Continuity in comics is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it allows the creation of a complex universe of interrelated characters and epic storytelling; on the other hand, it means that new readers may not fully understand aspects of a story that has years of background across many titles feeding into it. And in modern comic continuity we have to deal with canon, with some older stories having been removed from continuity. Before looking at why this is relevant right now, I want to cover a bit of history. Continuity in comics is hardly new. In the early 1940s, Timely comics had its hero (the Human Torch) battle its anti-hero (the Sub-Mariner), each of whom had their own ongoing series. At the same time, DC comics had several of its heroes team up as the Justice Society of America. Almost every comic company had team ups with its various characters. Back in these early days keeping track of continuity wasn’t a priority, so there were often inconsistencies resulting from these stories and they rarely had any lasting impact on the character’s individual titles. This wasn’t a big deal, especially with the waning of superhero comics in the years post World War II. But it became a very big deal after the birth of the Silver Age of comics in 1956, with DC comics introducing new versions of their characters with different origins and identities. This meant, at the time, that the Golden Age stories were no longer part of the DC continuity. And then DC decided to up the ante by introducing the concept of a multiverse, in 1961, with the story Flash of Two Worlds where the Golden age Flash met the Silver Age Flash who had accidently entered the first Flash’s reality. Suddenly, you had the potential for stories for characters from both eras. These led to dividing up which stories belonged on Earth 1 (The Silver Age Earth) and Earth 2 (The Golden Age Earth). In general this was easy as anything prior to 1956 belonging to Earth 2. But the wrinkle was that there were a few characters that were the same across both Earths as they were the handful that had never gone out of publication, those being Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Arrow. In general the 1956 cut off was used for them as well, with the idea that some stories counted for both, without a lot of concern as to what those were. Over the years stories were told that on some level clarified the histories, but nothing was comprehensive. Another factor that played into the continuity issue was the static nature of the characters. Most superheroes were presented as being in their mid to late twenties. That meant that in the 1960s you had Superman stories where he met President Kennedy. Years later there would be a Superboy story, back when they were all flashback stories of Superman’s youth, where he met President Kennedy. Things of that nature were usually just hand-waved. In fact, the only characters that aged at all were the teens. Spider-man was introduced as a high school student in 1962. Flash forward to the mid-1980s and he was a college student. Similar aging happened to Robin and Kid Flash over at DC. But that was it for character aging. If there was an update to a character, it was usually handled as a reveal of previously unknown information. One of the best known of this type was in 1984, when Alan Moore wrote the Swamp Thing Story Anatomy Lesson where he revealed that Swamp Thing was not Alec Holland, a scientist transformed into a plant monster, but instead a plant creature that had absorbed memories from Holland’s corpse as part of its creation. The story was ground breaking, and is still considered the best example of a soft reboot, where the previous continuity is not altered in any way. In 1985 DC released the ground breaking 12 issue series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was the first full out reboot of a comic book’s continuity. In it DC merged Earth 1 and Earth 2, as well as other alternate Earths that contained characters DC had purchased from other companies (such as Fawcett and Charleston) creating a single Earth with one history. The stated purpose was to make a cohesive history and create an easy entry point for new readers who were being drawn in by books like Swamp Thing and The Dark Knight Returns. Over all Crisis was a success, but there were some snafus in the backstories of some characters (especially Hawkman and Donna Troy) that led to several rewrites, which in Donna’s case were ok, and in Hawkman’s case just made things worse. Eventually DC had two different series that tried to do patching rewrites to clear these issues up, Zero Hour, and Infinite Crisis. Both had mixed success at best. Over at Marvel they decided not to go the full reboot route, stating that they had gotten their universe right the first time. Not that they didn’t like to play with the continuity idea. They have a series, which has come and gone a few times, called What IF. In it the Watcher looks at different universes in which the Marvel characters have made different choices; it’s basically a chance to look at stories Marvel wrote in the past to see what would have happened, had they gone down a different path. On a more official level they tried some different routes to make clean entry continuities for new readers. The first of these was the poorly received Heroes Reborn, where the Avengers were sent to a new Universe where their histories were rewritten (the basic idea was sound, it was just really badly written – where all the stereotypes of bad 90s comics writing got codified). A few years after that failed experiment Marvel created the Ultimate Universe. This was a separate continuity from the main Marvel Universe that allowed them to do new stories for the Marvel heroes without the baggage of the old continuity. Overall this was a success, as the old universe was also still going on so the fans didn’t feel a sense of loss and could enjoy the new stories as their own thing. Part of the significance of the Ultimate Universe is that years later, when Marvel studios came into being and created the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they cherry picked the best elements of both the old Universe and the Ultimate Universe to make their stories. As for the movies, a lot of people attribute the MCU success to that fact that it has continuity between all of its films, just like the comics. Some say it is a throw-back to the old movie serials. This has led other studios to try and create their own mega-franchises, such as Universal attempting new Universal Monster movies with this type of continuity. But not all was well with Marvel continuity. Marvel was not above tweaking characters with various soft reboots. None are more infamous then the reboot of Spider-man’s continuity in the story One More Day, where Peter made a deal with a demon to save Aunt May, but at the cost of having his marriage erased from history; this remains a hot button topic for many fans. In more recent years DC did another reboot (which I have written about a lot) called Flashpoint which lead to The New 52. Here I will simply reiterate that it was a hastily thrown together reboot designed as a means to drawn attention to DC comics (who were getting crushed in sales by Marvel). It has been a complete mess and divided fans nearly as bad as Heroes Reborn did. And that leads us to now. Both DC and Marvel have events going on that are pulling deep on their continuities. Over at DC is Convergence. This is a two month event that will be replacing DC’s entire line of comics for its duration, that will cover the gap created by DC moving their staff and offices from New York to California. It will feature characters from different DC continuities, such as the pre-Flashpoint universe and DC’s various Elseworlds (their answer to What If). This has fans wondering if this will lead to a more permanent return of the pre-Flashpoint universe, which fans have been asking for since it became clear that The New 52 was a mess. Marvel is doing an event called Secret Wars nameds after an event they had in the 1980s. This series has apparently been in the works for three years and will apparently lead to a new Marvel continuity that combines the old Marvel Universe with the Ultimate Universe (remember how I said that the Cinematic Universe was a combination of the two). There is a lot of speculation that this is an attempt to bring the comics more in line with the movies, and therefore an easier entry point for fans who are picking up the comics because of the movies. There is also hope that it will clear up missteps such as One More Day. No matter which way you slice it, continuity is a big deal in comics, and will fuel fan debate in all corners of comic culture.
It’s the beginning of a new year. Since the podcast last week covered the old year, let’s take this time to look ahead to what I hope for 2015.
I am happy with the articles for Fanboy News Network itself; I had some health and work issues towards the end of the year that meant updates were a little spotty, but overall I am happy and I need to accept that (as a primarily one man operation) I will miss updates from time to time.
For the podcast, I need to work on a couple of things. One is an equipment upgrade; I need to get a mixing board and an additional mic for when I go out in the field. Sadly I cannot afford these things right now, but I’ll keep an eye open to see if a solution presents itself. The other thing is that I need to cultivate bringing in more people who want to participate with the show. My best episodes are ones where I interact with other people. I’m not sure if that means finding a regular co-host, or just convincing more people I know to come on.
I also need to do some rearranging around my home to create a better recording environment.
So right now I am going to state that for 2015 my goal is to have two articles written each month to go up on every other Monday, with at least one podcast to fill in one of the other Mondays.
I do not want to increase the amount of writing I do as I have another project I need to double down on.
I am currently in the middle of writing a six episode audio-play. I want to finish those and start working on producing the show. If you want to follow the development of this show I will be covering it on my Tumblr.
I also need to take time to see if Patreon is something that I can use to help develop this site more.
One final goal is that I need to work on improving my skills and overall profile so that in 2016 I can start feeling comfortable submitting myself as a pro (and press) to conventions and start doing more there.
So those I are my creative goals for 2015. We’ll see how it goes.
In a season full of comic based TV shows, The Flash has managed to stand out from the crowd. It started building buzz a year before its debut when it was announced that Barry Allen would appear on last year’s fall finale for Arrow. What transpired was one of the best depictions of The Flash’s origin ever, setting the stage for the series.
Originally, The Flash was supposed to get a back door pilot in that later half of that season, but the executives at CW were so impressed by what they had seen so far that they opted to order a full pilot for the show instead. When The Flash premiered, it was the highest rated debut the CW had seen in five years. It has been a strong ratings performer for the network since then, easily gaining a full season order after only two episodes.
I’m going to make a bold statement, The Flash is easily the best comic book adaptation that has ever appeared on TV.
So why is that?
One of the biggest complaints about most adaptations of DC properties is that they seem to be ashamed that they are based on comic books and do everything to say “no, really, we are mature.” Often doing this by going grim and gritty, even if the character in question was nothing like this in the comics.
The Flash doesn’t bother with that. It proudly embraces its comic book roots and presents a hero who is upbeat and optimistic. Even more than the nineties version, this show explores the nature of the Flash’s powers and what he can do with them. The visuals also capture the feel of the comics, complete with the speed force lightning effect that surrounds the Barry when he uses his powers.
It’s also a great point that, so far, all the villains have been characters from the comics. Even when the characters have obvious alterations from their comic roots, they are still all great nods to the original versions.
Of course for the show to work, we have to connect to the characters.
As Barry Allen, Grant Gustin naturally has the whole show riding on his shoulders. Fortunately, it is a case of perfect casting. The show takes advantage of his boyish looks to help convey the enthusiasm that Barry has for his powers, while simultaneously highlighting his compassion. As with any modern adaptation of the character, this Flash is a mixture of both Barry Allen and Wally West. Where the nineties version was mostly Barry with some Wally mixed in, Gustin’s is more of a 50/50 mix.
The supporting cast is also strong, with some interesting references to the comics
Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the Head of S.T.A.R. Labs, is responsible for the Particle Accelerator explosion that gave Barry, and all the villains, their powers. While clearly working to both protect Barry and help him improve his powers, there is clearly much more going on; we are shown that he is faking the need for a wheelchair and is willing to kill in order to protect Barry. On the surface, Wells appears to be an original character, but based on recent events I won’t spoil here, this is likely an alias so we will have to wait and see.
Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) is an engineer working for Wells, who is possibly more enthusiastic than Barry about their crime fighting. He has a habit of giving the villains nicknames, thus bringing their comic book names into the show. He is based on the DC hero Vibe, which begs the question, is he going to get powers down the road?
A similar question hangs over Dr. Catlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) who in the comics is the super villain Killer Frost. Here she is part of Wells team and acts as medic when Barry is injured. She is far more serious than Barry or Cisco, but clearly cares about them. While there has been nothing overt, there are hints that she might be attracted to Barry, which could end up setting up a classic CW love triangle and another case of Chloe syndrome.
And this leads us to Iris West (Candice Patton), the girl Barry carries a torch for. The weakest part of the show is how convoluted this relationship is. Barry had a crush on Iris as a child. When his mother is murdered and his father sent to jail for the crime Barry goes to live with Iris and her dad. As adults, Barry still has that crush on her but, due to the awkwardness of their situation, keeps this to himself. As adults Iris considers Barry to be her best friend, oblivious to his crush, and is dating her dad’s partner; but once the Flash appears on the scene, Iris becomes his number one fan and writes a blog about him. Of course in comic canon Barry marries Iris, so that makes her his destined love. Unfortunately this is the one thing in the show that just rings false.
Swept up in this is Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), Iris’ boyfriend and her dad’s partner on the police force. Eddie is an honest to goodness nice guy who just has the misfortune of being Iris’ boyfriend, thus making him a default antagonist for Barry. Also, there is his name; in the comics Eobard Thawne, a man from the 25th century is the Flash’s nemesis, Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash. Since the Reverse Flash is the big bad of the series fans are naturally assuming either Eddie becomes him, or is somehow connected to him. Time will tell.
Rounding out the main cast is Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), Iris’ father and Barry’s foster-father. Where Wells mentors Barry on the practicalities of his powers, Joe mentors him on his behavior as a hero. Honestly, I don’t think the show would be able to hold up the believability of Barry’s development without Joe and I’m glad they had him know about his foster son’s duel identity from the beginning.
Outside of the main cast special mention needs to go to John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s father Henry Allen. Shipp played Barry in the nineties Flash series, and having him as Barry’s father is a nice nod to that connection.
Right now The Flash is by far the CW’s most watched series and with strong episodes and engaging writing, and will hopefully show DC that not all superheroes need to be dark in order to be successful.
I give The Flash a grade of A+. Fans will be overjoyed at how their hero has been translated to screen and non-fans can enjoy the series just as easily.
And, of course, we will revisit the show at the end of the season to see if they are able to keep this success going.
Three new TV series debuted, this fall, all based on DC comics characters. With all this comic love on TV this season I will be doing early season reviews for all three in the order they debuted, and follow with season wrap up reviews, just as I have done with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow.
The first of these reviews is Gotham.
Even though it has the highest profile of the three new shows (as it is part of the Batman mythos), Gotham has a huge Smallville shaped albatross hanging around its neck. The premise of the show is that it takes place directly after Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered and follows newly minted police detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he investigates the murder and deals with the rampant corruption in Gotham. The show also follows the formative years of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), along with several other prominent Batman characters, with special focus on Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor).
There is a lot of baggage a series has to deal with when it is a prequel to a well-known story. I have made my feelings about Smallville (and all the things that went wrong there) known previously. It is, however, possible to have a well done prequel (e.g. Hannibal). The challenge is in which parts of the story canon you keep as sacred, and which parts you are willing to change. Above all else, it needs to be a good show, with strong writing and acting.
So how does Gotham do on this front?
The series was created by Bruno Heller, who also created The Mentalist and HBO’s Rome. As such, it does have some decent writing, but it often comes off as uneven; although, to be fair, some of that could also be the acting. Basically, the show is a frustrating mix of wonderful, passable, and awful. On the plus side, you have the Penguin; his storyline is far and away the best thing about the show, and Taylor’s performance is great, showing the Penguin as a grand manipulator – sniveling in one scene and cunning the next, but always with an eye towards getting what he wants. If the show were just about the Penguin, it would be great.
Another of the pluses is Jim Gordon’s partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) who is corrupt, a drunk, and still one of the best cops in the GCPD. Logue is always good in everything he does, and he goes all out here. The best thing about Harvey is that it is clear that Gordon is getting to him and that his story will be one of redemption.
The final gem of the series is Alfred (Sean Pertwee). Unlike previous versions of the character, this Alfred is more of a rough and tumble type, willing to bawl Bruce out, while simultaneously calling him sir. He is portrayed as struggling to figure out how to raise Bruce and help him deal with the death of his parents.
As to the passable parts, sadly we find our lead character Jim Gordon. Gordon is upstanding and unwilling to compromise his principles, but must find a way to navigate the corruption of both the GCPD and Gotham in general. There is nothing wrong with McKenzie’s performance, or how the character is written, it’s that the series seems to just happen to him, rather than him being a driving force.
There’s also Selena Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who is portrayed as a homeless street urchin and thief. She witnesses the murder of the Waynes and becomes somewhat obsessed with Bruce. I really have no problem with Bicondova’s performance, but she has only had dialogue in two of the episodes so far despite appearing in every one. Most of the time we see her silently skulking around either watching Bruce, or tailing Gordon. There is potential for her to be engaging, but they haven’t done anything with her, so far.
And then we have Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) himself. Bruce is portrayed as channeling his grief into an obsession with figuring out why his parents were murdered. They are showing his development as a detective and his scenes do work, with a lot of thanks to support from Pertwee’s Alfred. But he is not the focus of the series and in some episodes only gets one scene.
And then there are the bad parts of the show.
Chief amongst these is Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), lieutenant to mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Doman). Fish wants to overthrow Falcone and goes through a lot of elaborate steps in her efforts to do so. However, her primary purpose is to be a foil for her former underling, The Penguin, whom she ordered killed in the first episode. His defection to another outfit does not sit well with her. Any scene with Fish just drags on the momentum of each episode. Her outfits are crimes against both fashion and logic and her performance seems to be a bargain basement version of Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman. This is particularly frustrating because we know Jada Pinkett Smith is a good actress, so I have to assume this is how Fish is written and directed and Jada is just going along with it.
Another drag on most episodes is Gordon’s fiancée, Barbara Keen (Erin Richards). She just seems to be someone for him to worry about, or to create complications for him due to his needing to keep a variety of city secrets. She hasn’t been given any real character traits beyond worrying about Gordon, or being upset with him. Her only other arc is that she had a relationship with Detective Rene Montoya (Victoria Cartagena), which has led Montoya to have an obsession with proving that Gordon is dirty. Beyond that, Montoya herself also has no personality.
And this leads to one of the great fanboy complaints about the series. Most of the characters are from the Batman mythos, but other than Selena and Tommy Elliot (who will become Hush), all of the other characters are all roughly Gordon’s age. In the case of Penguin this works fine, but for Montoya, her partner Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones), future Riddler Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan), and Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto), these are characters that are traditionally roughly Batman’s age. Here they are all roughly 15 years older than their usual presentation.
This is where the show falls apart for me. They want to have their Batman villains in a show that does not have Batman himself. And with the rate they are introducing characters, if the show gets multiple seasons I’m afraid they will start advancing arcs that make no sense without Batman’s presence.
This leads me to my final problem. The grade. I am giving Gotham a C – at this time. It is going to drive the long time Batman fans up the wall with its handling of the characters and story arcs. It is actually going to be more enjoyable to non-fans who are not as invested in the mythos, but even they still have to deal with the uneven mix of good and bad performances, writing, and characters.
The Bride of Frankenstein is a fascinating entry in the Universal Horror universe. Released in 1935, it stands as one of the most iconic films in the Universal Horror library and is one of the rare cases where the sequel is considered a superior film to the original (Frankenstein); each of these films is so ingrained into our pop culture that it is difficult to critique them.
The Bride of Frankenstein starts with a prologue featuring Mary Shelly (Elsa Lancaster) being praised for writing Frankenstein. The story proper begins just moments after the supposed death of the creature (Boris Karloff) in the first film. Its creator, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), has barely survived the encounter. After being nursed back to health by his fiancé, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson), he is visited by his former mentor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger); Pretorius has been experimenting with creating life himself, but feels Henry’s work shows more promise. He strong-arms Henry into creating a female body to house an artificial brain of his creation.
While this is going on, the creature is trying to find its way in the world, each encounter with humanity ending in disaster. His only respite comes when he is befriended by a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who teaches him to speak. Even that ends badly when some hunters come to the hermit’s hut and see the creature. Eventually, the creature is found by Pretorius and convinced to help him force Henry to complete the experiment, with the promise of making him a mate.
The climax of the movie is the creation of the Bride (also played by Elsa Lancaster). The creature tries to woo her, but she is repulsed and rejects him. The creature makes Henry and Elizabeth flee the laboratory, but forces Pretorius and the Bride to stay, saying of the three of them “we belong dead”, after which he destroys the lab.
The Bride of Frankenstein works on many levels. While the movie may not seem as scary to modern audiences, it still retains a great deal of the dramatic tension that is the hallmark of Director James Whale. Unlike the first film, much more of the story is spent following the creature; this time around he is very much the main character and we see him trying to find his place in a world that will never accept him. Karloff brings the pain and longing of the creature to life brilliantly. Colin Clive has much less to do this time as Henry Frankenstein, but still exhibits the mood swings that led me to believe he is bi-polar from the first film. Ernest Thesiger chews the scenery as Pretorius and, unlike the creature, he is very much a pure villain.
Elsa Lancaster’s performance as The Bride is what makes this film truly remarkable. This characters unforgettable image is completely ingrained in our pop culture, yet the character is on screen for less than five minutes. In that short span of time, Lancaster creates a vivid and memorable performance, making The Bride come off as cruel and vicious, while never really doing much more than reacting to what happens around her.
For trivia buffs, it should be noted that The Bride is the only Universal Monster not directly responsible for a death. It should also be noted that during a showing I attended in the last year, when Henry says “She’s alive, Alive!”, three of us sung “Weird Science” under our breath.
I give The Bride of Frankenstein a grade of A+. It is a true classic horror film, and fans of classic horror will love it, and non-fans will still be entertained by it.
It’s time for another site update.
First off I missed recording this weekends podcast. It was a combination of losing the guest I had lined up and losing my voice. My apology.
This weeks update will be on Friday as it is Halloween and will be the last of the October Horror reviews.
After that the next update will be November 10th and starting with that all now content to the site will be posted on Mondays.
Thank you for your time and now I am going back to my tea with honey.
Hotel Transylvania is a deviation from our normal Halloween reviews in that it is not a horror movie, but a comedy using horror tropes. However, I expect it to become a Halloween movie staple in the years to come.
The basic premise of Hotel Transylvania is a bit silly; after losing his wife to an angry mob, Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) is left to raise their daughter alone. He builds a five star hotel to serve as both a refuge for the world’s monsters from the human world and a safe haven in which to raise his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez).
On Mavis’ 118th birthday Dracula holds a huge party with all the monsters coming to celebrate. These include Dracula’s best friends Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his wife Eunice (Fran Drescher), Wayne Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), His wife Wanda (Molly Shannon), and their horde of children, Murray the mummy (CeeLo Green), and Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade).
Two things complicate Dracula’s plans for the event. One is that Mavis is tired of being confined to the hotel and wants to explore the world. The other is that a human, Johnny (Andy Samberg), has stumbled upon the hotel. Dracula needs to keep the monsters from finding out Johnny is human or they will flee the hotel in terror. Adding additional stress is that Mavis is attracted to Johnny. Disguising Johnny as a monster, Dracula tries to find a way to safely get him out of the hotel, deal with Mavis’ wish to spread her wings, and keep his hotel a safe home for the monsters.
On the surface, Hotel Transylvania is a concept that should not work. It is an animated horror comedy starring Adam Sandler. But it does work. A lot of the credit goes to the script writers (Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel) but the most credit goes to the director (Genndy Tartakovsky, who worked on Powerpuff Girls and created Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack).
Hotel Transylvania is a very fast paced and kinetic movie, but does slow down for some well-done emotional scenes. There is never a scene that drags. The character designs are expressive and inviting, even when they are monstrous. Many of the character designs bear a resemblance to the voice actors playing them.
On the voice acting front there is not a single dud amongst them. Having a cast of comedy veterans and SNL alumni was an excellent decision. Sandler stands out in this group, not only as the main character, but doing some of the best work of his career, even if there is an occasional accent slippage.
Music also plays an important role in the film, even with it not being a musical. There are several occasions where characters, especially Johnny, are performing as part of Mavis’ birthday. The music in the film is done by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo) and works well in the film, even if it is not particularly memorable.
Hotel Transylvania is a charming movie that can easily be enjoyed by both children and adults. I give Hotel Transylvania a grade of B. Genre fans should enjoy it, and even non-fans should be ok with watching it with their kids.
Side note: This year my five year old god daughter has decided to be Mavis for Halloween, and so the whole family is going as characters from the film. She decided I would be Frankenstein, and who am I to argue with a determined five year old on Halloween.
Fanboy News Network Episode 18
Jeff is joined by Michael Montoure from Don’t Read the Latin to talk about creepypastas, including their history, what counts as a creepypasta and what their favorites of the genre are.