Lets talk about the Batgirl of it all, something I know a lot of people are getting very heated about right now a variant cover for Batgirl #41 as sired by Rafaeal Albuquerque. The tableau in question shows a very frightened Batgirl having that familiar rictus grin pained on her face in what appears to be blood while being physically restraining and having a very jokearian revolver pressed to her chest. The imagery is very suggestive and was meant to harken back to Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke in which Joker takes Barbara Gordon hostage for a considerable amount of time physically cripples her by shooting her in the back. Then taunts Batman with the implications of the visuals of the story that not only did he sexually assault Barbra but Jim Gordon the much loved commissioner of Gotham’s police department.

Cover of "Batman: The Killing Joke"
Cover of Batman: The Killing Joke

This all being said even by itself the imagery it invokes too the casual or even non-exhistant comics reader is rather sinister. Which being completely fair is the point doing a cover like this and unlike many people what I really find objectionable about it is that it was set to be on the current run of Batgirl which very precisely and with great forethought wrote and pushed for a younger audience hopefully of young girls.

Now with this direction of a youth focused selfie taking female character that has been a staple of the Bat family since the mid 60’s. Why did DC feel it important too evoke The Killing Joke while there trying to capture a much younger audience?. The ideals of the current story and those of The Killing Joke are in direct conflict and I find it hypocritical that there trying too capture both audiences with something like this.

Ultimately I think this should come down to a frank discussion about The Killing Joke itself. Written by the great Alan Moore which ostensibly was intended too be a one off tangent story that focused on The Joker and only ancillary featured Batman. For my friends familiar with the animated series think “Almost got’em” but in another dimension. It was and still salacious in parts and the great Alan Moore himself says about his own creation he probably should have been reigned a bit more by the editors but he wasn’t. The fact that when it was released again as a one off in prestige format it was an instant wall book and was highly sought after because Barbra Gordon was crippled in it. For reasons that I still don’t fully understand this story was made canonical and Batgirl traded her cape and cowl for guile and a computer becoming a shining example of a survivor story. About a woman who still had wrongs too right and stands proudly at the alter of justice and preys evil takes the night off in becoming The Oracle.

But what does this say about the role of women in comics are they so pliable that it’s fine too just cripple them? As some of you would recall the dark knight himself had his back broken by Bane in Knightfall which tells the story of a broken Bruce Wayne rebuilding his broken body and the good name of the bat. Valiantly fighting and reclaiming his cowl and his true name from Jean-Paul Valley so he could bring Bane to justice. The implied double standard being BatMAN can be cripple for 6 maybe 8 months BatGIRL she’s fine we can just leave that for a few decades.

Wondrous reader I leave you with one final thought do I want the creativity and raw power of creators and artists with cross talk and arguments. No I don’t. What I’m also terrified of deep down in my gut where I keep all my secrets if we allow politics and agendas to influence creation of comics won’t we resurrecting the comics code authority and staffing them with the silent majority because they roared.

“I was thinking, how many of you do I have to kill to save your life? I’m not gonna do that. You are gonna change.” – Rick Grimes.

Through its five seasons, The Walking Dead has cemented itself as a massive hit, breaking records, garnering a huge fan-base, and generating a tremendous amount of intrigue in the zombie genre. And while the show shares its moments of gore, blood, action, and cinematic zombie set-pieces, it has constantly struggled to show its true nature – the morality of humankind when the law and order of our society goes out the window. It is no surprise that Morgan made his return in last night’s episode, and it is even less of a surprise that his return ended with his reunion with Rick. There were plenty of shockers in the finale (the lack of deaths included), but mostly, it was a welcomed breath of fresh air to end the season with this immediate conflict of morality between Rick and Morgan, both of whom have undergone massive transformations since the last time they saw each other.

The last time we were treated to an extended look at Morgan was in Season Three’s standout episode “Clear.” I commented previously on how this was a landmark episode for the show. Lennie James has done fantastic work as Morgan since his very first appearance in “Days Gone Bye,” yet his reappearance in “Clear” was mostly a shock because he’d gone through significant changes since his son’s death. In anticipating his return to the finale, I knew that he would be changed man once more, considering his teased appearances had shown him to be more rational and calculating, and in fact the Morgan we saw in the cold open represented a true return to form. Letting the two men live showed him to be a clear counterpart to what Rick has become, and his line to Daryl that “all life is precious” only cemented his stance. As I mentioned, The Walking Dead is a show about morality that disguises itself as a show about zombies, and I hope that this differed state of mind between Rick and Morgan and the conflict that will surely arise can lead to a great string of episodes next season.

 

Last week, I predicted there would be deaths in the finale. Not a tough prediction to make, this is The Walking Dead, after all. I was wrong. Besides Reg and Pete, no major or even minor character perished. I should have done my research, because in truth, only one major character has ever died in a season finale – Andrea. There have been plenty of midseason finale deaths – Hershel, Beth, The Governor – but previous finales have largely been filled with big set-pieces, not deaths. I should have known that none of the more minor characters (Tara, Rosita, and Eugene) had yet developed enough to warrant a death. As much as I wanted Father Gabriel to die a horrific death, I should have also known that The Walking Dead would likely enlist Seth Gilliam for longer than one season. I still would not have been surprised to see Sasha’s death, but with her seeming reconciliation to the group and perhaps a return to form, I can see the show making good use of her once more.

The biggest surprise of the episode was how little actually happened, despite the monumental amount of tension that ran throughout. Last week, I also wondered if the show would be bold enough to kill one of its major characters, namely one of Rick, Carl, Michonne, Glenn, Maggie, or Carol. And while it is quite evident that the first three aren’t going anywhere, Glenn’s trip through the woods certainly had me scared. Let’s forget for a second that he somehow managed to get away after the zombies piled on him. As identified last week, the Chekhov’s Gun that Rick had stowed away was taken by Nicholas, and I for one was of the clear thought that the show wouldn’t do this unless it would be used for serious harm. Instead, it was used to prove once more that this is a show that debates morality. I also spoke in my last review about how half of our group had become entirely brutal, while the other half seemed to be hanging on to that sliver of humanity. Glenn is one of them, and he showed it last night. So while we all hoped he would kill Nicholas, I think we all knew he would not be able to do it, just as he couldn’t leave him behind after the disastrous run two weeks ago. Rick and Glenn may have been on the same page two seasons ago, but Rick is a changed man now. I do wonder if Glenn will ever be going through this same transformation. Realistically, I hope he won’t. The reason for this is twofold – one, I think that Glenn shows stronger potential as a character when he has his moral compass, and two, I think he would only ever be able to get to that point if he lost Maggie, which is not something I would say that I’m looking forward to.

 

This leads me to the more, should I say, muddied aspect of the finale, that ended with Maggie, Sasha, and Father Gabriel holding hands and praying. As I mentioned, I did hope that Father Gabriel would die a horrific death. I still can’t see the use of his character, but I’m a big Seth Gilliam fan and I still have hopes that the show can somehow redeem him. His quick trip outside the walls of Alexandria proved that no, he isn’t quite ready to go yet, but it also proved that yes, he is a giant coward with hardly any concerns for those around him. His story ends up tying into Sasha’s, because they’re both lost and confused, but as I said last week, I’m still not on the Sasha train, so it’s difficult to be too invested in where she might end up. I remain curious to see where these characters go from here, mostly in hope that it’s in a vastly different direction.

I also mentioned last week that Daryl and Aaron’s excursion felt like it was stalling for the finale. I was both right and wrong about this. Yes, the big zombie action set piece came tonight, as it should, but it was still stalling, because the true purpose behind this has been set up for next season – the Wolves. I can’t say I’m particularly intrigued by these characters or their motivations, but a threat to Alexandria is a conflict that we will need, and it was a clever way to tie Morgan back into the story without seeming too coincidental (though it was very close, as it usually is.) It also provided a bit more insight into Daryl’s character, who declares that he still feels more right trapped in that car than within the walls of Alexandria, and into Aaron, who once again proves himself to be a great character by refusing to accept Daryl as a sacrifice.

 

This all lead to the confrontation between Deanna and the group of at Alexandria. She says “‘We’re going to talk about one of our constables. Rick Grimes.” And they do talk about him, to varying degrees. Mostly, we get positive first-hand accounts from our survivors, detailing how they wouldn’t have survived without him. Rick comes in, bloodied from his encounter with the zombies that entered Alexandria through Father Gabriel’s neglect. It seems like a repeat of the previous night – until Pete comes in, Michonne’s sword in hand. In what probably proves to be the most revealing moment of the night, Carol whispers “not yet” to Rick as he draws his gun. Why? Because Deanna would still be opposed to it. That is, until Pete slices Reg’s poor throat. It was a master move of manipulation on Carol’s part to show up to Pete’s temporary home, casserole in one hand, knife in the other, and threaten him point-blank. I would argue that without that little move, Pete would never have been so furious as to show up to that meeting with a sword in hand, and I think Carol knew something to this effect would happen. It ties in to the quote that I placed at the start of this review – she was willing to sacrifice one of Alexandria’s people to prove that Rick’s way of doing things would be the right way of doing things. What a transformation Carol has undergone, the most of any of our survivors, and Melissa McBride has thrived in the role.

I have loved this last half-season of The Walking Dead. Three years ago, when our group was spending way too much time on Hershel’s farm, I never would have thought this show could become what it is today. While there are always going to be some road-bumps for the show, namely the coincidences, contrivances, and on-the-nose dialogue, I have to applaud it for taking risks (such as the episode with Tyreese’s death), for exploring themes, and for consistently striving to be more than just a zombie show. I cannot wait to see where the show takes Rick and Morgan, how Deanna handles the loss of her husband, and which minor character takes more spotlight only to be tragically killed. I await next season in bated breath.

Final Thoughts:

  • Zombie kill of the week easily belongs to Daryl’s triple kill with the chain.
  • I don’t see why their meeting about Rick was held at night, besides for dramatic effect.
  • Tara wakes up and is alive! What a cliffhanger!
  • Someone pointed out that the guy in the red-hooded poncho was killed by the Wolves. Oh, symbolism.
  • “Simply put, there is a vast ocean of shit you people don’t know shit about. Rick knows every fine grain of said shit, and then some.” Abraham gets the best line of the night, though Carol’s “Oh sunshine, you don’t get both,” line came very close.
  • “Rick. Do it.”

Episode Grade: A-

 

I mentioned in a previous post the Honor Harrington series of books by David Weber, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually spoken about them in any depth, so I thought I’d do so now. The first book in the Honorverse is called On Basilisk Station and it is available for free from the Baen eBook Library and is definitely worth a download if you haven’t already read it.

Weber has written quite a few series and books now with strong female characters (take his Safehold series for example) but Honor is definitely one of his strongest and most well developed.

THE BASIC STORY:

Honor Harrington takes on the command of a new warship – the Fearless. This ship completely gutted of its normal complement of offensive weapons is rebuilt as a test bed for new weaponry based on the thoughts and insights of armchair admirals. Successful in its first war-game trial it is quickly humiliated by the remainder of the fleet and sent in disgrace to Basilisk Station, a low status drudge assigned that mostly involves checking cargoes for contraband.

Arriving at Basilisk Station, Honor is left in charge by a malicious superior officer who hopes that she will fail, however Honor believes in upholding the trues values of the Manticorian naval tradition and manages to motivate her crew to follow her example.

Finding quick success in a part of space that had previously been significantly corrupt, Honor makes waves both at home and on Haven, for Haven had been counting on the sloppiness of the previous Commander to make their eventual invasion of Medusa successful. However it is not only the Havenites that Honor is causing problems with. Her honesty and integrity is also impacting her own people as she brings fines against corrupt traders and merchants. Unfortunately this does not earn Honor a lot of friends!

From Amazon:

On Basilisk Station (or “HH1” as it’s known to the faithful) is the first installment in David Weber’s cult hit Honor Harrington series, which has charmed the socks off schoolgirls and sailors alike. Honor–the heroine of this fast-paced, addictive space opera–is a polished, plucky bulldog of a naval officer, part Horatio Hornblower, part Miles Vorkosigan, part Captain Janeway, and with a razor-clawed telepathic cat thrown over her shoulder for good measure.

The series’ kickoff puts a giddy Commander Harrington at the helm of her first serious starship, the HMS Fearless. But her excitement quickly fades–political maneuvering by top brass in the Manticoran navy has left her light cruiser outfitted with a half-baked experimental weapons system. Against all odds (just the way Honor likes it), she still manages a clever coup in tactical war games, a feat that earns her accolades–and enemies. The politicians she’s offended banish her to a galactic backwater, Basilisk Station. But that outpost soon proves to be a powder keg, and it’s up to Harrington and the Fearless crew to thwart the aggressive plans of the Haven Republic.

 

SOME DETAILS:

The biggest inspiration for this series set far in the future is surprisingly from the past – David Weber has (admittedly) taken some key elements and themes of his story from the Horatio Hornblower and while this isn’t simply a case of Hornblower with boobs, some similarities are glaringly obvious.

Honor isn’t just a clone of Hornblower however. As mentioned previously there are similarities, but she is a well developed character in her own right and one that you can believe in and whose motivations and actions are clear. While Honor is presented as a very intelligent and young woman, in actually due to anti-aging treatments available in the Honorverse, she is actually what we would consider middle aged. As such her command of a warship makes somewhat more sense.

However while Honor has similarities to Hornblower, David Weber provides a significant amount of detail about Hyperspace, space battles, shielding, missiles, governments etc… one thing definitely not lacking is the amount of detail! In fact, that is probably the only major fault I’d have with this book – it sometimes tends to drag as he expounds on science and how it impacts everything. Not a major complaint, but one that should be noted. By contrast however one huge plus is that he doesn’t bore you with the details for those items that have no bearing – for example the whole naming convention, Basilisk & Medusa. Many authors – especially those just starting out – would feel the need to explain everything but I was glad to see that Weber didn’t feel this was necessary.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Overall a really good and enjoyable read and one that will keep you interested and occupied. The space battle (I would have liked more!) was really well written and described and while the stupidity of politicians was perhaps a bit forced, it unfortunately makes way too much sense. Anyone that enjoys Space Opera will definitely want to have this on their bookshelf.

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I didn’t know what I was expecting when I came across this show … I hadn’t ever read the comic book, although I’d seen it on the shelves, so while I knew the main character was a female, that’s about all I knew about it … well that and the fact that it was on the CW network.  Now while that isn’t a bad thing – it generally has a certain type of show and I guess I was expecting camp Zombie chick, adolescent angst drama whereas I got something quite a bit different.  There are some of the chick flick elements – boyfriend problems, problems with mum etc… – but on the flip side the characters are well written, the storyline is funny and it feels very witty and engaging.

I guess the main question was – do we need another Zombie show on TV?  It seems to be literally crawling (pun intended) with them right now – I mean The Walking Dead while never calling them zombies (which is stupid) is in its Fifth season at this point and shows no signs of slowing down.  However iZombie isn’t like those other shows is it?  It’s more of a cop show, or is it a buddy comedy, or is it a teen angst romantic drama?  Hmmm … OK while only one episode in, its pretty hard to classify, the one thing that is obvious is that this isn’t what you would have expected from another zombie show and maybe that’s why it will work!

While the whole “i” thing is obviously a take on current Apple fad – i.e. iPad, iPod, iPhone – its actually quite accurate in this instance as it truly tells the tale of a specific person (I) going through a transformation into a Zombie and while in this case the individual manages to maintain their mind and rationale (in contrast to our standard understanding of the living dead) they are only able to do so through a continuous ingestion of human (yuck!) brains.

This isn’t a story about surviving a brutal zombie apocalypse, or a story about a zombie apocalypse at all; it’s the story of one girl whose life is completely turned upside down when one night, she goes to a party as a career-driven human and comes home the next day as a brains-eating zombie.                                                                                  A.V.Club

When Liv Moore (pun intended) becomes a brain eating zombie … she has two options, either quit and become what she’s been cursed with or fight back and help save the night and realize her true potential as a defender.  Fortunately in her new colleague she’s found an unexpected ally who is searching for a cure for her affliction and perhaps there is hope that Liv will get her perfect life back.  Also fortunately her brain eating habit gives her a gift that is somewhat unexpected … namely memories/visions from the mind of her victims (?) and with this gift she is able to help the police solve their murders.

While this is a bit of a stretch (we are talking about zombies so I’m hoping you’re not expecting too much in the way of realism!) it makes for good TV and her interactions with the detective are quite good (although a bit stilted so I hope this sorts itself out in future episodes).  With her new purpose in life (helping people find closure after their death) Liv is able to finally break out of the funk that she was in since her transformation and is now finally able to get on with her life … ummm, wait that doesn’t work – well you know what I mean!

Confusion, concern and questions

So is Skye’s dad (Cal – Kyle MacLachlan) the big bad of the latter half of the season or not?  We’re only two episodes in, but it seems that he’s been sent to the great big dumpster in the sky just like HYDRA was in the last episode. I guess if the main concern from fans about the previous season, was that the show seemed to drag on and nothing really seemed to happen is considered now … well the complaint might be the exact opposite!  Too much is happening and its all happening too fast … it seems like they aren’t closing one issue off before introducing another whole new storyline and its getting (even more) complicated than it normally is!

Skye is out of control, but SHIELD is determined to keep her on the team – somehow – and enlist the help of a psychologist that used to be on their payroll to help assess her and her state of mind.  Coincidentally this psychologist happens to be someone that May and Coulson both trust implicitly – May’s ex-husband – played by Blair Underwood – you might recall that I mentioned in a previous post his appearance on the show?  Well it seems since the last episode that while Skye is still in the cage on the bus, she’s magically managed to gain control of her powers and is able to control the shaking as long as she keeps her cool.

English: Kyle MacLachlan at the Vanity Fair pa...
English: Kyle MacLachlan at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While this episode is not a filler episode like last week, it seemed much too disjointed and was all over the place.  Cal’s personal vendetta against Coulson for taking away his revenge (for killing Whitehall … by the way, any chance this was a clone or something like that?  He died way too easily in my opinion – just saying!) might have been a bit of stretch right from the beginning, but I was willing to let it slide as it had some great possible conflicts for Skye and her growth as a character with Skye having to choose between her biological family and the SHIELD family that has adopted her.  However if he’s now out of the picture (or at the least on the back burner), it seems like it was all a complete waste of time doesn’t it?  Kyle MacLachlan is too good an actor to just be written off in this manner so I really hope that in some way he returns to the show.  However not as the leader of another band of misfits.

Merry Men (& Ladies) are we

OK while I know AOS is all about a superhero show that doesn’t really have any superhero’s in it (with the possible exception of whatever Skye is becoming), the villains have always been top notch.  They’ve not been at the Galactus or Loki level perhaps, but they’ve been solid and quite respectable – Deathlok for example and the Absorbing Man are both worthy villains that you can get behind the team defeating.  But this motley crew?  They weren’t anywhere close to being worthy and while their purpose might have only been as cannon fodder so that Skye could see how “bad SHIELD is” in Cal’s eyes, with access to the whole list at his fingertips, he could have done a lot better.

Right now this group of messed up people (lets be honest, who grafts razor blades to their fingertips … aside from the stupidity of doing this, blades break, are these supposed to “grow” back?  What about getting dull – that would kind of remove their usefulness as weapons?  Finally why didn’t SHIELD just conduct surgery to remove them?) does nothing more than just take away screentime from the characters we actually know and care about and the other ongoing storylines we’re already invested in.

Skye as mentioned earlier seems to initially have a handle on her powers but as we see during the course of this episode its a bit less than ideal as she continues to shake while in her sleep and ends up literally fracturing the bones in her hands trying not to quake!  Now considering that her “control” came from the school of Agent (shoot first and ask questions later) May its probably not that surprising that its not really addressing the underlying problems but is rather just glossing over them.  It was a quick fix, the equivalent of using duct tape to repair your leaky toilet, but it wasn’t an actual resolution. It also wasn’t healthy. This effect does however have the benefit of (surprise) making her match her comic book character in terms of appearance though which while not a prerequisite, is definitely a nice touch!

One Step Forward

May has a lot to offer—she’s skilled, she’s smart, and she’s strong—but she’s not even close to being qualified to offer advice on how to deal with something like Skye’s powers, which are rooted in her emotional state. May represses everything to a harmful degree, and Skye was doing the same. It’s why her powers came alive while she was dreaming, and it’s why she ended the episode in a cast.

We finally find out the big secret that Mac and Bobbi have been hinting at over the course of the past couple of episodes – namely that they are working for the “real” SHIELD.  While this introduces another major character – Edward James Olmos (of BSG fame) – to the show … which is really cool, as I’ve always liked him and his style, it kind of goes back to my earlier comment that they’re making this show overly complicated as they really didn’t need another plot line.

While it’s cool to see a somewhat lighter side of May (I think she actually smiled), I really want Skye’s character to move forward.  For her to gain some control over her abilities and learn how to use them to the benefit of the team.  I know that it’s a bit simplistic but I’m definitely in the camp where the good guys win and with everything the team has gone through recently (Ward being part of HYDRA, Fitz almost dying, Tripp dying and Skye’s whole transformation) it would be nice if they actually had a win for a change!

 

While I would be amongst the first to state that Jordan’s writing style is not the best (please note – when I state Jordan’s style is not the best, this primarily refers to his long windedness (I know, that’s not even a word!) and the way that he sometimes tends to repeat the story from another characters perspectives without advancing the storyline in any significant fashion whatsoever. His imagination and ability to conceive of a whole world with its own language, peoples and cultures however is something I can only look at with a sense of awe), it is unique and I greatly feared that Brandon Sanderson would bastardize this in some fashion (the Dune preludes and continuations are a prime example of this) and thereby completely destroy his legacy.

I am glad to say however that I was wrong. Mr Sanderson’s writing style while distinctive from Jordan’s (Brandon tends to provide more insight into a characters thoughts and intentions than Jordan did, leaving less to the imagination … which perhaps after 12 books is a good thing!) does nothing at all to detract from the story and in fact it feels that in this one book, many outstanding storylines are finally put to bed.

The Seanchan are still attacking, the Shaido clan are scattered, the forsaken are spread throughout the realm and the White Tower itself is sundered in twain … the lands of the Wheel of Time are in chaos and our heroes are right in the heart of it all. Rand Al’Thor is in a horrible place and seems to spiralling ever further downwards in his quest to become the Dragon Reborn that the land needs. He has been pushed too far and forced to kill too many women – his heart has turned to blackest night – however as he becomes darker and harder, others in his life strive to return him to normalcy. All of this while the dead voice of Lews Therin continues to speak to him. Similarly the books other key protagonist – Egwene Al’Vere is being tortured by the Amyrlin seat in an effort to get her to recant.

The Gathering Storm primarily follows the individual storylines of Rand and Egwene. As the book goes on, the differences between them becomes starker and more noticeable – Rand’s problems mount, and he begins to fail to keep on top of them treating those around him to a nightmare vision of the world that might be, even if he were to win the last battle, whereas Egwene deals with adversity in a completely different manner, rising above the factions and factitious nature of the sundered Tower. While Matt and Perrin are featured in the story their parts are small and although some of Matt’s sequences are quite humorous they actually do nothing to really advance the story in any way.

 

Summary & Spoilers

Continuing directly on from the previous book, Egwene is now a captive of the Tower’s Amyrlin – Elaida. Reduced to novice status and restricted from being able to touch the power Egwene suffers repeated beatings and other tortures at the hands of Elaida and her flunkies. Egwene determines that the only way to defeat Elaida is to act like the Aiel and not even notice that it is happening.

Her determination and poise however gradually starts to win over the other sisters in the tower and the other novices themselves grow to think of her truly as the Amyrlin. Egwene forces herself to consider the best for the tower as a whole and her actions throughout reflect this determination.

Now while I have not considered Egwene one of my favourite characters throughout the series, she really grew on me here. Perhaps it was the fact that she was not constantly whining and comparing herself to the boys but was actually a strong character in her own right. Going into the last battle I expect that I will actually care about what happens to the girls as well as the boys now!

However, while I mentioned earlier that some of the outstanding storylines are finally answered – which is good – the way in which some of them are resolved leaves a little bit to be desired. For example the unmasking of Verin Sedai as being a member of the Black Ajah while obviously key to the story (and long suspected) is really, really anticlimactic. Having it all answered in one simple chapter like this really takes away from the years of build up, questions and waiting that we have all experienced.

The gradual decline into misery that Rand goes through is truly heart wrenching and the way that Brandon Sanderson ties into Rand’s long standing hatred of harming women is really agonizing to witness. When he finally realizes that he cannot protect all women as much as he’d like to and that some of the forsaken need to be taken care of regardless of their sex it is although painful a necessary (while this is as a I said necessary it also is something that in my opinion is mishandled to a degree … there is no climactic battle with Graendal and her destruction seams almost lackadaisical for one such as she) step in his growth.

The final scenes of the book depict Rand angry at the futility of life bound to the Wheel. Intending to pull in enough power to truly finish the job that Lews Therin started, he journey’s to Dragonmount and uses the Choedan Kal to draw enough of the power into himself. However this time, Lews Therin, suggests that by being reborn one has the opportunity to do things right and to love again. Agreeing, Rand turns the power of the Choedan Kal against itself, destroying it. Rand is finally able to laugh again. While he is able to get out and to the other side of his personal hell, the lessons he’s learned through it are something I am sure he will carry forward into the future.

Other key events in the book include the raid on the White Tower by the Seanchan, the death of Graendal (is she truly dead? It’s possible she gated away before Rand’s balefire attack although this seems unlikely given the evidence), the ascension of Tuon, the unmasking of Sheriam (and others due to Verin) and the inclusion of Aviendha into the ranks of the Aiel Wise Ones. Rand is able to channel not just the one power but also the True Power and uses it free himself from a domination band and kill Semirhage (Forsaken) and Elza (Black Ajah Aes Sedai). Egwene unmasks almost a hundred Black Ajah sisters in the White Tower and her rebel camp – they are all summarily killed.

Like so many others, I began reading the Wheel of Time series almost 2 decades ago. As mentioned right at the beginning, I started this book with a fair degree of trepidation but from page one, I found myself devouring each and every page of The Gathering Storm, desperate for more. I would be dishonest if I said the transition between authors was seamless, but I did seriously love the book, largely because of some of the differences in style. I like the way the characters seem to have matured. There is added depth to the characterizations that I really enjoyed, especially with Rand, Egwene and Nynaeve. As was mentioned earlier, the women are portrayed a little more realistically, with less hair pulling and sniffing. Every time I turned the page I had a sense of elation as I felt that same intimacy with the story I had felt so long ago on first picking up The Eye of the World.

This book is a genuinely great contribution; if you like any other book in the Wheel of Time series, you’ll like this one. So far as this volume goes, at least, the handover has succeeded. There’s a real spark and fire here; if you’re a fan of the earlier books, and you haven’t gotten completely jaded to the entire Wheel of Time series by now, you will love this one as well.

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2014 was an exceptional year for genre nerds. In a span of twelve months, we received cinematic treasures such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. I slated Fox’s Gotham series in as the third and shiniest jewel in my comic book nerd triple crown. Much to my chagrin, I immediately found the show to be a chore to get through. Gotham felt like arriving for a blind date, feeling relieved that the person I am meeting is gorgeous and then having them break the ice with a racist joke. Gotham is a dusty old Atari console dressed up like an Xbox.

For weeks I struggled to makes sense of Gotham’s successful ratings relative to my indifference towards it. Was I somehow missing something? Once I came to the painful conclusion that Gotham and I were better off seeing other people, the shows issues became clear to me. With some breathing room between us, I saw that Gotham wasn’t an awful show. Looking at it objectively, Gotham was fun to look at, had a huge cast of characters and loads of bizarre crimes. There were far worse ways to spend an hour in front of the TV on a Monday night. Whoever, while watching the show with the vigilant eye of a Batman fan, I saw the program in a different light. Gotham was overflowing with plots, featured an excessive amount of villains and created a mockery of Batman’s mythology. It finally made sense to me that Gotham is a terrible show for Batman fans and a decent show for everyone else.

 

Gotham takes place 20-years before the arrival of The Batman in order to offer the audience insight into the rich history of the Batman universe. Batman fans are already aware of who these heroes and villains ultimately become. For fans, seeing iconic characters depicted as caricatures of their future selves is not at all interesting. Watching a young Riddler drinking from a cup with a question mark on it is a cheap and indulgent way of flat out pandering to the audience. Rather than winking at hardcore Batman fans, the writers should be focusing their creative energy on driving the narrative forward.

Knowledgeable fans watch to see the gap bridged between, innocuous Gotham City Police Department employee Edward Nygma and the Riddler. Jim Gordon arrives in Gotham as a younger, less mustached version of the commissioner we get in movies and comics. It doesn’t make for a compelling story to keep Gordon playing the “last good cop” in Gotham for the next 20 years until Batman arrives. Wouldn’t it be more compelling to have a broken down and cynical Jim Gordon arrive in Gotham? Doesn’t the more interesting arc consist of seeing Jim forced into the role of unlikely hero? At this point, I would take Gotham presenting him as a good cop, forced to compromise his values and then repenting for his misdeeds. We know that his fate is to rally against a broken and corrupt system. Gotham’s job as a series is to provide a compelling reason for him to do so. Gotham needs to be about the journey and not the destination. By giving the characters so little room to grow into who they will become Gotham is stuck in a narrative rut, spinning its wheels in place and going nowhere.

It’s counter-intuitive that Batman’s 75-year mythology is the factor most responsible for Gotham’s struggles. Gotham inserts prominent Batman characters into each episode at the frantic rate of a show that fears that it won’t be on the air long. In the first several episodes, the show introduced what should have been year’s worth of famous characters. So far we have seen Penguin, Riddler, Scarecrow, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Victor Szas as well as Bane’s Venom serum. Packing each episode with so many larger than life characters causes Gotham’s schizophrenic shifts in tone.

Each episode of Gotham frantically tosses disparate ideas at a creative wall, hoping to find anything that sticks. The series erratically cycles between procedural cop drama, organized crime politics, teen drama and super hero origin story.  The only successful element of the show so far is the patiently unraveling tale of the Penguin’s rise to power. The Penguin is Gotham’s most compelling aspect because his arc has simmered over the entire season. Gotham continues to introduce characters from the Batman universe, each one deep enough to be the focus of an entire season. The show must consider taking a less is more approach. Much like a frozen turkey removed from the oven before receiving adequate time to cook, Gotham is an overstuffed and under developed mess.

One of the primary reasons that Gotham is a hit in the ratings is that the show is able to attract fans that are unfamiliar with Batman’s world. Gotham’s attempts to appeal to the broadest possible audience limits the types of stories that the series can tell. So far, Gotham’s been accessible to a wide audience because it adheres to a familiar procedural cop show template. Those accustomed to the structure can easily follow an episode’s plot despite being unfamiliar with the show. Usually the main story will center on cops chasing down the villain of the week. Gotham is a festering meat grinder of a city that takes in the innocent, chews them up and spits out damaged sociopaths. Right now, the show only provides us with the broken down sociopaths. The format dictates that we get the hunt and we see bad-guys brought to justice by the good guys each episode.  The show usually leaves out the juicy details about how the villains ended up in the Gotham City meat grinder.

Shows like Fringe, Supernatural and most recently Marvel’s Agents of Shield all started out as lackluster case of the week procedural type shows. These programs did not get interesting until they abandoned the case of the week format and embraced heavy serialization. Once the weekly stories started bleeding into each other the writers had more room to expand the deep mythologies of each shows world. Once Fox picked up more episodes of Gotham, the show arrived at creative fork in the road. History says the series will carry on with the one-dimensional characters and impatient storytelling that has proven successful so far. To reach its potential it’s necessary for Gotham to use its new found security to slow down, take its foot off the gas pedal and tell deeper and more focused stories.

By marketing Gotham towards Batman fans and non-fans alike, Fox created a watered down show. Gotham paints itself into a creative corner with its simplified characters and disregard for Batman’s mythology. If I could “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” the part of my brain that holds “everything Batman,” then I might just find this show and its characters intriguing. Perhaps then, every threat to a familiar character’s life would have me on the edge of my seat. Since that is not the case, Gotham is a program that has yet to show long-standing Batman fans like myself anything enticing.

We are moving into a golden age of live-action comic book movies, television and video games. Dressing people up as beloved characters and parading them on screen is no longer enough to win fans over. Gotham expects Batman fans to have Pavlovian responses to seeing The Riddler and Harvey Dent on television. These days, if fans want to see people that look like the heroes and villains they have grown up reading about they can go to Comic-Con. Fans don’t just want a Batman series to be on television, they want a great Batman series on television. By bringing such a shallow Batman series to television, Fox gave Batman fans the show that they wanted but not the show they deserve.

Opening:

Well, last episode is a lot to follow, especially since the end tag promised that we’d get to know a lot more about the alien map.  But at this point I think I can trust the show to balance things off well with the likely manhunt for Ward.  Am I right?  Let’s take a look.

Summary:

Rhinebeck, NY: the tattooed man from last ep has picked up an artist who is trying to remember how she knows him. “I do some carving now and then,” he tells her, then takes off his shirt and pulls out a knife. Yikes! Cue the screams and then… jazz?

Back in his office, the jazz isn’t helping Coulson. His compulsion to carve the alien map on the wall has ramped up dramatically.  From the look of him, he’s running out of time.

Meanwhile, the Shield-only manhunt for Ward is on (since his brother has covered up his escape). In Philadelphia, Tripp spots him, but Ward’s able to escape because… C4 suicide vest.  The hunt for Ward leads to Atlanta, where he makes Bobbi, then demonstrates that he’s still set to explode.  However, he does not appear to spot Hunter on the bus to Boston.  Oh, May’s flying around in the Quinnjet for what seems like days this ep.  Hope that thing has a bathroom.

Sky finally comes up with a lead on the alien map: a murdered woman carved up with its symbols.  She head’s to Rhinebeck with Coulson. Together they discover the artist painted a few dozen pictures of the map onto canvas.  One of them is even signed ‘A magical place’.  So… how many other people have vacationed in T.A.H.I.T.I?

It turns out the dead woman was a Shield agent who supposedly died years ago.

Hmm, sound familiar?  Simmons discovers both the woman and her killer both had blue alien serum in their blood, which worries her, considering… Garrett, and the fact that both Skye and Coulson were injected with it.  This convinces Coulson to get Raina’s memory machine out of storage and finally remember what T.A.H.I.T.I was all about.

Skye warns against this because… insanity, but Coulson reminds her that peoples lives are at risk.  Mack, this year’s audience proxy is not too pleased about what he’s gotten involved with, but he is willing to help out in case Coulson loses it.

So… we are then treated then to a freaky and surreal recollection of the T.A.H.I.T.I project, whose subject’s resurrection starts promisingly, then they go nuts.  The whole thing is pretty rough on Coulson, and he comes out of the memory machine screaming that he – “Needs to know!!” He also, more helpfully, remembers some names.

Meanwhile, in Boston, Ward visits what appears to be a HYDRA bar to meet up with Bakshi, then offers to get the man close enough to Coulson to kill him.  May joins Tripp, Hunter and Bobbi at the pub and they head in to take down Ward, but… disappointment.  He’s long gone, but has left a gift of a tied up Bakshi with “For Coulson” written on the duct tape slapped over his mouth.  Ward’s quest for redemption has begun, right?… maybe.

It turns out only two of the T.A.H.I.T.I subjects are still alive. One is Carver, our tattooed assassin, and the other is now Hank Thompson, a welder with the most awesome model railroad set ever.  Seriously, I want one.  As per May’s orders, Skye takes Coulson down to Ward’s old cell because… insanity, again. Coulson, however turns tables, and it’s Skye that gets locked up. Oops.

Completely unaware of what’s going on, Mack and Fitz play a first person shooter while chatting about memory erasure. Fitz suggests brain’s never really deletes anything (this may be BS, actually).  Simmons shows up looking for Skye, who they quickly learn has been trapped in Ward’s cell for quite a while.

Coulson by then has shown up at the Hank’s asking if he’s been carving the alien writing to. Hank tries to say, “go away!” but then Carver shows up.  And he’s somewhat more persuasive (not to mention more psychotic) than Coulson.

Carver ties up Hank and Coulson, then starts cutting Coulson to help him ‘remember’.  Hank, escapes with his family, leaving Coulson and Carver to fight it out over the alien blood that’s driving them both.  Sky and Mack show up just in time for Coulson to show them that he’s figured out what the alien map is to: some kind of city, as seen in three dimensions through Hank’s massive model railroad set.  Wisely, Hank later tells Coulson he prefers his family and life to the idea of returning to Shield, even if his memories of his current identity are fictional.

And, happily for Coulson, the compulsion to carve is now gone so he is able to tell his team that he is no longer in danger of going insane, and about the ‘city’. However, he adds HYDRA is also looking for it, so… again, season arc, but in a good way.  And hey, thanks to Ward, they now have Bakshi to interrogate!

The episode wraps up with Ward cleaning himself back up.  He then calls Bakshi’s phone, and guess who answers?  Skye, of course.  He reminds her of his promise, tells her he wasn’t impressed with the new recruits, then promises to see her soon.  He does have some personal business to deal with first, however. Yep, Christian.

Final Thoughts:

While not as heady and intricately written as last episode, this one is quite good on a few counts.  The alien map reveal is managed in a disturbing, surreal, but finally life affirming manner.  The episode also offers a subtext re: taking charge of your own identity, and offers several different views of this idea, all well realized.

Finally we get to see Ward in his element, deftly leading the crew to his gift wrapped Hydra higher-up.  Ward, after a dodgy season one is now both intriguing, and not a bit scary. Very fine.

The Mule playing his Psycholyre on a paperback...
The Mule playing his Psycholyre on a paperback cover of Foundation and Empire from the 1960s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Probably one of the first “epic” series of science fiction books that I had the pleasure of reading.  The Foundation Series written by Isaac Asimov – a grandmaster of Science Fiction and along with Arthur C. Clarke & L.Ron Hubbard, one of the grandaddies of the genre – is a series of novels spanning a 500 year future dealing with the fall and rebirth of the galactic empire.

The initial Foundation series was tied to the first trilogy of books that he published, however, subsequent to this, the Robot Series and Empire Series were tied into this same fictional universe by some key and specific characters so that in total the time span covered is almost twenty thousand years!

The basic story is as follows –

Hari Seldon a mathematician in the 1st empire, determines that the fall of the empire is not only eminent but inevitable.  He bases this on his “new” science of mathematics called psychohistory which works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.  Using this “new math”, Hari Seldon is able to “predict” the future, but only on a large scale and is able to forsee the fall of the Galactic Empire and that the ensuing dark age will last 30,000 years before a second empire arises to replace it.

To shorten this period of anarchy and barbarism, Hari sets up two separate foundations at “opposite ends of the galaxy” with the intention of reducing the dark age from 30,000 years to a mere 1,000 years.  Each foundation is to have seperate skills and scope so that combined they are stronger than either of them would be separately.

The First Foundation is located on the planet Terminus, on the extreme edge of the galaxy.

The people living there, are working on the all-encompassing Encyclopedia, and are unaware of Seldon’s real intentions (for if they were, the variables would become too uncontrolled). The Encyclopedia serves to preserve knowledge of the physical sciences after the collapse and this foundation is primarily based on science and technology.

The Second Foundation is located at … (well this is actually one of the better surprises of the series so I hope you don’t mind too much if I don’t tell you and let you find out for yourself!  Or you could read my review of that book when I write it!) … and they are the keepers of Hari’s vision making sure that it stays on track and that no unforseen concequences impact the plan.  They are dedicated more to the science of the mind vs. the physical sciences and their skills complement and complete the First Foundations.

Prequels

  1. Prelude to Foundation
  2. Forward the Foundation

 Original Trilogy

  1. Foundation
  2. Foundation and Empire
  3. Second Foundation

Sequel

  1. Foundation’s Edge
  2. Foundation and Earth

Superman. The man of steel or the big blue boy scout? As legendary as this character is he also happens to be one of the most divisive in today’s modern age. The common complaint I often hear is that people can’t relate enough to him. Fair enough I guess. Warner Bros sort of listened it seems. If Man Of Steel was any indication, then you can see that they pushed Superman in a much darker direction. It payed dividends at the box office but once again, fans and critics alike remained divisive. Despite that, Warner Bros. is now moving on with the franchise and adding Batman to it. Needless to say, the promise of having Superman AND Batman in the same movie could be orgasmic to some.

Casting Ben Affleck as Batman may have taken the wind out of the films sails a bit but it remains to be seen if he will indeed be a terrible Batman. As usual most of the talk leading up to this film centers around Batman but where does that leave Superman?  Wasn’t this supposed to be A sequel to Man OF Steel? A movie that Superman was clearly the star in.Warner Bros. recently changed their tune saying that  Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice is not a sequel to Man Of Steel. A strange move but whatever.With all this in mind I think it’s very interesting and important to look at the evolution of a character that’s been around for more than 75 years.

When I was growing up I loved, and still love Superheroes to this day. My mother told me that at the age of three I was obsessed with The Lone Ranger and Batman. That obsession only lead to more superheroes. Superman was pretty much next in line. In fact I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love Superman. It’s a bit of a haze.  One thing remained clear very early on in my child mind. Batman number 1 and Superman number 2. The funny thing is that I had my first experiences with those characters while growing up in South America. I moved to Canada at about the age of five with both of my Batman and Superman toys in hand. In Canada my father kept feeding my habit and I devoured Comics as much as I devoured cereal it seemed. It’s amazing what kind of impact those heroes had on me. Particularly Superman and Batman. Being new to the country my grasp at English was poor at best. This made reaching out to kids especially difficult. Often times I would come home soured and upset with people. I just simply dived back into the world of Comics and lived there. Batman seemed so fitting. Here’s a guy who is a good man at his core but he worked in the shadows and seemed to shun away anyone else who wanted to aid him. He worked best alone and he had a lot of darkness and anger. I related to the isolation and the frustration obviously. When I read Superman it was the opposite feeling.Here was this Alien from another place trying to fit in and actually embracing people. Even those who feared and didn’t understand him!

His situation was a lot closer to my own so I connected with that. It was a security blanket that gave me hope that I would be accepted and that doing the right thing was more useful in the long run, than anger. Don’t get me wrong my morals and ethics come from my wonderful family, particularly my parents but Superman played a key role in cementing those morals. All the comics I read played a part but Superman really hammered them home. I wanted to be Superman. Everyone does at some point. I knew that a human could be Batman but I wanted to BE Superman. Once I brought my cherished Superman toy to school and was playing with it happily until another kid began making fun and saying ” Superman sucks!” My young mind was baffled and I lashed out in defense of a fictional character as if it was a flesh and blood person. They simply laughed me off but I came home so anguished swearing to my Mother I would never again bring this Superman toy to school. This is how strongly I felt about the character.

The years roll onand those strong feelings didn’t really change much. People came and went. Friends changed over the years but anytime I felt let down or forgotten, there he was. Superman! always waiting to take me away on another adventure. Never to forget me.  As I got older I noticed that more and more people keep complaining about his lack of weaknesses and his stubborn goody two shoe nature. The media just kept churning out Superman related things regardless of this with little change in the way the character was. Sure, a tweak here and a tweak there but still Supes.

Things changed a bit when The Death Of Superman comic came out. It made an impact and people noticed. Suddenly this icon that everyone was sort of tired of but everyone would always think would be around, was gone. This was the first major death in comics at the time. You could argue Flash was but I digress. Of course, eventually he came back and I think fans missed him. It was such a big deal that it was even on the news.All of a sudden that reaction I had all those years ago when I was a five year old kid didn’t seem so dumb. People actually cared about him.

 

Years passed and the same old problems came up and then Superman Returns came out. A commercial and fan disappointment. The common complaint? ” Too lame. Not enough action. Too straight and narrow.” I felt those were valid points to some degree but I didn’t hate the film. I didn’t love it either. I too longed for a Superman Vs Doomsday like moment but for that I would have to wait until 2013. When Man Of Steel Came out  I was so eager to see it and I wanted it to succeed very badly. I wanted everyone to finally love this character again as I did. I wanted to say ” See! Superman’s not that bad.” To a large degree it did succeed. It made it’s money meaning that people did go see it. Only this time the complaints from fans and critics was the opposite to Superman Returns. ” Too loud, too much action, too dark.” Once again, I can’t argue with the validity of those points.

SPOILER ALERT: I mean Superman actually KILLED someone in this movie. That’s pretty dark and different for a character who’s whole point has been ” There’s always another way”. I understand why Superman did it but I have to say it shocked me. My brother and I looked at each other in the theater with our mouths wide open in disbelief. It didn’t ruin the movie but I wished he had not done it.

Warner Bros gave the people what they asked for but they were still not not happy.I think the general public enjoyed it but many fans and critics did not. They wanted to modernize the character and were not afraid to push the limits being the reasoning behind the shift in tone and character. you might attribute that to the constant barrage of  people saying that they can’t relate to Superman. I ask why is it so important to relate to him? He’s taken the best aspects of humanity and tried to live by them. He always did the right thing in spite of changing times and opinions. He’s supposed to be an example to society. I want to be like Superman, I don’t want him to be like me. What inspiration does him being like us give anyone? The best Superman movie in my humble opinion is Superman Vs The Elite. Probably one you never heard of unless you’re a fan. It’s an animated adaptation of the best selling comic by Joe Kelly called ” Whats so wrong about truth, justice and the American way?” The movie adaptation is the definition of Superman in the modern age. It puts who he is front and center for better or for worse. In fact, I always say, it’s the perfect movie for a Superman hater to watch because it address a lot of those common complaints and asks the biggest question. Why doesn’t Superman ever kill?

If you ask me that is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. I think we all know that the expectation of someone never having  to kill is a tad unrealistic. That’s why it’s easy to criticize Superman. Because sometimes he might be wrong and that frustrates us. I think his point is to teach us a way to avoid going down the darker path because frankly, it’s easier. Just look at TV and Film today. Your most popular characters are anti-heroes bordering on straight up villain. I could name just a few Walter White, Tony Soprano, The Punisher or even Rick from The Walking Dead. All great dense, deep characters but do people find that they like them because they relate to a Sociopathic murderer? That would mean that we are all more like sociopaths than we think. That’s kind of scary if it’s true. I understand the need to be drawn to those characters , but to say that they are more relatable? I guess that’s why Superman kills in the new films. To make him more ” relatable”.

I think doing the right thing all the time is somewhat of an antiquated and unpoplar notion. I love my anti heroes as much as the next person. What I do strive for is a world where we can appreciate and understand both kinds of characters and people. There’s a reason why Superman and Batman make the best group whenever they pair up. Light vs Dark. We all have darkness but we need light. Let’s see what becomes of Superman in his new film and we’ll talk then.