Monday, December 21, 2020

the Mandalorian Finale: OK- NOW let's talk! (with Video Reaction)

Lots of people who enjoy sci-fi/ fantasy may've heard enough negative things about the subsequent efforts to continue the Star Wars saga, to pass. The Clone Wars cartoon seems to get the most consisten Thumbs-Up from diehard Star Wars fans, but maybe you just prefer live-action material. (I haven't gotten into the cartoon myself, but I only watch about two hours of TV a day on average, movies, included.) But as a lover of well-told stories across any medium, what can we say about Star Wars: The Manadalorian?
For layered world-building from a single, unconfusing perspective and timely characterization scenes amidst breath-taking action, with awe and a natural sense of humor, this is the way.
There's a magic, awe, and sense of wonder that should live in all of us. Wrapping your head around Reality, especially in a year that brings you down-to-Earth like 2020- like no other-can be a jaded, cynical, and yes, depressing journey. I haven't seen such universal acclaim for a piece of science-fiction fantasy since the cult of Firefly. It's well-deserved. You can be a kid, now, watch this, and feel as much wonder as the kids of the original Star Wars years. Those very kids have grown up into people who love this show that same way. It's a story that offers intense moments, genuinely successful escapism.

We're probably close to the Casual Fans end of the spectrum, but Star Wars has definitely touched our mindset.

Here's our real time reaction to the Season 2 Finale :
I don't criticize people who realize there's many fantasy elements they won't find in day-to-day life, and so have consumed the novels, video games, animated series and movies. I guess in our case, we were inspired by the original inspirations of the Force and Star Wars material, and sought some of those out, even taken an interest in the history and practices. I think it's even cooler to look into the spiritual traditions of actual cultures and collecting some dust on your boots, so to speak. We did go see Revenge of the Sith in the theater- that was very dark, but entralling drama- and after we caught up with the first two sequels by Disney, I did go see The Rise of Skywalker. Maybe because I wasn't as deeply steeped in fandom, I probably had a better time watching it. (Even I was disappointed by the side characters falling way in the last chapter.)

But the enthusiasm around this series meant I had to catch up with The Mandalorian this year.

Mando's- Djin Djarin's- allies are complex, and open interesting questions, themselves. Bill Burr's character (Migs Mayfeld-I miss or forget the names, sometimes, and am not a usual denizen of the discussions) in Episode 15 embodies the survivor's cynicism about any attempt to solidify political power. Even the idealistic story behind the New Republic, the revolutionary Rebels, will have a hard time becoming an institution capable of moral government. His story, however, underlines the fundamental difference in what elements make a government oppressive. Djarin finds 'others of his kind'- the armored warriors, not a race so much as practitioners, rather like Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu (Ninjas). The ones he finds expose him to questions about the practices that have defined his life, including the constant concealment of his face from others (inside that truly Boss helmet). They have their own agenda for re-establishing the Manadalorians after they are driven from their 'cursed' home planet. His ally Boba Fett, already shown as a cold-blooded bounty hunter in Empire and Return of the Jedi, may well become an intergalactic crimelord in his own right, alongside enforcer Fennec Shand! (We'll see more in The Book of Boba Fett a new show coming in 2021, hopefully crossing over in The Mandalorian, Season Three.) His enemies, however, are either part of the monolithic oppression of the Empire, or self-serving and vicious, themselves. Even the mission to protect the Child and take him to safe harbor and guidance requires an efficient ruthlessness on Djin Djarin's part.

Din's care for the child has been the primary- but not only-way to show The Mandalorian's personal, honor-bound sense of morality. No pacifist, his violence has ever been in the service of some innocent's life. (There does lie a slippery slope in real life, when you begin to extend the meaning of what is A Child.) He does have a word-as-bond code, and I'd have to re-watch the series to find anywhere he breaks his word, but that's my impression. It's probable to see his humanity has grown since he took on this Quest. He has taken up the cause of others who are, essentially, defenseless (the Frog Woman) but he hasn't destroyed natural life except in self-defense (when his opponent was an enraged Mama Giant Spider). He's never taken up the cause of those who are unrepentantly wicked in service of his Quest. He has, however, twice compromised his vow to keep his face concealed- both times, out of selfless love of the Child.

All of this characterization comes together to motivate the mixed band of Mandalorians and their friend, the lady weight-lifter, Cara Dune, who's now a deputized member of the New Republic, and bounty hunter Fennec Shand, versus an Imperial cruiser of lethal opponents helmed by Moff Gideon. The Finale is a straight-forward, non-stop action piece. Not that the series has suffered for any lack of action- its video game-quest-type chapters always lead to a good action piece- but there are less moments devoted to dialogue intended to build character. The show has used dialogue so economically that you have to give the editors major props for keeping it so lean. We don't veer off into romantic complications at any point, and we don't lose a minute developing side characters too much outside of the movement of the main plot.
The episode on Tython foreshadowed Jedi help might be on the way, and honestly, not for a moment could we believe that simply NO Jedi had heard Grogu's call on the Seeing Stone. The fact that one was not immediately on-hand made practical story sense. I understand there are hints in the games like Star Wars: Rebels that suggest its importance to the journey of re-establishing the Jedi Order.

I feel like a detailed synopsis is somewhat unnecessary. Here's our real-time reaction to the episode, too. "">

I want to make note of set-up building out of the sub-plot, revolving around the Dark Sabre. Its rightful possessor can only be determined by combat- and in the process of his quest, Mando's defeated Moff Gideon, throwing a wrench in the plans of Boca Tan to become ruler of the re-established throne of the Mandalorian people. Himself an adopted foundling, Djin Djarin' single-minded pursuit of The Quest has incidentally placed him as the unwilling ascendant ruler. As Moff Gideon aptly puts it, you can't simply surrender the Dark Sabre out of disinterest, because the Story is the basis of the real power, symbolized by possessing the Darksaber.

We also get a bit of closure concerning Gideon's kidnapping of the child, which kicked off this arc and also concluded things. If he has already achieved his purpose, we're sure to see repercussions. From the start it was established, the blood was being taken, but we wondered if there was an ongoing use for a supply of it, which I also thought meant the child would be protected in-story (to say nothing of the wrath of planet Earth if the storytellers let him die).
The Child (Grogu!) was taken to a Jedi temple to place a cosmic call for help, in the episode where he's kidnapped. The answer to that call was Everything You Could Hope For, the original hero of the star-spanning saga. The approach of the Jedi come to Grogu's rescue instills tremendous fear in Moff Gideon, a pretty thorough bad-ass, himself. That's a sign of the stature of the living legend now invading his light cruiser. The Child's reaction to him on the monitors lines up the audience's emotions to identify with Grogu, too. Mando's agency is somewhat supplanted in the course of the battle royale finale, but then, that establishes the argument that 'Baby Yoda' could not be in better hands.

I dearly appreciated Jon Favreau's efforts to bring Iron Man to the non-comics-reader public. I would love to read the story behind the writers who were recruited to tell the episodes, too- it's often the director. What can you say: they held closely onto a single over-arching plot for 16 episodes and essentially wrapped it up, while laying out subplots to put into future play. If you don't think it's a clinic in serial storytelling, please leave me a comment on where you've seen it done better, OK? If you have another favorite, feel free to comment, too. I know sign-ins complicate the matter. I'll edit-in an email for contact, soon, too.

As for The Book of Boba Fett, I assumed it was the new chapter of Mandalorian, and it seems instead to be a point of speculation. IF Book is a separate series, this new show is apparently a complete surprise announcement, and not simply the name of the Season Three chapter. (Update: seems very much like this IS a new series, so mentioned in an interview with Jon Favreau: Boba Fett's redeemed himself by helping Din with Grogu, so he won't necessarily become a similer crimelord like Jabba or his replacement, Bib Fortuna. The sign things will be different is Fennec Shand's freeing of the slave girl. So, a new bounty hunter guild? That could be interesting!

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Civil Warriors (demo) - a song of the restless militia men

Angry America's brooding zeitgeist, in the shadows of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Not like anything you ever heard from me. A character study, rambling up from a post-election morning (after listening to the latest from Flux Oersted). "One hundred percent behind our guy."
My 1st listen to this slightly-haunting was incomplete, and I cut off at a point in the lyrics where the singer's making an effort to say something to someone with which he disagrees. I couldn't finish listening at that moment, but I felt a stong need to make no-excuses and go sit down with my wife's acoustic guitar, "Pretty Baby," and start a song from no idea- only a mood. So, I took off from the dark shades of the flourescent tone of your song, and gathered voices of terrorists. I was like, "these lyrics are the starkest point of view in America I can imagine" by a singer who would probably hate me, too. I would not want to provoke anyone who sees the world in a way that makes this relatable, but I do wonder and relate to why they might feel this way about the changes happening in society. It might also be a complete joke of a song. I guess Integr8d Soul is not only about attempting to reflect my own occasionally integrated state, and as an artist, I had to continue the journey of depicting thoughts beyond my chosen understanding. But it would be fucked up to meet the people who would find it, unironically, a great song, for what it plainly says. I think if anyone found it worth replying, some people would distance themselves from parts of it, while embracing others. Someone would think it a genuine article from a hatemonger (with shabby one-take talents). It's part of some work I've put off doing, to put disagreeable words down to see. For years now, the story of a monster who embodies the slogans and frank talk of heart-hardened people eluded me, because while I could identify that voice, I didn't want to spend time with such an ill spirit. Easier to plot from a safe distance, than to let those words through my fingers. Imagine if that was the only way I really felt. What would happen within me to all the things I loved? This song, and "Trash Talk"- my short story- are all I have been able to commit, beyond notes. I hope I can contextualize things I do not endorse, for I have seen much more innocent things co-opted by people who seem to have a real problem.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election Morning Thoughts about the vote totals, in relation to the out come of the 2020 Presidential Race

Many people feel like they are on a roller coaster erected at a county fair. Will it hold up? Will the election system deliver America actual freedom? We would only need to cast 42.9 million more votes to equal the totals of 2016. That would be less than half as many as were cast in 2016: 79-plus million. Due to the pandemic, it’s overall good if those who need to, want to, or see it as sensible in any way, have cast their ballots already. That relieves the lines, potentially, for socially-distanced, hygienic voting. But I think those conditions will have to be maintained in numbers, likely somewhere beneath the total of in-person election day voters in 2016. I eyeball it and would think Biden wins about 50 to 55 million of those early votes. A remainder of 38.6 to 43 for the Republicans sounds about right. They are just so much more likely to be today’s in-person voters. I can foresee thirty million of them turning up, easily, today. But if I’m wrong about the percentage on early votes, it’s because Biden has more like 60 or so million of these early votes, which sounds probable. So, 33 million for Trump in early votes, and at least thirty million, today, is 63 million. That’s equal to his total, last time. We may go by electoral votes, but there is an underlying story in the popular vote, which polling shows has shifted, I would estimate, an average between seven to ten points between every state. That includes reliably Republican states, too, like Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, where Trump seems to be consistently underperforming. They are polls, and today, the polls that matter are the ones where Americans can go vote. Distantly Social #5

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Dig: vampires on the loose in Mark England's Egyptian oasis

Let's plunge into the catacombs of a story with lots of super creeps, with the writer of The Dig, Mark S. England. 
We talk about the recent uncoverings of Egyptian tombs, and see how a cat starts all the trouble.
Happy Halloween! Here's some photos from the recent discoveries:

Monday, September 28, 2020

Danielle Procter Piper: The author, artist and voice actress, live from her palm tree log cabin!

Ever wanted to be an audiobook narrator- you know, get into the characters, really bring it to life? Danielle Procter Piper's living your dream. From her palm tree log cabin outside Tampa Bay, Florida, she tells us how visions have inspired her to create art, which you can find as Taka Gare on Deviant Art. I ask her how she got into reading as a voice talent for audiobooks, and she tells us about her own narrated projects. Hear about her books, and grab some Lebanese cuisine & self-care advice before you go. Find her work on Red Bubble, at Plaid Rat, She's the author of twenty-one books, as well as an accomplished dancer. She's been drafting a novel in the space of a month, so she can create a new one every three months. Wow!!! She's used a few aliases, Sound interesting? Press Play!

Happy Halloween! Enjoy! Or enjoy the embed player below! For more:

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Iron Man: A Friend You Trust, Not to Rust- Denny O'Neil's original saga of Tony Stark and James Rhodes

Denny O'Neil always said he needed to relate to the heroes he wrote, and Tony Stark was more-or-less antithetical to Denny's values as a social crusading Catholic and veteran of the Bay of Pigs conflict in 1962.   But Stark shared a vulnerablity Denny understood intimately.  So, the mainstream superheroics are given human dramatic stakes by Tony's manipulation by O'Neil creation Obadiah Stane, back into sorrows of the bottle and self-loathing.  Now, Denny had two stories to tell, with down-to-Earth James Rhodes standing in as Iron Man.  Now one of Marvel's best-known heroes- maybe the highest-profile character who could be tried this way- was a Black American, but most of all, a loyal friend, with a different approach and skillset to bring to the twenty year-old character.  Here's my podcast, with limited space remaining, quickly hitting the key insights I uncovered.  It really must've been torture to see Tony, and eventually Rhodey, in their personal downfalls amid fragmenting friendships over the course of three years of tales.  I came to the franchise as the transition back to Stark began, captivated by the run up to issue #200.  I think it might've been my favorite Marvel Comic at that exact time.  Perhaps the way I came to the epic, though I was young and only knew the classic Stark version of Iron Man, made the journey back to Super Hero less pained for me, and better able to enjoy the sometimes-grueling drop into the pit, where, nonetheless, a fresh new hero in James Rhodes was born. I wonder if we've also discovered that Moomjie Indries was, in fact, designed by Mike Vosburg?
Here's my original transcript, which I spent a couple more hours pairing down. I re-write as I rehearse reading and timing it. I knew I only had 6.47 MB left on Podbean, which apparently equals 5 minutes, no second tracks for scores or themes. As detailed in a 2014 panel, writer and tie-dyed-in the wool hippie Denny O’Neil- a retired Naval submarine sailor embroiled in the Bay of Pigs crisis in 1962- didn’t like Tony Stark as he was created: womanizer, imperious arms merchant, war profiteer. But when presented with a chance to write him a new, updated origin, he re-read the original, and decided to leave things be. Mike Friedrich and 1970s writers had attempted a more eco-friendly Stark International, but his recent popular run portrayed a sumptuous materialist. During a period of fill-ins, Denny takes over the Invincible Iron Man comics title in 1982, including an outing with fellow returned creative artist, Steve Ditko. That story opens with a page about Tony’s nightmare: losing control to drinking again, as rendered by talented caricaturist Marie Severin. (:45)
Issue #163 is nice fill-in by Mike Vosburg, creator of his Map Mummy comic, set in the exciting early days of Egyptian archeology. Introducing: Indries Moomjie, an exotic ingenue-sort, a visitor injured in a mysterious bombardment of Stark Enterprises. She seems Tony’s traditional type. Though he continues dating as he travels abroad to begin solving the plot, he remains smitten with her, with obsessive fervor based on little besides a playboy’s version of Love-At-First-Sight.
While Tony and his best friend, pilot James Rhodes, go on a British Isles adventure, he keeps Iron Man’s identity still secret. As he figures out how to beat an elaborate series of chess-inspired villains sporting cutting edge technology, Rhodey’s kidnapped and poisoned by spider bites. From offers of a drink everywhere Tony goes, to a revoked flying license that leads to Tony sitting soaked for six hours in a spilled Scotch on a commercial flight, there’s a suspenseful building of the toll on the nigh-tireless hero. No foregone conclusion, the time bomb in Tony’s psyche ticks on. O’Neil and new regular artist Luke McDonnell subtly highlight the freedom he feels while soaring as Iron Man, into dangerous, puzzle-like battles, while behind the scenes-driven pressure to remove Stark and his independent, nobler-facing company, mounts. Iron Man #166 ends with a Demon-in-a-Bottle cliffhanger, a callback to the original Micheleinie/ Layton/ Romita Jr. epic. I should mention here, too, Steve Mitchell comes aboard to ink most of McDonnell's run. Tony again denies the strategically-placed bottle.
And then, Indries, who has already hyped the allure of a drink she’s having in a pub, removes her support from the increasingly-desperate hero. With Bethany Cabe now gone to help her ravaged estranged spouse, and Rhodey first missing, then comatose. He pays for fortress-like existence, for in relying on Indries, he’s chosen poorly. Without a strong friend with whom he can be vulnerable, Tony begins a slide from which he feels he cannot be redeemed. He uncovers and confronts his strategic foe, would-be world dominating corporatist Obadiah Stane, an emotionally- empty, ruthless, intellectual, greedy man created by O’Neil/McDonnell with no redeeming qualities. O’Neil writes the Iron Man battles well. But victory here provides no surcease, as Stane intended: his criminality requires an investigative and legal takedown that Stark can’t manage. Where is the rest of Stark management, though?
It must have been painful to longtime fans, or even casual readers looking for basic Iron Man, to endure the lengthy human story behind Stark’s fall into alcoholic self-loathing. His embarrassing crash continues and without intervention in his socialite circles. He even appears drunk at Debbie Nelson’s party in Daredevil #207, also written by O’Neil, in as sad a guest appearance as ever was.
Stark reveals his identity to Rhodey, who apparently recovered well in the intermittence, after a fight with well-chosen guest Machine Man, who wanted to know: Is shellhead man, or all-iron- a fellow robot? Incapacitated, he gives up the armor to James Rhodes in the least flattering circumstances, as techno-maniac Magma attacks the grounds. Stane, anticipating his takeover, even intervenes via one of his Knights. The dauntless strength of Rhodey’s friendship, and his courage taking up the mantle, provide a counter-weight now. James Rhodes, a war veteran, was revealed in the last Micheleinie story to be a former mercenary, so he makes a lot of sense as the warrior, Iron Man. He senses, too, that he is a champion, who stands for something greater. Jim wanted to measure up to Tony. Did Tony feel depressed, underneath it, because he had been a weapons maker? It was Denny's personal experiences, but I don't think he'd have just chosen any character for his tale. No, David Micheleinie had established the precedent- a realistic dilemma for the playboy genius. br As Denny related to the character: why did he not feel so good about himself, if he was so great? Jim had seen him be a hero so many times. He didn’t judge. He stood in for his friend. And then it got complicated
Jim’s unprepossessing manner as he humbly, but gloriously, works out how to use the technological marvel put into his care, is a winner. He’s much more identifiable with O’Neil, who shares Jim’s love of kung fu movies. The salt-of-the-earth pilot and adventurer makes a very appealing Iron Man. Even with spare technological insight from supporting character Morley Irwin, there’s a fresh well-spring of uncertainties. Rhodey’s above average intelligence, but has a more realistic level of understanding science, that keeps him working hard for his victories against classic villains like Thunderball, Firebrand, and the Mandarin. It’s not like Tony cares enough to train him properly, a lapse I think also pains Stark fans. Jim hands Tony over to his Mom in South Philly to dry out- to no avail. Jim’s moral fiber, when offered a chance to sellout to Stane, lends us a tense confrontation, ending in a priceless punchline- or non-punch line. He fights to protect Stark’s legacy from Stane, SHIELD, even Attuma the Atlantean barbarian, at one go. Grown carefully from existing long-term conflicts, and illustrated with both flash and wild angles, as well as earthy quiet moment renderings by McDonnell, this run’s under-rated. I came to the franchise late in Stark, and Rhodey’s, struggle, the fascinating year run up to issue 200. Maybe that gives me a more gratifying basis for enjoying what comes before, which I later collected as zealously as resources allowed. In real time, you had to read three years of decline, depression, and gradual recovery amid fracturing friendships. I’d love to chat with anyone about the remaining two years-plus not covered here, but here are my fundamental insights in limited space.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Vozcomix: MAD MUMMY Gris Gris Girl Pt. 1

Hey, if Mike ever needs a scripter, I was one IDW President away from my professional debut!  But I guess he's got this one figured out.  Check him out? 

Vozcomix: MAD MUMMY Gris Gris Girl Pt. 1: No good deed goes unpunished. This week Adam does a favor for his friend Colon who works in Egyptian antiquities at the museum and he gets m...

the Mandalorian Finale: OK- NOW let's talk! (with Video Reaction)

Lots of people who enjoy sci-fi/ fantasy may've heard enough negative things about the subsequent efforts to continue the Star Wars saga...