Arrow Hits Its Mark

“My name is Oliver Queen. I was stranded on an island with only one goal, survive. Now I will fulfill my father’s dying wish to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this I must become someone else. I must become something else.” — Oliver Queen’s opening intro to Arrow, first season

The long-running superhero TV series Arrow just aired its final episode “Fadeout” on the CW. As series finales go, “Fadeout” was surprisingly well put together and a fitting conclusion to Arrow. The series had its ups and downs during its eight-season run but generally was a solid superhero show that introduced a larger DC universe that was appropriately dubbed the Arrowverse.

When Arrow premiered on October 2012, there was some trepidation over it. Some saw it as a weak version of Batman, specifically the Christopher Nolan version because of its initial grounded feel. Others unfairly complained Arrow’s version of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow was not the one played by Justin Hartley in Smallville. Keep in mind, Smallville ended its run a year earlier and it was hoped then that some spinoff would be created from that show. Instead the character was reimagined by Arrow’s showrunners, Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg.

The Hood

However, thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of actor Stephen Amell as the title hero and the shows’ supporting cast, Arrow quickly won over many viewers. Looking back, it made sense that the show had a grittier and less fantastical feel than standard superhero fare. Amell’s Green Arrow (first called “The Hood”) was an intense, no-nonsense hero who took no quarter. This enabled the showrunners to tell solid stories about crime and corruption in Oliver Queen’s Starling City and his quest to save his city.

Establishing A Universe

In many ways the sophomore season of Arrow was among its best with its ongoing story of Oliver Queen’s confrontation with Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, who was so well played by Manu Bennett. A distinctive feature of Arrow was its use of flashbacks in most episodes that interwove or were relevant with current storylines. The flashbacks during the show’s early days focused on Oliver’s adventures when he was marooned on the island Lian Yu. This structure paid off handsomely in the second season as we saw him first meeting and befriending Wilson on the island and how the two became bitter enemies. Meanwhile, the current storyline in the second season featured the return of Deathstroke and his machinations to destroy Queen and his city.

Naturally, as the show found its footing and gained in popularity, the DC universe was introduced. To Arrow’s credit this was done organically and not rushed. It started with blink-and-you-miss-them Easter eggs and the introduction of more superhuman-related plot devices like the strength-enhancing drug mirakuru or characters like Huntress, Deathstroke and later Barry Allen/The Flash. This introduction of the larger DC universe, as well as its driving plot lines helped propel the show’s popularity late into its first season and during its second.

While the show introduced viewers to the Flash (who was soon spun off into his own series), it also featured other distinctive DC Comics characters like Black Canary, Wild Dog, Ragman Batwoman, and Supergirl, who were often introduced in series crossover events or became important supporting characters.

One outstanding character was Queen’s confidante and best friend John Diggle (David Ramsey). Although Diggle was an original character, many speculated he was a stand-in for the Green Lantern, John Stewart. The showrunners teased fans with cloy Easter eggs throughout the show’s run such as the revelation that Diggle’s stepfather’s last name was Stewart. Finally, in the last few minutes of “Fadeout” it was shown that Diggle was on his way to becoming Green Lantern to the delight of many. However, do not expect more to be made of this. Even though Greg Berlanti is developing a Green Lantern series for the upcoming streaming app HBO Max, it is doubtful Ramsey will continue to play the role or that the show will be part of the Arrowverse. The best we can hope for is that Ramsey will reprise his role as Green Lantern in other Arrowverse shows like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow. Incidentally, John Diggle is slated to appear in an upcoming episode of The Flash this season, but he won’t be Green Lantern.

Diggle finds green lantern ring

Another notable character introduced in the show was Ray Palmer/The Atom, who was played by Brandon Routh. When Brandon Routh was first announced to portray Palmer, it seemed like stunt casting since he portrayed Superman in Superman Returns. This casting turned out to resurrect Routh’s career as he was promoted to the show lead in Legends of Tomorrow and excelled in his performance as the goofy scientist. As many know, Routh’s redemption came full circle when he reprised his role as Superman in the recent Crisis on Infinite Earths Arrowverse crossover event.

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The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy: An Honest Assessment

With the release of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy and the entire nine-film Skywalker Saga has come to an end. The film has had its share of controversy, scorn and praise from all parties. Despite what trolls hoped for, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an actual hit film. Now as to its quality, that is another story. Personally, I truly enjoyed the film but am honest enough to admit the latest Star Wars film is riddled with plot holes and faults. Still it did enough to entertain me and others and provided closure to the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. Looking at the three films in this trilogy it is fair to opine that on the whole, the trilogy was badly flawed and can be considered to be the weakest of the three Star Wars trilogies. And that is due to many reasons, especially one: it is clear that Lucasfilm and its owners Disney did not have a clear plan for the sequel trilogy and it hobbled the films overall.

Inconsistent Characters

Looking at the past three films (standalone films aside), it was difficult to tell what was the main story. The only consistent arc that flowed logically was Rey and Kylo Ren’s personal journeys in their understanding of the Force. Not surprisingly, this storyline is what received the most praise. Everything else, not so much.

future jedi finn

Look at Finn’s story in the films. He had a brilliant setup, the world of Star Wars told from the POV of a normal Stormtrooper, and how he comes to believe in a greater cause than his lot in life. As well as his story was set up in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it stagnated in the followup, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, where he became a bumbling comic relief shuffled off to a pointless side quest. Then in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, his story arc had a radical course correction as we are tantalized with him developing Force sensitivity, which hinted at his potential future as a Jedi.

Even more jarring was figuring out who was the main bad guy in these films. Kylo Ren’s story was fine and flowed smoothly as he struggled with his conflicting emotions. But he was set up to be the main villain according to The Last Jedi. In that film, he killed the supposed main boss, Supreme Leader Snoke, and took his title. Meanwhile, Snoke was dispatched too early and the filmmakers were left scrambling to find another villain for the final film. This is why director J.J. Abrams and others hastily resurrected the long-dead Emperor Palpatine. As great as it was to see him cackling and oozing evil on the screen again, his reappearance into Star Wars lore was sloppily handled. If he had been hinted at in earlier films, his revival would have made more sense and not come off as a desperate plot ploy.

Then there are the other supporting characters who were treated as disposable plot beats. Take poor Rose Tico, first introduced as an annoying and self-righteous wannabe crusader in The Last Jedi, which led to toxic online backlash from misogynistic and racist trolls attacking the actress. In The Rise of Skywalker, her role was noticeably reduced to that of a glorified extra and any hints of a romance with Finn alluded to in the previous film were gone.

Aside from Rose, the most contentious character introduced in The Last Jedi was Admiral Holdo played by a badly miscast Laura Dern. This supposedly brilliant military leader did not exude any kind of gravitas as a leader, which infuriated many viewers and emboldened Internet trolls. But hey, at least she had a cool death scene where she used her ship to take out the ginormous uber star destroyer.

Then there was Hux, the First Order leader who instead of inspiring dread and fear like Grand Moff Tarkin became an ineffective joke in The Last Jedi. His character was so mangled that he was mercifully killed off in The Rise of Skywalker after he nonsensically was revealed to be a spy working against the First Order.

Contrasting Visions

The fault for the way they and other characters turned out has to be with the scripts, which reeked of being written on the fly. Another important reason for the disjointed feel of the sequel trilogy was the contrasting visions of the directors of the films, J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson.

abrams johnson

Although both men are talented directors who brought good ideas to Star Wars, their viewpoint clashed wildly. With The Force Awakens, Abrams was clearly doing an homage to the original films, especially Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

A valid criticism of The Force Awakens was that it was too similar to A New Hope: both films opened on a desert planet where good guys and bad guys sought a droid that held vital information. The heroes run into an older mentor type who gets killed and the films end with a space battle to blow up a superweapon planet. Be that as it may, The Force Awakens was a fun film that served as a soft reboot and reintroduction to the world of Star Wars for a new generation. It also set up many plot threads that Abrams left for future directors to follow up.

The problem was that the next director, Johnson, obviously was not interested in doing that. Instead he had a mindset of doing a deconstruction of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker, set up as a long-lost would-be savior in The Force Awakens, turned out to be a bitter old man without any hope. His final moments disappointed fans who were itching for him to decimate the First Order.

rey the last jedi

Rey, who was to be the next generation of Jedi, had a mysterious past and was seeking to learn about her parents. Was she related to anyone in the Original Trilogy? Why was she so powerful with the Force? Johnson obviously did not care with the casual dismissive announcement that she came from a family of nobodies. Something that had to be retconned later.

Supreme Leader Snoke was introduced as a trilogy’s final threat was unexpectedly killed by Ren. Meanwhile, Ren was hinted at in the film of having a redemptive arc but instead turned his back on Rey and embraced the dark side of the Force.  Both films are clear evidence that there wasn’t a coherent vision with the trilogy.

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Best Of The 2010s Decade

As this decade draws to a close very soon, it’s time to quickly look back at all the wonderful films and TV shows that came out in the 2010s. Like many other decades, there were many genuine classics and game changing offerings that will stay with us for years to come. This best of the 2010s post will only list the top ten shows/films for various categories due to time constraints. Feel free to pipe in with your own lists because after all, these lists are subjective and part of the fun with these lists is comparing them to your own!

Best Science Fiction Films

1. Guardians of the Galaxy

2. The new Planet of the Apes trilogy

(A. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes B. Rise of the Planet of the Apes C. War for the Planet of the Apes)

3. Edge of Tomorrow

4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

5. Ready Player One

6. Gravity

7. Interstellar

8. Pacific Rim

9. Jurassic World

10. Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Fantasy Films

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

2. The Shape of Water

3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

4. Trollhunter

5. The Jungle Book

6. Doctor Strange

7. Shazam!

8. Pete’s Dragon

9. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Horror Films

1. The Cabin in the Woods

2. It

3. Hereditary

4. The Babadook

5. A Quiet Place

6. It Follows

7. V/H/S/2

8. Get Out

9. The Witch

10. Train to Busan

Best Animated Films

1 Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse

2 The Lego Movie

3 Rise of the Guardians

4. Toy Story 4

5 The How to Train Your Dragon trilogy

(A. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, B. How to Train Your Dragon 2, C. How to Train Your Dragon)

6. Big Hero 6

7. Zootopia

8. Kung Fu Panda 2

9. Coco

10. Toy Story 3

Best Superhero/Comic Book Films

1. Avengers: Infinity War

2. Logan

3. Captain America: The Winter Solider

4. Captain America: Civil War

5. Avengers: Endgame

6. The Avengers

7. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

8. Man of Steel

9. Joker

10. X-Men: Days of Futures Past

Best Overall Films

1. Avengers: Infinity War

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

3. Logan

4 .The new Planet of the Apes trilogy

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

6. Captain America: Civil War

7. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

9. Edge of Tomorrow

10. The Cabin in the Woods

expanse cast

Best Science Fiction TV Shows

1. The Expanse

2 Westworld

3. The Handmaid’s Tale

4. Star Trek: Discovery

5. The Mandalorian

6. Stranger Things

7. Black Mirror

8. 12 Monkeys

9. Defiance

10. The Orville

Best Horror TV Shows

1. The Walking Dead

2. Stranger Things

3. Ash Vs. Evil Dead

4. The Strain

5. Penny Dreadful

6. Being Human

7. Constantine

8. American Horror Story

9. The Haunting of Hill House

10. Castle Rock

Game of Thrones

Best Fantasy TV Shows

1 Game of Thrones

2. Undone

3. Carnival Row

4. The Witcher

5. The Legend of Korra

6. Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

7. Being Human

8. Russian Doll

9. Adventure Time

10. Outlander

Star-Wars-Rebels-Season-4-Banner

Best Animated TV Shows

1. Star Wars Rebels

2. The Legend of Korra

3. Rick and Morty

4. Young Justice

5. Undone

6 Tron: Uprising

7. Love, Death & Robots

8. Primal

9. Adventure Time

10. Harley Quinn

Best Superhero/Comic Book Shows

1. Daredevil

2. Doom Patrol

3. The Boys

4. Watchmen

5. Titans

6. Legion

7. Jessica Jones

8. Legends of Tomorrow

9. The Flash

10. Arrow

Best Overall TV Shows

1. Game of Thrones

2. The Walking Dead

3. The Expanse

4. Daredevil

5. Stranger Things

6. Westworld

7. The Handmaid’s Tale

8. Black Mirror

9 12 Monkeys

10. Doom Patrol

Watching The Watchmen

HBO’s sequel to the famous DC comic book mini-series Watchmen has just concluded its nine-episode run, and now it is time to talk about the series. Spoilers will follow after this for both the original comic book and this TV series.

Watchmen was one of the most influential and revolutionary comic books that ever came out. Co-created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the tale was a complex one taking place in an alternate world where superheroes existed since the mid-20th century but were unpowered except for one incredible exception. Based loosely on Captain Atom, Dr. Manhattan was a nuclear scientist who was in an atomic accident and gained the powers of a god. With his existence, history radically changed with Richard Nixon still the U.S. president in 1985, Vietnam conquered by the U.S., and the world is on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. One of the other superheroes, Ozymandias engineers a complex scheme to unite humanity by creating a hoax of an extra-dimensional alien incursion. This works, but at the cost of three million people.

The just-concluded TV series takes place now in 2019, decades after the alien incursion (which links it closer to the comic book unlike the 2009 movie adaptation that changed Ozymandias’ plot) and America has changed just as radically again.

Robert Redford is the U.S. president and like Nixon, overstayed his terms in office, having been inaugurated in 1992. Now, the U.S. is struggling to become a liberal utopia, with African-Americans eligible for reparations and white supremacist terrorist groups fighting against the woke society they’re forced to live in.

Watchmen takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma and centers on Angela Abar (Regina King), a supposedly retired cop who hails from the 51st state of Vietnam and moonlights as the illegal vigilante Sister Night. Her friend, Tulsa’s police chief, Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), is killed under mysterious circumstances and her investigation unravels a complex plot. This involves Dr. Manhattan (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is not on Mars as he was supposed to be, Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons), the barbaric architect of world peace in an unusual exile, an elderly Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.), Crawford’s supposed killer, Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), the head of a powerful organization, and FBI agent Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) aka the former Silk Spectre II.

Even though on the surface, Watchmen is about superheroes it really isn’t. Like the comic book it is based on, the TV series is a very complex, non-linear tale involving deeply emotional characters and examines the strange, yet somehow familiar world. The world building is delightful with plenty of Easter eggs and references to the original comic book and tidbits to how different this world is compared to ours. But like any worthwhile story, Watchmen sticks with the plot and characters and slowly hooks in viewers as it unveils more and more jaw dropping revelations.

Starting with the fact that Crawford was a white supremacist to the revelation that the very first superhero was a bi-sexual African-American acting out on frustration to the hidden identity of Dr. Manhattan and his relationship with Angela Abar, Watchmen is a wonderfully presented, worthwhile sequel to the classic comic book. However, it does not seem like a comic book brought to life (a flaw with the movie adaptation), but as its own medium. One could complain that by not feeling like a comic book, this version of Watchmen seems like it was just a sci-fi story that stuck in references to the comic book to allow it to be greenlit. That is open to debate, but nevertheless the product is exemplary.

It is fairly easy to get drawn into the series from the beginning as unanswered peculiarities are shown, such as squid showers and background images which show that 9/11 never happened. However, several episodes are devoted to the origin of several characters, the standouts being “This Extraordinary Being”, which chronicles the tragic back story of Hooded Justice, and “A God Walks Into Abar”, which explores the temporal complexities of Dr. Manhattan while being a love story at the same time.

Much of Watchmen may be upsetting for some due to its subject matter about race relations, but many episodes are very powerful and compelling. While it is not exactly like its comic book predecessor, Watchmen is a worthy sequel and expansion to that comic book. It should be enjoyed by comic book, alternate history and sci-fi fans and others wanting something different with live-action superhero presentations.

 

The Greatest Marvel Hallmark Ornaments

marvel hallmark ornaments

Christmas or Holiday ornaments based on popular IPs have populated Christmas trees for quite some time. Along with the Star Wars and Star Trek ornaments, Hallmark has produced many different ornaments based on superhero properties. One of their most successful lines are ornaments based on Marvel Comics superheroes, whether featured in comic books or on film. Here is a list of the greatest Marvel Hallmark ornaments released by the company.

potted groot ornament

10. Potted Groot (2015):

Sweet, adorable Groot as seen in his seedling form at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy makes for one cute ornament! Although this Groot does not dance, the ornament features the song “I Want You Back”, which Potted Groot dances to behind Drax’s back.

9. Hulk: Thor: Ragnarok (2017):

The Hulk in his full gladiator regalia as he appears in Thor: Ragnarok, is one of the most colorful and intimidating Marvel Hallmark ornaments. The figure easily captures the enraged mood of the gladiator Hulk as he is ready to pounce on his next victim/opponent.

8. The Avengers: Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man (2012):

These were three separate ornaments featuring the three superheroes from The Avengers. They could be hung separately in a Christmas tree or combined at their bases to created a cool diorama. Plus, this is one of the best Iron Man ornaments.

7. Team Captain America (2016):

The year that Captain America: Civil War featured to opposing separate ornaments, Captain America and Iron Man. While the Iron Man ornament is well crafted, the Captain America ornament is hands-down the best one based on the star-spangled hero. Other Captain America ornaments usually have him in a stationary pose. This one, however, captures him in powerful fighting action.

6. Iron Patriot (2013):

The patriotic red, white and blue colors on a re-branded War Machine from Iron Man 3, make this ornament stand out so vividly. Never mind that the film divided fans, it cannot be denied this ornament is beautifully done.

5. A New Breed of Superheroes (2006):

Actually, this ornament is a collection of mini-ornaments featuring classic Marvel heroes that can be combined at their bases into one. This allowed one to either use all six heroes (Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Hulk, Captain America, the Thing, and Iron Man) together or separately. It’s a highly sought-after collector’s item.

4. The Infinity Gauntlet (2019):

The fearsome weapon that Thanos used to wipe out half of all life in the universe as seen in Avengers: Infinity War, is a powerful ornament indeed. Featuring multi-colored lights emanating from the Infinity Stones, this gauntlet fits surprisingly well in a lit-up Christmas tree.

3. Spider-Man and Green Goblin (2010):

This ornament featuring a mighty battle between Spidey and his arch nemesis, the Green Goblin, stood out from other Spider-Man ornaments just for its concept of having a hero fighting an opponent. The two figures are dynamically posed which helped make the ornament one of the very best ones produced by Hallmark. The company should continue this idea with other Spider-Man villains; imagine what one featuring Doctor Octopus would be like!

2. Comic Book Heroes #3 – Incredible Hulk (2010): 

This Marvel ornament was part of an ingenious ornament series from Hallmark. On one side was a 3D figure on a background that recreated a famous comic book. In fact, the ornament was a mini-comic book reprint of the famous issue. In this case, The Incredible Hulk #181, which is renowned for having the first full appearance of Wolverine. It’s too bad, Hallmark discontinued the series after just four ornaments (the final one being the following year’s The Avengers #4), there are so many other classic and iconic comic book covers the series could have recreated.

first spidey ornament

1. Spider-Man (1996): 

There have been many wonderful Spider-Man Hallmark ornaments. Most of them had our favorite Web-Slinger in wild and spindly poses that accurately represented Marvel’s most popular superhero. But the very first ornament is still the best one. It’s so elegantly posed so that this mini-Spider-Man looks so natural hanging from a tree branch. The strings attached to his hands aid with the illusion that he is swinging around a Christmas tree with its lights that could easily stand in for the bright lights of a city.

Honorable Mentions:

The following are pretty terrific Marvel Hallmark ornaments that are worth mentioning and hunting down on Ebay or elsewhere:

A New Kind of Hero: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017); Black Panther (2018); Captain America: Avengers: Endgame (2019); Comic Book Heroes #1 – Amazing Fantasy #15 (2008); Comic Book Heroes #4 – The Avengers #4 (2011); Deadpool (2017); Groot and Rocket (2018); Hulk Smash! (2014); Iron Man (2008); Iron Spider (2019); Slinging and Swinging (Spider-Man, 2016); Spidey Swings Into Action (2018); Thanos (2019); Thor: Thor: Ragnarok (2017); Venom (2016); Web-Slinging Wonder: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

José Soto