Arcade, Elektra, and the REAL Comics Diversity Problem

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.

Supercar Struggles

I made a supercar in Automation. The 80s supercar I made is an illustration of just how tough the supercar business is.

Designing the car itself wasn’t the hardest part-I had to use different size tires to brute-force my way to a decent understeer score without digging into the suspension (turns it wasn’t unheard of, especially on RWD performance cars). The “markets” segment was when it hit.

Development costs for a supercar are incredibly high. So are development costs for everything car-related, but here you’re pushing the limit. It’s making an SR-71, not a Piper Cub.

And you can’t rely on volume. The only strategy is to roar up the price a lot and hope your supercar stands out from the pack. Most really big supercars are experimental platforms/advertisements, and are expected to lose money.

So, my supercar, similar in backstory if not mechanically to the (failed) Cizeta-Moroder V16T   gets a few mulligans. A celebrity backing, arriving at exactly the right time for a pent-up urge to splurge, and good luck. Even then, it’s probably going to come at the expense of other supercar firms. And be temporary.


The Plant Locations

So, this is a sort of follow-up to my previous post detailing where to put the auto plant that never was. I have three weird locations.

-The first location violates the criteria of “near a large” city, but is unconventional enough- Hagerstown, Maryland. While it’s in a small, remote area, it’s at a major railway hub as well. In fact, one of the “problems” with the Hagerstown plant is that a large Volvo parts factory is already there-showing the location’s appeal to actual car makers.

-The second is even more unusual, to say the least. I only found out about it when I was chatting about the possible auto plant locations. There was a proposal by mayor Robert Wagner to attract a car plant to the Brooklyn Navy Yard when it closed. That’s quite-interesting.

It could technically work, but I still have skepticism. The traffic problem for suppliers is, however close the yard is to an expressway, still something I view as too big an issue. I still can’t see the plant lasting more than one, or if it’s incredibly lucky, two industry downturns.

-The third is in Hartford. The main reasons are the unconventional location, existence in an ultra-urbanized state, and railroad links.

The Mystery Of The Plant Location

So, I have a dilemma about the location of an auto plant for one of my fictional endeavors. This illustrates a problem with trying to be too detailed.

Car plants have been everywhere, but note the emphasis on the past tense. It’s no secret that, in the US, the remaining factories are clustered in either the Midwest or Deep South. Proximity to the gigantic number of suppliers that any plant depends on is a crucial factor, as is an existing auto industry.

But for this particular plant (which, like many, has seen better days), the criteria is:

-It’s a foreign transplant, so probably not in the Michigan area.

-At the same time, I don’t want it in the countryside. The reason is…

-This is the main issue. The plant I want to be located near/in a large city. One that is so big, diverse, and inherently healthy regardless of the national economy that closing the plant would, while still being painful, not be a crippling blow. In fact, among many locals, the factory would seen as a clunky anachronism, and it should just hurry up and close so that the space can be used for something more productive and profitable.

I could use a fictional city, but it wouldn’t really work if it was that size. (A small town I can easily make up and put anywhere, but a city that could absorb one to two thousand job losses-not so much).

Or I could just be vague, but a part of me likes weird details.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: Tom Kratman’s Carrera series

Imagine you have a series where everything is handed to the main character on a silver platter, and they still appear like they’re barely able to reach the plate. This surreal experience is the heart of Tom Kratman’s Carrera series.

The backstory of how the series came to be is in many ways more interesting than the story of the books themselves. Tom Kratman was an officer in the US Army who had a disappointing career, rising to lieutenant colonel essentially by default without actually getting to command anything of significance. This was combined with a legal career that, to put it mildly, he wasn’t suited for.

So, he wrote several manuscripts of military fantasy stories. Then the infamous Baen Books accepted those manuscripts (after one throwaway novel featuring a heroic Texas taking on an evil Hillary Clinton caricature that even Kratman himself put solely into the “potboiler” category). Now, if these were just conventional thrillers that happened to be, say, a little more right-wing than even the norm for the genre, they would have been considered mild curiosities at best.

The Carrera books were not conventional thrillers. For one, they were intended as military manuals, to show the guy who was too good for those jealous idiots in the Pentagon how to really do stuff. Next, they were extremely cumbersome in terms of prose (to the extent that the first book had to be released in two volumes because it was too big). Finally, Baen had to apply a ‘sci-fi’ covering to them-but only the most basic covering. The result was very interesting.

So, here’s the plot summary of the actual books themselves. A space probe discovers another habitable world, and a force led by evil European administrators sends colony ships across the distance to “Terra Nova”, with various nationalities. Terra Nova is essentially exactly the same as the world the colonists left, only with everything upside down and backwards and the country names replaced with bad puns. South Africa becomes North Uhuru, the US is the Federated States of Columbia, France is Gaul, Britain is Anglia, to the disgust of Scots, Iraq is Sumer, etc… The worst examples are China and India, which become Zhong Guo and Bharat-yes, China and India become-China and India.

Meanwhile, the United Nations that ruled Old Earth collapsed into a literal backwards, decadent monarchy. Their space fleet was rusty and malfunctioning, to the point where they needed to buy replacement parts from the Terra Nova surface.

After a nonsensical “World War” that involved the “US”, “England”, and “Germany” against “France”, “Russia”, and “Japan”, there was a “Vietnam War” and a “Gulf War”, and even an “Iran-Iraq War”. (You see a pattern with the quotations).

At this point the actual books start. Patrick Hennessy has his family killed on “9/11” (which involves airships), kills several obnoxious yet nonviolent strawman pro-Muslim demonstrators, and after a bit of “Kind Hearts and Coronets-ing”, gets a huge inheritance. Calling himself Carrera, the vengeance-minded soldier sets to work on building a mercenary force out of formerly-demilitarized “Panama”.

After Carrera acquires a ton of suspiciously cheap military gear, he now has a brigade. Said brigade fights in the invasion of “Iraq”, where they find the Mystery WMDs after Carrera befriends a defeated “Iraqi” commander.

Eventually, the commander of the Space UN fleet is taken hostage and “Riyadh” nuked (!) by Carrera. This solves the “War on Terror” issue, and the series continues to the original manuscripts, where Carrera, with his array of meticulously built-up defenses, fights off the attacks on “Panama” by the “EU” and “China”.

The series has kind of been put on “indefinite hold”, as Kratman left to focus on writing a web column (and argue in the comments sections of said column) instead. Naturally, it stopped right on a “cliffhanger”, after fending off a “Chinese” amphibious attack.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

What makes the books stand out, besides the horrible writing and worse pacing (I was able to skip an entire book without missing anything, and could probably have skipped two more and still figured out what was going on), is the weirdly unheroic hero.

Carrera is a psychopath whose maximum effort at redemption is the occasional “I feel bad about this” sentence that doesn’t change any example of the characterization. The prologue to “A Desert Called Peace” features a man called the “Blue Jinn” who is confronting a huge group of prisoners, and orders the men to be crucified and the women and children sold into slavery. One reviewer thought the Blue Jinn was some yet-to-be-introduced antagonist-it was Carrera.

(The counterinsurgency tactic Carrea prefers can be summed up as ‘kill every man old enough to grow a beard, unless they’re on your side already’.)

Even towards his own troops, Carrera is unheroic. The main character casually yawns during a discussion of training deaths and views the percentage of casualties in training as not an inevitable tragedy but as an agreeable goal to toughen the troops up. Even the ruthlessness of the protagonist is secondary to the really weird characteristic-the fact, alluded to in the introduction, that even given every advantage, Carrera is a terrible commander.

When equipping his army, Carrera is an announced master of logistics. Unfortunately, Tom Kratman’s definitions of logistics involve only two things:

-An initial sticker price.

-A gamey ‘cost limit’ that can’t be exceeded.

This combines itself with the ‘manual’ part-see, everything is to be meticulously researched, because this is a true manual, and must be accurate. So the military is equipped using the same logic someone uses when looking at a Steam sale (ooh, three indie games for a dollar fifty!). My favorite example is his air force-rather than equip with surplus “MiG-29s” or something similar, Kratman saw that MiG-17s were available for the low thousands of dollars, so he had “Panama’s” air force be equipped with hundreds of “MiG-17s”-of course, they were upgraded with stuff that would obliterate the cost savings, but hey-sticker price.

My second-favorite is the navy, where he buys ships at scrap prices and has them be usable without budget-busting refits.

There are of course exceptions to this cheapskating. Of course “Panama” spends effort designing the Perfect Military Rifle, and makes super-tech whose cost calculations completely ignore development costs-therefore they get submarines that have never-before-used propulsion systems and can dive incredibly deep, as well as stealth aircraft. Then there’s the actual fighting.

In training, the infantry die repeatedly to sloppliness on the part of the trainer that doesn’t teach the survivors anything. The tank crews, on the other hand, not only perform poorly in initial training and are diverted to useless attacks on sea targets rather than returning until they get their fundamentals right, but when introduced to their vehicles, are given a de facto advertisment from the manufacturer instead of a realistic evaluation, to “improve morale”.

Once the combat begins, even that pales in comparison.

Pretty much every conventional battle follows the same formula. Kratman has bragged about writing full OPLANs and logistics plans for every single battle.

-Self-insert comes up with and infodumps detailed Grand Plan. (Sometimes the infodump is even multiple books ahead of the actual battle, but it’s there)

-Battle starts. Whatever the force, they just immediately dig in and don’t maneuver.

-Kratmanland forces get pounded by the strawman enemy.

-The Grand Plan is launched after many casualties.

-The Grand Plan is executed, and routs the strawman enemy.

Reading about tank crews not doing anything while infantry are fighting for their lives not too far away is kind of bizarre-and not even like any other Mary Sue. A conventional Mary Sue is something like the main character in the horribly wish-fulfillment computer fantasy anime series Sword Art Online, who can go into a VR game he’s never played before and zip around leaping and cutting his way to victory in a competitive tournament despite different mechanics. In Kratmanland, he would just camp in a bottleneck until the clock ran out and eke out a tiny victory by default thanks to having two more hit points than his opponent.

Thankfully, those who wish to check out the “majesty” of A Desert Called Peace for themselves can do so, for Baen has made the entire book free.

Just be prepared.

Gate: Thus The Blogger Analyzed

Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There is an extremely silly book-turned-manga-turned-anime. The actual show is a mess of outright goofiness and battles that are as melodramatic as they are one-sided.

The synopsis of the plot thus far goes like this-Gate opens in Tokyo, and out steps a pseudo-Roman fantasy army that pillages and murders-until they get machine-gunned. The JSDF then builds a dome around the gate, and sends a scouting unit led by a goofball nerd who somehow passed Ranger School. You get wizard-girls, elves, and as of the last episode, catgirls, bunny-girls, and medusa-girls. And that after an unironic use of blasting Wagner from helicopters while machine-gunning hapless opponents. Oh, and a princess named Pina Colada. No joke.

Mounting a political and economic critique of such a setup seems as easy an overkill as the actual fighting, but that didn’t stop countless observers (including me) on my favorite forum of Spacebattles from giving a try.

-Japan immediately and officially annexes the entire world on the other side of the gate.

-Then they brag about how rich they’re going to get off the resources there.

-No one else is allowed through the gate.

-China and the US want to go through the gate, and the former wants to settle a third (!) of its population on the other side.

Either the JSDF would back down or see what happens when you pit a gain of totally undeveloped and completely theoretical resource deposits against the damage to one of the world’s most trade-dependent economies. But even if they and not Japan backs down, the “Special Region” could easily turn into a political and economic nightmare even without it.

1: Economics.

-Even if you know the resources exist, getting them is a huge problem. You have to find them, which means extensive surveys. Then you have to build the infrastructure, then you have to deal with the bottleneck of one small gate. This will take years and years and years, and that’s assuming that the costs make it viable at all. (As in, if it’s not just cheaper to import them from other countries on Earth)

Considering that there’s so little else of value there, the raw materials are going to make the Special Region sink or swim. And logically, it’d sink, given all the bottlenecks.

And then there’s the opportunity costs. See, you’ve shackled your country to one so much less advanced that there’s very little precedent. The (not exactly trouble-free) reunification of Germany, with similar technology, only with differences of efficiency, is not comparable. Even a reintegration of much more divergent Korea would be a piece of cake compared to absorbing an entire world or even a much less advanced country. At least North Korea has paved roads, for one.

And this is the best-case scenario, which assumes everyone is completely docile. In any instance with the slightest plausbility, they wouldn’t be.

2: Politics.

Where do I even start?

Ok, first let’s ignore the dubious Sino-American fetish for the gate. The biggest political problem is that the way to endear yourselves to the local population is not to openly view the whole world as nothing but a resources dispenser (which is precisely what the leaders on the other side think about the Special Region). The second-biggest political problem is that by introducing a touch of modernity, you’re going to trigger something beyond your control.

Sure, the people won’t mind if the only paved roads you build are the ones from the mines to the gate. Suure. And they especially won’t want to emigrate to the other side. Sure, you won’t want to go to this world of riches and miracles on the other side, you’ll just keep dirt-farming while the neo-coprosperityists strip-mine that mountain over there.

How many humans (and others) are in the Special Region? I ventured a guess.

-If the Empire has an “average” population density, and is roughly the size of Germany (based off its Holy Roman Empire inspiration), multiple demographics calculators give it a population of around 10.5 million people. But given its more shiny, high-fantasy feel (and ability to send ahistorically large armies), the population could increase to 15 million under the best-case scenario..

-If it’s the size of Turkey (Eastern Roman Empire), population varies from 26 million to 39 million.

So in the lower case, it’s 7 percent of the population of Japan (about 127 million). In the higher case, it’s 30%. I’m being low-end here and only counting the people of that one explored area. Using theorized world population for the 1200-era Middle Ages (350 million baseline, if I multiply it by one and a half its 525 million), that’s 2.7 and 4.1 times the population.

And going to one of the most infamously homogenous countries in the world. Uh-huh. No issues there.