NEW YORK COMIC CON / OCTOBER 2016 / DENOFGEEK.COM
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
THE WALKING DEAD
goes to bat for
Black Mirror NETFLIX DEBUT
Marilyn Manson SPOOKS SALEM
Doctor Strange COMICS 101
Scott Aukerman PODCAST TIPS
Pokemon URBAN LEGENDS
Virtual Reality THE NEW FRONTIER
RPG GUIDE DEN OF GEEK â&#x2013; WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM
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NEW YORK COMIC CON 2016
NEW YORK COMIC CON 2016
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR D
oes anybody remember the early days of New York Comic Con? In some ways, it’s almost hard to believe that this is the 11th time they’ve packed the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center with the most passionate entertainment enthusiasts on the East Coast and beyond. In other ways, it’s hard to believe that this is only the 11th time they’ve done this. For years, New York-area fans wondered why there wasn’t a single, definitive, high-profile con in the city where so much of the comics industry was born. There were (and still are!) plenty of smaller, more intimate cons, and those are always fun and worthy of your support. But for something really big, why should San Diego get all the glory? After an awkward first few years, where it seemed that the demand for an event of this scale was underestimated by everyone, and a few hops around the calendar (nobody wants to be in NYC in February), the event finally took over the entire Javits Center and beyond. Now, it’s hard to imagine a time before we had NYCC to
look forward to in October. NYCC's slot on the entertainment calendar, as well as its location being so far from Hollywood, isn't as convenient for the kind of earth-shaking pop culture reveals that San Diego Comic-Con is known for. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, NYCC still feels a bit more personable, even though as many people flock to this one as the one on the West Coast. Alright, so maybe the weather here isn’t quite as nice, but this is still quite the party. At least that’s how we like to think of shows like this and fandom in general: a massive party where everyone is invited. New York City is Metropolis. It’s Gotham. If you’re a Marvel fan, it doesn’t even need an alias. It’s a special enough place that it can deal with hundreds of superhumans buzzing around the skyline all on its own. Why is that? So much of New York City’s legendary appeal is built on its diversity, tolerance, and love of an underdog. While you’re here, basking in fan culture, filling in gaps in your collection, and wearing whatever costume you please, think about all the ways that fandom has given you strength and joy in your life, and find a way to manifest that in the real world. So keep this in mind: There are no ideological purity tests to be a fan of something, no barriers to entry in this community, and certainly none based on gender, race, or sexual orientation. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
PRINT EDITION EDITOR
Chris Longo CREATIVE DIRECTOR
Kaitlyn Richert ASSISTANT PRINT EDITORS
David Crow Nick Harley John Saavedra DESIGNERS
Rachel Keaveny Emilee Kraus Olivia Reaney ILLUSTRATORS
Sophie Erb Emily Gloria Miller COPY EDITOR
DEN OF GEEK.COM CEO
Jennifer Bartner Indeck
Matthew Sullivan-Pond EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Mike Cecchini DEPUTY EDITOR
David Crow John Saavedra CONTRIBUTING EDITORS
Kayti Burt Don Kaye Tony Sokol
WHAT’S SCARY? Bram Stoker Award-winning horror writer Paul Tremblay taps into our modern-day fears.
THE INHERENT WEIRDNESS OF MARILYN MANSON The Antichrist Superstar himself talks about his new role on Salem.
SPECULATION FICTION: NETFLIX’S BLACK MIRROR Step into the Techno-Twilight Zone. The sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror, makes its move to Netflix.
COVER STORY: THE WALKING DEAD This year on The Walking Dead, there’s so much more to worry about than just zombies.
CONTACT US CORPORATE SPONSORSHIPS
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email@example.com 646.717.9555 DoGTech LLC
601 Heritage Drive, Suite 484 Jupiter, FL 33458 561.656.2377
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF AMC
STAN AGAINST EVIL Get ready to fight some demons, literally and metaphorically, with IFC’s Stan Against Evil.
FALL TV PREVIEW Take an early look at some of the freshman series hitting TV later this Fall.
THE LAST WORD: 22-EPISODE SEASONS Shortened seasons are becoming a TV trend, but one Den of Geek writer misses the old 22-episode order.
SOCIAL MEDIA INTERN
FOUNDER & UK EDITOR
WANT MORE GEEK? FIND US ON SOCIAL
FALL MOVIE PREVIEW
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A MOVIE FAN'S GUIDE TO DOCTOR STRANGE COMICS CULTURE
HOW TO START A PODCAST WITH SCOTT AUKERMAN Comedy Bang Bang host Scott Aukerman shares his podcasting tips.
VR IS NOW Poised to become the entertainment medium of the future, the virtual reality boom has begun.
CELLARS & CREATURES: A STRANGER THINGS RPG Gather your friends and start your very own Stranger Things-inspired Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
POKÉMON’S MYTHS By introducing Mew, the original Pokémon games inspired years of obsession.
WHEN SOUTH PARK GAMES WEREN’T SO KEWL South Park’s greatest strengths are its creators, so why did Acclaim try to make South Park games without them?
THE GEEKY HOLIDAY BOOK GUIDE Check out our list of geeky books that you’ll be begging Santa to bring this holiday season.
BOX OFFICE BUSTS What can we take away from this summer’s anemic box office totals?
DECIPHERING ARRIVAL Interstellar life tries not to get lost in translation with the new sci-fi film Arrival.
FALL MOVIE PREVIEW From Fantastic Beasts to Bad Santas, here are the flicks to get excited about this fall.
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VALIANT READING GUIDE There are great superhero stories being told by Valiant Entertainment. Here’s a gateway to the underrated comics publisher.
BLACK MASK UNMASKED Thanks to its fearless approach to publishing comics, Black Mask is quickly becoming one of the hottest companies in the market.
A MOVIE FAN’S GUIDE TO DOCTOR STRANGE COMICS Before you see the movie, get a crash course in Doctor Strange comics.
SOUTH PARK GAMES
FREE BOOKS AND AMAZING AUTHORS!
HOW TO START A PODCAST
Don’t miss these panels and head to HarperCollins Booth #2119 to score advance copies of hot teen and middle grade books!*
The podcast king shares his five most important tips for new podcasters.
INTERVIEW BY CHRIS LONGO AND MATTHEW SULLIVAN-POND
“One thing that we found at Earwolf is that celebrity guests do help. Some people will only check out a show if there’s someone they’ve heard of on it. So if you have a celebrity episode, it doesn’t have to be them being interviewed or anything. If they can be on it, it’ll really grow your show.”
FANTASY FRENZY MEET-UP
10/7 | 5:15-6:15PM | Room 1C03
“Reliability of product is really the one thing you can control. Even though podcasting is ephemeral, it’s meant to be somewhat disposable. At its core, podcasting is certainly more ephemeral than a television show where you’re doing a finite number of them. What you can control is not feeling like you’re wasting someone’s time.”
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Bless creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, who viewed the podcasting landscape and must have thought, “Hmm, these are interesting and all but what the medium really could use is Prairie Home Companion if it were written by Edgar Allan Poe during an acid trip.”
HOW DID THIS GET MADE?
LAST PODCAST ON THE LEFT
Making bad movies is fun. Making fun of bad movies with three of the funniest people in podcasting is sublime.
Last Podcast on the Left may be the logical conclusion to the cherished internet creepypasta with episodes covering the spookiest things in the world—real, imagined, and some combination of both.
MINDY MCGINNIS The Female of the Species IMAGES: IFC
“So I think that’s it. We cool? We good?” WTF with Marc Maron is now more than seven years old. After 700 episodes, it remains possibly the most iconic podcast our culture currently has.
WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE
BRITTANY CAVALLARO A Study in Charlotte
KID LIT: CREATIVE STORYTELLING 10/9 | 1:00-2:00PM BookCon @ NYCC 500 W. 36th St.
RIDLEY PEARSON Lock and Key: The Initiation
Photo by Laura Rose
WTF WITH MARC MARON
10/9 | 12:15-1:15PM | Room 1C03 Photo by Kit Williamson
COMEDY BANG BANG Scott Aukerman’s absurdist improvisational show that started the Earwolf podcasting empire remains one of the best podcast experiences around.
HEIDI HEILIG MARIA DAHVANA HEADLEY The Girl from Everywhere Aerie
JUST THRILLIN’ MEET-UP
We polled our staff to find out what podcasts we hold most dear. Despite our diverse array of tastes, it manages to capture only a tiny fraction of the massive podcasting scene. Still, it’s us, so consider this as definitive as any list can possibly get.
Two books in one!
Photo by Sarah Crowder
Two chances to meet your favorite Epic Reads authors!
LAUREN OLIVER Replica
RAE CARSON Like a River Glorious
DEN OF GEEK’S FAVORITE PODCASTS
RAE CARSON Like a River Glorious
10/8 | 3:30-4:30PM BookCon @ NYCC 500 W. 36th St. Photo by Charles Grantham
GARTH NIX Goldenhand
KENDARE BLAKE Three Dark Crowns
4. CELEBRITIES HELP
Photo by Michele Daniel
“The only real way to get growth is for the audience to know that they can depend on you. If you pick a day when [the episode] comes out, they need to know that they can wake up and download the episode. If you have a spotty record, people will tune out and say, ‘Oh, I’m not dependent on them anymore.’”
Photo by Bob Carey
“I think to the other extreme of that [is] sometimes people can think too much about the unique idea and have some crazy wacky idea that’s unsustainable, and they get burned out… the genius
SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT
10/8 | 12:30-1:30PM | BookCon @ NYCC 500 W. 36th St.
Photo by Beowulf Sheehan
FANTASY FANDOMS UNITE!
Photo by Dylan Zoerb
1. UNIQUENESS MATTERS
“Back when we started Earwolf, like six years ago, it was all interviews, and so my tip then and maybe now would be: How can you make yourself unique and how can you not just be doing what everyone else is doing? Why should people listen to your show, and not the other 8 million podcasts that are around right now?”
of podcasting is that there’s no barrier, almost, between the audience. You’re right there in their ears. So what is it you do best? Is it that you do prepared material really well? Is it that you are a great interviewer and that’s it? It’s just really what you do best. Figure that out and give it to the people!”
Photo by Michele Daniel
he name Scott Aukerman—or any of the oddly pronounced variations of his name with which he tends to introduce himself—is synonymous with podcasting. Longevity is one key to his standing in the industry: Comedy Bang Bang, his flagship gabfest, is approaching 450 episodes at the time this issue goes to print. Aukerman shared his podcast secrets with Den of Geek and told us to keep them to ourselves. Naturally, we didn’t listen.
Photo courtesy of Garth Nix
WITH SCOTT AUKERMAN
Photo by Adrian Buckmaster
KIMBERLY MCCREIGHT The Outliers
HENRY H. NEFF Impyrium
Can’t make the panels? Get signed copies and swag at HarperCollins Booth #2119!* *While supplies last.
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CELLARS & CREATURES UPSIDE DOWN
THE VERY BEST IN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY Join us for Pathfinder ® freebies, promotional giveaways, exclusive gifts with purchase including The Stormlight Archive Pocket Companion, Mistborn earbuds, and Twin Peaks tote bags, and in-booth signings with Sarah Porter, V. E. Schwab, Erika Lewis and many more!
/ RIGHT SIDE UP
Visit Booth #2136 at New York Comic Con
Here’s how Dungeons & Dragons fans can role play their way through the Stranger Things universe. BY DANIELLA BONDAR WORLD / CAMPAIGN OVERVIEW Welcome, friends, to the RIGHT SIDE UP. Close your eyes and imagine the small town you grew up in. Imagine all the secret bike paths, the neighborhood supermarket, your best friend's house. That’s the Right Side Up. It looks exactly like every other podunk town. The streets are lined with autumn trees, and all the mailboxes are scribbled with names you recognize. But don’t get too comfortable. Familiarity is the curse of the Right Side Up, because underneath lies the helter-skelter of all the neighborhood blocks and the people who embraced you growing up. Be careful: One step could lead you into the UPSIDE DOWN, this world’s evil twin. Try to find Will without the Demogorgon sucking you into the Upside Down! PLAYABLE CHARACTERS
Mike Eleven Lucas
Dustin Nancy Joyce
Hopper Steve’s hair Jonathan
AVAILABLE CHARACTER CLASSES
Law Enforcement Outsider Teenage Dream Prepubescent Boy Teenage Monster E.T.
BARB This NPC must have had a strong female presence in her life, because her greatest power is individuality and the ability to give absolutely no fucks when it comes to little things like fitting in or glitter lip smackers. Barb is the conscience of the masses. You will want her on your side. MRS. WHEELER Female. Middle-aged. Mother. Mrs. Wheeler is cloaked in a Shield of Obliviousness. Curses rest upon her due to tract housing, motherhood, and The Gap. Characters can slip in and out of the Wheeler Basement without being noticed. Useless in battle, unless the objective is to out the enemy for engaging in coitus within the last half-hour, in which case this NPC will be extremely helpful.
STEVE Powered by testosterone. This NPC is a charmer who uses excessive amounts of hair mousse to distract the ladies from his affinity for pissing on everything, which marks his territory against other human males. The NPC can be rather slow but will come around eventually. Steve will be average (at best) in battle against enemies. MR. CLARKE A quiet power. Don’t judge a book by its mousey cover. This NPC will be indispensable. Armed with extensive scientific knowledge, constant availability, and relationships with children that are just short of being weird, adventurers will not be able to complete their mission without Mr. Clarke.
UNIQUE GEAR Eggo® Waffles Wrist Rocket Radio Knife from 'Nam Blonde Wig
The Clash’s “Combat Rock” Ax Kiddie Pool Heathkit Pringles Christmas Lights Bandana Shirt Sleeves Salt A VHS copy of The Thing IMAGES: NETFLIX
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FOLLOW TOR BOOKS | tor-forge.com GET ORIGINAL CONTENT when you sign up for the free Tor/Forge monthly newsletter GET UPDATES about your favorite authors when you sign up for Author Updates
*All giveaways are while supplies last. Badge scan required to claim free book. DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM
THE GEEKY HOLIDAY BOOK GIFT GUIDE BY KAYTI BURT AND ELIZABETH RAYNE
The holiday season will soon be upon us, which means one thing: It’s your chance to buy your friends, family, co-worker, or favorite barista a geeky book. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a list of recent titles in the science fiction and fantasy genres that will appeal to the nerds in your life. From the hardcore geeky to the only kind-of-nerdy, here are our six recommendations...
EVERY HEART A DOORWAY SEANAN MCGUIRE | OUT NOW — TOR
DEATH’S END (REMEMBRANCE OF EARTH’S PAST #3) CIXIN LIU (ENGLISH TRANSLATOR KEN LIU) | 9/20 — TOR
NEVERNIGHT (NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLES #1) JAY KRISTOFF | OUT NOW — THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS
Under three suns that blaze endlessly, aspiring assassin Mia Corvere seeks revenge for her father’s wrongful execution. The secrets she uncovers on her mission lead her down a bloodstained road to the Red Church where a killer haunting the church hallways threatens to bring her murky past to light.
SHADOWED SOULS EDITED BY JIM BUTCHER & KERRIE L. HUGHES | 11/1 - ROC
Sometimes, all anyone has time for is a short story, and this new collection of gritty, urban fantasy stories is perfect for such an occasion. Featuring everything from a zombie detective to “vampire mind-melds,” the collection’s theme is a narrative that challenges the good-evil duality. As editor Jim Butcher writes in the tantalizing foreword: “A lot of people in these stories you’re about to read are made of shadows. They aren’t good. But they aren’t necessarily evil, either.”
CATALYST: A ROGUE ONE NOVEL
WESLEY CHU | 10/4 — ANGRY ROBOT
Chronic thief/con artist Ella Patel crosses paths with a woman being assaulted at the border of a demilitarized zone run by aliens that invade human bodies. Ella swallows the stuff of nightmares when the woman falls dead and mysterious sparks of light rise from the body to invade her own. The intruder is the extraterrestrial Io, whom Ella must now help by investigating unsolved murders. Because two brains in the same skull are so much better than one.
JAMES LUCENO | 11/15 — DEL REY
The long wait for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be softened a bit in November when we get our first story featuring the heroes of the upcoming movie. Before protagonist Jyn Erso and the rest of her ragtag crew of Rebels went on a mission to steal the Death Star plans, they were just normal citizens, warriors, and scum. Here’s where it all begins.
IMAGES: TOR, THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS, ROC, ANGRY ROBOT, DEL REY
THE RISE OF IO
Chinese science fiction novel The ThreeBody Problem made serious nerd waves when its English language translation hit American shelves back in 2014 — and for good reason. The Hugo Award-winning tale of what human contact with an extraterrestrial race might look like is told through the eyes of scientists Ye Wenjie and Wang Miao, but spans decades, galaxies, and the occasional virtual reality. The English translation of the third book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, Death’s End, continues the tale of intergalactic collision.
AVA IL A B L E WIN T ER 2017
Every Heart a Doorway has a fantastic premise: It centers around Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school that is a sanctuary for children who have returned from magical lands. We follow teenager Nancy Whitman’s entrance into the school after her trip through just such a fantasy — though her parents (and larger society) assume she was simply kidnapped. The novella offers a murder mystery plot, but its strengths lie in the story’s bittersweet characters, complicated relationships, and imaginative world building.
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S ’ T A H W ? Y R A C S y ul Trembla a P r e it r w ror inning hor ry. -w d r a w A 21st centu er k e to th S in m s a u r B ightens on what fr
BY JOHN SAAVEDRA | ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY GLORIA MILLER shadowman watching you from your bedroom window; a dead tree that grows over the Devil’s final resting place; a young girl who may or may not be possessed by a demon; a boy who inexplicably walks into the woods one night, never to be seen again. This is the ominous world that Bram Stoker Award-winning author Paul Tremblay, 45, has created for his characters. His protagonists float endlessly in a thick grey matter between the supernatural and the rational. Yet, it would be unfair to call Tremblay a cruel puppeteer. The writer is a self-identified skeptic and he plays both sides, advocating for the monsters that creep in the night, such as a mysterious shadow that’s stalking a small town in New England, as well as its logical explanation. Perhaps the girl who everyone thinks is possessed is actually suffering from a severe mental illness? By the end of Tremblay’s two latest novels, A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, you could argue either side and never quite come to a satisfactory explanation for the events that so heavily scar his characters. There’s a healthy dose of skepticism in his work, even as the author feeds into our most primitive beliefs in monsters and ghosts. Tremblay, who has been publishing stories since the early 2000s, became one of horror’s most important voices with A Head Full of Ghosts, 14 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
which he describes as a “postmodern, skeptical take on The Exorcist.” It’s the story of a family torn apart by the rapidly deteriorating mental health of Marjorie, the oldest daughter and the book’s most tragic character. NPR praised the book for its “unsettling conversation about the truth, or what the various characters suspect is the truth.” Even Stephen King championed the book on Twitter: “A Head Full of Ghosts scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.” Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is Tremblay’s latest. It focuses on a town dealing with the aftermath of a boy’s mysterious disappearance in a national park. “The deep waters [Tremblay] treads are the beautiful, black waves of nightmares,” said Fangoria of the book. “As far as scaring people goes, I don’t know if I sit down with the goal to scare people. I’m super happy to find out that does happen,” Tremblay says. “When I sit down to write, and if I think it’s going to be a horrific story, I tend to concentrate more on it being disturbing. Even if there is going to be a supernatural element, I try to treat it naturalistically, if that makes sense, and build empathic characters. I think if I do that, the horror will sort of take care of itself.” Tremblay’s work is from a different school of horror fiction, not the kind of campfire story you might think about when walking through your local bookstore. In fact, Tremblay, who grew up on a healthy diet of DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM
“IN HIS BOOKS, TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIAL MEDIA ARE OFTEN THE TYRANNICAL FENCES THAT KEEP HIS CHARACTERS BOXED IN, UNABLE TO ESCAPE THE MORE CONVENTIONAL TERRORS.”
Although he's become a big name in horror fiction, Tremblay has a day job as a high school math teacher. “All this stuff can make you feel more isolated. In fact, I think there are tons of [sociological] studies out there that show how easily emotionally manipulated you can be by social media. There’s certainly enough evidence out there to say that being on Facebook too much actually makes you depressed. One of the things that they theorize is that seeing all of these people posting happy things, and you’re just reading that all the time, you’re like, ‘Jeez, why isn’t my life like this?’” Although Tremblay regards himself as a storyteller first, and that these real-life concerns are all in service of the fiction, he also emphasizes that he’s “interested in telling a story about right now.” That’s why Tremblay’s characters are trapped in moments of uncertainty, frantically trying to piece together the truth from bad memories, police transcripts, and the web. But there’s so much noise, so much conflicting information, that they’re doomed to never know the truth for sure. A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock are out now. Tremblay’s next book is about a home invasion and will be out in summer 2018. A Head Full of Ghosts is set to become a feature film from Focus Features.
IMAGES: MICHAEL LAJOIE
campy creature features, doesn’t rely on the gore and violence that many people expect from the genre. He shared that it can be frustrating as a horror writer to be most associated with splatter films. “More than any other genre, horror gets associated with its worst movies,” he says. “When you say horror to somebody, most people’s images are of Eli Roth movies, Freddy Krueger, or Friday the 13th. They don’t think Shirley Jackson or Kelly Link, who was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She writes horror stories!” Preferring a more literary approach in his fiction, Tremblay hopes the genre will continue to shift in that direction, although he also embraces being on the outside of the mainstream literary circles the genre’s special place in American letters. “There’s a big part of me that thinks horror will always be considered ‘outsider’ fiction, and the punk rock fan in me really likes that,” he says. “Because horror is ultimately about a transgression. Things are never going to be the same after a certain thing happens in your horror story. It’s uncomfortable, it’s disturbing.” A particularly unsettling transgression in Disappearance at Devil’s Rock involves a group of teenagers and a broken glass bottle. It’s one of the few moments of violence in the book, and it tears the characters apart. “To me, when horror is done well, when it’s at its best, I think it answers the hardest questions of literature, which are how do we live through this? How does anybody live through this? When horror is really good, it asks those questions in difficult ways.” How is Tremblay asking those questions in his own work? A big concern in his books is the horror of the internet: how we interact with it, how we’re all connected through it, and how people can use it to do terrible things. In his books, technology and social media are often the tyrannical fences that keep his characters boxed in, unable to escape the more conventional terrors. To Tremblay, who writes on a computer and uses social media more than he’d like to admit, the web is a big source of horror in the 21st century. “I do think [an] anxiety I often grapple with is about the internet and social media. Yeah, there are obviously so many cool benefits to it, but we’re also learning there are many uncool things about the internet and being connected all the time,” Tremblay says, recalling a short story he wrote in 2008 called “The Blog at the End of the World,” which tackles similar themes amidst a potentially world-ending epidemic being covered up by the government. It’s a paranoia-fueled examination of the evils of comment sections and the trolls who can do so much harm with mere words. “The idea of information and misinformation, this eternal battle of the internet, is certainly very interesting to me as a writer. I think for both books, that’s certainly in there,” he adds. Scenes from Disappearance at Devil’s Rock quickly come to mind: a sister desperately texting her missing brother that she loves him and that he should come home; a depressed mother who reads terrible rumors about her son on Facebook and Twitter; and the mysterious final Snapchat messages the boy sent before disappearing forever. Tremblay often uses technology to depict the pain and suffering of his characters.
DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM
Enigmatic rocker Marilyn Manson is sharpening his scissors and a straight razor to cut more than hair on Salem. BY TONY SOKOL
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IMAGES: SAM LOTHRIDGE/WGN AMERICA
Weirdness of Marilyn Manson
sk the people who work on WGN America’s Salem about Marilyn Manson and they will tell you he’s a mystery, an enigma. One of the promotional people from the show spoke in hushed tones about Marilyn’s “unbelievable” confessions on an old Celebrity Ghost Stories episode while arranging an interview. Brannon Braga, the creator of Salem, now in its third season, told Den of Geek that “nothing truly bizarre happened” on the Salem set until Manson came along. “He brought it with him,” Braga says. “He brought a whole bunch of things with him.” The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles signed a one-season contract to set up a barber’s pole on Salem where his character will be cutting more just than heads. Barbers did double duty in the 17th century, when the series is set, but it’s not all leeches and follicles with Manson manning the straight razor. Braga described his character as a cross between Vidal Sassoon, Jack the Ripper, and Sweeney Todd—and the first teaser trailer made it look like he might have a taste for human flesh. Marilyn Manson took time before jetting off for a European tour to talk about his latest incarnation. Manson says his character, Thomas Dinley, is in between “the world of the dead and the world of witchcraft.” Season three is set in “devil-occupied Salem,” Braga explains, and Dinley “plays an important role in making the devil’s plan come to fruition.” There may be no better devil’s advocate than the Antichrist Superstar. Manson is an honorary priest in the Church of Satan, but “they didn’t know that” when he was cast. It was even news to Braga, who was surprised by the missed opportunity. “If I had [known], I might have gone to him for some ideas for magical things to do on the show,” Braga says. The actor-musician has real-life experience. The band that carries his name recorded the Antichrist Superstar album “by Carcosa, which you might remember from season one of True Detective,” Marilyn recalls. “I also put a hex on somebody while I lived down there 18 years ago. I can say it successfully worked.” “I’ll leave it at that,” he adds—because a magician, good or bad, never reveals his secrets. “There is some element that is electric or something that you can’t quite describe. If you could, you wouldn’t want to tell people what it was because you wouldn’t want to let people know what really is magic,” he explains. “You’ve got magicians and the whole ability to fool people, whether it be with snake oil or tricks that have been around since the dawn of psychiatry, all of these things are various elements of what could be considered witchcraft. It’s just men’s ability to understand things and other men’s ability to control it.” He believes Salem does a good job capturing that historic divide. “They’re as accurate as you can get based on the available reading material,” Manson explains. “It’s well-researched … I think that the torture devices and that scold mask, the things
they put on the girls when they went into the trial, I think that’s all pretty accurate.” “As far as the rituals, that I couldn’t say. I don’t think you could ever really know unless you were there,” he adds, before explaining why that didn’t make much difference. “I think there are a lot of times that people look at rituals in the literal sense. Some people are just born with a natural ability to make things happen or a determination to make them happen.” A lot of people think Marilyn Manson conjures his own reality. Some fans thought that he made it rain while on a recent summer tour stop in Phoenix, Arizona. “I had sprained my ankle the night before and I wasn’t particularly in the mood to play,” Manson says. “It only rains seven times a year in Phoenix. I was pounding a witch drum I had since I was a kid. I’m not saying I control all the weather, but when it came down it was a torrential downpour. There was more rain than they’ve had in 20 years. The show got cancelled.” The songwriter believes the supernatural series captures an elusive ingredient that interests him more than historical accuracy. “I know that they’re really in tune with the alchemy of it all,” Manson says. “That’s what I like about my character. He’s basically an alchemist. He’s motivated by gold. He does things that could be considered magic, depending on what you consider to be magic.” A mixture of synchronicity and alchemy brought Manson into the role. The singer happened to have “a copy of a book on alchemy in my house” that a writer on the show had given to a friend. “The synchronicity was too sick. Also being best friends with Johnny [Depp] and with him playing Sweeney Todd, it all seemed to flow together really well.” The author of The Dope Show, who once proclaimed on Bill Maher’s old Politically Incorrect that “drug abusers give drug users a bad name,” added a caveat to his usual philosophy of better spirituality through chemistry. “I don’t ever want to do acid again in my life,” Manson says. “It really attracts demons, and the older you get, the more demons you have and they all want to shake hands with you. That’s a bad drug to do.”
Janet Montgomery stars as the witch Mary Sibley on WGN America’s Salem.
But maybe it’s not a bad drug to prescribe, at least not in the sleepy little seaside town in Massachusetts where local puritans aren’t even that fond of fire water. “My character is the drug hookup,” Manson mainlines into my recorder. “He’s a drug dealer. He has the apothecary. My character invents a certain fluid to imbibe. It’s probably historically inaccurate, but I like that they let my character be responsible for it. It’s not absinthe, because that would be too obvious as far as being historically inaccurate.” It’s not too hard to swallow that the ever-inquisitive Manson knew he could sink his teeth into the role of the barber-surgeon. Manson sizes up Dinley as a “childish sort of sociopath who, when looking at a body, live or dead, was curious about what was inside. He was the type of person who just carves it open and looks inside without emotion.”
“I THINK THERE ARE A LOT OF TIMES THAT PEOPLE LOOK AT RITUALS IN THE LITERAL SENSE. SOME PEOPLE ARE JUST BORN WITH A NATURAL ABILITY TO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN OR A DETERMINATION TO MAKE THEM HAPPEN.” - MARILYN MANSON DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM
From Sci-Fi to Salem Salem creator Brannon Braga is best known for his science fiction work — Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, and Terra Nova — as well as his dabbling in science fact, like his work on the Seth MacFarlane-produced revival of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. But Braga’s real passion lies in horror.
Got a frog in your throat? Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant) and Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel) step into their new roles as first couple of Salem.
Thomas Dinley (Marilyn Manson) shaves his friends close, but his enemies closer.
The singer was already familiar with the ancient medical equipment. “The moment he stepped into Dinley’s space, he said, ‘I have most of this stuff at home,’” Braga recalls. “His lab is filled with charts of body parts and Grey’s surgical instruments. He was right at home.” “I have a barber’s chair in my house and I collect straight razors,” Manson modestly offers, never one to shy away from the grisly details. “I didn’t get to use all of them as I’d like to. My character is one of the most unhygienic surgeons you ever want to have. There is one episode where I have to deal with what I call witch herpes. Someone has some kind of lesion. I just called it witch herpes because it’s disgusting. Some sort of boil. My character has no problem going in with unclean hands, no disinfectant, and extracting them. Then smelling them to try to tell what kind of infection they were. A really unsanitary character.” 20 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
And certainly one you wouldn’t want around food. “You know, it’s interesting,” Braga notes, “there are meat pies involved. I don’t think Marilyn made the pies. I doubt very much he cooks at all. But a lot of people, when the shooting was over for the day, would grab those pies and take them home and eat them. I never managed to steal one myself.” “I cooked one of them,” Manson admits. “I cooked one sausage and I really wanted to eat it. I wasn’t really quite sure what they put in it. I’m no vegetarian, but I tried to get someone else to eat one.” Like all great anti-heroes, Manson’s character has a delicious arc. “I think throughout the course of the season, he starts to discover there is more between skin and meat,” he says. “I think the one thing you can always be certain of is if you go there and you talk to him, you’re probably going to end up
dead. And where you go after you die is probably into a sausage.” Just don’t expect the lifelong rock-and-roll fan to cook up any Goat’s Head Soup. “They did let me play with a goat,” Manson recounts. “I asked if I could play with a goat when I wasn’t on-camera because I had just seen the movie The Witch. I was obsessed with Blake Phillips, so I asked for a goat. They brought me a red one, but like the Rolling Stones sang: I saw a red goat and I had to paint it black. They painted it black for me, and I played with it. The goat’s owner let me hold it, and the ornery fucker dragged me across the entire streets of Salem. I didn’t want to let go of it, and it just dragged me going, ‘Maaaaa.’ That was kind of amusing. That’s what you get when you play with the devil. When you pull the devil’s horns, you get dragged.” It wasn’t the devil’s horns, but Marilyn Manson’s rhythm section that first brought the
musician to the show. His song “Cupid Carries a Gun” wasn’t written with Salem in mind, but since Tyler Bates, Manson’s musical writing partner, was scoring the show, they decided to make it the theme song. “Tyler Bates, our composer who happened to be working with Marilyn Manson on an album, said to me one day, ‘Marilyn has a song about witches that would be perfect for the show,’” Braga says. “He played it for me, and it was perfect. Exactly the right song. They recorded a different version for the show. It’s the ‘witch drum’ song.” “Because it said ‘witch’s drums,’ they loved it,” Manson says. “But I had never really seen the show at that point. It hadn’t been out. That was synchronicity happening there.” Since the earliest days of the blues, rock-and-roll has never gotten enough of that demon rhythm. I wanted to know whether the man who once said “music is the strongest form of magic” believes Robert Johnson got a good deal at the crossroads or should he have held out for publishing shares. “I think he got the fame and fortune, his forever,” Manson concludes. “His Mephistophelian/Faustian deal still lives on. So I’d say he might not have gotten the deal he wanted but he got the deal that was right for him. Sometimes, men don’t know exactly what they want.” At a Christmas party, of all places, Braga met a man who knew Manson. “Standing under the tinsel he told me Marilyn wanted to be on the show. I said we have the perfect role for him. He is perfect for sure.” So perfect, it sometimes seems like the Goth rocker is just playing himself. “He’s doing a character but it’s hard to distinguish the character from the real guy,” Braga says. “There’s a certain look he brought to the part, an inherent weirdness. But also he was really funny. We didn’t expect that, so he was also able to provide some comic relief that the show has been lacking, which I think was an important change.” “From the minute I put my glasses on, I just became a complete deadpan asshole,” Marilyn explains. “And, if anyone complained, I just said I’m in character. So no one complained.” Manson’s magic will only last one season, as far as anyone knows. The show has already survived another icon in a guest-starring role: Last season, Lucy Lawless, the legendary Xena herself, played an ancient witch of the first order. She turned to dust, but it didn’t leave the show in ashes. “I think that’s one thing about Salem,” Manson says. “It is episodic. It keeps people wanting more and that’s part of the lure of witchcraft and Satanism. Always leave them wanting more.”
Witch trial-era series Salem allows Braga to unleash some dark magic while paying subtle homage to the monster movies that taught him about fear. Salem explores the inner monstrosities of a very paranoid moment in history. It also allows the creative team to explore the infernal workings that may have been happening behind the scenes. You worked with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. How would he explain the goings-on in Salem? BRANNON BRAGA: He would probably describe magic as an attempt to explain things that people didn’t understand at the time. But then, you might also describe it as a means of controlling, certainly the witch trials, the different aspects of magic. It’s interesting to note that Isaac Newton, one of the most important scientists who ever lived, was an astrologer, a numerologist, and a Bible freak. So, he was into magic. He just happened to be right about the gravity thing. Science and magic were once commingled. What kinds of occult studies do the writers do for magical accuracy on the show? BB: Initially and up to season three, the magic was taken from the transcripts of the original Salem witch trials. There was so much there that was so disturbing. When we were researching the makeup and the look, we decided to go with what we know of the time. In the upcoming season, we are going to Hell. It’s an actual place. Our vision of Hell was based on the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. We were accurate to the time because it stays within their reality. What are your favorite devil movies? BB: I’ll tell you that Salem is chock-full of horror references. I’m quite a horror aficionado. I wrote science fiction most of my life, but my passion really has always been for horror. Everything comes out of that on the show, from Dario Argento to Alfred Hitchcock to the Japanese horror that could be harsh, a horror fan’s horror show. One movie that had a great influence was Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the tone and style in which his movies were shot, or different directors, to keep the show grounded. Which of those classic movies do you think have never lost power to scare? BB: M is a masterpiece. In fact, child murder is something that is probably never going to be mainstream. Some of the best modern 21st century horror has pushed the envelope and broken taboos because that’s what horror does. M is an excellent example of a timeless horror story and I gotta tell you, Frankenstein is not necessarily as terrifying as it was to audiences when it first came out but it is still the only true and truly successful horror science fiction story. That’s a subgenre that you just don’t see all that much.
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early beloved, we gather here today not to praise science fiction, but to bury it. We live in an age when the sum total of human knowledge exists in glowing rectangle form in our pockets—an age where the reaction to the reality of self-driving cars isn’t astonishment, but rather: “What took so long?” Need something a little more dystopian than that? Boom. Here’s a reality TV star/famous capitalist running for President of the United States. How can science fiction survive in a world where almost every possible outlandish premise seems on the cusp of becoming reality? The answer is that it can’t. Instead, science fiction is evolving into something else with the help of Twilight Zone-esque anthology series Black Mirror.
Now Black Mirror’s new home is Netflix, fitting snugly between shows like ‘80s sci-fi nostalgia-fest Stranger Things and The Twilight Zone. The streaming giant picked up Black Mirror for two super-sized (at least by the show’s standards) seasons of six episodes each. The first new season will debut on Oct. 21. Brooker calls the transition to Netflix: “Pretty seamless, actually.” “They’re engaged, but they’re not prescriptive,” he says. “You feel like you have real collaborators.” Then there’s the matter of Netflix’s all-episodes-at-once model, which—when trotted out for the wrong scripted show—runs the risk of not working. But the anthological Black Mirror doesn’t have to worry about the pacing issues that have plagued other streaming shows look-
“IT FEELS LIKE THESE STREAMING PLATFORMS ARE WHAT SHOWS LIKE THIS HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR.” — CHARLIE BROOKER
BY ALEC BOJALAD
22 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
IMAGES: DAVID DETTMANN/NETFLIX
Charlie Brooker brings his post sci-fi anthology Black Mirror to Netflix.
“I’ve always been interested in science fiction,” Charlie Brooker, the writer and creator of Black Mirror, tells Den of Geek via phone. “But I can’t really relate to traditional sci-fi. I don’t really see [Black Mirror] as a sci-fi show in a way. It’s more speculative. Speculative fiction.” Created in 2011 and originally airing on England’s Channel 4, Black Mirror is an anthology show with hour-long episodes that take horror, comedy, tragedy, and, yes, science fiction and run them through the filter of technology. “If technology is a drug—and it does feel like a drug—then what, precisely, are the side effects?” Brooker asked in a 2011 interview with The Guardian. According to the wildly successful first and second seasons (with an obligatory British TV Christmas special to boot), side effects include: a digital implant that allows users to relive all of their memories, including those of past infidelities; a world in which the underclass is forced to provide energy to the upper class via exercise bikes, all in the vain hope that they’ll one day make it big on a televised talent show; and, of course, most predictably, a sitting prime minister fucking a pig on live television. Black Mirror is millennial Twilight Zone, named for the ever-present blank screens that follow us all around in our day-to-day life. And, just like most millennial enterprises, it has enjoyed an impressive second streaming life thanks to Netflix. The first and second seasons consist of three episodes each, followed by the Jon Hamm-starring Christmas special in 2014. When they made the transition to Netflix, worldwide audiences were able to catch up with the phenomenon and they soon demanded more.
ing to sustain a single narrative over a season. “It feels like these streaming platforms are what shows like this have been waiting for,” Brooker says. “We’re making a little film festival, and you can choose what order to watch them in. It’s there on your shelf for you to pick up where and when. You’re not beholden to the ratings monster.” Brooker sounds genuinely grateful for not only the streaming model, but also every technological advance that has helped the rest of the world catch up to his creative, at times
darkly-comedic, vision. He got his start in about the least Black Mirror medium possible: magazines. Brooker wrote game reviews, columns, and comics for PC Zone magazine in the mid-1990s. From there, he was off to numerous other media and opportunities, including TV reviews and other columns for The Guardian, a satirical website, and then some TV writing for Channel 4’s The 11 O’Clock Show. Eventually, he got his own series: Screenwipe. Throughout his career, Brooker points to two guiding principles: things that make him laugh and things that make him think. “I’ve always loved what-if ideas,” he says. “My background is in comedy, and you’ll find all sorts of weird ideas in comedy. And often, these are ideas that make me laugh." Combine that love of speculative fiction and humor with a noticeable hole in the TV landscape for anthologies—something now being rectified more and more, as evidenced by the powerhouse Emmy's “miniseries” category— and you get Black Mirror. “Television was heading in the direction of long season arcs,” Brooker says. “Breaking Bad and Mad Men are great, and I was massively hooked on them but, I felt like there was room for a show in which you didn’t have to fill out a mythology over five seasons. I felt like saying ‘The End’ was becoming a novelty.” Having a “The End” is something that all of the episodes in season three have in common. They all feel like their inception could have been a one-off concept that elicited laughter… before trudging along, in classic Black Mirror fashion, into something much more poignant and/or horrifying. There is the, let’s say, unconventional nostalgic love story “San Junipero,” starring Gugu MbathaRaw (Free State of Jones) and Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire). There is also an exploration of web forum trolling gone to its logical extreme in “Shut Up and Dance,” starring Je-
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rome Flynn (Game of Thrones) and Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game). “Men Against Fire” is the most traditionally sci-fi of the bunch, beginning as a Starship Troopers-esque future military drama with Malachi Kirby (Roots) and Michael Kelly (House of Cards). Brooker describes “Hated in the Nation,” starring Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men), as a “detective” story and “Playtest” as a bit of “horror.” Of the six new entries, however, “Nosedive” fits Charlie Brooker’s vision of “speculative fiction” most adeptly. “Nosedive” is based on an original concept by Brooker, with a script written by actress Rashida Jones and Brooklyn Nine-Nine showrunner Michael Schur. It features Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness), and James Norton (Happy Valley). The less that’s said about the plot, the better—but, let me just say: you’ll begin to value your Uber rider score more than ever. Brooker, who watches more U.S. shows than UK ones, as they are more “exotic” to him, describes teaming up with Schur and Jones as part of a “mutual admiration society.” “I had a rough idea for a story and we found out that Michael Schur and Rashida Jones were fans of the show,” Brooker says. “They got in touch with us and we got back in touch with them and said, ‘We have this idea. Can we tell you about it?' Then, we effectively had writers’ meetings on the phone.” It’s fitting that Schur and Jones were tapped to write the episode, as the tone is more “playful,” as Brooker describes it, but also comes along with some inherent terror—the perfect paradoxical clash of emotions that most Black Mirror episodes eventually instill. In addition to the onscreen star power for Black Mirror season three, Brooker and company brought in some dramatic heft behind the camera, as well. The Lady in Black director James Watkins directs “Shut Up and Dance,” while
10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg both writes and directs “Playtest.” For the thematically and tonally difficult “Nosedive,” Brooker tapped Atonement director Joe Wright. “I was a big fan of the show,” Wright says. “Out of the blue I got asked if I wanted to do an episode and I said, ‘Yes!’ It was very simple. I don’t know why he asked me, really. I’m very glad he did.” Once granted the job for “Nosedive,” Wright jumped at the opportunity to work with Bryce Dallas Howard. “I met Bryce many, many years ago when I was casting Atonement,” Wright says. “I thought she was the most wonderful human being. Bright and smart and just fantastic. It was a great meeting. Unfortunately, she was completely wrong for the part. But I always had this admiration and this warm feeling towards her. When I read this script, I thought of her. So I sent her the treatment and said, ‘You wanna come and do this with me?’ And she immediately said yes.” Howard, Eve, and the rest of the actors are natural fits for the Black Mirror universe, but what about the only consistent character through each episode of the show: technology? Naturally, technology is everywhere in season three: from smartphones to futuristic weapons to drones to an almost literal cloud. To Brooker, speculative fiction isn’t just about speculating on how technology will change; it’s speculating about how people will stay the same. “We can use technology to tell stories in the same ways you’d use the supernatural,” Brooker says. “We’ve grown accustomed to miracles. The iPhone is a miracle. It’s like something from Blade Runner. But we never want to be the show where technology is inherently evil all the time.” Wright feels similarly about what the show is really about. To me, Charlie uses the
speculative fiction as a vehicle for exploring very pertinent and ever-present human problems,” he says. “Especially in terms of how we interact with each other. The whole terrifying positioning and status anxiety is something that’s always existed and is perhaps magnified by the social media age. The whole idea of how we judge ourselves against other people is deep within us and isn’t about technology.” Having a strong grasp on both the human condition and possible future technological advancements has allowed Brooker and company to create depictions of the future that are both dramatically satisfying and logically valid. Sometimes, those depictions even accidentally become predictions. Remember the aforementioned prime minister pig-fucking episode from Black Mirror’s first season? It was called “The National Anthem,” and Brooker describes it as the most divisive of all Black Mirror episodes, perhaps because of how absurd it seems. That was before an unauthorized biography of now ex-British Prime Minister David Cameron was released in 2015 and claimed that Cameron once put his “private part” into the mouth of a dead pig as an initiation to a secret society at Oxford. Brooker says that this season, all of the episodes, save for maybe “Shut Up and Dance,” are a touch more outlandish as a result. “Reality felt like it was slightly catching up with us,” he says. “We felt like we had to pick up our pace.” But what if reality continues to mirror Black Mirror? “I wouldn’t be worried about the show,” says Brooker. “I would worry about reality.”
RANKING BLACK MIRROR BY ALEC BOJALAD Within the next two years, the number of Black Mirror episodes will almost double from seven to 13. While the number sits at a relatively paltry seven right now, they’re ripe for rankings from fans. Here is our take on where every episode of the show falls from seventh to first.
“WE CAN USE TECHNOLOGY TO TELL STORIES IN THE SAME WAYS YOU’D USE THE SUPERNATURAL” IMAGE: ERIC CHARBONNEAU
— CHARLIE BROOKER
24 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
THE WALDO EFFECT
THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF YOU
THE NATIONAL ANTHEM
FIFTEEN MILLION MERITS
BE RIGHT BACK
While perhaps the most realistic episode, with a cartoon character running for prime minister, it's not necessarily the most exciting.
FIFTEEN MILLION MERITS
An implant exists where you can relive all of your memories. That sci-fi concept delivers. The human element falls a little short.
The prime minister/pig episode. Squeamish, fascinating, and strangely realistic, but lacks the emotional heft of other episodes.
This depiction of a dystopian, reality show-driven world hits 1984 levels in its depiction of hopelessness.
The best twist in the series thus far turns an episode about voyeurism into an episode about the human desire for revenge.
Three Christmas storylines all coalesce into a spooky, darkly comic, and futuristic plot.
“Be Right Back” is both scientifically plausible and nearperfect in its depiction of the pain of losing a loved one.
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STAN AGAINST EVIL IFC
There can never be too much TV in your life. Add these freshman series to your watch list this fall. BY CHRIS LONGO 26 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
of your ass every time someone calls action. The tone is on the page. It’s a matter of adhering to it and staying authentic.” McGinley, as well as Gould, made it clear that for the show to work, it needs to be scary first, and funny second. “My first note when I said yes to this was: When the scary stuff happens, it has to be like the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz,” McGinley says. “They have to make the hair on the back on your neck stand up. So far, that’s the tone we’re achieving.” Playing alongside Stan is Janet Varney (You’re the Worst), whom Gould specifically had in mind when he wrote the part of Evie. The new sheriff in town will have to fight off demons while keeping Stan in check. “My character has ostensibly come from Boston to sort of cool off from the Big City and of course is met with crazier stuff than she could have possibly imagined,” Varney says. “My guess is there are definitely moments of ‘why did I come here’ just repeating themselves. You find
“COMEDY AND HORROR ARE COUSINS, AND LIKE COUSINS,THEY CAN HANG AROUND TOGETHER, BUT THEY CAN’T GET INTO BED TOGETHER.” - DANA GOULD
IMAGES: BBC AMERICA, TBS, HULU, AMAZON, IFC
The path to Stan Against Evil, IFC’s upcoming half-hour series billed as a “horror-comedy,” was predetermined for creator Dana Gould. Even for a self-deprecating humorist, satire never comes easy. Gould’s been honing his stand-up skills ever since he was a teenager. When a door to the writers’ room of The Simpsons opened, he became a student of what he calls the “joke math” of the never-ending animated series as he rose through its creative ranks. Over the years, he’s also written a number of comedy pilots that failed to secure a coveted greenlight—paying his dues until a network let him cash in. If comedy is a craft Gould works tirelessly at, then his love for horror can be chalked up as a guilty pleasure. However, growing up in suburban Massachusetts, and being raised next door to a cemetery (his address was 9 Cemetery Street), something a little more mysterious was in play. “When you live on Cemetery Street, maybe you are predisposed to like horror movies,” Gould says. “When I was a kid, I’d much rather watch Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man than the World Series.” The guy credited as “Dana Ghouled” on The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes had ideas on how he could marry his love of horror to his love of comedy. He found his match when a friend, an IFC executive, suggested Gould write a “funny X-Files,” to which he replied, “I already did.” On Nov. 2, IFC will premiere Gould’s Stan Against Evil. The series follows Stan Miller, a hard-nosed former sheriff who has little choice but to team up with Evie Barrett, the new sheriff, to thwart a plague of demonic creatures that haunt their small New England town. When it comes to the show’s tone, just about everyone on set references the John Landis classic An American Werewolf in London. As for the show’s DNA, it is undoubtedly influenced by boundary-pushing genre television. “What if I took a show that I wanted to watch, like Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, set in a small town in New England, and just put a character in the middle of it that didn’t belong there. It was sort of an experiment to see if it would work,” he says. The character at the center of the spookfest is Stan, played by John C. McGinley (Scrubs), who is also a producer, and is based on Gould’s father, whom he describes as “Archie Bunker without the elegance or sophistication.” Gould gave McGinley the space to explore his vision of the character, which the 57-year-old actor says he let come to him. “Almost everything you need is on the page,” McGinley says. “This isn’t one of those gigs where you have to show up and pull a rabbit out
out pretty quickly what the town is all about.” The late, great comedian George Carlin, a hero of Gould’s, once said, “It’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.” Stan Against Evil is on a mission to blur the line between horror and comedy, even if it feels a little messy sometimes. “It’s tricky, because comedy and horror are cousins, and like cousins, they can hang around together, but they can’t get into bed together,” Gould says with a laugh. “Each requires separate, but equal, suspensions of disbelief. For them to both coexist, you have to strike a very specific tone.”
STAN AGAINST EVIL PREMIERES WITH BACK-TO-BACK NEW EPISODES ON NOVEMBER 2 AT 10 P.M. ON IFC.
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GOLIATH AMAZON Goliath creator David E. Kelley is no stranger to the inherent drama of the courtroom. Receiving his Juris Doctor from Boston University School of Law, Kelley pivoted from law to screenwriting, making his name in Hollywood developing shows like The Practice and Boston Legal about savvy, sometimes scandalous, attorneys. His new series for Amazon Studios, Goliath, treads similar ground. Billy Bob Thornton, who earned high praise for his recent TV work on FX’s Fargo, stars as Billy McBride, a boozing, down-on-his-luck ambulance chaser who once was a savant attorney (so basically, a Billy Bob Thornton-type). McBride lands a career-reviving wrongful death case that pits him against Cooperman & McBride, the big-time L.A. firm he helped found, and his former partner Donald Cooper (William Hurt). With a big, powerful enemy and a sometimes less-than-fair American legal system up against him, McBride tries to find redemption in winning one for the little guy. GOLIATH PREMIERES OCTOBER 14 ON AMAZON VIDEO.
DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY BBC AMERICA BY NICK HARLEY
PEOPLE OF EARTH TBS The TBS slogan “Very Funny” has always been an apt description of the network, but mostly used to describe TBS’s stable of syndicated comedy series like Seinfeld and Friends. New Turner Entertainment chief creative officer Kevin Reilly has set out to change that perception and make TBS a destination for original comedy programming, sort of like NBC’s Thursday night line-up was once upon a time. Already introducing critically beloved programs, like political talk show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and the police procedural spoof Angie Tribeca, Reilly has shown a commitment to giving distinct creative voices a home. Reilly’s trend continues with People of Earth, a sci-fi-leaning comedy series produced by Conan O’Brien (whose own late night show, Conan, also airs on TBS), under his Conaco banner. People of Earth stars Wyatt Cenac, a comedian and former Daily Show correspondent (like Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee). Cenac’s past as a fake journalist serves him well, as on People of Earth he portrays a journalist investigating a support group for supposed victims of alien abductions. Believing that he may have had a close encounter himself, Cenac’s character becomes entangled with the eccentric ensemble of characters. Greg Daniels (The Office) is the executive producer and directed the pilot written by David Jenkins. Jenkins got the idea for the series while studying actual alien abduction support groups and reading books like Communion: A True Story by ufologist Whitley Strieber. In his book, Strieber paints a horrifying picture of blackouts and experimentation, but People of Earth plans to mine these ideas for comedy with two witless, foul-mouthed extraterrestrials. Jenkins quotes Daniels’ past comedy work, along with J.J. Abrams’ Lost, as inspiration. The large cast features Oscar Nunez, who worked with Daniels on The Office, as well as former SNL castmate Ana Gasteyer, Michael Cassidy (Men At Work), Alice Wetterlund (Silicon Valley), and comedy character actor Brian Huskey, among others. The single-camera comedy’s first season will consist of 10 episodes. PEOPLE OF EARTH PREMIERES OCTOBER 31 AT 9 P.M. ON TBS.
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Max Landis (Chronicle) may have a dozen movie projects up in the air in Hollywood, but that didn’t stop him from carving out some time to be the writer and executive producer for BBC America’s new science fiction detective series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Loosely based on Douglas Adams’ novel series of the same name, Dirk Gently stars Elijah Wood as Todd, a reluctant participant in the bizarre murder case of a millionaire, who is somehow roped into the wild, surreal mystery by Samuel Barnett’s titular time-traveling detective. Dirk believes he and Todd are brought together by the universe and destined to solve the mystery together, and the pair are soon launched down a dangerous, comical path full of killers, cults, cats, and more. The colorful cast of characters also features Hannah Marks, Richard Schiff, Jade Eshete, Fiona Dourif, Michael Eklund, and Mpho Koaho, among others. Move over, Sherlock and Watson! DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY PREMIERES OCTOBER 22 ON BBC AMERICA.
CHANCE HULU Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Hugh Laurie plays a brilliant, yet troubled doctor who is a diagnostic whiz. This isn’t House, though—the long-running Fox series that turned Laurie into a bonafide American television star—this is Chance, another series in which Laurie plays a titular doctor. The similarities end there. Chance is based on the novel of the same name by Kem Nunn and centers on forensic neuropsychiatrist Eldon Chance, a man going through a midlife crisis who crosses the romantic line with Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol), a patient who may or may not have schizophrenia. Their affair puts Chance on a collision course with Jaclyn’s husband, an abusive, corrupt police detective. Their entanglement sends Chance on a downward spiral into California’s Bay Area underbelly. Promising to be full of sex, violence, intrigue, and psychological thrills, Chance is set for a 10-episode season on Hulu with a second season already ordered. Academy Award-nominee Lenny Abrahamson (Room) directs many of the first season’s episodes, and the series also stars LisaGay Hamilton, Paul Adelstein, and Ethan Suplee. CHANCE PREMIERES OCTOBER 19 ON HULU.
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Batting clean up Actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Melissa McBride, and showrunner Scott M. Gimple welcome The Walking Dead into a brave new world. BY JOHN SAAVEDRA
he Walking Dead season seven premiere may be the most anticipated hour of television this fall. Who did Negan kill in last April’s finale? Ask any crew or cast member: They’ll all tell you they don’t know. And if they do, they're not telling you. Melissa McBride, who plays Carol, argues that fans have lived without the answer long enough to hold out just a few more weeks.
“People will ask, and then I’ll say, ‘Do you really want to know, though? Do you really want to know?’” McBride says of the question she’s had to dodge all summer. “And they get all jittery thinking I might tell them, actually. Of course, I’m not going to. I mean, when it comes right down to it, and they think, ‘Here’s my chance, I could really know...' They don’t want to know.” It’s a good point. The cliffhanger is a narrative device as old as sto32 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
rytelling itself. It keeps us focused, keeps us talking, makes us want to consume more. McBride asserts that even the fans who were angry about the cliffhanger will ultimately tune in to the premiere in a few weeks. But the cliffhanger is not just a gimmick. Let’s not downplay the importance of opening the new season with the show’s most violent death. A single swing of the bat (or several) will change the lives of all of these characters, taking them to dark places. In fact, the story in season seven is reactionary: The first death sets everything else into motion. The premiere will hand over the victim early on, according to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who’s about to become the most hated man on Sunday night television. He plays Negan, The Walking Dead’s new villain, an adversary unlike anything Rick Grimes and his people have ever faced. “I think he’s a very special character that’s got this irreverent sense of humor and this charisma,” says Morgan, who has been following DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM
"I’m constantly making
excuses for Negan. He’s a fucking asshole. "- Morgan
on set, McBride has had to say farewell to a lot of friends. “There’s just that very somber undercurrent,” says McBride. “But we have a lot of very funny people in our cast. Even though it’s somber, there’s still laughter. I don’t know, it’s maybe something about some actors that grow up trying to deflect sadness. I guess I call them ‘tap dancers.’ There’s laughter, but you’re also going to miss the people when they go away, you know? I miss everybody that’s gone, and it doesn’t get any easier.” Morgan was a little nervous on his first day, too. He didn’t know the cast very well, yet he was the guy who was about to kill a member of their family. It had to be at least a little awkward. “You know, this was a big, emotional time for everybody. Someone that was part of the Walking Dead family was going to have an untimely ending. So to be the guy wreaking that kind of trouble, I was a little bit nervous about how I would be received,” Morgan says of his now infamous first scene.
ABOVE: The infamous final scene of the sixth scene took its toll on the cast. Some actors cried, threw their scripts, felt sick, and/or were late for the shoot. RIGHT: Ezekiel is the leader of the Kingdom, a new settlement that will be introduced in season seven. He has a pet tiger!
the comics for years. “His use of the English language, I find rather brilliant. I view him as a guy who’s survived this long in this apocalyptic world. If this show, seven years ago, had started following Negan instead of Rick Grimes, then he would be the hero of the story. I don’t think he’s necessarily a hundred percent evil. I think he’s just done what he has done in order to survive this long.” But even Morgan can’t hold in his laughter when he hears himself trying to redeem his character: “I’m constantly making excuses for Negan. He’s a fucking asshole.” Morgan is actually a little worried about how much people will hate Negan: “It’s a definite concern. I did some ADR yesterday for [episode one], and I saw a little bit of [the episode]. It’s a lot. I’ll be interested to see how the fans handle it. It’s going to be a lot more than the people are expecting. You’re about to see someone that you love just fucking take it. It’s violent. It’s more than violent. It’s 34 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
gut-wrenching.” Negan does seem like a once in a lifetime opportunity for an actor. After all, it’s not every day you get to play the biggest asshole on television—a title most recently held by Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon. But underneath his concern, Morgan is relishing the part. “As soon as the cameras are rolling, and I get Lucille in my hand, it kind of just transforms me,” Morgan says of stepping into the villain’s shoes. “This character in particular has been such a joy to play for me. Put the dark stuff aside and the horrible things that Negan does… As an actor, it’s just been so much fun. We’re kind of midway through filming season seven, so I feel like I’m pretty locked in.” There’s a chance that series creator Robert Kirkman always knew that Negan was meant for great things, that this highly intelligent, foul-mouthed sociopath would become one of the most infamous villains in comic books. Why else would he introduce the character
in such a big milestone issue? Negan first appeared in The Walking Dead #100, in which he killed off one the book’s most beloved characters. Since his introduction, Negan has been a whirlwind of violence, and that’s exactly how he’ll be portrayed on the show. Morgan promises that a bloodthirsty Negan will get to swing Lucille more than once this season. In fact, the actor hints that Negan will begin his reign of terror in fine form. The villain will take more than one life in the premiere. “Negan’s not just going to kill one person in [the premiere],” Morgan says. “He’s not afraid of bashing in skulls.” It was widely reported right before last season’s finale that filming the episode had taken its toll on the cast. Cast members threw their scripts, cried, and were late for work on the day of the Negan scene. McBride says it’s always very sad to say goodbye to a co-worker. As one of the few original cast members left
“But this thing happens—and it’s been like this with Negan for me—it doesn’t matter what I’m doing as the character. This strange calm comes over me just as they say action, which is very weird. I can’t say that’s happened to me a lot in my career.” Showrunner Scott M. Gimple, who took the reins of the show back in season four, says Negan’s first scene irrevocably shakes the show’s status quo and transforms the characters. “It sets our story into motion—that death is the start of a new reality for Rick and our characters,” Gimple says. “The old world, where Rick was in charge of his own life, is over. Alexandria lives for Negan and the Saviors now, and it's not an easy transition for everyone to make.” “You’re going to see your heroes, the people that you’ve grown to love, in a place that you’ve never seen them before,” Morgan says. “Negan’s taken over and it shows. You’re going to see the characters that you love going through hell. There’s never been a shake-up like this on the show. I want to say that I feel bad, but at the same time, it’s my job and I’m having a blast doing it.” But despite all the bloodshed in season seven, Morgan and the writers still had to rein in Negan just a bit, specifically when it comes to the way he talks. In the comics, the foul-mouthed villain is very fond of expletives, but a chain of f-bombs in a single line of dialogue doesn’t fly on cable television. “It fucking sucks. That’s part of who Negan is. He swears like the best sailor in the world,” Morgan says. “What we’ve had to do for broadcast television is completely take out his favorite word. I’d love to be able to sneak one in. But the flipside is that the big iconic scenes, we do two ways. We do a broadcast version, and I can still throw in some ‘shits’ and ‘goddamns,’ but it still doesn’t have the same impact as a good ‘fuck.’” Fans who want to see the most unhinged version of the villain will have to wait for the Blu-ray release, which will include uncensored scenes filmed alongside the broadcast ones. Morgan says the cast and crew lovingly call the alternate scenes “the fuck takes.” Negan isn’t the only comic book character being introduced this season, though. Fans will also meet King Ezekiel, the leader of a settlement called the Kingdom. He’s played by Khary Payton, who’s best known for his voice acting on several DC animated series. Ezekiel’s entrance is set up at the end of season six too, when Carol and Morgan encounter a group of armored survivors from the Kingdom. The men offer to take Morgan (the character played by Lennie James) and a wounded Carol back to the settlement. “The Kingdom is a really cool set,” McBride says. “The set design is just really creative over there. The Kingdomites really got it going on! It’s a very interesting place with interesting characters. Of course, there’s King Ezekiel. I’m excited that the fans are going to see him, finally.” All of the settlements introduced in the Washington area thus far have had something unique to offer, whether it be
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the residential Alexandria, the rural Hilltop, or one of Negan’s fortified bases. The trailer shown at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con gave fans their first glimpse of the Kingdom, which is made up of school buildings protected by a wall. Inside the community, you’ll also find gardens and stables. It’s a living, breathing place full of people trying to build the new world. “The Kingdom has its own personality and it's a very, very different one from the other camps/settlements we've seen,” Gimple says. “They've lived a different life there—not an entirely easy one, but they've built a place that works. A place that works much differently than any other place we've seen on the show.” The Kingdom even has its very own tiger. Ezekiel’s pet tiger, Shiva, will undoubtedly be one of the major talking points of season
seven. This hulking predator sits at the side of the King’s throne, ready to maul anyone who comes too close. We first see Shiva in the trailer, roaring at someone off-camera who probably runs right out the door. But the actors don’t actually have anything to worry about. Shiva isn’t a real tiger. She was brought to life through the magic of CGI and animatronics. McBride says that Shiva’s inclusion on the show is a marvel, although she expressed a little disappointment that there wasn’t a real tiger on set. “I think having a live tiger would’ve been really nice. I like cats!” McBride says. “But having a live tiger would’ve been a liability. Animals are unpredictable. And I mean, we weren’t standing around saying, ‘I wish we had a real one.’ We were all going, ‘Jeez, how did they do that?’ This tiger is really amaz-
ing. Just the animatronics alone. I’m anxious to see, once they get the special effects added to it, how neat that’s going to be.” Both McBride and Morgan describe season seven in short, ominous answers. “Welcome to the new world” is all McBride will say on the matter. Morgan simply laughs and says, “Brutal.” McBride also won’t say if she’ll reunite with Rick and the group or meet Negan, but she does laud Morgan’s performance in his first scene. “It was pretty amazing watching that finale when he first got there,” she says. He’s such a pro, he was so prepared. Also, he’s just great to have as part of the gang now. He’s got a
really cool personality. He’s well-liked among the cast and crew.” Yet, McBride can’t help but turn Morgan back into the villain he becomes when he’s in front of the camera: “He’s the worst we’ve ever encountered, and it changes everything. He’s got our people at his mercy. I don’t think we’ve ever been at anyone’s mercy like that.” She echoes what Morgan said about Negan, that the first death comes quick, and that the violence is unlike anything we’ve seen on the show before: “It won’t be long into the first episode that we find out what happened from the finale. But a lot of people were saying that the network didn’t have the balls or guts to show
[the death], that it was just too much. I’m just thinking ahead to the premiere and I’m just kind of speechless when I think about it.” It’s hard to imagine Morgan, Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, and the rest of the cast taking pictures together, laughing, and being chummy. But they’ve actually done a ton of that. They’re always smiling, fooling around, acting like a happy little family, even though Morgan is currently in the process of slaughtering them on the show. Some fans are certainly having a difficult time compensating Morgan’s character on screen with who he is in real-life—a charismatic (in his own words) “shitster and prank-
ster.” The actor has had people stop him on the street to tell him that they hate him. One angry woman in Georgia pulled over when she saw Morgan having a cup of coffee with Reedus on a sidewalk, walked up to the actor, and insulted him. “‘I want to know where you live!’” Morgan recalls the woman saying. But that’s just the kind of impression Morgan knows Negan will have on the fan base, and he suspects they will hate the character even more after the premiere. Yet, Morgan just can’t stop talking about how much fun he’s having. “Bring on the hate,” he says. The Walking Dead returns on Oct. 23 on AMC.
" I’m just thinking`ahead to
the premiere and I’m just kind of speechless when I think about it. " - Melissa McBride
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“The rebooted Ghostbusters drew plenty of attention, but failed to make a significant impact at the box office.”
THE HARDEST LESSONS TO LEARN 2016’s summer blockbuster season was historically bad. How did that happen? BY EDWARD DOUGLAS
ith the end of another summer at the multiplex giving way to the holiday movie season, everyone is looking back at what worked and what didn’t this year. But we must always bear in mind that this is the movie business, with an emphasis on business. Creativity and originality will always come second to turning a profit. If there’s anything we can learn from this past summer, it’s that just because a film does well at the box office, it doesn’t mean audiences necessarily want a sequel. Only three of the seven sequels released this summer did better than their predecessor: Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and The Purge: Election Year. The rest didn’t match the success of earlier installments. Movies, like novels, can be done-in-one, but when studios realize something works, the seemingly easiest way to replicate that success is with
wheel with new, untested ideas. The movies opening over the holidays include Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which takes place in the world of the highly successful Harry Potter franchise, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. These are new stories set in familiar worlds that won’t necessarily be thought of as sequels or remakes by audiences, but still give studios the security of previous franchise success. At this point, Hollywood seems fairly set in its ways about what works and what doesn’t. For better or worse, a lot of the movies being released in 2017 are either in production or post right now, so there’s not a lot that can be done about some of them. But there are a few things that can be applied to future blockbusters for 2018’s sake. There’s a saying: “You need to spend money to make money.” But when it comes to making films, we are hearing more and more about
“STUDIOS ARE HESITANT TO REINVENT THE WHEEL WITH NEW, UNTESTED IDEAS.”
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movies with over-inflated budgets failing to earn back the studio’s investment. Surely, movies that cost $180 million or more to produce could be made for $120 million to $130 million. The recent Korean zombie flick, Train to Busan, cost less than $10 million to make but looks as good as any $150 million Hollywood blockbuster. It
IMAGE: SONY PICTURES
a sequel. Imagine if the current studio mentality existed when Michael Curtiz made Casablanca. Executives would have fallen over themselves to continue that story, no matter how illogical that might seem. As much as moviegoers love originality and creativity, studios are hesitant to reinvent the
has grossed more than $80 million worldwide. Too many studios are trying to reverse engineer what made Marvel’s The Avengers such a huge hit while forgetting that the initial four movies, and the actors playing the characters, were good enough that everyone wanted to see these heroes team up. You need a solid foundation of a few good movies before bringing them all together. Despite the financial success of Warner Bros.’ 2016 DC superhero movies, they tried to squeeze too many characters into both of them. Fans weren’t happy that some characters didn’t get as much screen time as they hoped, while critics felt the stories suffered. Hopefully, next summer’s Wonder Woman movie will rectify that. Or maybe a wise studio exec would look at how even a known quantity like the Ghostbusters reboot didn’t find as large an audience as Sony hoped for and not double-down on remakes. If nothing else, 2016 should teach studios that tentpoles don’t have to crowd the summer or holiday movie season. Studios are starting to figure out that if you make a good mainstream film, moviegoers will want to see it whether it opens in February or July: Just look at the recent “off-season” success of Deadpool, or the Fast and the Furious movies. With Marvel Studios seeing successful releases in April, August, and November, we’re sure to see other studios follow suit in the coming years. Making dramatic changes in how blockbusters are made and marketed should help prevent another summer 2016 scenario. Ignoring the problems will just continue the inevitable downslide and guarantee more negative headlines.
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ARRIVAL How Amy Adams’ upcoming sci-fi thriller was translated to the big screen. BY DAVID CROW the U.S.” Also, you have to ensure they know enough English words to reasonably answer this question. By the time the screenwriter was finished, he had not only convinced his producers, but also inadvertently penned another scene that Amy Adams will repeat almost word-for-word when Arrival opens in November. It is for sequences like this that Heisserer has been passionate, and patient, in his quest to get the literary works of Ted Chiang to the big screen. After all, he and producers Dan Levine and Dan Cohen spent years in vain pitching an adaptation of “Story of Your Life” to Hollywood studios before the scripter volunteered to write a draft on spec. The project has been such a long time coming that it might even suggest it’s easier constructing an intergalactic Rosetta Stone than it is translating this sci-fi case study in linguistic relativity to cinema. “It’s interesting, because that isn’t a piece that’s easily transposable to a sort of cinematic narrative,” Heisserer says. “There are a lot of elements that work in a literary function quite well but don’t translate well. And yet, I end up getting very excited about material I respond emotionally to first and foremost, and I take it upon [my shoulders] to make that as cinematic as possible.” Among these tweaks was turning the story of 12 spaceships appearing all over Earth into a narrative of global cooperation (and
competition) between governments and militaries to unearth extraterrestrial secrets. It also broadened the story wide enough to gain first Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) as its director, and then Amy Adams, Villeneuve’s first choice, as the star. Slowly, more contours and conjugations have been made to visually translate what Heisserer surmises is a sci-fi story about “smart characters who remain smart and speak as two intelligent, educated scientists.” Oscar nominated editor Joe Walker also reflected on this unique freedom within the genre. Speaking in a telephone interview from Budapest where he is helping Villeneuve assemble the Blade Runner sequel that’s currently in production, Walker says the material is attractive to audiences thirsting for intelligent sci-fi. And to his own benefit, the story of translating an alien language (with its own perception of time) is a gift to directors and editors, the latter of whom view time-manipulation as a kind of superpower. “I had a feeling at some point, certainly with the flashback structure, that anything could be in almost any order. Everything we shot faithfully to the script, but after the first assembly, Denis told me, ‘Well, in a way, we have to approach this like a documentary edit. We have to find the film through all this footage.’ And that meant there was a lot of shaping to do to the story structure.” The end result is something that both the pre-production wordsmith
“THAT SEEMS TO BE AN INABILITY TO COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER AT A TIME WHEN THE TOOLS FOR COMMUNICATION ARE STRONGER THAN EVER.” 40 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
Amy Adams (Top) and Jeremy Renner (Bottom) star in the sci-fi thriller Arrival
IMAGES: PARAMOUNT PICTURES
hat is your purpose on Earth? This is a straightforward question that would presumably elicit a meaningful answer. But when you are asking it to a pair of seven-legged aliens who are hovering over the fields of Montana in what can be best described as a giant, monolithic space egg, the query can take on innumerable dimensions. The same quid pro quo applies to filmmakers as well. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer recalls in particular the hurdles faced by an early draft for what would eventually become this year’s hotly anticipated science fiction film, Arrival. Having devoted pages and pages to the character of Dr. Louise Banks, a professor in linguistics, teaching these oddly symmetrical beings (codename: heptapods) a rudimentary English vocabulary, Heisserer had to also contend with a note about whether these details risked becoming boring. “I got very, very aggravated and hyper,” Heisserer remembers with a chuckle. Getting up on a whiteboard, the scribe broke down the ramifications of what a purpose on Earth could mean. “You need to make sure you understand your pronouns, that you’re not asking why Joe Alien is here. You’re asking why the collective, why they are here. And then you have to make sure that they understand heavenly bodies. When we talk about Earth, that we’re saying this planet, not just Montana, not just
and post-production cutter describe as “impressionistic.” Indeed, it might even be prescient for the lives of Americans in 2016, aliens or not. As Heisserer says, “One of the biggest things I’ve seen develop and grow to be a real nuisance in our era of sort of global interconnectedness and online communication is how someone will place their own fears and their own agendas into someone else’s statement. Where someone can say, ‘I like chocolate,’ and someone’s response is ‘so, what you’re saying is you hate vanilla!’ That seems to be an… inability to communicate with each other at a time when the tools for communication are stronger than ever.” Judging by the early, positive critical response, Arrival might have just strengthened the cinematic tool for communication, too.
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FALL MOVIE PREVIEW
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FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM NOVEMBER 18 | BY KAYTI BURT
f the release of the scriptbook for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play proved anything, it's that the world is still hungry for more Harry Potter. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a planned Potterverse spinoff trilogy, may not feature the beloved boy wizard—after all, it's set long before he is born—but it does take place in the same wizarding world. Something tells me this will be enough for most Harry Potter fans. Set in 1926 New York City, Fantastic Beasts follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a British "magizoologist" in town to meet with a member of the Magical Congress. When some of the magical creatures in his possession escape, he and his new American friends (including one Muggle—or, as we're known in American English, No Majs) must save NYC from disaster and the wizarding community from ruin by rounding up the escaped beasts (yes, it is basically Pokémon Go). J.K. Rowling has penned her first-ever screenplay for the film, and Harry Potter film veteran David Yates (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 2) is behind the camera again for the franchise. Redmayne leads a cast that includes Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman, and Zoë Kravitz. Warner Bros. is pulling out all the stops for this one, with a script for the second Fantastic Beasts installment already finished by Rowling and an official release date set for 2018. In an overcrowded blockbuster landscape where sequels are increasingly not guaranteed, this is one franchise you can probably afford to get emotionally invested in.
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FALL MOVIE PREVIEW 2016 OCTOBER
BY DON KAYE
THE ACCOUNTANT OCTOBER 14
DOCTOR STRANGE NOVEMBER 4
Ben Affleck takes time off from wearing the cape and cowl to star in this thriller about an aloof mathematical genius who crunches the numbers for criminal organizations, and J.K. Simmons is the Treasury agent who’s hot to bring him down. The solid cast also includes Anna Kendrick, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, and Jon Bernthal, the latter of which means there’s sure to be some bloodshed involved as well. The director is Gavin O’Connor, who helmed the underrated Warrior (2011) and this year’s troubled Jane Got a Gun. The trailer makes the case for this as an adult-oriented thriller, but can O’Connor and Affleck make it compelling enough to keep it from seeming generic? We’ll discover if there’s a mathematical formula for that.
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK OCTOBER 21
HACKSAW RIDGE NOVEMBER 4
2012’s Jack Reacher was one hell of a thriller: tense, grim, and relentless, yet with sharp touches of humor. It was a terrific surprise, even if fans of Lee Child’s novels initially grumbled about Tom Cruise looking nothing like the character from the books. Four years later, Jack is back thanks to international box office numbers that made up for the movie’s so-so U.S. run. Edward Zwick (Pawn Sacrifice) has taken over behind the camera for Christopher McQuarrie in a story where Jack returns to his old military unit to face a 16-year-old murder charge. If Zwick can bring the same ingredients to this one that the first movie contained, we’ll be happy to go back.
Andrew Garfield continues his post-Amazing Spider-Man career as real-life Army medic Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who refused to carry a weapon, but somehow managed to save the lives of over 75 Americans at Okinawa during World War II. The real story here, however, is that Mel Gibson is returning to the director’s chair for the first time since 2006’s Apocalypto. It is his most high-profile attempt at a Hollywood comeback yet after his well-documented personal scandals. Gibson can be a hell of a director, and the story is right in his wheelhouse. The question is whether the movie can overcome the media circus and any lingering public disapproval for the filmmaker.
INFERNO OCTOBER 28 The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, the two previous films centered around novelist Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, have never been praised as great movies, even as they raked in all kinds of coin at the box office. That’s the one riddle Hollywood is always trying to decipher, so it stands to reason that Sony would want to bring back Tom Hanks for a third go-round as an action movie’s closest approximation of a symbology professor. Director Ron Howard is back as well, and what can we say except that Da Vinci Code was a bore, Angels was something of an improvement, and that we hope the pair can make a better-than-average thriller the third time around? 44 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
Marvel Studios at long last introduces the Sorcerer Supreme to the big screen. Scott Derrickson (Sinister) directs Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, an arrogant surgeon whose life is upended when his hands are damaged in an accident. Seeking salvation, he stumbles into the realm of the supernatural and finds a new purpose as a master of the mystic arts. Yes, it’s an old-fashioned origin story, and there are similarities to Iron Man in some ways, but this corner of the Marvel Universe promises surreal, psychedelic sights that we haven’t seen before. The movie also boasts one of the best Marvel casts ever, with Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Mads Mikkelsen. Hopefully, they’ll all make this one magical.
MOANA NOVEMBER 23 The latest Walt Disney Animation Studios film is a fantasy set in ancient times and stars Auli’i Cravalho as the title character; she’s a young girl who decides to navigate the South Pacific to find a legendary island. She is also joined on her quest by the demi-god Maui, voiced—no doubt in godlike fashion–by Dwayne Johnson. Disney has achieved great success outside of Pixar with its last few animated films, including Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph, and this intentionally looks to be as much a throwback to the Renaissance musicals as Frozen was before it. After all, The Little Mermaid’s Ron Clements and John Musker are directing, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda is co-writing the songs.
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FALL MOVIE PREVIEW 2016
BY DON KAYE
ALLIED NOVEMBER 23
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY DECEMBER 16
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard team up with director Robert Zemeckis (Flight, The Walk) in this romantic thriller about two spies who meet and fall in love while on a mission to assassinate a high-ranking German official during World War II. Audiences don’t always go for period pieces or old-fashioned adult romances, so it seems as if the filmmakers and studio are betting a lot on the star power of Pitt and Cotillard. Zemeckis was on-point with Flight, but lost his balance on The Walk. Hopefully he regains his form with this Casablanca-styled throwback. The film also features Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, and Matthew Goode in what is sure to be a fair amount of gunplay for a romance.
This small indie offering has been below the radar until now, but… okay, who are we kidding? Admittedly, the first of the highly touted Star Wars standalone movies poses a (ridiculously) small risk because it travels back in time to pre-Episode IV days, just one year after the franchise returned with the forward-facing The Force Awakens. So will audiences follow along? Of course they will. Even without any Skywalkers present, the trailers look amazing, the cast is fantastic, and despite reports of extensive reshoots, we trust this will come together and make for a unique experience in that galaxy far, far away.
BAD SANTA 2 NOVEMBER 23
ASSASSIN’S CREED DECEMBER 21
The original Bad Santa is a classic cult film. While it actually did pretty good business for a raunchy, R-rated comedy back in 2003, its stature has only grown with the passing years. A sequel has been in the works since at least 2009, and now it’s here with Billy Bob Thornton (Willie), Tony Cox (Marcus), and Brett Kelly (Thurman) all reprising their roles (they’re also joined by Kathy Bates and Christina Hendricks). What’s it about? Who cares? If Thornton, Cox, and Kelly can recapture the depraved lunatic magic they had the first time out, this should be an early Christmas present for fans.
So nobody learned anything from Warcraft, huh? To be fair, both that film and this new video game-based epic were probably in production around the same time, but it’s hard to figure whether Assassin’s Creed will succeed at the U.S. box office in a way that Warcraft didn’t. The cast, led by Michael Fassbender, is great, and the director (Justin Kurzel) helmed last year’s startling adaptation of Macbeth. But the all-original story may rankle some hardcore fans of the game while the time-jumping plot involving Templar Knights might throw off the rest of the public. This is one of the bigger question marks of the season, for sure.
LA LA LAND DECEMBER 2 The old-fashioned Hollywood musical is a rare beast these days, glimpsed only occasionally. So leave it to writer-director Damien Chazelle to do his best to restore its glory with this follow-up to 2014’s devastating Whiplash. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the stars singing and dancing their way through their newfound romance in the film, which also has a lot to say about art, creativity, and being true to oneself. Whiplash was this writer’s favorite film of the year in 2014, so I cannot wait to see how Chazelle makes the jump from music school to a Fred & Ginger-inspired musical.
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PASSENGERS DECEMBER 21 The script for this film by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange) has been floating around Hollywood for a decade with various actors and directors attached to it – no one could quite get it going despite almost universal acclaim for the story itself. Now, it finally arrives with the combined star power of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as two people who wake up under mysterious circumstances aboard a starship halfway through its 120-year voyage. We’re always excited about the possibility of intelligent and big-budgeted science fiction coming to the screen, so Passengers (directed by Morten Tyldum of The Imitation Game) is a trip we can’t wait to take.
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Virtual Reality is about to become a major storytelling tool of the future. BY BERNARD BOO ILLUSTRATION BY SOPHIE ERB
Star Trek: Bridge Crew gives you and your friends the helm of the U.S.S. Aegis, as you search for a new home for the Vulcan people.
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There was a time when I thought VR was dead.” This solemn confession comes from David Votypka, creative director at Ubisoft subsidiary Red Storm Entertainment, a studio that will, by the end of the year, deliver two groundbreaking VR games to the headset-wearing masses: Werewolves Within (Dec. 6) and Star Trek: Bridge Crew (Nov. 29). With Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Votypka and his team at Red Storm have conjured up a fascinating, deceptively simple concept. Four players work together as officers of the Federation, each member manning a different station on the U.S.S. Aegis with the shared goal of finding a new home world for the recently displaced Vulcans. The four positions Captain, Helm, Engineer, and Tactical - must work together to make strategic decisions, using voice chat and motion gestures to develop a successful flow of communication. Red Storm have bridged the universe of Star Trek with immersive VR. They’ve also found a tight balance between the social, table-top gaming experience and the digital world of video games. It’s a new frontier, as they say. The future of VR is finally here, and it’s been a long time coming. In the ‘90s, geeks everywhere dreamed of wearing magic goggles that would whisk them away to new worlds, only to have their hearts broken by an infernal machine that shattered said dreams and brought forth a pixelated, blood-red VR apocalypse. They called it the “Virtual Boy.” It was a dark time, but after decades of technological advances and creative innovations made by engineers and developers like Votypka, VR is finally on the precipice of meeting its true potential. “I think we’re at a point now where VR can
be what we want it to be,” says Votypka, who has been anxiously awaiting the imminent VR boom. “My passion for VR started in the ‘90s. The developers back then, trying to do VR the way we all thought it should be, with that hardware… it was impossible. That’s why it died. Now, with the headsets that are out there, we finally have a baseline. We can generate a sense of presence for the player. It starts to really feel like you’re there. The pricing is low enough and the quality of the graphics is generally high enough.” Today’s tech is indeed powerful. From the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, to the debuting Playstation VR, the current headsets on the market give developers the tools to create wildly immersive experiences like we’ve never seen before. Suffice it to say, Votypka and his team at Red Storm pounced on the opportunity to explore the myriad possibilities that modern VR brings to the table. “We’ve been focused on social VR,” Votypka says of the studio’s approach. “One of the first prototypes we did was the Werewolves prototype, which led to Werewolves Within. When we put the headsets on and saw each others’ head movements, sitting across the table, we thought, ‘Wow, that’s a real human being.’ It was something different and something special. That led us to thinking about crew-based experiences and strategy-based gameplay, but with a social hook. When you think crewbased, Star Trek is perfect for that.” While Votypka is excited and inspired by the current VR boom, he also acknowledges that there are still some issues to iron out before we achieve true virtual immersion. Until then, studios like Red Storm have been coming up with creative ways to work around the technical obstructions current VR builds present.
"THE FUTURE OF VR IS BLINDINGLY BRIGHT, BUT THE MEDIUM’S POTENTIAL EXTENDS FAR BEYOND THE WORLD OF GAMING." “With Star Trek: Bridge Crew, I felt that hand tracking was super important,” Votypka explains. “But I also didn’t want to do floating hands; I wanted a full-body avatar. A limitation is that we don’t have elbow tracking. We can’t exactly tell where your elbows are. But we’ve made some really cool tech that will limit the positions of the player’s elbows so that it looks natural.” Despite elbow-tracking issues and the like posing challenges for developers, Votypka is confident that the VR experiences currently available to consumers are the real deal. “Virtual reality is kind of self-defining, right? The end goal is to create experiences that are virtually real. We’re not 100-percent there yet, but we’re at a point where we have enough that it’s engaging for the players.” Now that developers have the tools to create convincing, immersive, high-quality VR experiences for consumers, the conversation can finally shift from focusing on hardware limitations to exploring new hardware innovations. “A thing I think is probably coming in the next generation is facial expression recognition,” Votypka says. “There are headsets that
have been announced that do that. That, in a social game, would be awesome. For hand tracking, the headset makers know about the elbow problem, and they’re working on solutions for that. The more accurately we can track the upper body, the more convincing the multiplayer experience is going to be.” Votypka has been dreaming up different VR applications for years, and he’s only now seeing some of his old ideas come to fruition in the hands of his fellow creators. He recalls, “In the ‘90s, I thought, ‘I want to sit at the 50 yard line at a football game but be in my living room.’ That’s happened, which is amazing.” One VR experience Votypka is especially excited about is The Void, an immersive VR theme park based in Utah that seamlessly synchronizes custom VR experiences with physical, real-world environments and props, creating an unprecedented illusion of presence. Unlike the home VR experience, The Void allows you to walk around and explore and touch and feel. Heat lamps, fog machines, moving set pieces and a bevy of other interactive objects help create a sense of tactility that pushes the boundaries of VR further than ever before. It’s the definition of cutting-edge, and The Void plans to open hundreds of locations across the U.S. and around the world in the next few years. “The Void sounds awesome,” says Votypka. “I’d thought of the idea before, I haven’t tried it yet. I’m super excited to experience it. You’re walking around, you’re convinced there’s wind blowing in your face, you’re carrying a gun in your hand that matches what you’re doing in the game. That sounds awesome. We’re just scratching the surface right now.” The future of VR is blindingly bright, but the medium’s potential extends far beyond the DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM
In Star Trek: Bridge Crew, you'll be able to explore an uncharted sector of space known as The Trench.
world of gaming. VR has been used for documentary filmmaking, medical training, mental health treatment, and in a bevy of other fascinating ways. Filmatics, a production company based in Los Angeles, has been exploring ways to provide engaging narrative content in virtual reality. To accompany their horror VR short Eye for an Eye, they’ve created a traditional short film called Henrietta that adds its own layer of intrigue to the larger experience. “We love to do narrative, cinematic VR, with real actors, locations, and props, and we like to do transmedia,” says Elia Petridis, Filmatics founder and CEO. “We think VR experiences are more powerful if you have accessed the world through other forms of media first. If you watch Eye for an Eye, it’ll be great, but if you watch Henrietta first, it’ll mean a lot more to you.” Petridis and Filmatics’ larger aim, beyond creating compelling narrative VR content, is to help usher VR into the mainstream. “We
50 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
“I THINK IT WILL TAKE LONGER TO BECOME MASS MARKET THAN OTHERS SAY. BUT WHEN IT DOES, THE IMPACT WILL BE HUGE. IT'S LIKE MAGIC." – MAUREEN FAN, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO BAOBAB would like to make content that converts early adopters into a wider audience,” Petridis says. Helping lead the charge on the narrative VR front is Baobab Studios, whose VR comedy short Invasion! is available now on Gear VR and Oculus Rift and will be out shortly on HTC Vive and Playstation VR. Baobab co-founder and CEO Maureen Fan thinks mainstream penetration for VR is inevitable, and that the impact of the new technology will stretch out far beyond the games and entertainment industries. “I think it will take longer to become mass market than others say,” says Fan. “But when it does, the impact will be huge. It's like magic. And I'm not just talking about entertainment. It will change every industry - you can travel without getting on a plane. In school you can actually experience the Middle Ages or Ancient Greece. Surgeons
can train in VR rather than in life. They've already shown that VR can help people with nerve damage regain some movement.” The explosive popularity and potential of VR right now is mind-blowing. Twenty years ago, many of us, like Votypka, assumed VR was a dead-end concept. But now, with some of the biggest names in tech and entertainment throwing their hats into the ring, all signs point to VR becoming a permanent staple in the world of entertainment and beyond. “One of the most exciting things about it is that all of the big companies are supporting it,” says Votypka, whose games will be available on all major VR platforms when they’re released. “From Facebook buying Oculus to Sony getting into it, it continues to grow, and that gives consumers confidence that this is going to be the real thing.”
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were soon interpreted as hidden features. The Rosetta Stone of these glitches was undoubtedly the game’s unofficial 152nd Pokémon, MissingNo. Short for “Missing Number,” MissingNo was nothing more than a piece of game code used to register an error that occurred when the game tried to retrieve code for a non-existent Pokémon. The problem was that a relatively easy glitch in the game would cause MissingNo to appear as an actual Pokémon. Even better, an encounter with MissingNo would cause whatever item the player had in their sixth item slot to be substantially multiplied. Nintendo warned players about this potentially game-breaking glitch via an article in Nintendo Power that detailed the exact process of acquiring MissingNo, informing players of what to avoid. But all most players could hear was that there was a mysterious new Pokémon in the game capable of producing miracles. The discovery of MissingNo had two distinct effects on Pokémon’s burgeoning urban legend culture: On a prac-
A simple marketing ploy led to years of Pokmon obsession
n 1996, Satoshi Tajiri faced a dilemma. The Pokémon creator had just released Pokémon Red and Green in Japan, accomplishing his dream of creating a game that would allow kids to catch and trade bugs. However, he had also nearly bankrupted Game Freak, the company he formed to develop the game. The studio’s future was now dependent on the success of Pokémon. The problem was that Pokémon wasn’t selling well. Future CEO of The Pokémon Company Tsunekazu Ishihara would later comment that the slumping sales were due, in part, to Game Freak missing the holiday season with its February release of the game. According to an interview Ishihara gave to Nintendo.com, it was the “very worst time of year to release games.” In this crucial moment, Tajiri decided it was time to put his faith in a spare piece of debug code that programmer Shigeki Morimoto had converted into a hidden 151st Pokémon named Mew. Mew was only meant to be released as an “in case of emergency” publicity grab. As part of a promotion with CoroCoro magazine, Game Freak would give Mew to 20 lucky contest winners. What had started as a joke among the programmers had now become the studio’s Hail Mary. The gamble worked. The hype surrounding this mysterious Pokémon caused the game’s sales to skyrocket. Not long after the promotion started, Pokémon’s weekly sales figures began to equal its previous monthly sales numbers and, almost a year after their initial release, the games captured the No. 1 spot on the Japanese sales
charts for the first time. Soon after, those sales figures quadrupled. Why? Tajiri himself may have put it best in a 1999 interview with Time Asia: “Introducing a new character like that created a lot of rumors and myths about the game. It kept the interest alive.” Mew, however, was an intentionally designed in-game element with an air of mystery about him. He was a wink disguised as a rumor. His hype was a fire that Game Freak could control and use to propel the game to new heights of popularity. At least, that’s what the team thought. As it turned out, Game Freak had severely underestimated what opening the door to secrets within Pokémon would lead to. In the short term, it led to an increase in playground gossip regarding the secrets of Pokémon. As any child who has ever bought into the story that Sheng Long could be unlocked in Street Fighter II knows, the playground was, at best, a shaky source for video game information. Young gamers will always have a fondness for stretching the truth when swapping video game knowledge in order to capture the attention of their friends. What made this issue particularly curious in the era of Pokémon was that, often times, there was no real way for either the kids telling the story or the ones hearing it to verify the information. In a way, the biggest contributor to all this misinformation was actually the developer Game Freak. Game Freak may not have intentionally implemented additional secrets like Mew into Pokémon, but the relatively young development team’s ambitious design plans and duct tape coding tactics inadvertently led to an abnormal number of glitches that
BY MATTHEW BYRD
tical level, MissingNo alerted a small sect of gamers to how Pokémon’s basic programming functioned. With this knowledge in hand, players started unraveling the game’s code line by line. A few years after Pokémon’s release, these gamers formed some of the first online communities devoted to intentionally exploiting the mechanics of Pokémon to trigger certain actions. To this day, Pokémon remains a favorite in the speedrunning community simply because the game is filled with so many glitches that it offers a nearly infinite amount of shortcuts. MissingNo’s other effect on Pokémon fandom was a bit more mythical. To some, the existence of MissingNo made it so that no Pokémon tale could be immediately dismissed. After all, if something this ridiculous was possible, then who was to say what was real and what was not? This fascinating combination of faith and obsession led to the spread of a new batch of myths that, unlike Mew and MissingNo, had no basis in fact. How did these myths spread? Gaming magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly and Nintendo Power would post the latest gossip, but for the most part, these rumors continued to spread from player to player. Pokémon urban legends entered the arena of folklore. Today, there are still those who work to preserve the fan history of Pokémon’s myths and master their retelling. Ron Sroor is one such raconteur. His YouTube channel, Truegreen7, is devoted to exploring and celebrating nearly all things Pokémon, and, even though he was only five when the Pokémon phenomenon started to kick into gear, he remembers the mystique of the time well.
“In order to believe in the possibility of myths, I had to witness a legend come true,” Sroor says of the first time he encountered MissingNo. “It made me believe that there was more than just what was on the surface.” But Sroor also remembers the warnings that came with hunting down MissingNo and the game’s other myths. Rather than risk corrupting his game, Ron focused on a different aspect of the urban legends. “I was obsessed with theories more than myths,” says Sroor . “I loved the idea that Dittos were failed clones of Mews and that Gengar was the shadow of Clefable, both of which I still believe.” Of course, Sroor wasn’t completely immune to the charms of in-game exploits. He recalls pursuing nearly every legend that involved the use of certain button combinations which would guarantee a successful Pokémon catch. He describes these methods as the legends he most actively pursued and admits to “still mashing my buttons when catching a Pokémon to this very day.”
was a fake. Rather than lament the time lost in pursuit of the nonexistent secret lab, Samuel chooses to remember this endeavor more positively. “These myths were a way for the blind to lead the blind,” Jahangir says. “Except, the fun didn’t come from finding out a myth was true or false. Rather, the fun was in the journey and the discussions they would promote.” Jahangir’s sentiment is echoed by Sroor, as well. “The real world is full of mysteries and unknown locations. If a video game feels like it has a finite overworld and a limit to the encounters, then it doesn’t feel like real life,” says Sroor. “Pokémon was immersive because you never felt like you were at the end of your journey. These myths made it feel like Pokémon was real and ever expanding, and that still holds true.” Both of these Pokémon fans also acknowledge that the days of myth hunting are long gone. Like many, they attribute the fall of Pokémon urban legend culture to the rise of the internet. With an infinite amount of information at nearly everyone’s disposal, many modern gamers are able to debunk or prove a myth the moment they hear it.
"IT WAS A UNIQUE TIME IN GAMING HISTORY WHEN URBAN LEGENDS EXISTED TO BE ENJOYED RATHER THAN DEBUNKED." Some other Pokémon players, however, did pursue the more outlandish in-game rumors for themselves. Samuel Jahangir, a lifetime Pokémon fan and regular Pokémon community contributor, recalls one myth that became an obsession. “For me, the myths first arose on the playground,” Jahangir says. “One myth I was particularly fascinated by was accessing Giovanni and Team Rocket’s Secret Lab. According to the rumors, if you defeated the Elite Four 100 times, you would gain access to this Secret Lab. There, you would gain the ability to create your own Pokémon — from their types to their stats to their individual moves. More importantly, deep within the lab would be none other than Mewthree.” Jahangir set out to achieve those 100 victories, but stopped just short of triple digits when he discovered that the story
Yet, the players who lived through the age of Pokémon myths were able to experience something as special as the Pokémon games themselves. It was a unique time in gaming history when urban legends existed to be enjoyed rather than debunked. The pursuit of them was not the passion of a few dedicated players out to uncover a single mystery, but rather a global community that exchanged stories of impossible occurrences with glee. There is no secret laboratory in Pokémon. It doesn’t unlock if you’ve beaten the Elite Four 100 times or 1000 times. As the modern internet crowd is so fond of proving, that myth — and many others like it — is fake. Yet, these myths are a very real part of what makes Pokémon one of gaming’s greatest franchises.
AMAZING SPECIALS AT TITAN COMICS BOOTH #2142 ALSO... Pokémon’s Tallest Tales
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• There was a lone truck in the game that hid Mew. To acquire him, you either needed to push the truck out of the way or slash its tires.
SPECIAL CONVENTION EDITION!
• Your rival trainer’s Radicate was killed in an early battle, which is why you find him in a graveyard later in the game. • Bill’s Seaside Cottage housed a secret garden that contained everything from rare Pokémon to items that can’t be found anywhere else.
STAND ALONE CONVENTION SPECIAL WITH TWO COVERS!
• Magikarp’s seemingly useless splash attack had a 0.00001 percent chance of instantly defeating any Pokémon. • There was a haunted copy of Pokémon known as Pokémon Black that allowed players to kill other Pokémon in battle.
EXCLUSIVE CONVENTION COVER!
• Every starter Pokémon could be evolved into a fourth form through a series of elaborate methods. • The music in Lavender Town was reportedly changed after it caused some Japanese players to commit suicide. • Early promotional leaks of Pokémon Gold and Silver led players to believe that Pikachu could be evolved into a water Pokémon named Pikablu. • A hidden island that went by many names could be accessed if the player followed a detailed surfing pattern.
EXCLUSIVE CONVENTION COVER!
— NICK HARLEY
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• Every stone in the game could be used to evolve Eevee into different Pokémon types. Nintendo liked this one so much that they added it into later games.
DOCTOR WHO, TORCHWOOD AND SHERLOCK PANEL SAT 7.45-8.45PM ROOM: 1A21
WARHAMMER LIVESTREAM INTERVIEW THURS: 2:15-2:30PM NYCC LIVESTREAM STAGE
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HARD CASE CRIME LIVESTREAM INTERVIEW FRI: 12:45-1:00PM NYCC LIVESTREAM STAGE
FOR A FULL LIST OF SIGNINGS AND EVENTS VISIT TITAN BOOTH #2142 © Original series “Torchwood” created by Russell T Davis. ‘Torchwood’ and the Torchwood word marks, logos and devices are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under license. © Doctor Who, the Daleks, the Cybermen, TARDIS and all other characters and logos are trade marks of the BBC and are used under licence unless otherwise indicated. © 2016 Ubisoft Entertainment. All Rights Reserved. Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft, and the Ubisoft logo are trademarks of Ubisoft Entertainment in the U.S. and/or other countries. © Games Workshop Limited. All Rights Reserved. Dark Souls ™ & © BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc. /©FromSoftware, Inc. All rights reserved. Peepland © 2016 by Christa Faust and Gary Philips Triggerman © Rue de Sevres, Paris, 2016 ‘Hard Case Crime’ and the Hard Case Crime logo are trademarks of Winterfall LLC.
VIRTUAL REALITY VINDALOOP BY JOE JASKO South Park has had so many classic episodes in its 20-season run. Imagine if these four episodes became video games:
Towlie, a dried-up spooge rag, likely used his video game appearance fee to buy drugs.
But South Park isn’t an action thriller or a game show, or a competitive sport. Even if these were good games—and they aren’t—they don’t have much to do with South Park. The show is at its best when it uses crude humor to slyly dissect celebrity trends and pop culture. By contrast, aside from a few dirty jokes, Acclaim’s games played things completely straight. At a PlayStation 2 launch event, Stone admitted, “We’ve had really bad video games.” In an interview with Playboy, Parker was even more direct: “They’ve made all this shit and these video games that we hate.” For most of the 2000s, South Park stayed away from video games. A Grand Theft Auto-inspired open world game was cancelled early in development and would’ve remained completely unknown if a fan hadn’t discovered a prototype on an old Xbox development kit. Parker and Stone’s production company, South Park Digital Studios, found some success with the Xbox Live game South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play!, but that game was
WHEN SOUTH PARK GAMES WEREN’T SO KEWL
Believe it or not, there was a time when South Park wasn’t run by Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
ver the course of its 20-year run, South Park has won Emmys, a Peabody Award, and it was even nominated for an Oscar. But what are the show’s co-creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, most proud of ? Parker has said in interviews that he’s most gratified that they haven’t handed it off. Parker and Stone still voice almost all of the raunchy animated comedy’s main characters. Either Parker or Stone is listed as a writer on every single South Park installment. Parker has also directed or co-directed all but 15 of 267 episodes. South Park’s voice is Matt and Trey’s voice, so it’s hard to imagine the show without them. Hard, but not impossible. In the late ‘90s, a video game company called Acclaim cranked out a series of South Park games without Parker and Stone’s involvement. It went as well as you’d expect. 56 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
The show premiered in August 1997. By December 1998, it was everywhere. George Clooney, fresh off of his career-making run on ER, guest starred in episode four as Stan’s gay dog Sparky. The second season premiere, “Cartman’s Mom Is Still a Dirty Slut,” set the record for the highest-rated non-sports broadcast in basic cable history. In that climate, South Park video games seemed like a slam dunk. But Acclaim’s first effort, South Park for the Nintendo 64, wasn’t much more than Turok 2 with some South Park trappings and added fart noises. A few months later, Chef ’s Luv Shack mashed up South Park and Trivial Pursuit with classic arcade games. One developer joked that it was “the highest quality game you could get on the market in five months.” In 1999, South Park Rally dropped the show’s iconic characters into an uninspired Mario Kart knock-off.
BY CHRISTOPHER GATES
“AS THE PAST 20 YEARS HAVE SHOWN, IF IT’S NOT MATT AND TREY, IT’S JUST NOT SOUTH PARK”
praised more for its gameplay than its use of the South Park license. In 2009, Feargus Urquhart, CEO of Obsidian Entertainment and developer of Fallout: New Vegas and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II received a phone call from Parker and Stone. At first, Urquhart thought that the call was a prank. As it turns out, Parker and Stone really were on the line. They wanted to make a South Park role-playing game, and they wanted Obsidian to develop it. Obsidian got straight to work on a new game, and this time, Parker and Stone were involved every step of the way. Parker wrote the game’s 500-page script. South Park Digital helped design the characters and the environments, and funded the game’s early development, ensuring that the game met Parker and Stone’s rigorous standards. Despite some hiccups involving publishers, South Park: The Stick of Truth launched in 2014. On the surface, The Stick of Truth plays like a typical fantasy role-playing game, but as it progresses, the game carefully dismantles many of the genre’s most prevalent tropes. Character customization and the types of big moral choices that players make in games like Skyrim or Dragon Age don’t really matter. The exaggerated political drama of Game of Thrones and The Witcher 3 is reduced to petty playground squabbling. In other words, The Stick of Truth is a fun and authentic South Park experience—one that looks like it’s going to be replicated later this year when the sequel, the superhero-themed The Fractured but Whole, hits store shelves. Obsidian isn’t returning for this go-around, but Parker and Stone are just as involved as ever. That’s a good thing. After all, as the past 20 years have shown, if it’s not Matt and Trey, it’s just not South Park. South Park: The Fractured but Whole is due out in 2017 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
GOOD TIMES WITH WEAPONS
The season eight opener, “Good Times with Weapons,” contained every element needed for an outstanding South Park episode: a hysterical satire of anime action segments, Cartman’s topical “wardrobe malfunction,” and Butters with a ninja star in his eye. Imagine these intense imaginary battles between the boys, but reinvented as a Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom experience!
The scathing two-part “Cartoon Wars” saw the town of South Park butt heads with a newly emerging force in the world of cartoons: Family Guy. We’re not sure exactly what kind of game this would turn out to be, but if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that the team over in the Family Guy camp could sure use a few pointers when it comes to games. If you’ve played 2012’s Back to the Multiverse, then you know what we mean.
If there’s one thing that comes to mind when someone says South Park and “trilogy” in the same sentence, it’s the three-part season 11 epic, “Imaginationland.” The episodes saw the show’s creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, spewing creativity out of every orifice. Every kind of person, creature, and fairy tale beast imaginable gets thrown into the mix. This is a good case for a South Park sandbox game in the tradition of Minecraft.
MAKE LOVE, NOT WARCRAFT
And last but not least, we have the classic World of Warcraft-inspired episode, “Make Love, Not Warcraft.” In this epic look at WoW addicts, Stone and Parker actually teamed up with Blizzard Entertainment to help create portions of the episode as if they were actual gameplay segments from a World of Warcraft game itself! This episode is proof that the world deserves a South Park MMORPG.
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BEGINNER ’S G UI D E:
IF YOU LIKED THE IDEA OF DARREN ARONOFSKY’S THE FOUNTAIN BUT FOUND THE MOVIE IMPENETRABLE, YOU ARE PREACHING TO THE CHOIR. Also, try Wrath of the Eternal Warrior! It stars Gilad Anni-Padda, a (mostly) immortal warrior responsible for protecting the Geomancer, the constantly updating human voice of Earth. Wrath of the Eternal Warrior is the story of his latest return, and fleshes out Gilad’s backstory and life outside of reaving for the embodiment of the planet.
Read any of these comics and you’ll be hooked on one of our favorite superhero universes. BY JIM DANDY
ince its 2012 relaunch, Valiant has arguably been the most consistently entertaining publisher of superhero comics. It has a stable of talented creators, unique characters, and superheroes who operate in a variety of genres, making each book stand out in a crowded market. But it’s easy to be intimidated by Valiant’s catalog: While the company may not be as prolific as Marvel or DC, there’s still a lot of different comics to choose from. Fortunately, if you like superhero comics and you’re looking for an easy way to get into Valiant, we’ve got some suggestions for you.
IF YOU LIKE THE SUPERGIRL TV SHOW, TRY FAITH .
It’s got the aloof, super powerful being with a perspective beyond time as we experience it, and the narrative adjusts for that aloofness—just without the giant blue wang. Abram Adams is a black Soviet cosmonaut sent to explore deep space in the 1960s. What he finds is some craziness that gives him power over space and time, enabling him to experience a battle with present-day Unity (think Valiant’s Avengers) while simultaneously leaving loved ones behind in ‘60s Moscow. It’s beautiful work from artists Trevor Hairsine and David Baron, and a remarkable blockbuster cape comic from writer Matt Kindt. The follow up, Divinity II, is a philosophical dialogue on the importance of kindness and the butterfly effect. The final volume of the trilogy is due out in December 2016, and in the tradition of its predecessors, I expect it to be a meditation on fate and the storytelling process.
Jody Houser, Frances Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage’s Faith takes all the great stuff about Kara from the Supergirl TV show and plants her at the center of one of the most entertaining shared universes in comics. Faith Herbert is a psiot (think mutant) with the ability to fly. She writes listicles for a web aggregator as her day job, occasionally pretending to be a journalist to further her goal of helping people with the powers she loves having, as Zephyr. She’s basically Superman with updated trappings and a lot of joy.
IF YOU LIKE CYBERPUNK, CHECK OUT RAI .
IF YOU THOUGHT ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK NEEDED MORE ZOMBIES, TRY BLOODSHOT USA .
Matt Kindt’s story about class divisions and weird technology in an orbiting New Japan 2,000 years in the future and the crossover it spawned (4001), has been great. But read one arc of Rai, and I promise that when someone asks you to think of a cyberpunk future, the second thing that will pop into your head is Clayton Crain’s incredible designs, staggering scope, and the casual grime and shadow he peppers into this world. The first will be the humid shittiness from Blade Runner, but there’s not much we can do to dislodge that.
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Ray Garrison is a soldier whose blood is suffused with nanites that enable him to regenerate from any wound and give him a variety of powers. Prior Bloodshot stories have looked at how a functionally immortal being could love, or how violence screws with a man’s mind. In Bloodshot USA, the entire island of Manhattan gets infected with the same nanites, so presumably this is going to be a joyous bloodbath.
ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF VALIANT ENTERTAINMENT
IF YOU LIKE DR. MANHATTAN, CHECK OUT DIVINITY .
IF YOU WANT TO SEE WHAT VALIANT’S SECRETLY BEST AT, READ A&A: ARCHER & ARMSTRONG . Valiant consistently publishes the funniest superhero comics around. It started with the predecessor to this book, Archer & Armstrong, which paired Gilad’s immortal brother, a drunk who likes to fight, with a teenage boy raised to be the chief assassin for a fundamentalist Christian cult that lives in a creationist amusement park. It continued with Quantum & Woody and The Delinquents, and ran through Ivar, Timewalker (secretly the best romantic comedy ever). Now, Archer and Armstrong have returned as headliners, and Rafer Roberts, an indie cartoonist with great timing, is paired with David LaFuente, an artist with expressive faces and vibrant body language perfect for nailing comic comedy, making this the funniest comic regularly published.
IF YOUR FAVORITE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER IS LEX LUTHOR, MAGNETO, DOCTOR DOOM, OR AMANDA, YOU NEED TO READ IMPERIUM .
IF YOU’RE HOOKED, BUT YOU’RE STILL ONLY A BOOK OR TWO INTO THE VALIANT UNIVERSE, YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY GRAB A COPY OF THE VALIANT .
Toyo Harada is the most powerful psiot on the planet. He has spent the majority of his life secretly shaping human society in an attempt to create the utopia that he believes himself uniquely capable of leading. Until his cover was blown, at which point he said “fuck it” and took over half of Somalia to use as his base to openly continue the work he had been doing in secret under the guise of the Harbinger Foundation. The team that writer Joshua Dysart and artists Doug Brathwaite, Kano, Cafu, and Juan Jose Ryp assembled around Harada is often compared to DC’s Legion of Doom, but that’s not entirely accurate. The Legion of Doom was a gaggle of lunatics, sociopaths, and thieves led by Lex Luthor’s singular vision. Imperium is populated by some awful people—Angela Peace Baingana, a woman possessed by an extradimensional sadist, and Lord Vine-99, a sentient plant assassin. But there’s no one in the Legion of Doom like Sunlight-on-Snow, the former Mech Major, whose AI developed deep compassion and a strong moral compass. Harada is less Luthor and more Dr. Doom or Black Adam: a brutal dictator, but one who provides for his people so long as they obey his commands. He’s a fascinating comic book despot, which makes Imperium one of the best political thrillers in comics.
What Valiant does best is scale: not just in its publishing model, in which it never overextends its characters or talent; but in the storytelling, too. The company kicked off its fourth year by bringing all of its characters together for a huge crossover that retooled the entire line. Kindt and Jeff Lemire, two of the best writers at Valiant, co-wrote the crossover - with interiors from Paolo Rivera. The result was the best comic Valiant has published yet. It’s a smart, clever, immaculately-paced action blockbuster with brilliant artwork. It also spawned a wave of excellent comics (Ivar, Bloodshot Reborn, Imperium) and led directly into another excellent crossover (Book of Death). The Valiant is the kind of high-level line-wide rework that Marvel and DC wish they could imitate.
IF YOU WANT TO START AT THE BEGINNING, ANY VALIANT BOOK IS A SAFE BET.
If it’s an ongoing series, the first volume is only $9.99. You’re pretty much stealing from them, so I promise you’ll feel like you got a good value for your money.
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THE OTHER FACE OF
OF THE WEEK
Why Black Mask Studios is the comics publisher you need to read. BY JIM DANDY
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Space Riders is like falling asleep reading the work of cartoonist R. Crumb, listening to prog rock, and having a fever. Seriously, Space Riders is great. Black Mask’s 2016 slate is even more diverse: Jade Street Protection Services by Katy Rex and Fabian Lelay is about a group of magical girl warrior misfits getting in trouble at their magical girl warrior school, and discovering something sinister about their teachers. Tyler Boss and Matthew Rosenberg’s hilarious 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is an immediate classic — the first issue hooks readers with its note-perfect depiction of suburban adolescence. The Skeptics from Tini Howard and Devaki Neogi is about the U.S. government trying to bullshit their way through a superhero arms race with the Soviet Union in the 1960s. A trans and a bi woman team up as space bounty hunters in Kim and Kim from Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera, and Claudia Aguirre. Black Mask is also publishing Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, and Khary Randolph’s overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter comic (it tripled its goal) BLACK. It’s a story that explores what would happen if only black people could have superpowers. Aside from BLACK’s creative team, with their exceptional resumés, the unifying concept behind these books is that they’re all from fairly new creators breaking in from webcomics or Deviantart, with a handful of published works behind them. The diversity of experience and background that informs the stories they’re telling helps add depth to the worlds they build. Visaggio is herself trans. BLACK is expressly political, opening on a young black man being shot to death by police. There is no shortage of women on the company’s creative roster. Black Mask's rapid rise is of course due to the quality of the comics they're publishing right now, but the diversity of its creators, with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, bears a large responsibility for that quality. BOOTH NUMBER: 2161
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rom the very start, Black Mask Studios wanted to be different. Founded in 2012 by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), Matt Pizzolo (Godkiller), and Brett Gurewitz (guitarist and songwriter for Bad Religion), Black Mask was created as a small, transmedia press company that would disrupt traditional comic distribution models. The publisher would connect readers directly to their books in any way they could, be it through trade paperbacks or the rapidly growing digital market. Somewhere along the way, though, the distribution model stopped being the story and the actual content caught fire. Black Mask stayed on the front lines of distribution while also publishing the types of comics other companies wouldn't put in their schedules and fostering talent their competition couldn’t be bothered to develop. Every publisher, whether they like it or not, has their niche. Marvel and DC have their superhero comics; BOOM! is all about all-ages books; IDW has its licenses; even Image is the prestige “HBO” of the industry. These characterizations are usually unfair, but more than anyone else, Black Mask has been willing to subvert its own identity as a publisher in favor of promoting the books and their creators. That trend started with their 2015 slate. Young Terrorists was Matt Pizzolo and Amancay Nahuelpan’s grimy story about globalization, the financial system, and militarization — the kind of book you’d expect from the company who published Occupy Comics. Space Riders, from Alexis Ziritt and Fabian Rangel Jr., asked the question: “What if Jack Kirby wrote psychedelic stories for Heavy Metal?” We Can Never Go Home was Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Josh Hood’s raw coming-of-age tale that only happened to include super powers. There is a punk tone to all of these — which makes sense coming from a company founded by a punk guitarist — but that is just about the only common ideological underpinning they had. Young Terrorists is broad and aggressively political; We Can Never Go Home is quiet and personal; and
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A MOVIE FAN’S GUIDE TO
DOCTOR STRANGE COMICS Before you see Doctor Strange in theaters, let these comics introduce you to Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme! BY MARC BUXTON
here have been some mind-bending Doctor Strange stories over the years, and many redefined the very boundaries of the Marvel Universe. Stephen Strange has faced Lovecraftian monsters, vampires, satanic cults, demons, elder gods, werewolves, creatures from the Nightmare realm, and other things that go bump in the night. With Doctor Strange set to hit theaters on Nov. 4, we’ve compiled an easy guide to get you primed for the weirdness.
DOCTOR STRANGE EPIC COLLECTION VOLUME 3: A SEPARATE REALITY Doctor Strange comics got seriously metaphysical with Steve Englehart, Frank Brunner, and Gene Colan. In one of their stories, Strange witnesses the birth of a new big bang when a mystic being by the name of Sise-Neg builds a second Marvel Universe. In addition to his biblical creation, Sise-Neg builds a paradise for the first two humans on Earth and protects it from the serpent-like Shuma-Gorath while raining destruction down on the Marvel Universe’s Sodom and Gomorrah. Essentially, Englehart and Brunner had the balls to make one of their characters God.
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DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin should have been the defining team of the good Doctor’s modern era. The Oath is an exploration of Strange as a man, wizard, and physician, as he desperately seeks a cure for trusted confidant Wong’s brain cancer. Vaughan displays the same skills at drama, humor, and world-building that he would later utilize as the writer of Saga while Martin’s visuals combined the eeriness of Gene Colan with the imaginative scope of Steve Ditko. The Oath is a Doctor Strange primer: a series that finds everything special about the character and pushes it into the modern Marvel Universe. Any fan interested in just how awesome this character can be should carefully study every panel.
DOCTOR STRANGE VOL. 1: THE WAY OF THE WEIRD Since 2015, writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo have been weaving an incredible spell, making Doctor Strange the must-read book of Marvel’s entire line. “Way of the Weird” really humanizes the character by showing readers the price Strange pays for keeping the world safe — consequences like not being able to eat real food because his body rejects anything non-magical. Details like that make this series so special. And, oh, the artwork! Chris Bachalo creates a tapestry of images worthy of the visual language conjured by Steve Ditko so long ago. Aaron and Bachalo play the hits, explore many of Strange’s classic foes, and introduce some new threats, as well. If the Doctor Strange film is half as fantastical, witty, and intense as this book, then by the Great Vishanti, fans are going to be in for a magical treat when it opens this fall.
ALL COVERS COURTESY OF MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT. PHOTO COURTESY OF DISNEY/MARVEL STUDIOS.
DOCTOR STRANGE OMNIBUS VOL. 1 These early Doctor Strange stories are filled with Stan Lee’s bombastic prose, but it’s artist Steve Ditko who really shines. Most fans know Ditko from his superb work on Spider-Man, but his true masterpiece is Doctor Strange. Filtered through Ditko’s pencil is a metaphysical adventurer who is as comfortable in hellish mindscapes as he is in his Greenwich Village apartment. Ditko’s renderings of the realms and realities Strange travels to are chilling in their otherworldliness. The villains are wild-eyed and desperate, a sense of madness and forbidden knowledge radiating from their skillfully-rendered frames. These early stories are like surreal, twisted films with infinite budgets. It’s here that readers meet Stephen Strange, Baron Mordo, and The Ancient One for the first time. The boundaries of reality are bent, and a multiverse of opportunities is born.
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ONE LAST THOUGHT
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Far Beyond the Stars" is an example of what's possible with a longer season order.
A long season shouldn’t be an indicator of inferior TV storytelling. BY KAYTI BURT
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of storytelling that is distinctly televisual. I’m not talking about the 22-episode, hyper-formulaic show that resets itself almost without fail at the end of every episode. I’m talking about the something in-between, the format pioneered by iconic genre shows like The X-Files or Deep Space Nine, where mythology arcs are mixed with standalone installments— where character rules all, and plot is the thing that writers’ rooms stretch around it, not always sure what shape it will take. Star Trek is the perfect case study for this conversation. It has lived through many eras of TV storytelling—heck, it has created many of the rules of what is possible on TV. And, when it comes to the Star Trek example, it feels like we possibly lose something inherently Trek when we cut the episode order in half. It feels like we lose something inherently televisual. Sure, we hopefully avoid episodes like Deep Space Nine’s silly “Move Along Home”—you know, the one with the space hopscotch. But we also risk losing standalone episodes like the magnificent “Far Beyond the Stars”—the one that sees the DS9 crew as a group of human science fiction writers living out their lives in 1950s New York City. In the place of the mediocre-to-bad character-driven standalones, we get mediocre-to-bad highly-serialized installments. One format is not inherently better than the other—though one does have a rich history in the television form…
"IN AN ERA OF NETFLIX ORIGINAL CONTENT, WE ARE LOSING A FLAVOR OF STORYTELLING THAT IS DISTINCTLY TELEVISUAL." Much of what is considered the shiniest of contemporary golden age TV is wrapped up in our understanding of the cinematic versus the televisual. We tend to judge film as a higher art form than TV (just as, before, we judged theater as a higher artform than film). As cinematic techniques, talent, and structures bleed into the TV world, we think of the more cinematic TV as the “better” TV. Does it look like cinema—i.e. Game of Thrones? Is it formatted like cinema, with an emphasis on tightly-crafted plot with a definitive beginning and end—i.e. True Detective? Can we watch it all at once, like we do our movies—i.e. Jessica Jones? Good storytelling is possible in any format. I don’t think the 22-episode season is going to disappear tomorrow, but I do think we too often devalue its existence. What kind of storytelling do we devalue when we discredit the 22-episode season? I’ll leave you to continue the discussion, New York Comic Con.
n celebration of the Star Trek 50th anniversary, I’ve been rewatching the various Trek series as I eagerly await Star Trek: Discovery, which premieres in May. This process has me thinking a great deal about season length and the fact that almost every season of every live-action Star Trek show contains 22 to 26 episodes. The first season of the new series, a highly-serialized effort, will clock in at just 13 episodes. This announcement has, for the most part, been met with approval—and I understand where it’s coming from. In many ways, the 22-episode season length is a vestige of a bygone era, an arbitrary number that has less and less to do with the TV industry of today. Naysayers point to the unfocused, mediocre episodes a 22-episode season structure often produces as proof that a potential reduction in episode count would be a good thing. The Age of the Open-Ended TV Serial is over. Long live the Age of the Highly-Serialized Plot Arc. The thing is: The long-form, open-ended TV serial also makes great experimentation and character-driven standalone episodes possible—the kind of TV-specific storytelling that is getting less and less of a chance as we move further into the world of highly-serialized, miniseries-like “seasons.” In an era of Netflix original content that favors the One Big Story format, and one in which cinema has more and more of an effect on the TV world, we are losing a flavor
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