Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013

Good day,

            So, that was 2013. People came and went, empires rose and crumbled, hearts were broken or mended, and our species grew another inch, it seems. There were a lot of little victories on my end; made new friends and reconnected with old ones, got signed on as a regular contributor to Archenemy Magazine, had two more stories accepted into different anthologies, and even went on a date for the first time in a year! Granted, it went nowhere, and she thinks I’m a dead end of a human being, but who cares? It still happened.

            In spite of that, the year had its disappointments, especially for those of us in Canada. Our Prime Minister’s track record is still horrendous, our cultural landscape is falling apart, and then there’s the matter of my good city’s present management. In addition to the blundering escapades of the Captain Planet villain my people voted in, city council seems dedicated to burning down all of our major cultural artefacts and replacing them with high-rises built by psychopathic Lego men and Wal-Marts.

            Honestly, though? Even with all that, I can still find things to be proud of. Even though our administration is a mess, at least I can find solace in our mindless entertainment industry, and this year saw some weird and wonderful things emerging out of Toronto. So, since Lists seem to be the in-thing right now, let me go through four things born from my good city that we, and the world, should be proud of.

1.    MONSTROSITY

Toronto’s comic scene has certainly been bustling, what with new studios and content creators scrambling to make themselves heard. Some voices are certainly louder than the rest, but the one you need to hear is the one talking about Brian Evinou and Phil McClorey’s comic anthology Monstrosity. With eighteen well-drawn, ball-busting yarns from Toronto’s finest artists and writers, including Jason Loo, Rodrigo Bravo, Shane Heron, and Ricky Lima, what you end up with is a wild ride through the mountains of madness.

2.    ROGUE LEGACY

Probably the most addictive, butt-crushing, but still balls-to-the-wall entertainingly good game I’ve played this year came from Cellar Door Games’ Rogue Legacy, a platformer-adventure Rogue-like RPG. Unlike other Rogue-like games that take fun and punch it in the dick, Rogue Legacy gives you a chance to build an empire from your earnings during each failure, helping you survive the next run through the jungle for a little while longer. Challenging and clever with a neat aesthetic, Rogue Legacy is one of those games that makes you go “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

3.    THE CAPTAIN CANUCK WEBSERIES

Back in 1975, Ron Leishman and Richard Comely created their answer to Captain America in the form of the high-flying, death-defying Captain Canuck. For decades, he’s been a part of the Canadian comic world’s subcultural backdrop, popping in and out of obscurity in the form of new miniseries and re-imaginings. This year saw a new version of the character come into being, as well as a new medium, as Toronto’s own Smiley Guy studios put together an animated web-series, crowd-funded by YOU, and featuring the all-star cast of Kris Holden-Reid, Laura Vandervoort, Paul Amos, and Tatiana Maslany. It’s not done yet, but so far I’m impressed. Where’s episode 4, you bastards?

4.    PACIFIC RIM

NO, I WILL NOT STOP PRAISING THIS MOVIE.

This film embodies everything I love. Impossible monsters, incredible set-pieces, daring but flawed heroes, heart-pounding action, a sense of awe and wonder, and a great message about the strength of the human heart. Why is it on this list, though? Because it was filmed in Toronto. Yes, fine, a good chunk of it was filmed in soundstages, but a lot of scenes were actually filmed in the bluffs, or in the downtown. To me, this is incredibly fitting for a film that embraces multiculturalism, and thank god for that.

Looking back on this list, though, I feel like there’s another reason I’m proud of them. See, it’s not just because of the fact that these are all grand fun to me, but because they’re what I think of, or want to think of, when I think about Toronto. Diversity, tenacity, a respect for history, and unity. I feel like we’re losing that part of ourselves, that we’re too focused on letting the bad guys win just because they have more money and better hair than we do.

This isn’t my Toronto. My Toronto is, or should be, a gorgeous and multifaceted thing that I want to be proud of. Our New Year Resolution should be to bring that back, and be the Toronto we loved for just one day.

Let’s make it happen, 2014.

See you on the other side,


RWI

Friday, November 22, 2013

Lessons Learned: Odd One Out

Good day,

            This is going to be my first Lesson Learned, where I get a bit personal and give you, gentle reader, a glimpse behind the mask and show you how my life experiences made me man I am today, as well as any wisdom I can impart on you. So, in honour of Bullying Awareness Week, I’m going to talk about a subject I’m quite passionate about.

            Here’s my story. When I was a child, I had what you’d call The Big Triple-A: Asthma, Anxiety, and Asperger’s. Now, by that last one, I don’t mean that I was some self-diagnosed cretin trying to rationalize the piles of Sonic The Hedgehog pornography he printed out, categorized, and put in binders under his bed. See, I was born in that golden age before the internet, when people sought out actual psychologists instead of digital ones. I had problems expressing the information I was processing, and preferred to be alone instead of socialize with the other kids. The asthma didn’t help either, and I was prone to hacking fits and blacking out and couldn’t really fit in with the more athletic kids, and my anxiety has been a constant throughout my life, and too complex for me to put in just one editorial.

            Long story short, it was this combination of factors that led to me being targeted by bullies on a regular basis. Ah, those were the days. Getting stomped into the mud. Being chased and terrorized by my classmates. Bigger kids threatening to break my fingers and kill my parents. Hit with coat zippers and sticks. Held cruciform by three kids as a fourth charged me and kicked me in the stomach. What joy, what privilege!

            So, from First Grade all the way to high school, I had a big ‘Kick Me’ sign stapled to my back. Now, I had friends, but for the first little while my social anxiety dictated that I couldn’t have more than one at a time, at any given time. Then, when I felt ready to move in larger circles, the friends I did make didn’t like each other for the longest time, and I didn’t know how to make them see past their differences. Plus, when friends brought me into their circles, adjusting to other people’s personalities was taxing for a wreck as myself.

And I did stand up for myself to the best of my abilities, in the way kids are told to stand up to their bullies: through being louder and more physical. This, however, actually makes things worse. “You throw a stone, we bring a knife,” that sort of dance. Then, when I was thirteen and in the principal’s office for decking a kid who was bugging me during French class, I was told that at my age such actions could see me with a criminal record, so that pushed the violence out of me, but not my anger. I still yelled at people who got under my skin and harassed me, which just made me look spastic, and gave my tormentors a good laugh.

            Being unable to fight may have kept me out of juvie, but suppressing my anger and frustration led to getting lost in my thoughts in a very bad way. It all reached a head one dark night when I was doing the dishes in my house. I found myself cleaning a particularly large kitchen knife, staring down at it quite lovingly, when an errant thought said “You know, my school doesn’t have metal detectors. I could probably sneak this in.” Just then, fortunately, I felt a chill, forcing me to put it back in the drawer and shove that morbid idea and its kin away.

            And so I grew up. Rather, I worked to better myself. I didn’t give in. I learned how to make and keep friends properly, made some good memories, had the privilege to go to university and college, fell in and out of love, and evolved into who I am now. The boy I was never went away, though. He still lives deep in the bowels of my subconscious, crying and begging to be left alone. Now and then, he comes out, one way or another, and I have to tell him everything will be okay.

            Which is always the hardest part.

            Actually, the hardest part is what I’m going to tell you right now.

If you’re a young ‘un reading this who’s going through bullying, I wish I could sit here and delude you with a positive message like ‘you will survive this,’ but I can’t. This may pass. Your bullies might grow up and realize they were assholes to you, or they might not. Many are usually ignorant to the damage they cause people on a psychological and emotional level. Even in the next stages of your life, this kind of abuse will follow you. You’ll find people who made their way through the world by being aggressive and mean-spirited, and they’ll look at you as an anomaly that needs to be snuffed out or forced to change. For us, the sensitive ones, the world is unforgiving.

            And if the abuse is not external, then it will certainly be internal. You’re your own worst enemy, after all. See, maybe you’re surrounded by good people, genuine and honest people who love you, and that’s great! Too bad no-one warns you about the triggers. Yeah, that’s right, we get triggered. It could be a buzzword that was slung at you in your younger years like ‘faggot’ or ‘retard’ or ‘idiot.’ Maybe it’s something innocent like being laughed at. Either way, something’s going to set you off, and you’re going to get mad, and then you’re going to get mad at getting mad because you feel like an idiot. “Why the hell am I like this?” you’ll ask. “Didn’t I move past this point?”

            The fact is, we can’t. We don’t survive this. Not all of us, not entirely.

            So do this instead.

            First, find people you can trust and confide in. This is key. If you come from a loving family, talk to them, but either way, make friends and build connections. If it gets worse, go seek out a counsellor, someone who can look at your situation from the outside and offer some suggestions. Then, get away from chat rooms, forums, and social media websites, because those places can be open playing fields for jackasses. Don’t say anything, just randomize your passwords and don’t log in for however long you need to. Finally, find a way to vent. Pent up thoughts and emotions are the death of us. Just make sure you find a healthy medium. Draw, write, sing, scream, punch a pillow, talk to yourself. Get it out of your head.

            No, you won’t survive this. So fight it instead. Wrestle it to the ground and tame it. Own it and learn its weaknesses.

            And when you do, tell me how you did it, because we’re in this together. You, me, and the rest of the freaks. Do what you have to do. Just don’t give up, because taking any of the darker roads out of this mess will be treated as a victory by your tormentors, and the last think you need is to give them that.

            Don’t be a survivor. Be the winner.

See you next time,


RWI

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Let's Talk About/If I Did: Agents of SHIELD

Good day,

            Behold the media giant known as Marvel! Bask in its glory! Amazing to see how far the company’s gone. Why, with all the video games, movies, animated series, novels, action figures, maquettes, and branded clothing out there, you forget how much money Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Joe Simon, and the actual creators of the Marvel universe weren’t receiving. I’m not here to talk about backstabbing in the entertainment industry, however. I’m here to talk about Marvel’s latest small-screen adventure that’s been leaving a bad taste in the mouths of fans: Agents of SHIELD.

            I was sceptical of the show from the start, but I was still willing to give it a shot. The action looked exciting, the concept seemed interesting, and it promised to be a fun side-story at the least. After sitting through the first five episodes, however, I found that I couldn’t go any further. Now I see that the show has been steadily losing viewers, and it’s good to see that I’m not alone in my opinion. If you ask me, there’s a number of reasons for the decline in the show’s popularity, so let me dive in and give my theories.

Now, I’m alone in this, but I don’t care for Coulson. He was an interesting bit-character, but his end in Avengers was fitting. Here was an ordinary human living in the shadows of giants who eventually tried to man up in his own way, only to die bravely trying to stop a mid-level villain. When he kicked the bucket, the fans were miserable – except for me, I didn’t really care – but it was a good end to his character. However, he was brought back to satiate the fans, and that’s the problem. Popular as he is, he’s not the guy to lead a T.V. show. The character’s too flat, possesses little agency (HA), and doesn’t have the dynamism needed in an action/drama.

Hell, the rest of the cast isn’t any better. Puppy-eyed Skye dives back and forth between drinking the SHIELD-issue Kool-Aid and selling them out to Anonymous or whatever the Rising Tide are supposed to be, but we’re supposed to like her because she’s allegedly-witty and cute. Oh, yes, and she has a tragic backstory, because of course she does. Our other male lead is Agent Grant Ward, also known as “every white male lead in a spy/cop serial ever,” except somehow more boring. And let’s not start on Melinda May, who is basically Kato from The Green Hornet repurposed as a sassy cougar.

            Then there’s the science team. Oh god, these guys. I cannot tell you how painful it is to watch two actors with no chemistry attempt comedic, fast-paced dialogue. I’m giving you this one for free, Marvel. How about, instead of a “witty duo” from the UK, our science expert is a robot named MISTER EXPLOSIONS. He’d be voiced by Ken Jeong and come equipped with a series of tools that’d help him get the job done, like shoot lasers, turn into a car, and tell me who my real father is. Way better than Fitz/Simmons, right? Right.

Maybe you like the cast. Maybe you’re cool with the characters Marvel approved and the actors playing them. Fine. Can we talk about the overwhelming Hail Big Brother message, though? The episodes I saw really emphasized the importance of constant surveillance and hiding the truth in order to keep the masses placated, because that’s not sinister at all.

The final straw came from the “Girl in the Flower Dress” episode, where one of the antagonists was an Edward Snowden/Julian Assange type of super-hacktivist who was suckered into infiltrating SHIELD’s files by the evil organization Centipede, citing the need to tell people about the truth as part of his motivation (as well as the million dollars said organization dumped on him). That’s… pretty admirable, actually. I mean, after gods landed in New Mexico and aliens invaded NYC only to be beaten back by a gang of superheroes, people would be ready for anything by now. What the hell, SHIELD?

It doesn’t help that the episodes framed around this premise hurt me dearly. Fine, “The Asset” and “Eye-Spy” were pretty good, but the other three were painful. Literally nothing happened in “0-8-4,” and most of the incidents that happened in “Girl in the Flower Dress” would have been avoided if Nick Fury straight-up hired the pyrokinetic character Centipede abducted when SHIELD first found him six years ago.

But the Pilot? Oh god, the pilot. Mike Peterson and Ace were so well thought-out. So fun and way more engaging than the rest of the cast. And what happens? Would-be super-person Mike Peterson gets shot with a tricked-out elephant gun/tranquilizer rifle (AS HE SURRENDERS TO SHIELD) and is dragged off-screen, with the audience just told that he and Ace are okay. Yeah, cool, um, I don’t mind closure, but I’d like something a little less sudden, thanks. A little less dodgy would be fine, too.

            Here’s how I would have done Agents. First of all, I’d have it so the organization focuses more on uncovering secrets and finding ways to publicize them, rather than launching them into space or sealing them in a vault. The events in Avengers would have changed the organization for the better (mostly), realizing that the world is more ready for its weirder side than they thought, and that they shouldn’t be confiscating research materials, launching technology into space, or rebuilding old HYDRA weapons for the sake of ‘deterrence.’

            Secondly, the team. Our leader and stand-in for Nick Fury who would chew out our team and deliver their missions would be the cigar-smoking, shotgun-swinging SHIELD Director G.W. Bridge, who’s done with glossing over reports and has decided to head back into the field before retirement. The rest of the agents would be a pick-and-mix from the comics, including Clay Quartermain, Abigail Brand, Jimmy Woo, Daisy Johnson, and the team’s financial backer Contessa Valentine Allegra de la Fontaine.

            As for the characters from the actual show, I might give some of them a bit of grace. If Clark Gregg wants to come back as Coulson, he can come back as a hard light hologram that can’t leave the Bus. It has his memories, it has his knowledge, but it’s not Coulson. Plus, we can have a Pinocchio complex with Coulson 2.0 where he dreams of being a real person with actual emotions, rather than data and an occasionally-faulty ‘random smarmy remark’ generator. Ward and May would be side characters around H.Q., and Skye would be an unwitting antagonist who thinks she’s doing good when she’s actually causing large-scale damage. No science team, though. Holo-Coulson can fill in for them in the science department, since he’d be jacked into a network of databases now. Also because Fuck Those Guys.

            But we need new blood in the team! Someone who maybe isn’t as versed in the weird world as everyone else is, so the audience can have someone to relate to. Easy: Mike Peterson and Ace.

Their characters are really well thought out! Plus, Mike would be incredibly useful. He’s been inside Centipede, and would probably have some super-powers left over from the cocktail his bosses shoved into him. Plus, the audience would get him, because he’s a single dad, and a working class hero who wants to break out of poverty and maybe do some good. His story and arcs would be really uplifting, and we could have some great moments where he’s visiting Ace after every mission and regaling him with stories of what he’s done.

            This leads us to the stories themselves. No more sweeping super-special crap under the rug, enough of the call-backs to the films, and no more putting super-powered people in ghettos. Dust it off and hold it into the light. Crashed alien ships that weren’t from the movies, hidden artefacts, secret organizations, mysterious people. More importantly, thwarting the machinations of evil super-groups; Flag Smasher and ULTIMATUM, The Secret Empire, new HYDRA and AIM cells, Zodiac – hell, give us The Serpent Society. I can take it.

            Basically, this show should be exciting. It shouldn’t be so goddamn safe and slow. We need a proper science-fantasy yarn to pull us in and entertain us. We can only hope that the four miniseries based on Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones will be alright, but I’m worried that those characters will only show up for five minutes, and the rest of the episodes will instead focus on a team of Coulsons.

See you next time,


RWI

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

If I Did - Kill Bill

Good day,

                I get the feeling I’m digging myself a grave here.

                See, Quentin Tarantino is one of those untouchables of the movie industry. His works are known for controversial content, sure, but his fan-base is a particularly rabid bunch who will die defending his works. So it goes with all fandoms, the common retort that gets thrown back in critics’ faces (beyond “die in a blaze of fiery rape, you shit vacuum“) is that they “don’t get it.” This is particularly the case here, because Tarantino’s films often draw from pre-existing cinematic subgenres, their narratives based around tropes and concepts from the best and worst of their ilk in order to make a single movie.

                So here’s my problem: I do get it.  In my boredom, I’ve often browsed through the internet for examples of different kinds of cinema and literature and their big representatives.  As such, especially in the case of Kill Bill, I’m so familiar with the material that I can’t help but sit there and tally up which scenes are from which movies. In that respect, Kill Bill isn’t a movie but a scrapbook.

That bothers me. It bothers me because I could have enjoyed Kill Bill quite a bit. I love homage films, but I feel that there are better works out there. In fact, the big difference between Kill Bill and works like Black Dynamite and Hobo With A Shotgun is the fact that you can’t see the strings, as it were.  You know what kind of movies they’re referring to, but you don’t necessarily have to have seen those movies to know what they’re all about.

But what if I did Kill Bill the way I wanted to? What’s my vision of Kill Bill?

                First thing’s first: this is one film. Don’t argue.

Secondly, I’m switching up the DVAS’ codenames and making Bud into two characters for reasons I’m going into soon, so try to keep up. On a side note, they’ll just be known as the Deadly Viper Assassins, because it’s less lofty.

Thirdly, we should focus entirely on the idea of this being an homage to action films and make it a mash-up between HK noir and Westerns, putting chanbara and I Spit On Your Grave a thousand miles away from this one.

Now let’s get into it.

                Our cold open’s going to be roughly the same as the movie, but there’s going to be a bit more meat to it. We zoom in towards the heavily-pregnant Beatrix Santana’s (Kiddo is just a nickname here) prone and bloodied body in the middle of the church. The priest is dead. People in the pews lie in shreds. A man in a suit clutches the wound at his neck and expires as five shadowy figures approach Beatrix’s body. The bloody bride spits a gob of red at the man who stoops over her body, asks if he’s satisfied in taking everything from her. A laugh; the man leans in and pats Beatrix on the stomach, whispering the words “Not everything. Not yet.” Fade to black. TITLES.

Beatrix wakes up from a coma nine years later, finding herself in the middle of a hospital bed with Ellie Driver, AKA Cobra, watching over her. Beatrix flips her shit and tries to bust out of her bonds, but she’s too weak. Driver starts the exposition. We learn about Bill Parker and his brother Budd, two con-men who made their way up in the world by becoming crime lords. At the height of their power, Bill Parker put together his own personal hit-squad called the DVAs from the world’s finest serial killers, assassins, and criminal geniuses to serve beside him. The DVAs were not only his serfs, but also his lovers (much to Budd’s displeasure).

Beatrix recalls the wedding. She remembers meeting a man on a mission, a young street gangster who stole Beatrix’s heart and got her pregnant. Then, she remembers Bill “giving her away” at the wedding before the other DVAs burst in and killed everyone. Ellie apologizes for her involvement, saying that she was acting under orders from the Parker brothers, and also apologizes as she explains that Bill took the baby from Beatrix in the aftermath of the attack. Furious, Beatrix vows to have them all killed if she ever gets out – to which Ellie obliges, undoing her bonds. Ellie explains that she was charged with disposing of Beatrix’s body but kept her alive in secret, feeling guilty for what she had done to her former comrade. Over the years, she’s grown distant from Bill and the DVAs, and offers Beatrix a chance to get her overdue revenge.

Ellie takes Beatrix out of the hospital, helping her recover and relearn her talents. After the montage, Ellie asks if Beatrix will want to retake her old codename, Adder. Beatrix, who is Mexican in this new version, recalls the coat of arms of Mexico City, and decides to rename herself: “Eagle.” Driver, pleased, passes Beatrix her old weapons of choice, the katana Zangetsu and the handguns Romeo and Juliet.

They set off to track down the other DVAs, starting with ex-yakuza boss O-Ren Ishii and the former extortionist Vernita Greene, AKA Habu and Copperhead respectively. Habu and Copperhead have been running a massive casino together, which Ellie and Beatrix discover after shaking down some of their henchmen.

On the scene, Beatrix cuts through the lobby. Ellie provides support from the shadows, and we get a nice mix of swordplay and gunplay as Beatrix fights her way to the top (because I’ll be damned if we don’t get some John Woo-style shots in here). Copperhead heads for the helicopter on the roof of the building, and Habu urges her on, saying that she will stay to face Beatrix head-on. Cue a big rooftop duel between Beatrix and Habu, ending with the ex-yakuza slashed to ribbons and thrown to the pavement. Ellie praises Beatrix and says they have to track Copperhead before she notifies the rest of Bill’s posse.

Jump ahead to Copperhead’s home, where she finds her husband and several men lying dead in the living room. Her daughter Nikki is nowhere to be seen. A note lies on the table, reading “BEATRIX SAYS HI,” leading Copperhead to think this is the Eagle’s work. She calls Bill just as Ellie and Beatrix show up on the scene. A big fight occurs between the three DVAs in the back lawn, which ends with Copperhead’s death (skewered with shears from the tool shed) and her realization that Beatrix isn’t the culprit. With her dying breath, she asks for Beatrix’s forgiveness and begs her to find Nikki.

Meanwhile, Bill and Budd are arguing in Bill’s new stronghold, a remodeled abandoned Buddhist temple in the middle of Arizona. Budd scolds Bill for being so callous with his affections, saying that his freed willy is causing him more harm than good and costing them good soldiers left and right. Waving off the concerns of his older brother, Bill calls in the last DVA on his side, Dolph Evans AKA Sidewinder, and tells him to come over to defend the base. Sidewinder and a legion of Bill’s men stand outside the temple and patrol the grounds, lying in wait for Beatrix and Ellie. However, the ex-DVAs get the jump on them and decapitate Sidewinder. They enter.

Fighting through more of Bill’s men, Ellie and Beatrix make their way to the centre of the room where Bill is waiting for them. With a snap of his fingers, two things happen – Ellie turns on Beatrix and knocks her down, and some of Bill’s guards bring out two little girls: Nikki and Beatrix’s daughter Phoebe. Bill explains that he kept Beatrix alive because he felt the other DVAs were going to be trouble in the future, and needed a back-up plan in case he needed to remove them. Ellie Driver (who in this version is the youngest DVA) has been secretly groomed to be Bill’s replacement this whole time, and that they will train up a new generation of Viper Assassins together.

Ellie prepares for the final blow when Beatrix fights back, and Bill sends Phoebe out to join the fray, because she had not only been recovered during the beginning of Beatrix’s coma but also trained to be a killer from birth. Beatrix fights viciously, leading Bill to join in when it seems his understudy and Adder’s replacement are unable to do the job. In the fight, Beatrix impales Ellie with Zangetsu, knocks out her daughter, and then beats Bill to death with the emptied guns Romeo and Juliet.

Budd comes in as Beatrix hoists up the unconscious Phoebe and collects Nikki from Bill’s men. Budd asks if she plans on leaving there alive after what she’s done. Beatrix, weary and wounded, leaves that in Budd’s hands. Surveying the death around him, Budd tells Bill’s (now his) men to clear a path for Beatrix and the girls, and our final shot is the three of them walking away from Bill’s compound, towards the setting sun.

                THE END

See you next time,


RWI

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fiction - Little Globes

Good day,

 I've been shopping around with this until I learned it's similar to a lesser-known Asimov story. Still, I'm somewhat proud of it, and I'd rather show it off to the world than let it collect dust on my laptop.

 Check it!

***

            The nebula between his hands was spinning. Gas clouds danced and grew thicker with each rotation. Gently, he caressed the glass sphere containing them and turned it over, inspecting its sides with paternal care. The iron band holding the globe together had a set of lights on one side. They blinked in a way that pleased him. The gravity field was stable. He was ready for Phase Two.
            He took the globe across the attic. Slow and deliberate steps kept him from disturbing old and loose planks of wood or bumping into the rest of his equipment. Tall grey canisters and a box filled with empty glass balls lined a wall to his left. The homemade superconductor he used to test his gravity bands filled the space next to a portable centrifuge on a wooden table. Chests housing personal effects – mementoes and some clumsily-scribbled schematics from yesteryear – were pressed together in a corner.
Soon, he was at his desk. Amid the clutter of blueprints and miscellaneous devices was a metal claw. Each of its digits ended in a wide tube, and its wrist-like base was a cone covered with switches and dials. It sat comfortably next to a photograph of his family spread out on a couch, their faces frozen in practiced joy. "I’ll make you proud," he muttered, looking briefly into their petrified eyes.
He set the globe in its grasp, lining up the machine’s fingers to the holes on the sides of the gas-filled sphere. Careful and calm, he held the ball up with one hand and reached for a button on the claw’s base with the other. A loud quartet of clicks sounded as the finger-tubes connected with the sphere. He pulled his hands away, and saw that the orb was in place.
Quickly, he ran to the side. Work clothes sat in a pile by the attic window. He switched out, pulling his gloves off and slipping on a new pair. He swiftly threw a leather smock over his body. Goggles fastened to his face, he walked back to the machine. He turned a dial on the base clockwise and lined another up with a red-coloured symbol on its immediate right.
Hands on the desk, he leaned forward and waited. Ensuring the balance of the hydrogen and helium levels was easy, but delicate. Stabilizing the gravitational field inside the globe was trickier. He remembered how the gravitational field once expanded outside its globe and upended the room for twelve seconds. He reflected on his other failures: the shattered glass and the rogue gas clouds, the burnt table, last month’s black hole scare.
More than that, he remembered the shame. Each time a globe broke or a gravity field destabilized, sheer overwhelming disdain followed. He knew he could do better; he had to do better. It was amazing for him that he got that far to begin with, but knowing what was at stake if he failed pushed him further.
Forcing the collapse of the cloud was something he only succeeded in doing twice. Neither time was successful. He was hardly superstitious, but he wrung his hands together and murmured: “Third time’s the charm.”
            There was a whirr. The claw holding the globe shook and buzzed. The nebula spun in place faster than before. A pinpoint of light emerged in its centre.
A spark. Gas ignited and the inside of the globe was ablaze. Light reflected off of his goggles. He stepped back and shielded his face. The fire rose, pressing against the glass. It glowed red. A gleam enveloped the desk, rays of primal light stabbing outward. The family picture went missing in its glare.
He tensed and backed away from the blaze. Seizing the fire extinguisher he had brought up from the main floor, he undid the pin and gripped the nozzle. The black tube shook as he aimed it at his creation and prepared to douse the desk.
The gesture was unnecessary. In seconds, the flame died down. What once was a struggling fireball forcing against its bonds quickly shrank down to a little globe. His desk was intact; the photograph, unscathed.
            Orange light danced inside the glass sphere. It was bold and bright and solid. Spinning slowly in its container, the tiny star flared up. Miniature sunspots and leaping snakes of fire appeared and disappeared in an instant.
He relaxed and set aside the extinguisher. Excitement brought him back to his desk again, though caution dictated the speed. Gingerly, he held his hand up to the sphere and the burning ball inside it. Its warmth was gentle.

            A wry smile crept across his face. Timmy was ready for the Science Fair.

***

See you next time,

RWI

Friday, September 6, 2013

Poetry Jam - Who Is Cool

Good evening,

 I'm working on something bigger for this month, but in the interim I ask that you enjoy the first Poetry Jam I've written in ages. This was going to be a different kind of post, but I was at a poetry slam at the Drake Hotel last weekend and it inspired me to re-write it significantly.

***

I wish I could be cool.

I wish I could go up to girls fearlessly, saying “Hey, baby, Ride The Rocket!” The truth is, this train hasn’t seen many stations. See, my ego’s like a gun: I forget to cock it, and the bullets always hit unintended locations. Now, I’ve been loved! I’ve been with those of the female persuasion, but I always seem to date anywhere from too many to not enough Asians. So to my friends, I’m “one of those guys” and though I’d kill to be between Gianna Michaels' thighs, it makes no difference in their eyes. But, I will survive.

But imagine if I took a chance and hit the club looking for love! Or at least someone who wouldn’t reel at the first glance of me, who wouldn’t put on gloves just to shove me away. Especially if they saw how I dance, because cool guys move with style and finesse and I move like there’s eels in my pants. One sight makes everyone guess which side I’m on when I play chess.

I also wish I could enjoy alcohol, so ladies don’t think I’m a creep. They must think that I smell bicycle seats and that I’m sober all night because I’m waiting for them to sleep, so I can rub their teats and lick their feet, taking photos of their butts and posting them as tweets. Because cool guys drink! I think. Vodka, rum, wine, and bourbon, held neatly in the glasses of slick dudes regaling us with what they’ve done. Winning passes, kicking asses, cooking classes!

I can’t be cool, though. That requires me to delve into uncomfortable territories. Like sports! I first heard Matt Sundine’s name in 2012. And I’m not a daredevil, so there go interesting stories. And speaking of stories, everyone’s got one! I’ve got some, but it’s not enough. Nobody wants to hear about some middle class white kid who never had to get tough or get rough when the world tried to snuff him out. Walk into any room, and you’ve got tales of broken homes and broken bones, overcoming certain doom and facing the great unknown. “What’d you do?!” they ask! “Er, stay in and watched ‘Home Alone.’

“…Again.”

So if I can’t be cool, what can I do?! Say “Screw You” to the male convention and implement a style of my own invention? Even that’s been done before, and I’ll be damned if I become another bore, hanging out at the corner store with anti-conformists galore, listening to Lana Del Rey forevermore. I haven’t a clue. But I won’t sit here feeling blue in a world where every man has to be James Bond! So, I’ll be Q.


Because Q’s the coolest guy you could find! Never been out in the field, but fights a million battles in his mind! Inventor, creator, artist, innovator! Ever need a pen that could become a respirator? Holla at your boy with the one-letter name if you want a briefcase that folds out into a plane! I’ll be the mad scientist, my mind as my greatest tool. Why shuffle through bars like some common ghoul pretending to be good at pool when I could hone my mind and take y’all to school? So that’ll be me! A scandal that’s unfolding, and that picture that you’re holding of someone who is cool.

***

See you next time,

RWI

P.S. Made a slight edit!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Way too goddamn busy

Good day!

 This month has been a particularly hectic one, what with the fate of my day job lying under the Sword of Damocles, the wedding of one of my best friends, several friends and compatriots from out of town visiting me, and several other obligation and weird bits of news from my life that have kept me a bit bogged down.

 That doesn't mean I haven't stopped writing! In fact, the whole me-writing-for-BlogTO thing took up a bit of time! So why don't you, gentle reader, take a look at my latest article for them, a round of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Fan Expo 2013. Pull up a chair, warm up a mug of joe, and see what I endured for YOU.

See you next time!

RWI

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cinemarena - Pacific Rim versus Man of Steel

Good day,

            Let’s talk about action movies. Summer tends to see action films arriving in droves. Often, it’s because this time of year is plagued with blistering heat and sweltering humidity, and there’s nothing people need more than to be able to put themselves in an air-conditioned theatre for two hours and watch something monumentally daft. This month, I’m going to be looking at two films that deal with massive levels of property damage, science fiction settings, and the concept of action movie machismo on two completely different levels: Man of Steel and Pacific Rim.

            Before I do, I should come right out and admit that I’m operating out of bias here. I am a massive fan of Guillermo Del Toro’s films and while I find Zack Snyder to be a decent filmmaker, he hasn’t made anything that I would necessarily want to own. They both specialize in creating spectacle cinema, films that are treats to the eye, but with their latest adventures, I felt that only one of these directors knew that they were making an action-packed thrill ride, and knew how to make it clever.

Let’s review:

1.    THE BATTLE OF SEXES

Okay, I need to address something before going forward: I fully understand that both of these movies failed The Bechdel Test with flying colours. To clarify: back in 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel devised a test she proposed writers should take, which asked the following questions: is there more than one woman in the story, do these women meet, and do they talk about anything other than men? In that respect, Man of Steel and Pacific Rim are quite, quite guilty. Man of Steel has some female leads, but they don’t talk about anything aside from Clark and the boys, while Pacific Rim’s two female characters, Sasha and Mako, just glance at each other from across a hangar.

I do give props to Man of Steel for doing one thing right: having Lois Lane deduce who Clark Kent really was. I’m so glad I’ll never sit through seven films of Lois not realizing that Superman’s glasses aren’t an elaborate cloaking device. I just wish she had something to do after that. I mean, yes, she was brought aboard Zod’s space ship for... reasons, but her purpose in the movie had long expired by then. If they wanted to keep up the image of Lois as a curious and plucky adventurer, they could have had her sneak onboard while Clark is getting assessed by Zod and then break him out using her wit and cunning.

This was considerably different when compared to Mako Mori’s entire arc in Rim. Especially when we consider the fact that she had one, and that it got realized as the film went on. Yeah, it’s a shame we didn’t see more female characters in action, but you know what? I find that very telling of the world they live in. There seemed to be this undertone of humanity falling back on the tradition of sending men out to battle while women worked behind the scenes. It’s like the impending apocalypse forces us to innovate but also to embrace older values, values that Mako casts away the minute she first insists that she serve as Gipsy Danger’s co-pilot, bringing us back to the realm of modernity.

Compare that to Man of Steel’s “Father Knows Best” motif, with Clark being ushered around by his fathers’ wishes, and its rooting of women in secondary roles, and Rim comes off as considerably progressive. And let’s not forget how often the men screw up in Rim. Marshall Stacker Pentecost also has the Daddy Knows Best attitude, but it backfires against him, hindering the war effort and costing him pilots’ lives. Similarly, the lead character Raleigh’s cockiness kills his own brother, and nearly drives Mako over the edge during their first Drift. Men err in the Kaiju War, whereas Superman and the other males in the first installment of the DC movieverse possess impeccable judgment that cannot be questioned or challenged.

2.    SETTING AND TONE

Establishing the rules of a fantasy or science fiction setting is integral, especially if you plan on expanding that universe in sequels or tie-in films. Now, while Pacific Rim could easily stand alone as its own movie, the potential to open up the world is there. We were, after all, sitting on several years of a Kaiju War, with every nation on the Pacific building its own Gundams. Conversely, Man of Steel is meant to pave the way for its own cinematic universe as Marvel did. It has big dreams, dreams of creating a Justice League movie, and means to reach for them.

The one aspect of world building that people have to understand is that world building isn’t about the look, but also the feel. Pacific Rim takes place in the final days of a massive war, but it’s never bleak. Everything has vibrancy to it, from the cities to the Kaiju themselves. More importantly, there’s a sense of humour about itself, seen in both the characters and the over-the-top acting and dialogue. Meanwhile, Man of Steel’s colour scheme is more faded, with everything seemingly mixed with some kind of grey. This reflects Man of Steel’s humourless, joyless universe where everything is dark and serious.

For a superhero film, that’s dangerous territory. Say what you will about the mass destruction the Avengers enacted in their film. At least it’s balanced out with the seriousness of a Saturday morning cartoon, much like Iron Man back in 2008. If Man of Steel is setting the stage of a Justice League film, we’re boned. Gone will be the wonder the comics once possessed, or even the mad joy found in the animated series. Instead, we will be faced with the bitter, juvenile cynicism of The New 52, or even of DC’s works from the last twenty years. Women in refrigerators left, right, and centre; Identity Crisis, The Movie; callous sexism and inconsistent displays of so-called justice. Have fun, kids.

And this leads me to my final point:

3.    THE JOY OF VIOLENCE AND ACTS OF HEROISM

Your enjoyment of the action in either of these films is going to depend on whether or not you were a fan of Dragon Ball Z or Ultraman growing up (that is, if you even knew what Ultraman was, but okay). Man of Steel is definitely DBZ, complete with high-flying kung-fu fights, unapologetic levels of destruction, and macho posturing. General Zod even had a moment where he shed his weighted clothing. That’s not a bad thing, mind; hell, I got a bit excited during all the punch-ups.

However, property damage and insane levels of violence can be forgiven with the right thematic and internal justification. In that sense, Pacific Rim actually surpasses not only Man of Steel but a lot of “hero” films in general. See, in Rim, the “hero” is human ingenuity, our ability to band together to find ways to protect ourselves and work around the destruction caused by our aggressors. This includes constructing walls and super-robots, creating alliances, cleaning up in the aftermath of an attack, and building new homes around the bones of giant monsters. That way, you don’t feel bad when you see a monster rampaging through Sydney or Hong Kong, because you know that we’ll find a way to rebuild ourselves. How many superheroes stayed behind to search for survivors, or clean out the rubble? Like, none.

It’s that element of the film that makes me enjoy it more. I can feel okay with Gipsy Danger using an ocean liner as a billy club or watching a giant lizard-gorilla get blasted across a dock because I know that people will be able to recover. We’ve seen it happen, in flashbacks and in the world around them, and we know that we’ll be able to keep doing it, because by god that’s how we get by.

4.    IN OTHER WORDS

Look, I don’t think I’d have so much ire for Man of Steel if it wasn’t a Superman movie. Don’t get me wrong; there are aspects of this film that I really enjoyed. I felt the opening scenes on Krypton were really compelling, and I gave a pass to the whole “Clark Kent, Superhobo” idea they had in the first half of the film. It didn’t fall apart for me until he put on the suit, caused trillions of dollars of damage, murdered the last of his race, and then left without an apology to the people he displaced.

As a superhero movie, or at least a movie about the idea of being superhuman, it would have been fine. Not as a Superman movie. To me, Superman should be uplifting, should inspire hope and make us want to be better people. If we had more scenes before and after Zod’s arrival where Superman put out fires or saved a suicidal person or cleared away debris, half my arguments would go out the window.

They weren’t there, though. And so I find my hope in Pacific Rim, because it’s not about causing damage, but repairing it. I don’t just mean in terms of city-wide destruction and reconstruction, either. Raleigh and Mako are PTSD sufferers who pilot an outdated war machine that’s been rebuilt out of desperation; broken people piloting a broken mech, healing and learning about each other, working together with a team of the world’s brightest to pull humanity out of the dredges.

            And I’ll take that over an unapologetic ├╝bermensch any day.

See you next time,

RWI

PS: I should probably mention that I'm now on Tumblr. I'm now on Tumblr. That is all.

EDIT: August 26, 2013. On viewing Pacific Rim once again and thinking more about it, I should probably retract my "stupid" statement. The film is cleverer than what I gave it credit for.

Friday, June 7, 2013

If I Did: Doctor Who, Season Seven (spoilers ahoy!)

Good day,

            As I’ve said before, I like endings. At the very least, I like outcomes. Outcomes are cathartic, the payoff you expect after getting invested in a narrative. Sometimes, it can be rewarding, like the Mandarin reveal was for me or the ending to a film like Blair Witch or American Beauty. Other times, it can be infuriating, and you can’t help but shake your fists and go “What the hell?!” That’s how I felt with this last season of Doctor Who.

            I’ve known about this franchise since I was small. Local stations aired re-runs of the Tom Baker run in the late eighties, though I couldn’t get into it because I was always too scared of it. Now, young fans were often terrorized by the Sontarans or the Daleks or something similar, but I was scared of the intro. It always felt like I was about to be devoured by the swirling void that announced each episode’s arrival, that if I stared for too long then the abyss would stare back. Then again, I was a child who didn’t flinch watching Alien or Predator, and yet ran screaming from a Count Chocola commercial.

I got reintroduced to Doctor Who with the 1996 special starring Paul McGann, and again with Christopher Eccleston’s run nine years later. Since then, I’ve been following the series through its rebirth and going back on the older classic episodes so I could soak in their charm and laugh at what were considered special effects.

Now, the current series has been the subject of controversy, what with the accusations of sexism and racism and older fans saying the BBC reduced Doctor Who to a half-assed pantomime, but I don’t mind. Well, okay, there are times when I do mind, like when Season Four ended with Dalek Vaudeville and the TARDIS turned into a space tow-truck and the Doctor suddenly decided not to regenerate, like that was a thing all along, and... you get the idea. It’s never been enough to make me quit, though. Even among a slew of bad episodes, I’ll find one or two each season that keep my interest piqued.

            Last season, though, I saw a lot of missed potential. I saw moments that could have blown away the audience if they had been done differently. So I asked, what were those moments, and how would I have done them? Let’s see...

1.    The Asylum Episode

Show-runner Steven Moffat touted this episode as an attempt to make the Daleks scary again which, to me, is a tall order. Then again, I never saw the Daleks as scary. Intimidating, yes, but not scary. Even if they were, this was not the episode to save them.

Quick recap: The Doctor and his favourite dysfunctional couple get called to nose about on a Dalek-owned planet/nuthouse for Daleks gone coo-coo. Down there is a girl, Clara, an explorer who got attacked by nanobots that turned her into a despotic salt shaker like her cell-mates, but her human mind’s still kicking and keeping her sane.

If you know anything about the Daleks, you’d know that was a weak premise. The Daleks have an asylum? What happened to destroying inferior models? And why would they want to turn other beings into Daleks when Daleks’ core ethics are based around eugenics?

You know what this was? A Cybermen episode. Cybermen are all about conversion, just as Cybermen can have errors in programming, and can give in to the humanity that they tried to suppress. My theory is that Moffat wanted to do a Cybermen episode until Neil Gaiman popped in with his idea and blew the studio away. Me, I’d have kept it as a Cybermen episode and told Gaiman to keep “Nightmare In Silver” on hold for next year but then why would you ever betray Neil Gaiman like that? So maybe I’d just make a new cyber-threat and have The Doctor kick its space-butt hardcore.

2.    Amy and Rory’s Exit

Companions have to leave, just as Doctors have to die and regenerate into new Doctors. This is how things have to be, the course to run. However, when Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill said they wanted to leave soon, the studio scrambled to accommodate that need in the clumsiest way possible.

So “The Angels Take Manhattan” featured the return of The Weeping Angels, who are running some kind of roach motel or whatever and the episode ends with one last Angel zapping Rory into the past again. Amy Pond goes after him because she can’t stand to be separated from her husband, and The Doctor can’t go back and save them because of time-stream displacement crap.

Someone already mentioned how absurd that excuse was. Why wouldn’t The Doctor just jump back in time to a different year or take a train from a neighbouring state without worrying about fragging the TARDIS? For me, I was just disappointed at the ending itself. It came out of nowhere, and it didn’t quite wrap up the Ponds’ arc the way it should have.

You see, Amy Pond’s story has been about breaking apart the fairy tale. Each major plot arc dealt with themes of the clash between childhood and adulthood, implementing things from many of our youths that we adored, from lullabies and fables to knights in shining armour, and then twisting them and making them weird and scary and actually quite clever at times.

The other thing he did was to play up the idea that the fairy tale ending did not always happen, especially in Season Six. Amy was abducted, her child taken from her and turned into a killing machine who grows into a crazy MILF that her once-imaginary friend then marries. Season Seven had other moments like this, like the fact that Amy can no longer have kids, her relationship with Rory’s strained to hell, and The Doctor keeps popping in to take them on life-threatening adventures halfway around the universe. It evolved from being an Aesop’s Fable to an Aesop’s Foible, with real life problems and consequences invading Amy’s dreams.

Why wouldn’t she be mad about this? The Doctor ruined her life. Since she’s been with him, she’s been hunted, kidnapped, experimented on, made infertile, and watched the love of her life die countless deaths. And the Doctor, rather than saying “Stay home, I can’t keep putting you in danger like this,” loads her and Rory into the TARDIS again and says “WHO WANTS TO FIGHT SPACE HITLERS?!”

You know what would have been great? If Amy walked away from the Doctor after saving Rory for the umpteenth time. If they survived their adventure in New York and Amy put her foot down and said “Enough.” If they had a great big row and Amy told the Doctor it’s time to grow up and sort her life out. No coming back. No guest appearances. Just gone.

Oh man. You know what would have been even better? If he transports the Ponds back to the present, jumps onboard the TARDIS and finds an Angel there. Then the Angel messes with the controls and the Doctor ends up sixty years in the future, when Amy’s an old spinster and Rory’s been proper-dead for two years. Then Amy gives the “I’m done with you” speech and tells The Doctor that she and Rory went on to live a normal life after he left. This becomes a fixed point in time. This means The Doctor never crosses timelines with them again. This is how the Fairy Tale ends: with Amy and Rory living happily ever after. I’ll take those awards now.

3.    Clara

To me, this is the biggest squandering of potential.

Here was a girl who the Doctor met multiple times, who died saving his life twice and kept coming back. People were wondering if she was The Rani or Romana or even a new version of River Song running amok. Sadly, what we got was an ordinary girl who jumped into some time vortex that was/will be The Doctor’s corpse (that alone is another article), who then becomes this super-companion leading The Doctor to everywhere he had to be, from helping him steal the right TARDIS to warning him of dangers ahead, and making sure The Great Intelligence did not screw over our favourite Time Lord when his representative Doctor Simeon did the exact same thing moments earlier.

This stinks of a Mary Sue. This sounds like someone wanting to be the most important person in The Doctor’s life ever, writing herself in as someone who saves his hide endlessly. I have a better one:

My Clara Oswin Oswald is a creation of The Great Intelligence. She’s a humanoid bio-computer built when she was still in the womb, with her mother being the prototype that sired her. This is why The Doctor’s scanners registered her as human, but also why the TARDIS doesn’t like her.

More than anything, this is why Clara keeps popping up in multiple timelines. See, my Clara’s mom isn’t actually dead. Her death was faked by the Intelligence and then brought back to whatever base they’re operating out of. Then, using the blueprints embedded in the mom-bot, the Great Intelligence makes a hundred Claras and sets them loose across time and space. There’s a Clara in the Not-Dalek Asylum, there’s one in Victorian London, one on Mars, one aboard a space freighter, one in the stone age, and one at the end of the world. And one right behind you.

But why do this? So that the Great Intelligence could infiltrate the TARDIS and steal its secrets, because the GI has wanted to snatch his ride for years and replicate it, weaponize it. And it finally found a way of doing so: by creating an ideal Companion for The Doctor. One that’s clever, one that’s brave and knows her way around any scary situation, one that can rely on him; one that won’t leave. This would tie in with my vision of the Ponds’ departure. This Doctor’s lonely, and like any man on the rebound he looks for the next best thing that comes along. Clara would be the companion of the Eleventh Doctor’s dreams, and it would become his greatest nightmare.

So there you have it; a meaner, cleaner Season Seven. At least by my standards. I like this series, but it does try my patience sometimes. I mean, Jesus Christ.

See you next time,


RWI     

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Let's Talk About: The Mandarin (here there be spoilers)


Good day,

            Wait, wait! This article is hell-of spoiler heavy. And I mean Hell Of. If you haven’t seen Iron Man 3 yet, now would be a good time to log off and come back when you have.

Ready?

You sure? Last chance.

Alright, let’s talk.

I need to be blunt about something: Iron Man has one of the worst rogue’s galleries in all of superhero comics. By “worst,” I don’t mean that they’re silly or anything like that. Silly can be passable; it can titillate the mind and provide room for experimentation. I put his villains among the worst, though, because they’re considerably forgettable. Say what you will about the rejects The Flash has to deal with; at least there’s some comedic value to be found in clods like The Rainbow Raider or The Pied Piper.

Iron Man’s villains were mostly other guys in super-suits or the products of mad science. A rogue’s gallery so forgettable the studio had to put two of them together into one character for Iron Man 2. Can you imagine Marvel Studios trying to use some of Tony Stark’s other villains in future films? I’m not sure how well Dreadknight or Living Laser would work on-screen, and I’m pretty certain all attempts to make The Unicorn cool would probably end in all of cinema collapsing in on itself.

Yet, there were some diamonds in the rough. Most notably, there was The Mandarin. The Mandarin is a big fan favourite because he’s been touted time and again as Tony Stark’s opposite. While Tony Stark embraced science, The Mandarin worked with the magical. Stark owned a corporate empire; The Mandarin owned an actual empire. Tony had friends and lovers, but The Mandarin had henchmen and concubines. Finally, Iron Man was a physical manifestation of industry and the Arms Race during the Cold War, the face of progress and Western modernity, and as much of a major propaganda symbol as Captain America ever was. Conversely, The Mandarin represented Communist China, a shadowy mystic who favoured uniformity and a warped sense of tradition over American ideals. He even tried to karate chop Iron Man, for gods’ sake.

So when Marvel Studios announced that Iron Man 3 would feature The Mandarin, played by none other than the venerable Sir Ben Kingsley, the world erupted. Scepticism ran through the fandom; where was the big Yellow Peril villain that was known and loved? Why cast a half-Gujarati Brit when fans demanded the sinister Chinese superterrorist to lead the charge against Tony Stark? Well, because America’s no longer at war with China and demonizing the ultimate representative of a nation that the U.S. owes over a trillion dollars to would not be wise. I supposed that if they wanted to play up The Mandarin as an East Asian threat, the studio could probably claim this Mandarin was an angry Uyghur war chief or something.

Once the trailers dropped, though, the fans lost their minds. Hearing Sir Kingsley growl out his infamous “lessons” as Tony Stark’s house got wrecked sent chills up several million spines, and the sight of his Ten Rings was a joy to behold. People couldn’t wait. They wanted The Mandarin. They wanted the big showdown between him and Stark, the climactic battle between science and magic that would rock theatres around the world.

Here’s what we got instead:

See, The Mandarin from the trailers was a nice bit of trickery played up by the film’s real villain, super-scientist and Advanced Idea Mechanics founder Aldrich Killian. We learned that Killian hired a deadbeat English actor and turned him into The Mandarin as a front to draw the world away from his experiments with the Extremis super-virus which rebuilt people from the ground up and turned them into walking napalm. It’s next revealed that Killian took a hit of Extremis himself, and as his shirt burned away during the final battle we see a series of Chinese dragon tattoos covering his chest, and later he boasts to Tony Stark: “You wanted The Mandarin? You got him! I am The Mandarin!”

And I think it’s a work of goddamn genius.

There’s a part of me that’s just as disappointed as the rest of you that we didn’t have the super-despot from the comics. As jingoistic as the character was, there was something iconic about the guy. That said, I’m still incredibly pleased with this version of him. This isn’t the MCU fanboy in me defending the decisions of a soulless studio that wants my money and not my opinions. I liked this Mandarin because he got me thinking about the semiotics of villainy.

Let’s rewind a bit: I said before that The Mandarin was supposed to represent Communist China, that he’s not only a character but also a symbol for one of America’s enemies. Well, the same could be said for this Mandarin, both the front and the real deal.

Here’s something to dwell on: we miss Hitler. Granted, we don’t miss what he did, because nobody sane can say that with a straight face. What we miss is having some vile force of nature sweeping the land that people could unite against and fight back. The dictators and warlords running around today are far too centralized and, in many ways, kind of pathetic compared to Adolf. North Korea’s starving to death, China and Russia are (slowly) cleaning themselves up*, and most of the mass murderers in South/Central Asia and the African continent would just go away if people just put in the effort to build and maintain schools in the regions they tended to dominate. The fact alone that The Taliban, the big bad guys who destroyed the World Trade Centre, are not Machiavellian geniuses but a bunch of well-connected, angry farmers is absolutely bizarre to consider. This is a group that is more frightened of the polio vaccine and educated women than United Nations sanctions.

So, in comes The Mandarin: the ultimate enemy. Connected, charismatic, resourceful; heavily armed and highly dangerous, he’s at war with the U.S. and won’t stop until it’s remade in his image. And I’m talking about the both of them.

Look at the Fake Mandarin, and what do you see? A composite sketch of everyone who has ever hated America. Critics have already pointed out shades of Osama Bin Laden, North Korea’s Kim family, and e-anarchists who go around hacking banking information. Look closer, though, and you’ll see elements of Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, and Timothy McVeigh. Similarly, the Killian Mandarin could be seen as a manifestation of America’s true enemy: itself. Killian and AIM had more in common with the pharmaceutical companies Michael Moore ragged on in Sicko than the bee keepers of doom. Killian is the conspiracy theorist’s wet dream; the CEO of a mega-corporation who manipulates the media and the government into helping him act out his sadistic machinations from the shadows.

Whichever one you look at, you see The Mandarin isn’t a man; he’s a love letter, an idea made manifest. He’s America’s need for a villain, a single man who represents their fear and anger, just as he was when he was dropping karate chops on Tony Stark back in the 1960s. So when Aldrich Killian raised himself up high and declared “I am the Mandarin,” I thought, “Yes, you are.” Because he is. And so is everyone else at Advanced Idea Mechanics. Because they made the most advanced idea of all: a super villain.

See you next time,

RWI

P.S. For those of you who wanted the original Ten Rings to make an appearance, consider the fact that we were okay with The Cosmic Cube being reduced to an extraterrestrial Energizer battery.

*Russia's humiliating and abysmal disregard for gay rights notwithstanding.