Author: Robert Greenberger

REVIEW: Genesis II/Planet Earth

REVIEW: Genesis II/Planet Earth

Gene Roddenberry left Star Trek’s third season to write a Tarzan film that never got produced, setting a tone for the next decade of his career. He produced the wretched Pretty Maids all in a Row and slunk back to television, first with the animated Trek and then a deal with Warner Bros that would see him produce the underrated Questor and Spectre along with a new science fiction film, seemingly designed to distance himself from the optimistic SF albatross around his neck.

He cut a deal with CBS in 1972 to produce a 90-minute film, Genesis II designed to be a pilot for a potential series. He quickly reunited with many of the behind-the-scenes Trek team and got to work, creating a dystopia that began in 1979. We open in 2133 as Earth is recovering from nuclear war and mankind has been dramatically reduced in number. Apparently, the survivors didn’t learn any lessons as the two sides battle, with dollops of slavery, racism, and gender inequality still on display.

“My name is Dylan Hunt. My story begins the day on which I died.”  A NASA scientist, Hunt (Alex Cord) slept through the worst and is awoken to find a world out of control. Using his perspective, he finds like-minded allies forming a rebellious group determined to repair and ultimately save mankind.

As a concept, it’s not bad. The execution, from Samuel A. Peebles’ script on down, is where the pilot film gets into trouble. Peebles’ writing was stiff, and whatever rewriting Roddenberry did, didn’t help. The characters are types, never fully fleshed out, and Cord’s heroic role is blunted by his cold, aloof performance (making him better suited as Airwolf’s Archangel a few years later).

The most interesting performer here is actually Mariette Hartley, who isn’t wearing much (thank you, William Ware Theiss), allowing us to see her two navels (long story), but she has charisma and presence, unlike just about everyone else surrounding her.

Set against an America that was still arguing over Vietnam, a public just waking up to the corruption in the White House, and where a generation gap made communication nearly impossible, the themes are bluntly handled and where Trek offered people hope, this showed that nothing was going to change. Despite reasonable ratings during two airings, the network dithered over greenlighting the series. Ultimately, they gave the one SF slot on the schedule (talk about your quota systems) to a weekly version of Planet of the Apes.

ABC was waiting in the wings, wanting the show, but like Trek got a second pilot order with the new network insisting on major casting revisions. Gone was Cord, and in came journeyman action actor John Saxon, who had an appeal of his own and was a popular name thanks to Enter the Dragon. Also gone was Hartley in favor of Diana Muldaur, who was game but unconvincing in her part. The sole holdover was Ted Cassidy, but he didn’t have enough to do.

Rather than use the current events of the day as a springboard, Roddenberry stuck to themes that didn’t translate well nor were they well-handled in the rewrite, this time from Roddenberry and relatively new to TV writing Juanita Bartlett (who acquitted herself later on series like The Rockford Files and The Greatest American Hero.)

Joining the reimagined show was producer Robert Justman, fresh off the beleaguered Search, and he wrangled the production into a 90-minute production that never quite gelled. Years later, he admitted it wasn’t a very good pilot, which explains why ABC didn’t go to series.

Warner Archive remastered these two telefilms and they look pretty darn good. They are certainly a cultural curiosity, worth watching if you are a devotee of Roddenberry. They’re not very good as stories or pilots, the lofty ideas never properly translating to the screen. (It should be noted that after Roddenberry left, the studio tried one more time with Strange New World which isn’t here and that’s fine.) There are no extras but having these two on one-disc is a nice keepsake for collectors.

REVIEW: Superman: Man of Tomorrow

REVIEW: Superman: Man of Tomorrow

Every reboot of Superman tries something different, striving to find a fresh approach to the material, and Superman: Man of Tomorrow is no different. This direct-to-video release, out now from Warner Home Entertainment, is intended as the opening chapter in a new continuity, a Rebirth, as it were, of the DC Animated Universe.

Other than the destruction of Krypton, baby Kal-El being raised by the Kents, and Clark (Darren Criss) arriving gin Metropolis as an adult, everything else is a modern take. Clark arrives as an intern with Lois Lane (Alexandra Daddario) just a grad student making her bones at the paper. Perry White (Piotr Michael) is there in all his bluster with Ron Troupe (Eugene Byrd) there for diversity and not a sign of Jimmy Olsen, Steve Lombard, or Cat Grant.

The story suggests Earth is aware of alien life and S.T.A.R. Labs, now owned by Lex Luthor (Zachary Quinto), is shown as being designed to hold and analyze extraterrestrials but it’s a mere breadcrumb for the future and is never addressed here. Instead, the focus is on Clark’s debut as the aviator-goggled flying man, doing good deeds, and starting to get noticed.

When a rocket prototype fails, he exposes himself to save humanity, and now everyone wants to know who he is. But, before much can be done about this, Lobo arrives. Now, the entire story grinds to halt as he announces he’s been hired to kill Kal-El, the sole survivor of Krypton. They fight, they talk, they battle, they partner. And at no point does anyone ask, “Who hired you? Why did they hire you? How’d you know he was on Earth?” The lack of curiosity, especially when major members of the cast are journalists is appalling.

Superman is aided by the Martian Manhunter (Ike Amadi), who has been badly shadowing our hero and finally reveals himself and has to deal with the consequences.

But, Lobo’s (Ryan Hurst) arrival accidentally turns Rudy Jones (Brett Dalton) into the Parasite, an entirely new origin for the villain., and making him a far more tragic, and deadly, figure. His threat prompts Superman to turn to Lex Luthor for help, which reveals Lex’s sinister side. But, it’s Superman’s humanity that shines through in the climax, showing why he is a hero and worth looking up to.

The story moves along briskly, with the action and destruction doled out every few minutes, with pauses to visit Smallville, including a touching scene with Martha (Bellamy Young) handing the familiar red and blue suit to her son. The budding relationships between Lois and Clark and Lois and Superman also are nicely handled.

Less well handled is the J’Onn J’Onzz and Kal-El scenes, which go for pathos but feels flat. That the story features three supposedly sole survivors of their races is a nice touch.

Visually, there’s a simplicity to the designs of the characters, set against a futuristic city that can be envisioned as city of tomorrow, a fitting home for our hero. Some of the Krypton designs owes much to the Richard Donner films while Lobo is clearly inspired by Simon Bisley interpretation of the character.

The new voice cast is fine, if unexceptional, a freshening without being radical with Darren Criss carrying much of the load.

Overall, as reboots go, this isn’t a bad one, with plenty of room to explore, especially with Batman already operating in Gotham, and alien life visiting Earth with increasing regularity. We’ll see what happens in the next installment, coming no doubt in 2021.

The movie is available in all the usual formats including the 4K Digital HD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD Code combo pack. In both 2160 and 1080 scans, the visuals are crisp and strong, retaining all the colors. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is serviceable if unspectacular, which it doesn’t really need to be.

The Special Features are the standard assortment starting with Lobo: Natural Force of Chaos (10:23) where Screenwriter Tim Sheridan, artists Jon Bogdanove and Bernard Chang, DC Daily host Hector Navarro, and voice actor Ryan Hurst very briefly trace Lobo’s humble origins from a bounty hunter in 1983’s Omega Men to star of his own series and ubiquitous appearances through the 1990s and 2000s.

Martian Manhunter: Lost and Found (8:47) presents a similar assortment of talent talking about the themes of the Martian’s role in comparison with humanity. Lacking is the context of his comic book history.

A Sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie (11:56) is a stylistically cheesy introduction to   Batman: Soul of the Dragon, an animated homage the era’s kung-fu craze, featuring the Dark Knight along with Richard Dragon, Ben Turner (Bronze Tiger), Lady Shiva, and O-Sensei, who all stared in the Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter title written by the late, great Denny O’Neil.

From the DC Vault offers up Two episodes from Superman: The Animated Series – “The Main Man”, parts 1 and 2, which, of course, guest star Lobo.

NextChapter Debuts with Sean Chen’s 24-Hour Only Wingman

NextChapter Debuts with Sean Chen’s 24-Hour Only Wingman

It takes a lot for a new publisher to get noticed these days and the challenge is to offer up something that hasn’t been seen before. New heroes? Check. New shared universe? Check. Variant covers? Check.

So, NextChapter—a graphic media publisher and distributor formed by and launching from The Great Company, arrives today with something unique. Veteran artist Sean Chen offers up their inaugural title, Wingman: Compendium of an Artist’s First Writing Experience, which showcases his artwork in addition to his first writing. The 9.5” x 12” 64-page softcover comes complete with Chen’s story and commentary on its creation and evolution.

One of the most interesting aspects is that the title will only be available on NextChapter’s website for 24-hours only, starting earlier today at 10:00 a.m. PDT. The storybook offers readers a look into Chen’s creative process, while random fans who purchase the book will also receive an autographed sketch from Chen, best known for his work at Valiant Comics and Marvel Comics.

In addition to the $28 softcover, 15 1-of-1 original drawings will be up for auction. The gallery will be powered by crypto vexels and hosted by crypto art community Machi X DAO, a member-directed organization where members pool resources and create proposals.

It’s an interesting gamble for the tyro writer but one he feels ready for. “I have never written for the majors, or anything really,” he told ComicMix in an exclusive interview. “I have an abiding love for great stories and always wanted to dabble in the process.  Regardless of having never formally written anything, as I matured, my sensibilities and knowledge of what makes good writing developed, so I did feel ready and confident that I could write on a level that had a decent chance of going over well.  If not, the project can function as art content for my Instagram, which needed to be fed almost daily.  I would know soon enough if the writing was connecting with people.  If it did, then I would entertain the possibility of bringing it out of Instagram to a larger audience in print.”

Interestingly, Chen, known for Iron Man and X*O Man of War, went back in time to feature the story of an old Knight from the Crusades, dying and reflecting on a full life.

“Before I ever wrote anything, the one thing I was sure of was that the genre would be a science fiction thriller. That had always been my genre of choice because it was very visual, action-packed, but also engaged the heavy thought-provoking literary aspects that you usually don’t find in superhero stories.  The biggest surprise for me was that it was not that at all.  Instead, it went toward iconic characters from vintage foreign films.

“Another aspect that was a shock for me was that it had so much comedy in it.  In fact, the story seems to defy all attempts to classify which I think is great because it’s a rare thing to get that feeling of being totally engrossed in a story and invested in the fate of the characters and not having a clue of what’s going to happen next.

“Also surprising was the revelation that as episodes of the comic were being released on my Instagram, readers were commenting very positively about the story.  They wanted to know how the story would end, while also not wanting it to end.  That was when I found out that I can actually bring something to the table as a writer!

“I think the genre I ended up exploring in Wingman was a reaction to drawing decades of superhero work from Marvel and DC.  Normally, super-hero or Sci-Fi would be the genre I would work in, but this first project I wanted to take a breather from the capes and spandex.  I think people who are familiar with my Marvel/DC work would see that Wingman has a completely different style.  I came across the iconic image of The Seventh Seal opening movie scene where The Knight and The Grim Reaper play a game of chess on a desolate craggy beach.  Because of the imagination of Ingmar Bergman and the cinematography that image hit me like a lightning bolt, and I felt compelled to draw it.  The dialogue was equally iconic, so I added a word balloon repeating what I had heard in the clip.  It all began from there and became a reimagined story set in modern time.”

Chen began the story for himself, posting it on his Instagram account in small batches. In time, that allowed me to gauge reader’s reactions in the comments section and mine it for vital feedback. I used my followers as an important focus group.  The most important feedback I was looking for was whether the story was engaging and if the jokes were landing with the proper effect. Other factors such as pointing out plot holes, and lesser things like grammar and spelling.  Many changes and corrections were made based on this feedback on both writing and art.  So I did dedicate the book to ‘My Fine Followers on Instagram’ whom I consider to be Editor/Art Director.”

He partnered with NextChapter because he knew the startup’s publisher, Carl Choi, from Chen’s work in the advertising field. “When he approached me about releasing a print version of Wingman what sold me on his new company was that he envisioned an educational and outreach component.  His vision was to build a community that connected readers to creators that had the goal of showcasing what was possible in the medium of comics and to teach people how they can express themselves using the medium.  He required of me to create even more content in the form of commentary and educational matter that demystified how a comic is drawn, written and produced.  The first prong of his publishing plan was to use Instagram to debut the comic.  This allows readers to connect directly to the creator with feedback or questions. Then in the printed release, the creator commentary and process discussion is another great way to give readers insight into the creative process.”

The other challenge for him as a creator having the work presented in landscape rather than the traditional waterfall page orientation. He explained this was NextChapter’s creative decision, which he wholeheartedly supported.  “This was because it allowed for the large amount of commentary and educational text that was added in sidebars which gives readers insight into the creative process.  The biggest challenge to the format was that because the comic was meant for Instagram, it had to be readable on a mobile phone interface.  Lettering needed to be larger, so dialogue had to be succinct while still feeling natural.  The art also had to be readable at a small size while still allowing me to indulge in my usual meticulous inking style.,” he said.

As this release heralds a new chapter in Chen’s growth as a creator, he remains the monthly artist on DC’s Batman Beyond and he’s excited for its future, noting, “I am about to embark on the massively important issue #50!  Beyond that, I plan to do more writing and drawing stories.  Probably that Sci-Fi thriller that has always been brewing in the back of my mind.  Or really anything that strikes my fancy.  It’s a great time to create now as self-publishing is easier than ever, and outlets for comics material are plentiful.  It’s a powerful feeling to be able to draw and write my own stories at a time where fans will respond to individual creators passion instead of habitually looking to the big 2 for their typical comics fix.

The nine year old Great Company, found by Carl Choi and based in Los Angeles, promotes itself as providing “Event Marketing · Brand Marketing, Content Strategy, Content Marketing, and Marketing Consulting”.

James Gunn Reveals Suicide Squad Who’s Who at DC Fandome

James Gunn Reveals Suicide Squad Who’s Who at DC Fandome

Just a little while ago, director James Gunn unveiled the large cast for The Suicide Squad, opening Aug. 6, 2021. Gunn, at the daylong DC Fandome, talked about his love of the 1987 series, written by John Ostrander and illustrated by Luke McDonald and Karl Kesel.

Idris Elba is playing Bloodsport, Alice Braga is playing Sulsoria, Nathan Fillion is playing T.D.K., Pete Davidson is playing Blackguard, Michael Rooker is playing Savant, John Cena is playing Peacemaker, David Dastmalchian is playing Polka-Dot Man, Sean Gunn is playing Weasel, Peter Capaldi is playing the Thinker, Flula Borg is playing Javelin, Daniela Melchior is playing Ratcatcher 2, Mayling Ng is playing Mongal, and Steve Agee is playing King Shark for CGI and the team’s supporting player, Johnny Economos.

REVIEW: Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons

REVIEW: Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons

REVIEW: Deathstroke: Knights & DragonsIt seems every decade, DC and Marvel each introduce a major threat that captures the readership’s imagination. In the 1980s, for DC that was Deathstroke, a wonderfully complex opponent to the New Teen Titans, reaching a high point with the much-lauded “The Judas Contract” storyline in 1985. In the hands of writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Pérez, he rose head and shoulders above most other super-villains of the day.

Since then, he has been used by virtually every writer, pitting him against most every mask and cape in the DC Universe. He’s successfully crossed over to animation and even live-action television and film. As a result, depending on the creators involved, he remains a fascinating, deadly threat or a run of the mill villain used to merely show up the hero.

The most recent such example is the CW Seed animated miniseries, Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons, which is now out as a feature film from Warner Home Entertainment. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and Blue Ribbon Content, the story features yet another take on Slade Wilson and the choices he made from soldier to husband to mercenary to contract killer. Thankfully, it is in the hands of J.M. DeMatteis who understands characterization, comics, and has proven rather adept at bringing comics characters to other media.

DeMatteis focused on one of the most interesting aspects of Wilson (Michael Chiklis), that of a married man with a child. Whereas the comics had Wilson as the father of two with Adeline “Addie” Kane Wilson (Sasha Alexander) (and a daughter, Rose, with another woman, alluded to here), here, the focus is just on Joseph (Griffin Puatu) and Wilson keeps his alter ego a secret from his wife, who in the comics knew all about it. Their domestic tranquility, already tense from his frequent business trips, is shattered when the Jackal (Chris Jai Alex) leads a horde of H.I.V.E. agents to kidnap Joseph to force Wilson to do their Queen’s (Faye Mata) bidding.

Along the way, we find many other familiar DC faces such as Bronze Tiger (Delbert Hunt), Jade (Faye Mata), and of course, Lady Shiva (Panta Mosleh). None of whom figured in the original source material so it’s with relief that Wilson’s brother in arms, Wintergreen (Colin Salmon) is present.

The 87-minute compilation is smoothly edited and works better as a whole. Note that this is violent and earns its R rating repeatedly throughout the tale thanks to director Sung Jin Ahn (Niko and the Sword of Light) taking full advantage of his medium.

The single disc comes in a perfectly fine 1080p transfer, supported with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. This makes for a good viewing experience. The sole special feature is Deathstroke: One-Man Death Machine (13:44), which nicely spotlights his evolution with commentary from Wolfman, Pérez, Chiklis, and Arrow’s Manu Bennett.

REVIEW: His Dark Materials: The Complete First Season

REVIEW: His Dark Materials: The Complete First Season

REVIEW: His Dark Materials: The Complete First SeasonI will admit that I have read only the first volume of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, The Golden Compass, and I saws New Line’s feature film adaptation. It was an interesting take on the tropes as well as being an allegory about religion in our world. But one book was enough for me.

I thought one adaptation would be enough, too, but the HBO series based on the same material changed my mind. The eight episodes aired earlier this year and the season has been collected on Blu-ray from Warner Home Entertainment.

In this world, everyone’s soul is housed in an animal avatar known as daemons. There exists a faction that wants to separate the human from the soul as part of the Magisterium’s ability to control the population. They like their secrets and politics (as does any totalitarian regime) and the most intriguing notion may be that there exist parallel worlds.

Our focal point into this fascinating world is young Lyra (Dafne Keen, who you may remember from Logan)), who, accompanied by her daemon Pantalaimon (voiced by Kit Connor), goes searching for her best friend, who has been taken. Adventure awaits her, along with becoming an irritant to the Big Bad a.k.a. Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson). Her friend isn’t the only one taken and as she uncovers this secret, she becomes fascinated with something called Dust.

The worldbuilding slowly unfolds, affecting some of the pacing, but once things take off, we race along as the threats and dangers grow. So, too, does Lyra’s posse, including the aeronaut Lee Scorsby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and the gloriously large polar bear king Iofur Raknison (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz).

And while the first season ends, sort of, it does set us up for the approved second season, which has been trimmed to a mere seven episodes. The show is sumptuous to look at and after taking a moment to forget the film incarnations (played by Nicole Kidman and Sam Elliot among others), we grow to like the new interpretations.

The 1080p transfer in 1.78:1 sparkles, capturing the full range of colors and blacks remain deep. It is well accompanied by the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track so viewers are in for a treat. The discs come complete with all the HBO-generated special features including Adapting His Dark Materials (4:00): Building His Dark Materials (6:00), Dressing His Dark Materials (3:00); The Daemons of His Dark Materials (4:00); James McAvoy – Bringing Lord Asriel To Life (3:00); Lin-Manuel Miranda – Bringing Lee Scoresby To Life (2:00); Ruth Wilson – Bringing Mrs. Coulter To Life (3:00);  Dafne Keen – Bringing Lyra Belacqua To Life (4:00); Making His Dark Materials (33:00),   narrated by Clarke Peters.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman The Complete Collection

REVIEW: Wonder Woman The Complete Collection

REVIEW: Wonder Woman The Complete CollectionIn 1974, I was 16 and curious to see ABC try once again with super-heroes. One fine Tuesday night, I sat at and watched Wonder Woman, horrified at the liberties taken in the backdoor pilot. Cathy Lee Crosby didn’t have the looks or the costume and the most interesting thing about this was Ricardo Montalban as the heavy.

The network somehow still saw the potential in the character and commissioned a more faithful pilot, this time with a comics-accurate costume and perfect casting in Lynda Carter. In the hands of former Batman scribe Stanley Ralph Ross, the show felt right. ABC agreed and a series of Wonder Woman shows were filmed, set in World War II.

This was the beginning of the jiggle era of television, as prime time was filled with busty, often braless actors and they pandered to the women’s movement with female-led shows that didn’t fulfill their promise. Led by Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman, ABC favored lip-service to genuine characterization and action over good storytelling. As a result, we have a Wonder Woman series that is fondly recalled more for a catchy theme song and pitch-perfect lead than a good show.

I’m reminded by all this through the Wonder Woman The Complete Collection being released tomorrow for the first time on Blu-ray. Across ten discs, we get all sixty episodes along with special features ported over from the previous DVD release. These include pilot commentary from Carter and Executive Producer Douglas S. Cramer, Season Three commentary from Carter and three featurettes: “Revolutionizing a Classic: From Comic Book to Television”, “Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Feminist Icon”; and “Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Feminist Icon”.

Let’s start with the good news. The remastering makes everything bright and shiny. A series that is colorful in terms of look and performance sparkles. If you haven’t watched the show before or want an upgrade, this affordably priced set is a good investment.

Although the series looked more like the comics, and the pilot, set on Paradise Island, looks very much like Harry G. Peter envisioned. Ross should have brought in more of the villains. One of the joys of the Batman show was, of course, the recurring foes. Other than Baroness Paula Von Gunther (Banacek’s Christine Belford), her rogues are absent. Dr. Poison, Dr. Psycho, and others should have been considered.

On the rare instances that the show revisited Paradise Island, it’s interesting to see the variety of actresses to portray Queen Hippolyta (Cloris Leachman, Carolyn Jones, and Beatrice Straight). We also get a very young Debra Winger as Wonder Girl, oddly named Drusilla, and having zero connection to the Teen Titan.

Instead, we remain in Man’s World as Diana Prince and Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner), and company battled the Axis menace wherever it reared its ugly head. They were accompanied by General Blankenship (Richard Eastham) and Corporal Etta Candy WAAC (Beatrice Colen), no longer an overweight sorority girl, because back then, all women had be more average in appearance.

When the series shifted to CBS after one season and set in modern day, it was played far straighter with Waggoner now playing Trevor’s son and no one thought it icky both men romanced the Amazon Princess. Blankenship and Etta were gone, replaced with the colorless Joe Atkinson (Norman Burton).  He was gone after nine episodes and Trevor and Diana got promoted, with Atkinson replaced by Eve (Saundra Sharp) as Steve’s assistant. The international espionage angle made it closer to network’s other dramas, reducing its uniqueness.

Like Batman, the final season was the nadir, with a disco beat added to the theme and the stories getting weaker. It proved to be an anomaly on a network schedule that was heavy with cops and family dramas, no other CBS show was led solely by a woman (apparently only the purview of sitcoms). For comic fans on a lonely Friday night, 1978-79 was terrific with Wonder Woman followed by The Incredible Hulk.

Pay attention to the final three episodes, which was an attempted reboot of sorts, but not good enough, airing months after the season officially ended. The overall tone and approach are a marked improvement.

The series rewatch is fun just to catch the guest stars, young and old, some of whom I haven’t seen on anything in ages. There’s Roy Rogers, Gary Burghoff, Red Buttons, Ed Begley Jr., Ron Ely, Dick Gautier, Batman alum Frank Gorshin and Roddy McDowall, Russell Johnson, Gavin MacLeod, and Eve Plumb and her Brady dad Robert Reed. There’s even Martin Mull as the Pied Piper, although this isn’t the Flash’s opponent.

All three seasons ran at a time when all television was vilified for its glorifying of violence, which meant the super-heroics had to be toned down. Fewer punches and more bending of steel. Coupled with the surface female-empowerment, the show did what it could but failed to rise above its competition.

Still, at a time when no one was trying live-action heroes, this was diverting enough. It unfortunately was also the template for the shows that followed, picking up the title character and ignoring the four-color elements that made them so successful (see CBS’ concurrent Spider-Man).

The show is loved for its unique place in pop culture and this collection is a loving tribute. I just wish it featured the strong hero her creator, William Moulton Marston, envisioned, and the times allowed for far better writing.

IAMTW Announces 2020 Scribe Award Winners

IAMTW Announces 2020 Scribe Award Winners

IAMTW Announces 2020 Scribe Award WinnersThe International Association of Media Tie-In Writers announced their 2020 Scribe Award winners yesterday. Normally announced during Comic-Con International, this year’s pandemic forced the organization to make a virtual announcement.

Additionally, novelist Jean Rabe was the latest tie-in author to earn a Faust Award, making her a grandmaster of tie-in fiction.

ADAPTED NOVEL–GENERAL & SPECULATIVE
Alita: Battle Angel by Pat Cadigan — Winner
Batman: The Killing Joke by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips
Doctor Who: Scratch Man by Tom Baker and James Goss
Godzilla: King of the Monsters by Greg Keyes

AUDIO DRAMAS
Diary of River Song – Concealed Weapon by Scott Handcock
Doctor Who – Companion Chronicles – Daybreak by John Pritchard
Doctor Who – 10 Doctor Adventures – The Creeping Death by Roy Gill — Winner
Torchwood – Sargasso by Christopher Cooper
Warhammer – Watcher in the Rain by Alex Worley

GRAPHIC NOVEL
Blade Runner 2019: Los Angeles by Michael Green and Mike Johnson –Winner
Doctor who—the Thirteenth Doctor: Old Friends by Jody Houser
Pet Noir by Anne Toole, Christie Yant, and Pati Nagle
Star Trek—Year Five: Valentine’s Day Special by Paul Cornell
The Wrath of Fantomas by Olivier Bouquet

ORIGINAL NOVEL–GENERAL
The Bitterest Pill by Reed Farrel Coleman — Winner
Murder, My Love by Max Allan Collins
Murder, She Wrote: A Taste For Murder by John Land

ORIGINAL NOVEL SPECULATIVE
Batman, The Court of Owls by Greg Cox — Winner (tie)
Firefly, The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove
Star Trek TNG, Collateral Damage by David Mack — Winner (tie)
Star Trek Discovery, The Enterprise War by John Jackson Miller
Star Wars: Galaxy Edge, Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson
Warhammer, The Red Feast by Gav Thorpe

SHORT STORY
Deadlands Straight Out of Tombstone: “Cookie” by Shane Lacy Hensley
Tales of Basil and Meobis Fresh Hells: “Cutter & Razz” by Chris A. Jackson — Winner
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: “The Girl’s Best Friend Matter” by Bobby Nash
Lethbridge-Stewart, the HAVOC Files: “Pure History” by George Ivanoff
Dragonband, Women of the Crystal Coast: “The Queen Slayer” by Jean Rabe

YOUNG ADULT & MIDDLE GRADE
Battletech: Rogue Academy – Iron Dawn by Jennifer Brozek
Halo: Battle Born by Cassandra Rose Clarke
The Lucy Wilson Mysteries: The Midnight People by John Peel
Warhammer Adventures: Attack of the Necron by Cavan Scott — Winner
Warhammer Adventures: City of Lifestone by Tom Huddleston

REVIEW: LEGO DC: Shazam! – Magic and Monsters

In the right hands, the original Captain Marvel should be a children’s staple because the premise is so catchy for young readers: a young orphan is introduced to a wizard who bestows upon him the power of the gods. With one magic word, Billy Batson is transformed to Captain Marvel although these days, the legal gods insist he has to be named Shazam, which is also the name of the wizard.

Thanks to the success of the 2019 feature film, the Big Red Cheese gets the brick treatment in the just-released LEGO DC: Shazam! – Magic and Monsters, a charming film that properly brings the hero to his audience. There’s no doubt the creators have found the essence of the hero, as they have similarly done with great success across the pop culture spectrum. Here, we get the origin story and soon after, Shazam (Sean Astin) is invited to join the Justice League – Superman (Nola North), Batman (Troy Baker), Wonder Woman (Grey Griffin), Green Lantern (Cristina Milizia), the Flash (James Arnold) — where he frets about them thinking less of him for being an actual kid.

As one would expect, his two greatest nemeses – Doctor Sivana (Dee Bradley Baker) and Mister Mind (Johnny Rees) – show up to spoil the fun and provide the impetus for action and mayhem. Their plan has the tried and true formula of reducing the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes to children, so Billy/Shazam gets to lead the way, proving his virtue. And with a Black Adam film in the offing, this is a perfect place to introduce him, voiced by Imari Williams, to the viewers who will want to see Dwayne Johnson as Teth-Adam. To take on the JL, an impromptu Monster Society of Evil is assembled with Dummy (Taylor), Oom (Tatasciore), and Crocodile-Man (Baker). This is a take on the hero his crank cocreator, C.C. Beck, would likely approve of.

These films are great fun thanks to the tone and the jokes which range from the obvious for the little viewers to the groaners for adults, making this a worthy family-friendly film for all. The filmmakers know how to make things interesting and feel fresh while providing us with clearly recognizable takes on the heroes and villains. There’s self-aware humor, loving satire, and outrageous humor along with thrills. Heck, even Lobo (Fred Tatasciore) makes an appearance.

In many ways, the 81-minute movie, written by Jeremy Adams and directed by Matt Peters, is more consistently entertaining than many of the animated original films from their sister division at Warner Bros.

The film comes in a nice Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD combo, and the box set has a limited edition Shazam mini-figure. The only bonus features are from Teen Titans Go! — “Little Elvis” (which guest-stars Shazam) and Unkitty! — “Spoooooky Game”, and “Pool Duel”.

REVIEW: Watchmen An HBO Limited Series

REVIEW: Watchmen An HBO Limited Series

REVIEW: Watchmen An HBO Limited SeriesThe notion of bringing Watchmen to premium cable was an enticing one, as people anticipated a more nuanced, expansive take on the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons maxiseries. Then, we were staggered to discover that producer Damon Lindelof intended on going forward in time and exploring what came next.

With some trepidation, we watched when the series debuted last year, but our fears were quickly erased. Regina King was someone new, the world, drastically different while remaining familiar enough. And then when we see Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) and later, Doctor Manhattan (Abdul-Mateen II), it felt just fine.

We open with a jarring reminder of the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots that, just last week, is finally getting addressed with recommendations for overdue reparations to descendants. The racial tensions evident here are projected decades ahead, to a time after Ozymandias failed to scare the world straight as seen in the climax of the graphic novel.

Throughout the nine episodes comprising the sole season of the show, out now on Blu-ray from Warner Home Entertainment, we bounce around time and space, telling multiple stories, all exploring themes of isolation, power, and redemption. Lindelof and director Nicole Kassell give us a nuanced, textured production that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.

While the graphic novel was intended as Moore’s last word on super-heroes, a meditation on how a world would really work with super-powered folk walking the streets, here, Lindelof explores what comes next, how masked vigilantes were banned, and the police gained even more authority over daily lives. How does one serve and protect in a post-super-hero world? First, to protect their identities from the chance of reprisal, the cops now wear masks.

Our titular character is Angela Abar (King), dressed all in black and kicking ass as Sister Night. She and her fellow Tulsa officers, including the wonderful Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), are now engaged in battle with the white supremacist Seventh Kavalry, improbably inspired by Rorschach, which goes to show that even in our fantasy fiction, things rarely seem to change.

In time, we come to understand that the original Hooded Justice (Jovan Adepo) was among the first to experience the racial violence of the day. As an aged figure (Louis Gossett Jr.) he provides a link to the original costumed champions that arguably began a cycle still being played out.

This is a world where Vietnam, not Washington D.C. or Puerto Rico became the 51st state and a reality where Robert Redford has served as President since the 1970s. When the violence gets out of hand, Washington sends in Laurie Blake, the former second Silk Spectre, played well by Jean Smart.

Meantime, the isolated/imprisoned Ozymandias is scheming. His threat simmers throughout the series. On the other hand, when we bring Doctor Manhattan back to Earth, his role feels disproportionate to his powers, accepting things as inevitable as opposed to knowing the odds and refusing to change them. His love for Angela is tender and provides the series with some heart and soul.

Much as Lindelof wonderfully pulled off on Lost, here, he devotes entire episodes to single characters without interrupting the overall flow of the story. Our understanding of them enriches the overall experience.

The occasional squid rain is a lovely callback to the source material. This raises the question of how comprehensible is this show if you have not read the original graphic novel or watched Zack Snyder’s mostly successful film adaptation. I would say it works well enough that the series stands on its own but is better for having known what came before.

The episodes look fine in the 1080p transfer, retaining clarity of color and sharpness in the dark shadows of night where a lot of the action occurs. The lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is up to the task of hearing the whispers and rustle of capes.

All the HBO special features are ported over to the disc including two new ones: Immortal Vigilante – Hooded Justice and Adrian Veidt: The Colossal King. The others include Watchmen: Unmasked, 2019 New York Comic Con Watchmen: Masked and Dangerous, Watchmen S1: Trailer, Character Trailers: Sister Night, Blond Man and Looking Glass, Becoming Sister Night, Notes from the Watchmen graphic novel artist Dave Gibbons, Rorschach featurette, Watchmen: Alternate History, It’s Raining Squids, Squid Shelter with Tim Blake Nelson, Andrij Parekh on Directing, Sadiqua Bynum runs, jumps and falls for Sister Night, Anatomy of a Fight Scene, and Glimpses – The Visual Effects of Watchmen.