Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Arrowverse

The Arrowverse (DC comics-related TV shows) dominate the WB network. Some are better than others. I'm going to skip Arrow. the founder of these shows. I don't care for the character and I I haven't seen enough episodes to have an informed opinion.

The Flash. This was the first Arrow spin-off and has frequent cross-overs. The show follows Barry Allen, his family and the staff of S.T.A.R Labs as they stop dangerous meta-humans. This is a show that started out a ot of fun but has been going down-hill every season. The first season mainly revolved around the Flash stopping a different villain each week with advice from the staff of S.T.A.R. Labs. Half-way through the season it was discovered that there was a Reverse Flash who was even faster. There was a long discovery plot arc where it turned out that an enemy of the Flash's from the future had traveled to the past to kill a young Barry but only succeeded in killing his mother. The Reverse Flash discovered that he was trapped in the past and needed to siphon the Flash's Speed Force in order to return to his own time. In order to do this, he replaced scientist Harrison Wells, founded S.T.A.R. Labs and because Barry's mentor. The plot arc was very well-done. There were goofy elements like the way they imprisoned meta-humans in S.T.A.R. Labs without a trial or any other constitutional rights but you could overlook that because the cast was so well-meaning.

The second season had a rerun property to it. Instead of the Reverse Flash from the future we had Zoom, an evil Flash from Earth 2, a parallel dimension. Once again, Barry was betrayed by a mentor. In this case, Zoom sent a speed-duplicate to impersonate the Flash from Earth 2. There was a new crowd of meta-humans from Earth 2.

The third season was a real disappointment. Again, the main villain was an evil speedster. This one was named Savatar after the Hindu god of motion. In the opening episode, Barry changed time in order to save his mother, then tried to change things back again. Things were slightly different because of this. Among other things, Barry had an annoying co-worker in is job as a CSI. By this point, half of the cast had super powers including three others with super speed. No one seemed to spend any time on their day jobs. Even after discovering that time travel was a bad thing, Barry kept doing it. The big twist (there's always a big twist) came when Barry discovered that Savatar was a time duplicate of Barry himself who planned to kill Barry's girl-friend Iris in a complicated plot that made no sense. Yawn.

Supergirl. This started as a CBS show then moved to WB for its second season. Because of the CBS roots, Supergirl takes place on a different Earth but occasionally visits the Arrowverse for cross-over events. The show's premise is that Supergirl is Superman's older cousin and was supposed to raise him but her spaceship was delayed and she was in suspended animation for years. When she finally arrived at Earth she was still, physically a teenager but her cousin was all grown up. Also a Kryptonian prison ship followed her spaceship and the alien criminals have been living undercover on Earth since her arrival.

The first half of the first season was a real joy. Each episode centered on Supergirl learning a lesson about being a superhero while capturing a dangerous alien. She worked with the DEA (a secret government program that her adopted sister was a member of) and was the executive assistant to Cat Grant, head of a huge media corporation. Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart was abrasive but also a mentor to Supergirl. Her co-workers Jimmy Olsen and Winn Schott doubled as mentors and potential boy friends.  Half-way through the first season the plots changed to an arc involving her aunt and some other Kryptonians who plotted to take over the Earth and the show lost some of its fun.

The second season changed everything. Calista Flockhart was only in a few episodes. Any relationship with Olsen or Schott was forgotten so that she could have one with Mon-el, a refugee from the planet Daxam. Most of the fun drained out of the show. The show also because the most overtly political in the Arrowverse.

Legends of Tomorrow. A time traveler named Rip Hunter assembled a team of B-list heroes and villains in order to travel across time to stop the villain Vandal Savage. The show stole a lot from Doctor Who with Rip being a Time Master in a stolen time ship (think Time Lord and TARDIS with superheros).  The first season involved traveling to different periods to foil Savage. A lot of it revolved around Hawk Girl and Hawk Man who, along with Savage, were reincarnated Egyptian royalty. Because it had such a large cast and in order to keep CGI costs down, the cast was usually split with half the team doing the actual mission and the other half staying in the ship to argue. The main character arc involved the villains, Captain Cold and Heatwave becoming part of the team. In general, it was humorless and never succeeded in capturing the sense of urgency the plot suggested.

The second season was a huge improvement. The first season ended with the destruction of the Time Masters so the Legends took their place in stopping anomalies in time. There were changes in the cast, too. This time the villains were the "Legion of Doom" - a trio villains from Arrow and The Flash who are trying to rewrite history so that they are in charge. Unlike the first season, this one is a lot of fun. They cross paths with interesting historic figures, possibly inspiring George Lucas and J. R. R. Tolkien. Instead of constantly fighting, the Legends act like a real team and the two geeks in the group clearly love using their powers. Unlike the other shows in the Arrowverse, this one is getting better instead of worse.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is easily the best DC superhero movie since Tim Burton's Batman. The Dark Knight trio had far too many plot holes to be really great pictures. The Batman sequels and the Superman movies just weren't very good. And the less said about Suicide Squad and Green Lantern the better.

What surprises me is the comparisons to Marvel movies. I've seen several reviews that dripped scorn over the various Marvel movies while praising Wonder Woman.

The thing is, Wonder Woman is a Marvel movie in every way that counts. Like Marvel movies, it's an origin movie that mixes seriousness with humor. It is hero-centric. Marvel decided from the beginning that their movies would feature the hero and that the villain would be secondary. In contrast, DC movies have mostly followed the Batman formula of giving the villains as much or more screen time as the hero.

More than any other movie, Wonder Woman resembles Captain America, the First Avenger. Both are period pieces following the progression of someone from untrained weakling through a period of trying to be taken seriously. They both pick up a group of ethnic soldiers. They are both fighting a rouge German who is about to unleash a super-weapon that will destroy London. (the next sentence is a spoiler) They even have someone sacrificing himself by crashing an airplane.

Wonder Woman ends in a CGI-fest, just like the Marvel movies.

Not there's anything wrong with Marvel movies. The reason they keep making bundles of money is that they are entertaining to watch. I enjoy watching the Guardians of the Galaxy for the 12th time much more than Man of Steel for the 3rd or 4th. I can't even watch Dark Knight Rises for the second time.  DC keeps going for dark and gritty and forgetting to make their movies fun.

The Justice League looks like it might be a lot more fun, but it might also be too derivative. The scene between Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen is too similar to Tony Stark and Peter Parker and Aquaman acts too much like Thor.

This is kind of ironic since DC spent decades reinventing itself to be more like Marvel.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Iron Man and the Arc Reactor

A lot of people seem to be confused about Tony Stark's heart and the arc reactors he used to keep it beating. Here's a quick rundown.

The movies never came out and said it but the arc reactor is a cold-fusion reactor. It creates power by causing hydrogen atoms to combine into helium. The sun is a hot reactor. The extreme heat and pressure in the sun causes fusion. Cold fusion has been hotly debated for nearly 30 years after some scientists claimed to have produced cold fusion using palladium.

The movies never go into it in detail but Howard Stark either designed the large arc reactor that powered Stark Industries or at least did a lot of the initial design work on it. He also recognized the limitations of palladium and theorized a new element that would be superior to Palladium in creating cold fusion reactions. For some reason, the arc reactor was seen as a dead end. Possibly it cost too much to produce or was just to finicky to mass produce without the new element.

In Iron Man, Tony Stark is hit in the chest with shrapnel. The doctor on hand were not able to remove the shrapnel while working in caves in Afghanistan but he was able to create an electro-magnet that pulled the fragments away from Tony's heart. At first Tony had to carry a car battery around with him. Since Tony is an engineer and not a doctor, he created a small power source to power the electro-magnet. He treated it as not being a big deal but it was actually very difficult to reproduce. Once back in his lab, Tony was able to create a much more powerful arc reactor.

We never got any details but apparently any time the power to the electo-magnet was cut off, shrapnel started pressing on Tony's heart causing cardiac arrest. It never actually pierced Tony's heart or no amount of magnetism could fix it.

By the second movie Tony was having problems. Palladium was building up in his system and poisoning him. While the electro-magnet kept Tony alive, it also prevented treatment. If the electro-magnet was removed then Tony would go into cardiac arrest before the shrapnel could be removed.

Palladium isn't particularly toxic and the palladium in the arc reactors was contained. Possibly the reactor was vaporizing the palladium allowing it to be absorbed into Tony's body. That would explain why the reactors kept wearing out and why the technology was considered a dead end. Palladium is expensive so feeding a giant arc reactor would be expensive.

Anyway, Howard Stark couldn't have known that Tony would need an arc reactor to keep himself alive but he did leave clues for Tony on how to improve the arc reactor. All it needed was for technology to be so advanced that someone could build a particle accelerator in his basement.

So the Starks created a new (apparently unnamed) element and the arc reactor was stabilized without the toxic side-effects.

By the Avengers, Tony was apparently trying to market the new arc reactors. He bragged that he had a monopoly on clean power. In Avengers II, Stark was wearing a Hulk-killer armor powered by multiple arc reactors.

Then at the end of Iron Man III, Tony cured himself. It was a simple solution, actually. He built a large electo-magnet and had a surgeon operate under that. The large magnet kept the shrapnel away from Tony's heart long enough for a surgical team to extract it. This seems simple enough but for some reason it confused people. I've seen two different rants about it as a plot hole.

One last note - in the comic books Tony wore an entire chest plate that actually assisted his heart. It was battery powered and he was constantly charging it in the early years. His suit had extra batteries in the pods he wore on either side of his waist and they all fed into a unified system. If Tony's suit ran down then his heart stopped.

At one point Tony's heart condition deteriorated and he had to wear the entire suit of armor except for the helmet just to keep his heart going.

By the early 1970s, Tony got a heart transplant using artificial tissue. This was fine for a while but then Tony's body started rejecting the tissue and he had to wear the armor to assist his heart again for several years. Tony also converted his armor to run on solar power which was great unless he fought at night or in a deep hole (this actually happened). Eventually batteries got better and Tony stopped having monthly heart problems.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Iron Fist

There's been a lot of talk about the Netflix Iron Fist series, most of it bad. It's worth reviewing where the character came from and why Netflix chose him.

It started with the TV series Kung Fu and the first of the Bruce Lee movies. Both of these were released in the US around the same time and started a huge martial arts craze. At the same time, the Silver Age was winding down and super heroes weren't selling like they had been. Marvel was looking for something new and decided to try a martial arts comic. But that wasn't Iron Fist, it was "Shang-Chi, Master of the Martial Arts". Shang-Chi was the son of Fu Manchu who had been raised in seclusion to be his father's weapon. It only took a single issue for Shang-Chi to realize that his father was a bad guy and to join forces with Nayland Smith and the British Secret Service. The character was a hit.

At the time Marvel had a policy of milking hits, usually putting a super-hero spin on the follow-up strip. When Dracula was big, they also introduced Morbius the Living Vampire. Werewolf By Night was imitated by the Man-Wolf. Both Morbius and Man-Wolf were characters from Spider-Man. When Conan was big, Marvel started a strip featuring King Kull who had also been created by Robert E. Howard.

So it was inevitable that Marvel would do a second martial arts character and make him sort of a super hero. Marvel also followed the literary origins of Shang-Chi by inventing the mystic city, K'un-L'un inspired by Shanghai-La and Brigadoon. The population of K'un-L'un practiced martial arts and the city was only on Earth one day every seven years.

The hero, Danny Rand, accompanied his parents and his father's partner in a search for K'un-L'un. When they found it, the partner killed Danny's father over his mother. She in turn sacrificed herself to a pack of wolves so that Danny could make it to the safety of the mystic city just before it vanished for seven years. Danny was taught martial arts and eventually defeated a mystic dragon, bathing his hands in it's heart and taking the ceremonial title Iron Fist. When K'un-L'un returned to Earth, Danny left to seek revenge for his parents.

As Iron Fist, Danny was part martial artist and part super hero. He wore a costume and a mask. Most of Iron Fist's fights were straight martial arts but if he needed to he could summon sort of a super-punch.

Marvel was a bit of a mess in the 1970s. New titles would be launched by a known team, in this case Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, then it would be turned over to a succession of junior writers and artists. The character would be just a footnote if it hadn't been given to Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Both would become comic superstars but this was pretty early in their careers. Byrne in particular was still learning his trade and this was where he developed his skills. You could see his art improving every issue. Among other things, it featured the best action sequences since Steve Ditko left Spider-Man.

None of Marvel's spin-off titles lasted long. Iron Fist was cancelled before it could wrap up a plot involving a rival from K'un-L'un. Claremont and Byrne were also producing a Spider-Man team-up so they wrapped things up there.

One thing to remember about Marvel, though, is that it seldom abandoned characters. Someone got the idea of pairing Iron Fist with Luke Cage, Power Man (the first black character to have his own solo comic). It was a goofy idea but it worked. After seven years in K'un-L'un, Danny needed a mentor and the two characters were fairly evenly matched in powers. Claremont and Byrne wrote the first couple of issues pairing them before moving on to the X-Men where they became famous. Luke Cage and Iron Fist developed into sort of a Hope and Crosby style partnership (that's a movie reference, look it up) and had a fairly long and successful run.

There was a lot of talk about cultural appropriation when Iron Fist was announced but the character has a much longer history as a street-wise character. Both Iron Fist and Luke Cage have been revived several times in various forms. The whole point of the character was a western kid being taught by a sort-of eastern civilization then returning to discover his western roots.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Can Storm Troopers Hit Anything?

It's been a running gag for decades that the Storm Troopers in Star Wars can't hit anything. This is most on display in the original movie. I've seen a defense of this on YouTube trying to save the Storm Trooper's honor. I'm not buying it.

The first argument is that Ben makes a comment on how precise some blast marks are which shows that they could only be from Imperial Storm Troopers. Keep in mind that, at this point, Ben's been in hiding for nearly twenty years. We never learned if the original of clones that were the original Storm Troopers was still in use or if they'd been replaced or augmented. If they were the originals then they were getting up there in years. Regardless, his experience was out of date.

Note - the fact that an expeditionary force left blast marks indicating precise aim proves little about the Storm Troopers in general. We didn't see the attack so we have very little to go on.

The main exposure to Storm Troopers was inside the Death Star.

The theory is that the troopers in the Death Star had been instructed to allow Leia and company to escape in order to follow her to the rebel base. It sounds good until you examine it.

Luke and company weren't expecting to find Leia or the Death Star. She was captured near Tatooine and transported to the Death Star then it moved to Alderaan which it blew up. Luke and Ben were just trying to get R2D2 to the proper people. They had no intention of trying to rescue Leia. This part is important.

The Death Star scooped up the Falcon, not having any idea who was in it or why. The exception to this was that Darth Vader sensed that Ben was near. Ben went to disable the tractor beam so they could escape. While waiting, the others discovered that Leia was on teh Death Star and decided to mount a rescue.

That's the big problem with the "they let them escape" theory. At what point did the high command realize that a rescue attempt was underway and how did they manage to let ALL of the Storm Troopers know that they should fire to miss while not letting Luke or Han (who were wearing Storm Trooper equipment) know?

Possibly Vader guessed (incorrectly) that Ben was there to rescue Leia but at that point he was still portrayed as a flunky, similar to the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John in Robin Hood. He wasn't exactly in a position to order that.

The truth is that it's a flaw in the script instead of a cunning master plan. The script needed the troopers to shoot a lot but miss then Lukas needed some way for the Death Star to threaten the rebel base so George Lucas added a throw-away line that the Empire let them get away and had a tracker. She probably meant that was why they only sent a few TIE fighters.

So, I'm afraid to say, the Storm Troopers are poor shots.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Defending the Castles

This Youtube video takes a close look at three fortification in the Lord of the Rings movies and evaluates how realistic they are. Just for fun, I'm going to argue that the movie fortifications are better than this guy makes out.

The three in questions are Edoras, the Hornburg in Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith.

Before I look at the fortresses themselves, some background is in order for those who have not read the Silmarilion.

The elves were the first inhabitants of Middle Earth. They are very long-lived and some of them were instructed by the Valar (Tolkien's version of pagan gods). They were quite advanced. Men came from further east and began drifting into Middle Earth during the great war between the elves and Morgoth who was a renegade member of the Valar. Many men took service with the elves and learned a great deal from them. Eventually the great war ended with the Valar returned to Middle Earth and overthrew Morgoth. It was a cataclysmic battle. The continent itself was reshaped. With their kingdoms wrecked, most of the elves went with the Valar to the Undying Lands in the west. The men who had been allies of the elves could not enter the Undying Lands but a large island called Numenor was created for them, partway. They spent centuries there while other men drifted into Middle Earth from the east. Eventually, Sauron, one of Morgoth's lieutenants, corrupted the Numenoreans and convinced them that they would become immortal if they conquered the Undying Lands. The Valor punished them for this, sinking Numenor. A small colony of Numenoreans escaped in seven ships, each carrying a palantir. They returned to Middle Earth and founded the kingdom of Gondor. At it's height, Gondor included most of Middle Earth. All of the action in the Lord of the Rings except for the elf kingdoms and Moria takes place in lands that had been part of Gondor and all of the various monuments and ruins had been built by the Gondorians.

But by the LotR, Gondor had been declining for centuries. Even it's capitol city, Osgiliath, had been abandoned and the remaining population wasn't even enough to fill Minas Tirith which was originally meant as a protective fortress. It's sister fortress, Minas Morgul was also abandoned and taken over by orcs and other nasties.

More recently, but still a few hundred years before, a group of horsemen had drifted in and were allowed to occupy the Plains of Rohan in exchange for a mutual protection pact with Gondor. The people of Rohan were comparable to the Vikings while Gondor was more like Rome and Constantinople.

With that out of the way, I'll get on with the specific fortifications.


Edoras is the only city in Rohan. The video complains that it's too small but that misunderstands just how sparsely populated Rohan is. There is a valid complaint that Edoras should have a lot of farmland surrounding the city in order to support its population but I'll forgive that as a budgetary constraint.

The big complaint about Edoras is that it has a wooden palisade instead of a stone wall. The movie depicts Edoras pretty much just at Tolkien described it and the wooden palisade is justifiable for several reasons.

The people of Rohan fight from horseback. Even some of the women ride to battle. They also have mounted rangers and scouts to spot any large forces moving into their kingdom. The palisade around Edoras is meant to resist a small, stealthy group from attacking. Any group large enough to seriously threaten the wooden wall would be met in the field before they got to Edoras. If a very large host invaded then they sent everyone they could to Helm's Deep until the cavalry cleared up the matter.

Which is exactly what happened in LotR.

It should also be pointed out that Rohan didn't have any master masons who were able to build a large wall and the decline of Gondor meant that they were short on masons, also. Skilled masons were important to a kingdom and Gondor wold be reluctant to spare a group able to spend years building a city wall.

By the way, Gondor means made from stone. In early drafts, Tolkien referred to them as the "Men of Stone" then changed to "Men of Gond" and eventually Gondor. Not surprisingly, the other two fortifications discussed were built by Gondor.

The Hornburg

Helms Deep is a series of natural caverns in a valley protected by a heavily fortified tower caned the Hornburg. The Hornburg has a causeway that loops back on itself leading to the outer wall. Within that is a higher inner wall. There is also a curtain wall going off to the side. The gate is recessed which allows archers to shoot at an enemy trying to break through the date. There is also a sally port to allow a counter attack from the rear. The curve of the causeway exposes an invader to arrow fire.

All of this seems very soundly built but the video excoriates it for not being even stronger. Among the complaints are that they could have dammed up the Deepening Stream to make a moat, they could have had a portcullis and drawbridge on the causeway and they should have had crenelations on the curtain wall. Lets look at those complaints.

I've been to dozens of English castles. Very few have a moat. Moats are tricky things. You have to have a nearby source of slow-running water to feed it (as with the Tower of London) or enough drainage feeding into the area that you can create what is essentially a farm pond around the castle. They also need a lot of work to keep the moat from silting up.

The stream at the Hornburg serves as a sort of moat but it's a mountain stream. You have to be careful with those. Start damming it up and a good rainstorm will flood your castle or wash away your dam. Or the enemy can simply knock a hole in your dam and your moat is gone.

I've been looking at pictures of the causeway and I doubt that a drawbridge would be appropriate for it. It seems to be connected to the outer wall and that probably is part of it's supporting structure.

A portcullis or second gate probably would have been used but that would mean slowing the movie while the orcs battered their way through two gates so I'll forgive them some dramatic license in leaving it out. A large, determined enemy such as the orc force in The Two Towers would have been able to breech a portcullis, anyway so it makes no difference in the end.

The lack of crenelations in the curtain wall does seem to be a mistake. These were normally built to allow archers to have cover while firing at the enemy. They were probably eliminated in a piece or artistic license to allow for the defenders to be shown lined up along the top of the wall.

However, a case can be made that not having crenelations made the wall easier to defend against ladders. The orcs could have climbed above the defenders and dropped on them from above instead of trying to climb onto the points of the defenders.

Not all castles incorporated all possible features. I'd rate the Hornburg as being stronger than most English castles, even with the deficiencies noted.

Minas Tirith

As I said before, originally this was one of two massive fortified towns meant to guard the capitol city of Osgiliath. As the population of Gondor declined, Osgiliath was abandoned and fell into ruin and Minas Tirith became the capitol. It was carved into a mountain with a peak jutting through the city, It was constructed in concentric rings with staggered gates which made it nearly impossible for siege equipment to be used on the other gates even if the great gate was breached. In all there were seven gates before you reached the citadel at the top.

This was a seriously fortified city. It was much stronger than anything built in the Middle Ages in Europe. So what were the complaints about it?

The main complaint was that it was too steep. This is true - you would need to do a lot of climbing if you were in on lower ring and needed to do business with an upper one. It's steep but you can find people living on steep mountains all over the world. The mediteranean has several villages that wold require a lot of climbing. This on on the Isle of Cyprus is much higher than Minas Tirith.

There is the same complaint about the lack of a portcullis. In this case, Tolkien gave a detained description of the gate. The reason that gates are attacked is because they are a weak spot. A portcullis is added to strengthen the gate. But the great gate at Minas Tirith was a wonder all by itself. Instead of being wood bound with iron, they were iron and steel. You couldn't just send some people with axes to chop through it. It took a custom-made battering ram, 100 feet long to burst the great gate. A portcullis wouldn't have lasted a second against Grond.

In the book, the great gate was breached then the army of Mordor drew back a bit and the Witch King rode to the gate with his hood thrown back and a gold crown sitting on his invisible head. Gandolf rode out to meet him and the Witch King drew a flaming sword. But they were interrupted by the arrival of the Army of Gondor.

In the movie the orcs and trolls invaded the first level and the defenders pulled back to the next level before the Riders of Rohan arrived. The Extended Edition had a variation of Gandolf's meeting with the Witch King.

Regardless, even with the gate breached and the army of Mordor inside the first wall, it was still going to be difficult for them to advance further. The remaining six gates were smaller and staggered. The orcs and such would be bottled up in the streets with arrows and loose masonry raining down on them and no chance of bringing Grond or other siege equipment into the narrow streets. The battle would have devolved into a long siege with the orcs trying to undermine the walls or tunnel under and up. Assuming Gondor had enough food, the siege could have gone on for years. The impression of Rohan and the fleet brought by Aragorn saving Gondor at the last moment is false.

In fact, the only real complaint that can be made about Gondor was that it was too good.

Note - a few things were dropped from the book. Minas Tirith should have been surrounded by miles of farms and it took two days for all of the reinforcement to arrive before Mordor's army. Again, this is forgivable in a movie that was already very long.

To summarize, the fortifications as described by Tolkien and depicted in the movies compare very well with real life counterparts. A few liberties were taken so as not to slow the action but in general these were very good examples of the types of fortifications they were meant as. Anyone who spends 20 minutes trying to poke holes in them is just engaging in self-aggrandizement.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dark Shadows

50 years ago Dark Shadows started it's run. I didn't watch it back then, of course. It wasn't aimed at 11 year old boys. It was a soap opera trying to take advantage of the 60s craze for Gothic romances. These were all the thing at the time. Every paperback shelf had a section of Gothic Romance novels. All of them had the same basic plot - a simplified version of Jane Eyre. The covers all had a young woman running with a castle or large house in the background. The plots were always about a young working woman, often a governess, coming into a new environment. There would be a mystery with some spooky overtones and the man she was interested in was always implicated. By the end she'd solve the mystery but be in danger and he'd save her and they'd fall in love.

Dark Shadows had all of those elements. But it wasn't enough. After a few months of sluggish ratings, they decided to change the show from suggesting the supernatural to embracing it. First they added some ghosts then a human phoenix. That went well enough that they decided to add a vampire. That's when they struck gold.

I started watching it after it changed time slots and was no longer running during school hours. My mother suggested it because "it was popular with the college kids".

When I started watching it, they were wrapping up one of the time travel plots and introducing a cult called the Leviathans. There were also Lovecraftian elements involving a creature who was s inhuman that the sight of him drove people insane. Barnabas had already been cured of being a vampire, Quentin of being a werewolf, Angelique had retired from witchcraft and Victoria Winters had left the show.

The Leviathans' creature started as a baby but grew up fast. His eventual human form was named Jeb Hawks. There were two other groups. One was headed by Barnabas and was trying to stop the Leviathans. The third group was the innocent bystanders. This group kept getting smaller. All the Leviathans had to do was show someone a magic box and they gained a convert.

I was rooting for Jeb and his group. He was younger and Caroline was in love with him. Caroline was pretty and had hair so perfect it looked like a special effect. Jeb couldn't be too bad if a hot chick like Caroline was with him (after seeing all of the episodes I discovered that the monsters always fell for Caroline).

I was following the show but not really hooked until Barnabas tried to steal the magic box. A bat was hidden in it. It bit him and transformed him into a vampire.

That's when I got hooked. Jonathan Frid's version of a vampire was, and still is, unique. More than anything, he reminded me of a drug addict. Except when he gave in, people died.

Eventually Jeb turned against the Leviathans but was destroyed himself.

Barnabas went into a parallel universe only to be chained in his coffin for weeks while Frid and the main cast filmed House of Dark Shadows. Eventually Barnabas was freed and returned to his own universe only to have a vision of the future in which the Collins family was destroyed. Returning to their own time, Barnabus and Dr. Julia Hoffman, his constant companion, tried to stop the destruction. They failed but got another chance when Julia traveled into the past. They finally succeeded and returned to find the Collins family alive and happy.

The final plot took place in the past and in the parallel dimension. For the only time in the show's run, Frid played a different character - Bramwell, Barnabas's son. By then the show was running out of ideas and ratings had dropped.

In the late 1970s some of the episodes were run late at night.

In the mid-1980s, the show was resurrected on PBS and shown in its entirety. I watched it religiously and finally saw all of the parts I missed.

In addition to its TV run, Dark Shadows spun off two low-budget movies with the original cast, a revival in the early 1990s and a high-budget movie in the 2000s.

I credit most of the show's success to Jonathan Frid. Frid was an excellent actor but he admitted that he was slow to learn his lines and he was a constant presence in the show. His performances were always tinged with some panic that he'd mess up a line (he often stumbled over his lines). Since Barnabas was always hiding something, his added an edge to his character. At the same time, Frid was excellent at being the tragic hero, trying to make up for his personal failings by helping others. The rest of the cast was also strong and the writing, while corny, was engaging. And it was unique among soap operas that you had to keep watching it because periodically everything changed.