Monday, June 13, 2022

The Multiverse Doesn't Matter...

    I recently watched Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. It was an interesting film (mostly because of who directed it). But it got me thinking too.
    One reason I disliked the Marvel comic “What If...?” and alternate universe stories in general is because they always treat the situations like they don’t really matter. Any character can (and usually does) die because they’re not the real Spider-man/whoever.
    The problem is it’s hard to become invested in a story like that. If nothing really matters anyway, who cares?
    Any writer will tell you conveying a story is all about setting up a conflict and ultimately resolving it. That conflict can be man vs man, man vs nature or man vs himself.
    But any conflict needs to have real stakes. Real dilemma and real consequence. This is why your reader wants to bother with your story in the first place. Will our protagonist prevail? Will they fail? What can we learn from their journey? How does the character change as a result of their experience?
    I think this is a basic yet fundamental tenet of telling any story. But for being so basic it seems like sometimes people fail to realize it.
    It’s too easy to dismiss an alternate universe version of the Scarlet Witch or Black Bolt in the name of “having fun” with our beloved iconic characters. But it’s also predictable as hell when you know the writers don’t care and their demise is inevitable.
    When telling a professional level story, a writer needs to do better then some cheap lackluster effort that feels like fan fiction (I feel this point is also true of Avengers: Endgame in its own way).
    Professional writers (and the corporate conglomerates behind them) need to stop trying to please the fandom at all cost–especially when that cost means compromising the story. The story needs to matter above all else.
    We would all love to see Superman versus Thor–or Star Trek versus Star Wars–on the silver screen. But, legal complexities aside, there’s a reason it’s never happened. Because, deep down, it’s a fundamentally stupid idea. If you compromise your characters or the weight of the story for cheap thrills it might be a fun distraction at first, but the story’s integrity is shot and ultimately nobody will find it all that good as a work in its own right.
    Avengers: Infinity War was a great film. Avengers: Endgame? Not so much. Similarly, stories about an alternate universe where the stakes don’t matter all so we can see a Rastafarian Doctor Strange or a cyborg Spider-man are also fleeting fun. They’re like junk food for the masses. Satisfying for an outing, perhaps, but with no ultimate weight or legacy.
    If you’re going to step outside of the confines of your regular story to explore some alternate take on an idea, find something worthwhile to do with your idea—or just don’t bother in the first place. And most importantly, make it mean something.
    Anything less is just wasting everyone’s time…




Saturday, May 28, 2022

I Have the Power...




    So, Masters of the Universe: Revelation debuted on Netflix a few months back and caused quite a stir among the online crowd. Countless bloggers and Youtubers have had quite the time turning it inside and out due to its perceived faults. They say it’s “too woke” by having Teela as the main character; Kevin Smith and Netflix misled the fans by promising it would star He-Man and then largely side-lining him; it emasculates the established male characters to promote girl power; Teela might be a (gasp) Lesbian! And on and on...
    I didn’t really care for the story either, to be honest. But not because I hate women, gays, people of color or can’t accept change to the things I loved as a child.
    I disliked the story because, once again, it changes the MOTU cannon.
    Changing the story on the fly is nothing new with toylines, of course. Everybody does it all the time–Transformers, G.I. JOE, etc. The toy companies care about their bottom line not about strictly adhering to some nerd’s idea of what’s “real”.
    As He-Man goes, we have the very first appearances. One was a crossover with Superman to show off this new world. Simultaneously, we had several toy pack-in comics with a different, rougher storyline (where Teela was the Sorceress and both He-Man and Skeletor had one half each of the Power Sword–the key to gaining entry to the mysterious Castle Grayskull).
    We then got the classic He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, which established its own identity, separating the Sorceress and Teela, adding King Randor and Queen Marlena and so on. The cartoon did a lot of world building, much of which has stuck right through to the present day.
    We also had a short-lived Marvel Comic in the mid-eighties; a live-action film (which deviated a lot from the familiar story) and, of course, He-Man, a late-eighties/early nineties TV series that leaned more on the sci-fi side (and was also an attempt at a soft reboot).
    Then, nothing for about twelve more years... it wasn’t until 2002 that we got a new toyline and a rebooted cartoon series.
    Of all the iterations up to that point, the 2002 series was the high point for me. It explained both Adam and Skeletor’s origins (unlike the previous show) as well as adding in interesting new ideas like what Castle Grayskull actually was and introducing the fabled King Grayskull, Adam’s ancestor. It was an interesting story overall and it’s creators deserve their due credit.
    By comparison, Revelation purported to be a continuation of the original cartoon but the continuity is debatable (more fairly, one could consider the original series could be seen as a jumping-off point for this story).
    In Revelation, Castle Grayskull is just an illusion to disguise the “Hall of Wisdom”. King Grayskull is now black and Eternia is both at the center of the Universe and the font of all magic in it. The Power Sword can apparently be wielded by anyone (in the 2002 series, it was a mystical relic of King Grayskull and intended only for someone of his bloodline–Prince Adam).
    I guess there’s technically nothing wrong with these changes. Nobody was beholden to the continuity of what had gone before, after all. And yet, I enjoyed the 2002 series so much I don’t feel like accepting this new story as just how things are now.

    I can accept re-imaginings though. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the 2021 CGI series, deviates a lot from the cannon (while keeping some ideas–like Keldor being Adam’s uncle, for example). In this newest series, Adam shares the power of Grayskull with his comrades while Skeletor embraces its chaotic opposite power (referred to as “Havoc”, like his traditional Havoc staff).
    It’s familiar but different enough that it doesn’t try to ride the coattails of the original 80s series, the way Revelation does). I can respect that small yet vital distinction.
    In a similar vein, I had no problem with the recent She-Ra re-imagining, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. It took the same basic ideas of the original and reinterpreted them for a newer generation.
    I guess my point is, I’m open to new ideas and interpretations of old ideas and stories. If you like it, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Just ignore it and embrace the version you do love.
    But, at the same time, creators have to have the courage to embrace their take on old ideas. Take it and truly make it your own. Own your take. Don’t try to half-ass it and have it both ways. I would’ve respected Revelation much better if they hadn’t tried to sell it as a sequel to the original eighties series. Similarly, the JJ Abramsverse of Star Trek and even the Rey trilogy from Star Wars would’ve been much better served by trying to stand on their own merits and be their own thing instead of hedging their bets relying on nostalgia.
    Nostalgia is no substitute for a good story. If it isn’t good enough, go back and make it right. The fans, old and new, can wait and will appreciate the effort...




Saturday, November 28, 2020

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #4 Review...

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #4

Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Guido Guidi

Synopsis:  Megatron attacks Grimlock inside the Ark. He tackles the other and sends both of them tearing through the ship's wall, the volcano and all the way outside to where the Seekers are fighting the reanimated Autobots. Ramjet warns Grimlock that Megatron's eyes are strange because his anti-matter circuits are active and they connect him to the power of a Black Hole! The trio of jets escape for cover before Megatron's body can unleash its full power, leaving Grimlock to deal with him alone. 

Elsewhere, Punch relates how the Wreckers attacked the Decepticon stronghold where Project Dreadnought was underway. Abominus attacks them, forcing the team to scatter. Topspin and Twin Twist burrow underground while the others keep the Combiner busy.

Back on Earth, Grimlock deduces what's going on and rushes away from Megatron to confront AUNTIE. Punch loses his remote feed but deduces that Grimlock must have succeeded in shutting down the computer system and rendering Megatron's body inert once more. 

On Cybertron, the Wreckers have forced Abominus to separate and are combatting his Terrorcon components instead. Impactor loses his hand in this fight but the Autobots manage to hold their own. Top Spin and Twin Twist succeed in getting below ground and sabotaging the Decepticon operation. Afterward, the Autobots have renewed vigor, splitting their command between Ultra Magnus, Star Saber and Fortress Maximus.

In Polyhex, Thrust reports to Straxus (via comm channel) that his trio have located the Ark and the others but the Nemesis is damaged and can't return without help. Straxus agrees to send help on one condition: that the Seekers forget the Ark and the others are there and swear loyalty to him. They agree. 

On Earth, Punch assumes Grimlock found his situation hopeless, all alone and unable to affect change to save his fellow Dinobots, he most likely deactivated himself as well...

Thoughts: Honestly, I felt this story was a waste of time overall. Nobody was really clamoring for a "what really happened" story set before issue one of the Marvel Comic. I appreciate the artwork and the effort but this tale just didn't need to be told. It also raises further continuity questions (even Simon Furman did a "notes" section after each issue, trying to explain his rationale for the story decisions, page by page). I liked the story a little bit more when it got a bit off-track from the established history but it still wasn't enough to save the overall tale for me. I feel like this mini-series is a pass overall unless you really, really need to know. 

Verdict:  Average.



Friday, October 30, 2020

G.I. JOE Snakes Eyes: Deadgame #2 review...

G.I. Joe Snake Eyes: Deadgame #2

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

Synopsis: Snake Eyes and Scarlett walk around an island landscape. They move silently and Scarlett thinks how she hates silence. Growing up in a family with all brothers, she’s used to noise. Martial arts helped her find inner calm and silence. She wonders again why she decided to charge in after this Kirigun character with Snake Eyes. He motions for them stop and she asks “what?”, wondering if they’ve set off some kind of silent alarm or something. She tells him she wants to help and reminds him he’s not alone. She’ll watch his back, just like in the old days.
    Just then, they’re ambushed by a large brute. Scarlett tries to reason with him but it’s clear he’s a minion of Kirigun and he attacks again. Snake Eyes fights him and very easily bests him (despite the fact he seems to be the size of the Hulk). The monstrous man falls off a cliff to his apparent doom.
    Snake Eyes has little time to ponder what has happened as he’s immediately attacked by a masked woman. She throws poisoned throwing stars at him (but calls them Shurikens–which are supposed to be throwing knives). After a quick battle, Snake Eyes is bested and falls unconscious. Ninja woman explains during the fight that Kirigun is her father and she had previously trained Snake Eyes to be strong enough to be able to do battle with him when the time came.
    Nearby, Scarlett draws a bead on the woman. She hesitates, wondering what's going on and what Snake Eyes hasn't told her. She's quickly rendered unconscious by Storm Shadow. He tells her he’s sorry but there are more important matters they need to concern themselves with and carries her away...
    Later, the woman has brought Snake Eyes to Kirigun’s encampment and presented him as a gift. We learn her name is “Olympia” and that she taught Snake Eyes after he left the Arshikage Clan (after the Hard Master was killed). For some reason, Snake Eyes costume has turned from black to red now. Kirigun finds him a pathetic opponent... he grabs the semi-lucid Snake Eyes by the neck and offers him over a large pit to a giant cobra!

Thoughts: Like with the last issue, most of my comments remain the same. This story feels totally 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.
    I can already predict next issue. Snake Eyes is tossed down to the monster. On the way, he revives completely and we get some monologue by one of the characters/editor about how any other man would be dead already. But this is no ordinary man. He is Snake Eyes. Master of shadow. Master of silence, blah, blah, blah... if anyone can overcome this challenge, he can. Then, he’ll defeat the beast fairly easily and Kirigun will be surprised and impressed. Meanwhile, sub-plot with the Joes then back to Kirigun/Olympia challenging Snake Eyes one final time, leading into the climax of issue #4. Yawn. Exciting.
    Like last time, the art is a mixture of good and awful. We get some competent scenes and poses as well as a lot of super beefy men shots. Scarlett's hair does some very bizarre things throughout the story (I don't think real hair can do the things her hair is drawn doing!)
    Issue #1 came out in July and issue #2 finally in October. Given that this is a mini-series, you'd think Liefeld could have had it all done up ahead of time but apparently this is not the case. Why do all the big names in comics always get to turn out these projects on their own time and not be made to adhere to a real work schedule?

Verdict: Awful. Just don't bother with this comic. It will make you come out feeling dumber for the experience.

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.





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... 😃