Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whedonverse Primer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Since I have a lot of time and very little focus at work, I've decided to create a little primer of the only series, other than Star Trek, with a deeply immersive world with engaging metaphorical themes. Believe it or not, this is the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Movie

1992 saw the release of the summer comedy-action flick, Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Kristy Swanson in the title role, Luke Perry as bad boy/romantic interest Pike, and Donald Sutherland as her mentor, Merrick. Rounding out the villains were Rutger Hauer as the vampire lord Lothos and his comedic sidekick Amilyn played by Paul "Pee-Wee" Reubens. It was a spectacular failure.

The concept, at its core, was fairly simple. It was rooted in the horror film trope of having a cheerleader sacrificed to the monster. This particular cliche had been subject to overwhelming feminist critique due to both the patronizing representation of the ditsy cheerleader and the voyeuristic pleasure derived by her death. Writer Joss Whedon, a self-attributed feminist, sought to turn this stereotype on its ear by placing the cheerleader in the role of the action hero.

The Show

In 1997, the concept returned as a TV series for The WB, a new network that was trying to brand itself for a teenage audience. It was here that the concept really became popular. The name "Buffy" conveyed the valley girl image that Whedon wanted to dispel the negative connotations of. While it made sense from the position of Whedon's ideological objective, I believe that it deeply hurt and continues to hurt the marketability of this series. It certainly kept me from watching it.

I have known my fair share of ditsy girls and had no interest in watching a series filled with phrases like "oh my god," "like," and "for sure." To top it all off, something about Sarah Michelle Gellar just bugged me. And it's not like I didn't try to watch it, but every episode felt like watching R.L. Stein's Goosebumps on Nickelodeon. They were contrived, watered down horror stories in a high school setting.

But the problem with watching nearly every TV show is that the reruns focus on the early episodes which tend to have smaller budgets and worse stories since the actors and writers have not gotten use to their characters. And in this particular genre, shows like Goosebumps were the closest comparison. So in addition to the problems of title and genre, the show had to contend with its own low production values.

It took me a long time to finally watch this show. I had dismissed it for years, but repeatedly I heard people of taste and intelligence recommending it (as well as people of not so much taste and intelligence). Finally, I traded my DS9 season one with a friend's Buffy season one and sat down to see what the fuss was all about.

So let me tell you what the fuss is about. In two words: Joss Whedon. It's his style and intelligence that sells this series based around three primary talents:

1) Humor - Joss Whedon has a fantastic sense of humor. He was formerly a staff writer on Roseanne and while I never cared for that show, you can see it in his focus on humor and female strength.

2) Structure - Whedon has fantastic sense of dramatic structure so acute that he can usually lead the audience without them realizing it and then the moment it starts to feel contrived, turns things completely around, and makes an entirely logical plot twist. His ability to both lead and surprise the audience without relying on cheap tricks is truly unparalleled.

3) Metaphor - The thematic device central to the series is "high school as Hell" and the show expresses its plots in allegorical stories about growing up. Some of these are blatant like the girl who turns invisible when no one notices her or the use of magic to get girls, but they all strike at universal themes that keep the viewer thinking. Additionally, the show has a distinctly feminist bent with the focus on an exploration of female power.

The Premise

The premise of the show follows the events of the movie. Once per generation, a girl is chosen to receive great power so that she may become the vampire slayer. Usually these girls have a very brief lifespan and as one dies, another is chosen. Each slayer is assigned a Watcher from the Watcher's Council to train and guide the slayer in her quest.

As the story begins, Buffy's recently divorced mom moves to Sunnydale, a fictional town in Southern California. Upon attending the local high school, Buffy comes to discover that the school librarian is actually her new Watcher. Although she immediately rejects her calling, she soon discovers that she can't avoid it. Why? Because Sunnydale was built on a Hellmouth... which is exactly what it sounds like, a freakin' huge portal to Hell that attracts all manner of demonic creatures and mystical circumstance.

But if you are anything like I was, you've seen enough bad episodes of Buffy to know you don't want to see it. Besides, the title sounds like it will turn you gay. So if you don't want people to think you're gay, you definitely shouldn't see some of the episodes listed below or before you know it, you might become a Buffy fan.


Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar)

It is said that Buffy was largely inspired (or at least influenced) by the X-Men and the primary inspiration for the character herself was Kitty Pryde, however the character's name and much of her conflict may come from her namesake: Scott "Cyclops" Summers. Like Scott, Buffy is conflicted with the responsibility of her powers... so much so that she sounds like another Marvel mainstay, Spider-Man. Buffy's role as the Slayer is a responsibility to constantly be on call to fight the forces of evil which is hard, of course, when you really just want to have fun and enjoy your youth.

Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendan)

One of Buffy's best friend is the comic relief dork, Xander. I think this character is often a stand-in for Whedon himself, or at least his teenage self. He is often given the comedic lines which are peppered with references ranging from Star Wars to Stooges. In fact, the dialog of Joss Whedon shows often reflect a particularly skewed perspective when references to geek pop culture and classic cinema show up in the mouths of stuck-up society types, but that's part of the charm and you have to let the realism go.

Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan)

Buffy also has a smart friend in Willow who initially starts off as a bookish geek and eventually becomes more confident, facing her problems head on. I have heard her compared to Jean Grey in that both have an "ultimate power corrupts absolutely" story arc and I'd be forced to agree. This character was certainly one of the most likable in the series' run. Over time, she becomes a Wiccan and an extremely powerful mage.

Rupert Giles (Anthony Head)

Every Slayer has a Watcher assigned to her from the Watcher's Council, an organization of uptight British occult experts who have taken it upon themselves to train new slayers. Anthony serves the role well, somewhere between Professor Xavier and Obi-Wan Kenobi in terms of patriarchal mentor. He brings a stuffiness to the role that suits it well, but is often shown as more of a complex human being with a spotty personal history. If Xander represents Whedon at Buffy's age, Giles represents the older, wiser, and more easily frustrated Whedon.

Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter)

If Buffy breaks the valley girl stereotype, Cordelia reinforces it with all of the unfounded attitude and sense of self-importance. Cordelia is a reminder of the clique Buffy used to be in before she was chosen, but now only serves to remind her that she is no longer one of them. As best friends with Xander and Willow, Buffy has officially moved into high school geek clique which Cordelia often reminds her.

Angel (David Boreanaz)

The vampire with a soul, Angel represented the awkward love interested for Buffy in the first three seasons. To put it again in X-Men terms, Angel falls somewhere between Wolverine and Colossus. Like Wolverine, he has a dark past that he is trying to atone for, but like Colossus, he has a sensitive, artistic side that he keeps to himself. For the most part, Angel began as a humorless character who was famous for his solipcistic brooding, but for the most part, his development occurred in his self-titled spin-off.

Oz (Seth Green)

In the third season, indy favorite Seth Green joined the cast as the quiet, quirky, and unreasonably cool Oz who we eventually learn is a werewolf. The character is a genius slacker whose only real interest is in his band, Dingos Ate My Baby (which even he thinks is mediocre at best), and Willow. Unfortunately, half way through the fourth season, they started having trouble writing Oz and he was written out of the show. Fans mourned and the Nielson's dropped.

Spike (James Marsters)

First appearing in the beginning of the second season, Spike joined the regular cast in the fourth season as a replacement (of sorts) to Angel. With a character type loosely based on Billy Idol, I've always felt that his corrolary X-Men character is Sabretooth, the psychopath who has a history with Wolverine. You see, Angel was sired by Darla. In turn, he sired Drusilla who, in turn, sired Spike. Together, they form a dark family who ravaged villagers throughout the generations. Spike is arguably the most dangerous and merciless. Having killed two slayers before, he initially comes to Sunnydale to kill the newest one.

Faith (Eliza Dushku)

In the beginning of the third season, Buffy meets a new slayer named Faith. Normally only one slayer is called at a time, but due to Buffy having briefly died, a second was chosen. Eliza Dushku delivers a fantastic performance as a dark reflection of the slayer and she displays strong acting chops as the character is constantly struggling with the darkness inside of her.

The Story

Unlike Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is only semi-episodic, so I cannot just recommend a handful of episodes. Instead, I'll give you an overview of each season and my personal favorite from each.

Season 1 - The Master

Season one follows the events of the Buffy movie. Buffy has left Los Angeles to the outlying fictional city of Sunnydale because she accidentally lit the school's gym on fire. She soon meets her new friends, Willow and Xander, along with her new Watcher, Giles. In short order, Buffy is trained to fight "The Master," an ancient vampire who is trapped in an old church, abandoned beneath the city in an old earthquake. When she learns that her death at his hands has been prophesied, she has to choose whether or not to face her destiny.

Standout Episode: Angel - In this episode, Buffy learns the secret of her mysterious handsome stranger and hears the story of how a vampire came to have a soul after receiving a curse for killing a gypsy princess. The soul came to torment him for the evil that he had done as a vampire, leaving him wallowing in guilt for a hundred years. The episode features his sire, Darla, and Buffy on opposite sides of his ever present moral dilemma.

Season 2 - Angelus

After defeating The Master in the first season, the series takes a sharp left turn by abandoning the old fashioned vampires of antiquity with new vampires more in the realm of Lost Boys or other modern vampire films. Leading the new villainy are Spike and Drusilla, old companions of Angel who act like the vampire equivalent of Bonny and Clyde, but when Angel loses his soul, he reverts to his old ways as a brilliant sadist. His number one target: Buffy, of course.

Standout Episode: Surprise/Innocence - This two-part episode completely changed the series as Angel loses his soul and Buffy her innocence. Until this episode, the show was good, but nothing particularly impressive, but the events herein (which I will yet again attempt not to spoil more than I already have) give weight and direction to the series. Fantastic performances by both Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz.

Season 3 - The Mayor

It's senior year at Sunnydale High and the Scoobies (as they have now taken to calling themselves) are now facing a fully open the Hellmouth ready to drag Sunnydale straight to Hell. To stop it, they need to resolve the tensions that have built up within them and fight the corny, hypochondriac mayor (well played by Harry Groener) who happens to be an immortal demon worshipper.

Standout Episode: The Zeppo - For me, the highlight of season 3 was the Xander-centric episode in which Xander reflects on his relative uselessness amongst the Scoobies. The story focuses on a bid for attention that gets Xander into problems with a local gang as he wanders in and out through a generic, but dramatic B-story that the viewer only gets glimpses of. It's a tongue-in-cheek self-parody that demonstrates some of the best strengths of the series.

Season 4 - The Initiative

As Buffy and Willow attend UC Sunnydale, a government-run team of soldiers appears in town to do Buffy's job for her, capturing, imprisoning, and testing demons in a state-of-the-art underground bunker. But are they able to handle a threat that they don't understand and are unwilling to truly believe in? Meanwhile, the Scoobies drift apart and Spike, on the run from the Initiative, becomes an reluctant member of the team.

Standout Episode: Hush - Season four's standout episode was entitled Hush. The episode featured a group of monsters known as "the Gentlemen" who traveled around town at night stealing everyone's voice. As a result, the majority of the episode is told without dialog, using music and gestures to impart the necessary information. This is one of the few directed by Joss Whedon who really demonstrates directoral creativity.

Season 5 - Glory

One day, Buffy gets home to discover that she has (and has always had) a little sister named Dawn. Soon later, she finds that she also has a new enemy by the name of Glory, but Glory isn't just another demon, she's a god... and Dawn may be the key to stopping her.

Standout Episode: The Body - Similar to Hush, The Body is written and directed by Joss Whedon and features no music. I won't spoil it by talking too much about the plot, but the lack of music when complimented with long takes creates an eerily disconcerting mood that fits the story perfectly. This might make my top ten best single episode list.

Season 6 - The Trio

Following the dramatic events of the previous season, season six makes an effort to lower the bar and focus on more personal storylines rather than constantly raising the threat level. This season follows three geeks who formerly appeared as a demon summoner, a magician, and a cybernetic mastermind as they attempt to take down Buffy for reasons that aren't entirely memorable. What is memorable is how they do it and by this point, it is an interesting deviation from the status quo.

Standout Episode: Once More, With Feeling - Continuing the tradition of one innovative episode per season, this episode is a musical based around a musical demon who grants singing and dancing fun with the occasional spontaneous combustion. It sounds silly, and it most definitely is, but Whedon uses the situation to expose the inner feelings of his characters in ways that could not possibly be more entertaining.

Season 7 - The First

The final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer begins with the title character's return to high school as a guidance councellor just as the world's first evil has declared war not only on the Slayer, but on all potential slayers. In order to save the world, Buffy needs to organize the potentials into an army. In order to carry out its will, The First uses his disciple, Caleb, a misogynistic preacher whose stronger than a slayer.

Standout Episode: Help - Unlike the previous three season, season seven doesn't have an obvious standout episode, so I have to go with this story about Buffy's first day as a high school councilor. When she confronts a girl with a serious Cassandra complex, Buffy tries to challenge fate.


Four years after the cancellation of the series, Joss Whedon began Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight as an ongoing comic series published by Dark Horse Comics. Like the TV show, the series is led by Joss Whedon who is credited as "Executive Producer" but features a team of writers handpicked and guided by Joss Whedon's overall script. The writing staff includes show writers like Drew Goddard and Jane Espenson along with comic book professionals like Brian K. Vaughn and Jeph Loeb. It is an excellent continuation of the series that makes great use of the strengths of the comic book medium to do the kinds of stories that would never be possible on a television budget.

It would be an insult if I didn't mention the pencil work of Georges Jeanty. His simple, but expressive style captures the actors from the series without distracting from his personal art style. Also, while the writers may change from issue to issue, the consistancy of Jeanty's art makes for a seemless reading experience lacking from most comic books today.

Earlier comics of Buffy adventures can be found in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, currently available in seven reasonably priced additions, but I haven't read any of these so I can't recommend them. What I do recommend is Fray, a mini-series about a slayer from the distant future, written by Whedon with art by Jeanty. This, of course, is in addition to the previously mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight.


In 2002, shortly before the series was canceled, plans were made for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Animated Series. The show featured all of the original voices (with the notable exception of Sarah Michelle Gellar) and was set in the first season of the regular series. Unfortunately, it wasn't picked up, so the only thing we have to show for it is this three-minute pilot.

On May 25, 2009 it was reported that the Buffy film was being remade without Joss Whedon or any link to the TV series. Fans are currently outraged.


David Boreanaz spins off into his own series entitled Angel.

Saving the Franchise: Fantastic Four

If any comic should translate easily to film, it's the Fantastic Four. They are Marvel first family and the embodiment of the Silver Age of comic books. They have no powers, no costumes, and no secret identity. The biggest problem is that they are kinda hokey. The characters often fall into stereotypes of the absent-minded professor, the immature prankster, the gruff tough guy, and the woman.

But well-worn characters have often been saved by writers who know characterization (see "Star Trek"), so my choice for Fantastic Four writer/director is Joss "Buffy/Angel/Firefly/Dollhouse" Whedon. Whedon is a fantastic character writer with a great sense of humor. He also is fantastic at leading the viewer's expectations then making a completely logical twist.


The central theme of Fantastic Four is scientific exploration. Whether they are going through space, other dimensions, back in time or checking out ancient excavations, it all revolves around science and understanding. In this way, it is very much like Star Trek... only with superpowers... in modern times.

But another core theme of this title is "family." It often bothers me when groups of friends or co-workers are referred to as a "family" because I find it sentimental to the point of being meaningless. But in the FF's case, it's true. Reed and Sue were married in the first few years of publication, Johnny is Sue's little brother, and Ben is Reed's best friend from college. They are very much a family which is why they are defined by their number. However, in recent comics this has expanded to include Franklin and Valeria Richards, the children of Reed and Sue, and Ben is currently engaged.

This is probably one of the few Marvel movies where you wouldn't necessarily have to show the origin. You could even take a page from the Incredibles (largely based on the Fantastic Four) and give all of the backstory in the beginning so you can concentrate on the family dynamic and the villain du jour. It would also be a way of distancing from the previous films without making any official declaration of whether this is a sequel or a revamp.


(Just for fun, I cast the team using actors who have previous experience working with Joss Whedon since Whedon has a reputation of working with old friends.)

Mr. Fantastic - Reed Richards is a hard character to write. Mainstream (particularly Hollywood) writers think he's a geek... and while that may be true, his defining factor is that he is a genius. I don't mean genius in the way I think about myself, but the kind of genius where it borders on a superhuman power itself. Science is a playground for Reed. He invents spaceships and time machines as his own educational toys. He has no thoughts about sensible applications or military uses, but only expresses his knowledge as a means of discovering more knowledge. His super-stretching ability is a reflection of the plasticity of his own mind.

Invisible Woman - Susan Storm was one of the first strong female characters in comic books and amongst the Fantastic Four, she is the mom or big sister. She is the one who is breaking up fights between Ben and Johnny or pulling Reed out of his lab when he forgets to do the little things like sleep and eat. Her powers likewise reflect her supportive nature, able to use more defensive abilities like invisibility and force field projection. It might work best if they build up her powers later in the stories and focused on character strength in the beginning.

(I tried to find a blonde Whedon girl to take the role, but only Amy Acker made the cut.)

The Thing - Of the actors in the previous films, I think Michael Chiklis was my favorite. His gruff personality worked, but maybe they should have just gone with full CGI because that suit looked awful. The tough part about Ben is that he is a warrior, a sweet guy, and a victim all in one. He's also funny, in the kind of way that only an indestructible bruiser can be. A Hulk-style full CGI Thing might just open things up visually as well, since watching a big guy in a rubber suit is rarely thrilling.

Human Torch - Johnny Storm is the easiest character to write poorly because he is an MTV stereotype. He loves fast cars, loose women, and practical jokes. For these reasons, his character is often annoying, superficial, and unreliable. They could make this work if they exercise subtlety. Johnny is an irrepressible man-child living in the shadow of his responsible older sister. He could never compete as good sibling, so instead he tried to have a life most enjoyed. One thing he learned from this lifestyle is that people weren't dependable or trustworthy. He became accustomed to abandonment and would often push people away, which has become second nature. When he found out about Reed's rocket flight, he begged or bribed his way on the crew and became lucky enough to be a bright, flashy superhero. So he is very grateful to be a part of this family and despite his attitude, he'll do anything to protect them.


Since comic films are now created with an eye toward multiple sequels, I've found a few villains that could support entire storylines.

Skrulls & Super-Skrull - The subject of last year's Marvel mega-event, the Skrulls first appeared in Fantastic Four #2 making them the oldest Fantastic Four villains short of Mole Man. They possess advanced alien technology and the ability to shapeshift. In the comics, their homeworld was destroyed by Galactus, making them intergalactic refugees. This story could center around a shapeshifting alien invasion or the Skrulls making a giant cannon designed to kill Galactus (which at the same time will destroy Earth). One of the Skrulls was able to replicate all of the powers of the Fantastic Four and calls himself the Super-Skrull. He might make for a good fight scene at the end of the film. Also, since mainstream audiences haven't seen them before, it would feel fresh and original (which is always better than being fresh and original). The recent popularity of '60s style sci-fi fantasy makes me think that this plot could be very successful.

Namor & Atlantis - Namor is the Fantastic Four's most sympathetic enemy. In fact, he is in love with Sue. He was originally a World War II hero and one of Marvel Comic's first heroes, but by Fantastic Four #4 (1962), he was found as an amnesiac by Johnny. After restoring his memory, he returns to the underwater city of Atlantis, where he is the prince, only to find it destroyed. Overcome by grief, he turns his anger on the surface world. I'd like to do a large scale invasion of New York City by Atlantean forces like we've seen in the comics a few times before. It would give the CGI team a real challenge and look pretty cool in the process. To do this, he would have to find some Atlantean survivors, automate Atlantean technology, and/or summon mythical creatures from the deep (i.e. a kraken) as his invading army... all while engaging in a strange romance with Sue and arguing with Reed.

Inhumans - Another Fantastic Four concept that would look great on film are the Inhumans. This is a society hidden in the mountains of the Himalayas for thousands of years. Each member is exposed to the Terrigen mists when they come of age. The strange nature of this mist deforms them and gives them their powers, which define them in their society. Their ruler is called Black Bolt and his power is so great that a whisper has been said to destroy mountains, so he "speaks" telepathically to his wife, Medusa, whose long red hair can stretch, move, and lift heavy objects at her command. The rest of the Inhumans are a similarly motley crew including Black Bolt's brother, Maximus, who is often scheming for the thrown.

Doctor Doom - If the Fantastic Four is a family, Victor is the crazy uncle that makes everyone uncomfortable. The good doctor is the obvious choice for a Fantastic Four villain, but he can also be one of the most difficult. Victor von Doom is a man who must be better than anyone, so when he met Reed Richards in college, the two had a lot in common. Although he refused to admit it, Victor wasn't nearly as good a scientist as Reed which led to his deep-seated jealousy. When Doom accidentally scarred his face in a science experiment that Reed warned him about, Victor blamed Reed and hid his face behind an iron mask. But what does he do? I don't know. He is a classic meglomaniacal villain who honestly believes that he is best suited to rule the world. Maybe he needs a good, old fashioned Bondesque world domination scheme. Or maybe he could feature in the Inhumans story by making an alliance with Maximus or the Atlantis story by making an alliance with Namor.

Silver Surfer & Galactus - Naturally, Silver Surfer and Galactus featured in the last film, but that one sucked. Worst of all, you never saw Galactus. I admit that a skyscraper-sized guy in a big pink hat is hard to make work on film, but the giant cloud that was featured in the movie was so anti-climactic. If they made another film about this storyline, they would be best served to build it into a truly apocalyptic event of Biblical proportions. Ghostbusters did this better in 1984.


So that, in a nutshell, is what I think it would take to make a good Fantastic Four movie.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Whitest Kids You Know

If you have Netflix, you can watch the first three seasons for free online. Otherwise, there are a lot of clips on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Astonishing Adventures Profiles: Rosie the Riveter

Welcome back to Astonishing Adventures. I realize I haven't posted on this in... half a year, but nothing has been more on my mind. I will be posting a general update soon, but in the meantime, I thought I would feature my most well-developed female character (not developed like that)...

Rosie the Riveter!

(As usual, the images are an approximation of the character based on available imagery.)

Rosie is an amalgam of characters I've written in the past and, despite her name, is in no way based on my sister, Rose. Rather, she is the personification of the fictional propaganda image that called women into the workplace to replace the men who were off at war. To that end, she also represents the conflict between domesticity and independence.

As we have seen in numerous movies, the independence that women gained from contributing to the work force was taken away upon the end of the war and women were "encouraged" to go back to their home... the way God intended. This led directly to the women's lib movement of the sixties and seventies.

Rosie represents the unconventional woman. She is a first generation Mexican immigrant who came across the border as a child and set up a repair shop with her father. Since he took ill, she has been running it by herself. (Maybe I should give it some deliberately misleading name like "Rios & Sons Auto Shop.")

She first gets into the mystery man career when she discovers the Enigma bleeding in an alley. She patches up his wounds and ever since has been serving as his girl friday. She absolutely adores Charlie (The Enigma) and considers him her mentor. His bravery, wit, style, and intelligence are all things that she admires and wants to embody herself.

Gradually, she works her way into the role of sidekick and begins to backup Charlie on his missions while dressed in a cute chauffeur's outfit with a domino mask. But when Charlie joins the Allied Hero Brigade, a team of mystery men from the Allied nations, the Mechanist invites Rosie along as well.

It is here that Rosie comes into her own and adopts "the Riveter" to her new identity. Also, studying under the Mechanist significantly developed her natural mechanical abilities, so she is developing unique personal skills that will get her out from under the Enigma's shadow... whether she likes it there or not.

One defining aspect about her character is that she is a lesbian. Now, I create a lot of lesbian characters and every time I do, I have to ask myself if this is literary masturbation or if I have a good reason. Do I need a good reason to have a gay character any more than I do a straight one? Why don't I have more gay male characters if it isn't about titillation?

All good questions. (Thank you.) I write more lesbian characters because I identify with them. I've always gotten along really well with lesbians. Strangely well. I may have been a lesbian in a previous life. Contrarily, while I have nothing against gay men in general, I don't seem to get along well with them. I've gotten into arguments with them about the differences between homophobic slang and genuine homophobia. I was even once bullied by a gay guy. We just don't seem to get along well on a personal level. Of course, that could just be my limited experience. Consequently, I feel like I write lesbians well and gay guys not so much. Not that I don't want to try. Once I get to the fifties, I feel like I'm obligated to comment on male homosexuality within the beat culture.

Also, homosexual behavior always rises in single sex environments which is what was happening state side while the men were away. By making Rosie a lesbian, it provides her with a degree of independence from men that (I think) is enhanced by the fact that two great men are her mentors. She isn't a "man-hating dyke," a butch, or even a lipstick lesbian. She is a woman who isn't in conflict with her sex or her own inner strength, but she is also very young with a lot of growing up to do. That's the kind of character I want to write.

Ultimately, Astonishing Adventures is a story about power and responsibility. The men have it and fight over it, but the women are just starting to get it and no one knows what they are going to do with it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Check out The Maxx!

In 1991, MTV, still mostly showing music videos with little to no commercials, came out with Liquid Television, an animation showcase designed to produce alternative animated adventures for a more mature and edgy audience. The most well-known of these was Peter Chung's Aeon Flux, but my personal favorite was Sam Keith's The Maxx.

If you've never seen it before, The Maxx is the adventures of a bum who believes he is a superhero and has dreams of being a warrior in the mythical land of Pangaea. I highly recommend it and the entire series is roughly two hours.

It still isn't available on DVD, but I just found out that you can check it out at MTV.com for free.

So what are you waiting for?

Do it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Projects I Want To See: X-Men TV Show

Lately I've been watching Smallville on CW. Don't get me wrong, I hated the show in the first couple seasons, but I started watching it again in the fifth season and it was like a completely different show. One thing I've noticed about TV shows is that it can take a while for the writers and actors to really get to know their characters, so a viewer really has to make it through at least the third season before they can judge a series as a whole. Well, the Smallville writers were a bit slow because it didn't pick up until the fifth season and it wasn't even until the eighth season that it almost has become what I wanted it to be in the first place... which is basically a Superman TV show.

But I'm getting off the point. I will and have watched most sci-fi or fantasy television (within limits, Andromeda) so I've been watching a variety of superpowers on Smallville, CGI antennae on Star Trek: Enterprise, CGI robots on Battlestar Galactica, great superpowered fight scenes in Angel... and it suddenly occurs to me... they could do an X-Men TV show.

Fuck X-Men movies. If you've been paying any attention to my blog, you already realize that there is too much X-Men to fit into movies. Television would be a much better format. The mutant metaphor lends itself better to topics like discrimination and terrorism in a television format which can follow the consequences of previous action (or in-action).


I see the show with a slowly building principle cast consisting of Professor Xavier, Moira MacTaggert, Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Hank McCoy, Bobby Drake, Ororo Monroe, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, and Kurt Wagner. First, no Wolverine because I imagine this as a teenage version of the X-Men and having an old Wolverine flirting with Jean would be gross. Also, the role is strongly associated with Hugh Jackman at the moment and it would be hard to replace him. Second, no Angel because there is still no way for it to look as cool on film as it does in the comics, especially on a TV budget. Unfortunately, that removes the two best "third wheels" for the famous Scott/Jean love triangle.

All they really need to do is to get Patrick Stewart to sign up for the lead and get Hugh Jackman to sign up for the occasional cameo by the fourth season. Recast the rest. My vote still goes to Rutger Hauer for Magneto and I'm pretty sure you could get him for regular guest appearances on a TV show.

My character choices are a combination of centrality to the overall X-Men story, strong characterization, interesting powers, and fairly easy to do on a cheap budget. I'm imagining the pre-fur version of Beast... leaving you with the option to go the other way in later seasons if it is feasible. As for Nightcrawler, get one of the Star Trek makeup guys to do the face, CGI the occasional tail, and give him an image inducer (to disguise his deformity) in the pilot just to give you more storytelling options (and save money). Also, don't show the acrobatics as much as the teleportation, which can be done on a fairly cheap budget. The hardest power might actually be Iceman's, though naturally you wouldn't do the complicated ice slides.

Best of all, you don't need to do any complicated costumes. Just come up with a number of tight-fitting T-shirts with the X logo and some belt buckles with the same. The rest you can customize, but unlike other superheroes, the X-Men aren't defined by their costumes. You could even forget the costumes altogether if you really wanted to.

I think you could really get women and girls excited about this show as well because women really seem to dig the X-Men. Jean would be your girl-next-door, Ororo the wise African goddess, Rogue the wild girl who can't touch anyone, Kitty the ambitious child who walks through walls, and Moira the responsible educated adult without any powers. Hell, if you could get Gates McFadden to do a Scottish accent, you could have yourself a little TNG reunion. But if you brought in Gambit a little later as the bad boy that breaks Rogue's heart... well, I think you could create the next hot genre hit, capture the female audience, and create something really good and true to the comics all at the same time.

Here are the people involved. Note: Images of actors are not necessarily casting recommendations. Just stand-ins. Well, some are recommendations like...

Professor Charles Xavier

Naturally, Xavier has to be there to guide and teach the X-Men, but the hard part will be avoiding what they did in the movie... which is make the character perfectly boring. Writers do it a lot with Superman too. If you are really supposed to look up to a character who is noble and pure, that's hard to write. Believe me. But Xavier isn't as perfect as he often is portrayed. He can sometimes be an overbearing task master who is too preoccupied with his grand plans to see the people carrying them out. He's trying to be a protector and guide to the inheriters of the Earth. That would take its toll on any one.

Moira MacTaggert

I like having a human on a team of mutants, but that's not the only reason I added Moira to the cast. Xavier needs someone to talk to as an equal so that the viewers can see that side of him. Moira could be just a friend or a love interest, but more importantly, she would be a female mentor who doesn't need superhuman abilities to make herself useful. Maybe she would teach the sciences, working closely with Hank and Kitty.

Scott "Cyclops" Summers

If you had to pick a single protagonist, it would be Scott. Scott is perfect because he is so accutely aware of the strength and weakness of his power. In the early comics, they nicknamed him Slim because he was tall and skinny. In the comics today, he is an athlete. It makes sense because Scott is a control freak and he doesn't like to show his weaknesses. This could be an element that develops as he goes from insecure, skinny kid feeling sorry for himself into the quintessential X-Man. Of course, a large part of his motivation would be Jean.

Jean Grey

Jean might be the hardest character to write because in the comics she never had a very defined personality. She goes from the tough cookie, Marvel Girl, to the world destroying Phoenix, so her storyarc also seems to be about power and self-repression. She witnesses the death of her friend Annie from inside her mind and it traumatized her, forcing her to suppress her telepathic abilities. So I could see her as being a young woman very conflicted about her own strength. This could be why she and Scott fit so well. However, her arc would be about working with Professor X on developing her powers safely and exploring the inner workings of the mind. Imagine the storytelling possibilities of having a psychic around.

Bobby "Iceman" Drake

Bobby might be the most identifiable X-Man because he is fairly normal. In the original comics, he was the youngest and a prankster, so you could keep that aspect. Add to that a penchant for hoodies (if would go well with his powers) and hardcore rap, then we'd have a pretty identifiable male character. Although this may be violating some broadcasting law about male characters all being metrosexual Dawson boys, I see Bobby as someone who would have pursued a career in video games if he hadn't been a mutant. Here is a character that you can organically shape throughout the series. They'll have to use a lot of spray on foam to simulate frost, but covered in frost could be a good look for Iceman.

Hank "Beast" McCoy

Hank is wise, sophisticated, and intelligent, but also very humorous and humble. You'd have to be to call yourself Beast. He'd be the Chris Stevens or (if you didn't watch Northern Exposure) the Wilson. Always with a philosophical perspective or parable. Of course, Hank is also a scientist so you could even use scientific analogies on social matters. The hard part might be the acrobatics, so you would have to hire someone fairly big and athletic. If you can get him to do some parkour training, you could fake the acrobatics with a minimum of wires or CGI.

Kevin Smith recently became my casting choice for Beast in the films, so someone similar (but younger) would be great for the show.

Ororo "Storm" Monroe

This would be an Ororo younger than in the comics. She has a great deal of empathy, compassion, and intelligence, but she has yet to develop wisdom and understanding of how the world works. Xavier convinces her that her upbringing as an orphan in Africa has given her impressive skills, but a limited perspective. When she realizes that the gift of rain that she is giving will eventually cause more harm than good, she agrees to go with Xavier, who promises that she can study whatever she would like. I see her as being very much a social activist, speaking with moral conviction where others see nothing worth speaking about.


I added Rogue to this cast for two reasons. First, she is wildly popular amongst women I've spoken to. I think the idea of a woman who cannot touch some without hurting them really resonates with a lot of women. But maybe it's more than that, if Rogue touches someone, she practically becomes them. It is a very intimate connection that is rife with story telling possibilities. Second, it's just cool to be able to copy people's powers. On a few occasions, she has copied the powers of multiple people and used them in conjunction. And beside all of that, Rogue has always been a character struggling with her dark side and that is usually fun to watch.

Kitty Pryde

I threw in Kitty Pryde for a few reasons. First, her power is easy to produce on a modest budget. Second, she is often the youngest member of the X-Men and this version is no exception. I thought it might be fun to have a character who is considerably younger and more playful than the primary cast. It gives her a different perspective. Maybe she can't be an X-Man the first year or two, so she is just a student. In the comics, she was a computer genius and it might be fun to play up on that angle as well. A friend of mine tells me that his kids are little computer geniuses, so rather than her being the stereotypical geek, she would be part of a generation that evolved with computers.

Kurt "Nightcrawler" Wagner

If there was one character that could be taken off this list, it's Kurt. Why did I include him? Because he is a fan favorite. If we went with the furless Beast, Nightcrawler wouldn't seem so redundant. Also, there aren't any other characters who were deformed by their mutant powers to the same extent. His character has always been fun loving and charming, but rooted in an insecurity over his own appearance. He is also a particularly religious character who could contrast well with Reverand Stryker in later seasons.

Erik "Magneto" Lensherr

I would love to introduce Magneto not as a villain, but as Xavier's old friend and a sort of uncle to the X-Men. You could have him work with Xavier's school and bring some of the mutants he has found including Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Toad. You could gradually build up the tension between his and Xavier's perspectives on mutant destiny and activism. By starting him as a friend, we can start fracturing the X-Men into philosophical differences that would reveal their inner characters. Of course, at some point, he would break off, form the Brotherhood of Mutants, and become a true villain, but that would be fun too.


But you could do entire episodes about meeting a new person with a new mutant power. This is what X-Files, Buffy, and Smallville fans call the "freak of the week." Many could be existing comic characters like Mastermind the illusionist, Mimic the power copier, or Destiny the precog. For season long story arcs, you could infiltrate the mutant terrorist group, the Brotherhood of Mutants, or the anti-mutant group, the Friends of Humanity. Do a story about Reverend Stryker and the Purifiers centered around Nightcrawler's faith or Beast getting an intership at a company that manufactures mutant hunting Sentinels. They could go to the Hellfire Club and meet their own school of Hellions. They could even do stories about the Morlocks, Days of the Future Past, Mr. Sinister, and Apocalypse.

Season 1

I can see season one starting with a mutant girl on her own who is running from the authorities. With reluctance suppressed by necessity, she runs into a crowd and touches multiple people to absorb their strength. Now when she runs, she runs like a track star and when she throws a punch, she hits like a boxer. Maybe she escapes, maybe not but she pops up on Cerebro.

Meanwhile, at Xavier's school, Scott is doing well, both as a student and as an X-Man, but not excelling at either. They go to a public school for most classes because Xavier believes that it is important that they learn to integrate with others (also, more storytelling options). Scott is so nervous that his glasses are going to fall off that he never does anything too physical. Other people always look at him strange, but he tells them that he is wearing prescription lenses; he gets migraines without them and his retinas adjust to the red filter.

The first story would be centered around Scott and Rogue, but include Xavier, Moira, Hank, and Bobby. Xavier sends Cyclops, Beast, and Iceman to find Rogue who thinks that the government sent special soldiers to get her. A fight ensues in which Rogue samples the other's powers until she realizes they are trying to help her and goes with them.

The second story I see as a second-part to the pilot in which Xavier meets with his old friend, Erik, as they recruit Jean Grey, a troubled girl with a great deal of power. Xavier brings her back to the mansion along with Erik who takes an interest in the traumatized Rogue. Meanwhile, Scott is transfixed by Jean, but too nervous to get to know her.

In the very next episode, we find Professor Xavier in Africa where a young girl named Ororo is being worshiped as a goddess because she brings the village rain. Xavier tells her the she is not a goddess; she is a mutant. He offers to take her to be with other mutants and teach her control of her powers, but she refuses, saying that her place is there. Later, a local wise man asks her if she is immortal. She says that she does not know. He tells her that he sees more people having families and less people dying meaning Ororo will have to bring more rain for more crops for many generations. If she were to die, it would be very bad. Considering this, Ororo agrees to go with Xavier.

As the X-Men encounter mutants, they find that most of them are seduced by the temptations of their powers and are not interested in practicing responsible control. Many of them try to kill people or harm them in some other way. Erik (or Magneto as he comes to be called) ends up influencing many of those who stay at the mansion and breaking off to form the terrorist organization known as the Brotherhood of Mutants. Rogue is amongst those who join. Here Magneto fills their heads with their genetic right to rule and of the destructive history of man. It is a compelling contrast to Xavier's ideology.

Magneto encourages Rogue to use her powers to the fullest. He encourages her to touch others, to sample their minds and abilities. He tells her that it is her genetic gift and it is meant to be used, but eventually, she finds the psyches of others to be overwhelming. It pushes her to the edge and eventually drives her back to Xavier for help.

Rather than have an X-Men/Brotherhood face-off in the pilot, season one would focus on them being two divergent philosophies. Members of both groups would socialize and debate, but gradually they break apart, leading to a confrontation in the season finale which would reveal the existence of mutants to the world. Season two and all subsequent seasons would focus on the fear of mutants as a parallel to terrorism, school violence, and discrimination.


I think this could really work. The only serious drawback would be the absence of Wolverine, but even this absence would keep people watching in hopes that he would eventually appear. It would capture the youth audience beautifully and provide a vehicle that would be full of social commentary (if people still do that any more).