yahweh would no longer have the monopoly on creation with only one rule, worship nothing. Ultimately, he's a conceited prick rebelling against his conceited father. As David Easterman, a character who sees himself as a victim of Lucifer, puts it: "when the devil wants you to do something, he doesn't lie at all. He tells you the exact, literal truth. And he lets you find your own way to hell."


Magneto - Thank Kirby for Claremont, or the Master of Magnetism might never have made this list. Magneto is the villain you can't help but agree with. A survivor of the Holocaust, and a victim of bigotry, Max Eisenhardt will stop at nothing to prevent a second Holocaust from taking place. In the process he has lost friends, alienated his children, and has become the boogieman that humans use to justify their fear of mutants. If that irony wasn't enough, Magneto walks a fine line between being a mutant Malcolm X, and becoming that which he hates most... a mutant Adolf Hitler. Remember how I said that Doom was at the top of Marvel's supervillain pantheon? Well, Magneto would easily challenge him for that spot, and some might say he's long ago won it. And for good reason. Magneto has a great, compelling story that you can understand and relate to. He has creative and innovative powers. And there are so many stories you can tell about him, from the big grand epics, to the intimate character studies.


Maleficent - Out of all the films in Disney's canon, Maleficent is the best. Sometimes less is more, and I don't want or need Maleficent to be anything but the Mistress of All Evil. I did not look forward to the movie starring Angelina Jolie. I thought it is a mistake. But, Jolie aside, Maleficent knows what she is and is the epitome of spiteful evil. Now, I'm not saying it's bad to reveal the details of a villain's backstory. Sometimes it works for the character and sometimes it doesn't. Recently I got into an argument about this with somebody and they cited the "Gargoyles" multi-parter "City of Stone" for going into Demona's past and revealing her story, and used that as the reason why doing the same for Maleficent is a swell idea. I argued that Demona is the on-going main villain of a serialized television series and that her past and what made her what she is are questions introduced early on, and we got those questions answered after less than a year. There was no such thing for Maleficent, and nobody asked these questions the movie itself did not present in the entire fifty-three years since the movie made it's debut in 1959! The classic Maleficent remains one of my favorites no matter how hard Disney has tried to tarnish her.




The Monarch - This will sound silly, but were it a real thing, supervillain would be my career choice. The Monarch is every single supervillain cliche there is completely dissected and subverted to show us all just how sad and pathetic these people really are. I just love him. He can be quite the badass though, in fact he's pretty much hurt or emotionally destroyed anyone he's ever menaced who wasn't connected to Rusty Venture. But what I enjoy most about him is that he's not very good at being a supervillain, but he loves it and endlessly pursues it, no matter how much bad luck (self-inflicted or otherwise) stands in his way. Pursue your dreams, people. The Monarch is my spirit animal.



Antonio Salieri - He makes the list because he is as true to history as Shakespeare's Macbeth. This guy is just the personification of jealousy, and F. Murray Abraham played that to a tee. Now, I know that historically there is a rumor that says he confessed to the murder of Mozart on his death bed. Is it true? We'll never know. But it made for a delicious rumor and a delicious story. A story about mediocrity, jealousy, and the quest for an undeserved immortality. The thing that has come out of this is that Salieri's operas and music are being played in the 21st century. People would likely never have heard of Salieri had F. Murray Abraham not done such a brilliant job in portraying him. One might wonder, however, if it is better to be remembered as a villain for all time, or be forgotten to everyone but the historians.


Spike Spiegel - What I love most about Spike is how little is spelled out for us. You need to pay attention to more than what he says, but the situation as a whole, his body language and all sorts of subtle mannerisms to know what's really on his mind because Spike plays it close to his chest. He's not exactly straight forward. You look at him and he's the coolest person in the room without really trying to be, mostly because he doesn't care what others think. A man with a past, even a dark past who is a better person than he gives himself credit for. He is laid back, easy going, but can and does get serious when the need arrives, or when the phantasms of his past appear. His attitude in life (whenever Julia and Vicious aren't involved) is "whatever happens, happens" and I often have that same attitude. Why worry about things you can't change? And as much as he pretends he is cold and unfeeling, and only after his bottom line, he is full of mercy and compassion for others. I can relate to these things.


Tamora - I love this character. I first encountered her in the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival's production of "Titus Andronicus" back in 1999 where she was played by Nance Williamson. The play captivated me, so naturally Julie Taymor's production had a lot to live up to in my eyes... and again I was captivated by this Shakespearan Queen of Evil as portrayed by Jessica Lange. Tamora is a vengeful mother and the former queen of the goths, who was defeated by Roman general Titus Andronicus and dragged back to Rome in chains alongside her three sons. On the way, Titus sacrificed one of her sons to Jupiter... and his own family would soon pay for it. Once in Rome, Tamora proceeds to marry Emperor Saturninus; encourages her two surviving sons to assault, rape and mutilate Titus' daughter, Lavinia, during a hunt where her tongue is cut out and her hands are severed and replaced with tree branches; has two of Titus' sons framed for murder and has them arrested and promises to release them if Titus will cut off his own hand and send it to the emperor only to return his two sons' severed heads. And that's just for starters! Tamora did everything she could to give me a Midsummer Night's Nightmare and god bless her for it.


Mary Jane Watson - I was surprised, also. I sat down and thought about it, and Spidey himself was a hair away from beating Mary Jane out for this slot. But the more thought I gave it, I discovered that MJ, herself, was my favorite character in the franchise. I think what I love most about Mary Jane is how she took not just Peter, but everyone involved both on and off the page by surprise. She wasn't created to be the Great Love of Peter Parker's life, she just grew into it. When "Spider-Man" first started, it was all about the triangle with Betty and Liz, then Betty and Peter split and Liz faded away after graduation. Stan Lee then developed Gwen Stacy with the express purpose of being Peter's love interest, and eventually marrying him just as Lois Lane was created for the express purpose of being this for Superman. Things did not work out. He and John Romita also developed Mary Jane and she, like a force of nature quickly ended up deciding her own destiny. It wasn't supposed to happen, but time and character development, particularly at the hands of Gerry Conway, Tom DeFalco, and even Stan himself developed Mary Jane in a manner that didn't feel forced. She and Peter both had to grow up and grow into the type of people who would be right for each other. They were friends, first. I think this is why most of the adaptations of Mary Jane, be they the 90's cartoon, Ultimate Spider-Man, or the Raimi movies never worked for me because she is the franchise's Lois Lane in those. I understand that recreating what happened in the comics would require a lot of long term patience and seeding, but that's exactly why it worked. That's what makes MJ unique, she wasn't tailor-made for Peter nor he for her. It was organic, it was real.


Walter White - A High School chemistry teacher, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has a pregnant wife and a son with cerebral palsy, is diagnoses with terminal lung cancer... not wanting to leave his family with medical bills, and to make sure they're taken care of, he teams up with a former student of his to cook methamphetamine... and that's how it starts, as a "victimless crime". But there's no room in this business for nice people, and slowly Walt becomes more ruthless, and more monstrous. Known to the DEA and the criminal community by the alias "Heisenberg", he transforms from unassuming High School teacher into the most ruthless and evil person in the series. Or maybe it wasn't a transformation, maybe that was all already there, and it came out. Walt has many chances to get out, other options come along that could solve his problems, but he rejects them all out of pride, and continues to build his business, leaving many bodies in his wake. Whatever his intentions, it doesn't matter and the show never sugarcoats him; Walter White is a terrible person; a bastard who destroys the very thing he sets out to save, all because he is a prideful narcissist who blames everyone else for his own failings. You weren't meant to root for him. I felt sympathy for him at first, I grew to hate him as well as pity him. But I never wanted to be him, he was a complete subversion of the badass outlaw alpha male fantasy in ways others on this list aren't, and all while never feeling preached to, and keeping him a fascinating, three-dimensional character. Yes, he loves his family... but just because he's not a one-dimensional cartoon character doesn't mean he's not one of the most evil people ever to exist in the realm of fiction. I raise a glass to Walter White, I would say that I hope you are some day topped, but the thought is frightening. Oh yeah, and he was played by Bryan Cranston... the dad from "Malcolm In the Middle".