Upgrade flew largely
under the radar when it came out last year, which is a shame. So, I am doing my
part to get it a wider audience by reviewing it. Upgrade is a near-future cyberpunk/action/horror film written and
directed by Leigh Whannell and produced through Blumhouse.
The story follows Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), a
mechanic that specializes in restoring vintage cars. After delivering a car to high-tech
billionaire Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), Grey and his wife Asha (Melanie
Vallejo) have their car hijacked, leaving Asha dead and Grey paralyzed from the
neck down. Eron approaches Grey in the hospital with an offer: he has created a
microchip (called STEM) that will allow Grey to regain his mobility. However, as
the development is not cleared for human experimentation, Grey will need to
keep it secret. He agrees and receives the chip, whereupon he learns STEM’s artificial
intelligence can communicate with him and, with his permission, assume control
of his body. The AI (voiced by Simon Maiden) helps him to track down the
attackers and under STEMs control, he becomes a hyper-competent fighter.
The movie becomes a race for Grey to learn why he and his
wife were targeted for attack, while staying ahead of Eron, who is not pleased
with how Grey is using STEM. The attackers, led by Fisk (Benedict Hardie), are hunting
to learn who is taking them out. And then there is Cortez (Betty Gabriel), the
detective investigating Asha’s murder. She suspects Grey is killing Fisk’s men
despite appearing to be a quadriplegic.
Leigh Whannell, best known for writing the Saw franchise for James Wan, has
branched out from writing to directing. He brings a distinctive visual feeling
that shows influence from Wan, while still remaining original. Made on a
typical Blumhouse shoestring budget of $5 million, every cent shows on screen,
from the near-future cyberpunk aesthetic to the brilliant cinematography
whenever STEM assumes control of Grey’s body. The movie is paced like an action
film but builds tension like a horror film.
The cyberpunk setting is handled well. There is no year
given, which will help the movie from dating itself too much. The advancements
we see – self-driving cars and voice-activated devices making meals and helping
around the house – are excellent extrapolations of current tech. This helps to ease
the audience into the more advanced tech that drives the plot.
As the lead, Logan Marshall-Green does an amazing job. Due to his resemblance to Tom Hardy, there
are some inevitable comparisons, but by the end of the film Marshall-Green’s abilities
truly shine through. He conveys Grey’s frustration and grief, but also plays
his shock and confusion when STEM is in control and performing some truly
Betty Gabriel, best known as the maid in Get Out, does a good job as Cortez. She
does well in showing her simultaneous confusion at how Grey could possibly be
taking out trained killers from a wheelchair and her certainty that he is doing
it. Harrison Gilbertson is serviceable as Eron. The character is meant to be
creepy, which he brings across, but there is not much else to the character. Benedict
Hardie’s Fisk is the weak link in the acting. He is never anything but an over-the-top
fanatic. This is very evident in scenes with Marshall-Green who brings a much
more nuanced performance. Simon Maiden manages to steal the movie as the voice
of STEM. He manages to be sympathetic and menacing, often at the same time.
I give Upgrade a
grade of B. It is a solid movie that genre fans will embrace whole-heartedly.
Non-genre fans should still enjoy it for the tight action and pace.
In my effort to create a scripted podcast, I decided one of the best things I could do is go and find other scripted podcasts to listen to. In this pursuit, I came across EOS 10.
EOS 10 is a podcast created by Justin McLachlan. The title is the name of the space station where the show is set. The premise is that the chief medical officer on the station, Dr Horace Urvidian (Dan Berry) has become an alcoholic. Since Urvidian is a well-known figure in the Alliance (with a children’s book written about him.) his failure would be an embarrassment. To head this off, Dr. Ryan Dalias (McLachlan) is assigned to be his new chief of surgery. Ryan, the son of an admiral with a history with Urvidian, has experience with substance abuse, and convinces Urvidian to go sober.
In addition to the two doctors, the medical staff also includes Nurse Jane Johns (Natalie Cutcher), a snarky extrovert who likely became that way to survive Urvidian. She also pines for Dr. Osolong, a staff member who is mentioned but never appears, and also happens to be gay.
Rounding out the main cast is Levi (Charles Lipper), a deposed alien prince who now works at the station cafeteria. Levi is friendly, but a hypochondriac, hence his constant interaction with the medical staff. Levi is also not above going outside the law if he wants something.
This last trait puts the crew in contact with the recurring character Akmazian (Tim Torre). Akmazian is wanted by the Alliance as a terrorist, and has been hiding out in an unused section of the base. Akmazian claims to have been framed and tries to be helpful when he can, to get the crew, especially Ryan, on his side.
The only other recurring character of note is the Quarter Master (Chris Stinson), a two headed alien who for reasons unknown dislikes Ryan.
As there is no narrator, EOS 10 has to find ways to convey locations and situations while not resorting to the dreaded “as you know” trope. Fortunately, the writing is up to the task. It is helped along by being a clear pastiche of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, at least in set up. This fills in a lot of blanks in the back story.
One thing the show does very well is create a sense of space. This is from small things like background noise. All scenes on the station have a particular background hum. Scenes in the cafeteria have the sounds of people chatting and plates clinking. But there are other sound effects used to tell the story, like having the Quarter Master’s voice alternate between speakers to show which head is currently talking.
The story itself covers a few themes. One is dealing with addiction of course, as shown through Urvidian and Ryan and their straight forward cases, but also in things like Jane dealing with her obsession with a man that will never notice her, and Levi pining for his past life as a royal.
There is also a government conspiracy plot, thanks to interaction with Akmazian that slow burns in season one, and comes to the forefront in season two. The show also tackles other issues, such as the episode Antivaxx which, as the title suggests, deals with the anti-vaccination movement.
On the acting front the show does well, pulling it’s cast from actors working in the Washington D.C. area. They all do fine work, but Dan Berry and Charles Lipper stand out as Urvidian and Levi. McLachlan does a good job as Ryan, but at times he can come off as a bit too relaxed.
If you are looking for a podcast that tells an interesting story without being too heavy, I would suggest checking EOS 10 out. So far, two seasons have been released consisting of eight episodes each.
I give EOS 10 a grade of B. It should entertain Science Fiction fans looking for a podcast, but might leave some people behind.
Let Us Prey is an interesting film to review. On the surface it seems like a very generic horror film but, as it is with events in the film itself, looks can be deceiving.
Let Us Prey is set in a small, out of the way, Scottish town. Its police force consists of four officers; one of those officers, Rachel (Pollyanna McIntosh), is literally heading in for her first shift with the department when she witness a car hit a pedestrian. The driver, Caesar (Brian Vernal), stops and she arrests him, but the victim is nowhere to be found.
After getting back to the station ,she meets her commanding officer, Sgt. McReady (Douglas Russel), who seems intent on keeping the status quo and isn’t very warm to having Rachel in his department. Her fellow officers, Jack (Brian Larkin) and Jennifer (Hanna Stanbridge), are having an affair and seem to be pretty clearly corrupt.
Besides Caesar the police are also holding Ralph (Jonathan Watson), who is being held for domestic abuse, and not for the first time. Things get complicated when the man Caesar hit (Liam Cunningham) shows up at the station, battered, but apparently alright. After having Dr. Hume (Niall Gregg Fulton) examine the man, the Sargent decides to put the man in cell six, in part due to his refusal to identify himself, thus the character is referred to as simply Six.
After this, odd things start happening around the station. It becomes increasingly clear that Six is manipulating events and that each person in that station is not there by chance. It is up to Rachel, who has vague memories of meeting Six as a child, to figure out what is going on.
As I said at the top, Let Us Prey starts out as a very standard horror movie, with the introduction of the victims and then the slow thinning of the cast. What makes it stand out is that, as the plot unfolds, it starts playing with our expectations. Writers David Caims and Fiona Watson know who their audience is, and what they have come to expect, and use that knowledge to take the story to places that play with those expectations.
Director Brian O’Malley keeps the pace slow, but never dragging. When he does pick up the pace at the ending, he remembers that this is a horror film and not an action movie. The mood is also aided by the lighting, often coming off as if the whole movie is lit by the halogens in the station.
For the actors, this is clearly Cunningham’s film. Being the most recognizable of the cast (from his role as Davos Seaworth, the onion knight on Game of Thrones) Cunningham carries the film as the enigmatic Six. As the story moves on it becomes clear to the audience who Six is supposed to be, but the movie never comes out and confirms anything.
McIntosh manages to hold her own with Cunningham, as the film’s protagonist. Rachel’s history, showing she was kidnapped by a child murderer when she was a young girl, leads to a character who is determined to help others, but dealing with her own darkness from the event. All this leads to the final scene of the movie; without giving away spoilers, it is unexpected, but McIntosh’s performance makes it stand out as a triumphant moment, where it could have easily fallen flat.
The rest of the cast is fine, but no one really stands out. They just play as figures in the game between Six and Rachel.
I give Let Us Prey a grade of B. Horror fans should enjoy the mood and how it plays with genre tropes, non-fans should still like it, but may be thrown by twists.
If you want to check it out, Let Us Prey is currently available on Netflix.
Jeff talks about the Podcast “The Black Tapes Podcast”
Dicussion of They Live and how well it has aged.
Recommendations for good short horror on YouTube.
Jeff talks about attending Geek Girl Con.
News from NYCC
The flopping of the movie Pan and why this made Jeff and Daniel happy.
How the geek community came together to support Ahmed Mohamed.
Daniel talks about why he enjoyned the Martian and Jeff talks about why he is looking forward to Crimson Peak.
Daniel talks about reading the Fight Club II comic and his decision to buy the first issue of Dark Knight 3.
Jeff talks about his impression of the returning comic book inspired TV shows.
Discussion of the post-Secret Wars Spider-Man stories.
Daniel talks about the novel Ancillary Justice.
A quick plug at the end for the Kickstarter for Thea Maia and Jillian Venters Adult and kids coloring books.
Sapphire and Steel has been getting some buzz amongst fandom lately. Neil Cross, the creator of the BBC series Luther has stated that he wants to do a revival of Sapphire and Steel as his next project.
For those of us who were getting into British Sci-fi shows in the 80s, this is an exciting prospect; however, I’m sure a lot of you have no idea what I am talking about.
So what is Sapphire and Steel and why are some of us excited about a reboot?
Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, and Sapphire and Steel were considered the holy trinity of British Science Fiction in the 80’s. Which is interesting because I, personally, don’t consider it Science Fiction; I think of it as horror. Sapphire and Steel is a British TV series created and written exclusively by Peter J. Hammond that aired from 1979 to 1982. It was broadcast on ITV, which was a commercial network in Britain that was often the main alternative to the BBC.
The premise of the series is that if a breach in the fabric of time occurs, other worldly operatives are dispatched to fix the situation before malignant forces from outside of time can take advantage of it.
Most of our knowledge of the operatives comes from the opening narration of each episode:
“All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel.
Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.”
It is implied that this corresponds to the periodic table, but since none of the named operatives are named after elements we cannot be sure.
The series follows operatives Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) as they investigate the breaches in time and work to correct them. The two are clearly not of this world. They can communicate with each other telepathically. Sapphire can manipulate time in a limited fashion, rolling it back, as well as having psychometry. Steel is super strong, has limited telekinesis, and in one episode was able to lower his temperature to near absolute zero to defeat a threat, but at the cost of weakening himself. In personality, Steel is cold and a bit rough in his dealings with humans, as opposed to Sapphire who is warmer, although this is implied to be a learned skill when Steel calls her a diplomat.
The time breaches are often caused by some anachronism in the area. An old nursery rhyme book, a party exactly recreating the 1930s, and a doctored photo mixing old and new elements. Once a breach has happened, Sapphire and Steel are dispatched and have to figure out why it happened, what it unleashed, and how to fix it.
Occasionally, in the course of an assignment a third operative will be sent in. The two other operatives we meet are Lead (Val Pringle), a jovial giant who can insulate Steel against the weakening effect of lowering his body temperature, and Silver, a technician who can transmute small bits of matter and can manipulate technology.
One of the features of the series that made it stand out (and makes it excellent horror) is that Sapphire and Steel’s main goal is sealing the breach. While they will attempt to save the humans caught up in it, this is a secondary goal and if letting a human die will ensure the breach is sealed, they will let the human die.
Since the series was on ITV it had what could kindly be considered a micro budget. Consider that Sapphire and Steel’s run was during the end of Tom Baker’s run on Doctor Who and the first year of Peter Davidson’s. People joke about the cheap effects of that era. Now consider that to Sapphire and Steel, Doctor Who’s budget would seem lavish. For most shows this would have been a problem, but Sapphire and Steel turned it into an advantage. Since each episode had limited sets, it was simply that during a breach no one could get out, which was usually Sapphire’s doing. The writing was also very good and made the episodes slow, but well-paced. Tension was built to the point that a pool of light on the ground, clearly created by a stage hand with a flash light, was nonetheless absolutely terrifying.
And then there was the acting. Joanna Lumley and David McCallum were already established when the series was made (Lumley from the New Avengers and McCallum from the Man From U.N.C.L.E.), but still years away from their bigger successes (Absolutely Fabulous and NCIS). In Sapphire and Steel they convey the otherworldliness of the characters and make them sympathetic even when having to make the hard choices their jobs require.
Sapphire and Steel was a serialized program, just as the original run of Doctor Who was. In all there were only six stories made, ranging from an hour and a half to three hours, depending on how many half hour segments each story required.
Be warned that some of the episodes can be very scary. One person online once said a story can go from “give me a break” to “Someone please hold me” with very little warning. And it is famous in fandom for having a downer ending in the final episode.
If you decide you want to seek out the series you are in luck. Shout Factory did a rerelease of the series in 2013. You can go to their site to find it, and the series is available from Amazon for about $26.00 as of this writing.
I am going to give Sapphire and Steel a B. I think horror fans who give it a chance will be pleasantly surprised, but I can see where the slow pacing and cheap effects could detract from others enjoying it.
When last year’s TV season began, The Flash was one of the most highly anticipated shows amongst the geek crowd. When we looked at it here during the beginning of the season it was certainly living up to that buzz, but did it maintain that level?
Well yes, actually it did; no need to beat around the bush on that. But let’s look at how it managed that.
The one thing the Flash had going for it, from the start, was that it embraced its comic roots without shame. It also went against the grain for just about every other DC live action property by not going the grime and gritty route, instead choosing to have an optimistic hero who acted as a symbol of hope.
CW already had the required grim hero in the Arrow. One observation of the two shows is that in the CW DC universe, Superman’s role is covered by the Flash and Batman’s by the Arrow. One episode highlights is when Barry tries to emulate the Arrow’s grimmer way of handling things, only to have it blow up in his face.
One of the factors that influenced the story more than any other was the time travel aspect. Time travel was always a part of the Flash in the comics and the show did not shy away from this in the least. Like any show involving time travel there were questions about what the consequences of changing the past would be, and the creation of a plot hole or two. However, the overall execution was well handled.
So how did the characters evolve over the course of the first season?
Of course, as the main character Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) had the most growth. Starting out as enthusiastic but unsure of himself, Barry grew into a responsible hero who (when it came down to it) would make the choice of serving the greater good. Gustin nailed the character from the start.
If the show rested on Gustin’s shoulders, then his best support came from Tom Cavanagh. As Harrison Wells, Cavanagh portrayed a wonderfully complex character. As Wells, he was Barry’s mentor and a surrogate father figure, but in his true identity of Eobard Thawne (aka The Reverse Flash) he was Barry’s worst enemy who wanted nothing more than to destroy him. Cavanagh was able to portray Wells as both affectionate to Barry and the rest of the S.T.A.R. Labs crew, while at the same time being a threat to them.
While Wells’ goal was to push Barry’s powers to greater heights, Barry’s foster father Joe West (Jessie L Martin) guided him on the path of the kind of hero he wanted to be. The father/son bond between Joe and Barry was easily the series emotional core. Joe cared so much for Barry that he was willing to have their relationship erased from history, if it meant that Barry could get his mother back.
Of Barry’s colleges It was interesting to watch Cisco Ramon’s (Carlos Valdes) arc over the season. Cisco had fanboy glee over Barry’s powers and being part of a team fighting supervillains. It was also interesting watching his bonds with Barry’s father figures. He worshipped Wells and took his betrayal hard. Conversely. over the season. Cisco had a growing working relationship with Joe, being his secret partner in investigating the truth behind the death of Barry’s mother. The revelation that he can subconsciously remember timelines that time travel erased directly opened a door to his (eventually taken on) identity of Vibe from the comics.
On the flip side you have Catlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) whom, thanks to a glimpse of the future, we got to see as her villainous alter ego of Killer Frost. While she continued her role as caregiver to Barry when injured, the show steered away from having her fall for him, instead bring in her supposedly dead fiancé Ronnie (Robbie Amell), who was still alive, as his comic book alter ego Firestorm. She was also the most resistant of the S.T.A.R. Labs team to the idea that Wells was really the Reverse Flash.
Iris West (Candice Patton) suffered most of the season from being more of a plot motivation, for Barry, than an actual character. For the first two thirds of the season, she was defined by her relationships with Barry, her father Joe, and her boyfriend Eddie. It was only towards the end of the season, when she learned that Barry is the Flash, that she started coming out of that and showing signs of being an actual character. Hopefully in the next season they can build on that and give her some more defining characteristics.
Speaking of Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), for starting out as a bit of a cliché (romantic rival for Barry) he turned out to have an interesting arc. Half way through the season Barry and Joe let him in on Barry’s secret so that he could help with the investigation of Wells. Eddie was not happy that they insisted on keeping it from Iris. But he turned out to be a stanch ally and a tragic hero when he learned that he was the Reverse Flash’s ancestor, and that his romance with Iris was doomed to fail. His arc ended in a heroic manner and I, for one, am disappointed we will not be seeing more of him in season 2.
There were some notable guest and reoccurring characters that warrant mentioning.
Besides Ronnie, you had Professor Stein (Victor Garber) the other half of Firestorm. Garber is a great actor and brought both fun and gravitas to Stein. I look forward to seeing more of him both on the Flash, and in the mid-season spin off Legends of Tomorrow.
John Wesley Shipp, as Barry’s father Henry, was also a great part of the show. Although initially just a bit of stunt casting (Shipp played Barry in the 90’s Flash series), he did an excellent portrayal of a man accepting the bad hand he was dealt and just being happy his son was doing well. He made the pride Henry felt upon realizing that Barry was the Flash radiate.
And of course there was the other great nod to the old series of having Mark Hamill as the Trickster (the character he played on the 90s series, as well as doing the voice on the Justice League cartoon). Hamill is a fantastic actor and I hope we get more of him in the future.
In the end, I give the first season of the Flash an A+. It is the best comic book series ever and we can only hope that others learn from its example.
With the second season premiere of Gotham just around the corner, I want to take this time to do my season wrap up review of the first season. If you want to check out my review of the first few episodes of the season you can go here.
So did the season improve as it went along?
Well, yes and no.
The problem that plagued Gotham (from the beginning) was its uneven mix of good, passible, and bad elements. As the season progressed the good elements got better, the passible elements improved, and the bad parts generally got worse.
Last time I started with the good, so this time lets lead with the bad.
From the beginning, Gotham’s biggest problem was that it did not know what to do with its female characters. None fared worse than Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith); as an original character, Fish had no predestined arc. This would not have been a problem, but most of her story was always a tonal shift from the rest of the show and would bring everything to a screeching halt. It got worse as the season went on, with a truly awful arc that took her out of Gotham and had nothing to do with the rest of the show. It was literally a waste of screen time. In the final episode of the season she met up with Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) and made the young girl part of her new gang. Since Fish was played like a version of Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman, if she had been played as a mentor to Selina early on, that would have made sense, be here it was too little too late. Fortunately, Fish was killed off in the finale, which can only help the next season.
The only complete waste of potential was Gordon’s fiancée Barbara Keen (Erin Richards). At first Barbara was just a bland girlfriend for Gordon, with the only tension that she had previously dated Rene Montoya (Victoria Cartagena), who wanted her back, causing friction between Montoya and Gordon. After that was resolved, Barbara left Gotham after getting caught in the crossfire of Gordon’s crusade against the corruption in Gotham. After a bad visit with her parents, she came home, took in Selina (and her friend Ivy), and generally showed signs of not being all that stable. Her season story ends with her actually going insane and becoming a murderer. I don’t mind that they are departing from her comic book depiction, I mind that her arc was so badly written.
As for Montoya, right after Barbara leaves town we never see her or her partner, Crispus Allen, (Andrew Stewart-Jones) again.
On the plus side, the show added Firefly vet Morena Baccarin as Dr. Leslie Thompkins. In the comics, Leslie was a college friend of Thomas Wayne and one of the few people to know Bruce Wayne is Batman as she was the closest thing he had to a maternal figure in his life. Here she is introduced as Jim Gordon’s new girlfriend and the new city corner, after a bad stint on the Arkham Asylum staff. While she doesn’t have a great arc of her own yet, she makes a good compliment to Gordon as she actively wants to help Gordon and understands what he is fighting for.
One character I did not really touch on the first time was Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), the future Riddler. At that time he was a walk-on character who provided exposition and would insist on making it a riddle to remind us how he ends up. His character ended up getting more of an arc when they had him develop a crush on a fellow staff member at the GCPD and kill her abusive cop boyfriend. The problem is that his parts of the story feel shoehorned in.
Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) had his arc improve as the season went on. A lot of that was thanks to having Bruce and Selina meet, as she was the only witness to his parents’ murder. This actually helped both characters as it gave both important interactions and set a lot of foreshadowing to their future selves. It also had romantic tension, which was handled well considering we are talking about two fourteen year olds. Bruce’s scenes were also helped by the presence of Sean Pertwee as Alfred. Pertwee continues to be one of the best things about the show and is arguably the best on-screen Alfred ever.
One of the best interactions that Alfred had were scenes with Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Not surprising, as Logue is another of the big reasons to keep watching the show. Harvey’s arc the entire season has been one of the corrupt cop having his former idealism reawakened. Logue plays the conflict perfectly and is always a treat when he is on-screen.
Since we are talking about the best things on the show, we might as well talk about Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor). The Penguin’s story was easily the most engaging as he was always actively working towards something. In this case that something was taking out all the Gotham city mob bosses and leaving himself on top. Taylor did an amazing job with the role, which was also the best written of the whole cast.
And that takes us to our star Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie). I will say this, since I wrote the first review Gordon became less passive and started to truly drive for change in how the GCPD operated. So he is definitely more interesting now, especially with his relationship with Thompkins. Sadly he is stuck with a characterization that is just going to pale in comparison to the presence of Bullock, Penguin, and Alfred.
In the end, I am giving the full first season of Gotham a C+. As I said the first time, it is going to drive the long time Batman fans up the wall with its handling of the characters and story arcs. It probably does better with non-comic 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.
It’s March, and we are now weeks away from the beginning of Convention season.
I know that conventions actually go on year-round, but March is often considered the kick-off of convention season with Emerald City Comicon at the end of March and going through New York Comic Con at the beginning of October.
Already, I hear the laments of cosplayers trying to get their costumes done in time. I hear fans complaining that San Diego Comic Con sold out in under an hour, again. I have friends doing panels at conventions who are stressing about what they are going to say. I had one person explain to me how the Gen Con Hotel lottery system is broken and how he wrote a program to fix it, if they would just respond to him.
All in all, pretty normal stuff.
But this year feels different.
There has been a lot of stress lately in geek culture and, with convention season almost here, people have to deal with what is happening in person instead of just online. The concerns about harassment, and even violence, have a lot of people on edge.
Most of what is going on is not new. I have been covering it here for the last few years. A lot of the old factors are still at play: misogyny, gatekeeping, fear mongering, and privilege. What has changed is the level of focus.
It would be easy to say that this is all Gamergate’s fault, but that would be over simplifying the situation. Gamergate is not the cause of what is happening, it has simply provided a rally point for the problematic aspects of geek culture. The old triggers are still at the heart of what is going on, but what has caused things to go ballistic is actually the fact that things have been improving.
Last year we saw several conventions adopt harassment policies that were well worded and comprehensive enough to actually be effective. You have also seen women, minorities, and LGBT come forth and demand representation and a safe place to be geeks with the rest of us. You’ve seen the industries that fuel geek culture start to respond positively to these segments of their audience.
Sadly, for many people, strides made by others are seen not as an expansion of geek culture but as a threat to them. It’s as if even though 95% of everything is still being about them, they begrudge the other 5%.
Thus, we have the atmosphere of fear that now pervades geek culture. The old guard fear that they are losing something, and they use fear to try to drive off those they see as interlopers. And with the escalation of threats, there is a legitimate fear of violence.
But as awful as Gamergate is, it also has a silver lining.
Yes, there are people being driven off, or deciding never to join in geek culture due to this, but others are being galvanized. People who might have just been going along have become activists to show that the harassers are a vocal minority and not representative of our culture.
The escalation of harassment is terrible, but it has caused wider exposure to it, resulting in more discussion on how to deal with it. It has also led to more mainstream media attention, which helps.
I am not saying it is all rainbows and kittens. I know several people who have been targeted. One had to find a new bank, due to repeated hacking attempts at her account. Another deleted her twitter history after receiving a Gamergate education post, so that she could remove any potential information about her daughter.
As a white heterosexual cis male, I doubt I can even begin to imagine what it is like to be a woman, minority, or LGBT on the internet.
I also do not expect any of this to just go away. I have been writing about it since 2012 and I expect I will still be writing about it, on some level, in 2020.
But as long as we still talk about it, and make sure we as a culture strive to be better, I can have hope for the future.
Until then I am still going to several conventions this year, and plan to do my part to make sure they are safe and inviting events for everyone there.
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.