Year of the Animation come to Life

Last year serial do-good-former-criminals was the go-to show. This year it appears that comic book heroes are having yet another hurrah.

Let’s start with the most obvious: right now The CW is putting out a couple DC-related shows, The Flash and the next season of Arrow. The Flash, starring Grant Gustin, has had a rather fun showing for its first season. This is a show that’s squarely aimed at a particular demographic, but it happens to do well. It’s a great watch, worth putting in some viewing time if weekly supervillains, witty writing, and light-hearted with dark rumblings fits your fancy. And Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) guest stars a few times, definitely a highlight when he shows up.

Considering Marvel is still doing their thing with Avengers 2, tying Agents of Shield into it, as well as the earlier-in-the-season Agent Carter (which was fantastic), Marvel is going strong. I heard Stan Lee has given his final official cameo, which is unfortunate but understood considering his age.

Which brings me to an old Spider-man comic I happened across. One of the early ones, in the first couple hundred. Stan Lee had his column in the comics, and I just happened to read this one from the 60s or 70s, where he informs readers he’ll be stepping back from the comic creation side of things to focus more on expanding Marvel. Then he goes on to tell how he wants more Marvel, comics, books, TV shows, movies. And it hits me: this creative man has seen his vision slowly come to life, and then expand more and more. What he outlined many years ago has come about. Sure, there have been times when comics were more popular, and there have been various TV shows and movies over the years. Nothing like the past decade though. It’s impressive, and really impresses on you that Stan Lee has been one of the most influential people in entertainment for a very long time.

So to continue with the comic theme, I found myself looking for Superheroes the past year. I checked through the animated section of Netflix streaming, and while there were the expected too-childish and too-pointless ones, there are some real gems that are worth watching even as an adult.

Young Justice, actually a DC show, combines fantastic writing and a great plot (season one) with teen heroes. Not teen versions of heroes, but sidekicks and other characters. It has excellent plotting and a great story arc, and is not in any way a gag show.

Iron Man: Armored Adventures is aimed at a slightly younger audience, but that doesn’t hinder it. It makes Tony Stark a teen and has a different animation style, but once you get used to both it stands out as having a strong plot and good writing. The characters also develop well. It’s a fun show, especially when there are so many others that try to seem fun, but are just repetitive.

Finally I watched the show, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Talk about a surprise. This at first appears to be more typical, but the writing, the characters, and the plots just make it great. Until the final ten or so episodes of the second season where Man of Action start writing for the show (MoA tend to be too episodic and aimed much more directly at children and weekly shows for my taste), and that’s where the plots stop and the episodic pointlessness begin. There is a follow-up show, Assemble, that isn’t worth watching. But the first season and a half of EMH is fantastic, and a string of interesting plots, characters that interact and develop, and arcs.

There’s something special about superhero shows, whether in animation or acted. They give creative freedom, making plots, arcs, and characters that exist outside the confines of reality. But the ones that are amazing are the ones that have all the fantastical elements on top of great writing, thoughtful storytelling, ultimately real characters, and plots that fill arcs. There aren’t many out there, but I appreciate that the comic book guys are trying harder than ever to make something good. It really is an old guy’s dream come to life. Now to see what this year brings.

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Last year Leverage, now it’s White Collar

The irony, I wrote the below, then went to Netflix… and found out the license for this show expired today on Netflix. Which pretty much cancels out all of the fun. Way to go content licensing, way to go being stuck in the middle of a season.

So doing the Netflix shuffle on what’s good and fun to watch, and last year saw a fun series called Leverage, staring Timothy Hutton. My first exposure to him was his role in a television version of several of the Nero Wolfe books, for which he does an excellent Archie Goodwin. Leverage had him rounding up a gang of thieves in the Ocean’s Eleven style and helping people out.

White Collar has been in my current Netflix list, and it’s been some rather fun watching. It’s marked as similar to Leverage, but there are a couple parts to it that I’d like to point out as why it’s different, and why it’s a fun show.

First instead of having a full team of assorted talents, there’s really just the two main characters, the con-man and the FBI agent. They each have a surrounding team of various sizes, but that’s unimportant. It’s really more buddy cop, just one person is a criminal. They play off each other very well.

The con-man, forger, Neal, gives a reminiscence of Timothy Hutton’s character in Leverage, but with the charm and youth and looks of Hutton in his younger Archie Goodwin role. Neal’s actor is one of those guys who is ridiculously “symmetrical” as one person in the show puts it, but the act he puts on lets you forgive that detail. And his interactions with the FBI agent, Peter, tend to be refreshing.

The show itself has a couple elements in the writing that I enjoy. They are a “weekly” show instead of a continuous one, so they have some standalone episodes. That’s not something I normally care for, however there is an underlying developing plot that keeps the story moving in the background through the episodes and seasons. Again, since it’s a weekly that doesn’t necessarily move quickly, but they do sprinkle enough in the non-dedicated episodes that there’s no need to skip over any “filler” content. That and each episode’s story will stand alone well enough. And then every so often you do get a dedicated episode to the plot, so the pacing is rather decent for a cable weekly.

It’s a USA Network show, and those have always been somewhat fun, like Monk and Psych. I never really cared for Burn Notice, but all the USA Network stuff has a common theme in general, and their focus on Police Procedural with a “twist” has usually made for some good watching.

I’m still running through what’s online and haven’t finished, but apparently the fifth season ended earlier, but they have now planned a 6-episode season 6.

It’s been fun enough to come here and write a small update, so I’d consider this a recommendation of what to watch when you’re looking for a fun Police Procedural that still has a plot, and the entire family can watch it.

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Villains, how do you take them, bad or with a side of sympathy?


I want mine with no redemption. Gimme a good-old bad guy.

I like the old-school “try to take over the world – just because I want to” villains, and have been bothered by the number of “the world should end because the world let my daughter die and I’m so depressed” pseudo-villains that have become more common.

Take note though (definitions are important), an antagonist is different. In several of my favorite stories the Protagonist and Antagonist resolve their issues near the end of the story and work together to defeat a real nemesis. Sometimes the evil one can be an antagonist (or in some cases even a protagonist, while the hero working on the side of good is the antagonist), but that doesn’t change what their motivation should be: true evil.

It’s fiction, after all, and it doesn’t have to be realistically complicated with moral ambiguity. Just my preference.

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Review: Due South

Last year I finished watching the full four seasons of Due South. Beginning to end. It was a pleasure to be in such fine company as the characters portrayed.

To begin with, Due South has is almost unique in all the western shows I have seen. For example, the Japanese stuff I watch are mostly single-season series. Some are based on longer written or serialized works and thus are abridged or just contain the first few books, but for a good number they are simply created as one-season shows. They’ll either be three months, six months, or a year. Some are longer. And very rarely they’ll continue on.

In the western world it is different. Most shows that get put on the air in the western world are made with serialization in mind, to form a series and a continued viewership.

What does this have to do with Due South? Simply put, it is one of the few western shows I’ve seen that wasn’t cancelled, nor was it because the course of the plot had run out. In fact, it’s quite interesting how Due South came about as a series.

It was a made-for-tv movie. And then it gathered fans, who asked for more, and so a series was created. It ran. And then when that series was over, people still wanted more. And so they made more. Due South was never cancelled. It was only expanded until it had reached four seasons. That in itself is astounding. Just that background adds something to the intrigue of it. But that story about it’s expansion is mostly a byproduct of the actual material.

Due South concerns Benton Fraser, a Canadian mountie. He first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father… and if you’ve seen the show you’ll know the next few lines. It’s repeated often, the statement about how he stayed on with the consulate, a liaison and helper for the Chicago PD. It becomes a running joke throughout the series. As the seasons go on and the characters change, that line appears again and again.

Due South is so enjoyable because of that line. Not because it is said over and over. But because of the inside joke it symbolizes. The entire show is one big joke. Benton is superhuman at times, and by the final season the writers simply go with it, letting their imagination run wild at times, but never to an excessive degree. By that I mean there will only be one or two completely impossible events happen per episode, rather than other shows that may harp on it too much.

They never overdose you on the superhuman. Certainly, some of the doses are stronger, and played for comedic effect, but the show plays most of its jokes quite straight. Paul Gross, the actor who plays Fraser, and who later directs the latter seasons, does a fantastic job of doing absolutely fantastic things with the straightest face on his character. Much of that is his character’s insane politeness.

Let us speak of politeness. And the running jokes. Benton Fraser, a Canadian, is very polite. And courteous. And a gentleman. And nearly perfect, as perfect could be. That too, is a joke. One played by the show in very interesting ways. Fraser will politely ask a group of people pointing guns at him to drop their weapons because their firearms may be illegal. He’ll hold doors open for everyone. He is courteous to all.

So when someone doesn’t believe him, or the things he’s saying, his partner looks at the guy and says “He’s Canadian,” suddenly the person has this look of understanding, knows that Fraser is telling the truth, and immediately accepts it. And thus the plot for that episode continues.

These are just a couple examples, but they stand out to me. It’s hard to quantify their meanings in words, and I also don’t wish to spoil anything. For if there is a show worth watching, it is Due South. It’s a buddy-cop flick, with a touch of Superman, a dash of straight-laced comedy, and all-around feel-good watching.

There’s a lack of watchable stuff that plays itself so well that you feel good at the end of each episode. That you watch because you know it’ll be good time and again. Due South fills that gap. No wonder it wasn’t cancelled. The world needed more of it.

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Long books

There was something I just saw posted on LinkedIn that raises my ire. People talking about the length of books for kids. With them thinking that kids between 7 and 10 should have shorter works. You know, ones that keep their attention, don’t have too complicated plots, and give a sense of accomplishment.

What a woeful thought! Are we trying to give our children ADD? Or are we just assuming that every child can’t hold their attention for more than a couple minutes? Do we think that children forget about something they haven’t finishing reading in a single day?

My my my. I would have loved to have had some of the really long stuff as a child. In fact, I did read mostly longer stuff. Because I read it all so quickly. When you’re done with a 28 page (that was recommended by one person!) book in a couple minutes (the words are bigger too, because apparently children’s eyes are worse than adult’s….), you want something more.

I read when I was in school. Because there was nothing else to do. Lessons? Teacher gave a few, then assigned us some work to do for the rest of the class. That work? Done by the time the teacher finished explaining how to do it. Homework? Done in the next class in the few minutes before the teacher starts speaking.

So what do you do? Read. Tons upon tons of reading. So much so that teachers get annoyed. Of course they can’t complain when you’re already done with the work and have a B+ or A average.

But don’t teachers assign so much work nowadays kids can’t keep up and thus won’t have time to read?

If you, as a child, read voraciously, chances are your reading level and comprehension are higher than average… which leads to completing any schoolwork quicker, which gives more time for reading.

I do happen to like longer works. I always have. Series are my favorite because they are essentially long books. Kids are people too. They get attached to characters too, and want to see those characters do more stuff. Which means either more books… or longer good ones.

Shorter books for young kids to hold their attention? My younger self is crying.

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Character’s that don’t listen are just imitating people in real life

I read something odd. It was a short book about people having these verbal battles with each other on a psychological level.

It wasn’t all that great, because each time one of the characters said something true about the other person that they didn’t want to hear, the person was upset by it and annoyed at it’s truth.

That doesn’t mimic real life at all. It hasn’t for much of history.

“But James, if they said something true, and the other person was annoyed at it because it was true, I don’t see what your point is. Of course they were annoyed at hearing a real weakness pointed out, it was true!”

Oh no no no, it was true, yes, but no, the person listening doesn’t need to recognize it as truth. Saying something true, about anything, doesn’t ever guarantee you that the other person will recognize it as fact.

So having characters use other people’s weaknesses in a verbal battle against them doesn’t really work for me, because I know real people will get offended at hearing the “truth,” and will claim it to be a lie.

You can even show them proof, and it won’t matter, a proof doesn’t change an obstinate person from believing their own version of reality, no matter how false it may be.

I like some of the stuff I wrote in The Lupine Chevalier. I know some will probably read it and be annoyed that it didn’t go in the direction the previous writings indicated, and how I reveal to the audience various truths that the characters somehow get close to realizing, but don’t at the times expected. The audience may also note that things were forgotten by characters. That they’ll listen to lies even when they have doubts. Because that’s the way people are.

What brought this on? Just seeing an example of it around 2500 years ago, and laughing at how humans haven’t really changed. In the book of Jeremiah (in the Bible, the old testament – and your belief in the Bible doesn’t matter here, just take a look at the example for what it is), Jeremiah spends his life prophesying, stating what God has intended. And he started decades before some of the prophesies began to be fulfilled. So he has years of people not believing, claiming he’s a liar, claiming he’s not from God, etc.

And then it happens, just like he said. And now, with complete and utter proof before them, everything happening just like Jeremiah said, what do those people who claimed Jeremiah a liar say? Do they, upon seeing a fact, a proof, evidence, truth, realize Jeremiah was telling the truth?

To paraphrase them: “Oh why did we stop sacrificing to the ‘goddess of the heavens’ (a false god), because we did all this calamity fell!”

Pretty deserving of a palm to the forehead. And yet, we see the same thing today. People who don’t listen are quite common. So, characters that don’t listen in the face of overwhelming truth… well, maybe they do listen, after all… it’s fiction.

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Rating Systems

I find rating systems for games are becoming rather pointless.

In its quest to transform from an intelligent and interesting online news/opinion site about games/tech/science to a rather annoying, baiting, and biased site, Ars Technica has spent another wasted amount of space on a pointless follow-up to a pointless initial article.

First they had an article on what games the editors thought were overrated.

And later they had an article on what games readers/commenters of the site thought were overrated.

They are some of the most pointless articles. I don’t care about that stuff. It adds nothing.

It seems like they have one goal with a couple articles per week now: incite flame wars. I don’t understand why, but it isn’t just those two articles.

A few weeks ago they had their annual reader survey. I had noticed the trend and asked in the suggestions for the survey that they do fewer trollish articles.

It seems they’ve read that, for now there are more than ever. Articles whose only point seem to be to troll the audience, to fan the flames of fan’s opinions on matters, to play to the audience, to demean those who don’t agree with them… it’s getting weird.

Ars has lost a dedicated reader. I used to read every single article every day, because they were all worth reading. Now, not so much. Black holes had an article today; I love black holes, they are fascinating and the science is completely out there.

Back to the original point, which isn’t necessarily about Ars and it’s fall into the editorial toilet. (Considering how much I used to love them, this recent change over the past few months is rather upsetting, and I only wish the editors could see this, realize they’ve been giving ear to pointless dribble, repent, and become good again. Please. Because I’d rather like it, but the trollish articles are really bringing down the rest of the site.)

Rating systems, when point based, are rather pointless. The two articles about overrated games were pretty much this:

Take a collection of 5-10 games that are from somewhere on the top 50 games of all-time list, and complain about how terrible/overrated they are.

The truth is, everything has haters. It is almost frightening how naturally people self-align into love/hate groups with near-perfect exactness.

Consider the greatest example of this: the elections. They have recently been 51/49 (I’m generalizing) in general. That’s insane. How in the world are people splitting themselves down the middle so evenly? Why is it 50% dems and 50% reps? It can’t be random, it’s much too organized to be random.

But anyways, it just illustrates in a grander way what people do, they split, and with surprising consistency they’ll split down the middle if you have a large enough segment of people.

It even makes me wonder what the % is on iPhone/Android haters/lovers. But in online debates, you certainly do see a split, there is rarely an overwhelming advantage in anything, with the rare exception of something especially correct being compared against something especially wrong, and both must be extremely obvious to all involved. It still isn’t 100%, ever, of course.

So, we can extend this to things people like. And we can even make a statement out of it. The more people that like (a), the more people that hate (a). Plain and simple.

Top 50 games? I’d bet they also have more people that hate them (numbers-wise) than many others. Exposure leads to people seeing, judging, then splitting.

So, let’s say we have a game that 100 reviewers online say the game deserves a perfect 10/10. Let’s say I play it and hate it, think it deserves 6/10, at best. Let’s also say that anyone who has professionally reviewed it agrees it should be 10/10, and that no reviewer (only some players) thinks it deserves less than 10/10.

But I hated it, right? But it’s a perfect game, isn’t it?

That review system is flawed. A numerical system for rating a game doesn’t really tell you much about it. And, of course, it’s based on current standards. I played some games in my youth that were perfect 10 games. Now people look at them and say “6 at best, story is flawed and graphics are meh.” They have no context that we liked that story, and the graphics were good for that era. And of course, they are part of the other sides’s 50%.

So, what do I want?

Game A ratings:

For people who require in depth plots, game A isn’t a great choice. For people who love shiny graphics, FPS, and a great multiplayer system, game A is the greatest game ever. For people that love adventure games, look elsewhere, game A isn’t an adventure game.

Why, if we rated games on their intentions (RPG/Action/Adventure/Plot/FPS/etc.) we may have reviews that are directed at the segment who likes those things first off, and then provides the rating for the segment that likes it already.

It doesn’t seem like there’s any reason to provide a general rating, as universal appeal isn’t common. You wouldn’t rate a puzzle game 10/10 for people who only played FPS, and you wouldn’t rate an FPS with multiplayer 10/10 for people who only play JRPGs. And a number system… is meh.

But if you say, “Hey, this JRPG has A, B, and C good points due to the system and story, but flaws D, E, and F because of a couple plotholes and a deus ex machina or two. Even with those it’s worth playing due to overall strength, interest, characterization, and general level of fun,” I’d find that much more useful.

How about a rating system that tells us how much fun we’ll have? I’d rather have fun with my entertainment, so please rate stuff on a fun scale in the correct segment/genre.

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The Lupine Prince on kindle updated

Last week I spent some time and energy fixing another couple typos and reformatting some of TLP for Kindle. The revisions were approved and so now the most up-to-date version is available on Kindle. Unfortunately the paperback still has some minor issues since correcting it is a bit more involved… and I have a preference for Kindle anyways. I know there are one or two typos I caught before that I didn’t note down and so have no idea of what they are or if they’ve been corrected or not, but I know they were minor.

And with the new system I figured out correction shouldn’t be a problem for any future revisions.

So again, my TLP on Kindle is looking good! I’ll have to run it though the select program on Amazon once I’m done editing book two, TLC. It’s a slow process, but it’s coming along.

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It’s almost time for a Due South review

I’ve been watching the oldish series Due South.

It’s incredibly fantastic, one of the best pieces of television I’ve ever seen in my life.

It’s also one of the few series that was never cancelled. It was a made for TV movie, fans demanded more so they made a series, one season. More was demanded, so a season two. Even more was demanded, and the BBC funded half of season three. Yet more was demanded, and a season four hit the airwaves, and there the series ended.

First fantastic series that wasn’t canceled; it was continued by request instead.

I’m about done with all four seasons. I don’t know if I’d be able to write a review that could do it justice. It has high points, and it has above average points.

Look forward to it. This is also one of the very few shows I haven’t sped through as fast as possible, almost savoring it instead.

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Twelve Twelve Twelve

Twelve, yesterday, was the last day of this century that’d have a day/month/year lineup.

It was a great day for releasing books, just like 11/11/11 was last year when Joel D Canfield had a book party.

And yesterday “Yo Pal” Hal Elrod released a book I had the pleasure of working on, The Miracle Morning. Well, pleasure in terms of reading it once, and then it was time to play spot what could be changed. A lengthy task, but the end result was rewarding. I found it interesting how after I’d already read it over a few times, I noticed some articles online that made it to the front of hackernews about how doing things in the morning sets the day. Which is what Hal’s book is about – set the morning right and the day to follow will be better. Simple to say, not so simple to go about it – which is where his book comes into play.

But anyways, this isn’t time for my review of it. This post is about 12/12/12, and how it’s gone, the last triple date of the century. We now have to wait for 01/01/2101… assuming the calendar is still Julian at that time (what… you never know!)

So adieu, last triple day of the century. You gave us another good book. You gave us another thing to talk about at work.

And then you passed, silently, as every other day has as well. Into the past you go, and forward we’ll look.

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