Tag Archives: Guardian

Underrated: Patriotic Heroes

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Patriotic Heroes


This week has both the Canada Day and Independence Day holidays, and or those who don’t know, the two days celebrate the birth of Canada and the USA respectively. Perhaps one of the biggest holidays in their respective country. For that reason this edition of Underrated will spotlight some flag wearing heroes from a few different publishers that perhaps aren’t as well known, or as recognizable, as Captain America.

I make no claims that this will be a complete list, in fact it features characters almost entirely from Canada, U.S.A. and the U.K.

Union JackUNION_JACK_1

Britain’s other flag clad hero from Marvel Comics. There have been three men to call them selves Union Jack, a father and son during the first and second World Wars, and the current Union Jack, Joseph Chapman. Click the above link for a longer run down of the character that’s position as the Working Man’s Hero.  Union Jack has a rich history as a member of the Invaders during World War Two (both Union Jack I and II), and even the revived modern day Invaders from the 2008 run (Union Jack III). I am partial to the character, and would urge you to check out the two trades collecting his 1999 mini series, and the more recent one from 2012.

Jack Staffjackstaff

A character published primarily in the UK, Paul Grist created Jack Staff based on a rejected story which he had written to make use of Marvel’s Union Jack. After the rejection, he rewrote the story to create more of a self-contained original comic that was published through Dancing Elephant Press (owned by Paul Grist). Twelve black and white issues later, the comic was restarted in colour at  Image Comics.

GuardianGuardian-marvel

Perhaps one of the few heroes on the list that is recognizable to most people,  Guardian first appearing in Uncanny X-Men #109 from 1978,  he was intended to be the Canadian equivalent of Captain America, hence the Canadian flag costume.  Guardian has played a significant role in Wolverine’s history -from the early  X-Men comics in which the Canadian Government tried to recall Wolverine  to Alpha Fight (a team led by Guardian), to having later been the man who helped Wolverine recover his humanity after the Weapon X Program grafted the metal to his bones.

canuckCaptain Canuck

Comely Comics Canadian hero is the current star of a new ongoing series that’s worth checking out. Click the link above for some more information on the Canadian flag wearing hero that predates Marvel’s Guardian by several years. His current on going series from Chapterhouse is fantastic, having gone from strength to strength over the last year and change.

Jack Flagjackflag

First appearing in 1994 Captain America #434. Inspired to don the costume because of Captain America, Jack Flag was most recently seen in comics as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s unlikely he’ll appear in the movies anytime soon, however, seeing as how he was most recently seen flying out of an aircraft.

 shieldThe Shield

Perhaps the only flag clad hero to predate Captain America, the Shield first appeared in Pep Comics #1 which was cover dated January 1940. Created by writer Harry Shorten and artist Irv Novick, there have been five different incarnations of the character since his debut, the current iteration of the hero has been published by Archie Comics’ Dark Circle Comics imprint since 2005 and features Victoria Adams as The Shield.

Uncle SamUncle_Sam_BNW_1

You recognize Uncle Sam, right?  Created by Will Eisner, he first appeared in National Comics #1cover dated July of 1940 predating Captain America by several months. This iteration of the character lasted for four years, before DC acquired the license  to print his stories and revived him during the 70’s. Although not a flag wearing hero, Uncle Same is intrinsically linked to the level of belief people have in the idea of America, making him one of the most patriotic heroes on this list.


There we have it – a small selection of underrated flag wearing comic book heroes. Are there other comic book related stuff out there that is, for whatever reason, underrated and under-appreciated?

Absolutely.

Because of that, Underrated will return to highlight more comic book related stuff  that either gets ignored despite it’s high quality, or maybe isn’t quite as bad as we tend to think it is. In the meantime, though, if you do get a chance check out the characters in thisUnderrated, then you may need to hunt through the back issue bins for some, but others do have some stories collected in trades.

Until next time!

TV Review: Martians are More Interesting than Humans in Supergirl S2E10 “We Can Be Heroes”

Supergirl -- "We Can Be Heroes" -- SPG210b_0278.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl and Chris Wood as Mike/Mon-El -- Photo: Bettina Strauss /The CW -- © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

For the second straight week, the B-plot of Supergirl is more interesting than the main storyline of “We Can Be Heroes” penned by writers Katie Rose Rogers and Caitlin Parrish. Livewire is back and full of personality and cool special effects, but for most of the episode, she is being used as a battery by a mad scientist with a British accent, who is using her powers to create an army of lightning super soldiers. They’re kind of silly opponents, and the real conflict comes from Supergirl trying to manage the rookie hero Mon-El in the field as well as the reveal that James Olsen is Guardian. Rogers, Parrish, and director Rebecca Johnson nail the philosophical conflict between Kara and James because she thinks he can’t be a hero without having powers, but drop the ball any time the possible romance between Kara and Mon-El is set up. (But let’s remember she fought with Green Arrow back in the crossover…) They don’t really have a lot of romantic chemistry and fare better as a mentor/learner duo, especially when Melissa Benoist deepens her voice and calls out Mon-El for letting civilians get hurt both in the field and in the simulation.

jonndad

However, the plotline featuring J’onn and Miss Martian almost makes up for the second straight week with a forgettable science bro as the main villain. (Livewire plays more of an anti-hero role in “We Can Be Heroes.) Rogers and Parrish are technically setting up next week’s White Martian infiltration episode, but save most of the foreshadowing for the end and explore the growing bond between the Green and White Martian. David Harewood airs out his range as a performer throughout the episode going from total disdain for Miss Martian and wanting to just let her have a brain death to slowly starting to feel sympathetic for him. Alex Danvers continues to be the heart of the show, and her well-reasoned dialogue about how Miss Martian saved his life with a transfusion and also helped Green Martians escape in the past slowly persuades J’onn to help her. Rogers, Parrish, and Underwood build up the mind meld for the entire episode as Kara and Alex hold J’onn’s arms before he experiences the trauma of his past again. He isn’t just a boss, but a real father figure to them both.

Other than some cool slow-mo and Livewire using a whip to take out her clone/knockoffs/ electric punching bags, the flashback of Miss Martian and J’onn on Mars is the visual highlight of “We Can Be Heroes”. Mars is wreathed in otherworldly shadow while the barbwire of the internment camps and the faint CGI forms of the White Martians fill the background. The use of filters and slow pans from Rebecca Johnson help the conversation about this not being real, and that Miss Martian escapes Mars advance at a natural pace instead of going for a lot of whip cuts and action. Miss Martian just wants to be friends with J’onn and not be alone in the galaxy. After they pop out of the flashback, Miss Martian and J’onn have a real bond that looks like it’ll be built on in an upcoming episode. And I will be happy to see more of Miss Martian’s heart, determination, and desire to find a new home in upcoming episodes as Sharon Leal gives a beautiful performance.

Rogers and Parrish handle the character of Mon-El in a balanced way, and his motivation to be a superhero rises to the surface. It’s simple, really, he has a huge crush on Kara and wants to spend time with her. When she’s not at work, she’s being a superhero so Mon-El decides to be one. When I was a dumb 19-year-old, I decided to try swing dancing to be close to a girl that I had a crush on, and that was silly, but being a superhero involves getting human lives in danger. His reason for being a superhero is pretty terrible, and it almost gets people killed. Thankfully, James Olsen is there to call him out, and his selfishness and willingness to get hit by bullets and pass out to help keep National City safe. He also calls Kara out for allowing Mon-El to be a superhero when apparently he isn’t allowed to because he’s only human even though he has a good heart, some great tech from Winn, and a black belt. There is definitely a rift between Winn and James and Supergirl and Mon-El, but not in a Batman v Superman way where punches are thrown. It’s more of friends having a huge philosophical rift and deciding to work together again and naturally flows out of James keeping his Guardian identity secret from almost everyone except for Kara. It’s sad to see the Superfriends broken up, but this is counterbalanced by J’onn complimenting the team chemistry of Winn and James.

livewireback

Supergirl in 2017 truly has a bad guy problem as Lillian Luthor leaves a huge void that a random mad scientist can’t fill. At the beginning of the episode, Rogers and Parrish make it seem that Livewire is going to be some badass criminal mastermind as she escapes from prison after a therapy session that skews a little too close to Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. But then, they go for a twist and have Livewire just be a pawn of a scientist, who wants a juicy defense contract’s game and have her sit in a chair and be a human health potion. Supergirl, Mon-El, and Guardian fight her clone for most of the episode until Brit Morgan finally gets to unleash her attitude with quips about rookie male superheroes trying to save the veteran female one. She even helps Supergirl save day, which earns her a head start in semi-homage to Superman in the Justice League Unlimited series finale after some supervillains help them beat Darkseid. Kara is definitely a bit of a softie, but it’s nice to see her sterner side when she benches Mon-El from superheroing after he almost gets a police officer killed in their initial skirmish against the wannabe Livewires.

Supergirl is still finding its footing in the second half of Season 2, but its cast of heroic characters is very fleshed out with J’onn having some signature moments in “We Can Be Heroes” as he forges a friendship with Miss Martian even though her people killed his. Plus Katie Rogers and Caitlin Parrish mercifully pulled the relationship between Mon-El and Kara into platonic territory, which somehow Melissa Benoist played as almost tearful in a rare acting misstep from her.

Overall Rating: 7.0

TV Review: Supergirl S2E7 The Darkest Place Retreads Old Plot Points

Supergirl -- "The Darkest Places" -- Image SPG207a_0140 -- Pictured (L-R): Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl and Brenda Strong as The Doctor -- Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Lots of things happen in Supergirl Season 2, Episode 7 “The Darkest Place“, which earns its title as director Glen Winter loves shooting in crowded corridors and using almost hallucinogenic filters in his cinematography. Even if some of the fight scenes have that herky, jerky Arrow Season 1 feel (See the Martian on Martian fight when clearly they are trying to save money.), Supergirl‘s weakness isn’t its budget. It’s the way Robert Rovner and Paula Yoo structure the plot going from point to point and rarely giving characters time to breathe or reflect. This episode is about Mon-El and Supergirl being captured and experimented on by Cadmus while Guardian is framed as a killer, and Martian Manhunter deals with hallucinations thanks to the White Martian blood infusion he got from Miss Martian. Like most of Supergirl Season 2, “The Darkest Place” hits some strong character beats, and Chyler Leigh and Melissa Benoist continue to give strong performances as Alex Danvers and Supergirl. However, the main plot is a fast forwarded retread of the solar flare episode in Season 1 where Supergirl loses her powers, and the B-plot is like the first half of Daredevil Season 2 with far less gravitas.

The filming style for the Cadmus secret base is pretty nifty as Glen Winter makes it look the DEO’s evil twin, and Cyborg Superman (The real Hank Henshaw, who is still played by David Harewood.) straight up says it’s the spiritual successor to the DEO with its alien-hunting and experimentation. There are lots of quick cuts and dark camera shutters in an eerie homage to X-Files as Supergirl goes in alone to the DEO base to rescue Mon-El, who was taken captive at the end of last episode. But then all the interesting visuals and brutal hand to hand combat between Kara and Cyborg Superman gets squandered for yet another depowering plotline that only exists so Dr. Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong is still disturbing as hell.) can have Supergirl’s blood to advance the season-long mystery plot. The loss of her power also allows Jeremiah Danvers (Dean Cain) to show up for two seconds, be a big damn hero, and then leave. The response to Jeremiah showing is actually more powerful than his appearance because Kara immediately tells Alex about it showing that they trust each other as sisters. But Alex knows James is Guardian, and Kara doesn’t so maybe not…

theguardiansupergirl

Speaking of Guardian, he and his techie sidekick Winn get the first villain in their rogues gallery, a chain gun wielding, former Navy Seal with a dead wife that is one skull logo away from getting a cease and desist from Marvel. Victor Zink Jr. plays the killer vigilante Phillip Karnowsky without an ounce of sympathy or personality because he’s mainly a prop to have the whole “mask or no mask” debate and give Guardian the requisite “hated and feared” step in his superhero journey. Luckily, Robert Rovner and Paula Yoo don’t have Snapper Carr channel his inner J. Jonah Jameson, but Ian Gomez keeps an even keel on his performance exposing James Olsen’s personal bias towards superheroes in his one scene in the episode.

The Guardian subplot is really paint by numbers with the exception of Alex Danvers easily finding out about James’ secret identity because he and Winn are superhero noobs. (Her “interrogation” of Winn is hilarious.) James gives sanctimonious lectures about not killing to Karnowsky in a terribly mixed growly voice, and Karnowsky has the weak gimmick of only killing criminals, who got early parole or off on technicalities. The bulky mask continues to cover up Mehcad Brooks’ natural charisma, and it’s also hard to have any idea of what he’s saying. The fight between Karnowsky has way too many cuts to probably cover up some of the costuming and effects and is just plain boring as Alex and Maggie Sawyer come in and arrest him. It’s kind of sad that Rovner and Yoo decide to make Guardian a pastiche of Batman, Daredevil, and Green Arrow instead of focusing on how James Olsen transforms beneath the mask, but that is what his role feels like in “The Darkest Place”

supergirl_hank_henshaw_glowing_eyes

The third major plot in “The Darkest Place” is Martian Manhunter’s sickness and hallucinations of his dead daughters and White Martians. Glen Winters creates a nice visual continuity between his cluttered mindspace and the claustrophobic halls of the Cadmus base before Rovner and Yoo use the sickness plotline to make him a creature of total vengeance. After finding out that Miss Martian is a White Martian through some blood tests, Martian Manhunter spends the rest of his storyline whaling on her. The fight culminates in an obscured CGI Martian beatdown with Martian Manhunter still under the effect of the plague.  And the plague raises a question. Why would Miss Martian give him a blood transfusion when she knew that it would transform Martian Manhunter into a White Martian? The underpinnings of this are left on the backburner for fisticuffs though.

Although filled with some excellent individual character scenes, like Alex going full vulnerable with Maggie in response to her or Mon-El admitting his fear of death while being captured by Cadmus, the overarching plots of “The Darkest Place” feel like a rerun of previous episodes of Supergirl and other superhero TV shows. This and the continuing trainwreck of the James Olsen as Guardian makes this episode the weakest of a stellar second season. Also, the writers tease at a romance between Mon-El and Kara, which is a little disgusting, considering how he has treated and talked about women in previous episodes. However, Cyborg Superman has a chance at being a super cool and twisted villain, especially as David Harewood gets to go all Angel/Angelus and showcase his villainous acting.

Overall Rating: 7.0

TV Review: Supergirl S2E6 “Changing” is literally and metaphorically draining

Supergirl -- "Changing" -- Image SPG206a_0103 -- Pictured (L-R): Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers and Melissa Benoist as Kara -- Photo: Liane Hentscher/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

In “Changing”, writers Caitlin Parrish, Andrew Kreisberg, and Greg Berlanti round off several characters subplots as James Olsen and Mon-El wrap up their heroic journeys, Alex Danvers comes out to her sister, Supergirl, and Martian Manhunter and Miss Martian are brought closer together in a traumatic way. Oh, and there happens to be a villain in this episode as director Larry Teng pays homage to The Thing with an alien parasite taking out scientists at a remote base near one of the poles in its cold open. Parasite (Lost’‘s William Mapother) that extremists can be on both the left and right side of the aisle. Climate change is terrible, but killing human beings isn’t the solution

But Berlanti, Parrish, and Kreisberg  use Parasite less as a global warming parable in classic Superman villain form and more as a way to cause the cast of Supergirl  external discomfort to go with their inner pain. The strongest emotional beat in “Changing” and one of the best character arcs on a TV show in 2016 belongs to Alex Danvers. Chyler Leigh excels at changing her vocal timbre and has great range as an actor going from aloof to happy to completely broken at the drop of the hat while also kicking ass in the action scenes against Parasite. She doesn’t have to speak to show the depth of her uncertainty about how to talk about being a lesbian, or the depth of her feelings towards Maggie Sawyer. The scene(s) where Alex comes out to Kara are the complete opposite of an after school special as Teng uses soft lighting with a minor piano score from Blake Neely as well as getting rid of Kara’s “glasses disguise” for a true moment of authenticity as she is there for her sister. Alex coming out as lesbian wasn’t a stunt for ratings or titillation, but an organic part of development of a character as she strives to be whole in her personal life as well as her professional life as an agent of the DEO. The ending of her storyline is completely happy, but thankfully Berlanti, Parrish, and Kreisberg go the route of Carmilla rather than The 100 as far as tragic queer characters are concerned.

Last episode, I described Mon-El as “adorkable”, but maybe he is more of a douche than a dork. His storyline in “Changes” starts out promisingly enough with Chris Wood flexing his impeccable comedic timing with Mon-El’s reactions to various aliens sending him drinks at the alien bar, which has become the show’s most memorable setting with Catco being a pale spectre of its Season 1 self. But it all goes to hell after this as Mon-El uses his powers to be an enforcer for an alien bookie and not feel any guilt about it. His amorality has gone from naive to downright frustrating or disgusting, and it’s kind of cathartic to see Alex light into him for using his powers to hurt people weaker than him and call him a coward. Mon-El does pathetically participate in the fight against Parasite as he takes baby steps towards being a superhero. He’s not very likeable though, but his role in the episode’s cliffhanger opens up a possibility for him to regain some face in the long run.

jamesolsenguardian

I have mixed feelings about the James Olsen becomes a superhero subplot, and all of Mehcad Brooks’ charm goes out the window when he is covered up behind a helmet and voice modulator. But his transformation into the vigilante Guardian has brought him and Winn closer together as well as added another black superhero to television. Even though he ends up cracking wise in the heat of battle when James battles Parasite while Supergirl and Martian Manhunter are down for the count, Jeremy Jordan plays Winn very seriously in “Changes” as he basically tells James to back off his demands for the Guardian suit. He cares for James and doesn’t want to kill himself while playing superhero. Winn is skeptical about James’ actions and kind of a stand-in for Supergirl fans, who are wary of his arc in Season 2. However, he ends up coming around when he realizes that telling a guy in a suit how to punch and defend himself is kind of an adrenaline rush. Olsen might have the gruff, grating voice of Christian Bale’s Batman, but he and Winn have a genuine good time as superheroes even if his origin story is rooted in the death of his father and his own insecurities as a “sidekick”. Some better sound editing would make the patter on Olsen’s side a tad bit snappier.

parasitesupergirl

Due to dramatic timing (and probably budget constraints), Larry Teng saves the reveal of Rudy Jones’ final Parasite form for the last third of “Changes”. Unlike the shoddy CGI of a recent of “monster” in The FlashSupergirl”s visual effects artists give him the purple hue of the comic book version to go with intimidating size and scale. The makeup and visual effects team should also be commended for their work on the wounded Martian Manhunter and Supergirl, who look like they’re on death’s door and completely drained of their health and vitality. They definitely don’t look like powerful, adorable superheroes or cool, regal Martians. In the big brawl between Mon-El, Guardian, and this week’s villain, Teng doesn’t neglect the horror giving Parasite a “chest burster” for a mouth that he breaks out when fighting Mon-El on the streets.  His direction (and the writing) does falter a little bit with the quick reveal of a limitless energy MacGuffin that Supergirl gives Parasite to finally defeat him which is even little too much deus ex machina for a superhero show. However, the image of Kara taking on a huge burst of energy that could destroy any of her friends is a visual representation of her ability to inspire James Olsen to become a superhero, Alex Danvers to embrace her queer identity, and for Mon-El to “show up”.

On the surface, “Changes” get its title from the physical transformation that Dr. Rudy Jones endures as he goes from an overzealous scientist to a character in an early David Cronenberg movie to a tricked out supervillain. However, it is truly about the transformations in Supergirl”s well-rounded supporting cast. Some changes are more thoughtful (Alex Danvers) than others (Mon-El), but the episode is another shining example of how Supergirl has reached new heights by focusing on the people behind the icons aka their feelings and not just flying, alien punching, and shapeshifting. All those things are cool though.

alexcomesout

Finally, Changes” is also yet another stellar example of how inspiring science fiction and superhero stories can be towards queer people as Kara finds common ground with Alex in their shared “secret identities” as a superhero and queer woman respectively. But Supergirl doesn’t stay in the world of metaphor and strives for nuanced LGBT representation as Alex and Maggie are at very different places, and maybe a romantic relationship isn’t the best option for them right now even though all the fans want them to smooch.

In a country where the government will be run by a man who allowed queer teenagers to be literally tortured and shocked into “becoming straight”,  Chyler Leigh’s portrayal of Alex Danvers is a beacon of hope and a reminder that you can come out at any stage of your life.

Overall Rating: 8.5