Random Musings: Addressing the God question on Supernatural

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Sam and Dean encounter Chuck

The current season of Supernatural (the 11th) finds Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) going up against the most powerful “Big-Bad” they’ve yet faced: God’s pissed-off sister, Amara (Emily Swallow), also known as the Darkness, whom God locked away at the dawn of creation. The brothers released her when they successfully removed the Mark of Cain (which acted as a lock) from Dean’s arm. Now she’s out to destroy everything.

Amara

Amara.

Two weeks ago, in the episode “Don’t Call me Shurley”, viewers received confirmation of a long-held theory: Novelist and prophet Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), who wrote a series of in-universe novels about Sam and Dean (which will become known as “The Winchester Gospels”) is actually God. Chuck, who had been a semi regular in seasons four and five, had last been seen in a cameo appearance last season in the 200th episode, “Fan Fiction”, in which a high school theater group puts on a play about the books.

The former angel Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), now stripped of his Grace, finds himself in a bar, with Chuck. He recognizes the bar as one of God’s particular constructs and figures being there with a “hack writer” is his punishment for trying to take over Heaven and his other crimes.

Then Chuck reveals the truth of his identity to Metatron, who had been the “scribe of God.”

God, who prefers being addressed as “Chuck”, told Metatron he “put on the Chuck suit” because he likes front row seats.

“I figured I’d hide out in plain sight, you know,” he says. “Plus, you know, acting is fun.”

He also says he’s writing his autobiography and needs Metatron’s help as editor.

Chuck and Metatron

Chuck and Metatron.

Metatron points out the autobiography’s lack of details, such as no mention of Amara.

“Who cares about her?” Chuck asks.

“Um… me, for starters. I assume you’re aware that she’s out and about. Tanned, rested and ready. I mean that’s why you’re back, right?”

“This isn’t her story,” Chuck replies, looking none too pleased at the mention of Amara. “It’s mine.”

Metatron also suggests the autobiography have less about God’s time as Chuck and more than just a few paragraphs about the archangels.

“Don’t you think they deserve a few extra words?” he asks. “Especially your favorite— Lucifer?”

“He wasn’t my favorite.”

Metatron points out that Lucifer helped defeat Amara and that God trusted him with the Mark of Cain.

“And when you asked him to bow down before mankind—”

“He refused.”

“He rebelled,” Metatron says. “And in doing so, kind of wrecked Christmas.”

Lucifer passed the Mark, which has a negative influence, including making its wearer want to kill, on to Cain, who later gave it to Dean. Last season, Death (Julian Richings) implied that the Mark’s influence played a role in Lucifer’s rebellion.

Metatron says if Amara is off limits, fine, “but you know that every great hero is defined by his or her villain.”

“Lucifer was not a villain,” Chuck replies. “He- he- he wasn’t a villain.”

Lucifer, currently possessing Castiel’s (Misha Collins) vessel, escaped from the Cage earlier this season. Sam and Dean talked with him under “controlled circumstances” to see if he would agree to help defeat Amara. They initially thought they’d successfully kept him imprisoned, but later learned that a doubt-filled Castiel had said yes to Lucifer possessing his vessel because Lucifer said he could defeat Amara. Castiel, who has become so dejected by recent experiences, hasn’t made any efforts to reject Lucifer.

In the meantime, Amara has captured Lucifer, who underestimated his own strength, and is torturing him (and Castiel).

At one point, Metatron asks why God created life. Chuck says he was lonely.

“Your sister wasn’t company enough?”

“I am being. She’s nothingness. It’s not exactly the makings of a fun two-hander, you know.”

When Metatron points out that God didn’t stop at one archangel or a handful angels, but made worlds, Chuck says he was stupid and naïve. He thought if he could show Amara there was something more than them, something better, she’d change.

“But every time I’d build a new world, she’d destroy it.”

He subsequently takes Metatron to a lake at the base of some mountains, saying nature is as close as he got to something as good as or better than himself or Amara. He also says nature’s smart enough to know that sometimes there’s no fixing things.

“Sometimes you’ve just have to wipe the slate clean.”

Metatron points out that if Amara wipes the slate, all of God’s work will be lost forever.

“We should take a stroll, then,” Chuck says. “Enjoy it before it’s all gone.”

Chuck tells Metatron that nature is divine but human nature is toxic, adding that the worst part about humans blowing things up is that they do it in his name.

“And then they come crying to me, asking me to forgive, to fix things. Never taking any responsibility.”

“What about your responsibility?”

Chuck replies that he took responsibility, by leaving. He also took responsibility for Amara by locking her away.

“Barely, I might add. And, who let her out?”

“Sam and Dean Winchester, but they’re trying to fix that.”

Chuck points out that the world would still be spinning with Demon Dean in it.

“But Sam couldn’t have that, could he? So how is Amara being out on me?”

“It’s not, but you’ve helped the Winchesters before.”

In their defense, Sam and Dean had no idea what the Darkness was. If Chuck was so concerned about not releasing her, he could have stepped in at the time.

When Chuck says it’s Amara’s time to shine, Metatron asks why he’s writing a book no one’s going to be around to read. He subsequently realizes Chuck started writing the second Amara came back.

“No wonder you’re on a deadline,” Metatron says. “Now I understand why you’re masquerading in that sad little meat suit. For the same reason you created this nostalgic bar to write your masterpiece in— you’re hiding!”

Chuck had said the bar was the safest place ever created. Metatron points out that he created it to keep himself safe from Amara.

“You know, I was a crappy, terrible god,” Metatron says. “My work was pretty much a lame, half-assed rewrite of your greatest hits. But at least I was never a coward.”

After tossing Metatron through the doors of the bar, Chuck says he’s not hiding. He’s just done watching his experiments’ failures.

“You mean your failures, Chuck,” Metatron replies.

Metatron said his attempt to be God was a pathetic cry for attention— from Chuck.

He also demands to know why God abandoned everyone.

“Because you disappointed me,” Chuck said. “You all disappointed me.”

“I know I’m a disappointment, but you’re wrong about humanity. They are your greatest creation because they’re better than you are. Yeah, sure, they’re weak and they cheat and steal and destroy and disappoint, but they also give and create. And they sing and dance and love. And above all, they never give up. But you do.”

Metatron’s argument is reminiscent of Gabriel’s to Lucifer in season five.

Chuck starts typing again. Metatron’s reaction suggests his words have fallen on deaf ears.

While Chuck and Metatron interact, Sam and Dean are investigating a case in Hope Springs, Idaho involving a heavy fog— Amara’s doing— that causes people to kill friends and family.

Newlywed Deputy Jan Harris (Sonja Bennett), affected by fog, killed her husband. Before the sheriff kills her, she tells Sam and Dean that Amara has a message. The fog isn’t an infection, it’s showing the truth, that the light was just a lie.

Deputy Harris

Deputy Harris.

“It will all be over soon,” the dying deputy says. “He’s not going to save them. It’s all going away, forever. But not you, Dean.”

As the fog rolls in from mountains, Sam and Dean scramble to get people inside the sheriff’s office, away from the fog.

Sam is infected, but Dean isn’t. Unexpectedly, however, the fog lifts and Sam’s infection is gone.

What’s more, Dean finds a brightly-glowing amulet in Sam’s pocket. The amulet, which Dean had owned years ago, was supposed to glow in God’s presence, but never glowed at any time Dean owned it (Chuck told Metatron he’d turned it off).

Sam and Dean go outside, where they find everyone who’d died restored to life. They walk down the street until they come to Chuck.

“We should probably talk,” he says.

Last week’s episode, “All in the Family”, picks up at that point. Despite the glowing amulet, Sam and Dean don’t accept Chuck at face value.

Until he teleports them to the Men of Letters bunker and the ghost of the prophet Kevin Tran (Osric Chau) appears behind Chuck and confirms his identity. Chuck then gives Kevin, who’d been trapped in the veil, an “upgrade” and sends him to Heaven.

Chuck and Kevin

Chuck and Kevin.

As Sam sits silently, Dean, who says he means no disrespect, question’s Chuck’s inaction over the millennia

“There’s so much crap that has gone down on the Earth for thousands of years,” Dean says. “I mean plagues and wars, slaughters. And you were, I don’t know, writing books, going to fan conventions. Were you even aware or did you just tune it out?”

“I was aware, Dean.”

“But you did nothing. And again, I’m not trying to piss you off. I don’t want to turn into a pillar of salt.”

“I actually, I didn’t do that.”

“Okay. People pray to you. People build churches to you. They fight wars in your name and you did nothing.”

Dean crying

Dean wants answers.

Chuck replies that he was hands-on for ages.

“I was so sure if I kept stepping in, teaching, punishing, that these beautiful creatures that I created would grow up. But it only stayed the same. And I saw that I needed to step away and let my baby find its way. Being over involved is no longer parenting. It’s enabling.”

Dean, replies that it didn’t get better, but Chuck says that from where he sits, he thinks it has.

“Well, from where I sit, it feels like you left us and you’re trying to justify it.”

“I know you had a complicated upbringing, Dean. But don’t confuse me with your Dad.”

Chuck considers Dean's words

Chuck considers Dean’s words.

Chuck tells Dean and Sam the only reason he came off the sidelines is because the Darkness is relentless, a force beyond human comprehension.

He also say she’s warded herself against him; he has no idea where she is.

“I’ve always had faith in you,” Chuck says, looking at Sam. “Even if you didn’t return the favor,” he continues as he turns to Dean.

When the boys bring up Lucifer, Chuck describes him as his greatest hope and bitterest disappointment.

“You think if I could have trusted him for a moment, I would have put him in the Cage? And I wasn’t going to mention this, but thank you so much for springing him.”

Chuck assumes that as bad as Lucifer was, he’s probably worse after all this time in prison and he could have formed an alliance with Amara.

The episode had its amusing points, as is often the case in Supernatural. Dean tells Sam that Chuck sings “crappy old folk songs” in the shower and that he told him to cool it three times.

“You told God to cool it?” Sam asks.

“Yeah. I sleep.”

The episode also established that a new prophet, chemistry professor Donatello Redfield (Keith Szarabajka), has been activated. Sam and Dean take him back to the bunker to meet Chuck.

Redfield, who’d been an atheist until then, asks if that was going to be a problem. Chuck is fine with it, saying it’s part of the whole “free will thing.”

Donatello meets Chuck

Donatello meets Chuck.

Metatron also contacts Sam and Dean. He tells them Chuck is going to meet with Amara, but he’s not going to take her down. He gives them Chuck’s manuscript, but says it’s not an autobiography.

“It’s a suicide note.”

Chuck meets Dean at a playground, where he’s watching kids in a sandbox and describes them as endlessly optimistic.

“The wind blows over his tower, he rebuilds,” Chuck says. “Always gets me.”

“If that’s so, why are you bailing?” Dean asks. “When you see Amara, you’re throwing in the towel?”

“You think I’m a dick. What do you care?”

“Because before you went M.I.A., you did a lot.”

Chuck says “throwing in the towel” is what he calls strategy, adding that Amara’s beef is with him.

When Dean asks how dying is a blueprint for successes, Chuck says he won’t be dying; he’ll be caged.

“I trade myself for everything I created,” Chuck says. “It goes on.”

Dean tells him Amara told him personally that she’s going to eliminate God, then destroy everything he’s created. He also say humanity aren’t some toys to throw away.

“I think you owe us more than that.”

Dean confronts Chuck

Dean confronts Chuck.

“If my plan doesn’t work, then humans will step up,” Chuck says. “You, Sam, others that are the chosen will have to find a way. That’s why I saved you years ago. You’re the firewall between light and darkness.”

Dean tells him taking on God’s sister is way above his pay grade.

“Bottom line, it’s you that has to take her out,” he says. “And look, and then after that, get a condo in Cancun. I don’t care.”

For her part, Amara continues her torture of Lucifer. He tells her she may defeat God, but she’ll never beat him.

Lucifer being tortured

Lucifer being tortured.

Dean concocts a plan to rescue Lucifer and convince Chuck to use him to fight Amara. He’ll distract her while Sam, Metatron and Donatello carry out the actual rescue.

Lucifer refers to the three as “Larry, Curly and Moe” and recognizes Donatello as the new prophet.

“One minute you’re nobody and then Shazam you’re Joan of Arc. Let’s hope this ends better than that.”

Rescuing Lucifer

Sam and Donatello rescue Lucifer.

When Sam asks if Lucifer’s on board with working with God, given their past history, Lucifer asks if he looks like one of Amara’s fans.

Because of his injuries, Lucifer can’t teleport them out, so Sam and Donatello physically carry him out while Metatron stays behind to cover their escape. He tries without success to fight Amara, then in the moment before she destroys him, he begs her to spare the universe.

Metatron's last stand

Metatron’s last stand.

When Amara prepares to destroy the Impala containing Sam, Donatello and Lucifer, Chuck teleports the car into the bunker.

“Occasionally, I do answer a prayer.”

Chuck tells Lucifer he’s changed. Lucifer says the same.

“Well, still, I’m pretty much the same,” Chuck says as he heals Lucifer’s wounds.

What will happen next? Amara will be defeated, somehow. But will Chuck lock himself away with her or continue to live in the world. The former would be the better choice, both dramatically and thematically.

I’m sure before he goes (one way or the other) Chuck will evict Lucifer from Castiel’s vessel, but will Lucifer’s presumed help in stopping Amara be enough to earn him a pardon? Or will Lucifer follow in the footsteps of other “villains”,  like Metatron, the demon “Meg” (Rachel Miner) and the angel Gadreel (Tahmoh Penikett), and sacrifice himself for the “greater good.”

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Books review: These are the Voyages.

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These are the Voyages

Marc Cushman’s three volume series These are the Voyages: TOS provides an in-depth look at the original Star Trek, with one book dedicated to each of the three seasons.

Cushman, who published the books between 2013 and 2015, received key documents directly from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and associate producer Robert H. Justman in the 1980s. He used those as well as his own interviews and previously published books, magazines and newspaper articles to assemble his books, written with Susan Osborn. Every one of the 79 episodes (including the first pilot, “The Cage”) is explored in detail. Those details include the evolution of the episodes, when various drafts of scripts were written and by whom, production dates and costs, samples of contemporaneous reviews and Nielsen ratings for the broadcasts (and reruns, where applicable).

I recently purchased all three volumes in hardcover directly from the publisher, Jacobs Brown Press, and was surprised to find that my copy of volume one had additional material (both text and photos) that wasn’t in a softcover version I’d gotten from the library. Both were described as the “revised and updated edition” and both had the same information on the indicia, yet softcover versions of books are usually published after the hardcover ones and thus are more likely to have any updates.

In the introduction to volume three, David Gerrold, who wrote the episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”, said Cushman is issuing corrections when mistakes have been discovered. I wouldn’t call the volume one I received a correction; it just had additional information.

I’m still in the process of reading these books, but what I have read shows that they’re well written and researched. They go into more detail than many of the plethora of previous books about Star Trek, in part because of the documents from Roddenberry and Justman.

One bit of information that may not have been in previous books about Star Trek is how much of a debt the series owes to one woman, the one who could arguably be said to have gotten the show on the air: Lucille Ball.

Lucille Ball?!?

Yes. According to Cushman (Vol. 1, pages 41-42, 109), she didn’t initially understand the focus of the show; but even after learning it wasn’t about USO performers, she gave the go ahead— against the advice of some of her board members— because she, as owner of Desilu studios (formed by herself and her former husband, Desi Arnaz), was willing to take a chance.

I do, however, have a few minor complaints. First, none of the books have an index. Volume two contains quotes (on separate pages) from Samuel A. Peeples, who wrote the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and actress Sherry Jackson (misspelled as “Sherri”), who appeared in the first season episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” If at some point down the road, I find myself trying to remember what either had to say in volume two, it’s going to be a bit of an effort to track down the quotes. An index would help with things like that. Plus, it makes it easier to find specific references.

Gary Lockwood, for example, is quoted in chapters related to “Where no Man Has Gone Before”, which would be relatively easy to find; but any quotes from him that are scattered throughout the three books would be harder to locate.

My other complaint concerns Cushman’s endnotes. Some appear to be missing. Using Lockwood as an example again, some of his quotes have the endnote 109-3, but there’s no such endnote in the back of the books, just 109, a 2011 interview with Cushman; 109-1, an interview in Starlog #124 in 1987 and 109-2, an interview in Trek Classics from 1991.

As another example, quotes from Roger C. Carmel, who played Harry Mudd, have the endnote 29, but does that refer to 29-1, 29-2 or 29-3?

Another complaint regarding the endnotes is that page numbers aren’t given for book and magazine sources. It’s not too bad with some magazines, since they usually have tables of contents (Some quotes from Bruce Hyde, who played Lt. Kevin Riley, comes from Starlog #112. The table of contents for that issue tells me Hyde’s interview is on page 60). On the other hand, neither The Making of Star Trek nor The World of Star Trek have indexes, making it hard to find quotes in them.

By contrast, Cushman’s I Spy: A History Of The Groundbreaking Television Series has both an index and endnotes with page numbers for his sources, where applicable.

These shortcomings to These are the Voyages shouldn’t be a deal breaker, however. If you’re a Star Trek fan and/or interested in television production, these books would be a welcome addition to your home library.

Copyright 2016, Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Revisiting The Sarah Jane Adventures

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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).

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.