Monthly Archives: August 2014

Danny Writes Plays: Quarter Century

Okay, before we get into this, an apology regarding my last post. When I was picking backlash movements to speak out against, I chose Kony 2012 because some of the complaints I’d been hearing at the time made no sense to me (specifically the “He’s not even in Uganda” thing, which is still a stupid excuse for a counter-point). However, that meant trying to duck around the biggest complaints against it, those of dramatically over-simplifying the issue (“Just go get him. Why didn’t we think of that. Oh right we did,” said the African Union) and of being the very model of ultimately pointless slacktivism.

What I should have done in order to demonstrate how joining a backlash can ally you with the wrong people is go after the “people,” if we’re going to use that word, attacking Anita Sarkeesian for daring to talk about how women are represented in video games. Because the last few weeks have demonstrated that this bandwagon is filled to the brim with disgusting misogyny, and if you’re going after Ms. Sarkeesian for stating that Princess Peach doesn’t exactly have a lot of agency instead of going after the assholes sending her death threats, you are on the wrong side. Which, sorry Invisible Children, just can’t be said about people pointing out that Kony 2012 didn’t exactly accomplish a lot.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s all watch me tear apart something I wrote eight years ago. Quarter Century, ladies and gentlemen!

What’s it about?

In short, the quarter-life crisis, which I thought I’d come up with myself but was a full fledged Thing by the time I wrote this.

It’s about a group of friends at various points in their 20s: Xavier, or Avi, is a freelance writer married to Miranda, who just got hired by a major law firm right out of law school. Riley, Xavier’s childhood best friend, has recently come back to Calgary after grad school out east. Theresa, Miranda’s older sister, is a psychologist who frequently gets stuck dealing with everyone’s emotional crises while trying to attract the eye of Bobby, the group’s youngest member, who can’t seem to settle on a job, major, or girlfriend.

Xavier’s frustrated because he and Miranda are growing apart, as she’s swamped with her career and he’s busy fighting against becoming a proper grown-up. When Riley’s friend from grad school Angela shows up in town, things get complicated. She and Xavier start to bond over their mutual disdain for being what everyone thinks they should be (or what they think people think they should be–well that sentence got away from me), which starts evolving into something that could ruin everyone’s lives.

Also which involves Bobby being set up on a date with a guy, which he ultimately enjoys, and is very confused about that.

So why’d that happen?

Why’d I write a play about a twenty-something writer struggling against being a grown-up? Because I was a twenty-something writer struggling against being a grown-up. I looked at the awkward difference between growing up and growing old, and thought there was a story there. I took it out, put it away, dwelled on it, dusted it off, kicked it around, and finally got a draft together during U-Boat of the Soul.

And at the time, I was rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer from start to finish, so I attempted to let a little bit of Whedon-style wordplay slip into it.

How’d it turn out?

That’s… a trickier question.

Well, for starters, one of the biggest Whedon-homages worked out pretty well. Based on the Angel episode where an argument between Spike and Angel about who’d win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen, infects the whole group, I had a running gag in which the gang is arguing about who’d win in a fight, Santa’s elves or Snow White’s dwarves. I think it’s still pretty funny.

Moving past that… there’s an inherent problem in looking at something you wrote about how hard it is to be in your mid-20s when you’re entering your… this hurts to type… late 30s. Xavier’s complaints do not ring as true as I once might have believed.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. I don’t think they were ever supposed to ring true. This was my first dalliance with tragedy, after all: Xavier’s Peter Pan complex is his fatal flaw, just as Macbeth’s was ambition. Often in tragedy you’re supposed to know that what the protagonist is doing is a horrible, horrible mistake.

Some of Riley’s dialogue is clunkier than I’d like. That was something I struggled with for a while: I let the Joss Whedons and, more importantly, Kevin Smiths of the world influence me in the wrong way, and what I thought would be a clever and sophisticated style of dialogue just gets clunky in places.

I think Angela still works. I hope she does. Angela loathed being the perfect high school teen so much it drove her into self-destruction mixed with self-mutilation. Her and Riley seem like nice people, I wish they didn’t hate themselves so much. But I guess if they didn’t there wouldn’t be much of a story there.

There are parts that work, there are, but… well, no avoiding it now… I hate, I hate, I HATE the ending.

Xavier and Angela almost have sex, Riley catches them, at which point we learn that Angela and Riley love each other but never told each other, hooray for them, that I don’t hate so much. Xavier and Miranda then have it out, at which point, out of god damned nowhere, Xavier decides to skip town and wander the South Pacific until he finds himself.

Which, okay, is something someone might do, but… what? It just… the plot finally gets moving somewhere, and I pull the plug and exile the lead character to the Phillipines or whatever? Where did this even come from? The plot just got out of first gear only to throw down a smokebomb and vanish, leaving nothing but a series of kind of forced farewells at a bus terminal and curtain call. Did I just get bored? Is that what happened?

Would you stage it again?

Okay. Having had some time to come down and reassess, there may well be a may to fix this one. First of all, Xavier’s gonna have to be rewritten fairly substantially. “I don’t want to be a mature grown-up, I don’t know how” just doesn’t work as well as it once did. Even Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen have stopped going to that well. Instead, focus on a less empty, whiny motivation: Xavier and Miranda’s life to kicking into high gear, with adult jobs and parties and talk of children ramping up, and Xavier’s suddenly remembering all the things he said he’d do by the time any of this started happening. Running off to the South Pacific will be less of sudden bombshell if it’s established that he always planned to travel more before he settled down.

Second, is that all I want this story to be? Xavier destroys his life? Because right now other than a bunch of side-chats, that’s all that’s happening. With some streamlining (which, sadly, might mean cutting Bobby, even though I really wouldn’t want to) I can get this down to a tragedy in one act, or possibly a comedy in two. People have said that that’s what this story is missing: a second act, set six months later, where we see what happens when Xavier comes home. Can he win Miranda back? I honestly don’t know. But maybe that would make this a more complete story than it is right now.

Ultimately, this feels like a few good ideas and decent characters wrapped up in a story that I kind of half-assed. And maybe it deserves better.

Next time, either the worst first draft I ever wrote, or the best. Depends on which script I decide to look at.

Repeated theme alert

  • Man and woman cannot be friends: Of course Theresa has a crush on Bobby and Riley and Angela are secretly in love with each other. Why wouldn’t they be.
  • Fun with pop culture: Miranda works for the firm of “Birch, Shore, and Wambaugh,” named after three of my favourite lawyers from TV shows by David E. Kelley: Alan Birch from the first season and a bit of Chicago Hope (before he, Mandy Patinkin, and David E. Kelley all left the show and I stopped caring about it), Alan Shore from Boston Legal, and the undefeatable Douglas Wambaugh from Picket Fences. It would have been Cage, Shore, and Wambaugh (using the other lawyer David E. Kelley wrote for actor Peter MacNicol, John Cage from Ally McBeal), but someone at a workshop said “Because her work is a CAGE. GET IT?” and that had to go.
  • All in all I prefer it when I let Aaron Sorkin influence my writing style. Nothing against Joss Whedon, I just can’t do his thing very well.

Backlashing against backlash

At the risk of slipping into “cranky old man” mode here… what exactly is so great about cynicism? No, hang on, that isn’t even old man mode… my generation was defined by cynicial detachment not so long ago. We embraced it the way the 50s embraced mistaking patriarchy-driven nuclear families for values and morality. But I’m here today to tell you… it is getting out of hand.

We are cynical about everything now. A thing happens, and people across the internet jump up to stomp it down. And I don’t understand what the appeal is. What is so great and noble about responding to an idea with “That’s stupid” and nothing else? What is backlash actually accomplishing?

I put it to you that internet backlash accomplishes nothing. In fact, it’s about as far from accomplishing something as you can get without a warp drive and a time machine. Here’s some reasons why.

Backlashers aren’t contributing anything

Casefile number one: the Ice Bucket Challenge.

It was July when the ALS ice bucket challenge went viral. Dump a bucket of ice water over yourself to spread awareness of ALS and encourage donations. It was mid-August before I became aware of it, thanks to Stephen Amell of Arrow. And his co-stars, Colton Haynes and Emily Bett Rickards, stressed the need for donations on top of spreading these drenching videos. And like all things, it’s drawn its share of internet backlash. People accused this trend of just being the new internet meme, slagging it as hashtag-slacktivism. Just one problem with that label.

The challenge works.

Thanks to the ice bucket challenge, the ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million dollars in one month, five times what they raised in the entirety of 2012. It’s a viral campaign that achieved results, doing more for ALS awareness than naming the disease after Lou Gehrig.

If that’s “slacktivism,” what else is? Movember? The Ride For the Cure? Anything shy of picking up a test tube and trying to cure a disease yourself?

And even if it were, “slacktivism” actually can serve a purpose: it creates a sense of community. Check out this article, written by someone suffering from ALS, for a more insightful look, but the basic premise is that things like Movember or the ice bucket challenge make a person feel like they’re part of something greater when they donate or participate, something that merely giving money quietly and anonymously doesn’t do, and that generates momentum like nothing else.

Others point how few people actually die from ALS as compared to cancer or heart disease. Well, okay, sure, but the fact is that’s partly why the ice bucket challenge was necessary. Because ALS affects such a small percentage, it receives far less funding from governments, and pharmaceutical companies don’t take much interest because the profit margin would be too small. So they need something like this to gain awareness and raise funds, because however few people it affects, they all die, and right now we don’t know why and there is nothing we can do about it. The person dying from ALS doesn’t matter less than the person dying of heart disease, so don’t tell me that fighting this disease isn’t important.

And some say “But it wastes so much water! And hundreds of millions of people desperately need water!” Okay, point taken. Clean, drinkable water is our most precious resource, because we need it to live, there’s only so much of it, and we can’t replace it with something else, unlike oil, coal, or gold. But when it comes to wasting water in North America, the ice bucket challenge is barely, excuse the expression, a drop in the bucket. That fountain outside the Bellagio hotel, you know, the one in the middle of a freaking desert, wastes more water than ice buckets. We could and should do more to conserve water, and on that note, here’s how Matt Damon completed the ice bucket challenge while making a statement for his own charity, water.org.

Feel free to throw them some money if you’re opposed to the ice buckets.

And that’s ultimately my point about cynically discarding something like this because you spot a fault. What are you actually accomplishing? What is complaining about ice buckets doing to make the world better? Not a god damned thing. Blind cynicism is actually worse than slacktivism. At least slacktivism is encouraging people to do something. Trying to tear down causes for being too trendy, or too viral, or for not doing enough for what you define as the right things, is attempting to stop people from doing something good.

Don’t like the ice bucket challenge? Donate to water.org. Plant a Tree For Groot. Eat less meat. Volunteer at a shelter. Do something. But if all you’re doing is mocking a cause because you don’t buy into it, well, you’re just… this.

The cloud hears you. The cloud don't care.

The cloud hears you. The cloud don’t care.

Moving on.

Backlash hurts progress

Casefile number two: Solar roadways.

It boils down to this, if you choose not to click the link or watch the video: the inventors of solar roadways developed a plan to replace the asphalt that covers roads and parking lots with solar cells, that could be used to power cities. That’s the basics. They could also be fitted with LEDs, allowing them to light up in specific ways, such as adaptable, customizable traffic lanes or parking lot layouts or basketball courts or basically whatever.

The fact is, we need a solution to fossil fuels and we need it soon. Electric cars? Great start, except for the fact that the electricity that powers the cars currently comes primarily from coal. We need solar, we need wind, we need some sort of renewable energy that doesn’t change our climate and turn cities into smog-choked hellscapes like Beijing or LA. The solar roadways team thinks they’re onto something that can power and light up our cities, revolutionizing civic infrastructure, and they successfully raised over $2 million through crowdfunding.

But some people didn’t agree with solar roadways as the silver bullet to fix our energy future. And their complaints are actually fairly valid here.

  1. What about the light pollution? All those LEDs add up, especially on highways.
  2. Sure they’re designed to melt away snow, but what about the heavy snowfalls we get up here in Canada? Can it handle them?
  3. Who’s maintaining the solar panels on rural highways?
  4. How are we connecting these panels to the power grid? Wouldn’t conventional solar panels be easier?

Like I said. All of these are valid questions. But the problem is they were all held up as ways that solar roadways were doomed and shouldn’t be backed by Indiegogo patrons. But the way you find answers to these questions is to fund the project.

As a better writer than I once said, in the history of everything that works, there was a time when it didn’t. The light bulb, the telephone, the Tesla electric car, they all faced hurdles and challenges, and had prototypes that didn’t quite work. But with time, effort, and money, they got there. And maybe so can solar roadways. Or maybe they’ll be one more crowdsourced project that took a bunch of people’s money and didn’t do anything with it. But I hope not.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that no idea arrives fully formed. There’s early drafts and experiments and attempted solutions that don’t work out, and all of those have to happen, and most of them require money. So when people see this new idea and say “But they haven’t accounted for northern snowfall, so don’t support them,” that is harming progress. Don’t just tell me not to support that idea, point me to the idea that will work. Show me how to kickstart more solar farms, but until then, maybe let’s give the people trying to accomplish something a chance.

And you don’t want to be the guy who’s shown the future and screams “Burn the witch.” That is helping precisely nobody. In fact, maybe you should think about what your backlashing is saying about you…

It puts you on the wrong side of things

Now let’s really court some controversy. Casefile 3: Kony 2012.

Remember this? The group Invisible Children put out a video whose goal was to make everyone aware of Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, and specifically his tactic of indoctrinating children as soldiers. The video went viral, kits were sold for people to spread anti-Kony stuff around their towns, and a huge “poster everything” event was planned, with the hope of wallpapering the western hemisphere with anti-Kony posters.

And then came the backlash.

Much like ALS above, out came the accusations of slacktivism, and this time they were well earned, since while the end goal of Invisible Children was, in principle, the arrest of Joseph Kony and an end to children being used as soldiers, the only tangible result that Invisible Children were able to create was awareness. Which is, at best, a good first step. Invisible Children never seemed to manage the second.

People picked at how Invisible Children spent its money (primarily travel and video equipment, which isn’t that weird for a company whose primary activity is travelling the world to champion a cause with videos). People said “But Kony isn’t even in Uganda anymore” in an attempt to dismiss the video’s entire message. Which had just two problems as a nitpick: a) the video said he wasn’t in Uganda anymore, and b) in exactly which country is it okay to commit atrocities with child soldiers?

And then the public face of the campaign went a little nuts and was caught masturbating in public and that was about that.

Sure, if the Kony 2012 campaign is remembered at all, it’ll be as a definitive example of slacktivism: shit-tons of awareness raised, nothing actually accomplished. But there was one thing about all the backlash that bothered me.

While they did take an incredibly, soul-crushingly complicated issue, specifically the political realities of post-colonial Africa that allow rebel warlords like Kony to exist, and try to make it far too simple (share this link to save the world!), Invisible Children’s goal was to end a horrifying practice, that being child soldiers. It was Invisible Children vs. Joseph Kony… and Kony didn’t end up as the bad guy. No, according to internet backlash, Invisible Children were the enemy because they weren’t doing enough.

My question is this. If it was child slavers vs. slacktivists, and internet cynics decided to take up arms against the slacktivists… are they not, in some way, picking the side of the child slavers?

No, think about it, nobody was saying “Invisible Children isn’t doing enough, so let’s take the awareness they raised and run with it,” they just said “Why are you spending so much money making videos” or started parody Kickstarters. They weren’t trying to solve the problem Invisible Children wasn’t able to solve themselves, they were just mocking Invisible Children for speaking up.

Kony’s still active, FYI. And the African Union is trying to catch him exactly as hard as they were before. So conrgrats on that, internet backlash. You and Invisible Children finally have something in common: neither one of you has done anything to stop child soldiers.

Ugh. This is getting heavy. Let’s end with something lighter.

It’s just mean

Casefile four…

You know who you are.

You know who you are.

The fact is that all of these internet backlashes, whether they’re sort of defending a war criminal or accidentally announcing “We do not care about people with ALS” are small potatoes. Even Occupy Wall Street will pale in comparison to the day they finally cast a new Iron Man.

You know I’m right. Nothing makes the internet explode more than casting news on geek-targeted movies. A day will come when Peter Capaldi steps down from Doctor Who or Daniel Craig films his last James Bond movie, and when that day comes, we will once more be drowned in Tumblr/Twitter posts decrying the TV/film industry as racists for not casting Idris Elba as the new Doctor/Bond, as well as posts from a much worse group screaming bloody murder over the mere suggestion of casting Idris Elba as the new Doctor/Bond. We saw the social justice crew go nuts over another white male (worse, an old white male) being cast as the 12th Doctor, we saw internet racists (who claim they’re not racists, they just care deeply about character canon) go berserk over black actors playing a Norse god in Thor and the Human Torch in next year’s Fantastic Four movie… and that’s not even what I’m talking about here.

I’m not calling out racism or misogyny or those who campaign against them. I’m instead calling out the nerd rage crowd, the ones who shouted that Heath Ledger could never be a good Joker, or that called Daniel Craig “James Bland,” or who now throw around the term “Batfleck” as a pejorative. Because putting aside the fact that these nay-sayers have been wrong far, far more than they’ve been right (have they ever been right?)…

It’s just mean.

Take Ben Affleck as Batman. Ben Affleck started strong, with an Oscar for writing and a string of action hits. Then he dated Jennifer Lopez, made a few bombs, and was damn near run off the planet because of it. So he pulled back, took some time off, and slowly worked his way back into Hollywood, starting as a director and ultimately returning to the Oscar victory podium as the director and producer of Oscar champ Argo. And for this, for this hard-fought return to respectability, he was rewarded. Warner Bros., the studio he won an Oscar for, gave him one of their most high-profile gigs: he was the next Batman.

And the internet reacted with all the grace and dignity of a prison riot.

Peter Capaldi has been a fan of Doctor Who longer than I’ve been alive. Longer than most current fans have been alive. He watched William Hartnell, the first Doctor, in the role when he was a kid. And now he gets to take on the role himself.

And the internet either shouted “Too old!” or acted like casting another white man was a return to Jim Crow days.

Ben and Peter, lest we forget, are real people with real feelings. Maybe Ben was excited to be trusted with this role. Maybe he was excited to get another spin as a superhero in a (hopefully, please gods let it be) better movie. Maybe Capaldi was thrilled to get a chance to fly the Tardis. And maybe they don’t need jerks on Twitter saying their casting is terrible news because one of them was in Gigli over a decade ago and the other isn’t diverse enough.

In conclusion. You won’t agree with every trend that hits Facebook. Not every viral campaign will speak to you, and some will downright annoy you, but maybe think it through before you decide to tear it down. Ask yourself: what am I actually accomplishing here? Is there a more productive way I could express my disagreement with this cause? Who else is on my side of this argument, and do any of them enslave children? And, most importantly, am I being a jerk? Or, to put it simply…

Seriously, though… go plant a tree for Groot. Before someone starts complaining about that one too.

An open letter to a Marvel fanboy

So. In the wake of Guardians of the Galaxy, a meme hit the intertubes claiming to describe the difference between DC and Marvel, through a fake internet chat in which DC is awkwardly trying to explain their failure to do anything cool while Marvel screams excitedly about everything it’s doing. This one here.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It’s popped up enough times that I’m no longer able to resist the need to point out that, while funny, it’s not what you’d call… accurate. By any stretch of the imagination. So I now present an open letter to the meme’s writer. And at the end, I’ll be including a link to a video in which puppets make fun of the internet, because you’ll all have earned a break. And because Glove and Boots is very much my New Favourite Thing.

Must we do this

Hello there, Marvel fanboy who made this. I feel comfortable calling you a Marvel fanboy because, well, your little internet joke here exists to crow about Marvel while inventing reasons to take cracks at DC, and that’s not something you typically find in impartial fans of superhero stories.

First, may I just say, I don’t see why this is necessary, this continuous animosity between us. I was like you, once: I read DC almost exclusively, derided and mocked Marvel with their clone sagas and overexposure of Wolverine. But then a day came when I realized I was only hurting myself by shunning one of comics’ two largest publishers. Hell, by shunning any comic, movie, or TV show because I felt a need to take a side. Now, while I still prefer DC, because on the whole I find their comic storytelling more fun and engaging, I read plenty of Marvel. I own the Avengers Phase 1 special edition Blu-ray pack, which means I own a copy of Thor but not Dark Knight Rises.

And I know you can’t say the same thing about DC, sir (I’m also pretty sure you’re not a “Ma’am,” as we’ll soon cover). You’re hardcore Marvel. No time for the other brand. Which is sad. Geek culture should be the ultimate culture of inclusion, where people who’ve been outsiders for most of their life have a place to share their passions with like-minded people. But instead we keep getting bogged down in this petty, pointless Marvel vs. DC, XBox vs. Playstation, Mac vs PC, Us vs Them bullshit.

Also rampant, rampant misogyny, but nothing in this Marvel vs. DC post of yours makes me suspect you’re guilty of that, so we’ll leave that be for now. Suffice to say, fanatical brand loyalty is certainly not as bad as sexism, racism, or other forms of discrimination, but it’s still stupid. It’s pointless.

But since we’re here anyway, allow someone who HAS read a DC comic since the Clinton administration to correct you on some of your so-called points.

Black Widow is not the first female supporting character

I'm not sure you understand your own points. Or words in general.

I’m not sure you understand your own points. Or words in general.

Um. Okay.

I’m hesitant to speak on behalf of feminists for reasons that seem obvious, but… replying to “Making a movie starring Wonder Woman is tricky” with “Marvel is letting Black Widow be a supporting character in a male-driven action movie!” is weak sauce, man. No, it does not seem that Warner Bros. has been particularly motivated to make a live action Wonder Woman movie ever since they pulled the plug on having Joss Whedon write one (a move that earned that executive kicks in the junk until the end of his days). But Marvel’s not exactly racing to put together a Black Widow solo film, are they? Or Captain Marvel, one of the other new faces people have been saying should be in phase three?

Pretty much Starbuck with super powers. You would watch that, admit it.

Pretty much Starbuck with super powers. You would watch that, admit it.

Yes, Black Widow had a large role in the Winter Soldier. They even gave her a few things to do in the big explody climax (not as much as the Falcon, but hey). But I can say the exact same thing about Catwoman in Dark Knight Rises. Selina Kyle had “a ton of screentime and major asskicking skills” there as well. Okay, fine, Dark Knight Rises is not as good as the Winter Soldier, but Marvel’s not winning any diversity medals because they finally found something interesting to do with Black Widow the third time they made her a supporting character in a male-driven movie. Especially since they are on the record as not considering female-led movies a priority.

The fact is, neither of us are winning this race. The next big female-driven superhero movie won’t star Wonder Woman, Black Widow, or Captain Marvel. It won’t be from Warner Bros. or Marvel Studios. It’s going to come from Sony, and will probably star the Black Cat as part of their ongoing desperate attempts to weave an Avengers-level franchise out of Spider-man and his amazing friends. And the problem with that is that based on everything else Sony’s been doing in that world, Black Cat is going to be terrible, probably fail, and give everyone who holds up Catwoman and Elektra as proof that “female driven action movies don’t work” one more bullet in their idiot gun, and Wonder Woman and Natasha Romanov will be supporting cast only for another decade.

And without Iceman, what's even the point?

Plus without Iceman, what’s even the point?

In conclusion, letting a woman be a supporting character in a male-driven movie is not the same as doing a female-driven movie, don’t pretend that it is.

DC does not hate lesbians

In your next point, you claim that DC is forbidding Batwoman from marrying her fiancee, Maggie Sawyer, because they refuse to allow lesbians to get married. But hey, check out the gay wedding on the cover of the X-Men!

Don’t be an ass, guy.

First off, yes, it’s great that Marvel let one of their D-list X-Men get married, and made a big deal out of it so that everyone could see how gosh-darned progressive they are.

However.

Saying that DC is forbidding Batwoman from getting married because they hate the gays would be like me saying that Marvel annulled Black Panther and Storm’s marriage because they hate black people. I mean, sure, there isn’t a second high-profile black couple in Marvel comics, but the decision to split them up was not born out of racism any more than the decision to stall Batwoman’s nuptials was born out of homophobia.

Batwoman isn’t getting married any time soon for the same reason Spider-man isn’t married anymore: because she’s a superhero, the title character of her book, and married superheros are fewer and farther between these days.

And it’s not like they’ve pushed her sexuality into the background, here. She didn’t sell her marriage to the devil or something idiotic like that. She’s still being a kickass hero, capable of giving the Batman a run for his money in a fight, who is also an out-and-proud lesbian in a stable if complex relationship with police captain Maggie Sawyer (who, by the way, has been out and proud as a supporting character of Superman and Batman since at least the early 90s).

I know, fanboy, you haven’t actually read a Batwoman comic, so you’re unaware that Batwoman’s origin is an indictment of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. You’re probably unaware that it’s started examining child custody challenges faced by the LGBT community. You couldn’t have known these things, or when you were shouting to the rafters about how awesomely diverse Marvel’s being lately (we’ll get to that), you wouldn’t have brought the most high-profile gay lead character in comics into your argument.

Kate Kane, aka Batwoman, is here, she’s queer, where she’s at, she’s a Bat, and she’s awesome. If she’s having a long engagement, it’s because comics are nervous about marriage of any kind, not because Kate Kane loves the ladies.

“Dark, mature, and cynical”

I will grant you: Loki did go speed-dating in his new book. And it was amusing. But you probably shouldn’t bring it up as a counter-point to accusing DC of making everything dark, mature, and cynical, because Loki going speed-dating was the follow-up to evil Loki murdering his younger, more heroic self and taking his place (see the excellent Journey Into Mystery: a Comedy in 30 Parts or a Tragedy in 31).

I will also grant that DC movies leaned too much into the dark. DC saw the success of Nolan’s Batman and learned the wrong lesson, and as a result, Man of Steel was darker than it should have been (although I would still describe Man of Steel as ultimately hopeful rather than cynical). But the comics have been trying to build a sense of fun ever since the New 52 relaunch. Even the horror books have a sense of humour. Whereas Marvel’s endless slog of massive crossover event books have been embracing “grim” in record quantities. Hell, the Ultimate books seem to exist solely to watch the world nearly end in high-casualty catastrophes over and over (well, that and Ultimate Spider-man, and they day Brian Michael Bendis leaves that book the Ultimate line may finally fold completely).

But since the New 52 relaunch, high-flying adventure or epic sagas have been the order of the day. Okay, yes, Forever Evil wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but it wasn’t as oppressively dark as some Marvel events. Read Larfleeze and tell me it’s all dark and mature. Or the new eagerly anticipated Batgirl run. Or Harley Quinn.

DC could stand to make their next round of movies less dark and grim, sure, just like Marvel could get more creative with their plots than “Guy gets his hands on a magic space rock and uses it and his army of faceless minions to rule/destroy the world for reasons that are vague at best.” But accusing the entirety of DC’s product line of making everything dark, mature, and cynical is foolishness.

Not sure you’ve been watching Phase II

Now your next point goes beyond “Not knowing anything about DC” and into “Have you even been watching the Marvel movies?” Let’s review:

Your exact words. Your exact stupid words.

Your exact words. Your exact stupid words.

First, a couple points about your shot at DC. Marvel fans attacking DC for changing actors is beyond the pot calling the kettle black. Marvel has recast three characters so far: James Rhodes in Iron Man, Fandral in Thor, and Bruce Banner in Avengers. And that’s fine. Don Cheadle, Zachary Levi, and Mark Ruffalo were all excellent choices. Probably going to need a new Iron Man eventually, and that’ll be okay too. Just like bringing in a new actor for Batman, when it’s a different continuity than Nolan’s Batman, is not only fine, it’s expected.

And also, unless you wrote this last year (you didn’t), Wonder Woman is not “maybe doing a cameo” in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Embarrassing Subtitles (see? I can make fun of my side). Wonder Woman is happening.

 

And she's gonna be hardcore.

And she’s gonna be hardcore.

That said, let’s examine why your boast about Marvel is shockingly divorced from reality.

“Everyone is in everyone’s movie.” Wow, that’s just… no. No, not at all. Which movies have you been watching? Because in the sum total of Phase II, excepting Age of Ultron, there have been two, count ’em, two Avenger cameos in other Avengers’ movies. Bruce Banner popped up in the end credit scene of Iron Man 3 (not to do anything, he was just there), and Loki briefly impersonated Captain America in Thor: the Dark World. In the four Phase II movies thus far, there have been two cameos totaling less than two minutes of screentime.

Hardly “everyone appearing in everyone’s movies.”

If everyone were in everyone’s movies, we wouldn’t be asking why the Avengers and SHIELD gave zero shits that terrorists blew up Tony Stark’s house and then kidnapped the president off of Air Force One. We wouldn’t be asking why Captain America didn’t think Tony Stark or, say, the goddamn Hulk might be useful in taking down three flying aircraft carriers filled with heavily armed hostile soldiers. Or hey, forget them, where the hell was Hawkeye? SHIELD is revealed to be compromised, Cap and Black Widow are on the run, and Black Widow doesn’t think it’s worth at least trying to contact her partner and friend Clint Barton, the guy she signed on with the Avengers to save from Loki?

I mean, “ain’t no stopping us now” seems to be fair, at least until we see how Ant-man does, but let’s keep our boasts within the realm of reality, shall we?

“A few” people of colour?

Again, your exact stupid words:
Stupid point 2

I’m not going to say anything negative about the new Muslim American Ms Marvel (except that Muslim isn’t an ethnicity, and last I checked Americans didn’t need to be sorted by their faith). This is partially because I haven’t read her book, and as I’m trying to make clear to you, you should always be familiar with things you criticize, lest you just look like an idiot. Also because the character seems pretty cool and like a good idea, but I really wanted to remind everyone how shockingly little you knew about DC when you wrote your little screed.

What I will do is remind you of the “one or two” people of colour DC introduced prior to the new Ms Marvel turning up.

  • Simon Baz, the Arab-American (think that might be the term you wanted) Muslim Green Lantern, still playing a key role in Justice League
  • John Stewart, the black Green Lantern who’s still the primary character in Green Lantern Corps
  • Jason Rusch, the black Firestorm, who remained a key part of the character following the reboot
  • Jaime Reyes, the latino Blue Beetle, who’s had the publisher’s support for nearly a decade despite low sales, and was even written into Smallville
  • Miiyahbin, aka. Equinox, the Cree teenager joining Justice League Canada
  • Batwing, the Batman of Africa
  • Nightrunner, the Muslim Batman of France
  • Fan favourite character Wally West, formerly the Flash, finally being reintroduced into continuity, but as a mixed-race teenager instead of a white redhead
  • Ryan Choi, the asian Atom, confirmed as still existing in the New 52 (but only partial credit, if/when the Atom is introduced to the New 52, it’ll probably be Ray Palmer, because Arrow)

And that’s just off the top of my head. You’ll notice a few marquee names in there, like Green Lantern, Flash, and Batman. But hey, the only way you could’ve known any of that is by making even a token effort to understand the thing you’re criticizing.

Ain’t reading Batman? Don’t talk about Batman.

There’s not much I can say about accusing Batman’s personality of being “like wet cardboard.” I could say that clearly he’s never read a single issue of Scott Snyder’s excellent, game-changing run on the book. I could say you’ve missed Peter Tomasi’s exploration of Batman the grieving father, pushed to the edge as he tries to move past his son Damien’s death. But that’s all pretty clear. None of the things you’ve written so far indicate knowledge of anything that happens in DC comics, so why start now?

I could also stoop to your level, and reply that you must be confusing Batman for Captain America since Rick Remender took over the book. But that would be petty.

Also, nobody cares about street-racing latino Ghost Rider. That book will be gone by this time next year. But for the record? “Latina” is female. I know reading a Batman book, or realizing that Marvel characters are also capable of being bland as hell, is difficult, but try to at least get that part right, could you?

Speed round

It gets purely stupid from here, so let’s bring this in for a landing.

“We can’t mention any superhero titles in our movies?” I don’t… what? What are you even talking about? What movies are you watching? Surely not the Dark Knight, everyone knows the Joker’s line about “Simple… we kill the Batman.” Not Man of Steel. They waited a while, sure, but he’s going by Superman by the climax. Are you miffed that they trusted that if they called the movies “Dark Knight” and “Man of Steel,” audiences might recognize the nicknames that have been around since World War II and know which characters they were referring to? If so, does the upcoming movie title Superman v. Batman not help you out?

Guardians of the Galaxy was amazing, I’m not gonna fight you on that, but could you possibly refrain from just making shit up out of whole cloth? If you don’t want to watch DC movies, fine, but maybe just leave them alone instead of dreaming up imaginary offenses. ‘Kay?

Claiming DC just panders to white males? Ballsy, after the creative team of Batgirl, one of their more high-profile books, openly said he’d rather attract one teenage girl than twenty white dudes. Also, do me a favour and remind me how many people on the poster for the Avengers aren’t white dudes. Is it still just one? And she’s sexually posed? Right. And Age of Ultron… one added woman, everyone else is a white dude? Okay then. And Justice League will have at least two characters who aren’t white men, Wonder Woman and Cyborg? Three if they use John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan? Care to crunch the numbers on that?

No, you’d rather just bring up the female Thor and Falcon taking over as Captain America again. I covered this last time, but just to recap… when Bucky took over as Captain America, it was also only ever going to be temporary, and they didn’t pretend it was some new huge progressive change. They didn’t scream from the rafters “Captain America is an amputee now, aren’t we the best.” But sure, there they are, she-Thor and Falcon-as-Cap. Remind me to revisit this topic with you in May 2016, when Marvel needs everything back to normal before Captain America or Thor’s next movie comes out.

Now, as to your claims that Agents of SHIELD is amazing and the DC TV shows are… wait. Hang on… can’t… can’t seem to find anything here about Agents of SHIELD…

Huh. Guess even delusional Marvel fanatics are running out of ways to pretend Agents of SHIELD wasn’t a disappointment, and that Arrow isn’t the best superhero show on TV. Imagine that.

Look, Marvel fanboy… I respect that you like Marvel. And, cinematically, this is a great time to like Marvel. But it’s okay to also like DC, and if you’re going to claim otherwise, maybe try to know even a little about the Distinguished Competition, okay? I don’t know if there’s an easy way for us to find common ground, but I guess the important question is…

Do you want to see puppets make fun of Jim Carrey’s webpage? Because in the words of John Oliver, you sure as shit have earned it.

Take this cool shit, because this lifelong DC fan be outie.

Let’s talk geek controversy

People who know me know how closely I follow geek entertainment news. Mostly they know it from those meetings where everybody sits me down and tries to explain how my obsession with geek entertainment news has affected them, and then I yell “No, the showrunners of Agents of SHIELD need an intervention!” and then come the tears… We have fun.

Anyway, some geek news as of late has caused ripples of controversy. Allow me to explain a few of them, and why I think they’re kind of a big deal. Well, as much of a big deal as movies based on superheroes are capable of being.

Ant-man shenanigans

What’s the deal? For eight years, as long as there has been a Marvel Studios, filmmaker Edgar Wright was pitching a movie based on Ant-man, a character who couldn’t possibly have been at the top of anyone’s list to give his own movie.

Not that the list couldn't use an edit.

Not that the list couldn’t use an edit.

Edgar Wright is behind such cult favourite movies as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, and The World’s End. He is a filmmaker of singular vision. He may not have the box office clout of a David Fincher, but damn he’s got the talent. And for nearly a decade he’s been asking for the chance to use those talents on a movie about Ant-Man. Only to pull out of the project right before it was due to start filming.

It’s now generally known that the reason for this split was that Marvel, late in the game, requested script changes Edgar Wright didn’t want to make. Whatever Wright had planned, it was too big a break from the Marvel model, and they wanted to correct that. A move not everyone on Team Marvel agrees was a great move.

Huh. Their other cult-favourite writer/director. Go figure.

Huh. Their other cult-favourite writer/director. Go figure.

Since then, other writers (three and counting) have been brought in to rewrite the movie, because nothing says “Quality movie” like four different screenwriters.

Why does this matter? A lot of the buzz following the split looked at what this might mean for future Marvel films. Are they anti-auteur? Why is a company that built its reputation being different and taking risks now pushing for safety and sameness? Were they worried that Guardians of the Galaxy might be their first failure? (Announcing a release date for the sequel before it was released says no, and their box office to date says they never needed to be) Will they have trouble attracting actors if they’re going to make a habit of changing the entire project (at least the script and director) after everyone’s already signed on? The cast committed to Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man, after all, not the version they’re ultimately shooting.

But that’s not why it matters.

First of all, those are questions thought up by a media that loves a good downfall story. Marvel’s on a winning streak on the big screen. Nine movies in, and eight are unqualified hits (Incredible Hulk didn’t bomb, but they’ve certainly been reluctant to talk sequel). Their movies have flaws, yes, mostly their inability (or unwillingness) to write good villains… fine, except for Loki that one time… but they’re reliably fun to watch and typically make a decent profit, and as long as that second thing is true, losing Edgar Wright will not hurt them as a company. Actors like being in blockbusters, so as long as the movies are hits, Marvel won’t have problems finding casts. It probably won’t even hurt Ant-Man’s box office much. More people were going to watch it based on “From the studio that brought you Avengers: Age of Ultron” than “From the director of Shaun of the Dead.” That’s just a fact.

It matters because it’s sad.

It’s sad that Edgar Wright chased this project for so long only to have it mutate into something else, something he couldn’t be a part of. It’s sad that Edgar Wright will never get to make his Ant-Man movie, and it’s sad that we won’t be able to see it. Because while I don’t know what the new writers are changing, or how much if any of Wright’s original story will still be there, I have seen every movie Wright has directed, and each and every one of them is amazing. So I cannot believe that this new Ant-Man movie will be anywhere as good as Wright’s would have been.

Doesn’t mean it won’t still be worth watching. Most of Marvel’s product is. But it could have been more. And it’s sad that the world’s most consistently successful film studio is now publicly against doing things differently.

Lady Stoneheart

What’s the deal? Game of Thrones is huge these days, but the fandom is split into two factions: those who read the books, and know it better as “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and those (like myself) who are just watching the TV show. As such, discussion of Game of Thrones (the show) is carefully divided, so that fans of A Song of Ice and Fire (the books) can discuss things without spoiling it for those of us who haven’t been reading ahead.

A covenant that was broken in the wake of the fourth season finale.

Now I’ll do what most websites didn’t and refrain from spoiling anything. Suffice to say, many of the book-reading fans expected the fourth series to end with a jaw-drop moment from the end of book three (which is approximately where they’ve gotten), that jaw-drop moment being the arrival of a character referred to as Lady Stoneheart. When the Lady didn’t appear, the internet went crazy, wondering why she wasn’t there and if we should expect her next season, spoiling who she is for the TV crowd all the way. Even the article headlines and choice of photos made it hard not to know what they were talking about.

As it stands, the producers are not claiming Lady Stoneheart will be turning up next year. They could just be lying in an attempt to preserve the surprise… which would be odd, given how badly that blew up in JJ Abrams’ face with Star Trek: Into Darkness (of course he was Khan, he was always going to be Khan, telling us he wasn’t was wasting everyone’s time). Maybe they’re hoping a few people remain unspoiled that they can shock in the fifth season premiere. Or maybe they’re authentically leaving her out. Which… seems problematic.

Why does this matter? Because this would mean one of two things, and they’re both bad signs.

Option one: they’re just skipping her. By and large, Game of Thrones has stayed pretty close to the source material. But they have left the odd thing out, and everyone from die-hard book fans to author George R.R. Martin has clucked their tongues at the showrunners over it. Some of what they’ve left out seems inconsequential (does it really matter whether someone’s death was called a suicide rather than framing some musician we haven’t seen since book one?), some of it less so (Rhaegar Targaryen might have been long dead when the series started, but he may have a larger impact than the show has suggested), but I’m not sure dropping an entire storyline is a good idea.

Especially since they might need to add stuff to fill the gap, and they do not have a strong track record. Season four, they invented a story involving the Night’s Watch mutineers in order to boost Bran Stark’s screen time, and all it brought to the series was a) yet more rape, right after they were (rightfully) accused of having too much rape as it was, and b) a near-miss where Bran and Jon Snow almost find each other but don’t, which we already did in the third season finale, and also almost finding family but then not has basically been Arya’s entire story for two seasons. The Caster’s Keep arc was pretty much pointless, so I’d kind of prefer they stick to the books rather than keep trying to add things.

Option two: they’re leaving out Lady Stoneheart because she’s ultimately not that big a deal. They’ve read book five, had some conversations with George R.R. Martin, and know that the Lady Stoneheart plot is short-lived and doesn’t impact anything, so they’re giving it a miss. In which case fuck you George R.R. Martin.

Which is apparently mutual.

I get wanting to subvert expectations. I get wanting to be unpredictable. But three times now, George Martin has taken a character I like, given them a plotline I want to see play out, and then ended it with a swift death for the guy I’m rooting for and a victory dance for Cersei goddamn Lannister. It’s getting old, and if it turns out Lady Stoneheart also ends in betrayal and swift, pointless death, then I will hold this over the head of every single person who tells me to read the books, because at that point I no longer consider the books worth reading. Because you can’t be “unpredictable” by doing the exact same thing over and over.

New look for Batgirl!

What’s the deal? Recently, DC announced a new look and a new direction for Batgirl, one which is seemingly directed towards teen girls. There was the usual wailing that comes whenever Gail Simone stops writing Barbara Gordon, but most of the reaction has been positive. Fan art of the new costume is already spreading.

It is pretty snazzy.

It is pretty snazzy.

In addition to the new look, Batgirl will be more immersed in youth culture. The most valid critique I’ve heard of this is that the new look and approach would have been better suited to Stephanie Brown, who briefly held the mantle of Batgirl prior to the New 52 reboot, than Barbara Gordon, who’s been through a bit too much to pull off the carefree youth angle. But you know what? Fair as that may be, I’m not certain I care.

Why does this matter? Because a Batgirl aimed at younger women is a bloody brilliant idea, that’s why.

I’ve accepted the fact that enough things are targeted at us 30-something (and up) white dudes as it is, and maybe other demographics could have a turn. Women like comics, women would like to be able to enjoy comics, so writing a comic with women, even girls, in mind is a good plan.

And yes, absolutely make it a major character like Batgirl.

Besides, I remember the last time DC tried this. Pre-New 52 they made Supergirl a book for younger female readers. They made her more relatable to teen girls, made her… proportions less exaggerated, her costume less form-fitting and her skirt a few inches longer (with the editorial mandate of “I never want to see Supergirl’s underwear again”), and not only did this not ruin the book, that was as good as Supergirl’s comic has been since Peter David stopped writing it over a decade ago. I still read Supergirl, but I miss her teen-girl-friendly days.

As incoming writer Cameron Stewart said, “One young girl being inspired by Batgirl is worth 20 dudes complaining that the costume looks ‘hipster.'” And that’s a sentiment I can get behind.

Just need to catch up on my comics so I can actually start reading it when it comes out…

Black Captian America and Girl Thor

What’s the deal? Meanwhile, over at Marvel, upcoming storylines will see Captain America lose his super-soldier-ness, and Thor no longer be worthy of Mjolnir, meaning they’ll both need replacements. Steve Rogers will pass his title and shield to Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, recently seen in the Winter Soldier movie, while Thor will be replaced by a female Thor.

Which, well, is kind of weird. Marvel’s been shouting “No, she’ll BE Thor!” rather than a different character wielding the power of Thor but keeping their own name, like Beta Ray Bill, Thunderstrike, or anyone else who’s done that ever. This woman (not sure what her name was earlier) will be Thor in the same way Donald Blake was Thor way back when, a story mechanic that was dropped decades ago and retconned out of existence a few years back. So that’s… that’s weird, is what it is, but that’s not what really strikes me as uncomfortable about all the press Marvel has been seeking out around these stories.

Why does this matter? Because diversity in comics is important, and I’m not sure they’re doing it right.

I’m not saying making Thor a woman or Captain America a minority is the wrong move. Making Batman black or Doctor Who a woman or what have you will have far more impact than introducing a new minority superhero whose comic gets cancelled a year or two later then drifts into obscurity. But… well…

Every single thing I know about Marvel comics says one thing: this will not last. In recent years, Marvel had Bucky take over the title of Captain America, used a mind-swap to turn Dr. Octopus into the Superior Spider-man, killed major characters off… but almost none of it took. Most deaths lasted less than two years, in one case less than two months. Steve Rogers was back from the dead right around the time his first movie opened, and Peter Parker was Spider-man again right in time for Amazing Spider-man 2 to hit theatres.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is out next May, and if Steve Rogers and male Thor haven’t reclaimed their titles by then, it’ll be a small miracle given Marvel’s track record. And if Sam Wilson hasn’t stepped down by then, he will when Captain America 3 opens the year after.

And the thing is, Marvel is the only company to actually pull something like this off long-term. In their Ultimate line, Peter Parker’s been dead for years now, and half-black, half-Hispanic teenager Miles Morales has been in his place, and that book is thriving (Ultimate Spider-man has long been the best, and often only good book in that line). But it seems powerfully unlikely that that’s what’s happening here. This looks to be two short term stories that Marvel’s crowing about like they just re-wrote the rulebook or something.

And that’s ultimately the issue I have. A black guy taking over the role of Captain America for eight months would be a non-issue if they weren’t shouting from the rooftops about what a bold move it’s going to be. Crowing about how progressive they are for character changes that almost certainly won’t last just feels… tacky.