Monday, April 30, 2012

Tips for Assembling the Avengers

As an employee of Marvel Entertainment, I had the good fortune to see “Marvel’s The Avengers” a week early and in 3-D on a big ol’ screen last Thursday. For this lifelong comic fan, seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes huddling up in a circle as chaos reigned down on New York City, I can without a shred of corporate bias say my expectations were met and exceeded. It’s a fine film that you should see not just because of its quality but because it will likely rewrite civilization as we know it not unlike the renaissance and you don’t want to get left behind. Do you?

(Last sentence hyperbole aside, see my sincere sentiments from the previous sentence and double those to compensate)

The movie had a not entirely unexpected but interesting lineup, with the requisite Captain America/Iron Man/Thor triumvirate on top, Avengers fixture Hawkeye along for the ride, comics founder but short-term member The Hulk as the wild card, and finally Black Widow—a former team leader who has logged her fair share of avenging—to round out the group with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. in a support role. It’s the template Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch used for the Ultimates, but it’s also just a solid mix of personalities, powers and temperaments that makes for great action as well as solid drama.

It got me thinking about what makes a good Avengers line-up. Honestly, any roster can be pretty good or even great with the right creators and stories, but the Avengers perhaps more so than the X-Men, Teen Titans or JLA have been able to alter their line-up through the years and shuffle members in and out; along the way I would say something resembling a formula for success has developed.

Here are the things I feel make for an optimal Avengers team…

They don’t need to get along
The Fantastic Four are a family, the X-Men are a school (or a faculty), the Teen Titans are childhood friends—these are the conventions we’re used to (even if they’re sometimes altered, they tend to be resilient). The Justice League and the Avengers are professionals; they’re highly powered, highly motivated individuals coming together to do a job in the same way any corporation or small business does. Of course you don’t always
like everybody you work with, even if you’re very successful in what you collectively do. While refinements have been made over the years, the very first Justice League stories in many cases ring hollow because it’s half a dozen people who get along famously from the moment they fight their first starfish. The Avengers more realistically bicker and clash when thrust unwittingly into working as a unit and it’s not until down the line that familiarity and kinship does indeed lead to friendship and respect. Nowhere was this more evident than on the original team, where The Hulk quit after one issue and everybody was coming to blows constantly, even after Captain America joined the team (somewhere along the way many people have come to believe Cap was some sort of quick fix, but he was leaving the team every few issues after getting into it with Hawkeye for some time). Even today, there are personality clashes (and the occasional Civil War), though there is also deep and abiding affection forged from years of saving the world together. If you think about your workplace, it’s likely you may not have been enamored with all your co-workers when you started, but somewhere along the way, you bonded, be it through shared victories, sheer proximity, or a combination of both and more (or you all still detest one another, but you put it aside to get home by 7:00; either way). We may not be able to relate to thunder gods or super soldiers, but a tense workplace environment is pretty familiar to most.

Soap opera doesn’t hurt
That said, all work and no play, yada yada yada. I like a healthy dose of pathos and interpersonal drama as much as I like punching and laser blasts in my comics (I grew up on 90’s X-Men, don’t blame me). As much as I love the Kree-Skrull War, Under Siege or Avengers Forever, I’ve got just as much affection for the unique courtship of The Vision and The Scarlet Witch. We’ve seen just about every romantic pairing imaginable in comics, but the beautiful yet outcast mutant gypsy who found love with the synthetic man and made him feel human remains among the most poignant to me. Beyond doing a lot for those two characters, this development mushroomed out to engulf other members of the cast, whether it was breaking Hawkeye’s heart or driving Quicksilver near insane. You would think I’d have gone wild for the Crystal-Black Knight-Sersi triangle during the 90’s, but in that case I’d say the soap opera took over a bit too much, as those three seemed to be the only ones any of the plots revolved around while Captain America, Black Widow, Hercules and the rest were just there to beat up bad guys. Striking a balance between the mission and downtime is key to any successful super hero team dynamic, but with a group like the Avengers, where that mission can be so vast and imposing, finding time to sprinkle in stuff like flirtations, weddings or even just friendship (Wonder Man and Beast!) goes a long way.

Give new characters a chance
It’s simple marketing, really, but if you’ve already got a solid core of proven A-listers on a property like Avengers, taking the risk to bring a lesser-known player into the mix and have them siphon some of that spotlight just for a bit can reward you with a brand new star. Throwing Beast in with a respectable line-up that already had Captain America and Iron Man transcended him from just being an X-Men also ran into being a true fan favorite. In her admittedly derivative earliest incarnation, She-Hulk had trouble carrying a solo series, but being part of the Avengers helped bring out a fresh and likable personality as she played wonderfully off the more established Wasp and Hawkeye. For decades, Luke Cage hovered on the fringe of being a true mover and shaker, but as the x-factor among surefire superstars including Spider-Man and Wolverine in New Avengers, I’d argue he’s become among the most beloved characters in comics over the past decade and finally broken past cult status. Going back to that workplace analogy, it can be tough to break in a fresh face on a book like Teen Titans where readers are often looking for familiarity and comfort, and additions to the X-Men tend to be newly discovered mutants rather than established characters seeking a push (with obvious exceptions), but offices hire new people all the time, and just like real people can benefit from employment by a prominent brand, so can the Avengers elevate those who have potential.

POV is key
It’s always nice to have an everyman (or woman) on the Avengers. I mean, really you can use a relatable character on any comic book team, but with the group that’s supposed to be the best of the best, it’s nice to have a way in as a reader. Probably the go-to guy here has always been Hawkeye, and that’s, of course, a big part of his charm. There’s something very cool about a dude with a bow and arrow who can hang with the biggest guns in and of itself, but it’s also a window for us to think that if we persevere hard enough, we can not only accomplish our goals, but earn the respect and admiration of those society would see as our superiors, but whom we can become peers with if we try. Decades later, Justice gave another spin on the POV Avenger, as he possessed tremendous telekinetic powers, but his hero worship would often stop him in his tracks. Vance Astrovik was a great addition to the Avengers (and not just due to being a New Warrior) because he represented the closest approximation to how a real life fan would probably act were they somehow transported into the Marvel Universe and ascended to this role. Justice had a nice journey to boot, as he never fully lost that stage fright in front of his idols, but he worked hard to get on as equal ground as he could and ended up a true asset to the team. More recently, the original everyman, Spider-Man, has served capably as the guy in awe of sharing living space with Captain America. Most recently, Venom the newest Avenger, has hooked up with the group he’s aspired to being part of since he was a teenager, and I’m looking forward to experiencing his initiation along with him.

Take chances with leadership
Some of the best Avengers chairpersons have been the ones you never would have picked. The Wasp, for years, was the flighty mascot of the team, but after suffering through personal tragedy, she channeled her energy into her work and became one of the most elite leaders the group ever had, her affability and understated toughness providing a different style that worked wonderfully. Luke Cage was, for years, the quintessential loner, and even a guy who took cash to do good deeds, but it truly marked his maturity that he could rally his squad the way he did during their darkest hour. And even though she may only have been team leader for a relative eye blink, Monica Rambeau proved that heart (and Roger Stern’s awesome writing) can be just as valuable as experience.

They should always be Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
At the end of the day, the thing you really have to think about when crafting an Avengers roster is if they would be the people every other hero or civilian in the Marvel Universe would want as the cavalry, because that’s their role. Yes, it’s no doubt a relief to have the X-Men, Fantastic Four or Defenders backing your play, but when you hear “Avengers Assemble!” you should sigh a sense of relief, knowing whatever menace is afoot, it’s no match for the combined might of Earth’s Mightiest. Not to make it an Avengers/JLA thing, but the weakest incarnations of the Justice League surely did not inspire this sense of confidence; when Vibe and company arrived to pull Firestorm’s fat out of the fire during Legends, I can’t imagine he was really breathing easy (and of course half the team died shortly thereafter). However, even with the near-forgotten short term Avengers line-up that came together during Inferno, you still had half the FF, Captain America in a badass black suit and freaking Thor coming to your rescue (also, Gilgamesh). Even when Doctor Druid somehow swindled his way into being team leader, the tri-towers of Hercules, She-Hulk and Namor were around to wreck shop. Even when Captain America got left with three inexperienced former villains…ok, honestly, if I were Spider-Man, maybe I would have a little nervous were I battling Doctor Doom and got Cap’s Kooky Quartet as back-up, but doggone it, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are plenty powerful, Captain America can intimidate even the lord of Latveria, and you better believe Hawkeye’s got a trick arrow for that. If you’ve got the Avengers on your side, it’s game over for the opposition—period.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ben & Jordan Watch Game of Thrones: Garden of Bones

The bonds of brotherhood between Ben Morse and Jordan Geary were forged during their time as students at Connecticut College, where they spent four years losing at intramural sports (except softball in 2004!), forming their own fraternity because the school wouldn’t let them, making student films one professor called “unfortunate” and regularly beating their friend Dan Hartnett in Goldeneye.

Today, they live 20 minutes apart in New Jersey with their respective lovely wives, sharing passions for miniature golf, diner cuisine and the music of Motley Crue. They also both watch HBO’s Game of Thrones and have decided to write a column about it. While Jordan ran out and read all the books on which the show is based after season one, Ben prefers books with pictures and floppy covers.

Bear witness to their wit, wisdom and frequent allusions to Melrose Place as they try to do the tradition of Sean T. Collins and Megan Morse proud!

Ben: I enjoyed this episode. It may have been my favorite of the season thus far (though I may just be saying that because it's fresh in my mind). I thought the pacing was good in that they jumped around enough to keep any one plot from grating, but also focused and came back to stuff, so you cared. It felt like there was character progression and in general the plot seems to be moving forward. Did it help that the two characters I'm least interested in (Jon Snow and Cersei) weren't on? Maybe. But I was definitely just more engaged by this episode than the past couple weeks, to the point that I really didn't even think on the lack of Greyjoys until I sat down to write this, so that's something. This was certainly the third best TV show I watched last night (the premiere of Veep was hilarious and Mad Men is basically running on automatic this season).

Jordan: Every episode of this season has been better than the last, and will only get better if they follow the formula of the second Game of Thrones book. I do caution, however, that this is a big IF as every episode also has deviated more and more from the books. This past episode took me off guard a lot as it merged several scenes together, added characters into spots they weren't before (like Littlefinger popping up at Renly's camp), and at points just completely added brand new things like Tywin Lannister entering Harrenhal and in 10 seconds telling a group of people that not only was Arya a girl but now she is to be his personal serving wench. Um...what?

Ben: I believe she’s his cup bearer, actually, which may or may not be the same thing. My knowledge of medieval occupations for young girls is a bit rusty.

Focus on Joffrey for more than a line or two, even if it's just a pair of uncomfortable scenes, is a good thing, because you've got one of the most unique characters on television right there in this little boy with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I'm impressed how every time you think he can't get any worse, he does, but not in a "geez, get this kid off my screen" way, in a "what a glorious asshole, I can't wait to see him get his eventually" way. Jack Gleeson is pretty tremendous. That he's got the look of an angry old man in a child's body is genetic luck (in the case of this part, who knows in life), but he wrings every bit of malice he can out of what he's working with, be it a line, an action or just his own facial expressions.

Jordan: When Joffrey was first cast, I'm guessing fans of the books did that dog thing where they tilt their heads to the side in complete confusion. The character in the books has long, flowing blond hair and soft features and Jack Gleeson on the other hand looks like some sort of short-haired, large-headed alien. Then Joffrey spat out his first words onscreen and the audience was sold. THIS KID IS SUCH AN ANNOYING JACKASS!

Ben: Which is why it’s probably good they seemed to have people who were respectful of the books but not slavish to them involved in casting.

Jordan: In little league baseball growing up, there was always a kid just like this brat on every team: a brash, pig-headed, loud, mean little monster that would also get injured every two seconds because they were physically weak and frail. I had no idea until I got older how frequently those traits go together in people like that.

Ben: The sojourn into Joffrey's sexuality was an interesting one, and one worth taking. I remember when he legitimately seemed taken with Sansa back in the early part of season one and could even be quite charming, but I think it's pretty clear that was his "This is what a king does" mentality operating rather than his libido. The obvious leap would be to wonder if he's gay, or at the very least uninterested in women, but I don't think it's so cut and dry. I think power turns him on, and not in the way you usually hear about it, but in that he literally is attracted to being able to make people do what he wants. Of course why does "make people do what he wants" always seem to involve physical or emotional cruelty? Can't say for sure. He's definitely sadistic, maybe sociopathic, and I'm not entirely certain where that comes from. His (believed) father was a warrior, but not a sadist by any indication we've been given. His mother is diplomatic. Chalk it up to inbreeding? Not sure. He's a fascinating little puzzle. The scene with the whores was as uncomfortable as it should have been (I thought they were going to make it more so, but they pulled back, and I'll just hope you know what I'm talking about rather than spelling it out). Ultimately, I think Bronn was right in thinking Joffrey needed to release some tension, but in his case it's violence and sadism that is his sex.

Jordan: This scene with Joffrey was not in the books, and his sexuality is never mentioned even in passing. I do not think the purpose of this scene was to deal with his sexuality, but was rather meant to establish a few things:

1) Tyrion is trying to gain Joffrey's favor a bit as a means to gain more power in the kingdom. Tyrion is always trying to gain power by targeting the weaknesses in people, so when brutish Bronn makes a joke that Joffrey needs to get laid, Tyrion takes it seriously and sees it as a means to not only befriend his nephew, but also steer Joffrey's evil games away from poor Sansa.

2) Once Joffrey learns the whores are a gift from his uncle, he has them beat themselves to a pulp. This appeals to the sadistic nature of Joffrey, but more importantly it is his intention to send a venomous return message to his uncle of what he thinks of him and his gifts.

Joffrey's personality traits, his mean-spirited nature, his inherently weak physicality, his commanding voice, his impatience and snobbishness, and (last but not least) utter hatred for his uncle are ALL exaggerated traits that have their roots in his mother. Perhaps the greatest evidence that Lena Headey is sucking in the role of Cersei is how many people fail to make the connection that Joffrey is everything Cersei shaped him to be, to the point of it even exceeding her. Cersei is downright malevolent at times in the books and her son is a crazier chip off the ol' block. Hopefully the director will tell Headley to stop taking the character in a sympathetic path and the audience will make this connection more easily.

Hopefully the direction will make her less ugly too. Had to throw that in there.

Ben: You didn’t have to, but I would have been shocked if you hadn’t.

I don't know really why I like Robb, but I do. He's pretty much your classic square-jawed, super moral, even a bit bland hero (heck, he seems more concerned about the Lannister army guys than his own), but I like those characters; I'm pretty much a "one extreme or the other" kinda guy, where my favorites are the cocky jerks like Theon or the ultra noble Robb types and people too in between don't interest me (i.e. maudlin Jon Snow). I liked the introduction of Talisa, though, not just because I thought she was well-portrayed, but because her challenge of Robb made him more interesting. By calling him out on his motives and more importantly his end game, she made him question if he really is this righteous hero everybody treats him like. She called it like it is as far as him risking all these men's lives to get revenge for his family and then having no reward for them even insomuch as being a good and just king. I hope we see a lot more of her.

Jordan: I am totally with you in your admiration of Robb on the show. Both him and Jon Snow are supposed to be Ned Stark clones in temperament, but there is something far stronger in the acting performance of the guy who plays Robb that endears him to the audience. I can't help but wonder how much better the show would be if those two actors switched roles at the outset, considering Jon Snow gets more screen time.

Ben: I don’t really think it would have made a difference, at least from what I’ve seen so far. Robb is the more pro-active character, Jon tends to let stuff happen and brood about it. A degree is no doubt the performance, but there’s definitely something in the core of the characters. I’ve still got faith there’s stuff coming with Jon that could win me over, but I don’t think the stuff I’ve seen so far would have hooked me regardless of who was playing him. Except for maybe Matt Damon. He can do anything.

Jordan: As for Talisa, she may be either a character who is only in that one scene (the name isn't in the books) or may be a character in the books that is hella important in the story that got her name changed...I'm not sure yet. [NOTE: Her name is Jeyne in the books] Either way, that was a cool scene. The writers’ room was obviously getting drunk and writing new scenes left and right for this episode.

Ben: Y’know, they do get paid to do that…

Jordan: One thing extra: They made no large mention of it, but a very important character got introduced at the beginning of this scene: Roose Bolton, the soft-spoken, creepy, powerful lord of House Bolton. As Roose mentions in this scene, the Boltons have a flayed man as their house sigil, which I always thought was super interesting. I will reveal little than to say they are important to the future of the show. It's worth re-watching the scene to look at him again.

Ben: Good episode for your boy Littlefinger. I enjoy for a guy who runs a whorehouse and even goes so far as to teach his employees how to please men he's constantly getting verbally kicked in the nuts by strong women. Cersei made a fool of him a couple weeks ago, then here Margaery zings him with the marriage line and finally Cat disses him. The sheer arrogance of him thinking he had a shot with Cat and that he could also lie his way out of the whole getting her husband killed was pretty hilarious and fun to watch. However, the fact that he walked out of there both at all and with all his limbs intact speaks to what a good line of bullshit he still spins. I will say Catelyn isn't one of my favorites either, so I get nervous that she'll drag him down if they associate too much, but for some reason their relationship works for me, in that she doesn't strike me as being particularly bright (I feel like she's supposed to be, but I also feel like she's one of the few characters who did not translate well from book to show, and I've read that a few places as well) but she still flummoxes him and I like the "love's funny" nature of that.

Jordan: They're ALL good episodes for my boy Littlefinger. While we see touches of his humanity here and there, the thing I love about the character is that he is the chess player who is ALWAYS playing. He doesn't take a second away from pulling strings behind the scenes. You can see the character in both the books and show gently testing the limits of other people before stepping back, studying the players in the game before figuring out the best way to act. Varys and he share this trait, as exhibited in the first season when they are talking to each other in the throne room and exploring one another for weaknesses. With some of the most brilliant, cutting, calculating dialogue in the world of the show, it's guaranteed to be an entertaining sequence the moment you glimpse Littlefinger in a scene.

Catelyn, on the other hand...well...she is what I would call a "human" character. If the world was only comprised of calculating Littlefingers, secret-toting Varyses, evil Joffreys, and ambitious Daeneryses, it wouldn't be very believable. Catelyn is a real person with real emotions and while she is obviously less interesting than the others I understand her role as the glue in the whole thing. That said, she is a bit of a dull character in the books and her actress doesn't really help things. While the character's story arc gets SUPER interesting later, she doesn't have much to offer right now and I have to say I still have no idea why they cast a woman in the role that looks like she is in her mid-60s.

Ben: Part of me wishes that Sean Bean could have gotten an easy payday to play his own headless corpse, but part of me wishes they'd swung completely in the other direction and used the most over-the-top wax replica they could make; their decision not to show the body at all is why they make a hit TV show and I write this blog with you for no payment but the warmth of our fans and admirers.

Jordan: Sean Bean came out and said he would die to be involved with the show in any possible way moving forward, which is both cool and sad...especially that they didn't even let him play his own corpse. I swear if these cheeky writers deviate from the books and write in some "long lost twin brother" bullcrap to get Bean back on the show I'm going to be pissed.

Ben: What is your problem with these poor writers? Friggin' animators...and if they wanted to keep him on the show that bad, I’m pretty sure they could have just balked on killing him. Clearly they committed there.

Other than the concentration camp parallels and that Arya is just generally kick ass, her and Gendry's scenes in downtown Hartford didn't really interest me. The rats thing was pretty awful, and I have to admit for a hot second I actually thought they might kill Gendry despite his potential not being anywhere near tapped because this show can be like that, but otherwise, meh. I did love that Tywin instantly knew Arya was a girl and stated it so matter of fact; that guy kicks ass.

Jordan: The scenes in and around Harrenhal are pretty grisly and bleak so they did a good job in an insanely short amount of time showing that. Arya's story is about to get really interesting and I pray they don't change a thing about it. Don't screw this for me, writer's room.

I just made a realization: 99% of the added scenes the writers on the television show made to the story involve the prostitutes in the kingdom. Just look at the scenes that weren't in the books and all of them center around whores. This can't be a coincidence!

Ben: There’s an Andy Samberg digital short from Saturday Night Live a few weeks back you really need to watch…

Finally Daenerys' story is going somewhere again. She ended last season on such a high note and then all the hanging around in the desert this year has just been a downer. I like that in her confrontation with the Thirteen we got to see all sides of her complex character--proud warrior queen, uncertain little girl, and entitled child of privilege--in phases. She started conducting herself like royalty, then got scared because she thought her people were going to die, then threw a little tantrum because the Thirteen weren't obeying the "proper" laws of etiquette. Because she's so exhausted and at her wit's end and because Emilia Clarke is tremendous, I bought each incarnation as genuine. Her transformation from the silent waif we met in the pilot to the present has been so extreme, that it was almost refreshing to see that the front she puts on can be just that, and she can break down from time to time. Daenerys is one of my favorite characters, and as ever, I just wonder how long it will be until she hooks up with the rest of the story and how many distractions like Qarth they can use to delay that moment. It's gonna be a doozy (I hope).

Jordan: The show is condensing Daenerys' story a TON, which is actually a very good thing because we are being spared a ton of monotonous scrambling around the desert. I concur that Daenerys' story is shaping up quite well, and I am interested to see where they take it. I also like that they are using the free cities to cast cartoonish-looking actors. For all the subtlety and nuance that is going into the Westeros scenes, it's almost as if they see a super fat guy, super skinny guy, super tattooed guy, and guy with one eyeball on line for Game Of Thrones auditions and said to them, "Don't bother auditioning. You're all cast in the free cities scenes. Congrats."

Ben: That spice merchant was wonderful. It played like a great homage to Wallace Shawn in The Princess Bridge. The only person who maybe could have done it better would be...Wallace Shawn, I guess. Or maybe Curry Man, since he's the King of Spice. I'm also predisposed to like Xaro Xhoan Daxos because I've got a soft spot for physically huge guys who are all heart underneath, like my towering best friend who has a heart of gold beneath his freakish frame.

Jordan: Haha. The spice merchant was indeed fantastic. LOVE that the writers didn't even give him a fake name. That poor actor essentially had to say onscreen "You aren't going to see me enough in this show to even get to know my name, so I'm not even going to give it."

Interested to see where they go with Xaro Xhoan Daxos. His character fascinated me in the books although he wasn't in them much, so I predict his character will be expanded a lot for the show.

Ben: Ser Jorah Mormont is my least favorite character on the show. I would not miss him.

Jordan: Like I said before, not hairy enough. The actor also is a bit of a one-note tune for me. I would do an imitation of the cadence he delivers every line in if this blog had audio, but it doesn't...yet.

Ben: If you’ve got the cash, we’re eager to take donations for new tech.

Now is the part of the blog where we do the requisite praising of Peter Dinklage's performance and what a great character Tyrion is.

Jordan: I want to have his babies.

Ben: In all seriousness, the thing that fascinates me most about Tyrion at this stage is how good a guy is he? Obviously like 85% of what he does is about self-preservation, but clearly there are other things making him tick. Is he a genuine hero in some ways or is that just the power of Dinklage's charisma carrying me away? Is saving Sansa from her humiliation part of a larger game for him or is that one of those things he does simply because it's right and maybe in some part because he liked her father and feels like he owes his kids? Obviously having been a persecuted outcast as he's been, the obvious paths for him are to lash out at the world that has mistreated him now that he has power or to use that influence to make it so other don't need to suffer as he did. At times he almost seems like a super hero, swooping in to punish the wicked with a quip and rescuing innocents, but that's clearly simplifying him. So much screen time is given to this fellow, and Dinklage indeed makes it seem effortless, but even after all the time we've "spent" with him, I still have so many questions.

Jordan: I would say Tyrion is an active player in the Game of Thrones (which is, in itself largely a game of self-preservation), but to fully answer your question about his spotty heroics, I defer to a line from Tyrion himself in season one: “I have a soft spot for cripples, bastards and broken things.”

Ben: So then there's the end of the episode. In the moment, when I was watching, I got swept up in the weirdness and creepiness, but upon further review, I don't believe I cared for it and I can point to two reasons:

1. I didn't like that particular use of magic. Yeah, mysticism is part of the show, and it's been lurking on the outskirts since we glimpsed the White Walkers in the very first scene, popping in at random times with stuff like Daenerys' dragons and Bran's connection to the wolves, but I haven't enjoyed how in the heart of things the whole "Lord of Light" deal places it. I just feel like it veers away from the overall feel they've worked so hard to establish. Little glimpses into the realm of the supernatural are one thing, and I know it will probably encroach as time goes on, but a full on smoke monster baby felt like too much too soon for me.

Jordan: Totally, totally understand this reaction. I too felt something similar when I read this shadow birth scene, turning to my wife while I was reading and saying, " something insanely bizarre and supernatural just happened. Don't know how I feel about this. Hope this book doesn't get all goofy and spooky moving forward." I want to assure you that it doesn't. Like the shock of seeing the dragons at the end of Season 1, George R.R. Martin does a genius job throughout the story of smacking the reader in the face with something nuts and supernatural and then deftly pulling it back.

Armed with this knowledge beforehand, I was very excited to see how they would do this scene and it was SUPER fun to watch! LOVED this scene!

Ben: 2. I'm not buying Melisandre in the least. I don't like how she's been dropped into the midst of this world we've gotten to know and is kind of being pushed as both extremely important and seemingly unflappable. With the other new characters, they're pretty powerful and imposing figures as well, but they're also flawed and show moments of weakness, with there being perhaps no better example than Stannis. Melisandre seemed in control from the moment she showed up onscreen and her confidence has never once wavered. Sure, that's probably what they're going for since she's a fanatic, and thus believes with totality in what she's doing, but it has still rubbed me wrong. She's the first character I feel like the show is telling me I should care about rather than making me care about her. I would contrast her with somebody like Daenerys, where as I mentioned, we got to see her whole journey from uncertainty to power, and even now her cracks are evident, whereas Melisandre was introduced fully formed and I have no idea why. Would I like her more if we got to see her back story and how she got here? Maybe, but this show doesn't do flashbacks, near as I can tell. Maybe she'll win me over, but she's a very frustrating blind spot for me right now.

Jordan: Both Stannis and Melisandre are initially presented in an aloof fashion in the books as well, so it’s interesting to see you are feeling this same way towards them. They don't have chapters from their perspective, with their story instead being told through the likeable Davos. The reason I personally find both Stannis and Melisandre very interesting as they represent wild cards in the Game of Thrones. As with the Greyjoys, I LOVE the wild cards in this story. You've got the giant armies of Robb, Renly, and Joffrey, all hulking and huge and ready to duke it out while they size each other up...and on the fringes you have the beaten down house of Greyjoy and the super miniscule (yet brimming with witchcraft) crew of Stannis. The REAL fun begins once they enter the fray, in my opinion.

One thing I have found interesting with the HBO series is the presentation of these two groups, most definitely my two favorite groups in the books. The Greyjoys and Stannis' Lord of Light crew both are equally despised by readers, but are positioned very differently from one another on the TV show. The Greyjoys and Theon have been presented rather openly, with the viewer encouraged to empathize with Theon and explore the exciting world of House Greyjoy. The music backing Greyjoy scenes has been somewhat heroic, with strings and trumpets. On the flipside, when Stannis and Melisandre are onscreen there is a very dark and evil feel to it all, which leads the viewer to believe they are the bad guys. You are given no such direction in the books, and I never saw them as bad. Guess we will see how this all evolves, as the show has most certainly done a good job of casting OTHER characters in the kingdom in a negative light who will eventually turn out to be heroic and popular (you readers who read the books know who I am talking about, right? Right? High five!)

Ben: However, ending aside (for me), strong episode.

Jordan: Me too. Had the three "b"s of good storytelling: Bloodshed, boobs, baby shadow creatures.

Ben: Poetry. See you next week!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Art Attack: July 2012's Coolest Covers

-I like to think Mark Bagley’s cover to Avengers Assemble #5 is a bit of an homage to both Darick Robertson on New Warriors #39 and himself on Thunderbolts #30. In my world it is.

-Longtime readers (as well as listeners of This Week in Marvel) know that Kalman Andrasofsky is one of my very favorite cover artists, so him drawing Batroc on Captain America & Iron Man #634 is like chocolate and peanut butter for me if I wasn’t lactose intolerant.

-Anybody more artisticially clever than me (most people) probably took far less time to pick up on this, but the way Paolo Rivera has barbed wire standing in for radar sense on the cover to Daredevil #15 is pretty darn brilliant. Also, this is my current desktop background at work.

-Terry Dodson does one of my favorite renditions of Iron Fists’ white and gold costume, seen this go around on Defenders #8. He’s also selling me on Carol Danvers’ new Captain Marvel costume on Avenging Spider-Man as well as her own book. He gets my nod for cover artist of the month as well as a dude who knows how to make style work.

-The busier Philip Tan’s work is, the more I like it; that’s not a truism for all artists, but check out Demon Knights #11’s cover.

-Perhaps only Adam Hughes can make negative space so attractive, as seen on Fairest #5. Also, a polar bear!

-Francis Manapul’s talent is growing at such an exponential rate that he may have to be stopped.

-That John Carter: Gods of Mars cover from Julian Totino Tedesco would not look out of place in a gallery, I daresay (good book, too, check it out).

-Very different kind of Scarlet Spider piece from Ryan Stegman this time out, as he continues to experiment and stretch his style. Very intrigued and excited to see him transition to Fantastic Four where he’ll have so much to play with.

-I want to read a book drawn by Tony Moore that is entirely about the Venom symbiote trying to get away from its host. Also, grotesquely huge Toxin can be the ongoing villain. And kudos to Rick Remender for continuing to utilize the B-list bad guys he brought back during his Punisher run like Human Fly and Megatak.

-We so rarely see folks outside of Charlie Adlard drawing Walking Dead, then when somebody whose work is as distinctive as Marc Silvestri does it, it stands out for sure.

-It took me a few looks to realize Sabretooth is actually ripping Wolverine’s face off his own on Simone Bianchi’s cover to Wolverine #310 because the art on its own was that good.

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #8 by Jerome Opena
AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #9 by Terry Dodson
BATMAN & ROBIN #11 by Patrick Gleason
BATWOMAN #11 by J.H. Williams III
CAPTAIN AMERICA & IRON MAN #634 by Kalman Andrasofsky
DAREDEVIL #15 by Paolo Rivera
DEADPOOL #57 by Dave Johnson
DEFENDERS #8 by Terry Dodson
DEMON KNIGHTS #11 by Philip Tan
DIAL H #3 by Brian Bolland
FAIREST #5 by Adam Hughes
THE FLASH #11 by Francis Manapul
HACK/SLASH #18 by Matt Merhoff
JOHN CARTER: GODS OF MARS #5 by Julian Totino Tedesco
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #641 by Stephanie Hans
SCARLET SPIDER #7 by Ryan Stegman
THE STRAIN #6 by E.M. Gist
UNCANNY X-MEN #15 by Daniel Acuna
VENOM #21 by Tony Moore
THE WALKING DEAD #100 by Marc Silvestri
WOLVERINE #310 by Simone Bianchi

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Whither a Beast Solo Series?

I was going to do this as a Should Have Been, but I think I was already pushing the qualifications of that label with Guy Gardner, and I don’t want to be the guy who needs to sub-categorize every single post, so let’s go this way instead.

Earlier this week I finished up the first collected edition of New Defenders, something I had to read on pure curiosity if nothing else. The stories by J.M. DeMatteis were pretty good in a quirky/clever way, and the art was solid as well, but certainly the draw was seeing an all-time weirdo line-up including Gargoyle, Moondragon, Cloud, Valkyrie, Over-Mind and in-between-X-gigs Angel and Iceman sharing page time.

It’s intriguing to imagine how a book like this would go down nowadays, with no real A-listers and a kinda funky dynamic as far as the team. There’s no real POV character to speak of; the most likable character—Gargoyle—is an old man in a demon’s body, the female leads range from aloof in Valkyrie to obnoxious in Moondragon, and the X-Men alums are an odd fit.

However, there was a sort of stealth franchise character hidden amongst the group, and more often than not he’s what holds them together plotwise and possibly commercially as well. Given the title of this post, I’m sure you know I’m talking about Beast.

I call Beast a “stealth franchise character” (I just coined that) because he’s never had a headlining solo gig—the point of these musings—but he’s pretty close to universally beloved as far as comic book standbys go. From the minute he joined the Avengers, X-Men fans wanted him back, and ever since that happened, Avengers fans have clamored for his return. His pairing with Wonder Man, two journeymen players in the Marvel Universe if there ever was, is fondly remembered and similarly requested often.

Right now we’re getting the best of both worlds as Jason Aaron and Rick Remender are both having a lot of fun with him and getting appropriate mileage in Wolverine & The X-Men and Secret Avengers respectively. Aaron plays him as the absent-minded professor who gets lost in his work while still being able to scrap with Sabretooth while Remender has him as the furry angel on Hawkeye’s shoulder who also clowns around with Captain Britain and Venom.

You’ll rarely find a comics fan who will speak ill of Beast (maybe get passionate about whether he should look like a blue monkey or blue cat, but that’s another discussion); people seem pleased whenever he shows up and he’s been a crowd pleaser everywhere from the 90’s cartoon to “X-Men: First Class.”

So why, outside of a limited series now and again, has he never gotten to be a leading man?

I would actually say a lot of the things that make Beast an ideal component for any team book are probably why he’s never gotten the call up to a solo series.

Beast is a humorous character, and that’s been part of his DNA since his very early days. He’s a showman who masks or discards the alienation caused his physical oddities—at first, big appendages, later, blue fur—by drawing attention to himself through gags and self-deprecation. However, this plays best when he’s in a crowd of similarly over-the-top characters, the likes of whom inhabit the Avengers or X-Men. Whereas most civilians even in the Marvel Universe would flee in terror at the site of a hairy monster with an unruly cowlick doing a softshoe routine or bouncing off walls, Captain America or Wolverine can chuckle at it with dignity while Ms. Marvel and Kitty Pryde can roll their eyes at their adorably outspoken friend.

As comic book readers, we enjoy and have affection for Beast, well, because we’re comic book readers; we flip the page expecting weirdness and are also not under any delusions that we’re reading anything but fiction (well, most of us). Our attitudes are reflected in the Avengers and the X-Men, as somebody like Beast fits comfortably into their world so they can appreciate his good qualities rather than cringe at his teeth and claws.

While another big part of Beast’s character arc is that scratch the surface of his brilliance and bombasity and he’s still an outcase, that’s not a story we’d like to see played out all the time. It’s a trope worth busting out at appropriate intervals because it’s powerful (I still cringe when I think about how Cassandra Nova taunted Beast with his inhumanity in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men), but ultimately we want to see Hank McCoy triumph over bigotry and celebrate in the welcoming arms of his extraordinary friends.

A Beast solo series would almost inevitably have to place him in the “real world,” where the entire cast isn’t super heroes and their allies, so you’re going to get more “hates and fears him” stories than maybe you’d like; it upsets the balance of the character. The two easiest avenues to resolve any arc would be to have him gain acceptance among society—which isn’t that believable and kills the tension—or have him as usual seek comfort with his buddies, in which case when does it just become a team book anyway?

Surely there are other avenues, however, and I challenge skilled writers to find them.

Another hallmark of Beast is his way-above-average intelligence and the way he chooses to deploy it. Unlike the average comic book science smarty who either hides behind his intellect, holds it back, or becomes lost in it (I’m looking at Hank Pym, Peter Parker and Reed Richards, respectively), Hank flaunts it, specifically his ginormous vocabulary. Again, since the very first issues of X-Men, a running gag has been the brutish—and later truly bestial—Beast tossing out words you’d generally only find in a spelling bee either to irk and baffle his teammates or because that’s just what he does when he gets excited.

It’s worth noting from my recollection that Beast doesn’t get a lot of thought balloons or narration bubbles, he does most of his thinking out loud. I’d reckon that’s because either consciously or subconsciously most writers get that Hank’s particular brand of language is more entertaining when we get to see others react to it.

Again, this presents a hurdle for Beast the minute he steps outside the confines of the team environment. Does Hank think in the same way (and with the same vocabulary) as he speaks? Does it lose its charm when its not making Iceman or Hawkeye feel dumb? As readers, would we even understand what he’s saying? You don’t want to strip away this quintessential aspect of the character, but at the same time, when Beast’s speech patterns become the primary narrative of a story rather than witty interludes, does it lose its appeal?

Ultimately, that’s the dilemma I think blocking Beast from moving out of the team setting and into his own adventures: the degree to which a writer may have to smooth out his quirks in order to make him a palatable central figure and at what point he stops being him as a result. Do you really want to read about an everyman Hank McCoy who speaks like a normal guy and who’s accepted by a mundane supporting cast? I don’t think I do.

But as I noted a few paragraphs back, all of these “challenges” are in reality opportunities for the qualified writer. There’s not doubt Beast is an absolutely awesome character, and just because I have my reasons why I could see a solo series starring him floundering, doesn’t mean I don’t want to be proven wrong by the literaly hundreds (if not more) of people capable of doing so. In fact, I’d say that I’m writing this at all is an invitation to show me how wrong I am.

Heck, it’s not so long ago I thought we’d never see a believable and endearing romance for Beast outside of the tired “normal human who sees his inner beauty” junk with the likes of Trish Tilby that never went anywhere significant, but then Joss Whedon introduced Abigail Brand, Kieron Gillen refined their relationship, and now they’re among my favorite couples in comicdom.

I appreciate getting to read about Beast period, and there are some high quality stories featuring him coming out more than once a month at the moment, but he’s rich enough that that should be the ground level rather than the ceiling.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ben & Jordan Watch Game of Thrones: What Is Dead May Never Die

The bonds of brotherhood between Ben Morse and Jordan Geary were forged during their time as students at Connecticut College, where they spent four years losing at intramural sports (except softball in 2004!), forming their own fraternity because the school wouldn’t let them, making student films one professor called “unfortunate” and regularly beating their friend Dan Hartnett in Goldeneye.

Today, they live 20 minutes apart in New Jersey with their respective lovely wives, sharing passions for miniature golf, diner cuisine and the music of Motley Crue. They also both watch HBO’s Game of Thrones and have decided to write a column about it. While Jordan ran out and read all the books on which the show is based after season one, Ben prefers books with pictures and floppy covers.

Bear witness to their wit, wisdom and frequent allusions to Melrose Place as they try to do the tradition of Sean T. Collins and Megan Morse proud!

Ben: To quote my wife, Megan, "Oh great, two Jon Snow scenes back to back right from the start" dripping with sarcasm. Jon is her least favorite character ("too emo") and I'm pretty ambivalent toward him. He's so far removed from everybody else I don't really think he's had a chance to shine and his personality isn't strong enough to sustain him like, say, Daenarys, although I did think he had some cool moments last season when he was beating the crap out of the other Wall recruits who thought he was soft. The "beyond The Wall" developments were a bit of a let down given the cliffhanger last week, though, as "yeah, he's sacrificing his sons to the White Walkers and Mormont is cool with it because it's a means to and end" is pretty much exactly what I expected. Granted, getting what's expected isn't always a bad thing, as it makes narrative sense, but I thought it was a waste of a "big mystery" to end last week's episode when the resolution seemed so obvious. I'm anxious for the Night's Watch gang to get moving further beyond The Wall at this point. I'm also very interested how long the White Walkers will remain on the fringes and how big a game changer it will be when they do become involved. They do seem like a a force potentially big enough to get all these rival factions maybe on the same page, because they're that dangerous, and that the entire show from its first moments started with them seems to underscore their eventual importance; I like that despite that splashy intro back then, they've been so relegated to the background since.

Jordan: Like I said last week, the choice to end the previous episode on "dead babies in the snow" made little sense to me, as the whole Craster killing boy babies thing is merely a means to an end for a future development. In the books it's practically just Mormont shrugging and saying, "Craster? Oh yeah dat wild homey always be killin' dem boy shorties. Whatevs. Have dat raven pass me a wineskin."

Jon Snow's tale gets MUCH more interesting as a character as he proceeds beyond the wall, to a point where I went from dreading his chapters to looking forward to them. Based on the snippets from the season preview, I am certain those interesting bits will at least begin later this season. That said, I can't help but look at the person playing Jon and wonder (while he looks the part) if he simply is a bad actor. There is zero likeable or relate-able about him, and what makes the character a fan fave is how endearing he comes off. This alone stops me short from doing my token "stick with this gets GOOD" promise, as for all I know the actor may keep doing his annoying distrusting, tight-lipped face through the whole character arc.

Ben: I'm all about that Sam-Gilly romance. One of the most endearing things about the girl who played Gilly, Hannah Murray, on Skins is that she was with more or less the geek of the show but she has that perfect balance of being cute enough so that you're psyched he could get her, but also plain/quirky enough that you believe it. This was the first week I really got a sense I would like her on this show and that was just through a couple lines. And Sam is just great.

Jordan: It's getting to a point that every time Jon Snow is onscreen, and the audience recoils from how little they feel for his character, Sam pops on afterward and just NAILS it. His actor manages to convey gentleness, hope, awkwardness, and host of other qualities in an absurdly short amount of screen time. He somehow is becoming way more interesting to me than the oft-whiny character was in the books. I have a 3-episode streak this season of murmuring, "Wow, he is so perfect in this scene" after every time Sam appears.

Gilly does seem to work with Sam, looks-wise. I'm definitely with you there. I can't tell if she will be ultimately good in the role as she is currently portraying a character who is trying hard to NOT show any emotional connection to anyone, so I will defer to your judgement on the actress. I can say flatly that I never, ever cared one iota about Gilly in the books, so I am interested to see if this actress can keep me interested moving forward.

Ben: So is Bran going to become Harry Potter? The kid who gets fucked up and then learns magic? I'm more excited that there could be giants.

Jordan: Bran's chapters SUCK early on in the books. I mean, they are just a boring heaping piles of elephant dung. They are a lot of him whining about his legs and having messed up dreams that make no sense. Then, out of nowhere, his story gets AMAZING and you are excited to read about him. I am not sure how soon that is coming on the show as the writers are bending time around to keep the audience engaged, but he is a character I can definitely recommend you stick with. The one correlation that Bran definitely has with Harry Potter is it becomes glaringly clear that he is super duper important and the supernatural forces in the kingdom recognize this.

You totally almost wrote "They Might Be Giants."

Ben: You don’t know that and can’t prove it.

Jordan: I too am jazzed for seeing giants though I will temper your hopes by noting that Hodor is supposed to have giant blood in him and he just looks like a slow-minded NFL offensive lineman. I'm hoping they go the full monty and have really huge giants if they are shown.

On the subject of supernatural stuff, one thing everyone in the kingdom talks about in regards to old folklore are these giant monster spiders in the north. Now THAT I am excited to learn more about!

Ben: I'm very glad Renly is back, I find him a fascinating character. You've got all these guys like Stannis, not to mention Robert and Ned, who are pure warriors and soldiers but pretty much suck at the pomp and circumstance side of being a king. In contrast, Renly looks like he'd get knocked over by a strong breeze, but he's got being regal and a man of the people down to a science. He plays into stuff Varys was talking about toward the end in regards to the true nature of power. Does it comes from being a great fighter or from being the guy everybody gets along with? The king with the most men willing to follow him "wins," but how do you get people to follow you? Also in contrast to Robert, Renly would enjoy the heck out of being king. He loves the perks. Robert just wanted to kill stuff. I get the sense Stannis would be the same way. I have no idea what kind of king Robb would be. The people of Westeros would probably be happiest with Renly as king because there would be lots of parties and no beheadings, but they'd also probably get conquered by Daenerys and her dragons after about two weeks.

Jordan: Renly is a character that everyone universally likes, and he is being played perfectly by Gethin Anthony. I came into work yesterday and asked a coworker what his reaction to watching this last episode was. His top thing, right off the bat, was that he thought Renly was a great character and his storyline was fascinating. Renly is good at being a king (something even Catelyn can't deny) because he is a personable man of the people. Giving Renly this personality trait was a genius move by George R.R. Martin. Renly needs a strong reason for being able to build an army because he is the only guy proclaiming he is the king that has absolutely no legal claim on the crown at all. Joffrey says he is the rightful son of Robert. Stannis says that as the next brother in line the succession should go to him because he believes Joffrey illegitimate. Robb says the Lannisters are using unsound means to gain power in the kingdom and thinks it his right to defend his northern homeland. Heck, even Balon Greyjoy says the world is just an empty slate that the strongest man can claim. Renly, on the other hand, is looking around and saying, "Sheesh. ALL of these people SUCK at being king. Fight for me and we'll have a good, peaceful kingdom again", and it's this reason that his army has quickly one of the kingdom's largest. That and his cool beard.

Ben: Margaery and Brienne are both interesting characters right off the bat. I wish I hadn't seen publicity photos of Brienne because the reveal that this kick ass warrior was a woman would have been cool going in cold, but what can you do. I'd like to know more about her past and exactly where her "all duty" attitude came from. I'm sure some of it is rooted in the whole "I'm not pretty and I'm kind of a freak so I'm going to be a brute instead of a lady to fit the part" deal, but I wonder if there's more. The reveal that Margaery knew about Renly's sexual preference and romance with her brother was well-handled. She was played aloof enough that I thought she was just a clueless princess, going with the flow of wanting to be queen, but that she's smart and ambitious to the point where she's 110% ready to carry a baby out of a loveless marriage just to win the war makes her far more interesting. She's also got striking physical features, in her face especially; she looks like a cat, which is perfect for a character who is pretending to be one thing but is in actuality very much another.

Jordan: I like Brienne's casting a lot, as she is every bit the stoic, ugly, mountain of a woman I envisioned her. My wife, on the other hand, doesn't like the casting one bit, saying that in her brief screentime she came off as a bad actress with no emotional range. Time will tell on this one who is right.

Margery in the books is an enigma, someone that is kept very close to the vest of the author as to how much she actually is doing behind the scenes. Mostly, she just acts the smiling princess and it is left at that. The reveal of her as an active player in the Game of Thrones AND her knowing about Renly's sexual preferences was completely new for her character and not in the books. Unlike the majority of the writer's room tinkerings, this was a very, very cool addition. As for Margery's actress, Natalie Dormer, if you watched The Tudors two questions popped into your head the moment you saw her:

1) How much is this character going to use her sweet looks as a means to gain power?

2) When will she get naked?


Ben: Again, "As the Greyjoys Turn" is the best part of the show. Yara gets the best lines on the show not spoken by Peter Dinklage. Her taunts toward Theon about getting only one boat and being careful of fishermen had me rolling. Why is it the Greyjoys seem to have like two or three sayings and catchphrases as opposed to just one though? Is their main one "What is dead may never die" or the longer one? I feel like Balon spent forever coming up with the shorter one, then the Starks showed up and said "Winter is coming" and he was like "Fuck! That is so much cooler than mine! Bad enough that my animal is a fucking squid...ok, back to the drawing board..." and then just spent weeks writing new slogans for t-shirts and that's why he lost the war because he was distracted.

Jordan: I have had only a few genuinely cathartic experiences in my life, but one came last night when I watched the Greyjoys scene with my wife. It ended, she turned to me, and said, "I love these characters. I can't believe how interesting all of the Greyjoys are. How did I not see this in the book?" I then stood up and did a touchdown dance. I was RIGHT! IN YOUR FACE, WORLD! Side note, doing this dance was much more effective than actually answering her question.

Ben: I’m not 100% convinced you didn’t just misuse “cathartic” but I’m too uninterested to check.

Jordan: The official slogan of the Greyjoys is "We Do Not Sow", something that at least two people have asked me what the heck it means when I wear the Greyjoy shirt in public. The answer I give is "They are pirates who pillage and burn the land, not farmers who build and maintain it...I think." Hearing Balon's explanation in the pivotal "You gave your last son away" scene made me feel vindicated that I had completely guessed correctly at this catchphrase definition. There were a lot of touchdown dances going on. It was embarrassing in hindsight.

Ben: Why Theon Greyjoy is (one of) the best character(s) on the show: He's one week removed from sexually violating his sister and I still feel bad for him. I felt for him as she was essentially bullying him and then had to shake myself every so often and rememmber "Oh yeah, last week..." His "You gave me away like a dog!" rant to his dad was simultaneously pathetic and heartwrenching. I honestly have no idea what's going to happen when he meets up with Robb again and I don't think he does either. Just a fantastically layered and complex figure.

Jordan: Later on last night, after realizing her folly with the Greyjoys, my wife asked me, "How is it possible that Theon came off as so unlikeable in the books, yet is likeable on the show?" I explained to her that Theon's cockiness, womanizing, and (as we see in this episode) treachery are really just a very sad means for him to find a family for the first time in his life. He is a lifelong nomad that desperately wants a home and fate cruelly rips it from him repeatedly. THAT'S what made me empathize with Theon from the get go. He puts up the cocky face of a warrior to conceal the scared child underneath.

I am not one to criticize ANY of George R.R. Martin's work...the guy is a flippin' genius...but perhaps these layers that I saw in Theon that others didn't were not clearly communicated enough in the books. Unlike Margery Tyrell's turn in this episode, these basic personality traits of Theon were always there, but may have been grossly outweighed by his strong actions for others to see them. Watching the first season, I had serious second thoughts about whether my feelings on the character were right because they played him as every bit the cocky, jerky, untrustworthy brat everyone always told me he was. The turn his character has made in this second season is nothing short of a triumph for the actor, writers, and director. Oh, and me. We must never forget me.

Ben: I enjoy Shae. I don't always "get" her (if that makes any sense), but I enjoy her. I like that she's getting to expand her circle beyond Tyrion because her ambition to see the world will make for some interesting situations, I think. I also like that she's paired with Sansa because I very much enjoy her as well and we haven't seen enough of her this season to date. Just the fact that she's this girl who came so close to her ultimate dream only for it to become a nightmare and now she's trying to survive as best she can basically on diplomacy and nothing else makes for great drama. I liked how she tried to slip back into her bratty rich girl persona with Shae but just couldn't quite commit to it because she's so freaking broken at this point. I also like that Tyrion sent Shae to pretend to be a handmaiden with apparently no instruction whatsoever on how to be a handmaiden.

Jordan: Shae doesn't interest me much at all, and I have no idea why they are focusing on her character so much. The whole "I don't want to be a serving wench" was a blip in the book that spoke more to her behaving like a child than to her having some bizarre hooker-to-debutant Pretty Woman sense of entitlement. As you may have guessed by the previous sentence, her scene with Sansa was an added one that wasn't in the books and didn't serve a purpose for me. We already knew Sansa was broken. We already knew Shae wasn't happy being a wench. All it did was remind me pointedly for yet another episode that Shae's looks have gone WAY down from the first season. Again, HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? Was it a Mark Hamill car accident incident? Ben, here are images of Shae from the first season...

And the second season...

She clearly goes from hottie to nottie, somehow using one show hiatus to somehow age 20 years.

Ben: Um…I have a hunch Shae will die this season. No real basis other than a lot of characters die on this show and she seems like she's in a bad spot and is the type of person who will overplay her hand. Of course, she could just as easily pull an Arya and completely defy the odds.

Jordan: I will reveal nothing other than to say that her face is already dead.

Ben: What is there to say about Tyrion this week. The scheme was brilliant. Dinklage's execution of the scheme was brilliant. Bronn's one line was brilliant. I actually had a bit of trouble keeping track of what information he gave to who, but I'm glad Pycelle was the traitor because it gave us his fantastic breakdown scene and, of course, Tyrion leaving the money for the whore. I hope that's not the last we see of Pycelle because there's always mileage in the horny old man who pretends to be more broken down than he is. I'm a big fan of Tyrion breaking down the small council the way he is and doing everything he can to avoid Ned's fate in the process. It does well to hold him up against Ned as a guy who does seem to have a good heart but also a helluva lot more self-interest as well. I'm also interested by the differences between his dynamics with Varys and your boy Littlefinger where his carrot for the first seems to be making him feel "part of the game" while with the latter it's just play on his lust for power, Catelyn, etc.

Jordan: Not the last we will see of Pycelle, so don't worry there. This scene does a lot of damage to Pycelle's character though as that beard that they cut off was very important to him (I'm not joking, believe it or not. He LOVED that thing).

Tyrion's motivations were expertly defined in this episode: He saw the previous Hand Of The King, Ned, sit back and do nothing out of honor until it was too late. Like Tyrion, I HATED this about Ned's character in the book and that executioner's axe couldn't fall fast enough for me. Tyrion is doing the anti-Ned (which is a great name for a dance move) by jumping into the fray with guns (trebuchets) blazing. He recognizes the council as being the unspoken executioner of previous Hand Of The Kings and finds a brilliant way to root out the ones that may do him harm and ensnare the ones that remain. You can tell George R.R. Martin patted himself on the back after devising this scheme, shortly before going back to his day job of 'long white beard growin.’

Ben: Right after Yoren gave that fantastic talk to Arya about killing his brother's killer, I turned to Megan and said "This guy is one of my new favorite characters...he will probably be dead in five minutes." And boy was he. That last scene was about as brutal as this show has been in awhile, which is of course saying something. Rad surrogate father figures to Arya just do not do well on this show. I gave an audible "Ohhhhh...that was clever" to how Arya saved Gendry though. I was also sure those criminals she freed were going to be the cavalry, so I'm intrigued to find out why they weren't.

Jordan: I obviously knew Yoren's fate before it happened, so that fantastic monologue saddened me a bit because the show was losing an amazing actor. I am pleased to know that it accomplished its mission of endearing the character to the audience, only to have him snatched by the grim reaper in a cold and brutal fashion later. There is a LOT of that coming up, and I can proclaim loudly that at least one character that is held near and dear to the audience's heart will be killed brutally this season. It's a grisly game, this Game Of Thrones. Almost as grisly as the Sims can be when your friend locks you out of your room and kills off your characters as you shriek helplessly at the door.

Ben: I stand by my decision. You were falling into an abyss of unreality. You’re welcome.

See you next week!