Arrow: The Complete Second Season

I found the first season of Arrow a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t tried it on the CW, but I discovered it on disc, and watching several episodes at once allowed me to appreciate the character aspects of the superhero adventure series.

Last week, the second season came out on home video. Thankfully, the first episode is a refresher. “Year One” consists of character profiles and event summaries from the first season, reminding the less-than-devout viewer where things left off.

That leads into the season premiere, with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Diggle (David Ramsey) journeying to the island to convince Oliver (Stephen Amell) to return to the city. The island flashbacks have become even more prevalent and substantial, with a parallel team of Slade (Manu Bennett) and Shado (Celina Jade) replacing the original mentor. I’d rather see more character work, less tropical suspense and conspiracy, but the latter is more true to current superhero trends.

Stephen Amell in Arrow

Stephen Amell in Arrow

There were several changes in season two that I enjoyed even more, and a couple that really turned me off. I miss Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell); I thought he was an important character to keep Oliver grounded, as opposed to his fun but unrealistic heroing buddies. There were more of those this season, with Felicity joining the team of Queen and Diggle and Black Canary (Caity Lotz) appearing frequently. It was neat to see more women as substantial cast members (although I’m still disappointed by a late-season plot point with one of the female characters I won’t spoil).

However, I dislike hero shows where all or most of the cast are super or vigilantes. Having a good mix of regular people and the more extreme is more entertaining to me to watch, but this season has a lot of supergroups, from ARGUS and the Suicide Squad to the League of Assassins. Most everyone had abilities of some kind, with the only exceptions being Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) and Thea Queen (Willa Holland), who each got kidnapped and threatened. Even Felicity is a super-hacker, and Diggle ran around with an attack group for a bit.

Manu Bennett as Slade Wilson and Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak in Arrow

Shouldn’t Felicity look a bit more worried about the sword at her neck?

If I had any advice for the show, it would be to rebalance the personal moments against the multitude of action scenes — more relationships instead of more explosions, more family moments instead of more island flashbacks. But there are plenty of other shows to watch for character work, and (until later this year) few with this kind of superhero adventure.

And now I’m going to contradict myself, since one of the high points of season two for me was the introduction of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) in episodes 8 and 9, in preparation for the upcoming spin-off Flash TV show. He does a wonderful job bringing some lighter touches to the sometimes dour CW superhero world.

Special Features and Formats

Colton Haynes as Roy Harper and Willa Holland as Thea Queen in Arrow

Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) is a bad boyfriend to Thea (Willa Holland) when he’s on drugs

As in the previous set, most of the extras are deleted scenes from various episodes. Beyond that, disc three has 26 minutes of the “Arrow 2013 Comic-Con Panel” with executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, Katie Cassidy, Colton Haynes (Roy Harper), Stephen Amell, Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, and executive producer Greg Berlanti. At the time, they were promoting this season, so the entertainment comes from seeing how they were plugging items that the viewer now knows how they turned out. Plus, they tease the audience with relationship hints, and I liked the surprise guest.

Disc four has a small grouping of extras. “From Vigilante to Hero” (24 minutes) features mostly the producers discussing the Arrow’s anti-hero status. They summarize and show clips from what they see as key moments from the season, many of which deal with the decision whether or not to try and kill someone. It’s a difficult question, one that can inspire lots of discussion.

Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance and Stephen Amell as The Arrow

Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance and Stephen Amell as the Arrow

“How Did They Do That? The Visual Effects of Arrow” is about as generic as the title suggests. It’s only 11 minutes about the computer-generated effects involving the plane scene from the first episode.

“Wirework: The Impossible Moves of Arrow” is a 10-minute analysis of how they needed to start using wires as characters became more super-powered this season, so people hit would fly farther. The Gag Reel, five minutes, features people falling down, breaking up, or props going awry. Deathstroke doing the robot dance was pretty funny, and I felt for Black Canary trying to do the salmon ladder exercise.

The Blu-ray season set also comes with DVD and UltraViolet copies of the episodes; there’s also a DVD-only version. (The studio provided a review copy.)

ComiXology Announces Second Wave of DRM-Free Comics

In July, ComiXology announced that certain publishers would provide DRM-free backups of the digital comics you rented through their service, moving them closer to being purchases.

ComiXology logo

Now, ComiXology has announced a second wave of publishers included in the program. Joining the previous list of Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Zenescope Entertainment, MonkeyBrain Comics, Thrillbent, and Top Shelf Productions are

  • IDW Publishing
  • Valiant Entertainment
  • Oni Press
  • Fantagraphics Books
  • Aspen Comics
  • Action Lab Entertainment
  • and a bunch of smaller publishers: Th3rd World Studios, A Wave Blue World, Blind Ferret Entertainment, Caliber Comics, Creative Impulse Entertainment, Devils Due Entertainment, GT Labs Comics, and Kingstone Media

So my question is, who’s left? DC and Marvel, obviously — they likely hate the idea of non-restricted releases. But comparing ComiXology’s list of Featured Publishers to these two press releases, Boom! Studios also isn’t included, which surprises me, nor is Archie or Avatar.

Also, an IDW representative clarified that their “TMNT, Godzilla, and Cartoon Network titles… are restricted per licensor request” but all their other books are available as DRM-free.

Disney Achieves Four-Quadrant Success by Appealing to Female Gamers

Disney Infinity characters

The Disney Infinity video game, a way to expand console gaming sales by constantly selling players new figures and characters, appeals much more to women and girls than the company expected. Instead of a 70/30 male/female split, the franchise breaks out 55% boys to 45% girls.

It helps that you can play as Elsa from Frozen or Merida from Brave, female characters with abilities and appeal. That makes Infinity “a four-quadrant franchise for the company in the interactive space, which is the first that we’ve ever had,” according to executive producer John Vignocchi. “When you hit a four-quadrant property, that’s when you’ve made something with long-lasting staying power at the company.”

Who would have imagined that not driving away girls would mean a more successful property? That might be what young male gamers are so afraid of — inclusion is so much a smarter strategy for companies that they’re going to have to share. Plus, the Infinity concept is great. You can play Marvel superheroes against classic Disney animated characters.

*The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place — Recommended

Would you like to read a mashup of Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and Lumberjanes? Then The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, out next week, is the book for you.

The seven young women at St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls have been sent there because their parents find them too unladylike in one way or another. To make clear the “shame” they each bear (and help the reader keep them straight), each is referred to with a demeaning adjective, such as “Disgraceful Mary Jane” or “Dull Martha” or “Dour Elinor”. The seven are as follows

  • Dear Roberta — a normal girl who isn’t yet sure what she wants or is capable of, someone whose gentle nature can’t stand up to her stepmother but with surprising powers of observation
  • Disgraceful Mary Jane — a too-friendly flirt capable of attracting almost any man
  • Dull Martha — a nice young woman willing to work hard
  • Stout Alice — whose solid physicality and acting skills allow her to impersonate the missing Mrs. Plackett when needed
  • Smooth Kitty — a plotter and organizer whose father would only consider a male heir
  • Pocked Louise — a scientist and aspiring doctor who values intelligence over appearance
  • Dour Elinor — a proto-goth with a taste for the morbid and macabre

When their headmistress is killed, the girls decide they’d rather stay together than go back to their previous lives. They attempt to hide the death from the neighborhood in order to run their own establishment, but their efforts are complicated by a murderer who won’t give up when it appears that Mrs. Plackett is still alive. While Louise works at solving the mystery, the girls learn more about their departed guardian and forge deeper bonds with each other. They only want to make their own choices and their own way in the world at a time when women’s independence was considered laughable.

Julie Berry writes with wonderful skill, capturing the details of life in 1890 and conveying them as part of a gripping page-turner. I wanted to spend a lot more time with this group of enchanting, imaginative young ladies. The book is intelligent fun, and the sisterhood inspiring. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

There’s Going to Be a Supergirl Show!

This is surprising but exciting news. I guess superheroes are still a hot trend.

Supergirl comic

According to, CBS has committed to a Supergirl series produced by Greg Berlanti, who’s also been responsible for Arrow and The Flash. Ali Adler will write the pilot; she previously worked on No Ordinary Family and The New Normal.

The title character will be Superman’s cousin, and unlike the long-running Smallville, she’ll have and use superpowers for heroing. “Also closely involved in the development of the project has been DC Entertainment’s chief creative officer Geoff Johns,” of course.

CBS was the only network without a superhero series — Fox has the hotly anticipated Gotham, the CW hosts Arrow, The Flash, and iZombie, ABC runs Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and NBC is launching Constantine. Warner Bros. TV, which produces all these shows (except for the Disney/ABC/Marvel one), is doing very well on the small screen.

Supergirl is the second female-led hero series announced (scratch that — it’s fourth, see the comments); Netflix is working on a Jessica Jones series as part of their Marvel character programming. CBS traditionally has older-skewing shows, so it’ll be interesting to see how an action series centered on a young woman does for them. Let’s hope they ditch both the belly-baring crop-top costume and the “look at my crotch” current redesign for something more timeless.

Powers TV Show a PlayStation Exclusive

They first started trying to make a TV show based on Powers, the comic by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, back in 2009. A pilot was shot in 2011 for the FX network, but it didn’t fly. Now, there are more definite plans.

Sony will air the Powers TV show exclusively to subscribers of the PlayStation Network beginning in December. The first hour-long episode is free; following episodes will require subscription to PlayStation Plus. This is the first original programming through that venue, and it’ll be an interesting experiment. There’s a lot of discussion around alternatives to the traditional network/cable programming model, and connected game consoles make up a small but substantial potential audience.

Powers stars Sharlto Copley as Christian Walker and Susan Heyward as Deena Pilgrim

Powers stars Sharlto Copley as Christian Walker and Susan Heyward as Deena Pilgrim, both homicide detectives in a world where many people have superhuman abilities. The comic uses superhero tropes in a police procedural with noir overtones. Also appearing in the show are Eddie Izzard, Michelle Forbes, Noah Taylor, and Olesya Rulin.

There is speculation about the show eventually becoming available through some other venue, but nothing definite. Perhaps Sony might also stream through other devices, such as their internet-connected TVs or Blu-ray players. Mine allows for content through Sony’s Video Unlimited programming service, as well as Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, and Crackle. That last, Sony’s online distribution outlet, is my guess for an eventual venue for Powers. The free-to-watch channel airs Sony Pictures movies and TV shows, as well as original programming. It’s available through mobile devices, smart TVs, streaming players (such as Roku or Apple TV), and game consoles.

For example, right now they’re airing Sequestered, an original show about a jury that includes fan-favorites Summer Glau (Firefly, Arrow, Alphas), Patrick Warburton (The Tick), Bruce Davison, Dina Meyer (Birds of Prey), Ryan McPartlin (Captain Awesome from Chuck), and Jesse Bradford. It’s a 12-episode show with the first six out now and the second half coming next month.

Disclaimer: I work for a division of Sony that has nothing to do with the TV business.

What Defines a Writer of a Popular Property?

I did a double-take when shown this poster for the upcoming video-on-demand movie Wolves. As you can see, the tagline reads “from the writer of X-Men and Watchmen“. I was surprised to think for a minute that Alan Moore wrote a werewolf movie.

Wolves poster

The name they’re actually crediting is David Hayter, who wrote the screenplays for those films and has written and directed Wolves, which will be available on VOD on October 16 and stars Lucas Till, who played Havok in X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: First Class.

*On the Books: A Graphic Tale of Working Woes at NYC’s Strand Bookstore — Recommended

Now that I’m living in Madison, Wisconsin, with its progressive history and more recent union-busting legislation (and the subsequent protests, which included a failed election to recall Governor Scott Walker, legislators fleeing the state to avoid a vote, and thousands of people occupying the State Capitol), I’m more aware of labor disputes and the complicated history of worker/management relations. So I was fascinated to discover this graphic novel retelling, as the back cover has it, “the 2012 labor struggle at NYC’s legendary Strand Bookstore” from Microcosm Publishing.

At the time of this telling, the Strand had 152 unionized workers and about 30 non-union managers. Contract renewal negotiations began in September 2011, until the union rejected the business’s “final offer” in April 2012. Although reportedly doing well, the store’s justification was increased competition and a poor economy. That led to a May Day strike.

Author Greg Farrell worked at the store during this time, but he doesn’t just rely on his own impressions. The opinions of co-workers — drawn to disguise them, whether as a dolphin, dog, masked wrestler, or taco — are frequently presented between chapters, providing a fuller portrait of the diversity of approaches.

There’s a brief history of unionization early on, focused on this particular organization, but the union isn’t presented as an unvarnished good guy. There’s a section on many things they’d done wrong. I found the discussion of the problems of a two-tier system particularly informative, where older employees get to keep more benefits but new hires are brought in with a worse deal.

The assistance of outside supporters is also shown as a mixed bag, without enough coordination at times. This is my favorite kind of visual reporting, where the author clearly has a point of view, but he’s trying to cover all sides as well. There’s also an interesting short section on the collectibles business and how it’s changed over the years as physical objects became less interesting and online retail grew. I also liked that Farrell takes several pages to explore his concerns about putting out these comics and how they might affect his job and his relationships with his co-workers.

Artistically, the presentation is basic and straightforward. Most pages are a six-panel grid, and most panels have an image with narration text running in the top third. That makes it easy to read and understandable to those who may not be as familiar with the comic format. However, instead of relying primarily on the text, Farrell does creative things with the images, often exaggerating metaphors to put across his ideas more memorably. For instance, as he illustrates his time working at the store, a series of figures shows rattier-looking clothes and more aches and pains (shown by tiny stars and body language). This is some subtly talented cartooning.

It’s a very timely story, given how many young people are currently underemployed in our economy, and these struggles are the kind every intelligent person should be aware of. I was reminded of how important good bookstores are, and that the quality of the store is based on the knowledge of the people that work there.




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