Tagged: Flash Gordon

Joe Corallo: Just Say What?

defenders of the earth

As many of you know, Nancy Reagan recently passed away at the age of 94. Her legacy, as well as her husband’s, invoke incredibly powerful emotions from both ends of the political spectrum. We’ve been reminded of that this past Friday. Some of you reading this may not be aware of Nancy Reagan’s connection to comics. It’s a very loose connection, don’t get me wrong, but it’s there. I’ll try not to embellish this connection to avoid having the townspeople show up at my doorstep with pitchforks and torches in hand.

Anyone aware of the Reagan’s and life in America in the 80s knows of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, which, ironically is my stance on the Republican Party today. What you might not be aware of is back in September of 1986, Nancy Reagan was greeted by members of the Defenders of the Earth including Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Lothar and Mandrake the Magician. No, not the “real” Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Lothar and Mandrake the Magician. They were merely actors portraying the characters on a five-day coast-to-coast tour to help kids say no to drugs. I imagine the real Defenders of the Earth were too busy saving us all from Ming the Merciless to tour the country themselves.

The ReagansAt the time, Defenders of the Earth was a cartoon produced by Marvel Productions in association with King Features Entertainment. King Features owned the above mentioned comics properties used in the cartoon. They added a bunch of kids to the mix to make it more relatable to them (I guess) and in turn we got a cartoon that was good enough for one season. In that one season we got the episode titled “The Deadliest Battle”. The deadliest battle, of course, was against drugs.

Yes, drugs. In this episode, Rick Gordon (Flash Gordon’s son) is being pressured not only by school to make good grades, but by his father to be a better hero. Randomly, a suspicious juvenile at Rick Gordon’s school offers Rick drugs unsolicited and for free in the middle of the school’s busy hallway. I can’t quite tell if that was a lack of understanding on how these things happen or a cynical assumption that kids would actually be that stupid. Anyway, we then have a scene in a classroom with a teacher going over D.A.R.E. which stands for drug abuse resistance education. We even get a nice shout out to Nancy Reagan with the teachers saying, “Just say no.”

Rick takes the drugs anyway which do in fact make him feel a whole lot better, but it comes at a high price. The drugs also make Rick absent minded, causing him to forget to finish setting up their new defense system. This allows Ming the Merciless to come right in to take out the Defenders of the Earth once and for all.

After Flash Gordon uses some excessively harsh words with his son, one of the other kids on the team is able to help save the day and teach Rick a valuable lesson about responsibility and how it’s never okay to take anything that will get your mind off of how the walls of your life are closing in on you.

Flash Gordon does at least acknowledge that he’s been too harsh with his son Rick, which was a nice touch. I was expecting something that put the entire weight of the drug problem on Rick and the dealer.

If it wasn’t for Nancy Reagan, we might have never been able to experience this animated gem. If you want to experience it for yourself again or for the first time, you can check it out here. Many other cartoons also tackled drug prevention at the time including Thundercats, He-Man, Jem and the Holograms, and many others. And the drug war legacy still plagues us to this very day. However, Nancy Reagan didn’t meet with the Thundercats, or He-Man, or Jem and the Holograms. When she got a chance to meet the heroes to help kids say no, she chose comics heroes. Or her scheduler did. Either way, when she wanted help getting her message to kids she met with classic comics heroes that have stood the test of time to this very day. To some of us at least.

Did Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign help people? Maybe a few. Did it give people a false sense of security and a cramp in their arms from patting themselves on the back too much for doing something about an issue that over time ended up destroying countless more lives than it ever saved while also wasting an unbelievably large amount of our taxpayer dollars?

You bet! Maybe she should have asked the Defenders of the Earth to help end the Cold War instead.

Mike Gold: The Ghost Who Rocks!

phantom first sunday

Harvey HitsPeople have been arguing the “who was comics’ first costumed hero” question for decades. Some feel it was Mandrake the Magician, by Lee Falk and Phil Davis (1934), others cite the truly obscure Red Knight created by John Welch and Jack McGuire, and still others prefer to credit E.C. Segar’s Popeye (1929). But I think it’s safe to say that most comics fans and scholars bestow that honor upon The Phantom, created by Lee Falk and Ray Moore 80 years ago this past week.

Neither Mandrake nor Popeye are “costumed heroes.” They perform their feats of daring in their regular work clothes. Whereas the Red Knight got his start in 1934 as a guy named Bullet Benton, he did not don the Red Knight costume and, therefore, the costumed hero persona until April of 1940. I suspect somebody at the Register and Tribune Syndicate took a gander at the McClure Syndicate’s success with Superman.

So much for history. Here’s where it gets personal. Yep, this is really all about me.

I discovered The Phantom in a comic book called Harvey Hits #26, which was sort of like DC’s Showcase but with a much shorter attention span. This was in 1959, when costumed heroes were very few and extremely far between. DC had just given The Flash his own bi-monthly title, Archie was struggling with The Fly and The Shield, and Marvel was devoting its energies to such monster fare as “Invasion of the Stone Men.” So finding this treasure was quite an event for a kid who had just turned nine years old.

PhantomIt didn’t matter that Wilson McCoy’s artwork was, to be polite, clunky. So clunky that Falk hated it, but the guy was foisted upon him by King Features. Even the cover to this reprint comic was clunky – if you take a good look at it, the perspective is out of the Negative Zone. Attributed to Joe Simon, the cover was in keeping with the interior art.

That didn’t matter. I loved it. The whole bit about the hero replacing his father for an uninterrupted chain of 400 years or so was breathtaking – sort of like how my peers in England felt about Doctor Who in 1966 when the Time Lord “reincarnated.” But, for me, something more important came out of my discovery of Harvey Hits #26.

I was sitting around my school’s lunchroom talking with my pals and mentioned this Phantom comic book. One of my friends said “Oh, that’s in the newspaper!” Really, I replied excitedly. “Yeah; the Chicago American.” Well, until a couple years before the Chicago American was a Hearst paper and no such rag would befoul my parents’ home. It had been sold to the Chicago Tribune and that paper was allowed, but only on Sundays.

KMBT_C454-20130923132755The next day my friend brought in the American’s Sunday comics section and changed my life forever. Yep, the Phantom was there – but so was Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon. Every Sunday morning I was wedded to our teevee set watching Buster Crabbe gleefully taunt Charles Middleton, but I had no idea he got his start in the comics. And Raboy’s art was something mighty to behold… and it still is. Blondie, the Little King, Bringing Up Father – I was familiar with all of them from other Harvey Comics reprint titles. But when I turned to Hal Foster’s full-page Prince Valiant feature, I was incapable of speech and I might have needed a respirator.

This led to my discovering the other newspapers in my town – Chicago had five back then – as well as in neighboring areas. That, in turn, led to my falling in love with newspaper lore. Within a year I was buying four of those five newspapers every day, and I read them damn near cover-to-cover. This exercise had a massive expansionary impact on my worldview and it led me to journalism school which ultimately led to my typing these words now.

I had the privilege of knowing and working with Lee Falk – we double-teamed King Features to get them out of the way of our Phantom comic book at DC, but that’s a tale for another time. I thank Lee from the bottom of my heart for showing me my life’s path.

The Phantom is also known as The Ghost Who Walks. Not in my case. In my case, The Phantom is the Ghost Who Rocks.

Mike Gold: More Superhero Movies of the Ancients

Last week, I taunted you with visions of ancient superhero movies – serials, as they were called back then. Today we’d call them really low-budget webcasts. Here’s a few more worthy of your consideration, and this time we’re delving into a trio of iconic heroes from the pulps and newspaper strips – and now, of course, comic books.

The ShadowThe Shadow is the best-known of all the classic pulp heroes, and for a very good reason: many of the more than 300 stories published were quite good. Walter B. Gibson created something magical – a series with a lead character who had plenty of secrets but no secret identity, aided and abetted by a slew of agents who had no idea who their master was. The character’s popularity was enhanced massively by a highly successful radio series, one that gave The Shadow an alter-ego and a female companion and took away most of his agents.

Sadly, The Shadow didn’t fare as well on the silver screen. I don’t think the sundry producers could ever reconcile the differences between the pulp stories and the radio show, and they certainly were restricted in the deployment of violent action. But there is one major exception, the 15-chapter Columbia serial from 1940. Whereas they did a decent job of using three agents (including Margo Lane), the real beauty of this production was the man who played the lead, Victor Jory. A talented and accomplished actor (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Miracle Worker), Jory had the additional benefit of actually looking like The Shadow and his adopted form of Lamont Cranston, as portrayed in the pulps. Serials generally lacked verisimilitude; The Shadow had it in spades. And it’s a damn fine actioner, by serial standards.

spider_serial2If you found The Shadow pulps to be lacking in action, The Spider made up for it and then some. Every plot revolved around a madman’s quest to destroy humanity. New York City got trashed more often than a Thing vs. Hulk fightfest. The death count in your average Spider story was at least in triple digits. The books should have been published in red ink.

Obviously, they couldn’t duplicate that degree of violence in the movie serials. But they got the flavor and the spirit right, giving the Spider a real costume (he didn’t have one in the pulps), keeping his cast of associates intact, and using Warren Hull, who played the lead, in the various disguises typical to the pulp hero. There were two Spider serials: The Spider’s Web and The Spider Returns, and both are quite worthy.

Flash GordonI’ve left the best for last. The one series of serials I would recommend even to people who don’t like serials or kids who can’t handle black and white and cheesy special effects.

The Flash Gordon serials, Space Soldiers, Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars, and Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe, are blessed with a cast that, by and large, looks as though they were designed by Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond. All three follow the spirit and direction of the classic newspaper strip, and the first serial is as close to a literal transition from comics to film as I’ve ever seen. Whereas Buster Crabbe is impeccable as Flash and his relative inexperience as an actor inures to the benefit of this part, it is Charles Middleton as Ming who steals the show, as well as the popcorn off your lap.

In my jaded worldview, Middleton’s Ming is the best villain on film, period. He’s evil, he’s imperial, he’s a warrior, he’s a master scientist. He is everything Fu Manchu wanted to be. Middleton pulls it off with style and aplomb without overacting – which, in serials, is unique. The only actor who comes close was Roger Delgado as the original Master in Doctor Who. Even when Ming is being cooperative with our heroes, he doesn’t have a shred of sympathy to draw upon. Ming’s nobility works hand-in-glove with his position as Emperor of all he sees.

These serials are generally available from the usual sources – you might have to Google around for The Spider, but the Flash Gordon trio is easily available. Much of it all is on Hulu, YouTube, and sundry other streaming services.

These are the characters that provided the budding comic book medium with its backbone. It set the standard for all future heroic fantasy films. Check a few out.


Flash Gordon (1979) vs Flash Gordon (1980)

The end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s saw fans confronted with two completely different visions for what Flash Gordon could be.

It began in the late Seventies when producers Norm Prescott and Lou Scheimer wanted to make a full-blown, live-action Flash Gordon movie, probably for television but possibly for theatrical release.  They commissioned a script that turned out to be, in their description, extremely close to the original pulp source material and potentially amazing as a film–but also far, far too expensive to produce.

Instead they decided to create an animated version of the movie using essentially the same script.  They did so, complete with references to Hitler and the Nazis working with Ming the Merciless, but then decided to revamp the concept into a weekly animated series.  That’s how we ended up with the show as it now exists–known at the time simply as FLASH GORDON but today called “The New Adventures of Flash Gordon” to distinguish it from other versions of the property.

Needing extra money to be able to complete the project, they hooked up with film producer Dino de Laurentiis (he of “Orca” and 1976 “King Kong” fame) to help fund the show in conjunction with the production of a live-action movie.  This, of course, would result in the Sam Jones/Max von Sydow 1980 “Flash Gordon” film.  De Laurentiis saw the animated series as perhaps raising public awareness of the property in the months leading up to his big-budget movie’s release.

As it turned out, the movie was about what one would’ve (or should have) expected from De Laurentiis–an over-the-top camp-fest, best remembered today mainly for its fantastic Queen music score.

The animated series, however, lives on as a mostly very-good-to-excellent example of late Seventies animation (with rotoscoping of human movement, interesting back-lighting effects, and pioneering use of scale models for spacecraft animation).  It’s also just a flat-out great planetary adventure pulp story, with Flash first confronting (as foes) and then gathering to his side the leaders of the various other kingdoms of Mongo, in common cause against their evil ruler, Ming.

As a side note, not only was the animation cutting-edge, the music is excellent (an orchestral score–for a Saturday morning cartoon!) and the women… well, let’s just say you can tell this project was conceived as a movie for grown-ups and retrofitted into being a kids’ cartoon!  Wow!

The series is available on DVD and, with the ability to fast-forward through some of the repetitive parts necessitated by the serialized format of a weekly half-hour show and budget constraints, it is well worth your time.

(Addendum: The voice of Ming the Merciless is performed by Allen Oppenheimer, later known as the voice of Skeletor in Filmation’s “He-Man” and “She-Ra” series.  This might prove distracting to some, as the voice is quite distinct.)

Mike Gold: Stupid Decisions

Gold Art 130206Last week my colleague Ms. Thomases and I were sharing a movie experience at a Manhattan multi-mega-complex. Running the gauntlet of promotional material we passed the familiar poster advertising the franchise-saving event, Man of Steel. Once we were settled in the theater and the obnoxiously repulsive commercials started playing – most were for television shows – I mentioned to Martha that the new management of Warner Bros. hasn’t truly green-lit the Justice League movie. “They’re waiting to see how Man of Steel works out.”

Her Oh-Oh Sense flared up. While both of us were hoping for a killer Superman flick, nothing we have seen thus far has promoted any sense of confidence. Do we need another origin story filled with the Els and the Kents? Most of us have cable teevee or DVDs or streaming video or all three, and there’s plenty of filmed presentations of that origin story. My favorite remains the one from the 1950s teevee series where Our Miss Brooks’ Phillip Boynton played Jor-El while wearing Buster Crabbe’s tunic from the Flash Gordon serials… but that’s just me and a few other decrepit baby-boomers. The rest of you probably never heard of Professor Boynton, and some of you haven’t seen the Flash Gordon serials. You should fix that.

I’m certainly willing to give it a shot and I’ll enter the theater with all the optimism I can muster. It has a good cast, and Michael Shannon certainly has the gravitas to be a great General Zod. But there’s one problem that I’m unlikely to get past.

That damn costume.

OK. I’m sure somebody in Hollywood said “That guy wears his underpants outside his leotard! It’s stupid! We’ve must fix that!” Actually, it’s an old joke. But Superman is a genuine American icon, right up there with the flag, apple pie and third-world health care. Whereas we can fix the latter (but won’t in my lifetime) and the second is fattening, you do not change the flag. You do not change the Coca-Cola bottle, even if they’re reduced to printing a silhouette of it on their cans. You do not give Donald Duck Prozac, you do not copy Johnny Carson’s golf swing on your teevee show.

I’m not suggesting things cannot change. But there’s a reason why certain things reach iconic status. It’s like granting historical status to New York’s Grand Central Terminal (100 years old last week) or Chicago’s Rookery (Daniel Burnham rocks!). Society has deemed Superman’s trunks appropriate, dating back to the time Joe Shuster employed the imagery of the 1930s circus strongman for the Man of Steel’s costume. We may not have very many circus sideshows these days, but we do have Superman.

Besides, if there’s one stupid element in the big guy’s costume, it’s that cape. One of Clark Kent’s undisclosed superpowers must be a psionic ability to keep that thing from flapping over his face while in flight, or doing an Isadora Duncan on Lois Lane when they fly out to the Fortress of Solitude for a weekend of melting the crystals.

But I would not drop that cape, just like I wouldn’t gawk at our flag and ask “gee, do we need all that red?”

Because Warner Bros. is the dog and its DC Entertainment is the tail, Supe’s trunkless costume debuted in the ever-changing yet never-evolving New 52. I get this: a lot more money is riding on the movie franchise than on the comic books. However, there’s a reason why Superman has lasted 75 years – Man of Steel comes out pretty damn close to the actual 75th anniversary date – while other characters from that era that were more popular at the time (The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers) have fallen out of favor. And that reason is wrapped in a red cape and red trunks.

When I see Man of Steel, I’ll have a hard time looking at the Big Guy and not thinking “Jeez, these morons got it wrong!”

Sometimes, fixing a stupid idea… is a stupid idea.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil



He knows if you’ve been naughty.

Toy company, Go Hero, has announced via their Facebook page that Doc Savage will be getting the 1:6th scale action figure treatment, joining the company’s similar version of The Shadow. Go Hero also features popular characters, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, The Claw, The Spider, and more.

Check out some sneak peeks of Go Hero’s pulpy projects in the works for 2013 here.

About Go Hero:
Go Hero is at the forefront of the vanguard movement in designer toys.  Go Hero endeavors to re-imagine classic entertainment and lifestyle products for collectors by combining creative vision, industry knowledge, artistry, and a love for pop-culture.  We want to do justice to justice doers and evoke the experiences of our collective childhoods!
Follow Go Hero on Facebook for the latest news and updates.
Click on images for a larger view.
Doc Savage Sneak Peek #1

Doc Savage Sneak Peek #2

Doc Savage Sneak Peek #3

Mike Gold: Phantom Survivor

While we’re all busy celebrating the 49th anniversary of Doctor Who and the 50th anniversary of both Spider-Man and the James Bond movies, the daddy of heroic fantasy characters quietly turned 76 way back in February. Or, depending upon how you look at it, he turned 476.

The Phantom was the very first masked, costumed hero in comics, debuting in the pages of the many Hearst papers February 17, 1936. He wore a dark outfit – when the feature added a Sunday page, an unthinking engraver made the costume purple for some unknown reason and the color stuck. He fought piracy and other crimes and handed down his clothes, his weapons, his Skull Cave, his fortune and, most important, his legacy to his son. The current guy – most have been named Kit Walker – is the 21st. This cool concept predated Doctor Who by a generation.

One would think the locals were pretty stupid to believe this dude has been the same guy all these many years. Indeed, given the fact that the base for the Phantom’s stories is in Africa (originally, it was sort of India-ish), one might even think this concept was kind of racist. Creator Lee Falk’s liberal street-cred was impeccable and he built the myth on local folk-lore and the unimpeachable fact that criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.

As time progressed we saw African civilization modernize as we continued to see its treasures and its history plundered by contemporary pirates and opportunist Europeans. Nonetheless, about 30 years ago I was having a conversation with the features editor of the Chicago Tribune who expressed astonishment that The Phantom polled highest among its black male readership. I told him he wasn’t reading the strip very closely.

What’s remarkable – astonishing, really – is the fact that The Phantom remains in the newspapers to this very day. This is a feat unmatched by Terry and The Pirates, Little Orphan Annie, Li’l Abner, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and just about every other continuity newspaper comic strip except Dick Tracy and Mandrake The Magician.

I should point out that Mandrake the Magician was created by Lee Falk as well… two years before The Phantom.

The original artist was Ray Moore; subsequent talent on the strip and on the comic books reads like a Who’s Who of comics: Carmine Infantino, Bill Lignante, Sy Barry, Joe Orlando, Luke McDonnell, Dave Gibbons, Dick Giordano, Don Newton, Jim Aparo, Alex Saviuk, Graham Nolan, Alex Ross, Paul Ryan, Eduardo Barreto, and Terry Beatty… to name but a few. Writers include Peter David, Mark Verheiden, Scott Beatty, Tom DeFalco, and Tony Bedard. Tony DePaul has been writing the strip for the past twelve years; he’s also written many of the comic book adventures as well. Nearly every major American comic book publisher had a turn in creating new adventures, and it remains a top-seller in Australia, Sweden, India and many other nations.

Currently, the dailies are being drawn by Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty – perhaps best known for his work on Ms. Tree – is the Sunday artist. Terry had the awesome responsibility of stepping into Eduardo Barreto’s shoes after Ed’s sudden death last year. He’s doing quite an admirable job.

I continue to be amazed by The Phantom’s enduring appeal. If your local paper isn’t carrying the feature (assuming you still have a local paper) you can read it at King Features’ excellent Daily Ink site, where they carry all of the current KFS strips, including Mandrake, as well as reprints of many of their classics, including The Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Buz Sawyer, and about a zillion others. It costs $19.99 a year to subscribe to the whole thing, and I doubt you can spend the same amount on a better mix of comics material.

Every time we read a costumed hero comic of any sort, we owe a debt of gratitude to Lee Falk, an amazingly gifted and singularly interesting man.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil



On November 7th, TwoMorrows Publishing will release Lou Scheimer: Creating The Filmation Generation. Scheimer and Filmation were responsible for many pulp animated projects, including The Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, Tarzan, and more.


New autobiography of Lou Scheimer, co-founder of Filmation Studios, debuts November 7.

(RALEIGH, NC) On November 7, TwoMorrows Publishing releases LOU SCHEIMER: CREATING THE FILMATION GENERATION, the new autobiography of the co-founder of the renowned Filmation animation studio. Hailed as one of the fathers of Saturday morning television, Scheimer devoted over 25 years to providing animated excitement for TV and film. Always at the forefront, Filmation created the first DC Comics cartoons with Superman, Batman, and Aquaman, ruled the song charts with The Archies, kept Trekkie hope alive with the Emmy-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series, taught morals with Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and swung into high adventure with Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, and Zorro.

Forays into live-action included Shazam! and The Secrets of Isis, plus ground-breaking special effects work on Jason of Star Command and others. And in the 1980s, Filmation single-handedly caused the syndication explosion with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its successors. Now, with best-selling co-author Andy Mangels, Lou Scheimer tells his entire story, including how his father decked Adolf Hitler, memories of the comic books of the Golden Age, schooling with Andy Warhol, and what it meant to lead the last all-American animation company through nearly thirty years of innovation and fun. Profusely illustrated with photos, model sheets, storyboards, presentation art, looks at rare and unproduced series, and more — plus hundreds of tales about Filmation’s past, and rare Filmation-related art by Bruce Timm, Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, Phil Jimenez, Frank Cho, Gene Ha, and Mike McKone — this book shows the Filmation Generation the story behind the stories.

288-page Trade Paperback with COLOR, by Lou Scheimer with Andy Mangels
Print Edition: $29.95 cover price
Digital Edition: $9.95, available only at www.twomorrows.com

ISBN10: 1-60549-044-X
ISBN13: 978-1-60549-044-1
Diamond Comic Distributors Order Code: JUL121245

Ordering link: http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=662

In anticipation of this book’s release, TwoMorrows Publishing is letting readers download a FREE PDF PREVIEW at this link: http://www.twomorrows.com/media/ScheimerPreview.pdf

ABOUT THE CO-AUTHOR: Andy Mangels is the USA Today best-selling author and co-author of over twenty fiction and nonfiction books — including Star Trek, Roswell, and Star Wars novels — and is an award-winning comic book anthology editor. He has also contributed to international magazines and newspapers, and has scripted, directed, and produced over forty DVD documentaries and Special Features projects.

LOU SCHEIMER: CREATING THE FILMATION GENERATION will be in stores on Wednesday, November 7.

Since 1994, TwoMorrows Publishing has been bringing a new day to comics fandom, through its award-winning line of magazines and books.

John Ostrander: Alphas

In the past, I’ve generally shied away from ongoing series on the channel now known as Syfy. Their version of The Dresden Files sucked toads (sorry, Emily, but compared to the novels by Jim Butcher, the series was execrable) and they put on a Flash Gordon with no space ships. I repeat: No. Space. Ships!

This trend was reversed with the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and continued with such shows as Eureka, both of which I’ve enjoyed a great deal. They have several other original series now that have gained a viewership but the one that attracted me most has been Alphas. The series concerns a group of metahumans who are dubbed alphas, each with different abilities, all of which were gained at birth. Can you say X-Men? You’d be right. There’s good reasons for that.

The series was created by Michael Karnow and Zak Penn. The latter worked on story and/or script on several X-Men movies, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, and my own personal wonky fave, Incident at Loch Ness. So he has chops. And he knows what the X-Men are about.

The series centers around a team of Alphas, recruited to handle bad alphas (sound familiar?) by brilliant non-Alpha Dr. Lee Rosen, a psychiatrist, played by David Strathairn (notable in the last two Bourne movies and, in one of his best roles, Good Night and Good Luck where he played Edward R. Murrow to stunning effect). Straitharn was a large reason I decided to watch the series in the first place; he’s an excellent actor and I’ve never seen him in anything in which he wasn’t honest and believable, even when he plays bad guys. Frankly, I was surprised to see him doing a cable TV series but he has done a significant amount of TV work. In this, he’s the Professor Xavier analog without being a copy.

There are other analogs in the show. The main bad guy, Stanton Parish (played by John Pyper-Ferguson) is a Magneto type. While he doesn’t have the same powers, he’s an alpha (read mutant) who is gathering his fellow alphas and wants to save them from common humanity. He has a respect for his opponent, Dr. Rosen, and seems to be a reluctant mass murderer.

One character, Bill Harken (Malik Yoba), is sort of a Colossus analog in that he is the strongman of the group. The most original character, Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright), can plug into and read any wavelength but the character is also autistic (on the level of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man) and his interactions with the team and the world around him are always interesting.

Do I like the series? Yes. It’s not a rip-off of the X-Men per se; it’s more a re-imagining of the core concepts of the X-Men. People are born with special powers and some of them try to save a world that fears and hates them but it’s a more realistic take on the concept (“realistic” being a relative term). No costumes, no spandex. A touch of soap opera, yes, but almost all comic book superheroes have that these days.

Above all, it has David Strathairn who I think I would watch in almost anything. His character is nuanced and fallible and shows a deep, if sometimes flawed, humanity. I’d give the whole series a B+, A-. A third season has not yet been announced but I hope it will be. You may want to catch the first two seasons before it comes back because the storyline and underlying mythology does build. Not as impenetrable as the X-Men have gotten but I’m not sure just jumping in on the third season would be the best idea.

Besides, it’s enjoyable to watch.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell