Friday, October 31, 2014

Arrow S03 E03: "Corto Maltese"

Corto Maltese was originally the name of a late sixties European comics series by Italian creator Hugo Pratt about a sailor adventurer named Corto Maltese. Writer/artist Frank Miller liked it so much he used the name for an embattled South American island nation in his classic The Dark Knight Returns. Later in homage to that, it appears in the photography of Vicki Vale in 1989's Batman film. It was later brought into the DC Universe proper and was even mentioned on TV's "Smallville."

In the Arrowverse, Corto Maltese was first brought up waaay back in the first season episode "Lone Gunmen" as a place Deadshot was operating. Here, it is where Malcolm Merlyn has brought Thea Queen for training. Oliver is obsessed with finding her and is off to Corto Maltese, with Roy and Diggle in tow. Diggle has a second mission while he's down there however, checking on an operative named Mark Shaw who had gone dark.

Yes, the DCU is alive and well in this episode of "Arrow." Mark Shaw is just one of the people who has gone under the name Manhunter. Another would be Kate Spencer, who, still alive and active as Manhunter in the comics, died at the hands of one of Deathstroke's soldiers in last season's "Streets of Fire." Here Mark Shaw is not quite as heroic as in the comics, and ambushes Diggle. Anyone who knows Shaw's earlier Star Tsar and Privateer background, this shouldn't be a surprise.

While Diggle and Oliver are off playing spy with Mark Shaw, Roy does what they actually came to Corto Maltese for, he talks to Thea. He seems to get through to a little, but then Oliver tries his brand of pseudo-truth, which of course he tells her everything but. Just when you think Oliver has changed, has learned something... it becomes apparent he's the same guy he was years ago.

We also meet a very young Ted Grant, better known in the comics as Wildcat, Golden Age superhero and Justice Society member. Notably he taught many heroes to fight including Batman, Catwoman, and yeah, the Black Canary. Laurel comes to his boxing gym looking for a Tom Bronson, who in the comics is his son, his namesake, and a were-panther... but I don't think we're going there... Where we are going should be obvious however, Laurel will at last become the Black Canary.

Thea's training seems awful Batman-ish, but what can you do. John Barrowman is the perfect melding of father, mentor, and sociopath as Malcolm Merlyn, it is hard to dislike him. I want him to be Captain Jack, but I'm relishing him as Malcolm. In a nod to the comics, and the second Speedy, Thea is called Mia. Finally. I like it.

Shaw is making a deal with the ARGUS intel he stole with a man named Armitage. Sharp viewers will remember that Armitage supplied Malcolm Merlyn with the Markov device back in "Tremors." I love that Oliver was able to fashion bows and arrows from stuff in their hotel room. I wonder how much they'll be charging his credit card?

In the end, we get no real resolution to the Mark Shaw storyline. Does he go free? Go to jail? Extradited to ARGUS? If the answer was there, I missed it. Thea comes home with the boys, but Malcolm says he'll see her soon. Felicity takes some time off to go over to "The Flash" this past week, and Ray Palmer discovers Queen Consolidated was making high tech weapons. Laurel begins her training with Ted Grant after Oliver refuses to help her. And Nyssa drops by the Arrowcave looking for Sara.

Other DC Comics references include the executive assistant Ray Palmer assigns to Felicity, Jerry Conway. Gerry Conway was the creator of Firestorm, a character and comic that both "Arrow" and "The Flash" reference constantly, and also longtime writer of Justice League of America, a comic that regularly featured Green Arrow, Black Canary, and the Atom. There's also Coast City, home city of Green Lantern and Ferris Aircraft.

Next: The Magician!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Origins of Dillon

Folks who read my stuff know that I'm not fond of origin stories. Oh, I like to know the origin of my heroes but I would rather not be beaten over the head with them. I dislike reboots for this reason, inevitably we're going to have to go through the origin all over again for the umpteenth time.

Remember the superheroes of the movie serials? You would get one line about where the hero came from, and then it was off into the action and the meat of the story. That's all you really need. Remember the origin of Batman in the 1966 TV series? It was there, done just like that, in one line of dialogue. Heck, they did it with the man of steel in under thirty seconds in the opening of every episode of "The Adventures of Superman."

Similarly I feel the same way about the training of heroes. I was soured on "Smallville" fairly early and it's pretty much how I feel about Fox's "Gotham" for this same reason. I don't want to see the hero learning to be the hero, I want to see the hero be the hero. This is why I approached two recent books featuring one of my favorite pulp heroes, Derrick Ferguson's Dillon, with great trepidation.

Derrick has purposely been vague about the origins of his hero Dillon, telling us just what we needed to know about his mysterious beginnings, and leaving the details in the shadows. I expected to be bored quite honestly learning the finer details of his origin. I was wrong. In Young Dillon in the Halls of Shamballah, a novel meant specifically for a young adult audience (but I notably enjoyed it as much as I have all the 'adult' Dillon novels), we meet the hero as a child, and are walked through the details of what we had been told vaguely, and I dug it.

Derrick knows the secret. He wasn't telling us the origin of Dillon even though it's in there, or at least parts of it are - he was telling us a story. This is key for beginning writers. I run into so many folks, especially in the NaNoWriMo, that have a great idea, a cool concept, some intriguing characters - but what they don't have is a story. DF pulls me happily through an origin story I didn't want with a compelling story I did want. Thumbs up.

The second part of Dillon's origin did more than give me a compelling story, it introduced me to classic pulp character I was heretofore unaware of, and a writer whose work I'm now a fan of. The Vril Agenda, written by Derrick Ferguson and Joshua Reynolds, stars a slightly older Dillon in search of training as a hero, and the adventurer known as the Super-Detective, Jim Anthony.

This novel was everything I could have wanted, and never could have imagined I wanted in a pseudo-origin story/pulp adventure. The only thing I could have wanted more of would be, well, more. The Vril Agenda has a story told in two timelines, ancient secret societies, secret empires, mad villains, brave heroes, Nazis, and pulp, so much pulp. I loved this book, and I highly recommend it, along with Young Dillon. If you crave adventure, origin or not, new pulp is calling you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Doctor Who S08 E10: In the Forest of the Night

"The forest is in all those stories that kept you awake at night. The forest is mankind's nightmare."

As we open this episode The Doctor allows a little girl, Maebh Arden, to wander into the TARDIS. At first I thought, oh no, not another little girl, and then when I saw the terrific chemistry Peter Capaldi had with her... my mind began to wander. Forget Clara, perhaps this is the kind of companion this Doctor needs - either a child or someone with a child's mind? These two worked well together, so much better than Clara and The Doctor, I thought. I'd watch this team.

Apparently the Earth has been covered in vegetation overnight. The TARDIS is in the middle of London, along with Clara, Danny Pink, their class of 'special' kids, and The Doctor - and yet they are all engulfed in a thick forest. When all the kids are in the TARDIS of course, it becomes apparent that one kid equals good, more than one equals "Get off my lawn!"

Later on, it gets a bit silly with a psychic Little Red Riding Hood, wolves, a solar flare, trees saving the planet, and Danny Pink mesmerizing a tiger, but it's still a fairly good episode, better than some this season. Again, Clara is the whiny voice of conscience and clarity, and with this Doctor, that may be the last thing he needs. Boo hiss, let Maebh be a companion.

Peter Capaldi is at his manic and mean best here. Even if the stories are failing "Doctor Who," Capaldi is not. After this one and "Flatline," I am finally liking Peter Capaldi. It may have taken nine or ten episodes, but he's finally grown into The Doctor.

Next: The Finale Begins!

Don't forget to follow my weekly reviews of "Doctor Who" at Biff Bam Pop!, and check out David S. Ward's thoughts on this episode here. Special thanks to David for covering for me while I was on vacation!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S02 E05: "A Hen in the Wolf House"

What I have always said about "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," even during the dark days when no one was watching it, was that it was great espionage television, and it's been a long time since we've had such a thing. This week's episode was full of all the things the genre cool - enemy agents, independent agents, and double agents.

Palicki in the costume that debuts tonight.
And speaking of double agents, this episode features the debut of Bobbi Morse, as played by Adrianne Palicki, who was previously Wonder Woman in the unaired pilot by David E. Kelley. In the comics she's better known as Mockingbird. If you're looking for a blonde double agent with an attraction to archers, and you can't afford the Black Widow, and don't own Black Canary, Mockingbird is the next best thing.

Her codename is never mentioned, her hair is not blonde (although it's later referenced that it once was), and her outfit looks like she raided the leftover Cylon reject wardrobe of "Battlestar Galactica," but she is still kicking ass and taking names with her trademark battle staves. There's no mention of on again/off again husband Hawkeye, but she's mercenary Lance Hunter's ex-wife.

Bobbi saves Jemma Simmons from the clutches of Hydra when her cover is blown. Hopefully her time with the enemy will provide valuable information, and her presence help balance her old partner Fitz. I'm also glad to see Bobbi join the team, but hope her super-badassery will not dilute Agent May's only human badassery.

Skye almost gets to meet her dad, and it seems as we've been told, he's an alien monster in human form, killing indiscriminately. Kyle MacLachlan plays this to the hilt with appropriate weirdness. The bad news is that he's aligned himself with Kraken and Hydra. Dear old Dad also says the Obelisk is called The Diviner in its native language.

Speaking of which, Skye also has made progress translating the alien language. She says it's a map. A map perhaps to the Kree homeworld Hala? Time will tell.

In the meantime, please don't forget to check out my friend and fellow Biff Bam Pop! columnist J.P. Fallavollita for his review of this episode along with a few of his theories on the alien language, and my regular reviews of the "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." series here. Thanks again, J.P.!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Flash S01 E03: "Things You Can't Outrun"

The Mist is The Flash's adversary this time out. I don't really like the villain ratio so far. The Flash has the coolest rogues gallery this side of Spider-Man, Batman, and Dick Tracy, yet in three outings he's faced a Firestorm foe, a Starman foe, and the brother of one of his own enemies. I'm not liking this record.

Those who know their comics know that The Mist is the archenemy of Starman, a generational villain that has plagued the Knight family superhero legacy for several decades. Some time ago there was a TV series in the works for the Jack Knight Starman, I wonder if any of the new spins on The Mist were recycled from that?

On a movie theater marquee we see Blue Devil II - Hell to Pay and The Rita Farr Story, and a crime on Waid Boulevard! So many wonderful comics references before we barely even get started with this episode, and I loved the meta-nerd ecstasy of the STAR team when figuring out how The Mist does what he does.

In the excitement of repurposing the particle accelerator into a makeshift metahuman prison, we get a flashback to the accident nine months ago, and our first glimpse of Ronnie Raymond. Caitlin's fiancée, played by Robbie Amell (Stephen's cousin), eventually becomes half of Firestorm in the comics. Speaking of the comics, Caitlin, who later becomes Killer Frost is considerably warmer with him around.

We get the brief outlines of the origin of Firestorm, sans Professor Martin Stein, in the flashback death of Ronnie. We also see that Wells was not only watching Barry's accident, but knew it was going to happen. I also kinda dug how Barry blurred his face Golden Age Flash style to keep his dad from recognizing him. Vibrating through walls can't be far behind. This episode had spectacular visual effects and is still my favorite show on TV right now, and it can only get better.

Next: Captain Cold! Finally.

Be sure to check out my regular weekly reviews of "The Flash" over at Biff Bam Pop! here, and check out my friend and colleague Jim Knipp's thoughts on this same episode here. He was cool enough to pinch hit for me while I was on vacation, thanks, Jim!