DC superheroes on TV this fall

28-May-14 2:41 PM by
Filed under Television; 3 comments.

Superheroes are cashing in big at the box office — but on television, they're a gamble. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., despite being renewed, has received mixed reviews, while other shows such as The Cape haven't survived a single season. This fall, several shows are taking the bet that they can buck the trend and be a success on the small screen.

Capitalizing on the recent trilogy of Batman movies (and the successful line of Arkham video games), the Dark Knight comes to Fox this fall — though he's a minor character in his own show. Set in Bruce Wayne's youth, shortly after his parents are murdered, Gotham focuses on Detective James Gordon, the officer who would one day be police commissioner, as he investigates crimes and encounters characters such as Harvey Dent, Edward Nygma, and Selina Kyle, years before they become the villains that would haunt the city's night. It's a combination of superhero and police procedural that hopes to last longer than the other show to be set in Gotham and not feature Batman, that being 2002's Birds of Prey, cancelled after just 13 episodes. Check out the trailer for Gotham:

Why is comic book publisher DC capitalizing so heavily on the iconic character of Batman? Lest you think they've forgotten their rich cast of other superheroes, joining Arrow on The CW this fall will be the Scarlet Speedster himself, The Flash:

The FlashLook familiar? This character already had a television run with a 1990 live-action series starring John Wesley Shipp. That incarnation of the Flash lasted only one season and 22 episodes, with the high cost of production cited as a reason for its cancellation. But with special effects now more affordable and accessible than ever, it's not just the Flash that's getting a second chance: Shipp has been cast in a recurring role as the hero's father, Henry Allen. Lightning does strike twice!

I'm more excited about that casting decision than I am about 24-year-old Thomas Gustin as Henry's speedy son, Barry. He seems too young and similar in build to Andrew Garfield, whose second Spider-Man movie debuted earlier this month. I don't know how old Barry was in the comic books when he received his powers, and I'm not opposed to rewriting and adapting the source material — but Tobey Maguire did such a great job of showcasing powers thrust upon the young that I'd like to see a more mature hero in this role.

With Arrow and The Flash on the same network — and set in the same universe, as seen in the above trailer's crossover — is DC positioning itself to create a television pantheon to rival Marvel's silver-screen Avengers? If so, what role will Smallville play in this lineup? Superhero cameos were the norm in that decade-long incarnation of Superman, though the Green Arrow that appeared there is seemingly not the same character who now has his own show. Where will they go from here?

Of course, Marvel isn't going to let DC have all the fun. Complementing the second season of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be a precursor to the agency in Agent Carter, with Hayley Atwell reprising her role from the Captain America films. Based on the Agent Carter one-shot that was released with the Iron Man 3 DVD, the series will be set in 1946, during the post-WWII founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. Whether this show will be like Gotham in the unlikelihood of featuring superheroes, or will be closer to S.H.I.E.L.D. in its encounters with the unknown, remains to be seen.

Movies take only two hours to judge, but as fans of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Joss Whedon know, television shows can take years to mature and for characters to develop Let's hope these superhero spinoffs get that chance.

(Hat tip to Charlie Jane Anders via Gene Demaitre)

Super Megafest 2012: Superman, Hercules & TRON

31-Dec-13 1:29 PM by
Filed under Potpourri; 1 comment.

Super Megafest 2013 was held last month, and I've not yet posted my report from the 2012 event. Today being New Year's Eve, this is my last chance to not fall two years behind.

Super Megafest is held every November the weekend before Thanksgiving in Framingham, Massachusetts. It's an odd panoply of minor celebrities, comic book artists, former pro wrestlers, and nostalgia. This was my sixth time attending Super Megafest, with previous shows having brought encounters with Larry Storch, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Christopher Lambert, and Sean Astin, among others. Personalized autographs from each year's attractions are sold for anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the celebrity's star power, but the one-hour Q&A panels are what really draw me to the event. Some celebrities (like Patrick Stewart) are better in a crowd than they are one-on-one, and it's fun to share in the knowledgeable yet zany questions an audience can ask.

The first panel I attended in 2012 starred Dean Cain, best known as Superman from the television series The Adventures of Lois and Clark. When I asked, he debunked the myth that Gerard Christopher, who'd previously played Superboy, had originally been offered the part. In fact, the final two candidates for the role of Clark Kent were Cain and Kevin Sorbo, who was also in attendance at that Super Megafest. Fortunately, there was no animosity between the two, as Sorbo not getting that television role in 1993 made him available a year later to star in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Unfortunately, a throwdown between Superman and Hercules was also not on the agenda.

Cain talked about the good fortune he'd had in life, from signing with the Buffalo Bills football team after college to a knee injury that led him to his successful acting career. Despite joining the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 two years after the show's launch, the cast made him feel welcome, an experience for which he is forever grateful.

Even when his acting career has encountered resistance, he's taken it with good humor. When he was cast as Superman, some critics decried his one-quarter Japanese heritage, saying, "We wanted Superman, not Sushiman!" Cain roared with laughter when recounting this tale, saying, "I love racial jokes!"

For those pursuing an acting career of their own, he recommended having a thick skin and not taking things personally. "You'll hear 'no' a million times; just assume they're wrong every time," he coached. Often, the decision isn't even a reflection on an actor's skill: "Nepotism is alive and well" in Hollywood, he said. The only slack he cuts his own family is in World of Warcraft, which he plays with his then-12-year-old son.

The next panel starred Bruce Boxleitner, who held the title role in TRON and was John Sheridan on Babylon 5. A sci-fi actor whose career spans decades, he recounted being on the set of TRON Legacy and pulling aside actor Garrett Hedlund, who played Sam Flynn. This movie's title is no coincidence, he warmly reminded Hedlund; it's what he and Jeff Bridges and will be remembered for. "TRON will live on long after us," he said. Then, turning cold, he warned: "Don't f*$% it up." Expect more TRON movies to come.

Boxleitner also commented on films that had come out that summer, such as the Alien prequel Prometheus, which he described as "a lot of promise and no delivery." For lack of better options when stuck on an airplane, he watched the in-flight showing of a Twilight movie. "Thank God [that series] is over."

Boxleitner has tried his hand at a variety of genres and media and continues to flex his creative muscles. When asked if he prefers comedic or dramatic characters, he replied, "I don't prefer. There's comedy in every character, and drama in every character." He did some voice acting for the video game Spec Ops: The Line, which he thought would "be much bigger and make me much richer." (Nonetheless, I was humbled when he recorded a segment for the Open Apple podcast, which can be heard at 5:40 into our June 2013 episode.) He's currently developing a steampunk television series called Lantern City, which so far has only a graphic novel prequel. He has also tried his hand at writing novels — he autographed my copy of Frontier Earth — but would says that his 2001 novel Searcher will be his last, saying that he is "not a natural-born writer."

Other stars I got to meet at Super Megafest 2013 included Kevin Sorbo and John Wesley Shipp, the latter having starred as the DC superhero The Flash in the 1990 television series of the same name. Both Sorbo and Shipp recorded Open Apple bumpers for me, free with their autograph, which I much appreciated. At an unhurried moment, Shipp also reflected on how fortunate he's been in Hollywood. Though he doesn't necessarily believe in a deity that favors him — that would be unfair to the actors who didn't get the parts for which he was cast — he does marvel at the fortune that has brought him steady work, both large and small. I appreciated hearing from Shipp, Cain, and others that actors, who themselves are often deified by pop culture, can still be humble and grateful.

Finally, I got Stan Lee's autograph, but he did not have a panel (at least one I attended), nor did he offer personalized autographs.

Super Megafest continues to offer a unique cast of celebrities with which to entice geeks a city 20 miles west of Boston. As you'll find in my 2013 report, it has its growing pains, but to which I am happy to contribute. In the meantime, enjoy the below photo gallery. I attended the event with my former co-worker Gene; visit his blog for more details and photos!

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DC Superheroes Duke It Out on DVD

06-Apr-10 1:03 PM by
Filed under Reviews; Comments Off on DC Superheroes Duke It Out on DVD

DC, the animation house responsible for Batman and Superman, have in the last few years brought their stable of superheroes to life in a series of direct-to-DVD feature films. From the aforementioned mainstays to less popular heroes Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, each has gotten a crack at the spotlight. But despite extended length compared with their television series and PG-13 ratings, I found that two recent installments don't always do their heroes justice.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is based on the first six issues of the Superman/Batman comic book that launched in 2003. When Lex Luthor is elected president, one of his first acts is to declare his two arch-nemeses enemies of the state. With villains out to collect the bounty and vigilantes-turned-soldiers determined to follow the letter of the law, Batman and Superman have few places left to turn.

The plot consists mostly of blows being traded among a cavalcade of DC superheroes. While this who's-who of the DCU can be fun for fans of the comics, it doesn't leave much room for character development. There are a few insightful moments, be it in dialogue or in cooperative battle tactics, that reveal Superman and Batman's relationship and ability to work as a team, but mostly it's just one action scene after another.

But the presentation of this film is fantastic, with a vaguely anime-like look. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprise the titular roles they've become famous for in the last two decades, while Clancy Brown and Allison Mack (the latter of Smallville) turn in admirable performances as Lex Luthor and Power Girl, respectively. Unfortunately, the script doesn't afford Power Girl much respect, leaving her a weak-willed woman. (Can you spot LeVar Burton's cameo?)

Batman and Owlman

Batman and Owlman face their counterparts.

Public Enemies was followed this February with DC's seventh and most recent video release, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, in which our heroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter — travel to a mirror universe, where heroes are villains and vice versa. Such an encounter could be a fascinating opportunity to delve into what makes someone be good or evil, but the running time of just 75 minutes affords little opportunity for backstory or character development. The most screen time is given to the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their evil counterparts: Ultraman, Owlman, and Superwoman, but the only meaningful dialogue is given to Batman and Owlman. There is a superficial love interest for the Martian Manhunter, but it's not explored in any real depth.

Being such a short film, the plot has to move fast. The Justice League's first melee with the Crime Syndicate occurs just 12 minutes into the film, resulting in an exciting airborne battle. In this scene and throughout the film, the Justice League fight mostly random super-powered troops; the movie doesn't pit our heroes against their equivalents until about the one-hour mark.

Again, the animation is top-notch, though there remain instances where CGI is not as seamlessly integrated as they could be. It would've been clever had Batman, Owlman, or both been played by familiar voice actors, such as Kevin Conroy. But we do instead get excellent performances with James Wood as Owlman, Gina Torres (Firefly) as Superwoman, Bruce Davison (X-Men) as the POTUS, and Kari Wuhrer (Sliders) as Black Canary.

Both movies feature trailers and featurettes that we've seen on DC's other DVDs, which doesn't make for very "special" features. A notable exception is Crisis on Two Earths, which includes an original short film starring The Spectre, the DC universe's manifestation of God's spirit of vengeance.

These two animated films feature top-notch production values and are true to their comic book origins without requiring viewers to be familiar with their other animated incarnations. But I couldn't help but feeling that the PG-13 rating was used not to explore mature themes and characters, but to show grittier slugfests. I don't need "mature" to mean "dark", but I do want to see characters embark on a journey, tackling issues with more than their fists.

Faster than a Stop-Motion Bullet

08-Feb-08 4:00 PM by
Filed under Humor, Television; 1 comment.

With the live-action Justice League film on hold, it may be some time before we see The Flash, the fastest man alive, brought to the silver screen.

So in the meantime, satisfy yourself with the 1989 marvel that is The Wizard of Speed and Time:

Okay, so maybe it's not as good as the 22-episode live-action Flash TV series that premiered on CBS just a year after the above Wizard made his debut. Unfortunately, I was not a comic book junkie until 1996, so what Wikipedia calls a short-lived but critically-acclaimed series never registered on my radar. But now the complete collection is available in one convenient DVD box set. Anyone have any recommendations about it?