Wednesday, October 14, 2015

17902--Is A Sequel Worth Destroying the World?

Spoiler alert: the "groundbreaking" Watchmen limited comic series (1986-1987) was already beyond relevance when finally adapted to film (2009).

Now, that's not to say the grim, gritty superhero intrigue isn't fun to watch and re-watch, man (sorry), but deconstructing comic book icons is even less striking in a post-antihero age than positing the notions of revised geopolitics and a multi-term Nixon administration.  Hell, in 2007, a fairly bright college student was asking me to explain the significance of "this Ayatollah Khomeni" she had never heard of outside her history class.

Beyond all that, including even Alan Moore's disowning of Zack Snyder's product, I guess I still have a lingering problem with the implications of the rewritten ending.  In the original, Adrian Veidt's machinations culminated in the psychic death scream of a genetically engineered octopus mutation fooling humanity into believing Earth was at risk from interdimensional invaders when the one-off creature exploded onto Times Square (a result of being on the business end of Veidt's technological approximation of Dr. Manhattan's powers).  The result of the mastermind's brilliant hoax, as he expected, was the world uniting to survive, albeit at the price of paranoia-fueled PTSD and a few deaths.  He didn't consider it a perfect solution, but one preferable to watching billions die in thermonuclear immolation.

In the movie, Adrian Veidt's altered plan completely sidesteps the genetic engineering aspects of the original and instead of using the research into Manhattan's powers to craft an unstable teleporter weaponizes the tech to create discrete intrinsic field subtraction effects in eighteen cities.  The destructive energy attacks kill millions and do tremendous damage around the world, rallying Earth against what they believe is a Dr. Manhattan who has turned against them.  When the immortal chooses to leave Earth behind, he also leaves the powerful technology with Veidt and the weight of what he has done to save the world from its political madness.

What doesn't appear to have been considered, though, is that it originally took Dr. Manhattan about a year to learn to control his energetic form and recreate a cohesive body for himself after being disintegrated.  Now, Veidt has recreated that original disintegration with millions of subjects.  Should even one or two of those torn apart as collateral damage find the focus to re-embody their consciousness, a real clash of superhumans could result.  What about dozens or hundreds or thousands of Manhattan-like superbeings bumping shoulders?  Even if they learned only a fraction of his mastery in their youth (remember, we saw Manhattan develop over decades from a man who started as a physicist to one who could reform his disintegrated body almost instantly), the potential impact theses newly empowered beings would easily have tremendous impact on a very tense world.

As of this month, there's been an announcement that a potential TV series set in the Watchmen world is being considered.  I guess we'll have to wait and see how they'll choose to burn it down.

Monday, August 10, 2015

17837--You Paid How Much?

I try to avoid going to movies at the theater.

It's not that I don't enjoy watching movies or spending time with friends.  My issue is that I don't like to encourage a system that seems designed to take increasing amounts of money out of my pocket for products of increasingly uncertain quality.  When I do go, I count myself fortunate that I'm stubborn enough about eating healthy that I don't pay for the overpriced snacks they consider edible.

As far as the movie goes, though, my rising ticket price is going to pay back the money that a studio has invested in the production of whatever latest cinematic escapism they've chosen to throw a bigger budget at than any of the 99% will see in a lifetime.  Sadly, when you put a bunch of studio decision makers in a room with supposedly creative people, what comes out is seldom new or innovative.  What they tend to gravitate toward in the great piecemeal of ideas will be things that look familiar.  Those ideas will look like the sort that have made money before, to which will be attached a twist or two that seems clever at the moment and the names of some acting-types that seem like they can help sell the product.  (This happens in TV, too, but it usually isn't something the masses have to pay to see.)

When this process works, you end up with another successful rom-com or espionage thriller or whatever puts asses into padded theater seats for a few months.  When it doesn't, another Fantastic Four or The Lone Ranger gets dumped into our laps like the hot mess the dog left steaming on the kitchen floor before skulking off in shame.  Those particular missed shots still baffle me.  Did Hollywood not invent westerns?  The studios have years of experience making them yet they can't seem to pull off a proper "Who was that masked man?" no matter how much cash they sacrifice at the altar.  Hell, the character was even based on a real-life western hero.  If Clayton Moore didn't seem like such a darn nice guy, I might think he had commissioned a curse against Klinton Spillsbury and any other Lone Ranger films.

The Fantastic Four films are another mystery.  They're a modern, scientific superhero family with fifty years of comic history under their stretchable onesies.  Still, while the other super-misfits are lining up to swim with Scrooge McDuck, the ol' FF continue to have as much fun at the theater as Abe Lincoln.  They don't seem to be tapping the right vein to strike the gold that other world-savers are hitting.  It'd be easy enough to snipe from the sidelines and say it's because they aren't interpreting the source material properly or reading it at all (more than a few film productions of comic adaptations have had key personnel crow about how they would proudly ignore the comic books that inspired the movie deal they were supposed to be fulfilling), but there's no simple formula for putting a winner onto the big screen.  Just ask the Wachowskis.  Of course, there are also a lot of simple things that shouldn't be done if experienced filmmakers don't want to shoot holes in their own boat.  Just ask the Wachowskis.

It'd be nice if they could get a system perfected before asking us to pay for their fiascos.  That's incredibly unlikely, though, which is why a movie pitch won't get any nibbles in the Shark Tank.  All too often, a good movie idea and a bad movie idea can look an awful lot alike until after the money's been spent.

Monday, August 3, 2015

17830--I Know What I Did This Summer

I hate going so long between making fresh blog entries.

And yet, here we are.  The writing goes well; targeting September to release the next THEOBROMA book.  The following installments should come along faster, but it's turning out to be much longer than I'd thought it would be.  Still, I enjoy the work.

Not that the work cares, but we're in it together all the same.

That reminds me of my other working partner: weights.
This summer, I've shifted some of my considerable inertia toward exercising more.  That has involved elevating my moderate maintenance level activities to workouts geared toward increasing strength and stamina while simultaneously burning fat.  It's weights one day, body weight exercises the next, plus martial arts and walking every day.  Like writing, I workout without other people.  I think that's probably for the best.  I keep odd hours and I don't stroke egos.

Weights don't care about your ego.

Stopwatches don't care about your ego.

I don't care about your ego.

Performance is what matters to me, whether that's producing quality writing or lifting more weight.  Energy and will united to make changes happen.  Better, stronger, faster are the goals.  That's a strategy that intentionally lacks an endgame.  It's using that inertia to keep on moving, continuing that personal journey of self-improvement.

On the downside, I'm having to push to eat a lot more and, as I stubbornly refuse to join another gym, I'm going to have to invest in more weights.  C'est la vie.  Onward and upward, keeping the fires burning hot.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

17749--Dark Knight Perspective

"I got yer neverending battle, right here!"

Take this as you will, but I really do like Batman.  I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know when I say he has no superpowers.  Part of his appeal to most people is that he is so very human.
Comic Art - Batman by Jim Lee (2002).png
He is possessed of great intellect and will that he has applied to great personal development academically, physically, and practically.  He is also a man driven by powerful emotion, fueling his ongoing war against crime and injustice.  Also making his unique lifestyle possible, Batman is possessed of epic wealth.  Among other things, that's how he gets those wonderful toys.

Still, there's a segment of the population that doesn't think splitting time between his day job and night job is enough to keep him busy.  Some want to see the differences in operational styles and philosophies as friction for fight club action with Superman of all people.  Superman!

It's an insane idea in my book.  Bad enough to think Batman, known for being as single-minded and relentless as a shark, would find grappling another caped orphan to be a productive use of his time.  Add to that, Superman has more power than Batman has money, so you make Batman look more like Wile E. Coyote going after the Road Runner.

Wile E Coyote.pngNow, this I could get behind.  Imagine Batman making use of millions of dollars of specialized equipment and his supreme confidence in his genius to put guys like Superman and Flash to the test as they go zipping around...saving people.  They might even notice him.  And not leave him standing in his cowl and boxer shorts in Gotham Square before he has time to register he's even moved.

Maybe Batman could just stick to being helpful.

Where I really enjoy seeing Superman and Batman go head-to-head is over on the How It Should Have Ended website.  They have coffee and spar verbally.  Far more plausible.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

17730--What're you looking at?

It’s still a little early yet, so I won’t say the lines have been clearly drawn.  I do feel it’s safe to say they’re being drawn, though.  Anyone who’s spent a bit of time reading from this site might expect that I have an opinion of my own.


Now, don’t think Batman and I don’t get along.  We do.  I also think it’s crazy to go looking for a fight with Superman.  Friends don't let things that colossally stupid.  That’s a choice best left to bad guys...who have no friends (which might have something to do with why they're bad guys).  I feel this way because when I ask “What would Superman do?” (WWSD), the answer is easy: the right thing.  When the harshest thing that comes out of name-calling the big farm boy is “boy scout”, it’s hard to argue this.


Lots of people like to credit Batman’s extreme preparedness tendencies for a large part of his successes.  Sure, that’s got to go a long way, especially when combined with his resources, intellect, and relentless drive.  Certainly, if he were going to even dream of fighting Superman (the place he’d have the best odds of victory, btw), Batman would need to make the most of all he has.  Even Superman doesn’t do that anymore.  Those of you too new to the characters probably don’t realize how much the comic book creatives have taken away from Superman over the years, attempting to play up more of the man and less of the super.  I think they’d developed not only a fear of their own inability to challenge the hero effectively, but also that audiences were having trouble relating to him as a superhuman.  Diminishing his physical abilities wasn’t enough, though.  Superman’s intellect and scientific prowess were also greatly reduced, while Batman’s were increased.  Tipping those scales is significant to how the characters are portrayed, but I’d still advise Batman to stay on Superman’s good side.  Honestly, met with even minimal resistance, how hard would it be to disable someone with even a fraction of Superman's powers or using only a few of them.  Imagine having powers available that you have to always be careful not to use at anywhere near their full potential because of all the incidental damage they could cause.  This is why Godzilla can't go to the mall and the Powerpuff Girls can't play tag in Townsville.


Superman’s not a character usually shown as being arrogant.  If anything, his levels of lawfulness and self-discipline often have him labelled as boring.  Even so, which seems to be what’s played upon in the upcoming confrontation that has the internet abuzz, many people fear him.  In a recent interview, when a pro-Superman Jon Stewart asked Neil deGrasse Tyson about his take on the coming clash, Tyson’s opinion was that Superman is feared because he is accountable to no authority and “does what he wants”.  Sadly, that attitude, far from unique to Mr. Tyson, is one that discounts the fact that what Superman wants to do is apparently help people.  Again, WWSD?  You know.


When I don’t trust the NSA or the CIA, you can probably put together a list as to why.  If you boil it down to a summation that says their capabilities give their people the power to “do what they want”, it’s not hard to imagine a number of dark results that go with that.  If I were to say that I don’t trust Santa because his power and position let him “do what he wants”, at some point you have to acknowledge that that seems to result in handing out toys to children and encouraging socially acceptable behavior.  When Lex Luthor “does what he wants”, people die.  When Superman “does what he wants”, the world is a better place: lives get saved, wrongs get righted, bad guys soil themselves.  Sometimes, he even hands out toys to children and encourages socially acceptable behavior (without the questionable bits about exploiting animals, spying on you while you sleep, sneaking into your home, or using a racially homogenous minority workforce).  Unless you’re a bad guy, fear of Superman is misguided at best.


The Dark Knight’s own darkness is merely something he has embraced to fight the darkness around him.  Never forget that the Wayne Foundation does a lot of good works.  Batman (and by extension, his cover ID of Bruce Wayne) really does want a better world where children don’t grow up as orphans of murdered parents; where Batman is unneeded.  As for Superman, though he was raised here, he’s alien and that does make him different.  Some people want to hang their fears on him rather than their hopes.  Just as Batman dwells in the dark and looks for the darkness in others, Superman is of the light.  He draws power from the light.  He seeks the good in others.  Those who would fear him need to ask themselves, are they truly afraid of Superman or of what he might find?  The truth many people have to deal with is that the real problem they have with those they would denigrate as being “too good” isn’t the goodness, but the fear of being measured as “bad” in comparison to it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

17695--Don't Make Me Angry, Mr. McGee

I'm raising my head from the writing desk to turn my scowl upon an issue that's ignited debate, derision, and controversy.  It isn't the first time, but with the current trends dominating the mainstream media it is a topic that's caught more general notice than in years past.  I want to talk about what's making nerds so fussy.

Now, I don't want to presume a level of arrogant pontification that insists I speak for all nerds nor imply that the nerd collective is a homogeneous group.  From a mass psychology standpoint, though, I think I may have a few insights.

What are nerds bitching about?

Usually, it's about change.  Most often debates arise over the merits of some minor tweak or a new development in the mythos of a beloved character.  That's to be expected.  Seldom does a creative decision garner universal praise.  That's alright, though.  It should be welcomed by the creative forces.  It means readers care.  

Ostensibly, that's what any creator seeks for his work: an audience that cares about, perhaps even understands, what's been presented.  Where works of fiction are concerned, especially the flights of the fantastic, a reader is expected to BYOSuspension-of-disbelief.  It's such a given that printing it on the invitation isn't even necessary.  Opening a comic book or sitting down to watch a movie, you've entered into a tacit social contract to be open to accepting the world of the story within the parameters of its reality.

Where do things go wrong?  Well, like with any set of quantum realities, every change creates the possibility of branching in at least two different paths.  Crossing from one medium to another is fraught with hazard enough, but the change of creative teams is inevitably going to result in a lot of fans getting their imaginary spandex in a twist.  I don't think I have to tell you how painful that can be, so I'll just go on with the reasons for it.

Fans of a character are such because they enjoy and embrace the mythos built and handed to them.  They accepted it on a psychological/emotional level as an alternate reality as the aforementioned tacit social contract asked them to do.  Most of the realms of movies and comics, unfortunately for the fans, are not populated with creator controlled characters.  This means that new, sometimes frequently changing, hands are going to be pulling the strings of whatever hero is out to save the world this time.  Harry Potter and his fellow students may have made popular reading, but I'm pretty sure that if JK Rowling had stepped aside and allowed Zack Snyder, McG, and finally Tim Burton to take the creative helm on the movie adaptations, the on-screen products would've turned out very differently and we'd still be hearing echoes of the fan outcries.

There's an advisory bit that writers dole out that says "Kill your darlings."  It isn't actually advocating wholesale slaughter of your most beloved characters, but is a reminder not to make things too easy for them.  To challenge a protagonist and keep readers interested, a writer needs to find someplace in the middle to work adversity into the story.  A character's creator is intimately connected to the character's odyssey in a way that fresh hands and minds are not.  Attachment to the character's journey inspires a creator to build upon what has come before rather than to abandon it for a new shiny.  When a character's fate changes hands, that intimate connection rarely survives the transition.  Likewise, the social contract with the fan is often set by the wayside in favor of market forces.

"Market forces" is a fancy way of saying "the company needs to be fed money".  To keep the feed coming, a publisher or a studio will often set sights on new, potential fans even at the risk of losing those already established.  How does this drive the abandonment of the original social contract?  Elements of the previously established mythos are often altered, sometimes eradicated, to allow radical, attention-getting changes to be introduced.  It's the murder of the darlings, but...they're somebody else's darlings, so only the people who were attached to them would mind.  The last creators are gone, so that just leaves the loyal fans.  Feeling betrayed at the theft of the reality they agreed to embrace, they cry out.  Some pack up and leave.  Destroying the tacit social contract, compounded with the realization that no amount of hard-earned cash will keep it from happening again (if anything, the hunger seems to accelerate the cycle), is just more than some wish to bear.

Can nerds not handle change?

They aren't crying out because they can't handle change or because they're racists or hate women and puppies.  The problem is that the fan collective was asked to treat the mythos as real and they did.  Then, stuff was changed.  Why is that bad?  One, because that's not how the real world works; yes, life is rife with change, but you don't just erase your history when you're tired of dealing with it.  Two, because they fell in love with it; then, their bait was switched.  That's how they feel, anyway.  The creation they came to respect and adore was altered rather than built upon.  If you shoot Old Yeller and force a new puppy into the story while saying "just go with it", somebody's going to be upset because of the bad storytelling.

Sadly, the trampling of continuity only seems to have grown more blatant, even callous, over the last several years in comics.  Reboots and retcons are almost regularly scheduled events.  This violates one of the reminders I picked up years ago when I got started writing.  It goes "If anything can happen, who cares what does?" and I keep it in mind to remind me to play out a story within a set of established parameters, to give characters limits.  No matter how many stories we're given to show us that genies and time machines will cause at least as many problems as they may solve, the comic book and movie people seem to have devolved into a rut of wiping slates and altering realities whenever it suits them.  Luring as large a group of readers as you can attract into a new reality, telling them to get comfy with bacon and hot chocolate, and then eradicating the place before they're done with it ("It's a trap!") just isn't cool.

If you're going to create stories for a mythos, try to respect that you're a guest in somebody else's house.  If you can't do that, maybe you should build your own.