sympathetic villains: fair!?

Alternate, listicle-style title:

Three Times A Villain Lectured the Hero About How Their Optimism Was Solely a Result of Their Privileged Upbringing, and We Kind of Saw Their Point

1. Magneto versus Professor X

X-Men-Professor-X-and-Magneto-Play-Chess

Let’s go over this again.

This is basically their WHOLE BEEF, so I can hardly pick a single monologue. The conflict between Xavier and Magneto resonated so much in the original movies that the reboots then hammered on it ALL OVER AGAIN instead of drawing on the many, many other diverse characters and viewpoints the comics are known for. But I digress.

Charles Xavier was born into wealth! His mutation is invisible! He grew up knowing good people and little-to-no oppression, and as a result believes whole-heartedly in peaceful co-existence with non-mutant humans.

Erik Lensherr lost his family in the friggin Holocaust! His mutation is also invisible, but his message is very attractive to all of the mutants who can’t hide what they were, because they’ve all seen the worst of humanity and understand that humans inevitably lash out at anyone perceived as Other.

And I mean… Magneto ain’t wrong. The best part about this hero/villain dynamic is that you can see exactly what led the villain down their current path, and can sympathize with their motivations. What they choose to do about it is still wrong, and that’s their core tragedy.

2. Killmonger versus Black Panther

killmonger black panther

You’re not… wrong…

Better writers than I have broken down the thematic/historical underpinnings of Killmonger, so I’ll summarize in my usual haphazard, exclamation-point-heavy style.

T’Challa was born into royalty! In a super advanced secret civilization utopia that deliberately ignored shit going down in the rest of the world! Of course he’s hesitant to disrupt the policy of isolationism that gives his people this cushion of safety.

Erik Killmonger was abandoned in poverty, and his father murdered, due to that very same policy! He grew up under systemic racism, bitterly aware of the legacy of colonialism on the African continent despite the existence of a secret utopia that could have saved them! Of course he’s right to want their liberation, and to want Wakanda to step in and help.

But the dude goes too far down that path and becomes exactly like the people he hates. He straight shoots his girlfriend! He wants to turn Wakanda into an empire and dominate the world! The way he’s going about it is wrong, but…what he wants is entirely understandable, isn’t it? Magneto never budges Charles, but in this case Killmonger does nudge T’Challa to a more responsible middle road. His monologuing is top notch.

3. Stinky Pete versus Woody

stinky pete woody

FAIR?! I’ll tell you what’s not fair!

Hear me out, it’s the same thing!

Woody gets some shade in the first movie for always being so confident about his place (he’s been Andy’s favorite toy since kindergarten!) but the Prospector lays it out even more explicitly in the sequel.

Toys like Woody are beloved by their children! They get all the play time they want! They’re passed down as family heirlooms, loved all over again! Of course he sees the best in the situation, and believes a toy’s sole purpose in life is to make a child happy.

Toys like Stinky Pete either get bought and neglected, or never bought at all! They aren’t cool, they aren’t likable, they certainly aren’t lovingly preserved over generations! Of course he’s bitter about this (let’s face it) nightmarish world in which toys are sentient and immortal but doomed to an eternity in a landfill one day if they aren’t broken to pieces first.

Does that give Stinky Pete license to kidnap Woody and force him to live out his days in a museum? Of course not. But is he right to be bitter? Well yeah. Did I mention this world is a horrorshow? The older I get the more these movies make me recoil in grief. I love ’em, but. Damn.

In conclusion

This is one of my favorite hero/villain dynamics. I’m an absolute sucker for the sorta-justified-but-took-it-too-far villain every time. I’m equally a sucker for bringing the hero down a peg when they’ve had things too easy.

What I like even better is to have the hero also come from difficult circumstances, because then you get a stronger contrast between their character arcs. Heroes and villains can both spring from the same origin. A hero overcomes their flaw/tragic backstory. A villain doesn’t. They lean into their flaws, they give in to their bitterness, they use their tragic backstory as an excuse to turn around and inflict pain on others in service to their own ambitions. A villain is the abusive parent who declares, “I’m like this because I had a terrible childhood!!” Sure. But you’re still being a shit. The best kind of hero is the one who also had a terrible childhood, consciously decided they don’t want to raise their kid the same way, and doesn’t.

In the above examples, the villains are absolutely right to call out the heroes for the easiness of their good guy roles. They’re good because nothing ever happened to tempt them to be bad. Give me sympathetic villains, hell yeah. But I also like to see them pitted against less likely heroes.

(P.S. And if you really want my money, make more of them ladies!)

2017 christmas card

Previous cards:
2012-2013
2014
2015-2016

Every year I make 40 Christmas cards (~35 to send out, 1 to keep for myself, and a couple extra just in case I forget somebody or accidentally destroy some in the production process).

And every year I remember, too late, that every step the card requires must be completed 40 times. This year I remembered this pesky fact after I decided to put a cutout on the front in addition to pasting my usual Photoshop masterpiece inside. Cut out 40 cutouts, paste on 40 cutouts, paste in 40 inserts, sign 40 times, stuff 40 envelopes. ONE DAY I’LL LEARN MY LESSON.

But it was worth it. Because this year, LONG OVERDUE, I heralded the arrival of our (presumably) final family member with [drumroll pleaaaaase]… a Star Trek theme!

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why did I do this to myself

Hurk! I cut out 40 communicators for you people.

The finished product speaks for itself.

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And here is the insert, in all its glory:

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Yes that is Mr. and Mrs. Claws, thank you

I’m well aware that I used a TOS communicator on the outside and Wrath of Khan uniforms on the inside, but I just can’t resist those maroons. Also, it would have made more sense to have Kirk’s chair on the front since he’s dictating the captain’s log, BUT I couldn’t find a good image of the Wrath of Khan era chair, and the TOS chair looked too bulky, so since I was mismatching my eras ANYWAY I went with something easier to cut out, i.e., a communicator.

Anyway anyway anyway.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM OUR SNAPE TREE TO YOURS!

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[*cough* that’s 15 family members worth of presents btw…the pile for my own kids won’t be coming close]

the adventures of young ham solo

I’ve explained the increasingly grand tradition of Sibling Thanksgiving before. In 2015 we leveled up our theme game with THANKVENGERS: The Winter Solstice, and in 2016 we went all in on Harry Potter and the Day of Thanks.

For 2017 it was time to head for the stars. Without further ado, I present The Adventures of Young Ham Solo: A Star Wars Story!

Only approved guests could get past the door guards.

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Nothing to see here, move along

Once admitted, you were free to help yourself to a drink at the Dagobar.

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There is no try. There is only drink or drink not.

Dinner was served beneath the shadow of the Empire, but never fear, a squadron of X-wing fighters were en route to do battle overhead.

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Let’s blow this thing and get dinner!

And for those inclined to join the Rebellion, there was an optional Jedi training piñata for just that purpose.

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Use the force, Luke!

There weren’t any themed dishes this year, although there WAS a round of blue milkshakes for the kids and blue milk (rumchata) for the adults afterward. We had our usual unnecessary flood of side dishes instead: cornbread, rice ball casserole, lumpia, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, obligatory turkey breast, stuffed jalepeños, stuffed mushrooms, stuffing, and French bread! *gasps for breath*

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Why do we do this?!

There were five kids toddling-and-up, but between the piñata candy, soda, dinner, and dessert, they vibrated so hard they achieved singularity and melted into the infrastructure of the house, only visible in blurs out of the corner of your eye.

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The rare candy-ghost caught on film.

Dinner, of course, was followed by kicking all the children from the room and playing a disgusting and curse-filled round of Loaded Questions.

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Almost anything can be answered “your mother’s vagina”

All in all, A ROLICKING SUCCESS!

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NEXT UP: CHRISTMAAAASS

And on a final note: it sure is nice to have professional help to clean up after a big party. Thanks, guys!

the hall of good relationships!

I’ve previously discussed my love of academic action heroes and lady action heroes. Today I’d like to talk about a different character type entirely. Or should that be characters? Because these are my favorite romantic couples across the media hemispheres, and I probably should have saved this post for February but WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT KIND OF FORWARD PLANNING.

As I put this together, I realized I was much more likely to find happy, healthy couples in series (book series, TV shows, movies with sequels) than one-off stories, which tend to focus on the first blush of romance and fail to follow through on life after the HEA. Or else they find their story conflict in relationship conflict, and I don’t have time for toxicity, no matter how much drama fodder it provides. Final observation: There is a lamentable dearth of healthy long-term LGBT+ couples in the media I consume. Part of that, I’m sure, is me not casting a wide enough net (I live mostly in the action/adventure and scifi/fantasy genres). Another part of it, I’m even more sure, is a failure OF the media I consume. But I digress.

Without further ado, and in no particular order: The Hall of Good Relationships!

Hal and Lois Wilkerson – Malcolm in the Middle

hal and loisHal and Lois might be my favorite TV parents. In large part that’s due to their subversion of the usual sitcom dynamic, which tends to pit overbearing Mom against beleaguered Dad for some “haha women are nags, men are clueless idiots” humor. Which, need I say, I loathe. In Malcolm in the Middle, Lois is overbearing, and Hal is beleaguered, but instead of battling each other they are battling their nightmare children. Hal and Lois manage their house and fight their kids as a united front, and their continued passion for one another is a frequent plot point. I can actually believe they’ve stayed married because they love and support one another, whereas in most family comedies I can’t imagine the passive aggressive snipery leading anywhere but divorce.

Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson – the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters

crocodile sandbankAmelia and Emerson are my favorite married couple in ALL LITERARY HISTORY. They are turn-of-the-century Egyptologists who accidentally get caught up in a murder mystery every year. Like you do! Emerson is gruff and Amelia is exceedingly practical, and after butting heads on their first adventure together (naturally) they fall madly in love, get married, have one (FABULOUS) child, and continue to excavate artifacts and solve mysteries together henceforward. There are no plots about them getting into fights over stupid misunderstandings and then making up again. They remain madly in love for decades and face everything together AND I LOVE THEM.

Alexia Tarabotti and Conall Maccon – the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

soullessIn a steampunk/paranormal Victorian England, Alexia is a soulless preternatural, capable of nullifying the supernatural nature of vampires and werewolves with physical contact. Conall Maccon is a werewolf and head of the Woolsey pack. They get together in book one of the five-book series, and remain a dedicated couple through that and subsequent related series (minus one ‘misunderstanding’ plot, I will forgive ONE and ONLY ONE). I got about halfway through the first book  before realizing that the reason I loved Alexia and Connall so much is that they are a paranormal Amelia and Emerson. Exceedingly practical woman in her mid-30s assumes she is destined for spinsterhood, meets a gruff passionate man who madly adores her, they settle into a life of adventure, and they win my heart forever. Apparently, I have a type.

Zoe and Hoban Washburne – Firefly

zoe and washShe’s a tough-as-nails military veteran, he’s a goofball pilot with zero combat skills, they are ADORABLE, and in my head canon she carries him to safety and they have three babies and Wash does most of the childcare while Zoe continues to run dangerous smuggling missions, and you CANNOT TAKE THIS FROM ME. I like to see relationships where the characters appreciate each other’s strengths, especially if those strengths aren’t the stereotypical tough-guy/smart-damsel dynamic.

Evie and Rick O’Connell – The Mummy

evie and rickAnother adorable couple who face adversity together and play to one another’s strengths, and the finest example of tough-guy/smart-damsel I know. Because Rick might be the tough guy in terms of being the fighter, but he’s also funny, and reluctant to go into danger for no reason, and basically not a macho jerk is what I’m saying. And Evie may be kidnapped at one point, but her smart is more important than her damsel. She’s the one who saves the day through the powers of Egyptology, and it doesn’t challenge Rick’s manliness to have his ass saved by hieroglyphic translation.

All the main couples – Parks and Recreation

parks and rec“I love you, and I like you.” Just watch, okay? This show proves you can have long-term relationships in a TV show and generate a ton of comedy without resorting to some stupid battle of the sexes. EVERYBODY LIKES AND SUPPORTS ONE ANOTHER AND I LOVE THEM.

Marge and Norm Gunderson – Fargo

marge and normAre Marge and Norm my favorite married couple in cinema? Possibly. It may seem like an odd choice, but just watch Fargo again and try to tell me that isn’t where you want to be in ten or fifteen years. Marge is the chief of police, Norm is an artist, and they are both extremely loving and proud of one another in a completely sweet, understated way. From Norm getting up in the wee hours to make Marge breakfast, to Marge giving Norm a pep talk when his painting is only picked up for the 3 cent stamp, they have one of the nicest relationships in Hollywood.

Phèdre nó Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil – Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey

kushiels dartShe’s a holy courtesan who specializes in S&M! He’s a warrior priest in a brotherhood that requires a vow of chastity! LET THE DRAMA AND SEXUAL TENSION UNFOLD. Okay, so here is an example of a relationship that begins with some primo your-lifestyle-is-anathema-to-me kind of drama, but since it’s a series we get to follow them after they get together. And, once again, I love me some people who accept each other wholeheartedly even if they have radically different points of view. In this case, we watch them work through their issues and actively decide that love means acceptance. Does Phèdre give up her calling? Psh hell no. Does Joscelin suddenly give up his stoic values and become a sexaholic? Also no, though he does get booted from his brotherhood, you can’t win them all.

Xena and Gabrielle – Xena: Warrior Princess

What are they doing here, you ask? Let Past Sam educate you on the wonders of Xena and her galpal Gabrielle. It’s called subtext, people!!

xena and gabrielle

So there you go, love one another, people. Feel free to tell me who I’ve missed!


10/26/17 ETA:

Gomez and Morticia AddamsThe Addams Family and Addams Family Values

gomez and morticiaHow could I forget Gomez and Morticia?? I’m talking the first two movies here because they’re the version I know best, but I believe the dynamic was the same in the show (and the jokes darker and a bit different in the comics). They’re another great example of a couple who are 100% supportive of one another and extremely passionate years into their marriage. The best thing about Gomez and Morticia is how nice they are to everyone around them. They’re creepy and they’re kooky, but they aren’t mean or cruel. They’re content and confident and their philosophy is: just be yourself and never miss an opportunity to show your spouse how much you adore them.

making it ironic (don’t you think)

Alanis_Morissette_-_Jagged_Little_Pill

Confession: I unabashedly love Alanis Morissette. My teenage self loved the angst (specifically the albums Jagged Little Pill, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, and Under Rug Swept), and my adult self actually loves her more, because teenage me had no idea what she was really on about, but adult me Gets It. Add a layer of 90s nostalgia on there, and this shit is timeless. Those CDs will be in my car until they crack.

But this post isn’t about the angst! This post is about “Ironic.” Now, it’s been a popular pastime over the years to rag on this song, and the specific complaint is that none of the examples in the lyrics demonstrate irony. The commentary is so prevalent it’s even noted in the album’s Wikipedia page and there are theories that the entire song is a meta work, i.e., it is itself ironic due to the lack of irony. Well, I am about to posit a different theory in defense of my teenage angst heroine! I propose that every single lyric is indeed situational irony, if you add the right context. Though I will admit, some take a little more mental gymnastics than others…

So join me as I embark on a pointless literary exercise that nobody asked for, 20 years in the making!


Ironic

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day [in an accident at his post-retirement day job, which occurred when he threw down his safety helmet and announced he was quitting]
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay [at your new restaurant, which you opened after leaving your job as a health inspector]
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late [the convicted man, of course, was previously a lobbyist who helped limit the governor’s pardoning abilities]
Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think

It’s like rain on your wedding day [after you changed the date due to the weather forecast; your previous date remained dry, naturally]
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid [wait, is this one already ironic? there’s a joke here about the inventor of Lyft Shuttle and public buses, I can feel it]
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take [from a psychic, to you, the psychic debunker]
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly [and switched to a later flight after chickening out the first time]
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids good-bye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
“Well, isn’t this nice.” [because if it weren’t for his phobia, he would have stayed on the first flight and been okay]
And isn’t it ironic, l don’t you think

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face

A traffic jam when you’re already late [to protest a new freeway expansion at the city council meeting, since you don’t think congestion is a problem]
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break [at your job at the cigarette factory]
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife [you fired Barbara last time for ordering too many knives and not enough spoons]
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife [right after swearing off non-monogamous relationships for good]
And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think
A little too ironic, and yeah I really do think

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
And life has a funny way of helping you out
Helping you out.

The Art of Bad

I love bad movies. I love them so much. And I don’t mean bad. I mean bad. There’s bad like an Adam Sandler Netflix movie, soulless and unfunny but technically sound, and then there’s bad like Birdemic, a movie that is a production disaster in every respect but the creator absolutely put his heart and soul into it.

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HEART AND SOUL

That’s the difference for me. I want low budget bad. I want we tried so hard but it was so bad bad. There’s a charm to an enthusiastically made bad movie than can’t be engineered. Studios try once in a while. Somebody watched a handful of SyFy monster movies and decided, “Let’s do that, but with Sam Jackson and a bigger budget,” and we ended up with Snakes on a Plane. It had a few good Sam Jackson moments, but in no way did it hold a candle to a genuine B movie. If I’m going to watch a churned out SyFy flick, I’ll stick with SyFy. At least they have Sharknado.

But I’m not even talking SyFy. I grew up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (mostly the Mike years, but I appreciate a good Joel). I didn’t get any of the jokes about current events or politics but I cackled through all the rest. Every Saturday morning there would be a re-run on the Scifi Channel and I’d call my best friend to make him wake up and watch simultaneously from his house. Time Chasers! Space Mutiny! The Final Sacrifice!

This was also the glorious heyday of movie rental stores. My mom let us walk the store end-to-end and pick things out by their glorious titles and cover art. That’s how we ended up discovering gems like Delta Delta Die (a cannibalistic sorority that ate everything but penis) and Anklebiters (that’s right, vampire dwarfs). SO MUCH GOLD.

I all-too-briefly blogged for the film (now pop culture) website, Cinema Spartan. Sam’s Phenomenal Cosmic Movie Column was a whole lot of fun, and I was given free reign to do what I pleased (thanks, Rob!). That meant anything from bitching about action heroes getting kids in the sequels, to listing my favorite vampire movies, to making Arnold Schwarzenegger Christmas cards.

It also meant B-movie reviews! All from my private collection, of course. There you’ll find breakdowns of…

FuturekickTerminator meets Robo Cop meets every shitty kickboxing movie the 80s could offer! There’s a lot of kicking and a lot of increasingly relevant corporate fascism!

Fabio: A Time For Romance! The world’s first (and last?) “VideoRomance novel.” A romance writer gets writer’s block and imagines three different book premises…each starring Fabio, of course. But there’s a TWIST!

Rock N Roll Nightmare! The most enthusiastic Canadian horror film about a hair band jamming in an old farmhouse possessed by Satan that you’ll ever see, I guarantee it. All you need to know is that it stars Jon Mikl Thor, the Legendary Rock Warrior. And Satan.

Starcrash! A mind-boggling Star Wars rip-off starring David Hasselhoff and Christopher Plummer!! I can’t even convey how batshit off the rails this thing goes, but I was absolutely thrilled this week to discover that Starcrash is one of the movies in the new season of MST3K that just dropped on Netflix. You better believe I’m queuing that up.

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That’s a “laser sword.”

I’ve been thinking of bringing B-movie reviews to Samtastic Books. I stopped because they are surprisingly time-consuming to watch, screencap, and write up, but they are SO MUCH FUN. So maybe I’ll incorporate a monthly movie night. I still have a pile of fabulous flicks that never made it into the Cosmic column, including KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (yes, the band) and Robo Vampire (indescribable).

Believe it or not, there’s a lesson here for people in all creative pursuits, and that lesson is: enthusiasm trumps technical skill. I’m doing all I can to improve my writing and conquer the tools necessary to convey the stories I want to convey. BUT. A perfectly polished manuscript with solid structure and capable prose isn’t enough. That gets you “good but forgettable.” What gets you past “good but forgettable” is enthusiasm, and a willingness to go wild even though you risk falling on your face. Am I there yet? I dunno. But I’m going to try.

christmas card 2015 and 2016

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Previous cards:
https://samtasticbooks.com/2014/12/07/the-annual-christmas-card/
https://samtasticbooks.com/2014/12/28/2014-christmas-card/

Somehow I neglected to post my 2015 Christmas card last year, which means you, my faithful readers, get double the Christmas bonanza this year!

2015 was our first year incorporating a baby to the proceedings. The process of making my annual card is usually: pick a theme, photoshop the hell out of it, print 40 copies at CostCo, and paste them into a card. After a couple years of breaking my hand handwriting text on the cover, in 2015 I decided to print both cover image and interior image. And since babies are absolute beasts, it seemed like Pacific Rim would be a good theme.

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the set-up

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the beast

So, it turned out a lot of my friends hadn’t actually seen Pacific Rim and got a mild but thoroughly confused chuckle out of it. Randy and I are jaeger pilots! We synchronize our brains to control a giant robot suit in order to combat our beastly kaiju of a son! Oh–never mind.

2015 might not have been such a beast, but 2016 certainly was. It called for a message of hope. Perhaps a message of… New Hope? This year I got extra fancy with printing my cards at home (although obviously still sticking to the incredible photoshopped image insert), and I figured: if my scifi franchise was too obscure last year, I’d better go with something more recognizable this time around.

So I picked the most popular science fiction franchise of all time.

And then promptly settled on the most obscure joke I could think of, because it was funny.

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wait for it…wait for it…

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ahahaha–what?

Yes, that’s me as Endor Leia, and Randy as Dagobah Luke, and our munchkin as a Henson puppet strapped to his back. And up in the sky, those are our household cats dressed in bright red robes, floating up into space with glowing balls in their hands, because they are obviously celebrating the Wookie winter holiday of Life Day.

Didn’t you see the notoriously awful, never-released (but constantly recopied from somebody’s old VHS TV recording) Star Wars Holiday Special?? It was the first appearance of Boba Fett! In some shitty 1970s cartoon digression! Carrie Fishier (RIP) was totally coked out! There’s fifteen minutes of nothing but untranslated Wookie growling! There’s a hideous grandfather Wookie who DEFINITELY stops to watch VR porn for a while!

Well well, it’s your lucky day, because the awfulness is all over YouTube (though who knows for how long). I don’t actually recommend you watch it, unless you are a masochist for bad movie nights like I am. By which I mean, I totally recommend you watch it and then complain to me because why on earth would I tell you watch such a horror.

Happy Life Day, all!