A version of this story titled “How Superheroes Cope” was published in Newsweek magazine October 18, 2018.
It’s 8:30 a.m., and the Hornblower Admiral Yacht is docked in the back of the San Diego Convention Center. Decorated with a DC Comics flag, I would never have guessed what awaited inside: white robes, frozen grapes, orange juice, a scattering of plush pillows and, standing near the bow, Tom King. A gong rings: “Welcome to Sanctuary. Your robe is for your comfort and will conceal your identity,” a soft, deep voice repeats.
The vibe sets the tone for King’s upcoming series with DC Comics, Heroes in Crisis. Until now, the only thing I knew about the Eisner-nominated writer’s next project was that it’s about a sanctuary, a place where superheroes can heal from the trauma in their everyday lives — a respite from their violence, their responsibilities and their identity crises. Come to find out, it’s about much, much more.
“We are looking at every single character, hundreds of superheroes, the same way we looked at Scott Free in Mister Miracle,” King begins, before his masked co-artists reveal themselves. Sitting cross-legged beside him are Clay Mann and Mitch Gerads. The Heroes part of the title, King says, is the easy part, but the Crisis element is a trickier matter. “There's no worlds blowing up or merging or little Lex Luthors trying to escape from things,” he says. “I’m just tired of having the world end and everything. I feel like we’ve seen the world end. Sometimes I think every day we are looking at our own world ending.”
But the real reason it’s called Crisis is best explained with King’s own words. He spoke candidly with Newsweek about this project. What follows has been lightly edited for clarity:
I had my own crisis, I had my own what they probably call a ‘nervous breakdown.’ It was my wife’s birthday. I’m out with my family, I have three kids and a wife, and we are at a hamburger joint. Everything is going well, I’m about to start on Batman, I’m about to finish Vision, I’m on top of the world then all the sudden my chest is on fire. My wife and my kids take me outside, and say, “What’s wrong, Daddy?” I couldn’t write something more depressing. I got that tunnel vision, that blackout thing … I thought this was it, I was leaving this Earth. But my wife got me in the car, and we get to the emergency room. My father calls me, and we aren’t close so he never calls me, so that’s weird. He goes, “How are you doing?” I go, “Great, except for the emergency room and the death and all that shit.” And he says, “Your Grandma died.”
I was raised by my Grandma, and she died that day. I went up to the doctor and looked in his eyes, with my Grandma's death and my own insanity — I tell the doctor, “I think I’m having a panic attack, or I’m dying, so tell me if I’m dead or insane, and I hope I’m insane.” And he’s like, “Yeah, you’re crazy.” It was the most relieved I’ve ever been to be crazy. But what happened next is what this is about.
I had a bad year, because I feel like I’m a tough guy, at least that’s how I think of myself. I’ve been overseas, I’ve done some hard things, I fought some wars, but I was broken. I didn't realize how brittle I was; I couldn't catch my breath, I’d get weird pains, I couldn't focus, there was something wrong with me. My hands would start shaking, and amidst all that you have to hit your deadlines, you can’t let your kids see that way. And you’re just falling apart on the inside, but on the outside you have to be the dad. But still, you’re shaken, and so for the last two years I have been trying to put myself back together. What’s this about? Was it childhood stuff? Was it being in the war? What violence or discontinuity cracked me? And that process has been revelatory, but the big thing I’ve learned about that process is that is that I’m not alone.
I don't care if that's cliché, I like cliché. I like Batman, and he says, “I’m Batman," sometimes. But the fact that we can reach out to each other, that I can tell somebody, “Look, I used to fight Al-Qaeda, and also sometimes I can't get my hand to stop shaking.” Those two things can be true. You can be a man and still be weak, and still love your family, and still say that I got help and I got through this with help. To me, watching my father’s generation run away from that help and embrace ponytails and fast cars when they hit that moment, I feel like we can go a different way, especially in this time of anxiety. We can lean on each other and find a way to fight back all this stuff.
Superman went through this. Batman went through this. Wonder Woman went through this, and I started thinking about the lives they lived. I started thinking about Batman watching his second son die and holding him in his arms. I started thinking about Superman. When he’s 21, he has to give up his identity. I think about Wonder Woman, raised to be a warrior trying to bring peace and her finding compassion in having to always be the strong one. Batman and Superman are always whining. You never see her whining. I wanted to write about that, and how they got there. They didn't get there by being the silent, tough types. They got there by going through something, by leaning on people, and after getting that help, helping people.
I feel like I discovered Sanctuary because it’s been here. They would create a place for people who have lived these violent lives. If you have gone out and saved six people that day, but you didn't save the seventh, that will break you. I remember one time I was in Afghanistan, and I did something I thought was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. We were on the cover of every newspaper in the country, and I found out the next day I missed something even better. It broke me, and it sounds arrogant, but it does break you to not be able to save people.
So let me talk about how it works. Sanctuary is in rural Nebraska. This all started with my Grandma dying, and I set it where she was born and buried, on the panhandle of Nebraska on the border of South Dakota. It’s a little farm house, surrounded by absolutely nothing. You approach the house, you are greeted by three people, AI robots. Sanctuary was built by Batman, from Kryptonian technology, with Wonder Woman’s compassion. A Wonder Woman AI, built by Batman with Superman technology.
The first thing I did when I broke was hide it. I did not want people to know. So you go into Sanctuary anonymous, that's what the masks are. Underneath the farmhouse are the chambers. They give you the therapy you need.
If you are Firestorm, and you need to go back and see yourself not as two people, but one, you get to talk to your old self. If you’re Scott Free, you get to see Oberon one more time. Or if you just want to sit by an ocean, or be in the desert, it’s whatever you need. The end result, the final climax, the whole point is that you get to walk down a dark alley and meet yourself. You get to see what part of you is hurting the most and you confess it. For me, that’s what worked. You can say to the world, “This is my pain, this is the problem.” And you stop hiding and bring it out so that it’s not in the back of your brain, but it’s the front of your brain. It’s not that you get to fight it, it’s that it becomes a part of you. That’s what the process is.
It’s not punching pain in the face, it’s realizing that pain is my strength. That’s what they confess, look into a camera and say, “These are my deepest darkest secrets, this is what I was hiding.” Then you take off your mask. As you are leaving, you get a pin. If you have been through something like me, you’ve had that pain, and you are proud, that’s when you wear the pin. It’s designed by Clay and it’s DC’s oldest logo. It’s the original Superman logo with Wonder Woman and Superman's and Batman’s hands, and of course the S is for Sanctuary. This is about DC Comics, and it's about going back to that history and changing that history and making that history.
That’s the background, but you’ve read my comics. They don’t always have happy endings. Occasionally people don’t get married. Occasionally someone cuts their wrists open, or Vision’s wife dies. Someday I’ll write a happy ending. So Sanctuary is the background, but the book is about a massacre. It starts with a mass shooting, something we see every day in America. It starts with a massacre at Sanctuary. A dozen heroes are killed, and they don’t know who killed them. They look at these dead bodies and this horror, and Batman says, “What happened is what always happens. Our attempt at redemption has turned into another quest for vengeance.”
We start with a mystery: who did this and why? The effort of everything they’ve done is torn apart. The second mystery is, can they put this back together? When you fall — we’ve all fallen — and you get back up and you are so proud, you spent years … and you know what happens the next day? You fall again. Just when you are at your happiest, have stability, you fall again. That's when it's hard to get back up. That's the worst time. This is not something you just have to repair, this is something you have to live with.
To me, Sanctuary is about this moment in history. When I saw those towers fall on 9/11, I thought, ”That’s the craziest thing I’ll ever see in my life.” And now I see six crazier things happen every day on the news. That's where we start this. We were in a place of comfort, we finally found our way out of the pain, and now there's more pain. Can we come back from that? Do we have the strength to fight and resist? The people who gave us these myths — Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman — when my kids look in these comics, they don't see the crazy of the world, they see the hope of the world — that's what this is about. Can they get us out of this moment? And, it’s my comic, so you know … 50/50 chance.
Heroes in Crisis arrives September 26.
DC Universe, the upcoming DC Comics streaming service, will cost $7.99 monthly or an annual membership of $74.99 per year. Warner Bros Digital Networks announced the pricing Thursday at San Diego Comic Con 2018. The platform offers original animated and live-action shows in addition to thousands of (anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 at once) digital comic books, an encyclopedia, fan forums, news and, of course, loads of old shows and movies.
New episodes of original series will arrive weekly, starting with Titans and followed by Young Justice. A specific release window for both shows has yet to be revealed. “We want something new every week of the year,” Jim Lee, co-publisher and chief creative officer of DC Entertainment, told Newsweek.
Ten episodes of Titans will be followed by 13 episodes of Young Justice:Outsiders . Then Doom Patrol gets 10 episodes, Swamp Thing gets 10 episodes and then Young Justice will get another 13 episodes. Harley Quinn will follow sometime later, with a total of 26 episodes split into halves. DC-affiliated shows licensed elsewhere, such as The CW, will not be on the service (as of right now).
Due to the focus on comic books and digital media, Lee believes “fans have ability to contextualize the material and its evolution from print to media.” The DC Universe team will tailor collections to relevant and trending comic book TV shows and movies, original or archived. Fans will have the opportunity to create playlists and share them with each other. The platform is engagement focused, and has an old-school style forum that give fans the opportunity to debate storylines or origins. These will be moderated, and an editorial staff will curate the news section.
“It blows my mind that all the stuff you want to see is available on one app, anytime you want to watch it, on one device,” says Lee. “When I was a kid, every time we visited a new city I would go through the TV guide and see what shows were there, because every station would have different shows. That’s how I compiled my knowledge of DC, Batman ‘66 and all the other shows. You had to dig, it was like a treasure hunt.”
Craig Hunegs, president of Warner Bros. Television Group, told Newsweek he’s most excited about the social aspect of DC Universe, and how it could change the way people think about comic books.
“I'm reading with my kids and my girlfriend on a big screen. It’s fun to discover comic books in a new way and watch them get pulled into new characters, because they only know ones from the movies and TV shows,” he said. “I’m hoping people who come for the comics get turned on to the TV shows, and people who come for the TV shows get turned on to the comics.”
Lee said he believes this is the next great technological evolution for the digital comics reader. “We remastered our library so it will show 4K resolution, which allows you to sit on your couch and watch it super vibrant, super crisp, from ten feet away,” he said. “I traditionally have resisted reading comics on my phone, but if you put it into panel by panel mode, the resolution is very crisp, almost better than print in terms of actual resolution.”
While new and ongoing comic series will not be included with the subscription fee, readers will have the opportunity to purchase them within the app. Sign up for the beta version for a chance to access DC Universe in August.
‘LUKE CAGE’ SEASON 2 SATISFIES LIKE A WARM, ROUSING CRESCENDO
he Netflix series Luke Cage debuted in 2016 with some timely symbolism: Its lead, the first African-American Marvel superhero to headline a TV show, wore a hoodie punctured with bullet holes, invoking the fatal wounds of Trayvon Martin. A series marrying one of the most emotionally divisive issues of the day with comic book escapism was a bold statement. But the further intention of creator Cheo Hodari Coker was not to remind viewers that Black men and boys are getting shot by police; it was to offer hope that one day Black people wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Luke Cage debuted on the page in 1972, an ex-con imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Like his fellow Marvel character Jessica Jones (who has her own Netflix show), Cage gained his “bulletproof” powers through involuntary experiments. And like her, he grapples with the psychological impact of having them, and of the role he feels forced into: “Hero is your word, not mine.”
Season 1 was about Cage reluctantly coming to terms with his abilities. It also established his mission: to protect Harlem—from drug dealers, guns, gangs. In Season 2, he realizes he can’t save everyone. It also raises the eternal dilemma of power and its tendency to corrupt, says Coker: “If you control crime; are you a criminal? These superhuman heroes have very human fallacy.”
Coker, a music journalist turned TV writer, used one of his own heroes for inspiration: artist-activist-actor Tupac Shakur, who had an intriguing evolution of his own. “The thing that was fascinating and frustrating about Pac was that he clearly knew better than to go down the gangster road that he went down,” says Coker. “Pac knew, and he was right, that thug energy could be redirected into fearless positivity. The Black Panther Party never took out the thug. With Pac, in order to reach the youth, he had to talk to them in that same way and, at the same time, inject these kids with a fearlessness—to look at their communities and show them you could do both.”
Early in the second season, Cage (played by Mike Colter) is humiliated by a new villain, Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir). The confrontation forces Cage to reciprocate with a brutality he’s tried to avoid, prompting a massive identity crisis. Coker cites a famous Mike Tyson line: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face.” The idea, he says, is for viewers to get to the 13th episode, the finale, and go, “Man, I don’t even know if I know this dude.”
Coker thinks of the show as a Trojan horse, delivering ideas that open a door to conversations and new insights. Among other things, he wants “viewers to get a deep dive into cultures they may not have been thinking about, particularly if they are just comic book geeks.”
Growing up, music was Coker’s way of understanding, calibrating and assessing the world, and he uses it liberally on Luke Cage as a layer of storytelling. “It’s no different than Martin Scorsese leaning into the rock ’n’ roll of his youth,” says Coker. “From that, Scorsese got a swagger and confidence. My era was ’90s Carhartt-and-Timberlands hip-hop. That’s my rock ’n’ roll.”
He describes the first season as the “Wu-Tang-ification of the Marvel Universe”—introducing leading Black superheroes two years before Black Panther came out. With Bushmaster comes a new layer with its own Caribbean soundtrack. “When you scratch the soul of hip-hop,” says Coker, “you find R&B and funk but also reggae.” The perfect soundtrack for a villain both loose and taut.
One of the first major hip-hop DJs was Kool Herc, who was born in Jamaica and moved to the Bronx as a teenager. He introduced the tradition of the “sound system,” which began in Kingston in the 1950s. DJs and MCs would organize street parties with massive speakers, sampling and mixing on turntables and adding spoken word. In Season 2, the plot shifts to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a neighborhood with a large Caribbean population. Glady’s, a real-life landmark—home of curried goat, jerk chicken and peppered shrimp—serves as Bushmaster’s home base, called Gwen’s on the show. From there, he plots to add Harlem to his kingdom.
Coker is hoping viewers fall in love with reggae, as he did in the ’90s. “I would be at a party,” he remembers, “and all of a sudden they are playing Mad Cobra or Tenor Saw, and a whole part of the audience would just erupt. If you weren’t from the culture, at first you didn’t really understand, but the more you go, you start to understand.”
He likens the trend of binge-watching TV to the way he inhaled music as a teenager. “The second Prince dropped an album— Sign ‘O’ the Times orLovesexy —you would go get the CD or cassette, listen to the entire record twice at home, probably with the lights off to absorb the vibe of the record, and then you would call your friends and talk for hours.”
The reason Coker became a music journalist was because he wanted to be an “A&R man,” the record company executives charged with developing talent. “I finally achieved my dream by being a TV showrunner,” says Coker, whose process for drafting seasons is reminiscent of producing a record, with each episode named for a song featured on the soundtrack. (This season includes Stephen Marley, Gary Clark, Jr., Rakim, Faith Evans, Esperanza Spalding and Ghostface Killah.)
You could call Luke Cage his version of a concept album by Beyoncé. “WithLemonade, she dropped the videos and the album at the same time, creating one mind-blowing experience—you’re absorbing the music, the storylines, the acting, the vibe all at once,” says Coker. “That’s what I wanted Luke Cage to feel like: a bulletproof Lemonade.”
Cloak & Dagger begins with the concept of fate and somehow folds in much more. Daredevil writer Joe Pokaski and his team are impressive, managing to stitch together themes at their intersection points by unpacking the nuances between race and class, where living and surviving merge. Ultimately we find ourselves exploring the balance, or in this case the similarity, between hope and fear. Exacerbated by superhuman powers of lightness and darkness, Cloak and Dagger discover the mysticism that saved them over a decade after they first meet.
The premiere is best described as your worst nightmare. I know it’s mine--a crash off a bridge and a brutal murder. Flashforward to adolescence, and we see the effects of grief, loss and survivor's guilt on our main characters Tyrone aka Cloak (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy aka Dagger (Olivia Holt). Not many shows intricately explore these traumas experienced at the pre-verbal stage and how they develop over the course of a decade, subsequently ditching the all-too-popular reaction to death and zooming in on the intense psychological isolation that sneaks up during impressionable years. Peaking at a point where to endure is simply unmanageable, Cloak & Dagger is a harrowing story about the limits of the human breaking point.
The lead actors play eloquently into the narrative, illustrating what it’s like to be both emotionally full and empty at the same time, a sentiment that is hard to produce in adaptations that fall into the trap of primetime comic book pacing. In the episodes provided for review, Tandy and Tyrone struggle to give into their fears. For this reason, the plot only moves in the context of the characters, and not always forward. The structure is what makes Cloak & Dagger, in the first half of the season, more compelling than action-packed.
It's teenage angst in a way worth talking about. Why does Tandy cover the pain with perscription drugs? Why can’t Tyrone let out the anger that’s been building since his brother died? The interactions between two intrinsically intertwined characters are few, but, when they do happen it’s cathartic both for characters and viewers. The commitment to New Orleans as a backdrop deserves applause—the culture, the architecture, the voodoo. The characters and plot are drenched in a rich history that gives depth and finesse to some of the series twists and turns. The city itself is a character, not just a set or a reference. You may even learn something too.
How exactly Tandy and Tyrone’s powers manifest and interact is after the premiere, largely unclear. It’s a blessing or a curse, depending on why you’re watching. Though, the jarring imagery of light and dark above and below surface level should be enough to float most through the midpoint at ease. Whether you're a Marvel fan or not, it's undeniably a must-watch if you want something different.
Cloak & Dagger arrives June 7 on Freeform.
Geoff Johns and Gary Frank unpack the philosophy behind Doomsday Clock's "Superman Theory."
A rumor has the capacity to change the world in an instant — whether it’s true or not.Doomsday Clock is no different, seizing on this phenomenon to move away from its source material and become a product of a new time. Inspired by the legacy of Watchmen, in the context of the DC Universe, the fifth issue of the series plays with a dangerous hypothesis: The Superman Theory, which claims costumed metahumans were created by the United States government as superhuman soldiers.
“I think the big cornerstone of misinformation, with a kernel of truth to support it and make it valid, is what the Superman Theory represents,” DC Entertainment's chief creative officer and Doomsday Clock writer Geoff Johns tells Newsweek. “We have a president who can tweet directly whatever he wants to the American people, to the world, with no filter, with no fact, he can say whatever he wants. And maybe he’s right, maybe he's not right, but the fact that he has the power to do that, and the way that it travels, and it’s interpreted however it wants to be interpreted. It’s very powerful.”
Doomsday Clock artist Gary Frank agrees. “Watchmen didn’t happen in the year of fake news. That was not a thing. Even a few years ago, the idea of and the level of misinformation and how easy it would be to sell misinformation, it would have been hard to believe, and yet here we are,” he told Newsweek. “Watchmen was a product of its time and I think Doomsday Clock needs to be that as well if it’s going to work.”
According to The Superman Theory, metahumans are assigned a supervillain or superhero narrative, allowing them to train in plain sight and prepare to be called to action at anytime. If true, this could explain why 97 percent of the world's metahumans identify as American. “Why is that?” Johns posed. “Is there an in-story reason for that? And that's how the conspiracy grew up.”
That’s only the basic premise of The Superman Theory. As the prospect of its truth or inaccuracy unfolds, each issue peels back another thoughtful layer. “People immediately thoughtWatchmen is the really screwed-up universe and DC universe is the good one. Ozymandias makes a real solid case for why the DC universe may have its own problems. And the Superman Theory becomes a personification of how those problems can go terribly wrong,” said Johns.
Everything in big-two comics hinges upon the narrative of the superhero versus supervillain and rarely anything else. Doomsday Clock wants to examine the fabric of that blueprint. “That's really what the Superman Theory has created, this ongoing, unending, superhero and supervillain narrative that has dominated the DC universe,” he said. “Suddenly there are moments and times where it just becomes about yet another confrontation between people in costumes, and to what end?”
“People are mad, that yeah, the Joker is out again,” Johns continued. “There is chaos in Arkham, like another Arkham breakout? It’s just this world that is overrun by people playing dress up. Has Gotham even gotten better since Batman has been around? Because in the comics I read it’s sure as hell not.”
The first four issues paint a picture of unrest in Gotham. Unable to discern false narrative from truth, and not in a position to affect change, the citizens are so angry for answers they call for Batman’s arrest. Issue #5 globalizes the turmoil and overall story, the back pages in particular. By the end of the issue, the United States calls thousands of soldiers home from overseas, Russia prepares a team of metahumans to challenge the United States, countries close their borders and, after breaking international law to save a journalist in Syria, Black Adam offers asylum in Khandaq to all wrongfully treated metahumans across the world.
“I wanted to create something that would have a similar ‘world tipping on the edge of survival’ feeling that the original Watchmen did, but in a DC universe way,” Johns said. “It was important to start to see the shape of the world change, and do something that was looking more inward in terms of the superhero narrative. There are so many stories about giant monsters and they go outward into big parallel universes and they get bigger and bigger and bigger. Gary and I talked a lot about going inward and looking at our own world and how it reacts to these metahumans.”
In the back pages, a map carves out territories and illustrates the daunting reality of the growing metahuman arms race. Russia, France, the U.K., Markovia, Israel, India and China all have superheroes and teams ready to intimidate and incite fear. “You have countries trying to make them. You have countries trying to search and find them. And then you have countries also being more nationalistic, going so far as to close their borders,” Johns explained. “In the next issue, we will hear more about that. Their borders are closed, and the only person that they allow to cross really is Superman.”
But none of this would have been possible without the sensationalism fueling the Superman Theory. Who better to guide us through the media’s role in all this than Lois and Clark? Daily Planet editor Perry White uses the word metahuman to describe Ozymandias in a headline, against Lois’ wishes and despite the fact there is no solid proof.
“Lois calling him out on it and then him saying, ‘Hey, I’m in charge. That's why people will read this.’ I think that's a real thing that happens in the media. It certainly happened here, and continued to spread misinformation, or it continues to get certain items up to the top, it continues to get the conversation going,” Johns said, “There are a lot of buzzwords that get people to stop and read, and clearly newspapers and websites and everything know why people stop and read and they are going to exploit that because, at times, that's the job.”
As the people across the world try to separate fact from fiction, as supervillains and superheroes play tag, Ozymandias points out real problems of the world go ignored. “If we know the truth, will that make everything better? Does the truth really always provide the best answer?” Johns asks. “With Lois and Clark digging into it, what will they decide?”
Doomsday Clock #5 is available to buy at your local comic book shop today.
Hopefully Amazon people have lunch,” was one of many anxious comments in a group chat filled with fans of The Expanse Tuesday afternoon. A devoted bunch of the cancelled SyFy show’s thriving fanbase watched in awe as a Gofundme-sponsored plane trailing a #SaveTheExpanse banner circled Amazon Studios in Santa Monica. The target? Jeff Bezos.
“I believe space exploration to be the most important goal of our species,” Vincent Buyssens, who started a Change.org petition with more than 100,000 signatures to save The Expanse, told Newsweek. “Jeff Bezos believes this as well, hence why we appealed to him personally.” Well, that and there was chatter on Facebook from Expanse staff that Amazon was interested in a meeting with series owners Alcon Studios.
“Normally, I would have just vented my anger on Twitter, but for this show I decided to try everything,” said Buyssens. By everything, he’s referring to joining a larger campaign. An online focus group not only organized the flyby, but #SaveTheExpanse trailers, a website, the moderation of various fan communities across the internet, Jim Holden-inspired coffee care packages to employees at Amazon Studios, press releases and letters to Netflix painstakingly edited by a fleet of fans in Google Docs, and paid ads on social media.
Many folks went out of their way to contribute. “If I'm the only one who sends coffee, I'm gonna be so mad! I'm so broke right now,” one user wrote in the fan chatroom. All of these steps were discussed and voted on inside Discord, a fastly growing online chat service that celebrated its third birthday last month. “Internet strangers who are doing guerilla marketing via a chat app used by gamers is one hell of a sign of the times,” said Buyssens.
It sure is. Fans from all across the world have mobilized, raising thousands of dollars to hire the plane (fun fact: it was almost an hot-air balloon). The Greenpeace-inspired idea, credited to U.K. reddit user Tim, was scaled down to a more approachable financial goal.
From there, Murilo Silva of New Jersey took the initiative. “I thought the idea was brilliant, but would be difficult to pull off as quickly as we needed it to happen,” he told Newsweek. The Expanse sets in Toronto were rumored come down on Wednesday, after the prop master revealed on Facebook that Star Trek Discovery might be interested in some of the pieces.
The campaign now had a deadline. “I kicked off a GoFundMe page with little idea of whether people would contribute or not. It's always hard to hand out cash to a stranger on the internet,” said Silva.
Turns out, thousands of people were willing to do precisely that. It wasn’t until his financial campaign gained momentum Silva realized the extent of fan efforts to save the series. “The real magic happened when a few uber-fans invited me to an Expanse Discord channel I didn't even know existed,” he explained. The group consisted of people with a broad range of skillsets—web design, publicity, PR and advertising. “Everyone works really well together,” Silva said.
Call it what you want… desperation, love, the novelty of sending a plane flying over Amazon headquarters—but it actually happened. Thousands of donations poured in, averaging $20 each. The campaign has seen considerable support from fans outside of the United States, proof there’s a significant number of viewers without the opportunity to watch live and contribute to Nielsen ratings. The Expanse has always been fighting an uphill battle when it comes to live viewership, with many discovering the show only after complete seasons arrived on Amazon Prime.
“Here is yet another excellent show that simply happened to be on the wrong platform,” Ed Akselrud of New York City, who edited the trailer for the #SaveTheExpanse campaign, told Newsweek. “The Expanse has a huge international audience, and most fans opt to watch online through services like Amazon or Netflix—so in the majority of cases, their viewership simply doesn’t count towards SyFy’s perception of the show’s success, which is extremely unfortunate and inaccurate.”
Akselrud pulled two all- nighters during the work week to focus on the campaign. “My hope was to express how the show makes me feel, what I think it’s really about and what I believe makes it so worth everyone’s attention: The complexities, flaws, emotions and ambitions that humanity continues to exhibit and brings with it far beyond our gravity well in the near future, despite all the monumental advances in technology in the show’s universe.”
To the uninitiated, going through all of this demanding work to save a show might sound a bit silly. But everyone involved with #SaveTheExpanse has come to the conclusion there’s not anything else like it on television. “It’s the most effective commentary on how we are now as a species: how we interact, our religion, our politics,” said Buyssens.
Whether it’s the characters, the science, the ingenious special effects or the politics, each episode ofThe Expanse leaves you with something more tangible than a cliffhanger. “More than the entertainment, it's a thought exercise of where we are going as a species,” Silva explained. “Any piece of great fiction that explores, with real science, what our options in space might be in a generation or two, is worth all the support it can get. If we can inspire our future engineers and explorers, and have fun with some great political intrigue and character development, why not? I am having a daughter in two months, and I want her to grow up watching complex, smart characters like Naomi, not Disney princesses. That's worth the fight.”
George R.R. Martin, whose adaptation Nightflyers premieres this season on SyFy, even aired his grievances on Twitter, continuing the message on his personal blog. “It's a damn shame, especially for fans of space science fiction... of which I count myself one. It was the best space show on television, far and away. I hope its producers can find another home for it.”
We do too. So what can you do to help? Make noise on social media and watch The ExpanseWednesdays at 9 p.m. on SyFy. If you haven't seen the series before, it is rated 100 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so binge it all on Amazon Prime this weekend. Do you think the show will find a new network? Let us know in the comments.
Black Lightning Season 1 came to an end with episode 13, “Shadow of Death: The Book of War,” which saw Jefferson, Lynn, Anissa, Jennifer and Gambi defeat Martin Proctor and eradicate the "Make America Great Again" campaign from Freeland. Working together, the Pierce family saved more than a dozen metahuman experimentation subjects, exposed the government’s involvement in the distribution of Green Light and protected Alvin Pierce’s heroic legacy. While we got a lot of answers, we’ll have to wait until next year to sort out the show’s numerous looming cliffhangers.
In the meantime, we caught up with Black Lightning co-creator Salim Akil to give some insight into what we should be thinking about until next season. Akil discusses the show’s most surprising moments, why he chose to shed light on certain social issues, Jefferson and Lynn’s functional co-parenting situation, the breakout performance of Marvin Jones III and what to expect in Black Lightning Season 2.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
What was the most difficult part of the creative process for you, whether it be creatively or emotionally, or a certain scene?
The idea of wanting to talk about social issues but not wanting to be dogmatic or preachy about them, or too earnest about them. That balance was something that was challenging. To keep it going over the course of a 13-episode season and not get people sort of like, “Oh my god, we have to talk about this again?” That was the challenge, to be entertaining but also wanting to talk about certain issues that were happening in the world today.
There certainly was an element of restraint. Do you think it’s important to leave audiences with something to decide for themselves?
I approached it with the understanding that the audience is very intelligent and story savvy. I always approach storytelling with the idea that the audience will get it. They understand almost better than we do, because they get to watch it from an entirely different perspective with new eyes. Where we are living with it every day, they get to see it once a week and react to it. So from the first episode until the last, I wanted to really respect the audience and entertain them, but also understand they live in a very connected world, so they are aware of the things that are going on around them. We couldn’t ignore those things.
Is it hard when the audience might miss a certain thing you left behind? Are there any details you wish people picked up on or paid more attention to?
No. I like the fun stuff. I like that when we mentioned Vixen and Supergirl everyone was wondering, “Oh, does this mean there will be a crossover?” I love introducing characters they may be familiar with, like Painkiller. I enjoy some of the criticisms, too. Somebody said something about Painkiller’s hair when they first saw it. I was rolling. It really was funny. Those are the kinds of things we do to have fun. You either really like it or you’re like, “That’s a horrible looking wig.” Those are some of the things that really make me smile when people are that engaged.
Black Lightning combines the history of experimentation on African Americans with the complexities of drugs adversely affecting communities of color. How did you weave these storylines together and why did you choose these two issues to explore?
They chose me. It’s what's going on in our society. Whether you're dealing with gun violence and drugs in so-called inner cities, or you're dealing with gun violence and opioids in the rural areas or white areas of the country—that’s what’s going on. In terms of the experimentation, I just think there's a certain part of American history that is ignored. I didn’t want to ignore it and I thought it was a good storyline. People took to it because they’ve heard about these things, read about these things, but it hasn’t been fully explored in our culture and talked about in our culture. So I wanted to talk about it. Nobody else was talking about it. Some people feel like the Flint water crisis is just that as well. In the finale, a young lady says, “People are always calling Black people paranoid until the truth comes out.”
Are there any themes or issues calling to you for next season?
The way that we’ve explored powers is that they are not all positive. They take from you. Now that Jefferson and Lynn have two daughters with powers, they know what it takes from your life and those young ladies are going to have to deal with some of that. You can't protect your children from life. That's really the stuff I want to get into. How does a family deal with all of this knowledge? Anissa really hasn't had an opportunity to know all that she can do because she jumped into the fight with her father very quickly. Jennifer, she's not really accepting of her powers, but she has them. How is that going to affect her? Lynn shot somebody in the [finale] episode. How does a doctor feel when you murder someone, even though it was in self defense? Interpersonal issues with the family are what I'm excited about getting into, and of course, we will continue the storylines we’ve set up.
What influenced the way you depict Lynn and Jefferson's relationship, with such a strong sense of intimacy?
There are so many families who do not come up in a traditional household. African Americans, Latins and I’m sure Whites as well, but there are a lot of men missing in African American communities and in Latin communities. A lot of them are in prison and a lot of them succumb to gun violence and drugs, or high degrees of unemployment and lack of education. We wind up in households that don’t look like the so-called traditional household. I was trying to use Jefferson and Lynn to show that you can co-parent in a productive way, in a way that you do not have to be yelling at each other every moment of the day. You can still have a certain love and care for one another. I wanted to use them as an example that you can raise productive young women in society and not look like the traditional family.
There are a lot of untraditional TV moments in Black Lightning. One that sticks out is when Jennifer brings up sex at the dinner table. How did you approach that dialogue?
That is the way I talk to my children. I’ve never talked to my children with baby talk. I’ve told my son, “Hey, when you get ready to have sex come talk to me, so I can help you do it the right way to protect yourself and to make sure no one is harmed in the situation emotionally.” That’s probably not the approach that most parents take, but I find that if you try to conduct your life in a way that people have set for you, that typically your life does not go well because you are not living your life. So I have to live my life in the way that feels comfortable, natural and organic to me. I felt like that conversation should be the norm. I think we would have a lot less mothers or women or young girls having babies before they are ready if we did have those conversations. I’m trying to show a different way of approaching a subject that we put way too much negative emphasis on. It’s almost like we don't want to talk about it, but clearly there are people out there having sex.
It was great to see a show be open about weed. Was that a hard conversation between you and the network?
The CW and Warner Bros have been very supportive of the vision. They trusted me and I always tried to adhere to their standards and practices, but there were moments where I needed to push a little bit. Some of the things that I wanted to do and say, I don’t think that anybody had put them in a position to actually hear those words. When Tobias gave that whole run about thick-lipped, and used all these pejoratives on LaLa, that was challenging, because of course they didn't want to offend anyone. Sometimes you have to offend people to wake them up so they are paying attention and actually understand what we are trying to say.
Speaking of Tobias… Marvin Jones. Wow. Did you know from the first time he read he was going to knock it out of the park?
I knew Marvin was going to get the part. I'll be honest, I also knew that he didn’t have that much experience as an actor. It was wonderful to see him grab this opportunity and just kill it. He is an amazing person, first of all, but as an actor, he just embodied the character and gave it every moment. He gives every moment everything he’s got. I tell my children, some people can be more talented than you. Some people can be faster, stronger, but there is never a reason for anyone to outwork you. Nobody outworks Marvin. He’s an amazing guy and an amazing actor. He’s like a revelation. I feel blessed.
When “Tiimmy Turner” by Desiigner came on, I lost it. Why did you place that song?
It’s funny because I had been wanting to use “Tiimmy Turner” at the beginning of the season. It just had this feel to it that just spoke to me on an instinctual level. I just put in music that I like. If it works, then it works. There’s no real thought about it, other than what can speak to what we are watching? What can make the audience feel something? Earth Wind & Fire made you feel hopeful. Then when “Tiimmy Turner” comes on it’s ominous, and repetitive, it’s like, damn let me go. It grabs you and won't let you go until it’s done. Emotionally, I try to go in and feel and not just throw something in there because it’s popular.
Imagine a setting that exists outside the realm of “when and where.” No cars, cell phones or technology distinct to any single year. It’s what Legion production designer Michael Wylie calls “all time.” Viewers are given no indicators, always kept guessing as to when and where they are. But to really make the “all time” design scheme function alongside creator Noah Hawley’s brand of weird, Wylie had to be precise.
Inspired by styles and architecture ranging decades, it’s the shapes, colors, patterns and intricacies of set design that give viewers subtle confirmations and send them on trajectories the dialogue doesn’t necessarily gift.These careful creative decisions are visible from the very first shot of Legion Season 2, which premiered April 3 on FX. Unrealistically healthy green grass, blue skies, and crystal clear waters drown the screen in a clean glaze. Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement float on a bright yellow raft in the backyard of what Wylie says is a home in the Hollywood Hills built in the 1920’s.
“We left saying, 'let’s go South,' so we wanted to say that we’ve got a whole new vibe going,” Wylie told Newsweek. “We are not in the woods anymore. It’s not raining. It’s sunshine. I think it’s a bit of a red herring that everything looked so peaceful and calm.”
The placid poolside cocktail doesn’t last long. There’s been a jump in time, 362 days to be exact. We’re quickly transported inside Division 3 headquarters to catch up with David Haller. How we arrived is uncertain, and there's not much context … just a whole lot of hexagons. It’s one of many subconscious markers in the maze that is Legion.
“Last season was all circles. I really wanted a theme, so I glibly chose hexagons and we started putting them in everything,” Wylie said. “We wanted a shape, it just makes things easier to design, and we also know that whenever you see a hexagon that you know you are in Division 3 without anyone having to tell you or without it having to be on the bottom of the screen.”
The methodical placement of hexagons sounds silly, but their abundance provides some level of familiarity, comfort and warmth within a setting otherwise designed to be unbearably sterile. Working with a mental hospital in the first season, and now a government base, achieving the balance between full and hollow is the challenge.
“It’s all about texture,” Wylie explains, “Not presenting any flat surfaces. One of my tricks is wallpaper. We make our own wallpaper, and put up wallpaper that you wouldn't even know was wallpaper. That will add a little bit of warmth to even the most stark space. The apartments that they are all living in in Division 3, they are very colorful but they are almost prison cells. So you get the best of both worlds. At the end of the day, this is a government facility. Let's not make it too personalized or comfortable.”
Walls are the intuitive place to add nuance, but Wylie uses every inch of blank canvas, taking advantage of floors too. In one scene, where David and Syd are getting ready for bed, David plops his bare feet down onto a floor reminiscent of an elementary school hallway. It didn’t feel like an abandoned concrete loft floor in DUMBO. It’s multicolored, playful and childlike, almost paralleling David’s naivety.
“I’m obsessed with floors. I worked with Barry Sonnenfeld a lot, and he is the king of the overhead shot,” Wylie said. “I trained myself to make sure the floors weren’t just throwaways. Even if it’s just simple tiles that are cut into weird shapes, we always do a fairly complicated floor even in really small sets because we do a lot of overhead shots in Legion. It is nice to look at something unexpected.”
Unexpected also describes the Legion Season 2 premiere. The most unforseen reveal so far are who appear to be the bosses of Division 3. One has a wicker basket over their head (Admiral Fukuyama) and the others are androids of feminine physique with mustaches and bull haircuts called Vermillions.
“Noah said out loud that he wanted these women to look like Dennis Franz,” Wylie said. “There were a couple different versions of them, but I think they are the most spectacularly weird thing I have seen on TV in a really long time.”
The set marking their introduction went through many iterations too. “The original idea was, you know the basket that the guy wears on his head? We were gonna be inside another basket, that felt like that was inside another basket, so that set went through a lot of different versions before we ended up where it was.”
The dining hall in Division 3 was another Hawley vision. He laid out a tricky design: a sushi-go-round restaurant where your meal comes inside a boat instead of the traditional conveyor belt. Wylie created a 1970s Italian waterpark version for Legion.Wooden boats float down canals and circulate plates across the entire set.
“You wanted to have characters on either side of the water, and you also wanted nice long shots. What we ended up doing was creating this zig-zag of water that went through the whole room. That turned one set into three separate sets,” Wylie said, explaining how there was no good way to walk in between. “The art department was not very popular with the crew.”
Nothing about Legion is indicative of a superhero show, so the biggest surprise of the Legion Season 2 premiere may be the inclusion of an elevated superhero element: The lair.
“Lair is exactly the right word,” Wylie, who described last season as anything but superhero, admits. “Our talking point there was that we are 24 stories underground and they are really well hidden. Loudermilk has access to any machine and anything he wants because he builds everything himself. It’s for sure a superhero lab, and a lot of stuff will take place in there over the course of 10 episodes.”
The very first thing that takes place in the introduction of the ‘amplification chamber,’ a clear nod to Cerebro from the comics and movies. This interpretation of Professor Charles Xavier's iconic mutant tracking device sees David Haller submerge himself naked in a potion (which includes five percent strawberry extract for taste and aroma). It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before, probably because Wylie is banned from reading any X-Men comic book.
“We did a lot of research on isolation chambers, but I’ve been banned from looking at any X-Men or Legion comic books. I'm not allowed, and also I think it’s really unfair to the people who made these comic books and came up with this character to go in there and go for their intellectual property,” Wylie said.
The lack of influence by source material allows Wylie more creative freedom. “Sometimes I know where the story is going, so I need to design to the future of the show and not just necessarily to do things to make them cool, although that's my favorite thing--to say, ‘Oh well, it doesn’t matter if this thing could fly or not, it looks cool.’”
Legion Season 2 airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EDT on FX.
Rorschach's partnership with Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias) was off-putting from the beginning, which says a lot given the rest of the events in Doomsday Clock. The Comedian is back, two new characters we know nothing about are roaming around Gotham, Batman is trippin’ and Doctor Manhattan has somehow stolen a decade of time. While Doomsday Clock #4 does little to advance the story on paper, the issue makes me feel more comfortable entering this brand new world. Rorschach 2.0 may be an unreliable narrator, but we can trust him to help us navigate the tough existential questions and subconscious battles that come with a Watchmen-inspired story from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.
Spoiler warning: If you have not read Doomsday Clock #4, there is no better time to turn back.
There’s a moment in Doomsday Clock #4 where the series becomes a carefully plotted Watchmen sequel. It’s when Reggie screams as a coffee mug, the only item he has left from his father, crashes onto the floor of the Fitzgerald Mental Home. If you didn’t already guess from the mug, which spelled out “Dad” on the sides, the new Rorschach is the son of Kovacs’ prison psychiatrist Dr. Malcolm Long. Doomsday Clock #4 spends nearly the entire issue flashing back through Reggie’s life after the death of his parents during Veidt’s deadly massacre in the original. He was once just a regular college kid. Now, he’s a man whose life trajectory changed in a single instant. He’s left with post traumatic stress disorder and the insurmountable task of trying to figure out how to proceed in a world that offers little to no hope.
It’s not unlike the world many of us live in now. Beyond the obvious political parallel though, Johns takes the story down to the micro level. Dr. Long saw a pathway to place himself in a position to affect change. Reggie, not so much. Dealing with delusions and hallucinations exacerbated by the traumatic death of his parents, Reggie is forced to sort through his thoughts and determine if his perception of reality is one he can survive in. By the end of the issue, he sees what he wants to see: hope, in the form of Rorschach.
The most profound moment in this issue is its last few pages. The overlying question presented is one I ask myself all the time: Can good people do bad things? Can bad people still have good? Is it as black and white as we convince ourselves so that we can feel better about our own moral code? And who gets to define the two? Even though the man standing before him killed his parents and thousands of other people, Rorschach sees the humanity in Veidt. The moment Rorschach lowered his knife from Veidt's throat, I sighed with relief in unison with him. The energy it takes to hate, to get revenge isn’t the same energy that allows you to heal and move forward. This display of emotional intelligence represents the personal evolution it takes to achieve true enlightenment.
While Reggie “Never saw self as fighter,” that’s the very reason he’s a man suited for vigilantism. The internal struggle of being what you want to see--in this case, knowing you’d be great at something you know you don’t want to be. Veidt’s very strengths are his weaknesses--drawn to power, control and influence, he falls to his own ego. He wanted to be the one to save the world and because of it, failed to see the bigger picture and real “light.” Reggie doesn’t want to, but it’s his only option. Veidt tells Reggie with a knife to his throat, “Make the world cheer in celebration, ‘Rorschach.’” But Reggie is reluctant to succumb to redemption. Our world needs more reluctance. We need cops who don’t want to use guns. We need politicians who don’t want to be in charge.
The idea of Rorschach is all Reggie has left of his father, and he takes that ounce of goodness Long saw in Rorschach and holds onto it for the sake of his own sanity and ability to persevere in a world that appears destined for destruction. And that's why Rorschach is able to hesitate killing Veidt at the end. Killing him won’t help, and there’s not really anything to lose by letting him live. Johns is at his best in this headspace, exploring the intricacies of Rorschach's sanity. In seeing what you want to see, we’re presented with a fine line between insanity and the survivor mentality it takes to persistently propel ourselves deeper and deeper into a world unknown.