Friday, July 07, 2017

Wonder Woman, GotG2, and Spider-Man Homecoming

So, in the past month I’ve seen three super hero movies - Spider-Man Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Wonder Woman.  All three were incredible, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Possible minor spoilers ahead.

Wonder Woman
This was my least favorite of the three, but don’t take that as a negative when the competition’s so fierce.  It’s like saying pizza is your least favorite out of pizza, sex, and video games.  It’s just that a lot of my love for the Wonder Woman movie is actually relief.  Relief that the current DC movie continuity isn’t completely cursed, and relief that a female-led superhero movie can actually do well.  The movie’s biggest strength is that it fills me with hope for future movies.  Wonder Woman gets so much right, and was so necessary to the movie industry, that it feels like sacrilege to point out the flaws. 

But to be completely honest, I think the movie is sort of generic.  90% of what I loved about the movie only worked because it was Wonder Woman.  If they’d swapped her out for a male character (let’s say Hercules if we want to keep the general theme), it would have been just another forgettable action flick.  I love the movie, but it’s not going to be as rewatchable as the Marvel films.

Most movies try to save the best stuff for the end, but I found WW more entertaining at the beginning.  The first half of the movie is outstanding, but the it gets a little dull towards the end, and the final battle is just your standard boss fight.  The villains didn’t exactly sweep me off my feet, and the casting of the Big Bad seemed like an odd choice.  More than anything I see the movie as a foot in the door, proof that female superheroes can succeed in Hollywood after all.  In a future where female-led superhero films are more common, I’m not sure Wonder Woman will really stand out much.  But the success of Wonder Woman means that future might actually happen, and that’s very important.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2
This is my favorite of the three.  If you liked the first one, it’s more of the same, though there’s more character development this time.  While I love the first GotG, the characters were one-dimensional quip-generators, kind of like Suicide Squad in space.  The sequel gives them more depth, which slows down the movie but not enough to make it boring.

The opening battle is one of my favorite movie sequences of all time.  From the trailers, that particular fight looked underwhelming to me.  But in the film itself, they actually made the scene better by taking the focus off the fighting itself.  For spoilers sake I won’t to go into detail, but it had me dancing and singing in my seat.

People find me strange because I’m not very much into music.  (Well, that’s not the only reason they find me strange.)  In my life I’ve owned maybe 3 tapes and 6 CDs, and the ones I’ve owned haven’t seen a lot of use.   I don’t have to listen to music while I’m driving, I don’t go to concerts, and I never just sit and listen to music while doing nothing else.  I generally consider music as something to keep it from being too quiet, but I've never been into it.  And yet, roughly 50% of my love for the GotG movies has to do with the soundtrack.  The music ties into the action so well, that I simply can’t imagine the same films with a standard issue orchestral score.  I’m happy to report GotG2’s soundtrack is just as good as the first, if not better.

GotG2 is definitely the most rewatchable of the three movies I’m reviewing here, and I can’t wait to wear out the blu-ray when it’s released.  I will say that of the three, this movie is the least child-friendly (which is a weird thing to say about a movie with a talking raccoon).  I don’t know if I would bring a small child to this one, as some of the language is a little strong for young ears (including a scene where they talk about Ego's penis), and some of the death scenes are a bit graphic.  Not actually bloody, just… explicit.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
A lot of people complain about reboots, and the Spider-Man franchise is their go-to example.  Personally, I’m okay rebooting a series if you have a good reason for doing so.  But I do hold a reboot to higher standards – did you really have an idea worth throwing out the old continuity?   In this case, definitely yes.  Bringing Spidey into the MCU was the best thing that could have happened to the character.  It changes the character so much.  In the previous films he’s pretty much the only superhero in the world (as far as we know), but in the MCU he has people to look up to.  Instead of just “I can outdo myself and help more people,” now there’s the additional element of “I want to impress the Avengers.”

I think the smartest thing they did was skip his origin story almost entirely.  At this point everyone in the audience knows how Peter got his powers, and there was no reason to waste screen time on it.  There’s one short conversation about getting bitten by a radioactive spider, but there’s almost no mention of Uncle Ben or how power relates to responsibility.  Instead Peter’s moral code is just based around “it’s the right thing to do,” which is deep enough for a 15-year old boy, as far as I’m concerned.  I think the Civil War movie summed it up best when Peter said, “When you can do the things that I can, but you don't, and then the bad things happen? They happen because of you.”  Which is basically a different way of saying “with great power…” but sounds a lot more like how people actually talk.

Michael Keaton did a great job, and I found him a lot more believable than the ax-crazy moustache-twirling villains Spider-Man usually fights.  In some ways I found his motivations a little too understandable, and I have to wonder how many of my friends would turn to supervillainy if presented with the same circumstances.  Occasionally he'd lapse into his Beetlejuice voice for a second, which was distracting, but I didn't mind.

I loved the overall tone of the film.  When the Ant-Man movie came out I kept saying how glad I was to see them using different genres.  Instead of everything being just a “Superhero Action” film, some of them focus on comedy, sci-fi, drama, and so on.  Well, Homecoming is a high school comedy that also happens to be a super hero film.  I’ve seen several reviewers compare Homecoming to a modern John Hughes film, which might be giving Homecoming too much credit, but it’s easy to see what they mean.

So if you only get to see one of the above movies, which should you see?

Well, GotG2 is my favorite, but for other people I’m going to have to recommend Spider-Man.  I think it has more universal appeal.  But let’s face it, if you’re fanatic enough to be reading this, you’re probably going to see all three eventually.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Gotham - We watched the first five or six episodes of Gotham, but it was just too dark for us.  I've never been able to get into criminal-focused shows.  Real life is depressing enough, and I'd rather focus on the good guys than the bad.

Arrow - I've tried to get into Arrow, but I just haven't.  It's not as dark as Gotham, but it's still a bit too dark for me.  Plus the cheesy parts are a little too cheesy, probably because they stand out more against all the dark.  When the whole Arrow team gets into costume, it just looks like cosplay to me, because the rest of the world is so gritty and real.

The Flash - This is the best super hero show on television.  Yes it's even cheesier than Arrow, but that's the theme of the show and it's just good fun.  It's like a live action cartoon.  The cast really works well together, and I really enjoy seeing their takes on DC villains.

Legends of Tomorrow - It's kind of fun.  I enjoy watching it.  But, I don't know, it just doesn't feel structured enough for me.  They threw all these characters into a blender and hoped something cohesive would come out, but really it's just kind of a chaotic mess.  But it's a fun mess.

I think my biggest problem with LOT so far, is that I feel like I've seen most of what it has to offer.  They spent the first season bouncing around from time period to time period, always with the same mission (track down Vandal Savage in that time).  I like some of the characters more than others, but I don't find myself in love with any of them.  The breakout character is Captain Cold, and even he got less interesting as time goes on.

But some of the things I've heard about season 2 have piqued my interest, so I'm still going to give it another go.

Supergirl - I'm trying so hard to like this.  Supergirl is one of my favorite comic book characters, and I really want more female superhero shows to gain popularity.  Producers are so leery of female superhero movies, because most of them have tanked hard.  Never mind that those movies were just bad on many levels that had nothing to do with the hero's gender.  If we can just get a few good ones out there to break the perceived curse, then maybe it will open the door for more to be made.

But honestly, the Supergirl TV series is lukewarm at best.  I really like the casting job on the title character, but the rest of the cast is kind of meh.  Hardly anybody has a lot of chemistry together, and I just don't like how some characters are portrayed.  The government agent characters are especially annoying, going back and forth from "all business" to "touchy feely" so much I get whiplash.

And I really don't like most of the villains.  There seems to be a tradition now where the first episode sets up where most of the show's villains will come from.  It makes the writing easier, and keeps you from wasting a lot of screen time on villain origin stories.  Smallville had the kryptonite give everybody different super powers.  The Flash's villains mostly got their powers the same way he got his.  Well, Supergirl has Fort Rozz, a Kryptonian prison from which powerful aliens keep escaping.  I'm just not digging that plotline.

There's an overarching plot about a group of evil Kryptonians, and frankly they're just boring.  I've never been fond of having too many Kryptonians in a Superman-family series; the Kryptonians bored me in Lois and Clark, they bored me in Smallville, and they bore me here.  I've always preferred the continuities where Kryptonian survivors were kept to a minimum.

Supergirl's not great, but it's got room for growth, and I really hope it gets better in the second season.  I know there's going to be a lot of changes with it changing networks, so hopefully it will be enough to save the show.

DCAU - Of course, none of these shows are anywhere near as awesome as the Justice League and Young Justice animated shows.   That entire era of the DCAU was some of the best stuff on television.  Unfortunately, as of the “Flashpoint” animated movie, that era is pretty much over.  The new series of movies is a lot more adult, and a lot less fun.  I still keep adding the new animated movies to my Netflix queue, and I don't hate them... but man, they used to be so much better.

DC Twofer: Suicide Squad and The Killing Joke

Much like Green Lantern and Catwoman, Suicide Squad was not quite as bad as everyone wants it to be.  Yeah, yeah, you can't take my word for it; I like a lot of bad movies.  But for me, Suicide Squad was bad in all the right ways.  Yes, the story doesn't make any sense.  Yes, it was re-edited at the last minute, leaving it a bit incoherent.  Yes, there are plot holes galore.

But all that works for it.  The movie is intentionally chaotic, and the schizophrenic editing fits perfectly with the tone of the film.  Why would anyone want this movie to make sense?  I don't want to see a serious movie about a bunch of crazy comic book villains forced to save the world.  Batman v Superman was coherent and serious, and it sucked.  Suicide Squad is the exact opposite of BvS.  It's a series of barely-connected flashes of violence and comedy, and while it's not for everyone, I thought it was quite fun.

Bottom line:  It's not good, and it's not for everyone, but it's crazy fun if you're in that kind of mood.

I also had the the chance to see the animated "The Killing Joke" on the big screen.  I first read the comic back in the 80s, and I've always had mixed feelings about it. Depending on how you look at it, it's either the best Joker story ever told, or the worst Batgirl story ever told.  Since I'm more of a Batgirl fan than a Joker fan, you can guess which way I lean.

For those not in the know (spoilers ahead), The Killing Joke tells the Joker's origin story.  There have been several versions of his origin, but this one has always been my favorite.  It tells how a struggling comedian has one very bad day, causing him to lose his mind.  It flashes back and forth from the Joker's memory to present day, where the Joker is trying to give Commissioner Gordon a similar bad day.

And part of that bad day includes crippling Gordon's daughter, who happens to be Batgirl. Fans will argue all day long whether this was a good or bad for the character.  After all, it did lead to her becoming Oracle, one of the greatest characters in DC history.  But it also uses Batgirl - one of my favorite heroes of all time - as an object. Barbara is not a character in the comic so much as a plot device, who is crippled just to move the story forward.

The animated version attempts to rectify this by adding a Batgirl story to the beginning (and a small scene at the end that wraps things up).  Unfortunately, the Batgirl story isn't very good.  Worse yet, it's too obvious where the new story ends and comic adaptation begins.  The writing is so different once it turns into The Killing Joke.  They barely wrote any script at all, and mostly just read straight from the comic.  Which brings us to the next problem - some lines that read well in print sound silly when said out loud.

They also made one tiny addition that really bugged me.  Fans have debated for years whether the Joker raped Barbara.  Personally, I never felt he did.  Perfectly Blunt Disclaimer:  I'm not trying to argue whether or not stripping her and taking photos constitutes rape.  He definitely did do that, and if that fits your definition of rape, I won't disagree. But for the purposes of this blog, I'm defining rape as actual sexual penetration. 

The Joker is single-minded, and he took the photos hoping to drive Jim Gordon mad. Now, I could possibly see Joker raping her if he intended to include that in the photos, but when we see the photos, the Joker isn't in any of them.  Granted, the reader isn't shown all the photos.  But I think the artist would have shown at least part of the Joker in at least one of the shown photos, if he was trying to imply physical assault.

Plus, there's the scene where Batman visits Barbara in the hospital.  I strongly feel that if she had been raped, it would have been mentioned there.  Harvey Bullock tells Batman that they found her in a state of undress, and Batman replies, "Undress?"  Bullock answers by telling him they found a lens cap nearby, and he thinks the Joker may have taken some pictures.  If she'd been raped, Bullock would have mentioned it here. 

But that's the comic.  In the animated version, they added one short scene where Batman questions some prostitutes about the Joker's whereabouts.  Their answers seem to indicate that Barbara really was raped, at least in this version.  I don't like that at all.  I know it's a weird double standard.  I can accept the Joker as a psycho clown who murders on a whim, but making him a rapist just makes it too real. 

I'd generally prefer if they'd keep rape out of comics entirely, but I'm also against censorship so it's kind of a catch-22.  But then, I'm not really asking them to censor stories.  It's more accurate to say I'm want them to write stories that I find entertaining, and rape is too volatile a subject to use lightly.  I read comics because they make me smile, and I stop smiling when a character is raped.

The internet is full of people who believe Babs was raped.  It just goes to show that people interpret ambiguous scenes differently, and that's fine.  If a feminist tells me BG was raped, and why it's a sign that women are treated terribly in comics, I listen.  But what bugs me is all the dudebros who seem to want her to have been raped.   The guys who argue passionately that it happened, because they just don't like the Joker character as much if he's not a rapist.  Those guys scare me, and it sickens me that comics are written to please them.

Anyway, Mark Hamill did an excellent job as usual, and most of the rest of the voice cast was great.  However, I was not fond of Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise).  His lines were very flat, like he wasn't getting into it at all.  The animation was done well, and they did a great job making it look like the comic.

Bottom line: It was nice to see one of my favorite old comics brought to life, but I can't say I really enjoyed it.  I probably won't watch it again. 

Sunday, May 01, 2016


A teenager kills herself after an embarrassing video of her is posted online.  Then her ghost comes back to torment her former friends.  Unfriended is a pretty basic story, nothing that's going to make you say wow.  The difference is in how the film is presented.  All the viewer sees is the main character's computer screen.  The movie is shown as if we're seeing live feed from her laptop.  We watch her move the arrow around and see everything she clicks in real time.  In one window she's talking to her friends over Skype.  In another, she has a private chat going on with her boyfriend.  She has her music playlist in another window.  In her web browser, she has Facebook and YouTube open, and she does other web searches over the course of the movie as the plot demands.

And we don't just see what she does, but we see what she almost does.  We see every sentence she almost types, then erases and rewords before hitting enter.  Because of this, we're privy to her thought process, giving us more insight than movies usually offer.  While the characters know a lot more than the audience initially sees, over the course of the movie you find out more of the details that led up to their friend's suicide.  Again, none of the revelations are going to blow you away, but the style is so original that it's hard to look away.  Despite the relatively simple plot, this is one of those movies where you need to pay attention every minute (sometimes to two things at once) or you might miss something significant.

It's tempting to compare this to "found footage" movies like Blair Witch or Cloverfield.  However, found footage movies are inherently less scary to me because, by definition, everything in the movie has already happened.  Unfriended, however, is presented in such a way that it feels like it's happening right now... to you.  If you let yourself get drawn in, then your TV screen becomes your laptop.  The limited view increases your fear, because you feel like something's in the room with you, but you can't make main character turn her head to see.

As much as I liked the concept, I hope this doesn't become a genre like found footage movies did.  The uniqueness of this film is what makes it cool, and it's definitely worth seeing once.  But in some ways it's more like reading a movie than watching one, and once you're over the novelty of the format, it's not the kind of experience you're likely to sit through twice. 

So give this movie a try.   And for extra fun, watch it on your laptop.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Zootopia: Hollywood, Quit Stealing My Ideas!

Zootopia was a lot of fun.  It's well-written, full of easter eggs and casting jokes, and has a great message about racism.  They put so much work into the little details, with all the billboards and magazine covers and so on.  The only thing I didn't enjoy was all the screaming kids in the audience, but that's unavoidable when seeing a matinee of an animated movie.  I can't wait to see Zootopia again on home video, so I can hear all the dialogue.  I'm probably going to wear out my pause button trying to read all the signs in the background.

One thing that bugs me as I get older, is that a lot of my unrealized ideas keep getting made by other people.  No, I'm not accusing anyone of plagiarism, it's just that there's 7 billion people in the world, sooner or later we're going to come up with similar thoughts.  I keep sitting on my ideas for decades, while other people are more motivated to publish their work.  On the bright side, a lot of these works end up being better than mine would have been.  So I'm glad the idea made it out there for the world to see.  On the downside, if I were to finally publish my old ideas, it would look like I was the plagiarist. 

My "Bounty Hunters" story, about a small team of bounty hunters that live on a spaceship?  There's a popular anime that uses the same concept.  The two stories are nothing alike beyond the initial theme, but still it's kind of annoying.  One member of my bounty hunting team is Raven, a woman with short hair who wears a trench coat.  Not long after I created her, the Highlander TV series created a spin-off called "Highlander: The Raven", featuring a protagonist who looked similar to my Raven.  The characters were nothing alike beyond appearance, but it was still a weird coincidence.  I mean, if they'd called it "Highlander: The Mockingbird" I wouldn't have even noticed the similarities, but they had to pick a Raven.

And there's more, and I'm not saying I was always first.  I once wrote a short story about a woman who gains skills by remembering past lives, only to find out there was already popular comic book with a similar plot.  When it happens in that order, I'm never quite sure if I actually came up with the idea, or read about the other comic first and forgot about it.  Another example is The Cat Club.  When I was a kid in the early 80s, I drew comics by that name.  Later I found a series of children's books in the library, called "Jenny and the Cat Club." 

My Cat Club was basically GI Joe, but all the good guys were cats and the bad guys were dogs.  In later years, I put a couple of evil cats on the dog team... but not vice-versa.  I didn't go into too much detail about the civilians of this universe, but usually they were shown to be cats.  There were a couple of examples of dogs betraying their kind to help the cats, but for the most part it seemed like all the dogs in the world were evil.

After I graduated high school, I started thinking about modernizing the idea.  But when I really looked at the subject matter, I thought, "Man, that's racist."  So I started writing out ways to make it non-racist.  Or better yet, make racism the central theme of the universe.  In my modern, unwritten version of the Cat Club, only dogs and cats evolved into more humanoid forms (there is an in-universe reason for this).  Dogs and cats live together in shaky harmony.  There are some racial supremacists on both sides, but most citizens believe in equality.  Still, a lot of dogs and cats are nervous around each other, and tend to hang around their own species. 

A lot of racism issues would be touched upon.  There would be some inter-species dating, but some groups would be against it.  Some retailers would refuse to sell to the opposite species.  Some sports would only allow one species or the other.  Legal or not, some employers would more readily hire one or the other.  I'd try to avoid any direct correlation between dogs/cats and real-life races.  In some ways life is better for the cats, in some ways it favors the dogs.  Neither would be inherently evil or good.  They have a lot of biological differences that make them more suited to certain jobs, but society tries (and often fails) to treat them as equals.

My main character was Midnight, an ex-military cat who is constantly at odds with his own racism.  He had a dog-related tragedy in his past, and has distrusted them ever since.  On an academic level he believes dogs and cats should have equal rights, but on a personal level he doesn't want anything to do with dogs.  That's as much detail as I'll go into for now, but you see where I'm going with this.  Zootopia has a lot of the same themes.  Instead of cats vs dogs, it's carnivores vs herbivores, but the racism theme is very similar.  Mine's different enough that I could easily release it without being sued, but a lot of people would still read it and say, "He got that idea from Zootopia."

I suppose that's not the worst thing in the world.  There's a lot of popular media right now where it's obvious where the authors got their inspiration.  It just bugs me that I could be accused of copying when I had my idea more than 20 years before Zootopia.  All that proves is that I'm lazy.  Still, if someone was going to read my mind and run with it, I'm glad it was Disney.  Zootopia is awesome. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Batman v Superman: How Do You Screw That Up?

I really wanted to like this one.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is dull.  It's not terrible, it's not unwatchable, it's just incredibly dull.  Too many shots are filmed in slow motion, there's too many pointless dream sequences, and there's just too much exposition.  I think it could possibly have been saved through editing, but even some of the "good" parts were a letdown.  Let's break it down:

Superman - As in Man of Steel, this is a more realistic, less idealistic take on the character.  This is a guy who doesn't always know the right thing to do, and isn't the World's Oldest Boy Scout we've seen in other incarnations.  His motivations are real and human, and he does his best to be a good person. Unfortunately he's also just plain boring most of the time.  I still love his costume, and it looks even better now because this time it's in color. 

Batman - Ben Affleck is a perfectly acceptable Batman.  Unfortunately he's written as a big thug with lots of good tech.  There's a couple of scenes that show off his ninja skills, but his detective skills are blatantly absent.  His reasons for wanting to stop Superman are absolutely nuts, not the conclusions of a professional thinker.  The movie has an Idiot Plot where at least an hour could have been shaved off just by having people talk to each other, or even think a little bit harder.  "World's Greatest Detective" my ass.

Personal nitpick:  There's way too much imagery of Batman using guns, which is a big no no for the Batman mythos.   Okay, arguably he doesn't technically fire an actual gun at any point, but between dream sequences, tracking devices fired from normal-looking guns, Batmobile weapons, etc... it's like the writers really wanted to use the Punisher instead.  All the theatrical Batman costumes have had fake muscles, but this one takes the cake.  Batman's look is obviously taken from The Dark Knight Returns, and that's fine, but this suit is so bulky it takes out the "lithe" aspect out of his character.  

Lex Luthor - I love the concept.  Lex as a young genius is great, it reminds me of the older comics when he was a mad scientist instead of a millionaire.  But his performance comes out more like the Joker than Lex Luthor.  His motivations make no sense, except that he really is just insane.  Okay, there are reasons for the things he does, if you're invested enough to pay that much attention, but still... surely there are simpler ways to entertain himself.  And his voice grated on my nerves.

Wonder Woman - Truly the high point of the movie, every scene with WW was spectacular.  I can't think of a single complaint about this take on the character.  I'm looking forward to the Wonder Woman movie, partly because Zack Snyder isn't directing it. 

The Plot - Most of the movie builds up to the fight.  There's lots of misunderstandings, with Supes and Bats each thinking the other responsible for things they didn't do.  It tries its hardest to show why these characters feel they need to hurt each other, but we've already seen these characters fight in other media, for much more believable reasons. 

When the actual fight finally happens, it's a bit of a letdown.  It's just not a very well-done fight, I'm sorry. But - once B&S stop fighting and become friends (if that's a spoiler, you're an idiot), the movie actually gets pretty good.  I would not mind watching the final 20 minutes a few more times, but the rest of the movie is too plodding to ever slog through again.

There's several scenes that foreshadow future movies, and some of those look pretty interesting.  I'm not going to give up on the DC cinematic universe.  If they'll just get some different directors, give up on that "humor embargo", do more editing, and maybe take some inspiration from the Justice League animated series... who knows?  All the ingredients are there, they just need some better cooks.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

NES Remix vs What I Really Want In A Retro Game

NES Remix is a series of games for the Wii U and the 3DS, which allow you to play snippets of 8-bit Nintendo games.  So far there have been three games in the series: NES Remix 1 & 2 for the Wii U (available for download separately or as a compilation disc), and Ultimate NES Remix for the 3DS (which is basically a "best of" compilation of the Wii U games).  The bulk of each game is a bunch of minigame challenges, where you try to get the best time while performing a task in a classic game.  For example, you might have to collect 10 coins in level 4-1 of Super Mario Bros, or you might have to counter Bald Bull's charge in Punch-Out!, or you might have to find a secret cave in The Legend of Zelda.

Completing these tasks earns you stars, which unlock the Remix levels, which is where the game really shines.  The Remix levels mix up elements from classic games.  You might play a level of Donkey Kong using Link (who can't jump), or try to collect coins in Super Mario Bros while controlling Samus Aran, or control Toad in a Zelda II level.  But it's not all about crossovers, some of the Remix levels just take normal levels and play around with the formula.  You might play a level of Super Mario Bros in reverse, or at a super high speed, or with the screen constantly going dark.  The game forces you to remember muscle memory you haven't used in 30 years, then it mixes it up so you can't even rely on that muscle memory.  It's very creative and always keeps you wondering what the next level is going to be.

But is it fun?
Well, I love nostalgia.  Playing these games brings me back to the 80s, and the Remixed levels are especially neat.  But I can't tell you how many times I've gotten 3 stars on a challenge, and thought "Thank goodness I never have to do that again."  When a video game has you thinking things like that, something is wrong.  I love the concept, and it's something I really wanted when I was a kid.  But the challenges I really like are few and far between, and there's very little replay value in the others.

Here's what I would have liked to have seen:
Something along the lines of the browser-based game "Super Mario Bros Crossover".  Instead of microgames, I'd like to see a full platform game, where different levels are based on different side scroller games.  You'd have a few Mario levels, a few Metroid levels, a few Zelda II levels, and so on.  At the start of each level you'd pick a character, so you could have any Nintendo character/level combination.  The different characters would control differently and have their own skills and abilities.

But I run risk of judging Remix based on what I want instead of what it is.  As it is, the NES Remix games are nostalgia-filled fun, but more remix challenges could have made it a lot better.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Samus Aran: Chozo?

On my personal blog I recently made a post about whether or not Samus Aran was transgender.  But while writing it, one little thing bothered me and I thought I'd expand it into a full blog.  Plus I just really like babbling about Metroid.

I first played Metroid in 1986.  I immediately fell in love with the universe, even though not many details were actually given.  The instruction booklet had some info about space pirates, the Galactic Federation Police, and other events leading up to the game, but that's about it.  I scanned all other media for more information, and I accepted whatever I found as canon.  One Nintendo magazine said that Samus used to be an acrobat.  Boom, canon.  Kid Icarus had an alternate version of Metroids called Komaytos.  Boom, shared universe canon.

I was convinced there were further secrets in the game if only I explored hard enough.  There were so many secret areas (actually glitches) you could reach by letting doors close on you and climbing up through the walls.  I just knew if I found the right one, I'd get to see more of the story.  One of the secret codes was "Justin Bailey" - I was sure that was the name of another character in the Metroid universe.

While there were elements of Metroid in other media (such as the silly "Captain N" cartoon), real canon information would not be forthcoming until the release of Metroid 2 in 1991.  Until then, I had to make up my own story.  So, I drew my own comics.  First I drew pictures of every enemy in the game.  I drew and defined several different types of metroids, basing them off the instruction booklet, their appearance in the game, and even other fan art.  Then I started drawing my own original enemies and allies.

In 1989 I drew a really bad comic book adaptation of the Metroid game.  I followed this with two additional issues, the second of which was a collection of short stories.  At one point it crossed over with another sci-fi comic I was drawing, The Bounty Hunters (which starred Boba Fett).  Finally I combined both universes into one, with a series called "Space Stories". I continued drawing Space Stories all throughout high school, college, and a bit beyond.

In my universe, the Space Pirates were humans, who dressed like ancient Earth pirates despite their futuristic technology.  If I'd known how they'd eventually look in Super Metroid, I would gladly have gone with that instead, because my designs were ridiculously silly.  My version of Samus Aran had green hair, because that's what she looked like when I played her in the game.  When I later realized that her hair's only green because of the Varia suit, I threw in a line about her dying it green.

So yeah, the lack of real canon, combined with my own dumb ideas, made me write a lot of crazy things.  Now, I loved the next two sequels - Metroid 2 (Gameboy, 1991) and Super Metroid (SNES, 1994), but they didn't really expand the universe much.  Goofy as it was, my comics were still the best canon I had.  So, when Nintendo finally got around to fleshing out Samus Aran's universe, in some ways it was already too late.  I'm glad they made the effort, but the results didn't always make me happy.

For one thing, they finally gave Samus an official look for when she's out of uniform.  There had been several shots of her unarmored form before, in strategy guides and issues of Nintendo Power, and of course at the end of the various games.  But none of these were consistent; they all just looked like someone told the artist, "Draw a woman."  It wasn't until her "Zero Suit" that they all started drawing her the same way, and I can't say I love the result.  I was hoping for someone sort of butch, attractive but still tough looking.  Instead we got a blonde centerfold with bosoms that defy gravity.  I've grown to accept it (I even main ZSS in Smash Bros), but it's definitely not what I would have chosen.

And then there's her personality in "Other M"... Okay, I'm not going to go into too much detail here, because the internet's already full of bad Other M reviews.  The gist is that Samus acted way too subservient in that game.  To be fair, it's possible they were doomed from the start.  Samus Aran had been around for 24 years by that point, and the earlier games didn't really show much of her personality.  During that time different players had built up different ideas of what her personality was like, and when Other M didn't line up with their headcanon, it felt like betrayal.  But that's just a possible explanation, not an excuse.  It really isn't a very good game so don't look to me to defend it.

But the thing the bothered me the most was...  the manga.  I'm sorry, I know that's sacrilege for some people.  But the "raised by Chozo" thing really ruined my headcanon.  Okay, some background for those who don't know what I'm talking about.  In the original Metroid, you occasionally find powerups held by statues of strange bird people, called Chozo.  In the manga, it is explained that Samus was orphaned as a child, and raised by Chozo.  They trained her to be a good fighter, and infused her with technology.  This explains why their weapons are compatible with her suit.

It's not a terrible explanation, but here's my problem.  When I played through the original Metroid, I always felt like the space pirates had built their base in the ruins of some unknown ancient civilization.  As Samus explored it, I thought it was cool that it was as mysterious to her as it was to the player.  Who were these weird bird people?  What killed them off?  Why does their ancient technology work so well with her suit?  I hoped these questions would be answered in future games, but not as backstory.

The developers admit some of their inspiration came from Alien, so I'll use that as an example.  Remember when the landing party in Alien entered the bizarre ship, and came across the long-dead "Space Jockey" sitting at the control panel?  Remember the sense of awe?  This creature was obviously technologically advanced, and yet it also looks so old.  And despite its power, something killed it from the inside.  Now what if Kane had suddenly said, "Oh, these guys.  Yeah, I grew up living next door to some of these dudes.  And that means this must be an egg transport ship.  Make sure we avoid the cargo hold, there's facehuggers there."  Doesn't that kill the mood a bit?

So, no, the Chozo story is not for me.  I can accept Samus being transgender, but raised by bird guys is too much.