My crazed mind continues.
So instead of stuffing the Fire Emblem cast into one battalion, I spread them out all over other units. This I’ve found is a little different than the battalion idea, in many ways for the better.
- I can sideline physically incapable units.
- I can go across all levels, rather than from “private” to “Battalion commander”.
- I can make the protagonists argue amongst each other about strategy in ways that they couldn’t as small-unit commanders.
- From a meta example, I can put them in different technology levels in a way that’s easier than “Hey, you’re WWII cavalry now, then you’re a Gulf War battalion, now you’re a modern light infantry one!”
- Pegasus knights as pilots, anyone?
So, reading the latest entry in Marvel’s new Elektra series, I began to fill with rage. This was bad-and not the sort of enjoyably bad I can chuckle at, this was-bad bad. Ok, at least I can have fun screaming at it.
I’ll admit the only reason I read it was because it had Arcade in it, making me perhaps the only person to check out comics for that character. And maybe I shouldn’t have. It’s awful. Terrible. Turgid. Has no sense of fun for what should be a zany trip to Murderworld. Arcade is working for the Kingpin and he’s rambling, and Elektra’s rambling, and the whole thing is an unintentional parody of an unintentional parody of Frank Miller’s classic style. It’s eighth-rate noir (suddenly, This Is The Police doesn’t look so bad) interspersed with a deus ex machina-resolved fight against an Arcade-piloted giant robot that only served to remind me of Arcade’s far superior portrayal in Ultimate Alliance.
There’s no reason for this series to be here. And this brings me to the next topic of this post. There is an unmistakable comics diversity problem. It’s just not that kind.
The “Marvel Diversity” controversy is something I’ve tried to bypass. I tend to just ignore it or roll my eyes at either the most ridiculous demands on the internet or the most hamfisted attempts to implement it. I couldn’t even react with the sense of bemused chortling I had with the internet slapstick that ensued when Blizzard made Overwatch star Tracer a lesbian. (My slightly tasteless guffaw was that she would make history–by being someone that fanfic shippers would force with no evidence into being straight.)
I think there is a diversity problem in comics, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what the characters are. No, it involves an excessive diversity of titles that dilute and get tangled in each other. Elektra got involved in a wave of Daredevil spin-offs around the same time. Is there really a need for this? Really? And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
To return, one footnote that shows how twisted and tangled this whole comics mess is that there were multiple recent low-number Elektra titles. It took me a bit of effort, I can’t imagine what it would be like for a comics neophyte.
Like I’ve said before, superheroes are held down by comic books. You could argue they’ve outgrown them. The millions of people who bought Ultimate Alliance saw an Arcade far closer to his original form, and his character concept than the low thousands who bought the 2017 Elektra or his abominable butchering in Avengers Arena. And for that I’m thankful.
I’m seeing too many of what I call “Brown M&Ms” in alternate history timelines.
Now, the term comes from a line in Van Halen’s contracts where they specified that there would be a bowl of M&Ms backstage, but no brown ones were to be in it. Often misinterpreted as them being crazy, it was in fact a way of seeing if the contractors read the fine print for safety reasons.
I see a lot of brown M&Ms in alternate history timelines. The most common are historical figures from our time being relevant when they probably shouldn’t be. (Rule of thumb-any real political figure still in the same or similar office higher than a safe legislative seat two or more election cycles after the point of divergence is the brown M&M for me.)
This is why, for all their problems, I have a liking of pop culture timelines, which bizarrely enough seem to be better at world events than a lot of ‘serious’ timelines. Although even there the brown candies still emerge too often.
For the summer sale, I got This Is The Police, a police simulation game. I went in loving it, and came out feeling mixed about it.
First, what I liked about it:
- The gameplay is basically serviceable, and more about timing management than anything else. There’s an investigation mode I struggled with, and I was reminded somewhat of Black Closet’s similar but more detailed mechanics. It’s serviceable, but not enough to carry the player through the overly-long campaign.
- The dark humor brought a smile to my face. If the game was more open-ended, had “survive for this long”, and had officers asking to leave for the dumbest reasons and weird false alarms from callers with either too much or too little mediciation, I would love it. The problem is the main plot, which in addition to its own problems, contradicts the wacky hijinks to a huge extent-it’s trying to be both The Wire and The Simpsons at once.
Now for what I didn’t like:
- The game is too long, and has the “flail around blind and probably lose or robotically follow a guide and win” effect. Way too long. It could have been half as long as it was and still be as good.
- The story. Oh, the story. It’s too dark, the characters are cliches, and it doesn’t fit the dark humor goofball trend of the gameplay. Here should be this weird management simulator, and instead I get a fifth-rate wannbe-noir plot.
- There’s too much disconnect between the good man trying to hold the police together even as he’s sucked into evil that the main character is in the story, and the guy who had mobsters kill three officers so that he could sell their corpses to a mad scientist for cash I played in the gameplay.
The game is still fun and still worth getting (especially on sale), it’s just it could be more. For this kind of investigative game, if you can tolerate the high-school setting, Black Closet does it better mechanically.
Some of the worst antagonists in an otherwise readable novel would have to be the South African time travelers in Harry Turtledove’s Guns of the South.
As a plot device to give the Confederates AKs, they work. As fighting antagonists once they turn on their former patrons and teach them why small arms are still at the bottom of the modern war food chain, they also work. As characters, they are utter failures.
In terms of character development, they’re cartoonishly evil, so they can make the Confederates look better in race relations in comparison. In terms of competence, they choose the dumbest, clumsiest, and most backfiring way possible of trying to kill Robert E. Lee once relations sour.
They’re still not as bad as SCP-682, my personal least favorite villain of all time, but they’re definitely up there, especially since they’re not the products of an internet whim or a Bad Fiction Spotlight subject, but rather in an otherwise alright book.
(That this is one of Turtledove’s best books says something about him).
The author William W. Johnstone created the Ashes series of postapocalyptic books, made at the height of the 80s survivalist craze.
These are almost worthy of a Bad Fiction Spotlight, but they’re too conventionally bad.
Here’s how every single Ashes book goes. Mary Sue extraordinare Ben Raines (who is supposed to be head commander but leads from the front way too often-don’t worry, he’s safe) and his super-army of “Rebel Tri-Staters” see the creep of the week and kill him in a brief battle. Or fight the strawman armies of the creep of the arc in a brief battle. If Ben Raines falls in love with a woman, she gets killed. Oh, and there’s rants about types of people Johnstone-I mean Raines, doesn’t like. The end.
(The battles are very, very brief.)
I think the biggest problems are the really easy logistics (hero and villain alike can move everything they want overseas, including armored formations(!)), and the fact that there’s thirty five of those things made.
Plus, they’re so stupid, vile, and cliche that they become fun. And not in a “pick everything apart” way, a normal reading way.
There are several categories of Bad Fiction.
Category 1: This is the sad mediocrity. The prose is often functional, but bland. The plot is functional, but bland. Often it has the feeling of being done for money or obligation, and thus suffers for it. Occasionally fun to to read if one doesn’t have anything better, but not fun to talk about.
Cat 2: This is the kind of bad fiction that’s heartfelt but terrible. There’s more sincere effort then Cat 1 Bad Fiction. But it’s still ultimately bland. These are generally sloppy amateur projects with bad prose. Most bad fanfiction falls into this category.
Cat 3: This is the sort of bad fiction that has effort behind. Lots and lots of real effort. Now, maybe the effort is a sort of ‘draw a tree but miss the forest utterly’ effort on worldbuilding for its own sake and details. Maybe most of the effort is spent arguing about the work rather than working on it. Maybe all of the above is true. Category 3 Bad Fiction often has just enough technical competence to not be dismissed outright.
I try to focus my Bad Fiction Spotlights on Category 3 Bad Fiction.
Sedan sales have been dropping. After helping my family move, and seeing the cargo stuff hatchback and crossover cars bring, I can see why.
Actor Adam West, best known for his role on the 60s Batman TV show, has passed away. RIP.
The show was actually close to the comics of the time. It was the Silver Age, and Batman was collateral damage in DC pushing the Comics Code to eliminate horror comics. So, you probably couldn’t get much “better” in storytelling than what they got. Besides, the show actually helped turn an obscure villain-the Riddler-, into a major foe thanks to Frank Gorshin’s classic portrayal.
Now, a little under two years ago, I found a book by the defense commentator and author William S. Lind. The book was called “Victoria: A Novel Of Fourth Generation War”.
I was expecting, at best, a book that would be illuminated by its author’s genuine fame as a military expert and advisor to Gary Hart, and at worst a conventional crazy right wing novel. What I got was -something else.
I had to mock it. So mock it at Spacebattles I did. (As with everything I’ve written a long time ago, I feel a little embarassed by it and wish I’d done some things better. Oh well.) It was written right after Lind fell from grace dramatically in the wake of the Gulf War, and his bitterness shows. Boy, does it show.