Pulling Me In – Part 1: Backstory and Birthright

This will be the first of a series of posts regarding me dipping my toes back into the waters of comics.

Despite loving the characters and cartoons of things like Superman, Batman, and Justice League, I didn’t really get into comics as a kid.  When I got to college, a couple of my roommates/close friends (Samuel and Kevin) were into them and piqued my interest.  I read an assortment of things, of which I probably most enjoyed Daredevil (a little before and after the Bendis era, if I recall correctly) and quite a bit of the Blackest Night event at DC.

After a while, life got in the way a bit, and I haven’t been reading nearly as many comics as before.  The only series I kept up with was sporadically borrowing and reading through Eric Powell’s very unique The Goon, which Samuel keeps up with.  From time to time, my friends tried to convince me to jump back in when our hangouts would lead us to our local comic shop, but I  shied away due to the time and money factors. I was content to browse through the shop’s board games and tabletop RPG items and look and talk about what my friends were getting.

However, in a recent excursion, Kevin was picking up the latest issue of Birthright, from the creative team of writer/creator Joshua Williamson, creator/artist Andrei Bressan, and artist Adriano Lucas.  His description of the story sounded very intriguing, and after seeing the first trade paperback was heavily discounted on Amazon, I decided to check it out.

Birthright, from Image Comics’ Skybound imprint, feels like a very unique and fresh take on familiar themes.  We have our young child protagonist, destined to be a hero and free the land from evil, whisked away from Earth to the fantasy world of Terrenos. But unlike the classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe scenario when our heroes age years in Narnia to return to Earth having not really aged or had any time lapse at all, Birthright‘s Mikey has been missing for about a year.  His parents and older brother are still trying to make their way in the aftermath of his disappearance.  And when Mikey returns from Terrenos, he has aged years into manhood.

That is just the beginning.  Many other themes and tropes of fantasy are tackled and/or flipped on their heads, and Williamson, Bressan, and Lucas do a great job of switching between the present day story on Earth and the flashbacks to Mikey’s past on Terrenos.  If you love the fantasy genre, there is plenty for you here. I highly recommend taking a look at the series.

If you hadn’t already guessed by my feelings on Birthright, my friends were finally successful in pulling me back in and convincing me to start my own pull list at our local store.

I decided to try a few ongoing series and through research, deliberation, and probably far too many annoying questions to my friends (particularly Kevin, who as a note, is part of some great content over at https://rcrreview.com/), I made some choices.  I settled on Birthright, Marvel’s Daredevil (since I enjoyed his character and book so much before), and Justice League to see what was going on with some of my favorites from DC.

In the subsequent posts, I will be giving updates on what I’m thinking about the various series and if I drop any of these or add others. The next two entries will focus on my thoughts with Daredevil and Justice League, so stay tuned.

Thoughts on The Shannara Chronicles

A few weeks ago my wife and I watched through The Shannara Chronicles, the MTV series that is now on Netflix.  I caught a few of the early episodes when they were available for free online, but we watched the series in its entirety over the course of a week or two.

The show is adapted from the Shannara series of novels by Terry Brooks (specifically The Elfstones of Shannara for this opening season).  I had never looked all that closely into the series until I heard about the show, but based on the trailers I was intrigued.  I have even picked up a few of the used paperbacks, and I still plan to get to them eventually (although my “to read” list is so long at this point, who knows when I actually will).  That being said, I didn’t have too many expectations going into the series.  But as a nerd who is especially drawn to the fantasy genre, I was hopeful.

The early episodes drew me in for sure.  It definitely carried that MTV flavor that you would expect from a show on that network, and that really isn’t my cup of tea, but it still felt like a pretty good fantasy show.  I felt Manu Bennett’s performance was especially good, and the setting and effects were solid.

I also thought the idea of the Ellcrys, the magical tree in the heart of the elven kingdom that serves as barrier that prevents the banished demons from once again attempting to ravage the lands, was particularly intriguing and offered something that felt fresh.

All of this set up what seemed to be a promising opening season of the show.  However, it certainly seemed to falter in the mid-season. The rather strange and decidedly un-fantasy portrayal of the trolls in particular gave me nightmarish flashbacks to the utterly disappointing Urgals in the Eragon film (though I’m not sure anything could touch that source material sin).  The love triangle between Wil and Eretria/Amberle, and romantic relationships in general, felt forced and like they were attempting to be the awkward TV-14 version of Game of Thrones.  What had felt like a fantasy show with some MTV flavors thrown in began to feel like an MTV show with some fantasy flavors thrown in.  Not a good thing, in my opinion.  And this was reflected in a few groans and facepalms as we continued to watch, but…

It wasn’t all bad or cringe-worthy.  In fact, I felt like the ending helped bring it back to the hopefulness I experienced at the beginning.   So despite the rocky middle, overall I was glad to have watched it.  The world was interesting, characters and kingdoms compelling enough, and action was the type of thing you would hope for in a fantasy show.  It made me more interested to see how Terry Brooks wrote the world, characters, and interactions, and I think that is a good thing.  And besides, who doesn’t want to see John Rhys-Davies, Gimli himself, as king of the elves?

I will definitely be taking a look at season two, and I hope that the showrunners will cut some of the MTV fluff and tell the epic storylines that I am sure are present in the novels. I would give season one 2/3 elfstones, but season two needs to impress me to keep me coming back to their version of the Four Lands.

Closing the Book on Castle

Castle came to an abrupt close last week.  News broke a few weeks ago that our very own Captain Beckett, Stana Katic, would not be returning if there was a 9th season, and shortly after we learned that ABC decided not to proceed with only the Nathan Fillion half of the “Caskett” pair to return for subsequent seasons.

If you are reading this and you are a fellow fan, I hope we can reminisce together.  If you are reading this and you haven’t seen Castle before, I hope that you are interested enough to check it out.  Do yourself a favor and start here.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the series since I first heard the news, and there are so many good memories from this show.  I can’t really remember exactly what I was doing when I saw my first ad for Castle.  I hadn’t seen anything about it before, and I didn’t know anyone who was personally watching it, but as an aspiring writer I was immediately intrigued.  I tracked down the first episode and was immediately hooked.  Fillion and Katic had electric chemistry, the supporting cast was phenomenal, the writing was superb, and the brilliant concept was executed wonderfully.

Something about it connected with me in a way that truly felt like it was my show.  That I was sharing in something truly special.  This was particularly the case when I introduced my then girlfriend (and now wife) to the show.  I had collected a few of the early seasons at this point, and I still didn’t know anyone else watching the show.  I thought she would enjoy it, so I convinced her to give it a shot.  As you might have guessed, she fell in love with the show too, and we quickly watched through all of the released episodes.  Joining in with Castle and Beckett’s adventures was something we began looking forward to on a weekly basis. Sharing this story with her is not something I will soon forget.

I feel like the show continued to get better over those first few seasons before really hitting its stride.  I don’t know that I have seen a TV show where the characters grow as much and as believably as we saw during Castle’s run.  With Castle, we saw him transform from millionaire playboy who’s only true affections seemed to be saved for his mother and daughter (outside of his love for himself of course), into a caring husband and friend who routinely put his life on the line for the sake of others.  With Beckett, we saw someone who was strong but almost completely closed off after the death of her mother.  She grew to allow her walls to come down and let those she cared about truly into her life. And that is just between the stars of the show.  We also saw stellar character arcs for Ryan, Esposito, and Captain Montgomery just to name a few.

And there were plenty of well-written and mysterious villains for our heroes to take on.  Tracking down Beckett’s mother’s killer, trying to take down the seemingly untouchable Senator Bracken and LOCKSAT, and attempting to match wits with the chilling 3XK were some of the most memorable. Not to mention Castle’s frequently outlandish theories on who the culprits of various crimes could be.

I’m truly saddened that there are so many of these character arcs or villains we won’t see any more of.  This is a big reason why it was a few days before we brought ourselves to watch the end. I thought the finale was pretty good.  It showcased many of the things that made the show fantastic: the great love story, the many amazing and well-written characters, a mysterious murder with twists and turns.  But it did feel a little rushed.  Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to learn what happened with Castle’s other missing time or see a final rematch with 3XK.

What we did get though was a happy ending, so I’ll settle for that for now.

But perhaps I can put on my “Writer” bulletproof vest for a moment and dare to imagine.  We live in a world with an entertainment landscape that features online streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu.  Perhaps executives there might also see the merits of this incredible show and pick it up, or possibly even execs from one of the other powerhouse TV networks.  Unlikely, maybe, but some of the best of Castle’s theories were as well.

Even if we don’t get more Castle, it has been an amazing journey.  Thank you to all of the show runners, writers, cast, and all the other crew that brought this story to life.  It was one heck of a ride.  I laughed, I cheered, I cried (it may or may not have been more like wept with the finality of the series finale).  So again, thank you.

Always.

Hopefully amusing musings on some of the (often nerdy) things I like