Category: TV


Review by C.J. Bunce

Fitting into the CW television series’ fourth season, the first book in Amulet Books’ series of novels based on the DC Comics famous speedster, The Flash: Hocus Pocus, takes readers through an all-new middle-grade adventure mystery.  Barry Allen works with Team Flash, Cisco Ramon, Caitlin Snow, and H.R. Wells fka Dr. Wells (aka Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne, H. Lothario Wells, H. Wells, Harrison H.P. Wells, Harrison Wells, Harrison Wolfgang Wells, etc.), plus Joe, Iris, Wally “Kid Flash” West, and Captain Singh to try to find the cause of a recent series of deaths in Central City.  But while Cisco and Caitlin try to take a break from work at S.T.A.R. Labs at an old amusement park, a new villain rises calling himself Hocus Pocus (Cisco hates it when villains name themselves).

This mad magician takes control of Barry as he tries to save his job, protect Wally, save the city and have more time for he and Iris to move on with their lives together.  But this magician has found a way to control and direct anyone’s movements, and once Hocus Pocus can control Barry he can control anything, even kill a stadium full of innocent baseball fans.  Along the way Barry finds himself in front of the storefront of a psychic reader, the strange Madame Xanadu, who seems to have foreseen cryptic steps ahead in Barry’s future.  But Barry isn’t a believer.  Can he use science to find his answers, or will he need to meld both science and magic to take down this murderous magician?

 

Author Barry Lyga, who also penned the two follow-on books in the series, The Flash: Johnny Quick, and The Flash: The Tornado Twins, knows his characters well, creating a good story full of pop culture references, quips, and science–enough real science to prompt middle-grade readers to investigate some of the concepts used to solve this mystery on their own.   Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

For all the hype, CW Network’s latest series adapting DC Comics had an uneventful start this week.  After Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Black Lightning, and several crossovers, Batwoman is the next crimefighter to throw her dagger-lined gloves into the ring.  The pilot is a straightforward introduction following the Greg Berlanti model of the other CW Network shows:  A voiceover by the caped hero/heroine, backstory training in a far off strange land, and a tidy origin tied up in a bow with a closely-connected villain, to be the focus of conflict over the course of the first season.  And like the other series, excepting the later introduction of Superman in Supergirl and crossovers, there’s no expectation that one of the biggest characters of the DC line-up will ever show.  In this case, that means Batman, but the set-up for the first episode of Batwoman pretty much requires an appearance at some point in the show’s future.

Batwoman is Kate Kane, played by Ruby Rose, who has had cameo appearances in the other CW series, starred opposite Jason Statham in last year’s summer action flick The Meg, and she got to show her skills as a badass character in John Wick: Chapter 2, the last Resident Evil, and appeared opposite Vin Diesel in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.  She brings an edgy quality that matches the comic book superheroine, complete with tattoos that would distract from any other character but works for Kate Kane.  Batwoman changes the course for the CW Arrowverse, with real-world issues of lesbians in the military, gender identity, and bias, so hopefully the series ultimately finds the right balance to match that edginess.  The first episode very much reflects that less-than-edgy quality of Arrow.  But it’s only the beginning, and the other series in this genre took some time to get going, too.  Sorry–Rose doesn’t don that cool red supersuit in the first episode.

The only question is whether Ruby Rose, who seems to fit perfectly into the superheroine role and this take on the comic book story, can match the charisma and acting of series antagonist Rachel Skarsten, who plays Alice, an Alice in Wonderland-inspired villain who isn’t really who you think she is.  It feels early to let loose an identity bombshell, but Batwoman’s writers jump right in, revealing what you’d think would be big secrets (we won’t disclose them here).  Skarsten has had her share of fantastic badass roles, too.  She was Dinah Lance in the original Birds of Prey, Tamsin the Valkyrie in Lost Girl, and she was the young Queen Elizabeth on Reign.  Skarsten’s Alice has some similarities of the Arkham Asylum variety as that millennial-favorite character Harley Quinn, but Skarsten’s level of acting is more subtle and polished than we’ve ever seen Harley portrayed.

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We’re three episodes into the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, sixth of the now annual efforts to get interest from the audience of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Batwoman, or Black Lightning in more than just one of their several adaptions of DC Comics.  The Crisis crossover has so far aired during Supergirl, Batwoman, and The Flash, and is now streaming on the CW app, continuing January 14 with episodes on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow.  If you’re able to not be critical of all its flaws, you may be able to sit back and have fun with all the cameos and guest stars.  But the clunky writing and even clunkier dialogue may also leave you thinking about what could be–what could be done with the DC characters if only someone would put forth some extra effort.  Nobody expects TV series to produce the results you get with a movie budget, yet so far CW’s series have been more faithful to the spirit of the comic book source material than DC at the theaters (this year’s movie Shazam! as the welcome exception).  With all the money going into so many related series, why not cut a few of the series and combine efforts to focus more on compelling combined team scripts?  The actors are great, a cut above the material they’re working from, and it’s difficult to watch the crossover event and not wish executive producer Marc Guggenheim & Co. would give the actors something more.

Sure, it’s tough to cram so many characters into so few minutes.  But you also don’t want your fans making excuses for you.  We like fan service, a term host Kevin Smith uses a few times in his after show to describe this crossover, but how about that extra push to boost the quality?  That said, there is something for every taste in the Crisis crossover, and if you’re willing to sit back and let it all come at you, you’re going to find some great efforts to pull at your nostalgia strings.  Everyone involved, especially as they discuss their efforts in the after show, seem to love the material.  The overall big wins include John Wesley Shipp, who still holds the title for all-time best superhero adaptation, returning again for some scenes as the Flash from his 1990-91 series, Brandon Routh playing both his regular series character The Atom and donning the cape again he wore as the big-screen Superman in Superman Returns, and Matt Ryan, who couldn’t be more dead-on from the comics in his performance, reprising his role as John Constantine (more Justice League Dark, please!).

In part, the CW is stuck because of deals and studios, which (sort of) explains no Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, (yet two Supermans?) or big-screen Batman actor–although voice actor Kevin Conroy has a legion of fans who are probably more than happy to see him take a turn as a Kingdom Come-inspired Bruce Wayne.  Having a voice actor who doesn’t look like any comic version of Batman is just something you have to go with here–maybe close your eyes and imagine him in the animated Batman series.

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Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here and the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg TV Series, Best TV BorgHumans (AMC).  No other series touches on the ramifications of technology, specifically the perils of an onslaught of real-world cyborg technology, like AMC’s Humans.  This year three characters stood out, including Gemma Chan’s Mia, the cyborg Synth from past seasons, who sacrificed everything for the liberty of cyborgs in the UK.  Then there was Ruth Bradley’s Karen Voss, a Synth who refused to live segregated from the humans, opting instead for a normal life for the cyborg son she assumed care for.  And Katherine Parkinson’s Laura Hawkins, a human lawyer who fought so hard for the cause of the Synths all year, only to throw away all the good she had done, failing the first real challenge that was presented to her.  This year’s best TV borg is shared by Synths Mia and Karen, as each showed the uphill battle any future outsider must overcome when faced with humans.

Best Sci-fi TV SeriesThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  What had been a two-season build-up all came together in the series’ third season with the audacity of killing off key characters, wisely adhering to the framework of the source Philip K. Dick novel.  The use of science fiction to tell an often gut-wrenching array of subplots and unique characters has set up a fourth season with plenty to address.  Exciting, smart, scary, and even fun, it is an unusual science fiction show that isn’t merely trigger-happy sci-fi.  Honorable mention: Humans (AMC), Counterpart (Starz).

Best New TV Series, Best Reboot, Best Ensemble CastMagnum PI (CBS).  If you would have told us a year ago our favorite show this year would be a reboot of Magnum, p.i. starring Suicide Squad’s Jay Hernandez and an actress in the iconic role of John Hillerman’s Higgins, we wouldn’t have believed it.  And yet, even as diehard fans of the original, we had to acknowledge that many elements of the reboot series were even better in the new series.  With the dangerous risk of taking on a beloved property, the production maintained loyalty to the original while making it fresh, scoring Magnum PI high marks on all counts.  Every character was smartly written–suave and confident Magnum, energetic Rick and TC, and a savvy Higgins–every actor was perfectly cast, and each show was another round of nostalgic fun for fans of the original.  Best New TV Series Honorable mention for Best New TV Series: Counterpart (Starz), Lodge 49 (AMC).

Best Series, Best Drama, Best ComedyLodge 49 (AMC).  Lodge 49 told two stories: a darkly serious drama of real people dealing with real-life 2018 adversity, and the other a comedy farce like no other.  Hanging over our heads was the idea that this was going to be a fantasy show, complete with secret codes, hidden rooms, and psychic visions.  If you’re looking for all the elements of great fantasy the hint of it all could be found throughout this series.  And yet it wasn’t fantasy at all.  An oddball Cheers?  A southern Twin Peaks without the Lynchian weirdness?  Star Wyatt Russell’s hero Dud could be dismissed as a typical young man with no vision, or maybe he’s that idealist that everyone needs to strive to be.  Maybe we’ll learn more about that next season.  Honorable mention for Best Drama: Counterpart (Starz).  Honorable mention for Best Comedy: Baskets (FX).
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Review by C.J. Bunce

Isn’t this a great time for a new superhero series to begin?  If you agree then you’re in luck, because tonight’s premiere episode of Stargirl might be DC Comics’ best TV pilot yet.  Prepare to meet the next superheroes from the corners of 30 years of DC Comics.  Courtney Whitmore’s relationship with her new stepdad is like you’d expect at first–awkward.  But it’s doubly awkward when he’s an over-eager good guy named Patrick played by Luke Wilson (known best for his roles in Wes Anderson movies and an unforgettable spot on The X-Files).  Courtney (seen above sporting a rather timely mask) discovers there is more than meets the eye with Pat, and the series opener will propel viewers further ahead into his secrets and past–sooner than you might expect.  The result is incredibly promising, a pilot mixing well-done special effects with a great story, a coming of age tale targeted at kids, a fun cast of familiar faces and a new young actress hitting the ground running (or soaring), a cool car and a 1950s vibe, and throwbacks for viewers who keep their eyes open.  And the entire first season is now available on digital.

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CW’s The Flash proved to be the best comic book adaptation to any size of screen in 2015, and it looks like it could be heading that way in 2016, too.  Where Arrow soared into the lead spot in prior years, The Flash and its less dark story unfolded in its second season as the cast began to gel.  This year the all-out fun circumstances marked it as a favorite among fans of the source material–comic books.

As The Flash–which ended with a great appearance of 1980s Flash actor John Wesley Shipp donning The Flash suit once again–returns for Season 3, Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen is entering the realm of a loose tie-in to DC’s “Flashpoint” series story.  As previewed at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend, that means Barry Allen finally does what we all would probably do–go back in time and prevent the death that changed his life.  But what will this action, this manipulation of the timeline, mean for the future, and his relationships with all those around him?

Wally West

For one we get to see Wally West as The Flash.  But what else?  Check out this preview for The Flash Season 3:

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Where DC Entertainment has been limping along in its efforts to bring superheroes to the big screen in recent years, it has ruled the airwaves on network television thanks to the CW Network and the creative team of Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg.  What Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan have failed to capture–the same interesting, exciting, rich stories, character development, action, and fun of comic books–these guys have delivered, tapping into what fanboys and fangirls want most.

Are their shows perfect?  Definitely not.  The budget for television series doesn’t allow the freedom of big budget movies.  The stories adapted to the small screen have also changed many things from the comics and when the characters themselves have fans of multiple versions of each character… well, you can’t be all things to all people.  Yet, DC on TV has fared better than on film.  We’d all rather see the relationships build between superheroes, even if they are the B-team superheroes, than costly explosion-filled disaster movies posing as superhero stories.  Yes, we’re talking about you, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and The Dark Knight Rises.

The CW Network has cornered the market on the best of DC on TV.  And this Fall with the addition of Supergirl from ABC, we now will have a superhero series every night from DC and Warner Bros.  If DC really had its act together it would see that Fox’s Gotham switched from Monday nights to Fridays, for a full weekday schedule, but that doesn’t look like it will happen.

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This past week, to preview the new season and what characters we can look forward to, including–at last–Martian Manhunter (the last remaining key Justice League character to make it to the modern live-action DC Universe) the CW released a follow-up to last year’s Superhero Fight Club video.  Check it out:

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Is a Crisis on Infinite Earths adaptation on its way at last?  Never before have all the pieces been laid out so well to adapt such a major comic book storyline.  We have key player Barry Allen from The Flash, which spun-out of the Arrow series, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow have enough timey-wimey time travel to be able to see, view, and undo anything, and then the CW pulled over Supergirl from ABC this year and brought Superman with her.  So the building blocks are ready.  Is CW and DC Entertainment willing and able?  Next week we’re going to see a step in the right direction with a mega-superhero week.

Monday, the CW begins a four-night crossover event with its four DC Comics-inspired series–and nothing screams comic books louder than a good crossover and major league team-up.  The villains are a bit obscure–the Dominators–aliens Supergirl will encounter Monday night.  The Dominators first appeared in the 1960s in Adventure Comics with a brief reprise in a mini-series called Invasion in 1989, and that’s the take-off point for the villains in next week’s event.

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So it’s “Heroes vs. Aliens,” comic books coming to life in perhaps the biggest character showdown ever, actors donning Academy Award-winning costumer Colleen Atwood’s pantheon of more than 17 hero supersuits (Green Arrow, The Flash, Diggle/Green Arrow 2, Supergirl, Superman, Black Canary, Vixen, The Atom, White Canary, Steel, Wally West, two Firestorms, Speedy, Death Stroke, Martian Manhunter, Heat Wave, and more).  We haven’t seen this many superheroes on TV since the animated Super Friends.

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In the middle of the week, Arrow will see its landmark 100th episode Wednesday night.  Who would have thought any superhero series would survive this long?  Take a look at these previews for crossover week:

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Last night’s episode of CW′s Arrow brings eight seasons of one of DC Comics’ oldest superheroes to a close as the CW aired the show’s series finale.  Focused on Oliver Queen aka the Green Arrow–one of the costumed characters off to the sidelines over the years in the shadow of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman–the series would be a resounding success for the network and executive Greg Berlanti, sprouting several other DC Comics adaptations under the banner of the Arrowverse.  And what a long, strange trip it has been.  It’s been seven and a half years since I first watched the premiere of CW’s Arrow in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con 2012 at the panel featuring the creators and stars Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy (I reviewed the pilot first here at borg).  My initial reaction found the show a “refreshing, intriguing update to the superhero game,” and “even for a fan of the traditional character’s story, updates made for TV were well thought out and did little to detract from the core of what makes Green Arrow the unique character that has survived as a key comic book character for 70 years,” and that the pilot “deftly managed to alter far less of the source material than, for example, the Green Lantern movie released in 2011, and in doing so created a truer, more refreshing story with appropriate nods to the past, and one that promises to survive, should it find its fan base.”  Who knew that survival would mean greenlighting so many more superhero shows, including The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, Batwoman, and the forthcoming Superman & Lois?

The series accomplished a lot even if it didn’t get everything right.  Arrow suffered when it veered too far from the DC Comics stories, or when it pursued too deeply the more arcane corners of the DC universe, the biggest side trip being the dominance of fan-favorite minor character Felicity Smoak in the series, ultimately knocking Dinah (or Laurel in this version) Lance aside to be Oliver’s romantic partner, which again took center stage in the finale episode.

This winter’s ambitious Crisis on Infinite Earth’s crossover event killed off Oliver Queen in the grand tradition of killing any superhero character (aka until his inevitable return, which we’ve seen in Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks’ comics story arc).  Although the finale itself, “Fadeout,” was much like an old 1980s “filler” episode (with many scenes spliced from past episodes) and like the final Crisis episodes it was about mourning Oliver and preparing for his funeral.  But the penultimate episode, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” (which aired last week), would make for a good spin-off.  That episode took Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance (the only actor we ever expected to be Black Canary in 2012), and teamed her up with Katherine McNamara’s Mia (Oliver and Felicity’s daughter trained by Oliver last year), along with Juliana Harkavy’s Dinah Drake, all in a future world of Earth in 2040 (introduced earlier in the series).  How long will the CW Arrowverse continue without its flagship series?  Only time will tell, but viewership already switched over to make The Flash the CW’s #1 watched show.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Primarily in-universe looks at the first three seasons of ABC/CW’s series Supergirl and the first four seasons of CW’s The Flash, two new books offer up a complete look at the superheroes, their encounters, and the extensive and diverse world of supporting characters in the shows.  The last of the series to round out CW’s Arrowverse–the live-action world of DC Comics characters outside the movies–Supergirl, the series, revolves around the famous daughter of Krypton created by the performance of Supergirl aka Kara Danvers actor Melissa Benoist.  The character’s personality comes to the surface in Supergirl: The Secret Files of Kara Danvers, a diary style guide to the TV series, which includes a three-season episode guide.  It’s a companion to both Arrow: Oliver Queen’s Dossier (previously reviewed here at borg) and S.T.A.R. Labs: Cisco Ramon’s Journal, and another new book in the series, The Flash: The Secret Files of Barry Allen, another diary style book documenting the latest incarnation of the superhero aka Barry Allen, as portrayed by Grant Gustin.

The first takeaway of these books is the breadth of stories that have been adapted from the comic books into these series.  The guest actors fill in the world from the comic books, and for older viewers, they conjure a bit of nostalgia, several from past superhero incarnations, from the movie version’s Helen Slater to Smallville’s Erica Durance and Sam Witwer, Lois and Clark’s Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain, Heroes’ Bruce Boxleitner and Adrian Pasdar, Hercules’ Kevin Sorbo, and the original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter.  The wealth of villains alone in The Flash series makes The Flash: The Secret Files of Barry Allen a must-have for CW Arrowverse fans.

Both books feature dossiers of the good guys and the bad guys you need to know about, whether based in National City for Kara Danvers or Central City for Barry Allen.

Here are previews of each book, published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams:

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