So after subjecting myself (and my poor girlfriend) to watching all 5 episodes of the History Channel’s Bible and livetweeting it, I took a few days away from thinking about it. And now that I’ve had time to reflect on it, what stands out is not the bad acting, poor sets, or even randomness of the stories they chose to give attention to. No, it was how it failed in all three goals it had as a program (though not in ratings, the only real goal the network had).
The first goal was doomed to failure: converting anyone who wasn’t Christian or on the fence. Because in all honesty, that came pre-failed. Almost everyone in America knows the story of Jesus, and anyone who comes to sell you on it has no new facts to offer if they’re a mainstream sect of Christianity. There was no hidden segment of the population that only the History Channel could reach who were somehow ignorant of “The Word.”
The second goal was, in theory, attainable: doing a new historical look at the Bible. I don’t think you could reasonably expect to see a deep historical analysis of the Bible on the History Channel, but you could still have seen some shallow context to the whole book, without explicitly challenging Christian beliefs. They could have touched on the culture Abraham came from, for example, or whether Egypt was a mighty empire or just another African nation when Moses came along. I’ll admit that would have made some of the drama a little harder to manage, but not impossible. Of course, we are talking about the History Channel, which desperately wants to stop being that, but needs to bank more random “people working in weird fields” reality shows first. They’d have changed the name already, but I think they’ve learned the lesson from Syfy.
Still, what sticks with me is how badly they failed in the final goal, being a dramatic series. Yes, they were dealing with material that is the very opposite of new, and their Christian backing meant there was only so far they could push with any part of the material. I knew there wouldn’t be any “Last Temptation of Christ” reinterpretation here. But the first episode was a good example of how badly they dropped the ball, with scenes where the actor playing Abraham basically made the material work despite the sets, costumes, and dialogue he had to fight with. Once he left the series, most of the other actors couldn’t match his skills, and it made all the problems stand out even more.
At times there were flashes of skill, such as the young Moses trying to grapple with the revelation that he was a Jew, not Egyptian, or Saul realizing his pride had killed his son and split his kingdom. But there was no thematic connection that kept things moving in a coherent way. The easiest theme in the world was sitting right there-the Chosen People as a community, finding and losing their way over and over again-and it wasn’t really touched. Instead we just got the parts that had to explain Jesus’ coming. King Solomon? Completely absent. The Golden Calf? Never mentioned. Both perfect examples of times when the Jewish people turned away from God in some fashion, and neither one came up at all. Because we had to give Jesus two and a half episodes out of five.
Look, I get that for Christians, Jesus is literally the biggest deal in the Bible. That’s not news, and guess what? I don’t blame them. But to me, if you’re advertising the Bible, then you should do the Bible. Not the parts you like the best, or the bare minimum for the New Testament. All of the important things that make up the whole book. Jesus gets his own episode? That’s fine, he’s not a small part. But what is the point in him creating a new covenant if you never explain the old one and how it was broken? I’m not even talking about the historical context, it failed to set up the religious context. Jesus having some new message meant nothing when the old message was never really conveyed in the series.
If you really want to convert people with a TV series like this, you need to make it interesting to watch. That doesn’t meant changing the story just to please the audience, since in that case you might as well give Pilate and Jesus lightsabers and have them duel in the Temple for the fate of the world. But you can’t present your story, even if you believe in it whole-heartedly, as self-evident truth. You were, in theory, reaching out to people who don’t know the Bible that well, and you managed to focus on the part almost all of them already knew. Even if there were portions of the Jesus story that were well done, it still ended up feeling like a waste of time, compared to going into why Noah built the ark, or what exactly Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of (which, by the way, you could do without blaming it on any specific sex act, since you could say their community had completely broken down and THAT is why they were full of sin).
Were you worried that they’d find out about the parts in the Bible that feel silly to the modern day? You have to take that risk, because it’s still there in the book. Unless you’re willing to issue The Bible, Now In A Less Silly Form along with the series, they will find it. You have to own up to it and move on, especially since a lot of people already know about that anyway. Burying most of it, but keeping the parts where Lot’s wife turned to salt and Samson lost his strength when he got a haircut did you no favors.
I’m not angry about the Bible failing like this, or even disappointed. It’s just me looking back on it, shaking my head, and hoping others will draw lessons about how to do better from it, at least in terms of creating a dramatic series.
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Tags: Bible, history, lightsabers
I first came upon Naruto through Toriyama’s World, the now defunct scanlation website that broke a lot of great manga series to me. They were notable for taking a long time to update their chapters, doing a great job with it, and making a point of taking down any series that got licensed for release in the US. I wouldn’t say Naruto was the greatest series they did, but in some ways it’s the one that stuck with me the longest. I say that, even though I haven’t read or watched new episodes or chapters of it in years. Still, the concept struck a chord with me, and I can’t dismiss that.
Part of it, to be honest, is the idea of the kid that sticks out and no one likes. I’m not going to go into reasons there, but it resonates a lot thanks to my personal history as a kid. But it also works because that’s unusual, or seemed unusual at the time, in shonen manga. Usually someone is the outcast in this genre because they’re “too awesome,” or they don’t really care about fitting in. Naruto…well, he was kind of an ass, and not very good at being a ninja. Plus, he had no parents to act as a social screen for him. He’s basically in the worst possible position for a ninja village, out in the open, and raw in every way. Sure, he has great power locked inside (so there’s that trope ticked off), but he doesn’t know it.
That same power makes him the perfect symbol of a ninja village, as he’s their dirtiest secret, hidden in plain sight. Who would you suspect of holding the secret of a demonic fox spirit with great power: one of the powerful families in the area, tight lipped on every ability and secret they may possess? Or the loudmouth showoff trying to make a name for himself through pranks and screw ups? The former, naturally. And he doesn’t even know it himself.
Still, there’s more to it than that which made it stick with me. That first Naruto chapter is a killer.
I can’t deny that it’s rough around the edges. Characters show up just to say one line, look weird/intimidating, and never appear again. There’s too much exposition, even if it’s a necessary evil to get readers interested. It’s weirdly convenient that Naruto’s main teacher would effectively have the same backstory, and from the same event. And the climax veers straight into shonen tropes about “hidden power” and the main character becoming amazing right when he needed to be, and not a moment before.
The part that draws me, though, is the simple but effective reversal of Mizuki and Iruka. Iruka is positioned as a jerk to Naruto, but he at least tries to get into Naruto’s head and give him personal attention, even when he’s being hard on his student. By contrast, Mizuki tries to give Naruto a way out when Iruka bears down on him during an exam…and then manipulates Naruto when he’s down to get what he wants, even using the concern Iruka has shown as one of his tools. And he’s all too willing to tear down Naruto’s world afterwards, because he’s served his purpose. It’s not really the best move he could have made, but then, Mizuki isn’t portrayed as a master planner.
It also reinforces the secretive nature of the village. Naruto doesn’t know he’s a living seal, nor does he know why everyone treats him with such contempt. Iruka experienced much of the same pain himself, but doesn’t know how to get it across until both their lives are in danger. And Mizuki knows enough to manipulate a young kid into stealing a priceless and dangerous piece of knowledge, but doesn’t bother to learn enough to really follow through and get away with his plan.
In the first major story arc of the series, the coda brings up the idea that there is a difference between the ninja code, and the reality of being a ninja; the cold hearted dispatching of foes and accepting your death when necessary is much easier to recite than to actually live out. Similarly, the secrets behind Naruto’s life make sense in theory, while in practice they just create problems down the line. Outright telling Naruto about his role earlier probably would have screwed him up in a different way, but at least then he could have tried to handle it with full knowledge, rather than being turned into a social pariah through no fault of his own. And many of his issues that continue through the series come from those formative experiences; all the times he risks himself or others due to pride, or not knowing enough, can be traced back to the times when he acted out and made trouble to get attention to avoid being deliberately ignored. That doesn’t mean Naruto would have been a golden boy otherwise….but maybe he would have been a better student, and a happier person, if he didn’t feel a need to prove himself every step of the way.
Considering how much the series protagonists are later haunted by choices made by their elders, it’s apt that from the very beginning, Naruto has been forced to deal with the consequences foisted upon him by others. At the same time, you can see the parts of the series that would drag it down in the first chapter too. The unusual introspection and perspective are outright smothered in the last few pages, thanks to the need to make Naruto into the source of the deus ex machina solution (even when the Hokage is literally watching from afar and knows exactly what’s going on), and only comes back a little bit on the very last page. Like I said, it’s got rough spots. But back when I first read it? Even that small swerve was enough to really pull me in. That’s not the only thing that kept me, but I think that’s another post.
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Here’s the thing about Hawkman: he’s not my favorite superhero character. He’s not among my favorites, he’s not even that high up if you’re just counting DC. There are whole new characters that I find more interesting than Hawkman, and his continuity is just goofy and insane to me. I don’t know the fine details of reborn Egyptians versus space cops versus just a guy with a mask, mace and wings. I know there are differences, but I could not care less about them.
However, I have never heard anyone else say positive things about Hawkman, either. I’ve heard positive things about Hawkgirl thanks to her turn in the Justice League cartoon, but Hawkman is always discussed as this goofy guy who should have been left behind in the Golden Age, or at most the Silver Age. So the contrarian strain in my mind goes “Hey, why shouldn’t Hawkman get a fair shot? What would it take to make him an interesting character?”
The answer, to me, is that he has to leave Earth. Not because he’s Thanagarian again, or because of some scandal or misunderstanding. Rather, Hawkman is a man of extremes. He has to be, in a sense, to think that the best course in his life is to put on a hawk mask, strap on bird-like wings that somehow allow him to fly, and hit people with a mace (so is Batman, but being a millionaire means he has money to fund and cover up many of his activities). So at first he thinks he’s making a difference in fighting crime, and making his area safer.
Then the first time he runs into someone like the Martian Manhunter, or Wonder Woman, or Superman, he sees his work as a joke. They don’t, because all three of them respect a man who puts himself in harm’s way to stop crime and save others. But to Hawkman, running into a Greek Immortal and two superpowered space aliens means he’s useless. He’s just the crazy guy with the mace compared to them, so what’s the point? No need for Hawkman.
But again, he’s a man of extremes. In his mind, he can either stop being Hawkman forever, or go to a place where Hawkman is useful. Playing backup to others isn’t an option in his mind. So he runs off the planet itself to find out what he’s worth. And where he ends up is Space Station Alpha.
Space Station Alpha used to be one of the grandest, greatest ports in the galaxy. Ships came in every day, cargo changed hands, and it buzzed like a hive. Sure, it was a shaky conglomeration of technology welded together until it seemed sustainable, but it was still the pride of the galaxy, a shining symbol of cooperation across various empires and confederations. But as time went on, faster and more efficient transport engines reduced how often ships needed to stop on their trips, and the maintenance costs started to go higher as the older technology used in Alpha’s construction failed and had to be replaced. All of that cooperation starts to fray both from outside political factors, and the question of who should shoulder which costs. By the present day, Alpha is a crumbling, semi-functional hulk of a station, filled with desperate people and criminals using its faded status and sheer size to operate in secrecy. What little police force remains is either inadequate for the job, factional, or outright (sometimes blatantly) corrupt. Then there’s the governing body, comprised of people running fiefdoms within the station itself and only rarely trying to muster ways to keep the whole of Alpha from shutting down and killing everyone on board that unlucky day.
To Hawkman, this is a place where he matters. He doesn’t understand the politics, the maintenance issues, the different species…but he understands Alpha is on the edge, and he can be the tipping point that brings it back from the edge. He doesn’t know if Alpha can ever regain its former status, and to be honest, he doesn’t care. What he does care about is the chance to save an entire city, in a place no human has ever been before, and be the hero he wanted to be. Of course, there’s the question of whether anyone wants him there, and if he’ll be able to figure out how things work on Alpha before either getting himself or others killed…
Anyway, that’s my pitch for a Hawkman series: A stripped down version (in more ways than one) Batman in Space. I think it works by removing him from Earth, where everyone can do everything he does better, and emphasizing the law and order aspect of the character without making him an actual police officer. It also puts him in a setting large enough where flight matters, but small enough that he doesn’t need to be absurdly fast to cover ground. And part of the challenge for him wouldn’t just be “hit guy with mace,” but trying to help others keep the station working and bring back trade, something that could make for dry reading…unless you have a shirtless man with a mace as your point man to clean up the occasional problem. So you could gradually soften him and make it clear he’s not just a fascist, as he’s sometimes portrayed. Would it work? I’m not sure, but it at least seems like a new starting point. And maybe when he leaves Alpha and comes back to Earth, he can feel that no matter what happens now, he’s accomplished something. There’s no mob of super powered heroes above him that can take that away. And that’s enough to make him feel he can work alongside them as a real team member, with their respect.
UPDATE: It has been pointed out that “Batman in Space” is not the most original direction for a reboot of Hawkman. Fair enough. But Hawkman has one advantage/disadvantage Batman does not have: he’s not tied to one location like Batman is. Yes, Batman will help save the world, the galaxy or the universe. Hell, he’ll do something to save Coast City or Metropolis. But ask him to leave Gotham for 3 months, and watch him try to scowl you out of existence.
Filed under: Comics, DC, General Nerdity, Speculative | Leave a Comment
Tags: DC, Hawkman, pitch, space station
I’ve finally finished all of the main story modes for Persona 4 Arena, my Christmas Gift this year, and it was definitely entertaining. Whether or not it was good, though…that’s another question.
It’s such a weird prospect to analyze a fighting game’s story in general. It’s not impossible…it’s not even unpleasant. As long as you go into the proposition with a good-humored willingness to acknowledge ridiculous tropes and paper thin motivations, it can be a lot of fun to discuss what makes a good main character, a memorable villain, and the like. But the heart of any fighting game is the mechanics, followed by the characters, the graphics the music, the sound effects…trailing everything else is the story. The story in many video games are just a thin covering over the actual play, and fighting games exemplify that. There is no good reason why such blatantly illegal fighting tournaments would be able to thrive year after year (especially when the story has confirmed participant fatalities), but if people aren’t provided with a story, they’ll just make one, so you might as well slap one up there to keep them from making a terrible replacement.
P4A, on the other hand, is only grudgingly a fighting game. I don’t say that because the mechanics are bad or the AI unfair/criminally stupid. Rather, it comes across as the best format they could use to tell the story they had, while keeping it as a video game. It’s not hard to think that a manga would have worked better for the main thrust of the story, but Atlus is generally not a comic creating company over here. So in between the matches, you get long expository sections to catch up anyone who didn’t play Persona 3 and 4, and then each character’s individual insights (or lack thereof) on the mystery of who created the tournament, why, and how to stop them. Obviously the answers are the same each time, but the point is to focus on each character’s personal style, and in some get a few extra tidbits of story. It’s kind of a fascinating experiment.
Unfortunately, the experiment’s success came crashing down after finishing the first Arcade mode playthrough.
Don’t get me wrong, the story mode was still worth playing, and I think Labrys’ in particular was very affecting (which is good, since it was the one that needed to justify its emotions the most). But the minute I saw actual sprites acting out the story instead of having to read about what just happened, I wanted to see that applied across the board. I’m sure it would have taken more time (and involved creating a lot more sprites that wouldn’t see use in the actual fights), but it would have fallen much more on the “show” side of the maxim.
I’m not trying to argue that the game isn’t fun (it is), the story is bad (it’s not), or that the Story Mode as is was a waste of time (it’s not). But it’s long as hell at times, and I would have appreciated any reduction in text I could have gotten.
Filed under: Video Games | Leave a Comment
Tags: Labrys, Persona, Persona 3, Persona 4, Persona 4 Arena
I suppose I could start off by talking about why this blog has been silent for so long, but the truth is that none of the surface reasons are that interesting. At one point it was a long delayed (and possibly never coming) culmination post on the Batman: TAS reviews I’ve done, but that stopped being an issue some time ago. The real problem is a steady accumulation of inertia.
I’m not a professional writer, and I’m not that prolific in private correspondence either. That means I usually treat “writing” as a grand, important thing. Never mind that the audience for it is literally myself, maybe some followers on social networks, and perhaps a few random bots. I’ve long had the idea that I must treat every subject seriously, and give it my full attention!
Then I get bored after half an hour, or feel I’ve made it long enough, and I stop. Not hard to see the contradiction there.
I’m sure part of the problem is that I have trouble isolating myself from the Internet at large. Even now, I have Twitter in another tab, and a Facebook game I need to check the timers of. Never mind that I don’t actually need to check on it, I “need” to keep up with it. That, plus a minimized chatroom…you get the idea. I’m hardly taking my writing seriously if I’m ready to look away from it at any moment.
Still, those just seem like symptoms, not the cause. If it just boiled down to having less surface distractions, I could unplug my router before opening a document, lock myself away from the cats to avoid pet distractions (in theory, that is; they tend to start meowing and scratching if they feel abandoned), and go to town. It’s that simple, right?
Except…I think the real problem is wanting to make my writing important.
That doesn’t mean my writing can’t be important, or that I should treat it as a purely frivolous activity. It’s harder to create, even as a journal entry, than to passively absorb entertainment. But there have been numerous times when I’ve had an idea for a potential post, and seen it founder in my mind because I didn’t think I could get enough out of it. Surely no one would want to read some random thought that was too long for Twitter, but less than 200 words, right? Ignoring all the times that people do, of course. No, in my head, I had to make sure I could really make a case out of an idea.
But to what end? I may not be trying to post something new here everyday, but there’s something to be said for posting regularly, even if you can’t post a lot. Waiting until the time is just right, or the perfect idea comes along, is just a way to avoid doing anything. You can put it off by pointing down the road at an ill-defined but surely wondrous future, as soon as you figure it out.
However, success, even on a personal scale, can’t be a tautology. You will never have fortune drop in your lap; even winning the lottery requires buying a ticket. So whenever I’ve thought “I’ll write something really great when it comes to me,” it just meant I didn’t write at all. You have to start somewhere, even if it’s something small and insignificant at the time. What makes it worse is that in a way, I’m living proof of that important first step; it’s been three years since I started to work out seriously to improve my health, and I’m in a much better position than I was then. All it took was going to the gym one day, trying not to die at even something as simple as 5 minutes on a treadmill…and just making sure I came back the very next day. It was probably the hardest thing I ever did regarding my health, and the most important.
It also didn’t help me to read great columns from people close to my age, and simultaneously thinking I could write that well if I had the chance, but knowing I didn’t have the chance because I never wrote. How can you prove you can match someone else if you never show up to compete? Worse yet, is it really my place to compete? As much as I’ve improved myself and my life, I know I’ll never truly be rid of my insecurities, which only makes it easier to hang back and say “When I’m sure. When I know I have a winner.”
I’ll never get better at writing if I don’t actually arrange words into coherent sentences, or at least try to. And I’ll never get a chance to write professionally, in any capacity, if I don’t get used to the idea that I have to write constantly-even if it’s not all the time, it has to be something I do willingly. But even more importantly, I can’t act like I’m on stage already. Would I like to be paid to write? Of course. Should I try to work up to professional standards? Again, yes. But I shouldn’t do that as though talent agents are somehow scouting me out with every errant post, and finding me wanting. I should just enjoy what I can create, do my best to write well in the process, and put it out there. It’s not only healthier for my mental health, it means I have a much higher chance of actually saying something. After all, if I never say anything, my chance of saying something meaningful, important, or even entertaining is nil. All the multitudes of clever or funny thoughts I have mean nothing, if I don’t express them for fear of a negative reaction.
Of course, even if I pour everything out, that doesn’t mean I’ll get anything out of it. And I want to kick myself for reading more than once about how writers need to write, nodding sagely at such advice, and not taking advantage of it. But I can try to improve, starting now. Whether or not I will is another question, but we’ll just have to see. At least I can say today that I wrote something before this long navel-gazing post…which is exactly what prompted it. I dashed off a few impromptu pieces just for myself on my tumblr, and it felt good to express my thoughts online, even if I didn’t have much to say.
Filed under: Speculative, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment
Tags: navel gazing, personal, reflective
Oddly enough, after catching up with some of the second season of Avengers: EMH, I found myself thinking about Doctor Doom and the Fantastic Four. I couldn’t tell you what chain of thought lead to that, but it led me to the conclusion that Doctor Doom’s origin works best in its original form, and that it is a mistake to tie it into the creation of the Fantastic Four. It’s an understandable mistake, but it leads to watering down one of comic’s best villains.
From a character standpoint, I understand the impulse. The original origin for Doom was probably hastily thrown together by Lee and Kirby, to briefly explain why this random guy in armor and a tunic hates Reed Richards so much. It’s the kind of anecdote scattered across much of the Silver Age-every one-off villain got their own origin panels, no matter how silly they turned out to be (see Superboy and the loss of Lex Luthor’s hair). There was nothing wrong with this, or with using it for Doom. But from a modern standpoint, it probably looks quaint, or even silly. If you’re going to make Doom hate Richards, why not combine the two accidents together, and make Reed more directly responsible for the creation of his arch-enemy? It’ll make things quicker and simpler, especially since the modern version of Doom’s origin would probably take at least an entire issue to itself.
The problem is that by tying them together, Doom becomes a lesser character. Yes, he becomes more directly involved in Reed’s life pre-Fantastic Four, but the point of Doom is not that Richards did something to him, or that he did something to Richards. It’s that Richards questioned him once, Doom blew him off, and it literally exploded in Doom’s face. He was proven wrong casually by an acquaintance, and it consumes him. Reed didn’t have any motive for saying Doom’s calculations might have been off, and after hearing about Doom’s accident, he probably hoped Victor was okay and then went back to his work. These are two brilliant man with vastly different perspectives on the same incident, one who was minimally involved and the other fundamentally altered by it.
Does that make sense? No. Doom’s reaction and blame for Richards is not just irrational, it is supremely irrational. It is megalomania and paranoia rolled into one very destructive ball, something that oddly enough makes sense for many highly intelligent people that have trouble relating to the average intelligence. It makes no sense whatsoever, and that makes Doom a better villain. His grievance with Richards is completely fictional, and that alone emphasizes his willingness to do whatever it takes to bring down Reed Richards. He will gladly turn his life into ashes for the mere chance to destroy Reed, and then find a way to rebuild and be just as dangerous as before.
If, on the other hand, Richards and Doom were working together on an experiment that transforms them (and the rest of the Fantastic Four) into super humans, then his grievances become harder to dismiss. Maybe he tried to correct an error in Reed’s work, but couldn’t catch all of them in time. Maybe he introduced errors that caused the accident, but did so to fix previous errors before they could be caught by Reed. The point is that his direct involvement with Reed changes his motivation, so it’s not as inherently irrational and dangerous. It even runs the risk of making him a sympathetic figure, something that doesn’t fit with a mad scientist dictator at all. Sure, the narrative will state that Richards isn’t at fault for turning Doom into some kind of metallic goat man, but it’ll be hard to avoid wondering if Doom has a point. And Doom should not have a good point. He is someone who will do terrible things in service for a revenge that is completely unjustified, which should always be remembered.
Filed under: Comics, General Nerdity, Marvel | Leave a Comment
Tags: comics, Doctor Doom, Fantastic Four, Marvel, Reed Richards