Monday, 24 October 2016

Comics to TV: Supergirl 2-1 & 2-2



Supergirl kicks off its second season with a much-needed acceptance. The first run pussyfooted around the absence of Superman in a distracting fashion that just drew attention to the fact the Man of Steel was always hiding offscreen. Finally, he swoops in to help Kara face some celebrated Super-foes. So we get a new Superman, a new Lena Luthor and a new Metallo... and it really works. The dialogue is as corny and laboured as ever, but it's delivered with such well-meaning earnestness it's still impossible to not love this nonsense.

There's a lot going on in these episodes, with the decks being given a good shuffle for the new season. Cat Grant is signing off, and while it's all very beautifully played, the series really isn't going to be the same without Callista Flockheart's impeccable queen. Instead, we now have Kara working as a mild-mannered reporter, a development I'm not keen on. Must she be exactly like Clark Kent? Predictably, her boss is tough and impossible to please, but seemingly without any of the charisma or redeeming qualities her previous boss had... so he's just an arsehole. Meanwhile, the writers take a huge backtrack on Kara's relationship with James, presumably because they've realised he's actually quite dull.

In a series that has so far struggled to produce effective male characters (not that this isn't a refreshing reversal), Tyler Hoechlin is fine casting as Superman. While he doesn't have the cinematic charisma of Henry Cavill, he brings some of the purer character of Christopher Reeve or Brandon Routh. His joyful team-up with Kara is infectiously fun, even if they do start to become a bit nauseating, and the show's creators wisely allow Supergirl to retain top billing. Equally wisely, the Kara/Clark relationship is used to examine the Kara/Alex sister relationship. It works far better than a mere star cameo.

Superman's presence also brings out the best in characters such as Winslow and J'onn J'onnz. The Manhunter is initially at odds with Superman for his use of kryptonite, and while he eventually comes round to his way of thinking, I'm completely with J'onnz on this one. The Earth was just invaded by an army of Kryptonians - of course they need to keep some kryptonite on standby! On the villain side of things, I'm sure we can expect the lovely Katie McGrath to return to show a more sinister side to Lana Luthor, but it's only in the second episode that we get some genuine threat. Metallo is the immediate problem, but now Cadmus have revealed themselves to the world there's a new sense of danger to the core cast. However, I was quite convinced that the mysterious alien survivor who so violently awakes at the episode's end was to be Cadmus's planted Superboy clone, something I've since learned is completely wrong. Still, we'll meet him properly in the next episode.

Meeting Metallo

Metallo is a perfect example of the DC school of villain names. He's made of metal, do you see? Fiendishly clever. There were a few Metallos before the classic cyborg version debuted in the late fifties. Both John Corben and his brother Roger existed as Metallo at different points, each of them saved after a terrible incident left them at death's door. Their bodies replaced by mechanical exoskeletons and powered by a heart of kryptonite, both versions of Metallo became recurring nemeses for Superman. As well as the usual super-strength and near-invulnerability you'd expect from a cyborg, Metallo's kryptonite core emits radiation harmful to Kryptonians. In some versions, such as Supergirl's, he can fire beams of kryptonite energy from his heart. Later versions have been upgraded by such villains as Brainiac and Neron to have new abilities, such as a T-1000-esque metamorphic power, or the ability to absorb other mechanical items into his being. Some versions became absolutely gigantic.

The New 52 imprint rebooted Metallo as the John Corben in the supersuit "Metal-0," and linked his origins to the experiments of John Henry Irons, aka the superhero Steel. The John Corben Metallo has been a foe in several TV series featuring Superman, including Superboy, Lois and Clark and Smallville. Supergirl is unusual in forcibly creating a second Metallo so that both Superman and Supergirl can be battled in their own base cities.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Comics to TV: Legends of Tomorrow 2-1 - Out of Time

To be honest, I'd gotten bored with Legends of Tomorrow. I've watched the odd episode on a sporadic basis but never actually finished the first season. However, I decided to jump back in with the beginning of season two, which has left me somewhat confused as to what has happened to various characters, but has also convinced me to give the series another chance.

It's not an original observation, but Legends is trying very hard to be Doctor Who with superheroes. This might become redundant at Christmas, when Doctor Who actually does superheroes, but right now, it's an approach that's working. Legends has taken the same track as Who by both creating an overseeing group of superiors - the Time Agents in this case - and then wiping them out so that the characters can actually have some fun. Now that Arthur Darvill's rogue agent Rip Hunter is policing the timestream, he's trying harder than ever to be a pseudo-Doctor, right down to a holographic farewell message in this episode lifted directly from The Parting of the Ways.

The new season works better than the last, though, having decided to just go for broke and have some fun. It's a bunch of superheroes with a timeship - this is not a show that should ever be boring. Sure, the dialogue is still atrocious, but it doesn't matter so much when the characters are charging from one situation to the next with such verve. Reducing the size of the team is a big help, too. There were just too many regular characters in the first series, and while I miss Captain Cold, at least we've got rid of mopey Hawkgirl Kendra. Of the characters we still have on the team, Mick Rory has proven to be the absolute highlight, while even Sara Lance was fun this time round, and I normally find her intensely annoying. Plus, she kisses a lot of women, which is bound to be reason enough to watch for plenty of people.

"Out of Time" mostly deals with Damian Darhk vs. Albert Einstein, which is a laugh, but we also get the Royal Court of France, the Salem witch trials and a bloody great tyrannosaur. Oliver Queen's in it too, not as the Arrow but in his tiresome Mayor of Star City role. Thankfully, the exposition sequences don't last long enough to detract from the overall fun of titting about in time, and the final reveals of the episode are masterfully done. I'm looking forward to episode two.

Introducing Nate Heywood

So, in this episode we do get one new member of the team: Nate Heywood, a likeable if not terribly interesting historian, who is understandably excited at the prospect of cavorting around history. He's played here by Nick Zano, and while he doesn't do much here beyond kickstarting the plot by looking for the Waverider, we can probably expect bigger things from him in the future. In the comics, Nate becomes Citizen Steel. He's grandson of Henry Heywood, the original Commander Steel who fights as part of the Justice Society of America. Given the JSA's purported major role in this season, I think we can expect Nate to inherit some kind of tech from his granddad that will super him up in time for the climactic showdown at the end of the run.

Monday, 17 October 2016


"Krysis" sees Red Dwarf XI hit a high with the best episode of the year so far. It has a gloriously simple and effective central idea, that of Kryten hitting his midlife crisis, and runs with it to a bizarre and poignant conclusion. The script moves from a brief but classic bunkroom scene into the main plot rapidly, with plenty of funny moments for each of the Dwarfers but always focusing on Kryten. Series X allowed the characters' age to show, with this series (and the next, from what I've seen) following that train of thought. Lister seems fairly comfortable with himself, the Cat is supremely self-assured (who can blame him in that glorious pink suit?) and while Rimmer might seem the obvious choice for a middy, he's so neurotic permanently it would make little difference.

So it's Krtyen who gets to face the crisis, and I guess that makes sense, as he's the one who's actually had to experience millennia of solitude, hard work and existential dread. We might consider this the latest step in his evolution from servile android to, well, gobbier, angrier servile android. His new red sportscar look and impromptu dance-off skirt the line between funny and naff, but that's the point with a midlife crisis. It should look embarrassing.

Pitting Kryten against his more accomplished predecessor gives this storyline legs. Dominic Coleman is perfect as Butler, the effete and genius mechanoid. His delivery has a touch of de Niro's Captain Shakespeare (from Stardust) to my ears, and arrogant as the character is he's likeable and seems to be taking real joy in everything he does. I'd be happy to see him again in a later episode, especially as he brings out the very worst in Kryten. The old Series 4000 really is part of the Red Dwarf crew: a somehwat deranged old bastard, like the rest of them.

The final act takes an unusual turn for the series, delving into a more philosophical area before turning it into a very funny scene with more than a hint of Hitchhikers to it. Conversing with the universe itself is not something I expected the series to give us, and it sets Kryten on a rather heartwarming resolution. It all adds up to a rather wonderful episode.

Good Psycho Guide: 4.75 chainsaws.

Continuity bollocks: Krtyen here gives his age as 2,976,000 years old. Given that he was created in 2340, this places the current series in AD 2,978,340, with possible allowances made for time dilation, the most accurate date we've ever had for the setting. Clearly, Holly was rounding up a bit when he said he kept Lister in stasis for three million years.

Pretty astonishingly, mechanoids can be expected to last for six million years. Butler is described as Series 3000 mechanoid, which is something of a continuity howler. In the sixth series episode "Out of Time," we learned that the Series 3000 droids looked like realistic humans, but were recalled. Perhaps some of them were fit with new, Series 4000 styled skins? Less problematically, the Nova 5, Kryten's ship, turns out to be the name of a series of ships, with the Nova 3 originating a century before.

We also meet a new breed of GELF, the Sakinyako, who aren't dissimilar to the Kinatawowi.

Best Line: 
"I've got an ingrowing toenail, it's killing me!"
"Thank it for me."

Saturday, 15 October 2016


Rim Rim Rim Rim Rim Rim... Mister Rimmer...

After an average third episode, Red Dwarf XI serves up two belters. I'll be reviewing "Krysis" a little later after a second watch, but first, "Officer Rimmer." Rimmer episodes are always a treat - "Me^2," "Better Than Life," "Rimmerworld." OK, maybe not "Only the Good," but you get the picture. "Officer Rimmer" is another cracking episode, one which sees Rimmer finally achieve his life's (and afterlife's) ambition. Not content with being acting-advisory-senior-crewmember, Rimmer finally becomes an officer and gets to legitimise his arrogant separation from the rest of the team.

The results are hilarious, with Rimmer intentionally segregating himself from Lister and the Cat, and positioning Kryten as his personal valet. Series XI continues its obsession with Red Dwarf's lifts, introducing a scummy, barely usable service lift for the grunts, and an executive lift for Rimsey himself. Then there's the officer's club, Rimmer's attempt to set himself up in a club for people like him. Just like him...

Although Rimmer's supercilious arrogance is the core of the episode, there's a brilliant science fiction concept underpinning it. Back in the Golden Age of Science Fiction, authors wrote about the terrible consequences that could follow from teleportation. Now we know that matter transmission is almost certainly impossible, but we have developed the incredible technology of 3D printing. Considering that we are now able to print replacement organs and mechanical limbs, it's not such a huge leap to speculating about printing entire people. As such, the Nautilus and its crew compliment, kept on file until needed, is a horribly believable use of a miraculous technology.

The printer leads to some surprisingly effective body horror. The Nautilus's captain, printed with his face on the top on his head, is really disquieting, and I actually felt very uncomfortable looking at him. Rimmer then uses the printer to create endless duplicates of himself, instigating a hierarchical structure with him on top... until the printer goes wrong again and creates a horrific mash-up Rimmer Monster. After the deranged surgeon droid of "Give and Take," it's another effective to the dark side for the series.

This is an episode that expertly blends sci-fi, comedy and horror, but once again, one that has far too much material for its runtime. The bioprinter is a fascinating concept with huge scope for further exploration. The ethical and philosophical consequences could power a whole series of programmes. There's a brilliant moment where we learn that Lister sold his genome, and that his duplicates have been manning call centres for years. It's one of the best bits of the episode, but again, it's just a moment, where it could be the basis for a full episode. And, as with the first two episodes of the run, it just stops. In fact, it's the worst example so far, with the episode being cut off mid-battle. I can only assume both time and money ran out, and the climactic destruction of the Rimmer Monster was just too expensive to show. It's a major flaw that prevents "Officer Rimmer" from being a five star episode.

Good Psycho Guide: Four-and-a-half chainsaws

Continuity bollocks: As with previous episodes this year, "Officer Rimmer" harks back to the early days of the series. Kryten mentions previous occasions where having more than one Rimmer hasn't gone well, but Rimmer Prime brushes it off, saying there'll be lots of him this time. Sure, "Me^2" was one-on-one Rimsey war, but has he forgottent the entire planet of his clones in "Rimmerworld," where ended up in a dungeon for 557 years? At least he still remembers to always carry a pen.

There's a definite sense that lately Red Dwarf has been moving back into the populated area of space, which makes sense if they've been travelling back towards Earth all this time. We're meeting multiple ships on deep space missions, including the Nautilus, the Nova 3 and the SS Samsara. We also get a little more information about the Space Corps rank system. The lowest officer rank is simply called Officer, with First Lieutenant considerably higher.

Best line:

"Of course we're sure - it's as plain as the nose on your head!"

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Comics to TV: The Flash 3-1 - Flashpoint

It's comicbook telly season again, and this time round, I'm going to try something a little different. Rather than review as much as I can find time for, I'm going to cherry-pick the odd episode here and there, review it and then take a look at the comic or character that inspired it.

So, we'll kick off with "Flashpoint," the first episode of The Flash season three. Which was, on the whole, entertaining, and appropriately fast-paced, but on the whole, dissatisfying. A lot of people weren't keen on Barry's choice to finally change his own past and save his mother from the Reverse-Flash. To be fair, I wasn't either, but mainly because he had finally gotten past this in one of the ebst episodes of the series so far, only for yet another tragedy to push him back over the edge. On the other hand, it's very hard to argue that it was actually the wrong decision, and this is where "Flashpoint" failed to convince me.

Throughout, Barry is told that his changing of history is wrong, and will have consequences. But he's told this by Thawne, the Reverse-Flash himself, who explicitly changed history by killing Barry's mum in the first place. You can't play the "You can't change history, not one line!" tack when it's already been changed. Barry's actions put events back on their original course, or near enough. There's all this hand-wringing over how terrible this new timeline is... except it's not. It's better, for the most part. Yes, Joe's got a drinking problem, and Wally gets himself stabbed due to his, entirely in character, extreme cockiness. But both Barry's parents are alive and happy, and his dad hasn't spent half his life in prison. Cisco is rich, and Caitlyn is successful (who's honestly saying that being a paediatric ophthalmologist isn't a great thing to be doing?) Iris is her normal, fairly uninteresting self. She says she's felt that things are "off," but it's hard to understand why that is. It maks Barry's eventual decision to send Thawne back and allow him to murder his mother again utterly baffling.

There is a lot of fun to be had here. It's great to see Wally finally get to be Kid Flash, even if it does turn out to be just for this one episode. Carlos Valdes is great as super-rich Cisco - I love how Cisco turns out to be a prick in every alternative reality. There should be a version of him in Supergirl's world who's an utter douche. Iris and Barry's relationship is more believable than before without the slightly creepy pseudo-sibling thing going on. On the other hand, I'm still massively underwhelmed by the Matt Letscher version of Thawne. Tom Cavanagh's cooler, creepier portrayal as Wells/Thawne remains superior.

It's interesting to see Barry essentially playing the villain here. While I'm not sold on the endangering time aspect, he seriously crosses a line by keeping Thawne prisoner. It's actually not that different from Star Labs' questionable metahuman containment, but even more disturbing. What the hell was he planning on actually doing with the guy? Plus, he's a bit stalky around Iris. It's all resolved too quickly though. This could have lasted for weeks, with more cracks appearing in the positive new timeline each episode. It could have actually sold the concept that things had been damaged by the interference. Of course, the CW can't do that because it'll have a knock-on impact on their other superhero shows, but that would have worked. The Legends of Tomorrow would have detected the timeline change and been brought back into the fold. Arrow could have been interesting for a few weeks. Instead, we got one episode of slightly underwhelming fun, and while there are seemingly still some consequences for Barry's life, it's hard to shake the feeling ti could have been more.


Back in 2011, DC decided to do one of their massive, convoluted events to try to clean up continuity once and for all. As always, this actually made it all much more complicated and contrived, but still, Flashpoint did have some pretty cool ideas. It ran as a limited series, but crossed over into most of DC's flagship titles. Like the TV episode, it sees Barry's world changed so that his mother is alive, but otherwise the changes are much more significant on the page. Barry never became the Flash, which makes more sense, since the initial event that changed him never happened. Captain Cold is Central City's greatest hero, which would have been amazing to see on screen. Thomas Wayne was never killed, and is Batman. Things are going wrong in complicated ways and need to be sorted out, over many issues. 

Flashpoint was basically a way to shake things up in the comics for a while, before rebooting the DC universe to make it, supposedly, simpler and more accessible, as The New 52. Since then, it's been un-rebooted, and made more complicated than ever, in the DC Rebirth event. Oh, and it's been revealed that it wasn't Barry who changed history. It was Dr. Manhattan, because, you know, screw logic.