The Sunday Magazine: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Back at the beginning of the computer age the most speculative science fiction extrapolated the future in a genre called cyberpunk. They would correctly foreshadow a time when the world was more plugged into cyberspace than the real world. The problem is once the real world catches up to the printed page it is time to reset. What this means lately is that new writers are looking at recent developments and wondering what can be extrapolated from its new scientific infancy. Some of the best new science fiction has been considering what the new genetically derived pharmaceuticals might mean for the world. In my mind I’ve begin thinking of these novels as pharmapunk. I’ve been waiting for the novel which captures that. Autonomous by Annalee Newitz is that book.

I became aware of Ms. Newitz through her co-creation of the website io9. The name comes from a fictional piece of hardware which allows one to see into the future. The website focused on the intersection between sci-fi and actual science. Ms. Newitz was uniquely positioned as a forerunner of this kind of writing as she straddled both worlds. Autonomous is her first novel but she had written several non-fiction books as part of her early career in journalism. Her background comes out in every page of Autonomous.

Annalee Newitz

The plot follows two sets of characters as they travel through a post-apocalyptic world. This time the apocalypse comes in the forms of multiple plagues as nature rebels by thinning the herd. The saviors are the drug makers who come up with pharmaceutical solutions and save the world. Naturally, they also take over the world each controlling different economic zones. The world remains safe if they supply the drugs which keep it spinning. One of these drugs is called Zacuity which enhances focus while giving a pleasant emotional reward for tasks completed.

As it is in the present day there is a black market for pharmaceuticals where new drugs are reverse engineered and made illegally. One of our antagonists is one of these pirates, Judith Chen, who answers to Jack. After she starts to sell her underground Zacuity people begin to die. When she discovers that it is a real side effect and not a mistake in her production she wants to engineer a cure and expose the manufacturers.

Law enforcement in this dystopian future consists of robot trackers and their human handlers. The newly minted robot Paladin is put on the trail of Jack. Paladin’s handler is named Eliasz. Some of the most provocative writing in the early chapters is focused on the idea of property and who is owned by whom. Throughout the parallels between owning intellectual property and beings is compared and contrasted. Ms. Newitz plows some new territory within the area of robots being sentient with this perspective.

Gender norms are also highlighted as Eliasz feels an attraction to Paladin but can’t fully let himself go until he determines Paladin’s gender which in a manufactured being is meaningless.

Ms. Newitz places our characters in a Canadian setting where current Canuck touchstones pop up throughout. The more you know about Canada the more Easter Eggs you will find.

Autonomous brims with challenging societal conundrums served up with spare prose. Ms. Newitz writes in a straightforward manner similar to a news article especially when some of the words turn to the higher concepts.

I have been enjoying the whole idea of the pharmaceutical industry becoming the next bleeding edge of science fiction discovery. Autonomous is the first great pharmapunk novel.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Can you put some Humor on my Popcorn?

When I walked out of Thor: Ragnarok last weekend I had a smile on my face. I also remembered that I had the same smile on my face from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider -Man: Homecoming, and Wonder Woman earlier this year. The grin came from the fact that these movies had significant comedic moments added in with the typical heroics. It has been something sorely lacking from some of the bigger popcorn movies of the last few years which embrace a kind of steely-eyed nihilism paired with fatal bon mots.

I prefer a little fun with my popcorn because I am going to the theatre to escape into fantasy for a couple hours. If I want to be emotionally challenged there are any number of art house movies which will speak about serious topics unflinchingly; without a stitch of spandex in sight.

This past year has seen laughter become as big a part of the equation as action. Which was how it was in the beginning of the modern superhero revival begun with 1978’s Superman: The Movie and would continue into the sequel two years later. In fact, the comedic tone of characters like Lex Luthor were the things which were heatedly debated down at the comic shop. I would always be quick to point out that Star Wars was also played mostly for laughs.

When we entered the age of Computer Generated Images (CGI) the ability to bring almost any superhero to the screen became possible which has seen an acceleration of these stories being filmed. There can be a sameness to the “Hero’s Journey” which is the basic plot device a comic book movie generally follows with a few extra bells and whistles to make it stand apart. Humor would be the device but too much humor could also be detrimental. The best example is the series of Batman movies from 1989 through 2012.

Batman made his return to the movie theatre with two films by director Tim Burton in 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns. With Michael Keaton under the cowl Mr. Burton had a natural comedian to deliver his style of sardonic humor to great success. Which would lead to the next two movies directed by Joel Schumacher doubling down on the funny quotient with 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman & Robin. There was a clear demarcation between both sets of movies. Mr. Burton found his humor in the inherent comedy of a millionaire playboy playing superhero. Mr. Schumacher found his comedy from slapstick humor which didn’t serve the character at all. By the time Batman & Robin tried to embrace the funny it lost the plot amidst the punchlines.

In a reaction to the declining box office when Batman would return in the series of three movies directed by Christopher Nolan the funny was almost completely squashed. While Mr. Nolan’s trilogy is at the top of the superhero genre in the movies it isn’t funny; ever.

Which leads to the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with the release of Iron Man. Iron Man would come out a couple months before The Dark Knight would. The powers that be at Marvel decided they wanted to have a sense of humor and in no small part due to the charisma of actor Robert Downey Jr. they found the right balance of humor and superhero earnestness. Even then Iron Man kept the laughs dialed down.

It would take six years for them to find the right vehicle to get primarily funny again. Director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy defined the modern formula for being funny in a superhero movie. It came naturally out of the characters and the silliness of the situations. That success would lead to even more humor being injected into the Marvel Cinematic Universe which reaches its height with two of their most iconic heroes, Thor and Hulk, in the comic book version of a buddy cop movie. Director Taika Waititi, of Thor: Ragnarok, knowingly winks at the audience from beginning to end as the God of Thunder and the Green Giant save the day.

The DC version of the movie universe finally found its sense of humor with Wonder Woman which again flowed out of the reaction of normal people to the presence of a goddess. Director Patty Jenkins directed with heart and humor in equal quantities. With the involvement of Joss Whedon in the reshoots of the upcoming Justice League I am hopeful for more of this approach than the previous gritty to the core versions we had been presented with because I’ve realized I want some laughs with my saving the world, or universe.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Ladycastle

Every year I attend New York Comic Con it seems like I discover a new comic while standing on line for something else. This year it was author Delilah S. Dawson who was sitting at the Boom! Studios booth. In front of her was a comic named Ladycastle. By the time I had moved away I had the first issue in my bag. I would download the remaining three issues on my bus ride home to finish the series.

I knew of Ms. Dawson through her urban fantasy series on the world of Sang where she fuses steampunk, vampires, and romance together. They were good reads but it isn’t one of my favorite series in the genre. When I asked what Ladycastle was about I was told that the men all rode away on a quest only to be killed leaving only the women behind to defend the castle from the monsters. I am a fan of twists on fairy tale formulas so that was enough to get me to buy the first issue.

Delilah S. Dawson

What greeted me on the pages drawn by artist Ashley A. Woods was better than that description. It is what happens when the women of Mancastle realize they’re in charge; first the name changes. The opening of the comic is Princess Aeve who wakes up and immediately breaks into song. Through her overture we meet the other women in the story while we learn Aeve is only valuable to the kingdom as part of a marriage. Aeve is the prototype princess. When the news is given to the women there is a moment when the new Queen goes up and releases Aeve from her room atop the tower. She asks, “Can I come out now?” when she is told she can there is a moment where she stands in front of a mirror and cuts off her flowing hair signaling the princess is ready to do her part in the defense of Ladycastle.

Ashley A. Woods

Ms. Dawson crafts a fun twist as the women are not all bluster and bludgeon. They find more creative ways to deal with the monsters who show up. It is another in the string of pop culture female empowerment stories which have remembered a message can also be fun. Ms. Woods’ drawing style is assured with a fairy tale palette of colors it is what this story needs to go with the words.

If you like the television show Once Upon a Time or you found the movie Wonder Woman another fun tale of women taking charge I think Ladycastle will be something you’ll enjoy. The four issues of the comic have just been collected in a single trade paperback volume so the entire story is available to read.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Is It Suspense or Horror?

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Earlier this week in the hive mind that is Facebook a friend put out the following question, “Could you recommend a not bloody horror movie to watch with her teenager?” Always happy to participate in these kinds of things I immediately typed out “The Sixth Sense”. That was when it got interesting as one of the other worker bees responded, “that isn’t horror that is suspense.” As soon as I saw it I knew I agreed which got me thinking about the difference.

Alfred Hitchcock

I began my thought experiment with Alfred Hitchcock who was dubbed the “Master of Suspense”. His movies were all about slowly bringing a viewer along with a plot where the threads slowly braid together, then continue to tighten until the strands break. One of the best examples of this type of suspense is in the 1954 film “Rear Window”. The main protagonist is confined to a wheelchair and spies on the neighboring building. Early on he thinks he sees a murder. The rest of the movie is the question of whether he saw what he saw and if he did is he in danger?

Much of what we consider suspense these days are new artists riffing on the playbook Mr. Hitchcock created. Despite the sobriquet lauding his skill at suspense he also made two of the all-time horror movies; “Psycho” and “The Birds”. The difference in both is the monster is evident with our heroes trying to find a way to survive.

Which is what makes “The Sixth Sense” suspense. The movie spends its running time revealing a secret. The pinnacle of modern suspense is director David Fincher’s “Se7en”. The movie chronicles two detectives tracking down a serial killer inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins. As each murder scene is discovered it brings the policemen ever closer to the killer until the movie reaches a chilling climax. “The Silence of the Lambs” is another movie where the monstrous villain is but a piece of the ever-tightening tension within the overall movie. Because both are seen from the perspective of law enforcement instead of the killer we are drawn in as an audience to want resolution while it seemingly stays out of reach.

Horror displays its wares out in the open from early on. From the moment the young girl Regan is possessed by the demon in “The Exorcist” the question is not where is the monster but how can we stop this? It applies equally as well to the slasher automatons like Michael Myers of “Halloween”, Jason of “Friday the 13th” or Freddy Krueger of “Nightmare on Elm Street”. One of my favorite scenes in this movie is after Michael Myers has been stabbed in “Halloween” the young child says, “Don’t you know you can’t kill the boogeyman?” Just as he rises up in the background. The audience screams and the final act is underway.

There are elements of both horror and suspense in many of the films mentioned but in the end they tend to reside mostly on one side of the horror/suspense divide more completely. It is the time of year to for fear to be in the air whether it is through suspense or horror it is part of what makes movies magical.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Spider-Man: Homecoming

I’m used to getting behind on my reviews especially as the days left in the year seem to be greater than the amount of perfume on my desk. In this column I usually enjoy writing about whatever is right in front of me. Which is why I don’t know why I failed to write about Spider-Man: Homecoming when it was in the theatres. I’m going to rectify that since it just got released on home video.

If there is something that irritates me when they reboot a superhero franchise it is that they feel like they must repeat the origin story as part of that first movie. I think audiences have long passed not-knowing why a hero has gained their powers especially the biggies like Spider-Man. The first thing Homecoming got right was they didn’t do that. We meet Peter Parker as he narrates his cameo, into his phone video recorder, in Captain America: Civil War. This introduced this version of Peter Parker and Spider-Man way better than another version of Uncle Ben dying would have. It also sets the stakes as less world threatening and more neighborhood threatening. Another thing about this version I admired was returning to the teenaged high school version of the character. It keeps everything on a smaller level as Peter’s relationships get put at risk because of Spider-Man.

Tom Holland as Peter Parker/ Spider-Man

The villains are equally smaller in scope. The Vulture, played by Michael Keaton, and his gang are a bunch of guys who have figured out how to profit off the stray pieces of alien technology strewn throughout New York City in previous Marvel movies. They just want to keep the job they made for themselves. This is a small-scale conflict which never felt small as a story. When it all comes together in the final act the world itself isn’t at stake but a teenager’s world is what’s on the line and it works.

When we first met Tom Holland, the actor portraying Spider-Man, in Captain America: Civil War he felt right in those few minutes he was around. After Homecoming he is my favorite of the three actors who have portrayed the web slinger on screen. I think the choice to focus on a kid with superpowers, and explore that, works because Mr. Holland conveys the thrill of that through his performance. There is a scene very late in the movie where he gets a very unique version of “the dad talk” from his date’s father. His reaction feels authentic throughout as it catalyzes the action in the final act of the movie.

The final choice in the movie is whether to stay in the neighborhood or save the world. The choice is never in doubt because of everything that has happened before. If you stayed away from movie versions of Spider-Man because they didn’t meet your expectations give Homecoming a viewing I think it can bring you back home to the movie franchise featuring your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Fear the Walking Dead, A Second Look

Two years ago, I wrote in this column after the first four episodes of Fear the Walking Dead had aired, “Because right now the only fear I have is that “Fear The Walking Dead” will continue shambling along; a zombie incarnation of its predecessor.” All throughout that first season I was pulled through by characters who grew on me and it paid off with a back third of the season which had dealt with much of my annoyances laid out back then. Now two years later I enjoy Fear the Walking Dead as much as The Walking Dead.

One big reason for my enjoyment is I don’t know what is coming. These are all characters that do not exist on Robert Kirkman’s comic book page. Mr. Kirkman created a whole new set of characters. Early on they seemed two-dimensional. As time has passed the backstory has been filled in providing the emotional connection to the characters. In hindsight I must admit I was being unfair. When The Walking Dead came on the air I already knew those people on the TV screen. My feelings about them had already been determined years earlier. Fear the Walking Dead did not have that advantage and I showed impatience early on. Now at the end of season three the cast of Fear the Walking Dead have won me over.

Ruben Blades (l.) and Colman Domingo

On The Walking Dead most of the characters are clear-cut heroes or villains. It is only with the recent introduction of Negan that the concept of whether they are “heroes” has been explored. Fear the Walking Dead has done this with characters made up of deep gray hues. The mother who will do anything to save what’s left of her family. Actress Kim Dickens plays Madison Clark with a surety of purpose. Except in decidedly small steps it seems like she might be sliding down a slippery slope to something less heroic. Actor Domingo Colman plays the hustler Strand he is the quintessential out for himself con man. The interesting thing here is even through trying to look out for himself he manages to save others. The final character in this trio is played by Ruben Blades, Daniel Salazar. He carries the burden of his past life as a secret policeman in a dictatorship. He fled to the US with his wife and daughter to start over. As the dead have shambled into his life the old habits of his original life have proven useful. The open question is does he want to fully embrace them or find a way to keep as much of his new life he had before the zombie apocalypse. These three are the heart of Fear the Walking Dead.

The show by using its California and Mexico border setting has explored all kinds of modern themes like immigration, water rights, and Native Americans. Without a previous story to adapt it feels like the writing team has more freedom to create more contemporaneously. It has felt like they have a grasp on where the show is heading.

Next weekend with the season eight premiere The Walking Dead will celebrate its 100th episode. Two years ago, I didn’t think I wanted Fear the Walking Dead to reach the same milestone; now I do.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Tom Petty

I first became aware of Tom Petty when he played a show in July 1978 at the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton. I was deep in the middle of my punk rock infancy and the main reason I went to the show was because of the opening act Patti Smith. Tom Petty was an afterthought. Which is pretty much metaphor for his career. Tom Petty was the overlooked influencer of a generation.

Tom Petty (1950-2017)

That show in 1978 was momentous for another reason it was the night Mr. Petty’s heart stopped, for the first time. It was a typically rainy S. Florida July evening. The jai-alai fronton was old and the roof leaked; right over the space where Mr. Petty’s microphone was. It wasn’t until he returned for the encore and he stepped forward to touch the microphone that it became obvious. There was a thunderous pop through the speakers and Mr. Petty was thrown backwards; only to get up and finish the song. He walked off stage and it was months later I found out, reading in Rolling Stone, that he collapsed and had to be resuscitated. That meant the show went on while his heart was giving out. It is what made him stand out he just kept going and doing his thing.

Another by-product of that 1978 show was he had already won my respect before the encore. I was enjoying punk rock because I felt the rock played on the radio had left behind being made up of guitars, drums, and keyboards in place of synthesizers and orchestras. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were closer to what I found so appealing in the punk aesthetic. I went out and picked up his first two albums. Songs like “American Girl” and “You’re Gonna Get It” found a place on my mix tapes next to “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “God Save the Queen”. He was the radio-friendly punk rock star.

As the video age arrived with MTV Mr. Petty would produce some of the very best videos. He was an act for whom the visual added another layer to his musical vision. My favorite is the one accompanying 1985’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. Mr. Petty plays an especially sinister Mad Hatter menacing a bratty Alice sneering the title line where the acid drips from every syllable. The ultimate revenge at the end of the clip seems appropriate. As with so much of his career his isn’t the first name you think of if I say “best videos” but his were right up there.

That’s the story of his career one of quiet excellence. It is always those you end up missing most because their importance doesn’t become clear until they’re gone which is probably exactly the way Tom Petty wanted it.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Girlfriend Experience

There is so much good television across so many platforms it is hard to keep up with it. It sometimes like television series are becoming as numerous as new perfume releases. What often happens is when a few are dropped all at the same time one or two get forgotten about. Which is where my readers come in. Outside of perfume correspondence the highest number of reactions I receive are on my writing in this column on my television habit. I think it is an outgrowth of what we used to call water-cooler television where we would talk about an episode with our co-workers in front of the water dispenser. Now via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram we don’t have to wait for the next day we can watch and then go look for reactions elsewhere. The latest recommendation I received was on my review of the new book “Fly Me” by author Daniel Riley. I praised it for melding multiple styles into a compelling story. Which led a reader to send me an e-mail asking if I had watched the Starz series The Girlfriend Experience. I have now.

Riley Keough as Christine Reade

I was interested because of Executive Producer Steven Soderbergh. Mr. Soderbergh’s introduction to the world was his 1989 movie “sex, lies, and videotape”. That movie explored the closely intertwined nature of psychosis and sexuality. It was unique in its unflinching ability to allow the camera not to blink when things got uncomfortable. Mr. Soderbergh has gone to have a varied career with occasional forays back into this topic. One of those was an experimental film 2009 called The Girlfriend Experience. Using the hand-held faux-documentary style of filmmaking he follows a high-priced escort who offers her clients “the girlfriend experience” (GFE) where she provides companionship for days along with sex. This all takes place in the days leading up to the 2008 US Presidential election. It was a fascinating psychosexual context mixed with politics. If there was a consistent criticism it was that it felt like two different movies at the same time.

Steven Soderbergh

If Mr. Soderbergh was desiring to make a multi-layered story using differing styles the big screen was probably not the best place for it. The current television world was. In April of 2016 The Girlfriend Experience premiered. This story follows the life of a young law school graduate, Christine Reade, as she begins her internship at a prestigious Chicago law firm. One night she meets her classmate Avery and finds out she is making a living by providing the GFE through an escort agency. Christine tags along and eventually begins her career in the GFE business. Like the earlier Soderburgh movie this television version also melds many different storylines all tenuously connected; especially early on. There is the story of a sex worker keeping her profession private. There is a corporate espionage story. There is a psychotic stalker story. There is a twisted story about family. Finally, each of the sexual encounters play like little vignettes all on their own. Each are done where the camera is unrelenting with its view of it. They all eventually coalesce into a final payoff.

The Girlfriend Experience thrives because of actress Riley Keough who manages to navigate the potential acting pitfalls of a narrative as dense is this with aplomb. Much of the work she is asked to do is done without dialogue as her facial expressions and her eyes do more storytelling than anything passing her lips. This is her first large role and it is a fantastic performance which I hope is a springboard to other things.

Her performance is particularly remarkable over the final two episodes where Christine returns home for her parent’s 30th anniversary party. Which leads to the final episode where we learn where all of this leaves her with a final scene that indicates it all might have been for nothing.

If you are looking for something to binge The Girlfriend Experience is very worthy of a few hours of your time.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: It Will Never Last

If you grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s you probably heard a familiar dismissal of this new-fangled rock and roll music, “It will never last.” That would be further supported that there were no Sinatras, Comos, Crosby, etc. doing that crazy music. Of course, it was frustrating to know that the only proof that they were wrong was living long enough to see the truth of it all. I have been in a reflective mood because I have been reminded that thirty years ago there were a trio of albums which in many ways defined the ways this rock and roll music was going to diversify; they are also among the greatest albums of all-time. I am talking about “The Joshua Tree” by U2, “Sign O’ The Times” by Prince, and “YO! Bum Rush the Show” by Public Enemy.

“The Joshua Tree” was the album which was the slingshot to superstardom for the Irish quartet of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. Their success had been consistently rising but they carried the sometimes-dismissive label of “experimental” especially since the previous album, The Unforgettable Fire was all over the place musically. What often gets forgotten is experimentation leads to discovery and during the process of recording “The Unforgettable Fire” U2 discovered the foundation of their music going forward. Combining with the same production team of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois; “The Joshua Tree” would be the glorious result of that process. The opening track “Where the Streets Have No Name” still rings true three decades hence. “With or Without You” is a song of disaffection but it is the way the guitars and drums diminish at the end which seals the emotion of the lyrics.

All throughout the 80’s the idea of rock and roll was being redefined. Prince was an artist who fused crunching guitar onto a funky foundation matched with his distinct vocals to produce his own corner of the genre. “Sign O’ The Times” is the greatest example of this and I consider it Prince’s best album. Prince has been compared to Jimi Hendrix as a guitarist and most of that has to do with the easy comparison of race. It downplays that he is as elite a lead guitarist as anyone who has ever picked up the instrument. “Sign O’The Times” is the dissertation where he lays it out there to be seen. A double album, many of the tracks carry elongated guitar solos to match with the lyrics and the drum machine laden funk underneath it all. The title track which leads it off is one of the greatest displays of every facet of talent Prince contained. “U Got the Look” where he would duet with Sheena Easton was a giant hit because all of this was distilled into a set of matching vocals trading jabs.

1987 also saw the beginning of what has become one of the most dominant music genres of today; hip-hop. Spending a lot of time in New York City during this time I saw the building blocks of the East Coast version which would assemble into the debut album of one of the seminal hip-hop bands Public Enemy, “YO! Bum Rush the Show”.  Public Enemy was fronted by Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and backed by DJ Terminator X. Up until this point hip-hop was all about talking about yourself. Public Enemy would be one of the first to take on what it meant to be black in America. Terminator X used the technique of scratching to lay down unsettling sonic foundations for Chuck D and Flavor Flav to build upon. Those words are what become the percussion and the message. This was not safe it was troubling because these were authentic voices from a portion of society being allowed the chance to express it to a larger audience. This was the year where hip-hop stole into the spotlight; Public Enemy was not going to let it go out which is why it is now so popular.

As my birthday gets closer I begin to realize how much I’ve experienced. Looking back thirty years ago shows rock and roll has lasted. Not that anyone who told me it wouldn’t is around for me to tell them so.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Characters Who Live on TV

I have spent the last couple days looking over the preliminary schedule for the upcoming New York Comic-Con. It is part of the fun of going is to look over the upcoming panels and screenings and see which ones I’m most excited about. It becomes a way of my assessing the things I have at the top of my list against some things which have fallen.

In the latter category is the panel for the new Star Trek: Discovery. I looked at it on the list and was surprised I have little interest in it. Star Trek is why I am a 57-year old man on my way to Comic-Con but they have found a way to fatigue my interest. If I hear good things I suppose I’ll catch up but for the very first time I won’t be there for the first episode of something which has Star Trek in the name.

There are many other things I am looking forward to but right at the very top is the American Gods panel on Thursday and The Walking Dead panel on Saturday. Funnily enough the reason I am so fond of both series are characters who are very different from the printed page version.

Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning in American Gods

In the Starz American Gods series, it is the duo of the leprechaun Mad Sweeney and Laura Moon. As portrayed by actors Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning they are the reason I tuned in each week. What is crazy is in the book the characters exist but are small supporting characters. On TV, they are the best thing in American Gods.

Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead

In The Walking Dead, it is the characters Darryl Dixon and Carol Peletier portrayed by actors Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. They also form a rough duo within the zombie apocalypse although the story separates them often. Darryl doesn’t exist in the comic book and Carol died a long time ago. On TV, they form the beating heart of the show. Despite many storytelling excesses these characters bring me back week after week.

Darryl and Carol are so popular that when writer Robert Kirkman talks about killing either of them you can almost feel the held breath in the room. I have been considering what it is that makes both characters so important to my enjoyment of this show. I think it is the uncertainty they bring as they don’t exist in the comic which means I have no idea what happens to them. It makes me invest more closely because of that. The other characters are great but because of the comic I know who is eventually going to die which maybe makes me keep them at arm’s length emotionally.

When it comes to Mad Sweeney and Laura it is much easier to pinpoint the reason; the actors. On American Gods, these two actors have created a chemistry which does not exist on the page. These characters were never as alive until Mr. Schreiber and Ms. Browning breathed new life into them. This presents a problem for the writers for season two as I am far from the only one who feels this way. How they will find ways to use the two characters when there is precious little left on the page for them to do is going to be key to a successful run.

I am looking forward to these actors talking about their roles and answering questions in a few weeks. Seeing and hearing from them is the reason I want to be in NYC the first week of October.

Mark Behnke