Just finished “House of Cards” Season 3 – Gut reaction, no spoilers

Get it?

How do you match the hype and expectations around the return of your favorite, released-all-at-once, groundbreaking drama? You don’t. Go deep, not big.

I finished House of Cards’ third season about 15 minutes ago. My immediate reaction is positive. It’s going to be a long wait for season 4. I don’t want to post any spoilers this early in the game, but I think I can talk thematically about this season.

I had the same reaction some early reviewers did. The first two episodes were “slow.” But really they just did not match the harrowing, nail-biting pace that the closing episodes of season two displayed and I think that threw some people. Me included, at first. It was intentional, though, and it was a wise choice — necessary table-setting for deep, high-pressure, psychological drama.

It would have been hard to top the pilot episode (meet Frank Underwood), the season two premiere shocker (Zoey takes the Red Line), or even the late season one Peter Russo shock (breathe deep). The season three premiere doesn’t try and it’s actually a refreshing change of pace to focus on a particular character (who’s not Frank or Claire) for an extended period of time.

This season, when viewed in total, should actually be welcomed by fans. This is the “Frank and Claire” season. After watching seasons one and two, the question that always loomed large in my mind is, “How does Frank and Claire’s marriage work?” It was never wholly clear to me if they were plotting and scheming together or if things were more free-style. Do they actually love each other? Is the relationship merely one of political convenience? I won’t say if these questions are expressly answered or not, but this season finally starts probing those questions head-on.

I would also argue that the “slow” pace of the initial episodes is an intentional, necessary choice. This is not a Frank Underwood who can sneak around in back alleys and quietly grind/grease the gears of the political machine unseen — he is the President of the United States and he is in the light. His every move is visible. Plus, the choices he’s made in the previous two seasons that got him to this point have not been forgotten, particularly by the people who he burned. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to show — Frank lusted for ultimate power and he’s now achieved it, but he’s more boxed in than ever before.

It’s spelled I-R-O-N-Y.

Arguably, the best part of season 3 is a character/situation that I think is, in of itself, a spoiler coming out of Season 2 so I’ll hold off. But this season really gives some other cast members chances to shine in ways they hadn’t before.

I look forward to talking with you all about this latest season as you finish.

If you comment on this piece, please stay away from spoilers. I’ll post something more comprehensive after more than 1 1/2 days have passed.

Welcome Back.

More Profundity From a Great Show

Parks and Recreation Cast

One Last Ride

Parks and Recreation just ended, so I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone. But the reason I loved Lost was not because it was the greatest show ever made. That honor probably goes to Breaking Bad or maybe The Wire depending on my mood. No, I loved Lost because each of its characters was larger than life and the overarching theme of the show was about people wrestling with choice and destiny. It hit an emotional chord with me. I think about it everyday.

And a Teddy Roosevelt quote can’t be a spoiler, but it loomed large in the Parks and Recreation finale and it, too, resonated with me:

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

Leslie modifies the quote, which only sweetens it, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself. If you were ever a fan of Parks and Recreation the finale was well-executed. Very good. See it.

Spider-Gwen is Perfect

Fantastic design for Spider-Gwen

Spider-Gwen!

I know I’m late to the party on this one, but a good idea deserves praise whenever it comes. The Spider-Gwen concept and design are fantastic. It’s worth wondering how bringing Gwen back never came up before now given how no one in comics stays dead.*

The story sounds great, too. Some of the best stories have came of out “what if?” questions. Stephen King has made a career out of it. This one posits, what if Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker. And what if he became villainous and then died? Beyond just the gender role-reversal, it provides so many story possibilities because of Gwen’s natural talents and abilities which differ from Peter’s. Plus, it’s just interesting to juxtapose Gwen’s process of dealing with Peter’s death vs. how Peter dealt with it.

Her design is perfect. Frankly, it’s probably the best superhero design I’ve seen in years. I rather liked how DC redesigned Batgirl to have a more organic, put together look, but Spider-Gwen is a brand new character design and it’s something else. She almost has an alien look to her which is only amplified by the hood. The hood really pushes it over the top. It’s not only mysterious and badass, but also feminine, sexy, and alluring. Now, Catwoman is a badass, but let’s face it: she exudes sex. That’s part of that character’s tool set. Gwen is an open book as far as what kind of character she’ll ultimately turn out to be, but nether she, nor Spider-Man, were ever particularly “sexy” characters. They’re not meant to be. But this design is a great way to exemplify what a “Spider Girl/Woman**” character would be, by taking what’s familiar and turning it on its head.

Spider-Gwen will go on the ol’ Marvel Comixology app for a little while at least.

 

*I realize this is a parallel universe and “our” Gwen Stacy is still dead, but it’s not like we haven’t seen parallel universes in Marvel before. Great idea and with all the hubbub about female superheroes, it’s well-timed.

**I also realize there is a Spider-Woman. But she’s not a female Spider-Man. She has different powers. What I mean is a literal gender reversal version of Spider-Man–Spider-Woman. And, yes, I know there’s been a Spider-Girl, alternate universe daughter of Peter Parker kind of thing, but again this is a character that, instead of Peter Parker, is Spider-Woman.

I Was Wrong About DC Comics (sort of)

The Emerald Knight vs. the Scarlett Speedster

If you’re not watching Arrow and The Flash, you’re missing two of the best superhero comic adaptations on TV ever. And by DC Comics, no less!

I’ve attacked DC Comics’ wrongheaded film efforts many times in the past on this blog as well as to anyone who would listen, but I did so before seeing Arrow and The Flash. Both shows are more than worth your time. In fact, they’re successfully doing on TV what Marvel has mastered in film.

DC Comics and Warner Bros. have been chasing Marvel Studios “Cinematic Universe” for years now. DC’s first genuine “lap” in that race was 2013’s Man of Steel, a new Superman reboot and a starting point for their shared universe. Despite my criticisms, I genuinely like the film.

I am still not sure how Man of Steel stands as the first step in a new shared movie universe, though. It’s Superman done “realistic;” at least as realistic as an alien made invincible by the sun’s rays can be. And it feels embarrassed to embrace its comic book roots. That’s not to say it’s embarrassed of spectacle, because it has oodles of that. To a fault. The foundation of DC’s cinematic universe is built on a film in which Superman introduces himself to the world and then destroys Metropolis in a knockdown drag-out fight with General Zod and his mini army in the same film.

Superman is supposed to be a boy scout, a beacon of hope, and a savior. He did put himself on the line to save humanity, but left a path of destruction behind him that would leave the most optimistic supporters hard pressed to defend him. So, we’ll see how Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice develops this universe further. In my heart, I am a DC over Marvel guy — I love Batman — but it’s hard to defend how badly they’ve treated their properties on film (Nolan-verse aside, of course).

Yet, in 2012 Arrow premiered on the CW as a gritty re-imagining of the laughable Batman rip-off superhero Green Arrow. In the comics, Green Arrow is probably most famous for sometimes shooting people in the face with a “boxing glove” arrow and looking like a Robin Hood rip-off. Although, Green Arrow appeared in the Bruce Timm animated universe, specifically Justice League Unlimited, as a pretty cool character who questioned the league’s authority as a voice of the “common man.” He was also voiced by the guy who played “Scotty” on General Hospital in the 90s… uh, *ahem*, not that I would know much about that.

In any case, Arrow is better than it has any right to be. It plays sort of like Batman Begins with the would-be hero, Oliver Queen, returning from a long exile and setting up his crime-fighting apparatus, complete with a training montage featuring salmon ladder pull-ups which my wife very much enjoys watching. But it’s OK because I ogle Ollie’s sister, Thea, a young woman who never met a shirt that didn’t show her midriff.

The story plays out, at least initially, with “villains of the week” and serialized elements guiding the story forward. Interestingly, Oliver Queen’s crime-fighting persona is not “Green Arrow.” At least not at first. He is “The Hood.” Playing into the Batman Begins comparison, Ollie is not fully baked at the end of episode one. Part of the fun is watching Ollie learn how to wage war on his city’s criminals and learn the ropes of urban vigilantism. As he does, the show’s story and characters expand and become more complex. Even better, the show’s leadership and writers are very comfortable geeking out with DC comics minutiae. For example, Ollie faces off with a version of Batman’s Royal Flush Gang in one episode.

The fight scenes are well done and surprisingly brutal. Ollie is not above filling guys who pose a threat with arrows. The costumes are reasonably good… although as with any superhero property there is necessary suspension of belief after a point.

Arrow eventually introduced crime scene investigator Barry Allen aka: The freakin’ Flash and spun him off into his own show, which introduced the concept of super powers and “meta-humans” into this universe. The Flash has been a fantastic show with an endearing lead and surprisingly good effects for a CW show. It’s also developed a very strong central mystery which has been propelling the story forward.

Since The Flash premiered, it has crossed over with Arrow several times yet both shows have maintained their own stories and arcs. In fact, I’ve been thoroughly impressed by how the shows have maintained ties to each other (whether characters from either show appear or not) and haven’t forgotten that these people exist in the same world. It’s one of few criticisms that I would make of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel — once the characters diverged, other than prearranged crossovers, the two worlds were entirely separate. Normally, this would have been OK except that on Buffy the world was ending every year and you’d think that maybe someone would have noticed a flying dragon (Season 5 finale) or the fact that the sun was blotted out in LA for several days on Angel (season 4).

Amazingly, while “kingmaker” Marvel was struggling to give it’s first TV property, Agents of SHIELD, solid footing, Arrow was into its second ambitious season developing a “big bad” that had been foreshadowed since the pilot episode and shaking up the status quo every week. It wasn’t until Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out that Agents of SHIELD improved drastically and made what came before a lot more relevant. But I would argue that Arrow was still the better show even though it was very cool to see how events playing out in the Marvel films affected the wider universe that Agents of SHIELD lives in week to week.

Which leads me to how DC is still screwing this up and lets me explain how I was only “sorta” wrong about them.

After Man of Steel came out there were questions about whether or not Superman and Arrow’s Oliver Queen existed in the same universe. Unlike Marvel, DC doesn’t have a unifying figure like Kevin Feige keeping these things locked down. DC was cagey about the continuity between universes for more than a year. Fans clamored for a shared movie and TV universe like Marvel has, although given the world changing events of Man of Steel it seemed odd that Arrow seemed unaffected by nor mentioned the near worldwide cataclysm. Then in late summer 2014, DC guru Geoff Johns confirmed what fans dreaded: Arrow/The Flash are not in the same universe as Man of Steel. They are “separate universes,” says Johns. The point was further hit home by the casting of a separate Flash for the upcoming Justice League and Flash movies (Grant Gustin plays an exceptional Barry Allen/Flash on TV and Erza Miller will be the movie Flash).

Disheartening news. DC had an opportunity to build off of a fantastic existing property, Arrow, and tie it to its big movie franchises and they have shut it down. Worse yet, CBS is developing a Supergirl TV show and there is a question as to whether or not that will be part of the same universe as Arrow and The Flash. Would it be part of the movie universe? It’s own thing?? It’s not clear yet and that, in of itself, is proof of DC’s shortsighted, bad planning.

Now, let me be clear about one thing: I actually would not mind, in principle, if the DC TV universe and the movie universe were separate entities. Let the movie world be one thing and the TV world be another. Sounds fair.

Except it’s not.

The DC movie universe has free reign to use whatever characters and properties it wishes (assuming licensing rights aren’t an issue, of course), but DC TV does not. For example, Batman and Superman are off limits. I don’t think I’ve seen it expressly stated anywhere, but I suspect that Wonder Woman is off-limits, too. Junior Varsity Batman villains are OK (Deadshot, Clock King, etc.) but not the Joker or even Harley Quinn for that matter (brief Arrow easter egg aside, that is). Now, it probably wouldn’t make much sense to have the Joker without Batman anyway, but my point remains: TV is limited in what characters it can use while the movies are not. This doesn’t make sense to me. If the universes are “separate” why does it matter if there’s a TV Batman and a movie Batman? Hell, at this point, there’s a TV Flash and a movie Flash; so why are we holding back on the characters that fans want to see?

DC has been schizophrenic about this for almost 15 years. Justice League and Justice League Unlimited were victims of a so-called “bat embargo” that gradually prevented the usage of Batman characters and villains on the shows for… reasons. In the linked article, it’s suggested that because of the Batman Begins reboot in 2004 DC was sensitive about confusing people with multiple versions of the same character. It’s also noted that because Aquaman appeared on Smallville (ugh), he couldn’t be used on Justice League anymore either. What is DC’s deal??

Anyway, I’ll drive myself insane trying to understand why DC is contradicting itself. But if you take anything from this post, it should be WATCH ARROW AND THE FLASH! They’re fantastic. You have to do it in chronological order, though. Watch the first two seasons of Arrow and then watch The Flash pilot and then trade off Arrow and The Flash episodes after that.

An “Afterword” for TITAN

New edition features an “Afterword” not included in the first edition.

The great thing about self-publishing your work is it’s in your control. You make the editorial decisions. You help design the art and make final decisions on its direction. And you go at your own pace (although laziness can intrude from time to time).

The not-so-great part about self-publishing is, at least at the outset, not knowing what the hell you are doing. I use Amazon publishing, which is a great service. But you can lose some important details. For instance, as those of you who bought the first edition of TITAN know, the book just starts. There are no title or copyright pages. I assumed that information would get layered into my book by Amazon’s service. I was wrong.

That said, I love my book and I’m proud of it. I’m more interested in the story anyway. However, in addition to missing some “niceties” that other books have, it’s a thick brick tome. I’m pretty sure you could knock someone out with that book with a good hit to the dome (that is not an endorsement of doing so, mind you…). Therefore, I reformatted the story down from 499 pages to 308 pages, including a new “afterword,” and added a new matte cover that looks and feels great.

But because I’m not a George Lucasinian shill, I will not make you buy a new edition of the same book just to see the new bells and whistles and read my new afterword. Nope, you can read it right here for free. Suffice it to say, if you haven’t read TITAN, I wouldn’t recommend reading the afterword until you do as there are some spoilers.

Here you go:

Let me tell you a secret.

Writers have egos.

There. Now you know. Mull that for a moment. And since writers have egos they also have agendas. The work has to mean something, even if it’s a novel about a superhero. Hell, especially if it’s about a superhero—how else could you relate to someone with super strength and metal in his bones that fights monsters?

Connecting the hero’s story with her personal journey is why Buffy the Vampire Slayer was so good. Joss Whedon wanted to deconstruct the stereotypical blonde female victim, so he made her the thing that monsters would fear instead. Moreover, the threats and villains she faced were usually representative of the personal turmoil that she was having in any given episode.

I have a few agendas with Titan, but one stands above the others. Eric Steele’s sister, Sarah, is based upon my real sister. Sarah was very real. She was handicapped, just like the Sarah in the story. The real Sarah also passed away. She left a mark on all of us. But when I think about my sister, as a person, I dwell on her unfulfilled promise. I think about the life she might have led if things had gone differently. It was a waste of a beautiful person.

In the world I created, I needed to give Sarah a purpose and meaning the real one didn’t get to have. She was supposed to be a superhero. Sarah became the motivation driving Eric Steele like Batman’s murdered parents or Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben. Beyond that, the suffering she endured wasn’t without meaning; she fought to survive so she could give her brother the ancient power that she couldn’t use. Sarah is the critical link throughout the story. By the end, Eric realizes that he must commit to Titan because Sarah can’t.

We all have particular family dynamics, but I don’t think I’m the only person whose older sibling loomed large. I inherited a chip on my shoulder to succeed and do all of the things Sarah could not. When I was a younger man, I resented that. But it was short-sighted. If it had not been for the real Sarah I might not be a writer.

Sarah’s condition was such that we were often homebound, so I learned to play by myself and developed a big imagination. I invented worlds and characters in my mind and acted out detailed scenarios. I used to build the bridge of the Enterprise, from Star Trek, in my bedroom out of dining room chairs and TV trays. Broken tree branches and sticks became exotic alien weaponry or guns. The interior of my house was a giant spacecraft (think: Death Star) from which the Millennium Falcon needed to destroy and escape. Sarah was sometimes an alien life form the Enterprise needed to research (and usually blow up).

So often, superheroes are driven by the death of a parent or parental figure, but I thought there was more value in showing how a family copes with the loss of a child and a sister. Eric Steele’s parents’ roles in this are just as valid as his. Similar to my own experiences, Sarah’s death reverberated through each family member. The circumstances around her death and what disabled her for life forced everyone in the family to make certain decisions that continue to affect them in the present like the mystery around how Tim Steele lost his powers. Some of this was revealed and there’s more to come.

My other agendas are petty by comparison. As much as I had a great idea for a superhero with a badass name with liquid metal in his bones that can forge armor, weapons, and objects through sheer will, what I really wanted to do was name his mild-mannered alter ego “Eric.” And he’s a superhero so he either needed alliteration in his name, à la Peter Parker or Clark Kent, or he needed one of those names that was *wink* *wink* some statement about his hero identity. I went with the latter because alliteration is harder with “e” and because “Eric Steele” just sounds cool.

I’m telling you this because my name is also “Eric.” Of course, the decision to name my main character with the same first name invites criticism. But I gladly accept it because my reasons for doing so go beyond ego. Nomenclature of fictional characters is due for a shake-up. For one, I like my name. I don’t meet enough Erics. It’s a good, solid name. Two, and most important, I’m tired of “John Hero.” How many people are named “John” anyway? Going just off of action movies, everyone’s name is John.

I want to be clear about this because I don’t want people confusing my fictional character’s thoughts, feelings, family and friends, or events in his life as though they are my own. Like any writer, my characters are all drawn out of my characteristics and a combination of various people I know. Writers really do write what they know. And sure, I think it would be cool to have the kind of superpowers that Eric Steele has, but I certainly wouldn’t want to get them the same way or go through what he does. Really, though, Erics draw the short straw in fiction. They’re either villains, bullies, jerks, or weirdoes, wimps, or just some peripheral character with no lines. Eric Cartman, from South Park, while hilarious, is pure evil; Eric Foreman, from That 70s Show, is a wimp; and Erik Lehnsherr or Magneto, as he is more commonly known in X-Men, is a villain often trying to murder the human race. Those are just three examples. There are a couple of exceptions to this: Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid and Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Now there’s another: Eric Steele.

On another track, Eric Steele and Titan are also shorter than average at 5 feet, 5 inches. So am I. In fact, I gave Titan an extra inch on me—I’m only 5’4. As much as I wanted to fight the good fight on behalf of Erics, I also wanted to stand up for the little guy (pardon the pun). Why can’t a superhero be “short?” In fact, the Wolverine of the comics is only 5’3, but he’s portrayed in the X-Men films (to date) by Hugh Jackman who is 6’2. Why couldn’t, say, Charlie Day (of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame) be Wolverine? He’s still taller at 5’7, but it would be closer. Well, in my story Titan is 5’5 and that’s OK; he still has an iron-fisted punch.

Another peccadillo of mine in the superhero genre has to do with the learning curve that its heroes endure (or don’t). I enjoy jumping into superhero fights and romance and intrigue as much as the next person, but it would seem to me that if someone all of a sudden possessed the powers of a spider, for example, it would take more than a 2 minute montage to become proficient in their use. I aspired to show how Titan’s character and powers grew iteratively. By the end of the book, Titan has accepted who he is, but he has not mastered Titan’s power. Committing to his superhero persona and conquering his first challenge were the first steps. Now he must learn what being Titan really means, where he fits in the world, and how to hone his abilities to be an effective hero.

A good artist should let his work stand on its own without explanation (…he said after explaining several things). He should write for himself above all else. But I felt that I should justify some of my creative decisions—not apologize for them, mind you—and clarify important influences on the work. Most importantly, I want my readers to know that Titan is like an iceberg; the book is just the tip above the water, but there is an extensive mass beneath the surface supporting the story.

…and the stories to come…

I hope you enjoyed it.

Web: http://www.TheTitanSaga.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/NeoMyers
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TITANSuperhero
Email: eabauthor@gmail.com