A Long Time Ago

I don’t binge tv shows. As much as this day and age means that the moment a show comes on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu I see people on Facebook talking about having watched a whole season by the end of that day. With all these shows appearing, you do just about have to binge them in order to keep up. Because while Stranger Things is released one week, the next might be the Next Star Trek and then the next is another Marvel TV show.

This weekend I got to experience the mad rush that is binge-watching a show. Veronica Mars, my wife’s favorite show of all time, came back to have a fourth season on Hulu. And while she’d taken great pains to clear her weekend schedule for this coming week (when it was supposed to come out), they released it a week early. Which was both a nice surprise and a sudden annoyance as our entire weekend was already packed to the gills.

So what do you do when you have a baseball game, a soccer game, a poker tournament, and a friend’s birthday to go to on the same weekend? You literally fill every spare second with an episode at 1 in the morning on Friday night after the Braves game. You wake up an hour early on Saturday and watch it through bloodshot eyes before the poker tournament. You sneak in 1/2 an episode after the birthday party. Another one Sunday morning before the soccer game.

And so on. It wasn’t so much as binge-watching as it was like racing through a show. There wasn’t any time to savor what we’d seen. And I think that maybe that was mostly due to not really being able to block out a two or three-hour block and do it then. It becomes a whirlwind of making sure you catch everything you can in the viewing. And hope the speed doesn’t cause you to miss something.

***

 

The show though?

It was really good. I was a little surprised at how well things flowed from one scene to the next. Character rhythms and interactions with old characters and brand new ones felt like they made sense. It was an adult version of this character. If the movie, dealing with the ten-year high school reunion could really be seen as the pivot point for the character. She chose to stay in Neptune (her home town) and try to make a go of it there. And now the show picks up some five or six years later. Our main characters are not in high school, they have bills to pay, they have adult issues to deal with, and yet it all feels like the characters we hung out with all those years ago.

While I know that they got to do a movie a few years ago, doing a brand new season made it where you could have the longer-form storytelling that we were used to from the first three seasons. And while this was only 8 episode, that meant that there were no wasted scenes. Plotlines wove between each other, overlapping at times, connecting some characters to others in unexpected ways.

And like any good noir, there were multiple points where I had it all figured out, and then I didn’t have a clue, and then I had it figured out again. And then I was wrong. And then…

You get the picture.

I want to avoid any real specifics on this one right now since I hate when people who’ve watched the show in record time then want to tell you “every cool part”, but then make sure to say “I’m not going to spoil it, but…”. Instead, I’ll say that I hope that it does really well because I need to see what the 5th season might look like.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

All the Time (Sinks) in the World

This past week on my Facebook feed, a fellow writer was musing about when it might be time to hang it all up. She’s been rolling this boulder up the hills for decades and doesn’t feel like she’s moved up to the appropriate level (I’m paraphrasing here). Luckily, plenty of people, friends, fans, fellow writers made sure to let her know what she probably already knows:

You don’t quit being a writer. Not really.

But burn out is a real thing. Sure it sometimes goes hand in hand with writer’s block, the inability to deal with other people’s BS, or just a need to get the heck away from the day in and day out writing process.

It’s a good thing to take a step back. To take a break for a little bit and let your mind maybe catch up. What’s the old saying “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life”. Which is true until it isn’t true.

Luckily, I don’t have this problem right now. The current novel I’m working on is fueling the fire quite nicely… although I must admit that it is a daunting task I’ve set in front of me, I know that it is what I’m supposed to be doing.

And there’s the problem… what are you supposed to be doing? Are you beating yourself up when a night goes by that you didn’t get your words in (or morning or afternoon)? Does that guilt compound in your mind that suddenly you are behind on where you should be. Those 5 pages have to come from somewhere, so now I have to do another 10 tonight to make up for the ones I missed out on yesterday. Oh no, I have to get my 25 pages in this week or it just keeps rolling over. Should I go out with my friends? Well, that means that maybe I can’t get the words in…

You see the quandary. Half the time you are writing and the other half you are trying to guilt yourself into writing some more.

And where does all this lead? To burnout… 100%.

There has to be a balance between being productive and enjoying life a little bit, right? I have discovered the secret for not burning out. It’s this device that sits as the focus of the living room for many people: the TV. It has so many options that I’ve subdivided my viewing so that everyone can see where I put my time (waste my time)!

Genre Shows

These are the superhero shows for me, but your mileage might be Star Trek or Sliders or Walking Dead or whatever. Not to mention then needing to follow up on the internet rabbit holes for the various spoilers or guest stars or what’s happening on the Flash next season.

At the very least you can claim to other people that you are doing “Research. Honest!”

True Time Suckers (according to my wife)

Wrestling shows are the big one here. I could probably rot my brain 100 times over with some mind-numbing cartoons, but wrestling shows are where she shakes her head and mumbles under her breath. Yet, these shows are those great guilty pleasures for me when I watch (and currently I’m probably reading recaps much more than watching the shows).

Sports

For those who don’t bother with any of the sports ball stuff… well, you probably have a ton of free time. Even though I am a big nerd and love comics and science fiction and fantasy stuff, I somehow also fell in love with sports. Did you know that baseball seasons are 162 games a year? Or that there are 16 games in an NFL season? Or there are around 30ish games in a college basketball season?

And don’t get me started on Poker on ESPN. Or my true kryptonite: Aussie Rules Football. You sit down, turn that on, not understand anything that is happening, and two hours later haven’t moved from your spot. Brilliant!

Repeats

These are like comfort food. You know the ones: Friends, Senfield, Rick and Morty, New Girl, etc. These are the ones you can watch a hundred times (and have) and effectively turn off the non-enjoyment centers of your mind.

However, if you are my wife, you take this to a different extreme. She watches a handful of shows over and over and OVER. She just started watching Jane the Virgin. It is in its 5th (question mark?) season and once she was through the 90 or so episodes… she started rewatching it. BACK TO BACK!

She’s got problems! 🙂

Things I got lucky with

I don’t watch the Food Network. Or the Golf Channel. Or any of the house flipping/renovation/buymyhouse shows. Or any of the news networks. Those are lines I don’t want or need to cross. And I don’t particularly enjoy seeing Pimples Popped.

Call me crazy.

***

So you see, there is a metric ton of stuff you could do with your time when you are not writing. You can avoid any burnout or really getting anything productive done if you just give it a chance!

***

I’m not trying to make light of the writer’s struggle, more that I’m saying it might be alright to not eat, sleep, and live writing only. That it is ok to take a break. Even if that is a just a simple vacation from your own head.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Stories From Our Future, Youtube Series Review

Now called Stories From Our Future

Stories from our Future is the official name for something that was originally going to be Little Black Mirror. Released on June 10, 2019, to help celebrate the release of Season 5 of Black Mirror, it took three short films (each less than 10 minutes each) that were all told in the vein of the television show.

One thing about these shorts: there is no spoken dialogue. The music, the beat, or soundtrack helps propel the stories along. In addition, there is a bit of text here and there to help push the narrative along. The other thing I just now realized is how the themes of these shorts mirror (Black Mirror?) the episodes of the season.

EP 1 – Getting to Know You

A virtual landscape to escape the drudgery of your daily life. Who hasn’t seen the video games that end up sucking their players into a life that effectively ends up being wake up, work, and then get online to interact with people you may or may not really know. Unless you meet them in real life, what do you really know about their people? How much might you have in common with them? Are they someone you could see yourself with in a relationship?

And what happens in your real relationships? When does your digital world become more real than your physical one?

And does it even matter?

EP 2 – The Healthy Alternative

Addiction comes in all forms and flavors. It could be a type of food, sodas, alcohol, drugs, sex, and just about anything else you could possibly think of.

And while it is very easy to recognize many of the bigger ones, that doesn’t mean the companies who make and sell this stuff aren’t trying on a constant basis to tweak your mind ever so slightly. They are trying to get their names burrowed within your brain so that you don’t see it as something bad or good. It becomes almost background noise to you.

The sneaky thing is if they can convince you that what they are selling is not only good for you but literally can improve your life in ways that you might not even realize.

And in this future, they can always upgrade the system to make sure they are dealing with your every ailment.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

EP 3 – Cure for Loneliness

The rut of our lives. The constant sameness. Day in an day out. You wake up, go to work, maybe you have a hobby or distraction, and then bed before doing it all again. It makes it where you have to wonder if you actually do see time in a linear fashion, or maybe after a few years of this routine, those days do not fall in a real order.

Throughout all of that, if you are doing it by yourself, then comes the loneliness. Being with someone else. Having them share in some of those experiences, no matter how mundane they may be. That is how humans were supposed to see this world. Not through their own eyes, but through someone else’s eyes. That is how we grow and love and make our days just a little better.

This was my favourite of the three.

***

To see these episodes, check them out on Youtube here. I’m not sure if this is a one-of experiment or if it something we can expect to see more of in the future. I hope so.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Black Mirror, Season 5 Review

 

My previous reviews can be found here: Seasons 1&2 and 3 and 4.

As I wrote last time, “For those not in the know, Black Mirror is an anthology show. Each episode stands alone to tell a story about how our technology or something perhaps not too far from our grasp affects people.”

Last time my big complaint to start things is how long it takes for these crazy shows to come out. However, since this was only 3 episodes, I feel like I’m left needing a couple of more just to last until the next season (yes, I know Bandersnatch came out earlier this year – what can I say, I’m greedy!).

EP 1 – Striking Vipers

It is said that Science Fiction stories allow us to confront ideas and themes in a “safe” way. Presented in a container of something that isn’t real, we can allow those statements and questions to be made without instantly rejecting them because they may not line 100% up with our own personal feelings or beliefs. So many of the Black Mirror episodes do this very thing, asking a question about the tech we use, but maybe more important is how that tech affects us in our day to day lives.

And while this episode allows the show to ask some fundamental questions about friendship and love and sexuality, it also doesn’t try and present only one answer. Is it ok to be in love with two different people? Is it ok to be in love with the mind of someone? Is it cheating if it is all virtual? Is it enough to know what you are doing is wrong and still continue to do it?

Or could the episode be about addictions more than sexuality? The idea of every day getting closer to losing ourselves within a virtual shell. That what is on the other side of the monitor or within some game, no matter how life-like, isn’t life.

Or maybe it is just about lying to yourself…

EP 2 – Smithereens

This is probably the most “normal” of the trio this season. The fundamental technology aspect has to do more with a Facebook-style site called Smithereens and how addicted we are to it. That idea alone is probably 5 or 10 years out of date. We all know this and don’t seem to care.

No, what is important about this episode is the lead character who is doing everything he can to “say his piece” about how far this addiction has gone with people and the world. But it is the performance of Chris that really shook me. Something about the pain he was in was conveyed by him in such a way that I was not only fully invested in his story (even if I had pretty much figured out the “twist” on why he was kidnapping this guy). That pain was something we’ve all had to go through… loss of a loved one will make you reexamine everything you are doing.

And it might lead you to do things you might have never suspected.

EP 3 – Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too

The juxtaposition of the pop-singer Ashley O and the teenaged girl Rachel is at the core of the episode. Really it caused me to echo back to my own teenage years, and while I was never a 16-year-old girl, I had moments where I didn’t know how I fit in. That any of us might jump to an artificial toy who can respond and interact to us… had that been available when I was in school I suspect it would have been as big a hit with my peers as it was in this story.

The flip side is a story we’ve seen or heard before about the pop singer (movie actress, famous person) who is just as dissatisfied with their own lives as we are. The proof that even being rich and famous may mean that we have less control of our own lives than those who are struggling to get through another day.

At what point do we take control of our lives and make it what we want it to be? Can we manage to do that when other people are depending on us to be the bread-winner? How do you manage to follow your dreams when reality won’t let you?

***

A short season only means I was able to knock the whole season out in a few hours… so I can finally be ahead of everyone else for just a few seconds!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Last Game

(Obviously spoilers for anything and everything Game of Thrones.)

We sat down last night to watch the series finale. It was Monday night, so everyone else in the world who cared about such things were already neck deep in talking about the show, lamenting the decisions of the writers, loving other decisions, and struggling to determine whether or not they liked even other bits and pieces. As I wrote last week, it isn’t an easy thing to write the ending to a short story or a 22-page comic, I can’t imagine how you’d go about writing the end to a series that’s lasted 8 years.

I watched it.

I absorbed it.

I may need therapy. 🙂

I wrote an email to some friends this morning that summed up my immediate thoughts all of about 12 hours later:

I’m still not sure how I feel about everything. I couldn’t go to sleep last night because my mind was playing things from the episode over and over. I know that there was no way that Danny could stay on the throne after what had happened in Episode 5. Regardless, my mind kept trying to find an “out” for her other than what happened. I had one hope that perhaps… just perhaps, once she gave the Big Victory Speech, that maybe she’d continue on her quest to liberate the world and need a Regent to defend her claim in Westeros. Which would leave Jon Snow serving his Queen and helping the lands of his forefathers. You’d get a “good” ruler and you still would have Danny out there killer the evils of this world.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I know, I was stretching things as far as I could.

So I watch and I become a little sad that Danny doesn’t win in the end. And I watch and I think that Tyrion’s solution of Bran the Broken was both out of left field and inspired. I watch and I think that Arya going to explore past the end of the map is perfect. I watch and I think that Sansa has become a character worthy of Queen of the North.

And I watch Jon Snow, broken, beaten… betraying the one he loved, the one he served, and instead of death (not entirely sure how Grey Worm didn’t just end it for him) he gets to go back to the Wall. Back to where he started all those years ago. Back to a place where he will no longer bother anyone in the Seven… er… Six Kingdoms again. He’ll have to replay all the moments of his life to see if perhaps he could have found a better way.

Did this path get set upon because he told his sisters? Had he kept that much a secret could there have been someone to walk Daenerys back from the brink? Could he have found another way once that information was out? Seen what the others were beginning to see?

I don’t know if there is an answer out there for him. Maybe he’ll find peace north of the wall.

***

With the show over, my hope is that George RR Martin will finish his story finally. Not because I want a different ending. And not because I think the show didn’t do a good job. But because I wonder about the other characters he’s been setting up for decades. Characters that never appeared on the show, but still have their impacts in the words. I wonder if he’ll look at this ending within the show and tweak anything now that he’s seen the reaction to it? Do you use millions of “Beta Readers” opinions to shape the tale or do you continue on whatever the path is regardless of ruffling a few more feathers? Or maybe change things a little “just to make it mine”.

If it were me, I might be tempted to do just that.

***

The last thing is now what do you replace this with? What tv show could put these types of ideas on the screen as successfully? It’s been with us for 9 years…

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Before the End of the Story

<This has spoilers for Game of Thrones… sorry.>

How do you stick a landing on a long-running tv show?

We’re a few days before the end of Game of Thrones. A show that opened to a little fanfare, but has built upon itself into a show that people can’t seem to help themselves from spoiling in the minutes after the latest episode airs. I normally don’t watch the episodes until Monday, which prior to probably Season 7, wasn’t much of a problem. Now it feels like people want to try to be clever in not saying anything but actually saying a ton of stuff about the show. And heaven help you if you go onto Yahoo or something and scroll through the articles on the front page. They will put the big moments in the damn title of the article.

But I don’t want to rant about spoilers right now (that’s a post all on its own).

As we approach this ending, it’s gotten me thinking about other shows I’ve loved and how they ended. And then it got me thinking about the actually act of writing an ending to some epic story. You see, I’m currently writing a draft of what will be a 5 book series at this point. So endings are important even all the way at the beginning. Do you set up the last scenes as soon as you put the first words on the screen? Do you have a vague idea of what the plot points should or shouldn’t be in that last book when you still need to discover what happens in books 2-4? Just how much do you need to know and how much should you wing it?

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

And here’s the other problem: your readers/viewers have a decent idea of where they’d like to see the story end up. Sticking with Game of Thrones, after I’d seen the first season I fully thought that this was going to be a show where I expected the last shot would be of Danny sitting on the Iron Throne. That regardless of where the other dozens of characters ended up, that needed to be the constant. She would have earned it through the way Kings and Queens in this world earn it – she took it, but she did it through alliances. She’s managed her allies – the Unsullied, the Dothraki, the Queen’s Hand, the Dragons, etc. She was one of the BIG heroes for this show. And in a world where there weren’t a ton of heroes, that seemed important.

But this is a world of greys. Not black and whites. And now that Season 8, episode 6 approaches, I no longer know if that is how it is going to end… or even if it should end that way.

So is that a bad thing? Is it a bad thing to potentially NOT deliver on what some people have expected. And note, I’m not talking about quality here… that is another debate. This is strictly about moments which have built up in my head as things that need to happen. It doesn’t mean they have to happen, but I believe they will make my enjoyment all the better.

Yet, in this last season, they have subverted a couple of things already. I’d not expected Arya to be the one to kill the Night King. So much was made of the Lord of Light and his champion that it felt like Jon Snow HAD to be the one to end him. When the time came, I realized it needed to be Arya. That’s how this was all framed and set up. So when the moment came it was a good moment… a good outcome that still wasn’t exactly what I’d expected and that was fine.

So reading the 5 books, watching 7 seasons of the show has led me to some thoughts about where the characters are going to end up. So in this last season, the question for me becomes – what did I think/want to happen, what actually happened, does it still work for me. I like pretty much everything they’ve done, it just makes certain choices, when they don’t match up…

Again, how do you make sure you serve your own vision of the series while not alienating your potential fans?

And there is one other problem: if you are too predictable. What then? People are going to complain because “they saw it coming from the second episode” (or some such thing).

Where is the line? That happy place between predictable and unpredictable. Does it ever really exist? And for those of us who watch the shows or read the series what do we want to see when we get to the end? That the creators did their best? That they played it completely safe? Or that they went balls to the wall and surprise us with something (or many somethings)?

Is there a right answer?

I loved Breaking Bad’s ending. Buffy’s ending. Angel’s ending (might be my favourite). I loved Lost’s ending moment. You’re the Worst stuck the landing.

With this last episode, we’re going to get an ending. For better or worse.

Image by TanteTati from Pixabay

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

YOU – A Review

True love. Pure love. The kind they write the stories about. Those are the tales we hear about. Those are the tales the classics would have you believe might be the only way to capture LOVE for yourself. You merely have to wait for the right guy/girl to show up, and the rest is magic.

But there are other emotions that are like neighbours to Love. Obsession. Jealousy. Insanity.

And that brings me to YOU. Currently on Netflix.

This is how I have sold the show to people: You should watch “YOU”. It’s the story of a stalker from his point of view. And weirdly, you are kinda cheering for him at certain points. Like, I know he’s a bad guy, but she’s got issues as well and maybe, just maybe this is a case of two wrongs make a right? Maybe they should be together?

Yes. I know. That’s completely messed up.

But it is also a testament to the writing on the show. Based on the novel by Caroline Kepnes, which, I haven’t read it, it does an excellent job within the show in making you feel for Joe (our stalker antagonist). They make him human and not just this looming evil that is going to do some very bad thing to someone down the line. In some ways, it is much like watching something like Breaking Bad – you knew Walter was doing some terrible things, but you were still holding out hope for him (or at least I was). Or maybe it was at a certain point that we all knew he was too far gone and then watched to see exactly how far down the rabbit hole he’d end up.

Joe is kind of like that. There are certain points where you know he can’t come back from a particular action, but a part of you (me) was still kind of holding out hope that he’d figure it out. Maybe realize that this wasn’t the way to go about life?

Heck, one of the biggest things about the show is that Beck (the object of his obsession) has probably just as many issues as Joe does. They just come out in less destructive ways. She isn’t treated as this infallible creature who he must possess because she is a “unicorn”, but it is that mutual aspect of them both being messed up that can make you wonder if they aren’t really soulmates.

Just extremely messed up soulmates.

The show is a mystery. At various times I wasn’t entirely sure where we were going to end up. With TV you don’t know if they are going to save a big moment for the last episode. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a second season and maybe they were going to hold onto a couple of things for next year. They managed to keep the viewers just off enough that when something happened that you weren’t expecting, it wasn’t because it was completely out of the blue. Instead, it was more like you do the double-take and then realize that it made total sense for the path the characters were tumbling down.

YOU –  a study in obsession… and love (maybe).

***

By the way, did you know that I was participating in a Kickstarter for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons focused on Love, Knights, and Enchanters? It is called Love’s Labour’s Liberated. The Kickstarter runs through the end of the month. If you are a fan of roleplaying games, give it a look!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Best Villain in the World Bracketology – Part 1

The best (we mean worst) villains in fiction, fantasy, gaming, television, and real-life.

Thirty-two villains will enter the challenge.

Only one will come out on top.


How it works:

Every week (for the next several weeks) Tessera Guild will publish brackets chock full of bad guys.

You choose the winners of each battle, and you put your votes in either in the comments section below or this Twitter account, or this Facebook account.

The next week, we publish the previous week’s winners and create another bracket.

Until only one villain remains.


This week?

We start with eight matchups.

For each matchup, choose your winner. You decide the criteria. Does Villain A defeat Villain B because he’d more powerful…or does Villain B win because she’s got a wayyyyyyyy better costume?

Go.

Sauron vs Bowser

The Kraken vs Darth Vader

The Grim Reaper vs The Joker

Predator vs Lord Business

Satan vs Kim Jong Un

Dracula vs Darkness

Ganon vs Terminator

Skeletor vs Mr. Burns

*

Tune in next Monday for more diabolical matchups!

Legends of Tomorrow

I’ve written about there being maybe, possibly too many superhero shows. As in, I can’t keep up with every single one of them. It feels like I might call watching all those shows a second job unto themselves at this point. All that to say that sometimes choices have to be made.

Cuts had to be made.

Cuts had to be made.

And Legends of Tomorrow was one of those unfortunate casualties from the original trimming. Which sucked. If any show was going to be directly in my wheelhouse it should have been that one. Time travel to different eras, an immortal villain, alternate futures, and a couple of my favorite heroes/villains from the various CW shows: Captain Cold, White Canary, and Firestorm. But by the end of the first season, my wife and I just weren’t feeling IT anymore. And when the next season started we focused on the other 3 shows and left Legends to build and build and build up on the DVR.

Two seasons passed.

Somewhere in the back of my mind there was this feeling that I left too soon. I mean, I’d thought it would have only lasted one more season and then they’d been done with it for good. Yet, here we were. A 4th Season about to begin.

Had I missed something? Had I judged it too harshly? Should I give it another chance?

I fired up Netflix and watched the first episode of Season 2 one night after Courtney had gone to sleep. And things felt a little different. And then at the end of the episode, these guys showed up:

These guys and gals!

The Justice Society.

Damnit! I guess I need to watch another episode to see how this turns out.

Then the Reverse Flash showed up. And Damen Darque. And Malcom Merlyn. And the show seemed to be having a little more fun. And the alternate history stuff was put back to the forefront with our heroes being in charge of “fixing” history.

Over the last month I’ve watched all of Season 2 (liked it alot), all of Season 3 (was even better), and have started Season 4 (which was building up on the DVR again). Multiple times I’ve been watching thinking that “This is my favorite episode.” Then a couple of episodes later: “No, this is my favorite episode.”

Look… they are playing… well, fast and loose isn’t strong enough, but let’s say fast and loose with the rules of time travel. And honestly, I don’t care. You tell a decent story, and I can accept that not everything is going to line up perfectly.

Still, I wanted to spotlight a couple of episodes for anyone who maybe has a Sliders style itch (and much like many episodes of Sliders, you should probably just roll with it):

Raiders of the Lost Art – Season 2 Episode 9

Changes to the timeline mean that George Lucas never became a film maker. Which means that Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark never existed… which means that Ray Palmer (The ATOM) and Nate Heywood (Steel) never get into science and history respectively… which means no powers.

It’s goofy as hell, but for some reason it works.

Moonshot – Season 2 Episode 14

Apollo 13 experiences some problems, Houston! And they are brought on by the Reverse Flash.

Any episode that features a hero needing to team up with a villain or they both won’t survive is fine by me. But the surprising part of the story revolves around Nate and his father and his grandfather. Even when I saw where the storyline was going, it still managed to get me a little bit.

Phone Home – Season 3 Episode 4

If you like E.T. or the Goonies or Flight of the Navigator or Stranger Things and don’t mind that this is a very blatant rip-off of many of those things, then you will love this episode. This is a Ray Palmer focused episode, and while that might have been a bad thing in Season 1, this allows the viewer to see why he is who he is and still let him retain some of his positivity.

Here I Go Again – Season 3 Episode 11

It’s Groundhog Day for one of the members of the team (Zari)!

Nuff said.

I will say that the fact that the way she convinces one of her team mates she’s stuck in a time loop is by referencing Groundhog Day makes this a win all around. Just good stuff that actually manages to give a ton of insight into all the characters.

***

So if you abandoned ship like I did after season one, this is one of those shows that might deserve a second chance.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Look Up In The Sky

Tonight SyFy Channel is going to premiere the new series Krypton effectively set in a time long (LONG) before Superman was ever whisked off to Earth as a baby…

And it’s caused me to wonder: Are there too many superhero related shows?

Note, I don’t mean comics related shows. Comics is a medium, superhero is a genre. The Walking Dead tv show is based on a comic book, but it is clearly set in a post-apocalyptic universe. Just as Hollywood has been mining books for inspiration in creating a myriad of tv shows and movies, them looking to comics is mostly a byproduct of realizing that there were TONS of ideas to potentially use just sitting there, being ignored because they were in “Funny Books”.

No, what I’m talking about is whether or not we’ve reached a saturation point with these superhero shows? Yes, somewhere lost in Space/Time is a 12-year-old John plotting his future self’s demise for even thinking such thoughts (much less putting them out into the universe in this way).

I know there are plenty of people out there who reached their own fill of such things probably as soon as the first show hit the air. I’m not one of those people. I’m someone who maybe even feels a little obligated to at least give these shows a shot. I haven’t been reading comics for 30 years just to stop bothering with them in a new medium.

However…

Currently, there are:

Agents of Shield

Jessica Jones

Daredevil

Luke Cage

Iron Fist

Defenders

The Punisher

The Gifted

Legion

Runaways

Arrow

Legends of Tomorrow

Black Lightning

The Flash

Gotham

Supergirl

Lucifer

And now Krypton (and, just remembered, soon enough there will be Cloak and Dagger).

That’s 18 shows. 8 DC Universe and 10 Marvel Universe (to be fair there are some FOX ones mixed in on this side). Some are released in 10 or 13 episode chunks and others get 20 or so episodes. But either way, I look at the build-up of these shows on my DVR… of the unwatched Netflix titles… and wonder how in the world to keep up with this many. It becomes a job in and of itself. You get a little behind on one series and it suddenly impacts the whole line of shows. We’re just now beginning Daredevil Season 2, which means we have about 60+ episodes before we could even think about beginning Jessica Jones Season 2 (which came out about 2 weeks ago at this point). We’re probably about 40 episodes behind of the various DC shows with at least 4 new episodes every week.

Look, I want good shows to watch. And obviously I’m somewhat partial to this genre, but does there come a point where you’ve flooded things so that it all begins to blend together. I’m in that place where it has gone beyond an embarrassment of riches. When we had no shows and Arrow debuted, it was a big deal. And when Daredevil showed up on Netflix, we gobbled it up. But if I have this many to potentially watch, and they all tie together in some way – why do I need a Krypton show? If I’m already committing 5 hours a week to the CW line-up, and the 13 hours every 3 or 4 months to the Netflix shows… why bother with a new show?

Why not wait until one phases out? Eventually, Arrow will finish its story and then you can launch something to “replace” its slot. Right?

When you are getting a constant influx of something, how can you long for it? When Smallville was the only superhero show on tv, it was appointment television. We bought the seasons on DVD. It was the only influx of the genre we were getting at the time (in that deadlands time between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins).

We’ve gone from drought to an overabundance in less than 20 years. When is it no longer “special”?

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Y the Last Man

 

Rant mode on.

How is it we don’t have a Y the Last Man tv show yet?

Really… I want to know. If ever there was a comic made for tv, it was this one (my friends and I felt this way about another comic book for a long, long time – The Walking Dead – I’m just putting that out there). I wrote about this a couple of years ago (and still no show!) here.

To catch people up, Y the Last Man was a comic book series which ran from 2002 to 2008 (60 issues), written by Brian K. Vaughn (who I have a writing man-crush on as everything he writes I love), Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka, Paul Chadwick, and Jose Marzan Jr, about a plague which wipes out every male mammal on Earth other than Yorick and his pet monkey. As this is obviously the end of the world, he sets out to reunite with his fiance… who is half a world away. With his bodyguard and a scientist who is trying to figure out why Yorick survived in the first place, they encounter women rebuilding pieces of society, some helpful, some trying to kill him, and others unsure of what to make of the situation.

So this story has a core cast of 3 main characters, a handful of recurring characters, and literally has them set up where they could move from one town to another getting into various adventures on the way to trying to figure out why this happened in the first place and hopefully finding his true love. Much like the old tv show The Incredible Hulk, it becomes an easy conceit to move on from town to town and mission to mission over the course of maybe a 3-5 season series. Not saying that it needs to be padded at all, but things could be potentially expanded upon. One of the things I believe The Walking Dead TV Show did right was having Shane hang around longer than the 6 issues he survived within the comic. There is an opportunity to be able to clean up some things that maybe don’t completely work when translated from one medium to another.

I know that there have been talks over the years since the series ended. There was the talk of a movie and there have been talks of tv shows, but somehow, someway the people in charge just haven’t “gotten” it. Every few months I’ll do a Google Search and see that progress has stopped or maybe that someone else now has the reigns and is trying to push it forward, but they too get stalled out.

They haven’t realized that this is just a no-brainer.

I mean, it’s like a modern day storybook… but with more sadness and death.

But really, it wouldn’t take very much. The blueprint is there within those pages. All the twists and turns. Fighting, torture, revenge… chases, escapes, true love, miracles… all contained within those comic books… waiting, needing to be told to a larger audience. A story that is sad and beautiful and will make you cry and will make you scream in excitement.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Black Mirror, Season 4 Review

My previous reviews can be found here: Seasons 1&2 and 3.

As I wrote last time, “For those not in the know, Black Mirror is an anthology show. Each episode stands alone to tell a story about how our technology or something perhaps not too far from our grasp affects people.”

If I have any problem with Black Mirror is that Charlie Brooker doesn’t come out with the fast enough. Even the ones that are not my favorite episodes are far better than many of the other things available on my tv. But I suppose I can live with only getting 6 episodes if the seasons have a couple of true gems each time.

EP 1 – USS Callister

When you are “into” something, the last thing you want to happen is for someone to take a pot-shot at your favorite thing. Star Trek fans (I’m talking the hardcore ones) are probably well past tired of being mocked over the years. So this episode could very well be the last straw for them.

And I think that would be a shame. This is my second favorite episode of the season.

It really seems odd that an episode about a virtual version of a crew could show the most realistic version of how people act when no one is watching. If you’ve ever played ANY game online, odds are you’ve dealt with some of the worst people. They are gods of their own little desktop/laptop/etc world and you must show them the respect they’ve clearly earned. For you to question how they see the world would be blasphemous. Who are you to question them or how they spend their downtime?

Peel back the Star Trek skin and what you are really dealing with is someone on an ego trip through the stars.

Plus, how appropriate that virtual characters were better developed than their real-life counterparts…

EP 2 – Arkangel

I can only imagine the horror of trying to keep your child safe from all the potential dangers in the world. The idea that they must figure out some way to navigate the dangerous waters all by themselves armed only with the few golden rules and some other words of wisdom.

Terrifying.

And if there was a way to help them with that. You know, on those days you can’t be there beside them to hold their hand as they cross the street or when the mean dog begins barking at them or when the bully at school starts to torment them. What if you could protect them for a little longer?

Would that be so wrong?

And how long is too long?

Is there such a thing?

EP 3 – Crocodile

Crocodile is one of those stories which might have been a movie idea at one time. It feels like a series of stories unconnected to each other. You bounce between each as the threads begin to draw them together more and more. And when those threads cross and tangle, and when the woman has gone too far down one path to stop.

That’s when the real horror presents itself.

EP 4 – Hang the DJ

My favorite episode of the season. Somehow I think I knew as I watched this one second. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know the episode was about couples being matched up with random people until they stumble across their real soul mate via a computer algorithm. Taking away the awkward bit of trying to figure it out for yourself and really let the computer system determine it for you. I can’t quite tell if this is a metaphor for online dating, arranged marriages, or just a fun story about how true love conquers all.

And I don’t know that I need the question answered.

EP 5 – Metalhead

Sadly every season has favorites and those episodes I didn’t enjoy as much. Maybe it is because this is the most straightforward episode of nearly all of them. In a post-apocalyptic future, a woman is being chased by robotic hounds bent on wiping all humanity.

A woman trying to survive against some unstoppable creature has been all the rage for a while. Going back to the 70s slasher films through the zombie movie craze. This is about survival. And then it is about the will to live.

But it is mostly about robotic dogs trying to kill a woman.

EP 6 – Black Museum

This season’s version of the White Christmas episode from season 2.5. We have a number of little stories enveloped by another story. The fun in these types is that you can enjoy the smaller stories without the larger story, but when the final curtain is revealed and you get to see not only how everything fits into one another. How, with each story, the story-teller is merely setting you up for the big reveal… only to have the viewers in on a different FINAL reveal.

My only real question would be whether or not any of these mini-stories would have originally been planned for a full-length episode on their own, but then something happened to convince Brooker otherwise or if they are exactly as he originally set out to present them.

***

Another 6 episodes down and now the waiting begins anew for a hopeful season 5!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Dragon Con 2017 Recap

Dragon Con always feels a bit like coming home. Even when the numbers of attendees keep going up and up, even when more hotels are added, and even when we take over more and more of downtown, there is just something about Dragon Con that makes it feel different. Long before Georgia became Hollywood South, this was the place for those actors on the shows and movies we all loved would come by for a visit. They would gather us all around and tell their stories to all who would listen.

And for a little while, the gulf between our lives and their lives disappeared.

I hadn’t thought about it much before Friday night, but I’ve been coming to Dragon Con since 1993 when Chad Shonk’s father dropped us off at the entrance to the hotel and we made our way to see Todd McFarlane.

I still have my signed Amazing Spider-Man 300.

It was my first convention. Heck, it was pretty much my first idea that such things even existed. You mean creators of the Funny Books I love to read are coming to my town? I’m sold.

About 10 years ago I convinced my wife to come to Dragon Con for a day. Serenity either had just come out or was coming out, so virtually the entire cast was going to be there. She went, had a great time, and while it took a couple of years before she would be a regular, it has become our little vacation in the city for Labor Day Weekend.

2017

My big take aways for this year were:

  • Standing in lines is not a lot of fun.
  • Standing in lines and not getting into the panel you wanted is really no fun.
  • Being in the overflow room for a panel and then having the feed cut out is just right out.
  • Avoid the dealer’s room on Saturday if at all possible.
  • There are a lot of people in Downtown Atlanta on Labor Day weekend!
  • It never gets old to see the people coming in for the Chic-fil-a Kickoff Classic (college football game for those who don’t know) have confused looks on their faces at the various costumes running around.
  • The costumes continue to impress me year after year. I stand in awe to those people’s dedication to their craft.
  • I love listening to the actors when they are passionate about their work.
  • Catching up with friends might be the single best part.

This year took a different turn when the day before we were to go downtown, Courtney found a hotel room available within 2 blocks of the Hyatt. And we could get it for only Friday and Saturday night. Since we normally don’t go down until Friday and almost never go on Monday, this worked out perfectly.

Throughout the course of the weekend, we’re always amazed at the level of costumes and the creativity everyone has. Whether it is the Zoltar machine from the movie BIG to a robot controlled Stewie from Family Guy, people continue to push the boundaries for the next cool thing. Which is awesome to see, even if I don’t envy the amount of time it might take them to create.

Friday

Somehow on Friday morning, even after getting there at 9:30 for a 10:00 panel, we were forced to the overflow for Nathan Fillion. No biggie. He’s honestly entertaining enough that after a few minutes I mostly forgot he wasn’t in the room… until the Feed cut out for about 10 minutes, and then when they got the audio back, it was probably another 5 before we got the visual. Not anything crushing, but not the way we want to start things off. After seeing him, I realized we’re not doing our due diligence having not seen Con Men (though it was on this weekend, so I have them recorded).

After an aborted attempt to see Wallace Shawn (Inconceivable!) and a decision not to try to fight my way into the Stan Lee panel (they started lining up 2+ hours early), we decided to venture over to the dealer’s room in an attempt to see the wares before the craziness of the weekend really kicked into gear. Last year there was a line to get in by about 2:30, so we made sure we showed up closer to when it opened at 1.

Here’s the thing about the Dealer’s room that I’ll never understand: why is it people stand in the middle of the aisles and talk to each other? I don’t mean the “hey, let’s go this way” but full conversations. Given how packed the room gets, I’d think you’d want to do such things in an area where you wouldn’t be obstructing traffic.

While Friday’s trip was more about identifying potential buys on Sunday, Egg had put me on the look out for Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid Chronicles which my wife pointed out after about 2 minutes in the room. I ended up speaking with Kevin for a few minutes and grabbed a couple of copies of the comic.

The final panel attempt on Friday was one for the Gilmore Girls featuring Sean Gunn. Apparently, a room which holds 350 people is not enough by about 50 people and superfan that my wife is – was shut out.

I feel like this is the second time we’ve missed out on a Gilmore Girls/Sean Gunn panel… but maybe it’s just a false feeling of Deja vu?

We dropped in on TesseraGuild’s own Amanda Makepeace (and daughter) who was busy holding down her table in the art area. Prints were flying off her table and, spoiler alert, she ended up winning the “Best Space Scene” at the Dragon Con Art Show!

War for Jupiter

Saturday

Waking up on Saturday with an extra hour of sleep (due to not having to drive into downtown) was nice. I also realized that the 10 AM panels don’t necessarily fill up (unless you’re Nathan Fillion, I guess). There was no line, the Con could let you right into the room.

John Cusack was interesting as he’d never been to Dragon Con before, but he also wasn’t there to actively promote a project. So it really became a series of questions from the audience about all of his movies. I wasn’t sure if he just wasn’t as comfortable in such a setting or what. You could tell when he was really engaged with a question based solely on the length of his responses. Possibly because he’d answered the question a million time previously, some of his answers ended up being slightly longer Yes/No responses.

Though, I don’t want it to seem like it was a bad panel, far from it. Just that many times on these type question/answer sessions the worry is always “how many questions can we get them to answer?” and this was a bit more like “I’m going to get through all the questions.”

The highlight question was:

“Do you ever get stopped in real life by someone who wants 2 dollars?”

A laugh. “Every day… every day.”

The Flash panel reminded me that it is beyond cool that John Wesley Shipp is a part of the cast. To have that link to the old show and to see how much he respects these actors and the work they put in… it’s amazing. Danielle Panabaker was definitely the star of the panel as the majority of the questions went to her (many with the questions centered around her Killer Frost alter-ego).

The highlight of the evening was supposed to be The Barrowman Show. As soon as we saw such a thing existed we were set ongoing. Apparently, everyone else at Dragon Con had the same idea and it filled up completely. I can only imagine the craziness that went on behind closed doors.

Sunday

On Sunday, we began with another DC Universe panel: Arrow.

One thing about the highly entertaining Arrow panel or as it came to be called: Game of Arrow. Thea (Willa Holland) was/is clearly obsessed with the show. She had theories, she had thoughts about the end of the season. It was hilarious how she’d get going on a rant before the moderator tried to steer things back to Arrow. And then one of the others would push her to keep talking about it.

She says she wants to guest on a podcast to talk about it. I think you could do far worse than her. Plus she clearly knows her stuff. At the very least she’d bring a passion about the show!

Then it was onto a fan run panel about LEGION. If you haven’t seen the show, you can check out my review here. Lots of theories and thoughts were thrown out. I even supplied my own thoughts about the show – how maybe the reason we’re not sure of when exactly takes place is that just like any memories you have – we’re always wrong about when they take place. I mean, how many times have you thought a movie was only 5 years old when it came out over a decade ago?

In what has become a staple at Dragon Con over the last few years, I end up closing out things in the Venture Bros panel. Regardless of whether the show has a season ongoing or about to come out or nowhere near debuting… things are going to be funny and weird. This year the panel was made up of many of the voices from the show (including Dr. Venture and Wide Whale). Sadly, Doc Hammer and Jackson Public weren’t able to be there – apparently hard at work on the next season!

So I suppose I forgive them.

They showed off a book of artwork, sketches, character designs, etc. coming out in late Fall from Dark Horse which looked very cool (and something I need to add to the old wishlist). The trailer is here.

We capped off the evening with dinner with a couple of friends where we occupied that poor server’s table for far too long, but it had been far too long since we’d seen John and Jeane, so we didn’t have much of a choice!

I also attended a writing workshop session (as well as another writing related panel – at this point I couldn’t tell you what days they were actually held!) run by Michael Stackpole: 21 Days to a Novel. I still need to transcribe my notes, but I’m interested in giving the technique a proper try on my next project.

As we made our drive back, a little of the con depression began to creep in, but considering my month of Gen Con and then this convention that might have been exhaustion more than anything else.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list to learn about the upcoming The Gilded Age Kickstarter.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

LEGION – A Review

I love it when I’m surprised by something. I’m not talking about jumping out from behind an object and trying to get me to an early grave. I mean when some piece of entertainment shows up and completely flips all your thoughts and feelings about it in one episode.

Legion wasn’t going to be something I would bother with. Oh, it’s comics related, so I needed to at least check it out, but this was a character who I don’t believe I own one comic book with him in it. It was going to be this show that really didn’t tie into anything else that Fox was doing with the rest of its X-Men or Spider-man related properties. And it didn’t even have the bonus of being a Netflix show where maybe they might be able to get away with a little more (and possibly use that as their calling card for why you could check it out).

Legion defies all of that.

In fact, Legion sort of defies being identified at all… I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who don’t know, here’s the synopsis from Wikipedia:

David Haller was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age and has been a patient in various psychiatric hospitals since. After Haller has an encounter with a fellow psychiatric patient, he is confronted with the possibility that there may be more to him than mental illness.

Does that scream: Superhero to you? Because it doesn’t to me. And it is a good thing because it is barely a superhero show. Yes, there are characters with powers, but half the time I’m not entirely sure they are powers anyone would want. David is the worst of them all because he may be one of the most powerful mutants (yes, like the X-Men) in the world… and he’s pretty convinced he’s completely insane.

The show screws with the viewer almost as much as it screws with the characters. Half the time you can’t be sure anything you’re seeing is actually happening or if it is just something David thinks is happening.What year does this show take place in?

It is both linear and non-linear. It is psychedelic and perfectly normal. Everyone is crazy… or perhaps no one is.

What year does this show take place in? From the look of everyone, I might think some late 60s mod-style, but then there is a mention of email or something which derails that thought process. Maybe David is seeing the world as he saw it when he was a child, and so for him, it looks like something from 40 years ago? Or maybe I’m just trying to let my own brain make sense of the show and story.

The monster in David’s head.

Within the 8 episode season, it becomes apparent that there is someone else… something else who has its designs on David. The entire show is about putting together the fractured pieces of one character’s mind without having any idea what the final picture is actually supposed to be of. And then when you get to the end, you realize there are a handful of missing pieces… except, maybe there isn’t.

I wanted to write a proper review of this show. I wanted to dig into the nooks and crannies, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this show could be deconstructed in a regular way. The surprises announce themselves at various times so that you may figure out a piece here or a piece there, but what the bigger picture looks like becomes something else.

I want to praise the actors’ performances. Especially Aubrey Plaza… but to say too much about any of them would potentially give something away. This may be one of those shows where the less you know about what’s going on, the better off you might be (though, if you are an X-Men Historian, you should be fine also).

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novellas Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

No One Is Safe

If a show sets up an expectation that anyone can die and then showcases a handful of characters… is it really being true to its core premise? To put it another way, at what point does your desire to see further main characters killed off interfere with story and enjoyment? When does worry as a viewer disappear? When is it replaced with apathy at what may come?

“I just don’t feel like any of the main characters are in real danger.”

Both a solid argument and a bit of strangeness all rolled into one. For we all have watched the serialized shows for the past twenty some odd years. And with their coming it means we are watching lives twist and change through each zombie apocalypse, vampire slayer, gangster talking to a shrink, plane crash survivors, high school teacher turned criminal mastermind… all of it. Through it all, whether we knew it or not, we were watching a show not only likely to get some characters killed off, but they might very well be people we enjoyed watching. It put us at the edge of our seats week in and week out.

Does that change as the shows go on longer? Assuming the writing quality doesn’t suffer from the weight of its own success, is the idea “Anyone can die” enough of an idea to ensure the ratings don’t suffer.

And if it does, what can the writers do to bring that… fear back to the viewing experience?

I read comics, a format where if you read the adventures of Batman or Spider-man then the one truth is pretty much universal – the hero isn’t going to die at the end of the issue (and for this argument I’d like to say that yes, some of these characters have “died” and they have come back – but you have decades worth of stories where they just go on and on). My point is that I don’t need the fear of death for my characters to enjoy a comic book. I just need the story to be compelling in some fashion or another.

I would think that in order to have a serialized show there has to be a consistent POV. And while many serialized shows have contained multiple POVs, I still must care somewhat about the characters. So a lot of times the whole idea of “No one is safe” is very artificial. Buffy killed off a potential main cast member in its pilot episode. Angel did the same about half-way through its first season. Lost killed off some characters you loved and let others you hated stick around for longer than they should have.

Odds were high, though, that Jack and Buffy and Angel and Walter were going to keep going for the majority of the show. And I would assume anyone who loved those shows wouldn’t want those particular characters to die without some huge (HUGE) reason behind it from a story perspective.

The two shows currently airing which try to walk this line (as far as the idea “anyone can die”… well almost anyone… well maybe just the supporting characters… and Sean Bean…”): Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.

From what I’ve seen and read from both series (being a fan of the books and comics), I have to believe each contains a handful of “untouchables”… at least until the final season of each. There are certain characters I expect will continue to breathe life in their respective universes. GoT – Arya, Danny, and Tyrion seem the most likely. WD – Rick and Carl… with Carl actually being the absolute last survivor from our original group (my personal theory on how that story could/should possibly end).

The Walking Dead probably has the greater burden of the two, being in the post-apocalyptic world where, if we’re being honest about it, people are just fodder. A place where every day could and probably should be your last. Over the seasons they introduce new characters and kill off preexisting ones, but there has slowly become a “core” group who have managed to stick around from season 1 through the end of this last season. Is it a bad thing this has happened? Remember, we’re not watching an anthology where the characters only are on set for the episode or two. We need to build a connection with them (thus connecting us to the show itself).

Game of Thrones goes through episodes where no one dies, and then all of a sudden, everyone is gone. It also has the benefit of being much closer to a planned ending (only 13 episodes left total between this season and last). Things are coming to a head, which means those characters we’ve grown accustomed to watching may slowly drop away without us realizing it’s about to even happen.

So is unpredictability a good thing or the only thing?

I’m not sure if past a certain point it matters all that much. Most of the time, I’m willing to forgive a show some smaller things if they’ve delivered on their promises in the past.

So obviously I think everyone can die at any instance? No. Honestly, I assume most main characters are going to make it a little while longer. I don’t expect to Sansa die anytime soon… I don’t expect Michonne to kick the bucket this coming season. And that’s the thing… I don’t need to fear for their lives… not when I can still fear for their souls.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novellas Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Death of Ideas

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

 

There are no original ideas.

This year is the worst box office year for movies in forever.

The only things which make money are sequels.

Now that Marvel has led the way, everyone wants their own universe… whether it’s a good idea or not.

No one makes the comics/books/tv shows/movies/etc I want to consume.

***

This, or something like it, fills my Facebook feed and fills up blogs I frequent and dominates the headlines of various other places on the internet. Complaining about the state of entertainment currently available. Complaining that is it all more of the same and why doesn’t someone do something about it.

Complaining.

Maybe, just maybe, we’re not looking hard enough?

***

Remember when you were a kid? Assuming you were anything like me, you probably were a fan of Star Wars. And when I was 8 or 9, I remember first hearing what became an ever-persistent rumor of a Star Wars saga which would span a total of 9 episodes. Nine! On the playground, during sleepovers and birthday parties we tried to wrap our heads around the very idea of such a thing. What would that even look like? Would they come out every couple of years?

None of us say in the bedroom, stomped our feet, crossed our arms, and held out breath because “Why isn’t anyone doing something new?” It never occurred to us.

Did you imagine what those other 6 episodes might look like?

Later, in my teens, everything was still new enough that even if there was a sequel to something like Batman, it was something to look forward to… not lament its very existence.

***

The entertainment world has certainly changed the way they do things with any action or genre type movie (and some random comedies as well). They are looking for the sequel. The almighty trilogy.

The way we devour movies and tv shows have reached the point where there is enough “stuff” available that it only makes sense to try to serve some existing fan base out there. It’s just flat-out easier to get buy-in on something people already recognize.

And I don’t believe this has to be a bad thing. I don’t worry about whether there are too many Super Hero sequels or that Star Wars Episode VIII is on the horizon. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, how jazzed are you that there are more stories coming from that world.

Why does this have to be a bad thing?

***

And I know what you’re saying. The big production companies only want to make a dollar (or more like many millions of dollars) and so they aren’t investing in the smaller movies. And why would they when the next Avengers movie is going to print money?

I sometimes wonder if back in the 50s and 60s whether people were annoyed by the idea of another John Wayne Western was coming out.

Were you really put out by having all those great/cheesy/insert another adjective here for the horror movies in the 80s? I love some of them in many ways, and even I didn’t bother watching most. It didn’t mean I couldn’t watch something else if I wanted to.

***

I have a friend who talks about his current comic monthly pull list. And every few months he mentions cutting the number of Marvel comics he is reading. And then 3 months later, we’re having a very similar conversation about the exact same comics.

It’s like someone has convinced all of us that the box we live in is all we could possibly see or hear. The same people who are complaining aren’t going to see that independent movie which made $2 million dollars last year. The ones complaining certain comic companies aren’t making comics for “Them” anymore aren’t necessarily searching out more indy comics to fill in those gaps. Instead, they talk about only buying 10 comics a month, down from 30. Or sometimes even worse cuts than that.

***

Here’s the secret: other people feel the same way as you, but they are creating new things. Maybe it is a series of novels from an author you’ve never heard of. Maybe it’s that movie you keep scrolling past on Netflix because you don’t recognize anyone’s name in the description. Maybe there is a comic book which will speak to you again in a way you didn’t think was possible anymore. Maybe around the corner are new horror movies or new sci-fi things or new tv shows which don’t have anything to do with part 17 of the latest craze.

And if you’re really lucky, maybe this new thing you fall in love will spawn its own series of sequels and suddenly you can claim the other thing us nerds love to claim:

“Well, I liked it first!”

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novellas Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Just Remember Me When

Sometimes these things take time. And by the time I mean way too long to actually have passed before a story leaves your head and hits the page. And sometimes you can ensure a speedier process by just outlining and sitting butt in chair. But sometimes the finish line is so close that it completely eludes you. There is nothing to do but wait patiently while it all comes together.

That’s what happened yesterday. A couple of years worth of thinking about possibly, maybe we can, no we can’t, what’s it missing, what does it need? When will it be finished?

Yesterday Courtney and I released our second Veronica Mars Amazon Kindle Worlds Novella! You can find it right here!

Because much like Pringle’s, you can’t just write one story in the Veronica Mars universe and be completely satisfied. There are too many possible characters to write about. When our first novella came out, I wrote about it here. In that, the character of Max was not only the easiest choice, but it felt like no one else would immediately use her for their own stores. This time around if you are writing during season 1 or most of season 2, you can’t avoid the character of Duncan Kane. He’s Veronica’s on again/off again boyfriend. Yet, at times you really don’t know what’s going on in his head very much. To both of us that presented an opportunity to maybe see what makes this character work or not.

No biggie, just hanging out with the Ghost of my dead sister.

His parents are controlling. His sister was murdered (and for a while, it looked like he might have been the culprit). He is best friends with the guy is now dating his ex (and rooming with the guy).The reason this one took longer was that the core story came so easily. Duncan’s current girlfriend’s car has gone missing, and he can’t ask Veronica for help (because of the whole – she’s his ex).

There some complex stuff going on in there. Add to that the summer sessions between seasons make for decent fodder in the “I want to know what you did last summer” vibe.The reason this one took longer was that the core story came so easily. Duncan’s current girlfriend’s car has gone missing, and he can’t ask Veronica for help (because of the whole – she’s his ex).

That said, the reason this one took longer was that the core story came so easily. Which seems counter to how this whole thing should work.Duncan’s current girlfriend’s car has gone missing, and he can’t ask Veronica for help (because of the whole – she’s his ex).

“Duncan’s current girlfriend’s car has gone missing, and he can’t ask Veronica for help (because of the whole – she’s his ex).”

Pretty straight forward, right?

What happened was we wrote 90% of it and then couldn’t quite figure out what the missing 10% was. Some of it was massaging what we had, but some were to add in new scenes, try some different kinds of story-telling in the B story with his therapist sessions.

What we have now is something we’re both very happy with. I’m interested to see how it does in comparison with the first one.

An excerpt from the novella:

You’d think she’d care a little bit more about what happened, but the woman is unbreakable. It is always about appearances with her. And right now, she can’t go to any of the dinner parties without the looks of pity from everyone she knows. She can’t spin it, so the next best thing is to remove herself from the equation until enough time has passed that it doesn’t matter anymore. Some new scandal will reveal itself and things will return to her version of normal.

She tries to make it all about me, but truthfully, it’s all about her.

Her image.

Her social class.

Her life.

I can’t take it anymore. Sometimes it’s better to sit there and remain silent. And then there are the other times. “Don’t you think the justice system might look poorly on Dad leaving the country given the obstruction charges?”

Her look is a mixture of astonishment that I‘d even bring up her husband’s temporary incarceration, and her defense mechanism immediately deflects. “Don’t worry about that. That’s why we pay our lawyers the immense fees.” Then, without missing a beat. “Now go pack. I want to leave early in the morning.”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.” I’m sure it won’t matter. She never listens. “I’m staying. I have classes. Finals.”

“Didn’t you hear me; you can do all of that over the computer.”

“No.”

“Duncan. This isn’t a request. You will-“

“I’m tired of being handled. That’s all you do anymore. I’m not sure if it’s because you feel guilty about how Lilly didn’t follow in your footsteps or what? Do you think if you control every little thing I do then nothing bad can ever happen again?”

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novellas Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

The Good Place – A Review

A little show premiered last Fall, and I have to admit the only reason it initially showed up on my radar at all was because of Kristen Bell’s casting. Since my house is a decidedly Pro-Kristen Bell place, there was no debate – it was simply added to the DVR. Then we waited until it magically appeared one night and watched what unfolded.

For those that didn’t see it or can’t remember what it might have been about… I’ll help to fill you in. Mrs. Bell plays Eleanor. Eleanor is having one of those good news/bad news type of days.

The bad news is that she’s dead.

The good news is that she ended up in the Good Place (Heaven, Nirvana, Paradise, etc.).

So while things are a bit confusing, she comes to find out that The Good Place is a place where not only is everything you might have ever wanted right at your fingertips (seriously, check out the flavors of yogurt they have access to!), but you also get paired off with your legitimate soulmate.

However, the twist is that a mistake has been made – Eleanor is not the Eleanor they think she is. No, somewhere in the universal mainframe she got swapped into the spot. So now she has to figure out how to keep up the ruse that she actually is a good person so she can stay.

Because if they find out… the Bad Place awaits (and no one wants to go there).

Luckily for her, her soulmate, Chidi, is an ethics professor. Which means that he is her voice of reason when so many times she just wants to dwell in those less than admirable qualities.

Sadly for Eleanor, being good is a lot of work (and lots of reading homework).

Ted Danson plays Michael, the “architect” of the little community they’re set up in. He is great as the part angel, part community organizer, and part naive grandpa, stumbling along to help foster those people who need it the most. Yet, this is his first opportunity to create a community and for some reason things are going sideways. Sinkholes open and trash falls from the sky for seemingly no reason. We all know this is because of Eleanor’s presence. She’s “ruining” a good thing.

Somewhat simple enough premise which allows for a myriad of little stories to be told about the trials and tribulations of fighting against your own nature. I say simple, but that’s not entirely fair. With such concepts as Heaven and Hell being tossed around, the show does an excellent job with its core tenet:

Can a person really change who they are? Fundamentally do people ever change in any lasting way? And if you change for selfish reasons, do your acts mean anything in the grand scheme of things or not?

Somewhat strange for a TV show to even pose such thoughts. Most of the time shows survive based solely on their illusion of change when no real change for the characters ever really stick. Heck, something like Seinfeld was exactly that in a nutshell. Those were people who were as despicable in the last episode as they were in the first episode.

Superhero comics have this same problem. How do you write about a character for over 50, 60, 70, or even 80 years without them changing in some ways? And if you do have any big changes – will your audience accept them?

The Good Place obviously builds its central conflict around this, and as we learn more about Eleanor, the less likable her life really was. Selfish, mean-spirited, focused on herself to the detriment of anyone else. The viewer is put in a position where we want her to succeed, but in that success we are going to find ourselves without a TV program to enjoy down the line.

It’s a fun show and does well with the ideas presented on a weekly basis, ending on cliffhangers which makes it feel more like a drama than comedy. And had it not been for the big twist at the end, it would have been a show Courtney and I would have continued to watch probably without mentioning it to other people.

The end of the season changed that.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

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Seriously, if you are going to watch the show… don’t read anymore. If you need a little more convincing, however…:

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THE GOOD PLACE — “Everything Is Fine” Episode 101– Pictured: Kristen Bell as Eleanor — (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

As things begin to spin more and more out of control, Eleanor reveals that she is not supposed to be there to Michael. And when it is decided that a pair of our main characters will be forced to go to the Bad Place in order for Order to prevail… an argument ensues. It is then Eleanor has an epiphany:

They aren’t in the Good Place… they are in The Bad Place.

Mind… Blown.

Like I said above, the ending changed the whole show for me. It shook up everything we knew. And it made it so that the second season will be very different. If they were never in the Good Place… will there be any reason to truly be good?

I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to the answer.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Chad’s Favorite Fifteen of 2016

I’m ashamed that my list isn’t very esoteric. Every film on here was a fairly mainstream release and all of them have received some level of praise and success. But I didn’t find any hidden gems this year. I’m sure there were some. If you found them, let me know. But here’s my list of my favorite films of 2016, as usual broken into 3 tiers: I. Masterpieces, II. Great Films, and III. Very Good Films.

I.

ARRIVAL (Denis Villeneuve)

Sicario was my favorite film of 2015 and now here’s Villeneuve’s latest, at the top of my list once again. Needless to say he’s becoming one of the world’s premier filmmakers. I normally wouldn’t be too excited about new Bladerunner and Dune films, but with Denis at the helm, I’m now actively looking forward to them. I’m not talking about the actual film too much. I don’t want to give any of it away. Yes, it is a film about a couple scientists trying to communicate with alien visitors. But that is just one layer of this beautiful gut-punch of an onion, and I’d rather you peel it for yourself and cry your eyes out. Lois Lane, Hawkeye, and Saw Gerrera are all great but it’s Eric Heisserer’s screenplay and Villeneuve’s confidence and grace behind the camera that make this one of the best science fiction experiences ever put to film.

THE HANDMAIDEN (Park Chan-Wook)

Park’s best film since Old Boy, The Handmaiden is not at all what it seems. The poster and title and production design and costuming would leave you to believe that you’re about to watch a “serious” period drama, a Korean “Downton Abbey” or something. But The Handmaiden, while having those trappings, is a crazy-as-fuck double-and-triple-cross forbidden-lesiban-love-story con movie. It is fun and hysterical and sexy and entertaining and, shot through Park’s unique eye, a visual treat that I can’t wait to revisit. It’s not a film for everyone, I guess, but it’s definitely a film for me. Villeneuve and Park. Two of cinemas boldest voices. Right here at the top of my list. Who’d have thought?

OJ: MADE IN AMERICA (Ezra Edelman)

The flat-out most compelling thing that I watched all year. There was some debate over whether or not Made in America was a feature film or not, but, despite its 7 hour plus run time, and the fact that most people saw it on TV, it has been nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars and that makes it a movie. And what a movie. I was a young man as the O.J. saga unfolded, and, like most of America, I was fascinated by it, but Edelman’s documentary is so much more than just a recounting of the “Trial of the Century”. The first part alone, which covers the historical relationship between the police and Los Angeles’ South Central black communities, is an Oscar-worthy piece that seems even more relevant today. Don’t know anything about O.J. Simpson or his trial? Watch this. Don’t know anything about the history of police brutality by the LAPD? Watch this. Still angry that O.J. went free, don’t understand how an obviously guilty man was found not guilty in front of the entire world? Watch this. You will understand. Filled with a dozen stunning “what-the-fuck-did-he-just-say?” moments, each episode will propel you into the next and you won’t be sated until it’s all over. This is not some exploitative true-crime documentary. This is a work of art, a film about so many things, and one of the best films of 2016.

II.

MOONLIGHT(Barry Jenkins)

Nothing I can say about Moonlight that hasn’t been said by its reviews and its run through awards season. Achingly delicate film, anchored by 3 strong actors all playing the same character, with a big assist from this year’s breakout star, Mahershala Ali, in a film that may win him an Oscar, Jenkins delivers a film that will stick with you for a long time.

LION (Garth Davis)

I knew nothing about Lion when I saw it, and I’m glad. A true story about a young Indian boy who is separated from his family and adopted by an Australian couple, this is the year’s best “uplifting” film, and if you can get through the end without crying, I welcome you as my new robot overlord.

SILENCE (Martin Scorsese)

I am admittedly a Scorsese fanboy, him being our greatest living director and all, and I think Silence is a masterpiece, the third and most likely final of his overtly religious works (Marty tends to revisit certain topics three or four times, then give them a rest), Silence is a deeply meditative, slow, quiet, and even-handed film that should appeal to believers and nonbelievers alike. I think over the years, this film my creep farther up my list. Like most of Scorsese’s films, I will watch it many more times over the course of my life.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (Tom Ford)

Fashion designer Tom Ford released A Single Man in 2009 and I loved the shit out of that movie. Nocturnal Animals isn’t as strong, or as emotionally resonant, but it is a work of somber fiction that matches my sensibilities well. IMDB summarizes the plot as “A wealthy art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale.” I guess that’s true. Come for the story, stay for the Adams, the Gyllenhaal, the Shannon, and the Ford.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Kenneth Lonergan)

Speaking of somber fiction, Manchester is driven by a challenging screenplay by Lonergan but will remembered because of the power of Casey Affleck’s soon-to-be Oscar winning performance. It’s an incredible bit of screen acting. And don’t overlook the often-overlooked Michelle Williams. She’s only in a few scenes but she fucking kills it. Not a date movie. Not a movie to watch if you want to get anything else done that day. But a movie you should see nonetheless. Although I’m not sure you’ll want to see it twice.

III.

HELL OR HIGH WATER (David Mackenzie)
Great modern western featuring great modern actors. Nice to see Chris Pine playing a character and not just relying on his Kirk charm to get him through (coughchrisprattcough).

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (Richard Linklater)
Not a sequel to Dazed & Confused like people wanted, but this film is classic Linklater: there is very little story, it feels like nothing happens, it meanders, and I love it all the more for it.

MOANA (Ron Clements & John Musker)
Moana Will forever have a special place in my heart (it was my oldest daughter’s first movie theater experience) but it is also the best Disney animated film in years (including Pixar). And with songs by Hamilton’s Lin Miranda, I can’t even complain when my daughter wants to listen to the soundtrack over and over.

ROAD TO BUSAN (Sang-ho Yeon)
Snowpiercer with zombies. What else do you need? Go rent it now.

FENCES (Denzel Washington)
Two of the world’s best actors yelling and crying at each other for two and a half hours? Count me in. Washington does very little to “open up” this August Wilson play, but he and Viola are such pure fire you won’t care.

ROUGE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (Gareth Edwards)
It feels good to have a Star Wars film on here. And it deserves it. It was so much more Star Wars literate than The Force Awakens and I felt so much at home.

HIDDEN FIGURES (Theodore Melfi)
A film about three truly inspiring women told in a fairly uninspired way, it’s impossible to deny the importance and power of Melfi’s film, even if I wish he had found a more compelling way to tell it. But these women, though, and these actresses. Man. Worth it just for them.

Just for fun, here’s my list of the BEST TV OF 2016. No particular order, no details. Just a quick list. We all know TV is better than movies these days. Pretty soon these lists will merge as the walls between media crumble.

 

 

 

 

 

LUKE CAGE, ATLANTA, BETTER CALL SAUL, STAR WARS: REBELS, GAME OF THRONES, SILICON VALLEY, BATES MOTEL, WESTWORLD, LAST WEEK WITH JOHN OLIVER, and, yes, STRANGER THINGS, although I didn’t love it as much as everybody else did.

Did I just fall off the face of the earth, or what?

I’ve never heard a Beyoncé song (that I know of.)

I haven’t seen The Walking Dead.

It’s been at least a decade since I bought an album anyone reading this article has heard of.

I can’t remember the last time I read the news, tried craft beer, or understood a hashtag cause.

Anyone else feel me?

Every day that goes by, I’m lost deeper and deeper in an ocean of information. My friends ask if I’ve seen or heard the latest ______, and I’m a deer in the headlights. I’m like, “Huh?” And my friends are like, “Duuude.” I haven’t seen the latest show, heard the new kickass song, or kept up with whatever the Kardashians are up to. (Are they still famous?) I feel like I should ask for help, reach out to friend, or crawl out from under the rock I’ve apparently been living under.

Nah.

“Huh? Whaaaa…?”

Look, you probably think I’m about to start a big rant against modern culture and all its evils. Nope. I don’t have enough data to make a case for or against whatever the world has become. The only rant I could dream up would be an essay arguing the infinite darkness of social media. But whatever. That’d be pretty hypocritical, wouldn’t it? Especially since I’m about to post this commentary on Facebook and Twitter.

What I do wanna know is: how the heck did I get here?

I’m not that old.

I don’t have an ‘our generation is better than yours’ complex.

I don’t tell stories about wading through the snow to get to school and eating rocks for dinner.

You’d think having a son would compel me to brush up against modern culture now and then. After all, he’s at that age when Justin Bieber must start to seem cool. Or when the latest ‘thing’ must be purchased. Or when we just have to watch some crazy new show. But no. All junior wants to do is hang with his weird dad (me) and roast marshmallows in the fire pit, play board games all night, and watch movies that haven’t been famous since the 80’s (Gremlins, Willow, Sword in the Stone, et cetera.)

Anymore, I’m not sure whether I’m rubbing off on him or his indifference to modern stuff has reinforced my own.

And I’m not really sure it matters.

What started this thought process? Well… I’m glad you asked. Just the other day, I overheard some friends chatting it up about the Grammy awards. (And yes, I know what those are.) At the big Grammy celebration, some pregnant lady killed it with her performance and everyone thought she was a queen. Not just any queen, but THE Queen. Turns out the Queen was Beyoncé. (And it turns out the program I’m using to write this knew to put a ‘ over ‘e’ in her name – which is really weird to me.) Also, the guy from Metallica’s microphone failed, prompting Lady Gaga (whom I know of via her Super Bowl gig) to save him. And lastly, some blonde lady (Adele?) gushed so loudly about the aforementioned Queen some people questioned her sincerity.

Ok, cool, I thought. Sounds pretty entertaining.

Wait. No it doesn’t.

To all of this, I listened wide-eyed and confused. And then I realized that although I’m not terribly old, my tastes are pretty much ancient. It’s almost as if my love of music, culture, art, and books stopped somewhere in the late 80’s – early 90’s. And I can’t explain it. It’s not as if I don’t want to find new music to love. It’s not like I find modern music disastrously boring on some random whim. And life sure would be more fun if I had any inkling to enjoy The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and ________ <—- (insert superhero tv show here.)

Does anyone else experience this?

Anyone?

What the F does this meme even mean??

If I think about it, I don’t particularly miss the cultural era in which I grew up. The 80’s were straight up strange, with all the long hair, horrid pop music, and low production television. The 90’s might’ve been even worse, dragged into despair by depressing grunge music and not-quite-awesome-yet video games.

But I guess I didn’t realize my situation until the new century rolled in and forcibly stopped me from caring.

I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point all the music on the radio turned me off.

Until I stopped listening entirely.

Next came TV.

And here’s the whole story behind that.

More recently, the wave of superhero movies and bombastic action films flew right over my head.

Leaving me almost alone in the theater watching this.

I guess I can’t really complain; living under a giant rock has its benefits. I have tons of extra time. Peace and quiet are my domain. And then of course there’s all the money I save by not having cable and never going to a concert starring anyone famous. But the drawbacks are…well…I’m not sure. I’m left out of discussions regarding politics, news, movies, television, et cetera. And while I don’t particularly mind sitting in my quiet corner, it tends to halt conversations when I admit I don’t know a damn thing about whatever’s being talked about.

Me. As in my face. Always.

It’s almost intentionally ignorant, right?

It’s cultural abandonment.

It’s a willful disregard for humanity.

And now, after all these years, I still have no idea what happened.

Do you?

J Edward Neill

Builder of better coffee tables.

Under-the-rock artist.

Black Mirror, Season 3 Review

Last year I sat down and watched this show that’d I’d somehow read about on some random blog somewhere (that internet rabbit hole again). The key phrase for me mentioned “Modern Day Twilight Zone” – at which point I said “I’ll be the judge of that blasphemy.”

black-mirror-netflix

So I watched and reviewed the first 2 seasons here.

For those not in the know, Black Mirror is an anthology show. Each episode stands alone to tell a story about how our technology or something perhaps not too far from our grasp affects people.

That phrase Modern Day Twilight Zone was closer to the truth than not. In fact, I only had 2 problems with the show: Episode One wasn’t a favorite & that there was only SEVEN total episodes to even partake. You see, those lovable Brits sometimes do “seasons” where you only get a couple of episodes of the THING you love. They get in and get out before you even know what hit you.

As an American, only having SEVEN episodes was a bit maddening. Were there going to be anymore? Why not do more? Is everyone across the pond lazy when it comes to their TV!?!

Netflix then is my savor. They got Charlie Booker to reach into the dark recesses of his mind to provide us with SIX more trips beyond the Mirror.

EP 1 – Nosedive

How many Facebook friends do you have? Twitter followers? Instagram? Tumblr?

What if your entire world was based on not only who your “Friends” might be, but how everyone rated you? This is the question before us in Nosedive. You see, if your rating (from 1 to 5) is high enough, then there are no doors not open to you. Let it slip and it might mean not qualifying for that loan, not getting into the best restaurants, and possibly not allowing you to even work a job.

The best part about the concept behind this episode is how it applies in virtually all aspects of your life. When you were High School the “pecking order” certainly existed. Who you hung out with, who you talked to, and maybe who you made fun of would slot you into your clique. For better or worse.

And like all of us who want to be liked, who want to have a better life… maybe we have to put on a face which isn’t exactly the one our true self would recognize. What would you do in order to get in with the “cool kids”.

EP 2 – Playtest

Black Mirror hasn’t really done horror… it might be horrific situations the characters get shoved into, but not the typical scary movie style. Well, at least they haven’t until this episode.

Playtest is about virtual reality. It’s about a game that digs into your brain to find the exact things which scare YOU. Hate spiders? Then you’re going to deal with spiders. Don’t like being alone? Get used to it.

And if that was all this episode had going for it, that would have worked. But you have to dig a little deeper than that. Past the arachnophobia or acrophobia and into the depths of your soul. What is that thing you won’t tell anyone else? What is the one bit you don’t want to dwell on.

What are you REALLY scared of?

laptop-camera

EP 3 – Shut Up and Dance

The fact that this episode follows Playtest is appropriate as it, too, deals in fear. Yet, this is about being exposed for something very real. We’ve read the articles about people hacking into our laptops and gaining control of our cameras there in order to watch us when we’re vulnerable.

Let’s say that happened to you, and being a teenaged boy, you might have been using the internet to… expand your knowledge of the female form… well, that might be something you wouldn’t want everyone in school seeing. And unlike American Pie, this isn’t a comedy where everyone is just going to think it is funny.

Given the chance to ensure the genie stays in the bottle, how far would you be willing to go?

EP 4 – San Junipero

You’re going to guess at this one and only be partially right. Set in the 1980s, our lead character seems to be out of place, visiting… on vacation in a different time. She’s getting married in a few weeks and needs to experience something (anything) before that day comes.

Unlike so many of the other episodes, even the somewhat sweet “Be Right Back” from the 2nd season, this really is more about what we could do with technology to help those people who need release the most. But really strip away all of that and it is about a girl who falls for another girl.

It is sweet. But the performances by the two leads (Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Mackenzie Davis) will have you believing and hoping for them to find a way to be together.

EP 5 – Men Against Fire

Warfare pushes technology forward more than almost anything else. And when there is a new technology developed outside of the war machine, they try to find a military use for it. Heads Up Display isn’t a new idea. Watch Iron Man to see it put to some of the best use. However, if it was a neural link? If the display was in your head? How much more effective of a soldier might you be if you could use tech to see where your enemies were inside a house with infrared vision?

What could possibly go wrong with such technology when you are fighting a war for the very future of the human race?

aggression

EP 6 – Hated in the Nation

A perfect bookend to this season. After “Nosedive” dealt with attempting to garner popularity, this episode looks at the other end of things. And given how the internet loves to hate things almost as much as it loves Cat videos, what happens when a serial killer suddenly is using the “most hated person” on the internet to determine who their next victim is.

If you go to the comments section of ANY article on the web, odds are high you will find some level of hate bestowed on either the original writing or perhaps the manner in which someone has said they liked the original thing. It’s not a simple “You’re wrong”, but more of a “Burn in hell, nazi!”

How do you stop people from hating? Can we be nicer online? Or does the invisibility of the process make any ideas of being better people a pipe dream?

Are there any punishments for the haters?

 

Black Mirror, Season 3… in our rush to conquer the future, we might be providing the very method of our downfall.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

My Top TV Moments of 2016

Atlanta, Legends of Tomorrow, and House of Cards

Atlanta, Legends of Tomorrow, and House of Cards

I love watching television. It started with  Batman: The Animated Series, progressed into my teenage years spent watching Homicide: Life on The Streets, and has coalesced now into me now having no shortage of quality programming to choose from, in between my writing.

I’m a firm believer in the saying that we’re currently living a golden age of television. A time where whatever your tastes are, you’ll find at least a couple of television programs that will fill your palate.

Netflix. Hulu. Amazon. Crackle. Heck even You Tube. All of these streaming providers, and more offer a great staple of original programming. Add to that such cable networks as Starz, USA, FX, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and you’ve got an infinite amount of things to watch.

So with everyone doing their own “Top TV List of 2016” list, combined with my television watching enjoyment, I thought I’d put together a short list of some stand out moments from TV land. These are the moments that held the most impact for me, ranging from mouth open in an “ohmigoddidthatjusthappen” reaction, to getting a little choked up at a particular moment.

And can I say as a writer, I also enjoyed the superb craftsmanship that was on display with each of the below moments. This guy was taken to class in a few instances, while also enjoying the work as a fan.

ALSO BE WARNED:

spoiler_alert_300_w2

 

My “Laughed Out Loud Throughout The Entire Episode Like A Madman” Moment:

Atlanta/ FX/ Season 1, Episode 7, B.A.N

I’m going to start by saying this: WATCH THIS SHOW.

Now.

Next to Stranger Things, this series was my favorite new series of the year, and every episode is solid.

Basic premise: two cousins try to make their way up in the Atlanta rap scene and hilarity ensues. Believe me when I say, my weak description does nothing in the way to prepare you for how solid Atlanta is.

The writing on this series is sharp as hell, the satire is extremely on point, and just watching Earn (Donald Glover), Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Heny), and Darius (Keith Stanfield) just trying to make it within the Atlanta music scene is great to watch.

One particular episode that stood out for me for how against the grain that this show is would be episode 7 titled “B.A.N.”. Paper Boi appears on an Atlanta talk show called Montague, and finds himself subjected to an interview that’s going nowhere fast.

What works extremely well about this in addition to Paper Boi’s deadpan reaction to all of the ridiculousness that’s taking place around him via the host and other guest, is how the episode is formatted.

As you’re watching B.A.N there are fake commercials mixed in with the actual Montague episode, creating this weird cross section of fake narrative and real life. Mixed into the talk show are some really creative news spots (the Trans-Racial segment deserves an Emmy nod on its own) that are hilarious and had me rolling.


My “No Honey, I’m Not Crying. There’s Something In My Eye Excuse” Moment

Game Of Thrones/ HBO/ Season 6, Episode 5, Door

In a season of Game of Thrones that had no shortage of great moments, this one stole the show for me.

In the most heart-wrenching, gut punch, kick in the nether region way possible.

Hodor (Kristian Nairn) has been the Bran Stark’s lovable big guy protector for all 6 seasons that we’ve watched Game of Thrones, and to see him taken out by the White Walkers was hard to watch.

When the famous catch phrase “Hodor” was explained, as a fan I was hit pretty hard. As a writer/ creator I silently stood up and did a slow clap for the creators of this show.

Masterful and impactful storytelling at its best.


My “I Was Smiling and Feeling All Types of Hyped” Moment

Legends of Tomorrow/ CW/ Season 2, Episode 7, Invasion

The CW Arrow-verse (Supergirl, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash) is like getting a fanboy Christmas every Monday through Thursday night.

You get a great helping of all of the DC characters that you know and love, and its not just pandering special effects laden theatrics being presented. Sure there have been some weak episodes and seasons for a few of the shows, but speaking from the perspective of a guy whose watched this universe grow from the earliest days of Arrow, these shows are fun and deserve to be checked out.

In the seasons before we’ve had small crossovers involving the crews from Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tommorrow. With this being the first year of having Supergirl at its proper home on the CW network, the creators of the universe decided that an ultimate crossover was in order.

If you’re a fan of comic books crossovers are a regular thing. Its nothing to see Spidey web-slinging across the Manhattan skyline with Iron Man skyrocketing pass him, or to see Batman doing his ole’ scowly face routine as he, Wonder Woman, and Superman team up to take on a world destroying despot.

For casual fans of the recent glut of super hero movies/ television shows, crossovers such as these are something new, as presented in the growing cinematic universes of Marvel Studios and DC Comics/ Warner Bros.

The same applies for the Arrow-verse. So after a 4 night crossover event,  for casual and long time fans of these DC properties, seeing the rooftop battle against the DC heroes and the invading alien Dominators was awesome to watch.

Some folks are definitely right to draw comparisons between this and the epic airport battle in this years Captain America: Civil War, but it was still fun to watch nonetheless. And I’ll also admit the Dominators were kind of on the cannon-fodder status for the heroes.

But dammit, what we got was an epic/fun scene of kick butt action, with a little bit of saving the day thrown in.


My “WTF. Did That Just Happen?” Moment

House of Cards/ Netflix/ Season 4, Episode 13, Chapter 52

The Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright) are probably some of the worst people on Earth. They lie, they cheat, they manipulate, and they kill to get what the want.

And like Vic Mackie (Michael Chiklis) in The Shield and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad, the audience loves to root for them. In Mackie’s case I wanted him to get caught for the entirety of the series, but watching him duck and dodge the system was fun to watch, in a twisted sort of way.

In the final few minutes of Chapter 52 the Underwoods have taken their viciousness to a new level, having found themselves backed into a corner where there is no escape.

As result they decide to use their power as President and First Lady to set the country on a path of “fighting terror” in a total war type of fashion to deflect attention away from their troubles. The fact that it begins with a “sacrificial lamb” moment, with the death of an unfortunate character makes it all the more worse.

I don’t want to give away the whole story here of how things have led to this point, because the season deserves to be watched. This moment stands out as this year’s WTF moment for me.

Giving Thanks for Gilmore Girls

Let’s face it, I am not the demographic CW (then the WB) had in mind when they launched this little New England drama about a mother and her teenaged daughter in the Fall of 2000. I imagine that they cast their net for a slightly different group consisting of the other 50% of the population and hoped for the best.

Yet somehow I am not only a fan of the Gilmore Girls, but I have been since almost the very beginning and up until the very end.

gilmore-girls-summer

Normally that might have been the end of my relationship with the show. However, something else happened. My wife bought the first couple of seasons. I’d come home from work, and they’d be running almost non-stop (well that and Veronica Mars) in a weird/obsessed fandom. And so while the show was over and done, it still was a part of my life. Without even realizing it, we’d watch 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5) episodes in a night. Episodes we saw when they originally aired. Then later, episodes we’d seen once or twice (or three or four…).

I’m not sure how it is in your house. Maybe you play music in the background while you cook dinner or clean up or play games on your phone or even nap. In college, my roommate and I had Clerks and Mallrats running non-stop as the soundtrack to many a late night Duke Nukem playing.

For my wife Gilmore Girls playing in the background is her music.

When she wakes up far too early, but can’t (chooses not to) go back to sleep in the bedroom, she puts it on. As a result I can only imagine half of her dreams exist within Star’s Hollow.

When Netflix got ahold of the show, the dvds were no longer needed.

Then the news came about a revival. We’d done the Kickstarter for Veronica Mars for the movie, and honestly if they’d needed a Kickstarter for the Gilmore Girls Netflix show, we would have ponied up for that as well. Since that wasn’t necessary, we’ve instead been on countdown ever since they told us the premiere date. And this Friday evening the two of us will be in the midst of the episodes. And for someone who doesn’t stay up late very often, I can foresee a very late night to make sure we watch them all.

And I fully expect to wake up the next day to that familiar “Lalalala” echoing through the house.

***

When fellow Guildmate, Chad Shonk, was on his movie festival tour with Dakota Skye, a movie from a teenage girl’s point of view, he often was asked how he could write for such a character. His reply was that anyone who knew him, also knew that deep down he was a teenage girl.

While I don’t think I’m a teenage girl, it certainly isn’t a bad thing to try and tap into some of that.

Here’s the thing about Gilmore Girls… it’s just a well-written show. The dialogue, carries a rhythm of its own. There is a music as Lorelei and Rory move through their lives, but when it really comes to life is when the two of them are verbally sparing. The rest of us may not understand every piece of the shorthand (and longhand), but they wield words with a dexterity only matched in an Aaron Sorkin production.

Considering anything Sorkin writes makes me want to break my fingers as it is nearly impossible to attempt to duplicate… this is high praise from me.

babbling-gilmore

***

So with it being Thanksgiving week –

Things to be Thankful for with the return of Gilmore Girls:

1 – “Luke. The Town’s Luke.”

He’s the character we (at least in my house) wanted Lorelei to get together with. The Sam and Diane of the show who if they could only get their shit together at the same time everything would just work out.

With Star’s Hollow being a collection of crazies (eccentrics), he’s probably the only grounding force within town limits… something which causes all sorts of great moments throughout the show. Yet, he’s sucked in regardless.

2 – Rapid paced dialogue that dizzies the rest of the cast.

I’m hopeful that it won’t feel like we’ve taken a break from our Girls. That they’ll just flow right into it with no hiccups, as if they never left our sides in the first place.

3 – More bits of random goodness.

“Copper Boom.”

“Monkey, monkey… underpants.”

I need more.

3-gilmore-women

4 – Seeing how the three Gilmore women deal with the huge absence in the room.

When Edward Herrmann passed away a couple of years ago, I was both saddened by his loss, but happy that one of his final testament existed within this show. As Lorelei’s father and Rory’s grandfather, he exuded an affection for both that were as different as the sun and the moon, but I never doubted its existence (even if Lorelei might have).

The return of the show has a very big hole in it with his passing. I have no doubt it will be addressed with love and care and probably a little humor when appropriate.

I also think that it might get a little “dusty” in my house the first time it is referenced.

5 – New Episodes

As I alluded to above, we’ve seen all the episodes, multiple times. Season have been watched and rewatched in order. Random (to an outsider) episode paths have been followed. Lesser favorites skipped only to be found on a future watch (and wondering why it was on the skip list in the first place).

Finally, we’ll get to see a bit more of where their lives went after they departed from the air. Does my own ideas match what they’ll end up showing? The unknown story still lies ahead of us… and isn’t that why we watch these shows?

To find out what happens next.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

So Little Time… for Time Travel TV Shows

I love TV Shows. Much like I love movies and novels, I want to see a good story develop. Doesn’t matter the format whether it is in a podcast or some old book. As I told Chad the other night, I don’t know if this is still the new Golden Age of TV, but’s it feels like it gets better an better every year.

However, I normally don’t jump into a new show with my whole body. No, I’ve been burned far too many times where I’ve invested in a story line and characters and by about episode 5 or 6 the networks have made a decision not to order an additional half season (Flashfoward, Terra Nova, Journeyman, Brimstone just to name a few). Or maybe they get through that first season, but then don’t get another season.

Those are the shows I can do without at this point. Last year I waited on Lucifer, to see if it got renewed or not. So it sat on my DVR until finally they announced it was coming back this season. It was only at that point that I started watching (by the way if you tried it out but decided that the first couple of episodes weren’t your thing – it genuinely improves with every episode – I was pleasantly surprised). I realize that this is counter productive in a way, as if everyone did this then nothing would make it, but I feel like my one vote of viewership isn’t going to tip these particular scales.

This season, someone must have downloaded another piece of my brain, because no less than 4 shows have to do with Time Travel, and now I’m wondering if my rule of waiting on the shows may have to be reevaluated given my love for such things. I knew about two of them, and had added them to my list:

frequency tv

Frequency (CW)

October 5 at 9:00 PM

Look, the movie was amazing. This idea that a son could talk to his father some twenty years earlier, and throughout the movie they suddenly realize that the case the son is working on (he’s a cop) is the same killer who murdered his mom years ago.

I don’t want to say anymore, but it is worth watching.

This is a remake of the movie, switching the son for a daughter, and from the long trailer I saw, it seems like the Butterfly Effect is in full… effect. If this show is half as good as the movie…

Like I said, this was already getting the full add to the DVR.

2016-0801-Timeless

Timeless (NBC)

October 3 at 10:00 PM

This appears to be more along the lines of agents working to fix time because someone else is screwing things up for all of history. If you’ve seen the trailer, it looks like much of the pilot is centered around the Hindenburg Crash. I’m hopeful that this one has some legs, as being on NBC means that it’s going to have the potential for more eyes, but the last time I watched a time travel show on NBC it was Journeyman, which was AMAZING, and lasted all of 1 season.

Fool me once? Who am I kidding, I’ll be watching this one from the word go.

The other two are mid-season replacements:

Time-After-Time

Time After Time (ABC)

Sundays at 9 PM

Apparently this is based on the movie/novel about H.G. Wells (yes, the author of the Time Machine) who is chasing Jack the Ripper through time.

I must admit, this is one of those movies that I keep meaning to watch and have just never gotten around to doing so. It’s one of those, that whenever I see it on tv it’s always half-over.

What I do know is that this is a Kevin Williamson tv show, so it goes on the list of one to at least give a try.

Making-History-FOX-TV-series-key-art-logo-740x416

Making History (FOX)

Sundays at 8:30 PM

A comedy, about time travel… hmm, I’m not entirely sure how this one is going to work. Basically, a teacher/professor has a time machine that he uses every week to go back to the 1700s where he has a girlfriend and apparently the British haven’t been kicked to the curb just yet. I watched the trailer for the show and thought there is a possibility for some funny stuff, so this gets a…

I’m at least checking out the pilot when it comes on. It looks like it may be paired with Last Man on Earth, which can only help.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

A Tale of Sliders and Tow Trucks

Life has a way of repeatedly kicking you in the nether regions at times.

Like, repeatedly.

Case in point: about a couple of weeks ago the head gasket on my car went caput, with a giant C. Smoke and/or steam began spewing from the hood, my car began making a weird sucking/ popping sound, and only by the skin of my teeth was I able to make it out of rush hour traffic to an empty driveway to wait for a tow.

A reenactment of Robert's descent into madness

A reenactment of Robert’s descent into madness

Car was taken to a shop, shop said it would take 5 days, maybe 7 max to repair.

Cool.

7 turned into 8, 8 turned into something else, new days of completion were provided, patience was provided by yours truly, and then those days were missed.

Patience began wearing thin, other missed days were promised, terse conversations followed, and FINALLY the car was repaired. Head gasket was said to be in tip top shape, and I was back on the road.

So fast forward to 6/30 (remember, this whole thing began on 6/15) I’m driving along, listening to Collider Heroes Podcast, maxin’ and relaxin’, enjoying the AC, and then I notice my temperature gauge is running hot.

And then guess what happens?

Smoke and/or steam began spewing from the hood, my car began making a weird sucking/ popping sound, and only by the skin of my teeth was I able to make it out of rush hour traffic to the side of the road to wait for a tow truck.

So there I am, sitting in the car, ticked beyond comprehension after getting off the phone with the repair shop. Told them I wasn’t paying for a repair that should’ve been handled correctly before to which they agreed, and they said to have my car towed to the shop again to be checked out.

Another reenactment of Robert losing it on the phone. Note: notice that my cell phone appears to be modeled after an old landline phone. That's so retro!

Another reenactment of Robert losing it on the phone. Side note: notice that my cell phone appears to be modeled after an old landline phone.
That’s so retro!

What to do? Stew in my anger as traffic whizzed past my immobile vehicle?

Heck no!

This situation called for something epic, something that would get my mind off of the fact that I was slowly roasting even with the windows down:

A live reaction session via FB for the first episode of that 90’s cross dimensional hopping sci-fi adventure, Sliders, through the Netflix app on my phone.

Below is the insanity that flowed from my fingers as I waited for rescue.

Enjoy.

 

sliderscommentary

The OG’s of Cross Dimensional Travel, a.k.a The Fab Four

Screenshot_20160630-204818 Screenshot_20160630-204832 Screenshot_20160630-204839 Screenshot_20160630-204847 Screenshot_20160630-204852 Screenshot_20160630-204900 Screenshot_20160630-204910 Screenshot_20160630-204919 Screenshot_20160630-204924 Screenshot_20160630-204929 Screenshot_20160630-204933 Screenshot_20160630-204937 Screenshot_20160630-204941 Screenshot_20160630-204946 Screenshot_20160630-204957 Screenshot_20160630-205000 Screenshot_20160630-205007 Screenshot_20160630-205016 Screenshot_20160630-205022 Screenshot_20160630-205031 Screenshot_20160630-205037 Screenshot_20160630-205049

 

Epilogue: The car got repaired the next day and is rolling along a bit better.

Thanks Sliders for getting me through it all.

Bonus: Here’s a little diddy from the Crying Man himself, Mr. Rembrandt Brown.

 

The Best of Mean Tweets

First, allow me to give you a primer on ‘Mean Tweets.’

Perhaps not everyone has heard of Jimmy Kimmel’s infamous segment. For those not in the loop, Jimmy frequently invites celebrities and athletes on his show, and asks them to read aloud funny (and usually pretty nasty) tweets directed toward the celeb.

Past ‘Mean Tweet’ readers have included Steph Curry, Lebron James, Matt Damon, and even Barack Obama.

th

Most of the tweets are rude.

Others are ironic.

Still others are vulgar and borderline stalker-ish.

In any event, they’re usually hilarious.

And these are some of the best:

*

Michael Strahan

*MTI4ODIyMzI5OTUzMjg0MDY2

Selena Gomez

Selena

Iggy Azalea

Iggy

 

Stephan Curry

Steph Curry

Kevin James

33792143

Larry King

Larry

John Goodman

Goodman

Kristen Stewart

1a83d35e167020d56145de5f0a756a49f382323f253b023b4842d925067a9c68_1

Britney Spears

020315_britmeantweetsvidfeat-600x450

Tony Parker

Tony

Sarah Silverman

Sarah

Kid Rock

Kid Rock

Jason Biggs

Jason

Adam Sandler

adam-sandler-mean-tweet

And finally…

Barack Obama

269751F700000578-2992711-Thanks_Obama_The_mean_tweets_were_mostly_lighthearted_but_the_pr-m-16_1426221752473

*

Have a great day, m*therf**kers!

J Edward Neill

Author of funny stuff

And deadly serious things

Why I gave up watching television

I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I had to walk away.

One way to murder your creativity is to spend all your time embracing other people’s creations.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

TVShotgun

I can’t really remember when it started. Maybe when I moved out of my house as a teenager. Possibly even earlier. Some of the big shows of the early 90’s were stuff like Law and Order, The Simpsons, Full House, Martin, Coach, et cetera. There was nothing wrong with any of these. They were funny and engrossing, mostly. I watched plenty of them, and I enjoyed myself when I did.

But even back then, a thought process had begun to grow within me. It was subtle, but it was there. It itched, but not bad enough to apply any cream.

It went kinda like this: I begun noticing things about our culture. Small things. How people’s sense of humor seemed to start and end with whatever they’d seen on a little flashing box. How families set up their schedules in order to catch certain shows. How more and more channels sprang up, specialized channels, catering to every possible desire. How news and journalism felt engineered, not discovered.

Now this isn’t to say the shows themselves weren’t entertaining. Of course they were. Hell, The Simpsons is still funny (and Martin Lawrence still isn’t.) And yet it seemed every year more and more of each TV time-block became commercial time. An hour-long show was really only a 37-minute show. My friends’ conversations changed from being about the shows…to being about the funny new commercial, the hot new car, or the news clips they’d caught only a few seconds of but wanted to discuss as if they’d actually been on the scene.

Months went by.

Then years.

I still watched TV, but less and less. It wasn’t really a conscious decision. It was more like I wandered off. Like I’d forgotten.

And then I got married.

And TV came back into my life.

I can’t remember how that happened either. The TV coming back…or the getting married thing. Whatever. If there was a part of me that rebelled against watching TV, it got shoved aside. Suddenly I was watching game shows, sitcoms, Seinfeld, and some show about six douchebags I’d probably murder if they were my Friends. It wasn’t the wife’s fault. She was just doing what most Americans did: go to work, get home, and flip the TV on until bedtime. No biggie.

Except I hated it. I didn’t even know I hated it, but I did.

During those years, I didn’t paint much. I wrote books at a glacially slow pace. A full third of my conversations with everyone on the planet could be Kevin Baconed in two steps back to whatever show we’d mutually seen. My creativity felt stifled. My dreams were dulled. The situation wasn’t life-threatening, but even so. There was something about it that sucked. A small, dull suck. But definitely a suck.

And then one day I ‘forgot’ to pay the cable bill. The TV went off, and I awoke from a decade-long hibernation. At the time I didn’t put two and two together. I just felt…liberated. I didn’t know why. I guess I probably didn’t care. And when the wife ‘fixed’ the situation and got the TV back on, it stopped being a thing for me. Stopped dead. Shows I used to watch came on, and I walked out of the room. I heard laugh-tracks in the background, but I tuned them out. Entire wars in the Mideast came and went, and I missed the newsfeeds entirely. I’m sure this probably contributed to friction with the wife; after all, TV time had once been together time. But it didn’t matter. Not anymore. It was more than cold turkey. It was as if a surgeon had come into my bedroom one night, carved out the part of my brain that wanted anything to do with parking my ass on a couch for 2-3 hours every night and not creating, and left without billing me.

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Now it’s true this little renaissance came with its share of problems. Friends I used to talk to would start chatting about TV, and a voice inside me would say, “If you say one more thing about American Idol or Bones, I’ll kill you and all your offspring.” Coworkers I liked would hit me up for my opinions on world news, and the first thing I’d think was, “When can I slap the shit out of you?” And naturally, whenever any TV would flicker on anywhere, I’d have to check myself so as not to judge the people watching it. It wasn’t easy. I suddenly had this asshole living inside my mind who thought judgy, nasty things about totally normal people. I didn’t like this asshole. But it’s clear he wasn’t going anywhere.

And so there I was, partnered with a huge inner-jerk. Sometimes I resisted him. Other times I’d completely give up on friends because of their talking-about-TV habits. And I get it; that’s not cool. But it’s what happened. I’d shut down whenever people talked about their fav show. Or when they talked about their TiVo lineup. Or programming their DVR. And after my divorce, I’d immediately rule out any girl who mentioned ‘Netflix binging’ as an acceptable date-night. (Actually, I still stick to this rule.) Harsh, right? But like I said, the asshole wasn’t leaving. He and I had to coexist. No getting around it.

During all of this, my last island of TV-interest lay in sports. Specifically baseball, hockey, and football. I still watched them once in a while, and I hated myself a little for doing it. Look, it’s true; I love me some Chicago Cubs, Blackhawks, and Bears. And for many years I justified watching them over sitcoms, reality TV, and news. “They’re different,” I convinced myself. “Sports aren’t like other shows.” “They’re real.”

But wait a second.

How does a 60-minute NFL football game take 3 hours and 15 minutes to watch?

How many commercials will I endure if I watch even half of my beloved baseball team’s 162-game schedule?

And why the fuck isn’t hockey on TV at all?

Holy shit.

And now here I am. For the last two years, I haven’t had cable. Or satellite. Or Netflix. Or whatever the fuck Hulu is. I rarely even watch sports anymore. If there’s a huge event I have to see, I call a friend and go to the bar…and usually completely ignore the TV in favor of drinking Long Island ice teas or Balvenie 17. It’s utterly freeing. I’ve no urge to ever watch anything. I save hundreds of dollars and thousands of minutes every year. And let me tell you; my creativity has never been more alive. Removed from the electronic influence of other people’s humor, stories, and art, my imagination is free. The time I once spent watching TV is now spent creating. Hundreds of hours per year…reclaimed. Just. Like. That.

And better still, the inner-asshole is gone. Dead. Deceased. The only time I even remember him is when someone starts talking about The Walking Dead, a show approximately 900% of my friends adore.

I’m kidding. I don’t hate people who love zombies.

Mostly.  🙂

Love,

J Edward Neill

Speaking of undead, here’s something WAY worse than zombies.

And speaking of ruthlessly invasive entertainment, here’s something WAY, WAY worse than TV.

Interview with Brandon Easton, screenwriter for Marvel’s Agent Carter, Part 1

In an exclusive collaboration with TesseraGuild.com, BlackSci-Fi.com presents the first part of a 2-part interview with screenwriter, and comic book writer Brandon Easton on his work on “Marvel’s Agent Carter” upcoming season 2 episode, “Monsters”.

Since the creation of Iron Man in 2008 Marvel Studios has continued to grow their shared cinematic universe through film and television. Pulling from a wide array of licensed characters found within the pages of Marvel Comics, they’ve stretched from the farthest reaches of the galaxy (Guardians of the Galaxy), to the seedy streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York (Daredevil).

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Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Image Credit: ABC/Marvel TV

On both film and television the studio has found critical and commercial success, and shows no sign of stopping. This is further exemplified by such television series as ABC network’s, Marvel’s Agent Carter.  The television show follows the story of the Strategic Scientific Reserve’s (SSR) finest and most brilliant secret agent, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Introduced in Captain America: First Avenger, Peggy Carter has become one of the MCU’s (Marvel Cinematic Universe) most prominent characters, fighting evil in World War II ravaged Europe, and now in late 1940’s Hollywood, CA.

The show is in its second season, and this coming week will air two episodes on 2/16/16: Life of The Party (Episode 6), and Monsters (Episode 7).

Adding another notch to his ever growing portfolio of work, Brandon Easton joined the writing staff of Agent Carter in 2015, on the heels of his acceptance into the 2015 Disney/ ABC Writing Program. This has culminated in the upcoming 2/16/16 premiere of his addition to the MCU, with an episode that he wrote, the aforementioned Monsters.

Easton’s body of work continues to grow in the arenas of comics, animation, and now live action television with such standouts as his creator owned Shadowlaw comic book series, his documentary Brave New Souls: Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of the 21st Century, his work on the Glyph Comics Award winning/ Eisner nominated Watson and Holmes, WB Animations ThunderCats, and the recent Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics nominated Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven.

In an interview with BlackSci-Fi.com, Easton spoke about his time spent in the Disney/ ABC Writing program, his work on Agent Carter, his writing career, what he’s learned during his time in Hollywood, along with other topics in this two part interview.

“It’s a really long story, to really get into it. I had a really up and down 2014, between family stuff, and career stuff,” Easton said speaking about his acceptance into the Disney/ ABC Writing program. “I was nominated for an Eisner in 2014 that I didn’t win. But the very week that I didn’t win the Eisner I’d also lost out on two really important jobs. Well maybe not important, but two lucrative jobs that would’ve kept me alive throughout the end of 2014. Things got really bad.”

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Brandon Easton

“If I didn’t get into the ABC/Disney Writing Program I honestly don’t know what this past year would’ve been like for me. I had no idea what would’ve happened to me. So to make a long story short it was an incredible feeling.”

“I was one of 8 people selected in the program. Halfway through the program they try to get you staffed on any show in the ABC family, and the ABC Family networks. First, getting into the ABC/Disney Writing Program which is damn near impossible, that was amazing. Then when they said “we have an opening on Agent Carter and a couple of other shows”, and they sent me out, it just happened that Agent Carter really was the best fit.”

Gaining an inside track of sorts into the inner workings of the executive side and development branch of the ABC network, Easton was able to utilize his time spent with the ABC/ Disney Writing Program to expand on his knowledge of what it truly takes to put together a television program.

“The program puts you in a very unique position. You get to meet with development executives within ABC the studio, and the network, which are two different things as I found out.  You get to spend time with people that you would never get a chance to meet in any other capacity,” Easton explained.

“And you learn things about the business that don’t get reported anywhere. You learn things like who’s actually in charge. You learn about the people that actually make the decisions.  There’s no class in the world that will tell you that. So the ABC program puts you in the unique position to really understand the business side of it, because all the people who complain 24/7 every single day, whining and complaining about this and that, very few people understand the business side of it.”

“I learned so much about how things actually work that it changed the way I thought as a creator.”

Easton provided an example of such insight which involved a scene that he wrote for his upcoming Agent Carter episode. It was here where he found how the business of the network can affect the scripting process, while also informing how he’d write future scripts.

“To give you an example, I wrote a couple of night scenes. I also wrote a scene in the desert. When you’re shooting a night scene you’re actually going to be outside. A typical TV recording/ shooting day is anywhere between 12-15 hours. That’s typical. Sometimes you’ll go onto 20 hours. I didn’t know that,” Easton explained.

“So I was writing a bunch of night scenes and I wrote some scenes in the desert. Next thing you know we start shooting at 6pm, we’re out all night until 6 am. We were shooting in the desert and I’d never spent any time in the desert.  I’m from the East Coast, from Baltimore, what the fuck do I know about a desert (laughter)?”

“We go out in the desert, and it’s like, did you see The Martian by any chance? There’s a scene in The Martian where the red dust of Mars is blowing across the landscape, and you can’t see shit. The spaceship is falling over. I felt like I was in that position. We were in the desert at 5 am the wind is like 90 mph, sand is cutting through everything, and I realize in the future I’m no longer going to write any scenes in the desert.”

“I’m going to make sure I don’t write too many night scenes either because you have to realize everything you write that they can physically achieve, you’re actually going to have to be there for the entire shoot. And that’s something I didn’t really know and nobody can prepare you for that.”

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Brandon Easton’s comic book work including Shadowlaw, Watson and Holmes, and Andre the Giant: Closer To Heaven

As the new recruit on the Agent Carter writing team, Easton explained that though the experience was an irreplaceable one, being the new kid on the block wasn’t necessarily the best feeling.

“It didn’t feel great,” Easton explained. “And this is nothing against the people that I worked with because they are really good people, and I learned a lot from every single one of them. But I came in on a show that had already had a season.”

“It’s sort of like transferring from one school to another as a sophomore. You come in and the relationships are already made. You weren’t there for the freshman year to build those relationships. I often felt like the odd man out, I was the only black person there, and that wasn’t always fun, but that’s the reality of the business.”

“So at the same time you’re also there to learn because you’re new. And you try to find a way to make yourself useful to the people. You don’t want to make your bosses’ day harder than it already is going to be. I learned a lot, I had some good teachers, so I really can’t complain.”

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Wynn Everett as Whitney Frost, Image Credit: ABC/Marvel TV

Easton’s work in the writers room, his years of screenwriting, and the ABC/ Disney writing program culminated in an episode which he’s called “The Empire Strikes Back” of this season. The writer explained that the episode focuses on this seasons’ archenemy, Whitney Frost (played by Wynn Everett), who deals a major blow to Carter and her team. Throughout the season, Carter and Frost’s struggle has risen in a tense and exhilarating fashion, and it seems that Monsters will possibly bring this conflict to its climatic and destructive head. Adding to the growing pantheon of complex MCU villains, Frost seems to be on a path to test Carter in a way that she hasn’t encountered before.

“I can’t wait for people to see her performance (Wynn Everett). She really brings it. She brings it hard,” Easton said.

“It was fun (writing an episode featuring a villain). My episode is a Whitney Frost episode in a way. A lot of the episode is dealing with something that Whitney Frost is working on. The way that the episode works you have to have some bad things happen in order for the heroes to come back. My episode is sort of like the Empire Strikes Back episode of Agent Carter.”

Easton further explained that he was able to have a hands on experience with the filming of his episode. Being able to be on set when Monsters was filmed, Easton explained was an invaluable experience, as he gleaned more information into the development of his story from script to screen. In addition to gaining this experience, Easton found another perk of being a screenwriter on a major network series: you become a go-to person for those in front of and behind the camera.

“In TV the writer is basically number one. On set, the director knew I was new, the producer who was with me on set knew I was new. So I was really observing and learning how it goes.  Also, no matter how good you think what you wrote is, some actor somewhere is going to say there’s a problem with it, and ask “can I say it this way?”, Easton said.

“Whatever you’ve got to get (in terms of filming) that day you’ve got to get. So a lot of times actors will have ideas, the directors have ideas, and sometimes you listen and sometimes you don’t. More often than not there are good suggestions but you don’t always get the flexibility to make changes.”

“I was on set, I was participating, I had a say in things, and if I didn’t like something I’d let them know, but more often than not I liked it. You don’t want to be saying shit to just say stuff. You want to make sure that if you’re saying something it actually makes sense.”

Marvel-Television-SeriesAt the end of the day Easton explained that his experience writing the Agent Carter episode was an important one, that he appreciates on both a writing/ creative front, and as a fan of the MCU.

“As a fan, that’s a good question. I can’t even figure out where to begin,” Brandon said.

“I was working with some ridiculously creative, talented people. And knowing that every word I write is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because Agent Carter is in the Captain America films, she was even in Ant Man at the beginning. So she’s a part of that world, so everything that happens in any episode of Agent Carter also occurs at some point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

“It hasn’t hit me yet because it hasn’t aired. But trust me when I say once it airs, and particularly with the type of stuff that I deal with in my episode, its really going to hit me hard then.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of BlackSci-Fi.com’s interview with Brandon Easton which will be available with the 2/27/16 relaunch of www.blacksci-fi.com.

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Episode 7 of season 2 of Agent Carter,”Monsters”, premieres  2/16/16 on the ABC Network, at 10 pm EST. Check your local listings for exact times.

Many thanks to the fine folks of www.tesseraguild.com for this great collaboration opportunity.

 

 

Black Mirror Review

I’m always looking for the Twilight Zone. Not the actual place, no, I wouldn’t survive there for very long. I’m talking about a show which captures my imagination in a way the original show did the first time I saw it on my tv when I was a kid. The idea there was someone who could ask these weird and strange questions, or present dilemmas I couldn’t have imagined, or even just watch the characters try to figure out how to save themselves from the nightmare worlds they were trapped in…

And while not every episode was a home run, the ones that were (and they had more than their fair share)… classic is the only word which does them justice.

So, I’m always hoping. Always on the lookout. Whether it is the Outer Limits, Monsters, Tales from the Darkside, the updated versions of the Twilight Zone… I’m going to give them a try.

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Black Mirror is one of those I gave a try… and I almost didn’t get to realize what a good show it was/is… but since it is only 7 episodes at this point (though more are on the way according to Netflix). Now, this will be a mixed review. Mostly I wanted to give the impression I had while watching or the impression I was left with. I’m going to do my very best not to spoil anything, as I’d like you to experience it the way I do.

EP 1- The National Anthem

As I’ve told everyone who I talk about this show with… skip this episode (or at the very least, wait until you’ve watched the other 6 episodes). I’ve looked around online and it has its fans, but I do not count myself as one of them. And the reason is quite simple:

It isn’t realistic.

And this is coming from someone who will buy into a lot if you convince me your world requires/needs/whatever it. And this just didn’t do it.

The very basic plot is that the Princess of the Royal Family (this is England after all) has been kidnapped and won’t be returned unless the Prime Minister does something… unseemly with an animal. And the question throughout the episode becomes one of how do they get the Princess back, and also, what happens if they don’t.

I live in the U.S. Maybe that’s why I didn’t buy the conversations, but I remember watching the episode thinking – “This just would never happen.”

EP 2 – Fifteen Million Merits

So after such a thrilling start to things, I might have given up. But something told me to press on. Surely a show that I’d heard such good things about would redeem itself. And we get to a good start with the 2nd episode. Take all our (well not mine, but yours perhaps) love for the reality tv shows, the American Idols and Kardashians and all manner of Real Housewives, and then make that the only thing anyone ever aspires to. Set it in a future where you gain funds by exercising (it seems like a man-made power with money being the reward). When you get enough, you can pay to try out for those shows.

And maybe, just maybe your life of being a living battery might end and you could be famous!

Why not? We’re all doing it. We’re all wanting things to be a little (a lot) better. It’s just all in how you define “better”.

EP 3 – The Entire History of You

This is the reason to watch the show. It is my favorite episode, and it is based on the most basic idea:

What if everything we saw was recorded? And then we could review those recordings whenever we wanted? And then we could let other people see our memories. What if there was never a forgotten moment again?

It’s one of those ideas I wish I’d written. So simple in how it works, but then so dark how things can be twisted. How two people can watch the exact same thing and come away with two very different impressions of a moment. That happens every day. It’s no fun to go to a movie or concert by yourself, you need someone else to share in your experience… in your excitement. And even then we disagree on various things about those events.

Or maybe it is interactions with others. I can only imagine replaying moments with friends while in high school. Did that girl like me? Really? Let’s check the tape.

EP 4 – Be Right Back

Loss. The best stories are defined by growth and loss. Can you survive something bad happening to you? How does it change things (i.e. YOU) in the aftermath? And can you pick up the pieces later… become a better version of you?

My second favorite episode is one where LOSS is at the very center of everything. Can you be ok when someone has to leave you? Can the hole be filled by someone else?

And should it?

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EP 5 – White Bear

Terror. That feeling of the unknown. Where am I? Who am I? What’s happening?

That’s this episode in the first 5 minutes.

It’s something out of our nightmares. Some mixture of the Running Man mixed with a heavy dose of deja vu.

But FEAR. Who can you trust? How did you get there? Where are you going to run to? Where are you supposed to hide?

And why won’t anyone help?

EP 6 – The Waldo Moment

Every election season we are, in the immortal words of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, choosing between a Giant Douche and a Shit Sandwich. And we long for a real choice. Or at the very least someone to shake up the status quo for even the briefest of moments. This thing we do is supposed to be VERY IMPORTANT (notice the capitals?), but instead more people end up caring about American Idol’s victor than who won the real world election.

So shake it up with the most absurd idea ever: let a cartoon character into the debate. If it really is as silly and stupid as we say it is, then won’t such a character merely raise the level of discourse?

This episode is all of those things: absurd, strange, intriguing, stupid, and somehow more realistic to me than EP 1 (see, I really didn’t like that 1st episode).

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EP 7 – White Christmas

Two men, the edge of the world, snowstorm coming down outside their window. And Christmas morning. Nothing to do but talk about the moments and ideas which led you to being in this little piece of Hell.

In some ways, this one feels like the most Twilight Zone of the entire group. Yes, the technology still plays a large part in the twists and turns, but this one deals so much with loneliness. Being alone even while surrounded by so many people. And if you go back and watch those old Twilight Zones, you’ll see that same theme time and time again.

Am I alone?

I’m unsure of myself.

I’m unsure of my place in the world.

Help me.

 

Black Mirror… a dark reflection of yourself? Or maybe just the same old reflection you’ve been avoiding eye contact over all these years…

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Best Works Featuring “Regular Folks with Super Abilities”: Part 1

2016 is going to bring no shortage of superheroes and super-villains on both the large and small screens. We’ve got Batman vs. Superman, Daredevil: Season 2, The Suicide Squad, Luke Cage, Agent Carter: Season 2, Captain America: Civil War, and the list goes on and on.

I’m personally a huge fan of such stories, in all mediums, and as a geek/ fan of pop culture I think that we’re living in a golden age of comic book storytelling, both on and off the pages of comics.

What I’m also a huge fan of are those stories of everyday people blessed/ cursed with awe inspiring abilities who don’t necessarily decide to put on a cape and tights to save the day. Folks who find themselves caught up in a set of crazy circumstances, while trying to continue to live their lives.

Pay the bills. Deal with relationship issues. Keep a job.

Now I’m not saying that these stories don’t eventually go the way of your typical tale of super heroics, but most of the one’s that I’ve become a fan of haven’t necessarily gone this route. As in the case of comic books, there’s a huge amount of action and adventure, with a smattering of some of the best elements of great science fiction.

Sometimes some of these examples start off as solid science fiction, but wind up playing within the spectrum of  the “regular folks with powers” sub-genre.

At the root of most of these works is a focus on how the characters involved decides to work with the abilities they’ve been either blessed or cursed with. There’s no immediate call to save the day, though we eventually get there in some of these cases.

For a while there have been a number of really notable examples of movies, novels, television programs, and comics that have played within this arena. There have also been some that have been not so stellar.

This will be the start of a list that I’ll try to add on to as I come across more examples of what I think is a pretty interesting sub genre of the tights and fights area of fiction.

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The 4400 (Television Series)

The USA Network for me was always the home of comedies like Psych and marathon broadcast sessions of dramas like Law and Order: Criminal Intent. It wasn’t a network that delved too much in the fantastical, at least at the points where I had cable.

So color me surprised when The 4400 dropped. I’m planning on doing another post that will go into detail on the awesomeness of the television series. Needless to say USA surprised me in a very good way.

The 4400 told the story of a group of 4400 individuals who disappeared worldwide over the years, beginning in 1946. In 2004 they are brought back to a Seattle, Washington beach and a division of US government agents are tasked with figuring out what happened to them, why they’ve been brought back, and to basically watch over them.

What is soon revealed is that a large amount of these individuals have abilities, and the show then becomes a mixture of X-Files meets X-Men. For the first season we follow a pair of agents, Agent Diana Skouris and Agent Tom Baldwin who tackle a sort of “ability” of the week story line, while we also watch how this plays out on the larger story being told.

The show ran for 4 seasons, with an abrupt cancellation in the last season. There have been four novels set within the continuity of the TV show which builds the world even further that should also be checked out.

Though the show focused on the concept of people with abilities, as mentioned before, these individuals weren’t trying to be superheroes. You have people who abused their abilities for selfish gain, saw the abilities as a blessing, or even tried to use them for committing disturbing acts.

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For example there was one episode during the first season where one returnee attempted to use his ability to simply save his neighborhood, after seeing the state of decay it had experienced in the years that he’d been away. But even then, you see the effects of what happens to an untrained individual who, though they had a set of “super” abilities, paid the consequences of the harsh reality he’d attempted to change, good intentions be damned.

The story grows in scope over the later seasons as we see the true purpose for these individuals being brought back, and definitely throws in a large amount of sci-fi elements. But at the core of this larger story we always come back to how these abilities are affecting these normal, everyday folks who are in essence caught out of time.

Chronicle (Film)

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Simple synopsis of Chronicle: A group of teens at a party find a glowing rock, investigate, experience nose bleeds, black outs, and develop telekinetic abilities.

And everything else afterwards is f&^%$ing awesome.

What works about this movie is this simple synopsis. Only towards the end of the flick do we get some obligatory, grandiose hero vs. villain fight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome, but that’s not the strongest part of the flick.

No, before then we simply get a tale of kids gaining super abilities, and just being kids.

They get a handheld camera, and just do what teens nowadays would do: show off, and have fun with these new found abilities. Whether it’s pulling pranks at a grocery store, or just flying through the Washington state skies, the teens are just enjoying these awesome abilities.

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We have the popular nice/ intelligent dude (Steve/ Michael B. Jordan), the middle of the road likeable guy (Matt/ Alex Russell), and the sympathetic outcast (Andrew/ Dane DeHaan). Through the gifting of these abilities an unexpected friendship organically grows between the three, and makes you enjoy these characters even more.

In addition to this focusing on the budding friendship between the trio, we also get a really good example of something that I’ll tackle in Jumper: a focus on what a person who has been physically/ mentally abused might do with such a set of abilities.

One of the strongest, and depressing character arcs that we see in this movie is Andrew’s, played masterfully by DeHann. He’s the butt of everyone’s joke at high school, he’s the kid with the alcoholic father who verbally and physically beats him down it seems with every single day.

Imagine what a kid like that might do if granted god like abilities? Put on an outfit and fight crime?

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Nope, he’d be more inclined to probably F’ ‘ish up, as he lashes out with a huge well of pent up pain and frustration that’s been building over the years.

Andrew probably should’ve seen a counselor in the years before the events that play out in Chronicle, but that’s not the case. Even as his new friends try to intervene and help him to see the awesome guy that they see, it’s too late.

That’s why this story works extremely well for me. You have a kid who doesn’t go the typical route that teenagers endowed with abilities might go in the world of super heroic tales of do gooders.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit the dude gets a bit too super villain-esque at the end, but the build up to that, and even the final fight make up for this.

Chronicle is a great movie, featuring a believable take on teens gaining super abilities that shouldn’t be missed.

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 Jumper by Steven Gould (Novel)

First, let’s start with this: get that movie out of your head. The one featuring that guy who played the whiny Anakin Skywalker, and Samuel L. Jackson with yet another weird wig.

The movie was fun in spots, bad in others, but got too convoluted and grandiose in the story that it was trying to tell. Nice special effects, but kind of “blah” at the middle.

Jumper, the novel was much, much, much more in terms of a sci-fi story about a kid who discovers he has the ability to “jump”, or teleport. But David Rice, the stories protagonist, doesn’t do this for the sake of fighting crime, or saving lives (at first). For a large chunk of the book this kid is running from an abusive relationship.

David’s mother left him when he was a kid, fleeing the abuse that her husband was tossing out. Rather than eventually be continually hurt by him, or worse, she decides to leave the household, unfortunately leaving David to be the sole receiver of David’s ass-hat of a father’s abuse.

So when David discovers that he can teleport, he becomes the ultimate runaway kid. And you do nothing but root for him the whole time that he does this. Imagine being able to wondrously get away from a person who does nothing but berate you, hit you, psychologically just break you down to the point where you just want to die.

That’s where David is at in the book, and we see his growth into a stronger individual as the story plays out, the further away he gets away from his father.

Later on in the story David does use his abilities for good, but this is only after he suffers a personal tragedy of sorts. Throughout the book he’s constantly escaping the crappiness that life had heaped on him, and it makes for a compelling story.

Just as Jessica Jones focused on what someone with super abilities who had been psychologically and physically abused might deal with that, I think Jumper does the same in telling a science fiction based story of a runaway who is trying to simply escape a set of crappy circumstances.


 

That’s it for this round. I’ll add more in upcoming weeks to this list. Thanks for checking it out and happy viewing/ reading.