13 Questions Left Unanswered by the Cancellation of Television Shows Based on Comic-Book Characters
(Warning: Here there be spoilers.)
1. Who shot Chief Thompson? (Agent Carter)
Fans of action, spy intrigue and spiffy hats were disappointed to learn earlier this month the second season of Marvel’s Agent Carter would be its last. After months of rumors, ABC officially cancelled the critically beloved show that never managed to translate that love into higher ratings, despite tie-ins to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and sublime lead performances by Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy. While the show’s demise didn’t come as a complete shock, its cancellation left a few plot threads dangling. For instance, fans who rooted for Peggy Carter and SSR bureau chief Daniel Sousa to just hurry up and kiss already got their wish in the final moments of the second season (and series) finale, with no hint of where the two would go next with their relationship. And right after that touching scene, we saw SSR chief Jack Thompson shot dead in his hotel room, his unidentified assailant stealing a file containing records about Carter’s wartime activities that Thompson had confronted her with earlier. Who was the killer? What was in that file? What did the killer — or the killer’s employer — plan to do with the information? The world may never know… unless the plot gets picked up in a future episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or a streaming service with a pre-existing relationship with Marvel revives the show (hint hint).
2. Who left a child on Clark’s doorstep? (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman)
Running on ABC from 1993 to 1997, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman focused as much on the blossoming romance between Lois and Clark as it did on the TV budget-friendly exploits of the Man of Steel. The series had its share of goofy moments (three words: “frog-eating clones”), but there was enough chemistry between Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain to keep the show going for four seasons. In “The Family Hour,” the series finale, the just-married couple learns they can’t have a child together (sounds like someone didn’t read Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex). Doesn’t matter, though; after some shenanigans with a mad scientist, the episode ends with a baby dropped on Clark’s doorstep by someone who clearly knew Clark was Superman. The child’s identity would have been revealed in a fifth season that never happened (ABC renewed the show but then backed out); producer Brad Buckner later said the child was a member of Kryptonian royalty who was hidden on Earth by his mother. Which kind of takes the shine off the whole “last son of Krypton” thing, but it might have been interesting to see how that plotline played out.
3. Where is Mary Jane? (Spider-Man: The Animated Series)
Debuting on Fox Kids two years after Batman: The Animated Series opened a new chapter for superhero animation, Spider-Man might have had to deal with more than a few bizarre network-imposed restrictions, but it took the storytelling baton from B:TAS and ran with it, with ambitious years-long storylines, actual character development, and the first animated appearance for many Marvel characters. Which isn’t to say things didn’t get a little weird near the end; for his fifth and final season, Aunt May’s wheatcake-chorfing nephew finds out his wife is a clone, which means the Mary Jane who fell into a dimensional vortex two seasons earlier (long story) was still missing. The mysterious Madame Web offers to help Spidey find his sweetheart if he does a job for her first — a job that involves teaming up with other-dimensional versions of himself to save all of reality. After winning the battle, Spidey is finally reunited with… Stan Lee? Yep, in his final episode Spidey gets sent to what looks like our reality and swings around Manhattan with Lee on his back. “After saving all of reality, where do you go from here?” Lee asks. “To find Mary Jane… my Mary Jane,” Spidey replies. “I’m told she’s still alive, and I can’t wait to see her.” Madame Webb then shows up to take him to Mary Jane… but then the episode fades to black and we never found out if those two crazy kids ever found each other. O…kay, then.
4. How will Spidey and his friends save Counter-Earth? (Spider-Man Unlimited)
Compared to Spider-Man: TAS, 1999’s Spider-Man Unlimited offered a radically different take on Spider-Man. Instead of butting heads with J. Jonah Jameson and the usual gang of costumed creeps, Peter Parker starts this series off by travelling to Counter-Earth to retrieve JJJ’s lost-in-space son, astronaut John Jameson. On this alternate Earth, he learns John has joined a band of freedom fighters opposing the ruling High Evolutionary and his legion of human/animal Beastials. It was every bit as bonkers as it sounds. The 13th and final episode finds Spider-Man and his rebellion buddies learning why Venom and Carnage are on Counter-Earth: they’re working for the Synoptic, a hive-minded legion of Counter-Earth symbiotes that intends to unleash an army of symbiotes across the planet. In the episode’s final moments, the symbiote spores fly out in every direction and we see a helpful “To Be Continued…” box appear on the screen. Except not so much, as Fox pulled the plug on the low-rated show and a planned second season never went to air. My guess? Everyone on that Earth except Spider-Man and his allies get symbiote-ized, and the series turns into a zombie movie, except these zombies are fast and swing on webs. Because TV viewers will never get tired of zombies, that’s why!
5. What motivates Peter to become Spider-Man again? (Spider-Man: The New Animated Series)
Okay, what is it with Spider-Man cartoons and cliffhanger endings? MTV’s Spider-Man (subtitled The New Animated Series) debuted in 2003 as a loose continuation of events in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film. You might remember it as the one with the awkward CGI animation and Neil Patrick Harris as the voice of Peter Parker. Like Spider-Man Unlimited, the ratings weren’t high enough for the network’s liking and they passed on a second season, and so the final episode ends with Parker chucking his Spidey suit into the East River and vowing never to be Spider-Man again — you know, like all the other times he did that. It wasn’t the most suspenseful cliffhanger they could have come up with — it’s not as if anyone expected the show to be retitled Peter Parker: Grad School Follies for the second season — but it was definitely keeping in spirit with the comics’ original Mopey McGee. If a second season had been made, though, I’m putting money down on “the ghost of Uncle Ben shows up, gives Peter a pep talk about power, responsibility, shit like that.”
6. Who puts the universe back together? (The Silver Surfer: The Animated Series)
“The End?” Yes. Yes, it was. Fans of Jack Kirby’s second-best celestial sports-equipment enthusiast (sorry, Surfer fans, I have to give it up for Black Racer) were thrilled when the Silver Surfer landed his own Fox cartoon in 1998. And why not? Though the show tinkered with the Surfer’s comic-book history — e.g., no mention of the Fantastic Four when Surfer saves Earth from Galactus’s hunger — it featured plenty of cosmic vistas and appearances by a number of Marvel’s space-faring adventurers, while sporting a style very much in the spirit of creator Jack Kirby’s original designs. Someone was confident enough to assume a second season was on the way: the final episode of the season is titled “The End of Eternity, Part One” and ends with Thanos literally destroying the entire universe while the words “The End?” appear just before the end credits. According to series creator Larry Brody, eight Season 2 episodes had already been written up when production shut down as a result of a legal dispute between Marvel and Saban Entertainment. Brody has posted the script for “The End of Eternity, Part Two” for fans looking for closure. Spoiler alert: the universe got fixed.
7. How do the X-Men stop Apocalypse from taking over the world? (Wolverine and the X-Men)
Marvel’s fourth animated adaptation of its X-Men franchise put Wolverine front and centre, which makes sense from a marketing perspective since X-Men Origins: Wolverine came out during the cartoon’s 2009 run. In the first episode, an explosion at Xavier’s mansion leads to his disappearance and the team’s disbandment; it’s up to Wolverine to get them back together when anti-mutant forces start hunting them down. Professor X then contacts Wolverine from the future to warn him about a future filled with giant mutant-killing Sentinel robots, and the team joins forces with allies and former enemies to prevent that future from happening. The good news: they succeeded. The bad news: Future Xavier returns to tell them their victory has led to an even worse future, one in which our world is covered with pyramids and suffers under the rule of Apocalypse and his henchmen, Mister Sinister and what appears to be a literally one-eyed Cyclops. Alas, Marvel confirmed in April 2010 there wouldn’t be a second season of the show, and so we never found out how the X-Men planned to stop this bummer of a future from coming to pass. My guess? Wolverine stabs someone. It’s kind of his go-to.
8. What does Vandal Savage mean by “business as usual”…? (Young Justice)
Lest you think it’s only Marvel cartoons that leave their viewers dangling, Young Justice features a cliffhanger that teases viewers with a glimpse of DC’s biggest bad guy of them all. Running for two seasons between 2010 and 2013, the show focused on the lives and missions of the junior members of the Justice League who operate under the guidance of Red Tornado. The show’s second season kicked off with the discovery of a covert invasion of Earth by shape-shifting aliens. Events continue to unfold and viewers learned everything that had happened, including the arrest and trial of the adult members of the League, had been orchestrated by the Reach, an insectoid species of alien conquerors, and the Light, a coalition of super-villains opposed to the Justice League. Except maybe not, as the final moments of the finale show Vandal Savage (a member of the Light) arriving on Apokolips to tell Darkseid everything is “business as usual.” Up until this point, Darkseid was only alluded to by others in the show who referred to him as “master” and “unspeakable,” and leaving his cameo for the very end was a major tease — so much so that some fans launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of a third season. No dice, replied Warner Bros., which shuttered Young Justice and Green Lantern at the same time and replaced them with Beware the Batman and Teen Titans Go! Rest assured, it was the last questionable decision Warner Bros. ever made about its DC characters. (Ahem.)
9. Does Razer become a member of the Blue Lantern Corps? (Green Lantern: The Animated Series)
Speaking of Green Lantern. While his 2011 film outing didn’t live up to expectations, it did give GL’s profile enough of a boost to get this animated series greenlit (pun!) for the Cartoon Network’s 2012 line-up. Along with familiar faces from the comic books, viewers were introduced to Aya, a female artificial intelligence, and Razer, a former member of the Red Lantern Corps who falls in love with her. After Aya sacrifices herself to save the universe, Razer refuses to believe her consciousness is truly lost, and so he flies off at the end of the final episode to find her… with a little blue ring zooming off to find him. We never learned if the ring found Razer or if Razer found Aya; Josh Keaton, who voiced Hal Jordan, told IGN in 2013 the show was cancelled after that first season because of disappointing toy sales from the Green Lantern movie. “From what I’ve heard, the performance of the movie made it so there was a lot of movie toys still in stores,” he said. “And so the stores didn’t necessarily differentiate between one being movie toys and others being animated series toys. They just said, ‘Green Lantern? We already have those.’ And so because of that, a toy line [for the cartoon] wasn’t even made. And because a toy line wasn’t made, we really didn’t have the funding to go on in that sense.”
10. How does Marcus deal with Krista’s betrayal? (Blade: The Series)
Blade: The Series, based on Marvel’s popular vampire hunter, debuted in 2006 as Spike TV’s first foray into original scripted television. Co-created by David Goyer (who also wrote all three Blade films), the show was set in the same universe as the Wesley Snipes films, only with rapper Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones in the lead role. The main plot of the series involves an upstart vampire (Marcus) who wants to destroy all “purebloods”running the vampire-ruling Conclave so that “turnbloods” (vampires who were once human) can take over, and to that end he develops a virus that specifically targets purebloods. Blade helps him destroy the Conclave before turning on Marcus — which, in fairness, Marcus should have seen coming — and Marcus escapes to scheme for another day. In the final moments of the series, Marcus grabs Krista — a war-vet-turned-vampire who works undercover for Blade to avenge her brother’s death — and hisses “How long have you worked for Blade?” just as the screen cuts to black. Does he kill her? Torture her for more information? The world may never know… and based on the show’s ratings, the world is just fine with that.
11. Wait, what? Bruce Wayne is alive? Then where the hell has he been all this time? (Birds of Prey)
Here is how the opening narration for CW’s Birds of Prey started every week: “Legend tells of a caped crusader, Batman, guardian of New Gotham, and his one true love, Catwoman, the queen of the criminal underworld. Their passion left behind something extraordinary: a daughter, Huntress. Half metahuman, she has taken up her father’s mantle and fights to protect the innocent and helpless.” Batman’s fate was never directly addressed during the 13-episode run, but it’s heavily implied he’s no longer around to protect the citizens of Gotham — excuse me, New Gotham — which means it’s up to his ass-kicking daughter, a paraplegic hacker and a young telepath to pick up the slack. Despite being aimed at the same demographic that turned Smallville into a hit, the show never clicked with viewers, most of whom were put off by how much the main characters differed from their counterparts in DC’s popular Birds of Prey comic. After the finale’s climactic showdown, Alfred is seen making a private phone call to “Master Bruce,” telling him that he would be quite proud of how his daughter turned out. Wait a second. Batman’s alive? And Alfred has his phone number? Were the writers planning a family reunion in the second season, perhaps while Bruce and Helena shared the world’s most awkward Father’s Day brunch? Tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel to… find another show in this timeslot.
12. How and when does Jim Corrigan become the Spectre? (Constantine)
Though closer to the source material than Keanu Reeve’s 2005 film, NBC’s Constantine had to make a few concessions to adhere to broadcast standards. The main character’s trademark chain-smoking, for instance, was toned down to a few televised puffs, and the series’ creators chose to not reference the bisexuality established in the Vertigo comic series. But what was left in was close enough to the cynical, working-class occultist that comic fans loved, and critics praised the show’s heady mix of horror and humor. Each week for 13 episodes, John Constantine tracked down supernatural threats with the help of his… well, “friends” doesn’t really cut it. Acquaintances who mostly mean him no specific harm? In any event, one case brings Constantine and crew to New Orleans where they meet Det. Jim Corrigan, a cop who is understandably sceptical about the existence of the paranormal until he sees it for himself. Zed, a psychic associate of Constantine’s, has a vision of Corrigan bleeding from multiple wounds and shrouded in a greenish glow that covers his head and radiates down to the ground — reminiscent of, say, a long green cape. Though Zed tells Corrigan about her vision in the show’s final episode, viewers never found out whether that vision ever came true, or if it was a specific reference to Corrigan’s transformation into the spirit of vengeance known as the Spectre. Which is too bad, because I for one would like to know if the beard survives the transition. You never see a ghost with a beard, do you?
13. Which super power did George receive in the plane crash? (No Ordinary Family)
Technically, ABC’s 2010 comedy/sci-fi drama about a family that develops super powers wasn’t based on a comic. But hey, bickering family of four, a dad played by the same guy who played the Thing in two Fantastic Four movies… close enough. No Ordinary Family starred the Powells, a typical American family who each develop super powers after their plane crashes in the jungle (Dad’s your basic Mr. Incredible type; Mom’s a speedster; Sis can read minds; and Bro has super-deduction and learning powers). The rest of the series saw them strive to keep their powers secret while using them to help others, with a season-long story arc exploring how and why they got their powers in the first place. The final episode of the first (and last) season delivered not one but two cliffhangers. In the first, it’s revealed in the final moments of the episode the government is aware of the family’s superhuman status when a government agent shows up asking for their help because they are “no ordinary family” (roll credits!). In the second, we find out that someone intent on re-creating the circumstances that created the Powells’ super-powers deliberately crashes a second plane in the same location, only this one is packed with dozens of criminals… and George, the dad’s best friend and crime-fighting sidekick. George stumbles from the wreckage to discover which incredible new power he now possesses… and that was that. Let’s cross our fingers for super-speed or teleportation, but I would not want to be the only honest guy at a convention of sudden super-villains without a fast exit strategy. But that’s just how I roll: cowardly.