Week of Superhero Television – In-Development Series

The second episode to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (AoS) is airing tonight, and like most superhero enthusiasts, I’m fairly excited to see it. While the series’ successful is definitely a big headline of the past week, possibly far more intriguing are the news of in-development television series based on comic book properties.

Initially, a week before AoS debuted, rumors started circulating about a potential deal in the making for an upcoming Agent Carter television series. To those unfamiliar to the character, she was portrayed by Hayley Atwell in 2011 Captain America: The First Avenger as the female lead/love interest, and was the focus of a Agent Carter, short for the Iron Man 3 DVD, which I have not seen, but heard great things about. Considering the series would likely pick up after Captain America’s “accident”, and before the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D., one can see why Marvel would look to the property as a valuable connective property. This would allow the rather exciting opportunity of having a prequel to AoS airing at the same time as the Clark Gregg-lead show.

There has been no indication, as of yet, what network would pick up the series, or if Holly Atwell is involved in any capacity, but ABC would be the logical choice, considering it is already the home for AoS.

I won’t gloss over the most important aspect of these news, however, as the series would represent a major comic-based television property headed by a woman. Neither Marvel nor DC have had a major female-lead film since 2005’s Elektra, and 2004’s Catwoman, both of which proved to be major box office and critical flops and seemed to scare producers away from superheroines. This series being aired could be a major push in the right direction.

Not to be forgotten, DC also announced a new television series. They are already preparing a back-door pilot for a Flash television series in the form of Arrow‘s season 2 finale, but they are evidently determined to not be out-done in a week where Marvel is dominating television news. Originally, early last week the buzz on the internet spoke of a long-talked-about Gotham Central series, based on the comic by Ed Brubaker. The actual news is that a show based around a young Jim Gordon, as a Gotham city detective, currently entitled Gotham is currently in production. There are very few details available at this time, but the most interesting piece is that the series commitment is at Fox. This is puzzling, as Arrow and The Flash are both airing on CW, owned by DC’s parent company Time Warner. Before this announcement, it appeared that DC was setting up a separate continuity for their CW shows, but it is difficult to imagine any sort of tie-in with the Fox-based Gotham series.

The surprise was doubled when yet another network made a deal for a DC character last week – namely, NBC bought, under penalty if the pilot doesn’t air, the rights to a John Constantine television series (currently titled Constantine). It is difficult to speculate what direction the television series will take, but considering the timing, it is reasonable to expect that it will take its tone from the currently running comic by the same name. John Constantine is my all-time favorite comic book character, but it’s the older Hellblazer incarnation that I’m a huge fan of. The newer version regularly has disproportionately powerful magical abilities, which I suppose is the major complaint I have about the currently running series. As a consequence, the character is lazier, brashly rushing into situations with little preparation. Where he does prepare, it’s used by writer as nothing more than deus ex machina: “I was prepared for this! I totally was! I cast a spell before I showed up!” Somewhere along the line, it was forgotten that John is absolutely not a superhero, but a supernatural conman. He doesn’t like to get his hands dirty, and certainly doesn’t have any D&D wizard-type spells, he deals in trickery and forethought. I was heartbroken when Hellblazer, at that time the longest-running comic for either Marvel or DC, was cancelled after issue 300. Few things would make me happier than a good Constantine television series, but I’m cautious to say the least.

The television series is not the only Constantine project currently in the works – Guillermo del Toro is reportedly working on a Justice League Dark film, in which the chain-smoking magical conman is set to appear. Del Toro said that “Constantine is our lead… the guy who leads us in and out of the plot.” He also said in a different interview that “Constantine is such a great character, so dry.” Once again, those quotes give me hope. Maybe del Toro does get the character, and maybe he’ll do a fantastic job! The series he’s basing the movie on, however, Justice League Dark, is sadly not great. It’s one of those series I keep returning to because of the characters, only to be disappointed every time with stories I fail to find even remotely compelling. Guillermo is notorious for juggling numerous projects at once.

The proposed television series is, once again, at NBC, which is yet another network that is set to air a DC-based show. It seems very unlikely that any sort of continuity would ever be established between these competing companies’ offerings, but maybe that’s not a terrible thing. I believe Arrow and The Flash could benefit from the shared continuity. In fact, I’m almost always in favor of continuity. Constantine, however, along with Gotham, may actually work better as stand-alones. AoS and Agent Carter presumably will share a world, along with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unless DC has some as of yet unrevealed plan for an overarching universe, it seems they are content with simply using their characters as before, while placing all of their hopes into the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. Which, I won’t argue, is looking cool.

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How I Switched to Marvel Comics

Over the past year, I have found myself reading more and more Marvel comics. Part of it is simply increased familiarity with the characters, I admit. I know enough to be able to separate between the movie and comic universes, but simply have not had enough access to the reading material to really familiarize myself. In that sense, me reading much more Marvel comics is a success of their cinematic universe. I don’t know that any particular marketing grabbed me, but to the extent that The Avengers could be considered advertisement for the far less lucrative comics market, it succeeded.

That being said, I did not run out immediately after watching a movie to buy a bunch of Captain America back issues. Marvel, just like their competition, do suffer from the painful issue of having such deep backstories for all of their characters, that the barrier of entry is simply too high for most. That same history is, of course, what makes it enticing, and I’m certainly not advocating reboots. I AM making strides in understanding and appreciating more of that history, but the true revelation for me was that I can, and do, enjoy certain pockets of the Marvel universe as standalone stories.

From Hellblazer #1, Art by John Ridgway and Lovern Kindzierski

From Hellblazer #1, Art by John Ridgway and Lovern Kindzierski

First of all, I’d like to address why I wasn’t reading Marvel comics to begin with. When I initially started reading comics, I simply wasn’t into superheroes; or at least the traditionally colorful ones. The first graphic novel I read was James O’Barr’s The Crow, which suited my teen angst well. I then transitioned into Sin City, following the 2005 release of the movie. I enjoyed comics, but I was fearful of being stereotyped. Comics, I had decided, weren’t for kids as a whole, that was just the Spider-Man stuff. I was wrong, I know, but give me a break – I was 16, the main interest in my life at the time was Metallica. Later that year, I saw the Constantine movie, and realized I simply could not get enough of this mage who so skillfully defies Lucifer himself. Or, at least, I wasn’t getting enough from the movie, so I was excited to find out it was based on an ongoing series! The first issue, drawn by John Ridgeway, seemed… old. But cool, like a chronicle of magic in the late eighties. At first, I thought Constantine was a bastard, and of course he was; but he was my bastard, and I knew he’d do the right thing in the end, great personal sacrifice be damned.

In my later reading, I got really into, and really sick of Spawn, became a die hard Gaiman fan, began worshipping Miller and then was decimated to find out about his personal views… When it came to superhero comics, however, my choice seemed to be spelled out to me and were static: 1. A lot of my favorite comics were from Vertigo, and I knew DC owned them; 2. Batman. In the competition between the big two, I sided with DC not because I read many of their comics, but because I read any of their comics: Batman, and their indie imprint Vertigo’s titles. I knew about mainstream comics, I thought, but really didn’t read them much at all.

DC’s New 52 offered me a way in to their main universe, however, and I jumped in. Reading from 1 to 5 monthly titles since the reboot. While I really like Snyder’s Batman, and Swamp Thing certainly has very cool moments, my faith in DC began wavering with, once again, my original favorite comic character – John Constantine. I found out he was in the Justice League Dark team, and naturally had to check it out. I tried, I really tried to like that version of Constantine. I’m not a negative guy, I actually thought the Keanu Reeves version was descent, aside from the obvious differences. I realized very quickly, however, that this was no longer the character I loved. I like the idea of the magical character being in a superhero world, but he can’t himself become a superhero, and unfortunately in his current comics his powers are pretty much akin to Zatanna’s – “Denialpxenu gninthgil morf sregnif!” There’s no real reason why Constantine fights the Cult of the Cold Flame in those comics, except that they’re bad guys. Once again, I appreciate the need for some background knowledge in most comics, but this is New 52, everything should be explained, right? Satisfied to continue reading the Hellblazer monthlies, therefore, I promptly dropped JLD. Imagine my dismay, when I found out Hellblazer was being cancelled and replaced with Constantine, a DC Universe book. I tried to remain optimistic, even picked up more of the JLD comics to try and get into this version of the character, but none of those comics grabbed me. For about a minute, I wasn’t sure I would continue reading any mainstream comics at all, prepared to retreat to the indies, where it’s safe…

Variant Cover of Young Avengers #1, Art by Bryan Lee O’Malley

What changed that, is me seeing the Bryan Lee O’Malley variant cover for Young Avengers #1. I was already a huge Scott Pilgrim fan, resulting in me purchasing the comic solely for the cover, which is the only time I had ever done this. I’m really glad I wasn’t lead astray, because I now strongly believe that comics like Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen represent the future of comics. The characters, while being respectful of the old guard of superheroes they are emulating, are modern, and have modern relationships amongst them. Which is why, despite me having not previously had absolutely any awareness of who the characters were, I was engaged completely from reading the first issue. I love that the comic’s lineup is not exclusively male, and that it is definitely not hetero-normative. I love that gay characters are given the space to just be a really adorable couple, without their relationship being a major stumbling point for the plot. I love that Captain America’s counterpart in the comic is a latino girl without that being overexplained or publicized and discussed by the media at large. I got the sense that these characters were people, living their lives (as super-powered as those lives may be). And the story, and the storytelling is REALLY COOL! I keep seeing things in that comic that I had NEVER seen in comics before, both in Gillan’s writing and the art by Jamie McKelvie;and while I’m not, as I’ve established, an expert, I have read a lot of comics since 2005. Reading this comic is almost akin to watching a modern music video, having only seen pre-eighties cinema before. It’s jarring, and you can question the value of the content all you want… But it’s vibrant, and I feel alive when I read that comic.

I have found similar experiences in Deadpool and Hawkeye, for completely different reasons.  Deadpool is funny to the extent that superhero comic have no right being, and a friend just told me he teared up two pages into Fraction’s Hawkeye #1. Fraction’s FF is similarly wonderful. I understand if I end up being mocked at my shock, but I actually didn’t realize that could be done in Marvel superhero comics, which is why I haven’t been reading them! I’ve since gone back and have been systematically familiarizing myself with the Marvel universe at large, and while it isn’t all gold, the characters and stories are actually really interesting and complex. I can follow, understand, and empathize with these characters, which I had found increasingly difficult to do in DC.

So there it is. I did not mean to put down DC comics with this article in any way, because I certainly do still enjoy a lot of DC comics. Vertigo is putting out more Sandman, which I can’t wait for. Snyder’s Batman is, once again, great, and there is nothing DC is currently getting wrong they couldn’t fix by hiring, and keeping the right writer; the key to which is, I believe, let them do interesting, character motivated stories. And I’m sure there are many great titles I’m just not reading! So, let this be an assignment to my readers – what else should I be reading, on either of the big two, that makes me excited about comics? Because let me be honest – I just don’t have the time and money to be reading comics I don’t love.