“We are still Starfleet” — Star Trek Discovery’s “The Wolf Inside”

Star Trek Discovery The Wolf Inside

It really does suck to be Michael Burnham.

I mean, first you had the whole thing with her parents being killed, and then she was raised on a planet that isn’t exactly kind and benevolent toward humans (or much of anybody), she got screwed out of going to Vulcan Space School, and then she got her captain and about 8000 other people killed in an incident that started a brutal war. And then she got herself assigned to a ship run by a loony with PTSD whose first officer is her former shipmate who hates her living guts.

And all of that is as nothing compared to the crap she goes through in “The Wolf Inside.” I got dinged last week for not putting up sufficient spoiler alerts, so SPOILER ALERT! LOTSA SPOILERS FOR “THE WOLF INSIDE” IN THIS POST! ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE!

The ...

Hit Comics Properties that Became Movie Flops — Steel and Spawn

The seeds of this week’s superhero movie rewatch—both 1997 releases—were sown in 1992.

At DC, there were four monthly titles starring Superman: Action Comics, The Adventures of Superman, Man of Steel, and Superman. In ’92, “The Death of Superman” was the major storyline running through all four titles, culminating in the man of steel’s death at the hands of Doomsday. Four heroes took on the mantle of Superman following his death, one in each of those titles. In Man of Steel by Louise Simonson & Jon Bogdanove, they focused on John Henry Irons, a ballistics expert who created a suit of armor and called himself Steel.

At Marvel, several of the company’s most popular artists—Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, and Todd McFarlane—left Marvel to form their own creator-owned company, Image Comics. McFarlane’s contribution to Image’s first wave of titles was a dark hero known ...

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side — Star Trek Discovery’s “Despite Yourself”

After a two-month wait, Star Trek Discovery returns with new episodes and answers several questions while asking three or four more, and also, sadly, providing us with a TV Trope that I’m not entirely sure Trek needed to participate in.

The big thing, though, is that we’re back in the Mirror Universe, making Discovery the fourth series to visit that particular alternate timeline established in 1967’s “Mirror, Mirror” on the original series, and the ninth single episode to deal with the MU. And since Discovery is still in the MU at episode’s end, and the previews include Sarek with a goatee, then we’re guaranteed to hit double digits in MU Trek episodes in a week’s time. Yay?

The episode opens by establishing that Discovery isn’t actually lost in space, as I feared at the end of “Into the Forest I Go,” but rather in the right ...

“We’re not your classic heroes” — Mystery Men and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Both Mystery Men and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were movies based on comic books that riffed on the concept of superhero teams. The former bore only a passing resemblance to the team that showed up in Flaming Carrot Comics, and it took a more direct satirical approach than the surrealist satire of Bob Burden’s various comics series.

The latter gave the Avengers/Justice League treatment to various late-19th-century literary heroes. The only ones that were in both the Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill comic and in the film were Allan Quartermain, Mina Harker (née Murray), Jekyll & Hyde, Captain Nemo, and Professor Moriarty. (A different invisible man was used, and Fu Manchu dropped, both due to rights issues.)

Neither film was a huge success, though one of them really should have been.

Flaming Carrot Comics was a weird-ass sendup of superheroes by Burden that has appeared sporadically since 1979. It stars ...

“Smokin’!” — The Mask and Son of the Mask

The Mask started out as a concept Mike Richardson came up with for a sketch in APA-5, an amateur press fanzine Richardson was involved with in 1985. Later on, Richardson formed Dark Horse Comics, and gave the concept to Mark Badger, who did a feature called The Masque in the anthology comic Dark Horse Presents. The more familiar version—with the big green head, the massive teeth, and the general mode of chaos—debuted in Mayhem in 1989, eventually getting his own four-issue miniseries, the first of several, in 1991, which continued throughout the 1990s.

They were popular enough to become part of Dark Horse Entertainment’s stable of films, for which it was one of their biggest hits.

It helped that The Mask starred Jim Carrey at the height of his popularity. Starting out as a standup comic, Carrey’s breakout was on the Wayans brothers’ groundbreaking sketch comedy show In Living ...

Holy Rewatch Batman! Extra: Batman vs. Two-Face

Batman vs. Two-Face
Written by Michael Jelenic & James Tucker
Directed by Rick Morales
Original release date: October 10, 2017

The Bat-signal: Batman and Robin are invited by Dr. Hugo Strange to witness the testing of a new crimefighting tool: the Evil Extractor. En route, Batman stops by the Gotham State Penitentiary to visit Catwoman, giving her a gift of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love poetry. Their attempt to kiss through the bars is interrupted (of course) by Robin.

They arrive at Strange’s demonstration. He and his assistant, Dr. Harleen Quinzel, set up the extractor with Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Egghead, and Mr. Freeze. (At one point Quinzel and Joker exchange a wink. This may or may not be important later.)

Also present is Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent, whom Batman “meets” for the first time (though he and Bruce Wayne are good friends). Given Batman’s track record in prosecuting ...

“I am the law!”—Judge Dredd (1995) and Dredd (2012)

Judge Dredd Stallone

Judge Dredd first started appearing in the British comics magazine 2000 A.D. in 1977. That magazine has, over the years, featured work by such British superstar comics creators as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, Grant Morrison, and Pat Mills and John Wagner. At Mills’s urging (he was editor at the time), Wagner created Dredd, along with artist Carlos Ezquerra, who designed his iconic outfit.

The dystopian future world of Judge Dredd is the most popular feature to come from 2000 A.D., and in 1990 it was spun off into Judge Dredd Megazine, which is still being published today. And twice, Dredd has been adapted into a feature film.

In 1995, Sylvester Stallone starred in Judge Dredd, which seemed a good fit at first, especially since Stallone has the perfect jaw for the role, still identifiable even in Dredd’s big-ass helmet. In the 1990s, Stallone ...

Judge Dredd 1995 movie
Judge Dredd enforcer
Judge Dredd Statue of Liberty
Dredd 2012 film
Dredd 2012 film Anderson
Dredd 2012 film Ma-Ma

“I’m not bedtime story lady, so pay attention!” — Barb Wire and Tank Girl

The 1990s was the era of the “bad girl” in comics, with such characters as Shi, Witchblade, Razor, the women of Gen13, and more. Two of the earliest and most successful examples were Tank Girl, which started in a UK comic magazine called Deadline, and which was more of an underground comic tying into the punk scene of the era; and Barb Wire, a dystopian future series from Dark Horse.

Both got made into mid-1990s movies that did remarkably poorly at the box office.

Barb Wire is one of many films produced by Dark Horse Entertainment, an arm of the comics company designed specifically to produce film and TV versions of their funnybooks. Barb Wire was their fourth film (following The Mask, which we’ll cover next week, along with Dr. Giggles and Timecop), and their first big flop. Intended as a starring vehicle for Pamela ...

Running Away from Its Roots — Marvel’s The Punisher Season One

Netflix’s little corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been focused on more street-level stuff rather than big battles to save the world. The highest stakes we’ve seen have been to save a neighborhood or a city or maybe just a few people, but that’s often enough.

The Punisher both continues that trend and subverts it. Unlike every other protagonist in an MCU film and a Netflix show in particular, Frank Castle doesn’t have powers (Daredevil has his super-senses, Iron Fist has his titular ability, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have super-strength) or extranormal enhancements (armor, webbing, magic hammer, shrink ray). And nobody really gets saved here, which is fitting, as the Punisher isn’t a hero. What this is more about is exposing corruption.

Show-runner Steve Lightfoot (who is inexplicably listed as the “creator” of the show) takes this all about ten steps further by completely removing Castle from any ...

Marvel’s The Punisher First Impressions of Episodes 1-3

The Punisher first impressions episodes 1 2 3 Marvel Netflix Jon Bernthal Frank Castle

“I actually care what happens to you, which makes precisely one of us.”

There were three separate attempts to adapt the Punisher for live-action, including one from Marvel Studios itself, Punisher: War Zone. Marvel found movie success in their big-time heroes, and their more street-level types wound up thriving in television, specifically Netflix.

To that end, instead of a fourth attempt at the Punisher in film as part of the MCU, the character was folded into the Defenders set of shows by being half the plot of season 2 of Daredevil. Jon Bernthal inhabited the role so magnificently that Netflix green-lit a wholly unplanned Punisher series to go along with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders.

Based on the first three episodes, we get a story that, at least so far, is the most connected to the real world of soldiers and violence ...

’38 Special—The Rocketeer and The Phantom

The Rocketeer salute

The Rocketeer was created in 1982 by the late Dave Stevens as a tribute to Depression-era movie serials and comic strips and such. Stevens had an affinity for the pop culture of the first half of the 20th century, having made a career of creating art in the style of that bygone era. Besides The Rocketeer, his best-known works were his illustrations of pinup model Bettie Page (who was also a supporting character in The Rocketeer).

The Phantom was created in 1936 by the late Lee Falk (who continued to write and draw The Phantom comic strip until his death in 1999 at the age of 87), and was the very type of adventure story that Stevens was nostalgic for and trying to re-create with his Rocketeer character.

Both characters were adapted into live-action movies in the 1990s that took place in 1938 and would prove to be ...

The Phantom movie slam evil
The Rocketeer movie poster
The Rocketeer Eddie Valentine Timothy Dalton
The Rocketeer Lothar
Jennifer Connelly Blake Rocketeer
The Rocketeer Griffiths Observatory zeppelin
The Phantom 1996 movie horse
The Rocketeer movie
The Phantom movie slam evil

“Everybody comes home” — Star Trek Discovery’s “Into the Forest I Go”

And so Discovery reaches its “mid-season finale,” a recent phenomenon of television to make sure that people tune in for the last episode before a break, and also to reassure folks that yes, we’ll be back in a few months, don’t go away and never come back, pretty please. While it’s true you never saw this in the old days, said old days involved somewhere between three and ten sources of new programming at most. Now there’s hundreds. One can’t really blame the producers for being gun-shy about losing viewers because they took a few weeks off.

Anyhow, the storyline comes full circle, putting Burnham back on the bridge of the ship of the dead, with a chance at redemption for getting her captain killed. And it’s quite a ride.

First of all, though, mea culpa: I was wrong, and every single person (practically) in the comments was right ...

“God’s gonna sit this one out” — The Punisher (1989), The Punisher (2004), and Punisher: War Zone

The Punisher first appeared in the comics in 1974 in an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. He showed up as a guest star in many comics over the next twelve years before getting a miniseries by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck in 1986 which was a huge hit. That led to a slew of Punisher comic books, particularly in the late 1980s and 1990s when the more violent heroes (see also Wolverine and Ghost Rider and Lobo) were becoming more popular.

That popularity also led to a movie with Dolph Lundgren in 1989 that was not much of a hit and barely got released. When superhero movies took off in the early 2000s, another shot was taken with Thomas Jane in 2004, and then another with Ray Stevenson in 2008.

The Punisher was originally a Vietnam veteran named Frank Castle. He came home from the war only to see his ...

If You Want Peace, Prepare for War — Star Trek Discovery’s “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”

Discovery barrels toward its slightly-more-than-midway point, as this eighth episode moves things forward and sets up for the ninth, which will also be the “fall finale” before we get a hiatus during which lots of people will try CBS All Access for a trial period and binge the nine episodes.

The episode has a lot of story ground to cover, and it does so in a particularly impressive fashion, moving both the Federation and Klingon plots forward. We get strong moments for pretty much the entire cast, but most notably for Saru, who has been a bit underused lately. “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” gives Doug Jones a chance to shine.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This episode was written by Kirsten Beyer. A fellow Star Trek novelist, Kirsten has been a friend and colleague of your humble reviewer for many years. She helped roast me at Shore Leave in 2009, ...

“Cowabunga!” — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been a phenomenon so long that probably nobody remembers that they started out as a parody of Marvel Comics of the 1980s, particularly those by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.

Conceived by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, two of the biggest things in comics in the 1980s were teenage mutants (as seen in The X-Men and The New Mutants, written by Claremont) and ninjas (as seen in Daredevil and the Wolverine and Elektra miniseries, written and/or drawn by Miller). Eastman and Laird created teenage mutants and also made them ninjas, and also turtles, and did them as a fairly straight black-and-white parody. (Daredevil is the primary source of parody here, as Splinter is a riff on DD’s mentor Stick, and the Foot is a play on the Hand. This has actually come full circle as a parody, since the Hand has become ...

Mime from Hell — The Crow, The Crow: City of Angels, The Crow: Salvation, and The Crow: Wicked Prayer

James O’Barr’s black-and-white comic book The Crow was one of the great success stories of the indie comics market of the 1980s and 1990s. A touchstone for Goth culture, the four-part miniseries—originally written as a way for O’Barr to work through the death of his girlfriend at the hands of a drunk driver—was a massive hit for Caliber Comics, and it spawned an impressive collection of spinoffs in comics, prose, and screen form.

The comics continued to be published by a variety of publishers, most recently IDW, while a few novels and a short story anthology were also put out. When the film rights were sold, Alex Proyas, who had directed many music videos, shorts, and an independent science fiction feature, was tapped to direct.

The first film gained a particular notoriety due to its star, Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee), dying during filming. (His father also died while ...

Tough Mudder — Star Trek Discovery’s “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”

It’s always dangerous to riff on a popular story you’ve already done. You do a thing, it’s nifty, and you think, “We should do that again.” Deep Space Nine does “Necessary Evil” and it’s brilliant, so they try to do it again with “Things Past,” and it doesn’t quite come together as well. The Next Generation does “The Inner Light,” and it’s a massive hit, and several Trek shows take another shot at something “Inner Light”-ish and it can’t light a candle. “Cause and Effect” was a great TNG episode, a brilliant use of the five-act structure by Brannon Braga and elegantly directed by Jonathan Frakes. Braga himself riffed on it later on in TNG‘s “Timescape,” which wasn’t anywhere near as good, though it was still a perfectly good episode.

Discovery’s “Magic to Make the Sanest Man ...

First Draft of the MCU — The Incredible Hulk Returns, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, and The Death of the Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk had a respectable five-year run on television. It remained an iconic part of popular culture, from “you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” taking root in the popular consciousness to a hilarious offhand reference to the show in The Usual Suspects.

Six years after its cancellation by CBS, New World picked up the rights to the show and sold it to NBC. New World owned Marvel at the time, and they wanted to use their only real TV success as a springboard to try to launch other heroes into television.

Partnered with Bill Bixby, they produced two movies in two years that also served as backdoor pilots, one for Thor, one for Daredevil. Neither of these went to series, and the third movie a year after that was a Hulk solo film that ended the Bixby/Ferrigno era with the Hulk’s death. (A sequel was planned, ...

Good Retcons and Bad B-Plots — Star Trek Discovery’s “Lethe”

Star Trek Discovery episode Lethe

One of the most challenging things one can do when creating serial narrative is retroactive continuity, or retcon: filling in a gap or establishing something about a character or situation that was previously unknown.

When done properly, it can bring an entire character into focus. (To use a comic book example, when Magneto was established as a Holocaust survivor.) When done improperly, of course, it can be disastrous. (To use another comic book example, establishing that Norman Osborn raped Gwen Stacey, and she mothered children from that.)

Star Trek has, over five decades, engaged in such retcons any number of times (my three favorites are establishing that Worf accidentally killed someone as a teenager, that Bashir was genetically enhanced, and that Troi had a baby sister who died), and in “Lethe” we have one of their most successful.

Way back in 1967, we first met ...

Star Trek Discovery episode Lethe
Star Trek Discovery episode Lethe
Star Trek Discovery episode Lethe

Introducing 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Superhero Movie Rewatch

Superhero movies are all the rage in the early 21st century, but it’s hardly a new phenomenon. In the earliest days of superhero comics, they were quickly adapted into serialized formats: live action movie serials, radio dramas, and animated shorts. Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel—they all appeared in one or more of those forms in the late 1930s and 1940s. It wasn’t until 1951 that the first feature-length film was released: Superman and the Mole Men, starring George Reeves, who would go on to star in The Adventures of Superman, the first hit TV series based on a superhero. In 1966, as a tie-in to the hugely successful Batman TV show starring Adam West, a feature film was released, bringing the Dynamic Duo’s colorful criminals to the big screen to face off against. Then in the 1970s, things got crazy….. 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Superhero Movie Rewatch is ...