The Brown Main Supporting Character & The White Side Protagonist

I watched The New Mutants a few days ago.

Based on the trailers, I was expecting something unique and hoping for something cool.

What I got was something a little meh.

And a lotta racist.

Yeah, New Mutants really pissed me off.

Because it starts and we’re introduced to Dani Moonstar, our brown protagonist, and immediately, the part of me that went, “Oh, man! Awesome!” was curtailed by the fact that, having watched the trailers, I had no idea she was even in the movie.

That’s a really bad sign, the old, embittered part of my brain told me.

And as the movie rolled on, that part of my brain was absolutely justified.

Because, on one hand, Dani was prominently featured in the movie as a protagonist.

But, on the other, she was suffering from a phenomenon that I’ve seen somewhere else recently: The Falcon & the Winter Soldier. Something I’m going to call . . .

The White Side Protagonist /
Brown Main Supporting Character Syndrome

I’m going to call it “WSP/BMS” for short. I know. Doesn’t roll off the tongue. But it’s 4:45 in the morning and I’m angry.

If you haven’t seen New Mutants, I’ll spare you spoilers.

Suffice it to say there’s a white character in this movie who gets an inordinate amount of attention.

And, of course, it’s a team movie–so everyone in the team is going to get some attention.

But one character, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Illyana Rasputin, aka Magik, blows the idea of unfair character bias out of the goddamn water.

In a film that is supposed to center around Dani, Magik–a blonde white girl–is the center of many, many scenes.

When the titular mutants are quietly coexisting in a common room, Magik comes in and starts saying openly racist shit to our protagonist, starting a fight.

When the titular mutants are momentarily free to blow off some steam because someone (Magik) drugged the person in charge of them, it’s Magik’s idea to use the lie detector the scene is based around. And the conclusion of that scene is that Magik stoically tells everyone about something dark from her past that leaves everyone in stunned silence.

When people start getting chased by living nightmares, Magik’s are the most unique and prevalent ones.

And, at the end of the film, even though no one else has any, Magik has a series of ridiculous, over-the-top hero shots that watch like ridiculous, at moments cringey, fanfiction.

All of this–especially the ending–left me with a pretty clear idea of what happened behind the scenes:

Someone, at some point during the production of this film, wrote this story entirely for Magik. It was basically Sucker Punch 2, pulling for that same vibe. Even if they didn’t put it down to paper, someone wanted to make that movie.

Then, someone else told them, “No. Actually, we want Dani Moonstar to be the protagonist.” And that Magik-obsessed writer was super pissed.

So they did an edit of their original script that pulled some focus from Magik to give to Dani . . . but then pulled focus away from the rest of the cast to give more to Magik (because, seriously, the other characters get very little development in comparison).

So, in the end, we wound up with a weird, extremely hokey moment at the end of the story, where Magik goes full super hero, complete with wind-swept-hair close-ups that feel wildly out of place with the rest of the film. There’s even a heavily contrived super hero name drop that the supporting cast awkwardly sets up for Magik (“You can’t fight that thing! It’s magic!” even though literally no one in the entire film suggested the thing they were fighting was magical, just so Magik could follow up with, “So am I.”).

Or absolutely none of this happened. Maybe instead, a few Hollywood writers got together, researched some characters, picked a diverse mutant for their protagonist, but then just fell in love with their rendition of a white character. And they saw absolutely nothing wrong with giving that white character a ton of attention.

Writer A: “I mean, she’s not even the protagonist.”

Writer B: “Right.”

Writer A: “So it can’t be racist if we give her a ton of attention! She’s a side character!”

Writer B: “Didn’t even need to say it! Clearly not racist!”

A: “So, yeah, wouldn’t it be so cute if she talks to Lockheed at the end and he reacts!? Like, not once, but twice!?”

B: “Yes! OMFG! And we can have her shout at one point that she’s the most powerful mutant in the team!”

A: “Essential! And we can have her murder the final threat in the third act by stabbing it with her sword!”

B: “YES! And–actually, wait . . . Shouldn’t the protagonist defeat the final threat in the third act?”

A: ” . . . Oh! Right! Pfft! I’m so stupid–totally forgot! Magik isn’t the protagonist! That Native girl is our protagonist! Ha ha! Slipped my mind somehow!”

B: “Ho ho! No problem! A mistake anyone would make!”

A: “Yes. An honest mistake and, most importantly, not a racist one!”

B: “Again, didn’t even need to say it, my friend!”

. . .

Yeah, either of these scenarios are bad.

If a writer wedged in and then steadily undermined a brown protagonist with a white side character, that’s bad.

And if a writer accidentally pulled focus from a brown protagonist to give more attention to a white side character they loved, that is also bad.

And, of course, to finally put a stamp on it, that’s what WSP/BMS Syndrome is. The tendency for writers in charge of a story with an ethnically diverse protagonist . . . to focus so much on a white side character that said white character might as well be the protagonist.

Now, most people can see right off the bat why that’s bad. But for anyone who doesn’t get it, WSP/BMS is an evolution of the practice of studios dooming minority-led or woman-led projects to fail by assigning terrible writers and artists to them. It is the act of demanding writers who don’t care about or don’t understand the need for diversity to write diverse stories. And then either not caring when those stories sideline their protagonists or . . . not even realizing that it’s happening.

And it sucks, because what gets lost in translation are a lot of great opportunities for telling that protagonist’s story.

Dani Moonstar’s entire personality focuses exclusively on the night when her reservation was destroyed. It makes sense she would think of that night a lot (it is the inciting incident of the plot). But . . . we see literally nothing else about her past and know nothing else about her as a person. She is a mutant whose reservation was destroyed. That is her character.

The same way that Sam Wilson’s character came dangerously close to being boiled down to, “He’s the guy Steve Rogers gave his shield to.”

Yeah, I’m bringing all of this around to something recent. Because The Falcon & The Winter Soldier comes dangerously close to being . . .

The Winter Soldier & Falcon

I am aware that this is the freshest of hottakes. The show isn’t even over yet.

However, it is very strange to me that in a show where the Falcon is the protagonist, there is a full episode where he just stands in the background.

And his personal arc with his family starts in Episode 1 and isn’t picked up again until Episode 5.

While, in the meantime, his partner, Bucky Barnes, gets intense, heartfelt moments in almost every episode. We get looks into Bucky’s past, intensely emotional moments of him coping with that past, complexity between him and Baron Zemo, questions about how much of the Winter Soldier is still inside of him.

While Sam Wilson is, for a bizarre amount of time, just standing in the background.

Sam gets a handful of good character moments, but 5 episodes in, we still don’t know why he gave up the shield. What he was feeling–why he thought it was the right thing to do, which I thought he’d explain in an emotional exchange with literally anyone by now.

We get Sam using his experience as a therapist for soldiers, which is great . . . but somehow, the plot does absolutely nothing with the fact that Sam was a goddamn soldier. Which is insane to me. Even in moments where he could easily relate to John Walker’s Captain America, we don’t get a story from Sam about the one time he had to make a hard choice while he was on a mission. No admission to anyone about how he felt when he came home from war. No former war buddy Sam calls to talk. No venting about how coming back from being an Avenger and finding corporate America ungrateful feels like coming back from defending the country abroad and finding the same social injustices are still in place. The latter is conveyed by another character entirely while Sam just stares at him and shakes his head, as if Sam would not have experienced any of that himself.

And all of this is a major bummer. Especially when a white villain, Baron Zemo, joins the cast and sucks up even more screen time (in a show that already gives time to another white villain, John Walker). Seriously, I know the Zemo dance became a meme, but at that point in my viewing experience, I threw up my hands like, “Why the fuck am I watching Zemo dance!? More of Sam’s family drama, please!”

Of course, a part of me should be like, “Whatever! It’s cool that we got a show prominently featuring Falcon and they are, at this point, doing a good job showing him becoming Captain America.” And also, a total surprise: they actually have the MCU’s first Hispanic super hero getting a tiny origin story of his own in the background (which, wow, no one is talking about at all–probably because Torres will forever be in the background [I know how these things work–I call it ‘Star Trek style’]).

But, at this point in my life, that bitter side of me can’t help thinking, “They could’ve done more.”

With New Mutants, that’s extremely obvious, what with the one character saying blatantly racist shit and other characters being white-washed.

But, with The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, even though it’s subtle by comparison, it’s still something we need to fight.

Because I don’t want to live through, like, ten years of movies with Black and brown protagonists who aren’t actually protagonists. With writers who ignore entire facets of their lives so they can give tons of screen time to a white side character.

Seriously, I want to get to the point where we get an MCU film or show that’s headlined by a Hispanic super hero before I die.

And, when I get it, if that hero gets shoved aside in their own show or movie so their sidekick or villain can get more of the attention they’ve no doubt gotten already in the source material, I will fucking scream.

~~~

Man, it’s been a while since I wrote something . . . angry. But goddamn, I really want the world to nip this one in the bud.

If you’re new here, and you were expecting something chill, yeah, I was too when I turned on The New Mutants. Wasn’t expecting to get a bunch of racist shit in my silly horror movie about super heroes in a haunted hospital–that’s for goddamn sure. But, hey, that’s the experience. The fun of being a minority and trying to watch anything.

Anyway, I’m definitely going to wind down for next weekend. Unless the last episode of The Falcon & The Winter Soldier really pisses me off. Who knows.

Either way, you can find out by stopping by next Sunday!

Until then, take care, stay safe, and if you haven’t read it, oh man, The Raven Tower blew my mind. It takes a while to get going, but once it gets good, it gets so good. Anyway, bye!

The “MCU Glorifies the Military” Hottake is Stupid, But This Other Take Isn’t

Like a large portion of America, I watched the finale of WandaVision this week.

And, before I continue, I know this isn’t what I said I’d write about. I will, forever and always, stop myself from making promises about what I’ll write on Sunday, because it almost always changes.

The thing is, like anything, WandaVision is prone to takes. I have friends who loved it and friends who hated the finale so much that it ruined the entire rest of the show for them. That is fine and totally normal. I still really enjoyed it while (as I usually do with absolutely anything) acknowledging that it was not perfect.

That said, I couldn’t help thinking about the weirder, hotter takes that’ve popped up about the MCU lately. Well, to be honest, I’m not sure the take I’m thinking of is a recent development, but I only recently heard about it.

It’s the idea that the MCU . . . glorifies the military?

Like, I’ve seen this vehemently passed around Twitter by someone who attached a photo of Brie Larson posing with fighter pilots.

And, I almost never use this platform to be like, “People’s hottakes are stupid.”

But holy shit is that a stupid hottake.

If you’re a person who believes in that take, I’m sorry, but it’s just a bad take. However . . . there is absolutely a solid, reasonable take available (one that I really think needs attention), and I am going to lay out that take in this post. Because I don’t think MCU films are all sunshine and rainbows (I straight-up hate a bunch of them), and I think superhero movies in general need a reckoning when it comes to this one issue.

But first . . .

The Stupid Military Industrial Complex Hottake

The belief: MCU films portray a worldwide police state as a good thing that is both essential and inevitable.

When I hear a take like that, my immediate reaction is, “Hmm. Is that true?” Because, ya know, I always want to deliberate and consider issues and, especially, criticisms of things that I like.

But, the weird thing about this hottake . . . is that Iron Man–like, part-fucking-1–portrays military weapons-mongering as wrong. It’s not a huge moral, it’s not given a ton of attention, but that lesson is a sizeable, noticeable part of Tony Stark’s arc. He goes to sell weapons to the someone, gets captured, is finally forced to come face-to-face with the violence and death his weapons cause, and decides he’s not going to take any more military contracts or sell weapons.

Part of the tension in Iron Man 2 is that James Rhodes, Tony’s friend, takes one of his suits and brings it to the military, and, yes, the soundtrack goes all brassy when Rhodey lands the high tech power armor at a military base (absolutely not a good look). However, even that moment does not equal “police state propaganda.” Does it show the military through a rose-tinted lens? Yes. The first Captain America also does that. Do either movies show anything that actually suggests it would be great if the military controlled the world? No. Does S.H.I.E.L.D. as portrayed in the first Avengers movie come close to depicting a “world policing organization” as good? Sure. There’s outright talk among S.H.I.E.L.D. agents about missions in other countries. It’s typical spy shit, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is never shown enforcing a 6PM curfew on protesters, but still, a bunch of American spies in a giant floating fortress that has stealth tech is absolutely not a good thing that was, undeniably, portrayed as cool.

But . . . All of the films I just mentioned are followed up by many films in the franchise that work directly portray police states as bad.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (a movie I hate), makes a very (beating you over the head) obvious case for a police state being wrong when Tony Stark tries to create one–with a legion of robots controlled by a single AI–and it creates a monster, for which everyone else on the team is understandably pissed In my opinion, the film doesn’t stay pissed at Tony nearly long enough, but there is a scene where everyone is mad at him and he’s played almost like a mad scientist.

Captain America: Winter Soldier focuses very, very heavily on how bad it would be for the military to obtain weapons they can use to “neutralize threats before they happen.” “Enforcement of the law through fear is wrong” is seriously a main theme of that film.

Captain America: Civil War actively challenges the idea of government control to the extent that it basically makes Iron Man a villain.

Both Infinity War and Endgame have the heroes fighting a militaristic dictator who wants to impose his will on everyone.

Even fucking Captain Marvel has a hero fighting a duplicitous space government that demands control from everyone.

And, seriously, between all of those movies, there are a bunch of N/A’s like Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy that don’t glorify military might at all. In fact, I think the first Captain America is the only film where the American military was even portrayed as competent; every other movie has military personal in the background, getting their asses kicked, including S.H.I.E.L.D. more often than not.

So my point here is no.

If you ascribe to this hottake, you’re absolutely right to think that something is off about the MCU, but it’s not this. If the final goalpost is, “Well, in Endgame, they show that the heroes are, like, monitoring Earth,” then, seriously, just stop, because that’s a group of 5 characters trying to find problems to fix, not a militarized force monitoring the world. The films just don’t glorify the military or support the idea that the world is inevitably heading toward a necessary police state.

However . . .

MCU Films, Like Most Comic Book Media,
Absolutely Glorify Capitalist Control

Part of the reason I’m so annoyed about the military hottake is because it’s drawing attention away from a conversation that should be had about the MCU and too many comic books.

They glorify Capitalist ideals. Like, right out of the fucking gate, in your face, a lot of comic book media does it, because many of the superheroes who are popular now were made here in America, the Capitalist shithole of the world.

Seriously, it’s not even a contest. Iron Man was the guy in the MCU, and his entire thing was that he was a rich genius who was rich because he was a genius and a genius because he was rich and only he was capable of saving the universe!

I mean, you can contest this with the two, major cases where he was portrayed being completely wrong about big issues in the MCU (again, Age of Ultron and Civil War), but Iron Man was still the billionaire, Private Sector savior that the American government keeps saying exists but fucking doesn’t really.

Like, don’t get me wrong–I love Iron Man–but he glorifies a system that ruins countless fucking lives on the regular. He is a fairytale–born out of old timey America’s love of industry and business.

🎶 Just 👏 like 👏 fucki-i-i-ing Batman! 🎶

Yeah, that’s right. The same way Tony Stark is a rich dude who gets to be the bestest superhero ever because he has money, so is Batman. In fact, Batman goes around and studies a ton of martial arts (and whatever else a writer decides at the moment) because he’s rich. Because Capitalism is great, you guys. If it wasn’t for Capitalism, Batman wouldn’t have the amazing car he uses in Batman V Superman to explode people who don’t have as much money as he does–don’t you get it?

Look, I’m not going to pretend the majority of superheroes are rich, because they aren’t, but two of the most popular ones in the world are, and they seriously aren’t the only ones.

Oliver Queen is another rich kid.

Doctor Strange.

Iron Fist.

Aquaman (who I didn’t even realize was rich, but he’s the king of the vast majority of livable space on planet Earth, so of course).

Thor (also a literal prince).

Black Adam, which I only mention because we’re going to get a movie for him–get ready.

Wasp is rich, which I didn’t even know.

Black Panther.

And, for sure, there are a bunch of rich villains on both sides. It’s not insanely on the nose with Batman’s villain being, like, “The Socialist!” (although I’m not going to look it up, because I’m fucking sure there is a Socialist villain somewhere out there). But when a villain with money exists in the same world as a hero with money, the problem in that equation ceases to be the money. And before anyone is like, “Um, actually, Lex Luthor is Superman’s villain, not Batman’s,” holy shit, the point is that modern superhero media glorifies Capitalism by presenting rich dudes who go out and beat the shit out of people they don’t know as a good thing. We should be questioning that.

In the MCU, Iron Man is already dead and, hopefully, they’ll replace him with someone who isn’t a mascot for Capitalism. But Batman is alive and strong, mercilessly beating the shit out of people in the trailer for his new movie. And. I. Hate it.

Because we shouldn’t live in a country where some people are so rich that the law doesn’t apply to them while others are so poor that they need to work multiple jobs and come home too tired to do anything but go to sleep.

Or, at the very fucking least, when Iron Man decides he’s going to make an AI that’s going to police the planet Earth because he’s a genius and it’s okay, he should be punished really heavily for it instead of being given a pass for the world to see.

And when Batman beats the shit out of someone or indiscriminately murders them (which he just canonically does now) and the music swells and gets super triumphant, maybe we question why the rich people who made The Batman commissioned other rich people to write that music.

“Why do they want me to get super excited when Batman punches an underprivileged stranger in the face 8 times?”

And what does that say about them?

~~~

Thanks for reading. This one’s been brewing for a while because it’s an issue I’ve had with comics in general for some time, but I only just realized it applies to the MCU. I guess that in the same way that the Punisher is significantly less appealing now after 2020, rich assholes who people deify are always going to be a sticking point for me.

If you enjoyed this post, I’ll be back next week to talk about something less . . . charged. Maybe. Not definitely, but maybe?

Until next time, take care, and if you see Love Crunch Espresso Vanilla Cream Granola, just trust me, it’s the crack of granolas. Like, obviously not something you can have a lot of, but if you want to treat yourself, it’s insane. Okay, bye!

A Writer Watching – Wonder Woman 1984, Part 2

Well, it looks like it’s that time again. What time, you ask?

1984. Unfortunately.

This second part of “A Writer Watching – Wonder Woman 1984″ feels like a doozy, so I’m going to jump right in.

However, this is the second part of a two-parter, so if you haven’t read part 1 yet, you might want to do that first.

That said, let’s do this . . .

Yay.

Wonder Woman 1984 (cont.)

  • (1:15:04) Barbara murders the gross dude from earlier.
    I understand that what I’m supposed to be getting from this scene is that the monkey’s paw is making Barbara evil, but, again, there’s been no build up to her becoming evil. At worst, she’s ignored people when they were speaking to her. To jump from that to murder is pre-e-e-e-etty big, even with her victim being a total scumbag.
    What’s really coming through for me is the “Nerd Rage” trope, where a person who’s perceived as weak gets powers and immediately turns evil to get back at the people who persecuted them.
    Fun.
  • (1:19:41) Okay. Max Lord goes to Emir Said Bin Abydos, who wishes for control of his land. The monkey’s paw part of our Deus Ex Machina erects a wall around that land, which means his people won’t have access to water.
    But isn’t Max Lord supposed to decide the punishment for the wish? Isn’t the blowback for Emir’s wish supposed to be that Max Lord takes his security team?
    What I’m getting at here is that this is the point where the rules for Max’s powers get muddled.
  • (1:21:58) Diana gets out of her car and starts running after Max Lord’s convoy.
    And it looks . . . terrible.
    I understand that this isn’t necessarily the writer’s fault, but I will take this opportunity to make a point: it doesn’t matter how awesome your character is; if you write them doing something that might look stupid, there’s a possibility they will look stupid.
    And I think this needs to be said because, more than any other genre, Fantasy is full of ‘might look stupid’ moments. For example, “he jumped up and kicked the first bad guy in the face, but also used his face as a foothold. In a second, he was running across all of their faces in a perfect circle, knocking a new bad guy out with every step!” Like . . . Okay. I’m not going to say you can’t write that, but the chances readers will read that and imagine it looking cool are pre-e-e-etty low.
  • (1:23:24) Diana gets hit with a bullet, and we’re supposed to realize she’s losing her powers.
    But Diana has never once been shot before this.
    There was a moment earlier (when she struggled to pull a lock off of door) that hinted at her powers being the price she paid for Steve Trevor coming back.
    But I thought the price was that Steve was in another man’s body (but Diana just oddly didn’t care about that).
    So, what I’m left to believe then is that . . . Diana did wish for Steve to come back in another man’s body?
    Whatever. This movie needed to do a better job seeding Diana losing her powers.
    Or, even better, just don’t do the “sequel where the hero loses/gives up their powers” trope, because it’s overdone.
  • (1:24:13) Diana flips over a truck that’s behind Max Lord’s vehicle, uses it to propel herself into the air, and . . . lands on the front of Max Lord’s vehicle, facing him. Notice that the movie does not show the mid-air turn necessary to get her into that position. Just a weird, disjointed cut from her falling, facing forward, to her on the hood of Max’s car, facing the opposite direction.
    Again, spacing and action execution in action scenes is so goddamn important. If you’re struggling to make a character pull off an awesome feat, just think of another awesome feat for them to do. One that makes sense.
  • (1:25:42) I realize this whole fight could be a lesson in spatial awareness in an action scene, but this last moment, where Steve fires a rocket and Diana whips onto it and sails through the air to save some kids ahead of the convoy, re-e-e-e-eally takes the cake. It’s silly, bizarre, and overly complicated (with Steve needing to understand how to fire a rocket out of a military vehicle he’s never seen before and Diana needing to whip the rocket away after getting far enough ahead [but not losing any momentum whatsoever while she does so]).
    But, on top of that, another common problem I see in fiction happens at the beginning of this scene; Steve shows Diana a rocket and shouts, “Diana!” and she nods, showing that, yep, she gets what he’s thinking—even though there’s no way she possibly could.
    I call this “the Look,” based on D&D players metagaming by giving each other “a look that says I’ll kill the first goblin while you grab the treasure.”
    Really? What kind of look? Please explain.
    The Look happens in fiction all the time as well, and it’s something to keep in mind because it can get out of hand very easily.
    “She gave him a look that said she didn’t buy the minister’s lies,” is totally fine and makes sense.
    “She gave him a look that said she didn’t believe the minister was telling the entire truth,” is pushing it.
    “She gave him a look that said she knew the minister was going to kill again tonight and that she was going to try and get it out of him right now,” does not make sense.
  • (1:29:04) The macguffin being tied to the mysterious downfalls of ancient civilizations is one of the most tired tropes a macguffin can have.
  • (1:29:45) Barbara Minerva is in full, post-murder bad guy gear, and I have to say, again, that I feel really bad for Kristen Wiig.
    There are a lot of 80’s styles Wardrobe could’ve used to make a woman look cool and evil.
    The outfits they gave her in this movie were not it.
  • (1:33:46) I just have to take a moment to point out here that I love Pedro Pascal, who does a great job in this moment (when he’s not directed to act like a weird goofball).
  • (1:35:44) If I had to pick one scene that I really like from this movie, it’s this heartbreaking moment with Max Lord and his son. Max, a living monkey’s paw, tries to get his son to wish for his own greatness, but his son, who loves him, winds up wishing for his dad’s greatness. Pascal’s reactions really sell how badly Max wants his son to succeed and how hard he takes it when that potential is unwittingly thrown away.
  • (1:41:11) Again, zero setup on a Deus Ex Machina—this time, the golden, winged armor Diana will use in the third act.
    And I’m sure that the argument can be made that this scene is the set up, but if a story spends 43 seconds setting up flashy armor that only exists to be flashy (and has absolutely no effect on the larger plot), then it’s A) a bad, rushed set up, and B) the armor isn’t worth having in the movie.
    And it’s a shame because, man, just imagine if the intro with the tournament had established that the armor would, like, magically manifest on the strongest of the Amazons. Maybe the Amazon who won that tournament has that armor bond with them because they made some crazy sacrifice (like Lynda Carter’s character did). Maybe the Amazon who earned the armor stopped in the middle of the tournament to help another, injured Amazon get to the finish line while young Diana ran past them because she didn’t realize or was too focused on winning (and that’s why she doesn’t win the prologue tournament). I mean, that’s off the top of my head, but what I’m getting at is, ffs, how much cooler would it have been if, after struggling with losing Steve, Diana sacrificed him (and her own happiness) at the end and that’s why the armor came to her. Not just a flashy suit upgrade, but a physical embodiment of her sacrifice that allowed her to fly, like Steve. At the very least, I would’ve been invested in it.
  • (1:42:26) Wonder Woman sees CCTV footage of Max Lord’s car driving through Washington D.C.
    And, for the millionth time, setting.
    How does she have a hook up to CCTV footage in Washington D.C. . . . in the 80’s?
    Was there already a complex network of surveillance set up in the 80’s, or did Wonder Woman go around and hook up cameras in different hot spots for years? And, if so, why did she put one here?
    Can’t help feeling it would’ve been cleaner to show a news broadcast with a reporter like, “This just in: the President has set aside an important foreign diplomacy meeting to meet with Max Lord.”
    Because even if there was a CCTV network in America in the 80’s, that would just make this a classic example of the Stranger than Fiction phenomenon.
  • (1:48:04) Steve picks up a sword with the intent to kill Secret Service officers, but Diana says, “No, Steve, you can’t use that,” because of course he shouldn’t just kill people who are under Max’s control (also, how a former American soldier would think of skewering Secret Service with a fucking sword is beyond me–I guess Steve is a Patriot?).
    But then, after telling Steve no, Diana throws her insane, razor sharp tiara at their heads, which they only narrowly duck.
    She doesn’t even throw it at the lights for cover. She throws it at them.
    Diana! If you want to murder them yourself, just say so!
  • (1:50:20) I still feel bad for Kristen Wiig. In part because the idea of a villain getting their powers by wishing on a monkey’s paw is interesting—to me. I think if they’d just left it there, that would’ve been pretty cool. I am absolutely sure it’s been done, but I still enjoy the cleanliness of that idea. No science experiment gone wrong. Just a person wishing they could be cool like their friend without knowing that A) their friend had super powers and B) their wish would be granted. I dig it. Especially because it could yield a very interesting mentoring situation gone wrong, maybe with Barbara learning about/going to Themiscyra, being corrupted by the idea that she, a human, is stronger than all of the Amazons.
    Unfortunately, this movie hurdles right the fuck over all of that. In this fight scene in the White House, Barb even predicts and counters an attack Diana almost never uses, because this movie wants us to feel like they’ve been rivals for decades (because they have been–in the comics). Gotta love that good ol’ total-lack-of-patience!
  • (1:53:01) We get a few lines here from Kristen about how Wonder Woman has “always had everything” and “people like me have nothing.”
    The thing is, there is absolutely a conversation to be had about “pretty privilege” and other forms of discrimination (age, weight, color, sex). It’s too bad this movie actually demonizes the awkward nerd, who was genuinely being treated like shit at the beginning of the movie. Because the only thing worse than a nerd is a nerd who’s angry that everyone treats them like shit, amirite?
    Fuck this movie.
  • (1:53:59) Here, in the same conversation as above, Diana is bloody and bruised, her hair messy.
    And, as a fan of a hero getting fucked up over the course of their adventure, I just have to say . . . please, everybody, more of this. Especially if you’re writing a female protagonist. Because, I dunno about everyone else, but I am the kind of feminist who’s ready for his female protagonists to take battle damage. Like, straight up, fuck the male gaze; give me the female superhero who gets fucked up like Tobey’s Spider-Man at the end of their movies.
  • (1:55:25) I am a big fan of “shit is going down” super hero stories, where the threat feels palpable. I have to give it to this movie for at least selling me on the bizarre idea that one irresponsible dude being able to grant everyone whatever they wished for would destroy Earth in one day.
  •  (1:57:35) Diana tells Steve that she’ll never love again, but Steve tells her, “That isn’t true,” and can we please get more male characters who say extremely healthy shit like this, please?
    I still hate the entire Ghost Steve situation, but this one line is the kind of example more male characters need to provide.
  • (1:58:00) Also, Wonder Woman saying, “I can’t say goodbye” to you, and you replying, “You don’t have to. I’m already gone,” is just so good. Like, yes, sure, BDE. But more important, saying the perfect thing to get someone to revoke the wish that’s keeping you alive is incredible.
    Seriously, I always try to predict what characters are going to say in a movie (it’s just a bad habit I have), and I was actually surprised by that line.
  • (1:58:29) First, props to Gal Gadot for really selling this entire ordeal.
    Second though . . . you can just renounce your wish from anywhere, without touching the monkey’s paw?
    So . . . what’s the point of the monkey’s paw then? They’re supposed to punish you for being covetous, but if you can just cancel at any time, that means you can opt out of the punishment after getting the reward (if you’re smart). For example, I can be like, “I wish to be able to safely teleport anywhere I want.” According to this movie’s logic, I’d then have that power for, like, 3 days before anything bad starts to happen, and when it does, I can just say, “I renounce my wish,” and be fine. You could make the argument of, “Well, you would lose whatever you got with that power,” but does that include experiences? Cause I’d spend one day in Japan, another in New Zealand, a third day wild carding (like, on the moon and shit). This movie doesn’t indicate that people lose the memories, so I’m golden. Gimme that shit! Where’s it at!?
  • (1:58:58) I can’t believe the set up for Wonder Woman learning how to fly is “she whipped too hard, then whipped onto a plane for reasons that aren’t clear.”
    Just . . . what?
  • (2:01:05) Max Lord offers Barbara a second wish and she wishes she was in Cats.
    All of this is just stupid and I’m tired. LOL
    Just to scale it back and talk big picture here . . . why the fuck did they even need to make Kristen Wiig into cat lady? I get that she’s Cheetah, and fans want to see Cheetah VS Wonder Woman.
    But this is the kind of massive contrivance that ruins comic book movies—the moments where they have to adhere to their source material, even when that adherence is not properly set up.
    In an alternate reality somewhere, WW84 had the patience to set up Barbara as a morally grey sidekick, and then, in WW3, she becomes evil, finds the Jellicle Stone, and uses it to gain more power, becoming Cheetah in the process.
  • (2:02:23) The rules of Max Lord’s power go to absolute shit at the end here. Not a single fuck was given. “Oh. He can ‘touch’ people by being in a broadcasting station, broadcasting to televisions that no one is touching? Okay. Sure. What-the fuck-ever.”
  • (2:03:10) Max Lord manages to broadcast himself to everyone on planet Earth who has a TV, and I just have to laugh here. Because if I was alive for this—if Max Lord was real and he did this tomorrow—the moment he said, “All you have to do is make a wish,” I–freshly torn away from Control, which I just started playing–would absolutely roll my eyes and say, “Well, I wish Max Lord would shut the fuck up forever and let me get back to my game,” and his entire plan would be ruined. By just one smarmy asshole.
    And there is no way in hell I’m the only person who would do that.
    In fact, if I had just gotten home with a ton of groceries and I was tired, there’s a 95% chance I would sigh at my TV and say, “I wish Max Lord would fuck off and die.” Seriously, I say that kind of thing all the time without thinking—stupid, schoolyard exaggerations that I would logically never expect/actually want to happen.
    Max’s plan here would have failed immediately.
  • (2:04:34) I actually laughed really hard when the “She’s riding the lightning!” scene they kept showing in the promos was a totally pointless 5 seconds. Because of course it was.
  • (2:06:01) Cannons start shooting up into the clouds at something you can’t see. Turns out to be an awesome, badass, female superhero.
    No way you’ll ever see that in a Marvel movie.
  • (2:07:21) Cheetah finally appears. No transformation.
    Cheetah doesn’t look terrible, but this fight is . . . not great.
    And of course it isn’t. I mean, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that the writers behind this movie didn’t think about the space of their scenes and the execution of their action, so of course Diana blocks Cheetah’s attacks for (by my rough count) 35 seconds. She and Cheetah then spend about a minute swinging from Diana’s whip. Then, she and Diana fall in a pool of water, into which Diana pulls an electrical wire. And that electrocutes Cheetah . . . but not Diana?
    But, hold on, isn’t Cheetah also a god now? Actually, isn’t she better than one? Because she initially wished to be like Diana, who, per the first film, is a literal god . . . But then, Barb wished to be better than Diana and “everyone else.” So shouldn’t she be shifting reality and teleporting around? I mean, this is the DC universe, so she should’ve flown down on a god ray wearing a cape and punched Diana into the center of the Earth, because Superman counts as “everyone else.”
    Or, at the very least, she should’ve been able to withstand some fucking electricity.
  • (2:13:47) There’s not much else for me to go on here, but there is a moment that perfectly encapsulates this entire movie.
    Max Lord is taking wishes from people and building his own power. In a moment, Diana will use her whip to . . . talk to all of the people Max is transmitting to?
    It’s all-the-way stupid.
    I do like the idea of a villain being talked down instead of punched down, and (although it’s bizarre that he and Cheetah get off 100% Scot-free) I do find it interesting to see villains get passes. It even seems like Max gets a chance to reform, which is surprisingly healthy for a comic book movie.
    That said, in this moment at 2:13:47, Diana leans back against a wall, and her armor . . . pushes it in, making it clear that the wall is foam. And of course it is; Gal Gadot fell back against it, so it makes sense it would be made out of foam as a safety precaution on her behalf.
    But this shot, where her shoulder dips softly into concrete, is what this entire movie has been.
    No one cared. No one double-checked the plot or questioned the action. They saw the kinks—the weird hoops the story had to jump through—and they shrugged. In the same way an editor saw the wall pressing in and shrugged.
    “It’s fine,” they might have said aloud.
    “Yes, I see those obvious flaws, but whatever. There are cool moments and my main character is rad. I’m good.”
    And all I have to say is, “Please, no.”
    Please, never, ever think that.
    Writing—particularly editing—is a dangerous game. A lot of people keep working on their stories for eternity, never actually trying to get them published. That, obviously, is bad.
    But it’s just as bad to see genuine flaws in your work and just shrug them away.
    If something in your work is bad, it’s an opportunity to write something better. Because, at least in my experience, that’s almost always how correcting mistakes goes; no matter how deep I have to go into a plot to excise a loophole, my WIP’s are always better for it.

So, yes, if there’s one idea Wonder Woman 1984 reinforced in me, it’s the importance of editing, especially if you’re editing something you love.

But, also, it’s super important to understand settings.

Oh, and don’t ever put a dead character into a stranger’s body and totally disregard that stranger’s emotions.

And–goddammit, no. Nope. I’m just stopping! I need this part of my life to be over!

~~~

Thanks for passing by. I hope you enjoyed this honestly reserved criticism of a comic book movie that made millions of dollars regardless of how bad it was.

If you’d like to read another one, well boy howdy, I’ve done one other brutal takedown of a big budget Hollywood film, the cost and profit from which could’ve been used to save tons of people from poverty! Ha ha! Enjoy!

A Writer Watching – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and if you know someone who’s lived totally by themselves for 10 months at this point, maybe check in on them? Everyone’s different, and everyone’s situation is unique, but if they’re still social distancing and they’re one of the many who probably won’t get the vaccine until the Summer, they’d probably appreciate hearing from you.

A Writer Watching – Wonder Woman 1984, Part 1

Okay. So, I still only want to be positive on this site.

But if there’s one massively influential avenue of media that needs to be heavily criticized when it’s bad, it’s movies. I never want to tear apart someone’s novel or short story on here, but giant blockbuster franchise movies are just free in my eyes. They’re often written by committee, the people who write them usually fail upward anyway (because that’s how Hollywood works for some reason), and if I was watching any of them with an impressionable young writer, I would absolutely take the time afterward to be like, “Okay . . . You get why elements of that were really bad, right? Like, I know you thought it was cool, but you get how stupid it is that Palpatine came back, right? Please tell me you understand.”

But, let’s be real: even if I knew any budding writers, I’m not social enough or confrontational enough to watch a bad movie they like to break down why is sucks.

So, instead, I’m going to continue doing what I feel oddly compelled to do: use my platform to float these criticisms out into the ether with the hopes that someone who needs to find them finds them.

Folks . . . it’s time for another Writer Watching.

This time (finally) on a movie that was released recently:

Wonder Woman 1984

Now, to preface, two things.

First, this watch wound up being so long that I had to split this Writer Watching into two parts.

Second, before I watched WW84, I watched Wonder Woman for the first time, and I liked it, but really wish it had ended differently; I feel like it would’ve been way better if the ending was just, “Nope—Ares died a long time ago and people are just bad. Time to fight Dr. Poison and magical cocaine man [I do not know his name].” Of everything I liked in that movie though, the thing I liked most was Diana herself. The movie was at its best when it was totally unafraid to just lean into her character (I loved that moment near the beginning where she sees a baby and is all, “Awww!”). So, what I’m trying to say here is, I was excited to watch WW84 tonight because I like Wonder Woman and I was expecting this movie to be good.

But about 12 minutes in, I texted a friend like, “Oh-h-h-h-h-h no-o-o-o-o-o-o.”

  • (11:45) The intro to our setting, 1984. Specifically, 11:45 is the moment where a jogger wearing a walkman almost gets run over by a car, but Diana kicks it out of the way . . . on a street lined with other cars. It makes a football punting sound, and, sure, that’s a (bad) foley choice, but the real problem is . . .
    . . . it’s a street full of cars.
    I would give anything for a follow up shot of the car she kicked slamming into three other cars, but Diana just jogs by like, “<wink> You’re welcome!”
  • (12:33) Okay, look . . . I am a soundtrack man. I never, ever talk about it on this site, but I have a bizarre affinity for movie and TV soundtracks. I do not know why. It’s a very stupid super power that just makes me weird whenever I use it. Seriously, the last time I did, it was at a morning meeting at my old job. One of my managers was like, “I’m gonna hum a tune, and if you know where it’s from, shout it out.” I shit you not, he was like, “Dun den—“ and I was like, “Duck Tails,” and he was like, “Wha—Holy shit. How the fuck did you get that?” and no one felt more uncomfortable about it than I did.
    That said, a retro 80’s movie not having an 80’s synth soundtrack is a bizarre, objective failure. I do not know why this movie has these jaunty orchestral compositions, but it absolutely destroys this film’s attempts at establishing an 80’s vibe.
  • (16:26) I really dig this thing they’re doing where Diana dashes and slides around. I don’t know why—it’s just cool. I have to wonder if they originally intended to have her in plain clothes on roller skates . . . Hard to tell if that would be horrible or great, but still, I dig the long range, sliding combat.
  • (16:45) I am completely aware that Diana threw her tiara earlier in this scene to destroy the mall’s cameras.
    But it is objectively bizarre when she gives this kid a wink and a “Shhh.” It’s an adorable moment . . . but there are roughly 300 other people who watched all of this, in broad daylight.
    The “shhh” makes zero sense. The other 299 people who were here are going straight to the first camera they see, describing Diana to a T, and the cops are going to put out an APB on a vigilante they call Wonder Woman.
    How none of that happens will always be beyond me. Instantly, my Suspension of Disbelief is out the window.
  • (17:35) Okay. This is just a small aside, but . . . objectively . . . these movies take a little too much inspiration from the Captain America films.
    I’m sorry. I know no one wants to hear that, but this moment where we see pictures of Diana with characters from the first movie who grew old and died . . . It’s just a retread of Steve Rogers talking to Peggy Carter in The Winter Soldier.
  • (18:50) Man, Diana drinking alone sixty-six years after the only person she loved died is the most Libra thing I’ve ever seen in my goddamn life.
    I am a Libra, btw, so I can say that.
  • (20:17) I feel so bad for Kristen Wiig.
    Girl, you did not deserve to get Electro’d in this superhero movie.
    Actually, let me upgrade that statement: no one deserves to get Electro’d anymore.
    Please, just . . . if you’re writing a super hero thing where the villain is a clumsy nerd who crushes on the hero, please just change it immediately. “The jealous, sweaty nerd” is just a terrible, weird, meat-headed angle for a villain.
  • (23:20) Here, Diana and Kristen Wiig are looking at an artifact together. Somehow, Kristen, who’s trained in this kind of thing, A) doesn’t know Latin and B) doesn’t notice the Latin inscriptions on the artifact. So . . . is she a scientist or someone who just walked in off the street? I am asking the plot.
  • (29:35) Okay, this I probably don’t even need to say, but a magical macguffin that can grant wishes is Bad Writing 101. The fact that this thing is going to both bring Steve Trevor back to life and give our antagonist her powers is pre-e-e-e-etty lazy.
  • (31:40) Our villain wishes to a magical stone that she can be sexy. And then takes off her skirt . . . and is sexy, by the movie’s standards.
    I mean, did she really need a magical stone for that?
    But also, more importantly, she was beautiful to begin with! She is Kristen Wiig! Just . . . This is sending the worst message to nerd girls. “Being nerdy and having anxiety is bad. Being sexy and popular is good!” No. Being any combination of those things is good. Being who you are is good, girl. Don’t listen to this stupid fucking movie. Wear those giant glasses and get yourself some more flats, girl, cause you are beautiful!
  • (32:07) Oh, Mando. What did they do to you?
  • (33:25) Barbara and not-Mando are laughing while messing with artifacts in their lab.
    I volunteer in a conservation lab, and even if a fucking donor came in and started manhandling artifacts like this, we’d kick his ass out.
    Seriously, of all the issues this movie has, the most persistent one is an inability to understand its settings. The car being kicked on a crowded street, the absence of 80’s synth, characters manhandling artifacts and no one caring—someone just didn’t understand or think about any of these settings.
  • (47:10) I promise not to keep harping on this . . . but Steve Trevor is apparently <sigh> a man out of time.
    Can’t wait for more jokes like this futon bit from good ol’ Steve.
  • (48:48) Steve Trevor is such a man out of time that he can’t figure out why an exercise bike wouldn’t work like a normal bike.
    Seriously, no one is ever that out of time. That would be like me going to the future and being confused why I couldn’t pour water into a cup that had no bottom.
  • (49:45) Okay. This thing where Steve is in another man’s body is the most bizarre contrivance I’ve ever seen.
    Like, is this what Diana wished for? “Magic rock, please bring Steve back. But only his soul. Inside of someone else’s body, thanks.”
    If I was an editor and this hit my desk, I absolutely would’ve sent it back like, “If you have to work this hard to put Steve Trevor in the movie, he shouldn’t be in it.” A new relationship for Diana, or her focusing on making new friends, would’ve been fine for this movie. Ghost Steve is just strange.
    And creepy. I’m sure you’ve heard about that from anyone who reviewed this movie, but it needs to be said into infinity that it’s just wrong and gross that some random dude’s body is hijacked for Diana’s wish and no one cared. Steve didn’t care, Diana didn’t care—they just used his body. To have sex. It is . . . so creepy. I’ve heard some people ask, “What if he was gay?” which, yeah, totally. But even if he wasn’t, even if he was a straight dude who would be attracted to Diana, it would still be gross. Because if Gal Gadot knocked on my door and was like, “Wanna have sex?” I’d be like, “‘Yes’ is too long a word right now.” But if Gal Gadot knocked on my door and was like, “Hi. We actually had sex last week, when you were asleep, but you didn’t know. ; ),” I’d be like, “Ah . . . I have to go call the cops. BRB.”
    Just fucking ew.
  • (56:15) This is a dress-up montage, just like the one in the first Wonder Woman.
    It is also . . . Shitty Committee Writing 101—a sequel regurgitating a fun scene from its predecessor. This is something that many blockbuster sequels do, and it’s as painful here as it is anywhere.
    Just never do this. If you’re writing a sequel to something, never regurgitate the one scene. I don’t even like that later seasons of Daredevil had their own “hallway fights.” Just do something new instead.
  • (57:47) Steve Trevor’s mind is blown by an escalator.
    And I have to ask . . .Why are they writing Steve Trevor like a child?
    It’s just bizarre.
    He stepped onto an escalator, two feet away from where the escalator goes down . . . and somehow was not expecting it to go down?
    Did Steve Trevor never experience stairs back in World War I? Because that’s basically what an escalator is—stairs that move–and literally any adult who’s never experienced escalators before would be like, “Oh. They’re stairs that move. Cool.” Even if they never experienced stairs before, they’d be like, “Whoa. Some kind of device to move me from up here to down there,” not, “WhOoAaA! I tHoUgHt I wAs GoNnA fAll!”
    I am legitimately baffled.
    And a little creeped out.
    By this entire montage.
    There’s just something about it. The way Steve is like a dog. The way he was eating Pop-Tarts in bed earlier, like a weird super slob. The way he can’t dress himself.
    Like, I don’t know who was behind this montage.
    But apparently they think it’s cute when a hot man has a child’s brain?
    Extremely weird.
  • (58:00) Steve Trevor’s mind is blown by a train.
    Trains were invented in 1804, a full 110 years before World War I started.
    Please do your research, people.
  • Sidebar: So, at this point, I decided to just watch through the rest of the movie, because I thought, “Maybe the constant criticizing is making me enjoy the movie less.” That . . . was not true.
    I am going to pare down these criticisms now though, because I realized (as I always do with A Writer Watching) that I can’t be here all day.
  • (1:01:20) Having watched the movie through, I have to say that I really like the idea of Max Stone—a villain who is a living monkey’s paw—has potential, but the execution in WW84 is extremely messy.
    In this scene in particular, we’re meant to notice, at the end, that he’s experiencing abnormal headaches, but he asks for “my vitamins,” which implies that maybe these headaches are not abnormal (because if he’s taking vitamins so often that his secretary knows about them and where they are, maybe that means he experiences headaches and other minor health issues consistently, which he’s trying to correct with consistent vitamin use).
    The weird thing here is, all of this could’ve been solved with a longer pause and focus on his headache in this scene. Or an easy swap to “Bring me some aspirin.”
  • (1:09:53) The origin of Diana’s invisible jet is pre-e-e-etty bad. In part because it comes completely out of nowhere.
    This is another case of “Don’t Do This 101,” so I think most people know it, but pulling a Deus Ex Machina out of thin air is a bad, bad move. Always always set them up.
    But also, just gonna throw it out there that . . . there would’ve been countless situations where making something invisible would’ve been more useful to Diana. Especially considering that she’s been hiding her vigilante activity for sixty-six years.
  • (1:12:03) Steve and Diana fly through some fireworks.
    And it is literally just a string of pretty visuals to look at. Diana and Steve don’t fall more in love. They don’t use the fireworks as cover. If anything, this is slowing down the plot and making them more visible in their invisible jet.
    Seriously, I just call this “trailer fodder.”
    In case anyone has the wrong idea, please no–do not write moments like this in your stories unless it actually moves the plot forward.

~~~

And that is as far as I’m going today, because, unbelievably, this is half of my criticisms for WW84.

If you enjoyed, part 2 will be coming next Sunday.

Until then, take care, stay safe, and listen to some 80’s style synth. If you’ve somehow never heard it, I suggest “Blinding Lights” by the Weeknd. Bye!

A Writer Watching – Titans, Episode 1

Yesterday, I decided to watch a comic book movie to try and wind down, escape the news.

By the end, I was so incredibly angry that I hopped on here and wrote a monster post about that movie–how I couldn’t help seeing it in a really, really bad light.

It was one of those cases too where you just need something vitriolic out of your system, so I wrote the entire post in one, trance-like sitting, hit “Save draft,” and then thought, “I can’t post this.”

Not because it was so hateful–I have no shame in the fact that I fucking hated Venom and I’m never going to apologize for that (also, yeah, it was Venom)–but because it was very reactionary; I might still post it, but I need some time to think it over–maybe share it with some friends to see if my extremely hot take has legs, or if I was just seeing a huge issue that wasn’t really there.

That done, I decided to wind down . . . by watching a comic book TV show.

And, literally 13 seconds in, I realized, “I need to do a Writer Watching for this.”

So, here we are. As always, I’m super late to the party, but, look, I’m still quarantining and working-from-home, so I’ve delved into the “bad movies / shows I felt I should watch” part of my backlog.

So, if you’ll humor me, let’s dive into the tonally backwards, massively irresponsible mess that is the first episode of Titans.

  • (0:13) Holy shit. The very first shot is of abandoned circus tents. A girl is walking in, looking at the blinking lights, music playing in the background, and . . . are we getting the Joker immediately? Seriously, if this show couldn’t go 5 minutes without shoving that fucking clown down our throats again, this is going to be a real short Writer Watching.

    [Kept watching and it turns out this was a Dick Grayson origin scene, but wow, isn’t it weird how my brain is just trained to expect the Joker whenever I watch anything DC?]
  • (2:13) The marquee in the background, which says “The Flying Graysons,” started to blink. “Flying” went dark, and, omfg . . . I seriously thought it was going to light back up as “The Dying Graysons” and I almost lost my fucking shit.

    Please, 2020, give me this one gift. The one executive who was like, “Oooooh, that would be super edgy!” Just please, give me that sweet, sweet, boardroom-certified melodramatic grit!
  • (4:15) Also, as a huge fan of the Teen Titans cartoon from back in the day, y’all fucked up with this intro. Seriously, how did Puffy AmiYumi knock it out of the park so hard that motherfuckers don’t even try?
  • (4:46) Oh. Oh, we’re actually following Robin immediately. Okay. Yeah.

    Disappointing.

    Cause, alright, I’m about to drop my truth on you guys.

    DC has four crutches that they absolutely rely on for almost every movie and show they make.

    1. The Psuedo-Batman Crutch, by which the protagonist of a show emulates Batman so closely that they cease to be themselves and become Batman instead (i.e. Arrow, in which Oliver Queen was even fucking trained by Ra’s al Ghul).

    2. The Bat Family Crutch, by which a movie or show centers around Bat Family characters or is otherwise tied directly to Batman (i.e. Gotham, Pennyworth, Batwoman, Titans).

    3. The Joker Crutch, in which a movie or show A) focuses entirely on the Joker, B) heavily shoe-horns in the Joker, even if he has nothing to do with the over-arcing plot, or C) focuses on characters directly related to the Joker, thus including a ton of scenes about the Joker and/or cameos by the Joker (i.e. Joker, Suicide Squad, anything else with Harley Quinn in it).

    4. The Marvel Crutch, by which a DC movie or show attempts to emulate Marvel (i.e. Wonder Woman [which is set during a World War, has Diana using a round shield–which she’s never been known to do before–and even gives her her own Howling Commandos], Aquaman [in which a prince of a mythical realm has to fight his brother for control of that realm], and Legends of Tomorrow [in which a gang of misfits goes on fun adventures in an exciting frontier, like the Guardians . . . and the Atom is a very embarrassing rip off of Iron Man. Also, Arthur Darvill–who played a significant, named role on Doctor Who–is playing a straight, no-fucks-given rip off of the Doctor, which isn’t related at all, but will always blow my mind]).

    Getting back on track, this show is already leaning real hard on that Bat Family crutch and I was hoping it wouldn’t.
  • (6:04) Sound the alarms! We’ve got a “Joker” here! Six minutes in and already the name drop!

    I don’t remember if this show has its own Joker, but I’m going to assume it does and he just got lost among the 4 other Jokers we got in 2019.
  • (7:02) We get our first clear shot of Raven here, and . . . I mean, no shade whatsoever on this actress, but seeing her, with the purple hair and everything, is just a reminder that I never, ever wanted this show. On the long, long list of things I never wanted a grim dark, realistic reboot for, Teen Titans wasn’t even on the list because I could never even fathom it being an option.

    It is just depressing that this is real, but a revival for the original CN show isn’t.
  • (8:20) I know this is a TV series with an ensemble cast, so they need to move quickly. I really shouldn’t rag on them for that.

    But holy shit, this first scene with Raven goes from “Hey, mom,” to “The demon inside me almost killed you, mom” in one minute and eighteen seconds.

    I mean . . . maybe slow down a little? Cause if you had her say, “It’s because you’re afraid of me,” and her mom just knelt, took her hands, started praying, and you ended the scene there, I would’ve been so intrigued.

    Instead, someone came in with a 2×4 with “THERE’S A DEMON INSIDE HER OR SOMETHING!” written on it and hit me in the back of the head with it. Eight times in a row.

    Them: “ARE YOU GETTING IT!?”

    Me: . . . <unconscious>

    Them: “THERE’S A DEMON INSI–
  • (9:46) That said, I would gladly watch an entire Raven TV show and, based on the last few minutes, I really wish that’s what this show was.

    [A few minutes later, at 11:20] Yeah, if this entire show (or episode at least) was devoted to Raven, her plot could slow down and we wouldn’t have to experience it at this insane, break-neck pace.

    Like, if nothing else, this moment is a great example of bad plot balancing. Or bad prioritizing of plot threads. Robin’s pseudo-Batman stuff? What-the fuck-ever. I’ve seen it a million times. Go watch any Batman show or movie, or go watch Arrow. But this superhero who has dark powers she doesn’t understand and can’t control? Wa-a-a-a-ay more interesting in my opinion.
  • (12:48) We’re in a tropey-as-fuck drug exchange scene. Gang A gave Gang B a duffle bag full of plush dolls and, obviously, the drugs or whatever are in the dolls.

    But, fuck, I would give everything if the one guy in Gang B cuts open the doll, looks at the stuffing inside, and is like, “Synthetic stuffing.” And the other guy is like, “Grade A. Only the best.”

    Gang B: “And they’re all cute animals.”

    Gang A: “As requested.”

    Gang B: “Deuce, give this man his money.”

    And e-e-e-e-end scene!
  • (13:21) After Robin drops down and demands everyone drops the drugs and guns, one of the thugs starts looking around like, “Where’s Batman?” and, on behalf of the entire audience, yeah, same, dude.

    Cause even I, a longtime Robin fan, think this Robin sucks.

    He just looks terrible. They had an opportunity to give him some sick new outfit, maybe some mash-up between his old Robin suit and the Nightwing outfit, to make it clear he’s already going in that direction. But, nope, they gave him the half-cape, full-bangs treatment that Tim usually gets.

    He’s wearing kid-Robin’s look and thus looks like kid-Robin.

    Just the worst choice for him.
  • (13:40) And here’s why I could never write Batman. Cause, however many years into his campaign, criminals are still, to this fucking day, falling for this smoke pellet bullshit.

    If I wrote Batman, criminals everywhere would operate with gas masks and infrared at the ready. Because, even outside of Gotham, Batman’s techniques would be recycled by amateur vigilantes so often that fucking no one would fall for Batman Gadget #1 anymore.

    Them not learning is the equivalent of real life criminals never thinking to wear bullet proof vests. It just does not make sense.
  • (13:55) Ah, yes. That new-age Batman thing where he and other Bat Family members use guns all the time and just murder people.

    Them bats gotta grit, I guess.

    [After watching to 14:02] Okay. Robin is . . . actually murdering these guys, and like . . . <looks around> Is this shit for real? Like, actual Batman, as I know and love him, would hunt this Robin down. I know in new movies he doesn’t give a shit, but my Batman–TAS and JLU Batman–would not stand for this shit at all.

    And just . . . Why this? Why is this the turn all of this Batman shit is taking?

    Why are we leaning into murdering these criminals the heroes know nothing about?

    At this point, you have to ask, “How were Silver Age characters more progressive about the treatment of criminals than modern heroes are?”
  • (14:03) I actually just laughed aloud, because they try to do that thing where someone rakes a bad guy’s face against something sharp or dangerous, like broken glass or the road from a moving car. Only, here, it’s boney-ass Robin raking a guy’s face against . . . the alley wall? And, like, apparently half of his face comes off on that wall? Bitch, was his face cake? Is that the plot twist of the show?

    Batman drops down and is all, “Yes, Robin, the criminals are all cake!”

    And Robin is like, “Wha–What!?”

    And the Cake Boss or whoever the fuck pops out of the trunk like, “Crime is cake, Robin! All crime is cake!”

    And Twitter is like, “omfg i cant whats real”
  • (14:26) Also, I thought this show was going to rip off Daredevil with Robin’s fights, but, instead, we just have the same over-choreographed fights we’ve seen in everything else.

    I guess that’s not fair–there’s no winning for DC in that scenario–but, I mean . . . I could’ve won. If they’d ripped off Daredevil, I would’ve laughed really hard at least.
  • (14:36) Robin catches the child abuser he came out here for, and–after killing, like, 5 guys in this alley–he cuts this guy’s face and says, “If you ever touch your kid again, I’ll find you.”

    Like, “Hey, uh . . . Robin? That one guy who you stabbed in the throat with part of a gun? He was just someone’s cousin who didn’t even know he was going to a drug deal tonight. That guy was terrified before you even got here, and you murdered his ass in cold blood. But this actual child abuser who you know is evil . . . gets to go free?”

    Just what the fuck even are these priorities?
  • (15:07) The infamous “Fuck Batman” from all the marketing could not have been delivered at a stranger place. It’s supposed to be a reply to the one guy who was like, “Where’s Batman!?” but that was, what, five minutes ago? Just didn’t stick the landing here.
  • (15:33) Okay, I wasn’t going to say anything, but holy shit, Robin’s apartment looks exactly like Daredevil’s. What the fuck even? They show a longshot of the living room, and the only difference is there’s no neon sign outside–just dirty, mute white windows, which actually draws a perfect comparison between Netflix Daredevil and this Robin now that I think about it.
  • (16:00) I know they’re going for “gritty badass hero” here, but it re-e-e-e-eally just comes off as “young serial killer” using his vigilante work as a vehicle to commit his murders . . . And, actually, ya know what? I’d watch the shit out of that show.
  • Sidebar: Okay. Gonna dial it back here because I’m commenting on things every 30 seconds, and I can’t spend five hours doing this today.
  • (21:43) Okay. Okay. So excited, because Starfire’s intro is, like, the closest we’ve come to really rad cinematography and I’m pumped.
  • (29:49) Okay, eight minutes later, it’s cool that she is clearly socially and physically powerful.

    But I’m disappointed that she has an amnesia plot.

    And that amnesia plot is also gritty.

    I don’t know why I expected anything different though.

    Whatever. Getting into the craft of it, we’re already working with one mysterious past with Raven, so the fact that we have another is annoying. Especially because Starfire is someone I just want to have clarity on immediately–mostly because I’ve never had to wait on her premise before, in anything I’ve ever watched. Starfire has always just been an alien from another planet and that was always fine. I’m not sure why we need this gritty, origin-like preamble for a character I always expect to be a source of comic-booky levity with no origin whatsoever.

    But, even ignoring all of that as my preference (which it absolutely is), I think it just does a disservice to the dynamic of the of the characters to have character A in a mysterious past plot, character B in a detective work plot, and character C . . . doing detective work to figure out their mysterious past.

    Starfire looks dope, acts dope, but the plot they gave her is weirdly samey.
  • (33:36) Robin describes Batman as a “stop-at-nothing guy who solved everything with his fists,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a worse description of Batman in my entire life. Not because that isn’t what Hollywood has made him into, but because that isn’t all Batman is supposed to be. The idea that Robin described him like that means the Titans Batman has to be the worst piece of shit on Earth. Basically a rich boxer who goes out to beat the shit out of people every night. No thank you.
  • (35:52) Okay, I’m officially sick of this damsel-Raven bullshit. Like, I get we’re doing an origin story here, but this girl just needs to be more aggro. And, sure, creator’s choice, but if she, at least, tried to fight back when someone tried to force her into a car against her will, it would feel more like I was actually watching Raven. I mean, isn’t this supposed to be a gritty TV show for angsty teens? Why the fuck isn’t Raven like, “Hey! Get your fucking hands off me!” or something? Why can Robin kill people but Raven can’t “cuss”?

    Whatever. In the end, this is a case of source material balancing: do you make her completely different from all the source material? Totally similar to the way she was in one piece of source material? I would argue that, because the cartoon was pivotal in making the Teen Titans popular, it would’ve done them a service to make her a little more like that interpretation of the character.

    Cause this interpretation just feels like a helpless kid and it sucks.
  • (40:13) Starfire giggles at the dude she just burned alive and . . . cool. Great. So, the team of fun, teen heroes I loved so much are all total sociopaths in a hyper gritty world.

    Fucking . . . lame.

    They took all of the sullen bitterness out of Raven, doled it out to everyone else, and then turned the contrast up to ultra-max, so she’s the innocent, helpless one and all the other characters are edgy, gritastic murderers.

    And it just fucking sucks.

    I could write an entire post about this alone, and maybe I will.

    Because I don’t understand how you could so thoroughly and absurdly kill an entire team’s dynamic.

    It would be like if they redid Guardians of the Galaxy and everyone was a large bruiser with daggers while Drax was made into the pilot of Quill’s ship.

    Just fucking why?
  • (44:16) If there’s one thing I wanted to see, it’s this shot right here: Raven, with the full black eyes, kicking ass. I just wish this could’ve happened way more often. Slower plot, but maybe with one more instance of her actually fighting people off instead of crying for help.

    Also, I don’t want to sit through another 8 episodes of damsel-Raven learning to control her powers.
  • (48:34) Oh nah.

    Nah. They did my Beast Boy dirty.

    He looks . . . terrible.

    And his weird, gross, slow, bone-breaky transformation means he’s going to be locked in as the one animal per fight?

    I– . . . I’m sorry. I’m out. I’ve seen a way better version of this character already and I refuse to downgrade.

In fact, I’ve seen better versions of all of these characters.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep watching and maybe do more of these posts, but the answer is a firm, resounding “no.”

Instead, I’m going to go find out where I can watch Teen Titans and wash away the grim dark.

~~~

Thanks for stopping by. I don’t do A Writer Watching too often, because they take way longer to write than it seems. However, I did one on Solo: A Star Wars Story, and another on the first two episodes of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the follow-up for which became my first Edited in Post.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to Like. If you agree with any of it, or if you want to argue why I should finish watching Titans, feel free to Comment down below (and also, absolutely drop spoilers if you want, cause I’m pro-o-o-obably not watching more of this, even if you tell me I should–no shade, just being real). If you want to be notified when I post again, you can Follow me via the button on the left side of the screen on PC, or via the hamburger menu on the upper right on mobile.

But, no matter what you do, please stay safe, and take care.

Just Watched #4 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Disclaimer: Man, yesterday was one of the worst days of my life in recent times. Nothing life-alteringly horrible happened, but plenty (like too many) small things went horribly wrong. There was the having-a-long-heated-debate-with-a-friend-about-why-I-don’t-date part. There was the discovering-the-spot-of-grease-that-was-smeared-all-over-the-foot-of-the-stairs-in-my apartment-building part, during which I took a comically bad fall and landed on my hand and hip. There was also (after the grease) the “Oh-cool-it’s-a-thunderstorm-now-that-I’ve-hauled-my-clothes-out-to-the-laundromat” part; I had an umbrella, thankfully, but it wasn’t big enough for me and my clothes. 

So, all of that is to say I got home, had gelato, watched Luther, and refused to write this post until today. Sorry it’s a little late, but enjoy.

So, last week, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. I know that Wonder Woman is out and I still really want to see that, but my order of interest in comic movies will always start with Marvel, then go to DC. Because, after Batman V Superman, and how many people swore that movie was good, I’m just inclined to believe all DC movies are worse than everyone makes them out to be. I still want to support Wonder Woman, sure, but if Marvel suddenly released a Squirrel Girl movie on the same morning the new Batman came out, you better believe I’m watching Squirrel Girl instead.

That said though . . . man was Guardians 2 disappointing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it overall, but it feels like the end of the road for the “fun Marvel movie” formula.

That formula being “Jokes! Jokes everywhere!”

Granted, there were parts of the formula that didn’t crop up, like “the completely non-threatening, zero stakes villain” that plagues a ton of Marvel movies, but Guardians 2 still absolutely failed to balance its action and humor. That’s often a problem with comic movies . . .

. . . but Guardians 2 fails to make that balance in the worst way: by sacrificing good action . . . for a ton of unfunny jokes.

And that lack of balance is what I took from the movie, writing-wise. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie opens with the Guardians fighting an inter-dimensional monster for exposition. You think to yourself, “Oh, sweet. This is going to be some awesome exposition!”

Nope. That action scene is immediately undermined . . . by baby Groot dancing.

It’s supposed to be cheeky irreverence for the action scene, making the high stakes into a joke.

But, no, it doesn’t work. Because that kind of joke only works when it’s used to undermine something the audience doesn’t want to see. Namely, any scene that an audience can fill in the blanks for — something they don’t need to see to understand.

But the Guardians were fighting a tentacle monster that was vomiting rainbows everywhere. Why the fuck would I not want to see every second of that? More to the point, why would I not want to see that instead of more dancing Groot?

That intro sets up a really bad joke climate for the entire movie, making more of its humor start out at a deficit, which means that the best parts of the movie are its genuine action and drama.

I wound up loving Nebula, which I didn’t expect; I also wound up wishing that one of her best lines wasn’t undermined by yet another joke without legs.

One of the better parts of the film was Yandu’s escape, an action scene that almost went uninterrupted by a recurring bad joke.

I liked the villain and felt like the climax of the movie was high stakes . . . although it also tried to break its own intensity with another joke that reminded me of Pixels (so, ya know, the worst kind of joke there is).

What I’m saying here is . . . Guardians 2 made me realize that the delicate balance between action and humor works both ways.

When a story should have levity but doesn’t, that’s bad.

When a story should have levity, but it has way, way too much of it, that’s also bad.

And that matters to me especially because there was a point when Memory had way too much levity.

When I originally sent it out to friends, some thought it was great and didn’t need any huge changes.

Others were honest about how annoying they felt the protagonist was.

My Friend: “He does a lot of thinking about doing something bad, then doing it anyway. And that’s annoying.”

Me: “Uh huh.”

My Friend: “It’s like reading a Silver Age comic, where they talk about — ”

Me: “Omfg, dude, okay. I get it. I swear I’m horrified and I get it.”

They went on to explain that some of his moments were cringy, and, on my next read, I absolutely saw what they were talking about — a lot of placeholder jokes that I just dropped in and forgot because I was trying to hit my NaNoWriMo count for the day.

Now, Kole Buchanan is the same character, but with his bad jokes fixed or excised altogether. He’s also more capable, less whiny.

What I’m saying is, fixing the balance between humor and action in my own novel was an important first step on a road I’m finally nearing the end of.

So, watching Guardians 2, seeing Drax laugh really hard at something for the umpteenth time, I had a quiet sigh of relief.

Thank God for honest friends.

~~~

Hope you enjoyed that one. As a man who has only recently found his way through the Marvel-nurtured struggle of levity VS drama, it’s good to be on the other side. Assuming that I am on the other side and the jokes in Memory are actually funny and well-timed . . . Yeah, I’m-a get back to editing now.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

I’m actually going to go grab a breakfast burger and Advil for my hip. Then I’m going to eat, bing-watch some more Luther, and then edit. That’s my sick day plan, and I hope your plans for today, whatever they are, are awesome.

Thanks again just for stopping by, and, as always, write well.

Just Watched #2 – Logan

I’m a firm believer that, any franchise–no matter how terrible or vapid–can have its one amazing installment. Given enough time and enough freedom, I think that all the right elements can finally come together to make something absolutely amazing. Sometimes, it takes forever. Often, it takes so long that it doesn’t happen at all. But, in some reality, there are four Ben Affleck Daredevil movies, and the fourth one is the best comic book movie of all time.

But, even believing that, I never would’ve thought I’d say what I’m about to say.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that the best comic book movie of all time . . . is a Fox X-Men movie.

I can’t explain how thoroughly and repeatedly I’ve been disappointed by the Fox X-Men. Even when I did enjoy one of their movies, it always came with a caveat. “X-Men 2 isn’t as bad as X-Men.”First Class was pretty good for an X-Men movie.” “I enjoyed Days of Future Past, but holy shit–the weird inconsistencies . . . with Fox’s own continuity that they established.”

But Logan . . .

Logan is a beautiful, sad masterpiece.

If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil anything.

Now . . . even though I think you can argue that it’s the best, I don’t know if Logan is my favorite comic book movie. Because one of my criteria for a favorite anything is that I want can watch it, play it, or read it over and over again. And I’m not sure I can ever watch Logan a second time.

I cried. I have no qualms telling anyone–I absolutely cried. It hit me really, really hard. Harder than any other comic book movie ever has. Because it pairs romantic, comic book ideas with extremely real drama–with genuine, human concerns and emotions–so well that it actually hurts to watch it. In this case, it’s literally a juxtaposition of childhood escapism with adult grounded, adult fears.

Fears I’ve had. Logan centers on emotions I’ve felt as a single, older man who has genuinely considered giving up. It feels like I’ve had to fight everyone for my entire life, because I had a violent asshole of a brother who, at his best, would casually steal my belongings, and, at his worst, would slap me around for answering the phone for his creditors. To get through that, I fostered a passive personality that attracted all of the wrong people.

Having lived through that life, now trying to squash that reflex to be passive, I’m a man who’s tired of fighting; I don’t like starting fights with people and I absolutely fucking hate people who start fights with me “for fun.” I’m also a man who just wants his own family but has no idea how to start one. A guy who still doesn’t even have the money to date, trying his best to take care of his mother. I’m in my 30’s and trying to figure out how I can find a new apartment big enough for the both of us. I don’t know how.

Logan is the story of a former X-Man, living in a world where there are no more X-Men. He works a shit job so he can earn enough money to buy a better life for himself and an aged Charles Xavier. His companion in this is Caliban, a mutant who takes care of Charles when Logan is working, but in his day-to-day, Logan is alone. There is absolutely no love interest in this movie, because of course there isn’t; Logan has to focus on taking care of Charles. On working and escaping somehow.

That’s only the exposition, but, hopefully, the similarities to my life are clear.

And, hopefully, the movie’s ability to convey basic, human drama is also clear. There’s no Red Skull, trying to destroy the world with a cosmic cube. There’s no alien invasion in New York. There’s no protagonist who dresses up as a bat and tries to convince you that, no, really, that’s totes realistic and not at all ridiculous, you guys. Logan has an antagonist and a bit of comic book-ish conspiracy–rising action in the form of a woman who asks “the Wolverine” for help escaping a para-military group, a mysterious girl in tow–but those things are more like vehicles for the drama. They are a way to tell you something about the world. About the expectations of a man.

And, I wish I didn’t have to add this, but I don’t “the expectations of a man” in the douchy way some might think. This isn’t a movie about some old bro dude recapturing his glory days from high school. Logan is more mature than that.

Because it focuses on the fears of older men. The fear of not being able to take care of the people you care about. The fear of passing your prime, but still needing to fight, only you’re not able to anymore. The fear that, no matter how far your run, your mistakes–the demons of your past–will always be there, and you just have to deal with that.

And, again, without spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s a movie that tries to say one thing to the people who have all of these fears. The people who are tired of fighting the world and their demons.

“Don’t be what they made you.”

I’ve never felt like a comic book anything changed my life.

But after seeing Logan, came home and made as much time as I possibly could to write. I’ve tried to center myself and work toward what I want out of my life.

Because, even though things have started turning around for me, I realized I still don’t think I deserve it. Somewhere, all of the world’s fucked up programming ruined me. I kept expecting to lose the new job or fuck up in some major way.

But I’m right there. I’m starting to live the life I want.

And to actually accept that, I only need to do one thing.

Be who I am, not what they made me.

~~~

I would talk about what Logan taught me writing-wise, but it’s a movie I can’t discuss for too long without getting emotional. So, instead, I’ll just say go and see it. Even if you don’t like comic book movies, just give this one a chance. It’s more intense, emotional, and heartfelt than any of them by far.

Everyone, thank you for reading. It still feels weird to post only once a week, so, at some point, if I can figure it out, I’d at least like to step it up to twice a week. Until then, thank you to those of you who are still dropping by, and I hope you’re all doing well.

For anyone new to the site, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out, which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless though, thank you everyone just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Muse Tuesday – The Eternal Frontier | Ant-Man

When he woke, Hank found himself wedged into a runnel of wood grain. Wide-eyed, he checked the time and found he’d only been asleep for a few hours, as planned.

“Son of a bitch.” He sighed through his nose. “Shrinking faster than I thought.” 

Maybe exponentially.

“Or with serious gains.”

You’re talking to yourself again, Hank.

“Not like there’s anyone here to listen.”

But if there was?

He shrugged.

And then sat up. The grain flowed around him in a dark river of iterating rings, dappled and imperfect. If the malfunction in his suit was speeding up, he’d be able to watch the dapples get bigger as he walked over them, becoming holes he’d step into.

And then pits he could fall in.

Eventually, pigment would turn into patterns–messes of atomic structures that would be impossible to recognize as blue or red. Nets of molecules that would part beneath his feet.

“Okay. You know what? I like talking to myself.”

Talk to Jan.

Blinking, Hank pulled the recorder off of his suit–a piece of black box protocol just for such an occasion. He took a deep breath. “Jan . . .”

The edge of the grain river was up to his ankles. Had it already been there?

He shut his eyes. “Beautiful . . . impossibly intelligent Janet Pym . . .” He swallowed, and licked his dry lips.

Walk. You can still get to the manual particle override, but only if you start walking now.

“I know.”

Then why aren’t you walking?

He adjusted his grip on the recorder, fabric creaking. “I’m going to take a moment with this. Because it’s maybe the last time one of my experiments tries to kill me. And I know you love when that happens–these stupid adventures of mine.

“But I’m pretty sure the experiment’s going to win this time. And that . . . feels depressingly appropriate. Of all of the ways I could die, this, somehow, feels right.

“So, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to detail this entire, stupid adventure of mine–this last one–so you can at least laugh at it some day.”

Please.

The river curved away ahead of him–an arc of thirty paces.

“But, ya know, as I explain, I’m just gonna walk too. Because the only thing scarier than the idea of dying here . . .

“. . . is the idea that this is the last time I’ll ever fuck something up.

“And, having said that, I realize now that I didn’t say I’m afraid I’d never see you again. I also realize that this recorder has no rewind feature.”

He sighed as he started walking. “Goddammit.”

~~~

So, this is the one idea I’ve ever had for an Ant-Man story. It was super fun playing up Hank Pym’s tendency to be terrible, but toning it down–making him a combination of genuinely horrible, abusive Hank Pym, and lovable, clueless scientist Hank Pym (who’s my favorite). The result was a total fuck up, which feels like a perfect fit (especially after his arc in The Ultimates).

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

If this is your first time here, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

No matter what you do, though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Just Watched #1 – Iron Fist

Welcome back for another rip roarin’ week of talking about fantasy. And writing. And probably cute animals at some point.

We’re starting off with a super reactionary piece that I’m going to tie into one of my greatest fears as a writer–losing the ability to be objective.

Before getting to that though, let me explain that this is Just Watched, a series where I get to react to a fantasy-based movie or show that I just watched.

And, for this first one, I just finished Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix.

Now, I’m not just going to review it here, because I hate doing reviews for anything.

But . . . I wanna have a relevant rant! So, let’s jump right in!

~~~

A few weeks ago, the media received a preview of Iron Fist–the first six episodes. And reviews of those episodes were . . . universally negative.

Me, being a fan of anything Marvel since I was a kid, was worried. But I also . . . wasn’t surprised. I was there for Ben Affleck’s Daredevil. I remember the prism covers of the 90’s, Spider-Man 3, the first X-Men movie.

That is to say that I remember when Marvel was terrible. Just, non-stop garbage.

And I’ve been waiting for the first major crap fest to spoil Marvel’s streak of movies and shows.

Not because I want them to tank . . . but because I want to be sure that, when that time comes, I can see that crap fest for what it is.

Because, as a writer, I have to stay objective. About everything.

I know Iron Man 2 wasn’t great, and I know people hate Iron Man 3, but I didn’t mind the former and actually liked the latter.

That . . . has worried me to no end. Because, if I can’t be objective about franchises I love . . . how can I be objective about my own writing?

I’m also terrified of becoming the guy who forgives Batman V Superman, a movie that double abbreviates “versus” in the title. There are a bunch of Marvel movies that I didn’t like (Ant Man, for example, and I still think Thor: The Dark World was the absolute worst of the bunch [it’s boring, goofy in the worst ways, and has the premiere example of a horrible, toothless MCU villain]), but I’ve been thoroughly terrified of how blind BVS fans are. I’ve met writers who liked it.

The idea of being that blind of a writer actually fills me with dread.

I’ve listened to people balk, “Well, the fight between Batman and Superman was actually pretty good.”

Me: “No, it wasn’t.”

Them: “I mean, with those characters, that was the best they could do, really.”

Me: “No, it wasn’t.”

Them: “Well, I thought it was pretty good.”

Just the idea of having that little quality control . . . Fuck’s sake.

As I’ve told friends in the past, my intake, as a writer, matters–across all media. Being discerning of that intake is incredibly important. I have to watch and read things that I can learn from.

At the very least, I need to avoid things that are going to instill terrible habits in me.

I can’t excuse BVS having a terrible plot, because that would make it easier for me to write a terrible plot in the future.

Which is why I was immediately worried when I finished the first episode of Iron Fist . . . and liked it.

But then, relieved when I got to the end of the sixth episode and clearly saw (as with Iron Man 3) what it was doing wrong. By the end of the second to last episode, I was genuinely bored.

Thank . . . God.

Iron Fist is a show that does not understand what it’s supposed to be about. Danny Rand, the protagonist, is a sweet, loving guy who has the power of the Iron Fist–which basically means he’s the best fighter in the world.

This is not a show about that.

It’s first about him returning to New York and getting his company back, because, like countless other super heroes, he’s the incredibly rich son of an incredibly rich (and dead) businessman. Slowly, the plot builds momentum, but it always does so with regular cuts back to boardroom meetings and moments of character drama that would be great if they didn’t happen so often.

Sprinkled in, there are a few decent fight scenes, but they afford very little use of the actual Iron Fist.

It’s a strange thing to watch. I’m not adverse to the business drama side of the show–two of my favorite characters are exclusive to that side–but it’s not what anyone signed up for when they sat down for a fun, combat-oriented show based on a comic.

Especially because none of the combat delivers in a way that Daredevil didn’t. In fact, every time a fight starts in Iron Fist, I think, “Man, the hallway fight in Daredevil was so awesome. I wish I was watching that.” In part because Iron Fist returns to the highly choreographed fighting that Daredevil abandoned.

Oddly, the show also backpedals in the diversity department. And, yes, sure, I mean that the protagonist is another rich white guy. But, removing race from the equation altogether, he’s a rich male super hero who likes to listen to classic jams. Marvel’s Netflix shows were awesome because they were so different from Hollywood’s superhero formula. Iron Fist goes all-in on that formula and it just feels . . . samey.

“Why is Danny listening to Outkast?” I wondered as episode one started.

The answer: because this is a Marvel anything.

“Why am I watching a kung-fu master, trained in heaven, attending a board meeting?”

The answer: I don’t know. I really don’t.

All of that said, I don’t hate the show. Danny being a nice, naive guy at least makes for a . . . unique MCU protagonist.

But I am still really glad that I can be objective enough to see the massive flaws in Iron Fist. Its pacing. Its manic plot, incapable of deciding where it’s taking us until the very end. Its totally nonsensical moments (there’s a lot of “No, we can’t call the cops!” on this show, along with too much, “Just call Daredevil!” shouted by me, at my TV).

My point is, even though it went about it in the worst ways, Iron Fist still taught me some things:

  • Sudden changes of setting and circumstances happen in real life. They also fall into the Stranger Than Fiction trap, and make for a choppy, unsatisfying plot.
  • Don’t shy away from a crazy premise. Make it believable. If you avoid it, the reader/viewer will know.
  • When it comes to superheroes, never, ever write a white, male orphan/heir to a multi-million dollar company. Especially if it’s a company with his last name on it. It has been done. So done.

~~~

Well, that took . . . way longer than I expected. I hope this one was interesting, and I promise that next time, I won’t go over 1000 words (ugh–why is it 1AM?). Regardless, I absolutely appreciate the read and I hope your week started off well.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But, regardless, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

The Latin Bechdels – Part 3: The DAGGER Test

Disclaimer: I’ve taken way, way longer than intended to get this post out. Why? Because I wanted to figure out the perfect way to talk about the DAGGER without offending anyone. I’m not sure that’s possible; the DAGGER Test is designed specifically to call certain elements of fantasy–some of them beloved–into question. I took pains not to mention any particular series or novel, but I’m sure that the DAGGER will criticize something you love.

That said, I’m not naming names in this post because the goal here is not to call anyone out. And also because the weird, exclusionary elements or ideas that the DAGGER points out are all institutional.

That in mind, I’m not saying that any of the elements herein need to be abolished forever or that they are universally, eternally wrong.

All I’m trying to do with this post–if I’m destined to be a popular author one day–is give a large audience food for thought. My goal is to challenge a few old story standards, not start a flame war. 

That said, here we go.

We’ve finally made it to a long, serious discussion about what I’m calling the DAGGER (Degrees of Archaic, Grandfathered, Generalizing, Exclusionary Racism) Test. Unlike the last two, this one does not focus on racism against Latinos in fiction; instead, the DAGGER is about institutional racism, as a whole, in the fantasy genre.

Now, despite the name of the test, I don’t think the DAGGER is a violent thing (which probably means I should change the test’s name . . . but no). What the DAGGER exposes shouldn’t be looked at as really harsh, intentional racism. Instead, what it exposes is institutional racism; most of the stories that fail the DAGGER on any level don’t fail because the people responsible for them are horrible bigots. In most cases, creators fail the DAGGER because fantasy, like the rest of the entertainment industry, has a long-ingrained tendency to white-wash everything.

I think that, for most writers, it’s strangely difficult not to be exclusionary with fantasy. After all, the genre has its roots in medieval England–with characters exclusively speaking with heavy, British accents so often that we don’t even notice it anymore. Many fantasy stories focus solely on a cast that comes from royalty (even stories where the young prince is trying to save commoners rarely deals with the actual commoners). And fantasy races are a major part of many fantasy settings; if you take that fact and pair it with America’s pro-white tendencies, of course things are going to get hairy.

What I’m trying to say here is, I love fantasy. I love fantasy races as well. I love the idea of a story taking place on an enclosed continent, with the sea standing as a big, mysterious barrier between our characters and the Otherlands/the Far-away/the etc.

But I do think that there are certain standards we need to question as fantasy writers. A few practices that are a bit quaint that we should try to steer away from.

Classifying these quaint standards and making them into degrees that can be applied to stories is all that the DAGGER Test is about.

Do you want to figure out if your fantasy story is quaintly exclusionary of real-life races? Take the DAGGER Test. The more degrees your story has, the more exclusionary it is.

The DAGGER Test

Criteria for Passing: Your fantasy story has none of the seven following degrees of institutional racism.

    1. Your fantasy world features no people of color. The entire world has been explored, but nowhere in that thriving fantasy world does a person of color exist. This does not apply to a fantasy world where the entire planet has not been explored (i.e. analogues of medieval England). Not every series clarifies this point, but The Wheel of Time is a good example of a story that makes it clear that there are other cultures in distant lands and across the seas.
    2. Your fantasy world features people of color, but none of them are named and none find their way into your plot. Because it’s as unlikely as it is unwittingly exclusionary (in most cases [I choose to believe]).
    3. Your fantasy world features people of color who double as a character class. While fantasy cultures can be really cool, sometimes, they’re awkwardly one-note. For made-up example, if “He’s a Vaneth assassin” is synonymous with “He’s a Vaneth,” the end product is a very generalized culture. “He/she is Vaneth, which means he/she only does the one thing that Vaneth are good for.” To be clear, this does not apply in a case where the fantasy culture is shown to be complex, with varying social tiers, jobs, ideas, etc.
    4. Your fantasy world only features either white Humans . . . or abnormal/inhuman fantasy races of varied skin color. I feel like this one is a bizarre accident in most cases (a mixture of an enduring, old Hollywood preference for white characters mixed with a love of monster fantasy races [like orcs]). But still, if not handled correctly, that combo sends a really bad, subliminal message: “You’re white or you’re a monster person with weird-colored skin.”
    5. Your fantasy world features fantasy races that are also all white. The tendency to make all characters white often spills over to fantasy races. And, really, of course it does. There are some series that challenge this very well (The Elder Scrolls series does an awesome job of presenting elves of varying skin color and culture), but most of the time, its an all white cast of humans, dwarves, and elves saving the day. It’s neither better nor worse than the fourth degree; it’s exclusionary in its own way.
    6. Your fantasy story features a fantasy race that is better than all of the others. That race is also whiter than all of the others. Although I love them, elves, who typically sing better, dance better, make superior weaponry, and use superior magic, are often exclusively light-skinned, commonly with bleach blonde hair and bright blue eyes. In stories that feature drow, this degree doesn’t apply only if the drow are not portrayed as evil/thieves (Extra Disclaimer: I also love drow, but I have to call it like I see it).
    7. Your fantasy story features people from far away lands, but they’re all just white people who dress and/or talk differently. Because sometimes ethnicity in a fantasy world amounts to other white people getting wacky with their color choices. To be clear, this does not apply to people in a distant town on the same, enclosed continent; if I traveled south on horse back, I’m going to find people who sound different and dress differently from how I dress (it’s called the south and I’m scared of it). Here, the problem is when invaders arrive from a different continent, wearing crazy armor that looks like it’s made out of swords (or whatever) and they’re all . . . still white people for some reason. Now, hey, vikings. I know. It isn’t unrealistic for a race of white invaders to lay siege on a continent controlled by another white race. All I’m saying is that maybe we should question when the invaders/foreign delegates/etc. are also white but wearing different clothes. Is there a strong, creative reason for it? . . . Or was it just an easy, reflex choice? Are you trying to mirror actual history or are you just shying away from representing people of color?

Now, considering these degrees, you probably know a fantasy series (again, not naming names here) that has a little or a lot of DAGGER in it. And, really, almost everything does.

But, again, the goal here isn’t to point fingers or sling flame. It’s to cast an evaluative eye on fantasy as a whole–it’s weird, quaint predilections.

So, for anyone reading this, I’m not asking for you to raise arms against me or anyone else. I’m asking you to just consider the DAGGER. Particularly for aspiring fantasy writers, take the DAGGER with you. Please.

Because, if there was ever a time for us to start re-evaluating fantasy, as Americans, it’s now. Just the other day, I saw on Facebook that Chick-fil-A (seriously, Chick-fil-A) of all places finally stopped making contributions to anti-gay groups.

Hearing that and thinking about other recent events here in America, with our government and our people getting more progressive . . . maybe it’s also time for us to question the standards of fantasy. Not to abolish elves, stories on enclosed continents, or stories logically dominated by white characters–I’d never suggest any of that–but to actually cast a raised eyebrow at those ideas. Time for some of us to reconsider putting them in our stories. Time to make harder, more complicated choices about the characters we put into our work. Time to acknowledge that America’s tendency to white-wash has gotten into everything.

And to work against that. Because slowly, finally, America, as a whole is working against the white wash and I don’t want fantasy–my beloved, amazing fantasy–to miss out.

—Project Updates—

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-9.26.15As is almost . . . always the case with my sci-fi stories, I soft quit on “Reset.” What does that mean? Well, I definitely didn’t throw my hands up in frustration. There was no, “I can’t write this!” I just took a break from it (to figure out a snag that I totally figured out) . . . right as I found the perfect setting and tone for my fantasy short, “Rainwater’s Archaic Goods.” And, holy shit, wouldn’t you know it, the moment I started brainstorming details for “Rainwater,” I just forgot about “Reset.” At no point did I groan an exhausted, “I have to put this story on the back burner.” Nope. There was just a recent, “Oh, right! ‘Reset!’ I . . . was supposed to be writing that.”

And now, talking about it, I realize that “Dream Runner” was also sci-fi . . . I’m seeing a pattern here. I will go back to “Reset” at some point, but not while I’m burning to finish/polish/submit a group of strong fantasy pieces.

When it comes to my goals from last time, I wound up spending all of my recent writing time editing “Aixa,” which I’m submitting this weekend. Memory edits have been slow because–full disclosure–I burned out on edits and I had no idea if some of the changes I was making where hurting or helping the novel. So I had to step away, although I’m going right back after I send “Aixa.”

Well, that wraps up this controversial series of posts on racism. And man am I grateful; this one in particular was a study in, “How can I write something that’s guaranteed to piss people off . . . without pissing them off?” Oy.

If you enjoyed this post, I always appreciate a Like or Follow. But, regardless of all that, thank you just for passing by. And, as always, write well.