Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

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Friday, 31 July 2020

Streaming Superheroes: Up, Up And Away (2000)


These days Disney and the Marvel Cinematic  Universe are pretty much synonymous, but back in the year 2000 the Disney Channel produced its own live-action TV movie - Up, Up and Away - about the struggles of an unpowered 13-year-old son in a family of superheroes.

The events unfold in a weird amalgam world where Spider-Man (and Mary Jane), Superman, and The Green Hornet are all namechecked as real people!

Scott Marshall (Michael J. Pagan) is the son of the superstrong, flying hero Bronze Eagle (Robert Townsend, who also directed the movie) and the mighty and fast Warrior Woman (Alex Datcher).

Both his older brother, Silver Charger (Kasan Butcher) and younger sister, Molly (Arreale Davis) have superpowers, but as Scott nears his 14th birthday (the date by which any mutant superpowers will have manifested in this world, much like Marvel's comic book mutants) he fears he won't be going into the "family business".

Hearing that his parents might cancel his birthday party (a kind of "coming out" event with a host of other superheroes), Scott starts to lie about gaining powers, but, while his excited parents take him at his word, his wise old grandpa, Steel Condor (Sherman Hemsley) sees through his ruse.

Meanwhile, Scott's school is being used as a test site for an ecological company's new Earth Protectors software, supposed to teach the children about saving the world, but actually containing brainwashing software.

The creator of the tech, Nina (Olivia Burnette), truly wants to do good, but feels this heavy-handed approach is the only way to truly make strides in saving the planet.

However, her partner, Malcolm (Kevin Connolly), who I thought was her brother until over halfway through the flick, has more pedestrian plans for the software: to use it to get rich.

Eventually, realising that Scott - masquerading as the would-be superhero Warrior Eagle - actually has no powers, his parents are drawn into a trap set by Malcolm and it's up to Scott and his school friends to save them.

While there are some clever moments, and witty one-liners, in Dan Berendsen's script, Up, Up And Away is no Sky High, and doesn't even really stand up against Zoom: Academy For Superheroes.

Although the budget clearly went into slick costume design, and the special effects are kind of what you'd expect for a 20-year-old TV movie, the villains are rather lacklustre - despite the interesting dynamic between Nina and Malcolm with their different goals - and the revelation that the Marshall family's Kryptonite is aluminium foil (tin foil to us Brits) is simply risible.

When three superpowered heroes are trapped in a cage made of tin foil at the climax of the film, all sense of verisimilitude goes flying out the window.

The plot denouement is more "kids on bikes" than superpower slugfest anyway, and Scott is very free with the highly-guarded secret of his family's secret identities when persuading his friends, Amy (Jamie Renée Smith) and Randy (Chris Marquette), to help in the rescue.

Lucky then that one of his brother's powers is "mind wiping" (a human version of the Men In Black's memory erasing Neuralyzer). Let's not even get into the ethics of non-consensual mind wipes!

There are nuggets of interest in Up, Up And Away: the world where superheroes are just accepted as the norm, the variety of cool hero costumes glimpsed, the inherited powers and legacy aspect, the natural development of powers (which rather jars with the the big name heroes who get dropped into conversation) etc make me want to know more about the setting and see the Marshalls and their costumed friends taking on some real supervillains at some point.

Hidden away in the recesses of Disney+, Up, Up And Away is a mere 75-minute watch, and an easy afternoon space-filler for those of us who have to watch EVERY live-action superhero movie they find.

The Marshalls

No One Is Safe From The (Eventual) Coming Of The Sky Sharks...



The sea is not enough! Deep in the ice of the Antarctic, a team of geologists uncover an old Nazi laboratory where dark experiments had occurred.

In order to conquer the world, the Nazis created modified sharks, which were able to fly and whose riders were genetically mutated, undead super humans.

So a military task force known as ‘Dead Flesh Four’ – comprising reanimated U.S. soldiers who fell in Vietnam – is put together to prevent the universe from facing the jawsome menace again.

From Germany with love and years in the epic making, there’s no time to die in Sky Sharks.
The pulptastic Sky Sharks was a pretty big deal around HeroPress back in April, 2016, but then it disappeared before actually materialising.

However, this week, I learned that the film is due to have its world premiere at (digital) FrightFest at the end of next month.

Directed by Marc Fehse, this 102-minute German film stars horror legend Tony Todd alongside Thomas Morris, Barbara Nedeljakova, and Eva Habermann
In the Arctic, a team of geologists discovers a Nazi warship that was thought to be lost: the Himmelsfaust, a gigantic steel colossus from the Third Reich, brimming with unimaginable destruction-machines.

On that ship scientists researched top secret, war-critical weapons and created the Reichsflughaie: rocket-powered monsters whose pilots are genetically mutated, supernaturally endowed supersoldiers with supernatural powers.

Dr. Klaus Richter, the spiritual forefather of this experiment, is forced to stop his deadly army of the undead in order to save humanity and the planet Earth from the seemingly certain doom.

His daughters Angelique and Diabla face the threat that their father set up 75 years ago.

From Asgardians To Mutants, New Marvel Novel Range Has Something For Everyone...


With the publication in October of The Head of Mimir, by Richard Le Byers, and Domino: Strays by Tristan Palmgren, Marvel launches a new range of novels (prose, rather than graphic) telling new adventures in their universe.

The Head Of Mimir (apparently not about Darcy Lewis's name for Mjolnir) is a heroic fantasy novel set in Marvel's Asgard, about a quest by Heimdell to find the missing head of Mimir, an artefact of great wisdom.

Meanwhile, Domino: Strays is a more traditionally superheroic tale with the preternaturally lucky mercenary infiltrating a cult to rescue a couple of brainwashed twins.

November will then see the publication of Liberty & Justice for All, by Carrie Harris, about mutant goings on at at the New Charles Xavier Institute; followed in December by a Doctor Doom novel, The Harrowing of Doom, by David Annandale, and a return to Asgard with C L Werner's The Sword of Surtur.

Once Again The Fate Of Robin Is In Your Hands, And It's A Matter Of Life & Death...



Who here is old enough to remember when DC ran its hugely tasteful phone-in vote (those were the pre-Internet dark ages) to decide whether Jason Todd (Robin) lived or died at the hands of The Joker?

Now, everyone can recapture that thrill of holding Robin's fate in your hands thanks to an inventive twist in the latest Batman animation coming to home video from Warners.

The Batman: Death in the Family release is a collection of five animated shorts, with the headliner being the titular tale of Robin's fate, but, for the first time, viewers will be able to alter the outcome by choosing different paths for the story to take.

The original adverts for the 'fate of Robin' phone-in
Five fascinating tales from the iconic DC canon, including the first interactive film presentation in Warner Bros. Home Entertainment history, come to animated life in DC Showcase - Batman: Death in the Family. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and DC, the anthology of 2019-2020 animated shorts arrives from WBHE on Blu-ray and Digital in Fall 2020.

Anchoring the compilation of shorts is Batman: Death in the Family, WBHE's first-ever venture into interactive storytelling that allows fans to choose where the story goes through an innovative navigation guided by the viewer's remote control. Central to the extended-length short is an adaptation of Batman: A Death in the Family, the 1988 landmark DC event where fans voted by telephone to determine the story's ending.

The interactive Blu-ray presentation offers many different ways for viewers to tell the Batman: Death in the Family story, with numerous twists and turns in the middle, and several possible endings. The choices along the way put greater weight on the viewers' decisions and result in even stronger stories.

Produced, directed and written by Brandon Vietti, Batman: Death in the Family offers an inventive take on the long-demanded story.

In the new animated presentation, the infamous murder of Batman protégé Jason Todd will be undone, and the destinies of Batman, Robin and The Joker will play out in shocking new ways as viewers make multiple choices to control the story. And while Batman: Under the Red Hood provides a baseline, the story also branches in new directions and features several characters previously unseen in the original film.

Bruce Greenwood (The Resident, Star Trek, iRobot), Vincent Martella (Phineas and Ferb) and John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time) reprise their Batman: Under The Red Hood roles of Batman, young Jason Todd and The Joker, respectively.

Other featured voices are Zehra Fazal (Young Justice) as Talia al Ghul and Gary Cole (Veep) as Two-Face and James Gordon.
The other four shorts are all ones we've seen before, extras from previous releases, but clearly we're paying for the technical trickery of a branching movie here, so I don't mind that.

They are: Adam Strange, The Phantom Stranger, Death, and Sgt Rock.

Explore The Pulp Cinematic Roots Of A Super-Villain With Deep Comic Book Ties...

Marvel as Christopher Lee (I, Monster) assumes the guise of an evil mastermind in The Face of Fu Manchu, The Brides of Fu Manchu, The Vengeance of Fu Manchu, The Blood of Fu Manchu and The Castle of Fu Manchu – the five thrilling revivals of Sax Rohmer’s super-villain, brought to the screen by maverick British writer/producer Harry Alan Towers (The Bloody Judge).

Working with directors Don Sharp (Psychomania), Jeremy Summers and Jesús Franco (Venus in Furs), Towers made these ever more delirious Fu Manchu tales between 1965 and 1969, each one pitting the criminal mastermind (and his diabolical daughter Lin Tang – Tsai Chin, You Only Live Twice) against his arch-nemesis, Nayland Smith – variously portrayed by Nigel Green (Play Dirty), Douglas Wilmer (Sherlock Holmes) and Richard Greene (The Adventures of Robin Hood).
The Marvel Cinematic Universe's eagerly-anticipated martial arts movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend Of The Ten Rings is currently scheduled for a May 7, 2021, release... but I'm sure that'll change.

Ahead of its release, the brilliant Powerhouse Films's Indicator label, which produces some of the finest home video box sets around, is releasing the five film Fu Manchu Cycle (1965 - 1969), collecting all of Christopher Lee’s classic interpretations of the evil criminal genius on Blu-ray for the first time.

Obviously, not a casting decision that would wash today, but these films are 50 years old and need to be considered in context.

Remember, in the original Shang-Chi, Master Of Kung Fu comics from the 1970s, the protagonist was the son of Fu Manchu, but because of licencing issues over the original Sax Rohmer pulp (and horribly racist) source material, that aspect of Shang-Chi's backstory, and many of the supporting characters, were discretely written out or altered to better fit the on-going Marvel canon.

Keeping with the comic book theme, DC's Ra's Al Ghul - one of Batman's greatest foes - is also, essentially, Fu Manchu, but with the serial numbers filed off.

Nevertheless, for those who want some insight into Shang-Chi's original background, or simply want to enjoy some super-villainy from the wonderful Christopher Lee, each vintage film in the collection, which will be released on October 19, has been "newly restored by Powerhouse Films from 4K scans of the original negatives".

The box set also includes "a range of new and archival extra features, new and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and a new 120-page book with new essays, historical articles, contemporary reviews and film credits".

Pre-ordering direct from Powerhouse Films, before September 6, you can get a 10% discount on the £49.99 box set with the code BUNDLE, along with a free Fu Manchu For Mayor replica poster (see above).

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Artist Appreciation: Marvel's Timeless Variant Covers From Alex Ross...

Captain America (Captain America Vol. 9 #23) [September 16]

The other day I told you about the mural Alex Ross painted for the Marvel offices and its ties to their upcoming Timeless variant cover series.

Now here's all those covers...

The Mighty Thor (Thor Vol. 4 #8) [October 7]
Spider-Man (The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 5 #50) [October 7]
Shang-Chi (Shang-Chi Vol. 1 #1) [September 30]
Ghost Rider/Johnny Blaze (Avengers Vol. 7 #36) [September 30]
Hulk (The Immortal Hulk #37) [September 16] (
Daredevil (Daredevil Vol. 6 #23) [September 23]
Scarlet Witch (Strange Academy #3) [September 30]
Iron Man (Iron Man Vol. 3 #1) [September 16,
Spider-Woman (Spider-Woman Vol. 5 #1) [October 21]
She-Hulk (Immortal She-Hulk #1) [September 9] 
Human Torch (Fantastic Four Vol. 6 #24) [September 30]
Invisible Woman (Fantastic Four Vol. 6 #24) [September 30]
The Thing (Fantastic Four Vol. 6 #24) [September 30]
Mister Fantastic (Fantastic Four Vol. 6 #24) [September 30] 
Namor (Empyre Fallout: Fantastic Four #1) [September 9]
Medusa (Fantastic Four: Antithesis #3) [October 28]
Black Bolt (Fantastic Four Vol. 6 #25) [October 21]
Silver Surfer (Fantastic Four: Antithesis #2) [September 23]
Wolverine (Wolverine Vol. 6 #1) [October 7]
Cyclops (X-Men Vol. 5 #13) [October 21]
Beast (X-Force Vol. 5 #13) [October 7]
Angel  (X-Factor Vol. 4 #4) [September 30]
Iceman (Marauders Vol. 1 #13) [October 7]
Nightcrawler (Excalibur Vol. 3 #13) [October 21]
Phoenix (Hellions Vol. 1 #5) [October 14]
Colossus (New Mutants Vol. 4 #13) [October 14]
Storm (Giant Size X-Men: Storm one-shot) [September 16]

When Imaginary Friends Turn Bad...


When Beth’s son brings home an imaginary friend named “Z,” she becomes concerned that he is falling too deep into a world of make believe.

He starts to display extremely destructive behaviour, blaming Z for all of his actions.

But after he gets kicked out of school, Beth is forced to find a solution.

She medicates her son, making him unable to see his imaginary companion.

But now Beth sees Z… and he wants to be her friend.
While Misfits delivered the definitive take, for me, on imaginary friends, it's an idea I've long wanted to explore in a gaming scenario (probably a superhero campaign, given my admiration for the Misfits iteration of the concept).

A pure horror film, though, Z looks like it could have some interesting ideas in there among the jump scares.

Z will be released, in the States, on VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray on September 1.

WEEKLY WORLD NEWS: It's All True!


What is the world coming to when the lead story on the front page of Weekly World News is actually true (kind of) and nobody bats an eye lid.

Is the world such a shitshow that nobody truly cares that we may not be alone in this glorious universe?

For me, alien races play a large role in the backstory of my major gaming thought experiment, Knight City, and are tied directly in to the explanation of why there are "superhuman" characters in that world that appear to have stepped out of the pages of comic books.

Here's a collection of alien-themed Weekly World News front pages with enough story ideas to keep your contemporary campaigns going for a while, whether they, too, are superheroic or more grounded in the style of The X-Files, Fringe etc

Eternals (2021) + Spider-Man (2021) + The Matrix (2021) +The Batman (2022)


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