Saturday, October 17, 2020

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #3 Review...


Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #3


Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Guido Guidi


Synopsis:  Counterpunch recalls how in Optimus Prime and Megatron's absence, Straxus swiftly worked to gain brutal dominance over the Autobots. Along with Thunderwing and Scorponok the three Decepticon warlords carve up Cybertron into their own fiefdoms. Straxus privately consults Counterpunch and asks him if he thinks will respect their pact (to stay in their own territories). He replies, no. Straxus plots to take the whole planet, then the cosmos itself! He orders Counterpunch to make Project Dreadnought happen, no matter what it takes. Punch goes to the interim Autobot leader, Ultra Magnus, and tells him they must stop Straxus' machinations. Ultra Magnus feels overwhelmed by his responsibilities but gets some reassurance from Impactor and Roadbuster. Both of them volunteer to join in on Punch's proposed "wrecking crew" to stop Straxus.
  On Earth, Grimlock has apparently defeated Shockwave and is headed back toward the Ark on "autopilot", still mentally distant after his infusion of pure energon the last issue. AUNTIE, the Ark's computer is damaged and can't recognize him as a friendly so it commissions some clones of the Autobots to intercept him. Grapple, Hoist, Smokescreen, Tracks and Skids are dispatched.
  Meanwhile, aboard the Nemesis, the three conehead jets (Ramjet, Thrust and Dirge) ave recovered from Shockwave's attack and decide to go down to the surface for some payback. They reach the Ark first and engage the Autobots. Grimlock passes through them unfazed so Auntie activates some Guardian robots to stop him instead.
  Back on Cybertron, Star Saber fights valiantly against overwhelming odds until Deathsaurus confronts him. He orders his forces to kill the Autobot but he manages to escape. Ultra Magnus then contacts him and tells him to return to Autobase. He needs him for a critical mission. At Autobase, Impactor introduces Punch to his newly formed unit--the Wreckers!
  On Earth, Grimlock makes short work of the Guardian bots and begins to regain his senses. But, just then, we discover AUNTIE has reactivated Megatron!

Thoughts:  Like with the previous two issues, a lot of this story feels boring. Like stuff we've all seen before. However, this issue veers in to slightly new territory so it's not quite as bad. I don't feel like this story is the definitive canon version of the G1 comic (I prefer the original, slightly more vague rendition). It will be interesting to see how this is all resolved next issue. As usual, the art is excellent.

Verdict:  Average.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Unintended Consequences...

    In life, it’s important to always have a plan. That helpful blueprint to guide us along the pathway we need to follow.
    Just like in life, it’s a good idea to have an actual story outline to help a writer know where they want to go with their tale. In my case, I like to plot a story out scene by scene (or chapter by chapter, scene by scene, as the case may be).
    Sometimes what you plan out doesn’t always come to pass for whatever reason. Perhaps in hindsight the scene or character interaction doesn’t make sense or becomes redundant. Maybe you just got bored with the idea when you went to actually write it out.
    This has happened to me a bit lately. For example, a story chapter I was working on felt boring so I changed the scene a bit. In doing so, I messed up the story progression and had to figure out a new way to work through the plot.
    Another time, a short story with what seemed like a straight forward enough premise went off the rails mid-way. I’m still trying to feel my way through that one.
    Writing is an art where one needs to plan things out ahead of time. To know where they’re going and how to get there. But when the unthinkable happens and things change, we also need to be able to think on our feet. Improvisation can be crucial.
    Consider how many things over the years that may have been affected by changes on the fly. The original Star Wars is a good example, with things changing constantly throughout production. Apocalypse Now!, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek, etc, etc. The list is endless.
    How many works of art have been improved upon by improvisatio
n? Some may have been made worse too, of course. Sometimes one over thinks an idea to the point it loses whatever poignancy it may have had in the first place. Or, by over-working it, they reveal the premise wasn’t so great in the first place (I think of countless bad movies that have been rewritten and re-edited into mediocrity).
    In the case of writing, this also demonstrates that one needs to have a very good understanding of storytelling in the first place. If it starts to fall apart or veer off in the wrong direction, a good writer must be able to realize that there’s a problem in the first place and then actively work to correct it.
    They also need to know how to fix whatever the problem is and get things back on track, even if that means discovering some new and innovative method to course-correct.
    Good writing skills are essential, yes, but so are good editing skills. Many a good editor has saved a story from becoming a dumpster fire over the years by being able to recognize issues as they crop up.
    I’m also a firm believer that where you start out in a story doesn’t always matter as long as the end-point is properly satisfying. If you stick the landing, as they say, you’ll leave with a much more satisfied audience then if you end on some bizarre note that leaves them scratching their heads. That’s not to say it has to always be a happy ending per se but an ending that makes sense given the overall context and theme of the story.
    Good organizational skills, a good imagination, improvisation and an ability to make it all make sense in the end. These are the true hallmarks of a good storyteller. Everything is just icing on the cake when it comes to what one brings to the table.

DKA

 

 

 


Friday, September 25, 2020

The Next Big Step...

 

 


    There are a lot of perennial concepts I’ve followed over the years. Stuff comes and goes and some ideas are better then others.
    This is the time of year where we celebrate the premiere of several Transformers cartoons, for example. The original cartoon, Beast Wars and Beast Machines all debuted in September (which is logical, given the new school year and the run up to Christmas, of course Hasbro wants to attract new kids–and now, adults too–to its newest product).
    It occurred to me that I haven’t really found any of the various Transformers cartoons of the last decade or so to be all that interesting. The last one I tried really watching was “Robots in Disguise” (the newer series from 2015).
    It was okay but it didn’t really blow me away. Granted, I’m not the target demographic any more (not by a long shot!) but usually the best series have something that can attract older fans too.
    I’ve also watched the Combiner Wars shorts (which were boring, imo. No time for characterization or much plot really beyond the superficial). Most recently, I watched the six part 2020 Siege series on Netflix. It was better paced (each episode was about 30 minutes) and had at least some characterization. Again, though, it felt like it could have been better in some regards.
    I think part of the problem is the heavy reliance on nostalgia. Nostalgia can be good but how many times do we need to re-hash the same elements from Generation One? Lately, we keep getting the same G1 characters as toys over and over again. Now, we’re even re-doing the war for Cybertron and the journey to Earth.
    I understand they can’t do one contiguous story for ten years, since it would make it extremely difficult to attract new kids to the concept, but why not at least try something different occasionally? Why not focus on a new unit of characters in a new setting somewhere? Or the same characters in a new setting? Something–anything–other then the same old thing!
    Beast Wars did this and was a smashing success. Beast Machines continued Beast Wars but went off into left field with its idea. The original Car Robots/Robots in Disguise was different. Transformers Animated was a bit out there too...
    The last really good, really memorable story Transformers series was Prime. It had the same general robots-crash-on-Earth set-up but managed to still find something interesting in the concept to try.        The current concept is “War for Cybertron” which is a multi-year concept. They start out on Cybertron during the War, travel to Earth and then something involving some Beast Wars ideas (aka “Kingdom”). Once that’s over though I hope Hasbro sits down and brainstorms something new and fresh to do with the concept. Don’t give us more regurgitated G1 stuff again (at least, not for a while anyway).
    They need to take it somewhere new and different. Get some decent writers and give us a new–and good–animated series. Get a comic series to try its on take on the idea. Make long-time fans like myself actually get interested and excited in the concept once again, instead of just going through the motions.
    (This totally ignores the whole “Cyberverse” line and shows, which are aimed at a younger audience and I’ve not bothered watching. Perhaps they’re trying something more interesting...?)
    Until then, I’ll just be over here with my G.I.JOES... 😃

DKA




Friday, August 28, 2020

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #2 Review...

 

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #2


Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Guido Guidi


Synopsis: Counterpunch continues his narration, recounting as the Autobots return the ruined Dynobots to the Ark’s storage bay. Ratchet copies their memory engrams into the computer for safe keeping. Elsewhere, Perceptor shows Ultra Magnus that they were blown off course intentionally but Shockwave’s world engine. In Polyhex, Counterpunch sets Straxus up with a new base, explaining that he will be important in helping establish the new order once Megatron is gone. Straxus launches an attack on the remaining Autobots at his urging, keeping them distracted from doing anything further about Shockwave’s machinations. Shockwave is on the Nemesis overseeing Megatron’s attack on the Ark when the other vessel crashes into the Earth with all aboard. He is confronted by Ramjet, Thrust and Dirge (stragglers left behind to keep any Autobots from escaping the attack) and forced to neutralize them with a weapon of his own devising. He then transforms and flies to the Earth to try and make certain Megatron and the others are permanently deactivated. The Ark’s computer detects his presence and rebuilds the Dynobots into their new dinosaur forms then sends them out to confront him. Shockwave realizes the Earth is abundant in energy and could easily help them re-energize Cybertron itself. The Dinobots arrive and attack him but are easily bested. Grimlock gets some raw Energon from Swoop and uses it to power himself up. He strikes Shockwave and moves in for the kill...

Thoughts: Pretty much the same as last time. This is competently written but I find the subject matter a bit dull. We’re just retreading history here, time and again. There is the new take on the Dinobots versus Shockwave but... meh. Perhaps things will be more exciting as we approach the eventual conclusion of this mini-series?

Again, Guidi’s art is nothing short of fantastic looking. Easily the best reason to pick up this series!

Verdict: Average.

The Second Cut...

 Continuing on from my previous blog, here’s a few selections of movies that have been re-edited and have some interesting changes from their original theatrical versions.


Aliens - James Cameron’s masterpiece has another fifteen or so minutes added back on DVD/Bluray. Addtions include a revelation that Ripley had a daughter, gunbot sentries, a deleted scene with Newt and her family finding the Xenomorphs and other little bits and pieces.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day - The Director’s Cut has the T-1000 getting damaged, allowing John to realize his mother is not really his mother in the end. Additionally, we get more backstory on Dyson, a dream sequence with Kyle and more.

Avatar - Contains a new opening sequence on Earth.

Daredevil - Re-edited with more footage that makes for a better overall movie. Matt and Elektra are soul-mates now instead of one-nighters. Also more legal intrigue.

Superman and Superman 2 - Superman has lots of cut footage, including more on Krypton, a young Lois on the train and so on. Superman 2 has an entirely different cut with more footage of Jor-El as well as a different opening and ending.

Star Wars
(all of them) - All of the Star Wars films have deleted footage. Some major (Luke and his friends on Tatooine. More footage with Anakin and Padme in AOTC, lost footage from ROTJ) as well as minor changes as well.

Star Trek II - The Director’s Cut has a bit more clarity in it overall, with slightly better editing in places. Additionally, there is lost footage from the old TV version where Saavik is half-Romulan.

Batman vs Superman - The Director’s Cut is a much better movie overall. While still not perfect, it helps clarifies details missing in the theatrical version.

X-Men: Days of Future’s Past (Rogue Cut)
- Re-edited to include Rogue back in the movie. It also helps justify the future storyline in the movie. Not necessarily a better movie but interesting in its differences.

Watchmen - There’s the theatrical cut, which was reasonably good but there’s also an extended Director’s Cut with more story and an Ultimate Cut, which has the Tales of the Black Freighter story incorporated into the film as well. 

Blade Runner - A film that has been re-edited at least three times. The Final Cut from a few years back attempted to fix numerous issues in the original story as well as some technical ones as well. Worth a look.

Apocalypse Now - A Director’s Cut of this added lots of footage back into the theatrical cut and did some edits as well. 




Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Final Cut...

    A few weeks back it was announced that the Snyder Cut of the 2017 Justice League movie was going to be finished finally and released exclusively on HBO Max in the United States next year. For some time fans online have been clamoring to see this version of the film, believing Snyder’s original vision for the film was vastly superior to the Joss Whedon version we got in theaters.
    I went and saw the Whedon movie back when it came out in the theater. I also own it on Blu-ray. It’s an okay film. Not terrible but certainly not great either.
    Even seeing it the first time it was obvious it was a mash-up between whatever Snyder wanted to do and what Whedon cobbled together from that and his own rewrites and reshoots.
    Will the Snyder Cut be worth the wait? Maybe. Maybe not. If nothing else, at least we’ll get one man’s vision for the story instead of the mish-mash we ended up with before.
    I’ve read that Snyder had ambitious plans to set up a trilogy with an involved story about Superman’s ultimate redemption and Darkseid’s invasion of Earth. Supposedly, the big-wigs at Warner Bros got cold feet over committing to such a potentially complicated and expensive venture and pulled the plug.
    What’s true? What’s not? It’s hard to know...
    One thing that is certain though is that trying to combine these two men’s very different visions failed. A story solely by Snyder or Whedon could have been very good. As it was, we got a mediocre film out of the deal and Marvel Studios certainly didn’t feel any pressure on their Avengers franchise when put up against DC’s Justice League. Even the weakest Avengers film is still miles ahead.
    Justice League’s relative failure and its new incarnation are interesting in another way though. Even in Whedon’s film we can see the differing tones and ideas at play. One can presently only imagine what else was originally envisioned (and soon enough, we’ll be able to see it for ourselves).
    Of course, this isn’t the first time a movie has been radically edited and/or reshot. It’s been going on for decades and the process is endlessly fascinating–especially to outsiders like ourselves.
    A simple cut here or there–or excising half of the film for new footage–can radically change the story’s intent and outcome. It’s also an interesting way to learn about editing, whether one is a novice or a practiced storyteller.
    No matter the format, editing is the lifeblood of storytelling. When the story runs too long, too short, a character does or doesn’t work, the ending needs fixing, the prose needs updating, etc. Many a countless hour has been spent pouring over the story, trying to get it just right.
    Editing can be the bane of many an aspiring writer. How many epics have been sidelined because the author decided the story just wasn’t “right”? How many tales will never see the light of day because of the author’s inability to get the story finished to their own satisfaction?
    Look at film. Both Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens have extended versions where something like fifteen minutes of footage has been added back to the story. In both cases, the films are considerably better with the extra content. Great films made even better with just a little bit more.
    Then, there’s movies like 2003's Daredevil. The theatrical cut of the film was a disappointment to many. The movie felt shallow and maybe even a bit sexist (Matt and Elektra’s relationship seemed nothing but physical yet contradictorly, he acted as if she was the love of his life).
    As it turns out, there was more footage and the Director’s Cut, which eventually made it out on DVD, was a considerable improvement. In it, Matt is unsatisfied with all his frivolous physical relationships with women and when Elektra happens along he finds an equal in spirit and fortitude. Also, there is a subplot about The Arranger being responsible for murdering a young woman and framing an innocent black man. The longer cut still doesn’t rank among the greatest superhero films I’ve ever seen yet it is a significant upgrade over what we initially got.
    There’s so many examples out there for re-edited movies to chose from. From major changes like Richard Donner’s Superman II and the fourth Exorcist film (Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) to smaller changes on countless films from every genre and era.
    It’s been said copious editing was what saved the original Star Wars film. George Lucas had hours of footage and thanks to the editing team (which included his then-wife Marsha) it was cut down to a brisk and entertaining film that became one of the most popular movies of all time. Without the two editors it might very well have turned out as a horrible failure.
    Editing works best when the Editor has a good command of storytelling techniques and understands how to make the story flow properly. Too much story (be it footage or prose) can be extraneous but too little can also rob the story of texture. Also, some times writers just put odd things in the story and it’s the job of the Editor to decide whether or not that stuff is relevant to the overall point of the story–be it the plot or characterization.
    Also, everyone is different. One creator might think something is just right for a story while another might scoff at the same notion. What if Luke Skywalker had a girlfriend in the original movie? How would that have affected his tale? Would he still have left Tatooine? Maybe. Perhaps it could’ve played into the overall plot. Perhaps it could have hindered it. One really has no way of knowing one way or the other and neither option is right or wrong. We just got the story we did and it works well as it is.
    One person’s edit may seem like genius to them while the next might find it absurd. I personally think Prometheus was over-edited (some crucial information was cut from the final version of the film and I feel it hindered it. Obviously the film’s editors felt otherwise).
    Movie studios can be even worse since a lot of their decisions are made by oft-clueless executives who only think in terms of dollars. How many rely on test audiences to try and gauge the success of a film? How often does that ever work out for the best?
    At the end of the day, editing is a necessary evil in storytelling. It simply cannot function without a judgmental eye. The trick is in trying to know what’s best for the story and following one’s experience and intuition in the spirit of communicating the best tale one can.

DKA

 

 

 

 


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #1 Review...


Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #1


Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Guido Guidi


Synopsis: In 2019, IDW released a single issue called “Transformers ‘84" that chronicled the classic Transformers back story that happened before the Ark launched into space to defend Cybertron from the asteroid field. This summer, that issue has been followed up with “Secret and Lies” which continues onward with the back story.
    While the original issue followed the Autobots story from Punch’s perspective, issue #1 of “Secrets and Lies” follows the Decepticon side of the story from Counterpunch’s perspective. Shockwave and his scientists labour over “Project Dreadnought”, a plan to create world engines (called “turbines” in the story) to power Cybertron through the cosmos. Starscream and Skyfire ruminate over Megatron’s obsession with destroying Optimus Prime instead of worrying about the greater plan. Counterpunch arrives and tells Shockwave that Megatron demands his presence immediately. Megatron tells Shockwave to plan to take Stanix next so they can take the entire western hemisphere. Ratbat argues they are overstretched already but Megatron dismisses him. Later, a massive explosion sends Cybertron hurdling in the direction of the Stellae Cimeterium–a graveyard of stars. Shockwave suggests they finish the planetary turbines to correct the planet’s trajectory. Megatron says they have time to wait and gauge the Autobots response instead. Later, Ratbat speaks with Shockwave, suggesting perhaps the explosion wasn’t an accident and implies Shockwave did it intentionally, a fact he denies (although it’s obvious to the reader he was behind the incident). The Decepticons watch as the Nemesis, their new battleship designed to combat the Autobot’s Ark, stands ready to launch. The Autobots (Perceptor and the Dynobots), via Counterpunch, discover Shockwave’s treachery and go to the area in question to investigate. Skyfire, Shockwave’s associate, intercepts them there but he is taken out by Grimlock. Shockwave arrives shortly after and stops them in return (except for Perceptor, who hides and escapes his attack). Shockwave is recalled by the Seekers (Thrust, Ramjet and Dirge) to go see Megatron off on the Nemesis. Perceptor signals for backup who come and retrieve his damaged comrades...


Thoughts: This is a competently written story. Having said that, I don’t really find it all that exciting. It feels like we’re just retreading history here without really exploring anything all that interesting. Does it really matter if the Constructicons and Jetfire existed on Cybertron before we first saw them in the Marvel comic? Also, the first issue proposed that Optimus Prime purposely drew Megatron and his warriors off Cybertron to try and give whoever was left a chance to save their homeworld. It’s a different spin on things but not one that I really care for. I prefer the original way instead (a mission to save Cybertron that went wrong). Again, we’re not really covering any new ground storywise here and I don’t find it all that exciting. (After reading the two issues in question I find I’m having trouble even recalling what happened in them. Not a good sign for the future).
    The artwork here is excellent. Guidi does a phenomenal job recapturing Andrew Wildman’s early TF style at its best. The comic is worth checking out for that alone, even if the story itself is not all the exciting.


Verdict: Average.

Monday, July 20, 2020

G.I.JOE Snake Eyes: Deadgame #1 Review...


G.I.JOE Snake Eyes: Deadgame #1


Story/Penciler: Rob Liefeld
Script/Dialogue: Chad Bowers
Addtional Inks: Adelso Corona


Synopsis:
  Snake Eyes and some other Joes attack a remote installation in the Svalbard Islands after receiving a mysterious S.O.S signal from the site. Upon arriving, they find Joe Colton held prisoner and free him. He informs them his captors forced him to translate an ancient scroll that referenced “Deadgame”. Snake Eyes understands what he’s talking about and rushes out into the cold arctic to find a group of ninja huddled in a circle chanting. He attacks them and puts most of them down but not before they manage to resurrect the evil wizard Kirigun (the “Grave Master” apparently). Kirigun is apparently immortal, a man wrapped in red bandages. He asks the ninjas "where the sword is" but they tell him they do not have it... then Snake Eyes engages him in battle. He defeats Snake Eyes ultimately but is forced to retreat when Scarlett shows up with a shotgun. He retreats with his remaining ninja on a helicopter but warns Snake Eyes that when they meet again then he will possess the sword of the dead and there will be no question who will be the victor. The other Joes join Snake Eyes and Scarlett as they watch him leave and vow to stop him.

Thoughts:  Honestly, this story feels almost out of place for a G.I.JOE story. It veers very far into the fantastic and reminded me more of story that should’ve been told for a character like Wolverine or Deadpool. If you love Cobra-La types of storytelling in your Joe canon you might go for this. If you want even a scrap of realism this is not the book for you. Interestingly, it looks like Liefeld was too lazy to even script the story. He just came up with some overall conflict to make Snake Eyes look cool and let somebody else flesh it out (or it seems that way anyway). Other then having him conveniently in the story why is Joe Colton able to translate the ancient scroll? It makes little sense to me.
    Artwise, the comic moves between “good” and “awful”. We get some competent scenes and poses as well as a lot of super beefy men shots. Snake Eyes has always been muscular but also lithe to a degree and here he looks like he just works out 24/7. Roadblock suffers even worse–he looks ridiculous on the final splash of the comic. Liefeld needs to use his millions to take some damn art lessons! Or learn to tone down his worst instincts at any rate.
    This comic had 36 variant covers all told, btw. Crazy but clearly IDW was hoping to cash in on Liefeld’s name at all cost.
    I’ll likely pick up next issue but honestly I hold little hope this story will be worth bothering with.

Verdict:  Mediocre.






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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Mysteries of Life...


    The Internet has been a boon for society in many ways. We can get instant news, instant information, buy products and services online. We can post our own projects–be they a blog, story, video or whatever else.
    But there’s a downside too.
    Once upon a time, we didn’t know (or think we know) everything about a given topic. There was speculation and mystery about some topics. What did someone mean with their artwork? The idea behind a movie or TV show when it wasn’t hit-you-over-the-head obvious? What was a song about?
    Mystery is essential in art. Be it a literal mystery or just an aspect of something bigger.
    Consider the movie Alien. What was the Space Jockey? Where did it and its ship come from? It was a really cool mystery until Prometheus came along and ruined the surprise for us (I loved the idea of the movie but ultimately the payoff was a waste of time). What about V'Ger's mysterious machine planet benefactors in Star Trek: The Motion Picture? Wolverine's origins (before they were explained into the ground by various writers).
    In Alien's case, the Space Jockey's origins were ultimately irrelevant. They exist as a plot point to move the story along. Still, it was fun to speculate on what might have been.
    I also think of things like action figures from the 80s. Often, the packaging stories/profiles told a different story of the character or back story then stuff like the comics or cartoons did. In the toys, Tarantulas (Beast Wars) was a ninja. In the cartoon, he was a mad scientist. He-Man’s mini-comics often told vastly different (and sometimes contradictory) stories of the characters adventures.
    Classically speaking, why is the Mona Lisa smiling? Is it just that she was in a pleasant mood as her portrait was being painted? Or perhaps she was smiling about some secret only she was privy to? Who knows. But it’s fun to speculate all the same.
    I think some of that mystery has been lost in modern mass media. Sometimes it feels like they're not even trying anymore. Compare something like the Rise of Skywalker with, say, Predator. The latter has plenty of mystery. The former, not so much.
    Mystery has eternal appeal to the consumer of art. It needs to be brought back to the forefront of popular media (and media in general, really).
    This also coincides with a need for new stories and concepts. How many times can you reboot Star Trek and keep it fresh? Yes, it's great to explore a story universe but eventually we learn it thoroughly and need something new. Even just taking familiar concepts and putting them in a new context can help immensely.
    Again, Corporate America is lazy. Trying to sell its varied audiences on the familiar rather then exploring new things. Familiar is a safe bet. Familiar is profitable.
    But, in the long run, familiar is detrimental to mystery. People inevitably get sick of the same old thing and seek new experiences.
    What can be done? Nothing when it comes to mainstream media. We can vote with our dollars and hope that one day somebody in charge sees the error of their ways.
    In the meantime, though, we can check out smaller authors and artists and try to seek out people who remember what the mystery is all about, devoid of needing to turn a giant profit for their corporation at all cost.
    The magic of mystery is still out there. We need only seek it out...

DKA  



Saturday, February 15, 2020

On Writing...

When you’re writing fiction it’s important to keep a few things in mind as you traverse the landscape of your imagination.
    Simple story ideas are better then needlessly complicated ones. Too many people lose track of this fact. We see multi-part stories that go many places or maybe even a singular story that spirals out of control with the writer(s) thinking that “more is better”. Take “The Rise of Skywalker” as an example of this folly. I’ve also noticed a lot of modern television stories tell multiple story arcs but often lose sight of the overall point of the story while trying to flesh things out. Why does “Star Wars: A New Hope” or “The Matrix” work? They tell a simple story. “Transformers: The Last Knight” is a disaster by comparison, with seeming to mesh two different plots together poorly.
    This leads me to a related point:
    Know what story it is you want to tell. Whatever the point/theme/etc. is, know ahead of time where you want to end up or the story will probably be a mess. Again, the Star Wars sequel trilogy (Force Awakens/Last Jedi/Rise of Skywalker) had no idea where it was going or what they were doing with it. By contrast, the prequel trilogy, while far from perfect, knew where it wanted to go (at least in broad strokes anyway).
    Every story needs a point! Something needs to change or come of its events. I'm bad at this sometimes too. I’ve also done some serial storytelling in the past where this is a harder thing to accomplish. But at least strive for it in your storytelling. If nothing in your story matters or changes anything, who cares?
    It has to make sense! When it comes to TV/movies often times we get stuff that happens for no logical reason. Convenience can be used at times in stories but never really on it as a crutch. If a character acts one way having them act totally contrary makes no sense (even if it might help the writer get somewhere they need to be in the story). This is also true of concepts in general in storytelling (again, this should be obvious but somehow it seems to escape people time and again).
    "Show, don't tell" isn't always true. Novice writers are told this again and again but there are varying degrees. Showing you everything with no character feedback or description is bland and boring. The reader isn’t really engaged if they have to do all the work. On the other hand, spoon-feeding them every single point you’re trying to communicate is bad too. A writer learns after a while to try and find a balance. Each person is different and has their own preferences as to what is too little or too much and there’s not really a right or wrong answer.
    There are no original ideas. It’s sad but true. You can’t reinvent the wheel. Sorry. But as one writer I enjoy is fond of saying, “it’s not the idea but what you do with it that counts”. You can take what’s gone before and improve on it, mash it up with other ideas and story angles people haven’t tackled yet. A good story is timeless. Something the reader can identify with. A good character is one we can love. Or hate. The ideas are limited but the possibilities are infinite.
    There’s almost certainly some other rules I’ve overlooked in this entry. But it’s important to realize that there are rules. You can set out to subvert them. In fact, you should. But you need to understand what they are before you set out to break them. Don’t just depend on TV or movies for your understanding of storytelling. Read a book. Read a bunch. Get out there and see how other people do it and try to decide what works best for your own style. Every new story is somebody building on what’s gone before. Try and seek out the best of the bunch and then try to improve upon them.
    One last thing: Try and have fun, no matter what your subject matter. If you don’t enjoy the process, why bother doing it in the first place?


DKA


Sunday, February 2, 2020

An Animated Affair...

    Animation has been around for decades. Unlike traditional movies at one time, animation allowed for a much larger palette when creating a world. There was no budgetary restrictions, nothing that the limits of special effects technology prevented from being accomplished. Additionally, each studio could produce a different vision from a different mind. Consider Looney Tunes and then think about Fantasia. Or Spider-man. Or the Lord of the Rings (the Bakshi version). All different styles and different storytelling sensibilities but all equally valid.
    Across the ocean, Japan started to produce the beginnings of what would later come to be known as anime in the sixties. Quite often Japanese animation was more refined and fluid then what North American studios would produce. 
    I remember a lot of anime from when I was growing up. We had relatively little of it in North America at one time (the eighties) but the series we had were memorable. The animation was always excellent and the stories were pretty good too. I decided to take a look back at the shows I grew up with.


G-Force/Battle of the Planets - The Granddaddy of all the anime I’ve seen. Also known as Gatchaman in Japan, I remember the series originally from when I was about four or so. It first came out here as G-Force and then a few years later got re-released as Battle of the Planets.
    As a kid I enjoyed the action and the bird costumes the characters all adorned. More recently, I tried re-watching the show and realized it really hasn’t aged well. It’s childish and simplistic to an adult’s sensibilities. 

 






Thunderbirds 2086 - This was a show that was intended as a futuristic sequel to the sixties marionette show, Thunderbirds. The show had a team of heroes who went around the solar system saving people with their futuristic vehicles that could combine into one larger one on occasion. I re-watched this recently and it actually holds up a bit better. The plot to the first episode was a little bit more adult-oriented (in that the characters go against orders to save a friend of their leader from danger).

 

Robotech - This one is complicated. It was a series that was originally compiled from three different source animes in Japan–Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Apparently the series were put together with an over-arcing storyline so the show could be sold into syndication for North America (they needed at least 65 episodes for the syndication to work).
    I remember seeing most/all of Macross, all of the Robotech Masters (Southern Cross) and maybe only a couple episodes of The New Generation (Mospeada). A few years later I tracked down all of the Robotech novelizations to try and help make sense of the vast and confusing story. Once you do understand it, it’s actually reasonably good. Most people seem to think Macross is the best of the bunch and I think I agree with that assessment.
 




Astroboy - This started life as a TV series first in the sixties (a black and white show). My exposure to it was the second anime, made in the eighties (and in full color). At first glance, the show seems aimed primarily at kids. However, the storytelling was pretty good for its time and dealt with themes like abandonment, the rise of technology, the rights of machine life and so on. It was fun, entertaining and thoughtful.


Friday, January 3, 2020

Some thoughts on the Rise of Skywalker and the future of Star Wars...

**Warning: Spoilers ahead!!!**


  So The Rise of Skywalker has come and gone. I was there opening night, drinking in all the fan costumes and excitement for the “final” movie in the Skywalker saga ("final" = we’ll make many, many more Star Wars movies. This is just marketing b.s.)
    RoS had a lot of things to accomplish after The Last Jedi. Love it or hate it, TLJ really upended the story Abrams tried to start in The Force Awakens. It effectively ended it early, forcing Abrams to figure out some new story to close out this new trilogy.
    For the most part, RoS accomplished what it needed to. It was an okay ending to the trilogy. A lot of stuff happened and it made enough sense and worked well enough to get the job done.
    Was it a great film? No. Do I have any idea why this sequel trilogy is even part of the "Skywalker Saga"? Not really. Hastily forming a connection between Rey and the Skywalkers in the very end of the movie is not a great justification for it. Really, it feels like an afterthought. An “oh yeah, I guess we have to make some sense of it”. The movie is “The Rise of Skywalker” and I guess we can say that’s Rey then.
    Say what you will about the Prequel Trilogy (The Phantom Menace/Attack of the Clones/Revenge of the Sith) at least there was an over-arcing story to it all. Anakin is a kid; he rises; he falls. I have no idea what the point of this new trilogy was (other then to make money on merchandising anyway).
    We were introduced to Rey, a character with no real arc and not much of a personality either. Finn and the other characters also have little of real consequence to do throughout the story as well. There are legacy characters present as well but none of them do much really either. Han dies in the first one, Luke acts totally out of character then dies when he uses the force too hard (??) in the second one. Of course, Leia had to die in the third one since her actor died in real life. They might as well not have even appeared in this story at all–it would’ve cleared up a little bit of space for actual storytelling instead of this waste of time.
    We have some new “Force Teleport/mind connection power” thing in RoS. It makes little sense and now the characters are essentially all-powerful (except when the plot decides they’re not). Also, there’s now “Force Heal” (which bothers me a little bit less. It’s also been shown in The Mandalorian and I believe goes back to some earlier video games. It’s at least a little bit better defined as an ability).
    I didn’t like Rose Tyco in TLJ. They had a chance to redeem her character here but chose not to even bother trying. Supposedly the character had more scenes but they got cut for time. Either way, it feels like they didn’t like the character and just side-lined her as much as possible. After all she did in the last movie, this felt like a weird choice and they still seemed to have time to introduce plenty of new characters along the way...
    We got to see more of the Knights of Ren in this one but they ultimately don't do anything or even add to the plot in any way. They show up and then die late in the film... Also, General Hux is mostly wasted here as well.
    And, how did so much of the second Death Star survive (when it was clearly blown to smithereens in ROTJ)? Also, what is Palpatine in this movie and how did he survive? His body seems like a zombie/half-alive clone/something here but it’s never clearly articulated as to what his status is. He’s alive but still needs Rey to transfer his consciousness into and/or re-animate him properly. Huh??
    Who are Palpatine’s legions of followers? Acolytes? Well-wishers?? The Sith Code says they can’t be fellow Sith, so what then? Where did he get all those new Star Destroyers with planet destroying guns and the thousands of crew to man them all?
    Also, we went from having to build a moon-sized base that can destroy a planet to a planet that can shoot over Hyperspace to anywhere in the Galaxy apparently to just having a fleet of Star Destroyers with super cannons. I can accept that technology can advance over time (like in real life) but really?? The Empire/First Order/whatever has gotten technology that can pretty much accomplish anything at all that the writers want to do now. There’s no limitations at all. Shouldn’t they literally be unstoppable?
    Back in 2015 I was concerned when Lucasfilm announced they were going to do one new Star Wars movie a year. Turns out, I was right to be worried. There was no thought put into this trilogy (at least on an artistic level, anyway). It feels like the cash grab it is (which is not to say that Lucasfilm under George Lucas didn’t try to make money off it’s Intellectual Property but there was at least some attempt at giving fans some meat story-wise. People may not have loved the Prequels necessarily but they got us the excellent Clone Wars animated series and other stories inspired by them in comic and novel form–some of which are non-canonical now, but I digress).
    Of the new Disney era, all we’ve gotten for solid films in Rogue One (there are places even it could’ve been better but I haven’t seen many complaints about it overall). Rebels and now, The Mandalorian, give us some hope for a better tomorrow as well. But if LFL/Disney wants Star Wars to have a theatrical future, they really need to flesh out their story concepts better instead of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the wall and seeing what sticks. Also, get some better talent to write/direct. JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson and others of their kind are not the right fit for this area.
    Blockbuster film or not, we need stories that are well told and paced better then the product we’ve been getting. There needs to be a firm storyline through any movie, a logical setup and believable stakes. Special effects extravaganzas are great but they’re like junk food. Satisfying in the short-term but ultimately forgettable.
    As for me, I’m no longer bothering to see SW films multiple times at the theater. Once is good enough for me. Also, I have no problem disregarding this whole Sequel Trilogy from my personal canon. It’s forgettable and adds nothing new.
    I have spoken!