Category: Under The Radar

Under The Radar 21: Misfits

Airing on E4 in the UK, Misfits is a science-fiction comedy-drama that follows a group of “young offenders” who, after a strange storm, are gifted with extraordinary powers. The problem? They’re still stuck doing community service and are forced to cover up the fact they killed their probation officer after the same strange storm drove him insane. Curtis, a former track star, can turn back time but not on command. Kelly, a tough girl with an attitude, can read people’s minds. When any man touches Alisha, they are sent into a crazed sexual frenzy. Simon can turn invisible, which reflects his lot in life of seemingly going unnoticed by everyone. Lastly, Nathan has no powers it seems and spends the majority of season one making ridiculous claims about what he can supposedly do.

Once again, I attribute this lovely find from “across the pond” to my wife Melissa, who apparently likes British television better than American television. At this rate however, she may have a very good reason to. I wasn’t expecting to like Misfits and honestly, until I watched the first episode, had no idea it was even mildly science-fiction related. The show itself, while dealing with the 20-something characters with superpowers, never really dwells too hard on that fact. It’s like a cross between X-Men and South Park, as the characters are all your typical people who enjoying drinking, partying, sex and just trying to get through life on a day to day basis. After the storm and the self-defense killing of their insane probation worker, Tony, the Misfits are put in a situation of trying to (pardon the pun) fly under the radar as they cover up his death from the police, their new probation worker Sally, and trying not to kill each other.

The great thing about these characters is that while they’re all “delinquents”, each character is different enough to hold your interest. They’re a group of people who under normal circumstances would never get along, but through their common problems find themselves bonding in their own unique way. Like any good ensemble cast, you enjoy seeing each one of them and find it hard to pick a favorite. Nathan is the funny one, Curtis the serious one, Alisha the sexy one, Simon the weird one, and Kelly the loud and abrasive one. You find a reason to like these otherwise unlikable characters. Misfits lives up to its name and gives you the social rejects that you can’t help but love.

Under The Radar 20: Paper Man

As kids a lot of us had imaginary friends who helped entertain us, keep us in good spirits and get through tough times. For most of us, by late adolescence, imaginary friends are a thing of the past that we laugh about. But for one novelist named Richard (Jeff Daniels), his imaginary superhero best friend named Captain Excellent (A bleached blonde Ryan Reynolds) has stuck around long into adulthood. Richard takes sanctuary in a small town by himself to focus on writing his newest book and on a trip to the local store; he ends up following a local girl named Abby (Emma Stone) on her way home. Making up a story about needing a babysitter leads into the awkward friendship that will blossom throughout the movie between the two “damaged” individuals. Richard and Abby come to confide in one another and develop a father/daughter type of relationship as Richard deals with his failing marriage and Abby with the loss of her twin sister.

Like many things, the cover of the film is what initially brought me in to watch this 2009 independent film. Let’s face it, a bleached blonde Ryan Reynolds dressed up in a blue, red and yellow superhero costume is something that’s going to spark a lot of peoples’ interest. The acting in the film is incredible with Lisa Kudrow playing Richard’s wife Claire and Kieran Culkin playing Emma’s friend Christopher. The actors balance the perfect amount of comedy into characters that are often sad and socially awkward. The film itself you would imagine to have a lot of comedy, but really there are only a few “laugh out loud” moments. Most of the comedy comes from the clumsiness of their relationship as they try to connect with each other even through their age difference. Oh and of course there’s the ridiculousness and sheer comedy gold of Captain Excellent and his talks with Richard.

There are moments in Paper Man when you really don’t know how things are going to play out for these characters, which makes this movie as good as it is. Sometimes you feel like Richard and Abby have a real chance at happiness and living normal lives, but sometimes you can’t help but feel like they’re really not going to make it. Paper Man was something I didn’t expect to like as much as I did and was absolutely glad that I watched it. If you’ve ever been a teen who has gone through a trauma you can connect with Abby. If you’re an adult who has dealt with failure and mediocrity you can connect with Richard. Paper Man really has characters that everyone can emotionally connect to in some way. If you never listen to another of my recommendations again, watch Paper Man. I’ll stake my reputation on it!

Under The Radar 19: The Batman

I’m not a perfect being and as such sometimes things fall under my own geeky radar that everyone else seems to know about. One of those times was with the animated series The Batman. Combining an anime style of animation, character design and even storytelling, The Batman was something that we hadn’t previously seen in a Batman cartoon. The show ran from 2004 – 2008 on the Kids’ WB for five seasons and had a direct-to-DVD movie The Batman vs. Dracula. Duane Capizzi, Alan Burnett, Andrea Romano and Glen Murakami all worked on the show, bringing their history with DC and DC cartoons to the show as well as Jeff Matsuda, the chief art director for Jackie Chan Adventures. While incorporating elements of the traditional Batman mythos, The Batman would often reinvent characters, change histories and even completely redesign the looks for many of the classic characters you’d know. In this incarnation, Batgirl becomes the sidekick before Robin, though this was largely due to Robin being used on the Teen Titans cartoon at the time. Penguin is given a more threatening demeanor as he is more agile and has fighting abilities. Other characters like Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are redone with Harley being Joker’s favorite TV show shrink who isn’t taken seriously by anyone else and Ivy being Batgirl’s best friend turned Environmental terrorist.

When the show initially began its run, I avoided it because of my diehard love of Batman: The Animated Series. I didn’t think the anime style, the changed character backgrounds and the character redesigns would work so I figured “why waste my time?” It wasn’t until the fifth and final season that I really gave the show a chance at all. I had previously only seen the first episode “The Bat in the Belfry” which intros the new Joker who is more acrobatic, wear’s long sleeves that hang over his hands, has long hair and apparently doesn’t believe in shoes. I was turned off by all that, so when I gave it a second chance a few years later, I was surprised to find that I was being overly critical and just not letting go. While to me Mark Hamill is the Joker, Kevin Michael Richardson brings his own distinct charm and approach to the Joker that fits the design so well. The same could be said for Rino Romano who plays Bruce Wayne/Batman. The whole show is cast extremely well and often pays homage to Batman: TAS as well as featuring voices like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in the intro episode for Robin.

The show always incorporated a certain level of fun and amusement into every episode, never going as “dark” in tone as its predecessors, while at the same time still keeping Batman from being as campy and hokey as his 60’s Adam West version. I was often surprised to see The Batman have story arcs, something I wasn’t expecting from a show so obviously aimed at younger kids. The Clayface character arcs are more compelling and drawn out over more episodes (and seasons even) than I’d ever have dreamed off. Seeing all the newly redone characters becomes one of the shows big draws and joys as you see new versions of Mr. Freeze, Bane and Riddler as well as what I believe is the first animated appearance of the Black Mask. Justice Leaguers make an appearance at the end of season four and into season five as Superman, Green Arrow, Flash, Hawkman and others become part of the larger “Bat-World.” The show respects the character and its history but has no problems making its own mark on Bat-History. Any fan of Batman, whether you be young or old, should pick up this series on DVD and enjoy.

Under The Radar 18: The Mighty Crusaders

Super teams have always had their place in comic books, even outside “the big two” of Marvel and DC comics. The Mighty Crusaders were Archie Comics take on when superheroes team up and show the forces of evil who’s in charge! Originally under the Action Comics banner, it was soon rebranded as Mighty comics to help push the line. While the team originally appeared in other books, the first time they had their own book it was written by the co-creator of Superman, Jerry Siegel. Sadly the book would last only 7 issues before it was cancelled. It was said that Siegel’s writing was a “hokey rendition of Stan Lee.” The team would over the years be repackaged and recreated for new fans including a run in the 80’s under Archie Comics “Red Circle” banner. The book was set in the same continuity of the classic books with some of the “heirs” to the titles taking up the mantle while some where brand new characters following in the footsteps of their heroes. In 1992, a young boy found a number one issue in his local 7-11 (remember when 7-11 actually sold comics?) called The Crusaders, published by IMPACT comics, a line of comics from DC that was aimed at younger readers.

 

The Crusaders is the first comic I can remember picking up for myself that wasn’t a well-known character like Batman or a big team book like The X-Men. The early 90’s was an era of foil packaging, trading cards included and lots of other gimmicks to bring kids into comics. In some cases, the writing and art was secondary to the gimmick they included. Just look at all the bonus stuff you could get with The Death of Superman and how worthless it all is today. The Crusaders were still pretty corny, as it was aimed at younger readers, but it was a book I wanted to read without promise of cards to collect or a shiny cover I could blind my older brother with. With names like The Shield, The Comet, Jaguar, Black Hood, and the Web even at the age of six I knew they were similar to, and more than likely based off, other comic characters like Captain America, The Punisher and Spider-Man. But I read on because I was caught up in the story and if you were to see me outside, I was more likely to be pretending I was The Comet than the more well-known Batman or Iron Man. It wouldn’t be until years later I’d discover that people like Mark Waid, Rags Morales and Dan Jurgens all had their hands in the creation of the book.

 

 

In 2009, after being out of the lime light for years, the Crusaders would make their return to comics when DC comics integrated them into their mainstream continuity after the Final Crisis series. The Shield, which also had the co-feature of Inferno, and The Web with its co-feature of The Hangman, brought fans a brand new yet familiar take on the classic characters. A series of inter-connecting one shots was written by J. Michael Straczynski with the four books featuring the artwork talents of Tom Derenick, Bill Sienkiewicz, Greg Scott, Roger Robinson, Hilary Barta, Scott McDaniel and Andy Owen. The books would then be carried into an ongoing series that featured a slew of talent including Eric Trautmann, Angela Robinson, Brandon Jerwa, Matthew Sturges, Roger Robinson, Francis Manapul and more! I immediately loved seeing the new interpretations of the characters as well as seeing them interact with the mainstream DCU, without it being overly pushed. For instance, in The Hangman co-feature we see hints that he had teamed with the Sandman in the past. As a fan of Trautmann’s work on the series Checkmate as well as the mini-series JSA vs. Kobra, I devoured The Shield before any other of my weekly books.

Sadly, like its predecessors, The Shield and The Web would fail to find an audience in a DC world where most books were universe wide cross-overs involving Green Lantern or Batman. To its credit, DC would then combine the books into the new Mighty Crusaders book. While it continued to entertain, the series was obviously rushed much sooner than any of the creators had planned. The Shield and The Web would last ten issues each, while the new Mighty Crusaders would last six issues (seven if you count the 2010 Mighty Crusaders Special). DC has since released the books in trade paperback which I highly encourage you to pick up along with many of the other older Crusader books available out there. They may be harder to find, so ask your local comic shop if they can order them for you, if not try Amazon or other online outlets.

Under The Radar 17: Sherlock

Over the years, certain pop culture icons have been re-invented to update themselves with modern times, connect with new audiences or bring themselves back into the limelight. Sherlock Holmes is without a doubt one of those characters. Now before you just jump to conclusions, I’m not talking about the 2009 Guy Ritchie film that stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. I am talking in fact about the 2010 BBC series that takes the detective and puts him in modern day London that chances are you were unaware of. Much in the BBC style, Sherlock doesn’t quite fit the television norm for American viewers. The first series (or season in US jargon) was only 3 episodes with each episode essentially being as long as a movie with run times around the hour and a half to two hour mark. Like most of my discoveries, this one can be attributed to a random find on Netflix but credit goes solely to my wife Melissa for this find. After devouring the 3 episodes available on Netflix Instant, she purchased the DVD where one night we sat and watched all three episodes back to back. By the end of the first series, I demanded more only to find that the second series wouldn’t air in the UK until Fall 2011, meaning it wouldn’t air in the US until sometime in 2012.

The title character is played by Benedict Cumberbatch who movie buffs will know from Atonement and will soon “see” in The Hobbit as the voice of Smaug the Dragon and the Necromancer. Martin Freeman, who fans will recognize from the original Office, plays Dr. John Watson. Like his co-star, he too will be in The Hobbit as the lead, Bilbo Baggins. The two play well off each other as they combine a mutual respect, like and even annoyance with one another. In a way it’s a lot like the relationship that would develop in the later Pirates films between Depp and Rush. Cumberbatch and Depp play the outlandish, genius who’s one step ahead of everyone else while Freeman and Rush would play the straight laced, badass who at times can barely tolerate their partner. It’s an interesting dynamic as we see Holmes trying to make Watson a better man and help him with his problems, while at the same time slowly driving the good doctor mad. Other recurring characters include the landlady Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson’s new girlfriend Sarah, and Detective Inspector Lestrade, all of whom help fill in this modern world with classic characters.

While each episode can be viewed individually like its own stand-alone piece, like most TV shows it features an overall story arc as someone behind the scenes is manipulating events around Holmes and Watson to put them to the test. Anyone who’s read a single Sherlock Holmes novel, seen any TV show or film based on the popular characters can easily guess who’s manipulating said events. The episodes play out in a very CSI-like manner with focus on the case and with most of the evidence given to you, but allowing you to put it together yourself before all is revealed at the end. Though in typical Sherlock fashion, some of the evidence is so out there, you’d really have to be a true detective to find it in the first place. While the show focuses mostly on the drama, much like the 2009 film it features a lot of comedy from Sherlock, his eccentricities leading to him comically interacting with “average people” around him. With the DVD being pretty inexpensive and the episodes available on Netflix Instant, Sherlock is easily accessible to new viewers and with it being awhile before the US will get new episodes, you certainly have the time to play catch up. Like me, you’ll probably end up spending an entire night taking in the first series but hey, that just leaves more time for the special features!