Television that Needs More Love: The Middleman

You may be asking yourself: “What the hell is The Middleman and why should I care?”  A fair question.  Obliviousness to the series is forgivable.  The series appeared in 2008 and disappeared after a mere 12 episodes.  Until a friend showed up one evening wearing a “Jolly Fats Wehawkin Temp Agency” T-Shirt, I was equally in the dark.  Intrigued by the premise, I found copies of the series and watched them. 

The story goes thusly:  A secret agency trains and equips a Middleman to defend the planet against unknown threats. The present Middleman (Matt Keeslar) recruits a struggling artist named Wendy Watson (known alternatively as “Dub-Dub” and “Dubbie”).  Her calm behavior during a tentacle beast attack tells him that she has the right mindset.  Following a few tests, she starts her training.

The series follows her rise as a Middleman-in-training.  Wendy (Natalie Morales) incorporates her weird adventures into her artwork.  She lives with Lacy Thornfield (the incredibly sexy Brit Morgan) and the lyric-spouting Noser (Jake Smollett.)   Wendy and The Middleman are assisted by the caustic robot assistant Ida (Mary Pat Gleason.)

Recurring themes consist of comic-book threats with amusing twists.  Intergalactic despots disguised as a boy band (“The Boyband Superfan Interrogation”.)  Zombies which crave trout (“The Flying Fish Zombification”.)  A cursed tuba from the band of The Titanic (“The Cursed Tuba Contingency”.)  And so forth.  The names in each episode have pop-culture themes and names, such as the cover names of Dr. Stantz and Dr. Zeddemore (from Ghostbusters) in “The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation”.

To put it plainly, this series is a fanboy’s dream.  It never gets too serious, but doesn’t fall into slapstick, either.  Just amusing enough to get a chuckle, but no more.  The acting is good and the actors aim to please–in on the joke, but always in a nod-and-a-wink fashion. 

Also, even though ABC Family produced this series, it has enough edge that it doesn’t feel like a kid’s show in any way.  It approaches adult themes with enough seriousness that some reality intrudes, but blunts them with wry humor.  There are many running jokes such as Lacy calling The Middle man “Sexy Boss Man” or “Pillow Lips” or the villains always saying “My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity”.  Or Noser always greeting visitors to Wendy’s loft with random questions in the form of song lyrics.

Conceived as a comic book series for Viper Comics by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine, it was later adapted to television after some urging by Paul Dini.  Sadly, it suffered the ignoble death of a television series given insufficient chance to succeed, perishing after 12 episodes.  It has since developed a mild cult status and the cast did a reading of the unproduced 13th episode at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con.

It appears that all 12 episodes are available online on dailymotion.  I recommend you watch them.

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Adam Warlock and the Magus (Forgotten Gems)

adam-warlock-01Adam Warlock was a Marvel Comics character who first turned up in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1967.  Cobbled together by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and originally called ‘Him’, Warlock appeared sporadically for several years.  Roy Thomas later turned him into a kind of superhero messiah, inspired by (I’m not kidding) Jesus Christ Superstar.  Several goofy religious elements were used, including a death and resurrection. 

Jim Starlin entered the scene in 1975 as both writer and artist.  Warlock turned from a Christ figure into a paranoid schizophrenic.  To add insult to injury, Warlock battles a cosmic Universal Church of Truth (a thinly-veiled jab at Catholicism.)

(Side note: Jim later took another jab at Catholicism with his “Church of the Instrumentality” in Dreadstar.)

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It’s at this point that Adam Warlock gets interesting.  Jim’s take on Warlock struck me as a superhero version of Elric.  Starlin admits he was reading the Elric books at the time, but claims he read them after Warlock (I have my doubts.)  Parallels with Elric were obvious to me long before I read his claims.  Instead of a soul-drinking sword (Elric’s infamous Stormbringer,) Warlock has a soul-drinking gem on his forehead.  More than that, the existential angst of the two characters is nearly identical. 

adam-warlock-07Battling the Universal Church of Truth and its sinister leader, The Magus, Warlock engages the help of several characters familiar to younger readers–Gamora and Thanos.  Following several battles where Warlock devours enemies souls, he begins to go insane from the experience.  Finally encountering The Magus in person (complete with an Afro inspired by Angela Davis) he discovers that The Magus is his future self.  The Magus is what he will become after a thousand years of cosmic torture.

Cheery stuff, eh?

Thanos enters into the story when his protege, Gamora, fails to keep The Magus from adam-warlock-02‘marking’ Warlock to summon the being that will torture him: The In-Betweener (No, I didn’t make that up.)  Battling to save Warlock from his fate, it turns out that Thanos is only doing it because The Magus is the ‘champion of life’ and Thanos is ‘the champion of death’.  Even though The Magus is evil, he still aids life and civilization, whereas Thanos wants universal genocide.

To prevent becoming The Magus, Warlock commits ‘cosmic suicide’ by erasing his timeline in which he becomes The Magus.  Doomed to die in the near future, Warlock flies adam-warlock-06off after The Magus disappears from existence.  Thanos later kills Adam while in battle with The Avengers, only to have Warlock’s soul briefly return from the Soul Gem and turn Thanos to stone.

While melodramatic, the artwork and writing (especially at the time) are pretty damn good. Overly-melodramatic and angst-ridden, but good.

Much later, Starlin retconned the Soul Gem as just one of the six Infinity Stones in the adam-warlock-08Infinity Gauntlet storyline.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe is right on the cusp of introducing the last of the ‘Infinity Stones’–the Soul Stone.  Figured now was a good time to recap its origins.

Go dig the original or reprints up and take

You thought I made it up, didn't you?

You thought I made it up, didn’t you?

a look.  Well worth a second glance.

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