Friday, January 23, 2015

Cable, Battleword and the Beauty of Simplicity

My least favorite character in all of comicdom is Cable, by far. You might even say that I hate Cable.

Fuck you, the 90s.

Cable's character can be summed up by a huge wad of guns and a complicated time travel story. His personality is just generic badass and his design looks like a six-year-old with a crayon drawing a gun, like a big gun, like a super big gun you guys. He is embarrassing to me, as a comic fan, and personally I feel like he is everything wrong with comics.

I was so happy when he had Hope to take care of, because it gave him a reason to exist and then a reason to die, which I also enjoyed for its own sake. At best, Cable is a relic of an earlier time, both in the comic book industry and the age of its readers. There was a point where we all would have been impressed with a guy with a robot arm and a super big gun, but as a grown-up, man, fuck this infantile garbage.

Of course, the worst part about Cable is the overly complicated time travel plot and seemingly inability to die. Cable can go back and forth between now and the future, except when he can't, but he can do it to come back to life, or can't, and he has a robot virus that kills him, or doesn't, because magic? I don't fucking understand any of this.

Needless to say, I was pretty pleased when he died, and not just because I hate that character either. Nightcrawler's death in Second Coming was a dumb idea. It attempted to make a crossover event super serious by killing off a character more or less at random. He died protecting Hope, but we as readers only had a vague idea about why Hope was an important person, let alone why he was important to Nightcrawler.

Hope was, supposedly, the savoir of the mutant race since she was the first mutant to be born in a long time. She was sent to the future to be raised by Cable for reasons, and then came back was on the run from sentinels, also for reasons. (Second Coming, get it?) To this day, the entire thing behind Hope makes very little sense to me, since the X-Men always used the "evolution" thing to explain their mutations. If that's still true, then Hope really wasn't magic or special; she's just another mutation. And it's not like she could do anything special, like create more mutants or bring back mutant powers or anything. Yet despite all this, because the writers at Marvel wanted to create importance where none previously existed (similar to legendary hack writer Joss Whedon) they killed off Nightcrawler.

(They brought him back a few years later. If you read my post from yesterday, you can probably guess how I feel about this. And, not to twist the knife any more than I need to, but in addition to killing off characters to make fake narrative importance, Joss Whedon is also guilty of bringing characters back from the dead in the same way.)

Anyway, Nightcrawler's death didn't make any sense, but Cable's did. He also ended up dying to protect Hope, but here, it's not because he's been told that she's the savoir of mutantkind, but because he was essentially her father. Cable was a relic from an earlier time, a character that simply cannot be taken seriously in the modern era, and he died in perhaps the best way possible.

Of course, after that, we learn that he didn't really die or something, and then more mutant powers started popping up from teenagers and adults, so there really wasn't a point to bringing Hope to the future and raising her there, and then Hope doesn't matter anymore and nobody wants to kill her, and Cable comes back to the present to do stuff for no reason and raaaaaaaaaaah what the serious fuck

See, it's shit like this that ruins the superhero genre for fans and newcomers alike. Take a look at the Eisner awards for the past five years, and you'll notice a preponderance of creators winning awards for completely new works or works that are at least separate from the main universe. Look, I get it, you're writing for Marvel and you want to make your mark on that history. You want your story to be big and grand and world-shattering because you're working in a company that's been making superhero comics for over 50 years now and it's hard to stand out in that crowd. I understand. But if every single story is this time-traveling, end-of-the-world bullshit than by contributing to that pool you're just drowning in your own mediocrity. And really, Cable is the victim here. He is just a compound of several different "huge" storylines that got piled onto one character until nothing made sense anymore. And I didn't even get into his fucking clone, nephew, alternate reality version or who-the-fuck-knows what else running around now.

Enter: Secret Wars. For a while now, Marvel has been "getting its ducks in a row" in regards to time travel and alternate realities, with so many stories and crossovers I can't even remember them all. There's the ongoing Spider-Verse, Battle of the Atom, the Incursions, the storyline from Uncanny Avengers, the one with Ultron...just a whole bunch of stories all revolving around the timeline and walls between alternate universes breaking. Again, this "huge" stories are boring and overdone, and crossovers are painful on my wallet.

My second complaint is that I think "X Meets Y" or "X Fights Y" stories are really dumb. I don't think that just putting two characters that don't normally appear together on the same page necessarily makes a good or interesting story. I also don't care when two characters fight each other that don't normally fight. It seems that Secret Wars is going to bring in tons of different characters from alternate realities and have them duke it out. Who cares? What matters most is if there is a good story attached to that fight.

I will say this though, there will occasionally be a character in an alternate reality that I wish I could see more of. AoA Sabretooth is much more interesting than 616 Sabretooth. Miles Morales is one of my favorite Spider-Men. If we're lucky, characters like these get brought into the main universe (like Rachel Summers), and maybe we'll get to see a few of these characters play a larger role in the main Marvel universe.

Or should I say, the only Marvel universe. I think the goal here with Secret Wars is to simply the narratives, bring all the characters together, and get rid of time-travel/alternate reality garbage. So, while the Secret Wars themselves will be overblown, contrived, boring and childish, I have high hopes that what comes after will be a much more simplified narrative, one that focuses on characters and story rather than complicated plotlines and hopefully there will be no Cable.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Invincible - Part One

It's not a big secret that I'm a huge fan of Robert Kirkman, whom you may know from his work on the extremely popular and exceptionally good The Walking Dead. Although The Walking Dead is Kirkman's most popular work, by far, I contend that his best work is in his superhero comic, Invincible.

I've talked before about how different comic book writers handle the problem of "death" and tension in their books. See, if the name of your book is Batman, then whenever Batman gets into a fight with a villian, you are not worried at all that he's going to be killed. There is zero tension in a fight between Batman and a villain, because even if you're not sure how it's going to end, you know the hero won't meet his or her end at that point. So, to create tension, different writers have crafted different strategies.

Dan Slott, for example, tends to focus on peripheral damage and death for Spider-Man. You know that Spider-Man isn't going to die in a fight, but one of his allies might (and have). You also know that Spider-Man is probably going to win any fight that he's win, but there may be a cost associated with that win. He might lose credibility or standing in his business or personal life. Just recently, he was able to win a year-long fight with Octavius, but lost Mary Jane's affections and friendship in the process, and that is where the tension is born.

Rick Remender takes a different approach, where death is treated as being a very temporary and obvious state of being, but how the characters get to that death and the consequences afterwards are what matters. Remender has no problem killing off major characters all the time, and once even the entire Earth. Death is treated so frivolously that I barely bat an eyelash when Rogue gets burned alive or whatever. However, what makes it interesting and full of tension is seeing how the characters get to that point. When Rogue died, she had just made the decision to try and kill The Scarlet Witch. The physical results of that action (her death) may be temporary, but the psychological affects on both the characters and their relationship is permanent. It's hard to forget that your teammate wanted to sneak up behind you and snap your neck. Remender has so many examples of this in his stories, but I'll give you just one more: When Wolverine was forced to kill his son Daken. Again, Daken gets resurrected not even a year later, but the affect that it has on Wolverine, forced to drown his own son, was permanent.

Robert Kirkman takes a third approach, which, if you've read any of his books or seen The Walking Dead TV show, involves a lot of people dying when you least expect it. Characters, even main ones, will be killed off, permanently, with little to no warning and often at times when it makes no sense narrative-wise. I don't want to get too deep into The Walking Dead, because I'm not sure how far along the TV show is, but characters that you think are crucial to the story, characters that make you think, "Oh, this story is about this character" will get killed. Characters will be mid-conversation about how they're getting ready to advance the plot, and then they get shot. Characters that have been around forever and seem like a mainstay will get killed off somewhat randomly. It's more Game of Thrones than Game of Thrones is. It keeps the reader's attention at all times and creates an atmosphere of constant tension.

But Kirkman, like Remender, is not satisfied to simply tell a story about people. Both writers set out to start a conversation about certain topics, and neither are trying to force a specific viewpoint. I'll use Remender as an example because I'm just a bit of paperwork away from legally marrying Uncanny X-Force. The issue at stake is whether preemptive murder is justifiable in the face of greater evil, and boy oh boy does Remender dance across the line of pros and cons. It starts with a soldier being mind-controlled about to set off a nuke, who gets killed by the X-Men. Then, the young child reincarnation of Apocalypse gets killed. Both these deaths are condemned by the characters, before it gets revealed that one of the team members re-reincarnates Apocalypse with the goal of raising him as a hero and not, ya know, Apocalypse. This is widely regarded as a reckless and dumb move by the people who previously thought it was awful to kill the child. Then they travel to a future where all punishment is carried out preemptively, so that sucks. Then we have to kill preemptively to save the universe. Then we have to kill our friend preemptively. It goes back and forth and presents so many different angles on the same premise, without ever declaring -- through the characters or the author -- which side is correct. At one point do you draw the line between justifiable murder and unnecessary punishment?

Kirkman does a similar thing with his own stories, but ties it in with his ideas about comic book death. Remember that Remender treats death frivolously, and so he can afford to jump back and forth across a topic, to examine all sides of it. If the child Apocalypse gets killed, we can talk about how bad that is, until he gets resurrected, and we can talk about how bad that is. Kirkman, on the other hand, is forced to get stuck on one side of an issue, because all the relevant characters get killed off. Tomorrow we'll look at what this means to his story-telling technique.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dear Salvador - Tricking Rich People

You may have noticed that I'm sending you a lot of letters about how to interact with women lately. That's because you're right at this moment in your life when interacting with and meeting people becomes much more difficult (after graduating college). There's also a subset of men that are going to be pandering to you, trying to convince you that they know the easy tricks to get a woman into bed with you, that interactions between men and women are adversarial, or that you're some sort of modern-day hunter, out to bag the biggest game. That's all bullshit, and I hope that you hear at least one voice contrary to those notions.

To being with, let's conduct a little mind experiment. Imagine that you need to walk into a country club one year from now with the intent to convince everyone there that you are also rich. You need to think of the most effective and most convincing way to do so, so what do you do to prepare? How do you demonstrate to these people that you're rich? We'll come back to this later.

Dating is beneficial to you, even if you don't have sex. Again, a lot of guys are going to try and tell you the opposite, that if you take a girl out on a date and it somehow doesn't end up in sex, that you failed as a man, somehow. Not only is this not true, this is a terrible way to date, and will mess your head up. If you imagine a date as only a method from getting from point A to point B, you're not only going to be the type of guy who gets upset and whiny when he doesn't get laid, but the type of person willing to say and do whatever it takes to get a women into bed.

Instead, remember that dating itself is a valuable experience. Not only are you getting the chance to sit and talk and get to know someone, but it helps you practice at being a better person yourself. Take a look at yourself right now. Or better yet, take a look at me:

I am unshaven, and barely showered. My hair is about a week too late for a haircut. I'm wearing a sweater that's too big and pants that are too small with a hole in them. But, if you are were going on a date right now, would we look the way we do? No way. I would shave for one, get a haircut beforehand, wear clothes that fit and probably wouldn't wear such a bored, apathetic look on my face (which was totally unintentional by the way. That's just how I look most days.) Not only in appearance, but demeanor as well. I would be much nicer, more prone to smile, more willing to ask questions. In short, I would be a better person than I am right now.

The more that you date, and the more than you practice being this person that is slightly better than you are, the more you become that person. If I was clean-shaven and smiling every day, I would just be a clean-shaven and kind person.

But then, attraction is based off more than just looking, smelling and acting nice. I am, for example, much more attracted to a woman that has a successful career than I am to a homeless woman. Attraction is also based around value. If you're a very nice, very handsome guy that lives with his parents, you're probably not going to attract anybody with any real value, or, at best, someone extremely vapid.

Ok, so back to the country club. Did you figure out how to convince everyone that you're rich? You may have thought about buying the nicest clothes, or researching stocks, or finding out ways to outright lie. The best and most convincing way to demonstrate your value here is to actually be rich. If you're actually rich, you can most easily convince people that you are rich. Right? I mean, this shit's not rocket science. And if you lie about it, you're more likely to get caught in that lie.

This seems like a relatively simple concept to me, but, again, some guys are going to try and convince you otherwise when it comes to dating and interactions with women. They will tell you that if you want to impress a woman, you should straight-up lie about your accomplishments, or make up a story, or show off some simple trick that a monkey could do. I knew a guy who used to do this when talking with women. He didn't want to admit that he was a teacher (like me) because I guess this wasn't cool enough for him. And so he would flat-out lie to women when they asked him what he did for a living, telling them that he was a "social researcher" or some bullshit. When they asked questions about that, he would just deflect and change the subject. After that, he would try a magic trick. I shit you not, a magic trick. Like Barney Stinson.

Putting aside how sad it is to have to lie to someone just on the offchance that they might have sex with you (It didn't, as far as a I could tell), why not just become a researcher? If you want to be that researcher, then just go do it. Barney Stinson was genuinely interested in magic tricks and loved doing it just for the sake of it. Instead of lying about having that value, you will actually be that valuable. And, as a cherry on top, you'll be more seen as more attractive for having that value. Seems like a win-win, right?

In short, instead of lying to people are trying to make up a value for yourself, you should go out and create value for yourself. You will be more attractive in the eyes of the women you meet if you are the type of person that taught himself a skill, or created a business, or paints landscapes in his free time, instead of the guy that lies about things he wishes he could do.

Your Useless Mentor,

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Wolf of Wall Street

I finally got the chance to see The Wolf of Wall Street and I'm surprised more people don't bring up Hemingway whenever they talk about it.

There's a lot of things to be said about Wolf, but what stuck out most to me during the week since I first saw it, was that I wasn't entirely sure what Scorsese wanted the audience to feel. I hesitate to bring this up, because I don't want to sound like some right-wing radio host claiming that liberal Hollywood has an agenda, or that someone is trying to brainwash us, or that all directors have an axe to grind or whatever...but there's a bit of truth to all of that. Movies send messages, some of them intentional and others a bit more subconsciously, but they all have a message. Even the dumbest of the dumb action movie can sway your thinking towards positively associating manliness with "goodness". Another good example is the horror or slasher genre, where the chaste, pure, clear-headed teenager typically survives to the end, while her sex and drug obsessed friends get hacked to bits. The director may not have set out to declare, "Let's make virginity a cool thing," but you end up leaving the theater identifying with the protagonist and their character traits.

Where Hemingway comes in is both in his writing style and his direct advice in how to craft a story. His style, as anyone who took a high school Lit class, was short, direct, to-the-point and laid out nothing but the barest of facts, much like a newspaper article would read. Not only was the goal to be as descriptive as possible in the least number of words, but also to be as objective as possible. This allowed the reader to make of the character and situations presented in the story however they so wished. Further, in a series of "letters" written to a hypothetical young, aspiring author (or authors) named "Mice" and donning the nom de plume "YC" (short for "Your Correspondent"), Hemingway instructed future writers to write in exactly this way. It's been years since I read it, so forgive the faulty paraphrasing, but Hemingway emphasized that as a man, a human being, you need to have an opinion on the situation presented before you, but as a writer, you need to present it as clearly and unbiased as possible. The example I think he gives is a fistfight, where he is actually on the same side as one person, but presents the facts as they were, without tipping his hand for which person is his friend.

Of course, while Hemingway became well-known for his objective style of writing, you can never prevent tipping your hand, especially when you're the one creating the story, and that story must come from the perspective of only one person. Enter The Wolf of Wall Street, a recreation of the autobiography of the real-life Jordan Belfort, who spent his career getting ridiculously rich through shady, extra-legal methods.

The movie is told entirely through Jordan's point of view, and every scene that does not directly feature Jordan is him explaining what is going on in it through use of a voiceover. Not to get too literary on everyone, but it calls Jordan's reliability into question as a narrator. For example, we are presented with a scene where his Swiss banker is seen in a very fancy-looking apartment, being teased by somebody else's extremely sexy wife. She emerges from the bathroom, completely naked and presenting herself to the camera, then struts over to the bed where the banker lies, presumably post-coital and also naked, before jumping on the bed and taunting him to make love to her once again. He complies and pulls her down under the covers and the scene ends. Now, the movie states this as being matter-of-fact. We have no reason to doubt the veracity of Jordan's account of any tale (save for one scene) so this, for all intents and purposes, was real.

But was it really "real"? Imagine your friend is the banker and he's retelling the events in that apartment to you. "Yeah man, I was in this apartment, this like, super great apartment, and I was banging this chick, right. She was like 30 years younger than me. And we get done and she goes to the bathroom or whatever, and when she comes back out, her tits are all, like, whoa. And she's like, c'mon do me again, and I'm like whatev girl. I gotta work in the morning, but she just wants it like, so hard, bro, so I just had to give it to her."

Now, I'm obviously embellishing a bit with the tone of voice your "friend" is using, but my point still stands: If anybody told you this story and expected you to believe it, you would call bullshit on them immediately or at least demand some evidence.

Throughout the film, Jordan recounts all of his adventures and they seem to never have any downsides. The message seems to be "Go ahead and cheat and lie to people; the consequences will be awesome". Especially in our present economy, this seems like a very awkward statement to make. (Maybe in the 80s this would have flown, but post-recession America? C'mon.) The whole thing starts to make more sense when you consider that it's all based on the narrator Jordan Belfort, whose character was based on the autobiographical-version of Jordan Belfort, which eventually comes back down into being a real person. By my count, there are at least 2 degrees of separation from this film and the truth (film to autobiography and autobiography to reality). So, while Scorsese is showing us all these really fun parties, and all the babes, and the money, and the mansions, and the cars, he never attempts to pass it off as "the truth". He maintains Jordan's voiceover narration, and includes him in every scene aside from the one's he narrates. (These scenes, by the way, have 4 degrees of separation between him and the truth: real friend to real Jordan, real Jordan to autobiography, autobiography to autobiographical Jordan, narrator Jordan to us.)

So while the movie may be presenting this cheating and lying as being totally fucking awesome and having no downsides whatsoever, the fact that we see it through the lens of Jordan Belfort -- a drug addict and notorious liar -- we can begin to piece together Scorsese's true message: Greed is bad.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dear Salvador - The Campground Rule

Dear Salvador,

There's a certain type of guy -- let's call him an "asshole" -- who places way too much emphasis on sex, often to the determinant of other people.

Now, we're living in the fucking 21st century, so I'm not here to tell you that sex is bad, immoral or dirty or any of that nonsense. However, just like with everything else, you have to be responsible about it, both for the sake of having a better quality sex life and for the sake of not being a total asshole. With this in mind, I'd like to introduce you to something that I hope you keep in mind when socializing with women, and that is the Campground Rule.

But first, I want to talk about that asshole for a second. That asshole will do anything for the sake of getting laid. He is not afraid to lie, and he is certainly not afraid to cheat, just to put his genitals inside someone else's genitals. Not only is his self-worth intricately connected with the number of women that he's slept with, but the fact that he places such a high emphasis on sex means that he has no other talents or skills. To him, women are a high score that directly relates to how valuable he views himself as a person.

In some other letters I'll send to you later, I want to talk about that asshole some more, and why he is a terrible boy scout.

When I say "boy scout", I mean a literal boy scout, like camping in the woods and making bows and arrows out of leafs and shit. More importantly, the boy scouts all have a code of conduct that they are expected to follow on the expectation that it will help mold them into decent human beings. Again, there's nothing wrong with having sex however and with whomever you want, but you just have to be responsible about that. With this mind, we're going to use the boy scout code of conduct as a guide to being a responsible, sex-having mature adult heterosexual male, starting with the Campground Rule.

The Campground Rule is something that I think you've probably heard at some point in your life. It's a pretty easy rule and reads as follows: Leave the campground cleaner than you found it. If you're going camping, and forget to clean up before you leave, you are not only breaking the campground rule, but you're a complete dick to every person after you that wants to camp there. The key component to this rule is that the campground does not belong to you, and that you have an affect on this public good.

But how does this apply to women? Well, think of it this way: In all social interactions, make sure you leave a person better off than when you found them. Every time you break this rule, and somebody is worse off for knowing you, you become an asshole. I could, for example, walk outside right now and steal someone's wallet, and that person would be worse off for encountering me and I would be an asshole (also a felon.) 

This is a good rule in general, and I'd like to think that's so obvious it doesn't even need to be said. However, the assholes of the world who are vying for your attention just as I am, will try to convince you to break this rule for the sake of getting laid.

For some reason, these people think that sex is the end-all, be-all of their existence. If they can take advantage of someone when they're drunk, then they consider that a success. These are the people that intentionally try to get girlfriends to cheat on their boyfriends. At the extreme end of the spectrum, they are the date rapists. These are also the guys that lie about things they've done to generate false admiration among women. All of this is shitty behavior, and yet at some point in your life, someone is going to come along and tell you that this is completely normal behavior for someone interacting with women or trying to have sex. It's not.

First of all, sex is not that great. I mean, don't get me wrong, sex is great, but it's not your entire fucking reason for being. It is not a thing that you sacrifice your integrity for. It should be viewed as a thing done while living life, not the thing worth living life for. People who hold this high opinion of having sex with lots of partners are...sad, really. To imagine sex as something that defines who you are as a person is about as pathetic as defining how important you are based on number of Ray-Ban sunglasses you have, or the number of cars you own. Sex is just sex, man. People do it all the time and it's not that big of a deal.

Secondly, don't forget that putting sex above your integrity turns you into the type of person that ruins a campground. If your camping experience is so important to you that you leave the campground in a worse position than when you found it, then you're an asshole. Let's say I have a friend who has a boyfriend, and through a series of circumstances, it becomes possible for me to have sex with her. Would her life would be better off if she slept with me? Would I be leaving this social interaction "cleaner" than when I found it, or am I making a mess? The asshole would not only take this opportunity, but he would create it. If you haven't met this type of guy yet, bless you, but trust me, they exist. The asshole is the type of person who doesn't care if anybody is in a relationship, or if having sex with him will put them in a worse position. The asshole will cajole someone into doing something they may regret later, and may help manufacture that situation by encouraging someone to drink. They do not care about the state that the campground is in after they leave.

I know guys like this who see people as stepping stones to enrich their own coolness. They see women as points in a video game, and the person with the highest score wins. Last time I hung out with one of these guys, he was bragging about how much sex he was having, while at the same time complaining that none of his friends wanted to see him and that everyone was ignoring him. Poor guy couldn't put two and two together that maybe treating people like his own personal campground made him an insufferable asshole that nobody wanted to be around. In short, man, don't worry about sex so much. You'll be much better off if you focus on more important things than gentital-to-genital contact.

Your Useless Mentor,