Why “Pusher” Is The Best X-Files Episode

The X-Files is filled with great episodes, and after nine seasons (and two reboot seasons), it’s hard to pick-and-choose.

However, one episode stands out above the rest as the best X-Files episode, and that’s “Pusher”, episode 17 of season 3.

Because of its intense cloak-and-dagger plot and the uniqueness of the villain, “Pusher” has to be my favorite episode of X-Files, ranking even higher than this episode.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. Let’s get into it:

The Plot of “Pusher”

The episode kicks off with Robert Patrick Modell shuffling through a grocery store, while being tailed by FBI agents. He eventually blows their cover and is arrested for a series of murders dating back to 1994.

While in the back of the squad car, Modell, known as Pusher, uses his psychic ability to make the officer driving the car pull out in front of a speeding 18-wheeler.

As the episode progresses, Modell uses his abilities to influence a federal judge into ruling in his favor, sneak into the FBI headquarters, and prompt a secretary to assault Assistant Director Skinner. Plus, he urges a SWAT officer to set himself on fire and induces a heart attack in the lead detective on the case.

The whole episode is about Modell trying to find a worthy adversary for his games, which ends up being Fox Mulder. As Mulder and Scully start to unravel Modell’s history, they find that he has a brain tumor that has likely triggered his psychic ability.

At the end of the episode, Modell forces Mulder into a game of Russian Roulette, but when Scully pulls a fire alarm to break Modell’s concentration, Mulder shoots Modell and he’s apprehended.

Reception

“Pusher” is one of the highest rated episodes of X-Files, having made multiple lists of the best episodes. IGN ranked it the third best standalone episode, and Den of Geek puts it at number seven.

When it aired, the episode received rave reviews, and raked in over 16.2 million viewers.

It’s understandable why so many people like “Pusher”, as it certainly stands as one of the best Monster-of-the-Week episodes, even after the famous Eugene Toomes episode in season 1.

But there’s more going on in “Pusher” than a lot of people realize.

What Makes “Pusher” The Best X-Files Episode?

Up to this point in X-Files, we’ve seen monsters like Eugene Toomes, who is driven purely by his physical need to feast on the human body. Other monsters are driven by similar urges, few of which exhibit the inherently sinister nature of Patrick Modell.

By the end of the show, Mulder and Scully discover that Modell’s brain tumor developed in 1994, and remained operable for two years. However, Modell refused surgery, instead using his newfound psychic powers to wreak havoc on his community.

This dynamic solidifies a theme that Chris Carter and other writers of the show played with throughout the first few seasons, and that’s the mundane nature of evil.

Modell wasn’t a bad guy before the tumor. He was ordinary in every sense, and never managed to excel past a minimum wage job. He failed to pass the psych evaluation to become an FBI agent, and was deemed to be a narcissist in the same evaluation.

The only thing that set him apart from every other lower-class worker was his haunting ability to influence other people into hurting themselves, and he decided that instead of live out the rest of his life deep in medical debt, he’d rather, as Mulder puts it, “go out in a blaze of glory”.

In many ways, Pusher felt that he rose above the societal and class restrictions that kept him as a supermarket employee with his new powers. He described himself as a ronin, a masterless samurai. A lone ranger, or more aptly, a wolf without a pack. He carves out a new life, one of shadows and blood, as a contract killer.

This is why “Pusher” is the pinnacle of X-Files‘ societal commentary.

For many people, the corporate, governmental, and medical powers that be are the prime culprits of their misfortune. Low wages, bad housing, expensive medical treatments, and lack of mental health assistance make it difficult to rise out of the lower class of American society. Even today, we still see the same problems.

And for these people struggling to get by, sometimes their only option is to turn to darker channels: drugs, theft, fraud, and for Modell, mercenary work.

In the end, Mulder and Scully claim that Modell is just a little man who wants to feel big. I feel like their conclusion is true, but far from the whole truth. I think there were multiple factors that lead Modell to his ultimate breaking point, and the eventual murder of authority figures—police officers, doctors, security guards, and detectives.

Perhaps the conclusion should not have been “he wants to feel big”, but rather, “he’s the evil we made.” Sure, Modell made his own choices, but the tumor that brought him his abilities was perhaps one of the best things to happen to him in his life, which is sad. Could Pusher have been avoided if Modell had access to mental health treatment? Affordable healthcare? Opportunities to climb the social ladder?

What Can We Expect From Russian Doll Season 2?

I just finished watching the first season of Russian Doll, and I have to say, it was a wild ride. Natasha Lyonne’s performance was spectacular, and the slow burn style of the series left me with questions all the way up to the last episode.

But we have Russian Doll season 2 coming out today, so here’s a break down of what happened in the first season and what to expect with the second season.

The Road So Far…

If you haven’t seen the first season of Russian Doll, there will be some spoilers in this article, so you can skip to the section “Russian Doll Season 2 Preview”.

In the first season of Russian doll, we ‘re thrust into a weird, mind-bending, time-altering jaunt that gives a new take on the Groundhog Day repetition sequence. Natasha Lyonne’s character, Nadia, attends a birthday party thrown for her, and at one point dies, only to wake up in the bathroom back at the party. This scene, no matter how many times it’s shown, never gets old.

For a few episodes, Nadia navigates through repeated deaths, each time getting farther from the bathroom at the party, venturing out to look for her cat, get a haircut from a homeless man, and visit the deli around the block.

There, she meets Alan, another person stuck in the death loop. The two team up and start to puzzle out what’s happening to them. Their relationship has a great dynamic, with Nadia’s brusque, offhand pessimism, and Alan’s quiet, demeanor.

Eventually, they realize that to get out of their constant loop, they have to right a series of wrongs they committed in the past. For Nadia, it’s meeting her ex-husband’s daughter, and for Alan, it’s being honest with his girlfriend about their relationship.

Despite the repetitious nature of the dying-waking up-and-dying-again sequences, the show never gets stale. Unlike some other shows that play with time, Russian Doll is hard to predict. Even moments away from the end credits, it’s hard to discern what will happen next, and that’s what I like about the show.

Nadia’s gradual descent into frustration is parallel with the overarching themes of past wrongs, both personal and global. The intense symbolism and dramatic elements highlight societal struggles while also maintaining their place as visual aspects of the series.

If I had to rate Russian Doll, I’d give it a 10, hands down, so that gives me high hopes for the second season.

Russian Doll Season 2 Preview.

A while ago there was a teaser for Russian Doll season 2, but only recently did we get to see a full trailer. And as you can see for yourself, it’s even more trippy than its predecessor.

While looking deeper into the second season of Russian Doll, I learned that Natasha Lyonne not only plays Nadia, but is also the showrunner. Working on the series has been, as Lyonne describes, “the happiest I’ve been in my life,” in an interview with Indie Wire.

In the same interview, Lyonne sheds some light on the focus of Russian Doll’s second season. She says that the show becomes about Nadia reckoning with her European heritage. In real life, like in the show, Lyonne’s grandparents were Hungarian Holocaust survivors, and she’s wrestling with questions of history and trauma.

She says, “How is historical, familial, epigenetic trauma present with us in the room even when you’re…you know, whatever, like, telling some guy you’re not ready for a relationship.” We’ve already seen some of this reflected in Nadia’s character in the first season, but Lyonne has made it a primary focus of the second season.

From the trailer, we see that the characters embark on yet another time-warping journey, this time on a train. Trains have long been a staple of mystery and time-travel fiction, and it’s another trope that Lyonne is playing on here, much like her Groundhog Day inspirations in the first series.

I’m certainly looking forward to see what Lyonne has in store for Nadia and Alan as they traverse the blowback of their traumatic first season.

The first episode of Russian Doll season 2 premieres today, April 20th on Netflix.

If you liked this article, consider checking out some of our other content on SFF TV shows, movies, and books. And if you’re a science fiction fan, consider subscribing to the Galaxy’s Edge magazine, which brings you short fiction from new and established authors alike, as well as poignant interviews and book reviews.

Rereading “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” by Sam J. Miller

I’m a big fan of Sam J. Miller’s work, particularly his short stories. They’re always poignant and something I find myself coming back to read more than once.

One story I really love is “Making Us Monsters”, which Miller co-wrote with Lara Elena Donnelly for Uncanny Magazine in 2017. It’s a heart-wrenching novelette about Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon during WWI, and is definitely worth a read.

However, a story I’ve come back to more than a few times is “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” which appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine in 2019. And I’d like to try and uncover why.

Some Context

“Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” made its appearance in Clarkesworld Magazine’s 154 issue, and was later included in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror.

The story takes place in New York City in the 1930s, and in this reality, King Kong is real. Or, was real.

The events and characters of the 1933 film King Kong are all factual and real in this world, running alongside the actual history of German aggression in Poland and the Great Depression in the US.

Aside from the fact that Kong was real—having climbed the Empire State Building, been shot, fallen, and died—the rest of the world is very similar to our own. The story revolves around the change in mindset of the American people after Kong’s death, and Miller contrasts that with the horrible history of the Third Reich across the Atlantic.

Why the Story Is So Compelling

The story starts with Solomon the taxi driver picking up Ann Darrow on a Friday night in downtown New York. This is the same Ann Darrow that ventures to Skull Island and befriends Kong. The same Ann Darrow who was in Kong’s grasp as he climbed the Empire State building.

We quickly become acquainted with the two characters. Solomon is a liminal space, as a Jew and a homosexual in the 1930s, and Darrow is disillusioned by all that surrounds her.

And right out of the gate, Miller makes it clear that there’s a connection between the American collective, Kong’s death, and the rise of fascism in Europe, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Part of the reason I like this story so much is because it’s complex. On the surface, it’s might seem like it’s just a new take on a movie from a long time ago. But underneath, Miller really hints at the American mindset and succeeds in characterizing New York City in a way I’ve never seen done before.

Sure, we’ve all seen the movies where the gruff New Yorkers come together to defend their city or something like that, but in the wake of Kong’s demise, Miller’s New Yorkers release a collective wail.

At one point, Solomon thinks, “Which one of us wasn’t Kong, a king among ants even as they destroyed us?” Living in the Depression, embedded in a broken system, really solidified the togetherness of these people, and when an event like Kong took place, it solidified the community.

But in the same sense, Kong’s death and the subsequent events solidified both Solomon and Darrow’s hatred for the city.

1933 king kong movie

A Love/Hate Relationship

There’s a lot of polarizing emotions going on in this story. Solomon pinpoints the feeling when he agrees with Darrow about hating New York, but follows up by saying “even if I also love it.”

On the one side of the spectrum, people changed their ways after Kong’s death. A large portion of the population became vegetarians after Kong’s death and animal abuse legislation was fast-tracked. But at the same time, people “changed in bad ways too.” City officials refused to reimburse anyone for property damage caused by Kong and the new wave of vegetarianism put slaughterhouse employees out of work.

Toss that on top of the Depression era suffering, the whole scenario was a wash in emotions. Kong’s plight was in many ways representative of the millions of people who felt cheated and forgotten by the powers that be. And Kong’s death was yet another example of how the “rich men fucked up.”

But, in classic Miller style, it’s more than just a love/hate relationship with the city. Solomon and Darrow both run through the gamut of emotions.

Darrow, a once popular actress, was no longer able to put up with the glitz, glamour, or shallow nature of the New York elite. And Solomon, shunned in so many ways, sees himself as a monster and an outcast without a voice. His three grandparents are still in Poland, hiding from Hitler’s Nazi invasion while America stands by and watches.

I’m not really sure how I can express what all these things do when they’re pulled together on the same page. The parallelism between Kong, the city, and the dynamic between Solomon and Darrow all work together in a unique way. It’s eerie, and I’m still going to keep reading this story until I can pinpoint exactly what it is that makes it so interesting.

Conclusion

But what I do know is that today, more than ever, this story speaks out.

The fact that New Yorkers—well, most of them—can come together over this “act of God”, and see Kong as more than just a giant monster seems almost shallow compared to the genuine plea for help from Jews in Poland.

What does it take for Americans to join together and make a difference? Sure, animal rights are important, but why couldn’t they recognize that there were more important things to deal with across the ocean?

And the same goes for today. I look at the news and I think about the situation in Ukraine. What must happen for us to stand up and demand action? Must another King Kong climb the Empire State Building and be shot out of the sky for us to do something?

This is not so much a political question as it is a question over American ideals. What compels us to fight for certain things over others that seem far more pressing? Perhaps reading “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” again will give me a better idea.

Understanding The Moon Knight Comics: Who Is Marc Spector?

As you’ve probably seen already, Disney and Marvel are releasing a new miniseries on Disney+ called Moon Knight. The show stars Oscar Isaac as the titular character, with a March 30th release date.

For many of us, the Super Bowl commercial for the Moon Knight show was the first time we’ve seen the Egyptian knight character, but there’s a rich history of Moon Knight comics that the show will be based on.

Here’s everything you need to know about Marc Spector, Moon Knight, and his origin story before you watch the show at the end of the month.

The Origins of Marc Spector

While the trailer for the show makes it seem like the Moon Knight has some kind of super powers, what with the glowing eyes and the suit that forms to his body, he actually is an ordinary human.

Marc Spector used to be a Marine, part of the CIA, and a mercenary for the highest bidder. When another merc brutally murders an archeologist in Sudan, Spector steps in to save the archeologist’s daughter. During the fight, the other merc, known as Bushman, kills Spector at the feet of a statue of the Egyptian god Khonshu.

Miraculously, Spector comes back to life, believing he’s been resurrected by Khonshu, the god of the moon, to be a protector of the innocent.

There’s been a few different iterations of the Moon Knight comics, but they are almost unanimously centered around Marc Spector’s dissociative identity disorder. Spector uses a few different identities which he created—Steven Grant, Jake Lockley, and Mr. Knight—to go about his day to day, gathering information from all levels of society.

But other comics detail the psychic connection Spector has to Khonshu, which causes Spector to shift between four different personalities of the moon god.

Generally, Moon Knight’s powers are all human in nature. Spector uses the wealth he amassed as a gun-for-hire to create a Batman-esque lair with advanced technology. The one thing that might be considered a superpower is Spector’s ability to avoid death. He’s died multiple times, but is always resurrected by Khonshu.

The First Moon Knight Comic

Moon Knight first appeared in the 1975 comic Werewolf by Night #32, and later received his first series in 1980. The series was headed up by Dough Moench, who has worked on Batman comics and is credited with the creation of the Deathlok character, and Bill Sienkiewicz, whose work appeared in New Mutants, The Mighty Thor, and Daredevil.

Since the first Moon Knight comic in 1980, there have been 9 official volumes alongside plenty of side-appearances with the Avengers and other notable heroes.

In 2021, a new Moon Knight comic was released under the name The Midnight Mission, and it was written by Jed Mackay with art by Alessandro Cappuccio and Steve McNiven. The six-issue series portrays Marc Spector as a priest of Khonshu’s congregation, as well as taking on the form of the “defender of those who travel at night”.

moon knight comic

And with the new show coming out later this month, Marvel plans to release an anthology series titled Moon Knight: Black, White, and Blood in April 2022.

Check out this resource if you’re interested in seeing all the Moon Knight comics in order.

Oscar Isaac as Moon Knight

From the looks of the two trailers for Marvel’s Moon Knight miniseries, there are some changes in store for Marc Spector. We see him as an insomniac, fighting to control his dreams and discern what’s imagined from reality.

For the show, they clearly exaggerated Spector’s D.I.D., to the point where he lives as Steven Grant almost exclusively. In one scene, he answers the phone and is confused by a woman calling him Marc.

It’s unclear how true to the Moon Knight comics the show will be, but it will be nice to see a new Marvel character prepare to join an Avengers lineup, as presumably that’s what the show is setting up.

We’ll keep you posted on the Moon Knight TV series, and we’re certainly excited to see where it goes!

In the meantime, check out some of our other comic book content:

Boba Fett Is Too Star Wars For Its Own Good

I wrote a review of The Book of Boba Fett after the first three episodes, and in that article I was hopeful that we’d get to see the growth of a character that was previously painted as a villain.

What was it I said? “what sets apart the new Star Wars media and the old Star Wars content is compassion”.

Oops. I was wrong. What sets apart The Book of Boba Fett is that the writers lost their vision. In a series named after Boba Fett, we see very little of him after the 4th episode, and his presence is almost as an aside to the Mandalorian.

And why is that? What happened in the production process that made it seem okay to sideline the titular character?

(Spoilers for The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian).

Boba Fett Is a Setup

The show was originally going into untapped territory, exploring a character who we’ve only seen as a grown killer and a traumatized kid. But Boba Fett remains then same throughout most of his show, remaining stoic and honor-bound.

This is the Boba Fett we see nursed to health by the Tuskens, and it’s the Boba we see walking through the streets of Mos Espa after they defeated the Pykes.

So if there wasn’t a palpable character shift for Fett, why make the show? Sure, seeing our beloved bounty hunter mount the Rankor to destroy new and improved droidekas was pretty cool, but what was the purpose?

You’d think with such a massive budget, around $15 million per episode, that the showrunners would be keen to make the show stand up in its own right.

Instead, The Book of Boba Fett sets up the next season of The Mandalorian, and that’s about all it manages to accomplish.

As soon as Fennec Shand turns to Boba Fett in episode 4 and says that credits can buy muscle and she knows where to find it, the show gets derailed. From that point onward the show’s no longer about Boba Fett, it’s about the Mandalorian.

book of boba fet


Too Much Star Wars

The Book of Boba Fett is a prime example of the biggest pitfall Star Wars content creators face: repetition.

We’ve seen nine films dedicated to the Skywalker story, which is six too many. We’ve seen Luke Skywalker and Ashoka Tano show up in The Mandalorian because they’re familiar characters and they pull in views.

And we’ve seen The Book of Boba Fett Frankenstein together a cast of old heroes and villains for the sake of fan-pandering.

The problem Star Wars has—or we should say, Disney has—is that it’s too afraid to branch off and create new content. They know what makes money, and they’re scared to turn from that. In reality, and I think I voice an opinion many Star Wars fans have, if Disney puts out new, fresh Star Wars content we’ve never seen or imagined before, we’d be overjoyed.

The Mandalorian was one of the wholly original ideas that didn’t rely on a Skywalker to succeed, and the first season was awesome. It was a good show in its own right. But as time went on, we see it fall prey to the common Star Wars pattern, which means bringing back old characters from animated shows and shifting the focus to the same old storylines.

That being said, The Mandalorian still succeeded as being a great addition to the Star Wars universe that wasn’t completely consumed by lightsabers, Jedi, and the Force.

If The Book of Boba Fett had stood up a little straighter and stuck to its guns, it could have been a passable show with its own story.

Instead, the showrunners bring in Mando, Grogu, Ashoka, Luke, and Cad Bane (a call back to an old Clone Wars story arc that was dead on arrival).

The Other Boba Fett Problems

I mentioned earlier that Boba Fett doesn’t really change much as a character. He takes the throne of a stepped on criminal empire and tries to hold onto his authority. We don’t see Boba Fett reach any profound realizations about the strains of power, nor do we see him face off against any worthy adversaries.

Fennec Shand manages to kill off the Pyke leaders, the treasonous Mayor, and the back-stabbing crime families in a single go. And yet it takes Mando and Boba Fett fifteen minutes to take out two battle droids?

And Cad Bane.

cad bane book of boba fett

With all the backstory we see at the beginning of the series, with much of the first few episodes consisting of Fett remembering how he escaped the Sarlacc pit, there isn’t a single mention of Cad Bane. For those who don’t know, Cad Bane was an infamous bounty hunter who appeared in the animated Clone Wars show and acted as a mentor to a young Boba Fett. Yet, that storyline is largely incomplete, and not even canon, I might add.

So, to bring in a character like that as a nemesis for Fett, it’s contrived. A last-ditch effort to inject a little conflict into the series ended up as a shock-factor cash grab of recycled material.

At the end of the day, all I can say is that I expected more. After The Mandalorian, I thought we’d entered a new era of Star Wars that was fresh and inventive and didn’t fall prey to old habits.

But, I guess I was wrong, and we’ll see just how wrong I was when the Obi-Wan Kenobi show brings back all kinds of old, probably already dead, characters.

Sci Fi TV Shows: The Book of Boba Fett

Have you watched The Book of Boba Fett, one of the new sci fi TV shows on Disney+? We have, and we have to say, it brings a new life to an old character, one previously labeled as a villain.

The Book of Boba Fett aired in December 2021, and will run for seven episodes, ending on February 9th, 2022.

I didn’t really have any expectations for the show, I saw it as a cash grab for people who loved the Boba Fett character from the original Star Wars films and The Mandalorian TV show. But, having watched the first three episodes, I think it has a lot more substance than most Star Wars media.

(Spoilers ahead for the first three episodes of The Book of Boba Fett and both seasons of The Mandalorian.)

A Rich Background

When Boba Fett first appeared as a dangerous bounty hunter in the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978, and later played a bigger role in The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. He was the kind of character you hated to love, with very few lines, but an imposing presence.

In short, he was one of the classic villains from the original Star Wars trilogy, and later appeared in dozens of Star Wars comics, some of which were one-shot adventures, other were longer stories.

But, only when Temuera Morrison reprised his role as the infamous bounty hunter in The Mandalorian season 2 did Boba Fett become more than just a gun for hire. The show gave him depth and purpose, a vast change from the shoot-first, ask question later character many of us were familiar with.

sci fi tv shows boba fett

Writing the History

So far, The Book of Boba Fett has been filled with backstory about how the bounty hunter escaped from the Sarlacc pit and found his way back to civilization.

Personally, a lot of the backstory about the Tusken Raiders and Boba Fett’s return felt unnecessary. When the character made an appearance in The Mandalorian, we could very well have assumed most of what happened after he was presumed dead in The Return of the Jedi.

But the backstory seeks to do more than reveal how the bounty hunter survived. It takes the new Star Wars approach, where previously bad characters are seen in a better light. And not just Fett, the Tusken Raiders, too.

For most of Star Wars history, the Raiders have stood as one of the perils of Tattooine, a dangerous desert tribe who pillaged for survival. The Book of Boba Fett shows us a new side to the classic “bad guys”, showing them with more culture and heritage than they ever had before.

Boba Fett not only learns to accept the Raiders, he helps them stake their claim on their land and even becomes an honorary member of their tribe.

I think what sets apart the new Star Wars media and the old Star Wars content is compassion. In the original Star Wars, Boba Fett would have never thought twice about killing Tusken Raiders, but now, he takes the time to learn their ways, protect them, and go out of his way to give them the respect they deserve.

Not to mention, the enthusiasm and compassion Boba Fett shows to the Rankor calf gifted to him by the Hutt Twins. It’s interesting to see Fett’s character transition away from anger and violence to a more thoughtful approach.

Fennec Shand

In many ways, Fennec Shand plays the part that Boba Fett played years ago as a bounty hunter. Played by Ming Na Wen, Shand is a deadly assassin who first makes her appearance in The Mandalorian season 1, episode 5, and is later seen in the animated series, The Bad Batch.

sci fi tv shows fennec shand

She’s known as a ruthless bounty hunter, and is Boba Fett’s right-hand woman in the new sci fi TV show. Where Boba Fett in the original trilogy was cold and heartless, Shand is more pragmatic, though still prone to violence.

She’s one of the most interesting characters in the show, and I’m interested to see what story arc is in store for her. In some capacity, I feel like she’ll remain a static character, always sticking by Fett’s side because he once saved her life. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if she becomes frustrated with Boba’s newfound patience and branches out to commit criminal acts in his name.

Is The Book Of Boba Fett Worth Watching?

I’d say yes, it is. This sci fi TV shows spins the previous narrative of the infamous bounty hunter to make him a more likeable and relatable character. Plus, we get see sides of Tattooine we’ve never experienced before, like the deep criminal politics.

I do feel like the backstory is overplayed, and it really dominated the first two episodes of the space western TV show. Hopefully, moving forward, we’ve crossed over into the present, and the backstory is only interspersed throughout.

If you liked this post, check out some of our other content. We’re always talking about all things sci fi, whether it’s a deep dive into science fiction subgenres, or reviews of books, movies, games, and shows. New blogs, twice a week!

We’re All Him: Comic Book Review, Rorschach by Tom King

When I first read the Watchmen comics a few years ago, I was enthralled with Rorschach. His character design, his principles, his grit—it all was so realistic, which isn’t something you often think when reading a comic book.

But Watchmen isn’t like other comic books, and the sequel, Rorschach, isn’t either. I thought it was only fitting we hop on the mainstream train for a while and do a comic book review of Rorschach, the 10-issue series by Tom King and Jorge Fornés.

Some Background for the Rorschach Comic

Rorschach was a serialized comic book series that lasted for ten issues from October 2020 to July 2021. It was written by Tom King, illustrated by Jorge Fornés, and colored by Dave Stewart.

Tom King is well-known for his work with Batman, Mister Miracle, and from his novel, A Once Crowded Sky. In 2018, he shared the Eisner Award for Best Writer with Marjorie Liu, author of Monstress.

Both Jorge Fornés and Dave Stewart have worked for Marvel and DC comics, most notably for Daredevil, Spiderman, Catwoman, and Captain America comics.

The Rorschach comics occur after the events of Watchmen, Doomsday Clock, and the Watchmen HBO series that aired in 2019. The story is set in 2020, right before a big presidential election where Governor Turley seeks to beat the 5-time president, Robert Redford.

Rorschach Never Dies

I was curious to read this series and do a comic book review on it because unlike some other comics that are merely FLASH and BANG, Rorschach has substance. Like, a lot.

Starting off, I was a bit confused about the concept for the series. At the end of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan vaporizes Rorschach for threatening to reveal the truth about Veidt. So, Rorschach—the original Rorschach—is dead by the time Tom King’s series starts.

But it quickly becomes clear that there are multiple people impersonating Rorschach, all of whom are vigilantes working to take down the corrupt powers that be and prevent another squid invasion.

comic book reviews rorschach

The whole premise of Rorschach’s—and the other Watchmen’s—survival was that Dr. Manhattan released their souls into the world to find new bodies and continue their work. But the Walter Kovacs’ Rorschach’s legacy extended far wider than his singular soul. He embodies the rebel, the anarchist, and the idealist.

Rorschach lives on in the hearts of those who need him, of those who believe in a better future, free from tyranny. But those people also see Rorschach’s darker side, including the blood on his hands.

King’s Rorschach takes that idea and runs with it. In many ways, the comic series is as much a political and ethical commentary as it is a hard-boiled detective story.

The protagonist, an unnamed investigator, slowly unravels a vast conspiracy that reeks in the wake of the world the Watchmen left behind. King’s grim vision of 2020 has even more bloodshed and filth than our own 2020, which is really saying something.

Leaving a Legacy

Comic book historian Bradford Wright stated once that the original Rorschach’s intentions were always “a set of black-and-white values that take many shapes but never mix into shades of gray.”

But King’s Rorschach believes in the black, white, the gray in between, and blood red. In many ways, this reflects the worldview we’ve all kind of come to accept (minus, perhaps, the blood).

In the past few years, we’ve seen the break down of American politics. Core principles of democracy that were once firmly black and white, right and left, have slid into the gray areas. We’ve all overlooked things we shouldn’t have, and we’ve all gotten worked up over things that, in retrospect, didn’t matter.

That’s the legacy that King’s Rorschach leaves us. At one point, one of the main characters, Wil Myerson, says “most evil is done by people who never made up their minds to be or do either good or evil.”

rorschach comic

And that’s the hard part. To see things as black and white as Walter Kovacs takes a keen sense of self, a set of values that don’t waver under external stress.

Thinking about my own life, I realized this is a lot harder to achieve than it seems. We’ve all told a white lie (which, in this color-coordinated analogy, is really a gray lie) because we felt the truth was irrelevant, or would hurt.

But that hurt is important. Given the truth, we can structure what’s right and wrong, what needs to be done, and what can be saved for later. So, while the original Rorschach might not live in all of us, King’s does. “Some people need masks. Some don’t,” as the book flap of the Rorschach anthology reads. Don the mask, or don’t. Either way, embracing Rorschach is as critical now as it’s ever been.

Comic Book Review of Rorschach: Conclusion

Despite paltry reviews of the 10th issue, I felt that Rorschach lived up to, and in some ways, far exceeded, my expectations.

King has done more in ten issues to flesh out a philosophy for Rorschach than Moore and Gibbon have ever done.

The art is fantastic, while grimmer than the original Watchmen comics, and I found myself unable to put the book down.

While Monstress might have been the first 10/10 I gave a comic book, Rorschach will be the second. It takes the comic book medium and uses it to tell a truly fabulous story, outlining in it’s pages a path forward for many of us who are confused or conflicted.

The Speculative Fiction Poetry of Progressive Rock

A few years ago, I attended Confluence, a sci-fi convention in downtown Pittsburgh. I attended a few panels about science topics, and even ran a mini-writing workshop with two of my Alpha graduate colleagues.

But one of the most interesting things I encountered while at Confluence was the filk community. For those who don’t know, filk is a culture, genre, and community based around music and speculative fiction. Filking is a wild experience. The music, which is heavily inspired by Tolkein-esque ballads and high-concept sci fi worlds, is accompanied by elaborate costumes and role playing, almost like LARPing.

After leaving Confluence, I started to consider how music and science fiction were tied together, and began noticing certain similarities between speculative fiction poetry and progressive rock, a genre I’d been listening to for a while before attending Confluence.

In this article, I want to lay out some thoughts about how prog rock takes spec fic themes and runs with them.

What is Progressive Rock?

You have probably heard prog rock before and not even known it! The movement began in the 1960s with the growing popularity of concept albums, introduced by The Beatles and other pop bands of the time.

A few of the core tenets of prog rock include:

Instrumental Experimentation– adding instruments and methods not widely used, like bringing in orchestral instruments and synthesizers. While the latter has become more mainstream as technology has improved, prog is still one of the pioneering genres seeking to use weird, unique sounds and instruments.

Pairing Literature and Lyricism – the idea of the concept album brought about philosophical ideas to mainstream music, as well as literature into lyrics. Prog rock artists often incorporate literary references when crafting their vast—frequently science fiction—masterpieces.

Advanced Musical Theory – Prog rock excels in breaking the bounds of musical theory. Most prog rock bands will tinker with time signatures, harmonies, and length to produce unique, compelling pieces of music.

How Do Prog Rock and Speculative Fiction Overlap?

It’s very easy to compare prog rock and speculative fiction because the two share a lot of the same fundamental values. Speculative fiction, be it sci fi, fantasy, horror, slipstream, or any of the hundreds of sci fi subgenres out there, all work to break the bounds of conventional thought. This could be through a complex story structure that mirrors how we think, or by incorporating fantastical ideas about unexplained phenomena in our world.

Prog rock follows a similar style, albeit more abstract. It pairs unique sounds with complicated, sometimes cryptic, verses all written in a poetic style. I’ve listened to some prog rock albums more than a dozen times, and they always take on a new life and meaning when reading the lyrics.

To show just how closely the two entities are connected, I’ve picked out an example:

Chromaparagon by Moon Tooth

I doubt a lot of people of heard this one, but it stands as one of the most interesting examples of prog rock that I could find.

Moon Tooth is a four-person band originating from Long Island, New York. Chromaparagon is their first full-length album, and is succeeded by Crux, and another album that’s upcoming sometime this year.

What I found particularly compelling about Chromaparagon, and super-relevant to our conversation of science fiction and prog rock, is their focus on the arcane, the weird, and the bizarre.

Take, for example, the first song on the album, Queen Wolf.

If you read the lyrics, you’ll recognize the linear motion of the story, which follows a mysterious, seemingly exiled character only referenced as “I” as they discover and confront the Queen Wolf.

My interpretation of the story is that the “I” character comes to realize the cruel nature of solitude and ostracization, and throws aside their old beliefs (evident by the line “I gathered up my holy books, O, my holy ink and paper and I burned them all). Afterwards, they set out to find the Queen Wolf, who has also been ostracized, and when the character finds her, “there was no denying that we belonged to each other.”

It’s a story of breaking from solitude and old beliefs to be with someone who is equally as shunned for their beliefs, even if they are perceived as a monster.

Keeping with the literary theme of prog rock, the song features a section from C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian book, “I am hunger, I am thirst. Where I bite, I hold till I die. I could fast a hundred years, I could lie a hundred nights on the ice and not freeze, I could drink a river of blood and not burst. Now tell me, who comes to disturb me?”

That monologue from Prince Caspian is spoken by a werewolf who had once been a servant of the White Witch and was brought out of exile by Nikabrik, a grumpy dwarf. Pretty fitting, right?

Throughout the rest of the album, the themes portrayed in the first song are built upon. In “Little Witch” the mysterious “I” talks about creating a personal Hell, but not a Biblical Hell. More like a Paradise Lost Hell, a hell of one’s own making.

Vesuvius I and II take us away from the previous themes, replacing them instead with iconography of Aries and the mountain of fire, instilling in listeners a sense of urgency as the ash darkens the sky.

Eventually, we reach “White Stag”, where we finally get a bit of hope. “Clouds dance and weave in infinite potential…He wills in your name on forever in beautiful ways.”

The Poetry of Prog

While this is only one example of how the genre-bending nature of prog rock music ties in with spec fiction, it’s a perfect case study for the abstract and the experimental.

A lot of people don’t listen to prog rock because it is weird and experimental, but us sci fi fans are quite familiar with those things. The music market is a highly competitive place, but progressive rock bands have made it their mission to break the barriers of genre, just like modern sci fi writers.

Moon Tooth, while our primary example, was a band I only discovered in the past two years. Before them, I was introduced to the genre by Caligula’s Horse, whose Bloom album stands as another intersection of spec fic poetry and rock music.

At the end of the day, the writers and musicians who make waves with their work are the ones who will be remembered. And Chromaparagon certainly stands as an album worth remembering.

What’s Happened With The Wheel of Time Show?

For those of you that have been keeping up with The Wheel of Time show on Amazon Prime, there’s certainly a lot to unpack.

If you’re a fan of the books, you know that the last few episodes of the new fantasy TV series took a hard left from the source content.

In this article, we’ll break down the biggest departures from the story that we’ve seen in the first season of The Wheel of Time show, as well as predictions for the next installment.

(Spoilers ahead for The Eye of the World and the first season of The Wheel of Time TV show.)

Missing Characters

If you read our previous post on The Wheel of Time, we talked about how there are some characters missing from the first season of the show. And not like Tom Bombadil characters, like, really important characters.

Within the first few episodes, it becomes clear that the showrunners had to make certain choices to omit characters or alter their story arcs to fit into the 8-episode format.

To be fair, The Eye of the World is a big book, and Robert Jordan was notorious for adding plenty of new characters along the journey. Some of which aren’t as critical as others.

However, The Wheel of Time show has hopped and skipped over what should have been at least one episode’s worth of content.

the wheel of time show characters
Perrin, Egwene, Rand, and Nynaeve at Fal Dara

After the group separates at Shador Logoth, the doomed city, Rand and Mat travel to the city of Caemyln, having been saved from a Fade by Thom Merrilin.

In the city, we’re introduced to a number of important characters, including:

  • Elayne Trakand, heir to the kingdom of Andor
  • Gawyn Trakand, Elayne’s brother
  • Galad Damodred, half-brother to the Trakand, a strong warrior
  • Queen Morgase, Elayne and Gawyn’s mother, Queen of Andor
  • Elaida, an Aes Sedai of the Red Ajah, advisor to the throne of Andor
  • Gareth Bryne, Captain-General of the Queen’s Guard

Very early on in The Wheel of Time show, we’re introduced to the false Dragons, chief among them Logain Ablar. That storyline was altered because Rand and Mat actually meet Logain in Caemlyn, but in the show he’s gentled at about the midpoint and imprisoned in the White Tower.

The glossing over of Caemyln doesn’t bode well for the rest of the show. Elayne, Gawyn, and Galad are all crucial characters throughout the rest of the books, and Elaida is a long-standing Aes Sedai who becomes more important as revelations at the White Tower unfold.

Plus, we’re missing Elyas Machera, the wolf man who guides Perrin and Egwene to safety after Shadar Logoth. He is a vastly important catalyst for Perrin’s arc, which was woefully forgotten in the show.

What Happened at The Eye of The World?

It’s been some time since I read The Eye of the World, but one thing I never forgot was the importance of that titular element. In The Wheel of Time show, the Eye is portrayed as the Dark One’s prison, when in reality, it is a vault of sorts, as well as a well of untarnished power.

The Eye of the World contains one of the seals to the Dark One’s prison, the shiny stone Moiraine holds at the end of the last episode. It’s known as cuendillar and is extremely rare, coming from the Age of Legends, thousands of years before the show takes place.

Also in the vault are the Dragon Banner of Lews Therin Telamon, which was woefully absent in the show, and the Horn of Valere, which has mysteriously made its way into the throne room at Fal Dara.

Both of these items are of great importance later on in the series, as they call back to the ages past. Hopefully, the Horn of Valere, a major aspect of The Great Hunt, remains so in the show.

But after watching the season finale, you might be wondering, what actually happened at The Eye of the World? Is the Dark One dead? Where will Rand go? Has Moirainne actually been cut off from the One Power?

Let’s break it down:

In the book, the whole group travels to the Eye of the World, where they meet Someshta, essentially a mystic tree man guardian of the vault. The group is attacked by the servants of the Dark One, including the Forsaken Aginor, Balthamel, and Ishamael. (The Forsaken are the Dark One’s top followers, all of which are like semi-undead evil channelers).

the wheel of time show ishamael
Fares Fares as Ishamael

Rand uses the One Power to defeat Aginor, and harnesses the power of the Eye to thwart the trollocs and Ishamael, and that’s how Moirainne knows he’s the Dragon Reborn.

But, in The Wheel of Time show, that’s not what goes down.

Rand and Moirainne trek into the Blight, where Rand is confronted by who he thinks is the Dark One. And I hope you didn’t think that was the Dark One too, because you’d be wrong.

That mysterious dream man with the flaming eyes was Ba’alzamon, a disguise worn by Ishamael, the most powerful of the Forsaken. He attempts to trick Rand into freeing the Dark One from his prison, and is eventually blown away by Rand’s sheer power.

But, not before Ishamael seemingly stilled Moirainne. This is perhaps the biggest “oh-no” moment at the end of the series. Moirainne is not stilled in the books, and she continues to channel throughout the series, to critical effect. It’s unclear what the future holds for her, just as it’s unclear how the story will change now that Rand has set out on his own, presumably to travel to the Aiel Waste.

What’s Up Next for The Wheel of Time Show?

A lot of the setup needed for The Great Hunt, the next installment of the book series, was altered in The Wheel of Time show. Though, the Seanchan are revealed at the very end of the season finale, which does hint that they’ll play a part in the second season.

Is Loial dead? He certainly cannot be, because he, too, plays a big role later on. And what about Mat? Did Moirainne really set the Red Ajah on him? Will Egwene and Nynaeve return to Tar Valon to be trained as Aes Sedai?

the wheel of time show red ajah
Liandrin and other members of the Red Ajah

Only time will tell, but if the first season of The Wheel of Time show was any hint, I think fans of the books are in for a few frustrating years. The series has great production value and it’s great to see the books finally make it to the big screen, but adapting the first book in any series is always the foundation for the rest of the show.

I hope the showrunners can pull it off, because frankly, I’m a little worried. Glossing over so many important characters (like Elayne, who has a much larger role in the second book) and altering the timelines hasn’t given me confidence that the show will succeed.

But, for the time being, it’s something fun to watch, albeit sometimes infuriating, and I’m anxious to see where the series goes from here.

Cowboy Bebop on Netflix is the Classic Anime Re-Imagined

Ever since the live action Cowboy Bebop on Netflix aired November 19th, 2021, the Internet has been alight with criticism. Wired wrote an article about how the show flops, and other popular news outlets claim the 46% Rotten Tomatoes score as an indicator of the show’s worth.

But, even though the new Cowboy Bebop show on Netflix might anger and frustrated hardcore fans of the classic 1998 anime of the same name, there’s a lot to love in this new show.

Some Background

The original Cowboy Bebop aired in 1998 as a singular season with 26 episodes. It quickly gained a cult following, and its jazz-fueled space noir style brought something new and fun to the cyberpunk genre.

In a world of 900-episode long anime series, Cowboy Bebop was blissfully short, but it packed far more of a punch than most of its counterparts. The anime won countless awards, including the 1st place at the 1999 Anime Grand Prix.

In 2017, there was talk of bringing the anime to life in a live-action series, and a year later, Netflix announced the show would come to their streaming platform. In 2021, we finally got to see years’ worth of work come to fruition, but fans were relatively unimpressed.

The live-action show hasn’t stayed entirely faithful to the source material, instead opting for a rendition instead of a truthful adaption.

And for many people, this ruffled feathers. Such an acclaimed and loved anime, seemingly defiled in another live-action remake.

However, there’s a lot to love about Cowboy Bebop on Netflix, and when we look at it as an alternative version of the anime instead of a poor adaption, it stands up on its own fairly well.

cowboy bebop on netflix


What’s to Love About Cowboy Bebop on Netflix?

As someone who watched the anime, the live action show took some getting used to. At first, I was a bit confused about the timeline and the story that the show was running with, but after a few episodes I was able to overlook the inconsistencies and view the show as a honoring of the source material.

The characters in the Netflix show are deep, motivated, and fun, more fun, I might say, then the original characters.

Faye Valentine, one of the female leads, has much more depth than in the anime. Her whole story revolves around not knowing her past, having been awoken from a cryogenic sleep with amnesia. Her motivations are realistic and her attitude mirrors the frustration she feels at living half a life.

In the anime, she’s very sexualized, which was a trope of anime of it’s time (frankly, it still is a trope), but the Netflix show re-imagines Faye as a badass bounty hunter with a me-against-the-world attitude.

And the banter that made me fall in love with the anime hits really hard in the Netflix show. I found myself laughing at the grumpy nature of Jet, Spike’s smart ass remarks, and Faye’s pithy one-liners.

For Spike, his transition to the big screen was the most intriguing. In the anime, there’s this duality about him. He’s funny and grim, full of heart and a scoundrel at the same time.

In the Netflix version, he oozes emotion, and is much less of an ass than in the anime. He builds relationships with Jet and Faye, and even though he keeps secrets, he’s much more loyal to his friends than in the anime. And this change made the Netflix show stand out.

They turned surly characters into deep, troubled heroes, but in a way that still follows the main themes of the source material.

What’s Stayed the Same?

One of the most endearing elements of the anime was the bounty-of-the-week style. Yes, there are plot-heavy episodes, but largely the story follows the Bebop’s crew as they hunt down wacky, villainous bounties.

And the Netflix show incorporates that while also running with a larger, underlying conflict.

We see those weird villains, like Mad Pierrot, and we see the more serious villains like Asimov and Vicious.

Vicious’ character in particular is deplorable. In the anime, he appears off and on as a returning antagonist, but in the Netflix show, he’s so full of emotion and violence, coming to life as more than a vague villain.

He has motivations and heartbreak, more than the anime allowed him to have. Despite being much more mad in the Netflix show, Vicious settles into his role of the big baddie very nicely.

cowboy bebop on netflix, vicious and spike

Cowboy Bebop on Netflix is a Must-Watch

At the end of the day, if you are a big fan of the anime, watch Cowboy Bebop on Netflix as a loving rendition instead of an attempt to change the canon.

As a science fiction and fantasy enthusiast, it can suck to see a story you love adapted for screen. Take The Wheel of Time, for example. The first few episodes have changed a lot about the books, and while I’m irked by certain choices, I still enjoy seeing a series I love reach a wider audience.

Same goes with Cowboy Bebop. I guarantee that people who’ve never seen the anime will go back and watch it after binging the Netflix show, and will find something to love in both shows.

I hope we get to see more of Cowboy Bebop on Netflix. While the show hasn’t stayed true to its source material, it reinvents the anime, enriching the characters and making the cyberpunk noir setting really pop out.

Plus, I’m always down for some cowboy banter and Ein, the adorable Corgi sidekick.