I know two non-comics related posts in a row is bound to turn some of you off but I need to say my piece. This post has a spoiler but honestly you won’t care.
The brilliant mind that is J.K. Rowling has blessed the world with what many consider a modern classic: Harry Potter. There are college courses that specifically study Harry Potter. Christian groups have advocated for the banning of the books (for whatever reason). The books have been made into blockbuster movies and Rowling is a household name. Rowling made it, she is sitting on top of the world.
So what does she do?
She milks it.
That’s right. The beloved author who will be discussed in literary textbooks in a hundred years will have to live with an asterisk attached to her name. She could’ve quietly put to rest her series, written other genres and lived out her days as an icon. But no…she had to push the bill.
I did not like Fantastic Beasts and if you read Harry Potter, neither will you. The Harry Potter films were created with a love of magic and the hopes that the viewers will be inspired with a sense of wonder. Fantastic Beast is a film that hopes you’re still attached to that wonder and will spend money on merchandise. Studio money-grab at its finest, the studio chained J.K. to a desk for FIVE total movies. No longer is it about the movie, it’s about box office numbers.
As a result, Rowling churned out some “magic” and it’s pretty bad.
The film has a weak and super confusing storyline, the center being a tortured, creepy foster kid being some sort of demon cloud. The lovable supporting characters were the best thing about the film, which isn’t a good sign for Newt and Tina. The main characters struck me as one-dimensional and underdeveloped. Newt really likes creatures and Tina wants to be a good Auror. That’s literally all I can tell you about them. Think about that. One-Dimensional. This is not a good sign for a studio trying to build a franchise. Yes, the special effects were neat and the creatures were imaginative, but that doesn’t make it a good story.
I think the filmmakers were hoping we would be drawn to the creatures and be awestruck by magic like in Harry Potter. But that’s not why we loved Harry Potter. We loved Harry Potter because he was going through school just like the rest of us (mean teachers, bullies, drama and romance) but with an added mix of mystery and adventure. Plus, Harry had magic, which is why we would rather get lost in his world then deal with our own. Barring magic, Fantastic Beasts had none of this, which is why by the time I was halfway through the film I was bored. You couldn’t invest in the story or relate. Instead of feeling magical escapism, I just wanted to escape that theater.
I love Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling, so it saddens me that this movie happened and that I had to write this scathing rant. I hope the studio either pulls the plug (doubt it) or that they pull their act together.
So you just watched Arrival, and now you’re confused. Have no fear, this article explains everything. You can also skip to the spark notes if you don’t want to read the whole article.
Ted Chiang is a renowned sci-fi writer with numerous awards under his belt. Unfortunately, he is unknown outside the sci-fi community. When I heard about Chiang and this new movie (which took Eric Heisserer 6 years to script!) I bought his book The Story of Your Life and Others, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Having read the short story that the movie is based off of, I can comfortably explain what is going on.
First let me preface: this is actually what happens. It’s not like Inception where the filmmakers toss the ending in the air and let you argue online among yourselves. All the puzzle pieces are there, you just gotta put them together.
***SPOILERS HERE ON OUT***
So…what’s going on? The first thing you need to understand is what Louise (Amy Adams) eventually learns through the course of the movie. Time is not linear. That’s what the Heptapods are trying to teach humans. Time happens all at once, simultaneously. That’s why in written form, the inky graphic forms a circle. In that circle, all that needs to be said is said all at once. Throughout the film, the scientist are able to crudely pick out elements of the circle in order to communicate.
Louise described the inky graphic as handwriting a sentence with two hands from the outside in. In order to do this you need to already know the exact words and spaces in order to accomplish a sentence. With the circle everything is said in an instant.
This premise applies to time. Events in time are all happening at once, simultaneously. As you are reading this, you are also celebrating your first birthday and you are also being buried at your funeral.
This explanation of time is similar to Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan, is able to perceive time all at once. When he is on Mars, he says he is also at a carnival and also at a superhero gathering.
Tracking? If not, the takeaway is this. Time/events are happening all at once. Because you perceive events in a circular/non-linear way, you are able to see the “future.” Because the future is happening now. This is how Louise is able to call the Chinese general. The general shared with Louise his private cell number and his wife’s dying words at a party 18 months after the aliens left. Presently, when the Chinese were about to attack, Louise in her attuned state of mind, recalled the phone number from the future to call off the general’s attack.
So Louise saved the day, because she understood the “Universal Language” (term later published in her book dedicated to Hannah). Because she understood the Universal Language, she understood time and thus can see the future.
So what the heck was going on with the daughter Hannah? Aha, this is where the movie is playing tricks on you. The scenes with Hannah are not flashbacks. This is the big twist at the end. Remember, time/events happens simultaneously. Same thing applies to the movie scenes. You could argue that they are flash-forwards. On the linear timeline, after the aliens leave, Louise marries Ian (the physicist) and they have Hannah. In the beginning you just assumed Hannah happened before the aliens because the movie starts with Hannah’s story.
Remember, midway through the movie, Louise’s daughter drew a TV show for school. The TV show featured her mommy and daddy talking to animals (The Aliens). Another scene, the daughter asks for help with a science term, Louise replied “I don’t know, you’re father is the scientist.” That scientist being Ian the physicist.
It’s symbolic that Hannah is named Hannah because that word is a palindrome, meaning it can be spelled forward or backwards and still make sense. The same perception applies to events in time.
So we proved that the daughter (who dies) is born after the aliens leave. So what’s with Ian? What’s so sad about this story is that we learn Ian will divorce Louise upon hearing about Hannah’s deathly disease. Midway through the movie, Hannah is standing by Louise asking about her father. Hannah says he looks at her differently. Louise confesses that she told Ian that she knew Hannah was going to die (I’m paraphrasing). She said “I thought he was ready.”
In the present, just as the aliens are leaving Ian confesses his love to Louise. Louise asks Ian if he knew “the whole book beginning to end” would he go through with it. He gave some bullcrap answer (which doesn’t matter) and then hugs Louise. Once he hugs Louise, she recalls how wonderful it is to hold him and decides to go through with the relationship despite her knowing how it will end. In the future, when she tells Ian about his daughter’s inevitable death, he was not “ready” and leaves her. He was likely upset that Louise knew the future and chose to put him through the pain of losing his daughter anyways.
The weapon that the Heptapods were referring to was the ability to perceive time and “the future.” The giant splash page of circles was their way of saying if you piece their puzzle together, you’ll unlock the keys to their language (and time itself). “1/12” is their way of saying that humanity has to work together in order to piece this puzzle together. Doing so creates a more cooperative earth and advances society. The Heptapods share their secrets of time because they know that they’ll need Earth’s help in the future. When humans do master their findings, they’ll be able to scientifically advance their society and help their alien neighbors.
So to recap, here are the spark notes:
And there you have it. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Twitter @comicbookboom.
Ted Chiang is a genius and I highly encourage you to read his works. For starters, Stories of Your Life and Others is a good read with a variety of creative premises and thought-provoking stories.
Till next time, which is now and also already happened…
After my Indie Comic Review of Whatever Happened to the Archetype?!, I was approached by Andrea Lorenzo Molinari, the co-author of The Shepherd, a graphic novel exploring a broken, grieving father who enters the afterlife in search of his son, who died of overdose. Molinari asked me to review his book (co-authored with his son Roberto) and I happily agreed. I did warn Molinari that I would not write a fluff piece. Backscratching fluff pieces waste people’s time and money, especially if the book is bad. After my forewarning, Molinari essentially replied that art is subjective and that he learns from these reviews. He was ok with an honest review.
First…a quick synopsis. Our story begins with Professor Lawrence Miller learning that his teenage son died of a drug overdose, meth to be exact. Lawrence, a theologian, slips into a deep depression, dwelling on the fact that he never connected with his son. His mind in a dark place, he decides to abandon his family and commit suicide to “find” his son (he was inspired by Latin classical literature). In The Seam, the land between reality and the afterlife, Lawrence sees his father and tells him he’s going after his son Val and the people responsible for his death.
Quick note: How exactly he came to this conclusion that he could seek vengeance on drug dealers in the afterlife is never really explained. When you read this part of the story you’re left scratching you head. First he wants to find his son and now he wants to fight drug dealers, which he immediately assumed he could do now that he’s dead.
We’ll just chalk this one up as "he’s gone mad."
Lawrence attains a magic shepherd staff from his father that obliterates enemies’ minds with pure truth. He then begins to dwell in The Seam. After befriending a demon wolf, he hunts down and torments the drug dealers responsible for his son’s death.
I thought he wanted to find his son…but again he’s kind of crazy.
Now, on to the review. My initial impression was not a good one. In fact Issue #1 was not a great read. For starters, Molinari opened with this:
Pirates of the Caribbean (:20):
This opening line just felt cliche in my opinion. And to boot, the art on the first few pages is…not great.
You see, when creating comics, it’s always important to open with a hook. Writers and artists strive to hook you with the first two pages so you’ll go on and read the rest of the book. I was not hooked. I feel like Ryan Showers and Heather Breckel did not spend a lot of energy on these first few pages, instead resorting to blackened generic demons, with no finer details. They missed a huge opportunity to hook the reader. The art eventually finds its footing, but more on that later. What was worse, was the on-the-nose narrative provided by Molinari. He could’ve written the first two pages with almost no narrative and readers would be just as intrigued, if not more. So the opening was a bad start, missed opportunity.
The remainder of Issue #1 was a lot of laying ground work and explaining motivations. Personally, I felt that it was slow moving but entirely necessary. Without Issue #1, you would be left more confused as to Lawrence’s motivations and madness. Like I said before, the first chapter concludes with Lawrence’s suicide and when he is dead, he decides now is the time he can hunt drug dealers. He also just assumes Val is missing (later confirmed by his dead dad). Why Val got lost in The Seam in the first place is never explained, even at the end of the book.
So again some tough pills to swallow. The reader is left making several assumptions and large jumps to conclusions. I think Molinari made a few mistakes writing-wise.
3. The talking Demon Wolf’s lines were cringe worthy. Forgive me I honestly can’t explain it. Maybe you’ll like it, if you do comment below and tell me.
Now maybe I’m misinterpreting some things, if I am then Molinari didn’t do a great job explaining them. The purpose of a storyteller is to take the reader on a journey. Instead, it felt like I was limping along and trying to piece together what the heck was going on. Why wasn’t Lawrence looking for Val? Does he even have a plan?
The story stabilizes after Issue #2. From there it was smooth sailing. Lawrence wants his revenge, is dwelling in darkness and the Staff is draining him. The book actually wrapped up fairly nicely. But I won’t spoil it. But I will say that the moral of the story comes to light, complex themes are resolved and there’s a heartfelt good ending. The final three issues was Molinari at his best and I applaud him for it. (He still doesn’t answer why Val got lost in The Seam, perhaps in Volume Two?)
As for the Art…it got better. The opening sequence was super disappointing but the rest of the book found its footing. The glowing eyes and staff was really well done. There could’ve been more depth with the inking but I don’t think it hurt the art. The penciling style I felt was more unique then conventional comic artists. Heather Breckel did a fantastic job with coloring and creating textures both gritty and ethereal. Her coloring was the best thing about the book. Besides the opening pages, my only criticism is the duo’s inability to draw and color eyes. See Below.
“So wait AJ, are you telling me I shouldn’t read this book?”
I know I'm being harsh on Mr. Molinari. I do think he touched on a compelling premise. A ghostly father enacting his revenge but then shepherding lost souls turned out to be a solid story. Sure there were a couple snags and a few conclusions need to be made but once you dive into the story, it’s not so bad. Elements of the story were well done. You felt Lawrence’s anguish and the moral of the story begins to appear as you read. I loved Lawrence when he was at his darkest, “justice-angel” state. The Staff of Truth is both a great weapon and device in the story. Pure truth resolving all conflict.
Lawrence’s story is not the typical “blast the baddies and save the boy” story. In fact the ending is a departure from that, which was refreshing. Again, I won’t spoil it. All I can say is that it’s not what you expect but when you read it, it makes perfect sense and is a satisfying ending.
Speaking of Staff of Truth…I must be truthful. I’m torn, from what I read I can tell that Andrea and his son Roberto put a lot of work into this story. I just wished they had gone to an experienced editor to handle revision and execution. They need to bring someone onto the team to ask the right questions and offer constructive criticism. That way they can create a better flowing story.
So do I recommend The Shepherd – Apokatastasis? Honestly I can’t say. I was fairly critical of the writing but the final three chapters rescued the story from collapse. If you find the story synopsis compelling and you’re willing to see past a few monologues and questionalble plot decisions…by all means read The Shepherd. It’s only $9 on Comixology. If you do read it. I want to hear you’re feedback. Was I too harsh? Or was I right? Let me know in the comment section below.
I wish Andrea and Roberto best of luck with their future endevors and I thank them for letting me review their story.
All images are used with permission from the author, Andrea Molinari. (c) Caliber Comics 2015.
The Shepherd. Published by Caliber Comics 2015. (c) 2015 by Andrea Lorenzo Molinari and Roberto Xavier Molinari. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction permitted. Any use of material contained within must be with the approval of copyright holder and/or publisher. For more information on The Shepherd, visit the website, www.calibercomics.com.
As the post-credit clip went to black and the film concluded with “Doctor Strange will return” I looked to my good friend Alex and said “well what’d you think?” To my surprise he said he wasn’t crazy about it and that it in fact could’ve been better. I was shocked, were we even watching the same film? He told me he wanted more, that the plot was weak. Again, I disagreed. But then I immediately knew what he meant.
Doctor Strange stuck to the classic Origin format that is tried and true in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Marvel Origin Story has been a fixture in the MCU, after all not everyone knows these characters (You’re lying if you claim you knew Guardians of the Galaxy before the movie came out). With the origin story, everyone learns about our hero, how he/she ticks and then said hero takes down a bad guy (the call to action).
The problem now is that the “Origin Story” isn’t enough to satisfy movie viewers. Unless you’re living under a rock you probably have seen an MCU movie by now. If you haven’t: a) I envy you b) why are you reading this blog? Because the MCU is so big now and everyone is invested, we want to see that story grow every time a film comes out. How’s Cap holding up? Where was Thor during Civil War? Marvel has people hooked and reeled in but now for some reason they keep reeling. We want a story that is both a good origin story but also plays a role in the bigger universe.
It’s so ironic that The Ancient One told Strange that he’s been looking at the world through a keyhole…when in fact that’s just what the whole movie is: a tiny keyhole to the greater Cinematic Universe.
Going back to what Alex said about it being a weak plot, I really disagree. The movie set up the origin, presented a call to action, had comic relief, awesome fight scenes, a climax and a resolution. If you were one of those rock people that had never seen a Marvel Movie, you would’ve left fairly satisfied. At the time of this post, critics and audiences rated it at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not too shabby.
The effects were amazing and trippy. I can’t imagine that amount of work it took to create such visuals. To coordinate between the graphic studios, director and actors must’ve been tedious. But it was worth it, especially in 3D. I loved the casting graphics, spells glowing in thin air.
Cumberbatch was excellent, a fantastic addition the MCU. I cannot wait to see him interact with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. Even though the persona of Dr. Strange is that of a pompous arse-hole, and Ben has played those roles numerous times, he succeeded in creating a new character. At no point was I like “hey look it’s Sherlock Holmes!” He played a range of emotions, from a man on top to a guy down on his luck. A know-it-all and a diligent student.
Again, the only criticism I have is that the film should’ve played a bigger role in the MCU. This is why Captain America: Civil War was so successful. It featured a famous story, had a dominating cast, and was uniquely tied to the MCU. It’s no surprise my friend said he wanted more. After Civil War there is a certain expectation that Marvel needs to meet, or fans will leave feeling bummed.
Another possible negative is the ending. Doctor Strange violates the laws of space and time to rescue his comrades and restore the protective seal that stop this ancient destructive being. Dormammu refuses to be sealed so Dr. Strange traps him in a messed up time loop. Eventually, Dormammu cedes Earth and Dr. Strange wins the day. To some, this seems a bit anti-climactic. I would argue that this ending just makes sense. Doctor Strange used his wit and studies (the reason he has powers) to take down an all-powerful being. What, you expected Strange to punch him or throw fireballs? Please.
If you go into the movie knowing that it will only be an origin story, with no surprise appearances, you’ll enjoy it. I know I did. I’ll probably go again just to appreciate all the visual effects that I missed. I hate 3D and normally advise against it but I actually recommend 3D for this film. Marvel stuck to its “origin story format” (whether you like it or not) and churned out another gem.
Excelsior My Friends!
It’s mind blowing to think that when it comes to major comic book movies taking a risk, DC and Warner Brothers is actually about to edge out Marvel. This is a bona fide fact. Marvel Studios is the industry pioneer and founder when it comes to superhero movies and cinematic world building. They took the first step introducing successful hits like Iron Man and The Avengers. The world saw great stories and flocked to the MCU. DC is late to the party but trying to catch up.
So Marvel is the pioneer and leader, we established that. But DC beating Marvel? How?
Two Words: Wonder Woman.
A Solo Female Superhero Movie will soon be upon us and I cannot wait. For too long it has been a sausage fest and people are damn near sick of it. A super powered woman of high caliber is going to add great value to any cinematic universe. And no, this isn’t me saying we need eye candy. New plots and dynamics will be opened up. A better balanced cast will grace the screen. We genuinely need to diversify our superhero characters. 50% of the population is girl, so why can’t 50% of the screen be the same way.
For whatever reason Marvel (and Disney) has been reluctant to invest in a key solo film for one of their female characters. Black Widow is a beloved favorite by fans everywhere but she hasn’t gotten a solo film and she had to be slowly introduced into the MCU, all the way back to Iron Man 2. The Wasp had her name tagged on to the Ant-Man sequel, a tactic by Marvel hoping more will be drawn to the sequel. But no solo film, not till Captain Marvel premieres in freaking 2019. Holy Odin that is a long ways away.
It doesn’t make sense why Marvel is moving so slow. The comics industry is rapidly growing because girls are a market now being utilized. Doubling the population of people to sell to will do that. There was a social media outrage when Black Widow merchandise wasn’t being sold during the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. A survey by Fandango and USA Today found that a massive 48% of people want to see Natasha Romanoff in her own solo film. People want to see a female superhero.
If Marvel is afraid to green light a female hero because of past failures then let’s review those failures.
So there you have it. There is absolutely no reason, historical context or evidence to suggest that a female superhero, handled by Marvel Studios, would bomb on the big screen. The characters in the past were either ruined by a know-nothing non-comics studio, were boring choices, or are not catered to mass cinematic audiences.
Maybe Marvel is actually feeling ill equipped to deliver that solo female hero. Off the top of my head the big names that jump out at me are Captain Marvel and Spider-Woman. If you google a list of female heroes, not to many big names jump out at you. All of the X-Women are locked away at 20th Century Fox. The Wasp is getting there, Scarlet Witch has a little screen time and She-Hulk is bit of a stretch. This challenge of finding the right, well established, female hero stems from neglect of female heroes in the last century.
This is where DC comes in. They almost have it easy having the most successful female superhero of all time: Wonder Woman. Men and women alike love this character in both the comics and the movies. Gal Gadot was hands down the best thing about Batman vs Superman. So despite DC being late to the party, they’re bringing the most popular and sought-after guest: a great female superhero.
I cannot wait for WW to come out and I know it will be a great success. Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios have some work to do if they are to match the powerful punch that is Wonder Woman.
But seriously Marvel isn't even close to matching this: