The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Why Fergus Went Right Where William Went Wrong

It's no secret that I love Crowley from "Supernatural". It's been pointed out by others that he's the personification of my id. I think Mark Sheppard's performance as Crowley is perfection. Likewise, I loved the character of Spike from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and James Marsters' performance. What do both of these characters have in common? They're both villainous, snarky assholes from Great Britain, and both villains proved to be so popular that not only were they not killed off, they were promoted to series regulars. However, execution is everything and one of these shows went wrong in its approach, and shockingly it wasn't "Supernatural."

Spike first appeared in the second season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where he was introduced as a starter villain who would have died halfway through the season, paving the way for his girlfriend, and perhaps the true villain of the season, Drusilla to take center stage alongside Angelus (once Angel lost his soul). Dru gets a lot of background build up throughout the first half of the season, while Spike tries to restore her to full power. Along the way, Spike becomes massively popular and when the mid-season arc hits, he is spared... crippled and moved to the side, but spared. The decision to spare Spike was a good one, as he had great chemistry with everyone around him, alongside being a charming, viciously evil killer.

The second season ends with Spike deciding that he wants to help save the world, but not for altruistic reasons. He likes the world, prey is easy to find, and he wants Dru back... who has now sided with Angelus. He allies himself with Buffy so he can escape with Dru, and at one point just leaves Buffy to die at Angelus' hand with a simple shrug. Between seasons, Dru dumps Spike and he returns to Sunnydale as part of an effort to win her back over. It fails, and then he returns to Sunnydale a year later to gain power, before fleeing and returning yet again for vengeance only to be captured, neutered, and forced into an uneasy alliance with Buffy where his role pretty much becomes the snarky, sarcastic asshole who calls her an idiot. He was brought in to replaced Cordelia Chase who had moved over to "Angel" only the producers realized that the character of Anya did it better, so rather than write Spike out, they arrived at a different solution.

And this is where Spike, as a character, lost me. Out of no where, he fell in love with Buffy. His enemy. The girl he had been obsessively trying to murder for three seasons and counting. What's worse, we have a flashback retcon that the real reason Dru dumped him was because she knew he was in love with Buffy and that's why he helped Buffy defeat Angelus... never mind that doesn't correspond with anything we saw on screen. He didn't help Buffy save the world, he left her to die and escaped with Dru. He spent his one appearance in season three conspiring to win back Dru. The whole "he was in love with her all along" retcon doesn't gel with anything we have seen because that didn't exist in the writing and directing of the show up until now. It was clumsily inserted in and, in my opinion, it never worked. Ever. Now, I won't deny that Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters had a ton of chemistry, but that didn't make the writing to exploit that chemistry any less lazy.

Spike fared much better once he moved over to "Angel". While the foundation was flimsy, he was an antagonist to the titular character, which is a role he played far better than love interest.

Now, where did Crowley go right? He was a cunning, pragmatic, demon who helped the Winchesters defeat Lucifer and then rose to the position of King of Hell. He didn't help them due to altruism, he did it out of self preservation. He knew Lucifer would wipe out demon kind once he was done with humanity. So, right there, working with the Winchesters was something he was willing to do in his very first appearance. From there on out, he had schemes which the Winchesters would foil, or where they would play as his unwitting pawns. He was a dangerous enemy, but he also positioned himself as the devil they know, as his position might be usurped by a demon that wasn't as pragmatic and might do damage on a grander scale.

Crowley became a regular in season nine, following an attempt by the Winchesters to cure him of being a demon by injecting him with human blood and restoring his mortality. The cure was incomplete, but Crowley had enough blood in him to restore some of his humanity, it made him want to feel something. He remained a scheming bastard, but he grew fond of the Winchesters in a creepy way. He was still willing to manipulate them, and even kill them, but in his own way, he liked them. In short, he never stopped being a villain. When he and Dean Winchester had "their summer of love", it was when Dean was temporarily a demon inflicted with the Mark of Caine. Yes, Crowley was fond of him, but he was also a powerful resource. Later that season, when his mother, Rowena returned, he tried to forge a connection despite griping about her abusing and abandoning him centuries ago... that didn't work out, and they became bitter enemies. When Sam Winchester failed to kill Crowley (as part of a deal with Rowena to remove the Mark of Caine), Crowley bled out all the human blood that he had been injected with, consumed, and was back to his old self, all while thanking Sam for reminding him what he was.

Where Crowley goes from here, we have yet to see. But, and while it pains me to say this because, if I'm honest, as a whole "Buffy" is probably the better show than "Supernatural" (particularly if we're talking about the post-Apocalypse seasons), this is an area that "Supernatural" stands heads and shoulders above Buffy on. Is it absurd that Spike and Crowley survived for so long? A little. But "Supernatural" justified the continuing presence of their evil, snarky, Brit more than "Buffy" did. All because of one thing, "Supernatural" never forgot what Crowley was.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Romanticizing Abuse - Joker and Harley


Let me be clear, if you are a fan of the Joker, I have no problem. If you are a fan of the of the Joker and Harley Quinn, I have no problem. If you find their story and dynamic fascinating, then I have no problem. Hell, I find them to be great characters with an interesting story and dynamic. But if you find it romantic, cute, and something to aspire to in your own relationship, then, quite frankly, you either missed the point, you're an idiot, or you're just plain sick.

What prompted this entry? For a while now, I've been seeing these memes of Joker and Harley popping up as a lovey dovey couple and a romance that "weirdos in love" should aspire to. And it's not just one or two people I've seen doing it, it's a lot of people. Fans of comics and even comic creators have been doing this. And I stare at them all dumbfounded.

Here's a few examples. There are more. There are a lot more.

Several years ago, a friend of mine told me that she was creeped out by people who got tattoos of the dark mark from JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. To her, the dark mark represented racism, fascism, outright Nazism. In the series that is definitely true, but for real life I admit I thought she was taking it a little bit too seriously. I understand her point of view better now when I see all of these postings, means, pictures, etc that people are posting for their significant others of the Joker and Harley Quinn as if this is the relationship they want to have. And it sickens me.

The Joker doesn't love Harley Quinn. In his own words, Harley is his "henchwench". Nothing more to him, nothing less to him. She is a tool. She is being used. She is being abused. She goes crawling back for more. This isn't a love for the ages, this is Nicole Brown Simpson and OJ. This is Edward being creepy and controlling of Bela as written by people who know better than Stephanie Meyer. This is NOT SOMETHING TO ASPIRE TO!

If you "weirdos in love" want to aspire to any romance, Gomez and Mortica Addams comes to mind. There are also much better villainous couples out there.

As for why Harley and Joker are a vile relationship to emulate? Let me start with a video I've been posting in response every time I see that meme.

Can't watch videos? Let's take a look at key pages from the comic that was based on.

Still not good enough? Still not convinced? Then let's take a look at the real life equivalent of all this.

Every time you say you want what Joker and Harley have, this is what you're saying you want.

*Drops the mic*

Friday, August 7, 2015

This Isn't Good-bye

There are millions of thought pieces going up around the internet about "The Daily Show" and Jon Stewart, mine will just be one of those millions and I will be lucky if more than five people see this one. But I don't care how many see this. My thoughts are mine alone, and free to be shared with whomever is interested in them.

To say that I was gutted when Jon Stewart initially announced his retirement would be an understatement. I am not ashamed to admit that I was depressed about it for a week. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has meant a lot to me. It was a lifeboat in a sea of, well, bullshit. A sea that we as a species have been navigating since, well, since long before I was born, since our ancestors came down from the trees and decided not to write evolution off as a bad idea.

When Jon Stewart took over for Craig Kilborn, I don't think he had any idea what he was getting into. Nor do I think any of us have any idea what we were in for. I remember those early shows. Jon's suits didn't fit, he was still working with what was left of Kilborn's tenure as the show adjusted. Adjusted into the fifth estate as one of the few sources that when it couldn't speak the truth, at least cut through the bullshit so we could discover the truth for ourselves.

Jon Stewart also tried to make us all aware of our own bullshit. No one is immune. We are all wrong sometimes. Own your wrongness. Learn from it. Even Jon Stewart has, more than once, on the air. But some people just cannot, will not examine their own bullshit. Just about every hardcore right winger I know HATES Jon Stewart. I suspect it's because right wingers consider their ideology so sacred and it's purveyors so God-like that any degree of critique, lampooning, disrespect or seeing through it is simply unacceptable. They are completely incapable of handling any dismantling of their rigid "belief" system so rather than try to learn from it, they not only reject it but they come away even more convinced that they are right and he and his supporters are as wrong as one could possibly be. Stewart actually made right wingers cling to their ideology even harder than they would have otherwise. It's called "The Backfire Effect"... when your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger. I figured the Backfire Effect was a side effect of turning politics into identity. When you criticize a Republican policy, Republicans think you're criticizing them personally. "I don't think the Iraq War was such a good idea..." "OH YEAH, WELL LET ME TELL YOU A FEW THINGS ABOUT YOUR MOTHER YOU ASSHOLE!" It's an immature reaction no matter who's doing it. But Republicans have re-framed the argument so that disagreement IS hostility. "I don't think the Iraq war was such a good idea..." "OH WHY ARE YOU SO FULL OF HATRED FOR TRUE AMERICAN HEROES?!?!!?!?"

I've been watching "The Daily Show" for sixteen years. I've never missed an episode, and if I did I made sure I got caught up on it later. I've been in the live studio audience for the show three times. I tried to get tickets for one more show, after he announced his retirement, but it wasn't meant to be. Did Jon Stewart influence my political thinking? Everything is an influence one way or another. Re-read my previous paragraph about "The Backfire Effect". So, I'm going to say yes. I like to think that, more than anything, while making me laugh he also helped tune my bullshit detector and sharpened my sword to cut through the bullshit.

Watching all of the former correspondents show up to bid Jon a fond farewell was like doing it myself. It was like a graduation and a reunion all at the same time. It was funny and touching, and I wish I could transcribe what I felt watching this without rehashing what I wrote about the finale of "The Colbert Report" last December.

I'll give my blog to Jon Stewart for a moment, transcribing his final monologue to us, the audience.

"Bullshit. Is everywhere. Bullshit is everywhere. There is very little you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit. Not all of it bad. Your general, day-today, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. Or, at the very least, innocuous. 'Oh, what a beautiful baby. I'm sure it'll grow into that.' That kind of bullshit, in many ways, provides important social-contract fertilizer. It keeps people from making each other cry all day. But then there's the more pernicious bullshit. Your premeditated, institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bullshitocracy.

"It comes in three basic flavors. One, making bad things sound like good things. Organic, all-natural. Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn't sell. Patriot Act. Because 'are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records' Act doesn't sell. So whenever something's been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it's been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit.

"Number two. The second way. Hiding the bad things under a mountain of bullshit. Complexity. You know, I would love to download Drizzy's latest Meek Mill dis. Everyone promised me that made sense. But I'm not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy's iTunes agreement. So I'll just click 'Agree' even if it grants Apple prima nocte with my spouse. Here's another one, simply put. Simply put. Banks shouldn't be able to bet your pension money on red. Bullshitly put, it's, hey, this Dodd Frank. Hey, a handful of billionaires can't buy our elections, right? Of course not. They can only pour unlimited anonymous cash into a 501(c)4, otherwise they'd have to 501(c)6 it, or funnel it openly through a non-campaign coordinated super PAC... I think they're asleep now, we can sneak out.

"And finally, finally, it's the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. 'We can't do anything because we don't yet know everything yet. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay marriage vaccines won't cause our children to marry goats who are going to come for our guns. Until then I say to teach the controversy.'

"Now, the good news is this. Bullshitters have gotten lazy and their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time. Like an "I Spy" of bullshit. So, I say to you tonight, friends. The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something."

He wasn't going to be around forever. We need to pay attention ourselves. We need to hold the government and media's feet to the fire and not allow them to distract us with petty bullshit. Will there ever be another Jon Stewart? I think the best thing we can do is all try to be more like Jon Stewart, because Bullshit Mountain isn't going anywhere. But, if we're vigilant, we can prevent it from spreading.

You kept me sane in difficult times. Take care.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Here's What I Don't Get

Say you hate Jessica Jones as a character, no one bats an eye.
Say you hate Gambit as a character, no one bats an eye.
Say you hate Luke Skywalker as a character, no one bats an eye.
Say you hate the Fantastic Four or the Flash as characters, no one bats an eye.
Say you hate Wolverine as a character, no one bats an eye.

But, if you say you hate Superman as a character, it’s like going to your grandmother’s church and spitting in the face of a statue of Jesus Christ hanging over the altar. You get lectured, people sending you articles about how wrong you are, and told you’re a horrible, awful person.

For God’s sake, Superman is a fictional character. Demona from “Gargoyles” is my favorite character of all time, and I don’t care if someone hates her as a character.

Explain it to me! Explain!

For gods’ sake, Superman isn’t even the first superhero. Ever heard of the Scarlet Pimpernel?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why I Dislike JLU's Cadmus Arc

"I think I'll wear this to the State of the Union."

This is one of those entries that I know I'm going to get killed over, but this is my opinion. If you don't like it, well I am confident you will let me know.

The DC Animated Universe is, in many ways, the "Star Trek" franchise of animation. So many interconnected shows, in a semi-coherent universe. Like "Star Trek", most of it wasn't really serialized. There would be call-backs quite a bit and continuity nods, but most of it consisted of stand alone episodes and occasional multi-parters. Deep Space Nine broke the mold later in it's run when the Dominion War began to heat up, and when Justice League Unlimited came about, into that show's second season, it tried something no other DCAU series ever attempted. An ongoing story arc.

"My known association with this man should guarantee my front runner status."

The Cadmus arc came about as a response to the idea of the Superman and the Justice League going rogue, as they could easily subjugate or even destroy the world. The League answered to no one. There was no oversight, and no accountability. So Cadmus was founded by Amanda Waller as a means to level the playing field, and bring the League down if necessary. I thought the idea was fascinating and had a lot of promise.

Sadly, I thought the Cadmus arc didn't live up to the promise it had shown. The fact is, the League can be dangerous. Cadmus was a natural response. But the moment things got too nuanced, out comes the convenient bad guy for them to punch in the face. As Hawkgirl said "less talking, more hitting." We discovered that Lex Luthor was funding Cadmus as a means to discredit the League, as well as running for President of the United States in an orchestrated scheme to piss Superman off. Now I need to get into this. I am not a fan of the DCAU version of Lex Luthor. At all. Clancy Brown's great voice aside, this version of Lex Luthor belonged in the 80's as he was no more competent or interesting than the likes of Cobra Commander and Skeletor. 

"George Dubya got arrested for drunken disorderly conduct once. I should be fine."

And why was his campaign for President such a concern anyway? The man was openly a supervillain and had been arrested and convicted of selling weapons to terrorists (in a post-9/11 world!) When he announced he was running, Superman shouldn't have been nervous, Superman should have just raised an eyebrow. The League should have been laughing at the very idea. It's like Donald Trump running for President x 100. Donald Trump has no chance of actually winning the presidency. The DCAU version of Lex Luthor should have even less of a chance. Imagine if Greg Weisman had Demona, not Dominique Destine, but Demona run for President with a legitimate shot at winning it. Imagine if Marvel had the Green Goblin becoming the most powerful man in the United States government, it's that stupid... oh wait, that last one actually happened. Whoops.

If you remove Lex Luthor and Brainiac from the Cadmus arc, it would have been much, much better. More interesting. More nuanced. More mature. Such potential, but sadly that potential was squandered. And if they really, really wanted to use Lex Luthor in this fashion, they should have thought ahead and not had him be openly a supervillain leading the Injustice Gang. Once they did that, Luthor's role in the Cadmus arc was no longer probable or believable and they should have found another candidate to fill the role. Lex Luthor becoming Secretary General of the United Nations at the end of "Young Justice" wasn't the same crime because while we in the audience as well as the League and the Team know what Lex is, as far as we know he's never had his image tarnished to the public. Such is the beauty of planning ahead.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Well, that was... big. No wait, big isn't an adequate enough word. That was huge. After this, I understand why "Avengers: Infinity War" is going to be divided into two movies. If "Age of Ultron" was huge than "Infinity War" has got to be gargantuan. But was "Age of Ultron" good? Having slept on that, my answer is "yes, but..."

It was great to see these characters all come together again. More than that, it's nice to see a film series where characters actually seem to develop as opposed to playing the exact same beats over and over again throughout sequel after sequel. Thor is now a thinker as opposed to a berserker rage warrior, he takes the time needed to get answers instead of going in half-cocked with his hammer. Captain America has grown into his role as the leader of these heroes. The Black Widow has learned to open up and not constantly be on guard and on mode 24/7, but vulnerability leads to heartbreak. Bruce Banner is an even more broken man than he's been before. Tony Stark has created his biggest blunder, and nearly destroyed the world... I hope that when next we see him, he's learned from it; but given that we'll be seeing him next in "Captain America: Civil War", it seems like he's going to be taking responsibility a bit too far (to say the least).

For those of you like me who were disappointed that Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye had way too little to do in previous movies, or felt like an afterthought in the first "Avengers", this movie is one big apology. Hawkeye really gets to shine, we get to know not just Hawkeye but Clint Barton. What motivates him, why he does what he does, and that he is every bit the snarky, sarcastic smart ass that he was in the comic books. Like a lot of other things, it's Ultimate's background with 616's characterization. I was very happy with Hawkeye.

And then there's the villain of the piece, Ultron. I thought he was great, James Spader was great. Genuinely creepy. Menacing. Psychotic. A being of pure rage and hate. Everything the Ultron of the comic books is, but altered since Hank Pym did not create him. An artificial intelligence created to bring peace in our time, and to do that he's decided to destroy humanity, because what greater source of chaos and destruction is there than humanity? It's a story we've seen told with A.I.'s many times, but few of them contain such rage, psychosis, and snarky sarcasm. Now, I've seen a lot of people complain about Ultron being snarky and sarcastic, that he's supposed to be a cold, emotionless killing machine. I ask if these people ever read a comic book, because Ultron is sentient, Ultron laughs, Ultron is rage and hate, and snark and sarcasm. Now, as opposed to the comics, some have complained that he's too snarky and sarcastic. Gee, I don't know, it's almost as if this version of Ultron was created by Tony Stark.

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were fun additions who I wish had gotten more to do, but we'll see more of at least one of them later. The strength of the shared universe aspect of these movies is if you feel a character is getting the short end of the stick, they'll get more time later on; Hawkeye being the prime example at the moment. I thought that Scarlet Witch's powers were really effectively done, especially for a character who's abilities in the comics have always been rather vague and not that well defined. Quicksilver, well, he was a better character here than the version in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" but he didn't have anywhere near as good a sequence as the DOFP version did when they busted Magneto out of prison. So, which version was better? Your mileage may vary. If character means more to you, than AoU Quicksilver was better, if powers mean more, than DOFP is better.

I refuse to spoil Vision, just go see it. All I will say is that I am happy with Vision.

Also, I absolutely loved that the Avengers' first priority during battle scenes was saving lives. Even when it was just Tony Stark against the rampaging Hulk, Tony made it his first priority to get the enraged beast away from civilians, it was easier said than done, but at least he tried. You see, Zack Snyder?! YOU SEE?!

So in terms of basic story and character, I was happy with what we got. For me, the characters are the most important aspect of any movie, and thankfully they got that right. Unfortunately, here comes the "but." And it's a big "but."

I thought the editing was lousy. Too much was happening at too fast a pace with too many people to keep up, and for me as a guy who lives and breathes Marvel, this is a pretty big problem. I mentioned this on Facebook last night and a friend of mine, a Mr. Frank Paur (who you might remember as the Supervising Director of "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes") had this to say: "I can understand why Joss Whedon wouldn't take another Marvel movie right now. It's hard to top Avengers 1, and the sheer magnitude of all the characters has got to be a nightmare. I completely understand the editing choices". And he is right. Considering everything, I do understand the editing choices, but it was too big a movie for the run time, and I wish that announcement by Amazon that the Blu-ray was going to be an extended edition hadn't been debunked, because this movie needed more time to breathe, and more time with everybody. This is why I am glad that "Avengers: Infinity War" will be two parts instead of one, because just about everybody will be coming back along with Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and the Guardians of the Galaxy along with Thanos, Loki, and who knows what other villains. "Lord of the Rings" didn't have a cast as big as "Avengers: Infinity War" is going to.

I also didn't care for how the action sequences were filmed. Why? Too much Michael Bay shaky-cam. The worst offender being Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor vs. Hulk. Not that there weren't moments there that I didn't enjoy, mostly brought about by Tony Stark as a character, but I didn't like how it was shot. The first "Avengers" movie had a much cleaner, far less kinetic style of photography to it. There were moments where the only reason I was able to tell what was happening or who was who were the different colors everybody was wearing. Also, there was one action sequence too many, there should have been more of a break before the final battle sequence... which, I do admit, was one of the coolest set pieces I've seen in a movie in a long time.

Another big issue, and this is an issue that's been building up for a long time, a few paragraphs up I mentioned a strength of the shared universe aspect. But, sadly, the shared universe has become a double-edged sword. There was so much set-up for future movies, it often came at the expense of this one. Remember how big a problem this was for "Iron Man 2"? Yeah, it's kind of like that. While worrying about Ultron, the seeds for "Captain America: Civil War", "Thor: Ragnorak", and "Avengers: Infinity War" are being sowed, which is fine, but I could have done with less sowing. I'm sure this will play better when all the Blu-rays are on my shelf and I am re-watching them, but when you're waiting years for the seeds to bear fruit, it's annoying. This was very much a middle episode. But, unlike some other middle episodes ("Desolation of Smaug", I'm looking at you!) at least it had a beginning, middle, and end (which makes me realize I was way too kind to "Desolation of Smaug", this movie was even more packed than that but managed to be a lot more self-contained). Once again, thank gods that "Infinity War" will be in two parts, after seeing this, that's the only way to do a movie that huge.

The worst part of the viewing experience wasn't the movie itself, it was two things. The audience we sat with was very obnoxious. Teenagers who wouldn't shut up, wouldn't stop laughing at inappropriate moments, and thought their own jokes were so damn funny. This happened the first time I saw "Captain America: The First Avenger", which killed my enjoyment... of course further viewings without such an audience improved the movie's quality for me, so I hope a future viewing of "Age of Ultron" without an audience will allow me to pay closer attention to what was going on, and make it more coherent for me. The second problem was, someone in the projection booth messed up during the last ten minutes, and the picture and audio fell completely out of sync. I'm talking about picture at least forty-five seconds before sound... at first I wondered if it was a strange editing choice, but nope. Thankfully, they let us re-watch the last fifteen minutes after a thirty minute wait. But these two unfortunate elements really sucked the fun out of the evening.

And, I realize this is a cop out, but I am not giving the movie an overall grade at this time. I need a second viewing because I initially wrote a very negative review of "Captain America: The First Avenger" only to re-evaluate it later with a second, better viewing. So, you'll get my grade when I do my end of the year grading, and have seen the movie on Blu-ray in my own house on my sixty-five inch HD-TV.

Farewell, Joss. Russo Brothers, it's your turn.