Monday, May 02, 2016

Why I'm Rooting For Marvel To Regain the FF Rights

Because I totally want to see Victor von Doom make a guest appearance on 'Agents of SHIELD'. It would be so awesome to see the fight between him and Daisy Johnson.

Think about it--she'd blast him with seismic energy, shouting, "You're nothing but a relic--an outdated footnote to history made of obsolete technology and outmoded ideas. Oh, you've made your attempts to update yourself, but nobody cares anymore. The world's moved on without you."

And Doom blasts back with energy bolts, declaiming, "Relic? I am an icon! I am a legend, the cornerstone of the world you made. You think you would be anything without me? You think you're anything now? You're nothing but flash without substance, a few marginal improvements on a design I conceived. I am no footnote to history. I AM history."

And in the surprise finish, the Vision shows up, phases through both their chests to knock them unconscious, and says, "You're both obsolete. Unreal FTW!"

(Yes, this is a terrible joke.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

My X-23 Concept

I know that right now they've turned X-23, the Wolverine clone with an extremely problematic backstory, into the new Wolverine. And that's fine so far as it goes, because it makes her a main character and gives her a significant amount of development and all, but it also has that problem that's also affecting the new Thor and the new Captain America, which is that it's only a matter of time before some bright-eyed young editor says, "Hey, you know how we can get a cheap sales boost for the next six issues? Bring the original back!" And then they become a surplus protagonist, and if the comics industry is known for anything, it's known for the woefully mistaken belief that killing off a superfluous protagonist is a shocking twist that will get people to sit up and pay attention rather than the laziest and most obvious thing to do with a story.

So I'd like to see X-23 get her own series as X-23. And my idea for that series is actually related, somewhat, to that problematic backstory I mentioned. Not in the sense of "she was forced to turn tricks and now must get REVENGE!", because if we're getting into lazy and obvious, well...that's high on the list. But I feel like Laura Kinney is a character who has been denied agency pretty much for most of her life, and my idea for her ongoing series would be for her to try to walk away from her past as a killer, her genetic ties to Wolverine, her legacy as an X-Man, and to find out who she is as a person when she's not embroiled in all the chaos that is her life. (Naturally, it's not that easy.)

In my version of the story, she quits all the X-Teams and goes to a normal college. She majors in sports medicine, learning how to help people with debilitating injuries...and, it must be noted, how to inflict debilitating injuries while causing an absolute minimum of physical damage. She still keeps some ties with her mutant friends, spending time every week in a room lined with adamantium and someone like Kitty Pryde who she can't hurt, trying to control her instinctive response to the trigger scent that turns her into a murderous killer. She tries to keep away from as much of her old life as she can...

But there are still people who need her help. From time to time, in exchange for keeping her off the radar of the world's black ops agencies, some of her old "friends" from her time as an assassin ask her to assist with jobs suited to her talents. She's made it clear to them that she's never going to kill anyone again, and they've accepted that...sort of...but her skills make her invaluable in retrieving kidnap victims, repatriating stolen goods, and other tricky tasks that a skilled infiltrator and combatant can perform. The real challenge to Laura Kinney, though, is finding a way to help people without hurting them. Or at the very least, to minimize the damage she does. She's decided she needs to not be Wolverine. Because Wolverine is a berserker, a monster in his own way, and she wants to be something else.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

But I'm Here to Tell You There's Something Else (The After World)

The same year that took David Bowie has now robbed us of Prince. I don't know if these two musicians were associated in life, but I think that death will now link them forever in the memories of music fans, and I think to some extent that's a fair thing. Like Bowie, Prince seemed to have something of the trickster about him, endlessly reinventing himself as well as his music almost as a kind of game. In fact, it could be argued that Prince took the game further than Bowie ever did--Ziggy Stardust was a persona, but Prince was willing at times to shed himself entirely like an old skin.

Prince was also one of those musicians who I always think of as an artist's artist--certainly he had his share of hits for the general public, but it always seemed to me even when he was alive that his greatest legacy would be the way he inspired other songwriters. He always seemed to be so advanced, pioneering whole new ways of thinking about music that others picked up on and worked into their own acts. I think he left a legacy that has forever transformed music.

I suspect he'll also be remembered mostly for that music--by most accounts he was a private, troubled and difficult individual who mostly preferred to keep the spotlight on his work. Even when he did let it shine on himself, it was Prince the persona and not Prince the person who became the focus of attention. For most, the fiction presented by 'Purple Rain' will become the man. That's not such a bad way to be preserved.

Like Bowie, he was someone who died too soon simply because time is not long enough to allow a genius to create. And I'd really like 2016 to stop this now, thanks.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Spoiler-Free Review: "Welcome to Night Vale: Ghost Stories"

I had the opportunity to see the newest "Welcome to Night Vale" live show this weekend as it passed through the Twin Cities on its way to parts unknown, and while I naturally don't want to spoil anything for anyone, it was another very excellent live show. I'd put it in some ways above "The Investigators", last year's live performance, in no small part because Cecil Baldwin gets to do some genuinely powerful stuff with this script. Although WtNV generally blends genres from scene to scene and even line to line, it tends to hit one of three predominant notes, funny, scary or moving. This one falls in with the last.

We got some very good guest performances as well--won't spoil who, because for all I know it's different from city to city--and some funny recurring bits that are definitely crowd-pleasers. But it really comes together very well at the end, and if you do have the chance to see it in person, you won't be disappointed. And if you don't have the chance to see it in person, you will almost certainly enjoy it when it comes out as a download.

The Weather was Carrie Elkins and Danny Schmidt, two musicians from Austin, TX (a town near and dear to my heart). They were also quite good and we braved the horrific crowd around their merch table afterwards to buy their CDs. They are also crowdsourcing baby names, so put in your vote for Rowan.

Honestly, the only tiny disappointment I had was that they sold out of t-shirts in my size before the show even started. Other than that, a generally wonderful time was had by all, and I look forward to next year's tour!

Monday, April 04, 2016

Review: A Natural History of Dragons

I can only assume that the reason we haven't seen something as quietly brilliant as Marie Brennan's 'A Natural History of Dragons' long before now is because the fantasy genre has been struggling for decades to dig its way out of the steaming mound of sub-par Tolkien clones that compensated for their lack of originality with an excess of length. Because part of the brilliance of Brennan's concept is that it's so gobsmackingly obvious that as soon as you hear about it, you wonder why nobody has ever thought of it before.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it's a memoir written by "Lady Trent", a scholar and a gentlewoman who's made her life's work the study of dragons in their natural habitat. Brennan takes as her inspiration both classic romantic novels (think Jane Austen) and legendary writings on natural history to turn the entire idea of the dragon on its head. She places it into an ecosystem, treating it like a real animal that has habits, biology and a place in nature, and writes an incredibly moving and fascinating story about a young woman who decides to learn everything she can about these rare and fantastic creatures.

For this to work, everything else has to be absolutely grounded in reality, and Brennan does not disappoint. She writes a pseudo-Victorian fantasy world that feels textured and multi-cultural, sprinkling in details about religion and history and society that makes sense as an actual world and not merely window dressing for the dragons. The plot is also clever, interesting, well thought out and holds tantalizing hints for future volumes (there are at least three more books in the series) but the amazing achievement is the way it feels like a true story written by a real woman in a world that just happens to not technically exist.

In case I'm not making myself clear, I adored this book. It makes its stunning conceit seem effortless in a way that only a genius can, and it's a charming page turner that feels like Jane Austen collaborated with Charles Darwin. It's a wonderful sign for the fantasy genre that we're getting books like this out of it.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why I Disliked the Winter Soldier But Love 'The Winter Soldier'

I have made very little secret, in the past, of my dislike for the comic book character of the Winter Soldier. I have always found him to be emblematic of a certain trend in superhero comics that I'm not fond of, a desperate need to pretend that the genre doesn't have its roots in juvenile fiction and a tendency to paper over everything that could be considered immature with the same overcompensatory obsession with violence, guns and ruthless brutality. Retconning Bucky into a Super Seekrit Black Ops Assassin always felt kind of pathetic to me, even before they transformed him into a Super Seekrit Black Ops Cyborg Soldier.

(Um, for those of you who don't know, according to Brubaker even before Bucky became the Winter Soldier, he was a ruthless assassin killing off Captain America's enemies from the shadows so that Cap could continue to be a star-spangled propaganda machine, and the whole "camp mascot, cute kid, bad puns" thing was a ruse to divert suspicion. Y'know, just the way that Jack Kirby intended.)

Actually, that's kind of the point. I feel like when you write for a shared universe, there's a certain responsibility to respect the work that came before you, and I feel like turning Bucky into a merciless shadow assassin for the US government because you think it's "uncool" that Captain America used to hang out with a teenage boy in short shorts. If you don't want to deal with that part of Captain America's history, that's fine. There are a lot of other things to do with Cap. But retconning it into something nasty and dark and mean always struck me as an unprofessional way to play in the big sandbox.

(And frankly, if you'll allow me a second parenthetical aside in three paragraphs, it felt emblematic of Brubaker's treatment of Cap's mythos in general. I was never the biggest fan of the Jack Monroe Nomad, but I thought the character had been well-written in the past and had potential for more stories, and turning him into a mentally unstable psychotic and then killing him off just to show everyone how badass the Winter Soldier was left a bad taste in my mouth. It was, again, disrespectful of the character's history.)

So with all that said, why am I not just okay with but enthusiastic about the Marvel Cinematic Universe Winter Soldier? Because it's not a retcon. They are not leapfrogging the character from Point A, pun-happy kid who has the dream job of being Captain America's sidekick, to Point Z, grim and merciless gun-toting cyborg who kills people because That's What Cool Heroes Do. They're telling the story of Cap's childhood friend, the guy who always looked after Cap and fought alongside him in wars small and large, who was turned into something terrible against his will and is trying to reclaim his humanity. That's not the story Kirby told, but it's also not a repudiation of it. I can take that Bucky Barnes and that Winter Soldier on their own merits, and enjoy them for what they are.

And in a month or so, I get to see the next installment of their story. I can't wait.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: The Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies

There are really only two problems with the Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies by Peter Normanton. Unfortunately, they're both really huge. (Perhaps they're the Mammoth Problems with the Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies? No? Okay. Please yourself.)

The first isn't so bad--the author includes a number of horror movies like '28 Days Later', 'Living Dead at Manchester Morgue', and 'Night of the Living Dead' that aren't actually slasher movies at all. They're zombie movies. Now, I love a good zombie movie as much as the next person, and probably significantly more than the next person depending on who the next person is. But a guide to slasher movies should be aware of what a slasher movie is. In specific, a slasher movie is one that foregrounds the persona of the killer or killers with an intent to make them distinct or unique in some way. (There are also a number of cannibal movies, which kind of blur the line because usually it's an entire group of people acting as the cannibals, but I can at least forgive those because often the cannibals are recognized as unique and distinct individuals. Zombie movies, though, are about a faceless horde.)

This means that there's less space for analysis, because the book is stuffed full of movies that don't belong in it. It also means that the sequels are footnotes at the end of each entry, which is a shame because frequently the tone of a slasher franchise changed over the course of each entry, and it would be worthwhile to look at the way that (for example) Freddy changed from being a grim and vicious child molester to being a malevolent trickster-god, or the way that the mythos of Michael Myers got progressively stranger with each installment.

Worse, though, was the decision to file the movies alphabetically with an index at the back showing their chronological progression, rather than filing them chronologically with an index at the back showing how to find them in alphabetical order. This is absolutely gutting, because what analysis there is of the movies focuses on the way the genre developed as different filmmakers explored the motifs and translated the idea of the Italian murder mystery known as the giallo into American horror...and how a new generation took a genre that had become trite and formulaic and began experimenting with that formula.

So you can imagine how the book is impacted disastrously by having hugely influential films like 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' in the back of the book under 'T', while something like 'Hostel' is about a third of the way in. Any attempt to derive meaning or insight gets lost in the random shuffle of movies, and the book becomes a confused recitation of random details without context. I really wanted to like this book--Normanton clearly knows his stuff, and there's a lot of obscure movies in here that clearly illustrate his ideas about how the genre evolved. But the lack of organization turns it into something of a slog. Unless they fix this problem in a revised and updated edition, I wouldn't spend your time or money.