Category Archives: Television

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

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SUPERHEROICS ON A BUDGETS (PART 2)

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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.

 
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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)

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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.

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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

IT’S YOUR LORD AND SAVIOR, HOMIE

Black Jesus is here to spread the Word

Black Jesus is here to spread the Word

Straight up I’m what my late but so great-grandparents would call a backslider because I have strayed far from the Christian faith in which they raised me. I make no bones about that fact because I’ll let anyone know I prefer Johnnie Walker Black to communion wine and twisting a Saturday night away to making a joyful noise on Sunday morning. My mom is troubled by my slack ways when it comes to the faith much more than me because while she’s in our family church, Baptist of course, every Sabbath praying for my soul down in Albany, Georgia, our hometown, I’m up here in NYC sleeping off my good time and if I’m lucky I’m not sleeping by myself. All that said though I’m still a sucker for the story of Jesus Christ and try to walk His path the best I can. I’ll watch THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD whenever it comes on Turner Classic Movies and the soundtrack to JESUS CHRIST: SUPERSTAR is in heavy rotation on my iPod along with Jimi Hendrix, Kendrick Lamar, and Nine Inch Nails. I make no bones about my fascination with the Judean carpenter either so I guess that baptism when I was twelve wasn’t completely wasted even if the summer locked in my grandmother’s living room and chained to the mourning bench in church trying to get religion was. Something about the accepted story of Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross for the world’s sins speaks to a selflessness I try to live by in my life even when I have a glass of J-Blak on ice in my hand.

Jesus and His new Apostles

Jesus and His new Apostles

I’m much more open-minded about JC’s message outside of church than I ever was inside of it when I didn’t have a choice in the matter so for me it wasn’t too much of a stretch to stay up after midnight on Thursdays the past two months to watch Adult Swim’s BLACK JESUS on Cartoon Network. The show from Aaron MacGruder, creator of the phenomenon that is THE BOONDOCKS, and Mike Clattenburg (TRAILER PARK BOYS) puts Jesus in a South Central LA hood, robes and all, with a new band of followers and detractors but his message of love, peace, and forgiveness is still the same.

 

It’s a good thing the message remains the same because none of the Gospels I ever read spoke of Jesus and the Apostles facing down gat-packing gangsters, angry baby mamas, and beefing rappers. Then again I could be wrong because even two thousand years ago Jesus bumped heads with similar resistance in Jerusalem in the form of the venal money changers in the Temple, corrupt politicians among the Pharisees, and the sharp end of the Roman Empire. Same message on BLACK JESUS but there weren’t any Judases or spears in the side this season at least.

Sharing the bounty

Sharing the bounty

No, the show for this arc revolved around Jesu Cristo and His new disciples trying to start a community garden as camouflage for the Mary Jane they were trying to grow to sell and spark up. A dodgy premise to say the least but Jesus (Slink Johnson) and the cast of characters along with a few horses make it work some kind of way. Characters like an opportunistic bum played by Detroit John Witherspoon and Don DC Curry as a pimp-turned-city councilman show up to aid but mostly hinder the plan. Even Fred Willard and Coolio get in on the fun in some episodes but Our Blessed Homie, Jesus, treats them all, high or low, with love and kindness whether it’s paying extortion with a smile or turning himself in to the cops to head off a riot. He wasn’t pressed about going to jail though because like He said when the po-po loaded Him into the paddy wagon, “It’s no thing because they put your boy behind a big rock one time and I still got out in three days.”

Legalize it

Legalize it

The show leaves it ambiguous if the homie really is God’s Only Begotten Son or the victim of a psychotic break because most of His miracles are the result of excellent timing nearly as much as faith in Pops. Children and His squad along with a few converted disbelievers pick up what He is laying down though which is how the story went back in the day because not everybody believed Him then either. If they did He wouldn’t have ended up nailed to that old rugged cross but even that’s up for debate by some scholars. Not to put too fine a point on it, it may be best to just Liberty Valance it all if that’s too radical a thought to ponder.

Start dressing like a real man, con man

Start dressing like a real man, con man

I enjoyed BLACK JESUS immensely as a gentle satire with some laugh out loud bits typically when Charlie Murphy was onscreen as the distrustful apartment manager, Vic. The show is not blasphemous or sacrilegious as many church folks assumed it would be before the first episode aired. I’m sure non-backsliding Christians did object to their Lord and Savior being shown cursing and blowing trees with His boys in an apartment courtyard though. However, as Johnny, a jackleg preacher I used to work with back in the day, used to tell me, Jesus was the coolest man who ever lived because He never judged anybody. Our Savior hung out with prostitutes, pimps, and thieves while always making sure that the wine never ran out. That wouldn’t have worked too good with Reverend Johnny though because he preferred that Yak over the grape every Friday when we’d hit happy hour after work.

Share the Yak, Jesus

Share the Yak, Jesus

Don’t believe the hype or the baseless controversy about BLACK JESUS because there’s more profane stuff about Him on any regular episode of SOUTH PARK or FAMILY GUY. At least they got His color right on this show despite the shiny wig he was rocking. The work is a good reminder that Jesus’s story is something universal that speaks or should speak to anyone regardless of faith or lack thereof because we all need to be reminded that we can treat each other and ourselves with a little bit more kindness in this rat eat rat world we live in whether it’s the Holy Land two thousand years ago or this New Babylon we occupy today. Universality rather than adhering to any particular dogma is definitely a concept I can get behind at this stage in my life. Truth be told though, watching this show may have made me more open to packing one of my suits and a pair of hardbottoms in my satchel the next time I go home for a visit. The J-Blak will still be there waiting for me after services are over.

–Jason O. Logan

Stay Blessed, Bruh

Stay Blessed, Bruh

BEWARE THE BATMAN: A EULOGY

No!  He wasn't ready!

No! He wasn’t ready!

We’re about a month into the new Fall television season and in geek circles the hype is about all the new and returning shows that have sprung from the comic book genre. THE FLASH, ARROW, AGENTS OF SHIELD, and CONSTANTINE are riding a wave of anticipation from casual to hardcore fans but the show that has earned the most advanced publicity is the Batman show without Batman, GOTHAM. The Fox show tells the story of the eponymous city after the death of young Bruce Wayne’s parents and everything that spins out of that act which spawns not only Batman but influences his cast of supporting characters and enemies that are known worldwide. Despite mixed reviews, the show’s ratings have been solid for the first four episodes and personally I can say I’m truly enjoying this journey while hoping for a long run.

 

Stylin' as always

Stylin’ as always

The hype and the reality of GOTHAM is more than well-deserved but I’d like to pause for a moment to give a little light to a Batman show that recently ended, BEWARE THE BATMAN. This show however wasn’t anticipated or appreciated during its brief run and the geek world is all the poorer for it. BEWARE is an odd duck in the television oeuvre of the Caped Crusader and I’m concerned that that alleged oddness contributed to the show only lasting for one season with its last seven episodes ignominiously dumped as a financial write off during a Saturday night/Sunday morning marathon on Cartoon Network’s (CN) Toonami block last month. Many would find it difficult to believe a show about the Batman, currently the world’s most popular superhero, would fail but, alas, it is true. That is why I’m not here to bury BEWARE THE BATMAN, too many have done that, but to praise it. So allow my words to stand as a humble eulogy to a show that was more a victim of forces outside of its control than the quality it displayed on the screen.

The kids are alright

The kids are alright

Right from the jump BEWARE THE BATMAN was under the gun from fans and the geeknoscenti because it, along with the more inane TEEN TITANS GO! (TTG), was set to replace two well-regarded, highly rated animated shows on the Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block, YOUNG JUSTICE (YJ) and GREEN LANTERN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. To say YJ and LANTERN were beloved across various demographics is an understatement because even the finale episodes were the two most watched shows on the channel that week in spite of airing at ten on a Saturday morning. Those strong ratings were also a testament to the quality plotting and animation of those ‘toons that they kept and gained fans after the hijinks CN pulled with scheduling like placing them on unannounced hiatuses for months at a time with no public explanation. Pay attention because the word hiatus will come up again in this piece.

The night was too black

The night was too black

By the time the cancellations of YJ and LANTERN were officially announced, again just like the hiatuses with no formal explanations, disappointment and anger among fans was high and many were in no mood for another Batman cartoon since he has been the star or major character of animated shows continuously since BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES premiered in 1992. The cancelled shows had finally allowed lesser known characters in the DCU like the teenage heroes of YJ and the apparently radioactive Green Lantern, who was thought irredeemable after the flop of his big-budget summer tentpole movie, to prove there was more to the DC stable of characters than the Trinity of Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. The spite and Bat-weariness was understandable if a bit misguided though because while TTG was barely tolerable with its simple flash-inspired animation and juvenile toilet humor aimed at immature little boys, BEWARE was a refreshingly different take from the first episode on the early days of the Batman legend.

Seriously?

This was a reinterpretation of the Batman story where Alfred was a retired secret agent who looked like an older, saltier version of Jason Statham or, if you want to go back further, more like a Cockney gangster straight out of the original GET CARTER who was just as tough and competent in a scrap as the Bat himself. Lieutenant, not Commissioner, Gordon was on the show with his barely teenaged daughter, Barbara, while the deep geek character, Katana, in a big departure from canon, was installed as Batman’s original sidekick with not a green pixie boot in sight. The look and style of the Dark Knight himself was reminiscent of the sleek black shadow style of vintage Neal Adams and Alan Davis with a Bruce Wayne who was more philanthropist than playboy right out of a Denny O’Neill script. Speaking for myself, I was happy to see Michael Holt, the future Mr. Terrific, show up in the premiere episode.

Who needs the Justice League?

Just like no Boy Wonders appeared on the show neither did any maniacal clowns, monocled water fowl, or stray cats who walked on the villainous side. No, we got new and/or obscure villains like Magpie, Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad, Anarky, and Lady Shiva with many more introduced in the seven episode marathon such as an increasingly unhinged Harvey Dent before his acid facial and Deathstroke doing his usual mercenary work. The biggest nod to the heavy hitters of the Bat’s rogues’ gallery was when the Demon’s Head, Ras Al Ghul, showed up during the show’s second arc voiced by the peerless Lance Reddick in a bit of left field casting that worked just as great as Liam Neeson’s performance in the Nolan movies.

The Demon's Head

The Demon’s Head

I liked that Glen Murakami, the producer, and the show runners went deep into the Bat’s smorgasbord of foes for a different kind of twist on the accepted mythos. I would have liked to have seen a personal favorite, Maxie Zeus, make an appearance but an updated, blinged out Tobias Whale was fun too. The lack of the more recognized scoundrels known to the larger public was said by some critics to have hamstrung the show but for me, a guy who grew up reading comics well before the first CRISIS, it was refreshing to be reminded of how deep that bench could go. The Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman have always been fun to read or watch but their omnipresence in many shows, movies, and stories made them seem more like co-stars you expect to see every time the Bat shows up than guest stars to be used sparingly to keep their allure fresh.

Batter up

The biggest criticism of the show I could find is that many were turned off by the 3-D computer generated animation that was used in favor of the more traditional and accepted 2-dimensional cel style. Some have said the CGI style looked only a few steps above the cut scenes of a common video game and I could agree with that up to a point because the streets of Gotham were oddly empty in many earlier shows along with the stilted movements of some figures during action scenes. Nevertheless, I was also patient enough to know that no show is perfect right out the box so any problems with the visuals I was sure would be taken care of with time which was the case here. Those complaints were similar to the grousing about the same CGI method Bruce Timm chose for LANTERN which honestly got better every episode. I grew up watching the cheap, rudimentary animation of 70’s Saturday morning cartoons so BEWARE and LANTERN were miles ahead of that but we live in a jaded age where the perfect is the mortal enemy of the good.

Beware-the-Batman-still_01

Only in Gotham City

The plotting though was strong throughout the show with many threads and Easter eggs being set up in every episode from Katana’s true motives and history to the building of the Bat’s relationship with Lt. Gordon and following Barbara Gordon’s steps into fighting crime from a laptop. The stories highlighted the reasons why Batman is called the World’s Greatest Detective as it showed him doing real research to learn how to track and take down his foes by searching for clues. This came in handy whenever Anarky showed up to battle and was crucial to stopping Ras Al Ghul when he took over Gotham in his arc. Batman on screen has always been shown to be resourceful but this was the first weekly show since BATMAN ’66 I can remember that consistently showcased his detective chops as much as his martial arts skills and cool gadgets. All due to a storytelling style that allowed the fantastic to walk side by side with the grit particularly when Mr. Toad, Metamorpho, and Man-Bat appeared. The show was a crime show first and foremost which set it apart from the zaniness of BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD and the superheroic action of THE BATMAN and that again was a refreshing new take.

Leaping into action

Leaping into action

BEWARE THE BATMAN had it all to be a success. Strong visuals, smart storytelling, and an atmospheric tone which suited its title character and his world perfectly. So why did it only get one season then? Many reasons on top of the ones I’ve already touched on like CN feuding with its fellow WB property, DC Entertainment, lack of toy sales, and CN screwing around with its scheduling and unexplained hiatuses (sound familiar?). All those reasons are why we only got twenty-six episodes but the biggest reason for me is my fellow fans. I accuse my fellow fans because this show was trashed even before its first episode aired in many online quarters because it dared to tell Batman stories outside of the Timmverse. Batman fans are increasingly too precious with the character because they only see one narrow way to tell his stories and if those stories don’t adhere to that particular way then they are found wanting. Since the peak that was reached in 2008 with THE DARK KNIGHT there has been a meme in the zeitgeist that everything done with the character since has been wrong. Go read the screeds about how blasphemous THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was to Batman’s character to have him retire at the end. If you listen you can still hear the howls of disappointment from fanboys when Ben Affleck was cast as the Caped Crusader for the still unreleased BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: THE DAWN OF JUSTICE. I read and hear the same things about GOTHAM now as well. I get it if a person doesn’t like something but what I don’t get are baseless complaints that are made up out of whole cloth.

Different bad

Different…bad

I’ve been a Batman fan since the first time I was scared by Adam West in a still picture on television from BATMAN ’66 when I was five years old and that fandom goes deeper than the Bat tattoo I have on my left shoulder so I know I can speak on the character as intelligently as any other fan. Right now I’m speaking as a concerned fan to my peers and I say let Batman out of the hermetically sealed container you’ve trapped him in and permit him to breathe. Let other fans that are just as invested in the character’s continued dominance as the rest of us take him in different directions we may have never thought of before. Allow any show, movie, videogame, or book to rise and fall on its own merits but don’t automatically look at it with a dismissive eye before you’ve even experienced it. Let the story unspool first before you bury it. This desire to keep the Batman stuck in some kind of Frank Miller/Bruce Timm/Kevin Conroy-influenced limbo does us and the Caped Crusader no favors. Ben Affleck’s Batman may be considered on the same level as Michael Keaton’s and Christian Bale’s one day and GOTHAM may turn out to be the BREAKING BAD of superhero television shows but we may never know if we continue to cling to one interpretation of the Dark Knight. There’s time for GOTHAM and Batfleck to become what they will but narrow-minded thinking among a loud segment of our fellow fans doomed BEWARE THE BATMAN as much as deluded CN executives who paid more attention to increasing toy sales than letting a good show become a great show.

Beware-the-Batman

The battle continues

–Jason O. Logan