Phil Jimenez Comes to Madison

Phil Jimenez

Speaking this Thursday, October 23, on “Comics and LGBTQ Identity” is Phil Jimenez. It’s the Keynote for LGBTQ History Month at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Phil is a comic artist and writer who’s worked on such titles as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, The Amazing Spider-Man, and X-Men. Come hear him “on his creative process, his favorite drawings, and the influence his identities have had on his artwork” from 6-8 PM at room L140 in the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building.

A Movie Studio Enters the Direct Streaming Market

Following up on last week’s news of CBS and HBO planning to offer direct-to-customer streaming services, a movie studio has jumped into the market.

Lionsgate logo

Lionsgate and Tribeca Enterprises are teaming up on Tribeca Short List, “an online video-on-demand service focused on “curated” prestige titles drawn from their libraries, along with a selection of foreign films.” This will debut by next June; no price information is yet available.

Tribeca is best known for their New York City film festival. Lionsgate is best known for The Hunger Games movies, and with their acquisition of Summit, the Twilight franchise. I know them best for action films like Dredd and I, Frankenstein, although they have also released plenty of more arty movies. They may have an audience, but I’m not sure their properties are deep enough to support a service that can attract subscribers month after month.

This is the quote I find most intriguing:

Jane Rosenthal, Tribeca’s chief executive, said in a statement that the goal was a “highly curated experience that disrupts the ‘more is more’ model in today’s streaming on-demand landscape.”

That “more is more” — in other words, the idea that customers want plenty of content to choose from for one low monthly price — is the appeal of streaming, in my opinion. I can see why studios would hate it, though, because it doesn’t allow them to value their content as more special than others. But I don’t know of many fans (with the exception of the classic “Marvel zombie”) that segregate their entertainment by who releases it. I don’t want to watch only Warner or Universal movies, so a streaming service per studio is of minimal interest.

Sleepy Hollow: The Book, The Comic, The DVD

I’ve been looking forward to the return of Sleepy Hollow. It’s a terrific adventure show with something for everyone. I haven’t wanted to start Season 2, though, until I finished up Season 1.

Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is killed in 1781 during the Revolutionary War by a Hessian mercenary, but since his wife (Katia Winter) is a witch, he rises from the dead in modern-day Sleepy Hollow, New York. Unfortunately, his killer has become the demonic Headless Horseman, so Ichabod teams up with police officer Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) to find out what’s happening, stop the supernatural bad guys, and save the world.

There’s horror — all kinds, from outright monsters to haunted houses to more subtle mental fears — and comedy (particularly when Crane encounters a particularly odd part of modern life), suspense, mystery, and teamwork. Mison plays admirably old-school heroic (the British accent helps) while Beharie is determined and strong and caring and fearless, with a mystical history of her own. They’re truly partners, helping each other to win through against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, trusting each other in spite of their very different backgrounds. When they first meet, Crane gets off on the wrong foot by referring to her as an emancipated slave, since that’s the only thing he can assume about a black woman with a badge, but he soon learns much more about our world.

It’s also great to see Abbie with her sister Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood). They have severe disagreements, but eventually, they’re able to appreciate each other, and it’s a pleasure to see such a complex relationship between two strong women. The interactions among the cast are outstanding, particularly with Orlando Jones as Abbie’s boss, a man who slowly comes to accept the weirdness while trying to protect his daughter and atone for the times he left her and her mother alone.

The show does a good job of balancing the overall mythology — the battle against the Horseman — with specific challenges in individual episodes — such as when a boy from the lost colony of Roanoke carries a plague to Sleepy Hollow, or they fight that episode’s demon or other supernatural threat. As the season continues, we learn more about Ichabod’s history, with flashbacks to his prior life and time with his wife as he seeks to free her from Purgatory.

There’s a lot in this series. They’re not skimpy with ideas or revelations, making for an enjoyable roller-coaster ride with characters you can care about, spooky twists, and some gorgeous scenery. The first season, 13 episodes, is available on DVD now.

DVD Special Features

There’s a commentary for the pilot episode, but it’s directors, writers, and producers, not cast, so much of it is about details of filming that I didn’t find particularly insightful. (I did like the comment that they aimed for a look that was not gloomy or despressing but colorful and vibrant, since that’s the kind of positive approach I look for in my entertainment.) I much preferred the final episode discussion with Mison and Beharie, as well as a couple of producers.

Sleepy-Hollow-Cast-FOX

The two longer features are similar. “Welcome to Sleepy Hollow” (21 minutes) opens with a spoiler warning, since it covers the whole of the first season. The producers and cast members talk about the origin of the series and casting (see Mison without his wig!) and shooting the pilot, particularly the historical segments. “Mysteries and Mythology: The Secrets of Sleepy Hollow” (19 minutes) is similar but discusses the characters and being able to continue the story after the pilot. They do quick check-ins with many of the episodes and key elements (whether villain or monster or setting).

The Deleted Scenes run nine minutes for nine scenes, although individual length varies. The most substantial is one that focuses on Jenny getting out of the asylum and speaking with a parole officer about her previous travel.

“The Corbin Files” are 2 1/2 minutes of the former sheriff’s audio recordings about his research into the oddities of Sleepy Hollow. The last four items run between two and three minutes each. “Welcome to the 21st Century, Mr. Crane” is a series of show clips where Ichabod experiences the modern era. “The Horseman” is about the animals used in filming. “The Horseman’s Head” covers the special effects involving the skulls. There’s also a gag reel, of which my favorite part was Mison having trouble with log-splitting.

The Books

To tie into the DVD release and the return of the show (on Fox Mondays), there are two new books out. I haven’t read Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution, an original story with the characters, but the opening sample chapter seems to capture the flavor of the series.

I did read The Secret Journal of Ichabod Crane by Alex Irvine, a faux notebook of Crane’s thoughts (provided as a review copy). It’s faithful to the character’s voice, written as the thoughts of a man from almost 250 years ago trying to process the events and setting of our modern day.

Many of the scenes will be familiar to viewers of the series (and I’m not sure why someone who wasn’t watching would want to read this), but it’s fun getting another, more interior take on Crane’s initial arrest or his determination to answer the mysteries of his existence. The elaborations are often recaps, but all have at least a new detail of interpretation.

The vocabulary is charming, a stretch for some as the words are flavorfully old-fashioned and the phrasing archaic. The journal is also populated with sketches of show locations and characters as well as reproduced files and clippings relating to the premise.

My favorite bits, as above, are those where Crane muses on the modern world, even beyond what we’ve seen on the show. He discovers how wonderful a hot shower can be and bemoans the treatment of the Indians in the years since his time. He views the internet skeptically but quite rightly decries the use of “impact” as a verb. He encounters a Tea Party member and children dressed up for Halloween and the rituals of Thanksgiving, including shopping and football. The Secret Journal of Ichabod Crane made a good companion to the Season One DVD.

The Comic

Sleepy Hollow #1 cover

Boom! Studios has put out the first issue of a Sleepy Hollow comic written by Marguerite Bennett and drawn by Jorge Coelho. Like one of the novels, it’s a new story with the characters.

A child gains super-strength to protect her brother, but she seems possessed when questioned. Another woman thinks she has healing powers, but they quickly go out of control.

The dialogue is in keeping with the show, but unfortunately, the figures don’t look right to me. It’s not the likenesses, although Crane is better than Abbie, but the way they move and the attitudes and expressions with which they’re portrayed. The visual storytelling wasn’t always as clear as I would have liked, but when it’s so easy to re-watch the show, I find myself having very high standards for comic adaptations.

There are several references in the story that aren’t explained for new readers, either. If I hadn’t read it while rewatching, I wouldn’t have recalled who Serilda was or the details of her story, and there’s an earlier reference to a broken timepiece that I clearly haven’t gotten to yet in the show, because I don’t know what it means. The story seems abbreviated, as though it would have been better told in two issues instead of crammed into only one. Particularly since our heroes reference a triad but only after we’ve seen two examples, which left me confused throughout.

The two-page backup “Movie Night” by Noelle Stevenson is much truer to the characters and a better tale. She does an excellent job of capturing the appeal of their interaction in just a couple of pages, and her caricatures feel more like the characters I enjoy watching.

Random Final Note

While rewatching, I noticed that the two main characters have the same hairstyle at the beginning — top part pulled back, back left free, with a couple of front strands loose to frame the face. I don’t know what it’s called, officially, although I wear it myself often. Later in the series, though, Abbie’s hair is most often down, without any ties.

*Princess Ugg Volume 1 — Recommended

The first collection of Princess Ugg is due out at the end of November, and the timing is well-chosen, since I’m thankful this new series by Ted Naifeh exists.

As I said in my review of the first two issues, this series is “a social satire, a fresh take on what it really means to be a princess.” Volume 1 collects the first four issues, in which we meet and come to admire the barbarian Princess Ülga.

She’s come to the civilized lands for personal reasons, revealed over the span of the story, and she conflicts with the more proper princesses, who are more concerned with dresses and attention than the earthier Ülga. The contrast provides a good deal of comedy, but there are important lessons as well — about the value of each individual, about different not being bad, about learning to get along with people not like you, of finding knowledge in new places while still valuing where you came from.

When the other girls choose dresses, Ülga selects battle-axes. They use her lack of knowledge of their customs against her, but her ignorance doesn’t make her stupid, as she later proves when training another princess’ unicorn. (Yes, this is a fantasy story.) Not only the author but an authority in the story has a sense of humor, as they send Ülga to room with Julifer, the most precious of the young ladies.

Ülga gets lessons in etiquette and fashion and grace and history, and finally, an ally in the quest to learn diplomacy. In issues 3 and 4, Julifer’s pet, in preparation for competition, demonstrates the difference between a beautiful appearance and an attractive demeanor.

Ted Naifeh’s art is full of detail, whether he’s drawing hordes of warriors on ice-covered craggy peaks or young women surrounded by feudal castle luxury. The characters have great emotion and expressiveness. Ülga is one of several recent characters that young women of many ages can admire for breaking the mold of the typical girl. I enjoy reading her adventures and hope to see many more. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)

Famous Last Words

I thought the premise of this YA thriller — a serial killer is recreating famous scenes from movies for his deaths — would be intriguing, but I found too much of it assembled from overly familiar bits. Plus, I was disappointed to find that it was also a ghost story, with spirits helping solve the mystery. I’m ok with real-life villains, but I don’t believe in ghosts, and mixing the two seemed to do both a disservice.

Willa’s mother has married Jonathan, a famous movie director, and moved them both to Hollywood with him. Willa is grumpy about everything, and when she starts having creepy-real flashbacks of the last moments of the young women killed in movie scenes, her life spins out of control.

Typical of the YA genre, there are two dreamy boys for her to choose between — Wyatt is a fellow student investigating the killings while the older Reed is Jonathan’s assistant — as well as a modern-day take on a Cinderella story, as her new stepfather gives her gifts and brings her to a former movie star’s mansion to live. Willa’s damaged, haunted by her father’s sudden death after an argument with her, and she’s hiding the trauma from everyone. She does make a friend, who provides entry to some glamorous Hollywood events, but even the friend has her own secrets.

By the end of the story, I was tired of Willa’s adolescence, mostly reflected in reading over and over how she’s afraid to tell anyone the truth. It’s an idiot plot, since if she spoke to any of the people that care about her, there wouldn’t be a book. Instead, we get several life-threatening scenes as both supernatural and psychotic monsters try to kill her. There are too many various bits spinning around for them all to get the space they need, and I found the whole a waste of the Hollywood connections. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season Two on Blu-ray

Following up on last year’s release of Season One on Blu-ray, Warner Archive has released the followup, Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season Two. (It’s also available on Amazon.com.)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season Two

I’ve already listed the 26 episodes contained here on two discs. There are no extras, just clear animation and sound.

The set opens with something of a departure from the usual take on Batman. He’s not operating out of Gotham City at night on his own. Instead, he and a bunch of other heroes and villains — including the Huntress, Green Arrow, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Plastic Man, Catwoman, and the Joker — have been kidnapped by Mongul to the desert for a “Death Race to Oblivion!” The whole thing feels like a more serious episode of the Wacky Racers, with similarly exaggerated vehicles. Batman is determined to win to protect Gotham, which surprises the other heroes, who thought he’d have more of a master plan.

The pacing in this series is excellent, as the next episode, “Long Arm of the Law!”, is more of a domestic comedy, a pleasant change from the racing action of the previous installment. After we see how the stretchable hero admires Batman for his self-control, Plastic Man has to take his baby to the art museum to get some “cult-cha and class” (as the redheaded wife? girlfriend? nanny? Ramona puts it). Of course, while there, they stumble into a robbery in progress, which gets mixed with some classic slapstick as Woozy protects the kid and, for extra comedy, a wiener dog named Schnitzel. There’s drama as well, with Kite-Man wanting revenge in a way that involves Benjamin Franklin.

After a coming-of-age story with young hero Blue Beetle in the midst of galactic war (“Revenge of the Reach!”), there’s an over-the-top comedy with the blustery and boisterous Aquaman taking his family on an RV road trip (“Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!”). The series continues to keep a balance between grim and silly, providing a balance and a diversity that other Batman projects can’t always accomplish.

The allusions and all kinds of references, including history (both real and from fondly remembered comics) and other types of stories, makes this series incredibly entertaining for all ages. Plus, the cartooning is just great. Where else can you see Batman temporarily get Plastic Man’s powers, or amazing feats of heroism, or imaginative devices and vehicles?

There’s a JSA reunion and a sidekick mission with Robin, Aqualad, and Speedy and appearances by the Metal Men, Captain Marvel, Detective Chimp, Zatanna, Booster Gold, and surprisingly, since he gets a lot of focus, B’wana Beast. (Given his loincloth-based outfit, that his fight with the bad guy is based around wrestling moves seems particularly appropriate.) Firestorm’s origin in “A Bat Divided!” results in multiple Batmen, including slacker Batman, while Starro makes several appearances leading up to a two-part grand battle with a bunch of possessed heroes.

Before that, “Chill of the Night!” retells Batman’s origin with his parents voiced by Adam West and Julie Newmar. In that episode, Batman goes back in time via the actions of the Spectre (Mark Hamill) and the Phantom Stranger (original animated Batman Kevin Conroy). It’s a surprising high point for what some will wrongly write off as a children’s cartoon. Adam West returns to voice a conflicted Bat-robot in “Plague of the Prototypes!”

The old Batman team the Outsiders — Geo-Force, Katana, Black Lightning, Metamorpho, and Halo — make an appearance before a Flash-centric episode that emphasizes the generations of heroes. There’s a Doom Patrol installment that covers a wide range of the team’s history and a Birds of Prey focus that includes Catwoman, Black Canary, and the Huntress doing a musical number (with some insinuations about male heroes I’m surprised made the show) in order to help restore Batman’s memory, corrupted by a criminal artifact.

We even get to see a short segment with the Haunted Tank and the return of Rainbow Batman. The animators clearly know their old comics, and they’re not afraid of acknowledging all aspects of Batman’s long history. Their use of Bat-Mite is hilarious, since the sprite reads Who’s Who to the readers before giving them a tour through classic Joker stories, even if the “Emperor Joker!” episode ends up a bit gruesome. (Although it is funny that, as the villain puts it, Bat-Mite looks like “someone put a pig in a Bat-suit”.)

Bat-Mite returns in “Batman’s Strangest Cases!”, which assembles three different styles of cartoon: one based on a Mad magazine parody by Harvey Kurtzman and Wallace Wood, one similar to the Bat-Manga by Jiro Kuwata, and the last is a team-up with the Scooby-Doo gang. The final cartoon in the set returns to more straightforward adventure (but with a touch of weird) as the Marvel Family helps out a de-aged kid Batman. Let’s hope we see the final Season Three on Blu-ray soon.

A New Era in Streaming as CBS and HBO Announce Direct-to-Consumer Plans

Finally! Two channels have announced their own direct-to-consumer access sales. In a world of “cord cutters” (people who are fed up with ever-increasing cable costs and so stop subscribing) and “cord nevers” (younger customers who don’t see the need to subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service at all), networks are finally realizing that protecting the cable/dish monopoly in TV provision isn’t in their best interest.

First, HBO announced that 2015 would bring a stand-alone internet streaming service.

Richard Plepler, chief executive of HBO, pointed to 10 million homes in the United States that pay for broadband connections but not a traditional TV service.

“That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO,” he said. “All in, there are 80 million homes that do not have HBO and we will use all means at our disposal to go after them.”

HBO already has an HBO Go service set up, but to access it requires a subscription to traditional pay TV. That provides a framework to build on. No word is yet available on what HBO will charge, and that may be the sticking point. HBO costs about $10 a month through cable (depending on the deal), but Netflix or Hulu Plus streaming is $8, with greater variety. We know there are people who are willing to pay HBO directly, mostly just for Game of Thrones, but it remains to be seen if they’ll be consistent subscribers. (If HBO’s service includes lots of past episodes, someone could sign up for a month, binge, and then stop paying. This is why the WWE Network only gives customers the $10/month price if they subscribe for at least six months.)

CBS soon followed suit, but they were willing to say that their plan costs $6 a month. They had to name a price, since it’s available now. The live streaming is only available in 14 large markets, but everyone else can see current programs the day after they air (complete with ads) or access libraries of older programs, including Cheers and Star Trek (with no ads). Sports are *not* included. Since CBS also owns Showtime, expect a similar announcement for that channel soon. CBS has a tougher road than HBO, since with an antenna, you can get their content for free (although not on demand — you’re required to follow their scheduling). Note also that CBS was the only big network not to participate in Hulu — ABC, NBC, and Fox all sell access there.

Many customers have been begging for a la carte subscription models, so they could buy only what they wanted, but if $10 becomes the price point, if you subscribe to only 5 channels monthly, you’d soon be approaching the cost of your cable bill. Plus, you’d be responsible for your own equipment. A Roku box is relatively cheap, and it’s a one-time cost instead of a monthly rental, but the real cost comes with reliable broadband. People who get internet through their cable company will likely find those costs rising quickly to make up for the declining programming subscriptions.

The announcements focus on access through computers and mobile devices, but I’m curious to see which allow for access through devices that connect to your super-large TV screen (such as Roku, AppleTV, Google’s ChromeCast, and so on). Especially if you want to watch with more than one person (old-fashioned, I know), nothing beats the existing equipment setup.

Also, many people are more loyal to particular shows than to networks. People are fans of Man Men, not AMC. Those types already have plenty of ways to access just the particular show they want, with plastic discs, iTunes season passes, or other outlets. It’s going to be tricky, trying to figure out which services have the items you want to watch.

Boomerang Changes Focus, Adds Ads

I used to think of Boomerang as the animation nostalgia channel, with its focus on older, archival programming. However, now it’s changing its focus, with a new direction in the US coming next year and expanded international presence. From the press release:

Boomerang relaunch promo

Turner Broadcasting announced today that its second flagship kids brand, Boomerang, is being re-launched as a global all-animation, youth-targeted network, repositioned with a line-up of timeless and contemporary cartoons programmed for family co-viewing….

Drawing upon the vast resources of the world’s largest animation library — consisting of Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, Cartoon Network, and MGM studios television and theatrical shorts, series, and specials — Boomerang’s on-air schedule will be anchored by such timeless favorites as Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, The Powerpuff Girls, and Scooby-Doo. Along with a slate of newly-acquired contemporary series produced by studios around the world, Boomerang will also introduce a refreshed on-air environment and for the first time offer exclusive original content on the network across its 13 international feeds.

As announced earlier in the year, Boomerang will also be officially offered for ad sales and promotional opportunities in the United States. The official roll-out began in Latin America on Sept. 29 and will continue with Australia on Nov. 3 and all additional territories in 2015.

Outside ads are coming to the network, it gets a new logo, and the aim now becomes families instead of history, but they’re adding original content.

“Boomerang has always been a timeless favorite with multi-generational appeal,” said [Christina Miller, president and general manager, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Boomerang (U.S.)]. “We see this as a unique opportunity to not only redefine the family co-viewing experience, but to grow and leverage our overall global kids portfolio and position it across all platforms in conjunction with Cartoon Network.”

Beyond its on-air presence in more than 250 million homes, Boomerang also will be supported with refreshed digital and mobile platforms, including a newly refaced website that features exclusive activities, games, and content to provide a full immersion experience for all visitors. Younger fans will be able to enjoy age-appropriate free games showcasing their favorite characters, while older users can learn more about their favorite characters and series.

It seems that Boomerang will become Cartoon Network 2, focusing on brands families already know. I thought more channels meant more variety, but this matches what is happening with Warner Bros. cartoon release program for home video — more emphasis on products for the kids, with deep dives into their vaults for animation historians or adult viewers nearly non-existent. I guess that’s why, after hinting several years ago, we still haven’t seen the Warner Archive release of the Censored Eleven, originally targeted for 2011.




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