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.

A Writer Watching: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power – Episodes 1 & 2

She-Ra_TitleScreen

There were a bunch of times when I wanted to return–when I considered writing posts about whatever sparked my interest. But nothing really pushed me like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power did. Not because I’m an insane person who thinks the show is bad . . .

. . . but because the angry, trolling manlings of the internet really came out in full force for this show–a reboot of a cartoon from the 80’s that was never made for them in the first place. Seriously, the unbridled privilege in action there is astounding.

So I thought, “I watched the first two episodes, and I liked them. Why not make a whole viewing journal, written as I watch the rest of the season, so I can dish on the stupid incels who hate anything remotely progressive or feminist, while talking about what the show does right and wrong?” And here we are. Full disclosure, I originally planned to make this one huge post–for the entire series–but I quickly realized that would be insane, so, instead, I’m going episode by episode (or potentially arc by arc [I’m playing it by ear]).

*Disclaimer Though: Seriously, I criticize absolutely everything. It’s just what I do. I expect the incels to already be gone at this point, but if you don’t want to see this series honestly criticized for the things it genuinely does wrong, you should probably leave as well. I like it–I don’t watch TV shows I don’t like–but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of criticisms to make. Why make those criticisms at all, you ask? Because I’m a writer. Because maybe you are too. Why shouldn’t we be able to critique this show that’s great–but flawed–and aspire to make our own work better?

Anyway, enjoy!

Episode 1 – “The Sword Part 1”

  • (1:00) First thing–what I saw a bunch from the incels was that the animation was terrible. We’re ten seconds in, and, hey, incels what in the fat hell are you talking about? I get that there are some small animation errors here and there, but there are with every animated show. This is very obviously high-quality from the get-go.
  • (4:50) Goddammit, Shadow Weaver looks awesome. One of those times I wish I’d designed a character.
  • (4:51) Here’s where they revealed that Adora is a soldier for Hordak, something I absolutely fucking love, because it sets the show up to transcend the “one-a the guys” feminism of comics or other shows. Adora starts off the series being the no-nonsense, sparkle-free, princess-hating super soldier that most feminist characters are–characters who I’ve grown to think of as “one-a the guys.” Obviously, “one-a the guys” female characters are far better than hyper-sexualized, man-focused female characters, but there’s still room for improvement. “One-a the guys” are still geared to be relatable to men, and that’s always weird to me.
    Anyway, I digress. My original point: it’s interesting how Adora starts off this show as “one-a the guys” while she’s working for Hordak, who lies to her about who she is and what she’s supposed to want.
    I’m really hoping this show did that intentionally, and that it proceeds to promote being girly and being strong at the same time–as opposed to either being a woman who is tough, never acts girly, and has sex only with other women (ya know, things that are obviously not bad on their own, but that are very often bundled into the “strong female” archetype), or a woman who acts girly, and is either obsessed with a man, or needs to be saved by one.
    Again, I’m not sure that She-Ra is actually eschewing the “one-a the guys” thing, but it seems to be with this exposition, and I hope it is. Because we need
     strong, female characters who exist somewhere in the middle of the “girly damsel”-and-“perfect, man-like ultra-badass” spectrum.
  • (9:11) Kinda weird how these Dreamworks shows keep starting with protagonists–who are training in the military–stealing a speeder . . .
  • (10:43) . . . and then, while joyriding in it, finding the show’s macguffin by accident.
  • (12:20) Having watched a few episodes of the original show years ago, one of the things I was super curious about was whether or not Bow would still have giant red hearts on his outfit. I love that he still does.
  • (14:19) Oh no–no, no, no, no. I don’t like this weird, Catra sleeping at Adora’s feet, on her bed, thing, and it’s not–I repeat, it’s not–because I’m some kind of stupid homophobe. No, there’s just something really, really gross about it, from a friends-perspective.
    Never, ever be such a shitty friend that you let your bestie degrade themselves for you. Seriously, I know it’s small–I know that they were trying to do a cute thing with her being a cat–but this moment has the potential to foster really bad interpersonal habits. Seeing the protagonist sleeping while her friend sleeps at her feet, like an animal, probably gave a bunch of kids the wrong idea about how devoted a best friend could be.
  • (17:07) “Light Hope.” I . . . love how unapologetic they are about sticking to all of the original names.
  • (20:25) Okay. It’s about time to talk about it.
    This show . . . absolutely, 100% has White Savior Syndrome.
    That is the massive flaw of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. There are characters from different races, but they all play second-fiddle to a pretty, white protagonist who has shining, blonde hair and glowing, blue eyes when she uses her powers. She-Ra looks great, but she fosters a trend I’ve seen of empowering white women . . . at the expense of minorities–the result of creators saying, “Well, we want to be forward-thinking . . . but we don’t want to make the protagonist a minority!”
    This scene, with Adora being shown a town destroyed by Hordak’s forces, embodies that white savior vibe perfectly.
    The white protagonist is shown how these poor, othered minorities are losing their war. If only there was a strong white woman, privileged with the power to be better than all of them–by right of just being born–who could save them all!

    Maybe that trend sticks out to me because I am a minority, but this show will forever be an example of it. I’m sure it’s well-intentioned, but it’s weird that Catra, Glimmer, Bow–they’re all nice and tanned . . . while Adora and the queen, Angella, are fair-skinned.
  • (22:09-22:30) Light Hope: “Adora . . . will you fight for the honor of Grayskull?”
    Adora: “For the honor . . . of Grayskull!”
    The writers could’ve made that smoother.
    Look, I’m a fantasy writer. And a very, very intense self-editor. Things need to sound natural.
    That did not sound natural at all.
    Light Hope asks our protagonist a question, and she’s all, “Yes, I will! But I’m not going to actually say yes, even! I’m just going to say the catchphrase that I suddenly know! Or, like, I’m just gonna repeat the last part of that full question you just asked! For no particular reason, really! I’m not even gonna be like, ‘Wait, what’s Greyskull?’”

    Just sayin’, you get one chance to make a moment like that perfect. One chance to bring She-Ra back and make it absolutely seamless. But that one moment–which should have been flawless, even if the rest of the show wasn’t–was messy.
  • (22:44) She-Ra really does look so awesome though. She triggers such a child-like awe in me. I’m a man in my mid-30’s, watching her transformation like, “Whoa-a-a-a-a. Her hair is so pretty!”

 

Episode 2 – “The Sword Part 2”

  • (1:12) Such a good move making Adora unable to control her She-Ra powers. Giving protagonists a learning curve for their power set is always great when those powers are crazy.
  • (8:07) They’ve been mentioning it for a while, but I appreciate that Glimmer also has a learning curve with her powers. It gives her some obvious room to grow, and I assume that, like Adora, she’ll grow as a person as she gets more powerful.
  • (8:14) I sure hope that Bow, who seems to already be an expert with his bow, gets the same treatment. I sure hope that, in this show that’s trying to be progressive, we don’t have a male character who’s just static comedy relief. His growth wouldn’t need to be tied to his powers, of course, but it would be kind of shit if he was just there to make the funnies. Ju-u-u-u-ust sayin’.
  • (10:18) This scene . . . really annoyed me.
    Shadow Weaver: “Where is Adora!?”
    Catra: “For the last time, I don’t know! . . .”
    Shadow Weaver: “. . . Have it your way. I already know where she is. We’ve been tracking her.”
    Me: . . .
    Catra: “Uh, then why’d you ask me?”
    Me: Exactly.
    Shadow Weaver: “Because you’re going to get her back!”
    Me: That makes . . . zero sense.
    Don’t send some new, badass, genuinely threatening villain to capture Adora. Don’t create drama by having Catra intervene somehow.
    No, just send the one under-performing warrior-in-training, who has clear issues with authority, to do it.
    I always hate contrivances, but I especially hate them when they require characters to make incredibly stupid choices.
  • (11:04) Interesting how, even on this show, set in a really sparkly world with lots of pinks and purples, our magical girl protagonist hates pink flowers.
    Do ya . . . Do ya see what I was talking about earlier? Isn’t it weird that this show is designed to appeal to people who like bright colors and sparkly transformations, but the protagonist hates that shit cause writing trends dictate that she should?
    Maybe I was wrong about that “one-a the guys” thing, but I’m still hoping Adora changes as the series progresses. I’m hoping
    this is more of an “I was raised by Hordak to hate those things” kind of situation. I mean, Adora does lose it when she sees a horse for the first time, and loving horses is traditionally a girly girl thing.
  • (11:52) Ahhhh . . . C-Cool. The minority people in this town are, like, half-animals . . .
    . . . Cool.
    Yeah, ya know the way Catra, Adora’s best friend who has tanned skin and sleeps at her feet like a fucking animal, is, in fact, part animal?
    Yeah, these other tanned-skinned people are animals too.
    great
    just . . . just great
  • (16:30) I haven’t seen past this episode yet, so I have no idea how this Catra / Adora friendship thing plays out. She-Ra is a Dreamworks animation, and they are awesomely brazen with the sexual diversity of their characters, so I genuinely have no idea if they become a thing or not. Either way though, here’s how I feel about this:
    If Adora and Catra are friends, I like the friends angle, but I hope there’s some actual romance somewhere else in the story. Whether it’s with a male character or a female character, it would be cool to see the tough, boss-bitch character at least invest time into a romance.
    If Adora and Catra are more than friends, that would lean into the “one-a the guys” trend, but it would still be awesome if it got into the emotions of the relationship (instead of the comic book approach of showing the two hot chicks naked in bed together and that’s it–not like this show would do that anyway). If I got to see the relationship that was denied me with Korra and Asami (and which is still being denied me with Shiro and Keith [#keiro]), I’d be happy.
  • (19:26) Holy shit! There’s a magical girl transformation! A-a-a-and it’s legit as fuck!
  • (20:20) Yo, can we take a moment to acknowledge that Bow was straight-up just ready to die fighting the Horde right here? That’s . . . That’s fucking awesome. This dude was just ready to die saving people–in the second episode. Nobody gonna talk about that? . . . No? . . . It was just posed as comic relief? . . .
    great
  • (20:45) I’m sure the incels would whine about She-Ra being OP and immediately knowing how to use her powers, but she clearly dips into something like the Avatar State here, where she’s amazing and terrifying, and I love that. It does make things convenient for writers, yes, but there’s also something rad about your protagonist going mute, growing 4 feet taller, and having giant, golden hair that’s awesome (just fucking try to come at me about that last part when y’all motherfuckers know you love Dragonball).
    *I watched ahead a bit . . . More about this topic next time.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Thanks for dropping by! I don’t update on a regular schedule; I’m a man trying to get his life in order and get published at the same time, so posting on this site is limited to whenever I have time and really, really don’t want to write. Or just relax.

If you enjoyed this post, and want to get a notification when I post the next part of this series, please hit the subscribe button to the left of your screen. You can also follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor, or just pass by again in [INSERT RANDOM NUMERIC VALUE] [INSERT RANDOM UNIT OF TIME]! Thanks!

Monday, AM #2 – John Wick and Underworldbuilding

Welcome back to Monday. This is the part where I reflexively say, “It’s good to be back!” but it isn’t, cause it’s Monday.

I did actually get my days off this week, so I’ll get to spend the beginning of it comfortably doing posts and writing . . . although I also really want to slip in a matinee of Get Out, because I wanted to see it in the first place and it had such a good opening.

But whatever! Let’s talk about the weekend!

John Wick and the Discerning Gentleman’s Criminal Underworld

I saw John Wick: Chapter 2 on Saturday night. First of all, no spoilers here.

Second, it was . . . I mean.

Okay . . . So, I didn’t dislike the first John Wick, but I also didn’t love it.

I feel the same way about Chapter 2. No offense to anyone who does love the series. I just think I’m too deep in Fantasy town to fully appreciate an Earth-modern revenge story.

Among the other runny-shooty action movies I’ve seen in recent times, the John Wick series is the absolute best–and Chapter 2 had some moments I will absolutely always remember (while its predecessor didn’t).

But, I found myself way more intrigued by the worldbuilding in Chapter 2, which was my favorite part of the first John Wick. This sequel dives right into Wick’s gold-fueled criminal underworld, making it way more dense and fun to experience.

What that world winds up feeling like is . . . a criminal underworld for the discerning gentleman. Everyone is well dressed. Everyone is polite, and everyone is super rich. Baby’s first spoiler, John Wick starts the movie with a nice suit . . . and then gets an even nicer suit to wear while killing people.

And maybe that’s the part that really makes the John Wick series interesting for me; the elaborate background of the underworld is there to serve as a foundation for a movie that’s really just about a guy who punch-shoots a lot of people to death.

What a weird series.

But what a beautiful thing for its creators to know it wouldn’t be as interesting without its super-charming criminal underworld, where everything costs exactly one golden coin.

The Hand and the Tempest Project Progress

H&T is going well. I’m almost done with chapter 4–almost to the point where the novel becomes more comfortable for the main characters. And me.

The thing is, I had a moment the other day where I thought of the perfect opening line for Rainwater Archaic, the next big project on my schedule.

Now . . . I’ve already written the first chapter of Rainwater. It was among the group of unpolished stories I wrote last year. At first, I thought it would just be a short story–the first in a series, maybe–but I didn’t like how it turned out (the tone got way, way too heavy), so I took a break from it. During that break, I realized I wanted to take my time worldbuilding for it–figuring out that I wanted to make it a standalone novel instead.

Now, I’m just really, really ready to write that novel. And I want so badly to put H&T on hold to do it. But I’m also 100% certain that doing that will kill H&T, and, despite complications with the actual writing part, I do love H&T’s characters. I want to tell this story.

I also just want to be done with it by summer. If I stay on this schedule, that definitely won’t happen; I’d finish it until late this year or next year.

So, the next few weeks are going to be all about bumping up my average words per day.

And, if you were here for last week’s Dream Diary, I’m pretty sure that this is what that nightmare was about.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m already trying to get a lot of things done, but I’ve been trying to do it all . . . while staying comfortable. I’ll stop writing if a scene is giving me too much trouble, giving myself a day to casually figure out where I want a scene to go. At work, I’ll only volunteer for extra work if it’s convenient for me.

But I can’t keep operating like that–particularly with writing. If I want to get anywhere, my daily sessions have to be longer and produce more words. At work, I have to be more selfless if I expect to get any kind of promotion. Any more responsibility.

And, I’m not sure because that dream from last Friday was so goddamn weird, but I think that responsibility was the monster I was hunting. Not normal, get up, go to work, pay bills responsibility, but career writer responsibility. I’m hoping that one day, I’ll be writing with a schedule given to me by a publisher. I’m hunting for that opportunity . . . but I’m also afraid of the stress it’s going to bring with it–weary after 10 straight years of it.

But, I can’t learn how to write like a career writer . . . then, when the opportunity comes up.

I have to learn how to do it now.

~~~

I guess that means get ready for a way more stressed out me sometime soon. The tension’ll probably ramp up mid-March, when I get back from PAX East. Can’t wait!

But, for now, I have to have breakfast, and start building that tension with an attempt to finish chapter 4 today, action scene and all. I will absolutely try to not force anything, but wish me luck.

As always, thank you for dropping by. I really appreciate everyone who pops in, even if you just give a quick read.

Until next time, everyone.

‘Wearing the Cape’ by Marion G. Harmon – Probably the Best Hero Fantasy Novel You’ve Never Read

A few months ago, Marion G. Harmon contacted me about doing a review for his first book. I was immediately flattered (an author? Writing to me? With a request?).

I was also apprehensive, because I’m honestly not in the business of pulling punches; if I don’t like something that even a friend has written, I’m going to tell them so. I’m not a jerk about it; I don’t revel in telling people “their writing is terrible” like some of the writers I know—I tell them because, as an amateur writer who’s been working hard to get published for over ten years, I think the most important things for a writer are a) to get honest critiques about his or her work and b) to be able to accept those critiques, understand them, and learn from them.

All of that said, I accepted Mr. Harmon’s request, hoping I wouldn’t have to write a follow-up “so… I’m going to be very honest in my review…” email.

Ten pages in, I realized that I wouldn’t be writing that email.

I could go on and tell you “I’m a really hard critic” and “I usually (and literally) throw bad fantasy novels away before I hit page one hundred.”

Instead I’ll just say that Wearing the Cape, is, in all honesty, not just a good hero fantasy novel—it’s an awesome and important one.

The Premise

The novel follows Hope Corrigan, a young teen who just had a “breakthrough”—an event that awakens super powers in her. She finds herself now a part of the super hero world—a world which is surprisingly realistic in this novel (I’ll get back to this in a minute). Now following a course that steers her away from her own plans and the life she expected, Hope finds herself fighting alongside her childhood heroes against horrors that she never could’ve imagined.

Maybe this doesn’t sound revolutionary to you. That’s fine; it wasn’t exactly the freshest concept to me either. But Harmon manages to snag your interest and keep you entertained throughout, always serving up something fresh to keep you engaged (whether it’s a conspiracy to murder a government official at a convention, a solo investigation into the whereabouts of a dark vigilante, or an attack from an emotionally triggered, hero-hating super villain).

On top of all of that though…

It’s Incredibly Realistic

Think of it like this; you’re one of two people: the kind who reads comics and the kind who doesn’t.

  • If you’re the kind who reads comic books, then you’ve probably never questioned half of the things that happen in them. You read an issue of Superman and probably say, “Well, of course he caught Lex Luthor! He’s incredibly smart!” instead of, “If he’s so damn smart, why doesn’t he ever see Lex coming?” You read Spider-Man and say, “Oh no! He ran out of web fluid again!” instead of, “Seriously? Why doesn’t he carry around a million cartridges of web fluid at this point? Why doesn’t he use science and make cartridges that last longer?”
  • If you don’t read comics, you’ve always questioned these things, adding a pinch of, “Why the hell do these guys wear spandex, btw? Would anyone really do that?” And you’ve never experienced the wallet crushing addiction of single issues (good for you).

The thing is, there’s a magical breed of people out there who are perfectly in the middle; people who do question comics and the worlds they propose but who still read them because they love them.

Marion Harmon is one of these people. And he also happens to be a good writer.

Wearing the Cape really shines because of this; as I said earlier, the world Harmon gives us is a surprisingly realistic look at super heroes. Not the kind of gritty, noire, but-I-still-have-lightning-powers-and-a-humongous-revolver-(or-something) realism that you would find in a graphic novel either. What Harmon has done is show us our own world as it would be if there really were heroes. Although he doesn’t bog us down with it, Harmon puts his characters into situations that involve things like government sanction, disaster response (hoo-boy does he ever), and (most unexpectedly important) actual team battle tactics.

Like I say, he doesn’t bog the story down with it, but he gives us enough to make us realize what a real super team would actually be like. You’ll wind up rubbing your chin and saying, “Huh… Yeah, I guess their primary function would actually be crisis control, wouldn’t it?” or “I guess they wouldn’t just be able to kill super villains whenever they wanted because of public image.” I’m sure there are comics that have hinted at points like these, but I can promise you that none have given readers such an informed, cohesive, and interesting look from that perspective.

The most surprising part of that perspective is the battle tactics aspect; when you’re done with this book, it’ll feel silly when you read the next issue of GL and find Hal flying into a stand-off with a mysterious new villain with absolutely no information about what’s going on. And, yeah, where is he supposed to get his information from? The answer—a ton of places the average super hero comic just doesn’t consider.

All That Said, the Flair Is Still There

I just have to say that doesn’t mean there are no costumes and everything you love about heroes. Hope is a costumed hero (she takes the mantel of “Astra” and works with and meets a retinue of charming [and charmingly named] heroes called the Sentinels, their leader a weary, southern, Superman-powered hero named Atlas). The twist here is that Harmon also makes sense of this whole powers business; unlike most comics, Wearing the Cape presents readers with a very, very real sense of danger for his characters by illustrating that even ones like Atlas (and Astra, who has the same power set) are easily beaten by the right counter power (say, several, high-powered blasts from an electrokinetic) or practical things (like flying directly into a solid object).

There’s also a social twist that adds more flair to being a hero though—in a world that’s exactly like our own, heroes wind up being celebrities that civilians mimic; most notably, musicians adopt personas as pretend super villains to appeal to young audiences (because, seriously, wouldn’t they?), although the trend carries over to general fashion as well. Touches like these make civilian life surprisingly present in a genre where it usually isn’t.

So Is There Anything Wrong with the Book?

I honestly can’t say there isn’t, but both of my issues are small.

The first is teen slang; Harmon does an awesome job of giving us a protagonist we like in Hope Corrigan. She’s intelligent but spunky, responsible but so spirited that you can’t help but like her. Chances are you won’t like when she uses words like “woogy” though. Or rather, it’s not that you won’t like her; it’s just that those moments may grate on you if you’re anything like me. Even so, they’re few and far between and ultimately don’t detract from the read; I just think that it’s important for you to remember that you are reading a young, teen girl as a protagonist, complete with slang like “woogy” and a few moments where she, possibly, prioritizes things that you (if you’re, say, a Hellboy fan) may find it painful to read about.

The second isn’t actually a problem—it’s more of advice. There will be a moment when a romance kicks into full throttle. It will nearly come out of nowhere, but (but) if romance is not your thing, you don’t have to worry about it suddenly dominating the rest of the novel (as I worried it might); this is not a romance story, and I promise you that if you hang around for it, you’ll get to a truly epic battle and an ending that will definitely leave you wanting more!

Want to give Wearing the Cape a shot? It’s available in paperback and ebook format at Amazon!

The Death of Ultimate Spider-Man… By the Amazing Spider-Man’s Hand

After work today, I met my good friend @GentlemanMonstr for some Five Guys and a stop at Midtown Comics. As the undisputed overlord of the comic world (in my opinion), the Gentleman had something obscure in mind. For me, it was the exact opposite: Ultimate Spider-Man #160. In all honesty, it was something I wasn’t looking forward to, but it was, of course, something I needed to read, not only because I’m the Spider-Man fan among my friends, but because I loved the whole Ultimate Spider-Man series, from it’s rocky start to… well…

We naturally spend more time than necessary at Midtown. Then it was a casual walk to Penn Station where we parted ways. I got to my train platform and thought that I should wait until I got home to read how it all ends, but I realized that after the countless hours on the train that I’d burned reading and rereading Ultimate Spider-Man, there was no better time.

Now, I’m not going to explain what happens because this is a no spoiler zone. But I will say that something odd happened; something I didn’t expect:

I wasn’t bothered. I wasn’t upset; when it happened, I got a little teary eyed (yeah, I’ll admit it), but I didn’t shed a tear, which is weird because I honestly expected to at least shed one damn tear–I’m the Spider-Man guy, after all!

Now, is this because the writing was off? Was Peter’s death too sudden? Was it lacking real drama and emotion? Did I not feel it? Well, while I’m not saying those possibilities are absolutely out of line, I think I know the primary reason for my ambivalence:

I had Amazing Spider-Man #663 in my bag.

And you’re thinking, “So you’re fine because Amazing Spider-Man is still alive?” And, I mean, overtly, sure, but it’s more complicated than that. The “Big Time” plot line brought serious changes to Peter Parker’s life. For the first time, we saw Peter get a job that pays his bills, new costumes, new side characters (thank God), and even a new love interest. As the arc’s name suggests, things in Peter’s life finally start looking up for the first time in… well, ever. Finally, finally things actually change for Peter Parker. Significantly.

So, what does this have to do with Ultimate Spider-Man? It’s simple: after all of the changes in Amazing, going back to Ultimate  felt like looking backwards. For many of us, there was a time when Ultimate Spider-Man was fresh and young and awesome, and it was probably because at the same time, Amazing was tired and boring. For many of us, Ultimate Spider-Man gave us what we’d always wanted as Spider-Man fans: change. Variety. But then Big Time finally came and we–well, I–realized that… Ultimate Peter Parker is still just a kid. He’s still in high school. He’s still worrying about Mary Jane. Suddenly, Ultimate was the past. A past we’ve all read and watched countless times. A past that some writers burned to the ground by over-using the same tired characters. A past that it’s sadly easy to let go of.

Believe what you want, but somehow, I don’t think the time could have ever been more appropriate for the unfortunate passing of our young, beloved Mr. Parker. Not because I wanted it, but because right now–before a new writer comes along and retcons all of Big Time and FF–right now is the only time I could possibly bare it. In all honesty, while I can’t say I started reading comics because of Ultimate Spider-Man, I can promise you that I never would have become so deeply invested in them if not for the incredible sense of adventure and awe that the Ultimate run instilled in me. For that, I will always be grateful for young Peter Parker and the incredible places Brian Michael Bendis took us with him.

But that doesn’t mean I want to ever go back to how things were. Not after so much has changed. The Peter Parker who was always so worried about Aunt May and MJ and work and J. Jonah Jameson and Venom–that young man is dead. And although I loved him, I’m content to let him rest in peace.

Why the Hell Haven’t You Seen “Thor” Yet?

Okay, look–I know the answer to that question. You haven’t seen Thor because you know there are two kinds of Marvel superhero movies:

1) The Iron Man Type – Funny, fun, and with a good smattering of action, these movies are clearly done by people who wanted to make an awesome movie about their favorite superhero for all of his/her fans. The second (and first, despite some… aesthetic issues) Spider-Man movie, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and (although maybe it didn’t hold up?) the first Blade are this type of Marvel movie. I suppose you could argue that the second X-Men movie also fits the bill, but I’d ignore you.

2) The Daredevil Type – For the love of God, why are there so many of these? I don’t even need to explain because you know exactly what I’m talking about: Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider, X-Men, probably X-Men II, X-Men III: Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four II: This Should’ve Just Been About the Silver Surfer (or whatever it was called), Punisher: War Zone, Hulk or The Incredible Hulk (failure, finally working to your preference), the rest of the Blade trilogy. Spider-Man 3. All terrible, terrible mistakes. Attempts at more money with plots written to include the most salable characters because the molds for their action figures were already finished.

With such a complete imbalance between the good times and the bad we’ve gotten from Marvel Studios, why would you, why would any of us, actually decide to give a movie about Marvel’s take on the Norse god of thunder the time of day?

If you’re anything like me, you’d say it was your duty; maybe not professionally, but to comics in general, which is admirable even though it’s the same reason why I went to see Jonah Hex. <shudder> In the end, that desire (maybe I should just call it “the Hex”) to support comics led me to the Ziegfeld two Saturdays ago where I was was completely surprised.

Whoever watches this movie, if he be worthy, shall soon possess the Blu-ray of Thor.

It’s Surprisingly Believable

I told my friends that I felt Thor was the movie that would either make or break The Avengers. They were surprised by the idea, but I explained quickly that it wasn’t a matter of Thor needing to look powerful enough or be cool enough; Thor needed to be believable enough or every time he walked on the screen the audience would want to laugh. As viewers, and even as comic readers, we can jump on-board for a hero’s or villain’s origin and totally believe it because of science. Even if it’s completely ridiculous and we know it, we still barely need to be pushed to believe that, say, Tony Stark would survive not only with but because of a huge, super battery lodged into his chest. Or that a bite from a genetically altered spider would grant a school kid from Queens spider powers. A writer slips in a word like “genetics” or “tachyon” and we shrug, think, “Sure! Whaaatever!” and keep reading. But somehow–probably because of religious beliefs–the line often gets very seriously drawn at mystics and god characters. In an Iron Man comic, someone says, “Let’s call Dr. Strange, master of the mystic arts!” and 8 out of 10 readers smack their foreheads in dismay. That is, honestly, exactly what I thought I would do the very first time Thor said “thee”.

But that’s just it–Thor never says “thee”. Or “thou”. Not even (and thank God) a “verily”. Marvel was very, very careful to not make Thor sound like a complete idiot. In fact, they somehow turned it around so that he wasn’t even a bumbling moron when he gets to earth; he’s more an intelligent tourist who makes tourist mistakes that are extremely funny. Tourist mistakes that are also completely understandable after a full hour or so spent watching Thor in Asgard.

But what makes all of it even more believable is the marriage of science and magic, proposed in the trailer and fully executed when we see Asgard. The whole look of the place is (aside from honestly being one of the best executions of a fantasy concept on film) a weird hybrid of sorcery and science. Perhaps that’s being a bit generous though because no one ever jumps on screen and shouts, “And now, MAGIC!” Instead, we see a bit of technology meshed with scenery that very cleverly fails to lean too far in one direction; sure, magical things happen, but they’re often the cause of a huge machine. Or magic that is completely not dressed up with the typical tropes (wizard staff; some grand, completely terrible, rhyming incantation). Even everyone’s armor looks surpringly… modern. Possibly even technological. All in all, the result is a very different fantasy experience that manages to be oddly genuine.

There’s Nothing “Low Key” About Tom Hiddleston’s Performance

Okay. Hands down… Seriously, hands down… I don’t think you can find a better performance for a Marvel villain than Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. I really don’t. And do you know why? Because everyone I’ve spoken to who saw it said, “I’m not sure Loki was devious enough,” to which I replied, “Exactly.”

Not going into too much detail, he’s Loki, the God of Mischief. And not only does Tom Hiddleston look like Loki, he speaks like Loki. He sounds like Loki. He moves like Loki. He acts like Loki. The fact that so many people thought he wasn’t devious enough says one thing and one thing only:

Mischief.

You Will Not Find More Appropriately Hot Comic Book Female Roles in Any Other Comic Book Movie

Oh my God. Natalie Portman as Jane Foster! Wow! She’s actually… attractive. Like, as attractive as comic artists have made Jane Foster. Are we sure this is for real? Are we sure they didn’t actually cast Sarah Jessica Parker, or someone else that the media seems to think is actually attractive but isn’t?

Seriously, I’m sorry, but casting for female roles in comic movies has only met with failure before. Kirsten Dunst is not a super model / actress–not the way comic book Mary Jane Watson was anyway. Gwyneth Paltrow did a great job as Pepper Potts, but outside of having red hair, she didn’t do comic book Petter Potts justice in terms of looks. And seriously, let’s not even get started on Katie Holmes.

The casting director for Thor seemed to realize this and completely turn the problem around. By casting Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. And Jaimie Alexander as Siff! And… Oh my God…

Kat Dennings as... does it even matter?

Uh… Louis?

Loui–

Bah! I’m sorry! I kind of… lost track there. What was I saying?… Oh yeah. The women casted for Thor are extremely attractive. And on the flip side, ladies, seriously, you owe it to yourselves to see Chris Hemsworth’s performance as Topless Thor. Perhaps you’ve said to yourself before, “I just don’t think superheroes are hot,” and that’s fine if you did. But Chris Hemsworth will change your minds so hard that after the end credits, you’ll be IMDBing the release date for The Avengers. On your smart phones. In your seat. In the theater.

All jokes aside, Thor is a surprisingly fun, entertaining comic book movie. I’m not sure if it’s going to be the best one this year because, really, it has it’s flaws. Artist Blair Kamage admitted to having a problem with the pacing of Thor’s romance with Jane Foster; “It just happened too fast! It was just lust!” Writer Daniel Ho wanted Thor to dish out more old English. I, honestly, was bothered by the fact that Thor never shouted “For Asgard!” and my brother (and about 80% of the internet) was annoyed that Thor didn’t wear his helmet for more than 5 minutes. Still, Thor will entertain you way more than you’re expecting it to, and, even if Captain America bombs, you’ll still be excited for The Avengers in 2012. At least, I know I totally am!