My Fiction – Don’t Wait for It

This was written for the January 2013 edition of Pagan Edge.  The theme was awaiting to arrive, and anticipation.  The meta-theme was the cycle of life and was meant to be carried through that entire year of editions from birth to eventually death.  I tried to figure out what would be a good example of waiting to get somewhere, and sort of a pre-beginning, if that makes sense (it did to me anyway).  So here’s the result.

“Don’t Wait For It”

“Well, Jake, what are you waiting for?”
Jake blinked slowly and turned his attention to the bartender.  “What?” he asked, having to raise his voice slightly over the noise in the sports bar.
“Man, I know you haven’t had that much yet.  I asked, what are you waiting for?”
Jake sighed.  “I don’t know.  Every single day it’s the same thing.  I wake up, I go to work, I stare at a computer for nine hours, I go to the gym, I go home, I warm up a frozen dinner and watch TV until I go to sleep.  On weekends, I come in here and watch the game for nine hours.  Every week is exactly the same as the week before and nothing changes and here I am.  Give me another.”
“I was just asking about the Bowl Games pool,” the bartender said.  “The pool closes tomorrow and you still haven’t paid in.”
“It doesn’t matter.  I never win.”
“You pick bad teams, man.”
“Same thing, again and again and again.”
The bar erupted in cheers but Jake didn’t seem to hear them.
“Listen, man, you’ve been coming here a long time.”
“Tell me about it, Dennis.”
“And you always sit at the same stool and you always order the same thing.  So how come?  How come you don’t do something different?  I’m not saying go to another bar, of course.”
Jake smiled weakly.
“But you never take a vacation.  You never take sick days.  Sometimes you talk to the other guys, sometimes you don’t.  You never bring a buddy in here.”
He shrugged.  “Well, I don’t really have a lot in common with my co-workers.”
“So all you do is watch sports in my bar?”
“Pretty much,” he said, taking a big gulp.  “Since I got this lousy job.  It pays the bills but it is so boring.”
Dennis shook his head.  “You need to get your head out of your glass.  Sure, times are rough, but there’s other jobs.  There are places to go.  Heck, if you want to start small, how about trying some of the seasonals on tap?”
“You were this close to making me feel better,” Jake said wryly.
“I’m serious, man.  You’re moping.  I don’t like it.  My customers don’t like it.  You can’t wait for life to happen.  You have to make it happen.”
“It’s not that easy,” Jake sighed.
“Sure it is.”  Dennis gestured for a server to come to the bar.  He set a glass of beer on the tray and sent the server to a small table where a woman was sitting all by herself.  When she looked up at the bartender, clearly puzzled, he pointed at Jake.  She smiled and accepted the glass.
“Hey, what was that?” Jake asked.
“That woman has been in here the past three weeks and she’s always alone and she’s always looking at you.  You’ve just been so busy moping into your beer you didn’t notice.  So now she thinks you bought her a drink.”
“What?”
“She took it.  That’s a good sign.”
“Damn it, you can’t just do that,” Jake snapped.
“Hey, you’re the one waiting for life to happen.  There you go.  It’s happening.  Now go talk to her before she realizes what a loser you are,” Dennis said, mostly good-naturedly.
Jake was angry, but then he realized the bartender had probably done him a favor.  “Alright, you win.”
“Good luck.  And ask her if she wants to join the Bowl Games pool.”
Jake rolled his eyes and walked over to the woman’s table.  She smiled, and he sat down.

Fifteen-minute Movie – Amazing Spider-man 2

or, “What a Damn Mess”

Oscorp Lab (Past):
[[Richard Parker is hurriedly destroying all his research and rushing out of the lab; he also pauses to start some kind of video confession that is interrupted by L'il Peter alerting him to the fact someone broke into the house; the Parkers drop L'il Peter off with Ben and May and hop aboard a jet; Richard fights to get a video uploaded before an assassin kills him and/or crashes the plane; really, this scene on the jet is totally pointless]]

New York City:
Spider-man – Woohoo!  I am awesome, and there’s a crime in progress, and it’s not as though there’s anywhere else I have to be!

[[Some criminals are attempting to steal some highly radioactive/volatile chemicals from an armored Oscorp truck]]

Aleksi Sytsevich – Hahahahahahahahaha!!!!

Spider-man – Dude, don’t you think that’s overdoing it a bit?

Sytsevich – Nope!!!!

Max Dillon – Excuse me, I have a bunch of important blueprints I’m carrying awkwardly instead of having them all rolled together and using a carrying case designed for just this purpose.  Wow, there is a lot of excitement or something.  [[He drops the blueprints and is nearly killed by the runaway armored truck but saved by Spider-man]]

Spider-man – Okay, my super-stereotypical nerd friend, here you are safe, and here are your blueprints.

Max – You saved me!  Why did you do that?

Spider-man – Because I’m your friendly neighborhood Spider-man.  Now, I have to go stop that runaway truck, so you be careful, okay?  Laters!

Max – Wow!

[[Spider-man does eventually stop the truck, keep the chemicals from breaking, and capturing all the criminals, and then is hit by an ambulance because spider-sense?]]

Gwen (phone) – You do know we’re graduating today, right?

[[He sees the ghost of Captain Stacy in an adjacent cop car]]

Ghost of Captain Stacy – You know you’re going to get my daughter killed one day, don’t you?

Spider-man – Um, I’ll be there in a minute.

Gwen (phone) – Are you in the middle of fighting crime again!?

Spider-man – Um, no.  Love you babe, gotta go, bye!

[[Gwen gives a very strange valedictorian speech about how everyone could die at any minute but to hang on to hope and then the scene is cut off as Peter finally shows up and just in time to give Gwen a kiss on stage because he's apparently cool like that]]

Aunt May – I’m so proud of you!  I wish your Uncle Ben could have been here to see this.

Peter – And my parents.

Aunt May – Um, okay, that was hurtful and seemed to come out of left field.

[[Gwen rejoins her family]]

Ghost of Captain Stacy – You know you’re going to get my daughter killed one day, don’t you?

A Restaurant, Later:
Peter – Gwen, remember how I completely stomped on the idea of respecting your father’s wishes to stay away from you and keep you safe at the end of the first movie?

Gwen – Yes.

Peter – Well, I’ve been feeling really guilty about that and I think we should break up because I want to protect you and not have you die by me failing to catch you as you fall to your death or something like that.

Gwen – Oh, my god, are we doing this again?  No, I’m done with this.  I’m breaking up with you.  Good-bye, Peter.  [[Storms off in a huff]]

[[So Spider-man patrols the city and stalks Gwen even though they're supposed to be broken up; doesn't this kid have to prepare for going to college in a few months or something?]]

Max Dillon’s Sad Apartment:
Max – Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me.  Isn’t that right Spider-man?  What’s that?  It’s kind of nuts to be pretending you’re actually here talking to me and it’s really sort of creepy and borderline psychotic I built this wall of craziness idolizing you?  Yeah, well, there’s no time to properly build up my character arc so we’ll just take this shortcut to establish I’m a few circuits short of a motherboard.

Osborn Mansion:
Donald Menken – The room is going to be dark.  It’s a lot better this way, trust me.

[[Harry Osborn goes into see his dying father, who has green skin and fingernails that turned into talons for some reason]]

Norman – I know I wasn’t a good father…

Harry – Yeah, no kidding.

Norman – …but I was trying to protect you.  I was trying to find a cure for this terrible disease, which is genetic.  Take this Plot Device.  It has all my research into finding a cure.  Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did.  [[presumably dies]]

Oscorp:
[[Gwen and Max exchange pleasantries in the Elevator of Convenience]]

Alistair Smythe – Dillon, we’re all leaving, but you have to stay late and fix a problem in the grid.

Max – Why?

Smythe – Because you’re a spineless loser.  At least I didn’t steal your stapler.

[[Max dutifully goes to investigate the problem with the power grid, which seems to get power derived frome electric eels... wait, seriously, electric eels?  People deride Raimi's set as too campy but it's okay to have an electrical generator that runs off of electric eels???]]

Max – Hm, I’m going to guess all that sparking and that thing not being plugged in is this problem. [[Calls for help but apparently all the maintenance staff leave at 5:00 PM sharp even though this grid apparently powers part of the city]]  Well, I guess I’ll just fix this myself.  After all, there’s no difference between an electrical engineer, which I am, and an electrician, which I am not.  [[This goes about as well as could be expected and Max is electrocuted, falls several feet into the tank of eels, and is electrocuted again and presumably dies]]

Oscorp, Later:
Harry – I’m sure you’re happy I’m now in charge of this company, right, Menken?

Menken – I’m thrilled.  Really.  This is super-duper awesome.  Yep, just peachy.

Harry – Okay, well, I’m making Felicia (last name omitted because there has to be some kind of surprise, right?) the boss of all of you.

Peter – Harry, I heard on Plot Convenience News that your father died.  I know we haven’t seen each other in over ten years, but you were there for me when my parents disappeared, even though this is not shown nor was there any hint of it in the last movie, so I’m here for you now and we can resume our totally deep friendship without any pesky and time-consuming character building.

Harry – Okay.  We’re totally BFFs again.

Menken (from a van) – We’ll use him to take the blame for Dillon’s accident.

New York City, Later:
[[It turns out Dillon isn't dead but has turned into Dr. Manhattan, er, Electro, and finds some clothes and stumbles out of the morgue dazed, confused, and dangerously super-powered]]

Gwen – Peter, I think even though we broke up, we should try to be friends.

Peter – Okay, but don’t be so darn adorable.

Gwen – Okay, but you don’t be cool and awesome.

Peter – Okay.  So maybe we could get back together after all…?

Gwen – I’m competing for a scholarship to go to Oxford University.

Peter – What, wait?  That’s kind of out of left field, isn’t it?  I mean, we’ve been dating for a few months at least and scholarships don’t just happen.  You’d have to have applied for this and probably already gone through a couple of rounds of interviews and tests and yet this has never been brought up once.

Gwen – Well, whatever the heck you’re doing for college hasn’t been brought up either.  Which is weird if these movies are supposed to realistic.  Seriously, what are you doing this summer and what are your plans for the future?

Peter – Um…

[[The romantic comedy is interrupted by Electro shorting out power in Times Square and people getting understandably freaked out by this]]

Times Square:
Electro – I’m on TV!  Even though it makes no sense for one camera to be tied into all the screens in Times Square!  People are paying attention to me!  The fact I’m a blue freak isn’t bothering me at all right now!

Spider-man – Cops, please let me handle this.

Cops – Sure, except for the snipers up there.

[[In what is probably the best scene of the movie, Spider-man is both completely aware of the danger Electro presents and totally sympathetic to his confused condition; he almost talks Electro down but a trigger-happy sniper shoots Electro even though it's just been established bullets don't hurt him and he lashes out the cops, which forces Spider-man to fight him directly]]

Electro – Hey!  Now all the screens show Spider-man!  This is my moment in the spotlight and he stole it from me.  I hate him now!  I hate him forever and ever and ever!  I KILL YOU!

Spider-man – Wait, what?  I tried to help you.  Your sudden swing to hating me makes no sense!  [[gets his webshooters fried but manages to save a bunch of bystanders from electrocuting themselves and stopping Electro's rampage by using a firehose]]

Bystanders – Yay, Spider-man saved the day again!

[[For some reason, this compels Peter to examine the briefcase his father left from the last movie and try to find out what happened to his parents, and Harry learns the secret of the Plot Device, which shows him video on the spider research; Aunt May is going to nursing school but keeping this a secret from Peter for reasons that are never explained; Peter, science genius, also apparently has to watch YouTube videos to figure out how batteries work in a discordantly whimsical experiment to insulate his webshooters against Electro]]

Oscorp:
Harry – Peter, I’m dying.  Even though the disease didn’t kill my father until he was well into his fifties, for reasons that aren’t explained it’s apparently advancing much more rapidly in me.

Peter – Dude, that sucks.

Harry – My father and Richard Parker were doing research to try to cure my father, and this would cure me.  All the research was destroyed, except somehow I think Spider-man got bit by one of those spiders.  I need his blood.  You take his pictures, so you know him.

Peter – Um, okay, I take his pictures, but I don’t know him.  That’s what the zoom lens is for.  And second, how do you know his blood would cure you?  It could make things worse.

Harry – Worse than dying?

Peter – Well, yeah, there are lots of things worse than dying.

Harry – I’m willing to risk that.  Find Spider-man for me.

Peter – Um.

[[In the meantime, Gwen searches the Oscorp files to figure out what happened to Max Dillon only to be blocked in her search and set on by security personnel which is in NO way suspicious but she runs into Peter and they hide in a closet]]

Peter – Well, this is romantic.

Gwen – Oscorp knows something about what happened to Max Dillon, the electrical guy, and they’re trying to cover it up.

Peter – Oh.  Harry wants Spider-man’s blood.  I’m afraid it will do terrible things to him.

Gwen – You’re probably right.

Peter – Also, I still love you and don’t want you to go to England.

Gwen – So you want to get back together?

Peter – No, I don’t want to see you get killed in a fight with one of my mortal enemies or something awful and totally unexpected like that.

Gwen – Whatever.  Get me away from these security guys.

[[Peter obliges, and Gwen meets up with Harry in the Elevator of Convenience, and they exchange what would be pleasantries if she wasn't already clearly agitated and he wasn't creepy]]

Ravencroft Institute:
Dr. Kafka (haha!!) – I’m going to torture you for no good reason in the name of scientific progress.

Electro – You’re lucky Oscorp just happened to have all this stuff to secure me or I’d totally kill you.

Menken – Maybe you shouldn’t torture the guy who is at this point of dangerous but ill-defined powers and unknown power levels.

Parker Household:
Aunt May – Peter, what’s with this wall of craziness about your parents?

Peter – I need to know what really happened to them.

Aunt May – Peter, why do you think that will help you in any way?  Ben and I took you in and raised you as our own, and now I’m trying to do right by you without Ben.  This is so hard.  Why can’t you trust me when I say you don’t need to know this?

Peter – Um, because I want to know.

Aunt May – That is apparently a compelling argument.  The government thought your father was a traitor.  I’m sorry.

[[Peter turns away from his crying aunt to brood angstily]]

Osborn Mansion:
Spider-man – Hi, Mr. Osborn, person whom I have never met before in my life.

Harry – Did Peter send you?

Spider-man – Yes.

Harry – Good.  I’m sure you’re here to help me and give me some of your blood to inject directly into my body.

Spider-man – Erm, no, actually.  I think my blood will cause very bad things to happen to you.  It’s not like you have a vast research corporation that could examine my blood and try to continue the work of your father and Dr. Parker and find a safe cure for you.

Harry – Yeah, where would I get a resource like that?  So give me the blood and I’ll take my chances.

Spider-man – I’m sorry, no. [[He swings away]]

Harry – Damn you!  I hate you!  I hate you forever and ever!

[[Peter manages to interrupt Gwen right as she's going in for her final interview for her scholarship, embarrasses himself, embarrasses her, and runs back home to stumble on a Plot Device in his dad's old stuff]]

Felicia – Mr. Osborn, the spider venom may still be available in something Mr. Menken calls “Special Projects.”

Harry – Oh, well, hell, why didn’t you say so?  [[Uses his dad Plot Device to access files on Electro and Special Projects but is interrupted by Menken throwing him out]]  Et tu, Obedia Stain?

Menken – What, no?  I’m totally not like that guy.  Get out.

Subway Tunnels:
[[Peter follows the clues to an abandoned subway tunnel and comes across his father's hidden secret lab...what, wait?  How would Richard Parker even begin to set this up?  This doesn't make any sense... So everything inside works perfectly despite being abandoned for over a decade and Peter stumbles onto the video his father was trying to upload in the beginning of the movie]]

Richard Parker (video) – I realized my genetic research was going to be used to make biological weapons, so I destroyed what data I could but I was framed by Oscorp.  But without my blood, or someone of my bloodline, they’ll never figure out how to make the spider venom into a super-soldier serum.  The worst part of all this is that I’m going to have to abandon my son who means everything in the world to me…

Peter – I was right!  I’m the only person who could be injected with the spider venom safely.  It would just hurt Harry.

Ravencroft Institute:
[[Harry enters the facility under false pretenses because apparently Menken forgot to tell the guards not to let Harry in and sets out to bust out Electro]]

Harry – Electro, help me get what I want, and I’ll help you destroy Spider-man.

Electro – Why should I help you?

Harry – Because you’re kind of crazy, and I need your kind of crazy or I’m going to die.

Electro – Okay, sounds good to me.  Can I kill that doctor that was torturing me first?

Harry – Go for it.

[[Electro does so and they escape]]

Oscorp:
Electro – Hey, Menken, remember me?

Menken – Yes, but you shouldn’t remember me.  We’ve never met; I was at the institute but in an observation room that you couldn’t possibly have seen into.

Electro – Oh.

Menken – And how come you have clothes?

Electro – Um.

Harry – Take me to Special Projects before I kill you.

Menken – Okay.

Harry – Electro, have fun taking out the city’s power grid.

Electro – Will do. [[Disappears through a socket]]

Oscorp, Special Projects:
Harry – A harness with four arms, a harness with wings, what is this place?

Menken – The sequel vault, obviously.

[[Menken injects Harry with pure spider venom which causes a terrible reaction; he hits the lockdown switch, but this for some reason opens the door to the vault with the green armor with the healing ability, which Harry climbs into and it fits him perfectly.]]

New York City:
Gwen (voicemail) – I got the scholarship and I’m on my way to the airport to go to Oxford for early summer classes.

Peter – What?!  It never occurred to me when she broke up with me that she might go off and live her own life!

[Gwen is stuck in a cab on a bridge]

Cab Driver – Hey, look, Spider-man vandalized that bridge by spelling out “I love you.”

Gwen – I gotta go.  [somehow Spider-man sees her and swoops her up to the top of a bridge]

Peter – Don’t leave me.  I’ll go to England with you if you want, but I just can’t live without you.

Gwen – Okay.

[[And power to the city goes down; And unbeknownst to the main character, two airplanes are now on a collision course, but if the main character doesn't know about it, why is this even in the movie?]]

Gwen – Oh, no, that must be Electro.  If we don’t reset the grid, the city will never get power back up.  Even though in 2003 the entire Northeastern seaboard and parts of the Midwest lost power for the better part of a day, and there were no long term impacts, and even though in 2012 a derecho took out power for over 3 million people in a swath from Indiana to Washington D.C., and power was restored to a majority within the week, this crisis will be a complete catastrophe!  The stakes are so high!

Peter – Damn!  And I never even figured out how to keep my webshooters from frying!

Gwen – You just need to magnetize them.

Peter – Oh.

Gwen – And I’m going with you.  Because even though I’m a biological researcher, I’ve seen the specs to the power grid and am completely qualified to reset it.

Peter – Okay, first of all, why would you even know that?  And second, why can’t you tell me how to do it?

Gwen – Reasons…  Do you want me to fix your webshooters or not?

[[Gwen shows him how, and he webs her to a car for her own safety while he goes to fight Electro at the main power grid thing, which has a clock tower why?]]

Main Power Grid:
Electro – I hate you and I’m going to kill you.

Spider-man – Please don’t.

[[The fight goes poorly until Gwen runs over Electro with a car, which gives Spider-man a little breathing room]]

Ghost of Captain Stacy – You know you’re going to get my daughter killed one day, don’t you?

Gwen – I’m going to reset the grid and there is nothing you can do to stop me.  Whatever happens, even something as totally unlikely as me getting killed, is completely my responsibility, you got that?

Spider-man – Okay!

[[Thus commences the set piece of the movie between Spider-man and Electro, which ends when Gwen uses a key to turn a switch and she couldn't have told Peter that why again?]]

Spider-man – Thank goodness that’s all over with.

Green Goblin – Not so fast, sucker!

Spider-man – Whoa, what the hell happened to you?

Gwen – Should I run or something?  Or I could just stand here and stare.  Yeah, I’ll do that.

Green Goblin – [[puts two and two together]]  You’re Peter Parker!  Okay, I’m going to kill your girlfriend now!

Gwen – Wait, what, why?  You have no motivation to so!  [[he grabs Gwen and flies into the air]]

Spider-man – Let her go!

Green Goblin – Okey-dokey.  [[does so]]

[[Spider-man manages to catch her before she smashes through the clock tower]]

Gwen – You saved me!  [[A pumpkin bomb lands next to them]]  Uh-oh!

[[What follows is a fight between Spider-man and Green Goblin as Spidey desperately tries to keep Gwen from falling to her death when the clock gears cut the webbing; but, of course, as we know because there's no foreshadowing in this, Gwen falls and Spider-man fails to catch her before her head splats against the floor and explodes like a melon; wait, no, that would be too gruesome so instead her "neck snaps"]]

Spider-man – Noooooo!!!!

[[And thus follows a funeral in which we are not treated to the ghost of Captain Stacy or Gwen Stacy and Peter gives up being Spider-man because he's sad and then mopes through three or four or five months not doing anything at all, apparently]]

Ravencroft Institute:
Mysterious Gentleman from the First Movie – How are you feeling?

Harry – Oh, you know, it comes and goes.

Gentleman – I think we have some good candidates for your plan.  In fact, I’m going to get one ready right now.

Harry – Excellent.

[[After Aunt May packs up Uncle Ben's things, Peter finally watches Gwen's whole weird graduation speech which gives him reason to be Spider-man again]]

New York City:
[[Sytsevich has been busted out of jail and given a ridiculous personal armored tank and is wreaking havoc in Midtown and no one is running away!!  Seriously, how long as this been going on since the cops even had time to erect a crowd barrier!]]

Rhino – Hahahahahaha!!!

Stupid Little Kid – Spider-man’s awesome, and if he won’t stop you, I will, because I want to be just like him!  [[and the cops are incapable of preventing him from getting in the middle of the fight]]  Hey you!

Rhino – Wow.  I mean, wow.  I have no idea how to react to this.  I mean, even I don’t want to just gun down a kid.

Stupid Little Kid – I’m Spider-man!

Spider-man – Aw, that’s great kid, but let me do the heavy lifting, okay?

Stupid Little Kid – Okay!  You’re the best!  [[runs back to his mother who again does not immediately leave the area; what the hell is wrong with these people?]]

Spider-man – Yep, I am the best.  Despite tragedy, I have not changed or grown in any meaningful way.  Now to engage in an awesome fight scene with the Rhino!

Rhino – Bring it!

–cut to black just like that; no fight scene for you–

My Fiction – Lake of Memories

Apologies for the missed entries.  I meant to post Saturday, but I was kidnapped over the weekend and held in a castle with no wi-fi and no cell phone reception.  Despite a lot of wine, I managed to help my allies successfully defend the castle against an onslaught of monsters, twice, and escape the desert.  Of course, later I turned into a giant monster and rampaged through a city.  Such is life.

This story was originally published in November 2011, and the theme was water, emotions, twilight, cleansing, and healing.  I took this literally, but I think it worked out well enough.

“Lake of Memories”

Miriam pulled up in the driveway of the cottage and sighed with relief.  “Finally, I can just be alone,” she thought.  She looked at her cell phone.  She had no reception.  “And maybe no one will bother me.  Of course, I had to come all the way out to the middle of nowhere to find some peace.”
The cozy cottage had one bedroom, a living room, and a full kitchen and bath.  There was a balcony that overlooked the nearby river.
“It really hasn’t changed,” Miriam thought.  “After all these years.”
When Miriam was a child, her mother’s mother owned the cottage and her family would stay for a couple of weeks during the summer.  Her parents took the only bedroom and she and her two sisters slept in cots on the porch or in the living room.  Her father’s mother died before she was born, so her mother’s mother was the only Grandma she’d ever known.  When she was ten, her grandmother had died and  the cottage had passed to her mother.  After her mother died, it passed to her.
“How long has it been?  Fifteen years?  Twenty?” she thought, walking around the place.  She got a cup of coffee, and watched the river while the sun set behind the house.
She awoke early in the morning with the urge to go swimming, but the river was slow, lazy, and muddy.
“I know!  I can go to the swimming hole.  It’s too early on a Sunday for the kids to be around,” she thought, and grabbed her swimsuit.
The swimming hole was the upstream point of a creek where an underground spring broke the surface, pooled in a natural basin, and finally flowed out to the river.  The water had a lot less mud and was perceived as generally cleaner.  She and her sisters had spent a lot of hours at the swimming hole with some cousins and their friends.
When she arrived, no one was there, so she slid into the cool, clear water.  She swam a few lengths to warm up, then leaned up against the side and sat on a rock.  Her mind drifted back to those warm summer days when her grandmother and mother were still alive.  The force of the emotion combined with the surroundings caused her to cry.
“Why are you crying, my child?” asked a deep female voice.
Oddly, Miriam was not afraid.  “I miss my Mom.  I miss my Grandma.  Everything’s turned upside down this year and I just want to talk to my Mom again.”
“Then talk to me, for I am a mother in my way,” said the voice.
Miriam started to talk.  All the feelings she’d pent up since her mother died a year ago, all struggles with her job and her boyfriend came pouring out like a river bursting a dam.  When her tears stopped, she felt warm instead of cold after sitting in the swimming hole so long.
A transparent figure of an old woman with Greek features was sitting next to her, hugging her shoulders.  “So much grief and pain and anger, poor child.”
“I feel better now,” she sniffled.  “A lot better.  Thank you.  I don’t know what I did to deserve your attention.”
“You needed help, so I helped.  Now I must go, and you should too if you do not want to get overwhelmed by small children,” the goddess said with a smile.
“Thank you, again, so much.”
She kissed Miriam on the forehead and vanished.
Miriam got out of the water and returned to the cottage with a lighter heart.

A Writing Entry – The Deadline Demon

Wow, so it’s almost September and the Deadline Demon is upon me.  My goal is to have my third installment of “Nevermore and the Ravens” finished, edited, and the cover art ready so I can submit it for publication at the beginning of October.  It takes Smashwords about two weeks to fully process and distribute a novel, so it should be ready for a Halloween release, which has always been my goal.  But I’m not doing very well in meeting this deadline, I’m afraid.  So why not just move the deadline?

Well, I do hope one day to be able to make a living as a published author.  Granted, I may be delusional.  I’m okay with that.  But if my dreams come true, I will have to operate on a deadline.  I operate on deadlines for my day job.  Deadlines are good for motivation (if they are reasonable) and I feel I should discipline myself to working on a writing deadline even if there’s no external force dictating that deadline.  I also have a deadline of posting to this blog on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Rather unfortunately, that’s a deadline I too often miss, and I apologize for that, patient readers.  Constraints, such as deadlines, aren’t always bad.  Sometimes too much freedom is the enemy, especially for me and my fevered hamster brain.  I might leap from topic to topic, to story to story, without a plan for finishing anything.  Hence, why I have give myself the deadline.

Once upon a time, I did write on a deadline, and I won’t say it wasn’t occasionally frustrating.  In fact, I was under three constraints.  I was contracted to produce a flash fiction story for the now defunct Pagan Edge e-zine.  I had word count limit, I had a theme which my story had to follow, and I had a due date each month to submit the story or risk missing my column appearing in the e-zine (and as I was using it to advertise my novels, I certainly didn’t want to miss that opportunity).  I preferred the editor to give me a list of topics for three to six months in advance.  That way, I had a little more freedom to try to write on a topic that interested me, and had the luxury of time to mull over topics that didn’t immediately catch my attention.  I also had more time to edit myself, which is something that I’m occasionally bad at.  But sometimes the editor didn’t provide the topics in advance, so I had only a couple of weeks to write a story.  Even with a word limit of 600, that’s not an easy task.  My Muse is fickle, and I wasn’t always inspired by the topic.  I admit, I missed my deadlines by a day or two.  I simply couldn’t get the words on the page.  I’ll also admit I wasn’t always happy with what I produced.  While I know that not everything I write will be great, I always aim for good.  Sometimes I got what I would judge as merely adequate.  I do like having some room to work.  Part of the time constraint was that if I wrote a story, I seldom had time to decide if it was what I really wanted to submit, or if I thought it really expressed the theme.  I was trapped into submitting that story because it was all I had.  I made that story the best I could, but sometimes I felt it should have been better.  I would have liked more time to create a better story than “serviceable.”  But such is the life of a professional, as I told myself.

So where does this leave the latest installment of “Nevermore and the Ravens?”  Not in the greatest shape, quite honestly.  I still need three stories to make the full thirteen.  I have three stories that are not finished, but I don’t have the cushion of a fourth one to work on if it turns out I don’t care much for the three remaining.  One is a story I started almost first thing for this collection and I still haven’t finished it, so that probably doesn’t bode too well.  I have maybe half the songs done, if I’m optimistic about it, and none of the connecting dialogue.  I thought I would wait until all the stories were done and organized before I did that part of it, which I think makes sense and will be overall better but does put more pressure on me to get this done.  I have an idea for the cover but I still have to actually draw it, and I would like a chance to make a few revisions instead of just slapping something on the cover and going.  This is indeed the danger of the Deadline Demon – getting anything out to get it out instead of getting out the best.

On the other hand, if I really want to make it as a professional published author, I need to make sure my work is out there.  In this sense I sacrifice some quality for publicity.  However, I know I’m hardly the first artist nor will I be the last to just get that final chapter done or get that final song done or paint the final picture to complete the gallery.  Obscure perfection is not the goal.  Many artists toil in obscurity for the sake of their art.  I really hate not being able to put my best out, but as I learned from Pagan Edge, serviceable is better than nothing at all.

Still, for all that, I am hoping for a bout of frantic inspiration to finish this collection on a high note.

A Movie Entry – The Marvel Movie Machine 2

Because of course there would be a sequel.  And this also expounds on a previous entry about what a non-fan might like in the superhero genre.

So I recently saw Guardians of the Galaxy and then I read reviews because for movies I know I’m expecting to enjoy, I actually don’t read reviews of first.  I like to find out if other people share my opinions.  A co-worker of mine who only went to the movie to see Chris Pratt complained that it seemed formuliac like every other Marvel movie, and indeed every other summer blockbuster that had to end in a giant battle royale.  The A.V. Club’s reviewer also complained that this seemed to be another Marvel movie with a plot focused on obtaining some MacGuffin that ended with a splashy battle.

There’s a lot to address here, and I know my co-worker isn’t a comic book fan and I’m guessing the reviewer isn’t either, so here’s my attempt to explain to non-fans what the hell is going on, and why they should give these movies a try.

The Problem:
Franchising, franchisings, franchising, where the real money can be made.  Once upon at time, Hollywood sunk money into movies as individual projects.  Then Hollywood realized it could capitalize on a successful movie with a sequel.  And at some point sequels turned into trilogies because three successful movies is better than two.  And then someone realized that if there was no room for a sequel, why not set a story before the main story?  Thus, prequels.  I blame George Lucas for the birth of the franchise, although that may not be fair, or informed, but “Star Wars” has certainly been a game-changer.

And so Marvel Studios with Disney planned out a franchise of a scope not yet seen in Hollywood.  They would produce trilogies that are oh so popular, but also integrate those trilogies in with other movies.  The brilliance of this plan is that comic books already work like this.  Characters have solo titles but also have team-ups and crossovers.  The movies are being produced like comic books.  And, as a fan, it is glorious.  But as a non-fan, it is a problem.  See, Marvel is playing a long game with their stories.  Non-fans obviously won’t see that.  Nor is it obvious that they are not making independent movies, but instead a series of movies that crosses over with others.  For example, the three “Iron Man” movies are a series, but they’re tied in with the “Captain America,” movies, the “Thor” movies, and so on.  This is confusing to the non-fan, and I absolutely understand that.  Honestly, this is part of what can make people feel intimidated by getting into comic books in the first place.  What Marvel really ought to do is title the movies in a way makes it clear the movies are a series, and not stand-alones.  But they want stand-alone movies so non-fans are not scared away by the back story.  This leads to trying to do two things:

1) Tell enough back story non-fans know what’s going on.
2) Don’t tell so much back story the main plot gets buried in exposition and catching up.

These two things are not easy to mesh, and as the mega-story gets more complicated, that’s going to become more difficult.  To be fair to Marvel, this isn’t a problem that they’ve overcome in the actual comic books either.  So this overarching grand plan is both Marvel’s triumph and downfall, because the they’re trying to have it both ways, as seen above, and this leads into other problems, which can cause the non-fan to not try these movies.

The Formula:
I like these movies, and I admit there is a certain sameness.  However, I don’t blame only Marvel Studios for this.  Sony is essentially trying to recreate Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy with “Amazing Spider-man.”  WB/DC tried the same thing with Man of Steel.  And in a scope larger than just comic book movies, summer blockbusters in general have become somewhat formuliac.  Hollywood is lazy, and when they come across a formula that seems to work, they will crank out movie after movie after movie in that very same vein.  Then they’re surprised when people stop going to the theaters.  But I digress.  While Marvel has a formula, they are partially bound by the larger meta-formula of summer blockbusters – splashy spectacle that ends with a splashy battle royale.  My co-worker said he just wanted to see something different from GofG.  I sympathize, I do, and told him I thought Captain America: Winter Soldier might suit him better because it’s a more personal story.  Then he asked, “Does it end with a spaceship battle?”  I had to answer, “Well, sort of.”  He replied, “Damn it!”  So I get the desire for creativity and something different.

But (and you knew that was coming), I think in general the plots of comic books are well-suited to the genre that is the summer blockbuster.  I don’t expect that to change.  But maybe, just maybe, we don’t need yet another Michael Bay reboot of a ’80s childhood favorite.

For Those that Came in Late (The Episode Guide):
For non-fans who might like to try the movies, I recommend treating them like very long episodes of the same television show.  Many television shows are episodic now, and follow distinct story arcs.  This is that same thing just writ large for the big screen, and as far as I know the first attempt at something so large in scope.  A movie isn’t really that much longer than a TV show, especially an hour show with a special two-parters.  So think of this as “Marvel: The Epic Series.”  Here’s a summary, without spoilers (as such; as a superhero movie and as explained before, going into it the viewer should already know that the heroes will win).

Pilot -
The Incredible Hulk – okay, not actually a pilot, but it was released before what I consider to be episode 1 and is kind of important for backstory.  This is both a reboot and a sequel, and does focus on one character, Bruce Banner.  However, there are some aspects that might make a non-fan feeling like they are missing something.  It’s also a decent movie, but not as good as some others, so I will sum up – mild-mannered Bruce Banner turns into a nigh-indestrucible rage monster when he gets angry and the military wants to use him as a weapon.  He has issues.

Episode 1 -
Iron Man – this is really a fun movie.  It’s also probably the easiest for the non-fan to get into and enjoy.  Tony Stark is exactly the sort of person that everyone really ought to hate because he is a self-centered tool, but he’s just so charming everyone forgives him for being a self-centered tool.  And it turns out he’s really not that bad, and perhaps even heroic.  This movie also has the advantage of focusing exclusively on one character, so it gives you all the backstory you need to know.  To sum up – a rich, charming self-centered tool becomes a rich, charming, self-centered hero-ish person.

Episode 2 -
Iron Man 2 – the continuing adventures of egomanic Tony Stark and how he learns that being a hero  isn’t what he thought it was, and there are undesirable consequences for his actions.  He’s less of a self-centered tool, especially compared to his evil counterpart Justin Hammer.  An acceptable follow-up and introduces the audience to the Black Widow, although she is not given that codename.  It also is the introduction of War Machine.

Episode 3 -
Thor: God of Thunder – This I have mixed feelings about.  It’s not nearly as strong a debut as Tony Stark’s, but it does provide needed back story about Thor.  Unfortunately, Thor is just not as interesting as Tony Stark (at least not to me).  So, for non-fans, I’ll sum up – Thor is Marvel’s version of a Norse god who starts off a self-centered jerk but learns humility.  He also has a brother named Loki who has a huge inferiority complex that leads him down the path of villainy.  It also has a very short and awkward introduction of Hawkeye, altlhough he is not given that codename.

Episode 4 -
Captain America: The First Avenger – so at this point it’s clear Marvel isn’t really pretending these are entirely stand alone movies.  This is better than Thor’s debut but not as good as Iron Man’s.  This is also an origin story, so there’s focus on one character, but I will admit that there are a lot of hints and allegations of things to come that can be distracting.  So focus on Steve, and enjoy the supporting characters (seeing Howard Stark explains pretty much everything about Tony).  To sum up – Steven Rogers is a good man, who becomes a great man, and punches a bunch of Nazis; also, the Howling Commandos are crazy, and Bucky Barnes is very important.  And Nazis and cosmic objects of power do not mix.

Episode 5 -
The Avengers – Most everything except episode 2 comes into play here (and there are certain elements that foreshadow this).  The cosmic object of power from Episode 4 (called the Tesseract), the villain from Episode 3, the hero of Episode 1, and that guy from the pilot are all important.  This is the big team-up, where disparate personalities are forced to come together to save the world.  This is also the first movie to end with a battle royale.  I mean, they all end with a battle, but this is the big, splashy spectacle whereas the solo movies had more of a personal fight at the end.  Basically, Loki helps aliens invade New York City using the power of the Tesseract.  There’s a lot that gets destroyed, but the Avengers save the day and capture the bad guy and enormously powerful cosmic object of power.  The most important part of this movie to Marvel’s long game mega-story is the mid-roll credit teaser introduction of Thanos.

Episode 6 -
Iron Man 3 – A lot of people didn’t like this movie, but I thought it was fine.  Tony is more mentally unstable, and a lot of that is directly due to the events in Episode 5.  But really all you need to know from Episode 5 is that Tony was willing to sacrifice his life to save others, and that he doesn’t deal with that very well (i.e., Tony has PTSD).  Also, it does have a certain similarity to The Incredibles.  And thus far, it has no bearing on the other episodes except that it has potentially made room for a new actor to take over the role.

Episode 7 -
Thor: The Dark World – This is more of a sequel to the first Thor movie than Episode 5.  In fact, all you really need to know about Episode 5 is that New York City was invaded by aliens, Thor helped, and put Loki in prison.  That’s all the bearing that has on this movie’s plot.  That said, while it’s nice to see some of Thor’s loose ends tied up, it’s just not that good.  It’s a decent popcorn flick, but Thor is not that interesting.  To sum up – dark elves want to get their hands on a cosmic object of power (called the Aether) to destroy the Asgardians.  Thor teams up with his girlfriend Jane and they manage to stop the bad guy.  The most important part of this movie to Marvel’s long game mega-story is the mid-roll credit teaser in which the Aether (also called an Infinity Stone) is deposited with an elder of the universe called the Collector because it shouldn’t be near the Tesseract (now also called an Infinity Stone).

Episode 8 -
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – This is also more of a sequel to the first Captain America movie than the Avengers.  Thus far, I think this is the best of the bunch, and it’s really the first time Cap is allowed to really have an arc.  Episode 4 was really just leading into Episode 5.  I highly recommend seeing this movie, and strongly suggest seeing Episode 4 just as backstory, but it’s not entirely necessary.  To sum up – Cap is a soldier in a time of peace and man out of time.  He’s struggling to figure out where he fits in while the only thing he’s ever known, the US government, betrays him, and the failures of his past catch up to him.  Also the introduction of Falcon.  The mid-roll credit teaser reveals some characters likely to be present in Episode 10 (Avengers: Age of Ultron, due to be released in May 2015).

Episode 9 -
Guardians of the Galaxy –  Whoa, whoa, I hear non-fans say, this is Marvel?  What?  In fact, my co-worker had no idea this was a Marvel movie until the beginning credits.  Oh, yes, this one does seem to come out of left field, especially as a series.  This features none of the characters seen before and takes place in outer space.  This is as stand-alone as the Marvel movies are going to get for awhile.  New characters, a new setting, but it brings in the midroll credit teasers of Episode 5 and 7 (Thanos and the Collector).  This is a team-up movie.  Going stone-cold into a team-up movie is hard.  That doesn’t mean there is any shortage of team-up movies, but that there are always a few characters who either don’t get rounded out, or subplots that don’t seem to go anywhere, or rushed stories, or awkward exposition.  The best team-up movies smooth over these problems.  I’m not talking superhero team-ups either.  Most team-up movies are sports movies (literally team-ups).  But there haven’t been a lot of sports movies out lately, and certainly not for summer blockbusters.  Marvel also can’t give every character a solo movie (or three) and for where they’re going for, GofG was a perfectly fine and fun vehicle to get there.  Fun, quirky, and recommended.  To sum up – a five man (and I use that term loosely) band gets together, pursues a cosmic object of power (the Orb/another Infinity Stone) and accidentally saves the day.

The Plead:
Yes, I realize it appears three of these episodes are being driven by the MacGuffin of the Infinity Stones.  The Infinity Stones are NOT a MacGuffin (really, they are a plot device, but a very important one).  To any non-comic book fans out there, I can assure you that Marvel Studios is playing a long game to get a certain storyline most fans already know about.  This mega-story will potentially unite the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy for the fate of the universe.  I’m sad Marvel doesn’t have the rights to the FF right now because I’d love to see them and the Silver Surfer involved.  This, dear non-fans, is a crossover amongst crossovers.  Please understand that these apparent MacGuffins could show up in up to three more movies.  Marvel Studios is carefully and deliberately putting the pieces in place for what I hope, and what they hope, will be truly EPIC.

I approve of EPIC.  I hope Marvel Studios can pull it off.  I think they’re doing a good job.  And I hope more non-fans will be persuaded to find out what all the fuss is about.  For those that came in late, I sympathize because there are clearly some holes in the character and plot that exist simply because the movies are building on each other.  Hopefully the episode guide helps put the grand plan in perspective and provide a point of reference in what can seem like a sea of splashy sameness.  The details are not overlooked, and in fact are the most important part.

But assuming the non-fan thinks all this is just too much, and I can see that, I recommend Iron Man as a complete stand-alone, Captain America: Winter Soldier (watching the first is optional but it helps to already know the origin story and that Avengers saved NYC), and Guardians of the GalaxyExcelsior!

My Fiction – Spirit of Sorrow

This was originally published in June 2012 in Pagan Edge and the theme was, obviously enough, spirits.  I use the ideas in this short story for longer short stories (“Tricks ‘O Pedia”) in Nevermore and the Ravens and also in Paranormal is Relative (“Beyond the Grave”).

“Spirit of Sorrow”

Dolores looked out the window.  The sky was overcast and a light, misty rain was falling.  “There will be so many today.  They do seem to come when the rain is falling,” she said out loud, although there was no one to hear.  “And so they come,” she said, seeing a flock of umbrellas walking up to the front.  She walked out of her room and glided noiselessly down the staircase.
The tour group was just entering the building.
“Now just leave your umbrellas there,” the tour guide said with a southern drawl to her voice.  “This place is historical.  We don’t want to be ruining it, right y’all?”
“They’ll drip water on the carpet,” Dolores said, although no one paid her any attention.  “They always do.”
“Alright, everyone follow me,” the tour guide said cheerfully.  “You can use your cameras but please no flash.  Let’s start our haunted tour.”
The group started to slowly wind their way through the old inn.
“This inn was built in 1875, right after the Civil War by Colonel William Hathorne,” the guide said.
“It was built in 1873, and the ‘a’ sound is long, not short,” Dolores sighed.  No one minded her.
The group’s interest seemed to pique as they walked to the main dining area.
“As y’all know, the Hathorne Inn is haunted because the Colonel’s daughter hanged herself at age sixteen,” the guide said.  She pointed to the second-floor gallery that overlooked the main dining area.  “Hanged herself from that very balcony,” she said.  “The story says it’s because her father wanted her to marry a man she didn’t love, so she took her own life instead of be wed.”
The group made some horrified gasps and took several pictures.
“Poor creature,” Dolores said.  “This guide tells them such untruths, but they are none the wiser.  Perhaps she does not know the truth either and only repeats what she hears, like nothing more than a mockingbird.  Such delight do they take in this as well!  Reveling in the misery of one long dead with no understanding of how she died nor why.”
The tour guide lead them through the rest of the first floor.
“These people who listen to the tales of the guide are but voyeurs who delight in a fantastic story they hardly believe.  Yet what does it matter to these people if the story is true or false?  The truth is hardly so entertaining as the fiction.  If the truth truly mattered to anyone, they would learn the true story of the Hathorne family.”
The tour guide now lead the group up the grand staircase and ignored Dolores, who followed.
“But perhaps they do not deserve the truth.  They show no respect for the dead.  They do not understand the grief and pain, and they come back, day after day, while the owners profit from the sorrow and horror of the past.  It’s truly shameful,” she said.
The tour wrapped up and the guide lead the group back outside with the promise of a gift shop.
“Never do they think if this place was haunted how it must feel to the ghost to have her terrible life and death exploited and mocked.”  Dolores resumed staring out the window.  “Perhaps this is my true punishment,” she said, “to endure this until I find redemption for my earthly sins.”  The ghost of Dolores sighed and faded away.

A Movie Entry – A Guide to the Superhero Movie Genre

I love superhero movies, as a genre. I am a comic book fan, so that’s not surprising. But I know a lot of people who aren’t comic book fans nor understand the appeal of the superhero movie genre. Many complain about the plethora of superhero movies and the dearth of other options, especially for summer blockbusters. So I’ve created this guide for the non-fan of the genre who might like to understand why these movies are currently so popular, and are wondering if it might be worth it to try this genre out [Warning - this a looooooong entry].

First, I’d like to say that I completely understand people who don’t like a particular genre of media. Genres have rules and narrative conventions, and sometimes those are just not to the taste of everyone. For example, in the horror genre, the villain/evil wins. That’s just the narrative convention. So that means, for example, in a movie with a chainsaw wielding maniac at a summer camp, at most only one of those kids and/or counselors is going to make it out alive. And no matter how obnoxious the kids and/or counselors, I just can’t cheer for the chainsaw wielding maniac. Therefore, no matter how well done within the genre of horror, I am not going to like that movie. If if the rule of the genre says the chainsaw wielding maniac is always going to win, I’m not going to like that genre.

Superhero Narrative Convention:
Superhero movies have certain narrative conventions as well. First and foremost, the battle between good and evil is generally pretty straightforward, except for Batman. Second of all, the hero will win and victory will generally be pretty complete, except for Batman. Superhero movies, in general, are fun and lighthearted and not Very Serious Business, except for Batman.

Okay, I’m pausing here a moment because otherwise almost every sentence will end with, “except for Batman.” Batman is technically a pulp hero, not a superhero. Batman is a thinly disguised rip-off of the Shadow with a touch of Zorro thrown in for good measure. The pulp genre is different from the superhero genre, and almost all the differences between most superhero movies and a Batman movie come down to this fundamental difference in the characterization. Batman is a pulp hero in a superhero world. Because of that, Batman movies are somewhat outside the superhero genre conventions.

Okay, resuming. The morality in superhero movies tends to be pretty straightforward. Good is good, evil is evil, and Captain America punches out Nazis. And that’s the reason the genre tends to be so black and white; the rise of superhero comic book coincided with WWII. The roots of the genre have remained, even while the world has gradually turned gray. On the reverse, the villains will tend to turn the strengths of a hero to weaknesses. So, while a hero wants to catch the villain, in general the hero will value life above all else, which is why villains tend to use human shields so often. Superheroes also tend to wear colorful and impractical costumes, as do the villains. Again, this is derived from an era when good and evil were distinct, and were made to look distinct (the equivalent of white and black cowboy hats). Superhero movies are trying to be family-friendly, which means PG-13 sanitized violence, sexual innuendo, but not a lot of gratitutious nudity, sex, or gore. I don’t think this means that the movies aren’t mature or adult, or deal with adult problems, although I think some people might view them that way. Then again, I’m on record as my favorite superhero movie being an animated “children’s” movie.

Blockbuster Convention:
In the comic books, superheroes very seldom kill any villains. Part of this is because it is exhausting always creating new ones, and part of this is the idea that a superhero shouldn’t resort to the same kind of tactics as a villain (i.e., the superhero values life and justice). However, Hollywood has decided that a movie won’t be satisfying to a movie-goer unless the villain dies. I’m not sure why since the goal of pretty much all superheroes is justice, and that is including Batman. So the movies often end not with the villain just being defeated, but being destroyed as well. This is becoming less true, and I for one am glad of that.

Also, Hollywood has decided that a satisfying movie experience that will garner big bucks in the summer months is ending with a splashy, high-stakes, CGI-heavy battle royale of some sort. The superhero genre lends itself very well to this kind of finale, and it is heavily exploited. This can cause the movies to feel somewhat the same, and that is a pity. Unfortunately, as superhero movies have become inexoribly tied to the summer blockbuster, I don’t see this changing.

A Brief Overview:
Superhero movies aren’t new; there have been various attempts for a few decades now. However, the ever-increasing use of CGI, and better CGI, and some brilliant marketing, has made the genre one of the big cash cows. But as with any movie, special effects only are not enough to make it good, or even watchable. The best superhero movies, like the best movies, are well-written, well-paced, well-acted, well-directed, and have appropriate use of special effects. Superhero movies also lend themselves to the franchise model of marketing, which can confuse and confound the non-fan. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best example of this, and gets its own entry due to the extent of the grand plan. Most other superhero movies come in sets of two, three, or four. Marvel, to me, also best exemplifies the genre, and other studios I think make slight to significant missteps with their handling of the genre. Through the entire genre, a high suspension of disbelief will make them more enjoyable (which is not to say I give fridge or chomper logic a pass).

What Does All this Mean?
Well, if you are a person who doesn’t care for a story where good triumphs over evil in a pretty straightforward story, then superhero movies are probably not for you. If you are a person who prefers a lot more gray in their world, then superhero movies are probably not for you. But there are some exceptions, and some that are less black and white than others. I’m listing my recommendations in order, so those at the top are most highly recommended (i.e., 1-3). Again, this excludes the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which I will elaborate upon later (goodness knows this is already long enough).

1) The Incredibles – this is my favorite superhero movie, and I think one of the best. Since Pixar created these characters, there’s no cumbersome back story for non-fans to feel they’re missing out on. There are complex character dynamics, an overarching question of what good are superheroes, what motivates a villain, and some in-jokes and jabs at the genre (“No capes!”). The costumes are colorful, and there is a final fight, but it’s not the CGI spectacle that too many movies indulge in. It’s well-written, thoughtful, and an overall very good movie. Honestly, this is a really good introduction to what the superhero genre can be, although it might potentially set the bar too high for later entries.

2) Batmanof course Batman is the exception. As I said, Batman is a pulp hero, not a superhero. His victories come at a high cost, are never guaranteed, and are never final. The people he loves die or get hurt all the time, and the villains often get the upper hand. I recommend Tim Burton’s Batman and Nolan’s Batman trilogy, although I will say that for all the shades of gray, the sides of good and evil are pretty clearly illustrated. For non-fans, here is the story of a man struggling to become something more, and fearing what that could be. I should also note that The Dark Knight is the best of Nolan’s trilogy, but Batman Begins is pretty good and should be watched first. Unfortunately, The Dark Knight Rises is something of a let down. I think non-fans could probably skip it, frankly.

3) Spider-man – so there are two dueling trilogies for Spider-man, one complete, and one filming. Without getting into the nuances of character that a non-fan probably doesn’t care about, I’ll try to parse the differences and my recommendations:

a) Raimi’s Trilogy – I like this much, much better. I think it does more justice to the character of Peter Parker and is in general a better set of movies. But Raimi was drawing inspiration from the Silver Age of comics, and some non-fans may find the movies cheesy and quirky. I personally think that’s part of the charm. Also, they are good movies in general (well-written and all that) even if the CGI is already a little dated. I recommend Spider-man and Spider-man 2 (in that order) but not the third one. There were a lot of problems with it and even fans could probably skip it.

b) Sony Reboot – I don’t like this set at all. Here Peter Parker is an Emo Hipster Skater Kid and doesn’t take responsibility for a damn thing. Also, the CGI is splashier, although this is probably just a result of the advances in the technology between the two. However, these movies are trying to be Very Serious Business, and are not cheesy, or, to me, charming. But many people have sung the praises of the first one, so perhaps this is exactly the kind of movie the non-fan will enjoy. The Amazing Spider-man was better than Amazing Spider-man 2, which buckled under the weight of its own cast of characters and having a lack of a clear story to tell; instead it was a series of hasty (and rather cheesy Silver Age in tone) introductions to characters who will appear in Amazing Spider-man 3: The Sinister Six. I personally find that choice odd since non-fans are probably more likely to be put off by that kind of jumbled mess of characters that are thrown at them with little to no back story because unlike fans, they have no outside knowledge to draw on to fill in the significant gaps.

4) The Hulk – now, this movie is firmly in the middle on whether a non-fan will enjoy it. Fans didn’t like it very much because of the dark tone, but I can where the director was trying to go. This is, above all else, the story of a very disturbed individual and the damage he inflicts on his son. This movie could be titled, “Sins of the Father” and be equally appropriate. There is a lot of angst, anger, and betrayal. There is not a lot of the Hulk in this movie, which is good since the CGI is a bit lacking. The scenes are also shot somewhat like a comic book, which some cuts and transitions that otherwise don’t make sense. There is a battle royale at the end, but it’s short and somewhat confused. Still, this is fundamentally the personal journey of a troubled man to find out exactly how troubled he is.

5) X-men – the X-men movies stripped the X-men of a lot of the comic book cosmetics. I personally don’t think this was a good choice, but I’m a fan of the superhero genre as is. People who think the costumes are silly or absurd probably won’t mind. The world hates and fears mutants, and they are outlaws who commit a lot of actions that are technically criminal. This is as about as gray a world the non-fan will find outside of Batman (which, again, I think isn’t that gray on the whole). Xavier and Magneto have a complex relationship that highlights the weaknesses of both their principled stances. X-men, X-men 2: X-men United, X-men: First Class, and X-men: Days of Future Past are the ones to watch.
Warning – These are all related. The first movie is stand-alone (even if the plot is somewhat silly), the second is a direct sequel (and quite good), the third is awful and you shouldn’t watch it, “First Class” is a prequel (and decent), and “Days of Future Past” is a prequel-reboot-sequel (and pretty good). If all of that sounds way too confusing, first, that’s pretty much par for the X-men in any genre, and second, start with the first two and see how that suits you and then maybe move to the others. Part of my guide is to both warn non-fans of the pitfalls of the genre and try to recommend an easy place to start. This set of movies (not to mention the Wolverine spin-offs [seriously, don't mention them]) probably isn’t an easy place to start, but this set of movies has a darker tone with grayer morality than some of the others I’ve listed.

Next are the movies that I don’t think non-fans will care for. I could be wrong, so I’ll include a description and why I think they are lacking. The ones at the bottom are the ones I would least recommend to someone who isn’t a fan of the superhero genre.

1) Blade Trinity – the trinity, not the name of the last movie. These movies feel somewhat less like superheroes movies than they did before “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Blade, who is a hybrid human/vampire, fights evil vampires. It gets kind of gory, but the tone never quite says “superhero.” It’s more urban fantasy or horror, I guess. So I’m not sure by recommeding this set if I’m actually recommending a proper superhero movie rather than a supernatural action flick. And with what seems to be the problem with many trilogies, the third movie isn’t even worth watching.

2) Fantastic Four – the two movies have all the narrative conventions of a superhero movie, but somehow the whole doesn’t come together. There are colorful costumes, science-defying powers, and an egomanical villain who wants to do…something… Yeah. Unfortunately with a weak villain the movie couldn’t be very strong. And while the heroes are decently represented, they have no worthy foe. The second movie is slightly better, actually, because the villain is more villainous, but I just think overall a non-fan would find them kind of silly and not very good. Hell, I’m a fan and I thought they were kind of silly and not very good.

3) Ghost Rider – quite unfortunately, the Ghost Rider movies manage to combine the lack of traditional superhero conventions of the Blade Trilogy with the poor construction and silliness of the Fantastic Four movies. There was a kernal of something that could have been dark, brooding, edgy, and interesting in the original and sequel, but that was never properly realized. That said, the Ghost Rider (who is not on-screen enough) looks damn cool. Still, good CGI does not a movie make.

4) Superman – if you are not a fan of the superhero genre, then movies about Superman are probably not the ones you will like. Superman is a god who acts like a dork and really, truly tries to save everyone. He wears a bright, colorful costume, he is an array of scientifically-impossible powers, and is fundamentally one of the nicest people in the world. He is honest. He is genuine. He is not dark. He is not brooding. He saves the day. That’s what he does. That said, if a non-fan really wants to go all in, I’d actually recommend starting with Superman 2. That presents what has become a more typical superhero plot, but also has more action than the first one, and is a much more even movie. The original Superman is kind of a psychological movie, which is good, but it’s an A+ movie with a F ending tacked on to it. As for the other two of the original set of four, well, the less said the better. And for the reboots? Superman Returns was kind of slow-paced and possibly too cerebral, and as for Man of Steel? My thoughts on that have been made quite clear. I think it’s a terrible example of the superhero genre.

Conclusion – Like most people, I just want others to like the things I like. I want others to share in my joy. So when I try to share my joy at watching the awesomeness that is Rocket Raccoon (not technically a raccoon) and I receive a blank stare, I feel compelled to explain why I like what I like, and why I think they might like what I like. So here is that whole long entry in a nutshell – Why I think a non-fan might like what I like. So try it and maybe you’ll like it too.

The Raging Fanboy

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