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Comics TV

Help Me Fix Agents of SHIELD

This is mostly in response to the article over at Heroic Hollywood, Is Marvel’s ‘Agents of SHIELD’ Really Any Good? so maybe check that first.

There was no one more excited by the concept of Agents of SHIELD than me, when it was first announced.  A Whedon-adjacent look at the more mundane aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, led by everyone’s favorite dead SHIELD agent?  Let’s roll!  The reality of the show has been, at times, middling however.  As Jon Negroni points out in the article above, rather than the show being must-see TV for Marvel movie fans, it’s mostly an afterthought.  The episode that tied in to Thor: The Dark World is the perfect metaphor for AoS, as the team were literally picking up the scraps left behind by one of the MCU’s movies.

Not that there hasn’t been some great stuff to enjoy along the way, but beyond the direct link to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, all that’s great about Agents of SHIELD is of their own making.  Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward bored us all to tears as generic SHIELD agent guy…until the HYDRA twist turned our understanding of him on it’s head.  The action directing has been a highlight also.  Really, the only thing that holds AoS back from being spoken of in the same breath as The Flash is the MCU.  The focus (more from the fans than anyone at ABC/Disney/Marvel) is on just how the show will tie-in to the upcoming movies.  “Hey look, Inhumans!” which is particularly rough since the Inhumans movie is now off the schedule, or Lorelei/Sif which is fun but not exactly something that’s going to grab the attention of the movie-goers or the casual TV viewer who sees the promos.

No, the biggest thing Agents of SHIELD could do to increase its quality is…stop worrying about the MCU!  There are signs of that this year, with the Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider being a focus, but they need to really lean in to it.  There are plenty of characters that will never get a movie or a TV show, and you already HAVE a show that needs to fill 20+ hours a year.  And has a tendency to have some filler episodes of questionable quality.  Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of sifting through the rubble of the next MCU movie, Coulson and May went on an adventure with Jimmy Woo and Ken Hale?  Or, instead of holding out hope we see another Kree, we see Fitz and Simmons have to figure out how to help defeat the Wrecking Crew?  The Hood.  Shang-Chi.  Moon Knight.  Tombstone.  The Grim Reaper.  Taskmaster.  Most of these characters wouldn’t carry a series on their own (okay, maaaybe Moon Knight) but would work great as a 3-8 episode arc on AoS.

There are signs that AoS may be going down this path this year, with Ghost Rider and some of the other mystical stuff.  The real trick is getting the audience back that may have lost interest.  Is there anyone you’d like to see on the show, or any TV-friendly storylines you’d like them to tackle?

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Books Review

Book Review – Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino

Rebel Genius is a new book from Michael Dante DiMartino (of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra fame), and if you are a fan of either of those shows, you’ll find a lot to love here.  In fact, if there’s one negative to the book it’s that it hems a bit closely both to what DiMartino’s done before and some other classics of the fantasy genre.

The story follows Giacomo, a 12 year old orphan who is also an artist.  In Giacomo’s world, art is outlawed, and artists gain a birdlike companion creature (not unlike the daemon concept in the His Dark Materials series) with special powers tied to the creation of art called a ‘Genius’.  When Giacomo gains his genius, he goes on the run and falls in with a mentor who has a hidden studio where he teaches other children how to use their gifts.  They are opposed by both the Empress Nerezza (styling herself the ‘Supreme Creator’) who hunts down artists and destroys their Geniuses, rendering them zombie-like, and another renegade artist, Ugalino, who has made a Tulpa – basically a homonculus, or a living statue of immense power.  He wants to tear down the world and remake it in his own image, and to do so he seeks the Sacred Tools – said to be the three items God used to make the world.

All of this is well-trod ground for DiMartino – a group of almost-teens or teens with special powers set out on a journey to save the world.  You’ll notice that I said they were opposed by the Empress and Ugalino – as usual for DiMartino, the good/evil aspect of the antagonists is fuzzy.  You may not like what they do, and disagree with their methods, but they have a reason for what they are doing.  The other kids tend to fall into tropes but I trust DiMartino to twist those expectations around (Sokka didn’t stay a misogynist dip for long).  We see some of it by the end of this first book.

The idea that art is magic is kind of precious, considering that DiMartino himself is a creative person.  Sort of like how so many writers write books about writers doing stuff.  But it’s easily forgiven as the Renaissance-inspired world is interesting.  There’s a lot of talk about ‘sacred geometry’, and Zanobius is very obviously Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, which may drive some readers to go investigate classic art, which is never a bad thing.  If you have a kid in the target range, Rebel Genius is a worthy purchase.  Just don’t expect it to stray too far from the formula that DiMartino and Konietzko made (admittedly excellent) use of before.  Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.  It’s currently scheduled for release October 4th.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Kubo and the Two Strings

We saw Kubo and the Two Strings a while ago, but I’m just gathering my thoughts on it now.  It’s quite possibly my favorite Laika movie, and that’s saying something as Coraline gets a ton of play, especially this time of year.  Kubo deals with complex feelings with mind-numbingly gorgeous visuals.  It’s the sort of movie (like When Marnie Was There) where you are tearing up at the end and you’re not sure if you are happy or sad or both.

It’s funny, if I try to explain the plot, it sounds really convoluted.  I think my wife (who didn’t go see it with us) is still confused.  Watching the movie, though, everything is crystal clear, and it kept me so emotionally invested that I never saw the twists coming, even if I should have.  That’s a sign to me of a great movie.  Travis Knight is the director, having been a lead animator on many of Laika’s previous works, and does a fantastic job.  While you may scratch your head a bit at Matthew McConaughey as a beetle-Samurai, the voice cast does great work, with Art Parkinson (GoT’s Rickon Stark), Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Ralph Fiennes all pulling their weight.  There are scary parts, and creepy parts, so keep your younger/more sensitive kids close.

Really, just go see this movie.  You complain about everything being a sequel or franchise movie, nothing original?  SEE THIS.  On the biggest screen you can.  Bring a few tissues, and a child young enough that they’ll let you hug them afterwards.

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Review TV

New Amazon Pilot: The Tick

The Tick is both blessed and cursed by TV.  Blessed because very few comics from such an obscure source would get not one, not two, but three tries at a series.  Cursed, because the first two attempts were both on Fox and had plenty of network interference/mismanagment.  The third try may just be the charm, though, as as Amazon has produced a new pilot for The Tick as part of their current ‘Pilot Season’.

The specifics behind The Tick vary from the various comic books and shows, but in general he is a dimwitted but nigh invulnerable superhero who ends up protecting a city named “The City” from various silly supervillains from a Man-Eating Cow, a million-billion ninjas, to the Terror – an elderly villain most famous for punching out Teddy Roosevelt.

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The new Amazon pilot focuses, at least to start, on Arthur.  Arthur is usually portrayed as the sidekick/straight man to The Tick but he’s the driving force here.  He’s had a terrible childhood – the non-Quinjet of the not-the-Avengers superteam the ‘Flag Five’ crashes on and kills Arthur’s dad, and young Arthur comes face to face with The Terror, who eats his ice cream (seriously).  An iconic, Time Magazine-ish photo is taken of the moment.  Fast forward to adult Arthur, and he’s obviously still suffering from that moment.  He’s obsessed with The Terror, who everyone else thinks is dead, but Arthur is convinced is still running the criminal underworld.  His investigations are what brings him into contact with The Tick.  They try to set up a “is The Tick even real?” question, but I think it’s pretty clear he is – but Arthur, with his mental illness isn’t sure he’s not imagining the whole thing while off his meds.

I won’t say the pilot is perfect, as the tone shifts suddenly, but Peter Serafinowicz is actually really good at delivering The Tick’s weird monologues and quips.  Griffin Newman has some real depth as Arthur, too.  I’d complain about the strange over-textured suit but I’m fairly certain that’s a parody of every recent Superman suit where the filmmakers can’t stop themselves from putting some wacky design on it.  I guess the best thing I can say after 30 minutes of the new series is, I want to see more.  If you do too, go to this link and vote.

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Books Comics Movies TV

Happy Birthday Star Trek

50 years ago today yesterday, the first episode of Star Trek (now known as ‘The Original Series’) aired.  Sci-fi fandom hasn’t been the same since.  Hundreds of episodes of TV across five decades, scores of books and comics, big budget movies, video games, copycats and parodies, Trek holds a special place in our pop culture.  Star Wars may have the cool laser swords and planet-exploding superweapons, Star Trek – for all the added fistfights – made you a better person.

The Original Series was the first show I ever watched that dealt with real social issues which despite the show’s 1960’s roots, were still relevant.  Star Trek made you think about the consequences of the action, even as they had to shoehorn in a ridiculous fight with papier-mâché rocks to try and stay on the air.  Sure, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” may have been heavy handed, but for ten year old me this was the first show that dealt with racism in a way I understood.  I came for the Frank Gorshin, but left asking my parents why those two men thought they were so different.

But the best part of Star Trek was how it brought my family together.  My dad, I think, was the driving force, he loved TOS due to the “Wagon Train to the stars” aspect.  I can still remember us gathering to watch Encounter at Farpoint together.  Looking back, it wasn’t the greatest premiere episode, but it still had a sense of wonder about it that captured my attention.  It didn’t hurt that it had John de Lancie mugging for the camera as Q.  Most likely I hit The Next Generation at exactly the right time – young enough to forgive the inconsistency of the first few seasons, but then maturing with the show as it truly hit its stride a few years in.  That led into Deep Space Nine, which remains one of my all-time favorite shows, and the one that best continued the Trek legacy of examining real-world issues through a sci-fi lens.

I am looking forward to the new Star Trek: Discovery show, as it looks like it may be a return to form for Star Trek after the uneven, action-oriented ‘Kelvin-verse’ movies.  And if it doesn’t, there’s always “The Squire of Gothos”, “The Trouble with Tribbles”, “Inner Light”, “The Visitor”, “In The Pale Moonlight”…

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Storks

We saw Storks at a preview screening, and it had some really cute parts and fun actiony bits.  However, I think they just had no idea how to start the movie to get to those bits and just decided to use the “I’m giving you the company as long as you don’t screw up this one final task” trope.  Throughout the movie characters keep asking Junior (the star that’s a stork, voiced by Andy Samberg) why he wants to be the boss, and he doesn’t know.  I don’t think the filmmakers did either.

Once they get past that part, the movie is fun.  Basically, storks used to deliver babies made in a magical device, but now people get their babies some other way.  Yeah, it’s strange.  Now storks deliver packages for an Amazon clone.  Tulip is the one human on Stork Mountain, a failed delivery after the stork assigned to her ‘fell in love’ with the cute little baby and refused to fulfill his duty.  She’s a free spirit, but doesn’t fit in despite her best efforts.  Tulip accidentally makes a new baby after getting a letter from a kid who really wants a baby brother (who has a whole subplot about busy parents reconnecting with him), and Junior and Tulip go on an adventure to get the baby to her family.

I normally wouldn’t have been that detailed about the plot but I feel like the commercials and early trailers didn’t really give you any idea what the movie was about.  I enjoyed it, all of the principal cast did a solid job with the voices, including Key and Peele as a pair of wolves that want to take the baby to raise as their own.  But there is one character so bad that it came way too close to ruining the movie – Stephen Glickman’s “Pigeon Toady”.  He speaks with an extremely annoying ‘Dude, braaaaah’ affectation that I don’t think one person found funny.  I never understand how a character that poorly made gets past everyone that sees the movie before release.

Storks has some funny bits and some heartwarming bits, but wasn’t a home run.  If your kids want to see it, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon, but it’s not required viewing.  If you do go, plug your ears whenever the pigeon is talking.