While many nonviolent offenders have been released due to COVID-19, President Trump has pardoned a rogues gallery of supervillainy. He’s put maleficent metahumans, supernatural sadists, and lavish lunatics back on the streets.
It started when Trump granted clemency to the serial killer Cletus Kasady from a life sentence at the Ravencroft Institute. Kasady is a host to an alien symbiote known as Carnage. Trump reasoned the symbiote held the key to curing the corona virus. Carnage escaped. Trump released Killer Croc from Belle Reve Penitentiary, reasoning Croc’s regressive atavism held the key to curing the corona virus. Croc escaped. Trump freed the Joker from Arkham Asylum, reasoning the Joker’s blood contaminated with the Titan disease held the key to curing the corona virus and… you see the pattern.
Trump’s attention then shifted to supervillains with accelerated healing.
He brokered the extradition of Sabretooth from the island nation of Genosha. He released Dr. Victor Von Doom, Dr. Michael Morbius, and Dr. Nathaniel Essex from the Raft Prison Maximum Security Prison. He released the Juggernaut from the Vault beneath the Rockies, Solomon Grundy from a bubble orbiting the Earth, Taskmaster from the Negative Zone, and General Zod from the Phantom Zone.
The White House maintains every pardon was to help fight COVID-19, but the House Intelligence Committee believes they were part of an elaborate effort to bury one particular pardon.
The Penguin is back on the streets of Gotham
This Friday, President Trump commuted the sentence of former adviser Oswalt Cobblepot, the aspiring aristocrat turned monocle modeling mobster known as the Penguin.
Cobblepot was convicted on seven charges including:
intimidating federal witnesses with a cassowary (a giant bird capable of severing limbs with a single stroke of its talon).
fitting hummingbirds with surveillance equipment to spy on political opponents.
wrapping a political rival in tree bark and setting woodpeckers on him.
converting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology into a weapons facility.
accepting Fabergé eggs from the Russian government.
exchanging carrier pigeons with WikiLeaks.
And riding an ostrich down Pennsylvania Avenue.
When Robert Mueller investigated electoral interference from Planet Apokolips, he indicted several members of Trump’s cabinet. Cobblepot was the most defiant, publicly denouncing the charges, “I don’t give a hoot what allegations this court of owls regurgitates. They’re vultures picking at the First Amendment. Mueller is quack bureaucrat parroting the dodos on capitol hill.”
One such dodo was top House Democratic Apokolips investigator Rep. Adam Schiff. Schiff grilled Cobblepot throughout his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
“Yes or no, did the Trump campaign correspond with the extraterrestrial tyrant known as Darkseid?”
“There is no evidence there was collusion.”
“What about the Omega Beam burns throughout the remains of the Clinton estate?”
“What about Mother Box plugged into Trump’s teleprompter?”
“What about the president’s personal parademon security detail?”
While Schiff wasn’t able to crack the Penguin on the stand, Mueller’s charges stuck. It wasn’t long until Cobblepot was confined to his own private aviary in Blackgate Penitentiary.
The Penguin sprung the coop
This Friday Cobblepot waddled out of prison in his signature top hat, purple paisley vest, and coat tails. He modeled his ensemble for the press. “I thought you’d all like to see a Neil Richards original up close.”
The reporters were quick to flock around him.
“Vicki Vale, Gotham Gazette, does this mean the president has forgiven all of your past crimes?”
Cobblepot screwed a cigarette holder into his lips. “What crimes?”
“You programed an army of penguins to bomb the city.”
“That didn’t stick. I was illegally detained by a vigilante.”
“Lois Lane, Daily Planet, are you concerned your release might reignite interest in the Apokolips investigation?”
Cobblepot opened his umbrella. “The bird-brained Apokolips Hoax is coming to an end and the buzzards behind it are fleeing the nest. Parademons can smell fear and I have no doubt they’re coming for the members House Intelligence Committee.”
He flicked a switch on his umbrella and a foothold jut out from the bottom. The umbrella spun until the canopy broke off and the frame became a set of helicopter blades. The Penguin bid the press adieu and flew to his penthouse above the Iceberg Longue in Washington D.C.
When director Zack Snyder released a photo of Ben Affleck, looking somber in the new Bat suit, Photoshop savvy netizens inserted him into sorrowful scenarios, and the Sad Batman meme was born.
When the studio released a photo of Superman from Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice they put rain droplets in the foreground, preventing enterprising satirists from developing yet another meme. They underestimated the power of Photoshop. May I present Sad Superman: cut out, with the droplets removed, and polished to perfection. I even threw in a colored version Sad Batman, with feet and a cape I’d added on.
Copy the PNG files and send these characters out on your own adventures.
To see more of the crazy things I’ve done with Sad Batman, take a look at my article on the perils of Living with Batman Syndrome, and don’t forget to check out my Design Gallery to see other comic book and movie parodies.
An Obsessive Hellblazer Fan Reviews the New Adaptation
I’ve seen the Constantine pilot months before its October 24 premiere on NBC. As someone who owns every issue of John Constantine: Hellblazer, someone who’s been following the series for twenty years, someone who took his long locks to the barbershop, pointed to the cover of a comic book and said, “This,” I think I’m the right guy to review it.
Laying low in Ravenscar Asylum, recovering demonologist John Constantine is trying to put the past behind him. Strapping himself in for electroshock, he’s desperate to wipe away the memory of an exorcism gone wrong. When a spirit possesses a patient, to make a mixed media mural with paint and cockroaches, John stops kidding himself. The writing’s on the wall and it’s spelt out a name.
Liv Aberdine is having car trouble. The anti-crash system is convinced there’s someone behind her vehicle. Crossing the lot, she’s nearly swallowed in a sinkhole explosion. That’s when Constantine, sidestepping the 14 hour trip from Ravenscar to Atlanta, hops out of a cab. He’s under orders by the ghost of Liv’s father to protect her, which he does by giving her his card and leaving her to walk alone.
Sliding into the sinkhole, John meets Manny, the angel of vague leading statements. Swooping down to prophesize how eventful the legions of hell will make the series, Manny tells John that he’s going to need his help in a fight, before fleeing at the sound of sirens.
Liv meets with John after a friend in her complex is murdered. Their conversation is cut short when the same friend’s reanimated corpse crashes into her office.
John teaches Liv the art of seeing dead people, with the help of her father’s magic amulet. The pair venture to her father’s hideaway (the set piece we’ll probably be seeing over the life of the series) where they find a library of enchanted objects.
Consulting an ancient text for information on electric apparitions (Benjamin Franklin harnessed lightning in 1752 so the age of the text is debatable), John realizes they’re dealing with a demon named Furcifer. Fur, as in wool, Cifer, as in Louis C-fifer (names are always tough for writers).
Manny returns to play the metatron of forced exposition, telling John he might be able to win his way out of hell with good behavior, something John was doing despite Manny’s divine intervention.
John consults Ritchie Simpson, a techie who uses buzzwords like “data-mining,” to help him hack a power grid.
Using Liv as bait, Constantine tricks Furcifer into breaching a weak protection circle, only to become vulnerable when Ritchie cuts the power. Conjuring up a manifestation of Astrid, Furcifer let’s the audience know that this is the carrot the series intends to dangle over our heads. When Astrid is revealed to be a psychic forgery, John dispatches the demon with a series of vague spiritual incantations.
Using her father’s amulet to “scry,” Liv bleeds onto a map of the United States, finding people in peril, setting up future episodes.
John is Great
Fans of Hellblazer will be happy to know the show runners are drawing their inspiration from the original series, ignoring the 2005 movie, and the New 52’s take on the character. This version of John uses spells and incantations, rather than a crucifix-shaped shotgun. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him getting kicked out of the Batmobile for smoking, or dressing up as Shazam.
In this universe, John is a Brit, Chas is an adult, John’s original sin is not a botched suicide attempt, but Astrid’s exorcism. The pilot even teases series mainstays Newcastle and the First of the Fallen.
The Constantine in the pilot I saw smoked, he never put a cigarette to his lips, but he put one out in an ash tray. This doesn’t bother me. I don’t need to see John blow smoke rings in every episode, but I’m glad they left the lung cancer plot line on the table.
I’m not one of those fan boys that demands dogmatic adherence to the source material. I don’t care if John is a bleached blond, wearing a thin tie, and tan trench coat, what I do care about is the spirit of the character, that’s what they get right here.
Matt Ryan, the man who helped redeem the Assassin’s Creed franchise (voicing Edward Kenway in Black Flag), nails the character. Smirking in the face of evil, he’s charismatic, cocksure, with a hint of cowardice. He’s an underdog with swagger, with the iconic look of Tim Bradstreet’s Hellblazer covers. Matt Ryan is everything the 2005 movie was missing.
It will be hard to imagine Guillermo Del Toro doing the rumored Justice League Dark movie with another actor.
WHAT NEEDS WORK:
In addition to being an über Hellblazer fan, I also have a professional background in script analysis. I liked the pilot, but I want this series to last. These things will need work if it’s going to do that.
The Supporting Characters
The show runners got John’s character down, but everyone else feels flat. There are too many tropes filling in for the supporting cast, IOUs where characterization and compelling goals should be.
As a True Blood fan, I know Lucy Griffiths can be great on screen. Here she feels like she’s reprising Rachel Weisz’s character from the 2005 feature. Liv is a Jill-everywoman, destined to be out shined by her leading man. My fear is that the series bible just has the words “Noble, stoic,” and “headstrong” next to her character.
I want to see her take on an argumentative role, be the Agent Scully to Constantine’s Mulder.
As a Lost fan, I know Harold Perrineau has a broader range than he’s allowed to show here. Here’s to hoping the angel Manny has more dimensions than a tool for exposition. I’d love to see him visit other conjurers, hedging his bets.
Pacing is a Problem
Breakneck speed isn’t good when you have to rubberneck to follow the plot. Here’s to hoping the scene count goes down in future episodes. Horror needs a slower burn to reach a boiling point. The jump scares go by so fast that we shrug them off.
The pilot rushes through a series of events, but it fails to connect them. Liv is attacked by an electricity demon AND THEN she meets John Constantine who tells her she’s in danger AND THEN John investigates a sinkhole AND THEN an angel appears to tell him of the rising demon legion. Are you sensing a pattern? There are far too many AND THEN’s in place of BUTs and THEREFOREs. Future episodes need a better balance between cause and effect.
Apart from Constantine’s lines, which have just the right mix of British slang and quick wit, the banter left a lot to be desired. It reminded me of watching ABC’s Elementary, Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Homes is great, but the show defaults to a cheap cop drama whenever he’s not on screen.
The Blood Map
The blood map is too convenient. These dots across the US are a weaker plot device than the visions from the Powers that Be on Angel, John Winchester’s paper trail on Supernatural, and the machine on Person of Interest. The days of syndicated reruns are long gone, this is a series that needs to follow the model of serialization. The blood map sets up a standalone structure.
As moviegoers we’ve seen our share of white-eyed stretch-marked possession victims. Show us something this summer’s Deliver Us from Evil isn’t bringing.
The demons lacked imagination. Rather than look to the horned goat-legged etchings that every show like Sleepy Hollow draws from, I implore the show runners to check out Joel-Peter Witkin, the photographer who inspired the creatures in Jacob’s Ladder, Dave Mckean, the Sandman cover artist, or even the creature design in the Silent Hill video games. Horns and hooves are so last century, now it’s all about disfiguring abnormalities.
We measure our hero’s worth by their opposition, based on these monsters, John isn’t long for our TV screens. He needs worthy opponents, foes that play him against other demons. In the books, the denizens of hell are territorial, feuding mob families using John as an unwilling go between. Hellblazer has more in common with The Big Sleep than The Exorcist, the show runners should play with that.
John tricks demons into fleeing, playing one faction against the other. There are hints of this in the pilot, but nothing like a proper grift.
In the comics, Constantine’s spells have a dark poetry to them, combining charms, vices, and every day house hold items.
In the pilot he shouts esoteric gibberish. Why does Constantine need to recite a greatest hits of the world’s religions? At one point he says, “By the star of David I command you?”
If the show runners are afraid to go full-Latin-exorcism, then they need to modernize John’s methods. Have him bluff his way through a spell, making up a curse using things tacked to the wall, like a warped homage to The Usual Suspects. Have him use the MacGyver method, building an emergency talisman with objects he has on hand.
It’s Too Soft
The pilot is a PG outing. There’s no way you’ll mistake it for premium cable offerings like Penny Dreadful, True Blood, or Salem. Even by network standards, this is tepid horror. The X-Files conjured up more frightening demons. We’re told Astrid was ripped apart by Nergal, but we see him use a telekinetic tractor beam to gently tug her into a light.
Relying on the same makeup and effects we always see, the spirits are more cartoony than scary. Constantine needs to distinguish itself from shows like Grimm. The show runners should take a page from their network sibling Hannibal and go harder.
The pilot is worth watching, but our screens are over saturated with supernatural horror. The series needs to establish a unique identity. The mysteries should ride out longer, here John just opens a book and knows he’s dealing with Furcifer. They need to take time to develop the characters.
I’d like to write a spec script for Constantine. Drafting my own episode, I’d lower the seen count, the locations, and the effects budget. Hell, in some of the best Constantine stories, he’s just tied to a chair. I’d start there.
I went ahead and wrote an original Constantine story called Gambling with Souls. My take on the character emphasizes his skill for con artistry in the face of evil. It’s hardcore horror with a dark sense of humor. Check it out.