Marvel’s Inhumans

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You know what a bait and switch is, right?

Miriam Webster defines it as:

1 : a sales tactic in which a customer is attracted by the advertisement of a low-priced item but is then encouraged to buy a higher-priced one

2 : the ploy of offering a person something desirable to gain favor then thwarting expectations with something less desirable

So how does this apply to ABC television’s new series Marvel’s Inhumans?

Well, it’s like this: Jack Kirby created The Inhumans back in 1965 as a superhero team. They originally appeared in Fantastic Four #45. They are a royal family of mutant human beings – inhumans – who have been exposed to the Terrigin mist and have developed special super powers.

The Inhumans are led by their king, Black Bolt, and his Royal Family, consisting of Medusa, Karnak, Gorgon, Triton, Crystal and the canine Lockjaw. Both Crystal and Medusa have been members of the Fantastic Four; Crystal has been a member of the Avengers as well.

Are you getting the point here? These are superheroes. They have powers, special abilities, and they fight alongside other superhero teams.

So, when ABC announced that they would be making a TV series featuring the Inhumans, I expected a show about superheroes.

So what did we get?

Well, the setup is pretty much the same as the comics. The inhumans live in the city of Attilan which is located on the moon. Black Bolt’s voice is the most powerful power in the kingdom. The merest utterance from him can cause massive devastation. So he must remain silent. His queen, Medusa, has living hair that she can manipulate to fight and overpower enemies. Karnak can see the limitless possibilities of any action and choose the most effective. Gorgon is super strong and has hooves. Crystal can control the elements – zapping things, freezing things, etc. And lockjaw the giant pug can teleport the members of the royal family anywhere they need to go.

So far so good, right?

However, in the first episode Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus (who has no powers at all) stages a coup and takes over the kingdom. He shaves off Medusa’s Hair, rendering her powerless. Crystal commands lockjaw to transport the others to Hawaii. After that Maximus sedates the giant pup and places Crystal under arrest.

In the Hawaiian jungle Karnak falls, hits his head and loses his powers. Gorgon still has his powers but is pretty ineffective hanging out on the beach with a group of army vet surfers. Black Bolt steals a suit and is immediately arrested. He is tased and he lets out a gasp which sends a police car flying end over end. After that he realizes he just better shut up and cooperate.

So, by the end of the pilot the Inhumans are on Earth, without their powers and separated from each other. The rest of the series promises to continue in this same vein, keeping the Inhumans separate and powerless.

This is not what I signed up for.

And here is the bait and switch. Suppose I’d been promised a gritty cop drama and in the first episode each of the cop characters were put on suspension and had to spend the rest of the series in their own homes dealing with their suspensions? I mean, that might make an interesting show if I hadn’t been promised a gritty crime drama.

Suppose I’d been promised a western with cowboys and gunfights, but in the first episode the main cowboys had to leave the west and head back east to look after their ailing mother’s estate and the rest of the series was about how the gunfighters coped with having to deal with wills, probate and property laws? Again, that might make an interesting series, but not if I had been promised a show about gunfighters.

The Inhumans is about super heroes. Mutants with super powers. That’s what I want to see. If you make a TV series out of Moby Dick and have the characters spend all their time on shore, talking about how they’d like to go back to sea… that’s not really Moby Dick, is it? If you make a Sherlock Holmes TV series and have Homes suffer a brain injury in the opening episode and spend the rest of the season showing how Dr. Watson helps Holmes to regain his deductive powers… well, that’s not what you tuned in for, is it?

I want to see Jack Kirby’s Inhumans. I want to see Black Bolt and Medusa and Karnak and all the others doing what they do… using their superpowers to fight villains or aliens or the Fantastic Four or… anything — ANYTHING — but this boring show!

Sure, Netflix’s Marvel shows can be slow moving. You have to have a certain amount of “TV drama”, and that’s fine. But if I didn’t see Mat Murdoch dressing up in a suit and fighting bad guys I would have checked out. If Luke Cage didn’t use his superpowers and just spent his time mentoring inner city kids… well, that’s inspiring but it’s not what Luke Cage is about. Jessica Jones IS Jessica Jones. Even Iron Fist, for all it’s problems, had Danny Rand using the Iron Fist!

The Inhumans lost no time making their main characters human. And not very interesting ones at that.

The only character who has all the superpowers at his disposal is Maximus, the one human among the inhumans. The fact that he is the villain (and played by Game of Throne‘s Ramsay Bolton) means that the superpowers are all on the wrong side of the equation.

This is not the show that I wanted. Nor is it the show that I will continue to watch.

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The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery?

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Star Trek: Discovery vs the “New” space adventure series The Orville

So, which is it to be? Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi parody, The Orville, or CBS All Access’s new flagship series, the latest iteration of the 50 year old franchise, Star Trek: Discovery?

Well, honestly, there’s no comparison. The clear winner here is Star Trek: Discovery which pulled well ahead with it’s third episode, taking the series in a completely unexpected direction and confounding critic’s predictions. It is traveling the inroads that have been made for televised science fiction by series like Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot and currently with The Expanse.

Star Trek is reinterpreting itself to fit in with the modern television landscape. It’s a series that has been designed with the binge-watching audience in mind. It also doesn’t feel the need to slow down and explain everything.

The Orville, on the other hands is firmly planted in the same territory that was mined by Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation decades ago. The stories are heavy handed and moralistic, but with a lighter than ice cream tone. It is meant to be a parody but it only seems to remember that occasionally when it tries to inject some lame joke in the middle of the drama. And the jokes are lame. Seriously.

The funniest moment of a recent episode was probably one of the subtlest bits of comedy the show has ever attempted. Bortus, an alien crew member, stops and stares at his partner who is eating Rocky Road ice cream and watching The Sound of Music because he is depressed and has chosen a human cure for depression. That one silent moment was the high point of humor for a series that has relied on crude jokes and cultural and racial stereotypes for much of its comedy.

Discovery, on the other hand, seems to have its feet firmly in the stirrups. Once the viewer realizes that the entire season is one whole story arc (and in this day and age of Netflix and other streaming services, that realization shouldn’t be difficult) then the first two episodes, what would, in iterations past be presented as the “pilot” episode, was, in fact, merely the cold open of a much larger story. To judge the series, as many have done, based on the first two would have been akin to giving up on one of the other series episodes based solely upon the pre-credit teaser.

The other aspect of The Orville that has been remarked on by others, most notably by Steve Barnes, author of Twelve Days, and co-author of Dream Park and The Legacy of Heorot, is it’s tendency to cast actors of color as aliens, while the human cast remains mostly white. Of the main cast only Penny Johnson (Cassidy Yates from Deep Space Nine) as the ship’s doctor is not portrayed in a culturally stereotypical way. I have commented elsewhere that The Orville is Star Trek for white viewers who are uncomfortable with too much cultural diversity.

Discovery, on the other hand, embraces diversity right out of the gate with the main character being Michael Burnham, a woman of color (played by Sonequa Martin Green) as first officer to Captain Georgiou, an Asian woman (played by Michelle Yeoh)

Though that relationship does not continue throughout the series, the diversity in cast members is laudable in comparison with the half-hearted attempt at it by The Orville.

The Orville has further added to its unoriginal provenance in its fourth episode which posits a generation ship that situation that mirrors Harlan Ellison’s The Starlost so closely that I wouldn’t be surprised if Harlan were to launch a lawsuit against Fox in the coming days. That episode more closely resembled The Starlost than James Cameron’s The Terminator resembled Ellison’s Outer Limits episode “Soldier”, but we all know how that turned out.

I’m not going to draw this out any longer. For my money, Star Trek: Discovery is the superior show. It is traveling down new roads and, I am confident, it will blaze some roads of its own before the current story arc has finished unspooling.

The Orville, meanwhile, seems destined to boldly go where much better shows have gone before.

Winter is coming

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If you think you’ve read today’s post before you may very well have. It’s recycled.

I used to blog over at the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website. I wrote posts for years for them in anticipation of the magazine being renewed. (I eventually got tired of waiting and stopped writing. I’m told that they are publishing fiction now, but I have long since stopped caring)

Either way, I have dusted off this old ditty about the coming of winter, a topic that is becoming more and more depressing to me as I shuffle off into old age.

Winter is coming.

If you’re a reader of fantasy, particularly of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (or you just watch the series on HBO), you’ve heard that phrase, usually said in long, Yorkshire tones by actors like Sean Bean and infused with much dread and despair. Winter is only one of four seasons but it can also be a feeling, a state of being.

There are a lot of fantasy and science fiction works set in winter environments. There are works where the winter is not just a climactic condition but an overall feeling or mood. Winter is much more than just the presence of snow and ice.

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Winter Landscape by 88grzes

It is December first today and, yes, winter is coming.

In some places, mostly in the south, winter is not a big deal. But in the north its different. And if you live in the Great White North (a.k.a. Canada) as I do, then winter is more than just a season, it is a state of mind. Canadians identify with winter. Indeed, in some parts of our country, winter defines who we are as a people. In the province of Quebec, for instance, there is a song called Mon Pays, which was composed by Gilles Vigneault in 1964. The song became kind of an anthem for Quebec and for Canadians as a whole to some extent. “Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” the lyrics say. “My country is not a country, it is winter.”

 

In fantasy and science fiction, winter is never usually just a setting. If there is winter it is usually symbolic. In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, winter, the season that always seems to be coming, represents a return of the fearsome supernatural creatures that once held sway in Westeros. They were defeated and held back by the wall, a huge barrier made of ice. The people of the north make a philosophy of being prepared, of guarding against their return. Indeed, in the land of Westeros, winter, when it comes, can last for hundreds of years. Winter in Martin’s books is not merely a characteristic of the north. It threatens to claim the entire world.

Again, Martin’s winter is not merely climatic. Winter in Westeros means a return to the dark age of superstition and terror and an end to a world built by reason and prosperity.

mdjackson_winter_the-left-hand-of-darknessAnother world where winter holds constant sway is Gethen, or Winter, as it is called by the citizens of the Ekumen in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness. Gethen is a planet where it is constantly winter, but that’s not merely a quirk of setting. The constant winter is symbolic of the state of the planet’s inhabitants. Neither male nor female, Gethenians live in a state of asexuality, only adopting sexual difference during brief periods called kemmer. The climate of Gethen mirrors the sterile nature of the planet’s inhabitants and society.

Le Guin doesn’t just use winter as an interesting backdrop against which her novel’s narrative can play out. The nature of Gethen’s climate serves an important metaphorical purpose to the story.

Sometimes, though, an icy background is merely that—background. In the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, the ice planet of Hoth serves as a background for the rebels’ battle against the Imperial armada. I suppose one could stretch the setting of Hoth to represent the frozen hopes of the rebellion against the might of the evil empire, but, as I said, it’s a bit of a stretch. This is only Star Wars. One can’t expect sophisticated metaphors. The winter setting is visually stunning, however, particularly in regards to the planet’s creatures. The tauntaun on which the rebels ride while patrolling, for instance, is an interesting creature. They are sort of a cross between a mountain goat and a kangaroo and seem relatively easy to domesticate for the rebels’ purposes. Then, of course, there is the wampa, a huge, shaggy, deadly creature who captures Luke Skywalker and puts him on ice (pardon the pun) in preparation for eating him (we can only assume).

The wampa is kind of like another creature from the frozen north—the yeti.

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The yeti are ape-like creatures that live in the frozen mountains. I have used the yeti in my own artwork. This image was featured on the cover of Issue 1 of The Dreamquest magazine.

Or perhaps it is just a typical day in the Great White North? Naked yeti fighting is a popular Canadian activity. I am confident that it will soon be an official event at the Winter Olympics.

Winter as a setting for science fiction and fantasy is usually more than just backdrop. It usually serves a greater thematic purpose. Winter can represent sterility, bleakness, death, or worse. In real life there is some danger in the wintertime, but when you live in the northern part of the world, you adapt. You bundle up. You buy snow tires. You light a fire and sit back with a cup of hot cocoa and wait for it to be spring again.

Winter is coming. But it won’t last forever.

*No yeti were harmed in the writing of this post.

Houdini & Doyle

Houdini & Doyle

I know. I know.

My blog posts have been spottier than a leopard. They have been as infrequent as a UFO sighting.

Well, there are reasons for that. Some are good. Some, not so good. As I have said before I share a body with an artists named M. D. Jackson who has been too busy doing “art” stuff and has had little to no time for writing.

The “art stuff” came to an end, though and I found myself a little burnt out. So I took to binge watching some television series. I wanted to write about them each individually, but I found I’d lost my blog writin’ mojo. Nevertheless, I’m trying to stage a comeback so… here goes:

HOUDINI & DOYLE

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This series is a British, Canadian, American co-production. The premise revolves around the friendship that existed between Harry Houdini, the famous escape artists and spritualist debunker, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer, creator of Sherlock Holmes and famous champion of spiritualism.

doylehoudiniThis is historically true. Doyle and Houdini were friends until they had a falling out in the early 1920’s over Doyle’s belief in the supernatural. This tension between the two famous friends forms the basis for the series.

Houdini is the skeptic. Doyle the believer. Set in 1901 the series is like a turn-of-the-century X-files, or, a more apt comparison would be a turn-of-the-century Scooby Doo as pretty much all of the mysteries presented in the episodes turn out to have prosaic solutions despite their supernatural trappings.

Houdini is played by American actor Michael Weston, while Doyle is played by British Actor Stephen Mangan (who played the role of Dirk Gently in the short lived BBC adaptation of the Douglas Adams novel). Mangan plays Doyle without any trace of a Scottish accent, though, which seemed off to me, but no more odd then Weston’s Brooklyn accent for Houdini.

Houdini and Doyle are joined in their investigations by Adelaide Stratton (played by Canadian actress Rebecca Liddiard), the very first female constable on the London Police force. She is assigned to both the famous men as a way of getting the meddling duo (and the troublesome female police officer) out of the Chief Constable’s hair.

Although the episodes cover fairly familiar territory (Supernatural seeming mystery investigated and revealed to be merely ingenious criminal activity — shades of Scooby Doo –) it is the contentious relationship between skeptic Houdini and believer Doyle that drives much of the action of the story. As the series progress we learn more about Houdini’s relationship with his mother, Doyle’s homelife raising two children while his wife lies in hospital in a coma and his disappointment over the lack of enthusiasm over his just released book about the Boer War (Not surprisingly, his readers only want to talk about Sherlock Holmes).

This is probably the best reason to watch the series. The mysteries themselves range from fairly interesting to somewhat turgid, but discovering more about Doyle’s life and about Houdini’s past and the revelations of the mysterious past of their companion, Adelaide Stratton, make this series compelling.

The entire first season is still available on demand through various services (and, obviously, through certain less than legal backchannels — not that I am advocating internet piracy, understand?) and at only 10 episodes it is certainly worth a look.

Sadly, it seems as though the first season is all that we’re gonna get of this series as Fox, the American network that carried it, has opted not to renew it for another season. The question is up in the air now whether Britain and Canada will continue to produce the series on their own. Still, as I said, season one is worth a look even if there is to be no more Houdini and Doyle.

 

 

Star Trek: New Voyages – The Holiest Thing

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Okay. I’m a Star Trek Geek. I don’t try to hide the fact that I am never happier than when I am watching Star Trek in any and all its various iterations…

…and that includes the fan productions.

The thing is… I know where these fan films are coming from. I understand the passion and the desire to create one’s own version of the things you love so much. And I love that they do it. Their efforts are laudable.

I was going to review the latest installment of the Star Trek: Phase 2 series of fan films, The Holiest Thing. The Phase 2 crew has been releasing Star Trek fan films since 2003 when executive producer James Cawley decided that there just wasn’t enough Star Trek. These productions have been getting better and better and they made a splash with episodes featuring some of the original cast members from the original Star Trek series reprising their roles in creative ways. They have also made use of the original series writers, including David Gerrold who directed the two-part adaptation of his infamously unproduced Star Trek: The Next Generation script, Blood and Fire.

As with all series, some episodes are better than others and, despite the fact that each film they produce gets better than the one before, it still has a number of flaws… squeaky wheels and bumps along the way.

The Holiest Thing has its share of them, but it is an ambitious attempt to bring to life the origins of Captain Kirk’s relationship with Carol Marcus in this “sort-of” prequel to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.

I’m not going to review this. These people aren’t getting any profit from this aside from the pleasure of creating it and sharing it with fans. If you are dyed-in-the-wool Star Trek fan like I am you can forgive its flaws and take it for what it is.

The Holiest Thing is on Youtube.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

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I saw the first episode of the CW’s new show DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

I doubt I will be watching the second episode.

It’s not that there’s nothing to like about this first episode… there is… but for me, there’s just not enough of it to outweigh the really awful elements.

I mean, take Arthur Darvill. Who didn’t love him as Rory Williams on Doctor Who? Who wouldn’t want to get to see him as rogue time traveling hero Rip Hunter? Seeing his take on the Doctor’s role was something that I was really looking forward to.

However, this isn’t Doctor Who. This is an American show and American shows have to have certain level of “hero-ness” in their heroes. Darvill provides, but clearly it’s not something to which he is accustomed. His performance veers crazily over the top at times, particularly in the introductory scenes. I almost turned it off at that point.

I liked Victor Garber’s character as Professor Martin Stein, one half of the hero Firestorm. His appearances on The Flash were some of the high points for me so it was nice to see him here as well. And Wentorth Miller as “Captain Cold” Leonard Snart. I liked his character on the Flash and, again, it’s good to see him here.

Same with Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer, The Atom from Arrow and the new characters Hawkman and Hawkgirl. I loved them in the comics and it was great to see them here.

However… A TV show is not a comic book. It has a different structure and different expectations (and, yes, physical limitations, despite the wondrous age of CGI in which we live). Those elements… the setting up of the parameters that will go towards defining the sories that the subsequent episodes will tell… well, it was just too tedious. The story arcs were obvious and the twist reveal three quarters of the way through came as not much of a surprise.

I wanted to like it. I really did. But I’m afraid I have to heave a heavy sigh and call DC’s Legends of Tomorrow less than legendary.