'Black Panther' is Marvel at its thought-provoking best

Good people can do bad things and it’s never too late to act on your mistakes. Paternal relationships are the vehicle for this relatively simple message in Black Panther, and it’s one that is also all too relevant to the identity politics of the 21st century. Ryan Coogler challenges audiences to move past willful blindness or guilt and actively seek another perspective, while ironically delivering the comic book escapism the world deserves.

The story begins with the death of T’Chaka in Captain America: Civil War. His son, T’Challa, fresh from completing the Wakanda tribal tradition of becoming Black Panther, comes to learn what everyone realizes in young adulthood: your parents aren’t who you perceived them to be. Perhaps burdened with the responsibilities of being king, as T’Chaka tells his son in the afterlife “It’s hard for a good man to be king,” T’Challa’s own morality comes into question once he discovers his father has left behind a devastating secret.

Believing his father has laid down the groundwork for his newfound Kingship, T’Challa learns it won’t be as simple as following in his father's footsteps. When he meets Killmonger, he’s forced to confront the idea that even a country untainted by colonialism is not perfect. There’s moral conflict in Wakanda’s isolationism. The nation’s people are willfully blind to the fact that sharing their wealth and culture with others could combat oppression and help build a more just world. Turns out, this alternate reality of “what could have been” has its own share of moral predicaments as well.

Marvel’s first successful, complex villain helps T’Challa understand there is more than one way to continue Wakanda’s legacy. While T’Chaka kept Wakanda safe for decades by keeping its people away from the West, T’Challa must accept the fact his father’s intentions were good despite his lapse in judgement under the most fragile of circumstances. The guilt of his father’s mistakes doesn’t hold him back from doing the right thing, either. T’Challa chooses to reject his father’s message that good men can’t be kings.Instead of worshipping T’Chaka and grieving his death, T’Challa chooses to right his father’s wrongs and help Wakanda evolve into something greater.

The story’s thoughtful consideration of individual morality and personal responsibility separates Black Panther from the average, formulaic Marvel fare. It's more of a backwards parallel to reality that presents an inescapable irony. Wakanda may secretly be the most wealthy nation in the world, yet its rulers and citizens choose, again and again, to leave brothers and sisters behind. While rich in black excellence, proud in heritage and drowning in wealth, Wakanda’s influence doesn’t trickle down to the rest of the African continent. It takes Killmonger, an outsider with Wakandan blood, to help T’Challa realize Wakanda is basically a club for the one percenters.

Killmonger’s motivations parallel those of revolutionary groups during the civil rights movement and today. He represents those forced into chains and left behind to live in a society built upon a foundation of systemic prejudice. He’s the villain in this story, but simultaneously a hero in his own right. He practices violence and extremism, but for a worthy purpose. He just wants to level the playing field, and is ready to die to complete that mission. Unlike in other comic book movies, this villain succeeds. It’s what makes a movie like Black Panther -- set in a fictional place so inconceivably out of touch from our own reality -- feel so human and grounded.

T’Challa isn’t the only character who makes Black Panther stand out as one of Marvel’s best films to date. Remember that scene in Wonder Woman where Diana runs through no man’s land, then jumps into the tower to take out the final sniper? That powerful, prideful feeling of unrestricted femininity exists throughout the entirety of Black Panther.From the very first moment, we’re introduced to a place where beauty and love exist outside the confines of appearance. Romance is defined by companionship and contains the sort of trust that allows members of the opposite sex to intellectually challenge each other and grow as a unit.

Black Panther transcends the very idea of inclusion by representing blackness as a foundation rather than an afterthought. It’s perhaps the biggest Hollywood blockbuster where execs weren’t obviously filling a diversity quota. But once you're able to get past the delight of an all black cast, there’s nuance. Wakanda is a world where blackness isn’t just one identity and gender isn’t strictly defined. Each tribe has their own tradition, culture and way of life, but every Wakandan is united by their common ancestry and shared humanity. Black Panther celebrates emotional intelligence and tackles culturally relevant issues, but, more importantly, sets an example of finding the courage to be the change you want to see.

'Black Panther: The Album' is your ride to Wakanda

Black Panther feels less like a movie soundtrack and more like a new Kendrick Lamar project. That’s a compliment, of course. Black Panther has more heat than most albums. The soundtrack succeeds in delivering bangers with replay value, something few film or TV shows have managed to do. But continuing on the trajectory that properties such as Luke Cage and Atlanta brought to mainstream, the Black Pantheralbum stays just inside the box in the context of blending traditional African sounds with modern pop/rap into an entirely new thing. Perhaps with good reason—it’s digestible for all audiences, and I’d like to think of it as only the second layer of the film’s complete musical vision. Black Panther: The Album is an incredible gateway that, combined with Ludwig Goransson’s score, is destined to ease Marvel fans into the Wakandan dimension.

It may be the first original soundtrack fans will know the words to prior to entering the theater. That in itself is an unprecedented accomplishment. But what the soundtrack doesn’t do is give Black Panther a sonically unique identity... yet. It’s unique in the sense that Kendrick Lamar’s influence is all over it, but not as a standalone. A handful of these records could exist outside the realm of Black Panther. The best example is“X” (featuring 2 Chainz & Saudi). It’s a radio hit that you could find from a Kendrick or 2 Chainz album. That being said, from Marvel’s commercial standpoint, it couldn’t be more perfect. Ryan Coogler and the cast of Black Panther don't necessarily have the privilege to be imperfect. With less at stake, we may have seen a little bit more risk in production and lyricism from the Top Dawg Entertainment crew, which may have resulted in a more sonically unique version of the soundtrack. In this respect,“Seasons” with Sjava & Reason is the album’s most distinctive rap offering.

The best part of the soundtrack is that it’s memorable and easy to identify with, even if the records are by no means Kendrick’s best or most original work. Riding the wave of the flutes in “Mask off,” Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar team up for “Big Shot.” If you recognize part of the hook, it’s because it’s a line from Kendrick’s verse on Rich The Kid’s “New Freezer.” Swae Lee and Khalid embrace the wanderlust wave of artists like 6lack and Syd on “The Ways,” and nail it. “Paramedic!” channels the sounds of the young generation of rappers. The record is pretty much a better version of "The Race" by Tay-K. 

For the most part, Black Panther: The Album strays away from the mainstream formula of rapping about lean, percocet and xanax. “Bloody Waters” with Ab-Soul, Anderson .Paak and James Blake is stylistically the chanciest record on the album, combining the strengths of each into a cohesive fusion of all hip hop has to offer. The same goes for“Redemption” with Babes Wodumo and Zacari and “Opps” with Yugen Blakrok and Vince Staples. We’ve not heard songs like these before, created by a collaboration only a platform like Black Panther could bring to existence. That being said, a soundtrack including all songs like these probably wouldn't have had the same mass appeal. Kendrick had to throw tracks like “King’s Dead” featuring Future and Jay Rock into the mix and for the RnB fans, “I Am” by Jorja Smith.

It’s likely the score from Ludwig Goransson will interact with the soundtrack in a way that will give the music another dimension, incorporating the traditional African sounds some fans were hoping for. The capacity of depth is there. We see this with “All of the Stars,” which on its own was a sub-par SZA song, but put against visuals was a stunning and empowering music video that celebrates African culture. Same goes for“Pray For Me.” The record drives full speed at the piercing, nasally line The Weeknd walks on all his songs, but that chorus up against a portrait of Wakanda or Dora Milaje heading into battle could be epic.

Lamar is what ties the album together. Swerving through genres and voices, Kendrick transforms his journey into T’Challa’s. Only he could make a song like the titular “Black Panther.” He embodies everything this film stands for. And while I can’t speak for the score yet, I have a strong intuition that combined with the soundtrack, the impact ofBlack Panther will extend beyond the visual narrative.


'Trollhunters' deep dive with Dark Horse writer Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton was a Trollhunters fan long before he started writing Tales of Arcadia: The Secret History of Trollkind with Marc GuggenheimThe 72-page graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics is the latest piece of the growing Trollhunters franchise. Set to release on Feb. 14, the comic book is a companion to Netflix and Dreamworks’ Emmy Award-winning original series from Guillermo del Toro. With the Trollhunters Part 3 release date still up in the air, dedicated fans can still get their fix by following Jim, Claire, Blinky and AARGGH on a journey of historical discovery.

Make sure to check out our exclusive preview of The Secret History of Trollkind, but we also caught up with Hamilton (How To Train Your Dragon) to discuss his dive into comics with Dark Horse, the intricacies of the Trollhunters franchise as well as his upcoming work.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.



How did you first get involved with the Trollhunters franchise?

Honestly, it was just basically begging and making a general nuisance of myself for a couple of years. I was trained as a screenwriter and I used to self publish my own comics. Eventually, I worked at Dreamworks Animation. I got lucky and got to work for Bill Damaschke, the chief creative officer of Dreamworks, and also the person who brought in Guillermo del Toro. Guillermo brought the script that would one day becomeTrollhunters. Bill knew I was a big comic book fan and an aspiring writer. He let me look at that script. It was very early days, but many of the hallmark features people love about Trollhunters were present in those early drafts.

It was seven or eight years ago, but and I had the sense at the time, ‘I hope Trollhuntersbecomes a thing and I hope I get to be a part of it.’ Several years went by. I had several jobs at Dreamworks and did a lot of work on the How To Train Your Dragon franchise, but in the back of my mind I was always thinking Trollhunters. Then I found out it was going to be an animated series and I started watching the episodes and seeing the quality of the animation and the writing. So when I found out there was going to be a comic book series with Dark Horse, I threw my hat in the ring. I had already started writing some How To Train Your Dragon comics with Dark Horse, and really enjoyed the process of working with everyone. So they let me co-write this first one with Marc Guggenheim.

You said you read the early script, what popped out at you that you knew would be something special?

It was a couple of things. Predominantly it was Jim. There were some differences with his character in that script, and if you compare it to the novel that Guillermo co-wrote with Daniel Kraus, you’ll see some differences there. At his core, Jim, then as he is now, is an inherently decent, good guy. I loved the relationship he has with his Mom. I love that he loves to cook. I love to cook. But he was a guy who to all outward appearances seemed very average, but deep down was somebody always trying to do right by people and always trying to do the right thing. That really struck a chord with me. There’s sort of a Peter Parker aspect to Jim. I'm a dad and have two boys of my own. I saw a lot of attributes in Jim I hope my boys inherit one day.

The other part of it is the world. We’ve all heard of trolls in other forms of literature and in the movies, but this was a wholly unique interpretation very much in Guillermo’s style. There was a sense of grandeur in scale, but also playfulness and whimsy. To have characters named Blinky and AAARGH and the whole story about how they came over on the Mayflower from the old world ... all that was there. It was just so funny and action-packed and gave me that feel of the old Amblin movies that I loved.

What are the main differences in your creative approach to comic books and novels?

The graphic novel work is, to me, closer to my training in screenwriting. There is a real economy to the writing, and real emphasis on the visuals because it's such a visual medium. So trying to think in terms of clear, distinct images that are going to tell a story sequentially, and then when you add dialogue or narration or caption boxes on top of that, what is this new meta-meaning you can give to the page or give to the issue? It’s a very disciplined, very pared-down style of writing. You just pray that you get paired with an amazing artist, and in my case I've been extremely lucky.

The book writing, in some sense, is a little bit of a relief after you've been trained to be so judicious in screenwriting. You can’t really write what characters are thinking, you can’t really go too deep into describing the scene or the action, because the screenplay or a comic script is meant to be a blueprint that’s fleshed out by an artist or film crews. In a novel, that's kind of all on you. So it’s a lot of fun to exhale a little bit, and get to write in all these other little details and features and inner monologues you normally couldn’t.

Is there anything that you’ve inserted or added into the story?

The thing I really like doing is putting together characters, giving them scenes that you don't get to see them do in the actual show. For instances, I have a scene in one of the books coming up where we see Not Enrique talk with the real Enrique. And that's a fun interaction between the two of them and we see a bond form between them.

Trollhunters is kind of lousy with mythology and Easter eggs. I mean that in the best way possible. It’s like in every episode, there’s a cool line or reference to a past Trollhunter or some kind of relic or artifact. It’s a lot of fun for me to go back in, take these cool names that are mentioned, and reverse-engineer a character and a personality for them and come up with the different stories about all these other Trollhunters that preceded Jim.

And that’s what happens in Secret History. We go back and learn a lot more about Kanjigar. Why did you decide to flashback to that beginning.?

It was my understanding that Marc and Guillermo and the crew of the show, they all hoped that they’d get to make comics and graphic novels one day. And if they did, they always wanted the first story to be about Kanjigar. As a fan of the show and a fan of comics, that's exactly the story I wanted to tell. Although we only see Kanjigar very briefly ... there is something so evocative about his character. It may just be because it’s Tom Hiddleston's voice, but you know the fact that this show opens with the hero sacrificing himself for the greater good.When a character does that, I want to learn more about that character.

And then Draal also happens to be one of my favorite characters, and the writers did an amazing job hinting at and establishing a very complicated father-son relationship between Kanjiagr and Draal. As a dad and a fan, I was very excited to explore that.

Working with Marc Guggenheim, do you have specific roles?  What’s that collaboration like?

I felt like I was getting the better end of the deal, because I was learning so much from Marc in the process. We would meet in his very awesome office, where he works on TV shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, and when I was done touching all the maquettes and action figures on his shelves we would sit down and start talking. We knew we wanted to book-end the story with scenes of Jim in the present, because although we really wanted to tell a Kanjigar story we wanted to be mindful of the fact this is the first Trollhunters graphic novel out there. For fans who know the show, we wanted them to see characters they recognize. For those new to the property, we wanted to give them a fairly even taste of all the different things you would find in the show. So then we came up with a rough outline, and Marc worked with Guillermo to make sure it was something Guillermo was happy with. The hope is, when it’s all put together, you can’t tell which scenes I worked on and which ones Marc worked on. That it feels like one uniform author.

The Trollhunters show is really fast-paced. There’s always something happening. Did you try to keep that speed in the graphic novel?

I appreciate the pace and the density of the storytelling. I think that's something a lot of fans respond to. It's a show that doesn't talk down to its audiences. It trusts them to retain a lot of this lore and a lot of these big emotions and to keep up with that. That was definitely a goal in this.

On the other hand, when I get a comic and I read it in less than five minutes and nothing’s really happened, I feel kind of gypped. Especially for a cover price of $2.99 or $3.99 an issue. I know some parts of the story are a little bit more action-packed than others, but from my self-publishing background, I really believe in giving people a bang for the buck. It was important to me, and I'm thinking it was probably important to Marc too, to make sure this wasn’t a throwaway prequel book. That there were big, meaningful, lasting events in there that if you read the comic and watch the show it gives you a new appreciation. But also if you just read it as a comic, you feel like, ‘Wow, that was a complete adventure.’

The show feels so multidimensional because of all the different settings. The art style in the graphic novel manages to create that same feel through the character work and coloring.

I can't overstate how unique a skill it is to take characters that everyone is accustomed to seeing as 3D surfaced rigs on a show and making them work in a 2D medium like comics. It’s not a simple as lighboxing an outline of a 3D still. When you see the expressions on Blinky’s face or Claire’s body language, it looks like it does on the show. I think having Timothy Green on board as the artist really made all that possible.

As I was reading, I could hear everyone’s voice from the show. Was it a different process writing something where you knew people would already be reading with that association?

I think that’s a testament to the voice cast of the show. There are no weak links. They all have such distinct voices. So I did my best to channel their voices, Kelsey Grammer in particular. To hear Blinky go on a big jag of hoity-toity exposition, that's a blast to listen to and it's just as much fun to write.

You said you have kids. Have they inspired any aspects of your Trollhunters writing?

There are certain behaviors my sons exhibit that I put into Jim and Toby. They are also big fans of the show. I guess there’s a little bias in my house, but they love Trollhunters.My oldest son has brought up questions about Angor Rot and his backstory which have served as the genesis for one of the new Trollhunters books I’m working on right now. Also, saying the things they like about the show, if I see that they like that and their classmates and friends like that, that's a pretty good sign of something to include in one of the stories. I also want to mention that my six-year-old, his request is for Jim to get puppy. I don't know if that's going to happen on the show, but if there's an organic way to make it happen in the comics or the books, we'll see if we can do it and come up with an armored puppy.

As long as it’s not a cat I think we're good...

Yeah, cats don't do to well around Trollmarket. A puppy has a better chance.


Tony Isabella Clarifies Old Black Lightning/Green Lantern Rumors

Even though she doesn't have powers (that we know of), Lynn Pierce is one of the most intriguing protagonists in Black Lightning so far. Her relationship with her former husband, Jefferson Pierce, is hardly the only interesting aspect of her life. She’s an amazing mother with a strong moral compass who has the entire family’s best interests at heart. But there’s still a whole lot we don’t know about her background. What does she do for a living? Did she and Jefferson break up purely because of his crimefighting? How did they meet? Why are the kids living with Jefferson instead of shared custody? And in true DCTV fashion, some emerging questions regarding source material have resulted in one long standing mystery not going unnoticed.

Let’s start with a brief summary of what we know about Lynn from the period in comics history the Green Lantern/Lynn Pierce fan theory stems from. Most importantly, the comics introduce Lynn as Lynn Stewart, not Lynn Pierce, as seen in Black Lightning TV series. She was created by Tony Isabella with art by Trevor Von Eeden and first pictured in Black Lightning No. 3 as the newest member of the Garfield High School staff. It’s immediately clear she and Jefferson have a rocky history. Jeff is pretty cold toward her, refusing to speak with her until No. 6, where it’s revealed they are divorced. Turns out she didn’t know about Jeff’s alter-ego, but quickly figures it out after seeing him in action, claiming “A mask and a wig can’t fool a woman who’s seen you in your birthday suit.” Jefferson wasn’t expecting her to be so accepting, but unfortunately the story ends there for Isabella’s 1970’s run.

We never got to see Isabella’s early vision for Lynn come full circle (though we should get at least a version of resolution in Cold Dead Hands). However, after the first episode of Black Lightning fans clearly googled the crap out of Lynn, discovering her maiden name was Stewart. Giving even more credence to the theories of Lynn Stewart being related to Green Lantern, some blogs and wiki’s claim Isabella at one point said Lynn was intended to be John Stewart’s sister. However, we could not find the source of the claims so we reached out to Isabella for further clarification. While there may have been a pinch of intent a long long time ago, he reiterated Lynn is not John Stewart's sister in any comic book.

“When I first came to DC, Jenette Kahn asked me to bring some of that "Marvel magic" to their comics. The interconnections between books was part of that. So when I created Lynn, I gave her the last name of "Stewart," with an eye towards maybe connecting her to John Stewart in the future. But I never did and no one else ever did either,” he explained.

Even if Isabella had made the connection clear in one of his Black Lightning stories, it seems unlikely The CW would make concrete ties to one of the biggest DC characters. It took five seasons for Arrow to directly mention Batman. The fan theory of Lynn being John Stewart’s sister also relies on her maiden name turning out to be Stewart. Isabella continued to say he’s not hopeful the TV series will make the connection either.

“And, though I can't say for sure, I would hope that's the case with the TV show version. In any case, I was the one who first stated this, probably in a blog or interview somewhere. But I can't remember where I first stated this. The key thing to report is… it was never revealed in the comic books of the past and it's definitely not true in the new incarnation.”

When Isabella says “nobody else did,” he’s referring to the other Black Lightning authors. Denny O'Neil took over writing duties with Black Lightning No. 11. The build up of Lynn's backstory ended along with the series in No. 12 in December 1978. Isabella returned to write Black Lightning in 1995 until No. 8 when Dave deVries stepped in for the last five issues. Jen Van Meter brought back Black Lightning for Year One in 2009.

Isabella's creative absence with Black Lightning is no more with Cold Dead Hands, his latest run with the character. In fact, he also revealed an interesting bit of information about Lynn’s first appearance in the six-issue series. She was mentioned by Anissa (Jefferson's cousin not daughter in Cold Dead Hands) as a new high school teacher. It will be interesting to see how their relationship develops moving forward, but do not expect a Green Lantern connection.

“My current Lynn Stewart - who was mentioned in Cold Dead Hands #2 and will be first seen in issue #5 - is definitely NOT related to John Stewart," Isabella said.

So there you have it. May not have been the Green Lantern-Lynn Stewart fan theory piece you were hoping to read, but that’s the backstory. Are you still holding on to hope Anissa and Jennifer will one day call Uncle John? Sound off in the comments and check out the Black Lightning episode of our Cape Talk podcast below.


'Black Lightning' shows strength in vulnerability

Black Lightning is not stumbling upon the conversation of identity politics in America and it doesn’t take place in the world of the willfully blind. Jefferson Pierce is a man wholly concerned with taking care of his family, students and community. But in the face of adversity, he’s forced to use the special gift he’s been given. Some of that sounds ordinary, but Black Lightning separates itself from the rest of CW’s lineup by refusing to offer a full escape from reality. Jefferson Pierce is one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe, but there’s no even playing field in Freeland. He’s still Black.

The series dodges the reluctant hero trope in the very first episode: as a respected principal of Garfield High, Jefferson Pierce is already a hero. He’s aware of his impact on the community. The internal struggle stems from him having convinced himself he doesn’t need his powers to help the people he cares about, though he realizes after a nine-year hiatus Black Lightning is his purpose. Even if suiting up prevents him from reconciling with his ex-wife, Lynn, it means a better future for his daughters and students.

“Justice, like lightning, should ever appear to some men hope, to other men fear.”

Jefferson and Lynn’s relationship isn’t anything like we’ve seen on TV. They are divorced, yet do not loathe each other’s company. In fact, it's quite the contrary. In a perfect world, these two would be together. But Black Lightning doesn’t inhabit a perfect world and uses this dynamic to display appropriate relationship boundaries. In a world where more people are divorced than married, presenting a vision of a successful co-parenting situation is vital for a series that will attract a young audience.  We also see how Jefferson and Lynn’s tumultuous yet healthy relationship affects their daughters, who both highly value themselves when it comes to interpersonal relationships on all levels, proving divorced parents can provide a stable foundation for their children.

That being said, the series does not shy away from showing the imperfections of its characters. One could see Lynn’s view of Black Lightning as selfish. Why would she not want her husband to help the world as much as he can? The youngest daughter, Jennifer, struggles with witnessing The 100 gang’s violence first-hand and turns to alcohol and marijuana to cope. Anissa is hesitant to fully commit to a long-term relationship with her girlfriend as she’s too busy with work, school and activism. And while Jefferson understands the role gangs play for survival in Freeland, he strives to find a way for gangs, the community, and police to live in harmony. When diplomacy doesn't work fast enough, he answers with violence.

Black Lighting ’s treatment of death shows a high level of emotional intelligence. In the first two episodes, many people die. But unlike most superhero shows, there are real, serious consequences. There’s no high fives or “Go Team.” These deaths are tragedies and aren’t marketed otherwise, even though they people killed are technically villains. While the series has a clear-cut antagonist in Tobias Whale, there’s an unspoken understanding that these characters do not want to be villains. They are just trying to survive in an unjust world, paralleling Jefferson Pierce’s own story.

Black Lightning’s vulnerability is what makes him the strongest hero DC Comics has brought to television. Writers Mara Brock and Salim Akil defy stereotypes of black masculinity and femininity, constructing characters who feel so grounded you could run into them at the grocery store. Beyond the first two episodes this review is based on, there’s room to explore how the worlds of the police, gangs and community collides within the characters of Inspector Henderson and Tobias Whale. These dynamic characters make Black Lightning one of the most the most truthful, culturally dense shows on network television.


Comic book pioneers trace the impact of Black heroes at ‘DC In DC’

Black Lightning is not only DC comics’ first African American superhero, but Cress Williams will also be the first Black man to lead a network TV series. For comic book innovators like Milestone Media co-founder Denys Cowan and The Other Side Of The DC Universe writer John Ridley, this has been a long time coming.

“I was maybe 10 years old the day I went home and pulled these comic books out and one of them was Black Lightning. A lot of you will not have that feeling of pulling something out of a bag and being so stunned by it,” Ridley told the audience during the “The Many Shades of Heroism: DC Heroes Through The African American Lens” panel at DC In DC “To live long enough where it's not pulling the surprise out of the bag, but it's being presented to all of us as mainstream entertainment.”

Black Lightning, created by Tony Isabella and illustrated by Trevor Von Eeden in 1977, was one of the first times Ridley saw himself in a comic book. It later became Milestone’s goal, founded in 1993, to make sure everyone could see themselves in comic books. The influence of co-founder Dwayne McDuffie’s inclusive ideologies helped expand Milestone’s mission to its full capacity.

“When we started Milestone, it was like Black comics done by Black people in a Black way,” Cowan said. “It took someone like Dwayne McDuffie to go and say to me, ‘You know, dude, we need to open this up so it’s multicultural, so there’s different voices...Gay voices, transgender voices and we did a lot of stuff back then—all being done by the people who were those people.”

Decades later, executive producers Salim and Mara Brock Akil continue to build on that same foundation with the Black Lightning TV series.

“These writers and producers are creating the text to make sure our reality is better in the future,” said The Wind Done Gone author Alice Randall, who is currently working with Reginald Hudlin on Earth-M, a title in Milestone’s upcoming line.

The Akil's are adapting visceral, real-world experiences to Black Lightning and they aren’t holding back an ounce of emotion in the process. 

“I’m probably the angriest Black man in Hollywood,” said Salim Akil. “I just had a lot of shit to say. I’m a sensitive person, so the world affects me everyday. I can’t help but put it in my work because I feel like what I’m doing is a blessing. When you are given an opportunity in these times, I felt like I have to say something, right?”

It’s clear from the the footage released so far that Black Lightning is different. Jefferson Pierce, a high school principal, would be a hero even if he didn’t have powers. At the end of the day, he’s just a man trying to survive and do the best he can in an unjust world.

“We use that word authenticity often times when we are talking about other cultures. But really what we are talking about is the nuance of culture. And Black culture is an integral part of American culture. You just can’t tear the two apart,” Salim Akil said. “You can take the Black off and he’s a man who wants the best for his family and community.”

Black Lightning premieres on The CW Jan. 16 at 9 p.m.


'Doomsday Clock' is the birth of DC’s existential awakening

Doomsday Clock connects the Watchmen universe to the DC universe. At least that’s the selling point of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s sequel story. Batman meets Rorschach, Lex Luthor meets Ozymandias, Superman meets Doctor Manhattan… that's all in the first issue. It was only a matter of time before the two worlds merged together to create the core of Doomsday Clock, but that moment came and went in the first pages of Doomsday Clock #2, leaving fans with a whole lot more than we expected. There’s a crisis in Gotham, but this time it’s an existential one.

This review contains spoilers. 

Doomsday Clock #2 is both a beginning and an ending to a story that unravels the characters in the DC Universe as we know it. Aside from the Watchmen and newDoomsday Clock characters introduced in the first issue arriving in Gotham City, #2raises HUGE questions about the very science behind the DC Universe’s map of characters.

The biggest plot mystery lies beyond the last page of the issue and in the truthfulness of what is dubbed, ‘The Superman Theory,’ detailed in The Bulletin and Daily Planetarticles filling the last three pages. It presents more of a thematic issue coupled with Ozymandias and Rorascah’s individual mission. Doomsday Clock takes place a year later than DC’s present continuity, making this world where all heroes are believed to be villains and constructs of the government a tease for the future. What’s to come backtracks from the foundation of hope in which the universe was predicated. Everything we know about metahumans--starting with Metamorpho and Man-Bat--could be an act of deception.

Doomsday Clock #2 calls forth an old Invasion story arc, recently explored in last year’s TV crossover event between The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.Basically, The Dominators invade Earth to learn more about the metagene so they can develop it for themselves. It’s an arms race. Who can become the most powerful? And that’s what’s happening in Doomsday Clock right now. Russia appears to be controlling America’s media narrative behind the scenes (as we saw in the most recent Presidential election). Lex Luthor and Wayne Enterprises compete for the best technology as we learn the American government may be responsible for the majority of the metahuman population, which is much higher in the United States than anywhere else. Coincidence? I have a feeling Geoff Johns doesn’t believe in coincidences… definitely not when Doctor Manhattan is involved.

The latest issue also sees the events that started Watchmen come full circle. The Comedian is back, and he shoots Lex Luthor with a bullet meant for Ozymandias.Watchmen began with an end and Doomsday Clock is doing the same, setting up a future we haven't really gotten to yet. Because of this, this issue deserves a few reads, not necessarily to find more clues about the Superman Theory, but because Johns and Frank have crafted tiny clues within each character’s study.

One such example is the real meaning behind the presence of Marionette and the Mime. Why does Marionette represent a piece of Doctor Manhattan’s humanity? Can the Mime really make his imagination reality? After only a brief introduction, these new characters are let loose in the DC Universe. Wherever each of them ends up first should be a clue about their purpose and place in the story and what will be history when the DC Universe continuity catches up once Doomsday Clock is complete.

The Comedian’s return is the most surprising plot twist so far. Simply making this Comedian the DC Comics version doesn’t seem like Johns’ line of thinking. It’s got to be more complicated, perhaps even more complicated than Doctor Manhattan bringing him back to life. What’s more, how did The Comedian know Ozymandias was at LexCorp? Are he and Lex working together? Why is the new Rorschach so willing to go along with Ozymandias’ plan?

What’s most intriguing about Doomsday Clock isn’t anticipating the twists and turns, it’s a philosophical questions that trickle down to each individual character. Who controls the narrative? The government? The people? The media? Don’t be fooled, these invisible hands are the real antagonists.

At this point, the only person we can name who could have the most direct impact is Doctor Manhattan. Why did we finally learn that the elements radiating off his skin make him blue? Does he have the power to activate the latent metahuman gene, and if so, is he pursuing the idea that if everyone's super, no one is? He may have recognized that his greatest weakness is being all powerful, therefore he’s creating these metas as a safeguard against his own. The very idea of an all-powerful man can skew the world into an arms race and a competition for survival that has led humans to regress back into the very savages we were back when we were hunting our own food.

Who has propelled the Superman Theory into truth is the surface-level question Johns is using to disguise this existential deep-dive into the DC Universe and its origins, but it’s likely we’ll find our answers as we get to know who this new Rorschach is and why Ozymandias is taking part in yet another dubious mission to save the world with Doctor Manhattan. With the guidance of John’s inclusion of DC characters--small, large, and from varying nooks and crannies of the DC  history--hopefully all these perspectives will eventually give us a clearer picture of the story this crossover is dying to tell.

Source: ttp://

'The Gifted' star thinks there’s no happy ending for mutants

Dumont talks Magneto, Professor X and the future of The Gifted.

Every conversation, every scene in The Gifted has a larger meaning. It’s what makes the X-Men series feel so big, despite being filled with lesser known characters. The fall finale was no different. The Stepford Cuckoos make their debut, telepathically forcing more than a dozen Sentinel Services agents to open fire on one another. This happens only hours after Agent Turner’s lengthy, and somewhat enlightening, conversation with the Strucker parents that culminated in an agreement to transport the captured Mutant Underground’s allies away from Trask Industries where Dreamer was murdered.

“It was very important the conversation included the wives,” series star Emma Dumont told Player.One. “We’ve seen conversation between Jace and Reed. It’s bigger than just these men and their egos, there are bigger risks. And it foreshadows that the X-Men say a war is coming -- this scene specifically shows it may not just be a war between two parties. What does that mean for the mutant underground and the Struckers, and what does it mean for Lorna? There are so many factors that we get into in the last three episodes.”

At this point in the series, we don’t know much about the deadly “7/15” event that is tied to the disappearance of the X-Men and the Brotherhood, but the nature of the Stepford Cuckoos’ introduction was so ruthless, so dark, there’s no doubt Agent Turner is done hearing out the Mutant Underground.

“We can talk about 7/15 all day long and obviously understand what it’s a reference to, but until we actually see a mutant commit a horrible crime like this, we aren't gonna understand why Jace is the hero of his own story,” she said. “The fact that this sweet little blonde girl could make armed, trained men do these things -- it's terrifying. But not only can she can do it, she will do it. We could kill each other every day of our lives, but we don't, because we have empathy. That's what makes us different than other animals. But to see someone who really doesn’t have that... The audience needed to see it.”

Dumont explains the scene highlights The Gifted’ s ongoing exploration of prejudice. You cannot blame an entire group, especially an entire minority group, for the terrible actions of one person. But for Polaris, the incident was particularly jarring because the Stepford Cuckoos actions are sort of an irrational version of her own Magento-esque mutant code. It’s a kill-or-be-killed world, but there are rules.

“If you are using your mutant ability, using mayhem and violence and chaos, and you are not saving someone… Lorna thinks it’s fine, kill Hitler, it’s totally fine, but if you are doing things that don't benefit other people, that is disgraceful. Reed, in her mind, isn't helping anyone. Putting those mutants away, ripping up families, those are bad things and they are not redeemable,” Dumont said. “However, if someone like Magneto were to kill one bad human and save hundreds of innocent mutant lives, that is okay with her, she sees the good in that. It’s a very sketchy fine line, but to her it’s very clear thinking. Lorna thinks it makes total sense.”

Eclipse doesn’t see it that way, and his relationship with Polaris illustrates the dynamic between Professor X and Magneto (and their real life counterparts) from the comics and cinematic universe.

“It’s an exact parallel to Professor X and Magento. Marcos wants peace. He will sit by and have change happen slowly. He thinks any change is good change, and Lorna won’t have it. She definitely believes if we all started acting a lot more, using our powers and taking a stand. If that means violence than so be it. But if things continue the way Marcos wants them to continue, then things will never change,” Dumont continued.

“The difference between slavery and current-day hate crime, it’s a difference but we are still living in a world where horrible things happening to minority groups -- innocent people being hurt and killed -- and it's not okay. And Marcos sees those two time periods and says, ‘Oh, but look how different it is now? Now, people don’t own mutants, they just abuse them and hurt them.' But to Lorna that's an awful way of thinking. She thinks if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. She has a very Magento way of thinking politically. In the eyes of justice, that's the right thing to do.”

Like Magento, Polaris isn’t even sure there is a place for people like Strucker -- who have only recently displayed a willingness to understand the mutant cause -- to be part of the way society moves forward to create equality.

“Someone that’s been raised up in bigotry, who now works for the government, not only do they do that because they are passionate about ‘protecting the general public,’ they are paid to do this. They get paid to hurt people. So, of course, the end goal we all say is to make this a peaceful environment for mutants and humans to live in together. But Lorna doesn’t know if that is possible. She’s almost to the point where she thinks these people need to be taken away,” she said.

The X-Men universe is defined by what exists between love and hate. Mutant discrimination never stops, political initiatives are never enough to incite real social change, the scientific experiments only get more invasive -- and The Gifted will be no different.

“There will never be a happy ending, especially in the X-Men universe,” said Dumont. “The fall finale was heartbreaking in every way imaginable. On an individual level, people start to get what they want, but then in the overall goal of making peace between mutants and humans, it sort of falls apart.”

Dumont teases big things for the last few episodes, including an internal struggle about her character’s place in surviving such an oppressive world -- a story arc Dumont isn’t shy to compare to that of Magneto. With a child on the way, Polaris will finally come to terms with what she believes needs to be done.

“She has this reputation, but finally now she’s at a place where she doesn't care. She doesn't care if you don't like things about her because she is right. And she hates that she’s right -- we will see this in the last few episodes -- she hates that Magneto was right. She wishes it wasn't this way, but it is, and she has to do what she has to do.”

The Gifted returns Jan. 1.

Originally published on Player.One.



How The Mr. Robot Soundtrack Moved From TV To The Roxy

Mac Quayle wants you to hear the music from Mr. Robot IRL

Television scores and soundtracks have become an increasingly popular and cherished art. TV critics and fans alike have raved over the sound of Atlanta, InsecureStranger Things, Luke Cage and one of the pioneers of the trend, Mr. Robot. But how does an artist or composer take music from a TV show to the next level? By performing it live. That’s what Emmy-winning and Grammy-nominated composer Mac Quayle aims to do with his upcoming performance at The Roxy in Los Angeles.

“My vision for this music to be performed is that it’s more like a rock or EDM show than what you might consider to be a typical film or television music concert,” Quayle told Player.One. “They tend to be orchestral based in theaters—everyone is sitting down, they aren't too loud, they are a little more restrained. This music, to me, lends itself to something a bit different, which is it is loud. It’s like going to a rock or EDM show, and The Roxy is a great place for that.”

The live performance is fittingly titled “M@cQuayle_TheMus1c0fMrRob0t.mp3” and takes place Dec. 5. The concert will feature a selection of music from all three seasons of the show, but building a set list was more complex than simply putting all his favorite pieces on a playlist—Quayle had to choose what to perform based on several factors.

“I start looking at which pieces would be feasible, which pieces would be enjoyable to play and hopefully entertaining for an audience. That narrows the list down a little bit. And then I start doing some adaptations to make it playable. It may be a re-arrangement, I may extend it or shorten it. For some pieces, I’ve been doing medleys from one into another. Slowly, the set list grows and I get more and more pieces that will work on stage,” he said.

What makes Mr. Robot so alluring, in both the music score and the TV series itself, is the technique and finesse. Performing live presents different challenges than a recording studio, and to maintain that same feeling, Quayle had to strip down certain elements of the instrumentation.

“You can pack a lot more detail in a recording that will be noticed and appreciated when someone listens to it. But if you try to pack all that detail into a live performance, due to the nature of acoustics and the venue and whatnot, to me, a lot of that can get lost. I like to simplify a bit and pull out some of the details that aren't going to add too much to the performance, clutter it and make it more difficult to perform.”

The instrumentation for the concert is similar to what Quayle uses to record the score for the show. It’s very electronic based, with two keyboard players, including himself. However, Quayle will also add a live drummer to his live performance, something he didn’t use on the show.

“That drummer will be playing some of the electronic sounds, the drum sounds, that are used in the score, but will also have an acoustic drum kit. So that adds this whole other element, brings the energy up a lot from what some of the recordings are and makes it what I hope is an exciting performance.”

Some of the pieces are approaching dance music and Quayle said considering the fact The Roxy has mostly standing room, he wouldn’t be surprised if people were more physically engaged than the traditional instrumental performance. At least that’s the goal. The very first performance, at another Hollywood nightclub for an early summer Emmy promotion event, was the proof of concept.

“We just performed three pieces, but it was in a nightclub with a big sound system and it really showed me that that is a great type of venue for this music. The next performance was in Spain at the MOSMA film festival in July, and we did a full set of music from the show. That was in a theater and it was great, but didn’t quite have the impact that I envisioned for it. I’m thinking The Roxy will be more in line.”

Quayle has been performing live since he was seven. First in the church choir, then the high school band orchestra, then a rock band. Up until a few years ago, he was playing with Donna De Lory. Live performance is one of his early passions, and he sees Mr. Robot as an opportunity to continue.

“This music is important to me. I’m looking forward to The Roxy show as the next step in the evolution of where I think a performance of Mr Robot music could go.”

Quayle’s performance at The Roxy is on Dec. 5. Buy tickets here and catch Mr. RobotWednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network.


Can Polaris Forgive Humans? The Gifted's Emma Dumont Says No

Blood drips from Polaris’ nose after she successfully escapes her prison cell in The Gifted episode 3. She uses every ounce of energy she has to combat the inhibitor collar shackled to her neck in order to blast the door open, but quickly passes out in the hallway before she can flee. “Now that’s just sad,” the prison guard utters before calling for backup. This is one of many times we’ve seen Polaris go to the extreme to ensure her child has a chance at life.

The first testament to Polaris’ grit came in the pilot, when she is first apprehended. This was such an important, character-defining moment, actress Emma Dumont says there were two versions.

“The original one we shot was me in a vacuum-sealed bag,” Dumont told Player.One at New York Comic Con. “In that moment she was in a lot of pain and up in this big bag and it was different. The scene we have in the new pilot was way more intimate, and we have Reed Strucker, a father, trying to be like, ‘Hey dude, stop being crazy. Stop being erratic and nuts and trying to kill cops. You have a kid that you have to take care of.’ Polaris says ‘f*** you, I don't care what you have to say, I'm going to fight even harder now. It’s a momma bear moment.”

The original incarceration scene (shown in early trailers) dehumanized Polaris even more, which may be the reason it was changed for the premiere.

The original incarceration scene (shown in early trailers) dehumanized Polaris even more, which may be the reason it was changed for the premiere.

Others in Polaris’ position would stop resisting and grieve their fate. That’s not in Polaris’ DNA. She is determined to fight because she has nothing to lose. If she doesn’t resist, her mutant child could be executed by the Sentinels. If she does fight, her mutant child could still be in danger, but at least there is a glimmer of hope she’ll see Eclipse and the Mutant Underground once again.

“I don't know how long gestation is for mutants, but if it’s nine months, she has nine months to make the world a better place so her kid can be born in a safe environment. That's her timeline. One more day that my kid is going to be hunted down. One more day the Sentinel Services are killing babies and taking them away from their families. The stakes are so high for her every single day. Our first season is only 18 days or something.”

The Mutant Underground is already plotting a way to get Polaris out of jail, but Dumont teases she may have to work with a former adversary in the meantime. Reed Strucker, now in Sentinel Services custody for protecting his two mutant children, could be the key to the plan. Reed worked as a mutant prosecutor and knows the ins and outs of the Sentinels system. While the two will be forced into partnership, Dumont is adamant Polaris will never forgive Reed for his willingness to participate in mutant oppression.

“She hates his guts. She thinks he’s what's wrong with the world. He’s a bigot, he’s a bad person, he’s harming innocent people and he doesn't even realize he’s bad. She hates him. But for survival and for survival only, with the stakes so high with her mutant baby she has to worry about, she ends up having two work with Reed,” Dumont said. “There is a difference between putting things aside and forgiveness. I don't think Polaris ever ever forgave him. There are moments Reed admits he was wrong and realizes his faults. She basically says to him, ‘No, you definitely don’t get forgiveness from me.’ She’s stubborn, but rightfully so.”

Strucker and Polaris have yet to meet behind bars. It’s unclear in what capacity this partnership forms, but it will be interesting to see how two individuals with very different views of the world work together toward a common goal -- to protect their children.

Do you like the direction The Gifted is headed? Let us know in the comments.


Sigourney Weaver Teases Alexandra’s Agenda In The Defenders

Sigourney Weaver plays Alexandra, the villain of The Defenders who we still know very little about.  However, it’s obvious she’s not a clear-cut big bad. The trailers suggest she has a specific agenda and peculiar interest in one of The Defenders.

Danny Rand and Alexandra has the potential to be one of the most interesting in the The Defenders. Not only because of Iron Fist’s direct connection to The Hand, who are the sworn enemy of Ku'n-Lun. But also because of Madame Gao, who we know has been alive long enough to see the previous incarnations of the Iron Fist. It's not yet clear how all of this pieces together, but Weaver offered a few clues at San Diego Comic-Con.

“I consider Iron Fist an innocent,” Weaver told Player.One. “I have been around a lot longer than he has and he’s very idealistic and very passionate. Given enough time I’m sure I could win him over to my point of view. I’m sure that’s true for Luke Cage -- I could put a lot of resources in Harlem. If I had the time to win each of them over, I could, but when they come together it’s very hard to isolate them.”

The Defenders takes place over the course of just one week. That’s a lot of ground to cover, but Weaver teased Alexandra isn’t one to get her hands dirty--after all, each main cast member of The Defenders has a color and hers is white.

“I was surprised to find my character's color was white, though in the end I came to love it. It’s very elegant and [for] someone who doesn't get their hands dirty. I don't think she ever pretends to be anything other than she is. I think she thinks it's a shame that these guys are so young, they can't see the way the world works and they are going to try to make a difference where they can and they are so talented but if they came to work for me, they could really get somewhere.”

Because Alexandra’s one to work more behind-the-scenes, we may not see her amid fight scenes and action as much as fans may have hoped.

“I think she has all those skills. I think she has several, a number of, frankly ninjas who will protect her so that I don't really need to get sweaty myself,” Weaver said after revealing she has a red belt in karate. “But I think in the past, she has done all those things but now she has a protective group around her which we all deserve in this world.”

Alexandra does have a secret weapon in Elektra, whom we know from trailers does come back to life as a mysterious entity known as “black sky.” The purpose of Black Sky is still unclear, but Alexandra doesn’t only think of Elektra as a weapon, she cares at least a little bit.

“It was very natural to believe in Elodie [Yung] and try and take her under my wing up to a point and I think that my character is very sincere about the relationship. I thinks she wants to be a mentor to Elektra and I think she would actually love to mentor all of the four heroes. Unfortunately, they have some pesky tendency to be idealistic which I feel they will grow out of but they haven't at this stage so they become unfortunately my enemies.”

What will be most interesting to see after The Defenders debut is who Alexandra aligns with. The Hand has weaved through the entire Marvel-Netflix universe. Why haven’t we seen or heard about her until now? A recent Defenders teaser revealed Alexandra and Stick are “old friends.” But so far, it’s been Madame Gao as the mysterious force that seems to tie everything together. When I asked Weaver if Alexandra will overshadow Gao, she said, “I certainly hope so.”

“I think Madame Gao is awesome. We have a very interesting relationship. There’s never any security in the world and it’s a lesson one has to learn again and again.”

There are still so may questions to be answered about The Hand, Madame Gao, Ku’n Lun, Stick and the ancient opposing forces that seem to be running New York City. However, when The Defenders ends, it may be up to the fans to put the pieces together about Alexandra.

“I think we build the information with each show. But I think they purposely don’t want you to know too much about her because it is written from The Defenders’ point of view. You get glimpses into her life, I think pretty intimate glimpses, but ultimately it’s about these forces coming together.”

Any theories about who Alexandra is and why she wants to destroy New York? Let us know in the comments and check out our review. The Defenders arrives on Netflix Aug. 18.


Detroit's Joseph David-Jones Reflects On The Horror And History

Detroit tells the true story of the 12th Street Riot, with a focus on the events leading up to and after the massacre at the Algiers Motel. It serves as documentation of a brutal series of events that have been swept under the rug since 1967 -- 43 dead, over 1,000 wounded, 2,500 businesses burned or looted, police officers unpunished -- just one of many such incidents in African-American history.

Helmed by respected director Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, both of 2008’s Oscar-winning Hurt Locker, the film is gaining traction because of the talent involved and affecting narrative. But this is not your average documentary or historical adaptation. The incident and its aftermath are horrendous, but the trailers evoke an elevated feeling of cinematic horror. While the subject matter is poignant, timely and undoubtedly visceral considering Bigelow’s track record, it’s hard to watch, let alone take part in creatively.

“She’s shot this in its period, the 60s, which is most of the time in film is very stylized, but she shoots this so real and gritty it’s almost like a war film or something,” actor Joseph David-Jones told Player One. He plays Morris, a singer with the group The Dramatics who performed at the historic Fox Theater during the riots. “[It’s] a horror movie watching this trailer. They don't pull any punches. It’s very very gritty, raw and real and in your face and it puts you right amidst the chaos that was going on in Detroit at that time.”

David-Jones, who recently appeared in the latest season of Nashville, says it was the bond between his castmates, particularly his fellow band members, that helped him wash off all the heavy material and keep his spirits high.

“Every day people would be getting like, you know, we’d be at the hotel and all the terrible things that were going to happen there. Being able to come back and be around your friends and brothers who were going through the same things as you, it really helps you not be weighed down by it,” he said.

Before his casting, Davis-Jones did know about the Detroit riots, but wasn’t aware of the Algiers Motel murders. As a young actor working with people like John Boyega, Anthony Mackie and Kathryn Bigelow, he still says the biggest thing he learned from the experience on set were the details of the 1967 riots and how history seemed to carry these deaths away without consequence.

Joseph David-Jones just finished filming Roman Israel, Esq. with Denzel Washington.PHOTO: PHOTO BY JSQUARED PHOTOGRAPHY. STYLED BY MELISSA WALSH.

Joseph David-Jones just finished filming Roman Israel, Esq. with Denzel Washington.PHOTO: PHOTO BY JSQUARED PHOTOGRAPHY. STYLED BY MELISSA WALSH.

“I had no concept for it,” Davis-Jones said. “Whenever you are doing something like this where it’s a true story, you're playing people who really existed and something as heavy as this, there is always an added pressure and added responsibility to do justice to the person you are playing and to the story itself. So it was just a lot more responsibility on me to really be present in the moment and connect with the emotions of it all.”

The cinematic devices Detroit uses to tell these stories may be controversial, but Jones says the one thing he hopes people gain from the film is a level of understanding.

“The main thing that we are trying to get people to take away from this is empathy and understanding of where this all began and what we as black people have to go through and what it’s like to be a black person in America today and back then. Because I think they’ve changed but they haven’t changed that much. It’s about empathy, understanding, and forming a commonality and community,” Jones said. “It's not just a black movie or a black issue, it's an American issue. I feel like everybody is going to get something from it, even if it's just a better understanding of the people around you.”

History is set in stone, but the future isn’t. Jones is optimistic moving forward that films featuring African-American actors won’t always focus on black trauma.

“We are starting to see more of a shift toward us as leading men and women that are powerful, that aren’t about a history of us being abused and being victimized. I get it, sometimes it's hard to see those types of things, even though it’s important to learn and know your history, but I think it is changing,” he said.

For more on Detroit, read Newsweek’s review


Behind The Real Life Iron Man Tech At SDCC

Published on Player.One 7/20/17.

Despite what a quick Google search for Richard Browning’s jet-powered flight suit may imply, he didn’t start developing this technology because he’s a fan of Tony Stark. He did it because he wants complete freedom in the sky.

"It’s cool because I like the Iron Man film. It’s a cool concept and it’s nice having built something that’s not too entirely dissimilar. We could have painted it gold and red, and that would have made the point that we are really trying to aspire to recreate it, but no. It has nothing to do with comic books,” Browning told Player.One. "We are trying to make it our own way. It’s just accidental it ended up looking and behaving like Iron Man."

The suit, known as Daedalus, consists of two jet-powered engines on each arm and another on the pilot's back for balance. Pointing the thrusters down pushes him away from the ground, lifting him up. Shifting his arms back propels him forward. It’s coming down the that’s the most tiresome because it takes the most endurance, strength he builds with rigorous workout routines.

“You're deadlifting. You have to lift them up to go down."

The stance, Browning says, is very similar to the way Tony Stark controls his suit in the films and comics. But the aesthetics and safety procedures on Daedalus still need work. His footwear is synthetic; anti-rattlesnake books, to be exact. He wears a black, stretchy suit that at first glance looks almost like scuba gear.

“It’s not very pretty, don’t look too close,” Browning said after the demo outside Mission Brewery, a 10-minute walk from San Diego Comic-Con. “The aesthetics are not a priority, but they are quite important. Some of the stuff on it is not very critical, only providing a bit of protection. There’s no point in not taking the opportunity to look cool, but function is the priority to get the most powerful, the least weight, the most control, the most safe."

One of the most developed parts of the suit is the helmet, which projects and visualizes data from the engines and fuel systems into the visor. Made by DAQRI, it’s an augmented reality display conceptually similar to Iron Man’s helmet.

"Fifteen thousand dollars of augmented reality. It takes data from the suit and paints it holographically in front of me."

Browning says he has flown Daedalus at a top speed of 45-50 mph and as high as 30 feet in the air (unintentionally). Next on the list is developing wings to transition from vertical takeoff to horizontal, which also reduces energy. This would help achieve the “complete freedom of the sky” he envisions.

"If I really had to now, I could go up to 1,000 feet. I could then put it on full power, lean over, then at 120 mph streak across the sky and then come back and land in front of you. The problem is not so much the parachute support because above 300 feet, or 150 feet, a base jump rig will help. It’ll save your life. But what do you do on the way up to that? If I go thunder up to 70 or 80 feet and get an engine failure, I’ll be dead ... So we are working on technology to solve that, and if we solve it, we have complete freedom to do everything. Frankly, you can see it in Iron Man.”

As his technology becomes better, faster and stronger, Browning is willing to take some calculated risks. If one of the engines suddenly develop a fault, spinning him around and landing him on the ground, Browning says the worst that could happen is he breaks an ankle or a wrist. He overcomes the fear by understanding the science behind the tech.

“I lost engines, a lot, in the early days of development. I was never that high and because all of the protective equipment, I never suffered. I will admit that we are now going higher and faster to the point where it's going to hurt more if I have an accident. But you know what, I could get run over by a car crossing the street. It’s a risk-reward thing. I’m confident in understanding the equipment, understanding the risk of there being a problem, so I’m fairly comfortable.”

This isn’t just a side project for Browning. He founded Gravity Industries in March 2017, a startup focused on human propulsion technology with the mission of completely changing the way we think about aviation and flight.

"It’s vision of imagining the challenge of flight but in a way that would leverage the mind and body rather than just sit in a machine. The balance and control, I’m already carrying it, so I may as well use it.”

For more on Richard Browning and the technology he’s developing, visit the Gravity website.


In Conversation with Black Lightning Creator Tony Isabella

Just hours after Tony Isabella saw The CW’s Black Lightning trailer, he was on his way to Philadelphia to appear at the East Coast Black Age Of Comics Convention. Isabella, who created Black Lightning with Trevor Von Eeden, was one of five recipients of ECBACC’s lifetime achievement award. Isabella is a longtime attendee of ECBACC, but this year his presence was particularly exciting, considering the Black Lighting TV series will premiere this winter and he’s working on another Black Lightning comic series.

“I loved the costumes. There are some smartass lines in there and I love writing smartass lines so I love the fact that’s a little bit of me in there, that they’re doing that,” Isabella told Player.One. “I love the tone of the show. I had read a script, which was I think was the second draft when the show was at Fox. I’m sure there will be some changes for the CW, but the Fox script was really edgy, and not fantasy edgy like Arrow. Real world edgy. Police brutality, driving while black, the gang. It really is real world edgy and the more of that they keep I think the more the TV show will work.”

Isabella cleared up rumors that a pilot had been filmed ahead of the series pickup. He said The CW filmed an eight-to-twelve minute presentation piece, which is where the trailer comes from.

“I loved it [the trailer] more than I can adequately express,” Isabella reiterated during a panel discussion. “You have to understand, I’m not 100 percent in the loop. DC and the showrunners Salim and Mara Brock Akil have done their best to keep me in the loop, so I have known stuff before it hits online. For example, people kept talking about a Black Lightning pilot having been filmed. No. No pilot was filmed. They did a presentation piece, which was then cut into the trailer. And when I first heard that from DC, I thought it was a bad thing. And then they told me no, well, we sold Legends of Tomorrow with a picture of the cast and brief synopsis.”

Black Lighting going to series was unexpected, but it wasn’t a surprise to Isabella because Luke Cage’s popularity nearly crashed Netflix and there’s been a more conscious effort in the comic book industry to be more inclusive.

“I knew Luke Cage was partially to blame, or to thank, because the Luke Cage show was depending on the survey, you see anywhere from the fourth to first streamed show last year. I knew, obviously, CW couldn’t get Luke Cage, but they could get Black Lighting. The people at DC already wanted to do it, so I was 99 percent sure it was going to get picked up. The affiliates went crazy for it.”

The CW trailer for Black Lighting set the series to premiere in the 2017-18 midseason, but the show being labeled as a midseason replacement doesn’t worry Isabella; he thinks placement matters less and less these days.

“Midseason replacement is a meaningless term now. Networks put shows out whenever they want, they don’t even put them on networks. Netflix, I mean look at Netflix. So I’m not concerned when finally it debuts on TV, as long as it’s good and I really think it’s going to be really good.”

Isabella hasn’t been on the best of terms with DC Comics due to conflict over Black Lightning attribution, but he’s confident the industry changing when it comes to keeping creators in the loop. He got a laugh out of the fact DC sent him a copy of the trailer after it dropped online.

“This is new territory for them, they are not used to keeping creators in the loop on this stuff and they are trying really hard so I’m not going to nitpick them for not getting it right. So I see the trailer, two hours before we go in the car to drive here on Thursday. Loved it. I know basics of what’s going on with the show. It’s in my wheelhouse. I love the show. I love the showrunners. I love the acting picks they made.”

Isabella said he had a discussion with the Akil’s about the potential for crossovers with the rest of the Arrowverse. Since then, other reports have indicated no crossover is planned, but Isabella explains why he thinks the series should hold off on connecting to The Flash and Arrow, at least for the first season.

“We talked about that, not that I have any say in it. I said early on, I said, ‘You know I’m a little tired of Black Lightning being subservient to other characters. I don’t like him teaming up with Batman and Superman. They pretty much give him orders.’ We could always change it later on. When it was at Fox, I said, ‘You really got to find a way to cross it over with Lucifer.’

When Black Lightning was first rumored for a Fox pickup, fans had one question about the cast in particular, and they still do. What about Static Shock? Jaden Smith was once rumored to star as the live-action version of the hero millennial audiences fell in love with in the early 2000’s on Kid’s WB each Saturday morning.  But Isabella is not fond of the prospect of Static in Black Lightning series.

“It was frustrating when people say, ‘I can’t wait to see Static in there.’ Static is a great character, but you put him in Black Lightning, he’s a sidekick, or you reduce Black Lightning to just a mentor role,” Isabella said, adding that Young Justice Season 3 would be a perfect place for Static. “I love both characters, I mean, I love Black Lighting more.”

Fans are also calling for Metamorpho and The Outsiders. Isabella is not opposed.

“I got to tell you, I love the idea of Metamorpho at some point in the future. I love the character. I’m trying to convince DC that some of their b and c characters, they don’t necessarily have to do them themselves. I know a studio like Asylum, they would love to do a DC or Marvel superhero, but their budgets are not Warner Brothers budgets. But Metamorpho you could do. With the technology to do Sharknado, you could do Metamorpho.

Isabella also said, “I think he is,” about the possibility of Tobias Whale appearing in Black Lighting. 

“But I think he will be more like the version you’ve seen before,” Isabella added, noting his new comic book series contains a different take on Tobias Whale than we’re familiar with.

So far, Black Lighting on The CW, like Isabella said, appears to capture the tone of the character from the comics, but the most important value he hopes stays true to the character is responsibility.

“Responsibility. He doesn’t want to be a superhero. He does it because he can and because there’s a need. I always refer to him as a reluctant hero. He would rather be a teacher, he would rather be principal, but he can’t turn his back on what else he is. So he has to use that for the benefit of the community and the world. A lot of superhero comics these days are so self absorbed, every issue the heroes are fighting their old enemies. They’re not actually doing stuff for the community, and that’s what I want to change. Those are the characters I want to write.”

Originally published on Player.One May 22, 2017.