“The Boys” Season 1 – An Amazing Deconstruction of Super Heroes and the United States

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     “The Boys” is one of the best deconstructions of Super Heroes and the toxic aspects of the culture and politics in the United States that I have seen. I have not read the comics but I am intrigued to see how closely the show takes inspiration from the them. I really liked this show. The characters and ideas are explored so well and the writing is fantastic. Before I get into spoilers, this is a show I recommend to anyone tired of how predictable Super Hero narratives in television and films can become and one looking at a great critique of the power structures and politics in the United States.

The series was created by Eric Kripke for Amazon based on the comics by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson.

The story follows Hughie (Jack Quaid) following the death of his girlfriend from the super-hero A-Train (A member of The Seven) seeks revenge under Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and his “Boys.” During this time his friendship grows with the newest member of the Seven Starlight (Erin Moriarity), who discovers how corrupt the Seven and the corporation Vought who runs them truly are.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Seven – The Seven are controlled by the Vought Corporation who created them through use of the drug Compound V. They are the face of the corporation and are used in films, in coordination with the Religious Right and as law enforcement, eventually being used to fight terrorists abroad. They are lead by Homelander (Think an evil Superman) and have members including The Deep, Black Noir, Queen Maeve, A-Train, Translucent and Starlight.

Black Noir – Black Noir is the one character this season who is just doing his job. Unlike all the other members who see be outright corrupt or greedy in different ways, Noir doesn’t talk and just shows up to work. I’m curious to see what we learn about him next season as he is the biggest mystery at this point as a member of the Seven.

Homelander – Antony Starr was brilliant as Homelander. He is charismatic and threatening and his arc involves him finding out the truth about what happened to his son and the cover-up by Vought Corporation. He ends up turning on his lover and boss Madelyn and the implication when he finds his son and how he sees anyone who isn’t a super as worthless means he is probably going to aim to form a fascist regime under him. He is a fascinating villain and I’m curious to see what he does next.

Starlight – Annie January / Starlight is the only member of the Seven who cares about the public and is driven by good. This is true even after she is molested by the Deep and bullied by the members of the Seven. Her arc involves her growing close to Maeve who is burned out but reminded why she wanted to be a hero in the first place by Starlight’s strength. Starlight stands up for he beliefs and doubt of God of at a Christian Right Conference and also stands up against what The Deep did to her. Starlight also saves The Boys and Hughie from A-Train when she learns the truth about Compound V and how her mother used her and how Vought has been using her for their own gain. Her relationship with Hughie is beautiful and she is one of my favorite characters on the show. I can’t wait to see where her arc goes.

The Boys – The Boys are an organization lead by Billy Butcher who are trying to kill the Supers and destroy Vought Corporation. Butcher’s main drive is to hurt Homelander as he believes Homelander raped and murdered his wife. The other members of the group are Mother’s Milk and Frenchie who have worked with Butcher in the past and don’t trust him, the Super Kimiko they save from Vought and Hughie.

Billy Butcher – Karl Urban is fantastic as Billy. Billy is a man driven by hatred and rage and his toxic to everyone around him as he seeks to takeout Vought and the Supers. He is driven by the belief that Homelander killed and raped his wife and this has lead him to care nothing for others beyond how he can use them against Vought and the Supers. Hughie is where we see his humanity as Hughie reminds him of the person he used to be. In the end he is alone when he tries to takeout Homelander until Homelander gives him a revelation that ends the season.

Hughie – Hughie, like Starlight is one of the only good people in this universe. His arc is him finding his courage to take on Vought and the Supers. He is the one who kills Translucent after Frenchie puts a bomb in the member of the Seven but in the end he doesn’t become Billy, as after A-Train tries to kill him and has a heart attack, he tries to save A-Train. This shows his base goodness that exists, even after A-Train had ran through and killed his girlfriend with his super speed. Jack Quaid is fantastic in the role and I’m curious how his character will change now that he and the Boys are wanted.

Deconstructing Super Heroes – What would humans be like if given super powers? What would be the cost of vigilantism? How would an organized group of vigilantes like the super heroes in comics come about? These are questions that are beautifully answered in such comics as “Watchmen,” “Miracle Man,” and is done here in “The Boys.” In “The Boys” supers are made by a powerful corporation using Compound V and marketing the Supers to make money. From here we see the effect this has on the Supers as most of them are corrupt and use their power and fame to their own ends. We see this in the stories of the Seven and how eventually what may arise out of it is fascist control under a Superman via the aims and planning of Homelander in this universe.

Critiquing the Religious Right – The religious right is tied closely to Vought and the governors as many senators have them as their base. From this we see how it is used to justify power. Homelander is preached as being chosen by God to lead and Vought makes money off of all the religious conferences they throw around the United States. It is very much pointing out the nature of power here. You have people like Trump who are irreligious and only after power who the religious right believe in because the leaders of their faith tell them too. What the leaders do doesn’t matter as long as they claim to believe a certain thing, in this case God or Jesus. Their actions do not matter. It becomes power for the sake of power and that is how fascists like Homelander rise, where power is the only thing they believe in. Morality was never part of the story, it was only ever about power and control.

The Cons:

Cliffhanger Ending – The season ends with a Cliffhanger as Starlight is trying to save A-Train from a heart attack after his failed attack against her and Hughie as Hughie and The Boys escapes. At the same time Butcher is with Homelander after Homelander saves him as we meet Homelander’s son and Billy sees his wife for the first time she went missing. It is a gut punch of an ending and I’m curious to see what happens next.

This was an amazing show and I’m glad it got renewed. There are so many big ideas that are explored and the characters are written so well. As someone who enjoys reading Super Hero comics and watching their films and shows, this was a wonderful deconstruction of the ideas that are often postulated in those mediums. How would humans act with super powers? What would this do to the culture? Where would power be? This series presents a depressing picture of it but in doing so critiques the toxic aspects of the culture around power and privilege here in the United States. Suffice to say I highly recommend you check this series out.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

“The Umbrella Academy” Season 1 – Great Character Arcs With More to Tell

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    “The Umbrella Academy” is easily one of my favorite shows. I read the original volume it is based on years ago and the show captures the zany characters and character relationships that made the book so memorable. Gabriel Bá and Gerard Way truly created a beautiful world and Netflix did an amazing job bringing it to the screen. The cast is fantastic and I can’t wait for season 2 to come out, given how season 1 ends.

The series was created by Jeremy Slater and Steve Blackman and as said above based on the comic series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá published by Dark Horse Comics.

The story follows the members of the Umbrella Academy who were all born on the same day when 43 women around the world gave birth without any sign of being pregnant. The seven adopted by the billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves would become the Umbrella Academy. After years away his death brings them all back home and the apocalyptic plot unfolds from here.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography feels like a comic book. Color is made to stand out and some scenes slow way down, such as when Cha-Cha and Hazel are high on Klaus’s drugs and destroying a lab. The film is beautiful all the way through and focuses on characters the way a panel would. Craig Wrobleski and Neville Kidd clearly have an eye for their craft.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack like the cinematography keeps that comic book feel while capturing so beautifully how all the characters are isolated and outsiders. Gerard Way’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” and Morcheeba’s “Blood Like Lemonade.” This is a soundtrack that goes between so many styles of music while keeping an undercurrent of rock to it. All our characters are healing and going through trauma and the soundtrack expresses it.

The World – The world of “The Umbrella Academy” is amazing. You have the Commission in the future making sure bad events go according to plan and who want to end the world. There are the members of the Umbrella Academy itself and also the ones hunting them being the duo Hazel and Cha-Cha who are enforces for the Commission the way Five once was. The characters are what make this world and I’m curious to see what the show does with them moving forward.

Hazel and Cha-Cha – These two are one of the best parts of the show. Hazel is played by Cameron Britton and is fed up with the work of being a killer. Cha-Cha is his closest friend and fully devoted to the Commission. Mary J. Blige is amazing as her. Over the course of the series we see that even when they are set against one another by Five or the Commission we see there is always more going on. Whether it is regret from Cha-Cha for attempting to kill Hazel and vise versa or her rage at Hazel for moving on with another person. I hope that there story isn’t done as I really like these two.

The Umbrella Academy – The Umbrella Academy is the super hero organization created by Sir Reginald Hargreeves from the 7 adopted children who were born during the event. Each of them has powers and are used by Reginald to take down villains. I’m going to give special time to Five and Klaus as they were the most interesting and fleshed out of the characters, but it is important to mention the other members of the family. I’ll also be including the guardians that Reginald created for them.

Grace, the robot created by Reginald is the mother of Academy while Pogo is the Reginald’s butler and together they hold the secrets of what was done to all of the members of the Academy and how Sir Reginald died. Over the course of the series they go from being the most trusted by the surviving members of the Academy to in the case of Pogo killed for hiding Vanya’s power from her. They are fascinating characters and I wanted to know so much more about them.

Of the Academy members who I won’t be giving a special paragraph to. First there is Ben, the one member who is dead and can summon a tentacle monster from his body. He is still around though as his spirit talks to Klaus. There is Diego (whose power is the ability to hit anything with his daggers) who is a wonderful Punisheresque vigilante who deals with his trauma through rage but comes around the caring for the team and seeing them as a family again. There are Luther (the leader of the team whose power is physical strength) and Allison (the only character with a family outside of the team and one who controls people through suggestion) that love each other romantically and come to terms with that and how they’ve changed as people. Allison is also Vanya’s biggest ally and the one who was used by their father to hurt her the most and repress Vanya’s powers. Vanya is the one who believes she doesn’t have powers through most of the series. It is only through a creepy stalker who is manipulating her that she discovers how great her power is and kills him. Her power is energy both psychic and otherwise that she can channel through music. After the Academy turns on her and traps her she goes full bad and we soon learn is the one who causes the apocalypse leading the Academy to make a choice and time jump with her away from the end of the world that she caused.

Five – Five is the member of the Academy who can jump through space and time. Because of this he ends up going missing when he jumps and ends up in the future. Here he lives a full life working for the Commission before returning back to the present time and in turn appearing as the young kid he was once before. He is great as he is an old man in a teenage body so he doesn’t want to be with people. His arc is his coming around to his family and his work against the Commission comes to a head as at one point he works for them again as he secretly tries to stop the apocalypse and in the end he is the one who saves them all after Vanya causes the end of the world as they jump to a time and place we haven’t seen yet. His arc is also dealing with the fact that he’s seen how it all ends so wonders if it is set in stone and can’t be prevented. He’s dealing with the possible inevitability of the end and it changes his outlook as he fights against it.

Klaus – Klaus is the best character on the show and Robert Sheehan does such a fantastic job as him. Klaus’s power is that he can speak to ghosts and the dead and because of this Ben is with him counseling him. Klaus before the events of the show has been through so much abuse from Sir Reginald that his only escape has been through drugs and alcohol (he would be locked in a room with the dead as a child and was never let out). Because of this he is detached from everyone and his arc is his sobering up to the point that he can speak to their father and learn about why they were brought together. At one point he serves in the Vietnam War and loves a fellow soldier after he uses Cha-Cha’s and Hazel’s briefcase to travel back in time. He resists torture from the two of them and even manages to turn Hazel more to the good when he calls upon all those Hazel and Cha-Cha have killed. His greatest moment of awesome is making Ben corporeal which saves the Academy from an attack by Cha-Cha and the commission as Vanya is bringing about the end.

Family and Sibling Relationships – People aren’t perfect. People are dysfunctional and all of us are going through different trials from past hurt. “The Umbrella Academy” explores these relationships through the characters. We see Diego and his rivalry with Luther. Allison and her reaching out to and protecting of Vanya. Five being cared for all by all the others and the reestablishment of relationship after how long he’s been gone. We also have Vanya, who dealt with being the one without powers by doing a tell all book and how they all have to confront the hurt they’ve caused to each other that their father had brought down upon all of them. The family dynamics are fascinating and I can’t wait to see how they are developed further.

The Cost of Trauma and Abuse – All of our characters are survivors of Sir Reginald’s abuse and we see what it has done to them. They are cut off from another, escaping into drugs and alcohol (Five and Klaus) and in turn they abuse one another. The cost of trauma is constant and ongoing and we see hints of healing near the end but only after the characters have had those moments of honesty with one another on all that they’ve been through. I’m curious to see how the show explores this further as I feel like our characters are really only starting to face it and the consequences it has had upon their lives.

The Cons:

The Cliffhanger – In the end Vanya’s power wrecks the moon causing the apocalypse. Five realizes the only way out is to time travel with Vanya to prevent the end from occurring. As the city was destroyed they manage to make the time jump. This is a great cliffhanger but it is a cliffhanger, if the show had gotten canceled this ending would have sucked.

I highly recommend both the comic and the show. “The Umbrella Academy” explores trauma, abuse and sibling relationships in such a compelling way that even though I hate cliffhangers I was grateful that the show would probably get renewed. I want to spend more time with these characters and this world and I can’t wait to see where the story ends up. Definitely worth checking out for any fans of the super hero genre.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 A great start to the show, even with the cliffhanger.

“Supergirl” Season 1 – How Superman as a Character Can Work

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   “Supergirl” is one of the most underrated shows on television. After watching “Season 1” I can’t believe it took the CW to save the show given that the writing on this show runs laps around “Arrow” and is even comparable to the best of “The Flash” and “The Defenders.” This is a show that gets the Superman mythos and does some amazing things with it.

    The show was developed by Ali Adler, Greg Berltani and Andrew Kreisberg.

    The premise of the show is Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) was sent from Krypton to look after Superman but due to mishap she knocks Fort Rozz (an alien prison) out of the Phantom Zone and arrives after Superman has already grown up. She is adopted by the Danvers family but after having a normal life starts something more as new threats arise tied to her past on Krypton.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The DC Universe is a great world and this is coming from a guy who was only really a fan of Superman as he related to Bruce Timm’s Justice League and JLU or Batman: The Animated Series. This Universe goes in depth and makes it count and honestly made me want to seek out the best Supergirl and Superman comics.

The Action – The action is solid. There is a lot of stuntwork and for a show with a limited budget every death and hit counts. That is saying a lot given “Supernatural” and to some degree “Marvel” have been slinking away from this.

The Characters – The characters were the strongest part of thsi series and drove the action since a lot of the villians were very much “villain of the week” even if they directly related to the plot (with a few exceptions). I cared about the main cast and all of them grew on me.

Indigo – This is the “Supergirl” Brainiac and she is great for what she is. She revels in extinction and manages to be one of the greatest threats in the last half of the series.

Astra – Astra was fantastic and the actress Laura Benati does an amazing job in the role as both her and Supergirl’s biological mother. Astra is complex, she was right about the destruction of Krypton her approach of mind control is just wrong and even she realizes that at the end. I really wanted her to be the final boss, but Alex killing her complicates her and Supergirl’s relationship is a fascinating way.

Cat Grant – Cat is wonderful, she is quite narcissistic and she uses her podium to advocate for others while still trying to remain fair. She is someone using the pulpit of the talking head for better and I really like how she helps Supergirl grow. We also see her step out from under her mother’s foot and fully become empowered. She is a feminist, CEO, advocate and all around fantastic character who Calista Flockhart does wonderfully.

Maxwell Lord – This character is the Lex Luthor to Supergirl except rather than being a villain all the time he buys into her hope. He is portrayed as a self serving objectivst through most of the series but changes in the end when Cat Grant and Supergirl show him that people can be better. I really liked this character and hope he appears in “Season 2.”

James Olsen – I didn’t care about Jimmy Olsen until this series. He dies in “BvS” I heard but honestly…I don’t know the character. This series showed me what he means. He is Superman and Supergirl’s tie to the life of normal and what you can accomplish just by living. He is my favorite character at this point and Mechad Brooks is an actor I’d love to meet someday.

Winn – Winn is the brains that every series like this has. Sisko is it in on “The Flash,” Willow on “Buffy,” etc. He works and it great and I like that he is the Toymaker’s son…but his whole crush on Supergirl was awkward, though I’m still counting him a plus.

Martian Manhunter -J’onn J’onzz aka Martian Manhunter is my favorite character on the show. He’s a survivor who learns to trust a bit more and mercy over the course of the show from “Supergirl.” Can’t wait to see what they do with him in “Season 2.” He was one of my favorites in the original Bruce Timm “Justice League” along with that versions “Green Lantern” and obviously “Batman.” This one is more fleshed out though and more relateable which is only a plus. Seriosuly, watch the show to see his reveal.

Alex Danvers – Kara’s sister Alex is pretty fantastic. She’s a protector who can see the bigger picture and helps Kara grow through the show. She is truly both sister and mentor and I really love their relationship.

Supergirl – Kara Danvers is a wonderful character, she is the refugee trying to fit in and at the same protect her adopted world even though so much is out of her control. What she wants is what “Man of Steel” missed the point of. Superman is one of us both because he has to be and wants to be and their is even more responsiblity in that. Kara Danvers aka Supergirl captures that beautifully and watching “Season 2” now I hope for many more seasons. She shows us the dilemma of being different but a part of a community but also the power of hope. We can inspire in our actions and she does with mess ups and learning throughout the show.  Melissa Benoist rules in this role. She’s the first character of this type I’ve actually cared about…even Thor I could care less about as she captures the role of power and responsibility so much better.

Getting the Archetype of “Superman” Right – Superman should inspire us to be our better selves. As Clark Kent he is meant to be us and show us that the impossible can relate to the daily struggle and Kara in her job captures that so well. Even in classic “Superman” I didn’t feel this or animated Superman, but I got it with “Supergirl.” For once the narrative was captured perfectly on screen on my Superman is so iconic and it was in the amazing Supergirl who is everything in her own right using those archetypes.

Okay: Non – Non was an unformed idea. He wasn’t Zod but he wasn’t Astra. He should have been full Green Peace or full Dictator but instead we got the inbetween and that just hurt the narrative. He was okay and wasn’t bad but he wasn’t good.

The Final – Myriad controls Superman forcing Supergirl to work with her allies (Martian Manhunter and Alex her sister) to solve it. They do but I never got Non’s aim. He never felt wholly formed like Astra and that hurt the overall narrative.

Monster of the Week – There are a few “Monsters of the Week” like Red Tornado and Livewire that could have been more and they worked but it showed the show playing it safe. Which is why I only rated it as okay.

  This is a series that was severly unnderated. Kara Danvers in her arc is sympathetic and I got a lot of Buffy from “Buffy” vibes from her. She’s doing her best in the circumstances she’s in and at the end of the day want’s to succeed but also be more. She’s human but has all the abilities to accomplish more in the saving from disasters and there is power in that. That is the core of the Superman mythos. If you have the power to make a difference in another way, do so. That in and of itself is empowering and this show knows that way more than “The Flash” which in way embraces the alien part more so (Flash being a Meta-Human) than Supergirl. I highly recommend this series. It is well worth your time and CBS just gave up a gem to the CW.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10