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.

 

old trees

April 11, 2016

Another picture from Lake Quinalt:

sitka spruce

This is the World’s Largest Sitka Spruce tree.  Neat, huh?  So when I was hiking up the trail, I looked for a tall tree.  I mean a really tall tree.  One that towered over the forest around it.  But this, looking across the bridge, was my first view.  It didn’t really tower.  It’s not too much taller than the trees around it.

But it is bigger.  It’s heavy.  My favorite thing about it is how the branches droop.  They’re heavy, and gravity has been pulling at them for a thousand years.  This tree embodies the weight of the world.

It made me think of another famous tree:

Major Oak Dec 93

This is the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. That Sherwood Forest.  Legend has it this is the tree Robin Hood and his men sheltered in during their exploits.  Except, as the guide pointed out, assuming a historical Robin Hood, this tree would have been just a slender new thing at the time.  Not this giant.  (I took this picture in December ’93, which is why it has no leaves.  Not dead, just sleeping.)  But one might assume there were huge ancient oaks in the forest during Robin Hood’s time.  Ones that had been saplings when the Romans occupied Britain.

This tree is also estimated to be 800 – 1000 years old — roughly the same age as the spruce.  Scaffolding has been propping it up for the last hundred.  Like the spruce, it’s not tall, but it is big.  Heavy.  Gravity has thickened it, twisted it.  I feel old just looking at it.

These trees are age and time made visible, tangible.  I love it.

 

Friday miscellany

April 8, 2016

I had a bunch of things I was going to blog about, and wouldn’t you know it, I can’t remember them now. . .  Well, I’ll come up with something!

Next month, May 6-8, I’m the author guest of honor at the Creative Ink Festival in Vancouver.  It promises to be an excellent time full of writing and art and fun!

The April issue of Lightspeed Magazine is available to purchase and has a new story by me:  “Origin Story.”  Yes, it’s a superhero story — actually it’s a supervillain story.  And yes, it takes place in Commerce City.  It’s the backstory of a character in the third Golden Age book.  The story goes live next week, but if you want to read it early, here’s your chance.

So, how about that Rogue One trailer?  I’ve only seen it twice because, I confess, it reduced me to messy tears the first time, and the second wasn’t much better. Why am I having such an emotional to reaction to it?  Well, I think it’s because it feels exactly like the year-long Star Wars RPG campaign I was part of back in college.  We were a band of secret agents and rogues running missions for the Alliance, and it was fun and serious and gritty and everything Star Wars should be, and way back in 1993 thought we would never get in movie form ever again.  And here we are with what looks like pretty much exactly the movie that would have happened if they’d pulled it straight out of my twenty-year old brain.

It’s a little overwhelming, when pop culture caters to one’s id so directly.  Whew.

 

Last month when I was at Lake Quinalt, I tried to go on this hike to the World’s Largest Western Red Cedar.  This was how far I got:

stairs

(I did, however, see the World’s Largest Sitka Spruce, on the other side of the lake.)

The short review:  That totally didn’t suck as much as everyone said it did!

Let me explain.  By the time I got around to seeing this, I was actually eager to find out what had raised so much vitriol among so many people.  I avoided all reviews and spoilers — but really, the headlines were enough.  What was this unholy trainwreck people were describing?  Let’s find out!

To put this in perspective:  Batman v. Superman is a better superhero movie than Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3, Green Lantern, Daredevil, all the Fantastic Four movies, the Shumacher Batman movies, and that Captain America movie from the early 90’s that was so terrible it was never released.

In the end, my only real criteria for the movie was “It’d better not screw up Wonder Woman.”  And — it did not!  Wonder Woman was great!  I’m so happy that my prediction from a couple of years ago was totally wrong.

The breakdown, with SPOILERS!

The Good

  • Wonder Woman.  Just great.  During the big beatdown, she’s lost her sword, her shield, she’s losing, and she gets this wicked little grin on her face before diving back into the battle.  Yeah, that’ll do.
  • Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne.  I’ve been an Affleck fangirl for years, and he didn’t disappoint.
  • Jeremy Irons as techie Alfred.
  • All the superhero meetings.  i.e. First time Superman confronts Batman, first time Bruce sees Diana.  Delightful.
  • The post-apocalyptic dream sequence that turns into another dream sequence that was possibly the John Stewart Green Lantern from the future spouting stuff and then Bruce wakes up?  Goofy as hell but I loved it.
  • Seeing Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman together on the big screen.  Been waiting for this my whole life.
  • I actually cried a little at the end.
  • If someone told you you had to gracefully set up an MCU-style continuity for the Justice League and you had exactly one movie to do it in — this would actually be a pretty good way to do it.  Cyborg!  Aquaman!  Dear Reader, I squeed.

The Bad

  • It’s too long, with too much stuff that just isn’t important.  Like blowing up the Capitol, which never really got mentioned again.  Wut?
  • It’s too preachy, and suffers from the same ponderous self-importance as Man of Steel.  It needs fewer scenes of Clark looking worriedly at the TV while talking heads discuss whether Superman is a good guy or not.  If you cut out all the dialog of people discussing Superman’s moral standing in the world, the underlying themes would still be there and it would be a shorter, more interesting movie.
  • I think Clark/Superman wore exactly the same mildly worried expression through the entire movie.  What are you so worried about, Clark?  Did you leave the stove on?  Is that it?
  • At least a couple of plot threads could be removed entirely and not really affect the story.  Then maybe we’d have more time for that whole Clark and Lois in a relationship thing?  Because I guess they are?  Wut?
  • Cut the stupid prologue already, how many times do I have to say it.
  • While we got the Holy Trinity of superheroes beating down on a baddie, it was muddy and hard to follow, and I wish it hadn’t been.
  • The actual Batman and Superman smackdown wasn’t fun and wasn’t interesting.  I imagine the dudebros were all supposed to be like “Yeah awesome woohoooo!”  But I just thought it was sad.  It also didn’t need to happen, and only happened because of dumb plotting.  More about that in a sec.

The Ugly

  • Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, played as Heath Ledger’s Joker.  Who apparently is doing all this because he’s just crazy or something.  Painfully dumb.  Just no.

More Commentary, Because this is Me

So I rewrote the start of that Batman Superman fight, which didn’t need to happen, because A) I don’t believe this Lex is smart enough to outwit both Bruce and Clark, and B) stupidest dialog imaginable.   “Wait!” Superman yells and marches into Batman’s face, because that’s totally what you do to an armored psychopath, right?  No.  Here’s what should have actually happened:

Superman (keeping his distance):  “I need your help!”

Batman (confused):  “What?”

Superman:  “Lex Luthor has played us both, manipulated this whole thing to get rid of us, he kidnapped my mother to force me to fight you–”

Batman:  “You have a mother?”

Superman (blinking):  “Yes.  I grew up in Kansas for goodness sakes.  So will you help me get Luthor?  Please?”

Batman:  “Right.  Let’s go.”

Which gives us a movie called Batman v. Superman in which they don’t actually fight, which I think is beautiful and hilarious.  And doesn’t have an entire part of the plot hinge on Bruce’s and Clark’s mothers both having the same name, which I also thought was kinda dumb.

So, let’s talk about Superman, and violence, and heroism, and all that.  This whole question about whether Superman is too powerful to be a hero, is he a god, he could totally use his powers to take over the world, etc. etc. — this isn’t a new theme for Superman.  It’s been constant story fodder since the introduction of “gritty realism” to superheroes in the 80’s.  I’ll never forget the episode of the animated Justice League, where there’s an alternate Earth where Superman really does take over, and we see Arkham Asylum, and all the familiar villains have been lobotomized, and we realize the two little pinprick scars on their foreheads are the same distance apart as Superman’s laser vision — holy crap, y’all.  That was a kick in the teeth.  The “Superman is a god on alternate Earth” storyline is a staple.  I read it most recently in the graphic novel Red Son (which I was disappointed with, but I won’t get into that here).

This movie is obviously interested in those questions, but not in any depth.  It just keeps asking the questions over and over, offering no answers or conclusions apart from:  well, Superman must be a hero because he’s dead, right?  Whatever, we’re all thinking.

I was careful to judge this as its own thing, and not compare it to some external measure of what I want a Superman movie to be.  I think that’s where so much ire about this movie is coming from — there’s a powerful external measure of what Superman should be, and this movie is something else.  Like the episode of Justice League with the laser-eye lobotomies.  The difference being that was purposefully set up as an alternate world, and this movie is meant to be canon.  Which is disappointing, right?  Well, I still got my superhero Holy Trinity on the big screen teaming up against a big bad, and that made me very happy.  I walked out of the movie satisfied.

To paraphrase the line from Alan Moore — Superman isn’t ruined.  This movie hasn’t destroyed anything.  The character is still there.  The Christopher Reeve Superman is still there, the comics are still there, and at any rate the whole shebang will get rebooted again in another ten years anyway.

Seriously, Zach Snyder isn’t good enough to ruin Superman.

 

socks!

April 1, 2016

The quest to completely learn to knit continues.  Behold, I have knitted a pair of socks!

first socks

There are some mistakes and things I would change, but I’m not going to point them out.  The important thing is — socks!  There are knitters who only ever knit socks.  It took me years to finally work up to it.  But I have done it.

And I will probably do it again.

 

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.

 

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