CORONA, I HARDLY KNEW YA: The coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the nerd world with––since the last episode––the postponement of Emerald City Comic Con, the cancellation of this year’s E3 and other cultural events like SXSW. Andrew & D. Bethel cover the COVID-19-related news since the last episode.
WEEK IN GEEK: This week, Andrew falls in love with Scratchpad Publishing’s new RPG, Spectaculars, while D. Bethel is intrigued by the demo for Final Fantasy VII Remake on Playstation 4.
WEEK IN GEEK: This week, Andrew dives into the CBS All Access archives to get caught up on the surprisingly good––and suprisingly different––remake of the ’80s action show, MacGyver, while D. Bethel dives into the surprisingly compelling Zelda clone/shopkeep simulator by Digital Sun, Moonlighter.
This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. Today we have fellow nerd lawyer and tabletop RPG writer, André La Roche, share the things that stood out to him this year.NOTE: This contains spoilers for the season finale of HBO’s Watchmen and DC Comics’ Doomsday Clock.
Wow. Wow, wow, wow. 2019 was a banner year for geekery. When D. Bethel asked me to contribute this year-end review, I had many options to choose from in my corner of geekery. In particular, I had to resist talking about the following honorable mentions: the release of Avengers: Endgame, the controversial ending of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the drama regarding Sony reclaiming the rights to Spider-Man from Marvel, before ultimately agreeing to share custody (Sony gets weekends and holidays), and the sky-is-falling hubbub around the release of Joker. (To be fair, I already wrote about that one here).
While I’m sure these events and many others will also be a part of others’ 2019 year-end discussions, the next three represent the highlights of my own particular year in geek.
Fixing Boomer Comics: Or, the Story of How Doctor Manhattan’s Heart Grew Three Sizes that Day
Earlier this year, an amusing story emerged regarding the hashtag “#fixingboomercomics.” In it, several artists identified problematic comic strips written and illustrated by Baby Boomer creators. These comics often depicted straight white middle class men puzzling and chortling over issues faced by their wives and children. Independent creators “fixed” these comics by adding a panel depicting the Boomer male protagonist, instead of making fun of others, engaging in the issues that interested them with good-natured curiosity. However, I don’t think the artists behind this movement predicted the highest profile incidence of this: not one, but two “fixes” of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
December 2019 showed the conclusion of not one, but two sequels to Watchmen. The first being the similarly-titled HBO television series, and the second being the comic book Doomsday Clock published by DC Comics. A proper analysis of each of these works independently, or even comparatively, would take more room than I have here. However, for our purposes the following suffices: both works end with a complete and tidying ordering of the moral universe which includes Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias) being apprehended for his act of terrorism in the original graphic novel, and the stoically amoral Doctor Manhattan dying after being overcome with feelings of love and hope (respective to the show and novel).
This is one of the few instances where I side with Alan Moore’s notorious hostility towards adaptations of his works. Watchmen, by design, was supposed to be a rejection of the white hats vs. black hats style of comic books. The bad guy killed millions, and got away, and the heroes turned a blind eye for the greater good. Both sequels saw fit to “fix” this carefully considered ending. To my great disappointment. The willingness to defy conventional superheroic storytelling was a large part of why this work stood out, and influenced a generation of comics to come after it. Though I enjoy hopeful and optimistic stories, I also at times enjoy those that end on darker notes. After all, I live in a world where Augusto Pinochet died peacefully in bed in his 90s after killing or disappearing thousands of political dissidents. This is the same world where members of the Bush administration are not presently in jail for waging a preventative war in Iraq, nor likely ever will be. It’s a world where children are being separated from their parents, held in cages along the U.S.-Mexican border, and in some cases reportedly experiencing sexual assault.
Works like the original Watchmen offer the following consolation: “Yes, the world can be a terrible place where justice is fleeting. You’re not alone in recognizing this, and yet, you can still carry on with grace and dignity.”
In the original Watchmen, the Boomer got it right.
HoX and PoTen
The X-Men franchise was my first true obsessive-compulsive venture into geekery as a child. Sure, I loved Transformers, Thundercats, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but when it came to X-Men, I became an encyclopedia of useless knowledge—down to the characters’ heights and weights gleaned from their 1993 Skybox trading cards. After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the X-Men assumed a less-prominent role in Marvel Comics—that is, until Marvel regained the movie rights to the property. This year, Marvel published an ambitious relaunch of the X-franchise with the intertwined miniseries House of X (“X” as in the letter) and Powers of X (“X” as in the Roman numeral for “ten”). Or, as I like to call them, “HoX and PoTen.” D. Bethel has already discussed what HoX/PoX meant for him, but hey—when you have two X-fans contributing to a website, you’re bound to get some redundancy when X-Issues pop up.
This relaunch completely overhauled the high concept of the X-Franchise—all of mutant kind, including villains, find themselves united and creating their own island nation of Krakoa (the villain from the very first reboot of the franchise in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1), and their own unique culture which includes their own language. On top of this, mutants no longer need fear death, due to the implementation of so-called “resurrection protocols.” Whether Krakoa’s inhabitants are truly able to cheat death isn’t something I’m convinced of.
HoX and PoTen and the “Dawn of X” phase that followed them, have all been imperfect. Despite this, though, the ambition behind this wide-ranging relaunch is undeniable. And in the hands of skilled storytellers, those gaps in the premise will no doubt meet with eventual patching. Overall, it’s good to see Marvel’s Merry Mutants receiving some tender love and care.
Technology is More Advanced Than You Know
“Technology is more advanced than you know.” This enigmatic statement, devoid of any other context, was uttered to me many years ago by a contact in the defense sector. At the time, I found this statement incredibly curious. After all, I consider myself reasonably well-informed. I get my news from a variety of sources with a variety of political and world views. I have friends who are researchers in many fields or employees at leading tech companies and ask them about the work that seems interesting and daring. I always had a rough sense of what was coming down the pike. Or so I thought.
Now, as much as I wish this were evidence of extraterrestrial life, I can’t claim that it is. What it is evidence of, is a technology so radically advanced that it defies conventional wisdom of the known laws of physics and their mechanical applications, and represents a quantum leap (not the Bakula kind) between current understandings of what is scientifically possible, and what science can actually achieve.
After the story of the 2004 video broke, my curiosity was piqued and I continued to do research into the subject of UAPs. What I found was equally as shocking as the Navy-corroborated video.
Earlier this year, the Navy filed a series of patents that, if accurate, could mean that we are on the precipice of attaining Star Trek-like levels of technological development.
These patents were developed by a Naval scientist, researcher, and aerospace engineer named Salvatore Cezar Pais located at the United States Navy’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Dr. Pais’s patent applications are for the following devices: an “electromagnetic field generator and method to generate an electromagnetic field” with the principal stated application of deflecting asteroids that may hit Earth; a “craft using an inertial mass reduction device” that could be a high speed “hybrid aerospace/undersea craft” that could “engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level”; a “room temperature semiconductor” that would enable “the transmission of electrical power with no losses”; a “high frequency gravitational wave generator” used for the purposes of “advanced propulsion, asteroid disruption and/or deflection, and communications through solid objects”; and a “plasma compression fusion device” that would effectively represent the holy grail of energy sciences—nuclear fusion.
Of interesting note, was that the Navy’s patent application for the craft using an inertial mass reduction device was originally rejected by the patent examiner at the United States Patent and Trademark Office as being scientifically impossible. It was then that the Navy appealed the patent officer’s determination with the Chief Technical Officer Dr. James Sheehy testifying that not only was the patent application operable or near operable (the requirements for a patent being granted), but that the Chinese Government was close to perfecting such technology. Similar appeals were filed by the Navy in response to other patent rejections.
Many commentators were unconvinced that the Navy was actually close to implementing the described technologies. Some believed that this was actually an elaborate disinformation campaign, designed to trick rival governments into wasting resources pursuing impossible technologies. That may very well be the case. But I also wonder how many of these commentators were being held back by their own possibly imperfect perceptions of what is scientifically possible—the nay-saying old guard to Dr. Pais’s modern-day Galileo. The technologies described in Dr. Pais’s patents are definitely the stuff of Star Trek—but so too were cloning, gene editing, hand-held mobile communications devices, tablet computing, augmented reality gaming, and real-time high definition video-conferencing. All of those technologies have since come to fruition.
If you’re interested in reading about Dr. Pais and the Navy’s patents in greater detail, www.TheDrive.com has been dogged in publishing a fantastic series of articles with each new development over the past year. Each of these patents and the stories and commentary around them far exceed the scope of this year-end review’s ability to do them justice, and are worth spending a lazy Saturday afternoon reading. Who knows—alongside the credible reports of UAPs, they may convince you, as they did me, that there’s hope that technology is more advanced than you know.
For me, 2019 had two great highlights—a return to prominence of my first geeky love, and a renewed hope for realizing technological marvels that I once thought were limited to the world of fiction. It also brought with it some disappointment, as the custodians of the one of the most influential graphic novels repudiated the moral ambivalence that was its most important artistic legacy. On the whole though, these developments of 2019 have left me more than eager to see what 2020 will bring us beyond perfect hindsight.
This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. We start by having co-host, D. Bethel, talk about––of course––the X-Men.
Many people view 2019 as the coda for the entire decade, wiping away the expectation and skepticism that has built up over the last nine years as we head into the twenties. I don’t usually subscribe to such notions because time is ever and always a series of causal relationships, but––stepping back from the year as December ends––the evidence certainly points to this year closing a lot of doors. With Game of Thrones coming to a close, Avengers: Endgame definitively ending the first era of the MCU, and even Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker concluding a supposed nine-movie arc, 2019 does actually seem to be not only winding down the year but, in some cases, doing so for decades-long cultural monuments.
However, 2019’s sense of closure and finality landed nowhere more––across multiple mediums––than on the house that Charles Xavier built. At least to me.
Of course, the X-Men aren’t dead nor are they going anywhere; in fact, many look at the events of 2019 that Marvel’s merry mutants went through––20th Century Fox’s purchase by Disney and Jonathan Hickman’s takeover of the comics––and anticipate the beginning of a promising new age.
To me, however, the theatrical release of Dark Phoenix and the comic book reboot with House of X and Powers of X marked a definitive end to eras of the team that mean so much to me.
The much derided Dark Phoenix landed with a thud, but more importantly (and as unwarranted as the derision was) it marked the last main installment in the 20th Century Fox-owned X-films. Its finality (and finale) hit me hard as I realized that this series I followed since it redefined superhero cinema in 2000 actually kind of became “my” X-Men.
Through the ’90s, I developed a codified portrait of what this superhero team meant to me in an intense and focused consumption of this property––mostly built upon the triptych of X-Men #1 (1991), X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, and X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men––and, with that done, it kind of went dormant in my mind as I grew up and started absorbing other things.
And then these movies came around.
For all of their successes and flaws, they wove a tone and ethos that very much aligned with “my” X-Men, and I appreciated and eagerly supported each film released (except for X-Men Origins: Wolverine; that movie is hot garbage).
Again, whether you like them or not, Dark Phoenix ended this era (though we still wait for New Mutants to find a way out of the vault). I very much liked these movies––especially Dark Phoenix––and think that it handled its own mortality (though unknown at the time) with grace, maturity, and one hell of a good movie. In a summer where Avengers: Endgame became a powerfully emotional moment for the folks who are longtime Marvel Universe readers as well as those who literally grew up with the MCU (starting with 2008’s Iron Man), Dark Phoenix stands as an astonishing and powerful goodbye for me and my superheroes. Yes, in terms of emotional resonance, Dark Phoenix is myAvengers: Endgame. Don’t @ me.
The movie affected me profoundly, made worse by the vitriolic discourse around a movie that is, at the very least, perfectly fine or, by my estimation, very good. Because of how much I enjoyed it, I expected myself to go to the mat for it in discussion; however, because it so infuriated me how people treated this movie, I realized exactly how much emotion I had invested in it.
It got to the point where I had to disengage from any conversation around it because I just assumed everyone was on the offensive. So, Dark Phoenix became a very personal movie for me, one for me to enjoy on my own and quietly. That’s okay; I gladly place it on the “just for me” shelf with my other beloved films like Willow, The Postman, and Highlander––movies people love to insult but have a profound and private meaning (while fully aware of their flaws).
Although, I eagerly await the Dark Phoenix retrospectives five or ten years from now when nerdy critics reconsider their stance after the hot takes have cooled and just appreciate it on its own merits.
HOUSE OF X / POWERS OF X
When Marvel announced that fan-favorite writer, Jonathan Hickman, would be revamping the mutant sector of its universe, the speculation became a non-stop hype train. Before the books even released, Marvel was proudly declaring thatthe dual titles that launched this reboot––House of X and Powers of X (HoX/PoX), the latter pronounced “Powers of Ten”––already earned a place on the shelf with the other important moments in X-history: the first reboot, Giant-Sized X-Men #1; the industry-shifting story The Dark Phoenix Saga; 1991’s record-breaking X-Men #1; and Grant Morrison’s daring revamp with New X-Men in 2000. HoX/PoX was that important. The hubris of it made me skeptical but intrigued if only because I wanted to get excited about the X-Men comics again. I wanted to jump in at a clean start like I had years ago with X-Men #1. I wanted to become an X-Mencomics super-fan again.
Marvel published HoX/PoX weekly as interweaving limited series, bouncing back and forth between the two very oblique and mystery-laden books, I had a lot of fun diving into this new premise populated with familiar characters. Hickman’s story was big and the sheer scope across the globe and millennia was striking in its boldness.
Whether Hickman’s HoX/PoX becomes the paradigm shift Marvel and Hickman touted it as being, I noticed I slowly slid off of it the further it went on throughout the year, especially as HoX/PoX came to a close and the “Dawn of X” (DoX) titles (the disparate titles spun out of the events of the HoX/PoX limited series) started getting published. HoX/PoX definitely lived up to its promise of building a new status-quo from the ground up, but I realized that meant burning down what came before, echoing what will surely be done on the movie side of things when that happens.
While not wholly ignoring the fifty-six years of continuity, Hickman certainly subverted it, making the comic’s printed history merely a series of “things that happened” while the actual, more important story was going on underneath. To that end, HoX/PoX effectively closed the book on the epic socially-conscious soap opera that started in September of 1963, a wave I jumped in on mid-way through but had fun learning about what came before as I rode the wave forward at the same time.
That, however, has been freeing as the HoX/PoX run and the subsequent DoX books feel like a brand new series cast with actors I know––the same faces in a new context. So, there’s no catch-up the reader needs to do. As the prominent anti-continuity voice on the show, that’s only a good thing and it’s amazing that Hickman was able to pull it off not only with the readers, but with Marvel. Admittedly, it’s much smarter than arbitrarily slapping “#1” on the cover and hoping for a sales spike.
HoX/PoX fundamentally turned the idea of the X-Men on its ear from my holy texts of X-Men #1, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, and Pryde of the X-Men. Instead of being a thinly veiled and often problematic metaphor for social injustice set in a superhero world, it is now an eco-sci-fi-utopian-political experiment, and maybe that’s what mutants need to be in 2019, 2020, and onward.
I don’t expect franchises to grow with me and my tastes, but part of the excitement of hopping on HoX/PoX was to get in the ground floor and, with hope, be a part of the audience for whom this becomes “my” X-Men. But it hasn’t done that, and it’s likely because my nostalgia got in the way and not a fault of HoX/PoX. And that realization, combined with my powerful reaction to Dark Phoenix, forced me to fully examine my fandom for the X-Men. It showed me what it means to me, and––more importantly––how I want to interact with it.
That’s important going into 2020 when Hickman’s plans gain more steam and continue to define and refine what the X-Men are now. It’s also important as we get closer to whenever Marvel Studios does what it decides to do with these characters in the MCU. I’m incredibly excited to see where both of these things go, but as I get older such excitement becomes academic rather than gleeful appreciation.
CONSOLE WARS II: THE NEW CHALLENGERS: Things got shaken up in the world of video games––maybe––as Google announced its streaming-forward gaming platform––maybe––called Stadia while Apple announced its gaming-focused subscription platform––maybe––called Apple Arcade. Andrew and D. Bethel discuss the merits of these announcements and how they either apply, predict, or completely misread the gaming landscape.
LOOKING FORWARD: With 2018 behind them, Andrew and D. Bethel discuss what they’re looking forward to in 2019. Andrew is interested in the upcoming premium Disney streaming service, Disney+, as well as to Bethesda Game Studios adding more content to Fallout 76, while D. Bethel can’t wait for It, Chapter 2 to hit theaters as well as playing the new game from Firewatch‘s Campo Santo, In the Valley of the Gods.
What are you looking forward to in 2019? Let us know in the comments!
MEYERED IN CONTROVERSY: Richard Meyer and his “Diversity and Comics” YouTube Channel have been no stranger on this podcast with his leading the charge of the abhorrent ComicsGate dissention among comic book fandom. After gaining notoriety with his “Dark Roast” YouTube video (since deleted) that accused various popular industry creatives of committing sexual, devious, and illegal acts to get their way to the top, Mark Waid––among others––reached out to Antarctic Press to voice concerns with their decision to publish Meyer’s comic, JAWBREAKERS. After hearing those concerns, Antarctic Press terminated their contract with Meyer and went to the internet to spew bile in response. At the end of September, Meyer sued Waid for “tortious interference with contract” and “defamation.” D. Bethel and resident nerd lawyer, Andrew Asplund, dive back into this cesspool to navigate what exactly is going on throughout this new development.
NOTE: No comment made by Andrew during this episode constitutes legal advice or establishes client-lawyer relations.
TWILIGHT RETURNS: It was recently announced that the previously announced Jordan Peele-produced reboot of The Twilight Zone will actually star Mr. Peele himself as the host for the digital-only streaming service CBS All-Access. Andrew and D. talk about their excitement––and fears! (to make it spooky for Spookytober)––for the upcoming show.
With the first day of StocktonCon completed, Kyrun and D. Bethel begin the second day by getting in the car and driving down the 99 to Stockton. It’s early, they’re tired, they’re going wherever the conversation takes them.
While this morning conversation doesn’t touch on conventions or marketing strategies, they dive deep into a major aspect of comics culture: continuity. It’s at the heart of a lot of stories and in the hearts of a lot of fans, often to the point of taking despicable actions when a creative team makes changes that they don’t like.
They examine their own thoughts about the importance of continuity as well as why, it seems, so many people hold continuity with the highest possible value. Also, for some reason, the conversation dives deep into D. Bethel’s own biases when it comes to mainstream comics and how––and if––he overcame those biases.
Con Artists #01 – StocktonCon, pt. 1 : The drive home from the first day of the show. Kyrun and D. discuss making sales, confidence, and the comics they grew up reading and enjoying.
“Shortcast 45 – The Cure for Canon Shift”: An episode of A Podcast [ , ] For All Intents andPurposes where D. Bethel and Andrew Asplund have a long conversation about the necessity of (or problems caused by) continuity in fiction.
“Shortcast 68 – Swinging Gates”: An episode where D. Bethel and Andrew Asplund discuss “ComicsGate”, the vitriolic (and dangerous) reaction of some fans at attempts by the industry to include more diversity and modern sensibilities in mainstream comic books.
Special thanks to Kyrun Silva for agreeing to this experiment (and for driving us to and from the convention). Thanks to Ben Schwartz of Empire’s Comics Vault for hosting the table.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew watches through the first season of the hit Starz show, Ash vs. Evil Dead while Dan plays through the 2014 Bethesda game, Wolfenstein: The New Order, the reboot of the classic first-person shooter Id franchise.
KEEPING SCORES: It was announced this week that Danny Elfman has been hired to compose music for the upcoming DCEU movie, Justice League, after the original composer, Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL), amicably left the project. Dan and Andrew discuss the expectations for an Elfman score in a modern superhero cinema context, and discuss their thoughts on film and televisions scores in general.