Gorilla vs. Shark? Not so fast…

(This post represents my best understanding of SF&F consensus policy on “Gorilla vs. Shark” questions. Special thanks to everyone who reviewed it for me to make sure it really represents a consensus!)

For a very long time, it has been a nearly global Stack Exchange policy to close “which is better?” questions as off-topic. To my knowledge, there isn’t a site on the Stack network that doesn’t follow this rule. It was even the subject of a famous blog post by Jeff Atwood, one of the Stack Exchange founders, that discusses these questions under their more popular name: Gorilla vs. Shark.

On most Stack sites, the “vs.” portion of that name is figurative. The policy is targeted at questions asking for subjective opinions about which hardware product or application or programming language is “better” than the other. Obviously, the answer to these questions is almost always “it depends on your situation”, making them unsuitable for being part of Stack Exchange’s Q&A format.

On SF&F, though, we have a somewhat unique take on these question: when someone asks “Who would win, a gorilla or a shark?”, they really want to know who would win that fight. But that means we have to tweak the standard policy on these questions a bit, to make sure it really applies to the questions being asked. So, what makes a “Gorilla vs. Shark?” question on SF&F? Lets find out!

The Community Consensus

The first, and by far most important thing to take away from this post is this:

Not every question with “vs” in the title is Gorilla vs Shark!

Rather, we need to examine each “versus” question on its merits, and figure out whether the question really is off-topic. A good place to start is to look at the reasons Jeff Atwood gives in his original blog post, detailing why these questions are bad. He gives four reasons:

  1. Nobody needs to know the answer to this question
  2. It’s not nearly specific enough.
  3. It is difficult to learn from these questions.
  4. It drives away experts

If you look at these problems, it should be immediately obvious that #1 doesn’t apply here. If we’re being honest with ourselves, nobody needs to know the answer to anything on SF&F. Unlike most other Stack sites, questions on SF&F rarely solve real problems. Rather, people ask and answer questions here purely because the topic interests them, and they want to know things. That also knocks out #3 –  we learn from any question that gets an answer – and #4 – experts come here specifically because they enjoy sharing their science fiction/fantasy knowledge.

That leaves us with #2: most of these questions are not specific enough. What does this mean, though? According to Jeff’s post, the problem with non-specificity is that it leaves the question too open for interpretation. As he puts it:

Where will the fight be, in what location? Underwater, or on land? What are the rules of the fight so we can determine a victor? Will it be to the death, or under some type of points system? Can they be trained specifically to fight by trainers, or are they completely on their own? Without any kind of scope, every answer can make any assumptions they like — and there will assuredly be hundreds, all different.

As it turns out, we can take some guidance from this bit, and apply it to questions asked here. The goal, then is to find a way to determine if a question is “specific” enough to be answered.  There have been several meta discussions about this topic, and the consensus has been that these kind of questions are on topic and answerable if they meet the one basic guideline:

Can we answer this question objectively, based solely on in-canon information?

In other words, if we have to guess what would happen, or speculate what would happen – even if we think we have enough information to do so – the question is off-topic. In particular, it’s not good enough to have all of the “stats” available for a fantasy match up, because we’re talking about fantasy universes. Anything could happen in such a universe, up to and including the laws of physics being different, so we can never assume anything to be true unless we’ve seen evidence of it. In the majority of cases, that means that the determination about potential Gorilla vs. Shark questions boils down to this:

Has this fight/race/confrontation/etc actually happened, and what was the outcome.

(This is not a hard and fast rule — there are cases where we can predict the outcome with very high confidence — but they are rare.)

What Makes A Bad Question?

So, we have a good rule, but it sounds like the only way to know if a question is on-topic is to either know the answer, or even worse, to know for a fact that there is no answer. That’s obviously sub-optimal, as it rules out a huge fraction of the community from being able to moderate those questions. Fortunately, there are a couple of rules of thumb that will help weed out the worst such questions, with pretty good accuracy. (There will always be mistakes, of course, but that’s why we have meta.) The following types of questions almost always turn out to be off-topic:

Totally Different Universes

Does the question ask for a match-up between fictional characters from two completely different universes? (This includes a match-up in the “Real world.”) If the match up cannot possibly happen because the characters never coexist, the question is off-topic. Sure, it seems trivial to ask “Could The Hulk beat up Floyd Mayweather?”, but as far as we know, Earth-616 has no Floyd Mayweather, so who knows?

This is probably the biggest category of real Gorilla vs Shark questions in SF&F. For example, A fight between Dr Manhattan and Electro from spiderman [closed] was closed, properly, because those two characters will never meet. Similarly, Can a lightsaber be stopped by captain America’s shield? [on hold] asks about a confrontation that can’t really happen. Note that we can probably make a really good guess what would happen in the latter case, based on other things that have happened in the respective universes. But that’s not enough — there is no canon answer to this question, so it’s off topic. And note that it doesn’t just apply to fight between fictional charactersIs a warp drive better than a hyperdrive? [closed] is also closed, because Star Trek and Star Wars just do not coexist.

Known Never to Have Happened

These are a bit trickier, but in some cases, the amount of canon information is small enough that we know an in-universe confrontation is impossible. A good example is Who would win a fight between Tom Bombadil and a Nazgul? [closed]. This one was a bit contentious, because it doesn’t fit our first criteria — both of these characters are from the Lord of the Rings universe and could have met. But we know that they didn’t, and it’s unclear what other information we have that could help predict the outcome of such a confrontation. We also know that no new canon information is forthcoming to change that situation. So, this one remained closed.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that just because a particular match-up hasn’t happened in-canon does not automatically make the question off-topic, though it’s definitely a huge red flag. Ultimately, what we need to determine is:  do we have enough information to accurately determine what would happen, without resorting to speculation. For example, the seemingly silly question Could the Earth-2149 Squirrel Girl destroy Colonel America’s shield? asks about something that hasn’t happened, and isn’t likely to happen (given the two characters’ personalities); nonetheless, the question is specific enough that we can use in-canon information (in this case, what we know about Earth-2149 squirrels and vibranium) to give a concrete answer.

(This question does delve into another contentious topic — what exactly we mean when we say “no scientific explanations”, or “no assumptions unless we have evidence” — but we’ll save that for a different blog post.)

Too Vague / No Clear Answer

Does the question leave so much open to interpretation that the question becomes meaningless? Does the question asks for a match up that depends on too many factors to know the answer? For example, numenor vs. gondolin [closed] asks about a confrontation that definitely could have happened in the Lord of the Rings. But there are any number of things that would sway such a battle — luck, natural events, competency of leadership, etc. There’s just no “one good answer” to this question.

Another problematic type of question are those that could, in theory, happen in more than one fictional universe. Many fantasy or urban fantasy settings have very similar types of creatures in them: vampires, zombies, werewolves, dragons, etc. Asking who would win such a fight in general isn’t answerable. For example, if you were to ask “Could a Werewolf beat a Vampire”, the answer would be very different in The Dresden Files (probably not) vs. The Vampire Diaries (depends on the day).

When In Doubt?

Sometimes, the decision is easy. A question like Spider-Man Vs The Hulk is probably not “Gorilla vs. Shark” — these are two characters that interact with each other on a regular basis, so it’s pretty likely they’ve fought at some point.

Unfortunately, it’s not always going to be that easy to identify good questions — questions that don’t clearly fall into one of our “Bad” categories. In most cases, you’ll have to look at the body of the question and try to determine if there’s a good chance the question has an answer. A good example of this would be a question like Vampires Vs. Werewolf. Based on the title alone, as we’ve already seen, this question should be off-topic. However, the body of question makes it clear: we’re talking about the Twilight universe. That makes this a good question: even without having read the novels, you can probably guess that this type of fight is likely to have happend (which is has), and thus the question has an answer.

Similarly, some questions may be off-topic at first, but can be salvaged. Take, for example,  Hulk vs. Superman – did they ever fight? Who won?. This question was originally closed as G vs. S, because it focused too much on some subjective questions. However, Marvel and DC have done such crossovers, so this fight has happened. Once the question was edited to focus on that aspect, it was reopened and answered. If possible, we should try to fix these questions, or at least solicit some feedback from the OP to get it fixed.

Lastly, there are a ton of fictional crossover that you would never expect, and sometimes it’s a judgement call if two characters really have shared the same setting. For example Doctor Who has crossed over with Star Trek, and Marvel Comics has crossed over with both Star Trek and Star Wars. On one hand, it seems like there wouldn’t be any comparisons that are completely impossible. On the other hand, these are typically one-off, gimmick, or “What if…?” style events, that most fans would not consider “canon”. In general, if you think a particular comparison between two fictional universes is “highly unlikely”, you should go with your gut; just be prepared to be corrected :)

Overall, in cases where things are not clear-cut, just try to use some good judgement — and maybe a bit of Googling — to see if such a match-up is even possible. Feel free to leave a comment directing the OP to meta if they disagree with your close. Or, you can always come ask ahead of time in chat — we’re happy to help.

 

 

 

Filed under Site News

Mutants in the Marvel Universe

Recently, a SF&F user asked this question, about Inhumans vs. Mutants in the Marvel Universe.  With the arrival of the Inhumans in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and an upcoming movie), and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s appearance in two separate movie universes, its a topic that has generated a bit of interest.

This post is an expanded, more in-depth version of my answer to that question. There’s a lot more to Marvel’s mutant population than just mutants and Inhumans, and things can get confusing. Unfortunately, as with most things Marvel-related, it not a simple question to answer. What constitutes a mutant? How many kinds are there? What’s the difference between them? Are they different species? Here, I’ll try to answer all of these questions and more.

One note on the cinematic universes: there are a lot of movie universes based on Marvel material, but I’m only going to discuss two of them here: Earth-199999, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Earth-10005, the X-Men Cinematic Universe. These are the only two large-scale cinematic universes that are still active; as far as I am aware, none of the other (now-defunct) movie universes included any type of mutated human. This includes the two Spider-Man universes, the two Fantastic Four universes, etc, all of which I’ll be ignoring from here on out.

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Jack’s Bad Movies – Jinn

2015-06-14 by . 4 comments

Jinn, a 2014 movie staring Dominic Rains with supporting actors Ray Park and William Atherton, is so lost that even the people trying to sell it can’t decided what the movie is about.

Netflix’s description

An earthly crisis prompts a race of beings called the jinn, who’ve walked invisibly among us since the beginning of time, to make themselves known.

IMDB’s description

Shawn, an automotive designer, enjoys an idyllic life with his new wife Jasmine until it is interrupted by a cryptic message. The message warns of imminent danger and a curse that has afflicted his family for generations. Having lost his parents as a child, Shawn doesn’t believe this unsettling revelation of his past….until strange things start to happen. Unable to explain the threats and fearing for his life, Shawn turns to Gabriel and Father Westhoff, a mysterious duo claiming to have answers. With their help, and the aid of Ali, a shackled mental patient, Shawn discovers that there is far more to this world than he ever imagined. These revelations set Shawn on a collision course with the unknown, and he alone must find the strength protect his family and confront the ancient evil that is hunting them.

Amazon’s description

After receiving a cryptic message from his past, Shawn Walker learns of an ancient curse haunting his family. He discovers man is not alone on this planet… and that he is in the middle of a war between good and evil that has waged on for centuries.

Rotten Tomatoes’ description

In the beginning, three were created. Man made of clay. Angels made of light. And a third made of fire. For centuries, stories of angels and men have captured the imagination and been etched into history crossing all boundaries of culture, religion and time. These two races have dominated the landscape of modern mythology, shrouding the evidence that a third was ever created. This third race, born of smokeless fire, was named the jinn. Modern man has all but forgotten this third race ever existed. It is time for him to remember.

That last one is the opening monologue of the film.

The movie opens in India, circa 1901. A man enters a cave, reciting scripture passages, and occasionally addressing a slumped figure sitting in the middle of the cave.

Based on the number of times we keep going back to this same shot, I can only assume it was the most expensive shot in the whole movie, and they wanted to make sure they got their money's worth.

Based on the number of times we keep going back to this same shot, I can only assume it was the most expensive shot in the whole movie, and they wanted to make sure they got their money’s worth.

The man says that it can keep the body, but he wants the girl back. He throws some random things in the corners (mirrors?). I kept thinking, these mirrors are going to do something important, like trap the creature. That was my own foolishness, they ended up doing nothing. The guy confronts the demon creature, falls in a hole, climbs out, throws some water in the creature’s face (which only serves to enrage it) and pulls out a dagger. At this point the creature says it is going to kill him, and his children, and his children’s children, and so forth. You might be thinking, wait, if he kills him AND his children, that should pretty much end the line right? RIGHT? We’ll get back to that.

Flash forward to the present day, in Michigan. Shawn is some kind of car designer. He has random car decorations in his house (like a hood) and drives some kind of special edition Camaro that looks like a Firebird, called the FireBreather. That may seem like a lot of information about a car in a movie about Jinn, but don’t worry, we’ll get back to that as well. As Shawn is sitting around his house doodling, his wife Jasmine (Serinda Swan) answers the door and receives a mysterious package. She doesn’t need to sign for it, and it is very poorly wrapped. Shawn opens it (because in this world he has never heard of terrorists) and discovers a VHS tape inside. His wife wisely questions how they would even watch a VHS tape in this day and age, but for some reason Shawn conveniently has a player at his work.

Shawn watches the tape and discovers is a message from his deceased father, just before he and his mother died in a fire that consumed their house. He says Shawn comes from a long line of special people who can fight these demons called Jinn. His father says that there are people who will help him, and that Shawn needs to succeed where he failed.

Shawn returns home to find that his apartment has been randomly rearranged and his wife is missing. He calls the police, only to have his wife return home and they realize that nothing is actually missing. They put everything back and go to bed. Shawn has a nightmare about the night his parents died. He remembers seeing someone in the fire. He wakes up and goes to get some water, only to see that his furniture has been rearranged again. Him and his wife look out their window at the strange silhouette (I forgot to mention a creepy silhouette in the window across the street). Earlier the wife speculated it was a movie cutout. Not surprisingly, as they are staring at it, it moves. At this point, I would like to mention that this movie is supposed to be a suspense horror. It is neither of those things.

The next morning Shawn tells his wife he’d like to have a child. She says she has a dark secret, she is incapable of having children. She says he understands if he wants to leave her for his. Shawn, being the super jerk is he, DOES leave her, to go to work. Shawn is at work, and he receives a mysterious call saying he has to go to a church. For some reason he does this. At the church he meets Gabriel (Ray Park) and Father Westhoff (William Atherton). These two guys knew his father, and want to help him stop this Jinn uprising once and for all. They say that as soon as one of his family members has an heir, the Jinn kill the parents. So when that Jinn from the beginning said he was going to kill the guy’s children’s children and all that, he meant it. This Jinn patiently waits for the next male heir to have a kid, then he strikes. Anyways, Shawn doesn’t believe them, but Father Westhoff gives him a magic dagger just in case. I’m just going to call it the Ajanti Dagger.

Good for killing the Golden Child and Jinn alike.

Good for killing the Golden Child and Jinn alike.

Anyways, he takes the dagger. Also Gabriel says the Jinn is hunting him because he has a male heir. How’s that? Oh yeah Jasmine is pregnant. Also, she’s been kidnapped. No one seems all that concerned about the kidnapping though. Shawn just kind of meanders around, occasionally saying stuff like “what is next on the bucket list before we find my missing wife?” (not a direct quote). Ray Park (which I have decided is now the start of the show) go to a mental institution (Insane Asylum isn’t PC) to see a guy who might be able to help. Turns out it is Shawn’s crazy uncle he didn’t know he had played by Faran Tahir.

I like the idea of mental institutions today still using the classic 'chain him to the middle of the floor' treatment plan.

I like the idea of mental institutions today still using the classic ‘chain him to the middle of the floor’ treatment plan.

His uncle tried to take this mental test of worthiness and he lost his mind because failed it. Now he is insisting that Shawn take the same test. As they are talking to him somehow the Jinn starts taking over the other patients in the institution. They all start attacking Ray Park and Shawn. This happens to be the highlight of the film. Ray Park gets to go all Darth Maul on these guys. At one point he creates all these little particles of light and goes super slow motion and beats down a bunch of patients, essentially punching the evil spirits out of them. This is also a common treatment plan in modern day institutions. This is by far the most interesting part of the movie. Shawn forgot his keys at the front desk, so Gabriel (Ray Park’s alter ego in this movie) uses his mind to retrieve the keys and get to Shawn. To bad in the process he gets swarmed by escapees and beaten down. Not even Toad’s spit could save him.

Shawn returns to Father Westhoff, and the good Father starts him on the trial. Shawn then goes through several different times and scenarios, trying to fight the Jinn but failing. Then at some point he taunts the Jinn, and then runs for his car. He jumps in his car and drives off, as the Jinn becomes Lord Voldemort’s wispy flying black cloud thing. Shawn then drives all over town, pleading with his car to ‘show em what we got’ and ‘don’t fail me now.’ Which might sound good, if you had forgotten he was basically just fleeing the creature. He drives back to his house and confronts the Jinn again. I can’t remember at what point his dream / trial ended and real life began again, but it doesn’t seem to matter. His suddenly lucid uncle shows up to help him, but is immediately beat up. Then the Jinn grabs Shawn by the throat and lifts him off the ground. Then Shawn has another dream sequence. This time set back in the cave in India, where he suddenly develops telekinetic powers and defeats the Jinn. Then we go back to him being choked by the Jinn, and he is able to grab its throat, there is a struggle, and then they both fall through his window into his pool / water feature. Now at some point Father Westhoff had given him a flask of holy water (at least, that is what he calls it). In the pool the flask comes undone and now all the pool water is holy. The Jinn disintegrates.

Now a bunch of other Jinn warp into town. Shawn takes off his shirt and gets ready to fight them. The leader says there is no further need for hostilities, and Shawn stabs him in the head. Man is always the aggressor in these kinds of things. Shawn finally remembers his wife was kidnapped, and demands they give her to him. The remaining Jinn just teleport away. Shawn returns to the church and discovers his wife, who apparently had been kidnapped by Gabriel, you know, for safe keeping, was there the whole time. Also somehow Gabriel is alive. Now, during the movie it was said he was Jinn who was on the side of humans. But I assume he is an Angel, since all this power is highlighted with white light, instead of the red fire we see other Jinn using, and he is named after an angel. But that question is left for a sequel, or something.

Flash forward a year, the baby is born and Uncle Ali now lives with them. As they are preparing breakfast, the baby’s pacifier falls to the ground. Before any of the adults can pick it up, the baby uses telekinesis to get it back. Everyone just kind of sits there and looks at the baby. Roll credits. After the credits we see that same cave scene with a Jinn sitting. In this 97 minute movie I’m pretty sure that cave scene represented about 400 minutes of the film.

Filed under Bad-Movies

Stitchers – Early Episode 1 Release

As seems to be the trend these days, the first episode of an upcoming show has been released a bit early, though this time officially. The show is Stichers, and it’s a summer show for the ABC Family network. The full episode can be found as an exclusive on the EW website.

Here is a short, spoiler-free review of this new sci-fi show.

The basic premise of the show is a strange mash-up of Inception, Source Code, and iZombie. A top secret, unnamed government agency has developed technology that lets them inject the mind of a living person into the memories of a recently-deceased one, to extract information that person took to the grave and help solve crimes. The main character, Kristen, is a college student with a particularly odd (and, as far as I can tell, entirely fictional) condition called “temporal dysplasia”, which means she has no concept of the passage of time. This makes her perfectly suited for use in the memory device, and the episode shows us her first pass at using it. Once inside, Kristen can walk freely around the memories, even manipulate them to some degree, though she can’t physically touch anything. For memories tied to particularly strong emotions, she can also get drawn fully into the experience, feeling the emotions as if she were there and dragging up other, related memories from the subjects’ subconscious.

The episode follows the main character as she gets recruited into this new world, as well as showing us some of the problems her condition is causing in her private life, and how they eventually collide. The show made really good use of some simple effects and editing to show what it was like going “inside” someone else’s mind, saving most of their FX budget for one really flashy explosion. It was subtle, but clear, what was going on.

Though this is a science fiction show, it’s mostly a procedural with science-fiction elements (similar to, say, Almost Human). All the expected elements are there: a government agency no one knows about, a team of anti-social tech geniuses, the main character who lives to flaunt the rules, the overbearing boss who yells at everyone, and even a best friend who’s pulled into the drama early for a really lame reason. They work pretty well together, though the addition of the roommate to the “team” seemed forced and unnecessary. (However, as she is played by veteran SyFy actor Allison Scagliotti, of Warehouse 13 fame, I will at no point complain.)

The show has a similar tone to my previous favorite ABC Family show – Kyle XY – in that the show isn’t really about the science. The science fiction aspect is just there, everyone just accepts that it’s real, and moves on to the actual plot. On the plus side, if you ignore the dead-brain interface, the rest of the technology in the show stands up better than a lot of highly popular network shows. Though the main character and her roommate are both “IT geniuses”, most of what they do is at least plausibly based in reality — dressed up for TV as you expect, but nowhere near Scorpion or NCIS levels of stupidity.

The main problem I had with the show was that most the characters spent at least a small part of the episode being cliches, with some worse than others. Kirsten, has a mental disorder that basically makes her a psychopath: because she can’t “feel time passing”, she has no sense of emotional attachment or loss. (Someone close to her dies early on and she shows no distress because, as she explains, the minute she knew he had died, it was like he had always been dead.) She really plays up this aspect of her character in how she treats other people; the show is desperately trying to paint her as a young female House. That worked for Hugh Laurie, but didn’t work out so well for Rainn Wilson. In my opinion, they need to tone that down a bit or the character will turn people off.

The boss character, played by another SyFy veteran (Eureka‘s Salli Richardson-Whitfield), also felt a bit wooden to me. In this case, I can’t really pinpoint where I lost interest, but she’s playing the “head of a black ops agency” bit in a very paint-by-numbers way. Hopefully she’ll begin to show some personality, once we’ve established just how in charge she is.

The other characters were not quite as bad, though the lead nerd in the show had a few fragments of extremely terrible dialogue, especially during the scene where Kirsten goes under for the first time. There’s also the standard attempts at establishing nerd cred (he asks for a list of Doctor Who actors in a way that no Doctor Who fan would ever do), and some obvious fan service (the “Cat Woman” suit designed by the even-more-cliche nerd sidekick.) The only character on the show that showed a consistently realistic personality was the roommate, Allison Scagliotti’s character, and I hope they’re smart enough to give her screen time to show it.

Overall, I found the show to be about as enjoyable as I expected. It’s a summer show and it’s on ABC family, so I wasn’t expecting Game of Thrones. Science fiction is rare on ABC Family (unless you count Ravenwood…) but this time, it seems like they did a pretty good job. It seems like it will probably stand up well against the summer fare coming out of SyFy, and give me something to watch while I wait for the return of Arrow. That’s really all I can ask.

I’d give it an even 5/10, and a try to catch it.

Filed under Review

Supergirl “leaked Pilot” – An almost completely spoiler-free review

This fall, CBS will begin airing a new superhero show Supergirl. This series has a lot in common with the highly popular CW shows Arrow and The Flash. The new show shares the same executive producers, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, and all three are based on popular characters from the DC Comics universe. The new show has a tone somewhat reminiscent of The Flash. It also has one more thing in common: reminiscent of last years unauthorized release of The Flash pilot episode, the premier episode of Supergirl has been leaked six months early.

Leaving aside the details of how and why this leak happened, since it did, we get an early look at the show in much more depth than the officially released trailer gave us. Without giving away too much, here are some first impressions of the show, and how well it stacks up to the growing competition in the comic-adaptation space.

General Impressions

First of all, just to be clear: this is being called the “pilot” episode, but it’s not really a traditional pilot. It’s is obviously a final product – S01E01 of the series, with all of the final cast in place and post-production work done. This is good news and bad news. Good news, because we get a faithful representation of what the show will be like for the rest of the season, but bad news because there probably won’t be much chance to fix things that might be broken. (I may be wrong here, we shall see.)

Generally speaking, I think the show is much better than the trailer led us to believe. I still have concerns over where the focus of the show will be, but the pilot seems to be moving in the right direction. The main complaint about the trailer has been how much time was spent on the mundane details of Kara Danver’s life. Was that an indication that the show was trying too hard to attract a broader audience, at the expense of the core superheroine story? I think the pilot gives us good reason to think that’s not the case. I thought the episode had a nice mix of straight up action, character development, and laying groundwork for the rest of the series. It has about the same mix of heroic plot vs. dramatic development that it’s sister shows on the CW did during their first episodes.

The Good Stuff

The first thing that struck me was how little time this show wasted getting the basic exposition out of the way. Within the first 5 minutes of the episode — basically, the opening stinger — most of the plot questions people had from the trailer are answered, right up front. They let us know quickly what’s happened already and where the world sits. It’s also clear that these writers have worked on DC shows before, and they know their stuff, which is a good sign.

Without giving too much away, the show follows the basics of Kara Zor-El’s modern origin story: sent to Earth as a young girl to protect infant Kal-El, an accident causes her to arrive much later. By the time Kara arrives on Earth, Kal-El is fully grown and has revealed his existence. Supergirl is set in a world where Superman is a household name, though the show goes to extreme measures to avoid using the S-word (there are lots of reference to “he”, “him”, and “my cousin”.) The reason for her delay is explained, but it’s a key element to what looks to be the first season’s story arc, so I won’t go into any more detail.

I really like that this show didn’t have your traditional superhero origin story structure, not even for the first episode. Kara was 12 years old when she left Krypton for Earth, and was made fully aware of the special powers she would have. As we see in the trailer, once she decides to embrace her super side, the show jumps right into the heroics: in the first episode, we see flying, super-strength, x-ray vision, invulnerability, and heat vision. Watching Clark Kent come into his powers, and struggle to master them, can be interesting (it was done very well on Smallville; maybe less well in Man of Steel), but it’s been done. We’ve spent three seasons watching Oliver Queen on Arrow become the Green Arrow, we don’t need to spend a whole season waiting for Kara to figure out she can see through walls.

I also like the fact that the show has a nice upbeat tone, much like The Flash, and in stark contrast to the current DC cinematic universe. The show is bright and colorful, and most of the people are generally happy, or at least content. Thus, when Kara has an emotional moment with her sister, it actually seems important — the character’s not just moping around because that’s how she is. There’s also a lot of friendly banter and humor thrown in. I’ve talked to a lot of casual fans who watch The Flash but not Arrow or Gotham for exactly this reason – it’s just more fun to watch. This show was fun to watch.

The Less-Good Stuff

Of course, there were some places where the show seemed to miss the mark. For one thing, much of the character development seems rushed, or even forced. In parts, watching the pilot was almost like watching a really long trailer — it felt like there was chopped up from a longer, more coherent scene. For example, the Supergirl costume montage from the trailer happens at just about that speed in the episode: we go from an obvious fan-service first try to final outfit, including a Kryptonian powers montage — just a few minutes. It seems like the scene was meant to set up the relationship between Kara and her sidekick/support-nerd, but everything happens so fast there’s no real impact.

Several other character development plot threads (e.g. Kara’s blind date) seem like they’re supposed to be giving us characterization, but they’re moved past and forgotten so quickly they don’t mean much. And much of the banter seems a bit forced, like it’s desperately trying to drive home just how comfortable these characters are together, even in a situation where they probably shouldn’t be!

They’re also falling into a pattern that drives me crazy on The Flash — Kara’s secret identity is almost an afterthought. When the show starts, only four people know she’s Kryptonian — her family. When the show ends, we’ve added at least three more! Please, please lets keep that number down for at least a half a season?

Hopefully we can chalk all of that up to this being the first episode, trying to get the characters and their relationships settled and in place, so we can get to the good stuff. The second episode will be crucial in determining if this will be an ongoing problem for the show.

Another miss, for me, was the Kat Grant character. Calitsa Flockhart is obviously channeling Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada, but that’s a huge set of shoes to fill, and it comes across cliche. Even worse, she completely drops that act when it’s time for her to be serious and sensitive, then goes right back into it. She almost comes across as having a split personality.

And really, there’s just too much of her. Perry White or J. Jonah Jameson play mostly bit parts in their shows: they’re foils for the other, primary characters that work for them, and rarely the focus of any scene. Kat Grant, on the other hand, dominates all of her scenes with Kara, and not merely in a keeping-her-secret-identity way. She really does completely overpower Supergirl’s personality, but doesn’t really add much to the scenes. I was constantly wanting to fast forward past her scenes. In seems like they’re positioning her character as a kind of surrogate mother figure for Kara (though, as far as we know, her adopted parents are alive), but most of the time she just comes of needlessly harsh. Perhaps the writers plan to use this dynamic to show Kara’s personality changing as her confidence grows, but if so, I hope they get to it fast, because I was completely sick of Kat Grant by the end of this episode.

Lastly, and perhaps most annoyingly, is how much this show wanted to be about Superman without being allowed (I assume) to say Superman. It’s obvious that Kal-El is the far more famous of the two cousins, and by tying Kara’s story in with his, it lets us fast forward past a lot of otherwise tedious exposition. But the number of times Kara’s cousin comes up in conversation got old very quickly. The fact that they try so hard to avoid naming him makes it even worse. During the opening exposition scene, they identify him as Kal-El and Superman but after that, we only get one occurance of “Man of Steel”. Instead, Kara would frequently talk about “him” in a way that we’re supposed to know who she’s talking about. Obviously, since she’s related to Superman, it’s going to come up, but the point of this show is that Kara is a hero in her own right. She doesn’t need to have her now-older cousin’s specter towering over her all the time. Much like Gotham is not about Batman, Supergirl should not be about Superman. Hopefully this will dwindle away as the episodes continue — we’ve gotten the idea, lets move on.

Conclusion

I think this is going to be a good show. The major elements I think are there. While I have some issues with some of the dialogue, I think the actors themselves mostly have their characters nailed. Melissa Benoist, in particular, seemed to have no problem carrying the show when she needed to, although her Kara Zor-El was much more believable than her Kara Danvers. The central relationship with her sister seemed genuine (jury’s still out on the other two budding relationships). There’s a good hook that should provide good fodder for the early villain-of-the-week episodes, with hints of the broader story arc as well.

This isn’t going to be a show for the hard-core DC comic fans, though. It’s clearly meant for a broader audience, even more than any of the other DC shows on TV so far. Constantine this is not. But I’d make the same assessment about The Flash and that’s turned out to be one of my favorite DC shows to watch, so don’t let that discourage you from giving this one a try.

Overall, I would probably rate this show at about 7 out of 10. I’m not quite as enthusiastic about it as compared to Arrow, The Flash, or even Agents of SHIELD. I would probably rate it somewhere in my top 10 comics-based shows, around where iZombie and (likely) Legends of Tomorrow are sitting.

Definitely worth watching.

Filed under Review

Highlights from 2015 – 1st Quarter

2015-04-09 by . 1 comments

Top Stats

The question with the highest votes was Is there a Vulcan funeral blessing? asked by Iszi.

The two questions with the most views (by a narrow margin of 200 some odd views between them) were Why is ‘Belgium’ the rudest word in Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? and Why do people risk death by joining Starfleet if not for money or preservation of their homes? asked by Dries and Emissarry respectably.

The top voted answer was user42365‘s answer to Is there a Vulcan funeral blessing?. Second place was phantom42‘s answer to Why did Peter Quill wait 26 years to open his mother’s gift?

Top User Picks

SSumner is like, totally, obsessed with Star Wars.

They liked the questions:

They liked the answers:

Richard liked the following questions:

And my answers to them weren’t half bad, either, if I can toot my own trumpet.

Darth Melkor liked the top voted question, Richard’s answer to the Neo question, additionally:

On the Neo question he said:

Richard got an awesome answer to this one precisely one minute before I did, and did a much better job of it than I did too, so it’s worth a shout-out

Author Picks

If I had to choose my favorite questions (which I don’t, but I will) they would be:

All asked by Tango and answered by Jack B Nimble.

After researching the Adventures of Superman series questions for several hours everyday for five days I finally stumbled upon a book called Flights of Fantasy: The Unauthorized but True Story of Radio & TV’s Adventures of Superman, which I decided to buy on the hope of finding the answers to the two questions. Fortunately, I did.

Jack’s Bad Movies – Yor, the Hunter from the Future

2015-03-23 by . 4 comments

I watched this movie as a kid and thought it comically bad. So now I’ve re-watched it so I can share its awfulness.

IMDB’s description

A warrior seeks his true origins in a seemingly prehistoric wasteland.

Yor, the Hunter from the Future opens in a prehistoric setting where an old man and his adopted daughter are hunting a small creature. Suddenly they are attacked by a triceratops (or close enough). Who should come to their rescue, but Yor, the title character, a nomad warrior. Yor dispatches this massive dinosaur with a stone axe. After all the hard work is done then some other people arrive to help. For saving the old man and the woman (Ka-Laa) Yor is treated to a celebration dinner back at the village.

Yor, the Hunter from the Future.

Yor, the Hunter from the Future

Ka-Laa is clearly smitten by Yor, and proceeds to dance for him and bring him drink. Throughout this movie Ka-Laa is constantly asking her adopted father why Yor seems so different from other men. Which is pretty stupid of her, because the differences are obvious. Yor is the only man anyone has ever seen with blonde hair, he doesn’t wear a shirt, and he has a mysterious medallion hanging around his neck. The village wise-man asks about Yor’s medallion, to which Yor has no answer. He then informs Yor that there is story about an ‘angel’ in the desert who has a similar medallion.

The party is only just started when a rival clan of black fur wearing men attack the village. They kill most of the men and kidnap the women. After killing a half a dozen or so of the raiders, Yor manages to escape with Ka-Laa and her father. They decide it is important to rescue the captured women. While tracking the Black Fur Clan, Yor and company is captured. The leader of the clan takes Yor’s medallion, believing it to the be the source of his fighting prowess (I personally believe it is on account of his toned muscles and the blonde hair). Yor somehow escapes, uses a large bat as a hang-glider, rescues Ka-Laa and her father, and then promptly destroys this cave settlement with a massive flood. What about the captured women they came to save? We don’t know their fate, but I assume they drown.

Yor and company

Yor and company

Yor and company now head into the desert to find the ‘angel’ woman. Yor enters the village of the Sand-People, who would be better described as Mud-People, and is promptly captured. For all Yor’s fighting ability, he sure gets captured a lot. Yor is brought to Ayshe, which is a blonde woman who wears a medallion which matches Yor’s. Ayshe lives in a slowly melting ice cave, which has other people also wearing medallions frozen in ice. She is a prisoner, as the Sand-People worship her, but also won’t allow her to leave. Ayshe says that all strangers who come to the village are sacrificed, and Yor is no exception. This means there is no way the wise-man from the village could have heard about Ayshe and her medallion, but whatever. Yor manages to escape, grabs a large flaming sword, and reaps destruction on the village.

Yor and Ayshe meet up with Ka-Laa and the old man. Ka-Laa is extremely jealous of Ayshe, since Yor is obviously very taken with her. Her adopted father says “the men in our village have multiple wives, why can’t Yor have two?” Ka-Laa is far too feminist and progressive to have to share her man with someone else, and promptly goes off to have a fight to the death with Ayshe. As they are rolling around in the sand attempting to kill each other, the Black Fur Clan shows up. Somehow they survived the flood which ruined their settlement. Yor and the old man, who is an accomplished archer, end up killing them. But not before Ayshe falls and hits her head on a rock and dies. Prehistoric medicine is the worst, but at least this clears the way for Ka-Laa to possess Yor only for herself, just like the selfish woman that she is. Yor gives Ka-Laa Ayshe’s medallion, probably as a prize, for helping to get her killed.

Ayshe, the second wife Ka-Laa would never let Yor have

Ayshe, the second wife Ka-Laa would never let Yor have

Yor and company are then traveling and come upon a group of teenage girls being attacked by a Stegosaurus. Yor and the old man manage to kill it. Small wonder dinosaurs became extinct, given the ease in which they are killed. The girls are so grateful they take them to their seaside village. Upon arriving the chief tells Yor that his daughter (the oldest of the ones saved, but still probably only 15 or 16 years old) belongs to him now. Yor says he already has a woman, and won’t take her. This is probably because Yor now knows Ka-Laa would kill the girl otherwise.

What would have been Yor's third wife, if Ka-Laa hadn't been such a monogamous prude

What would have been Yor’s third wife, if Ka-Laa hadn’t been such a monogamous prude

The chief of village says a strange creature came and terrorized their village with heat and lightning, and with great difficulty they killed it. When Yor goes to examine the remains, he finds a large spotlight which has a radio broadcast. The chief tells Yor the strange creature originated from an island in the ocean which is surrounded by storms.

Later that evening the village is attacked by planes firing laserbeam weapons. It destroys the village and kills a bunch of people. Yor’s backup wife is spared, but her father, the chief dies. By now we are starting to see a pattern to Yor’s life and we now realize why he is a nomad. It is because every village he comes in contact with gets destroyed in some way or another (current tally, four).

Yor, Ka-Laa, and the old man (who might be named Tag, I didn’t bother to remember) then take what seems like the only remaining fishing boat from the surviving villagers and head out into the ocean. They are caught in a huge storm, and Yor is lost overboard, Ka-Laa and her father crash into rocks. Roll credits! Oh wait, they survived.

Yor awakens on a beach and begins wandering around. In a futuristic room, a man in a dark cloak watches via a crystal ball and orders Yor’s capture. Yor is promptly attacked and captured (like always). He did manage to decapitate one of the men first with a rock, only to discover it was a robot. Yes, Yor decapitated a robot with a rock. Yor awakens in a futuristic room with a woman monitoring his condition. She tells him is the son of a resistance leader who fought against the Overlord and was banished to the mainland. This woman (and seemingly everyone on the island except the Overlord) is also a member of the resistance. The Overlord apparently wants to get rid of the human condition known as “being alive and free of will” in his subjects and turn everyone into loyal robots.

Yor and the robots

Yor and the robots

Meanwhile Ka-Laa and Tag are on the beach and get rescued by a resistance fighter from the robots. They hatch a plan to detonate the nuclear reactor on the island and escape to the mainland via a shuttle they have prepared. Yor is allowed to wander around the facility looking for Ka-Laa, in the hopes that he’ll lead the robots to the resistance. After a bunch of aimless wandering, Yor finally meets up with Ka-Laa and the race is on to plant the bomb before the robots get them. Yor kills a robot with his bare hands, and then picks up its laser weapon and begins firing it with perfect precision. I guess he really is the Hunter from the Future, considering he grew up alone on the prehistoric mainland.

Yor stabs the Overload with large pole (instead of just shooting him). This is to create the illusion of suspense, as after Yor plants the bomb on the reactor, the Overlord has like five minutes or something to turn it off before the place goes up in smoke. The resistance manages to override his robots, so eventually the fighting stops and the few island survivors, Yor, Ka-Laa, and Tag head to the mainland to begin a new life. Yor’s curse of finding a new settlement and seeing it destroyed is once again realized as the island explodes.

See the trailer it all its glory (which I would embed if I could). Yor, The Hunter from the Future

Filed under Bad-Movies

Review – Cinderella

2015-03-13 by . 0 comments

If you are familiar with the 1950 animated production of Cinderella also produced by Disney, then the latest live-action version may not offer anything new to you. This new version is simply a retelling of that 1950s classic. Both versions are derived from Cendrillon, by Charles Perrault in 1697; Featuring a girl forced into servitude, a fairy godmother, the changing of pumpkins and animals into a coach with horses and footmen, and glass slippers.

Cinderella

The casting is spot on. Lily James as Ella plays the part of the humble country girl well. Cate Blanchett is the perfect evil step-mother, because this is how you believe she acts in real life. When asked by Cinderella why she is treated as she is Blanchett says “Because you are young, and beautiful, and good.” and then stops herself. The realization is that the step-mother is none of these things and resents Cinderella for it. The two step-sisters are sufficiently stuck up and insensitive, and the goose plays a convincing goose. Richard Madden plays the Prince, who is given something of a nickname of “Kit,” but does not go by the name of “Prince Charming.”

The primary complaint I heard about the film is that it offers nothing new to the Cinderella story. It is essentially a retelling of the animated version, despite what the previews claim. Because the last year’s Maleficent changed and added to the story of Sleeping Beauty, the expectation, for some, was that this new Cinderella would do the same. The example given was Ever After: A Cinderella Story which seemed to add a lot of new detail or circumstance to the Cinderella story. However, the differences can likely be explained that Ever After is closer to the Brothers Grimm version Aschenputtel than to the version Disney chose to base their films on.

There are no songs in this film, and the mice do not talk, although Cinderella clearly has some innate ability to communicate with animals. We are also given explanation of why she is named ‘Cinderella.’ I am sure many people have always assumed her name was simply ‘Cinderella’ without question. But the title character’s first name is actual Ella, and transforms into Cinderella.

Bottom-line, if you enjoy the classic Disney animated film and want to see a live-action version of that, then Cinderella will be right up your alley. If you are expecting Disney to evolve the character from their established story line, then you may be in for disappointment.

Filed under Review

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Genre

2015-02-11 by . 2 comments

One thing that I really like about the explosion in the breadth and depth of fantasy literature is the torrent of interesting ideas. Take, for example, the explanation problem in modern fantasy – a story set in the current “real” world must explain why most people have no knowledge of or experience with magic.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know the most common solution: it’s hidden. In the Harry Potter stories, the Ministry of Magic goes to great lengths to keep magic a secret. In the Harry Dresden stories, while no explicit effort goes towards keeping magic secret, most people consciously and/or subconsciously don’t want to know about the supernatural.

Another solution that authors have used is The Big Reveal. Magic and the supernatural have always been around, and hidden, but now they’re not. In the Sookie Stackhouse novels, vampires held press conferences throughout the world, announcing their existence. This worked out better in some countries than in others. The Jane Yellowrock novels also use a Big Reveal. One of the interesting parts of stories with a Big Reveal is the evolution of the attitudes towards vampires, shapeshifters, and other supernatural entities by the public at large, individual characters, and the government.

I would also like to mention a special case of The Big Reveal found in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. In this series, magic has been dormant for hundreds of years, allowing the development of modern technology. Only magic doesn’t stay gone, and when it finally comes back, things get wild. In the stories, magic and tech are incompatible and mankind has learned to deal with whichever is in force at any given time – for example, houses have both electronic and magical lighting systems.

And then there are the authors who want to write a modern or “urban” fantasy story and don’t want either hidden magic or a reveal.

The most common form is a parallel timeline – a universe similar to our own, but where magic and magical creatures have always been public knowledge. The level of parallelism can vary significantly. The universe of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, contains much of the same history, and many of the same pop-culture elements. The first volume in the story begins shortly after vampires are granted rights as citizens with legal protections – though not quite the same protections as normal humans, since normal humans can’t mesmerize prison guards.

A less common form of “urban” fantasy is set in a completely different universe, with different geography, countries, societies, history, languages and cultures. The recognizable trappings of modern society such as cars, electric lights, printed books, modern houses/apartments/condos, and cities with concrete and asphalt are present, but none of the brands, artists, or names are recognizable. I’ve only run into a couple examples of this type, the best being a newish series The Others by one of my favorite fantasy authors – Anne Bishop.

Now somewhere out in the audience, there’s someone thinking “four distinct sub-genres.” My only comment about that is: hogwash.

I deliberately withheld one important detail about the Kate Daniels series. It’s set in the future. And they have technology that’s in advance of our own. Confusing, right? Is it even really fantasy? Or is it some kind of funky science fiction sub-genre? Honestly, I think it’s the wrong question.

The idea behind genres and sub-genres is to divide everything up into nice, neat categories. Then we can say that a given book is LGBT, alternate history, steampunk, for example. And dividing things up into these nice, neat categories is supposed to help us find the books that interest us, and avoid the ones that don’t.

Except that science fiction and fantasy writers don’t write stories so that they can fall into nice, neat categories. They write stories with fresh, new ideas. They write stories that push past the boundaries of what we’ve imagined so far, into realms that we had not yet previously imagined. That’s when writers are at their best – coloring outside the lines.

So, if we want to see great SF&F writing, do we really want to keep drawing new lines for authors to color inside of? I sure as heck don’t think so.

To be honest, I’m not even entirely sure that we need to separate science fiction and fantasy in the first place. Instead, I would just call it all speculative fiction, which has the advantage of having a recognizable acronym. Then we can talk about distinct story elements – the things that we used to call sub-genres. The difference being, that a work can have whatever DSEs are appropriate. The Kate Daniels series has a future setting, advanced technology, magic, vampires, and also shapeshifters. Not exactly a combination that fits well into a traditional sub-genre system.

Oh, and just to shake things up, how about a story with current setting, alien invasion, and vampires. Seriously. Out of the Dark by David Weber. Yeah, that Weber. Go look it up if you don’t believe me.

And quit trying to shoe-horn things into nice, neat categories. Life doesn’t work that way. Just ask the platypus.

Filed under Lessons-Learned

Salt Lake Comic Con FanX 2015 – Heroes, Villains, and Anti-Heroes in Harry Potter: Who’s Who? Panel

2015-02-04 by . 1 comments

I attended a panel titled Heroes, Villains, and Anti-Heroes in Harry Potter: Who’s Who?.

The panel was run by two college professors, a YA novelist, and 17-year-old Harry Potter enthusiast.

This panel was more of a discussion about villains and anti-villains in the Harry Potter world. Panelist Paul Draper, an anthropologist, started out by saying that Lockhart was his favorite villain. He said “Lockhart is a minor villain who is only looking out for himself, he is not a global villain.” He went on to say there are lots of minor villains.

He also gave an interesting blurb on the difference between a hero and villain.

A hero says “I have a good side and a bad side. I have to suppress my bad side and choose my good side.” A villain says “I only have a good side.”
It has been said that “everyone is a hero in their own story.” Voldemort saw himself as a hero. In his mind, everything he was doing was good.

There was some discussion that because horcruxes negatively influence people, were the Dursley’s such awful people because Harry “the Horcrux” Potter was living with them for so long? This question was quickly countered by the realization that Hermione and Ron spent all those years with Harry and they didn’t seem to be affected. Although things did seem to improve for the Dursley’s now that Harry was gone 10 months of the year. This question of whether Harry was a proper horcrux has been asked and answered.

There was quite a bit of discussion of how kids sorted into Slytherin are automatically hated at Hogwarts by all the rest of the students. They are viewed with fear and suspicion. When Malfoy is sorted into Slytherin he is immediately boo’d by the Weasley twins. The thing no one mentioned (which I suppose they forgot) was that Ron had just been teased by Draco for being poor. He likely mentioned this to his brothers. In my mind the twins were probably booing Draco the person, and not Slytherin the house. Maybe that begs the question of Why did Slytherin House not get disbanded? But of course, we have an answer to that question.

The panel could have benefited from an expert from Scifi.SE. Perhaps next year they’ll ask Slyterhincess (aka JKR) to be on the panel, in order to put these questions to rest.

Looking back, the panel spent only a minimal amount of time answering the panel topic. They named Lockhart and Malfoy as minor villains, Snape as an anti-villain, and Hermione and Ron as the heroes that enabled Harry to be the hero.

Related:

Salt Lake Comic Con FanX 2015 – Tom Felton Panel
Harry Potter Movie Marathon Highlights

Filed under Conventions