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.