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...