PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

The above illustration for the mystic hero Doctor Anton Mordrid certainly looks like the artist was told to emulate the art-style of Steve Ditko from his classic run on the DOCTOR STRANGE comic of the 1960s. This probably came about because in the development stages this Full Moon Films project was designed to be an adaptation of DOCTOR STRANGE, but the Band brothers Albert and Charles (who co-directed MORDRID) couldn't strike a deal with Marvel and so channeled the script into an original character.

Mordrid (Jeffrey Combs) is a magician living in obscurity in an apartment house in New York City. (Actually, one interesting twist is that he owns the building, which might have led to some interesting subplots had there been further installments.) Mordrid remains a private person because he's lived for many decades without aging, and because he devotes all of his time to guarding the world against evil magic. However, one of Mordrid's tenants is young policewoman Samantha Hunt (Yvette Nipar), who catches sight of the reclusive fellow and begins trying to find ways to meet him. 

Meanwhile, evil magician Kabal (Brian Thompson) begins operations to unleash magical chaos on the ordinary world. Some of Kabal's chaos attracts Samantha's attention, and because she's learned that mysterious Mordrid has some knowledge of the mystic arts, she uses her authority to consult him. Unfortunately, her obnoxious fellow cop Tony (Jay Acovone) responds by blaming Mordrid for the problems, though Tony just thinks the mystic weirdos are terrorists. Being arrested puts a crimp in Mordrid's defenses of the world, allowing Kabal's plans to progress. At last Samantha helps Mordrid escape police custody, leading to a final duel between the rival magicians.

There's a lot more scenes in the police station than of magical combat, which is clearly a consequence of the flick's low budget. And though I began to wish some evil fate to befall blockheaded Tony, I should have been feeling more animus toward Kabal-- and I didn't, because he was just a stereotypical villain. Mordrid's goodness is not much better, but Combs has a good chemistry with Nipar, so that had there been a few more installments, that might have resulted in better results down the line. At least MORDRID ends without any dangling plot-threads and provides a pleasant but mostly forgettable diversion.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

I posted this enthusiastic encomium for the 1935 LOST CITY on the Classic Horror Film Board:

I'm with those who regard this as a favorite serial. By comparison even some of the best serials slow down to furnish lots of boring exposition. Something's always happening in LOST CITY. That's not to say everything's interesting, but some of the scenes are so weird. Queen Rana feeding Bruce Gordon a drug that makes him go blind! Bruce being crushed by one of the black giants, only to be freed when Nadia shoots the giant! Manyus about to be crushed by a giant spiky thing! That's what serials are all about.
Strangely, Manyus, the "Dr. Zarko" of this FLASH GORDON-wannabe, gets more time on-screen than "Ming" does.

I mentioned 1936's FLASH GORDON because I tend to think that the scipters for this independent serial knew something of Universal's plans for a GORDON serial, which came out the next year. True, a more proximate influence was probably Mascot Pictures' THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, which depicted an ancient civilization popping up in the modern-day American West, just as CITY depicts ancient Lemurians showing their faces in modern-day Africa. That said, the idea of archaic survivals in Africa first appeared in Rider Haggard's 1887 novel ALLEN QUATERMAIN, and became a repetitive trope in Edgar Rice Burroughs' TARZAN novels. TARZAN in turn became a successful comic strip in 1929, and almost certainly influenced the early development of the Alex Raymond FLASH GORDON comic strip five years later. Although all of Gordon's encounters with weird races and beasts take place on another planet, it's arguable that "Mongo" was just an extraterrestrial version of Burroughs' polymorphic Africa.

Another point of comparison is that the GORDON strip stared out with massive catastrophes taking place on Earth because the planet Mongo is entering Earth's solar system. The 1936 serial adaptation would also use this starting-point. 1935's THE LOST CITY got there first with what seems like a virtual knockoff of the comic-strip tumult. However. in CITY the worldwide havoc is being caused by mad Lemurian ruler Zolok, using his hyper-advanced machines to attack modern cities. This opening, at least, has nothing in common with the initial episode of Mascot's PHANTOM EMPIRE.

EMPIRE comes off as somewhat dull these days-- partly because, like a lot of 1930s serials, it lacks both good action choreography and a bracing musical score. CITY doesn't have either of these assets, either, but as my snippet above suggests, it's a much more "wild-and-woolly" pulp adventure. CITY has its own "Gordon" who's out to locate the source of the disasters: two-fisted scientist Bruce Gordon (Kane Richmond). To be sure, Bruce isn't nearly as mythic a character as his flashy forbear, and I tend to view this as a "villain-oriented" serial. That said, Zolok isn't in that many scenes, though his function is taken over by a bunch of secondary villains, including a nasty white hunter (who reforms at the end), a road-company white queen, and an Arab slaver. Whereas a lot of serials may use multiple villains who covet some radical new device, CITY may be the first time that the "new tech" consisted of mutated humans. The aforementioned "Doctor Manyus," a scientist forced to serve Zolok in order to preserve the life of his daughter, comes up with a process by which ordinary men can be changed into obedient, near-mindless nine-foot-tall giants. It's not clear how Manyus-- who's supposed to be a basically decent sort-- comes up with such an abominable weapon, except that one episode-- the source of the serial's greatest notoriety-- suggests that maybe he came across it as a way to transform poor benighted Black Africans into White People.

Naturally, the serial's script takes this somewhat demented fantasy at face value. However, in earlier forum-remarks, I decided that there was probably no conscious intent of making any statement about racial matters:

It's also interesting that the "black-people-turn-white" schtick is not a big part of the overall story. It seems to have been a bit of lunacy the scripters tossed in for a passing effect. The main emphasis always seems to be on the villains' wanting Manyus' process in order to make gargantuan black slaves-- though I think Zolok says something about subjecting Bruce Gordon to the treatment, so it was also *feasible* to have giant white slaves.

Politically inappropriate content aside, it does make the struggle a little more tense when it's less about possessing some arcane weapon, and more about turning real people into slaves. The casting department found one or two incredibly tall actors to represent the mutated slaves of Zolok, and early in the serial there's a fascinating scene in which the two colossi are seen carrying regular-sized Africans around like rag-dolls.

Most of the acting is ridiculously over-the-top, but it rather fits a serial of such bizarre extravagance. Though CITY isn't exactly popular among serial enthusiasts, I think it's a far better twist on the "lost civilization in Africa" theme than better-known works like DARKEST AFRICA and UNDERSEA KINGDOM.

ASTRO BOY (2009)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

As of this date, the 2009 ASTRO BOY stands as the only attempt to translate the charms of Osamu Tezuka's most famous creation into a feature film. ASTRO was a notorious flop in most markets, but it's far from a bad film. In addition to showing respect to Tezuka's original story, the filmmaker added a handful of interesting myth-tropes. The main objection to the film is that it simply wasn't the work of a genius.

I confess I've only read a handful of the manga stories, but I enjoyed the dubbed ASTRO BOY animated series in the sixties. As an adult, I esteem the great visual inventiveness of the cartoon, and I even have more tolerance for some of the show's corny humor than I did as a kid. My impression of the anime show is that, even while the robot-hero encountered assorted menaces, Tezuka had a recurrent trope that gave this kids' cartoon an adult theme: the realization that bad treatment of robots by humans is immoral despite the artificial nature of the entities being so treated.

The 2009 film is very forthright, even transparent, in putting forth this trope. While the Tezuka origin takes place in a standard future-city where the use of robots has become routine, the filmmakers set Metro City in the clouds, far above the polluted surface of the Earth. The Earth is still inhabited by people, implicitly those not wealthy enough to escape to the city. But the denizens of Metro City treat the surface-domain like a garbage-heap, disposing of their junk by tossing it below-- particularly the parts of non-functional robots. This stratification between high and low appeared in many previous SF-works, ranging from Fritz Lang's film METROPOLIS (which loosely inspired a Tezuka work of the same title) to "The Cloud Minders," an episode of Classic STAR TREK. The specific setup of Metro City most resembles a similar scenario in the 1990s cyberpunk-manga BATTLE ANGEL ALITA, though of course there's no way to prove any influence.

Another new element involves humankind's temptation with a stone of Good and Evil. Said stone is a meteor that falls to Earth and is harvested by the leading scientific institute in Metro City, headed by Doctor Tenma (Nicholas Cage) and the huge-nosed Doctor Elefun (Bill Nighy). Analysis reveals that there are two disparate elements within the meteor, both of which might be used as possible power sources for the betterment of mankind. Yet one element, the red one, is "evil" in the sense that it stimulates aggression in human and robotic entities, while the blue element stimulates healing. Elefun preaches that these power sources might even restore the ruined Earth to its former glories.

But President Stone (is he President of the country over which Metro City hovers?) is an ambitious political hack running for re-election. He wants to launch a war with the people on Earth's surface to make himself look like a decisive leader, and he pays the institute's bills as part of military research. The scientists have constructed a giant battle-robot, the ironically named "Peacekeeper," which Stone hopes to use to prosecute his needless war. The President forces the scientists to experiment with powering the robot with the red element. Result: the battle-robot goes berserk, and before it can be turned off, it kills young Toby, son of Doctor Tenma.

Tenma is so distraught at losing his only child that he steals the blue element and uses it to power a robot replacement for Toby, into which he downloads Toby's memories. For a time, Tenma convinces the robot-boy (Freddie Highmore) that he is Toby, but little things ruin the illusion, like the fact that "Toby" can fly using jets built into his feet. (The script's fuzzy on why Tenma installed weapons systems in this copy of his son.) However, even without "Toby's" input, Tenma comes to believe he made a big mistake, and he rejects his robot son. Further, when the soldiers in employ of Stone come looking for the missing blue element, Tenma allows them to take his creation away. Using his powers, the robot boy escapes the soldiers but falls to Earth, one more robot in the junk-pile.

Through contact with a group of feisty kids, the boy takes on a new name, Astro, and tries to conceal his true nature. However, he's outed by Hamegg (Nathan Lane), a Fagin-type who scrounges the remains of robot toss-offs to construct fighter-robots for a death-match tournament, to entertain the locals. Hamegg recognizes Astro as a robot and seeks to make him into an arena-fighter, semi-rechristened "Astro Boy." But in the resulting tournament, Astro learns the true extent of his powers, which end up benefiting him against the forces unleashed by the evil President.

The main characters from the manga-- Astro, Elefun, and Tenma-- are all reasonably well handled in terms of humor and drama. The villains, though, prove disappointment. Hamegg, though based on a Tezuka original (one named "Cacchiatore" in the dubbed anime), is remodeled so that he looks less fiendish, while original creation President Stone is flat and uninteresting. The Earth-kids are all bland cute-types, and though some of the support-character robots are amusing, none of them are as well designed as Tezuka's wild creations. But at least the character of Astro Boy has a combination of innocence and determination that does credit to Tezuka's template. 



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, metaphysical, psychological, sociological*

The final season of XENA, while keeping up a decent level of quality, becomes rather rootless in its more up-for-grabs mythology. I'd have to say that, if the main point of Seasons Five and Six was to give Xena's daughter her own quasi-Christian place in the Xenaverse, the show-runners flopped in that endeavor, and it didn't help things that the time-jump mitigated against using any of the mortal personages from the defunct HERCULES show. Like Nietzsche, who gets some play once again, they killed the gods and had nothing to put in their place.

COMING HOME (F)-- The writers don't bother to explain how Xena, Gabrielle, Ares and Eve get back to Earth from Olympus; fan-commentary attributes their transition to help from surviving god Aphrodite. Wherever they end up, some time evidently passes, for the three females are on their own with no comment about the disposition of Ares, who sacrificed his godhood to save the women, due to his investment in Xena. Then the heroines are summoned to Amazon territory to help the tribe repel an invading force. The big catch is that the invaders are under the command of mortal Ares, pretending that he's still a war-god. He's also being manipulated by the Furies, who desire both to become the new gods of the world and to avenge the slaughter of the old. A further complication is that one of the Amazons recognizes Eve as the former Livia, who slaughtered many of the warrior-women for Rome. In addition to keeping Eve safe, Xena must find a way to stop Ares without killing him. Her method of doing this, and of slaying the Furies with her god-killing power, is pretty far-fetched even for the Xenaverse. But Xena's bare-knuckle brawl with Ares is fun, as are her conflicted feelings about the former war-god.

THE HAUNTING OF AMPHIPOLIS (P)-- For the first time since being time-jumped, Xena and Gabrielle, accompanied by Eve once again, seek out Xena's home town, to see what's become of the locals and of Xena's mother Cyrene. The city's become a ghost town, and a surviving local claims that everything in Amphipolis became cursed by evil magic. For some reason the townsfolk accused Cyrene and executed her, but with no result. In the clouds above Michael and Raphael, two of the angels encountered by the heroines in FALLEN ANGEL, survey all that happens but vouchsafe no advice. After many encounters of the spooky kind, Xena learns that the source of the evil magic is Mephistopheles, whom none of the heroines have known about except indirectly, through his influence upon Callisto in IDES OF MARCH. He's apparently chosen to victimize Amphipolis not only to revenge himself on Xena but also to create some sort of beachhead for a war on Heaven. The demon, not content with also possessing Gabrielle, tells Xena she can't kill him without taking his place in Hell. Xena kills him anyway, but in the next episode she finds a way around her dilemma. Cyrene stays dead.

HEART OF DARKNESS (F)-- For a pagan Greek who barely knows anything more than the basics about the Jude0-Christian mythos, Xena seems to have some advanced research in order to figure out how to con a prideful angel-- that is, Lucifer himself-- into taking her place as the ruler of hell. Superficial though the myth-making is, it is fun to see Xena pulling one of her "long cons," seducing Lucifer into committing the seven deadly sins so that he'll be consigned to the throne of Hell. Eve registers a meager protest against using evil to escape evil, and Virgil, absent in the previous two episodes, is worked into the story to no great purpose.

WHO'S GURKHAN? (F)-- As if to make up for Season Four's horrendous TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE, this episode successfully interbreeds Xena's peplum adventure with a detective story. Xena, Gabrielle, Eve and Virgil visit Gabrielle's home town. They meet Gabrielle's sister Lillah and learn that eight years previous, Gabrielle's niece Sarah (whom of course Gabrielle's never met) was carried off by the slave-traders of a mysterious, rarely-seen warlord, Gurkhan. The slavers also slew Gabrielle's mother and father, so the usually peaceful heroine wants vengeance, and Xena guarantees to give her the opportunity. Eve is sidelined while Xena and Virgil arrange for Xena to be sold as a "harem wife" to Gurkhan. Gabrielle horns in against Xena's advice, and the two heroines must discern the identities of both Gurkhan and Sarah while figuring out a way to liberate the female slaves. Gabrielle can't take the warlord's life in cold blood but Xena arranges for his death through a trick. Sarah and Lillah are presumably re-united but not seen again.

LEGACY (F)-- Maybe Eve and Virgil escort Sarah back to Greece, because X and G are still hanging around North Africa for no particular reason. They rescue a band of nomads from a raider-attack, and the leader of the nomads, the chieftainess Karina, doesn't believe the heroines when they give their names. X and G learn that in the past 25 years they've become legendary figures thanks to the good press of Gabrielle's scrolls. Once the nomads are convinced, they welcome the heroines into their camp, and also reveal that the various quasi-Arab tribes are being menaced by invading Romans. Just as the episode seems to be shaping up to one more "Beat the Romans" routine, Gabrielle accidentally slays the innocent son of a nomad chieftain, and all of the nomads want her head. Naturally, Xena manages to channel all that anger against the Roman incursion. While neither LEGACY or the previous North African episode are outstanding as stories, the costume department excels in capturing the exoticism of the Middle East.

THE ABYSS (G)-- Like THE PRICE, this episode is something of a "defense of the ways of war." Xena and Gabrielle are back in Greece and have somehow hooked up once more with Virgil. They get waylaid by the Djindar, a made-up tribe of white cannibals, and like the Horde in the original PRICE episode this tribe seems utterly devoid of humanity. Both Virgil and Gabrielle are captured to become entrees, and Gabrielle is explicitly undone because she second-guesses her moves after killing an innocent in LEGACY. Xena manages to wipe out most or all of the whole tribe, which is rather refreshing in light of the reformation of the Horde's rapacity. Virgil survives but gets written out of the mythos.

THE RHEINGOLD/THE RING/ THE RETURN OF THE VALKYRIE (P)-- Apparently the extirpation of the Greek gods moved the writers to go poaching on Nordic preserves, but with dire results. This three-parter cudgels together aspects of two unrelated epics, BEOWULF and THE NIBELUNGENLIED, and on top of that it's also another, "Current Xena must undo the acts of Bad Past Xena." Modern Xena tries to leave Gabrielle out of Beowulf's summons to the Far North, where Bad Past Xena created a monster called Grendel from the spirit of a good Valkyrie. Apparently after Bad Xena's adventures in Chin, but before she united again with Borias and conceived Solan, the evil warrior princess rode into the Northern lands and met Odin, hanging himself on a tree due to his Schopenhaurean despair. Xena gives the King of the Norse Gods a kind of "Spake Zarathustra" rap and he recruits her for his valkyries. Covetous Xena steals the Rheingold and forges it into a ring, able to grant great power, but only to those who renounce love. Past-Xena is forced to leave the Ring on the finger of the monster Grendel, and then Present-Xena is summoned to keep the ring's power from falling into the hands of Odin, now turned into a corrupt Nietzschean. Oh, and when Gabrielle follows Xena, the young heroine befriends a Norsewoman named Brunnhilda, but Brunnhilda wants to be more than just friends. Gabrielle is put into the position of the Brunhild of the NIBELUNGENLIED, where she's surrounded by protective flames-- but it's not no scuzzy MALE champion who releases Gabby from durance vile. Messy though the scenario is, Xena does undo her past evil and doesn't bring about any "twilight of the gods" with the Norse deity best known for the story.

OLD ARES HAD A FARM (F)-- Stop me if you've heard this one, but Xena and Gabrielle walk into a bar, and-- beat up on everyone there. Of course, all the occupants are cutthroats in the service of warlord Gasgar, all united to collect a bounty on the head of now-mortal Ares. X and G take him to an abandoned farmhouse where Xena's family once lived, near a town called Ipeiros, nowhere near Amphipolis. The ladies help Ares fix up the run-down place, which allows the three performers to put aside sword-and-sorcery for something akin to a Li'l Abner routine. The menace of the warlords is resolved with barely any violence at all, and Ares remains on the farm in the end, though he appears in other, more martial episodes later. A fair amount of the comedy is repetitive but I rate the "bed scene" as one of the ten best comic scenes on the show.

DANGEROUS PREY (F)-- Former Amazon Marga is slain by soldiers in the service of warlord Morloch, who's something of a "Most Dangerous Game" fan who likes to hunt human prey Xena and Gabrielle seek to organize the Amazons against their enemy, but Xena literally has to put the contentious Varia on a short leash. Xena and Varia end up being hunted by Morloch, who captures Varia and places her in a death-trap broadly similar to the one in CALLISTO. Morloch's one of the few male foes able to go toe-to-toe with Xena, so the way she defeats him is a slight surprise. Gabrielle hardly has anything to do here.

THE GOD YOU KNOW (F)-- X and G journey to Rome, informed that Xena's daughter Eve has been defying the current Roman emperor, the lubricious Caligula. But the heroines have been preceded by Ares. He reveals that his sister Aphrodite, unbalanced by the end of the cosmic force of "war," has fallen under Caligula's thrall, and that he may for some reason be able to siphon the godhood out of her. Xena is encouraged by the angel Michael to use her god-killing power to slay Caligula, but she must also figure out some way to liberate Aphrodite. However, Xena doesn't move fast enough to suit Michael, who moves to slay Aphrodite so that she won't make Caligula a full god and thus interfere with the spread of the Eli religion. Xena stops Michael and almost kills him, but the power of Eli removes Xena's god-killing power and Michael disappears. Still, Eli's mission is imperiled because Caligula completes his godhood-sapping, so that he becomes a god and Aphrodite becomes mortal (though she regains her memory). Xena, this time with no help from Heaven, must find a way to slay Caligula, less for the Eli-cult and more to preserve Eve's life. It's a lively episode but undermined by confused plotting.

YOU ARE THERE (F)-- Though this is mostly a comedy episode-- as well as the one that most overtly broaches the subtext question-- it's not nearly as silly as most funny XENA episodes. TV reporter Nigel and his unseen cameraman appear, with no fear whatever of anachronism, in Xena's world, and some scenes even depict Nigel's guests in a TV studio being interviewed. Nigel has heard rumors that Xena is planning to attack Odin to obtain the Golden Apples of Immortality, and the reporter seeks to find out why, theorizing that she hopes to return Ares to Olympus and to reign at his side. Xena won't reveal her plans, and Nigel pursues other interviewees with his aggressive style, with some amusing results, as when peace-minded Eve ends up punching him out. Since it's germane to the general evolution of the storylines, I'll give the game away: Xena does get an immortality-apple and re-god Ares-- but she does the same for Aphrodite, because the forces of love and war must have cosmic incarnations in order to spread their influence to mortals. 

PATH OF VENGEANCE (F)-- No good deed goes unpunished. Though the season started with mortal Ares making war on the Amazons, his first move upon regaining his godhood is to beguile the women warriors into becoming his new pawns, launching an offensive against Rome. But the new emperor (not named, though implicitly Claudius) has liberalized his treatment of the Eli-cult, which may signal a shift in the Xenaverse in the real world's transformation of pagan Rome into a Christian nation. On the emperor's order a Roman detachment escorts Eve to make peace with the Amazons. However, new queen Varia not only refuses peace thanks to the blandishments of Ares, she decides to try Eve for the murder of many Amazons, including Varia's sister. Gabrielle tries to challenge Varia's queendom in a big fight, but she loses, and that leaves it to Xena to sway Varia's vengeful heart and to foil Ares' plans. Eve ends her dubious career on the show by deciding to drop whatever progress she's made in Rome and begin proselytizing in Chin.

TO HELICON AND BACK (F)-- Call this one "the evil that gods do lives after them." Of the many gods Xena slew to protect Eve, one was Artemis, and now her half-mortal son Bellerophon (apparently not related to the guy who mastered Pegasus) is out for blood. His desire to kill Xena and Gabrielle is logical enough, but his main gambit is using a small army of masked men and fire-blasting catapults to attack the Amazons commanded by Varia. The script claims that Bellerophon got cheesed off because the warrior women deserted the worship of Artemis and so made it easier for Xena to kill the goddess-- which may be the flimsiest excuse the show ever devised. Since the enemy soldiers capture Varia, Gabrielle takes charge of a force to attack Bellerophon's fortress, but the Amazons are outgunned, and the resulting carnage provides the show's most harrowing images of war since the first season's IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? There's a subplot about Varia being used as Bellerophon's catspaw, but it's insubstantial. Inevitably Xena faces off against Bellerophon, albeit reluctantly.

SEND IN THE CLONES (P)-- It's another one of those stupid clip-shows that no viewer anywhere misses. In 2001, three TV-watching nerds work with scientist Alexis (Clair Stansfield) to create and revive clones of both Xena and Gabrielle. They succeed, resulting in lots of nerd-jokes and "fish out of water" humor. The nerds want modern versions of Xena and Gabrielle to battle modern forms of evil, but Alexis, who is a new incarnation of Alti, just wants Xena to serve her in a 21st-century reign of evil. Only a lively hand-to-hand beween Xena and Alti-- usually seen battling with shaman-fu-- saves the episode from being as bad as ATHENS CITY ACADEMY.

LAST OF THE CENTAURS (F)-- Frankly, I hadn't seen the centaurs and Amazons together in a story for so long, I didn't remember how things were between the two tribes, nor what role Xena's old lover Borias played in the rapprochement with the two groups (though the viewer gets a belated summation late in the episode). But the ghost of deceased Amazon Ephiny beseeches the help of X and G to help her son, the Centaur Xenan, against the warlord Belach. Belach, it seems, is the now-grown son of Borias, and he hates centaurs partly because his father revered them. Bad Xena was partly responsible for Belach's negative opinion of Borias, since the warrior princess stole Belach's father from his mother. This is a nice little melodrama with a little less action than the average episode.

WHEN FATES COLLIDE (P)-- Though the Fates were perfectly willing to rewrite all of reality to benefit Xena in REMEMBER NOTHING, they don't like it so much when the shade of Julius Caesar escapes Tartarus (thanks in part to Xena having killed Hades) and redoes the loom of Fate for his own purposes. This time, the evil emperor doesn't betray Xena as he did in DESTINY, but he makes her his consort in Rome. Yet, apparently to hedge his bets, Caesar also makes common cause with Alti. But of course this playwright named Gabrielle comes mooching around. It's a pretty confused plot and of course everything goes back to the original cosmos, with no new insights into character or history. There's a small reward in that Ted Raimi gets to play a non-Joxer support character.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS (F)-- While X and G are on their way to Thebes to drop off the Helmet of Hermes-- no reference as to who gave the object to them or who they're giving it to-- Gabrielle wonders what kind of birthday gift she'll get from her warrior-BFF. The heroines interrupt a sacrificial ritual, in which "zealots" try to execute a young woman named Genia (possibly named for Classical sacrifice-victim Iphigenia). However, once liberated, Genia claims that no matter what the heroines do, she plans to sacrifice herself to her god. In order to dispel the young woman's foolish devotion, X and G take Genia to Aphrodite's temple, so she can see how superficial gods are. All four of them end up going to Thebes, and there the warlord Ferragus seeks to steal the Helmet, since it confers on its wearer the power to fly. The high points of this comedy episode are the jousting between X and G, though there's a "serious" meaning in terms of getting Genia to choose her own path.

SOUL POSSESSION (P)-- Since it's all about the modern-day Xena-cultists finding a lost Gabrielle-scroll, shouldn't they have called it "scroll possession?" Anyway, the new scroll purports to tell an interstitial story following Season 4's SIN TRADE, Xena is convinced by a vision that Gabrielle is still alive, and she tries to convince the mourning Joxer of this fact. But Xena doesn't know where to start looking, and Ares offers to find the supposedly living Gabrielle-- if Xena will marry him. Xena goes along with the charade, says the scroll, only to find out what Ares already knows about what happened to Gabrielle and Hope (who was carrying Ares' child). However, to gain that intel, Xena negotiates a deal where Ares must leave the two heroines in peace in the ancient world, but the scroll binds her to the war-god in a future life. Thus, back in the 21st century, Ares, still hanging around since being released in XENA SCROLLS, claims the binding scroll, but has to fight the current incarnation of Xena in the body of Harry. Ares switches the soul of Xena into the body of Alice, and that of course leads to his final defeat. It's the last of the silly-pants episodes, but is bearable for giving Ted Raimi one more outing.

A FRIEND IN NEED PTS 1-2 (F)-- I guess the show-runners must have felt they'd wrapped up all the extant plot-threads in the Xenaverse, because for the show's finale, they decided to remake THE DEBT. The remake substitutes some Japanese people who were done dirty by "Bad Xena," in between her part of the DEBT II narrative and her segment of ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE, which begins with Bad Xena leaving the Far East for the Siberian North. Perhaps this "Bad Xena" has been softened by the influence of Lao Ma, even though the former has reunited with Borias to continue their depredations. Bad Xena attempts to ransom Akemi, a young Japanese noblewoman, but despite her mercenary motives, the would-be evildoer becomes enthralled by Akemi's graceful spirit. Akemi guides Xena into fighting a duel to acquire a magical katana which will later become important to the story.

"Current Xena" and her battling bard buddy are summoned to Japan by a monk trading on the name of the long deceased Akemi. Together the heroines save a burning city from the onslaught of a Japanese warlord. But Xena's saving of the city now doesn't erase her past actions.

Back to Bad Xena: on the way to the house of Akemi's father to collect a ransom, the persuasive young woman also talks Xena into teaching her the nerve pinch. When Akemi confronts her father Yodoshi, she kills him with the pinch in vengeance for various unspecified crimes. Then Akemi commits hari kari, forcing the reluctant warrior princess to finish Akemi off to end her suffering. However, the killing of Yodoshi makes his evil spirit into an angry ghost, and after Bad Xena accidentally sets the city on fire, the Yodoshi-ghost collects all the slain spirits and prevents them from going on to the afterlife.  

Good Xena's only way of battling Yodoshi is to let herself be slain, though with the plan of her mortal being revived in the nick of time. Xena's spirit meets that of Akemi on some astral plane controlled by the Yodoshi-ghost, and soon Xena also meets, and is humbled by, Yodoshi, though she only feigns to give in for good. Gabrielle and a ghost-hunter, Harukata, join Xena on the spirit plane but neither they nor Xena can slay Yodoshi. Before Harukata expires, he tells the heroes to prevent Yodoshi from accessing "the Fountain of Power." The good guys are not able to prevent the ghost-warrior from upping his power-level, and Yodoshi consumes the spirit-form of his rebellious daughter. But Gabrielle is able to get some of the fountain-water to Xena, so that she can fight and defeat Yodoshi on his level. The downside is that even though Xena frees the slain spirits from Yodoshi's gullet, she can't allow Gabrielle to resuscitate her body or the spirits won't be able to enter "a state of grace." So Xena sacrifices herself for this belatedly mentioned atrocity and Gabrielle vows to pursue the life of a warrior woman alone, with Xena still united to her in a spiritual sense.

The final XENA episode is colorful and action-packed, and the performances are typically soulful. But despite fair potential, Akemi and her evil father lack the symbolic resonance of their rough analogues from THE DEBT, Lao Ma and Ming Tien. And the make-work feel of the Japanese atrocity undermines the hypothetical sacrificial culmination of Xena's life.

Though my mythicity-ratings of the XENA episodes matter only to me, my argument that most seasons had on average four-five stories with strong myth-discourse demonstrates that the producers and writers had largely exhausted their creativity by Season Six. I may expound on a separate ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE as to the overall significance of this fan-favorite (but critically overlooked) TV series.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

At the end of my review of GOTHAM SEASON THREE, I said:

My recollection is that the next two seasons maintain this same overheated level of storytelling. 

 What an understatement that was!

I gave the first three season "fair" mythicity ratings, but Season Four is an unholy mess in all respects. I don't intend to check, but it feels as if there was some huge staff upheaval behind the scenes, and all the writers could do was to tread water.

The trope that served GOTHAM best in the second and third seasons was that of "the madhouse taking over normal life." In addition to the villains of the show's subordinate ensemble-- Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman-- those seasons introduced a half-dozen of well-known comics characters: Mister Freeze, Firefly, Poison Ivy (technically in Season 1 but in a non-villainous role), The Mad Hatter, a new version of Scarecrow, and the delightfully evil Hugo Strange. Even if Gotham's "normalcy" was a token thing at best, it was certainly more fun to see these weirdos romping about, compared to mobsters shafting one another or killing innocents with no reprisal. Back in the day I wasn't sure that these characters might not get some decent development.

However, in all likelihood the writers were told to build up only the three ensemble-fiends, so that none of the six lesser subordinates got much attention. Poison Ivy, who as I said had been tangentially introduced in the first season, finally mutates into a plant-woman in Season 4, but she just kills a few people, fights a little with Catwoman, and disappears with no closure-- while the other five are confined to "stooge roles." This is also partly due to an emphasis on "Maybe-Joker" Velasca, who had some good Ledger-esque scenes in previous seasons and here becomes a uniting force for most of the weirdies. Cameron Monaghan still does well with the scenes he's given but there's a strong sense of running in place, especially when Maybe-Joker turns out to have a twin brother whom he can torment and then transform into his own likeness. Penguin and Riddler also get a lot of scenes but they're usually spinning their wheels, Riddler because he falls in love with Jim Gordon's former flame Lee and Penguin because he thinks his crime-rule threatened by the daughter of crime-boss Carmine Falcone. Penguin also has a couple of episodes during which he's forced to serve time in the same asylum bossed by Valesca, and though it's a dubious pairing, at least Taylor and Monaghan strike the right sparks.

A couple of other comics-villains debut as well-- versions of Professor Pyg and Solomon Grundy-- but all are overshadowed by the badness of Sofia Falcone (Crystal Reed). She leaves her father's palatial estate with some plan to take over Gotham's underworld from Penguin. But the scripts never really tell us what motivates her. Does she just have daddy issues, trying to imitate her notorious father? The first day she meets Jim Gordon, she initiates a booty call. But is she actually attracted to him, as it sometimes seems, or does she intend to avenge the brother whom Gordon slew? She gratuitously maims Lee's hand: is this just business, or was she jealous of Lee and Gordon? It's a relief when she gets knocked off. This stands in contrast to Ra's Al Ghul, who finally reveals his true interest in Bruce Wayne-- the young man being the only person able to end the mastermind's immortal life-- except that for various reasons, he comes back from the dead to spin some more wheels. 

Not much better are the Three Little Ho's: crazy Barbara Kean, stoic Tabitha Galavan, and capricious Selina Kyle. They're given leave to operate under Penguin's rule-- in which, BTW, criminals can be licensed to steal if they get Penguin's approval. But wait; didn't Tabitha kill Penguin's mother? Why does he seem to forget about that until the season's final episode? And why does Penguin's calculated vengeance upon Tabitha hinge upon an event he could not possibly have foreseen-- namely, the recrudescence of the dead gangster Butch into the form of Solomon Grundy? Barbara, for her part, gets uncomfortably shoehorned into the Ra's Al Ghul plot, and since the scripts give actress Erin Richards nothing but stupid lines, she delivers them by shouting most of the time.

The heroes get little better treatment. Gordon, Bullock and Alfred have little to do but react to the latest ploys of Ra's and Maybe-Joker. Bruce is given a potentially decent arc in that he almost committed murder under the control of Ra's, and in reaction to his guilt, he begins to act like an entitled douche, particularly toward Selina. He eventually gets his head on straight, and the scenes between Mazouz and Bicondova are close to being the only interactions with any emotional nuance.  

I assume that by Season Four the bloom was off the rating-rose, because the final season gets just 12 episodes. I do have two or three favorable memories of Season Five-- which is more than I did of Four-- but it's unlikely that in just a dozen installments, the showrunners managed to up their game back to the previous "fair" level.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I know, I know, I've said before that I'd found the absolute worst sword-and-sorcery movie. "This time for sure!"

Even with a lot of bad S&S films, I've sometimes been able to give the filmmakers a slight benefit of the doubt. I've sometimes been able to look at how the writers or directors incorporated some nugget of myth or magic from much better stories into their cheapjack, done-for-dough operations. But not here, not in this pasta tomfoolery from director Tonino Ricci (of the far more enjoyable STORY OF KARATE, FISTS, AND BEANS) and writer Tito Carpi (of several much better spaghetti westerns). Since these two men weren't utter incompetents, I have to assume they had little to no interest in the barbarian warrior genre and just did the absolute least they could get away with.

So when Thor is a child (though we don't see him as a child), his barbarian father is killed by rival barbarians commanded by a nebulous chief named Gnut. We barely even see Gnut enough to get time to boo him, and though we see the father killed we're mostly told about the situation through a narrator. Said narrator is also the wizard Etna, who takes charge of Thor and raises him offscreen until he's old enough to be played by Conrad Nichols (despite the name, also Italian, like the rest of the cast). 

We don't know anything about the wizard Etna, except that he likes to sit in trees, where he sometimes changes himself into an owl when the camera's off him. Etna claims to know the will of the supreme god Teisha, who has decreed that Thor has some great destiny to be a leader of men. Thor must find the hidden sword of his father (why didn't the father have it with him when he died?), and with that maybe-magic blade, Thor can kill his father's killer and bring peace to the land, Oh, and there's something about "golden seeds," which I think were just ordinary seeds that were going to foster the practice of agriculture in the primitive world.

This very basic setup might have been pardonable had any of Thor's fights with bad barbarians been even a little bit bracing. But they're all clumsy and poorly shot. Also, when there's some bit of barely explained magic-- some opponent somehow uses magic to blind Thor-- Etna, who barely aids Thor at any other time, shows up to cure the hero's eyes before he even has time to cope with his disadvantage. It also doesn't help that the sword Thor finds-- actually a double-bladed axe-- has more acting-ability than Conrad Nichols does.

Wrapping up as quickly as possible, Thor also perpetrates two rapes of defenseless women, both with the full approval of Etna. One female is a slave woman liberated after Thor kills the bad barbarians who hold her prisoner. Thor takes her back to his cave, and despite Etna's advice that he can do anything he wants to a slave, it's Thor's first time and he's relatively restrained before the camera cuts away. The slave girl is then never seen again. On Etna's advice Thor then trespasses into the local Amazon territory, so that he's attacked by some very short, delicate-looking swordswomen. Thor kills a couple of them and rapes a third, Ino, whom he takes back to his cave to become the mother of his children. For no particular reason, Ino falls in love with Thor and helps him in his climactic confrontation with Gnut. The validation of rape, without even the hint of a Stockholm syndrome as an excuse, is a stupid reason for any film to stand out, but that's the only aspect of THOR worth noting.


CONRAD NICHOLS conquered the spot for "worst sword and sorcery film."

Riddle me this, CORY MICHAEL SMITH-- why were you the least interesting villain in "Gotham?"

ADRIENNE WILKINSON, warrior proselytizer.

There he goes, the 2009 ASTRO BOY.

WILLIAM "S" BOYD put a letter in his name so no one would confuse him with the Hopalong Cassidy guy.

JEFFREY COMBS didn't make anyone believe in magic.