Sunday, June 28, 2020

My Ideal Joe...

    A long-time staple of Hasbro (the toy company) has been the G.I.JOE concept. First started in 1964 as 12" generic army men toys with various costume pack accessories. The initial line went until 1976.
    From 1982 onward, Joe returned as a new concept and size. 3.5 inch figures that were cheaper to produce and with a new special elite team versus the Cobra terrorist organization.
    I started buying the toys around 1986 with the Cobra Soldier (called “Cobra” at the time) being my first one. Over the years I had a lot of figures and vehicles. The line was a cool mixture of real world army vehicles and equipment alongside futuristic technology.
    I drifted in and out of the toyline until about 1994. I loved the evolution of the classic characters with new figures and ideas (not all of them were successes but overall it was cool to see updates).
    The ongoing Joe vs Cobra line died in 1994 and was replaced with the “Sgt. Savage” line for 1995 then the “G.I.JOE Extreme” concept after that. Despite the change in story focus, the demand for the standard Joe/Cobra figures remained strong enough for Hasbro to keep doing new figures and exclusive packs for years to come.
    In 2007, G.I.JOE celebrated 25 years of the Joe/Cobra concept with all-new characters based off the classic 80s figures in retro-style packaging. More toys continued over the coming years, keeping the concept strong.
    And then, 2016 happened.
    The last couple of years of G.I.JOE figures were either Toys R Us exclusives or Joe Collector Club exclusive releases. In 2016, the last batch of TRU toys didn’t seem to sell too well (and didn’t even come to Canada at all).
    Our Real American Hero was dead. At least as far as new action figures went anyway.
    Finally, after years of waiting, G.I.JOE has returned!
    2020 sees the release of an all-new 6" scale Joe line (called G.I.JOE Classified). This summer the first wave hits stores and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.
    Later this year, a new retro 3.5 line is apparently coming to Wal-Mart as an exclusive series. Also, a new G.I.JOE movie (Snake Eyes) is on the way as well. Once again, all is well in the world.
    Of course the fans are never happy! Several have complained about the look of the new figures. They don’t adhere slavishly to the classic look and therefore are unworthy. Even I admit some of them could be better (while others are just about perfect).
    My ideal toy line would likely carry on the 3.5" scale while adhering mostly to the classic look of the characters. Or at least the spirit of those looks. Snake Eyes needs to have a visor; Cobra Commander needs a mirrored mask or hood, etc. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
    I’d also try not to get too nuts with the futuristic vehicles. Stuff like the HAVOC or STUN were neat but the Cobra BUGG was dumb looking. Also, Cobra-La might have been too much as well.
    Storywise, I’ve always envisioned the Joe team being a small unit that works covertly. I always thought stories like the cartoon were stupid in the sense that there seems to be hundreds of Joes and everyone knows who they are and where their enormous base is. The only reason there’s hundreds of Joes and a ridiculous number of Cobra troop types is because Hasbro had to keep making up new figures year after year. But in-story I’d limit the team size (or break them up into smaller units we focus on at the very least).
    I’d also try not to get too carried away with stuff like the ninjas. They were cool at first but they were seriously overdoing it when we had “Ninja Force” and twenty characters running around. Also, when we were at the point where everyone was a ninja (Firefly comes to mind. And attempts to make the Baroness some sort of proto-ninja. Enough already!)
    I’d also avoid getting too gimmicky with stuff like the DEA sub-line, Eco-warriors, Sky Patrol, Python Patrol, etc. I found that stuff too much as a kid and I suspect I’m not the only one.
    All in all, I’m glad to see G.I.JOE back where it belongs in the toy aisle. I hope it’s latest run is a long and successful one.

YO JOE!


DKA


Friday, June 19, 2020

There Is NO Conflict!

(Warning! Potential spoilers for Avengers: Endgame)


    I watched Avengers: Endgame when it came out in theaters. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous entry, Infinity War.
    While Infinity War had a compelling story, Endgame felt like they’d painted themselves into a corner and didn’t really know how to end off their story. Instead of finding a logical conclusion, the writers decided to resort to time-travel to magically fix the conflict they’d set up. Perhaps they thought they were being clever but it felt lazy and poorly thought out to me.
    For one thing, how they went about the time travel felt confusing. Everything that had happened up to the present time had happened–but it was also okay to change everything in that sequence of events as well and do new stuff that somehow didn’t unravel it. Captain America had to make certain to return the Infinity Stones to their proper time and place so history went about the proper sequence it had originally–but then we can also have Thanos and his warriors come to the present with no consequences. Gamora died in a sacrifice to get the Soul Stone but now she’s alive too. You can’t have it both ways!
    One grevious problem with Endgame is the fact that Captain America goes back in time and marries his long lost love, Peggy Carter. This invalidates the whole short-lived Agent Carter TV series (which may or may not have been in-continuity in the first place since Marvel seems to have changed its mind somewhere along the line). Regardless of continuity issues, there’s a bigger problem with that:
    Conflict is essential to storytelling.
    Every story conflict is defined in one of three ways. Man versus man, man versus nature or man versus himself.
    But what happens when you negate that conflict retroactively?
    Everybody loved Steve and Peggy as a couple but he was lost at the end of World War Two. His awakening in the present and not fitting in is the impetus for his story going forward. He needs to start anew, cope with his situation and move on with his life. Most of his old friends and comrades are dead. There’s no going back now (or there shouldn’t be).
    Granted, Steve’s story was over with the end of the movie and a new character is taking on the mantle of “Captain America” so it’s all cool, right?
    Not really.
    If we re-watch Winter Soldier, Avengers or any other movie up to that point involving Cap we know that his story arc is now rendered pointless. He’s a man out of time? Who cares! He goes back eventually anyway. His connections with Natasha or Sharon Carter are pointless because he’s going to end up going back in time to be with Peggy anyway.
    Imagine if Spider-Man goes back home at the end of the movie and now Uncle Ben is alive for some reason. Or Iron Man sacrifices himself to save everyone but he has a time duplicate survive and carry on like nothing’s changed. What if JJ Abrams had legitimately brought Darth Vader back from the dead for that matter?
    So, what should have happened to Steve Rogers then? I don’t know. But he could’ve died in battle against Thanos or maybe retired for some reason. Maybe he goes away for a while and gets recast (since Chris Evans was done with playing him)?
    I’m not against Steve getting a happy ending per se but to invalidate all the conflict that’s come before makes his ultimate fate feel hollow. It’s not earned by the previous movies. It feels tacked on at the end instead by writers who didn’t know what to do with the character.
    Also, if everything that we saw did happen, how did Peggy get married, have kids and grow old but we don’t see her husband (old Steve) or any sign of him at all when younger Steve was visiting her? Or was he hiding because he knew he had to? And if Peggy still passed away in Civil War does that mean old Steve is now a widower and living alone? How is that a happy ending? It doesn’t feel well thought out...
    This movie further illustrates how using time travel in any story is a potential cop-out. Don’t like how something turned out? Hand wave it away with magic basically. If you’re going to do something in a story, do it. Kill that character off. Destroy their world, etc. Don’t do it and then try to take it back later.
    Comics have been pulling that for years. But, to be fair, many of them have been running decades and need reboots or to undo story decisions ultimately to keep things going. The MCU, by contrast, has been going just over a decade and has plenty of flexibility to avoid that sort of scenario in the short-term. As I mentioned, some of the actors are done with the whole project now (Evans and Downey Jr) but they could die, go away and come back recast or something. Actors leaving is not necessarily a deal breaker that necessitates poor story decisions.
    Without meaningful, lasting conflict, we’re no better then animals! We need to create stories where the odds are against our protagonists and they must rise above them. Undoing the conflict ruins the story completely. The MCU is no different then other.


DKA

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Hey Kids! Comics!

    I grew up with comics. From the time I was about three or four I was exposed to the graphical storytelling art form. It all started off with my older sister’s DC Comics collection. She had several comics but I remember her Superman and Justice League comics especially (I think she also had some Wonder Woman issues too).
    It was too long ago and I don’t remember any specifics of the comics but I know Superman and Jimmy Olson had some adventures together. I also remember the various Green Lanterns and Flashes from the old Crisis crossovers.
    Next up was Green Lantern. I had a few issues of that at a point where Hal Jordan quit the Green Lantern Corp for a bit and John Stewart took his place (and also quickly revealed his secret identity to the world). Around the same time, I also had a few issues of ROM: Space Knight. I remember an issue of ROM where he was changed back into a human and also his girlfriend took over his partner knight’s (Starshine) body.
    I also had a few scant issues of the old Marvel Star Wars comic. It was okay but even as a kid I felt it sometimes strayed too much from what made the movies so great.




    I got more heavily into comics with G.I.JOE: A Real American Hero. I loved the toys at the time and started buying the comic at issue #50. I enjoyed the stories as well as the art. Shortly after, I also started buying Transformers as well (also toys I collected at the time). G.I.JOE was a gateway drug that got me heavier into other comics such as Captain America (during Mark Gruenwald’s long run) as well as X-Factor (Simonson run) then later comics such as the Avengers, X-Men and several others.
    I also got into Batman for a while around the time Tim Burton’s movie came out (I actually preferred the comics interpretation more). At some point I took a long break then came back years later, picking up with Batman again and a few others.
    Eventually, all the gimmicks got on my nerves and I slowly dropped away from comics entirely. I’ve gone back every so often time and again over the years but it seems like newer comics just don’t have that same spark the older ones did.
    I like old school comics best. One and done stories. Or ones that are multi-part stories that actually entertain you with a good story. Too many modern ones do nothing to entertain you or change anything. I read a six issue Justice League origin (new 52 one) where barely anything happened! For $5 an issue I expect better.
    There’s also too many events and other dumb gimmicks (remember the foil and holo covers of the 1990s? Or the trading cards?) Just tell me a good story! Why is that so hard now? Are the writers incompetent or do the companies not permit them to do so, focusing instead on immediate cash grabs instead? Either way, it’s just not the same.
    The lack of quality in the comics from the Big Two are a part of why I think the MCU movies are so popular. They’re generally more concise. One and done (while being part of a bigger story arc with the Infinity Stones. But that doesn’t usually overwhelm the individual movies). Sadly, as time goes on, I think the big over-arcing stories might eventually ruin the MCU and DCEU as well. It’s inevitable somebody somewhere will think they’re a storytelling genius and attempt some ill-advised mega story that loses the audience in the process.
    Anyway, just give me a good story and I’ll be happy.

DKA











Monday, May 4, 2020

Back in the Kitchen. Where You Came From!





   I was watching a video on Youtube earlier that was talking about Naughty Dog Studios (Uncharted video games; The Last of Us) and how they were pandering to a feminist agenda, brought on by indulging a “crazy lady” that was more concerned with pushing her “progressive” agenda then allowing the Studio to produce good games on their own merits.
    Scandalous! Completely unbelievable!
    But... is it true?
    I looked into the matter a bit and found they were talking about Anita Sarkeesian, a well known woman that lectures and leads an organization that promotes strong female and ethnic diversity in media.
    Supposedly, she’s forcing her awful feminist agenda on Naughty Dog, making them include LGBTQ characters, relegating male lead characters to background characters and so on. She even got Amy Hennig (herself a woman and well known writer/producer of the Uncharted games) fired from the Studio when she didn’t tow the progressive line.
    The video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6f6mmuh_04&t=0s) is by a movie/video game critic I follow on Youtube who goes by the nomme de plume “The Critical Drinker”. He’s not afraid to tear movies a new one and his schtick is generally entertaining. Usually, I agree with him when he calls something good or bad (he’s also a novelist apparently).
    I have noticed a strong tendency of his to decry perceived “social justice” movements in media. Kathleen Kennedy is the devil, for example, forcing her feminist evil on Star Wars and making us have a crappy character like Rey be the star of the films at the expense of the classic characters. (Although he also rightly points out that Rey is an underdeveloped “Mary Sue” character with no story arc or real personality to speak of). He’s also gone off on the new New Warriors series (a lot of people have, if we’re being honest) and this Anita Sarkeesian woman.
    His video spawned the typical comments one would expect: What’s she ever done? Why is she setting women back? She’s a fraud. Make your own female stories instead of hijacking existing ones. Blah, blah, blah...
    It occurred to me while writing this that the original video is most likely intentionally sensationalist to get hits. It’s far from the first time somebody has done that online and it won’t be the last.
    I don’t know what Ms. Sarkeesian’s ultimate goals are. Maybe she is just trying to make money decrying perceived social injustices in media. Maybe her motivations are purely altruistic. Most likely, the truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes.
    But... is she wrong?
     Certainly there have been some stories in pop culture with strong female characters–many of James Cameron’s movies come to mind. But predominantly it seems like movies are dominated by white male or white characters generally. I’m white myself and I can understand a writer/creator wanting to tell stories from their perspective.
    The world is not predominantly white though. Stories where everybody is white are not reflective of the world we live in and haven’t been, frankly, ever. According to Wikipedia white people only make up 11.5% of the world population. This didn’t happen in the last twenty years either. It’s been that way for centuries. Shouldn’t modern story telling reflect the world we live in?
    You can tell a story where a damsel is in distress. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem, I think, is popular culture relied far too heavily on it at one time and there’s a perception that’s still the case. Personally, I find strong female characters to be far more interesting from a story telling perspective.
    There is a tendency among some to take it too far though. For a while in the nineties it seemed like every time a male writer wanted to tell a story about a strong female character she ended up savagely hating men and only sought recourse in the arms of another woman. (A lot of pulp comics from smaller publishers seemed to relish this sort of thing). A strong female character doesn’t have to be a militant lesbian and I think people who only see things that way are very poor story tellers/idiots.
    If you want a character to be gay that’s fine. But use it properly. Don’t use it in some bizarre gimmicky way. Find the truth in that character’s soul and explore it properly. Anything less is insulting to everybody frankly.
    Why is your female a strong female character? What circumstances made her that way? How does she see the world? If she’s a lesbian, what’s her perspective on the world?
    I’ve tried to tell stories with strong women in them (although I prefer to write pulp-style stories and I’m not certain it always comes through as well as intended). Strong women are far more interesting and believable then ones who are helpless eye candy.
    We need more female protagonists and strong female characters in storytelling in general. How they are “strong”, of course, should depend on the story needs. She doesn’t always need to be a kick-ass warrior in the traditional sense. It can be a woman who meets life head-on, a strong mother figure, etc.
    We also need more representation of so-called minorities. If you’re telling a story about a man, why does he necessarily have to be white? Is it critical to the story you’re telling?
    Which is not to say that I agree with the idea of re-casting established characters as being a different color/gender. I don’t have a problem with Miles Morales as he’s his own character–similar but not identical to Peter Parker. I don’t see why they re-did Matt Trakker as a black man in IDW’s M.A.S.K nor did I really like redoing Nick Fury in the comics as a previously unknown son of African heritage who takes up the name.
    But Static, Black Lightning and Kamala Khan are their own characters. Why not try to introduce more characters into mainstream comics, television or movies that way? If they’re interesting enough they will eventually catch on. Stop rewriting history and make some instead.
    We definitely need more women, minorities and differing viewpoints in storytelling. But we need them to be well thought out and at least attempting originality. Don’t shoehorn it in there to win points with somebody. Be genuine in your desire to tell new stories with people from other walks of life.
    In the end, everyone matters, no matter who they are or what path they may walk...

DKA




Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Continuity is Everything/Nothing.


    Once upon a time there was the DC Universe...
    And it was good.
    But after decades of history it became harder and harder for the writers to reconcile the facts that characters like Superman and Batman had been created in the late thirties and were still young and vibrant in the seventies. Additionally, some characters had more then one version–there was two different Green Lanterns and Flashes with different personalities and origins.
    In order to keep using everyone, they hit upon the idea of using parallel worlds. The modern heroes lived on Earth-1 while the older versions, such as Jay Garrick and Alan Scott lived on another world that was similar to our own called Earth-2.
    That sufficed for a time. And as the comics continued, gradually other worlds were introduced–Earth-3, where everyone was evil instead of good. Earth-S, Earth-X, Earth-Prime and so on. After a while, it got confusing to keep it all straight.
    The solution? Destroy everything and reboot the DC canon as one singular Universe with one definitive version of each hero, villain, etc.
    And so, in 1985, Marv Wolfman set about to do just that with the maxi-series, Crisis on Infinite Earths. After twelve issues, everything was rebooted and the stage was set. But, due to publishing schedules and lack of coordination among the writers and editors, every comic did not immediately reboot at issue #1 and start anew.
    This eventually caused problems. Some characters (Psycho Pirate, Animal Man) could remember the original continuity while most couldn’t. Some characters origins were botched up while other errors slipped in–like Superboy’s contribution to the Legion of Super Heroes (despite not supposed to having existed in the new continuity). Over time, the errors piled up and fans got annoyed.
    This called for a fix. Enter 1994's Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. This new event would fix everything! Except it didn’t. Later on, we had Hyper Time (parallel realities/timelines), Infinite Crisis and also Final Crisis.
    At one point, Dan Didio, the DC Co-Publisher explained that his company was going to stop fixating on continuity and just try to tell good stories. An excellent choice. Indeed, some characters have had multiple origin stories since the original Crisis. Superman has had several as has Batman.
    Continuity is important in storytelling. In fact, it’s essential. Completely ignoring it leads to utter chaos. And yet, sometimes it does get overemphasized. In DC Comics case, there were too many cooks in the kitchen. They needed to pick an origin story after the original Crisis and just get on with it.
    If they’d done as Marv Wolfman intended and done a coordinated reboot of everything all at once the following mess could’ve been easily avoided. Alas, that was not the case and readers had to suffer the consequences for decades afterward.     
    Ultimately, it’s the stories that matter not the minutia. Yes, Superman is an alien orphan from another world. So what? Where do you go with that? What will Bruce Wayne do once he dons that Bat costume? What will Barry Allen or Diana of Themyscira do when faced with wielding incredible power?
    People complain about the storytelling in comics today–and with good reason. We want tales of heroism and villainy. Of sacrifice. Of loss. Of triumph. Nobody ultimately cares how you get there or which Green Lantern you use as long as they get that emotional and intellectual fix.

    Perhaps dropping the monthly comic issue scheme all together and focusing exclusively on telling stand-alone stories would ultimately work better. Yes, the monthly floppies are a long-standing tradition but maybe it's time to move to a new model in the interests of telling better stories?
    Forget about continuity fixing events. Forget about mega-crossovers that ultimately make no difference. Stop searching for schemes to sell us monthly comics and increase your short term profits. Just tell us a good story and we’ll be there...

DKA





Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Half-Baked and Stale. Ideas of All Shapes and Sizes...

  Ideas are a dime a dozen. Some are good, some are not. That’s just the way it is. Hopefully when creating a story somebody has the time and imagination to flesh out an idea to its ultimate fruition.
    We know that’s often not the case though. Especially in mass media we can see plenty of television shows, movies and even books that try out an idea and don’t quite reach the logical outcome they should.
    Was somebody pressed for time? Did they simply not consider all the ramifications of whatever it was they were trying to accomplish? Or maybe they did but somebody else had other ideas–a producer or an editor wanted something else and didn’t have the same vision the author did.
    There’s also the fact that some ideas simply exist to accomplish a certain thing and trying to extend them or alter their original premise causes fundamental problems. Consider the first Highlander movie. At the end, Connor MacCleod wins “The Prize”–the ultimate goal for all the Immortals in the story. After that point, the story is over. There is simply nowhere else to go for a further story.
    But that didn’t stop the show’s producers. They wanted a sequel and a further opportunity to cash in on this premise. They eventually made a sequel movie–even though there was nowhere further to go. They came up with a ridiculous premise that the Immortals were all aliens and came to Earth from another planet so we could have more of them show up to challenge Connor again. Further movies seemed to ignore this and the first movie’s ending as well, just throwing more Immortals at Connor to fight. (Frankly, anyone who enjoys the first movie should just ignore the sequels all together).
    Another story that comes to mind–and the one that prompted me to explore this in a blog in the first place–was the original series Star Trek episode, Mirror, Mirror. In that story, Kirk and several of his crew are somehow transported into a parallel universe where everyone is opposite to how they normally are. It’s a world where everyone is basically evil and selfish, opposites to the normal universe where everyone is good and altruistic.
    The premise works extremely well as a one-off. A look at how a person can be inclined differently given different circumstances. Are we inherently good or evil? Do we learn that behavior? Nature versus nurture.
    Over the years that premise has been revisited time and again. In the original DC Comics series from the 1980s, writer Mike W. Barr did an entire story arc where Kirk and crew from the Mirror Universe crossover with our regular heroes. (Its been years since I read that story but I recall enjoying it as a kid). The comics aren’t consider cannon though so they ultimately have no bearing on the official storyline.
    Years later, somebody (Peter Allan Fields and Michael Piller) decided to revisit the Mirror Universe in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Crossover. This kicked off four more sequel episodes in DS9, a two-part episode in Enterprise and two characters crossing over in Star Trek Discovery later on.
    The more we return to visit the Mirror Universe the more obvious it is the premise doesn’t really stand up as a concept. We are really expected to believe that an entire universe of beings is inherently self-serving and evil? That we get the odd freak, like Spock, who can accept pacifism but everyone else just struggles to better everyone else around them to their own benefit? Yes, that’s how the real world can be but not everyone is like that a hundred percent of the time. People can be good too and selfless. People love their families and friends. Not everyone is out to screw everyone else over constantly.
    That lack of texture makes the Mirror Universe a hard premise to accept. If it were really that bad, how could anyone even function long enough to accomplish anything of value? Why would there be a Terran Empire in the first place?
    (As an aside, if the Terrans conquered the Vulcans early on, why don’t they seem to have more advanced technology even the era of Enterprise? Never mind finding the Defiant to advance their technology more rapidly–which, while a cool idea, doesn’t explain why the I.S.S. Enterprise seems at about the same technological level as the regular Enterprise in that original episode).
    Also, the later episodes really have nothing new to say. It’s just the same thing all over again. The protagonists duplicates are evil and out to screw each other over. Our heroes are appalled, try to affect change and then return home. Rinse and repeat. It’s great popcorn entertainment but ultimately means nothing. 
    It might’ve been better to just leave the whole Mirror Universe alone in Star Trek. Or do a sequel episode in DS9 and then have just left well enough alone. Some things don’t hold up to further scrutiny and some ideas get more diluted the more we’re exposed to them (like the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who. An excellent idea once--but less and less cool the more we see of them).
    It’s pretty much impossible to be original in serial fiction one hundred percent of the time and everyone has their off-days, half-baked or just plain bad ideas. That’s life. But beating an old idea into the ground doesn’t really help endear anyone to a story concept. Sometimes to keep going on, we need time to imagine something newer and better. Sometimes just letting sleeping dogs lie is for the best.

DKA





Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Some Reading for the End Times...

In case you didn’t notice, there’s a worldwide pandemic happening right now. You may be stuck in-doors, bored and restless. Maybe you’d like to read something? Here’s some suggestions...



cover by Anthony Klepack
Tales of the Destara: The Light Odyssey

The great empires of the galaxy have fallen... crushed under the foot of the invincible Destara Imperium and it's legions of transformable cybernetic warriors. None have ever defied the Destara for long and lived to tell the tale. The Imperium has ruled countless star systems for millennia, it's power undeniable. All living to serve it's mysterious dark master, the being Deceptar...
But on a distant world, one of their own number will begin to question everything he's been taught and challenge the establishment in which he's believed in for so long. As he embarks on a journey of light, nothing will ever be the same again...


The Light Odyssey (by Anthony Klepack) is a story of Transformer-like robots set in a battle for the fate of the Galaxy. It’s full of drama, suspense and oodles of action! (18+ audience).

Get it here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/tkphotonathotmaildotcom

*****
      
MJ Spickett has written several epic fantasy books over the years. Now, her first series, Raven’s Realm is available for a limited time for FREE on Lulu.com

Raven’s Realm is a urban fantasy series (aimed at 18+ readers) about a reincarnated wizard and his fae protectors as they battle the forces of evil! Check it out!

https://mjspickett.weebly.com/adult-fiction.html

cover by MJ Spickett




















*****

Sharon Broussard has done a series of books (also about Transformer-like characters). Her main character, Tutami, leaves behind a life of war and strife to strike out on a new path of discovery and self enlightenment. But can she truly escape the consequences of her past? (18+ audience).

http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?contributorId=1664127

cover by Sharon Broussard

Check them out and support some indie authors today!

DKA