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9 Annoying Plot Holes in Thor: The Dark World

Clearly Tom Hiddleston feels the same way about this script as I do.

Clearly Tom Hiddleston feels the same way about this script as I do.

I enjoy the Marvel movies, but I don’t always like them — mostly because their stories are a bit lazy. They have excellent actors, talented directors, exemplary lighting and sound, decent FX, and a crowd-pleasing mix of action and humor… but they also have some of the most frustrating, illogical, and convenient scripts imaginable, which drags the entire viewing experience down a notch for me.

Here are 9 things I couldn’t get past while otherwise enjoying Thor: The Dark World.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

1. It’s basically just the first Thor movie all over again

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

After opening with an Odin-narrated flashback that establishes the film’s external threat, we then introduce the film’s interpersonal conflict during an expository scene on Odin’s throne, followed by a CGI-heavy off-world battle where Thor beats up some creatures with a hammer.

After a post-battle dining hall celebration where everyone is having fun except Thor — who leaves all pouty while ignoring Sif’s lovelorn advances — we spend a lot of time on Earth with some bumbling scientists as they stumble upon the MacGuffin around which this movie will revolve. Then Thor shows up, and he and Jane fall in lo– er, they resume their love, which consists mostly of pining looks and a single kiss.

But their love is threatened (as is the existence of the entire universe) by an ancient evil that will be conveniently expunged by the end of this film — but not before Thor disobeys his father, Heimdall fails to see a cloaked enemy that invades Asgard, Odin tells Thor he can’t do what he wants to do, Heimdall is forced to commit treason so Thor can do what he wants to do anyway, Sif and The Warriors Three are forced to… um… also commit treason, Loki is allowed to scheme his way onto the throne, and Thor once again earns the right to the throne, only to turn it down.

(If this sounds really familiar, it’s because Iron Man 2 was basically Iron Man all over again too, so you’re probably trained to expect this from Marvel by now.)

2. Who’s paying Jane to live in London?

In Thor, all of Jane’s scientific machinery was confiscated by SHIELD. Yet for some reason she’s in London when this movie opens, still trying to find Thor (even though he already came and went in New York during the Avengers movie and never bothered to call her). Her intern Darcy complains that she’s not getting paid, yet Darcy herself somehow has an intern. Why do they need another intern? What are they even studying? And who’s paying them? Speaking of…

3. Why is Darcy still working for Jane, anyway?

In the first movie, Darcy is revealed as a political science major, not an actual scientist. (“She was the only applicant.”) She’s clearly not good at her job, and she drives Jane crazy… yet, somehow, she’s still working (for free?) for Jane in London a full two years after the whole New Mexico incident, during which time Darcy at least had the excuse of earning college credits. What’s she doing now, and why?

4. Do these scientists not use the Internet?

Erik Selvig is arrested at Stonehenge for public insanity, which you’d think would be major news. Yet our intrepid scientists repeatedly call Erik’s cell phone because they have no idea where he is. And when they do finally hear about the incident, how do they find out? On television. (Of course they do; because finding out on Twitter wouldn’t be very cinematic.)

5. The geographic odds of the climax happening in London are astounding.

When the Convergence happens, the universe will be destroyed. It takes both Thor and Jane’s team to stop it. So how convenient is it that the epicenter of the Convergence just happens to be a few blocks away from where Jane is living in London? If the epicenter had been anywhere else — hell, if it had been in Manchester — there’s no way Jane would have gotten there in time to use her… whatever the hell those crutches with the AM/FM radios glued to them are.

6. How unreliable are the nurses on Asgard, anyway?

Okay, so they couldn’t get the Aether out of Jane Foster. Fine. The Aether is older than they are; I’ll accept that they can’t cure it.

But remember in the first movie, when Thor and his friends first go to fight the frost giants on Jotunheim? They retreat in part because Fandral gets stabbed through the entire chest by a stalagmite. Yet while they don’t get him back to Asgard for at least fifteen minutes, the next time we see him he’s fine, like it never happened. “Nice health care they must have on Asgard,” you’re thinking, right?

So why is it that Frigga gets stabbed by a sword just once in this movie and she dies?

You mean to tell me the Asgardian healers can reconstruct Fandral’s entire torso, but they can’t patch a stab wound? Or did that giant stalagmite conveniently miss every organ in Fandral’s body while that thin sword skewered each of Frigga’s?

Mm hmm.

7. “Oh, you’re a host for the Aether? You’ll be fine.”

When the Aether is in Jane, Odin explains that it will kill her if it isn’t removed because it’s feeding on her life force to sustain itself. Yet when Malekith forcibly removes the Aether, Jane collapses… and then she’s fine. Considering the Aether had been sapping her very existence like a soul tapeworm, shouldn’t Jane have been near-death, or completely dead, without it? And yet she’s up and running a few minutes later, like it was no big thing.

Mm hmm.

Just so we’re all on the same page, the hierarchy of “Serious Injuries in Thor Movies” is:

impaled by a stalagmite < having soul eaten by Aether < stabbed with a sword

Right. Got it.

8. Odin is the least perceptive king (or dad) ever.

Let’s skip the logic problem from the first movie, in which Odin rescues Loki as an infant even though he just slaughtered every other frost giant on the planet, and then proceeds to raise this frost giant as his own son, just in case that would come in handy sometime.

If both of your sons have a history of disobeying you, how do you not have someone tailing each of them at all times so they don’t start another war or, you know, try to kill you and take the throne? Especially when you just kidnapped your son’s girlfriend and told him he can never see her again. Yes, because now he’ll listen.

“Sire? I couldn’t help but notice Thor and Heimdall — whom you just fired — were conspiring in a public grog house. Would you like me to follow them?”

“No, I’m sure it’s fine.”

“I could station someone outside Fandral’s house. Or Volstagg’s. Or Sif’s.”

“No, don’t worry about it.”

“Do you at least want to have one of your crows follo–”

“What part of ‘I don’t think my son who always disobeys me is going to try and save his girlfriend this time’ do you not understand, nameless guard?”

9. Did the guy who played Hogun piss someone off during pre-production?

Thor has twelve supporting cast members that you know by name — eight on Asgard (Odin, Frigga, Loki, Heimdall, Sif, Hogun, Fandral, Volstagg), and four on Earth (Jane, Erik, Darcy, Ian). That’s a lot of glorified extras to stand around and ask questions that advance the plot. And yet I find it hard to believe that a producer somewhere took a look at an early draft of this script and decided to make a hard choice.

“Hey, yeah, that is waaaay too many characters. Reduce it by one.”

“Uh… just one?”

“Yeah. That should clear everything up.”

“Okay… which one?”

“Doesn’t matter. They’re all kind of the same. Maybe one of those three guys that no one else can tell apart, but whom we still kind of hope to spin off into their own Netflix series someday?”

“I heard the Asian guy joking that he’d be cool with sitting this one out as long as we still make him an action figure.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever. Do it. Rest of the script looks pretty bulletproof, though.”

Accidental Business Advice from Spider-Man Creator Stan Lee

How many of your ideas have been overnight successes?

Oh.

Sorry to hear that.

But hey, don’t give up.

You might just be on a lifetime odyssey toward incredible success.  And you could do worse than to remember a word of advice from a guy whose creations were once unceremoniously destroyed by mothers around the country, only to wind up seeing his work become a cultural touchstone around the world and the fuel for some of the highest-grossing films of all time.

Face Front, True Believers…

My friend Dawn went to the Baltimore Comic Convention this weekend and was in the audience for Stan Lee’s “panel,” which was actually just Stan Lee answering questions from people.  While she was there, she shared a few of his more quotable comments via Facebook, like…

“People 30 years ago thought comic books were for illiterate adults and children. Today, comic writers and artists win top awards and honors. [Comics] weren’t meant for kids then and they aren’t now. I did everything I could to make sure of that.” – Stan Lee

If you don’t know who Stan Lee is, he’s the godfather of modern comic books.  As the co-creator of Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four and pretty much every other major (and minor) Marvel Comics character invented in the 1960s, he dragged the concept of “invulnerable” heroes like DC’s Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman into the “real” world, saddled them with real-life problems, and gave birth to the modern superhero.

For that, his work was considered a cultural distraction at best and a perversion at worst, and kids’ comic book collections from the ’60s rarely survived the decade — which is one of the reasons those issues that weren’t thrown away by fastidious moms and oblivious teens are now worth millions of dollars.

Now, almost fifty years later, Marvel (and, to a lesser extent, DC) are finally seeing their flagship characters turned into box office-smashing, record-setting, franchise-launching, globally dominant films.

But it didn’t happen overnight.

It happened because generations of fans wanted it to happen, and because the enthusiasm for these characters has been transferred from the children of the ’60s to their own kids and grandkids, who now have the buying power and the technological wizardry at their fingertips to being these stories to life in a manner that deserves global attention.

This wasn’t always the case.  Comic book fans (and creators) have suffered insults and social marginalization for decades, and the sudden acceptance of their lifelong passions at the box office doesn’t exactly make up for things like this.  But it does verify what they’ve known all along: that what they loved is worth loving, and will continue to be worth loving even after it falls out of pop culture favor, which it surely will.

Can you say the same thing for your brand / business / products / passion?

Are you willing to go the distance to see your vision succeed?

Instant Karma Is Probably Not Going to Get You

Our current digital age may give you the impression that success is either instantaneous or impossible, and that there is no in-between.

Wrong.

In fact, most of your ideas will fail.

Success is difficult, and the combination of skill, determination, industriousness and sheer luck that’s required for most ideas to break even is astounding.  (And if you want to be profitable, it’s even harder.)

Granted, it can be done.  But it rarely happens overnight.  (Not that I’d mind if Hollywood suddenly tried to buy The Baristas from me.  But really, we’re just getting warmed up…)

Unfortunately, most people see a lack of immediate viral success as proof that an idea, product or business model “doesn’t work,” when all it really means is that it hasn’t worked yet.  Figuring out why that is, and what might need to change, is what separates the successes from the could-have-beens.

So, why might your idea not be catching fire just yet?  Maybe you’re…

  • underfunded?
  • badly organized?
  • ahead of your time?
  • fighting an uphill battle?
  • spreading yourself too thin?
  • profiting at too small a margin?
  • battling negative public perception?

… and so on.

There’s no shortage of reasons why your ideas may not be working, which is why it’s actually a rarity when they do work.

One way to make sure you’re on the right track?

Study the competition.

Why Captain America Needs Superman (and Vice Versa)

“The last Batman was a GREAT movie. A GREAT movie. You always have to know what the competition is doing. Just wait until you see the Avengers!” — Stan Lee

In the 1960s, Stan Lee brought a fresh perspective to a super hero genre that had been rendered toothless by federal investigations and voluntary self-censorship.  Lee’s innovation was to give comic book fans something they didn’t even know was possible: characters they could relate to, rather than idolize.

The resulting boom in interest among comic fans in the ’60s led to a resurgence in super-hero cartoons, toys and TV series, but Marvel’s legitimacy at the box office was harder to come by.  Despite the relative success of the film adaptations of DC’s Superman and Batman in the ’70s and ’80s, it took Marvel another 20 years to get Spider-Man right — and when they did, they completely obliterated what audiences could reasonably expect from a comic book movie.

And then they blew itRepeatedly.

And yet, if Marvel had given up when things looked darkest, we might never have had Iron Man, which reminded the world that comic book adaptations didn’t have to suck.  And with Iron Man justifying the genre’s existence, audiences were willing to take DC’s Dark Knight seriously.  (Very seriously.)

Thus, a lesson: even when you’re winning, you’ll still find stumbling blocks.  Fight through them.  They’re called “stumbling blocks,” not “career-enders.”

Of course, it helps if you can keep your eye on the prize…

Know What Success Looks Like, So You Can Aim Properly

Q: “If you could be sucked in to one comic book world, which would it be?”

A: “Archie comics. Then I could be with Betty AND Veronica! And no super villians trying to kill me. Perfect!” – Stan Lee

Maybe your idea of success is breaking even.  Maybe it’s profitability.  Maybe it’s selling your idea or company for millions of dollars.  Maybe it’s just getting your foot in the door.

Whatever success looks like for you, that’s the benchmark against which you should be judging yourself and your work.  Not how well the competition is doing (although they do give you an idea of what’s possible).  Not arbitrary metrics that don’t satisfy your stated goals.  And not just money, because if you wanted to be filthy rich, there are plenty of ways to do it without embarking on a career-long roller coaster ride of self-doubt.

You’re doing what you do because you love to do it.  (Right?)

And that means your idea of success will be different from mine, or from anyone else’s.

The thrill is in getting there — no matter how long it takes.

Excelsior!

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What Exactly IS “The Mainstream”?

Sure, I’ve lamented the depressing-down of pop culture over the past 30 years.  And yes, we in the social media field often debate whether or not what we’re doing has “become mainstream.”

But what (or where?) is the mainstream?  And when does a creation of the culture become popular enough to qualify as “pop culture” — and to whom?

If we start with Wikipedia (because we must), we learn the following:

Mainstream is, generally, the common current of thought of the majority….  It is a term most often applied in the arts (i.e., music, literature, and performance). This includes:

  • something that is available to the general public;
  • something that has ties to corporate or commercial entities.

As such, the mainstream includes all popular culture, typically disseminated by mass media. The opposite of the mainstream are subcultures, countercultures, cult followings, underground cultures and (in fiction) genre.”

Given this definition, let’s deconstruct it further.  For example, the opening sentence: “Mainstream is, generally, the common current of thought of the majority.”  Thus, in order to be considered “mainstream,” a thing must be thought of:

  • commonly
  • currently
  • by the majority

For example, swing music was “current” 60 years ago, but it’s not “commonly” enjoyed “by the majority” today, so we can conclude that swing music is no longer mainstream — although it once was.  This means that mainstream has a shelf life dependent upon the immediate popular tastes of “the majority,” as epitomized by fashion.  (“When does something become retroactively cool?” is a discussion for another time.)

But there’s another spot of vagueness in the whole debate: how do we define “the majority”?  Are we talking about the entirety of the world’s population?  If so, then only the most basic concepts like food, water and shelter can be considered mainstream, since I doubt most of sub-Saharan Africa has ever seen Star Wars or an NFL game.  Or maybe we mean the majority of Western (or Eastern) culture, AKA the majority of geographically separate citizens who still share a common lifestyle?  Or do we mean the majority of a certain country, a specific gender or an age-defined demographic?

NASCAR is mainstream among the red half of America.  Richard Dawkins is an international expert and best-selling author whom the majority of NASCAR fans have probably never read.  Have either of them reached a critical mass of popularity across enough demographic segments to be considered “mainstream”?  (Can something ever be mainstream if it polarizes the population, or must it be universally embraced?)

Iron Man, a film based on a semi-popular comic book (which is a literary subculture, according to the above definition), is the 53rd largest-grossing film of all-time, out-earning all of the X-Men films, which are based on a better-known property.  Since film is mass media, whereas comic books are not, does that mean the character of Iron Man has finally escaped the alternative media ghetto and can now be considered mainstream?  Or would he have to reach the heights of Spider-Man 3 at #13 all-time, or The Dark Knight at #4?  What’s the Mendoza line for the mainstream?

CNN and Nightline regularly quote tweets from their Twitter followers.  Facebook helped power the “Super Duper Tuesday” election extravaganza in February 2008.  Does mass media’s use of a social media tool mean that specific tool can now be considered mainstream?  Or does one tool’s reach raise awareness of social media itself to mainstream heights?

Perhaps none of these questions have clearly-defined answers, and this is all an exercise in semantics.  But if we’re interested in how the world around us perceives what we’re doing — and how we’re influenced by what the world around us is doing — it helps to understand our own presumptions and expectations.  Otherwise, you’ll never know when those UGGs you insist on wearing have gone out of style.

The Death of Fun

Remember the ’80s?  Those were my formative years, so their influence is hard to shake, but I can’t help but recall the ’80s as the last time in Western culture when fun was generally acceptable.

I grew up reading comic books like Batman and Spider-Man, and watching cartoons like G. I. Joe and Transformers.  And while each of those entertainments occasionally intertwined with “adult themes” — Crisis on Infinite Earths, Kraven’s Last Hunt, the 2-part “There’s No Place Like Springfield” episode of G. I. Joe when Shipwreck is brainwashed into believing he has a wife and child who then dissolve into ectoplasm and drive him insane — their tone was generally upbeat, optimistic and action-packed.  Sure, bad things might happen, but you were always a “G. I. Joe-teams-up-with-Cobra-to-defeat-a-mutual-enemy” moment away from overcoming cynicism with the possibility of a bright new future where our differences weren’t so great, and everyone could just get along — at least until the next episode.

Then the ’90s happened.

Suddenly, the garish burlesque of hair metal was rendered immediately irrelevant by grunge, and pop culture never looked back.  The rarefied ’80s tendency by some artists to take cultural icons more seriously — Watchmen, The Dark Knight, Batman: Year One — was just the preamble to a new generation of brooding, tortured anti-heroes incapable of enjoying life — and, by extension, making the enjoyment of life seem childish.

And now, here we are at the dawn of 2010, a quarter-century removed from the heyday of Saturday morning cartoons and stories with happy endings.  Movie superheroes are barred from wearing multicolored costumes.  Video games have evolved from technicolor adventures into something more sinister.  Grunge and gangster rap have never truly relinquished their grip on the pop radio culture, resulting in the enduring popularity of ’80s nights — the last time anyone could dance without feeling guilty.

Recent cinematic reboots of Batman, Spider-Man, The X-Men, G. I. Joe and Transformers have maximized the eye candy, but they consciously eschew any semblance of fun, instead focusing on survivalist action.  To be “cool” in this new era is to be as emotionally detached and battle-ready as possible, which means there’s no time for friendship, romance or self-expression — unless all of these happen as desperate accidents while you’re doing something more important, like saving the world from giant killer robots.  (Even the new Freddy Krueger lacks the vaudevillian sense of humor that made the original Nightmare on Elm Street series worth seeing through covered eyes, now reduced to another joyless exercise in pathological revenge.)

It’s not like others haven’t noticed, either.  Half the humor from ultra-satires like South Park, Family Guy and Robot Chicken is derived from contrasting the innocence of youth with the stark vagaries of reality.  But as cynical as their humor is, it’s also wistful, reminding us of a time when high school wasn’t a hotbed of sociopaths and wrestlers didn’t try to murder each other.

Sure, the ’80s were absurd.  But they wouldn’t resonate as strongly as they do today if they weren’t also one thing that modern culture refuses to be: unashamedly, unabashedly and unironically fun.

Disagree?

Then think back a moment to the cultural icons of our recent past.  Would Star Wars have been a generational touchstone without a heart at the center of its android shell?  Sure, Luke’s the brooding one with the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders, but Han Solo’s the rule-breaking class clown who gets the girl.

Didn’t we learn anything from that?

10 Things I Learned at the 2009 Small Press Expo

This weekend, I attended my first Small Press Expo, which is (according to its website) North America’s Premiere Independent Cartooning and Comic Book Arts Festival.  My friends Rachel and Josh went last year and they loved it, and since Baltimore is only an hour away from the event’s Bethesda ballroom, I joined them on this year’s trip down from Pittsburgh.

Being surrounded by hundreds of comic book creators, cartoonists, illustrators, publishers, writers, critics and fans was truly exhilarating, and not just because I’m a longtime comics fan who appreciates the indie scene.  A roomful of inspiration, creativity and self-actualization is naturally infectious, and meeting other creative people always makes me want to create something myself.  Thus, I end up leaving these types of events with a million new thoughts swirling in my head (and, in this case, a mini-comic about mermaid love gone wrong).

Some things I noticed, which may be applicable to your event / business / frame of mind:

People respect you when you do it yourself. Regardless of how talented you are, people admire anyone with the pluck to try something on their own, much less anyone who can earn a living on their own terms.  “Being an artist” is a universally romantic yet seldom-realized dream, so an event like this gives everyone who attends a chance to support those people who are brave (or delusional) enough to make their own rules.  (That said, it does help if you’re actually talented; people are far more inclined to support someone whom they personally think deserves to “make it.”)

Making money is allowed.  (Encouraged, even.) Unlike other web content creators who seem reluctant or unable to charge for their work, the vendors at SPX are unashamed to charge for their creations — and the attendees are unoffended.  Since everyone involved is either self-published or allied with a small press, all purchases help support people who make art for a living.  Nearly everyone I saw had purchased something, and lots of people were sitting happily on the floor outside the main exhibition hall, reading through their fresh stacks of brand new comics.

If there’s something for everyone, everyone leaves happy. No matter your tastes, this event had a book for you.  Vendors were selling comics about super heroes, sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, relationships, biography, parody, ninjas, animals, kids, horror, history, surfing, pornography and pin-up girls — and everything in-between.  If you couldn’t find something worth your time at SPX, you weren’t paying attention.  (How many events can you honestly say that about?)

Develop a coverage strategy when attending large events. Since this was my first time to SPX (and since I was conveniently broke and therefore unable to indulge my appetite for reading material), I was content to wander the floor and observe.  Rachel made two passes through the room — once to reconnoiter without buying anything, and then a second swoop to make her actual purchases.  And Josh beelined directly for the books he already knew he wanted in advance, making all his major purchases in the first half hour and then returning to explore the $5-and-under offerings.  Having pre-set expectations helped each of us find what we wanted, and we all left happy.*

There’s only so much time to talk. Josh zipped through the event without engaging anyone he didn’t want to talk to, stopping only at the tables of the artists whose work he already admired or whose work kept his attention for longer than a moment.  On the other hand, Rachel and I moseyed from table to table, inevitably getting embroiled in conversations with the artists about their work, their lives and their print quality.  If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to get trapped in endless conversations, be spatially aware of when a vendor has no one else nearby to speak to and nothing else physically to do — those are the times you’re most likely to get waylaid.

Longevity trumps talent. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you keep doing something long enough, even if you’re an average talent, you’ll eventually be respected as a veteran.  You can’t help but acquire knowledge over the years, and that wisdom — coupled with your obvious hard-nosed grit — will earn you generations of fans who admire you simply for fighting the good fight.  (Again, it helps to actually be talented, but it helps even more to get out of bed every morning and do whatever it takes to keep going.  Talent is singular, but tenacity is something we all like to believe we can achieve; when you do, you become inspirational.)

Different price points provide fans with different opportunities to support you. Dedicated fans are happy to pay $20 or more for your work.  People who’ve never heard of you (but like what they see) would prefer to pay less.  And products under $5 let people take a chance on your work without incurring much risk, or to support you fiscally even if they’re not your biggest fans artistically.

Be personable. I realize that people who create comics for a living are trained to express themselves non-verbally, but events like this are a showcase of talent and personality.  As interested as I am in your work, I’d rather talk to you for thirty seconds than watch you ink a page of your next issue.  I can always buy that issue later; I can’t talk to you again until next year.  (I know, I know: “There’s a thing called the Internet.”  But it’s not the same.)

Give me a reminder. People moving through an event like this are going to see a lot of media all at once.  They’ll be overwhelmed.  Provide them with a freebie so they can find you online later and learn more about your work at a time when they’re less informationally challenged.

We need more events like this. Not just for comics, but for all fields, artistic and beyond.  The communal energy of SPX is reminiscent of the kinetic energy at the first PodCamp, which started out as a meet-up for people who make web media.  The opportunity for like-minded individuals to meet in a common space and share their expertise with peers is rare, but the benefits — both professionally and intellectually — are worth the effort.

*  Admittedly, I didn’t have nearly enough expendable cash for an artistic smorgasbord like this.  Judging by the line waiting to access the ATM, neither did a lot of other people.  I should start a trust fund for next year.