Category: TV


Black Lightning is the latest character from Greg Berlanti’s DC Comics “Arrowverse” taking your TV by storm.  Cress Williams plays the new CW series lead character, school principal Jefferson Pierce by day, masked superhero with actual energy-harnessing powers when called upon.  Raising two daughters, divorced from their mother, and trying to lead the kids in his community in a world full of hate and prejudice, this superhero is very different from what we’ve seen from DC on TV.  On paper Black Lightning sounds a bit like The Incredibles, with a retired hero returning to the superhero business.  But this isn’t all fun and games superhero antics like the other CW shows.

The superhero debuted in the comic book Black Lightning, Issue #1, forty years ago.  Writers Tony Isabella and Dennis O’Neil wrote the original stories, with artwork by legendary artist Trevor Von Eeden.  Black Lightning is the first DCU major African-American superhero, and rounds out the key classic African-American male superheroes of decades past to make modern on-screen appearances, along with Anthony Mackey’s Falcon, Mike Colter’s Luke Cage, and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, all from the Marvel universe. 

Episode one of Black Lightning makes for a solid pilot, and is re-airing on the CW network tonight.  The stakes in the series are real, it’s more grounded in reality than the other DC Comics shows, more like the Netflix Marvel Universe television series.  The pace, choice of music, and tone are similar to Marvel’s Luke Cage, the other superhero based on a 1970s black lead comic book title in a current TV series.  Principal Pierce stopped being a superhero for nine years–he had originally become Black Lightning to fight a villain named Tobias Whale and a string of mobsters, to give people hope, but he made a commitment to his wife to stop the violent lifestyle.  But crime is worse now and when his youngest daughter is in the wrong place at the wrong time, he has no choice but to make his return.  He says he saved more lives as a principal than he could have as a superhero and he doesn’t want to go back.

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Line early

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I’m not sure anyone likes to wait in lines.  When you wait in line at a restaurant it just means more time to get hungry and cranky.  When you wait in line to check-in at your hotel, it means more time holding your backpack or moving your luggage along beside you before you can deposit it on the floor of your room.  When you wait in line at the DMV, the post office or any government agency, you can really start to hate all government and think Ron Paul is amazing.  When you have only two minutes to make your movie and the line in front of you is full of teens not sure of what movie they want to watch, you might consider less strict rules on 48th trimester abortions.  I’m not going to say that waiting in line at Comic-Con is awesome, but I tend to get a lot less impatient in the realm of the Convention Center of San Diego during one weekend in July.

There are a couple of reasons why.  First, as a multiple attendee of Comic-Con, it has slowly dawned on me that there are thousands of people with the same interests as me that all crave the same scoops, information and presence of the creators.  Second, once I realized there are at least one hundred thousand people crowded onto sidewalks in a 30-block area, I thought that moving quickly in any direction is a lost cause.  Third, most everyone at Comic-Con is pretty damn cool, well “cool” in a wonderful nerdy way.

However, Hall H is a completely different breed of line.  It is Godzilla to the DMV’s Western Skink.  It is King Kong to your hotel’s Pygmy Marmoset.  It is the monster truck Bigfoot to your grocery store’s matchbox car.  Still, it’s Comic-Con, so even though it is the worst of the lines, it’s still pretty ok.

Line earlier

6,130 people can fit in Hall H.  (The next biggest space, Ballroom 20, can host 4,250 and the adventures in that line can be very similar.)  To give you an idea of what it is like to wait in line for a panel in Hall H, I’m going to construct a timeline from my memories and texts to describe and to possibly prepare you for years to come at Comic-Con.  Most times are approximate, though the first is spot on because it burned in my memory as the thought, “What the hell am I doing?” seared it in my mind.  Some events are fictional and others are exaggerated to improve your reading pleasure on the subject of lines.  I won’t tell you which ones.

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By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Since the wonderful CJ Bunce mentioned Comic-Con last week, I figured I would work in a mention of its “wonder”ful cousin.  Next weekend marks my first time attending WonderCon (March 16-18 at the Anaheim Convention Center).  Last year, I planned to go in San Francisco, but I needed to move out of my apartment fast (never, ever, think that you can get a guitarist and a drummer to stop playing music at 3 am in the apartment below you) and it happened on WonderCon weekend.  So, now that it has moved to Anaheim, in my comparative backyard, I’ve already started to plan everything. I’ve found my train ticket.  I’ve alerted my hiking buddies that I won’t be available.  I’ve told people hosting a party on Saturday that I may be late due to a “wonder”ful engagement.  (I’ll stop that now.)

The next step: figure out which panels to see.  I know one that is easy.  Sunday at 3 pm is the Community panel.  I haven’t been able to catch it at Comic-Con due to long, long, LONG lines.  I missed PaleyFest.  Now, I hope that I get my chance to just sit back and enjoy sixty minutes and a movie-like clip.  (FYI–PaleyFest has a few days left).

Then I found Ruby and Spears and it looked pretty obvious as a must attend.  At first I saw the name and thinking of mash-ups (Have you seen The Charming Man-Video Games one?)  I thought it would be a Wizard of Oz, Game of Thrones mash-up and that would be awesome.  It turned out to be even more so.  This is a panel for Joe Ruby and Ken Spears.  I’m just going to quote most of the panel description so that you can jump up and down in place like I am doing:

“Since the sixties, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears have been the most successful writing, creating, and producing team in Saturday morning television. Among the shows they brought you were ‘Scooby-Doo,’ ‘Wacky Racers,’ ‘Jabberjaw,’ ‘Dynomutt,’ ‘Thundarr The Barbarian,’ ‘Plastic Man,’ and dozens of others.”

Raise your hand if you had Dynomutt or Plastic Man comic books?  I’m sure that if I had them, so did CJ Bunce, because I knew as soon as he mentioned Laff-a-Lympics that we were buying the same titles when we were comparative tykes and probably watching those same Saturday morning cartoons from this panel.

Next comes the “20th Century Fox: Prometheus and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter…in 3D” panel.  You might think I’m going to see this because I’m a movie buff.  Well, that’s a little bit of it.  Mostly though it’s because of Damon Lindelof is the co-screenwriter of Prometheus and I’ve seen how well he did promoting Lost at Comic-Con.  So, I have high hopes for his performance at WonderCon.

Lastly, there’s this brief hint from DC Comics in the description of their panel.  “DC Comics: All Access Special Edition— Don’t miss this panel about the sure-to-be most talked about project of 2012!”  You had me at “DC.”

But, that’s all I have so far. I need help. Do you have any suggestions for any panels that I should add? I know if I can get over to the Marvel one at 4 pm on Saturday (after the DC one) that would be a good one as well.  The J. Michael Straczynski Writing Workshop could be cool – if I can find a late night train after it ends at 7 pm.  But, I know from going to Comic-Con that trying to cram in everything is just an exercise in frustration.  It never works that well.  The beautiful thing, it will be around next year.  These conventions are too big to go anywhere.  Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, relax and just take it all in.  Talk to a stranger.  Look at art.  Buy some new comics you’ve never seen before.  It’s all part of the fun.

Still, if you know of anything really cool, please let me know.  Rushing around to something cool is worth a little frustration.

 

Episode VII poster

If you have any doubt Patton Oswalt (Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Starsky & Hutch, The King of Queens, Dollhouse, Community, Caprica, Burn Notice) is a genius, or comedian, or improv performer, good actor, or all-around cool guy, this week should remove that doubt.  borg.com writer Jason McClain is a fan of Parks and Recreation and has championed the series at borg.com here before.  To advertise Oswalt’s guest appearance on the show last night NBC released this completely improvised scene of Oswalt performing a filibuster before the show’s city council.  It illustrates a lot about how this guy’s brain works and that he’s solidly a genre fan like the rest of us.  

Parks and Rec logo

So check out Oswalt’s vision for the next Star Wars movie (a cool Boba Fett opener!), tying in the Marvel Universe (Moon Knight!  Wolverine’s clone daughter X-23!  Hercules!) and some good ideas you could actually see J.J. Abrams taking seriously (um, minus the Chewbacca one, that is), as well as a good recall of tidbits of Star Wars and Marvel trivia. 

The background extras really had their work cut out for them by keeping straight faces, although you can see five young guys in the back that are totally engaged in Oswalt’s story almost ready to crack.

Bravo!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

As I drive back and forth to visit my parents in Arizona, I use those long solitary times in the car to listen to podcasts. “WNYC’s Radiolab,” “the memory palace,” “Thrilling Adventure Hour,” “A History of the World in 100 Objects,” “Doug Loves Movies” and “The Sports Poscast” all satisfy different moods and help make the drive a chance for laughs, learning and great stories.  On my past visit, I queued up the two-hour plus “Poscast” from 3/14/2012 featuring Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur as I drove across the Mojave Desert.  The first half concentrated on my favorite sport, baseball, and discussions and predictions regarding the upcoming season.  (Go Cardinals).  The second half concerned something that I think all readers of borg.com can get behind – a draft of the characters of Star Wars.  (Star Wars was defined as Episode IV through Episode VI – any other movies never had existed.  That is the correct view).

So, as much as I loved the baseball discussion (go Cardinals, again) this draft excited me.  My one addition to the draft (everyone’s a critic) – I would have drafted Biggs.  The idea of an infinite universe and somehow two friends from Tatooine end up flying X-wings together is better than just running into someone you know on the streets of Chicago or in a café in Paris (though both of those are pretty awesome).  It’s just my idea of magic and what I read into the trilogy, though all of their picks made perfect sense.  I still am up in the air about who would have won – each team had two Jedis, each team had people good with blasters and the last pick, though one was much more powerful, one was a lot more lucky.  As far as favorites go though, I have to side with Schur’s draft.  He had the first pick and of course he took Han Solo and the ensuing discussion got me to thinking.  That moment they cite as the favorite Han moment, that moment that we all want for ourselves, the moment where chills run through me, my hair stands on end and my eyes well up is the Millennium Falcon shooting a TIE Fighter out of space, disrupting Darth Vader’s shot on Luke’s X-wing, and Han exclaiming, “You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home.”

The rogue becomes a hero.  He is in it for more than the money, he has a heart.  He cares enough to love something.  We all want to be that person.  In continuing to think about that, it ran up against my thoughts of Community as I finally got to see a panel for the show at WonderCon the previous Sunday.  Then, I finally had my epiphany on my love of this show and other well crafted ones like Schur’s own Parks and Recreation.

We all love Star Wars.  It’s a great story.  However, the characters are archetypes and therefore, we can vicariously insert ourselves into them and become the hero.  We can “play” Han and Luke and Leia as kids because the simple traits that they have don’t intrude on our true personalities.  We all want to be heroes.  We all want to find that cause to champion.  We will defend ourselves.  We will defend our friends.  We will save the girl or the boy with our own bravery and pluck.

On the other hand, you look at a Jeff Winger or a Leslie Knope and you run into something different and that is specifics.  Winger is a lawyer.  He cheated his way into becoming a lawyer and once he was found out, he had to return to community college to earn his degree.  He knows how to talk himself out of about any situation and can convince about anyone to do anything, but he’s learning that isn’t always a good thing.  He’s trying to coast through college because he doesn’t know how to work hard and study.  His Halloween costumes are just excuses to dress well and show off his good looks.  He once wet himself playing foosball.  He’s an agnostic.  He interferes with others’ relationships.  He stinks at pottery and it can infuriate him.

We know Leslie is a tireless worker in the Parks Department.  We know her mother intimidates her, but that she looks up to her success in city government.  Her mom can be a rival for the affection of a man like Ben Wyatt – and she will stand up to her to fight for him.  She will prepare 72 hours of reading for her best friend Ann Perkins to do in 12 hours for an interview Ann never wanted.  She’ll risk her career for love, but she won’t give up either because she wants it all.  She’ll steal artwork to protect it from censors.

We can’t project ourselves onto these people – they’re too different.  There may be some similarities, but I doubt there is a real Leslie Knope or Jeff Winger or Britta Perry or Ron Swanson or Abed Nadir.  However, because they are so likable, we can project ourselves into Greendale or into Pawnee, Indiana because we want to hang out with them for the 22 minutes every week.  Then I have to shift to first person as my adventures of driving an hour to WonderCon after waking up at 5 am to volunteer at the L.A. Marathon to go and sit in a room for two hours watching the two previous panels just to be sure I can get an early viewing of “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” and see my first Community panel after two years of Comic-Con disappointment due to not getting to the line in time, because my experience is more specific.  (It also deserves more than one, long, rambling sentence).

Following the episode, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chris McKenna, Ken Jeong, Dan Harmon and Steve Basilone assembled at the panel table in front of the huge crowd.  We found out that in the 18-34 demographic Community beat American Idol, which got a huge cheer.  Then Yvette prefaced her comments by saying that “Dan Harmon is broken” and thanked the audience for their support, because through all of the tributes, they can feel that love for the show.  The best line was, “The fact that you guys walked away from your computers and watched us live and got us those numbers, it’s magic.”  Even though I’ve seen this week’s show, I’ll be watching again live, though no one will count it.  If you have a Nielsen box, please do the same.

Some of my other favorite moments of the panel:

While discussing the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” that the moderator attributed to Chris McKenna, he said, “We have a writing staff.  Dan came in and vomited up a bunch of ideas for it and we picked through the vomit.”

Gillian mentioned going to Comic-Con last year and a few people whooped, while Dan jumped in and said, “You guys like comic books?”

Steve describes the episode “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” as “retardedly awesome” and the moderator steps in and asks, “Are there any retardedly awesome people in the audience?”  (As an aside, I love How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Scrooged as my favorite holiday entertainments, but this year, I just watched “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”  It’s easily in the top 3 of Christmas for me now).

The interplay between Yvette and Dan when Yvette started talking about Dan’s skills with rap flow and lyrics and Dan’s humility deflecting it to a voicemail from Chevy Chase that says he won’t live past 57.  Most of it is Dan going in to detail and Yvette repeatedly saying, “Harmon.”

The character of Britta was just a list of stuff that the writers (and Dan) considered as things they found attractive in a woman.  Then a female writer, Hilary Winston then said that she didn’t like Britta and gave Dan the reasons.  Dan then said, “Instead of changing the character, I thought, ok so that’s who Britta is.  She’s the woman that women don’t like.”

Dan again on Britta and other female characters, “What creates a good female character is a guy forgetting that it’s a female character.”  Then Yvette added, “It works for diversity as well.”  Then Yvette and Dan went into another dialogue, as Dan got a little humorously offensive about writing about race and talked about going to RaceCon.

Re-listening to the panel, it didn’t strike me then because I had no clue who it was, but I have to say that Gillian is pretty darn correct in the fact that she can resemble the later-in-life Michael Jackson that she plays in “Contemporary Impressionists.”

Just re-reading this, the differences between a fan of Community or Parks and Recreation and a fan of Star Wars (heck, they’re probably the same people a lot of the times) are not that great.  The characters have more depth in the TV show because they have over 20 hours to develop over three seasons instead of six hours over three movies.  Fans get crazy excited about all three.  I just want to figure out what makes a show like Community so special to me and that makes me spend the past few days watching my DVDs of seasons 1 and 2.  I thought the idea that I wouldn’t play a sitcom out with friends when I was a kid might be that germ of understanding because of the character depth.  Then again, if I were ten again, maybe I would “play” Community.  I get to be Troy.

To get to borg.com’s first anniversary it actually took us 366 days because of the leap year.  And what a year it has been!

So what do we have to show for 366 daily posts–our attempt to keep you up to date on what is going on in science fiction, fantasy, and entertainment news?

Jason McClain and Elizabeth C. Bunce

We interviewed some great people, like DC Comics artists Freddie Williams and Mikel Janin, writers Sharon Shinn and Jai Nitz, and Star Trek insider Penny Juday.  In our “Sneak preview” series we reviewed the pilots for new TV series ABC’s New Girl and NBC’s Awake before they were broadcast on TV.  We gave you our take on several opening weekend screenings of a big year in movies from Cowboys & Aliens to Green Lantern, from the last Harry Potter film to Daniel Radcliffe’s first big adult role in The Woman in Black,  to the day of Marvel Comics movies that led up to the U.S. premiere of The Avengers We shared the first images released of The Hobbit and Total Recall We reviewed new books and classic sci-fi books in our “Retro reviews,” from Philip K. Dick, Ian Fleming, Michael Crichton, Rex Stout, Ernest Cline, and Richard Stark, and several non-fiction books about the “behind the scenes” of movies.  We covered Comic-Con International, Wondercon, Planet Comicon, Free Comic Book Day and the early release party for Avengers vs. X-Men We reviewed dozens of new comic book series, from Morning Glories to Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising and a whole slew of DC’s New 52 reboot, as well as Marvel Comics’ limited series events.  Along with that we’ve kept tabs on our (and hopefully your) favorite things like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Walking Dead, Peter Jackson, baseball, Community, Benedict Cumberbatch, the Syfy Channel, USA Network, James Bond, Batman and Green Arrow.  We’ve posted lots of original comic art to get an eye on the creative process of the artist, and we loved discussing genre costumes, including the latest news about incredible screen-used prop and costume auctions.  We’ve also taken a closer look at science fiction movies with our “Anatomy of science fiction” series, featuring iconic images, and the evolution of space suits in film.  And to give you ideas for movie watching from the archives, we provided our “favorites” and “best of” series, revealing our recommendations for overlooked TV series, Halloween flicks, favorite fantasy films, best adaptations, favorite characters, and best art of Alex Ross and Frank Cho.  We’ve profiled favorite genre stars like David Warner, John Carpenter and Mark Sheppard.  We’ve reviewed new compact discs from some of our favorite celebrities, Hugh Laurie and Zoey Deschanel, as well as new fantasy video games.  And finally, we’ve talked about borgs from every sci-fi franchise out there, and even how borg technology as cutting edge science affects humans in real life.

Art Schmidt and CJ Bunce

We think we like what you’d like, so we’ve tried to help you get the most out of entertainment by recommending to you the best sci-fi, fantasy and entertainment out there.

A personal thanks to professional writers Elizabeth C. Bunce (fantasy author, intrepid TV reviewer and fangirl), Jason McClain (Hollywood columnist and master of myriad musings) and Art Schmidt (diehard genre fan and fantasy realm connoisseur) for their great contributions and getting us more than 250,000 site visits and hundreds of positive feedback comments in only our first year.

Thanks for reading!  Year 2 begins tomorrow…

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Before midnight Thursday night Firefly fans were already lined up for Ballroom 20 at the San Diego Convention Center.  I say Firefly fans not because I interviewed them all, but because it was well known why most of them were waiting in line, despite the fact that the panels in the same room included the cast of the TV series Community, Korra, Bones, and Arrow.  I would wager I was the only person there in line to see the pilot for the new fall TV series Arrow, among maybe 7,000 people by the time the doors opened, who stood in line for the day of panels in the big hall.  I’m a lifelong Green Arrow fan, and I could hardly profess being the #1 Green Arrow fan around and miss the Arrow panel.  But if you’re a sci-fi fan of one franchise you’re a sci-fi fan of all, and I’d received advance press releases about the Firefly reunion and thought it sounded like a big deal so I was really curious about it.  I also am a fan of Adam Baldwin from his My Bodyguard days through Chuck as well as actor Alan Tudyk.

Because it was my first year with Comic-Con press credentials I flew out anyway with friends (sadly without my spousal unit who stayed behind) and met up with my old friend and borg.com writer Jason McClain.  Everyone turned in early Thursday night by my standards.  The bus stop at Petco Field had changed which led me to walk by the front of the convention center and about 200 uber-fans already camped out and many fast asleep around 12:30 a.m. Friday.  After a few weeks of 100 degree temperatures in the Midwest it occurred to me how nice the cool sea breeze felt.  I like to sleep on a firm mattress–the harder the better.  Hmm… how bad is sleeping on cement anyway?  I initially had no intention of visiting any panels this year but figured I’d just hang out in the exhibit hall for the weekend.  Why not see what this camping out at the Con thing is all about?  I headed to my hotel and on the bus met folks on their way back to the center for the Firefly panel.  Nowhere close to feeling like winding down for the night I took a shower, changed into my Friday clothes, grabbed some extra shirts and headed back on the bus toward downtown at about 1 a.m.

One to two hundred more people were in line and I caught up with the people from St. Louis I met on the bus.  I nestled in with my backpack as a pillow under a palm tree on some nice lawn turf.  Not so bad!  New friends Cody and Sam even offered me their hotel pillows.  The night life was surprisingly peaceful, a true Zen moment.  Back in the line everyone was still bustling but gradually teetering on the edge of sleep.  Conversations about where neighbors in line were from and what they did and what they like.  Who they were, what they were doing, where they were going.  Why they liked The Walking Dead.  Why they didn’t like The Walking Dead.  The low murmur of card playing and conversation lulled by the hour until a kid started running down the line at 3 a.m. shouting “Joss Whedon just stopped by the front of the line!”

No one really believed it, but likewise, if Whedon really was there no one wanted to miss seeing him.  People got up one by one to walk toward the front of the line.  A trusting crowd, people left their things behind–the only time you could get away with this in any city on Earth.  Expecting at best to see Whedon with a series of “handlers,” instead there he was talking one by one with folks in the line.  Soon everyone mobbed around him, and what you’d think would be one-off photos with a few fans, he soon was taking photos with anyone who asked, meanwhile autographing copies of Firefly DVDs and Comic-Con badges for those who had nothing else to get signed.  Sensitive to the sleepers, he said he didn’t think he should wake them up.  I (and others) thought they’d feel pretty lousy later finding out they missed seeing him and we walked ahead waking people up.  He leaned in on several people who awakened with looks of not knowing where they were or who this guy was who was talking to them.  It was quite funny to see.  We were all really caught offguard.

At best when celebrities show up to meet “the people on the street” they shake a few hands, have their publicity moment, the camera lights dim and they jump in their car in drive away.   Like when U.S. Presidents who stop their cavalcade to shake a few hands.  In this case, Whedon did something I’d never seen or heard of before.  He went through the entire line and acknowledged everyone, which took at least a half an hour.  And there was no camera crew there.  In fact I have seen no major press coverage of his visit at all.  I and a crew from a Southern California magazine were probably the only thing close to press around.  The energy was palpable.  Exciting doesn’t come close.  This guy just directed The Avengers, the new top selling movie of all time and the best reviewed superhero flick in decades.  He created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the best vampire franchise ever with a phenomenal fan base in its own right.  But for his past shows he hadn’t done this before.  Firefly, his own concocted western story set in outer space, clearly holds a special place for Whedon.

You can tell from the quiet and nervous crowd laughter that folks were pretty surprised.  Check out this video by one of my 5,000 new friends that I didn’t get to meet, who just happened take footage of me getting a photo taken with Whedon that I stumbled across on YouTube (THANKS, whoever you are!):

And I may look a little presumptious stepping in for a photo but trust me, we all took turns rotating in for a photo or autograph.  That’s what he was there for.  No one asked him typical celebrity questions.  It was all pretty quiet and everyone half asleep.  I did hear someone shout out “How about doing a Wonder Woman movie next time?”

Your own photo with Joss Whedon? Priceless.

The constellations aligned just right for this day, and after Whedon went on to his hotel no one could get back to sleep.  We heard he made this stop to our line on his way back to his hotel after a late ending party.  Not thinking I’d need any technology on this outing I worked with the gang from the SoCal magazine to get photos uploaded and online.  See my 3:30 a.m. photos posted here.  (Thanks for letting me use your laptop, guys!).

My new friends from a SoCal magazine.

And so we waited and talked.  For nine more hours.  And it never got boring.  I didn’t even bring a book to read.  You may have read before about visitors to Comic-Con.  One hundred and fifty thousand like-minded, self-professed geeks and nerds (and all proud of it), you will find no better community anywhere.  Folks watched out for each other.  The convention security staff opened the doors for restroom and water fountain visits.  You can’t imagine a more peaceful assemblage of thousands of people with a common cause–not only having fun for fun’s sake, but believing in being part of something bigger.  I connected with a few great guys from near my hometown in Iowa who sat next to me in the ballroom.  The community aspect came through in what Whedon would talk about during the panel.  “When you’re telling a story, you are trying to connect to people in a particular way.  It’s not just about what you want to say, it’s about inviting them into a world and the way in which you guys have inhabited this world, this universe, have made you part of it, part of the story.  You are living in Firefly.  When I see you guys I don’t think the show is off the air.  I don’t think there’s a show.  I think that’s what the world is like.”

New friend Sam, a high school junior from St. Louis. And that Joss Whedon guy.

Later at the Con I connected with long-time Star Trek chronicler Larry Nemecek (author of books on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the First Contact film) and he thought Firefly’s fan base reminded him of the fan base that kept the original Star Trek series on the air.  And that is all that these fans want–for the series to return–just like those Star Trek fans that ended up being successful back in the 1960s.  Clearly from the series cast, they want the same thing.  If any modern fan base could make it happen I wouldn’t be surprised if it were these guys, many sporting Adam Baldwin/Jayne’s motherly-knitted orange hat, these fans define the fanatic.

Originally billed as a reunion of the whole cast, a few didn’t make it, but it didn’t affect the mood of the crowd.  The panel featured Nathan Fillion (Mal), Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Summer Glau (River), Alan Tudyk (Wash), Sean Maher (Simon), writer Jose Molina, writer/director Tim Minear and creator Joss Whedon.

When Baldwin walked on stage, it was like Elvis or Michael Jackson or the Beatles arrived.  It was a roar like no other and he strode across the stage with a great smile and his arms raised, soaking it all in.  He later pulled out an orange knitted cap, replica to the one he wore on the series as the character Jayne, a hat that he later gave to a girl in the crowd.  Clearly a now-defining prop for Baldwin and Firefly fans, he acknowledged what such a prop could do for an actor.  “This hat is a goldmine.  It’s like a birthday cake in a wasteland,” he said.  He mentioned he auctioned off the real hat for thousands of dollars for a charity, which received applauds from the crowd.

Meeting Whedon earlier in the day made the ballroom event that much more energized.  Many in the crowd said Whedon “was one of us.”  By the end of the panel, nary a dry eye was in the house.  Whatever this Firefly energy and this 10th anniversary reunion was about, no one, including the cast and creator Whedon, wanted this to end.   The first to start getting choked up was series star Nathan Fillion when the cast described why he, the actor, was the right captain for the production.  He said Mal was “the best character I ever played” and “If I can get through this without crying, it’ll look a lot cooler.”  Whedon added “There was never a moment from the time we met when he wasn’t the captain.”

The Q&A was energetic and funny.  A fan asked for each of the panelists to describe their craziest fan story.  Writer/director Tim Minnear responded, “That time we were off the air for 10 years and thousands of fans showed up like it was yesterday.”

“Everything we were doing was for the right reasons, with the right people, that we were making something that was more than the sum of its parts.  That I had the best cast I will ever work with.”  He added in deadpan, “We also had Alan,” referring to actor Alan Tudyk, known for playing hilarious characters like Wat in the movie A Knight’s Tale.

One member of the audience asked if an animated version was possible.  The answer was in the negative but Fillion suggested he’d like to do a radio version and started to make special effects sounds with his hands, and he and Tudyk performed an ad libbed, brilliantly funny scene.

“The 27 people that saw it when it aired loved it,” Whedon said of the series, referring to his fans comprised in large part of people who were much younger when the series first aired and have only seen the series on DVD.

One bit started by actor Simon Maher replayed an old Christopher Walken Saturday Night Live bit, to cheers from the crowd:

Maher:  I think you might have a fever.
Fillion:  The only cure is more Firefly.

Fans who missed the convention would have liked what was probably the best question of the night:  “What if there would have been a Season 2 instead of the movie?”   Whedon answered:  “It would’ve been littler.  Most of the Reavers would’ve been off-screen [dramatizing large actions scenes off-camera with his arms].  I don’t think I would have killed anybody.”  At that point Alan Tudyk’s arms shot up in triumph, causing laughs.  (Tudyk’s character was ultimately killed off in the film).  Whedon continued: “I think we would’ve delved more into the Blue Sun conspiracy, which we had to drop.  And we would’ve learned about Book and about Inara.  For some reason, that’s the question that’s going to make me cry.”

Whedon said he felt bad that the missing actresses from the cast were unable to attend the reunion panel.  Only actress Summer Glau was on the night’s panel, and she seemed to be holding back a lot of emotion.

Comic-Con is over for another year.  I ended up going about 44 hours without sleep.  All worth it.  Time to think about getting tickets for next year.  Costumes to create.  Finding a hotel again.  What panels the show organizers can come up with to top this one.  I think I’ll ask my mom to knit me an orange hat.

To understand why a series like Firefly has such a loyal following, and what fan loyalty is all about, you need only look to Joss Whedon and his visit to a bunch of people on a sidewalk outside a convention center in San Diego in July.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

“Community,” Steve Jobs, and Us

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

On Wednesday, October 6th, Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 56.  I found out when I looked at my Twitter feed for talk from Cardinals and Phillies writers as I watched game 4 of the NLDS.  I looked for other people sharing the same game that I watched and found quite a different experience.

The pithy sentiments expressing sorrow appeared almost immediately and the most poignant found themselves retweeted post haste.  There was genuine outrage from a writer I enjoy, Brian Hickey, because of such remorse for a man no one really knows while people in your community, on the obituary page in your local paper, go unnoticed.  That the cult of celebrity in all its forms has made it easier for us to care about people that we’ll never have to get to know, that we’ll never see past their carefully cultivated public image, while the people next door argue at all times of the night and drive too fast will go unmourned when they pass.  I get that and it makes a lot of sense.  Then again, so does mourning Steve Jobs, Dennis Hopper, Amy Winehouse and so many others as we all try to understand our own future, our own last scene.

I first started to think about death when I was seven or so.  I hated to go to bed at night.  I equated death with sleep.  You don’t remember anything of the night and your life as you know it, (reading, watching TV, running around) stops during that time.  What’s to keep it from stopping it forever?  What if I don’t wake up? To this day, when I’m feeling bad, non-migraine edition, I fight to stay awake and will try to find anything that will keep me alert, keep me going until my body’s clock wins and I collapse from exhaustion.  Most nights the show Community fills that need.

I’m not sure how I started to watch this show, but I know that immediately it shot up to the coveted #1 spot on my DVR priority list.  (Coveted by television marketers everywhere; I hear they use it on Community advertisements in Sierra Leone.)  I can’t wait until I get to watch it on Thursdays.  I need to buy the DVDs, but for now, I just keep episodes saved on my DVR if I need a fix. “Contemporary American Poultry.” “Modern Warfare.” “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.” “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” “Mixology Certification.”  “Cooperative Calligraphy.”  Depending on my mood for the day, they can all entertain me for that extra half hour, that extra bit of time to coax total exhaustion out of my body, or I can start watching early in the evening and run them all in a row, reliving the growth in the relationships of the characters.

Even though the characters of Community aren’t real, they are there for us every Thursday promptly at 8 pm.  They aren’t delayed by traffic.  Their babysitter didn’t abruptly cancel.  They didn’t happen to get a date for the night.  They flirt with us, share pop-culture references with us, set us straight, give us a caring shoulder or just make us laugh and we can forget about whatever else for a few minutes.  They are there for us.

Kind of like Steve Jobs.  I don’t know him.  I don’t even know all of his accomplishments.  I know that his company, with all of its engineers, technicians, programmers and salespeople got to me the MacBook Pro on which I write.  I couldn’t tell you what he liked to eat or watch on TV or his favorite movie, but his presence is here, in my life on a daily basis.  Without his leadership, would my laptop, iPods or iPhones be possible?  Without the unwavering faith that the capital markets had in his vision, would these chances to make portable computers and portable music machines no bigger than a thick postcard have happened?

The world is a big, big place with billions of people living in it, most of whom we will never even know.  With all of our technology though, we can get from Los Angeles to London in ten hours.  That’s over 5000 miles in less than half a day. We can travel even faster to see or hear our loved ones via cell phones, iChat or Skype.  If we don’t have time to talk, we can text or email.  Even as we walk along the train tracks outside Amboy, California in the middle of the Mojave Desert looking for railroad marbles, we can just check in with friends.  (You don’t walk along train tracks near Amboy, CA?  Huh.  Well, that explains why I didn’t see anyone else out there.)

Even as it becomes so easy to stay in touch, there’s still a lot of time away from each other.  There’s still time spent around people we don’t know while sitting in the middle seat of a plane, looking at the cars stuck next to us in the traffic jam or waiting in the checkout line. We fill these times with entertainment in all its glorious forms and create our own bubble universes.

My favorite bubble comes while watching Community.  For the half hour of that show, I’m hanging out with friends, back in college, no worries except which flavor of ramen noodles I should eat for a snack, how many glasses of milk I should get in the cafeteria and when my next test happens.  If I don’t have to study tonight, maybe I’ll watch “Kickpuncher.”  Maybe I’ll go check out the Model UN off to see how my friends do.  Maybe I’ll play one of the best games of Dungeons & Dragons ever played, and I can bring along my were-tiger fighter.  Maybe I’ll just sympathize with a friend that feels so alone for the holidays as he can’t be with his family.

This week my bubble contained an intruder, an outsider, a Todd.  The other seven and I knew he couldn’t be a part of the group.  He had to go and in that moment, they became a group unto themselves, separate from the rest of the class.

Yes, I know just writing all of the last two paragraphs is the very definition of vicarious living.  Isn’t everything?  The sorrow we feel for others for the loss of their loved ones, the joy we feel when friends get married, the anger at injustice after another round of layoffs.  Our empathy for others extends to those we see on TV, whether they are real or fictional.

We feel for other people.  We feel for those close to us and we feel for those far away.  We make room in our hearts for people in other countries when the stories of famine, revolt and disasters come in through the different airwaves.  We give the $10 to the Red Cross and exhort others to join us in our various social media platforms.  We volunteer our time.  We donate blood.  Through the democratic process, we try to elect the leaders that we think will do the best job at helping those in need.  Maybe it’s even easier to do it with fictional people that have familiar problems invented by writers that have presumably experienced the same things in their lives.

I can feel the loneliness of trying to make a connection with strangers on the first day of work or class.  I can feel the fear of not keeping together my core group of friends as life, careers and relationships move us in different directions.  I can feel the fear of rejection when unintentionally excluding people because I know that could be me next time given a new set of circumstances.

Then again, I can experience the same problems with lower personal stakes from my television “Community” and feel those same emotions all the while holding my breath hoping that the study group will all be together next week with a new adventure.  (I follow entertainment news.  I know they are under contract for the whole season in the deep recesses of my mind and I feel safer.)

It’s easier to live with the emotions and forgive injustices in this vicarious life than it is with a person you’ve known for fifteen years.  You can go back and watch the good points of a television character again and again, while the good points of an acquaintance fade with age and you can just dwell on the negative emotions associated with losing touch and not really understanding their divergent life.  For those just met, you don’t even have to go further and can just start the forgetting process right away.

I used to not understand mourning people you had never met.  I understand that now.  The fear of the uncertainty of death carries so much meaning to each of us in our own lives, perhaps more than our many other emotions like joy, ecstasy or pain.  Even if it is from afar, sometimes it feels good just to feel those things, to practice if you will, to know you can handle it when it happens closer to home.  Knowing that you can respond and things will work out.  You can find a friend nearby and give them a comforting hug.  You can post about your own personal viewpoint and sadness and send it out into the ether, to share with all the other people grieving.  You can just find someone via your cell, iChat or Skype and just talk about how much that person meant to you. If you can’t, then maybe just staying up with your “Community” of friends on your DVR can make it easier for tomorrow and you can try again.

Though, as much as I would want to join, I, like Todd, like the rest of Greendale, like the rest of the watchers of Community must stay perched on the outside.  We can never be part of that study group.  But, we can be part of the greater community that shares compassion for a fellow human, be it Steve Jobs or anyone that touches our lives in some way.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Ok, here I am looking at a list of twenty characters that I have to cut to a quarter of that for this list.  I didn’t even go crazy thinking about everything I’ve watched or read to find that one person that stood out above the rest.  I just really looked at my bookshelf, which should contain most, if not all, of my favorites.  But, is it everything?  Do I have everything I want to own in pop culture circles?  (No! I don’t own Firefly or Stalag 17 or every appearance of the Legion of Substitute Super Heroes!)

That problem aside, at least I had an idea from the beginning to focus the list.  When thinking of my favorite characters, I chose good friends.  I chose characters that support their friends and family, though sometimes it takes a little personal growth to do so.

To help narrow down the list, I made a choice not to include any of the characters from a previous borg.com essay on characters to make it more of a challenge.*

* Side note, the list I made then had three characters not on the list I made now.  I bet I could make this list every day and find five new favorites. Eliminating Sam Gamgee and Hermione Granger though, those were tough blows to a list about supportive friends.

I then eliminated childhood favorite comic book characters since I know I’ll probably mine that idea for future essays just devoted to them.

That eliminated ten names.  I still have to eliminate five more.  Well, one actor played two parts so I’ll eliminate one of his.  Nine.  Picking one character from Doctor Who (or from Buffy, I can’t believe I forgot Buffy) seems unfair, so I have to lop them off.  Eight.  Ditto for Community** and The Simpsons.  Six.  Lastly, I have to get rid of Supes from Kingdom Come because as much as I love the friendship between him, Wonder Woman and Batman, it’s not about any one of them, it’s about how they approach things differently and yet work well together (eventually).

** Though I will say that I have to write a little about eliminated choice Britta Perry.  She’s a hippie, she mispronounces things and she can be a bit awkward (though can’t they all be a bit awkward.)  So, in those small ways, I can see a female me.  The similarities start to fail once you realize that I don’t want to sleep with Jeff Winger.  Now, if there were a Jennifer Winger…

So, without further ado, here are my top five characters*** in no particular order:

*** As of January 2012.  It could change by February and I may put back in some of the eliminated ones.  A good list is just a product of its specific moment in time.

Frank Cross – Scrooged****

Niagara Falls.  Every time I watch Scrooged I always know I’m going to cry at the end.  I can just think of little Calvin Cooley tugging on Frank’s sleeve and I start to get a little misty.  Yes, it probably has everything to do with Bill Murray’s portrayal as he makes every scoundrel he plays lovable.  But, for this role, you get to see his choices that led to being a scoundrel.  It’s not like they are bad choices, just everyday choices that he doesn’t want to admit were wrong.  As a friend, well, he’s not much of one until the end, but I think it was always there as a possibility.  He just didn’t have an outlet for it until the ghosts showed him what was out there for him like Claire, the folks he meets at the shelter, the Cooley family and last, but not least, his own family.  The S.S. Minnow, James, the S.S. Minnow.

**** He was the actor with two characters, though about any of his characters would probably qualify for a part on a list. The one I eliminated was Bob Harris from Lost in Translation as temporary friends we meet when we travel can be very powerful in our memories.  I almost think I should go back and include Bob.  Maybe summer camp and travel friends are a separate list. It would give me a chance to go back and look at Meatballs and Wet Hot American Summer for great characters.  As an additional aside, I also think that credit should be given to Charles Dickens for his original creation of Scrooge that I feel Murray was born to play.

Jaye Tyler – Wonderfalls

Jaye.  Hmmm.  A good friend?  Maybe?  Well definitely, but not intentionally, which I think may be one of the points of the show.  You can do all the things that a good friend should do and still not be a good friend.  On the other hand, if you think you’re crazy and toys, stuffed animals and coins speak to you and you just do things to get them off your back, you can be a good friend by accident.  You stop thinking of yourself and how it works for you and instead you put yourself at risk for embarrassment just long enough to do something good for someone else.  The fact that it’s unintentional, does it mean it is any less good?

The Sundance Kid – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I think Sundance embodies the evolution of friendship.  At the beginning of the movie, Sundance defers to Butch because Butch is the smart one coming up with plans.  By the end, Sundance realizes that he’s the smart one that knows Spanish and Butch is helpless and he wonders why he ever believed anything different. Still, they’re friends and have been for many a year.  You don’t abandon something like that and at the end, as they hide, injured and desperate, Sundance has to have regrets, but I don’t think that their friendship is one of them.  Not going to Australia on the other hand looms large in the pantheon of regrets.

Rorschach – Watchmen

He’s crazy, but there’s one person that mitigates that crazy and that’s Nite Owl and I think that Rorschach knows that.  He’s at his best when he is with Nite Owl and he goes as far as to admit it, in a way.  He talks of the days that they used to patrol together as a team and he misses those days.  If Butch and Sundance would have made it to Australia, I think Butch would be like Rorschach and longing for the time that they were a team.  Without the tempering influence of Sundance, Butch’s plans would be left unsaid, festering into crazy at their unrealized potential to make his world better in his mind.  The friendship for Rorschach and Butch might be gone at that point, but it never really leaves, it just becomes a different form.  You can’t go back to going out night after night and fighting crime, the body and mind is not built like that.  Eventually the friendship matures and you find new ways to enjoy it.

Vladimir – Waiting for Godot

This one is personal.  Yes, the existentialist play is about two friends trying to pass the time and on that level it’s a fantastic look at all the aspects of friendship.  What elevates it to top five status for me is that I can’t think of the play without thinking of my good friend Jason Vivone.  We did an excerpt from it for a duet scene in high school. We saw a touring company version of it performed in Lawrence, Kansas.  We performed the whole thing as adults in Kansas City. It’s about friends and I will always associate it with a good friend.  I’ve known Jason for over thirty years and no matter what, when I talk to him it’s like we’ve seen each other every day over that time.

The reluctant friend, the unintentional friend, the friend who knows your faults and still hangs out with you, old friends that you may not ever be as close to again and the mature friendship that will never go away are all different ways to express friendship.  Believe me, there are many other ways out there as well and the good characters find ways to make that universal feeling we have with our fellow humans feel fresh again.  Like writing about characters and friends with the characters and great friends that contribute to borg.com.  See you next time.

Next up tomorrow–Art Schmidt’s favorite characters.

Being a Total Fan

Comic-Con Panels: Fables or Being a Total Fan

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I love Fables.  How do I know that I feel that strongly about a series?  Easy.  If I read a TPB and can put it aside for a while, I liked it.  I may go back and buy the next one whenever it is convenient like Free Comic Book Day or the next time I’m browsing at Golden Apple, Meltdown, Secret Headquarters or House of Secrets.  If I love it?  I go buy it as soon as I’m done with the one I’m reading.  I’ll go to every comic shop and bookstore until I find the next book in the series.  It happened with Y: The Last Man.  It happened with Harry Potter.  (I didn’t start reading them until the fourth one was in stores.  I borrowed the first and second books from a friend.  I finished them in probably a little over two days.  Unfortunately, I finished the second one after 11 pm at night, so I couldn’t borrow the third one right away.  What did I do?  I bought a book at a Super Wal-Mart for the first time.)  It happened with Fables.


Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile

Because I love Fables, and have lent my run of TPBs to quite a few friends (they are currently on loan to my good friend Emese – I hope she’s enjoying them) to show them how good it is, I figured going to the Fables panel at Comic-Con would be a great idea. It was.  I had a great time.


Fables: The Deluxe Edition Book Two

Still, at the same time, I realized that my “love” and other’s “love” are two quite different things.  Before the panel started, an emcee ran around asking for Fables related items or answers to trivia questions.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a master of the trivial, but I had no clue on these questions.  I even tried punching a couple of searches into my smartphone, as it was an open book contest, and barely scratched the surface of the answers as the searches I entered were much more general than I needed them to be.  Still, there were people that had no problems and the man with the best knowledge ended up winning Boy Blue’s trumpet, a very cool panel prize if I ever saw one.  I came to the realization that my love for Fables is much different than some of the other’s in the room, the people that knew trivia, the people dressed in intricate costumes or dressed in any costume.  I have thought this before about different artistic endeavors and can break it down a couple of ways.

Single vs. Multiple Viewings

I understand the compulsion to watch something good again and again.  There are some things that I’ll watch multiple times like episodes of Community. I read Harry Potter novels again before the next book in the series came out at midnight.  I’ll stop to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Shawshank Redemption or Goodfellas if I happen to pass them by on the TV.

But, it doesn’t happen too often.

Sometimes, I wish I watched things again more often.  I’d be better with movie quotes, I’d better understand all of the pieces that make good novels, comics, movies or TV shows work.  I’d notice those small things that the creators put into their works that are a reward for multiple views.

I just can’t do it.

I always think there is something new on the horizon like a new author, a new movie or a new series that could be worth watching. Sometimes I’m right and I stumble onto a Terriers or a Wonderfalls. Sometimes I’m wrong and I’ve wasted thirteen hours on The Killing.  Maybe I’m just a short attention span person.  But, with all of the things I’ve yet to see, it’s tough to spend time on things I’ve already experienced.  Just this year, I’ve found for the first time Doctor Who, Veronica Mars and Sherlock and enjoyed each of them.

Sample vs. Complete

Speaking of those three TV series, I also watched every episode of each that was available to me through Netflix.  With so many streaming options it has become easier to do that with most TV series.  If you miss an episode, you can find it online, watch it instantly through your cable provider or just be sure to use your DVR so that you don’t miss a thing. You can wait for the DVDs and watch them all at once. It’s pretty easy to watch all of The Wire or to get current on Breaking Bad without too much cost or trouble.

Which is a good thing, because otherwise, I’m not good at seeing everything an artist has done.  I believe I’ve seen every Coen brothers movie, but I still have quite a few Hitchcock, Huston, Ford, Wilder and Hawks movies that I need to see.  I haven’t seen every Cary Grant, Tom Hanks, Al Pacino or Humphrey Bogart movie.  Heck, I haven’t even seen every Marx Brothers movie.

I guess I could be sure to see every thing an artist has done, but after the Coen Brothers’ The Ladykillers, or Pacino’s The Recruit I’ve come to realize that missing an artist’s work is not always a bad thing.  I guess I’m a sampler of artists and a completer of stories.

Festivals

Since I’ve gone to five Comic-Cons now, I can definitely say I’m a pretty big fan.  Still, there are some people that have gone to many more.  There are those that also go to Dragon-Con and Star Trek conventions in addition to Comic-Con and go to the convention I look forward to attending in February that I heard about this summer while waiting for the Torchwood panel, Gallifrey One.  I think if you’ve ever been to a festival or small show for whatever you love, you have definitely entered the realm of the big fans. I just know that I’m not the biggest fan, because then I would attend everything.

Lines

For my last word on Comic-Con, the truest sign of fandom is the ability to wait in lines.  Not just wait in them but also successfully wait in them.  I waited in several over the Comic-Con weekend and made a few panels and also missed a few.  To the fans that got out at 8 am to be sure they made it to Hall H, congrats.  I’m glad there are rabid fans like you out there, though I wish there were fewer so that my casual wake up at 9 am self could have gone to see more panels. See you next year super fans, and hold me a place in line if you can.