Monday, April 16, 2018

Manic Monday: The Art that Came Before

So, if I haven't mentioned it on here before, I'm a country music fan. Yeah, I know, I'll get half a dozen links to that 6 song country mashup video. Ah, ha ha ha. That's stadium country, and yeah, a lot of it sounds the same. Welcome to popular music. Ever heard of a four chord song? It's been used forever.

Anyway, I digress. Last night was the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards. It's one of the, like, 4 award shows we have every year (3? 4? There's a lot more than there probably should be, at any rate.). But being a fan, I watched it. I honestly am not invested enough in their music and goings on to care who wins what award. Like, it's nice when someone I like wins an award, but I don't watch it for that. I watch it because there's some good country music on these awards shows, and I like to hear it.

But there's something I've noticed about country music. This isn't the first time I've seen it, but it did sort of crystallize. See, if you listen to country music, you're listening to everything. So many songs are part of what came before them in some way. Whether it's Jennifer Nettles referencing Jolene, or Maren Morris singing about Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, there are links back to the past that I just don't see in most genres of music (Classical/orchestral/symphonic not withstanding.).

And you see it at the awards shows, too. One of the reasons I like to watch the country awards is because I know they're going to dust off something I haven't heard in a while. Or they're going to dust off someone I haven't heard in a while. Like when Charley Pride stepped back on stage a couple years ago to perform "Kiss an Angel Good Morning."

And you could realistically expect that to happen and for people to applaud quietly, but that's not the case in country. The fans and the artists all love that shit. And it was the same when Alan Jackson stepped back on stage, or even Toby Keith. And especially for me, hearing Reba McEntire do "Does he Love You?" She was my favorite singer as a kid, and I've never gotten over that voice of hers.

But that's the thing: it's not just me. The fanbase gets excited about these older songs getting played, and it's not just nostalgia. It's because it's all a part of our country. I don't know anyone who won't sing along to "Friends in Low Places" when it comes on. Who doesn't love Johnny Cash, or Hank Williams. Country has been, for a long time, looking backward. Moving forward, but never forgetting Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. And part of that is that older artists are still current artists in country. It's not a big deal when Reba McEntire or Kenny Chesney puts out a new album, because they hit the scene and they never left. Country stretches far, far back into its own history in the everyday, and I think that's something beautiful and unique.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: O.O.C. is Serious Business

*Note: I'm going to remain completely in character, but this is still serious business: spoilers are in here. You've been warned*

Well it's time to go at this again: tropes. Who does them well, who does them the best, and…well, I would say "who does them that I don't know," but I don't know them…so we won't be seeing those.

This is one that I'm fond of, but I honestly can't think of a time I've gotten it into any of my own work, which is just saddening. So for now, I'll just have to enjoy it in other work. What is it? OOC is SeriousBusiness (OOC meaning "Out of Character.").

We've all seen it: the normally affable, light-hearted character suddenly narrows her eyes and speaks in a brooding, deep tone about the awful looming shadow behind them. Turns out that it's Horgoth of the Eternal Nightmares and shit just got real.

One of my favorites that just didn't quite make the list was Luna Lovegood, our quiet and distant girl who sort of lives in her own world, shouts across the way at Harry because, damn it, he needs to hear what she can say…and he does.

But as I said, that one didn't make the list. But here's the ten OOC moments that did make my list.

10: Gordon Ramsay
I'll get it out of the way right now: he's on the bottom of the list because he's a REAL FUCKING PERSON. This isn't a plotted character moment designed for impact. It's just his personality.

But with that out of the way, Gordon Ramsay's public persona, especially in our modern online culture, is almost centric on this shift. He got popular for being "that angry British chef" in the states. The guy we saw on Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares. And, yeah, I love that angry British chef. I may or may not have attempted to write a character similar to him in high school.

No you can't read it. It went nowhere. Stop asking. Stop. Stop. Stop.

Stop.

But then in comes Master Chef Junior, and we saw Gordon Ramsay get serious about these kids. With adults who supposedly know what they're doing, he doesn't have time. They've already learned – it's his job to whip their shit into shape.

With kids, he takes it a lot more seriously. He calms down, because he's a professional chef and it's his responsibility to teach them. He wants to get them from being remarkably talented kids to being actual, proper chefs. It's a damn duty to him, so of course he's not going to scream and call them all fuckers and idiot sandwiches and donkeys. Gordon Ramsay made his name swearing and shouting and getting (rightfully) upset at professional chefs. So when you see him stop that? You know it's time to perk your ears up.

9: Bleach
Ah, Bleach. You had such promise and power and potential and other words that start with P, probably. I'm not actually a huge fan of…well, anything after they actually capture Aizen. But in regards to this trope, Bleach does an amazing job in both parts of the series.

See, there are inherent powers and evolution of said powers in Bleach, but the main thing I'm focusing on here is the zanpakuto. Short description: soul reapers have zanpakuto, which have two power levels to them. Shikai is a powerup, and bankai is almost like a nuke. Very powerful, very hard to master.

Bleach shows how serious the situation is through the zanpakuto a lot. Because there are restrictions put on soul reapers to what they can and can't do, and what they should and shouldn't do, you see a lot of times where they won't pull out their bankai until things are really, really serious. It goes for heroes and villains, too.

So, just to run through some of the better examples really quickly: in the Thousand Year Blood War, Yamamoto and Kyouraku both unleash bankai for the first time. Two of the strongest, most devastating bankai in the series. Kyouraku's actually kills him when he uses it, so you know it's for real serious. Soi Fon hates her bankai, because a massive "fuck you" missile launcher is surprisingly not stealthy, which she hates. The first time Isshin is ever revealed as a soul reaper and not a bumbling father is when the first Arrancar shows up. And a lot of the soul reapers, and later the espada, show you that the battle is actually getting difficult when they bother to release their zanpakuto/resurrecion.

So yeah. Bleach uses this trope a lot. But I saved one out, because to me it's special and a little more plot/character potent than the other myriad examples. Who is it? Well…

8: Yumichika Ayasegawa (Bleach)
Oh, Yumichika. Introduced pretty early in the series, and also one of the very first shikai we ever see with Fuji Kujaku. It turns his sword into a four-bladed kopis. And that's about it. Honestly, kind of lackluster compared to a lot of other shikai in the series.

Except not, because this trope. So, for background, Yumichika is in Squad 11. The martial squad of the Soul Society. There's an unspoken rule that all members of that squad should have "melee type" zanpakuto.

Cut to way fucking later down the line. Yumichika is trapped in a dome with his enemy…and shit gets real. What should be a fairly desperate situation makes Yumichika smile like a bastard. Come to find out, that four-bladed kopis is not the power of his zanpakuto. He was suppressing it. His real zanpakuto, Ruri'iro Kujaku, is kido based. Magic based. And now that no one is around to see him use it, he unleashes it and kicks ass.

But even that's not the full extent of this trope for Yumichika. Near the end of the series, when it got kind of shitty overall, people were really dying and struggling. And Yumichika releases Ruri'iro Kujaku in front of everyone. Things are as bad as they possibly could have been, and he's there to show you that.

7: Sam and Dean Winchester (Supernatural)
So in early Supernatural, the big thing was demons. More specifically Yellow Eyes. In this universe, demons have to possess humans to be on Earth. Otherwise they're just black smoke.

Sam and Dean, being hunters, took care of demons. They exorcized them and sent them back to Hell. They hated killing people. And yeah, sometimes humans died during their travels. It was miserable for them.

Until the end of season 2. They have the Colt, which can kill anything. And Yellow-Eyes, who killed their mother and is generally not very nice. He's in a human host, and without any real hesitation they murder the fuck out of him. And his human host. And while, going forward, they seem less careful about killing humans, up until this point they had serious reservations about killing people in the process of their hunting.

6: Yoda (Attack of the Clones)
Yoda, Yoda, Yoda. Confusing you are. Okay, not really.

This is one of the scenes people were looking forward to forever. See, for four movies, Yoda has been this little wise old green dude. He's strong with the force and shit, but we never even see his lightsaber.

Until we do. When Count Dooku is royally wiping the floor with Anakin and Obi Wan, Yoda comes in. He catches and redirects force lightning. And he acrobats the shit out of Count Dooku. He actually beats back Count Dooku, one of the most accomplished lightsaber fighters in the Star Wars universe.

Don't piss off Yoda. It takes a while, but you won't like him when he's angry.

5: Molly Weasley (Harry Potter)
You know exactly what scene I'm talking about. Deathly Hallows. Battle of Hogwarts. Bellatrix Lestrange curses Ginny, and that's it. "Not my daughter, you bitch!"

It's glorious, but important for Molly. We needed to see this. She's been built as a loving mother, sometimes overbearing, for seven books. But she's also a member of the Order of the Phoenix and…that's weird, right?

Turns out no, it's not. It takes something in line with her character (Protecting her family) to get there, but she does it. It has to get serious for Molly personally, but then she takes on one of the most accomplished, fervent Death Eaters in the series, and god damn it if she doesn't win.

4: Alexander Dane (Galaxy Quest)
RIP Alan Rickman. A major loss to the acting community and one we still sorely miss. One of my favorites was him as a high-class actor relegated to a sci-fi show he hates being attached to. It's never more obvious than when he says or even hears his catchphrase.

"By Grabthar's Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!"

It's a running joke all the way through the movie (BTW, if you haven't seen Galaxy Quest, go watch it. For real.), and Alexander is just so exasperated by the whole thing.

Now, there's also Quellek, the ship's science officer who idolized Dane's character (The aliens think that the actors from Galaxy Quest were actually on a space mission. They think the characters are real.). Toward the end of the movie, Quellek is mortally wounded, and he says how much of an honor it was to work with him.

And Dane gives him the line. Sincere as he's been the whole movie. And I'm not crying, you're crying.

3: Richard Castle (Castle)
Castle is great popcorn television. It's a super-formulaic detective show, and Castle, a writer, is generally lovable and charming and roguish. I mean, it's Nathan Fillion. That's what he plays best, arguably.

But there's a two part episode where his daughter, Alexis, is kidnapped. And Castle doesn't take it well, weirdly enough. At one point, they get someone who knows what's going on. He's standing in the way of Castle getting to Alexis.

And Castel very calmly asks for some time alone with the guy. He makes all kinds of hideous threats on what he's going to do to this guy. But then it cuts away to outside, and you just hear the guy screaming.

And Castle, our lovable, kindly writer, comes out with the information he wanted.

2: Saitama (One Punch Man)
OOC is Serious Business is a huge part of Saitama's character. He's the One Punch Man. He kills everything with One Punch. It's the whole schtick of the series. So he rarely needs to try at anything.

But now and then, we see him get…drawn better. More in a "traditional anime" style, as Americans understand it. That only happens when he actually feels things and has to try in a fight. It's quintessential, 101 OOC is Serious Business, in the starkest and most obvious terms.

But I don't think it's handled quite the best of all the things I've seen/read/watched. That goes to a very special, beloved character.

1: Hawkeye (M*A*S*H)
Fucking Hawkeye. I love him. I love this whole show, but I love Hawkeye. He's maudlin and irreverent and just a general cacophony of a human being. But he's almost always a lighthearted war surgeon. Yeah, if you haven't seen it, it's as weird as it sounds. Also…why haven't you fucking seen it?

But what makes Hawkeye marvelous in that particular way is when he's not funny and irreverent. He gets dark. Hawkeye, more than every other character combined, is our reminder to the vagaries of war. We see him break, and it's a reminder that not only are they in war, but war is…well, not hell. "War is war and Hell is Hell."

There are lots of great lines and scenes that show it. I really like the one where he and Margaret are trapped in a cave together. But the biggest one for me is when they bring in Sidney Freeman. Hawkeye is literally, psychologically broken. And to the viewer, that's scary. Hawkeye can't pull himself together. He has to get a psychologist. It's…it's powerful. It's not anything to shy away from for this show.

Hawkeye, because of how integral he is in the success of the show, and how well the trope is handled in regards to his character, is my top OOC is Serious Business example.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Manic Mondays: On Cirque du Soleil and Life-Changing Art

So I'm a big Cirque du Soleil fan. I was always a fan. My mother loved them, so I watched a lot of the recorded shows on public access.

But in high school I got to go to live shows twice. Those were, without exaggeration, life-changing experiences for me. And I really had to think about that today. I'm still thinking about it...hence writing this. See, I put up a post on my personal Facebook profile, basically saying "Hey, you probably can afford to see Cirque. It's only, like, fifty bucks a ticket." But I used the descriptor "massively inexpensive."

Oh boy, did that get some hackles up. Apparently fifty bucks isn't massively inexpensive. Which, if the people jumping on that had been poor like me, I could have understood. But they were people who were more well-off than I am, so it really threw me. They were people I knew went to movies (I don't) and concerts (I don't) and took trips (I literally cannot remember the last time I took a trip that wasn't business or necessity related.). So I knew right away there was a disconnect.

And I realized it had to be from me, because I'm a penny-pincher. I grew up poor, I'm still often on a shoestring budget...a frayed, frayed shoestring. Though not as much as we were when I was a kid. I have actual physical nausea if I spend money. So I knew there had to be something about Cirque that made it okay to me.

And that was when I realized how impactful it was on me. Cirque du Soleil pushed the boundaries of my mind. What live performers can do. What the human body can do. What artists can do. It fundamentally shaped a part of my soul, seeing those shows. And that's not something that can be communicated effectively, I don't think. See, to me that fifty dollar price tag isn't insane, because Cirque is something otherworldly.

And for the mere price of fifty dollars, I find out that I can take another piece of that otherworld with me into mundanity.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Even Evil has Standards


*Note: Spoilers, spoilers, cha-cha-cha. They're in this article cha-cha-cha*

Welcome back to Top Ten Trope Thursdays. This is where I pretend you care about my opinion, and you pretend that I'm witty, charming, intelligent, and don't have crippling self-esteem issues.

As I gear up to hit some solid villain/antagonist related tropes, I had a thought about something I just absolutely love. It came to me watching Supernatural (You'll see why when we get to that point.). And, as with most fictional tools and building blocks, TV Tropes has a name for this one: Even Evil Has Standards.

If you don't know what it is from that, I promise you've probably seen it. Especially in spec-fic, where our villains tend to really chew up the scenery and monologue like everybody and their grandmother is watching, it's a common occurrence. This is where our villain says "I'm evil, but I'm not that evil."

I think the most familiar example for most people comes from the Joker. It's not on the list, but it's TV Tropes's example, and it really illustrates the point. In a crossover comic with DC and Marvel, the Joker teams up with Red Skull. He things the Nazi paraphernalia is just a get up. That's his villain theme.

But when he finds out that's not the case? That's when this trope is enacted. "I may be a criminal lunatic, but I'm an American criminal lunatic."

See, for all the evil and chaos that the Joker has wrought, a Nazi? Nazis are right out. He doesn't play that game. And while this trope can be played for comedic effect, I'm sticking as much as I can to the more serious examples I've seen. If you're favorite is missing? That means it's likely I haven't seen it, so I can't speak to it.

With all that said, let the list begin. Because I may be long-winded, but I'm not long-winded and pendatic.

10: Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)
This is at the bottom of the list for two reasons: Jack Sparrow is hardly evil, and this comes from a deleted scene, so it's of questionable canonicity. But it's so good I had to put it on the list.

So we have a scene with Sparrow and Beckett, where Beckett is talking about how Jack got labeled a pirate to begin with. He was apparently found "liberating some cargo."

Jack pauses and then replies, very simply, "People aren't cargo, mate." Jack Sparrow is selfish. He's a drunkard. He's a pirate. He's a murderer. He's a thief. But he's not a slave trader, and he won't condone it.

9: Mirage (The Incredibles)
You remember her? It took me a hot minute to remember her name when writing my notes for this article. She worked for Syndrome, long silver hair, nearly strangled to death by Mr. Incredible? Yeah, Mirage.

Again, I never considered her evil, so she doesn't place too incredibly high on this list, but she was willing to watch multiple superheroes get killed to further Syndrome's plans, and was complicit in getting them there and convincing them to fight.

But where she drew the line was blowing a plane with children on it. Superheroes have dangerous lives. Children…they're innocents, and Mirage just couldn't blow them up, immediately setting her up as more likable than Syndrome.

8: Crowley (Supernatural)
Ostensibly, it doesn’t get much more evil than Crowley. He's literally the King of Hell. And while that's not thoroughly and completely true in practice, it doesn't make Crowley a nice dude. He tortures people, physically and psychologically, and orders considerably worse done to humans where he doesn't have to dirty his hands. Selfish, conniving, and all around just not the sort of gent you want to invite around for tea…partially because you'd probably have to sell him your soul.

So what's the line for the King of Hell himself? What's too evil for him? Well…nothing. This is as close to a comedic example as I'm willing to touch, in no small part because it inspired this entire list. But also, it does speak to Crowley's character if you're willing to dig a bit.

When he finds out that one of the demons under him has opened a sex trade/prostitution ring to collect souls, he immediately orders it shut down. Why? "I'm evil, that's just tacky."

See, not only is it not the right thing to do, enslaving innocent, unwilling women to be your prostitutes, but it's also not the way things are done. Crowley is always presented as not necessarily the lesser evil, but certainly the more sophisticated, honorable evil. And this plays into that. If he's going to get your soul, he's going to do it the old-fashioned way, god damn it.

7: The SCP Foundation (The SCP Foundation)
(CW: Sexual assault, rape)
This is the last of my "Maybe they're not really evil" entries for this list. The SCP foundation is actually a good organization. They keep our world safe and secure so you and I can live without immortal, genocidal lizards eating us, among other nasty things.

Specifically stated by them, they are "cold, not cruel." They won't do anything beyond what is necessary, but they will do what is necessary to keep everything "Secured, Contained, and Protected."

This example comes to us from SCP-231, which is a Keter class. It will cause extensive and irreparable harm to the world and human life, potentially ending everything if not contained. SCP fans are already cringing, because they know what's coming.

Without going into huge detail, SCP-231-7, the last remaining instance of the entity, is a young woman. To contain the SCP, they administer Procedure 110-Montauk. It has to be administered by six felons with sex offense backgrounds. SCP-231-7 has to be monitored only by medical professionals who have not taken the Hippocratic oath. And the point is to cause intense emotional and physical stress that also keep her from giving birth to…something. That's why, ever 3-4 days, she's given drugs that erase her memories, so she can experience it all as something brand new. That's pretty much what we know.

Now, the implication and most widely accepted explanation is that she's brutally raped by the six felons until she miscarries. The Foundation tried and failed to find other techniques that would keep the world from being destroyed, and nothing worked.

All of this is obviously pretty fucking awful. So where the hell do they invoke this trope? It's a really small thing compared to what happens during 110-Montauk, but if one of the felons tries to go beyond what is necessary for the procedure, they're killed on the spot.

Cold, not cruel.

6: The Capitol (The Hunger Games)
What the hell kind of redeeming qualities could the Capitol have? They cheer for and pay to watch children murder each other once a year. It's a massive spectacle and they love it.

Well none is the answer, but there's one sort of throwaway line. It doesn't make them good people, but it does make them…less evil than they could be? As I talked about in the Guile Hero article, Finnick is forced to prostitute himself to the wealthy. But when talking about that, we find out that he was safe until he was sixteen.

So…so yeah, it's really not much of a redeeming quality. But the point of this trope isn't necessarily to redeem, but to show that evil characters do have their own boundaries. And the Capitols' boundary is "prostitutes should be at least sixteen years old."

5: Simon Phoenix (Demolition Man)
Kidnapper, mass murderer, possibly quite literally the most violent man in the world, since they've pretty handily eradicated violence at this point in the world.

You'd think it would be hard to find something he's got boundaries against, be wrong. As this trope does its best to demonstrate, everyone has lines they won't cross, things of which they can't approve. For Simon Phoenix, he sees the government robbing people of their free will, and that's what drives him to kill the man who removed him from cryogenic suspension. The very man who gave him freedom wants to control the will of the people, so Simon is more than happy to turn on him, because that's fucked up.

4: The Comedian (Watchmen)
Hey! It's Negan!

Okay, that's out of the way. The Comedian is a bastard and he always has been. We see that all the way back in the Vietnam War. He got a local woman pregnant, so what does he do? He shoots her in the stomach, kills her, and obviously destroys the fetus.

Also he rapes the first Silk Spectre and gets her pregnant. Doesn't murder her, at least…I guess that's something?

But no, the real something is that this flaming rapist bastard does have lines. When the second Silk Spectre, his daughter, implies that he's trying to sleep with her, he shoots that right down. He's a bastard, but what kind of person does that with his daughter? And also, though he's willing to kill indiscriminately, genocide? That's a big nope. Not because he doesn't want to die, but because that's just not what you do. Killing everyone just isn't right.

3: Maleficent (Once Upon a Time)
I have a love/hate relationship with Once. I used to love it…now I really think it's trash. But when it was good, it was so good. Part of that is the cast of villains. Maleficent was a minor part, but there's a great bit very, very early in the series where we see Regina going for the Dark Curse…which Maleficent has.

Now since these are fairy tales, a lot of the villains are fully aware that they're evil. But Maleficent is the first time we see one of them with some sense of general humanity left. The Dark Curse is some of the most evil magic available, and Maleficent doesn't want to give it up. She'll help you put people into a nigh-irreversible nightmare coma, but the Dark Curse? No. Why? It's too intense…or as she puts it, "Whoever invented that monstrosity makes us look downright moral."

2: The Thiefmaker (Gentleman Bastards)
(CW: Rape)
I'm a big fan of this series. It's dark and gritty and complex, and it has thieves as the main characters, so I'm immediately sold.

The Thiefmaker is a central part of the backdrop. He takes orphans off the streets and trains them to be thieves…and, you know, if he thinks maybe they'll be a danger to him, he has no problem "handling" things and getting rid of them. Children. Orphaned children who rely on him as their guardian.

Now also in this world are the Jeremites. They're from another land and are not necessarily the nicest folks, but one thing stands out above all others: they think redheaded girls are of special, magical prominence. Specifically when they're raped to death.

Oh yeah, it goes there. You have an STD? Well, raping that redheaded girl will cure you. You can get money or fame or really anything. And it's especially potent magic if you're the "last one riding her" when she dies.

Now excuse me while I shower with bleach real quick.

As it turns out, one of the Thiefmaker's charges, Sabetha, has red hair. This penny-pinching, semi-murderous thief goes out of his way to buy her hair dye, because even he can see that's horrid. Far beyond anything he could condone, even on his worst day.

1: Johnny (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac)
Oh, JtHM, how I love thee. It's certainly not for everyone, but Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is the perfect thing for the grown up Invader Zim fan. It's early Jhonen Vasquez, and it carries all that quirk and darkness we know from Invader Zim.

The title character is, as it says on the tin, a homicidal maniac. He has multiple levels in his cellar designed to torture and kill folks. And he does it admittedly and gleefully. There's an entire arc about how he's so terrible that he goes to hell. Johnny is a bad, bad, bad man.

But in two specific situations, we see that there's some sort of rule to be had in even his life. He becomes famous enough that he gets a copycat killer, but the killer is also a rapist.

No go. Johnny won't condone it, and Johnny never rapes. Period. So he kills the copycat. I mean, I guess that's sort of what you do when you're a Homicidal Maniac.

The other thing we see is his protection of children. Specifically his neighbor Squee. A pedophile tries to have his way with Squee, and Johnny comes right after him…again, with the killing. He's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, that's kind of his only move.

And I consider Johnny's character a prime example of this trope because, for how awful he is, Johnny is our main character. He's evil, no doubt, but he's likable, and in no small part because of these tropes. He kills because he's a homicidal maniac, but sex crimes? No. He's an engaging and interesting evil character with his own personal rules and boundaries…because Even Evil has Standards.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Manic Mondays: Dinosaurs are Awesome


I like dinosaurs. I think everyone likes dinosaurs, and I think anyone who says otherwise is lying, or just not thinking about it enough. How cool is a triceratops, right?

Seriously, really think about it.

Yeah.

More than that, though, dinosaurs are fascinating because…well, because they aren't here anymore. We can accept that they were truly and completely massive. Powerful. Cool. They reigned for a long, long time. And then they didn't. Dinosaurs are a lens against our own mortality as humans.

Because right now, we're the dominant species. But tomorrow our climate could take a massive shift and tardigrades would rule for the next forty-thousand years. Which honestly, I think they're our current most likely successor. Long-live our resilient overlords.

Now I'm an SF/F writer, so my brain has to wonder what we don't know. How right and wrong were we about dinosaurs? Did they have palaces and religion and, because we just don't understand, we assume they're stupid?

Probably not, but it's always a possibility, right?

So more than just a lens against our mortality and nearly inevitable extinction, dinosaurs also show us how little we really know.

So dinosaurs are cool…but I guess they're also kind of dicks, bringing up all that stuff.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Heart is an Awesome Power


*Note: if you've seen these, you know there's spoilers. If you haven't seen these…well, there's spoilers. Fair warning.*

Now the last three of these were about characters. I'm hardly done with character tropes, but I want to slip aside just a bit and explore another trope that I tend to personally enjoy in media: Heart is an Awesome Power.

We all see this in sci-fi/fantasy settings. People have awesome powers and abilities…except Jenny. Jenny can control sugar. That's it. Everyone writes her off, maybe our one kindly character tries to make her feel better, but even Jenny thinks her power is dumb.

Until she realizes glucose is a sugar. Suddenly Jenny goes from being a weak little nothing to an unstoppable killing force, halting blood in its tracks at her will. Why? Because "Heart is an Awesome Power." Less about the actual limitations of a preternatural ability and more about the character putting it to good use, this is a trope that allows a writer to show off creativity, and it allows characters to have obvious, visible growth within a form of media.

Now, I'm not sticking to heroes with this, and part of that is…well, this tends to play well for villains. It's a great way to bring a recurring joke villain out of the shadows and shake everything up. Plus, if the character in question was ridiculed for their shit power, there's a fair chance that they'll retaliate once they figure out they can.

So on with the list!

10: The Amoeba Boys (The Powerpuff Girls)
Oh boy, these guys. They really really wanted to be evil villains. But at best they were nuisances, and at worst they actually made people's lives easier in the City of Townsville. Oversized single celled organisms. Not only do they not pose much of a physical threat, they don't have the brain capacity to come up with anything more complex than, say, stealing an orange. The Powerpuff Girls actually pity them, for the most part.

Until "Gesundfight." The Amoeba Boys are determined to stand on the grass in spite of what the sign says. They stay there overnight, get rained on, and get the flu…and that's a problem. Because of their freaky-ass single-celled-organism-ness, the disease mutates inside of them and, when spread around, is incredibly virulent. Within hours from exposure, humans are passing out, coughing, sneezing. The Amoeba Boys have released a plague upon Townsville.

Of course it all gets solved in the end, but they did it. The only reason they're number ten on the list is that they didn't choose to do this. They got sick and it kind of happened. But it couldn't have happened if Mojo Jojo or Fuzzy Lumpkins got sick: only The Amoeba Boys (Of note also: a lot of the villains in The Powerpuff Girls could fall in here. Fuzzy Lumpkins is…a hillbilly. That's about it. Elmer Sglue has…glue powers. Sedusa has prehensile hair.)

9: Ma-Ti (Captain Planet)
The Trope Namer in this case. In Captain Planet, five internationally sourced teens are given five power rings by Gaia to help protect the planet. The rings allow them to control one individual aspect of the world: earth, wind, fire, water, and…heart. Even Ma-Ti says it's a stupid power.

And then Ma-Ti uses that power to control a motherfucking bear to attack the Monster of the Week. Because "heart" is basically a nice way of saying "willful manipulation." Ma-Ti can make a connection to the metaphorical heart of any living creature. In fact, in an alternate future, we see exactly how devastating his power could be. Ma-Ti becomes an evil dictator, because his power of heart has allowed him to brainwash the masses into following him.

It doesn't get much more complex than that. Why so low for something so clearly available? Like with the next entry, it's rarely, if ever, used to that full devastating potential. Which in Ma-Ti's case, I think we should all be thankful for.

8: Jubilee (X-Men)
The fireworks girl? Really?

Yes, the fireworks girl. The one with the banana yellow coat whose powers are only ever vaguely explained most of the time. And I know she actually got depowered, but we're talking old school mutant Jubilee.

See, those fireworks are actually plasma. She's just creating plasma. And while this seems like a way to try to make her cooler…think about what she has to do to accomplish that. She's supercharging the air around her into plasma. Plasma that really has no difficulty creating explosions wherever she wants it to, within her specific range.

But it goes beyond that. Pushing her power, she's able to break down matter. Yeah. She can actually split atoms with her fucking brain if she wants to. She can split atoms inside your liver, or inside your head, or inside your wife. Luckily, Jubilee is a nice person, and she only ever did that to a Sentinel. But she could have done it to anyone she wanted.

So yeah, the fireworks girl.

7: Karen (The Almighty Johnsons)
This isn't the only time The Almighty Johnsons is going to be on this list, so no worries. Karen, for anyone who doesn't remember her sort of brief appearance, is Michele's mother, as well as the human reincarnation of Lofn, goddess of festivities.

Parties? Now that's a lame power.

Unless applied correctly. She's another one who doesn't do a ton to fully capitalize on her powers, but if she plans a party, you're going to be there. It's literally unavoidable. You'll find out about it, you'll be there, and if there's a theme, you're going to adhere to it.

She uses this all of once, as she's only a bit character. But we see that power. She can make anyone show up anywhere she wants as long as she throws a party. She does it for positive reasons, of course. She wants to breed familial harmony. But if she was evil? If she'd been working with the goddesses since the beginning, the gods would have been dead in an instant.

6: Squirrel Girl (Marvel Comics)
Now you can tell me she's just meant as a joke character, and you're pretty much right. But on paper, as it stands, Squirrel Girl is one of the most effective heroes in the Marvel universe.

What's her power? Well, she has "things related to a squirrel" down pat. She's considerably stronger than an average human, though nothing compared to super-strength heroes like Carol Danvers. She can jump several stories. She has a moderately prehensile tail. She has a spike on her knuckle that can carve through wood. And she can also communicate with and command squirrels. She also has enhanced regenerative abilities, like most of Marvel's animal-themed mutants.

That's it. That's Squirrel Girl. But she makes damn good use of those powers. She took down Thanos. She took down Doctor Doom. She took down Terrax the Terror. Ego the Living Planet. Four Avengers. Wolverine. Deadpool. Fin Fang Foom.

Did I mention Thanos?

I say she's used as a joke because Squirrel Girl does most of her fighting off screen. However, that doesn't make it less canon. I assume that they just don't want to go that graphic, showing her army of squirrels ripping Thanos apart an inch at a time.

If I were to meet Squirrel Girl in a dark alley, though? I'd be super nice to her in the hopes that she never met me while the camera was pointed somewhere else.

5: Pig God (One Punch Man)
Pig God is the tenth ranked hero in the world of One Punch Man…and lord if you'd ever be able to tell. He's morbidly obese, constantly eating…because that's his power. He can eat. More specifically, I suppose, he has an "inhuman digestive tract," along with other abilities, such as surprisingly immense strength.

Sounds a little shaky. Like, maybe he should be in the top 100 heroes. Maybe. But the tenth strongest hero in the world?

But Pig God has several things going in his favor. He's massively durable and can even survive being eaten himself. He has so many layers of body fat that venom can't reach his blood stream, making him immune to venomous attacks. And he has an inborn sense of duty to the people of the world. He wants to keep everyone safe and healthy, which is not the most common trait at the top of the hero pack in this world. A lot of them are fairly self-centered.

But the eating is his "heart" power. He can eat and digest anything. Anything of any size. Pig God's digestive abilities are one of the most destructive forces on the planet. If there's an enemy that can't be beaten by conventional methods? Feed them to Pig God. Problem solved. Not just solved for today, but for good.

Damn.

4: Aquaman (DC Comics)
Yep, Fish Boy himself. I'm not even considering him controversial. The only worry I have is whether he's high enough on the list. See, Aquaman is scary. Other characters in the DC Universe are afraid of him.

This one is not so much that his powers on paper seem silly. It's just his perception. People out in our world don't give him the respect he deserves. So let's break down what Aquaman brings to the table.

He can survive in the depths of the ocean. Boom, that right there should be enough. He has immense speed and strength at the bottom of the ocean, under 6000 psi of pressure. When you put him on land? Watch the fuck out, Superman, you've met your match.

But you don't care about that. You want to hear how he talks to fish. Okay. Conservative estimates put the percentage of ocean life at 50% of all life on earth. So for every human, animal, and bird, there's a form of sea based life form. A more realistic estimate is probably closer to 70%. And yeah, that includes krill and plankton…but you know that also includes deadly jellyfish, whales, giant squid, and thousands upon thousands of undiscovered life that could be dangerous as fuck.

Aquaman is dangerous enough by himself. With his marine communication? He's nearly unstoppable.

3: Baise (Hunter x Hunter)
A minor character, but so deserving of this. She can kiss any man and instill in him any sexual desire she chooses. And for the most part, she imparts extreme, all encompassing masochism. Why?

Because that masochism is so powerful that, as she literally beats the man to death, he won't fight back. He enjoys it and asks for more. Both disturbing and effective, all because she can grant men sexual desires.

2: Cypher (X-Men)
Don't ask me how mutation makes you able to understand all languages, but it does…apparently. That's cypher's ability. And initially that was it. But then he died and came back, as comic book heroes are wont to do, and his powers had supercharged. He could read and understand any spoken language. And computer language, which made him an expert hacker. And body language, which made him able to read and respond perfectly in battle. And sometimes, these powers extended to things that are questionable language-based, like…somehow finding the weak point in buildings. I guess the structure or the blueprints or something are a language of their own?

But what should have been a translator and possible diplomat turned into a massively impress threat to the well-being of anyone who dared to fight him or use a computer.

1: Mike Johnson (The Almighty Johnsons)
And here we arrive at the gold standard, for me, of this trope. Mike, like most of the other significant characters in The Almighty Johnsons, is the reincarnated version of a Norse deity. In his case, this is Ullr, god of the hunt. Ullr, commonly invoked before duels in the olden days, was also interpreted in this medium as the god of games. Whether that's accurate or not…well, I can't find anything that puts him as god of games, but it's A: not a huge stretch and B: not important. The Almighty Johnsons uses him as god of games, and that's what we're going with.

As such, Ullr can't lose. This seems to be a really narrow power. Good for, say, beating everyone at rock paper scissors every single time, or taking the house at poker, but otherwise not all that useful.

But as the series progresses, we see how broadly a game is defined, and hence see Mike's true power. He can not only bend the laws of probability, but the laws of nature. Did you, in your villainous quipping, bet that he couldn't beat you? Well, you've just made this fight a game, ensuring your defeat. He now barely feels your punches, and you really feel his.

Or, did you say "Guess what happened?" Well, that's a guessing game. He can now read your mind. That's the one that's really mind blowing. As long as you tell him to guess, he's functionally omniscient.

It's a specific set of circumstances, but once you initiate a game? Watch out for Mike. Or better yet, just give up.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Manic Mondays: Queering Power Rangers

Lately, I've been watching Linkara's History of Power Rangers. It's no secret that I'm a Power Rangers fan. In fact, I'm planning on catching back up before Beast Morphers, and I might even go back and watch some of the better-reviewed Super Sentai series, just to see what's going on.

But watching the history of Wild Force (Spoilers for that 15 year old series, I guess.), the ending "Where they are now" section shows Danny and Max off globe-trotting. I immediately was like "Oh, so they were gay together."

But of course they weren't because it's a US children's show from the early 2000s, and gay people didn't exist. Jesus, women and POC barely existed. But it got me thinking: how fucking righteous would it have been to have two gay Power Rangers (Note: this is still possible, as the series is ongoing. Crossing fingers, but not holding my breath.)? One thing Power Rangers has had since the beginning is romance between team members. Tommy and Kimberly, anyone (I'm not giving you a spoiler warning for that one. It's been 25 years. And yeah, I know that she sent him a dear John letter and broke things off, but they were sill a couple.)? One of the major plot elements of Time Force was the weird 1000 year love triangle between Jen, Wes, and Alex. Even solidly into the Disney era (Spoilers now, I suppose), we see: Ziggy and Dr. K, Camille and Dai Shi, and Lily and Theo. So it's not that the showrunners think romance isn't a child-friendly theme for the show. And at least some of the showrunners carried over from the halcyon days of Disney into the...less halcyon days of Nickelodeon.

(I haven't seen much of the Nick/Neo-Saban era, so apologies there - this is why I need to play catch up before Beast Morphers and the 25th anniversary.)

But since we know that Power Rangers is currently attached to Nickelodeon, why couldn't it be queer? We know Nick isn't afraid to touch the subject, not after The Legend of Korra. Not to mention the rampant success of Steven Universe on Cartoon Network.

Plus think of the possibilities. Power Rangers, for any who aren't fans, delves into some real deep, dark subject matter (So many spoilers are coming, guys. So. Many. You've been warned.). You have the Astronema brainwashing plot from In Space, not to mention Zayne's mysterious illness. Lost Galaxy opens with a guy falling to his death in chasm (He got better.), and also one of the Galaxy Rangers sacrifices herself to save the others...and then they have to deal with the actual fallout from one of their team mates dying. Cole's parents were murdered, the Time Force Rangers nearly have their memories wiped out, Eric and Wes display socioeconomic disparity...hell, even Operation Overdrive has Mac practically going suicidal because he finds out he's actually a robot. And RPM? Get the hell out of here, RPM opens with "The bad guys have basically won. There's one city left on Earth. That's it." And from there: brainwashing, infected humans, and their mentor was the one who created the big bad in the first place.

So why couldn't their be a gay romance? "Gay people exist" is way less intense than "I was kidnapped as a child and gaslighted into believing I could never go outside, so I created a computer virus to break the security systems but they wouldn't let me stop it in time so it became sentient and took over the world and killed the majority of Earth's population."

Not to mention, the franchise as a whole has now had a canon lesbian Power Ranger. So let's have two battle-hardened Power Rangers find love again - but this time, could it be boys loving boys or girls loving girls? Just, like, this one time, see how it goes? If not, we're just going to end up with more badly written Jason and Tommy fan-fic, and there's quite enough of that out there already.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Science Hero

*Note: My father was in the hospital for surgery, and I moved back home to help out for a week. Hence the lack of a post last week. Apologies.

Also...spoilers ahead, me mateys.*


We did the cunning, witty, charming Guile Hero. We did the "rush into battle" Action Hero. So there's only one part of the triangle left. Get out your beakers and test tubes, we're talking about the Science Hero.

Now, this isn't someone you see very often anymore. The Science Hero had something of a golden age while science was still this growing, thriving wilderness that needed to be hacked apart. Science for the sake of science rather than science for the sake of man. That was a big thing back in the day, but as that attitude changed we saw the Science Hero give way to our other archetypes. And, as far as I can tell, we actually saw the rise of Villainous Scientists. It coincided roughly with World War II and I think it was fueled by the experimentation done by Nazi scientists.

But all that speculation aside, we're here to talk about Science Heroes and…okay, I have to be frank with you, Action Heroes are my least favorite of the three in general terms. Guile is my favorite, but science is right up there. Especially in science fiction? We should have scientists at least sometimes. So these are my personal top ten examples of Science Heroes…or sometimes Anti-Heroes.

10: Kurotsuchi Mayuri (Bleach)
In the Guile Hero list, we opened with Kisuke Urahara. Now, his counterpart…replacement…whatever. Largely acknowledged as being not quite as brilliant as Urahara, Mayuri is still a solid scientist and researcher, and he's made incredible strides in his research. From hacking his own body and his own zanpakuto, to manufacturing an entire soul reaper from scratch, to a serum that can regrow limbs after they've been cut off.

Mayuri places low because, at best, he's an anti-hero, but even though I'm putting him on this list, I can't fully get my support behind that. Left to his own devices, Mayuri would be kind of an evil mad scientist. He tortured people and performed vivisection. He implants bombs into his subordinates without telling them so he can use them in battle. And he's invented countless horrific things in his experimentation. Even his zanpakuto modification was awful: poison that starts to kill on contact…unless you're related to Mayuri…and it spreads into a 200 meter wide area and just basically kills everyone.

He's a hero because people annoyed him, or a fight intrigued him intellectually, or he knew he wouldn't be able to complete his research with them destroying X, Y, or Z. And so he worked for himself, but certainly not for anyone else.

9: Bruce Banner (Marvel Comics)
The Incredible Hulk is, in a lot of ways, nothing but a modern Jekyll and Hyde story, just written for the nuclear age instead of the chemical. But the Hulk is, at best, an Action Hero, and at worst a force of nature.

However, Bruce Banner himself is a brilliant scientist, and hardly the only one in the Marvel Comics universe. He's easily the preeminent nuclear scientist in the comics, especially where it comes to how radiation changes biological tissue…I mean, obviously, right?

He's got other smarts to lean on as well, can build computers and all that stuff. But nuclear physics, that's where he thrives. It's where his expertise lies, and Bruce Banner is really, really good at it. When Dr. Doom says "Yeah, this is the guy I need to talk to," you know he must have something going for him.

8: Tony Stark (Marvel Comics)
See, I told you there were a lot of them. A lot of comic book franchises have Science Heroes, but Marvel really seems to have a monopoly on them…or at least on the really captivating ones. And Tony Stark is probably the single biggest example in comics, at least in some ways. You can and possibly should argue that Hank Pym is a better fit for Science Hero, since Tony Stark is also a clear and absolute action hero, but when it comes to popularity and notability? Tony Stark all the way.

And he is incredibly smart. I'm dying? Let me fix that. The thing that saved me is killing me? Let me fix that. I need to synthesize a brand new element? Give me a couple days.

But more than that, Tony Stark is one of the most interesting science heroes in Marvel Comics. He has one of the most dynamic character evolutions. Even in the comics, he was a billionaire playboy philanthropist at the start. He was an arms dealer. He wasn't a nice guy, and seeing him switch from a smart dick to a smart but genuinely nice person is what makes Tony Stark work so beautifully. He becomes more heroic while still keeping the "science" part of the title, and that's why he just works so well.

7: Agatha Heterodyne (Girl Genius)
I mean, how was she not going to make this list? In the realm of webcomics, there are some great characters, and there are some smart characters…but nobody like Agatha or any of the other "Sparks" from the Girl Genius universe.

The genius energy they have is a force of nature, one that descends on Sparks and sends them into literal madness. Megalomania, delusions of grandeur…it basically turns them into stereotypical Mad Scientists. Each Spark is special, only works for certain fields of study. For Agatha, she can work with small scale robots and arms. It is very specialized, but damn it all if she can't do some amazing things within that field. Come to find out she's the heir to a great and powerful family of other Science Heroes…the final, lost heir to that family.

So no pressure. But if anyone can handle it, it's Agatha Heterodyne. Not only is she a mad scientist, but she's emotionally and physically tough, too. Her inventions basically just help her be more of a badass…well, there was the one time her invention helped her make perfect coffee, but how do you expect her to function without a good mug of that dark delicious brew?

6: Lloyd Asplund (Code Geass)
There are a lot of bit part characters in Code Geass, and a lot of particularly captivating ones at that. Prince Clovis is barely on screen, but important. Milly Ashford is there for most of the series, but hardly an important player. You can even argue that a lot of the Black Knights aren't that vital, even the ones that are actually given characters.

But, with very few exceptions, no bit character is so intriguing as Lloyd Asplund. A duke of the Brittanian Empire, but he could give two shits about that. He doesn't actually care about…well, anything that's important to the rest of the series. He doesn't care who wins the war. He doesn't care if anyone lives or dies. He doesn't care about what's right or wrong, and doesn't really have any opinion on what right or wrong means.

What Lloyd cares about is science. He developed the first seventh generation Knightmare frame, and there was really one person who could pilot it. It didn't matter if that pilot was an Eleven or not to Lloyd. He was nothing but a piece in that properly functioning machine. Suzaku was important to Lloyd not on a personal level, but on a technical level: the Lancelot doesn't work without Suzaku, so keeping Suzaku alive is important.

In the truest, purest sense, Lloyd is a Science Hero. The kind that went to the wayside after World War II here in America. He cares about advancing his research, not about the results of it. It's a success that his Knightmare frame is one of the deadliest and most efficient ever created. Unlike the rest of the cast, Lloyd is unbothered by the tragedies of war constantly before his eyes. In fact, the only times we see him upset are when something might happen to his work. Not even when he or his assistant might be in danger.

And while I wouldn't ever want to hang out with a man like that, by GOD he makes a beautiful character who just happens to fall on the likable side of this Gray and Grey Morality show.

5: Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones)
Point of immediate note: I haven't read the books, so this is all on the TV show. That said…God I watched a lot of this show. I wrote multiple novels with this show on in the background. And what makes this show work is the smart people. Temperance Brennan, of course, gets the most screen time. She is the title character, after all.

She's not quite as blasé about human life and emotion as Lloyd Asplund, but she's still very science focused. What matters are facts, even if you don't like them. She's intelligent and at the top of her field, and she's not going to stand for being questioned when she knows she's right…or sometimes if she just thinks she's right. Smart and stubborn and that normally gets her her way.

And, you know, since she's the title character, she also tends to be right, so hooray for plot armor.

But in all seriousness, she gets the bonus points that get her this high up for two reasons. One: she has compassion that really helps define her character. She's put into these situations where she has to see people suffering firsthand. She goes out into the field and handles the families and friends of murder victims. And even though she doesn't handle the social aspect that well, it really gets to her. That's clearer in one episode than any other: "A Boy in a Bush." The victim is a child, and while the rest of the team is breaking down, she has to tell them to separate themselves. She's been here before, she's felt those emotions, and she knows that they don't get anything done. But it shows right away that she feels them.

And two: this was written by Kathy Reichs. You know, an actual forensic anthropologist? You can just about guarantee that the science behind this particular Science Hero is right.

4: Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (Futurama)
Heroic? Not often. Scientific? Probably more than anyone else. By pure virtue of what he's managed to accomplish, he qualifies here. And he is a part of the protagonist side of things.

But let's face facts: the entire series hinges on his scientific advancement. The show wouldn't work if it wasn't for the Planet Express ship. The drive that moves the universe around the ship so you can break the speed of light and literally move faster than just about anything.

And while that is the main caveat of the series, having this ship, his achievements hardly stop there. From robot sex change operations to the crafting of alternate universes and, after that, storing the entire universe inside of itself.

If Futurama was a drama series, you know full well Hubert Farnsworth would be a force to be reckoned with. I mean, he does make doomsday devices for fun…just hope that he never decides to be a villain.

3: Dr. Louise Banks (Arrival)
When I first saw this movie, I hailed the fact we had a sci-fi movie with a scientist for a hero. And as a writer I was very interested that it was a linguist, but that's another story.

I find her entirely fascinating, and completely vital to everything that went down. She was none too interested in working for the government at the start, but in true Science Hero fashion she decides she's going to do it once they suggest they'll go to someone else who she doesn't think is as good as her.

 It's still questionable whether or not she wants to work for them even after that, but she's damn sure not going to let an inferior linguist get the job.

And then, of course, she translates a totally foreign form of communication from the ground up. Something humans can't reasonably use, at least not at that point. I've already written an entire article about theSapir-Whorf hypothesis in regards to this movie already, how it's largely disproved, but suffice it to say that doesn't ruin the experience for me, and doesn't ruin the character and the sheer power that linguistics grants her. Mastery over time? Hell yes, let's make linguistics cool again.

Or for the first time.

Or whatever.

2: Mark Watney (The Martian)
Come on, you knew he'd be here, right? "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this." That's the ultimate Science Hero line, and I can't even fathom something that will ever knock it down from that pedestal.

The reasons why he deserves to be this high seem obvious: he survived on Mars, alone, for over a year, and he managed to get back to Earth when there was no way he should have pulled that off. But he did. He grew potatoes from the rations that were sent with them. So, you know, the first farmer on Mars, the first Martian potatoes, and the first somewhat successful attempt at terraforming.

On top of that, he also communicates with nothing but a still camera, he makes water from the supplies available, and he rewires life support systems into a manned rover.

There's so much he does, and the combination of that scientific chutzpah with his determination to simply survive puts him up here at number two. And on paper he should be number one, but I'm just a little biased…

1: Dr. Gregory House (House)
See, my bias is that House is my favorite character. End sentence, full stop. I can't get over him. I compare almost every character to his gold standard, including my own. He's simultaneously brilliant and antisocial. Compassionate and hard-edged. Arrogant. Addicted. Broken. And, much to the chagrin of anyone who has to try and control him, indispensable. All of that, and yet he's somehow also charismatic.

He's a genius on multiple levels. Medical, that part's obvious. But he's incredibly self-aware. He's absolutely and totally focused on his chosen field, and he's amazing at it, but he also knows himself well enough to know what he needs: he needs Vicodin if he's going to function. There's a very powerful scene where he says, "I'm an addict." Wilson offers him help and he says no. He's an addict, but he's functional. He holds down a job as a world-renowned doctor while he's addicted to Vicodin.

And not only does he know himself, he knows you, too. He knows how to play people, because when you're as stubborn and unpleasant as him, you have to learn to play those games. He's not winning friends and influencing people as much as winning arguments and manipulating people.

But at the end of the day, he does his job. He does the impossible again and again and again. And for me, the perfection of his character and the fact that he's a dyed-in-the-wool Science Hero, puts him at the top of this list.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Manic Mondays: Impossible Art


I admit I wrote this one at the same time as the last Manic Monday. Apologies, but I find the concept of "impossible to play music" fascinating. Or really "impossible to understand" anything.

This started with the Rite of Spring, largely considered impossible to perform. And Paganini's 24 Caprices. But there's Eruption by Eddie Van Halen, which was a mind-blowing guitar solo that 16 year olds play now. You get into slightly trickier situations with composers like Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff had massive hands. He could play an octave and a half on each hand, and he played with exceptional clarity compared to his contemporaries. The problem is, if you don't have octave-and-a-half hands, you're going to struggle playing his concertos.

But the amazing thing, and the great testament to humanity hidden within, is that none of these pieces are impossible, anymore. They're technically difficult. I don't know how much you know about music, but playing Paganini's 24 Caprices is still not an easy task. The violinist who wants to attempt it has to play left-handed tremolo while still bowing, or perform double and triple stops, or ricochet bowing, or God Damn left-handed pizzicato.

Trust me, those are not easy things to do. Even though we understand them better now, it's no longer a matter of "just Niccolo Paganini can play these songs."

No matter the artform, humans need two things: they need skill and they need understanding. The issue with Paganini wasn't that he was so much more incredible at playing the violin. He was amazing, no doubt. But the reason he was so revered and unique is because, at the time, he was the only one who understood how those songs worked. He was the only one at the time ricochet bowing twelve or more arpeggiated tuplets

You see it in other forms of art. Understanding can be vital to any sort of art making sense. I'm looking at Dadaism. When you just walk through a museum and see a urinal with Marcel Duchamp's signature on it, you think it's just fucking weird. Until you learn why it happened: a museum said "anything people make is art" and Duchamp chose to push it.

And he proved his point: even though he "modified" the urinal and called it "water fountain," they didn't take it. So not everything could be art.

Or look at the Piss Christ. What if we didn't understand the significance of urine as filth, or all the meanings of a crucifix. The Piss Christ would mean nothing to us. It wouldn't be famous, and it's not particularly attractive. But because there's understanding, we can see it.

It fascinates me to think what kind of understanding we're going to have soon. Back to music, there's a piece now that is arguably the most difficult to play in the world today, because it's simply not something we can conceptualize well. Ben Johnston's 7th String Quartet is written not in notes, but in tones. The piece is notated by cents. Minute degrees of variation, smaller than even quarter steps. We can't even always hear the difference between two notes, because they are 4 cents apart. A cent in music is one hundredth of the tonal difference between semitones. So, a hundredth of the difference between A and A-flat. That small.

When we understand that, what will come along to fill the gap? What is there in writing that we can't conceptualize? Or any other art form. I love the idea of pushing the far boundaries of what we can actually do.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Manic Mondays: Lost Media


When the Library of Alexandria burned down, we lost so. God. Damn. Much. Information. Who knows what kind of secrets are gone forever, or what kind of steps forward were immeasurably delayed because of that lost info.

If you're like me, that kind of thing gives you hives. But I recently had a new hive-inducing realization thrust upon me. I was looking into music that, at one time or another, was considered nigh-impossible, or even entirely impossible, to play. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was actually considered an impossible piece when it was released…which is now played by high school students. Not because we've evolved into master musicians, but because it's been around for decades upon decades and all of us music people have had time to wrap our heads around those changing time signatures and meters and weird tone structures.

I'm going to write about that all at some point, but I ran across Paganini's 24 Caprices, which was so difficult that people thought no one but Paganini could ever perform it. Why? Because Niccolo Paganini was a true virtuoso on the violin. That included some pretty amazing tricks in songs like Duetto Amoroso, which replicated the sounds of a couple having sex, and Il Fandango Spanolo, in which his violin imitated farm animals.

There is one manuscript left of Duetto Amoroso, thankfully…and we have zero manuscripts remaining of Il Fandango Spanolo. We only know it existed because it was on concert posters and word of mouth.

One: yes, back then virtuoso musicians had concert posters like Van Halen or Black Sabbath. Two: OH MY GOD, THE WORLD IS ON FIRE. A piece of music from a premier violinist is just…gone.

See, we don't have quite the same thing with books. Yes, there are an innumerable number of lost manuscripts, or nearly lost manuscripts, like the works of Henry Darger. But those manuscripts are complete. There's nothing else out there. A book is a book is a book, and if you have a book you have it. If you don't, you don't.

Performance arts feel more tragic to me because someone heard these. In some way, they were real off the page. The written music carried a weight to it because of that. Il Fandango Spanolo was something that people heard, and everyone that heard it became one of the last people to ever hear it, because that piece is gone.

The same thing could be said of lost plays or lost choreography or or or…but I don't need to think about those things.

I do, however, need a drink. Because lost media gives me hives, and I'm pretty sure vodka is good for hives.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Action Hero


*Warning: spoilers lie ahead.*

So last Thursday we talked about my favorite of the hero triangle, the Guile Hero. You can check that out here. This week, I'm going to go from the most sort of obscure of the three to the one that I think just about everyone understands: the Action Hero.

This is one of the biggest examples of What it Says on the Tin that I can possibly imagine. It's a hero (Or heroine) who is primarily about physical action. These are your John Rambos, John McClanes, John Connors, John Spartans, John Matrixes…plus some other people not named John, occasionally.

But only very rarely.

Now, it's surprisingly difficult to narrow down something as broad and open as this trope. Action Hero is what is called a Super Trope in TV Tropes vernacular. But I'm determined to do what I set out to do: my top ten Action Heroes. To find out why, the descriptions/breakdowns are going to be even more important.

But if you're not looking for the in-depth stuff, then you can just skim across the subheadings. I won't be offended, promise.

10: Conan of Cimmeria (Conan the Barbarian et al)
Depending on who you are, you probably either love or can't stand Conan. Whether it's from the Schwarzenegger portrayal or the original Howard stories, Conan definitely makes an impression. I grew up watching those movies when I was clearly too young to be watching them, and as such I can't help but love them.

What makes Conan really, truly worthy of the number ten spot, though? For me, it's because he makes a blank Action Hero slate. I would argue that Conan of Cimmeria is the most quintessential action hero. Even more than the first examples that come to mind, like Rambo, and even more than the base, mythological "Action Heroes" like Theseus. Conan is a big dude with a sword who swings it and wins. That is the action hero template.

But then why so low? Because he is blank. Books, and especially the movies, portray Conan as basically just the big dude with the sword. The world he's in is considerably more interesting than the man himself. Conan is a plot device with basic, basic motivations, but I just can't write this list without including him…so he's number ten.

9: James Bond (The James Bond Franchise)
Okay, I know that it's a codename, it's multiple characters, yadda yadda yadda. But every single James Bond we've seen is very similar. Suave, good with a gun, has lots of gadgets, reliant on M for a bunch of wat helps him survive…

Oh, is that blasphemous? Tough, because it's true. Now look, James Bond is a bit of a Guile Hero, it's true. He has to rely on wits just a touch, but we all know what the appeal of James Bond is. He has a gun, he shoots the bad guys, he saves the world and gets the girl. That's a very basic action hero.

By the shifting, semi-anonymous nature of James Bond, he doesn't tend to have a lot of external influence. He doesn't give you much in the way of character because he can't. He's just 007.

8: John Rambo (Rambo)
God, I'm apparently just here to kill sacred cows. Hear me out: this is where the "my list" aspect comes in. Rambo is a god damn amazing character…once. First Blood is an action movie masterpiece, and hand to God, Sylvester Stallone is one of the most undervalued American actors out there.

John Rambo just wasn't used well after First Blood. But that very initial hit of Rambo? It's heroin. You want it again and again after you see him. He's a veteran, he's messed up, and he knows how to kill you way better than you know how to kill him. Put him up against an oppressive police force and really, really try to pay respect to what those veterans have to deal with now? That's John Rambo. That's First Blood.

And if they'd stopped there and let it sit as a masterpiece, then he would be near the top of this list.

7: Unohana Retsu (Bleach)
Okay, maybe it's a little weird. I know in the Guile Hero article, I said we never, ever talk about Bleach after the timeskip, but I make some exceptions for character information.

Unohana from the beginning is portrayed with very little information, but the information we have is very interesting: we know that she's the second oldest captain of the 13 Court Guard Squads, and in shonen anime "old" tends to mean "powerful." Not to mention we've established age as power with Head Captain Yamamoto. We know she's the Captain of Squad Four, which is the healing division. She's very good at healing. And one other thing we know is that Squad Eleven are terrified of her. Squad Eleven is basically all action heroes, all the time, and they quiver before her.

We don't find out why until after the timeskip. It's true that she's not super interesting as a person, but I have to give her this spot just because it's so…god damn terrifying and cool and badass. Post timeskip, we find out she's one of the deadliest fighters in the Soul Society. She was only bested by one person, and that's Zaraki Kenpachi, the current leader of Squad Eleven, which used to be her squad.

That's not the crazy part, though: the only reason she learned to heal was so she could fight longer. She needed to be able to immediately recover and kill more people. Not to help anyone, nothing so noble as that: she liked fighting and killing and wanted to be better at it. Full stop.

6: Neytiri (Avatar)
This is the movie that put Zoe Saldana on the map, although she'd been in the industry for quite a while before that, and for good reason. Not only is Avatar technologically and visually stunning, but it has great characters. Neytiri is one of them. Simultaneously, she fits several tropes. Not all of them are good, and there are some actual problems with this movie, even if people want to turn their heads away from that. It's a rehashed plot, and a problematic one at that. Seeing the white military man come in and save the poor natives is tiresome and offensive.

But I still enjoy the film, and a huge part of that is Neytiri. She's an Action Hero, riding in on a panther lizard thing and taking out powered armor suits. She's still undeniably female, taking part in her culture's norms of femininity, but she'll kill you. She's fun, she's tragic, and she does her best.

And did I mention she'll kill you? Because she will. Neytiri is an incredibly deadly, capable warrior, potentially even more than Jake Sully. I mean, who would you put your money on to win that fight?

(Of note: Zoe Saldana can do very little wrong, especially in action roles. Check out Colombiana when you get the chance.)

5: Fox (Wanted)
I have a soft spot for Angelina Jolie, it's true. But this is where I think personality starts to really kick in for action heroes on this list. They aren't quite cookie cutter images.

Now it's very possible you haven't seen Wanted. It's not a beloved action flick, but it's one of my absolute favorites. Wesley, the main character, is a good, solid character. He's the one the plot needed. But Jolie's Fox is the one who made the biggest impact as a character for me.

The premise here is that certain people have a mutation of sorts that gives them hyper reflexes and a few other superhuman skills. The mythos of the world is a little cloudy, I admit. But Fox is one of these people: an assassin who follows the orders of fate. Or at least one who believes she does. She can curve bullets out of the barrel of a gun. She's a hardened badass, but she also has a reason for being here, which I think is something we see so rarely in action heroes, and is one of the things that makes them so good when they're good.

As a girl, Fox's father was murdered by a man who was supposed to be assassinated. An assassin from this group before she ever joined didn't kill the mark, and because of that her father was burned alive in front of her, and he was branded. It's powerful motivation for her to follow blindly along and kill who she needs to. "Kill one, save a thousand."

And because of that, she's set for a beautiful fall. When it turns out that the orders are being manipulated, aren't just being handed down by fate, things change for her. Not to mention, her and everyone else in that group of assassins had legitimately come up as orders.

So she kills them. With one curving bullet, she takes out all of them and herself, because her conviction to those fated assassinations is simply that strong. And damn it if that's not a beautiful death scene, even if the headshots are just a little too clean for realism.

4: Leeloo (The Fifth Element)
I swear I'm not trying to put all the female entries together. There are just characters I couldn't put lower than Leeloo.

That said, Leeloo is a personal favorite. Hell, The Fifth Element is arguably my favorite movie of all time. It's genius, gorgeous sci-fi at a time when nothing like that dared to exist in cinema. A huge part of the appeal is the casting of Leeloo. I don't think anyone other than Milla Jovovich could have pulled it off.

Why? Because Leeloo is a character who shouldn't work. Like, at all. She's awesome at basically everything she tries, nearly all powerful…I mean, come on, they literally describe her as the perfect being. And she shoots lasers out of her mouth. She's basically the Death Star, but also young, limber, and scantily clad. Nothing about her should make her so amazing.

But she is. She's soft in the right places. Her lack of knowledge about the world isn't just there to make a young, innocent female character who's still clearly of age to have sex (Which is a problem we need to talk about, America. Stop it, it's weird. We can't simultaneously infantilize and sexualize women. I mean we can, but we god damn shouldn't.). It's there because she lets us see things from a fresh perspective.

While Leeloo has a lot of great action scenes (The Diva Dance scene. Come on, you know you love it.), my absolute favorite scene of hers is when she learns about war. This ultimate defense system against evil sees a rapid fire shot of all war that humans have engaged in, and you just watch her break. It's powerful for her, pivotal for the plot, and really shows the audience something about the world.

The Fifth Element stands as a masterpiece, and Leeloo is an integral part of that.

3: Suzaku Kururugi (Code Geass)
You had to know Code Geass would make this list right? And who better than the white knight himself, Suzaku. Rarely bested in all out battle, Suzaku masterfully pilots the Lancelot. And he's a core of the series. His past relationships with Lelouch and Nunally, the murder of his own father, his split allegiance between Japan and the Britannian Empire. He's fascinating.

But more than anything, what makes him work the best for me is what Lelouch does to him. Lelouch gives him a standing order, one that literally can't ignore: live. No matter what, Suzaku has to survive. No matter the cost, no matter what he wants, he's going to make it. That's up to and including functionally breaking the laws of the universe to do it.

Suzaku can't die, and that alone should make him the ultimate action hero…but what's better is that he hates it. He hates being unable to sacrifice himself. He hates the things running does to him and the people around him. But there's no help for it: he has to do it. He has to watch himself betray his fellow soldiers by running from battle. I just…god damn it, I love Suzaku.

2: Machete (Machete)
No Action Hero list could be complete without at least one Danny Trejo role, and for the most quintessential is Machete. I'm a huge Robert Rodriguez fan, even when he's off his game (Yeah, I even like Sharkboy and Lavagirl.), and Machete is just a fascinating movie with a fascinating title character. Plus I feel it's very applicable to our modern day.

Machete is, I suppose, the exception that makes the rule. He doesn't have deep character motivation like Fox, or that breaking moment like Leeloo, or anything that I felt was really lacking in James Bond or Conan. In every aspect, Machete is a classic, generic Action Hero.

But god damn it, he's so good at it. The combination of Robert Rodriguez's imagination with Danny Trejo's face and acting chops, plus the freedom of an R rating…Machete is one of the bloodiest, most wonderful, engaging Action Heroes to watch.

Would you believe anyone but Danny Trejo rappelling down a hospital with a man's intestine's as his rope? Of course not, that's ridiculous. But Machete does it.

Machete Kills, unfortunately, isn't as good, but Machete himself is wonderful and consistent in the movie, and I hold out hope for Machete Kills Again…in Space.

1: Corben Dallas (The Fifth Element)
I knew from the outset he would top out my list. I mean, young Bruce Willis in an orange tank top living alone with his cat. Entry done.

Okay, not really. The appeal of Bruce Willis's muscles not withstanding, Corben Dallas is at once the epitome of the Action Hero trope while also breaking free from it. On paper, he's an amazing choice. A loner military veteran who outlived his entire team and has to save the world.

But let's write another paper. Angry New York City cabbie with an overbearing mother and a recent divorce who's trying to quit smoking when a beautiful woman literally falls into his life.

Both of those accurately describe Corben Dallas, and the complexity is what makes him work so well and helps make The Fifth Element so remarkable as a film. Corben can shoot, he can quip, and he's still totally devoted to Leeloo and their relationship. Compassionate and pragmatic…I can't really say enough about Corben Dallas. If somehow you haven't seen The Fifth Element, I highly recommend you go watch it.

Now.