Iron Man 3

mopemopemope

Batman: spends a lot of time on a computer in his parents’ basement.

Saw Iron Man 3 last night two weeks ago. (Started writing this post, then sprained a finger and got distracted by other stuff.) Liked it a lot. Lots of good things to say about the movie. In the future I (or someone more knowledgeable) should write about Tony Stark and bipolar disorder. I mean…it’s not a metaphor with him, the way Batman’s an allegory for the struggles of the clinically depressed. If you had to describe Tony in one word, “manic” might be it. I’m not feeling it right now, but I want to do an essay about sad rich white male superheroes. Stick a pin in it for later.

Spoilers after this point. If you read this anyway and then you complain that I’ve spoiled something, I will laugh at you. I could put this behind a jump, but this was all spoiled in the promo material anyway. Maybe you shouldn’t be a baby about spoilers.

I had a nasty cold for two weeks running so I might have missed some dialogue during the movie. But I really don’t understand the Mandarin’s motivation. What was that guy’s deal? He wasn’t after money. He wasn’t an idealist. He wasn’t particularly anti-American except in that he chose American targets. Control? Power?

The only thing made explicitly clear was that he had a grudge against Tony for being extra-rude to him at a party fourteen years ago, and he used to ask Pepper out. Also, he was pretty dorky…?

Oh, Killian. You didn’t have to become a terrorist mastermind. Extremis gives you weird fire powers and invincibility, but I guess it also helps your posture and makes you want to get a decent haircut and wash your face sometimes. And Tony’s a jerk to everybody, honey.

You just know that he was constantly complaining about his lack of success with women to Maya. “I’m so nice, why won’t they go out with me? Mayaaaa, why do women only like assholes?” And she’s rolling her eyes and trying to make polite suggestions about at least washing his hair once in a while and not wearing a fedora, because she likes this job and at least this part of it isn’t morally bankrupt.

And then they end up coding the anti-fedora sequence into Extremis, so it makes you immortal and sexy but also murderous.

In conclusion: “nice guy”-ism kills.

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Stuff I Like: All-Star Superman

All_Star_Superman_010People are cynical about Superman. He’s overpowered, they say. A wish fulfillment story. You can’t write good Superman stories, they say, because he has every superpower.  You have to depower him to tell a good Superman story. He Worfs like ten times in the first seven episodes of Justice League. (To Worf: to take a fall to show how powerful the baddie of the week is.) People say they like Batman better because he’s grounded in reality. Whatever. Watch the movie, it’s on Netflix right now.

All-Star Superman embraces the whole mythos. The Silver Age cheesiness, the Moses allegory, the Christ figure. The story requires you accept his powers, the fact that he exists within this universe but it’s still fundamentally the same as our own. You have to suspend disbelief. It’s basically the same thing as faith, which is one of the themes of this story.

It’s been pointed out by many people who are smarter than I am that Superman is the Depression-era Moses fantasy of two grown up Jewish kids. Moses was a proto-superhero in the same way as Gilgamesh. Last son of a dying people, raised far from

Bald arch-nemesis.

Remember, kids: baldness makes you evil.

home, grows up, discovers his super powers, has a bald arch nemesis, leads his people to freedom.

Superman is all about wish f fulfillment but not in a petty way. It’s not about wanting to be the handsome super-spy with the coolest gadgets who gets all the ladies. Superman represents the fantasy of the altruist. In the eight degrees of tzedekah as explained by Maimonides, the highest degree is to give people self-sufficiency. Superman gives generously and doesn’t demand credit, but his greatest gift is to empower others. This is best illustrated in the Death of Superman or any story that involves Steel. Superman dies and an ordinary working man steps up to his place, donning armor he made himself. Because SOMEONE has to step up, it may as well be him. Steel is one of the coolest third-tier characters. Superman embraces Steel as part of the Superfamily. When people emulate Batman, he’s rude to them at best, unless he’s personally handpicked them to be child soldiers. Batman’s a jerk.

There are so many bat-canons that you can't really dispute this, so nyah

Batarang’d!

Batman takes power for himself and is kind of a douchebag about letting people into his inner-circle of crime fighting. His totem is meant to frighten criminals. (While we sometimes see it used as a rallying symbol for ordinary people, that’s more of a Nolanverse thing than a comic canon thing.) In comics it’s used as a territory marker. Stand back, proles, let Batman handle this. Because you are property. Batman hordes power because he’s the avatar of the plutocracy. Batman’s symbol is a frightening creature. Superman’s symbol is a shield.

In All Star Superman, Superman has been given a lethal dose of radiation. His clock is ticking. The movie starts slowly, with Superman receiving the dose of radiation and accepting his fate. There’s tiny doses of Silver Age ridiculousness all over the place. The science is so implausible that you can’t really argue with it. Superman’s real gifts are wisdom, humility and mercy, which he demonstrates over the course of the film. That’s the messianic aspect: he stands for all the things that can’t be touched or held in the hand. He stands for the irrational.

Nice popped collar, douche.

Superfriends ruined Aquaman for decades, but Luthor is still cool.

Lex Luthor, on the other hand, rejects the mystical. He has intelligence, strength and power, but he lacks faith in anything besides his own knowledge. The climax of the story comes because Luthor has stolen the fruit of knowledge in the form of super-serum. He’s rallied powerful enemies for Superman and wants to seize power. Though dying, Superman rallies and fights him. He knew what Luthor was planning and let it happen. Superman doesn’t win. The clock on Luthor’s powers runs out as he becomes aware of the movement of atoms and the interconnectedness of all things. He realizes that this is how Superman sees the universe all the time, learns compassion, repents of his sins.

I will raise my hypothetical children on superhero epics.

Superman has to do one last thing to save the world: fix the dying sun. His human face begins to crack, showing pure energy underneath. He ascends to heaven. While Superman is memorialized on Earth, Lois asserts that he’s not really dead, that he’ll be back one day after fixing the sun. Look, I’m not a Christian, but that’s like…not even subtle, right? This is hella allegorical. It’s so allegorical that CS Lewis died a second time because he’s so sad he’d never write something this awesome. Aslan would lose in a fight against Superman.

There’s also a more mundane story running through this, a story about aging and accepting one’s mortality. This was one of Dwayne McDuffie’s last screen projects. He died suddenly in 2011, he wasn’t even fifty yet. It’s a good memorial for him.

The art style merges Frank Quietly’s more realistic proportions and soft lines with the more traditional Bruce Timm style angular characters. It’s visually stunning. I recommend this movie even if you’re one of those people who are cynical about Superman.

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Where I’ve Been

It’s been a while. I was crazy-busy in November, in December I didn’t have access to a computer for a while, then I moved cross-country. (There’s a reason most people live and die fifty miles from where they were born. Moving sucks!) I started working. The work is fun, the downsides are bearable for now. A small woman attacked me on the bus. I got a large dog. Sprained my ankle, which sucks because my job involves a lot of walking. I may have sprained my wrist a couple days ago, but it’s not weight-bearing so I’m not so worried about it.

It’s been an eventful few months, though not so eventful as last summer. Ideally the rest of the year will be boring.

I’ve been busy with piecework writing. When I’m lucky, this pays pretty well. When I’m not lucky, I get to work on my skills and add to my portfolio. So I’ve had less time for blagging.

I have a Chromebook now. I can’t Skype on it, but that’s the only issue. It’s small and light enough to fit in my bag, the battery life is incredible, and I don’t need a ton of computing power. Seriously, the battery life is better than my phone’s. I don’t know how this is possible.

I’m doing a bit of writing for myself in my spare time. Stay tuned. The goal is to have something I can show my mom. You know…no swearing. No made up words. Minimal references to Batman. My unofficial deadline for a first draft is July.

In the meantime, I’ve been really into superheroes lately! There are a ton of DC animated movies on Netflix. There should be a post about All Star Superman tonight. And I have tentative plans to screen EVERY JAMES BOND MOVIE EVER. So expect some posts about that. (I have opinions about Skyfall, guys. I enjoyed it because Bond movies are all about the id, but oh my god do I have opinions about it. But first I want to watch all of the old ones.)

I sort of petered out on my series about fixing Twilight. Can’t do it, guys. It’s like Twinkies. They’re not good for you, they’re not my thing, but I don’t particularly care if someone else partakes. Trying to make your own Twinkies with whole-grain flour and organic fair trade buttercream means you may as well not even make Twinkies, just bake your own cake. I’m not sure if this simile has gone incomprehensible.

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Queen and Queen-related Things

Everybody loves Queen. I’m not really a music person, don’t have the background and vocabulary to properly explain why I like them. Clever lyrics, amazing piano and guitar solos, and Freddie Mercury was the sort of performer who could probably rile a crowd up to murder if he felt like it. Luckily for everyone, the dude just wanted to sing and dance.

Siiiiigh. Oh, Freddie. You were way ahead of your time.

I have a weakness for silly sci-fi and rock operas, so it makes me happy that there’s a silly sci-fi rock opera with Queen songs used to construct a (flimsy, but who cares?) story. In the grim meathook future, the planet is all about commercialism! It’s ruled by the Killer Queen and her evil chief of evil police. The Seven Seas of Rhye is the villain’s song when he’s brainwashing the Bohemians. Who doesn’t love a good villain song? People who hate fun, that’s who.

It’s so cheesy, don’t you love it?

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Gamma World!

The guitarist does melee.

Tabletop is like a band: you don’t play unless everyone’s there.

My usual tabletop gaming group just did something unique: we finished a campaign. Coordinating six adults so that we’re consistently able to play for three or four hours every other week is hard! Most campaigns have a rotating cast as people drop out due to real-world commitments, games go on hiatus never to be resumed, life just gets in the way. So as weird as it sounds to a non-gamer, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

We were playing Gamma World, which is basically a simplified Dungeons and Dragons 4.0 in a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s a cool concept: several worlds merged together and the result is a lawless frontier with alien technology and magic. The best part is the tone, tongue-in-cheek silliness played straight. It has a vintage sci-fi/golden age adventure comic sort of flavor, and you can take it as seriously or as lightly as you like and it will still be entertaining. The setting has a history that’s older than I am, but the most recent version is easy to pick up and doesn’t need all that perspective.

In Gamma World, you don’t pick a character concept, it’s determined by luck. You roll dice to figure out your primary and secondary origins. In this case, “origin” is sort of a catch-all for power set and species. In this game I ended up with electrokinetic/pyrokinetic, which meant I was a human who could throw lightning and fire and had a burning aura. Others ended up with things like pyrokinetic/cockroach, empathic/yeti, felinoid/speedster. You’re given a set of cards with different superpowers on them. Not all these powers are useful all the time, but they change with each combat or with unlucky rolls. You also have the opportunity to scavenge technology from different universes, most of which consists of weapons. So your combat strategy can change dramatically between encounters based on luck of the draw.

Maps!

So many maps!

Some spoilers ahead. Our GM used the campaigns from the book and expansions, with some additions and subtractions. I’ve avoided details, but you might want to be careful anyway.

Our GM ran us from level 1 through 10, which is where Gamma World is capped. We began as humble adventurers hired to sort out some fuckery with robots. We kicked the crap out of the gang who was trying to take over the nearby robot factory. It turned out that the gang were henchpeople of some guy named Alpha, who was trying to “bring some order to Gamma World.”

This is where we started to give the GM headaches. This Alpha guy might have a point, we agreed after some deliberation. After all, Gamma World is a shitty place to live. There’s no rule of law, you live by your fists and laser guns and mandibles. We made the henchmen put us in touch, and forcibly joined the organization. The GM used this as the plot hook for future adventures. Alpha needs us to pacify an area or restore the food supply so the people will be more receptive, pretty straightforward.

No smiling, dancing, foreigners, implications that there are vegetables besides corn...

That’s when we became travelling corn salesmen.

There was one town, basically the town from Footloose, where we crossed the line from Chaotic Neutral to Neutral Evil. We didn’t like the locals: they were rude and banned fun. We happened to procure a spaceship that wasn’t spaceworthy and couldn’t be made so, but could be piloted a little ways. It had a convenient destruct button. We set it to go off in the middle of Assholetown’s square, where it would destroy the local government but not the majority of its people. We then radioed Alpha’s people to come in with medics and supplies so that they’d be hailed as heroes and the town would go over to Team Lawful Evil without a fuss.

That was around the time we coined our team name, Collateral Damage.

More things happen. People disappear, robots appear, we kill stuff, we kill more things, we fight Reaganomics. It’s all fun. We spend a good portion of a gaming session roleplaying our characters asking a computer about astronomy, as it’s unlikely that anyone on the wrecked Gamma Terra even understands what a planet is. We go to the moon, the source of one of our problems.

Fuck yeah, overwhelming odds!

Bolivian army ending: When your heroes are surrounded by insurmountable odds and will probably die. Fade to black.

A few sessions back, our GM asks us if we would be okay if he killed off our characters. The general response was “Only if it’s awesome.” My expectation was a Bolivian army ending.

We have a final bossfight, which turns anticlimactic when one player combines weapons in a way that doubles their damage, then rolls two crits in a row that instantly turn the boss into a puddle of goo. This was still awesome, don’t get me wrong, just in a different way than expected.

So our characters are treated as heroes and kind of dig it, but it’s time to go back home. We’re going to be met by Alpha himself as thanks for all the cool shit we’ve done in his name! In an out of character way, yeah, it’s a trap, but metagaming is shitty and you should trust your GM. (So long as your GM is a good storyteller and not just intent on torturing you.) And our characters were riding high on their easy victory and had their guard down.

You got me monologuing!

blah blah blah 35 minutes ago.

We teleport back to base and are greeted by fifty soldiers aiming their weapons at us. One soldier is bigger and more badass than the others. It’s Alpha, and he’s got a fucking monologue for us…naturally. He appreciates our service in expanding his empire, but we’ve grown too popular and too powerful. As he monologues, we find that there’s a forcefield around the teleportation pad. Our powers can’t get through it, overload it, or destroy the pad itself. Dude’s had time to prepare for us.

Alpha thanks us for our service, but it’s time for us to go. We dematerialize with a flurry of curses and rude gestures. I’m actually mad: I didn’t think I’d get attached to a character in a lighthearted campaign like this, but it’s been a long ride. We weren’t even planning to overthrow Alpha! Our motivations were pure-ish! And then, very unexpectedly, we re-materialize.

We’re in a dank cave. There’s an acrid smell and sounds of combat nearby. Our radiation-powered dude notices that the local ambient radiation is less than he’s used to, which is a tipoff that we might not even be on Gamma Terra. That, and there’s a dragon murdering a couple guys. “Welcome to Grayhawk,” says the GM.

Yay!

The best way to end anything, really.

As a group we decide to sneak away and live. Between our powers, the mountain of Omega tech we’ve accumulated, and even our useful mundane gear, we have a better than fighting chance.  If the prospect of building an empire from scratch in order to gather mages from all over in order to figure out how to get home and murder the everloving shit out of somebody doesn’t give you pants-feelings, we can’t be friends.

I’ve never finished a campaign before! It’s always been sort of a Fremen thing. “Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: ‘Now it’s complete because it’s ended here.'” And that’s what’s happened anyway, because we’re not revisiting our intrepid adventurers, but at least we got a full story arc out of it.

Our GM deserves a trophy! We’re not an easy group, with our tendency to jump the track, destroy what we shouldn’t, roleplay or start combats in situations where we shouldn’t. If you name an NPC and hint that they have a personality, I don’t want to kill them. If an NPC is rude to us, we hold ridiculous long-term grudges. We try to collapse economies and foment revolts. We sold a lot of popcorn and beer. We’re ridiculous assholes, and he put up with us for several months, steering us when need be and letting us have fun rather than just beating on us with monsters.

I really like the Gamma World system. It’s playable right out of the box. You need dice, but you already know that. The rules are simple enough to pick up quickly, and we only had to establish a few house rules to fill in the gaps. The campaign that comes with the game is simple, but the point isn’t fancy storytelling, the point is fun. Laser grenades! Swords! Explody teddy bears! Objective achieved. 9/10.

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Stuff I Love Non-Ironically: Star Wars

Probably a better love story than Anakin and Padme.

“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and irritating and it gets everywhere. Everything here is soft and smooth.”

Everyone’s heard the news about Disney buying up Lucasfilm, and Star Wars 7. I am so excited about this you don’t even know! I never cared for the prequels, but like Twilight, I’ve gotten plenty of entertainment from mocking and remixing them to the point where I sort-of like them despite it all. Star Wars should be fun, and the people who saw the prequel trilogy as younglings seemed to enjoy it. It’s ridiculous to be a purist about this stuff.

I'm important!

I could dropkick this thing so far.

I used to be pretty immersed in the Expanded Universe, but when I was a kid it was less daunting. Have you seen Wookieepedia lately? Do you know who Rotta the Hutt is? I didn’t, but judging by the amount of easily-accessible information on him, he’s far more important than my local state representative! But that’s part of the joy of this weird space mythology: everything has a complex backstory. I’m like…a real person and I don’t have as complicated a backstory as the most unimportant SW universe character.

Also, the levels of canon. I love this so much. From Wikipedia:

The Holocron is divided into five levels (in order of precedence): G-canonT-canonC-canonS-canon, and N-canon.

G-canon is absolute canon; the movies (their most recent release), the scripts, the novelizations of the movies, the radio plays, and any statements by George Lucas himself. G-canon overrides the lower levels of canon when there is a contradiction. Within G-canon, many fans follow an unofficial progression of canonicity where the movies are the highest canon, followed by the scripts, the novelizations, and then the radio plays.
T-canon[4] refers to the canon level comprising only the two television shows: Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the Star Wars live-action TV series. Its precedence over C-Level canon was confirmed by Chee.[5]
C-canon is primarily composed of elements from the Expanded Universe including books, comics, and games bearing the label of Star Wars. Games and RPG sourcebooks are a special case; the stories and general background information are themselves fully C-canon, but the other elements such as character/item statistics and gameplay are, with few exceptions, N-canon.
S-canon is secondary canon; the story itself is considered non-continuity, but the non-contradicting elements are still a canon part of the Star Wars universe. This includes things like the online roleplaying game Star Wars: Galaxies and certain elements of a few N-canon stories.
N-canon is non-canon. “What-if” stories (such as stories published under the Star Wars: Infinities label), crossover appearances (such as the Star Wars character appearances in Soulcalibur IV), game statistics, and anything else directly contradicted by higher canon ends up here. N-canon is the only level that is not considered official canon by Lucasfilm. A significant amount of material that was previously C-canon was rendered N-canon by the release of Episodes I–III.
I don’t know if G-canon will still be a thing with Lucas stepping back. Does anyone else sort of want it to be? He can just blatantly contradict himself and no one can say anything. If he wants to tell us that actually, yeah, midichlorians are tiny elves, it’s canon.
I really want a Jedi Academy series. Keep Kevin J. Anderson doing that, okay? No more Dune books. House Atriedes was basically a Star Wars book anyway.
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Fixing Twilight: Save Jacob Black

Poor Jacob. Look at Twilight from his perspective. Even before that vampire shit happens, he doesn’t live an easy life. He’s not poor exactly, but his family isn’t exactly vacationing in sunny places where they’re served drinks with little umbrellas. They have a crappy house in the ass-end of nowhere and he ends up ferrying his disabled father around. It’s not a bad life: he gets to tinker with engines, something he likes doing, but it’s not an amazing life of privilege.

Then vampire shit happens. In the Twilight mythos (Twythos!) the Quileute (Twileute!) Indians (Twindians!) are shapeshifters who just happen to turn into wolves, not classical werewolves. This seemed like it was thrown in to appease nitpicky fans, but they’re already reading Twilight, so… Not really necessary, SMeyrz. They took on the whole wolf thing when vampires were a threat. When the vampires aren’t around, the magic goes dormant.

Jacob doesn’t know any of this shit. He’s a teenage boy and he’s grown up hearing some stories about how the weird pale rich people who sometimes live in town are vampires, but he doesn’t buy it. He’s a teenager and he knows everything. Suddenly, he has a growth spurt, as do the other guys around his age. It’s a weird coincidence, but nothing that weird. The elders periodically exchange knowing glances and speak of the old legends, Jacob just rolls his eyes.

But it gets weirder. Suddenly, some of the guys Jake’s known his whole life start hanging out without him. One by one, they disappear for a few days or a week, then come back and have no time for him. They only hang out with each other. Jacob’s first thought is a gang or cult, and it’s stressing him out. It seems like they’re waiting for something, he notices them giving him the side eye when they can’t avoid him. Worse still for a teenager, he has girl trouble. This childhood friend has come to live nearby, and she’s giving him the worst mixed signals. Jacob knows she’s using him, but he’s young and crushing hard.

And then he goes through magical puberty. That’s what lycanthropy is: you grow hair and have animalistic urges. It turns out that’s what’s happening to the tribe’s young men: they’re werewolves. The magic has quirks: it can’t be spoken of to outsiders, the wolf pack has invasive telepathy that’s just ungodly annoying, and the magic wants to propagate itself. The tribe has a geas, a magical compulsion, to defend the area against evil. They have a treaty with the local vampires so long as they’re not eating people, but they don’t like it.

So there’s some fighting, blah blah whatever. It turns out Jacob is the heir to the Alpha position, and people expect him to assume that role even though he doesn’t really want it. (In my version, Jacob has ambition to get off the rez, become a doctor or lawyer, but the wolf thing screws that up.) He has to deal with that shit and his girl trouble, and the pack of new vampires who have been created by evil vampires for the express purpose of eating said girl trouble.

This is a pretty basic coming of age story. We’d deal with the imprinting storyline by making it clear how not-okay it is: neither the one being imprinted upon nor the imprinter have a choice in it. But the magic doesn’t care, the magic wants to propagate itself and make more werewolves.

And that’s one way to fix Twilight: tell the story from the perspective of just about anyone besides Bella.

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