Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I’m Back! And Still Talking About Comics

Hello, Readers!  Apologies for the long delay since the last time I’ve written (Cancer sucks; let’s just leave it at that), but I’m back with a few more thoughts on comic books and the glut of comic book properties we saw on TV this past year.  Let’s run through them, shall we?

For the record, I’m mostly ignoring comic book properties of the non-heroic variety here. My reasoning is that “comic book character” as a genre is largely associated with capes and tights, as opposed to the wealth of incredible graphic novels out there that are also being given the live action treatment.  The Walking Dead is probably the most famous comic book-based TV show, but a glut of upcoming properties like Sex Criminals, Preacher, and my personal favorite The Wicked + The Divine are on the horizon.

"Sistahhhhs...are doing it for themselvessss.."
Agent Carter
Let’s start with the good. Agent Carter was a miniseries designed to give us more about the life of Peggy Carter, Captain America’s one-time love interest from before he got all frozen at the end of the World War II. Introduced in the movie Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter finally gets to be the hero that her fans know she is in this short-run series. Hayley Atwell reprises the character from the movies and presents Peggy as a secret agent working for the precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D. after the events of the first Captain America movie.  Peggy balances her life as a single woman in the 1940s with all the assumptions about her skills that era had with her actual ability to be a bad ass while hunting down an arms dealer. This show was beloved, not only for its obvious girl-power bona fides but for the fact that the sexism that Peggy faces is presented realistically. The men in her office who barely see her as more than a secretary are less two-dimensional stereotypes and more obvious signs of a world that is slouching toward change.  There’s a ton that you can say about the pretty incredible writing here, but I think of a friend of mine summed it up best when she said watching Agent Carter was the first time she felt like someone in Hollywood made a comic book superhero story for her.
Status: renewed for season 2, to air early 2016

"Wait, are we all still on this show?"
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Now maybe with the less good. Look, I know fans of this show love it. The thing I hear most frequently about it is, “but you’ve got to start watching, it’s gotten SO GOOD!” I’m glad for you and I’m glad for the show, but it lost me after the plodding first season full of characters I don’t care about. Of all the highly successful Marvel properties, this one to me illustrates most the danger of trying to run an integrated universe across multiple entertainment platforms. The show suffered because of revelations in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and while that’s unfortunate, it’s also not reason enough for me to come back to it.
Status: renewed for season 3, to air fall 2015

"Ours is a determined walk."
Arrow had what should have been a big year that unfortunately got overshadowed by a flashier (heh) kid brother and some wandering in the woods on the part of the writers. As The Flash went full bore with establishing a world full of powers and magic, Arrow struggled to keep up. The introduction of Ras al-Ghul should have been a game changer and instead fans felt mistreated by the relative little screen time of the character and him once again being whitewashed. A creative change is in the air for next year, and it’s looking like we’ll finally see Ollie officially become Green Arrow and start to move away from the angst of the past two years. For the first time, all the characters are aware of each other’s secrets and finally working together. And no matter what anyone says, I’m enjoying Katie Cassidy’s Black Canary. The character is one of my favorites and Cassidy has done a good job of showing the damage that Black Canary carries with her without letting it destroy her.
Status: renewed for season 4, to air fall 2015

"Ahh, bugger."

This is probably the show that I wanted to work out the most. After a lackluster movie, I really wanted Constantine as a character to have his due. I wrote before about how it’s essentially an American Doctor Who, although clearly the longevity is not the same. The show saw John Constantine battling the Rising Darkness with his trademark punk wit and whimsy. The show touches into the area of DC comics that I find the most fun – the area of magic and the occult. The show, unfortunately, failed to find an audience, however it may not be completely out for the count: there’s a chance the character could find his way to Arrow since they technically occupy the same world. Additionally, the upcoming Lucifer is based on a character from the same source.
Status: cancelled

So much blood, you guys. Seriously, so much blood.

Remember how I said my friend referred to Agent Carter as the comic book show that she finally felt like Hollywood had made for her? Well, the other half of that sentence was that she felt like Daredevil was the one they made in disregard of her. Daredevil is Marvel’s first foray into Netflix’s original series. For those unfamiliar, it’s the story of Matt Murdock, who lost his eyesight at a young age and now fights crime using his heightened senses. The fact that some weird super chemical is responsible for the loss of his sight is also what explains how UTTERLY heightened his senses have become. The show is by far the entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the one that includes The Avengers, etc.) that is the farthest removed from Marvel’s “house style” of high contrast shots, bright colors, easy humor, and breezy attitude. Daredevil is filmed in murky blacks, greens, and yellows and plays up the idea that Daredevil is Marvel’s Batman.  It’s also somewhat predicated on the idea that all that damage and destruction to New York from the first Avengers movie maybe had a consequence. The show veers more toward the violent and the gritty, which is a big factor in my friend’s less-than-enthusiastic endorsement. Nonetheless, it scored well with critics and with lots of fans.
Status: renewed for season 2, to air on Netflix in 2016

"Just try and catch me, bad ratings."
The Flash
Along with Agent Carter, The Flash is the best comic book property that this year’s television season brought us. In the same joined universe as Arrow, the show is a fast-paced (I’m never going to stop with these speed puns) take on a classic superhero. By embracing the elements of the character that made The Flash a touchstone in the world of comics, the show has reaped a lot of dividends. The trend in a lot of superhero stories is to get away from the more ludicrous story elements of the comic books. The Flash took that notion and ran away from it. It managed to make Gorilla Grodd an effective character, for God’s sake. What’s more, the series was immensely popular, outperforming Arrow and forcing that show to rethink how it would conduct its next season. DC Comics has taken heat for how it plans to manage all its properties, from the upcoming shared universe movies like Batman vs. Superman to Arrow and The Flash, but this show may hold the method to their madness. Season one ended with an acknowledgement that the multiverse is real, opening up the possibility that all of the DC properties are, in fact, connected even if they seem contradictory. The Flash plans on delving even deeper into the multiverse next year when it returns.
Status: renewed for season 2, to air this fall

So much rain, you guys. Seriously, so much rain."
Oh, Gotham. Where do I begin with you? You know I’m a huge Batman fan, so you’ve pretty much got my attention from the start. I’ll never quit you. That said, let’s tighten things up a bit in season two, mmkay? Gotham made strides in its first season by establishing a very lived-in Gotham City. The show was stylized and beautiful to look at. And what they got right, they nailed: Carmen Bicondova’s Selina Kyle is precisely how Selina should be played as a young teenager. Donal Logue is Harvey Bullock and Robin Lord Taylor has earned the praise he’s gotten for his portrayal of the Penguin. Now the show needs to focus on fixing its two weakest links: Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne, ostensibly the heroes of the show. Gotham was predicated on the notion that the show was going to be more about the development of Batman’s villains than on him. In that sense, the show has succeeded because the “evil” characters are by far more interesting to watch. The problem is that we still need to feel like we’re on the side of Gordon and Bruce Wayne, even if Bruce is still only a child. Creating compelling, layered bad guys is important for good storytelling, but as long as the narrative focus is always returning to Jim and Bruce the show will have a hard time capitalizing on its biggest assets.
Status: renewed for season 2, to air this fall

Undeath is no excuse for an unrefined palate. 
Last but not least, the little zombie show that could. As a comic book property, iZombie is perennially overshadowed by its bigger siblings, the superheroes and that other zombie show that people are losing their heads over. That positioning is unfortunate, because iZombie is delightful. It’s the story of Liv Moore (yes, that’s on the nose), a medical resident who is bit by a zombie at “the world’s worst boat party” and awakes to find herself desiring brains. Unable to connect with her old life, Liv becomes a medical examiner and discovers that if she eats the brains of bodies brought in, she can take on flashes of their memories and personality which, natch, she does to help solve crimes. So long as she regularly eats, Liv seems to be a normal, if pale, girl, so much so that her family and friends hardly notice that anything has happened other than assuming her new more lethargic personality is the result of the trauma of the “boating accident” she was involved in. The show plays with melodrama and humor masterfully, which is to be expected given that the show was developed by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, the creators of Veronica Mars. As such, the show contains some of the same DNA as their previous creation. Liv is, essentially, Veronica if she had moved to Seattle, become a zombie, and grew up in a slightly less paranoid home. The same noir-tinged voiceovers and wit that made Veronica Mars memorable to fans is on display here. The show was praised by critics and fans, although some fans were displeased by the in some cases significant departures that the show makes from the comic book.  iZombie was probably the biggest surprise of this season and season two looks to continue the trend.
Status: renewed for season 2, to air this fall

So, winners and losers of the 2014-2015 comic book television season? The Flash and Agent Carter are comfortably sitting on top, followed closely by iZombie. All three had positive fan and critical reactions and all three are coming back for their second season. Daredevil and Arrow occupy the middle ground; both were solid entries into the genre, however both darker and both shows that took themselves far too seriously at times. Gotham and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. come next; both shows are very high concept and will have hardcore fans loving what they’re doing. They both have the backing of their parent companies probably more than either one deserve, but that alone should keep them chugging along for at least a while. Constantine, the only show not to be renewed, is sadly the biggest loser. Fans of the character know, however, that John Constantine usually finds a way to show up in places where he wasn’t supposed to be, so we’ll see how long it will be before he’s mucking things up for everyone again.

But wait! There’s more! This post gives you a sense of the current slate of comic book shows, but next season is going to nearly double the number of properties on your television. For a full run-down of the new comic book characters about to grace your screen this coming year, check back soon.

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