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1303

Bye, Marvel.

Books & Writing, Culture, Events, Fail, Opinion, Why Aren't You Watching This?

August 14, 2017

I have an awesome geeky friend who happens to be a girl (like about eighty-ninety percent of the writers on this site). She knows more about Star Wars and Star Trek and Doctor Who than I do and she’s flirting with comics. She liked Captain America as a kid and we keep getting DC Superhero Girls stuff for her niece (who loves Batgirl). She likes Spider-Gwen and Monstress, mostly, but she also really digs the movies that’ve come out, especially Captain America. She bought a Cap shirt and wore it a lot for years, but these days it’s gathering dust in a closet.

“Can’t wear it anymore,” says she, when asked. “Movie Cap is still cool and that’s the one I like, but comics Cap? I get weird looks from people when I walk into a comic shop with it. One time, a guy got really excited and started talking to me about racial purity and, well, yeah. Comic Cap is a Nazi now.”

Another guy I know was raised in a casually racist household. His parents and his family believed that anyone with a skin tone darker than theirs was genetically inferior. The thing that got him thinking and changed his mind? Marvel Comics. Specifically, Black Panther. Marvel Comics opened his mind, changed his world. He was digging the comics but hated when it crossed over with Secret Empire.

“Sure, the racists are the bad guys, but didn’t Sam Wilson apologize to a bunch of racists for being black?” says he. “Like, the good guys are telling racists it’s okay to be racists. Also, Captain America is a Nazi? Fuck you.”

I grew up Jewish. There’s a lot of fear that comes with being a Jew in any era. We get blamed for a lot of troubles that we have no power over and nothing to do with because it was politically expedient to do so and political and historical inertia is a thing.

“Jews control the banks and Hollywood!” racists like to say. A lot of us work in the financial sector and entertainment because those were the only two industries we were legally allowed to work in at the dawn of the twentieth century. We get blamed for playing by the rules that other people forced on us, but that ties into a popular Jewish saying: This, too, shall pass.

Still, it’s always inspiring to see the impact we’ve had on the cultural landscape. We invented and refined comic books. The characters in them? The heroes? We largely created them. Captain America and Superman were both Jewish inventions built around concepts of decency, of sticking up for the underdog. Both of them were politically motivated and both of them helped defeat racists in the real world: Captain America helped shame America into getting involved with World War II and Superman did a lot to take down the KKK.

DC Comics has had a lot of problems over the past decade, but they seem to be picking themselves up. Their comics are full of self-contained stories and they’ve seen a gradual increase in sales to go along with it as they expand and create minority and legacy heroes. Marvel, on the other hand, has been focusing on interconnected crossovers where you need to buy more than one title to figure out what’s going on and famously blamed diversity for their flagging sales.

Their latest big dumb crossover event infected more than a dozen of their titles and also turned Captain America into a Nazi – he sided with his enemies at Hydra, killed a bunch of people, turned fascist and tried to conquer the world and install genetic purity and all the other hallmarks of Nazi idiocy.

And now, it’s over.

Marvel’s latest big stupid event crossover thing where they want you to buy all their comics to have some inkling of understanding what’s going on? The idiot thing that interrupts the stories you actually care about and replaces it with one that marginalizes those stories and characters? The one that turned the conscience of Marvel Comics into a Nazi to hit a sales bump and saw ever-decreasing returns to all their titles? The one proposed by the Trump supporter in charge of Marvel, who had a failed Republican politician that thought the school-to-prison pipeline made good business sense turn the creation of two Jews into a Nazi? It just ended. They’re already planning to retcon it out of existence, but it ended.

It’s over.

And so is my time with Marvel Comics. It’s been a while since we touched anything Marvel related with the whole God of Comics; the last one hinted at this stance but I just want to be clear about where we stand as actual Nazis in real life hold rallies and start murdering people again – we will not review, promote, or have anything to do with Marvel until Nick Spencer and Ike Perlmutter no longer work at that company.

We’ll talk about the movies, the Netflix series, all the things that have nothing to do with either of those people – and we want to stress that we do believe that they are people because they are people, a simple observation that neither would give us given that pretty much everyone here is a minority of some type.

I’d like to say that it’s a loss. I’ll miss Spider-Gwen and Hawkeye and Black Panther. I’d say about a third of my collection is Marvel Comics and I’ll be holding onto them because I can happily remember what was. And I’m sure that we’ll get comics worth reading from Marvel again, because this, too, shall pass.

But I cannot, in good conscience, support a company that thinks turning their moral center into a Nazi is good business sense. And I cannot support a writer or an executive that do not see me as a person and would rather inspire those that would see me and my family and the people I care about dead.

Good-bye for now, Marvel. It’s been fun.

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546

Marvel, We Need to Talk

Fail, God Of Comics, Opinion, Reviews

April 3, 2017

Oh, Marvel. Your comics were doing so well.

I mean, sure, you’d accidentally turned Iron Man into a villain with Civil War and spent the better part of a decade trying to fix the damage you did there only to finally give up and hit the cosmic reset button on your whole universe. Or the time you had Doc Ock turn into Spider-Man, which wouldn’t have been nearly so bad if the writing wasn’t terrible and your editorial board hadn’t doubled down on no, guys, for real, this is what we’re doing going forward. It wasn’t, we knew it wasn’t, and being lied to in the age of internet is kind of a turn-off. Mind you, that’s not the worst thing you’ve done with Spider-Man (hi, One More Day!), but you seemed to have things under control with your side comics: Spider-Gwen, Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur, Mighty Thor, Unworthy Thor, Ghost Rider… you’ve got a lot of good going on.

And then…

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales. We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.”

This wonderful little bit of what comes to us from David Gabriel, the VP of Sales over at Marvel Comics. He then followed up by adding that the aforementioned female minority characters are popular and some of their best sellers but that they’re not going to be doing more of them because people don’t like them.

Wait, what?

Have you been to a comics convention? We just got back from Emerald City Comic Con, where 90, 000+ people showed up to show their love of the medium. Here’s a link where you can check out photos of the event, and you should be able to see a good cross section of obvious minorities, David. That doesn’t even take into account the non-visible minorities; the people that look like the cis-white males you think you’re catering to but are actually somewhat else.

We look white, Christian, and male, but we’re a Jewish agender asexual and we’ve been reading your comics since we were a child. We’ve got boxes full of your comics, shelves full of trades we proudly display. Might there be some other reason, particularly when titles like Saga, Injection, the Woods, Divinity, Lazarus, Giant Days and others are doing so well while being full of the diverse characters you say people aren’t interested in…?

A while ago we posted our (rather discombobulated) thoughts about Captain America being turned into a Nazi by a writer named Nick Spencer, who has since gone on to defend Nazism on twitter and write a black man apologizing to a white supremacist for mentioning the centuries of systematic oppression that African-Americans have endured. Our response then was driven by gut-level anger and we reworked it and expanded our thoughts and think that might be a little more sensible.

Nazi Captain America sold 36,610 copies last month, though, and was the fifty-fifth top selling comic of February. Okay. Literally ten more copies than Iron Man with the new African-American female lead, a thousand less than Doctor Strange, and seventy thousand or so less than Star Wars: Darth Maul. That’s not good. If you’re going to tell a story on the ashes of six million dead Jews and eleven million dead in total, all from living memory, you might as well get some kind of sales bump, right?

We guess that’s what you’re hoping for with the upcoming Secret Empire event, and this… well, this is what we want to talk about. See, it’s not diversity that’s killing you, Marvel: it’s your stunt writing and your constant idiot-event comics. Especially your big dumb event comics. We’d like to elaborate on this point, Marvel, because it’s important and we want you to do well.

Your movies are excellent and other than a few stumbling blocks in Age of Ultron you guys are riding high. Someone in comics must have realized that and your editorial board has tried to capitalize by making the comics more like the movies. A big push to do that came and was finalized with Secret Wars, wherein you guys also fixed the editorial mistakes of the past decade. Remember when Civil War turned Iron Man into a villain and how you spent ten years trying to fix that and failed? Well done. A shame you’ve just done the same to Carol Danvers.

Since Secret Wars ended last year, you’ve had nine major crossovers: Avengers Standoff, Spider-Women, Apocalypse Wars, Civil War II, Dead No More, Death of X, Inhumans vs X-Men, Grounded, and Monsters Unleashed. You’ve got at least another four coming: Secret Empire, Til Death do Us, Weapons of Mutant Destruction, and Edge of Venomverse. That’s a lot of comics to buy and a lot of story to keep track of.

Here’s the trick, Marvel: when you do one of those crossovers it touches on every other comic involved with it, so even if you don’t want to read about how Captain America is a Nazi now, your crossover is going to make it impossible to for us to avoid those stories and they’re going to interrupt the ones we’re already invested in. You’ve given us a visceral level of disgust when it comes to Steve Rogers, Marvel, and any comic that he appears in is one we’re going to drop and not pick up again.

That same logic applies across the board to comics we might be invested in when characters we don’t care about show up and we can’t finish the story or understand the comics we like when the continuation of the story is in a comic we might not be interested in or able to afford. We like the X-Men. We don’t care about the Inhumans. When the X-Men are set up to be the villains in another shitty crossover that makes the heroes instead because shitty editorial mandates are shitty, well.

The fun part is that the X-Men are being cast as the villains as a result of the same shitty editorial mandates, ones that nearly drove you into bankruptcy twenty years ago, Marvel. You guys were putting out so many crossovers that no one could follow your comics anymore and readers left in droves for companies that weren’t so scattered. The only way you saved yourselves was by selling the film rights to your most popular characters in perpetuity to other people: Sony got Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Fox got all the mutants, and you were stuck with what was left.

Iron Man was a B+ player until the movie made him an A-lister. The only reason Iron Man got your first real movie was because there were no mutants, no Spider-Man, and no Fantastic Four. People who watched the movie, though, and might have been interested in trying the comics were subjected to Civil War-era Tony Stark, which turned people off in droves. Your comics have been mostly about heroes fighting heroes, which is depressing and something very few people are interested in.

For proof, let’s take a look at the top five selling comics of February 2017: Star Wars: Darth Maul #1 (105 177 copies) is about a Sith Lord fighting the forces of good, Batman #16 (102 096 copies) features good guy Batman fighting bad guy Bane, Batman #17 (99 637 copies) continues that story (and suffers from DC Comics putting out two issues of everything every month), Justice League of America #1 (93 494 copies) featuring the best heroes fighting the best villains, and Super Sons #1 (90 345 copies) has the next generation of heroes fighting the next generation of villains.

Do you see a theme here, Marvel?

We’re done with heroes fighting heroes. DC Comics learned this and so, after their latest reboot, they started focusing on stories about hope and heroes fighting evil and heroes being happy and now they have seven of the ten top selling comics for February 2017, while your only two entries on that list are both Star Wars spin-offs which are about – wait for it – heroes fighting villains (and, notably, villains that were inspired by Nazis).

Your first non-Star Wars comic on the top selling list for February 2017 is Amazing Spider-Man #24 (61 953 copies), and that comic features a massive supporting cast of minorities and deals with Peter Parker fighting the forces of evil as a hero, as a man, and as the CEO of a corporation. That’s interesting. I want to read that. I would totally read that except that Spider-Man is definitely going to be a part of at least seven crossovers this year and I’m done. His story is going to be interrupted so many times that we might not even remember what it was before the event, so what’s the point?

If a character has no impact on their story then we do not care about that character.

And that’s why your sales are flagging: stunt writing bullshit (ooooh Magneto is a Nazi now, a Holocaust survivor is a Nazi, how edgy… no, wait, fuck you) that we all know won’t stick and will be retconned while you guys talk about how, no, this is the new normal, and endless fucking crossovers that mean nothing and will be retconned out of existence because they are generally awful.

To your point, David, about female and diverse characters failing when published: Marvel doesn’t reach the top-selling charts again until spots sixteen and twenty with IvX #4&5 (56 969 and 53 348 copies, respectively), twenty-four with the Clone Conspiracy (48 780 copies), then Unworthy Thor (46 006 copies), and then it’s Elektra (44 310 copies), Star Wars: Doctor Aphra (43 475 copies) and Mighty Thor (40 175 copies). That’s three minority-driven books.

Nazi Captain America placed fifty-fifth.

Those titles that do work for you and have constant numbers? Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, and Moon Girl? Those are ones David mentioned by name. Also, Mighty and Unworthy Thor? They avoid or do damage control on all your big dumb events, pull in consistent numbers, tell good and complex stories, and have readers who are invested in them. Maybe instead of doubling down on the practices that nearly killed you, Marvel, you could instead just tell good stories?

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645

Review: Civil War, Dawn of Justice, and Apocalypse Trailers

Culture, Fail, Reviews, Videos

December 14, 2015

Ho-hum. Another day, another trailer.

That looks like something. There’s people in in that resemble the X-Men, certainly. When you talk to people that liked the recent x-movies, though, the thing they mention is the complexity of the relationship between Charles and Erik. Does it look like there’s much of that here?

No, there’s some blue thing who is doing… something? Something bad, maybe? There’s a lot of sparkle and jingle-jangle, like keys being dangled before a toddler, but after the initial wow dies down – the second the trailer ends – everything about the trailer is gone. It’s forgettable, interchangeable with any of a dozen other trailers.

Like, say, this one:

You know, I’m going to go out on a limb: Ben Affleck’s take on Batman looks interesting. I think he’s going to pull that character off, and I’d be interested in seeing his movie, preferably before Dawn of Justice, but DC Comics is playing catch-up to Marvel and instead of taking their time to craft a story using their incredible backlog of characters, they’re just going to jam everyone into one movie like throwing shit at a wall and hoping that something sticks.

The problem with this approach is that it relies on spectacle rather than substance, and spectacle is increasingly meaningless on it’s own – effect based movies have become increasingly boring because every movie has special effects, and so the only thing to set one movie apart from the others is the characters within those movies.

It’s funny that character driven movies, which fell out of favor because of spectacle, are now making a comeback due to the super-saturation of spectacle.

And that’s why we’re excited for this movie:

Yes, the Black Panther looks awesome for those of that know who he is, but every beat in that trailer is character based. Cap, Bucky, Falcon, Natasha, Iron Man. We care about everything in this trailer because of who these people are and what they mean to one another. They have a mythos behind them, history, so everything they say and do is given weight.

X-Men Apocalypse could have focused on the strained ties between Charles, Erik, and Raven as they deal with one another and a new threat, but instead we get what looks like a confused mangled mess. Dawn of Justice could have focused on the fallout from Man of Steel resulting in Batman and a panicked response from the world, but instead we get what looks like a rushed outline that will cram too much style with too little substance.

Civil War hits a perfect median by having every bit of spectacle be character based.

It’s a difference born of different philosophies of movie making. Fox and DC Comics are making superhero movies, whereas Marvel is making good movies that just happen to have superheroes in them. It’s a design choice that informs everything all three of those studios do, and it’s made all the more frustrating when it comes to DC Comics because of how good Arrow and Flash are.

Yes, I’m going to go see all of them in theaters, but by the time they come out on blu-ray I’m only going to remember Civil War, and Civil War is going to be the only one I’m likely to buy. I hope I’m wrong. I hope Dawn of Justice and X-Men Apocalypse buck the expectations set by the trailer and give us solid, interesting characters.

I’m just not going to hold my breath.

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1175

Review: WWE Raw Opener 2015-12-07

Culture, Fail, Opinion, Reviews

December 9, 2015

Oh, boy.

There were reports that the WWE has been trying to get in touch with their fanbase, sending out surveys to find out what, if anything, they are doing right. I suppose it’s a smaller list than what they’re doing wrong, but the fact that they need these surveys and can’t just listen to their (very) vocal fans is troubling.

For years, the fans have told the WWE exactly what they’ve wanted to see: Zack Ryder, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, CM Punk. More recently, they’ve followed that up with more calls for the likes of Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Paige, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch. The people running the WWE behind the scenes have outright ignored these desires, mocked them, or distorted them into fitting the people they want to see accepted by the fans, whether the fans like it or not.

It’s this misunderstanding that has led to the sabotage of Roman Reigns. Reigns would have been as big as the WWE would like him to be if they hadn’t interfered with him – the fans didn’t get behind him in a big way at the Royal Rumble in 2014 because they wanted him to win, but because they wanted Batista to lose. The only person they wanted to win that year was Daniel Bryan, though they might have accepted Punk. When Punk was eliminated and Bryan wasn’t in the match, the crowd rebelled.

DB TIB

Sayeth the crowd: “This is Bullshit!”

The WWE is pushing a person who, left to their own devices, might have been able to carry the company. Reigns is talented, has the look, and puts on exciting matches. He can’t talk, really, but he shouldn’t have to – anyone capable of seeing his limitations should be able to play to his strengths, but the WWE doesn’t do that anymore.

The WWE – the largest wrestling company on the planet – doesn’t know how to tell stories involving wrestling anymore. It’s why they’ve lost twenty percent of their viewing audience since July, and this past Monday’s first segment was a perfect example as to why.

Raw opened with a new group of people called the League of Nations who, despite being composed of several individuals of various nations working together, are bad guys. We know this because they are all foreign. We also don’t care because all of them are losers. Rusev has done nothing since losing to John Cena. Barrett is another guy the crowd would love to get behind but the booking committee keeps having him lose whenever the crowd gets behind him. Does anyone care about Alberto del Rio since his return? Have we been given a reason to? Seamus lost for weeks before becoming champion, and likely won’t win anything here.

Seamus is the one with the microphone.

Seamus is the one with the microphone.

Seasmus, by the way, has no character. His whole thing is that people think he looks like an idiot, and it’s okay to make fun of him – bullying him – for looking different. That last sentence added more nuance to Seamus than the last two years of WWE storytelling, by the way, so now that you’re up to date…

The League of Nations is interrupted by a hillbilly cult leader who should be terrifying and may be the least threatening person on the roster, because he and his cult never win. Ever. They outnumber people and still get beat. It’s sad, really, because the cult leader is pretty much the best talker in the industry today – so good that he can make a feud seem interesting even when the other person isn’t there – but the people booking this take the gold he gives them and create shit with it.

It’s interesting, because the crowd wants to like this cult, called the Wyatt Family. They like Wyatt, and they like the way two of his cultists, Luke Harper and Eric Rowan, fight. Naturally, this means that the WWE is pushing the fourth late addition to the cult, a talentless lug who can’t talk, wrestle, or act and skipped through their developmental process to become the big gun. His big move is a modified bear hug. The crowd doesn’t care.

Dude looks like he wandered off the set of a really good horror movie.

Dude looks like he wandered off the set of a really good horror movie.

The hillbilly cult are more bad guys, so when they are stopped from attacking the other bad people by some good people, it’s confusing. A bunch of guys who were last relevant maybe a decade ago come out to beat a dead horse before being interrupted by the aforementioned Roman Reigns, his younger brothers, and his best buddy.

End result? A four-way tag battle, where if one person is eliminated, so is their team.

Sounds exciting, right? Why is this dumb?

For a start, why did the cult interrupt the league of bad guys? Why did the old stars stop that attack from happening? Why do Roman and friends care about any of this? Nothing makes any sense at all. This is wrestling, yes, so suspension of disbelief is a given. We’re willing to accept snake charmers, necromancers, and a secret world of leprechauns, provided they make sense internally. This doesn’t.

SD_736_Photo_145

What, you thought I was kidding about the snake charming?

Also, all of your purported main event talent is in this match. Admittedly, all your main event talent boils down to Roman Reigns, who the crowd grudgingly supports, and Seamus, who the crowd doesn’t care about. Barrett and Ambrose and Wyatt could all be main eventers, possessing the talent for it, but the booking had made all of them look like losers for the past year, so…

Sure enough, the cult gets eliminated first, the no-longer-relevant nostalgia act goes out second, and the League of Losers goes out third. Roman Reigns~! Get it? That’s a better slogan than anything WWE creative has managed to give him in the past two years of pushing because they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.

Lastly, the WWE has an event called the Survivor Series that was built on five-on-five elimination tag team matches. This year, the event sported two of those matches where the participants were not announced until the day of the event, and one of them was played for laughs and featured Seamus – your current heavyweight champion of the world – getting pinned cleanly in the center of the ring.

By contrast, we can look at the WWE training league, a show called NXT. Their title holder is a guy named Finn Balor, whose character is that of a cute geeky Irishman who happens to have a demon inside of him. He’s honorable and polite and, much like the Incredible Hulk, if you piss him off he will unleash the demon on you.

An actual demon, too. Not just some low rent monster.

An actual demon, too. Not just some low rent monster.

Tonight, on the WWE Network (which you can subscribe to for $9.99!), Finn Balor will team with a former number one contender, Apollo Crews, to face off against his challenger on the next NXT event, Samoa Joe, and a man who wants his title and will do anything to get it, Baron Corbin. All of them have well developed characters and reasons for being in this match, so we care about the tag match tonight and we care about the two matches that are coming up.

NXT has been building this upcoming fight between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe for most of the past year, since Joe’s debut. They presented him as an equal to then-champion Kevin Owens, established a mutual respect with Finn that turned to homicidal jealousy through thwarted ambition in the months since. We care about Joe’s fall from grace, we care about Finn and his broken heart and the demon seeping out of it.

Again, the Raw opening featured too much talking for an overly busy mess where no one looked good and nothing was left for the main event. The NXT main event has been announced ahead of time, has been built to, and makes logical sense. This Raw opener came out of nowhere, meant nothing, accomplished nothing, and wasted everyone’s time.

The main event was not supposed to be an empty arena match.

The main event was not supposed to be an empty arena match.

That was just the opening segment, but the whole show was just as bad and made just as little sense.

Wrestling can, should, and must be messy. It’s a show about a fictional athletic competition that is shot before a live paying audience every week. There is no off-season, there is no safety net, just death-defying stunts and actors that play their characters pretty much twenty-four/seven, three sixty-five and a quarter. The best moments happen from the magic that comes from these people being left alone to do their thing.

“If you smell what the Rock is cookin’?” was a one-off ad-libbed line. “Austin 3:16,” ditto. “The Four Horsemen,” “the NWO,” “the Straight Edge Society,” wrestling’s best and brightest moments come about from people who live their characters. The best promos come from those that are given the confidence to talk and speak their minds. The Pipe Bomb, arguably the greatest wrestling promo of the past decade, happened when one man was given freedom and a microphone.

The most frustrating part about this is that the WWE should know better. The Attitude Era and the era of the Smackdown Six are largely considered the strongest periods for modern wrestling, and they were places where wrestlers were encouraged to roam free. The last time a wrestler cut loose and got himself over in a major way was Zack Ryder, who used social media to make himself one of the most popular people on the roster.

Zack Ryder is a decent worker and talker with a good look, but the WWE seemed incensed that he would dare make an attachment to the crowd without their approval. They punished him by having him lose for years, finally damaging his character and presence so badly that he was relegated to the training league – where he immediately got over again, and is now part of their incredible tag division, teaming with another wrestler named Mojo Rawley to become the Hype Bros.

Was Zack a future world champion? Unlikely, but he could have been one of those secondary guys who could make a believable run for the title. All it would have taken was some half decent storytelling, but the WWE made an example of him and no one has deviated from the script in any real way since.

He could have been Hokage.

He could have been Hokage.

And that’s a big part of the problem: it’s all scripted. Everything is scripted. No one ever wins and no one ever loses – there’s a sense of stagnation and boredom, because no one ever accomplishes anything. Champions lose non-title matches every week to the point where they look pathetic and the titles lack all meaning or value, or aren’t even booked in any way that makes sense.

For example, the WWE Divas belt was being held by a woman named Nikki Bella, and we were told that she was approaching a record for longest champion ever. Her challenger at the time was Charlotte Flair, daughter of Ric Flair, and the story being told revolved around the idea of Charlotte stopping Nikki from achieving her goal of being the longest running champion: she got a bunch of matches and never quite won, not until Nikki had achieved her goal.

That could work as a story, if Nikki were the good guy trying to do something incredible and Charlotte was the bad guy trying to keep her from achieving her dream. There’s even pathos there in the aftermath – an exhausted good guy Nikki losing to Charlotte, but taking solace in achieving her goal. Both women were playing the opposite roles, however, and the story suffered as a result. With the good guy unable to keep the bad guy from getting that record, it robbed the story of its pull. Charlotte stopped Nikki after it was too late to matter.

Charlotte is also a Flair. Being bad is in her blood.

Charlotte is also a Flair. Being bad is in her blood.

Again, contrast that with the last big feud for the NXT Women’s Title. First up, it’s the Women’s Title, not the Diva’s Title. The Women’s Title looks and sounds like a championship belt, while the Diva’s Title looks and sounds like a fashion accessory. The champion was Sasha Banks, a woman who improved herself and made a character over a period of years, cultivating a cut-throat arrogance to match her incredible skill in the ring. Her character is based on being better than everyone and backing it up when called to do so.

Her opponent was Bayley, a girl-next-door type who had dreamed of being a woman wrestler her whole life, a happy-go-lucky ingenue who tries hard and works hard and makes a go of it and is so impossibly earnest that it’s impossible not to like her. She toiled and struggled and earned her shot at the title, and Sasha mocked her for it.

The two of them had one of the best wrestling matches, with one of the best storylines, this year. No one had to tell us how awesome they were, or who they were, or why we should care: we knew by watching them, and everything else was just icing. Bayley has continued to be awesome on NXT. Sasha Banks was brought up to the main roster, where she has done nothing.

In short, WWE, your fans have been vocal about who they want to see, and your stubborn insistence is driving us away in droves. Those of us that know about NXT are tuning there for our fix, but those that don’t will leave and might not come back – and even those of us that watch NXT live in fear of what you’ll do to the people we care about when they’re called up.

Neville, a former NXT champion, languishes as nothing and has nothing going for him despite being able to deliver terribly smarmy interviews while wrestling a lightning fast style that can make anyone look good. The Ascension, former angry space vikings and all around ass-kickers, were turned into hypocritical eighties rejects before losing to everyone and being forgotten about. Sasha Banks, possibly the most talented wrestler on the roster, sits unused somewhere.

We know what we want, WWE. We know you can give it to us, and we know you like to bitch and moan about how we won’t accept the shit you try to shovel down our throats week in and week out. Your challenge was “love it or leave it.”

Twenty percent of us have.

The dark blue is the amount of people that have stopped watching since July.

The dark blue is the amount of people that have stopped watching since July.

More of us are going to leave, too. Raw is three hours long, Smackdown is two hours – five hours on a non-event week is a lot of time to sit there and not be entertained, to be insulted, to be bored. Most of the fans you have left are there out of inertia instead of passion, but even that is trickling down and away. The computer-controlled AI in your video games makes more sense than you do and is more entertaining, to boot.

Hell, if you added different commentators as DLC for the video game – specifically Corey Graves, Renee Young, and William Regal – you’d probably make a lot of money. The commentary on Raw is generally terrible, excelling only at reminding us how awful the product is and insulting those that haven’t or aren’t able to get the WWE Network (only $9.99~!). Those commentators I named are from NXT, by the by, and are just further proof that there is not one thing that Raw and Smackdown do that NXT doesn’t do better.

“Love it or leave it.” That’s your challenge, and while I don’t love it, I do want to. Your roster of on-air talent is ludicrously good, moreso than at any other time in the company’s history, but whatever is happening behind the scenes is poison and it’s tainted the on-air product, driving it towards unwatchability. Please fix this. I don’t want to leave. I want to love your product. I want to give you my money and my attention.

All I’m asking is that you give me a reason to care.

Thank you, Paige.

Thank you, Paige.

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3042

Hemlock Grove – Season 3 [Review]

Fail, Reviews

November 2, 2015

We liked Hemlock Grove. We really did.

The first season was a meandering hot mess of a story, this weird and protracted journey. It was about nihilism and loneliness, alienation and supernatural realism, and we loved it. The story sprawled out like an uncomfortable lover, discomfort set against some truly inspired directorial choices and striking performances from everyone involved. It had some problems, but made those problems work with it. It was a difficult narrative that gave you as much as you were willing to put into it, and it ended on a terrible sense of nothingness. It was awesome.

We weren’t looking for the second season. The second season crept up on us; we were wandering through Netflix and, lo and behold, there were new episodes on offer. We watched those, too, and we adored them – everything from the first season was tightened and improved upon. The directing was tighter, the characterization intriguing, and the story truly daring. If the first season was about ennui, the second dwelt on cruelty, on the idea that nothing is ever truly alright. We loved it more, and went back and watched the first season again.

Doing so gave us a deeper appreciation for both of these stories, the ongoing mythology and the tightness of that mythology. We got the book and read that, comparing the close-knit narrative between the printed page and the flickering fiction of that first season, then watched the second again. We were fans. We want to make this clear, right from the start.

Because the third season is a – and is about – disappointment.

And no amount of crying is going to make it okay.

And no amount of crying is going to make it okay.

Spoilers lurk ahead. I find it difficult to care about spoiling a season I’m urging you not to watch.

A quick recap: Hemlock Grove is a small mining town where the mining died, and the family that started and ran the town changed over to cutting-edge pharmaceuticals. The town is very New England in decor, but New England in decay; the town is cracking and showing it’s age, strangled by a pervasive and hidden evil. The only building untouched by that entropy is the White Tower, a sparkling edifice to scientific nihilism and innovation, both in equal measure.

Sounds cool, right? It gets better. The family that owns the White Tower are the Godfreys. The patriarch of the family committed suicide, leaving his brother, niece, wife, son, and sister behind. The brother is a psychiatrist who is sleeping with his dead brother’s wife, a secret that his wife tries not to let on that she knows. The wife in question is Olivia, as white and pale as the tower, raven haired, aloof, and ruthless. Her children are Roman and Shelley, one a teenage boy set apart by his wealth, the other set apart by her monstrous appearance. Their cousin Letha is pregnant and claims the father is an angel. Roman and Letha are strangely attracted to one another, and Roman is going through some things.

See, Olivia is a vampire.

Or upire, as they run with in Hemlock Grove. We get some insight through her into what the upire are like, and we see how powerful and horrifying they can be. Olivia is a powerful figure, untouchable and so many steps ahead of everyone else that no one can even hope to play on her level. She has plans for everyone, and escaping them is not an option.

Into this rich tapestry comes Peter, a gypsy who recently inherited a trailer on the edge of town. He and his mother move in just as a series of animal attacks start up, which is troubling because Peter is a werewolf. He knows he’s not at fault, so there has to be someone else out there, and he and Roman form a friendship and end up going to confront evil.

They’re able to connect because they are set apart, and their bonds go deeper than mere friendship. There’s romantic tension between the two of them, which is complicated when Peter sleeps with Letha and Roman finds out the horrible truth about the father of Letha’s child. The two of them still manage to work out their differences and maintain their tie, confronting the evil that lies at the heart of the attacks, but after that Peter is forced to leave town for reasons of gypsy.

Roman is devastated. Things go wrong, and we’re left with a terrible sense of finality.

That’s a brief overview. There’s secret societies, historical tragedies, gypsy magic… Hemlock Grove is beautiful and terrible in its scope, and relentless in the hurricane of festering decay that ruins everything in the town. It’s awesome. We highly recommend it.

Season two starts a few months after the first one ended. Peter’s mother is arrested at a funeral and dragged back to Hemlock Grove. Peter, the dutiful son, follows her back to try and get her free – first legally, and then through jailbreak. It isn’t long before he’s swept up in the town’s entropic field again, crossing paths with Roman.

And we're not even touching on how awesome Shelley is.

And we’re not even touching on how awesome Shelley is.

Roman himself has moved out of his mother’s home. He’s stolen her power and her wealth, though he’s unsure what to do with either. He’s been left with a baby that he will defend at all costs, but there is clearly something off about the child. He’s been hurt by Peter’s leaving and lashes out when the two of them see one another again, a lashing that hurts them both.

A girl has a car accident outside Roman’s new home, and Peter’s gotten a job working at a towing company. The girl, Miranda ends up sleeping with one, then the other, and finally both. She sleeps with both of them. At once. We get the first healthy threesome relationship outside of Savages, a slap in the face of monogamy, with all three of them made better and healthier people by the connection they share.

Everything comes together, the stories, characters, and mythologies of the first season grown and improved upon. the secret society of the first season comes back in force, and appears to have a civil war in its ranks. A wounded Olivia plays with redemption. The cutting edge medicines of the White Tower betray an incredible sense of both innovation and science run amuck. The baby has three loving and doting adults who love it completely.

Hemlock Grove being what it is, none of those positives can last. Things go wrong everywhere – the secret society has a civil war in its ranks. Olivia does something unspeakable and returns to power in grand fashion. Sixteen years of ambition is thwarted via a terrible atrocity. The child appears to be a literal Antichrist. Miranda and the baby are stolen by a dragon.

Miranda and the baby are stolen by a dragon.

The freaking season ends with Miranda being stolen by a motherfucking dragon.

So where does season three begin? With a bunch of gypsies robbing a truck using Peter’s lycanthropy. It’s a misstep that carries over everywhere else. The dragon – the motherfucking dragon that kidnapped Miranda and the Antichrist – barely gets more than a passing mention as everyone acts out of character and nothing makes a goddamn bit of sense.

You would be better off avoiding the one episode you're in, Miranda.

You would be better off avoiding the one episode you’re in, Miranda.

Olivia is a frustrating case study of the whole season. The dominant powerhouse of the first season is gone, and even the wounded survivor of the second is absent in favor of a whimpering shadow of what was. The promise of a the first season’s strength is dashed in favor of a short-sighted unreliable narrator that doesn’t fit anything we know about who this person is. The actress does a fantastic job, giving a powerful performance that belongs to a character that isn’t Olivia.

She’s not the only person to suffer in this way. Roman and Peter and the whole cast appears to have been guzzling stupid pills by the bottle. See, a good chunk of the surviving cast saw the dragon, and none of them seem even mildly interested. It’s idiotic. Let me save you ten hours:

Miranda dies off camera. One gypsy betrays the rest and is killed by the mob, resulting in a bunch of other nonsense deaths that end with Peter ripping out Roman’s heart. The dragon is killed right after they remember the dragon is there; it takes about a minute. All the myth-building about upire society is abandoned; they’re just people that sometimes need to drink blood, the horror and majesty stripped from them so that we can get an idiot zombie thing. The baby being the Antichrist is completely forgotten about, as is the secret society.

Nothing makes any sense at all, except Shelley. Shelley has a coming-of-age story that’s equally sweet and powerful, coming into her own and claiming her own power. She eventually abandons Hemlock Grove and we get a neat parallel of the end of the first season, the only time the third season feels anything like the first or second. Of course, she’s also running away with a much older homeless man who is also a wanted felon, and is carting along the Antichrist. Your happy endings may vary.

The third season also lacks the sweeping directive ambition that the first season excelled at and the second echoed. It’s flat. It’s boring, taking the fertile ground tended to so carefully in the first and second and salting that earth until there’s nothing worth watching. Nothing. Everyone dies for reasons that makes no fundamental sense other than to give the series a sense of finality.

Hell, just look at Roman. The writers forget that Roman can control people with his gaze. They forget that Shelley is important to him. They forget that Miranda is important to him. They forget that not killing anyone is important to him. They forget that trying to keep his humanity is important to him. They forget everything we know about the Upir. Nothing he does in this season makes any sense at all, right up until the point his best friend murders him by ripping out his heart, thereby trapping himself in wolf form forever.

Hemlock Grove

Roman needs a stiff drink of hemlock after watching the third season. We feel you, buddy.

What fucking idiocy is this?

I want to make this clear: it is possible to kill off a cast and do it well. It could and should have worked well for this show, where entropy lies at the heart of every last person. There are some fantastic stories where everyone does – King Lear comes to mind, as does American Mary. What made the massive death scenes in Lear and Mary work was the strength of the characters involved, but Hemlock Grove spends the whole of season three ripping those characters apart. If you can’t care about the characters one way or the other, their deaths have no meaning.

There are two main characters on this show, which is about their relationship. We spend little time with them, and even less with them together. Peter is in a shitty heist movie for a bit, then an equally shitty crime thriller. Roman has no purpose whatsoever. Two strong characters – Olivia and Destiny – are stripped of any agency or power they might have had for no reason whatsoever. A new character is introduced and then does nothing, and isn’t even a character that makes sense.

Yes, I’m talking about Annie. Annie ends up being the lost long daughter of Olivia, and the half-sister of Roman and Shelley. See, way back when Olivia was seduced by a gypsy, but we were told in season one that the child wasn’t an upire, and it was strongly hinted that child grew up to be Peter’s ancestor. So, no, she doesn’t make any sense, which means it fits in great with how nothing else in this season makes any sense.

May as well go on a little bit… remember how Pryce is super strong? The writers don’t. Pryce is the genius behind the science in Hemlock Grove, a intellectual powerhouse that is able to match wits with the likes of Olivia while playing secret societies against one another. That’s forgotten here. We get an abuse story instead that would actually have been really powerful if it had been built to, or, better still, had been given to a character that could have made it work. His storyline and eventual death – you guessed it – make no goddamn sense.

What an absolute waste. What a disappointment. The characters don’t get what they want, the viewers don’t get what they want, and no one is happy. We would have been better off lingering with the cliffhanger than dealing with this steaming pile of shit.

In short...

The Good: The cast. The performances are terrific, even though the script doesn’t warrant it. The main characters all bring their a-game, and it almost makes this bearable.

The Bad: The bland direction and sound design. The terrible script. No one acting in character. The dangling plot threads. The abandoned plot threads. The killing of everyone for the sake of killing everyone. The lack of decent werewolf transformations. Vampire zombies that only target vampires. Olivia’s character arc. Roman’s character arc. Peter’s character arc. Pedophilia and incest. Oh, and there’s a horde of dragons that the series doesn’t bother to touch on ever again. What the shit.

The Ugly: The way the scripts of the third season cast aside all the carefully constructed mythology and characters of the first two seasons for nothing.

The Verdict: Avoid this. It’s an interesting case study if you’re looking to watch how to utterly destroy a series. There’s some solid performances that are, outside of context, quite enjoyable.

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766

Big Dumb Event Crossover Comics

Culture, Fail

May 12, 2015

“Yeah, most of my comics money goes to Image, Boom, or Valiant these days,” the Hero of Time told me. We were walking around Big Pete’s Comics on Free Comic Book Day, looking for new titles to read. He was steering clear of everything Marvel or DC.

“But you love Spider-Man,” I said.

“I do.” He paused to look at Tech Jacket, grabbing both available trades, and then nabbed Hexed. “Do you remember the last good Spider-Man comic? Before Edge of Spider-verse, I mean?”

“Um…”

“Exactly,” he said, walking to the registers while counting his rupees. He paused, taking a moment to consider a Thief of Thieves trade. “I’ll stick with the cartoons.”

“What about Spider-Gwen?”

“I’m sure she’s great,” he said. “It’s a cool concept. Thing is, sooner or later she’s going to get roped into another crossover, and if I want to understand what’s going on in her book I’ll need to pick up fifteen billion others. No, thank you. I’ll stick with Boom and Image, who keep their damn stories in single books so I don’t have to a buy a gazillion books I don’t want to follow what’s happening in the books I do want.”

“Valiant has crossovers.”

“Yeah, but Valiant limits their crossovers to their own independent titles, mostly. And it’s not like I’m not reading most of Valiant already,” he stopped, grinning at a couple cosplaying himself and Midna. “Hey, aren’t Marvel and DC about to reboot everything again, anyway? So, it’s not like any of their shit matters, so why do I care?”

This conversation clarified something I’d been thinking for a while.

Any amount of time spent with either the weekly God of Comics reviews or the twitter feed know that I’m not a big fan of what I typically call “Big Dumb Event Comics.” I loathe them, in their frequency, stupidity, cash-grabbiness, and lack of in-world consequence.

Let me explain.

We are barely four months into 2015, and here’s a list of the events that have happened from the beginning of January to the end of March so far this year, just off the top of my head: Spiderverse, Time Run Out, Black Vortex, Secret Wars, Convergence, and Future’s End.

This one was actually pretty good.

This one was actually pretty good.

Each one of those stories goes through multiple different comics, some of which I read and some of which I don’t – but if I want to understand what’s going on in, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m now forced to pick up every other comic in the Black Vortex event, which includes Captain Marvel, All-New X-Men, Nova, Guardians Team-Up, and others – including a couple of books that have been made especially for this event.

I then have to figure out what order to read them in and Marvel has to make sure that the get published on time – something they’re much better at than they were (hi, Civil War), or, say, DC Comics (I’m looking at you, Forever Evil). If something is delayed, doesn’t ship, or whatever, I have to hold off on reading the comic I enjoy to wait for the comic(s) I don’t care about to understand what’s happening, and even then I may or may not enjoy the result as the things I love are interrupted by things I really don’t.

This doesn’t make me want to pick up more comics as much as it makes me resent the extra comics I now have to pick up just to enjoy the comics I like. Publishers like to think that we, as readers, will choose to pick up everything in the crossover to understand what’s happening, and we might the first few times.

It gets old, though. It gets old fast, and we end up with angry fans like the Hero of Time turning away from characters they love and getting their fix either through old trades or cartoons. The Hero watches and loves Ultimate Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man and can argue the character of Spider-Man from one incarnation to the next, but he doesn’t read those comics anymore.

“Civil War came close to killing the character for me,” the Hero says, sighing. “One More Day was the final nail in the coffin. I tried to keep going afterward, but…”

“It’s okay,” I tell him. “Marvel is planning to retcon One More Day out of existence.”

“Let me guess,” he says, his eyes narrowing. “There’s going to be another fucking crossover explaining how, with fifty tie-ins that will muddle everything down to where nothing makes any sense at all. I solve dungeons for a living, and the freaking Water Temple made more sense than any of this bullshit.”

"We heard you like reboots, so we're rebooting the reboot of the reboot... all the reboots forever...!"

“We heard you like reboots, so we’re rebooting the reboot of the reboot… all the reboots forever…!”

Unlike him, I’m willing to swallow the frustration and deal with events as a once in a while thing, but even I’m getting irritated by the way these crossovers happen all the damn time.

“Here, man,” the Hero of Time says. “Read Hexed, or Birthright, or Tech Jacket. Check out Daymen. Stop bothering with all this crossover bullshit. It’s impossible to keep track of and way too goddamn expensive. Speaking of which…” He wandered over and smashed a pot, collecting the rupees inside while flashing me a grin.

It amazes me, how he can do that and get away with it. He suffers from as few consequences as anyone of the characters in a crossover do.

What do I mean? Well, take a look at Civil War, where everything was supposed to change forever ™. Civil War is a terrible story that writes a whole whack of characters out-of-context, makes certain heroic characters out-and-out villains, makes no internal sense, and no one suffers anything permanent from it. It changes nothing.

The only lingering effect of Civil War is that comic-readers still think Iron Man is a terrible person and, indirectly, Spider-Man suffered through One More Day. Beyond that, there’s been no change to the status quo other than this diseased canker of a story sitting in the timeline.

Bet you the movie does it better, and without branching off into other movies.

Compare and contrast this with, say, Valiant’s the Valiant crossover. The Valiant brought in characters from Archer & Armstrong, the Eternal Warrior, Ninjak, Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, and others – but the story happened only in the Valiant, and the effects of that story were felt in each book separately, without forcing readers to get any of those books to understand what was happening.

Better still, look at some of the epic stories happening elsewhere, entirely without crossovers – Thor, Loki, and Angela from Marvel, Batgirl and Catwoman and Gotham Academy from DC Comics, Birthright and and Daymen and Hexed and Lazarus and Wayward and Trees and the Woods and the Sixth Gun from the indie presses… the list goes on.

“This is the age of good comics outside the big two,” the Hero of Time says, and he would know. “And, hopefully, the last age of the Big Dumb Event, because I have better things to read and spend my money – nevermind my time – on. Let me know when there’s good stories without these dumb event things. Until that happens, my rupees are going mostly to Boom and Image and Valiant.”

It’s pretty much impossible to fault him for his decision.

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Net Neutrality – Here We Go Again

Fail, Tech, The Truth

April 23, 2015

Comcast, Verizon, and all their ilk have slithered out of their offices to appeal to the people that understand the Internet least – the Republicans and GOP – in an effort to kill the Internet.

You like the Internet, right? We all do. It’s a life-changing technology that literally changes everything, from distribution models to research to access of information. It’s moving society forward and making it better, increasing our understanding of the world around us on every possible level. (more…)

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2952

Fifty Shades of Do Not Want

Books & Writing, Fail, Lifestyle, Showcase, The Truth

February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey is a textbook for abuse. It terrifies me that people are going to read this book or see this movie and think that this is an okay way to act, that any of the things that Christian Grey does are even the slightest shade of okay. They aren’t. As a fantasy, it’s alright – but this isn’t being portrayed as fantasy, it’s being portrayed as a blueprint and a relationship to aspire to.

(more…)

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1451

Evolving Television – Yes Plot, No Plot, Where Plot?, There Plot!

Fail, Reviews, Uncategorized, Why Aren't You Watching This?

January 20, 2015

"Not this."

“I am gazing into your soul.”

Elementary is one of those shows that polarizes people. It had the unfortunate timing to come out after BBC’s Sherlock, which got this whole Benedict Cumberbatch thing started by being, well, incredible. Sherlock translated Sherlock Holmes into the modern world in a believable way, with interesting characters and cases, and had one of the strongest first seasons of any television program in history.

CBS’ Elementary seems an echo of Sherlock, what with also placing Sherlock Holmes in a modern setting, but everywhere Sherlock zigs, Elementary zags. There’s similarities between the two that harken back to the source material, but Elementary went out of its way to establish that their Sherlock was a very different sort of character, and the show works because of it. (more…)

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2008

Narrative Fail: Maleficent

Fail, Reviews

July 2, 2014

“And I Know It’s True, That Visions Are Seldom All They Seem…”

–Thus was it true of the Maleficent trailer. It gave such promise, chilling hints of Disney’s most ruthless, sadistic, dark villain. But these visions were not all they seem, for the movie itself decided to make Maleficent a hero. They gave an intriguing back story to how Maleficent reached the point of placing her infamous curse, but once they embark on the tale of Sleeping Beauty they betray so much of both the story and the characters as to leave this movie anemic. (more…)

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