Category Archives: Silly Me

Fanboy Movie Review #12 — Avengers: Infinity War

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single double triple viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

[No, really…I’m spoiling everything here. If you haven’t seen the movie, do not read this.]

Since November, I’ve had to take a break from this blog. I’ve had so many ideas, and even a few posts mostly fleshed out, but none that really gelled. I wanted to share my thoughts on The Last Jedi, Pacific Rim: Uprising and Black Panther. I’ll get to those in an abbreviated way soon, which is why we’ve skipped ahead to number twelve in our listing.

Avengers-Infinity-War-title-card-clean

This is going to end in tears, isn’t it? 

In any case, let’s talk about this magnificent supernova of heroism and sadness we call Avengers: Infinity War. Let’s do this.

First Impressions: This is the culmination of 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the most (arguably the most) ambitious movie continuities to date. It all started with the original Iron Man. And while some of the MCU’s offerings haven’t been as strong as others, all of them have been entertaining. Since it all connects here, you could characterize my initial stance on this film as: “By the great beard of Odin, and the dark glasses of Stan Lee, please don’t let this suck!” A surprise to no one, I loved this movie, even if it made some deep cuts that will not fully heal until this time next year, and maybe not even then.

Thanos

“Let her go, Grimace.”

What I LIKED:

  • THANOS! I was a little concerned that he would be yet another CGI villain. Nope, I understand where he’s coming from even if I don’t agree with him. In many ways, Infinity War is his story. He acts and behaves accordingly, he passes all of my rules of villainy, and walks perhaps a darker version of Campbell’s hero’s journey. Even the credits say that “Thanos will return in Avengers 4.” I think he stands up there with Loki, Killmonger, and Alexander Pierce as one of the best antagonists in the MCU. Also this is some of the best digitally rendered acting I’ve ever seen. Josh Brolin is brilliant in bringing the Mad Titan to life.
  • The Scope of the Story – There is a lot going on in this film. Thanos starts out with one Infinity Stone and gains the other five in one film. If that weren’t enough, the Avengers reassemble under Cap’s banner, Thor gets a new hammer (and eye), Bucky gets a new arm, Wanda and Vision get together, and then quite literally break up. I think under any other directors it would have been too much, but the Russo Brothers balance it all quite nicely with drama, humor, and some of the best action sequences we’ve seen thus far. So many of my favorite characters in place, teaming up, fighting together, or exchanging barbed quips with each other, is just glorious. Which leads me to my next point.
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Whoah…

  • Not Everyone Gets Along – I like that Doctor Strange and Tony Stark don’t get along. They are both too alike, and used to being the smartest ‘go-to’ guy in the room. While they figure it out before their throw-down with Thanos, it was refreshing to see them grate on one another when their goals collide.
  • The Humor – I know I dinged Thor: Ragnarok a bit for this, but the gravitas of this story needed a little lightening up. Drax, Rocket, Bruce Banner, even Thor and Iron Man, and so many others. Even little moments like Rhodie punking Banner to bow before T’Challa. All nicely done. I never felt that the humor overpowered the moment, or undercut the drama.
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“Dude, you’re embarrassing me in front of the wizards.”

  • The Performances – The heroes faced some difficult choices. Seeing Star-Lord struggle to pull the trigger on Gamora, and her reactions. Same thing with Vision and Wanda in the final moments before the “Snapture.” (No, I cannot claim credit for that one.) The determination on Cap’s face as he struggles against Thanos’ might. The quiet defeat and anguish of Tony Stark in the aftermath of seeing Spider-Man crumble to dust in front of him. Loki’s final moments. I sometimes wonder if we realize how lucky we are to have this level of talent on the screen, portraying these characters.
  • The Soundtrack – Composed by the always great Alan Silvestri. I’m listening to it as I write this, and it’s breaking my heart all over again.
  • STORMBREAKER – Man, Thor gets quite an upgrade thanks to the timely appearance of a gigantic Peter Dinklage. I’m a big fan of Beta-Ray Bill in the comics, so it’s interesting to see his weapon become the Asgardian Kingsblade. And with an extra assist to Teenage Groot, who put down his Defender hand-held to really step up.
  • Wakanda – Even if we don’t get to see much of it, I’m glad we got to go back there so soon after Black Panther. Okoye, M’baku, and the ever-charming Shuri. Wakanda Forever! *crosses arms in an X*
Black Panther

YAAAAS!

  • The Black Order – They were all worthy opponents to our beloved heroes. And even though they were all CGI, there were moments where I truly felt they were real. Special props to the Ebony Maw for being such a powerful threat and for such wonderful physicality. “Rejoice, for even in death, you have all become children of Thanos.”
  • Return of the Red Skull – Last but not least, we find out where Johann Schmidt landed after being teleported away by the Tesseract. I don’t know if he’ll ever return, but I wonder if his experiences as guardian of the Soul Stone have changed his perceptions of the world.
Maw

“Rejoice, for even in the death you have become the Children of Thanos.”

What I DIDN’T Like:

[Just a note—this section is both the things that hurt a lot (but that I think were still great parts of the movie) as well as the things that I didn’t care for. So, it’s not all bad here.]

  • Thanos’ Plan – Halving the population of the universe instantly would wind up killing more than just half, and more technologically advanced cultures would be hurt worse. Almost certainly millions or billions more would die due to accidents, or just critical systems being left suddenly unattended. Consider that on Earth, the population in the year 1900 was approximately 1.6 billion. One-hundred and eighteen years later, we are at 7.3 billion. Even if we went down to 3.65 billion, we would be back up to our current levels or beyond in a (relatively) short while. So Thanos is going to commit an unimaginable atrocity to buy us, what, 50-100 years? The more you drill down into his plan, the less sense it makes. HOWEVER, he is the “Mad Titan”, and even if no one wants the Snapture to happen but him, Thanos absolutely believes it is the morally right thing to do. That much is clear.
Yeah, not a great plan.

“Yeah, not a great plan.”

  • Seeing the Heroes Lose – In Civil War, we saw Tony lose to Cap in that Siberian Hydra base. I thought that was difficult. Seeing the Avengers fight so valiantly only to fail to stop Thanos really stings. Steve settling to the ground and saying, “Oh God.” Yeah, he’s realizing that they just lost. Ouch.
  • Dusted – Bucky, Falcon, Black Panther, Groot, Scarlet Witch, Star-Lord, Drax, Mantis, Doctor Strange, Agent Hill, Director Fury…and Spider-Man. Wow, did that last one hurt, especially because he’s so young. And then that extra little twist of the knife in the credits, seeing “Avengers: Infinity War” fade away. Salt on the wound, guys.
  • Star-Lord Jumping The Gun – I realize that Thanos was destined to beat the heroes, but I hate it when heroes are self-defeating. Star-Lord sabotages the group on Titan at the worst possible moment. This, after he stopped Drax from a similar situation of letting a need for revenge cloud his judgment. I know that foolishly acting out of emotion is Star-Lord’s thing, but why not try to get the Gauntlet off first and THEN kick Thanos’ purple butt?
  • Heimdall’s Choice – Okay, thought experiment for you: You’re an Asgardian, you’re severely wounded, and you have just enough power to summon the Bifrost one last time. You can only save one person, and you know it shouldn’t be you. Should your final, heroic act be to save the life of your king, who has long been the champion of Agard, the God of Trickery, or a big green guy you’ve only recently met and barely know? There’s no logic to Heimdall saving the Hulk over Thor, save for functionally getting the Hulk to Earth early in the story. It seems more than a little inelegant and out of character.
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Dude…srsly?

  • Non ‘Snap’ Deaths – So, Heimdall, Loki, and Gamora. I think the first two are gone, even if our heroes undo what Thanos did. I think Gamora will be back, though I suspect someone may have to take her place in the Soul Stone if that’s how she returns. Still, seeing these three deaths was harsh.
  • A Year’s Wait – Infinity War is the first two-parter in the MCU. The way it leaves off, with the heroes defeated, demoralized, and in disarray, it’s going to be a looooooong wait until May of next year. And that leads me to my last point.
  • Contract Negotiation Time – I hope that the Infinity Survivors are able to restore the universe to a pre-snap condition. But with Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Robert Downey Jr. potentially leaving the MCU after the next film, I don’t look forward to seeing Cap, Thor, or Iron Man go down permanently. Let’s hope we get the characters retiring without dying, like Thor refounding Asgard, Stark becoming a father, and Steve passing the mantle of Captain America on to someone else, though right now his two successors are dust in the wind, dude.
Tony

“I’m sorry, Earth is closed today.”

Unresolved Questions (At This Point):

The biggest question, for me, is how do the Avengers undo the Snapture? And if they are able to bring people back, do all of them who turned to dust come back, or only some? What would a Spider-Man movie look like without Peter Parker? Are we talking Miles Morales? Same thing with Black Panther (Shuri?), and the Guardians of the Galaxy, who lost everyone except Rocket and I guess Nebula.

If the heroes bring the dusted back, are they also able to bring back Gamora, Loki, or Heimdall? Did Loki really die? It certainly seemed legit this time around, but Loki is the God of Trickery, so perhaps we shouldn’t count him out entirely. Did Doctor Strange have a plan? He certainly seemed to do an about-face on his duty to protect the Time Stone, and with the only stipulation that Thanos spare Tony Stark. Does that make Tony the turning point in the next film?

And what is the friggin’ NAME of the next Avengers film, already?! The Russo Brothers have said the name of the next movie is a kind of spoiler in and of itself. What is the ultimate fate of Thanos? Of the Infinity Stones? Will Adam Warlock burst out of this golden chrysalis on Sovereign and swoop in at the end? What will a post-Avengers 4 MCU look like?

Tony-Stark

The Butcher’s Bill

Since we lost so many characters in one movie (sixteen on-screen deaths), and there is so much to take in, here are the final statuses of our heroes when the credits roll.

First, the fallen:

– Heimdall

– Loki

– Gamora

– Vision

– Bucky

– Falcon

– Groot

– Scarlet Witch

– Black Panther

– Mantis

– Drax

– Star-Lord

– Spider-Man

– Doctor Strange

– Agent Maria Hill

– Director Nick Fury

Who’s left to fight:

[We know these characters survive the Snapture.]

– Iron Man (On Titan)

– Nebula (Also on Titan)

– Captain America

– Thor

– Bruce Banner

– Okoye

– M’Baku

– Black Widow

– Warmachine

– Rocket

[The ones we don’t see dusted, who could still be alive.]

– Shuri

– Pepper Potts

– Wong

– Ned

[The ones we don’t see at all, who could be potential reinforcements in the next movie.]

– Captain Marvel

– Ant-Man

– Wasp

– Hawkeye

– Lady Sif

– Valkyrie

– Korg & Miek

– Stakar Ogord’s (Sylvester Stallone’s) Ravager Crew

– Adam Warlock

DYa_zr8U0AAfCCw

“I’ve lived by life by those sentiments. They’re worth dying for.”

Conclusions:

Holy crap! On so many levels—HOLY CRAP! I went in with mid-level expectations since I didn’t want to buy into the hype and be disappointed. As with many movies that I care about, I just didn’t want it to suck. Not only did Avengers 3 not suck, I was blown away by it. The scope of it, the action sequences, the humor, all the character moments, Alan Silvestri’s score, the pain and loss—wow. Even with the metacontextual knowledge that T’Challa and Peter Parker will almost certainly be back in time for their sequels, the ending hit hard.

Infinity War is a major jewel in the MCU’s crown, standing up there with Winter Soldier and the first Avengers, and it’s going to be a long, long wait until May of next year.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.

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Fanboy Review #8— Thor: Ragnarok

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

Marvel’s latest addition to their cinematic universe released recently, taking the world by storm (sorry, couldn’t resist). While ranking 11th amongst  Marvel releases, it is nevertheless doing better than either of the previous Thor movies. It’s ranked at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing. Let’s dive in.

Thor-Ragnarok-title-card

Stop…Hammer Time!

First Impressions: I found the first two Thor films entertaining, but nowhere near Marvel’s strongest offerings. For my part, it’s sort of a toss-up between Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World for worst movie in the MCU.  While I think that Chris Hemsworth plays Thor with just the right mix of power and humor, he wasn’t given much to work with in the first two installments. Director Taika Waititi has a fresh take on the character, so I’m in.

giphy

What he said. 

What I LIKED:

  • THE SCORE! – When I got home from seeing this movie, I immediately downloaded the score by Mark Mothersbaugh. It’s so unexpected to have this strange, resonant sort of ’80s synth vibe going on. It’s like if Flash Gordon had taken place a decade later, mixed with the background of Stranger Things. It really adds something both delightful and different to the action sequences.
  • Thor and Loki – I loved seeing these two characters together again. Both Hemsworth and Hiddleston have fantastic comedic timing. We got to see that a little before, but here it’s all over the place. They feel more like brothers here, especially the way they try to get back at one another. I maintain that I would gladly see a Loki-centric movie. He remains one of the best villains, and best characters, the MCU has produced. Which leads me to my next point…
thor-ragnarok-3

Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie. 

  • HELA! – I’m used to Cate Blanchett in dramatic roles, which is why it’s a surprise she’s so funny as the Goddess of Death (yeah, not one I would have seen coming). To date, she is the most powerful villain we’ve seen on screen in the MCU. Without the Infinity Gauntlet, I doubt Thanos would stand a chance against her (more on that below). Wow, when she cuts loose on the Army of Asgard, it’s like Sauron and Neo in the levels of sheer badassery.
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  • Heimdall – Have I said lately much I love Edris Elba? His Heimdall makes me wish there was a whole other full-length movie of what he’s doing in the background. They say a few times that Asgard is a people, not a place. If that’s true, Heimdall is the true savior of Asgard. It looks like there are only a few hundred survivors in the aftermath, and Heimdall, fighting on his own, gathered them all to the Yggdrasil sanctuary AND kept Hela from getting his sword, so she was effectively bottled up in Asgard. LOVE. IT.
image

No comment necessary. 

  • The Grandmaster – Jeff Goldblum perfectly fits in with the type of offbeat humor Thor: Ragnarok exudes. I’m always happy to see an appearance by one of the Elders of the Universe. It reminds me of reading Silver Surfer as a kid. And through him there’s a nod to the Contest of Champions, and a look at Gladiator and Beta Ray Bill as his former champions.
  • The Visuals – Much like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Doctor Strange, this movie is stunning to look at. The art direction, the set, and costume design are all fantastic. They give Thor a brand new look, new armor, short hair and (later) one eye, and it all sort of works. Waititi cites Jack Kirby as his inspiration for the look and feel of the film, and he NAILS it.
  • Hulk as a Big Toddler – We see far more of the Hulk in this movie than anything previous. Before, it was mostly when there was fighting, but here we see him outside of combat. He’s like a big toddler with a limited vocabulary, and one prone to misunderstanding and tantrums. It’s a little odd to see the Hulk in some of his calmer moments, but that’s an insight into Banner’s Mr. Hyde we just haven’t seen before. Well done.
  • Korg & Company – Even though we never saw them in the arena, the colorful group of gladiators were pretty funny and cool. I particularly like Korg. He looks like he would have a deep, raspy voice, but actually speaks with a higher pitched, cockney accent. I think he had some of the best lines, even one that maybe should have been rethought (see below.)
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Wait, Hela is *Odin’s* daughter? 

What I DIDN’T Like:

  • THE FRIGGIN’ WARRIORS THREE, MAN! – There is one thing I absolutely HATED about this movie, and it’s how Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun the Grim went out. I really like those characters, and they were supposed to be elite warriors of Asgard. Volstagg and Fandral were put down by Hela. Hogun got a few hits in, but then was instantly killed in a way that DOES NOT sit well with me. I understand establishing Hela as a dire threat (and mission accomplished there), but give them heroic deaths, yeah? They were shown the same kind of disregard, bordering on contempt, as Jimmy Olsen in Batman V. Superman. NOPE. I’m just glad Lady Sif was nowhere to be found.

The-Warriors-Three

  • The Quinjet – Perhaps there’s an explanation I’m not aware of, but this seems like a big continuity error that goes beyond simple retconning. Hulk is obviously on the Quinjet the Avengers used to defend Sokovia, as it still has Tony Stark’s clothes in it. Isn’t this the Quinjet that they found ditched in the Pacific Ocean, near Fiji? Now it’s on Sakaar? And what was an airplane even doing in space in the first place? Who’s in charge of keeping facts straight at Marvel?
  • Odin’s Departure – It seems rushed and weird. And could they not shoot on location for some reason? The shot of Thor, Loki, and Odin looking out at the ocean in Norway is some of the worst greenscreening I’ve seen in a while. Nothing about that looked real. Good thing Doctor Strange pointed them in the right direction, huh? A few more minutes of conversation and Odin would have slipped off without saying goodbye. But, I am at least glad that Anthony Hopkins got to reprise his role as Odin.
  • Doctor Strange – We got a bit of a bait-and-switch with the stinger scene in last year’s Doctor Strange, where he meets Thor. It’s quite a bit different when we see it here. While the post-credits version seemed like Strange wants to help Thor, it’s clear that here he’s really just trying to get Thor and Loki off of the Earth ASAP. Aside from pointing the two to Odin in Norway and sending them there, a character as cool as Cumberbatch’s Strange doesn’t contribute much to the story. I had hoped he would stick around to help them out with their first obstacle, trade a few barbed exchanges with Loki, and then remain behind when Thor and Loki returned to Asgard. Guess Strange isn’t going to be happy that they coming back (or trying to), huh?
doctor-strange-thor-ragnarok

Hang on…how many Asgardians are coming here? 

  • Banner’s Choice – There are many missed opportunities in this movie. It’s clear that Banner might be committing a form of suicide if he turns into Hulk again. When he sees the Asgardian survivors besieged from both sides while trapped on the Bifrost bridge, there should have been a moment where we see Banner make the choice. Mark Ruffalo is such a good actor that all it would have required is about five seconds for him to sell the finality of this choice with his eyes. No dialogue required. The scene is kinda there, but had no weight to it. It was glossed over in favor of a humorous moment, which reminds me…
  • Humor Overstaying Its Welcome- Let me be clear: I thought the humor here was really good. And it was a different blend of humor than the Whedonesque style we normally get. But, I think it overstayed its welcome in places. It felt jarring when the movie was put on pause to deliver a joke. The most egregious of these is when Asgard explodes. It’s the punchline to a joke, and has zero dramatic weight to it. This was their home. This should have all the punch-to-the-feels of Kirk watching the Enterprise burn up in the Genesis planet’s atmosphere. There’s none of that here. Once again, a missed opportunity.
Screenshot_49

Remember when our eons-old home was destroyed right before our very eyes? Yeah that was HILARIOUS. 

  • The Executioner – I like Karl Urban as an actor, and I thought he did a good job with what he had, but the character is super predictable. He joins Hela, but never does anything too irredeemable, then (big surprise) turns on Hela at the last minute, has his moment of glory, and then dies. What a waste of potential. Ugh.
  • The Hand Waving of Jane Foster – I get it; Natalie Portman doesn’t want to be in the MCU anymore. They’ve been making excuses for her continued absence since the first Avengers. Now they just write her out of the picture by a simple breakup? And this is common knowledge?
  • The First Stinger – I had to read an interview with Kevin Feige to know that the ship that showed up in the stinger was the Sanctuary II, Thanos’ new ship. Some context, please? That could have been anyone. If you want us to feel something about it, we need some sort of hint that it’s Thanos. Throw us a bone here, people.
Marvel-Phase-3-Thanos-Infinity-Gauntlet-Tease

Can’t. Wait. 

Unresolved Questions (At This Point):

Is Hela really dead? She is the goddess of death, so I’m going to take a wild guess and say that she’s going to return. (Perhaps death is more of an inconvenience to her.) And will she be the incarnation of death that Thanos tries to woo when he gets the Infinity Gauntlet? Goth Cate Blanchett? Can’t say I blame him. Wow.

Will Mjolnir ever be reforged? If so, will that be the way they hand off the character to another actor or actress? They could go the route of the Odinson in the comics, which would allow the Hemsworth Thor to retire and rule Asgard in place of Odin. Might that open the door for Lady Thor or Beta Ray Bill to come in to fill that role as Midgard’s champion? Who shall be worthy?

What about Lady Sif? I know the real reason she’s not here is because of Jaimie Alexander’s RL scheduling conflicts, but since she (Lady Sif) wasn’t present for Ragnarok (and the culling of Thor’s companions), maybe she’s still out there somewhere, and can rejoin her people at a later time.

How does Thor get from the starship at the end of the movie to the meet-up with the Guardians of the Galaxy in Infinity War?  What does that mean for the handful of Asgardian survivors? Will Asgard be refounded on Earth, perhaps in Norway, or even Oklahoma, per the comics?

Loki almost certainly grabbed the Tesseract while in the vault, so does he (once again) betray his fellow Asgardians by giving it to Thanos? Or does that go down some other way?

Hela-with-team-in-Thor-Ragnarok-smaller

Boss fight.  

Conclusions:

I liked this movie quite a bit. There are really great moments in it, and the comedy usually works, even if it’s at the expense of the drama at times. As I said before, I found the other two Thor movies entertaining, but not the best the MCU has produced. Thor needed a different take for the third installment, and I think this movie delivers on just that. It’s unfortunate that we may not see Chris Hemsworth in his own movie again, just as the Thor franchise seems to have found a combination that works. I do hope that Taika Waititi has the chance to helm another Marvel blockbuster, because I think he worked wonders with this one.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Tropes I Can Do Without: Incompetent Antagonists

So, I’m breaking my rule here just a bit. My goal for this year was to write about those thing I love more than the things I dislike. But today is Halloween, and this one in particular has been weighing on my mind of late. I’m going to talk about a sci-fi/fantasy trope that I would REALLY like to see go away: incompetent antagonists.

FreddyWise

Trick! This post has nothing to do with either of them! Both of them are pretty cool as is. 

See if this sounds familiar…a plucky band of heroes is just so darn good. And clever! The bad guys, by contrast, might have cool tech and uniforms, but they are largely idiots, or exceedingly arrogant (or both). Because the heroes have the ‘heart’ of 100 Rocky Balboas, they are able to snatch victory out of the lazy, slackened jaws of defeat. Hooray! Everyone goes home.

Based on this, I’m proud to introduce Carson’s First Law of Villainy: The level of satisfaction the audience experiences from the heroes’ victory is directly proportional to the competence of their opposition.

Or, in other words, the greater the threat, the greater the payoff.  If it seems nigh-impossible for the heroes to succeed, the more of a “YAAAS” moment you get when the they finally—somehow— pull it off. Villains are key to this. You can have a weak villain and still have a fun, engaging story (Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m looking at you in most cases), but the writer does his heroes a disservice if the opposition they face is weak or ineffectual.

Let’s look at some examples. Think of a bad guy or set of bad guys. This can be from books, movies, comic books, really anywhere. Why were they memorable? Why were they a threat to the protagonist, and what lengths did the hero or heroes have to go to defeat them? For me, one figure immediately springs to mind.

This guy.

Darth-Vader_6bda9114

Come to the Dark Side…we have cookies!

Darth Vader.

Not, Anakin Skywalker. No, the Dark Lord of the Sith as he was portrayed in Episodes 4, 5, and 6. He’s powerful, in control, and a dire threat to anyone who get in his way. Every time the heroes cross paths with him, they pay for it. Obi-Wan goes down, he cuts off Luke’s Hand, and Han gets encased in carbonite.

He’s always one step ahead, and going up against him directly seems like a suicide mission. So, when Luke does finally defeat him, it shows how far the character has come. The Luke who whined about going into Tosche Station to pick up power converters couldn’t have faced Vader and lived. It had to be the Luke who wore all black, who single-handedly stormed Jabba’s barge like a boss to do that. In essence, Luke had to grow into Vader’s looming threat. As I’ve said before, it’s the presence of the wolf, not its absence, that makes the deer fast.

star-wars-return-of-the-jedi

And the winner for Most Improved goes to…

Of course, Grand Moff Tarkin does refuse to evacuate the station out of sheer arrogance, but that’s the difference between the two characters. Tarkin was certainly competent in other ways, but ultimately fell prey to this classic movie trope: His belief in his own superiority sews the seeds of his downfall.  In the end, however, I think the original Star Wars trilogy does a good job of establishing the Empire as a legitimate danger to make its defeat feel like an accomplishment.  (Stormtroopers who can’t hit the broad side of a barn, notwithstanding.)

Let’s look at a really bad example. I must preface this by saying that I’m big fan of this author’s work, and have been so for 20 years or more. But lately, the bad guys are bad at what they do. Really bad. Let’s talk about Shadow of Freedom, by David Webber, a novel in one of the spin-offs of his Honor Harrington universe.

Shadow_of_Freedom_(cover)

Despite being front and center on the cover, Honor Harrington never appears directly. 

I posted my review on Goodreads, but here’s the part that pertains to this topic. The bad guys are some of the worst I’ve ever read. There are multiple sets of them, and they are all idiotic, arrogant, AND their tech is way inferior to the good guys. In short, they are cockroaches being run over by a semi. They can’t even really fight back. They either flee or they die, without presenting even the slightest bit of threat or challenge.

If it only happened once in the book, that would be one thing, but it happens over and over again. And this isn’t the only Honor Harrington book where this is the case, I’m sorry to say. I want to see the protagonists struggle to achieve their goal, to really fight for it, sacrifice for it. There’s none of that here, because the bad guys are disposable, stupid, and pose no real danger.

Commando-1985

Yeah, pretty much like that. 

That brings me to Carson’s Second Law of Villainy: The audience should, in some way, empathize with the antagonist enough to—almost—wish them to succeed in place of the protagonist.

This is stepping outside the speculative realms, but think about Hans Gruber from the original Die Hard movie, played by the incomparable Alan Rickman. He is a cold-blooded killer, a terrorist, and a worthy adversary of Bruce Willis’ John McClane. Even though we hope McClane is able to triumph over Gruber, the moment that Gruber’s team opens the vault is genuinely exciting. For an instant, you almost feel elated that they have accomplished their goal, even though they’ve done some horrible things to get there. You temporarily suspend your wish for McClane’s victory in favor of Gruber. It’s only for a moment, but it’s there.

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The man himself. 

Even this can be traced to Gruber’s innate competence. He knows what he’s doing. He has it together. He has a thought-out master plan and the will and resolve to see it through. That he is very good at what he does contributes to the menace he represents to McClane. If Gruber and company were a bunch of bumbling idiots, McClane’s triumph wouldn’t have been nearly so resounding.

Another example of this is Gus Fring from Breaking Bad, in my opinion one of the greatest TV villains of all time, and Giancarlo Esposito’s masterwork. (Spoiler Alert) Even though Gus represents deadly peril to our protagonists, Walter and Jesse, it’s pretty satisfying to see him take down the Juarez Cartel. Again, we’ve seen this guy literally slit a guy’s throat in cold blood just to make a point, but in this moment we are glad that Gus has won the day. And he did this through superior planning, a deep knowledge of his targets and their foibles, and a driving determination to avenge his dead friend, Max. Again, competence.

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Is today the day, Hector? 

It’s these instances of success where we can’t help but cheer, even though we know we shouldn’t. And it’s these moments that lead me to Carson’s Third Law of Villainy: Antagonists should believe and behave as though they are the protagonists in their own story.

Perhaps the most chilling thing about some of the worst people who have ever lived in real life is that they thought they were the good guys. They all thought they were the hero in their own story. A well-rounded antagonist should likewise believe this. They aren’t just there to be a convenient obstacle, to wait around to be defeated or killed, they have goals and dreams like anyone, albeit twisted by our standards. In their view, the hero is the actual villain of the piece.

One of the most unsettling examples of this is the movie Falling Down. I’ve heard it said that you can tell the protagonist of a story by looking for the one in the most pain. Not so with this movie. Even though the story revolves around William Foster (Michael Douglas), he is really the antagonist. We see that he’s in pain, and that he’s fed up with the world, but when Robert Duvall’s Sgt. Prendergast confronts him at the end of the movie, Foster says “I’m the bad guy? How’d that happen?”

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His glasses aren’t the only thing that’s cracked. 

And, just to throw a curve ball into the mix, let’s talk about the Operative (Chiwetal Ejiofor) in Serenity. He certainly passes the competency test. He’s articulate and extremely dangerous, and also strangely empathic towards his victims.

He passes the first two laws of villainy with flying colors, but not the third. That is perhaps the only failing in an otherwise command performance. The Operative knows that he’s a monster, that what he’s doing is wrong, and yet he does it anyway. That’s the only part of this character that doesn’t ring true to me, especially when Shepherd Book says that men like the Operative  ‘believe hard’ and ‘never ask why.’ The Operative knows he’s a villain, which in my estimation, makes him less of one.

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Perhaps there is nothing left to see. 

Well, there you have it, Carson’s Three Laws of Villainy, and how the use of them can prevent a milquetoast antagonist. Villains fuel the story’s conflict, and what is a good story without conflict?

So if you’re writer of any sort of fiction, do us a favor and make your villain as compelling as your hero. Make your protagonist rise to the challenge. And if you can, have your villain go out with a bit of style or panache.  (That’s more of a personal request, however.)

Truth is, we all deserve better bad guys in our stories. Villains aren’t good, but by the horned helmet of Loki, they should at least be good at it!

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Burdened with glorious purpose, indeed. 


Strange Reports from Sector M: A Self Interview

My anthology of short, speculative fiction came out recently. I call it Strange Reports From Sector M. Customarily when a bestselling author releases a book, there’s a press tour, complete with personal interviews. Now this may come as a surprise to many of you, but I am not a bestselling author. Shocked face, right?

Since there aren’t a myriad of people busting my door down for an interview, I decided to do one on my own. The purpose of any one-on-one with the author is really just to let people know about the book, what’s it about, and why people should check it. I’m going to do that for you here, right now. So, look at it as glimpse into my pet project, or a strange sort of FAQ. Either one is fine.

Alright, let’s get this show on the road!

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Thanks for joining us here on Sector M, Matt.

Um, thanks? This is weird. I’m not the only who thinks so, right?

No idea what you mean. So, about your book. What is Sector M, exactly, and why are we getting strange reports from it, hmm?

Right, so Sector M has been my creative umbrella for a few years now. It covers all my social media, my books, even my wacky fanboy videos on Youtube. The name “Sector M” is a reference to my office, which at various times in the past has been called “The Museum of Matt” or “Sector Matt.” It’s my sanctum sanctorum. You know, just like Doctor Strange.

Okay, so Sector M is really just a proxy for saying “Matt Carson.”

In a way, yeah. I also set one of my earliest military sci-fi stories in a sector on the fringes of civilized space. The first surveyors had named all the star systems with words that began with the letter “M.” Thus, Sector M.

And is that story included in this anthology?

It is. It’s called “The Foeman’s Chain” and it’s the last one in the book.

What about the reports? Why are they strange? Do tell.

The stories in this book are pretty varied. Overall, it’s sci-fi, but there’s a bit of urban fantasy and horror mixed in as well. They all have some sort of anthropological or sociological theme to them. Humans are strange beings when you think about it. I’m perhaps a little stranger than most, so these resulting stories (or reports, if you will) are bound to be a bit ‘out there.’

Fascinating. Well now we need to take a quick break to learn an important fact about llamas!

Wait, what?

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And we’re back!

What was that all about?

Just trying to break up the text with some graphics. Now, how is the book structured? Or is it all just sorta willy-nilly?

The stories get progressively longer from beginning to end. The first few stories are really short. The middle of the book has a few stories of a more “traditional” short-story length. At the end, I have two novellas or novelettes, depending on which definition you use. So, if you’re in the mood for something quick, look in the front. If you want something more substantial, go to the middle or back. You can read them in any order.

And how many stories are included, total?

There are 13 stories, all told. That seemed like a decent variety of different types of stories, lengths, and genres. Some are standalone stories, while a few others take place in a shared universe.

Do you have a favorite? I bet you do.

They all have a special place in my heart. No, I’m serious! I certainly don’t have an overall favorite among them, but I would say I’m particularly partial to “The Gossamer Thread” and “The Mundanity of Miracles.”

What are they about?

If you buy the book, you’ll find out. *wink*

Real subtle, Matt.

Just kidding. “Gossamer Thread” is about aliens who view us, the humans, as the ineffable ones. It also deals with society as a fragile construct, and trying to do what’s right when everything is falling down. “The Mundanity of Miracles” is about how the lines between reality and fiction are blurred in the future, and the problems that may come about as a result.

You mentioned societal themes before. Is there an overall theme for the book?

Interesting question. I wrote these stories without ever dreaming I’d assemble them together, so there’s no intentional theme to the book as a whole.

Wait, so you’re saying there’s an unintentional theme?

As I put it together, certain themes began to appear to me, like a Venn diagram overlapping at various points. But, much like when I see a cloud that looks like a duck, I may be seeing a pattern that isn’t really there.

See a lot of clouds shaped like ducks, do you?

Uh, sometimes, yeah.

Like this one?

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Yeah. Just like that one. *mutters to himself.*

Well, what is this unintentional theme of which you speak?

No spoilers, for real this time. I’m going to leave that up to the reader to decide. I don’t want to bias opinions ahead of time. Come on, I have to leave at least a little mystery.

Isn’t that a bit of a cop out?

Maybe, but here we are.

Tool.

Oh yeah, and what does that say about you, then?

Good point. So shall we talk about the elephant in the room?

Sure…

Why is this book $12.99, huh? Who do you think you are, Dan Brown?

Not at all. This is a print-on-demand situation, which means the individual print costs for each book are  higher than if it were a large print run. I realize I’m not an established “brand” when it comes to authors, but when all was said and done the minimum cost to print each book was over $12. For now, I like to think of it as 13 stories for 13 bucks.

Cute. Did you practice that little catchphrase?

Maybe a little, yeah.

What if that price point is just too much for people?

The Kindle version is also out. Since it’s just electrons, those minimum print costs are no longer an issue. With Kindle, readers can get the book for $5.99.  That’s about one trip to Starbucks, and my book will last you a lot longer. *wink*

You’re winking again.

Oh, sorry…

If you’re gonna wink, at least take a lesson from the best.

And who’s that, pray tell?

So glad you asked…

Oh, here we go.

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And, back. If we’re going with the “5 Ws and H” approach, what haven’t we answered yet?

Hmmm, let’s run them down:

Who: Me, Matt Carson.

What: A trade paperback book of short stories, all speculative fiction. Also on Kindle.

When: It’s out now! 🙂

Why:  See below.

Where: Amazon and CreateSpace. Links below!

How: CreateSpace Author Services.

Ah, so it’s the Why that we need to talk about. So why did you decide to put this book together?

These stories are a part of me, and I wanted to share them. While I’m glad to have The Backwards Mask out there for folks to enjoy, I realize its length means that it’s quite an investment of time. So, for those who don’t have time for a 309,000-word novel, here are multiple stories you can read in a single sitting. There’s also something about holding a physical book in your hands that cannot be overstated. It’s the first time my fiction has appeared in print, so that’s exciting.

But why should the readers care about it?

I see what you did there. *approving nod*. This book really has a little something for everyone in the geekosphere. There’s plenty of action, but also introspection about our strange existence. I talk about war, cruelty, courage, and humanity’s unconquerable, if wildly contradictory, spirit. If you like any of the speculative fiction genres, there’s something here to scratch that particular itch. And if you like all of them, so much the better.

Anything you’d like to say to all the folks out there, then?

Yes, please support my work and consider picking up a copy. AND please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Those are the two most important things you can do for any indie author—buy the book and leave a review.

In that case, where can we procure said anthology?

Right now, there are two places: Amazon and CreateSpace, directly. The text on this blog can sometimes obfuscate links (they don’t always stand out in blue), so please click on the word “here” in all three cases.

For Amazon, click here.

For CreateSpace, click here.

For the Kindle, click here.

Well, Matt, thanks for stopping by Sector M. We should do this again sometime.

What are you talking about? I’m here all the time on Sector M. I’m you.

But are you? Are you really?

Yes…?

Sorry, rhetorical question. So, that’s all the time we have. Check out Strange Reports From Sector M on Amazon and CreateSpace!

Until next time, see you around the Sector!


The Mountain and the Sector of M

As I was doing research on Neil Gaiman for my last blog post, I came across a clip of him giving a commencement speech in 2012. Clad in an academic cap and robes, Mr. Gaiman gave an interesting thought model for how he steered his way forward, creatively.

I’ll be paraphrasing from that speech in just a moment. You can find it here in its entirety, and it’s well worth a listen. It’s the part about the mountain, that caught my attention. It’s a simple way of looking at things for a writer, or indeed any artist who wants to pursue art. As we explore the idea, I’ll tell you my own thoughts and goals.

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Only the road will not be as flat or straight.

So, imagine a mountain in the distance. That mountain is your goal, whether it’s to become an artist, write a novel, a screenplay, learn to play the trombone, or what have you. Whatever it is you’re dreaming of, it’s there in the distance, waiting for you. In my case, it’s to become a professional author, and be able to devote myself to writing fiction full-time.

Now, think about the best route to get to the mountain. It’s deceptively easy, and often easier said than done. What would it take for you to follow that route to the mountain? What it means in my case is to make enough of an income from being an author that I can pay the bills. I never write my stories with dollar signs spinning in my eyes like Looney Toons. And yet, if I am going to pay the electricity bill by way of my stories, money has to enter the picture at some point. (Unless the electric company starts accepting speculative fiction as currency, so yeah.)

Let’s say that you’ve clearly identified what life goal your mountain represents AND you have mapped out the best way to get there. If you’re at that point, you still have to actually get to the mountain, right? You still have to walk that path. This part is perhaps the hardest because no plan survives contact with the enemy. There will always be setbacks and obstacles, no matter your course, and along the way you will need to make choices.

And it’s here that Mr. Gaiman really nails it. Whenever you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself this: Does this move me towards the mountain, or away from it? He mentions that there are lucrative jobs he passed up because he felt they wouldn’t bring him closer to the mountain, jobs that he might have taken earlier on his journey, since those opportunities were closer to the mountain than he was at that time.

It’s a pretty beautiful way of looking at it all. Envision the goal, plan your way forward, and make choices with the goal in mind. And if you ever do reach the mountain, look for the next one.

Truth time, folks.

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He’s going to tell! He’s going to tell!

I’m on the third leg of that journey, the making choices part. I see the goal in front of me, I see what it’s going to take to get there, and I’m making far-reaching life choices to bring it about. What I realize, however, is that I will need help along the way. After all, a writer without a reader is almost nothing at all.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, or you are familiar with my work, I ask that you support what I do at Sector M, in whatever form you’re able. I’ll have plenty of links at the end of this post for your consideration.

The best way to support me as an author is to buy one of my books. Obvious, right? My novel, The Backwards Mask, has just been re-released in e-book format, and we’re working on a print-on-demand version. If you haven’t read it, now is an ideal time to check it out.

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Find it here.

Additionally, I have an anthology of short fiction coming out next month called Strange Reports from Sector M. It’s primarily science fiction with a little bit of urban fantasy and horror thrown into the mix. This release will include both an e-book and a paperback version. I’ll post the link here, among many places, when the book debuts next month.

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Coming soon.

If you pick up any of any of my books, I ask only that you leave a review. Aside from buying the book itself, leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or both) is the single best thing you can do for an independent author. I cannot overstate this.

Outside of books, you can buy a Sector M shirt, mug, or the like, or support me directly on Patreon. Or PayPal for that matter, if you prefer one-time contributions.

Beyond that, there are many ways to support me on my journey that are free. For one, if you’re reading this blog, subscribe to it. The same goes for following me on various social media, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or any of them.

And if your mouse finger just can’t quite find the motivation, helping me out can be as simple as telling a friend about my work, or pointing them in the direction of my books and/or this blog. Know anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy? Tell. Them. Word-of-mouth should never, ever be underestimated.

Okay, I’m promised some links. One last time for those in back, please consider supporting my ongoing efforts by any of the following means.

The Backwards Mask — the re-release of my science fiction novel.

Strange Reports from Sector M — Link coming as soon as it goes live.

Sector M Store — T-shirts, mugs, phone covers and more.

Patreon—Support me directly, and get some cool perks.

PayPal— For one-time amounts, use: thesectorm@gmail.

Subscribe to this blog — If you haven’t already.

Like me on Facebook — A good place to start.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @TheSectorM

Join me on Goodreads — See what I’m reading, ask me a question, read my reviews, etc.

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel — More content to come as time allows.

Check out my other works— I have a few stories out that you can read for free on my website, with more of them to come.

And there you have it, folks. My mountain is there in the distance, and its name is Sector M. With your help, I have no doubts that I will reach it.

See you around the Sector!

 

Si vales, valeo.

-MC


I Will Never Be Shakespeare, Tolkien, or Gaiman…and That’s Okay.

Neil Gaiman came to Dallas on the 14th. I’ve read many his comics and novels over the years, but I had never seen him in person before. He went on stage at the Winspear Opera House, answered some questions from the audience, read some of his stories, and it was fantastic. Every bit of it.

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The man himself. 

If you ever get a chance to see Neil Gaiman in person, do it. No, really. DO. IT. He’s funny, articulate, and brilliant. His voice strikes me as a not-as-ominous Alan Rickman. Let’s just say that if he had slowly uttered the phrase “Up…to something,” I would have thought Snape was in room. Or at least Snape’s upbeat, more charismatic cousin.

When you’re a relatively unknown author, and you see a famous author speak, this can cause you to question yourself. Will I ever get to a point in my career where thousands of people might come to see me speak? Could my work ever be a uniting factor for people who are otherwise from very different cross-sections of society? Will anyone choose to cosplay a character that I create? And really, when you’re looking around at a sold out show like that, it’s hard not ask yourself Will I ever get to *this* point.

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Imagine this, but with no empty seats. 

Now, I should point out that I don’t write because I hope to become famous. Far from it; my motivation to be an author stems from a deeply personal need to create and the knowledge that life is short. That’s a tale for another time, though.

This act of questioning yourself can take a negative turn, however, when you encounter someone so wonderfully brilliant like Gaiman. For those who have tried your hand at writing, or aspire to do so, tell me if this sounds familiar:

Gaaah! I just read something truly awful. I know I can write something better than that!

– Yeah, my ideas are coming to me now! See, I knew I could do better than that drivel.

– That doesn’t sound too bad. It’s not Shakespeare, but I think people will like it. Onward!

– I just don’t know. My pace has slowed down a bit now that I’m past the beginning. I need some inspiration to get those creative juices flowing again.

– Oh God, why did I just read Lord of the Rings again? The guy had a working knowledge of like forty languages. FORTY. And he created a whole bunch of languages on his own. There is NO POSSIBLE WAY I could do something like that.

– (*stares blankly at the computer screen*) Why did I think I could do this, again? My ideas are crap, my words are crap. It’s all crap. Maybe I should’ve let my uncle teach me about fixing cars, instead.

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Today’s not your day. Tomorrow doesn’t look good, either. 

Okay, maybe not the uncle thing. Whether you’re a beginning writer or a pro, chances are you’ve had a moment like this, usually as a result of reading something incredible and feeling humbled by it. This can lead to despair. If you can’t be as good as [Insert your favorite author’s name here], what’s the point?

I learned early on that making comparisons to others is an exercise in futility. To that way lies madness. It’s so easy to become demoralized and fall into that cycle of self-doubt. If this has happened to you, just remember what your ol’ buddy Jack Burton says at a time like this. (And by Jack Burton, I mean me.)

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Jack says what the hell…

Neil Gaiman isn’t Shakespeare.

That’s not a shot against the guy in a he’s no Jack Kennedy kind of way. No, I mean they are two different people, separated by space and time. One lived in Elizabethan times and the other is alive today. It’s the same to say that Stephen King isn’t J.R.R Tolkien, and H.P. Lovecraft isn’t Charles V of Spain.

Your very uniqueness is one of the greatest gifts you have as a writer, whether you choose to write or not. You, the reader, are a one-of-a-kind blend of your own thoughts, dreams, aspirations, and experiences. True, none of us will ever be Shakespeare or Neil Gaiman, but that’s because those roles are already taken.

So, if you choose to tell a story, no one can (or will ever) tell it quite like you. And if you are serious and passionate about the work, if you study your craft and pour your heart and soul into it, you have something to contribute to your genre.

43c4960db7c1652cac7dbe97f701b295I encourage people to write whenever I can. It’s a form of self-expression that, as Stephen King puts it in On Writing, is a form of telepathy. And time-travelling telepathy at that, since time will have passed between when I write these words and when you read them.

Writing is the act of sending our thoughts into the future, like so many messages in a bottle. Yeah, some may be thinly veiled cries for help, but the reasons that brought them about are likely interesting, and worthy of a read.

So for all my writing peeps out there who struggle to find their confidence at times (and this includes me), don’t try to be anyone else but yourself. Don’t measure yourself against anyone else, just focus on the blank page in front of you, and work your magic.

That’s the part that really matters.

 

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My Gamer Origin Story

When you hear that someone is a gamer nowadays, it conjures up all sorts of images. Maybe a TWITCH gamer doing livestreams with a headset, or someone who enters a Call of Duty tournament and plays competitively at a local con. In almost all cases, the term ‘gamer’ deals specifically with video games.

Well, when I hear the word, I tend to think of someone who enjoys tabletop role-playing games first, then board games second, and then video games. Maybe I’m just weird that way. Or old-school. Or both.

When I played original NES games back in the day, I didn’t really consider myself a gamer, per se. It was really when I got into tabletop RPGs that I felt that I was truly a “gamer.”

Let me share with you how it all went down. This is my origin story, if you will.

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Don’t forget to add all your miscellaneous modifiers.

The spark that started the bonfire was a set of choose-your-own adventure books called the “Fighting Fantasy” by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. These differed from many of the other books of the day because they had a dice-based combat system to go along with the adventure. You had a character sheet, magic items that you could collect that boosted your abilities or healed you, and all sorts of other cool stuff that really set them apart from the rest.

Being in a small town, I didn’t have access to many of them.  Both of the ones that made an impression were obtained through ‘book club’ newsletters from my school, in this case TROLL and ARROW. Through them, I got my hands on two Fighting Fantasy titles: Demons of the Deep and Rebel Planet.

 

The former dealt with a brave sailor’s trials in Atlantis as he attempts to settle the score with the murderous pirate, Captain Blood-Ax. The latter was about a secret agent among the stars who attempts to unseat humanity’s conquers, the Arcadians, armed with your wits and your trusty lightsaber.

I loved the interactivity of them, and the vibrant writing style.  You could play through different endings if you messed and died, horribly in some cases. The concept really captured my imagination. When I was in 7th Grade, I happened upon a book in the Eustace Junior High library. This one:

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I have a copy of this book in my personal library. It was the gasoline poured on  the fire.

The ENDLESS QUEST series didn’t have the combat system, but it did have some compelling story lines. I remember reading the introduction where you, the main character, are sent to find a way to defeat a dragon whose very shadow can kill all life. When Shen, the eponymous dragon of doom, takes flight across the countryside, you can follow the trail of withered planets and dead animals.

If you look at the cover art, you’ll notice something else:  it reads “DUNGEONS & DRAGONS” in bold letters across the top. My grandmother certainly noticed this, and promptly made me take it back to the library, and explained that I shouldn’t attempt to check it out again.

Dungeons & Dragons barely registers today in popular culture as a thing itself, outside of a few Gary Gygax memes, references in the Big Bang Theory, or Wil Wheaton videos. It still has a geeky connotation to it, but understand that at this time, Dungeons & Dragons had a vaguely sinister reputation. There were some who thought it was outright Satanic.

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Do you want Demogorgons? Because that’s how you get Demogorgons.

Yep, it wasn’t cute and adorable and nostalgic like in Stranger Things. Some groups used to think it was a (and I kid you not here) a way for teenagers to sell their souls to the devil.  Movies like Mazes and Monsters or the Chick tracts at the time didn’t help, either.

Of course, when my grandmother told me to take Dragons of Doom back to the library, she virtually guaranteed that I would go learn more about it. And I did. I was no stranger to comic-book shops, and many of them sold D&D products, as well as a host of other RPGs.  I talked with some of the guys there who played them, and it didn’t sound like my curiosity was endangering my mortal soul.

And then, out of the blue, I found out that one of my friends, Dan, actively ran different RPG games after school. Some of them he made up himself, and others were published, of-the-shelf games. I soon began hanging out at his house after school with his older brother, Jay, and another guy we knew, Donny. Dan was instrumental in forming my early understanding of how RPGs work. He was the first one to explain to me what a d20 was, and what went into building a character.

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The first time I made up a character, it was a home-brewed system that Donny had made up called “The Blade Lords.”  It was loosely based off of the Palladium RPG systems, using many of the same races, but had a focus more on sword-play and arena fighting than magic. The character was a swordmaster named Ulfric and he was from a race of humanoid canines called the “Wolfen.”  I only played him a time or two, and his character sheet is sadly lost to the sands of time.

After that, Dan ran a round of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, also by Palladium Games. Yes, they made a TMNT-themed RPG, and it was really good. Only this wasn’t the happy-go-lucky ’80s cartoon version of the Turtles. No, this was the original Eastman and Laird version, harsh and unforgiving.

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Everyone wears red around their eyes, yo.

My character was a mutant alligator named Spike, who was also (of course) a ninja. I went on to play many different games with Dan, Jay, and Donny. Sometimes my other friend Cody would run a game. We played all through junior high and high school. I made up many different characters during this time, including one time in the Batman RPG where my character accidentally-on-purpose killed Batman. A dubious honor, to be sure.

I also began running games of my own at this time. One of them I ran in the lunchroom before the bell rang with my friends Robert, Keith, and Cliff. What made this one different was that I had made up the game system. It was a simple d6-based game with heavy emphasis on roleplaying, which I called “RPG To-Go.”

It was also during this time that I realized that my cousin Travis was big into these games. He lived up in the big city of Dallas. Well, big considering the small town I was living in at the time. When I got a car my senior year, a silver ’84 Isuzu Impulse I called the Millennium Falcon, I was able to head up to Dallas on the weekends to game with his group. There, I made many friends that I’m lucky enough to still have today.

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I always thought it looked vaguely like a DeLorean.

Since then, it has been a rarity to not have a game to go to at some point during the week, either playing or GMing. Palladium, Heroes Unlimited, Ninjas and Superspies, Kulthea, Forgotten Realms, Vampire: The Masquerade (I played a Werewolf. Big surprise, huh?), Traveller, MegaTraveller, OMG DRAGONLANCE, Netheril, Valeriand, on and off again, Neverwinter, Storm Watch, The Mean Streets of Thebes, Game of Thrones, Transformers, and hopefully soon…Fallout!

That’s just to name a few.

And now I know enough about RPGs that when I want to play or run one, I kit-bash what I need out of existing systems, or just make up what I need out of whole cloth. Yeah, I didn’t choose the game life…the game life chose me.

Of course, I am a gamer in every sense of the word now. It’s not just tabletop stuff, but also board games, and video games. And while the original NES had a big part to play in fostering my love of video games, I didn’t really accept games as a being a part of who I am until tabletop RPGs came into my life.

True story.