Random Musings: Revisiting The Sarah Jane Adventures

Standard

Sarah Jane Adventures

Over the years Doctor Who has been on the air, the Doctor has shared his adventures with more than 30 companions. One of the most popular— the all-time favorite according to 2009 and 2014 polls of readers of Doctor Who Magazine— was Sarah Jane Smith.

Sarah Jane, played by Elisabeth Sladen (1946-2011), was a freelance journalist who initially traveled with the Doctor in his third and fourth incarnations (Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker) from 1973-1976. During the show’s initial 1963-1989 run, Sladen was twice invited back to reprise her role. And, until Torchwood debuted in 2006, her 1981-one off K9 and Company: A Girl’s Best Friend was the only Doctor Who spin-off idea to make it to the filming stage.

Sarah Jane and the Doctor

Sarah Jane and the Doctor.

When the 20th anniversary special, “The Five Doctors”, aired in 1983, Sarah Jane was not only one of the returning companions, but also played an active role in the story. More so than the Doctor’s own granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford).

Is it any wonder, then, that A) of all the past companions who could have been invited to appear after the series returned in 2005, then-producer Russell T. Davies asked Sladen to reprise Sarah Jane in the 2006 episode “School Reunion”? Or B) that Davies would go on to create a five-season series centered around the resourceful Ms. Smith, The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011)?

The first episode, “Invasion of the Bane”, finds a somewhat aloof Sarah Jane, now living in the London suburb of Ealing, reluctantly interacting with her teenage across-the-road new neighbor, Maria Jackson (Yasmin Paige) as she investigates strange goings-on regarding the company behind a drink called Bubbleshock.

Sarah Jane— still an investigative journalist at heart— has taken it upon herself to battle alien threats (and help friendly aliens in need) in her own, quiet way. She doesn’t want anything to do with Maria— or anyone else— but the fact that the alien Bane regard both as threats brings them together.

Sarah Jane and Maria

Sarah Jane and Maria.

Things get more complicated for Sarah Jane when the Archetype, a teenage boy created by the Bane, escapes and assists in their defeat. Knowing that the boy, a genius she names Luke (Tommy Knight), has nowhere to go, she adopts him.

Of course, normal adoption procedures don’t apply to a teenager created by aliens a few hours before you met him. Good thing Sarah Jane has a sophisticated alien computer called Mr. Smith to create the necessary paperwork. Not strictly legal, but what else is she going to do? Leave him to fend for himself? Let Torchwood know about him? Neither would be in Luke’s best interests.

No, the Torchwood team isn’t actually mentioned, as The Sarah Jane adventures was ostensibly a kids’ show and Torchwood definitely wasn’t; but her comment about “secret organizations… tending to go in with guns blazing” is an oblique reference to both Torchwood and UNIT, with whom Sarah Jane was associated during her initial travels with the Doctor.

In season one, Luke and Maria befriend classmate Clyde Langer (Daniel Anthony); and in season two, after Maria and her family move to Washington, D.C., a girl named Rani Chandra (Anjli Mohindra) moves in across the road. Sarah Jane, who wasn’t pleased when Clyde learned what she does, was bound and determined that Rani would remain ignorant of the truth.

Too bad for her that Rani— herself an aspiring journalist— is “into weird.”

THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES

Sarah Jane, Rani, Clyde and Luke watch for trouble.

Neither Luke nor “class clown” Clyde, are thrilled that Rani’s father is their school’s new headmaster.

Over the course of the series, Sarah Jane and the kids face off against a Gorgon; the Pied Piper (yes, that one); the Mona Lisa (yes, that one); a cosmic force predating the creation of our universe; the time-shifting agent of chaos known as The Trickster and The Nightmare Man, who preys on college-bound Luke’s insecurities.

Other adventures include the investigation of a haunted house; interaction with the Men in Black (Rani: “So where’s Will Smith?”) and Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani being sent on separate missions back in time.

Eventually, the Doctor himself appears. His 10th incarnation (David Tennant) shows up in the third season episode “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith”; and his 11th incarnation (Matt Smith) appears in the fourth season adventure “The Death of the Doctor.”

“The Death of the Doctor” also teams Sarah Jane with her predecessor on Doctor Who, Jo Grant (Katy Manning).

-

Sarah Jane with the Doctor and Jo Grant.

Sarah Jane is also reunited with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney, 1929-2011), the head of UNIT during her tenure with the Doctor— and another popular character— in “Enemy of the Bane.”

The series is called The Sarah Jane Adventures, but it’s very much an ensemble show. Maria, Luke, Clyde and Rani are just as important as she is. And all the characters face challenges.

In “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane” the Trickster changes history so that Sarah Jane died at age 13. Maria’s the only one who remembers the true history. With Sarah Jane gone, so are Luke and Mr. Smith. Clyde doesn’t even know her. Setting things right isn’t going to be easy.

In “Mark of the Berserker”, Clyde not only has to deal with the return of his estranged father, but must also find a way to reach him before the mind-controlling alien Berserker takes the elder Langer over completely.

In “The Mad Woman in the Attic”, Rani, feeling ignored by the others, does some investigating of missing people on her own. A decision with long-term consequences.

In “Mona Lisa’s Revenge”, after a quarrel with Sarah Jane, Luke rather foolishly decides that he, Clyde and Rani can handle matters involving the come-to-life painting without her help.

Oh, and to paraphrase a line from a certain 1970s TV series, don’t let the Mona Lisa get hold of a Sontaran gun. You wouldn’t like the Mona Lisa with a Sontaran gun.

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa: artwork with an attitude.

In “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith”, Sarah Jane has the opportunity to save her parents, who died when she was a baby. But it’s a trap by the Trickster. One affecting the future of the human race.

In “The Empty Planet” Clyde and Rani must work out why everyone but the two of them— and a young boy— has disappeared.

Sky

Sky manifests her powers.

The fifth season introduced a girl named Sky (Sinead Michael), who first appeared on Sarah Jane’s doorstep as a baby, but soon aged to a teenager. Like Luke, she was of alien origin. Sarah Jane adopted her, too. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the opportunity to develop the character as much as the others had been. Still, there were some nice brother/sister bonding scenes between Luke and Sky.

If you like science fiction and/or Doctor Who, you’ll probably enjoy The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

 

Random Musings: The Starman omnibus is comics in top form

Standard

Starman Omnibus

Recommended reading: The Starman Omnibus (DC Comics) by James Robinson (writer), Tony Harris and Peter Snejbjerg (pencillers) and Wade Von Grawbadger (inker). Originally published in single magazine form beginning in 1994, The Starman Omnibus comprises six hardcover volumes, collecting all 80 issues of the series Starman, plus various ancillary material.

Starman tells the story of Jack Knight, son of Golden Age Starman Ted Knight, who finds himself taking on the mantle of Opal City’s resident protector, following the murder of his brother, David.

Except, Jack, unlike David, has no desire to play superhero (or any other kind of hero), much less wear his father’s old costume. However, he reluctantly agrees to be Opal City’s protector, though he won’t wear a costume. The closest he comes is a dark jacket and a pair of World War II-era goggles.

Jack Knight

Jack Knight in action.

And just as Jack isn’t a traditional superhero, his adventures aren’t always traditional superhero fare, either.

Over the course of this series, Jack, who, given his druthers, would prefer tending to his “day job” as a dealer in second-hand collectibles, continually proves his mettle as a hero. For example, at the request of his girlfriend, Sadie, Jack ventures into space, following the slimmest of clues in an attempt to find her brother, Will Payton, a previous holder of the Starman mantle. The world believes Payton is dead, but Jack is willing to gamble that he’s not.

This wasn’t a “universe in peril” situation or a race to find this, that or the other important person, place or thing needed in order to save the day. This was Jack taking months away from his job, his friends and his planet to do a favor for his girlfriend.

Starman was very much a character-driven series. Over the course of its run, we see the ongoing relationship— and growing mutual respect— between Jack and his father, as well as Jack’s (and others’) relationship with immortal one-time (though not entirely reformed) villain The Shade.

In the occasional “talking with David” tales, Jack has conversations with his late brother, which eventually leads to a degree of camaraderie they didn’t have when David was still alive.

Other characters occasionally talked with David, but for the most part it was Jack.

One thing I like about Starman is that it tells a complete story. Like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, the story of Jack Knight— who never set out to be a hero and who eschewed his father’s costume in favor of his own look— reaches a definite conclusion. Both series had a single writer throughout, allowing for the realization of a consistent vision. It doesn’t always work out that way in comics. Sometimes a creative team only stays for a handful of issues. In fact, in his afterward to volume 5, Robinson writes that he’d seriously considered leaving the book at the point when Jack Knight went into space, seeing it as the perfect jumping off point for himself and jumping on point for someone else.

He didn’t, in part because he still had the climactic saga, “Grand Guignol”, planned out, “more or less.”

To my way of thinking, the longer a creative team (or at least the writer) stays on a title, the better. It creates a strong sense of continuity. Of course a writer who stays on a title too long might fall into a rut, which is one argument for letting a series come to a conclusion. But that’s another matter.

Other series with a single writer (barring the occasional fill-in issue) include Supergirl by Peter David and various artists, which I discussed last fall; Peter David’s 12-year run on The Incredible Hulk and Marv Wolfman’s 16-year run on New Teen Titans/Tales of the Teen Titans/New Titans (the first four years of which were in partnership with penciller and co-creator George Perez).

Granted, Starman was different in that it had a definite conclusion, while these other titles were either canceled (and had rushed “conclusions”) or switched creative teams, but in all of the above cases there was a strong narrative thread.

Another plus about Starman is that it had a rich supporting cast. These include the O’Dare family, all police officers. One of them, Matt, was on the take, until he discovered he was the reincarnation of 19th century lawman Brian Savage. Over the course of the series, he works to redeem himself, with the Shade’s help.

And then there’s The Shade. Throughout the series, both the prose stories called “The Shade’s Journal” and some of the “Times Past” storylines revealed more about his history and his past life in Opal.

And, of course, there’s Ted Knight, the late David Knight, Mikaal Tomas, Will Payton and others who’ve operated under the “Starman” name over the course of DC Comics’ long history. Each played a role in Jack’s life in one way or another. Just as Jack himself would influence Starmen (and at least one woman) to follow.

Jack Knight is one of DC’s “legacy” heroes, those who picked up where a previous holder of a heroic identity left off. Another example is Wally West, who succeeded Barry Allen as the Flash. These “legacy” heroes have contributed to DC’s rich sense of history. That’s one reason why, if DC ever launches a new Starman series— perhaps as part of its upcoming DC Universe Rebirth project— it need not bring back Jack Knight, but can pass the mantle to someone else. He’s had his turn with the Cosmic Rod. His story’s been told.

And that story is a very good read.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random musings: If you enjoyed Easter eggs today, you can thank a Saxon goddess

Standard

Finding an Easter egg

If you celebrated Easter today, maybe you participated in Easter egg hunts. If so, you can thank Eastre (AKA Eostre) for that tradition. According to The Dictionary of Ancient Deities, she was the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the spring, protectress of fertility, goddess of rebirth and friend to children. In that last persona, she’d change her pet bird to a rabbit who’d bring forth brightly colored eggs that she’d give as gifts to children.

No word on how the bird felt about being thus changed and/or why Eastre couldn’t just find and train a rabbit to hand over some already hatched, dyed and decorated eggs.

And speaking of Easter eggs, the Easter Sunday 1984 Berry’s World comic strip depicted a great scene. In a courtroom, we have eggs as judge, jury, spectators and lawyers, along with a rabbit as defendant. A brightly colored egg sits at the prosecution table and the prosecutor is telling the jury that he’ll prove the defendant did “hard boil, dye, decorate and later hide my client.”

Copyright 2016, Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: DC TV universe updates, part 2: Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow

Standard

Legends of Tomorrow

This season of Arrow has seen Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and his allies confronting the machinations of Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), a former member of the League of Assassins and founder of H.I.V.E. who somehow possess paranormal powers, including the ability to stop one of Oliver’s arrows in mid flight. Darhk also has a stranglehold over Star City, reinforced by his assassination of several mayoral candidates.

Damien Darhk confronts the Green Arrow

Damien Darhk confronts the Green Arrow.

Oliver himself recently campaigned for mayor, but dropped out of the race and endorsed Ruve Adams (Janet Kidder), who is (unknown to the majority of the populace) the wife of Damien Darhk. Oliver did this because Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) revealed to Darhk the existence of Oliver’s 10-year-old son, William (Jack Moore) and Darhk subsequently threatened the boy.

Oliver himself had only recently learned of William’s existence, having previously been told by his mother, Samantha (Anna Hopkins), that she’d miscarried.

Team Arrow rescued William (who doesn’t know that Oliver Queen is his father) and at Oliver’s urging, Samantha and William, who were living in Central City, relocated someplace even Oliver doesn’t know about for their protection.

Malcolm betrayed Oliver because the latter wrested control of the League of Assassins from him and gave it to Nyssa Al Ghul (Katrina Law), who subsequently disbanded the organization. A vengeful Malcolm allied with Darhk out of spite (and possibly because Oliver cut off his hand).

Oliver, who’d defeated the previous Ra’s Al Ghul (Matt Nable) last season, had willingly passed on the title to Malcolm. However, when Malcolm put his control of the League above the life of his daughter (and Oliver’s sister), Thea Queen (Willa Holland), that was the last straw.

Thea herself is now a full member of Team Arrow, operating under the sobriquet “Speedy”, which had been Oliver’s nickname for her in her youth. Hopefully, that’s just a family nickname and not generally known by her friends and associates.

Speedy

Thea Queen as Speedy.

Oliver himself is now known as Green Arrow and the general public believe this person to be a successor to the bow-wielding vigilante who’d been operating for the past three years.

Meanwhile, John Diggle (David Ramsey) has discovered that not only is his brother, Andy (Eugene Byrd), still alive, but that Andy was working for Damien Darhk and involved in various illegal activities. The brothers have since made tentative steps toward reconciliation.

The fact that Oliver didn’t share with her that William existed has driven a wedge between himself and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), who has called off their engagement. Felicity is also recovering from a near-fatal attack by Darhk.

One running mystery in this season of Arrow is who dies by season’s end? In a flash forward, we see Oliver standing at someone’s grave promising to “kill him.” We know it’s not Felicity, because she’s shown in a subsequent scene (urging Oliver to seek revenge) and Thea seems to have recovered from her own brush with death.

Could it be Diggle? I doubt it’ll be Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), since the Black Canary is a significant character in the Green Arrow mythos.

Perhaps it’ll be Laurel’s father, Captain Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), an ally of Team Arrow who is also dating Felicity’s mother.

In Legends of Tomorrow, Time Master Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) has come from the mid 22nd century to recruit a team of heroes and villains to stop an immortal named Vandal Savage (Caspar Crump) from conquering the world in Hunter’s own time.

Rip Hunter

Rip Hunter.

Hunter recruits Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), the White Canary; Professor Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh), who comprise the superhero Firestorm; Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renee) and Carter Hall (Falk Hentschel), Hawkgirl and Hawkman and Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), The Atom, to travel through time and stop Savage before his rise to power. He also recruits criminals Leonard Snart (Wentworth Miller), Captain Cold, and Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell), Heatwave, though why he included them is yet to be revealed. We do know that he only recruited Rory because he and Snart are a package deal.

In the series, Savage, like Hawkman and Hawkgirl, was originally an Egyptian. Exposure to special meteorites gave him immortality while they would be reincarnated again and again. His immortality is renewed by killing them. This incarnation of Hawkman has already fallen to him.

In the comics, Savage is much older, dating to prehistoric times and known originally as Vandar Adg. In both the comics and the TV series, Rip Hunter tried without success to kill Vandal Savage before he became immortal (in the comics, he mistakenly killed Savage’s father).

In one recent episode, set in the 1950s, Savage was using the name Curtis Knox, a nod to the Smallville episode “The Cure” in which Dean Cain played an immortal named Curtis Knox who was implied to be Vandal Savage.

The various characters making up the team (except Hunter) had previously been introduced in episodes of Arrow and The Flash, including Firestorm, who had previously been a merging of Professor Stein and Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell). Ronnie was apparently killed at the start of the season on The Flash and the folks at S.T.A.R. Labs subsequently discovered that Jefferson Jackson was compatible with Stein in generating the Firestorm matrix. Jackson was initially reluctant to become a superhero or join Hunter’s team (Stein literally kidnapped him), but later changed his mind.

Firestorm 2

The Jefferson Jackson/Martin Stein incarnation of Firestorm.

As to Ronnie Raymond, I thought it might turn out that he had somehow been transported to Earth 2, just as Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) had come to Earth 1, but that appears not to be the case. While we saw Ronnie in a recent episode of The Flash, it was his (evil) Earth 2 counterpart.

Most of the time zones visited by Hunter and his team have been within the last 60 years or so, but one journey did take them to a possible future where an elderly Oliver Queen has lost an arm (a possible allusion to the 1986 mini series The Dark Knight) and the current Green Arrow is a man known as Connor Hawke (Joseph David-Jones). In the comics, Hawke is Oliver’s son, but in Legends of Tomorrow he is revealed as the son of John Diggle (one not yet born in present continuity).

Legends of Tomorrow has been good about avoiding time travel paradoxes. While Savage appears to know that Rip Hunter is a time traveler, he seems unaware that Hunter has assembled a team of fellow time travelers to stop him. Although he met Ray Palmer in both 1974 and 1958 (the former was the first meeting, from Ray’s POV), he didn’t appear to show any recognition in 1974.

As to Rip Hunter, it turns out he hasn’t been exactly honest with his teammates. It turns out he’s acting against the wishes of the agency he once served, The Time Masters, and is actively pursued by other agents. He also lied about his reasons for recruiting his team, causing a number of trust issues. For the most part, they’ve accepted that his overall goal of stopping Vandal Savage is worthwhile.

If you like time travel stories, you’ll enjoy Legends of Tomorrow.

Copyright 2016, Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: DC TV universe updates, part 1: Flash and Supergirl

Standard

Supergirl and the Flash

On The Flash, the “big bad” of the season has been a speedster known as Zoom (voice of Tony Todd), who isn’t satisfied to be much faster than Barry Allen (Grant Gustin); he wants to be the only speedster.

At the end of last season, the Flash inadvertently opened up a portal into alternate Earths, including one designated “Earth 2.” Zoom has been sending meta humans from Earth 2 to battle the Flash, with the intent of taking his speed for Zoom to possess or otherwise weaken him. Fortunately, Barry has assistance not only from his allies at S.T.A.R. Labs, Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes)— to say nothing of his surrogate father, Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and best friend Iris West (Candice Patton),but also from Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears), the Flash of Earth 2, and the Earth 2 Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh).

Jay Garrick

Jay Garrick.

Of course, there are complications. Wells’ daughter, Jesse (Violett Beane), is Zoom’s prisoner and Wells was secretly working with Zoom to steel Barry’s powers in exchange for Jesse’s life until the truth emerged. A forgiving Barry, understanding that Wells had a metaphorical gun to his head, not only continued to accept Wells as an ally, but lead a mission to Earth 2 to rescue Jesse.

That rescue mission ultimately succeeded, but Barry discovered that Zoom had another prisoner, a man in an iron mask whom he wasn’t able to rescue. The man tapped out in a “prisoner code” the name Jay.

In the comics, Zoom is Hunter Zolomon, a friend of the Wally West incarnation of the Flash, who believes the actions he takes, however cruel they may appear, are in Wally’s best interests. In The Flash, while Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) has been introduced (as Iris’ brother, not her nephew, as in the comics), there’s no connection between himself and Zoom. He also doesn’t know (yet?) that Barry is the Flash. We have, however, “met” Hunter Zolomon. He is the Earth 1 counterpart of Jay Garrick, whom Jay pointed out to Caitlin.

So, is Hunter Zolomon Zoom in the TV series? Could be. After “killing” Jay and subsequently unmasking in front of his prisoner, Zoom turned out to be Jay’s doppelganger. Jay claimed that Zolomon wasn’t a meta human, but he could have either been mistaken or lying.

I put “killing” in quotes because I believe the man in the iron mask is the real Jay Garrick. For two reasons: One, Jay Garrick is too significant a character to be killed off, even allowing for changes between comics and TV series continuity; two, the man vehemently shook his head when Barry told him that Jay was safe on Earth 1.

So who is this ersatz Jay Garrick, if not the Flash from Earth 2? He’s a speedster, at least. Could he hail from another alternate Earth (the gang at S.T.A.R. Labs established that the breach opened portals to 52 of them)? Or could some sort of time travel paradox be at work? I’m betting on the former. It doesn’t explain why he’d claim to be the Flash of Earth 2, however.

I suppose it’s also possible that Zoom is also (or has access to) a skilled plastic surgeon and altered a man to look like Jay Garrick, gave him super speed and sent him to Earth 1 as a double agent, but there’s nothing to indicate “Jay” was working at cross purposes with Barry and the others.

We might start to get some answers to some of the season’s mysteries in tonight’s episode.

Speaking of the various alternate Earths, next Monday, the Flash will be making an appearance on Supergirl. From what I’ve read, she lives on yet another alternate Earth. Perhaps tonight’s episode of The Flash will explain how and why he came to travel there.

We know that Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) doesn’t hail from either Earth 1 or Earth 2 because not only is she active on her Earth, but so is Superman. Neither has been mentioned on either The Flash or Arrow, even in passing. Human-looking aliens who can fly under their own powers would at least get a passing mention. Likewise, if Supergirl hailed from Earth 2, either Jay or Dr. Wells would have mentioned her by name or hinted that not even she or her cousin had been able to stop Zoom.

Supergirl finds the eponymous hero trying to make a name for herself, both as Supergirl and as Kara Danvers, in National City. Her allies include James (not Jimmy) Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who, in this incarnation, knows that Clark Kent is Superman) and Winn Schott, Jr. (Jeremy Jordan), who work with her at Catco Worldwide Media; her boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), who, unlike James and Winn, is unaware of her dual identity; her adoptive sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh) and J’onn J’onzz, the manhunter from Mars (David Harewood), who has assumed the identity of Hank Henshaw, head of an alien-tracking government agency known as the DEO.

Kara, Winn and James

Kara Danvers with her best friends, Winn Schott and James Olsen.

Alongside their biological daughter, Alex, Kara was raised by Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers (Dean Cain and Helen Slater) after coming to Earth. As in more recent depictions of Supergirl (including in Smallville), Kara Zor-El had been sent from Krypton to keep her younger cousin Kal-El safe on Earth, but a mishap along the way caused her to arrive after Kal-El had already grown to adulthood and become Superman. However, other than in the flashback to Kara’s arrival, Superman has only appeared on screen once (and in both instances not shown in detail). Within the fictional universe of the TV series, he respects Kara’s wishes to solve her own problems.

J’onn J’onnz, a shape-shifter, assumed the identity of Hank Henshaw after the real, xenophobic Henshaw died after (apparently) killing Jeremiah Danvers (in the most recent episode, J’onn comes to believe Jeremiah may still be alive). He took on Henshaw’s identity as part of his promise to Jeremiah to protect the latter’s daughters. Earlier in the season, he revealed his identity to Alex and Kara. More recently, the DEO and the military in general learned “Hank Henshaw” was an alien. The reaction was typically xenophobic, but J’onn has at least one ally in Major Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum).

J'onn J'onzz

J’onn J’onnz, the manhunter from Mars.

Supergirl carries on a tradition running through the various “Super” radio, TV and movie incarnations— nods to previous incarnations. Dean Cain was Superman in Lois and Clark and Helen Slater played Supergirl in the 1984 movie.
Smallville’s Supergirl, Laura Vandervoort, also recently made an appearance as Brainiac-8/Indigo.

In the comics, Hank Henshaw was an astronaut who later became the villainous Cyborg Superman during the “Reign of the Superman” storyline following Superman’s apparent death in 1992. If the Henshaw of Supergirl survived, could he re-emerge in some villainous capacity?

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow.

Copyright 2016, Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Saving the world with Ultraman

Standard

Ultraman complete series DVD

“Using the Beta Capsule, Hayata becomes Ultraman.”

So there I was at the store, thumbing through some DVDs. And what, to my wondering eyes, should appear but Ultraman. The complete series.

Better yet, it was on sale.

This Japanese series originally aired in 1966-1967, but I first encountered it in 1975. It aired on weekday afternoons and was a “don’t miss” show.

Ultraman concerned the activities of the Science Patrol, a high-tech police force that protected the Earth from various threats, whether invaders from the stars or creatures from right here on Earth. In the premiere episode, Ultraman (Bin Furuya), himself a “giant superhero from Nebula M78”, pursues a particular monster to Earth; and when his ship collides with Science Patrolman Hayata’s (Susumu Kurobe) ship, he merges his essence with that of Hayata to save Hayata’s life. From then on, Hayata needs only use a device called a “Beta Capsule” to transform himself into Ultraman.

Ultraman

Ultraman prepares for action.

This idea, of course, has been used many times. Billy Batson became the original Captain Marvel when he uttered the name of the wizard, Shazam (though it wasn’t always clear whether Billy and Captain Marvel were two separate people or whether Captain Marvel was essentially Billy as an adult (and with super powers)).

In the Marvel Comics Captain Marvel series (a title Marvel grabbed when DC let the rights lapse, which is why the DC character is still called Captain Marvel, but any book he stars in is called Shazam, or some variation of that), Rick Jones and Captain Mar-Vell were linked by the “nega-bands” they wore on their wrists. They’d change places (the one on Earth going in to the “Negative Zone”) when one or the other slammed the bands together.

And then there was Peter David’s excellent Supergirl series, in which the Matrix Supergirl merged her essence with a dying young woman named Linda Danvers.

In a 2013 interview at Monsterpalooza, which can be viewed on YouTube, Susumu Kurobe revealed that Hayata was his first TV role. He’d previously worked in films. Both he and Bin Furuya revealed that they’d been ordered to play their respective roles, though the latter, while initially refusing, said, “when I think about the fans, I think I did something I can be pretty proud of.”

So far I’ve watched a few episodes of Ultraman. I’m looking forward to watching the rest. And yes, sometimes I could see the zippers on the Ultraman and monster costumes, but so what?

Copyright 2016, Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A look at the Wonderful Future that Never Was.

Standard

Wonderful Future that Never Was

In the late 1970s, an article in an issue of the kids’ magazine Dynamite predicted we’d have household robots by 1980.

It’s now 2016. Where’s my robot?!?

In the 2010 book The Wonderful Future That Never Was, physics professor and two-time Nebula Award winner Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics magazine look back at predictions made by various experts in the pages of Popular Mechanics between 1903 and 1969.

Some of these predictions proved prescient; others, not so much. As an example, a 1942 prediction that push buttons would replace dial phones came true; but a 1938 prediction that traffic balloons suspended over intersections would “supervise and report collisions via radio to a central location” didn’t.

On the other hand, the “traffic balloon” idea isn’t that far removed from TV and radio stations broadcasting traffic reports from helicopters.

As Benford comments on page 81, “it’s useful to see how linear thinking can be outflanked by a wholly new idea.” He pointed out that while a pundit in the 1920s said the best solution for reaching out to as many as 50 million radio listeners might be a system of relay stations 20 miles apart on level plains, geosynchronous satellites provided the actual solution. Not just for radio, but other means of communication.

Arthur C. Clarke proposed such satellites in Wireless World in October 1945.

Both a 1938 prediction that “radio delivery of facsimile newspapers directly into the home may be a reality in the near future” (page 89) and a 1950 prediction that “by A.D. 2000, fast jet and rocket-propelled mail planes will make it so hard for telegraph companies all over the world to compete with the postal service that dormant facsimile-transmission systems will be revived” (page 90) kinda-sorta came true. You can read newspapers online and fax machines are still in use (transmitting items as written, as predicted in 1950); but we don’t have fast jet and rocket-propelled mail planes. In fact, some might argue that the post office is finding it hard to compete.

Predicting the future based on current trends and technologies is hit or miss, of course. As Benford says in his introduction (page 10), “the visionary forward-thinkers of the twentieth century nailed many things that did come to pass, like television and freeways. Often, though, society got to those end results along very different paths, and with far different consequences, than the technophiles had predicted.”

As an example, he said the rise of the automobile did lead to cities with broad avenues— as some had predicted. On the other hand, he said few foresaw the social consequences of the commuter society.

He also pointed out (page 13) that “to a great extent, our modern routine wonders emerged and evolved from ideas centuries old, but did so in a accelerating age of wonder.” As specific examples, he said modern planes and rockets like the Saturn V were implicit in the Wright Flyer; the iPod was implicit in the hand-cranked Victrola and the Internet lay dormant in the telegraph.

On page 15, he said more than 50 percent of the predictions turned out to be good, with failure often assuming that bigger would be better.

Predictions of the future weren’t just made in the pages of Popular Mechanics, of course. Edward Bellamy’s 1887 Utopian novel Looking Backward concerns Julian West, a man of that time who emerges from a state of suspended animation in the year 2000. In imagining what life might be like in that distant future, Bellamy turned to a relatively recent technology— the telephone (invented in 1876)— and postulated that it would offer wonders unavailable in 1887. In the book, West finds that he can listen to concerts in other parts of the country— or the world— by having them sent over the telephone.

Bellamy anticipated radio. And, to some degree, television and the Internet, though I doubt he imagined anyone watching a concert from the comfort of their own home.

At a lecture at the University of Cincinnati on April 25, 1986, writer and critic Samuel R. Delany described science fiction as “communication with the present”, with “the future” merely serving as a metaphor for the here and now. Keep that in mind when paging through The Wonderful Future That Never Was. You’ll note, as Benford does, that illustrations of the future often depict people dressed in the styles of the time of publication.

The Wonderful Future That Never Was not only shows us ideas and concepts that never came to pass (and likely never will), such as the 1928 prediction that cities of the future would have multiple traffic levels (page 24); it also reflects some of the ideas and attitudes of the times when these predictions were made.

It’ll be interesting to see how well more recent predictions of the future— however “more restrained and more subtle”, as Benford puts it— hold up when that future finally arrives.

Meanwhile, The Wonderful Future That Never Was is an enjoyable look at both the past and the might-have-been future.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating