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Another Couch Potato Weekend

by  in Comic News Comment
Another Couch Potato Weekend

I actually didn’t read any comics this week at all. But that doesn’t mean we were lacking for comics-related nerdy entertainment.

We mostly checked in with a lot of movies and TV that we normally wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy but for the kindness of friends, or occasionally strangers who supplied review copies. Anyway, all of these efforts have been piling up in my maybe-that’s-worth-a-column mention file. So here’s the rundown on the lot, capsule-review style.

*

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. There’s five of these movies at this point, which means that this series is kind of its own thing now and not really beholden to the original television show. But the interesting part– well, to me, because I am a huge fan of the original– is that, even with all the Tom Cruise running and jumping and clenched-teeth pyrotechnic stunt work, each successive entry in the series moves the movies closer to the approach of the old show. The original Impossible Missions Force were completely ruthless and manipulative, specializing in the ornately-plotted setup. I don’t want to spoil anything, but in between all the stunts, there is an actual plot here that’s structured that way, except it’s more dueling good-guy and bad-guy ornate setups, which adds to the fun. I appreciated all the little nods to old-school IMF tactics– particularly the final act, which will make any fan of the TV series vibrate with glee. They even preserved my very favorite bit from the old show… what my friends and I have always called the Jim Phelps Goodbye Wave.

The Goodbye Wave goes like this. Back in the day, when the IMF had bamboozled the evil dictator or the head of the secret police or whoever into believing something so insane it was ridiculous (At one point or another, the team persuaded bad guys that they had been in a coma for decades and had awakened in a post-apocalypse America, that the Fountain of Youth was real, that they were being haunted by the vengeful ghosts of their victims… I could go on and on) …anyway, then the trap would snap shut and the villain would be sputtering something like “No! No! I never touched the money! It was real, I SAW HIM DIE!!” as he was being hauled away in chains, usually to be executed by his own lieutenants. Then the camera would pull back and reveal the assembled Impossible Missions Force looking on in grim triumph. No, Dmitri, it was all fake, you’re just a MORON. Buh-bye.

I LOVE THAT. It’s so wonderfully cathartic. John Rogers used the Goodbye Wave moment a lot in Leverage, as well, for you younger folks. I loved it there too. But it was Jim Phelps and the original IMF that raised it to an art form.

This latest Mission: Impossible movie is great fun and you can almost characterize it as James Bond and Emma Peel versus the IMF, which is kind of cool in a meta way. But what I loved most about it was how much the third act felt like the original TV show, up to and including when the Goodbye Wave showed up at the end. It’s embarrassing to admit how happy that made me. Even more than the theme music or the rubber masks or the this-message-will-self-destruct-in-five-seconds tropes that you have to include to call it Mission: Impossible, it’s the Goodbye Wave that makes it my Mission: Impossible. And this one has it. Thumbs up.

*

Supergirl. I am so completely not the target audience for this show, but I loved it anyway. Mostly because all I could think was how much all my 6th and 7th grade Young Authors girls will adore it. Comics purists will find a lot to like as well, though I admit recoiling at a couple of things established in the premise.

First, apparently the space warp that young Kara Zor-El’s ship passed through on its way to Earth somehow breached the Phantom Zone and brought through a shipload of superpowered criminals to Earth as well, leading to the formation of the DEO to combat them. My gut reaction was instantly, That’s too many Kryptonians on Earth. I understand the need to provide worthy adversaries for our heroine to battle, and the Big Bad for season one looks like fun. But… it still annoys me. I didn’t like all the Kryptonian survivors that kept getting added in the comics, I didn’t like it on Lois and Clark or Smallville, and I don’t like it here. Superman, Supergirl, Krypto, and the bottle city of Kandor (with everyone there de-powered and trapped at their tiny size.) THAT’S IT. That’s my arbitrary cap on the number of Kryptonian survivors you’re allowed in your Super series, whether it’s comics or movies or TV or whatever. After that, you lose me. You get too carried away with survivors and pretty soon the only Kryptonians who actually died when the planet blew up were Jor-El, Lara, and the Science Council.

In fairness, this show seems to posit that not all these powered criminals are actually Kryptonian, but then that instantly raises the question of how Krypton, a civilization that had just cracked spaceflight and was barely at the prototype stage, somehow got so many alien visitors incarcerated in their prison without cannibalizing their ships and tech at the very least.

My other quibble was how many people know Kara Danvers is a superpowered Kryptonian. Counting them off, there’s her adoptive sister, her best friend at work, Jimmy (“James!”) Olsen, Hank Henshaw and the DEO (and thus by implication the entire U.S. government covert intelligence community)… and all this after Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant has directed her entire reporting staff to go get the dirt on this new super girl. How long before some radar operator in Henshaw’s crew spills it? Or something like that. I can buy that it’s possible for Kara to maintain a dual identity, even with just a pair of glasses–after all, Clark Kent manages to do it. But even so, the identity’s not going to stay secret very long, especially since it will doubtless prove irresistible to have the new Supergirl encounter Cat Grant in person. The idea that Cat wouldn’t recognize her harassed intern Kara without her glasses just is impossible to believe, despite the decades of Perry White and Lois Lane exhibiting a similar lack of visual acuity.

But that’s just nitpicking. This is a breezy, delightful romp of a superhero show and sitting here poking holes in the narrative is just my comics-nerd reflexes showing. The important part is that it’s tremendously entertaining and everyone looks to be having a wonderful time. All the fun that was missing from Man of Steel? They took it and put it in this show. God bless Greg Berlanti and his crew for understanding that you can embrace the silly stuff in a superhero’s fictional history and make it work. (Vartox is in this, for God’s sake. VARTOX!) Also, I really dug seeing Dean Cain and Helen Slater as Mr. and Mrs. Danvers, and I hope they’ll be back as the series progresses. Julie and I are definitely in for this one when it starts in the fall. You should be too, most especially if you have an eleven-year-old girl in your family to watch it with. Here’s the extended trailer, which spoils damn near the whole pilot, really. Fair warning. But it certainly will give you the flavor of the thing.

*

Killjoys. Julie and I got started watching this because it follows Dark Matter on Syfy and we thought what the hell, we’ll give it a shot. Oddly enough, we ended up liking this one more… mostly because the setup for its fictional universe is more interesting and the show doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as its other companion entries on Friday night, Defiance and the aforementioned Dark Matter. In fact, although Dark Matter is the show that actually comes from comics, Killjoys has a lot more swash in its buckle. The premise is that spacegoing bounty hunters (known colloquially as “killjoys”) Dutch, Johnny and D’avin are out hunting bad guys in a quadrant on the verge of civil war, struggling to remain politically neutral in the execution of their missions. That’s pretty much it.

The fun of the show comes mostly from watching the actors play off each other and the sharply-written, quip-heavy dialogue they’re given to say. I won’t go quite so far as to say it’s on the level of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, but it’s very much of that school, and you could easily picture Killjoys and Firefly taking place in the same fictional universe. No aliens, just people struggling to live through a galactic class war, trying not to be victimized by forces way too big for them. I’ll add that Aaron Ashmore as Johnny is pretty much carrying the whole show on his back, though the producers seem more enamored of Hannah John-Kamen as Dutch and her maybe-maybe-not romance with Luke Macfarlane as John’s ex-military brother D’avin. That part’s tired.

On the other hand, Ashmore as the kid engineer who just wants to make money and chase girls and build cool things has shown surprising depth whenever they give him actual stuff to do, especially in this week’s episode.

So far we’ve seen eight of the ten episodes of the season and we’ve enjoyed all of them and never been bored. Hoping this one sticks around; it’s a lot more open-ended and flexible than its two companion shows, and as a result it’s more interesting to watch. Trailer here.

*

Justice League: Gods and Monsters. I’ve had mixed feelings about the DC animated movies of the last few years, particularly the ones that are directly based on storylines from the comics. I’d rather see those talented folks doing originals than adaptations, for the most part.

Well, it’s happening… but boy, is this an ODD project. I really enjoyed it, and Julie thought it was okay… but man, the fan service is over the top. You have to be steeped in DC lore to pick up on most of what’s going on. The story is set in a dark twisted reflection of what we think of as the ‘real’ DC universe. Very similar to the “Justice Lords” episode of the Justice League cartoon from a few years ago, but this one is much more fully extrapolated.

In this version of events, Superman is the son of General Zod, who was raised by kindly Mexican migrant farmers and took the name Hernan Guerra. Seeing the injustices his adoptive parents endured left him with little patience for the laws of man. (We know he’s an evil mirror universe version of ‘our’ Superman because as we learned from Star Trek, The Middleman, and countless other SF stories, one’s dark reflection invariably sports a goatee.)

Wonder Woman is Bekka, a sword-wielding Female Fury from Apokolips who fled to earth after the evil Highfather murdered her husband Orion. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, a scientist who accidentally transformed himself into a vampire trying to find a cure for his cancer, and remains only tenuously connected to humanity thanks to his friendship with Dr. Will Magnus and his wife Tina.

Together, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are the hated and feared Justice League, a force for order that’s not afraid to get its collective hands bloody. The plot of the story begins as the League is framed for the murders of three scientists– Ray Palmer, Victor Fries, and most ruthlessly of all, the suspiciously heat vision-like incineration of Silas Stone and his young son Victor.

Follow all that? Congratulations, you’re as up on DC trivia as I am. Any kids picking this DVD up at Wal-Mart are likely to be somewhat befuddled, and their parents are going to be a little freaked out at the blood and violence. Which sort of begs the question, why such a push for THIS? It’s getting a tie-in comic book and a 13-episode webseries. (Three episodes are out now, another ten are promised for 2016.) That’s more support than DC gave their regular JLA or Batman direct-to-DVD animated features released over the last decade COMBINED.

Despite my vague sense of bafflement that this project is getting such a giant shove forward from DC marketing, I have to admit that I thought the movie was pretty good. But most of the fun came from seeing the twisted mirror versions of familiar characters, and that’s going to be lost on anyone that’s not One of Us. So, recommended with that provision. Be prepared to spend a large part of the evening explaining all the references to your significant other… Julie’s been married to me for over a decade and picked up a lot of DC lore just through osmosis, and even she was lost some of the time. Here’s a trailer.

*

Ant-Man. I can’t think of much to add to what’s already been said about this one. It’s a fun movie, probably a solid B-plus among the Marvel movies so far. I’d rate it better than Iron Man 2 but not as good as The Avengers or Winter Soldier. About even with Thor.

What baffles me is why it got made in the first place. I can’t get my head around a Hollywood establishment that sinks this kind of tentpole-blockbuster money into adapting Marvel properties like Ant-Man (the SCOTT LANG version for God’s sake!) and the Guardians of the Galaxy, neither of which could sustain any kind of regular comic book series before these movies were made… and yet seems determined to ignore the Black Widow movie that’s just lying there WAITING to make billions of dollars for them after Natasha got star turns in The Avengers, Winter Soldier, and Age Of Ultron. There’s a brilliant fan-made title sequence and another fan-made trailer that’s VERY cleverly cut together from other movies with Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner that practically serve as a road map…

….sorry, distracted. Anyway, yeah, Ant-Man was pretty good and it’s amazing we live in a world where they even MAKE Ant-Man movies. But I’d still rather have had a Black Widow movie.

*

So there you go. Before anyone asks, we still haven’t seen Mr. Holmes, though I would very muck like to (though I didn’t care for the novel it’s based on.) Maybe this weekend. I think we can safely skip the new Fantastic Four.

In any case, I’ll see you all right here… next week.

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couch potato
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