TV Review: HENRY DANGER

Cooper Barnes as Ray, Jace Norman as Henry, and Riele Downs as Charlotte on "Henry Danger"

Cooper Barnes as Ray, Jace Norman as Henry, and Riele Downs as Charlotte on “Henry Danger”

Last week’s episode began with a somewhat obscure reference to the classic holiday chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” A girl comes into the shop and tries out a piano only to have Ray really lose it with a lame Jimmy Stewart impersonation. Ray flips out. Charlotte pleads for him to get a grip for the sake of the children. And then the moment is gone. Very funny. If you were a fan of the offbeat humor of “iCarly,” then you’ll love this new show, “Henry Danger,” from the same creator. Dan Schneider is the co-creator with Dana Olsen. And you’ll know Dana Olsen from his writing for the movies, “George of the Jungle” and “Inspector Gadget.” If you’re new to “Henry Danger,” or if you’re already a fan, read on. This is something very different.

Ray Bradbury was fond of saying that he read every genre. And he was especially keen on keeping up with books for young readers. In that spirit, I present to you, “Henry Danger,” one of the smartest shows on television, whatever your age. This is on Nickelodeon and, for the purposes of this review, we’ll consider what I’ll conveniently call, “kid humor.” Now, here’s the thing, kid humor is awesome and pretty darn universal.

Kids, let’s just say, are closer to knowing what they want than adults. It seems like they understand things, like a sense of humor, at a purer level. They appreciate a well-constructed sight gag right along with an ironic aside and that’s that. Kids know all the tropes. They know what adults find funny better than some adults realize. At the end of the day, kids get a good joke better than some older folk. Kids will accept something funny at a highly sophisticated level, whether it’s silly or surreal, or preferably both at the same time.

What “Henry Danger” does is live right in that kid humor zone. The creative team understands. They understand things like beloved characters are larger-than-life and can also suddenly explode. They appreciate that kids understand the great duality: fiction can be more real that everyday life while, at the same time, it’s also just fiction. There are numerous examples of how the show relishes breaking the fourth wall, as they say. Part of the fun comes from inverting and subverting. For starters, this is a wonderfully deadpan and absurd send-up of superheroes. Our superhero is simply known as Captain Man (played by Cooper Barnes) and his secret lair is, wait for it…the Man Cave.

Henry-Danger Cooper-Barnes

Captain Man’s origin story is a perfect satire of all origin stories. Little Ray was simply too close to a crazy experiment that his mad scientist father was conducting. An accident led to Ray becoming indestructible. And this led to a relatively easy-going career as the superhero protector of the small town of Swellview. And, just as things started to get a little hectic, Ray hired a teenager, Henry Hart (played by Jace Norman), to be his assistant, aka Kid Danger. Both Cooper Barnes and Jace Norman exude a winning charm and exemplify what makes this show so smooth and fun to watch. Rounding out the inner circle are Henry’s closest friends, Charlotte (played by Riele Downs) and Jasper (played by Sean Ryan Fox). Everyone on the show contributes to a particularly zany vibe.

The first rule of comedy is that nothing is sacred. Kids witness all too often the strained looks of concern from adults. And kids know there’s hardly any reason for all the worry. Are we really having a crisis, mom? No, actually, we’re not. Maybe that’s why Henry’s parents (played by Kelly Sullivan and Jeffrey Nicholas Brown) are so utterly clueless. A pure act of rebellion from the writers! And when Henry’s little sister, Piper, (played by Ella Anderson) acts up and gives everyone a hard time with her rudeness and crazy demands, what should Henry do? Well, he could always take his nifty raygun, entrusted to him by Captain Man, and knock his sister out. Reasonable? No, but funny!

We are told that kids hunger for resolution. But have you asked a kid lately what he or she hungers for? When it comes to comedy, what’s most funny is the opposite of resolution. Just as the final scene is set to lull us back into a sense of security, that’s a perfect time to have things topple over. In one episode, the running gag is that no one is safe from falling off a rooftop, even after the last precaution is supposed to be in place. In another episode, Captain Man and Kid Danger have botched things up so badly with a neighborhood father and son that the only solution is to wipe away their memories and leave them in an alley. Disturbing? Yes, but funny!

It’s a combination of the writing and the particular actors. The writing is bubbling with irreverence and the actors run with the sophisticated absurd humor. The energy of the cast in undeniable. The chemistry is pitch perfect. It’s simply one of the smartest shows on television. You can see it Saturday at 8pm/7 central, on Nickelodeon. For more details, visit our friends at Nickelodeon right here.

Henry-Danger-Jace-Norman

And for a sneak peek at the next episode, “Elevator Kiss,” on this Saturday, visit Dan Schneider’s website right here.

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Filed under Dan Schneider, Dana Olsen, Nickelodeon, Superheroes, Television

DVD/Blu-ray Review: THE LEGEND OF KORRA – BOOK FOUR: BALANCE

Nickelodeon-The-Legend-of-Korra

You step into the world of The Legend of Korra and you enter into something stellar. This is a monumental work in animation. Nickelodeon has done itself proud. I am sure that this is going to strike a chord with anyone who enjoys a vast and epic adventure. This fourth season, “The Legend of Korra – Book Four: Balance,” brings everything to a conclusion and it is available on Blu-ray and DVD as of March 10, 2015.

Where to begin? Well, for fans and newcomers alike, this last collection works so well that it stands on its own. Each episode rings true as we follow the celebrated Avatar on her path of self-discovery. Korra has come out of the fight badly wounded and she must find the strength to recover, and even to forgive. She’s on her own, alone and a little lost. Meanwhile, plenty takes place in her absence. Left to her own devices, Kuvira has exploited an opportunity to seize power and she has the Earth Kingdom in her sights.

The Legend of Korra collectible poster inside DVD/Blu-ray for Book Four: Balance

The Legend of Korra collectible poster inside DVD/Blu-ray for Book Four: Balance

Getting to hear some of the creative team on the commentary, including co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, you get a sense of the hard work involved in bringing The Legend of Korra to life. It’s a team effort all the way. And it’s a very thoughtful effort. Going through all 13 episodes, there isn’t a missed beat or anything I’d want to see taken out. It’s quality throughout from the musical score to special effects to, of course, the voice talent. Did you know that the stellar roster includes Academy Award winning actor J.K. Simmons? Yes, he plays a pivotal role as Tenzin. Well, this is one of those shows you’ll love being immersed in.

It’s a panoramic stage filled with a variety of vital characters. There’s a great balance of personal struggles mixed with intrigue, humor, and action. For instance, Prince Wu, our hapless monarch, and Kuvira, our devilish villain don’t mix very well to often humorous effect. And, Korra’s journey proves to be filled with lots of twists and turns. It’s about finding one’s way. Given time, she will come closer to seeing who she really is.

The Legend of Korra is a wonderful opportunity for a writer to say a lot about life and what it takes to do great things. You can view this on many levels. Ultimately, this is a crowning achievement for Nickelodeon. You’ll want to get your copy now. You can start with this last collection and work your way back. As I say, the stories stand alone, down to each episode, beautifully. For more details, visit our friends at Nickelodeon right here. You can also buy “The Legend of Korra – Book Four: Balance” from Amazon right here.

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Filed under animation, Nickelodeon, pop culture

The Smithsonian Is Offering An Online Course On The History Of Superheroes With Michael Uslan And Stan Lee

Stan-Lee-Rise-of-Super-Heroes

Calling all students of pop culture, history, and superheroes: It’s time to register for a unique free online course that features comic book legend Stan Lee.

Yes, true believers, this is a great opportunity so don’t miss out. The course begins May 5. Register by March 31 right here.

Details follow:

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Review: HALOGEN #1 (of 4)

ARCHAIA-Halogen-BOOM-STUDIOS

How would you ever go about finding a dead god? What would a dead god look like? This is part of what’s going on in, “HaloGen,” a very quirky sci-fi adventure. Assuming that you can even perceive a god, which we’ll go ahead and assume, then you’ve got the backbone to quite a story. And our lead character, Rell, seems to be up for it. As far as I’m concerned, this girl could be a god of sorts herself.

The name of the game is find a dead god. It had been found. It was supposed to be taken away by the authorities, in the form of Securicorp. But now it seems to have vanished. It’s up to Rell and her team at HaloGen to make things right. In the course of making things right, there are a number of players set on doing the opposite. We follow Rell around as she engages in some snarky office banter with HaloGen staff and tries to explain meeting up the night before with a sexy dude from Securicorp. Was he really interested in her or was he trying to find out about her halographic powers? Maybe a bit of both.

Overall, the high quirk factor to this story by Josh Tierney is very appealing. The art by Afu Chan, with colors by Shelly Cehn, is also very pleasing. But, most importantly, this narrative flows really well and has a high level of clarity. We end up with a lot of things in play in this first issue. We’ve got data that’s been compromised and a dead god’s body in danger of being exploited. Lots of stuff going on. It’s great to know the creative team has a good handle on it. I look forward to lots more.

“HaloGen #1″ is part of the Archaia imprint from Boom! Studios and is available as of March 4. Boom! Studios has published four books thus far in Josh Tierney’s Spera series because they love his characters and storytelling. Now, Tierney teams up with fellow webcomic creators Afu Chan (Spera) and Giannis Milonogiannis (Old City Blues, Prophet) for this new creator-owned, sci-fi adventure. For more details, visit our friends at Boom! Studios right here.

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Review: NEVERBOY #1

Neverboy-Dark-Horse-Comics.jpg

It was a glorious childhood moment: just two boys creating their own solar system of planets, pretending to be Captain Galaxy and his trusty sidekick, Neverboy. All the beautiful colorful planets were hanging off branches in the backyard. And then that bully came along and trashed it. Sounds like something out of dream. “Neverboy,” a new comic from Dark Horse Comics, has a very intoxicating feel to it. This is one very dreamy comic!

Those two boys got over that incident with the bully. They had a sleepover and that took away some of the sting of having their worlds destroyed. This is what an all-grown-up Neverboy tells his son to console him after a bad day at school. The son responds well to that. Neverboy’s wife appreciates his effort. And then things start to slip away. It turns out that Neverboy, the boy and the man, may not really exist.

The story by Shaun Simon is very intriguing. You’ve got a character who appears to possibly be from some other world or is having difficulty maintaining his place in reality. His greatest wish appears to be to have a normal life. The art by Tyler Jenkins feels very much alive with a freshness right out of a sketchbook. Colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick are fittingly bold and vibrant.

What has been set in motion in this first issue is very promising. It’s not only Neverboy who is struggling. Apparently, his wife is having problems with being acknowledged too, maybe far worse–and spooky. It looks like people literally can’t see her. All signs point to this being more than just a story about a fractured family and one really good read.

“Neverboy #1″ is available as of March 4. For more details, visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Review: DESCENDER #1

Descender-Image-Comics

“Descender #1″ distinguishes itself right out of the gate by being a visual feast much in the same spirit as Jeff Lemire won us over with stunningly beautiful artwork in his own comics. This time around, it’s Jeff Lemire as writer on this project and Dustin Nguyen as artist. Let the art loose and do what it will do and all else falls into place.

Okay, okay, we’ve got a machines vs. humans story. Nothing new there, at first glance. But, of course, we’ve grown to expect great things from Jeff Lemire and he does not disappoint us here. And I’ll tell you now that the art is stand-alone outstanding and is made up of exuberant fun gestural work in watercolor or some digital equivalent. Looks to me to be hand-made goodness.

Jump right into the story: The United Galactic Council has banned all androids after an attack by a group of hyper-sophisticated giant robots known as the Harvesters. Just like all Japanese in the United States were instantly suspected of treason in World War II America, so we have all androids suspected of the same in this future world. And our focus falls on one particular android boy, Tim. With any luck, Tim will find his way to, Jin, a scientist who has fallen into alcoholism but who has awakened to a greater purpose.

That’s really all you need to know right now. If you frequent comic book shops, you know how much Image Comics means to a lot of folks. Image Comics has got a magic touch with publishing fanciful sci-fi stories, to put it in a nutshell. And “Descender” is your latest prime example and is available as of March 4. Go to it, and get yourself a copy. For more details, visit our friends at Image Comics right here.

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Review: ROBERT HEINLEIN’S CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY #1 (of 3)

Citizen-of-the-Galaxy-IDW

Here we have the “dean of science fiction,” Robert Heinlein, in the pages of this new comic book limited series, “Citizen of the Galaxy,” from IDW Publishing. Welcome to Jabbul. We follow Thorby, a slave boy who has just arrived off a slave rocket ship. He is put up at auction. No one is impressed, except for, Baslim, a beggar who buys Thorby at a great bargain. This strange planet of Jabbul is not Earth and yet it’s not so different, not when you pause to reflect on our own history. Slavery officially ended in America only 150 years ago, right? That’s what you call less than a blink of an eye in a historical perspective. On Jabbul, slavery is very much alive. And if Thorby stands any chance of carving out a decent life for himself, he had best listen to Baslim.

IDW-Citizen-of-the-Galaxy

Adapted by Rob Lazzzaru and Eric Gignac, this is a great gateway to Heinlein. And the art by Steve Erwin, with colors and inks by Eric Gignac, provides a pleasing narrative all its own. You’ve got what amounts to an interstellar action/adventure coming of age tale. The pacing is nicely handled as we get to know our two main characters in this first act. Baslim, apparently a mere beggar, appears to have the best of intentions for Thorby, his new slave. For one thing, Baslim has a keen sense of where best to reside. Why not squat in what remains of an unfinished lavish amphitheater? And Balim proves to be highly intelligent. Before Thorby realizes it, he’s becoming something of a junior scholar under Baslim’s tutelage. This is all well and good as this tranquil period proves to be only temporary. Before long, Thorby must prepare for the next phase of his life away from Baslim.

“Citizen of the Galaxy #1″ is a 32-page comic book, priced at $3.99, available as of March 4. For more information, visit our friends at IDW Publishing right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, IDW Publishing, Robert Heinlein, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Blu-ray review: BIRDMAN

Birdman-Michael-Keaton-Edward-Norton

There’s the legendary tragic story of 19th century American actor, Edwin Booth. He was so celebrated for his performance as Othello that he kept to that role, made a career out of it, and died with it. If only actor Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton) were so lucky. He’s stuck with being known as the guy behind the Birdman mask in a ridiculously successful superhero movie franchise. “Birdman” is about a lot of things, including Riggan’s journey toward redemption. After so much water under bridge, he feels he’s found something meaningful he can do with all that he’s learned. He’s adapted Raymond Carver for the Broadway stage. It’s an audacious move and one that rankles those who position themselves as arbiters of taste, specifically the New York theater critic, Tabitha Dickinson (played by Lindsay Duncan). The role of Tabitha is relatively small and yet so pivotal. She’s the one who, for better or worse, holds the fate of Riggan’s play and perhaps much more. And she’s the one who should be most eloquent on matters of culture except her delivery is all too pointed. In a great balancing act, “Birdman” arrives at its satire with grace.

“Birdman” is one of those films that hits the nail on the head so well that it leaves you wanting more. The winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman” is an instant classic. Forget about anything you may have heard or read from naysayers giving it a nonsensical label of being “pretentious.” I read that’s what, of all people, shock jock Howard Stern labeled this film as being. That absurd assessment, that twisted view of culture, is the sort of thing that is lampooned in “Birdman.” It’s as if Federico Fellini and Paddy Chayefsky were both alive today and created a masterpiece speaking to where we find ourselves. And where do we find ourselves? We find ourselves with the Howard Sterns of the world making empty gestures each day to countless fans.

We are stuffing ourselves with pop culture that often, some would say always, proves to be as fulfilling as cotton candy. In a film full of great conflict, the resounding head-butt is between high and low culture. Not only do we have snooty critics like Tabitha, but we have snooty thespians out to make life a living hell for Riggan. Enter Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton). When Riggan finds himself in need of a replacement for a lead role, Mike is fortuitously available. He also happens to be notoriously rude and unstable. He thinks Riggan is incapable of genuinely caring about anything. He laughs at Riggan’s personal story about Raymond Carver. Mike also realizes that he has a very crazy way of showing that he cares.

And to care about something is at the heart of this film. Riggan is given many reasons to care, including his daughter, Sam (played by Emma Stone). There’s a wondrous scene where Sam lashes out at her dad. What’s remarkable is how much is said and conveyed. Sam goes from being triggered into conflict, to full-on rage, to a descent into regret. It’s the sort of sustained moment you would experience in theater. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu pushes the boundaries of what can be conveyed in film, particularly with a series of awe-inspiring continuous shots. It’s theatrical on one level. It’s hyperreal on another. And, you better believe it, it makes you want to care.

“Birdman” is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. The feature with a behind-the-scenes look at the film is priceless. For more information, visit Fox Searchlight right here.

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Filed under Academy Awards, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Superheroes

Leonard Nimoy, RIP

Leonard-Nimoy-Star-Trek-RIP

We live our lives and we’re not always aware of our achievements, our moments in the sun, that define us. For Leonard Nimoy, he was all too well aware of his legacy. His autobiography famously declared, “I Am Not Spock,” only to be followed years later with, “I Am Spock.” We all knew, all along, that he was Spock. This was not some burden. It simply was what it was. Pretty logical, and befitting a great actor and decent human being.

We will all miss Leonard Nimoy no longer among us. But we have his work to still enjoy. There’s that magical episode of Star Trek, “Amok Time,” written by Theodore Sturgeon, where Spock first says that famous line, along with the first time we see the Vulcan salute, “Live Long and Prosper.” He would wish that for you.

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Filed under Leonard Nimoy, pop culture, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Trek, Theodore Sturgeon

Kickstarter: Comic Book People 2: Photographs from the 1990s

 Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bernie Wrightson, and Dave Gibbons at the 1991 San Diego Comic-Con.


Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bernie Wrightson, and Dave Gibbons at the 1991 San Diego Comic-Con.

Jackie Estrada is a Comic-Con legend. She knows everybody. And she’s photographed everybody. Her work has appeared everywhere, including the recent PBS program on superheroes. She’s been a supporter of Comic-Con from the very beginning and administrator of its Eisner Awards since 1990. She has vivid recollections and has documented them in her first book, Comic Book People, which covered the ’70s and ’80s. Now comes Comic Book People 2 which covers the ’90s. It’s a perfect next step in seeing the history and behind-the-scenes fun that is Comic-Con International in San Diego as well as the Chicago Comic-Con, WonderCon, the Small Press Expo, and APE. And you can make this new book a reality by joining in support of the Kickstarter campaign going on now through March 13. Join in your support and visit the campaign right here.

Press release follows:

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Filed under Comic-Con International, Comics, Jackie Estrada