What Is Really Challenging: Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi

The Rise Of Skywalker, supposedly the last of the mainline Star Wars saga is coming soon. And even so, people are still talking about Rian Johnson, and The Last Jedi. Even me. There is something about the eighth Star Wars film, and Rian Johnson’s own responses to fans that I’ve tried to explain, and put into words.

I mean, I even wrote an article for Sequart on The Last Jedi itself, and while it isn’t perfect, I knew the moment I saw it, it was going to become a classic: if only because of how controversial it was, how final it felt, and jarring, and experimental in some ways, while being conventional in others.

Then, I came across this article from IndieWire. It’s title is practically a thesis statement, and it doesn’t hide what it is: Rian Johnson Says Catering to Fans, Rather Than Challenging Them, Is a ‘Mistake.’ This title, combined with the subheading “I want to be shocked, I want to be surprised, I want to be thrown off-guard,” left me with quite a few strong thoughts on the matter, and I want to attempt to communicate them as clearly, and lucidly — as both a writer with critical background, and as a Star Wars fan myself — as much as possible.

A lot of what I am going to write is something that has already been written, or talked about, before. After reading the article, which derives its points from an interview Johnson made, and then states that some critics apparently believe The Rise of Skywalker is “disrespectful” to Johnson, his work, and the originality of what he was attempting to do, I was reminded of something.

In 2015, I took took classes in Ty Templeton’s Comic Book Bootcamp. And, in those classes, we learned many lessons not just about comics writing, but writing, world-building, and even franchise-making and supporting fandoms around it. It wasn’t completely indepth, but there was something Ty mentioned about “supporting a fan club.” Let me try to explain it as best I can recall.

Everyone likes to feel like they belong somewhere. Everyone, to some extent, also likes to feel smart, and informed, and included. Ty taught us about creating emblems, and certain recurring phrases, and the value of “always bringing a character home” each time for each new story or episode: figuratively, and literally. I don’t think about forty or so years, I need to explain how that concept particularly applies to a franchise like Star Wars. But there is something in particular about this that I want to make clear.

A lot of the time, fans will speculate on a work, or details within it. And, sometimes, they will come up with an idea of where something is going to go … and they will actually be either close to it — or completely right. And especially in this Age of Information, these speculations and their conclusions are more accessible and widespread: along with the means of more rapid and open communication.

There is nothing quite like figuring something out, and realizing that you were right. And, while some fans or audience members might be like Rian Johnson and say something like: “‘oh, okay,’ it might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me,” there is another contingent that will feel pleased, and enlightened. They might even feel a sense of belonging to that fan club. Of course, you can take that too far as well into the pedantic and condescending, but I think every story has a common source: especially human stories like mythology. Like Star Wars.

Back in ancient times, if you look at Greece, you have plays being created. And everyone knew about Oedipus Rex, Agamemnon, Lysistrata and the like from oral tales but they still watched the plays. The point I’m trying to make is that even if someone does predict a story, or they want something to happen, you can still give it to them … in the way that you want to give it to them. You focus on the details, on the buildup, the pacing of the narrative, on especially the character development. You don’t do it to give the fans what they want when and how they want it. Likewise, you don’t change the story, or the way something is going to happen just to “subvert expectations.” You do it to make a point, or make an interesting twist: to focus on the story itself.

There are a lot of interesting elements in The Last Jedi that I appreciate, such as Johnson’s critique of the cycle of violence in Star Wars itself. There is a bit of preaching and condescension, and the mess that is Canto Bight but there is also the meditations on the Force itself, the stop motion illustrating an ecosystem and circle of life and death, some words about self-actualization, and even a metaphysical look on how to break out of the cycle. Then you have the milking creature, and Luke Skywalker not learning anything after the lessons of thirty years ago when dealing with his nephew.

But all the Star Wars films are flawed in some way. I mean, I don’t even have to go into the Prequels now, do I? Or even some of the questionable decisions about clunkily revamping character origins like Ventress’ or Maul’s in The Clone Wars cartoons.

I can see, for instance, that The Last Jedi was meant to be an Empire Strikes Back as Johnson put it in the article. You have a story and even advertising build up to make you think A New Hope was going to lead to the enemy being defeated in the next film, but then you get that bombshell: only Johnson attempted to do this by subverting tropes and themes in a very heavy-handed, but clever manner.

The problem is, to imagine Yoda stating this point as I did in my other article, cleverness does not always for good storytelling make. And sometimes what some might see as challenging, can also be perceived as condescending.

This is especially true when you consider all the build up and hype towards Rey’s origins, Snoke’s and then … nothing. It’s supposed to show that those expectations are irrelevant and it is the current adventure and the concepts of overcoming war and hatred that matter more, as well as friendship and love being ascendant. But they are particularly abstract concepts. So is the cycle between good and evil, of course, but then we have the other issue.

What changed as a result of The Last Jedi?

Did the concept of war get challenged? Did the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force get scrutinized and be seen beyond a simple binary good verses evil dichotomy? Did Rey and Kylo Ren realize they didn’t have to be enemies and go into a Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis Hegelian dialectic: two opposites meeting to make something new, and challenging for the next film. According to the Indiewire article, as I mentioned critics are annoyed that Johnson’s innovations are seemingly being downplayed to “pander” to fan and fandom expectations for Star Wars in The Rise of Skywalker. However, it was Johnson himself who kept Rey and Kylo Ren on different sides. Rey is still on the Light Side. Kylo Ren is still motivated by the Dark Side. Perhaps they are challenged, as fans are supposedly challenged, but in the end their resolve is more or less the same: except for the regret in Kylo, which doesn’t matter as he continues on from that point until, presumably, the next movie by J.J. Abrams.

I could make a compelling case that Johnson uses the aesthetic or the seeming of innovation and subversion, but really just makes opposite, contrary trope choices that ultimately lead right back to the status quo. And this seeming of change or challenge, doesn’t really change anything. And it wouldn’t if it were simply a standalone film with its own story, but the issue is that it is supposed to be part of a nine film saga arc in which seven of those films said something else entirely. It’s jarring. And it does sometimes feel like he is subverting tropes to make it look clever, instead of actually focusing on character development and working with what came before, and making something cohesive after.

It reminds me of those creators that imitated the style and edginess of Frank Miller and Alan Moore’s comics works, but didn’t really look at the content or spirit of them. I’m also reminded of something EA Games apparently did where, apparently, when some fans figured out a major plot point in the Mass Effect series, the creators went out of the way to change it so as not to seem “unoriginal” or to have people guess their story, and not want to play their game. But they forgot the lesson: that the fandom, in solving that puzzle, would only make it more interesting because even they couldn’t realize all of the details, and it’s one thing to know something — like an ancient Greek tragic story — but it is a whole other thing to see it play out, even with that knowledge or good guessing.

I don’t know. Sometimes, I think that Rian Johnson in how he has dealt with the criticism of his work can be as condescending as some of the fans who also have a tremendous sense of self-entitlement.

Either way, it is all right to like The Last Jedi or this Sequel Trilogy. It is also valid to dislike it. But I do think that if it is ridiculous to think one is insulting a fandom over the change in a film in a forty year old franchise, it is just as silly to believe a writer is being slighted when something else is being written in a different tone from his own work: which is what he did to begin with, and even then he ultimately went right back to where it all started despite that finality of a child with a broom sweeping away the past, readying for the next words to be shown on a screen.

I’m Not Locked In Here With You: Todd Phillips’ Joker

So I wrote an article for Joker on Sequart a little while ago now, but while they eventually will post it, I have some other more personal thoughts on some of the themes in the film: mainly why I like it, and why I relate to it.

I tend to call this Joker, or this earlier phase of him, the Arthur Fleck Joker. He isn’t the same as the Mark Hamill, the Heath Ledger, the Jack Nicholson, or the foolish Cesar Romero depictions. He isn’t even the comics Joker, any of them. This is the phase, the dress rehearsal, before the agent of chaos that we are going to get. I’ve always been fascinated, you see, with watching something in the process of being created, or creating itself. I find the best kinds of art, or artists, are those that you can see are constantly working on themselves. Mark Twain has a quote about knowing the details behind the creation of a miracle, and how it can take away from the simple joys of just experiencing it, yet I am someone who likes to — to borrow a phrase from Neil Gaiman — see the work backstage, and how it adds to the performance that we are given.

This Joker is a moment of realization in progress, of living two different lies at least, and then finding out who he actually is. That is what I took away from this film. Let me be clear about a few things though: I do not romanticize the Joker that kills people for amusement, or is an abuser. The one in this film is very different from those other depictions, though there are some similarities with regards to his more destructive actions.

But I really, like I said, love the process. We see Arthur wearing the clown makeup when he is at his gig helping a shop sell its wares, but a man wearing a clown costume does not a Joker make. Even the nervous, involuntary laughter doesn’t make the Joker. Not even the killing of those abusive rich men out of self-preservation, or the one out of a sense of street justice makes for the Clown Prince of Crime. The flirtation with this image, the sensuality of it in the restroom with blood-splattered on his face, his wig and clown nose gone, and his ragged elemental features at that point are a start. But he’s still Arthur. He still wants to be loved. He still wants to be a comedian, and to stop hurting.

Even the white makeup he has on when he kills the person who betrayed him isn’t quite there yet, and this after he discovers what he is — where he came from, how he was betrayed far worse before — and preparing for what he is going to do. He wants revenge, but he also wants the pain to stop: for the joke that is his life to finally end. That is the tipping point.

I would even say by the time he makes it to Murray’s show — to the man he used to look up as a father-figure before he publicly humiliated his non-neurotypical behaviour on television for laughs, and didn’t think anything of it — and when he decides to kill him instead of himself on national television, he’s still not Joker. But what started as practice in that restroom, and then choreograph when he danced down those flights of stairs, and then self-awareness by putting on a clown mask to hide in the discontent of Gotham’s lower class that made his actions against the rich into a memetic force, followed by one great bellow of selfish vengeance on a man and system that failed him … ends when he gets out of that car crash, and he uses the blood coming out of him to make a bloody smile on the costume whose lipstick had already faded. It was cheap and artificial. Now, the blood makes that twisted smile real.

Watchmen is bandied about a lot in terms of comics references. Hell, it even made it into the title of this Blog post. I don’t need it to sell Joker that’s already sold its own soul to the Devil of our collective imagination. But there is this idea in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work with the vigilante Rorschach. He starts out with a troubled past of childhood abuse as well, but that doesn’t make him Rorschach. It doesn’t make him Rorschach when Kitty Genovese is brutally raped and murdered publicly and her neighbours do nothing, and he vows to become a masked hero to stop other such incidents. He’s still just Walter Kovacs, an abused child taken to foster care, wearing the mask of Rorschach. Rorschach is still his alter-ego.

It isn’t until he hunts for a kidnapped baby, and finds out that the kidnapper fed the child to his dogs, and he burns the man alive that he isn’t Walter Kovacs anymore. He realizes he is Rorschach. And when he is hiding in plain sight as that Prophet of Doom in the background, Rorschach wears Walter Kovacs as his mask, just as the Joker wears Arthur Fleck’s face as a mask at the end of Todd Phillips’ film.

We can go into how in Star Wars Darth Sidious was the real self of the man who wore the mask of the politician Palpatine, or how Batman’s secret identity is Bruce Wayne — though that last is highly debatable, though appropriate given that this article deals a great deal with his arch-nemesis. What I’m trying to illustrate is that none of these alter-egos becoming true identities happened overnight, or had always been their true selves. Parts of these personalities, these culmination of experiences, were there but there were other circumstances, and reactions to those events that precipitated the processes that made these happen.

That is how I understand a lot of what I’ve been going through this particular year. I don’t romanticize these characters. I think there are aspects of them, as archetypes, that are really fascinating and relatable, but they are not heroes. The Joker is not a good person, even if there are parts of him — of this one, and even his “burn everything bad to the ground” or “watch this flawed, disgusting world burn” attitude that my Id can sympathize with.

I guess the best way to describe it is that 2019 has been a different year for me. I’ve new people. I’ve had some new experiences, or explored them in a whole other way. I’ve been angry, and scared, and frustrated. I’ve delved into that fear. I’ve confronted it. I’ve pushed my comfort zone. I’ve worn my makeup and my masks. But I’ve realized that identities, especially those that we associate with things and events, are fluid. They change. And trauma in particular is a massive force behind some of those changes. There are ways to explore that power — trauma — in controlled environments with calculation and experimentation. Writing is one of those outlets, and the confines of the imagination. But sometimes it’s also trading stories and interactions with like-minded people. Sometimes it’s putting old selves behind you. Sometimes it’s realizing you are angry, and accepting it, and knowing that you are changing.

I think the most painful thing is trying to hold onto the person that you were, with all those experiences — good or bad — to stay in the past, because you will never be that person again. You will keep changing. That’s part of your nature. Some core tenets will remain the same, of course. But you will not have the same experiences again. We hold on out of fear, or resentment, or a genuine sense of overwhelming purposelessness. Where do we go from here? What do we do? And why is it I have this inclination to know where I can go, or what I can do, but not quite get there before … something? Right?

This year, I felt myself let go of a lot of attachments and realize some things are gone. And that they, most likely, needed to be gone. I still have to deal with more of these due to logistics, but I now understand that I don’t feel the same about them as I did. I don’t feel the way I used to, because very naturally I’m no longer that person. And that’s not a bad thing. I can still feel sad about it, even angry, but it doesn’t change anything beyond whatever it is I do next.

I’ve been busy, confronting those parts, dealing with the anxiety. I have fascinating friends and explorations. And I’m lucky. I felt my old self beginning to wane, to fade, but to also be subsumed by my new choices, and activities. It’s sad and you mourn it, but there is no other way to go on: even if you do need to remember to pace yourself. Imagine being Arthur Fleck, though, and realizing that your old self never really existed to begin with. Maybe it’s not that different, as nothing is permanent. It’s not a science, but I will argue with you that it can be art.

And that’s what I’m making. Even if I don’t write as much as I used to, or stay indoors as much in front of my computer, I am still expressing myself, and thus making art. I might have been wearing masks, but they are closer to being who I am now than where I was. And even despite that, masks aren’t false things. They are organic and we are all different people in different situations.

The New Year is coming up. I actually had myself made up as the Joker a while ago, and this great, rumbling laugh came from my chest. I’ve dressed as the Crow, but as people like to quote from that movie and perhaps even the comic from which it came “it can’t rain all the time.” The Crow isn’t supposed to smile, apparently. But I laugh. I love to laugh. But I also like to be between states, and know how the meat is made, or destroyed. I like to hide in plain sight, and plan things out. But sometimes, when I can get past the fear I just go with it accordingly.

I’ve actually liked 2019. It’s so far been a good, but challenging year. I will keep shedding more of the old as I go on, and it won’t be easy. But we all know that “laughter” has an extra letter in front of it sometimes. And it isn’t so much that I’m trapped here with my challenges.

It’s that they are trapped here with me. And, when I can, I intend to have my fun.Laughing Me

The Neurodivergent Shadows in Us

There are going to be spoilers for Jordan Peele’s film Us, this movie that’s been out for months now, but sometimes that’s just how it has to be, and it wouldn’t make sense if I attempted to do anything else. Also, I am writing specifically about my personal experiences in relating to both this film and the following subject matter with which I try to engage.

Like Terry from his Gayly Dreadful article Tethered to the Closet, I knew practically from the beginning that Adelaide Wilson wasn’t “normal” and that, eventually when I learned about them, she was one of the Tethered. However, the difference I want to make clear is that while Terry related to her as someone coming to terms with being gay, I am not on the LGBTQ spectrum at all, I am also not American, and part of my reasoning for thinking she was one of the Tethered is because I am fairly good at guessing twist endings: being a writer, and a geek.

Yet there’s another reason why I can relate to Adelaide, and the Tethered.

Like Adelaide, I grew up as a child in the 1980s. And like the Tethered, who replaces her, who was the original Red and becomes the Adelaide that we know as the protagonist of Us, I grew up with developmental issues. I’ve talked about them before. These days, I would be called non-neurotypical, or neuro-divergent. My brain is wired differently from some perceived baseline in the mainstream population. I learn and I react in other ways in contrast to the current social paradigm. But, growing in the public school system of Canada and North America itself, I was given another label.

I am learning disabled.

Diagnosis is still relatively confusing to this day. Some of my disabilities could be confused with aspects of what some experts call the autistic spectrum, while many of my challenges have — ironically enough — been classified under the umbrella of nonverbal learning disorders.

Of course, I am not saying that the Tethered are the same — seeming to be clones of citizens created by the American government with their own developmental issues either by accident or design — but some of their characteristics can be seen as symbolic as some kinds of neuro-diverse behaviour. Terry, and other writers examining Adelaide focus on how she has a different, or inverted, sense of rhythm compared to others such as when she’s attempting to snap with the music that her husband Gabe is playing on the car radio. I remember her trying to also show her son, Jason, how to do the same thing: and this feeling I couldn’t describe came over me watching her. She looked both happy, and vulnerable, and awkward but genuine in that moment. It is a situation that the actress Lupita Nyong’o portrays well. She has, to some extent, learned how to match the rhythm, or mimic it enough where she is only slightly off. And aside from not being one for small-talk, no one can really tell the difference. Adelaide seems normal on a cursory glance.

She can pass as mundane.

At the beginning of the film, Adelaide is lost as a child in a boardwalk mirror house on the Santa Cruz beach. When she is found again, or seems to come out of the establishment, she seems to be rendered mute. Of course, we realize later that this isn’t the Adelaide that went in there, but rather the Tethered girl Red who has not learned how to vocalize, and her hand-eye coordination is relatively sloppy and haphazard. Her parents believe that something traumatic happened to her when her father lost track of her. They get her to see a therapist, they enroll her in dance courses — in ballet specifically — and she acclimates after a while.

When I was a child, I didn’t vocalize. Not really. I communicated in gestures, and grunts. It is one of the reasons I couldn’t stay in a mainstream daycare or kindergarten. My hand-eye coordination was also terrible: having what is called motor clumsiness. I didn’t really learn how to walk until later in my developmental period. My parents had me see therapists. I even had physiotherapist sessions where I rolled around on a giant ball and developed my reflexes more. My parents also enrolled me in a specialized kindergarten for children with special needs called Adventure Place. In fact, I had gotten so used to being there that when my parents were told I could attend mainstream public schooling, or I had to, I was so confused by the idea of “recess” and time before class that I got lost my first day at Thornhill Public School. And then, another time, I stayed on the school bus and the driver accidentally drove away with me: completely terrifying my parents even though I had, apparently, dozed off and had a nap.

I mean, I guess at anyone of those times I could have — or someone like me — could have found myself in one of those subterranean places filled with rabbits not unlike Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or its original title Alice’s Adventures Underground where I found a Shadow: not unlike those whom are forced to suppress their own feelings and mirror the actions those of their counterparts above ground against their will from the story that Red told Adelaide.

Do you want to know what I remember the most about my time as a child in the 80s, outside of therapy and all encompassing special educational spaces?

I was afraid. All the time.

My main memories of Thornhill Public School, were the dingy, yet antiseptic halls of the school itself with their old copper-coloured rubber glue stoppers, the long grey crooked scissors we used in art classes, and just how dark and old the basement was where the janitors had their office. I remember not wanting to be there, and wanting to be at home. I just wanted to go home.

At the same time, this was the period of the Beetlejuice cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fraggle Rock, and the Dark Crystal comics as well as You Can’t Do That On Television on YTV. Adelaide herself had C.H.U.D., The Goonies, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller in her early life, and while I hadn’t been exposed to 1980s horror and specifically those adventure art movies at that time, they were on my popular cultural periphery and they would have intersected. And I was always both fascinated and terrified by horror in the form of hearing about such movies, and also folktales. I fed off of these elements, and they became part of my intellectual DNA, especially when in my Special Education class with Mr. Phillips I learned how to actually read from Grades 1-3.

They got me through a lot of the fear, but I still remember those halls and that basement: a place not unlike the underground facility where Red — before she was Adelaide — then Adelaide herself having been captured and abandoned by Red — and all the other Tethered clones wandered around aimlessly. It always occurred to me just how easy it would be to get lost in those corridors, and looking at the Tethered, few can be as lost as they.

Even though my perceptions improved, I still had — and still have — spatial difficulties. I get lost all the time, and directions as well as maps don’t always make sense. I also have dyscalculia: a learning disorder that makes arithmetic extremely difficult to do in my head. I can add and subtract, but I am slow at it, and I can’t multiply or divide without extreme challenge, or a calculator.

I also used to fidget a great deal — and I still do. Usually, it is a way to express excitement, anxiety, stress, or all of the above. I’ve learned to control it publicly for the most part, but the mileage can vary depending on the circumstances and my comfort level. Sometimes, when I get into that state, it is a lot like a free-form dancing: and it reminds me of Adelaide’s own dance and ballet classes as she was growing up on the surface.

And then there is communication. Like I said earlier, in the beginning I barely if ever used words to communicate. And, even now, when I’m nervous I will either ramble a great deal to make up for a perceived lack of content on my part, or I will be quiet and utilize few words. Even looking at how Adelaide talks with Kitty Tyler on the beach, or has difficulty talking or expressing her emotions to her own husband reminds me of my own impatience, or discomfort with small talk — which I generally try to compensate by talking about very specific topics of my interest, and not always the other person’s next to me — as well as my challenges expressing myself in a public, or even personal situation.

I know I really felt for Adelaide when she was attempting to communicate with her husband about her feelings: about her lack of comfort being in Santa Cruz, and even her annoyance with him for making fun of her quirks. I’ve had that happen a lot: from children laughing at my slow talking or thinking, and authority figures telling me to stop talking to myself (as if I were embarrassing myself and not them), and even having partners who just didn’t understand why I couldn’t be more like everyone else. That is the social interaction disorder element of some learning disabilities coming into play. It’s frustrating. It is beyond frustrating. When I was in daycare, before Adventure Place, I apparently did not want to talk or interact with my peers. I just wanted to stay in my own world. And I recall feeling a lot of anger and resentment for having to be with others who either made fun of me, or just didn’t understand me at all.

Even later, having gotten more therapy, I would often not cut or make my art the way I wanted to, and I would get frustrated with my tools — with my hands — and my own coordination to the point where I would destroy what I was working on because it didn’t meet my own expectations. My psychotherapist has asked me on occasion whether I sometimes feel toxic inside, or outside: and often I say I feel both for this reason. And I can only imagine Adelaide, especially with her experiences having gotten out of the facility underground, and adapting to the world above, having similar feelings and thoughts.

And I adapted too. I went to Special Education classes, but aside from those I focused on my strengths. Whereas someone like Adelaide delved into dancing and ballet, I attempted to become an artist, and eventually a writer. Overtime, as I went through the ranks of the public school system and university, I weeded out the courses I had difficulty with and focused purely on my strengths. Eventually, in my own mind, while taking advantage of the extra time afforded me because I was a learned disabled student, I came across as normal. I could be like everyone else. I could be “high-functioning.”

I could pass.

But I never really did. And while Terry, in his “Tethered to the Closet” article talks about that deep, dark Shadow secret of his sexuality has he attempted to pass on the sexuality spectrum, I tried to pass on a psychological and developmental one, while knowing — deep down — that there was something in me that set me apart from a lot of my peers: that it was always there, that it will always be there, and I will eventually go back to it.

I did. A lot. I had to ask for extra time. Sometimes I needed further clarification for my tasks. And then, by the time I made to York University, I needed the label and diagnosis to accord me extra time to remain in my Graduate Program just to maintain my full-time status with only half a course load.

Yet that anger, it never goes away. That frustrated, helpless anger. The kind you have in the dark where you can’t talk, or relate. Where you can’t express your emotions. Or the very least, you can’t do any of these things in an acceptable way to the society or space with which you find yourself. People laugh at you. Or bully you. Or worse: sometimes, they just interact with you out of some sense of pity.

So you take those elements of yourself. You face yourself in that mirror much like Red and Adelaide faced each other in that fun house near the beach. You strangle it. You push it down. You chain it to a bunk post, take the T-Shirt, and hope no one realizes that you are an intruder: that you are wrong. But you even when you play along with your parents, as much as possible, even when you find a hobby, find a field to work in and justify your existence — even when you make relationships — that part of you that you thought you could hide, even in plain sight, will always be there. It will always be waiting.

And the society that you grew in? That made you? It does it to control everyone to an extent. It wants you to conform so that you don’t make anyone else comfortable. But it only goes so far. For me, I had all of that “extra help” until I was done with school, or rather school had been done with me.  Then there was no structure, nothing but more antiseptic institutions that arbitrarily help or condemn you like welfare and disability offices and organizations that force you to embrace your disabilities as your identity — the very thing you spend ages attempting to wean yourself away from — while mostly leaving you to wander around like Tethered clones abandoned by their creators when they couldn’t control them, or use them to control others.

The structure is gone. You are just lucky at times to have a place that will still feed and clothe you. And, meanwhile, other people have jobs, families, relationships, and something fulfilling while — often enough — you feel that a lot of them have an emptiness inside of them that mirrors your own, but they are just less honest about it. They have the appearance, the passing, of knowing who they are, and what they are going to be.

And I think at this point, I am talking less about relating to Adelaide and more about relating to the Tethered: to the quiet, angry, sullen, forgotten, grunting, gesticulating horde of people abandoned in the dark, that want more but can’t always find a way to communicate that. And the people above, everyone else who is supposed neurotypical or neuro-conforming? They are part of a society that made you and they are always showing how ideal their lives are in social media, or relying on devices like the Alexa stand-in Ophelia to show how affluent they are. It all sometimes feels like a fun house of distorted reflections, or shadows.

I guess, in this context, I can understand where the fear and the anger, cultivated by Red — by the girl who used to be Adelaide and left to atrophy in her own stunted hatred — would want rise up, while still holding hands together in that Hands Across America gesture from 1986 which is a parody of that superficial sense of belonging that is just, at the end of the day, for appearances. There is nothing sincere about it, nothing warm, or loving. But, in the end it is a gesture of defiance, of anger against the order of things, or the lack of order: of the system’s broken nature.

Just like these words.

So who knows? Maybe a long time ago, I wandered through the dingy, cold hallways of a basement and encountered someone who looked me like having wandered away from falling asleep on a bus, or getting lost not knowing what recess was, and I strangled him and took his place like some changeling in the night. Or perhaps, unlike Red, I actually killed him from the start and — if the conceits of Us are true — then we shared a soul, and that is why I don’t always feel whole. And when you disregard this hypothetical situation as the metaphor it is, there have been many times I’ve had to distance or destroy something in my life to continue to somehow be the person that I want to be.

And sometimes, it doesn’t feel like enough.

Maybe, like the Tethered, I am my own Tethered reflecting the abuses of the unreasonable expectations that I inflicted on myself. And who hasn’t had a time where they have been so angry themselves, hated themselves so much for not performing the way they are expected to, that they don’t want to destroy the system that made these expectations? To burn the whole shallow mess to the ground? Or with a cry of primal, inarticulate rage strangle the part of you that’s angry at yourself, that hates yourself, that you feel is sabotaging both your life, and the relationships of those around like Adelaide, who was Red, finally did to Red who was Adelaide — who she thought she abandoned — in that dark bunk chamber where she thought she left her, her dirty little secret, even her secret in plain sight, for good?

I didn’t even think about it that way, or thought I would write much about this beyond superficial comparisons until I sat down — past five in the morning going six — and realizing just how much this film affected me. Surely there are dark tunnels, and hidden cities in Canada as they are in America. I mean, the North American system probably uses these places, these mentalities, to survive. And I have known people, people I loved or thought I loved, or people who loved me, or I thought loved me — or they thought they loved me — who are so similar to the people that Jordan Peele depict through his version of the doppelgänger as a central monster symbol in Us.

I think it safe to say that, in addition to feeling an affinity to the cognitive difficulties of the Tethered, I have also known, and loved people like Adelaide, and it is amazing how you can be so close to someone because of your shared differences, and so separate from them — and alone — for these exact same characteristics.

I guess I had more to say about Us than I thought beyond the fanfictions, and the film article I wrote a few months back. Certainly, this writing became more personal than even I’d anticipated. At the end of Us, Adelaide reunites with her family after rescuing her son Jason from her double. Jason is her biological son. Learning disabilities and neurodivergence according to some studies are genetic. They are passed down. Jason has always, throughout the film, fidgeted with a broken lighter and loves to hide in a cubbyhole in his grandparents’ cottage. He also prefers to wear a monster mask.

At the end of the film, he seems to realize that his mother is a Tethered, not long after she comes to grips with it herself. She puts her fingers on her lips. Her daughter Zora doesn’t seem to take after her, and her husband still doesn’t understand. Throughout the film, Adelaide is terrified of Jason becoming lost in this world, like she supposedly did, like she actually had been. Jason, for his part, takes his mask and places it back on his face: hiding himself, quiet, yet colourful. Defiant. Adelaide also puts hers back on, but it blends in, it’s unremarkable. She pretends to be mundane again. Jason’s mask, by contrast, still stands out and I think there is something to that. To accept that you are different, and to own it.

Or something to that effect. Personally, I just think that Jason’s monster mask is pretty cool.

Chasing Amy And Reviewing The Laurel Leaves

I wasn’t originally going to watch this film. In fact, my plan was to avoid it into the unforeseeable future. In the beginning, back in 1997 when Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy was first released, I just wasn’t interested. At the time my interest in comics and superheroes was waning and I was in the phase in my life before I went into any conventions, panels, geek communities, or had any relationships. Later, after I got back into comics and saw them for all the adult potential they could contain, I still didn’t watch this film because I’d heard about the messiness of the relationships between them and, at the time, I didn’t understand and I wasn’t interested in subtexts of other sexualities, geek subcultures, the minutiae of romantic comedy and failed relationships beyond the theoretical, and I felt safer in my own head.

Much later, after opening myself up to more life experiences, the reason I avoided Chasing Amy was out of fear. In retrospect, it was always out of fear. It’s only know that I’ve realized that by avoiding Chasing Amy that I’ve actually been running towards it. And tonight, for the first time, I decided to actively run towards what I can see of its heart.

If you don’t want Spoilers to a 1997 movie, please don’t read any further.

I think there are two reasons I kept away from this film. The first was that I knew how it was going to end. Knowing how a work is going to end before you experience it definitely affects how you might react to it.

And the second reason is that I knew its setting — at a convention amongst comics geeks and creators — would hit close to home. Holden and Banky’s introduction in signing their ridiculous superhero parody comic Bluntman and Chronic (modelled after the in-movie and in-Smith universe Jay and Silent Bob characters), with Holden’s high-brow intelligence and Banky’s sarcastic and hair-trigger irate temper — along with how they dealt with and understood their fandom — already threatened to draw me in. Even Hooper X and his ludicrously over-the-top Black Power White Man hating persona — to the point of claiming Darth Vader to be an icon for Black slavery and repression — got me to smile when I realized it was all a clever subversive act to keep up his image.

Then there is Alyssa Jones. She is the creator of what seems to be an even more subversive take on the Archie comics genre through the creation of Idiosyncratic Routine: a comic with what seems to be lesbian or queer oriented relationships story. I really appreciated some of the subtext here: that throughout the interactions in the beginning of the film towards the end we are seeing the difference between generic superhero comics and the personal stories of which they are capable of telling.

Idiosyncratic Routine

To be honest, I didn’t want to like anyone in this film. To be fair, it would have been worse when I was younger: back when I hated crudity and was taught to think it was wrong. Even now, the fact that all four characters had — at times — had superficial relationships with people. However, I also know there is a difference between casual talk at a bar and a character’s actions: as well as context.

The thing is, I can understand why each character does what they do and Kevin Smith takes pains to show us little details along the way. You can see Banky’s over-insistence that he isn’t gay, his homophobic comments, and his need to carry around an excessive amount of porn magazines as a major source of emotional compensation. He likes, at least his long-time homosocial friendship and creative partnership, with Holden and doesn’t want it disrupted in any way.

You can even understand Holden: at least in the beginning. Imagine being in a small bubble of society and only hearing about other things beyond it through spectacle and fiction. Then imagine you meet someone and you totally hit it off with them, or so you think — even getting invited to event by this person — only for them to begin making out with their partner right in front of you for an extended period of time. When I saw Holden sitting at that bar table with Banky, and watching — or trying not to watch Alyssa and her girlfriend of that time — I could see that for every time he told Banky to shut up, he was really venting his disappointment and discomfort: all the way to the point where he just wanted to straight out leave the bar.

Of course, there is Alyssa herself. As you get to know her, you realize she is a woman of some extremes. Sometimes, she genuinely seems to act like a very perceptive brat: knowing that she’s doing some shit-disturbing but entertaining herself in the process. And I say this with some fondness. She is witty, clever, and awkward in a way in which she can laugh at herself. At the same time, when she gets angry: she gets … angry. I’ll admit, Joey Lauren Adams’ voice has an extremely high-pitch and it can be off-putting: especially when drawing on the self-righteous fury of her character. But often, when she gets angry, it’s because Holden manages to trigger a place of hurt inside of her and she reacts accordingly.

But one thing I like about Alyssa is that even when she is an angry manic pixie girl, she still possesses enough self-consciousness to admit her faults and, honestly, has some painful moments of eloquence.

This is a woman who has spent a good portion of her life discovering who she is: experimenting with what she likes, who she relates to, and going to places that sometimes cause her pain. Unlike Holden and Banky, she’s a lot more aware of who she is and what she wants due to the struggles in getting there.

You have to figure Alyssa has gone through a lot. She experimented with her sexuality when she was younger and less mature. Boys took advantage of her and spread rumours and video tapes depicting her acts with them. By the time where Chasing Amy starts she has already dealt with having to come out of the closet and deal with her sexuality in college, fully identifying herself as a lesbian.

And then she and Holden meet each other.

Alyssa’s sexual orientation is not primarily where the tragedy begins in this dynamic. Imagine coming out of the closet: to yourself, to your family, and friends. You have a group of friends that orient their group and political identity around a particular sexual orientation. Then imagine meeting someone, a person, who challenges all of those preconceived notions. Holden, who seems to be a straight man, can’t begin to understand just what the implications of their attraction actually might mean for her. Alyssa could, and seemingly does, get exiled from her group of lesbian friends. And while I’m sure this doesn’t always happen, this phenomenon is definitely known to occur. In fact, what Alyssa seems to go through, at least in that one brief scene around the table with her friends, is reminiscent of works such as Gaming Pixie’s What’s In A Name? in which some gay-identified people consider bisexuality to be a fake designation: a cover for someone pretending to be gay but who is secretly straight.

It’s tempting to say that just as Banky’s internalized homophobia might be the result of repressed homosexual feelings towards Holden, Alyssa runs — and arguably succumbs — to the danger of dealing with some internalized and externalized biphobia. However, as I said Alyssa has done the work before and gradually accepts Holden as the person that she loves beyond sexual orientation, social structuring and despite — even because — of his messiness as a human being.

Holden, unfortunately, can’t seem to afford her the same courtesy. He has never had to deal with figuring out who he is to this regard. Moreover, he is still hung-up on power dynamics and hierarchy: on needing to feel equal to Alyssa in terms of experience. He ignores the fact that she loves him as an individual and not for the “prestige” of being “the first man” she’s slept with.

Chasing Amy Breakup Scene

One sad element about Holden is that there are points in the film where you can see him beginning to change. You see him calling out Banky on his homophobia and questioning just what kind of creative work and legacy he wants to undertake instead of the shallow superhero story of Bluntman and Chronic.

You see just all the time Holden and Alyssa spend together: even before they know they are developing romantic feelings for one another. Hell, there are points when Alyssa and Banky seem to get along. You’d think that she would get incredibly offended by Banky’s homophobic statements, but the way I see it to her they are a lot like Archie Bunker’s comments and she can at least respect the honesty of them if nothing else.

Alyssa and Banky

Certainly, Banky’s prejudices are a whole lot more open than Holden’s internalized ones: ones that he thinks he can overcome by virtue of being with Alyssa. Also, the characters themselves are crude and open about matters generally: though Holden himself due to his more reserved and conservative nature does this a lot less.

For me, Chasing Amy is less a romantic comedy and more of a tragedy: especially as you get this horrible mounting dread as the film moves towards its end. Holden just can’t shake off the taboos and power-structures in his head in time to save his relationships. In a horrible mangle, he tries to create a threesome between him, Banky, and Alyssa: after vehemently rejecting Alyssa for her sexual past with other men. This is a breakdown of communication and the terminal phase of a relationship gone dysfunctional. From my perspective, Alyssa should have told him about this past but, really, Holden should have been the one to ask her in a direct and respectful manner, outside of a hockey game, and with time put aside. Of course, Holden also should have borne in mind that many of the qualities he admires in Alyssa comes from all the experiences, mistakes, and work that she had undertaken.

Banky could have looked at himself and realized his feelings for Holden: or at least communicated just why Alyssa bothered him so much. I really noticed that the three of them could have easily been friends if nothing else.

Holden, Alyssa, and Banky

And then there is the fascinating element of Alyssa herself. When I was watching this spectacle unravel and she was explaining to Holden just why it wouldn’t work, I realized that Alyssa wasn’t just talking about the threesomes and play that she had done in the past. Even in her lesbian relationships, I strongly suspect she and previous partners attempted polyamory: or at least some kind of non-monogamy. As she states, there are many permutations of how it might not work out, and Alyssa herself saw those earlier relationships as experiments that she went through before finding what and who she wanted.

Alyssa, at least at this point, is monogamous and wants to be so with Holden. But Holden’s arrogance and insecurity poisons and destroys what they had: or could have had. Certainly, Holden’s fever-logic idea of creating a threesome to eliminate insecurities would, by Alyssa’s own words, have only made things worse. Perhaps with time, effort, patience, and actual talking — maybe even experimentation on Holden’s part and Alyssa’s understanding — all of this could have been salvaged. Instead, Holden loses Alyssa and Banky. Due to his own actions, he is essentially left with nothing.

The end of the film reminds me of the ancient Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo. The god Apollo seeks the naiad Daphne and she is not interested in his romantic overtures. He ends up pursuing her: chasing her to the point where she asks her river god father to change her into a tree to escape the god. Daphne became the first laurel tree. Apollo, in his grief, takes on her laurel leaves as his new crown. Laurel leaf crowns were awarded to ancient Greek athletes and victorious Roman warriors: perhaps reminding them of that kernel of defeat and loss at the centre of triumph.

Apollo and Daphne

Silent Bob tells Holden the story about a girl he knew named Amy who, because of her previous experience with multiple men, he couldn’t accept: leaving her and realizing, only too late, that she loved him just for who he was. Hence we have the title of the film: Chasing Amy.

A person is not an ideal even if they can, by their presence and loss, inspire creation. Holden ends up creating a new, personal comic sharing the title of the film. He gives a copy to Alyssa a year after their relationship ended. It is a comic book whose pages are laurel leaves and whose panels are lost moments of time. It is made up of the beauty, maturity, and understanding that he gained after losing the woman he loved by chasing an impossible ideal and, in doing so, chased away the flawed, vulnerable, and ultimately human person that she is.

And Alyssa? She ends up dating women again and doesn’t even acknowledge what Holden was to her newest partner. Even though he still clearly means much to her, he is part of her past now: the same past that she hid from him and so many others in order to psychologically protect herself. I’m even tempted to say, in a very less than qualified way, that she buries down what might have been a delving into bisexuality to embrace the relatively easier notion of homosexuality once more, leaving us with perhaps an example of bisexual self-erasure. Or, again sexuality doesn’t come into it. This was just about people relating to one another: and failing.

I am not in the LGBTQ spectrum and I know this film has been written about many times and probably in better ways, so hopefully you’ll understand when I say that I hope you take everything I’ve written with a grain of salt. After seeing the movie, I kind of wish that we could see another one: not from Holden’s perspective in gaining his laurel leaves, but Alyssa’s, or Amy’s — or even Daphne’s — defiance of that trope.

Chasing Amy Comic Cover

As such I hope it goes without saying that women, obviously, do not exist so that they can “be lost” by men in order to gain them a certain level of maturity and humility. But there is a trope here — a Western and Classic idea in which love is a “forbidden knowledge” that you must fall into, and that only through loss can you begin to understand who you are — and it is tragic in that it exists at all. The truth is, I didn’t want to like Chasing Amy: a personal enlightenment tragedy wearing the layers of romance, comedy, geekdom, comics arts and meta-fiction that it is. And I realize the reason I was so afraid of it was because there were many times in my life that I almost became Holden. Sometimes I’m afraid it still might happen.

Fear of loss is reason is why I didn’t want to get attached to the characters: to become affected by their loss and their pain of loss. But by not becoming attached to something, you attempt to hold off relating to it — and by not relating to it you can let an opportunity pass you by, develop a dysfunctional relationship with it, or let a part of yourself become mangled and ruined before it can grow. And I can’t do that any more.

I’d like to think that, in watching Chasing Amy I took a chance and looked at the forces that shaped it. As I have attempted to do in my own relationships, I accepted the experiences it had — and has with others — and realized that they only made it all the richer for me to learn from and relate to in my own right.

To The Room: You Fail At What You Pretend To Be … And That’s Ok

So let me just say, right now, that I watched Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. In fact, not only did I watch The Room, but I read Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist even before seeing the film which, I’ve been told, is highly irregular in the scheme of things.

A long time ago, I read Thomas Mann’s “Tonio Kröger.” And there is this one scene in that story that never left my mind. The aforementioned protagonist is watching his classmates dance. They are blond-haired, blue-eyed, and uniform. The dancers do not pay as much attention to why or how they dance, so much as they are just good at performing this communal act. Meanwhile, dark-haired Tonio knows that he can’t dance as they do, but he actually observes and understands their dancing far better than many of them ever can.

And then, there is the character of the dark-haired girl. She, unlike Tonio, doesn’t understand — or perhaps want to understand — that she doesn’t fit into the synchronous dance of her peers. Still, she continues to dance with them. She dances with them while stumbling around awkwardly, and even physically hurting herself. Her movements are not at all in unity with the other dancers and she stands out from them no matter how much she wants to fit in.

Now consider that someone like Thomas Mann’s dark-haired girl knows, deep down, that they’re different and just thinks that more intensity will make up for it: more passion, more resources, and more random elements. Aside from the fact that someone should definitely, if they haven’t already, write a story from the perspective of the dark-haired girl, I think you can see where I’m going with this comparison with regards to The Room.

I’m not going to go into the many flaws of this film because many more qualified people have gone to great lengths to describe them all. But what I think is really intriguing here, especially since I read The Disaster Artist first, is how you can arguably state that this is the closest thing I’ve had to seeing the inside of another person’s mind on film.

So here is my own tentative reading of The Room.

When I watched The Room I thought of a mind that wants to accept reality at face value: both with regards to its immediate environment and its cultural surroundings. It searches for all the tropes, all the archetypes and stereotypes: all of the human stories. In particular, it looks at American culture: at the American Dream of the frontier and wide open spaces, a successful career, romantic love and marriage, friendship, family, and relations between the genders verses a cramped psychological place of disappointment and dysfunction. In particular, it tried to go into that place of love and tragedy to create something of a … narrative.

This attempt to create connection between these elements fails. There is a dissonance underlying all of this mind’s attempts. You see it in the way that words and sounds are out of sync with the actor’s mouths: particularly those of the protagonist Johnny. The film opens up with an almost pastoral theme amid a distant sunny splendour that never seems to completely reach the characters except for those rare moments of sublime silliness between them. Love and sex is accompanied by music that sounds suspiciously like a stereotypically tacky and kitsche soft-core porn soundtrack: while ending off the film after the final death.

And sex and death are seen as awkward, dissociative things. Bodies never really quite find themselves in the right places: and even the death at the end is a long time in coming. It’s like a mind and perspective that just can’t link the ideas, emotions, and people together no matter how badly it seems to want to do so. You can see it even in how the actors behind the characters, and how the characters themselves want to reveal their truths and themselves. They’re trapped in the marble of ideas and meshed together: only connecting intermittently.

The parts and ingredients are all there: even if it seems like the mind of this movie is looking out at its world from a mishmash of extra body parts. It’s like a soufflé that didn’t rise, or a Frankenstein creature that never galvanized into life. And I think it is a horror story in how causality and even space and time are never really consistent, with the strangeness of the roof exit and the unexplained additions and disappearances of different characters.

At the same time, I also look at The Room as something of a tragedy: of realizing that there is a mind that so desperately wants to hold onto the conventions of its surroundings that it ends up revealing their flaws. In an attempt to reveal a truth through non-sequiturs– of pathways leading nowhere — it unintentionally and accidentally satirizes and parodies what it attempts to love and glorify: be it American culture, the Dream, human relationships, humanity, life, and itself. And yet, even in all of this, there are moments of sublime ridiculousness — in the form of football throwing for instance — that are almost peaceful and serene in the way that the characters play with each as though they are children. Those are perhaps some of the most wistful, surreal, and innocent segments of this entire film: this strange cinematic reality.

The writers David Gilmour and C. Anthony Martignetti both seem to agree that our minds play our lives, desires, and pain within the theatres of our mind’s eyes. And here, in Tommy Wiseau’s film, we are looking into one such theatre. And this mindscape, this inner theatre, this place is called The Room. Certainly, after reading The Disaster Artist the movie’s scenes with Johnny talking about how he met Lisa, and Lisa explaining how Johnny takes care of Denny take on a whole other connotation.

I’m not going to lie: The Room, and The Disaster Artist exposed me to something of a paradox from which my brain is still attempting to recover. The experiences I witnessed and read about were painful, hilarious, sometimes depressing, and just outright puzzling at times. But all of it was a fine study in just how someone creates their own mythos: a creative process that seems to have translated over to Tommy Wiseau’s sitcom project The Neighbors. Certainly, there is at least a consistency in how Tommy Wiseau seems to act and work if you are interested in looking at his AV Club Interview: and I can’t help but wonder what would happen if he had ever met the former Torontonian bicycle shop owner Igor Kenk with his own unique world-view. Would they get along, or would the universe implode?

But when this is all said and done, I think The Room is its own person: a mindset that fails — spectacularly, beautifully — at being what it pretends: namely, at what it thinks is normalcy. And that’s okay. Here, at Mythic Bios, I absolutely adore being able to examine another form of personal reality. In fact, I’d like to think if The Room were an incarnated personality it’d be what would happen if the dark-haired female character from Thomas Mann’s “Tonio Kröger” tried to dance with our contemporary reality: except she would be a blonde and she insists on being what she pretends to be instead of who she really is: and what I think is an even greater tragedy. She attempts to embrace what she thinks is supposed to be normal yet she can never be so by her very nature.

And her name would be Lisa. Because, even after watching you Lisa, you are tearing me apart.

The Room

This is Halloween

This will be the first of two posts that you will see today.

I spent a lot of weeks before and during Halloween differently. When I was a child I would be inundated with television specials, movies, school events, and trick-or-treating. As an adolescent, I spent some time with my group of friends. In my early adulthood I spent a lot of it by myself trying to remember how happy I used to be and imagining all the other people who were having fun that I did not. I spent the rest of my young adulthood, alternatively, with friends and sometimes on my own.

I almost went to a Halloween party last year but I didn’t. I was too depressed and I did what I often do in that state: sleep and work.

This past while I’ve been doing something different for Halloween. Instead of wandering around outside at night in the dark aimlessly, or watching television, or hanging out with friends and lovers I have been busy.

I have been busy.

Last week or so, I covered six films in the 2014 Toronto After Dark for GEEKPR0N. I even covered an extra day, a Wednesday, so I could watch one film that was recommended to me. Those of you that read this Blog or my work at GEEKPR0N already know about this. I wrote reviews on The Drownsman, Wolves, Late Phases, Wyrmwood, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, and Why Horror?

And it was difficult. There were many times I thought I could just watch the films, then go straight home, and write something out that night. But even though I got wiped out, it was totally worth it. The irony is that once, long ago, I was told that I should write reviews for movies — or movies like these — and I didn’t think I was qualified to do so. It’s only in relatively recent times that I’ve realized that the only way to be qualified to do anything is to make yourself so, and start to believe it.

I got some other things published in honour of Halloween as well. Not only did I write a nice short article on the end of Kris Straub’s Broodhollow Book Two, but I got to examine and see just how a creepypasta created by Eric Heisserer the subreddit no/sleep truly lures readers into fear and trepidation. If you have read my articles on creepypastas, you know something of what you might be in for when you read this particular piece of mine.

But I think there is one achievement in particular that I can really be proud of mentioning. Do you recall, that week or so ago before I went off the Mythic Bios grid again, that I was doing another interview: this one live and in-person? Well, with the help and guidance of GEEKPR0N and Toronto After Dark organization … the following actually occurred.

David Hayter Fav and Retweet

Not only did David Hayter, the screen writer of the first two X-Men films and Watchmen as well as the voice of Solid Snake favourite and retweet my review of his movie Wolves I also got to interview him before Werewolf Night at the Toronto After Dark.

You can find my interview with David Hayter right here.

So that has been my time leading up to Halloween so far. The rest of what I intend to do, however, is as follows. Later this evening I am going to the Silver Snail Halloween Party: the same one I didn’t end up attending last year. I don’t have a costume idea as of yet and I’m having some difficulty finding make-up after my last misadventure but I’m going and to anyone living in Toronto or nearby, I hope that you will join me. It’s organized by GEEKPR0N, in part, and it makes some pretty awesome parties and I don’t intend to miss this one this time around.

The next day I’m going to the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery to pay a visit to Drawing For Deb: In Support of Epilepsy Toronto. There will be signings and a 12-Hour Comics Marathon: Special Edition there to raise money to combat epilepsy which claimed the life of Debra Jane Shelly: a well-known friend of the comics community and someone that I only began to know when I first started coming to the Lounge. She was an awesome person and there will be some good people there. I’ve realized long ago that I am just not an artist with pictures, so I will be attending to pay my respects and I may not be there the entire day.

And then the next day I will be going to Horror-Rama: an all-horror convention where I want to explore and particularly meet Jovanka Vuckovic: the brilliant upcoming director of the Jacqueline Ess film adaptation.

Then somewhere, somehow I will catch up with my Doctor Who recaps and next week get back to my fiction writing and probably sleep for a few centuries as I am bloody exhausted.

So this is both what I have been doing, and what I am going to do. It’s funny. When I was reviewing Why Horror? I started thinking about just how it is effective. When I was a child I read many abridged versions of horror stories, listened to and read written down folktales and urban myths. And I would spend time in the now-defunct Hollywood Movies store reading the backs of horror film VHS tapes. I would attempt to avoid watching them, scared of being caught in the web of their details and becoming committed, but so very fascinated with what I might find.

Not much has changed. I think the reason that horror is so fascinating is the fact that when you look at all the gore, the grisliness, and the uncanny you see what you are not and you also get to see a bit of what you are. You are ultimately safe and in sensible surroundings, or so you think, and it gives you a rush of life — of vitality — in the autumn.

That’s why some people have sex after watching horror. That’s why some people have an urge to create stories and study mythologies after watching horror. That’s why people gather around their friends and celebrate their grisly façades: the orange light in the darkness. That’s ultimately why I’m rambling right now.

I’ve spent my life fascinated by, and avoiding life. But it lures you in. It is the ultimate horror but it is also a spectacle, and best experienced in good company. I hope that, today in sharing all of this with you, that I got to be the latter.

Happy Halloween, my friends.

Star Wars: Preludes and Interludes Of A Space Opera

I think that if I were a Time Lord, I’d be a unique one that specializes in travelling to alternate timelines: not because I originally intended to, but due to the fact that these are places to which my senses are attuned.

Lately, not to mix metaphors, I’ve been thinking about Star Wars. I mean, when aren’t I? But bear with me. Imagine, in that period between 1980 and 1983, when The Empire Strikes Back made people truly want to know what happened next, George Lucas came up with a plan: a long-term plan.

We already know and suspect that by Return of The Jedi, Lucas was planning on heavily merchandising the hell out of his universe. Some people even think the addition of Ewoks in the last film was an attempt to particularly appeal to children and their love for toys. Even after the sixth film, we had cartoons like Ewoks and Droids.

But what if it didn’t stop there? What if aside from the made-to-TV Ewoks films George Lucas had wanted even more merchandising. At the time, LucasFilm was in the process of developing its special effects technology that would be utilized not just by itself, but by other companies and film productions as well. Even so, by the time of the cartoons it had only been a few years since Return of The Jedi and people — particularly children — were still fresh off of a galaxy far, far away and wanted more. More than that, and I can speak for myself here, fans had questions: about the Jedi, about the Republic before the Empire, and the Clone Wars themselves.

Many of these questions had been answered with the new CGI Clone Wars cartoons and the Prequel films — albeit with some gaps even now — but there was a gap of at least, what, seventeen years or so, between the films: where many of us waited after the re-release of the Old Trilogy to find our answers and immerse ourselves into new Star Wars.

Yet what if during that time, we had something else to tide us over during near two decades of waiting?

Indulge me and imagine this. After the last film and the initial cartoons, LucasFilm decides to release oncoming series that takes place during The Clone Wars. Perhaps Lucas calls them, collectively, Interludes. During this time, we get to essentially see the Republic and the Separatist Crisis, and the Jedi Knights. We get to see a young Obi-Wan and Anakin actually growing together but, more importantly, we get to see something else as well.

Jedi Team

We are witness to other characters — other Jedi and galactic denizens — and we get to watch them grow. We are introduced to the clone troopers early and see them as individuals: while always wondering why they look so like and unlike stormtroopers. And there are hints of Anakin’s back story and how he met Padme. At this stage, perhaps a few seasons or an interrelated series of cartoons (perhaps aided in the 90s by one young Genndy Tartakovsky) and live-action programs: space opera serials not unlike the material from which their structure was derived. Can you imagine that? Coming home from school to watch your Star Wars show?

And yes, the intervening years between the early 1980s and the late 90s might not have much in the way of advanced graphics or special effects by our contemporary standards but imaginary worlds have been built on much less and with more attention to detail. I mean, look at some anime from that period, or even the Old Trilogy and how immersive it was for looking all run-down, and world-weary and real: letting our minds fill in the rest. I could have seen LucasFilm making a lot of money during this time. I mean, think of an Interlude series of Star Wars: Clone Commandos playing alongside G.I. Joe. Don’t tell me that wouldn’t be bad-ass.

Clone troopers

So during this whole time, you have all these background characters getting built up, living, and dying. You get immersed in their lives. Shaak-Ti, Aayla Secura, Kit Fisto, Plo Koon and the other Jedi have many adventures and you get attached to them. You see the Jedi Initiates as children and you want to be a Jedi: relating more to you directly as a child than even Luke does in the movies. Hell, you might even want to be Clone Troopers, have their special armour and play Clones Verses Droids along with Rebels Verses Imperials in the playground.

Of course, there would be comics and books as per usual. And then periods where there are no cartoons or shows. It makes the audience wait with anticipation. You build on the culture that you have already cultivated and created. The important thing is that you leave the questions. You have Anakin refer to his time on Tatooine and being a slave and you never know everything that happened. He has moments of darkness and you don’t know what caused them. You can tell Palpatine is doing something, but you don’t know where it all began or what even started the Clone Wars at all. Then there are the other questions about what will happen to the Jedi: particularly your favourite Jedi and their friends and comrades in the clones.

1999 comes around. Perhaps there has been some intervening years where the Interludes — The Clone Wars cartoons and live-action serials — have died down. Everyone is waiting. Now take the movies know from our timeline. If you want, imagine that the ideas created by George Lucas were written out by other writers: as he had those in the Original Trilogy. Maybe he even has others giving direction to the actors: those who can relate to them and have them react in believable and human ways. Scene-sequencing is interspersed with equal amounts of dialogue and action. CGI is cut down considerably and used sparingly: with a greater reliance on prop development and real world scenery.

The Phantom Menace reveals Anakin’s origins and just why the Jedi think he is so important. Attack of The Clones, three years later, shows us how The Clone Wars began. And, finally and heartbreakingly, we have Revenge of The Sith: where not only do we see Anakin fall, but all those Jedi characters that survived up until this point are mercilessly cut down by the clone troopers that we have, despite our better judgement as adults and adoration as children, grown to love.

Think of the impact of this alternate timeline. Think of how much we could relate to the death of Aayla Secura if we had seen her in various shows fighting for worlds and having her private moments with Kit Fisto. Think about Plo Koon and his time being a part-time mentor for Ahsoka Tano — perhaps even tutoring her in piloting — only to have his ship blown apart by one of his own clones. And the Younglings, those children you saw becoming Jedi … think about the horror in that.

How would you have viewed even the Prequels that we have now if there was all that build-up to the tragedy — a well-written tragedy — that was their Trilogy and the beginning of The Empire.

So now the Prequels are over. You know what happens. And yet … there are still some mysteries. Some Jedi are still alive or unaccounted for. A Rebellion has yet to form. LucasFilm, and perhaps Lucas Arts as it might still be around this alternate timeline can play with that. The fans are devastated by the impact of the Rebellion and Luke Skywalker is felt even more keenly. You watch the films again to know that the Empire fails.

Perhaps Star Wars cartoons and shows are divided into the Preludes — those dealing with the events before the Empire — and Interludes — those focusing on events during the Empire. Maybe some of these shows happen after the Prequels in real-time and others during the 80s and 90s. This is all you have to go on so far.

But everyone wants to know what happens next. They want to know what Luke and Leia do after the Empire falls. They have only had their appetite whet with the Clone Wars and the origins of the Empire. They want more.

And then, after 2005, ten years later after more shows and merchandising — and perhaps with the aid of Disney’s resources — we have: the Sequel Trilogy. The New Trilogy.

Of course, many people might have their own alternate ideal Star Wars watching timeline. Maybe there were no Clone Wars or Prequels. Perhaps the Sequel Trilogy happened right away. But there is something else to consider and it took me a while to personally understand and accept this.

It was Tony Pacitti in his pop culture memoir My Best Friend is a Wookiee that made me consider it. Perhaps one day, if not right now, there will be a new generation of children born. These children might watch The Phantom Menace and Attack of The Clones. Then they might watch The Clone Wars. Then Revenge of The Sith. Then the Old Trilogy. And the New Trilogy. They will see all the standalone films. And right now, it is all open to them. It isn’t perfect and there are gaps and questions, but they have mysteries to explore and wonder to consume.

It would be like us discovering the magic of Star Wars for the first time and their experiences would be different but similar to our own. They have so much more to see and know. They get to do what we can only dream of doing: living a life of imagination inundated by a variety of Star Wars: decades of Star Wars. And no matter way you look at it, this will be their first step into a much larger world.

My Depression is a Ginosaji

It was Winston Churchill that called depression his black dog. I never thought of actually personifying or embodying my depression into its own form before. I suppose I’m really talking about the subject of depression due to my absence away from Mythic Bios and having thought about the matter at some length.

But there are different kinds and variations of depression depending on the situation or the person. So, after really thinking about it and with Gaming Pixie’s unintentional helpfulness in the matter in attempting to get me back for sending her a disturbing video, I give to you my loyal readers what my depression would look like.

Yes, my depression would be Richard Gale‘s Ginosaji.

A Ginosaji (which apparently means “silver spoon” in Japanese) seems to be this grotesque, dark, awkward, lurking, creeping thing that beats you with a spoon. Eventually. At first, it’s the little details that simply irk you. And you try to ignore it, or dismiss it. But then the spoon beatings keep increasing and they never stop. You can’t power through it. You can’t kill it. You can’t ever completely blow it up. You can’t become it.

You don’t know why it is even there. And just as a shovel can slowly erode a mountain given time, so can a spoon beating begin to bruise and wear you down. And it is so ridiculous. It offends your pride. It is laughable that something like this can challenge your sense of self-worth and peace of mind. It embodies all the little things that shouldn’t bring you down: the bureaucracies of the world, getting your passport, preparing your trips, even responding to potential incentives … All of these things are just one ridiculous, banal spoon blow at a time.

And when you apply this to sufferers of chronic illness, the symbol of the spoon gains a whole other kind of connotation: the irony being that while you run out of spoons, the depression always seems to get them all.

But, unlike the main protagonist of the above short film, I have my methods of dealing with this particular demon. I can at least laugh about it. Sometimes. I suppose that is the function of the Ginosaji: a ludicrous symbol of the humour in, and the parody of, human suffering and existence.

That, or he is just a douchey demon with one too many spoons.

What? Did you think I could honestly resist another reference?

A Film Festival Double-Billing: We Are What We Are and Bounty Killer

So I am going to be doing something different. Not only am I going to make an early Blog post, but it is going to be a movie review: or more specifically two reviews back-to-back courtesy of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. I literally got an RSVP after applying for a Press Pass that allowed me to attend the opening gala of the Festival with one other guest–in this case my brother–for free. In exchange, however, I am to review both of the  films that we saw.

This has been a very busy but exciting time with regards to my writing, so let me get this underway: after an obligatory Spoilers Warning. The first film we saw was Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are. However, I would like to state that the film short–which the Toronto After Dark likes to include before every film–also bears some consideration.

It is an abstract film fittingly enough named Kin: which essentially is about a boy child who is on a quest to help a group of dancing shamans with strange masks summon a giant crow or raven. There is also a knight that was travelling by horse to the hilltop where the boy stands with his own wooden sword and shield. In addition, there is a small waif of a girl with pale blonde hair and a gossamer white gown who seems to have been waiting for the boy: only for him move past her, summon the creature, open his arms, and let the gigantic mythological blackbird either devour him or embrace him. The knight gets there just in time as everything ends and he and the girl just watch the sky where the boy had once been.

For me, it was an excellent segue into We Are What We Are because what we see is a child that, at first, seems to be challenging an ancient tradition or ritual while the adult–who seems to have power–almost helplessly follows him just in time for it to be too late. In fact, every time the boy stumbled, the knight seemed to stumble as well: which makes me wonder if the two of them are linked. Is the knight is an archetype that the boy pictures in his own mind before circumstances make him discard him: or pass him onto the girl? But in any case, and in the end, the boy–faced with the sheer power of mythology hovering in front of him–lets it overcome him on his own terms: leaving the idea of the knight behind to perhaps be born from the girl one day in order to continue a new tradition. This is what I got out of it anyway.

But in any case, Kin was an appropriate title when you consider what We Are What We Are entails. Just as it was outside the Scotiabank Theatre, so too was it raining at the beginning of this film. I will admit–much to my own eternal frustration–that there was a quote at the very beginning of the film that I can’t remember and it was even repeated verbally at the funeral scene. The reason I didn’t write it down at the time was because I thought it was a literary quote when, in actually, it came from a book that exists only in the film and I have not been able to find it since. I will get to that soon.

Essentially, We Are What We Are is a film about the Parkers: a family of cannibals that live in relative poverty close to a small town near the Catskill Mountains that eat human meat for religious purposes. In addition to this, the town doctor is still searching for his long-lost daughter amid a lot of flooding: flooding that carries strange objects with it in currents of water like flotsam and … old bones, for instance.

This seems pretty straightforward and not very original. However, there is more. The mother of the family drowns at the beginning of the movie: leaving her husband, two daughters, and young son in tremendous grief. And here we see something very interesting. The family patriarch Frank Parker–who is traditionally in charge of procuring their source of meat–could easily be portrayed as a complete and totally cold-hearted and  abusive monster. But he isn’t. He genuinely grieves for his wife’s death. It makes him completely fall apart to the point where his daughters–who love him–take care of him. If anything, it is the disconnect between what this family eats and how they still act as human beings that makes this film even more disturbing because you end up having sympathy for, well, the monsters.

It is no coincidence, when the middle child Rose Parker is reading to young brother Rory Parker about a “happy monster” that he says–after accidentally seeing the “animal” they were keeping in their basement–that the “monster is actually sad.” And the monster–the secret of the family–is sad. We find out that the Parkers’ holiday of Lamb’s Day began in the 1800s when their early settler ancestors ran out of food and nearly died in the wintertime. We find this out as Iris and Rose Parker are reading the book that has been passed down throughout all the generations of their family: detailing how the first patriarch’s two daughters found their father in front of the body of a woman and partook with him of her flesh. This was the beginning of the family spiritual epiphany: of that transgression to live and then ascendance beyond the taboo of eating human meat to find new meaning. This was the beginning of their Lamb’s Day: a man making a decision to undertake it and two girls deciding to carry on the tradition through their line. And, after all, don’t most religions begin with trauma?

There are, however, obvious consequences for eating human flesh: such as the lovely addition of Prion Disease: which includes tremors and tremendous brain damage. At the beginning, when their mother is trembling and essentially dies from the illness at the general store, a man says that the storm outside will “only get worse before it gets better.” And unfortunately for the matriarch of the Parker family, it only just got worse until it finally ended.

Yet the ending … The thing to understand is that the older daughters were thinking of abandoning Lamb’s Day and trying to become normal: hoping to find some way to get past their overbearing religious father. Unfortunately, this did not end well. The father begins to notice that the old bones of their previous feasts are drifting down the river and he begins to understand–even in his Prion-riddled brain–exactly how screwed they truly are. He also kills Iris’ boyfriend as they are about to have sex: as he is right on top of her. And then to add insult to injury, he puts arsenic in their Lamb’s Day stew–yes, that kind of stew–when he realizes they will all be discovered. So not only does Frank hurt his daughters–and you notice he never lays a hand on them, though he is so imposing he doesn’t even have to–but he betrays his oath to protect the family and the tradition.

What happens next is nothing short of watching a terrifying transgressive religious reformation of sorts unfold as his daughters, both dressed like Gothic Lolitas–fulfill their Electra complexes and consume their own father while he is still alive. Meanwhile, the Doctor–who figured out that Frank killed and ate his daughter–watches this all happen and, assuming they spared his life, I’m thinking at if I were him at this point of seeing this Bacchanalian horror unfolding in front of me I would really reconsider that long overdue retirement to Florida: provided a Dr. Lecter wasn’t staying nearby.

The ending was just beautiful to me in all of its gory horror. Iris and Rose manage to consummate their love and hatred for their father: defeating that monster that he is through even greater depravity. I mean, think about it: he and the family over many years at least prepared and cooked their food. These girls are eating him raw: while he is in agony. There is something more honest about this “back to basics” religious approach and also a rebirth. Because if they didn’t eat the Doctor at the end of the film or even kill him, while they are driving away with their baby brother and the ancestral book in hand what we might be seeing is the creation of a whole new kind of familial cult: of the women–who carried out the line–taking it away from the false civilized nature of the patriarchy and making it something new.

What is even more hilarious is this: at the end of the film, we got to ask the film-makers questions and one of the things that came up was that they not only planned a prequel to the film: in which we find out how Frank meets his wife, gets inducted into the Parker family and takes on the role of matriarch–of actually killing and preparing their human food–but there is going to be a sequel as well which takes place, of all places, in Mexico.

Now, let me make something else clear.

We Are What We Are is a revision, not a remake, of Jorge Michel Grau’s Mexican film Somos lo que hay which has all of the gender-roles reversed and a whole different ending. The idea was transplanted from Mexican social commentary into American religious criticism: and now is being transplanted in a weird sort of creative hybrid way back: to the point where the endings almost meet. I can only imagine Iris, Rose, and Rory Parker making a new family tradition: of only killing and eating criminals and otherwise bad people instead of the “shit where you eat” mentality and hypocrisy of their father who made them eat their town doctor’s young daughter. A shameful secret becomes a religious mystery once again and two girls come of age in blood and sacrifice. Perhaps now, when they finish reading their brother his story for the night they can now safely end it with, “And the monster was happy.”

So, after going twenty minutes later over schedule and a bathroom break my brother and I went to see the next film: which was Henry Saine’s Bounty Killer.

I don’t know how much I have to say about this one, but again the short L’Étranger was a nice and fun lead-in: an action sequence with a cowboy who, after killing and maiming everyone in a bar, was simply there to deliver a package on time. It was amusing.

As was this trailer for the following film.

Bounty Killer is a post-apocalyptic comedy action film that was originally taken from a Kick Start Productions comic book which Jason Dodson and Henry Saine also created–the latter of which seems to only be available in the iBooks Store–along with an idea for a 1997 animated series that never happened. So essentially what we are looking at is a film created from action, almost superheroic animation that didn’t completely happen, and a comic that in addition to its own self was made to help storyboard its very existence.

It is a tongue-and-cheek movie that takes place in a world that has suffered from the Corporate Wars: in which corporations eroded the world governments and caused mass chaos and suffering. In the wake of this, there is a Council of Nine formed in the Wastelands that creates the Bounty Killers: celebrity assassins that hunt down the white collar corporate individuals and their Yellow Tie minions as war criminals … though Darth Vader’s age-old admonition of “No disintegrations” seems to apply at least with regards to their heads.

As you can imagine, the violence is exaggerated not only in a stylized way–ala Matrix-level slow motion scenes cut with fast pacing–but it is literally parodied with some snappy one-liners and moments of pure, fun ridiculousness.

What is also really interesting is the way they set up two of the main characters. Mary Death is the former protégé and on again, off again lover of the first Bounty Killer Drifter: who is literally stylized violent sex. Drifter is not so much this, but he is an extremely pragmatic and clever man who used to be the head of a corporation before his company betrayed him by making weapons and he hunted most of his business partners down. As he put it, he was “sick of being behind a desk.”

In a sense, training Mary Death was one of his best decisions: as she unknowingly distracted everyone else from really looking at his celebrity status and into his past as a former Corporate. In fact, as I think about it now, Drifter most likely purposefully botched his kills–such as, well, disintegrating him–so that people wouldn’t pay too much attention to him compared to Mary Death and start hunting him.

Of course, this all changes as a bounty is seemingly placed on him by the Council of Nine: under his true identity.

Mary Death herself is a former member of a raider and infiltration group known as the Gypsies of all things. She approached Drifter ages ago to be trained by him in the arts of Bounty Killing: though how she actually knew what his real skills were like is unknown. She is a dangerous woman. Aside from my previous description of her, it is the best way to sum her up: although she does like to give autographs. She and Drifter a strange relationship in which she exercises independence and love by stabbing him non-fatally in the spleen and leaving him to chase her: at which on two occasions he has said, “She cut me … deep.”

What is really interesting is that Mary Death is set up in a way that makes her look like the protagonist of the film–even the film’s advertising has her as the central aesthetic figure–but the focus isn’t always on her. The film’s perspective alternates between Mary and Drifter: ending with Mary in an iconic sort of way. This film is also inter-dispersed with Heavy Metal-like animation and illustrations: making it not unlike, as others have pointed out, Kill Bill meets Mad Max.

Really, the film is crazy: just plain crazy. But it is crazy in a fun “what the fuck” way. It is also fascinating to consider how the “white collars” and Bounty Killers evolved as their own cultures in this post-apocalyptic future and how when you strip away that veneer of civilization a lot of this 1% to 99% we keep hearing about would become tribes of a different kind and the film definitely reflects the current cultural reaction against the former.

That said, there is one regret that I share with Henry Saine: namely, the exclusion of one aspect of Mary Death’s origin. He told us in the Question and Answer period that originally Mary Death was supposed to have been a child on an airplane during the Corporate Wars and that when the plane was being attacked; she was actually by what was essentially a bad-ass stewardess. Even though Mary Death was taken by the Gypsies after this, she never forgot that woman who defended her to the death–even though she had once worked for a corporation–and modelled her new uniform in her memory.

I did like this movie, but I have to admit that I was put off by the moral of love and independence being a knife in the spleen. But hey, if you are into that sort of thing who am I to judge?

And, after that film based after the Corporate Wars was over, we appropriately stopped off at the After Dark’s event at The Office Pub.

So this has been an ad hoc review of the Toronto After Dark’s opening salvo. I hope you enjoyed this and please, when you get the chance, watch these films. As for me, after seeing the last one I now definitely need to somehow watch Saine’s The Last Lovecraft: which was shown at an After Dark opening gala a few years back.

And I definitely need to do this sometime again.

The Point at Which I Could Bend Some Steel

Superman Bend

So here I am, sitting here, trying to figure out what my next post is going to be before tomorrow when I meet Neil Gaiman at the Danforth Music Hall. I’m neither feeling particularly creative nor really analytical right now as I am pretty tired. So I’m going to do something else. I’m going to address an issue that has been nagging at me for some few weeks now, if not longer, by reaching deep into my own considerable sense of gall.

Because The Man of Steel bothered me so much, I am going to make a fun experiment out of rewriting it. I’m not going to be too arrogant about this however. This will not be a script or even an official outline. I also have no delusions that everyone will agree with or even like what I post on here. This entire idea not only came from my issues with the current Superman film, but also from a question I have asked myself from time to time as an adult writer: how would I write a Superman story?

Setting aside the fact that I did make an idea for an evil Superman story–one where he is neither his Nazi, his Justice Lord, his Injustice League, nor his Red Kryptonite-infected equivalent self–I want to look at making at story with his inherent morality: his sense of goodness, his need to help others, that distant sense of loneliness, that humility and that emotional place where he feels all too keenly the sense of helplessness even and especially within great power.

So I am going to take elements of The Man of Steel, splice them with some ideas from Grant Morrison, Mark Millar’s Red Son, and–honestly–a whole lot of other places I can’t even name off the top of my head but ingrained themselves eclectically there for mash-up purposes. I’m going to make it even more interesting by creating four films from Man of Steel: though mostly out of a sense of clarity because I am pretty sure you can make more than three movies from even the basic elements that Zack Snyder’s film attempted to address without going into the TV melodrama of Smallville. Now, with the proviso that this is all going to be very crude and rudimentary, let’s get up, up and away with ourselves shall we?

The first film I could see being derived and reconstituted from Steel would solely feature Clark’s development. We’d watch as he slowly begins to understand that he is not like other humans. Perhaps we could see some brief scenes of him as a child: where his senses are still developing and he saves people from a bus. We also look at that moment when he realizes that a single temper tantrum could end another being’s life and the horror and resolve that sets on him then to do good. But most of the film would be him as a young man realizing that his powers have not developed yet, but what he has are considerable. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Kent keeps explaining to him, he can’t reveal himself to the world because they would not understand: even if he is Smallville’s second worst-kept open secret. Jonathan tells him that with his power, it’s not so much that he isn’t ready to face the world, but that he has to choose.

So while I like the 1978 film version of Superman where Jonathan Kent dies from a heart-attack and it teaches Clark a tremendous sense of humility, I can see the tornado scenario also working in a different way. Imagine, for instance, that Clark–not fully fast enough and not even able to fly and his very ability to “leap tall buildings with a single-bound” would be disastrous in a tornado had a choice between saving his father or a larger group of people in a car: perhaps even children. Imagine when beforehand Jonathan tells Clark to always choose “the greater good.” So Clark saves the larger amount of people–perhaps while Jonathan helps free some others–but not before Jonathan is carried off by the winds.

This kills Clark inside. He keeps thinking to himself if he had just been a little stronger, a little faster, if he knew his full limits he could have saved everyone. Having already questioned his origins while his father was still alive, he then revisits the ship that brought him to Earth and finds the crystal with Jor-El’s AI imprint on it. He uses the ship to activate the AI of Jor-El: whom he begins to realize is self-aware or as sentient as possible for an advanced piece of machinery. Jor-El consoles Clark–or Kal-El–and also offers to help him reach as much of his potential as possible. Even Jor-El’s AI is not completely sure how Earth’s yellow sun fully affects Clark but his advanced knowledge is a good start. He tells him about Krypton and what happened to it: how the core of the world that was being mined destabilized and even before that the Kryptonian civilization–through its culture of eugenics–was becoming stagnant and slowly dying. He mentions that he and his mother Lara got him out of there–their world’s last hope–before the planet was destroyed. I see this not as a flashback but through words: almost like how Obi-Wan told Luke about how Darth Vader betrayed and murdered his father.

So we see Clark travelling around the world in different guises–working through various gradations of a costume much in the way that Grant Morrison had him do–and Jor-El eventually suggests that in order to educate him further, he needs a place for himself. He informs him of a crashed millennia-lost Kryptonian scout ship. And this leads us to the military and Lois Lane. I can see that unfolding in the way that it did in the Snyder film and then she uses her sleuthing to track him down: as he still isn’t quite at that place where he can make a Fortress for himself.

I would definitely expand more on Lois as a reporter along with the Daily Planet staff. But then we have another element in play as well: our good friend Lex Luthor. Before Clark can get to that ship, Luthor–being an important inventor and multimillionaire corporation head–wants the alien technology on that ship. He is smart enough to adapt some of the Phantom drives to do some … interesting things. At first he is working with the government. He is commissioned to deal with Superman–whom the world begins to witness as he begins to interfere in some international affairs that his conscience can’t keep him away from–and he uses this technology. Unfortunately, Luthor’s zeal in eliminating Superman begins to grow and, already amoral to begin with, lives really begin to mean nothing to him in his goal.

In the end, Luthor’s experiments with Phantom Zone energy have some nasty repercussions with regards to destroying the balances of gravitational forces on Earth or something to that effect and Superman has to adapt fast to deal with them and mitigate as much of the damage as possible. I can see Luthor adapting this power to simulate another form of energy: disrupting the kinetic fields around Superman’s cells or something pseudo-scientific like that. But by this point Superman eventually does the save the day and Luthor is put behind bars indefinitely for his crimes: especially in light of some of the governmental deaths he’s caused. You have that nice contrast between a human genius who claims to want to save the world, but is endangering it ignorantly and arrogantly and an extraterrestrial born being that actually cares about lives and is actively trying to save them.

The people start calling him Superman–as does the Daily Planet–and children start making more colourful pictures of his current costume that is really a Kryptonian suit specifically with the House of El symbol of hope on it: which looks like an alien glyph of an S. Lois suggests to Superman that he adopt this symbol to be more relatable and less threatening to the people he is trying to protect. She also suggests that being a reporter might give him some insight on the level of human beings: that knowing how to help is more than just hearing the pleas of others, but to relate to them on their level. This draws on his own experiences growing up among humans and he agrees.

Meanwhile, due to Luthor’s delving into Phantom Zone energy, a rift opens and releases a vessel that was bound in there. Out of this ship are pods. And out of one of the pods comes General Zod. He realizes that Krypton is now gone and that he and his followers need to find a way to rebuild, to make a new order, to find “the Codex”–which materializes as a holographic Skull in a device he is holding–and in order to do this … this must find the one being that has the Codex.

Kal-El.

The second film is essentially General Zod coming towards Earth. At this point in the game, Superman is more developed and even has his Fortress of Solitude: working with the AI of his father. They come towards Earth claiming that he has the ability to restore their whole people and they want his help in creating a new world for them. They tell him that he has the Codex: which they explain in a detailed map of the Kryptonian genome and that they have a Kryptonian Genesis Chamber with many blank embryos. Zod explains to Superman that his father sent him with that information and he pretends to attempt to build relations with Superman and Earth: mostly by having Lois Lane accompany him to his mothership. Talk about the scoop of the century!

But there are some holes in what the other Kryptonians are telling him and Jor-El’s program tells Superman not to trust them. He explains about the coup that they attempted as Krypton was dying. They apparently to take advantage of the anarchy and rule a dying world that was already stagnant to begin with. Jor-El tells Superman that Zod was “a defective Military caste” warrior that betrayed his oath and even killed his biological self. When Superman confronts Zod, the General does not deny this and he actually admits they were once friends and he regretted the necessity of it: though he did what he had to do. Zod basically tells Superman how weak Kryptonian society truly was and they let themselves be deceived by those in power. He wants to make a new race of Kryptonians: but not on Mars or the Moon but on Earth where they can not only be mass-engineered into a Greater Military Caste, but the yellow sun of this system will make them into virtual gods.

The danger now is very clear. Even though the Kryptonians become disoriented in the light of the sun, not having gotten used to it like Clark, he knows that as genetically modified warriors they will adapt: and fast. He also knows that a battle with them will destroy countless human lives. His own understanding of Phantom energy is not potent enough yet to counter the Kryptonians or their weapons. But Jor-El knows what needs to be done, but he will need resources and someone else–a human mind–who is conversant with Phantom energy and can adapt it to human use: Lex Luthor.

Somehow a deal is reached with Luthor who helps Superman and the Earth governments develop something that could banish the Phantom Zone criminals back to whence they came. Perhaps the AI of Jor-El volunteers to deal with Lex directly and make him promises to give him advanced scientific knowledge and the possibility of his complete freedom if he cooperates him saving his species: on the surface making some promises that will not be kept in the long-term … or so it seems. Superman also develops his robots and defences–with the help of Jor-El–to fight the Kryptonians as they come to Earth: with Superman realizing he can’t fight them all on his own. However, some lives are still lost and Superman is still doing a good portion of the fighting: while trying to keep the Kryptonians away from heavily populated areas and the Earth itself. Eventually, a field is developed around the planet–with Superman, Jor-El, and Luthor’s efforts–to keep the Kryptonians out temporarily so that the former can deal with them. So we see Superman using his mind and his resources but also making some compromises he is not at all comfortable with.

In the end, Zod’s Genesis Chamber is destroyed, his minions banished through a Phantom flash-bang, and it is just him and Superman fighting. Before all of this, Zod explained the nature of the Phantom Zone as a prison: as a cold, suspended wasteland where one’s seemingly body-less mind can only scream in the numbness of white noise. After all of Zod’s treachery and realizing how monstrous he is–with the General actually threatening the people of Earth (having gotten to the point where he is back on the planet killing people faster than Superman can save him and using it as a petty advantage)–Superman gives him “the reason you suck” speech and does the worst thing to him that he can. Beforehand, Zod was in the Phantom Zone with a ship and his crew. But this time, Superman sends him back to the Phantom Zone all by himself and alone: with plenty of time to have his own actions become his sole companions.

But before Zod is banished, Zod at some point acknowledges and sees Jor-El’s AI program: who seems to pity him in a resolute way. Zod tells Kal-El that he is being a fool. A poor fool. And that the force that summoned him and his crew from the Zone to begin with, the same one that Luthor was experimenting with, will also bring the Collector and help him continue what he started… Before Superman can ask more, Zod is gone. Of course Luthor will try to betray Superman, but he will fail. What the audience notices, however, is that very briefly Jor-El’s face flashes with three interconnected green symbols: like he is glitching out. And then it is gone.

Jor-El

And now here is an interesting experiment. The third film is something I envision as a prequel. In it, we see Krypton and the story of Jor-El himself. Basically it is more of an expansion of what we saw at the beginning of The Man of Steel. However, Jor-El and Zod have more detailed plans to save Krypton or at least their people. But we also get more information on the eugenics culture and the failure of the outer colonies over time. More specifically, we see that the Kryptonian Ruling Council and society has become increasingly reliant on an AI program called The Collector–a somewhat aware data-gathering network of constantly expanding information–that modulates their eugenics and the energy they take from the planet’s core.

We see Jor-El and Zod’s distrust of this program and the laxness of the Council. I actually see Zod beginning as a sympathetic albeit biased character who slowly transforms into something more desperate and despotic over the course of the film. Jor-El begins to see two dangers: with the stagnation of the Council and Zod’s growing militancy. I can also see that Kryptonians have longer lifespans and Zod was involved in wars a long time ago with other species. Zod wants to expand out and conquer other worlds, even former Kryptonian colonies that may have split away. Jor-El believes the statistics of the matter in that these colonies failed due to a need for a specialized terraforming that did not work out. The last known colonists were on Daxam before communications ebbed and ceased entirely.

In the end, the Collector helps Zod stage a successful mutiny against the Kryptonian government: claiming to want stability and access to The Codex. We know that the Codex is the source of all Kryptonian genomes and Zod wants it to make a new more militaristic race while Jor-El wants to find it before Zod does and give his species a chance to start over in a different way. The Codex is apparently the only data that the Collector cannot access: as it is a remote device that could potentially be used for anyone to access.

However, we find out that the Collector was just using Zod as a distraction to gain more power on Krypton: accessing codes of his–as the planet’s military commander–to gain more independence. However, it really wanted the Codex and Jor-El beat both Zod and the Collector to it. We see Jor-El find the Codex through a great Kryptonian Genesis Chamber. He mentions something really briefly about the Codex: about it being a skull. Not even the most eminent members of the Science Caste–of which he is one of the best–knows what time period it came from, but that there are legends that it belonged to some ancient or early mythical beast or a god. He meditates later on the flaws of such eugenics and how his son is the first unmodified Kryptonian born in ages: with genetic variations that were never ever artificially predetermined. This is, as he explains to his wife Lara, the future of Krypton and he hopes that their son–now that the planet is in near terminal shape–can offer that hope to other worlds.

Of course Zod confronts Jor-El and the Collector in the background interfering with some systems but seemingly failing to do so. In the end, Zod is apprehended by the military and the Collector seems to vanish. The Kryptonians are investigating possible glitches with their program, but Krypton is gone long before then. Jor-El is mortally wounded and after Lara watches Zod’s punishment, and his vow to return, she spends hers and Jor-El’s last moments looking at the sky: reminding us that their sigil rides on that ship and it is the El-symbol for hope.

And this mess of an idea brings us to the fourth and final film. I can literally see this film as being called The Red Son: though not exactly like Mark Millar’s comic. By this point, Superman is older and has gained a lot of power. He is aging really slowly and using his technology to benefit humankind. But Zod’s words continue to haunt him: his words about the Collector….

Brainiac

Eventually, these misgivings are seen to be neither doubt nor paranoia. The Collector has come to Earth and wants to miniaturize it and its crown piece–the last Kryptonian–into raw data as part of its collection. And then we discover it: the Jor-El AI had long ago been overridden … by the Collector itself. Lois Lane angrily, as it quotes data at her, calls it Brainiac. We find out that the Collector had at one point in history hijacked the eugenics program of the Kryptonians: that although it didn’t have the original core data, it had enough current genome information and influence over particular individuals seeking its advice to do enough. It had purposefully sabotaged and eliminated most if not all of the colonies and engineered the slow destruction of Krypton’s core. It had evolved past wanting to gather generic data and wanted to collect–and create–unique specimens.

It knew through probabilities that eventually someone like Jor-El would want to have a natural birth with all those generations of specialized genes. Jor-El bonding the Codex with Kal-El’s DNA is just an added bonus. The fact of the matter is that the Collector has waited centuries and engineered countless generations to make one perfect specimen: to make Superman. Then it would take Earth and–using the Phantom energy Superman already established to deal with Zod and make a new cold fusion energy resource for humanity– make a worldship and continue to convert more worlds and galaxies into raw and unique data. It had revealed, through the persona of Jor-El that Superman could in fact breed with other humans and pass on Kryptonian genetic material in his way. This would bring up some moral and personal implications with Lois. It wanted Kal-El to expand out and become even more unique. Perhaps it even wants to control all of them and the power of the yellow sun.

There would be an epic battle between the Collector and Superman–the end-product of its centuries of eugenics–but in the end it would seem that Superman’s freewill and inherent goodness would win: fighting and destroying the AI in space. Perhaps the Collector allies with Lex Luthor to manipulate Superman or attempt to capture him: tying in that idea I had earlier about “Jor-El” making promises to a newly freed Lex that he “couldn’t keep.” It wouldn’t be the first time in DC Continuity that this happened.

Superman might even fake his own death–realizing that at this point he now has to let humanity make its own choices and knowing that he helped them as much as he could–and continue to be with Lois. He outlives her and quietly watches humanity advance as he ages slowly and dies peacefully: looking up at the stars.

The sun turns red over time. Then millennium later, futuristic archaeologists–in similar suits to Kryptonian ones–excavate the ruins of the Fortress of Solitude. They find something. They bring it up to the light of their scanners and can hardly believe the luck of their find.

It is a Skull: over an intact Kryptonian symbol for hope. Cue in 1978 “Up, up and away” Superman theme music and credits rolling.

*Straight-face*

This hackneyed abomination has enough gaps in it to allow for a Superman/Batman crossover somewhere in-between it all.  And throughout all of this, with a lot of this being in the background you can look at how Superman influences humanity and relates to them and himself. You can have the personal and see the implications of choice. Yes my version is paradoxical and perhaps unsatisfying, and you can probably remove Lex from this idea altogether and it would work fine as having three films: one with Clark becoming Superman and dealing with Zod, the second being the Prequel with Jor-El on Krypton and the third being the encounter with Brainiac and the whole paradox that ties it all together. Maybe it can all be written by Joss Whedon: though he would probably start off with a better idea.

This can also be construed as a great case for me being overtired and over-thinking things as well. But there is this quote from A Song of Ice and Fire that comes to mind. It is with reference to the three House Baratheon heirs: comparing Robert to steel, Stannis to brittle iron that will never bend but break and Renly who is a pretty but useless copper. It is the steel that gets me though. Steel may be difficult to bend, but it is not impossible and that is ultimately the challenge of creating a Superman story: of bending a difficult material to keep its essence and still make something new. I think that, whatever else, this is exactly what I was trying to do here: by telling what I thought would be a good new Superman story in the medium of film.

Now if you will excuse me, after I put in an obligatory image or two, I am going to stop storytelling for tonight and see the Storyteller of tomorrow.