361. Fans, Geeks, and Conventions: A Momentary Study

My studies of geeks have taken me to some strange places: fan websites, video game stores, and even Hot Topic. (When I walked into a Hot Topic store for the first time last month, I turned to my brother and whispered, “I have found my people!”) One of the strangest places my researches have taken me was a fan convention.

Geeks, bless them, can be social creatures. Despite the stereotype of lonely, basement-dwelling troglodytes, many geeks enjoy social events. These often involve geeky media: trips to the cinema, meetups for role-playing or board games, card game tournaments, and so on. The largest social events for geeks are called conventions, often abbreviated to cons.

A con is an organized gathering of fans, generally devoted to a particular franchise or medium. Common features of cons include appearances from special guests, autograph signings, live performances, vendors, previews of upcoming media, announcements, contests, cosplay, and waiting endlessly in line. (You may never have heard of cosplay, but that’s another study for another time.)

This is a typical con, minus the suffocating crowds of geeks.

This is a typical con, minus the suffocating crowds of geeks.

Probably the most famous convention is the San Diego Comic-Con. Although SDCC is named for comics, this yearly event covers films, video games, books, manga, anime, toys, and other media. E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) is technically an annual trade fair for the video game industry, yet boasts many features of cons, such as previews, announcements, cosplay, and live presentations. Both SDCC and E3 happen in the next couple of months, and I look forward to their announcements and media trailers.

I have attended only one convention. For science.

Nah, I actually went to a con a few years back to pick up voice actors’ autographs for my younger brother’s birthday. My experiences were mixed. The venue, a hotel, was nice, but the lines were endless. They wound serpent-like through the hotel, twisting, bending, and occasionally intersecting. When lines became too long to fit the venue, new lines formed to get in the old ones. It was ridiculous.

Armed with Radiant Historia, a book, and some apples, I endured the lines and collected my brother’s autographs. I also got to meet voice actors like John DiMaggio and Grey DeLisle, albeit very briefly. It was neat.

"Where have you gone, John DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

Mr. DiMaggio was a very nice man, and DAT STACHE.

My intentions in attending a con may not have been strictly academic, but I learned a lot by observing geeks in their natural habitat. Those I met were pleasant, cheerful, and friendly, if occasionally a little odd. Contrary to stereotypes, there was not a pale, acne-covered misfit in sight. There were guys with guitars, and gals wearing silly costumes, and people exhausted from standing in lines for eighty-nine consecutive hours to meet Tara Strong.

As I knew from the start, geeks were nice, ordinary people who happened to be fans of stuff. Cons give geeks the opportunity to be geeky together, and I think that’s pretty neat.

360. Review Roundup: Violent Movie Edition

I like to think I’m not a particularly violent person. Sure, I own five machetes, three swords, and a few knives, but I don’t use them. In fact, I seldom show aggression, except when playing video games. All’s fair in love, war, and Mario Kart.

Despite my peaceable nature, I occasionally watch violent movies. I saw quite a few in the past month: films full of epic car chases, superheroes, dystopian futures, demonic possessions, and British cops eating Cornetto ice cream cones. I may not doing formal reviews, yet here are some brief impressions of Mad Max: Fury RoadAvengers: Age of UltronSnowpiercerThe Exorcist, and Hot Fuzz.

Hold on to your hats.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max

Mad Max: Fury Road consists of a brutal car chase and little else. Do you know what? I am five thousand percent fine with that.

Most of the film is a chase in which an entire convoy of cars follows an armored tanker truck across a desert. The cars—which were built, I can only assume, by psychopathic punk rockers with welding torches—bristle with spikes and assorted weaponry. One truck serves as a stage for a man playing an electric guitar that shoots flames.

Yes, this is that kind of movie.

In the film, a warlord named Immortan Joe reins unchallenged over refugees in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. When one of his lieutenants betrays him and flees with his wives in a tanker truck, Joe sends a convoy to reclaim his prized “possessions.” One of the outrageous vehicles in the convey has an unusual hood ornament in the form of a wanderer named Max. He may be strapped to the front of a war machine, but Max is a survivor. Explosions and mayhem ensue.

Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t have much dialogue, but it hardly needs it. This is an action film in its purest sense. The chase sequences were filmed mostly with practical effects and minimal CGI—meaning the film shows real cars, real stuntmen, and real explosions. It’s impressive stuff, and stylish as heck.

For having little dialogue—and being, y’know, flipping ridiculous—Mad Max: Fury Road tells quite a good story. The characters aren’t terribly well-developed, but they are memorable and clearly defined. In this film with sparse dialogue and relentless explosions, profound themes emerge: survival, longing for home, and empowerment of women. Mad Max: Fury Road is a far more intelligent film than it has any right to be, while never losing its sense of good, stupid fun.

I really enjoyed Mad Max: Fury Road. If you enjoy, or have any tolerance for, over-the-top action movies, I recommend it.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

Eh, it was all right.

What? You want more of a review than that? Here goes: It was all right, but it needed more Andy Serkis.

In seriousness, Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t bad. In the film, the Avengers, a colorful band of superheroes, battle Ultron: a rogue AI that deems humanity unfit to live. There’s a little more to the movie, of course, but that’s the gist. If you’ve seen any of the recent Marvel movies, you probably know the drill at this point.

I liked a lot of things about the film. First of all, Ultron is a marvelous villain with a menacing appearance and a personality defined by sardonic contempt. (I appreciate a bad guy with a sense of humor.) Ultron has a vision for a better, brighter future. It just happens to be a future without human beings. It’s nothing personal.

I was impressed by how the obligatory action scenes were balanced by a surprising amount of character development. The Avengers get plenty of scenes without spectacular fights or expository dialogue—scenes that allow them simply to be themselves. Hawkeye, the least popular Avenger, gets an astonishing amount of characterization. Andy Serkis makes a brief but memorable appearance as a South African arms dealer, stealing the scene from everyone but Ultron.

This brings me to one more outstanding feature of the film: It takes place all over the world. Look, I like America, but I’m tired of seeing it in Marvel’s superhero movies. Avengers: Age of Ultron spends most of its time in Asian, African, and Eastern European countries. I really appreciated the change of scenery.

There are, of course, things I didn’t appreciate about Avengers: Age of Ultron. The film feels slightly suffocated by the weight of all the Marvel movies that came before it. Too many characters are stuffed into the film, including a pair of twins that have no business whatsoever being there. With a couple of minor tweaks, Avengers: Age of Ultron could have worked perfectly without them. One or two unexplained plot elements stick out egregiously. Unlike the breakable hero of Marvel’s Daredevil, the Avengers are invulnerable, and therefore boring.

My final problem with the movie (slight spoiler ahead) is the introduction late in the film of a messianic character in the form of a heroic android. This good AI is a foil to Ultron, sure, but it’s also a literal deus ex machina. Besides, a theme of the movie is that creating self-aware machines like Ultron is a bad idea. The Avengers defeat the godlike AI… by creating another godlike AI. Hmm.

In the end, despite its faults, Avengers: Age of Ultron is another solid entry in the Marvel movie canon. In other news, I think Ultron and GLaDOS would probably get along really well, to the detriment (and possible extinction) of humans everywhere.

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

In Snowpiercer, a new ice age has wiped out nearly all life on Earth. The only survivors are the passengers of a high-tech train, the eponymous Snowpiercer, that circles the globe once a year. Built for doomsday, the train is entirely self-sufficient with a powerful engine and carefully regulated ecosystems. The privileged passengers ride in luxurious cars toward the front of the train. Middle cars contain necessities such as orchards and water tanks. The squalid rear cars of the train are reserved for the stowaways. Tired of living in filth and fear, these stowaways revolt against the train’s authorities. The rebels, led by a tough-as-nails passenger named Curtis, must fight their way forward one car at a time.

Snowpiercer is brilliant. Its absurd dystopia is compelling and unique: a society whose socioeconomic classes are divided by train cars. The train doesn’t merely represent a social order—it is a social order, laid out in a neat line. There is a golden simplicity in the structure of Snowpiercer‘s dystopia, and it was gripping to watch Curtis and his crew advance through the train. The train itself is a fascinating chain of set pieces, starting with filthy rear cars and getting progressively more interesting the farther Curtis and company advance.

Although Snowpiercer is a South Korean film, it stars mostly English-speaking actors. I was surprised by how many of them I recognized. Curtis is played by Chris Evans, with other roles filled by Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Ed Harris. Snowpiercer has all the visual polish of a Hollywood blockbuster, but is a much smarter film than most American action flicks.

It isn’t a cheerful film, and it’s definitely not for kids, but Snowpiercer is superb: easily one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve seen. I highly recommend it, especially for viewers who like intelligent action films or dystopian fiction.

The Exorcist

The ExorcistI’m no fan of horror films, but I decided to watch this one. For science. The Exorcist, an iconic and culturally significant film, depicts the gradual demonic possession of a girl, and the attempts of two priests to drive out the demon.

My strongest impression of The Exorcist is that it’s really slow. This is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, I appreciate that the film takes time to develop its characters instead of rushing to sensational scares. I don’t know much about horror movies, but my impression is that their characters are often treated not as people, but as objects for death and dismemberment. The Exorcist acknowledges its characters as people, which makes their suffering at the hands (claws?) of the demon all the more gut-wrenching. However, while I appreciated the film’s slow-but-steady approach, I found it too slow. The movie’s ponderous pacing leads to an all-too-short denouement, which left me asking, “Heck, that’s it?”

I didn’t find The Exorcist all that scary. The buildup to the demon was excellent, and the scene in which it fully possesses the girl is terrifying, but from that point on the demon-possessed child is mostly silly. Her appearance is blatantly fake, like a Halloween outfit, and it just ain’t scary. By the point the girl starts vomiting lime-green goo, I couldn’t take the demon seriously. A subtler approach, with a lot less makeup, would have been far creepier.

The famous scene in which the demon takes over the girl is easily the scariest in the film, and it’s frankly shocking: especially for a film released in the seventies. Among other things, the girl repeatedly jams a crucifix into her vagina. (The scene isn’t explicit, but it is disturbing.) It’s disgusting and profane—but then, that’s the point. The artist in me is impressed by the strong characterization of the demon. The rest of me is grossed out.

Despite its solid characterization and few scary scenes, the poor pacing and tasteless schlock of The Exorcist make it hard to recommend.

Hot Fuzz

Hot FuzzQuestion: Is Hot Fuzz A) an action movie, B) an old-fashioned murder mystery, or C) a fantastic comedy? The correct answer, of course, is D) all of the above.

In Hot Fuzz, straight-laced policeman—sorry, police officer—Nicholas Angel is transferred from London to the sleepy town of Sandford for making his colleagues look bad. Although Sandford is practically free of crime, a string of suspicious deaths leads Angel to believe the quiet town hides a conspiracy. With his incompetent partner, Danny Butterman, in tow, Angel sets out to solve the gruesome Sandford murders, watching action movies and eating Cornetto ice cream cones along the way.

Hot Fuzz is a unique blend of genres. It has a bit of an Agatha Christie feel with its murders in a rural British village. The gunfights near the end are an affectionate send-up of Hollywood action movies. Most of all, Hot Fuzz is a superbly-written comedy. I watched it because of this glowing review on Kotaku, which perfectly describes the film’s tight screenplay: “Nearly every line of dialogue is either an explicit joke, a set-up to a future joke, or a call-back to a joke that was set up earlier. Some manage to be all three at once.”

As noted in the Kotaku review, Hot Fuzz satirizes action movies in its cinematography. In one scene, two cops run from a bomb about to explode, the camera pulls back expectantly, and… the bomb doesn’t explode. Its a neat subversion of the stereotypical Hollywood explosion. There are also tons of quick, Michael Bay-esque edits, but instead of showing glimpses of action—explosions, gunshots, car crashes!—they punctuate ordinary tasks—filling out paperwork, opening doors, watering plants!

I have only two significant criticisms of Hot Fuzz. First is a jarring tonal shift near the end. The film transitions none too gracefully from detective-story satire to blazing action, with a number of people acting out of character. It feels forced. The other problem is the gore. This film has an astonishing amount of blood, including an icky scene in which a man’s head is crushed by a falling piece of masonry. The gory violence, all of which is flagrantly fake, is probably meant to be funny, but I found it a tasteless blemish in otherwise brilliant comedy.

Despite its overblown violence and some foul language, Hot Fuzz is a clever, well-written satire of British mystery and American action. I highly recommend it.

Hyper Camelot

This goofy song would be the perfect opening theme for an eighties-style cartoon. Imagine Hyper Camelot, a show based very loosely on the Arthurian legends, in which King Arthur, Lancelot, and the other Knights of the Round Table fight with courage, chivalry, and the power of friendship™ to protect Avalon from the forces of evil. Pandering to misplaced nostalgia for the cartoons of our childhood, such a show would be packed with terrible one-liners, cheesy life lessons, and spectacular explosions.

I… actually kinda want to watch this show.

359. Rain

Rain was falling when I awoke a few days ago. I lay on my floor, tangled up in a sleeping bag and a light blanket, slipping in and out of consciousness, listening to the soft roar of the rain, and remembering.

The sound of the rain took me back to the jungles near Shell Mera, the town famous for Operation Auca and the brave men who lost their lives for the Gospel of Christ. When we lived in Ecuador, my family and I vacationed in a cabin with a corrugated metal roof. The rain thundered when it fell. I drank tea made from fresh hierba luisa leaves, lay in a hammock, and read a book or played a video game as rain beat the metal roof like a titanic drum.

Mangayacu cabin view

The view out of the cabin was beautiful, even when it was blurred by heavy rain.

A few days ago, as I lay listening to the rain, I recalled the rainstorms that hit my grandparents’ home in Florida. Once, after a heavy rain, I saw a rainbow rising from the yard next to the house where my family and I were staying. The rainbow disappeared when I got too close, but I was able to pinpoint more or less where it touched the earth. There was no pot of gold, but it was still exciting.

I was once privileged to visit the Galápagos Islands for my high school biology class. (Being a missionary kid has its perks!) As my classmates and I snorkeled in a rocky bay in a small island, a squall swept over us: driving sheets of warm rain that limited visibility to about fifteen or twenty feet. (It didn’t help that I wasn’t wearing my glasses at the time.) I treaded water, looking in all directions, seeing only water, hearing only the rain. It was one of the most magical moments of my life.

In Montevideo, where my parents now reside, rain is often preceded or followed by spectacular displays of lightning over the horizon. When the rain falls, it falls hard. I used to walk the dog in the rain—well, I used to try. My parents own a dachshund named Sam, known alternatively as Samwise, Samurai, or the Sam-pup. He doesn’t like getting wet, and he hates thunder. During my visits to Montevideo, I had to drag him outside by his leash when it rained. I loved the wet weather. The city blocks, lined with trees, seemed cleaner and lovelier when rain fell.

Rain washed away the grime of this dirty street and made it a corner of Eden.

Rain made this dirty street a corner of Eden.

A few days ago, I lay awake and listened to the rain: remembering, reminiscing, and—if I may borrow my younger brother’s word—nostalgifying. I love the sound of rain. No matter where I go, the gentle roar of rain never changes.

It reminds me of a line from the Kingdom Hearts games. (Although the story of these games is ridiculous, it has many moments of disarming pathos.) In a touching scene, a character raised near the ocean becomes stranded on a dark, deserted island. He has no hope of escape. There is only an empty beach, jagged outcrops of black stone, gloomy fog, and the soft swish of waves. It’s a bleak place, but the castaway finds a shred of comfort.

“At least the waves sound the same.”

A few things in my life have never changed. I love looking up at the stars. I joke that my childhood home is a video game, but it’s not really a joke: that game has been more of a constant in my life than any place on earth. I read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever every December.

Then there’s the sound of rain. In all these years, and in all these places, it has never changed. As I recently lay awake, I found myself thinking, “At least the rain sounds the same.”

Rain reminds me of the immutability and faithfulness of God. It exists in a state of constant motion, yet it never changes. Rain is beautiful, and it comforts me.

At any rate, it’s better than snow.

358. Well, I Have a Job

Not long ago, I announced that I was resigning from my job. The time I spent unemployed was pleasant, relaxing, and surprisingly brief.

Yes, I have rejoined the working class. You see, I occasionally have to eat, and I like having a home with walls and a roof. These things cost money. Honest work seemed preferable to begging or robbing banks, so I found employment at a local nursing home.

My work consists mostly of washing dishes. As you can imagine, it’s wet work. (No, not that kind of wet work.) I’ve been on the job for just a few days, but I like it. My coworkers have been friendly, welcoming, and kind. The work itself isn’t terribly demanding; I’m even permitted to pick up a book when I run out of things to do. Employees are given free meals, and (most importantly) there is coffee in abundance. So far, I have nothing but good things to say about my employer. My job is ideal in many ways.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the coffee station is by far the most important feature of any workplace.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the coffee station is by far the most important feature of any workplace.

However, there is one way in which my job has disappointed me—though to be fair, my disappointment has hardly anything to do with the work itself, and nearly everything to do with me. Washing dishes is not a step forward in my career; it’s more like a step sideways. It will pay the bills, I hope, but it puts me no closer to my dream of working in writing or publishing.

To be painfully honest, I’m going through a bit of a rough patch. I don’t know where to go from here. As I toil at the mind-numbing task of rinsing dishes and sending them through a dishwasher, I find myself wondering, “Is this really why I went to college? After all my exciting years overseas, have I really resigned myself to such a mundane existence? What’s the point of anything? Who wrote the book of Hebrews? Is there any difference between flotsam and jetsam? Will Beyond Good & Evil ever get a sequel?” (I am easily distracted.)

At the decrepit old age of twenty-five, I feel that I really ought to have settled in a career by now—or at least figured out what career I want to pursue. I feel humiliated to be working another dead-end, blue collar job. This feeling is shameful and arrogant, but I can’t help but feel it, especially when I consider how many of my peers have settled into successful careers. My work doesn’t merely wound my pride. It cuts my pride into tiny pieces, pours gasoline over those pieces, and then sets them on fire.

Flipping heck, when did I get to be so old?

Flipping heck, when did I get so old and bitter?

My pride is in ashes. My clothes are damp with dishwater. My career is… well, it isn’t. I feel endlessly disappointed in myself, but I have decided one thing for certain.

I won’t give up.

My job is a fine opportunity for me to learn humility. I’m trying hard not to be an arrogant git, enjoying the free coffee, and washing the heck out of those dishes. Honestly, I’m thankful to be working. I hope to move on eventually and figure out what the heck I’m supposed to do with my life—and until then, I mean to make the best of things.

Ni No Kuni Is Flipping Amazing

All right, guys, I’ll do my best to contain my excitement for this game, but MY GOSH NI NO KUNI IS AMAZING. I’m trying not to shout, but WHO AM I KIDDING IF ANY GAME DESERVES ALL CAPS IT’S THIS ONE.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a PlayStation 3 game: an RPG (Role-Playing Game) about a little boy named Oliver who tries to save his mother by rescuing a parallel world from an evil jinn. (Ni No Kuni means Second Country in Japanese.) After Oliver’s mum dies, the heartbroken boy meets Drippy, the “Lord High Lord of the Fairies,” a little fellow with a winning Welsh accent and a lantern dangling from his nose.

Ni No Kuni

Drippy explains that he comes from a parallel world: a fairy-tale realm threatened by a dark wizard named Shadar. If Oliver defeats Shadar, he may be able to rescue his mum. Oliver and Drippy set out to save the world, meeting all sorts of colorful characters along the way.

The first thing that stands out about the Ni No Kuni is its visuals. Most blockbuster video games these days are drenched in drab colors: gray, brown, black, white, and occasionally dark green. By contrast, Ni No Kuni boasts bright colors and a cartoony aesthetic.

This brings me to my next point: The cutscenes in Ni No Kuni are animated by Studio Ghibli. Yes, I mean the Studio Ghibli: the legendary filmmaker behind such masterpieces as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. Besides the cutscenes, all of the visual designs in Ni No Kuni are influenced by Ghibli’s distinctive style.

Much of the game’s music was written by Joe Hisaishi, the renowned film composer, and performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Needless to say, the music is fantastic.

Of course, none of this would matter if the game were not fun to play. It is. I’ll spare my dear readers all of the technical details, but Ni No Kuni is easily one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. It’s in the same league as masterpieces like Final Fantasy VIChrono Trigger, and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. I hardly ever play RPGs these days because they demand so much time, but I’ve cheerfully made an exception for this one.

The last thing I love about Ni No Kuni is that it is so darn charming. It has so many silly puns and funny moments. A cat king is addressed as “Your Meowjesty,” except by Drippy, who prefers to call him “Kingface.” Speaking of the Lord High Lord of the Fairies, Drippy uses all sorts of adorable colloquialisms, saying things like, “That’s flipping fantastic, mun, en’t it? It’s proper tidy!”

Ni No Kuni is colorful, beautiful, heartwarming, charming, and just a little bonkers. It’s easily one of the finest games I’ve ever played. If you have a PS3, like RPGs, or have a soul, I give it my highest recommendation.

357. The Reviews They Are a-Changin’

For years, I have reviewed books and video games for this blog. What can I say? I have a talent for being snobbish and judgmental. Finding fault with things comes naturally to me. It’s a gift. For that reason, TMTF Reviews have long been a feature on this blog.

This is about to change. I’ve decided to replace TMTF Reviews with a new feature: Review Roundups.

TMTF Review Roundup title cardTMTF Reviews are in-depth critiques of individual books or video games. By contrast, Review Roundups will assess several books, games, or films at a time. Roundups will be less formal than the old Reviews, offering brief impressions instead of long, detailed analyses.

Why are TMTF’s reviews a-changin’? The short answer is that comprehensive reviews are not much fun to write, and probably not much fun to read. As satisfying as it is to critique a book or video game at length, it’s also a bit tedious. Review Roundups will give me the opportunity to review more media without going into exhaustive (and exhausting) detail.

Review Roundups won’t be terribly frequent: maybe once a month or so. They certainly won’t take over this blog or steal the spotlight from… whatever it is we do around here. I don’t know.

Why do I review things at all? I suppose it’s for the same reason I write this blog—it’s fun! That said, I’m excited to continue nitpicking reviewing media for this blog.

356. princess rescuers r us

Today’s post was written by Matt Hill and originally published on Hollywood Jesus. Matt brings something new to TMTF by discussing Ico (which I have not yet played) in free verse (which I never write). Matt is a musician, writer, and pop culture aficionado. You can read more of his free-verse pop-culture wanderings on Hollywood Jesus and check out his sweet, super-secret Christian rock band on Facebook. (While you do that, I’ll think about playing Ico and its spiritual sequel, Shadow of the Colossus.)

me n my kids totally rescued a princess together yesterday . .
well, kind of . .

the princess was maybe not a real princess
and her name was yorda
and she was a character in this really great video game called *ico*
that originally came out for ps2 (and i played it then)
and then was re-released in hd for ps3 a while back (so i bought it recently)

and i suppose it wasn’t technically us who rescued her . .
it was our onscreen avatar named ico . .

and, if you want to be technical about it, my kids didn’t really
do any of the actual controlling of ico and so technically
didn’t rescue yorda themselves,
just through me – their real life avatar . .

and, technically, is yorda really rescued at the end of that game?

but, however, transition,
on a better/deeper/realer/more interesting level,
my kids and i *totally* completed that game together,
rescuing yorda together,
defeating the wicked queen together,
escaping the castle together,
walking that post-credits
serene and surreal
beach together at the
end
only to discover yorda had accompanied us even there (right?) . . . ….. .. . . .

they experienced what i did: the drama, the struggle, the tension, the
climax,
the resolution . .
they saw what i saw, thought through what i thought through,
asking questions, giving advice along the journey,
loving the adventure of it as i did (twice now) . .

by the end, they knew that escape was imminent (immanent?),
that the queen would soon have to get hers,
that when yorda speaks her final words (in another, untranslated language),
what she said probably meant “thank you” or “i love you,”
which, in my estimation, is right on . .
and good final thoughts to a game, or anything else . .

i made this experience with my kids happen because:
it teaches them creative thinking skills,
problem-solving skills,
how to understand and relate to characters in a story,
how narratives work,
justice and fair play and perseverance and courage and . . .
(on
and
on)

i made this experience happen because:
it’s an experience that we now share,
that we’ll now remember,
together . .

i made this experience happen because:
on a better/deeper/realer/more interesting level,
though i think/hope the above was that too,
a hero-rescuing-the-princess story,
imho,
is *the* story of this universe . .
the story of God becoming man to rescue
us princesses from the clutches
of that wicked queen
(you know the one) . .
the story that,
imho,
all other stories – princess rescuing ones and the rest –
echo and emulate and imitate
on
and
on

and now,
i’m hoping that somehow, someday,
the fact that
me n my kids
(princess rescuers r us)
are actually *in* that story *together*
—– – as you and i are too,
though not as intimately
(it’s happening right now! this is the story! . . you and i are in it! . .
but what do we do with it?! . . ) —— – — –
will be understood by them,
and acted upon by them in faith,
just as,
in faith,
we offed that wicked queen and rescued yorda from the castle together yesterday


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The Joker

The Joker is one of the greatest comic-book villains of all time. I consider him to be the best of the worst: one of the most iconic and interesting baddies in pop culture.

Why is Batman’s greatest foe such a great character? Part of it, I suppose, is that he is a perfect foil. Like Batman, the Joker has no superpowers. They are mere men, driven to opposite extremes by their obsessions. The Dark Knight fights for order and justice; the Joker stirs up chaos and violence. Batman wants to see Gotham happy and safe; the Joker wants to watch Gotham burn.

In the video above, Kevin McCreary lists a few facts you may not know about the Joker. (This is the same Kevin with whom I performed a rap battle back in the day. He’s a really cool dude.) The video follows the recent reveal of the Joker’s latest incarnation for the forthcoming Suicide Squad movie, which reimagines the classic killer clown as a goth rocker with a headache.

FOR THE LOVE OF COMICS GIVE ME SOME TYLENOL!

I NEED TYLENOL!

I’m not impressed by this edgy take on Batman’s iconic foe. I think comedian Brock Wilbur put it well in a recent tweet: “oh wow I can tell this version of the Joker is a real bad dude because his origin story involves falling into a vat of hot topic.”

This Joker is a disappointment after Heath Ledger’s chilling performance as the Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight. Ledger’s mirthless Joker was excellent, but my favorite version of the character is Mark Hamill’s gleeful, unhinged Joker. Hamill’s cackling psychopath scares me far more than Ledger’s mumbling criminal.

Why is the Joker scary? It may be because he loves violence and cruelty for their own sake. He is impulsive, childish, sadistic, and—this is what disturbs me most—maniacally cheerful. The Joker is an evil guy with a strong sense of humor, and that’s creepy.

355. What I Want to Change about The Trials of Lance Eliot

I once wrote a novel titled The Trials of Lance Eliot, and readers have asked me whether I plan to write sequels. I may continue Lance’s story someday, but what I really want to do is rewrite its first part.

Well, I don’t want to rewrite The Trials of Lance Eliot completely. (That would take a lot of work.) However, having put a couple of years between myself and my novel, I’ve realized there are quite a number of things I want to change.

The Trials of Lance EliotHere’s what I want to change about The Trials of Lance Eliot.

In case anyone is interested in reading my little book, be ye warned: There be major spoilers ahead!

I want to remove Miles and a few other characters.

When I wrote the novel, I had big plans for Miles. He is a traveling companion to Lance, Regis, and Tsurugi, and I wanted him to balance the group by being a foil for each of them. With his soft heart, strong work ethic, and childlike faith, Miles was supposed to challenge Lance’s selfishness, Regis’s irresponsibility, and Tsurugi’s cynicism.

In the end, however, Miles doesn’t contribute much. He drops out of the story partway through, making a halfhearted encore toward the end. I don’t think the novel needs him. A few other characters could be just as easily removed: Atticus, for example, could be replaced by Petra. I think The Trials of Lance Eliot has too many underdeveloped characters, and could benefit from the removal of the unnecessary ones.

I want to clear up the disappearance of Maia and Kana.

The supposed deaths and eventual reappearances of both Kana and Maia make me cringe more than almost anything else in The Trials of Lance Eliot. Fake deaths are horribly clichéd.

However, the apparent deaths and subsequent reappearances of these characters are necessary for the story. The deaths of Maia and Kana drive the development of Lance and Regis, respectively: Lance becomes depressed, and Regis resolves to become an honest man. Maia and Kana must be reintroduced later in the story: Kana to rescue Lance, and Maia to send him home. I can think of no easy way to dodge these fake deaths.

However, I can be less coy about Maia and Kana’s disappearances. I want to state merely that they are “missing,” not that they are necessarily dead. That would still provide some tension, while making their inevitable revivals seem less contrived.

I want to start the story in the US instead of in the UK.

Full disclosure: I started the story in Oxford only because J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, my favorite fantasy writers, lived there. I’ve never actually been to the UK. Most of what I know about contemporary British culture comes from watching Sherlock and Doctor Who. I don’t know enough about the UK to make it a convincing start to Lance’s story.

Indiana, a place with which I’m all too familiar, would be a perfectly adequate place for the start of The Trials of Lance Eliot. If anything it would be better: a small Indiana town is far less interesting than Oxford, which would make Lance’s adventures seem more exciting by contrast.

I want to make Regis a girl.

Not long ago, someone on Twitter shared the following quote from Noelle Stevenson: “When you write a male character, think ‘does this character have to be male? Why?'”

Like The HobbitThe Trials of Lance Eliot is overstuffed with male characters. (I love The Hobbit, but its lack of female characters is appalling.) It wasn’t my intention to discriminate against female characters; I wrote mostly male ones because, well, I happen to be a guy. In the end, The Trials of Lance Eliot had only three female characters with any depth, and only one of them (Maia) received much characterization.

I’m no feminist, but I’ve realized it isn’t fair for my characters to be men by default. Of all the characters in my novel, Regis has probably the fewest reasons for being male. I want to rewrite the character as a young lady. I suppose that means I would have to change the name, wouldn’t it?

I want to change the orphanage in Valdelaus to a home for persons with disabilities.

Orphanages have become a cliché in storytelling. A home for persons with disabilities would offer far better opportunities for both pathos and comedy—believe me, I know!

I want to publish the book under my own name.

I’ve already discussed this, and have nothing to add.

I want to use exposition more evenly.

An early chapter of my novel is mostly exposition as Kana explains things to Lance. Perhaps Kana could offer his explanations incrementally across a couple of chapters? Whatever my solution, the early chapters should strike a better balance between action and exposition.

I want to rewrite some of the dialogue.

I prefer to use good grammar, but that isn’t how ordinary people talk. My characters should speak less like Adam writing and more like people actually talking.

I want Lance to swear like a normal person.

Lance’s dated British euphemisms are a bit silly. People don’t say things like “dash it” and “what in blazes” anymore. (Well, I do, but I do a lot of strange things.) My novel may be a case in which mild profanity would be justified. Ordinary swearwords like “damn” and “hell” would believably convey Lance’s lack of moral fiber toward the beginning of his journey.

These are the changes I would make to The Trials of Lance Eliot… and then, maybe, I could go back to planning its sequels. Maybe.