Month: April 2016

REVIEW: Legends of Tomorrow, Season 1, Episode 13: “Leviathan”

Sometimes a show needs to shake things up and have a giant Brandon Routh re-enact Pacific Rim. But Legends of Tomorrow still suffers from flawed representations of female characters.

My reviews lately tend to be not about whether an episode is good or bad. They’re more like extended analysis of ideas I see presented, as I’m more interested in discussion than assigning a grade to a show. The abbreviated version of this review if that “Leviathan” is a very silly episode that has numerous flaws in how it is representing its female characters. Yet at the same time as I am critical of those flaws, I appreciate that this show fills a gap in current pop culture: when other stories about superheroes emphasize the darkness, Legends of Tomorrow is a reminder about those moments of joyfulness in the superhero narrative. And I think having this episode air on #NationalSuperheroDay makes it valuable to have that joy and hope reinforced in a genre that misunderstands cynicism and grittiness for realism: when done well, you get Jessica Jones, and when done poorly, you get Man of Steel

This is part of a longer argument I have been working on, in regards to what Supergirl and other DC Comics television shows are accomplishing that the DC films and the Marvel ABC series are not: there is a sense of joy, hope, and fun to these stories that is not dependent on grimdark, cynicism, or a near-sociopathic pleasure taken out of images of violence and inhumanity. 

Like the theme of hope in Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow used tonight’s episode to emphasize one’s own agency over seemingly impossible odds. While Kendra (Clara Renee) was able to make her choice not to kill Savage (Casper Crump) lest she lose the chance to bring back Carter (Falk Hentschel), Ray’s words to Rip (Arthur Darvill) and Stein’s (Victor Garber) decision to save refugees emphasizes that, even in time travel, there has to be hope that some difference can be made. That is difficult in a world, fictional or otherwise, when the odds seem to be against the ability to make a positive difference in the world.

What makes such idealistic hokiness go down more smoothly is getting to see Ray turning into a version of Atom Smasher and knocking around the Leviathan for a few minutes.

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CFP: “Can The Subaltern Be A Superhero? The Politics of Non-Hegemonic Superheroism” (Due May 30)

I am proud to announce a CFP for a forthcoming volume on representations of identities in the superhero genre that I am co-editing with my colleague Rafael Ponce-Cordero. Please email any questions to Rafael (rponcecordero@keene.edu) or me (derek.s.mcgrath@gmail.com).

Can the Subaltern Be a Superhero?
The Politics of Non-Hegemonic Superheroism

Send 300-word abstracts and short bios to Rafael Ponce-Cordero at rponcecordero@keene.edu with subject line “CFP – Can the Subaltern Be a Superhero?” by May 30, 2016.

Superheroes are, by definition, guardians of law and order, i.e. of the status quo. Not coincidentally, the majority of them—and certainly the most famous ones—are male, straight, and white. Yet there are costumed crime-fighters who do not conform to that tacit rule and serve, in this sense, as examples of what we can call alternative superheroism. Those are the ones this collection of essays will examine.

Topics fitting this call for papers may include, but are not limited to, the following general themes:

  • Female superheroes
  • LGBTQ superheroes
  • Minority superheroes in the US and elsewhere
  • Superheroes from the Global South

What happens when the superhero is not male, heterosexual, white, and/or American? How do female, gay, or minority characters reconcile their “otherness” with their roles as guardians of the status quo? Are costumed crime-fighters from the Global South different from their First World counterparts? Can you get truth and justice, without the American way? How does the non-hegemonic imagination handle an imaginary that is hegemonic almost by nature? In short, can the subaltern be a superhero?

In a world where the figure of the superhero is such a pervasive staple of popular culture and enjoys such a degree of commercial success in comic books, movies, and other media both inside and outside the US, it is important to understand the politics involved and explore the possibility of non-hegemonic and even anti-hegemonic agency contained within a seemingly all-hegemonic construct.

Submissions

Abstracts should include the title, the author(s) name and institutional affiliation, and contact details. They shall clearly state the aims of the paper, the methodology used, the theoretical orientation including literature, and the main conclusions. The editors will ask the authors of selected proposals to submit their final articles (length: 6,000 to 8,000 words) no later than October 1, 2016.

Timeline

Abstracts by May 30
Decision by June 15
Papers by October 1

Editors

Dr. Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Keene State College
Dr. Derek McGrath, Independent Scholar

Contact Information 

Dr. Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Keene State College
rponcecordero@keene.edu
http://www.keene.edu/academics/programs/ml/faculty/1148/

REVIEW: The Flash, Season 2 Episode 18: “Back to Normal”

Barry doesn’t lose only his powers; he also loses the spotlight, in an episode where potential changes for Wells seem to be lost opportunities.

The casting of Tom Cavanagh has been one of the main points of praise for The CW’s adaptation of The Flash. As Cavanagh brought such cold, sardonic intensity to his performance as Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash, masquerading as Harrison Wells, his acting had to be one reason why he was retained even after Thawne was killed off in the Season 1 finale to portray Wells’s alternate dimension counterpart. As Wells never existed in the original DC Comics, and certainly was never Jesse Quick’s father, I’m surprised that Cavanagh’s performance has not led to the character being incorporated into the current Flash comics, similar to other changes to the comic book series that occurred close to the time of Arrow and The Flash airing on the CW, such as the addition of John Diggle, the re-introduction of Felicity Smoak, and the race-change to the West family.

It is also not a surprise, then, that when Barry is left powerless at the conclusion of last week’s episode that Cavanagh’s Wells from Earth-2 is given the focus of “Back to Normal.”

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REVIEW: Lucifer, Season 1 Finale: “Take Me Back To Hell”

A slow pace and a lack of stakes compromise a season finale, but at least there is some much needed levity and an implication of more to come.  

This season finale reaffirms my interpretation that Lucifer is a parody of the crime procedural drama–intentionally or not. Everything has to be over-explained, with Lucifer (Tom Ellis) again drawing out confessions through his powers of persuasion so we have convenient monologues of characters talking about their motivations for the crimes they commit. And like a crime drama, a twist has to come exactly with 20 minutes left in the episode that involves a relative of the police detective being kidnapped.

Even Lucifer’s opponents seem self-aware that they are in a television show: instead of freezing time to plan their upcoming fight sequence in private with Amenadiel (D. B. Woodside), Lucifer is talking directly in front of the armed lackeys–and one of them waves at Lucifer, as if to say, “We doing this or what?”

Lucifer, therefore, is hilarious–but it also demonstrates how thin the show’s plot can be.

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Proposing a session or roundtable at a conference

 

I have written previously about how to write abstracts that can be successfully accepted to sessions–but what about how to write a session proposal that will be accepted? Many conventions offer clear advice, including the Modern Language Association (MLA). Because I have organized or co-organized eight sessions and roundtables at the MLA and the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA), and based on those experiences, I can offer some advice for drafting a proposal.

If you have been able to write abstracts for presentations that have garnered invitations to present on panels or roundtables, then you are likely familiar already with what is required for a successful session proposal. However, conferences vary in terms of which content they require. For this post, I will focus on the initial proposal; in subsequent posts, I will write about publicizing the call for papers, choosing participants, and submitting the finalized proposal for approval before a session or roundtable actually can go on.

And I hope this advice is helpful towards submitting session proposals before the April 29, 2016, deadline for the Northeast Modern Language Association, which will have its March 2017 convention in Baltimore.

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REVIEW: Legends of Tomorrow, Episode 12, “Last Refuge”

Oh, for a capable villain on this show. 

One of the challenges Legends of Tomorrow has faced is the problem that most film adaptations of comics face: villains with short shelf lives. In less than one season the television series has sped through its set of antagonists rather quickly, which can make sense for a series that can take place in any historical time period: such episodic television means that the villains are one-and-done deals, such as Jon Valor, Valentina Vostok, and the Stillwater Gang, not all of them necessarily killed off, but scuttled away so we can move onto another episode. There is a logic to having them leave so soon: having cowboys follow the heroes to another time period doesn’t make sense, and the show has been rather dull when it stays in one time period for longer than an episode. However, as with most television in this post-Buffy era, there are also seasonal arcs that depend on having a Big Bad each year. Legends of Tomorrow has two main antagonists: the Time Masters, who intend to stop Rip Hunter’s (Arthur Darvill) attempts at altering the timeline; and Vandal Savage, whose fascism does so much harm that Rip would rather alter that timeline and, in the process, prevent Savage from killing his wife and son.

“Last Refuge” is an episode that introduces another one of the assassins that the Masters send to eliminate Rip’s team. The Pilgrim (Faye Kingsley) at least gets a moniker and much more dialogue than the nameless mercs sent to the Old West in the previous episode. However, as she is quickly killed off–even if, thanks to time travel, she could return–it is frustrating that a villain lacks the potential that a good writer could give to them so that they can persist beyond one episode.

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REVIEW: The Flash Season 2, Episode 18, “Versus Zoom”

 

This review includes spoilers up to this episode of The Flash. 

When in doubt, have your villain use poor logic and have other characters claim that they are insane. It won’t make them complex, but evidently it’s just about moving the plot forward.

Television, like comics, is a visual medium. Therefore, it is frustrating when a show like The Flash depends on telling rather than showing. From the first minutes of the episode “Versus Zoom,” we are treated to yet again seeing Barry Allen’s (Grant Gustin) origin story, so that it is made obvious to viewers how his origin parallels Jay Garrick’s (Teddy Sears) origin story: each one loses his mother at the hands of a dark father figure. 

And it doesn’t work for me.

Why is Jay wearing his father’s helmet? A perverse reminder?

Why did he identify Earth-1’s Hunter Zolomon to Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker)?

How did he not anticipate that Caitlin would mention this to Wells, who would realize Jay is actually a serial killer?

I see no logic, no method here–and unlike Apocalypse Now! that lack of method is not making for an entertaining story but one that poses far too many questions to find enjoyable. And those questions concern how this episode address complex topics, such as post-traumatic stress, mental health, and cycles of violence–and while there are more episodes left in this season, I am bothered by how poorly I think this episode failed to address any one of those topics very well.

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REVIEW: Lucifer, Season 1, Episode 12, “#TeamLucifer”

Oh, goody, two of my least favorite narrative ploys: too many stories, and a timeskip.

Police procedurals, for better or worse, have been the strategy for adapting comics to television, to varying degrees of success. One reason is because of course superheroes solve crimes and perform citizens’ arrests of alleged criminals. In some cases, those superheroes are either part of law enforcement–Barry Allen on The Flash is a crime scene investigator–or the adaptation is about the law enforcement agencies assigned to deal with superpowered individuals, as with Agents of SHIELD.

But to paraphrase the recent film adaptation of Deadpool, the Devil is not a superhero. So thank goodness that having a television series like Lucifer focus on the archetypal villain or antihero largely avoids the doldrums of the police procedural.

Having not read the original Lucifer comics published by Vertigo, I entered the Fox television adaptation with apathy regarding its archetypal police procedural structure. Based on the few episodes I have watched, what entertains me about the show is not the case of the week, or even the plot of the titular fallen angel, so much as it is that the characters are interesting, and I want to see their stories.

Therefore, when a series then introduces a timeskip, even one that is only three weeks, to speed up the plot towards the season finale, I get annoyed.

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REVIEW: Supergirl Season 1 Finale, “Better Angels”

After an excellent season, the finale for Supergirl is underwhelming.

“Better Angels” is much more subdued compared to last week’s episode, “Myriad.” Last week was more focused on action and suspense: all of National City, including Superman, is controlled by Non (Chris Vance) and the Brainiac unit Indigo (Laura Vandervoort), who have deployed the mind-controlling device Myriad, which can also be used to overwhelm human brains until they explode. Yet in this week’s episode, even before the show’s title card, Supergirl already frees all of National City with a message of hope. There seems not to be even a bit of gentle self-awareness that this is too clean a resolution: Kara (Melissa Benoist) overcomes the mind-control with a message of hope, and Non does not bother to try mind control again, whether on National City or another location.

The benefit to this lighter touch is that it becomes an episode that, in many ways, suits all of Season 1: it allows the characters to decompress from mind control and the ramifications of not just this episode but the entire season, whether that includes Kara and James’s (Mehcad Brooks) feelings for each other, Maxwell Lord’s (Peter Facinelli) currently tense temporary alliance with the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (DEO), or Kara’s own conflicted emotions around the traumatic experiences, including the destruction of Krypton and the potential need that she sacrifice her life right now. Yet all of this can be underwhelming for a superhero show: at a certain point, I want superpowered people in capes performing feats no mere human can accomplish.

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