Like jazz and baseball, the concept of the costumed superhero is considered a uniquely American creation with its origins dating back to the first appearance of Superman in mid-1938. Nowadays, however, almost every corner of the globe has its own homegrown superheroes who (like home runs and sax solos) fill the air in scores of countries.
One of those international interpretations of the superhero mythology is The Protector, the title character of a Netflix show that is filmed on location in Istanbul and stars Cagatay Ulusoy as the mystically empowered champion who protects the city of 15 million from modern-day threats as well as supernatural dangers that have roots in antiquity.
Cagatay portrays a shopkeeper named Hakan who is shocked to discover he’s an heir to magical powers. The power comes with a price: Hakan must withstand the onslaught of The Seven Immortals, navigate a growing rivalry with his headstrong brother, and protect a budding romance that’s tested by his secret pursuits.
“It is the story of an ordinary man who undergoes transformation as a consequence of certain incidents he had,” Ulusoy explained. “In fact, my story is similar to Hakan’s if we ignore the fantastic parts. It’s good evidence for [the saying] “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans” both for me and Hakan. If we ever met? We would be talking about the miracles of life that helped us to evolve and milestones of our lives both before and now.”
The Protector is the first special-effects fantasy or superhero show that has been produced in Turkey, Ulusoy said. It’s new territory for everyone involved and involves some unexpected challenges. Like the time Ulusoy filmed a lengthy underwater scene that left him gasping for breath and dazed from the exertion.
“I stayed underwater long enough that my eyes were not able to see very clearly and the pool’s chlorinated water ran into my nose, causing a burning in my nasal passage for hours,” Ulusoy said. “I had an ear congestion and, of course, I was very wrinkled because of staying in the water such a long time. It was hard and it was tough but at the same time it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “
The series has been renewed for a Season 3 and Ulusoy’s profile is raising in his native Turkey and in other near neighbors where The Protector is building its following. The actor said he’s especially proud of the way the series captures the spirit of Istanbul, which links the past and the present and represents a singular geo-political gateway.
“For thousands of years, Istanbul has marked the point where East meets West,” Ulusoy said. “I would call it a crossroads of civilizations. You can absolutely feel that blend of modern and historical facets when living in this unique city. And this was one of the biggest promises of the show to our audience, to showcase the perfect combination and the perfect contrast of both worlds…which has been highly appreciated by audiences both locally and globally. It’s been a great experience as an actor to introduce Istanbul’s rich culture and both its historical face and its modern face to the world through my character’s journey. Hopefully we will hopefully discover many more hidden gems of this city in the upcoming seasons.”
Ulusoy is a fan of American superheroes, too, and keeps tabs on the cinematic exploits of the Avengers, Wonder Woman, the X-Men, The Incredibles, Hellboy, etc., in the same way that international basketball players monitor the NBA to see the state of the game in its native land. Asked to name his all-time favorite among the U.S. superhero brigade, the genial actor who portrays The Protector became a bit guarded. Finally, I managed to claw out an answer: “If it was possible, I would love Hugh Jackman to join us for [an episode],” Cutaway said. “I admire him as an actor. Moreover things will be more hectic for The Protector in the last few episodes. Maybe Hugh Jackman would come in as Wolverine and lend a hand to me?”
THE SECRET FINALE OF THE WALKING DEAD: With the history-making success of both Avengers: Endgame and the farewell season of Game of Thrones it has been quite the year for much-hyped mega-finales with life-and-death revelations. There’s another signature brand from a third medium that also delivered its saga-ending swan song this year but it arrived in the marketplace with no advance marketing, zero pre-release publicity, and no promotional ramp-up of any kind.
It’s worth a moment to stop and consider the fascinating demise of The Walking Dead, the bestselling comic book series that begat an international entertainment juggernaut that accounts for two hit television series, an upcoming film franchise, video game bestsellers, soundtrack albums, a series of bookshelf novels, and enough tie-in merch to overflow the Grand Canyon.
The monthly series from Image Comics and creator and writer Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment was sold in 30 languages and in 60 countries at its peak. The series endured for 16 years and was closing in on its 200th issue when the plug was abruptly pulled early last month.
It was Kirkman’s choice to end the series and it was also his decision to keep fans in the dark for as long as possible about that impending swan song. Like JJ Abrams and his “mystery box” approach to preserving story secrecy, Kirkman is a staunch believer that the audience experience is undermined by today’s saturation-level promotion, spoilers, hype fatigue, overly detailed trailers, and telegraphed endings. With that in mind, he decided that two mega-developments in The Walking Dead series — the death of the saga’s most beloved character, Rick Grimes, in issue No. 192, and the surprise series finale in issue No. 193 — would be closely guarded secrets as long as possible.
One way Kirkman kept the bombshells a secret involved a bit of publisher subterfuge: Image Comics solicited orders for issue No. 194 (due in stores this month) and No. 195 (in September) even though they don’t exist and never were produced. To give the red herrings the air of authenticity, Image even released bogus cover artwork by Kirkman’s talented collaborator, illustrator Charlie Adlard. The trick worked although there’s been a backlash from retailers who get hoodwinked and ill-prepared to secure enough copies of the milestone issues for their loyal customers.
Kirkman and company also misled retailers about the size of the finale issue but there weren’t any complaints about that particular artifice. Instead of the usual 32-page count, issue No. 193 was expanded to a square-bound, 84-page format that gave Kirkman and Adlard the room needed for their poignant, 71-page swan-song tale. (The price remained the standard $3.99). That story, called “The Farmhouse,” time-jumps forward to end the series on a message of hope by presenting a world where the walkers are so rare they are displayed as rasping undead exhibits in touring sideshows.
Kirkman and Image may have to mend fences with retailers but the creator of The Walking Dead preserved the full dramatic impact of his stories in a way that flouts every expectation in this modern era of entertainment marketing, publicity, and promotion. Kirkman encapsulated that rarity in a message to readers in the finale issue: “I got to tell my story exactly how I wanted to, for 193 issues, and end it on my terms, with no interference at all along the way…that’s such a rare thing, and it doesn’t exist without the unyielding support this series got from readers like you. Thank you so much.”
Did the low-key approach cost Image and Kirkman in potential circulation? Absolutely. A heavily promoted countdown to the two milestone issues would have certainly pushed sales north, perhaps to a record level for the series. But Image and Skybound recouped a chunk of any perceived shortfall with the quick-to-market second-printing of No. 192 with a different cover image. And, at last month’s Comic-Con International, Kirkman proved there were other ways to cash besides sacrificing the story’s surprises, such as selling signed and sealed pristine copies of issue No. 192 for a hefty $192 a pop. Now that’s how you make a killing.