San Diego Comic-Con 2013 observations

In between other things this past weekend, I caught a bit of the online coverage of this year’s San Diego Comic Con, especially the following highlights.

Disney/Marvel showcased Agents of SHIELD (Joss Whedon’s upcoming TV show), The Wolverine and continuity-patching X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Thor 2: the Dark World (with a hilarious Tim Hiddleston in character as Loki). A little further out are espionage-flavored Captain America 2: Winter Soldier, likely blockbuster Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, and Guardians of the Galaxy, at whose panel Doctor Who‘s Karen Gillan revealed she had shaved her head.

X-Men cast, past and present
X-Men: Days of Future Past reunited cast members across eras

Warner Bros/DC had panels on the 20th anniversary of the excellent Batman: the Animated Series and the successful CW series Arrow. It also announced the title of live-action movie Superman/Batman, as well as Justice League: Flashpoint and War, which bring DC Comics’ “new 52” to animation. I’ve already blogged on how I’d approach the DC universe.

I’m not sure that Age of Ultron, which Whedon said won’t be based on comic book storylines involving Hank Pym, or the adversarial Superman/Batman, which draws from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, are good ideas. As much as I’ve enjoyed the latest wave of superhero adaptations, I’d like to see more variety, such as female-led movies, flicks that don’t rehash different origins in a formulaic way, and less tinkering to follow current trends.

There were panels for several of my favorite shows, including Doctor Who (which is celebrating its 50th anniversary), the potentially ending Psych, and the darkly fun Grimm. Conspiratorial Person of Interest has proven to be prescient, and I’ve been touting the underrated clone drama Orphan Black as the best new genre TV show this past year.

I also look forward to Season 2 of the animated steampunk/fantasy Avatar: Legend of Korra and Season 3 of the BBC’s Sherlock. Of the upcoming TV shows previewed in San Diego, I’m looking forward Almost Human the most.

Hollywood continued its domination of Comic Con, with previews of upcoming movies, including Godzilla and Veronica Mars. There was some comic book news, but it was overshadowed by other media. Of course, there were lots of fans in costume.

I’ve been to a number of genre entertainment events already this year, and I look forward to the Boston Comic Con, Super MegaFest, the Rhode Island Comic Con, and possibly the New York Comic Con!

Thundercats and other toons

Cartoon Network's new Thundercats
Thundercats, ho!

On Friday, 29 July 2011, I watched the premieres of a few new animated television shows. I especially liked the latest incarnation of Thundercats, which was among the shows previewed at San Diego Comic-Con, on the Cartoon Network.

As with G.I. Joe: Renegades, Transformers: Prime, and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, intellectual properties from the 1980s are being revived, with more modern production values and writing. Although I’m a bit too old to have childhood nostalgia for the originals of these series, I applaud this trend, mainly because of the rare improvement in quality.

The one-hour premiere of Thundercats was faithful enough to the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, but it has a lot in common with recent animation as well. Our favorite felines inhabit a more populated Third Earth than their predecessors, and their (over-)reliance on agrarian civilization and royal magic in contrast to the technology of their foes is reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

The well-designed city of Thundera, varied character archetypes, and new conflict among the Thundercats also reminded me favorably of Avatar: the Last Airbender, which will soon be getting a sequel of its own in Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra (also previewed at Comic-Con). I liked how Lion-o’s father the king isn’t infallible, not all reptile folk are evil, and even that sidekick Snarf can’t talk.

Thundercats is worth watching for fans of fantasy and related role-playing games, and I’ll definitely be adding Thundercats to my summer TV viewing schedule! We’ll see whether the Kung-Fu Panda series can keep the eastern-flavored martial arts action going and if it’s faithful to the popular Dreamworks movies, which I liked more than the Shrek franchise (the Puss in Boots spin-off does look amusing).

I wish I could say that the other cartoons were as promising as the fantasy Thundercats, Legend of Korra, or Kung-Fu Panda. It was nice to hear Heroes‘ Adrian Pasdar and Milo Ventimiglia as a smarmy Tony Stark/Iron Man and a youthful Logan/Wolverine in Marvel’s first anime-style series on G4.

As I told Steve M.R., I thought both characters were a good fit for Japanese adventures, with Iron Man‘s technocratic interests and the classic storyline in which Wolverine follows lost love Mariko to Japan. However, I found myself already missing the energy of the computer-animated Iron Man: Armored Adventures and the cleaner lines of X-Men: Evolution, not to mention MTV’s Spider-Man and the fun Spectacular Spider-Man.

I’ll keep watching for a little while in the hope that the latest Iron Man and Wolverine cartoons approach the level of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (not to be confused with the kid-oriented Super Hero Squad). Marvel also has Blade, X-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man (whose print equivalent has replaced Peter Parker in the tights), and Hulk and the Agents of SMASH shows in the works. The direct-to-video Thor: Tales of Asgard was apparently successful enough for a sequel: Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers.

On the DC side of Comic-Con and genre TV news, I’m still looking forward to the return of Young Justice, the premiere of Bruce Timm’s Green Lantern: the Animated Series, and the next inevitable Batman series. I’ve already mentioned the Batman: Year One and Dark Knight Returns releases, and more adaptations are planned, including Justice League: Doom, Superman vs. the Elite, and Batman: the Killing Joke.

Janice and I have been enjoying the Seinfeld-inspired Looney Toons Show, and I hope to catch the dieselpunk War of the Worlds: Goliath, which features the cast of Highlander: the Series, whenever it’s released in the U.S. (thanks to Heavy Metal magazine for the previews).

Coming soon: Toys and games at Comic-Con, Cowboys & Aliens review, and more food and travel!

Live action at Comic-Con 2011

Fans in costumes at San Diego Comic-Con 2011
Justice League fans in costume

Continuing my look at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, as in recent years, movie and television adaptations dominated news from the genre entertainment convention. Although I read lots of print comic books and graphic novels, I have to admit that the show is an opportunity to get a glimpse of numerous upcoming projects.

In the past few years, flicks such as Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and Green Hornet were heavily promoted but did poorly at the box office, even though some critics and fans liked them. As a result, it’s no surprise that two of next year’s biggest superhero movies, The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers, didn’t have full panels at Comic-Con. Warner Brothers/DC and Disney/Marvel did release previews to coincide with the convention, however.

I read more DC Comics titles than Marvel ones, but I’m more excited by Joss Whedon’s Avengers team-up than the conclusion to Chris Nolan and Christian Bale’s dour Batman trilogy. After Captain America, I’m hoping for more four-color heroics rather than more angst in an era already dominated with real-world news of wars, natural and manmade disasters, economic recession, and political stalemate. I also think that the upcoming animated Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns are a better way of exorcising Frank Miller’s influential stories than turning them into live action.

Of the other comic book movies, I’m curious about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, even though I don’t see a need for a reboot (still with Nicholas Cage) after the first film. I found it more entertaining than Ang Lee’s Hulk, which deserved a reboot, and not every superhero adaptation needs to be as seriously highbrow as The Dark Knight.

I had strong reservations after seeing the first still photos of lanky Andrew Garfield in costume for The Amazing Spider-Man, but the latest previews are more promising. It may be a bit soon for a restart of Sony’s franchise, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a fresh director and cast taking a crack at Peter Parker’s misadventures, and I like Emma Stone, who’ll be playing love interest Gwen Stacy.

Fright Night looks like an amusing horror/comedy remake, and Knights of Badassdom should appeal to fans of Your Highness and various live-action role-playing docudramas. I’m more interested in Aardman’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits than Arthur Christmas (technically animation, I know, but it’s fantasy/comedy of a sort).

We’ll see how closely Alien prequel Prometheus and Rise of the Planet of the Apes tie in with their respective science fiction/horror series. I’ll also be curious to see if the Total Recall remake is closer to Philip K. Dick’s writing than Paul Verhoven and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s version. I’ll likely skip the latest sequels for Final Destination, Jurassic Park, Twilight, and Underworld, but I might see The Raven (not to be confused with ABC’s Poe TV series).

Speaking of Twilight or Red Riding Hood, I’m not the target audience of teenage girls for Snow White and the Huntsman, The Hunger Games, and assorted Wizard of Oz features, anymore than I’m the audience of tween boys for the techno brawlers Transformers or Real Steel. On the other hand, I might see the similarly mythic Immortals and Wrath of the Titans.

I’ve always been more interested in science fiction than horror. Doctor Who and Torchwood: Miracle Day had a strong presence at this year’s Comic-Con, including the stars in attendance and many participants in a Doctor Who lookalike contest. I don’t yet have a Blu-Ray player, so I’ll have to wait for the extended version of the original Star Wars trilogy.

I’ve been enjoying the latest episodes of SyFy’s Warehouse 13, and I hope that Alphas, the latest attempt to deal with metahumans like NBC’s late, lamented Heroes, does better than its predecessors. I’d put Castle with slightly more realistic procedurals such as Leverage and White Collar, and stars Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic have some geek credits.

I’ll blog about animation, toys, and more separately.

Comic-Con 2011 and controversy

Adam Hughes takes on the women of DC
Women of DC Comics

As I continue catching up after my trip to Chicago just over a week ago, here are some reflections on 2011’s San Diego Comic-Con. Since the largest genre entertainment convention in the U.S. now gets as many as 125,000 attendees, I’m probably better off watching coverage on G4 than trying to make the hajj myself.

As usual, much news coverage of the show focused on movies, television, and fans and “booth babes” in costume. Even as some observers have predicted that comic books and movies based on them have peaked, others have examined the various cycles of different subgenres and media. My impression from afar was that Comic-Con‘s popularity is still growing, even if the intellectual property that it’s based on is overshadowed by nonprint adaptations and tie-ins.

Speaking of comic books and graphic novels, there were still numerous announcements at Comic-Con. Marvel has held onto its position as market leader with the usual rounds of crossover storylines, resurrected characters, and literary adaptations. Independent publishers such as IDW and Dark Horse (as well as DC’s Vertigo imprint) continue to do well with fantasy, horror, and science fiction licenses.

DC Comics released more information about its renumbering, or “soft reboot,” this coming September. The backstories of most of its titles will be compressed to make its main superheroes younger. After Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, characters such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have aged about one year for every two years of real time. Resetting more than 25 years of continuity to put them back in their late 20s or early 30s may cause more problems than it solves.

I hope to post my own ideas on how to balance forever-young vigilantes with evolving storylines and supporting casts, but DC’s editors faced numerous questions from skeptical fans. I’m not especially worried about costume redesigns or re-resurrections. I was disappointed, however, that DC’s management got defensive when questioned about diversity among its artists, writers, and characters. Marvel has had a slightly better track record lately of encouraging women and people of color to both create and read its comics.

DC eventually acknowledged people’s concerns and said it would keep trying. One blogger pointed out that major comic book characters are more of a corporate brand than an artistic vehicle, and I agree that our favorite franchises have taken on a life of their own, with profit often overcoming common sense or freedom of expression. For example, thanks to Chris Nolan and Christian Bale’s live-action movies, Batman is one of the biggest brands in the world right now, even as Warner Bros./DC is eclipsed by Disney/Marvel in most other areas.

On the other hand, I’m not quite ready to boycott DC and am giving the publisher the benefit of the doubt. I ran Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition for a year before switching to Pathfinder, and I’ve found that TV’s Star Wars: Clone Wars has made up for George Lucas’ stilted prequel films. If Dan Di Dio, Jim Lee, and company can learn from their early missteps, DC could yet increase its readership through refreshed storytelling, modern digital issues, and more timely comics (no pun intended).

In coming posts, I’ll look at other Comic-Con news, review Cowboys & Aliens, and describe my favorite superhero games!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009: SFTV and Comic-Con

Star Wars: Clone Wars

As my last blog post noted, comic books have inspired several successful movies in the past several years, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood had a major presence at the 40th annual San Diego Comic-Con last week. “Beautiful downtown Burbank,” or the television industry, was also well-represented, with actors rubbing shoulders with costumed fans.

I’ve been a fan of slacker comedies such as Reaper, partly because popular directors such as Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow represent my generation (if not necessarily its work ethic or supposed lack thereof). Espionage spoof Chuck and sleuth homage Psych have been consistently entertaining, but I think The Middleman has the best mix of fanboy allusions, witty writing, and empathetic acting. I would have liked to have been at the live reading of the “lost script,” which will eventually come out in comic book form, completing Middleman‘s life cycle.

As with their graphical origins, TV metahuman melodramas have continued, despite mixed reviews. I think Heroes has room for improvement, but many disillusioned viewers may forget that most genre programs have their ups and downs in terms of story and quality. We’ll also see whether Smallville‘s slow approach to the Superman mythos, including a Justice Society episode, will help it overcome its dependence on tired tropes. The latest version of Human Target has a narrow premise, but I like its cast.

G4 had extensive coverage of the Star Wars panel at Comic-Con, marred somewhat by the forced hijinks of usually appealing hosts Kevin Perreira and Olivia Munn. Many of my friends stopped following George Lucas’ space opera franchise after realizing that the prequel films were aimed at a younger audience than us, but I’m looking forward to Season 2 of the computer-animated Star Wars: Clone Wars on the Cartoon Network. I may also try to get tickets to the upcoming musical concert tour if it comes to Boston.

Speaking of cartoons, Batman and the Brave and the Bold, like Spectacular SpiderMan, revels in Silver Age goofiness rather than Bronze Age funk. A musical episode, classic voice casting (including a bombastic Aquaman), and clever use of obscure characters from across the DC universe make Brave and the Bold worth watching.

Marvel Comics has been more successful in print and movies than DC, but it’s only now catching up to the latest wave in animation. Wolverine and the X-Men and Iron
have been decent, but Marvel
Superhero Squad (premiering 19 September 2009) might capture more of the old-school, child-friendly humor and action of comics’ Silver Age. The anime-style Iron Man and Wolverine might also be good.

More serious is the just-released direct-to-DVD Green Lantern: First Flight, continuing DC/Warner Brothers’ strong lineup of Justice League: New Frontier, Batman: Gotham Knight, Wonder Woman, and the upcoming Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Andrea Romano is a voice-casting genius, and I’ll review Green Lantern‘s first cosmic foray (and other recent DVD acquisitions) separately.

Speaking of interstellar adventures, but back to live action, the Doctor Who panel didn’t reveal many new tidbits about David Tennant‘s final outings (for now) as the Gallifreyan Time Lord, but I wish his successor Matt Smith luck in taking on a role inhabited by 10 predecessors. I don’t think a remake of alien invasion series “V” is necessary, but it does sport decent production values and casting.

I’m among those who have criticized the rebranding of the SciFi Channel as “SyFy,” but I’ll keep watching what few genre shows it has left rather than wrestling, schlock horror, or so-called reality programming. Cryptozoology series Sanctuary has room to grow, but the promotion of Stargate: Universe as being more like the revisionist Battlestar Galactica or even Joss Whedon’s prematurely canceled Firefly/Serenity than the solid Stargate SG1 is a turnoff to me.

Admittedly, I have lower standards for Smallville or the syndicated fantasy Legend of the Seeker, but I’ve already spent a few years following them instead of other popular arc-driven shows such as Lost. Sword-and-sandals fans may also enjoy Spartacus, which may not match the adult content of HBO’s Rome, but it won’t be Xena: Warrior Princess, either (for better or for worse), despite Lucy Lawless’ participation.

AMC‘s upcoming miniseries remake of Patrick McGoohan‘s paranoid Prisoner has a combination of the things I like about genre television: nostalgia with a modern twist,
solid casting and production value, and (I hope) good writing. I’ve also just started watching Being Human, a drama about a vampire, a ghost, and a werewolf as roommates, on BBC America.

Coming soon: Last but not least, comic books and games!