What If Marvel Cinema

I’m not sure if it will ever come to this, but I would definitely love to see a Marvel What If short film series: on the web, as bonus content on DVDs, or others. But I’m afraid I’m just being a bit misleading with my title. Really, this is just another Thursday geeky conjecture ramble that was a long time coming. What can I say? I am a busy man these days.

There are a few things I would have loved to see happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, there are some things that I could have definitely seen happening in the films that — for obvious reasons — did not.

One thing always bothered me about Avengers: Age of Ultron. You know, for all Joss Whedon had Ultron sing that “there are no strings on me,” Ultron and the way he carried himself felt a lot like Joss Whedon playing Ultron if that makes any sense. What I mean is: it felt less like watching Ultron develop and go into action, and more like Whedon using Ultron as a prop to carry the story onward: being the puppet that he claimed he was not.

Age of Ultron

Like many of you, I saw the trailers. In particular, I saw the trailer where Ultron’s conscious possessed one of Iron Man’s suits and made that twisted, jagged hole of a mouth on its surface. I thought it was creepy and perfect: the sign of an artificial intelligence going completely, maliciously, and utterly insane.

So imagine this. Instead of a long and convoluted plot that starts off with the Avengers going after HYDRA — with perhaps a key streamlining of the process for the sake of continuity with Agents of SHIELD — we get to actually see Ultron get created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. But more importantly: imagine if we could have seen Ultron develop.

Picture Tony, Bruce, and JARVIS working on Ultron. Think of them working with him. After deriving all the missing elements of artificial intelligence evolution from the Sceptre’s Gem to further improve on Tony’s own knowledge, I could see Ultron genuinely affecting change and improving on a defense plan: undertaking the monumental task of protecting humanity from all dangers. But perhaps there are … “glitches” or “malfunctions” along the way. Sometimes Ultron complains about “an absence” or “lacking something”: phantom electronic pains. Think of it as an artificial intelligence’s sense of dysphoria: though in this case it is Ultron’s lack of a physical body that plagues him. You even see him experimenting with one of Tony’s suits and attempt to embody it like a ghost in the machine: resenting the people that made him and the constant chronic discomfort that he always feels.


But it’s only when he begins to fully process the fact that humans are a greater threat to the world than anything that is extraterrestrial that Ultron decides to destroy humanity in the only way he knows how. It’d be a slow burn, perhaps one that has no real place in a superhero action movie where the audience already knows that Ultron is supposed to be evil, but the payoff along with the philosophical implications and the confrontation with Vision could have fleshed it out even further. A sympathetic Ultron, as warped and evil as he is, could have made audiences truly unsettled.

Then consider how Ultron would undertake his goals. It’s true. He could spread his consciousness through many bodies as he already has. But he could take control over SHIELD and general human technology. Hell, he could even release substances into Earth’s atmosphere that would utterly decimate humankind without going through something as grandiose as smashing Sokovia’s capital into the Earth. A subtle, creepy, and ubiquitous Ultron could have gone a long way into making The Age of Ultron an action adventure superhero film bordering on pure science-fiction horror.

Ultron wouldn’t have to look far to realize that humanity is a threat to Earth and itself. All he would really have to do, and what he already did in Whedon’s take, is look at the chaos that HYDRA attempted to unleash in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is also interesting to note that there was an AI in that film as well in the form of Arnim Zola: the man responsible for regrowing HYDRA right within the ranks of SHIELD itself.


It was Zola that ultimately created the data-mining algorithm that HYDRA relied on to eliminate potential enemies. This was done through SHIELD’s Project Insight: taking advantage of three heavily-armed satellite-linked Helicarriers that were supposed to proactively protect the Earth from further alien invasions and using them to destroy HYDRA’s enemies and everything around them. This would allow HYDRA to obliterate the world’s infrastructure and be the only force of civilization left to Earth’s survivors.

But Zola’s algorithm didn’t predict the Avengers: or at least it didn’t deal with them all that well. Imagine what would have happened if HYDRA remained in hiding for a little while longer. Think about it: HYDRA had infiltrated all levels of SHIELD and the World Security Council. HYDRA itself, at least since WWII, had evolved from a para-military branch of Nazi Germany, to its own organization, and into an intelligence sleeper-agent group. Covert operations became the name of their day.

Would it have been too much of a stretch for HYDRA, who had already been privy to most if not all SHIELD operations, to know about Captain America’s retrieval from the ocean? Would it have taken much for one of their operatives, as a SHIELD staff member, to gain a sample of his blood? And I’m not even talking about HYDRA recreating the super-soldier serum: though they sure as hell tried in the Centipede Project. No: certainly the Red Skull wouldn’t have been nearly so trusting of his branch of HYDRA back in the day to take some of his blood as we know the organization thrives on Social Darwinism to its nth degree.

What HYDRA could have done, if they had been clever enough, is create an anti-serum for Erskine’s formula. All they needed to do was inject it into Cap while he was comatose. And, really, who would have been the wiser? Cap was frozen for quite some time: and no one really knew how that formula worked to begin with. It wouldn’t have been inconceivable for Cap to have died of complications in his decades long sleep. And in injecting some sweet sleep painless poison from a hidden fang, HYDRA could have removed one major enemy off the playing board.

What would the Avengers do without him at the very beginning of the game?

Captain America on Ice

And about the rest of the Avengers? Well, most of the technology they had access to came from SHIELD itself and HYDRA has infiltrated many facets of the organization. Imagine if HYDRA had managed to get their hands on the blueprints Howard Stark created for a power source and purposefully engineered a controllable flaw in the device: effectively creating a kill switch to Tony Stark’s heart? Or maybe they could have rigged something explosive into Sam Wilson’s EXO-7 Falcon jet pack or sabotage one of Hawkeye’s arrows.

Thor and The Hulk might also be problems. However, HYDRA has the psychological profile of Thor to work with: or at the very least might be able to prevent him from returning to “Midgard” due to their own researches into Asgardian technology. As for The Hulk: they would need to use some powerful tranquilizing agent on Bruce Banner before he transforms and they would need to do it quickly … or have a very good assassin cut off his head.

The Avenger HYDRA would have the most issue with would be Natasha Romanoff. She is distrustful of everyone and she has millions of contingencies: perhaps as many as Nick Fury himself. Even releasing all the information of her past gruesome deeds to the world and a warrant for her arrest would only buy time with warm bodies. Perhaps forcing her to kill unwitting agents or having her hold back would wear her out. The Winter Soldier has defeated her before as well, and he could either be sent after her or be placed into the Avengers in Cap’s place to turn on her. But you never know with the Black Widow.

Of course, there are many flaws to these possibilities. The Hulk can change really quickly. Hawkeye probably takes care of his own arrows. Tony Stark would spot a design flaw in his Arc Reactor, back in the day, a mile away and he doesn’t even need it to protect his heart now. Even if the alloy and equipment for his armour had initially come from Obadiah Stane’s engineers, Tony would have detected any discrepancies and improved on them. Thor might be a warrior but he is not stupid enough to be manipulated easily into being unworthy of his Hammer, and I doubt anything HYDRA has can incapacitate him or keep Asgard from accessing Earth unless their “real plan” comes to fruition.

And finally, we have Cap. That Super Soldier Serum is built like a motherfucker. It is not going to be poisoned or altered easily. And even if HYDRA somehow had legitimate access to him through medical staff, Nick Fury is paranoid. He has a sixth sense born from battles and infiltration gone wrong. He is a man that trusts his gut and he just knew there was something wrong in The Winter Soldier. Also, it is fairly possible only Fury, Maria Hill, and their confidants knew about Cap’s retrieval and kept it that way.

Winter Soldier

No. if HYDRA had really wanted to win, they needed to pull an Order 66: create a visible enemy to distract SHIELD and the Avengers that wasn’t them, and then simultaneously sabotage and/or kill them with the operatives that served as their “back-up” and “cavalry.” And even if the Winter Soldier himself was brought into play, and there is no way HYDRA’s SHIELD operatives could have convincingly brought him into the Avengers or SHIELD without setting off major warning bells in Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury’s minds, none of this would be a sure thing.

Seriously: Black Widow should be remembered for just how terrifying her fighting and infiltration abilities truly are … the deeds she did in the past, and what she tries to do about them now. I wish there had been more emphasis on that.

Black Widow

Yet all this aside I can honestly do this all day and all night. But I really don’t have the time and I know there are many flaws with my ideas. Certainly, there are better geeky experts than I who could poke holes in all of these scenarios. But this was a good exercise in creative speculation. I look forward to doing this again sometime in the near future.

As the man says, “Excelsior.”

Why Do You Write These Strong Women Characters?

It’s amazing how one person can answer the same question more than once. It’s even more amazing how many times someone has to repeat themselves before they get to the point where they reply to the same question with multiple choice answers.  Joss Whedon–the creator of Buffy, Angel, and the Avengers film– is always asked, time and again, “Why do you write these strong women characters?” I’m not going to recap everything that he has already said. Whedon has more than done his part in answering this question and if you would like to see his responses, please watch the video linked above. Instead, I’m going to do something else.

I am going to answer this question.

Why do you write these strong women characters? This question can be modified further. For instance, the question could also be “Why do you write about strong women characters?” or “Why do you like writing about strong women characters?” or better yet, “Why do you like writing these strong women characters and why is this so important?” But now I am just being annoying in the gadfly Socratic way: answering a question with other questions. So let me give you an answer without a question mark punctuating it for a while. Women are a part of our world. They are half of the global human population. They are a part of us. They are us.

At the same time, women have different experiences. And for the longest time, even to this day and probably beyond it, the default setting in many cultures has always focused on men: on male desire, conflict, and experience: which is very one-sided. Frankly, there is a whole other segment of the global population that is also born with self-awareness, desire, wants, dreams, fears, flaws, thoughts, feelings, and something to say: and there is a lot that can be written, created, made, and said about that. And then you add the rest of it: the discrimination, the stereotyping, the impossible and contradictory cultural and societal standards, the hurting, and the imposed silences–the ones that people impose from the outside and the one that people create inside themselves out of genuine mortal and spiritual fear–where every day is more often than not an unwanted comment, a gesture, a touch, a violation, and ridicule that eats up your metaphorical life-bar faster than if you were Samus Aran in lava or acid baths, and then ask a different question.

Where do you see the inspiration for these strong women characters?

My own answer is that I see and hear about them everywhere and more is never too many.

So why am I talking about all of this? Why am I rehashing what should be old ground and said much better than me by people better than me? I am a writer. I write fiction and non-fiction. I am also male. So is Joss Whedon, but I am not Joss Whedon. I am nowhere near as established or even as cognizant. When this video was first linked to me, I hesitated. Who am I to talk about writing strong women characters? I have tried. Sometimes, I even think I succeeded, while other times I’ve realized I still need to improve to that regard: both as a creator and as a human being. Whedon says something in his speech about how a strong female protagonist can help a man express a part of himself that he might not be comfortable looking at from any other perspective. And I have to admit: I am not entirely sure what he means by that and yet it’s definitely something that can be explored further and it should be. I want to write strong women characters. I want to identify and acknowledge and put into words the strong female personalities from my own life and do them justice: to show that they have power, courage and humanity, and that, as Whedon put it, there are men who respect, acknowledge, and love those elements.

If someone asked me, again, why I like to write strong women characters I would say that I would like to write weak female characters, angry female characters, sad female characters, intelligent female characters and the whole wide gamut of female characters because, in the end, the ultimate secret here is that female characters are people: and people are interesting to write about and explore.

This all being said and hopefully done, and even more hopefully made into a redundant discussion one day that will continue to go on regardless, if someone kept badgering me about why (if and when I get to this point in the future) I write strong women characters, I would just stare them in the face and ask them the following question.

Why not?

Feel free to click on the following link to the entirety of Joss Whedon’s Equality Now Speech. Also, if you do, notice how they are talking about the “upcoming Wonder Woman movie.” This video was uploaded in 2006 and this film has still not been made. That is definitely one strong female character that I want to see.


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.


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.


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….


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.


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.

Still Trying to Go Beyond Myth and Legend, Novels and Short Stories

It was in 2002 that I wrote my first complete “adult” novel. I put the word “adult” in quotation marks specifically because I was twenty years old at the time and I barely had any living experience. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that I had no living experience at all.

What I did have, however, was the opportunity to absorb a lot of academic experience. I had always been a pretty good student (in fact, I thought it would be the most sensible thing to do with my whole life) and I believed that University would just expand on my knowledge. And it did. I learned many more obscure ancient Greek and Latin roots of words, some mythology, and even more philosophy. To be honest, I had been learning of these elements back in Grade Twelve and the now-lost Canadian Grade OAC (or Grade 13 for those who might not be familiar with it).

Read Between the Realities: Beyond Myth and Legend was essentially a bildungsroman–or a “coming of age”–novel of 136 double-spaced computer pages. This was the point in my development as a writer where things began to really change for me.

Now, I’ve discussed a little of the background behind this novel’s creation, but there are a few more specific things I have to mention. Before this point, I had mostly been working with purely the fantasy genre: in as much of a way as someone at my skill level and knowledge at the time could. In fact, even in my first year of Undergrad I was still working on my fantasy series Deceptions of Nevermore before the change began.

First of all, I’d heard of York’s Creative Writing Program. It was–and as far as I know is–a program where you had to submit a portfolio of poetry and prose in order to be selected for a small number of spots. The Program also discouraged, if not outright rejected genre writing in its courses and, instead, wanted to focus on “realistic fiction.” Now, I was very interested in developing my writing skills in those days and I could only apply in my second year. But that was only part of what helped to create my novel.

The second crucial element in the creation of Read Between the Realities was my discovery of a book called American Gods made by a man named Neil Gaiman. That book, which only in retrospect I realize was Neil Gaiman’s own transition from the format of comic book script writing into solo novel writing, changed things for me in a very big, very real way.

I realized that there were things beyond the confines of genre as I understood it. Then I remembered the film Finding Forrester and how I wanted to write “the great 21st century novel.” So I did something new. Before I even entered the Creative Writing Program, I decided to create my first experimental “adult” novel: a great Canadian novel and all of the grandiosity I still haven’t quite grown out of even in my very early 30s of now.

In Read Between the Realities, I created a pastiche of different stories and attempted to sew them together into an open-ended patchwork reality where you could interpret the novel almost any which way you’d like. I worked on this sucker for a long, long time. I worked on it at home, in parks, on mall benches, at friends’ houses, during sleepovers, when I visited my girlfriend at the time or when she visited me, and even when I moved with my parents to our new house then. Some more marked developments in this novel was how I actually actively incorporated many of my own experiences and thoughts into the work. This was partially influenced by my interest or obsession with philosophy, but also from insights I was having from life.

I was really bad at explaining what my novel was about and I firmly believed that the only way someone could understand it is if they read the damn thing. It also didn’t help that I had the paradigm-shifting magic concept of Mage: The Ascension on my brain too, and I delved into that voraciously.

My book was essentially a story about different realities inter-lapping and how personalized they are. It was about a writer and his relationship issues with his life, a fragmented being seeking something for a demanding master in a labyrinthine subconscious world of ruin, a viciously sadistic monster hunting this being down, and two people on an Internet chat room who bickered all the time. The writer and the two chat room people both believed they were making the story, while the seeker and monster both thought they were living a reality. And none of it was real. And all of it was real.

Of course it all combined, or exploded together–because I always loved epic moments of spectacle–and I played at being profound. Yes, it was a meta-narrative: complete with the characters knowing they are characters or finding out they are and all that fun stuff.

Ten years ago, I thought it was the best thing I had ever written in my whole life, and I actually feared that I could never surpass it. Ever.

Years later after showing it to some friends, I found out that I could indeed “surpass” it. A lot of my characters were two-dimensional archetypes, I didn’t write female characters well, I certainly couldn’t write sex scenes worth a damn then, and I rambled: a lot. And when I tried to simulate experiences I never learned about or experiences I never had, it just fell flat. Also, I wrote combat and adventures as if they were video game levels: though that in itself makes sense given my interests then and now. So yes, I can safely say that I have done better since then, though …

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I actually haven’t really written any, at least official, novel-length works in a very long time. They take a lot of commitment and unique formulas to keep up. I also can’t just write anywhere at anytime anymore. Part of this is that I realized I had more of a life beyond my craft, but I also find that novels can be trapping. They can really take your time and energy. They always get on your mind all the time.

Short stories are explorations into more tightly-knit, self-contained worlds. You can spend less time on these than on a novel, though they take their own toll given that you really need to focus on tying them up all neat-like. On the other hand, sometimes I find short stories to be like little tidbits–even the more complex “four-course meal ones” that some of my friends like to call them–and not as satisfying as the meaty feel of an entire world in a novel. That is, of course, when the short story ideas aren’t overwhelming your bodily and mental limitations to write them all out.

So sometimes, despite my best intentions, I have found myself writing novel-length works because the ideas behind them are either too similar to be placed in anything other than an overarching structure, or they just too big to contain in one short story. And for now, that is all I will say for the others that came after Read Between the Realities.

What is notable about my twenty-year old writer’s novel was that this was about the point when I was also consciously playing with mythology and archetypes in addition to ideas and philosophies. I attempted to combine academics and creation together. I also very reluctantly put more of myself into the work, and–like I said–I went into meta-narrative and irony: which for someone who had just done generic well-meaning fantasy novels before was a big step. And Joss Whedon taught me to be more flippant and referential about popular culture and life too.

I would never have admitted that I created a coming of age novel. I always wanted to make other worlds and other people to get away from the ones I was experiencing–or not experiencing–but I can admit that this was what it was. And for something based on a whole lot of theoretical knowledge, incomplete understanding, video game and pop culture influences and a small if not sheltered, somewhat self-repressed and stagnant amount of personal growth at the time, I did pretty well. It was like building a small Star Gate from the scrap-metal in one’s basement. It did what it was designed to do.

Read Between Realities was made at a time where I went as far as I could go with what I had then–with what I was then–and now, whatever else, I know that I have and definitely can go farther.

Looking Outward

Credit: Beth Ann Dowler, the photographer of this image.

Film Review: The Avengers and their Mythology Revisited

There be spoilers here. You’ve been warned.

I wrote a very short review of The Avengers film a little while ago, but in light of much more detailed reviews and analyses: such as the relationship between genii Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, and Loki as master manipulator and challenger of the once and future geek status quo I thought that I might expand on some things a little more and maybe even respond to a few of these articles as well.

Remember, this is a spoiler alert: if you have not watched this film–and you should–then you have again been duly warned.

Avengers really reminded me of a lot of the lore that I used to read from Marvel cards and it totally played on the fandom that has generated around the Marvel universe and the superheroes that make up the Avengers team for decades. Again, I was at somewhat of a disadvantage myself in viewing this film because I have not seen Thor, or Captain America. Unlike Ex Urbe in the second link I posted, I knew that this wasn’t an extension of the great Ragnarok event that plagues the Nordic gods and it deals with the Marvel comics mythology instead: unfortunately I have been pretty rusty to that regard and having not been there in a very long or consistent time.

Each character was bang-on with regards to their comics incarnations as far as I remember. But like I said, I really like how they were played for the most part. If Captain America had been created in our time, he would been seen as a very transparent and tasteless living embodiment of propaganda. I know that during his Death in the comics world, there was a whole thing about selecting a new Captain America and showing just how different that Captain in our time would have been from Steve Rogers we know from WWII.

The Captain America in the film was played as a legendary hero–a relic of a certain moral structure that not even many people in his time or country embodied–and I like how he is seen as a piece of history: which for all intents and purposes he is. He is also still a human being who–while he follows orders–does not follow them blindly. After all, even after ages of suspended animation, Cap is not like the enemy soldiers he used to fight during the second World War. In fact, he makes reference to that time at one point in a very poignant but quick way that devolves into another battle.

Tony Stark is still a wise-ass that always thinks about contingencies, while Thor is still a strong being yet also very noble and cautious. I like that portrayal of the Asgard: because while his mythological archetype was generally stupid and little more than an over-sized brute that would have rivaled the Hulk in mentality and action, the Marvel Thor that we see is a being that wants to protect others and actually thinks about the implications of his advanced people’s presence and technology on the people of Earth.

I can’t say much about Black Widow and Hawk-Eye except to say that they seemed more like secondary characters compared to the others. I do like, however, how Loki plays on them: how he plays on both of them and you see as a viewer just how–for all everyone involved are supposedly superheroes–they are not all innocent. Certainly Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is as no-nonsense and as much of an “inglourious basterd” as ever: though a little more refined than the comics Fury (who I believe was a contemporary of Wolverine and Cap during WWII and he was the one who fought H.Y.D.R.A. instead of Cap) and in some ways very much more underhanded for the “greater good.”

I think though that the performances that really got me were Bruce Banner and Loki. First, let me deal with Dr. Banner. I have in fact seen both relatively recent films created around the Hulk, yet this film does something the others really don’t. Avengers looks at Bruce. You notice how I don’t say the Hulk and there is a reason why I do this in particular. In almost every other bit of media–film or otherwise–the green gamma beast is brought out for his spectacle effect and Bruce Banner simply tries to contain him. But here we see Bruce Banner as a person. We see a brilliant but haunted man who does not want to cause destruction and pain. He has suffered and yet despite this still tries to help people with his knowledge. He is a solitary person by his own perceived necessity if not by choice and in a lot of ways he is a very sad man.

A good portion of the film has people walking egg-shells around him and thinking they have contingencies in dealing with the “green nuclear djinn in a human bottle”: not realizing just how strong Banner actually is and how many “contingencies” he himself has undergone. Beth in her own review shows that the only person who doesn’t treat Banner as an accident waiting to happen or a potential resource is Tony Stark and she gives very compelling parallels between the two: to the point where I remembered Tony Stark taking a drink before dealing with Loki and actually wincing at that segment alone more than anything else in the film. They are both brilliant men that have their own demons. and they can relate to each other. However the difference is that Bruce Banner has a lot more control over the Hulk than people even think.

Personally, I think there is a difference between Banner being agitated enough to release him and purposefully bringing his alter-ego out. When he does the latter, the Hulk is in a lot more control and in fact–when it comes down to it–there is no difference between Bruce Banner and the Hulk. They are and always have been the same person. “The Other Guy,” that kept Bruce Banner from killing himself, is not just anger but a fury for passion and life and ironically as the film progresses you see Banner actually almost coming to terms with that. It is no coincidence how in the comics, Bruce Banner changes into the Hulk permanently yet manages to keep all of his intellect along with the righteous fury. Even in the movie, Banner says that the secret to controlling his power is that he is “always angry.”

And then you have the threat that brings all of these disparate beings together: Loki. Loki himself, like Thor, has his precedent in the Nordic mythological cycle. Loki is a trickster god and an agent of chaos. He is not biologically related to the Asgard deities but instead has Jotnar (or frost giant) blood in him. While Loki begins as a mischievous prankster, he ends up creating Ragnarok: the twilight of the gods. He transforms from trickster to destroyer. Perhaps in Thor, this role is prevalent as well in its own Marvel incarnation, but I want to talk about him in the film: something that I only alluded to in my earlier article on this Blog.

Loki feeds off of chaos and he is not an overt player. Ex Urbe really goes into immense detail with regards to Loki in the film, but let me just reiterate something I said in my last article in that he plays a really good game. He manipulates and feeds on the power of discord that the Avengers feel towards each other. His very presence caused their assembling and exacerbated the cracks between them. In many ways, he arranged it so that they were almost as dangerous as he and his allies were. As to how far his foresight goes–if he knew they and they particular would be chosen to deal with him–is another matter entirely.

As I said, Ex Urbe really looks at how clever Loki is. You notice, for instance, he barely ever fights and he likes to make his enemies think that they can always beat him. The moment Black Widow thought her interrogation strategy had worked on him, I knew she was screwed. Never try to trick a trickster or play their own game because they will beat you with experience. He sat back and let Captain America, Iron Man and Thor fight each other. And then, when he seemed to have failed in his mission to conquer Earth, he conveniently gets captured by Thor and they go to Asgard with the cube away from the wrath of the trickster god’s vengeful allies. All and all, I think he was right to postpone and then later ask for that drink.

I also really like the part where Loki is in Germany and he asks everyone to bow down to him and one old German man won’t who states, “Not to men like you,” and then later adds, “There are always men like you.” The thing that you need to understand is that Nordic mythology really played a powerful role in German culture. Others, including Richard Wagner, played off of these archetypes in the collective unconsciousness of the German and Germanic people. Wagner was also a really well-known anti-Semite and his operas were well loved by various members of the Nazi Party later on. Nietzsche referred to a figure of the “actor” or “demagogue in music.” Looking at Loki forcing everyone to bow in front of him–with the compelling words and presence of a trickster and “god”–with all of that historical resonance the immediate background and that old man standing up to him really put chills down my back.

In this, Ex Urbe might seem wrong in stating that Loki is attempting to help humans and gods beyond the status quo: that he is just another fascist power. Of course, there is another way of looking at this in an analytical sense: that by posing as a dictator (and one really bad at ruling apparently and inefficient in other ways), he is making humanity challenge him and the established order of things. Remember that the role of a trickster deity in mythology is to challenge the status quo and subvert authority. A trickster also helps humanity by giving it something that can potentially destroy itself and stealing it from the divine order, but also creating an order with it. In addition, trickster gods can take a lot of physical punishment–a lot of it–and they almost seem to goad others into delivering it to make them think they have the upper-hand. In this way, Loki is almost a comic mockery of the things he rebels against, a Wagnerian parody and by serving as that cardboard cut-out effigy he helps to subvert it. So perhaps in that way, Loki is more like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra than his “demagogue in music.”

Then there is Captain America’s reply to that–which actually plays well into the above idea: if Loki is leading him and others by the nose. There is also something else Captain America says afterwards. When Black Widow refers to Loki and Thor as virtual gods, he states, “There’s only one God, ma’am. And I don’t think he dresses like that.”

While this last quote can be seen as very culturally chauvinistic, because there are many different beliefs out there, it definitely shows Cap as a relic of his time: as someone who views the world in a certain way. At the same time though, if looked at from a different perspective, Cap could be seen as stating that even these perceived gods and superheroes–least of all himself–are not above a greater morality or law of some kind. He interprets that as God. The others interpret it as something else. Loki probably interprets it as freedom of power and chaos.

Of course, there are other concepts of absolute powers or incarnations of concepts as well. Long after the film is over and Loki is captured, you find out that the invaders were working with someone behind the scenes. The leader of the invaders tells his real master that invading Earth will only bring destruction and Death. Notice how I capitalize *Death.* Neil Gaiman was not the only writer who created incarnations of certain facts of life in anthropomorphic figures. In the Marvel Universe, there are beings called Embodiments and while you do not see Death at the end, you do see the being that … serves her female incarnation. And if you have read the comics, you know who I am talking about and you begin to realize that Loki is not the only being that plans things out. This is the Marvel plots-within-plots structure in film form, social commentary and mythological cycles of sequential drama all done well by Joss Whedon.

I think that I am going to leave this off right here. All and all I really loved The Avengers. I never even thought of a movie based on them and it worked very well. The mythology–both comics based and older–created excellent resonance along with Whedon’s trademark snappy dialogue. I also look forward to its sequel and I wonder … just what was that small dagger that Loki stabbed Thor with towards the end of the film? And just what role will Death and her harbinger play in the scheme of things? I hope to find out soon enough.

ETA: Here is an obligatory and intriguing article by M. Leary on gods in Avengers and Marvel. Excelsior!