Category Archives: Op Ed

BLOOD ON THE LEAVES, BLOOD AT THE ROOT

By, Jason O. Logan

I’ve only had a panic attack one time and that was when I went to see a traveling exhibit about lynching when I lived in Atlanta a few years ago. The display, called WITHOUT SANCTUARY, was held down on Sweet Auburn Avenue, the historical center of Black Atlanta, at the King Center which honors the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was apprehensive about going to see it because while I don’t consider myself squeamish, I don’t have a morbid fascination with scenes of death and carnage either. The exhibit was free, I was in the area, and I had knocked off from work early that day so I steeled myself for the horrors that awaited me and went to see the exhibition.

 
Different versions of the Abel Meerpool-penned classic, STRANGE FRUIT, played softly in the background of the area where the exhibition was held. Billie Holliday’s version is definitive but hers isn’t the only one. I’m particularly partial to the Cassandra Wilson rendition from her NEW MOON DAUGHTER collection, which was played too. No matter the version though, that lachrymose ballad has always been in my soul since the first time I heard Diana Ross sing it in LADY SINGS THE BLUES when I was about six or seven. Some things just burrow into you for reasons unknown. I found out why when I learned more about the history of this country, in and out of school, and how the past for good and ill affects my present and future.

The burning flesh

The burning flesh

I spent about half of my childhood in a fair-sized town in the southwest corner of the state of Georgia raised partly by people who knew about lynchings and lived through legal segregation. My eighty-something grandmother who lives up here in New York after leaving home for good almost sixty years ago told me she grew up with two JC’s in her life, Jesus Christ and Jim Crow, and the only reason the latter didn’t kill her was because the former protected her. Yeah, it was that crucial.

As I walked through the setup transfixed by the black and white photos of human bodies slow-cooked over open flames or hung from bridges as examples to what happens to nigras who got too uppity back then, I thought about how it was probably only through the grace of God none of my ancestors ended up in displayed in one of those pictures. Not that too many of my elders were hellraisers. But it didn’t matter if you were a church deacon or a ‘shine bootlegger, a hard worker or a lazy no-account, an old grey-haired man or a babe still in the womb, if a white mob came after you with blood in its eye all that was needed to be the guest of honor at one of their lynch parties, planned or impromptu, was to have black skin.
I never asked my old folks about lynching or the Klan or segregation too much and they never volunteered that information either. My maternal great-grandmother was the most talkative one about the past but she always laughingly spoke about how her bad temper as a little girl always got her in trouble. Her husband, my great-grandfather, would just tell me I was too young to know about that mess and to go get his spit cup for his tobacco juice. My father’s mother, Grandma Fields, was always salty until the day she died but she never talked too much about the past. However, she always told me to watch myself around those folks across the tracks.

My old folks never said anything hateful about white people but I always noticed a shift in them when white people came around. A certain kind of wary alertness that was always cordial but ever watchful for anything to pop off. They never shushed my cousins and me around them but they seemed to make sure we were always close to them until the white insurance man left or we made it back home from shopping downtown at Belk’s and Otasco. Always wary, always watching.

Leo Frank

Leo Frank

I saw the image of Leo Frank’s broken body. Frank was a Jewish factory manager who, by most accounts, was railroaded for the murder of one of his workers, Little Mary Phagan, a hundred years ago this August. He was snatched out of the state penitentiary by a lynch mob and hung 170 miles away in Marietta, GA, just a few blocks from the apartment complex I lived in at the time. The mob did the work the state of Georgia wouldn’t after the governor had commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment. There’s a plaque marking where the deed was done right next to a KFC franchise even though his final resting spot is less than fifteen miles away from me as I type these words.

I saw the cover of a magazine that had to have been well over a century old which was illustrated with the drawing of a terrified Black man in a yellow shirt and ripped, red pants tied to a post in the middle of a vaudeville stage with white men firing away at him with six shooters and shotguns. The drawing was so vivid to me that I thought I could hear the gunshots, smell the smoke from the barrels, and, poignantly, feel the naked horror their poor victim must have felt before he died. My knees started to shake with that one.

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

It became difficult to breathe looking at the postcards of lynching victims sent through the U.S. mail with cheerful greetings on the back of them talking about the barbeque from the night before. Many of the cards showed the dead surrounded by hundreds of people who came out to watch the entertainment. I learned in college that many lynchings were considered social events like an Independence Day jamboree or a big-tent church revival but having visual proof of this fact made my throat tighten.

My heart felt like it was going to burst my chest when I read about the lynching of the pregnant Mary Turner in 1918 in Valdosta, GA, about ninety miles from my hometown. Mary was a twenty year old whose husband had been killed by a mob after a white landowner was murdered by one of his workers, a Black man named Sydney Johnson. Mary’s husband was one of thirteen people killed during the ensuing riot which lasted a week. She was swept up in it after she threatened to swear out warrants against those who had killed her man.
Her fate is related as follows from the memorial website, The Mary Turner Project:

Consequently, Mary Turner fled for her life only to be caught and taken to a place called Folsom’s Bridge on the Brooks and Lowndes Counties’ shared border. To punish her, at Folsom’s Bridge the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob. Her body was then riddled with gunfire from the mob. Later that night she and her baby were buried ten feet away from where they were murdered. The makeshift grave was marked with only a “whiskey bottle” with a “cigar” stuffed in its neck.

I had to leave after reading that. I thought my heart was going to explode from the stress of trying to keep from screaming in rage and sadness right there in the middle of the exhibit. I don’t know how long it took for my heart rate to slow down and my breathing to steady but it was a while. In this country, we live with violence everyday whether it comes in news reports, action movies, video games, or the stuff that comes kicking down the door in your personal life. The silent price of living here is that we become desensitized to all the real and pseudo violence. But seeing all that unadulterated hate and mayhem and murder broke me. It was too much to take in all at once; too much to look at from a supposedly safe distance of decades. This violence was right there, close to me as my heart banging against my chest from fear.

That fear was the realization that such violence is still with us in our modern times, only a YouTube video or a hyperlink away if we want to see it. Off the top of my head, I can list the names of men, women, and children who have been killed in the past few years and had their murderers walk. A little boy the same age as my son playing in a park across the street from his home shot down by cops. A man the same age as me strangled to death on a street corner by the police. A young girl the same age as my oldest niece shot in the head by an off-duty cop because he thought someone in her crew was pulling a gun when he reached for his smartphone.

Fearfully is no way to live life. Fear is a warning, an alert to let you know there’s danger ahead so proceed cautiously. Proceed with a purpose, face the danger and take action. Speak honestly and forthrightly, march, or grab a two by four and beat the hell out of the danger. There may be no lynch mobs like the ones from a century ago but the violence of those horrid deeds still exist to this day.

This country has too much blood at its roots to be so hungry for more. The strange fruit that bloom never hung from just southern trees. It was a national shame then, it’s a national crime now.

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh

For more information about Without Sanctuary and The Mary Turner Project, please go to the listed websites:

http://withoutsanctuary.org/main.html

http://www.maryturner.org/

Strange Fruit by Cassandra Wilson

JASON AND THE CHAMP

Awww...

Awww…

My grandparents’ dog, Casey, was put down this past Tuesday. She was 112 in dog years so she was getting up there. Unfortunately she was in great pain before she died, which came on very suddenly when she started coughing up blood and a mass behind her left eye forced the orb out of its socket. If anything can be called a mercy killing, her euthanasia by a veterinarian was that, but it was still a tough way for the poor pooch to go out.

 
My grandparents are old school, in their 80s so while they’re sad she’s gone you won’t see them in deep mourning over a pet as if a child or a sibling was lost, which seems to be the norm for many people today. No funerals or headstones for Casey, just an urn for her ashes to be placed in Grandma’s china cabinet. I’m the same way actually because while I’m sorry she’s gone and hate that she suffered so much in her passing, I’m not feeling any great grief. My heart was already broken over a canine many years ago when Champ was put to sleep.

I looked just as goofy as that age too

I looked just as goofy at that age too

Last season on The Simpsons, Marge and the kids were aghast at Homer’s blasé attitude towards the disappearance of the family dog, Santa’s Little Helper, until they found out from Grandpa Abe that he had suppressed his love for any animal after he mistakenly believed his childhood dog, Bongo, had abandoned him just like his mother did. That and a fatal addiction to doughnuts is something I have in common with Homie. When my dog, Champ, was put to sleep when I was nine, I lost all desire to ever claim any pet as my own again.

I don’t kick dogs, drown kittens, or clown the love others may have for their inter-species companions, even though I’ve seen and read about people who have lost their everlasting minds when it comes to how they spoil their animals. No, I tolerate them just like I did the now dear, departed Casey. After loving Champ so hard and losing him so abruptly as a child I knew even then that I wasn’t going to put myself or my little heart out there again to get broken when the creature died.

Champ was my Uncle Chuck’s dog originally. He was a purebred German shepherd my uncle bought when he lived up here in New York with my grandparents for about a year or so as a young man trying to find his niche in life. Before he found his lane, Uncle Chuck was a terror and poor Champ caught the worst of it after Chuck brought him down fully-grown and mean as a snake to our ancestral home in Georgia when he left behind the bright lights of the big town.

Uncle Chuck is a minister now and has been for about thirty years but he’s been a hustler all his life and that trait didn’t go away when he became a man of the cloth. I could be a smartass and say being a preacher is the perfect hype for a born hustler like my mom’s brother but the Right Reverend Hall’s conversion was legit so I won’t sniff at that but I still remember the Chuck who was running cons left and right before he turned his life over to God. I’ll never forget him because that’s the Chuck who threatened to whup my cousins, Stuff, and me if we fed Champ when he purposefully starved him to keep him especially ornery or told Granddaddy and Grandmother when he tried to set up neighborhood dogfights.

I’m the oldest of Chuck’s nephews and my great-grandparents’ oldest great-grandson but I was just eight then so the only way I could help Champ was ignore Chuck’s threats and do the right thing. Champ was a living creature but back then he was Chuck’s possession just like his fly leather shoes and his custom tailored suits. Chuck made it very clear with his thick leather belt that there would be consequences and repercussions if his four nephews and one niece trifled with any of those possessions including Champ. The damage that belt could do scared me spitless but seeing Champ suffer like he did made me risk a few welts when I gave him some scraps on the sly whenever Chuck left the house to see what was happening in the streets.

My first impression of Champ

My first impression of Champ

I was scared of Champ too at first because Chuck had raised him from a pup to be vicious and he only got meaner the more Chuck starved him. Dogs scared me in general as a kid because I had been chased by too many of them walking to school or when older kids sicced their mutts on us when we were roaming around the ‘hood. One of those dogs, a Doberman, chased me into our backyard one day and Champ was waiting for him, to the mangy bastard’s regret. My protector snarled, leapt, and ripped one of the mutt’s ears off. After that Champ was mine and I was his. Screw Chuck.

We were inseparable for a little over a year. I loved that dog hard and unconditionally just like little kids do everything this side of steamed broccoli. But Champ was so special to me because he was there when my mom had sent Stuff and me to live with the Great-grands for a few years while she stayed and worked in Philly. My father as usual was in the wind doing his own thing. Granddaddy and Grandmother, along with my father’s mother, Grandma Fields, gave Stuff and me all the love in the world. But there’s always a hole when a child is separated from one or both of his parents that surrogates can’t fill during those crucial years before the hurt from the abandonment scabs over with cynicism.

Man's protector

Man’s protector

Just like Bongo with Homer, Champ was able to fill some of that parental void for me because he was my protector against all threats physical and psychic. Yeah, I hated that months would go by when I didn’t know where my father was or that my mom never called down enough times to check on Stuff and me but Champ helped relieve that gloom just as much as my three caregivers. I was too young and he was too big for me to take him for walks around our block and our yard wasn’t big enough to play a good game of fetch but I knew when I got home after school or from church that my Champion would be there waiting for me.

One rainy morning I guess Champ couldn’t wait because he jumped the makeshift gate around his house in the backyard to follow us to school. The driver of the car who hit him probably didn’t see him. Accidents happen so I could forgive whoever did it even at nine years old but I never forgave that person for not stopping to check on him. Whoever it was left my dog to suffer that day. Left Champ to be found by me and Stuff after the school day ended and the sun had come out.

The accident hadn’t killed him but the car had torn open his side and he was in a bad way when we found him. Stuff ran home to get Granddaddy to help us while I stayed with Champ, stroking his head and crying my brown eyes blue begging him to forgive me for not protecting him like he did me. I don’t remember the ride to the vet’s but I do remember Granddaddy holding my shoulder in his firm but gentle way to keep me from going into the operating room with Champ.

The doctor came out shortly afterward to tell us to go home and he would call with the prognosis and an estimate of how much any surgery would cost. Yeah, Champ could have survived being wiped out by that car if the Great-grands had signed off on the operation to save him. The operation wasn’t free though and my Aunt Belle, one of my mom and Chuck’s sisters, convinced Granddaddy and Grandmother to just have Champ put to sleep. To her, $150 was too much to pay to keep some raggedy dog alive. One hundred, fifty dollars.

I have at least $150 in my change jar right now and I’m sure despite Aunt Belle’s protestations to the contrary that my Great-grands had the money on hand to save Champ too. Neither side of my family is wealthy but we’re not destitute either, even back in the 70’s, but priorities were a little different then. Why spend that much money to save a dog when one of us kids could be taken out by a car ourselves the next day? My folks weren’t unfeeling, well, Chuck was then, but there was a pecking order and pets were at the bottom of that list. If I didn’t learn anything else as a little one, I learned that lesson. Me and Champ both learned that family truth.

One of the last times I talked with my son, Jason, he told me he wanted me to get him a dog, a Golden Retriever. I told him maybe when he got older and could handle the responsibility of a pooch but I was probably just trying to subconsciously protect him from the trauma of losing a friend at a young age like I did. That was stupid because I couldn’t even protect myself from losing him even though that’s a story for another time. Let it just be said that I’ve grown enough to cherish the joy I shared with him just like I did with Champ much more than I dread the pain.

I’m living proof that Life will lacerate your soul and losing Champ like that was one of the unkindest cuts I’ve ever experienced. That’s pretty ironic because just like Homer and Bongo I had buried that pain so deep that it takes an outside stimulus to even make me remember him. The old cliché that time heals all wounds is patently false because it doesn’t heal a damn thing. If I can get Hobbesian for a moment, all the passage of time does is tamp down the hurts with the compost of everyday living. But that hurt is always going to be there, ready to be retrieved when unfaithful memory leads you back to it.

Hearing of Casey’s death made me remember my Champion and why I’ve never had any four-legged companions since. Why would I need another one when I already had the best?

–Jason O. Logan

Dedicated to Homer and Bongo, me and the Champ, and Jason and his promised Golden Retriever

MR. BIG STUFF

A ball of brown eyes and curly hair

A ball of brown eyes and curly hair

It’s fun being the oldest child. Not always easy, but it is a lot of fun. You’re the first out of the house after graduation, you get to lord it over all the younger kids, and being the oldest male in the home, I always got the biggest piece of chicken at dinner time. The worst thing about being the eldest is that I had to grow up with a headstrong, temperamental younger brother who was my funhouse mirror reflection in every way. Our mama named him Phillip; his original nickname is Mr. Big Stuff but, I shortened it to Stuff as the years went on.

“Mr. Big Stuff” is a song by singer Jean Knight released in 1971, the year of my brother’s birth which was nineteen months after mine. My brother as a youngster was a ball of soft, curly hair and big, dark brown eyes that made him always the center of attention among family and strangers. From my hazy memories the song always fit Stuff because he had no problem being that center even at a young age and he made it known early on that he wanted everything his own way. That worked for me because I liked to fade into the background to see how all the angles played out even as a kid. I never wanted the spotlight because scrutiny came with it and I didn’t want to deal with it. Stuff, flash bastich he’s always been, welcomed it.

Angels with bent halos

Angels with bent halos

My sibling and I differ in everything from the physical to the mental and I wonder why we didn’t drive our mom crazier than we did while growing up. You don’t have to be a deductive genius to figure out there was a lot of filial violence over those years. Stuff has a hair-trigger temper while mine builds up until it explodes. Most times I’d let Stuff have his way because I wasn’t up for the back and forth but when I reached my full measure it would be on like Donkey Kong. We never broke bones or bloodied each other…much but we both dealt deep body blows when we threw down. I won most of them physically because I’ve always had size and inches on him but he got his licks in too.  Stuff always won the PR war though because somebody was always there to tell me I was too big to be hitting on my younger, smaller brother no matter what he did.

I stopped trying to win that battle eventually. By the time Mama moved us to Georgia from Philly, I was old enough not to give a damn either way and just hit the door to the library or a convenience store to pick up some comic books when I felt a scrap about to come on between us. I knew more than anyone Stuff was no angel so it was better for me to handle crap between us the way I did than expect anybody else to see my side of the story. I’m quite certain I was just as wrong as he was the many times we came to blows but in the heat of combat, it’s not about who was right just about who won.

PB&J always called a truce in the Logan Civil Wars

PB&J was always a good reason for a truce in the Logan Civil Wars

It wasn’t always a Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter mash-up between us though. I knew I could always count on Stuff to use his excellent art skills for any school projects I had while I was his own personal Google with the answers to any questions he might have about school, politics, and life. I was also the only one who knew how to cook grits the way he liked ‘em when our mom wasn’t home. Hey, we’re from Da Durty just as much as North Philly.
I sometimes think Stuff and I would have had a better relationship growing up if there had been more years between us. That year and a half difference kept me from being as protective of him as I probably would have if he were substantially younger than me. I’m certain he always took my judgment skeptically since he didn’t think less than two years gave me any greater store of life experience.

Whatever it was, Mr. Big Stuff and I still have a complex relationship even today in our middle years which is built just as much on raw and bruised feelings as deep love and loyalty. We feed each other with long-handled spoons and keep the miles between us so our relationship maintains an even keel. I’m not saying we’ll start throwing punches again if we have to spend too much time around each other but I’m not saying we won’t either.

I do know that Stuff was the first one to call me in the hospital when I almost died four years ago to tell me that I couldn’t leave him to deal with our kookoo for cocoa puffs family by himself. He also let me know he would settle some debts for me if I didn’t walk out of ICU that could only be put into the black with some red. Like I said, neither one of us are angels.

What do I give him back though? I like to think he knows I have his back even if it’s something I don’t verbalize too much. That’s my fault but our rocky shared history and my macho pride explains my reticence in that area. Better to be there when he needs help than walk around saying I will when times are easy and be ghost when they get tough.

I wish our bond was stronger or, rather, more open but everything in its own time. We’re both getting older and will need to be there for each other when it comes to looking after our mother and our children as the years go on. That’s duty, though, when our relationship should have a little more joy mixed into it but, again, everything in its own time. Stuff and I may never resemble the Wright or the Wayans Brothers but, knock on wood, we’ll never be the New Age Cain and Abel either. Hell, I’d be happy if we were more like the Marx Brothers because then there would be a little more unpredictability to our already animated family gatherings down in Da Durty.

Together forever

Together forever

–Jason O. Logan

SUPERHEROICS ON A BUDGETS (PART 2)

arrow-season-3-logo-0001
ARROW (CW), Wednesdays at 8PM EST

The granddaddy of the current comic book television show renaissance is Arrow, which is in its third season of chronicling Oliver Queen’s (Stephen Amell) exploits on the mean streets of Starling City. After the recent events of the heart-pounding midseason finale though, it’s going to be hell of a trick to see how the series finishes up the rest of the season let alone makes it to a fourth. The show opened this season with our hero and his team of assistants holding down crime like a well-oiled, police-sanctioned machine. The city is recovering from the mayhem Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) brought to its streets and Oliver’s life last season but scars remain just below the surface. Starling is losing residents because unlike Gotham City, people have enough sense to leave a place subject to attacks from villains using machines that cause earthquakes and armies of juiced-up zombies (they’re everywhere I tell ya!) that snap the necks of innocent civilians. Oliver and company’s vigilante work on the streets helps but his home needs more support from his corporate alter ego. Thanks to Slade’s machinations, however, he no longer has that option. Queen Consolidated was snatched out from under Oliver through corporate chicanery and a new business rival, Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), has swooped in to take control of the conglomerate. He has also been wooing Oliver’s tech wizard, the adorable Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), for private and public reasons of his own as well.

Eat your heart out, NIghtwing

Eat your heart out, NIghtwing

Though as heavy on action as the previous years, this new season is unorthodox for a superhero show, or even a comic book for that matter, In that everyone and everything in Oliver’s world is moving forward and evolving except him. His right-hand man, Diggle (David Ramsey), is about to become a family man. His sidekick, Roy (Colton Haynes), now has his own costumed identity, in deep red no less, under the code name Arsenal. Thea (Willa Holland), his sister, has come under the tutelage of her biological father, the always scheming Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), which is especially agonizing for Oliver because she’s his only family left after the murder of their mother, Moira (Susanna Thomson), at Slade Wilson’s hands. Even the Lance family is moving forward with their lives as Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) and Laurel (Katie Cassidy) have been promoted in their roles in the criminal justice arm while Sara (Caity Lotz) is doing wetwork for the shadowy League of Assassins with her love, Nyssa (Katrina Law), until she makes a fateful and final return to Starling City.

Compared to the people in his life, Oliver’s world is actually contracting, even when he’s not in his costume. This cold fact hits him like a brick when he realizes after Sara is mercilessly killed that he may very well die alone down in his cave because of the life he leads. He recognizes that his costumed identity has taken control of his whole existence and it will eventually cost him his remaining friends and family unless he finds a new path. But first, has to find Sara’s killer or killers and bring them down. Nyssa’s father, Ra’s Al Ghul (Matt Nable), the Demon’s Head and the unquestioned leader of the League, has given Oliver a strict time limit to find the murderer. If he doesn’t, people in Starling will start dying each day until he does.

After finding and eliminating several likely suspects, including his sidekick, Oliver finds who he thinks is the real killer and discovers Merlyn has been playing him and Thea since his return. Merlyn’s tactics maneuver Oliver into making the only choice he can to protect his small, fragile world by challenging the Demon’s Head to a duel on a snow swept mountaintop. It doesn’t go good for our hero as he brutally learns why Ra’s Al Ghul is the most dangerous man on Earth. Alas, it may be the last lesson he learns; if the sword thrust through his chest didn’t kill him then the fall off the mountaintop did. Whatever his future, the sacrifice Oliver made facing Ra’s and the League on their terms completed his journey from simple vigilante to true hero.

From vigilante to hero

From vigilante to hero

Unlike last season’s fireworks when Oliver and his crew faced down Slade’s mad plan for revenge, the first half of Arrow’s third season has been a subdued character study of a man who doesn’t know who he is anymore after suffering such profound losses in all facets of his life. Taking such an introspective tone in a genre built on loud noise, explosion, and spectacle is a calculated risk. Showrunners Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kriesberg, and Marc Guggenheim have had some hiccups getting such a subtle theme across but appear to have ultimately succeeded in conveying that theme. Success predicated upon Stephen Amell capably bringing all the pieces together as the stoic but intense center of the Arrow universe.

The emphasis on character building has caused the action to take on an obligatory feel at times with the list of villains being run of the mill. The only standouts this season have been Matt Nable and his stunning interpretation of Ra’s, Boomerang (Nick Tarabay), Barrowman as Merlyn, and an Arrow stalker who goes by Cupid (Amy Gumenick). It’s a telling shift in an action series when the derring do serves the quieter beats rather than the other way around. One needs look no further than the first four episodes, when the action took a backseat to grief after Sara’s death.

The Brave and the Bold

The Brave and the Bold

Arrow has been increasingly morose and dark this season, but splashes of humor and fun have lightened the misery from time to time. Most notably, the episode that crossed over with a hot new show brought levity when a certain scarlet speedster showed up in Starling. The team also brings its own light touch with the always quirky Felicity, the enthusiasm from Roy’s youthfulness and the sage Diggle giving our hero the help and encouragement he needs even if they all butt heads from time to time. The subplots with the Lances has petered out somewhat with Captain Lance in a strange kind of plot limbo as Laurel agonizes over telling him about Sara’s death as she undergoes her own training to take up her sister’s mantle under the instruction of boxing trainer Ted Grant or Wildcat (JR Ramirez) for the eagle-eyed comic readers. It sounds more interesting than it has been presented as so far even if we finally did get to see the ubiquitous boxing glove arrow when the Arrow and Grant got into a scrap. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the script or Katie Cassidy’s acting that the subplot has been flat this season. I do know what’s in store for Laurel though from reading the books growing up so I’m willing to be patient with her arc until I see how it plays out.

Fight me, boy

Fight me, boy

The flashbacks this season have centered on Amanda Waller’s (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) forceful coercion of Oliver into serving as a tool of her spy agency ARGUS in Honk Kong, where he’s learning the spy game under the instruction of Maseo (Karl Yune) and Tatsu Yamashiro (Rila Fukushima). The grimy oppressiveness of the flashbacks have filled in more of Oliver’s backstory about what he was doing the five years he was considered dead and what made him the stone killer he was when he came back home. Yune and Fukushima have done much with their limited screen time and I’m on board for finding out what happened to Tatsu and their young son that forced Maseo to renounce his name and start running with the League.

The Arrow rises?

The Arrow rises?

Just like Gotham, Arrow has several plot lines to juggle but all those strands lead back to Stephen Amell’s title protagonist and, as I said, he’s a sturdy enough actor to carry that weight. It’s going to be intriguing to see how the dynamic of the show shifts without him when the new episodes start next month. Will the story and characters be strong enough to carry the show in Oliver’s absence or is this truly the end of the Arrow and his mission for justice? However it plays out, Oliver Queen has shown that he will die before he fails his city.

 
01964521
CONSTANTINE (NBC), Fridays at 8PM EST

A comic book about a miserable, little rotter in a mangy trench coat with a snarky insult hidden behind an ever-present cigarette is not normally the stuff of shiny, heroic television shows. It’s a good thing then that John Constantine (Matt Ryan), dabbler in the mystic arts, is far from shiny even if he is heroic in spite of himself. If The Flash is the only pure superhero show on television this fall then Constantine is more its reverse than the Man in the Yellow Suit. Everything the former is the latter isn’t except in one crucial resemblance: both protagonists are going to save the world. Barry Allen does it with a smile on his face while Constantine wears a sneer because he knows the world is in a bad place if he’s the last hope of mankind.

Out of the five shows based off DC/Marvel comic books currently in production for broadcast television, Constantine was always going to be the toughest sell. The show walks on the occult side of the DC/Vertigo universe and JC’s only mainstream exposure prior to this series was a criminally underrated Keanu Reeves vehicle from almost ten years ago. Many hardcore fans could not get behind the movie because Reeves looks as much like the character from the comics as I look like Will Smith. The NBC show at least gets JC’s classic look down even his trench coat, though the chain smoking has been muted for network TV.
I guess it makes sense that Constantine’s smoking habit has been muffled since NBC buried the show in the timeslot of death on Fridays at 10 p.m. (since moved up two hours earlier on the same day when it resumes in January) when most of its potential fans in the all-important 18-49 demographic are out drinking and smoking in a pub somewhere just like Constantine would after sending a minor demon back to the Netherworld. The series was done no favors either by having its premiere delayed until late October for some reason I’m too lazy to look up right now. Because of such depraved negligence, the show is on life support with the network because of its yo-yoing ratings, yet the DVR numbers are still impressive in spite of such obstacles especially now that the series seems to be hitting its stride.

The show starts with John Constantine hiding out in an insane asylum in England after a botched exorcism in Newcastle damns not just his soul but that of an innocent child named Astra to Hell because he cockily believed he could use a greater demon to drive the lesser one out of the little girl. It didn’t work out that way and she was dragged screaming down to the underworld. Brutal stuff to open a new show with but there aren’t any caped do-gooders in this version of JC’s world.

Bustin' makes us feel good

Bustin’ makes us feel good

A chance for salvation if he aids the forces of Good in a battle against the vaguely defined Rising Darkness is enough to get John out of the asylum and across the pond to the ATL to battle the forces of Evil. He’s got the support of a hangdog cabbie named Chas (Charles Halford), who for some reason can’t die, and a lady with a past named Zed (Angelica Celaya), who has the gift or curse of touch to see what others don’t want known. There’s also an angel named Manny (Harold Perrineau) who only John can see when he drops in occasionally to remind him none too subtly to get a move on with his ghostbusting because if the Rising Darkness prevails that salvation offer will be null and void.

Papa don't take no mess

Papa don’t take no mess

Over nine episodes, Constantine has vanquished dissatisfied Roma housewives, cursed Blues records, and fallen angels looking to get in some cheap shots while Heaven is preoccupied with the coming battle with the Darkness. And he makes temporary alliances with adversaries like Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw), a well-dressed voudoun from New Orleans who lets Constantine know every chance he gets that he doesn’t respect his lackadaisical attitude toward magic. There’s a cursed cop down in the Big Easy too named Jim Corrigan (Emmett J. Scanlan) who will never get any rest after his death because he has a duty to perform as the embodiment of God’s vengeance, the Spectre. Old friends from Astra’s exorcism have shown up too with the first being eaten from the inside by a ravenous demon after John sets him up to take the fall and another who went to a Mexican convent to get away from the misfortune Constantine brings to those who get too close to him. That nun’s habit didn’t stop her from gatting him down in the midseason finale, though.

I’ve always been intrigued by John Constantine ever since I read his first appearances in the DC classic, The Saga of Swamp Thing, where he was created or more likely conjured up by the immortal comics writer Alan Moore and artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben. His timing was wrong for me because by the time he was getting his long-running book under DC’s Vertigo imprint, comics were an expense a broke ass college student and working stiff like me couldn’t afford in my late teens and all of my twenties. It was the Reeves movie which eventually brought me back into the occult detective’s orbit. I still haven’t read too many of his comics but I always kept an eye out for the stray trade paperback or appearance in a book I was reading. Hell, his comic, Hellblazer, ran for three hundred issues, so sue me because I didn’t go back and read them all.

No one said it wouldn't be dirty sometimes, luv

No one said it wouldn’t be dirty sometimes, luv

I’m on board now for the show and it only gets more deliciously twisted every new episode. The only issue I have with the series so far is that it is photographed far too brightly, too cleanly for something that deals with black magic. It needs more darkness to match the cynical heart of the main character. The gloominess used in Gotham would really do wonders for the atmosphere of this show’s subject matter because plots that deal with demonic possession require a darker palette. A more muted presentation would take better advantage of the show’s Dixie setting for a more Southern Gothic feeling. Few things are more foreboding than an abandoned white clapboard church in a grassy field with the sun setting behind it. I grew up seeing things like that in small Georgia towns and the hairs still rise on my neck when I think too hard about what may be making its home in such places now.

Show runners David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone cast the title character wisely by choosing Matt Ryan, which is always the best way to get viewers to buy into a new show until the writing tightens up. NBC didn’t seem interested in waiting for the show to improve and only ordered thirteen episodes for the season which was concerning at first but ultimately inconsequential since the show came to television with a fervent base of fans other networks like SyFy or CW will be happy to service if NBC won’t. Constantine was always going to be a tricky concept to peddle to the mainstream compared to the natural appeal of The Flash and the dark kookiness of Gotham so a major network like the Peacock being skittish about getting behind it isn’t too surprising. Their loss if they cancel it anytime soon though because a show adapted from a comic that lasted almost thirty years is nothing to ignore.

Only thirteen episodes?  Bollocks

Only thirteen episodes, mate? Bollocks

The show Constantine isn’t the smooth manipulator yet that its main character is in the comics but it has the charm needed to get new watchers on JC’s side even if he is a total bastard willing to take any risk and sacrifice anyone to get the job done. No matter though since this magpie of magic has already been cursed to eternal damnation and is still the one soul Lucifer will come up from the depths of Hell to collect himself.


FINAL WORDS

The selection of comic book-based shows has been varied and reports say more shows are in the pipeline. One or all of them may fail because of a lack of quality or failure to find a large enough audience but it’s still a heady time for fans of the original medium to see real effort being put into bringing these properties from the page to the screen. Yes, there will never be enough money put into the EFX to make them movie quality but what these current shows lack in the wow factor they more than make up for it with solid writing, in most instances. The strength of weekly series is that they have more opportunities to refine the beats that don’t work over thirteen or twenty-three episodes as compared to a $200 million movie which can live on infamy many years in geekdom after it has left theaters. Ask George Clooney, Ben Affleck, and Ryan Reynolds if you don’t believe me because in some geek circles a Hollywood big shot could win Oscars for Best Screenplay, Picture, and Acting all in the same year and still be considered a no-talent bum because he or she wet the bed as a superhero. Tough crowd.

The current or future comic book shows outside of The Walking Dead may never get any real critical acclaim from snobs who give precedence to the movies or television critics in the age of high quality programming like Game of Thrones, True Detective, and Hannibal. Those and many others are great shows, don’t get me wrong. However, there is something to be said for the skill and dedication with which the crews of these shows in front of and behind the camera have translated this material from the page to the screen and if the critics won’t give these programs the recognition they’ve earned then the fans will. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know these shows are supposedly no deeper than the medium they spring from but there is something to be said for properties that have endured for so long that they are looked at less as the intellectual possession of multinational conglomerates and more like post-industrial folklore. Legends that continue to thrill and inspire nearly a century away from their pulp beginnings and can stand alongside the tales of Hercules, Paul Bunyan, and Sherlock Holmes. Gotham, The Flash, Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, and Constantine are part of a tapestry that was started on Joe Shuster’s mother’s chopping board in a Cleveland kitchen and will likely continue when we’re uploading new chapters of the never-ending story deep into our cerebral cortex. Knock on wood the quality of those future chapters will only build on what we’re getting now because what we’re getting now is pretty damn good.

Damn good, if it’s gotten seven thousand words out of me.

Respect the past, Enjoy the present, Look to the future

Respect the past, Enjoy the present, Look to the future

–Jason O. Logan

 

The first part of this (massive) post can be accessed here:
https://chrisballenger953.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/superheroics-on-a-budget/

 

SUPERHEROICS ON A BUDGET (PART 1)

super-hero-battle-for-tv

I grew up on comic books so the renaissance of shows, movies, games and more that have spawned from my old four-color playground has kept me in a high state of giddiness this whole century. Christopher Nolan’s sublime trio of movies about the Dark Knight, the success of Marvel Studios’ shared movie continuity, and Zack Snyder’s divisively debated Man of Steel are all holding down the movie side while the well-regarded Arkham series of video games about Batman and his world has fans anxiously awaiting every new chapter. Hell, even the sales of mainstream comics have seen a bump out of their usual doldrums since the advent of same-day digital. It’s a great time to be a fan of comic books and superheroes whether a noob, a vet, an all-consumer or a partisan. The medium that has seen the most growth in spreading the gospel of fantastic heroes fighting dastardly evil is television. The selection of shows, current and planned, offer much more than a momentary distraction during the wait for the next billion-dollar extravaganza from Hollywood.

The just concluded Fall premiere season brought a total of six shows with comic book roots but I’ll only be talking about five of them. No offense to fans of The Walking Dead who are reading this but zombies bore me. Three shows were new, four of them are from the DC/Vertigo canon and one from Marvel. They are in order of the nights they air: Gotham, The Flash, Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, and Constantine. Like fandom, I’ve got my likes and dislikes about each show but overall, they have proven to be quality television, not just good comic book shows.

So make sure your running shoes are tightly laced, your quiver is full, your magic talisman is handy, and your quinjet fueled up with the cloak activated because we’re about to go into a grand journey of superheroics on a budget.

hmlhi0pg7ivrn5ypaddm
GOTHAM (Fox), Mondays at 8PM EST

Gotham, the most hyped new show of the Fall season, aims to tell the story of Batman’s city in the aftermath of the deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents. The ten episodes aired so far follow a large and interconnected cast around a metropolis dark as Victorian London as reflected in a Dickensian novel. A few episodes have seemed unwieldy at times due to the many moving pieces and the creators’ interest in serving Easter eggs to hungry fan folks steeped in Bat-lore but, when it slows down, the kaleidoscopic cast easily propels the show’s central mystery of why Thomas and Martha Wayne were killed. From what I’ve seen so far, it was for more than Mrs. Wayne’s pearl necklace.

A nicer group you could find in Hell

A nicer group you could find in Hell

Our entree into this murky world is fresh-faced Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie,) whose by-the-book methods clash from the start with the slovenly corruption of his department embodied in his cynical veteran partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Gordon learns soon enough that being the seemingly lone good cop in a bad town that likes to be dirty is hard going. Everyone from the mayor on down is compromised and interested in making him as tainted as they are. Idealism is bad for business. Gordon finds out right quick there’s a murderer’s row of gangsters and hitmen eager to make sure he doesn’t rock the boat. Gangsters led by di capo di tutti capi, Don Carmine Falcone (John Doman), and supported by his scheming lieutenants who are gunning for his top spot like Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Sal Maroni (David Zayas). The murderously ambitious Oswald “Don’t Call Him Penguin” Cobblepot (Robin Lord-Taylor) is in the background creeping on his own come up and he’s not averse to spilling a little (okay, a lot of blood) to succeed Don Falcone.

Brucie, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Brucie, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Throw in the crazy that Gotham seems to attract like hypnotized serial killers, mad chemists, and vigilantes who kill criminals with weather balloons and Gordon has his plate full honoring the vow he made to young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) the night his parents were killed that he would find out who did it despite the cost. He’d better get a move on with it too because the amazingly self-contained Bruce is laser-focused on the same goal as he conducts his own investigation with the help of his trusty butler and legal guardian, Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee), who is as down for a scrap as any Gotham thug. Just because Batman isn’t on the show doesn’t mean Batman isn’t on the show, if you catch my drift.

That’s some character list and I haven’t even mentioned the proto Bat-villains who have appeared on the show like Poison Ivy, Mr. Zsasz, the Riddler, Hush, Two-Face, and an agile street kid with a thing for cats who witnessed the Waynes’ murder, Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova).

It all creates a gumbo mix of personalities and tones that takes something from every era of the Batman mythos. There’s the gangster element reminiscent of the Depression Era when the Bat was created, the zany camp of the Adam West show from the 60’s, the grit and urban decay from Frank Miller’s seminal tomes, and the paranoid darkness of the Nolan films. All these elements play out in a gray, overcast Gotham City that perfectly combines the Gothic influences of Anton Furst and Tim Burton from the latter’s movies with the modern verisimilitude of the Nolan trilogy strained through The French Connection. This authentic setting combined with the accomplished cast led by McKenzie’s good-hearted but tough Gordon truly makes the show a satisfying treat on many levels. McKenzie has taken what could have been a thankless straight man role and made it a foundation that allows consummate professionals like Pinkett-Smith, Logue, and Lord-Taylor, the show’s revelation, to chomp down on the scenery when the main conflict of certain episodes have proven to be rather bland.

Showrunner Bruno Heller, the mastermind behind well-regarded programs The Mentalist and Rome, is responsible for stirring up this concoction and despite some peculiar ingredients like the buffoonery of Gotham’s mayor (Richard Kind) and the unrealistically complete venality of the GCPD, his show at the midway point of its maiden season has a
savory taste that has me back every Monday night with my empty bowl asking for more.

the-flash-tv-series
THE FLASH (CW), Tuesdays at 8PM EST

Now let’s move from the misty gloom of Gotham City to the breezy sunshine of Central City, home of the Fastest Man Alive and the breakout hit of the season, The Flash. The Scarlet Speedster anchors the most joyful of all the superhero shows currently airing. DC Comics head creative honcho, Geoff Johns, said in the lead up to the series premiere that it would be the most faithful superhero show ever made and I can’t argue with him. Sure, it’s not an exact translation of the Flash stories from the source material but it has the spirit of the comics down cold which makes for a fun sixty minutes every time the show comes on.

The Flash chronicles the adventures of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), a crime scene investigator, who becomes the fastest human ever in true comic book fashion after a particle-accelerated lightning bolt hits a bank of chemicals that bathe him in electrified goodness and knock him into a nine-month coma. When he awakens Barry discovers he has superhero abs and enough speed to run circles around Usain Bolt going backward. He’s also become a human guinea pig of sorts for the remaining staff of S.T.A.R. Labs which has fallen on hard times after the particle accelerator the scientific concern turned on to great pomp and circumstance nearly destroyed the city and left behind a new and angry subset of humanity called metahumans. The staff made up of Caitlin Snow (Danielle Pannabaker), Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdez), and the founder and leader of STAR Labs, the mysterious Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh), see Barry as the key to making right what went wrong when the particle accelerator malfunctioned by neutralizing the metahumans who cause trouble with their new found powers. They also want to study the effects Barry’s speed has on his physiology, even if all this scientific attention is less than altruistic on Dr. Wells’ end.

This sounds good to Barry and it isn’t long before he’s zipping through the streets of Central City in a lurid crimson bodysuit doing the hero thing. This is only natural since Barry is a genuinely good guy who wants to help people in any way he can, particularly his wrongly imprisoned father, Henry (John Wesley Shipp). Despite his natural optimism, there is much darkness in Barry’s history from the night fourteen years previously when a whirlwind of red and yellow light with a man (or men) inside of it came into his home and left his mother dead with his father framed for her murder. That night drives him to find out what or who killed his mother so he can get justice for her and free his father.

That quest for personal justice is what drove Barry to excel in scientific studies while tracking down every bit of weird and unexplained phenomena he could find to get to the bottom of this tragedy. It also eventually led him into the orbit of the Starling City vigilante, the (not yet Green) Arrow, shortly before his encounter with that lightning bolt. Yes, The Flash and the other CW comic book show, Arrow, take place in the same world as shown by the two-part backdoor pilot for the speedster during the latter’s second season.

Barry didn't get the message that you can't smile while wearing a mask

Barry didn’t get the message that you can’t smile while wearing a mask

The introduction of Barry on the established Arrow last year brought the show some of its biggest ratings so it was no surprise that Warner Brothers, the studio that owns DC Comics, greenlit a show for young Mr. Allen. I knew the show was a go when I saw how engaging Gustin was as Barry Allen and figured he would be able to carry a program about such an iconic superhero on his wiry runner’s frame despite his young age. Gustin’s youth and the earnest way he acts have turned out to be positives though because it doesn’t allow his character to be jaded or conflicted about his superspeed and actually allows himself to enjoy being a hero, a switch from many comic book do-gooders who come across as broody and resentful of their special gifts and circumstances. Gustin’s Barry knows running around in a red fire suit fighting men of steel and human bombs is dangerous but he can’t help but race into the breach with an infectious confidence that he’s going to stop the bad guy and make everything right.

Can you adopt me too, Joe?

Can you adopt me too, Joe?

It’s not difficult to see where Barry’s boundless optimism was nurtured whenever his foster father, Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), and his daughter, Iris (Candice Patton), who Barry loves too much to ever consider as a foster sister, step into the picture. Joe and Iris show that love is a force just as powerful as superspeed in surviving tragedy and coming out stronger on the other side. The Wests’ fondness for Barry is evident seemingly every episode, even when they have to toughen it up to keep his speedy feet solidly on the ground. Jesse L. Martin in particular makes my eyes a little misty every time he has one of his heart-to-hearts with his foster son. Watch the mid-season finale if you don’t believe me to see what I’m talking about but grab a few Kleenex though because you may need them.

Candice Patton as Iris and Rick Cosnett as Det. Eddie Thawne, Joe’s partner and Barry’s rival for Iris’ affections, are the only members of the cast who haven’t been well served in the first nine episodes but the midseason finale looks to address that going forward. If Johns’ boasting proves true about the faithfulness of the show then there’s more than enough material in their respective comic book futures to test their acting chops.

The Flash springs from the same brain trust behind Arrow, Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, so there is no drop in quality from the older series to its shinier, younger sibling. My main worry before the show began was how the crew behind the camera would pull off the much more complicated special effects needed as compared to its predecessor on a television budget. The EFX crew proves weekly it’s smarter than me with how seamlessly the running and other effects are presented because they are just short of movie quality. There were some hiccups with the look of the Mist in the third episode but the SFX really popped in the midseason finale when Barry faced off against the Reverse Flash, the Man in the Yellow Suit, whom he holds responsible for the death of his mother, along with an appearance by the hero Firestorm (Robbie Amell) in all his blazing glory.

I have to really struggle to find criticisms for The Flash but everything I come up with are only nitpicks that I expect to improve as the series goes on. The show is already a major success for a network considered lightweight when compared to its more established peers so it’s already far ahead of where many thought it would be. The trio of showrunners who have crafted the show’s initial success should be able to continue exceeding expectations because subplots abound on this show but unlike Gotham they don’t weigh down the forward propulsion of the individual episodes while building to a greater climax since Dr. Wells has already shown us a possible future for young Barry ten years down the road. By then we the viewers should know how Firestorm was created, what really happened in Barry’s home the night his mother was killed, how fast Barry can really move, and the identity of the Man in the Yellow Suit. So many cliffhangers, so many days before the new episodes start in mid-January. How is it that a show about the fastest man alive makes us wait so long before it comes back?
Agents_of_S.H.I.E.L.D._season_2_poster
AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC), Tuesdays at 9PM EST

The lone Marvel televised entry in this listing is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (AOS) which is leaps and bounds better so far in its second season than it was in the first but honestly, that just brings it up to serviceable from dreck. AOS’s biggest strength is paradoxically its biggest weakness: it takes place in the same continuity as Marvel’s wildly successful movie universe which gave it instant geek cred last year but actually hobbles what the show can do on the smaller screen. While it was fun the first ten times in the first season hearing one of the agents reference the Battle of New York from The Avengers or make a joke about Norse gods falling from the sky a la Thor, it seemed as if the showrunners, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Taucheron, were content to present forgettable episodes for most of the episodes. Too many entries looked and felt like something out of the 80’s oeuvre of Stephen J. Cannell, who gave us the immortal Fall Guy, Hardcastle and McCormick, and The A-Team. That was good adventure programming thirty years ago but in today’s world of action shows with overarching, season-long storylines and movie quality digital effects, AOS came off as slight and skimpy, especially when compared to CW’s Arrow.

Oh, there were plotlines that played out most of the inaugural season like how the show’s lead, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), managed to come back from the dead after being skewered by the God of Mischief’s, Loki, magic glow stick. And what was so special about Skye (Chloe Bennett), the hacktivist waif, who became part of Coulson’s team? But the payoffs usually turned out not to be worth all the buildup. It wasn’t until the ramifications from Captain America: The Winter Soldier that the show found any real footing. It is fun in concept to see a weekly show that ties into the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it becomes problematic when the most exciting plot developments take place on the silver screen and not the television screen.

The Sexy Ass-Kicker

The Sexy Ass-Kicker

That said, this season AOS has not wasted too much of the momentum from the Captain America sequel as Coulson now leads a much smaller version of S.H.I.E.L.D., on the defensive from a resurgent Hydra and the governments of the world because of the evil organization’s infiltration of the spy agency. This has made for some diverting episodes and action beats like Agent Melinda May (Ming Na Wen) literally fighting against herself, actually a disguised, brainwashed fellow agent, and a counter-infiltration of Hydra headquarters by Simmons (Elizabeth Hentsridge), the cute as a button techie no one would ever suspect of going on a deep cover assignment. The sophomore season has also brought in heroes and villains from Marvel continuity like Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird (Adriane Padalicki), the Absorbing Man, and, notably, Kyle Machlachlan with hands dripping blood as Calvin Zabo alias Mr. Hyde, Skye’s father.

Throw in new and returning secondary members like Trip (BJ Britt), Mack (Henry Simmons), and the Koenings (Patton Oswalt) along with the turncoat Agent Ward (Brett Dalton), who’s playing his own game, and AOS has a very engaging cast on paper that’s not very interesting in execution. The worst parts of the cast are the brain-damaged Fitz (Iain de Castecker) and the roguishly lame mercenary Lance Hunter (Nick Blood). It really strains credulity that a squad on the run and facing danger from every darkened corner would actually waste time lugging around Fitz’s dead weight much less depend on him to save the whole group as he tries to overcome the injuries from Agent Ward’s betrayal last season and the mawkish flame he carries for Simmons.

What is and what could have been

What is and what could have been

Fitz’s storyline makes my eyes glaze over but Hunter’s supposedly charming scoundrel with a British accent makes me grind my teeth because he serves no real purpose. Instead of the writers giving more plot and action rhythms to returning cast member Trip or to the newcomer Mack they’re both reduced to grunt and nursemaid, respectively, so the twit Hunter can spout some tacky one-liners and make out in the back of vans with his ex-wife Mockingbird. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I would have rather seen Agent Trip’s backstory explored more of what his grandfather, one of the original Howling Commandos and founders of S.H.I.E.L.D., taught him growing up. I want to know more about Mack other than seeing him trying to read Fitz’s fried brain but his only real development came from falling down a deep shaft and coming up as a lumbering zombie with black-on-black eyes. Did I tell you I don’t like zombies? Well, I don’t like them or most horror movies because the same thing always happens to guys who look like Trip and Mack in them. While Mack’s eyes went back to their normal color at the end of the mid-season finale, *SPOILER ALERT* Agent Trip won’t be coming back, an unsurprising and clichéd end since the show has used tired old tropes from its inception.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the bones of a much better show and while this season is an improvement, it’s still more DVR watching than must-see viewing. Sure Coulson and the Koenings get off some pithy quips, Agent May is always fascinating to look at, and the EFX have improved but the show is still a hodgepodge of cloak and dagger spy maneuvers with a sci-fi patina. The sci-fi beats are supposedly seeding the ground for the introduction of the mysterious Inhumans in their own movie a few years down the line and the Kree Empire, which figures to play a major role in the upcoming Captain Marvel flick as well. The problem is that just like with The Winter Soldier, the real payoff to these plots and world building will be seen at the movie theater instead of in prime time on your local ABC affiliate. Everything shown this season on AOS could have been done last year but the real shame of this series is that instead of being its own unique entity in the Marvel Universe it will only be permitted to spread its wings just so far. Just so far because corporate synergy trumps narrative originality every time.

–Jason O. Logan

Come back for Part 2 of Superheroics on a Budget tomorrow

Merry Freaking Christmas

I hate Christmas.  Every year it comes around like that dog you gave some food to once and it just keeps nudging you for more.  I really hate the holiday with a passion.  I wish I could move to an island for December and live in a hut and not have to deal with picking out a tree, untangling lights, wrapping gifts and giving them away.  I also don’t want to hear carolers, see any light displays and vacuum pine needles after I take the tree out.

Now, I’m going to list my five reasons that I hate Christmas:

  1. Giving my parents gifts– My parents are pretty decent people.  But when you reach a certain age, you have everything, you’have seen everything and you have done everything.  So, it’s like, “What can I get that will blow their mind?”  I try to double team with my sisters about what we can get them-there’s one covert sister, she finds out the stuff and tells us. And, it’s usually wrong.  I reach the point where I call and ask them myself and cringe at their response, “I’ll take anything you want to give me.”  What I hear is, “No matter what loser type gift you give me, I’ll say that it’s nice and usually put it in the attic.”

Guess what, now they get gift certificates.

  1. Receiving gifts- One day, I was walking around Target with my kids. I was just killing time; so we played the “What if mommy had infinity million dollars” game where we pick out things we want.  I saw a really cute item.  It was on sale for $4.  I thought that if I had $4, I’d get it.  It was cute and small-nothing extravagant.  When I went back a week later (I had a lot of free time), it was marked even lower-closer to $1.97.  Oh yeah, I should get this now, if only this lint in my pocket was money.  Christmas day and we’re opening presents and I get this small wrapped gift.  It has a familiar feel to it.  I know what it is before I open it.  It’s the $1.97 item I saw at Target.

Now, the person who gave this to me will remain nameless but I was shocked (after I spent a sufficient amount above $1.97 for their gift).

“Do you like it?” the person asked.

“Oh, I love it,” I said, dripping in sarcasm, “I have the perfect spot.”

  1. Divorced parents-I’m a child of divorce.  Sometimes my parents can be so nitpicky over the holidays, I just want to try to split myself in half, to make each of them happy.  I remember once my father told me down to the millisecond how much time we’d spent with him the year before. (It went something like, “You’ve spent eight hours and fifty six minutes at your mothers’ house.  I was the recipient of forty five minutes.”)  I was like, “What?” and left speechless.

Of course, my sisters and I got together and bitched about this bizarre time keeping and spending system like there was no tomorrow.  It’s not like we did this crap on purpose but nevertheless, it’s annoying.

This is why I want the island.  I don’t have to worry about splitting myself in half.

  1. Toys! Toys! Toys! – Every freaking year, it’s “I want this!” or “I want that” or “Mom-look at this, it’s so nice, I need it!” It’s enough to make you rip your hair out by the roots and find the people that make these commercials and strangle them.  I know they are doing their job making that Barbie pool look so cool and inviting or kids laughing so hard at the dog that shits out balls; but I despise them, nonetheless.  I look around and see all the other toys my kid hasn’t played with-the dust all over it and at all the Barbie packs that aren’t even open.

“Why should I get this for you?”

“Because I don’t have it.”

“Not good enough.”

“It’s newer than the one I have.”

“But you don’t play with the one you have.”

Runs and gets toy, “Look, I’m playing now!”

Yeah.

And the final reason I hate Christmas is…

  1. Jesus was born in the summer-based on research. Google it.

Contributor: Tracy Cross Lucas

IMAGINE BETTER, BE BETTER

The American Dream?

The American Dream?

I was going to submit an entry to the blog this week about the various midseason finales of the superhero/comic book television shows that I watch weekly and while I still plan to finish polishing up that submission, the culmination of certain events in America have taken up most of my attention. Cops getting off scot-free for the murder of citizens and the worldwide protests those have touched off have been joined by official confirmation of this country’s torture program that was all but codified in the frantic days after 9/11 almost fifteen years ago. I’m righteously angry that Darren Wilson and Daniel Panteleo were allowed to skate without even the rubber stamp of indictment for the murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island, N.Y., respectively. And these were murders; make no mistake, willful or otherwise, about that. These heinous crimes by those sworn to protect and serve made me angry but the release of CIA documents proving that authorized agents of this country gleefully and maliciously tortured citizens and foreign nationals in the fictional War on Terror declared after 9/11 made me sick to my soul.

 
As a Black man who has lived in this country his whole life, I have no illusions about the land of my birth. I learned in junior high school by cracking open a book on my own that the original sin of the New World was the genocidal slaughter of the various Native American civilizations by plunderers from European countries like Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain. I knew from watching Roots as a seven year-old that the United States’ mortal sin was the kidnapping and enslavement of African peoples for almost two hundred, fifty years with another hundred years of de facto Jim Crow slavery on top of that to boot. I’m convinced now that the state-sanctioned terror against American and foreign citizens will be this country’s final sin because no country that claims to be civilized can prove such a declaration while shooting down innocent children in the street or anally raping men with the widest hoses possible while being held without legal recourse. No, such a nation is as barbaric as any pack of vandals out of Hammurabi’s time.

The American Reality?

The American Reality?

I have no illusions because this country has never lived up to the creeds in its founding documents. Those high-sounding words never included anyone outside of land-owning white men. However, those words are something this country should aspire to reach every day especially in these supposedly more enlightened times. This country is too far down the line to still be fighting the same battles that were considered won and settled decades ago. All citizens deserve equal protection under the law, not to be coerced into cutting plea bargained deals with a legal system where justice depends more on the size of the defendant’s bank account than determining guilt or innocence.

 
By the same token, this country should never have even seriously considered pre-emptive war on trumped up evidence. No country attacked America on September 11, 2001. No religion made those towers fall in Manhattan. Those were crimes, pure and simple, not acts of war carried out by Afghanistan and Iraq. Crimes are investigated by law enforcement not the military and if those offenses had been treated as such then the loss of blood and treasure as well as civil liberties in this country may have never happened.

 
It did happen though and the mistake is being compounded because we as a nation have not owned these crimes by trying to correct those tragic errors. No, too many in government, the media, and the every day citizenry have made it plain they are content to shrug off these offenses as the price of protecting this country. Not surprising though because this nation still hasn’t made formal redress or apology for the crime of slavery and its aftermath. States begrudge compensating illegally imprisoned innocents for crimes they never committed but for which many served decades behind prison steel. Maybe the rectally fed victims of America’s enhanced interrogation techniques may get formal redress and apology from this government because in the future Iraq and Afghanistan may prove to be valuable trading partners since we all know the business of America is business. In the sci-fi classic Dune, it is said the Spice must flow. In the American oligarchy, that can be amended to say keep the Coffers full.

 
It’s more likely I’ll trip over a billion dollars taking out my trash than these words of mine will make any difference when it comes to the direction this country is taking. I’m too cynical for illusions like that but I want this to stand as a humble testament that at this time in American and world history not everyone in this country drank the kool-aid of moral relativism the media-military-industrial complex is serving. Some of us see the joke for what it is and know there’s nothing funny about presidential kill lists and police shootings of children holding toy guns. I would holler but Marvin Gaye did that around forty years ago so this will have to do for now. No illusions, no more screeds, just keep my head down and reach out to other conscious people who are committed to making this country live up to the flowery promises in those founding documents of which I spoke. It’s long past time to stop sacrificing sections of the populace because of minor differences like ethnicity and religion for short term gain that only accrues to the top less than one percent. It’s time to stop fighting over the crumbs and correct the sins this country of ours was built on.

No illusions at all but don’t blame a guy for imagining better.

The never-ending battle

The never-ending battle

–Jason O. Logan