The Gold Standard: SHIELD, Arrow, and a 2013 Wrap Up

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The times, they are a-changin’.

2013 is over, and it was a year filled with surprises and disappointments, shock and awe, love and hate, etc etc etc. Cliche lines, whooo.

I did a lot of reading last year. I mean, I did a LOT of reading. Comixology has exponentially increased my reading, I mean, who knew that having comics on my tablet would cause me to read more than carrying around a stack of trades? I also watched a lot of TV, a lot of sports (2013 was the year I went from Cardinals fan and casual baseball fan to Cardinals fan and full time baseball fan), and spent a lot of time with someone that does not know what they mean to me. You, the readers, probably don’t care about Grey’s love life existing in stasis, but it’s just another thing in 2013 that defined me and influenced the things I like and don’t like. Another thing that led to my own lapse at writing for public consumption, as there are really only so many hours in the day, and the ones I chose to spend…well, let’s just say when I would sit down with fingers to keys and get ready to start talking about the things we all know and love…my mind went to my own priorities, and yeah, you’ve just read a paragraph talking around them. You’re already bored, aren’t you?

 

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So let’s talk SHIELD! Marvel launched Agents of SHIELD last year, and the mid-season finale was a few weeks ago (I’ve seen watched the post-return episodes, but I was sick and this piece got shelved until I could breathe normally again, i.e. today), and I just got around to watching it last night for lack of ANYTHING else on the DVR. That is, unfortunately, the story of SHIELD. A terrific concept and marketing strategy that had it on my must watch shows list before it debuted, but since going from concept to execution has done little to make me want to keep watching it. I don’t care about the characters on the show, I don’t care about the plots, and these are things that need to change if they want to be able to transition to a second season successfully. You can do a mission of the week formula for your shows without falling into redundant plots and stalled development of characters, look at the debut seasons for shows like Chuck, Haven, and Dollhouse. There weren’t a lot of overarching plots at first, but as those debut seasons moved on we saw them being to unfold. They made you care about what would happen in the next episode even before the cliffhanger endings, something SHIELD has yet to pull off this season. Something that is absolutely critical in the realm of television. You can’t count solely on the strength of a cliffhanger.

So what should those writers and producers be doing in order to fix those problems? Well, for one thing, they could go grind the full series of Chuck. It’s on Netflix, and is fantastic. They could also do the first three season of Haven, also on Netflix. Or, just do the first season of Arrow, and then go watch the rest on CW’s website. I know, I know, why would Marvel people go watch a DC show to learn something? Marvel is better than DC! That’s what the Zombies tell me! DC should learn everything there is to learn from the experts that are Marvel! LOOK AT THE MOVIES! LOOK AT THEM, DAMN YOU!

 

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Well, except for with TV, where Arrow is comfortably in the range of “Best show on television” and is preparing to launch a highly anticipated spin off next season, while SHIELD feels like it would be on the verge of cancellation had the network not had the knee jerk reaction to call the show a success after the first episode aired.

Arrow has provided the perfect mix of everything you could ask for in a TV show. Action, drama, strong characters, interesting plots, and a sense that you NEED to know what is going to happen next. That feeling that if you miss an episode that you have actually missed something, that you can’t understand what will happen next if you miss a week. It has the feeling of must see TV, and that’s not something that can be said about most shows on TV. There is something for everyone, and it isn’t locked down to any one sort of genre or fanbase. It doesn’t feel like a clone of anything else on TV, it has a cast of characters you can look at and remember and know and care about their stories. Like, for instance, I am NOT a fan of Laurel, but I still have been given more reasons to care about her than I have with Skye on SHIELD. How is that possible? Well, Laurel is a raging bitch who has lost just about everything, and she keeps picking up the pieces only to lose more in the process, and it furthers his personality as a royal B. Her loving boyfriend ‘dies’…while cheating on her with her sister, who also ‘dies’. Dad hits the bottle, mom leaves, ‘dead’ boyfriends best friend makes the moves on her, and then guess what, Ollie isn’t dead! Of course, with so many unresolved issues, she and Tommy couldn’t just be happy together, and it made sense why every one of their issues arose, and it ended, of course, in tragedy.

What do I know about Skye? Her ex is a douche? She doesn’t know her parents? She has some mysterious SHIELD past that obviously involves Coulsen and May? She has the most personality on that show, and she’s still as vanilla as it gets. Which I guess is better than the white bread personalities that I’d give to Ward, Fitz, and Simmons. SHIELD suffers from an oversized generic cast and writing that doesn’t go out of its way to remove the generic nature. It’s horribly wasted potential, especially when I take into account that I do like Agent Coulson, and I’ve loved Ming-Na Wen since I was a kid and she was on ER. I also take into account that I was stoked to see J. August Richards, Gunn from Angel, and he actually was REALLY well fleshed out in his two episodes, but the show buried him deep and made it clear….you don’t get that much characterization unless you’re not coming back.

 

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I wish I had something to say about The Walking Dead, because I imagine that I would have nothing but good things to say about a show that I really do enjoy, but alas, Charter Communications can suck it. This season has been a lesson in hating DVRs, as so many shows have not recorded despite having nothing else that should have hampered the process. The first three Walking Dead episodes this season recorded, but not a single one since. I refuse to watch them in standard definition on demand, and the AMC website is a bad joke. I am THIS close (that’s right, imagine the distance between my fingers while you read that! IMAGINE IT!) to using the interwebs for their intended and purpose and simply procuring the episodes that my local cable provider has decided to screw me out of with their shitacular service.

That same thing goes for The League, too. Because they’ve said, on more than one occasion, that the place I was watching TV at “definitely” got FXX, and called us liars for saying that the screen said “You don’t get this channel”. I guess the lesson to take out of this is that if you’re ever moving to a city, and Charter is the cable/internet provider, FIND SOMEONE ELSE! The amount of times that they have screwed me by not recording something has sent me, on more than one occasion, to use the interwebs for the purpose that makes Dan Slott cry the hardest. Because, frankly, if I’m paying a cable bill, and my service is preventing me from watching the same shows I’m paying for, the last thing I’m going to go do is spend more money to buy those episodes off of iTunes.

Maybe two years ago the Psych finale recorded in three different parts. Four minutes, seventeen minutes, and eleven minutes. The show is an hour. Where in the blue hell is the rest? USA’s website didn’t have it up, no replay was scheduled for a few days, and we took to the web. Charter sent us an e-mail letting us know that we were doing bad things, and the amount of self control that was required to not send them a lengthy e-mail about their shitty service is positively astonishing. FUCK! I hate cable companies. Customer service is non-existent. They just all sit around rubbing their nipples and getting off on how much we all hate them. South Park got it right.

 

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Alright, where the hell was I? Arrow is amazing, SHIELD is balls, and Walking Dead is going to be watched in some way, shape, or form over the next few weeks when everything else is in reruns. So is Almost Human, I’ve heard good things. Best new show on TV this year is Brooklyn Nine Nine, I mean, seriously, I have yet to not laugh my ass off while watching that show. It’s freaking hilarious.

So let’s talk comics for a bit, shall we? 2012 was the year where I went out of my way to read more books outside of the big two, and the start of my digital push (you either have no idea how well the two go hand in hand, or you know EXACTLY how well). 2013 was more of a year where I started shaving off some of those big two titles to make room for all of the lesser known titles. It was the year when I declared three different titles from three different companies as my favorite book on the market. It’s also the year when I made an actual move to take my reading more digital, as I entered the year 80/20 in favor of print, and currently it’s around 65/35. Doesn’t seem like much, but for a guy like me? The only way I’d ever go full digital if I were to move far and away, because my LCS is like family, and I feel guilty enough buying digitally instead of just throwing my money exclusively at them for my books. There have been several moments in the last ten years where I’ve wanted to quit reading comics altogether, and the only thing that stopped me was not wanting to stop giving them business.

I call that loyalty. Maybe a bit of OCD, too. Really, though, the people there I consider to be friends. Star Clipper is easily the best comic shop in St. Louis, even if the local papers would point you to a crappy Fantasy Shop because the writer of the article was trying to mock the customer base (yes, this happened, no, I’m not looking for a link, personal gripe, DEAL WITH IT!).

2013 was a year without The Boys, Stephanie Brown, Peter Parker, Spider-Girl, a Booster Gold ongoing (a real tragedy amongst tragedies), or a good Fantastic Four series.

2013 was a year where Flash and Wonder Woman were must read, where Marvel proved that bad was good with the Superior Spider-Man, and that time travel could be fun with All-New X-Men.

2013 was the year when Geoff Johns finally called it a day on Green Lantern, giving fans one of the best endings in recent history.

2013 was the year when DC followed Johns on Green Lantern by blowing everything up and making the line unreadable.

2013 was the year when Peter David ended X-Factor and set Jamie and Layla Madrox aside for the time being. Hopefully to stay put away until he wants to tell another story with them, because I would hate to lose Layla just to keep Jamie…which, let’s be honest, is what most Jamie Madrox pitches would look like at this point.

2013 was the year when Robin died, and Peter Tomasi forced me to weep for him in the pages of Batman and Robin with powerful writing, and top notch art from Pat Gleason.

2013 was the year that Jonathan Hickman lost me as a reader by choosing to complicate things too much just for the sake of doing so….and for trying to pass off New Avengers as an original idea and not just Crisis with the Illuminati.

2013 was the year where I finally bought an Archie comic. Afterlife with Archie. What? It counts!

 

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2013 was the year where Age of Ultron assaulted the good taste and sensibilities of readers, wasting time and dollars everywhere for the end result of Wolverine breaking time, but that not deterring the X-Men from violating time over and over again. The abusive boyfriends of a time stream that thinks it has it coming.

2013 was the year of Dennis Hopeless turning Avengers Arena from a cool concept into an amazing execution with true drama and gut wrenching deaths. Seriously, I’m still mourning characters from that book, and most of the deaths went to characters created for the book.

2013 was the year when Marvel gouged our wallets…wait, no, that’s been every year for a while now. This was the year when they did a six part event series with supersized price tags on the first and last issue. Infinity was terrible.

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2013 was the year when DC did a gimmick month with gimmick covers and I gladly would have bought most of those issues without the gimmick. Villains month wasn’t all hits, but there were enough of them to justify it.

2013 was the year of the Batwoman PR fiasco, which led to a bunch of idiots assuming DC hates gay people because they didn’t want a lesbian wedding to happen. The upside to this is that it meant that Marc Andreyko was able to end the year on a title high profile enough that fans who had never heard of the man can come to appreciate him the way I did on Manhunter, and hopefully they’ll be inspired to go pick up those trades and fall in love with Kate Spencer.

2013 was the year when I remained baffled that there were people who didn’t know who Tony Bedard was, and had they said so to me in person, I would have smacked them. Possibly with REBELS trades.

 

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2013 was the year when Young Justice ended, and the last time I watched anything on Cartoon Network that wasn’t accompanied by the Adult Swim banner.

 

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2013 was the year of Molly Danger, proof positive that an all ages book with a preteen female lead can be absolutely fantastic. Jamal Igle deserves all the praise in the world.

2013 was the year when I went from detesting any and all things relating to anime and accepted that there are a LOT of cute girls that dig anime, and that my being able to support a conversation about it made them willing to keep talking to me despite my Battlestar Galactica shirt. The downside to this being that I have to bullshit my way through talks about anime when I haven’t watched once since Fullmetal Alchemist.

 

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2013 was the year where the best Superman titles were Smallville and Supergirl. The tailend of the year changed that slightly, with Superman/Batman and Superman/Wonder Woman both far exceeding expectations, and Greg Pak on Action Comics being a breath of fresh air, but the fact remains….this was the year of Smallville and Supergirl if you liked an S shield.

2013 was the year when I did a horror movie every night in October, and can unfortunately say that I’ve watched six Hellraiser movies. Why did I keep watching? Because I can’t watch them out of order, and Dean Winters was in six. The upside? One of the movies had Adam Scott in a ridiculous wig.

2013 was the year of Daniel Bryan. YES! YES! YES!

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2013 was the year of me eating my words as Superior Spider-Man went from slow start to must read book two or three times a month. Not to mention Bendis on X-Men far exceeding my initial expectations of being the second coming of his underwhelming Avengers, I mean, have you read my reviews? Brian is writing some of the best X-Men I’ve read in YEARS! Dan writing great Spidey is less surprising, since it’s what he’s known for, but I still ended 2012  expecting little from these books, and I enter 2014 with them firmly in my must read pile.

2013 was the year of Quantum and Woody.

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I can go on and on and on and on, believe me, I can, and I likely will, but it was a hell of a year. It was a year that reminded me of why I love and hate comics, the industry, the people in the industry, the people who are fans of the industry. I guess in that regard it wasn’t much different from any other year.

Check back in a few days for my best of lists, or, if I vanish, send me e-mails demanding I get off my butt!

Happy 2014, everyone!

The Gold Standard

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