As I’ve said before and will doubtlessly say many times in the future to anybody who’ll listen – there’s never been a better time to be an obsessive fan of comic book superheroes. The Marvel/DC wars will soon be upon us cinematically, and they’re already in high gear on TV.
Okay, let’s acknowledge that this isn’t the first time that both publishing companies have had prime-time TV series based on their characters vying for audience attention at the same time, Wonder Woman had a three season run around the same time as The Incredible Hulk and the short lived Spider-Man shows in the seventies, but this is the first time that they’ve both had high profile series that have actually been a part of something bigger. Something that’s truly epic in scope.
Let’s look at DC’s offering first.
After Warner’s huge success with Smallville, there was a gap in their schedules for young adult super heroics. The way I see it, Smallville was designed to plug the gap left by Buffy The Vampire Slayer which was (and remains) one of the best TV series ever broadcast. (So I guess, it all ultimately begins with Joss Whedon.)
Smallville was, to all intents and purposes a revisiting of Superboy – Superman’s adventures before he donned the blue, red and yellow and during the run of the series, a multitude of DC characters were introduced, Aquaman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, and a multitude of others – but the main recurring ally of Clark Kent was Oliver Queen, the young Green Arrow played by Justin Hartley.
Smallville and Hartley’s cocky self assurance in his portrayal achieved the highly unlikely in my book.
The actually managed to make the Green Arrow cool.
I had always considered the character to be a boring throwaway. He wore green and had archery skills. Big deal! If we’re going to talk about comic book archers – then Marvel’s Hawkeye had him beaten on every score. Cooler costume, cooler background as a reformed criminal, his none too subtle relationship with Black Widow, the list went on and on. Green Arrow was staid, and dull – until the early seventies and he had a brief resurgence when he was teamed up with Green Lantern in a series of comics written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, which made some valid social commentary and even had the Arrow’s sidekick Speedy become a junkie.
When it was announced that Smallville would be replaced by a series featuring Green Arrow, I thought that of all the DC characters….they had to choose THAT one? But with Justin Hartley in the role, it would work. Um….wrong. This wasn’t the same Green Arrow as we saw in Smallville. This would be different. The Arrow would be recast. It would be a superhero character in a series that would feature NO super powers. (Aw crap!)
To very briefly recap the first season, Oliver Queen is the spoiled, irresponsible son of a billionaire family. He seems to be in his mid-twenties when he’s shipwrecked and marooned alone on an inhospitable island somewhere in the China Seas. Not that the un-named island is uninhabited, it seems to be a regular convention centre for pirates and terrorists, which is how he acquires the skills to become the Arrow. That season was at times tough to watch because episodes would flash from the present day where the Arrow was a law breaking vigilante who grimly executed those who had failed his city by being corrupt and unscrupulous to the various harrowing trials, tortures and tribulations Queen had suffered to acquire those same skills in order to survive his time on the island.
What really didn’t help was the casting of a chunk of wood named Stephen Amell in the title role. Amell has two facial expressions 1) blank and 2) vaguely uncomprehending - and he uses all his skill to alternate between the two.
But around the halfway point through the season, the series seemed to find a foothold as the story arc with the story arcs becoming more gripping. After a shaky start, patience became rewarded and we were watching a compulsive series. As season 2 began its run, Arrow is now must-viewing. Thankfully, the no super power edict has been thrown out and we’ve seen the origin of Flash who’ll have his own series come the fall season and it’s been heavily rumoured that Green Lantern will also be making an appearance. Batman regular Harley Quinn was heard but not seen in this past week’s episode. My point is this – we had to get to know the characters and their interactions to get to this point. We had to get through the uneven first half of the debut season to get to this satisfying point, and in reaching this point, we can see why exactly last year had to be what it was – and looking back, we can begin to see the evolution of the characters within the storyline, so watching the previous episodes from this vantage point validates the creative choices of the production team.
As to where the series is headed, we know it’s been renewed for a third year and beyond that, the rumour is that this TV Green Arrow will indeed be the one that will be seen on the big screen in Warner/DC’s Justice League film in 2017, presumably the same will go for Flash and Green Lantern – but that pure conjecture as none of this is as yet unconfirmed. But as things stand, it looks like DC are already starting to lay the groundwork for their movie universe.
But they have a way to go. And this brings me to.....
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Here’s a series that’s polarised opinion.
The Marvel movie universe is as complex and convoluted as their comics one, and every bit as satisfying if you keep a close eye on it. To clarify for those NOT keeping score, the Marvel movie universe doesn’t include Spider-Man, Fantastic Four or X-Men. The rights to those characters have been sold to other studios so they don’t form part of the continuity.
I never read any of the S.H.I.E.L.D. comics by Stan Lee and Jim Steranko as a kid – in fact, I still haven’t. I’m waiting patiently for a collected edition in Marvel’s “Essentials” series. I knew that Nick Fury had been updated from the war comic in which he had appeared with his “Howling Commandos” to be a secret agent during the sixties spy craze which saw all sorts of sudden cash grabs to exploit the success of the Bond films, and that S.H.I.E.L.D. was a kind of comic book knock off of TV’s U.N.C.L.E.
The organisation was in the background of several issues of other titles I read at the time. Fury was a black clad, cigar chomping, eye patch wearing all-American war hero who still served his country. Oh, and until a few years ago – he was white. Marvel released a title called The Ultimates a few years ago which was a reimagining/reboot of The Avengers and THAT’s when Fury was introduced as Samuel L.Jackson. (It’s true, the first panel on the first page I saw him in, the resemblance was so exact, I wondered if they had needed to get Jackson’s permission to use his likeness. When Jackson himself appeared in the role in the post credit sting of the first Iron Man movie, it was just perfect!)
So S.H.I.E.L.D. have been in the background of the Marvel movie universe to date, and their fan favourite everyman agent, Phil Coulson Clark Gregg was murdered by Loki in Avengers: Assemble.
But WAS he murdered? That’s still the question. He’s been experimented on and brought back somehow but that hasn’t been explained yet in the ongoing storyline. The death of Coulson storyline has divided those of us who care enough to argue the point endlessly. (And believe me, there are plenty of us around). But it hasn’t been as much of a dividing line as the validity of the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series as a whole.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been criticised for being slow to develop into anything cohesive, and has been accused of being a poor relation cash-in on the success of the films it ties into.
That’s not quite how I see it.
I see S.H.I.E.L.D. as a kind of bridge between the films. It ties up some loose ends and opens up new possibilities for films we’ve yet to see while linking everything together.
Beware, readers – for here be spoilers but as Captain America: Winter Soldier has, as of the date of this writing, been on general cinema release for a fortnight I’m assuming all you die-hards have already see it. There will be no real spoilers of episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D. beyond what we saw in the last episode broadcast here in the UK, Yes Men – and the one to come, based on the TV guide synopsis.
Okay, you’re still here?
The series was at pains to align itself with the movies in those early episodes with the return of Coulson with no memory past his death (the ongoing story arc) and cameo appearances by Maria Hill (Cobie Smoulders) and Nick Fury (Samuel L.Jackson). Coulson recruited a new team, had a flying fortress base and investigated cases that involved Ch’tauri technology left behind after the battle of New York in Avengers:Assemble, or Extremis, following Iron Man 3. They were involved in the clean-up following the battle of Greenwich in Thor: The Dark World. All this has reinforced that the series takes place in, around and at the same time as the movies. They’re carefully broadcast on American TV to coincide, but sadly since the hiatus, we’re 2 episodes behind in the UK. (Thank you for absolutely nothing, Channel 4. You outbid Sky and screwed it up!)
When they haven’t tied in with the films, we’ve had interminable episodes exploring the new characters the series has introduced. Their backgrounds, histories, how they relate to each other – which from a storytelling perspective needs to be done because conflicts and relationships for the very basis of any drama – correct. If a character is in jeopardy or is killed and written out – why would we, the audience care without some emotional buy-in or attachment to that character.
(Here’s an example. I had never watched Firefly on its original run on TV, but I went to see Serenity the movie that ended the story in the cinema because I was told it was a standalone and I didn’t need to have seen the series. Wrong. When cast members died, I was left cold because I couldn’t care less. When I saw the series on DVD, I realised that had I see that first, as I was supposed to, my experience would’ve been totally different. I would’ve been shocked instead of shrugging.)
Since its return from the mid season hiatus, AoS (yeah, I got fed up of repeatedly typing it out) has picked up and soared. Much like Arrow did a year ago. Stories are opening up and it’s unmissable.
Cleverly, the last episode we saw, Yes Men tied into Thor 3, I believe. Loreli, an Asgardian sorceress comes to Midgard (Earth). Men succumb to being her slaves at the sound of her voice and her touch. (In the comics she’s usually referred to as the Enchantress) and one of Thor’s Warriors Three, Lady Sif is in pursuit, having been ordered by Odin to bring Loreli back to Asgard alive.
If you recall, when last we saw, Odin had been abducted and replaced by Loki who was using his powers to look like the All-Father. The implication is that Loki is amassing his forces.
Now we’ve seen Captain America: Winter Soldier and S.H.I.E.L.D. has been disbanded because they were totally, utterly infiltrated by HYDRA, this is going to have a huge effect on the series. There isn’t a S.H.I.E.L.D. for them to be a part of any longer. This is going to be addressed in the next few episodes as the first season comes to a close.
Is it “too little too late”?
I don’t think so. My feeling is that S.H.I.E.L.D. needed a regular adversary to battle rather than drift around tackling individual cases, and now they have one in the resurgence of HYDRA who’ve been working for domination quietly since the end of WW2. To have mentioned HYDRA before the release of Winter Soldier would have given away the ending of that film. Essentially, Winter Soldier set up the next few episodes of AoS, who will, in turn keep the ball rolling until the story continues on the big screen.
You can watch the films and dismiss the series and it’ll work. You can watch the series as a standalone and there’s enough there for it to succeed. But of you want the whole experience, you need to watch the films, interspersed with the series all in its intended chronological order. It’s literally something that has never been attempted before.
What awesome times we live in.
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As ever, stay sharp, stay low, stay safe.
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