Wednesday, November 27, 2013

THE EVOLUTION OF BRANDON (2.0) aka "Goodbye Prolonged Adolescence..."

I've long believed that the real problem with the modern world stems from prolonged adolescence. A marked inability to accept the fact that we can't be perpetually frozen in the zeitgeist of low responsibility and sexual abandon of our early twenties.

Men and women unwilling to move beyond shallow and superficial definitions of career and culpability. Folks that blame the bad economy for having to live with their parents or be unnecessarily focused on narcissistic worship of social media technology. Where previous generations had the guts, ambition and desire to achieve despite the odds, many today regularly drink from the bottomless well of excuses enabled by like-minded bloggers also caught up in their own whirlwind of self-deprecation.

You see it everywhere, especially within the geek community where pangs of nostalgia are masking the fear and contempt of adult responsibility. I know this because I was one of those people. I spent my college years gripping the fond memories of watching Saturday morning cartoons so tight that my proverbial fingers and knuckles turned white from the pressure. 

I spent my post-undergrad years chasing the remnants of 1980s pop culture via cartoons, sitcoms and movies. As I used to be one of the World's Biggest Transformers Fans (tm), I slavishly tracked down other devotees via Usenet/Deja newsgroups and felt arrogantly vindicated by their existence. To justify my childish obsession, I'd point to other fans and say, "See! If you think I'm bad, look at what that guy does." In reality, I was shifting reasonable critique of my unhealthy preoccupation with a line of kids toys to someone just a few degrees crazier than myself. 

This could have been me... sorta.

My infatuation with Transformers was so intense that it damaged a romantic relationship and cost me a couple of good friends along the way. Of course, after several hard, cold slaps in the face by the demands of a regular sex life, I slowly moved beyond my "hardcore" phase into a manageable, respectable "old school fan" phase where I champion the inherent genius of the Generation 1 line of Transformers toys and pretty much ignore everything else. 

In other words, I'm still a fan, but I've got it under control. 

I actually don't like GEARS OF WAR!

As this time of year is a natural breeding ground for both positive and negative manifestations of nostalgia, I wonder if being stuck in nostalgia inhibits our natural progression into adulthood? My grandfather, a Black man who fought and served in World War II, used to tell me of the nonsense he endured and how hard he had to work to achieve a zero sum. 

Then I think of my own life and how I began working at the age of 15 and then had to leave my family's care at the age of 16.5 and then pretty much being on my own by the age of 17 and I wonder if my own Peter Pan complex was caused by my premature entry into the world of adult responsibility - in essence, an attempt to find a safe harbor in the tempestuous ocean of antipathy. 

I've often remarked that I was a supreme naive idealist; fundamentally believing in the inherent "goodness" of humanity and that all it would take for peace was people sitting down together and discussing their differences. I had no idea how much of this world was dominated by avarice, gluttony and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise the weak and the poor. 

Growing up in Baltimore during the emergence of the crack epidemic still wasn't enough to change my naivety. What did change me was a series of experiences at Ithaca College where I was one of maybe fifty Black men (total) on campus. I was exposed to rich kids - the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers all of whom came from towns where Black people simply didn't exist.

This wasn't just a racial thing, but more like an intersection between race, class and gender. I was not only Black but ridiculously poor (and when I say poor, I mean poor, as in not being able to afford winter boots in a place that used to be covered in ten inches of snowfall from October to May). I began to realize that other Black folks weren't necessarily my "brothers and sisters" just because of our melanin content. Issues of economic class and regional upbringing drove deep wedges between us and at the time, it was one hell of a wake-up call. 

The thing that stands out to me, even now, is that few of us were capable of existing in a state of prolonged adolescence. This was before the explosion of geekdom when a public discussion of comic book storylines or Japanese animation design would get you labeled as a "nerd" - which was every bit as offensive as the other N-word as far as I was concerned. Human nature dictated that I rebel against the prevailing doctrine of behavior - so I continued to dig deeper and further entrench myself in the cloth of geekhood. 

However, the one shining, glorious, fantastic thing I took from all the negative experiences I had at Ithaca College was my exposure to non-fiction literature. As a sociology major, I became fascinated with the "hows?" and "whys?" of human socio-political interaction. Reading certain texts forever changed my life and obliterated my previous and pathetically limited understanding of the global political-economic scene. I began to reconcile how racism, sexism, homophobia and classism affected everyone regardless of their station in life. 

I'd like to share some of these books with you. Most of them skew to the left (as we define the political spectrum in the Western World) but all of them offer a unique perspective on politics, economics, race, class, pop culture and how we've all been molded by the forces of history and our peer group. I must stress that I get no money from Amazon for suggesting these to you, I'm including the links in case you decide to take my recommendation and read these works for yourself. 

These are presented in no particular order and I'll explain why these books had such a profound impact on my psyche. 

DEMOCRACY FOR THE FEW by Michael Parenti

FROM THE BOOK COVER:  "DEMOCRACY FOR THE FEW is a provocative interpretation of American Government. It shows how democracy is repeatedly violated by corporate oligopolies, and how popular forces have fought back and occasionally made gains in spite of the system. By focusing on the relationship between economic power and political power, discussing actual government practices and policies, conspiracies, propaganda, fraud, secrecy and other ploys of government and politics, this book stands apart in its analysis of how US Government works."

My Take: This book opened my eyes to how multi-national corporations, lobbyists, Wall Street mega banks, the Federal Reserve and private corporate interests took control of the U.S. Government and managed to convince Americans that it is not only the standard operating procedure, but also is the right thing to do. A massive wake-up call for anyone under the delusion that democracy is a spectator sport. It challenged me to stand up and protest, vote, help draft legislation and participate locally. Rips the blinders off and burns them. 4.5 out of 5 stars

THE CULTURE OF FEAR by Barry Glassner 

FROM THE BOOK COVER: "In the age of 9/11, the Iraq War, financial collapse, and Amber Alerts, our society is defined by fear. So it’s not surprising that three out of four Americans say they feel more fearful today then they did twenty years ago. But are we living in exceptionally dangerous times? In The Culture of Fear, sociologist Barry Glassner demonstrates that it is our perception of danger that has increased, not the actual level of risk. Glassner exposes the people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears, including advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence of particular diseases and politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime, drug use, and terrorism. In this new edition of a classic book—more relevant now than when it was first published—Glassner exposes the price we pay for social panic."

My Take: As a large Black man, I regularly deal with people's apprehension with my presence. There's been a ton of books about this, tons of Black male celebrity essays, tons of talk show episodes, etc. To this day, I wonder if some White folks can tell the difference between a Black gangbanger and just a regular Black dude going about his day? Judging by the body language I read on a daily basis, I'd wager that they cannot. Getting to the root of media-hyped fears, The Culture of Fear explains how the news media operates, how they structure what you hear for maximum impact and what the real problems are in our society that get completely ignored (i.e. the looming fresh water crisis, health care inequity, etc.). 

A society that is constantly afraid will not stand up as their rights are taken away under the guise of "security." Americans are terrified of each other. People walk around under the assumption that "something bad" is going to happen to them despite the fact that roughly 300,000,000 Americans get up every day, go to work, school, the gym, fast food restaurants, dry cleaners, movie theaters, gas stations and walk their dogs and pretty much NOTHING happens. Reading this book helped me to understand why people are afraid of everything except the stuff that actually can effect their lives. 4.5 out of 5 stars

TOMS, COONS, MULATTOES, MAMMIES AND BUCKSAn Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, Fourth Edition by Donald Bogle

FROM THE BOOK COVER: "Completely updated to include the entire twentieth century, this new fourth edition covers all the latest directors, stars, and films including Summer of Sam, Jackie Brown, The Best Man, and The Hurricane. From The Birth of a Nation--the groundbreaking work of independent filmmaker Oscar Micheaux--and Gone with the Wind to the latest work by Spike Lee, John Singleton, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and Will Smith, Donald Bogle reveals the ways in which the depiction of blacks in American movies has changed--and the shocking ways in which it has remained the same."

My Take: The holy grail of film analysis as far as African-American imagery is concerned. This book confirmed many of my thoughts about how Blacks were presented in American movies. As a kid, I'd watch movies with my family and laugh at the openly racist characters back in the days when they'd still show un-ironic blackface on TV. Bogle takes us back to the earliest days of cinema and breaks down the depictions of Black people that have rained down through the decades and still haunts pop culture today. 

For the first time in my life, I'd realized that there was someone else out there who saw the world like I did and had the academic cache to be taken seriously. Anyone who loves cinema should read this book immediately - especially those writers out there who are concerned about how they might portray Black characters in screenplays and graphic novels. 5 out of 5 stars

FROM THE BOOK COVER: "Spike Lee wrote, directed and starred in She's Gotta Have It, the independent-film success story of 1986. Shot on a shoe-string budget of $175,000 in black-and-white 16mm, the film was made with Spike Lee's persistence and talent plus the help of family and friends. It grossed $8 million at the box office and proved to be a major hit with both critics and audiences. Now Spike Lee reveals how he did it, mapping out the entire creative and production processes-from early notebook jottings to film festival awards. Spike Lee's Gotta Have It is a unique document in film literature - it's funny, absorbing, and fresh as the hit film itself."

My Take: I never saw Spike Lee's first movie when it released in art houses across the country in 1986. I was a bit too young and the story was far too adult for me. However, when I came of age and watched SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT, I was blown away by the quality of the work as well as the incredibly complex examination of 80s-era Black sexuality. The very fact that Spike got a movie made that centered around a Black woman's sexual awakening and experimentation during a time when there were relatively few Black movies on the scene at all was extraordinary. 

Spike tells a fascinating, but frustrating, story of trying to produce a feature-length independent film about Black subject matter with a microscopic budget. He details the process from scripting to casting to fundraising to production to begging for money to editing to getting a distribution deal to marketing the movie to the eventual release and reception. A bible for indie filmmakers. While the technology has changed considerably, the independent spirit of hustling for an artistic project is timeless. Before I read this book, I had no idea how movies were physically made. I also had no belief that I could make a movie myself but after reading Lee's words, I suddenly realized that the only thing that stops us from creating anything is usually the person in the mirror. 4.5 out of 5 stars

FROM THE BOOK COVER: "Howard Zinn infuses the often-submerged voices of blacks, women, American Indians, war resisters, and poor laborers of all nationalities into this thorough narrative that spans American history from Christopher Columbus's arrival to an afterword on the Clinton presidency.
Addressing his trademark reversals of perspective, Zinn--a teacher, historian, and social activist for more than 20 years--explains, "My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)--that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth."
My Take: It is said that history is written by the victors. That's certainly true for American history as the accomplishments of straight, White, Christian, conservative males have been trumpeted to the heavens; many of those said accomplishments being outright lies or based wholly on the blood, sweat, tears, rape, murder, torture and subjugation of men and women of color, White women, the poor, the working classes, the gay and lesbian. 
Zinn's book is an antidote to the endless rhetoric regarding the "fathers" of our nation. It presents extensively cross-referenced material the enriches the stories about American history going back to the Columbus expeditions. You get a much better understanding of the bloodier side of our formation as well as the behind-scenes-reality of the Revolutionary Era, the War of 1812, Westward Expansion, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Industrial Revolution, the birth of American Empire, the Great Depression and everything up til the Clinton Administration.
Reading this book gave me a proper understanding of American society and my place in it. Instead of making me less proud of being an American, it gave me hope that we can make this democratic experiment work in the future. It taught me that everyone who ever set foot on this land - by choice or by bondage - contributed to the tapestry of the U.S. and their stories have to be acknowledged. It would be impossible to walk away from this book with a simple-minded right-wing belief system regarding American history unless you were trying to remain ignorant on purpose. 4 out of 5 stars
You may wonder what any of this has to do with my initial thoughts on prolonged adolescence? 
Without exposure to these works, my universe was no larger than the periphery of my vision. Until my resolve was tested, I defaulted to a narrow-minded narcissism reinforced by a culture interested only in celebrating petty indulgences. That was in the late eighties-early nineties before the advent of social media and smartphones came along and distracted us from basic human communication. 
In the 21st century, I've watched two generations become socially awkward ghosts, eyes glued to plastic touchscreens, moving past each other through the mists of slick-but-empty Hollywood blockbusters, horrible electronic dance music, materialistic rap and a reality-television-fueled-expectation of celebrity entitlement. All of which has led to a population unwilling and/or incapable of perceiving the need for increased (not decreased) democratic engagement. 
I remain naive enough to believe that these folks are worthy of saving because without their assistance, our world will continue to spiral toward a permanent feudal state with the richest of all lording over the programmed and drugged masses. 
Prolonged adolescence is a dangerous phenomenon that plays into the hands of those determined to keep the wealth gap between the elites and working classes growing larger than it already is. Watching a generation bury their heads in the dirt like ostriches, while exposing their asses to the wind, is a horrifying thing. When I pulled my head out of the ground and took a look around, I didn't like what I saw, but afterward, it was impossible for me to bury it again. 
Is the fear of adulthood really the fear of pain? Growth hurts like a motherf--ker. I mean really hurts. When you avoid pain, you might be happy for the short-term, but you don't learn a new survival skill that aids in your evolution as a human being. 
On the recent Doctor Who special, one of my favorite lines was: "Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame. Whatever the cost." 
My fear is that the "lesser men" (and women) will forget how fires are forged. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why I Never Want to Meet Bill Cosby...

Contrary to the title of this entry, I love Bill Cosby. Not in the biblical sense, more like admire him with a vengeance.

My grandparents, parents, my extended family, their friends, their peers and pretty much every human being I had contact with, from 1978 (the year I actually recall being alive although I was born in 1974) until around 1992, were huge fans of Cosby.

He is a treasure, a comedic genius, a incredibly talented creative personality driven by a desire for educational excellence and social justice for African-American people. He's made no apology for that and has generated tons of controversy for his statements about lower-class Black folks.

I won't get into a debate over whether his comments are right or wrong, although I do have my own issues with the ghetto mentality that has plagued our community for the last 20 years.

The reason that I don't wish to meet Bill Cosby is because I've been severely let down by the "heroes" I've met recently and I don't know if I could handle the realization that yet another person I admire turns out to be utterly human, flawed and a total jerk to his fans.

For example, when I was living in NYC, I went to the National Black Writer's Conference at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. I went two years in a row and met two Black male writers whose work deeply inspired my own.

Since I'd been accused of "gushing" when I met people I admired, I decided to play it safe, hang back and watch how they interacted with their fan base.

Author #1 was the type who'd shake your hand but turn away from you while doing it. Unless you were an attractive White woman. In which case you'd have his full attention. For a guy that talked so much about Black liberation, the only thing he seemed to be interested in liberating was his belt buckle.

Author #2 was a big talker. That's what he's known for... talking about anything and everything. He also had a propensity to hit on women even when they were with their boyfriend or husband or father, etc.. Things got a little heated when he flirted with a gorgeous dark-skinned sista who was standing next to her boyfriend. The boyfriend apparently wasn't impressed with the author's pedigree and told him what he could do with his books. The situation got nasty quick, but was defused just as fast when the author profusely apologized once the festival organizer stepped in.

When you see either of these gentlemen on CNN or MSNBC or PBS or BET (back when BET actually covered Black issues) you'd assume they were genteel statesmen with dignity, self-respect and grace - not personality-challenged adolescents barely in control of their hormonal directives.

Then there are my experiences with the science-fiction/comic book/animation/creative-type crowd.

I could fill a 15,000-page book about my negative experiences in the sci-fi genre world. The crazy thing is that none of those affected me as much as when I met the cast of one of the most popular shows of all time at San Diego Comic Con a few years ago.

I won't reveal too much except to say that I truly admired the characters as well as the actors for their contributions outside of the world of entertainment. Which is why it cut like a knife to meet them and realize that most of the cast was just a bunch of sourpusses who really didn't like the fans and only showed up to collect money for photos and autographs.

This year at San Diego Comic Con I met a foreign-born actress from a very influential 1990s sci-fi series whose work I've respected forever. She played a very interesting character who could have been a joke, but her performance brought a level of sophistication, intelligence and wit to the screen and she's been repeatedly recognized for that. I'd been looking forward to meeting her for years, just to tell her that I enjoyed her work on the show and congratulate her on her recent success.

I was careful not to "gush," I didn't get excited, I didn't raise my voice, I just clearly, calmly, but with a firm, genuine kindness told her that I appreciated what she had done on the series.

She replied with the standard empty-faced grin that all actors/actresses give when confronted with fans who congratulate them for their success. As I walked away I turned my head slightly to see her reaction and she had a very heavy frown on her face, like someone just killed her pet cat or something.

Because of my Catholic upbringing I immediately felt guilty, thinking that I had done something to offend her but as I ran the interaction through my head again, I realized that the only thing I had done was politely give my thanks and appreciation for her talents on that great TV series.

This made me wonder if creative people have a core of fierce insecurity inside of them that's so profound that they see any legitimate praise as a form of sycophancy? As a creative professional, I am wracked with various insecurities but they've never spilled over into a belief that people "want" something from me if they tell me they like my work.

Maybe it's because I'm still "new" to the game and haven't had larger-scale success to the point where I grow weary of people telling me my stuff is good - but I can't imagine a time when I'll be so blinded by cynicism that I can't tell the difference between someone buttering me up for personal gain and someone who truly respects me.

I haven't had this experience so much with writers (about 7 in 10 have been cool), mainly actors, actresses and comic book illustrators. Is there something about acting or drawing that makes a person insufferable and mean-spirited to their fans? Hell, I've met extremely successful authors like Michael Stackpole, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Charlaine Harris, Tobias Buckell and even STEPHEN KING and none of them ever remotely behaved like spoiled children. Stephen King turned out to be one of the nicest creators I've ever met - he was a bit weird - but he was genuine, funny and took time to speak to me about writing.

In any case, I don't know if I will ever meet Bill Cosby. Chances are that I won't, and chances are he'll be nothing like the genial Dr. Huxtable I grew up with and I'm okay with never having that illusion shattered.

The only real question is whether or not I should continue to tell folks I respect how much I've enjoyed their creative contributions? Or should I just ignore them completely; keeping my praise to myself hoping I won't be seen as one of the slovenly masses hoping to vicariously taste a tiny bit of their "magnificence?"


Thursday, September 12, 2013

THE TWO BRANDONS vs. THE SUMMER OF MEH! A.K.A. Horrible genre cinema and geek expectations...

Me and Brandon Thomas discuss the horrible mistakes from the genre films in the summer of 2013. Sure to offend hardcore geeks, we don't pull punches when it comes to the truth about our collective expectations and how the industry actually operates.

This two hour episode is jam-packed with excellent analysis of what went wrong this summer!


Monday, June 17, 2013

MAN OF STEEL: A Hero for the ADHD Crowd...

MAN OF STEEL was an expertly crafted movie - just like a Lego recreation of the Death Star. It is a heck of an accomplishment on a lot of levels but remains a plastic facsimile of a fictional object. 

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed 2/3rds of the movie and the problem with that is that MAN OF STEEL is incomplete. With a 2 hour-20 minute run time - which went by fairly quickly until the disastrous (no pun) 3rd act when the movie ceased being an actual movie and turned into a crazed video game opening sequence that lost all sense of story, plot and logic - you'd figure the producers would have learned how to properly balance the pacing.

Now, I know not everyone went to film school, and I realize not everyone cares about things like story, plot and logic. Most folks have no idea about how and WHY movies are structured. However, I will share that the basic set-up of a screenplay is generally - not always - but generally based on a THREE ACT STRUCTURE. 

In ACT ONE we meet the heroes, their friends, family, etc. A problem is introduced to their world and they must decide whether to face it or not. By the end of the first act, we have the problem, why the hero must stop or fix it, and their goal is set. 

In ACT TWO things get complicated. The hero loses, and loses a lot, then the world changes so much that things cannot ever go back to the way it was. All seems lost until the hero barely escapes death. 

In ACT THREE we have the climax. The hero usually makes a character choice that defines them and they GROW and CHANGE as a result and usually win because of that choice. I am going to give you a few clear examples of this in some Hollywood blockbusters. 

In act three of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - Indy has a rocket launcher aimed at the Ark of the Covenant. Belloq tells him he could destroy it, but the Ark itself is bigger than them, bigger than the Nazis and WWII, bigger than history itself. To destroy the Ark would mean destroying the key to understanding the universe and God. Indy struggles with the choice of destroying it and saving himself and Marion, or turning himself in so that he too could learn the mysteries of the Ark. Indy relents and is taken into custody again. GREAT character moment. 

In act three of RETURN OF THE JEDI - Luke has his father beaten. Vader is down and Luke could slice him to pieces and looks ready to until he hears the cackling voice of Palpatine instructing him to "take your father's place at my side." Luke looks at his father's severed hand and then looks to his own artificial hand and realizes that he cannot ever make his father's choice. Luke turns defiantly, and tosses away his lightsaber. Even though he faces certain death, Luke says, "I am a Jedi, like my father before me." GREAT character moment. 

In act three of THE MATRIX - Neo goes to rescue Morpheus and eventually comes face to face with Agent Smith. After a brief skirmish, Neo has the opportunity to escape, but he turns to face Smith for an ultimate battle, he chooses to believe that he is THE ONE and is willing to risk everything based on that faith. It results in a moment of self-sacrifice that changes him forever and he becomes THE ONE because of that choice. GREAT character moment. 

I mention this stuff because MAN OF STEEL had no such character moment. In fact, it had no third act. Sure, the basic structure of "we have to stop this or else all is doomed (tm)" to motivate the action sequences, but there was no growth, change or faith displayed by Superman at any point during the final battle. 

MAN OF STEEL had a lot of story elements pulled from a few classic Superman comics storylines. The most prominent were the John Byrne post-Crisis reboot MAN OF STEEL (1986), Mark Waid's SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT and Loeb & Sale's SUPERMAN: FOR ALL SEASONS. Henry Cavill mentioned that he based his performance of Superman on the comics versions instead of previous on-screen depictions and I have to say he did a marvelous job. So did Russel Crowe. So did Kevin Costner. So did Diane Lane. So did Michael Shannon. In fact, the entire cast was solid from top to bottom. 

The FX were extraordinary. Finally, an on-screen Superman battle that LOOKS like what a Superman battle should look like. Again, it was expertly-crafted to be a summer blockbuster but it was missing one key ingredient: a sense of self. 

I didn't mind the "darkness" because there have been plenty of "dark" Superman stories over the years. I also am not one of those guys trapped in the Richard Donner box and can't deal with other versions of Superman (if anything, I am trapped by the Warner Bros. Animation version seen in SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES). My problem is that the movie felt schizophrenic. It tried to be an earnest depiction of mid-western life, and then other times it tried to be an action movie spectacle, and then other times it attempted to shoehorn in a romantic element that felt incredibly out of place considering we've spent little or no time getting to know the characters outside of Superman. 

For a longer film, it sure spent a lot of time rushing around, touching on the CLIFF NOTES version of the SUPERMAN mythos instead of establishing its own brand. I don't feel like the audience got enough time with the characters to establish an emotional connection. We see Clark, then suddenly he's on fire and tossing pieces of an exploding oil platform into the ocean. Then we see Clark and he's hitchhiking. Then we see Clark and he's walking around the Arctic and then we see Clark and he's wearing the costume already. 

I would have preferred a slow-build to the Superman reveal but the creative team must have felt that the ADHD summer movie crowd couldn't wait to see him in the costume and forced it into the story. How much cooler would the movie have been if one of the story goals was getting to the costume instead having it suddenly appear and then the next thing you know, he's Superman and he's flying? No sense of adventure, no sense of suspense and most important, no sense of DRAMA. 

I know there's a generation of DRAGONBALL Z-VIDEO GAME-ACTION MOVIE-SHORT ATTENTION SPAN-NON READING-CINEMA ILLITERATE fans out there that don't want anything from a summer movie other than explosions. And if that's what you want, MAN OF STEEL is your CITIZEN KANE. I can understand why you would love this movie. It is crafted like the cutscene of a late generation video game or a simple-minded martial arts battle from a bargain-basement anime title. 

This is what is known as character development.

Beyond that spectacle, what was really going on here? You have a hero with no motivation to become a hero, just a vague sense of "wandering." In SUPERMAN I (1978) the death of Jonathan Kent was treated like the earth-shattering event it was supposed to be. That heartbreak caused young Clark to leave and go north to figure out who he was and that's when he used the green crystal to form the Fortress of Solitude. In MAN OF STEEL, the narrative is broken up and told in a way that removes the emotional impact of Jonathan's death. It comes in late and telegraphs itself poorly. 

Superman kills three people at once.

Then we have Zod's death. They say Superman doesn't kill although he has killed in the past, specifically in SUPERMAN #22 (October 1988). I didn't have a problem with him snapping Zod's neck (although I don't know why he just didn't fly with Zod in his arms) but he decides to do that AFTER presumably millions of people have already been killed during the battle in Metropolis. Suddenly, those THREE people who were in danger of being burned alive by Zod were worthy of saving. Hey man, what about the other million or so who were killed when you guys were knocking buildings over?

Alas, my point is that while the movie didn't have a real identity, it was enjoyable until the final battle started. There was no character moment for Superman. In fact, if he HAD NOT killed Zod AFTER Zod killed those three people, THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN EPIC. It would have been shocking, emotionally engaging, full of drama and would have presented Superman with the ultimate character choice. Think about all the movies you've seen and the movies that you've remembered. They all had fantastic character choices in the third act. 

All the special FX, explosions, cool flight/fight scenes and pseudo-reverence can't take the place of real characterizations based on real emotional reactions. There's two things that make great drama in my opinion: 1) Real emotions. 2) Consequences. If those things are absent, then the entire story falls apart. Again, think of the movies and TV shows you've loved over the years (particularly stuff from 1972 - 1999). What did those movies and shows and books and comics have that keep those stories fresh and compelling? 

Real emotions. Consequences. 


Real emotions. Consequences. 

Clearly I'm not a fan of phrase "mindless entertainment." The very notion of what that means is deeply problematic because it suggests that you need to turn off your brain (the thing that separates us from monkeys and other animals) in order to achieve satisfaction. That is a dangerous and borderline pathetic concept that is being passed off as genuine entertainment. Of course, we know that Hollywood blockbusters are really being made for the international crowd who might be "turned off" by American "cultural elements" which the producers assume means complexity. They want people all over the world to watch the movie without being confused by things like logic, emotional honesty and character development. 

Now, if you loved MAN OF STEEL I pass no judgement on you. I'm just a guy with an opinion. I do feel that we need to demand more from summer entertainment. I hate walking out of the movie theater feeling like nothing happened. Is it too much to ask for emotional content in an action movie? I sure remember DIE HARD and even DEATH WISH having a bit of emotional weight in the narrative. That's what makes those movies stand out. 

In the end, MAN OF STEEL is a serviceable distraction on a summer afternoon. Too bad the trailers made the movie seem like an epic journey through the life of a godlike being who clings to his humanity. It would have been awesome to have seen THAT movie. In the meantime, stick to the comics I mentioned earlier. That's where you'll find the real Superman.

Maybe I'm just getting old.  


Saturday, May 18, 2013

I Won the 2013 GLYPH AWARD for Best Writer...

I was informed by folks in Philly at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention 2013 GLYPH AWARD ceremony that I won the BEST WRITER AWARD for my work on SHADOWLAW. Here's a grainy shot of the unveiling. Thanks to all the judges for voting for me!

The GLYPH AWARDS were created 8 years ago to celebrate and acknowledge works created by and/or featuring African-American/African writers, illustrators and graphic designers. The ceremony is held every year at the East Coast Black Age of Comics convention in Philadelphia

Here's more info via WIKIPEDIA:

The Glyph Comics Awards recognize the best in comics made by, for, and about people of color from the preceding calendar year. While it is not exclusive to black creators, it does strive to honor those who have made the greatest contributions to the comics medium in terms of both critical and commercial impact. By doing so, the goal is to encourage more diverse and high quality work across the board and to inspire new creators to add their voices to the field.

The awards are named for the blog Glyphs: The Language of the Black Comics Community, at Pop Culture Shock, started in 2005 by comics journalist Rich Watson as a means to provide news and commentary of comics with black themes, as well as tangential topics in the fields of black science-fiction/fantasy and animation.

The Glyph Comics Awards have been presented at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, in Philadelphia, since 2007.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The TWO BRANDONS interview editor JOE ILLIDGE!


On this episode of THE TWO BRANDONS, we welcome the illustrious former Milestone/DC Comics/Archaia Entertainment editor Joe Illidge to discuss the recent high-profile departures from DC Comics, the aborted plans to kill John Stewart, and the recent creative team announcement for Quantum & Woody. Not for the faint of heart, easily offended, etc. 

We're all extremely proud of this one, and would appreciate you helping us spread the word. Joe breaks down WHY the industry is the way it is and he pulls no punches. Brandon Thomas and I were VERY happy to listen and learn from his insights. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2013


EPISODE ONE: Not for the faint-hearted or easily offended. This is the first episode of the new podcast show THE TWO BRANDONS starring writers Brandon Thomas (Miranda Mercury, Voltron: Year One, Voltron) and Brandon Easton (WBs new Thundercats TV series, Shadowlaw, Transformers: Rescue Bots). They discuss how to realistically fix the issues of diversity in the comics biz.
EPISODE TWO: Comic book writers Brandon Easton and Brandon Thomas discuss their past, present and future thoughts about the video game industry. Things they hate (Easton hates Sony) and games they can’t stop buying (Thomas loves Madden). See if you agree or not in THE TWO BRANDONS: EPISODE TWO.
 Also available on the Writing for Rookies podcast and Itunes! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

MILES AWAY Graphic Novel officially on the way!

"In the latest issue of PREVIEWS MAGAZINE (Feb 2013) on page 241, there's a fantastic full-page ad for the MILES AWAY graphic novel! 

Created by STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE star Anthony Montgomery, and co-written by Me/Brandon Easton (THUNDERCATS (2011), TRANSFORMERS: RESCUE BOTS, Shadowlaw), MILES AWAY is an excellent story of a young superhero thrust into an interstellar war. From Antarctic Press, April 2013."

This graphic novel represents two-and-a-half-years of hard work and dedication. After meeting Anthony by chance at the end of the day back at San Diego Comic Con 2010, we became friends. Eventually, we discussed collaborating to transform his TV series bible/pitch into an actual graphic novel. After changing creative teams a couple of times, we managed to soldier through to the end and not only complete the book, but also find a legitimate and well-respected comics publisher to put Miles Away on the marketplace.

There are many good reasons for transforming a TV or film concept into a graphic novel. Primarily, it is to bypass the lazy development executives' assistants who tire of reading thousands of pages of bad scripts during the week. A graphic novel is a solid proof-of-concept that presents a clear visual narrative in a compact and easily understood format. Anthony's idea was excellent and I knew the moment I heard it that we could create something fun, inspirational and inventive. A new hero for an increasingly multicultural audience. 

Miles tells the story of Maxwell Miles, a typical awkward teen with the super ability of photographic reflexes: he can mimic any physical feat he watches. 

The catch? 

He has to wait five minutes for his power to kick in and he never knows when they will cut off. 

As he learns about his new powers, an alien force is on the way that will change everything he knows about himself, his family and a secret organization that has been watching him since birth. 

MILES AWAY is now available for pre-order from Antarctic Press or at your local comic book store

This is a great book, and I ain't just saying that because I co-wrote it. 


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Piggybacking Gail Simone a.k.a. Write!!! Or get off the Pot!

Acclaimed comics writer Gail Simone wrote a great piece about breaking into the comics biz. Read that here and then come back if you dare

I say the same stuff to "aspiring" writing talent over and over again. The bottom line is that if you don't have a finished product to show, then shut up and go away to work on that until you DO have a finished product to show. Asking questions is great, but people need to do their research and bust their ass.

I moved to LA with next to nothing and suffered from 2008 to the beginning of 2011 and no one gave a shit until I had a product on the table. That's what it comes down to in the end: PRODUCT. If you're wrestling with your concepts and talking about writing but spend all your time playing video games, chatting online, watching TV and other non-productive stuff, you'll still have nothing to show and you're wasting your time by pretending you're going to be a professional.

It isn't that complicated. Do work. Finish it. Edit it. Finish it again. Get it drawn up. Then market yourself smartly. You cannot market yourself with just pinups or concepts or nervous conversations at a convention. You have to have a product in hand. There's NOTHING that Gail Simone wrote in that piece that hasn't been repeated by hundreds of other acclaimed writers on multiple occasions.

More often than not, there's NOTHING holding a writer back other than their own crappy personal life habits. When I was starting out, the internet had little to no information about breaking into the business as a writer, and this meant that I had to do my own footwork, my own research, I had to shake a lot of hands and have a lot of people scoff at me for trying to learn more about the path to success. Now, can provide you that same information for free. Without the cynicism and snark from petulant jerks.

There are many sites like my WRITING FOR ROOKIES podcast that provide you a ton of information for free. If you're still wringing your hands and wondering why your career isn't where you want it to be, it's usually because you're sitting on your ass wringing your hands instead of writing with them.

I am one of the most supportive professionals out there when it comes to working with new and unpublished writing talent. Me and a few of my comrades regularly give panels at conventions like WonderCon, Stan Lee's COMIKAZE, PopCon LA, etc. and I will continue to be a resource for new writers. 

However, there comes a time when you need to move beyond the "fledgling" status and move to becoming a producer of content. It's really that simple. 

For those serious about learning the comic book writing format, I am teaching a course on February 2nd, 2013 in Los Angeles. Check it out: 

PANEL-TO-PANEL: Writing Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Here's some other articles I've written about breaking into the business as a writer - 

THE PARADIGM SHIFT: Part One - Moving From Being a Consumer to a Producer of Content.

THE PARADIGM SHIFT: Part Two - Preparation

NAVIGATING THE CON: Get Yourself and Your Work Noticed.  

Good luck out there.