It Made My Day

I just wanted to take some time to talk to you, my readers, old and new. It’s going to be a short post this time around, but don’t get used to it: I’ll be writing your ear off again soon enough. 😉

In fact, that’s what this entire post is really about.

So, a week ago now the first part of my article The Stitching Together of a Mythos: Kris Straub’s Broodhollow got posted by the fine folks of Sequart: which I followed on Twitter only to find that Kris Straub himself had retweeted it. After a brief Twitter exchange my day–then–was made. I thought that, if it ended here, it would be okay.

A day or so later, I posted a few comments on Amanda Palmer’s Blog. She wants to have some feedback with regards to a non-fiction book on the topic of asking that she was, ironically, asked to write. As I was responding to her second book post, I had an epiphany about something. When Amanda asked what I wish I asked for, I rambled a whole lot and then, not as satisfied with the answer I gave her on this post I went on Facebook and Twitter to state that I realized “that, after commenting on @amandapalmer’s Blog, most of my regrets aren’t about things I didn’t ask for.”

A day later, I opened my email to see that on Twitter I got a retweet from Amanda. I have a friend named Amanda and then I did a double-take and looked at this Amanda’s last name.

Another day. Made. In fact, I was told by a dear friend I’d never talked with on the phone before or even seen that–at least for the moment–I gained more Nerd cred than she has: though I have to say she is definitely one to talk and will beat me in no time. ;p

Then not long after that, Miguel Sternberg of Spooky Squid Games was on Twitter complaining about being in a house with no tea with the hashtag #canadianhorrorstories. You have to understand: I couldn’t resist. I ended up writing this: “Short two sentence horror story: The last man on Earth sits in a house. There is no one at the other side of the door with tea.”

Suffice to say, this got retweeted as well.  I wrote a bit more, but he tweeted his screams of terror at me far before that part and that was satisfying in and of itself.

But then I thought: all right. I am totally on a roll here but I have work that I need to do. I’d finally finished playing Christine Love’s Hate Plus and I had to write something for it: I just had to, you know? So I did. It was long and I stayed up late into the night to watch my brain shrivel into the corners of my skull from exhaustion. I’d written a previous article about Christine’s games and I thought nothing of it. I thought I would get a few views or what-not–maybe more because the game had just come out relatively recently–and that would be about it.

So for a day this seemed to be the case. I added stuff and made some corrections and what not. I even added images and had the damnedest time finding a particular image of *Mute in her uniform. So whatever.

The next day …

I’ve briefly exchanged tweets with Christine Love occasionally but this was the first time she had ever retweeted me. Ever. And then I went on my Blog–and this was a few days ago now or however you reckon time when it is very late past what some would consider night–and I see, and I am not joking at all here, I see this … large number of visitors and an even larger volume of views. You get alliteration from this no matter what word you use. And some unintentional rhyme too. See, this is what happens when I write when I’m tired.

Anyway, now that I’m writing up this post to all of you I just have to ask: how many days equal a week made?

I’m feeling really good right now. It’s still confusing and scary, but I can see the hints of opportunities coming up and all of these things–which may seem trivial to some people–are signals that indicate that I am travelling on the right path to … to something. I made something for Andrez Bergen a musician and an excellent writer as well that will … come up on October 9th. I am corresponding with a friend that may be able to help me find some more contacts and connections that I need to begin the process of supporting myself.

I also have two projects that are really experiments to see how much you guys want to see me … make something. One of these would be shared with the public: though I need to look into the logistics of it more. As for the other: I may or may not attempt some …. self-publishing. We shall have to see on that. But the first will definitely be in the form of a question that I will share with all of you whom might be interested.

I might also be … doing something else too in addition to everything you might already know I’m the process of working on. But I have to make some decisions. It seems lately that I am always having to make decisions. A while ago, some friends of mine who were in Vancouver entered their Master’s Program and I entered mine–at least in part because I also wanted to gain that prestige and knowledge (with no little debt)–to feel like a part of what they were feeling if that makes sense: to prove I was equal to them and, more importantly, capable of delving into places by myself.

For a while, especially after still being in debt and a change in circumstances I began to despise academics and wanted to distance myself from it. But it seems as though it will never really leave me, but not only have I learned that I can deal with it on my own terms through this Blog and Sequart and other places but I now feel close to my distant friends in space and time in a different way.

Because, here is the thing: even though I know this is still going to be hard as fuck, I don’t just want a made day, or a made series of days, or a made week, or even made years.

I want a made lifetime. But more than that: I want to make my lifetime.

And now I think it is beginning because, when you come right down to it, it never really ended.

Thank you Kris Straub, Amanda Palmer, Miguel Sternberg, Andrez Bergen, Julian Darius of Sequart and Christine Love for giving me those little extra nudges towards where I need to be. You are inspiring. I also want to thank one of my former Humanities Professors Markus Reisenleitner for endorsing me on LinkedIn. He actually showed one of my posts–Worms and Bicycles Or How People Make For Strange Stories–to his students and that was very encouraging. And I want to thank Gil Williamson for publishing my science-fiction story To Serve on Mythaxis Magazine.

But lastly, I want to thank all my friends and loved ones and all my readers for always being there in some form or another and encouraging me to keep making this Mythic Bios possible. You will be hearing from me soon. I promise.

Looking Outward

In a Different Place, a Different Time: Revision and Reconstruction in Comics Without Superheroes?

This is going to be more of a sloppy Blog post because it’s more out of sheer enthusiasm than it is actual research. For a while now I’ve been somewhat obsessing over an idea that I got from Julian Darius at Sequart: which is the distinction between Revisionism and Reconstructionism in comics. Whereas Revisionism takes superhero characters and adds a dark and gritty sort of realism to them and their stories, Reconstructionism brings them back to their more idealistic roots but arguably keeps much of Revisionism’s character development and mature themes. Sometimes it can be all the difference between dystopian and utopian ideals with regards to fictional characters in tights.

However, that is a very limited way of looking at it. After finishing an article that I’ve recently sent into Sequart and thinking about another one that I’ve been rereading and reworking, I wondered how these concepts of Revisionism and Reconstructionism would apply to something that is neither North American nor primarily focused on the superhero genre. I’ve actually been thinking about how, if at all, both ideas could apply to Japanese manga.

So here is where I begin to get messy and not get dates right or accurate or, really, try to be nice at all. I believe that in order to really look at considerations of Revisionism and Reconstructionism in North American comics and Japanese manga, you have to look at some quick and dirty historical contexts. North American comics, aside from perhaps Mayan and other Central American friezes came from European comics that date more or less from the nineteenth century: Egyptian and Sumerian sequential glyphs notwithstanding.

File:Yellow Kid 1898-01-09.jpg

The earliest comics were satirical cartoons and depictions of folklore. Then they were Sunday morning slapstick cartoons. In North America, however, around the thirties the figure of the Victorian strong-man was adopted as an aesthetic for masked and super-powered heroes: beings depicted as fighting a whole lot of crime.

Falk, Benjamin J. (1853-1925) - Eugen Sandow (1867-1925).jpg

At the same time there were a lot of other genres of comics out there in North America: Romances, Westerns, War stories, and–of course–Horror. These different genres danced around our superhero friends: who were still in their terrible twos of “might is right.” I’m not even sure why they came about to begin with. Most likely–and in my opinion–they were made to symbolize hope for the future in a relatively new nation against the darkness of the past World War, the upcoming Great Depression, and the resulting Second World War that everyone could sense coming on some level. A disturbing sense of moral ambiguity and uncertainty, which you can argue really started to crop up in literature and culture after WWI, needed something clear cut and decisive to counter it: even if it was interpreted as being tied into adolescent power-fantasies which is a hilarious concept when you think about the fact that superhero comics were actually just in their infancy then.

But in the 1950s, and slightly before, the fear of Communism and nuclear war created a society of paranoia. All of the darker, gory, amorally violent aspects of comics were self-censored by the creation of the Comics Code Authority in order for comics businesses to continue during the censorship “witch-hunts” going on during this time. The irony of course is that the dark elements of horror and sexuality did not go away as a result but, rather, they literally went Underground: into the developing Underground Comix movements.

But the Comics Code-endorsed superhero genre was one of the few that actually remained and the audience became very specialized as a result and in contrast to the wider age and gender range that it had earlier. Many have said that superhero comics became “watered down and puerile” for a time until about wherever you can distinguish the Silver Age of comics coming into play: where Marvel and eventually DC as well started to make flawed superhero characters that nevertheless tried to do the right thing.

In about the 1980s, writers such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman took the superhero genre and started add some gritty, bloodier and more “graphic” elements back into it. I compare it a lot to how the Victorian Age and onward attempted to sanitize folktales into fairy-stories only for the old tales to come back and essentially eat their bastardized children: both those derived from them and those that were entirely new. Perhaps during this period of both heightened counter-insurgencies happening between the United States and the USSR and then the latter’s decline influenced this Revisionism: which tended to criticize and look at the real-world politics and attitudes of the era. Certainly the 80s was a time when authority was at its height and, at the same time, was also being heavily questioned along with the implicit idea that “all authority is good” and should be obeyed by even superheroes that defend the status quo.

In about 1995, the time Julian Darius defines as the beginnings of Reconstructionism through the publication date of DC’s Underworld Unleashed, America was the sole superpower of the world in the midst of an idea of globalization. At the same time, it was embroiled in a lot of various different wars and clean-up from its Cold War missions into other countries. The way I figure it, and I am pretty sure there are other elements you can identify here as well, the art and culture of this time was influenced by a need and a sense of morality or certainty: of heroic figures needing to be depicted as having such. At the same time, they could not really go back to being ignorant or having bad storytelling. So, in the end, people such as Grant Morrison tackled these issues in their works: neither shying away from brutality nor letting cynicism completely win out in the superhero genre. It seems such a paltry explanation for this idea, but that is the best I can think of at the moment.

And then we have Japan. Manga has arguably been around in Japan–and the other Far East Asian countries–but in particular Japan for a thousand years or more: from their different kingdoms, to their Empires, the Shogunate, the Meiji Restoration of the Emperor and onward. Early scroll work illustrated humourous, sexual, and mythological stories. The term manga itself or something similar to it was apparently coined in the 18th century: meaning something along the lines of “whimsical drawings.” However, it can be argued that comics creation in Japan has been a very long and ancient tradition.

File:Japan-woodblock.jpg

Of course, you have World War II and then the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the American Occupation of Japan to consider. Unlike North America, or indeed any part of the world, Japan didn’t have to fear the possibility of a nuclear attack: it had already experienced it. At the time, the State-sponsored wartime version of Shintoism–that Japan was an invincible island blessed by the ancestral gods ruled by an Emperor of that divine bloodline–was pretty much destroyed by fire-bombing, nuclear-bombing, war trials and the U.S. Occupation. It is also during this period that many American soldiers brought over Disney comics and animated films.

Tezuka Osamu, Hikari (June - December 1959).

Artists like Tezuka Osamu were very influenced by Disney aesthetics and adopted them to make strange artistic hybrids of “whimsical” cartoons. However, these cartoons became challenged by the genre of what is called gekiga: of “dramatic pictures” with realistic, gritty aesthetics that delved into the more graphic aspects of life and even politics. The foremost of the gekiga artists that comes to mind for me is the person who coined the term to begin with Tatsumi Yoshihiro: who started drawing such work–which he did not like to call manga–in 1957.

The aesthetics of gekiga would inform many more works after him such as Otomo Katsuhiro’s Akira.

What’s interesting to note about all of this is the contrast with North America. Aside from already experiencing a taste of what nuclear war could bring, Japan never really had something that was the equivalent to a Comics Code Authority: at least from my understanding. It’s true that, for the most, they seemed to have a very conservative and even authoritarian governmental structure even after the War and censorship did and does exist. However, the development of gekiga–as a genre or an alternative movement of comics–seems to display either dissent against such conservative elements or a method of purging the demons of war and nuclear atrocity from the psyche of an entire culture.

It is really interesting to note that Scott McCloud, in his Understanding Comics,  argues that while “cartoons” function as essential images or ideas which are easy to follow in an unfamiliar or realistic world, realistic drawings seem to have a more alienating affect on the reader: making it harder to follow them. In addition, “cartoons” seem to provide a buffer or buttress against some very potential distressing elements of a story. Realistic drawings in comics would, arguably, not function as a safe point for the reader to view that depicted world and would force them to face its grittiness all on their own: unfettered and unsettling. So perhaps some decisions in gekiga literally make the reader face the collective demons of, arguably, Japanese culture after the Bombings and the American Occupation.

On another note, I also really find it fascinating that Japanese manga never really embraced the idea of a superhero until after World War II and, from what I understand, aside from a few changes in trends manga continued to cover a wide range of subject matter and retained a large variety of different readers.

I am so tempted to say that gekiga is Revisionism in comics that did not originally have superheroes: a concept which, if true, greatly fascinates me. And perhaps through Tezuka Osamu’s own very public manga-experiments with his COM Magazine, his continued Phoenix epic, and even his Buddha series he not only managed to adapt to the gekiga style from his original Disney and traditional Japanese art-derived aesthetics, but he adapted gekiga to his sensibilities as well. Perhaps one could argue that Tezuka was a Reconstructionist: bringing back manga to his more whimsical aesthetics but also developing a more mature and nuanced approach at character development and story line.

It is intriguing to think about the fact that he and others “discovered” Revisionism and Reconstructionism at times before even North America had due to different cultural experiences: North America seemingly delving into both in the 80s and mid-90s, and Japan looking into it from the late-50s to early 70s onward–and crossing over each other–respectively.

I’ve also been made aware that the realistic aesthetics of the gekiga element is not as mainstream in Japanese comics art now as it was before and now there is a trend in going back to the more “whimsical” and elemental cartoon aesthetics of the past: though not quite the partially-Disney inspired aesthetics of Tezuka himself. Perhaps Miyazaki Hayao himself is a better example of this in terms of his ecological and cautionary themes: though mostly his more modern animated films such as Mononoke Hime come to mind at that. I think another thing I find really interesting about Reconstructionism is that return to a mythos or even the rebuilding of a shattered or forgotten one that is made relevant to another time. Certainly, the fact that Tezuka and Miyazaki combine “the cartoon” with very realistic backgrounds could be indicative of what Reconstructionism may mean in Japanese manga and the media inspired from it: a return to a character aesthetic that the reader may feel safe in following–deceptively or otherwise if the artist chooses to subvert that image–while exploring a real or realistically detailed world.

I am only scratching the surface here and I am definitely not an expert in Japanese manga or culture or, well, anything. Applying one culture’s concepts to another’s is a problematic venture at best. Also bear in mind: you are not dealing with an otaku here, my friends: just a North American geek that likes to throw shit out there and is fascinated with interesting things. I just can’t get over the idea that maybe there was a place where superheroes did not form in comics naturally, or in the way that we understand them and yet Revisionism and Reconstructionism–a realistic depiction and an alternative return to an idealized element–happened in any case in a different place and at different times from North America.

It is definitely something worth thinking about.

Lucky 1s

Every year, at every Game Con, there is this one guy.

He usually stands outside in the hallways, but sometimes you find him sitting by himself in the designer panels lost in his own funk. But more often than not, he sits off to the side of the gaming tables and listens to dice clattering, pencils etching on paper and the voices of Dungeon Masters at work and players at play.

He isn’t a cosplayer, but he doesn’t bother them either. For the most part, he looks pretty unremarkable: just a stubbly-chinned man in black jeans and a dark blue hoodie. But there are three things that stand out about him.

The first is that he doesn’t play in any of the games. Ever. You have to understand, I’ve seen him here three days in a row and Game Con is expensive. The three-day pass does not come cheap. But I’ve seen it on his neck, though some reason I can never make out the name on it. Instead of playing, he always watches the players from a distance. And it is always the players too. He doesn’t creep on the girls dressed in anime costumes or as D&D barbarian women. In fact, he doesn’t even seem to register them. Instead, he just watches the players — both male and female — at play.

I never get that creeper vibe from him, but sometimes when there’s laughter I see his hand clench around the one object he always carries with him.

But I’ve noticed something else. Whenever he does come close to a gaming table — and it’s really the most freaking weirdest thing — the players begin to move away from him. I don’t mean that they shift away uncomfortably or pretend he doesn’t exist as most ostracism works. No: I’m talking about people going off somewhere else to another table, or booth, or right out of the Convention Centre.

I didn’t notice this at first, but for some reason this guy would just not stay in the background for me. But the gamers that left when he came close didn’t even so much as look at him: at all.

I said there were three strange things about this guy, right? Well, I should probably be more specific about the last two, and I will be when I tell you a little more about who he is. One day, I asked some of my buddies about this guy.

“Oh shit man, that’s Lucky 1s.”

“The Fumbler.”

“The Die himself.”

Most of that didn’t tell me anything at first, but I caught on to the “Fumbler” title. They told me more, but it was less. Apparently, “Lucky 1s” was a gamer — a table-top role-player — who had the worst luck with dice-rolling ever. No one seemed to know or remember his real name but apparently, according to Con lore, he always rolled 1s on his dice. It didn’t matter what die he used or what game he played with dice.

He always got 1s.

Word was that he was bad luck. Some said he broke up with his girlfriend before an important quest and it had tainted his luck score. Others thought he attempted to melt and manipulate the ultimate die as some cheaters do and it went horrifically wrong: angering the dice gods forever. Some quietly insisted that he had insulted Wil Wheaton when the man had attempted to bless his dice; while others believed — really truly believed — that he just masturbated too much.

So — in other words — aside from the fact that no one clearly shook hands with the man (and they were clearly ones to talk), most of their claims were superstitious bullshit, and a sad kind of D&D superstitious bullshit to boot: which is of the lowest kind.

But none of them ever went near him: ever. They told me they were “afraid” that his bad luck would taint their luck too and there were … stories … vague, menacing stories.

I think I felt bad for him. I mean, many of us are geeks and we should all know better. Ostracizing someone and spreading rumours about them is bullshit: no matter how bad their luck is. That day, he was sitting in the corner of the gaming room at his own table. I was very aware now of the object in his hand: the one that he always carried.

It was, and it is, this cherry red twenty-sided die. He was rolling it on the table. It sounded like clattering bones. At the time there was a game not far from his table and I could hear the beginnings of an argument: mainly what I thought was bickering over rules or some over-enthusiastic debate about combat resolution. You know: just usual disputes.

I sat down with him. His hoodie obscured most of his face — except for his scruffy chin — and completely blocked out his eyes with shadow. I introduced myself. He said nothing. He just kept rolling that one die of his. I saw his three-day pass hung around his neck and I finally got a glimpse at the messy handwriting on it that I couldn’t make out even. I told him what panels and games I’d come for and asked him what he was here for.

Gradually, he started talking. Sometimes I couldn’t make out his words over the sounds of groaning and yelling from the nearby gamer table. We, naturally, started talking about gaming.

“I always loved Dungeons and Dragons,” he said in a soft, soft voice.

“Loved?” I asked, puzzled at the emphasis on the past-tense.

He inclined his head a bit and kept rolling his die, though I didn’t see the number it landed on then, “Yes well … I liked the role-playing element more than most. I found the numbers, the positioning of the figurines and the math to be freaking tedious at times. No offence.”

“None taken,” I told him, “the rules get updated all the time, but they do structure it out and make it interesting.”

“True,” he said after another bone-rattling dice-roll pause, something that looked like a purely mechanical act more than a nervous tic, “But I really loved getting into character: acting it out and immersing myself into the world. I loved problem-solving through role-playing the character out,” he smiled then and it was almost a happy smile, “Yeah. I was one of those kinds of players.”

“Hey, liking Batman doesn’t make your dick bigger,” I said, “though really it’s beautiful women that do it for me.”

He actually chuckled a bit at that, “Yeah. Elitism sucks … especially when you are the only one.”

I didn’t quite know what he meant by that, but it was enough for me to sense that there was a talk coming. For one, he stopped rolling his die. From my own DMing experience I knew this was the time to be quiet and listen.

“You know, some of them think I actually traded all my good rolls to Lord Orkus: to make my dick bigger or some shit like that,” the other looked down at himself, “If that was the case, maybe I should have prayed to the Dragon god Bahamut instead.

“It just … started one day. I don’t even remember when. I can tell you, though, what it feels like.

“You know when you’re going to have a good roll or a bad one. I think every gambler and role-player knows it on some very intrinsic level,” he rolled his die and this time I saw it land on a big, fat, white 1, “When it’s a good roll, or one with great possibility it sings and surges through your blood. There’s hope. There’s excitement. There’s fun,” he rolls the die again and it lands on the same number, “But when you have a bad roll, it feels flat. Your stomach sinks when you cast that die, and you know even before it lands what it’s going to be: if you’re honest with yourself. Dread makes it even more sour and you don’t even want to look at it. It is just that bad.”

He rolled it again, “Every one of us knows what kind of roll we’re going to get. We just lie to ourselves and say it’s purely up to chance. I’m not even sure if the die affects our luck, or if it’s our own spirit — our self-confidence and personal energy — that affects the die.”

The die landed on another 1 as he continued talking, “My friends heckled me. They said I was cursed. ‘You’re cursed, Lucky 1s,’ they told me, ‘you’re cursed …'” he shook his head, “No matter what I rolled, it’s always been the same. I role-played as best I could, but the dice always betrayed me,” I could feel him glaring down at that 1 with a very palpable sense of hatred, “Eventually, I kept being the one to screw up our group quests and they stopped inviting me to games.”

“I’m sorry,” I told him, and meant it, “That was a shitty thing to do.”

“My attitude was getting worse, to be fair,” he rolled the die, making it clatter dangerously near the table’s edge, “I kept this die: where it all started from. I thought I might as well at least be honest about that with myself. I was so … angry, you know? They blamed me for my bad rolls. Blamed me like I was somehow responsible for them. Like I wanted them on some level. It was bullshit.

“Sometimes I think they did it to me. There’s energy in group games–good and bad–and after a while I started to believe it. I started to embody it.”

“Those are a lot of 1s,” I admitted, with a little ripple of goosebumps forming across my arms, “Maybe you have five dots in Entropy.”

“Dots?”

Mage: The Ascension,” I told him, “Well, that’s how stats work in White Wolf’s Old World of Darkness campaigns. In Ascension, the Euthanatos are mages that deal in death and luck: in matter breaking down and continuously changing. Entropy. Somehow, I think you might like that game.”

“Heh. It does sound cool. It would be nice to play again and not suck,” between the sharper sounds of him rolling the die hard against the table and the growing clamour of the other table, it was getting harder to hear him, “You know, some people get Natural 20s on their rolls. All the time. But I get 1s. I get freaking,” he rolled the die, “goddamned,” he rolled the die again, “1s!

Suddenly, he just whipped that die onto the ground beside us. I looked down and, yeah, it was very creepy. Even on the floor, it landed on a 1. I was almost tempted to mention that he needed some Felix Felicis, but that was definitely not the time for a Harry Potter joke.

We were both quiet for a while. His shoulders were slouching. To be honest, he looked miserable and lonely: the kind of person that wished they would be eaten by a Grue.

I don’t know why I did it. I reached down and picked up his die. The noise from the other table was getting very rowdy. Some of the players were leaving. I slid the die over to his hands on the table. And, to this day, I really don’t know why I asked him this one question: but I did.

“Have you ever gotten Natural 20s?”

It was a dumb question after everything that I had observed today. But instead of walking away, or shouting at me, or smirking, he looked down at the red die and said, “Only in a group. And only when I get angry.”

He picked up the die and whipped it on the table with a hard crack. I was almost surprised the Game Con Volunteers and security guards didn’t hear it, but the sounds from the other table probably drowned it out. He did it again. And again. And again. It was like a gunshot each time.

20.

20.

20.

Critical hit.

Critical hit.

Critical hit.

Finally, the whole other table close to us dispersed and I could hear some of the departing conversation, “All bad rolls.”

“And 1s. So many fucking 1s …”

He looked up at me then and I could finally see his eyes. They were dark and sad.

“That is the real reason why no one will play with me. Ever.

“You know, some people just get Natural 20s with a kind of cockiness or an easy grace. I wish I had been one of them. But if ‘should-ofs’ were treasure, we’d all have a lot of fat loots.”

He got up then and handed his die back to me, “I think I’ve finally rolled all the 1s out of this fucker. Maybe a few of the 20s too. There are some solid numbers left though. Good numbers. Not too lucky, but not a fumbler. Damn, I hate being called that … almost as much as Lucky 1s … Anyway, thanks for listening.”

“Hey,” I said before he could leave, “you should really check into LARPing. There’s a Mage game here at the Con. I think you’d like it.”

His back was facing me at this point, but I thought I saw him nod. Then, he vanished into a crowd of oncoming players.

I still see him around, you know, that guy they still call “Lucky 1s.” He doesn’t just stand around as much anymore, I’m glad to say. Evidently he found that Live-Action Mage game I told him about: where he plays as a Euthanatos that feeds on the bad luck of others. He doesn’t wear his hoodie now and he smiles a lot more.

I still have his 20-sided die and I have to say that — to this day — I’ve never failed a roll.

Everything is Connected: I Have Entered an Author’s Quest

So, I have a few long overdue announcements to make.

I am going to be published. First of all, I’m going to have a poem published in a book called Klarissa Dreams: a collection filled with short stories and poems inspired by and including paintings created by the artist Klarissa Koscis. All proceeds from this book will go to Cancer and Lupus charities. It is for a good cause and I am proud to be part of such a marvellous collaboration and in very good company.

Second of all, on August the 28th I am going to have a three-part Sequart article published every two weeks. I am not going to go into the specifics as to what it is, but I will say that it has to do with the subject of horror … and you may have heard me talking about at least one of the elements in it, and one creator in particular. I will say no more, but it took a lot of work: about four days and a few more to look over it. So I am definitely looking forward to releasing this.

I may also have a story out in Gil Williamson’s online magazine Mythaxis at some point in the near-future as well for its lucky number 13 issue.

So these are the three publications that I will be coming out relatively soon. But I also have another bit of news for all of you. Do you remember The Secret Project that I have been alluding to? The one that I sometimes hint on, but I never quite come out with a straight answer. Well, let me just say that I have, in fact, given you some clues as to what it is that I have been working on.

For while characters, plot and setting are all seemingly separate entities, a wise fictional being once said, “Everything is connected.”

That’s right: I am going to be participating in The Dark Crystal Author’s Quest! Basically, I am going to write a 7,500 to 10,000 typed word story (about 25-40 pages) and outline for a Prequel story to The Dark Crystal. It will take place during an era known as The Gelfling Gathering: essentially that place in time on Thra when all the events that lead up to the Prophecy and the Wall of Destiny occur. It is a time when the Skeksis and the urRu Mystics are still young and Gelfing civilization still exists as part of the Skeksis Empire … before the Empire turns on them.

And, somehow, I am going to be writing a story based on the era, in this world, based on this archetypal, mythopoeic Jim Henson movie. Of everyone entering, five of us will be chosen and given editorial feedback so that a 50,000 or more-word novel can be created (about 200 pages) and then … even though Thra has three suns, there can be only one at the Great Conjunction.

I have my work cut out for me. A past version of myself would think that I am insane. You see, I’ve mostly been writing short stories, vignettes and even poems for years now: with the occasional strange thing that may or may not be interpreted as “novel-length.” But, in addition to all of that I am also working on a short story that I will go into more detail about later and dealing with employment issues.

And this isn’t even covering the fact that Thra is a massive entirely alien world with plants that act like animals and animals that act like plants, and there are massively different environments and different kinds of Gelfling as well. In addition, there are many details that aren’t even covered by the books that are out there! So not only am I going to have to struggle with my inherent spatial difficulty with regards to geography, Thra sacred geometry and keeping track of the various creatures and characters I need to flesh out, I also have to make stuff up and make it plausible.

Let’s also not forget that Gelfling are not human: even if they are the most identifiable and relatable beings in that world.

So to say this is intimidating is an understatement. It can actually be downright terrifying. But I have been doing my homework at least to this regard. Even though I have not been novel writing like many of my peers have done and are doing, I am taking notes. I have consulted and read through The World of the Dark Crystal, Legends and the Creation Myths that exist so far. I read the novelization of the film. I’ve watched and I am going to re-watch the film. I am reading through the new definitive Encyclopedia in progress that the Jim Henson Company and Grosset & Dunlap are making for the site I linked to above.

And I am participating in the Community Forums. You should check them out at some point. The users there are very friendly and helpful too. We have conjectured a lot of things and are trying to figure out some details together. I am the urSkek “MaKir” if you are interested in looking. I also did one more thing. I started a topic called Story Sketches: a place where I hope that others will show off like me and post excerpts of their writing or samples of their writing in the world of Thra. The two vignettes I made are a diagnostic to see if I can write in the world of Thra: to make that conceptual gateway for myself using two characters that are not really in The Gelfling Gathering era.

So feel free to watch my progress, or the lack thereof, as I tackle and attempt to add my rhythm to a song of an entire world with a Crystal at its core. I have one or two more things to do first: a review and a short story, but this will continue. I plan to make a rough outline and see where I can go from there.

I am excited and terrified and I would like to take you with me as much as I can. So stay tuned: for just as there are cracks in the Dark Crystal, so too are there as many paths that I have yet to travel.

*Breathes slowly out*

All right. Let’s do this.

Toronto’s Boyfriend Tells Us To Dream: Neil Gaiman at the Danforth Music Hall

For a day that I’d been looking forward to for a very long time, there isn’t very much I have to say about it.

The day before I’d packed everything I would need: my ticket, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and its proof of Indigo purchase, my first edition of American Gods–the book that started it all for me–and then the following day I packed my less-than-often used digital camera: just in case. After a shower that same day and dressing up in my World’s Ender’s T-Shirt and carrying my leather jacket I got a ride to the subway and then eventually got off at Broadview to head towards the Danforth Music Hall.

I didn’t plan to be second in line. I came by the Hall and noticed that it was still closed. So I went for some food and came back and started talking with someone there. We became the beginning of the line: even though we all had reserved seats.

Eventually at 6 pm we were allowed into the Hall. A very nice Indigo staff member working for the event marked the place in my Ocean book where it was going to be signed and personalized and then she wrote down my question for him on another piece of paper. I asked a really convoluted and boring question along the lines of: “Was there an interview or an article where you actually stated that you wrote an origin story for the Beldam?” Actually, I just called her “the Other Mother” for good measure because it was easier for the person writing it: even though I knew my question wouldn’t be chosen anyway.

You wouldn’t have figured I’d have asked a Coraline question, huh? 😉

I was directed to my seat and after I went to the restroom I came back and settled in. I realized that two of my friends were actually at the event. I’d come to terms with the fact that I would be going by myself but I suspected I’d know at least a few people there. One of them was someone I helped at the Global Game Jam, while the other was a really lovely person from our stints as this year’s Toronto Comics Arts Festival volunteers.

The event started a half an hour or so later due to the bad traffic of downtown Toronto and the TTC. I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was going to be seeing him soon. Someone won some front-row seats because they had access to their twitter. And then after some introductions from Mark Askwith of Prisoners of Gravity who would go on to choose the questions we submitted for the Q&A and actually referred to our guest as “Toronto’s boyfriend”–and who better to have a one-night stand with the scattered secrets and mystical places in this city that keeps rebuilding and losing itself  … he came on stage.

There was this roar of applause and shouts. In the spotlight, his wild crazy hair seemed white. In fact, as he kept talking, I could almost see him much older than fifty with a cravat under his chin and the collar of his dark suit.  The light played with the shadows of his cheekbones and the hollows of his eyes, but it was him. It was totally him.

He started things off by reading a bit of Ocean: which he did with such expression and fluid emotion. What I mean is that he basically flowed from one nuance and tone to another according to each sentence that he came to. His voice, from the microphone and the lilt of it, filled the room of so many people who were so incredibly silent: just to listen to this man, this one man, read from this book.

And then he was done and the questions that were written outside by the Indigo staff representatives came to the fore. If the storytelling hadn’t already brought me to a very different place, then the Q&A did. After talking about wanting snakes for hair–just for the company–and which female characters of his he loved (Delirium, Hunter, Yvaine, the Hempstocks and even Ursula Monkton of all beings: who was “fun to write”) and a whole lot of things that I know I have forgotten or won’t come to mind until later tomorrow when I wake up, someone asked him what he thought of Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor and it was then–at that point–that I wasn’t just watching a hub of geekdom geeking out.

I was there. I was a part of the cheering. I was in the middle of it.

He even told us a story I’d never heard before: of the last event which made him no longer be a journalist anymore. He explained to us that the paper he was working for wanted to do a series on “the evils of Dungeons & Dragons.” And, according to him, it was the last request they ever asked of him because he quit not long after. In addition to this, he told us that there were two Hempstocks in his other books: Stardust and The Graveyard Book. After this, he proceeded to tell us, in just how many “greats,” that these two women were related to and descended from the Hempstocks in Ocean, these “great great great great great great great great great …” he went on, “great great-grand nieces.”

After this, he did another reading: this time from his upcoming children’s novel Fortunately, the Milk. I wish he had read to me as a child, but this was more than good enough as well and definitely something that you parents out there should totally get and read to your children. It was that good.

Then came the signing. He decided that instead of being called up row by row that each row would be chosen by lottery. I was in row ‘S.’

Row ‘S’ didn’t get called until a little past 1 in the morning.

He himself had those who were pregnant or sick or disabled come up below the stage and signed their books first: which was a really decent thing to do. There was wine-tasting outside that I didn’t get in on because I am not much of a drinker. The rows of seats had little space between them and I constantly had to get up to let them through or go into some weird contortionist stance. We also hadn’t been allowed to bring food or drink in and, for something this long, these elements were crucial. This rule was relaxed as the Hall’s bar and store closed down for the night and we were allowed to go out and get some food: which is what I inevitably did and it made all the difference in the world.

And he just kept signing. He kept signing. Sometimes he hugged someone and I could see him talking, but mostly he just kept signing. Then at one point he had to take a break. What I didn’t know, then, was that he had injured his finger–a fingernail was apparently coming off–and he went to walk, probably go to the washroom, and get a band-aid. And he came back.

And he kept signing.

Eventually various rows were called up and I started humming a song under my breath–Scissor Sisters’ “I Can’t Decide” which I suddenly remembered right out of the blue and it made me start to feel happy along with the food I had from before–and I prepared. I saw that representatives were using peoples’ cameras to take pictures of those people and our friend the author. I kept coming closer in that line, out of the lobby, into the auditorium again, near the stairs, thanking one of the really tired volunteer representatives there, going up the stairs and slowly realizing that he and I were no longer separated by writing, or a screen, or row of seats and stage, or stairs, or even … people after a while …

To be honest, as I came closer to him I wasn’t thinking about the fact that this was the man whose book radically influenced my writing style as it is now. I wasn’t thinking about how I wrote my Master’s Thesis on his work alongside Alan Moore and Herodotus, or the many books I’d read of his, or the sightings of him with Amanda Palmer, or any of that. I just kept focused on what I came there to do.

He was looking down at the books–my books–that one of the representatives handed him. He was signing them. A part of me couldn’t believe that he was actually there. Like this was all some kind of illusion. I was also, in the back of my mind, hoping that I would not miss the last subway car on the Bloor-Danforth line back from Broadview to Bloor Station. And he was sitting right in front of me.

I more recited what I wanted to say in a brief oratory manner than anything in the way of conversation. I told him that my friends and my Message Board told me to say hello to him. And then I told him the other most important thing: “I’m really glad that I finally got to meet you.”

I think at this point he looked up, or so my pictures–that a representative was really good enough to take–seemed to indicate. I actually made eye-contact. He thanked me and he said that he hadn’t been on the Board in a while or around there. I’m not sure what he meant, but I had nothing to really add to that. But he told me, saying my name, to tell everyone hello from him and that he sends his regards.

As I was leaving and he went back to his singing, I turned around and said one more thing. I told him, “Dream well.”

I think he actually said, “Thank you, Matthew,” and the representatives around him seemed to smile and laugh at what I said. In retrospect, it is rather redundant to tell the Prince of Stories, in his own words, to “dream well.” But I couldn’t resist. I had to have something else to write about.

Then I rushed out of the Music Hall, down the sidewalk, across the street, into Broadview Station, where the train was taking five minutes to get there, and I got out–got to Bloor before 1:30, and had to run to the other side side upstairs to get the Northbound train … for it to go out of service at Eglinton and take a shuttle bus home to where my Dad was waiting for me at Finch.

Much later, I realized that the personalization in my Ocean book read, “Dream, Matthew.” He’d said the same thing for one of my other friends and I suspect for many more. I didn’t really care, however: just that he took that time to do it despite the exhaustion and the long hours and the many more hours to come even as I am writing this. I also saw something else. The representative that took my picture actually took more than one. And suddenly, I just felt so … tired. I came and did what I had to do, what I had been looking forward to for so long, on perhaps what is going to be his last Signing Tour ever and now all that would be waiting for me is a host of responsibilities until Fan Expo when I can meet up with my friend Angela O’Hara.

I sat on that Shuttle bus going past the old place on Eglinton where my friends used to live and I thought about all the times I’d ridden this bus–this shuttle–at this time and how I was here by myself and just how strong I had been today. These past two days I had overridden my own anxiety. I continued on. Even before I came to the Music Hall, when I was still at home, I looked at myself in the mirror and I realized that I felt … beautiful again.

And all the annoyance and irritation and panic was totally worth this day. Because this day, that happened a day or so ago, I got to meet Neil Gaiman for the first and last time. And whatever else happens, I will still continue to dream.

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.

As I Miss the Point: Pixel Girls and Broody Men

I saw Laurie Penny’s article I Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl through a tweet that Neil Gaiman made: with him questioning whether or not his character Death–in The High Cost of Living–actually fell into that stereotype. I’ve actually heard this term before, in passing, but I think I kept mishearing it as “the manic pixel girl,” or something along those lines. Maybe it was after watching and reading Scott Pilgrim that my brain started to make that reference.

Still, the definition of that term still stands: as a female character created specifically to make some dark, broody, introverted young man open up to life and not that much else. You know: the quixotic help-mate that comes and goes and whose only purpose in life is to help some guy “lighten up.” There are many conceits about this kind of character–this stereotype–that rub me the wrong way. I mean, I can talk about how she isn’t a whole human being, how she probably doesn’t eat, drink, sleep, eliminate in any fashion or probably even menstruate. I can describe how she is more of an elemental than anything material and is more of a shadow or a mirror for a man than anything else: at least when taken to the nth degree.

But I think what really bothers me, as a man and as a human being, is that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl always seems to have a kind of knowledge–inherent in her being–that she gives to the man, and he gives her nothing back in return. It’s insulting, really, to both genders in this dynamic.

I mean, think about it for a few moments. What this dynamic says, as a narrative, is that a brooding, insular man needs some agency outside of themselves to become a full being: that for all of their knowledge and skill, they really aren’t that bright as it were. They are not “naturally happy.” In fact, they are so hopeless that only one kind of woman can give them what they need and not, you know, come to some kind of understanding from personal experience or begin to help themselves. And is this pixie girl so whole and so unselfconsciously perfect that she can’t learn anything from him in return? That maybe he might also know something about life and it is not all about an Apollonian shallow self-centred view of the world in which everything has to be positive all the time, or someone’s view has to be saccharine sweet all the time to the point where they can’t stand the negativity in the world or other people and will either ignore or phase out someone who is “not positive enough” or try to change them?

As Thomas Mann points out in “Tonio Kroger,” some people dance and some people watch people dance and appreciate it for what it is. But I posit that this is no reason for either dancer or watcher to not interact or learn something from each other’s perspectives.

And I think that if I had to really go into this, I would say the following: people cannot fix each other. They can’t. The only way that a person can be “fixed,” whatever that means, is for that person to decide that they want to fix themselves: or to change. That person can ask for help, can accept it as well, but the agency is ultimately with them. Also, what is a “main character?” Is a main character someone who has to be in charge and in control all the time: making everyone else into an extension or a side-character in their own personal odyssey? If so, then it’s just so … tiring. It’s tiring and unrewarding because you are losing out on some experiences when you are like that.

You know what story would really intrigue me? Honestly? Something that began like a Pixie Dream Girl meeting a brooding dark young man and she presents this stereotypical face to him. And it isn’t all bad. She and him have fun despite himself and, god forbid, he actually begins to remember or know what happiness feels like. But as this relationship goes on, he notices that she is a human being too: someone who needs to use the restroom, sweats, passes gas, gets tired, gets periods, doesn’t get periods, gets cranky and has her own shit to deal with. And maybe she in turn learns things from him too. Maybe he shows her exactly what he perceives as wrong with this world. Maybe she learns that sometimes it is necessary to sit down and take things in: that there are times when it is appropriate–and healthy–to be solemn and really look at what it is that you are doing. Perhaps she can see that sometimes he just doesn’t want to be the main character anymore and that he just wants to be an interesting side-character–the kind that is generally unplayable, a strange NPC–who can come and go with her as she pleases, or as they do.

Perhaps they can dance in the sun and the night and enjoy being alive together. Maybe they can sit in a peaceful and non-threatening silence. And why does she have to be “simple” and he be “complex.” Why can’t they both–or all–just be intelligent and different as human beings? Why can’t they both be wrong, and be right at the same time? In fact, when it is all over in some form or another, why can’t they both go home at the end of the day changed for having met each other?

Because I tell you right now: whenever you do meet someone, you change them. I don’t mean you force to be what you envision them to be, but even if you don’t teach them new things even something as seemingly superficial as your mannerisms sometimes rub off on each other and get adopted in strange ways. And even if you ever get reduced to the point where all that easy conversation and love becomes stilted and somewhat embarrassing after at least one of you moves on with your lives–when you are just a little sentimental enough to make the person you once loved uncomfortable after … whatever the fuck it was you had–you know that just for one moment you both understood each other and held each other for dear life as human beings. And who knows: it might well happen again.

Maybe there is a film or a story like that which uses these two stereotypes–the Manic Dream Pixie Girl and the Brooding Young Man–and subverts them like that. Or I’m just amalgamating another stereotype and some cliched human dynamics together: like from some romantic comedy. But whatever the case, stories about actual human beings are nice: even when you don’t want to live them.

And I will just end off by stating one thing. Ramona Flowers is not a Manic Dream Pixie Girl. If anything, she is more like a Depressive Dream Pixel Girl: at least in the film. She is too detached and ironic to be manic and, frankly, is just another stereotype. And don’t even get me started on Scott Pilgrim. Sometimes, he doesn’t even have the intelligence going for him.

But I will say this: that just because someone isn’t a main character doesn’t mean that they aren’t–or they can’t already be–a protagonist.

It’s Not a Bird, It’s Not a Plane, It’s … A Man of Skulls?

So I wasn’t intending on seeing a movie this weekend. In particular, I wasn’t even sure that I was ever going to see this movie: The Man of Steel. It’s been a few weeks since it came out and everyone–including Sequart–seems to have gotten it out of their system. In fact, some of the things I want to note have already been observed by others. I also won’t lie: after waiting so long to see this film, some of it was spoiled for me and I almost didn’t even bother seeing it if only because of that. However, despite the awesome fact that Sequart published the second part of my article–which ironically deals with the superhero trope in another universe and even refers to Superman to some extent–I needed a night out and I promised someone that I would write on this film eventually.

So let’s get to it and I think it is safe to say that–in this case–the letter ‘S’ does not symbolize hope, but it does represent Spoilers.

We first start off on John Carter … I mean, Krypton. It was refreshing to see Jor-El actually do something: although for someone of the Kryptonian Scientist caste–born, genetically-determined and raised–he certainly knows how to fight in a truly epic sense. He also knows how to ride a flying Boga … I mean, some native Kryptonian flying creature. It is fascinating how they chose to make Krypton far more … vital and detailed than the one from the 1978 movie–which was purely glacial and darkness–but it almost seemed like the fantasy multiverse was weakening around the quadrant of Kryptonian space and that we were seeing at least two realities or narratives trying to coexist at the same time: much like this movie.

File:KryptonMOS.jpg

However, when Jor-El presumably steals, or retrieves, a golden skull endowed with the genetic codex of the entire Kryptonian race: that is where, I feel, the tone or the theme of the entire movie begins to present itself. And it is a fascinating symbol if you really think about it. A skull contains a brain and a mind that, in turn, holds many different perceptions and ideas. However, a naked skull also symbolizes death. It is also really telling that Jor-El infuses this ornamental fragment of a skull–almost a half-mask–to the body of his unauthorized natural born son Kal-El: thus potentially answering the age-old question of whether or not he can interbreed with humans. In any case, this will not be the last time we will see a skull in this movie–a Superman movie–I assure you.

So there is the tone. We have a stratified genetic-caste Kryptonian society that mined its homeworld’s geothermal core so much that it became unstable and it blew the hell up. Moreover, for all of their advanced science and knowledge, the Kryptonians not only seemed to be incompetent enough not to be able to make more ships that can use Phantom energy–yes that Phantom energy: the phantom energy from the Phantom Zone–to go into warp the hell away from Krypton, but apparently they couldn’t even hold their original outward planetary colonies or harvest the geothermal energies of those worlds instead while looking for an alternative. If the genetic caste-system they made was supposed to make their race better, well … eugenics seems to have failed common sense here.

But that is neither here nor there. So after Krypton and its stratified way of life dies with enough destruction not to even ashes, never mind bones, we come to Kal-El on his space ship going all the way to Earth: specifically Earth … where he will be seen as either a monster or a god. And then we fast-forward about thirty-three years Earth time (since it was apparently millennia dead Kryptonian time, which is fair enough) and we see Clark Kent and his various other aliases failing–or almost failing–at remaining incognito on his adopted world.

There are some iconic scenes of an unshaven Clark without his shirt on lifting heavy metal on an oil rig while being set on fire and obviously having nothing happen to him beyond an awesome looking stylized aesthetic effect: of which there are several more throughout the film. Essentially what we are looking at now, in this stage, is someone who isn’t Superman yet–doesn’t know the extent of his abilities or who he is–and yet can’t stop himself from wanting to save everyone.

This compulsive need to save everybody is not only emblematic of Superman, but of all the superheroes that come after him for a time. Even though this need gets mitigated and changed and qualified in different comics and media after Superman’s first appearance in the comics world, it is still there. He wants to save lives, or at least not harm them: even the people who cause him or others pain. In this particular movie, for instance, as we see snippets of his childhood and early life in flashbacks, there were many times he could ended the lives of all the childhood bullies and adult douchebags in his way. In fact, even with his very understanding and compassionate human parents–Martha and Jonathan Kent–I’m quite surprised that he didn’t at least have one temper-tantrum–once–and snap some other kid’s head off. But I guess he wouldn’t be Superman if he had.

… Anyway, I find it refreshing that this film skips the tip-toeing about and actually lets Lois Lane use her deductive reasoning and journalistic skills to pretty figure out who Clark actually is. I actually liked Lois in this film: because unlike other incarnations of her–especially the version of her in the 1978 film–she isn’t really abrasive and at the same time takes very little crap from anyone. At the same time though … while it was refreshing to see her have some active roles in what was going on, she didn’t really get to continue her main role as a reporter after a certain point in the film. It mostly focuses on her burgeoning relationship with the sublime: or Clark, take your pick. And for that matter I do wonder why, later on when the governments of the world are searching for Clark and even after, when they still want to find out who he is–why they simply don’t wiretap or do some reconnaissance on Lois Lane: retracing her steps and finding out more or less what she already knows. Then again, the humans in this film are the ones with the most common sense compared to … the others.

Because guess what? In this film we have General Zod and friends. Yes, when Krypton was dying General Zod exceeded his military authority and attempted a coup of that world. For this attempted coup and murdering Jor-El, Zod and his loyal soldiers were imprisoned in another seemingly cryogenic version of the Phantom Zone for a lengthy “rehabilitation” period: long enough to wake up again in their prison ship and watch Krypton blow up and leave them with essentially, well, nothing.

So, yes. General Zod. What we have here with the good General is a man that was born and bred–engineered–to be of the Kryptonian Warrior caste: although what wars or conflicts the Kryptonians could have been fighting towards their decline–unless they are a really long-lived species–is beyond me. Also, his lack of a sensible deontological imperative in his DNA is rather troubling. He was basically Krypton’s military commander and, like Jor-El, saw the Ruling Council’s decision to drain their geothermal core as rather stupid. But unlike Jor-El–who wanted to send off Krypton’s children in ships to help the race survive–Zod’s solution was to start killing members of the Council and attempt to take over: mostly because, due to his conditioning, that is all he was really mentally capable of doing.

Eventually, after he realizes that Jor-El has stolen the Golden Skull–I mean the Codex–he goes after him and, after Jor-El manages to kick his ass and send Kal-El and the Codex far away, and then he kills him. But eventually the rest of Krypton’s military doesn’t quite like Zod’s decisions and they apprehend him. So what to do they do? They know their world is dying and will blow up relatively soon. Now, the sensible thing to do with Zod would be to execute him and his followers: I mean aside from the fact that they committed treason and death themselves; it would be more merciful to kill them so that when Krypton dies as well they won’t find themselves alone in the cold darkness of space.

So of course the Kryptonians temporarily banish them into the Phantom Zone for “rehabilitative purposes”: you know, to be civilized and merciful.

It is this sort of behaviour that really makes me kind of sympathize with Zod just a bit: because I can only imagine that he has witnessed and even abetted this cultural attitude so many times over before he just got fed up. Even when he tells Jor-El that he wants to decide what “bloodlines” will survive when he builds a new Krypton–there or somewhere else–you have to also understand that he wasn’t really talking genocide at that time. No, Zod was referring to the Kryptonian Genesis Chamber–the one we see much later that somehow is on a ship under Zod’s control–where blank slates of embryos that still seem to await genetic assignment are held. I imagine he was thinking of engineering most of those potential embryos into a larger Warrior Caste, with many more Workers I’m sure.

So yes, Zod wasn’t suited for anything outside of military strategy but he was trying to solve the situation as best he could when no one else was really offering anything better or more immediate: except for Jor-El of course. Basically, Zod wanted to protect his ideal of Krypton: which was more or less what he had been created to do.

And there is the issue. You see, Zod and his crew managed to get their hands on some old Kryptonian technology after they went out to see if any of the old colonies survived. One of the most prominent of these is a “world engine”: something that is designed to terraform whole planets. Now, here is what some people might be thinking at this point. Zod needs Kal-El–Clark–because his father gave him the genetic Codex that along with the Genesis Chamber can restore the Kryptonian race.

So General Zod comes to Earth in his ship and asks for its governments to turn Kal-El over to him: no overt threats or anything. General Zod is obviously planning to find an uninhabited world like Mars or even the Moon and use his terraforming engine to make an atmosphere for his people. Then he will use the Codex’s information, with Kal-El’s help, to activate and imprint the embryos in the Genesis Chamber to restore the Kryptonians, gain power from the younger yellow sun and then, you know, make an alliance with the people of Earth and trade resources for knowledge and everything. Because, you know, you’d think that something like this would make sense.

But evidently, the same genetic code that resulted in Zod’s seeming lack of obedience is the same force that lacks an ingrained understanding of knowing his limits and the need for Scientist and Diplomat castes.  Zod’s plan is to take Clark and Lois Lane, not search Lois Lane or Clark, reveal what he did to Jor-El to Clark after giving him a really disturbing vision through potentially some kind of telepathic device, and then explain how he is going to take over Earth and exterminate all humankind to make a new Krypton: presumably because Earth has a more gentle environment than Krypton ever had … though his plan to terraform it using what are essentially sonic booms seems to be kind of at cross-purposes with even that idea.

However, there is also the common sense of the film to consider. It’s interesting how with all that attention focused on a Watchmen, 300, and Sucker Punch stylized sense of violence that director Zack Snyder would have neglected other aesthetic and, dare I say, plot concerns. I mean: there have been other stories that took Superman’s ‘S’ and made it actually look like another kind of symbol. You know: they actually made the symbol more alien looking as it, well, should have been given that it was from Krypton again. Also, the fact that all Kryptonians–including Jor-El and Zod–seem to wear spandex and the House of El ‘S’ symbol is extremely off-putting (and confusing) and a part of my brain kept saying, “Really? Really!?” That sort of thing works for a meta-narrative or a parody: not something that is supposed to be as “serious” as The Man of Steel.

I mean, look, I understand that Snyder and others wanted to get to the Superman bit right away, to say, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superman! Look at him! Superman!” but seriously: in addition to the spandex S-wearing Kryptonians, could have at least had a lead-in into the Superman costume instead of having it right there ready-made by Jor-El? I mean, really? Really? And some more lead in into watching Clark discover his powers would have been nice too. I understand they don’t want to go all Smallville, but seriously he must have a damned good learning curve: is all I have to say. It’s almost like a good portion of this movie is, “Look, it’s Superman! See? He has his costume and powers and such! Isn’t that awesome!? And look at how we are adapting him to our world now! See! See!?”

But all snark aside for the moment, even after all that I gave the film the benefit of the doubt. I mean, we have the basic Superman qualities right there in front of us and a lot of the old archetypal elements too. I was also entertained by the interplay and the destruction. When Zod finally started to use his world-engine and it split, under my breath I whispered to myself, “Double jeopardy, Superman.” The depiction of the disorientation that Earth’s environment had on the Kryptonians was impressive too.

But as for the ending … All right. This was what was spoiled for me. But before I go into that, I want to refer everyone back to Zod and Clark’s exchange in the latter’s dreamscape. Do you remember that scene: where Zod is telling Clark all about what happened and what his plans are and, as he does so, Clark is buried by a massive amount of humanoid skulls?

Well, fast forward from there. Clark–now called Superman–destroys the ship with the Genesis Chamber: with all of those blank embryos. Through a joint effort with the military and Lois Lane, he manages to send the rest of Zod’s men back to the Phantom Zone, or purgatory, or whatever you want to call it. Then it is only Zod. Now Zod by this point is actually using what he knows and has adapted–as a Warrior–to Earth’s environment and the powers of its yellow sun.

At this point, Zod has basically lost everything. The Chamber, his people and any hope of restoring the Kryptonians that he claimed to want to protect. Zod has nothing left for him except for, really, what he had always been seeking this entire time. Gone is the self-proclaimed saviour, the grizzled general, and the ends justifies the means warrior. All that is left is a battle-maddened monster: the thing that had been growing inside Zod for far too long. As I said, a lesser man who was not Superman–especially one whose father was killed by this man–would have totally rubbed it in. I also admit that in a very perverse way, I enjoyed the fact that Zod pretty much lost everything he ever claimed to love and all that was left of him was the beast he always was.

In a way, Zod was the real legacy of the original Krypton as depicted in this film: with all of its self-contradictions and an inherent idea of superiority. Superman, on the other hand, is different: in that his birth hadn’t been predetermined and it was “natural.” Also remember that he still holds the Codex inside of his DNA. Here is a man that attempts to do as much as he can, improve himself however he can, and save anyone he can to the best of his abilities. In Superman is the potential for an Apollonian future. A holographic Jor-El takes a great deal of time telling his son that he has the potential to elevate humanity to the stars.

Both Zod and Superman come from a dead world and deaths have shaped them more or less into what they are now. But the irony is that while Zod doesn’t see any potential for a new Krypton without the “pure genetics” of those embryos, Superman may well understand what I believe his father had really been thinking: that by giving him the Codex–the DNA of all Kryptonians–he could interbreed with humanity and make something better and freer than the old Kryptonians. Of course, Zod would never see this–or even accept this–and this is where the end game begins.

You see, Superman took away Zod’s dream. So now, with nothing left to lose, Zod decides he will take Superman’s dream away as well: or taint it as much as possible. As some of the fine people at Sequart have already said, Zod wants to die at this point and, for all of his really poor decisions, he isn’t stupid. He knows the one way he can force Superman to kill him. There is no Kryptonite or magic in this film. There is just brute power. In the end, Zod forces Superman to choose. It’s actually surprising that he doesn’t just kill as many human beings as he can out of sheer spite, or use them as human shields, but the way I figure it Zod is just bloody tired at this point and really just wants to go down fighting and spiritually take his opponent down with him.

So, for the first time in film, we get to see Superman forced into a situation where he has to kill his first villain: punctuated by the crunching sound of General Zod’s neck in his arms.

Really, the only other moment that could be any more poignant is if Batman had shot the Joker with a gun.

I mean, for us it is a no-brainer. Zod was threatening innocents and in a scenario of sharp choice we know what most human beings would do. But this is Superman: with his altruistic ideals and his need to save everyone. Essentially, Zod made Superman–for one instant–compromise the ideals that are attributed to him. He infected him with the violence of his own being, the anger and pain engineered into him by Krypton. And even though Zod lost everything, in a way he won. He forced Superman to do what he had been doing during the entire film: he made him choose between lives. So when Superman is crying at the end and Lois is holding him, you know the real thing Superman lost is the idea of his own innocence: of not having ever taken a life in both the film and in other media.

Of course, I know that he has killed others before in the comics but those acts are not emblematic of the character. At the same time, it is very tempting to go back to that vision of him standing in that growing pile of humanoid skulls and wonder if those deaths were to be the result of Zod … or himself. After all, in addition to all those people who inevitably died in Metropolis due to the sheer collateral violence of his battles with the Phantom Zone soldiers, Superman just killed a man. It has set a precedent in at least film. What is to stop him from doing it again? What is to stop him from drowning in that past of the dead?

Will this and was this the only time he will have to be the arbiter of life and death? Remember what happened with this film’s version of Jonathan Kent. Unlike the heart-attack of Jonathan in the 1978 version of the film–the immaculate and moving way in which Superman was taught that for all of his power he still had limitations–this Jonathan forces Clark to choose not to save him from a tornado so that no one else will be able to confirm what he is yet. Essentially, Superman is taught that he has no limits: except those he and those he loves makes on himself. It was a little bit of a clunky lesson compared to the last, but it is something to consider in the context of this film: especially when you look at how Kryptonian society–by its very genetics program–also made choices for others.

And then there is that other question to consider: why was the Codex of all Kryptonian DNA shaped like a golden skull? And whose skull was it? How far into Tomorrow can one go before all they find is death? If you’ve ever read Superman: Red Son, which I highly recommend, you also might really wonder about that too.

There was some concern that Superman as an Apollonian figure of hope and something to aspire to would be dragged into the muck of darkness and humanity. Well, at least this incarnation of him has been. Can he learn to get past this? Most likely. Is he still Superman? Well, many of the humans around him seem to think so. Does any of this change who he is for all time? Certainly not: as far as I am concerned this is just another continuity and there will inevitably be another reboot of him in some media or other somewhere down the line. Can he still provide hope? The answer, I think, is yes.

I appreciated a few elements in this film, but I am ultimately going to give it a 3/5. It’s interesting but there were aspects that needed some improvement, some plot-holes filled, and an actual philosophical story with an occasional bit of action would have been nice too. At the very least, if nothing else, it leaves me with wondering what next the Man of Tomorrow might bring.

Skeletons Have All the Fun

It isn’t even a ten-minute walk from the Velvet to Rainbow Nosferatu’s club, but his chest still aches. He shakes his head and looks up at his handiwork.

The Scrawling is in the back of the office complex closest to the parking lot. A sign with stylized cursive red font over a black background greets him: complete with a skeleton’s hand drawing a hanged stickman on a white skull with a quill. Rainbow Nosferatu spares a glance at the makeshift bike-rack below the steps of the entrance: knowing he will be back for his ride later as he enters his club.

Despite his name, Rainbow Nosferatu finds himself bathed in the familiar dark red light of the remaining candles in their glasses on the tables closest to the door. A large projector screen dominates the dark red club while slide-shows scroll through a variety of images up overhead. He waves at some of the staff as they continue cleaning up for the night. Chairs and tables scrape across the floor without the music that has no doubt stopped for the night. But this doesn’t bother Rainbow Nosferatu. Instead, he closes his eyes for a few moments and basks in the warmth of the place he made with his few friends, very little money and a great deal of love.

The feeling of sunflowers seems to approach him from behind and he actually smiles a bit–for real this time–as he opens his eyes and watches the slide on the screen transition into another page from a public domain 1950s horror comic.

“You know,” he says, looking up at a scene of skeletons rising up from their graves to embrace a screaming blonde-haired woman in a white bridal gown, “Skeletons used to be so cool in the fifties.”

The sense of sunflowers seemed to laugh with its voice, “Probably because some people needed a real proper boning.”

Rainbow Nosferatu shakes his head, “They weren’t just about the sex. No, there was the vengeance too. Artists in those days could only be so … graphic,” he turns to her as she groans, “What? You just did that earlier Marigold. It’s true though. Underneath all that flesh, we just want to possess each other: out of anger and out of passion. Now it’s all about the zombies: eating flesh indiscriminately and not caring about where your meal has been, or what it even tastes like.”

“I don’t know boss,” Marigold grins up at him through twisted red and yellow dreadlocks, “Flesh-eating has at least a few uses I can think of.”

“True,” Rainbow Nosferatu can’t help but smirk at this game of innuendo, “But a skeleton still has their personality. Even without a bit of flesh on them, they still remember who or what wronged them. They remember what life was like when they had it. Revenge or lust, they keep their eye-socket on the prize and they take what they want. They are the bare essence of want.”

“Ah, so you mean to say ‘kids these days,’ huh Rain?” she wraps an arm around his shoulder and hugs him.

“Yeah, those gosh-darned zombie goth kids these days,” he says ruefully and moves to lean his head against hers in order to return her brief half-hug, “Were there many of them since I was last here?”

Marigold smoothes out the ivory dress on her lithe frame, “Nah boss. A few writer-types. One girl asked for something at the juice-bar and I made it for her. There was a dancer or two. Some Tarot-readers. Oh, and some of the Ancients dropped by and asked about you. Not much else though.”

Rainbow Nosferatu sees as much. The juice stall is closed for the night. Marigold made excellent drinks among hostessing and ticket-collecting. Despite what he told Jake earlier about checking on drinking in his club–which was mostly to get away from him anyway–he couldn’t actually afford a liquor license: yet another thing Linda would remind him of …

“Don’t come back until you have your shit together.”

Rainbow Nosferatu suddenly feels tired, “I guess the All-Ages Nights are going the way of the skeletons too,” he looks sadly around the place, his place, “Has Linda …”

“No,” Marigold shakes her head, “I’m sorry, boss, but I didn’t see her come in or down from the loft,” she puts a hand on his shoulder, “Is everything ok Rain?”

He looks at her for a few moments and senses her warmth and concern. He knows that sometimes she can see right through him: through each other without the details, “Is my aura really that blue?”

“Yeah, well,” she shrugs again, “Let me put it to you this way: your aura might as well be singing ‘I hurt myself today’ in Texican drawl.”

“Heh,” he gives her that, knowing that she is trying to make him laugh and feel a bit better, “I thought … Linda and I thought to ourselves: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to make a Club for All-Ages where you can sit and write, or dance to Dead Can Dance or Sisters of Mercy while reading projected slides of old horror comics and poetry on the screen instead of watching muted TV shows or music videos?’ But we weren’t prepared for the costs. Now things are changing and I guess, in the end, that’s the way things go.”

“I still think it’s a really awesome idea, Rain,” she squeezes his hand.

“Yeah. Me too,” Rainbow Nosferatu sighs, “we had some good times here. But it’s only a matter of time now … before we go the way of Sanctuary.”

“We lasted a while, Rain.”

“A few months now,” he nods, “I guess we have one more at best. Maybe I can get away with using some epic video game boss battle sound-track for the Last Nights!” he somehow manages to wink against his crushing sadness.

“We’ll have a Gothic Tetris face-off,” Marigold says, “with Dark Soundtracks and Fin de Siecle Tequila Shots!”

“Sounds like a date!” Rainbow Nosferatu hears himself say and inwardly winces at the choice of words, “Well, I’m heading off now. See you next week Marigold.”

“See you. Oh, boss, I almost forgot something.”

Rainbow Nosferatu blinks. He can see the sunflower glow around Marigold become subdued with blue, “What is it Marigold?”

She reaches into her bra and takes out a small envelope, “It’s from … Lily.”

Rainbow Nosferatu feels his hands turn clammy.

“Oh,” he says simply, dumbly, staring at the letter in Marigold’s hand, “I’d been trying to get in touch with her for a while now …”

“I know,” Marigold’s eyes look at him with sympathy, “I didn’t open–”

He waves her off as he takes the letter, “Oh I know that, Mari. I appreciate you holding this for me.”

He doesn’t tell her that he’d been sending emails, texts and voice messages to Lily for a month or so now: every once and a while … trying to be unobtrusive. Trying not to be needy … and slowly going crazy inside from not hearing from her. Dark-haired, pallid, thin slight Lily with her love of Neil Gaiman’s Death and the way she listened to his stories whenever they hung out here at The Scrawling. She’d met Linda and they seemed to have gotten along. He and her would hold hands whenever she made it. That was all they really did for a month. It had made him happy to hold that slight pale hand in his own that made his seem so awkward and gangly by comparison.

He remembered her email quite a few nights ago: finally telling him she would get in contact with him soon. He’d almost forgotten that email. Almost.

“You’d never turn pussy down,” he remembers Linda screaming at him during that fight, “In fact, you pride yourself on it.”

He turns away and opens the letter. It is a simple piece of paper with three words written in beautiful cursive writing.

Stop writing me.

Rainbow Nosferatu blinks. Stop. Writing. Me. Each word hits him. Each word is like a punch to the stomach. Three punches to the stomach. Three times. He swallows.

“Rain?”

Marigold walks in front of him and takes the letter. She looks at it. Her subdued aura becomes a burning one of vivid reds, blues and violets, “Oh Rain, I’m …”

“I-it’s ok, Marigold,” he says, quietly, “I guess … in the end, she’s just a kid. She …”

“She’s twenty years old, Rain,” Marigold looks as angry as she feels to him, “She was adult enough to get into it. She knew what she was doing. I did back in the day. And this … this is just totally uncool! I mean … oh Rain, I’m sorry.”

She hugs him again. It takes him a few moments, but he returns her embrace, “It’s okay, Mari,” he gently pushes her away, “I’m … disappointed, I won’t lie. But with Linda and everything, it’s … just as well now. Wow. I’m really not having a good month,” he shakes his head and finds himself tucking the piece of paper into his pants pocket, “Gosh darn zombie goth kids these days I guess,” he smiles weakly, “I need to go.”

“Are you sure? Rain …”

He looks at her: Marigold the bartender, waitress, ticket-collector, dancer, Goth, one of the few that believed sunflowers were happy accidents of God, who knew what obscure movie that paraphrase came from, one of his few friends who he knows that right now–anytime–but especially right now would do anything for him. Anything. He breaks that half-thought and he’s glad his face is painted white enough to cover the red that threatens it.

“I need some time to myself right now. Thank you. Love you, Mari. See you later,” he hugs her one more time and leaves.

He wonders, as he clears the door and down the stairs, what people might think of the streaks of black mascara and white make-up rolling down his face. Maybe they would think he’s some dumb punk kid. Or maybe a clown. That was it. Maybe they’d think he was the Great Pagliacci.

Pagliacci: the Gothic Clown.

Yet These Hands Will Never Hold Anything … Except For Paper and a Pen

I was fully intending to let you all know that I was going to attend–and this time participate in–the 12 Hour Marathon Comic Book Marathon at the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery. However I ended up re-blogging–and blogging–about Pollychromatic’s Be Brave, Be Heard article instead, which was more than worth it seeing as it attempts to create a powerful visual symbol of female identity, voice and survival in the social and cultural climate of this particular era. So at this point, I have already participated in the Marathon and I want to talk about that, and my weekend.

I woke up early Saturday to gather some supplies together and check my email. When I came online, I saw that Julian Darius and Cody Walker published the first part to my article Yet Those Hands Will Never Hold Anything: Emiya Shirou as the Interactive Superhero of Fate/Stay Night on Sequart. You can look up Sequart through the link I just made or on my Blogroll: there are many interesting scholarly articles on themes, character analyses, and the history and influences in and of the comics medium. I have to say that this made my bright hot summer day before trekking out to the TTC and getting to the Lounge.

On the subway ride there, I spent some time writing out some notes as to what kind of story I wanted to sketch out. I am not much of a visual artist, as I’ve probably said before, but I was resolved to make something come from this Marathon. This was not the first time I’d attended, as I recounted in another entry of mine, but I actually made it earlier and prepared to get some work done.

The organizer of this event, Keiren Smith, met me as I came up the stairs and introduced me to the other creators already in attendance and heavily at work. I settled onto the black leather couch next to the washroom, took my shoes off, and took out the lined paper on my clipboard that I was writing stuff on earlier on the subway. I proceeded to make a few notes and create my captions and dialogue before my crude attempts at drawing the images and the panels around them.

Of course, it didn’t work completely as I planned. I was pretty tired from the heat and the fact that I’m not so used to being up and about as early as I had been. I also kept losing my pens. I got to socialize with some people from time to time and met new faces along with a few old ones. I took my entire box of business cards for Mythic Bios with me just in case as well. At first I was torn between socializing and getting this comic done. The comic itself evolved from an idea I came up with in another work not too long ago. Basically, this mo-fo–and I say this fondly–was going to be a first-person comic: where we as readers get to see the protagonist interact with other people and surroundings from his own perspective along with some helpful dialogue and captions along the way.

Yeah. My first comic in ages and I have to be experimental about it: just as the story was intended to be. It is the extension of a world that I began working on four or five years ago and it amazing to realize the point where you centralize a world of your creation so much that it actually extends itself outward: when it becomes the core of a growing reality.

Okay, so after clicking on the Creative Process Category part of this Blog entry just now, I’m going to go into more of what actually happened. Well, it fought me: naturally. I sat there and despite the snippets of quotes and ideas I had on the margins, I was stuck for a little while. I knew I had to make something at least twelve pages and that this would determine what story I would be able to tell. I was also a bit hot and I wanted to talk to people when I wasn’t pleasantly drowsy on the couch.

Finally, an artist I was sitting next to and chatting with, Megan Kearney, suggested the obvious that I was missing: that I should just create thumbnail sketches.

And that was when I began to draw my comic. I thought about my panels and, aside from the occasional rectangular ones, I did mostly three columns of two large square panels. Sometimes they were arranged differently, but most of the time they were just side-by-side patterns. I had to also think of how a first-person perspective would work. I mean, I had seen one before such as in the zombie apocalyptic graphic novel known as Daybreak, but I could only see the complications that my former Master’s thesis supervisor and I once talked about when he was comparing book narratives to comics and film.

But I did show my protagonist in a mirror and came up with a good line there. I also showed his … hands occasionally. Mostly, I was focusing on the narrative in the captions. I already accepted that my drawing would be basic at best, so I focused on the writing and the graphic pauses between visuals and that writing. It’s like what is said about Jeff Smith: in that he wrote and drew Bone as though he were telling a joke.

I also got to watch other artists and some of their creative processes at work. I saw some people with reference books and sketches. Megan herself was doing some water colouring of the project she brought with her. I saw a few people looking at books from the Lounge whom I didn’t get the chance to speak with. And I saw some people doing some very intricate work with paints and small inked cells on paper. Hell, some people were even inking their comics. It was insane and intense: in a lot of good ways.

The number twelve was both intimidating and painfully doable to me. Just twelve pages, I kept telling myself. Eventually, my thumb-sketching became my drawing and I just focused on telling a story. My concentration wasn’t all that great the entire time. Sometimes my mind wandered and I got tired. It became painfully apparent to me after a while, even after I ate the food that I brought akin to breakfast, that I needed to get something to eat or the only thing I would be writing would be ellipses. Sometimes I can power through creating something and then dealing with my body afterwards, but on that summer day on Saturday it was a bad idea.

At one point, at about the beginning of page five, I walked out of the Lounge and down Little Italy to find some more food. It was beautiful out. People were dressed in colourful light clothing and talking and holding hands at outdoor cafes. I admit I’d been watching them outside the window above the couch anyway when I needed to get up. I even walked past Euclid Avenue and realized that the Dragon Lady that I visited with some friends a few years ago had been here. By the time I got past Sneaky Dees, I was feeling nostalgic in this familiar summer setting of everything. Then I ate some food as I came back and talked a bit more with people.

Of course, by then it was too late and I began to realize that I had the beginnings of a headache. Luckily, I brought my regular strength Tylenol with me: just to be sure. Of course, now–for me–I was going to be working with a handicap. My mind was really drifting and I vowed to myself that I was going to at least get to page six of my work before doing anything else: to get halfway done. Neil Gaiman did not succeed in finishing his 24-hour comic, but I could succeed in drawing and writing twelve bloody pages!

Then I somehow got to seven and at that point I had gotten fed up, took some more business cards, talked to some people, and gave them out. Then I browsed the comics because, after all, this was a bloody comics store and it was my duty to do so. At this point, my Second Wind kicked in in a terrifying sort of way. So I sat down and after telling someone else I was going to do this, I did.

The thing is: this story had been in my head for a while that day–with other elements of it being in there for much longer–and I wanted it out. I wanted to finish what I started and have, in my hands, something to be proud of. And then seven pages became eight, and nine … by the time I got to the double digits, I knew I was going to do it. I just began drawing as basically as possible, not really caring about too many inaccuracies such as who was on the left or right, but just getting it out.

It was only after a while, after doing this all on my writing paper, instead of the white blank paper I brought for the purposes of drawing on, that I realized I was actually going to go over twelve pages.

And I did.

I finished my comic with about two minutes to spare before the deadline of 11. I felt … a good kind of tired. I did it. I finished the first part of an entire chapter of a fictional book I created in another world and I finished it more or less how I wanted to. So I talked with Keiren and some other people, and then I walked from College and Clinton in the summer night of Toronto back to Bathurst Station where I took a long ride back to Thornhill.

There was no way I was going to write the full story of that comic in just that night and maybe one day I will continue it, but I did what I set out to do: I drew it up to the point where I mentioned the very last sentence that it possessed in another narrative of mine. That night, I basically went to sleep in my clothes and on top of my blankets. I don’t remember even going to sleep, but I actually woke up pretty well rested all things considered.

The Marathon was a good, constructive day and I’m glad I did this. Oh, and for those who might say “Pictures or it didn’t happen,” I don’t have a scanner and just a camera. Also, my pictures are insanely crude and my writing … somewhat legible. Maybe one day I will show it, but right now I will just leave you with the message that I went out, took an idea with me, fleshed it, and finished it strong.

But I lied. There is actually one more thing I want to say. Aside from thanking Keiren Smith and the Comic Book Lounge for organizing and hosting this event respectively, and all my fellow awesome creators for attending it, I want to add a little tidbit about storytelling. A long time ago, a Creative Writing teacher of mine asked me which story-line of a meta-narrative I was making was either true or false. Nowadays, and after working on this comic–with its own meta-narrative sense–I realized something.

Something that parodies another thing, or subverts it and yet has its own intrinsic world-rules–or writing continuity and rhythm–can be more than just one thing: or one thing or the other. The fact is, for me, I like the idea of a multiplicity of different things happening one space and different dimensions. I like that dynamism. The truth is that all of my stories, even the stories within stories, are real. They are real to me.

And I think that is the thought out of all of this excellence that I am going to leave you all with.

ETA: Towards the end of the night, at the other end of the room people started singing this song parody. And as I worked, I sang along with them.

This is what happens when you put a group of geeky creators together in one space for an extended period of time.