Sunday, September 28, 2014

Five Things About Gotham

Sorry about missing Thursday's post - I started a new job which has me commuting for the first week for training and my days got squeezed for time. To make up for it, I may have a surprise for this week (depending on how things go...) -- Anyway, Gotham premiered last week and here's what I thought about it (spoilers btw)

1. Ben McKenzie seems well suited for the role of earnest, honest James Gordon.  For the most part, I found his acting and the actions of the character pretty believable. I'm less sold on the role he's been tasked to play as the trope of good cop versus corrupt system is a hard sell to me. For the most part, that role worked okay here. There was one scene when he was chasing a suspect (Mario Pepper) across a rooftop, shouts stop or I'll shoot and then let's the suspect just sort of getaway without firing (not even a warning shot.) That struck me as, I don't know...a bit more Hollywood cop than Gotham cop.

2. Despite my reservations with the honest cop trope, I like the new cop/old cop dynamics between Gordon and the older, corrupted by circumstances, Harvey Bullock. This looks like a relationship that can give birth to a lot of plot twists and character development. In many ways, I find Donal Logue, the actor playing Bullock more interesting than Gordon.

3. The quick introductions of characters worked about as well as it could I guess. In some cases, like the Edward Nigma/Riddler scene, if felt almost like a parody of how such character introductions are handled...

...others, like Pepper Ivy (who will one day become Poison Ivy) worked a little better.

Carmen Bicondova's Selina Kyle didn't do much for me one way or the other, mostly because she was less a real character and more of a walking prop during the pilot. She spent a lot of time climbing on things and watching stuff. Hm...and feeding cats, just to clue you in to who she is.

Still, like I say, it's a pilot, so a certain amount of info dumping is to be expected. I'm suspect future episodes will flesh out her character in a very YA sensible manner.

4. I really liked Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot. I had heard that pre-screenings of the pilot had picked Taylor as the breakout actor of the series, and it's easy to see why in the pilot.

Any time he's on the screen, he's mesmerizing. He's a frantic bundle of twitches and ticks that puts tension into every scene he's in. Again, there was that one scene with him that struck me as a bit over the top (the final scene with the fisherman) but everything else with him was great.

5. Seems like a lot of people were put off by the the characterization of Alfred in this pilot. I'll grant you, it was a bit more aggressive/cynical than what we comic fans might be used to. During the scene where Gordon is telling young Bruce Wayne that his parents killer has not been found, Alfred comes across as hostile, but there may be some internal logic to that characterization, so we will see how it plays out. And to be honest, in some ways it's a bit more realistic vis a vis the situation than how Gordon acts at times.

Overall, I enjoyed the show and am looking forward to future episodes.

What did you thing?

- Jim

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What is the True Origin of The Gorn?

In the Star Trek: TOS episode Arena, the reptilian aliens known as the Gorn are introduced:

Like many fans of the show, this episode enthralled me as a kid. With his fearsome appearance and lumbering approach, the Gorn fit in perfectly with those other infamous monsters from my childhood: The Mummy and The Frankenstein Monster.

In my twenties, the stiff artificial look and the improbable nature of a space-faring lizard beast struck me as cheesy. Teenage years have a way of robbing you of your ability to enjoy guilty pleasures. I seem to recall having similar conversations with fans of the 1966 Batman television show.

Fortunately, later in life, I made my peace with such things and now appreciate the show as a nice bit of action/adventure science fiction television - regardless of the low-budget costumes and dated special effects.  (And I'd argue that the Gorn costume is actually one of the more evocative looking designs from TOS.)

While a fan favorite, the Gorn don't make a lot of reappearances in Trek. There is a brief nod to them in the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode The Time Trap:

And in the In A Mirror Darkly episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise series in 2005:

And they've made a numerous appearances in parodies of Star Trek, the most recent being a commercial for the new Star Trek video game.

In reading about the Gorn, I was able to find some interesting bits about the costume on the In Memory Alpha Gorn page, but I couldn't find anything about the writers creation of the character. I have a feeling that the character is inspired by the Ming's Lizard-Men from Flash Gordon, but I wasn't able to find anything to substantiate that.

 While their physical resemblances are remote at best, the name Gorn is basically Gordon with a few missing letters. And the Arena episode itself, with its desert environment resembles the desert looking Mars from the old Flash Gordon serials:

But the similarities in environment is probably due to more to easy access to the desert locations near Hollywood than anything else. (Quite a few Star Trek episodes take place in such barren regions.)

It's also possible that the Gorn is a call back to another green, fearsomely fanged alien older than Flash Gordon's Lizard-men - Tars Tarkas of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels:

Check out this version of the green martian on the Dell comic from 1952.

While the design is similar, it's not really a smoking gun. The problem is, Lizard Men, whether they were from space or lost lands, were sort of a staple of early pulp fiction:

So, it's entirely possible that the Gorn were a call back to just a classic looking creature.

Of late, there have been more modern revamps of the Gorn (like this one from the Star Trek video game)

 I suppose this is a way to make them more ferocious, but I remain a fan of the more anthropomorphic look.

What do you think? Is the Gorn too cheesy to exist in the current Star Trek movie mythos?

- Jim

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Revamped Batgirl - What do you think?

When the plans to revamp Batgirl for a (more modern? younger? more female?) audience was made a few months back, I was one of the few people on the io9 site who applauded the initiative. Now that a 10 page preview of the first issue has been released on Bleeding Cool, I'm having second thoughts (as are many other people who saw the preview on BC)

On the plus side, I really like the art style. It's a definite 180 degrees turnaround from the standard DC house style that dominated most of the DC New 52 books. (Click image to see full size)

On the con side, I'm bit confused by how this character acts. She seems markedly younger than the Batgirl we've been reading about over the years. She comes across as a bit addled and self-absorbed. I suppose that part of the demographic tonal shift, but this hipster 20-somethingizing of Barbara Gordon is disconcerting and a bit stereotypical as all the standard roadsigns for youth are trotted out (smartphones, texting and Starbucks coffee) However, I suppose we have to recognize that it's no more cliched than any other standard comic book story being put out by DC.

Still, not all of this revamping sat well with everyone. On the Bleeding Cool messageboard, the most polarizing event in the comic was when she woke up after an all night party where she had gotten so drunk she forgot she was making out with some guy.

This was met with a lot of scorn by some commenters as they decried such behavior in an established character. When I first heard about it, I too was taken aback, but in the context of the comic (which again is a complete revamp for a new demographic) it works.

Would it have sat easier with me it was a completely new character? Well, yeah. But again, as a calculated business move designed to appeal to a new audience, it makes sense.

Will it actually work business wise? Hard to say. The majority of commenters at Bleeding Cool were very positive on the preview, so that's a good sign for DC. And let's be honest, sales numbers on the old standard Batgirl weren't setting the world on fire were they?

10/2013: Batgirl #24 -- 36,666 (-  2.8%)
11/2013: Batgirl #25 -- 40,752 (+ 11.1%)
12/2013: Batgirl #26 -- 34,885 (- 14.4%)
01/2014: Batgirl #27 -- 37,226 (+  6.7%)
02/2014: Batgirl #28 -- 34,567 (-  7.1%)
03/2014: Batgirl #29 -- 33,223 (-  3.9%)
04/2014: Batgirl #30 -- 32,698 (-  1.6%)
05/2014: Batgirl #31 -- 31,522 (-  3.6%)
06/2014: Batgirl #32 -- 47,304 (+ 50.1%) 

Excluding what looks like a variant cover bump in June, the book has been steadily falling, so something had to be done.

 Still, it's hard to give the whole thing a thumbs up when you have Batgirl saying things like, "I'm legal loser!" in response to a question about her age. (panel 8 on the page below)

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out for DC.

What do you think?

- Jim

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Tribute to Richard Kiel

When I was making my new banner, one of the people I wanted to be sure to include was Richard Kiel, the tall actor who is perhaps most famous for his role of Jaws in the James Bond films, but who I first saw in the Twilight Zone episode: To Serve Man. (Though at the time I did not recognize him.)

There are many actors who dominated my childhood/teenage television screen but no one else encapsulated the the era like Richard Kiel. It seemed like everytime I was turning around he was in another show I was watching.

I first noticed Kiel on The Wild Wild West where he first appeared as Voltaire, the towering bodyguard of Dr. Miguelito Loveless (played by Michael Dunn) in The Night Wizard Shook The Earth in 1965.

The chemistry and dynamics between Dunn and Kiel was pretty awesome to watch. Both of them are incredible actors with a presence and charisma that served the show well.

The duo would return for several addition episodes:
The Night The Terror Stalked The Town

And The Night of the Whirring Death

After that episode, future Loveless episodes would only feature Dunn. The last time we would see Kiel, he would not be playing the role of Voltaire. In the Night of the Simian Terror, he returned to WWW as a sort of black sheep of the family character.

After his stint on Wild Wild West, Kiel showed up on a number of comedy shows I watched including:

I Dream of Jeannie as the Djinn Ali

Gilligan's Island as a nefarious Russian

And the Monkees as a groovy monster

His next few appearances were on short run dramas.

On Kolchak: The Nightstalker, he played the role of the Diablero in the Bad Medicine episode. This is the image I used for my banner as I'm also a big fan of the Kolchak series.

He also played the monster in the Spanish Moss episode, but he's a bit hard to recognize in that episode.

Another show he had a recurring role on but I have never seen was his role of Moose Moran on Barbary Coast (a show which also featured William Shatner AND Doug McClure, so it sort of sounds like the sort of thing I would really dig.)

While I missed his appearance on Barbary Coast, I did catch him when he showed up on The Hardy Boys

And Land of the Lost as the Cave Barbarian Malak

I'll have to admit, I didn't really like the character of Malak. That he shows up more than once didn't really help. Still, I was tremendously loyal to Kiel by this point, so when he showed up in The Spy Who Love Me, I felt a little vindicated in some way - as if now everyone could experience what a powerful presence he was.

In role of Jaws, he provided what is debatably the most famous Bond opponent ever. Throughout the film he gets back up after getting defeated by Bond - as such he is a prototypical Terminator. This role won him a ton of fans and he would get to return in the next Bond film Moonraker.

In Moonraker, his character gets a bit more of an arc and is even allowed a happy ending of sorts.

I suspect the appearances in the Spy Who Loved Me helped him land another film role in the fan favorite World War II movie Force 10 From Navarone

Around this time he almost had a recurring role in a show that would have been a big hit for him - The Incredible Hulk. He appears in the pilot during the scene where the Hulk rescues the girl who falls in the lake.

Unfortunately, Kiel was not picked for the role, so most of his scenes were reshot with Lou Ferrigno. Kiel has been quoted as saying he was fine with this as neither the makeup and the contact lens necessary for the role agree with him.

Over the years I have had many opportunities to meet Richard Kiel at conventions and I always told him how much I enjoyed his appearances on the shows I watched. Besides his tremendous stature, he had a great, expressive face for acting and was able to impart a nice range emotion with his eyes and mouth.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, with the recent work on my banner I found myself thinking about Kiel a lot recently. So I was quite shocked when I heard he passed away last week at the age of 74. He was a significant part of my childhood who I will always remember.

- Jim

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Crisis in DC Media Universes?

First, just want to say THANK YOU! to everyone who responded so nicely to Monday's post about changing my routine here. I was genuinely touched by the the compliments in the comments section. I'm glad everyone enjoys my humble ramblings as much as I enjoy humbly rambling. With that, here's a new one:

In a recent article over at ComicBookResources Stephen Amell talked about Arrow Season 3 and addressed the question of whether he would be playing Green Arrow in the upcoming Justice League movie:

We are creating a Justice League on TV for us," Amell said. "I don't think there is a logistical reality to us participating in the feature side. That being said, I never wanted to have to feel like the show was justified, just because we participated in the movie. I don't think my character would participate on the cinematic side. What's that saying? Is it six seasons and a movie? Our show right now has me, Arsenal, Flash. There's going to be Firestorm and Atom. The Justice League elements of it are very present on our shows ['Arrow' and 'The Flash'] already.

Now this idea that the DC movie universe might not be directly tied to the television universe is something I've discussed with StevieB at work on several occasions.  At first, being your typical comic book fan, I was put off by the idea. After all, Stan Lee sort of schooled us all in the value of having a cohesive universe. 

 And I'd say the past decade has shown us the folly of NOT having one.

Still, as I thought about it more, I got more "okay" with the idea. For one thing, being a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) didn't really help Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, did it?. Yes, there was a slight boost of interest in the show once it started tying into Captain America: Winter Soldier, but that was after 75% of the series had already played out. Wouldn't had been better if the show could have explored its own universe with more gusto instead of having to bide its time until they could reveal the Hydra plotline? 

Also, while it would be cool in a fannish way to see Amell as Green Arrow in the Justice League movie, I don't think the character is necessary to make a successful blockbuster. Indeed, he wasn't actually added to the original Justice League of America comic series until issue 4 (after the series had been running in Showcase for a while.)

And besides, I'm not sure I'm all on board for this Justice League movie. What if it sucks? Would that ruin Arrow? No, but it's hard for there not to be some collateral damage from a colossal movie failure. Imagine if Stephen Amell had made his Arrow debut in the franchise destroying Green Lantern movie?

So, while it's very easy to say, "Go ahead and cram everybody into the Justice League movie cuz that works so well for Marvel!" I don't think it's the smartest move. With Marvel, they have a successful brand now, but they didn't 15 years ago. Would it have been smart to, say, introduce Iron Man in Spider-Man 3? 

Or would he have been just more noise an already crowded, crappy movie?

So, yeah - I'm cool with there being separate media universes.

What do you think?

- Jim

Sunday, September 7, 2014

No More Comics?

For the past several months I've been thinking about changing the direction of this blog a bit. The thing is I often find myself thinking about, oh, I don't know, all the dream episodes from Gilligan's Island...

...and wishing I could write a post about it on my blog.

But then I'm like - "No. My blog is about comics...I can't do that."

Which is dumb because I've actually written many non-comic related posts here before.

Like my one on the Secret Origin of Star Trek

Or my appreciation of Wizard of Oz

Or the various posts I've done on Wild Wild West

And there are dozens of other topics I'd like to tackle, but in order to do so, I'm going to downshift on my comics posts and do more movie, television and cartoon posts. As a reflection of this new direction, I've updated my blog banner.

If you are a fan of the comics posts that is worried about this new direction, I would say relax. As I mentioned in last weeks poll post, I still read comics and will still post about them here. (It's just a bit harder now days for me to wring out two weekly posts about modern comics when I find so much of the output unappealing.)

So, I hope those of you who are fans of this blog will continue to read it. I think you'll find a lot of fun posts yet to come!

- Jim

PS: Special thanks to StevieB, whose Star Wars post pushed me in this direction and Trey Causey for help with the banner and tagline.


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