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    Disney's negotiations to acquire most of 21st Century Fox's assets *cough* X-Men and Fantastic Four *cough* have come back to life

    News Alec Bojalad
    Dec 2, 2017

    Rumors of the Disney/21st Century Fox deal's demise may have been exaggerated.

    Walt Disney, Co. and 21st Century Fox have resumed discussions involving Disney acquiring Fox's movie studio, 20th Century Fox, FX, FXX, and other assets according to the Wall Street Journal

    News of the potential acquisition made waves throughout the entertainment and finance industries just last month. To the point where 21st Century Fox suspended trading activities. The initial reports were cautious, perhaps due to the hurdles the similar Time Warner and AT&T deal faced. Now Disney and Fox have re-engaged.

    WSJ's report offers a clearer look at exactly what Disney would potentially acquiring. 20th Century Fox is indeed the centerpiece of the deal - both the movie studio and respective networks. Fox's 39% holding in U.K. sattelite TV provider Sky PLC and India's Star TV would be included in the deal as well. As would the aforementioned FX and FXX. 

    Fox is apparently interested in pivoting to mostly sports and cultural commentary, meaning Fox News and the sports network FS1 would stay put.

    Rupert Murdoch is the majority shareholder of 21st Century Fox with 39% of shares and he will reportedly make a final decision by year's end. 

    The appeal of certain 21st Century Fox assets to Disney remain obvious and apparent. Disney is quickly cornering the movie blockbuster market with its Marvel and Lucasfilm brands. Not only would acquiring 20th Century Fox studios remove a major competitor, it would strengthen the Marvel brand by adding properties like X-Men and the Fantastic Four to the stable. 

    The societal and economic implications of the deal are certainly up for debate. But the potential for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to get all of its superhero friends under one tent is undoubtedly appealing to us all.


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    All out war continues on The Walking Dead. We take a spoiler-filled dive into the comics to see what might happen in season 8!

    Feature John Saavedra
    Dec 3, 2017

    This Walking Dead article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the show and comics.

    The Walking Dead season 7 ended with a bang, as all of the different factions introduced this year converged for war. Rick, Ezekiel, and Maggie will lead Alexandria, the Kingdom, and the Hilltop, while Negan and Jadis round out this universe's version of the Axis Powers. The Saviors and the garbage people certainly have the numbers, but the heroes are determined to fight back and free themselves from the oppressive villains. I put my money on Sheriff Rick.

    While the first half of the season was a bit slow in terms of story progression, the second half covered quite a bit of story in eight episodes. In all, season 7 adapted three arcs: "Something to Fear,""What Comes After," and "March to War," with a few liberties taken here and there - such as the introduction of Jadis and the Heapsters and Sasha's fate.

    The first half of season 8 will probably take its time with the conflict between Rick's Militia and the Saviors, if for no other reason but the budget. Call me a bit cynical, but it's likely that season 8 won't deliver a big battle sequence until the midseason finale - usually the moment The Walking Dead tends to go very big (except in the case of season 7's midseason finale, of course.) The show has a tendency to drag out certain character arcs or events from the comics at a sometimes frustrating pace, and I don't see that really changing much when it comes to one of the comic's most action-packed arcs.

    Here's what might happen in The Walking Dead season 8 based on what we know from the comics:

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    All Out War

    The first half of season 8 (which is what I'm focusing on here - I'll do a separate guide for the second half) will most likely cover material from just one arc, "All Out War," from the comic book series by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. If you want to pick up the complete arc in trades, that's Vol. 20 and 21 or issues #115-126.

    The "All Out War" arc really is what it says on the cover. It chronicles the war between the Militia (Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom) and the Saviors, including several battles both at the Sanctuary and Alexandria. Again, these events will most likely be spread out - and one of the fights in the first part of the arc was sort of remixed for the season 7 finale, actually - so you can probably expect to see only one of these battles in 8A. 

    My guess would be that we'll see the Militia's first attack on the Sanctuary, where Negan is bunkered in after being surprised by the Hilltop and Kingdom's forces at Alexandria - much like in the season 7 finale. In the comics, Rick's plan is not to go head to head with the Saviors at the Sanctuary but to lure a large walker horde to the enemy base in order to cut off Negan's main force from the smaller Savior outposts. The Militia's plan is then to take the outposts, chipping away at the Saviors' numbers. 

    It's a plan that works for the most part except that a character named Holly dies after being captured by Negan. Much of Holly's final storyline plays out like Sasha's. Negan offers a zombified Holly back to the settlement as a peace offering. Holly, who has a bag over her head as she walks into Alexandria, bites Denise (yes, the doctor who died in season 6 of the show) and all hell breaks loose in the settlement, as the Saviors begin to lodge grenades over the settlement's walls. This actually inspired a bit of the battle in the season 7 finale, except zombie Sasha caught Negan by surprise when he opened the coffin. 

    Moving up this second confrontation to season 7 means that the writers are free to add a lot of build-up to the first battle at the Sanctuary. For example, I fully expect that we'll see a version of the attacks on the individual outposts BEFORE the bigger attack on the Savior base. 

    In those smaller confrontations - which would be a fun, action-packed way to open season 8 - Rick and Ezekiel split into two groups to take out two outposts. While Rick's team succeeds in taking out all of the Saviors at their outpost, Ezekiel's force is ambushed and many are killed, including Shiva, who sacrifices herself in order to save the King from a walker horde. The loss of his men and loyal pet seriously shakes up Ezekiel's confidence in his own leadership, which could be a major setback for his TV counterpart as well. It's likely that we'll see the Militia beaten back a bit in the early part of the season, especially since Negan has overwhelming numbers at his disposal, and the midseason finale will inevitably be when the tide turns in the good guys' favor.

    Allegiances

    There are still plenty of threads left over from season 7 that will undoubtedly fill in the blanks in season 8. Character-focused storylines will still make up the bulk of the season, even though it's adapting a largely action-oriented arc. This doesn't account for any original storylines the show might throw at us. Will we get our first glimpse of the Whisperers, for example? (That's probably not going to happen, considering how many factions already exist in this universe, but this fan-favorite zombie cult could eventually make its way to the show in the latter half of the season.)

    Gregory is perhaps season 7's most glaring cliffhanger. It's pretty clear to me that Gregory will not join the Militia's cause on the show, instead choosing to side with Negan in order to save his own life at the expense of his people. In the comics, Gregory makes a surprise appearance at the Sanctuary during the Militia's attack, and he declares that the Hilltop will side with the Saviors. While several Hilltoppers switch sides at Gregory's behest, Paul "Jesus" Monroe remains at Rick's side.

    Fortunately for the Militia, the Hilltop doesn't make up the bulk of their fighting force in the comics, something Gregory led Negan to believe when they struck a deal to work together against Rick et al. Negan literally kicks Gregory out of the Sanctuary during the battle, and the cowardly leader is forced to make his way back to the Hilltop where he's welcomed by Maggie's fists. Yes, it's safe to assume that Maggie will take full control of the Hilltop by the end of season 8.

    As for Gregory, it can be assumed that the cowardly villain will follow a similar trajectory to his comic book counterpart, especially since he was headed to meet with Simon in the penultimate episode of season 7. While we didn't catch up with him in the finale, I think we'll probably see what Gregory's up to at some point in 8A. I have a feeling that things won't fare well for him.

    The writers have taken a few liberties with Eugene's storyline in "All Out War," especially when it comes to the character's allegiance. While he's also captured by the Saviors in the comic book, Eugene shows a bit more resilience on the page, refusing to make ammo for Negan and eventually escaping the Sanctuary. The show has played this storyline a bit differently, making Eugene a fully pledged Negan follower by the end of season 7. While Eugene hasn't done anything truly questionable under Negan, it's clear that the coward has shifted his allegiance just enough to warrant Rosita trying to blow him up.

    Of course, it's not too late for the man with the iron mullet. He does show that he still cares about his friends when he helps Sasha commit suicide instead of letting her suffer under Negan's rule. Eugene could yet redeem himself by continuing to be a saboteur inside the Sanctuary. 

    In the comic, Eugene is helped in his escape from the Sanctuary by other Saviors, something that could potentially repeat itself on the show. My guess would be that Dwight will eventually help Eugene escape, although this particular storyline has a lot of potential to play out very differently. 

    Oceanside was one of season 7's bigger surprises, primarily because the settlement has never actually been explored in the comic. While it does exist and is mentioned several times in Kirkman's original work, the show has fleshed out this particular settlement far beyond the writer's original intent. 

    This settlement by the sea is unique in its own right, being made up of women and ruled by women. It's a very welcome counterpart to the Saviors' much more patriarchal society. Oceanside is also a great addition to the already impressive cast of female characters on the show. It'll be interesting to see if they actually join the fight in season 8. 

    The last time the show visited Oceanside, it was for a very tense meeting with Alexandria. Ambushed by Rick and his group, the women of Oceanside were rounded up and forced to give up their guns. Some members of the group, such as young Cyndie, felt that Alexandria's cause was just, though, and willingly gave up their weapons and even considered joining the fight. In time Oceanside may finally agree to join the Militia. After all, Oceanside has a very big bone to pick with Negan.

    Speaking of new settlements, Jadis and her garbage people are perhaps the standout new group of the series. Straight out of a Mad Max film, Jadis' group is something of an enigma. We've not spent too much time learning about their past - which honestly might be the reason why they work so well, although a flashback episode in season 8 would certainly be justified. 

    After the twist in the season 7 finale, the garbage people have been established as villains, and it remains to be seen how their relationship with the Saviors might evolve - or if the alliance is only temporary. I'd certainly like to see much more of this group and learn more about how they work and why they live in a junkyard.

    While Jadis actress Pollyanna McIntosh revealed on Talking Dead (via Bustle) that the group's name is the Scavengers, the garbage people don't really have any relation to the Scavengers from the comics. (The Wolves filled in for the comic book Scavengers in season 6 - this all gets a little confusing!) In fact, some fans have theorized that the garbage people might actually be the precursor to the Whisperers. As Jadis mentioned in her introduction, her people are good at adapting, which means that whatever happens in season 8 could turn Jadis' group into a full blown killer zombie cult. Again, it's a theory. 

    Dwight remains one of the most polarizing characters on the show, and now there's the question of where his allegiance truly lies. By the end of season 7, he's working as a double agent for the Militia. Although he must side with Negan in public, Dwight is secretly feeding Rick and his people information about the Saviors' plans. 

    We last see Dwight with Negan, Simon, and Eugene, as they prepare to go to war. Dwight and Simon remain Negan's most important lieutenants, and Dwight will have to figure out how to exploit that next season. There's also the possibility that Dwight is actually playing Rick et al at the behest of Negan, who loves to play mind games with his enemies. It could be that Dwight has faked his defection in order to get more info on the Militia's plans. As far as the comics go, Dwight does indeed turn against Negan and helps the heroes during the war. Negan has pushed Dwight to the limit and now he wants revenge. 

    One thing left hanging for Dwight is the whereabouts of Sherry. This could be something season 8 will explore further. Sherry is the reason Dwight decides to turn on Negan, so bringing her back might add a bit more tension between the two, especially if Dwight has to help her hide from the Saviors.

    Speaking of Negan...

    Negan

    While the villain is far from meeting his maker by the end of season 7, many fans are wondering what might await the character next season. Assuming all of "All Out War" plays out in season 8 - I have my doubts - there could be some major cold-blooded retribution awaiting the SOB. It's really a question of how close the writers want to stick to the comics in terms of the aftermath to the war. 

    In the comic, Negan is eventually defeated and taken prisoner, sentenced to life in an Alexandria jail cell. While this certainly works well in the book, it might be a little tricky when it comes to the show. Keeping Jeffrey Dean Morgan locked in a cell for whole seasons might not be the best use of the actor's time, unless he only makes guest appearances every few episodes. 

    It doesn't help that the reception to the live-action version of Negan has been a bit mixed. JDM is very charismatic and plays the character pretty close to the source material, yet there have been issues with how the villain translates to TV, seeming cartoonish at times - at points almost a parody of the comic book character. More than once, the villain was cited as one of season 7's biggest flaws. The show could perhaps rid itself of a bit of baggage by killing Negan. It would certainly take hardcore fans of the comic by surprise.

    So if you're wondering if the show will eventually kill off Negan, I'd say its very up in the air at this point, although given showrunner Scott M. Gimple's penchant for sticking pretty close to the source material, I'd say we may still have quite a bit of time left with Negan - perhaps well beyond season 8. 

    John Saavedra is an associate editor at Den of Geek US. Find more of his work on his website. Or just follow him on Twitter.


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    Magneto will plays a "big part" in The Gifted's season finale, when it comes to the character of Lorna.

    News Kayti Burt
    Dec 4, 2017

    Magento, aka Lorna "Polaris" Dane's father, has remained an unspoken X-Men connection thus far in The Gifted's first season—but that's about to change.

    Speaking to Comicbook.com, Emma Dumont (Lorna) teased that "Magneto plays a big part in the rest of the season." While Magneto will not actually appear on the show, he will play a major part in Lorna's storyline, specifically in Episodes 12 and 13, aka the Gifted Season 1 finale, set to air on January 15th.

    Polaris ... thinks there are two paths: What she believes and what she wants, what her personal beliefs are and what she thinks is right, and then the other path is what she was born to do, which is be Magneto's daughter, which is to take over his legacy. But what Lorna doesn't realize is those two things are exactly the same, and she finally does realize that eventually in the season, later on, and that really terrifies her.

    Does this mean that Lorna may turn more villainous in the Season 1 finale? Or might The Giftedhave a different perspective on Magneto's philosophy then what we've seen from on-screen adaptations of the X-Men so far—i.e. perhaps Lorna following in her father's more aggressive footsteps is contextualized as the right path forward by a show that is more revolutionary and anti-institutional then many of its predecessors.

    Dumont continued:

    [Lorna] hasn't heard great things about her father. She's heard bad things about her father, in fact. Her chosen family, the Mutant Underground, they don't think highly of him. They think he was a bad guy. Anyone would hurt a human is bad, even if it saves 200 mutants lives. It's still bad. But, for her, it's not that bad.

    Speaking more specifically about Lorna's personal relationship with her father, Dumont said:

    You know, having this man who, every couple of years will reach out to her, very ominously, or whatever, but still refuses to be in her life, she hates him, as most daughters whose father's abandoned them would. But she still can't deny she is exactly like him, in every way. Even her mutant abilities are the same. She is his only living birth child. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, sure. They're just made from his DNA. She is literally exactly like him, and she can't deny that, but she's really scared of it. She's really, really scared of it.

    I'm glad The Gifted is going to address Lorna's connection to Magneto, which represents a larger connection to the X-Men universe in general (i.e. what happened to the X-Men and the Brotherhood in the universe of this show?).

    However, it's always tricky when telling a story in the quieter parts of on-screen adaptation canon. There's no way Michael Fassbender is going to show up on this show, which is a major bummer, although completely understandable, and I can't see the show being allowed to recast the character for this smaller screen universe, either.


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    The Gifted moves the plot forward and ignores pretty much everything else. Our review of "outfoX."

    This The Gifted review contains spoilers.

    The Gifted Episode 9

    That was fine.

    I'm probably being a little tougher on "outfoX" than I need to be, but many of my issues with this week's episode stem from the scheduling. The last episode was the high point for the series so far, succeeding on multiple levels. Then Fox killed the show's momentum with a week off, and followed up the off week with an episode that didn't do much other than barrel towards the season finale. 

    The last episode succeeded in merging the plot propulsion and character development. We got a ton out of the conversation between Reed and his father, not just for him, but for the kids as well. The twists introduced to his life by the revelation that he came from a line of mutants, was a mutant himself, and passed the X gene down to his kids, was material enough for a full half a season of shows. But most of that was swept away in a couple of conversations between him and Kate.

    What did get developed this week were the kids' powers. We had a bit of a discovery process at HQ, as Andy went through the library and found an encyclopedia/published version of Ahab's Fenris press clip scrapbook. Then they try and use their powers jointly, but Lauren stops them before they blow up the entire building because she senses her own power. The way she talks about it, how she fuses her consciousness with Andy's, seems like she's describing a gestalt consciousness, by the way - more on this in the Phoenix Eggs later.

    Then the team, pushed by Esme, their new telepath, decides to try and pull a heist at the Trask black site, so they send Blink, Dreamer, and the Strucker kids to a power station a few miles away to disable the lab. They get rumbled by a supremely paranoid (and lucky) Jace and Sentinel Services, and the team gets picked off one by one until the Struckers are cornered in the basement of the power station. As they join hands to blow the building up, Andy pulls away from Lauren at the last second, arguing that he didn't want to kill a building full of people. 

    This is actually a fairly big piece of character development for Andy. Up until now, he'd been the one complaining about how he's never allowed to cut loose with his powers. But right after the first time they tried to merge their powers, Lauren talked about feeling the way someone battling addiction describes a first high, and Andy is the one to take responsibility for the destruction they might cause in their escape at the end of the show. That's something, I guess, but it's not really enough to make this episode better than "fine."

    PHOENIX EGGS

    - The one so far unmentioned subplot from this week is Esme being a creepy shit. The team's new telepath from last week is up to some shady stuff, trying to manipulate the Resistance into doing what she wants. This tracks with her comics version - Esme was the Stepford Cuckoo who broke with the rest of the Five in One, got all lit up on kick, imagined she was Magneto's girlfriend, then died when he got all hopped up on kick and decided he was tired of her crap. Morrison's run is probably due for a critical reexamination, I think.

    - The way Lauren describes merging with Andy when they use their powers sounds like they're becoming a gestalt being, which is interesting given the show also decides to have Esme creeping around in the background. The Cuckoos were a hive mind, a gestalt consciousness when they were using their mutant abilities together.

    - Apparently the von Strucker twins were known as Fenris everywhere. And apparently the X-Men were active in the '60s to stop them?

    - The Fenris twins were ALSO members of the Hellfire Club, which is pretty dope. We haven't seen the Hellfire Club since X-Men: First Class, in which Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost, and others were members.

    - The fuck is a "non dairy cheese and chive omlette?" Does somebody in the resistance have the mutant ability to strip things of their fundamental essence? Taking the dairy out of a cheese omlette is like taking the oxygen, liquid, and meat out of a human. You're pretty much just left with a pile of powdered fat and some salt. THIS REALLY BOTHERED ME.

    3/5
    ReviewJim Dandy
    Dec 4, 2017

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    We talked to Annalee Newitz about Autonomous, gender, capitalism, artificial intelligence, and Riverdale.

    InterviewKayti Burt
    Dec 5, 2017

    Annalee Newitz's science fiction debut Autonomous is a gutting tale of love, identity, and artificial intelligence in a future where anything, or anyone, can be owned. 

    We enjoyed the robot pirate novel so much, we chose it as our Den of Geek Book Club pick of the month, and are giving away a hardcover copy of the new novel.

    Join the Den of Geek Book Club conversation over on Goodreads!

    Newitz is not only a science fiction author, but also (among many other things) the co-founder of io9 where she served as Editor-in-Chief from 2008-2015, the author or non-fiction book Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, and the current Tech Culture Editor at Ars Technica where she writes about the cultural impact of science and technology. She is also a very nice person.

    You can follow Newitz on Twitter at @Annaleen.

    We had a chance to sit down with Newitz at New York Comic Con, shortly following the release of Autonomous in October, to chat to the author about where the idea for this book started, crafting the vivid points-of-view in this tale of artificial intelligence, and why Riverdale is such a good show.

    Buy Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

    Note: Please excuse the chair-screeching sometimes going on during the recording of this podcast. If you're ever been to New York Comic Con, then you know how hard it is to find a quiet corner.


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    Despite fan reactions to recent reports of a Disney/Fox deal, the X-Men aren't a good fit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

    Feature David Crow
    Dec 5, 2017

    As per reports earlier today, 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company are close to a deal that would sell Fox's film studios and various other adjacent entertainment divisions to the Mouse House. If agreed upon, this deal would have a sweeping effect on the movie industry as two of Hollywood's biggest studios merge, consolidating resources and throwing confusionupon the future of American entertainment. But be that as it may, and ignoring the horrifying ramifications of culling one of Hollywood’s oldest studios, the big takeaway in geek culture is, of course, the X-Men. And more explicitly how these mutant brothers and sisters might be making their way home to Marvel Studios and the movie universe so many fans cherish. From social media to internet forums, this was a cause for online celebration, for in short order Wolverine could be trading quips with Iron Man, and Magneto might finally offer the MCU a foe with some menace.

    As appealing as all that potential fan service could be on a surface level though, I have to say the fact that it is disappointing to hear the previously scuttled deal is back on and nearing fruition. Yes, despite surely committing heresy among the fanboy set, I’ve never really considered Marvel Studios to be the “home” of any property, and I find this growing sense of brand loyalty, where pledging an oath of fealty to one studio or another is demanded, to be reductive.

    On simply a narrative level, there are reasons to view the mutants as a beat apart from the impressive universe built by Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios. The implicit appeal of X-Men from one generation to the next is it celebrates “the Other” and allows any marginalized youth to find power in their differences and individuality. In short, the X-Men are often allegorical stand-ins for persecuted minorities, whereas the Avengers, especially in recent Marvel Studios films, are mainstream icons to be as celebrated onscreen as they are off. Even being considered “a war criminal now” does not mean Captain America can’t be a local high school hero in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

    This uneasy distinction between born and bred mutants and the Marvel superheroes who are gifted their powers by luck or providence has always been confounding on the page and would undoubtedly be even more cumbersome to explain on the screen. However, this is not the real issue. The best Marvel films paper over inconsistencies with well placed deflections or witticisms (again, “Pretty sure this guy’s a war criminal now”). The real reason they should stay separate is for the sake of the fans, who risk getting everything they want—which is more of the same.

    At this point, the X-Men movie franchise has become a true cultural oddity. Having existed for nearly 20 years and spanning 10 films, it’s outlasted several shifting epochs in comic book movie history, from its original heyday as a somber, leathery reclamation of comicdom following the infamous Batman & Robin to somehow weathering the multiple ages of first gritty and then lighthearted, universe-building reboots that claimed both Batman and Spider-Man. Twice.

    During all of this, the X-Men movies have kept trucking, which has led to some dubious continuity issues. However, it has also forced filmmakers and executives at 20th Century Fox—particularly, ahem, after the Tom Rothman era at Fox—to consistently reevaluate the mutants until you ended up with what we have today, a semi-shared universe that is currently surviving on risk-taking and diversification, as opposed to hegemony and solidification. While superhero franchises at both Disney and Warner Bros. in recent years have chased the rewards of a “shared universe” multi-franchise Hydra, the X-films have flourished in the last six years by rewarding individuality. Like the mutants they chronicle, it is their differences that become cause for celebration.

    The reason Fox has gone this direction is multi-faceted. In part, Fox’s fleeting attempts to replicate the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been stumbling and, much like the course correction Warner Bros. is currently under with its DC Universe films, there has been a pivot toward focusing on individual stories, as opposed to turning them into disposable entries in an ongoing saga. Further, the lack of merchandising rights to the X-Men brand allows the studio to take risks in the actual filmmaking, as opposed to always focusing on the four-quadrant appeal of its brand.

    Consequently, I would argue three of the last four X-Men-related movies have had more personality than most of the modern superhero slugfests. This is best crystallized in Logan, a film that is unafraid to take its time with its exploration of the weight of comic book-mythmaking on flesh and blood humans. In addition to its gore and swearing, there is a measured patience in its gait, and it’s as deconstructive of the superhero genre as the best revisionist Westerns of the 1970s.

    James Mangold took major risks by genuinely departing from what is considered to be the “superhero movie,” as opposed to merely suggesting in the press that because Robert Redford is in a movie, it should qualify as an espionage thriller. Mangold is poised to push his deconstructionist impulses that value character and acting even farther in his currently developing X-23 spinoff. Meanwhile, Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool is as different from Logan as Animal House was from McCabe and Mrs. Miller. A raunchy, fourth-wall obliterating comedy, the Merc with a Mouth also deconstructed the clichés other studios toil in with gleeful scorn.

    This level of experimentation is likely to continue with the X-brand, as Noah Hawley pushes artful boundaries on FX’s Legion, and Josh Boone only begins teasing his fascinating “mutant horror movie” concept with New Mutants, which looks like A Nightmare on Elm Street and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest had a super-powered baby.

    As other superhero franchises push closer and closer to a narrative singularity, and even concepts as bleak as an apocalyptic “Ragnarok” are sandblasted into the familiar constraints of a comedic “get the band together” team-up yarn, creative ambition within the genre is hardly anything to throw away. While the main line X-Men movies hit a misstep in last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse, there has still been significant creativity in its predecessors to suggest the brand can endure. X-Men: First Class resembled an actual spy movie, if of the goofy Sean Connery variety, and was a warm up for Matthew Vaughn before taking on Kingsman, while X-Men: Days of Future Past churlishly used mutant superpowers to challenge its heroes with the temptations of drug addiction and political assassination.

    Just as Logan was not afraid to turn its proverbial immigrant song into a subplot that was actually aware and vocal about the increasing scapegoating of foreigners who’ve crossed a border out of desperation, most of the recent X-films have been forced to embrace and constantly reconsider the allegorical appeal of mutants, if only because a franchise this old is compelled to dig deeper past formula.

    So as much as I would enjoy seeing a comic book accurate costumed X-team fight the Avengers, with Gambit calling Captain America “Mon ami,” the tradeoff of storytelling and filmmaking possibilities is too severe. In many ways, the losses of putting the X-Men in the MCU are a microcosm of what is wrong with a potential Disney/Fox merger. As the resources of Hollywood studios consolidate, the chance for competition in the market drastically shrinks. Consumers lose the opportunity of larger diversity, and everything starts looking the same. There cannot be anything more antithetical to Charles Xavier’s dream for a better future than that.


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    We get our first proper superhero team-up as Pride finds another teen to sacrifice.

    This Marvel's Runaways review contains spoilers.

    Marvel's Runaways Season 1, Episode 5

    "Why would our parents do all these horrible things?" Molly asks big sister Gert as they chill in their dinosaur's room. "I guess because they're horrible people," Gert tells her, in one of the best scenes of this week's episode of Marvel's Runaways, and an example of why this show is worth watching: it's not afraid to call the bad guys what they are. There are no anti-hero redemption arcs here. 

    It's actually pretty refreshingly subversive for these kids to declare their parents horrible people so readily and without qualification. Alex, Nico, Karolina, Gert, Molly, and Chase might not know what to do with their newfound knowledge — which, fair enough — but that doesn't mean they aren't seriously judging their parents right now. It doesn't mean they're not going to try to take action against them to protect those who don't have supervillain parents to keep them safe.

    This leads to Runaways' first real superhero team-up moment, which makes up for its lacks of kineticism with the exhilarating rawness of the moment. When Nico, Chase, Karolina, Gert, and Molly race to save Alex from the clutches of Darius, they have basically no plan. Not only that—they either have never used their powers, or have only used them once or twice, in far lower-stake situations. If Nico's Staff hadn't worked, these kids would be dead right now, and that's scary.

    The team-up also works well because it centers motivation before power. Sure, it's foolhardy that these kids run head-first into danger (without even properly checkin their blindspots, no less!), but it's also admirable that their motivation to help is there before their powers are—a nice reverse from what is usually the progression in on-screen superhero stories. 

    It's telling that, even after they've saved their own, Alex, they ultimately decide to try to save Andre, too. This isn't just about saving your loved ones; it's about saving those who don't have the same privileges as you—when it comes to superpowers, but also when it comes to real-life privilege, too. As we learned from the flashbacks to Geoffrey and Darius' time in jail, Alex could have easily been born into a life with far less economic privilege, if not for the intervention of the mysterious Jonah and the sacrifice of Darius. Alex sees that, too.

    While the kidnapping of Alex is specifically related to Geoffrey's choices, it's still a result of Pride, in some way. Without the opportunity for power that Jonah offered Geoffrey, Geoffrey never would have turned on Darius, leading Alex to this specific danger, leading Alex to shoot Andre himself in order to keep his father safe. It may not all be teen sacrifices that the Runaways are trying to stop, but that doesn't mean it doesn't all lead back to Pride in some way.

    At this point, the only teen character who is hesitant to see his parent for what he is is Chase, whose father, Victor, is only just starting to pay attention to him after years of abuse and neglect. The taste of affection has Chase wondering if their relationship could be different and, perhaps, if his father might not be the villain all signs seem to point to. It's an especially tragic storyline because, unlike someone like Gert or even Karolina, Chase has more personal reasons for believing his parent is probably not a good person—even before he saw him sacrificing teenagers.

    Of course, as we learn in a big reveal scene, Victor's change-of-heart and behavior when it comes to his son has to do with the terminal tumor currently growing in his brain. This makes Victor even more unpredictable. To what lengths will he go to a) save himself and/or b) ensure his legacy? Here, we see Victor desperately working to develop a machine that can see into the future. It's a hokey plot device that doesn't quite gel with the grounded tone this show is going for, but the image of a crumbling Los Angeles that Victor and Chase manage not to see is pretty darn eerie, nonetheless. The stakes on this show just went way up.

    Additional thoughts...

    Why didn't Geoffrey just help Nana B. out? It doesn't seem like he's hurting for the cash, and helping Darius and his family seems like a much easier route than screwing over his childhood best friend, who also happens to be handy with a gun. It's not enough to paint these parents as bad people; we need to understand why they do the things they do. Bad people have internal logic, too.

    Alex not being surprised at all by Darius' revelations that his father is a bad person was a pretty great moment.

    Will there be any long-lasting effects to Alex shooting Andre? Superhero shows, and TV shows in general, often gloss over the trauma of inflicting violence on others, but Runaways seems like the kind of show that might lean into the effects of something horrifying like this.

    Too bad Old Lace couldn't come to the superhero team-up. Oh, well. Next time.

    Karolina and Nico totally have a romantic moment (at least it's a romantic moment for Karolina), but Nico kisses Alex. Does Nico have feelings for Karolina, too? Does she have feelings for Alex? I like how slow-burn these romances are. I also feel for Karolina, who destroys her room in an uncharacteristic, but no doubt necessary moment of fury.

    While Leslie is making out with Jonah, her husband Frank is failing his church level-up ceremony. Was this always Leslie's plan or did she intend to sacrifice Frank before Pride secured Andre as a sacrifice instead? Whatever the answers to these question, one thing is sure: Frank is hilariously out-of-the-loop about what's actually going on in this show. Poor guy.

    Nico's mom is nice to her for the first time in the history of the show. Is she onto these kids or what? Run, Nico. Run.

    It seems like Jonah is Karolina's biological father, which would explain why she should glow. When he comes out of his cocoon or whatever, he tells Leslie that he wants to see her, which presumably means Karolina. Does this mean he's been gestating for the last 15 years? Or was he off doing something else between the time he visited Geoffrey in jail and now?

    3/5
    ReviewKayti Burt
    Dec 5, 2017

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    Patrick Macmanus, showrunner of Syfy’s Happy!, will develop a TV series based on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

    News Joseph Baxter
    Dec 6, 2017

    It appears that a long-overdue live-action adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic time-bending 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, is about to happen, the first since director George Roy Hill’s 1972 movie. However, it will take shape this time as a television series for Universal Cable Productions, whose purview notably includes USA, Syfy and Bravo.

    According to Variety, the studio’s effort to bring Vonnegut’s novel to the peak television arena will involve the appointment of a talent already under the NBCUniversal umbrella in Patrick Macmanus, showrunner of Syfy’s imminently-premiering series, Happy!, which adapts the similarly-surreal Grant Morrison-created comic book of the same name. Macmanus has signed an overall deal for Slaughterhouse-Five that will see him write and executive produce the TV adaptation. He will be joined by a gaggle of executive producers in the nigh-ubiquitous Gale Anne Hurd (via Valhalla Entertainment), along with Ensemble Entertainment’s Jon Brown, and Brand Y Media’s Bradley Yonover.

    Elise Henderson, senior vice president of development for UCP, claims that the project was on the studio’s radar for “many years” as they waited for the rights to be freed up. She explains:

    “As soon as they did, we jumped in. At that point, we needed a writer, and we had just been introduced to Patrick for Happy!. Having read his material, we knew that he has the ability to do the emotional character depth that we need but also the ability to figure out a complex story and how to crack it, and capture the humor and the tone.”

    Slaughterhouse-Five centers on the experiences of Billy Pilgrim. A prototype for the “unreliable narrator” trope that USA’s Mr. Robot embraces, Billy finds himself lost in time, living out things that unfold in a non-linear fashion, such as his experiences during World War II as an Army chaplain’s assistant and eventual prisoner in Germany, where he survives the Allies’ firebombing of Dresden (since, ironically enough, war prisoners were safely stowed in the basement). Elements of Billy’s post-war life also come into focus, consisting of marriage, children and, in a radical thematic departure, abduction by aliens, during which he is kept in a dome menagerie, forced to mate with a missing movie star. The novel, which also implies ambiguity over the veracity of Billy’s experiences, has long been fodder for scholarly analysis.

    Indeed, showrunner Macmanus (formerly of Netflix’s Marco Polo,) implies his intention to delve deep, stating:

    “There are no lines that Vonnegut ever throws away. But there are certain lines within the book that allude to a much larger world. I’m not just talking about going off into outer space. He alludes to the Balkanization of the United States and to the hydrogen bombing of the United States. I feel like today’s TV is the only way to tell this story. Even though it’s only approximately 275 pages, I think that it’s ripe to be expanded upon exponentially.”

    For now, the work that Macmanus has done with Syfy’s Happy! will have to serve as a preview of sorts for Slaughterhouse-Five, with the Christopher Meloni-starring series set to premiere on December 6 (tonight!) at 10 p.m. EST.


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    Fox, the same studio that brought The Fault in Our Stars to the screen, has bought the movie rights to Green's new novel.

    News Kayti Burt
    Dec 6, 2017

    John Green's latest book, Turtles All the Way Down, is getting a movie! Or, at least a movie development deal...

    The YouTube vlogger and novelist, who also wrote The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, made the announcement via his YouTube channel (you can see the video at the bottom of the page). Fox has bought the movie rights to Turtles All the Way Down, a novel about a 16-year-old girl who lives with obsessive compulsive disorder and who embarks on solving the mystery of a missing billionaire. 

    As Green highlights in his video, Fox is the same studio and production company that made the successful film adaptations of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. Green also spoke about the enormous responsibility of making a decision on whether or not the book, which already means so much to so many, could or should be made into a film.

    "For the last two months, we've been talking about it: is there a way to tell this story visually without relying on the old tropes that are usually associated with portrayals of OCD?" asks Green, who lives with obsessive compulsive disorder himself, and who has opened up about his experiences via his YouTube channel.

    Ultimately, Green believes the answer to that question is yes, with the author saying: "I'm really excited for the opportunity and also the challenge of the Turtles All the Way Down movie, and I hope you're excited, too."


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    For many, the true magic of the Potterverse lies not in its prose, but in the model of internet fandom it helped nurture.

    FeatureKayti Burt
    Dec 6, 2017

    In this second era of Harry Potter content, it can be hard to forget a time before the boy wizard and his magical world ruled the internet.

    Harry Potter and the internet are so inextricably intertwined. Star Trek fandom may have written many of the rules of modern slash fanfiction. The X-Files fandom gave us the term "shipping." But it was the Harry Potter fandom that defined much of the community-based internet fandom culture we know and (mostly) love today.

    As Harry Potter fandom continues to struggle, shape, and define how we engage with the most popular stories in the world, and with the other people who love them, let's take a look back at th fandom that helped shaped how we use the internet today...

    (Image above via Dorkly.)

    Harry Potter and The Birth of the Internet

    The first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, was published in 1998 in the U.S., somewhere in the middle of the process that saw the internet graduating from a resource used mostly at universities and by privileged uber-nerds to mainstream use. By mid-1999, the internet was in a third of U.S. households. By 2001, it had reached the 50 percent mark.  

    Where was Harry Potter fandom in 2001? It was the year the first Harry Potter film was released. It was also one year into the so-called "Three-Year Summer," the longest stretch between the publishing of any two Harry Potter books (after The Goblet of Fire and before The Order of the Phoenix.)

    The Three-Year Summer is known within Harry Potter fandom as a period of intense creation, discussion, and collaboration. It was when the Potterverse really came into its own, and it was perfectly aligned with the spread of internet technology across the U.S.

    So was Harry Potter just in the right place at the right time? Definitely, but that doesn't negate the strength of J.K. Rowling's characters, plot structure, and world-building. It also doesn't negate the serialized nature of the Harry Potter story, a feature that Francesca Coppa argues made Harry Potter perfect fodder for fandom. In The Fanfiction Studies Reader, Coppa writes:

    Harry Potter comes to us as the embodied protagonist of a series of stories that retell Harry's adventures during a series of school years ... The ongoing series of novels was then made into an ongoing series of films. In all these ways, the Harry Potter books resist the status of 'finished literary text' made up of particular words in a particular order, and instead construct themselves as the open-ended inspiration for future performative supplements that will allow its audience to reconstitute itself on a regular basis.

    The stage was set.

    Harry Potter and The Fanfiction

    Fanfiction has always been a thing. From The Great Game to Wide Sargasso Sea to Spockanalia, fans have long been inspired to become creators in the fictional worlds they love. Fandom as we now know it today, however, is a more modern development. It has become much easier to create a community around fannish excitements since the development of mass media and, even more recently, the internet. 

    As we've already established, Harry Potter came around at a time when modern fandom was given its first chance to be. A huge part of this fannish revolution was in the writing, reading, and sharing of fanfiction. Websites like Fanfiction.net, FictionAlley, and LiveJournal gave Harry Potter fanfiction writers and readers a place to gather with like-minded fans, to find other people who enjoyed nerding out about and becoming creators within the world of their favorite story in a way that, previously, might have made you an outsider. The internet created accessible community in a way like never before. This was the first step toward mainstreaming fannish activities and behavior. 

    On September 4th, 1999, the first Harry Potter fanfiction story was uploaded onto Fanfiction.net. That same month, the Harry Potter for GrownUps mailing list is started. The following month, in October 1999, MuggleNet launches. Both were sites where fanfiction was shared and welcomed, though that was far from their only purpose. August 2000 saw Cassandra Clare (who would go on to write the wildly popular YA series The Mortal Instruments, source material for current Freeform TV series Shadowhunters) publish the first chapter of "The Draco Trilogy." The series would continue to be updated over the next six years and included almost one million words spanning three, novel-length stories. 

    For many young fans, fanfiction was (and is) more than a way of engaging in their favorite story; it is a way of better understanding the world and their own identities. It is a way of breaking outside the narrow boundaries of most canon culture and normalizing something other than the straight, white, male, financially-secure experience that dominates stories with corporate backing. Fanfiction is a way of saying: whoever you are, that's OK.

    It's not a secret that much of the fanfiction (though definitely not all) involves queer pairings. Slash fanfiction is the name for fanfiction written about two same-sex characters in a romantic and/or sexual pairing. The term "slash" refers to the "/" between the two characters in question and comes out of Star Trek fandom, specifically the Kirk/Spock relationship. 

    Jameson writes about the influence of megafandoms like Harry Potter and Twilight on the sexual education of younger generations in her book Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World, saying:

    Harry Potter slash helped shape and challenge attitudes toward sexual diversity among the generation that grew up reading it and arguing about it (a lot) online ... Where previous generations may have looked to parental porn stashes and the pages of Cosmopolitan, today's teens increasingly find such information in fanfiction.

    They write it in fanfiction — and in some version or another, they always have. They used to write it in notebooks, and now they write it and share it online. Like it or not, this has become normal and public, a part of growing up for millions. If Twilightand Harry Potter have taught us anything, it's that authorial intent has nothing to do with the afterlives of characters.

    The representation of queer characters has come a long way in the last 15 years, and I think it's fair to credit some of that progression to the mainstreaming of a fandom culture that has long been more comfortable with focusing on queer relationships.

    Intellectual property attorney, FictionAlley co-founder, and fanfiction writer Heidi Tandy writes about the early days of Harry Potter fandom in Fic, saying:

    A decade ago, I was slammed as immoral for letting teenagers discuss whether gay wizards even existed; in 2007, J.K. Rowling told us they did. Kids who were thirteen in 1999 and 2002 and 2004 are in their twenties now, and those who were college students then have kids of their own. If you told them that it was immoral to let thirteen-year-olds read YA stories about gay teenage wizards, they would probably laugh and tell you it'd be immoral to ban them from reading those stories. Or anything else.

    Today, readers don't only have fanfiction for gay teen wizard stories. In 2015, Rainbow Rowell published Fangirl, a young adult novel about a college-aged girl and fanfiction writer. Her follow-up novel, Carry On, focuses on the Harry Potter-like characters first introduced as fanfiction characters in Fangirl. (Yes, Simon and Baz are teen wizards. And, yes, they fall in love.) 

    Carry On might not actually be fanfiction, but it does use many of fanfiction's most beloved tropes and serves similar functions, challenging, expanding, and dismantling many of the narrative constructs utilized in Harry Potter canon, most especially the "Chosen One" trope. 

    The story prioritizes interiority and emotionality, in a way that is much more common in fanfiction than it is in canon fiction, as Elizabeth Minkel explains in her Medium article "Harry Potter and the Sanctioned Follow-Up Work (or, Fanfiction vs. the Patriarchy)." 

    The privileging of character, of emotionality, of interiority, is par for the course in female-dominated transformative fandom, and pretty rare in the largely male-authored source works that rule the fan world, especially big-budget blockbuster franchises. It's at the heart of the shipping clashes between creators and fans, when creators throw up their hands and say "stop making this about romance and/or sex!!" Creators are making plot-oriented worlds first, then thinking about what the characters will do; female-dominated fandom is thinking about who the characters are, and in a given situation, what they feel. 

    Notably, an interest in interiority and emotionality are common traits in contemporary young adult fiction. One could make the argument that YA fiction partially gets this trait from the fanfiction tradition that many of its writers (and many of its readers) hail from.

    Harry Potter and The Powers That Be

    We've written a bit on Den of Geek about the ongoing tensions between sanctioned creaters and fandom. With the rise of social media, conversations between The Powers That Be and fandom are easier than ever. This means that it's easier than ever to give creators praise for and ask questions about the stories they've created, but it's also easier than ever to critique content directly to its creators, corporate backers, and rights-holders. Though this might seem like a more modern phenomenon, it has its foundations in the earliest years of internet fandom.

    When Harry Potter fandom first began, the legal definitions of "fair use" and "transformative works" had not been tested in this new pioneer of internet fandom. They would be. In 2000, Warner Bros. bought the merchandising rights to all things Harry Potter, aside from the books themselves. They began sending out cease-and-desist letters that were, in the words of Tandy, "Umbridge-esque threatening letters to teens around the world, insisting they hand over domain names that included terms from the Harry Potter series." 

    Tandy elaborates:

    What I, as a newcomer to online fandom, didn't know at the time was that a few fans who'd come to HP from other fandoms thought that the only proper response, if The Powers That Be asked you anything, was to shut down your site, pull down your fics and your discussions, and go away— maybe even change your online name, which definitely had no link to your real-world self. But how could you be a fan of a book that was premised on standing up to evil and saying no to overreaching by The Authorities, and just do that?

    Henry Jenkins writes about this period of fandom history, known as The Potter War, in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Jenkins tells the story of how Heather Lawver, the then-teenage fan who ran the website The Daily Prophet, launched the Defense Against the Dark Arts campaign, coordinating media outreach and activism against the studio with other Harry Potter fans and site-runners across the world. Lawver told Jenkins:

    Warner was very clever about who they attacked ... They attacked a whole bunch of kids in Poland. How much of a risk is that? They went after the 12 and 15 year olds with the rinky-dink sites. They underestimated how interconnected our fandom was. They underestimated the fact that we knew those kids in Poland and we knew the rinky dink sites and we cared about them.

    Warner Bros. wasn't prepared for the Harry Potter fandom to be so well-organized, or perhaps to be a community at all. Unlike fandom before the rise of the internet, these groups of fans could communicate and coordinate like never before.

    Fandom crossed boundaries of age, nation, language, and culture to push back against Warner Bros.'s campaign to keep this fictional universe firmly in the hands of The Powers That Be. And it worked. Diane Nelson, Warner Bros. Family Entertainment's senior vice president at the time, told Jenkins:

    We didn't know what we had on our hands early on in dealing with Harry Potter. We did what we would normally do in the protection of our intellectual property. as soon as we realized we were causing consternation to children or their parents, we stopped it ... [Now,] we are trying to balance the needs of other creative stakeholders, as well as the fans, as well as our own legal obligations, all within an arena which is new and changing and there are not clear precedents about how things should be interpreted or how they would be acted upon if they ever reached the courts.

    The reaction from internet fandoms of the time, including the ever-growing Harry Potter online fandom, shaped the rules for the current relationship between The Powers That Be and The Fans. If those Harry Potter fans had been less organized, who knows what the internet would look like today?

    Harry Potter and The Conclusion

    Books could be (and have been) written about the expansive Harry Potter fandom. From wizard rock to the Harry Potter Alliance to LeakyCon, the Harry Potter fandom is no one thing. It is massive and diverse. Fans participate for different reasons and in different ways and that makes it hard to come to any sweeping conclusions about its nature, purpose, or growth. However, it does seem safe to note its vital importance as one of the first major internet fandoms. A fandom that developed along with the internet and, in some small part, helped shape what it would become.

    For many, Harry Potter fandom is just as if not more powerful than Harry Potter canon itself. Any why wouldn't it be? Fandom involves millions of creators rather than just one. Of course it is richer than the book, stage play, and prequel movies that, by the broadest definition, include thousands of creators.

    Fandom is a conversation. Canon is a lecture — often times, an articulate one, but one-sided nonetheless. Or, if you'd prefer, the statement that starts the larger cultural discussion that, through fandom, more people than ever before are able to participate in.

    As Alanna Bennett touches on in her recent Buzzfeedpiece "The Harry Potter Fandom Is At A Crossroads," the current angst in the Harry Potter community is as much about seeing canon fall short of the infinity of fandom as it is about the lackluster quality of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. 

    "The Potter fandom has crafted a legacy of engagement and creativity that the series’ modern canonical efforts are struggling to live up to. For so many fans ... it can be hard to get hype about Cursed Child when they recognize in it so many of the tropes they explored themselves a decade ago — in content they created and championed."

    An entire generation of fans is being asked to reevaluate the presumed value of canon vs. fandom and coming up with an answer The Powers That Be might not like. The Harry Potter book series is often credited with getting an entire generation of kids to read, but, perhaps even more importantly, it gave an entire generation of nerds community-based fandom.

    In turn, Harry Potter fandom gave us (with the rise of the internet) the mainstreaming of nerd culture. It taught an entire generation of nerds that they are not alone and that they don't have to wait for The Powers That Be to write people who look, act, and feel like them into the stories they love. They can do it themselves.

    There is a nostalgia for these early days of Harry Potter fandom as much as there is a nostalgia for the Harry Potter books themselves, but I'm not sure how many people would want to go back to a time when fans' rights to act as creators in the stories that act as our modern myths were so uncertain. Not when, now, this community-based form of loving, challenging, and expanding the stories that make up our popular culture has become so normal.

    Harry Potter canon might be aging into something less relevant and more problematic than its earlier incarnations, but the modern fandom it helped create is more important than ever.


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    Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows is the next Black Hammer spinoff from Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston & and Max Fiumara!

    News Jim Dandy
    Dec 7, 2017

    The world of Black Hammer, the Eisner-award winning comic that made our Best Comics of 2016 list, just keeps getting bigger. The first volume of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston's tale wrapped to much critical buzz, and it was followed by the great Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil. And now, Den of Geek has an exclusive first look at the next series in the Black Hammer universe: Doctor Star and the Kingdom of LostTomorrows

    Doctor Star is a dual-narrative story that chronicles the legacy of the Golden-Age superhero Doctor Star. An aged crime fighter desperately wants to reconnect with his estranged son, who he hoped would one day take the mantle of Doctor Star. Over the course of the story we learn his World War II-era origin, how he got his powers, his exciting astral adventures, the formation of some of Black Hammer’s greatest heroes, and more in this heartbreaking superhero tale about fathers and sons. 

    The first issue (of four) of Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows goes on sale March 07, 2018 and will be available for preorder at your local comic shop on December 20, 2017. 

    Check out the cover for the first issue:

    "[Dean and I are] very excited to continue to expand the Black Hammer universe with Doctor Star with Max Fiumara as the artist," said Lemire. "This new series examines a difficult relationship between a father and son, which I think many people will relate to."

    Black Hammer is about a team of champions from Spiral City, trapped in an inescapable idyllic farm village after defeating a multiversal crisis. The world is a beautiful pastiche that only someone like Lemire can pull off - bonkers Silver Age concepts, like a ghost trapped in a robot body named Mectoplasm, married to Lemire's deeply emotional plots. Joining him on art have been Ormston, whose style is so much like Lemire's own that it took a while to realize they were separate people; David Rubin on Sherlock Frankenstein, who is a credible Paul Pope replacement on Battling Boy and the art behind a beloved Beowulf adaptation; and Max Fiumara on Doctor Star, who has been working most recently on Abe Sapien, and is someone Mike Mignola chose to work on his stories. That's quite the crew.

    Dark Horse sent over some character work by Fiumara, as well as a variant cover from Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire. More variants are promised from industry heavy hitters like Dustin Nguyen, Annie Wu, and JG Jones. Have a look!


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    The Harry Potter author & Fantastic Beasts screenwriter has broken her silence about the casting of Johnny Depp.

    News Kayti Burt
    Dec 7, 2017

    For many Harry Potter fans, the world of the boy wizard represents a safe space, a place where people stand up against injustice and call out abuses of power. This is why the casting of Johnny Depp, an alleged domestic abuser, as Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, has upset so many.

    Rowling's previous lack of response to the concerns, which first surfaced following Depp's surprise cameo in the first Fantastic Beasts film, as well as her policy of blocking Twitter users who asked her about it via the social media platform, has been unacceptable to many Harry Potter fans.

    As promotional material for the Fantastic Beasts sequel — the supremely awkwardly subtitled The Crimes of Grindelwald — has begun to be released, Rowling has broken her silence on the issue. The Harry Potter author and screenwriter of the Fantastic Beasts films released a short statement via her own website on the subject of Depp's casting or lack of recasting following ex-wife Amber Heard's accusations of Depp's physically and emotionally-abusive behavior.

    While Rowling said "around the time of filming his cameo in the first movie, stories [about Depp] had appeared in the press that deeply concerned me and everyone most closely involved in the franchise" and "I understand why some have been confused and angry about why that didn’t happen," she ultimately defended the casting of Depp.

    Rowling implies that she is not able to talk about the issue as honestly as she might want to, saying:

    For me personally, the inability to speak openly to fans about this issue has been difficult, frustrating and at times painful. However, the agreements that have been put in place to protect the privacy of two people, both of whom have expressed a desire to get on with their lives, must be respected. Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.

    Previously, Fantastic Beasts director David Yates also defended Depp's casting in an interview with EW, saying:

    Honestly, there's an issue at the moment where there's a lot of people being accused of things, they're being accused by multiple victims, and it's compelling and frightening. With Johnny, it seems to me there was one person who took a pop at him and claimed something. I can only tell you about the man I see every day: He's full of decency and kindness, and that’s all I see. Whatever accusation was out there doesn't tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.

    There are some dangerous patterns at play in both Yates and Rowling's responses: calling into question Heard's claims of abuse, using examples of healthy relationships in Depp's life to defend accusations of his abusive behavior, and just generally placing the career of a male abuser over the safety and mental health of a female survivor.

    J.K. Rowling is a politically-progressive creator known for writing a story about what happens when those in power abuse it or don't use it to stand up for those of us who are most vunerable. Viewed through this lens, Rowling's response here is incredibly disappointing, at least to this Harry Potter fan.


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    How did Batman II, the sequel to one of the most successful summer movies of all time, turn into the anti-Christmas Batman Returns?

    Feature David Crow
    Dec 7, 2017

    Who broods more than Batman? That is at least the point of view filmmakers took with Batman Returns, a Tim Burton art-piece masquerading as blockbuster entertainment. The bleakest and kinkiest superhero movie ever made, Batman Returns takes the first line of the original Sam Hamm screenplay to heart: “It’s finally happened; Hell’s frozen over.” Decorating his urban decay with shiny Yuletide wrapping, Burton and his collaborators crafted the most artful cape and cowl picture—a German Expressionist painting so cynical about the holidays, abhorrent commercialism, and the supposed goodwill of man that Ebenezer Scrooge might even cringe.

    How this definitively anti-Christmas movie got made on a staggering $80 million budget and then slapped on the back of McDonald’s Happy Meals is almost as fascinating as the skintight vinyl of the movie itself.

    Following up on the financial rewards of 1989’s Batman was a no-brainer in the immediate aftermath of its world domination. The highest grossing movie all time upon its release, the Caped Crusader took in an unheard of $400 million worldwide and toppled the summer’s other heavy hitters, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II. But more impressively, the Dark Knight reached pop culture icon status in a way never before seen when his simple gold-and-black logo became ubiquitous on every T-shirt, trading card, and toy store window. It was inescapable for everyone… except for perhaps a slightly nauseous Tim Burton and Michael Keaton.

    Whereas studio executives and even screenwriter Hamm were clamoring at the idea of “Batman II,” Burton famously called a continuation of the film in 1989 a “dumbfounded idea.” Consider that while Batman was nigh universally loved during the heights of Batmania, Burton described the film to Empire magazine in 1992 as “a little boring at times.”

    Watch Batman Returns on Amazon

    Keaton held out for a significant pay raise, but Burton wanted the discretion of choosing a screenplay and story different than what came before—a decision that would drastically change the direction of the picture and perhaps the entire franchise.

    Batman II

    In the months before Batman’s phenomenal success, screenwriter Sam Hamm hinted to Comics Scene that he really wanted to use Two-Face and explore how heroic DA Harvey Dent (played by the unflappably charismatic Billy Dee Williams in the 1989 film) became the tragically deranged Two-Face. However, Warner Bros. and Burton had other ideas.

    Likely based off the popularity of Burgess Meredith’s foul performance in the 1966 Batman TV series, WB insisted that Penguin be the big bad of Batman II. Further, both Hamm and Burton had a thing for Catwoman. 

    “They really wanted the Penguin,” Hamm explained in the 2005 documentary Shadows of the Bat. “Because they sort of saw the Penguin as the number two Batman villain. We wanted to do Catwoman, so we wound up doing Penguin and Catwoman.”

    The result was two drafts Hamm turned in for Batman II, which would have made a very different present than what we finally unwrapped in 1992. Literally continuing from the first line of his 1988 Batman screenplay (which began by describing Gotham as “hell has erupted through the sidewalks”), Hamm’s treatment was a direct follow-up to the 1989 film.

    While it was certainly Hamm’s conceit to set the Batman sequel in the doldrums of Holiday Cheer, the blanket of snow and Christmas wreaths were more a decorative ornamentation around St. Batman, and the story feels like a direct expansion of what came before: Bruce Wayne is still dating Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale and is even engaged to her by the end, and he is fighting criminals of the same cartoon-noir decadence as Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Sure, one bad guy is dressed like a dastardly Santa Claus, but instead of having a comical toy gag like the Penguin’s umbrellas in the final film, evil Santa is sporting an AK-47 and mowing down police officers with the kind of stylized grittiness associated with the first Batman picture.

    Batman II might have been an interesting film since it would have carried over many more of the elements from the 1989 experience that people loved. The villains were psychotic and violent, but they were not freaks in that patented Tim Burton way. The Penguin is a small time criminal with a penchant for birds—which he often uses as weapons with Hitchcock-inspired attack pigeons—and Selina Kyle is the highly sexualized vamp that she’s usually portrayed as in the comics, albeit turned up to 11. Her costume is described as literal “bondage” gear, and she has no qualms about massacring large groups of men with assault rifles or her own claws.

    However, Batman II further attempted to ground the title character back in his comic book roots. Bruce Wayne (and even Vicki Vale) is far more the protagonist than he ended up being in the finished film, and one who has developed a strict “no kill” policy. The story is also haphazardly about Bruce Wayne trying to protect the homeless, who are about to get Giuliani’d in Gotham’s Central Park equivalent. He’s also uncovering the secret history of the Waynes.

    This leads to the rather lackluster main plotline about Penguin and Catwoman murdering the wealthiest men in Gotham (and framing the Batman while doing it) in an attempt to collect secret “Raven” statues, which ultimately leads to a Christmas Eve Agatha Christie-esque visit to Wayne Manor in the bizarre hope of finding buried treasure hidden (unbeknownst to Bruce) in the Batcave. Oh, and it also introduces Robin as a 12-year-old homeless orphan kid that knows martial arts.

    Obviously a busy take on the character, these early drafts needed plenty of work. Still, they maintained the old Hollywood feel of the previous movie. If Batman drew liberally from wiseguy gangster dramas, Batman II appeared to be pulling from The Maltese Falcon except with Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor doing the public service of bumping off the most corruptible of one percenters.

    Burton was severely disappointed in this approach and wouldn’t sign the dotted line. Not until WB promised, in Hamm’s words, to let Tim make a “Tim Burton movie,” as opposed to a Batman sequel.

    “A Tim Burton Movie”

    What finally brought Tim Burton onboard for the sequel was the free rein that he and his handpicked new screenwriter, Daniel Waters, received for their vision. Burton had been a fan of Waters’ work on the ultimate dark teen comedy, Heathers (think Mean Girls except actually mean). As a result Burton and Waters had a level of latitude relatively unprecedented before or since with superhero movies.

    “Tim and I never had a conversation about ‘what are fans of the comic books going to think?’” Waters said in the Shadows of the Bat documentary. “We never thought about them. We were really just about the art.”

    As a result, and with Keaton’s insistence (who deleted much of Batman’s dialogue by choice in the scripting process), the focus bounced back from Batman to the villains, who changed dramatically in the script. As Burton himself expressed, he never really got the appeal of his main villain in the comics. “You could find the psychological profile of Batman, Catwoman, Joker, but the Penguin was just this guy with a cigarette and a top hat. What is he?!” Burton mused in 2005.

    The result was Waters and Burton agreeing to turn the Penguin into a tragic figure every bit as freakish as the Batman. Indeed, Oswald Cobblepot became a repulsive mirror for our hero, a child of wealth who lost his parents when he was abandoned in the sewers on Christmas Eve like a freak show version of Moses.

    Also, as Burton admitted to Empire in 1992, Waters brought a political and social satire element to the plot by taking from the Batman TV series and having this repellent oddity run for Mayor of Gotham in a recall election (think episodes “Hizzoner The Penguin” and “Dizzoner The Penguin”). This was only made possible by the smiling machinations of Gotham industrialist Max Shreck, a Waters invention. “I wanted to show that true villains of our world don’t necessarily wear costumes,” Waters said to Empire.

    However, his most unique change was his metamorphosis of Selina Kyle from street-wise femme fatale to the ultimate 1990s feminist allegory. “Sam Hamm went back to the way comic books in general treat women,” Waters told Film Review in 2008. “Like fetishy sexual fantasy. I wanted to start off just at the lowest point in society, a very beaten down secretary.” While the ripped costume stitches came from Burton, Waters imagined Catwoman being a psychological (and sexual) fable about the feminine. It was a change Waters half-joked in 2005 that he was ready to “lose the job” over.

    Other changes included distancing itself from Batman II’sstrict “no kill” policy subplot. Instead, Batman liberally murders many, many people in Batman Returns. “A lot of people complained that our Batman actually killed people,” Waters said in a 2005 Batman Returns special feature. “Some purists would say, ‘Batman would never kill people!’ But I would always say, ‘We don’t live in the time where you can drop criminals off with a net on the front of City Hall.’ The times are darker, so you have to make your character darker.”

    Waters ultimately wrote five drafts, which changed aspects drastically. Max Shreck was initially Billy Dee Williams’ Harvey Dent (Catwoman’s electro-kiss at the end of Batman Returns would have left him with the scar and split personality), and in a later draft, Shreck became the Penguin’s long lost brother, a secret Cobblepot (a layer that had to be removed from an overstuffed script). Even Robin made an appearance. However, as Waters later described Robin as “the most worthless character in the world,” his and Burton’s attempt was half-hearted at best: Robin was a fully-grown Batmobile mechanic with a faded “R” on his jump suit uniform. Marlon Wayans was even cast in the role and an action figure was made until the character’s last-minute excision from the screenplay. Wayans still gets residual checks for his two-picture Robin deal (Joel Schumacher later opted to recast Robin with white actor Chris O’Donnell for Batman Forever).

    Christmastime in Hell

    The actual production of Batman Returns went relatively well after more pre-production nightmares. Danny DeVito was the first and only choice to play the Penguin, a role that Waters admitted he wrote for with DeVito in mind, but the casting of Catwoman was an ordeal unto itself. Despite casting Annette Bening in the role, even Burton and company couldn't anticipate how strange the role's importance would become. After Bening had to drop out at the last minute due to pregnancy, many, many actresses campaigned for the part through traditional channels—including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Madonna, Bridget Fonda, and Cher—but they all paled in comparison to Sean Young, the actress who played Vicki Vale for several days until a horse riding injury caused her to be replaced on the original Batman production.

    Convinced that as a result she should have been given the female lead in Batman Returns, Young appeared unannounced on the Warner Bros. lot in a homemade Catwoman costume with the intent of making an on-the-spot audition for Burton. The director reportedly hid under his desk from what he later described as a “UFO sighting,” but producer Mark Canton recalled the event vividly for Shadows of the Bat.

    “Michael Keaton and I saw Sean Young dressed as Catwoman leap over my sofa and say, ‘I am Catwoman!’ We looked over at each other and went, ‘Woah.’”

    Burton wisely went on to finally cast Michelle Pfeiffer in one of her most iconic roles.

    Burton had similar struggles with WB about the new approach to the film, causing him to abandon the sets and aesthetic of the 1989 film. Tragically, the designer of those Oscar winning sets, Anton Furst, committed suicide in 1991, but WB had left them untouched at Pinewood Studios in the UK for the inevitable sequel. However, Burton was adamant that a new look and approach be designed from the bottom up for Batman Returns, leading to the claustrophobic gothic fantasias created by Bo Welch at WB and Universal’s Californian soundstages.

    “I wanted to use American actors in supporting parts,” Burton told Empire in 1992. “I felt Batman suffered from a British subtext. I loved being over there, but it’s such a different culture that things got filtered. They could have brought somebody else in for the sequel, and had the same sets, and shot in London, but I couldn’t do that because I’d have lost interest. I wanted to treat it like it was another movie altogether—there’s no point in doing the exact same thing again.”

    Indeed, the result was a very, very different movie.

    The Greatest Anti-Christmas Gift of All

    After all the production grappling hooks and fights, it’s still a bizarre wonder to behold: a superhero film in the studio system that purely and unapologetically revokes the mainstream culture it pertains to exist for. In the days of the Marvel Studios assembly line, this is a Christmas miracle.

    Batman Returns is not a Batman movie; it’s a modern psychosexual gothic fairy tale that happens to enjoy some broad similarities with characters that have appeared in DC Comics. In short, it really is a Tim Burton movie, much more so than even the studio could have expected.

    Rather than having a three-act structure of escalating narrative tension, this Batman sequel acts as an intentionally obtuse physical manifestation of its supposed protagonist’s fractured psyche, as well as a denouncement of the culture that birthed Batman and made him a merchandising must-buy item during the heights of Bat-mania—a fact someone may have tried to dull since a self-satirical “Bat-mania” merchandising store that gets smoked by the Penguin’s goons was erased in editing, as seen in the picture below.

    This actual purpose of Burton and Waters’ approach is so overbearing that Wesley Strick was brought aboard to do an uncredited polish of Waters’ final draft. The main reason? WB wanted Penguin to have a master plan, which only added to the nastiness of Burton's reverse Moses. If Waters and Burton had Penguin abandoned by his parents as a baby in a raft on Christmas Eve, Stitch gave us the relatively dippy third act scheme of Penguin trying to lure all of Gotham’s first born children into the sewer and to a deep watery grave. This then gives way to blowing them all up with rocket-sporting penguins.

    But that paradoxically disturbing kitsch did little to undermine the true purpose of the film: all three villains, including Christopher Walken’s scene-stealing and truly evil businessman, Max Shreck, are twisted reflections of the hero.

    Shreck is a populist businessman who makes fools out of Christmas revelers early in the movie by gaining their love with worthless presents tossed into a crowd (not unlike how Joker earned Gothamites’ adulation by throwing away $20 million to the greedy and materialistic masses in Batman). He shares the same public persona that Bruce Wayne mimics, except there is not much beyond his greed. Maybe Bruce Wayne could be every bit as vain and self-interested as his rival billionaire if the death of his parents hadn’t set him on the path of the freak?

    Shreck is also thus the true protagonist of the movie, as his proactive manipulation sets everything in motion. Keaton has the wonderful early moment of sitting near-comatose in his brooding Wayne Manor until the Bat-signal comes on, but Shreck waits for no one else’s time. He’s the reason the Penguin made good on his fiendish fantasies of bedeviling Gotham. Initially, Penguin may have wanted revenge on all the wealthy children that had the life he never enjoyed, but the blubbering freak is also the character that Burton spends the most time with and is by far the most sympathetic towards.

    As seen in an above portrait, drawn by Burton’s own hand, the Penguin’s childhood is imagined to be an unhappy one robbed of the materialism afforded to Bruce Wayne and the far less vengeful Max Shreck. While Wayne used his wealth to become a vigilante, and Shreck uses it to procure more power—as Walken gleefully muses, “There’s no such thing as too much power; if my life has a meaning that’s the meaning”—Penguin just longs to be accepted like an even more grotesque version of the Phantom of the Opera that would not have tween theatergoers swooning at his sorrow.

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    When the Penguin’s monstrous visage is embraced by the fickle masses that literally buy anything Shreck sells them (he owns all the department stores on Christmas), Oswald is contented until Shreck convinces him to run for mayor. This is merely done to obtain more of that aforementioned power from the mindless electorate who sigh for Penguin one day and throw tomatoes at him the next. Oswald Cobblepot is a freak of nature, an oddity as coded by his animal nom de guerre as Batman and Catwoman, but he longs for acceptance. He only begins blowing up storefronts when Shreck eggs him on to create a phony crisis for a recall election, and it’s only when he’s rejected by society that he literally goes Biblical on Gotham.

    The end of the movie is not focused on Batman, because his villains are both the stars and his character arc. As they reach and fail, the empty gestures of the Dark Knight’s pathetic crusade are underlined and unpacked for both the hero and his audience. That is why the climax of the picture is about Selina Kyle’s revenge and the Penguin’s ultimate demise, a death treated with far more tragedy than Bruce Wayne’s pity parties.

    During their final confrontation, the boorish Penguin hisses to Batman, “You’re just jealous because I’m a genuine freak, and you have to wear a mask.” Batman concedes, “You might be right.” Burton and Waters certainly think so.

    But the crowning achievement of Batman Returns is Selina Kyle’s expressionistic arc to the edges of 1990s feminism and beyond.

    Forget comic book changes—for a more panel-accurate Catwoman, see the also excellent and memorable (if intentionally subdued) turn by Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises—Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is one of the all-time great villainesses of film, and is certainly a richer role than any actress has enjoyed in a superhero movie since.

    Pfeiffer plays Selina Kyle as a modern day storybook princess that is decidedly the antithesis of the kind that sell out Disney department stores every December. Selina Kyle begins the picture as a mousy secretary who doesn’t even get a close-up for the first 25 minutes of the movie. Taught be the “good girl” her whole life, Selina lives in a one-bedroom apartment adorned with all the codifying trinkets of eternal girlhood expected of her. Dollhouses; stuffed animals; pink furniture. Yet, strangely, her prince has never come, but she is told via intrusive phone solicitors that if she buys the right perfume that maybe she’ll be able to seduce her boss and get a promotion.

    And as it so happens, Selina’s boss is, of course, Max Shreck. He instigates her transformation when he makes her admit that he is being “mean to someone so meaningless.” This is her plea for mercy before he has his way with her and pushes her out the top floor of a skyscraper. The fall should have killed her and probably did, but in typical Burton fairy tale logic, she is resurrected by cats and she now has nine lives. In the hands of typical studio hacks, this would have been unbearably awful (and it was when WB made a belated cash-in spin-off with 2004’s Catwoman, starring Halle Berry), but in Batman Returns, it serves a purpose for both her tragic arc, as well as Batman’s.

    Selina Kyle becomes the Catwoman and in the process destroys all tokens of her submissive girlishness, taking control of her sexuality with a fetishistic homemade costume. But while Burton plays up the kinkiness of her relationship with Batman by having their foreplay fights devolve into actual cat-licking make-out sessions, Selina is never anything less than victimized or marginalized by men in the story.

    After joining forces with Penguin, he decides to kill her when she won’t go to bed with his flippers. Having a romance with Bruce Wayne during the day leads to him trying to arrest her at night. And with each negative encounter, her costume is further destroyed. A literal representation of the expressionist ideal, Selina can only give order and sanity to her world by making this cat-costume. After each tear and rip, her visually expressed dream crumbles, as does her mental faculties. The influence on this concept is heavily apparent by simply the name of the man who first abused her by pushing her out that window: Max Shreck, which is also the name of the actor who played the vampiric Count Orlock in F.W. Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece, Nosferatu.

    At the end of the picture, the Disney happy ending is achieved. Realizing that Selina Kyle and Catwoman are one in the same, Batman unmasks himself as Bruce Wayne, crystallizing how she (as with Penguin and Shreck) is a doppelganger for his own inner-turmoil. “We’re the same, split right down the center,” Bruce pleads, begging her not to lose her soul by murdering Shreck. She agrees they are the same, but Batman is a hypocrite who lost his own soul long ago when he gave into to his demons and put on this costume; we’ve even seen him kill plenty of times in this very movie. To give into Bruce would be allowing a man to once more make her decisions—to domesticate her for his own ends.

    “Bruce, I would love to live with you in your castle forever, just like a fairy tale,” she deliriously mumbles before scratching him across the face. “I just couldn’t live with myself. So don’t pretend this is a happy ending.”

    Indeed, it is not; it’s a tragedy of operatic proportions, a fact that's heightened by Danny Elfman’s eerily melancholy score. Catwoman rejects finding redemption with Batman and does murder Max Shreck in the sewers. This is the beating heart of Batman Returns; Bruce Wayne loses because he’s only fighting shades of himself. Batman fails to stop Catwoman from following his dark path when she kills Shreck and gets away with it, and he likewise suffers only a pyrrhic victory over the Penguin, as he watches his grotesque reflection die from a self-inflicted fall. The monster is carried off by mournful penguin ushers to his aquatic grave.

    Despite the colorful costumes, the giant rubber duckie Penguin gets around on, and plentiful groan-inducing puns spat out like a horrid open mic night by all the villains, Batman Returns is infinitely darker than Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy. While each of Nolan’s masterful films is far more violent than Batman Returns, and each is littered with more serious downers, even its dreariest entry The Dark Knight concludes somewhat triumphantly. The Batman may only win because of a political conspiracy and cover-up, but he is still the “hero Gotham deserves.”

    There are no heroes in Batman Returns. Tim Burton’s second film ends in complete misery and cynicism on Bruce Wayne desolately alone for Christmas Eve with only Alfred Pennyworth and Selina Kyle’s abandoned cat to keep him company. He failed to save Catwoman and he admitted to the Penguin that he’s jealous of the short man’s natural freakishness. Returning to the noirish undertones of the first Batman film, Burton has a truly noir ending where the hero fails to simply be even that. The materialistic masses of Gotham City go on oblivious to the evil machinations of the owner of their department stores, and Bruce vanishes into the snowy darkness.

    Besides Nolan, no filmmaker has had so much carte blanche in making a superhero movie, nor has one reached the heights of artfulness attmpted by these two filmmakers. There are better superhero movies than Batman Returns (I wouldn't even call it Burton's best Bat-film), but few are as personal, and none are as unforgivably grim… on Christmas.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, we never saw Tim Burton’s Batman 3 (which is an article unto itself), but he still got his own final word on the Caped Crusader. That's probably the greatest gift of all. With goodwill toward men. And women.

    ***This article was originally published on Dec. 16, 2014.


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    Here's a rundown of the best books to give and to get this holiday season!

    Feature Chris CumminsKayti Burt
    Dec 8, 2017

    Once again this year, physical book sales are outpacing those of e-books. This is no surprise as there is still nothing like the tactile feel of having a book actually in your hands. There's something about having an immensely readable tome in your hands that these newfangled Kindles and Nooks and whatever can't replicate. (Also, GET OFF OUR LAWN). And can an e-book reader freak you the hell out by sometimes having a book scorpion -- look it up -- crawl across the screen? Nope! So here's a rundown of the latest and greatest books spanning spectrum of pop culture that you'll want to be giving/getting this year.

    As Commander William Adama once said: "It's a gift. Never lend books." 

    A Field Guide to the Aliens of Star Trek: The Next Generation

    Taking the guise of a school assignment-turned-zine-turned-book, A Field Guide to the Aliens of Star Trek: The Next Generation is both a hilarious skewering of the series' lesser new civilizations and a somewhat disturbing look at the perils of growing up. Allegedly written by a troubled youth named Joshua Chapman who grew up in Dormont, Pennsylvania (though pay close attention to that Edited by Zachary Auburn credit on the cover), this title espouses wisdom on aliens ranging from Acamarians to Zibalians -- taking plenty of time to praise Data and complain about Counselor Troi along the way. However, the nerdery often veers into bizarre tangents about Chapman's negative upbringing and overbearing mother that will make you question everything you are reading and wonder if you should put down the book and pick up a phone to call a social worker. Mindfucks it seems are the true final frontier.

    Buy A Field Guide to the Aliens of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Amazon

    Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Art of Juan Ortiz

    Despite this being the 30th anniversary year of Star Trek: The Next Generation, merchandise marking this milestone has been unexpectedly light. With that in mind, Juan Ortiz's coffee table book tribute to the series is nothing short of a valentine to the crew of the Enterprise-D. Just as he previous did in a book dedicated to the original series, Ortiz has created art commemorating each of Next Gen's 178 episodes. Some of these, like the Twilight Zone-y illustration of "Who Watches the Watchers?" play up the series' sci-fi conceit, while goofball installments like "Qpid" get the irreverent treatment you'd expect. We suppose you could say that this book is, forgive us, quite engaging.

    Buy Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Art of Juan Ortiz on Amazon

    The Princess Bride Deluxe Edition

    As you may have heard, 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of the beloved film adapted from this source material. This means that now's the perfect time to buy this deluxe edition of The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Come for the story of Wesley and Princess Buttercup's undying love. Stay for Michael Manomivibul's gorgeous illustrations.

    Buy The Princess Bride Deluxe Edition on Amazon

    Black, Volume 1

    What if only black people had superpowers? That question is at the heart of the graphic novel Black. Collecting the first six issues of the ongoing title from Black Mask Comics, this effort is a visceral and timely exploration of race relations in America from writer Kwanza Osajyefo. After a young African-American is shot by police and seemingly killed, he rapidly recovers and begins to discover secrets that could further divide a country already divided between white and black. Despite the weighty subject matter, Black remains an entertaining and thought-provoking read throughout this terrifically paced first installment. That's too rare a thing in contemporary comics, and we're lucky to have this one.

    Buy Black, Volume 1 on Amazon

    The Legends of Luke Skywalker

    Disney has compiled an amazing group of authors to pen the books in their Journey to Star Wars series. In the lead up to The Last Jedi, this includes Ken Liu, the author of The Grace of Kings and the translator of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. Liu wrote the junior novel The Legends of Luke Skywalker, which follows a group of children on their way to casino world Canto Bight. The narrative acts as a frame for six tales about the legendary Luke Skywalker. Throughout the book, the children debate about whether or not Luke Skywalker is real or a myth. Read The Legends of Luke Skywalker with the kids in your life and decide for yourself.

    Buy The Legends of Luke Skywalker on Amazon

    Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Cards Series

    Abrams Comicarts' latest entry in their insanely beautiful line of books based on old Topps trading cards line pays tribute to the Planet of the Apes saga. Packaged in a very satisfying wrap-around cover that is a nostalgia-inducing facimile of the old wax packs, this release presents an overview of the Topps Company's relationship with the franchise before launching in to pictures of all of the card sets they've released over the years from the original film, the 1970s TV series and the 2001 Tim Burton remake. It also comes packaged with some exclusive to this release cards, which is another reason you'll want to get your damn dirty hands on this one.

    Buy Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Cards Series on Amazon

    Autonomous: A Novel

    io9 founder Annalee Newitz’s debut science fiction novel Autonomous is a story about the future of intellectual property law, told from the dual perspectives of Jack, an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, and Paladin, an indentured military bot hot on Jack’s trail. While Jack works to create an antidote, the latest corporate-made smart drug, Paladin grows physically and emotionally closer to their human International Property Coalition partner Eliasz. Set on Earth in 2144, Autonomous asks the question: What does freedom look like in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?

    Buy Autonomous: A Novel by Annalee Newitz on Amazon

    Star Wars: Topps Classic Sticker Book

    Or if you are more into the old Topps stickers than the trading cards, Abrams Comicarts also has this companion volume to their Star Wars-themed book sets that covers the original trilogy plus The Force Awakens. If you don't want to cover your laptop or walls with these repros of the vintage stickers, you can make your own collages using the included posters that are an extension of this book's retro vibe. Rad.

    Buy Star Wars: Topps Classic Sticker Book on Amazon

    Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual

    Wanna survive the inevitable Xenomorph invasion? Then you'll need this book. Alien: The Augmented Reality Survival Manual is an in-world guide to all of the creatures and scenes from the Alien movies, beamed back to us from the future reality we see in the movies. (Maybe we should just start calling them documentaries?) This book includes both paper pages and 3D animations, sound, and vision. You know, like they read in the future...

    Buy Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual on Amazon

    Cinemaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies

    Creating maps that illustrate the paths on which characters -- and their viewers -- take in films is such an inspired idea that its shocking something like this hasn't been done before. Indeed, this creative collaboration between illustrator Andrew DeGraff and film historian A.D. Jameson (who shares written insights on the film being reinvented in map form) is unlike any movie book we've ever seen before. Illustrations of locations and swirling colorful lines attributed to filmic favorites explode out of the page, shedding new light on 35 movies like AlienThe Breakfast ClubClueless, and, most impressively, the Lord of the Rings saga, in the process. Cinematic cartography. What will they think of next?

    Buy Cinemaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies on Amazon

    Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History

    It's hard to believe it's been 40 years since Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind first hit cinemas, but there you have it. Celebrate this iconic science fiction film by diving into the creation, production, and legacy of the movie in this behind-the-scenes book, created in conjunction with Sony Pictures and Amblin Entertainment. It includes rare and never-before-see imagery from the filming, concept art, storyboards, and more. Special inserts include script pages, call lists, concept sketches, and more, that really bring this book to life.

    Buy Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History on Amazon

    The Afterlife of Holly Chase

    If you’re looking for a young adult option during the 2017 holiday season, then look no further than The Afterlife of Holly Chase, the contemporary teen retelling of A Christmas Carol that you probably never asked for, but will nonetheless enjoy! The novel tells the story of Holly, a 17-year-old ghost girl who didn’t use the insight provided to her five years ago when she was visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Now Holly is a Ghost of Christmas Past, helping other misers see the error of their ways and watching her friends and family move on without her. But this year, everything will change…

    Buy The Afterlife of Holly Chase on Amazon

    Star Trek: The Book of Lists

    Um, not to go too Star Trek-y on this list (just kidding — there's no such thing!), here's another fun gift for the Trekkie/Trekker in your list. Star Trek: The Book of Lists by Chip Carter is full of hilarious, insightful compilations of (mostly useless) Star Trek data, like all the times the number 47 is mentioned in the Star Trek universe or the best pets in the Star Trek universe. You're welcome.

    Buy Star Trek: Book of Lists on Amazon

    The Best of Josie and the Pussycats

    Chronicling from the 1960s to today, this value-packed paperback ($10 for over 400 pages) is the ideal gift for the Riverdale obsessive in your life who is still bummed that Hot Topic doesn't seem like they are ever going to restock their Jughead beanies. This collection is not only a fascinating time capsule that celebrates times and fads gone by, but it also contains some truly oddball stories -- such a meta outing in which the Pussycats visit the Hanna-Barbera studio to see how the cartoon about them is made. Best of all, includes is what could very well the best comic tale of all-time, 1973's riff on The Exorcist "Venegance from the Crypt" in which Josie gets possessed by the devil. Seriously.

    Buy The Best of Josie and the Pussycats on Amazon

    Kirby: King of Comics

    Originally released in 2008, Mark Evanier's definitive comics biography gets a revised and expanded paperback edition in honor of the King's 100th birthday. This hugely enjoyable volume is highlighted by beautiful splash pages, a touching intro by Neil Gaiman, and, best of all, fantastic full-page reproductions of art that illustrate once more how Jack Kirby was the best that ever was and ever will be.

    Buy Kirby: King of Comics on Amazon

    The Name of the Wind (10th Anniversary Edition)

    With The Kingkiller Chronicle becoming a movie, TV series, and even a video game, there’s never been a better time to dive into Patrick Rothfuss’ beloved fantasy world. DAW is releasing a 10th anniversary hardcover edition of the first book in the series, The Name of the Wind, which tells the story of Kvothe, a magically-gifted young man who grows up to be one of the most notoriously powerful wizards that the world has ever seen. Complete with illustrations from Dan Dos Santos, a brand new author’s note, and an appendix detailing the world’s calendar system and currencies, the deluxe edition includes 50 pages of extra content. The perfect gift for the fantasy nerd in your life!

    Buy The Name of the Wind (10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) on Amazon

    Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler

    Octavia Butler, the author of The Parable of the Sower and Kindred, is one of the most important science fiction authors of all time; this book aims to celebrate her contribution to the genre. Luminescent Threads is an anthology of letters and original essays written to, for, and about Butler by writers and readers for whom her work has meant something. A follow-up of sorts to the Locus Award-winning Letters to TiptreeLuminescent Threads is a book for anyone who has ever loved Butler, or for those who want to learn more about her legacy.

    Buy Luminescent Threads, Connections to Octavia Butler on Amazon

    Paperbacks from Hell

    When it comes to offbeat horror stuff, Grady Hendrix can both talk the talk and walk the walk. Having already written sly takedowns of the genre that are also filled with genuine affection like the Ikea-spoof Horrorstör and the YA skewering My Best Friend's Exorcism, Hendrix now serves as a tour guide to the bizarre world of horror fiction in Paperbacks from Hell. Whether focusing on books that were written to cash in on trends (Rona Jaffe's immortal Mazes and Monsters) or faithfully looking at popular subgenres like murderous animals, evil children or haunted houses, he presents an informative and at times deeply funny look at how weird/awesome scary books were during the rise of Gen X. If you get this for someone on your gift list or yourself, we highly recommend you pair it with some of the titles included within. Personally, we are dying to read the Nazi dwarf tale The Little People.

    Buy Paperbacks from Hell on Amazon

    Artemis: A Novel

    A heist… on the moon. Do we have your attention? The latest novel from The Martian author Andy Weir, follows criminal Jazz Bashara, one of the many struggling inhabitants of the moon’s only city, Artemis. Jazz is a contraband smuggler who gets in over her head when she tries to commit the perfect heist but falls into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself. We probably had you at “author of The Martian,” right?

    Buy Artemis: A Novel on Amazon

    Spinal Tap: The Big Black Book

    We'll spare you yet another "goes to 11" joke and instead say that this tribute to Britain's loudest band is a must for fans of This Is Spinal Tap. Author Wallace Fairfax's authorized all-access pass to the band won't help you figure out how to get on stage in Cleveland, but its assortment of removable Tap memorabilia, rare pictures and interviews is enough to make you want to listen to "Stonehenge" yet again.

    Buy Spinal Tap: The Big Black Book on Amazon

    Provenance

    Imperial Radch series author Ann Leckie is back with another science fiction story set in the same universe as her Ancillary books. Provenance is a novel about a young woman named Ingray who lives on a planet called Hwae. In an attempt to earn the approval of her foster mother, she unwittingly stumbles into an interplanetary conspiracy. As you do. Exploring themes of power, privilege, and birthright, Leckie’s much-anticipated return to this science fiction world is sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the holiday season.

    Buy Provenance by Ann Leckie on Amazon


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    If Marvel's The Punisher Season 2 happens on Netflix, what form might his return take? We ponder the options...

    Feature James Hunt
    Dec 8, 2017

    Warning: contains spoilers for The Punisher season 1, and potential spoilers for season 2.

    The Punisher was arguably the most well-written Marvel-Netflix show produced so far, and that – combined with the company’s will to recommission shows regardless of reaction or performance – suggests that a second series of The Punisher isn’t so much a matter of if, but when.

    But with Frank’s story so well wrapped up, where might it go?

    A sequel season

    Any second season of The Punisher would have to resolve some fairly large narrative problems, not least how to get Frank Castle – who has now satisfactorily avenged the death of his family twice – back into the saddle without it being a retread of previous ground. The comics version of the character is the virtual embodiment of the phrase 'nothing personal', happy to murder criminals just because they are who they are, but thus far the Netflix version is a lot more discerning – or at least, he has been up until now.

    What Frank needs most for any future stories is a reason to come out of retirement. To shed his assumed identity, pick up some automatic weapons and use them to disappoint his friends, the US government and everyone in-between. In part, his former friend Russo – the future Jigsaw – might provide that impetus. But there’s something else we’d like to see even more...

    Welcome Back Frank

    In the first episode of his Netflix series, Frank Castle offs a low-level member of the Gnucci family mid-card game. As any fan knows, this was a reference to the family first seen in Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Punisher series, Welcome Back Frank. Conceived as a back-to-basics soft relaunch, the story sees Frank slowly working his way through the extended Gnucci family while avoiding the authorities and hiding out in suburbia.

    Already used, in part, as the basis for the Thomas Jane’s Punisher movie adaptation, there’s material to spare in this year-long maxi-series, though perhaps the most interesting thread would be the emergence of several copycat vigilantes who follow The Punisher’s lead and hope to see him lead them in a war on crime. For this version of the character, the responsibility of creating those vigilantes might be enough to draw him back out and give the Gnucci family a chance to find him and take the revenge they undoubtedly deserve.

    A prequel season

    Showrunner Steve Lightfoot took the opportunity to use The Punisher to tell a story about traumatized servicemen abandoned by their country, and stuck pretty close to that theme. If a second series was to follow the same ideas, there’d be plenty of mileage in making the season a prequel rather than a sequel. That solves the problem of having to undo Frank’s relatively-happy ending, and adds a layer of tragedy onto whatever story gets told: we know that Frank and Russo aren’t exactly going to end up the brothers that they might be.

    Born

    If Marvel-Netflix goes this route, it could do worse than mine The Punisher’s 2003 'origin' series, Born, by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Set during the US-Vietnam war (but easily transplanted to Afghanistan, per the Netflix version’s backstory) the comic made clear that while the murder of his family gave Frank the excuse to become The Punisher, it was his experiences in a warzone that made him that way.

    Admittedly, no-one likes a prequel despite what Hollywood studios keep trying to tell us, so it’d be a hard sell – not least because we know exactly where it’s going and that the real villains of the piece would get away with it. That said, it’d be a good chance to reunite many of the characters from the first series in a different context, and maybe they could use the device of two parallel stories (á la Lost) to give us both prequel and sequel together.

    A one-off movie

    It’s not a given that The Punisher would have to come back for an entire series. There’s no particular reason that Netflix couldn’t fund a TV movie instead – and if they did, they could really have some fun with it. Personally I’d be quite interested in seeing a version of The End, in which The Punisher roams a post-apocalyptic landscape proving that to him, nothing is more important that killing criminals – but if you’re going to step out of continuity there’s only one place to go...

    Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe

    Having done the servicemen-with-PTSD story, maybe Marvel-Netflix would like to go for a completely different tone for the follow-up. Written by Garth Ennis (spotting a theme?) and illustrated by Doug Braithwaite, this 1995 comic depicts The Punisher tooling up for a war on the most prominent superheroes in the Marvel Universe – which he eventually wins. Yeah, that’s right, wins. It’s out-of-continuity, so everyone dies!

    In an ideal world, we’d get to see The Punisher working his way through the entire MCU, taking them down as only an angry man with a gun can – but realistically, that’s not going to happen. Even as a joke, you’re not going to see Jon Bernthal offing an Avenger. Killing a Defender would probably be a little too far (although let’s not be too hasty about Iron Fist).

    That said, there are tons of minor super-powered characters who are technically part of the MCU thanks to Agents Of SHIELD. Why not give Frank the will to take down people with superpowers and go for something we’ve never seen on TV before: a guns vs. superpowers story in which the guns win?

    Defenders season 2

    One potential problem with a second season of The Punisher is that there are only so many openings in Netflix’s calendar. The rotation for these series is already slower than normal and we’ve already got a second Jessica Jones, third Daredevil, second Luke Cage and second Iron Fist on the slate. So why not save The Punisher for a return of The Defenders? After all, we don’t just need a good reason to bring those guys back together – we also need a reason for the audience to come back and watch it after last time.

    Whether Frank Castle is a hero or villain is immaterial: he’s a big enough draw that if the next time we see him is part of a Defenders follow-up, we’d have reason to get excited about an 8-episode non-event (sorry, event) miniseries all over again.

    Marvel Knights

    And if you’re going to do that, why not draw on Marvel Knights for inspiration? Written by Chuck Dixon (Hey, someone who isn’t Garth Ennis!) and drawn by Eduardo Barreto, this series would loosely follow the ethos of the short-lived 2000 comic series: Daredevil assembles a team of street-level heroes to capture The Punisher, only to find themselves forced to team up with him against a greater threat.

    Admittedly, a lot of the best Punisher/Daredevil material in comics was already mined for Daredevil Season 2, but who doesn’t want to see more of their on-screen chemistry and self-righteous philosophical sparring? And for that matter, after the disappointing flop that was Sigourney Weaver’s pseudo-mystical Alexandra, The Punisher would be a far more convincing foe even before a greater opposition was revealed.

    Whatever direction they choose to take The Punisher’s future in the Marvel-Netflix Universe, you can bet that between Bernthal’s charisma and the series’ strong track record of making even Karen Page watchable, we’ll be looking forward to more.


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    Cray takes on an alternate Flash in this exclusive first look at The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #3!

    PreviewJim Dandy
    Dec 8, 2017

    Michael Cray has been on quite the Justice League killing spree. 

    The Wild Storm, Warren Ellis and Jon Davis Hunt's relaunch of the Wildstorm universe, spun out a solo book for Michael Cray a couple of months back. Cray, part of the new Wildstorm's tangled web of spy services and world-dominating, alien-headed NGOs, immediately set to work on the most pressing task at hand: killing alternate, terrible versions of Justice League members. 

    It was always assumed that The Wild Storm was taking place on an alternate Earth - setting the book apart from the most recent incarnation of the characters, which were firmly within the New 52. But it wasn't until the end of Michael Cray #1, when a green-hooded Oliver Queen was seen hunting homeless people, that it was confirmed to be an awful parallel world. 

    In this exclusive preview of Michael Cray #3, Cray (the old Wildstorm's Deathblow) gets his next assignment: Barry Allen. Here's what DC has to say about the issue:

    WILDSTORM: MICHAEL CRAY #3 Written by BRYAN HILL from a story by WARREN ELLISArt by N. STEVEN HARRIS and DEXTER VINESCover by DENYS COWAN and BILL SIENKIEWICZ • Variant cover by JOHN PAUL LEONCrime forensics expert Barry Allen has a dark secret—and a prototype suit that makes him the fastest man alive. Michael Cray wants to make him pay for his sins, but is he able to catch a man faster than justice? And what will happen when Barry Allen turns his psychosis on Cray at hyper-speed?

    Take a look at Harris and Vines' extra creepy take on The Flash and his powers in these preview pages.


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    Netflix is keeping up its genre dominance and padding its film roster by optioning John Scalzi's sci-fi military novel Old Man's War

    News Alec Bojalad
    Dec 9, 2017

    Netflix's collection of genre TV shows has never been stronger thanks to properties like Stranger Things, Altered Carbon, and Dark. 

    Now the streaming service is looking to beef up its sci-fi movie offerings by optioning the sci-fi military novel Old Man's War from write John Scalzi. 

    Scalzi, who is the former President of the Science Fiction Writers of America and three-time Hugo award winner, is being brought on to produce. 

    Old Man's War is the first of six books in a series and boasts a fascinating sci-fi concept. It's set in a futuristic universe, where humanity has made it into interstellar space and is colonizing various planet a la Starship Troopers. Problem is, plenty of alien species are also in contention to occupy the few planets capable of accomodating life - leading to massive, never-ending intergalactic war. 

    To win these wars againts alien forces, the Colonial Defense Force enlists human beings of retirement age to say goodbye to Earth forever, gain a fresh, new body generated from their own genetic material and join the struggle for survival. 

    It's no secret that every streaming service and content producer is in constant pursuit of "The Next Big Thing (TM)."Old Man's Warhas as much potential to fulfuill that role as any other intellectual property. Scalzi's novel is huge, yet intimate and knows how to balance true science fiction action/adventure with complicated moral and thematic questions. 

    Both Paramount Pictures and Syfy channel have attempted to option and adapt Scalzi's series before but neither project panned out. With Netflix's abundant resources and ceaseless thirst for media-busting content, this could very well be the version that sticks. 


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    What would Star Wars be without a few bounty hunters? We explore our favorite bounty hunter tales...

    Feature Marc Buxton
    Dec 10, 2017

    If you’re a fan of a certain age, you will remember setting up your Kenner Star Wars action figures in the same Usual Suspects-like line up that the bounty hunters appeared in during their The Empire Strikes Back debut. Think back now, Darth Vader lecturing these strange aliens with perhaps a few Star Destroyer commanders smattered around, warning them against disintegrating their bounty.

    Other than Boba Fett, these intergalactic scum only had a few seconds of screen time, but those brief ticks of a clock were unforgettable. The image of a few alien toughs, some truly salty looking armored humans, and even a few droids fueled the imaginations of Star Wars fans for generations.

    Rumor has it that one of the upcoming Star Wars Story films could feature some of these famous bounty hunters, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to spotlight some of the coolest Expanded Universe tales featuring Dengar, IG-88, Boba Fett, Bossk, Zuckuss, and 4-LOM.

    Now remember, most of these stories were wiped out of continuity when Disney took over the galaxy far, far away, but that doesn’t make them any less readable and awesome. And yeah, we may even have a few that are part of the current Star Wars canon. So strap on your blasters and we promise, there will be no disintegrations as we turn back time and examine the coolest bounty hunter stories of the Star Wars galaxy.

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    Dengar

    Ah Dengar, we know kids of the 80s probably referred to you as Diaper Head, but you are still badass. Dengar was front and center when Vader gave the bounty hunters their marching orders and could also be seen chilling out in Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi. Dengar was played by Morris Bush, an actor who also appeared in Hammer’s Scars of Dracula (1970), the Christopher Lee pot boiler Creeping Flesh (1973), and the bizarre Ringo Starr musical comedy Son of Dracula (1974). Interestingly enough, Bush worked as a stand in for David Prowse in Star Wars (1977). According to Prowse, that is Bush’s foot you can see kicking Obi-Wan’s cape after Luke’s mentor is struck down by the Dark Lord of the Sith.

    But where can you read about ‘ol Diaper Head? In the 1996 Kevin J. Anderson-edited Tales of the Bounty Hunters anthology (get ready, this isn’t the only time I’m going to mention this collection in this article), author Dave Wolverton related Dengar’s origin in a short tale entitled "Payback." In this piece of essential Dengar fiction (yes, such a thing exists), Wolverton details that Dengar used to be a swoop bike racer who was injured as a teenager by his racing rival. Of course, that rival was none other than a young Han Solo. Wolverton makes Dengar’s vendetta against the captain of Millennium Falcon very personal.

    But Wolverton’s hyper-readable story isn’t our Expanded Universe essential Dengar pick. That honor goes to the season four episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars entitled "Bounty." In this toyetic installment of Clone Wars, an aimless Asajj Ventress joins up with a band of roguish bounty hunters that includes a teenage Boba Fett, Bossk, and the grizzled, weathered Dengar. Dengar plays a secondary role in this episode (doesn’t he always) to Fett and Ventress, but when Dengar springs into action, he truly shines. Better yet, Dengar is voiced by lifelong Star Wars lover Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Star Trek), and you just know that when Pegg was a wee lad he took his Kenner Dengar figure on many adventures. Pegg’s Star Wars enthusiasm shows as he fills the once tabula rasa Dengar with a salty, badass personality. "Bounty" was a Dirty Dozen-like adventure through the underbelly of the Star Wars galaxy and finally gave fans a sense of who the bandaged badass of Star Wars truly is.

    Buy all of your Star Wars boxsets, books, comics, and merch right here!

    IG-88

    With a scant few seconds of screen team, IG-88 showed the world that not every droid in the Star Warsuniverse is cutesy. Yeah, we saw a few black imperial R2 and R5 units and a smattering of Death Star sroids, but IG-88 was a different mechanical animal all together. IG-88 was all sharp edges with a surreal design and multiple big honking firearms. Fans only got one quick glimpse of this death machine, but it was enough to emblazon this oddly shaped engine of destruction in fans’ minds forever. IG-88 was built and operated by puppeteer and effects guru Bill Hargreaves, and by operated I mean that Hargreaves moved IG’s head a tiny bit in Empire. But, damn, what a creation!

    So we’re going to take IG-88’s chosen chronicle from the aforementioned Tales of the Bounty Hunters. In a short story entitled "Therefore I Am," it was revealed that everyone’s favorite murder droid had a great deal in common with Marvel’s Ultron. You see, in this tale, it was revealed that there were actually four models of IG-88 that shared the same malevolent consciousness. The IG master intelligence wanted to kick start a droid revolution and conquer the galaxy, but when it was activated, IG-88 murdered its creators and then built three duplicates of itself. One of those duplicates answered Vader’s call for bounty hunters while the others began plotting for the droid uprising. After Vader gave his marching orders, IG-88 stealthily downloaded Imperial files off the ships’ computer. Through this data theft, the assassin droid discovered top secret plans detailing the construction of a second Death Star.

    After IG sent that info to his duplicates, it tracked Solo to Bespin where it had a violent encounter with Boba Fett. Hey, remember the IG carcass in the background of the Ugnaught smelter sequence in The Empire Strikes Back, the one where the little pig people played keep away with Chewbacca? Yeah, this short story explains that carcass, as Fett blasts the IG unit to oblivion. But there were still three IG-88s out there. Two of them went after Fett but the last remaining IG-88, get this now, downloaded itself into and took over the freaking Death Star. Yes, according to Anderson’s "Therefore I Am," at the end of Return of the Jedi, the Death Star gained sentience thanks to IG-88. Of course, this was right before Lando Calrissian, Wedge Antilles, and Nein Numb blew the sucker up, but still, a malevolently intelligent Death Star is about as badass as it gets. That certainly would have led to the droid uprising, if not for fate and a fateful, last ditch bid at freedom by a desperate band of rebels.

    IG-88—from a blink and you’ll miss it first appearance to a bee’s eyelash away from wiping out all non-mechanical life in the galaxy. Awesome.

    Boba Fett

    Can you imagine Star Wars without Fett? Honestly, the whole saga wouldn’t have been much different on screen, but it certainly would be fundamentally altered in the hearts and minds of fans, because Boba Fett’s legend lives in the Expanded Universe, or fans’ own personal expanded universes at least. There is a mystique to Fett. Maybe it’s because Boba Fett was the first mail away action figure which signaled to SW fans everywhere after 1977’s Star Wars that there would be more adventures in a galaxy far, far away to come. Perhaps it’s the fact that the Fett figure was supposed to feature a rocket-firing backup until Kenner grew worried that kids would choke on Fett’s spring loaded missile. Dude, Fett is so dangerous he was considered a threat to real world children before he made his film debut. Take that Dengar!

    Perhaps it’s that badass souped up Stormtrooper like armor that Fett wears or perhaps it is because every inch of this gravelly voiced outlaw is covered in dangerous armaments. There are countless reasons that the whole world has a Boba Fettish and the stories we are about to list take advantage of this rarified adoration. It’s hard to narrow down just one great Boba Fett Expanded Universe story, so we won’t. We’ll hit you with a few.

    Boba Fett was played by Jeremy Bulloch in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. For years, no one knew the lethal bounty hunter’s origins until George Lucas detailed Fett’s clone birth in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002), but before that, Fett was a mystery than many Expanded Universe creators tried to shed some light on.

    First up is a yarn entitled "Prey" that appeared in Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars Tales #11 (2002). This flashback story written and drawn by Kia Asamiya features Fett being dispatched by Moff Tarkin to retrieve Han Solo after the future hero of the Rebellion defects from the Imperial Navy. Darth Vader disagrees with giving this assignment to a bounty hunter and goes after Solo himself. This leads to Fett and Vader engaging in an eye popping lightsaber battle in the middle of the Mos Eisley Cantina! Fett, who had procured a lightsaber from a dead Jedi (awesome), held his own against Vader, proving that this bounty hunter backs down from no man. Solo escaped by attaching his ship to a Star Destroyer and floating away when the warship dumped its garbage. Hmm, that sounds familiar, huh? This battle also built that subtle grudging respect that can be felt when Vader addressed Fett aboard the Star Destroyer Executer in Empire.

    From the Dark Horse era to the first Marvel Comics era, let us go back in time to Star Wars#81 (1984) by Jo Duffy, Ron Frenz, Tom Palmer, and Tom Mandrake. There have been a number of Expanded Universe accounts of Boba Fett escaping the Sarlaac Pit, but this semi-classic published by Marvel just happens to be the first. The issue was entitled (get ready for it) "Jawas of Doom!" Let that sink in for a moment.

    The story takes place just after the Battle of Endor and sees Han Solo searching for some extra cash. Han, Chewbacca, Leia, R2, and C-3P0 fly to Tatooine so Han can withdraw his credits from a Mos Eisely bank. Sadly, Han’s credits were frozen at the same time he was (in carbonite, natch!). Meanwhile, Boba Fett was spat out by the Sarlaac Pit and picked up by aggressive Jawas. It seems that since Jabba the Hutt’s demise, the Jawas have become more and more aggressive. In other words, the only thing that was keeping these hooded desert rodents in check was a mob boss, and now that Jabba is gone, the Jawas have become a gaggle of little murder bundles. So the Jawas droidnap R2-D2 and Boba Fett, whom they mistake for a droid due to his strange armor. Boba Fett has amnesia because comics and becomes the Jawas hapless prisoner (this is like an action figure adventure I would have had with a 103 degree fever).

    Han, who sets on a rescue mission, boards the Sandcrawler and is shocked to see Boba Fett. The two former enemies work together to defeat the Jawas (no, really) until Fett regains his memory and takes a pot shot at Han. Han leaps to safety just as the Sandcrawler plummets into, you guessed it, the Sarlaac Pit. Wahh-wahh-wahhhhhh! What a strange little must-read story. First off, it featured the first post-Return of the Jedi appearance of Fett and, secondly, it then almost turned Fett into a kind of tragic hero before depositing him back into the same pit of death in which he met his ignominious film demise. One has to wonder if Marvel was under marching orders by Lucasfilm to make sure Fett stayed in the Sarlaac, and if so, what kind of plans did Lucas have for the fan favorite hunter killer back in 1984? And what about those killer Jawas. How are you not eBaying this right now?

    Let’s move on to some alternate escapes from the Sarlaac Expanded Universe fiction, shall we? We have discussed Tales of the Bounty Hunters ad nauseam (and we will again), but now, let's take a look at Tales from Jabba’s Palace (1996), another Kevin J. Anderson-edited anthology. In "A Barve Like That: The Tale of Boba Fett" by J.D. Montgomery, readers get to experience Fett’s time in the Sarlaac. This short story features the most backstory that was ever revealed about the mysterious bounty hunter pre-Attack of the Clones, as fans are welcomed into Fett’s thoughts for the first time. Most of these thoughts consist of “Oh my lord, I’m slowly being digested over a period of a thousand years. It hurts. It hurts. Solo is a dick!” but there is also a great deal revealed about the heart and spirit of the hunter.

    This tale mostly takes place within the Sarlaac, as a trapped Fett is able to converse with the Pit’s first victim, a being named Susejo. Through Susejo, Fett learns how hopeless his plight truly is—but guys, this is Boba Fett, the most lethal bounty hunter in the galaxy, a walking weapon, the first mail away action figure! Fett isn’t having any of that noise and tricks the Sarlaac into digesting his rocket pack. Well, Kenner was right, that backpack was dangerous, and when the thing explodes, Fett is freed of the Sarlaac. Pretty intense and much better than dying while fighting rabid Jawas. Montgomery’s tale really highlighted what Star Wars fans new all along—that nothing can stop Boba Fett, the most lethal bounty hunter in the galaxy.

    Boba Fett is so badass he couldn’t even be stopped by the Star Wars Christmas Special (1978). For real, the haphazardly animated nine-minute animated short featuring the introduction of Boba Fett is the only watchable part of the infamous Christmas special. In this short, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker fall victim to a sleeping virus and Chewbacca and the droids must team with a mysterious armored figure named Boba Fett to save the heroes.

    Over the course of the stiffly animated feature, Fett fights a lizard dragon thing and is still a menacing presence despite the fact that he barley moves in this unbudgeted production. Now imagine, kids everywhere sending away for the Kenner figure and encountering Fett for the first time in the Christmas special. Even though the rest of the special is unwatchable, Fett’s animated debut must have been pure magic for Star Warsfans of a certain age. And that’s why we love Fett and his mystique, because his uniquely marketed pre-The Empire Strikes Back introduction into the Star Wars galaxy introduced the very idea of an Expanded Universe. Expect more Fett very soon, possibly in his own feature length film in the next few years.

    Bossk

    Bossk, possibly the most fearsome looking bounty hunter to gather on the Executor in The Empire Strikes Back, has long been an iconic but minor adversary in the Star Wars saga. Like Fett, Bossk was a Kenner mail away action figure, which just adds to the aura of this Trandoshan villain. Bossk is so tough, he doesn't have time for footwear, and his arms and legs barely fit into his famous yellow space suit. You just know that Bossk ripped apart some poor pilot to score his flight gear, and the lizard-like bounty hunter really pops in the few seconds he is onscreen in Empire.

    Played by British actor Alan Harris, Bossk also pops up in Return of the Jediand has appeared in many Expanded Universe tales. By the way, that Bossk’s famous space suit was a leftover costume used in the 1966 Doctor Who episode "The Tenth Planet Part 1" is pretty cool sci-fi synergy, huh?

    To find our Bossk highlight, we look to the recent past and to the young adult Star Wars Rebels novel Ezra's Gambleby Ryder Windham (2014). Before this EU tale (which is part of the new Disney canon), Bossk was traditionally portrayed as an almost mindless, cannibalistic brute. While this has added to the infamous legend of Bossk, it didn’t leave room for character subtleties. Windham took care of all that by portraying the Trandoshan as a morally ambiguous hunter with a unique sense of honor.

    In this recent prose Rebelsadventure, Bossk is depicted as a reluctant anti-hero with a conflicting sense of right and wrong. Bossk helps Ezra Bridger and is presented to fans in a heroic light for the first time. But in Empireand in other Expanded Universe fiction, Bossk is a flesh-hungry monstrosity who uses his personal ship, the Hound’s Tooth, to track his prey across the galaxy. So whether you like the new, more complex Bossk or the slavering, blood hungry scum of yesteryear, you've got to admit that with a few short seconds on screen and one garbled line that almost caused ‘ol Admiral Piett to poop his Imperial trousers (Res luk ra'auf!), Bossk has long captured the imagination of Star Wars fans.

    Zuckuss and 4-LOM

    Before we delve into our final pair of bounty hunters, let us play the name game. When Kenner produced its last two bounty hunter action figures in 1982, the toy company made a bit of a boo boo. Kenner used the Zuckuss name for a character that was clearly a droid and used an alpha-numeric droid designation for a character that was clearly an alien. Yes, according to Kenner, 4-LOM was an alien and Zuckuss was a droid, but history now tells us that Kenner done screwed up. In recent years, 4-LOM has been correctly identified as the bug eyed droid aboard Vader’s Star Destroyer in Empire, and Zuckuss has become the robed, bug eyed alien and all is right with the galaxy.

    But this name confusion just adds to the mystery of these two strange beings. The two bounty hunters in question appear in the same shot together and thus, have always been associated with each other. So when the two made their first appearance in the Expanded Universe, they did it as partners, as the Lenny and Squiggy of the Star Wars universe, but with an intense blood thirst and lots of guns. Before we delve into our 4-LOM and Zuckuss highlight, let us mention that 4-LOM was played by actress Cathy Munroe while Zuckuss was played by Chris Parsons (who also played the white protocol droid that appeared on Hoth, K-3PO—because if we’re going to go SW obscure, we might as well take it all the way to the extreme).

    Okay, of course our 4-LOM and Zuckuss tale comes from Tales of the Bounty Hunters because quite frankly, neither of these scums has made many Expanded Universe appearances. You would have thought that with their really awesome costumes 4-LOM and Zuckuss would have popped up in Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi, but nope, it was one and done for this pair of assassins.

    In the Tales of the Bounty Hunters story, "Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM" by M. Shayne Bell, fans learn the complex histories of both of these blink and you’ll miss ‘em bounty hunters. 4-LOM and Zuckuss ambush a group of Rebels as the freedom fighters are attempting to escape Hoth during the first act of The Empire Strikes Back. The pair planned to sell the captives to Vader and the Empire.

    During the mission, fans learn of the background of both bug-eyed bounty hunters. 4-LOM was once a simple protocol droid whose programming became compromised. At first, 4-LOM began stealing from passengers of a luxury liner he worked on and before long became proficient in all sorts of mayhem. Eventually, 4-LOM embarked on a career as a thief and a bounty hunter and became so infamous, that even IG-88 considered recruiting 4-LOM into the droid revolution but thought better of it because the former protocol droid’s personality was too unstable.

    As for Zuckuss, this diminutive killer was a member of the Gand species, a group of insectoid aliens that breathed pneumonia and had to wear specially-made breathing apparatuses or suffocate in oxygen rich atmospheres. Gands also used special chemicals called the Mists to help them reach precognitive trance states. Whether Zuckuss really had mystical powers or just kind of got high and hunted people is unclear, but it was clear that this alien and droid made a formidable pair.

    In Bell’s tale, Zuckuss and 4-LOM are also shown to have a sound moral compass as, after the bounty hunting duo capture the Rebels, they free them and help the fugitives escape the Empire. So there you have it, according to the now out of continuity Expanded Universe tale, two of our infamous bounty hunters in question possessed the heart of heroes even though they looked like things that crawled out of an H.R. Giger fever dream.

    Most of these Expanded Universe tales are now expelled from the Star Wars canon, but the wonder that surrounds these six bounty hunters remains. As we move towards Rogue Oneand countless more Star Wars films, books, comics, and cartoons, you can be assured that these six characters that captured fans imaginations in about six seconds will continue to fascinate Star Wars fans of every age. Happy hunting.


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    We explore the historical influences behind all of The Walking Dead's greatest villains.

    Feature Alec Bojalad
    Dec 10, 2017

    This Walking Dead article contains major spoilers for the show and the comics. 

    The Walking Dead is one of the most successful shows of all time for one reason: zombies. It's also a sometimes decent, sometimes great show because it knows exactly how to use said creatures. In any good zombie franchise, the zombies don’t act as villains. They’re a force of nature—just lumbering, amoral scenery. Trying to build a story where zombies are the bad guys would be like trying to make a six-season television show where the only antagonist was an avalanche or a mudslide week after week. Both of these threats allow for some great life-or-death circumstances, but you can’t rely on them to be the antagonists that carry along the story week after week.

    Give or take a Moby Dick, humans usually make for the best villains because they can match wits with their hero counterparts. And at the very least, the viewer will be able to relate to their humanity. Or lack thereof. The Walking Dead, for all its faults (and sometimes they are many), understands that the best thing for its story is a solid revolving door of antagonists to define its merry group of protagonists.

    Granted, it did take awhile to get to the human villains. It wasn’t until halfway through the second season that The Walking Dead even introduced any human threats to contend with, and even then, Rick Grimes made short work of Michael Raymond-James and his band of Nebraska-seeking douchebags. Still, the effect was immediately electrifying. Once other antagonistic human beings were introduced into the sea of shambling corpses, it was clear that The Walking Dead could never go back: it must always have some sort of human group oppose the Rick Grimes clan to produce interesting entertainment. Since the beginning of season three, with the introduction of the Governor, it largely has.

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    What’s particularly interesting is that these rotating groups of antagonists tend to come in bunches, and are never just one man or woman. The Governor was Rick Grimes' first true antagonistic foil after Shane, but he would not have been a legitimate threat without the town of Woodbury behind him. In the post-apocalyptic world, no one can make it on their own. Everyone needs a community. And as those communities spring up, they all tend to have different values, mores, and rules. The Rick Grimes group generally seems to operate under the rule of “Just Survive Somehow” and amass all of the strongest friends who also seem to have at least a slight vested interest in returning the world to the normal state of law and order.

    Other groups…not so much.

    Through seven seasons, Rick’s crew has grappled with at least six other distinct enemy groups by our count. They are: The Governor and Woodbury, Joe and the Claimers, Terminus, Grady Memorial Hospital, the Wolves, Negan and the Saviors, and Jadis and the Heapsters. Each has had their own philosophy that set itself apart from Rick’s group, and ultimately made it a collective antagonist.

    Each group also has an intriguing real world analog, whether it be a similar group from history or at least inspired by a real philosophical school of thinking. Let’s take the time to give each group its due by examining which real world events, people, and ideas they most closely resemble.Here are the antagonists in chronological order.

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    The Governor and Woodbury

    Philip Blake, aka The Governor, possesses an inherent skill that makes him a truly formidable adversary. He can create families out of thin air. Something about the Governor’s charisma, speech pattern, je ne se quois, whatever, gets people to not only follow him but trust him. With some walls and kind words, he created a completely functioning society shockingly early on in the zombie apocalypse.

    Then later on, after he loses that society, The Walking Dead lets him start from scratch so we can see just how adept he is at getting people on his side. He influences the Chambers family into becoming his own, and then quickly gathers a new army to make a move on the prison yet again. The Governor, with all his skill in winning friends and influencing people, is not unlike a cult leader, and Woodbury is like his Jonestown.

    Woodbury, with its white-picket fences and smiling neighbors, might not seem like a cult. But following a charismatic person who only goes by the honorific “The Governor” is a pretty tell-tale sign, as is the predilection to watch live prisoners duke it out in a pit of zombies as punishment. That doesn’t exactly follow the rule of law that most societies ascribe to.

    Realistically, a world in which the dead literally roam the Earth is bound to be just lousy with cults. So it’s no surprise that the first antagonist group presented in The Walking Dead resembles one. The real world doesn’t have rotting corpses wandering around but can still be a confusing enough place that people are all too happy to pledge their lives to whoever can promise them salvation.

    Jim Jones’ cult was officially titled the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project and began in Indianapolis before moving onto Los Angeles and San Francisco, eventually creating the unofficially titled “Jonestown” settlement in Guyana. 909 cult-members committed suicide with cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, at the instruction of Jones, after the cult murdered five people, including a U.S. Congressman who had come to investigate the cult.

    Come to think of it, the Governor couldn’t even get his hand-selected soldiers to continue an attack on the Prison. As such, real life remains far more hardcore than fiction.

    Joe and the Claimers

    Daryl is the first to encounter “The Claimers” after the destruction of the prison in season four. They are essentially a loose band of brigands, led by their imposing leader in a motorcycle jacket, Joe. Their philosophy seems to be “travel around and take and do whatever you want.” Their only rule is that as long as you “claim” a found item, it belongs to you.

    There’s a phrase from the Quran, of all places, that’s a pretty succinct distillation of everything that Joe and his group of “Claimers” represent: “highwaymen who menace the road.” Apparently, amorphous groups of bandits wandering around trade routes and looking to take stuff by force were historically a big enough problem to be addressed in religious texts. For what it’s worth, Allah says the punishment for this is "execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hand and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land that is chief disgrace in this world, and heavy punishment is theirs in the hereafter."

    Since the zombie apocalypse is kind of a hard reboot of world history, technically The Walking Dead exists in a kind of new biblical time. And wouldn’t you know it, highwaymen who menace the road are indeed a problem again. There isn’t any significant historical group or philosophical idea behind the Claimers aside from the oldest human one: just do what you want until someone forces you otherwise. They’re basically pre-history scavengers with an added wrinkle of having one rule: something must be claimed. In that way, they also resemble some parts of the Pirate Code. Pirate Codes were adopted by a group of sailors who had gone pirate and could govern all sorts of behavior. Chief among them, however, was usually rules for the division of goods after a theft.

    Terminus

    Ok, the Terminans are really all over the place. Gareth and his cannibal friends did not last long on the show, but with the depth of their villainy in terms of cultural influences, they may represent the most interesting group of antagonists to ever appear on The Walking Dead.

    These cannibals occupy an abandoned train station that they’ve dubbed “Terminus.” The etymological implications of that phrase alone are incredibly interesting. A “terminus” can be a railway or bus station that represents the end of that particular route. So Terminus literally means “end of the line” for any of the poor souls who make it there. Terminus was also the original name of the city of Atlanta, which comes from the Roman God of boundaries, Terminus.

    This is one of those rare instances, where the name of something in the show is far cooler than it’s inspiration from the comics. The Terminans closest analogue in the comics are the Hunters, a group of cannibals who befriend and then eat humans because they are ironically terrible at hunting animals.

    So let’s get the cannibal portion out of the way now. Yes, cannibalism is a thing that occurs in the real world with alarming frequency. Alarmingly frequent in the sense that it ever occurs at all. The reasons that humans commit cannibalism are myriad, ranging from needing to eat humans to survive in an extreme situation, like the Donner Party, to eating people because you're mentally ill. For our purposes, we’re looking for a group who commits cultural cannibalism, and while they exist, it’s usually in primitive society’s that do so for superstitious purposes. That’s not necessarily an ideal fit for Terminus. If anything, Terminus veers more towards the “cannibalism to survive” spectrum, but they have some added factors that make them even more unique.

    One is their location itself. They’ve turned their abandoned train station into a kind of murder-maze to more easily trap and kill their human prey. And as weird as it may sound, “murder mazes” are not unprecedented in the real world. One of America’s first serial killers, H.H. Holmes, created a “Murder Castle” in an apartment in downtown Chicago with many different windowless rooms dedicated solely to killing human beings.

    Then there is also the fact that the Terminans actually began as victims. Their message of “Sanctuary for all” was originally legitimate before violent men took them up on their offer, and then began raping and murdering them for their troubles. At some point, they were able to take back control of Terminus and either imprison or kill all of their captors. Terminus was revived under a new philosophy: “You’re the butcher or you’re the cattle.” In that way, they’re like many prolific serial killers throughout the years. Especially say someone like Aileen Wuornos, who was abused by the men in her life for many years before snapping and killing seven of them.

    Terminus is equal parts cannibalism for survival, H.H. Holmes, and Aileen Wuornos. That’s how you create a fascinating group of antagonists.

    Grady Memorial Hospital

    There’s a phrase from another great science fiction TV show that applies well to the events at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta. (Which is actually a real hospital in Atlanta. Surprisingly few of the Google reviews mention being attacked by the walking dead.) Commander William Adama in Battlestar Galactica once said, “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

    Well, at Grady Memorial Hospital, the police are the military…and they’re the guards, the senators, the judges, the presidents, the insurance adjustors, the everything. Grady Memorial Hospital is able to maintain some semblance of order in downtown Atlanta, even as everything around them has gone to hell. They actually have working electricity, some doctors, and some medical supplies. Unfortunately, all patients and guests must submit completely to the police in charge to “pay off their debts.” 

    Grady Memorial Hospital could represent one of two things, depending on how frisky and political The Walking Dead wants to get. On one hand, it might be commenting on the “prison-industrial complex” in the United States, where privatizing the prison system means that prisoners = profit. Therefore, more prisoners = more profit. The folks at Grady Memorial Hospital realize that “rescuing” people around the hospital means an inexhaustible supply of free labor. 

    On the other hand, Grady Memorial Hospital is just a textbook example of a society under martial law. Martial law is, of course, when the military (or whoever has guns and badges), takes over as head of government, replacing all previous executive, legislative, and judicial branches of power. Normally, this is done by force, but in the case of Grady Memorial Hospital, the force is the zombie apocalypse that effectively ended the civilized world. And in this new early society, drafting a constitution and stuff must have seemed like a real pain. So they just deferred to whoever had the guns. 

    Military juntas leading coup d’etats happen in the real world all the time. Right now, Thailand, a country you could conceivably want to vacation in, is actually being ruled by a military junta. Granted, it’s been a lot less violent and terrifying than Grady Memorial, but it’s still definitely a thing that’s actually happening.

    Grady Memorial Hospital is an excellent example of how The Walking Dead relies on its antagonists to define its protagonists. For all their faults, Rick Grimes and his group at the very least hold a vain hope that they can establish a functioning society with rule of law one day. That sets them in sharp contrast against groups like Grady Memorial.

    The Wolves

    The Wolves seem like they would be the easiest of the Walking Dead antagonist groups to characterize. All you need to know about them is right there in their name. They’re wolves, they’re bestial, non-rational, move around in a pack, and are just generally hungry for destruction. But for a group of supposedly anarchic, bestial killing-machines, fuck are they chatty. 

    When Morgan captures the lead wolf and attempts to convert him to a more peaceful society, the Wolf is all too happy to chat with him about the pointlessness of the attempt. The new way of the world has made him wild and uncontrollable. This wildness, combined with a self-consciousness about his own wildness, doesn’t really have a comparison to any group throughout history. Instead, it’s more philosophical.

    The Wolves appear to be through and through nihilists. The term “nihilism” is staggeringly huge. Its most basic definition is that life has no meaning. But that’s such a big concept that it can and has been broken down into tons of different kinds of nihilism, from metaphysical to existential to political to really everything.

    Still, the Wolves stay pretty active for a group that believes in nothing. Walking Dead director Greg Nicotero said in an interview that one of the group’s goals was to build up a zombie army. If nothing matters, what’s the point of that? On another occasion, one Wolf says they don’t want survivors living in safe societies like Alexandria as it’s an absurd thing to do during the apocalypse.

    If that’s the case, the Wolves closet cousins may actually be another fictional group: the Guilty Remnant from HBO’s The Leftovers. The Guilty Remnant is a religious cult that has taken a vow of silence, wears all white, and chain smokes cigarettes all day. The purpose of this is to be a living reminder to all the citizens of the world that there was an apocalyptic event that they cannot ignore. In that example, the Guilty Remnant are actually not nihilists. They believe there is a purpose to life and that purpose is to remind people that God wanted the world to end.

    Maybe the Wolves aren’t nihilists either, after all. Maybe they’re the post-zombie apocalypse version of the Westboro Baptist Church. They carve "W"s into their head and attack safe communities to remind them that God hates them and the evidence couldn’t possibly be more abundant.

    Negan and the Saviors

    All of the various groups introduced thus far have their own way of doing things and their own ways of antagonizing Grimes group. Soon, however, we’ll get to see a group with the most devastating historical comparison yet: the atomic bomb. 

    Like most former students who didn't pay attention in World History, I now know most of what I know about history from Dan Carlin's epic history podcast, Hardcore History. And in one particular episode, he says the violence, devastation, and proficiency of one specific civilatization can only be compared to that of the atomic bomb in the modern world. That civilization is the Mongol Empire. Negan and his group of so-called Saviors are Walking Dead's version the Genghis Khan and the Mongols.

    The Mongol Empire was a powerful society that originated in Mongolia in the early 1200s. Under the leadership of the brilliant and ruthless Genghis Khan, they eventually conquered almost all of Asia and about half of Europe. Cities and societies that encountered the roaming hordes and armies of Mongolia had one choice: submit or die. Most ended up going with the latter.

    The Saviors can't come nearly as close to the Mongols is size, scale, or effectiveness; and Negan, for all of his villain bonafides, is still no Genghis Khan. But in the smaller scale of post-zombie apocalyptic wasteland around the District of Columbia and Virginia, the Saviors may as well be a Mongol Empire. The Saviors and Negan represent a terrifying threat because they're just so good...at nearly everything.

    Sometimes, a great villain has flaws to make them seem more relatable and human. But sometimes a great villain doesn't need any flaws at all, because the enormity of how proficient, skilled, and smart they are make them larger than life and terrifying. Negan and the Saviors belong in the latter category, much like Genghis Khan and the Mongols once did. Negan is smart enough to understand that violence equals power in this new world. He's also strong and athletic enough to be beyond effective in executing violence. It's like putting Stephen Hawking's brain in the Mountain's body. It's a terrifying combination that only knows how to do one thing: grow, expand, kill, conquer.

    The shock of the world ending has begun to pass on TheWalking Dead, and now the groups are beginning to catch up to where we are in the real world. It’s a testament to our strange collective human history that the world of The Walking Dead seems just as volatile and violent. And we didn't even need a zombie apocalypse to get that way.

    The Scavengers

    The Scavengers or Heapsters or Garbage Pail Kids are hard to nail down historically. That's partly because they have no analog for the group within The Walking Dead comic universe. So while it's possible that Robert Kirkman was drawing from real life historical and philosophical sources for his villains, we can't always say the same about the TV version - even though Kirkman remains heavily involved.

    The other factor at play is that the Scavengers are so aggressively stylish and steampunkish that there isn't really an easy real life comparsion. Off the top of my head, I can come up with very few societies that styled themselves in all-black and lived a garbage-based existence. 

    When you do some digging, however, you discover that scavenging, hoarding, garbage-picking - whatever you want to call - has been a human tradition for virtually as long as there have been humans. "Gleaning" is a fun word that dates all the way back to Biblical times. Gleaning is essentially a more pastoral term for garbage picking. Gleaners would descend upon farmers' lands after they had been harvested to pick up any rinds or tiny grains left behind. Surprisingly, gleaning is actually a recognized right for the poor in Deutoronomy and Leviticus.

    Jadis and her merry band of garbage-people aren't entirely like gleaners as there are no farms left to glean from, but living in a garbage dump in a post-apocalyptic world does add a nice level of "the meek shall inherit the Earth" intrigue. When the whole word has become a garbage dump, those most comfortable living in an actual one achieve some power.

    The Scavengers aren't just a group happily playing around in garbage. They're a formiddable faction thanks to the useful junk-rich area they control. 

    A version of this article originally ran on February 19, 2016.


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    The Walking Dead has one of the most passionate fan communities on TV and AMC knows how to give it what it wants.

    Feature Alec Bojalad
    Dec 10, 2017

    On Sept. 14, AMC launched The Walking Dead Fan Rewards Club. It was a creative new concept from the cable network that enabled them to give back to the show’s rabid fans while keeping them in the AMC fold. This how the program works: Walking Dead fans are able to collect “points” for activities like watching the show, buying merch online, or posting about the show on their social media.

    This is a novel, intriguing concept. It’s also not one we’re used to seeing on television. Phrases like “Rewards Club” are often reserved for corporate entities that interact with what we view as “consumers” and not “fans.” Dominos has a rewards club (called “Piece of the Pie”), Starbucks has a rewards club (“My Starbucks Rewards program”), and even Pampers has a rewards club (“Pampers Gifts to Grow”).

    What AMC has done with The Walking Dead is finally bridge the gap between corporate speak and geek speak. Words like “fan” and “consumer” often mean the same thing. If Lost represents the time that fandom culture went mainstream, The Walking Dead represents the time that fandom culture went corporate.

    I understand there is a rough connotation that comes along with the phrase “corporate.” Hell, “going corporate” is not often a phrase someone uses to celebrate something. In this instance, however, I want to try to remove The Walking Dead as scripted art and entertainment and instead talk about the outsized cultural entity that is The Walking Dead fandom. The show has its struggles and certainly won’t be compared to Picasso’s “Guernica” anytime soon, but it is art. The fandom around it, however, has been incorporated under the AMC corporate umbrella in fascinating ways.

    We all know that geekdom is celebrated (and some would argue exploited) in the mainstream in ways far beyond what Dungeons & Dragons players in the ’80s could have ever imagined. Swords and shields dominate premium cable in the form of Game of Thrones. And in cinema, it’s going to be a long time before anyone has a better year than Disney with its twin blockbuster hydra of Star Wars and the Marvel movies.

    Still, The Walking Dead represents the most interesting case for how giant entertainment entities come to turn “fans” into “consumers.”

    Step one is to create something good. Well, something within a fandom-friendly, entertaining genre that’s good. The Walking Dead has certainly creatively stagnated in some ways in its later seasons but remember what the show was like back in 2010? AMC could not have possibly knocked the ball further out of the park.

    The network had already earned viewers attention and trust with legitimate television masterpieces like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, which afforded AMC the chance to take a risk with a genre show. So the network took a much-loved horror-adjacent comic book, brought in Hollywood heavy-hitter Frank Darabont to shepherd it, and released one of the best genre TV pilots ever, “Days Gone Bye,” right in time for Halloween. To borrow from some of the corporate examples above, “Days Gone Bye” was AMC’s chocolate lava crunch cakes, caramel frappucino, and 5-star skin care diaper.

    It didn’t take long for The Walking Dead to develop a legitimate and vibrant fan community. Just anecdotally, I know there are only two TV series I’ve attended honest-to-goodness watch parties for: Lost and The Walking Dead. You’ve likely gone to one too if you consider yourself a fan of the show. Even if you just Google “Walking Dead watch party” these days, you’re likely to find plenty of options at bars well in advance of season 8’s premiere.

    Traditionally, networks have earned their money by proving to advertisers via services like Nielsen ratings that they have viewers. Now that entertainment has become so fractured and specialized, entertainment companies aren’t just looking for viewers, they’re looking for fans. And by the end of season one, that’s exactly what The Walking Dead had.

    The Walking Dead subreddit currently has more than 401,000 registered users ready to discuss the show. Compare that to some other fandom-friendly offerings. Netflix’s Stranger Things has a subreddit with around 140,000 users, FX’s American Horror Story has around 67,000. Game of Thrones has over 1 million, but that show is absolutely freakish in its mass appeal. Seriously, the thing’s a monster.

    Regardless, people clicking “subscribe” to a subreddit isn’t a perfect measure of fandom size or engagement, but it’s a start. Social media is in many ways the new office watercolor and in that respect, The Walking Dead clearly passes the bar as watercolor entertainment. At the very least, it’s more than fair to claim that The Walking Dead has what we would refer to as a “fandom.”

    Once AMC achieved the creation of a fandom, it’s next step was to begin efforts to take control of it. Again, that has a negative connotation, but I mean that in purely morally neutral terms. AMC execs are not gathered around a dimly-lit study conspiring about how to exploit a TV show’s fanbase while expensive cigar smoke ascends to the ceiling. They’re just savvy business folk and they know how to vertically integrate. Here is TV's most savvy businessman, Jack Donaghy, explaining what vertical integration is.

    “Imagine that your favorite corn chip manufacturer also owned the number one diahrrhea medication," Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) explains.

    With a massive hit on its hands, AMC sought to make a second show that would turn discussion about their cash cow into a product. Enter The Talking Dead.

    In hindsight, it’s kind of weird that we didn’t make a bigger deal of The Talking Dead’s existence. Sure, there was some critical snickering about whether there needed to be a whole hour on TV devoted to recapping, deconstructing, and discussing a silly zombie show. But early critics failed to see that fans were almost always talking about this silly zombie show - they were talking about it at watch parties, on social media threads, and fan forums. The fact that AMC decided to get in on the chatter is rather ingenious.

    The Talking Dead also debuted far earlier than you remember. AMC launched the Chris Hardwick-hosted post-episode talk show at the beginning of season 2. That means that for all of The Walking Dead’s soon-to-be 100 episodes, only six have not been followed by a talk show.

    The Talking Dead is actually good, thanks to Hardwick’s undeniable charm, but it almost doesn’t even matter if it is or not. The show is really just AMC’s opportunity to monopolize more of Walking Dead fans’ time and attention.

    The Talking Dead serves to deconstruct the show in almost real time. This is not unusual for television or fandom culture in general. Sometimes it seems like all of television was created back in the 20th century just so one day we could all argue in an A.V. Club comments section. What is unusual, however, is that it’s a product from the show’s corporate creators intended directly for the fans or consumers of that product. And The Talking Dead goes far beyond just wanting Walking Dead fans to have their eyes on AMC for an extra hour. The show also helped tremendously with shepherding fan engagement on multiple, non-TV platforms.

    Hardwick, like a millennial Bob Barker, hosts the show with an eye towards generating social media conversation. The Talking Dead is an outlet for the creative forces behind the show to discuss their creation, but it’s also an outlet for fans to participate in online polls and on social media. If AMC were merely interested in viewership, they would just roll directly into the nerd-adjacent Comic Book Men after The Walking Dead. With The Talking Dead, however, they’re able to keep not only viewership but also conversation going.

    That leads to another interesting aspect of the show's fandom. Despite, those large subreddit numbers, there are not many other AMC-independent fan outlets to discuss and celebrate the show. Fan forums like “Walking Dead Forums” and “Roamers and Lurkers” receive a relatively paltry amount of visitors for a show with around 15 million viewers an episode.

    There are potential mitigating factors for this. Perhaps the existence of social media powerhouses like Reddit downplay the need for the thriving discussion boards that existed during the days of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, and Lost. Or maybe this is a result of the show’s recent creative struggles. Still, it’s hard not to notice that this is a seismic shift in the way that fandom interacts with itself.

    There is one final way in which AMC interacts with the show's fandom and treats them as consumers. I mentioned earlier that we would be divorcing the show from the phenomenon but we’re going to have to dive back into the show for a moment.

    The Walking Dead has gone through some major creative and personnel changes throughout the years. Initial creator Frank Darabont was let go partway through season two of the show, which led to one of the all-time great behind the scenes TV shitshows. There are many potential reasons for Darabont’s departure. AMC alleges that Darabont was erratic and difficult to deal with behind the scenes. Darabont alleges that the network was unwilling to give him creative freedom or an adequate budget. Regardless of the reasoning, Darabont was jettisoned and Glen Mazarra took over. Mazarra’s version of the show happened to hew more closely to the original comic source material. Comic characters like Michonne and Tyreese were introduced and the characters came to settle at the infamous prison setting.

    Then Mazarra left and writer Scott Gimple took over. Gimple’s version of the show was even more faithful to the source material, and by the time season five rolled around, it was fairly easy for comic readers to predict the various beats for each subsequent season.

    It’s impossible to know the true reasoning behind both Darabont and Mazarra’s exits. Still, it cannot be denied that each time The Walking Dead has undergone a regime change, the show has become more faithful to the comic. We could read absolutely nothing into that, if we wanted. The comics are very good and perhaps each subsequent showrunner has realized that to be the case. But there is a certain air of “give the people what they want” on AMC’s end that cannot be ignored.

    When season seven struggled to grab its audience in its first eight episodes - many of the people involved with the show began to give public assurances that they had heard the fan community's concerns and that a brighter future was ahead.

    At a conference shortly before the second half of season seven premiered, producer Gale Anne Hurd assured audiences that they were being heard and that the show tone down the violence a bit.

    “We were able to look at the feedback on the level of violence. We did tone it down for episodes we were still filming for later on in the season,” she said.

    Then, at the Paley Center for Media’s 34th annual PaleyFest, showrunner Gimple promised not only a definitive season seven finale but also a return to greatness in season eight.

    "The season finale will be a conclusion that promises an epic story ahead. It's about setting up season eight but also beyond,"he said.

    Even the stars got involved with the apologies. Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) told Entertainment Weekly:

    I was saying that about the first half. I think part of that chatter you’re talking about came from me. But you know, it’s true: You can’t make everybody happy about everything. But we try, and you have to keep the story moving forward at all times or you just tell the same story over and over again. But I know new actors that came onto this show that were like, “Man, I miss the old group,” and they were playing new roles this season. So I know that everybody felt it.

    These are creative people talking about their art in a manner that we’re more accustomed to seeing from petroleum companies after an oil spill. The cast and crew's reaction to the criticism was less “this is our singular, creative vision and we’re sorry to hear you don’t like it," and more “we know we kind of took things too slow this time but don’t worry, we’ll speed the plot up to keep you happy.”

    The language the creative team and actors to speak to its viewers seems to address them as both fans and consumers. In some respects, that is actually good news. Fans who care enough about genre shows to develop thriving fandom communities around them have historically been all but ignored. On the other hand, AMC has put great effort into bringing fans entirely into their umbrella.

    It’s not out of the goodness of their nerd-loving hearts, of course. There is gold to be found in them fandom hills. Still, in post-millennium Western culture, there is probably no better metric for whether a group has arrived than when a corporate entity desires their purchasing power.  Whether one views it as a net positive or negative, it’s hard to deny that AMC has harnessed the awesome power of fandom. 


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    Pulse Films has purchased the rights to Meet Me in the Bathroom, a book that documents New York's exciting post 9/11 music scene

    News Alec Bojalad
    Dec 10, 2017

    Pulse Films, the company behind projects like Beyonce's HBO "Lemonade" special, and two Nick Cave documentaries, has optioned Lizzy Goodman's earyl 2000s New York musc scene book Meet Me in the Bathroom with the intention of creating a documentary miniseries. 

    According to Variety, directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern of LCD Soundsystem's concert film Shut Up and Play the Hits are attached to direct. The series doesn't have a distribution or streaming home yet though Vice Media seems like a smart bet, having recently acquired a majority stake in Pulse Films. 

    Goodman's critically-adored book documents a burgeoning New York music scene that includes the likes of The Strokes, LDC Soundsystem, and Interpol at a unique time in history. In a post 9/11 landscape, a lot about the world was confusing but the New York indie scene was blossoming with bands and acts who were able to deftly juggle new sounds with old influences.

    The series will follow the book's lead and is being billed as a story of transformation - how one city confronted the impossible with the fun and familiar. It will feature archived footage and interview with bands from the time to go along with modern interviews.

    “Lizzy’s book captures a moment and a feeling in a way that is immediate, visceral and evocative, and those are the qualities we want to bring to the screen,” Lovelace and Southern said in a statement. “Beyond being a document of a vital and exciting period of creativity in one of the world’s greatest cities, bringing ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ to the screen is also an opportunity to explore the seismic changes that have occurred in the culture since the turn of the century.” 

    Goodman is on board as an executive producer. Hopefully she knows to include a lot of footage of the best Strokes song.