Editorial

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On The John: The RetCon Of The Jedi

By John Camarena

Going into The Rise of Skywalker, expectations were low to say the least. The Last Jedi felt like a slap in the face to the fans that held the franchise close to their hearts, and having 2 of the main characters essentially tell us, the audience, that we are basically stupid for holding onto it, while a brave and interesting move, is not what Star Wars should be. By now it’s been revealed that even though JJ Abrams had an outline for the rest of the trilogy, Rian Johnson was given free rein to make the second movie however he wanted, and what he chose to do was interesting but also misguided. Rian Johnson, in my opinion, is not a bad director; however, his choice to deconstruct the mythology in order to water it down for mainstream audiences split the fandom. Some people liked it, many hated it, and I felt like maybe Star Wars just wasn’t for me anymore. This was most disappointing after the acceptable movie that Abrams had crafted. The Force Awakens, while a soft reboot/remake of A New Hope, was exactly what we wanted in order to bring the old fans back after so many adults were let down by the prequel trilogy. Abrams set up a familiar premise with the potential for meaningful payoff. Then Johnson said “nah” to that and essentially ended the trilogy with the second movie by making the theme one of letting go of the past and starting something completely different. There was nowhere coherent for the third movie to go and it showed: the big bad villain was unceremoniously killed before we get to know anything about his past, his motivations, and his goals; the second most important character also dies kind of pointlessly after spending the whole movie being a downer and refusing to be involved. This was Luke Skywalker! And the movie even makes a meta commentary on the fact that Luke was the former hero now reduced to being a sad hermit. Finally, the big set up that Rey was somehow important got flushed down the vac-tube by reveling she’s actually a nobody and her parents were just drunks. More on that in a bit. Needless to say, Disney was in a bit of a panic and their solution to try and win back the fans was to get Abrams back for the third movie. For some strange reason, it was never intended to have a unifying vision guiding these movies the way Marvel does, but nevertheless, this was a hail Mary play. So we get Abrams back and what happens next? Well, he basically has to undo many of the plot threads from The Last Jedi, or somehow twist them so that they fit into what I presume must have been the original outline of the trilogy. The perfect metaphor for this situation is being introduced to Kylo Ren in Episode 7 with his black helmet, then Snoke makes fun of Kylo Ren for using it so Kylo destroys it in Episode 8, followed by Kylo Ren reconstructing the damaged helmet and wearing it again to bring us back to form. It’s as beautiful as it is stupid. So what happens next? Let’s take a look.

  • Palpatine was behind it all. We thought he was long dead, having been thrown into a pit on the second Death Star, and thus fulfilling Vader’s redemption and the prophecy that would bring balance to the Force by eliminating the Sith once and for all. But no, Somehow Palpatine survived his Force lighting self-electrocution, falling down a bottomless pit, and the Death Star explosion,  so he could go into hiding for the next 30 years were basically no one would know where he was and secretly build a huge fleet of planet-destroying Star Destroyers, which now makes them the most inappropriately named ships. Palpatine literally created Snoke as a pawn and influenced Kylo through the Force, making him think his grandpa, Darth Vader, was communicating with him. The problem here is there was absolutely zero set up for this reveal. Which leads me to my next point…
  • Rey is a Palpatine. So it turns out she isn’t really a nobody; she’s a direct descendent from one of the characters that’s now been a part of all three trilogies. Sure, her parents weren’t infamous, but the son of Palpatine would most certainly not qualify as a nobody. There are so many more questions that come from this reveal: why were Rey’s parents not on the same page as the Emperor? Who did the Emperor have a child with? Were there other children? Were the parents not Force-sensitive? Was selling Rey into slavery to a shady junk dealer as a small, defenseless child really the best option to keep her away from Palpatine after I’m assuming it was discovered she had Force potential?
  • The Rule of Two. The Rise of Skywalker introduces a couple of ideas with deep implications, but like everything else in the story, they get glossed over with minimal explanation. First, Kylo states that he and Rey are a dyad in the Force. Somehow, the two of them are inexplicably and inexorably interconnected within the Force; soulmates. But this idea is new to the canon and has no previous frame of reference really understand the meaning of this. Then the Emperor wants Rey to kill him so she can fulfill her ultimate destiny and the Sith can inhabit her being. This is actually very interesting because it implies that the Rule of Two, first mentioned in The Phantom Menace, is with the goal of the master training an apprentice to eventually kill him in order to transfer his soul into the body of the apprentice and thus defy death and continue the cycle with a new apprentice. Since the Sith cannot commune with the part of the Force that would essentially turn them into ghosts like Luke, Ben and Yoda, they have strived to cheat death through unnatural means, and it seems that this is the secret that Darth Plagueis discovered and Palpatine briefly alludes to in Revenge of the Sith. Again, a very interesting idea worth exploring further, but no we move on and this is not mentioned again. 

This isn’t to say the movie was bad as a whole. In truth, I liked this one the best out of the three. If you shut your logic circuits and can regress to being 5 years old, this is an entertaining ride. It’s only under basic scrutiny that the flaws in the story become apparent. A simple peek behind the curtain and the whole things begins to unravel. The main issue is the course-correction Abrams implemented that both had to undo or recontextualize a lot of the previous movie in order to make this work, and as a result, this felt like two movies compressed into one. Everything moves so quickly that you barely have time to grasp what just happened before we’re whisked away to the next plot point rushing to the finish line. Some of the best parts of my favorite entry in the series, The Empire Strikes Back, are the slow, character building and exposition scenes. Had Abrams at the very least been the guiding hand of the trilogy, we could have avoided a lot of the ill will garnered by the last movie. Had the idea of Palpatine being the puppet master been implemented earlier, this would have been an amazing reveal. In contrast to the movies, Jon Favre has demonstrated that it is still possible to make something good with the Star Wars brand when you have the right people and a vision involved. Here’s to hoping that this is a learning experience for Lucasfilm and better quality control begins to seep in. 

Will 90’s Nostalgia Replace The 80’s?

By Stephen Clark

Trends come and go and then come back around again. 

Finally. The trailer for a new movie in the franchise you loved as a kid is coming out. It starts. It looks good! Nice and crisp visuals, way better than the VHS you watched the original on. You meet the characters who are the kids, or whatever, of the people from the first one. And then it happens: the dramatic and subdued version of the music you identify the series with. You don’t love the trailer but it’s good to hear that music again. You’ll probably go and watch it, even just for fun with friends.

Nostalgia is a powerful tool in media. It isn’t about giving you exactly what the past was, instead delivering the best bits of what you remember. It’s the taste of Cap’n Crunch, not the cuts on the roof of your mouth. We’ve seen the 80’s become a technicolor dreamscape of sexy Uncle Jesse mullets, DeLoreans and quirky kids playing D&D while synthwave soundtracks hum us to a happy place. But we’ve all seen what mall bangs ACTUALLY looked like, almost nobody had a DeLorean or cared about it until Back to the Future and that basement from Stranger Things? Should’ve had way more acne and body odor. Nostalgia is a POWERFUL tool.

On The Playground Is Where I’d Spend Most Of My Days

The wave of 80’s nostalgia in television, film and more has been going for a pretty long time, with a long and varied list of shows that cash in on the audience who grew up in that decade. But now we’re seeing the nostalgia roll right on over into the next decade.

From every direction, a generation of 20-to-30-somethings is getting enticed by the look, sound and feel of the years they grew up in. Captain Marvel featured a still-in-business Blockbuster, packed with new release VHS tapes and the latest and greatest beeper tech used to call her to assist Earth in its time of need.

BTS, the biggest deal in pop music can be seen in some clearly 90’s inspired looks and feature a healthy dose of the pre-00’s radio jams in the albums that brought them to the attention of the average US listener. Whatever the medium is, the 90’s are worming their way in and coming for your wallet.

Time Keeps On Slipping Into The Future

Aside from the things that are simply taking a cue from the past’s pop culture, we’re set to get brand new installments of The Matrix and Scream, kicking off the 2020’s with two of the most decidedly 90’s series. Not content to settle for getting your dollar in the future, nobody has to wait for those films to get their dose of Tamagotchi-era goodness. Disney+ launched with only a select few originals, instead relying on the love for their back catalog of Saturday morning classics like Darkwing Duck, the Fox animated X-Men series and more.

Style Over Substance

One of the biggest parts of the renaissance of what people identify as THE look of the 80’s is a product of that laser beams, neon and shiny metal aesthetic that The Memphis Group pioneered. Without as easily defined and replicable of a style, 90’s nostalgia might not have the same kind of long tail. But I can’t wait to see what Zoomers decide the 90’s looked like.

Whether the cautious steps out of 80’s nostalgia and into 90’s will stick, we’ll have to wait and see. But what do you think? Will rehashed Clinton-era styles gain new life? Will we get to see Justin Tmberlake get to fashionably revive his ramen noodle hair?

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Watchmen Vs The Mandalorian

An Editorial From Stephen Clark

Pop culture’s kids are trying to step out of their parent’s shadows with mixed results.

In the Streaming Wars™, using pre-existing intellectual property is the fastest shortcut to getting the viewer’s attention and that sweet, sweet subscription money. We’ve seen seemingly every big company launch or announce a streaming service and, with those services, come new shows featuring characters and worlds that we already know. While it’s great to get new things connected to what we already love, the response to two different tent-pole series has been mixed, to say the least.

One of the  most potent examples of the reception to new series that use old IP can be seen in comparing ‘The Mandalorian’ on Disney+ and ‘Watchmen’ on HBO.

Mild spoilers ahead for the first few episodes of The Mandalorian and Watchmen

Shiny Man and Baby Yoda: The Series

When Disney+ was announced, we learned that a Mandalorian series was coming and it had an all star team behind it. The series would be utilizing a Boba Fett-like character of the Mandalorians proper, fan favorites from the expanded Star Wars universe of novels that Disney retconned when they acquired the Star Wars francise. After the first two episodes were released, fan response to the series was almost entirely positive, no small feat after the overwhelmingly negative response to ‘The Force Awakens’, ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘Solo’. Casual and dedicated fans were enjoying it and Disney was cashing in on the love of an old franchise and bringing new fans into the fold.

‘The Mandalorian’ is a space western and the fans took to it. Now that we have five of the eight episodes in our watch histories, fan reception seems to have soured. In conversation with friends, the most stalwart Star Wars fan I know went from saying after episode 1 that “It feels like Star Wars again” to that his enjoyment has plateaued after episode 5 and that he wished more happened in the episodes. This is a common complaint among those watching the series. What started with so much potential and excitement has mellowed into mostly “Baby Yoda” memes, conversations about bad acting, or the lost opportunities in the biggest name actors being there for only one episode as bit characters.

Disney nailed the opening of the series, even succeeding in creating a cute character than fans all enjoyed (see Porgs, Jar Jar, and Ewoks for the failed past attempts) and didn’t even seem poised to cash in on Baby Yoda love with toys and other merchandise. But the last few episodes have a seemingly uphill struggle ahead of them.

Who Watches the Watchmen On HBO?

The flipside to this is the reception of ‘Watchmen’. After the airing of the first episode, we saw review bombing based off of the inclusion of racially charged historical events that some of the IMDB ratings would cite as being cheap pandering or virtue singaling. After each week and new episode, the show’s rating on IMDB has only gone up and fans have flocked to the depth of the series’ writing, with a whole website of supplementary materials for the most granular-minded fans to sift through and glean clues from.

Delving into deep topics and enlisting historical events to back up its story, the series is praised for being smart and a true addition to the ‘Watchmen’ brand, even picking up several Critic’s Choice Award nominations, with ‘The Mandalorian’ missing from the announced nominations entirely. The show has had a meteoric rise after its initial marketing had the people of the internet voicing their concerns about the masked police imagery that it featured. 

Whether the two series will stick their landings is yet to be seen, but seeing them seemingly trade places in fan reception has been an interesting exercise in not judging a book by its cover and a possible lesson to the powers-that-be trying to cash in on IP with anything less than the best intentions.

30 years of Tim Drake, but still not old enough to drink

Here is a celebration of one of the Robins, Tim Drake, who first appeared back in August 1989 in Batman #436.  It was a quaint appearance and I imagine most fans didn’t even look twice at the panels because the story was Batman Year Three and the focus was on the Post Crisis origin of Dick Grayson.  From those humble beginnings Tim Drake has persevered as a character, gained quite a fan base, and even been considered the best Robin.  Let us take a dive into the story of Tim Drake. 

Batman #436

As I mentioned his first appearance was in a flashback of Year Three and it was in a photograph that would be the last picture of the Flying Graysons.   This story arc took place well after A Killing Joke and A Death in the Family so many of the Bat Family members were taken out of the field.  The editorial of the time was worried about introducing another Robin since things went so tragically bad with Jason Todd.  There was a need for Robin but just how do you get him to be likeable and accepted by the fan base?  There was no chance that Dick Grayson would go back as he was widely accepted as Nightwing.  Enter Marv Wolfman and George Perez.

Batman #442

These two gentlemen had done wonders for the New Teen Titans and had transformed Dick Grayson into Nightwing.  Marv came over and wrote all of Year Three, which had beautiful covers by George, which would lead perfectly into the next story arc, A Lonely Place of Dying.  This would be the story that gives us a reason to want Tim Drake as Robin; when Jason became Robin he was stealing tires off the Batmobile, not too heroic a moment.  Tim was introduced as a mysterious character and was quite the detective already; he had remembered the Flying Graysons moves and saw Robin using those and from that deduced that Bruce Wayne must be Batman. 

Robin #0

In the story, A Lonely Place of Dying, the issues zig-zagged back and forth from Batman and the New Teen Titans issues.  Tim had convinced Dick that Batman need Robin, but also some help.  Dick came around to it, but just couldn’t go back to being Robin yet he would still help Batman on the case.  The case would pick the original Dynamic Duo against Two-Face; who would eventually trap both Batman and Nightwing, so who would save them?  Robin would come to the rescue and prove that Robin was needed and Tim could rise to the challenge. 

Red Robin #12

Tim becoming Robin made some major changes to the way the character was perceived.  Tim would go on to change the costume bringing in some armor and a new design, computer and detective skills, along with martial arts ability since he had done some training.  Tim sadly wasn’t able to avoid the curse that most vigilantes have…losing loved ones.  Even before he became Robin he had lost his mother, Janet Drake, to the Obeah Man after she was poisoned in Detective Comics #621 and the story also led to his father, Jack Drake, being paralyzed. 

Red Robin #12

Jack Drake would continue to be a guiding light and sometimes a troubling element in Tim’s life, but the bond of father and son was strong with the two.  Years later there would be another story that would affect the DC Universe and Tim Drake himself, Identity Crisis.  In Identity Crisis, Tim would be forced to listen in on his father’s emergency call to Oracle and how he had to defend himself from Captain Boomerang; these pages were very intense and it was a sad moment that Tim would find himself too late to stop.  Jack did go on to remarry and this would give Tim a step mom in Dana Winters-Drake; sadly after Jack’s death she went in for treatment at a clinic in Bludhaven.  Now we have been led to believe that she died there, but writer Fabian Nicieza says otherwise.

Young Justice #10

Tim has gone onto many other great comics in his time; having had his own successful Robin solo series, leading Young Justice, joining the Teen Titans, and eventually becoming Red Robin.  As the Red Robin he did hold faith that Bruce Wayne was still alive and was proven correct with Bruce’s return; along with that he managed to stop Ra’s Al Ghul and earn his respect.  Tim currently serves with Young Justice by Brian Michael Bendis and has a new costume and is called the Drake.  Here are a couple of stories that I would recommend you check out.  Also if you have any other stories you wish to share feel free to leave a relpy here or on our social media outlets as well.  Always remember to GEEK OUT!

Recommended Reads:

     Batman Year Three:  Batman #436-439

     A Lonely Place of Dying:  Batman #440-442, New Teen Titans #60-61

     Robin #0

     Identity Crisis #5-6    

     Red Robin #1-12

Comic Culture With Rafa: #014

The New 52 Justice League: A Perfect Entry Point Into Comics

An Editorial From Rafael Encinas

We live in a time where we get to see characters like Spider-Man, Batman, and Deadpool on the big screen. This is something truly special because it wasn’t always like this. In our present time where superheroes are all the craze, there is an influx of new fans that want to explore these iconic characters and delve into the pages of the comic book format. However, as many new readers will attest, finding an entry point to these larger than life superheroes can be a daunting task; especially when there are so many characters and so many years of storytelling to catch up on.

Though many did not like it, I am very happy that DC tried to create an entry point for new fans by starting the New 52 continuity in 2011. This was a hard reset of iconic DC characters, with all new #1 issues. Basically, new fans were welcomed to learn about popular characters like Superman or Wonder Woman with revamped origins. The old stories weren’t important for newcomers to dive right in. You could now start here. Unfortunetly, this did create a division in the comic fans who were reading these stories for years. Therefore, many found the New 52 as a failed experiment; something that hurt comics more than help them. However, for all its faults, the New 52 did give us some great stories (especially in the Batman and Green Lantern books), but one of the best has to be Geoff Johns’ and Jim Lee’s fun and exciting Justice League series, specifically the first six issues (collected as Justice League Vol. 1 Origin in trade paperback). 

For anyone who wants to jump into comics, but is afraid to do so because of all the rich history and running titles, then look no further because this Justice League story is the quinnessential entry point for new comic fans! It’s great for many reasons, but the main reason is because it captures the allure and passion of what makes people gravitate toward superheroes in the first place: excitement, joy, and lots of heart.

First and foremost, I personally love this book! I have reread this story on multiple occasions in the past couple years, and it continues to be just as exciting and fun as it was the first time I read it. It is an excellent reimagining of the Justice League coming together in a modern world with a darker and grittier edge. The plot is simple. Darkseid (one of the DC universe’s biggest bad guys) is coming to earth, and his legions of parademons are invading. Therefore, the world’s meta humans are the first line of defense. We get to see how Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Cyborg come together for the first time. It is absolutely fun reading Batman and Green Lantern play off of one another, like two people who are forced to get along even though they don’t like each other. It is exciting to see the Flash and Superman try to “outfast” one another. And almost every line that comes out of Wonder Woman’s mouth is so earnest but also both fun and funny. It is a serious end of the world scenario, but it still manages to be a wild action set piece with brilliant comedic moments! 

Jim Lee does some of his best work in this story with dynamic art that really energizes the pages. The redesigns of classic superhero costumes are given a youthful vitality, and it can be seen, especially well, in the fluid and stylized detail that Lee is famous for. The countless iconic moments (such as Superman breaking through Green Lantern’s chains; Aquaman summoning a horde of great white sharks, or Batman using all the weapons in his utility belt) all feel grand and important as the story progresses. Personally, the grand entrance of a massive Darkseid is definitely a highlight, and his overall character design is brutal and terrifying. The way he is drawn to tower over the heroes adds dread and excitement to a story that just keeps getting more and more intense! 

What works best however is the genius characterizations of the Justice League members themselves. Though it is a team book with plenty of action set pieces, Geoff Johns showcases exactly why he is one of the greatest writers to have ever graced comic books. He understands character dynamics and gives each character time to shine in his story. Green Lantern plays the perfect comedic show off to Batman’s brooding detective. Flash is a great mediator who is just trying to do the right thing. Both Wonder Woman and Aquaman have great energy and command the screen when they slay waves of parademons. The incorporation of Cyborg to the team is different from what we’ve seen in the past, but I believe it’s an interesting plot point that serves its purpose. Superman is utilized as muscle, and doesn’t necessarily have to be the focal point because of all the great characters around him. He gets his moment to shine, like everyone else, but he is not seeking to lead the team. All of them coming together happens randomly and unexpectedly. They don’t know one another, but through their resolve, teamwork, and hilarious jabs at one another, they seamlessly become the Justice League. It works, and it is exciting every time I read it!

I got into comic books because they provided an escape into a world where people could fly; where the good guys would look fear in the face and still move forward. These were the stories that motivated me to be a better person; to love life because these modern day gods were on full display in my hands. Superhero stories will never go out of style because they inspire us to be better, and this story does this so well. Batman’s heart-to-heart with Green Lantern; Wonder Woman taking a moment to enjoy ice-cream; Superman & Flash inspiring one another; Cyborg overcoming his personal fears and shining so brightly; these moments feel important and we see the magic on full display. In a world filled with apocalyptic destruction, the appearance of heroes creates wonder. We see hope for a better future!

Importantly, David Graves is a character introduced in the last issue of this story in where he and his family are trying to escape the literal hell on the streets. We see people being eviscerated by Darkseid and his parademons. Graves knows he is about to die with his family, and it’s an intense moment, but then he encapsulates the exact appeal and level of inspiration that these heroes can elicit in someone. David Graves represents everyone who has ever opened a comic book or watched a movie where they witnessed something so immersive and so special that it transcends understanding; it just becomes a warm feeling; a fulfilling moment. He puts it best when he says: “I thought there was going to be no tomorrow. I thought my family and I were going to die. Then I saw THEM. And I saw tomorrow.” The Justice League is just that iconic. 

Justice League (2011) is a great story for multiple reasons, but by far, it’s one of the best because it cares about its characters, and they are written to inspire. They inspire us because they are not perfect beings. We see them fight. The running joke about Batman not having any powers; Barry & Hal’s personal banter; and Green Lantern antagonizing everybody on the team feels personal and relatable. They feel like a group of people that quickly become a group of friends; your friends. And we cheer for them because of what they can represent! They might be an alien, an Amazon, a cyborg, a living lightning bolt, an aquaman, a space cop, and a dude in a batsuit, but there’s something utterly unique and special in that. It just works. And we are made to care.

Overall, it is a quick read; an easy read. It will make you chuckle and gasp at the beautiful art. It’s a well written narrative about a bunch of outcasts coming together and becoming something important. If you want to read something that elicits those emotions of wonder and excitement, to see a standard of excellence, this is the book for you; no prior reading necessary. It is a wonderful entry point into the magical world that is comic culture!

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