READY TAYLOR ONE: With D. Bethel out for the week so Shakespeare can get paid, Andrew recruits friend-of-the-show, Taylor Katcher, to talk about the recent Steven Spielberg sci-fi film, Ready Player One.
NERD LAW: When legal stuff happens in the nerd world, Andrew is on the case (though not dispensing any legal advice). This time around, he talks about Epic Games suing players who use cheats in Fortnite and Comic Con International winning its copyright battle against Salt Lake Comic Con over the term “Comic Con” (19:40)
WEEK IN GEEK: D. Bethel looks at DC Comics’ retrospective of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studios, Wildstorm: A Celebration of 25 Years, and is completely underwhelmed by their effort while Andrew ponders the considerate world-building of Bethesda games as he dives back into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition.
And, for those that are dying to know the reference, here is the cover to Elder Scrolls: Arena (all apologies):
WEEK IN GEEK: D. Bethel doubles up this time to talk about a personally exciting moment he experienced while at this year’s Alternative Press Expo in San Jose, CA, as well as seeing the new cinematic version of (half of) the Stephen King classic, It, while Andrew discusses playing SteamWorld Heist.
D. Bethel’s comprehensive recap of his time at APE 2017:
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew pauses his walk down the Star Trek Nostalgia Trail and attended a day of PAX West (starts at 2:14) while Dan dips into the history of his favorite comic book franchise by reading Marvel Epic Collection Vol. 5: X-Men – Second Genesis which collects the early issues of the great X-Men reboot from 1975 when the “All-New, All-Different” X-men were added to the team (Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler) and started the 16-year run of writer Chris Claremont (18:17).
FINAL FANTASY VII AGAIN: (28:23) September 7th marked the 20th anniversary of Squaresoft’s (at the time, now Square Enix) breakthrough hit, Final Fantasy VII. Dan and Andrew talk less about the game itself and instead talk about the impact the game had on gaming and nerd culture.
NOTE: Sacramento’s Crocker Con | Art Mix is happening September 14th at the Crocker Art Museum at which D. Bethel will be exhibiting with his wares. Come by and say hi!
Summer break is back with a vengeance, so the Shortcast run returns!
After a slight tangent discussing The Transformers and nostalgia, Dan and Andrew share their weeks in geek.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays Bioshock from the Bioshock: The Collection released to PC and consoles last year. Dan actually finishes a book before discussing it. This time, it’s the Kickstartered Wild Times: An Oral History of Wildstorm Studios by Joseph Hedges (now available for purchase).
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays super sentai producer in Chroma Squad while D. Bethel gets introspective while drawing old high school characters for his “Sketch Fridays” series at LongJohnComic.com.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END: The final Doctor Who series to feature current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and current showrunner, Steven Moffat, began last weekend with “The Pilot,” which also introduced the new companion, Bill Potts. Dan and Andrew discuss their reactions to the episode.
NERD LAW – YOUTUBE EDITION: Andrew dusts off his non-advisory expertise to talk about a recent situation that occurred during Dan’s livestream of God of War III. They talk copyright, YouTube’s priorities, and Chinese variety shows.
WEEK IN GEEK: In what should be a Shortcast ended up being an entire episode, this week Dan and Andrew have a lot to say about their respective Weeks in Geek. Andrew attended Emerald City Comic Con and attended some panels and people-watched while also playing a bit of the officially licensed sequel to the NES cult hit, River City Ransom, Conatus Creative Inc.’s River City Ransom Undergroundwhile Dan saw Logan and has a lot to say about it (spoiler-free), nerd tribalism, and superhero movies.
Andrew and I do our best to steer away from politics or politically-charged issues if only because those topics––no matter the side you stand for––can be frustrating discourse. Of all comic book figures used to translate the world of political friction, the X-Men seem most ripe for such utility if only because they were born from it.
I’m not going to speak to the thesis of this article, though it is well-written and cogent, but it shows a technique that I appreciated and of which I would like to see more. Comic books––well, comic book characters, at least––have jumped the divide between niche and the mainstream. If we want the source material to make that same leap, I think using these properties as lenses through which we can explain and analyze the crazy world around us––like we do with literature and movies at this point––should be done more. Whether you agree with Jon Barr’s article or not, take note of what it’s doing and you’ll see the sketch of an important step to improving the cultural validity of comic books.
The incredible point the article makes has to do with a dangerous side-effect of using fiction as allegory or critical lens:
The biggest disparity between the X-Men universe and the gun control debate is this concept of a ‘good guy.’ The world of the X-Men have those heroes to rally behind as an example of how powers should be used.
For the sake of storytelling, clear lines sometimes need to be drawn between things like “good” and “bad,” even when those distinctions are either blurry or rare in real life. The growling of political discourse has done a lot of vilification of the “other” side when, if we were all at a barbecue together, we would all probably have more in common than not. Though there may be more “good guys” than “bad guys” on either side of any debate, it is nice to use popular culture as an avenue for intellectual investigation. As the article admits, using the X-Men as spokespeople for only one side is not only irresponsible, but the X-Men themselves have been figuratively on both sides of what is arguably the same issue as gun control. But I like that possibility. If the X-Men are about anything, it’s giving anybody who feels on the outside a place to belong.
As I progress further and further into nerd culture commentary, a major thesis that continues to bubble to the surface is my strange and possibly nebulous feelings about nostalgia. Specifically, I am kind of appalled at the persistence of the idea that hardcore fans of a property deserve even a modicum of ownership over its evolving direction in popular culture. Respect and rightful say are two very different things.
I want to say this basically started with the spark of superhero cinema––with things like the first few X-Men movies and their proud abandon (at the time) of the technicolor, exaggerated costumes of the comics in favor of matching padded leather or, more specifically, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005 which really spearheaded the movement toward “gritty” and “grounded” nerd cinema. You could even argue that it started with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, but it didn’t hit a fever pitch until the turn of the century.
Since then, we have also seen reboots of properties from the 1980s that received similar “mature” treatment with efforts like the 2011 Cartoon Network Thundercats show that added liberal dashes of The Lord of the Rings to the popular ’80s toyline. Similarly, G.I. Joe made the tonal shift in 2009 with an animated series, G.I. Joe: Resolute, which pushed the beloved and silly franchise into serialized storytelling more commonly found in prime time drama, and did so to much acclaim. Similarly, the Arkham series of Batman games not only revolutionary gameplay but showed the players an even darker world than what we saw in the Nolan films with Gotham being a true den of sin and the rogue’s gallery being more grotesque and twisted than we’ve seen since the Burton films. Arguably, this is also what happened with Casino Royale which killed what little was left of the classic camp during Pierce Brosnan’s tenure. While these examples are the more well-regarded ones, the dark side of the trend has been things like the Michael Bay Transformers series and their dudebro Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cousins.
Benjamin Bailey’s Nerdist article confronts an idea I’ve longed wanted to approach, but couldn’t really find my thesis without sounding petty and bitter (when I didn’t want to––I do love nostalgia trips). The idea that the franchises of our youth are nigh required to meet our adult sensibilities as they met the sensibilities of our youth is a strange request from rebooted or extended franchises. These properties spoke to us because they tapped into a piece of the zeitgeist that others couldn’t find or hold onto. Why should we expect or want anything different when reexamined for modern audiences thirty years later?
First of all, Dan is correct. This movie rests a lot on nostalgia for prior Terminator movies. More accurately, this movie rests a lot on nostalgia for the first two: the 1984 film, The Terminator, and the 1991 film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie almost feel like a reboot of the original, with post-apocalyptic soldier, Kyle Reese, being ordered by revolutionary leader, John Connor, to step into the time travel device in order to stop a vicious killing machine from destroying the past. Not much later, we get to see the recreation of a popular moment of cinematic history: the Terminator beats up some weird ’80s punks to get some clothing.
From there, of course, the movie starts to go sideways. An older Arnold Termin-egger, along with an unidentified sniper, work together to stop the younger-looking killing machine. Soon after, Kyle Reese encounters a strange police officer who is revealed to be a T-1000 made of liquid metal (but not in the guise of Robert Patrick). It’s crazy, it’s out of control, and the movie lets us know that despite starting like the original The Terminator, this will be anything but. Soon enough, we have heroes Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor time travelling FORWARD to 2017, which should be after Judgment Day but is not. Instead, the nefarious villains of Cyberdyne Systems are about to realize some sort of stupid mega-app called “Genisys,” which promises to be the bomb.com, but will probably end up just being the bomb.
A few reviews I read expressed concern over the convoluted time travel timelines of this movie, and given that the producers intended to make a trilogy of films, the confusion is probably legitimate. But, as a sort of sequel to the first two Terminator films, I found this movie to be an interesting companion piece and contrast to the previous second sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The following analysis may contain spoilers, so be warned.
The original film The Terminator left the audience with the interesting idea that the whole story could only happen because it happened. The entire thing is a causal loop: Kyle Reese is sent back in time by John Connor to protect Sarah Connor, and in the process becomes John Connor’s father (explaining why John sent him back in the first place). Terminator 2: Judgment Day doubled down on the causal loop, further explaining that Cyberdyne Systems developed the requisite technology for Skynet and the Terminator from the remnants of the Terminator left behind in the first film. So, the audience realizes that this whole world and its future exist because of the fact that they exist.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day tries to change the narrative. After we learn what’s going on and who the real bad guys are, Sarah Connor convinces everybody that the best solution is to prevent Cyberdyne from ever being created. The takeaway theme from the movie is, “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” By destroying all remnants of the Terminators and Cyberdyne Systems, Sarah and John Connor are able to avert the future apocalypse. Of course, this creates a bit of a paradox-sandwich as we have an established past that involves a future that no longer happens. But, let’s not worry about paradox sandwiches just yet.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines took a hard left on this theme, changing it into “No fate but what we delay for ten or so years despite our best efforts.” Watching that movie back in 2003, I was exceedingly disappointed on the turn that it took, although it made sense given that the producers were more interested in making post-apocalyptic, dark future Terminator movies. That’s also where we got Terminator: Salvation, which I am certain that I watched but I disliked with such intensity that I forgot everything about it.
That hard left is what I think makes Terminator: Genisys stand out from the other films and makes it feel more like a proper sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. By the end of the movie, we find out that the personification of Skynet has essentially manipulated time in order to re-sequence the timeline to its own benefit. Instead of the “it’s going to happen eventually” narrative of T3, we have Skynet actively taking a role in manipulating time to its benefit. I guess you could say that Skynet has adopted the “No fate but what we make for ourselves” philosophy for itself. Oh, and Skynet is played by Matt Smith.
And that’s the thing that I really like about this new Terminator movie. T3 took the “take the story into your own hands” narrative of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and stole the agency and control of it. It said that no matter what you do, the terrible thing is going to happen. Terminator: Genisys did something different. It still acknowledged that the terrors of the future are a threat, but that it’s because they are actively working against you. It acknowledged that the “take the story into your own hands” narrative was just as much a thing that the villain could do as the heroes. It’s an interesting twist on the story. Somehow, that difference was important to me and I think is what makes Genisys a better “third movie” than Terminator 3:Rise of the Machines.