Archive for May, 2014

May 26 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Published by under Movie Review

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

  • In my opinion, it was the best superhero movie this year (Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Captain America 2 so far). UPDATE: Not as good as Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • The action scene with the speedster (Quicksilver) was amazing, but I think it indicates how ridiculously hard it would be to use a speedster as anything but a one-off change of pace rather than a main character. Quicksilver spends the rest of the movie at home because his powers were strong enough that he would have broken the plot.
  • I believe the only major problem with the movie was that the plot holes were massive. SPOILERS:
    • The movie apparently isn’t sure how many people know about / are afraid of mutants. For example, at one point a government official claims that the whole mutant business in Cuba (X-Men: First Class) was “unconfirmed.” Uhh, several mutants employed by the CIA engaged several U.S. and USSR ships, with probably thousands of people witnessing a destroyer being telekinetically lifted from the sea and at least 10 military casualties. If mutants can get through that “unconfirmed,” I need to hire their publicist and/or defense attorney. Later on, there’s a scene where a U.S. businessman reveals to a (North) Vietnamese delegation that one of their members is a mutant and they instantly freak out. So… people do care what mutants are?
    • One recurring limitation of the X-Men series is that the plot is frequently driven by stupidity. For example, Dr. Trask has an apparently foolproof mutant-detection device but forgets to use it at a presidential press event. That works out about as well as you’d imagine. Also, taking Magneto into custody is definitely an idiot ball — “maybe the beyond-maximum-security prison we’ve built for him this time will work better than the last twenty!”
    • Another recurring limitation of the X-Men series is that its characters are notably uncreative when it comes to solving problems besides just killing people. For example, you’d think that a character with the ability to impersonate anyone would be able to come up with some more creative way to discredit a (criminal) scientist than turning him into a martyr and instantly vindicating his research. For example, exposing that he’s a criminal and/or committing outlandish acts while impersonating him?
    • It is completely unbelievable that the final confrontation between Magneto, Mystique, and the President ends well for most mutants.

17 responses so far

May 22 2014

Learning Curves: An Alternative Approach to Superpower Limitation

Often with works of fiction that involve superpowers, writers look for ways to effectively limit or check those powers. This is done to keep characters vulnerable to challenges while maintaining dramatic effect within the story. After all, if a character can consistently deal with situations by using their unrestricted abilities, how invested will a reader (or publisher) be in the work? Probably not very.

 

Writers of comic books, superhero novels and other forms of speculative fiction utilize a variety of approaches in addressing this issue. Examples include requiring a specific power source or item to use an ability (e.g. Green Lantern’s ring or Mr. Freeze’s  diamond-powered freeze gun). Another example is requiring the character to be within a specific proximity (e.g. in the film Push, Kira has to be able to see people to tamper with their minds). Sometimes a character is susceptible to a specific substance or external force (e.g. Superman and kryptonite or his vulnerability to red sunlight).

 

These limitations are mostly environmental or physical contingencies that the character must yield to. One alternative is using a character’s progressive learning curve to limit their capabilities.

 

If you want to restrict a character who can channel cosmic energy as concussive force blasts, a good place to start might be by asking: What does the actual development of that proficiency look like? (Keep in mind this question can be asked of anyone in any endeavor, not just fictional superheroes. Choosing to spend time with it as a literary theme could be a good way to develop relatability within the work.)

 

So what does it look like for a character to actually learn about their extraordinary powers over the course of a novel? Is it believable that they would start out fully knowledgeable in their understanding, or would there be gradations of trial and error, of setbacks and success, of growth? A character learning to use concussive force blasts will provide their own limitations in the form of their inexperience. Be encouraged to explore that. It could be a much more resonant and effective restriction than a target that has to be within X amount of feet.  Even as the character grows in the use of their powers, surpassing old limitations, the learning process by nature should continue to supply new thresholds for them to meet and be challenged by.

 

In the sci-fi novel Psion by Hugo Award-winning author Joan D. Vinge, the main character Cat is recruited into a psychic research program. The technicians are able to determine the vast amount of telepathic power Cat possesses; they can ascertain what he should be able to do… But Cat can’t do those things because doesn’t know how to be psychic. Even as he gains greater understanding and command of his telepathy throughout the course of the novel, his learning curve continues to provide natural limitations and challenges for him in the use of his powers.

 

Of course, not every story’s main character is a fish out of water. While most superhero stories handle the initial emergence of the primary hero, some characters come to the plate further developed than others. And that’s fine. Even in those instances, I’d encourage writers of superhero fiction (especially novels) to consider the learning curve (specialized here, perhaps) as well as the more concrete and specific limits meant to rein in the chosen superpowers.

 

Wolverine can be used as an example of an already expertly-skilled character forced to negotiate the learning experience. When he first joined the X-Men, he was leagues beyond his teammates in training, combat experience and the use of his mutant powers. Despite this he still had a significant learning curve dealing with the way the team functioned and occasionally his approach to obstacles was more detrimental than helpful. Additionally, it was because of his experiences with the X-Men that he learned to take more control of his berserker rages, which were a danger to everyone.

 

Well-rounded characters resonate more with readers. Going through the journey of learning to use superpowers along with those characters – most notably experiencing how that process provides limitations, checks and challenges in organic and relatable ways – can contribute greatly to the development of that relationship, potentially endearing readers even more than originally considered.

 

To finalize, focusing on the superpower learning curve can be an enormous boon as there are potentially countless ways writers can incorporate it regarding their character’s superpowers, specifically as a means to limit those powers. These elements can be made to manifest as significant and effective by simple virtue of being so unknown, or it can be more a matter of learning to use familiar capabilities in entirely uncharted situations. In either instance, this also demonstrates the flexibility and personalization of the learning curve, in that it can be uniquely shaped to fit each character. This kind of development and attention to theme can greatly increase the depth and resonance of a novel while providing necessary restrictions and challenges for the characters within them.

 

4 responses so far

May 01 2014

And now, an exciting business opportunity in Ghana!

Published by under Comedy,PG-13

One of my coworkers (who asked to remain anonymous) received this business proposal from Ghana.

 

Dear  Maccabee

My name is Barrister Agams Enoch Mifetu, the personal attorney of late Mrs.Eunice  Maccabee based here in Accra republic of Ghana I did a lot of web search before choosing your contact from the skype. It is with trust and sincerity that I approach you for assistance in this business.

Please do accept my apology if my mail infringes on your personal ethics and honestly it will be my humble pleasure if we can work together.

I would like you to act as an executor of late Mrs.Eunice  Maccabee my deceased client who made a deposit of (US$14,000,000.00) with a Bank here in Ghana a few years back. She died in Plane crash with her husband and their only child leaving behind no next of kin. And a citizen of my country cannot stand as  next of kin to late Mrs.Eunice  Maccabee that is why I contacted you.

Dear friend I am ready to share 70/30 with you, if you are interested mail me immediately for further details in this great future relationship.

If you are interested write me with your email and telephone number,reply me immediately. 

Regards.

Barrister Agams Enoch Mifetu

_________________________

Dear Honorable Mifetu,
Thank you exceedingly much for contacting me! It has been many years since I have heard the name Eunice. What a shock it was to hear that name again and from such a surprising, but altogether trustworthy, source.

Now, your position as barrister affords you the close knowledge of many things personal to the Maccabee family that one in your position would have and know of from the very nature of the position that you hold in close proximity to those in the family whom hold the secrets close to their hearts of which I speak.

However, there are some things that you may not know. Firstly and foremostly, is that Eunice was not all that she seemed to be. Please know, now, that at the time of her fiery death, she had quite effectively become the black dingo of the family. You see… Eunice was actually born under the name Eugene.

It was with great consternation of the family that the family’s general practitioner admitted to the accidental circumcision of the boy during a routine visit for treatment of dengue fever. While the name of Eugene was hidden from public purvey, the incident itself is well documented in the Ghana Premier Aboriginal Court of Law of which I am quite sure you are well accustomed. The case played out over years and, toward the end, even appeared in an episode of Current Affairs.

But I digress… let me speak more of Eugene… that he lived his early years as a woman was only the beginning of the shame that would befall the Maccabee namesake in the coming decades. Eunice, as she wished to be called after the accident, would go on to make her own name before the court, in activity ranging from strong arm tactics to online thievery, of course, it should be noted that most of the rape charges were effectively dropped as the court believed that she (he) had no way of carrying through with her threats of same.

Now, speaking of ethics… it is with the humblest of sincere intentions that I must inform you of the other piece of information that I am certain you are not aware of: You said the plane crashed killed Eunice, Bentley and the boy… but this is just the story we wanted the press to hear. I survived. I SURVIVED, Agams! I AM EUNICE’S SON!

I don’t blame you for not knowing. No one knew. I was found in the jungle, still in the loving arms of my mother-father, and they say I was quite sun burned but crying. That’s how they found the plane; a woeful child’s cry in the dense jungle.

Which brings me to the following: A very much appreciated the offer you made… but as I am a man of business, I am prepared to counter offer: Because of your sincere due-dilligence, and to keep you from revealing the secret of my identity, I offer you a substantial piece of both the inheritance, which as it has been accruing interest in the National State City Bank of Ghana since the seventies, is quite substantial. I cannot reveal numbers here, but let me just say that should you see this figure written down on a piece of paper, your eye balls would quite literally fall from their respective sockets.

Along with this, you are also welcome to keep a portion of the monies of fourteen million of which you earlier spoke. This is chump change to me as, I am sure you have done your research, know now that I am a tin foil magnate and make fourteen million in my sleep every month.

Your only requirement is that you breath not a WORD of any of this to any party, and should I learn that you went to the press with any of this information ALL POSSIBLE OUTCOMES WILL BE REMOVED. I hope I have made myself abundantly clear.

So, Mr. Enoch, it is up to you now to contact me.

Good luck.

-Uncle Maccabee The Third Esq.

2 responses so far