Monday update

July 4, 2016

Happy Independence Day, USA-ians!  The home fireworks thing has been a little out of hand this year, it feels like.  Last night was so bad Lily spent it under the bed.  At least she’s not a runner.  Me — I just have sparklers.  Tonight, we’ll be grilling, which is really enough excitement around here.

A few more things:

1. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.  I sometimes feel like Western culture still hasn’t really processed World War I, the first industrialized war, the war that set off everything else that happened in the 20th century, like a row of dominoes.  In Britain, this astonishing living memorial made amazing use of costuming and live-action roleplaying to remember the battle.  This is the real power of theater/costuming.

2. I finished season 2 of Star Wars:  Rebels.  Well, that was a little abrupt.  I’m still a Kanan fangirl but I really want to see what happens next.

3.  Shark Week on the Discovery Channel is getting better about not being all sensationalist shark attack coverage all the time.  In fact, this year it was mostly enthusiastic scientists leaning dangerously off the sides of boats while trying to stick tags, cameras, and whatnot onto shark fins.  Kind of endearing.  And I really liked that they had shows dedicated to other species than great whites:  makos, oceanic white-tips, tigers.  In fact, in what may be a first, they even had segments on sharks I’ve seen while diving:  various species of reef sharks, and my beloved nurse sharks.  These species tend to be smaller and not aggressive, so I guess they don’t make good TV, but I really like them.  They’re very chill when you spot them underwater.  What I really want?  I’d love for Shark Week to do a segment on whale sharks, which are just really amazing and a holy grail for many divers.  I have not seen a whale shark in the wild.  Yet.

4.  This is the stage I’m at on the revision of Bannerless:

notes

Spoiler:  I figured out how to fix it.  I helpfully cropped that bit out to not give it away.  I should be done with this thing in just a couple more days.

 

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Star Wars: Rebels

July 1, 2016

The latest binge-watch has been Star Wars: Rebels.  I confess to being super out of date on all the animated Star Wars offerings.  I watched and very much enjoyed Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars, which I thought delved into Anakin’s darkness and ambivalence in a way the movies didn’t capture.  But then later Clone Wars series seemed to explode and expand in ways I couldn’t keep up with.  And I’ll confess I’ve never been a fan of that style of computer animation, which always seems stiff and expressionless to me.

That’s what kept me away from Rebels, until friends urged me to watch.  (Which hasn’t really happened with Clone Wars, which is telling.)  Still not a fan of that animation style.  But. . .Rebels has that same dynamic that hearkens back to my old role-playing campaigns, the same ethos that means I can’t watch the Rogue One trailer without bursting into tears.  A diverse group of people on the fringes, overcoming dark pasts, trying to do good.

It took me a few episodes, but I’m into it now.  And surprisingly, my favorite part may be how the show handles the Jedi.  (The episode that won me over is the one where Ezra visits the hidden Jedi temple and gets a message from Yoda.  Just lovely.)  The Jedi and Force users were never my favorite part of the game — I think because a lot of gamers I played with seemed to treat those characters more like D&D mages and wizards than their own thing.  Jedi in the games seemed to lack gravitas.  Rebels, on the other hand, really seems clued into the theme of these lost, scattered followers of a broken faith trying to hold on to the good parts of what they learned while overcoming what the old Jedi Order did wrong.

And that may be why Kanan is probably my favorite character.  (An aside:  I know I’m getting older because these days I relate more to the parent figures in shows than I do to the kids, and that’s a switch.  (And I think it’s really smart for a show like this to have characters kids can relate to, and ones their parents can relate to.))  If I’ve got my timing right, Kanan was a teenager when Order 66 went out.  A newly-minted Jedi Knight — or maybe not even officially a knight.  And then he lost everything, and he’s got a bad case of survivor’s guilt, and he’s trying to be a good Jedi and now he’s got this kid whom he feels obligated to train while not being at all confident of his own abilities. . .  Really good story meat here.

I’ve got about half of season 2 left to go.  So no spoilers, please!  I hear it gets kind of dark. Hmm….

Other notes:  I love that their R2 unit is actually kind of chaotic neutral.  No charming little cute droid here.  Sheesh.

That baby Ithorian in that one episode is about the most ridiculously adorable thing I’ve ever seen.

I’m really enjoying being a Star Wars fan again.

 

I’ve FINALLY caught up on the season finales of my two favorite shows.  What I still love about them both:  the over-the-top absurdity and risk-taking of the stories.  No holds barred.  The “Yeah, we’re just going to launch all the nukes and introduce the multiverse and keep throwing stuff against the wall and we don’t actually care if it sticks because the crazy-ball bouncing is pretty damn cool” nature of it all.  I can’t predict it and it’s just great and I’m constantly surprised and delighted.  Even when I think the story decisions are bone-headed, they’re usually brave, and I appreciate that.

SO MANY SPOILERS BELOW

First, Arrow:  It’s starting to feel a bit tired, which I think is totally normal for a TV show entering its fifth season.  This is where it gets really hard to try new things while still maintaining the dynamic that drew your fans in in the first place.  I do love where we ended up:  Ollie as mayor by default, the team in shambles.  Felicity still being awesome.  What I’m looking forward to next season:  the Cobra Island flashbacks ought to catch up to the beginning of the show.  It’s five years on the island, yeah?  Ideally, we should end up with scruffy hobo Ollie on the island by the end of next season, and I think that’s great.

What I loved about this past season:  Neal McDonough as Damien Darhk.  I’ve loved McDonough ever since White Dwarf, I loved him in Tin Man, I loved him as the baddie in Justified.  He moves effortlessly between good guy and bad guy roles.  He’s one of those actors no one really notices but that everyone knows about.  And I think if anyone else had played Darhk, the character would have been ridiculous.  But McDonough added menacing to the maniacal, and chewed the scenery with actual skill.  He took it right to the edge of absurd without turning into a clown.  And I fully expect Darhk’s daughter to come back for revenge at some point.

What I didn’t love:  Felicity’s recovery from her life-changing injury was way, way too easy.  Hollywood, this is why disability advocates hate you.

And The Flash.  Oh.  My.  God.  I love it.  I had to avoid spoilers because it took me a couple of weeks to catch up, but I did notice some really baffled responses on FB the night the finale aired.  I know not everyone is happy, but the more I think about it, the more I’m just absolutely in awe of where they went.  Basically:  They’ve undone the entire show.  They’ve erased two seasons of events.  That’s. . . .wow.  And normally this kind of thing is rage making, but let’s look at this a different way:  Aren’t you super curious about what would have happened if Barry had actually saved his mother at the end of last season?  Isn’t part of you still asking that question?

Well.  Now we’re going to get an answer.  Barry’s screwing with the timeline isn’t erasing everything that happened before.  It’s taking the story in a loop — because the story of the Flash has always been a loop.  Just like him racing Zoom on the generator.  That moment, his mother’s death, has always been the defining moment of the story and we’ve gone back to it over and over again for two seasons now.  And now it’s. . . different.  Time isn’t linear, it’s a circle, and as Harrison Wells said, the number of worlds is INFINITE.  (That word right there is going to be important later, kids!  Seriously, my comics friend and I fell out of our chairs when Wells said that word with such breathy import.)  I felt like I did when I was a  kid sticking my fingers in various sections of my Choose Your Own Adventure books because I didn’t want to commit to one ending.  It’s genius.  (We also had to immediately watch the Invader Zim episode “Bad Bad Rubber Piggy,” but never mind that.)

What I loved about this past season:

Earth 2.  I love that they just did that storyline full speed ahead.  I love that this show could pull off the “alternate versions of main characters in alternate world” trope just halfway through its second season.

Barry’s journey to the underworld/Speed Force.  The journey to the underworld to gain power and knowledge is a deeply literary trope, and the show handled it in a deeply literary way.  Love it.

Jay Garrick.  The whole damn storyline.  I’m still so freaking confused.  (Wait, that guy on the park bench isn’t actually important?  Are you sure?)  And I still love it.

What I didn’t love:

How whoever is regularly kissing Barry can’t know he’s the Flash for some reason.  It’s weird.

 

The Flash v. Supergirl

April 27, 2016

Not for real.  I would never set Barry and Kara against each other because they are total BFFs.  But I want to compare the season 1 finales of each show, because I think they offer a really a great lesson in tension, suspense, and how to maintain those things in fiction.

The lesson:  A great way to increase tension in the story is to make sure the main character and the audience are on the same page, pointed in the same direction.  A great way to destroy tension is to put the character and audience at odds.

I’ve talked before about the first season finale of The Flash:  how an episode that is basically people talking the whole time had me at the edge of my seat, emotionally engaged, and brought enough tension to be nerve-wracking.  I think part of how it accomplished this is by keeping Barry and the audience on the same page, asking the same question:  Should he travel back in time to save his mother or not?  Barry spends the whole episode on that question, and we’re right there with him until he finally pulls the trigger on the action and it all comes to a head and we all learn the answer at the same time.

Now let’s talk about that Supergirl season finale.  The big action scene in the last half of the episode had an actual ticking clock, so the tension should have been thick, right?  Time’s counting down, only a few minutes left to save the world, yikes!  So why were my friends and I yelling at the TV and bored and frustrated?  I think it’s because we weren’t on the same page as the characters.  We weren’t asking the same questions, we weren’t pointed in the same direction.

The episode:  Kara and Alex fight, but Love Conquers All, and Kara goes on TV to tell everyone that Hope saves the day, and Myriad is defeated, except it isn’t because Non and Co. have now set it to destroy the brains of everyone on planet Earth and Kara must dump Non’s HQ into space, which is likely a suicide mission and everyone knows it.  So she goes around to tell everyone how much she loves them because she thinks she isn’t coming back, then she fights and kills Non, dumps the thing into space, Alex saves her (yay!), the end, cliffhanger.

Just like The Flash finale, this episode features a whole lot of the main character going around having heartfelt conversations with the most important people in her life.  How interesting, I thought, that both these episodes are mostly the main character talking to people.  Especially because I think The Flash episode succeeds massively, and the Supergirl episode, well, doesn’t.

The problem?  The doomsday clock is already ticking when Supergirl goes around having her heartfelt conversations.  This means all I could think about was “Holy shit why are you wasting all this time talking to people, the clock is ticking, Earth is doomed, stop stop stop go fight Non ARGH WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING.”  And then she lies to James about how she really feels again, which is a whole other issue.  Then she gets to crashed Fort Roz and it’s the same thing.  “Don’t fight Non why are you stopping you have like three minutes left just drop him in a hole and come back for him later ARGH.”  This scene that’s supposed to be super tense and exciting was just completely frustrating.  Because the character’s goals did not seem to line up with where I thought her goals really should logically have been lined up.  She’s wasting time, running down the clock so we can have a nail-biting finish because the plot says she’s supposed to, not because it makes sense.

Why did the Flash episode get away with all the talking?  There was no ticking clock.  Barry had control of the action, which wouldn’t start until he said so.  Him going ahead with the action was the answer to the question we’d been pondering that whole episode, and he could talk as much as he wanted before pulling that trigger and we’d go along with him.

I find it fascinating that the episode with the literal ticking doomsday clock was dull, while the one where the characters spend the whole time talking about whether they should do the thing was so gripping.

I’ve talked about this before, regarding a book I read where the viewpoint character had a Deep Dark Secret that the reader didn’t know about.  I believe this was done to increase the tension, to make the reader keep reading in order to find out what the secret is.  But this doesn’t actually work, because what really happens is the reader gets so damned frustrated not knowing something that’s a key part of the viewpoint character, that instead of being drawn in, the reader is pushed away.  The character has their story — keeping the secret, pursuing goals, doing their thing.  And the reader is on a different vector entirely:  what’s the secret?  The character and reader are at odds.  But if the reader just knew what the secret was, then the reader becomes invested in the character’s goal:  keeping the secret.  Whom can the character trust?  Whom will she tell?  What will happen if anyone finds out?  Those questions will keep us reading much more happily than wondering what the secret is.

I would have been much happier, much more engaged with the story, if Kara had behaved at all logically, and didn’t spend pretty much half of her ticking clock scenario talking while Earth is in danger.

How to fix the pacing on that Supergirl episode:  After stopping Myriad (she thinks), she can have those talks with people.  “When I thought I’d lost you I felt all these things and want to tell you how much you mean to me,” etc. etc.  As these conversations progress, a problem becomes apparent:  they all have raging headaches, and they’re getting worse.  Kara runs back to HQ, “Something’s very wrong!”  Yes, and here’s what it is, we’re all about to explode unless we can get the giant ship into space or something.  We have 20 minutes, but our solution might kill you.  Doesn’t matter, Kara zooms out to the thing because she only has 18 minutes now.  Non and Indigo are there to stop her.  She doesn’t immediately confront them — all she has to do is get the thing, right?  But they insist on fighting her.  So it’s a two-pronged battle, of her trying to get away from them while also trying to get the thing, until she finally stops to kill Non.  Clock’s still ticking.  Climax and finale ensue.  Ta da!

And by the way how is it that Superman is always going into space with no ill effects and for some reason it’s a really big deal whether or not Kara can go into space?

 

I gotta get this off my chest:

So The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl have all made passing references to Opal City now.  This is a DC universe thing.  Each hero has their own city, right?  Batman is Gotham, Superman is Metropolis, Arrow is Starling City, Flash is Central City (which is nothing like Central City, Colorado, alas), and so on.

Opal City is home to Starman.

The only superhero comic I ever followed with any sort of devotion, that I actually own the first 60 or so issues of, was the 1990’s run of Starman by James Robinson and Tony Harris.  I picked up the comic because the art was beautiful — art nouveau and art deco inspired, streamlined and colorful.  Basically, completely different than the hyper-steroidal messy/gritty Leifeld-style art in every other comic at the time.  And the story was great:  Jack Knight is the younger son of Ted Knight, who in the Golden Age was Starman.  Ted is an old man now, and he really wants Jack to take up the cosmic staff and become the next Starman.  (Me, interested in families of superheroes and the generational issues involved?  Who knew!)  Jack runs an antique store/junk shop.  He doesn’t really want to be a superhero.  Until he does.

At this point, after this many references to Opal City on the TV shows, I am desperate for more allusions to the Robinson Starman run.  Like, I am agonized for them.  I mean, we don’t actually have to go to Opal City (though that would be awesome).  I don’t necessarily need Starman himself (Jack or Ted) to make an appearance (though that would be AMAZING).  But I want something.  A character stops by an antique store run by a punk-looking guy named Jack.  Star Labs consults a gray-haired physicist named Ted Knight.  A mere glimpse of the cosmic staff in someone’s stash, in a box with a return address of Opal City.  I want my own personal Starman easter egg, with a big sign saying HERE YOU GO, CARRIE, ENJOY.

Please?

(Apparently, Robinson has a great deal of control over what gets done with Jack Knight/Starman, which means I’ll probably never get that easter egg.  But I live in hope.)

 

character deaths

April 13, 2016

First thing:  here’s the link to “Origin Story,” which is about the unexpected things that can happen when you live in city populated with superheroes and villains.

It’s season finale season in TV land, and a bunch of shows are pulling out the stops, giving us mayhem and cliffhangers and surprise deaths.  So…much…death…  Spoilers below, primarily for Arrow and Supergirl.

I think killing characters off is a necessary thing, because death is a real thing, and fiction is a good place to explore and process the emotions that come with death.  It’s also just good visceral fun to realize that your favorite characters may not be safe.  I learned that with T.J. in the first Kitty book — after that, and for thirteen more books, I kept readers off balance because they knew I wasn’t afraid to go there.

But there’s a point where it becomes either A) gratuitous — done for shock value rather than emotional impact (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones); or B) so predictable the emotional impact is deadened.

That’s what happened on Arrow last week.  Laurel’s been a stable, reliable part of the team for almost a season and a half now.  Not much character development to speak of, but she’s still been cool and awesome to have around.  Then, all of the sudden in the space of one episode, she’s having heartfelt discussions with everybody, pouring her heart out to Ollie, facing a couple of big life decisions.  And then she says something like “I’ll be Black Canary just one more time!”  Oh, honey.  No no no.  I spent half the episode just a little pissed off that the episode broadcast her fate so broadly.  One might almost call it satire?

Supergirl hasn’t actually killed a hero yet, but when one of them utters the line, “I’ll tell you everything when I get back,” just before leaving on the dangerous mission, you know something terrible is going to happen.

For me anyway, this saps most of the emotional impact from the event.  So frustrating.

As a contrast, I think one of the most impactful deaths on recent television was Barry’s mother in the first season finale of The Flash.  The situation was already twisty — I mean, we know she’s dead, she’s been dead for the entire season.  But that episode made us believe that Barry would save her.  We started hoping — in spite of the problems it would cause — that yes, Barry could undo that moment in time and save the life that has driven so much of the backstory of the show.  And then he doesn’t.  And it isn’t that he fails — he chooses not to.  The potential consequences of changing the past are too huge.  The moment was a surprise.  It also made sense.  So powerful.

Another one is that one I keep going back to:  Pilot, in Captain Power.  At a time when nobody died in TV shows ever, Pilot died.  She was left behind at the base which was about to be overrun by bad guys.  She gathers together as much tech and info as she can, the computer backup, etc.  She sets the base to self destruct, prepares to leave — and the self destruct malfunctions because of the enemy attack.  She has to stay behind and detonate it manually.  And she does, to keep the team’s secrets from falling into enemy hands, because that could potentially destroy humanity.  Her death was a complete surprise.  But also intensely logical, and the emotional fallout for the rest of the team was deep, deep story meat.

That’s how you do it.  And for pity’s sake, you avoid any dialog that broadcasts what you’re about to do:  I’ll tell you everything when I get back.  I’ll just do this one more time.  I’m retiring next week.  We’re getting married.  Etc.

 

home again home again…

March 29, 2016

I missed a few days blogging in there because. . .no excuse, really.  I just missed them.  I’m usually pretty good about scheduling posts ahead of time when I travel, but last week turned out to be. . .interesting.  We got slammed with an honest-to-goodness spring blizzard last Wednesday.  14″ of snow fell at my location in the space of about 8 hours, and it kind of threw my whole schedule off.  Instead of getting any work done, I sat at my computer obsessively refreshing my flight’s status all day long.  The Denver airport actually closed for most of Wednesday, which is almost unheard of it.  Good thing I was flying out Thursday, right???

So yes, I did manage to dig out of my house and catch my ON TIME flight.  But I didn’t do much of anything else.  Except have a fantastic time at WonderCon.  Everyone was so friendly and happy, and I didn’t get exhausted and burned out, and I got to go shopping and listen to Alan Tudyk’s talk, and eat a giant brownie sundae from a food truck. . .and. . .  Yes.  Good weekend.

I haven’t yet seen BvS, so no review yet.  I’m hoping to get to it this week.  I’m so fascinated with the huge variety of responses, I’m quite looking forward to seeing it for myself.  From an academic standpoint, of course.

And I can’t help but think it was not at all a coincidence that the same weekend we get Batman and Superman duking it out on the big screen, TV gives us its own team-up between the two happiest, sunniest superheroes of them all:  Supergirl and Flash.  OMG you guys it was everything I wanted it to be.  An hour of happy, happy tears.  And the hugs.  So many hugs.  And ice cream!  Hugs and ice cream FTW.

I do not believe that Batman v. Superman will have any hugs.  Or ice cream.