Uncollected Thoughts: The Flash s05 e01


Now *that’s* more like it…

From being my favourite of the DC superhero shows, because it was such sheer fun and the perfect antidote to the forever gloomy Arrow, The Flash has tumbled down a long way for its insistence upon turning Barry Allen into a near carbon copy of Oliver Queen. This got so bad that by the end of season 4 I was prepared to switch off, like I have with Arrow and the terminally wet Supergirl.

But, to be fair, I decided to give season 5 the Four Episode Test, and I’ve just watched episode 1. So, what’s the initial verdict?

Well, first of all there’s a switch-up through the cast with Hartley Sawyer (Ralph The Elongated Man Dibny) and Danielle Picot (Cecile Horton) being promoted from recurring, and Jessica Parker Kennedy as Nora West-Allen, aka XS as the newest arrival. There’s also Chris Klein as season 5’s big bad who doesn’t really get a look in yet.

What’s being set-up is last season’s cliffhanger. Nora is Barry and Iris’s daughter from the future, thirty years into the future in fact. She’s supposedly stranded in time, due to the effect of negative tachyons. Bearing in mind the risk of damage to the timeline, Barry’s all gung-ho to get her back where/when she belongs before the excitable young woman gives anything away about what’s to come.

This hovers on the edge of extreme drippiness, especially in the formulaic scene with obligatory slow music when Barry discusses how, by meeting his daughter as an adult, he feels he’s been cheated out of all the ‘firsts’ a parent gets whilst their baby becomes a child and more. Even without the one spoiler I knew coming in, this counts as pretty blatant ironic foreshadowing, but it’s here that the season gets something that might all on its own be enough to sustain it.

Because according to that futuristic newspaper that was first introduced in season 1, The Flash will disappear in 2024 in some form of Crisis (seasoned comics fans will know what is being implied, some variation on 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, when the Barry Allen Flash was killed off, not to return for twenty years). Nora’s not here because she’s stranded. She’s here to spend time with the Dad she never knew, the Flash who, according to a new future newspaper she projects, from 2049, never came back.

There was a clever bit at the start when the customary opening credits monologue went to Nora West-Allen, not Barry, which justified the closing credits monologue in which she makes it plain she’s come back to do everything in her power to keep her Dad from disappearing.

Thinking about things logically, that gives her another five seasons before it all gets a bit critical, though I’m betting that by episode 22, The Flash and XS will somehow find themselves in 2024, dealing with it.

After all, the programme has already started to blur this simple human tragedy by having Barry do what Oliver Queen always does and keeps the whole thing to himself. No, we’re not going to tell Iris, even though she knows about that 2024 headline, we’re going to be completely fucking stupid as usual and do the one thing that drives me insane about this show, gah!

Anyway: there’s a couple of Easter eggs for us fans, such as Barry and Nora’s favourite desert coming from a place in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, home of the real Snapper Carr (forget the stupid one in Supergirl, oh, and by the way, don’t ask. Please) and, incidentally, the first Justice League of America secret headquarters. And The Flash’s new suit is mentioned as having been designed by Ryan Choi, aka The Atom 4.

Speaking of that new suit… it’s taken them until season 5 but The Flash finally looks like the real Flash, in a bright red, non-leather, non-dark, non-stupid chinpiece costume, projected from a signet ring… It was one of those moments that veterans like me long to see and it made the whole episode worthwhile, just like that bit in season 2 where the two Flashes recreated the cover of The Flash 123. Sometimes I’m easily pleased.

We’ll see. If only they’d cut the crap, which is still there in embarrassingly large chunks. I doubt they will, since it’s all part of the show’s formula, but if they can come up with enough decent bits in between, and lay off the bloody angst a bit, i might get to next June still watching this.

Uncollected Thoughts: Neil Gaiman’s ‘Norse Mythology’


For the first time, I’m rather disappointed by a new Neil Gaiman book, especially when the subject seems to be so close to his heart and his skills.

We ought to be in sync on this one: it may not have been the same book, but I too encountered the Norse Myths in the mid-Sixties, though without the prior mediation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby via The Mighty Thor, and I’ve always felt a greater affinity with them than the rather more famous, and studied, Greek Myths.

And, as far as my memory of the book I was bought (probably from Shudehill Bookstalls, like so many others of my childhood) is concerned, Gaiman has retold all the tales I remember.

So I ought to like this book, but the truth is that I found it disappointing for the most fundamental reason that if I hadn’t known Neil Gaiman had written this, I would never have guessed it.

All good writers have a ‘voice’. This has been true of all of Neil Gaiman’s work to date, however diverse the subject or medium. It’s a slightly formal tone, a slightly archaic tone, a way of expressing things, but it isn’t anywhere present in this book. It could be any author, except that it’s an author reading to children, and reading aloud. It lacks personality, it lacks individuality. The tales are left to fend for themselves, with no authorial input to characterise them.

Without Gaiman’s voice, this could be anyone writing this version of the myths, and that’s precisely why this book doesn’t work for me.

Uncollected Thoughts: Doctor Strange


The Drugs better work cos the Voice doesn’t.

From the moment the first reports leaking from filming got anywhere that I could read them, there’s been  a good vibe about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest offering, the introduction of Magic in Phase 3, Benedict Cumberbatch’s first – but definitely not last – outing as Doctor Stephen Strange.

And the good vibes kept mounting, up to the reviews of recent days, which have been universally favourable, except, that is, for the one coming from a comics-oriented site, which did not like it, and which slated Cumberbatch as the worst possible choice for the good Doctor.

Which did concern me a little, given that it was the only one from the comic book insider’s perception and you know that, preference for DC or not, that’s my standpoint. Was it only going to go down well with the audience that didn’t know what it was talking about? I am old enough to have encountered Doctor Strange when all was fresh and new, and very very Steve Ditko.

Rest assured however that, after this afternoon’s visit to Grand Central, Stockport, you will indeed enjoy this latest expansion of the MCU, that Benedict Cumberbatch is indeed very fitting as Stephen Strange, arrogant neurosurgeon and potential Sorceror Supreme, and if you are old enough, you too will find yourself playing air guitar in your seat as the introduction to Pink Floyd’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ booms onto the soundtrack.

Yes, psychedelic is the way.

Whilst it isn’t free from some tampering with the original story, Doctor Strange is a pretty comprehensive and pretty faithful effort. We have the classic story, updated into the Twenty-First Century, of Stephen Strange, gifted surgeon and all-round selfish arsehole, losing the ability to operate after damaging his hands in a car crash, unable to repair the damage by western, scientific medicine and heading east for a miracle cure that he doesn’t believe in but which has been proven effective.

We have Katmandu, and The Ancient One – controversially not the aged Tibetan of the series but instead Tilda Swinton with a shaved head, who gets referred to once, fleetingly, as a Celt and that’s it – and Wong, the Eye of Agamotto, Dormammu and Mordo. In one form or another, we get practically everything bar the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak, and not the least mention (that I could hear) of Hoggoth, let alone its Hoary Hordes.

You would expect Mordo to be the bad guy, but not so. Instead, the film has called up the obscure sorceror and minion of Baron Mordo, Kaecilius, playing a very Mordo-esque role as chief antagonist under the aegis of Dormammu, whilst the film’s Mordo, a Master not a Baron, is a trusted aide to The Ancient One. On the other hand, he did turn his back in disgust with everybody at the end, for breaking the Laws of Nature to ensure Earth wasn’t subsumed into the Dark Dimension under Dormammu’s rule for ever. Apparently, it’s not enough to save the world, you’ve got to do it in a regulation manner, so expect Mordo to be up for it as a Baddie in Doctor Strange 2.

(Which is planned,Cumberbatch having signed up for at least one more, but has no schedule, which is good because, despite being keen on seeing another film like this, I am even more keen on seeing Sherlock series 4).

These departures from the original were part of the process of de-racial-stereotyping the Doctor Strange set-up, and they were carefully and well-handled throughout. To be honest, what gave me more problems was Cumberbatch’s accent as Doctor Strange. I am no expert on English actors doing American accents but, no matter how accurate he may have been, it will take longer than this film lasted before I look at Benedict Cumberbatch and not expect to hear Sherlock Holmes.

I have to say that, for once, the CGI was one of the best things about this movie. I don’t usually go in for giving the SFX that much credit, and I subscribe to the opinion that any film that lets its CGI play a bigger part than its actors is doing the wrong job, but the opening scene, where The as-yet-unidentified Ancient One pursues Kercilius and his henches to London and starts rolling up the buildings, turning gravity on its side and interlocking old-fashioned and ornate frontages into themselves had my eyes popping out, but when it came to New York, later in the film, London got off easily.

I’m sorry not to be so energetic and articulate as I usually am at such things, not being at my best just now, but trust me on this one, Doctor Strange is well worth your time. Choose the 3D option, seriously, and if the cinema don’t do 3D screens, go to one that does.

And play yourself some Pink Floyd in advance. The early stuff, the Syd Barratt stuff. Get yourself in the mood. Groovy baby.

Uncollected Thoughts: Captain America – Civil War


As you should know by now, I am a lifelong DC Comics fan, in large part by my formative comics experiences in a part of Manchester where Marvel’s titles weren’t distributed, but also because by temperament I am not fully in sympathy with Marvel’s standard tone of screaming hysteria.

Of course, when it comes to the two company’s Cinematic Universe, there’s even less of  a contrast: Marvel have it sewn up and as long as Zack Snyder is allowed to even buy DC Comics, that’s the way it will sell.

I’ve already expressed my opinion of Batman vs Superman, which is overwhelmingly the worst film starring DC characters ever made (and I speak as one who has seen the 1990 Justice League of America TV film. Seriously, even that was better).

I shalln’t waste time re-enumerating Batman vs Superman‘s faults, which I’ve had to argue with colleagues at work who held contradictory opinions. Suffice to say that this film was everything I wished a DC film starring the two most iconic characters in the world had been.

It was fast-paced, properly balanced between light and dark, properly grounded, well thought-through and not afraid for a second to have it’s characters going out during the day. It didn’t bore the arse off me, it progressed logically from stage to stage, it was joyful fun in large measures, and it managed a large cast far better than Snyder managed a cast of two.

Although it said Captain America on the shingle, forget that. This was an Avengers movie, whatever the official billing. It was about the Avengers from start to finish and whilst it used Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, as its focus point, demanding a leading role from Chris Evans, it was the ensemble that carried everything through.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and it didn’t feel like two and a half hours plus, I find myself with nothing in particular to say about it. It was good fun, an entertaining way of passing several hours, and I had a whale of a time during the Avenger vs Avenger sequence at Leipzig Airport (my word, Marvel got Spider-Man absolutely perfectly though I am one with the entire Marvel fandom in finding the concept of a fanciable Aunt May as alien beyond belief), but there wasn’t much of it that was of significance. Sometimes, you don’t actually need that to have fun. Even me.

Couple of points: I haven’t read the original Civil War series but it was a little disappointing that the film didn’t try harder to set up a genuine opposition to Cap’s instinctive adherence to freedom. Tony Stark was far too easily convinced by one angry mother’s denouncement of the Avengers for one dead son in the midst of saving the Earth from being destroyed. Nor was there any principled solution to the genuine moral dilemma posed, though between the weak motivation and Cap’s escape  with ‘his’ Avengers, the film declared its position.

It reminded me very much of the 1986 DC crossover series, Legends, in which a demagogue supposedly turns America against its superheroes, a story fatally weakened by the fact that no-one connected with the production of the series could actually conceive of superheroes as anything but an absolute good, and consequently couldn’t provide a single half-decent argument for the demagogue’s case. No-one connected with the film could come up with anything they really believed in.

Never mind. Such pretensions were better sidelined and the overall fun aspect of the film made it easy to do so. Good fun was had, and I’d watch this one again if anyone was interested in taking me.