Westworld: Evil Pricks

I was in the process of writing an article about the awesome way Westworld uses its own story to teach people about good storytelling, when this line from last night’s episode reminded me of something I wanted to talk about for a long time.

“Why is it every time you come to this place you turn into such an evil prick?” William to his friend, HBO’s Westworld.

That’s the same question I’ve had about video game culture for quite some time, and I think it’s time I talk about it.

I used to play multiplayer games, specifically a game called Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries. I was a young teenager suffering from crippling depression, I had no friends at school or at home, I was tormented by both depression and the hormonal rollercoaster of puberty, and I felt like I had no future. To make a long story short, Mechwarrior and the friends I made playing it, made my life somewhat bearable. I’m still friends with many of the people I met playing Mechwarrior, even as we come to a mind-boggling 20 years since I’ve played it.

This was cutting edge when I played it.

It’s those friends I want to talk about, because over the years I’ve watched them become evil pricks in video games. It didn’t start that way. Back when I first began playing, it was just good fun. Oh we made fun of each other, called each other gay, and joked about sex, typical young teenager stuff. But over the years my friends began to change.

The jokes became crueler, more personal. Those who lost competitive games against our team were mercilessly ridiculed, and then called cowards when they didn’t want to play us again, when it was more likely they simply didn’t want to play a bunch of rude petty people. The changes were subtle and at first I didn’t notice them.

Eventually Mechwarrior’s multiplayer died out, it wasn’t exactly the most popular game even in its heyday, and while we tried to play other games together, I lost interest. About ten years later though, a new Mechwarrior title arrived: Mechwarrior Online. Suddenly we were all back together again, and for the first few months it was like old times. And then I began to notice things.

My friends began openly trash talking, calling people faggots, ridiculing new people who asked questions, and following people they didn’t like from game to game specifically to “grief” them. Still, this had become such a normal part of online games that I was able to shrug it off. What I couldn’t shrug off, is what they would say to each other in private.

I began to love this symbol.

Several of my old friends were now referring to each other as n***ers, and I grimaced every time they said it. Mechwarrior Online was also a free-to-play game featuring microtransactions, where you paid to unlock certain mechs and equipment.

When my cash-strapped friends couldn’t afford these microtransactions or bought only the cheapest available, they called it “Jew.”

“I’m too Jewish to spend that much money.”

“I got the Jew option.”

I was shocked, and I told them: “Oh I’m sorry, apparently I stumbled into Nazi Germany by accident.” The joke was an icebreaker for me to voice my discomfort with using old antisemitic insults.

“You’re being too sensitive, they’re just words.”

They’re just words.

That’s the excuse I heard over and over again for all manner of utterly inexcusable behavior.

Words are powerful. The right words can help someone find hope in a hopeless situation, humor in a tragedy, and joy in a moment of despair. The wrong words can make someone cry, make them feel alone, and even drive them to suicide. My friends didn’t seem to understand that.

And I was putting up with all this for a game that thought $500.00 qualified as a microtransaction. 

They began insulting me, and not the friendly jibes and insults that people exchange. They told me how bad I was in the past, to stop being bad during games, and stop being so emotional about the toxic conversations they’d have. This poisoned not only my relationship with them, but also in how I perceived our previous relationship. Did they ever actually like me? Was I really that bad in the past?

My friends used to have a nickname for me when I was young “tightpants”, and I never understood the reference. I thought perhaps it was a reference to my weight, which would have been fine because I was constantly joking about that myself. After we began playing Mechwarrior Online they began to refer to me as “tightpants” again, and this time I asked what that meant.

Turns out whenever I spoke on comms, I had a high pitched voice, and apparently I still did. Except now they weren’t so kind about it.

“Jesus, didn’t your balls ever drop?” They once asked me.

That, unfortunately, got to me. I asked my best friend if I had an unnaturally high voice, and she hedged saying she didn’t really notice. Which only convinced me it was true. For a few weeks there I actually tried lowering my tone of voice while talking to people, until I noticed it was just getting me strange looks from people. I’m also not as insecure as I was when I was young, and after a couple weeks I figured that even if I did have a high voice, it wasn’t like there was anything I could do about it. So why worry?

Besides, Varys has a high voice and he’s bitchin’. 

I continued playing with my friends, because between their occasional bouts of cruelty, we still had a good time together. Then one day we were playing, and having a grand old time. I remember I was laughing so hard my ribs were actually aching. I was trying to talk over my laughing to convey some information about the enemy team when:

“Shut the fuck up!” Someone yelled over the comms.

This person wasn’t one of my friends, but he was a talented gamer, he outranked us all when it came to talent. That alone was enough to let him play with us. It wasn’t a friend yelling at me, but they also did nothing to discourage it.

I disconnected and didn’t talk to them for about six months, until one of them decided to contact me on Skype and ask how I was doing. They asked me what had happened, and I simply joked around with them saying that I’d been asked to shut up and was just following the order to the letter. The reality was even simpler: I play games to have fun and relax. The moment that stops happening, the game is over. Yet I kept coming back to these people, because I’d known them for nearly fifteen years! These were the friends that kept me alive in the darkest period in my life, and I couldn’t simply write them off.

One of my friends, whom I’ll refer to as DV, I counted as among my closest friends.

If I was Varys, he was definitely Tyrion.

When I was thirteen/fourteen, I was absolutely infatuated with a girl I knew. Being a moronic teenager I lost all perspective and restraint, pronouncing my undying love for a girl I barely knew, which of course scared her into never talking to me again.  That sent me into probably the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. At the same time DV, who was slightly older in his late teens, was having problems with his girlfriend constantly dumping him and taking him back. We were both hurting and we helped each other through it by talking about our mutual girl problems.

“Oh back from your emo trip? Show me on the doll where [the guy who yelled at me] touched you.” That was how DV greeted me, the man who I once would have done anything for. If I was rich and he needed money, I would have written him a blank check, that’s how deeply I trusted and respected this man. He was one of my closest friends.

And I no longer recognized him.

I felt like Bruce Willis in Surrogates when he first steps out into a world populated by mechanical dopplegangers. It’s seriously a good movie, and I encourage you to watch it if you haven’t.

The boy who had once been my friend would never have been so casually cruel to me, so indifferent to my feelings. A few weeks later GamerGate happened, and I’ll spare those of you who don’t know about it the indignity of hearing about this stupid event. The cliff notes is that a girl made a video game and one of the reviews may not have been entirely without bias. The dumbest and cruelest elements of the gaming world took this as an invitation to threaten her life, threaten her with rape, post her address, phone number, and work location to everyone on the internet. They made her life a living hell for years. I haven’t looked into it, but I’m sure she probably still gets harassed.

And my friends supported it.





I have no explanation as to how this happened. Some of my friends were now married, DV even had children, and they were either cheering on the harassers (perhaps even taking part) or tacitly approving of it by offering excuses for turning a woman’s life into a living hell over a video game. When, and how, did my friends turn into these people?

How do otherwise decent people turn into this guy?

It can’t just be an effect of video games. I ran over crowds of people in Grand Theft Auto; mowed down innocent civilians in Postal; tortured and murdered people in the cruelest ways imaginable in Manhunt. I’ve committed every war crime and atrocity imaginable across twenty years of gaming, but I never turned into the evil pricks my friends became.

It can’t be their social and economic situation. One of my friends was working at a fortune 500 company and would show us pictures of his fancy new cars. Others were working a variety of jobs with varying levels of success. Some were married or had girlfriends. Hell, DV was working as a cop in London with three kids and a wife. If anything, I was the one who fit the stereotype: a fat, single guy who hadn’t had a girlfriend in years, no job and no prospects.

Maybe it was because I had depression, and I knew the kind of damage words could inflict. I know what it’s like to feel like the world is against you, to feel like your fate is suffer constant pain. Did that give me an empathy my friends lacked?

Were they missing an ingredient in their soul?

I don’t play multiplayer games anymore, because the unfortunate truth is that my friends are the rule. I’m the exception. Go into a multiplayer game and you’ll find a cesspool of insults, negativity, and downright cruelty.

As seen here in a great comic by The Oatmeal

That’s not to say I think all gamers are horrible. In fact I think the vast majority are just like me. The problem is that, like me, they can’t be bothered to deal with assholes when they’re trying to relax. So people leave, like I did. They stick to single-player games, or maybe they find a new hobby all together. Hell maybe that’s why games like Candy Crush are so popular, you don’t have to put up with racist misogynists to play Candy Crush.

So the decent people leave, and that just leaves the assholes in an echochamber of assholes. All they hear is the same toxic drivel they spout, and it becomes normal to them. It becomes a cycle of constant abuse, and it becomes so normal that they don’t even realize their language is abusive. Last time I was in a multiplayer game, someone threatened to rape my sister (I’m an only child).

My sister.


And the eerie thing about it was that he didn’t say it with hate or anger in his voice, it was a reflex. I killed him in a video game, and his immediate instinct was to launch into threats of sexual violence. He said it in such a way that I’m pretty sure if I could have been bothered to confront him about it, he wouldn’t have even comprehended the problem. Just like William’s friend in Westworld, who couldn’t understand why William calls him evil.

I still talk with my friends occasionally on Skype, because when they’re not talking about video games we still have great conversations about politics and life. One of them discovered they had kidney cancer, the same disease that killed my father, and we commiserated over how shitty cancer is. If I ever met them in real life, I’m sure I’d see the great friends that I once knew. But I don’t play with them anymore, because like the man said in Westworld: 

“Why does coming here turn you into such an evil prick?”

I wish I knew the answer to that, and I’m hoping that maybe through Westworld‘s exploration of this frightening transformation people undergo, that maybe I will find the answer.

Luke Cage: Invulnerable Skin, Vulnerable Story

We originally met Luke Cage in Jessica Jones where he was tending bar in Hell’s Kitchen, the man with unbreakable skin. Much like Superman this presents a problem for the writers: how do you generate any kind of danger when the character is invulnerable. Unlike Superman’s writers, who just said “fuck it, more punching”, Luke Cage’s writers tried to find a way around it. By building Luke Cage’s personal relationships, as well as his relationship with Harlem at large, they could generate tension by threatening his friends and home.

Unfortunately this attempt is let down by rather flat and uninteresting characters, and too much focus on a single barbershop rather than the neighborhood at large. So then they said “fuck it, let’s add some alien bullets that we can shoot at Luke Cage” and called it a day.

I still enjoyed Luke Cage, and compared to your average TV show it’s still a good bit of entertainment, but when compared to the first season of Daredevil and Jessica Jones it falls short… by quite a distance.

Luke Cage:

A Storytelling Review


Luke Cage starts off slowly with Luke laying low, working as an assistant in a barbershop in Harlem working for a man named Pops. Now I thought Pops had the potential to be a truly unique character. Whereas I thought Pops was merely a reference to his age and paternal attitude, it’s revealed that it’s a nickname based off the sound his fists made when hitting someone and that he was once a feared gangster in the neighborhood. That’s a pretty dark backstory for someone I originally took for the “kindly old man who dies” trope. Yet Luke Cage tragically glosses over what could have been a unique character, and leaves many unanswered questions. Why did he leave the gangster life? How did he come to own the barbershop? What’s with the swear jar?

This glossing over of important characterizations is one of the crippling problems with Luke Cage, because it happens with pretty much every character not named Luke. In fact, even Luke has a hard time feeling real.

The result of not spending enough time on establishing the characters is that none of it really makes an emotional impact on the audience. I knew Pops was going to die the moment I saw him, it was practically tattooed on his forehead, but that doesn’t mean his death should have been so… meaningless. Yes his death serves as the catalyst for Luke Cage’s revenge, but for me, I didn’t feel anything for Pop’s death and I should have. I should have been angry or sad, preferably both, I should have been thirsting for vengeance.

Everything I felt when Fisk strangled Ben Urich with his bare hands in the first season of Daredevil.

Pictured: A much better mentor character than Pops.

But if the protagonists and supporting cast felt shallow, they were the Marianas Trench of characters compared to the tide pools of the villains.

Perhaps I’ve become spoiled by amazing villains like Fisk and Kilgrave, but the villains of Luke Cage are some of the most boring you’ll ever encounter. Cottonmouth had some potential to be a sympathetic villain with the reveal of his past, becoming a murderer at the insistence of his crazy aunt/adoptive mother. A musician trapped in the life of a thug could make for a damn compelling story, but unfortunately they don’t reveal Cottonmouth’s history until midway through the season and he’s killed off shortly afterward.

Worse yet, his musical talent isn’t shown very often. He plays the piano a few times, but really if he’s such a talented musician, Luke Cage should have spent more time showing it to us. A couple of scenes where Cottonmouth plays a beautiful piece of music on the piano and giving his henchmen orders would have gone a long way. Juxtapose the beauty of his musical talent against the ugliness of his vicious, gangster personality. Instead they tell us about his musical talents instead of showing it, with his Uncle painstakingly spouting exposition about how Cottonmouth could go to Juliard. Unfortunately Cottonmouth dies almost immediately afterward.

Sorry, did I say unfortunately, I meant thankfully. Dude is seriously annoying.

I understand what they were shooting for here, they wanted us to feel sympathy for Cottonmouth just before his end.

In most stories we’re rooting for the villain to get his comeuppance. Yet one of the best ways to emotionally toy with your audience is to humanize the villain, or even redeem the villain, so that when the end comes there’s a tragic angle to it. This was done with Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, Inspector Javier in Les Miserable, and countless others. It’s an old trick and an effective one. In fact Luke Cage tries to pull this twice, once with Cottonmouth and once with a corrupt cop.

The trouble in this case is that Cottonmouth just isn’t characterized well enough to feel much sympathy for him, the show waits way too long to reveal his tragic backstory and though it’s hinted and foreshadowed extensively, that’s not enough to redeem him. Throughout the show I had a hard time understanding Cottonmouth’s motivations for… well much of anything. While obviously a villain is there to solely provide the protagonist with an obstacle, I should never actually feel that that’s the case. I should feel like Cottonmouth has other goals and objectives outside the story. That would have made him feel more real.

This card door had more stakes in the story than Cottonmouth.

But instead of that they gave us someone who’s only defining characteristic is his extremely awkward laugh, a laugh that tells us he’s trying to channel the Joker way too hard.

What made Fisk a great villain wasn’t just because he had a unique way of speaking that made for some truly spine-chilling speeches; Fisk was a great villain because he was treated as a character first and villain second. Fisk was passionate, and I count his love affair with Vanessa as one of finest romances I’ve ever seen; Fisk was righteous, or at least thought of himself as such, he wanted to deliver people from poverty and help the city he truly loved; Fisk was ruthless, he was so convinced of his own righteousness he was willing to do anything to accomplish his goals. We saw the humanity in Fisk and that made him feel real.

And if you haven’t seen this speech, you definitely need it in your life.

By contrast, Cottonmouth feels more like a prop than a character, an inanimate obstacle to be overcome rather than a character to be dealt with.

Unfortunately as weak as Cottonmouth is as a character, he feels like a character from Breaking Bad compared to Diamondback. Diamondback is a complete cipher. He’s not introduced until the tail end of the show and when he does he’s over the top, even when compared to Cottonmouth’s over the top performance and that’s saying something. Throughout the show Diamondback is made out to be this powerful criminal kingpin, someone on the level of Fisk or at least near to that level. Everyone fears him. And yet we never actually see anything resembling a powerbase for Diamondback.

With Fisk, great pains were taken to show his organization’s strength; his political allies, his legal shelter companies, and his illegal operations. Diamondback gets none of that. In fact when he finally arrives in person, the first thing he does is take over Cottonmouth’s operation just so he can shore up his goon-count to take on Luke Cage. He then hides in warehouses owned by Cottonmouth because he apparently doesn’t own any of his own safehouses in the neighborhood he supposedly runs.

He even steals the man’s wardrobe.

This is especially problematic when Diamondback starts pulling out advanced technology, presumably straight from his ass. How does he have access to this technology? Where did he get the funds to purchase them? The Judas Bullet, the only bullet that can harm Luke Cage, is made out to be this incredibly expensive item. The price of just one Judas Bullet makes Cottonmouth do a double take, and yet Diamondback fires these things off like they come in big boxes at the local Walmart. Later he arms the local police with Judas Bullets, albeit a cheaper version, and he seemingly does this in a matter of hours. How did he do that? Does he have a massive industrial base where he can manufacture weapons on demand?

Because if he does, that absolutely needed to be elaborated on! Instead the show asks us to take it at face value, and I’ve come to expect better from Marvel TV shows.

Perhaps the worst part is the reveal of Diamondback’s backstory; he’s Luke Cage’s half-brother. None of this was foreshadowed, Luke barely even mentions his father and he never refers to having a good friend as a young boy. It comes seemingly out of nowhere and because of that it lacks any emotional resonance, and in fact makes the whole thing seem trite. And because I couldn’t really bring myself to care about any of this, their final battle really felt like an anticlimax to me.

Celebrity Sightings in New York City - May 23, 2016
The most boring fist fight since Superman and Zod, though fortunately it’s shorter.

Of course most of these problems can be traced back to one fundamental flaw: trying to frontload too many future plotlines into the show. This problem began to pop up in Jessica Jones, with some random cop Kilgrave mind controls turning out to be some secret super soldier. He was obviously being set up to appear as a villain in the future and that was made blatantly obvious by the way the show’s pacing came to a lurching halt every time he showed up. Then of course there was the foreshadowing of an evil corporation who may or may not be responsible for giving Jessica Jones superpowers.

In Jessica Jones these problems were distracting, in Luke Cage it’s crippling. First of all, rather than simply telling us why Luke Cage is in prison and maybe add some actual depth to him, they coyly dance around it. They spend quite a while showing us the illegal medical experiments at the private prison where Luke is kept; no doubt this was for planting seeds establishing a big overarching nemesis that will run across all of Marvel’s Netflix series. Then there’s the doctor that helps Luke escape prison and who eventually becomes his lover, they only hint at her death and late in the show we find out she was complicit in the illegal research being conducted. The origin of the Judice bullets are another story thread that will probably link back to the same evil corporation. Then there’s the growing suspicion and resentment towards superheroes. The list goes on and on.

The first season of Luke Cage spent so much time setting up future plotlines that it forgot to tell a decent story to string it all together. Nothing in the above list is elaborated upon, nothing meaningful related to the audience, no payoff. It’s all just “to be continued” and with so many story threads trailing off into nothing… we’re left feeling unsatisfied.

That’s what she said! (I’ll show myself out)

Rather than use the first season of Luke Cage to introduce a dozen different plots, it should have focused on the truly important story: Luke Cage becoming the protector of Harlem.

Because the best parts of Luke Cage are when he’s using his powers to help random people.

I found him helping the Asian couple keep their restaurant far more satisfying than the entire final fight with Diamondback, and stopping the robbery at the corner store made him feel more like a hero than any of the convoluted plots to take down Cottonmouth. If Luke Cage had tightened its focus on helping the neighborhood, coming to accept his role as its protector, and had him go head to head with Cottonmouth alone, we would have had a much better show. Unfortunately as it is, Luke Cage spreads its focus too thinly for any of the storylines to have any real impact.

There’s a lot of potential here, it could go on to be a show just as good as the first season of Daredevil.

But if Marvel continues using these characters as mere launchpads from which to launch yet more TV shows and franchises, then the foundational characters will simply wither and crumble away, and the whole Cinematic Universe will come crashing down.

And with all the plots Marvel is stacking on top of each other, it won’t take much for it to come down.


You’re all Enabling a Fraud!

It’s been a strange year. I still can’t believe my dad is gone, and it’s been almost a year since his diagnosis and ten months since he died. This whole year has passed in a surreal blur, I can barely remember what I was doing this year. Probably because, aside from an amazing three week vacation with my girlfriend back in August, I didn’t do much of anything these past nine months.

I’ve allowed everything that’s important to me to just stagnate, my blog, my relationships, my career. I haven’t worked on an original story in over a year, and as I’m sure you’ve noticed, my blog updates have been few and far between. You’d think that the death of my father would remind me how precious time is and to use it wisely, but instead I’ve been wasting time binging on Netflix or playing old games I’ve played a dozen times over.

I’ve been wasting my time. In fact I’ve been wasting my time for yearsThe honest to goodness truth of the matter is that I could have written several books by now, or made this blog have daily updates. I could have done any number of things in the years I’ve wasted.

Netflix isn’t going to watch itself, after all.

Why does this happen? Why do I simultaneously love writing and yet fear actually sharing anything I write? Fear of rejection is the most obvious answer, but as a friend of mine recently pointed out, last year when I tried my left-handed writing experiment, I didn’t stop writing when I got bad criticism. I stopped when I received positive feedback. People wanted more, and for some reason that scared me off. It was the same thing that happened after my Mass Effect 3 Ending article, rather than capitalize on the fact that tens of thousands of new readers were suddenly flooding my tiny little blog, I fell back and allowed it to stagnate until the reader numbers came down to a normal level.

Whew, good thing they put that sign up. I almost drove right into it.

This has been a pattern that has been repeating itself for far too long.

When people ask me for writing, at first I’m happy to give it to them. A good friend of mine asked me to write a small play last year. Back in August someone asked me to write a character for a Fallout 4 mod. Three years ago my friends at Ara’Kus asked me to write a series of short stories to flesh out their fictional world.

I wrote the play and when I gave it to my friend, he loved it, it needed some tweaking, but he loved it. I should have felt elation, I should have felt accomplished. Instead, I felt like garbage.

I wrote the first part of the character for that Fallout 4 mod and sent it to the guy who asked for it. Again, he said he liked what I had so far. It took me weeks to pick it back up again and start finishing it (in fact I finished it just prior to writing this article).

And three years ago I wrote a short story about an assassin. Everyone said they loved it, including a man who’s been an artist and has taught artists for decades… I never wrote another short story for them.

Because, again, Netflix ain’t gonna watch itself!

The worst incident though? The absolute worst? When I was 19 I wrote a story as part of my High School Project, which was a requirement for graduation. It was basically an assignment to write a story and go through the publishing process. I wrote that story, it was almost 25,000 words long and I submitted it to the Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. Several weeks later they mailed it back to me with a rejection letter that read:

“The story didn’t quite work for us, but keep writing!” Or something to that effect, I unfortunately didn’t keep it.

I also let several friends and family read it, they all loved it as well, but they agreed that in my attempt to keep it under 25,000 words for publication purposes I had shortchanged the story and characters. I needed to lengthen it into a novel.

I never touched that story again. And somewhere along the line, I lost both the print copies and digital copy I kept.

That was a close one. Thank God they have these signs up everywhere.

I hope none of this comes across as humble-bragging, because that’s not my intention. I’m just trying to sort out this mess, and putting it here on my blog seems like the most appropriate place. I want to understand why I react like this, and this is cheaper than a therapist.

And it’s not like I’m somehow craving negative feedback, I’m sure if everyone told me how crap everything was I’d feel awful.

I think it’s because, deep down, I feel like a fraud. When I first start writing something for someone, I’m okay, I get it done. It’s when I finally let them read it, and they end up liking it, because that’s not how it’s supposed to go.

“NO!” I want to scream. “You’re not supposed to like it! You’re supposed to hate it! Reveal me for the fraud I am! I don’t know what the hell I’m doing! I can’t write! Don’t you see, I’m a charlatan! A conman! You’re in the Matrix man, and I’m the shitty, overly verbose Architect!”

Listen to Charlton Heston! My writing is people! IT’S PEOPLE!

You weren’t supposed to like it, that’s the problem. I wrote it wanting you to hate it, to tell me to give up, to confirm what I’ve been telling myself for years: I have nothing to contribute, no talent, and no purpose.

I had this whole brilliant plan for finally giving myself permission to give up. And you all had to go fuck it up by liking my writing. Jesus. Some people have no consideration.

So thank you. Thank you to my family, my friends, and everyone who continues to read this blog despite my repeated attempts to subtly kill it with inactivity. Despite my subconscious attempts to sabotage myself, you’ve kept me trucking along in my futile quest to write something so bad you’ll all tell me to quit.

For the past week I’ve been going to the local library to write, and getting out of my little room has done wonders for my writing. I was lucky if I averaged a thousand words a week before. In the past week I’ve written 12,000, and that’s just since Monday.

I hope I can keep it up.

And  I hope you all keep reading.

Luke Cage: Hero in a Hoodie


In terms of storytelling technique and character development, Luke Cage isn’t one of Marvel‘s strongest shows. Yet it is also one of the boldest and most important that Marvel has ever told.

Marvel’s movies are largely forgettable popcorn films, fun to watch but not really about anything. It’s just fun superheroes wrecking stuff for a few hours. Marvel’s Netflix shows though? They follow in the tradition of other great storytellers, using their fictional stories to highlight problems in the real world; to lie to us, to reveal a greater truth.

It began with Fisk, whose attempts to gentrify Hell’s Kitchen threatens to create thousands of new homeless people. Right now, housing prices are so out of control that even people with good jobs can’t afford to live in the area they work. Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver, they’re all cities where gentrification has turned low income areas into luxury housing that residents can’t afford. But we don’t really think about it, at least not until we see it in the fate of fictional characters.

Jessica Jones was an incredibly dark story, because it went through great pains to show the cost of sexual violence. Kilgrave is the penultimate predator, someone who doesn’t even understand the damage he’s causing. Despite wielding incredible mind controlling powers, he insists “I never raped you!” when Jessica confronts him. And throughout the show, Jessica is constantly having to convince people of Kilgrave’s powers. Just as rape victims often have to convince law enforcement, and pretty much everyone else, that the sex wasn’t consensual.

Now we have Luke Cage and it points yet another uncomfortable microscope at a big social issue: black culture and the police (and the justice system at large).

Luke Cage celebrates black culture and that’s huge. In fact, while writing this I can’t think of a single movie I’ve seen recently that didn’t equate black culture with gangster life. Most stories featuring black protagonists are often about getting out of the ghetto, usually rejecting black culture along the way, but not Luke Cage. In fact, Luke’s love for black culture, history and music is an integral part of his character.

I didn’t know who Crispus Attucks was before Luke Cage told me. 

Loving your culture doesn’t mean accepting it wholesale of course. Luke Cage rejects destructive parts of local culture as well, such as the use of the word nigger to describe himself. He also opposes one of the main villains whose primary motivations are to “Keep Harlem Black”, an insular and destructive philosophy that seeks to segregate rather than integrate.

I love being exposed to new cultures, and when I was young I traveled the world with my parents. I was exposed to many cultures. Yet black culture, one I could experience right here at home… is one I was never really exposed to. Hip-hop, rap, black history outside the civil rights movement, and artwork. I’m ignorant of almost all of it. And seeing all this gave me a new perspective on so many things.

Such as this all-too-familiar scene. Though thankfully it has a happier ending than the ones in real life. 

At one point during the show, a cop is killed and the entire Harlem police district begins harassing and even assaulting the people of Harlem. It’s a sad, and unfortunately honest look, at the kind of behavior that’s created such antagonism between black communities and the police. The trouble comes from the fact that the police district treats Harlem like a singular entity, a pulsing mass of criminal activity to be controlled and corralled. They don’t see Harlem as a community of individuals.

One cop in particular crosses the line when he beats a child trying to find Luke Cage. Yeah that’s right, the whole sad incident happens while they’re trying to wrongfully arrest the hero of the story. The police consistently hound and harass Luke Cage throughout the story. In the picture above, the police have no legal reason to stop Luke Cage as far as I can tell. He’s just out for a walk, but he’s black. And wearing a hoodie. So they stop him.

And yet as much as I have condemned the police for the various shootings that have taken place, a single line in Luke Cage made me realize…I might have reacted the exact same way.

“Who knew a black man in a hoodie could be a hero?”

When I heard that line I paused the show and tried to conjure up the image of a black man in a hoodie, and you know what I thought of? I thought of gang violence, drugs, and robberies. It’s not merely a man wearing a common garment, it’s a threat. Luke Cage asked a very uncomfortable question: if you saw Luke Cage coming down the street at you, wearing his black hoodie, how would you react?

And I was forced to answer: I would be afraid.


It was a startling revelation for me, because I’ve always thought of myself as welcoming and accepting of everyone regardless of race, religion, or orientation. It’s something I pride myself on. And yet when I’m forced to confront the image of a black man in a hoodie, I have a disturbingly prejudiced view. It made me examine my thinking: why does that image provoke fear? It’s a man wearing a piece of extremely common clothing, there’s nothing threatening about it. And yet, in my mind, there is.

Is it because black man in a hoodie is so ubiquitous as the bad guy in movies, TV, and video games that its simply become ingrained in my mind as the truth?  Or is it a personal failing of mine? I don’t know.

What I do know is that Marvel took that prejudice, that unfair gut reaction, and turned it into something better: a symbol. Like Superman’s blue and red underwear, Luke Cage’s black bullet-hole-ridden hoodie has become a symbol of heroism. It will be a constant reminder for me that heroes can come in any shape, form… or color.

Why are we all so afraid?

Next time I’m walking down the street and see a black man in a hoodie, and feel that hateful prejudiced fear wrap itself around my mind, I’ll fight it. I’ll remember Luke Cage’s hoodie, and remember that piece of clothing doesn’t define the man any more than the color of the man’s skin.

Luke Cage made me examine an uncomfortable part of myself that had been hiding deep in my subconscious, and dragged it into the light for all to see. And for that alone, Luke Cage is an unqualified success as a story, despite some shortfalls in the actual telling of the story.

Ask yourself the question: if you saw this walking down the street towards you, would you be afraid?


And if your answer is yes, watch Luke Cage, because if nothing else, it’ll give you a new perspective on your thinking. You might not like what you find from that perspective, but the only way to change the things you don’t like about yourself, is to confront them head on.

Life is Strange: The Vortex

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since my original review of Life is StrangeI want to first apologize to everyone for letting my blog sit idle for so long, and secondly I’d like to thank everyone who’s contributed to my Patreon despite the fact I’ve been totally falling down on the job. And I’d like to extend a personal apology to Martin, who gifted me Life is Strange and then waited patiently for a follow-up I never provided.

Well the wait is over, Martin. Here’s the first of several follow up articles on Life is Strange.

Life is Strange

The Vortex


On my first playthrough of Life is Strange, I was so impressed with the characters that I didn’t pay attention to the symbolism present in the game. Fortunately my second time through the game, I took the time to fully appreciate the imagery and symbolism that you’d never even notice if you didn’t take the time to look.

I’ll talk about some of the more subtle symbolism in another article, but for now I want to focus on the one symbol that dominated the game: the Vortex. From the tornado to the Vortex club, vortex’s are the most obvious and most important symbol in the game. Destructive yet strangely beautiful, the supernatural tornado that almost destroys Arcadia bay is the harbinger of death that sets the stakes of the game’s story.

At first I’d just assumed that the giant tornado was a representation of nature reacting to the changes in the timeline, and perhaps it really is that simple. But if you’d care to follow me down the rabbit hole, subsequent playthroughs have suggested that maybe the vortex isn’t just nature attempting to right itself. Perhaps it’s something deeper, and far more disturbing.

The vortex club is a bigger problem than the tornado.

After the tornado itself, the Vortex club represents the biggest symbolic enemy in the game. Though Mark Jefferson is the story’s antagonist, the Vortex club is what allows him to operate with impunity and, worse yet, are representative of much bigger problems. They’re a microcosm of Arcadia Bay itself, outwardly beautiful and welcoming but harboring darkness and ugliness beneath.

The Vortex Club represents everything that Max hates about Blackwell: the elitism, the bullying, their casual cruelty. Their name is never really explained as far I could tell, but Vortex club? That can’t be a coincidence.

What if the Vortex is the physical manifestation of her frustration and rage? Let’s face it, on her long journey through the game’s story, Max finds far more wrong with this little town than she finds right. Drug dealers, violence, corruption, and the cruel dispassionate way it grinds the life out of the people living in it. There’s a ton not to like about this small town. Admittedly it doesn’t differ all that much from pretty much every other city in the world, but for Max? She’s seeing her hometown for what it is, for the first time in her life without the benefit of a child’s sense of optimism.

Like this old woman, left homeless on the street, Arcadia Bay is dying. Perhaps the tornado was simply finishing what the people in Arcadia Bay started.

Arcadia Bay has destroyed Max’s best friend’s hopes and dreams, trapped Chloe under a mountain of debt and crippling hopelessness. Arcadia Bay stood by quietly while Kate was ruthlessly bullied to the point of suicide, and it wasn’t until she was standing on the rooftop that anyone gave a damn. Nearly every member of the Arcadia Bay community that we meet is in some kind of pain, emotional, physical, or financial. The only exception being Samuel, the groundskeeper.

Perhaps the Vortex is Max’s subconscious wish to see this town washed from the face of the Earth. Which would suggest she’s far more powerful than she knows. Moments of extreme emotion allow her to stop time, but subtle frustrations and indignities can be just as powerful. Getting angry might cause you yell at someone, but living life in a constant state of frustration and fear can lead you to doing things far more destructive. With Max’s powers, she might very well be summoning this tornado without even realizing it.

And in true Max fashion, she even tries to warn people of the impending destruction, and true to that nature of most people, they ignore the obvious.

A vortex of ants near a dead bird. She’s not exactly being subtle here!

Birds die en mass, a snow storm in 60 degree weather, whales beach themselves, and an eclipse comes out of nowhere. It’s as if the entire world is warning Arcadia Bay to get the hell out of dodge, but no one is listening. Which is the problem that continually plagues Max throughout the game.

Principal Wells doesn’t listen when she tells him about Nathan’s gun. Victoria doesn’t listen when Max warns her that Kate is being driven to the edge. Chloe sure as hell doesn’t listen whenever Max tries to warn her off from doing something stupid.

Even with the power of time travel at her command, even Max can’t force someone to listen if they don’t want to hear. Hell, even with the ability to manipulate time, Max struggles to make even one person’s life better in this hellhole of a town. So is it really surprising that deep down inside, she might want to destroy it?

From the horse’s mouth.

The vortex is symbolic of time and time travel of course, with every event in time spiraling outward to affect everything else around it. But if you dive deeper you’ll find it’s also symbolic of life, a rather poignant observation of our lives in this existence.The vortex is symbolic of frustration as well, but only in so much as life is frustrating.

If you were to stand in the center of a vortex and looked out, all you would see is a whirling mass of air, debris and mist. You wouldn’t be able to see outward or move in any direction other than where the vortex was already heading. You would essentially be trapped inside.

In a way we’re all in the center of our own personal vortexes, we just can’t see them. It’s easy to begin to feel trapped just as Max and Chloe do in their lives. We’re trapped on the inside of this swirling maelstrom of life, at the mercy of random circumstance and the inertia of events that were set in motion long before we existed. The honest truth of the matter is that we have very little control over our lives, and all we can really do is to create our calm little center in the middle of the vortex.

And if we’re lucky, we find someone to share that center with us.


Whether my theory about the tornado’s origins is correct or not, unraveling the symbolism behind many of Life is Strange‘s recurring images has been a wonderful challenge. I’m looking forward to continuing my exploration of the game’s themes and imagery, so stay tuned for more articles.


The Ghost of my Father

When my father died back in January, I was surprised at how well I took it. The tears were there of course, especially the morning he died and at his memorial. But otherwise I had all this grief stuff figured out, man, emotionally in-tune with myself and all that good stuff. I was a goddamn guru, I was thinking of starting up my own line of self-help books. But the reality is…

I miss my dad. A couple years ago I would have sworn I’d never say those words.

And then, two months ago, the dreams started. I rarely remember my dreams, at least usually, but these were so vivid. And they weren’t pleasant. I didn’t dream of my father resting happily in the afterlife, or even something so innocuous as simply seeing him in an unrelated stream of dream imagery. I was reliving my mistakes, my regrets.

I wasn’t a good son to my father. He was too depressed, too pessimistic, too stubborn. In short, he was everything I was, everything I hated about myself. So when a few years back he wanted to go on vacation with me, just him and me, I hedged. I made excuses, told my mom I didn’t want to be alone with him, until he finally gave up. I wish so much that I had gone, that I had made the effort to be with him when I had the chance.

I was so angry at him for so long, and now that he’s gone I don’t even remember why. All the anger and frustration, it died with him.

Death is the focus of so many of humanity’s religions, why people die and what happens to them afterward, but maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe death is for the living, a way to remind us of what’s important. To wipe away everything that clouded our love for each other, all the petty frustrations of our daily lives. I only wish it didn’t take someone dying to remember the love.

Now that he’s gone, I realize how much he loved me and everything he did for me.

He was one of my biggest fans, right next to my mom, and he always wanted to read my stories. Even when I was twelve years old and writing terrible fantasy stories, just god awful stuff and he loved it. He praised my imagination and encouraged me to keep writing. In his final years he’d always ask what I was working on, and I told him about all the half-finished stories I was always saying I was working on. Even stories that were nothing more than an outline in my head, I’d tell him that I was working on it.

“I’d like to read it when you’re finished.” He’d say.

But I had plenty of time. There was no need to rush.

Now he’ll never read the stories I’ll write. Never see my name in print. He’ll never read my blog again.

I’ll never see him again.


3 Things the Next Star Wars Movie Can’t Do

So I loved the new Star Wars. A lot of people didn’t, however. I understand why, and honestly I gave The Force Awakens a pass on several flaws simply because it was well-paced adventure story that recaptured the magic of Star Wars. That said, I am going to be expecting more from the second film in the new trilogy, because as popular as A New Hope was, it was The Empire Strikes Back that cemented Star Wars’ position as a cultural icon.

If the next movie wants to succeed, here’s three thing it can’t do.

(Note: Spoilers for The Force Awakens to follow, and this article is referring to Episode VIII not the Rogue One spin-off.)

3. Load the Movie with Cameos

Plot Armor Bounty Hunter
That armor is a neon sign screaming “BOSS FIGHT”… and yet we never actually get to see her in action.

I mentioned that the monster VS bounty hunter chase scene in The Force Awakens seemed completely out of place. Well I recently found out that one of the Bounty Hunter teams that shows up hunting Han Solo were from the cast of The Raid. That’s when I realized there are way too many cameos in this movie. I have no problem with a cameo so long as it blends seamlessly with the rest of the film, but most of the cameos in The Force Awakens don’t. There are seams. Big, ugly, rippable seams.

The Raid was a terrific movie, I loved it, but that doesn’t mean you can just throw the actors from that into Star Wars and somehow expect it to improve the film. If the scene had incorporated the actor’s amazing talents, like having the bounty hunters be incredibly good at close-quarters combat, then maybe it could have worked because at least then you could introduce them again in the next movie. As it is though, they show up, have like two lines of dialogue, and then run from the giant monsters. Then they report Han Solo has the droid to the First Order, but that information didn’t need to be conveyed because we later see spies at Maz’s tavern relay the same information. As it is, the scene only served to slow down the film.

However the prize for worst cameo is a tie, and it goes to these two:

These two appear as Admiral Statura and the stupidly named Snap Wexley. Now they’ve both worked with J.J. Abrams before, and they’re both good actors. But I felt they just didn’t fit into the scene they were shoehorned into.

I mean Admiral “IT’S A TRAP!” Ackbar was in the room, the most badass piece of calamari to ever escape a sushi restaurant, and they didn’t let him deliver the briefing? Instead they let these two do some technobabble that builds absolutely no excitement for the coming battle. Admiral Ackbar’s solemn voice added weight to the briefing about the second Death Star, something that would have been gladly received in the briefing for Starkiller.

Now I get it, it’s Star Wars. If J.J. Abrams was a personal friend of mine, I’d be begging him to give me a bit part in the new movie. Hell, if I had the necessary guile and insanity, I’d kidnap his family to be a small part of the next Star Wars movie. But as the director helming the new Star Wars, J.J. Abrams needs to say no to these people. He needs to let me murder his family rather than give me a role in the next movie.

Film Review Taken 2
Or he could send Liam Neeson after me. I’m good with either scenario. (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Magali Bragard)

That said, I hope JB-007 makes another appearance.

2. Skip over the details


I touched on the fact that The Force Awakens often glazes over the details, and how that was fine because it was a callback to the original movie. However if Disney wants to create the same incredible universe that the original universe did, they’re going to have to do what Empire did:  flesh out the mythos and lore of the universe. Honestly I don’t care if the next movie explains how the First Order built Starkiller base, and actually I hope they don’t because any explanation will probably sound stupid. I do, however, want to know more about the First Order, why there is (or rather was) a peace treaty between them and the Republic, and how much space they control.

The Empire Strikes Back conveys a ton of information about the Star Wars universe without ever having to stop to explain it in a long drawn out expositional conversation. The Executor Super Star Destroyer as Vader’s command ship, cements the technological superiority of the Empire over the Rebellion, as do their AT-AT walkers. The probe droids sent out at the beginning of the film give the audience a grasp of how vast the universe is, and the difficulty of locating the rebels. Admiral Ozzel tries to convince Vader that the base on Hoth might be pirates or smugglers, subconsciously letting the the audience know that this universe is teeming with life beyond just the Rebellion and the Empire.

And some of that life is just ugly as sin.

Then of course there’s the bounty hunters, which introduced us to Boba Fett. He was hilariously inept as a bounty hunter, but the way he was introduced sold him as a capable and dangerous villain. The hierarchy of the Empire is also revealed, whereas in A New Hope it was kind of nebulous. In the original movie Darth Vader seemed subordinate to Grand Moff Tarkin. The Empire Strikes Back reveals him to be the highest ranking person, second only to the Emperor. And when the Emperor commands Vader to communicate with him, Vader immediately obeys; abandoning his dogged pursuit of the Millennium Falcon. Vader’s demeanor, and the Emperor’s dialogue about disturbances in the Force, reveal the Emperor to be a powerful enemy.

Point is, a lot of small details were sprinkled throughout the film, ultimately helping to cement Star Wars in the public consciousness and sparking people’s imagination. It’s that kind of detail that needs to be liberally sprinkled across the next movie. Let us learn through osmosis how this new universe works, how powerful the New Republic is compared to the First Order. What is Leia’s position in the Republic? Where did Snoke come from, and what are his abilities?

If the next movie keeps the details as nebulous and vague as The Force Awakens did, then   I can’t see them sustaining an interesting world in the long-term. Note: I’m not saying to go crazy like The Extended Universe eventually did. Just some background to flesh out this new universe.


1. Make it all about Skywalker(s)


Now I know Luke’s lineage was a huge factor in the original trilogy, but if Disney wants to make Star Wars movies from here to eternity, it’s going to need to leave behind the whole ‘chosen lineage’ aspect behind. There’s a lot of speculation around Rey’s lineage, but I’m really, really hoping she doesn’t turn out to be a Skywalker.


Because it’s boring. It’s been done before, and nothing in the story requires her to be a Skywalker. If Rey ends up being yet another Skywalker, then basically we’re saying that the entire universe revolves around one family and that will kill Star Wars faster than a vengeful George Lucas reacquiring the rights. If it continues down that road, eventually Star Wars is going to end up looking like World War I, in that all the leaders are related to each other.

I’m not saying Luke can’t play a part, obviously. He needs to train Rey and I’m looking forward to seeing him actually do something in the next film. I’m not saying that the Skywalkers can’t still play important roles in the universe.

I’m just saying they can’t be the only thing holding the universe together.

Han Solo Dies
They’ve already killed off the one non-Skywalker character that affected the story, the last thing we need is more Skywalkers Skywalkering it up in here.

Yes, I admit it could be an incredibly poignant story if Rey ends up being a long lost sister or cousin to Kylo Ren. But at the same time, come on… we can craft an amazing story without having to rely on the family angle again. We really don’t need to go down this road again.

Game of Redemption: 3 Things This Season Has Done Right

The sixth episode of Game of Thrones premiered on Sunday, putting us past the midway point and doing a lot to repair the damage that was inflicted by  some extremely questionable writing last year. The showrunners even went so far as to put an apology in the show, in the form a meta-apology from Petyr Baelish, admitting that Sansa’s wedding last year was a ridiculous misstep for both the story and the show at large.

Petyr Baelish
Little Finger continues to give the most satisfying speeches in the show.

Beyond apologies though, this season of Game of Thrones has been delivering the kind of writing that made me fall in love with the books and the show in the first place. This is quite possibly the best season we’ve had since Season 3.

They’ve been doing a hell of a lot right in this season, but there are three major steps they’ve taken to rectify and improve the quality of Game of Thrones.


1. Killing off Extraneous Characters

We salute your (unfortunately necessary) sacrifice.

When the first episode premiered I was disappointed by the death of Alexander Siddig’s character (a character seen so infrequently I can’t remember his name) because I’m a huge fan of the actor. It also seemed like a continuation of the sloppy writing, and sloppy everything else, that marred the entire Sand Teen storyline. However, after several remarkably murderous episodes, I can see why characters are dropping like flies.

The showrunners of Game of Thrones are doing exactly what I said they needed to do in my review of the first episode. As I pointed out, the main threat has been revealed and the writers behind Game of Thrones need to start quickly wrapping up extraneous storylines. Which means murdering the shit out of anyone who doesn’t move that story forward.  

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like how either Roose Bolton or Osha died. The death of Roose Bolton in particular has huge ramifications for Ramsay’s storyline and deserved more attention, but Game of Thrones ran out of time. Last year, instead of Sansa’s rape and escape, it should have focused on Ramsay planning to kill his father, but it didn’t and now we just need to move on. Plus, Ramsay has always been a rabid dog who doesn’t think ahead, so just straight out stabbing his father in the gut isn’t completely out of character for him.

Ramsay Bolton Snow
And since Ramsay’s usefulness to the story has run out, I’m pretty sure the mad dog is going to be put down fairly soon.

Yes, I’m upset Osha was killed too, she was a fascinating character. However, based on the fact the actress looked like she might be pregnant, there’s a good chance that there was a limited window of availability to shoot her scene. So it make sense that she was rather quickly dispatched in a way that didn’t require a drawn out fight scene.

As much as I love stories, storytelling has to take a backseat to reality when it comes to the people who create our stories. Plus Hodor’s amazing death scene more than makes up for the fact that Osha’s and Roose’s were a bit rushed.


2. The Story is Moving Forward

The dead weight of this stupid storyline has been thrown off.

I feel like for the past two seasons the story has been stuck, unable to move forward. Several characters have been on a hamster-wheel, Jamie, Arya and Daenerys in particular. Jaime’s character has been absolutely static, which is tragic because his was one of the most interesting arcs in the book. Arya has been messing around with the Faceless assassins, but aside from murdering a King’s Guard, her character hasn’t grown or changed since leaving Westeros. Daenarys has been stuck in Meereen trying to battle of the Sons of the Harpy, but Meereen has always just been a pit stop on Dany’s quest to conquer Westeros, and a lot of her efforts to pacify the city has seemed like wasted effort.

Last season when Dany’s storyline ended with her once again being abducted by the Dothraki I complained that it was just a boring rehash of her first season. That was true, we didn’t see anything in the last few episodes that we didn’t see in the first season. But I have to give Game of Thrones credit, they at least wrapped this up quickly. I was afraid they were going to spend the entire season slowly building up to Dany gaining control of the Mongol Dothraki horde, but they basically wrapped up the whole thing in a single episode. Her character’s arc is also starting to look quite interesting, since she’s beginning to look less and less like the heroic savior of Westeros, and more like her insane father.

Burning the Khals.png
“Burn Them All.” – The Targaryen family creed, apparently.

I think we were all excited to see Arya turn into a peerless assassin and return to Westeros in a murderous rage to kill all the characters we hate. Then she got stuck there doing nothing for the better part of three years, and we were all ready for her to move on.  I’m glad that she’s not only moved on but also rejected the Faceless. Arya’s strong personality is the best part of her character and watching her turn into an emotionless automaton of death would have been tragic. Ultimately this storyline took way too long to reach this conclusion, this was a coming-of-age story for Arya and her learning of, and rejecting, the teachings of the Faceless shouldn’t have taken this long. But at least we’re finally past it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she escapes the Faceless, or doesn’t as the case may be.

Jaime Lannister’s storyline has been without a doubt the biggest wasted opportunity of the entire show. In the books, his storyline was one of the most interesting and redemptive arcs in the entire Song of Ice and Fire saga. Early in the show he was well on his way to achieving that arc with his budding romance with Brienne and the reveal that the infamous “kingslayer” slew an insane king to save a city. Then for some bizarre reason the show runners made Jaime rape Cersei at their son’s funeral and his entire arc went off the rails. This season though, after being cleverly outmaneuvered by the High Sparrow, he seems to be back on track. Hopefully his coming siege of Riverrun will also see him reject Cersei and become the good man that’s been struggling to get free of his sister’s grasp.

And the greatest thing of all? It seems like the stupid Dorne storyline has been completely dropped, which can do nothing but help the overall quality of the coming seasons.

Sand Snakes.jpg
If we see these characters again, I hope its only so we can watch them die horribly.

Political Intrigue and the White Walkers

Smirking High Sparrow
I’m looking forward to seeing his smirk being wiped off, preferably with a sword.

The political intrigue of Westeros is one of the defining aspects of the show. George RR Martin’s use of feudal governments to create a compelling drama is downright genius. However after Tyrion’s trial, all the intrigue and plots just disappeared, aside from the horribly constructed Dorne plot. The High Sparrow has largely just been sitting around looking innocent while taking on the role of an inquisitor. We haven’t seen any kind of political manuevering on his part or any attempts by the Lannisters to counter them, aside from sitting around complaining on how awful he is. That has all changed this season.

The High Sparrow is now showing his political acumen, skillfully manipulating the witless boy king into publicly admitting that the gods (and by proxy, High Sparrow) are on even footing with the Crown, greatly weakening the monarchy. The Lannisters and the Tyrells actually tried to counter the Sparrows growing influence, even if it did blow up in their face. And I’m pretty sure Margaery Tyrell is playing the long-con with the High Sparrow, and will probably end up usurping both the Sparrows and the Lannisters. Obviously this is another plotline that’s going to need to be resolved so we can move onto the main event, but until Dany has gotten to Westeros, the religious conflict brewing in King’s Landing looks to be an exciting diversion.

Night King and Bran
At least until the main event begins…

Undoubtedly the best part of the last two episodes has been the White Walkers finally taking center stage. For the majority of the series they’ve been lurking on the outskirts of the story, showing up to remind us of their presence and power, before sinking back into the shadows. After last season’s Hardhome episode though, that’s no longer an option, and I’m glad to see the writers are putting them front and center. Again, I was afraid the entire season would be wasted on Bran reliving past events with the Three-Eyed Raven, but Bran alerting the Night King to his presence was one of the best moments in the show.

I’ll admit I’m a little disappointed at the reveal of The White Walker’s origins, I did hope for something a bit more than Frankenstein’s monster. However, we still don’t know how the Night King came to control the White Walkers, or how their weapons are forged, or why Dragon Glass can both create and destroy them.  There are still so many questions, the answers to which I hope add more complexity and depth to them beyond weaponized monsters gone amok.

Last season was a mess, but I’m glad to see our collective patience has paid off and that we are well on our to way to finding out who finally wins the Game of Thrones.

Captain America: Civil War

I’ve always enjoyed Captain America’s movies more than any other in the Marvel cinematic universe. While I also enjoy the other Marvel movies, aside from Thor which I’ve never been able to get into, the Captain America movies have been consistently top quality in my opinion. Of all the heroes, I find the Captain the most relatable and human member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Yet in spite of all that, I was afraid Captain America: Civil War would be disappointing. Mainly because I was afraid of three things happening:

  1. The Civil War would be sparked by something horribly contrived and be neatly resolved by the end.
  2. None of the heroes would actually be harmed in the movie.
  3. That it was going to be an Avengers-lite movie and Captain America’s role would become secondary in his own movie.

Fortunately though I was wrong on all fronts. The Sokovia Accords, and the incident that sparks its inception, seemed like a realistic reaction to superheroes (though you can argue whether that’s a good or bad thing in a series dedicated to superheroes.) There are consequences to the fights, and they escalate in a way that builds the narrative. And despite the huge lineup of heroes, the movie remains centered around Captain America.

In short, Captain America: Civil War continues the proud tradition of being the best films in the series and has an excellent narrative that will have interesting effects on future Marvel films. It’s a fun movie that takes a look a look at the human side of Marvel’s biggest superheroes.

[For the sake of simplicity I’m referring to all the characters by their superhero name, except for Bucky because I like that name better than Winter Soldier.]

Captain America: Civil War

A Storytelling ReviewMarvel-Civil-War-alternate-poster.jpg

The beginning of Captain America: Civil War was the worst part of the movie, mostly because I had no idea what was going on. Captain America, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon are tracking down a criminal attempting to steal a biological weapon. The problem being that I had no idea who this criminal was, though it was made obvious he had some history with the Captain. It’s the first noticeable sign of strain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was only a matter of time before the weight of carrying so many stories eventually began to show. I only found out who this criminal was (Brock Rumlow, AKA Crossbones) after searching IMDB for the purposes of this article, so now I remember he was the goon who tried to capture the Captain in the elevator at SHIELD headquarters in Winter Soldier. If you’re familiar with the comic books you’ll probably have an easier time recognizing him thanks to the crossbones on his uniform, but for those like me that only know superheroes through the film franchises, you’ll likely feel a bit lost as well.

Yet the fact I didn’t know who it was at the time didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the story, as this villain’s only real job in the narrative is to provide the inciting incident that sets off the story. When Crossbones realizes he’s lost he distracts Captain America by telling him about Bucky, the Winter Soldier, which throws off Captain America long enough for Crossbones to detonate an explosive vest he’s wearing. Fortunately the Scarlet Witch manages to contain the explosion with her telekinetic powers, saving Captain America. Unfortunately, she can’t contain the explosion long enough and as she’s trying to levitate Crossbones into the air, the vest explodes and takes out an entire floor of one of the nearby office buildings. Worse yet, the explosion kills missionaries from a highly reclusive nation called Wakanda, sparking international outrage as people blame the Avengers for their deaths.

Though it really seems like they should be blaming the guy with the explosive vest instead. 

Alone this incident seems pretty minor, and it seems like a gross overreaction to what was clearly an accident. Then the Secretary of State, played by the ever persuasive William Hurt, presents a rather compelling argument: the Avengers have been indirectly responsible for several near world-ending catastrophes, violating the national sovereignty of several nations (including the United States) in the process. Now I’ve got to give Marvel props for pursuing this storyline, because it’s a risky move, and it’s already sparked a lot of debate among fans and critics.

Can Marvel superheroes exist in a world where they have to obey laws? A lot of the appeal of superheroes is their ability to act outside the law. I mean does anybody really want to see Iron Man don his superpowered tank/suit and then read criminals their Miranda rights and then wait six months for the trial to start so he can give testimony. No, we want to watch Iron Man carry a nuke through an inter-dimensional rift. So I can see why some people are concerned with this turn in the narrative, because it could easily backfire. However if Civil War is any indication, I think Marvel is in safe hands and I applaud the writers for confronting ideas that are usually taken for granted in superhero stories.

I love the story possibilities presented and Civil War took full advantage of them. Iron Man agrees with the Secretary of State and thinks the Avengers need to have some constraints and be held accountable to someone. Captain America believes that the Avengers need to remain independent or risk being used by the government for political purposes, or worse, being stopped from helping people because of politics. What I love about this conflict is that both sides have merit and both characters have their reasons for believing in their convictions. I was afraid Iron Man or Captain America would be shoehorned into being a bad guy, and that they’d be forced to act against their character in order for the narrative to work.

Fortunately the exact opposite is true, and both Iron Man and Captain America’s beliefs are all extensions of their characters and the events in previous Marvel movies.

Age-of-Ultron-concept-art-by-Philippe-Gaulier_ Avengers_Sokovia_09
Turns out wiping out an entire city actually has consequences.

Ever since the The Avengers, Iron Man has been suffering from PTSD and while it was kind of addressed in Iron Man 3, it’s not a condition that can be cured by blowing up a bunch of Iron Man suits. More to the point, Iron Man wants someone to be accountable to because he doesn’t want to be in charge anymore. He’s the de facto leader of the Avengers, and that responsibility has been wearing him down. To be honest I didn’t like Age of Ultron, but I did like that Iron Man was confronted with his greatest fear: the death of his friends. He created Ultron, in part, so that he wouldn’t have to be the leader anymore and some larger entity could care for the safety of Earth. And when Ultron went rogue, Iron Man felt responsible for that too, crushing him beneath the psychological burden of guilt and fear. For all the power his Iron Man suit provides, his mind is still human.

Civil War, not content to sit on this previous character building, adds even more backstory by introducing us to Iron Man’s father. It shows us that Iron Man’s sarcastic rebelliousness against authority figures started with his attitude towards his father. His father died with the last words from his son being those of sarcastic indifference, a regret Iron Man holds to this day. So while Iron Man finds himself resenting authority figures, he’s also terrified of being without them.

With all this in mind it makes perfect sense that Iron Man, who once gave an Ayn Rand inspired speech in Iron Man 2, has come to see government oversight as the only way forward.

Though I’m pretty sure this guy is going to turn evil at some point. 

Meanwhile Captain America has his own reasons for his conviction in maintaining the independence of the Avengers. He began his life as a soldier fighting in World War 2 against a nation that used its military to perform the most horrific atrocities mankind has ever seen. Then later in The Winter Soldier, he uncovered a secret Hydra conspiracy to take over SHIELD and that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was that the United States government signed off on using the Helicarriers to effectively implement martial law without anyone ever knowing it. So he’s seen bureaucracy corrupt and destroy nations, and doesn’t want to become the unwitting weapon of an evil conspiracy, or be prevented from helping people because of some deadlocked oversight committee.

Captain America has always been the epitome of the individualist spirit, the belief that even a single person can make a difference. A belief that’s further reinforced by the death of his old girlfriend, and her eulogy which reminds Captain America of why he fights.

Still, Civil War‘s pacing is dead on and the Avengers don’t simply dissolve into a brawl the moment the Sokovia accords are presented. Instead, Captain America agrees to back out gracefully and leave the others to sign the accords if they choose. At the signing of the accords though, a bomb is set off, killing the king of Wakanda and implicating Bucky in the ensuing investigation.

Dude just can’t catch a break. 

Obviously Bucky has been framed but that knowledge doesn’t detract from the story because Civil War is wise enough to not present it as a mystery. Instead the writers at Marvel used it to set the stage and stakes of the ensuing battle.

Captain America breaks ranks, and a multitude of laws, in order to save Bucky from the police. During the fight they encounter Black Panther, who turns out to be T’Challa, the son of the assassinated Wakanda king. He appears with a suit made of the same material as Captain America’s shield, and while there’s a brief mention of how he got the suit, I’m honestly okay with Black Panther just showing up. At this point not every superhero needs their own movie dedicated to their origin story, and Black Panther’s desire for revenge is the perfect starting point for him. He slides effortlessly into the Marvel canon without derailing the pacing of Civil War.

After the fight Captain America, Falcon, Bucky, and Black Panther are taken into police custody. Once again, Captain America is given the chance to sign the accords, but this time it’s presented as an ultimatum: sign or go to jail. Which is exactly the wrong way to approach Captain America, since he’s one of those people who would go to jail for their convictions before sacrificing them.

While the Avengers argue over the Sokovia Accords, a man posing as a psychologist is brought in to evaluate Bucky. Using the keywords implanted into Bucky’s brain, the imposter learns the location of the laboratory where Bucky was created and escapes. Leaving Captain America and Bucky on the run again.

Nope, not even one break.

With the Avengers split in two, both sides start to gather allies. Captain America and Falcon get their gear returned to them by Sharon Carter, the granddaughter of Captain America’s former girlfriend. I want to take a brief moment here and say that I found Captain America’s new romance with the granddaughter of his former girlfriend both awkwardly shoehorned in, and incredibly creepy in a Woody Allen kind of way. It felt completely unnecessary to the story since we never see the two together again, but it’s a minor bump and doesn’t take long to get back into the real story.

Hawkeye frees Scarlet Witch, who was being held in “protective” custody by Vision (you know, the worst unstoppable and overpowered hero to come out of Age of Ultron) while Iron Man recruits Spider-Man to the cause.

I’ve got to say I love this new Spider-Man, the actor absolutely nails the performance and best of all, Civil War doesn’t rehash the Spider-Man’s tragic backstory. I desperately hope the new Marvel-Sony Spider-Man (lots of hyphens) movie keeps this as his introduction, because do any of us really need to see Uncle Ben die again? We all know the story now.

Meanwhile Captain America recruits Ant-Man to his cause. I never saw the Ant-Man movie, because it sounded like an utterly ridiculous premise, but his performance in this movie alone makes me want to see that movie now.

With each side assembled, Captain America and Iron Man confront each other at an airport.


I love how this scene was setup, because it perfectly reflected the character’s personalities in the fight. Iron Man is, let’s face it, arrogant and brash. So when he disables the helicopter Captain America is running towards, he lands with War Machine and begins sarcastically quipping about the people you meet at the airport. Iron Man or War Machine alone could beat Captain America, and together he doesn’t stand a chance.

I want to give Robert Downey Jr. a special mention here because his performance while he’s talking to Captain America is what really sells the emotion of this upcoming fight. You can see the stress etched on Iron Man’s face, and the desperation to end this gnawing at him as his sarcasm quickly gives way to anger and resentment. He almost looks on the verge of tears, at least it did in my opinion. Anyway, back to the fight.

Iron Man is so confident in his victory that he unveils his new Spider-Man ally, using him to take Captain America’s shield. Iron Man lays all his cards on the table because he’s certain he’s got a winning hand. Captain America though, is a soldier and a veteran of countless battles, battles where he was often outmanned and outgunned. So instead of arraying his team in a big clump like Iron Man, he splits them up tactically to take advantage of Iron Man’s artless strategy of brute force. Ant-Man is hiding on Captain America’s shield, since he knows that would be the first thing Iron Man would try to take. Hawkeye is positioned to provide cover and free Captain America from any constraints. And Bucky and Falcon locate the jet the Avengers use so they can hijack it.

Iron Man takes the bait and his entire team disperses hunting down the members of Captain America’s team.

Fortunately it’s not a straight up brawl like the concept art depicted.

I know I don’t usually mention anything other than the writing, but I really want to give credit to the fight choreographer(s) who put this scene together. It would have been easy to pull a Snyder and just use a bunch of explosions and punches to keep our eyes happy before moving onto the next scene. Civil War doesn’t do that though. Instead the fight ebbs and flows naturally, and everyone’s characters fight like you’d expect them to.

It’s also made clear from the onset that everyone on both sides is actively holding back, aside from Black Panther who is consumed by rage at this point. Iron Man intentionally misses with his missiles, using them only to distract Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch. Meanwhile, Spider-Man, being a kid, has never been in a real fight. I think the best part of this fight is when Bucky tries to punch Spider-Man, who blocks it and says “Dude, you have a metal arm? That’s awesome!” because the look on Bucky’s face is priceless.

Theoretically the super strong and agile Spider-Man should be able to mop the floor with Falcon or Bucky or even Captain America. But he’s a kid, who has never fought a battle in his life, and so he finds himself outmaneuvered by the more experienced fighters. Which is what I mean when I say the characters fight in a way that you’d expect them to.

A quick wit is no match for experience.

Another great thing about this fight is how well it flows not only narratively, but in terms of tone. One of my biggest gripes about the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe is that tonally it’s all over the map, going from a serious life or death struggle in one moment to hilarious hijinks the next.

The battle at the airport starts out with a light tone with plenty of humor provided by Spider-Man and Ant-Man. But as the battle progresses, the heroes get tired and injured, and tempers begin to flare. Slowly the action ramps up as they begin holding back less and less. The final act of the battle turns exceptionally dark. Tired and frustrated as Captain America and Bucky make their escape in the Avenger’s jet, War Machine asks Vision to shoot out the engines on Falcon’s wing suit. Vision misses and instead destroys the Arc Generator in War Machine’s suit, causing him to go into a free fall.

War Machine hits the ground hard and it’s pretty clear he’s not getting back up anytime soon.

A line has been crossed.

Even though it was caused by friendly fire from Vision, Iron Man blames Captain America for War Machine’s injuries who has ended up paralyzed from the waist down. There’s no coming back from this moment, even when the Avengers get back together, this baggage is going to follow them. The tension is palpable, and when Black Widow confronts Iron Man about backing down, he looks just about ready to hit her. Iron Man goes to a very dark place, and I’m not sure how he’s going to get out of it.

For a few moments there, after Iron Man finds out that Bucky was framed, it seemed like he might admit he was wrong and let bygones be bygones. At least until the imposter doctor, a member of Sokovian Intelligence whose family was killed, shows Bucky killing his mom and dad.

The fight that follows is unlike any of the other fights I’ve seen in Marvel films. It’s brutal. Almost savage. All restraint that once held them back is gone, and Iron Man, Bucky and Captain America are now actively trying to kill one another. You can feel the raw emotions behind their blows, and it’s easily the most outstanding fight scene in Marvel films history.


Iron Man is eventually disabled, with Captain America holding himself back from taking a killing blow, and that’s how the movie ends. But the Civil War is far from resolved. That’s what excites me most about Captain America: Civil War, I have no idea how the Avengers come back from this. Bucky sends Iron Man a note at the end of the film promising to be there if needed, but Iron Man doesn’t seem entirely convinced. And I honestly hope it’s not that easy. To my eye the Avengers look irrevocably broken, and I’m excited to see how they resolve that.

The biggest mistake Marvel could make at this point is to resolve this in the first fifteen minutes of their next movie, as it would undermine all the terrific storytelling that was on display in this movie. I’m hoping, and judging by the Marvel’s release schedule I think I’m right, that healing the wounds the Avengers suffered in this movie will be slowly resolved over the course of several movies.

We’ll see what the future brings, but for now I’m incredibly hopeful going forward and I hope Marvel continues to produce quality movies like this. I recommend everyone see this movie if you’re a fan of any of the Marvel universe. It’s not going to make you cry, but it’s definitely an emotional rollercoaster that will make you feel the anger and frustration of both Iron Man and Captain America.

Because this is a Civil War.


Updates and News

It’s been one hell of a year for me so far. As I wrote a while back, my father died back in January and it was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life. Watching someone go from healthy to withering away into a skeleton in the span of only three months was the most surreal thing I’ve ever seen. Then a month later I found out my grandma was in heart failure, and I went down with my mother to see her in New Mexico. And despite a bout of violent food poisoning, it was one of the best trips in my life. She was in great spirits and it was good to talk with her again, she was a wise woman. She died last week, a little less than a month later.

It hasn’t been all bad though, just as my father’s illness was starting to eat away at him, I met an amazing girl named Maggie who helped me get through it. She also has a daughter, and while I never saw myself as liking kids, I absolutely adore her. In addition, after five years of doing freelance writing, it’s finally beginning to pay off. While I’ve been interviewed by both Microsoft and AT&T, in terms of freelance clients I’ve always had to pitch my services to people. Now for the first time, clients are coming to me with work. I’m also hopeful that this year will be the year I finally nail the interview when I’m (hopefully) contacted by another recruiter. Video game writing would be my dream job, but I’d settle for anything that offers a stable salary and benefits. Living on an unstable income is stressful as hell, let me tell you.

The latest issue I’m facing is the death of my beloved computer, for six years its faithfully allowed me to give you reviews on games ranging from Dragon Age: Inquisition to Witcher 3: The Wild HuntThis has proven to be something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I’ve gotten more work done and been more creative in my writing since my computer has broken. Probably due to the fact that I can no longer call playing video games for 10 hours a day “research.” On the other hand, however, this will mean no new reviews for any upcoming games.

Lacking any of the new consoles and now a PC to play games on, the unfortunate fact is that I won’t be gaming for quite a while. While this means I’m going to miss out on CDProjekt’s new DLC Blood and Wine for The Witcher 3, it also gives me the opportunity to finally write a book. Something I’ve been putting off for far too long.

This also doesn’t mean that my video game reviews will stop entirely, I have a huge backlog of old games I’ve been meaning to review but just never got around to: Dragon Age: OriginsFreespace 1 and 2, followup articles on Planescape: Torment and Life is Strange, and the Knights of the Old Republic series. I also have an Xbox 360 and a Playstation 2, so if there’s some really old retro games you’d like reviewed, I can do that.

My hope is that, eventually, concentrating on my writing will allow me to afford a new computer and my gaming reviews will continue. Until then, I have a goal to work towards and an incentive for accomplishing that goal (because I do love gaming, ever so much.) And of course if you have any requests for TV shows, movies, or books, you can still send those my way! I’m currently watching Better Call Saul season 1, so you can look forward to that review soon.

My lack of computer has already resulted in working on my website to make it more accessible. I’ve now added several pages under the On TV and Movies and On Games tabs at the top of your screen (at least they should be.) My articles on specific games and shows can now be found there and will be updated if/when I write new articles about them. A big thank you to one of my readers, Tara, for reminding me to get off my ass and fix those.

A big thanks to all my readers who have stuck with me through this writing slump I’ve been in and I look forward to providing you with, hopefully, more frequent content in the coming months!

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