The Perfect Endgame

Endgame

I’m just kidding; there is no such thing as a perfect story. What there are, are stories that are so great to experience that they don’t leave room in your head to criticize them while enjoying them. That’s Avengers: Endgame.

So, some background.

As everyone knows, I’m a lifetime comic-book fan. Not a rabid collector, but I can’t think of a year when I wasn’t picking up one or two titles. I’m not a die-hard fan of any particular superhero or comic; instead I tend to look for those comics where the writer/artist fusion creates magic, and at various times I’ve collected The X-Men, The Avengers, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. I’ve read the titles I like long enough, off and on, to see at least two big reboots of my favorite characters. This is the lens I’ve been watching the ongoing rollout of the Marvel Cinematic Universe through; I knew going in that the characters and their stories would be recognizable but different, and just hoped that we’d see good stories. And it’s been a wild ride.

Viewing List Some of these movies were stronger than others (to me Captain Marvel and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies felt weakest), but all were enjoyable and a step above almost anything else out there in superhero-fiction. The Incredibles I and II and Big Hero Six matched them, but MCU are the best of the live-action movies.

So now we come to Avengers: Endgame. How does it stack up to what’s come before?

I’m not really sure how to answer that. Why? First, because it doesn’t stand alone; A:E is really Avengers: Infinity War I-II, a more than 5-hour movie. I’ll call it A:I/E. Second, A:I/E can’t stand alone, either. It rests on the other 20 films, which introduced us to the monster cast of heroes and deepened their stories, relationships, and themes over the course of nearly a decade.  That’s the genius of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This is all leading up to why I consider A:I/E the Best Superhero Movie Yet. Not perfect, but Best Yet. First, because of the 20-movie buildup, there has never been a collection of characters in which I have been so emotionally invested. These. Are. People. We’ve watched them grow, change, triumph, fail, love, grieve, etc. With that kind of investment, A:I/E could fail in only one real way; it could fail to provide an emotional payoff to the character arcs of heroes whose stories are ending.

And this is the ending of a chapter of MCU history (the coming Spider Man 2 is a sort of prologue).

A:I/E doesn’t fail. I’ve seen it twice, now, and I can’t think of a more perfect ending. So now that I’ve given it the accolade of BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER!, go out and see it if you haven’t already. If you have seen it, lets move on and talk about it.

WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS, ABANDON SUSPENSE ALL YE WHO VENTURE HERE!

A:I/E finishes two hero story arcs, Iron Man’s and Captain America’s, definitively and perfectly. It gave both the right kind of happy ending. You might not think Tony Stark’s was so happy, but it’s what Pepper told him: “We’ll be okay, Tony. You can rest, now.” This echoes what she said earlier in the movie, and also echoes the key “want” Tony has always had. In Iron Man I, his motive was to fix his mistakes (among other mistakes, being a weapons-maker and war-profiteer). He’s always worked hard to do good, driven by guilt for his mistakes and fear for the world. Well, he saved the world from the biggest threat it had ever faced. Yeah it’s sad he died, but it’s a kind of triumphal sad. He WON.

As for Captain America, Steve Rogers has always been a hero driven by an overriding sense of duty. To his family, to his friends, to his teammates, to his country, to his world. It’s his greatest strength; whatever tragedies befall, as long as his duty is clear, he’s a rock. He’s also been the least-changing MCU hero, in a good way. Constancy is an undervalued moral trait, and he embodies it. But that constancy of heart had a price; Cap couldn’t move on. Even ten years after waking up from the ice, he couldn’t move on from his first love, Peggy Carter. Natasha twitted him about it, as only a friend now as close as a sister could. So the last scene, where Steve gets to finally dance with his girl, confirming that, after everything, he got to live a full and happy life with her, is perfect.

Although Tony and Steve had the best story-endings, two others are nearly as strong. Natasha/The Black Widow, who in earlier movies displayed great regret over the “red in her ledger” and the loss of her opportunity to have a family, found two families in the end: The Avengers and Clint’s family (especially his children, to whom she was Aunt Natasha). She gave her life for both those families, and specifically so Hawkeye would be reunited with his. Hawkeye’s “ending” is implied. No, he didn’t die. But after all he’d been through losing his family, with them back I can’t imagine him doing anything other than hanging up his bow for good to be with them. He might remain involved as a trainer/consultant, but not a field agent.

Accounting for the last original Avengers, there’s The Hulk and Thor. I don’t need to say anything about Bruce’s ending. I imagine that he probably even got the love of his own life, Betty Ross, but Marvel didn’t need to go there (although it would have been cool if she’d been at the funeral). Thor’s ending was the weakest.

Speaking of the funeral, I figured out who the lone boy I didn’t recognize was; the teenager kind of standing off by himself; Harley Keener, the smart kid Tony met in Iron Man 3 while he was on the run. At least that’s my guess.

Lest I make you think it’s all about the ending, nope. The other thing A:I/E nailed was the sheer epic payoff. For power and impact, I can’t think of a Final Battle that’s done it better–not even the epic battles of The Lord of The Rings. Once Bruce snapped his fingers and Hawkeye’s cellphone buzzed, you know all of the snapped-away are back. So I was expecting the snapped-away heroes to show up like the cavalry coming over the hill for a last-minute rescue, but they weren’t the cavalry, they were the entire army. Actually, three armies–an army of Asgardian warriors, Wakandans, and sorcerers. How cool was that?

A final note on the overall plot; I went into A:I/E expecting that the Avengers would somehow get the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos and just reverse the Great Snap. And while that would have been doable, plot-wise, the decision to avoid the easy way and instead hit the heroes with total failure and five years to live with the failure was a brilliant choice. Because in the Real World, failure has consequences. Hitting the heroes–and the audience–with those consequences was gutsy and brilliant.

And the Timey-Wimey Stuff

Finally, I can’t tell you how inexpressibly happy I am that A:I/E avoided the Timey-Wimey Ball. What’s that? To quote TV Tropes:

The Timey-Wimey Ball is the result of a series or movie where the writers are a wee bit confused or forgetful about exactly which kind of time travel can happen, sometimes within the span of one episode! One day You Can’t Fight Fate (or at least not without the Butterfly of Doom coming along), but the next you can Screw Destiny and Set Right What Once Went Wrong by killing Hitler and changing the past for the better. Especially headachy because there’s no Temporal Paradox, or if there is it’s totally arbitrary.

I’ve read a couple of complaints from viewers who thought they saw a bouncing timey-wimey ball somewhere in there, but that’s because with everything going on the explanations for what was happening went by kind of fast (and they staged a less-than-clear ending that confused some people). Here’s the “science.”

In the Marvel Universe, you can’t change your past. You can change the past, but that’s because when you travel back to the past, the instant you arrive you split off a new quanta of time that can be described as Past X + YOU. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t seem like you changed anything; just your arrival creates a divergence.

If the idea of creating whole new universes every time you time-travel gives you fits, you could instead use the model I did for the Infinitude; there are an infinite number of quanta (alternate realities), a subset of which–still infinite–are exactly or near-exactly identical. Traveling back in time takes you to one of these identical quanta, which you can completely knock off the rails of subsequent history through your actions, creating a massively divergent timeline from that point. It works out the same; you can never visit your past, just a past that looks like yours until the moment you arrive.

A:I/E stayed true to this model of time-travel from beginning to end. The Avengers visited four different quanta pasts, “creating/diverging” four new histories. And no, there was no reset when Captain America took the stones back to their original quanta; all of their actions in New York, on Asgard, and on other planets changed things. The movie didn’t even try and address those changes, but I’ll give you a few. To keep things straight I’ll talk about MCU Prime (the unaltered timeline), Alternate NYC (the visit to the Chitari Invasion of New York), Alternate Asgard (of Thor 2), Alternate Space, and Alternate SHIELD.

Alternate NYC: In that timeline, Loki escaped with the Tesseract/Space Stone. Among other changes, this derails Thor II since he wasn’t in his cell in Asgard to tell the Dark Elf agent where to find the shield generator (and that’s not considering all the mischief Loki might have gotten up to between Thor I and II in that history). Captain America also left some very confused Hydra agents, who were bound to Do Something about that confusion, and a Captain America who now knew Bucky was alive somehow (if he believed the older Cap, and he would after his Tony Stark made sense out of what had happened). This totally diverges the timeline leading to Captain America II and III. Since I’m sure Cap didn’t give the Mind Stone back to Hydra, this messes up the timeline for Avengers II as well (at the least, no Wanda and Pietro).

Alternate Asgard: The Aether/Reality Stone was extracted from Jane Foster, removing the need for the sophisticated plot to get it out of her and destroy it. Lady Frigga, Thor’s mom, probably survived in Alternate Asgard since Malaketh wouldn’t have been coming for Jane. (To answer a stupid objection, bringing the stone back, there is no way Captain America would have re-injected it into Jane Foster even if they could have returned the stone to it’s previous viscous state.)

Alternate Space: The chain of events leading up to the formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy . . . absolutely derailed. Also, the Thanos of that reality is dead with all his minions.

Alternate Shield: Like the Reality Stone, the Space Stone is also returned in a very different shape than it was taken. Not sure of the effects of that, but there have to be some. Also, the theft of some of Henry Pym’s Ant-Man juice has to have changed things too, if only with initially small but cumulative effects.

And none of this takes into account the changes Captain America makes on his own journey to return all of the stones to their quanta. Technically, to do his duty there all he needs to do is hit each quanta long enough to drop each stone anywhere. But it’s Cap we’re talking about; he knows they’ve changed things–you can bet he stuck around in each quanta long enough to put the stone in a good situation and at least make sure they didn’t Destroy Everything in any of them with their interference. (I’ll bet he fought alongside Thor repelling the Dark Elves’ attack on Asgard.) Which brings us to our last new alternate-universe.

Alternate Carter: All we know about this quanta is that, after returning the Infinity Stones to their rightful quanta, Steve decided to grab his Happy Ending. With more Pym Particle charges in his suit, he traveled back to the end of Word War Two to find his girl, Peggy Carter, to whom he’d promised a dance. To make it nice and tidy, I prefer to think he found a quanta whose own Captain America had died in that final flight rather than getting frozen for 70 years. He made that his new home–where I’m sure he completely changed the post-war timeline (after all, he’d had 10 years to study post-war history from V-Day to 2010). He was their Captain America and, after a long and eventful life, he brought that quanta’s Captain America Shield back to MCU Prime to present to the Falcon. The End.

Perfect.

 

M.G.Harmon

 

 

 

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Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments

A New Marvel

Captain-Marvel-international-poster-1724182

It was the best of films, it was the worst of films.

Just caught Captain Marvel today, and it was worth the price of admission. It added another brick to the structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and had quite a few fun moments. The acting was uniformly good, with Brie Larson playing a very believable Carol Danvers. I give it a 6/10; it’s not the best Marvel movie, but not the worst.

Why only a 6 out of 10?

Because it has no heart. Warning, some spoilers ahead.

The basic story seems to be one of rediscovery; Carol Danvers starts the movie as Vers (pronounced Veers), a highly trained Kree commando (she describes them as “warrior-heroes), engaged in a war with the Kree Empire’s enemies, the Skrull. She has amnesia, was told she was the sole survivor of some attack somewhere, but has dreams that don’t quite match up with that. She also has some kind of energy projection power she doesn’t have full control over, and her superior/mentor/trainer tells her she needs to “control her emotions.” But hey, she can still physically kick ass.

A mission to pick up a Kree agent goes badly wrong and she winds up captured by Skrull, who promptly use a device to scan her memories–in the process showing her a bunch of Earth memories–in search of something. This something is the McGuffin of the movie, and it turns out it’s on Earth. Carol escape the Skrull ship, and engages in a race with the Skrull agents to get to the device first. In the process, she uncovers her own history, meets her old US Air Force partner and BF, recovers her past, saves the day, etc.

But here’s the thing. You never feel that she has a personal stake in any of it.

Back on the Kree homeworld in the beginning, her lack of memories didn’t seem to bother her; her response to a “memory-nightmare” was to spar with her mentor. She doesn’t feel incomplete in any real way.

As she realizes her history is a life on Earth, she expresses no amazement at the revelations, no sense of betrayal that her superiors were obviously lying to her. Even her reconnection with her BF is undertaken as part of the “mission.” Sure, she looks wistfully at a bunch of photographs of her past, but it feels almost like she’s just assembling a Truth File on herself; at no point does if feel like she emotionally reconnects with the people she loved and who loved her.

Then she goes off and saves everyone who needs saving. And leaves Earth with a new, self-assigned mission.

So I walked out of the theater feeling like I’d seen a decent action-movie, but . . .

In the beginning, she should have expressed deep frustration at the loss of her past.

When by stages she learned the truth, she should have been angry. She should have become obsessed with the quest for answers. She should have had a beautiful moment of connection, full of tears and joy.

She should have been deeply pissed at her Kree superiors, and channeled that anger into determination to right the wrong she found.

In the end she should have been deeply torn, wanting to stay with the people she loved and remembered now, but needing to go to keep them safe.

As a writer, this pissed me off, mostly because it was so unnecessary. The plot itself didn’t need to change one iota; Danvers still would have had to retrace every step, have every moment of realization she had in the movie. It would have begun, and ended, in the same place. Just adding a few little scenes, giving Danvers a few real and emotional reaction beats, would have added a heart to the movie that just isn’t there.

It wasn’t an acting problem, it was a writing/directing problem.

And I think I understand; the writers/directors wanted to portray Carol Danvers as the warrior-hero she called herself, a warrior-hero built on a female USAF pilot with nerves of steel and a determination to never quit. And they did that very well. But they forgot about the person. For comparison, think about the MCU’s Captain America, Steve Rogers. He needs, deeply, from the moment you meet him. He needs to do something. To contribute. He connects with people deeply throughout the movie; Bucky, Dr. Erskine, Agent Carter, the Howling Commandos, etc., and fights for them as well as everyone else. In the end he sacrifices everything for them, too.

With Danvers, you get no sense of a driving need. Worse, in the end she makes a similar sacrifice, giving up the life she rediscovered and people she loves to protect them and others–and you get no feeling that it’s a real sacrifice. She’s just got a new mission, now.

So, 7 or 8 for the action, 2 or 3 for the missing emotional heart. A solid, but disappointing, 6/10. If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, go see it. Otherwise . . . meh. Just be aware that it’s very much a YMMV film, your mileage may vary.

Marion G. Harmon

 

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Hashtag Activism and The Modern Mob.

Moderation cartoon

Is being radically moderate the same as being moderately radical? In any case, I feel impelled to put on my Radical Moderate hat again. Not to say anything radical and new, just to again register my dismay at what Hashtag Activism is doing to our society and conversations.

Hashtag activism: A term coined by media outlets which refers to the use of Twitter’s hashtags for Internet activism. The term can also be used to refer to the act of showing support for a cause through a like, share, etc. on any social media platform, such as Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.

Two incidents brought this back to mind. One, the Incident At The Capitol Mall (you know, the one with the Catholic teens and the Native American elder) is still churning Twitter, Facebook, and many, many professional media platforms. More on that in a moment, but I’ll talk about the other incident first.

Earlier this month, a Chicago woman was assaulted by a young man in an attempted mugging. He approached her while she was waiting alone for the bus in the early morning, brandishing a gun. The police report is short on concrete details, but it makes it clear that 1) there was a struggle, 2) the woman was also armed and she drew her own gun, 3) she shot her attacker in the neck, 4) he took her gun from her, but 5) fled the scene. The young man was apprehended only a few blocks away, and taken to the hospital where he died of his injury.

The incident was picked up by a local news channel. Locals were interviewed. It seems the area is known for its assaults and shootings, and the neighborhood response was pretty much “She did what she had to do. Good for her.”

That probably would have been the end of it, except that a few conservative voices online took note of this woman successfully protecting herself by exercising her 2nd Amendment Rights and gave her kudos for it. Cue Zack Ford, an editor for Think Progress.

Zack is very “anti-proliferation”; we know because he says so.

Zack Ford on Twitter, 2017.png For context, his philosophy of anti-proliferation is basically that it’s a bad idea for civilians to arm themselves because the criminals are armed. That just puts more guns out there, which is bad. Call it the neighborhood version of nuclear anti-proliferation.

Anyway, Zack took a look at the story and the conservative response, and fired off this sage hot-take:

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But although Dailycaller.com expressed satisfaction at the assaulted woman’s successful self-defense, it didn’t dance a jig over the death of her assailant. It simply reported “A 25-year-old Chicago woman with a concealed carry license shot and killed a man who attempted to rob her at gunpoint last week.” It also reported one of the interviewed local’s responses. ““It’s tragic that he did die, but the lady had to do what she had to do,” Bianca Daniel, a local resident, said about the bus stop incident. “I’m kinda of proud that, like, that’s what she did because she stuck up for herself.””

I’m sure a bunch of reader comments were less restrained, which is of course part of the problem. But Zack probably felt pretty righteous about his own tweet, until the numbers on his twitter-feedback started dipping very negative indeed. Also, while he got the expected indignation from conservatives, he also got a lot of push-back from liberals, followers on the left, the Good Guys, whose response was pretty much “Wait, what?”

So he tried to clarify his position:

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For some reason this line of progressive logic didn’t make Zack’s twitter followers any happier and as the criticism deepened he continued to make his case:

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Sooooo . . . yeah. Everything’s clear, now. If she hadn’t had a gun, she wouldn’t have shot him and he wouldn’t have died. She shouldn’t have resisted. She should have just let him rob her, at gunpoint, because he probably wouldn’t have shot her. Probably.

And anyway, her successful resistance led to praise for gun ownership, which is bad because, proliferation?

For some reason, this didn’t help. Finally, Zack took down his original tweet and put this up:

Screenshot_2019-01-15 Zack Ford on Twitter.png

Now, we can debate Zack’s line of reasoning all we like, but I think one thing clear from all this is the sheer stupidity of trying to intelligently debate anything on Twitter. Zack’s big mistake was two-fold. First, although you “tweet to your community” your tweets, once made, can and will go anywhere. Others will see them. They can respond. Their responses can very easily derail your pithy point if it’s even a little shaky. Even those who agree with you in general might see reasonable disagreement (fortunately for you, most tweeters aren’t more reasonable and restrained than you, but still, it’s a risk).

Second, you’re absolutely stuck with your original statements, however ill considered. You can try and spin them, but you can’t unsay them. The bit that made me laugh out loud was his first apology statement “I believe people have the right to defend themselves. My tweet suggested otherwise, and for that I apologize.” It’s very clear from his initial and follow-up statements that he does think that, while she might have had the right to defend herself, she didn’t have a right to defend herself with a gun. (Unless of course, he believes she has the right but shouldn’t have exercised it because proliferation. Or something.)

In other words, once you be-clown yourself on Twitter (or Facebook or online in general), it’s impossible to recover your credibility. Your stupidity is forever. To quote the Goblin King, “What’s said is said.”

Of course while Zack felt the heat, I’m sure he was only moderately mobbed. Actually, by today’s standards it wasn’t a mobbing, just a “What the f–?” cascade. But it certainly didn’t contribute to a thoughtful discussion of the right of self defense.

Since this blog’s getting a bit long, I won’t describe The Incident at The Capitol Mall or its media aftermath. If you don’t know what I’m talking about and want the history, go here.

http://reason.com/blog/2019/01/20/covington-catholic-nathan-phillips-video

Or you can do your own research; I like Reason.com because I’m an Independent and while I don’t agree with them on every issue they don’t usually parrot the spin of the Right or Left. The point is, when the Reason.com reporter wrote “Partial video footage of students from a Catholic high school allegedly harassing a Native American veteran after the anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., over the weekend quickly went viral, provoking widespread condemnation of the kids on social media.” he wasn’t kidding. Doxing and death-threats were made. It seemed like half the social media users in the country engaged in a perfect storm of Two Minutes Hate.

For those unfamiliar with the reference, “the Two Minutes Hate, from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, is a daily period in which Party members of the society of Oceania must watch a film depicting the Party’s enemies and express their hatred for them for exactly two minutes.”

Everybody jumped on the kids. If you were on the left, you piled on because, well, what they did was hateful. If you were on the right, you did it because if  you didn’t utterly condemn their horrible, horrible, actions, then you were part of the problem. Or something. And it was social media, not government, that instigated this Two Minutes Hate. Orwell would never have seen that coming. Or possibly he would.

Then more video was released and . . . great, we all just condemned, abused, threatened, and generally horribly bullied a bunch of high school boys for . . . what? A huge number of pundits, bloggers, tweeters, journalists, and celebrities are now trying to walk back their Two Minute Hate. But a lot of other people are seeing the whole “Look! MAGA hats! White boys! In a chanting crowd! Horrible!” response and the stupidity of it all and it’s yet one more, forever-to-be-remembered pile-on by the social media mob.

So, two examples of hashtag activism gone horribly wrong, one small and one large. I’m sure everyone can think of their own examples, recent and receding, buried under the latest pile-on but always to be remembered when one side or the other needs a “how awful” club to swing at the other.

This is why I don’t tweet, and why I don’t usually respond to an “incident” on Facebook until more information comes out. Because I’m human, I do have firm opinions, and sooner or later I’ll be-clown myself.

Remember Zack. Remember the Capitol Mall. Don’t be a hashtag clown.

MGH

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in The Radical Moderate, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

So This Is ’19!

Hello, everyone, and welcome to 2019! I hope it’s a great year for everyone. On the professional front it looks like it will be a busy one for me; I hope to have Wearing the Cape #8 (still tentatively titled Repercussions) finished for a spring release. The printed edition of Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide & The B-Files is at the printers and I’ll finally be filling the last part of the Kickstarter campaign over the next month. I’m very proud of the sourcebook, and also proud of the creativity of the readers who’s characters went into the book. They came up with heroes (and even a few villains) I’d never have dreamed of.

One big milestone, which arrived in late 2018 and continues to roll forth in 2019, is the Wearing the Cape audiobook! Tantor has contracted with me for the first four books of the series, and Book #1 has debuted with excellent ratings. Check it out on Amazon:

Tantor is now working on Villains Inc., and here’s the humorous bit; while I’m glad that fans of my books who’ve been asking about the audiobooks for a couple of years now are finally getting them, I can’t listen to them myself.

Seriously, I can’t listen to audiobooks. I’ve tried to listen to audiobooks, both fiction and non-fiction, and I can’t. After the first couple of minutes my mind starts to wander far afield and next thing I know I’ve missed whole “paragraphs” or “pages.” So I go back to what I last remember, and . . . yeah, it doesn’t work out. It’s very weird and not a little frustrating.

But between my books being published in German, the audiobooks, and future projects I can’t talk about now, things are happening. Among other events, I’m going to have my first Guest of Honor appearance, at VCon 43 in Vancouver this October.

vcon 19

From the Guest of Honor list, it’s obvious they’re focusing on the growing Superhero Fiction genre this year and it’s a huge honor to be tapped for it. It should be quite the experience.

But that’s all in the future. Back to today and writing at least 3,000 words.

MGH

 

 

 

 

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged | 7 Comments

Merry Christmas! So this thing happened. . .

Operation Pole Star Cover

I wasn’t planning on publishing in December. Really. Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide and the B-Files has only now finally taken up by the printer to produce the 240-page book (tons of detail about the Post-Event World, nearly 80 characters, etc.), and I’ve been focusing on the outline for the next Wearing the Cape novel while pulling together ideas for The Archon Files.

But this idea wouldn’t leave me alone.

Astra has met Santa in the course of her cross-reality adventures two books back. But of course he was only a Santa, not the Santa Claus of the Post-Event World, and Astra’s amazement at meeting Father Christmas seemed to indicate that what is her Reality Prime doesn’t have one. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t get one; after all, the Post-Event World is becoming increasingly populated with people like Ozma. If she’s possible, anything’s possible.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, sooner or later, Santa Claus was going to make his appearance. But I’d already written a Santa Story; writing another, even as a piece of flash-fiction, seemed redundant. So instead I decided to introduce the Santa Claus of Astra’s reality through an adventure supplement for Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game. The players get a chance to do what Astra did; meet Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. Well, he’s not that old. Or that jolly, given the situation.

So Merry Christmas. Of course I’d love it if everyone who reads my books ran out and bought this little adventure file (you can find it here). But since a lot of you aren’t into RPGs, and $2.99 is a bit steep for just a page of background (all that will interest you if you aren’t interested in playing), here’s what you need to know about the Post-Event World’s new Santa Clause.


“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.”

The New York Sun, 1897

Before the Event, and for more than a decade after, the famous answer to young Virginia O’Hanlon’s question was a metaphorical truth. Not anymore. Three years ago, on the precise local instantiation of Christmas Day (defined as one second after true midnight, the second in the Earth’s rotation when that longitudinal slice of its surface is opposite to the Sun on Christmas Eve), homes across the world were invisibly and instantaneously visited, leaving presents and stockings filled with candy and toys. Or with coal. The types of toys and candy were all found to be culturally appropriate to each region and child, and analysis showed the gifts to be expertly hand-crafted, not industrially produced. None were more technologically advanced than wind-up toys, driven by clockwork and spring-driven mechanisms also of the finest sophistication and craftsmanship.

As the news spread—first through social media images of the gifts or coal left, then through the news as reporters quickly jumped on and broadcast the story—the full magnitude of Santa’s first visit slowly became apparent. It quickly became apparent that millions of homes had been visited in the night, with no evidence of any intrusion other than nibbled cookies and what Santa left behind.

Not all homes with children were visited, however. Far from it. And researchers carefully interviewing thousands of families across the world quickly determined the apparent parameters of the obviously Omega Class breakthrough phenomenon. All visited homes had three things in common; 1) a child in the home wrote some kind of message to Santa Claus and the message was “sent” in some way the child believed efficacious, 2) some kind of gift (generally but not always milk and cookies) was left for Santa Claus to partake of upon his arrival, 3) nobody in the household was awake to observe his arrival, nor were any devices in place to record his arrival.

Also, apparently Santa really likes fresh chocolate chip cookies. And snickerdoodles. He’s not so fond of oatmeal cookies. And yes, that’s just one of the factoids learned as everyone went nuts over the Christmas mystery. Santa Claus. Santa Claus.

Well alright, then. Adults shocked, kids not, and the next Christmas hugely widened the number of visits—a forgone outcome since the news of the first Santa’s Visit had spread around the world within days and researchers had tentatively agreed upon the necessary conditions for Santa’s Visit before January was over. Millions of children around the world had nearly a year to prepare.

So did the scientists.

Testing on the second Christmas was variously successful. From recording instruments turned on at different intervals after true midnight, researchers learned that the visit, where it happened, was entirely completed between the last second of Christmas Eve and the first second of Christmas Day. All the deposited gifts appeared only in that slice of time. From this, they posited that “Santa Claus” operated only in that moment of Real Time—possibly from an overlapping reality similar in nature to a speedster’s Hypertime. Several of the world’s most powerful Mentalist and Merlin-Types also focused their gifts on perceiving Santa’s Christmas Ride in operation on that second Christmas, either in transit or arrival. None were successful, and those that focused on undetectably perceiving his arrival blocked those arrivals as completely as an awake witness or recording device would have.

Compensatory gifts were provided to the disappointed children, and researchers began plotting a new line of investigation; if they couldn’t spot Santa Claus, whatever he actually was, in transit—well then they were going to go to the source and find him at home.


Of course the point of the whole adventure is A Meeting With Saint Nick, but don’t worry about what isn’t here; in keeping with a lot of the more mysterious beings Astra has met before, Santa remains mysterious even after meeting him. You get to tell your own story of exactly what he really is, which is how it should be—how dreary an explanation would be!

So Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and may God bless us, every one.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Ten Rules for Successful Writing

Repercussions Cover, Small

I was just distracting myself from working on anything that will pay me, and realized that I hadn’t put up a blog post in awhile. And I do have some news. The news is Wearing the Cape: The B-Files is finished and out on DriveThruRPG. Yay!

What? You want more? My plots and thoughts on the next Wearing the Cape novel (still officially titled Repercussions but likely to be something else) continue to develop. It’s going to be a doozy. After the last couple of books mostly maintaining the status-quo with a bit of forward momentum on Astra’s arc, this one’s going to shake the Post-Event World to its foundations. It’s going to be so big I probably won’t be able to put the first couple of chapters up here before I release it, because fans would read them and then hunt me down. The most I can say is . . . that’s the cover up there.

Sorry, that’s all I can tell you.

But, I’m not done. I found a humorous conversation-thread that has spanned Facebook and Twitter, that at least got my absurdist juices flowing. What was it?

Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules for Novelists.

Now I must confess that I’ve never read Jonathan Franzen’s stuff. Doing a quick search of Amazon told me he had a couple of books up there with more than a thousand reviews each, and that’s a good indication that he’s Somebody Known.

But his 10 Rules? Yeah . . . .

I direct you to commentary provided by Chuck Wendig’s Twitter Feed. (Profanity Warning.) Personally, I think most of the reactions I’ve seen have been kind of over the top. I even feel a little for Franzen; when you’ve written a few commercially successful books you can start feeling a bit full of yourself. And you should–it’s an accomplishment. When you’ve written a couple of critically successful books, which I gather his are, and all the Right People are saying how good you are, feeling full of yourself is pretty unavoidable.  And then somebody asks you “How do you do it? What are your rules?” You must have some, right?

In fairness to Franzen’s critics, though, a bunch of these aren’t rules. They’re observations of debatable usefulness.

So, in the spirit of my need for distraction, I started thinking about my own 10 Rules for Successful Writers. And here they are.

Marion G. Harmon’s 10 Rules for Successful Writers

  1. Read. Read a lot. Read until you know how good writing reads. This may involve reading books on writing.
  2. Write. Write a lot. Write until people who don’t care about your feelings tell you that this is good writing.
  3. Let this uncaring person or people tell you how your writing could be better. They might not be right in their suggestions, but they’ll point you to things that you probably need to improve one way or another.
  4. Put what you write out there. To friends. To writers groups. To contests. To agents. To publishers. And see rules 2 and 3. Whether you get a publishing contract or self-publish, you’ll know you’re on the right road when somebody pays money for your stuff.
  5. When somebody pays money for your stuff, write more of that. Also, continue to listen to the people in rule #3.
  6. Now that somebody is paying to read your stuff, listen to them too. Not everyone will like everything about your stuff, and while everyone’s mileage varies, not everyone with criticism is an idiot. Really.
  7. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing. Listen to them, look at your stuff, and make up your own mind. After all, you did a lot of things right already; otherwise they wouldn’t buy your stuff.
  8. Money is nice, but don’t write stuff just because you know people will buy it. You’ve got to like it, too. After all, your name is on it. And it gets boring if you’re not invested in it yourself.
  9. Form habits that help you to write more stuff. But don’t go crazy.
  10. See rule #1. Keep reading other people’s stuff.

So there you go, my ten rules for successful writing. Be inspired. Or laugh a little. To quote a wonderful scene from Parks and Recreation:

Amy Poehler: “That’s not really the attitude I’d expect from an award winner.”

Nick Offerman: “Everything I do is the attitude of an award winner, because I’ve won an award.”

People pay to read my stuff, so all my rules are the rules of a successful writer.

MGH

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Presenting: WtC: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans

TempCover

It’s done! Well, sort of; 1) despite best editing efforts, I fully expect to get a bunch of errata notes back from early readers, 2) the cover will be modified once a previous file is recovered (long boring story). The important thing is, after way too long, WtC: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans has been submitted to DrivethruRPG, and should be approved aaaaaany minute now. (And of course I will follow up with a link when they do.) The second sourcebook, WtC: The B-Files, will be available soon. And then it’s on to the next Wearing the Cape book, operating title: Repercussions.

What is Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans?

Readers of my series will be familiar with the fictional BGS. It was modeled on the Jane’s Guide books, a series of annual publications identifying aircraft and ships of the world, both civilian and military. They were the pre-internet guide to the subject, and still are the definitive guide. I named it Barlow’s Guide in homage to an amazing book, Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (Wayne Barlowe provided the art and Ian Summers and Beth Meacham wrote the text). Published in 1979, it had quite the impact on my young imagination.

When I ran the Kickstarter campaign last year, I was aware that the Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game gamebook had a problem; it only gave the reader cape-files for the Sentinels. And while their powers varied a bit they didn’t present anywhere near the full potential of the system. Also, the campaign background chapter only went into real detail about what happened to the United States in the Post-Event World. That left a lot of the world described only in passing.

So Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans was planned to rectify that problem. It would cover the rest of the world much more extensively (although hardly completely, it’s a big world). It would give context to superhumans in other places and how their societies influenced the way other superheroes wear the cape. It would go into more detail about Post-Event organizations, and about other places (space, the past and future, and other realities). Additionally, it would provide at least 20 fully worked up cape-files of characters from the books, complete with their backgrounds, plus an unknown number of characters created by Kickstarter backers. Those new characters would be approved by me to be fully world-compliant, vetted by me to make sure their stories and powers fit the setting and made good use of the rules.

It was an ambitious project; almost as ambitious as the gamebook had been. And now it’s finished, with only one slight hiccup. I’d let myself forget just how long it took to write the world background sections for the gamebook.

Here’s the thing; I didn’t include the wider world in the gamebook background because I hadn’t really done a lot with it. Any writer will tell you that one of the keys to getting anything done is not writing up lots of details that aren’t going to affect the story. Not that the deep-detail approach doesn’t work; JRR Tolkien wrote whole languages, alphabets, and histories out before finally getting to writing the books that revolutionized fantasy. But I’m no Tolkien and he also took years and years to finish. In fact he never did finish, he just set it aside.

And now I’d committed to figuring out what happened to much of the rest of the world, Post-Event. And it couldn’t be off-the-cuff stuff, either; the Post-Event World, as I described it in the sourcebook, would henceforth be series canon. All this while writing the next book in the series, Recursion. So, no pressure.

And that’s the long explanation before the heartfelt apology for how long this has taken, and I hope it’s worth the wait! So, what’s in Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans?

Ooooohh, lots of goodness.

What’s In the Book?

There are 20 pages of geopolitical world background, detailing the post-Event fates Eastern and Western Europe, Southern Africa, the Americas, much of Asia and the Indian sub-continent, and the Middle East. It touches on events in specific nations, including Russia, Finland, China, India, Iran, Botswana, and Mexico among others, and lays out post-Event alliance structures. I love this map:

Post-Event Europe Map.pngMoving beyond post-Event societies and geopolitics, there are another 15 pages covering organizations and the interesting “other places.” It covers known organizations like The Ascendancy, Heroes Without Borders, and the Undying Caliphate, and adds a new international criminal syndicate, Illyria as a worked example of potential enemy organizations. It demonstrates the potential of other realities with a worked up example, The Dreamlands, which ties into a new Power-Type: Dreamweavers.

Those 35 pages are almost entirely “rules-free.” They’re intended as pure background, real additions fleshing out the canonical Post-Event World beyond what has yet shown up in the books. Because they are canonical, they make up the section that took the longest to complete.

And yes, a bunch of the stuff that I “discovered” writing the additional background will have a real influence on future stories. BTW, special thanks is due to several Kickstarter backers who actually live in Europe and could give me feedback on the “political realism” of what I thought happened there; they changed more than a few details (events in Finland specifically are almost entirely due to the character backstory written by a Finnish fan).

And then there’s the expanded Power-Templates, and the cape-files. Soooo many cape-files. So many fans responded to the Kickstarter challenge to create their own characters who could be vetted for inclusion in the Post-Event World that I had to break it up; in addition to 20 author-created characters (Ozma, Grendel, Vulcan, etc.), WtC:BGS includes almost 30 fan-created original characters. A few of them (Ambrosius and The Lady of Doors, to name two) have already appeared in Recursion.

Ambrosius

Ambrosius: a White-Hat from Texas.

Are you excited? ‘Cause I’m excited. Sometime this week DriveThruRPG will put the book online, I’ll email coupons to all the Kickstarter backers waiting for it, and one long-delayed project will be finished. I will spend the rest of October prepping the cape-files going into Wearing the Cape: The B-Files, launch on DriveThruRPG, and combine both sourcebooks for the printed edition of WtC:Barlow’s Guide and The B-Files. Close to 100 cape-files of superhuman heroes, villains, and civilians in the Post-Event World.

Won’t that be something?

MGH

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Feel a Social Commentary Coming On.

And now, fake news.

An article claims that, when asked “How often do you think news sources report news they know to be fake, false or purposely misleading?”, 72% of respondents said A lot/sometimes.

The article about the survey is headlined:

92 Percent of Republicans Think Media Intentionally Reports Fake News.

It’s become a joke. You’re riding in a packed elevator, when the air is filled with a truly gag-worthy stink cloud. The likely culprit? The smart-ass who quips “Okay, who farted?”

The irony may be reaching toxic levels, but it makes me smile.

The thing is that, despite its own spin, the Axios article did a service by talking about it. What did the survey results actually say? That when asked the above question, 72%, nearly three in four Americans surveyed, answered A lot/sometimes. Yes, 92% of Republicans, but also 53% of Democrats and 79% of Independents.

But Axios spun even this: the actual question asked was “How often do you think that traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false or purposely misleading?” (Italics mine). The spin may have been accidental. Traditional major news sources implicates FOX, CNN, MSNBC, etc, but leaves direct-to-internet and other newer sources like Axios off the hook, but further into the article Axios uses the correct wording.

Something else pointed out from the survey; just about half of all respondents who answered A lot/sometimes use Google Search to verify facts they think are questionable.

This is good. It says we’re becoming smarter about using all of the information resources we now have at our fingertips (literally). It’s a habit I’ve been cultivating myself, although it mostly comes up in the context of Facebook. Ah, Facebook, the ultimate purveyor of fake quotes, fake memes, fake news, true head-banging stuff. If I come across something I think is stinky on my Facebook feed, and have a few minutes, I do a search about it. If it turns out to be true, well awesome, my world is expanded and my assumptions checked. If it turns out to be faked, I may drop a corrective link in the comments while leaving this:

Bullshit Is Bad

I think of it as the Bullshit Award. I don’t award it to entries I think are “spun” wrong or biased; I give it to entries that are wrong on the facts. It mostly goes to viral memes.

This hardly makes me an infallible diviner of Truth, of course. I’m sure there are Facebook posts I just see and nod at because they confirm my biases without obviously insulting my intelligence; they don’t trigger my skepticism. I think this is why fewer Democrats than Republicans said A lot/sometimes on the survey question.

So, what should be done about this?

Trick question. The correct question is, should anything be done about this? The answer is no. Not just no, but Oh Hell no. at least not politically. We already have libel laws and the absolute last thing we need is a Ministry of Truth. We do need to continue on with the solutions we’ve been developing; fact-checkers and a personal willingness to question what we read and even see. As a society we are beginning to develop pretty effective BS-meters. Yes we’re often hypocritical, calling out the other guy’s farts while ignoring our own, but we usually fess up when called out on our own. And although lies can spread pretty fast on the internet, they also leave a record; you can learn pretty fast which news sources are reliable or reliably stinky. You learn who to ride the elevator with.

Marion G. Harmon

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in The Radical Moderate | 5 Comments

A Box Full of Dreams

So today marks a new milestone for the Wearing the Cape series. I’ve been sitting on this news until it happened, but Wearing the Cape is now available as part of a 10-book collection of superhero stories! Check it out, here. Each is by a different author, some of the best Book One stories in the expanding superhero genre.

It’s got:

Serpent’s Sacrifice, by Trish Heinrich (4.5/5 Amazon Stars).
Morning Sun, by Jeremy Flagg (4/5 Amazon Stars).
Action Figures, by Michael Bailey (4.4/5 Amazon Stars).
Supervillain High, by Gerhard Gehrke (4/5 Amazon Stars).
Origin, by David Neth (4/5 Amazon Stars).
Sidekick, by Christopher Valin (4.7/5 Amazon Stars).
The Kota, by Sunshine Somerville (4.6/5 Amazon Stars).
Super, by Karen Diem (4/5 Amazon Stars).
Wearing the Cape, by me (Amazon Stars irrelevant, it’s just the best).
Hero Status, by Kristen Brand (4.5/5 Amazon Stars).

If you’ve only read Wearing the Cape or even a handful of these, this is a great way to expose yourself to some great new talent in the genre (and I won’t say which one’s my favorite, but would love to hear your opinion here). If you’ve plowed through all or most of these, the collection is still a great way to spread the addiction by letting everyone else know they can get 10 superhero adventures, all first books in their series, for $2.99.

And I have to say, this is fantastic; when I published Wearing the Cape back in 2011, there wasn’t even a superhero fiction category on Amazon; now it’s hard to keep up with all the new talent. So spread the word; superheroes rock, and with this collection the first taste of the flavorings mixed by ten superhero authors is practically free.

Marion G. Harmon

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

An Incredible Sequel.

incredibles-2-netflix

I like to think about what words used to mean. Take “incredible.” It’s the opposite of “credible”, which is to say it originally meant “unbelievable.” Not always in a good way.

“You claim that you had no knowledge of a crime, carried out over the course of many weeks, under your very nose. Mr. Brad, this jury must find your testimony truly incredible.”

Today incredible basically means “So awesome it’s hard to believe!” A much more positive connotation, don’t you think? I’d agree it’s incredible that The Incredibles II managed to be a sequel every bit as good as it precursor. It’s a show worthy of adding to my superhero movie collection.

Go see it. No spoilers, but I’ll say that it’s worth watching just for the incredibly clever use the writers/director made of such superpowers as elasticity, “teleportation disks,” and force-fields. It’s nothing you haven’t seen in the comics before, but that’s the point; the movie’s makers obviously spent a great deal of time studying the permutations of powers worked out by superhero comics writers over the years. But here I’m going to talk about something else. To be blunt, I think that too many people critiquing superhero fiction like The Incredibles have forgotten the point that it’s supposed to be incredible.

What I mean by this is that, more than most genres, superhero stories are metafiction. They are supposed to be unbelievable in a good way. Much of what is fun in superhero fiction only works if you recognize the artificiality of the genre, and don’t try and read too much into it.

The Incredibles I and II are more metafictional than most superhero stories, and totally up-front about it. The Incredible Family is a family of incredible superhumans attempting to go unnoticed, and so their public family name is the Parrs? Par as in “average”? And Bob and Helen’s children are named Violette (a Shrinking Violette, with powers of invisibility and barriers), Dash (an impulsive speedster), and Jack-Jack (jack of all trades . . . ). Obviously Bob and Helen named their children at birth, before any powers manifested, yet the children are aptly named for both their powers and personalities. Incredible, but powers fitting personalities is a common superhero convention. So is everyone’s inability to recognize people they know personally when they put tiny masks on.

The key here is that, to enjoy a movie like The Incredibles II, you need to recognize the conventions and tropes of the genre, identify which the show is playing straight, or lamp-shading, or deconstructing, and just roll with it. Fortunately, most viewers do that rather easily. Unfortunately, too many people who are payed by the word to think about and write about movies don’t.

The result can be something like this:

“Like “The Incredibles,” the new film presents the Incredible family chafing under the ostensibly democratic order that prevents them from taking the law into their own hands whenever they perceive a threat that their talents could thwart.”

And:

“Yet what’s chilling about “Incredibles 2” isn’t its smug self-promotion; it’s the superhero essentialism—the vision of born leaders with an unimpeachable moral compass to whom all right-thinking people should swear allegiance and invest confidence.”

And:

“Incredibles 2” invokes a political world in nonpolitical ways; it’s a vision of apolitical, quasi-unanimously acclaimed virtues that are assured by the supreme powers of innate and doubt-free strongmen and strongwomen who intervene only in emergencies. It’s a nostalgic vision of total power of a local minimum that echoes sickeningly with the nostalgic pathologies of the current day, nowhere more than in Win’s enthusiastic declaration of his plan to “make superheroes legal again.” In such moments, “Incredibles 2” stakes an unintended claim to being the most terrifying movie of the season.

Those are quotes from Richard Brodie’s New Yorker review of the movie, the title of which is The Authoritarian Populism of “Incredibles 2.” In case you missed the last reference, he was equating “Make superheroes legal again,” with “Make America great again!”

In a word, “Huh?”

Now, I’m not saying that TI2 was politics-free. It wasn’t; in fact it contains a couple of “clever” throw-away lines that had nothing to do with the plot and should have been thrown away. And the way the legal situation resolves at the end . . . Just go with it. Maybe I’ll address it some other time.

But Brodie and many, many critics like him are falling into a trap because they don’t recognize the self-conscious conventions of the superhero genre. He looks at The Incredibles movies and sees Superhero Essentialism as a sinister ideal; “…the vision of born leaders with an unimpeachable moral compass to whom all right-thinking people should swear allegiance and invest confidence.” But if there is such as thing as Superhero Essentialism, it’s “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Which is in many ways exactly the opposite of what Brodie sees. Responsibility, not authority.

I think that where Brodie and the rest often go wrong when trying to derive social and political metaphors from superhero stories, is they equate superhuman power with moral authority. But superhuman powers are fantasy. The unique position they put superheroes in simply doesn’t exist in the real world; how many people do you know who can stop a train full of people from crashing? How many people do you know who can shut down an active-shooter situation quickly, decisively, and at no risk to themselves? Beyond the idea that if you can do something, you should do something (and any of us can make a difference in much more human-scale ways), superpowers as a fact in a superhero world don’t mean anything.

The Incredibles don’t want to “lead with an unimpeachable moral compass,” they want to help because they can. We enjoy wish-fulfillment movies like this because the wish to be able to help is a near-universal human trait. While I’m often critical of billionaires and celebrities who use their money or fame to push causes I think are less than informed, I’ll never deny their right to try and leverage their “superpowers” to make a difference. The way we’re wired, many of us actually feel bad if we don’t try and make a difference when we can. We expect it of ourselves and others.

So if you haven’t seen The Incredibles II yet, go enjoy it. Do not fear the super-authoritarians, there aren’t any. There’s just a bunch of superheroes who want to do what superheroes do in a superhero world. Save the day.

Marion G. Harmon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , , | 4 Comments