Thursday, November 26, 2015

Marvel's "Civil War" (the comic)

This movie trailer just dropped.  It looks great.  I am going to talk about the god awful comic that inspired the movie.
I have a theory, the reason most smart people in the Marvel Universe (and comics in general) tend to be scientists rather than lawyers is simply because in comics you can make up bull shit gibberish and call it science, you can't make up law and everyone just say, “Yeah, I can see how that might pass and spike controversy”.
Unfortunately Marvel Comics back in 2006 decided to base one of the biggest events on the decade around a legal misunderstanding… and it made not a lick of sense.  After a number of incidents relating to superhero misconduct (for instance, the Hulk destroyed a good amount of Las Vegas while being mind-controlled, and Star Fox date raped a woman and fled the country) the last straw came in a very stupid way.
A group of young superheroes called The New Warriors found a group of escaped super villains hiding out in Connecticut.  What they should have done is kept their distance, formulate a plan, and call for back up if they needed it, one problem though, the team was being followed around by a camera crew because they were part of a superhero reality show akin to “Cops”.  The bad guys saw them, a fight broke out, and one of the villains, named Nitro, caused an explosion that killed hundreds of people including dozens of children.  Several of the heroes died as well.  This was the 9/11 of the Marvel universe and prompted a change in how the government interacted with the heroes.  All the superheroes now needed a license to use their powers.

Strangely the actual bad guy, Nitro.  He is barely mentioned in the rest of the event.
Captain America saw this licensing issue as unethical and took to leading a group of superheroes who did not want to register as a freelance group of heroes, he gave them all new cover identities and they continued to fight crime.  Iron Man was on the other side, since he was a former Secretary of Defense (yes, Tony Stark) Iron Man was made head of the licensed heroes and given the directive to stop vigilantes from operating, either they registered with the government (which means they would receive training, pay, benefits, and have to take orders) or they would be jailed until they registered.
As I previously mentioned writing law in comics is difficult and in this instance it was especially bad because at no point did they print the literal text of “The Registration Act”.  So no one could actually point to the law and say what it was the argument was about.  No soft language that would require review.  The registration act was unwritten not because it was complicated, but because Marvel's editors did not know how you would word a law to make such a disagreement possible.  There is an issue of She-Hulk that explains her legal justifications for why Registration is correct (there is no corresponding argument from another super-lawyer because it would require the creative staff to really hammer out a legal fiction that could illustrate the point).
I actually find this to be a sad state of affairs because Dan Slott wrote excellent super-cases for his run on She-Hulk (can a ghost testify against his murderer, can Starfox be tried for rape because his love powers can manipulate a woman's will, can a supervillain sue a hero for excessive force, what constitutes cruel-and-unusual punishment for a super-max prison?)  All of those topics were really cool to explore... And unfortunately no one else can really write that kind of stuff.  (Really, Dan Slott’s writing on that comic went into the toilet toward the end too, so maybe even he couldn’t have fixed this).
There is a massive argument going on that has no foundation on either side.  So instead we have to infer what the argument was about from each side’s behavior… AND HO-BOY everybody acted out of character
Whose side are you on?
I don't know.  What the hell is this all about?
The single biggest issue I have with the story is that both Iron Man and Captain America seem to be going against what I think they would be in that situation.

1) Captain America has had a teen sidekick die and has advocated against other teen heroes namely the Young Avengers.  Captain America is always the first hero to advocate against new people getting into the life of a superhero, and that makes sense he was frozen and lost his entire life to being a hero, why would he want someone to make that same sacrifice?  He is also critical of heroes who use too much force or use being a hero as an excuse to have fun or seek thrills.  The idea of heroes needing to receive training and licenses to operate makes a lot of sense.  But he is against it, and during the series he employs the Young Avengers (a group of teen heroes he told to stop operating) to help his cause, all of which makes him a massive hypocrite.  And then the Punisher shows up having murdered two super criminals and is immediately teamed up with by Captain America.  Hypocrite.

Also, Spider-man getting this beaten up by the two chuckle heads that Punisher killed is kind of disrespectful to Peter Parker as a character.
2) Cap's identity is known to the government, he lives in the helicarrier when he is not in Avengers tower or mansion, he gets a pay check from the government to go on missions for them and has a tremendously flexible work load that allows him to apply his skills and abilities to those missions he sees needing his abilities and his moral compass.  If anything he should be advocating that other superheroes receive the same support from the government to help them escape unfair persecution (“Spiderman, Hero or Menace” for instance).

3) Cap has used his legal status as "Champion" to form his own team of Avengers in the past so he is clearly not above using the rules.  This is more an extension of #2.  SHIELD was initially against or resistant to a new Avengers team forming because of how a previous team had ended (Scarlet Witch went crazy, killed 4 team members, and nearly destroyed all of New York), Captain America was so adamant about wanting to create a new team that he invoked his special status with the government to overrule all objections and create a new team.  Does he feel those rules are a detriment?  If so he gives no indication of such.

4) Iron Man is also acting out of character so let’s talk about him some.  Tony has been managing from behind the scenes the superhero community for years.  He formed the group called the Illuminati along with leaders from other super teams to help coordinate their efforts; Charles Xavier, Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Black Bolt, Doctor Strange, and Iron Man have all been taking the lead without the government’s oversight.  I think that these characters ESPECIALLY TONY, would not want to relinquish this control to the government which has shown itself to be run by idiots on more than one occasion.
Poor Charles Xavier, it is hard to do an action shot when you're an 80 year old man in a wheel chair and your powers are completely imperceptible.  He looks like he is having an ice cream head ache.
5) Tony has gone to war with the Government to keep his armor technology from being misused.  The entire reason he became Secretary of Defense was to end the perceived abuse of his inventions.  So now he is going to sign up to give the government control of literal super geniuses?  Even if the government had no access to his armor, there are other super inventors whose inventions they could misuse.

6) Let’s get back to Cap.  Steve has his team give up their true identities and live under assumed names with no end to the war in sight, claiming that living under an assumed name is temporary, and the fact that these people cannot go home till their insurrection is over should be seen as a necessary and noble sacrifice.  Tony does not require that, if you register your identity doesn't have to be public and you get a paycheck, back up, training, and benefits/retirement. Cap is actively causing people to give up their lives, Tony is benefiting their lives.  Really, this aspect of the registration should be seen as a good thing by both heroes, and since Tony has been funding the Avengers and has in the past tried to set up shell corporations to fund hero retirement it would make sense for him to still create these kinds of systems but not be on the side of registration, Tony (by analogy) would be in the rich people, “let’s privatize social security” camp.

I do not think words can express how much I hate this quote.  It all at once encapsulates everything that is wrong with political discourse in this country and in the world as a whole.  You could replace Captain America with literally anyone, be it Glen Beck, Bernie Sanders, Jared Fogle, Jenny McCarthy, Bill Nye, or the Red Skull and not change a word.  It is empty rhetoric, and all Captain America does to justify his position in the entire story is say crap like this.
             7) After years of fighting super criminals and murderous mad science, the SHIELD agents sent to capture heroes are dubbed "Cape Killers" even though no heroes are killed by them.  It actually makes little sense on numerous levels.  In fact there is an incident in which a registered hero tries to take in a non-registered hero and the registered hero is killed in the ensuing fight.  (Seriously, how is training and accountability a bad thing?)

             8) To help keep unlicensed heroes (and you know BAD GUYS) jailed during the Civil War Tony Reed Richards and Hank Pym invent ultra-prison in a dimension called the Negative Zone.  Why are heroes being jailed in the negative zone? I do not understand both the moral "why" and the legal "how" that allows this to be accomplished.  This is less a character issue and more of a “why didn’t they write down the registration act” thing.

             9) Tony Stark and Mister Fantastic clone Thor in an attempt to create more heroes (kind of like the Ultron program in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”).  Unfortunately the clone is not ready and it uses lethal force to subdue a “hero” named Goliath (it should be noted that Goliath was 50ft tall and charging clone-Thor at the time and knocked several SHIELD agents off a building.  It should also be noted that Goliath is a black guy, and I think that it was SUPER AHEAD OF ITS TIME commentary on excessive force).  Regardless I don’t so much see this as out of character, but another thing that should have happened differently.

Maybe Thor should have used a TASER to take down the charging suspect?
With the above listed reasons I feel that the whole of Civil War should have been different.  I think that the Iron Man led Illuminati should have been against registration and Captain America should have favored registration.  I think that Tony should have made the clone-Thor as a way of evening out the fight with the mounting government forces and it causing the death of a hero should have prompted Iron Man to surrender.  Everything in the comic was backwards.
If they had shown the registration act and had Captain America explain the issues that caused him to react as such, and Iron Man explained why he did what he did, I would understand why this was happening, but none of it makes any sense.
Thankfully the movie is going to sidestep all of this.  Rather than arguing over the place of young heroes and training, instead it is a very different Captain America and a very different Iron Man fighting over (I think) whether Bucky Barnes needs to go to trial for all the terror and murder he was forced to take part in.
The only complaint I have with the movie universe (so far) is that Tony and Cap seem to not be friends in the movie universe.  Tony seems to see Cap as a stick in the mud who would be useless without the inventions of Howard Stark (Tony’s dad).  And Cap sees Tony as lacking morals, having only taken action to help people after suffering a personal attack (while Cap tried and failed numerous times to get into the military trying to fight and make the world better).  As to whether the argument which causes the fight will make sense… I think it will, this is the creative team behind “Winter Soldier” and that is my favorite superhero movie.

Don't even get me started on how fucking stupid Spider-man acts thru this whole thing.
(Though it is still less stupid than Black Panther)
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Saturday, November 21, 2015

"The Simpsons" Missed Opportunities

Apparently “The Simpsons”, one of the most iconic bits of American culture ever produced will finally end (maybe) after its 30th season.  This will make it one of the longest running shows ever in the same league as “Doctor Who” and “Guiding Light”.  I feel that its end is a good thing.  While the show is iconic it did not evolve nearly as much as it should have, and I feel that one of the best episodes of the series in one that explored how the show could have allowed the characters to grow up, “Lisa’ Wedding”.

Unlike other series this one still had more stories to tell after a wedding episode.
I generally think that the show had a lot of creative people on staff and created such an expansive cast of characters that there is a host of missed opportunities they could have explored and didn’t.  They even made a whole show joking about how they did not take advantage of that stable of characters, that was “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase”, and a make-shift could-have-been-a-pilot, “22 Short Films About Springfield” two more episodes I consider among the series’ best work.
The reason I wrote this blog is I wanted to point to what I consider the biggest missed opportunity for a spin off from “The Simpsons”: Hank Scorpio and the Globex Corporation, from “You Only Move Twice”.

My favorite single appearance character in the series, and maybe my favorite character overall.
Voiced by the great actor, Albert Brooks.
It is my favorite episode of "The Simpsons", and the fact that Hank never returned to the series is a crying shame.  A series starring this character, a comedy spy series (a concept that has existed for decades) but told from the position of a villain.
Each season could be another giant scheme in a new base of operations and the logistics and mishaps that comes with running them. Volcano Island, Ice Castle, Undersea lab, Oil Rig, ancient city like El Dorado, and a Moon Base. You could have parodies of the Avengers (the British ones), Get Smart, the Manchurian Candidate, and the Prisoner (something “The Simpsons” did with the episode, “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes”)

If you do not know what this is, relax.  Nobody who watched the show was entirely sure what it was about either.
Hell, you could have parodies of every James Bond, sure we see the classic Sean Connery version get murdered, but what about Roger Moore?  You could also have Scorpio take down rival bad guys, like Rattle Snake (instead of Cobra), Phantom (instead of SPECTRE), Micro (instead of Quantum), and Chimera (instead of Hydra).
Have him golf with 3rd world dictators who are seen as absentminded puppets of the CIA and take stories from their real life eccentricities to develop them. The show could have actually raised people's general awareness of real life evil dictators.  I know who Omar Al-Bashir is, but having him played for comedy would let the various Cletus citizens of our country know too.
Now I feel sad and let down with the world.  Not merely because this show never got to exist, but of how many could have and didn’t, of how “The Simpsons” could have been the starting point of lots of shows like “All in the Family” had been decades prior.  Sure it still had a major impact, but it could have had more, it could have evolved and grown, and the fact that it didn’t is sad, it was kept frozen in time and now 30 years after it debuted it will end and that will be it.
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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Killing (Baby) Hitler

A few days ago, before a massive terrorist attack reminded people what real danger and tragedy were there was a really stupid question going around the internet and it was this, “If you could travel back thru time to kill Adolf Hitler when he was a child, long before his influence as a Nazi leader, would you kill this baby Hitler?”  Presidential candidate Governor Jeb Bush said THIS

Now, how did a question like this come to be part of popular parlance enough to actually prompt a response from rival presidential candidate Doctor Ben Carson?  (Seen Here)  It is important to understand the nature of these questions, this is a word problem that illustrates the conflict between Utilitarian and Deontological ethics.

Utilitarian ethics are focused on the outcome of an action, or the total utility.  They would say that killing Hitler serves such a greater good (preventing the Holocaust) that the "wrongness" of killing a baby is completely offset.

Deontological is focused on individual actions, and that doing something wrong, even for a good reason is still wrong.  They would say that committing the wrong of killing an innocent person (or at least killing someone before they have done the wrong they would become most famous for) is so unethical that doing so is evil regardless of what it is stopping.

Technically speaking Stephen Colbert gave the "right" answer.  (Seen Here)  The “correct” unstated third option is that with the power of time travel you can set things right that do not involve killing, but instead require the more difficult task of helping.  Hitler was not always evil, he was an art student that grew up in a difficult family, he liked dogs, he was funny, and suffered a host of maladies.  He was a person both before and after being a monster.  Given time and patience you could turn his life toward something positive, help him become the artist he wanted to be instead of beast he became.

Generally speaking, I feel that not taking a second to consider the implications or the inability to consider that there might be a third option, is indicative of uncreative thinking.  I feel that lack of creativity means that such an individual would be a poor negotiator, and would be a poor leader.  Or maybe he just thought it was a stupid question and gave a flippant response because it is a really stupid question.

Though the image of Adolf Hitler as a 60 year old man having retired to the United States to teach painting on PBS, talking about happy little lamp posts, that is a timeline hard to envision.
Unfortunately all of these arguments still ignore the deeper problem of the situation, that fascism, eugenics, and a policy of murdering various minorities in systemic ways (Native Americans, Africans, and Armenians) already existed.  And that the need for food and living space to be taken from “minorities” was already happening, the world was already running out of people that were different colors to abuse and eventually different gradients of white were going to be used as justification for mass murder, which is just how you forecast a pattern.  A Holocaust in Europe was inevitable.

While Hitler is the biggest advocate of the process and was undeniably evil he is kind of being scapegoated for the whole thing.  Millions of people participated in the endeavor, and since not all of them were prosecuted, and none of them want to confront the fact that they shepherded people out of homes and into ovens.  People want to blame Hitler, so they can feel better about themselves having been "tricked" into being monsters.

So I guess there is a fourth answer: It doesn’t matter if you could kill Hitler, because he was not the only one murdering.


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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

CBS Streaming "Star Trek" 2017

This is going to end up like all the rival streaming services on the internet trying to supplant youtube.

Look CBS, we get it.  You want more money.  Who doesn't?

By look at how Yahoo lost $42,000,000 on streaming content, and they are an internet based company that were producing a cult TV show, "Community".  Why are you following their example?

There are already two 500lb gorillas in the cage with you, Hulu and Netflix.  Both have hosted your content in the past, and Netflix is currently streaming all the old "Star Trek" series and several movies.  Why not just partner with one of them?  You don't have to worry about shouldering the production costs yourself, you don't have to worry about producing enough first person content to fill a streaming service.  No additional server hosting and maintenance.

You are not striking out into new territory, you are late to the party, and you are going to spend $2,000,000 a week (that is a conservative estimate) for 3 months and then realize it was all a colossal failure and end up whoring out the streaming rights to Netflix and Hulu anyway to try and recapture the lost production cost.

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" was one of the first shows to cost more than $1,000,000 per episode to produce.
After this catastrophe, some idiot on your corporate board who thought of this stupid plan will blame the "Star Trek" brand name for no longer being a draw.  Ensuring that you will not get to merchandise the license to half of what you could have.  You want to create Lego sets.  You want Kirk and Spock to be in Lego Dimensions, we know you do, because the fans want that.  You want to sell play-doh dispensers shaped like the enterprise.  You want a line of micro-machines.  You want 10,000 t-shirts shipped out daily.

You want money, and this kind of streaming shit is not going to give it to you.

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