Author: Ken Hart

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 10 Recap: Die Hard, or Maybe Just Get Maimed

Not only is this episode, “From Dancing Mice to Psychopaths,” the season finale, it’s the finale to the penultimate season! BBC America announced that Season 5 would be the series’ last, and I’m glad for that. Don’t get me wrong – I love this show! – but there are times during Season 4 where c0-Brain Mike and I wondered if this series was going to start meandering without any sort of endgame in sight. And lo & behold, we have it! We know now that it’ll have: a really NASTY villain; a mysterious puppetmaster who’s possibly immortal (!); and probably a major death or three. Because let me tell you, Season 4 ends on a dark note.

But before that – hey look! Ferdinand’s back! A little poorer (OK, a lot poorer) but not dispirited, he reawakens Rachel’s lust for power via some S&M and bondage. (Somehow, this motivational trend hasn’t yet made the cover of Fast Company.) Now that Evil Cho is out of the way – permanently (death by maggot-bot!) – Rachel drops any pretense of working with Sarah and the rest of Clone Club. She wants Neolution, and she’ll betray anyone to get it. Speaking of betrayal…

Over on the Island of Lost Clones, Mommie Dearest Susan locks up Cosima after their attempt to create new Leda/Castor stem cells succeeds tremendously. For Susan, the search for the cure is important – but not as important as seizing power by restarting the cloning project. Like Rachel, Susan sees an opportunity to pull Neolution back onto the path of cloning supremacy. Unfortunately for Susan, she doesn’t have Rachel’s ruthlessness and self-hatred – and boy, is THAT a wild combo of bad traits! Spitting like Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, Rachel (a clone herself, mind you) tells Neolution’s board that the testing of clones will not only resume – she intends to push the White Rat metaphor to its nastiest extreme, stripping the new clones of all rights and keeping them locked up. OHHHH, SHE’S CRAZY.


And yes, her bionic eye is still giving her David Lynch Vision – which leads to one of several references in this episode to Neolution’s founder, P.T. Westmoreland, who literally wrote the book (he did! He wrote a book!) on Neolution and genetic theory about 100 years ago. Susan had suggested that Westmoreland himself developed Rachel’s eye, but how could that be if the guy lived decades ago…?

In any event, Sarah and Mrs. S are in the dark about Rachel’s motives until a visit by clone beautician Krystal (and subsequent impersonation of Krystal by Sarah) gives them a chance to quiz new Brightborn big-wig Dr. Van Lier. They realize what Rachel and Susan are up to, and Sarah strong-arms Castor clone Ira into summoning a helicopter to take her to the Island of Lost Clones, where she intends to bring Cosima back, Die Hard style. Yeahhhhhh, about that….

Wednesday Charlotte gets an increasingly ill Cosima out of the locked room and says they have to get to the boat. First, though, they happen to see Rachel viciously stab Susan! Holy Matricide, Batman! Wednesday Charlotte is going to need therapy for that. They quickly leave the house, but a) they’re not sure where they’re going, b) it’s dark and really, really cold, and c) by leaving, they miss bumping into Sarah!

Sarah’s Bruce Willis impersonation lasts about as long as my brain cells during Live Free or Die Hard. She finds a badly injured but still alive Susan, and Rachel takes advantage of her distraction to beat the crap out of Sarah with her cane, stab her in the knee (!), and grab her gun. This would’ve been 30 seconds in a Die Hard film, but it’s understandably traumatic enough to send our hero Sarah scrambling for her life!

Sarah calls Mrs. S for help, but whoops, Ferdinand is already in the Rabbit Hole safe house, keeping an eye (and his gunsights) on both S and Kira. Rachel outmaneuvered Clone Club big time in this episode. The only tiny bright spot is the return of Delphine! Creepy Uncle Joe from Rachel’s visions shows up to save Cosima and Charlotte, and he brings them to — a homeless camp on the Island? With medical equipment? And ominous glances from other bearded people? Where is this, Mulholland Drive? Fortunately, Dr. Delphine brings Cosima back from the brink with her, um, bedside manner.

The season ends with Rachel, now firmly in power, about to have her first audience with … P.T. Westmoreland. Yes, he’s alive! Maybe. Could he be cloning himself over the decades and transferring his memories, ensuring his immortality? Or is a fakeout?

The Good:

It’s great to see Rachel as a villain again. Let’s give the writers credit for slowly building her back up over the course of two years. She’s now very much aware what defeat and humiliation taste like, which makes her deadlier than ever.

I’ve mentioned several times that I’m sick of the Castor clones, but I’ll make an exception if we can get a spinoff featuring Ira, Rachel, and Ferdinand. “Is he wearing socks?”

The Hendrixes hiding out in the woods with Grizzly Helena: Alas, Alison “has the shits.”

Krystal refuses to believe that she has any resemblance to Sarah. Brilliant.

I love it when a clone impersonates another clone. It somehow makes Tatiana Maslany even more amazing.

The Bad:

NOOOOOO, not another “Man Behind the Curtain” trope! Geez McGee, I thought we were done with that after Lost. I don’t mind the concept of an immortal mastermind, but this episode gives us the intro and the payoff in the same hour. No setup. It’s a little too Deathly Hallows-ish.

The WTF:

Why in the world does Sarah go solo to the Island of Lost Clones, when she already knows it’s a hostile situation? It’s crazy. She could’ve left Kira with Felix. There’s no reason for her NOT to have taken Mrs. S with her, since this is the type of situation that S excels in. That’s just, well, dumb.


That’s it for this year’s recaps, but stay tuned! Mike and I will soon mingle brain cells and discuss our final thoughts on Orphan Black Season 4.


Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 8 Recap: Challenge Rating 7

Three things come through clearly in “The Redesign of Natural Objects”:

  1. For the first time in a while, there’s a sense of hope. It’s tiny, and could vanish in an instant, but it’s there.
  2. Don’t mess with Mrs. S.
  3. Darkwing Duko plays D&D! Unfortunately, he’s a 3rd-level rogue who walked into a CR 7 encounter. See #2 above.

Let’s deal with these in turn. Item #1: The hope comes from a new idea conjured by Cosima, whose on-again/off-symptoms remind me of how Peter Parker’s Aunt May was either always on death’s door or getting romanced by Dr. Octopus. But I digress. Cosima, newly energized from learning that Delphine may be kinda-sorta alive, gets in touch with ex-Neolution boss Susan Duncan and twitchy sestra Rachel (thanks to M.K.’s super-hacking) and theorizes they could still get the combo Leda/Castor DNA, despite Kendall’s death: What about old-fashioned in vitro fertilization of a Leda egg with Castor sperm?

Naturally, Sarah would need to agree to this, and she does so, only because Cosima is so excited about it and, really, what other choice is there? Cosima is facing a death sentence, otherwise, as might the rest of the sestras – including M.K., whom we see with a nasty nosebleed. Shockingly, the basement of a comic book store isn’t really equipped for such a procedure, so Cosima and a ziploc bag of Sarah eggs will have to travel to Susan’s super-secret retreat. Susan is excited about this; Rachel sees an opportunity to kick out Evil Cho and put Susan (and herself?) back in control of Neolution. That’s not the only thing Rachel sees: Her bionic eye keeps displaying glitching digital visions of a swan (i.e., Leda), including one where it’s beheaded. But hey, everything’s fine!

Item #2: Don’t mess with Mrs. S: It’s obvious to everyone except Orphan Black’s main characters that Mrs. S might have a teeny desire to seek revenge for her mother’s death and go all Jack Bauer on Darkwing Duko’s ass. One positive development of Mrs. S almost-assassination attempt: She sees Darkwing Duko meeting with Alison! Oh ho. She informs the rest of Clone Club that Evil Cho may be using the Hendrixes to get to Sarah. And indeed, that’s exactly what’s happening. Jailbird Donnie will get his feathers fatally plucked by a skinhead with a Neolution tattoo (subtle – NOT!) unless Alison tells Duko where he can find Sarah.

Time out. If Evil Cho thinks the “self-aware clones” are such a threat to her plans to gene-modify the world, then, uh, why the hell did she let Cosima walk free the night Duko killed Kendall? I mean, if you really want Sarah Manning, why didn’t you – oh, I don’t know – threaten to kill Cosima unless Sarah revealed herself? I can understand letting Cosima go in order to warn the other clones to back off, but if you really want Sarah out of the way, you tossed away a pretty good bargaining chip. Okay, time in.

Sarah and Mrs. S convince Felix to chat with Alison (who is in rehearsals for the church production of Jesus Christ Superstar, a.k.a. The Plot Thread That Wouldn’t Die) and make sure she hasn’t been co-opted by Team Evil. Alison assures Felix that, aside from all her assets being frozen and Donnie being in an ugly orange jumpsuit, she’s peachy. However, when next we see her meeting with Duko, he puts her on the phone with Donnie, who is getting the crap beaten out of him in his cell. Pressured, she tells Duko that Sarah will be at the Rabbit Hole tonight.

Hours later, Duko is on stakeout outside the comic book store – and Skinhead Tattoo Boy is still beating up Donnie? Really? Isn’t that kind of a long time? Aren’t there lockdown hours? Does Wilson Fisk run this jail, because that would explain a lot!


Tatiana Maslany as Alison, and Gord Rand as a fuzzy Duko

In any event… surprise, it’s a setup! Alison told Felix what was going on, so Sarah, Art, and Mrs. S ambush Duko inside the Rabbit Hole and force him to call off the jail hit squad. In one of the best scenes of the past two years, we see a very anxious Alison in the middle of Jesus Christ Superstar rehearsals juxtaposed with scenes of Donnie getting beaten up. Felix, quietly watching the rehearsals, gives Alison the “Donnie isn’t dead” code signal, and she’s able to smile and relax in a literal and theatrical prayer of thanksgiving. Nicely done.

Mrs. S is still in a Jack Bauer mood, so she shoos Art and Sarah out of the store while she hooks up the car-battery clamps onto Duko’s shoulders. DAMMIT, DUKO! THERE’S NO TIME! Sorry, got carried away on a 24 wave of nostalgia. It’s soon apparent that Duko knows bupkis about Neolution’s bigger plans; he’s a mere tool who was forced into doing Evil Cho’s dirty work because she’s threatening his niece. “You understand? It’s about family!” he pleads. “Oh yes,” says Mrs. S, preparing her favorite rifle. “Family.” BLAM! Darkwing Duko’s blood sprays across an Atomic Robo poster, reducing its value by 85%.

Oh, and what made Duko feel so at ease that he let his guard drop inside the comic book store? Item #3: Dungeons & Dragons! He saw Hell Wizard’s D&D tabletop! Hell Wizard nervously said that his party consists of of a 10th-level paladin, a 12th-level thief and a half-elf cleric named Albus Dimbledots. Duko compliments him on the party makeup but says that it’d be even better if it had someone who could turn into a dragon. Ah, great. Darkwing Duko is a munchkin.

Was a munchkin. Min/max that, you dire weasel!

The Good:

Felix’s sister Adele wasn’t annoying this episode! Still clueless about clones, she gets the night’s best line when she meets Alison and says she looks just like Sarah, “but with less anger and more hygiene.”

Also surprisingly non-annoying: Rachel! When Susan proposes she take up a hobby instead of worrying about the fate of Wednesday Charlotte and the other clones, Rachel suggests carpentry: “I can build us all coffins. Shall I start with the smallest first?”

Everything with Alison this episode was terrific. My breath was taken away again by the fact that it’s one actress playing all these wildly different characters. Kneel before our Taslanic majesty, fools!

D&D for the win, baby.

The Bad:

Evil Cho Incorporated is guilty of poor supervillainy, as described above. If they truly want to get rid of Sarah, they had better, earlier opportunities to do so.

There’s a logic leap behind the trap to get Duko. Okay, Alison sends Duko to the Rabbit Hole. But why would they ever think that Duko would go alone? Or that he wouldn’t tell Evil Cho about Sarah’s hideout as soon as Alison told him? It’s a stretch, at best.

The WTF:

Still no Helena! But she’s back in the next episode.


Doctor Who Review: The Curse of the Fugue

Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor has had a marvelous existence in Big Finish’s audio adventures. Through them, we’ve been able to see how this eccentric, passionate, and occasionally dour Doctor lived between his birth in the 1996 TV movie and death in “The Night of the Doctor.” Adding greatly to the popularity of these adventures was companion Lucie Miller, played by the superb Sheridan Smith. Outspoken, indomitable, and even caustic at times, Lucie was the perfect foil to the Eighth Doctor, balancing his melancholy as much as Sarah Jane Smith’s tenacity redeemed the Fourth Doctor’s recklessness. What really stood out, though, was that the character felt real.

Last heard in 2011’s “To the Death,” Sheridan Smith and Lucie Miller have returned in “The Curse of the Fugue” – and it’s like they never left. The 30-minute tale is part of Big Finish’s Short Trips range, where one actor reads an original story (as opposed to Big Finish’s full-cast audio plays).


Alice Cavender’s story drops us into 1974 London, during an energy crisis, and where we find Lucie working in a nursing home. But why? Where is the Doctor? And is resident Cecille’s invisible friend a figment – or a messenger from the past with a dire warning?

The story takes a little while to develop, but that’s fine because it does an admirable job of creating a true 1970’s feel and establishing key characters like Cecille. It’s also fun to hear Lucie – who’s not at all happy about her apparent abandonment by the Doctor – casually sharing future news tidbits with the ’70s residents. An added treat is Sheridan’s interpretation of the Eighth Doctor. She handles both roles extremely well.

One thing I feel compelled to mention is that when Sheridan goes “Full Lucie,” it can sometimes be difficult for American ears to pick up everything she’s saying. But hey, that’s the character! Ultimately, “The Curse of the Fugue” is cause for celebration for all Lucie Miller fans. (And if you’re not familiar with Lucie Miller or the Eighth Doctor, I recommend listening to, say, “Human Resources” first.)

Additional: Big Finish is hosting a Short Trips writing competition this month! Fancy a chance at writing your own Doctor Who tale for the Big Finish website? Check out the details here.

Rating: 4/5 Braaaaaaaaaains.


Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 6 Recap: You’re Betamax

A gut-wrenching episode of Orphan Black! But is that a good thing, or is the series twisting the plot yet again because … well, they can? We’ll get to that as we discuss “The Scandal of Altruism.”

First, we have a Highlander-esque flashback! Beth is back in black (and blonde) as we, the audience, see what voyeur Art couldn’t: where Beth went after she left her apartment with the handgun. She plans to assassinate Mommie Dearest herself, Susan Duncan! There’s much more to come in this flashback, and it’s too bad the regular characters can’t watch this at home like us, because boy, these flashbacks would’ve come in handy!

We check in with a bunch of folks in rapid succession:

  • The Eww Couple of Susan Duncan and DNA-Boy-Toy Ira have a post-coitus discussion of their options, and we learn that Ira does have the same potential for “glitching” as the other Castor clones. Still, Susan sees hope for him “as long as Sarah listens to reason.” Uh-huh. Susan, you haven’t been paying attention to this series, have you?
  • Cosima tells Sarah all about her BrightBorn experience and the chat with Susan Duncan and Evil Cho. There’s a deal to be made, especially with the clock continuing to tick on Cosima’s life.
  • Over at the police station, Art quickly steers Detective (and Neolution spy) Darkwing Duko away from Krystal, who has come to complain about the conspiracy “targeting beauty professionals.” As misguided as she is, her quest for answers could cause a lot of problems for Clone Club. The solution: Felix poses as “Inspector Dawkins, from the Yard.” Krystal: “Which yard?” “Scotland Yard.” It’s one of the few bits of levity in a brutal episode. No room for Hendrix hijinks in this one.

Sarah goes to BrightBorn to talk terms with Susan and Evil, and she learns that each maggot bot is given a different task. Leekie’s maggot bot was designed to impede the onset of Alzheimer’s. Sarah’s bot was designed to make her sick. Neolution wanted to know why Sarah’s biology was different than her sestras’, so her maggot bot was playing Whack-a-Mole with her immune system to collect answers. Sarah has important info to share, too: Kendall Malone has cancer. However, this is potentially good news for Clone Club! Cosima and Scott can use the cancer cells’ reproduction to separate Leda from Castor in Kendall’s wacky DNA.

Orphan Black S4E6 3

Sarah’s condition from giving those cells to Susan? “We’re not saving Castor.” Thank you, Sarah! She’ll give only Leda cells so that Cosima and the other sestras can be cured. Ira isn’t happy that his Mrs. Robinson refuses to go to bat for him after all the times he’s, uh, batted for her, and he gets all Morrissey for the rest of the episode. Evil Cho and Cosima then remove Sarah’s maggot bot in a surprisingly risky operation, and we’ll very glad that Cosima was there to keep an eye on Evil. Hmmm, I don’t trust her!

Mrs. S isn’t happy about the planned cell swap. “You bartered my mother behind my back!” (Coincidentally, that’s the plot of the lost episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.) But things do move along: Scott begins harvesting the Leda cells while Susan and Kendall have an unpleasant chat. Then things go south fast! Kendall is nabbed on her way out of the meeting, Sarah tosses bleach on the cell samples and accuses Susan of pulling a fast one, and Cosima is in the grasp of Evil Cho. Susan pleads innocence, so the Kendall-napper had to be the scorned Ira, right? Nope! It’s Darkwing Duko, who takes Kendall to an abandoned field, where they wait….

We learn via flashback that Beth spared Susan’s life after hearing Susan say, “I’m your creator” and claiming that she loved Beth and all the Leda gals. Susan says that if Beth kills her, it won’t solve anything, it’ll give the script editors heart failure, and it’ll probably result in all the Ledas being killed. So, wonder Sarah and Art, where did the blood on Beth’s hands come from?

From Evil Cho, that’s where! She orchestrated the assassination attempt to knock Susan off the top perch of Neolution, and Beth beats the crap out of her when she realizes she’d been set up. Darkwing Duko stops Beth, but Beth believes Evil’s claim that the only way to keep the other clones safe (at least for a while) is if Beth kills herself and takes her crusade with her. Honestly, this part seemed like a bit of a stretch. If Beth knows that Neolution is going to keep manipulating  the clones’ lives – or worse – then what benefit is truly gained by her suicide?

In the present, Evil shows up at the field with Cosima in tow. Her plan is to kill Kendall and incinerate the body so that no genetic info can be retrieved. Essentially, Evil wants all the clones to go away and die. Direct genetic manipulation is where all the fun is! Clones? Feh. That’s competing tech, and obsolete competing tech at that. She tells Cosima coldly, “You’re Betamax.”

With that, Darkwing shoots Kendall in the head and sets fire to the van. Evil doesn’t kill Cosima – probably to avoid a revenge spree from Sarah – but before she leaves, she rubs a bit of salt in the wound: “Delphine Cormier was shot dead in the Dyad parking garage. Tell Sarah it’s over. Or Beth died for nothing.”

And that’s it. Any hope of a cure for the sestras’ condition is gone. Kendall is dead. Delphine is dead (maybe? I bet not). And Clone Club seemingly has no cards left to play. As I said, brutal. But not really fulfilling. There was no “wow” or “oh my god” moment in this episode.

The Great:

The fakeout with Ira. I fell for it, too, just like Sarah.

Krystal’s marvelous inability to understand why “Inspector Dawkins” was English if he’s from Scotland Yard.

The climactic scene in the field. It was framed and paced extremely well.

The Not-So-Great:

Let me get this straight: There’s yet another Big Bad to deal with? No sooner do we think we’ve reached the top of the Neolution/Dyad/BrightBorn pyramid than we find out that Evil Cho is really calling the shots.

The WTF:

I understand the need for super-secrecy, but is Scott really delicately harvesting cells on a table in Felix’s studio? Dude! You don’t know who’s been ON that table!

Okay, so this incredibly important research that Scott and Cosima were conducting that could literally save Cosima’s life wasn’t even backed up???  That’s an oversight that Krystal or Alison would make. Not Cosima.

By the same token, Scott and Cosima didn’t make sure to harvest any of Kendall’s cells prior to the Susan Duncan meeting? They knew what she wanted, and more importantly, they knew they couldn’t trust Susan/Neolution. Clone Club made a bunch of uncharacteristically dumb moves this episode, which is maddening because the stupidity was Because Plot Reasons, and not anything particularly believable.

So, after two episodes of “is Adele really Felix’s sister,” she just kind of disappears stage left. Again, there better have been a point to Adele’s introduction, and a really good one, because at this point everything involving her and Felix smacks of little more than timewasting episode filler.

Seven Big Questions After Captain America: Civil War

Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War recently premiered to hugely positive reactions and a stunning box office. It’s also really, really good. We were promised a game-changer in this early “Phase 3” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Marvel certainly delivered.

So where does this leave the key characters in the film? What impact might the conflict have on the lead-up to Avengers: Infinity War (or whatever its title will be)? Might we even see this play out in the Netflix series? The Brains of Morbius take a look.

NOTE: The rest of the post will be SPOILER HEAVY. If you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War yet, go now! It’s excellent! We’ll be here when you’re done. Moving on….



…we’re running low on Vibranium – let’s get to it!

1. What’s the status of the Avengers now?

One of the best things about Captain America: Civil War is that it doesn’t neatly wrap up the conflict after they tell each other their mother’s first name. The Avengers are well and truly shattered at the film’s end, and there’s no clear path forward, especially for Team Iron Man. Sure, Steve tells Tony, “The Avengers are yours,” but what’s left? The Black Widow is on the run, War Machine is partially crippled, the Vision is wracked with guilt, Spider-Man has to go to school, and the Black Panther is back in Wakanda, where he’s hiding the Winter Soldier! So he’s out, too.


Ironically, Tony Stark – the man whose intense desire to retire led to Ultron’s creation and his agreement to the Accords – may have no choice but to keep wearing the suit. Sorry, Pepper.

Team Cap is in better shape in some ways. Cap busts Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man out of the Raft at the film’s end, and they’ll likely be joined by the Black Widow to do – what? Presumably, they’ll continue tackling the big threats to the world, yet they’ll constantly be on the run from the world’s governments. (That’s a bummer in particular for Hawkeye and Ant-Man, who can’t return to their families.) Hmmmm…. Secret Avengers, anyone?

2. Have relationships been irrevocably destroyed?

In the case of Steve and Tony… it’s not good. Steve’s note – in which he apologizes to Tony and admits he should’ve told the truth about the death of Tony’s parents – is a step forward. But every time Tony looks at Rhodey or thinks about his parents, he’s going to be reminded of the cost of the conflict and Steve’s role in that. Forgiveness will not come easily.

Scarlet Witch

“No, Vision… THIS is how you add paprika!”

The relationship between Scarlet Witch and the Vision, though, is salvageable. They did become a romantic item in the comics (leading to some of the weirdest plot developments in Marvel history), and the beginnings of that are evident in this film. The Vision’s “distraction” directly leads to Rhodey’s near-fatal injury. His analysis of his surprising feelings toward her undoubtedly will carry into later films.

3. What impact will the Sokovia Accords have on Marvel’s other films and TV shows?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasted no time in saying that the Accords will apply to Coulson’s team of Inhuman agents, although the alternative to signing sounded more like incarceration than forced retirement, which would be closer to the comics’ version of Civil War.

For the Netflix shows, things could get very interesting. One of the early episodes in Season 2 of Daredevil had a minor teaser for Civil War, where one character (Marci) refers to growing national and international concerns about super-powered individuals. Will government officials come knocking on Jessica Jones’ always-broken door? Expect to see Luke Cage trying to keep a low profile (and probably failing) in his series this fall.


Jessica Jones has waited patiently during a less-than-stellar Daredevil Season 2.

Also in the fall is the next Marvel Studios film, Doctor Strange. While Dr. Strange’s talents will all come from magic, not science, that won’t matter much to the world’s governments – if they find out about him. Still, since Strange operates on a VERY different playing field, don’t expect more than a quick reference to the Accords in this film.

After that are movies with the Black Panther, Spider-Man, and (finally) Captain Marvel. Black Panther will likely mention the Accords quite a bit, given Wakanda’s role in their creation and the strong likelihood that the Winter Soldier will guest-star in this film. We already know that Robert Downey Jr. will appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming, so repercussions from the Avengers split should feature prominently there, too. And since Carol Danvers starts off as a military officer before becoming Captain Marvel, her attitude toward the Accords could be a key plot point.

4. Where will Thanos fit into all this?


Thanos, Marvel’s top cosmic villain whose hunt for the six Infinity Stones has been seeded throughout the films, will eventually have everything he needs to power up the reality-controlling Infinity Gauntlet. We know that the next Avengers film will be in two parts, arriving in May 2018 and May 2019. Expect Part 1 to feature more internal Avengers conflict as Thanos’ threat becomes apparent, possibly ending with an “Avengers Assemble” moment in the cliffhanger.

5. Who will be in the next Avengers film?

Probably everyone who was in Captain America: Civil War to start! Thanos’ cosmic connection (and his link to Drax) likely means that at least one of the Guardians of the Galaxy will appear, too. Also, the Russo Brothers recently let slip that Captain Marvel is in the cast, and probably Thor and the Hulk as well. What about Doctor Strange? Maybe. The Netflix heroes? Highly unlikely. Howard the Duck? Make it happen!

6. And what might their status be AFTER the next Avengers film?

When the second part of the Avengers two-parter is released in May 2019, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be 11 years old. Think about that, True Believers. Robert Downey Jr. will have been Iron Man for that whole stretch, and he’ll be 54. Although Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlet Johansson will still be in their thirties, it’ll be time for a change. Whether some of the characters die or choose to retire (along with their actors), we’ll see the old guard of Avengers making way for Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and maybe Ant-Man and the Wasp, with hopefully at least one founding Avenger continuing. That brings us to….

7. Why the hell hasn’t Marvel Studio greenlit a Black Widow movie?


We’re confused, too, Scarlett.

The marketing campaign for Captain America: Civil War was superb. “Choose your side!” Millions of us on social media were urged to pick #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan. After seeing the movie, though, the Brains of Morbius are squarely #TeamBlackWidow. Natasha Romanoff is a focal point of this film. She’s the audience’s guide to everything that’s going on and she’s also – ironically since she’s a trained assassin – the movie’s moral compass.

When the group privately discusses the Sokovia Accords for the first time, she immediately says yes – not because she agrees with the Accord’s objectives but because it’s the only way to keep the team together. That’s when you realize how important the Avengers are to her. It’s the first time in her life that she actually has a family. She cares about each of them, and she joins Steve at Peggy’s funeral because she doesn’t want him to be alone. During the huge airport battle, the first thing she says to Hawkeye is, “We’re still friends, right?”

It’s only when she finally accepts that Captain America isn’t going to stop fighting that she pulls back and switches sides. Let’s give plenty of credit to the writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, for giving Natasha the intelligence that a super-spy should have: The Black Widow doesn’t stick around in the airport fight for long. Black Widow emojiJust as in The Avengers, she’s aware she can’t match the raw power of her teammates. So she goes to the spot where she knows that Cap and Bucky have to end up: the Quinjet. And she waits, like a spider in the web. Terrific.

Also, this isn’t a case of the Black Widow being a double agent and playing both sides – and she rightly bites Tony’s head off when he accuses her of that. She simply wants to keep the family together, and when that becomes impossible, she does what she can to minimize the damage.

Captain America: Civil War is a great showcase for Black Panther and Spider-Man. It also shows more than ever than a Black Widow solo film would kick ass. Considering that Scarlett Johansson possesses proven box-office strength and is a fine actor to boot, there has never been a good reason for Marvel Studios to punt on this. In the year 2016 it’s flatly ridiculous that Marvel still hasn’t released a film starring one of their excellent female heroes.

Good news: Marvel Studios’ head, Kevin Feige, recently said Marvel is “committing” to a Black Widow movie… whatever that means. Make that movie, Kevin. She deserves it, and so do we.

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 4 Recap: Ferdinand’s Cooking with Gas

After the gruesome, funny events of Episode 3, it’s not surprising that Episode 4 (“From Instinct to Rational Control”) takes a bit of a breather – and gives Tatiana Maslany a few extra minutes to rest. Oh sure, she’s still all over the episode, but the star players this week are the Dream Team of Donnie and Felix – and everyone’s favorite droll assassin, Ferdinand!

Allow me to step back and convey my man-crush on actor James Frain. Whether he’s playing a feckless corporate exec (24), a supernatural hitman (Grimm), or a dual-personality crime boss (who remembers The Cape? I do!), Frain has a terrific talent: He makes amorality fun. And now that Ferdinand is relatively unfettered, Frain has been especially fun this year, showing off Ferdinand’s “happier” self while keeping his lethality intact – except for one really dumb moment. We’ll get to that.

First, let’s cover all the Maggot-Bot Mania. Cosima and Scott unwrap the gnarliest package of all: the super-slimy, super-stinky head of Dr. Leekie, which somehow continues to look like Matt Frewer. (He’s a very thin man.) They’re going to dig out his maggot-bot, which is still alive because it’s been feeding on a tumor in his face. OHHHHHHHHHHHH! The Cronenbergian amazement continues when we get to see the maggot-bot up close: It’s a friggin’ bug cyborg, complete with artificial head and stinger!

Cosima and Scott try to determine its purpose. After all, if removing it would also kill the host, its task must be something pretty big, right? They find the answer: radical gene therapy. The maggot-bot modifies its host’s DNA. That’s damn creepy – even Borg-like. In last week’s recap, Mike asked a very good question: Why would Neolution/Dyad put a maggot-bot in the head of its, um, head? We might have an answer. Was Dr. Leekie’s DNA being modified, possibly without his knowledge? And if so, to what end? More importantly, what is Sarah’s maggot-bot doing to her DNA? How many more times can I type “maggot-bot”? PLENTY.

This discovery ties in nicely with the second plot thread: Donnie and Felix going undercover as a gay couple in order to get info on the suspicious fertility clinic. Wonderfully, Donnie almost blows the whole thing, because his impression of a gay man seems heavily inspired by episodes of Three’s Company. Felix warns him, “Stop mincing.” Since both of them volunteer to donate sperm, Donnie goes into a bathroom and is given a stack of – gay men’s magazines. But how will he be able to, ah, donate? Why, phone sex with Alison, naturally! They replay their fantasy of the Passenger and the Italian Flight Attendant. “Do you need help with your buckle?” Success!

Eventually, with Alison’s help (of the non-phone-sex kind), they learn about the clinic’s secret, oh-so-successful program that works when no other artificial insemination program will: Brightborn Technologies, which has an eerie, Hanso Foundation feel to it (for you Lost fans). Their motto: “We’re making the world a better place, one baby at a time.” Ahhhhh. Can you say “radical gene therapy”?

The last key plot thread has to do with Sarah, MK, Mrs. S, and Ferdinand, and he is THRILLED when he’s brought to the Clone Club Secret Hideout down the Rabbit Hole. His first reaction: “A chef’s kitchen! Who’s hungry?” Sarah won’t tell him the identity of her Deep Throat (a.k.a. MK), but he’s willing to play along. He also has a nice chat with Mrs. S, and we learn that in his own strange way, he loves Rachel! He envisions going off with her to a tropical island for a few romantic months … before coming back to kill all his enemies. How can you not like this guy? Meanwhile, MK – who has Mad Hacking Skillz, which is seemingly a necessity in every series these days – learns that Sarah is palling around with the infamous Ferdinand, and she’s not happy about it.

In fact, she is SO NOT HAPPY about it that, while Sarah and Dizzy sneak around inside MK’s trailer, MK is hacking Sarah’s phone to send a text message to Ferdinand and lure him to a trap at Beth’s apartment.

Now here’s the really dumb thing I mentioned earlier: Ferdinand idiotically SITS DOWN IN THE BOOBY-TRAPPED CHAIR, even though his Spider-Sense should have been tingling once he realized that Sarah wasn’t the one who set up the meeting. It’s very disappointing when writers make smart characters do dumb things solely for the sake of advancing the plot. This syndrome is otherwise known as The Walking Dead. But I digress.

We learn that MK actually has solid reasons for wanting Ferdinand dead. He had killed MK’s best friend (and sestra) Niki and started the fire that badly scarred one side of MK’s face. “You killed six of my sisters and 32 of my friends!” Yeahhhhh, that’s going to get someone mad. Before she can immolate Ferdinand, however, Sarah pops up and pleads for his life: He’s a dirtbag, but he’s a dirtbag we need right now. MK still has the advantage, though, and she forces Ferdinand to transfer $3.7 million from his offshore accounts (his Tryst With Rachel fund) to her, before she leaves him still in the booby-trapped chair, but alive. Mrs. S is able to get him out, and Rachel tells him they’re even now; she doesn’t owe him anything. Ferdinand is now in need of a new suit.

Overall, a satisfactory episode, largely redeemed by Donnie, Felix, and Ferdinand. The rest of the characters were kind of in a holding pattern, although that may change now that we know the maggot-bots’ purpose, if not the goal.

The Great:

“That’s the head of Dyad.” Yes. Yes, it is.

“Ferdinand’s frittatas” would be a great band name.

Everything about Donnie & Alison’s phone sex. “Is that your Leaning Tower?”

Helena deciding to leave House Hendrix because Alison is freaky over her pregnancy. It’s a sad moment, but from a character standpoint, it’s good. But what about Boyfriend?!

The Not-So-Great:

Every scene with Wednesday Charlotte, Rachel, and Mommy Dearest. It’s no longer interesting, and having another friggin’ Castor Clone in the mix doesn’t help.

Ferdinand’s convenient stupidity, as described above.

The WTF:

The close-up of the maggot-bot with its biomechanical parts! Holy Brundlefly, Batman!

Beth has been dead – or at least known dead – for nearly three years. And her apartment STILL doesn’t have a new tenant? Boy, her neighborhood must suck. Someone call the Property Brothers!

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 2 Recap: Lair of the White Worm

The gang’s all here after last week’s Beth-bonanza, and our main characters are relaxing in their top-secret retreat in Iceland where NO ONE will… oh, what’s that? They’ve been found? Well, time for Sarah, Mrs. S, Kira, and super-duper-cheery Kendall to head back to Canada.

But home isn’t safe these days, and that’s one of the interesting dichotomies that Orphan Black has set up in Season 4’s second episode, “Transgressive Border Crossing.” Even though the Clone Club scored major victories against enemies big (the Proletheans) and small (Alison’s vengeful drug suppliers), they may now be less safe than ever. Sarah & Family are forced to go into hiding because they know too much and because every enemy wants a piece (literally) of Kendall, a.k.a., Leda Prime, the Charm School Dropout. (Oddly missing in the family dynamic is Cal, since that probably exceeded budget constraints for this episode. Filming in the frozen wasteland costs money, people!)

In the past, Sarah, Cosima, and Mrs. S were good at buying time by playing one bad guy against another. That’s not an option now. There’s one bad guy left – Season 1’s gene-splicing, body-modding Neolution – and it’s a much bigger conspiracy of Cronenbergian craziness than the clones (and we) ever realized. Fortunately, our new sestra, the sheep-mask-wearing MK, is a big-time paranoid and Chloe O’Brien-ish hacker, and she’s able to alert everyone.

Note: By “Cronenbergian,” I mean like David Cronenberg, the Canadian horror director whose bizarre films often blur the line between technology and the organic. Among his best known films are Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986), but Shivers (1975) may be more apropos to what’s going on here. Specifically…

Orphan Black has danced around with science fiction and espionage themes over the past three years. When the somewhat-sleazy Dizzy mistakes Sarah for MK and shows her the video of the “maggot bot” (!!!) being removed from a man’s check, the series dives full on into horror. Gone are concerns about people-as-property or corporate assassins. We’re talking about the terrifying unknown and an invasion of self that is far worse than anything the Proletheans did.


It’s an effective and very disturbing sequence – on which they double down in the final scene! OHHHHH! This season seems poised to take us on a wild trip down the Rabbit Hole, which not coincidentally is the name of the comic book store that Cosima and Scott have turned into the Clone Club’s secret lair.

There were times during Season 3 where I frankly didn’t look forward to the next episode. That might not be the case this year.

The Great:

The continuing absence of Castor clones. Thank goodness that plot is done.

The interweaving of the Beth flashbacks with current events was masterfully handled.

Alison on spotting Felix’s, er, exposed flank: “Shiitake mushrooms, Felix!!”

Donnie taking Helena (posing as Alison) to get a sonogram. Not only has this duo turned out to be a) heartwarming and b) guaranteed comedy gold, it also requires an effort of will to remember that Helena is played by the same actress who plays Alison and Sarah and OHMYGOD WHY DOES SHE NOT HAVE AN EMMY YET?

The revelation last season that Sarah has a genetic connection to Mrs. S wasn’t satisfying. Felix’s reaction to that in this episode is.

“That’s different. Helena’s trained to kill people. We’re manslaughterers.”

The Not-So-Great:

No, Scott, don’t agree to keep secrets! Keeping secrets NEVER works out on Arrow!

Still not sold on the character of Kendall. It’s as though the writers hadn’t really planned on her surviving the third-season finale.

The WTF:


“What is it…?” “I don’t know!”



A few days ago, at an annual meetup of longtime friends and superb gamers, I ran a short session of Katanas and Trenchcoats, the game of “retromodern roleplaying.” It’s a terrific RPG largely inspired by the glory days of syndicated TV, movies, and RPGs in the Nineties, when Immortals, vampires, and Apocalypse-heralding fallen angels left an angst-fueled mark on pop culture. Dynamic, doomed, and cursed to wear amazing leather clothes, these heroes and antiheroes posed in misty alleyways as “power goth” chords or anthemic Queen tracks played behind them. You know which shows I’m talking about.

Game designer Ryan Macklin and others created the original PDF rulebook of Katanas and Trenchcoats last year as half-pun/half-homage. But the PDF did have an actual (if thin) set of rules, and people began playing it! The game attracted enough interest that Ryan last week launched a Kickstarter campaign for a full-blown, honest-to-Adrian-Paul Katanas and Trenchcoats rulebook – and it hit its funding goal on the second day! That’s pretty damn impressive. I’m psyched to see this come out.

For the time being, though, we have the PDF’s original rules, so that’s what I used for Saturday’s demonstration. And one of the quickest ways to demonstrate the rules is to get the characters to fight each other! I pulled in some characters from ’90s TV (Duncan Macleod & Richie Ryan from Highlander, and Nick Knight, Lucien Lacroix, and Janette DuCharme from Forever Knight) and created two “Technomages” as the main pains-in-the-asses who pitted the Immortals and vampires against each other.

In-progress K&T character sheets

They all looked fabulous. Technomage Helena (based on model Helena Christensen) coldly operated death traps while wearing a floral-print hat and a forcefield corset. Her partner, Japeth (think Oded Fehr), was a smooth talker with a thick accent and leather pants.

And that sense of fashion is important in this game! Kickass Wardrobe is one of your character’s five main Traits, along with Raging Passion, Mystical Talents, Ancient Memories, and of course Ancient Sword. You have scores from 1 through 5 in each, and you combine that number with the number of an appropriate skill (e.g., Awareness, Influence, Move) to determine how many d10s you roll. If your roll is better than your opponent’s, your action succeeds! Better still, the player who lost the opposed roll has to describe how awesomely you succeed – and how good you looked while doing it! That sense of fun is a key part of the game’s charm. It simultaneously applauds and gently mocks the emotional excesses of the source material.

Here was my quick-and-dirty plot: Helena and Japeth kidnapped Duncan’s friend (and fellow Immortal) Amanda, and threatened to permanently kill her unless Duncan and Richie subdued the three vampires that the technomages had lured into their abandoned-factory lair. (The technomages are fascinated by the vampires’ necromantic nature, so they want to see them in action before they, um, dissect them.)

One challenge I faced in running the game was that the PDF doesn’t spell out the changes that you, as a Story Master, need to make if a PC is something other than an Immortal. Sure, vampires can use fangs instead of swords, but what about technomages and magic? Technomages’ primary skill is Make, as opposed to Immortals’ Fight, but how do you make that work? Magic shouldn’t look anything like swordfighting. I ultimately decided to treat the technomages’ magic as a cross between Tony Stark’s holotech and Wile E. Coyote’s protean weaponry.

For instance, when the player running the technomage Helena said she was sending a hearse at full speed toward the three vampires on the factory’s third floor, I thought… why not? Who’s to say that this isn’t a car but rather a collection of robotics, holograms, and force fields? Also… conjuring a hearse to attack vampires? That’s AWESOME. Perfectly in line with the sense of style the game encourages.

But probably my favorite callback to the original shows is the game’s use of flashbacks. On the TV shows, the lead character would come across a situation in modern day that inevitably triggered a gut-wrenching flashback to a similar event centuries earlier. Likewise, in Katanas and Trenchcoats, if one of your Traits is “broken” because of something you did, you can only regain that Trait by going through an emotional flashback described by the Story Master!

For instance, in our game, Richie Ryan used his Spanish longsword to break the arcane runes powering the mystical restraints around Amanda. Richie’s player rolled his dice and succeeded, but only just, which meant in game terms that Richie’s success came at a price. His sword was destroyed! His Awesome Sword trait was broken, and Richie won’t get it back until I provide him with a flashback sequence about a similar sacrifice that he made.

The two technomages didn’t like that their Immortal pawns were freeing their friend instead of following the script, so technomage Japeth set fire to Amanda with his fire whip (think Whiplash from Iron Man 2). Duncan Macleod quickly jumped in with maximum emotions and his flowing trenchcoat to smother the flames, leading to this instant classic from the player: “I put out the flames with my love!” Cue the dramatic music!

Ultimately, once the Immortals and vampires teamed up (well, of course they did!), the situation changed badly for the two technomages. Helena escaped by fooling them all with a Blade Runner-type replicant decoy, while Japeth – in the difficult spot of grappling with both Nick Knight and Lacroix – decided to flee the combat via a teleportation effect, but not without breaking a Trait of his own, his Kickass Wardrobe. Goodbye, Displacement Vest!

The players had a good time, and they certainly embraced the campier aspects without playing it for camp. A couple of players were iffy on the combination of Traits and Skills, feeling that there wasn’t enough versatility in the Traits to accurately describe their actions. For me, that’s actually a benefit, not a flaw. I understand the reaction, though. As gamers, we’ve long been conditioned (mostly from D&D) to look at our sheets before deciding what our characters are going to do in a fight. “Do I have Acrobatics? Nope. I can’t do that cool swing on the chandelier.” But there’s a growing trend in game design – evidenced beautifully in the Cortex/Marvel Heroic/Leverage rules – that pushes players to first describe what their characters intend to do and then look at their character sheets and decide which combination of powers or skills will let them achieve that. “I’m resisting the vampire’s attempt to hypnotize me! Let’s see… I’m combining my Will score with my Kickass Wardrobe trait because my Vivienne Westwood punk bonnet distracts the vampire.” Again, that’s very different from many classic RPGs.

In fact, Katanas and Trenchcoats encourages this sort of thinking by reducing your successes if you use the same combination of Trait + Skill on consecutive rolls! So you help yourself – and help create a more interesting story – by thinking of new, fun combinations.

I definitely recommend giving Katanas and Trenchcoats a try. It’s an easy system with a built-in sense of humor. Sure, some rules aren’t as spelled out as you might like – magic rules for the technomages would be handy ­– but that won’t get in the way of a good time. Please support the Kickstarter, too, and use the #YOLF hashtag (You Only Live Forever) when discussing it on social media, as that may unlock more features.

Now excuse me, please, while I step forlornly into the rain of the Vancouver night….

Update: Ryan Macklin discusses the future form of the Traits + Skills combo – and mentions this blog post! ­– in today’s Kickstarter update.

Seeing Blood: The Vryloka in D&D 5e

The vampire chuckled as he crept toward his lovely prey, who now lay sobbing in the Dragoneyes alley. The woman had just fallen, face down, in her panicked attempt to escape. Eager to feed, he roughly flipped her onto her back.

Scarlet hair spilled out of the young woman’s hood, and she had pale skin the color of the moon Zarantyr itself. The vampire gazed hungrily at her smooth neck—then stopped. She was smiling at him. Why?  He hadn’t beguiled her. “What–?”

The woman said, “You’re a difficult target to find, Ludvig Krez….” A rune-inscribed silver blade snapped forward from a sheath on the woman’s arm, which she thrust toward the vampire’s throat. “But an easy one to kill.”

The chilling agony that Krez felt was matched only by the intensity of his final thought: shock, as the vampire sensed his OWN life being drained by the woman!

Vrylokas are a race originally created for Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, in the book Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow. Reminiscent of certain nobles in the Ravenloft setting (and owing much of their look to Hammer Films), vrylokas are an aristocratic, aggressive, red-haired race that walk the gray line between life and undeath. And after talking to James Introcaso and Jester David on Twitter about vampiric races in D&D, I simply had to update the vryloka for D&D 5th edition  (Be sure to read Jester David’s 5e treatment of the dhamphir.)

Crimson Origins
Vrylokas are the result of a dark ritual generations ago that transformed human nobles into living vampires. The identity and goals of the ritual’s creator, a wizard known only as the Red Witch, have remained a mystery. The ritual provided the nobles with inhuman vitality and a literal thirst for life without the curse of true undeath. Many years later, these powerful, emotional beings walk the halls of power throughout the land, secretly posing as eccentric human aristocrats from distant kingdoms. To stave off the occasional boredom of their long lives, many vrylokas meet in the shadows to plot for power, while others become adventurers. A bold few – simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by their occult origins – even become vampire hunters.

Alluring and Passionate
Vrylokas have dark gray or blue eyes that turn red when they are angered or excited. Their skin is uniformly pale, ranging from pinkish flesh to chalky white. Most vrylokas have hair in shades of red, from deep scarlet to strawberry blond. They possess a beguiling charm, with the females shapely and statuesque and the males tall and imposing. They tend to feel all emotions strongly, whether they’re possessively pursuing a romantic interest or reacting with fury to a perceived slight.

A Life of Secrets
Key to a vryloka’s longevity is concealment of their vampiric heritage. They take great care to pass as human whenever possible, and they may change residences and identities to avoid questions about their lack of aging. In addition to keeping secrets, they’ve uncovered many secrets of others, thanks to their long lives and access to the halls of power. Many vrylokas possess historical knowledge denied to all but the most learned sages.

Vryloka Names

Male Names: Anton, Burkhard, Edric, Karl, Lukas, Markos, Mihai, Viktor, Wilhelm, Wolf.
Female Names: Adelaide, Bettina, Camilla, Elsa, Marianne, Sabina, Silke, Tanya, Treinella, Zorica.
Family Names: Bittersdorf, Durwood, Eysen, Graltzen, Hemalt, Kärg, Karnstein, Maltz, Ravna, Stoy.

Vryloka Traits
Your vryloka character has a variety of traits, initially from the arcane experimentation on your forebears and now intrinsic to all vrylokas.

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2, and your Dexterity score increases by 1.

Age. Vrylokas mature at the same rate as humans, but the aging process slowly considerably once they reach adulthood, and they retain their vitality until their dying days. A vryloka can typically live to be 350 years old.

Alignment. Most vrylokas are lawful, with a strong sense of tradition and rules, which are necessary to preserve a vryloka’s secrets and continued existence. They show no predilection for good or evil, although a vryloka commonly displays a superior attitude regardless of alignment.

Size. Vrylokas range in height from 5½ feet to slightly more than 6 feet. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Darkvision. The taint of vampirism provides superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Human Heritage: You have advantage on Charisma (Deception) checks to pass as human.

Lifeblood. When you kill an enemy within arm’s reach, you gain temporary hit points equal to one-half your level plus your Charisma modifier.

Living Dead. Because your soul is tainted by undeath, you are both living and undead. If an ability or spell has different effects on living creatures and undead creatures, you choose which effect applies to you.

Necrotic Resistance. You have resistance against necrotic damage.

Red Ledger. You have proficiency in the History skill.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one extra language of your choice. Vrylokas who seek to leverage their arcane ancestry learn Draconic, while the more martially inclined often learn the language of an hostile race or group.

Thoughts? Feel free to offer feedback in the comments. No saving throw required.

(The vryloka and the image in this post are the trademarked property of Wizards of the Coast.)

The WTF Primer to Marvel’s Post-SECRET WARS World

If you’re a longtime comics fan who hasn’t been keeping up with the books over the past decade, you may have taken a look at the new Marvel titles appearing this fall and saw the following:

  • Peter Parker is an apparently wealthy playboy industrialist
  • Thor is a woman
  • The Falcon is now Captain America
  • The new X-Men lineup includes a teenaged Jean Grey, an adult Iceman, and a gray-haired Logan in street clothes
  • … and Wolverine is a teenage girl

Understandably, you might have thought, “What the f___?!?”

For the sake of your sanity, I’m going to quickly fill you in what’s been happening in Marvel over the past few years. As crazy as it looks, many of these stories have actually been pretty damn good. I’ll post Comixology links to the titles where appropriate. You can also read most of them on Marvel Unlimited if you have a subscription.


In the instant classic (and highly controversial) Amazing Spider-Man #700 (2013), Spider-Man was finally defeated by his arch-nemesis, Doctor Octopus, who switched bodies with him. Peter’s mind went into Otto’s frail body and died. Otto, having endured a forced mind-meld trip through Peter’s life, vowed to The Superior Spider-Mancarry on as a hero: the Superior Spider-Man. As Peter, Otto established Parker Industries, using money loaned by Aunt May and her wealthy husband, J. Jonah Jameson Senior. What makes this extra-weird is that Otto was once engaged to Aunt May himself. (Roll with it, my friend.) However, Otto found that he was NOT a superior superhero, after all. He made quite a mess of things, in fact. Unable to rescue the woman he loved, Otto relinquished Peter’s body back to a fragment of Peter’s consciousness that had survived – in effect killing himself so that the real Spider-Man could live. Peter, who has no memories of the months that Otto was in control, has been struggling to keep Parker Industries afloat since. Based on that one new cover image, though, he doesn’t seem to be struggling anymore.

(Note: I can’t praise writer Dan Slott’s run with Spider-Man highly enough. He’s put the character through a mad, exhilarating wringer. Read or pick up the collected editions starting with “Big Time” and continue through The Superior Spider-Man.)

Thor:Thor, Goddess of Thunder

During the Original Sin story (2014), Nick Fury whispered a secret to Thor that caused him to lose what makes him “worthy.” He lost the ability to wield Mjolnir. A woman took possession of the hammer and – using the old enchantment – gained the strength and power of Thor. Neither the original Thor (now called Odinson) nor Odin was happy about this, but they’ve begrudgingly accepted this. While the identity of the new Thor was Marvel’s biggest secret for a while, we now know that it’s Thor’s long-ago girlfriend, Jane Foster, who – in another twist – is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Her use of Thor’s powers is slowly killing her weakened body.

Captain America:

Agents of Hydra injected Captain America (Steve Rogers) with All-New Captain America by Alex Rossa chemical that negated the original Super-Soldier treatment! He suddenly became a frail, 90-year-man, yet he kept his sharp, tactical mind. Steve gave his shield to his longtime friend and partner, the Falcon (Sam Wilson), and told him to carry on as Captain America. From what we can see of the new covers, however, Steve doesn’t look nearly as frail as he did last year! He’s bulked up a bit, so perhaps the Hydra chemical’s effects weren’t permanent.


In Paul Cornell’s and Alan Davis’ excellent Wolverine run (2013, beginning here), sentient alien microbes took revenge against Logan by removing his healing factor. Thus, no more instant healing for the man who had made more deadly enemies than perhaps any hero in comics. Even popping his claws caused his hands to bleed. Time, foes, and karma caught up to Wolverine last year, and he died. Now, months later, it seems that X-23 – a female clone of Logan (note the two claws on her hands) who has been bouncing around the X-books for years – has taken on the genetic mantle.

Young X-Men:

Cyclops (Scott Summers), while possessed by the Phoenix Force, recently killed Professor Xavier. The Beast (Hank McCoy), distraught by the current path of mutantkind and Scott’s actions, hatched a desperate and kind of crazy plan: He went back in time to when the X-Men were just getting started and convinced the teenagers to come back with him to our time, in the hopes that they could stop present-day Scott from inadvertently derailing all of Charles Xavier’s progress. Things didn’t go as planned. (See All-New X-Men from 2012.) The original X-teens, while stunned by the continuing anti-mutant violence of our time, didn’t want to return to the past, feeling they could do more good here and now – regardless of the temporal paradox that created. Teen Scott developed a romantic interest in X-23, which – considering she’s a clone of Logan – is pretty funny. Teen Jean Grey, though, had to come to grips with the fact that, as an adult in our time, she destroyed star systems and died. She also committed the mental faux pas of outing Teen Bobby Drake as gay, something that even the adult Iceman hadn’t come to grips with yet.

Old Man Logan:

This one is nuts, in a good way. In an alternate future timeline where supervillains have taken over the country, Logan lives in seclusion after having killed all of his friends. And then… well, no, I can’t spoil it. It’s too wonOld Man Logan in SECRET WARSderfully Cronenbergian. Just read Old Man Logan when you can. But the question now: How is he here in the present?

Secret Wars and the Incursions:

In the background of nearly ALL of the main Marvel books were the Incursions. You see, the multiple violations of space and time that occurred in All-New X-Men, the Age of Ultron mini-series (which was fairly dull, to be honest), and other titles were causing fractures in the multiverse. On top of that, Molecule Man (an obscure Fantastic Four villain) killed the Molecule Man of another Earth, destroying that Earth in the process. A multiversal domino effect resulted, as universes began to collide and destroy each other, with Earth as the cataclysmic impact point each time. Behind the scenes, the Illuminati (Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Mister Fantastic, Namor, Black Bolt, and the Beast) secretly worked to protect our Earth – often by destroying the other Earths first. Yeah, it was morally dicey. Ultimately, there were only two universes left: ours and the Ultimate universe, home to Miles Morales and the Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury before Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Nick Fury.

Just as both universes were about to be annihilated, Doctor Doom – who’d been using science and sorcery to set himself up for JUST this moment – used the Molecule Man to rearrange reality and compile everything that was left into one world: Battleworld, where Doom now presides as an unquestioned, omnipotent god. And that’s the premise of Secret Wars and its various tie-ins.

Obviously, Doom will not hold on to his godhood for long, but some of the cross-time and cross-reality effects will carry through to the new titles, hence Old Man Logan on the new X-Men team.

As for Howard the Duck? Howard the Duck abides, dammit. Rock on, Howard.

If your brain hasn’t melted and you have any questions, please comment below. Thanks!