Friday 26 February 2021

Netflix drops trailer for SHADOW & BONE, based on Leigh Bardugo's GRISHAVERSE novels

Netflix have released a trailer for their upcoming adaptation of Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse novels, Shadow and Bone.

The Grishaverse comprises seven novels published in three series: the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising); the Six of Crows duology (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom); and the Nikolai Duology (King of Scars, Rule of Wolves). Netflix's TV version plans to adapt the entire set of stories, with the first season relying heavily on the first novel in the series, Shadow and Bone, as well as establishing backstories for characters introduced later in Six of Crows.

The first season will be released on 23 April. It stars Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov, Ben Barnes as Kirigan, Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa, Kit Young as Jesper Fahey and Archie Renaux as Malyen Oretsev. The showrunner is Eric Heisserer (Arrival, Bird Box, Hours).

A slew of well-known SF and fantasy projects are in development through Startling Inc., including THE BELGARIAD, THE DYING EARTH and RED MARS

Thanks to detective work by the team at, it's been revealed that a surprisingly large number of classic SF and fantasy projects are in development via the Startling Inc. production company. The company is run by Vince Gerardis, a producer on Game of Thrones.

Some of the projects have been known about for a while and some seem to be stuck in development hell. Most seem to be speculative options, with the realistic prospect of making it to the screen being unclear. Still, it's worth breaking down the projects on the list:

Ringworld (MGM/Amazon): based on Larry Niven's classic 1970 novel about a huge, ring-shaped megastructure completely enclosing a star. Optioned in 2017, it is believed this project was moved onto the backburner some time ago and is not currently in active development.

Wild Cards (Universal Cable Pictures/Peacock): see more here.

Dark Winds (AMC): A detective series based on Tony Hillerman's novel The Dark Wind. Originally in the works at HBO, but presumably sold on to AMC since then.

The Ice Dragon (Warner Brothers Animation): an animated feature film based on George R.R. Martin's 1980 children's story. In development since 2018.

Eon (MWM, formerly Madison Wells Media): likely a project based on Greg Bear's classic 1985 "big dumb object" SF novel, Eon, the first volume in the Thistledown series.

A Song of Ice and Fire (The Works): speculated by the Westeros team to be a live experience or show based on the novels.

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag (Phoenix): a project based on Robert Heinlein's 1942 novella.

Sandkings (Netflix): see more here.

Passengers (Groundswell/Endeavour Content): likely a project based on Robert Silverberg's 1969 short story about alien beings who possess human bodies at will. Unrelated to the 2016 Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence film.

Inconstant Moon (21 Laps/Picture Start): a project based on Larry Niven's 1971 short story.

Dry (Bruce Cohen Productions/MML): this is more ambiguous; possibly a project based on Neal and Jarrod Shusterman's 2018 novel about climate catastrophe.

Hawksbill Station (First Generation): a project based on Robert Silverberg's 1967 novel about a penal colony established in the distant past, from where prisoners cannot hope to escape.

Dayworld (Warner Brothers Television): a project based on the 1985 novel by Philip José Farmer where a chronically overcrowded Earth is managed by having only one-seventh of the population active at any time, spending the rest of the time in suspended animation.

Roadmarks (HBO): see more here.

The Postman (Playtone/Warner Brothers Television): a new take on David Brin's 1985 post-apocalyptic novel. The novel was previously adapted - mediocrely - as a film in 1997 with Kevin Costner.

More Than Human (Good Banana/HBO): an adaptation of Theodore Sturgeon's 1953 novel in which humans develop superpowers which they can blend together to create incredible effects.

OK (Anonymous Content): No idea on this one.

Arabian Nights (Tomorrow/ITV): Presumably another take on the classic mythological story cycle originally known as One Thousand and One Nights.

Rose Hill (Leeding Media): There's several possibilities here, including Julie Garwood's Claybornes of Rose Hill novel series (previously filmed in 1997 as Rose Hill) and Pamela Grandstaff's Rose Hill Mysteries series.

PLAY (Dimitri Vegas): No idea on this one.

Weetzie Bat (Stampede/UCP): A film based on the Dangerous Angels novel series by Francesca Lia Block. Ana Taylor-Joy, Nick Robinson, Theodore Pellerin and Keiynan Lonsdale were attached to star and Justin Kelly to direct, but there has been no word on the project since 2018. It might be that this is a new take on the same idea (since Stampede and/or UCP do not appear to have been involved in the 2018 project).

Clean (Anonymous): A surprisingly popular novel title, making it hard to pin down what it's based on.

Sleepless (Stampede): Most likely, a project based on Nancy Kress's Sleepless trilogy (starting with Beggars in Spain) about a new generation of humans genetically-engineered not to need sleep, who rapidly become far more intelligent and capable than "sleepy" humans and threaten to supplant them.

Up the Line (Village Roadshow): a project based on Robert Silverberg's 1969 time travel novel.

The Mars Trilogy (Fox): a project based on Kim Stanley Robinson's multi-award winning Mars Trilogy of novels (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars); previously in development at Spike Television with J. Michael Straczynski, where it was dropped after being a poor fit for the network. 

The Belgariad (City Hill): a project based on David and Leigh Eddings' five-volume epic fantasy saga (credited to David alone, but in later life he confirmed his wife's full involvement in the writing process). As a major epic fantasy work of the 1980s, it's been developed for adaptation several times but never quite made it into active development. Its prospects have probably not been helped by the recent revelation that the authors were child abusers who did jail time in the 1970s for beating and imprisoning their foster children.

Billion Dollar Boy (Phoenix): a project based on the 1997 novel by Charles Sheffield, in which a spoiled rich kid from a future Earth is abandoned on a remote space station and has to work hard to survive.

The Dying Earth (A24): a project based on the four-volume science fantasy series by Jack Vance. Hugely influential and important, The Dying Earth directly inspired Dungeons & Dragons (which uses the same magic system) and the entire "Dying Earth" subgenre of science fantasy.

Flood/Ark (Anonymous/Epix): a project based on the high-concept SF duology of the same name by British SF author Stephen Baxter, about the Earth becoming uninhabitable when a previously-unknown body of water in Earth's mantle is released into the oceans, causing catastrophic global flooding and forcing humanity to adapt or flee the planet altogether.

Montmartre (Stampede): No idea on this one, except possibly a project related to Picasso.

RPM (Infinito): No idea on this one either.

It's likely only a small number of these will ever make it to the screen, and it'll be interesting to see which ones.

George R.R. Martin's WILD CARDS TV series moves from Hulu to Peacock; SANDKINGS in development at Netflix

Thanks to detective work by the team at, it appears that the long-percolating TV version of the Wild Cards shared universe has moved home. Previously in the works as an NBC-Hulu collaboration, it now appears to have found a new home at NBC's Peacock streaming service.

Peacock launched last April in the United States and is heavily reliant on legacy programming such as The Office and Parks & Recreation. It is unsurprising that they would be looking to bolster their lineup with original fare, and the Wild Cards universe gives them a large roster of superhero characters to develop shows around.

The Wild Cards universe was created by George R.R. Martin in the early 1980s as a roleplaying game setting. Starting in 1987, Martin began editing and publishing linked anthologies of stories from numerous writers in the shared world. Melinda Snodgrass has been heavily involved in the creative side of the universe, and writers including Paul Cornell, David Anthony Durham, Pat Cadigan, Emma Newman, Mark Lawrence, Roger Zelazny, Howard Waldrop, Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck and Walter Jon Williams have contributed stories to the setting. The twenty-ninth book in the series is scheduled for release this year.

Martin's other commitments preclude working on the show, so the heavy-lifting on Wild Cards is being done by Melinda Snodgrass (who previously worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a writer and script editor, penning one of the show's most beloved episodes, The Measure of a Man) and Michael Cassutt (Z Nation, The Outer Limits).

Meanwhile, the same source reveals that Martin's novella Sandkings is in development as a feature film at Netflix. Sandkings was previously filmed - heavily reworked by Melinda Snodgrass into a contemporary setting - as the opening episode of the second version of The Outer Limits in 1995.

JJ Abrams developing a new stand-alone SUPERMAN movie

In somewhat surprising news, J.J. Abrams is working on a new Superman film project at Warner Brothers alongside writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Similarly to the in-production The Batman, the film is envisaged a stand-alone project not related to the wider DC Extended Universe (their version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe).

After a few years of fruitlessly competing with Marvel, Warner Brothers have apparently reconsidered their ideas about a linked superhero universe, with a new approach which mixes a linked universe of films (comprising Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman 1984Zack Snyder's Justice League and the forthcoming The Flash) and the ability and freedom to revisit those characters in a stand-alone context with different actors involved.

Abrams set up a development deal worth $500 million with Warner Brothers in 2019, whilst Coates - a respected writer of both fiction and history texts - has enjoyed acclaimed recent runs on both the Black Panther and Captain America comic books for Marvel.

Some reports are suggesting that the film will explore the idea of an African-American (well, African-American-Kryptonian) Superman. There is precedent for this in the comics, where "black Supermen" appeared several times in alternate-universe stories about the character. The most substantial such take on the character is an alternate-reality version revolving around the character of Kalel, who like his white counterpart is the last refugee of Krypton. He is raised by the poor Ellis family and dubbed Calvin, and becomes the Superman of his world. He also becomes President of the United States, in an unusual twist on the familiar mythos.

Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Creed, Black Panther) reportedly met with Warner Brothers a few years ago to discuss a possible appearance as Superman in a project which did not move forward at that time. Whether there is scope for Jordan to be involved in this project is unclear.

Henry Cavill, who has played Superman in the DCEU since 2013's Man of Steel, reportedly was in talks to resume his role early last year. Apparently WB had earlier felt that Cavill had runs his course in the role, but reversed that decision when Cavill enjoyed an explosion in popularity due to his appearance in the television series The Witcher and several other film roles such as Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission Impossible: Fallout. However, it appears that WB's preference is to retain Cavill as a supporting player version of Superman in other DCEU films (likening his role to that of the Hulk in the MCU) rather than building further films around him.

George R.R. Martin's IN THE LOST LANDS in development as a movie starring Milla Jovovich & Dave Bautista

George R.R. Martin's 1985 short story "In the Lost Lands" is headed to the big screen. Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil, Alien vs. Predator) is planning to direct the film, with wife and favourite actress Milla Jovovich already slated to star, alongside Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Blade Runner 2049, Dune).

The story follows a queen who sets out to acquire the secret of shapeshifting, to which end she hires the sorceress Gray Alys (Jovovich), who embarks into the Lost Lands to find the secret, allying with the drifter Boyce (Bautista) along the way.

Anderson and Jovovich have become synonymous with solid, B-movie pulp in recent years and Bautista has shown canny judgement in his projects so far, so this could end up being quite interesting.

Thursday 25 February 2021

FINAL FANTASY VII gets yet another remake before the main remake is even finished

In welcome-but-confusing news, Square has confirmed that Final Fantasy VII is getting another remake which is much more faithful to the original 1997 game, with similar controls but a total graphical overhaul.

Final Fantasy VII Ever Crisis is (currently) a mobile-only game which will simultaneously upgrade Final Fantasy VII with new graphics, whilst also bringing in storylines and elements from spin-off games Before Crisis, Crisis Core and Dirge of Cerberus and animated film Advent Children. The game will apparently feature most or all of the content from these games upgraded to modern standards but playing the same way as the original Final Fantasy VII. Ever Crisis is slated for 2022.

Square are simultaneously remaking Final Fantasy VII as a modern, AAA action-CRPG in multiple parts. The first part, Final Fantasy VII Remake, was released on PlayStation 4 last April to critical acclaim and over 3.5 million sales in its first week. There is no release date set for the second part of the remake, although there are strong rumours that the first part will be ported to PC and X-Box later this year or in 2022.

In June Final Fantasy VII Remake is also getting a free expansion and upgrade called (get this) Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, which is a graphical upgrade for the PlayStation 5 platform. The upgrade adds a new storyline and mission revolving around the fan-favourite character of Yuffie, which brings Yuffie to Midgar during the events of the first part of the game. She doesn't meet the rest of the team, but does manage to get into trouble before escaping the city. The update should be available in June.

Square also confirmed a spin-off Battle Royale game, Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier (because you might as well turn up three years late to a party) is in development - bizarrely - also for mobile only.

There's a lot of news today, most of it interesting (if weird), but the absence of hard info on Final Fantasy VII: Remake Part II (or whatever it ends up being called) will be disappointing to fans.

DRAGON AGE IV pivots to being a single-player focused game

In welcome news, BioWare has been allowed to remove all multiplayer content from its in-development CRPG, Dragon Age IV, to focus on the single-player story. Previously the game had a strong multiplayer component, with some reports that the game was going to focus hard on the multiplayer aspects at the expense of single-player content.

The move reportedly came due to long-running complaints and grumbling from BioWare staff about having multiplayer features shoehorned into their games, which traditionally have been single-player, story-focused titles. This focus had resulted in their 2019 game Anthem being multiplayer only, but the failure of that project - BioWare announced yesterday that all further development on the game was being halted - seems to have caused a rethink at publisher-owner Electronic Arts.

Additional impetus for the move came when single-player action game Star Wars: Jedi - Fallen Order (2019) sold 10 million copies in its first four months on sale, smashing EA's expectations for a single-player-only game. The performance of other single-player focused games from other companies has also likely helped: Cyberpunk 2077 shifted 13 million copies in its first month on sale in December, despite numerous technical problems, whilst The Last of Us, Part II shifted four million copies in its first week last year, with Final Fantasy VII Remake apparently selling only marginally less (both feats being more impressive as those were PlayStation-exclusive titles).

The previous game in the series, Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014), launched with a multiplayer mode that was a fairly minor part of the game. Electronic Arts had mandated an expansion of this in the successor game, although apparently the massive sales success of the single-player-focused The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (which has now sold over 30 million copies) a few months later did cause something of a rethink. After design ideas bounced back and forth for a while, it was decided to refocus the game on the multiplayer aspect and the ability to monetise the game. This decision led to long-term creative director Mike Laidlaw to quit the company altogether. Development of Dragon Age IV has stalled repeatedly as the team were drafted in to help both Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) and Anthem across their finish lines.

It sounds like BioWare have won the battle to return to what they are best at, single-player, story-focused roleplaying games. Dragon Age IV - likely not the final title - is currently in development for a reported 2022/23 launch. Mass Effect 5 is also in development.

Tessa Thompson to produce Nnedi Okorafor/George R.R. Martin project WHO FEARS DEATH at HBO

Slightly older news, but I missed it when it broke: actress Tessa Thompson (Westworld, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Endgamehas signed a new development deal with HBO and has stepped into an executive producer role on the long-percolating Who Fears Death TV series, which has been in development since 2017.

Who Fears Death is based on the novel of the same name by Nnedi Okorafor. George R.R. Martin proposed a TV adaptation of the book to HBO as part of his long-term development deal with the streamer, following the success of the Game of Thrones TV series (based on his Song of Ice and Fire novel series). It was thought that the project may have been moved to the backburner whilst HBO launched a Game of Thrones spin-off show, Blood of the Dragon, which starts shooting in the UK soon. This news makes it sound like the project has taken a step forwards.

Thompson has set up a new production company, Viva Maude, and is also producing an adaptation of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (a short story collection by Deesha Philyaw) for HBO Max.

At the moment Thompson is only attached to produce, but may also choose to act in one or both projects if a suitable role is available and her schedule clear. The actress is currently reprising her role as Valkyrie on Thor: Love and Thunder, which recently started filming in Australia.

Who Fears Death also now has a showrunner in the form of Aïda Mashaka Croal (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage).

NEWS: In-production HALO TV series flips from Showtime to Paramount+

In a surprise move, ViacomCBS has flipped the in-production Halo TV series from its Showtime cable network to streaming service Paramount+ (a rebranded version of CBS All Access).

Halo has had an agonisingly slow development period, with Peter Jackson developing a feature film version of the video game franchise almost twenty years ago. The current iteration was greenlit in 2018 and began shooting in October 2019. Five episodes had been completed when production shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Production reportedly recently spooled up again for the final five episodes of the first season.

The move will likely frustrate Showtime execs and fans, especially as it comes after they reportedly had to abandon work on the Kingkiller Chronicle TV show - a prequel to Patrick Rothfuss's novel, The Name of the Wind - due to reported massive cost overruns on the Halo project wiped out their development budget.

Halo stars Pablo Shreiber as Master Chief, Natascha McElhone as Dr. Catherine Halsey, Shabana Azmi as Admiral Parangosky, Charlie Murphy as Makee and Jen Taylor as Cortana. It is now expected to debut on Paramount+ in early 2022.

Paramount reveals more information on STAR TREK's future on TV

On 4 March, US streaming service CBS All Access will be rebranded as Paramount+, a move that the company hopes will attract a swathe of new subscribers. The streamer is weaponising nostalgia on a formidable scale, recently announcing plans to reboot shows such as Frasier and Rugrats in an attempt to attract new (or old) viewers.

CBS All Access itself has enjoyed surprising success, wracking up 20 million subscribers in its first three years on air (reportedly a target the streamer had not expected to reach until several years later). Although not troubling the likes of Netflix (who have more than 100 million more subscribers), it's an impressive performance for a service with a limited roster of shows only available in the United States. Much of this success has been credited to the Star Trek franchise: every legacy episode  of the original series and spin-offs is on the service, along with new shows Discovery, Picard and Lower Decks, and the forthcoming Prodigy and Strange New Worlds.

The Star Trek team, led by Alex Kurtzman, has also several more shows planned, with one announced: Section 31, to be headed by Michelle Yeoh. However, that series has been delayed several times, reportedly being gazumped in the production schedule by Strange New Worlds. In a new interview with Deadline, Kurtzman has confirmed that Section 31 is currently on hold pending one of the existing shows finishing. The feeling was that the fan hunger for Strange New Worlds was greater than for Section 31 (fan anticipation for which is, it has to be said almost non-existent).

In the same interview Kurtzman also confirms that they have decided that five is the sweet spot for Star Trek shows in simultaneous production, and will not bring in a new show until one of the current shows finishes. Discovery is currently shooting its fourth season, Picard and Lower Decks are both filming their second years and Strange New Worlds is just about to start shooting its debut season, whilst Prodigy is wrapping production on its first season ahead of an anticipated mid-2021 debut.

Intriguingly, Kurtzman also confirms that Picard has a relatively short shelf-life, determined by the availability and health of lead actor Patrick Stewart, who turns 81 this year. What that shelf-life is, is unclear, but it indicates that the plan might be to wrap that show after two or three seasons rather than it being an ongoing concern, as Discovery and Strange New Worlds are.

Kurtzman also indicates that will no MCU-style big crossover plans for the franchise, with the plan being to keep the shows separate for the time being.

The move may be part of a decision by Paramount - which re-merged with CBS last year after a decade of separate operations - not to put their eggs all in one basket. CBS All Access was seen as being too reliant on Star Trek fans, whilst the plan now seems to be to bring in other shows and franchises to help boost Paramount+'s success.

Star Trek: Prodigy, is the next show to debut on the streamer. A 3D-animated series aimed at a younger audience, the show will have the first-ever all-alien cast in Star Trek, and will see Kate Mulgrew reprise her role as Captain/Admiral Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager in a recurring role.

New AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER projects in development with original creators

Avatar: The Last Airbender is to get a major relaunch, with original creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino heading up a new division at Nickelodeon specifically designed to expand the show's fictional universe. They have already announced their first project, an animated feature film for theatrical release.

Avatar Studios will develop new animated films, television series and spin-off projects in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender and its spin-off, The Legend of Korra.

Netflix are currently developing a live-action TV series based on the animated series. Konietzko and DiMartino were in charge of the project but quit last year, citing constant creative interference from executives. Recent reports suggest that Netflix wanted sweeping changes, including changing the ages of characters and possibly changing romantic relationships. These have met with a withering response from fans.

The new projects will remain in the canon of the original series and will expand the world further. It is unclear if the original voice cast will return, although most of the team did recently get back together for a cast reunion and seemed keen to get back together if needed.

Henry Cavill teases involvement in new MASS EFFECT project

Actor Henry Cavill has teased that he is working on a Mass Effect project.

The actor took a shot of him reading a blurry page of text whilst in the makeup chair for the second season of The Witcher. Fans quickly unblurred the text and discovered that he was reading a plot summary of Mass Effect 3 from Wikipedia.

Several possibilities arise. The first and most likely is that Cavill is voicing a character in Mass Effect 5. BioWare recently confirmed that the game is in development, and Cavill as a video game fan in general and a known connoisseur of CRPGs would likely be up for a role.

The second is that a Mass Effect TV show or film is under discussion and Cavill is in talks for a role. Although a Mass Effect live-action project has been rumoured for a while, there hasn't been any firm announcements since a film proposal with Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers petered out in the early 2010s. Although normally you'd expect a show or film to enter development and then talk to actors, sometimes the process goes the other way, so teams can go to studios with an actor with known star power already attached.

If that is the case, it'd be interesting to know whom Cavill would play. One would hope that a Mass Effect film or show would go with the games' gender-neutral casting, and allow both male and female actors to audition for the central role of Shepard (one alternative would be to ape the games by filming all scenes with both and allowing viewers to choose which version to watch, but that could be weird and expensive). Still, a Mass Effect film or TV series with Cavill as Shepard wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. I think I'd prefer him in another role though.

Whatever the case, hopefully we'll find out soon what's going on.

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Electronic Arts shuts down further development on ANTHEM

Publisher Electronic Arts has called time on the development of multiplayer shooter Anthem two years after its troubled release.

Anthem is a multiplayer action game with roleplaying elements, developed by EA's subsidiary BioWare. It was BioWare's first new IP since the launch of Dragon Age in 2009. The game looked promising in development, but was released with a relative dearth of content and the feeling that the game was chasing the lucrative model established by other online shooters such as Destiny and The Division. The game's development was famously troubled, with problems revolving around the use of the Frostbite Engine and a high turnover in creative staff, resulting in constant rethinks in direction and focus.

The game launched to a mediocre reception and sales. The development team planned a post-release schedule of development, hoping to win back fans after the fact in a similar manner to games such as No Man's Sky and Fallout 76, which launched in a poor state but won back fans after a constant improvements and revamps. However, the game's initial set of updates did not achieve this goal.

In late 2020, the team planned to relaunch the game as Anthem Next, with a top-down revamp of the game's features that would dramatically expand elements such as the story and lore and add a lot of new content. However, this new approach would require a hefty investment, with no guarantee that people would be drawn to playing the game.

EA and BioWare's announcement today indicates that they had little confidence a major comeback could be achieved, so have cancelled those plans. Anthem will remain as it is for the foreseeable future with no further work being done on it, with the team moving to help with the development of Mass Effect 5 and Dragon Age IV.

Third MCU SPIDER-MAN film gets a name and new release date

The third Spider-Man film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - after Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Far From Home (2019) - has gotten a name and new release date. Spider-Man: No Way Home will be released on 17 December 2021.

The film is directed by Jon Watts, who also helmed the previous two movies in the series, and stars Tom Holland and Zendaya as Peter Park/Spider-Man and MJ. Benedict Cumberbatch reprises his role as Dr. Strange from other MCU films, whilst Jamie Foxx reprises his role as Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and Alfred Molina reprises his role as Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2 (2004). The film has been widely-reported as a multiverse-based story, exploring parallel universes and combining characters from all three live-action iterations of the franchise (the MCU, the Amazing Spider-Man films starring Andrew Garfield and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy starring Toby Maguire).

The movie is the fourth MCU film expected to be released this year, with Black Widow currently scheduled to open on 7 May, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Five Rings on 9 July and Eternals on 5 November. However, the release schedule remains fluid because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; Black Widow's release date is particularly challenging because several countries (most notably the UK) will still have lockdown measures in place preventing cinemas from running at that time. Marvel already has five more films scheduled for 2022: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (25 March), Thor: Love and Thunder (6 May), Black Panther II (8 July), Captain Marvel 2 (11 November) and potentially Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. So far only Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is scheduled for 2023.

There is some speculation that this film might be the swansong of Tom Holland as Spider-Man in the MCU; Sony and Marvel got into a contract dispute before filming commenced, and although it was resolved, it is unclear what the terms were. Tellingly, director Jon Watts will move on from working on No Way Home to a Fantastic Four reboot in the MCU, currently tentatively scheduled for 2023. However, it might that Holland will continue in the role in future films made by Sony. There are also reports that the Sony/Marvel deal for No Way Home also included an appearance in one other MCU film, which hasn't happened so far.

Tuesday 23 February 2021


Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham - better known as gestalt SF author James S.A. Corey - have agreed to contribute a story to the resurrected Last Dangerous Visions, an SFF anthology conceived by the late Harlan Ellison in the 1970s but not published in his lifetime.

Ellison passed away in 2018 but his legal executor J. Michael Straczynski has proceeded with plans to publish the collection, including updating it with new stories from some of modern SFF's big names, as well as a debut work by a new author. Neil Gaiman had also previously agreed to work on the project.

The plan is to submit a copy of the complete work - which will be substantial in size - to publishers by the end of May this year for publication.

The project has drawn a mixed reception from SFF fans and commentators, some noting relief that something will at least be salvaged from the long, long-gestating project, others feeling the project should have been left to die. Others continue to express scepticism the book will ever be published, despite Straczynski's considerably more reliable reputation compared to Ellison. People will be able to make up their own minds on the merits of the project when it does eventually hit the shelves.

Sony confirm more previously PlayStation exclusive games headed to PC

Sony have confirmed that they will be bringing more first-party games to the PC platform, with post-apocalyptic survival game Days Gone (2019) next up in the rotation.

Sony previously ported Horizon: Zero Dawn to PC last year to critical acclaim (despite technical issues and bugs that took a few months to fully iron out) and reportedly strong sales. Days Gone will be the second game to make the jump "this spring" but Sony promise even more are on the way.

Games like the Uncharted series, Spider-Man, The Last of Us and, especially, Bloodborne have been eagerly requested by PC gamers, but it remains to be seen what other games will make the transition.

The Punisher: Season 2

Frank Castle has left his old life as the Punisher behind him and has hit the road, travelling across America in search of something else. A pitstop at a bar leads to mayhem and a bloodbath, as hired assassins try to take down a teenage girl for reasons even she doesn't understand. Castle becomes her reluctant protector, at the same time his old nemesis, Billy Russo, escapes from custody back in New York and goes on a new rampage.

The first season of The Punisher wasn't part of The Plan that Netflix had originally developed with Marvel, but emerged due to the overwhelmingly positive reception to Jon Bernthal's portrayal of the character in a guest spot on the second season of Daredevil. The result was a very strong season of television (and a notable improvement in the Netflix-MCU's form at a time when the franchise seemed to be declining hard), although also one that seemed to leave it in up in the air where a second season could have gone.

The second season, intriguingly tries to do two things simultaneously. The first is tell a completely new story totally divorced from any previous events. In this storyline, a bunch of killers are on the trail of Amy (Giorgia Whigham), a petty young criminal who has stumbled across a secret which...isn't that big a deal, actually, but by the time that comes out the mayhem has escalated out of control (an interesting take the show doesn't really explore much). Frank's latent paternal instincts kick in and he ends up agreeing to protect Amy from her pursuers, though he grumpily insists throughout the season this is because they're now on his trail and his code requires him to kill them all before they can kill him. This storyline sees the pair targeted by born-again hitman John Pilgrim (a superb performance by Josh Stewart). It's a relatively strong story, although a bit overfamiliar: we're firmly in Logan/The Mandalorian/The Last of Us/God of War/BioShock/Terminator 2/Aliens territory here, complete with the kid breaking down the taciturn badass's barriers and him reluctantly tutoring her in weapons use and self-defence. But hey, the actors sell it really well.

The second storyline is a straight-up continuation of Season 1. Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) is in hospital, "hideously disfigured"* by Castle in the Season 1 finale, and suffering from memory loss and nightmares. Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), still recovering herself after Russo shot her in the head, thinks he's lying and biding his time for a chance to escape, an obsession that endangers her career. Russo - spoilers! - escapes and goes on a rampage, abusing the goodwill of fellow US military vets and a sympathetic psychiatrist (Krista Dumont, played by Floriana Lima), and a number of competing interests attempt to track him down, with Madani eventually dragging in Castle to help out.

Having two storylines unfolding in tandem which have absolutely nothing to do with one another is a odd take, but a strangely effective one. The Netflix Curse - the urgent desire to stretch a story out to thirteen episodes completely regardless of how much story you have - has laid low several of the Netflix-MCU shows but intercutting between two strong narratives means this problem is minimised, with some episodes developing both storylines and some focusing on one to the exclusion of the other. The problem of the season feeling a bit on the long side for the story it's telling is certainly still there (at ten episodes this would have been pacier and punchier), but at least they try to overcome it.

The season features great performances - Bernthal is stellar as usual, and Revah, Barnes and Whigham are outstanding - and pretty good writing, as well as effective stunt work. There's a few gunfights and action sequences that rank almost among the best in the Netflix-MCU (not quite up there with Daredevil's best fights, but not far off), and the visceral nature of the violence is at times uncomfortable, which for the Punisher is as it should be. The show continues to ask hard questions of government and military accountability - the plight of veterans left to fend for themselves is another story continued from the first season - and also continues to avoid giving pat answers.

The main weakness is perhaps a feeling of redundancy: the season spends a lot of time mopping up dangling loose ends from Season 1, which sometimes lead to repetitive scenes (Frank gets beaten up and shot - again - but ultimately triumphs; Madani gets in over her head; Russo goes nuts). The season also peaks early: the best episodes are the first three, with Frank on a road trip through Michigan and Ohio culminating in an Assault on Precinct 13-aping shootout at a police station. The rest of the season is still good, but more predictable.

The second season of The Punisher (****) is entertaining, though also brutal and hard-going at times. It is driven by excellent performances and better pacing than most of the Netflix-MCU shows, but sometimes repeats some motifs and ideas from the first season a bit too readily. The show is available to watch worldwide on Netflix now.

* He has, like, two shaving scars and a slight gash in his forehead which is barely noticeable.

CARRIER COMMAND 2 is surprisingly a thing happening soon

In surprising news - moreso because I completely missed it when it broke in December - a direct sequel to the classic 1988 strategy game Carrier Command is in development by the reconstituted MicroProse for a surprisingly imminent release date.

The original Carrier Command was hugely ahead of its time. An open-world 3D strategy game set in the 22nd Century in a vast archipelago of newly-formed islands, the game saw two robotic carriers dispatched into the archipelago to set up resource-gathering operations and scientific exploration. Unfortunately, one of the two carriers was taken over by a terrorist organisation planning to use the resources for their own ends. The player had to take command of the other carrier, gather resources and conduct combat operations against the enemy. The game was an early example of the real-time strategy genre but also incorporated elements of air and land warfare simulation (the carrier could deploy both aircraft and amphibious tanks), as well as economic simulation. By 1988's standards the game was hugely advanced and it won critical acclaim. It originated on the Amiga and Atari ST platforms (and was something of a selling point for the 16-bit generation of home computers) before being ported to PC, Amstrad, Spectrum, Commodore 64 and the Apple Mac.

The game inspired the 2001 cult classic, Hostile Waters (aka Antaeus Rising in the USA), although that was a linear, mission-based game rather than being set in an open world. In 2012 the game had a remake by Bohemia Interactive, named Carrier Command: Gaea Mission, which relocated the action to an alien planet. The game had a fairly mediocre reception, with criticism of the story, AI and pathfinding.

Carrier Command 2 features much of the same gameplay and structure of the 1988 original game, with somewhat retro-stylised graphics. The game will be controlled by an interface set on the bridge of the carrier, from which the player can access information ranging from satellite maps to logistics and supply chains, vehicle manufacture and weapons loadout. They can also plot the course of the carrier and fire weapons such as howitzers and cruiser missiles.

MicroProse, founded by Bill Stealey and Sid Meier, is a name from the golden age of strategy games in the 1980s and 1990s, during which time it publisher games including Civilization and Civilization II from Sid Meier; F-15 Strike Eagle, Geoff Crammond's four Formula One Grand Prix games, Master of Orion, Midwinter, Railraod Tycoon and UFO: Enemy Unknown (better-known these days under its alternate title, X-COM: UFO Defense). The MicroProse name was retired in 2002 by new owners Infogrames. Some of the old MicroProse team followed Meier when he left in the late 1990s to found Firaxis Games, who have since published the Civilization and XCOM revival series.

In 2019, the MicroProse name was revived by former Bohemia Interactive developer David Lagettie (Bill Stealey is on board as an advisor), who is planning to use the name to bring back a number of older IPs as well as new games with a military simulation bent. Other games in development by the publisher include Sea Power, Task Force AdmiralSecond Front, Regiments and Highfleet. Carrier Command 2 is being developed by Geometa Studios and appears to be their first game.

Carrier Command 2 is currently scheduled for release in Q2 2021 (April-June) and Geometa are currently giving in-depth updates on the game's Steam page.

Monday 22 February 2021

Wertzone Classics: Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas

Los Santos, San Andreas, 1992. Carl "CJ" Johnson returns home to Los Santos after spending five years away. His mother has been killed in a shooting and CJ is back for the funeral. It's not long before he gets sucked back into his teenage life of gang violence, though. The Grove Street Families are on the back foot, drugs are wrecking the neighbourhood and corrupt cop Tenpenny has framed CJ as a cop killer, forcing CJ to do illicit jobs for him or wind up in jail. But CJ's not one to take things lying down, and as his strange journey takes him from Los Santos across the entire state, to the hilly city of San Fierro and the desert gambling paradise of Las Venturas, he plans to get even with those who've wronged his family.

After Rockstar delivered the one-two punch of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City in successive years, they could have been forgiven for resting on their laurels a bit, phoning in a third game which took the player around another fictional city and told a rote story of the fall and rise of yet another criminal empire. Instead, they went big. Really big. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004) is to its two predecessors as The Lord of the Rings is to The Hobbit: a story so much huger in scope and scale that it's almost mind-boggling that it came from the same creative team.

The previous two games in the series featured a single city. San Andreas features three - each more or less the size of Liberty City from the first game - plus sizeable tracts of land between them. This includes hills, forests, farmland, a large mountain and a desert, not to mention several small towns located along the way.

But the game reveals its gigantic scope slowly. For the first 10-15 hours (almost as long as Grand Theft Auto III in its entirety, if you mainlined the story), the game is tightly focused on events in Los Santos, particularly in and around Grove Street. Riffing hard on Boyz n the Hood (1991) and the rap and gang culture of the district formerly known as South Central Los Angeles, this is a (very relatively) grounded story about the intersection between family, friends and gang loyalty, with rival gangs and the police complicating the life of CJ and his friends. Missions range from relatively hardcore stories of drug addiction to family matters (such as CJ's sister dating a Mexican gang leader, whom CJ initially dislikes but then befriends when he realises he's an honourable guy) to lighter stories about CJ and his friends reluctantly helping a fellow gang member break into the rap game, despite a lack of any discernible musical talent.

The story pivots hard into an unexpected, bloody betrayal, which sees CJ exiled from Los Santos and forced to work for Officer Tenpenny's corrupt cop unit out in the sticks around Mount Chiliad, during which time he befriends an aging hippy named "The Truth" and then a psychotic criminal named Catalina (who previously appeared as the main villain of Grand Theft Auto III). Eventually, he earns the respect of a Yakuza crime lord named Woozie by beating him at racing, which in turn leads CJ to the city of San Fierro (based on San Francisco, complete with a surprisingly-underused Golden Gate Bridge analogue) and the establishment of his own business empire. Further events lead him into the deserts and badlands of north-eastern San Andreas and then the casino city of Las Venturas. But CJ's heart remains in the hood, and eventually he has to go home and take care of business once and for all.

This structure neatly divides the game into four distinct acts, each long enough to almost be a full game in itself and each featuring its own supporting cast of characters. More surprising is that each of the first three acts has its own distinctive tone, becoming wilder and less grounded in turn. If the start of the game is Boyz n the Hood, by the time you get to Las Venturas it's gone full Austin Powers, with CJ roaring through the skies in a jetpack (that he stole from an Area 51 analogue, obviously), stealing alien technology and engaging in melee combat with an oversized dildo. The game handles this tonal variation quite well and even leans into its insanity; CJ explaining his exploits to his incredulous brother Sweet late in the game leads to an amusing tonal reset, which anchors the game back in the grounded urban conflict of the start of the game.

The epic and consistently entertaining story - as bananas and (deliberately) incoherent as it is - is one of the game's aces in the hole, a relief after the more predictable Scarface fanfiction of Vice City and the very loose narrative of Grand Theft Auto III. It's also told through entertaining characters with superb voice acting throughout, particularly rapper Young Malay as CJ, Samuel L. Jackson as Tenpenny, Chris Penn as Pulaski, Peter Fonda as The Truth, David Cross as Zero, Ice-T as Mad Dogg, Danny Dyer as Kent Paul (reprising his role from Vice City), Frank Vincent as Salvatore Leone (reprising his role from Grand Theft Auto III), James Woods as government agent Mike Toreno and Shaun Ryder as washed-up British pop star Maccer. After this game Rockstar would drop their reliance on using actors from TV and film, preferring more established video game actors with less of an ego (reportedly much more of a problem on Vice City than San Andreas, to be fair), but it has to be said that the celebrity voice actors here all do sterling work.

Grove Street, a location so iconic that it reappears in both Grand Theft Auto V and Watch_Dogs 2.

In terms of actual gameplay, it's business as usual, but there's a hell of a lot more of it. You can follow several missions at any one time, as well as the usual battery of repeatable side-missions (paramedic, firefighter, etc). These are augmented by new options, such as burgling houses, engaging in dance and lowrider contests and acting as a pimp or a long-distance lorry driver. You can also play pool, basketball and poker, bet on horse races and slot machines and engage in car, bike and aircraft races. You can also modify vehicles to enhance their attributes for racing, the result of a new car system influenced by Rockstar's race-focused game, Midnight Club. Car physics are massively improved and all the vehicles are now much more fun and realistic to drive. Combat is also hugely improved, with Rockstar taking ideas from the game Manhunt and featuring a much better aiming system, along with a stealth mode (for the first time in the series). There's a much wider array of weapons, and CJ is more versatile in his character movement. He can now climb up and over walls, and can even swim (both Claude and Tommy in the previous games drowned almost instantly if they landed in water), as well as learning unarmed combat moves in three different disciplines. Even more insanely, CJ has a full range of body stats which you can improve by taking CJ to the gym or having him get tattoos. CJ can also eat at restaurants and can even date certain female characters in the game.

The game also adds in a whole new element with gang warfare. After a certain point in the game you can start taking over neighbourhoods in Los Santos from rival gangs, and you can get members of your gang to help you out. The gang warfare mechanic is relatively primitive - defeat three waves of enemies in each district - but it adds a nicely unpredictable element to the game and gives you more control over the game world. In friendly districts you'll be greeted with respect by passers-by and you can call on your homies to help you out; in enemy neighbourhoods you may be shot at on sight.

It's this which is the most remarkable thing about San Andreas: Rockstar both expanded the size and scope of the game outwards, but simultaneously improved the detail and fine texture of the game. You not only have a much bigger world but you also have a huge amount more to do in it, to the point that Grand Theft Auto III - only released three years before this game - now only feels like a prototype of a prototype of what the franchise could be when fully realised.

This mixture of scale and detail has arguably never been bettered than in San Andreas: later games in the series featured much bigger and more realistically-proportioned cities, and obviously vastly superior graphics, better saving options and even better combat, but shied away from the fine detail here. Perhaps stung by a few critics grumbling at CJ having to hit the gym so often (an exaggeration; four visits to the gym at the start of the game will max out CJ's strength, and only a few maintenance visits are needed later on), Rockstar stripped back those options in later games and also reduced the amount of optional side-activities, so you can no longer be a paramedic or firefighter. For that reason, San Andreas is sometimes cited as the zenith of the series in terms of scale and scope, despite its clearly dated looks.

The negatives about San Andreas are surprisingly few. It's dated nowhere near as severely as GTA3 or Vice City: in terms of driving, combat, roleplaying, writing, acting and design, it's a much better game than either of its forebears, and arguably in many respects it's a better game than its successor, Grand Theft Auto IV. The biggest weakness, other than the graphics (and there are a few mods which dramatically improve the visuals), remains the geriatric save system. Having to manually find a safehouse to save between missions can be a pain in the backside, especially during the stretches of the game when you're working in the countryside and safehouses are spread thin, leading to the temptation to do several missions in a row without saving to save time (this, invariably, turns out to be a bad idea). The game also pulls an annoying stunt a few time of replacing whatever favourite weapons or vehicles you've chosen to bring along with you on a mission with its own choices, making your (sometimes expensive) preferences vanish into the aether. The biggest problem is the lack of mid-mission saving: San Andreas has several massive missions divided into multiple stages and running into trouble at any point means a full reload and replay of the entire mission from scratch. This was a big enough complaint at the time that GTA4 - or more accurately, its expansions - finally implemented mid-mission checkpointing.

Some may also bemoan the size of San Andreas's map; I've repeatedly said how big it is, but that's only relative to the constrained map sizes of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City. Almost every open world game released since San Andreas has a much larger map, including Grand Theft Auto V (which also depicts San Andreas, albeit with just one city, Los Santos, and the surrounding countryside). However, San Andreas's map is certainly big enough, and making it bigger wouldn't necessarily make for a better game. Sure, it's silly that it takes maybe 10-15 seconds to drive between the outskirts of Los Santos and Las Venturas when they're supposed to be as far apart as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but just making it a longer trip between the two cities for the sake of it wouldn't achieve much.

One criticism levelled at the game is more of a feature than a bug for some, I think: the game's sheer size and scope sometimes means that narrative tension is diffused, especially when the main bad guys vanish for a good half of the game's length whilst CJ is pursuing unrelated side-missions. There is a hardcore set of OG GTA fans who believe that Vice City is the better game because of its tight focus on Tommy's misadventures and its ability to use humour without going as completely bonkers as San Andreas. Back on release I think I favoured this viewpoint, but almost twenty years later, it's clear that San Andreas has aged much more gracefully than its forebear, and is a more rewarding game to play, even if it sacrifices focus for scope (and its soundtrack, although still banging, is not quite as accomplished).

The question I asked in the reviews of the previous two games - is San Andreas still worth playing in 2021? - is much more easily and definitively answered here. If you can overcome the blocky graphics and limited save system, then yes, absolutely, San Andreas is still worth a decent investment of anyone's time.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (****½) is the biggest-selling game on the biggest-selling console of all time. It's the game that started to fully realised the potential of the open-world action genre that the previous two games in the series hinted at. An improvement over its predecessors in every department (and over its successor in many areas), it remains an unabashed classic of the genre.

Technical Note: As with the previous two games, I used Qualcom's Definitive Edition modpack to play San Andreas. This fixed some technical issues, updated textures, improved lighting and generally made the game play nice with modern hardware, as well as moderately improving the look of the game without ruining the original aesthetic (a perennial problem with more ambitious San Andreas mods).

Friday 19 February 2021

RUMOUR: Netflix closing on deal for new AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER showrunner

Netflix is reportedly closing in on a showrunner for their live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender

Albert Kim was previously a writer-producer and later showrunner on Sleepy Hollow and Nikita, and a writer on Leverage and Dirt. The reports indicate that Kim may already have the gig, or been offered it.

He inherits a poisoned chalice: whilst the prospect of a live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series remains intriguing, the project was tarnished when creators and original showrunners Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko quit last year, citing repeated creative interference and an apparent unwillingness by Netflix to allow them to make a faithful adaptation of the original show.

The original reports indicate that Netflix have indeed requested more changes, including aging up the character of Katara to 16 and reducing the age of her brother Sokka to 14. Aang is still 12. This change - although only rumoured at present - indicates massive changes to the character dynamics. It seems much less likely that an Aang/Katara romance (a key plot point of the original) will be on the cards, and it's less clear if Sokka's growth as a warrior and eventually a military strategist will still be a part of the story (although Sokka's age has only been dropped by one year, so it's possible this arc will still unfold). Some fans have speculated that the change was done to allow Netflix to cast an older actress for Katara, and the possibility of instead pursuing a relationship angle with the character of Zuko (a popular fan-ship in the original series).

In the meantime, Avatar: The Last Airbender has become the most popular animated series on Netflix since it started airing a few months ago, an impressive achievement for a show that is now sixteen years old. DiMartino and Konietzko have indicated a potential willingness to return to the world for more animated stories (similar to their previous spin-off show, The Legend of Korra), but it's unclear if there is a firm plan in place.

Reportedly, Avatar: The Last Airbender should start shooting later this year for a 2022 debut on Netflix.

HBO developing Roger Zelazny's ROADMARKS as a TV show

HBO are developing Roger Zelazny's 1979 novel Roadmarks as a television series.

Kalinda Vazquez (Star Trek: Discovery, Fear the Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time) will be the main showrunner on the project, as well as a writer and executive producer. Vince Gerardis, a producer on Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon, will also produce the project.

The project was brought to HBO's attention by George R.R. Martin as part of his long-term development deal with the network, which has also resulted in the long-gestating Who Fears Death, based on Nnedi Okorafor's novel, and Game of Thrones spin-offs The Longest Night (aka Bloodmoon, which was cancelled after an unsuccessful pilot) and House of the Dragon, which starts shooting imminently. Martin will be listed as a producer on the project but will not be writing or involved day-to-day.

Zelazny was a friend and mentor of Martin's, working with him on the long-running Wild Cards superhero anthology series and on a TV adaptation of Zelazny's "The Last Defender of Camelot" for the rebooted Twilight Zone in the 1980s. Zelazny passed away in 1995.

Roadmarks is about a transdimensional highway that extends through time and space, allowing people to travel to other places and other times. It was created by a race of dragons for reasons that are initially unclear. The novel is notable for its structure, which incorporates a linear story and a non-linear sequence of events that unfold in tandem.

HBO, notoriously, only has a limited slate for developing original projects compared to other streamers and cable networks, but is expanding its development profile with a view to having some projects on HBO and others as originals for HBO Max. It's unclear what category Roadmarks will fall into. This is only a development process, not a formal greenlight at present.

Adrian Tchaikovsky's SHADOWS OF THE APT fantasy series available in audiobook for the first time

Adrian Tchaikovsky's debut series, The Shadows of the Apt, is now available in ebook for the very first time.

All ten books have been recorded in full by actor Ben Allen and the first four are now available from Audible, Kobo and other services. The other six will follow later in the year. I reviewed the first four books (Empire in Black and Gold, Dragonfly Falling, Blood of the Mantis and Salute the Dark) about ten years ago and enjoyed them, must didn't press on with the series, a lack I must rectify.

Adrian (somehow) published these ten large, accomplished fantasy novels in just six years. Since then, he's gone to greater renown and success for his novel Children of Time (2016) and several subsequent works. He's won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, British Fantasy Award and BSFA Award for Best Novel.

The series is set in a world dominated by human societies and cultures which have taken on the traits of insects. The series begins with an invasion of the divided, feuding Lowlands by the Wasp Empire, and the desperate attempts to stop them by turning advanced technology against them. As the series progresses, new races are discovered, other powers rise to the fore and technology advances on, moving through the steampunk era to something more reminiscent of WWI. As with most of Adrian's work, the series is noted for its accessibility, impressive characterisation and solid pacing (the series is not one continuous ten-book saga as such but is divided into several sub-arcs).

The series:
  1. Empire in Black and Gold (2008)
  2. Dragonfly Falling (2009)
  3. Blood of the Mantis (2009)
  4. Salute the Dark (2010)
  5. The Scarab Path (2010)
  6. The Sea Watch (2011)
  7. Heirs of the Blade (2011)
  8. The Air War (2012)
  9. War Master's Gate (2013)
  10. Seal of the Worm (2014)

Thursday 18 February 2021

Marvel regains TV rights to the Netflix Marvel characters

Marvel has regained, in full, the TV and film rights to the characters from Netflix's Defenders universe: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke CageIron Fist and The Punisher, plus the crossover event series that linked them together.

Netflix collaborated with Marvel, via their ABC production arm, to make three seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones apiece and two seasons apiece of the other shows, plus the event crossover mini-series, totalling thirteen seasons of television produced in just four years. Netflix co-funded the series in return for transmission rights, but ABC - owned by Disney - actually made them, and a two-year exclusivity contract was put in place so that the no-one else could make shows or movies featuring those characters after the contract ended. Today, that limitation for both Jessica Jones and The Punisher expired, returning control of the characters to Disney and Marvel Studios.

Disney's plans for the characters remains unclear. Of the group, only Daredevil and The Punisher were known to a wider audience before production started, but the shows did bring a new level of fame to the other characters, particularly Jessica Jones and Iron Fist's supporting character, Colleen Wing. Based on the contract, it appears that Marvel are free to bring the characters back with the same actors playing them, but it's less clear if they can refer to the events of the Netflix shows.

One notable issue is that, so far, Disney have kept all of their MCU output in the "family audience" category. The Netflix Marvel shows were very much not in this category, with swearing, sexual content and much more graphic violence than we've seen in the MCU to date. One possibility would be to create bring back the characters but with a more familiar MCU style or tone. Another, potentially more interesting, possibility would be to keep the adult tone and create a sort of M-rated MCU, which these characters could inhabit alongside Deadpool, whose forthcoming third film (but first under the MCU banner) has been confirmed to be an adult-oriented film. One can imagines Disney continuing these shows on Hulu, which is rumoured to be taking on a more "adult Disney" role, and on the Disney Star service internationally (a sub-channel of Disney+ featuring somewhat more adult programming).

It's also unclear what will happen to the existing shows. Netflix are currently streaming all of them as normal, but their distribution rights are no longer exclusive and they could appear elsewhere, such as on a Disney streaming service.

Rumours have circulated that Charlie Cox's Daredevil (whose rights expired much earlier) has already been seen on the set of the third Spider-Man film, currently shooting, and the MCU powers that be have already confirmed that they strongly considered portalling the Defenders in from New York City at the end of Avengers: Endgame before deciding that would be too random for people who hadn't seen the shows, indicating that Marvel Studios are well aware of the popularity of these versions of the characters and are certainly considering ways to bring them back.

Marvel is not lacking for content on Disney+ in the meantime, however, with WandaVision currently airing, soon to be followed by The Falcon and the Winter SoldierLoki and What If...?, with Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk in production and Moon Knight, Secret Invasion, Ironheart and Armor Wars in pre-production (a further series, Wakanda, has been announced but is unlikely to go into production until after Black Panther 2 is released).