More Powerful Than a Locomotive

This week I declared war on Batman. I did it in a FB group where people were trying to make Superman relevant for 2020. Many didn’t think it was possible, and some commenters leaned into the fact that he’s an undocumented immigrant. I don’t think that really works, though, because Superman is a blue-eyed white guy from Kansas. He would never get picked up in an ICE raid. But he is identifiable.  

Most people in the United States know what it’s like to leave home for the first time and move to a big, scary place, take an overwhelming job, develop a crush on your coworker who can’t see you in front of their face because they’re into someone flashier and better-looking than you, and have a side of yourself that you don’t want anyone to see because you want to come across as normal. As far as the superpower stuff that most think is impossible to write, keep in mind that, in the comics, his ultimate nemesis isn’t someone who can punch harder than him, it’s a human being—brilliant, soulless capitalist with unlimited resources. That sounds like an easy movie to make, Warner Brothers. Why do you have to go and make everything so complicated? 

Vampire with a Soul

If you ask me, I will tell you that my favorite TV show is not Doctor Who, as you’d suspect, but Angel, the vampire detective show. It was on for five years, and between that and his three years as a major character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I found the perfect, most personal depiction of my particular brand of bipolar disorder.

Vampires in the Buffy universe are evil because they have no soul. They’re varying degrees of evil, and that appears to be tied into how much personality they had when they were still alive. An intense, tragic poet like William maintains that humanity when he turns into Spike, but someone like Liam, who exists only to sleep and drink around, has no humanity when turns into Angelus. He’s sharp, charming, more powerful, and supremely confident, like me in a manic episode. He destroys everything, and he does it for fun, and he does that until he crashes, i.e. his soul is restored.

Now he’s a creature of pure guilt, and eventually he believes that his redemption is through a girl. This leads to disaster, as it should. Eventually, in his own show, he finds that his redemption for his manic behavior is found in simply doing the right thing. He’s told that he will be rewarded with his greatest wish if he continues to do the right thing. By the end of the show, he doesn’t do the right thing for a reward or redemption, but because it’s the right thing, a true sign of maturing.

When the first season came out, it was about finding oneself in an exciting, scary new city, trying to figure out who you are and how to do it, and it came out the same year I moved to New York in pursuit of a new life. Season 2 was about the perils of thinking you’re smarter than everybody, Season 3 was about found families and a little bit about addiction, Season 4 was a dumpster fire, and Season 5 was about growing up and selling out. Buffy was a show about being a teenager growing up, Angel was about being an adult growing up. Angel wasn’t as good as Buffy, and is overshadowed by its source material, but it was still pretty good.

And speaking of Buffy, where the first three seasons of Buffy made them an OTP and then spent the rest of the series trying to walk that back, Angel acknowledged how unhealthy it was. His first meeting with Buffy after he left that show was contentious—she resented him for leaving, and he really wanted to assert his independence from her. We later find out that Buffy was a rebound girl that he projected all of his guilt and uncertainty onto, that in his mind, his OTP was always someone else, and that this love forever thing they had was all from Buffy’s perspective (which doesn’t make her bad or silly, it just makes her a teenage girl). Basically, his relationship with love is confusing and sometimes ugly, and even when he finds the right person, it doesn’t work out.

Angel is grumpy and awkward. He lives with the constant fear that something is going to go terribly wrong. Love is something that never quite works out, and eventually he decides to eschew it altogether. And there is a side of him, a wicked destructive side, that’s always there, waiting for him to let his guard down. The worst part about this side is that it is the real him, as real as the goofy, brooding him. And that’s me in a nutshell.

All that, and I didn’t even get to Spike, the actual OTP of the show.

Film-Flam

Another day passes, and another person weighs in on this increasingly dumb Marvel-vs-Martin-Scorsese nonsense. I’m pretty tired of hearing about it, and I’ll bet you the only person more tired than I of the whole thing is Martin Scorsese. Mostly I’m tired because what difference does it make? There’s nobody who has ever said, “I was going to rent Ant Man & the Wasp, but Martin Scorsese said they’re not cinema, so I should watch Casino instead.” And when I hear about an out-of-touch Baby Boomer who has been living in Hollywood half of his life who is telling us that an enormously popular genre of movie that he’s probably never seen aren’t cinema, my first thought is, “Well, he’s not wrong.” 

Marvel movies are about a lot of things, like honor, sacrifice, duty, personal responsibility, loss, family, and grief, but mostly they’re about a guy who dresses in red, white, and blue and calls himself Captain America hitting a large purple man with a hammer. They’re not high art. But perhaps Martin Scorsese or his sidekick Francis Ford Coppola (the director of Godfather Part Three and Bram Stoker’s Dracula who has a lot of nerve passing judgement over what counts as overwrought, pointless spectacle) would answer a question for me: What have gangster movies ever done for the world? Has society grown or become better because Joe Pesci flipped out and shanked a guy to death for making fun of his shine box? Has Marlon Brando sticking cotton balls in his mouth improved humanity in any way?  

Don’t get me wrong, The Godfather and Goodfellas and all of these movies are really good. My senior year in high school I saw Apocalypse Now five times, and it holds up today. I went into The Departed with a bad attitude because I’d seen Internal Affairs, and how dare these Americans think they can remake a—okay, it was actually amazing. These movies are art, I won’t dispute that. But they’re movies, i.e. moving pictures. Yes, these two men and the filmmakers agreeing with them have come up with the most interesting ways to manipulate light against a screen, but that’s all they’re doing. And if you’re one of the people thinking that making yet another gangster movie starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro makes Martin Scorsese a better person than anyone, you need to get your perspective checked right away. 

I love movies, but they’re movies. There’s plenty of things to get furious about right now, but one of them shouldn’t be an old man stating his opinion. 

Strong Female Protagonist

According to the Legend of Joss Whedon, during an interview he was asked why he creates so many strong female characters. He responded, “Because you asked that question.” 

I write a lot of female characters—the main character in my six-and-growing unpublished book series is a woman. The villain in my fan fiction is a woman. But I’m not doing it to be political. I’m doing it because, “Why not?”  

My fanfic villain was conceived to be a man, but as I sat down to write, I scribbled an “S” in front of “he,” and now she is menacing the sweet holy hell out of Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, but as a petite, frequently underestimated Native American woman as opposed to the imposing badass I’d first considered. Why did I add the “S” in the first place? Because part of the character’s origin is in their spouse getting murdered, and do we really need another dead wife? 

The thing is, it’s not that hard to write women. I don’t know why the entertainment world has such a problem with it. Yes, there are differences between the genders that, as a cis het-male I’ll never fully understand, but I can always ask. And even so, the real lesson here is that there are more similarities than differences between men and woman from a character-building standpoint. Men and women both want things, and as long as you understand that, for women, these wants don’t stop at pretty dresses and a man, you’re on the right track. 

So yeah, if somehow my books got out in the world and I was asked about my female protagonists, the first thing I’d say is, “You know who could write women better than me, even? A woman.” Then I’d say, “Women are people. Try writing people. I don’t see why this needs to be spelled out for you.” 

The “Why not” principal also works for races that aren’t yours, as well as sexualities. Just don’t make cartoons out of characters, and you’ll be fine. 

Surely You Jest

Don’t read the comments.  

I just perused a column where the writer posited the question, re: the new Joker movie, do we really, in this day and age, need a movie about an aggrieved white man who murders a bunch of people because of perceived injustices? The comments were instantly full of a bunch of oversensitive snowflakes (i.e. white men on the Internet) were upset because the writer pointed out that the Joker was a white man. But then there were a few comments that made me want to be the Picard WTF meme, the ones that said, “You haven’t even seen the movie! How do you know it’s about a white man murdering a bunch of people? That’s not what the previews say it is.” 

So let me get this straight. You think that a movie called Joker, about one of the most famous mass murderers in comic book and cinema history, rated R, produced by Martin Scorcese, starring Robert DeNiro, set in a New York analogue in the eighties, is not going to be about a man murdering people? What do you think it’s about? A man who is beaten down by society (this is in the previews, by the way), puts on clown makeup, and the world is a happy place?  

But that question is pointless because yours came from a place of intellectual dishonesty. You know the movie is about a white male killing spree, and you’re just being argumentative because your feelings, as a white man, are hurt, and you have no real counterpoint. 

I’m just not interested in Joker because it doesn’t look interesting to me. I’ve seen these rampage movies before, and grease paint isn’t a really novel way of telling the same old story. And the Joker is a character that, like Batman, I think we’ve seen enough of. Also, in Todd Phillips’ filmography, Old School was the only movie I really liked. I know that puts me in the minority. The Internet is really excited about this movie, and God bless them. I hope they love it. But don’t tell me that it’s not about a disenfranchised white man murdering a bunch of people, because that makes you full of shit. 

Fic Fic Hurray!

I’ve stated in the past that I would never write fan fiction before sitting down and writing fan fiction, but I want to clarify something. My own reticence about doing it doesn’t mean that I hate it. On the contrary, I think fan fiction is one of the best products of the Internet.  

In a time when pop culture looms large, fan fiction allows people to really dive into the characters who are such a big part of their lives. A lot of fan fiction is erotica or relationship porn because exploring that aspect of life with beloved characters is something that helps people understand that side of their own lives.  

It also teaches writers how to write—rather than making big, rookie mistakes on your own characters and plots, which you would be super invested in, you can use someone else’s and really learn. You get a lot of feedback for it too, and most of it is positive and constructive. It’s the educational aspect that is responsible for the quality complaints Internet denizens have, but honestly, Leonardo Da Vinci’s first drawings and sculptures probably looked like hammered shit. They’re getting better. 

And then there’s the political aspect of it. The main reasons trolls hate fan fiction so much is that it’s the domain of young women. Even though it’s the twenty-first century, girls don’t get a lot of encouragement to do what they want to do, and fan fiction boards are friendly places telling them that they can. Anything that helps young women and tells them that they’re good is healthy and important. 

I’m writing Highlander fan fiction because the Highlander was my favorite movie when I was a teenager. I love the characters, I love the world, and I love all the little rules, and I have questions that I feel like I should ask (even if I don’t answer them because part of the world-building of the franchise is that these questions have no answers). I wanted to write dialogue like this: “So you keep saying you can’t die, but that guy over there with his head missing is very dead. You, sir, are a big, fat liar.” 

Basically I’m a fan of fan fiction, and if you’re writing some, or you have kids who are writing some, you have me behind you, with pom-poms. 

Shooting off my Mouth

I’m a coward. I have got some solid, powerful opinions about the world right now, and I am afraid to share them. That’s mostly because I can’t argue for shit. That was a pretty frequent feature in my marriage, and it comes across on the Internet as well. I know that, if I express myself online with something I believe in strongly, one of my friends will disagree with me, and I won’t be able to adequately express why I believe they’re wrong (lack of evidence is my usual sin), and I’ll look stupid. I recently saw a friend post that she didn’t want anybody arguing with her as she expressed her perfectly rational fear given the frequency of gun massacres, and one of her friends posted, “I can think of several points where you’re dead wrong, but I won’t argue with you because you said not to.” That kind of thing would ruin my entire day. I don’t want to have my raw feelings that I’m expressing to my friends challenged by someone, and I don’t want to challenge anyone else’s either. 

I know that the likelihood of being killed in a shark attack is slim. It’s even slimmer because I never go more than shin-deep into the ocean whenever I’m there. I’m more likely to be hit by a bus, and I jaywalk all the time. And I know that I am statistically not likely to be killed in a mass shooting. But I do know that nowhere is safe. Shopping, movie theaters, church, school, none of these places are safe. Statistics would not save me if someone with a bump stock walked into The Container Store. I know that a lot of these massacres would not have been prevented with the gun laws that are being proposed and passed. I know that an AR-15, the Big Man Rifle of choice, isn’t technically an “assault weapon” so Sandy Hook wouldn’t have been prevented. Also, he stole the weapon from his law-abiding mother, so background checks wouldn’t have worked on him.  

But I’m a believer that a mother in Connecticut had zero reason to own a military-style rifle in the first place. See, you hear that knives kill people. Look at Charlottesville—a guy without a gun went on a killing rampage. But cars have a purpose outside of killing people, and they regulate the hell out of those. Fertilizer has a purpose outside of killing people, but after Tim McVeigh killed over a hundred people with it, they regulated that really quickly. Handguns and military-style and assault rifles are created for one purpose: to kill people. You can kill deer with them, I guess, but they already have rifles for those. You can go target shooting with them, which is a lot of fun, and I wonder if I’ll be able to do it again. 

A few years ago, after the Aurora, Colorado massacre, a friend on Livejournal complained about how gun laws hurt the wrong people, because her husband couldn’t make a working replica of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shotgun in Terminator 2. In the interests of keeping the peace and because I’m a coward, I didn’t respond, but if I did, I would have said, “So what?” So what if you can’t have the replica of a gun from a science fiction movie that could literally blow someone’s skull off of their body. Why am I supposed to feel sorry about that? I can’t kill someone with marijuana, and that’s illegal. But I kept that to myself because I like these people. 

Another reason I don’t argue is because I probably don’t have anything productive to say. Every single time I see someone post that these massacres were only caused because they happened in gun-free zones, or if they were there with their concealed carry permit, everything would have been fine, I don’t want to debate with them. I don’t want to trade facts and statistics, I just want to call them a moron. I have a great imagination and fantasy life, and they’re imposing theirs on a situation where people pointlessly died. Do they believe this is an action movie? That more bullets flying around is going to keep people safe? That, if they miss, that bullet isn’t going to go somewhere else, possibly into a panicking, fleeing shopper? 

Seriously, what is the deal with this country and guns?  

Social Justice Capitalists

You! Hey, you! That’s right, you, the one who completely lost their shit when they found out that 007 is not only going to be black, not only going to be a woman, but was going to be a black woman. You, the one who will never buy a Disney product or see a Disney movie again because of Little Mermaid white erasure. You’re the one who still, two years later, is getting online and declaring that Thirteen isn’t a real Doctor because the show is called “Doctor Who, not Nurse Who” (and you’re still patting yourself on the back for thinking of that one). I wanted to take a moment to explain something to you. 

Disney, MGM, the BBC, and all of the other studios have teams of marketing gurus and social scientists who follow the trends and evolution of culture, and they have determined that the benefits of forcing diversity far, far outweighs any losses they’ll get with your boycotts and snarky remarks online. The CEOs of Nike and Gillette and other companies aren’t Social Justice Warriors trying to force beliefs down your throats. Far from it. They’re businessmen and women who would never hire a man known mostly for his protests or put out a commercial asking people to be nice to each other or gender-bend and race-bend entrenched intellectual properties if they didn’t think they would make money off of it. You don’t factor into their calculations because your opinions aren’t profitable. 

Surely this can’t be too much of a shock to you. Remember everything you did to tank the Black Panther and Captain Marvel when they came out? Remember all those YouTube videos you made pointing out all the flaws in the movies that you hadn’t seen yet? Remember artificially lowering the scores for these movies on Rotten Tomatoes with your Internet trickery? Remembering calling out, “Go woke, go broke”? Remember how these movies made all of the money, and one even got nominated for Oscars? 

In conclusion, corporations have enough money that they can see into the future, and you and your Euro-, hetero-, male-centrism, despite all your bluster, are not in it. 

I, personally, in this age of loudly broadcast racism, misogyny, and homophobia, find that comforting. 

Intellectual Properties

I just read this rant about the female Thor, and inevitably the argument came up that women should make up their own hero and leave theirs alone. I come across this argument a lot, whether it’s a black Little Mermaid or a bisexual Peter Parker. When The Falcon took over for Captain America, they said the same thing. When Miles Morales became Spider-man (in an alternate universe, even), same thing.  

It is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, as well as the most disengenious. 

We live in a time when a new hero is not going to reach audiences. Think about all the heroes you know that are in the public consciousness, and think about how many of them were created recently, like the past twenty years that aren’t a spinoff of existing characters. I literally cannot (if you can, I encourage you to make me look silly). I think the biggest boom for new characters was the launch of Image comics in 1992, and even most of them are just plain forgettable. The current audience is married to their intellectual properties, for better or for worse. That’s why movies, particularly genre movies, not based on a book or a comic or an older movie are so rare. That’s why comics about new heroes rarely sell.  

Because of the nature of consumption right now, a new hero will become second and third tier. There are plenty of white, straight heroes out there, so why not borrow a first-tier one to make someone feel just a little included.  

If someone creates a movie about a new superhero, the person who suggested that said demographic create that movie will never see it. He won’t buy the comic. He has no intention of ever gracing the new hero with his attention. Unfortunately the general audience won’t either. They want name recognition.  

I’m a heterosexual white male. I have plenty of heroes to look up to. I think it’s time to share. 

The Times We’re In

Regardless of your political persuasion, never, ever forget this: The only reason you’re not in an overcrowded holding pen, deprived of enough food and the right to clean yourself is because the government chooses not to put you there. If the government decides, for any reason, to round up you and your kind, then you will be rounded up. You can call it a concentration camp or something nice-sounding, but, regardless, that will be your home. At the moment, it’s undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. Maybe they’ll stop there. Maybe they won’t. All you can do is hope they’ll stop. Or hope someone stops them.  

This is our reality now.