Sunday, December 01, 2019

NES Class of 1985

The Nintendo Entertainment System represented a sea change in what video game consoles could do and how they were received at home. Released in 1985 in North America, the NES came out at a time when the American market was still reeling from the great industry crash of 1983. Compared to the Atari 2600 which was the previous home console of choice, the NES had better graphics, sound, processing power, and yes, gimmicks. The 1985 launch was actually limited to New York City for the holiday season, and was then expanded in 1986 when it was clear to be a success.

The history of the console and its impact has been exhaustively covered elsewhere, but I wanted to touch on the games themselves. Specifically, the games that launched in 1985 with the console. So I revisited them to see what's genuinely worth playing in the modern era. For purely educational purposes.

I still don't really believe in numerical ratings, so I'll divide it up between “Not Recommended,” “Meh” (which is effectively “its not bad, but you're not missing out on anything if you don't play it”) and “Recommended.”

(Almost) all of the games were released on the familiar black boxes with pixel animation art that lent a nice unified theme to the launch titles, but if you see Famicom box art below, its because I think the art's cooler, which is the only metric that matters.

Not Recommended

10-Yard Fight
A 1985 port of a 1983 arcade game (both from Japanese developer Irem), 10-Yard Fight is an awkward, clunky approximation of American Football. Its not good, and the music of the NES version gets grating quickly, but hey, its an American Football game for the American launch year.

Internally developed by Nintendo, this is a better approximation of the sport its based on than 10-Yard Fight is on its own sport, and features all of the standard baseball video game mechanics, but the controls are pretty bad, especially when trying to control the outfielders.

Another internally developed sports game, and more playable than the ones mentioned above, and the character moves responsively. Unfortunately the racket controls are lacking.

Also internally developed, this is a reasonable approximation of a pinball table with some decent ball physics and a minigame zone where you can play as Mario doing a little Breakout game. But the presentation is merely okay, and lacks an energetic presentation to elevate it above an average Pinball table. Its just barely on the wrong side of “Meh.”

Gyromite AKA Robot Gyro
One of two games for the R.O.B. Robot gimmick, here there are two game modes: one where you navigate platforms and collect bombs and avoid monsters using the robot to lift and lower barriers, and a second one where you lift and lower barriers to guide a sleepwalking scientist. The graphics, music, and animations are all really good, but the gameplay is sorely lacking, and most people don't have a working R.O.B. To even get that far.

Stack Up AKA Robot Block
The other R.O.B. game. This one is even more dependent on the robot to move stacks of physical objects. Needless to say, without R.O.B., this is effectively unplayable.


Clu Clu Land
An NES port of a 1984 Nintendo arcade game, Clu Clu Land is like Pac-Man, only aquatic themed and the character is controlled by grabbing onto posts to change direction and avoiding enemies. So not that much like Pac-Man at all, really. Its okay, but the controls take some getting used to.

Hogan's Alley and Wild Gunman
Two of the light gun games for the system. Hogan's Alley is a police themed shooting gallery game where you shoot criminal standups and avoid civilian ones. Wild Gunman is a cowboy themed dueling game. The presentation looks good, but they're dependent on having a light gun and a CRT TV to play them on. If you don't have either, you're not going to have a good time. 

Ice Climber
Climb a mountain, break blocks, collect vegetables, there's a bear with sunglasses. Ice Climber has extremely finicky jumping controls, which is a problem since the game is all about verticality. If you can adjust to that, the game has a real charm. Its good enough to get into Smash Bros.

Kung-Fu AKA Kung-Fu Master
Another Irem game, this one's loosely based on a Jackie Chan movie, but is more notable as one of the first Beat 'Em Up games. Its rough around the edges, but the elements are all there: punch, kick, jump, crouch,boss fights, girl kidnapped by evil guy that you're trying to rescue. Everything is there there, along with some digitized voices, but doesn't really gel together into what the genre would become.


Golf A surprisingly decent and fun golf game without any pretense. Challenging and deep enough without going overboard. The most fun sports title in the launch window is a golf game.

Duck Hunt
Odds are, if you had an NES, you had this game. Arguably the best of the light gun games, this had two modes: duck hunting where if you miss, your dog laughs at you, and skeet shooting, where you shoot skeet. If you want to play an NES light gun game, this is the one (fun is dependent on having a working zapper and a CRT television). 

Elevator Action
A dark horse entry from developer Taito, and based on their 1983 arcade classic. Ride elevators and escalators down a building, sneaking into specific rooms to get files and shooting enemy spies along the way. A solid port of the arcade game, and thoroughly enjoyable. Except for the music. The music's terrible.

Bike excitedly across a motocross track as you dodge obstacles, other bikes, ramps, and speed boosts as you try to manage your overheating meter. There's also a track creation mode that's hindered by an inability to save the tracks on the NES version.

Wrecking Crew
Navigate stages and smash up walls, doors, and other objects while avoiding giant animated wrenches and the occasional fireball in a puzzle platformer. It feels incredibly solid to figure out the right path to solve the map and its funny seeing Mario in a hardhat. Mario? Then that means....

Super Mario Bros.
If there is a single game from the 1985 NES lineup that is obligatory playing today, its Super Mario Bros. Graphics, music, controls, power ups, secrets, art design, level layout, EVERYTHING. Everything clicks for this game, and more than any other game in this lineup, ushered in the next generation of video games. You could play a bad Football game on the Atari, but you couldn't play anything like this. This was Nintendo's “killer app” in 1985. Hands down the best game on the system in 1985.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

November Hiatus, Brand Zero, and a Gauntlet

Lately things have been getting busy in real life (not bad, mind you, just busy, like visiting Texas for a wedding. Not mine.) and a lot of stuff has ground to a halt for various reasons. In an effort to get some things back on track, I'll be taking a hiatus from most online spaces in November to try and get a draft done. Its absolutely doable from the outline I have, and should've been done in early October if a text file hadn't gotten corrupted on me, and a break will do me good. I was planning on a "Noirvember" thing again, but oh well. Maybe next year.

But before that, a couple of thoughts regarding a recent discussion in PulpRev circles.

Brand Zero is an idea posited by Rawle Nyanzi that bounces off of what Jon Del Arroz discusses here. In short, if you're convinced that the corporations that own and control all of the major entertainment franchises actively hate their established audiences, then don't give them attention. At All. About anything.

Brand Zero is a strong move, and a manifestation of “Just Don't Look.” Starve the beasts for money, but also starve them for attention. The last good Terminator movie was in 1991. Its dead, and the people who own it keep jolting the corpse to make the legs move so they can squeeze out some more dollars out of fans of the good old days.

Over the last couple of years, a cottage industry has arisen for commentary explaining why and how these once dominant franchise have screwed the pooch, and it was insightful stuff.

For a while.

Explaining how The Last Jedi is an abject failure of story structuring and insulting to an audience that has built up over 40 years is fine once. But there's only so many ways that you can say “Star Wars Sucks Now” without offering a practical solution or alternative before it gets old.

Star Wars could be saved, if ownership at the very top of Disney changed and the new boss fired everybody in a decision making capacity at Disney-Lucasfilm, apologized for how badly everything's been handled, put a hold on on live action movies for a time, produced a 2D animated version of the Heir to the Empire/Dark Force Rising/Last Command trilogy, then did a massive time skip forward or backwards for the next live-action installment.

I have a better chance of growing a third arm than Star Wars getting fixed. What George Lucas built up over 37 years only took Disney five years to destroy. Five.

Its dead. Might as well treat it that way.

Does that mean I'm going Brand Zero? Probably not fully. Star Wars was such an influence on my life, especially creatively, that I don't think I can ever fully shake it loose, but even so, I'll probably limit those discussions to the Legends Never Die side project, because for whatever flaws the Expanded Universe had, it was never as bad as what is out there now. I've already said my piece about Disney Star Wars on the blog, and outside of cruising Wookieepedia every now and then, I don't even consume NuCanon products anymore. I don't have anything else to say about it at this point (aside from this post, natch'). The same goes for all of the other major franchises. If I talk about Marvel or DC, it'll be about the old stuff that was made by competent storytellers. I didn't even bother to see Endgame. I don't care about the new stuff, so I'll probably just drift into Brand Zero by default.

The flipside of Brand Zero is promoting New Hotness instead of the Old & Busted. After the hiatus, I'll get on that, as well as doing some more classic pulp stuff in the pipeline.

But here's the thing: Positioning your work as a counterbalance to converged dinosaur franchises isn't enough. #StarWarsNotStarWars made sense a couple of years ago, but right now it doesn't. That old gif of a dog staring blankly ascupcakes are pulled away is more entertaining than Star Wars is nowadays. Its not a high bar to clear.

I don't care if its a sweeping space opera that's “like Star Wars, but Good.” I don't care if its an epic fantasy that reads like a mashup of Beowulf and Harry Dresden. I don't care if the book is explicitly written to piss off the SJW Death Cult. (If its a good book, it will automatically piss them off).

Oppositional marketing isn't going to get me to buy something. Give me a character I can give a shit about who faces obstacles that I want to see them overcome. The PulpRev and related indie fiction scenes have been making tremendous strides in the last 3-4 years, but the next step is cranking out characters that you fall in love with enough that you want to talk about them with complete strangers.

Everything. Boils. Down. To. Characters.

It doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, it shouldn't be. One or two sentences should be enough to tickle the amygdala.  “Farmboy dreams of leaving the farm and learns he's the lost son of mighty warrior and is swept up in a galactic civil war.” "Grim Puritan wanders the earth, driven by a burning desire to hunt injustice." "World War I veteran leverages a network of agents in a crusade against crime."

Just to prove I'm serious about this, here's what I've got: "Air Force washout awakens in the far future to find a Solar System ruled by a tyrannical empire, and his only hope for survival lies with a band of space pirates led by a mysterious masked woman with crimson hair."

Monday, August 05, 2019

On Music

In case you haven't noticed, I haven't put much work into the blog. Real world obligations and a sci-fi writing project have kind of taken up all of my time, and its just been easier to throw off a couple Tweets about say, the artistic masterpiece that is Streets of Fire instead of spending an entire evening writing about it. I don't want to write something longer form without having a topic worth discussing.

Today I do. In the process of writing my mech opera first draft, I've been listening almost exclusively to music from 1979-1987. This is for story reasons, but it generated an interesting side effect: for the last seven months, my mood has been dramatically better and more optimistic. It was quite by accident, but curating my playlist to a mix of New Wave, Classic Rock, Golden Age Power Metal, Prog Rock, Soul, Funk, Country, Pop, and even Disco (there's quite a lot to say about Disco's awkward pulpy tendencies, but that's for another time), got me thinking about an old post over on Jon Del Arroz's blog about how Music is Mindset.  Its absolutely correct.

The self-torpedoing of the music industry in the 90s isn't the point of this post, but look at most of the big, highly promoted rock musicians of the 90s: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, R.E.M., Beck, Alanis Morrisette, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Korn. They don't sing about cool stuff. They don't sing about wizards and space ships and successful courtship. They sing about the banality of existence and the meaninglessness of trying. Relationships are doomed to failure, and its either the fault of internalized self-loathing, or externalized blame shifting. Its a downer. Its demoralizing. If you listen to it all the time, how do you think its going to affect your mood?

Beneath the outrageously morbid album art of Iron Maiden beats a soul of high adventure. There's nothing of that in the bands I've listed above.

This isn't to say that there weren't great, optimistic bands in the 90s. There absolutely were, but they got relegated to the B-list. I was the weird kid who absolutely hated Nirvana as a kid, but listened to Blues Traveler constantly. Guess who was pushed harder by the recording industry?

The point of this isn't to point out that Duran Duran is a much better band than Radiohead. I mean, they are but the real point is that headspace affects everything about how you approach the world. Its not a 1:1 comparison, but if you listen to All-American Rejects sing about striking out with girls all the time and being a loser nerd, that's going to affect how you interact with people, even if its just remembering a snippet of lyrics at a particular moment. Why would you want to sabotage yourself like that? Who else would want you to sabotage yourself? Why bother with listening to dudes with more money than you sing about failure when you could fill your dreams with Van Halen's swaggering bravado?

I'm not saying don't listen to anything made after 1990. What I am saying is that if your entertainment doesn't reflect your values, your values will end up reflecting your entertainment.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Review: Mobile Suit Gundam

Going with this image because Sayla is best girl of the show.

Hello there, long time no see. Blogging output stalled out for a while, partly because of (positive) changes in work schedules, and also because I've been forging ahead on a pulp novel time permitting. So reading classic SF/F has kind of dropped off for the moment.

But in the name of “research,” I went back and watched Mobile Suit Gundam all the way through.

Mobile Suit Gundam aired on Japanese television in 1979 and birthed a brand new sub-genre of giant robot fiction: the “Real Robot.” Where the 60s and 70s had a thriving “Super Robot” field populated with classics like Tetsujin-28 Go, Mazinger Z, and Getter Robo (worthy in their own ways), Yoshiyuki Tomino's Gundam treated giant robots less as giant superheroes calling out their attacks, and instead as advanced weapons of war against a backdrop of space opera and large scale warfare. More Space Battleship Yamato meets Starship Troopers than Giant Robo/Johnny Socko and his Flying Robot.

In this house we respect Daitarn 3

This isn't a knock on Super Robots. I actually prefer them, to be honest, but Real Robots are damn good too, and Gundam stands at the top of that heap.

Except it wasn't always so. The show was initially a failure, and low ratings led to early cancellation and a mad dash to finish the series at 43 episodes with a dwindling budget. It wasn't until reruns, a compilation trilogy of animated movies in 1981, and perhaps most importantly, the introduction of plastic model “Gunpla” kits in 1980 that transformed Mobile Suit Gundam from a flop to a mega franchise. As far as 40 year old science fiction franchises go, its as important as Star Wars, equally as merchandised, and actually in a much healthier state, currently. (Yes, a holding pattern without much innovation IS healthier than a dumpster fire rapidly bleeding long-time fans).

Back to the show itself: The year is 0079 of the Universal Century. Mankind has set up multiple large space colonies as a unified Earth Federation takes control. One group of Colonies, collectively called Side 3, renames itself to the Principality of Zeon, declares independence from the Federation, and declares war. In rapid succession, nuclear and biological chemicals are heavily used, and Zeon achieves early dominance in space thanks to newly developed mechs called “Mobile Suits.” Oh yeah, and Zeon gassed a neutral colony, killing everyone on it, and then dropped said colony onto Earth, hoping to destroy the Federation's capital. Instead it destroyed a giant chunk of Australia.

This backstory all happened in about 8 months.

The show picks up at the Side 7 colony, where the Federation's top secret Project V mobile suit development is taking place. Amuro Ray, the teenage son of one of the head engineers, is thrust into the cockpit of his dad's mobile suit, the RX-78-2 Gundam, when two Zeon scouts get ahead of themselves and try to destroy the Federation facility.

Stumbling his way through his first couple of fights, Amuro is effectively forced into a combat pilot role alongside the crew and civilians of the carrier White Base, and the makeshift crew:

Bright Noa: A naval ensign forced to take the burden of command when the original captain is fatally wounded.

Mirai Yashima: The daughter of a wealthy family whose father died early in the war, who's glider training makes her the best suited to take the helm.

Fraw Bow: Amuro's childhood friend/sort-of-girlfriend thrust into a Communications/team mom for the orphan kids on the ship role.

Hayato Kobayashi: Amuro's neighbor and friend who's more grounded but less talented. He becomes the pilot of the Guntank, a clunky artillery mobile suit. Think Krillin before Krillin.

Kai Shiden: An abrasive, sarcastic, cowardly loner who gets drafted into a combat role almost against his will. After some significant character development, Kai becomes the second-most dependable pilot on the ship, operating the Guncannon mid-range artillery mobile suit.

Ryu Jose: A stocky pilot cadet and the only combat pilot on the White Base with any actual training to start with. Not a particularly good pilot, but he does his best to keep the crew together. Bounces between a Core Fighter and co-piloting the Guntank.

Sayla Mass: A mysterious blonde girl who's the sister of Zeon ace pilot Char Aznable (oh we'll get to him in a bit) who becomes one of the most well-adjusted members of the crew, first on the bridge, then as a combat pilot in the G-Fighter.

Except these three. These kids are the worst.

The show follows the White Base as it fights its way to Earth, then across the Earth, then back to space as the Federation rallies for an offensive against Zeon's territories. People change, important, likable character die off dramatically, and Amuro grapples with the toll the war is taking on him while he grows as a pilot and eventually awakens as a Newtype (a kind of step in human evolution adapted for living in space that, in practical terms, gives heightened spacial awareness that gives Newtype pilots a significant edge against “Oldtype” pilots, but when ramped up dramatically turns into Acid Trip levels of SPAAAACE MAGIC).

While Zeon's status as the aggressor in the war makes them the default bad guys, the show goes to great lengths to make both sides human. The White Base crew are clearly good guys, but the Federation as a whole is bureaucratic, slow to react, and impersonal, with a few heroic standouts like Matilda, Wakkein, and Sleggar “CHAD OF CHADS” Law. Most of the lower level Zeon troops are decent people fighting for their country and trying to survive. Some, like guerilla warfare/moustache expert Ramba Ral are downright tragic heroes. Even the ruling family of Zeon, the Zabis, isn't all bad. Supreme ruler Degwin Zabi compares his tyrannical son Gihren to Hitler when he tries to scold him for his cruelty. Vice-Admiral Kycillia is a manipulative ice queen. But Admiral Dozle Zabi is a loving father and a soldier's soldier who's only real flaw is his fierce pride, and Garma Zabi is a naive fop at worst.

And then there's Char Aznable.

Building off of a previous Tomino character, Prince Sharkin from Brave Raideen, Char is a dashing masked enemy ace pilot and a viewpoint antagonist who initially comes across as a Red Baron type. But while loyal to Zeon, he's plotting a secret revenge against the Zabi family, for he is Casval Deikun, the missing son of the late Zeon Deikun who founded the Republic of Zeon and who died of sudden and mysterious circumstances allowing Degwin to take over.

Amuro's a good guy trying to do right by the world and his friends, but Char is a deeply compelling antagonist with all kinds of nooks and crannies of character development to dig into. Part heroic war hero, part revenge-driven madman, Char's such an effective character that he's become an archetype. Every subsequent Gundam series has its own variation of a Char Clone: a mysterious, often masked ace pilot who has his own code and agenda that he follows. Char is easily one of the best villains in all of anime.

But here I am talking about the effects of Mobile Suit Gundam and not about the show itself. Its good. Very good, actually. The characters are likable and compelling. The mech designs range from iconic for the Gundam and the Zaku II to the adorably goofy like the Zakrello and the Guntank. The action works well too, considering the late 70s made-for-TV budget, especially the Battle of Jaburo, Battle of Solomon, Duel in Texas Colony (yeah, really), and the Battle of A Bao Qu being major standouts. The animation also nosedives in a lot of places near the end as the show had to wrap things up. Even the pacing is largely solid, with the worst patch being the stretch between the Garma arc and before Ramba Ral shows up. Those episodes have a lot of drawn out filler as Amuro mopes around feeling sorry for himself and going AWOL a couple times.

Beyond just being an Important Show For Anime, Mobile Suit Gundam is genuinely entertaining, and I do recommend it. 43 episodes of a late 70s anime might be asking a bit much, but that's what I hear the compilation movies are for (even if they cut out a ton of stuff like the Texas Duel). Either way, its worth a watch.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

If Your Villain Is More Interesting Than Your Hero, You're Doing It Wrong

Its been a hot minute since I've written anything for the blog, but that's because of two things: new schedule changes with a new job and I've been steadily working on a novel project I want to get out the gate this year. It also means diving head first into the land of giant robots, which is the best kind of research.

As for this post's topic, it hit me as I was commuting today. There's a well established complaint among fandom circles that “villains are always more interesting than heroes.” I've noticed this way back when in cape comic circles, but its everywhere in Fandom, and a quick internet search brings up a bunch of discussions about the subject; some useful, some not. Much of it turns into clickbait because that's the hellish landscape of the modern internet. Here's a Reddit thread from a few years ago that's less cringey than a bunch of other articles I've found:

A lot of the standard arguments for this position tend toward: Heroes are boring because they have to be Good, and Good is Bland. Villains get to be more fun. Villains get to be pro-active and heroes have to be re-active. Villains have more complex motivations than Heroes.

Et Cetera Et Cetera Et Cetera

This leads to a few scattered thoughts:

1) If the Bad Guy is so much more interesting than the Good Guy, why not...simply make that your Protagonist? Evil protagonists work, especially in the context of Tragedy. Just ask Macbeth. Or, if the villain isn't actually all that evil, what's to stop him from being the actual hero of the story in conflict with a much more powerful and morally rigid authoritarian who would otherwise be the designated protagonist.

2) The most interesting character to follow around should be the protagonist. They're the one with the most meat to their story, and have the most potential destinations for their character arcs.

3) There's a reason why this conversation happens a lot in comics circles, because characters like Batman and Spider-Man are Brands now, instead of Characters. Batman is: Bruce Wayne. Rich Guy. Dead Parents. Never Kills. Punches Clowns. Any deviation from that, like when he was occasionally replaced, never lasts, because the status quo has to reassert itself. Not for narrative reasons, but because of Brand Recognition. That's ultimately why Spider-Man's marriage was undone, because everybody knows Peter Parker is a young, down-on-his-luck kid who can't catch a break in his personal life, and why Wally West was ditched as the Flash after a critically and commercially acclaimed run that lasted over two decades because Barry Allen was the version on The Super Friends. Villains, by comparison, have more wiggle room for creative teams to do things with. I suspect this has a connection to the cynicism you find in a lot of long-term comic book fans.

4) “Boring Block Of Wood Protagonist” was not how it used to be. It was the exact opposite in most serial fiction stories. There is no one more interesting in The Shadow than The Shadow. There is no one more interesting in Conan the Barbarian than Conan. There is no one more interesting in Tarzan than Tarzan himself. If a protagonist is upstaged by a cat, there's a very serious storytelling problem going on. 

5) But Muh Joker! Muh Lex Luthor! Stop it. Those are good, sometimes amazing (depending on who's writing) villains, but consider this: Lex Luthor NEEDS Superman to exist as an interesting character. Superman did just fine for himself for two years before ol' Lexie showed up in 1940. You don't have a Great Lex Luthor story without even the faintest shadow of Superman hovering over him, because you don't have ANY Lex Luthor stories without Superman existing first. This is true for just about every other great villain in serial fiction except maybe Fu Manchu.

6) “Villains are more interesting than heroes” feels more like a way to excuse bad writing. Respect yourself as an audience member and a customer of storytelling. Your time is precious, demand better from the storytellers you choose to occupy it with. 

Friday, January 04, 2019

2019: Moving Forward by Looking Back

Look at that smile!

Since everyone in my writing circle seems to be doing a “welcome to 2019” thing, I figured I might as well do the same. And its a way to do some dusting around here.

The blog has lain fallow for a couple months, but for good reason. I'm working on a Mech Space Opera taking influence from a lot that I've learned (and also un-learned from my academic indoctrination) and putting into practice. Its going to be big. Its going to be sweeping. Its going to come in at a reasonable page count instead of a doorstopper. Its going to be contrary to every major Science Fiction franchise in the West that's devolved into meaningless goo over the last twenty years. Its going to be four books, to start. I'm about halfway done with the draft of book one, and the few eyes that have laid upon it, are stoked. Its like “Red Dawn” meets “Buck Rogers,” but that's just a starting point.

I'm hyping this up because a) I should probably do that some more when it comes to my own work, and b) I'm legitimately excited to write this story. In a lot of ways its a throwback love letter to the 80s sci-fi that shaped me like Star Wars was a throwback to the 40s sci-fi that shaped George Lucas. Its going to be nuts, and once I have more details hammered out after the first draft, I'll start doing lore posts for it.

As for the broader world of science fiction and fantasy? I probably won't be talking too much about that, because it would be beating a dead horse. Doom has already befallen every major franchise under the sun owned by a massive corporation. The video game industry is barreling toward a major crash for the big publishers, and it looks like Hollywood and Music are also going that way. Barnes & Noble is on its last legs, and when it goes, Big Publishing is going to have a reckoning too.

In short, Hell has come to Frogtown.

So what do I think is actually going to arise this year?

Horror. I think Horror is going to get more experimental and weirder as talent flees the sinking ships of mainstream SF/F. Probably more throwbacks, too, but not failures like the Mummy reboot reboot reboot.

Fantasy. Probably going to see a decline as everyone cringes away from Harry Potter. The interesting stuff is going to be in the short story market.

Science Fiction. This is going to be a battleground, and I'll be there. Both Pulp SF and Hard SF (represented by Star Wars and Star Trek, respectively) are in extremely dire straits, and the spoils are ripe for new blood to take advantage of audiences that are starving for optimistic space adventures. Nick Cole and Jason Anspach are doing a lot of great work with Galaxy's Edge, and I expect that series to grow by leaps and bounds, but its a wide-open galaxy out there, waiting to be conquered.

Westerns. I've noticed Westerns have been quietly coming back to book shelves over the last two years or so. I think it'll stay mostly underground, but I think Westerns are going to slowly keep building momentum, especially as Middle America ponders things like national identity and what it means to be an American.

Yesterday on Twitter, I ragged hard on the Battlestar Galactica reboot as being boring, subversive trash that was the root of modern (visual) SF being needlessly gritty with unlikable characters and no payoff to anything. It was a good convo, with some insightful back-and-forth. Over the course of the rant, I linked to a 2004 essay written by Dirk Benedict, the original Lieutenant Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica in the late 70s.

I suggest reading it because Benedict is quite eloquent in it, and every single observation that he lays out is 100% relevant to the state of entertainment in 2019. And this was written fifteen years ago

There's a lot to meditate on there moving forward into the new year.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Geek Culture™ Apocalypse: One Year Later

Last year, I took a look at the state of some of the big pop culture franchises and where they stood. Since it was my most successful blog post by a magnitude of hundreds, why not revisit my apocalyptic predictions one year on?

Ready Player One? It came and went. Nobody seems to have any feelings about it one way or the other. It pushed some nostalgia buttons and was promptly disposed of.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe had a strong year, with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War doing really, really well. Ant Man & The Wasp happened too, which I guess did all right. I don't know, I didn't see it. Kevin Feige's contract is now being reported as being up sometime in 2019 now, so he's at least going to be around until Avengers 4. Beyond that, its looking murkier. They've announced that the Eternals and Shang-Chi are getting movies, which is cool and all, but all the press about it is how the its “The First Asian blahblah” and “The First blahblah of color to direct a blahblah.” This is not how you advertise these projects. You advertise The Eternals as “Jack Kirby Snorts Cosmic Angel Dust And Drew This” and “Shang-Chi Stars In: DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG-FU.”


Meanwhile, Captain Marvel is setting itself up as the wokest superhero movie in town with how the media slavers over how Brie Larson's wooden expression is greatest thing in the world. If/when the MCU begins its death spiral, I'm going to go ahead and predict it'll be a lukewarm reaction to Carol “Can't Keep an Ongoing Series Going” Danvers. And if you don't like it, you're a sexist bigot who hates women and lives in your mother's basement.

Over at Netflix, there is no Marvel presence. The “Marvel Knights” shows (I refuse to call them the Defenders on principal. There's no Namor or Silver Surfer.) came and went with mixed results, but everyone loved Daredevil. Well, now that's canceled, leaving Jessica Jones and Punisher to ride out their season twos. Presumably, this is being done to make way for Disney's own streaming service, but the Daredevil move pissed off a ton of people.

On the print side of Marvel, its still a dumpster fire.

The DC Cinematic Universe crashed and burned with Justice League. Henry Cavill is out as SupermanBen Affleck is out as BatmanJustice League bombed so hard that Warner Brothers reshuffled their movie division.

On the other hand, the Wonder Woman sequel looks solid (but is getting pushed back to a 2020 release), and Aquaman and Shazam! (that's the ORIGINAL Captain Marvel, to you kids) all look promising and are still on track to release next year.

Over at the print division, DC had a good thing going with Rebirth, and they have promptly destroyed that in order to follow Marvel's lead. Following stunt issues that put individual Superman and Batman issues at the top of what sold this year, both series have suffered heavy declines. Marvel big name Brian Michael Bendis jumped to DC this year and was put on Superman, shaking up Clark Kent's family and infuriating fans of the previous Super Sons series. Superman books are down beyond Action Comics 1000. Batman was left at the altar by Catwoman and sales are down in his books as well (though not as much). In the wider DC Universe, “Heroes in Crisis” went with a Shock Event where a bunch of beloved characters like the Wally West Flash (there's a lot I can say about how they've treated Wally over the last decade, but none of it is polite), Roy Harper/Arsenal, and Poison Ivy were all killed. Dick Grayson got shot in the head so bad he don't brain too good anymore and calls himself Rick Grayson.

Star Wars is seeing a massive implosion. The Last Jedi was so bad it created a cottage industry of people talking smack about it. Even now, its sitting at a 45% Rotten Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes. Solo: A Star Wars Story, released hot on the heels of the reviled Last Jedi, is the first flop in the franchise's history. Star Wars is in big trouble, and Episode IX, due out in 2019, has to deal with the script and audience goodwill mess left behind by Rian Johnson. The only thing left of the Star Wars cash cow is the moo.

Also, this happened. Maybe don't go off on profanity laden rants when you're attached to a family-friendly all audiences franchise.

Let's look at Doctor Who. HAHAHAHAH. Combined with persistent rumors and denials of lead Jodie Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall leaving the show soon it doesn't look great.

The Walking Dead lurches toward its finish line without any actual plan. Telltale Games, the developer of the successful adventure game spinoff, abruptly closed down this year, leaving the episodic game in a lurch mid-production. Since then, Skybound Entertainment (the brainchild of Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman) has picked up the slack to finish the series

The action game of the series, Overkill's The Walking Dead is apparently a very bad game and sold so poorly that it effectively killed Starbreeze Studios.

Meanwhile, TV villain Negan is coming to the Tekken franchise. For whatever reason

Back over at Disney, they're still hell-bent on cranking out live-action remakes of better movies because they're creatively bankrupt. Reaction to the Live Action* Lion King trailer has been mostly mockery, and audiences seem to be catching on to Disney's blatant grab for their Nostalgiabix. Sentiment seems to be turning against these remakes, finally. 

Can't wait for the live-action Aristocats remake.

Game of Thrones' final season is supposed to come out some time in 2019, but following GRRM's lead, may be delayed

Speaking of GRRM, he's got plenty of time to talk about New York City pizza. He's a busy man, so stop bothering him about when Winds of Winter is coming out.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewand is making money, but performing less than its predecessor and sitting with poor critic reviews and okay audience reviews. Harry Potter fatigue seems to be setting in for real now, beyond the “READ ANOTHER BOOK” chant.

I hate to say “I told you so” but screw it. I called it last year. The bastions of corporate Geek Culture™ are all collapsing before our very eyes like its the ending of Fight Club.

Its beautiful.

*90% computer animated