The Superhero Fiction Blues

I have expressed interest before in writing superhero fiction. But, before I embark on my own project, I feel it is sensible to get a lay of the land, to read what other writers in the genre are doing. Unfortunately, I cannot say that my readings have been exactly pleasant. Or interesting. 

The first work of superhero fiction I read was Rich Horton’s Superheroes anthology. I did not read every story in the collection. But what I did read is incredibly off putting. The stories I did read are, by and large, either dull or extremely derivative. 

The next work of superhero fiction I attempted was Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century. Again, I found the story to be incredibly dull. While the literary marriage of Le Carre and Moore is interesting, The Violent Century fails capture the sensitivity of of Le Carre and the originality of Watchmen. (Not that I’m particularly fond of Watchmen).

The final work of superhero fiction I attempted was Brian Sanderson’s Steelheart. I did not get far into this book before I put it down. For one thing, the prologue put me off the book almost immediately. And secondly, I really dislike works where a group of people are collectively, or near collectively, painted with the brush of evil. (I’ll blog about that in the coming weeks).

The problem I’m having with these works is that they are not epic. Rather they are postmodern mash ups that fail, for me at least, to rise above being derivative at worse and pale imitations of better written works at best. 

Perhaps I am being unfair. Maybe my expectations were X and the texts are Y? Maybe I should give these works another chance. But not right now. I’m not in the mood. 

There is a lesson here. (Besides not burning oneself out while binge reading a single genre). My reactions to these myriad examples of superhero fiction crystalizes what it is that I want to do with prose superheroes. They would, I think, make excellent subjects for a contemporary epic fantasy of some form. 

Now, do I want to write that story, whatever it is?

The Latest Marvel News

I should be ecstatic about this. Sam Wilson, the Falcon, will become the next Captain America this fall. Joining him will be a woman becoming Thor. And a more super villain Iron Man. This is, on the surface, awesome news. But look deeper. Know your comic book history. These nuggets of change demand much greater skepticism than they have received. 

Marvel (and DC) has a racial and gender problem when it comes to characters. They know this. They are aware of it. They are doing something about it. They are getting better. Maybe not as fast as I and many other progressive comic book fans would like, but they are certainly improving. 

The problem isn’t that Captain America is going to be a black man. The problem isn’t that Thor is going to be  a woman. The problem is how long will these changes last? 

Will Sam Wilson still be Captain America in ten years? In five? In three? What about Thor? 

I’ll be surprised if these changes last two years. 

It is very rare for successful superhero succession. Especially at Marvel. And even if it does last, there is no guarantee that the older hero won’t return to supplant their younger, newer replacement at some point.

I want to be wrong about this. I would like to see Sam Wilson wield the shield for many years. And I’d like to see what Jason Aaron has in mind for Thor. But healthy skepticism will, no doubt, assuage the coming heart break and fan rage.

 

Live Action Naruto?

What? 

Lately, I’ve wondered if a live action adaptation of Naruto is viable. The franchise is fifteen years old with 685 chapters and two very long running anime series (Naruto and Naruto Shippuden). With all that in mind, can Naruto be adapted for live action?

I’m honestly not sure Naruto can be adapted to film without some major cuts. A single movie is impossible without becoming a confusing mess. A trilogy or tetralogy is certainly more viable, but the filmmakers will have to find the essential narrative and, largely, cut the rest. Another option is to film every arc. But who would be willing to commit to fifteen plus films? And what will happen when the main cast age out of their roles?

The best option, I think, is for a Game of Thrones style ten to thirteen episode a season television series. 

Here’s how I envision Naruto  breaking down by season: The first season starts with Naruto becoming a genin and covers the Wave and Chunin Exam arcs. The second season covers the Invasion of Konoha, the Search for Tsunade, and the Sasuke Retrieval arcs. The third season would cover the Gaara Rescue, Sai and Sasuke, and Hidan and Kakuzu arcs (ending with Sasuke killing Orochimaru). The fourth season would cover the Itachi Pursuit and Invasion of Pain arcs ( ending with either the Raikage calling the Gokage Summit or Nagato’s death). The fifth season would, then, take on the Gokage Summit and the initial stages of the Fourth Shinobi World War. Finally, the sixth season would cover the Fourth Shinobi World War. 

You know, this could actually work. The only problem is one of production. I don’t know much about Japanese television, but I get the impression that the preference is, generally, for shorter, single season dramas. 

The problem with an American production company getting a hold of the live action television rights to Naruto is the danger of whitewashing the characters. Dragon Ball was whitewashed. The Last Airbender was whitewashed. And the proposed adaptations of Akira and Death Note features heavily rumored whitewashing of settings and characters. Hell, the rumored Naruto live action film featured some tween hearthrob up for the role of Naruto.

A solution to this problem, if American filmmakers get the greenlight, is to have a diverse cast. I’m not familiar enough with the current crop of actors to give a fantasy casting sheet. I’ll leave that to others.

I would love to see Naruto get a live adaptation. I don’t know if it is possible, but one can always hope. 

The Tale of Genji

I first attempted to read The Tale of Genji several years ago. I couldn’t get into it at the time, so I set it aside. Years later, I wished to attempt it again thanks to my historical fiction challenge. However, my local library no longer carried the text, and I had to interlibrary loan it. (Note to self, never interlibrary loan two very long novels at the same damn time). I had hoped my opinion would change, that I would come to like The Tale of Genji. However, my initial opinion stands. I just don’t find The Tale of Genji interesting.

The Tale of Genji is, obviously, the tale of Prince Genji, a younger son of the Old Emperor. The tale follows Genji’s amorous life in court and as an exile. And after his death, the tale follows his “son,” Kaoru. From material I’ve read, much of the focus is on Genji’s amorous pursuits and lush descriptions of the fashions of the time. 

I find it all dull.

To be honest, reading The Tale of Genji is like reading fanfiction. Not the fanfiction where one desperately wishes the fanfic writer actually wrote the source material, but the fanfiction that makes one deeply embarrassed to have read it in the first place. 

I don’t know if this is a problem with the source material or if it is a specific problem with the translation. To date, I’ve only read the older Waley translation. Maybe the later two translations won’t have the same problems that the Waley translation does. 

The question is, do I really want to find out? I don’t know. Give me a few years. 

Romance of the Three Kingdoms (and Red Cliff)

A few weeks ago, I set myself the task to challenge my apathy towards historical fiction. The first novel in my challenge is a revisit. I first tried to read Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the four great Chinese novels, years ago. I couldn’t get into it and returned it to the library disappointed. But I’ve always wanted to give the novel a second look in the hopes that I will come to appreciate if not actually enjoy Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

 Damn, I’m glad I did. I love this freaking book. Even if it is too damn long at nearly 1400 pages spread out over two volumes. It is, despite its size, an addictive read. 

Romance of the Three Kingdoms reads like a chronicle. A heavily fictionalized chronicle that tells the tale of the dissolution of the Han dynasty into three competing kingdoms and the eventual reunification of the empire under the Jin. This approach strips away all but the essentials. Given that the the Three Kingdoms lasted about a century, there is still a lot of material to cover. But this approach does have its problems. Characterization is limited to only a few major characters. And even then, the focus is on single character traits (the hot headed Chang Fei comes to mind).

What I find so interesting about Romance of the Three Kingdoms is how much it explores the strategy of the myriad conflicts surrounding the dissolution of the Han dynasty. So often in fantasy fiction, the hero (or his army) blindly rushes into battle with no plan, no strategy, and wins the day. Here, the reader sees how the generals plan to attack, defend, and trap each other. It is freaking cool. 

But at the same time, Romance of the Three Kingdoms does have major problems, especially for a modern audience. Women are by and large non entities explicitly compared to clothing (so are children) by the designated hero Liu Bei. There are a few exceptions like Diaochan and Lady Sun, but their impact is relatively limited to single episodes in the larger epic. But it must be noted that many of these women are given expanded roles in adaptations. 

Which leads me to Red Cliff, the film of one of the most pivotal battles of the entire saga. I’ve been meaning to watch this film for months. I finally took the opportunity after reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms and damn it all, I love this movie. 

In 208 C.E., Cao Cao has consolidated his position as Prime Minister to the puppet emperor Xian (the last Han emperor) by defeating the northern warlords. To reunify China under his rule, he must conquer the last remaining opposition in the south led by Liu Bei and Sun Quan. To prevent this, Kongming advises an alliance between Liu and Sun. Thus the stage is set for the decisive Battle of Red Cliffs. 

It is freaking gorgeous. The visuals are amazing. The battle scenes are great. The acting is wonderful. How the hell did the film makers accomplish all of this for only 80 million?

What I especially like is how the film gives equal weight to heroic fights and to the strategy that leads to victory. While many of the characters are portrayed as near super human, like Zhao Yu and Liu Bei and his companions, it is the competing strategies of Cao Cao and Kongming that make the film so amazing.

Women play a pivotal role in the movie. Lady Sun, the sister of Sun Quan, with her body guard of women warriors prove key in early skirmishes and as a spy in Cao Cao’s camp. And it is the wife of Zhao Yu, Xiao Qiao, who proves essential to victory as she distracts Cao Cao. This, honestly, is an improvement on the source material. 

All in all, I love Red Cliff and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Maybe I was wrong about historical fiction after all?

 

Danger Club: A Review

There is a cosmic evil approaching Earth. To fight this threat, the world’s superheroes have left to fight it. They failed. The evil is still coming. And only the remaining sidekicks and younger superheroes remain to defend the world. If they can get their shit together.

That isDanger Clubin a nutshell. I’m not sure what drew me to the title written by Landry Q. Walker with art by Eric Jones and colors by Robert Drake. Maybe the art? Maybe a fetish for indie comics? Regardless, it has taken me years to get around to checking the collected trade out thanks to interlibrary loan. Fortunately, I spent only a dollar compared to the ten dollars it would have cost me to buy the title. Why?

Because I strongly dislike this series.

I have come to realize thatDanger Club Volume One: Deathis little more than splatter gornography. Repetitive depictions of teenagers beating each other to bloody pulps is not something I’m interested in reading. Especially when the writing is subpar.

The narrative, so far, is a string of disjointed and cluttered scenes that rely on the reader’s (expected) prior knowledge of superhero comics to produce the narrative. Too much is going on at once without adequate world building.

In his introduction, Matt Fraction argues that Walker has moved past the need to expound what is going on in each scene. But, honestly, he has gone too far in the opposite direction without answering its promise.

Whatever promise the series has is also hampered by an extremely unsympathetic designated protagonist in Kid Vigilante. If you find the New 52 version of Tim Drake detestable, you will utterly despise this little douche. He takes the bad qualities of Red Robin and magnifies them several fold. The only movement towards making any of these characters (more little monsters) sympathetic comes in the final issue of the graphic novel as the Magician leaves a last message for his mother before his apparent death and Fearless Jack appears to show remorse for putting a bullet in the insufferable Kid Vigilante’s head. But these heart rending (and well done) moments come far too late to save the series.

Had the writing taken its time and introduced the characters better rather than relying on knowing the various characters’ inspirations to force sympathy and attachment, the series might have been something great.

While I dislike the narrative, I’m quite fond of the art. It is clean and well done. And the colors are wonderful. .

Danger Clubhas been on indefinite hiatus since April 2013. When it will return is unknown. What is clear, however, is that I won’t be returning to learn what happens next.

 

The (Expanded) List for My Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

With much thought, and after extensively searching my local library’s catalog, I’ve decided on twenty books for my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. I had originally wanted to limit myself to ten books that I could easily find at my local library. But, unfortunately, I only received three recommendations, so I’m going to go with quantity and hope for enough quality to change my apathetic opinion of historical fiction.

Here is the list:

The Tale of Genji 

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

A Spoke in the Wheel by Amita Kanekar

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson

Hild by Nicola Griffith

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

(the later three books are recommendations from Michal of One Last Sketch. And the first five books will have to be ILLed.)

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

The Luminaries by Elizabeth Catton

Texas by James Michener

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory

The Road to Wellville (or) Water Music by T.C. Boyle

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Rags to Glory by Stuart Cloete

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Palace Walk by Najib Mahfouz

And

Silence by Endo Shusaku

What a list! When I decided to embark on this project, I decided that I wanted an equal balance of male and female authors. I also wanted as diverse a breadth of history and regions as I could get. I’m pleased that I struck a balance in regards to the author ratio. But I’m not as happy with the breadth and diversity of my selections. Of the twenty, only seven are people of color. I need to do better than that.

Given that there are twice as many books, I’m going to be harsher when it comes to reading. If I don’t like a novel, even if it is within the first chapter or two, I’m going to drop it. I will attempt to explain why I didn’t like said book, even if I barely passed a chapter. 

I’m actually looking forward to this challenge, despite my apathy. What books will I enjoy and which will I regret sparing even a few minutes of my time? And what does this reveal about me and my tastes?

And, finally, what do you think about my list?

Calling for Recommendations: Historical Fiction

I have no burning desire to read historical fiction. It is just a genre I have no interest in. This apathy revealed itself when I wrote my blog post entitled “A Rant of Hot and Cold” and its recent followup. But maybe, just maybe, I should take the time to actually read some historical fiction. 

This is where you come in. I need recommendations. I could go to the historical fiction page on Wikipedia and randomly select authors and titles, but there is the horrifying possibility I could select a slew of books I cannot stand. 

So any recommendations I receive will be greatly appreciated. (And hopefully, my local library have them on the shelves).

There are a few books I already have my eyes on. The Tale of Genji and The Romance of the Three Kingdoms are newly ILLed (so it will take them awhile). I’m also eyeing Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and (maybe) Queen Margot

Here’s what I’m looking for: global coverage. I’ve got East Asia, France, and Hellenistic Greece/ Asia Minor/ Central Asia covered. The rest of the world needs some attention. I also want a balance of men and women authors. I’m thinking ten authors. I’ve got four down, so I need six more. 

I was intending on reading The Persian Boy and The Three Musketeers in the past (and coming) few weeks. But I’m in the middle of a comic book/ manga binge right now. (I did read a bit from The Three Musketeers and didn’t like it. But I’m hoping I may revise my opinion on a second take.)

Despite my lack of interest, I am looking forward to this. Will my opinion of historical fiction change, or will I continue to lack interest in the genre? Time and reading will tell. 

The Imaro Review

I’m ashamed to admit it has taken me this long to finally read Imaro by Charles R. Saunders. Having finally read one of the seminal works in sword and sorcery, I’m glad that I finally did. Imaro is amazing. This book is going on my shopping list.

But first, some background. Charles R. Saunders, in the 1970s, desired to write the stories he wanted to read- stories inspired by his African heritage.  Thus was born the character Imaro and his world of Nyumbani. The Imaro stories where published throughout the later seventies and early eighties before being reissued (and revised) in the 2000s.

Imaro is a short story novel that depicts the life of Imaro, an Ilyassai youth, at various ages from five (when his mother abandons him) to late teens or very early twenties (when he leads his haramia band). The novel, and the component short stories, explore Imaro’s growth as a great warrior and his conflicted status as an outsider as he confronts enemies both mortal and sorcerous.

And this is what is so amazing with Imaro as a character. He is the “son of no father”, an outsider, who desperately wants to be accepted by his mother’s people. But they hold him in utter disdain until it is far too late. Their acceptance comes only after he has come to hate them, and himself for wanting to be accepted by them.  But that desire to belong is still present for Imaro. He achieves this when he joins the haramia and earns the acceptance and respect of outsiders like him.

Pity he has demon gods and their sorcerer servants after him.

Is this destiny, as implied by the narration (the language equating Imaro with a weapon during its forging stages), or is this the inability to let go of a grudge (Imaro certainly seems incapable of letting go, and the same seems equally true of the Mashataan and their Namaan servants)?

Personally, I think the narrative thrust has more to do with a general inability on the part of most of the characters to let go of grudges.

All of the stories that make up Imaro are quite good. But the best ones are “The Place of Stones,” “The Afua,” and “The Black Hills.” I also quite like “Betrayal in Blood,” but I feel that Imaro’s rise to a military prodigy that can run the combined armies of two of the most powerful kingdoms on Nyumbani raged to be a bit much.

Imaro can be a great warrior without being a great general. Making him such a prodigy, while giving him a credible reason to put off his pursuit of the Mashataan, creates the impression that Imaro is, in part, wish fulfillment.

Not that wish fulfillment is a bad thing. It isn’t. Quite the contrary, wish fulfillment can be a great thing.

On the whole, Imaro as wish fulfillment is handled extremely well. Except when he is depicted as a military prodigy.

The biggest problem with the stories that make up Imaro is Imaro’s love interests. Both Keteke and Tanisha are war trophies. Imaro won Keteke during a raid on the Zamburu, a tribe bordering the Ilyassai. Tanisha  is meant for a noble’s harem before she is captured by the haramia and becomes Imaro’s woman. Yes both women willingly “choose” to be Imaro’s, but that choice is effectively negated by their circumstances. Keteke is a straighter example given that she is more explicitly a war prize. But Tanisha “choosing” Imaro as “her one and only” is, to me at least, a poor attempt at giving Tanisha the semblance of choice. Perhaps a better option would have been to have Tanisha be a member of the haramia and avoid the war trophy implications.

The world building of Nyumbani is fairly impressionistic. Nyumbani is a fantasy construction explicitly based on Africa. Many of the tribes and cultures of Nyumbani can be easily traced to real world counterparts. The best example are the Maasai inspired Ilyassai, but the sources of inspiration are quite clear to the reader.

I like the world building. The impressionistic quality avoids the information dumps that can so often ruin fantasy novels.

Despite its flaws, I love Imaro. This is one of the best novels I’ve read in quite a while. A definite inclusion to my buy list.

Coming Out on Top, A Further Take

This post is not safe for work. You have been warned.

I’m still obsessed with Coming Out on Top. I want it now, damn it. But I’ll wait, knowing that a better game will be the result. 

I can’t help but feel that my review of the second demo is incomplete. Namely, I didn’t go into the art and visuals like I should have. Nor did I point out some specific examples of scenes that need improving. I’ll also end with what I’d like to see in a third demo, before release. 

The art work for Coming Out on Top is very well done. It certainly has evolved from the earlier demo. I see nothing wrong with it. The character design is great. And the landscaping/ interiors are all pretty good. 

The problem is that there are clearly two artists at work. One does most of the game (who I think is Obscura herself) while the other does the sex scenes (who I think is Doubleleaf). 

In the second demo, there are only three sex scenes with several accompanying explicit images. They are all very nice, especially the Jed/ Mark and Alex/ Mark scenes. But the first sex scene, Mark jacking off, is problematic. In those images, Mark’s head looks a little small compared to the rest of his body and his chest is somewhat too big. It doesn’t look quite right. 

One part of the character design that I should have commented on is the player choice in facial and body hair. The player character and his love interests can all be modified by giving them beards and body hair. Some of the beards look very nice, Ian and Brad’s, while others don’t look quite that good, Mark’s. Jed is, honestly, a bit problematic. His beard looks better in the sex scene than in the game itself (there are points where the beard looks weird when he talks). I have stronger feelings about the chest hair, to be honest. Jed, Ian, and Brad’s chest hair look amazing. But Mark’s chest hair looks weird. And Alex’s chest hair is atrocious. 

The problem here is that the facial/ body hair worn by the characters are too standard. While Jed has a sparser, scruffier beard, all the beards are full. There are no goatees or van dykes or mustaches. The same is true of the body hair. Again, Jed has a sparser cover, but all the guys have basically the same full coverage. 

(All that said, adding beards and body hair is entirely optional. If a player likes it, go for it. And if not, don’t use it.)

Moving on to the sex scenes, there are a few more things I want to say about them.

Why does the dildo scene not have any explicit images? Will the scene be illustrated in the full game or is it just a humorous, and disappointing, throwaway? In any case, I hope this scene gets an explicit expnasion. 

Another scene in need of expansion is the bukkake between Mark and Jed. When Mark strips in front of Jed, the narrative box tells the player what is going on. Why is this scene not shown? Wouldn’t showing Mark and Jed standing and staring at each other naked with lustful eyes not be hot? Why skimp on the MVP’s cumming? Or Jed rubbing his dick on Mark’s chest/ sucking Mark’s dick after Mark cums? And why not show the kiss between the two at the end?

I emphaically want more to the bukkake scene. And hopefully the other sex scenes will be similarly expanded. (The dream sequence between Mark and Alex is slightly longer than the bukkake scene.)

This plays into my earlier complaint in my review of the demo that Jed, Phil, and Brad get short changed. There are three Alex scenes and only one scene to introduce Jed, Phil, and Brad each. This leads to the conclusion that the second demo feels rushed at the end, though not tacked on (given that the first demo was all Alex). 

In a third and final demo (which should be released 1-3 months before the game’s release date), I would like to see more done with Jed, Phil, and Brad. Maybe expand the demo’s time frame by another week or so to give players more time with the new love interests. I think all three would benefit, but Phil and Brad honestly do not look very good personality wise in their introductions. And, for me at least, more Jed is a good thing. 

I also think that there needs to be another two sex scenes in a third demo. The dildo scene needs to be illustrated. And another Jed scene couldn’t hurt (in addition to expanding Jed’s initial appearance).

Did I mention I’m obsessed with this game? Yeah. . . 

I may return to Coming Out on Top if there is something I feel that I need to say. I’ll also be sure to review a third demo and the full game on each’s release. Just give me some time to play them. 

 

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