I Am The Television

Note: I was just informed that there is a blog by the name of “The Televisionary.” I did not know this during my cheeky title creation, but out of respect, I have changed the name of this post.

My backlog of unfinished television continues to grow.

At the moment, I’m still half way through the latest seasons of both Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful. I don’t think I’ve watched a single episode for almost two months now. The last seven episodes of Mad Men also goes untouched. I’m still waiting on Netflix releases for the sixth season of The League and the second season of The 100 although I really want to read the books too. I’m currently surfing through the fourth season of The Wire. And despite interest, I’ve yet to really go past the first season of Orphan Black.

AA_orphanblack_thumbnail_s2_02_webYou know, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Orphan Black before. The barely science fiction show focuses on a bunch of clones who have grown up separately from one another, but discover each other and conspire to evade the organization that created them. Clones are one of those “forgotten” tropes of science fiction that the showrunners have picked up, dusted off and made fresh again.

Tatiana Maslany who plays main clone Sarah Manning and the rest of her “sisters” does an absolutely stellar job of wearing characters in a diverse manner. She never gets old, never slips and never fails to convince the audience that despite having the same face, these are all different people. It’s a remarkable performance from just one actress.

Nor am I inclined to get a break from the onslaught of watchable television anytime soon. Marvel’s Jessica Jones is due out sometime this year. And most exciting of all has to be the fact that Jon Bernthal has joined the cast of the second season of Daredevil as one of my favorite characters. Frank Castle, better known as the Punisher.

Three times, three times various studios have tried and failed to execute a movie starring the famed vigilante. Once in 1989 with Dolph Lundgren, again with some success in 2004 with Thomas Jane, and the last in 2008 with Ray Stevenson. Inexplicably, no one could seem to nail the formula down for one of the few major characters in Marvel’s franchise that doesn’t even have any superpowers. No powered armor, no gamma radiation transformations, no healing powers. Just a former marine with the connections, patience and iron will to walk the walk with the worst criminal elements of the underworld.

Untold_Tales_of_Punisher_MAX_Vol_1_4_TextlessPerhaps Castle’s biggest attraction is that while every other characters in Marvel’s line up covers the cheeky and fun, the light and morally sunny, the Punisher sticks to his grimdark corner. His unyielding, stark ethos and calm acceptance of killing constantly putting him at odds with almost every other character. It’s against Castle that every hero’s ethics are measured.

One thing that may have made Frank Castle so hard to portray on the screen is his age. His best representation was in Garth Ennis’ PunisherMAX prints, which stayed true to the source material and kept Castle as a Vietnam veteran. While other Marvel heroes have found ways to retool and restructure their origins from more recent conflicts, to do so with Frank would risk leaving some of his best and most inspired stories behind because of their connection to that desperate war.

Perhaps they’ll try having Nick Fury provide Castle with the Infinity Formula, which prolongs life and solves this issue. While PunisherMAX segregated Castle to his own backyard and away from the greater community, it did establish and maintain a working relationship between the two men. Even in Ennis’ work, there is a premise for the possibility.

To my knowledge, Ennis’ work has yet to be referenced in the current MCU. But when Ennis left the Punisher to work on a new series, Jason Aaron picked up the pen to write a continuation. The first of Aaron’s PunisherMAX collections crafted an origin story for the Kingpin, which seemed a strong inspiration for Vincent D’Onofrio’s character in Daredevil’s first season. If the PunisherMAX prints are influencing their work, Marvel undoubtedly faces the incredibly difficult choice of whether to tap Ennis’ amazing stories for Daredevil or save such tales for later, should the Punisher’s popularity finally prove enough to merit his own series.

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Daredevil and Such

MARVEL'S DAREDEVIL

Yes. I’ve joined them. The ranks of those peculiar tele-vegetarians…

I cut cable.

And I don’t mean I’ve taken Rob Lowe’s now off-the-air advice and gotten Direct TV. I mean my television is now provided by Netflix, Hulu and, to a lesser extent, Amazon Prime. I’m not saying it’s been a perfect transition. I find myself aching to catch the final season of Mad Men, paying to see the very last three episodes of The Americans and reconsidering my choice for when Halt and Catch Fire returns.

The only guys who really monopolize their material is HBO, and even that’s primarily because of Game of Thrones. True Detective might join that list of too-good-to-give-away TV, but its anthological nature can make each season independently hit or miss. It’s going to take some serious work for Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughn to pull together something of the caliber of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

I’m not saying they can’t, but nihilist Rust Cohle has some very big shoes to fill as a complex and deep character. I actually look more forward to True Detective than Game of Thrones, in that with the latter I’ll always have the books. The former? Well, there’s plenty of pulp detective fiction out there, but there’s still nothing quite like it.

Oh yes. And then there’s House of Cards season 3. I got delayed in finishing it by a few weeks, and part of me knew that something was strange when the internet wasn’t quite as abuzz about it. Without spoilers, the season just wasn’t as popping as the previous two. Maybe it was because Frank Underwood’s new position as the president put him on the defensive more, and limited the scope of what he can accomplish for himself. I was delighted that a certain character makes a return, and he adds dimension and intrigue of his own. But Frank seems to be missing his bite, and when he tries to reclaim it, circumstances go badly. The ending was somehow lackluster too. I’m sure things will improve next season but we will see.

daredevil-posterWhich brings us to the jewel of the day. Marvel’s Daredevil. Relax. I have no spoilers to give away as I’m only four episodes into it. While I’ve seen enough to raise some talking points, the 13 almost-hour installments are a lot to absorb all at once. And to my surprise (and delight), they were considerably more dark than anything I’ve seen Marvel try on the screen. But be forewarned: Someone once said that although the series is darker, it is still supposed to be family friendly.

Whoever said that lied.

Daredevil has moments of gore, a little cussing, and more strongly eludes to sex. If themes were best described in colors, then Batman: The Animated Series is black and light grey, and Dexter is red. Daredevil as a series tends to blend those colors, but also lacks Dexter Morgan’s deadpan narration to lighten the mood and Batman’s resources. In fact, Batman is an interesting comparison in that topically he and Daredevil sound similar (orphans, willingly choose to fight crime, secret identities) but in every detail the two heroes are so unrelated.

If there’s one truth about superheroes that Marvel has acknowledged very well, it’s that they are not going to always be on the same page in terms of power. A God of Thunder or a billionaire in a flying armored suit are going to handle a very different set of worldly problems. Daredevil, aka Matt Murdock, isn’t on their level. In combat, his powers are useful much more conditionally useful. Murdock struggles with street soldiers, and doesn’t always come out on top of his fights. However, Daredevil’s heightened senses make for greater story telling due to the application of his gifts for investigation. And that’s the true strength of Daredevil as a television series over yet another summer blockbuster.

I have to admire a few things about Daredevil as a character. Matt Murdock, curiously enough, is religious. Roman Catholic. It’s a strong trait of his that sets him apart from almost all the other characters in the Marvel universe. He doesn’t seem to go full The Boondock Saints on us, but it sets strong tones that make him unique. He’s also blind, which effects how people treat and react to him. And at least in the original comics, his disability was an interesting, pitying element that strongly influenced his relationships, particularly with his secretary Karen Paige.

There are two factors that bug me. Again, I’m only four episodes into the series, and I get that this is a kind of slow roast, fragmented origin story so there are still things Murdock is trying to figure out. Daredevil has a hard ass attitude to criminals, I understand. But there is truly a devil-may-care attitude when it comes to the risk he poses on their lives. In the comics, the Punisher eventually challenges his morality, and the results don’t paint a clear picture. Batman has rules, and these rules made for an incredible movie. I don’t know whether this is supposed to be a set detail for Daredevil, or if it’s an issue that Murdock is going wrestle with himself over. Scenes suggest that it is, but we’ll see.

The other problem I have is proportion. The directors could seriously cut 60 seconds of action and instead use that minute to let the emotions of some moments sink in a little bit, and the show would be perfect. Most of the series’ violence occurs via fistfights that take a while, and seem to go over some allotment of time of being interesting. It’s Marvel, so there is an expectation of pulpy violence. But a good fight on television should reveal something or change the story in some regard.

There’s quite a bit more I could discuss, particularly Vincent D’Onofrio’s incredible performance as the Kingpin. But I think it’s all something to return to later once I’ve finished the series.

Heat is On

Heat is On

Some news has come down the pipe… and as such I am preparing for the next few weeks with a new and aggressive writing schedule. The past few weeks, I’ve been lazy with writing, putting a few days aside to play Titanfall or hang with friends, then writing a little.

But I have a number of very large writing projects going on now. I’ve mentioned before about a few super hero novellas that my friends and I are working on. I got the thumbs up on what I consider a “starter” novel. And there are a few short story deadlines between now and the end of the summer that I have to attend to.

As such, I want to make an effort to write a little every day. Just an hour, even if it’s as little as plotting out the synopsis or doing some research or editing an existing piece. There are things that have external deadlines and others that don’t. My plan is to focus on grinding forward at all times. If I hit writer’s block against one subject (unlikely since just about everything has a complete or near complete synopsis) then I’ll fall back and try something else.

This means I currently have four writing projects on around the same time. Risky, I know. But there are red-and-green light moments between them. But here’s my usual break down:

Short Stories: Usually take 4 to 5 hours to write, plus up to 2 hours of research time, plus 1 hour to rewrite due to beta reader reactions and suggestions. Additional hour for the synopsis. So 8 to 9 hours, maybe 10 if the research is extensive (historical fiction.)

Novellas: Sketchy, but approximately 3 hours for the synopsis, 3 to 4 hours research time if needed, 8 to 12 hours writing time plus unknown re-write time. So no less than 17 real hours of work.

I don’t even know how long a novel really takes me. I’ve started two novels before. The first got fifty pages in with no synopsis before dying. The second got a filled synopsis and three chapters finished, but no green light to continue. My latest has a complete synopsis and the vast majority of my research finished, with about two and a half chapters in first draft stage.

Super Powers

Super powers have been a major focus as of late in my work. And I’ve realized… When I introduce an element, it’s less about the intrigue of the subject itself and more about the rest of the world’s reaction to it. As I pointed out to my friends earlier today, it’s less Marvel comics and more like Metal Gear Solid for me.

What’s the difference you ask? Well Marvel comics has always had that sense of amazement surrounding the character. The Incredible, Hulk. The Amazing, Spider-Man. The Uncanny, X-Men. For some reason, comic book super heroes have tended to evolve towards these tiring black and white morals. They rarely make any attempt to accept a more down to earth grey, just trying to get by and perhaps discovering that the world, for whatever reason, won’t let them.

MGS2However, the genius of Hideo Kojima’s signature series (Metal Gear Solid) has been more around how such abilities would be applied to the real world. In Kojima’s view, the only place for such morbid and unusual talents tends to be the military. MGS is filled with characters bearing unexplained powers… a man who can summon hornets from his body or another who can heal from sunlight, a telepathic or one who is seemingly a vampire (only partially explained through nano-machines.)

These unbelievable foes are always part of special operations units, rare and unseen to the rest of the world. When the player encounters them, there isn’t much awe factor… just an X-Files like acceptance that there will always be strange things, and there won’t always be a scientific theory to explain them away.

This comparison and branch of thought came from an earlier source. Rather it was our buddy Alec who was the genesis of the idea, when he sent us a compelling thematic concept last week. His contribution to the project added something potent and memorable, setting us up differently than almost all other super hero stories I’ve read.

We’ve been borrowing each others’ ideas. Andrew, for example, came up with a number of characters that we each borrowed from. I’ve concocted an agency and have had no trouble letting other authors play with, creating a myriad of perspectives regarding it. From Jonathan, I’ve borrowed a faction and have carefully been modeling an intriguing philosophy with the involved villain. Alec has presented us with a universal theme that we’ll all find ways to use. Finally, Robbie has provided us with a brand of weapons and tools that will impact stories to come.

As it stands, we have enough material for the first wave of novellas. There’s plenty of world building elements in place to get started. I think the final product is going to catch some eyes for certain. But tonight, it’s all about the work.

Star Wars Episode VII

As I drove into work this morning, I was thinking about the very thing that was every nerd’s mind right now. Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilms, and the upcoming new installment to the Star Wars franchise. Episode VII.

As I considered the possibilities, I couldn’t help but feel that there’s just no way the Star Wars movies could get worse after the most recent trilogy of episodes I through III. Web comic artist Zach Weiner(…smith) nailed the sentiments on the head with his tweet on the matter.

In her defense, she's probably the only Disney Princess with a blaster...

In her defense, she’s probably the only Disney Princess with a blaster…

The purchase is a blessing and a curse in my opinion. On one hand, Disney has had very impressive returns after purchasing Marvel. The downside is that Disney would have a lot of incentive to avoid some of the darker themes that were explored in the third episode and persisted through the original trilogy.

I honestly have very, very little idea what Episode VII would contain. My understanding is that the ideas and story for tales of a post-Imperial galaxy exist. Several novels suggest as much. But I really don’t know what to expect. Disney gave themselves a due date of 2015, so I’d like to think they had a game plan on the table. At least a script of somekind and a few ideas of what to look for cast wise.

To be honest, my favorite area of the Star Wars franchise is actually the awesome Knights of the Old Republic series by BioWare. The intriguing first game was so good, I beat it and immediately started a new character. While I haven’t touched the MMORPG, the single player games were fairly awesome and I hope Disney has the guts to continue making them. Perhaps even talk to BioWare about a new KotOR trilogy in the same continuous vein of Mass Effect.

While I don’t know if Disney can do as well as the original movie trilogy, I don’t think they can do as badly as the prequel trilogy. It will probably help that Lucas will not be directing it. Episodes V and VI were not directed by him for one. Guess we’ll find out in a couple of years.

Origins, Origins…

So I just watched the first (and thus far only released) episode of Awake. The premise is simple if a bit strange; a detective, his wife and his son were involved in a car accident. The detective then isn’t sure if he’s awake or dreaming, when he goes to sleep, he visits two worlds. In one, his son survived but his wife didn’t. In the other, vice versa. And somehow, the details of his cases in one world reflect the other, despite the fact that (thus far) the crimes are different, but committed by the same person.

After finishing the episode, the sneak peek of the next episode immediately brings up hints about how and why this detective, played by Jason Isaacs, is experiencing these two alternate worlds. Desperate to keep their baby alive, the show’s producers put the detective’s son on the line in the next episode, hoping that a snap of drama and the possibility of finding out the origin of this psychological phenomenon will keep audiences hooked.

In the next episode, stuff might happen. But does it? Stay tuned...

In the next episode, stuff might happen. But does it? Stay tuned...

I have to say that this kind of bugs me. For some reason, it feels like American audiences (or at least our television and movie producers) have an obsessive need to clarify the origins of everything unusual. While the origins of a problem need to be clarified in order to diagnose the solution (as House would be quick to remind us), does every situation or every character need a completely fleshed out background story?

Why?

To understand the nature of my complaint, take a look at the past three Conan the Barbarian movies. In the first with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the rebooted third with Jason Momoa, the developers felt they needed to explain Conan’s childhood and origins.

What makes this strange is that Robert E. Howard never actually clarified Conan’s origins. The only crucial detail* Howard ever gave was that his father was a blacksmith, and that Conan had a wandering foot. The two origin stories where Conan was taken by slavers and the other where his father was slain by a power hungry madman were never part of the original Conan tales.

I remember reading (though I can’t recall where, probably IGN) about the new and rebooted Spider Man movie coming out. The author suggested that Marvel skip the whole origins story. I couldn’t agree more. It’s been done, we get it, we don’t need to hear it again. Not only do I recall it from the first movie, I have seen it retold in no less than two animated series.

Do heroes and villains always need origin stories? Heather Ledger’s Joker didn’t in The Dark Knight. Look how unforgettable he was.

I guess I ask all this because of my own writing. I would say about two thirds of my tales have addressed origin tales for both heroes and villains. Yes, even villains who die off at the end of the story get origins and reasoning, an explanation for their dastardly deeds. They hurt people because it is worth their time too. And probably because they enjoy it.

I guess it worries me because one of the heroes of my stories does not get a background. There is a story of course, about all the other supporting characters and the villain but not for the hero himself. Or perhaps I’m going about this wrong. Maybe he isn’t the hero, but an element that just happened to be there to help the main characters. Man, am I glad the story is only in draft form.

* – There are details I missed/forgot in my first draft, but Howard did keep Conan’s origins fairly vague. Thanks to Al Harron for this tip and correction.