Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Measure of Man in Death

Stan Lee has died. It was not a surprise or shocking death, as he was 95 and had been having health issues. Yet his death does hit hard those of us who were fans. When a person who has inspired us, entertained us, created something that we hold important in our lives dies, it is going to leave us at a loss of words, even if it is expected. And while I am one of those who feels that Lee's contribution is too often over hyped, (Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby were just as important in creating what became the Marvel Universe, but are not as well known) he very much became a known inspiring personality. 

Anyone who reads my blog knows how big a fan of Spider-Man I am, so having both creators die in less than half a year from each other (Steve Ditko passed in June) is somewhat surreal. You can look back to my posts about how Amazing Fantasy 15 changed the world of comic books and entertainment in general. With just that one creation the two of them created a legacy that is clearly going to outlive them and most likely inspire many generations to come.

Now that is a legacy worth leaving behind.

I find myself drawn to being emotional about anyone who creates such a legacy. The idea of inspiring anyone, let alone millions across multiple generations is such a huge thing, yet our society still has not gotten to the point of treating creative types in general with the respect they deserve. While Stan Lee is being talked about everywhere,  Steve Ditko seemed to be almost just a footnote, yet he played a huge part, equally really to Lee's, in creating Spider-Man and he is solely responsible for the creation of Dr. Strange. He just did not seek the publicity that Stan Lee received.

I remember Jim Henson's death as being another huge one for me and he is another who is the face of a creation that had many others involved in making it what it became. There is no doubt he was a powerful creative force, but we know there were others involved with making the Muppets what they are. The most famous of those is of course Frank Oz, who in so many ways was Jim's equal in their endeavors, but for whatever reason has not ever received the same level of recognition for his contribution.

I look at all those creative individuals who have come before me and left their impact on our world, opening the doors for new paths of creativity and inspiring so many with their works and I openly admit that I am jealous. Being a creative type myself, the idea of creating anything that someone find inspiring and triggers others to become creative because of something I did... I can only imagine how rewarding that would feel.

That is a worthy legacy to leave behind.

Stan Lee played a major role in shaping our present level of story telling and is not going to be soon forgotten for all he did. His legacy is clear and undeniable. Countless people have expressed what he and his creations have meant to them. I don't believe there is another comic book writer who is as well known and recognizable. He is a face that will forever be associated with the comic book industry, more than any other.

I know I am one who has been inspired by what he created, and his work is something that will be part of my creative endeavors for the rest of my life.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

How Our Time Lady is Doing So Far

The new season of Doctor Who has started. We have our first female Doctor, played by Jodi Whittaker. We have a new TARDIS.  We have a new show runner and I believe a full new creative staff putting it all together.

So at four episodes in, what does this all mean?

Our first episode, The Women Who Fell to Earth, did what it needed to do with the basic introduction of the new Doctor. The story was decent, nothing special. It let us see the new Doctor in action and gave us some feel for her three new companions.

My main problem with this first episode was it felt rushed. There were jokes in there that seemed good, but had bad timing on them for a proper reaction. There was enough filler shots in there that they could have told us the same story at a better pace if they had tried.

Next we have The Ghost Monument, which worked for me. Nothing special in it, but it felt like Doctor Who. It had some interesting concepts in it and flowed well enough.

We get to see the new TARDIS. Small changes on the outside, big changes on the inside. Did not feel comfortable with it all at first. It really was a bit off putting with just how dramatic the changes were.

Then we come to Rosa. This is the episode that the season will most likely be remembered for. It focuses on Rosa Park and everything going on around the historic event.

Dealing with such a topic is a tricky thing, but they pulled it off and made a truly memorable episode. It was unapologetically honest and political, not holding back at all with its message and just where we are at today with the same issues.

A few funny moments where the black companion Ryan is fan-boying over Martin Luther King Jr before he becomes known, after having done the same with Rosa Park.

This episode introduced a new character of Krasko, who is a criminal from the future and was trying to change time due to racist ideals. I get the feeling he will be returning due to all that was given to use about him.

My only real issue with this episode was that the Doctor seemed to go out of her way to NOT refer to the TARDIS as 'her' or 'she'. This felt really awkward to me. The Doctor has always referred to the TARDIS as being female, which is not unusual as we traditionally refer to our various types of ships in the feminine. Just because we now have a female Doctor does not mean the TARDIS should be an it now. If anything there might be some awkwardness between the two of them now due to the kind of relationship they have had in the past.

Then we get to the fourth episode of this season, Arachnids in the UK. This is one that is better forgotten and ignored. There was nothing interesting or of value in it. Our villain for the episode was a truly unconvincing character that felt like a poor parody of Trump in many ways. He had no real motivation to most of what he does in the episode, with much of his actions feeling fully forced. Regretfully I got the impression he would be back in the future.

The story itself tried to be political, but failed at that big time. Felt more preachy than anything, not living up to what it needed to be.

Then we get really, really bad science with giant spiders, larger than a person, walking on the walls and ceilings. It really was too much for me. Then they go scientific and talk about the problems the spider would have breathing once it got that large. So it really bothered me that they tried to get real science into it after showing a full lack of caring before that.

What really bothered me the most about this episode was the big solution that did not feel like a real solution. Besides the gap after gap in logic that was used, a big one being they could not know how many spiders were out there, they were confident they got them all. Through out the episode, the Doctor goes on about the spiders being living creatures and deserving respect and should not be killed, then goes and traps them in a confined space where they will be slowly starve to death. Uh, how is that better than killing them out right? How does making them suffer count as a natural death? For me this painted the Doctor as unusually cruel and thoughtless, which is what we are supposed to believe the villain is. And then the villain shoots the largest of the spiders, which upsets the Doctor, because she would rather see it suffer and die slowly through suffocation. Really did not work for me at all.

So we're four episodes in and I like the new Doctor, but we seem to be going up and down episode wise. We'll see where things go. I don't expect every episode to be great, but there is a lot of rough edges here that need to be worked out. One being too many companions. There were a few times where you just had three people blindly following the Doctor around with nothing else to do. I get it, ti is hard to make sure they are each doing their own thing all the time, but it is obvious at times they are just there because they are there.

It's going to be the shortest season since they started the program up again. Will be interesting to see where it all goes from here.  There is no doubt they are openly being more political than ever. That does not bothers me if the stories are good. Problem is with that last one, story seemed to have been something they put in as an after thought.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The End of The Comic Con Era?

In an interesting turn of events, San Diego Comic-Con won the law suit against Salt Lake City Comic Con over the use of ‘Comic Con’. This is a term most fans just assumed was going to be used as a generic term for the big conventions. Just about every major city now seemed to have a Comic Con and we more or less knew they were not all connected. Much of the law suit seemed somewhat petty to me. San Diego Comic-Con as the Comic-Con, with all the others just being a comic con. And since SDCC always sold out and was about as crowded as it gets, I really doubt they were losing any business to those other conventions.

But the judgment has been made.

Here in Colorado we have at least four conventions that were using ‘comic con’, with the Denver Comic Con being the biggest of them.  Well they have now changed their name to Denver Pop Culture Convention, DPCC now, although I saw two friends refer to it as D-Pop. Doing a quick check on-line, I get the impression Denver is ahead of the game on this one. Many of them have not yet made a change and a few have gone with Comic Convention as their name, which is not that creative and while the judge in the case said such was acceptable, it is still saying the same thing. That is one area of this case that comes off a little silly. Comic con means comic convention after all, and all the fans know that.

The bigger conventions like Denver will be the ones who have more at stake and are the big targets. The smaller conventions will most likely change their names as well, but may take some time as they do.

Of course the main reason so many used ‘comic con’ was because there was a ready body of fans that wanted to go to comic cons. By using that name, a convention could start off attracting a crowd and hopefully grow fairly quickly. That did seem to work here in Denver at least. With the need for name changes, what will happen to the smaller conventions that were using ‘comic con’? Will they be able to draw in the fans with a comic convention or other new name? Will it now be harder to get a new convention up and going?

This will change the geeky convention landscape a little. For one thing, you won’t be comparing comic cons any more.

There will be changes, there will be new dynamics introduced into it all now. Should be interesting to see how it all reshapes everything.

I think D-Pop will be able to do just fine without the ‘comic con’ title, but a big part of that is because it was able to build itself up using the title. They are making the announcements of the name change very loudly, so all will know and the attendees will most likely have no issue with switching. Could it have gotten as big as it did without saying it was a comic con? I don’t think so. Using comic con does make a difference.

Going forward, the big conventions that have already used ‘comic con’ to get established will most likely do well and be unaffected by having to do a name change. The smaller ones that used ‘comic con’ most likely will lose much needed attention by renaming, as comic convention just is not really as catchy. And any convention that was hoping to come out and use ‘comic con’ to get that boost is just out of luck now.

This may led to more creative names for conventions or less conventions, as the cost to get known grows. I myself enjoy the small conventions, which generally have the more creative names to them, but do not attract the crowds. The problem is there is no money to be found in starting those kinds of convention and are more often die-hard fans who start and run them.

I know I will continue to go to D-Pop, as will thousands and thousands of others. I someday would like to get to the comic-con, SDCC,  just to experience it. And I would love to get out and see comic conventions in other states. I have no doubt these conventions will be with us for some time.  But it does feel like there will be a change to it all now and we will just have wait and see how it all plays out.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Age of Acceptance

Stephan Colbert this last week had actor Joe Manganiello on to talk about his upcoming projects. That never happened.  The two of them instead talked about Dungeons and Dragons for most of the interview. They covered the classic 'Red Box' edition of the game, the 'Satanic Panic' era as well as various changes made through the various editions, ending with Colbert pulling out a bag of dice and talking about rolling for attributes before Manganiello rolled a natural twenty to end the interview with. Colbert explained that he was not supposed to make the roll, as it was to see if they were going to end the interview or not. Colbert had to apologize because the interview had to end, despite what the die roll said. During the interview they showed pictures of Manganiello’s gaming dungeon, which was just awesome, as he talked about all the celebrities that hung out at his place to game. The two men then set up a date for Colbert to come by and do some D&D next time he was out that way.

They did discuss how it used to be something you hid and didn’t talk about publicly.

We are at a new stage where the geeky stuff many of us at one time were mocked over has now become mainstream and popular.

In junior high I was told it was childish to collect action figures. In high school I was given odd looks while trying to explain what D&D was to one group. Many times my enjoyment of Star Wars was seen as being silly. I even had a good friend criticize how I decorated my room as being as sign of my immaturity.

I still collect action figures as my budget allows. I had a great group of friends who I did various RPGs with for over a decade. Still a huge Star Wars fan and openly show it. And my whole house is now decorated in the manner my room had been back then, if not more so. Now however, just about everyone looks at all of that and tells me how cool they find it. None of it is regarded as being childish or odd.

What had been geeky and shunned in my youth is dominating our culture now. I was neck-deep in most everything that is hugely popular now at a time when it was laughed at.

I think our society is headed in the right direction in that area at least.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Just a Joke of a Character That Has Grown Old

In general I am not one who is afraid to voice my opinion. I have done it on this blog many times, so I am starting this one off by saying the following is my opinion and everyone is free to agree or disagree. I know this opinion will most likely not be popular, but that has never been my concern. Feel free to disagree with me here, as I am willing to bet there are a lot who do.

As many here know I am not a fan of Batman, a boring character to say the least. Some time ago I wrote about my issues with him.  At that time I mentioned just how bad a character The Joker is and that I would write a future post on that.

Well here is that post.

The Joker is about the most overrated character in comic books, ever. He is a poorly conceived one trick pony that grows old quickly. But of course you look at most of Batman’s enemies and you can see a pattern of them just not being interesting.  However The Joker is the one everyone seems to love and is too often at the forefront of Batman’s big stories.

The basic character of The Joker is a criminal "mastermind" (I’ve never seen any real proof of this) who is crazy and chaotic. Oh, and for some reason, which keeps changing, he is disfigured in a way to be pale with a huge, ugly grin. And that really is all there is to his character. There is no depth to him at all, in the least. He is an asshole because he is an asshole so he is an asshole. That really is it.

I have no problem with keeping his past a secret, which they sometimes do, with then often ret-conning it or just ignoring what has been put out there, going with the Joker being a really unreliable narrator.  But how long do you keep that up? Now it worked, and was about the only thing that worked, in the movie The Dark Knight. There we only have to deal with this for one movie. In the comics however, if he is supposed to be an interesting bad guy, I need something more. He is just the same joke over and over again, going nowhere. In order to keep the character a "mystery" and play off the chaotic concept, they have painted themselves into corner where the character is not able to be anything more.

We get told he is charismatic, yet this is never shown to us.  I have never liked how a highly educated, strong and intelligent woman got caught up in a fascination with him and destroyed her life for him. I never saw The Joker display any attributes that I believe would have that effect on a woman. Even in the real world, the "bad boys" who get the girls and very much drag intelligent, strong women down, normally have something that you could see as attractive. The Joker has a complete lack of any charming attributes. I have seen several versions of how The Joker played Harley, but none of them have been believable for me. I don’t buy it. Harley Quinn might be a fun character, but I do not believe her back story. It is an overly forced concept. At least they seem to have realized this as Harley has escaped that relationship that from the get go was absurdly abusive, with nothing else to it. The Joker and Harley never had a loving relationship at any level at any point, which all the more makes it hard to believe Harley would have ever fallen for him.

Now going off of The Joker fully lacking charisma, we get into the issue with him always having a loyal gang. In the Tim Burton movie this at least is shown by him already having a loyal gang before becoming The Joker, but everywhere else it just doesn’t work.  The Joker is about creating chaos, I get that. And yes, there will be people out there who will join in and help create that chaos. Now those kind of people are not going to be loyal, because chaos does not create loyalty. That is the nature of chaos. In The Dark Knight we see The Joker killing his first batch of goons just because he can. When he takes over the Gotham’s underworld, he does it with no one at all loyal to him. Then when he has put together a mountain of money and in front of goons who are not loyal to him, but to the other crime lords, he sets the money on fire. These goons don’t give a damn about chaos. They want money.  That scene should have ended with every one of those goons shooting The Joker, then putting the fire out. And that is really how much of The Joker’s schemes should go. Your average criminal goon is not going to risk it all for convoluted, over complicated schemes that are not going to pay out big. They want cash, quick and easy cash. The Joker does not deliver that. He is not going to have loyal goons. If anything he might have a group of zealots, who see him as some kind of religious figure. That would be more believable, except a person still needs charisma to start up a cult. Maybe if they had The Joker hire a PR person with charisma to do the real work for him.

For me The Joker is an interesting character for the first five seconds, but grows old rather quickly. I want my villains to be interesting and have some depth to them. A sense of mystery is fine, but a character can be developed and be something more while keeping that mystery. The Joker just has nowhere to go as a character. He is a holdover from the "golden age" of comic books, and while most such characters have been updated, too many just never come together for effective modern age characters.

So that is my opinion of The Joker.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Let's Look at Good Story Telling

As those who read my blog hopefully know, I am writer, a story teller. I hope I’m good one. I get little feedback on that, most of it being from my family and they may be a little biased. However good of story teller I might be, I can still see what is and is not good story telling elsewhere. This post is going to focus on good story telling.

So now, where to start. Let’s go with Gravity Falls. I wrote a post some time ago about just how well done the last episode of Gravity Falls was, and it was brilliant.  The whole series was. There was beginning and an end to the story, with an entertaining journey to get us there. We got to explore the world and get to see characters develop as the story progressed. We were given some well-done twists and surprises along the way. And while not every episode revolved around the core plot, those episodes were not forgotten and were entertaining as something more than filler. When we reach the end we have been on a highly rewarding ride we were not expecting. And it ended well.  The creator said he was not going to stretch it all out for more seasons, because he had a story to tell and was able to tell it in two. He did what so many other shows have failed to do because they keep going too long: he told a full story. He ended it before it got old. And that is one important thing some story tellers need to learn. There are "epic" stories that need not be so "epic".  Length does not equal quality. There are some series I have given up on because they have not figured out how to end things.

So next I want to talk about another animated series, and this one is one of the most brilliant things you will ever see on TV. Avatar: The Last Air Bender. Here we were given three season of a strong, well thought out storyline that has it all. Complex characters you love and hate, a real sense of the world and how it got where it is, heroes that are  learning how to be heroes as well as make mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes, and an ending that wrapped it all up, connecting back through the whole of the adventures we had been going through. During the three seasons we see our heroes at their best and their worst. They are flawed, they make mistakes, they are relatable. The events trigger our emotions as we laugh and cry with these characters. There is loss and redemption with twists and turns everywhere. You really cannot guess how anything will turn out.

Now I am going to go back and talk about the heroes failing and dealing with their failures. For me this is one powerful tool of storytelling. Avatar and its follow up series The Legend of Korra were both great at showing the heroes dealing with their failures. When you have a  hero who is perfect and never fails, it gets boring. There is no depth there, nothing relatable. To see a beloved hero fall can be painful, but when done right that hero comes back and shows they have learned from their failures, grown because of their mistakes, became something more than they were before, and they keep going no matter what, that is heroic. They have a power that is not them just being more powerful. They come  back with a realization as to why they failed, which mostly revolves around seeing their own flaws, which is often related to their ego and over confidence. These are the stories that stir our emotions and give us heroes to cheer for. A super person who is all powerful, never making mistakes is boring. There is a popular show out there with the heroes failing, but instead of showing us any character growth or learning form their defeat, they just go and find new ways to become stronger so they can beat up the bad guys better. I got bored with that series quickly. As a story teller, I want my characters to be something more than just powerful and with Avatar you get that. Aang’s choices are powerful because he realizes in the end it is about more than power, it is about how you use that power to stay true to who you are. That is powerful storytelling.

So now I’ll go to live action shows. One of the best ever for getting the story telling down is Babylon 5. Regretfully it took a bit to get things going, with season one not being what it needed to be to draw everyone in. You also get season five which was  rough due to them wrapping most everything up in season 4 because they did not think they were going to get season 5. But season 2, 3 and 4 tell a great story that really works. We see our characters really grow and change, becoming the heroes the galaxy needs. Every character gets a story arch with their ups and downs, overcoming their failures and in the end pulling it together for the greater good. The story arch for G’Kar and Londo might be the greatest character development story ever: what those two go through, who they become compared to who they were at the beginning, with all they went through followed by a truly cruel twist of fate. These are characters who you really would never have believed you would feel sorry for if you just watched the first season. It also has one of the most powerful, well done final episodes I have ever seen.

So for my final example of good story telling, I am going to be a little controversial, in that the third film in this trilogy was not well received and it does have its flaws.  But despite that, there is one very well done story throughout the trilogy that often is over looked due to the flaws of the third movie. I am talking about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. The first two films are perfectly done and highly enjoyable. The third one falls apart at places. Yet if you take all three films together and look at the interconnected story between them, you find a brilliantly done story line. I am talking about the Peter Parker/ Harry Osbourne storyline, nothing else here. We get to see the two of them as great friends as Harry works hard to impress his father while seeing Peter needing no effort yet getting the accolades Harry desires. Even after his father’s death, Harry is still trying and failing as his big plans in the second movie go awry.  Then in the third movie he really takes on his father’s legacy. To  fail and then to learn it is not who he really is and in the end he is a hero. If you look at those movies as being Harry’s story, ignoring all else, you get a real powerful tale of a young man trying to live up to his father’s expectation at the cost of being himself, but in the end becoming someone stronger than that who sacrifices himself for all the right reasons. As Harry’s story, those three movies tell a really intense, character-driven story that is highly relatable and well plotted. Just ignore just about everything else in the third movie though. I find there are times when there is a great smaller story over shadowed by the mistakes for the bigger story that was being told.

Those are a few of my examples of powerful storytelling. There are a lot more and of course there are examples of weak story telling out there as well, and I believe as a story teller I can learn from both. I do hope my writing reflects the better examples of storytelling. If you have not seen the examples I have given here, I do highly recommend them and would be interested to see if others agree with me or not

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Impact Awareness and the Modern World

I remember about twenty years ago one of my co-workers, not even eighteen years old yet, had not seen Star Wars. He would talk about all the newer movies and his other interests and such, but had no idea about Star Wars. He mentioned a rapper he liked, I do not remember who it was, but at the time I did remember having just seen an interview where that rapper talked about how much Star Wars influenced him. This guy had a really hard time grasping just how big Star Wars was and what it had done to our society on so many levels. I tried to explain to him how the whole idea of blockbuster movies as we know them today, came from the success of Star Wars. How it brought about a new age of special effects, or the impact of those incredible music scores. He just wasn’t understanding it. His focus was on the present, not seeing what had come before to shape things.

And I’ve seen this elsewhere. People often seem to not be aware that there was a past, that in order to bring the entertainment of the present, there was an evolution to get to that point.

Where would music be if not for the Beatles?

While I am not a fan of his writing style, I still understand the impact Lord of the Rings had on genre literature. Like everything else I have talked about here, it has also had an impact on things beyond just genre fiction. The ideas there inspired people to be creative in other areas of society, unrelated to writing.

It is also interesting to see the patterns that form. I had found out the song "Killing me Softly With His Song" was written in response to the song "American Pie", which was clearly written in response to a lot of events and people that inspires the writer. There is a progression of creative endeavors flowing in a path from one person to the next, each inspiring the next step, moving the creative process farther.

I had talked about how there was a defining line between before Amazing Fantasy 15, and after, for the comic book industry. There is such a line for music concerning the Beatles, as a well such a line in movies when it comes to Star Wars. There are events that truly change everything, having helped shape the path out society has taken.  And yes, I do openly say that Spider-Man, the Beatles and Star Wars have all played huge roles in creating our present society.

It is hard for anyone who did not live during those times to understand just what they did, but that is part of studying history. I very much think more people need to be looking at the evolution of our society and our entertainments. Most of the events I have mentioned here were before my life time, but as a fan I have studied them and seen what they did. In my life time we have had events like Nirvana and the Harry Potter books, which have had their impact on people and will be remembered. I am not sure if there are as defining a line with them.  I am not trying to say they are not important, it is just a different sense of how things are. I do wonder if we have gone past the point where we will get the massive events of the past. Instead it seems like we’re getting smaller such events, more often. It’s like we’re hitting a stage of just micro-evolutions for society.

There is still a flood of creative ideas flowing and giving inspiration, but for me it seems that something is slowing down. Whatever we have become, it just seems harder to have the grand impacts of old. I don’t hold to the poorly-conceived idea that things now days are of lower quality, which is part of the generation war drivel which benefits no one. There is a lot of quality entertainment being made and we are still finding ways to move the media forward. Just wherever we are, I have not seen anything have the impact and ignite changes on the level of these past events.

I wait with great anticipation for a truly monumental event in my future. I do not believe we are done with them. And it will be something to see where we go with the next huge event.