Solomon’s Test (Superhero fiction)

One week a Cape, and it’s all come crashing down on him.

One week is all it took, and now Solomon was about to die.

He and Blithe lay in twin craters of rubble, the dust starting to settle. They fell out the sky.

People approach, silhouettes wrapped in smoke. It’s easy for them to tell which is the hero. It’s easier to tell which one is not.

Where’d they come from? Are they dead?

Are you kidding me? Those people never die.

Solomon stirs, and as if by entanglement so does Blithe. But they don’t get up. They’re both broken, like principles in a shaky world. The thunder that brought them is now a dull rumble slowly losing its resonance.

Good God! They’re still alive?

Should we be here? Should we call someone?

One week, Solomon thinks. He didn’t even have time to pass the test. To become a real hero. He turns his neck, the only thing that works. His hearing tells him Blithe does the same. Gurgling. He’s another newbie, all power and no rep, but on the wrong side of the fight. They’re separated by ideology and ten feet of rubble; they’re conjoined by a youthful spite that would continue this on hands and knees if they could.

Don’t go there!

Baby, come back!

A girl suddenly appears above. She looks at him and then in the direction of the adjacent crater. The wind sways, the light cotton of her dress unsure of which way to cling. Solomon’s sage-vision shows him the tendrils of energy snaking her, feeding itself tail to mouth like a band of infinity. A caduceus.

A healer.

An older woman of sweaty nervousness tries to reach for her, but the girl slips her, dismisses her with a look that says ‘For once, let me be me’.

She drops into Solomon’s crater, her ankles wobbly against the rubble, and kneels beside him. He’s surprised at how ordinary she looks. How emaciated and plain.

“My name is Keisha. You’re on Prudence Street. I think you’re gonna die if I don’t do something.” She strokes his cheek, and it momentarily feels tight. He remembers his mother and the smell of vapor rub. He tastes penicillin.

“I can heal you, but only one of you,” she says, lifting a delicate brown arm. “I’m not that strong.”

Yells from above. Just let ‘em both die and let’s get outta here. Nobody will know.

“What abou…what about him?” Solomon nudges his head towards the barrier separating black from white. “Is he going to…”

“I…I can’t…he’ll die. I told you I’m not strong enough!” her ashy lip quivers. “Please don’t make me think about that. I just wanna think about the good.” It’s a plea. For her it’s not black and white, but a choice of one or the other. Monochromism in a world that can’t afford the rest of the spectrum.

Solomon sees the world blur. He doesn’t have long.

Fuck him, Keisha! Let him die.

Save the other one! I don’t see the heroes taking care of any of us!

Keisha hand reaches, then wobbles and hesitates, either fighting her nature or trying to embrace it. “What will the bad guys to us do if the other one dies?”

They’ll come here and kill us! Fuck him!

Even in the haze she looks so thin, calories burned from the weight of her gift. He knows her kind, a local Talent. Take her away from here and she’s probably just another girl. Homely. Simple.  But here, on Prudence, she’s transformed, a lifeline for its people who live in complex times, die simple deaths.

“I’ll..I’ll protect you,” Solomon says, not even sure what he means, but knowing it’s something better than blurting ‘I want to live. I deserve it more than him!’.

Nobody even has to know. It’ll be he secret of Prudence Street. The other Capes, they’ll pat him on his back and congratulate him. His colleagues. Any league, any society…he’ll have his pick. This will be a learning experience, the first test of Solomon, which he passed with flying colors.

Keisha reaches again. This time her hand is steady.

He’ll grow older, get stronger. Be wiser. He’ll advice other heroes. They’ll look up to him, the prodigy who beat an Alpha baddie the first time out. You don’t have to be a sacrificial lamb like those other Capes with funerals on tv, with pyres burning in the orbit of Mars. Being right doesn’t have to mean being dead. There’s always another way, a way that looks better in the spectre of hindsight.

Heroes live on. They pass the test.

Her hand almost at his forehead, he speaks. There’s a smile on his face.

“No.”

She stares blankly for a moment and then nods. As she climbs away he thinks about his name inscribed on the Wall of Champions, along with other great heroes. Brava. Samson. Heracles. Gilgamesh. His colleague.

And Blithe? He’ll live. He’ll have to live with the miracle on Prudence Street, how a green hero and a little girl gave him his life. He’ll have to live with that, and imprisonment, and the bloody beatings from other heroes. Cape-killer!

Solomon smiles. His eyes are tired even though his vision’s suddenly clear. He closes them.

Oh shit, they’re here!

Mommy, they’re so pretty…

He’s draped in blackness as he hears their arrival. His colleagues. A gruff voice, resonant and strong, like fire stolen from the gods, whispers to him. “Not bad, kid. Not bad at all. You’ll be alright.

“You passed the test.”

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Gene Roddenberry/Notorious BIG: Twin Prophets of Literature (or Why It’s Time To Embrace More Utopian Fiction)

 

It’s always interesting learning things about yourself, right?

*crickets*

Maybe only sometimes.

Okay, usually never. But for a creative type I think it’s essential. What inspiration makes us rise like Batman from the Lazarus Pit (a 20 minute recovery from a broken back? I love ya, Christopher Nolan, but dafuq)? What vice leads us on early morning Walk of Shame (Brazilian fart porn…yea boi!)? What makes us…us?

One of the more interesting comments about my story The Primary Color was how it touched on issues of utopia vs. dystopia, and if it’s possible to tell the difference between the two from the inside.

Heady stuff. Way headier than the story I actually intended to write but, hey, you take any compliment you can get. I don’t see Michael Bay giving back his Oscars on a technicality.

What I realize is that I’m a dreamer and optimist. Even in the darkest of my fiction there’s brightness underneath. There’s the promise of better.

Those are the stories I like to create, and those are teh stories I love to enjoy. Sure, I can sometimes be a literature snob. I can lose myself in worlds where happy endings have no place. I like my Faulkner. I read my Welty. I appreciate the bleakness and nihilism sometimes associated with the more literary, the more realist and, at times, the more anti-realist. Willy Loman, bro, I got your back.

But given a choice between a Greek tragedy and a geek epic, I choose epic all day, every day.

It’s why I love superheroes, who almost always exist in the time of “the near future”. I love the brightness bordering on gaudy, the camp, the pure exhilaration portrayed by their very existence. Sure, there are dark superhero tales and forced deconstruction. But in the end, you can’t have superheroes, with their primary colors and their campy rhetoric, exist without a a whole lot of hope.

The mere existence of superheroes point to an optimistic society, possibly utopia, even if that utopia is in disarray. (subtle difference there, so bear with me), even if the characters don’t realize how good they actually have it.

So the question I keep asking myself is: why isn’t there more optimistic/Utopian fiction? What does the lack of it say about how society views its future?

What do we have against the backdrop of happiness in our fiction?

And when I hear even Grant Morrison, one of my idols, a man whose love for superheroes and the positivity they represent oozes from every superhero comic he writes, give in to the bleak homogeneity of the day to say he might

embrace the zombie ethos that’s complete overridden this culture – I’m getting bored doing the single shining light

it breaks my heart, Fredo. It breaks my heart.

Things have to change, right?

From a consumer’s point of view, the fascination with pessimistic/dystopian narrative and the accompanying themes is understandable.

We like to see the fall before the rise. We want to wallow in darkness before we finally embrace the light. Conflict is the name of the game, and most consumer’s can’t imagine enjoying conflict in stories built around the conceit that most familiar conflicts have been resolved.

Fair enough.

But from a creative perspective…I don’t get it. Creators should know better.

This past weekend I was able to catch a documentary on Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek–yes,I’m a Trekkie..a big, Black Trekkie, and I’ll be happy to shove a bat leth up your yin-yang to defend that honor–and came away from with a new appreciation for his will.

By hook or by crook, ol’ Gene was going to do things his way. Despite the challenges, he was going create a modern, progressive, brainy, and Utopian universe, whether his bosses or his young writers liked it or not.

And for any creator who thinks Utopian fiction can’t be exciting, can’t find an audience, I point to the 5 Star Trek tv series, 12 big budget movies, hundreds of novels and comics, 50 years of continuity, and the assload of fans who were pretty much the template for the current “geek is chic” movement.

Yeah, not bad.

See, Gene realized what a lot of writers fail to, that conflict exists wherever people exist, no matter how evolved, no matter how smart, no matter how without need they become. It’s so simple, yet so easily missed.

Where one set of problems are solved, another set takes its place. Not everyone views utopia the same.

For any society to satisfy every hunger, it must deal with the complications of appeasing base cravings.

Or, as the Notorious B.I.G. put it, in what might be the most succinct explanation of why Utopian fiction works:

Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

So yes, I think there’s room for more optimism in fiction, in science fiction and young adult, in superheroes and even in horror (think about it, utopia is the perfect backdrop for the macabre). It gives us a future to strive for and the tools to deal with the complications in reaching it.

Will it be easy? No. But is it supposed to be?

We just have to be willing to embrace it and smart enough to make it happen.

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Plight of the Moronic Savant (or Why DC Comics Shouldn’t Try to be Perfect…Just Interesting)

There’s a recurring theme in modern fiction of the secretly talented jerk. You know the type: not really idiot savants–who exhibit brilliance despite disability–these cats usually choose and wear their yokes because they just don’t care. They’re the James T. Kirks, the Good Will Huntings, the Fresh Princes of Bel-Air. They’re the gifted slacker, the moronic savant just waiting to figure it out. They’re stuck in dire circumstances spiraled out of control (but not really), because the Man is hateful and the Man just don’t care.

All they need is that little nudge, and suddenly the Matrix makes perfect sense. 0100101110…whoaaaa, there is no spoon!!

We all love this archetype because we all believe we exemplify it. It’s our way of reconciling failure when nothing else makes sense: It’s the American Dream stopped short by societal interference, the American Dream reached by divine intervention.

And if there’s one place this archetype has legs, it’s in comic book fandom.

Anyone who know me or read this blog knows I’m a comic book geek. i love the costumes and the powers, the melodrama and its hidden subtext, the power fantasy and sexual politics. And that’s just superheroes, never mind the menagerie of other genres that grace the page of this underrated art form.

But most of all I love the culture: the theatre of the absurd. Oh, my friends, you’ll not find larger stage for rationalized lunacy. It’s catnip for the cerebellum.

And there’s no better show, no bigger musical production than anything involving DC comics or, alternatively, the DC movie universe.

Just to give you a sample of the weekend:

Late Friday came the news that Tom Hiddleston, best known for portraying Loki for rival Disney/Marvel Studios, might be the running to play Joker (or some vague other role) for WB/DC’s new Justice League franchise. Maybe. Perhaps.

Ridiculous, I know, considering how ruthlessly vise-like Disney is with Marvel properties at the moment, going so far as to kibosh FF/X-Men toy distribution and firing quirky creative types for even the slightest hint of defiance.

No, Hiddleston wasn’t gonna happen, but comic book culture has its own worldview and its own logic in step with A Clockwork Orange if, y’know, you replace candy and cigarettes with cheap body spray and meth.

So instead of ending ignoring a rumor that has little chance to be true, the conversation quickly morphed to accusations of DC hating the very characters it’s investing millions of dollars to rush to the big screen, (psychic) admonishments of the plot of a Batman/Superman movie that’s a year from even being released, finger pointing at how DC is trying to ape Marvel but not doing enough to copy Marvel’s success, and mourning of the lack of Shakespearean acting chops Ben Affleck possesses as he prepares to play the goddamn Batman.

Oh, and Marvel because…whatever.

So, in recap:

1. DC casting rumor
2. rampant speculation
3.confusion and outrage that spreads to tangential and often unrelated issues
4. non-sequitur comparison to Marvel and illogical rumblings about talking raccoons *grumble grumble* talking trees *grumble grumble* DC hates women, kids, puppies *NERD RAGE*

In other words, a typical DC Entertainment discussion.

But no, this isn’t about Marvel, and I’m not here to defend DC or Warner Bros. Woe be the fool to do so in these turbulent end-of-days. They’ve made dumb decisions, then dumber decisions, then even dumberer decisions of the taint-scratch-sniff-and-lick variety. Too many to go even name. I mean, crazy gimmicks, screwing retailers, creator unrest, borderline misogyny (although I refuse to point the finger solely at them for that), and some generally prickish behavior.

But there’s a reason they’re talked about so much among the nerd-erati. No, it’s not just schadenfreude. I think it’s the fact that they have the brightest, coolest–and yes, you sometimes insufferable Zombies–best heroes in the market, and we’re waiting for that spark of inspiration, that nudge of genius, that will light DC’s fire and give us the heroes we need, not just the heroes we deserve.

DC is the moronic savant we’re waiting to watch figure it out.

And, for all of their faults, DC is in a interesting place right now. On the surface, they can do nothing right. The New 52 is underwhelming. The superhero movieverse is in its stalled infancy. Any every minute mistake is constantly magnified, unlike St. Marvel with goodwill oozing out its sphincter from a string of fun, ultimately insubstantial, movies, so much so that it can shit on directors, fire actors, ignore creative contributions, and just be general jerks about everything with fandom ready to merely say. ”Oh, I’m sure it was for the best, dearie.”

But this isn’t about Marvel.

Unlike what some Facebook soundbytes might suggest, DC/WB isn’t afraid of looking foolish (I mean, these are the same people who made the Catwoman movie, Birds of Prety tv show, and pimped GL’s ridiculous CGI costume for months on end).

What they need to do is embrace that foolishness and turn it into something interesting.

There’s an advantage to being rough around the edges, of being so defected it’s become the default. Perfect diamonds might be nice to find, but the real value comes with a few well-placed flaws.

DC, and specifically the DC movieverse, is in the ideal place to not only be the moronic savant who figures it out, but to be interesting while doing it. Not every script needs to be ideal, not every character appearance well-placed, not every beat perfectly timed.

Continuity doesn’t have to always make sense.

Not everything needs to be connected.

There’s room for imperfection, There’s a place for the off-kilter bits, the strains in the wood that give furnishings character.

DC doesn’t have to be Marvel Studios, where there’s always a plan, where everything has to intricately connected, where one–just one–random pebble in the gears sends the entire machine out of whack. Let Marvel be Marvel, where the movie-making process increasingly resembles the safety of the Disney Princess-era in the 90s rather than the risk-taking verve of the Marvel bullpen era in the 60s.

DC, you be you. You do you. Don’t try to be perfect, just strive to be interesting. Perfection is Marvel’s area. Let them kill themselves trying to maintain it.

But this isn’t about Marvel.

But then again, isn’t it always?

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Shakespeare on Dope (or How I Learned to Love “To-Be” Verbs)

“To be or not to be….dudddeeee!”

 

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

It’s a bit of twisted irony that the most well-known phrase in all of ‘high’ literature involves the use of “to-be”.

What’s this “to-be” nonsense, you ask?

be, am, is, are, was, were, been, has, have, had, do, did, does, can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, must

Oh, my fellow writers, don’t feign ignorance. You damn..well…know…what “to-be” verbs are. They’re the scourge of writing society, a guilty pleasure for those ignorant of the rules and soul-crushing for those of us who aren’t. Using them is like drinking Miller Light from the tap or playing Maroon 5 with the volume on. They threaten to suck life and siphon ambition one am, one will, one could at a time.

They’re literary marijuana. Alphabetical Mary Jane. And yes, we all, from time to time, partake.

I will write the type of superhero stories I want to read, not the type corporations think I want.

The hilarious ebook has been on sale a while, with nary a sales. *nudge, nudge* *wink, wink*

And wouldn’t you know it, some folks over at Kboards want to legalize them, to change the game, to completely ignore the rules handed down through history, from Shakespeare to Hemingway to Dan Brown…and even God!

Those sandal-wearing, guava sipping bastards.

I mean, what’s next? Homonymic unions? Actually paying writers a fair wage for their work? Wrigga, please. If these people had their way, we’d all use “to-be” verbs freely, creating a society of “will-fare” queens, popping out little “to-be” babies that threaten to leech on the system on which us hard-working, rule following, proudly boring writers hold dear.

Sigh.

Okay, I’ll admit, there’s a part of me that used to believe every single word of that. There’s a prevailing mentality that’s ingrained into us early, from english class, through writing groups, writing books, and everywhere in between: “to-be” verbs are a sign of weakness responsible writers must search, find, and scrub like dirty little uncorked sphincters.

A few years ago I submitted a piece, The Cleansing, for review at a well-known writing site (it might be on this blog too…who knows at this point?). I thought it was a great story: well told, exciting, sexy, and a big perverse in all the right ways. Never mind the protagonist was never an active participant in the story, or that the entire plot bordered on misogyny in all the wrong ways…I thought I’d struck gold.

Until one particular review. From a graduate English major.

Oh. Gawd.

Have you ever gashed your foot on glass, looked for the right medicine, but accidentally found and used bleach, acid, and sandpaper on the wound instead? Because you were blind from jaundice and pink-eye, and picking your nostrils had spread the infection to your nose so your sense of smell was shot? That’s what getting reviewed by an English grad is like if you’ve used too many “to-be” verbs.

And like a good little prawn, I edited and re-edited the piece, until it was done and I realized the piece was fine the way it was because of the passivity of the protagonist.

I’d made a subconscious stylistic choice, and it fit my narrative. But I because I was so new, so raw and self-conscious, so ready to please any and every reader, I ignored my instincts.

And that, writers of this new, blog, ebook, self-publishing age, is the last thing you want to do when it comes to your voice, the words you convey.

There’s an adage that states “to break the rules, you must know the rules”. That’s absolutely true. But most rules are mutable, and we’re in an age where we can take risks, be experimental, and still find an audience and avoid the publishing blacklist.

So brethren, be brave! Believe in your words, because, I’m here to tell you, words are a hell of a lot stronger than you give them credit. “To be” verbs aren’t inherently weak. Maybe they shouldn’t be used in EVERY sentence…but maybe they should if your WIP dictates it.

Not every sentence should be ‘strong’ or full of action verbs, or else you risk repetitiveness. Think of WIPs as organisms. They can’t go full blast all the time without risk of wearing itself (or the reader) out. They also can’t be so weak as to barely respond to stimuli (or the reader to it). Spice things up with strong and weak verbs, long and short sentences, formal and familiar language, etc. Whatever sounds cool.

Feel free to partake! Even Shakespeare did a little dope every once in a while.

Posted in personal musings, Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Primary Color (Superhero flash fiction)

 

“The dreams are getting stronger,” August said, thumping his forehead against the passenger window as Samson Falls zoomed by. The world was gray and listless. Buildings, statues, people…everything appeared and disappeared with hueless flashes, like bloodless blinks, leaving only a few specks of color in between. On the periphery, a Cape dressed in red tried to contain a protest, but even his costume was dingy-gray with disrepute.

From the driver’s seat, Dr. Trance muttered acknowledgement. “Interesting descriptive, August. Why not worse, or more vivid?

Why the word ‘stronger’? ”

You’re the therapist, you tell me.

The outside world siphoned his thoughts away. It wasn’t just gray, but frayed. Muggy. A family—man, woman, and girl–stood beside the street. As the car passed them August turned in his seat, his eyes transfixed on the three stringed balloons above the girl’s head. Three balloons, three colors. The only three colors in the otherwise gray world.

August turned and crouched in his seat, clutching his stomach. Samson Falls, the cleanest, most crime free city in the world was making August sick.

“It’s…I only dream in red, green, and yellow.”

“Primary colors,” Dr. Trance said, correcting him, his voice academic.

“Yeah. Primary colors.  But the red is taking over.

“The red is so strong now.”

Suddenly August plastered his face and hands against the glass, a mime in terror. The same family, the same girl, the same balloons.

Once again the car passed them, but this time as the family faded into the rear, August refused to turn away. Red, green, yellow, green, red, yellow, green…the balloons twisted and twisted on their strings.  August’s mouth slacked. His eyes watered. The balloons twisted and turned until POP, the red balloon exploded, its red spreading like a virus, tentacled, leaving the world behind stillborn, a tv screen with warped pixels.

Practice your breathing. Practice your breathing. Dr. Trance’s hand on his shoulder, pushing him back into his seat, snapped August back to the present.

“Dr. Trance, these…these are repressed memories, right? You’re absolutely sure?”

“Yes. I am.” Dr. Trance sounded more sure than August could’ve expect. There was security in that.

“August, we’re going to take a little detour.”

The feeling of safety disappeared. “Doc, please, don’t. I told you I can’t be in this place!”

The car turned onto Resurrection Lane, the final site of the Last Crisis, when millions died, where even more were erased. Resurrection Lane, built on the marrow of dead Capes. Resurrection Lane, the place everyone went to never forget, except August, who could never forget because he never remembered in the first place. ‘Where were you during the Last Crisis?’ Everyone knew, except August. For him it was just an abstract: feelings, reactions, but no form.

He began to scratch and dig into his arms. “Doc!”

“Don’t worry, August,” Dr. Trance said, reaching into his pocket and taking out a twenty dollar bill. “I know what’s best for you.”

On the left stood a vagrant with a cup, begging passersby for money. Trance stopped the car just short of him. As the vagrant approached Trance balled the bill and threw it in his face. He stepped on the gas, leaving the vagrant behind on his hands and knees, searching through the smoke of rubber.

August stared at his therapist, and saw a twinge of mad satisfaction he’d never seen before.

“I come here every day. I used to give the bums money to clean the statues,” Dr. Trance pointed to the monuments of dead Capes flanking the street, each discolored from either apathy or spray paint. “But what’s the point, anymore?

“All anyone cares about is getting what they can, while they can, and wasting it however they can.”

Trance’s word felt sharp, a cold clean thing cutting through the haze to some dreadful truth. No, August didn’t want to be there. He felt the statues morph as they passed, their faces cruel, accusatory, their bodies twisting forward.into a collapsing dome. He closed his eyes and practiced breathing.

“What’s wrong with me?”

The therapist stared forward, face frozen with a clinical smile, a father ready to teach a hard lesson to a wayward child.

“Do you know what people hate most? Getting what they want.”

This wasn’t what August wanted. He squirmed, no longer sure of why he was even there. Why had Dr. Trance insisted on this drive in the first place?

“No, no, this isn’t about you,” Trance clarified, reading August without looking. “It’s about them. Everyone else. Society.

“Do you know why the Last Crisis happened? To make everything perfect for them.”

August looked outside at the cold, dirty, dingy world, and wondered if Dr. Trance was insane. There was no perfection there.

A man threw an egg at a Cape statue, then pointed at them as they passed. The little girl did the same, her balloons twisting in the wind. Pop. POP.

“No crime, good jobs, peace, everything people say they want, and what happens? Protests. Unrest.

“When there’s no tangible threat, people create an intangible one. They start to feel trapped. Oppressed. They start to hate their saviors.”

The urge to reach for the door handle encompassed August. To just jump and wallow in the filth.

“You were a Cape once, you know? But you were pushed to the edge. You lost too much. You wife. Your daughter.

“Dead.”

The little girl and her balloons. Pop. Pop. POP. Her mouth distended into a silent scream.

“N…no..” Yes? Yes. The gray was cut by red, dye dropping on a surface of hard water. Red, red, spreading everywhere. The primary color. “But I don’t remember anything!”

“I know.” Dr. Trance’s smile warmed, but his eyes narrowed. Blood-shot eyes. “ I treated you once, erased the pain. I saved your sanity.

“Repression therapy. It’s the only way to keep heroes heroes. You lose that much, constantly, you go crazy. You become the villain. You have to forget, and I make it happen.”

August dug his palms into his eyes and bit his lips. He tasted the red. He smelled it.

“But it’s time for you to remember, August. Society is tearing itself apart. We got rid of the villains during the Last Crisis, but we need a new one.

“It’s time you answered the call.”

The gray world decayed like tattered flesh. No black and and white, not even yellow and green, just red, red everywhere.

Posted in short fiction, superhero prose | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

De-Twerk!

On August 25, 2013, Miley Cyrus nearly destroyed the world. On that fateful night at the VMAs, she not only defiled foam fingers and castrated baby bears, she also sent a society into turmoil. Even now, weeks later, we struggle to recover.

We are in a state of shock.

We are in a state of Twerk!

But Dr. Mortimer Puffdandy has the solution. Read his careful analysis of Twerk and follow his step-by-step plan to overcome it. Society can once again find normalcy where it was violently taken by Miley Cyrus.

Buy this book now. Buy it before it’s too late. Buy it before Twerk overtakes your soul.

Okay, I admit it: I..am Mortimer Puffdandy.

Yeah, I wrote this and I had a blast. It’s not high literature or anything, but I think I did a good job of bringing the funny. I also learned in the process that I lean towards comedy on the raunchy side, which sort of pokes at my haughty sensibilities. But hey, what can you do?

I also did the cover art, so…yeah.

I’d love if it someone actually bought it, but I’d be happy to send a free copy to anyone who’ll commit to posting a fair and impartial review on Amazon.

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Man of Steel: A Comic Fan’s Review (with a full sy-snark-sis)

Here’s my snark-infested synopsis and review of Warner Brothers’ Man of Steel.  If you want to avoid the bulk of the spoilers, just go the overview and analysis.

And don’t take the snark too seriously.  Doesn’t mean I don’t like the film, it just helps me analyze my feelings about it.

I still remember the opening night of Superman Returns.  It was a packed theater, anticipation piqued, and after a round of uninspired trailers it was almost showtime.  Just as the audience silenced  itself, a single voice, with all the slurred intelligence it could muster, belted out a

“It’s Sooperman!”

I remember the guy, a couple rows ahead of me. flabby enthusiasm pushed into a superman tee a few sizes too small.  And I imagine him, after 2 1/2 hours of land schemes and henchmen, and the final scenes of creepy lullaby Superman sneaking in a little boy’s bedroom, leaving the theater, dazed and confused, whimpering like a castrated puppy

“But it’s Sooperman…”

I remember you, Tight T-Shirt Dude, I remember you, and more importantly, Zack Snyder remembers you.  Your suffering was not in vain.

That’s right, Tight T-Shirt Dude, there’s a new movie in town.

Man of Steel was made for you.

Synopsis

Man of Steel starts on Krypton with Lara Zor-El in the throes of labor.  A concerned Jor-El watches the inside of her womb on a metallic 3D display (which must’ve made Krypton gynecology a pure delight). Baby Kal-El is born, but Jor-El can’t be happy since he knows the world is about to end.

Jor-El heads to Krypton’s ruling counsel, and we see the first glimpses of the Krypton homeworld  It’s  a techno-organic marvel of foreboding spires and sparse landscapes.  It’s quite beautiful.  However, the people who live there are assholes. It’s not that Superdickery couldn’t have told you about the nature of Kryptonians already, but MoS’ version are a special kind.  They’re a feckless, xenophobic, classist  race who, for reasoning I can’t understand, decided to stop exploring the stars and its abundance of resources and strip mine their planet into submission. And god, are they melodramatic, a Tolstoy novel fitted with aluminum robes and skin-tight leather.

As I said, assholes.  But at least they’re not assholes who procreate in the traditional sense.  They grow their baby assholes underwater in birthing chambers taken right out of the Matrix.

But not Jor-El.  Dude’s a real man, a virile sonuvabitch who made Lady Lara earn her motherhood the hard way.  Baby Kal is the first of his kind in thousands of year: a child born out of love and not doomed to serve whims of predetermined genetics.  He’s the symbol for a new Krypton.

“Thanks , no pressure at all, dad. Asshole.”

Krypton’s short-sightedness is on full display, as Jor-El begs for his people to listen and of course they won’t. So it’s not really a sad moment when they all fall dead, a victim of a Coup d’Zod.

I could go on and on, but you can guess what happens: Zod asks Jor-El to join him, J-Dawg refuses, chaos ensues, Jor-El hightails it out on his pet dragonfly.  Before Zod can stop him, Jor-El sends Kal up, up, and away.  Zod kills Jor-El, gets captured, gets tried, yada yada yada phantom zone, sourpuss Lara, yada yada yada, planet go ka-boom! And all the while we’re left wondering how many Kryptonians could’ve been saved had they spent more time building spaceships and less time riding around on dumbass dragonflies.

The movie moves to the present-day, where Kal, now of course Clark, but not calling himself Clark (oh shut up, it’s not that complicated), works on a fishing rig while on a path of self-discovery.  Because there’s no better place to find yourself than in close quarters in the middle of the ocean with men who smell like fish and pee.  A nearby drilling platform erupts into flames, and Clark is the rescue, abs ablaze to the delight of my wife, saving the men and pretty much blowing his cover.

“I’m hawt. Tee-hee.”

FLASHBACK!  as elementary school Clark, unable to control his x-ray vision in class,  gives us a glimpse of the pervert he’d become in Superman Returns.  Little jerk.  The world’s too big for him, he says.  “Then let’s make it smaller,” Ma Kent responds, not realizing how hard that is when you can see everyone’s junk in your face.

Back to the present, we find Clark thieving some clothes as he prepares to move on and start over yet again.  As he’s walking away, he see’s a school bus…

FLASHBACK! Even on Earth, Clark can’t escape the daddy-jerkface syndrome, as Pa Costner tells him the next time he thinks about saving little fatties on sinking buses, he should strongly reconsider. Angst!  Guilt!  Clark learns that he’s not human.  Touching father/son moment…

“Pa, The Postman sucked. Get the fuck over it already.”

Back to the present, Lois arrives at a military research encampment in the arctic, where Clark (who’s not calling himself Clark here, either…just shut up and go with it) just happens to work.  What’s believed to be a marooned Russian sub is a portion of Kal’s crashed Kryptonian ship. Clark goes exploring and discovers his heritage through his father’s AI consciousness.  Lois, of course, follows, and needs rescuing.  Their meddling activates a homing beacon, and you can guess who’s going to soon be coming to dinner.

After Perry Black rejects Lois’ story, since it makes her sound like a stark-raving lunatic, Lois fails to take the hint and continues to dig. In all of, like, 20 minutes, Lois discovers her mystery man’s name is really Clark Ke…

FLASHBACK!  Why dogs don’t mix with tornadoes!  See Pa Jerkhole as he waves his son away and makes Clark watch him die.

Back to the present, and YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Zod’s ship arrives (see, he escaped the phantom zone because Krypton jails evidently can’t handle what’s the equivalent of an LA earthquake), and he demands the people of Earth release Kal-El into his custody.  Clark consults a priest and poses before Christ, and they compare notes as to which one of their Daddys screwed them over worse.  He decides to turn himself over to the military, where he proclaims himself Hope Dude and assures them he’s here to help.  They ain’t buying that shit and hand him over to Zod.

To the delight of the male servicemen, Ursa arrives, clad in leather and spikes, and takes Clark and Lois away.

Continuity change!  Krypton’s atmosphere weakens Clark the way Kryptonite used to.

Kryptonian mind meld!  Forced Zodomy in your brain!  Clark drowns in a sea of skulls…

Zod’s looking for a codex of Kryptonian DNA so he can bring Krypton to Earth.  Jor-El, in his infinite wisdom, planted an even bigger target on his baby boy’s back by injecting the codex–the genetic codes of billions of possible Kryptonians–into his son’s DNA.

Thanks pop.  Thanks a bunch.

“Seriously, Dad, what is your goddamn problem?”

Mind you, this is the same man who used his disdain for caste-based genetics to send his child–and only his–to another planet for safety and said a big fuck you to the other “tainted” babies.  Yet he decides to save the tainted template and implant it in his son’s newborn scrotum.  Kryptonian logic, people.

 Yes, Clark, it’s safe to assume your fathers secretly hate you.

Speaking of Jor-El, it seems his AI has a side-job with Verizon, because he just appears, over and over and over, always looking over your shoulder, always watching.  Yes, Lois, Jor-El sees you and he likes.

Clark escapes and fights ensue.  So many fights it’s hard to keep count.  By, my gawd, they’re awesome fights, resulting in the destruction of everything from gas stations to skyscrapers.  Fortunately, by the glory of product placement a few building like Sears go untouched.

After Emil Hamilton somehow identifies the sexually rhythmic undulations of Zod’s machine as terraforming, Superman (yeah, he’s Superman now, I guess, thanks to on-the-spot branding by members of the US army) destroys it, sets off a Phantom Zone bomb, and gets rid of all the Kryptonians except Zod.

The last fight scene is as mesmerizing and violent as the first.  Zod forces Superman’s hand and, in an moment that’ll be debated ad nauseum, Supes snaps the HELL out of Zod’s neck.  As Superman screams at the agony of his decision, Lois soothes him, and they end up kissing in the sunset, seemingly oblivious that an entire city lies in ruin behind them.

Yeah, Superman’s new to this.

So Earth is saved and has a new hero, although for some reason the Army tries to use multi-million dollar drones to do what Lois was able to with a bus ticket and a few scraps of newspaper.

The movie ends on a uplifting note, as we meet the Daily Planet’s newest intern: nerdy looking yet strikingly gorgeous Clark Kent.

“I need you to hear me and hear me good: wanton destruction turns me ON!”

Overview  

Don’t let the snark fool you:  this is a good movie.

Man of Steel is unlike any other Superman movie we’ve seen to date.  If you’re hoping for an interaction of Donner’s Superman, Morrison’s Superman, the 30s Superman, or even the Nu52 Superman, you’ll be sorely disappointed and probably a bit pissed.  Snyder and Nolan build this Superman from the ground up (as the annoying commentary that preceded my showing made sure to point out), carefully planting lifelong issues for the character to deal with, all the way from inception to the present day.

And this Clark Kent has a lot of issues. There’s no examination of nature vs. nurture: it’s clear they’re both to blame.  Jor-El burdens Kal with the weight of two worlds, tasking him with the physical and metaphorical legacy of the dead Kryptonian race, and the protection and elevation of the human race.  Pa Kent is even worse, scolding Clark for showing any signs of his physical gifts, raising him to be a good man but not letting him use the tools to do so.

This Clark isn’t born Superman.  He’s not even Superman when he puts on the suit. He’s a withdrawn, insulated shell who’s spent his entire life running from what he is until, one day, he’s suddenly told not to.  It’s a jarring experience for the character and a progression for the moviegoer that’s not shown in the most elegant of manners. But by the end of the evolution, we see the Clark we know and love, finally at ease with himself and ready to change the world.

The rest of the main characters serve a purpose.  While the actions of his fathers force Clark into a lonely isolation that makes the world somewhat bearable, Clark’s introduction to Lois serves to do the opposite.  There’s someone he can confide in.  He can finally breathe.

Lois is written with the appropriate amount of attitude and, more importantly, smarts.  This isn’t the Pulitzer-for-ditziness version of the past, the Lois actually seems like a journalist.  It doesn’t take her long to track her mystery savior, and when she does, she knows what to do with the information.

Jor-El and Pa Kent are, as I’ve said, jerkfaces, but well-meaning ones: Jor-El because of the inadvertent dangers he creates for Clark and Pa Kent because, well, he’s Kevin Costner.  Seriously, if you’ve seen any trailer, you get the gist of his character.  He wants the best for Clark, but he burdens his son with more guilt than even a Superman can manage.  If there’s a huge weakness in Clark’s character, it’s that for most of the movie he’s driven by the ideas of his fathers than his own conscious.

Zod and his Kryptonian army serve as the appropriate foils for a rebooted franchise.  There’s nothing extraordinary about his character other than his raw power, nothing special about his his villainy than its scope.  The most depth the character shows is at his bitter end, when he forces Superman’s hand and we see the lengths he’ll go to avenge the extinction of his people.

While Perry isn’t a major character, he’s what you’d expect, while Jenny Olsen isn’t on-screen long enough to judge.

The plot is nothing special, but it’s serviceable for a reboot.  The script is average.  But there’s no  confusion when it comes to motivations and how one event connects to another.  WB played it safe, and who can blame them.  Man of Steel does big and dumb as well as it can be done.  While movies like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and The Avengers elevated its movie genre, Man of Steel maintains a safe medium.

As far as wit and charm:  you’re not gong to crack many smiles the first 25 minutes. Yes, it’s dour. I mean, if you were to put a rainbow on Krypton I’m sure it would be upside down. There are plenty of missed opportunities for humor a franchise like Iron Man would knock out of the park.  But is this a dark movie?  No.  And Superman sure as hell isn’t gritty.  The mood dramatically lightens once Lois is introduced and the star character can embrace who he really is.

You ride back and forth on pet dragonflies. I think you can afford to crack a smile, bro.

This isn’t a cold film by any stretch, but it’s not as welcoming for long-time fans as a reboot could be.

Directing/Editing

Snyder gives the movie a nice sci-fi horror flair for a good portion of the film, which gradually gives way to a character study, which gradually gives way to hard-core action.  There’s a fractured feel to the movie as it seems to move from scene to scene in the early parts.  It’s doesn’t destroy the cohesion of the film, but it’s…

FLASHBACK! Yeah, the goddamn flashbacks can be annoying, but it serves the narrative, and the transitions are pretty seamless.

Acting

Henry Cavill is a good Superman, able to convey Clark’s conflicted nature. Physically, he’s perfect.  With a rigid jawline and razor-sharp abs that seemingly cut through shirts, he provides a diversity of sexism most superhero movies fail to match.  If Snyder’s Watchmen had blue dong, Cavill gives the director a chance to showcase Big Blue Bulge.  By the end, Cavill emotes a Clark that’s fully evolved, ready to embrace the world and take it by storm.

Amy Adams is a talented actress and brings her own flair to Lois.  As said earlier, she plays the character smart, with verve aplenty, and is nobody’s fool

The rest of the cast, specifically Kevin Costner, play their parts the best they can.  Michael Shannon is the only exception, as he seem restricted by the material, and Zod seems wasted as a result.

Action

Breathtaking. The action sequences are easily the best of any superhero movie ever.  It’s visceral and at times brutal, and some sequences look like they were lifted directly from Mortal Kombat (in a good way).

Superman punches.  And punches.  And punches.  He punches men, he punches women, and if you were too close to the screen I’m sure he’d punch you too.

As far as the action being too long or monotonous…if you’re an action/superhero movie fan and find that flaw, you probably should stop watching action movies altogether and relax with a nice evening of merlot and chemical castration.

Score

Hans Zimmer’s score is, as always, exemplary.  For the most part the movie takes advantage of it, even if there are moments the score seemed weirdly out of place.  The music for the small moments are great, but after a certain point in the movie the small moments disappeared, rendering the music useless.

What Man of Steel is

A fresh introduction to the Superman mythos with breathtaking action to easily make it worth the price of admission.

What Man of Steel isn’t

A movie about any Superman we’ve come to know. This is a Superman built specifically for the big-screen, with an actor with shoulders broad enough to carry the fortunes of the DC Movieverse.

What Man of Steel means for a DC Movieverse

Its box office success means everything, and if my local theater is an indication, it WILL be a success.  The theater was packed and there was applause at the end.  Being the idiots that we are, we waited for an after-credit scene that never came, but the fact almost everyone was willing to do so says a lot.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

Not as good as the the Nolan Batman movies, The Avengers, or the first Iron Man, and on a level just above the original Spiderman and X1.  However, the action sequences set it apart.

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