Thursday, January 26, 2017

Comic Book TV recap (1/23/2017 - 1/26/2017)

Switching the name as non-superhero but still comic book show Riverdale debuts this week! Legends of Tomorrow has been moved to after The Flash on Tuesday.

Supergirl: "Supergirl Lives" - Winn is deeply affected when a crook gets the drop on him while assisting Guardian. Kara and Mon-El investigate some disappearances and discover an alien kidnapping plot to send people to be sold as slaves on an alien planet. With a red sun. Where Kara and Mon-El are powerless.

Gotham: "Smile Like You Mean It" - Gordon discovers that a former Indian Hill scientist is working on reviving Jerome (Gotham's take on the Joker) and face a cult formed around the serial killer. Selina deals the fact that her mother returned just for a payout from Bruce. Penguin realizes Barbara is not on his side.

Lucifer: "Love Handles" - Lucifer tries to discover the reason why Chloe is infatuated with him as they investigate a designer lethal poison on a college campus.

The Flash: "Borrowing Problems from the Future" - Barry confides with his friends about his vision of the future in which Iris was killed by Savitar and they begin working to change the future. Wally strives to become a recognized hero as Kid Flash. Julian joins Team Flash as Caitlin asks him to help her get rid of her Killer Frost powers.

Legends of Tomorrow: "Raiders of the Lost Art" - The Legends discover that Rip used a piece of the Spear of Destiny to be displaced in time and find him directing a student film in 1967, being pursued by Malcolm Merlyn and Damian Darhk. Rip used the spear to alter his identity and his prop master is one George Lucas...

Agents of SHIELD: "Wake Up" - Agent May struggles to get free from Aida and Radcliffe while her LMD replacement discovers that she's programmed to not reveal her identity. The Senator Fitz

Arrow: "Who Are You?" - Oliver and Company meet a surprisingly resurrected Laurel Lance, only to discover that she's actually Black Siren from Earth-2, working with Prometheus. This leads them to question what to do about the Black Canary's legacy. Curtis deals with his life now that his partner has left him.

Riverdale: "The River's Edge" - Riverdale opens as a reimagining of the Archie mythos as school begins again and Veronica Lodge comes to town. Taking its tone from Teen Wolf, a central plotline is the death of Jason Blossom during the summer. Also involving the classic Betty and Veronica love triangle, this show looks pretty promising.

I forgot to talk about the animated movies I checked out during the break. The Marvel/Lionsgate animated movies and the current crop of Marvel animated films are all available on Netflix.

Hulk: Where Monsters Dare - Doctor Strange enlists the help of the Hulk and the Halloween Commandos to rescue children from Nightmare. A fun, fast-paced adventure.

Ultimate Avengers: The Movie - A prelude of the simpler-titled 2012 blockbuster to come, the Ultimate Universe version of the Avengers team up for the first time to face an alien threat. Nicely paced, well-animated, quite fun.

Hulk Vs. - A pair of short films that pit the Hulk against another Marvel Hero. In Hulk vs. Thor, Loki splits Bruce Banner and the Hulk, possessing the latter to attack Asgard. Thor manages to get Hulk into submission, but things take a major turn for the worse when Loki decides to dispose of Bruce. Then in Hulk vs. Wolverine, the Weapon X program pits a group of their mutants—including Wolverine and Deadpool—against the Hulk, hoping to add them to their team. Another fun film that rings true to the characters.

Thor - Tales of Asgard - Not quite a prequel to 2011's Thor, but still, young Thor and Loki work with the warriors of Asgard as they face invaders while Odin is in the Odinsleep.  Nicely done, but probably better suited to fans of Thor.

Planet Hulk - An adaptation of the comic book storyline that sees Hulk exiled into space, landing on a battle planet. Better suited for fans of the story as this one seemed to drag.

And here's some live-action Marvel movies I watched this week.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - The 2012 sequel to the 2007 Ghost Rider film delivers on weird, but not much else as Johnny Blaze helps a mother help her child—Danny Ketch—stay out of the hands of the Devil, who also happens to be his father. Nicholas Cage seems to be losing it as Johnny Blaze, and another story about the Devil's son was not the right direction for the franchise. Luckily, we now have a new Ghost Rider courtesy of Agents of SHIELD.

Punisher: War Zone - This reboot of The Punisher films goes for a definite comic book feel, going a little high on gore and gross-out moments. After failing to kill a gang leader, Frank Castle is targeted by Jigsaw. While Frank has no reservations about mowing down the guilty, he has to check himself when dealing with the innocent. Probably the best of the Punisher films, but the version we've seen in Netflix's Daredevil and upcoming Punisher series promises to blow this one out of the water.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Superhero Shows Recap (1/10/2017 - 1/17/2017)

Well, Agents of SHIELD is officially the first superhero show I follow to come back from mid-season hiatus.

Agents of SHIELD: "Broken Promises" - As Fitz and Radcliffe go to clear the memory of Aida the LMD, she turns on the team, looking for the Darkhold and taking over the system at SHIELD. Meanwhile, a senator deals with her brother, who's recently emerged from terrigenesis as an Inhuman.

Agents of SHIELD: "The Patriot" - As Coulson fights with Daisy, Mack and director Jeffrey Mace, he discovers a secret about the new director. Fitz experiments with Aida's decapitated head.

Gotham: "Ghosts" - Falcone calls for a hit on James, Lee realizes the effects of the virus that affected her fiance, Penguin begins seeing visions of his father, Gordon and Bullock discovers that the Indian Hill experiments are not ended.

Lucifer: "Stewardess Interruptus" - As Chloe investigates the murders of two former lovers of Lucifer, Lucifer discovers that he's just a simple hookup. Mazikeen tries to discover her personal identity.

Here's some stuff I watched over the break I haven't blogged about...

Fantastic 4: World's Greatest Heroes - This animated series gives a CG/anime hybrid take on the Fantastic Four, going for a point where the FF are well-established and have adopted new costumes. The characterizations are spot on, the stories fun and although some plots are inspired by stories from the comics, they aren't just animating the comics. A nice touch is having HERBIE as Reed's AI assistant, and virtually everything with Johnny is hilarious. It lasted for only one season, so anyone looking to pick it up should ignore the volume collections and just get the 4-disc "Season 1" collection.

The Punisher (1989) - Released only overseas, this movie brought Frank Castle to the big screen in the most typical standard 80s action/slasher movie where Frank and the baddies mow baddies down, hostages are involved. Worth a watch for fans of the Punisher and Marvel in film, but nothing very special except that it was made by the movie studio that had bought up Marvel Entertainment at the time.

Ghost Rider (2007) Extended Edition - More fun than I remembered, Nicholas Cage stars as stunt rider Johnny Blaze, who made a deal with the Devil, who gives him supernatural powers when he comes to cash that deal in when he needs to deal with his son, who wants to unleash hell on earth. I do think that some parts get too goofy and that some shots exist solely to showcase CG effects, though.

The Punisher (2004) Extended Edition - A much better version of the Punisher explores Frank's human side and eases up on the extreme violence, despite some very intense moments. It explores how Frank lost his family and eventually got revenge on the people who did it. Some parts of the story felt a little underdeveloped, though.

The Punisher: Dirty Laundry (2012) - There's trouble on the streets as Frank Castle tries to do his laundry, finally, he has to get involved. This was a short film that's solely online and appeared at some comic conventions featuring Thomas Jane—2004's Punisher—returning to the role.

Daredevil (2003) - Mostly a pretty good movie about the blind lawyer turned vigilante (Ben Affleck) who defends Hell's Kitchen from the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and Bullseye (Colin Farrell). The big downside is how they included and handled the character of Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) as her character ultimately doesn't mean much to the movie. Fun thing is that Jon Favreau appears as Foggy Nelson, and he would later direct the first two Iron Man films and play Happy Hogan in the MCU.

Finally, this was a rewatch I did on a whim...

Fantastic Four (2005) Extended Edition - This movie and its sequel get a lot of flack, but honestly, they're just fun movie versions of the Fantastic Four. The big problem is entirely how they handled Doctor Doom. Anyway, the extended edition adds a few more fun scenes, but also a number of good scenes that further develop the characters of Ben, Johnny and Sue. I especially loved an added scene of Sue looking at fanmail from (presumably) a little girl.

I might also want to mention I regularly listen to the Fantasticast podcast, which goes over all of the appearances of the Fantastic Four in comics as well as doing bonuses talking about other media appearances. As a perk for their Patreon backers, they offered an audio commentary for Fantastic Four (2015)/Fant4stic. Since I contribute a little, I decided to do the audio commentary experience. While I can't recommend the film, I can recommend this fan audio commentary, which opted to try to understand what the film attempted to do rather than just rant about how much they didn't like the movie. It's not to say they made it out to be a good movie, but instead of just complaining or "taking the piss" (which these guys would likely do well).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Incredible Hulk Reunion Movies

After going for five seasons of David Banner hitch hiking across the United States and meeting people who need his help and sometimes the help of the Hulk, The Incredible Hulk series was cancelled and there was no proper ending. David was still on the move, he would still become the Hulk when angry, and Jack McGee was always on the trail of the Hulk. Even though that guy was responsible for David being on the run.

While I understand that there's a lot of fan favorite episodes that I missed by stopping after the first three episodes of Season Two when Netflix took the show off (for now), skipping ahead to the reunion movies that began in 1988, I didn't feel like there was anything I missed out on when it came to understanding the characters.

The Incredible Hulk Returns finds David "Bannon" (Banner would change his last name to conceal his identity, a standard through the show) helping to work on a machine that can draw out gamma radiation and convert it to energy. He intends to use it on himself secretly to finally be rid of the Hulk, but he is interrupted by former colleague Donald Blake who tells him how he discovered the tomb of Thor, and taking the hammer, was granted the ability to summon Thor, who needs to make up for his life of irresponsibility by doing good deeds before he can enter Valhalla. Blake summons Thor, who damages the machine, which makes David turn into the Hulk.

This sets David's experiment back and after a crime group targets the machine and David's current lady, winds up creating a standard "Hulk and Thor eventually beat up the bad guys and rescue the girl" situation.

The second movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, has David "Belson" get thrown in jail after a woman claims he assaulted her on the subway. David's defense attorney? Matt Murdock. After discovering the woman was kidnapped and forced to lie by a gang run by Wilson Fisk (played by John Rhys-Davies), Matt and David reveal their alter egos of Daredevil and the Hulk to each other in a combined effort to take out the gang.

Both of these movies aren't too different from the TV show's original formula, ending with David back on the road. What they do differently is give other heroes for David/Hulk to work with. These were also supposed to be backdoor pilots for Thor and Daredevil shows, but they didn't take off. I couldn't help but feel that it might have been a better idea if CBS had done story arcs with Captain America and Dr. Strange instead of their pilot movies. Hulk on his own with regular people gets rather repetitive, but like the movie The Avengers would show people 23 years later, Hulk is best when he has other colorful characters to work with.

Thor again strays from his original comic origin, but Daredevil sticks to it, but Foggy Nelson has been replaced by a female lawyer named Christa Klein. Trial doesn't have a "real" trial scene, the only time David's in a courtroom is in a dream scene, which marks the first Stan Lee cameo in a live action Marvel movie.

The final one was released in 1990 and was titled The Death of the Incredible Hulk. Wow, guess how this ends?

David "Bellamy" manages to find a Dr. Pratt whose work might actually rid David of the Hulk once and for all. However, the work is pushed ahead by funding getting cut and then interrupted as a European spy ring tries to steal the research thanks to pulling in wannabe retired female Russian spy Jasmin who tries to double cross the other spies when she falls in love with David. The Hulk ends up confronting the leader of the spy ring on a plane, and when they try to shoot him, he makes the plane explode. He falls out of the plane onto the pavement below, where he turns back into David Banner and dies.

The ending doesn't really ring true to the nature of the Hulk as the character is supposed to be able to endure major injuries, and David even mentions that turning into the Hulk and back causes him to surprisingly recover from things such as gunshots. What should've been a major moment for the character feels like a poorly written cop. Also, why on earth wasn't Jasmin just Black Widow?

There had been plans to do another movie where David is revived, and something about an Iron Man follow up, but The Incredible Hulk reunion movies saw gradually poorer ratings, so future plans were cancelled. Three years later, Bill Bixby died of cancer. Lou Ferrigno's future would see him voice the Hulk in a 90s animated series and again for films for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He would also appear in cameo roles as security guards in the Hulk-solo movies Hulk and The Incredible Hulk.

Given that they had once proposed a reunion crossover with the quickly-cancelled Amazing Spider-Man show, we could see all the CBS/NBC live action TV Marvel properties as one universe. The Death of the Incredible Hulk wound up being the final entry in the tales of that universe, and\frankly, I'm glad they basically went on to do a much better TV universe in the animated shows that popped up in the 90s.

Monday, January 2, 2017

More Mighty Marvel

It's no secret that a big part of profiting from comic book characters is licensing. To supplement sales of comics, profit for comic creators comes through licensing toys, art prints, reprint books and other merchandise. And what can help drive the sales of both comics and merchandise? If there's a big movie or television series going on. Marvel was definitely not saying no to licensing ever since they began, though only a small number of their big 60s characters came to television.

The 60s saw a number of cartoons featuring the Marvel characters: The Marvel Superheroes (featuring Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and Namor), Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. The late 70s finally saw some of these characters come to live action with CBS' The Amazing Spider-Man TV series in 1977 and The Incredible Hulk in 1978. The Amazing Spider-Man didn't last long, while Captain America and Dr. Strange TV movie pilots were not followed by a series. (The Fantastic Four's Human Torch had been optioned for a TV movie, but it never happened, which famously resulted in the character being replaced by H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot in the second Fantastic Four cartoon series.) But The Incredible Hulk lasted for five seasons and a total of 82 episodes, with three reunion movies.

I managed to watch the first season and the first few episodes of the second on Netflix before it got removed.

The CBS Marvel stuff never sticks to the comics origin. In the original Incredible Hulk comics, Bruce Banner was working on a gamma bomb and was caught in its blast when he rescued a young man named Rick Jones from the testing field. He turned into the Hulk at night, and over time, it was changed to him turning into the Hulk when he got very upset. The TV show has widower David Banner looking into why people can suddenly have bursts of strength. He attempts an ill-advised experiment with gamma radiation on himself, which turns him into the Hulk when he gets very worked up.

Setting up the series is an investigative reporter Jack McGee, who's interested in finding out the story of the strange green creature seen around. He causes a spill in David's lab, which starts a fire which proves fatal to David's assistant who the Hulk attempts to rescue. As the Hulk is seen by McGee leaving the lab with the dying assistant and David Banner is nowhere to be seen, it's assumed the Hulk killed them both, and David decides it's better to anonymously be on the run until he can find a way to control or be rid of his alter-ego.

So, the series as I've seen it so far follows a general regular concept: David runs into a situation where he winds up helping people, and sometimes the Hulk helps out with his strength besides being a creature of rage. In one episode, David is taking a plane that is carrying valuable museum pieces that a stewardess and some passengers are conspiring to smuggle out, and the pilots are drugged. The Hulk and David's intellect manage to work together to stop the smugglers and safely land the plane. That particular episode is likely one of my favorites as it has high stakes. The others of the first season usually have David (and the Hulk) assist an innocent person being persecuted by other people who intend them harm.

Note that this was in the late 70s, and on television, so this wasn't flashy visuals or over the top action. The change between David Banner (Bill Bixby) and the Hulk (bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno) was done by having David wear special contact lenses that made his eyes turn pale, then shots of clothing bursting to suggest David growing bigger. Reversals would be depicted with fade effects, wigs and makeup. The Hulk appeared to sometimes have footage featuring only him to be slightly slowed down to make him appear heavier.

While such a show could hardly work today, I suppose it was like a superhero comfort food show when it originally aired. You ultimately knew how each episode would end, but the point of watching was to see what would happen. I'm not sure how I'd recommend the show. Fans with no idea what they're in for might be confused or bored. Those with a little more patience, love for classic TV, or even nostalgia may actually enjoy it.

In the other corner, we have Marvel's first box office hit. Marvel hadn't done well inspiring movies based on their comics. Howard the Duck was a flop, movies based on The Punisher and Captain America weren't even released to theaters in the US. The Fantastic Four was actually pulled from release. Then 1998 came around with New Line Cinema adapting Marvel's own vampire-hunter Blade to the big screen, and coming after 1997's disappointing Batman and Robin, the movie showed that maybe comic book movies weren't doomed.

Blade follows Eric "Blade" Brooks (Wesley Snipes), a human/vampire hybrid who hunts down vampires in his corrupt city. His big threat is a vampire leader who wants to become a vampire god and wipe out humanity. Blade has to get to his lowest and most daring to defeat the vampires' evil scheme.

The success of Blade is cited as inspiring other Marvel properties that had been licensed to to film companies to finally be brought to film: 2000's X-Men, 2002's Spider-Man, 2003's Hulk and Daredevil, 2004's The Punisher and so on.

Blade would get its own sequels: 2002's Blade II saw Blade and his buddies team up with some rogue vampires to combat the creation of a super vampire virus. This one features more action, more plot twists, and is considered the best of the series.

Blade: Trinity (2004) as a comic book film is enjoyable, with some of the action going into high gear and a little campy, and Ryan Reynolds as Hannibal King offering humor (the role would get people talking about him as a possible Deadpool) but has a fairly cut and dry story with vampires reviving Dracula as Blade's new allies develop a virus that once mixed with the blood of Dracula, will wipe out vampires everywhere.

These are definitely worth watching for vampire fans and Marvel fans, but are also not for young viewers.

The strangest thing about the Blade series is that at the time, New Line Cinema was owned by Time Warner, who also own DC Comics. Now, New Line has been merged into Warner Brothers, so the studio who releases movies based on their own line of famous heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.) also owns a small number of movies based on their rival company's comics.