I Solved Comicsgate!

From the Drawing Board

Thursday, March 13th, 2019

Captain Marvel – Big Power, Small Heart.

Okay then! Let’s talk about Captain Marvel..! (No spoilers. Who says I don’t listen?)

It was worth the admission, 6/10 stars and a good afternoon diversion, but like many of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) films, it didn’t particularly move me. There have only been a handful of MCU films which I was really excited about, and this wasn’t one of them.

Stoic, all business, battle hardened.., Brie Larsen has taken a lot of flak during the marketing build-up to this film, one of the criticisms being that her appearance in press materials was emotionally void, however given the character I think she played it about right. Captain Marvel IS wooden, not supposed to have any emotion, so of course playing it flat made sense. Mind you.., if she were a great actress, we could have perhaps been treated to the portrayal of the cast-iron, brainwashed super-soldier and have been able to empathize with her. That’s why I go to the movies, anyway. Is there a human in there? It was hard to tell. We don’t know how much better the character could have been because we have no other version to compare it to. There is no Christopher Reeve standing beside a Henry Cavill (both cast as Superman) in the case of Captain Marvel.

Perhaps we can compare Captain Marvel to Captain America; also a super-soldier but one who radiates both strength and warmth and genuine affection for the human race. Part of that appeal is in the scripting, but part is what the actor does with it. Sadly, we may never know if another actress could have brought something more to the role of Captain Marvel. The MCU has tied the knot with Brie for the next half dozen films.

In any case, personally, I’d have written her differently. I’d have written her whole story differently.

Her origin story, though they tried, just isn’t core or epic or relatable enough as with the great characters. Great comic book characters are like viral memes; you have to try hundreds of times before you strike gold. You can’t just create them on demand according to some formula, and Captain Marvel’s story simply didn’t have the magic. That’s probably why they’ve had to re-boot her comic like, eight or nine times due to rotten sales. It doesn’t grip and grab the reader by the soul. There’s nothing for a regular person to latch on to; the living with a bright soul inside but not being able to express it, leading to the wishing and the unfairness and the human hurting, “If only I had a chance..!”

The best characters are often underdogs, or they experience moments of soul illumination where they completely switch sides. There’s power in a soul transformation.

Captain Marvel is a functional plot device and that’s all. She was given power without asking for it, without valuing it, without earning it. She was programmed to fight, and her Terminator-like performance fit that scheme. But we only loved the Terminator when the Terminator learned love. Captain Marvel’s lukewarm moment of illumination, (I barely even noticed it frankly, and it came off as tinny), didn’t convince me that she was a real hero.

The key revelatory moment even seemed as though it were politically motivated by hot topic real world events, (in this case, migrant refugees). If this was a deliberate insert, it might explain why it felt so lackluster as a motivational moment for the character; allowing a story to become a vehicle for political activism is often a dangerous dalliance with the 4th wall. -Not just for the writer, who is no longer thinking of the character’s well-being first and foremost, but for the audience. In this case I think Marvel, to their credit kept their politics light enough to avoid full-on collision with viewer opinion.

Whatever the case, it’s never a good idea to betray your audience by tricking them into swallowing a manufactured argument while they are dissociated around the camp fire. Being smacked with a “Gotcha!” will snap people out of a narrative and fill them with distaste and disbelief in further travel in that world. When you dream, you are trusting the narrator with your soul and betrayals are rarely forgiven. This is story-writing 101; a writer must learn the difference between story, satire and propaganda. -It can be done effectively, but you have to subconsciously warn people ahead of time, and further, they have to agree to participate in the thought experiment. Star Trek is an excellent example of testing social theory through lots of small experimental story arcs, and viewers both recognize and happily embrace this aspect of Star Trek. The MCU, however, is not set up in this way, so a critical left turn rings false when previously, political environments served as backdrops for personal heroic journeys, not the other way around.

Anyway.., moving ahead… If Captain Marvel kills Thanos in the next Avengers film, it would be basically a long, drawn out and disappointing example of Deus Ex Machina. Lazy writing.

I’m hoping it won’t go like that. It would be very strange, in fact, quite out of keeping with the past story world vibe. The Marvel movie writers have demonstrated that they know how to make the real victories the result of spiritual struggles, not material contests.

Given the competence of the MCU’s writing for the most part, I think that the much anticipated Avengers, End Game will have enough twists and unexpected new story elements that it won’t come down to such an easy solution as a personal vendetta realized or a simple “I’m stronger!” contest. After all, most of the big characters, from the Hulk to the Racoon and everybody in between, have been personally hurt in such deep ways that any one of them could be justified in delivering the victory. (Except Captain Marvel, that is. Thanos took nothing from her.)

I’m hoping that with such a well crafted villain as Thanos, the solution will be more psychological. I’d like to see him realize, like Doctor Manhattan in Allan Moore’s Watchmen, that he’d made a critical error in his earlier judgment about the value of life and reverses his decision. That would be beautiful!

The whole “Overpopulation” motivation behind killing off half the universe was flat out nonsense, and I feel like even little, meaningless me could have talked him around over coffee. And part of my soul strains to see him recognize the error in his ways. I’d like to see him illuminated. That would be a reward and make for an epic story!

-Mark Oakley

Wolfville, Nova Scotia,
March 13th, 2019

From the Drawing Board

Sunday, Feb 24th 2019

I Solved Comicsgate!

(If you’re not familiar with the term, “Comicsgate”, don’t bother. It’s a waste of any regular person’s attention. Just another side show in the culture war.)

But for those of you who ARE familiar.., (my job description requires that I pay some attention, so that’s why I’m here offering notes), it took a while for me to work out what was actually going on, but I finally did! I’m really proud of this, so check it out:

It’s like any relationship.

Once upon a time, there was a single guy doing his single guy things. In his case, he loved comics and sci-fi/fantasy and D&D. And one day, he met a girl! It was love! He invited her to visit his bachelor apartment and smiled nervously as she took her first pensive steps into his life. After a brief inspection and a few dates.., gosh! She realizes that, yes, this works! She loves him, too! Except.., he’s a fixer-upper, that’s for sure.

On the third or fourth visit she might ask politely, “Why are the brake shoes from your car in the sink, sweetie?”

Undaunted, this lady tiger rolls up her sleeves and starts to gussy up her boyfriend’s bachelor pad into something she can show her Mom and not feel ashamed of. A nice place where you can start a family!

In this story, the guy is Comics, and the girl is, well, All Girls.

Over the last thirty years, comic book conventions have evolved. They started out as collections of dusty card tables and long boxes in hockey rinks and slowly transformed into be-sparkled costume balls! Dazed neck beard guys found themselves stuffed into their good shirts and schooled in proper social etiquette. “Yes, Dear! The Last Jedi was a Very Good Film!”. (-Ha ha ha! No it wasn’t! But far be it from me to contradict a desperate man in front of his lady. But I’ve seen the shifty eyes, the wincing hope that nobody detects the courageous lie. You know who you are. I certainly do, but don’t worry! Your secrets are safe with me.)

Because, by golly, the girls have arrived! And they transformed though force of will and unabashed enthusiasm, the typically all-male events into red carpet co-ed geek parties! They made themselves comfy in their new territory, fluffing nests and, well, being all girly. As also happens, certain among the feminine element immediately set about identifying the social power structures and working out who sits where. -And the more borderline personalities conquered and set up Queen Bee pecking orders to control the flow of that magical substance, popular attention -and who got the sweet jobs, etc. Sociopathy comes in Male and Female, sadly. (And even more sadly, it can’t write. But that’s a whole other issue).

Negatives aside, all of this activity is quite normal and healthy. Seriously! It’s the natural way of things and it’s how humans have worked their magic since forever. When you get married, everything changes and your cool workshop geek stuff has to move out to the garage. Sorry bud! Toddlers and power tools don’t belong in the same room.

The problem in the particular case of Comics is one of the Adjustment Gradient. -Said simply, Comics were always about 95% workshop geek stuff to begin with. The clean up needed to prepare for Mother In Law’s inspection resulted in a near total wrecking ball solution, leaving little behind but the sweeping and the weeping. Literally! Think about it: “Honey, your bat comics cannot stay on the coffee table, and can’t we put the Wookie and his friend somewhere other than the mantle?” -That’s not just a cute argument overheard in anytown suburbia. It’s the entirety of the comics industry, top to bottom. It’s all Bats and Wookies! It all has to go!

And the problem with that is.., shoot, it’s taking the customer base with it. Nobody wants doilies and Mother In Law approved media, (and Mother In Law guilt trips. Have you read some of that stuff?) It’s unrecognizable from what it was before! It’s ALL Last Jedi and no amount of Good Husband nodding can gloss over the fact that it’s like eating spinach from a tin. So that which is left of a comic book industry already on life support includes now plummeting sales and literally hundreds of store closures. When you have to throw out everything pre-marriage from the house of comics, you end up with a hole in the ground, and the fledgling union, bourne of genuine love, is put under tragic strain!

Out in the real world, one expression of this drama has been that many of the particularly masculine elements in the industry, artists and writers, being swept and harassed out of jobs. In part, I think, because geek femininity, much like like geek masculinity, tends to be socially awkward (Sorry, it’s true), and so efforts at relationship navigation were always going to be clumsy and prone to outbursts, -and divorce-level fallout, it would appear.

Hopefully, they can work it all out. Hopefully the kids won’t be traumatized!


Industry grandpas like me, (well, I’m not that old or wise, but these generations came up so fast.., I have to make the effort!), we’re still scratching out comics in our log cabins, just hoping those crazy kids can work it all out. They’re so earnest and bright-eyed after all, and we love them so much!

-Mark Oakley

Wolfville, Nova Scotia,
Feb 24th, 2019

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