Get Ready For Shadow And Bone With Only 6 Days Left To Go!

A lot of people are going to be rushing to Netflix next Friday to binge-watch the entire first season of Shadow And Bone as soon as it drops, but only a portion of that audience will have a chance to read or even page-skim through the entirety of the series’ literary source-material in the six days we have left before the hotly-anticipated premiere. But that’s okay, because I’m here to give you the rundown of everything you need to know about the world of Leigh Bardugo’s twin series’ of fantasy novels, the Shadow And Bone trilogy and the Six Of Crows duology, and the premise of the Netflix show, which will draw inspiration from the first books of both series’.

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | tvinsider.com

The expansive world of Bardugo’s novels, dubbed the “Grishaverse” by fans and author alike, is largely similar to the Europe and West Asia of our own, but for the most part grounded in the aesthetics, societal norms, and steam and gas-powered technology, of the late 1800’s. Some might call this steampunk, but Bardugo coined the more unique term “Tzarpunk” to describe the setting of her debut novel, Shadow And Bone, and its direct sequels, which take place in the northerly region of Ravka – unmistakably influenced by Russia under the final Tzars, from the opulent lifestyle of the country’s royalty all the way down to the brutal oppression of the working class. If history is doomed to repeat itself even in fantasy, then Ravka is in for a communist revolution any day now.

But while Ravka is a straight-up monarchy, the true power lies in the hands of the Grisha – an elite, militarized order of humans gifted with the ability to manipulate or alter matter. And although the Grisha describe their “magic” as being scientific in nature (and a bunch of them are employed only for their ability to de-age Ravka’s upper class), the misconception that they’re a coven of evil witches persists among the general population, and they are widely hated and feared. Nonetheless, they make up a small but deadly faction of Ravka’s army, and they get to live in a palace near the capital.

The Grisha are also quartered off into numerous subdivisions, something I hope the Netflix adaptation explores in-depth – because J.K. Rowling ruined Hogwarts Houses for a lot of people, so we need a new method of separating personality types by way of pop culture references…and “Heartrender” sounds a lot cooler than Hufflepuff anyway, I’m just saying. But there’s one person in a category of her own, and that’s Alina Starkov, Shadow And Bone‘s protagonist. The only Sun-Summoner in the world, Starkov has the ability to control light – a power-set that might seem of limited use until you remember that Ravka is split down the middle by a literal ink-stain on the map, a wall of darkness named the Shadow-Fold.

Blocking most trade between Ravka’s coast and its more densely-populated interior, the Shadow-Fold can only be traversed by tiny skiffs that must pass through the wall and avoid encountering the horrific winged demons that roam in the darkness, known as Volcra. Shadow And Bone kicks off with Alina Starkov, still just a humble mapmaker conscripted into Ravka’s non-Grisha army, joining one of these routine trips through the Fold: and when she discovers that she’s a sentient nightlight that could potentially eradicate the Shadow-Fold entirely, well, things happen. This post is free of any major spoilers about the books, so I’ll refrain from saying what those “things” are, but come on, the show’s only six days away, people! Be patient!

Shadow And Bone
Jesper Fahey, Kaz Brekker, and Inej Ghafa | popculture.com

Just a few years after the events of Shadow And Bone and its sequels, Six Of Crows picks up the story in a vastly different corner of the Grishaverse, in the bustling, grimy, canal-laced port-city of Ketterdam, separated from Ravka by many miles and an entire ocean. Modeled off of Amsterdam at the peak of Dutch imperialism in the 1600’s but with a bit of Bardugo’s signature Tzarpunk mixed in, Ketterdam is home to several street-gangs which fight for control over the flow of imports and exports through the city’s docks, trade-districts, and markets.

When Six Of Crows opens, the gang known as the Dregs (who operate out of the infamous Crow Club) are already a feared and respected force in Ketterdam’s criminal underworld, thanks to the strategizing skills of their highest-ranking member, Kaz Brekker. To account for the time-gap between Bardugo’s two series’, the first season of Netflix’s Shadow And Bone won’t be adapting Six Of Crows, but will instead follow the founding members of the gang prior to the events of their book – or at least, so Netflix says. A recent trailer (my breakdown linked below, but watch out for spoilers!) revealed that Netflix is basically just using the plot of Six Of Crows but weaving it into the events of Shadow And Bone in a bold and risky move that I hope pays off.

In the books, the strongest link between the two series’ is the character of Nina Zenik, a Grisha from Ravka who gets taken captive by her nation’s unfriendly neighbors to the north, the Fjerdans – specifically by a group of Fjerdan religious zealots named the drüskelle, who despise the Grisha. Nina’s interactions with them lead to her eventually finding refuge in Ketterdam and joining the Dregs, and her knowledge of Fjerda helps the gang when they take on their most dangerous mission ever as a team – to break into a heavily-fortified Fjerdan palace and abduct a valuable prisoner. A waffle-loving bisexual style icon, Nina unfortunately seems to only play a small part in Shadow And Bone‘s first season.

Shadow And Bone
Kaz Brekker | cbr.com

Sure, there’s a couple of world-building details I’ve left out, but that’s essentially all you need to know about the Grishaverse before watching Netflix’s Shadow And Bone. I mean, technically, you shouldn’t even need to know anything because a good adaptation allows even the most casual viewer to ease into the story, but hey – if I can exploit the fact that very few adaptations remember that golden rule, I will absolutely continue to do so because I have fun writing these breakdowns, and they drive traffic to my blog (*prides himself on his Kaz Brekker-like business savvy and exits, pursued by disgruntled readers*).

Who Is Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine?

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

Ralph Bohner walked, so Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine could…also walk, but in really fancy high-heeled boots that even she admitted were incredibly uncomfortable.

There was a time, at the height of WandaVision‘s popularity, that it didn’t seem so inconceivable that any number of celebrity cameos might populate the series’ later episodes, giving rise to countless theories each more outlandish than the last. First it was Evan Peters as Peter Maximoff, then suddenly the entire X-Men universe was going to spill over into Westview by means of the Multiverse, including Ian McKellen as Magneto, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Then it was Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, for reasons still unbeknownst to me. Somewhere along the line, fans decided a throwaway reference to an “aerospace engineer” was actually a nod to Mr. Fantastic or Blue Marvel. Al Pacino as Mephisto was a topic of serious debate.

Contessa Valentina
Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine | comicbook.com

And in the end, the big cameos that WandaVision teased turned out to either be misdirects or literal pranks by the cast. Evan Peters wasn’t even playing Peter Maximoff: he was just a random guy named Ralph Bohner, and the fact that he played the X-Men universe’s version of the character whose personality he assumed in Westview was a coincidence. But therein lies the danger of theorizing – it’s incredibly fun, particularly in comic-book franchises where there are no shortage of rabbit holes to dive down, but you shouldn’t let it interfere with your ability to enjoy a story that turns out to be doing something completely different than what you theorized.

At the same time, I do think filmmakers and showrunners could perhaps refrain from overhyping literally every reveal, as seemed to sometimes be the case with WandaVision, if only to protect their own projects from inevitable fan backlash. But caving in to the most absurd fan theories is also a bad idea: how much further afield would The Falcon And The Winter Soldier have drifted in its middle section if it had had to stop and introduce Wolverine in Madripoor?

All of that is to say: Julia Louis-Dreyfus popping up in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier as an iconic character from Marvel Comics was the perfect kind of surprise, because, while it’s quite a brief cameo, and doesn’t distract a bit from the main narrative, it’s also fun, unpredictable (while still making sense in hindsight, like any good twist), and allows us to do some rabbit-hole diving right now, as we discuss the past, present, and future, of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (no, I will not abbreviate it to Val: Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine literally says in the episode never to do that, and my SEO optimization says to pad my posts with at least 600 words).

Formally known as La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, the character first appeared in the Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. comics in the late 1960’s, with her backstory mostly shrouded in mystery, but generally giving the impression that she was a fabulously wealthy Italian heiress until her parents were killed, at which point her skills as a hand-to-hand fighter and sharpshooter caught the eye of S.H.I.E.L.D., and she was recruited into the organization as Agent 14. Appointed leader of the all-women S.H.I.E.L.D. team “Femme Force”, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine’s working relationship with Nick Fury quickly became a romantic one – so romantic, in fact, the Comics Code Authority intervened.

More recently, La Contessa has played a major role in the Secret Invasion storyline, being the victim of a Skrull impersonator. While laying low in Britain, she worked alongside Lance Hunter, who has already appeared in the MCU-adjacent Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. And then her entire backstory was retconned, and she was revealed to be a Russian sleeper agent working with the organization known as Leviathan to infiltrate HYDRA, leading to her taking over the title of Madame Hydra.

Contessa Valentina
Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine | marvel.com

In the MCU, all we know about her comes from her exceedingly brief interaction with John Walker, during which she tells him to keep in touch with her as he might prove “very, very valuable to certain people”. Although she never states her true purpose, her knowledge of classified state secrets suggests a connection to either S.H.I.E.L.D. or HYDRA – and her threatening aura (plus the villainous purple highlights in her hair, an upgrade from her Bride of Frankenstein-esque white streak in the comics) makes the latter more likely. We also know from Vanity Fair that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was originally supposed to debut in Black Widow, most likely in a post-credits scene.

That, coupled with the handful of hints she drops, have led many to believe she’ll be assembling the MCU’s Thunderbolts (a team of reformed villains from the comics) or Dark Avengers (a team of evil doppelgangers of the original Avengers), jumping from films to Disney+ shows and back to recruit all the best baddies onto her team before they can be killed or imprisoned. She just missed her opportunity to accost Baron Zemo (the original founder of the Thunderbolts in the comics), but the fact that he’s currently on his way to The Raft rather than Wakanda makes it easier for La Contessa to potentially break him out. And if she does appear in Black Widow, that’ll probably be where she picks up Natasha Romanoff’s younger sister, Yelena Belova.

Since she’s clearly being set up as a puppet-master of sorts, she may also be tied to the Power-Broker of Madripoor – and there’s a possibility they’re one and the same. That honestly makes more sense than Sharon Carter being the Power-Broker herself, since she doesn’t seem to have much motive to design an army of Super-Soldiers. But Carter could be working for La Contessa, something that would parallel the characters’ dynamic in the comics, where Carter was a Femme Force member and the two were rivals for the team’s leadership position.

It’s also important to note that even if Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is affiliated with HYDRA, and even if she does call herself Madame Hydra, that doesn’t somehow retcon Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s version of Madame Hydra out of existence, as some people are claiming. S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Madame Hydra is a character from the HYDRA-operated Framework simulation, not even a real person, and her character design was lifted from Ophelia Sarkissian, another woman who wears the title in the comics. Haters love to claim Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t MCU canon, but it still lives rent-free in their heads.

Contessa Valentina
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Madame Hydra | pinterest.com

There also remains the slight chance that La Contessa isn’t a straight-up villain. A lot of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are just…kind of shady, particularly those in Nick Fury’s inner circle. I think this is least likely out of all the options, but if it means we get to see Samuel L. Jackson and Julia Louis-Dreyfus flirting all the way through the Secret Invasion series, I’d be okay with keeping her on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s side for a little while. Though it would be even more entertaining if they’re bitter exes on opposite sides of a conflict between their teams, whose romantic history allows them to predict their insignificant other’s next moves.

So what do you think Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is plotting? Which team of villains should she be assembling, and why? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 5 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

Billed by the series’ producers as the single best episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier from a thematic standpoint, and highly-anticipated in the fandom due to its rumored inclusion of an epic Marvel Comics cameo, episode five – which bears the simple yet potent subtitle, “Truth” – delivers overwhelmingly on both fronts, diving into a timely discussion about Black identity in America while precisely utilizing the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus to plant seeds for MCU storylines in the near future. After drifting slightly off-course in episode four, the series has regained its footing and the focus is back where it belongs, on Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)’s journey of reconciliation.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sam Wilson | theguardian.com

Louis-Dreyfus’ unexpected cameo as Marvel’s famous Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is a big deal for comic-book fans, probably deserving of its own breakdown, but The Falcon And The Winter Soldier very wisely doesn’t belabor the point, slipping the charismatic Contessa into just a single early scene before having her exit just as mysteriously as she arrived, leaving a blank business card and a promise to “keep in touch” in her wake. It hasn’t been confirmed if she’ll show up again in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier‘s upcoming finale, but there’s no question we’ll be seeing more of Louis-Dreyfus in the MCU soon, as her character’s sprawling comics history gives her plenty of potential story directions from which to choose.

But all the Easter eggs in the Marvel Multiverse (and there are thousands) can only go so far when it comes to crafting a truly meaningful story. Thankfully, that’s why The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is blessed to have a head writer like Malcolm Spellman, who uses the series’ penultimate episode to develop a profound commentary on the sacrifices Black people in America are expected to make every day for a country built by and for white supremacy…and how Sam Wilson’s fight to protect what he sees as the legacy of Captain America isn’t anywhere near as simple as it would be for a white man.

That’s something even Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) comes to acknowledge later in the episode, apologizing to Sam for all the times he questioned his decision to give up Captain America’s shield, and specifically for never once considering how Sam’s identity as a Black man factored into that controversial decision. It’s a powerful moment that recognizes Sam’s Blackness as a crucial element of his character in-universe that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored or downplayed, even when that makes white characters and viewers uncomfortable; especially when that necessitates reevaluating Hollywood’s so-called “colorblind” strategy of treating characters as paper dolls, and racial and cultural identities as interchangeable outfits.

But that’s a moment. And in too many cases, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier‘s best scenes have been mere moments – due to occasionally poor pacing and the nearly consistent issue of time constraints. The latter is at least not a problem in today’s hour-long episode, which makes room for one extended dramatic sequence that I suspect will still be hailed as the series’ thematic high-point even after next week’s finale. In a story that revolves around Black identity, it’s no surprise that this incredible sequence is focused exclusively on two Black men – Sam Wilson and Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), who meet up at Isaiah’s house on the outskirts of Baltimore, with Sam initially intending to give the old man a chance to see Captain America’s shield.

And as Sam approaches the house, with the shield wrapped up in brown paper, it’s easy to envision how that hypothetical could have played out with a different screenwriter; all tears of joy and feel-good vibes. But Isaiah stops him in his tracks, recognizing the shield before Sam ever gets a chance to unwrap it. “Leave it covered,” he tells Sam bluntly. Them stars and stripes don’t mean nothin’ good to me.”

At last, Isaiah finally gets a chance to tell his story. It’s not a comfortable one, particularly for anyone who recognizes the intentional parallels between his account and the history of the real-life Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted on Black men between 1932 and 1972. Isaiah describes how he and the other men in his facility were told they were being treated for tetanus, though in reality their bodies were being used by the US Government as expendable vessels on which to test out experimental versions of the Super-Soldier Serum – all part of a race to recreate what Isaiah describes as the “great white hope” of Steve Rogers; the same race being run by John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a living still-frame of whiteness in action.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon And The Winter Soldier | leftoye.com

Lumbly’s performance throughout the sequence is so vividly and excruciatingly present, there’s no need for dramatized flashbacks even as Isaiah tells of his escape-attempt, and the thirty years he spent in prison on charges of treason while the experiments continued, and he was slowly drained of his superhuman blood, his resolve to live, and his sense of self. He was mutilated, erased from history, and, upon being released, forced into hiding. The fact that his blood now flows in John Walker’s veins backs up his pessimistic worldview: his entire life was reduced to the parts of him that could be mined to create more juiced-up white guys.

But it’s what Isaiah has to say about Sam that cuts most deeply: like an emotional gut-punch on par with, if not far exceeding, Vision’s profound analysis of grief in WandaVision. “They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever wanna be.” It’s probably one of the most powerful lines ever spoken in the MCU, so quietly paradigm-altering that it demands a response from Sam – but since we don’t get to hear one because the scene ends there, we’ll have to see his response instead, through his actions. I don’t trust Disney to make the right call here, but it would be incredibly empowering to see Sam come out of this unaffiliated with the American government in any way.

To be honest, I don’t see another option that makes sense given how far Sam has progressed. He’s already shed his identity as the Falcon, symbolically passing his wings along to Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez); who, if the comics are to be trusted, will get plenty of use out of them. And while he could still use the Captain America moniker, he’s clearly sympathetic to the motives, though not the methods, of the anarchist Flag-Smashers – which probably wouldn’t make him too popular with any government, least of all the United States’.

The Flag-Smashers are an example of a subplot that has been meandering so long it feels pointless, only barely being kept afloat by Erin Kellyman’s performance as Karli Morgenthau. The group is apparently being secretly assisted by Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), who breaks Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) out of jail and sends him along to New York City to help the Flag-Smashers orchestrate a hostage crisis that will shape next week’s finale – though the nighttime setting gives me concern that we won’t be able to fully appreciate the splendor of Sam Wilson’s new set of wings, which I believe to be the unspecified Wakandan-designed gift left behind at Sam’s house after Bucky stops by to help him fix up his family’s old fishing-trawler.

Separate from Sam, Bucky’s journey also starts strolling off on its own, leading him to the memorial in Sokovia namedropped two weeks ago by Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), whom Bucky finds there. In a slightly strange turn of events, Bucky aims a gun at Zemo’s head and pulls the trigger, only to then reveal that he removed the bullets…some emotionally manipulative payback for all of Zemo’s own manipulations. The Dora Milaje arrive to escort Zemo to The Raft, the high-security underwater prison seen in Civil War that is totally a great place to be holding one of the most dangerous criminals in the world.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine | meaww.com

Obviously he won’t be there for long, but I have a feeling his time on The Falcon And The Winter Soldier may have come to an end. With a mid-credits scene revealing that John Walker is hard at work on his own handcrafted replica of Captain America’s shield (is anyone gonna tell him it needs vibranium to actually be effective, or…no? Okay), all our focus in next week’s finale will have to be on the action-packed showdown between Walker, Morgenthau, Barnes, Wilson…and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which is a bizarre yet wonderful twist of fate that I can’t wait to watch spiral out across the MCU.

Episode Rating: 9/10

Wakanda Was Right Not To Totally Trust Bucky – Sorry, Not Sorry

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

And…here we go again. Another week, another episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, another round of unbearable Twitter discourse about the white people in this show while the Black lead continues to be, at best, overshadowed, and at worst, actively undermined, by this very type of discourse. And this week’s episode didn’t even center on Sam Wilson as much as it could have with better writing, but it focused even less on Bucky Barnes – and yet the new discourse predictably revolves around the latter.

Wakanda
Bucky and Ayo | digitalspy.com

This week, it’s actor/director Stephen Ford who failed the “try-to-have-a-meaningful-conversation-about-The-Falcon-And-The-Winter-Soldier-without-constantly-centering-whiteness” challenge. While most of us were acknowledging the sheer awesomeness of the Dora Milaje warriors, and getting even more hyped about the upcoming Wakanda Disney+ series that will surely explore their adventures and inspiring teamwork, Ford took to Twitter to share his own deeply cringeworthy take on one of the best scenes in the series (and by far the best action sequence), in which Ayo and the Dora Milaje battle Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, John Walker, and Lemar Hoskins.

In a matter of minutes, the Dora Milaje have soundly defeated all four men – and only fail in their ultimate goal to capture Baron Zemo because Sam and Bucky insisted on getting involved in the fight to protect John Walker’s fragile ego, allowing the Baron to escape in the chaos. Sam almost holds his own, but Ayo makes short work of Bucky, swiftly and decisively activating what is implied to be a secret failsafe built into his Wakandan-made vibranium arm, causing the appendage to simply pop off.

The moment is shocking, and is clearly supposed to provoke an emotional reaction from the viewer – but if your takeaway is that the Wakandans are “really messed up” manipulative monsters who violated Bucky’s bodily autonomy, then I encourage you to rewatch the scene: and this time, not through the filter of whiteness. Because the entire sequence is far more complex and nuanced than that, and exemplifies everything I love most about The Falcon And The Winter Soldier‘s masterful way of tackling very serious topics.

Ford’s argument, which I had already seen being voiced by melodramatic Bucky stans before he posted his tweet, is that Bucky was betrayed by the Wakandans who designed the failsafe in his arm, and that it’s indicative of the way nobody in his life – even those he believes to be friends or allies – actually trust him to have changed or evolved since his time as the brainwashed HYDRA killing-machine known as the Winter Soldier. But for a deep-dive psychological analysis into an already iconic pop-culture moment, it’s embarrassingly shallow, ignoring several crucial bits of context that lend a wholly different meaning to the scene when taken into account.

Firstly, how about we actually talk about why the Dora Milaje were there? They had been dispatched from Wakanda to find Baron Zemo and bring him to justice for assassinating their King T’Chaka – a violent killing that, need I remind you all, Zemo carried out while disguised as Bucky in an attempt to have the Winter Soldier taken captive, thus making him easier for Zemo to later access and brainwash. And yet, when the Dora Milaje arrive in Riga, they find Bucky now willingly aiding and abetting Zemo – something that has to hurt them all, after what they did to help Bucky heal and recover from Zemo’s manipulation.

And sure, you could argue that Bucky had a valid reason for breaking Zemo out of prison and following him halfway around the world…but at the same time, it is deeply troubling that Bucky hasn’t once mentioned what he planned to do with Zemo after he and Sam had gotten the information they needed from the killer. At this point, anything remotely resembling a plan has now gone out the window (or, rather, the sewer tunnel), thanks to Zemo’s escape: but the Dora Milaje are validated in their distrust of Bucky, because all he’s done is call Zemo “a means to an end”, as if that makes his actions more ethical, without explaining whether he ever intended to hand Zemo over to the Wakandans, or back to the German authorities.

Wakanda
Ayo | superherohype.com

Secondly, let’s talk about the arm in question for a moment, shall we? Designed by the Wakandans out of vibranium, their nation’s most rare, precious, and frequently stolen resource, the fact that that arm even exists is proof that Wakanda trusted Bucky enough not to go on a homicidal rampage strangling people to death, as is the fact that Ayo leaves the arm with Bucky after their battle instead of taking it with her. But…that arm is still a weapon; a dangerous and potentially very destructive weapon.

And Ayo, by activating the failsafe in the arm, isn’t telling Bucky she distrusts him. She’s reminding him – without even having to say a word, though she does throw in a whispered “Bast damn you, James” for good measure – that Wakanda did trust him, that they made the choice to weaponize him believing he had changed, and that he betrayed that trust: not by devolving into the Winter Soldier again, not by going on a murder spree or anything like that, but by having the audacity to defend Zemo after everything he did to hurt the people who helped Bucky escape him in the first place.

There’s a reason society overemphasizes the virtue of trust – because whiteness relies on people putting their total, unwavering, trust in fundamentally corrupt individuals and systems which are then free to exploit, abuse, and weaponize that trust against people of color, and particularly Black people. Unconditional trust is extremely dangerous, and if you want a good example, look no further than American nationalism, which is horrifically embodied in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier by John Walker. The entire show is about this idea of unconditional trust being the weapon of the oppressor, and about how Black people specifically have known this for a very long time.

So no, the Wakandans not putting total trust in Bucky isn’t a fault of theirs. It’s a defense mechanism – just like the literal failsafe they built into his arm. It’s not monstrous, it’s not manipulative, and it’s not messed up.

Wakanda
Bucky Barnes | gamerant.com

You know what is? That every week, the discourse that comes out of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier immediately centers whiteness and white characters in a story that is all about the dangers of doing just that. But with two episodes left and two more weeks of what will have to be some extraordinarily bad “hot takes” in order to top this one, I hope I can use my blog responsibly to help fight this trend.

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 4 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

At last I’m beginning to understand why The Falcon And The Winter Soldier waited so long to give us any insight into the series’ main villains, the Flag-Smashers, and their sympathetic ideologies. It’s apparent now that the writers felt they had to wait until just after the end of episode three, when the Flag-Smashers commit one completely uncharacteristic, irredeemably brutal act of violence, bombing a storehouse full of innocent people. Up until that point, they had only occasionally had to resort to violence, always against corporations rather than humans: in fact, their mission to smuggle vaccines, food, and other resources into refugee camps around Europe seemed fairly noble, and was just getting really interesting.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
John Walker | theguardian.com

And then comes that one act of horrible violence: all it takes to permanently stamp the Flag-Smashers with the “villain” label and cast their nobility into question. Only three people die in the ensuing cataclysm (a number I actually find shockingly low, given how much of the building was on flames last we saw it), but it’s three too many. And, given how the series only now allows the Flag-Smashers a chance to tell their side of the story, it was clearly taken as a preventive measure by the writers to make sure they can’t fully win our empathy, much less our trust, and so by extension neither can their message…which, incidentally, is fervently anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist.

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier reduces what could have been a significantly more complex conversation between a genuinely empathetic Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and a status-quo-upending Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) into a clear-cut moral debate about violence that side-skirts (and distracts from) any meaningful discussion about the Flag-Smashers’ agenda entirely, where Sam can only go so far as to say “I agree with your fight. I just can’t get with the way you’re fightin’ it,” because that’s as far as he can go without endorsing the murder of innocent civilians. The Flag-Smashers could have presented the writers an opportunity to tackle a sensitive but timely topic, but they shied away from the conversation instead.

It doesn’t even feel authentic for Sam’s character, who deserved the emotional growth that could have come from having the chance to feel more morally conflicted about the Flag-Smashers’ war on injustices much like the ones Sam and his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) have been fighting for a long time on the show. But with the Flag-Smashers now murdering people left and right, and “Captain America” himself, John Walker (Wyatt Russell) also a very high-profile murderer after the events of this episode, it looks like Sam is being positioned to rise like a falcon between the two opposing forces and their ideologies by the end of the series…which makes me fear the ultimate moral of the story will be to meet your enemies half-way and compromise.

All that being said, the eventual meeting between Sam and Karli is still a powerful scene, taking place at a gloomy funeral service in Riga, Latvia, for Mama Donya, Karli’s mother-figure and the matriarch of her community. There’s a subtle yet impactful beat as the scene opens, where Karli, delivering a speech to the onlookers with a small child nestled in the crook of her arm, suddenly catches sight of Sam watching from the mezzanine – and immediately passes the child in her arms to another character, the implication being that she fears she’s about to be shot dead by a sniper’s bullet, and won’t use the infant as a human shield.

If The Falcon And The Winter Soldier won’t make her truly sympathetic, it would at least be worthwhile to examine this aspect of the character, her surprising duality, in greater depth: if for no other reason than that Kellyman is a brilliant actress, and it’s frankly a little insulting that her character keeps being called “a kid” in the show, as if Kellyman’s not in her early twenties, and Karli Morgenthau is somehow not responsible for her own actions. I hate having to classify her as a villain, but I’m not gonna sit here and deny that she was the one who planted the car-bomb. What makes her so interesting is her ability to switch from gentle to fearsome in an instant, and the responsibility she takes for that, much like another character on this show.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon and the Winter Soldier | indianexpress.com

But Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) actually keeps his cool this week, being content to lean back and enjoy the show as Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and her small team of Dora Milaje warriors from Wakanda arrive looking for Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl, a fan-favorite thanks to his awkward dance on last week’s episode). After giving Bucky eight hours to hand over Zemo, the Dora Milaje go for the kill: taking on everybody at once in a melee battle, including John Walker and his partner, Lemar Hoskins (Cle Bennett). The result is the best action sequence not just in this episode, but in the series thus far, although I feel like budgetary constraints probably prevented the Dora Milaje from using their electric spears the way they were intended.

Even apart from their fighting skills, the Dora Milaje are developed as characters, with Ayo and Bucky sharing an intense flashback scene set six years prior to the events of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, while Bucky was living in Wakanda – though, again, budget constraints necessitate that the scene be set somewhere in the forest surrounding Wakanda. Technically, there’s a good reason for this: Ayo is testing Bucky’s resistance to his HYDRA programming, and wants him as far from the city and its people as possible. Bucky is ultimately able to suppress the Winter Soldier programming, but we later learn that Shuri designed his new vibranium arm to be much easier to remove in battle, leaving Bucky bewildered when Ayo does just that.

John Walker, on the other hand, escapes with all his limbs intact but one seriously bruised ego – lamenting to Hoskins that he can’t keep up with any of his enemies physically…which probably explains why he, unlike Steve Rogers, carries a handgun as part of his gear. Walker isn’t the Cap that America needs, but his weapon of choice makes him the Cap that America would predictably end up being saddled with anyway: a vainglorious, gun-toting, white guy who publicly murders an unarmed Flag-Smasher at the end of the episode, quite likely beheading the man based on the way the shot is framed, and then having the audacity to lift the blood-stained shield and stare unapologetically into the cameras capturing every moment of his rampage. Yikes.

And by that point in the episode, John Walker has also finally recovered one of the vials of Super-Soldier Serum stolen by Karli Morgenthau from Madripoor, and used it to juice himself up with a physical boost that puts him on par with the Flag-Smashers. This is a John Walker who’s at the peak of his career and celebrity, who should and very easily could have left the Flag-Smashers alone at that point and gone his own way. Instead, he recklessly attacks Morgenthau’s hide-out, and she, presuming both him and Lamar Hoskins to have used the Serum, throws Hoskins into a stone pillar, breaking his back and killing him instantly. It’s shockingly graphic, but what comes next, with Walker using the shield as a murder weapon, is just as horrific.

The episode leaves on a weird kind of cliffhanger: John Walker’s next move is obviously going to be extremely important, but Sam and Bucky don’t really have a clear objective now – they’ve been reluctant to confront Walker, but now might be the moment things change, and they’re forced to do so to save not only the world, but Steve Rogers’ legacy. Meanwhile, Zemo has completely disappeared, after evading capture by the Dora Milaje and pursuing Morgenthau himself, leading to a gunfight which breaks off when Zemo discovers several vials of Morgenthau’s Serum and crushes them one-by-one under his heel, in an attempt to end the line of Super-Soldiers permanently. Say what you will about him, but at least he’s consistent in his motives.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sharon Carter…aka the Power Broker? | cinemablend.com

And then there’s Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), who, in just a few scenes, is looking more and more like the Power Broker behind the creation of the new strain of Serum. She somehow has access to satellites that are able to pinpoint John Walker (who had just taken the Serum, perhaps suggesting that Sharon’s tech is able to detect the chemical compound), and these satellites act as her “eyes in the sky” – wording eerily similar to the tagline “The Power Broker Is Watching” that we see graffitied on buildings in Madripoor and in the closing credits. My only question is what Sharon would be doing with the Serum, since she doesn’t seem to have a clear motive just yet: stealing valuable art is risky, but does it require an army of superhuman warriors?

I do feel as though the biggest enemy to The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is, unfortunately, a lack of time to properly explore all of its many subplots and storylines, but we have two episodes left in which the series can hopefully regain some footing, while remaining entertaining and action-packed. Right now, it’s just downsized its powerful thematic punch to a light swat, a result of too many different ideas pulling focus from Sam Wilson’s mission to regain the shield and become Captain America…which should be the central thrust of the narrative, and right now feels like it’s going to have to be forced into the finale as an afterthought.

Episode Rating: 6.5/10

“Jupiter’s Legacy” 1st Trailer Is…Embarrassingly Bad

I want to believe Jupiter’s Legacy is just a victim of extremely poor marketing. Certainly it wouldn’t be the first time Netflix has unwittingly self-sabotaged their own original content with marketing that ranges from nonexistent, to deeply misguided, to “what were you even thinking?”. But if you’re going to toss around big words like “visionary” in the trailer for your upcoming superhero series, I’m sorry, but I expect it to look a little bit more compelling and/or visually interesting than an angsty CW ripoff of The Boys, The Snyder Cut, and…The Incredibles.

Jupiter's Legacy
Jupiter’s Legacy | syfy.com

The thing is: we’ve seen superheroes get deconstructed now hundreds of times, in those and other titles, often very well and very successfully. It’s not exactly a radical concept anymore, nor was it even that radical when the first Jupiter’s Legacy comics were published back in 2013. The Boys and The Umbrella Academy were just a few of the comics that had already appeared on the scene at that point, breaking new ground for the medium.

And The Boys in particular, both as a comic and an Amazon Prime series, has already shown us a world where superheroes are only heroic in front of the cameras, weaponizing their power to commit unspeakable atrocities whenever they’re not being filmed, protected from any form of justice by both the capitalist organization that funds their missions and their own violent disregard for laws or moral codes. Jupiter’s Legacy is…trying to be on that level, but from the looks of this trailer, the social commentary from the comics this series is based on is missing almost entirely; and as a result there’s no clear hook.

Jupiter's Legacy
The Union | superherohype.com

The superheroes in this world lack the savagery or intensity of the Vought Seven. Their powers mostly consist of the same generic combination of enhanced strength and flight, with bad CGI and boring fight-scene cinematography collaborating to ensure those overused powers don’t have any chance of coming across as fresh or exciting. Their costumes look like imitations of the Vought Seven’s sleek bodysuits and armor, but in heinous pastel color-schemes: giving some of the heroes the appearance of sentient Easter eggs, particularly those wearing long white wigs. They have a troubled family dynamic, but that’s been done to death at this point, from Pixar’s Incredibles to Netflix’s very own Umbrella Academy.

Based solely on this trailer, the one thing that really seems to set Jupiter’s Legacy‘s heroes apart is that they’re very old characters, who received their powers during a journey to a mysterious island in the early 20th Century. The golden-hued flashbacks to this era tease a concept and a genre that looks infinitely more interesting than whatever’s supposed to be going on in the modern day scenes, where the team of heroes known as the Union must reassemble to save the world from “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Darkseid!” (whose actual name is Blackstar, in case you were wondering).

Jupiter's Legacy
Jupiter’s Legacy | nerdist.com

The Jupiter’s Legacy comics, from what I can tell, are supposed to be quite good: exploring themes of generational division through the eyes of the children of superheroes struggling to uphold the burden of their family history. But that idea has been done before in comics and onscreen using superheroes (I repeat, Umbrella Academy), so you really have to work to sell that kind of storyline at this point – and instead the marketing is going for hollow phrases like “visionary” while clogging the screen with simply “more of the same”. Sadly, there’s not a thing in this trailer that doesn’t look like it was pulled from better source material.

Sorry, Josh Duhamel. Henry Cavill from The Witcher season one make-up test called: he wants his horrendous wig back.

Trailer Rating: 4/10

“Loki” 2nd Trailer Leans Into The Absurd Side Of Marvel

WandaVision was the gust of fresh air that blew open the doors to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s untapped reserves of sheer absurdity, and for that I think we will always be thankful. But WandaVision‘s weirdness was very specifically engineered to produce a sense of dread in the viewer, an understanding that something had to be terribly wrong – because worlds like the one Wanda had created for herself couldn’t possibly exist in the (mostly) grounded MCU. Loki, on the other hand, reassures those of us who loved WandaVision that the MCU actually is just…weird. Permanently.

"Loki" 2nd Trailer Leans Into The Absurd Side Of Marvel 1
Loki | polygon.com

I’ve compared the upcoming Loki series’ concept and styling to the works of British fantasy author Terry Pratchett before, and the second trailer (released today quite out of the blue: classic God of Mischief move) only makes that comparison more apt – as well as making a convincing argument for everyone involved in the production of this series going on to develop an adaptation of any one of Pratchett’s novels after this is done. There’s also shades of Dr. Who, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – basically, every zany, high-concept, British sci-fi/fantasy ever made rolled up into one.

The new trailer for Loki treats us to one deliciously abstract visual after another, beginning with a charming elevator noise as a magical glowing door appears in the wall of what looks like a horrendously ugly 1980’s subway-station with brown, orange, and mustard-yellow tiling; soon revealing a man in a German stahlhelm, holding the Tesseract in one hand, and gripping the Norse deity’s arm with the other. I mean, seriously, just read that sentence and tell me it doesn’t sound like the opening to a Dirk Gently mystery.

The atrocious color palette is echoed throughout all the lobbies, waiting rooms, offices, and elevators of the Time Variance Authority, or TVA for short, in whose headquarters Loki has unwillingly ended up. As in the Marvel Comics, it appears the TVA work from behind-the-scenes to monitor the flow of time, making sure everything runs like clockwork and working to ensure that alternate timelines are cut off before they in turn sprout innumerable other timelines – each an entire universe of possibilities. Like Wanda walking out onto the empty soundstage of her life and finding stage-lights and auditorium seating, we’re seeing for the first time the nuts and bolts of the MCU.

From their seemingly infinite office space (which I’m fairly certain is tucked away in its own dimension, not limited by the confines of our earth), the TVA dispatches heavily-armed soldiers (including one prominently played by Lovecraft Country‘s Wunmi Mosaku) across the Multiverse to locate anyone caught moving across timelines, and drag them back for trial…where they will presumably face Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Judge Renslayer. This character’s first name hasn’t been revealed, but don’t be surprised if it turns out to be Ravonna, since Princess Ravonna Renslayer is a notable comics character who shares a long romantic history with Kang the Conqueror, a time-traveling Marvel villain who’s already been confirmed to appear in Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, played by Jonathan Majors of Da 5 Bloods and Lovecraft Country.

Loki
Judge Renslayer | marvel.com

The TVA’s agenda is still not entirely clear, so it’s possible – I’d say probable – that they have an ulterior motive for keeping Loki alive and enlisting him into their army of timeline-hunters, beyond just needing his “unique Loki perspective”, as Owen Wilson’s Mobius puts it. They, or at least some of their top agents like Renslayer, might be working with Kang to conquer all the timelines simultaneously, and Loki’s knack for causing mischief might work in their favor. Kang could even be the hooded figure we see battling TVA hunters in the agency’s hallways and utilizing their glowing portal technology – though, with alternate universes in play here, that could just as well be Lady Loki, or Old Loki, or another of the God’s many variants.

But while that mystery is sure to be compelling, the thing that has me most excited for the series is the thought of traveling back in time through the history of our earth, and of all the Nine Realms yet to be explored – and all the versions of them that exist throughout the Multiverse. Loki has already been seen playing the part of notorious real-life hijacker D.B. Cooper in the 1970’s, but now we get a clearer glimpse of other locations he’ll travel to, including a Medieval festival (where we later see a TVA hunter wielding a jousting lance); a Roman street that’s probably in Pompeii based on the wall of ash and smoke bearing down on the grinning God; a Roxxcart supermarket; a ruined New York City; an otherworldly mining facility; and two diametrically-opposed castles, one bathed in golden light and the other dark, laced with cracks as if made of glass.

Another awesome reveal is the return of Loki’s magic powers, an aspect of his character that’s been sidelined in his last few movie appearances in favor of his twin daggers. Those beautiful weapons still show up in the trailer, but it’s nice to see him wielding magical green energy-blasts as well, particularly given how badly the Russo Brothers used him in Infinity War; not even allowing him to pull a signature magic-trick on Thanos before having his neck broken. It’s still one of the most embarrassing character betrayals in the MCU, if you ask me.

Loki
The God Of Mischief | nme.com

But the crucial difference is that this Loki is Avengers-era Loki, at the height of his game, riding a massive confidence boost from escaping the Avengers on Earth, and still significantly more villainous than heroic. And the writers have clearly gotten into the character’s headspace from that period, because the chaotic mess of Shakespearean angst that we all fell in love with is finally back, and I can’t wait to see where (and when) his story goes from here.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 3 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

It’s no coincidence that the best and by far the most outrageously entertaining episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier yet happens to also be the longest, at fifty-three minutes: still not quite an hour, but close, so close. And those additional few minutes make all the difference, allowing ever major plot beat (and reader, there are several) the space they need to breathe while making the slower character moments feel more organic and earned…resulting in several characters finally realizing their full potential.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Baron Zemo | denofgeek.com

This is the first episode of either The Falcon And The Winter Soldier or WandaVision that I’ve watched where I haven’t felt rushed for time, constantly checking the progress bar at the bottom of the screen to try and frantically calculate how much of the remaining runtime is actual story, and how much is credits. But whereas WandaVision sometimes felt like it needed more of the former to counterbalance the length of the latter, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is perfectly balanced…as all things should be (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist).

If it’s story and substance you seek, you will not be disappointed this week: everything involving the escape of Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is gotten out of the way in the first few minutes, freeing up the rest of the episode to take us to the Indonesian pirate kingdom of Madripoor, for some awesome fight scenes, a tense reunion with Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), and a few major developments in the Super-Soldier Serum storyline, before returning to Eastern Europe for a confrontation with the Flag-Smashers – which gets delayed to next week, but only because another entity intervenes at the last minute that demands our immediate attention, and gives us the kind of surprise cliffhanger ending that should please many fans.

But it’s Zemo who made it into the top three trends on Twitter this morning, and who serves as the best entry point into the breakdown – or should I say, Baron Zemo, since the criminal mastermind is revealed to have been a descendant of Sokovian royalty before the brutal deaths of his entire family and the destruction of his homeland in the aftermath of Age Of Ultron: which I suppose I should have guessed, given how many trips around the world he was able to take while spending money on hotels, large weaponry, and elaborate disguises. What’s a private plane, a collection of vintage cars, and a creepily devoted elderly butler (who’s just been waiting at the airfield for his master’s return for over five years, I guess?) compared to all that?

The only thing that confuses me slightly is why Zemo just happened to have his iconic comic-accurate purple face-mask just lying in the backseat of one of his old and unused cars. A popular theory suggested he might design it to resemble Thanos, to mock the surviving Avengers with the memory of their greatest failure…but that’s clearly not the case, and in the MCU, in the absence of any better origin story for this singularly bizarre piece of brightly-colored headgear, I’m just gonna assume it’s a rich guy thing and roll with it. A weird family heirloom or some high-end fetish-wear, perhaps.

With Daniel Brühl turning in his most deviously charismatic and seductive performance as the villain to date, it doesn’t take long for Zemo to escape his maximum-security prison with help from Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan): but, crucially, on the latter’s terms. Zemo tries his little brainwashing game again, of course, but the code-words meant to activate Bucky’s Winter Soldier persona no longer work as well as they used to, although Zemo guesses that they still trigger some response from deep within Bucky – who grows more and more violent over the course of the episode, as if his HYDRA programming is overwhelming his senses with every moment he spends by the side of his one-time handler.

But, toxic influence on others aside, Zemo does appear to be genuine in his offer of assistance to the heroes, who need his help locating the origin of the new batch of Super-Soldier Serum being used to juice up the Flag-Smashers. True, the only reason he agrees to help them is to fulfil his own mission of wiping out superheroes, and there’s no question he still loathes the Avengers…but at the same time, he saves their lives at crucial moments; he doesn’t lead them astray in Madripoor, although he clearly relishes watching them both endure humiliations while maintaining the disguises he selected for them, such as forcing Bucky to fake an activation, or forcing Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to eat snake-meat; and five years in prison appear to have humanized him…in a creepy, “uncanny valley” sort of way: he dances at a nightclub in Madripoor in a scene terrifyingly reminiscent of Spider-Man 3, and voices his opinion on Marvin Gaye and the “African-American experience”, earning a questioning look from Sam. He’s doing the bare minimum, and from Zemo that’s…a lot.

But perhaps some of it comes down to the fact that, in Madripoor, even a villain as legendary as Zemo is out of his element. We only get to catch a fleeting glimpse of what life is like in the pirate kingdom’s flourishing criminal underworld, and already I can’t wait to go back, perhaps in Shang-Chi and Hawkeye. The city doesn’t boast many big cameos from Marvel Comics’ rogues gallery, mostly just references (for instance, Sam Wilson’s disguise as the “Smiling Tiger” is a nod to an obscure Marvel villain with Thunderbolts ties), but the big players are still out there. In this episode, we only get to visit the lair of a villain named Selby (Imelda Corcoran), who radiates that wealthy-British-white-woman-who-still-regards-Southeast-Asia-as-her-colony type of unsubtle racism.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sam Wilson and Sharon Carter | theguardian.com

One of Madripoor’s less racist but no less morally gray residents is Sharon Carter, whose days of fighting for justice at S.H.I.E.L.D. and the CIA ended long ago. But despite her complaints with Sam and Bucky for leaving her to fend for herself after the events of Civil War, it’s clear that a few years on the run from authorities, operating a criminal enterprise in Madripoor’s fabulously wealthy Hightown district, have done wonders for Sharon’s character arc, finally giving her personality traits beyond “occasionally offers encouraging advice to male love interest (who is also her late great-aunt’s boyfriend)”. She’s now the semi-antagonistic, deeply cynical, three-dimensional character she might have been all along were it not for the Russo Brothers’ obvious disinterest in her potential beyond what she could offer Steve by silently backing him up in every argument.

The only thing about sticking her in a luxury penthouse apartment and giving her a side-hustle selling stolen artwork to the rich and famous is that it makes it ever so slightly difficult to relate to her apparent dissatisfaction with that cushy career path, and her desire to return to the US with a Presidential pardon: but The Falcon And The Winter Soldier already seems to have that figured out, implying that Sharon might not be entirely sympathetic, and that her plea for a pardon may hide an ulterior motive. Some fans think she could even be the mysterious “Power Broker” who commissioned the new Super-Soldier Serum.

But to my mind, the better bet is that John Walker (Wyatt Russell), the MCU’s new Captain America, is the Power Broker. We know from last week’s episode that Walker’s body was considered such an extraordinary natural phenomenon that he was studied by MIT. Episode three (and the behavior of the Flag-Smashers, who have all sampled the Serum at this point) revealed that this new variant of the Serum was designed to be, in its creator’s words, “subtle, optimized, perfect”, needing no “clunky machines” or “jacked-up bodies” to function – so even if Walker had taken it, he might have been able to hide that fact from MIT’s researchers.

The only wrinkle in this theory is that Walker clearly doesn’t have that kind of physical strength anymore: as evidenced in his fight with the Flag-Smashers. So perhaps this new variant of the Serum only works temporarily (which would explain the Flag-Smashers carrying it around with them at all times), or he could have been given an early, less effective, prototype by Dr. Wilfred Nagel (Olli Haaskivi), the new Serum’s inventor. Either way, the fact that Nagel designed his Serum using blood samples from Isaiah Bradley, the forgotten Black Super-Soldier, would makes this revelation particularly interesting from a thematic standpoint. And the only other thing we know about the Power Broker is that they’re hot on the trail of the Flag-Smashers, hunting for the stolen Serum…just like Walker, whose search for the anarchist organization is growing increasingly desperate and destructive, as he’s wielding the full weight of the shadowy organization known as the GRC (Global Repatriation Council) to find them.

Walker’s hunt seems intensely personal, from the way he threatens possible suspects to his use of Flag-Smasher Karli Morgenthau‘s (Erin Kellyman) first name. Why, unless Karli is in possession of the one piece of evidence that could forever tarnish Walker’s pristine reputation, potentially even lose him the Captain America gig?

With the mission to Madripoor cut short by Nagel’s death, Sam, Bucky, and Zemo return to Europe without Sharon to find the Flag-Smashers on their own and get to the bottom of the mystery. But in its closing minutes, Bucky suddenly veers off from the rest of the group, telling Sam to go on ahead without him – and while I was at first confused and concerned that this was just a plot device to separate the gang before a fight scene, it’s quickly revealed that Bucky is aware of someone else pursuing them. And even as I was getting ready for it to be some old acquaintance of his from HYDRA, the episode surprised me yet again, as the familiar Wakanda theme plays over the arrival of Ayo (Florence Kasumba), a Dora Milaje warrior.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Ayo | yahoo.com

Ayo appeared in Black Panther, where her most significant scene (one in which it was hinted that she was LGBTQ+ and attracted to General Okoye) was unfortunately cut – so it’s absolutely thrilling that she’ll get a proper chance to shine while representing Wakanda in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier. Her mission is to find and presumably kill Zemo, who caused the death of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka in Civil War, and her distinctive fighting style will add an exciting new element to the upcoming action scenes, particularly if she’s armed with her culture’s traditional weaponry. This was not a surprise I expected, but it’s the one I think we all needed – particularly since Ayo’s inclusion may begin to give us some insight into how the MCU will move forward with Wakandan storylines following the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman.

Zemo, Sharon, Ayo…with all the characters that The Falcon And The Winter Soldier has taken in just one episode and already completely revitalized, it’s extremely exciting to see how the series will continue to do the same for Sam and Bucky, our leads. And it’s once again abundantly clear that Disney+ really is the best place to do this for all the MCU’s supporting characters, who deserve the time and space that only a six-hour television series can provide.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10

“Shadow And Bone” 2nd Trailer!

SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE AND SIX OF CROWS AHEAD!

In all my coverage of Netflix’s upcoming Shadow And Bone adaptation, my one consistent concern has been how the series is going to juggle the various components of its sprawling story. While its title is borrowed from the fairly straightforward first book in the Grisha trilogy, Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling YA fantasy series, the Netflix adaptation is also drawing on material from Bardugo’s later (and, in my opinion, superior) Six Of Crows duology, set in the same fantasy world but in a different region, at a different time. To better link the two, Netflix is compressing the timeline and creating original storylines for the Six Of Crows characters that will bring them into contact with Grisha trilogy characters they never met in the books.

Shadow And Bone
Shadow And Bone | polygon.com

The task seems daunting. The Grisha trilogy takes place in the Russian-inspired country of Ravka, where an orphaned girl named Alina Starkov discovers that she’s the Sun-Summoner, a magical being capable of creating light – and thus powerful enough to save Ravka from the terrible Shadow Fold, an ocean of pure shadow that cuts an ugly rift through the country. The Six Of Crows duology, set years later in the Amsterdam-inspired city of Ketterdam, follows a ragtag band of criminals, nicknamed the Crows, who unite to kidnap a mage and score a hefty reward. Tonally, the two stories share little in common…and while a handful of characters overlap, they are both very much their own thing.

But the second full trailer for Netflix’s Shadow And Bone reveals the series’ solution to that problem…which, as far as solutions go, seems to me like one that comes with massive risks and the potential to completely derail the storyline of the books as time goes on. The Crows will simply unite to kidnap Alina Starkov herself.

We’ve known for a while now that we weren’t gonna get a literal adaptation of Six Of Crows in this first season of Shadow And Bone. The series is still focused on Alina and the events of her books. The Crows were always going to be playing secondary roles in this season, with the promise that their roles would be upgraded in season two, when their story could actually take off. But with this new development, I don’t understand the point in doing the actual Six Of Crows storyline anymore, even in season two…because they’re already basically using it as a season one subplot, heightening the stakes dramatically while recentering it around Alina.

I’d actually be very surprised if the story from Six Of Crows were to be adapted at this point, because I think I can begin to guess what Shadow And Bone is doing…and why, while I think it’s a gamble even Jesper Fahey would shy away from, it might just pay off.

Shadow And Bone
Mal and Alina (Malina) | syfy.com

Just as it feels like the Crows’ individual arcs are being reworked to fit into Alina’s story in season one, I believe the opposite might be true of season two…which, rather than following the events of Six Of Crows, may actually lift more heavily from the book’s sequel (and my favorite of Bardugo’s Grishaverse stories), Crooked Kingdom. In that book, the Crows return to Ketterdam with their kidnapped prize, only to be betrayed by their client and embroiled in a war of subterfuge and deceit in the city’s criminal underworld. If that’s the case, it’s unfair we wouldn’t see a more accurate adaptation of these stories – but it’s already unfair that Shadow And Bone still includes Mal, one of the worst love interests in literary history.

There’s evidence for this theory in the trailer. The Crows still receive their offer from a mustachioed older gentleman who appears to be Jan Van Eck, their backstabbing client from the books. Mal tells Alina at one point that he’ll find his way back to her if they’re ever separated, implying strongly that they will be (I see no issue with that, gotta be honest). And while the Crows don’t have much screentime in the trailer, it looks like they make it to Ravka: we see Inej Ghafa evading a jet of fire that could only have been cast by a Grisha magician, and moments later she appears to be in the Shadow-Fold itself, looking dashing while throwing knives at an unseen enemy – perhaps a Volcra demon?

We also know that Alina’s backstory in the series has been changed to make her biracial and half Shu Han (an East Asian-inspired region bordering Ravka), a change reflected in the decision to cast an actress of Chinese descent in the role. The showrunners have cited multiple reasons for this change, one of which being that it lends depth to her arc. But it could also make her taking over the role of Kuwei Yul-Bo – the Crows’ kidnapping victim, and the only prominent Shu Han character in the books – more plausible.

Obviously, the Crows kidnapping Alina and bringing her back to Ketterdam would have massive consequences…but if I’m being honest, I think Alina’s character would benefit a lot from the change. The Grisha trilogy gets kind of boring when it devolves into love-triangulations in book two, so it would be refreshing to see Alina separated from both her love interests for a minute and placed in a completely new scenario, before possibly returning to Ravka by way of the seafaring Prince Nikolai, who appears in the second books of both series’. And I won’t deny that the thought of her interacting with the Crows excites me greatly.

Shadow And Bone
Alina and Baghra | themarysue.com

The only question is how the Crows would benefit from this change, from having Alina and the Darkling (and Mal, I guess) constantly barging in on their storylines – and, as someone with a Crows bias, that’s the question that gives me pause and makes me wonder if it’s actually worth it. I also would like to know why the Crows still only have three members, and why Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar don’t even seem to have real storylines in this season (Nina does at least have a cut hat).

Shadow And Bone still looks very promising and well-produced, however, and I’m excited to see if anything can make me interested in the events of the Grisha trilogy. I’m not totally sold on Six Of Crows being used as a subplot in Alina Starkov’s story, but if it means Crooked Kingdom (or some version of that story) might be the focus of season two, you better believe I’m gonna grin and bear it.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

It’s 2021 – Stop Queerbaiting Bucky Barnes, Please And Thank You

When I said I wanted The Falcon And The Winter Soldier to generate more conversation amongst the MCU fandom, queerbaiting discourse was not what I had in mind, I’ve got to be honest. Mostly because I had gone into this series basically resigned to the fact that the character of Bucky Barnes would probably never be revealed to be LGBTQ+ either in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier or anywhere in the MCU, even after years of fans pleading for him to be. Yet here we are, a mere two weeks into the series’ run, already heading down an all-too-familiar path…[*sighs*]…so let’s talk about it.

Bucky Barnes
Bucky Barnes | comicbook.com

Bucky Barnes’ sexuality has been a subject of fervent – and occasionally heated – debate for years. Fans took one look at his intense relationship with Steve Rogers, and realized what Marvel and the Russo Brothers either hadn’t, or didn’t want to admit: it was heavily queer-coded, and that was what made it alternately so compelling and so frustrating…because once Marvel saw what they’d done in creating the pairing commonly known as “Stucky”, it felt to many fans like the studio went out of their way to squash it.

Bucky had always been just as central to Steve’s character arc as Steve’s “best girl”, Peggy Carter…if not more so, given how little the Russo Brothers actually utilized Peggy when they had the chance. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was literally named after him, and revolved around the reveal that Bucky didn’t die in WWII, but was reborn from a potentially fatal injury as an emotionless assassin brainwashed by HYDRA to assist in the overthrow of democracy. Steve couldn’t bring himself to give up on Bucky, instead spending two movies chasing him down, doing everything in his power to save him from his own demons, and from those who would hurt and manipulate him.

Ultimately Steve is successful, but then Bucky – and by extension, Stucky – kind of disappears. In Endgame, he only has a few lines of dialogue at the end of the movie…just before Steve decides to go back in time and live out the rest of his life with Peggy, whose entire character arc in her Agent Carter series (which Endgame canonized earlier in the movie!) is thus scrapped. Some people like this ending for Steve and Peggy, which is fine. But whether you like it or not, there’s no denying it marked the death of Stucky, with Steve confirming through his actions that Peggy was his one true love.

So you can see why, going into The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, I wasn’t expecting much when it came to the matter of Bucky’s sexuality. Yeah, Marvel has talked a lot recently about the responsibility they feel to better represent the diversity of the modern world. But when it comes to finally getting an LGBTQ+ superhero onscreen, their policy has always been one of “maybe next time”, and it’s getting really old at this point.

Maybe in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2…no, to be honest, I don’t even know what James Gunn was referring to in that case. Maybe in Thor: Ragnarok…nope, just a deleted shot of a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom. Maybe in Black Panther, then?…nah, just a deleted scene of ambiguously gay flirting between Okoye and another woman. Well then, maybe in Endgame…of course not, just an unnamed civilian character who mentions going on a date with a guy. Maybe in WandaVision…no, Billy and Tommy Maximoff, both queer characters in the comics, have yet to be confirmed as such onscreen.

So even though The Falcon And The Winter Soldier featured plenty of lightly queer-coded scenes of Bucky and Sam Wilson tumbling on top of each other in the grass like Anakin and Padmé in Star Wars, or going to couples counseling to work out their problems…I wasn’t prepared to read anything into that. Sure, it felt like queerbaiting, but at the same time it felt like affection between men was being used as the joke in all those scenes, and I said as much.

Bucky Barnes
Bucky Barnes | pride.com

There was, of course, that one puzzling line in the premiere where Bucky goes on a date with a woman, and mentions that he tried online dating but couldn’t get past all the “tiger photos”…something that confused the heck out of me, because I was not aware of the fact that tiger photos are a real thing on dating apps (or at least, were, before some apps banned the practice), and that specifically, they are a real thing almost exclusively found on men’s dating profiles. Men apparently pose, often half-naked, with tigers and other large cats. I don’t know why, but it’s apparently common enough information to spark a whole conversation on Twitter about the subject.

So of course, in a recent interview with NME, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier‘s showrunner and head writer, Malcolm Spellman, was asked about whether that subtle reference was meant to imply anything about Bucky’s sexual orientation. And Spellman opted to answer as follows: “You just gotta…I’m not…I’m not diving down rabbit-holes but, uh, just keep watching.” It’s a non-answer, in line with non-answers Marvel content creators have given to questions before. But this wasn’t a question about Mephisto being in WandaVision. And this answer merely teases us with the infinite possibilities of an incredibly vague “maybe”.

Because a “maybe” isn’t exactly reassuring, but it holds out a lifeline to fans who are desperate for any LGBTQ+ representation…and if you’re gonna extend that lifeline, you can’t tug it away at the last minute. Because that is the definition of queerbaiting: the tried-and-true process of luring queer audiences into a show or film with the promise of meaningful LGBTQ+ representation, then never following through in any substantial way, or else revealing in the end that “surprise! They were straight all along! Fooled ya!”

I want to give Spellman the benefit of the doubt and dare to hope that maybe, maybe, he really is hinting that Bucky is queer, because that kind of reveal would be incredibly powerful and important: and because I don’t want audiences to use this conversation about queerbaiting as a way to ignore or actively undermine everything this series has already done for Black representation in superhero media – although confirmation of Bucky’s queerness would inevitably be weaponized for roughly the same effect. Even leaving potential queerness aside, Bucky is already used by some audiences to distract from Sam’s character. It’s racist, and needs to be called out.

Bucky Barnes
Falcon And The Winter Soldier | rollingstone.com

And if fans “keep watching” only to come out the other side with nothing, what then? If it hadn’t been for Spellman’s non-answer, I’d probably be regretful but unsurprised. Mark me down as frustrated and unsurprised now if we don’t even get another “exclusively gay moment” akin to LeFou dancing with a guy for about 0.1 seconds in 2017’s Beauty And The Beast. Because up until now, I was prepared to write off every instance of queer-coding in the series as simply being interpreted differently by fans than by the creators.

So a word of advice to Marvel, and all of Hollywood: don’t tease what you can’t or simply won’t follow through on, when it comes at the expense of queer fans who are still looking for representation in mainstream media, and keep being lured in different directions by series’ and films each promising to be the one that finally gets it right…but only if you “keep watching.”

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 2 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier got off to a bit of a slow start last week, drawing in a huge audience for Disney+ but generating fairly minimal buzz online – with the exception of some admittedly very thought-provoking niche discussions about whether Tony Stark should have paid the Avengers, and what Bucky’s reference to “tiger photos” said about his sexuality, if anything. Just MCU stan twitter at its finest.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon and the Winter Soldier | superherohype.com

Generally, though, there was some concern among fans that The Falcon And The Winter Soldier wouldn’t turn out to be a big conversation-starter like its predecessor, WandaVision, which consistently had even casual audiences going wild with theories – a crucial element of the series’ popularity that backfired in fans’ dumbstruck little faces towards the end. That concern has hopefully been assuaged today. Coming off a premiere I described as soft and fluffy fanfic (albeit a very good one), The Falcon And The Winter Soldier ratchets up the tension, the drama, and the stakes, for all our characters – even John-punchable-face-Walker (Wyatt Russell).

In some way, this is the closest thing to a Walker-centric episode…and hopefully the last time we’ll be asked to dive so deeply into the character’s psyche. During an extended opening sequence that had me terrified the whole episode was going to focus on his backstory, we learn that Walker is a golden boy in the U.S. military, the recipient of three Medals of Honor, and a really bad actor (to be clear, that’s Walker: not Russell, who’s doing a very good job), who’s apparently only trying to do the right thing by stepping into Captain America’s shoes. But as his marching band intro music plays over the Marvel title cards, it’s impossible to take him seriously.

Deep down, even Walker must realize or suspect that he’s a pawn: a tacky, suitably camera-friendly piece of sentient military propaganda designed by the U.S. Government to project a frighteningly familiar image of jingoistic nationalism to the rest of the world, while tales of his heroic exploits distract the media from the government’s more sinister operations elsewhere…in short, he’s the kind of manufactured, consumer-tested Build-A-Bigot that the modern GOP wishes they had, and have been trying to construct for years now (looking at you, Dan Crenshaw)…and he is everything Steve Rogers knew he couldn’t be in The First Avenger, when he too was trotted out as morale-boosting entertainment for the troops.

But while Walker leans into the commercialization of his character, posing with Cap’s shield and marketing action figures of himself, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), the rightful heir to the legacy, has to get back to work fighting the mysterious Flag-Smashers: who serve a valid purpose in the story, but don’t feel very organically implemented, having just suddenly become the antagonists because Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez) has made them out to be. The Flag-Smashers don’t appear to be very well-organized villains, perhaps because they’re not all that villainous: their leader, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), is implied to actually be helping people by smuggling medicine to refugee camps around Central and Eastern Europe.

In return, she and other Flag-Smashers are welcomed into the homes of civilians, calling back to a conversation Sam had last episode about the “tremendous amount of goodwill” that keeps superheroes functioning despite not being paid for their services to humanity. That being said, the Flag-Smashers are still heavily-armed and accompanied by an elite bodyguard of enhanced Super Soldiers, including Morgenthau herself. To deal with the heightened threat, Sam calls in Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who’s conveniently answering texts now. A result of his therapy working, or a plot device? We shall never know.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon and the Winter Soldier | comicbook.com

We all knew, however, that I wasn’t going to be able to make it through this review without geeking out over the heroes’ reunion – where the conversation quickly turns to “The Big Three”, Sam’s term for aliens, androids, and wizards; the Avengers’ most common enemies. In the back-and-forth, Bucky mockingly namedrops Gandalf, before smugly revealing that he read The Hobbit when it first came out, in 1937 – a miraculous feat given that the first American edition of the book wasn’t published until 1938, which means Bucky didn’t just pick this up on a whim: he literally would have had to order it all the way from England, because he’s just that much of a Tolkien nerd. By a lucky coincidence, yesterday was also Tolkien Reading Day!

The random yet endearing exchange continues the fluffy fanfic vibes I picked up from the premiere episode…and speaking of fanfic, are we gonna talk about the new SamBucky content, or what? Yes, yes, we are. And not just the banter, but the inherent sexual tension of them being forced to roll on top of each other during an action scene, or engage in a “soul-gazing exercise” at the orders of Bucky’s therapist (played by Amy Aquino, who is phenomenal). For me, it’s the way all the heteronormative “bromance” jokes and sight gags accidentally just make the situation more gay.

The episode packs a lot into its back half, including a pretty long action sequence with the Flag-Smashers in rural Germany, which moves from an abandoned warehouse to a highway fight on the tops of two moving MAC trucks like a violent Euro Trucks Simulator mod (complete with random, seemingly driverless car that gets wrecked in the ensuing chaos while trying to pass). Things quickly go wrong: Falcon’s wings are somewhat limited on the narrow stretch of road, and Karli Morgenthau smashes his drone Redwing over her knee, while Bucky’s vibranium arm can’t save him from being dragged under a truck. And that’s when John Walker intervenes to “save” the duo, popping up in the first of many surprise appearances.

This is followed by what feels like an even longer sequence of Sam and Bucky being forced to ride back to the airport with Walker’s team after their humiliating defeat; a cringeworthy opportunity to see how fame has gotten to Walker’s head in a very short time. In the face of mediocrity, Sam keeps his cool, while Bucky loses his temper quickly and insults Walker, before jumping out of the vehicle when Walker’s companion, Lemar Hoskins (Cle Bennett), reveals his ridiculous code name, Battlestar. Sam, as a Black man, is forced by circumstances to remain civil – because the one time he gets angry and raises his voice, later in the episode, he’s immediately surrounded by cops who threaten him.

On that sad note, it’s time to talk about Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), who makes his long-awaited MCU debut surprisingly early. Revealed as a former enemy of Bucky’s from the Korean War era, Bradley it turns out is still alive after six decades lying low in Baltimore: having been experimented on using the longevity-inducing Super Soldier Serum, or some variant of it. In the comics, Bradley’s origin story dates back to World War II, when white doctors used and abused his body to test out their own versions of the Serum, giving him enhanced abilities and a lifetime of trauma. I’ve always believed this reveal would be most significant if Bradley predated Steve Rogers’ miraculous transformation, but there’s no indication that’s the case yet.

Bradley’s introduction sheds light on the MCU’s dark past, while the introduction of his teenaged grandson Eli (Elijah Richardson) illuminates its hopeful future. Eli might seem like a background character in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, but comics readers will recognize him as a member of the Young Avengers. He may even be the first Young Avenger to enter the MCU in his final form, given the recast of Cassie Lang and the fact that Wiccan and Speed will presumably also be recast when they age up to teenagers. In the comics, his powers come from a blood transfusion from his enhanced grandfather.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Isaiah Bradley | yahoo.com

The history of the Serum is quickly emerging as the through-line of the series’ plot: running parallel to, and beautifully intersecting with, the emotional through-line of Sam and Bucky (and even John Walker) learning what went into the making of Captain America, and what it takes to live up to his legacy. But with only vague hints from Bradley as to his origins, and with Walker revealing – and confirming through his action scenes – that he doesn’t have a drop of Serum in his veins, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier are forced to turn to someone else for help…someone who knows the Serum’s history intimately, and was presumed to have killed all the Super-Soldiers manufactured by HYDRA in Bucky’s image: Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), who is exactly the type of thwarted sociopath that creepily plays chess with himself while brooding in prison.

Episode Rating: 9/10

“Zatanna” Is Finally Coming To The DCEU!

It’s been a good year for Emerald Fennell. Coming off two Emmy Award nominations for her work as head writer on Killing Eve‘s second season, the multitalented British actress has skyrocketed to fame thanks to a major role in Netflix’s The Crown, followed by her feature film directorial debut with Promising Young Woman; a revenge thriller seeped in social commentary that has sparked heated discourse while scooping up nominations and wins at every prestigious awards ceremony – including five Oscar noms, three for Fennell herself. She probably doesn’t stand a chance against the awards-season juggernaut that is Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, but either way, she and Zhao will be fine – they’re both now attached to major superhero franchises.

Zatanna
Zatanna | comicbook.com

Fennell, it is reported, will write the script for a Zatanna solo film set in the DC Extended Universe and produced by J.J. Abrams as part of his overall deal with Warner Brothers to specifically help bring characters from DC Comics’ Justice League Dark roster to the big screen. Currently, Fennell is only set to write the film, not direct, but hopefully she’s given enough creative freedom and input to leave her distinctive stamp on the final product: if anyone can give Zatanna the adaptation she deserves, it’s Fennell. Promising Young Woman has all the eccentric flair, dark humor, and gloriously campy production design I’d hope to see from a film centering DC’s best magical character.

Zatanna Zatara is a classic stage magician and illusionist, whose character builds on every antiquated trope associated with the business: from the magic wand, to the flowing cape, tarot cards, and top hat (which, in Zatanna’s case, doubles as a gateway to other dimensions). Descended from sorcerers and alchemists dating as far back as Nostradamus, Leonardo da Vinci, and Nicholas Flamel, Zatanna belongs to the race of Homo Magi, who possess the innate ability to cast spells by speaking backwards (and are therefore susceptible to throat injuries). But while Zatanna’s magic makes her one of DC’s most powerful beings, theoretically capable of overpowering Superman, she’s at her best while working alongside gritty characters.

Zatanna
Justice League Dark | denofgeek.com

Batman and Catwoman are frequent allies/opponents of hers, a result of living just outside Gotham in a magically-guarded mansion named Shadowcrest, but Zatanna’s strongest allegiance is to the team of sorcerers known as Justice League Dark. Formed by Madame Xanadu to guard earth from supernatural threats, the team goes through many iterations, with Wonder Woman even leading it at one point – while possessed by the fragmented spirit of Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft. Zatanna has an on-and-off relationship with her teammate, John Constantine (who is in the process of being cast for an HBO Max series following the occult detective’s own adventures).

With witches all the rage right now, it makes sense to finally elevate Zatanna to big-screen status, after having previously only appeared in live-action once on the CW. There is currently no actress attached to star in the lead role, although the internet is abuzz with fan-casting. My personal suggestions are British-Indian actress Anya Chalotra, who flawlessly portrayed the sorceress Yennefer in The Witcher‘s first season, and Pakistani-Indian actress Jameela Jamil – who’s already a member of the DC family thanks to a small role in the Harley Quinn animated series. If the film is more serious in tone, Chalotra’s quiet intensity would be a good fit for the role – but Jamil would nail a more irreverent, humorous interpretation.

As a third choice and a bit of a curveball, I’ll also throw Lady Gaga’s name into the mix, because she’s an Oscar-nominated actress who shares the character’s Italian heritage from the comics, and would certainly bring the campiness I want, as well as the kind of star power that could make this a true event film for general audiences. It feels a bit too much like stunt-casting, to be honest, but I’d be open to the idea.

Zatanna
Anya Chalotra | express.co.uk

So what do you think? Who are your top fan-casts for the role of Zatanna, and how do you want to see the character brought to life? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!