Archive News: Technical Difficulties and A (possible) Thanksgiving Break

So, I’ve spent over an hour trying to get my computer running (even crashing as I finished this sentence) and am currently sending this from my phone. The problem is that it’s not as efficient as my PC which gives me more editing and research options (read: jumping between apps on a phone is a pain in the balls).

So, until I sort this out, I’m going to be somewhat limited in what I can do here. I’m may even have to go radio silent for awhile until I can get this heap repaired or replaced.

What’s more, I may take next week off as well in order to spend Thanksgiving with the family. I realize this is going to be super inconvenient for you all, but I promise it’s just as hellish for me.

At any rate, I want to thank you all for your continued support (seriously, yesterday was the first day in some time that reader ship dipped below 30 a day) and I hope you’ll all stick around and wait for me when I eventually get back on track. Take care of yourselves and I hope to be back soon.

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The Agent Reviews Thor: Ragnarok – A Good Movie, Just Not The One We Wanted

To think, I almost had as much fun watching this as Thor did in this shot.
Source: Disney Video

So, I saw Thor: Ragnarok a while back but didn’t give an in-depth commentary on it because I wanted to connect with friends and peers that saw it in order to see if they noticed anything I missed. And in a truly rare moment whenever a discussion turns to film, we seem to agree for the most part; it was a good movie – amazing even. Unfortunately, for those dedicated to the heaps of lore that Marvel has been building up for decades, it didn’t resemble anything we wanted. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. We should discuss the actual film first.

Oh, and obviously, this is a very recent film so expect spoilers from here on in.

So, the film shockingly starts with Thor AVERTING the titular Ragnarok of the title by faining capture at the hands of the fire giant Surtur and locking his crown in the vaults of Asgard so no one else can use it to threaten his home. Upon returning, he finds his father Odin acting strangely hedonistic and correctly deduces what we already knew from Thor: The Dark World; Loki has banished Odin, taken his form, and is unjustly ruling in his stead. After forcing him to bring him to his exiled father back on Earth, Thor and Loki learn from Odin during his final moments that his disowned and forgotten daughter Hela, goddess of death is returning with the intent of using Asgard as her starting point to conquer the remaining realms. After, easily crushing Mjolnir in her hands, Thor and Loki attempt to escape on the Bifrost. But Hela follows and casts them both out into space while she makes her way to Asgard. Thor finds himself on the planet Sakarr and is forced to fight in arena battles for the amusement of a being known as The Grandmaster (yes, I thought they recast Jeff Goldblum as The Collector as well; Turns out they’re brothers – not that the movie explains that). The majority of the movie then consists of Thor gathering a small force to return to Asgard consisting of Loki, The Hulk (who crashed on Sakarr after the events of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron and has been stuck in Hulk form for the entire two years since), and a former valkyrie of Asgard living in self-imposed exile while occasionally cutting back to Hela to see what sort of hell she’s unleashing on everyone.

Did that seem like a lot? Well, that’s the first major problem with the film; much like how Sakarr is a dumping ground for cosmic debris, the first act is treated as a dumping ground for information to catch us up and understand everything that’s happening. After that, the second act pulls the drag chute for a bit to give us some good character moments, but it was a lot to sift through to get to that point.

But one of the major complaints I keep hearing from people- and I admittedly understand their frustration with – was the focus on humor over action and drama. It just doesn’t FEEL like any of the Thor movies leading up to it. The movies often bordered on Shaksperian at times (appropriate for a character whose dialog in the comics was full of thee’s and thou’s). On the surface, it almost feels like it’s trying to follow in Guardians of the Galaxy‘s footsteps to the detriment of a passable drama.

However, there are a number of ways I can justify this.

Firstly, I insist that, despite the title telling me otherwise, this is not Thor’s movie – at least not entirely. It’s much more geared toward The Hulk. One of the things that shocked me in the trailers was how they actually gave character development to Hulk. And I stress Hulk, NOT Bruce Banner. This is the first film where it honestly felt like they were two people living in the same head just as the comics intended them to be. As such, humor was needed because there are only two appropriate actions to take when Thor and Hulk share a spotlight: brutal fisticuffs or hilariously unexpected witty dialog from two of the biggest meatheads in the Marvel canon.

As for claims that the humor ruins Thor’s character, I have two rebuttals. For one, I feel this is something that has been building up for some time now. Much like how Odin grew to have an affinity for Earth in his exile, Thor loves Earth and it’s people. He’s been spending much more time with them than anyone else. So it makes sense that he might start emulating some of our characteristics such as our sense of humor.

For two, and please note that this is purely fan-speculation on my part, I don’t see the movie as ruining Thor’s character; I see it as ENDING his character. Think about it; he’s the king of Asgard now without Odin presiding. He needs to give up the superhero business and apply what he’s learned – including lightheartedness from his time with humans – to being a leader. It makes sense that the movie would want him to go out on a happier note in spite of everything falling apart around him. Plus, don’t forget that Avengers 3: Infinity War is coming up fast. In the comics, EVERYONE DIES. I doubt that will happen in the movies, but they likely will make most or all of the current Avengers inadequate. This means we’ll need some new Avengers to replace them. And that means we might be seeing the start of Jane Foster as the next Thor.

Besides, on its own merits, the movie is fun enough where, until I was forced to overthink it for review purposes, I could easily forget the continuity questions and focus on the chuckles. Jeff Goldblum is amazing as a sleazy, egomaniac (as always) and the minor characters are some of the best aspects of the film. Everyone seems to gravitate towards the stone man Korg with his lovable and friendly demeanor juxtaposing his rough exterior. But I’m all about The Grandmaster’s comedically serious, kill-crazy, right-hand woman Topaz who I can only describe as, “Miss Trunchbull in space.”

Overall, if you’re going into this movie expecting it to be exactly like the comics, you’ll be brutally disappointed. You’ll enjoy it much more if you just learn to appreciate the humor of the situation like the characters do.

The Agent On ‘Toxic Fandoms’ and How to Keep a Community Positive

I can no longer stand idly by while everything I love is being destroyed!
Source: Amino

So, over the last month, I had to come to terms with a very sad truth – many of the things I love have terrible people that love them too.

It’s one of those facts that you know in your sub-conscious mind; the law of averages just ensures that at least a few undesirables make their way into the flock. But you really don’t think about it until a clutch of them jump out of the woodwork to make you and everyone else look bad.

Over the last month though, I’ve seen a rise in discussions on so-called ‘Toxic Fandoms’ and I won’t lie – it’s actually a little frustrating. So, I just want to give a quick step-by-step guide to how to deal with unsavory elements in the world of entertainment media fans in hopes of quelling the outrage and (admittedly) leveling some criticism on fandoms I consider myself a part of.

Step one: Make sure YOU aren’t part of the problem

I feel a lot of issues could be resolved if more people took a critical eye to themselves. It seems most people aren’t even aware that they might be helping to perpetuate a lot of the negative stereotypes around a fanbase.

Take my beloved Steven Universe for example. You’d think I show that is LITERALLY about love, acceptance and friendship would spawn and attract large scores of similar people – people who believe in respecting the diverse nature of the world and recognizing the value in differing visions and opinions. And for the most part, you would be right…

… Until you get to the kind of  s***lords that go on witch hunts for people they feel aren’t being PC enough and bullied a fan artist until she nearly attempted suicide.

Now, you may not be THAT terrible; in fact, I’m willing to bet most of you probably aren’t. But, are you the sort of person with a knee-jerk reaction perceived bigotry without questioning the context first? Well then, you may be perpetuating the stereotype without even knowing it.

Take some time to reflect on the ‘toxic’ aspects of your fandom, see where you and they are similar and take steps to put distance between the two of you. Not only will this help you identify the problem, but you will better yourself in the process.

Step two: Recognize them as the minority

Let’s state the obvious here because it seems surprisingly easy to forget; these a-holes that are making it hard to enjoy nice things are the exception, not the standard.

If these fandoms – massive as they are – really were full-to-bursting with these kinds of anti-social numbnuts, there would be absolute chaos. In fact, these fanbases likely wouldn’t get as big as they are if people thought there was a legitimate threat.

It’s important to remember that the majority of fans aren’t insufferable douchebags, but normal folks like you and me. Painting the whole fandom with a wide brush like that throws a lot of decent people under the bus that could help you regain the peace.

So remember, they are the minority – a vocal minority just large enough to screw things up for the rest of us, but a minority none the less.

Step three: Ask yourself, “How bad are they, really?”

The old saying goes that, “You need to choose your battles.” So ask yourself honestly, how many ‘toxic fandoms’ are ACTUALLY a problem and not just super annoying?

Are just creepy and weird folks that can be easily ignored like the Cuphead fan artists that draw Rule 34 incest slash art? Or are they legitimately socially disruptive like the Rick and Morty fans that made life miserable for underpaid McDonald’s employees?

If you’re going to start policing fandoms, you need to understand that there’s a line and not all ‘toxic fans’ cross it. Focus your energy on actual problems instead of minor grievances.

Step four: Deny the problem people entry

When you get down to it, fandom is a club. It’s a place where like-minded people can gather to converse with one another and network in a civil manner.

And like any club, occasionally, the bouncer needs to tell a few slimy-looking creeps that they aren’t on the list.

The biggest insult you can lay on a ‘toxic fan’ is the shame of knowing that the rest of the fandom has rejected you – that you so obviously missed the point of your fandom, that they refuse to let you associate them. That’s why I’ve been using the sarcastic air quotes whenever I use the term ‘toxic fandom’ or toxic fan.’ There are no ‘toxic fans.’ There are just people that miss the point of the story or art and make a mockery of real fans through their inexcusable behavior.

If you bully people for not acquiescing to your worldview, you aren’t a ‘toxic Steven Universe fan’ – you’re a narrow-minded jackass so concerned with the cosmetic aspects of bigotry that you fail to see it within yourself.

If you think it’s cool to get belligerent with a clerk because they don’t have what you want, you aren’t a ‘toxic Rick and Morty fan’ – you’re a self-important, entitled brat that thinks the world owes you something just for existing.

So if you see someone claiming to be a fan of something – even if it’s something you don’t particularly care for – acting out in a disgusting manner, don’t be afraid to call them out on their poor behavior. Don’t bully them into submission, but make it clear that they aren’t welcome here and don’t deserve to associate with you until they shape up and start acting like an adult. Remember, there are no ‘toxic fandoms’ – only terrible, ill-tempered, and reprehensible human beings that the world can do without.

Three Legendary Monsters That Deserve Their Own Major Horror Movies

So, with Halloween nearly upon us, I find myself thinking about some of the great monsters of Horror cinema; from the all-destroying titans of Japanese Kaiju films to the mind-bending terror of Lovecraftian inspired shoggoths like in John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Still, I can’t help feeling that, with the wellspring of folklore and mythology we’ve built up around the world over the years, we have a lot of missed opportunities.

Now to be clear, I’m aware that there are some smaller horror movies (and non-horror movies) made about some these guys and I will try to touch on those that I’m familiar with where applicable, but that’s not what I’m talking about as a whole. I want to see these guys have big, successful, and legitimately AWESOME movies about the giant swaths of blood, death, devastation, and fear they tear through wherever they travel. Because let’s be honest, you kinda want to see a big budget, special effects gore-fest about…

The Manticore

It isn’t often you see a mythological creature you could buy as an apex predator.
Source: Villians Wiki

With a human face, a lion’s body, a tail of poisonous thorns, and a mouthful of dagger-like teeth, the Manticore – derived from early Persian meaning ‘man-eater’ – is exactly what one might think of when you think of a creature built only for the hunt; combining some of the deadliest natural weapons with a cruel intellect that surpasses most people.

Now, I’m aware that the Manticore was featured in Percy Jackson and The Olympians (A.K.A. discount Greek mythology Harry Potter) but there, he was more of a brutish pet than the cunning predator that legend built him up to be.

My personal take on the Manticore would be more of a Cheshire Cat-like villain (imagine the smile on that beast) who, like most cats, enjoys playing with and tormenting his prey. You could have him set up his victims in an elaborate hunting ground full of puzzles and riddles ending in death traps (alluding to his possible inspiration from the Egyptian Sphinx) in a mythological take on the Saw franchise.

Failing that, you could just make a campy Horror Comedy and get Ninja Sex Party to do the theme song for you.

The Wendigo

There’s something about crimson red on pale white that’s naturally unsettling.
Source: Ancient Origins

Probably among my favorite of North American folklore creatures, many native tribes of the northern U.S. and Canada speak of a violent spirit that would stalk and possess humans during the winter when the threat of starvation and famine loomed. Those possessed would become a Wendigo – an insatiable, cannibalistic monster overpowered by the need to feed on human flesh. Its endless state of starving pain leaves it with a gaunt, wiry frame that gives it a ghoulish appearance.

There have been attempts to make the Wendigo mainstream – most notably the Marvel comics interpretation and their appearance in the game Until Dawn. But I feel the best use of a creature such as this would be to place our heroes in an isolated area with no escape (easy to do given the Wendigo’s association to winter weather) and build tension among them by leaving them accusing each other of being a Wendigo while finding a way to fend of the spirit that continues to possess them one by one and flee back to civilization.

The Jersey Devil

How do you come up with something that can be described as ‘demonic horse-headed velociraptor?’
Source: Weird NJ

Up to now, the creatures I’ve described have been from ancient mythology and folklore. But this one may have been the first MODERN folk monster I’ve ever heard of.

The Jersey Devil, named for its native home of Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey, is one of the most unsettling creatures I could imagine. In addition to its unearthly appearance looking like a bipedal goat-like demon with large wings, horns, and a forked tail, it’s also known for it’s blinding speed and a “blood-curdling scream” that I can only imagine sounds like the Witch King from Lord of the Rings.

Ever since I saw this guy in The Wolf Among Us, I’ve wanted a proper horror interpretation for this generation of horror fans. I’ve said in the past that the secret of good Horror is to capture a basic human insecurity or fear common with the modern zeitgeist and make a monster based around it. And I think Jersey captures a fear we don’t often see – the anxiety of parenthood.

See, the oldest tale of the Jersey Devil cites him as the thirteenth child of a woman named Deborah Leeds in 1735. She cursed him in her frustration after birthing so many children. When he was born, he butchered the midwife immediately before racing up the chimney and – according to some stories – began slaughtering the children in the area.

Rework that myth a bit so that the unborn child could sense his mother’s aggression towards him and, fearing for his life, made a Faustian bargain to gain the beastly strength to defend himself and take vengeance on all unloving parents by murdering their children and you have the makings of some great nightmares on screen.

Cartoon Creeps: Why Horror Lovers Are Obsessed with Max Fleischer

Don’t let Max’s playfulness or Betty’s sultriness fool you; beyond here, there be monsters.
Source: TV Tropes

Finally, I get to do something spooky for Halloween. Again, I apologize for how unexpectedly eventful this month has been, but we finally get to talk about creepy stuff that’s totally relevant.

If you’ve been following the gaming scene recently, you’ve likely been hearing the name Max Fleischer get thrown about quite a bit. You’ve also probably heard the name attached to hellish imagery and intimidating challenge as well. You can thank the dual successes of Bendy and The Ink Machine and Cuphead for bringing this man back into the limelight as both draw heavily from Max’s body of work for inspiration. So, what was that work exactly?

Well, Uncle Max, as he’s occasionally known by, is a Polish-American animator born in 1883 and one of the founding fathers of modern western animation. Today, most will recognize him for the creation of Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, and possibly the most iconic animated depiction of DC Comics’ wonder boy Superman.

And when I say ‘founding father’, I mean he developed the most important technological advancements of his time including The Stereoptical Process, the classic ‘Bouncing Ball’ style sing-a-long, and – most notably – the rotoscope that allowed for more detailed movement with less effort by artists. Basically, everything you associate with the earliest cartoons you can likely remember exist because of dear Uncle Max.

That’s all well and good, but why the interest in him as a horror icon? Well, there are quite a few reasons.

Firstly, much of his early work, prior to being strictly limited by the now abandoned Hays Code, dealt heavily in dark surrealist imagery. Uncle Max was no stranger to including stories and art depicting malevolent spirits, violent demons, and occult practices. Fans of early Fleischer Studios productions – myself included – will often cite films like Bimbo’s InitiationRed Hot MammaMinnie the Moocher (yes, that IS Jazz legend Cab Calloway performing the music and providing rotoscoping for the dance moves), and probably the most cited of his works – Swing You Sinners.

You’ll notice that the way a lot of these characters move feels unsettling as well. Well, that brings us to another factor to the freakiness of Fleischer’s Films; his use of an animation technique called ‘Rubber Hose Animation.’ Named after the rubber hose-like construction of many character’s limbs, the lack of any points of articulation (wrists, elbows, knees, etc.) means almost everything moves with an inhuman fluidity. Imagine a person whose limbs and body seemed to slither around themselves while they walked and you can see why this would be so unsettling – especially if the person doing it was otherwise conventionally cute and innocent looking like most characters from this era of cartoons.

But probably the big thing that most don’t think of is the horror potential in the real-life rivalry between Max Fleischer and Walt Disney. Contrary to popular belief Disney’s Steamboat Willie in 1928 was NOT the first animated film to sync sound and film together; that accolade belongs to Max’s Good-Bye My Lady Love a good four years prior in 1924 (which I sadly could not find). Walt was also quick to jump on and use rotoscoping once Max’s copyright on it ran out. He attempted to claim credit for it while using it to finish Snow White in 1937. The Disney Company would then spend several years lobbying to extend copyright length to ensure no one could make a better version of the public domain properties they adapted (shady business practices; just one more reason for me to hate Disney).

And through all of this taking of Fleischer’s hard work and unfairly discrediting him, Disney put his studio out of business in 1942 when it was incorporated into Paramount as ‘Famous Studios.’ Max would then pass away due to arterial sclerosis of the brain in 1972.

Basically, the idea of a hard-working artist who pioneered ways to make his art “come to life” as it were getting shafted by his old business rival to the point of being nearly forgotten by history is a good back story for a vengeful-spirit-from-beyond-the-grave story. So good, in fact, that some of the more obsessive nit-pickers among us have already made that connection to some of the stuff Max did and the things it inspired.

So, whether you’re looking for a good creep show or looking to brush up on your animation history, it would be worthwhile to study Uncle Max’s early offering. Just maybe watch with the lights on.

My Complex Feelings On Gal Gadot and Kate McKinnon’s SNL Make-Out Session.

You would not believe how many GIFs there are of just this one scene.
Source: Buzzfeed

People dress up as superheroes for Halloween, Right? This is TOTALLY a Halloween post!

Sorry, I promise I’ll get to the spooky stuff eventually. But October has been super eventful and I want to talk on this now while it’s still relevant.

So, recently on SNL, Gal Godot got to host the show and did a whole skit reprising her now iconic role as Princess Diana of Themyscira, AKA; Diana Prince, AKA; Wonder Woman. In it, SNL regulars Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon play a lesbian couple who set out for Themyscaira – the island home of the Amazons – believing it to be a lesbian utopia only to be quickly disappointed when they find that the Amazons just aren’t that into it. The skit ends with Diana and McKinnon’s character making-out just to reassure themselves that there are no feelings between them.

I have A LOT of feelings on this skit; most of them contradictory.

Starting with the negatives, I was a little off-put at the stereotypical butch lesbian characters (apologies if these are recurring characters; I typically don’t watch this show). I logically get WHY they made them this way; sketch comedy doesn’t provide time to flesh out characters very well and so writers have to rely on visual stereotypes to get the point across as quickly as possible. Still, I can’t help but wonder how many LGBT women were as uncomfortable with the archetype as I was. Not to mention that the big Godot/McKinnon kiss smacks of pandering to the surprisingly massive overlap between DC Comics fans and lesbian fetishists (seriously, almost every woman in the DC Universe is written as at least bi-curious these days).

But the more I looked at it and the more I thought about Wonder Woman’s lore, the more sense it made to me.

The initial reaction of the Amazons not knowing what Bryant and McKinnon were talking about almost makes too much sense. These are a race of ageless, immortal Demigoddesses that have lived apart from men since they escaped from the clutches of Hercules (the armbands Diana wears are actually their old iron shackles that the wear as a reminder of why they distrust men) that don’t need to have intercourse to maintain their population (depending on the continuity, Diana was literally made from the clay of the earth). They probably have a limited concept of sexuality PERIOD, let alone heterosexuality v. homosexuality.

What really gets me though is how Diana acknowledges, “… I love all my sisters,” and how the Amazons clearly understand the idea of romantic attraction. This means that they, and the scriptwriters by extension, recognize one of the things I’ve been preaching since I came out as asexual; the divide between sexual orientation and romantic orientation. In all reality, it’s quite likely that the norm for the Amazons is not homosexual like many imagine, but asexual homoromantic. In fact, Diana would be the outlier here as the only biromantic Amazon.

Oh, and I would be remised to forget that the actresses all did fine jobs with their roles (was it just me or were McKinnon and Godot REALLY good at performing a genuinely sensual make-out scene?).

Anyway, I’m just having fun overthinking entertainment. I feel that, despite a few missed steps, this skit did its job of providing visibility to the LGBT+ spectrum while being legitimately funny. In fact, I may actually start watching the show to see what else I’ve been missing should my schedule allow it.

Understanding America, Gun Culture and The Need For Gun Control

No funny captions today; this is a serious discussion we need to have.
Source: NBC News

So, October is normally the time where I start rolling out the spooky stuff for Halloween. But unfortunately, we need to delay that to talk about a real-life horror story in America.

I really struggled with how to approach the topic of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. I wanted to talk about the gun control issue that crops up every time this happens – which seems to be like clockwork at this point. I wanted to mention how it has barely been a year since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and we’ve already topped it as the most lethal modern mass shooting in U.S. history. I ached to put into words my frustration at how this will likely be ignored again and no new legislation will be made to help protect innocent lives.

But as I wrote this in my head, I realized I would essentially be paraphrasing Jimmy Kimmel’s heartbreaking words on the matter and I feel no need to repeat that.

So instead, I want to try to bridge the gap between the two sides. I want to understand how and why this country that I love so dearly has come to this point and spread that understanding to others in hopes of ending this lucid nightmare once and for all.

Firstly, know that I am not making excuses for people that are against gun control; I am very much FOR the regulation of firearms. And bear in mind that I say that as someone who has made frequent use of guns himself. The Second Amendment, like any piece of text from antiquity that governs the lives of others, is something that is in need of occasional revision.

Second, I’m not calling for a gun BAN. I feel that any rational American knows that a full ban on firearms is not only logistically impossible but also completely overboard. Any citizen of any country should have the right to defend themselves, their property, and their loved ones. The goal of gun control is (or at least should be) to make weapons designed for crowd suppression such as full auto rifles more difficult to obtain – thus reducing the sort of horrific numbers of casualties we see in these events.

That being said, I feel I do understand the logic of where most anti-gun control rhetoric comes from. Like most things that come from those that feel that old traditions are inalienable, the key to understanding their thinking and their concern lies in our shared history.

The United States was, in essence, built by the gun. It was an armed citizenry that took the place of a standing army in the days when we were just a British colony and it was that same armed citizenry that made the revolution a success. The gun was the only thing protecting people as they expanded into the lawless west. In many regards, the image of the American cowboy-style sheriff and his gun is as much of a romanticized part of our history as the English knight and his sword or the Japanese samurai and his katana; a symbol of one man’s power and duty to maintain order and protect innocent lives.

But, it’s plain to see that that isn’t the case anymore. Too many people that lack the empathy and logical reason to wield such a terribly destructive tool exist – not just in our country – but in the world writ large. We need some kind of improved system to keep the gun (or, failing that, the most destructive guns) out of their hands.

And yes, it does seem unfair that those of us who are good, caring, loving and law-abiding citizens have to sacrifice some of our power just because others can’t be trusted with it. But, I honestly believe that if we are half the heroes we romanticize ourselves to be, we would make that sacrifice for the sake of protecting our people from the cruelest among us.