Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Busy Week for Comics on TV

So, this past week we saw the debut of two TV series (one a series premiere, one a season premiere).

I thought season two of The Walking Dead was not as strong as the first one. What should have been one arc in a season with multiple acts took up much of the season with very little payoff. And I think the series, and new showrunner Glen Mazzara, wanted to address that right off the bat. The teaser for the debut episode, "Seed" was silent, with the survivors making their way through a house, killing some walkers (although in all fairness since they're already dead, I don't know if there's a better term then killing), and digging for supplies. There's no excessive talking here, no hemming and hawing; it's all action. And I think the destroyed walker count in this one episode exceeds the entirety of last season.

Not to say that the whole episode is action. There's still the strife in the Grimes family, with Lori unsure about where she stands with her husband and son. Daryl continues to walk along the outskirts of the group, taking part in the action but not in the day to day life. Rick is acting like a leader, giving orders and holding the responsibility close to him. And, hey, even T-Dog is doing stuff. The episode felt balanced, giving something for all the members of the cast something to do.

The prison is an excellent place for the survivors to go, with its high walls and strong defenses, and has a creepy air that works well for a zombie story. As the survivors attempt to clear the prison of its dead inhabitants, the darkness and winding corridors add a level of claustrophobia and intensity that you didn't get in the more open expanses of the farm.

The highlight of the episode for me was the first full appearance by Michonne, the sword wielding zombie killer played by Danai Gurira. She only had a couple scenes, but her sword play and total badassery made me happy. Michonne has been a favorite of mine in the comic for a long time, and she has been translated to the screen perfectly. Her scenes with Andrea show her to be caring as well as a hardcore killer, and she walks around with chained zombies, so I couldn't ask for more.

As for where I feel the season is going, well I doubt I could be happier. The appearance of the prisoners makes me a little nervous about the expanding cast size, but we'll see where that goes. Seems like Herschel will be picking up some of the plotlines that were left in the void by the early death of Dale, and I like how tough Maggie is getting; it seems she might be picking up some of the tough female character quotient left by Andrea not being as tough as she is in the comic.  Michonne and Andrea are looking like they/re going to be running into the Governor and Woodbury first, so I'm curious to see where they go and how they meet up with the rest of the survivors again. This was a good episode with a lot of promise; I hope the series continues on this path.

I admit to going in to Arrow, the new series featuring Green Arrow, with a bit of trepidation. Superheroes and TV don't always translate. And while at times Smallville, the CW's previous DC Comics adaptation flew like Superman through the skies, there were times it moved much more slowly and felt like a show that would be on the same network as Gossip Girl and 90210; lots of angst and not a lot of superheroics. I also know Green Arrow can often be presented as Batman-lite, and frankly he was in his early days in comics; he had an Arrowcar and Arrowcave, for pete's sake!

Fortunately, the series premiere did a lot to alleviate those fears. The pilot if both full of action, good character beats, and some knowing winks to the comic reading audience. The pilot starts out with Oliver Queen, the man who will become Green Arrow, being saved from the island he has been stranded on for the past five years. He returns to Starling City, where he begins taking up his quest to right the wrongs of his corrupt mogul father by taking out a list of men who are equally corrupt. He's not the same bleeding heart liberal he is in the comics, but he is looking out for the little guy.

Stephen Amell does an excellent job as both Oliver Queen and his mysterious alter ego, who does not have a name in the series yet. He plays the cocky, arrogant rich guy one moment, and the intense vigilante the next. It's interesting that the series creators chose to give him a family, a mother and sister. This does a nice job of separating him from Batman. He is not an orphan, but has these connections that give him something else to fight for. Whoever Amell's stunt double is also does an impressive job. The way he moves and the way he fights aren't like you usually see among TV and movie superheroes. His movement over rooftop isn't acrobatic, but more like an animal stalking it's prey, moving on all fours, and his fighting style involves arms and legs, choking out his enemies instead of trying to knock them unconscious with fists.

The other members of the cast also do an impressive job. Oliver's mother and sister, played by Susanna Thompson and Willa Holland respectively, both have their rich affectations but are hiding secrets. Colin Donnell plays Tommy Merlyn, Ollie's ne'er do well best friend. He seems like a wastrel, and something of a slick operator, but comic fans will recognize his last name and know that he has a future in villainy. But the highlights of the supporting cast are the Lance family. Laurel Lance, Ollie's once and probably future girlfriend is played by Katie Cassidy, of Supernatural and Harper's Island fame. Here, she is a crusading attorney working for legal aid. She serves as a voice the down to earth and the common man in Ollie's world of privilege. She doesn't take any of Ollie's arrogance, and puts him in his place, even though she doesn't realize most of it is an act. Hopefully, we'll watch her transition into her own heroic identity before the series is over. Her father, Detective Quentin Lance, is a tough cop who seems to be a good cop in a corrupt town who also has his problems with the rich Queen family. He is played ably by Paul Blackthorne, a favorite actor of mine best known for playing Harry Dresden on the shirt lived television adaptation of The Dresden Files.

There were several clever references for the DC buff to pick up beyond Merlyn's appearance. On the island where Ollie is found, a mask that belongs to Deathstroke the Terminator is seen. The head of security of Ollie's target is Dracon, a villain created by Judd Winick during his run on the comic series. And two incidental characters are named Diggle and Grell after creators who have a history with Green Arrow in the comics.

I was interested to see that the creators of the show have no problem with having Ollie take the life of a villain. Ollie snaps the neck of a thug who discovers the new uncanny physical skills he picked up on the island, and he seems to have no problem slinging arrows that seem to put goons down for good. The comic Ollie isn't a killer, and the couple times he has killed have taken their toll on him. However, I accept that this works within the world of the show; the Oliver who came off that island is a predator hunting game that is deadly. He feels he needs to put them down before they do the same to him and others. How this will affect him, and his perception by the public and the police, is something I hope the series addresses.

All in all, I think Arrow has some promise. There are some mysteries laid out that I'm looking forward to seeing payoff, and the cast does a good job. We'll have to wait and see if the series winds up going on for years like Smallville, or folding like Birds of Prey did after a short time. Early signs point to a longer run, and I will be staying tuned for it.

On a final note, this past weekend, Cartoon Network decided to preempt it's DC Nation block of cartoons in favor of reruns of other cartoons. Until January. Young Justice, part of that block, is probably the best action cartoon on TV today, and the successor to the great Timmverse DC Comics cartoons of the 90s and early 00s. I would suggest if you are a fan, to tweet @cartoonnetwork with the hashtag #DCNation to let your voice be heard. I know, serious first world problem here, but still, you don't stand between a man and his cartoons.

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