TV News: Comics No More (Wonder Woman and Locke and Key bite the dust…)

Wonder Woman 2011 TV Pilot Production Adrianne Palicki

So, the much-kicked, much-derided Wonder Woman pilot has, in the end, not been picked up by NBC. In certain ways, this isn’t surprising – the network initially passed on the script, and it’s fairly clear that it only really got through to production because of the fact that it’s a well-known and recognised property, meaning NBC were dipping their toe in the water but with no commitment to diving all the way in. Naturally, there’s lots of victorious braying from certain areas of comics fandom, convinced that this project was a guaranteed disaster from the start, but I can’t quite work up the same enthusiasm and relief I did when Robert Zemeckis’ ill-advised motion-capture remake of Yellow Submarine got tanked. That’s mainly because Wonder Woman is a character where there’s so much manuevering room that you can do different takes on her (especially in a network TV show, which was highly unlikely to go the ‘Amazonian Goddess fights mythological beasts every week’ route). Now, I was never entirely convinced by what I heard about Kelly’s WW concept – it sounded like the kind of thing which could either work fairly well, or end up embarrassing – and some of the casting had me raising question marks (Liz Hurley as the main bad guy? Really?), but there was enough there to at least have me intrigued, and I was willing to give the project the benefit of the doubt until I’d actually seen it. And, from reports of people who’ve seen the pilot, the episode isn’t a disaster and has some strong elements (quotes used have been ‘ambitious’ and ‘well-crafted’), but the focus-groups and execs weren’t convinced.

Now, however good or bad lead actress Adrianne Palicki was as Wonder Woman, the series isn’t going to happen, and yet another version of Wonder Woman has failed to make it into becoming a genuine commercial spin-off. Fans may be breathing a sigh of relief, but this is likely to make another Wonder Woman project a lot less likely to happen for while, if only because producers may be slightly uneasy about a fandom that’s going to lash out with a borderline insane amount of venom unless they get a version of Wonder Woman that’s exactly like the comics in every conceivable way. And as we’ve seen plenty of times in recent years – sticking exactly with the comics isn’t always a good thing. Like I’ve said before, Wonder Woman is a tricky character to get right in a manner that will appeal outside comic-book fans – there’s a reason why so many WW film projects have failed to get off the drawing board – and it’ll be interesting to see if anyone can ever solve the Wonder Woman problem…

Locke and Key Cover Art Gabriel Rodriguez Joe Hill Issue 6 Head GamesThe WW pilot misfire is, of course, the big TV news – but the one that’s made me a lot sadder is that Fox have passed on the pilot episode of Locke and Key, an adaptation of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s brilliant dark fantasy comic (which is slowly approaching the end of its run). With a brilliant cast and an absolutely corking director for the pilot (Never Let Me Go helmer and music video supremo Mark Romanek), it was top of the list of shows I wanted to see happen – although I was a little concerned that Locke and Key is pretty damn dark, a pitch-black twist on a traditional ‘kids adventure’ tale, and it felt like the kind of work that would fit much better somewhere like HBO or AMC than on a mainstream network (added to which, Fox have not exactly always been kind to genre shows). Added to which, word is that the pilot episode is really, really good – but it’s fallen victim to being viewed as ‘too complex’, and in a showdown between Locke and Key and new JJ Abrams-produced mystery Alcatraz, Abrams was the winner. There’s always the vague chance it might get shopped to another network, but I’d be surprised – five years ago, Locke and Key would have stood a much stronger chance as a TV show, but mainstream US TV seems to be largely moving away from long-form mysteries and complex arcs (leaving it more for the pay-on-demand HBO crowd). Seems very likely that Locke and Key is going to be left as yet another fascinatingly incomplete footnote in SF/Fantasy TV History, worse luck…

Movie News: Dear Zack… (An Open Letter to Zack Snyder, on the occasion of casting Michael Shannon as Superman villain General Zod)

Superman Logo Alex Ross Art Comic

Dear Zack Snyder,


I mean it. I was okay with Henry Cavill – after all, he’s the kind of mostly unknown actor who’s still notched up plenty of experience, and could work out very well. Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Kal-El’s adoptive father? A brilliant, almost blindingly obvious choice. Diane Lane as Martha Kent? Hell, yes – even if the attractiveness of Superman’s mother just shot through the roof. But so far, I wasn’t too invested. After Superman Returns not working out at all, I wasn’t going to let myself get excited about another Superman film. All was well.

Then Amy Adams got cast as Lois Lane. I’d been expecting a twentysomething, and probably someone who’d be slightly miscast (as in Superman Returns, with poor old Kate ‘I look about twelve in this film’ Bosworth). Lois is one of those deceptive roles that looks easy but isn’t, and even Teri Hatcher in the Lois and Clark show never got close to besting Margot Kidder in the original Superman movies. However, Adams could conceivably do it – and suddenly, I was in a bit of a bind. After all, this was Zack Snyder’s Superman we were talking about – a film I was in no rush to see before I saw Sucker Punch, and after which all I wanted to do was grab a Warner Bros exec by the scruff of the neck and scream “Why? Why would you do this? WHYYY???”

And then, you had to do it. You had to cast Michael Shannon as General Zod.

Michael Shannon Casting News General Zod Zack Snyder Superman Man of SteelThat’s an incredibly good choice. If you’re going to do Zod (especially after the simply magnificent job Terrence Stamp did in Superman II), you’ve got to get it right. There were rumours that it might be Viggo Mortensen, but Michael Shannon is just as good, if not better considering he doesn’t have the visibility and foreknowledge that comes with Viggo. Shannon has, up until now, been one of those quietly impressive character actors who occasionally turn up in big films, but do most of their work in quiet, intense indie dramas (the most notable films I can think of featuring Michael Shannon are Grand Theft Parsons, Shotgun Stories, and The Woodsman – all of which feature him in very different roles). He’s an intense, dedicated actor, capable of bringing real fierceness to the role, and this will certainly catapult him into a much-deserved bigger league. It’s a great bit of casting.

I just wish it wasn’t for a Zack Snyder film.

I didn’t see your Dawn of the Dead remake. 300 was attention-grabbing, but shallow as a puddle. And I was burned with Watchmen – which was a decent, admirable effort, but did feel like a two-and-a-half hour thesis on why adapting Watchmen into a movie was a very bad idea. I recently made the mistake of seeing Sucker Punch, and am still reeling from the experience (it’s taken me a long time to write a review, just to fully express my slightly rambling feelings on exactly how unempowering this supposedly empowering fantasy was).

You may be a really nice guy – but your directorial style is, to be honest, borderline insane. You don’t seem to have any idea how to create a consistent emotional reality in your films (you managed it occasionally in Watchmen, but then, you had an excellent blueprint to work from). You throw eye-candy at the audience whether it’s necessary or not, bludgeoning them into submission. Your ability to select a completely inappropriate or thunklingly obvious pop song for your film soundtracks is unparalleled. (From the awfulness of the Leonard Cohen-scored sex scene in Watchmen, to the non-stop “Oh dear god…” experience that was the Sucker Punch soundtrack, your musical taste is truly the gift that keeps on giving). There doesn’t seem to be a single shot that you don’t think couldn’t be at least slightly improved by slow-motion, or funky CG speed-ramping. You were convinced the world was ready for an 3-D CGI animation starring armoured owls (A hint: it wasn’t). You actually managed to somehow make a film where sexy girls in kinky underwear fight Nazi steampunk zombies into one of the dullest, most repetitive things I’ve seen in a cinema for years.

You are quite plainly completely out of your mind.

Even with the new title – just ‘Man of Steel’, no Superman – your new movie fills me with a sense of foreboding. I’d like to think that maybe you’ll ratchet your style back and approach the film in a calmer perspective. But I really doubt it. A Zack Snyder Superman film isn’t something I wanted. But I’m getting it anyway. So…


You’ve made your point. Go nuts from hereon in. Perry White and Jimmy Olsen? Go nuts. Cast the most ludicrous actors you can think of. I don’t mind. Just please- don’t let me look at another casting notice and think “Damn that’s a really good choice,” followed by a Wrath of Khan-style cry of “SNYYYDERRRR!!” Okay?

I’m glad we had this little chat. And I’ll be watching you, you slo-mo lovin’ motherfunster…

Yours grumpily,


Comics Review: Jimmy Olsen (One-Shot Special)

Jimmy Olsen Cover Art Amanda Conner Nick Spencer SupermanWriter: Nick Spencer ~ Artists: RB Silva, Dym, Amilcar Pinna ~ Colours: Dave McCaig ~ Publisher: DC Comics ~ Year: 2011

[xrr rating=5/5]

The Low-Down: Simply one of the best mainstream superhero comics for a long time, Jimmy Olsen is an energetic romantic comedy and a hugely enjoyable ride from start to finish, while also giving a long-neglected comics character the treatment he deserves.

What’s it About?: He’s Superman’s best friend. He’s a Daily Planet reporter. He’s the guy who wears a bow-tie. Jimmy Olsen is all of these things, but he’s also been dumped by his girlfriend – fellow reporter Chloe Sullivan, now paying a worrying level of attention to handsome LexCorp junior executive Sebastien Mallory. With Superman absent from Metropolis, Jimmy has to try and get Chloe back, throw a spanner in Sebastien Mallory’s plans, and maybe also foil an alien invasion…

Jimmy Olsen Art DB Silva One-Shot Special Nick Spencer SupermanThe Story: If there’s one character that was definitely harmed by the “Hey kids! Comics can be gritty and violent and for adults!” bandwagon, it was Jimmy Olsen. Superman’s youthful reporter sidekick is one of those characters who’s been part of the world of Metropolis almost since the beginning of the story in the early 1940s – but when DC Comics decided to reboot their continuity and straighten out some of the kookier edges in their fictional universe with the mid-1980s epic Crisis on Infinite Earths, Jimmy was one of the characters hit hardest, mainly because at his best – in the craziness of comics’ Silver Age during the 1960s – Jimmy Olsen was the absolute definition of kooky.

Whether he was time-travelling to the Holy Land circa 1000BC (and accidentally starting a Beatles craze), acquiring Elastic-Lad powers, encountering punky motorcycle gangs in a secret underground hippie commune under Metropolis, or accidentally ending up as a Nazi War hero, Jimmy Olsen’s Silver Age adventures are infamous for their sheer imaginative craziness. As a result, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s incredible (and continuity-free) All-Star Superman served up a Jimmy Olsen that was a brilliant distillation of everything fun about this particular geek-hero in the Silver Age – but now, Morning Glories writer Nick Spencer has done the same for the Jimmy of the official DC Universe, with an end result that’s so much fun, it’ll have you clamouring for an Olsen ongoing series by the final page.

Jimmy Olsen Art Chloe Sullivan portrait Smallville DB Silva One-Shot Special Nick Spencer SupermanMore than anything, Spencer gets that Jimmy Olsen works best when he’s knee deep in the most ludicrous trouble imaginable, and so this seven-part story (collected here from back-up strips that originally appeared in Action Comics, and finished especially for this collection) serves up trouble in spades. Following a week in the life of Olsen and packing in a ferocious amount of invention (as well as some nicely played digs at recent events in the main Superman comic), this is a fast-paced comedy romp that delivers a multitude of gags but also has plenty of heart. Spencer understands that this wouldn’t work unless we actually care about the characters, and makes Jimmy a charming and daring disaster-area, while giving his relationship with Chloe Sullivan (a character making her DC Comics debut, having appeared on the absurdly long-running Smallville for the past ten years) the right level of whip-smart, 1930s Screwball comedy-style wit.

Modern-day DC Comics do plenty of harking back to the Silver Age, but often that just means straight-faced superheroics with added gore – it isn’t often that we get a comic as bright, funny and downright charming as Jimmy Olsen. It’s the most accessible and downright fun superhero comic I’ve read since Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s run on Power Girl, but it also gets pretty damn close to All-Star Superman levels of invention, fun and well-played emotional warmth. A self-contained comic that tells a brilliant story and doesn’t claim that NOTHING will EVER BE THE SAME by its climax, this is a dazzling piece of work that will leave you with a goofy grin slapped across your face, and desperate for more comics of this kind of barmy invention and quality.

The Art: Imagine driving along a straight open road, not a care in the world – and suddenly, out of nowhere, you hit a speed bump that sends you almost bouncing into the roof of your own car. That’s roughly the experience that happens artistically when you hit the final chapter of this collection – it’s not so much that Amilcar Pinna’s pencils on the fill-in pages she handles are bad, they’re just not as strong and a very noticable change (especially when the credits are at the end of the chapter, so there isn’t even any warning), and they’re particularly noticable because penciller RB Silva does such an incredible job on the rest of the story. Showcasing an equal mix of expressive cartoonishness and stylish layouts, Silva’s work is brilliantly pitched throughout, handling all the comedy with ease, and adding some cool visual flourishes. Backed up with excellent inks and some gorgeous colours by Dave McCaig, this is a bright, breezy and gorgeous-looking comic – just be prepared for that sudden change in the final chapter, and everything will be fine.

The Verdict: A comic that seriously outshines the high-profile but deeply flawed current Superman story ‘Grounded’, this Jimmy Olsen special is an outstanding piece of work, while Nick Spencer is continuing to prove that he’s a name to watch. Get yourself to your nearest comic shop as soon as possible, and pick a copy. You won’t regret it…

Movie News: Lanterns-a-Go-Go (New footage from Green Lantern)

Green Lantern Ryan Reynolds Movie Poster Wondercon Teaser Footage

Only yesterday I was talking about how the production schedule and effects work on Green Lantern has kind of slowed down and caused problems with the marketing push, resulting in us only getting a not-exactly-stunning trailer so far. Well, it seems like Warners have woken up to this, as the footage that’s recently premiered at US Convention Wondercon has also been put up online in sparkling high definition at the Apple Trailers site. It’s a sensible move, considering how often comic convention exclusives almost always get leaked onto Youtube as crappy cameraphone videos, and how awareness of Green Lantern as a movie property is not exactly at an all-time high right now.

And the footage? Well… it certainly proves that Warners dropped the ball with the first ad, and really should have gotten more effects-work done in time, as this is a much more impressive trailer than the first one, giving a far greater sense of scale and easing back for the most part on the cheesy humour. It certainly looks like it’s going to be colourful and fun, but with a major streak of straight-faced sci-fi cheese that seems to be – at least from my perspective – part and parcel of the whole Green Lantern experience (To be honest – it’s going to be absurdly hard to make the kooky and poetic Green Lantern oath work dramatically, and it doesn’t look like they’ve cracked it here (and I’m deeply worried about sequels and potentially getting to all the other colour Lantern Corps, all of whom have their own ridiculous poem-oath)). The costume looks better here (even if the mask is still going to be a tough sell – an alien energy costume, and the best thing it can think of to protect his identity is a domino mask?), although much of the footage on Oa, home of the Green Lantern Corps, looks like it’s way too skewed for the whole 3-D experience with CG shots that are good, but not always looking brilliantly immersive. I’m more onboard than I was before, but I’m still not entirely convinced (I’m nowhere near as sold as I was on the Captain America trailer), and I do reckon it’s going to be very interesting to see what sinks and what swims in this upcoming superhero-overloaded blockbuster summer…

The Friday Linkfest (25/03/11): In Links We Trust

Wonder Woman TV Costume Adrianne Palicki

Wonder Woman costume revealled, half of internet goes into apopleptic shock. Apparently the boots are the wrong colour. And the whole thing just looks a bit too halloween costume for some people. I looked at it and thought “Well, it’s not ideal, but it does look a hell of a lot more like Wonder Woman than I expected”. The amount of negative bitching online about this project is kind of amazing in certain places – I’m not even a WW fan, I’m not expecting it to be superb, but at the current rate, I’m hoping this ends up a smash hit simply for the looks on the fans’ faces. Does that make me a bad person?

Genre for Japan – a brilliant auction set up by a group of fantastic people (including book blogger Amanda Rutter) to raise money for the Japanese Tsunami Relief appeal being run by the Red Cross. There’s a genuinely spectacular selection of items up for auction, donated by a wide variety of people from across the SF, Fantasy and Horror scene – go look, and go bid!

A gorgeous selection of graphic novel covers, reinterpreted as Seventies pulp paperbacks (with the kind of minimal designs that I would kill to own in real life). .

Least shocking news of the week: Joseph-Gordon Levitt is definitely in The Dark Knight Rises. Plus, he’s playing Alberto Falcone (son of Tom Wilkinson’s character from Batman Begins), a character from the Batman series The Long Halloween, already loosely plundered for The Dark Knight. Only maybe he isn’t – another source has since said the Falcone rumour is incorrect, and Gordon Levitt’s part is another character. Once again, it’s wait and see time…

Doctor Who fan claims he created Davros, sues the BBC. Okay, this is just weird – a fan called Steven Clark says that he entered a drawing competition for the comic TV Action in 1972, and that the BBC then went and hi-jacked his idea, turning it into Dalek creator Davros, who’s since appeared multiple times in the show. The reason he’s suing now? Apparently he lost his original entry, but they turned up “in the pages of a set of family encyclopaedias”, which sounds deeply suspect. This sounds like the kind of nutty copyright case that comes up every so often, usually generated by chancers out for a quick buck via a settlement – because apparently not only did Clark come up with the name, his loose pencil sketch is actually a pretty exact blueprint for Davros, and he wrote an essay with the drawing entitled “The Genesis of the Daleks: The Creation of Davros”. So, either 1975 classic Genesis of the Daleks was the creation of a sinister conspiracy to steal an idea from a young fan, or someone is talking utter bollocks. We’ll see how this nonsense progresses…

Ultimate Spider-Man team Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley reunite on a creator-owned comic for Marvel’s Icon imprint, entitled ‘Brilliant’. Ultimate Spider-Man is pretty much the most brilliant and consistent version of Spider-Man I’ve ever seen – the idea of them taking on a tale that’s sounding like a superhero version of The Social Network is definitely something I’m onboard for.

Why the new Star Trek movie doesn’t need a villain, via Tor. The author (Ryan Britt) is right – that it should be about an interesting SF premise, not about who Kirk and co get to punch this time (Klingons! Khan! Harry Mudd!) but it doesn’t change the fact that it will not happen. The 2009 Star Trek film briefly dazzled me with its action and nostalgia (there’s a slightly embarrassing gush of a blog post about it that I should get around to deleting), but I rewatched it earlier this year and it’s one of the most disappointingly empty SF blockbusters in years – a great cast doing fantastic work in service of a script that says nothing, and even bollocks up Spock’s character in the end (when he’s all for blowing up Nero’s ship). I’d love for the next film to be slightly more thoughtful or at least have more substance – in today’s film climate, that’s ridiculously unlikely.

An open letter to Twilight fans.

The reviews for Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch are starting to appear – and they’re not looking good. In fact, some of them are hilariously bad. The first review I’ve linked to (from IGN) basically hints that the film is exactly what the trailers have made it look like – an overproduced, overstylised mess – and my favourite quote has to be: “For a movie that’s superficially about female empowerment, it’s ironically one of the most ridiculously misogynistic movies in recent memory.” And Warner Bros have just handed Snyder the directorial chair for Superman. It’ll be interesting to see whether it sinks or swims at the Box Office….

AKIRA casting rumours are once again circling – and it’s still not looking good. Robert Pattinson? James McCavoy? Michael Fassbender? Look, I think it’s about time all anime fans make peace with the fact that if this remake does happen, it’s going to be a cynical mess that’ll desperately try to sand down most of those awkward, harsh or confrontational edges that made Akira interesting in the first place. There are accusations of Last Airbender-style ‘white-washing’ of the cast, given the original source material – but M. Night Shyamalan was (however incompetently) trying to make a film that was true to the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series, which made the casting even more of a problem – whereas by dumping the Japanese setting, the extreme violence (given it’s a PG-13) and that troublesome ‘punky teenage rebellion’ subtext (given that virtually all the actors offered the renamed versions of Kaneda and Tetsuo are in their late twenties or early thirties), the producers of the Akira remake have made it clear they couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the original source material. They’re out to make a big sci-fi blockbuster and trade on the relatively well-known name of a cult movie (as all movies have to be ‘properties’ now) – the chances of this bearing any more than a passing resemblance to the manga or anime (aside from the design) is small. And accusing this of ‘whitewashing’ is a little like accusing Sergio Leone of whitewashing Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo to turn it into A Fistful of Dollars – ultimately, a bit silly and pointless, especially with a film that’s being helmed by Albert Hughes, and is likely to end up like From Hell – a pretty-looking, visually strong film that’s empty beyond belief and simply misses the point.

And finally – a teaser for the new season of Doctor Who. To be honest, it’s so short as to be borderline subliminal (15 seconds long, for heaven’s sake) – more interesting is the teaser for the online prequel, which will be appearing on Friday the 25th of March. Colour me intrigued…

The Thursday Trailer: Captain America – The First Avenger (2011)

Up until now, Marvel Studios haven’t been anywhere near as loud about their upcoming Captain America film as they have about Thor – probably because of the fact that Thor is a slightly trickier proposition that needs a little more groundwork laying than “Steve Rogers becomes a Super Soldier and punches Nazis”. Well, after the promising-looking Superbowl 30-second ad, the full trailer is now available in HD on the Apple site, and it’s actually looking like an absurd amount of pulp fun. I suspected that Chris Evans was going to make a really good Captain America when he was cast, and it doesn’t look like he’s about to prove me wrong…

Honourable Mentions:

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – To be honest, this only scrapes in via its newness. The fourth Pirates film looks like it might be an improvement on the goodwill-devouring and horribly bloated second and third films, but it still looks dangerously overblown, and hasn’t changed my mind on the simple fact that Captain Jack Sparrow doesn’t work as a lead character (The reason why he works in the first Pirates film? He’s a shambling Trickster who’s convinced he’s the hero of the movie, but isn’t). But it does at least seem the best bet for swashbuckling action this summer…

Plus – upcoming soon on DVD and Blu-Ray is the thoroughly intriguing-looking Japanese animated film Summer Wars, from the director of The Girl Who Leapt through Time. The trailer looks very good, and pretty nuts – this is the US version, though, so be prepared for a not exactly spectacular English dub…

Movie News: Born Again (Daredevil gets a new lease of life – and a director…)

Daredevil Movie Reboot News Director David Slade

I don’t think anyone’s going to stand up and attempt to say that the 2003 version of Daredevil was a particularly good film. Mark Steven Johnson may have set out to be faithful to the classic Frank Miller run on the comic (especially utilising the character of Elektra), but the whole thing was a bit of a hodge-podge and a non-event, meaning I wasn’t surprised when rumours began circling that 20th Century Fox were thinking of rebooting the franchise in an attempt to get it right second time around (in a similar manner to the similar reboot planned for The Fantastic Four – mainly so that they don’t lose those all-important movie rights).

Daredevil Movie Reboot News Director David Slade PhotoWell, those plans for a reboot just got one step closer, as they’ve signed a director, and it’s a pretty good choice. David Slade may not be quite as high profile a scoop as getting Darren Aronofsky for the second Wolverine film, but he’s a filmmaker who’s managed to impress with both Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night, and while I haven’t seen Eclipse, I have heard that he’s actually gotten the Twilight Saga the closest to actually delivering a genuine movie (rather than just two hours of emo moping and sparkly vampire pouts). In short, he’s a filmmaker who’s capable of providing an edge, which a street-level hero like Daredevil desperately needs. This is only the first step along the road – but it is a fairly promising one…

TV News: Preludes and Nocturnes (Or, the Disappearing and Reappearing TV Adaptation of The Sandman)

Sandman Neil Gaiman Dave McKean TV Adaptation News

Scarcely have I stopped talking about how happy I am that the mo-cap Yellow Submarine remake isn’t happening, when another project that I’m slightly concerned about starts hovering in the Schrodinger’s Box of Cancelled/Not Cancelled reality. In this case, it’s the potential TV adaptation of one of the most successful and well-known graphic novels of all time – Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.

Sandman Neil Gaiman Dave McKean TV Adaptation News Cover ArtA 75-issue series that started out as a top-down remix of an old DC Comics character and went on to redefine much of what you could do in comic books, all while delivering stories that were dark, melancholy, funny, twisted and utterly distinctive, The Sandman is a hell of a comic book. One of the most high profile successes in the comic industry over the last twenty five years, Hollywood has been circling it for a very long time – but the distinctive style of The Sandman is also the thing that makes it incredibly hard to adapt. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories are lyrical and odd in construction, often using fairy tale logic or confounding the reader with deliberately anti-climactic endings, while the protagonist,  the moody and aloof immortal being known as Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is often more of a background presence. There are very few genuine villains in The Sandman’s world, and even the ones that are there don’t function the way you expect them to (or don’t actually receive any come-uppance), and the whole thing is about as far from Hollywood storytelling as it’s possible to get.

Sandman Neil Gaiman Sam Kieth TV Adaptation News ArtThere have been attempts since the early Nineties, but none have ever come to fruition – Roger Avary, Gaiman’s collaborator on Beowulf, came closest to managing a fairly faithful adaptation, but even his attempt eventually floundered, and ever since it’s seemed that there’d never be a way of reconciling The Sandman’s deliberately offbeat storytelling with the money it would take to actually make.

Then, in the middle of last year, rumours of a TV series started to circulate. Given The Sandman’s deliberately long-form storytelling structure, a TV adaptation isn’t an insane idea, and would certainly give the concept much more room to breathe. Plus, there’s much more potential to acheive something closer to the comic’s unique flavour on TV, rather than trying to do such a kooky story in the increasingly homogenised world of Hollywood Blockbusters. In an ideal world, a Sandman series developed by someone like HBO would be ideal – the original comic wasn’t afraid to go in some very dark, graphic and adult directions, and a series that was just as free to explore that kind of territory (along the lines of the recent AMC TV adaptation of The Walking Dead) could be a genuinely promising prospect.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Warner Bros were actually hoping for a replacement for their absurdly long-in-the-tooth ‘Young Superman’ series Smallville, and the Producer who was possibly going to transfer Gaiman’s work to the small screen was Eric Kripke, the creator of long-running fantasy/horror show Supernatural. This didn’t fill me with confidence – I’ve only seen one episode of Supernatural (and that was a long time ago) so I can’t judge Kripke’s suitability or not, but the idea of aiming The Sandman at mainstream network TV seemed, well, odd to say the least. It’s not impossible that such a project could work, but the potential for massive compromises and creative disaster was pretty damn strong, and it went down as something that I wouldn’t be upset about if, as with so much in the long history of proposed Sandman adaptations, it came to nothing.

Sandman Neil Gaiman Marc Hempel The Endless TV Adaptation News ArtSo, when I woke up this morning to find the internets ablaze with the announcement that Kripke had announced that it didn’t look like The Sandman was happening “at least for this TV season”, I have to admit I breathed a small sigh of relief. A TV version of The Sandman would be massively risky, and I’d far rather see it not happen than for a watered down, diluted version to shuffle its way onto the screen. The Sandman does strike me as one of those stories that, like Watchmen (despite all of Zack Snyder’s efforts) works best as a comic – its structure, its weirdness and its limitless imagination is simply ideal for the comics medium, and crowbarring it into another form risks breaking what makes it special in the first place.

However, it looks like I spoke too soon. DC’s Creative Chief Officer and Head Writing honcho Geoff Johns went on Twitter today, and tweeted: “Correction to world: The Sandman is AWAKE! Psyched to be working with @neilhimself on developing one of the greatest series ever!” It’s especially interesting, considering that according to Kripke, he had talked to Gaiman (aka @neilhimself) about the project, but wasn’t actually working directly with him. Of course, this could be general PR just to prevent people mistakenly thinking the project was actually dead, but for the moment it looks like the project is certainly active. Which means I get to keep being mildly concerned. Oh, hooray…

Of course, one interesting factor is whether or not a similar project makes it to the screen. Joe Hill’s brilliant dark fantasy comic book Locke and Key has been developed into a TV series – a pilot episode has been shot (directed by music video supremo and Never Let Me Go helmer Mark Romanek), and if it gets the green light, it’ll be going to a full series for the September 2011 TV season. If a project as dark and interesting as Locke and Key gets onto TV screens still with its weirdness and character intact, then I’d say the possibility of getting a Sandman TV series will definitely go up – but I’ll still remain to be convinced that this isn’t going to be anything other than yet another disappointing comics adaptation…

Comic Review : Nemesis

Writer: Mark Millar ~ Artist: Steve McNiven ~ Publisher: Icon ~ Year: 2011

Nemesis Mark Millar Steve McNiven Cover[xrr rating=2/5]

The Low-Down: Another serving of absurd ultraviolence and button-pushing controversy from the writer of Wanted and Kick-Ass, Nemesis has a fantastic central idea (What if Batman was evil?) but does very little with it, while also giving us one of the more slappable characters to grace a comic book page in quite some time…

What’s it About?: He came from wealth, and suffered a tragedy as a child. Now, he hides his identity behind a mask and stalks the night as a cloaked figure of terror… but the mysterious international criminal known as Nemesis isn’t interested in being a hero. Instead, he’s been on a killing spree across the world, murdering the top cops of every city he visits – and Blake Morrow, an ageing Washington-based policeman, is the last name on his list…

The Story: It isn’t often that a comic manages to be so gob-smackingly dumb that I actually want to throw it across the room, but Nemesis certainly qualifies, thanks to a twist in its third chapter that’s intended as a controversy-baiting ‘I can’t believe they just did that’ plot development, but instead just comes over as insultingly ludicrous and adolescent in the extreme.

Nemesis Mark Millar Steve McNiven Page Art ComicOf course, this is a Mark Millar comic – complaining about it being ludicrous, adolescent and violent is a bit like complaining that Michael Bay movies aren’t works of intellectual rigour. He’s a writer who’s specialised in essentially writing big dumb Summer Blockbusters in comic book form for a very long time (most succesfully in the massively influential Marvel series The Ultimates, with artist Bryan Hitch), amping violence and extremity up to breathtaking levels and boiling the world of superheroes down to arresting ‘What if?’ questions that are simple and straightforward enough to get Hollywood on the line for big-budget movie deals.

He’s a fantastic ideas man and is genuinely excellent at crafting action sequences, as well as tailoring projects to suit different artists – it’s just a pity that he doesn’t always manage much more than that. His comics are almost always all surface and no depth, full of so much snark, posturing and attitude that it’s rather like being self-consciously winked at for hours on end. He’s great at asking ‘what if’ questions, but often that seems to be all he does – and while Nemesis is gifted with a great setup and a couple of undeniably well-crafted setpieces, it’s hard not wish for a little less supervillain posing and a little more actual story.

Nemesis Mark Millar Steve McNiven Cover Art ComicAt four issues long, Nemesis is the shortest so far of Millar’s creator-owned titles – in theory, this should make this ‘Evil Batman’ tale a punchy bit of nasty escapism, but the end result feels sketchy and weak, lacking anything to pull us into the story other than exploding heads, nonsensically OTT action sequences and a Japanese cop being run over by a bullet train. Millar seems to think his central idea is enough, and forgets to actually give us any characters to care about, or even be interested in – with the pagecount kept short, and plenty of splash pages throughout, there’s hardly any room to get to know the cast, and the action becomes a relatively simplistic (if decidedly nasty) game of cat and mouse, where Nemesis does something horrible, the cops respond, and then Nemesis does something even nastier.

Millar has talked in interviews that one of the reasons behind doing the series was to do a story revolving around a villain, in the manner of Goodfellas or The Sopranos – and if that was his intent, then he’s failed spectacularly, as Nemesis (the series) isn’t remotely interested in exploring its main character in the slightest. We’re a spectactor to the white-clad killer’s carnage but never allowed to see things from his perspective, and we barely know any more about Nemesis by the end of the story than we did at the start (other than that he’s great at fighting, completely psychotic, and – rather improbably – a master gynaecologist).

Nemesis Mark Millar Steve McNiven Art ComicPlus, while Millar’s central idea is ‘What if Batman was the Joker?’, it might as well have been ‘What if Batman was a preening, egomaniacal, foul-mouthed tosspot?’ Nemesis is, at heart, a fantastically uncharismatic, brattish and annoying central character who’s so busy posing and swearing in an oh-so-confrontational way that he never comes across as anything other than a convenient collection of devilish plot devices. There’s an attempt to weld the story onto a subtext relating to the current financial crisis, but really it’s just Millar working through yet another iteration of “What if superheroes were, like, real people? And swore?”, but with far fewer returns this time around. There was room for a genuinely tense battle of wills, and Millar does admittedly pull off a decent finale in the White House, but most of the story feels like paper-thin connective tissue around the ballistic setpieces. There’s the sense that Millar is far more concerned about keeping the pace up, pushing as many boundaries as he can and delivering the ‘shocking’ revelations than he is with actually giving us a reason to care about what’s happening (which he is still capable of doing, as shown by his new series Superior). Instead, the characters are two-dimensional cyphers ready to be butchered, slaughtered or otherwise abused, and the story fritters away most of the promise of its central concept on cheap ultraviolence.

While I don’t think Nemesis was conceived purely as a way of getting a movie pitch out there (unsurprisingly, it’s already been picked up for an adaptation, with Tony Scott scheduled to direct), I do think that a movie adaptation could stand a very good chance of improving on the story’s major flaws, and maybe deliver a film that actually fulfils the potential of the central concept.

But of course, Nemesis’s work is already done. It’s gotten attention, mainstream critics are looking at it and saying “Oh, how shocking and revolutionary!”, and, along with Kick-Ass, it’s going to be viewed as yet another benchmark of what modern-day comics should be (‘edgy’, ‘hip’, absurdly violent and high-concept enough that even narrow-minded Hollywood producers can understand them). I’m just left wishing Millar had spent as much effort on the story and character as he had on button-pushing controversy, and actually used the medium of comics for more than just the opportunity to say “Hey – I bet you’ve never seen a cop being impaled through the neck with his own truncheon, have you?”  Nemesis once again proves that just because you can get away with anything in a comic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should – or that the end results will be particularly entertaining…

Nemesis Mark Millar Steve McNiven Issue 3 Cover ComicThe Art: They’ve worked together before on Civil War and Old Man Logan, but the Mark Millar/Steve McNiven team here doesn’t result in quite such pleasing results. McNiven’s inking style goes in a rather weird direction in Nemesis, with results that sometimes border on the ugly, while the colouring doesn’t always do the art any major favours. He still manages to pull off most of the setpieces, and the key sequence – a ludicrously nasty fight between Nemesis and almost a hundred prison guards in chapter 3 of the story – is incredibly well realised. But overall, McNiven’s work doesn’t always hit the mark, leaving this in the shadow of his other, more impressive projects.

The Verdict: Nowhere near as smart or attention-grabbing as it thinks it is, Nemesis wants to be part of the ‘new wave’ of modern-day breakout hit action comics, but it’s rather like listening to any Oasis album post ‘What’s the Story Morning Glory’ – the ticks are getting a little too familiar, and Millar is in danger of turning into a writer who comes up with great ideas that are best handled by other people. If you like your comics loud, stupid and rather obnoxious, tuck in – but don’t say I didn’t warn you…

[amtap book:isbn=0857681079]

Movie News: Shane Black to direct Iron Man 3?

Iron Man 3 News

I have to admit – I’m slightly perplexed by exactly how much love the movie version of Iron Man got. Make no mistake, it’s a fun and frothy blockbuster, but I was surprised by exactly how bowled over people were, when Jon Favreau has never struck me as the most dynamic or exciting director (although I am currently keen to see how his upcoming movie Cowboys and Aliens turns out), and the original Iron Man was very much one of those superhero blockbusters that’s an effective origin story with an extra act of clunky action awkwardly welded on to the end.

I wasn’t entirely surprised when Iron Man 2 turned out to be a damp squib more concerned with trailing the upcoming 2012 Avengers project than actually telling a good story, giving us a rather lazy version of ‘more of the same’ instead of trying to deliver something new. However, there have been various behind-the-scenes rumblings that the Iron Man films have not exactly been smooth productions, with Marvel being rather hands-on and also being in the habit of starting to shoot without a fixed script. As a result, Jon Favreau has headed off to pastures new, and Marvel are looking at new directors to step into the chair for the obviously-going-to-happen Iron Man 3.

Shane Black Possible Iron Man 3 DirectorAmazingly, according to Deadline, we’re actually getting very close to Shane Black signing to direct the third Iron Man film. Black was one of the biggest screenwriters in Hollywood in the late Eighties, netting massive amounts of money for scripts like Lethal Weapon (and also achieving the rather bizarre notoriety of being the first soldier to be killed by the titular alien in John McTiernan’s macho classic Predator). His whip-smart style fell out of favour in the late Nineties, but he’s been making a slow but steady comeback for the last few years. His directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a flawed but wonderful noir comedy that features some dazzlingly brilliant dialogue, a hilarious turn from Val Kilmer as a gay private eye, and also – in a nice piece of synchronicity – gave Robert Downey Jr one of his best roles prior to embarking on major stardom in iron Man.

Iron Man 3 News Update Robert Downey JrThe fact that Black may be getting a gig this major is excellent news – the only thing that’s concerning is that, according to the Deadline article, there’s a question mark over whether or not Black is going to write the script. It’s interesting that Marvel are going for someone like Black, but he strikes me as the kind of writer who’s best when he’s let off the leash – it’d be extremely weird to hire him, and then impose the kind of creative control that throttled the life out of Iron Man 2. Marvel are still riding on the success of Iron Man, and the anticipation for The Avengers, but that isn’t going to last forever, and both Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger are going to have to be extremely good if the plan’s going to work. I hope Black gets the chance to make Iron Man 3 – but I also hope that Marvel are sensible enough to let him subvert and change the formula, rather than forcing him to make yet another tale of Tony Stark being a bit of an arse, realising the error of his ways, and then fighting another bloke in a big metal suit…