Will Jessica Jones Stay My #1

Will Jessica Jones Stay My #1

The combination of Marvel and Netflix released their fifth season overall and the first for newcomer Iron Fist on March 17th. Some of you may have finished the show before you take the time to read this and that’s fine because I am only comparing the first three shows today. I know many of you will argue in favor of Daredevil for its action or Luke Cage for its level of fun but I believe Jessica Jones is at the top overall.

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Knowledge of the Hidden: The Occult and Superheroes

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In my town there is a small shop right at the end of Main Street called The Crystal Fox, whose contents really fit its charmingly ethereal name. In “The Fox” you can find all sorts of gems and stones meant for attuning different aspects of your personality, a full guide to chakras and meditation, incense for protection against vampires, books containing accounts of communing with spirits and the gods of old. I even once spied a man consulting his invisible fairy friends as to which type of channeling stone would be best for him! What is it that drives people to places like this? What does the theme of the occult offer to those that seek it out? What compels someone to be so in touch with their imagination, that realms not meant for us become accessible, even familiar?

When one peals back the layers of narratives we have surrounded ourselves with regarding death, god, the afterlife, the motive becomes clear: the appeal of occultism lies in its mystery, in its broaching of the impossible, in its journey to places we can never go. The word “occult” is Latin for “knowledge of the hidden”, and this is exactly what people seek when they delve into the occult. This desire for discovery, for fright, for strangeness is best served in the realm of comics, where anything that can be drawn on paper (or filmed for the screen) becomes possible. In a world where anything is possible, the occult pushes the limits of not only the physical, but of the spiritual, where true discomfort lies.

And it is by facing this discomfort that we gain some sense of control over it, the more fleshed out the narrative the more able we are to “understand” it. Death becomes heaven and hell, suffering becomes a hex or curse, even the weather becomes a portent of things to come. This sense of control is seductive and motivates the reader/watcher to place themselves deeper into the representations provided; this is why intellectual properties based around occult themes can have such rabid fan bases.

This becomes clear throughout the history of the occult in pop culture, from an exploitative thematic used to pump up the controversial nature of pulp fiction publishings to its highly commodified nature today. Even in the mid-1900s there was a burgeoning interest in the work of occultist luminaries such as Aleister Crowley or masters of occult fiction such as H.P. Lovecraft, both of whose works are responsible for greater ripples throughout popular culture that we see today, in a sense they even developed into full blown subcultures. These men provided answers (both in a fiction and nonfiction context) to some of the deep, troubling questions that are inherent to humanity; and their work as well as work like it set the stage for a modern obsession with magic, darkness, the afterlife, what have you.

However, as serious as those two representatives of the genre are, like with most developing thematics in the modern day the genre became much friendlier, much more approachable, in a sense: commodified. Horror became the go-to genre for a cheap thrill. Serious exultations on the nature of the afterlife became second in importance over time to the joy that the aping of such seriousness provided via films like Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. Lydia Deetz is no less an explorer of that other realm than a narrator out of a Lovecraftian story, however, the tonality had completely changed, it had become approachable, and the necessity for something more shocking took form not in the mystery of the unknown, but in the form of increasing gore. Commodification was not just thematic (the lightening of the genre simply allowed for such): the real result can be seen in Halloween stores and Hot Topics across America. This has reached a fevered pitch in recent history too, simply look at the entertainment juggernaut that is the Harry Potter series: not only in the form of seven books and eight movies, but by the fact that you can purchase in real life almost anything witnessed in the story, not to mention visit a physical representation of it in the form of a theme park!

These results make it clear that occultism has reached a peak level of cultural relevance, notably in recent pop culture, however, how has this manifested in the world of super heroes? A myriad of interesting ways actually, most notably with the induction of DCs (now passé) “New 52” reboot of their comic universe. One of my favorite properties (which I will discuss more roundly soon), Justice League Dark, appealed enough to readers for its first issue to be one of the top 100 best-selling comic books of 2011. For a completely new title (one that was designed to launch with “The New 52”) this is fantastic, and shows a clear interest in the subgenre in the medium of comic books. Even the big bad from the first storyline, Enchantress (a large figure of the occult in comics herself), gets a role in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie.

This trending towards that topic can be seen even more recently with their relaunch of the Doctor Fate book in 2015, also, the character’s extensive inclusion in animated properties, specifically Young Justice. This representation of the character truly touches on some of the darker thematics associated with him: a concentration on the possessive nature of the character, the embodiment of the unknown and unknowable in human form, even the sacrifice on most make while facing the dark energies of the occult. This is not some cookie cutter magician being portrayed; this is a genuine explorer of the dark and vast adventures outside of human experience.

This isn’t limited to static pages, however, as we will see our first big occult-based hero blockbuster later this year with Doctor Strange. Truly, a film showing the epic nature of occult powers hasn’t been properly do-able until recently with the technology and computer graphics afforded by modern filmmaking. Maybe we can see for the first time, the closest we can in pure physical reality at least, the grand nature of the world-bending (literally, in the case of the trailer) powers suggested by the subgenre! The focus of such a film will need to be wide-ranging, and it will be interesting to see how director Scott Derrickson handles that.

That would not be the first foray of film into the world of the comic book occult, however, lest we forget 2005’s Constantine, an uneven if enjoyable foray of this subgenre into moving pictures. The same character, however, might be having a much more pronounced impact recently thanks to what was considered a fantastic representation in the recently cancelled TV series Constantine. Matt Ryan’s portrayal of the character was much, much closer than Keanu Reeves’ in the film version and good enough that it has bagged him a spot as the voice of John Constantine in the upcoming DC animated feature Justice League Dark.

As much as Doctor Strange will be the big reveal of the occult to the larger audience of the world, the Justice League Dark animated feature serves as a sort of culmination of these occult themes for fans of the genre. The comic book itself set the stakes for how a comic book can be “dark” (just look in issue #1 of the comic, when to show signs of the world going mad, a reference to “cows giving birth to meat slicers” is made). This property is meant to appeal to adults, clearly, however it also is looking for the visceral horror of the mystery and shadowed darkness of humanity that occult themes offer. The Justice League Dark property even has enough thematic sway and darkness to lure in the interest of one of today’s best horror directors, Guillermo Del Toro, and while the rumors of him directing a DCEU movie for the supernatural squad seem to have fallen through, just the fact that a face of horror such as Del Toro is looking at this shows how thematically ripe it is.

While animated features don’t retain the following of much larger live action features, the world of Justice League Dark is one that deserves to be explored. Also, its production heralds a sort of concentration on the subgenre of the occult that fits so well into the world of comic books and superhero movies. The Walking Dead has been the best-selling comic for a while now, I think in no small part due to its approach to the darkness and mystery described above. However, this is not just a genre for realist dramas; the nature of superhuman interaction itself seems to be destined to brush with the supernatural, something that has already been accomplished successfully in the medium and, I hope, will be fleshed out with the varied occult titles to be released. In the end, what is more appealing to the base desires of humanity than the ideas of the unknown, the enigmatic, the shadowy, the strange? How deep can super heroes now delve into not only the nature of what it is to be human, but what it is to be superhuman or even supernatural? It remains to be seen, but to be sure, this is a theme that deserves exploration, and if the creators of these worlds want to breach the realm of the truly unexplainable and mesmerizing, this is where they have to begin. Maybe, in the end, they can find some of that knowledge of the hidden.

How To Bring Deadpool to the Movies

deadpoolscoop Fox Studios has finally given Deadpool an official release date. After years of speculation, talks of an amazing script, and faux progress reports from principle actors and writers this movie is upon us. February 12, 2016 will bring with it either one of the most unique comic book experiences from Fox or possibly its worst. The character of Deadpool is by all means a thing that works extremely well on the pages of a comic book. He has a unique set of circumstances that won't be easy to overcome in a live action movie, but with a bit of light tweaking he has the chance to be a break out hit.

To quickly get an understanding of the nature of the character, lets take a look at the "leaked" (never believed this wasn't anything more than a marketing tactic) test footage. This is pretty spot on Deadpool in just about every way. It even features Ryan Reynolds mo-capping and voicing the character:

The one thing with Deadpool is he, above the average comic book character, changes so drastically depending who is writing him. Deadpool has always been a goofy character, often spending time jumping back and forth from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to general ninja bad ass. He is extremely comedic and sometimes it can be a bit much. Can audiences stand 1.5 hours of pancakes and chimichanga jokes? While classic fans of the character would likely love it, this is not ideal for a movie for the average movie goer.

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Another issue with Deadpool is that he is completely self-aware. He often breaks the fourth wall (speaks directly to the comic reader or audience). He knows that he is in a comic book and addresses things that happen in the real world from time to time. Its one of the core things about the character that is so vastly different from every other comic book character we've seen on the big screen so far. Some have complained that having that be a factor would ruin the comic book movie universe that Fox has built. I don't think that would be the case. He is largely seen as being insane by mostly everyone he interacts with, so I would play to that aspect in the movie. I am personally a sucker for fourth wall breaking in movies. It just adds a dimension to a run of the mill story that can't be matched. Deadpool lives in that space of uniqueness, this aspect of his personality is a must.

So when I mentioned earlier about the hyper comedic ways that Deadpool is often portrayed I cringe at the thought of having to read his books when he is written that way. It likes too much sugar in your Kool-Aid. Sounds great at first but then you get that weird stomach ache. So how do you address this? Well you can go one of two ways, both with their pros and cons. First you can make Deadpool not a goofy character but rather have him crack just a few jokes and focus on the action. Similar to what Sam Raimi did with Spider-man. In that trilogy Tobey McGuire never really cracked wise while fighting. He had a couple of cheesy quips but all and all he just focused on winning the fight. It seemed to go over well with many non-comic readers, but more hardcore fans missed the Spider-man they know. Another way to address the goofiness is the sanitize Deadpool with a more serious partner. Obviously, that position would be ideal for his old parter Cable; think Lethal Weapon. Deadpool is Riggs and Cable is undoubtedly Murtaugh. The issue here would be a diluting of Deadpool in his own movie. While a buddy cop comic book movie is inevitable and frankly overdue, I don't think for Deadpool's first real outing this makes sense.

So how do we overcome this seemingly massive hurdle of comedy overload? The answer has already been given to us in the form of Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña's Uncanny X-Force run. Mixing together the rather hyper violent and comedic elements of Deadpool, Remender was able to write him in a 'twisted view of the world' sort of way. Never fully going into the routine that of a clown, rather Deadpool danced on that line. Take the image below for example. In this scene Archangel is dying, and Deadpool revives him with some "food."

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Here subtly (this IS subtle for Deadpool) is the key to his twisted humor. I don't recommend that approach for the entire film, but moments like this are what will keep people from getting annoyed and stay true to the character's outlook on life.

The extreme light hearted nature of the character is equally balanced with his propensity for unbelievable violence. In order to make this work the film would seemingly need an R rating. However, rumor has it Fox isn't going to do that, but rather shoot solidly for PG-13. I don't think a PG-13 rating is the end of the world, but it does handicap the project somewhat. With the PG-13 rating we can expect bloodless shootings, fast cutting sword work, and one or two F-bombs. The violence plays as such a key component to his comedic ways that the writing for this will need to be top notch. For the record, the script was written by the guys behind Zombieland (Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese).

Hyper comedy, hyper violence, and a need to speak to the screen makes Deadpool a very risky move for Fox Studios. However, in that risk lies a possibility to adapt a character with a tremendous fan base. The risks are very high, but the reward for a new property in the X-Men universe is very seductive. Come February 12, 2016 will shall see just which way Fox decided to go.

How would you address the issues with translating Deadpool to the big screen? Let us know in the comments!

Comicbook TV Shows: Together or Apart?

SuperheroTVshows As Gotham and The Flash enter into the budding television space that Arrow and Agents of SHIELD seem to dominate, the questions of cohesion begin to arise. Marvel and DC are natural rivals in both comicbooks and films at this point. It looks like television will be no exception. Currently, it would be very hard to argue that DC is not wiping the floor with Marvel when it comes to these weekly hero series. However, in 2015 with the inclusion of the Netflix programming Marvel may catch up or even surpass DC overnight. The two companies have always gone about things in different ways and their show strategies differ as well.

So with no surprise we get news last week that a Teen Titans show is in the pipeline and headed for the cable channel, TNT. That's yet another one of DC's properties headed to the small screen and on good rumor Supergirl is headed to television sooner rather than later as well. So what does all this mean to the average viewer and average comicbook fan? I have said many times on the show that I am not to keen on superhero TV shows but I can't argue with the success of The CW's Arrow. Seemingly building off of that triumph soon comes The Flash. The two shows are connected and that will likely benefit both. However, the other shows based on DC comic properties: Gotham, Constantine, Teen Titans, and Supergirl will all likely not be joined to the "Arrow-verse." Compare that to Marvel's strategy of one cohesive universe of movies and television series which grows further starting in 2015 with Daredevil on Netflix. So is one formula better than the other? I don't think its fair to say just yet. Arrow is clearly the best of all these shows but some stiff competition is coming very soon.

I personally prefer the cohesive method to the disjointed one. Look at the boost Agents of SHIELD had due to the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Undeniably that show got markedly better after the Chris Evans led sequel hit the theaters. However, the show will likely suffer in season 2 from not being able to keep up that movie level of suspense. DC's properties will likely flourish on their own to differing degrees but in the end they have painted themselves into a corner that Marvel is in with their movie universe; limited rosters and crossover potential. Now we all know the history as to why Marvel is in that situation, but why DC would purposefully put themselves there is beyond me.

Another issue with DC's television setup is timelines. Teen Titans brings with it some Batman mythos and that on its own is great. However, Batman causes some issues here. So with Teen Titans we have early 20 something Nightwing, Gotham gives us Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) as a young kid, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice gives us 40 something year old Batman. That's a lot of timelines for average TV/movie goers to manage. The argument of "that's how comics are as well" is a poor one here in my opinion. The average person watching TV isn't the same as the average comicbook reader so confusion and frustration will happen.

So what do you think? Are both strategies equally valid or do you prefer one over another?

Marvel Characters that should get a shot at Television

Marvel-logo With the recent news of Marvel Studios shopping around a 60 episode block to be shared between a reported 4 shows, the internet is abuzz with possiblities. Fans have been speculating what should be Marvel's next step, and many names are being thrown out there for consideration. Marvel's first television attempt, Agents of SHIELD, has enjoyed a level of success but fans seem to be craving more established heroes and villains on the small screen. Here are a few options that I thought could be cool to see on a weekly basis or on a video on demand service such as Netflix, which is rumored to be a consideration.

Daredevil

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We have talked about him many times as the most logical choice when it comes to bringing out some moderately big comic names to television. Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer by day, and an ass whooping blind vigilante by night. His show could be a cross between a crime procedural like Law and Order and Showtime's favorite murdering vigilante, Dexter. The similarities between Dexter and Daredevil are very clear. The main difference being that Daredevil is not out for murder, just justice. Due to his costume, special abilities, and distinct life outside of being a costume hero this show works perfectly as a serious adult oriented show that deals more with the criminal underbelly of the Marvel Universe. Also, it could pave the way for comedic cameos by She-Hulk who is also a lawyer.

Runaways

The Runaways

The Runaways were discussed as a Marvel film years ago, but once the Avengers initiative got going they got pushed to the side. Currently, Marvel has no teen or children heroes in their group. This is where you solve that problem. A group of teens who find out that their parents are actually super villains team up and discover they also have abilities. Teens versus parents, growing up issues, interconnected with their admiration for the other established universe heroes like The Avengers and you've got a fun series. The comedic elements of the comic series are well written and there is no reason for that not to continue on television. Something like Runaways hits the target demographic and allows for more Marvel universe insanity. For example, one girl in the group has a pet dinosaur, who becomes sort of like a mascot for the group. They ride around in the 'Leapfrog,' which is a frog like car/plane and fight smaller named villains. This is a perfect out of left field choice.

 Heroes for Hire

Heroes for Hire

Powerman and Iron Fist are two heroes who can really open up the Marvel universe. For their associations alone, they possess the unique ability to give the universe a little more color. Think of a Heroes for Hire show like a super power buddy cop show. They roll with a crew of hilarious badasses: Misty Knight, Shang-Chi, Moon Knight, Humbug, and many others. They probably have the most rotating roster of any superhero team next to The Avengers. I feel like the show could strike a perfect action/comedy balance like the Lethal Weapon movies did.

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Hawkeye

Let me just say this is NOT going to happen. However, it would great to see Matt Fraction's current run of Hawkeye on television. The character is explored when he isn't off fighting alien invasions, but rather just hanging in his neighborhood. From dealing with small scale thugs to people thinking his name is "Hawkguy" the potential series is there. Having the A-list hero running around on the rough streets as a regular guy would be absolutely hilarious. The way the comic is written even feels like serialized television featuring an Avenger on his weekends off.

The Punisher

The Punisher

Frank Castle is one of the easiest to understand yet the most frequently screwed up Marvel properties. He has no powers and he just uses guns. He is angry that his family was killed and now the criminal world must pay; simple enough. He is a brutal and violent sociopath who cares nothing for the rules of law. Where Daredevil cares to bring people to justice via the law, The Punisher wishes the same but through the barrel of a gun. This would be a show that was pushed to adult audiences only. If the last Punisher movie was any indication the violence will need to be extreme for fans to approve. This ain't your regular broadcast tv material. So Netflix or some video on demand service would be likely.

Big Hero 6

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This is going to be the least obvious one to most reading this. The odd ragtag team of Japanese heroes are in fact apart of the Marvel Universe. The story follows the smartest boy in Japan named Hiro and his teammates Go-Go Tamago, Wasabi No-Ginger, Honey Lemon, Baymax, and Fred as they fight the forces of villainy in Japan and abroad. Its a weird mesh of Japanese Anime and Marvel storytelling. The popular run in 2008 was even written by Chris Claremont. The adolescent humor coupled with the wackiness of anime makes for an interesting read. The show could expand the current fan base into anime nerds as well. Its a long shot, but you never know.

What are some other properties that you would like to see tried out on the small screen? Let us know in the comments.