WEEK IN GEEK: This week, it’s a dive into the Fall tv shows that both our hosts were excited to see as Andrew watches the first episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats: Reloaded while D. Bethel reacts to the first three episodes of the second season of The Gifted.
GAMES WORKERS UNITE: In the wake of massive layoffs by developers like Telltale Games and Riot Games, The Vulture published an article under the auspice of being a “behind the scenes” look at Red Dead Redemption 2‘s development at Rockstar Games. The article sparked a lot of controversy, specifically around the (walked back) claim of the team working 100-hour weeks multiple times during 2018 to make sure this game is top of the line in terms of quality. These incidents bring again a highlight to the labor practices of game development, through which D. and Andrew try to wade.
A MARVELOUS MONSTER: After a long gestation and some delays, Disney has officially acquired 20th Century Fox assets, comprising of Fox’s film and tv properties. This means everything from the Alien franchise to Bob’s Burgers and even The Simpsons are now owned by Disney. Of course, for comic book fans and fans of comic book movies, the biggest part of this deal means that the X-Men and the Fantastic Four film rights are now under Disney/Marvel control. But it’s a much bigger––and more complicated––deal than just the superhero franchises and make some people a little nervous.
WHAT NINTENDON’T: Emulation software has been on the internet for at least twenty years at this point, allowing people to download and play often near-perfect versions of games from the NES, SNES, and many other classic consoles. While playing emulated games have always been legally murky, Nintendo’s big legal smackdown of a few emulator and ROM sites in particular have really shaken the whole community in more ways than one.
ANNOUNCEMENEWSBLASTCAST: Instead of focusing on their respective Weeks in Geek or having an extended conversation, Andrew and D. decide to cover a lot of news that dropped this week including the trailer to season 2 of Marvel/Netflix’s Jessica Jones, 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool 2 trailer, the reveal of the video-game-based-on-a-tabletop-game-based-on-a-tabletop-card-game, Sentinels of Freedom, the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons lorebook, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, and the passing of John Mahoney.
Marvel announced yesterday that it would be tapping into the dramatic podcast medium––citing popular true crime NPR podcasts, Serial and S-Town, as specific inspirations––using one of its most iconic superhero characters, Logan (as Wolverine), set to debut in the spring.
According to the press release, the 10-episode series, titled Wolverine: The Long Night, will be a crime narrative with Logan (voiced by British actor, Richard Armitage, most recently known for his role as Thorin in The Hobbit films) not as the protagonist but as the focus of a criminal investigation by a pair of detectives:
It follows agents Sally Pierce (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and Tad Marshall (Ato Essandoh) as they arrive in the fictional town of Burns, Alaska, to investigate a series of murders and quickly discover the town lives in fear of a serial killer. The agents team up with deputy Bobby Reid (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) to investigate their main suspect, Logan (Richard Armitage). Their search leads them on a fox hunt through the mysterious and corrupt town.
The podcast series will be a timed exclusive to users of the podcast aggregator and broadcaster, Stitcher, but only to those who subscribe to its premium services, and then only until fall 2018, after which it will be widely distributed. It’s an interesting and rather safe experiment with the debut being locked behind a paywall, but it will undoubtedly bring new listeners (and new premium subscribers) to the already prominent podcast-streaming website. In theory, if The Long Night does not perform well, then at least it died in front of a relatively small and curated audience.
The teaming with Stitcher pulls some interest as it will undoubtedly guide a lot of fan attention toward the service, a service which has been under scrutinyabout its business practices before. But since the deal is about timed exclusivity and doesn’t seem to be a production partnership, skeptical podcast fans need only to wait six months to listen using their preferred services. It is interesting that rabid fans won’t be able to simply download the episodes directly from Marvel at the outset, which possibly speaks to the fact that Marvel may be hedging their confidence until they see its success.
The prospect of an audio dramatized version of comic book characters isn’t wholly new––characters such Superman and the noir hero The Shadow were staple radio plays back during the medium’s heyday––but the podcast angle is new and seemingly novel. However, podcast-based audio drama is in a veritable renaissance currently, and this move is a logical, albeit a relatively safe, step. Disregarding the commercial availability of audio dramas through companies like Big Finish, fictional podcast dramas have had many iterations and successes through the years, with productions like The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Homecoming, and Welcome to Night Vale having been around for awhile to varying degrees of popularity (with Welcome to Night Vale being the standout from this list).
However, like NPR diving head-first into the podcast medium with Serial (it had been podcasting its broadcast shows, but Serial was its first main effort to produce a podcast from scratch), Marvel’s entry into dramatized podcasting could produce a similar effect, especially using one of its most popular, vexing, and mysterious characters. Logan’s past is a game of retcon darts where anything can be added if it’s thrown hard enough at the board. This canonical malleability makes Logan a logical candidate for a short experiment such as this and likely explains (in the only rational way) why Marvel would not use the current Wolverine in the form of Laura Kinney as the star of this series. With Logan as the focus of their first foray into this new medium (which will directly follow his return to the Marvel universe), if The Long Night succeeds it could really raise the visibility of podcast dramas in the eyes of a wider audience just as Serial did for its user base.
Overall, this seems like a promising project. Written by Ben Percy, a veteran comics writer though one whose résumé is filled with mostly DC credits, it’s emboldening to see this project hire a person already comfortable writing in a serialized format with superhero characters, even if this story will be (and I apologize for using the heavily flogged descriptor) grounded and a bit more subdued. Some may wonder if Fox is involved, but––if I’m correct––this venture doesn’t need any approval nor collaboration with the owners of the film and TV rights to the property. At the time those contracts were signed, new media was probably not part of the deal and, in theory, Fox could do something similar with its filmic version of the characters. As it is, Wolverine: The Long Night is tied to the comic book version of the character rather than extending from the cinematic interpretation. This distinction will surely please the fans yearning for a non-comic book adaptation of the mutants that are separate from version seen from Fox.
The unfolding of this project will be intriguing as it could possibly open up an entire new medium to not only its fans but new fans who may have been unable to fully enjoy other iterations of superheroes, such as those with visual impairments. While audio drama may be viewed as an old or outdated medium, audio books have never been more popular. Even audio book services like Audible are producing original audio book and dramatized content for their subscribers. When looked at critically, audio drama holds a lot of potential in our digital and mobile context. With Marvel dominating the cinematic space and having broke new ground (even if the momentum has waned a bit) in new media with its Netflix shows, that the company is looking at new ways to present its characters to the world outside of traditional media is heartening and, more importantly, smart.
THE STATE OF SUPERHERO CINEMA (AND TV): With so much superheroic media out there right now, and with Marvel, DC, and Fox swinging wildly on both the large and small screens, Andrew and D. Bethel take a look at how things are sorting out, how they’ve changed over the last year or so, and where things might go.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew attends Seattle’s BrickCon and is intrigued by not only the affordable prices of hard-to-get sets, but also the creativity of independent LEGO builders, while Dan gives his impressions on the pilot episode of Fox’s new tv show based, ostensibly, on their cinematic X-verse, The Gifted.
WHAT A THRILL: Andrew, inspired its free status for PS Plus subscribers this month, re-downloads Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and gets poisoned by Venom Snake all over again, two years on.
NOT MY AMERICA: Swedish developer, MachineGames, and their parent company, Bethesda, are ramping up the marketing for their upcoming, hotly anticipated sequel, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and their tact has made a certain demographic very displeased.
An article filed by The Hollywood Reporter revealed that 20th Century Fox has slated three movies set in its own X-centric (no pun intended) universe for 2018. While not the biggest of surprises, it at the very least hints at a big push by the Marvel Studios competitor for a larger share of superhero cinema profits. Hot on the heels of an announcement regarding Fox’s other major franchise investment––James Cameron’s Avatar series––revealing their release dates for the next three sequels, Fox confirmed that their blockbuster season will start with the newest entry into Fox’s X-world, and one that is a bit of a gamble at that.
The New Mutants
Announced to open on April 13, 2018, The New Mutants is in pre-production at the moment with Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) directing. The spring release date is a safe one as it allows it to miss much of the summer and winter blockbuster melodrama. This movie has had a lot of speculative casting in the news over the last few months, no doubt gearing up some excitement for a series of characters relatively unknown to the greater populace. The New Mutants were introduced in 1983 as the first major spinoff to theX-Men, bringing back the original conceit: a team of teenaged mutant heroes lead by Professor X. The movie is based on the early issues, specifically on a storyline called “The Demon Bear Saga,” that are well-regarded by fans and critics. The New Mutants eventually became a fertile playground for the notorious Rob Liefeld, who introduced characters like Cable, Deadpool, Domino, and Shatterstar, among others, in its pages. The series ended with issue #100 at which point the series was renamed X-Force. With an X-Force movie desired by the Fox bigwigs, they may be viewing The New Mutants as a stepping stone for that eventual film.
The hotly anticipated Deadpool 2 will follow with an early summer release on June 1, 2018. Summer is big business for blockbuster movies and Fox is clearly betting on the hope that Deadpool will be a contender (which it will very likely be). More importantly, it will be released just under a month after Avengers: Infinity War opens and a little over a month before Ant-Man and the Wasp debuts, placing it firmly in the middle of what Marvel is guaranteeing to be their summer (DC/Warner Bros.’s Jason Momoa-led Aquaman will be opening in July as well, making it a very busy season indeed). In contrast, the first movie was such an underdog contender, it was released at one of the slowest box office points of the year––February––so the new release date definitely shows the confidence the studio has in the character and its creative team. Deadpool 2 recently made the news rounds with the rather surprising casting news that the MCU’s own Josh “Thanos” Brolin will be playing Deadpool’s time hopping straight-man, Cable, which paved the way nicely for this scheduling announcement. As mentioned on the site previously, even though Deadpool 2 has had its share of hiccups during pre-production with the exit of original director, Tim Miller, and taking with him original composer, Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL, the studio filled the open seat with John Wick director, David Leitch, and things are moving full steam ahead.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Finally, the next ensemble X-Men film, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, has been given an opening date of November 2nd, 2018. This is perhaps the most surprising film in the announcement. With the critical and financial wobble that X-Men: Apocalypse had last summer, the future of the franchise was in question among critics and fans while the studio was also being rather quiet. Secondly, while both long-time X-Men director, Bryan Singer, and long time X-Men writer/producer, Simon Kinberg, have hinted at different directions to go with the next film, the reveal of the title in this announcement solidified their direction and ended much speculation since “The Dark Phoenix Saga” is likely the most famous X-Men storyline in its history. One can assume that Game of Thrones star, Sophie Turner, will reprise her role as Jean Grey, but it leaves fans to wonder how much of the other cast will return considering the slapback X-Men: Apocalypse received. While winter is not nearly as fiscally important a season as summer, it is the second largest period for income-generation with, in the past, large franchises like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter opening in November or December. Given the current slate of Marvel Studios and DC/Warner Bros. movies, it looks like, for now at least, X-Men: Dark Phoenix may have fairly light competition. Currently, Simon Kinberg is the favorite to direct, which would mark his feature directing debut, taking the helm from Bryan Singer. This film stands to be the most interesting of the three, as we wait to see how the success of experimental films like Deadpool and Logan influence the overall tone and approach to the now 17 year-old franchise.
While such an X-heavy year may point at a renewed interest in creating a shared universe between the films––that is a natural response to this type of schedule since it is basically what Marvel has done to establish its own––that is probably more speculation than likelihood. If we can pull anything from this schedule it is that despite the public lashing X-Men: Apocalypse took, and with the success of Deadpool and Logan, Fox is willing to put more faith and muscle behind their Marvel franchise in the face of Marvel Studios’ general dominance in the last decade. This is important because, in the wake of that cinematic giant, Fox seems to be finding its own path and voice and is making a different animal rather than just playing in the shadow of what’s been done before, and the new ideas that Fox has recently brought to the table are things that people seem to enjoy. With hope they keep experimenting and help keep the superhero movie genre on its toes in general.
Though it garnered some attention at the end of October when Deadpool director, Tim Miller, left the sequel’s pre-production over “creative differences” with star and the character’s champion, Ryan Reynolds, it seemed to get a bit buried under other high drama news, such as the 2016 election. While this seems to be a trend in the world of comic book movies extending as far back as Edgar Wright’s notable exit from Ant-Man to the constant issues that The Flash movie is having, the Deadpool situation marks an interesting departure from the more traditional artist vs. studio clash; instead, it seems to be artist vs. artist.
An interesting discussion could be had about what made Deadpool the sensation that it was: Ryan Reynolds’ infectious charm and tireless cheerleading for the film or Tim Miller’s unique vision, style, and story (he was developing the script for the sequel at the time of his departure). Arguably, that conversation is a bit irrelevant because, with as large as movie-making teams are and how many pieces that need to come together to get a movie to happen at all, the reality stands in contrast to the binary nature of the argument. If superhero movies are anything, they are not really the place for auteurs. Despite that, this debate seems to be churning forward as the news hit.
This has been bolstered by the mostrecentnews that returning composer, Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, has also left production as a gesture of solidarity toward Tim Miller. Holkenborg posted the news to his official Facebook page and Twitter feed in a fairly revealing look at his decision-making process. He noted that Miller’s exit caused personal “soul-searching” for his own place within the project, which lead to his ultimate decision:
Tim [Miller] was the driving force behind Deadpool and me getting involved in this amazing project. Deadpool without Tim at the helm just does not sit right with me and that is why I have decided not to be involved in the second chapter.
Apparently, Ryan Reynolds wants the sequel to focus more on the R-rated humor and ground-level aesthetic that the first movie captured, while Miller wanted to increase the budget and emphasize the style and visual creativity of the original film, as well as casting decisions with regard to Cable and X-Force teammate, Domino.
More than the debate as to who has the more valid approach to the sequel, this strife (pardon the X-Force pun) points more to the likelihood that Deadpool was a confluence of luck, earnestness, and creative zeal and was not necessarily a considered and focused creative vision akin to that which Marvel Studios has cultivated under the guidance of Kevin Feige.
Where this leaves Deadpool 2 is not clear. Variety reports that a deal is closing with John Wick director, David Leitch. Casting is still nebulous around Cable, though with Miller’s exit so too goes his top pick of Friday Night Lights star, Kyle Chandler. With Reynolds still on board, Deadpool 2 will no doubt retain much of its initial charm and personality; whether that’s enough will be for the audience to decide.
While not about a particular aspect of nerd culture, Frankenfield’s article finds a thread strung through most aspects of geekdom: a legitimate choice between independent and “mainstream” products. In most nerdy and geeky venues, these exist side-by-side––I think of the gaming scene (specifically video gaming; Andrew will have to answer for the tabletop angle) where venues as amalgamated as Steam as well as the more hierarchical PSN or XBox Live give independent products prime real estate in an effort to get both triple-A and the snarkily titled “triple-I” titles on players’ screens. For all the drama that has surrounded video games press in the last few years, it has acted to level the playing field, not through any particular agenda as much as finding good indie games and wanting to share. For all nerdy avenues, Kickstarter and other crowd-sourced funding platforms have been key in getting independent products more mainstream attention, even if it never officially achieves that status.
More than ever, the line between “independent” and “mainstream” is blurring, and I think it’s a good time to ask some simple, problem-posing questions: how and why? I think the second question is easier to answer than the first. The divide is closing because traditional “mainstream” products have become less satisfying over time. Perhaps that’s the wrong word; mainstream products have become predictable and staid even though they still rake in profit. But we see this most popularly, I think, with television (though an argument could be made for any nerd media right now). Even though the major networks are still the ratings kings and producing the most popular content, the revered content is made outside of those avenues, the top producers of which are probably HBO and AMC, currently. It was them, and networks like them, that pioneered the “new golden age of television” in which we now find ourselves. NBC, CBS, and ABC are not the trailblazers here, even if they are the “winners” using outdated metrics.
As for the “how”, that is an answer that produces the most consternation and danger as this movement progresses. The nice thing about the mainstream system is that it provides traditional and, for the most part, proven processes for bringing projects to life. The problem is that, over time, the process became corrupted by brown-nosing who-you-knows with impenetrable baselines for entry. The rise of the independents, as Frankenfield illustrates, took advantage of new media and presented new content on its own terms, letting the audience find it, even if that audience was niche. The problem with this is––and I saw this all the time in webcomics––that, arguably, the independent road to success can only be travelled once. Again, with webcomics, the success of strips like Penny Arcade or PvP or Axe Cop led to unwarranted (and unproven) codification of paths to success and many eager creators became wrapped in false righteousness when their duplication of Penny Arcade‘s arc didn’t provide the same results for them.
With new media––specifically, internet-based media––it seems that roads to success are made out of sand and are erased as soon as they are coursed. It makes “success” a much more malleable phrase for independents than a mainstream product ever could find. It’s why maintaining a self-sufficient comic through ads, Kickstarter campaigns, and regular Patreon contributions could be seen as more of a success than the new Ghostbusters, even though its gross revenue is approaching $220 million dollars (I’m this fully cognizant of the fact that those returns are less than the production budget and marketing budget combined, but there was also Zoolander 2; check those numbers). Whether it’s in the black or not, people still paid $220 million dollars to go see it, which is impressive from an indie standpoint, but to many it’s a mainstream failure, whereas in the context of self-sustaining webcomics we could mean an amount that simply covers hosting costs. If anything, its this relative definition of success that’s going to be making the biggest marks on pop culture in the future, and Frankenfield points to specific examples of this––Louis C.K. and Chance the Rapper––to get this point across.
It’s no secret that I hold Marvel’s persecuted mutants close to my heart, and to that extent, I cherish the filmic versions a bit more dear than many MCU properties if only because of my nostalgic tie to them (while wholly acknowledging that Marvel makes better movies, on the whole). That being said, I have long felt that it would be a mistake for the X-Men and their associated titles to move from Fox to Marvel Studios. To be frank, I was hoping to write an article about it, but Kyle Anderson at Nerdist hit that nail before I did.
I echo Anderson’s point wholeheartedly that the X-Men work best when mutants are the only super-powered people on the planet. I realize this only really exists in the context of the movies as they have been wholly integrated into the Marvel Comics universe since their inception, but as an easily digestible metaphor that can make the largest impact, it’s a context that is much more effective than if they had to interact with super-soldiers and aliens (though X-Men: Apocalypse got a bit close to that mark and, according to Bryan Singer, is a direction he wants to go in the future).
But, referring to what guest Elijah Kaine said during our Shortcast, there currently is room in popular culture for more than one continuity. Naturally, we all assumed it would be a stark line between Marvel and DC because that’s how it exists in the print world. However, we aren’t seeing an effort really coagulating on the DC/Warner Bros. side of things despite their best efforts and it’s also smart to think of things existing more broadly. We have the MCU, we have the Arrow-verse, and we have the X-Men continuity, among others. It’s a much more nuanced and multi-faceted world we live in than, perhaps, we want, but I think, overall, it is better for it.
NOTE: Kyle Anderson is the co-host of a podcast I’ve talked about before––Doctor Who: The Writer’s Room––in which he and Erik Stadnik talk about the writers from classic Doctor Who (1963-1989). They provide incredibly in-depth critical analysis of scripts and their writers that, I would argue, makes it essential listening if you are a fan. This may also make me a bit biased toward Kyle Anderson’s argument, though I didn’t realize he was the author until after I had read the piece.
and, in a slightly different interpretation of the column’s title, here is a video that is “Worth a Look”: