Sunday, May 24, 2015

If I Did - "Age of Ultron"

So, uh.

I’ve been away.

Life takes us to interesting places. I’ve been chewed up and spat out by a few jobs, had more of my work published, and am even on the way to developing a production company. Obviously, updating a Blogspot account would fall by the wayside, because even though I enjoyed the run, writing here didn’t pay. Corners had to be cut, and this was one of them.

However …I need to come out of retirement for this.

I’ve championed for proper superhero media for a long time. You’ve seen some examples here, and perhaps even shared my articles with your fellows (thanks for that, by the way). Since then, I’ve seen excellent examples of how to handle the subgenre and not -in-the-same-city-as-excellent examples. It was my hope that we’d see more of the former, that future films would look more and more at cool creative decisions rather than exploding planes and passing reference to Power Pack or some shit.

See how that worked out for us.

Now, I gave the first Avengers film a firm pat on the back, even if the plot was painted-by-numbers and the whole film was designed to succeed, certain to hit the right notes with the right nerds. Fine and dandy as it all was, I was hoping for more films that experimented with the source material – films like “Iron Man 3,” which warned audiences about the mandrawing the propaganda poster rather than the man on it. However, the braying and mewling of insecure geeks who didn’t appreciate the deviation led to future films becoming a little safer.

This is where “Age of Ultron” left me confused and uneasy. It made deviations from the source material, to be sure, but still failed so spectacularly that I found myself liking the film less and less the more I thought about it. It got me thinking, sent my mind spiralling into directions that the story could have taken, and character decisions that would have made more sense than what we were given.

I started saying “If I Did …”

And that’s where we are now.

So let’s get to it. My “Age of Ultron” would still open with a raid on a major Hydra base in rural Bosnia (Sokovia must wait), but not by the Avengers – not all of them. Steve Rogers would be leading a small crack team involving him, Black Widow, and Falcon, who’ve been hunting around for Hydra and Bucky since “Winter Soldier.” Steve and company prepare for their standoff with Baron Strucker, who has prepared the Twins (Pietro and Wanda) to intercept them. Things go wrong for Strucker, however, when the bomb collars around their necks (my Twins weren’t volunteers) suddenly turn off, along with the electricity in the building. The Twins escape.

Then, the Iron Legion arrives. A private jet lands and Tony Stark’s on the scene, sweeping through and rounding up Hydra. The Avengers alumni reconnect, and Sam Wilson gets a proper introduction to everyone’s favourite technocrat (rubbing him up the wrong way, considering the weapons tech Stark used during Sam’s Tour of Duty). They raid Hydra’s facilities, finding a basement with Loki’s sceptre and a Chitauri Leviathan, the latter setting off some bad memories for Tony who is still dealing with the trauma we saw him experiencing in “Iron Man 3”. He has the sceptre taken away in secret.

Tony invites Steve, Natasha, and Sam over to the “Avengers Tower,” formerly Stark Tower, and we get re-introduced to Clint and Thor, who have been chilling in the lounge. Bruce is up there discussing research with Helen Cho (perhaps Helen can drop a reference to her kid brother Amadeus). Tony gets everyone reacquainted and pulls Bruce and Helen aside, saying that they need to fast-track the “Ultron” project, saying that if Hydra’s using Chitauri tech they need to be ready for whatever they’ve got planned next.

At a gala hosted in their honour, Tony is distant, as he’s continuing to modify and develop the Ultron program remotely (his smartphone is linked to the computers in his lab). As the party winds down, Ultron wakes up and goes haywire (Tony loses his phone) and downloads himself into the Iron Legion drones, and sending up a handful to harass the team while he makes off, disconnecting himself from Stark’s control. The team (now including Falcon) confronts Stark, who reveals that Ultron was a pet project he cooked up after the fall of the Mandarin and the Dark Elf invasion of London, a security AI similar to JARVIS that was able to detect and intercept potential threats to the human race. They all agree to track it down before it causes any more damage.

Meanwhile, Ultron (who is far more detached and cold in my version, and not a whimsical jokester at all) has gone far, landing in Europe and running into the Twins who are trying to make their way back to Sokovia. Ultron tells them that he’s been running algorithms and has determined that the Avengers are a threat because they are an overpowered force well above the law that could potentially use their abilities to enslave humanity. Being young and wary of the American war machine (no, not that War Machine), they agree to help take them out, using their powers to assemble a laboratory for Ultron.

Ultron sends out a copy of his persona and a handful of Ultron drones to stage a scene in a Wakandan city. The Twins provide support, and are surprised when the Evil Americans are helping the Wakandan military and assisting in evacuating the battlefield. However, Wanda succeeds in getting in close, using her powers to awaken The Hulk. This leads to the Hulkbuster being broken out, the admittedly-pretty-cool battle across town, but also the question being raised by the others as to why Tony has a special suit of armour designed to kill someone who’s supposed to be his friend. Tensions build, and Wakandan king T’Challa personally tells the Avengers to get the eff out of his country.

Steve takes control of the situation and suggests that they all go off and chill their heads. Thor attempts to contact Asgard, to no avail (Loki’s blocking him out), leading him to ask Selvig and Darcy to find other means of heading home; Sam crashes in Clint’s bachelor pad (my Hawkeye has no family but the dog); and Bruce and Natasha talk about their messed-up lives at a former SHIELD safe-house.

Meanwhile, Ultron is posted up in his new lab, researching the data he’s collected from the Wakanda brawl and building a new body for himself. His musings about the cyclical nature of humanity strike a nerve with the Twins.

Meanwhile-meanwhile, Steve and Tony head to a Stark-owned cottage and attempt to hash out their differences – finding out the hard way that all they have are differences. This is when Nick Fury steps in and blows the lid on Tony Stark, by exposing the laboratory in the basement, alongside Helen and the sceptre, and Tony’s other pet project – Vision. Tony reveals that after stealing AIM’s documents, he found specs for a mechanical organism that he decided to try and build himself. Steve chides him for keeping more secrets, and Tony insists that he had good intentions. Fury stops them both, as he’s just received word of two more Ultrons appearing.

The team spreads out, with Thor, Natasha, and Stark attacking the Ultron laying siege to Miami, and Sam, Steve, Clint, and Bruce taking out the Ultron in Seoul – who is being backed up, once again, by the Twins. This time, however, Steve manages to convince them to turn against Ultron (they’ve having doubts, anyway). Ultron takes this opportunity to initiate Phase 3 of his plan, moving his lab to the Sokovian capital.

Back at the Stark ranch, Helen cracks open the sceptre and reveals the Mind Stone, which absorbs JARVIS and then attaches itself to Vision, giving him life. Vision and Helen head to Avengers Tower, and the team formulates their plan of attack.

The gang finds Ultron abducting Sokovians and testing a new kind of nerve gas on them. Ultron declares from his lab that he plans on wiping out most of the human race in order to prevent the rise of more Avengers, but says that he should first deal with the current crop of troublemakers. This is when Ultron in his final form – a twenty-foot colossus – steps out to confront them. This new version is strong and fast, and seems to know all of their weaknesses, and how to use their strengths against each other (using Cap’s shield to break Hawkeye’s bow, using Thor’s lightning to subdue Hulk, etc.).

This is when the new members get their chance to shine, with Falcon, Vision, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch using their abilities to tip the scales in their favour (War Machine and the brand-new SHIELD still show up at the end). However, in order for the team to stop Ultron, Quicksilver and Vision end up sacrificing themselves.

At the new Avengers base, Steve rounds up his new team of Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, and War Machine, and prepares them for a mission. The others, however, are off, with Clint being offered a job at Fury’s side, Bruce considering volunteering for a space program, Thor finding a new route to Asgard, and Tony agreeing to stop being so secretive around his friends shortly before pocketing the Mind Stone and contacting some new friends in congress.

The mid-credits scene involves Baron Zemo retrieving Strucker and introducing him to his cabal of “Masters,” including Samuel Stern, MODOK, and The Yellow Claw.

So there you have it. And with that, I vanish into the tubes again. I might update this space again if I feel so inclined, but don’t hold your breath.

Until then, see you …well, see you when I see you.


RWI

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Writing Micro Questionnaire

Good evening,

 My friend Megan tagged me in an online questionnaire meme-thing, so let's skip straight to the business!

What are you working on?

The short answer is, depending on the day, not enough or too much. The long answer is a novel that I've promised to The Alchemy Press tentatively called "Legacy." This was originally going to be a short story, as teased in my interview with AP last year, but I made it too complex for an 8000-word story and I'm fixing to make it into a full novel.

Otherwise, I'm working on an array of short stories, any freelance projects that come my way through Elance (my last assignment was back in March), and articles for the arts-and-culture magazine Archenemy.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

In a lot of ways, my stories are send-ups to things about genre fiction that I enjoy, including bizarre monsters, over-the-top fight scenes, and weirdly endearing characters, and it's something that I try to emulate. Beyond that, I'd have to say I like the idea of selective irreverence, or the idea of targeting everyone and everything I can in a story, from prejudices and morals to people and their quirks, and poking it under the ribs until I decide when to stop. Often, I feel like this gets me in trouble, and probably explains why so many of my stories are unpublished, but it's still something I want to perfect.

Why do you write what you do?

Boredom? Actually, it's because I was a sickly, unpopular child with asthma and a baker's dozen of learning disabilities and often found myself retreating into flights of fancy in order to escape from reality. Later, I found that I had a taste for it, and upon realizing more and more that storytelling and art is an integral part of human existence, decided to perfect my storytelling ability. 

How does your writing process work?

In the beginning, I would just make up a story as I went along, coming up with scenes and names and not knowing what to do with them. These days, I tend to throw together an outline first and then build the story around it. I still begin at random intervals, though, because usually I have a set idea that I want to put on paper (or .doc file, as it were) first before I proceed. Sometimes I begin with a fight scene or a piece of dialogue. Very rarely do I begin writing at the beginning.

Thanks!

 If anyone wants to do this, you're free to. Usually people are tagged, but I'd rather leave it as an open invitation to whomever wants to do this. Enjoy!

See you next time,

RWI

Monday, May 26, 2014

A word on Elliot Rodger

It distresses me to say that I'm not surprised that Elliot Rodger, the psychopath who brutally killed six people last week, has achieved a level of fame and notoriety among the bastards of the internet. Mad people have always had a tendency to ally with people who act on their darker instincts, seeing aspects of themselves in their horrible actions and damaged lives.

This is not okay. It's not okay to worship killers and rapists and criminals. Condoning violence against women and banging on about Beta Male Retribution is abysmal. Yet, there is this increasing trend of misogynist bantering and vicious rhetoric that has reached endemic levels, online and offline. It terrifies me, makes me afraid for my female friends and colleagues and family members and neighbours, and makes me genuinely angry.

And I want to make my stand, as both an ex-social outcast who himself nearly went down some dark roads, and as someone who was - and is - considerably unlucky when it comes to romance: I hate him. I hate men like him, and I hate the men who like him, and I hate everything they stand for. Elliot Rodger and his ilk do not represent me, who has been pushed to the limit by my peers and my own uneven mind, nor should they represent anyone ever. They are unhinged, dangerous human beings who should be institutionalized and subjected to the correct levels of electroshock therapy until their brains are realigned into something vaguely mammalian.

Stay Dead, You Utter Bastard.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cinemarena - Kick-Ass versus Super

Good day,

            I hope you don’t mind if a steal a line from a movie here, but it’s one that rings very true: we all wear masks. Plus, if you let me appropriate and modify a quote from a different movie, no-one cares who we are until we put them on. The fake-it-until-you-make-it mantra is popular with people because we’re attracted to the idea of leading a double life. Modern society, after all, enforces blending in or adopting personas in order to be more appealing to employers, friends, colleagues, and potential lovers.

It’s for this reason (and others) that we’re attracted to costumed vigilantism and superheroes. If society were to dictate that we have to have a Work Mask, a Social Mask, and a Private Mask, then we’re led to fantasize about other Masks we could wear. Often, we envision a Mask that should be worn to protect (or terrorize) the Average Joe, one associated with thrills, adventures, and death-defying feats. This is a fantasy we’ve entertained since the days of Spring-Heeled Jack and The Scarlet Pimpernel, and one we want to see realized.

Now, people have tried to become superheroes in real life with very mixed results. Most Real Superheroes are nothing more than fancy neighbourhood watchdogs, promoting safety and going around making criminals laugh rather than intimidating them, with the few who do decide to take justice in their own hands ending up arrested. It’s always fun to dream, though, but never forget that behind all good dreams is a terrifying nightmare.

            Two films that explore that dream are James Gunn’s bleak-‘em-up black comedy/psychological horror film Super, and Matthew Vaughn’s superior adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic cruel and unusual Kick-Ass. We are going to talk about them now. Strap in.

1.    Why We Fight

Why become a costumed vigilante, anyway? Is it because you believe in truth and justice, or is it simply to satiate some vile desire? According to Kick-Ass and Super, the answer is “both.” It’s all just a question of how that justification is portrayed.

In Kick-Ass, costumed super-heroism is synonymous with altruism. To paraphrase the film: everyone wants to be Paris Hilton but nobody wants to be Spider-Man. Now, if this sentiment on its own was to be taken figuratively, then I would agree wholeheartedly. Rather than build a world based on mediocrity, excess, and consumerism, we should promote fairness, intelligence, compassion, and a healthy sense of humour about ourselves. However, our bullied comic nerd lead David Lizewski is speaking literally. He sees injustice out in a world where evil succeeds because good stays silent and wants to do something about it. And by ‘doing something about it,’ I mean putting on a gimp suit and introducing his batons to muggers’ jaws, because that always goes over well.

With Super, the literal interpretation of masked vigilantism is one associated more with insanity. Anyone who puts on a mask and goes around beating up wrongdoers must be out of their tree. Someone who really wants to do good in the world would do so by volunteering, or working in the public sector, or training to become a teacher. This is not so in regards to Super’s protagonist Frank Darbo. Inspired by a psychotic episode and reruns of Bibleman parody The Holy Avenger, Frank adopts the Crimson Bolt persona so he can rain hell on anyone he thinks has wronged society. This is, however, more of a violent reaction to his ex-junkie wife eloping with the drug-peddling gangster lothario Jacques, hinting at the fact that this is more of an excuse to vent his frustration than anything else.

This is the big difference between the two leads. Dave’s anger is at the exploitation of decent people, leading him down the road of self-discovery and liberation as he finds his feet in a complex world. Frank’s on a quest for revenge, with the scenes of him beating up muggers and kiddy-fiddlers feels more like a training montage preparing him for the end fight, but this revenge is not just directed at bad guys, but at society in general. He’s a lone madman rejected and trod on by a world that hates and fears him, and when he puts on the mask the road takes madder twists. Dave’s story is one we can relate to; Frank’s is the one we’re afraid of living through.

2.    Lady Killers

We can’t go into superhero territory without hitting some familiar notes. Now, both films deal with our heroes squaring off against crime-lords instead of the usual costumed nemeses, although Red Mist was a nice parody of one himself. This, in itself, is a nice nod to caped crusaders like The Shadow and Batman who almost always fought the mob but two bigger staples of the superhero world that need to be discussed are the presence and portrayal of ladies.

With the love interests, I’m just going to say that Katie Deaumax was just pandering to juvenile teen-boy fantasies of getting with the American-as-apple-pie super-popular cheerleader – which is funny, because in my experience geek boys (and one-tenth of geek girls) tend to prefer a girl they can enjoy a Babylon 5 marathon with. Meanwhile, Sarah in Super was a play on the damsel-in-distress idea, but throughout the film we learn she’s a recovering drug addict with a tumultuous life, easily charmed by seedy guys in fancy cars and lots of crank. Plus, unlike the fairy tales, she’s unable to be saved – at least not by men like Frank.

There’s more to say about the femme fatales in these movies, though. Representing Kick-Ass is Mindy Macready AKA ‘Hit-Girl.’ Trained from a young age by her ex-cop (or bored maniac if you follow the comics [and why would you do that]) father Damon to become a killing machine, she’s a human weapon designed to take down evildoers. She’s crass, vicious, and, in true Hollywood fashion, a loveable murderer with a heart of gold, making her an unhinged and deadly Grrl Power ambassador.

Meanwhile, Super’s Libby AKA ‘Boltie’ is another kind of crazy. Libby is a damaged comic store clerk who gets inspired by the main character’s rampages to don a costume of her own and join him. Possessing all of the mental problems but none of the heart, however, Boltie is a ruthless sadist who only cares about breaking people who have wronged her and Frank, from the gangsters he chases to someone she merely suspects keyed her friend’s car.

It’s important to note that both of these girls are completely out of their tree. Regardless of whether or not Chloe Grace-Moretz’s more positive portrayal of a mad person was seen as a victory by mental health Social Justice Warriors while Libby’s (and Frank’s) brand of nuts would be seen as considerably more damning, we can all agree that they’re both crazy. Let us not forget, however, that these characters also form strong bonds with the male leads. For Dave, Mindy is a role model, someone capable who is always prepared and driven to get the job done. For Frank, Libby is a mirror – he is her, and she’s him: a broken and horrible human being with violent tendencies and a need to get things done one way or another. He’s just never seen it from the outside before.

When these girls enter our boys’ lives, they evolve. With Dave, he becomes a better crime-fighter, unafraid to take out people who are bigger and stronger than him. By the end, he’s transformed into a true superhero, and he has Mindy to thank for it. Back in Super, Frank and Libby’s partnership leads to Frank becoming a worse person. In a troubled relationship worthy of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, she feeds into his violence, forces him to destroy public property and steal cars, loads him up with weapons, and even straight-up rapes him before releasing him into the wild like a rabid panther.

Can you guess what I’m leading up to?

3.    Violence Is Golden

            The rationales for our heroes’ decisions to become spectre of justice and their own personal mental landscapes set the tone for the films, and reflects the sort of “justice” they stand for deep-down. Because Dave is a teenager with teenaged dreams and a skewed view of the world, the violence in Kick-Ass is colourful and fun, set to exciting music and demonstrating that the human body is actually held together with pipe-cleaners and paper. Fighting is not anything to dread, but enjoy – unless you’re a drug dealing gangster, of course.

            Super, meanwhile, understands that violence is a problem-solving method employed by children, psychopaths, and the emotionally stunted. Frank Darbo is all three; a simpleton from an abusive household with an unchecked mental condition and a child-like view of the world. He applies cartoon logic to reality, with terrible implications. The violence of Super, therefore, is not fun, nor should it be. It’s visceral and cruel, like anyone who’s ever actually been in a fight or came home from a war can contest. There’s no clever choreography in the real world, no catchy songs to trade blows to; just pure, unadulterated brutality.

            The type of violence both films try to convey gets better realized as they progress, too. Kick-Ass’ fights begin realistically enough, and then tilts significantly after Dave’s second outing as a hero. By the halfway point, we’re treated to an eight-year-old in a fright wig carving up a room full adults, and get an ending involving the main character soaring up to a penthouse strapped to a jet-pack. Meanwhile, Super’s humorous style fades when Frank assaults someone for cutting in line at a movie theatre. From there, the black comedy becomes a bleak tragedy as Frank and Libby begin their reign of terror, pitilessly crippling and murdering everyone who stands in their way until Frank is shooting men who are begging for their lives.

            Even their names reflect this. “Kick-Ass” is an expression for something great and for the action of kicking ass, something you can shout at the screen while Dave’s beating up gangsters outside a diner. “Crimson Bolt” is called so because he has a screw loose, and is trying to “fix” society – hence the wrench he wields. Plus, crimson is associated with blood, which he spills in order to get what he wants.

4.    Identity Crisis

It would be inane for me to say that these films are only about superheroes. Not even superheroes themselves are about superheroes. Rather, Kick-Ass­ and Super are both about life, and about society, or rather the sides of it we want to acknowledge as far as masked men are concerned. Kick-Ass tells us that anyone can be a hero, sends the message that gumption and bright-eyed wonder lies in us all, and that we have to answer the siren’s call of our desires to become the person we want to be. Super, meanwhile, is a reflection of America’s violence subculture and our fascination with macabre imagery. It’s about marrying the real world with the four-colour one, and the consequences of being “super.”

Moreover, both films have a lot to say about being an outcast. We who face troubles fitting in to normal society do whatever we can to try and fit in somewhere. Many of us become characters, or rather caricatures of actual people, rather than grow up and become normal. We fear loneliness, persecution at the hands of our peers, and so we adopt identities that are aggressive and brusque, flighty and childish, or stoic and cool-headed, because we want people to love us. For Kick-Ass, this is desirable, saying that we will be loved if we adopt a persona, and that it will do wonders for our sense of self-worth. Super, however, tells us this is a terrible idea. Spend enough time as another person, and you start to believe that you are them, with little hope for recovery. Stare into the abyss long enough, and it will stare back through the eye-slits in a domino mask.

            In conclusion, Super is a better Watchmen movie than the actual Watchmen movie.

See you next time,


RWI

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lessons Learned - Love and Junk

Good day,

            I hate Valentine’s Day. Even when I was taken, I found it ridiculous. Hallmark Holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day all occupy a space in my mind reserved for things I consider unnecessary. A special day set aside to show how much you love someone? Shouldn’t that be every day? Sadly, ours is a culture that shames people into buying things and ‘going that extra mile’ to prove that they care, so we’re saddled with these days like these.

My problem is that such holidays propagate the myths we tell ourselves about ourselves. In spite of our drive to claim we love everyone for who and what they are, regardless of what they do and do not have, what the continued existence of these days tell us is that we favour uniformity. The hidden message behind Valentine’s Day, for example, is: “I’m in love, and it’s so much work showing that I love them. What’s that, you aren’t? Let me pity and console you! Plenty of fish in the sea!”

Eat uranium. We the single don’t want your pity. We just want the only things in life single people desire: distance, respect, and the occasional blowjob (and cunnilingus for those of us who possess ladyparts).

And yet, in spite of my disgust towards this day, I feel it necessary to write a special Valentine’s Day post. The things I do for views.

            I’m going to come right out and say that I am not a wizard at romance. I have only been romantically involved with four women, of which two of them could actually count as girlfriends, and I’ve officially been single since October 2009. The past four years were spent dating around and testing the waters with different women and going nowhere. This is owed to the fact that I am terrible at escalating a relationship, the unreasonably high standards I started imposing upon myself two years ago, and the fact that sometimes I get very, very jaded about the whole idea of getting back into a relationship.

I’ll explain: unlike most men in my position, I’m not nearly as afraid of being told ‘no.’ Most of the women I’ve asked out in my life have said ‘no,’ so it’s something I’m quite used to. What I’m most afraid of, in fact, is being told ‘yes.’

Yes to a date, yes to a movie and dinner, yes to holding hands and kissing and vows and all that. I’m scared I won’t be able to hold it together, that I’ll say the wrong thing or lose the right job and I’ll end up cold and alone again. Possibilities enthuse and terrify me, thoughts swirling around my head so violently that I can’t make my mind up over making the next move. Perhaps the most prominent thought I’ve had is along the lines of, “If I do this, will I get decked?” This is the greatest threat to my chances of finding someone. I can’t count the number of times I’d be locked in a woman’s arms staring her in the face or walking next to someone who starts to move in closer than normal and then just …drop everything and pull back, and return to that comfortable world of loneliness I’m accustomed to.

Wait, yes I can. Five. Five times. God, I’m a mess.

            So, no, I’m not a love guru. What I will say is that it’s not easy being a guy, and nor has it ever been easy to be a woman. We both face major societal pressures to bend into a shape we’re supposedly meant to be in. Men, as I ranted in a poem from way-back-when, are expected to be movie-version James Bond (not the pseudo-rapist from the Ian Fleming novels); classy, charming, tough, experienced, and dangerous. Women, meanwhile, are expected to be the Sphinx from Greek myth, a beast-woman hybrid who channels grace and ferocity, but is also highly secretive and self-destructive. Looking for love becomes a chore when you put these expectations on someone.

Plus, all the rules for dating can be annoying, with whole checklists imposed on people ranging from appropriate attire to recommended levels of closeness per date. All this is arbitrary. True romance doesn’t flourish through such regulation. It grows and develops over time, like anything else in this world, and those who fall in love with someone right off the bat are fewer in number than we think.

It doesn’t help that asinine romance advice columns have spread across magazine racks and the web. “Ten ways to charm her.” “Five signs that he likes you.” “How to tell if he’s serious.” “How to win her back.” How many people actually benefit from these? Then there are the sites and books about pick-up artistry, the path to devaluing and dehumanizing the other sex and treating access to their loins as a victory. To me, they’re almost in the same boat, although manning different oars. Advice columns enforce gender-normative stereotypes about typical and acceptable male/female behaviour, and pick-up artists enforce deception and cruelty wreathed in the concept of “getting what you want.”

            If you were to ask me for advice on getting with females or fellas, however, then this is the only piece of wisdom I’d pass on to any hopeful on the hunt for love:

Sort yourself out first.

Remember that any kind of romantic relationship requires time and resources. Making one work also requires a lot of emotional maturity and mental fortitude. If you’re lacking in any of these four things, you might have a hard time. Bear in mind I’m saying might, here, because some people can do fine with half of these. The fact is, you need to figure out your standards, not just in a romantic partner but also in what you want out of life. Get to a point where you think you’re ready for a relationship, then consider pursuing one.

And maybe along the way you’ll find out you’re not fit for romance. That’s not a bad thing. So many people think that the answers to life’s problems will just unfold before them the minute they find a partner, but that’s the message vapid romance-injected media and advertising enforces, that our worth is only measured by our attractiveness to others. Lots of us are better off alone anyway, but minds can change, but only if you decide to change.

How do you do that, though? What steps do you take to figuring out who you are and what you want? What do you need to improve on, what matters, and in the end how will these improvements make you attractive to the kinds of men and women you want to attract?

I don’t know, it’s your fucking life. You figure it out. Godspeed.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

RWI

P.S.: I have a special message for the hopeless guys who say all the good girls like bastards and that all the nice guys live in the Friendzone: Stop It.


Those “bastards” only look like bastards only because they’re dating the girl you want. What you’re thinking are actually lizard brain impulses telling you to rip the competition’s throat out and mount the female while the blood’s still warm on your chin. Being a “nice guy” doesn’t mean expecting anything in return. Being a nice guy means dong the right thing, even though and especially because it increases your chances of people treating you like dirt and ignoring your kindness, because being good to people is the right thing to do and is its own reward. The sooner you realize that, the happier you’ll be.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013

Good day,

            So, that was 2013. People came and went, empires rose and crumbled, hearts were broken or mended, and our species grew another inch, it seems. There were a lot of little victories on my end; made new friends and reconnected with old ones, got signed on as a regular contributor to Archenemy Magazine, had two more stories accepted into different anthologies, and even went on a date for the first time in a year! Granted, it went nowhere, and she thinks I’m a dead end of a human being, but who cares? It still happened.

            In spite of that, the year had its disappointments, especially for those of us in Canada. Our Prime Minister’s track record is still horrendous, our cultural landscape is falling apart, and then there’s the matter of my good city’s present management. In addition to the blundering escapades of the Captain Planet villain my people voted in, city council seems dedicated to burning down all of our major cultural artefacts and replacing them with high-rises built by psychopathic Lego men and Wal-Marts.

            Honestly, though? Even with all that, I can still find things to be proud of. Even though our administration is a mess, at least I can find solace in our mindless entertainment industry, and this year saw some weird and wonderful things emerging out of Toronto. So, since Lists seem to be the in-thing right now, let me go through four things born from my good city that we, and the world, should be proud of.

1.    MONSTROSITY

Toronto’s comic scene has certainly been bustling, what with new studios and content creators scrambling to make themselves heard. Some voices are certainly louder than the rest, but the one you need to hear is the one talking about Brian Evinou and Phil McClorey’s comic anthology Monstrosity. With eighteen well-drawn, ball-busting yarns from Toronto’s finest artists and writers, including Jason Loo, Rodrigo Bravo, Shane Heron, and Ricky Lima, what you end up with is a wild ride through the mountains of madness.

2.    ROGUE LEGACY

Probably the most addictive, butt-crushing, but still balls-to-the-wall entertainingly good game I’ve played this year came from Cellar Door Games’ Rogue Legacy, a platformer-adventure Rogue-like RPG. Unlike other Rogue-like games that take fun and punch it in the dick, Rogue Legacy gives you a chance to build an empire from your earnings during each failure, helping you survive the next run through the jungle for a little while longer. Challenging and clever with a neat aesthetic, Rogue Legacy is one of those games that makes you go “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

3.    THE CAPTAIN CANUCK WEBSERIES

Back in 1975, Ron Leishman and Richard Comely created their answer to Captain America in the form of the high-flying, death-defying Captain Canuck. For decades, he’s been a part of the Canadian comic world’s subcultural backdrop, popping in and out of obscurity in the form of new miniseries and re-imaginings. This year saw a new version of the character come into being, as well as a new medium, as Toronto’s own Smiley Guy studios put together an animated web-series, crowd-funded by YOU, and featuring the all-star cast of Kris Holden-Reid, Laura Vandervoort, Paul Amos, and Tatiana Maslany. It’s not done yet, but so far I’m impressed. Where’s episode 4, you bastards?

4.    PACIFIC RIM

NO, I WILL NOT STOP PRAISING THIS MOVIE.

This film embodies everything I love. Impossible monsters, incredible set-pieces, daring but flawed heroes, heart-pounding action, a sense of awe and wonder, and a great message about the strength of the human heart. Why is it on this list, though? Because it was filmed in Toronto. Yes, fine, a good chunk of it was filmed in soundstages, but a lot of scenes were actually filmed in the bluffs, or in the downtown. To me, this is incredibly fitting for a film that embraces multiculturalism, and thank god for that.

Looking back on this list, though, I feel like there’s another reason I’m proud of them. See, it’s not just because of the fact that these are all grand fun to me, but because they’re what I think of, or want to think of, when I think about Toronto. Diversity, tenacity, a respect for history, and unity. I feel like we’re losing that part of ourselves, that we’re too focused on letting the bad guys win just because they have more money and better hair than we do.

This isn’t my Toronto. My Toronto is, or should be, a gorgeous and multifaceted thing that I want to be proud of. Our New Year Resolution should be to bring that back, and be the Toronto we loved for just one day.

Let’s make it happen, 2014.

See you on the other side,


RWI

Friday, November 22, 2013

Lessons Learned: Odd One Out

Good day,

            This is going to be my first Lesson Learned, where I get a bit personal and give you, gentle reader, a glimpse behind the mask and show you how my life experiences made me man I am today, as well as any wisdom I can impart on you. So, in honour of Bullying Awareness Week, I’m going to talk about a subject I’m quite passionate about.

            Here’s my story. When I was a child, I had what you’d call The Big Triple-A: Asthma, Anxiety, and Asperger’s. Now, by that last one, I don’t mean that I was some self-diagnosed cretin trying to rationalize the piles of Sonic The Hedgehog pornography he printed out, categorized, and put in binders under his bed. See, I was born in that golden age before the internet, when people sought out actual psychologists instead of digital ones. I had problems expressing the information I was processing, and preferred to be alone instead of socialize with the other kids. The asthma didn’t help either, and I was prone to hacking fits and blacking out and couldn’t really fit in with the more athletic kids, and my anxiety has been a constant throughout my life, and too complex for me to put in just one editorial.

            Long story short, it was this combination of factors that led to me being targeted by bullies on a regular basis. Ah, those were the days. Getting stomped into the mud. Being chased and terrorized by my classmates. Bigger kids threatening to break my fingers and kill my parents. Hit with coat zippers and sticks. Held cruciform by three kids as a fourth charged me and kicked me in the stomach. What joy, what privilege!

            So, from First Grade all the way to high school, I had a big ‘Kick Me’ sign stapled to my back. Now, I had friends, but for the first little while my social anxiety dictated that I couldn’t have more than one at a time, at any given time. Then, when I felt ready to move in larger circles, the friends I did make didn’t like each other for the longest time, and I didn’t know how to make them see past their differences. Plus, when friends brought me into their circles, adjusting to other people’s personalities was taxing for a wreck as myself.

And I did stand up for myself to the best of my abilities, in the way kids are told to stand up to their bullies: through being louder and more physical. This, however, actually makes things worse. “You throw a stone, we bring a knife,” that sort of dance. Then, when I was thirteen and in the principal’s office for decking a kid who was bugging me during French class, I was told that at my age such actions could see me with a criminal record, so that pushed the violence out of me, but not my anger. I still yelled at people who got under my skin and harassed me, which just made me look spastic, and gave my tormentors a good laugh.

            Being unable to fight may have kept me out of juvie, but suppressing my anger and frustration led to getting lost in my thoughts in a very bad way. It all reached a head one dark night when I was doing the dishes in my house. I found myself cleaning a particularly large kitchen knife, staring down at it quite lovingly, when an errant thought said “You know, my school doesn’t have metal detectors. I could probably sneak this in.” Just then, fortunately, I felt a chill, forcing me to put it back in the drawer and shove that morbid idea and its kin away.

            And so I grew up. Rather, I worked to better myself. I didn’t give in. I learned how to make and keep friends properly, made some good memories, had the privilege to go to university and college, fell in and out of love, and evolved into who I am now. The boy I was never went away, though. He still lives deep in the bowels of my subconscious, crying and begging to be left alone. Now and then, he comes out, one way or another, and I have to tell him everything will be okay.

            Which is always the hardest part.

            Actually, the hardest part is what I’m going to tell you right now.

If you’re a young ‘un reading this who’s going through bullying, I wish I could sit here and delude you with a positive message like ‘you will survive this,’ but I can’t. This may pass. Your bullies might grow up and realize they were assholes to you, or they might not. Many are usually ignorant to the damage they cause people on a psychological and emotional level. Even in the next stages of your life, this kind of abuse will follow you. You’ll find people who made their way through the world by being aggressive and mean-spirited, and they’ll look at you as an anomaly that needs to be snuffed out or forced to change. For us, the sensitive ones, the world is unforgiving.

            And if the abuse is not external, then it will certainly be internal. You’re your own worst enemy, after all. See, maybe you’re surrounded by good people, genuine and honest people who love you, and that’s great! Too bad no-one warns you about the triggers. Yeah, that’s right, we get triggered. It could be a buzzword that was slung at you in your younger years like ‘faggot’ or ‘retard’ or ‘idiot.’ Maybe it’s something innocent like being laughed at. Either way, something’s going to set you off, and you’re going to get mad, and then you’re going to get mad at getting mad because you feel like an idiot. “Why the hell am I like this?” you’ll ask. “Didn’t I move past this point?”

            The fact is, we can’t. We don’t survive this. Not all of us, not entirely.

            So do this instead.

            First, find people you can trust and confide in. This is key. If you come from a loving family, talk to them, but either way, make friends and build connections. If it gets worse, go seek out a counsellor, someone who can look at your situation from the outside and offer some suggestions. Then, get away from chat rooms, forums, and social media websites, because those places can be open playing fields for jackasses. Don’t say anything, just randomize your passwords and don’t log in for however long you need to. Finally, find a way to vent. Pent up thoughts and emotions are the death of us. Just make sure you find a healthy medium. Draw, write, sing, scream, punch a pillow, talk to yourself. Get it out of your head.

            No, you won’t survive this. So fight it instead. Wrestle it to the ground and tame it. Own it and learn its weaknesses.

            And when you do, tell me how you did it, because we’re in this together. You, me, and the rest of the freaks. Do what you have to do. Just don’t give up, because taking any of the darker roads out of this mess will be treated as a victory by your tormentors, and the last think you need is to give them that.

            Don’t be a survivor. Be the winner.

See you next time,


RWI