Monday, August 21, 2017

The Kickstarter Ends

Our Kickstarter has reached its end. While we reached $4183 in funding, that was short of our $5000 goal, which means that we don't get any funding, and Mysterion 2 won't be happening any time soon.

Don't worry, though. We do have a plan B.

We also have some lessons learned, which we talk about here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Kickstarter nearing its end

Our Mysterion 2 Kickstarter is in its last hours, with 57 left. As we're only 56% funded it looks like we're not going to make it. There's still time to contribute at www.mysterion2kickstarter.com.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mysterion 2 Kickstarter Launched

Kristin and I are proud to announce that the Kickstarter for the second volume of Mysterion has launched. You can watch the video below to see us awkwardly reciting our lines. Or you can just follow the link.



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Gotham

So I've been watching Gotham for the past three years. It can be a fun show, a cross between a police procedural and a comic book show. Early seasons leaned more to police procedural, with the crimes being more gangster related, than the superscience and mystical villainy of the Batman comics. It slowly moved toward more aggressive comic book characters, and we've now seen such iconic characters as the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Firefly, and the Joker.

But there have been times when I think it's been too slow. Because let's be honest, the reason we watch Gotham is because we want to see Batman. Bruce Wayne has been in the show since the beginning--the series began with the murder of his parents. But since he was only eleven or twelve when it happened, he wasn't exactly going to be Batman right away.  In most portrayals, we start with Bruce's parents' murder, and then skip ahead a decade or so, to after Bruce has traveled the world, training with world-class experts to become the best at absolutely everything: martial arts, investigation, driving, inventing, even developing esoteric skills such as meditation.

But in Gotham, we watch him grow up. Rather than being trained by experts around the world, his principal teacher is Alfred--though admittedly, this version of Alfred is former SAS (British special forces), so he's taught Bruce how to fight. Bruce has also been hanging out with the young thief Selina Kyle, the future catwoman, and even stayed with her for a while so he could learn about thieving. Exactly how long is never stated--it was several episodes, which could have been anywhere from a few days to a few months. It was at least long enough to learn to pick locks, which he seems to be fairly proficient at these days. Finally, one of Ra's al Ghul's lieutenants, the Sensei (who's actually al Ghul's father in the comics, though that's never stated here) briefly kidnapped Bruce, primarily to brainwash him, though there was also some martial arts training involved.

Anyway, Gotham's always been interesting, but the end of Season 3 threw away the slow part. A lot happened, with Jim Gordon, Selina Kyle, Ra's al Ghul, but the most important development was with Bruce Wayne.



Bruce has finally decided to become Batman. Well, not Batman specifically, but a vigilante, fighting criminals. On the one hand, this seems like it's too soon for Bruce to become Batman. On the other hand, we've been waiting three years for this to happen, so lots of people (like, the whole Internet) is excited to see this.

The rumor is that the showrunners didn't think that Gotham would be renewed, and wanted to end the show with everyone moving in the right direction for their ultimate destinies. It looks like they did too good of a job, and everything's now moving way more quickly than before. It will be interesting to see if they can keep up the momentum.

That doesn't change the fact that Bruce is not ready yet. He knows how to fight, obviously, and he's learned some of the sneaking and thieving skills he needs, but he's clearly not the polymath that Batman is, so it'll be interesting to see how things develop.

To some degree, I expect the next season to have a Batman Begins or Batman Year One vibe, as he slowly develops the arsenal of gadgets and techniques that Batman uses. But in both those stories, Bruce Wayne already had the skills. He just needed to work out the method to use. Here, I think Bruce also needs to learn what he needs to learn. This will happen as he runs into challenges in his vigilantism he can't overcome with his current skillset. When he does run into those, he needs to figure out how to get the skills he needs.

There are several ways to go about this.

Obviously, Alfred will continue to teach him how to fight. He also may teach him more Batman skills, such as fancy driving, throwing weapons, rock/building climbing, etc.

There are also other experts in Gotham who could help train Bruce. The first time his vigilantism requires Bruce to solve a crime, not just interrupt one, he could turn to his friends in the GCPD, especially Lucius Fox, to help him not only solve the crime, but to learn how crimes are solved. In the movies, Lucius is also portrayed as the source of Batman's gadgets (more so in Batman Begins than the comics, where most of Batman's gadgets are invented by Bruce himself). Here I expect him to not only provide gadgets, but to teach Bruce about science and inventing. Jim Gordon may also help in developing some of the investigation skills, though unlike Lucius, in most continuities he doesn't know Batman's identity.

Selina Kyle is still around, though her current relationship with Bruce is frosty. Still, when it comes to sneaking and breaking into places, there may be more teaching that she can provide.

Then there's Ra's al Ghul, who showed up in the season finale as the true force behind the Court of Owls. Ra's wants to make Bruce Wayne into his heir to lead the League of Assassins, and the fact that Bruce was able to overcome the League's brainwashing just makes Ra's more intrigued. Bruce doesn't want to be al Ghul's heir, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that Ra's is willing and eager to teach Bruce all sorts of the ninja-like skills Batman needs--from sneaking around, to impossible feats of agility, to martial arts mastery, mystical mumbo-jumbo meditation, and throwing stars (aka proto-Batarangs). This was the path that Batman Begins took to show how Batman got his skills, so closely does al Ghul's teachings match what Batman needs to know. I fully expect Bruce to undergo some significant training at Ra's's hands, either willingly (perhaps in an attempt to infiltrate his organization, perhaps because he realizes he can't do this without it) or unwillingly.

Finally, it's not unusual for Bruce and Alfred to leave Gotham for months at a time for vacations. It wouldn't be out of line for such vacations to become cover for some intensive training of one type or another with an expert that Bruce learns about, or Alfred knows through his contacts. It's possible that some of those trips already involved more than visiting a ski lodge.

I'm not expecting a full-fledged Batman next season. Maybe if they think the show's going to be canceled again, they'll give it to us in the series/season finale. Otherwise, what I expect to see is Bruce slowly learning what he needs to know to be Batman, developing the tools and techniques and skills he needs, and possibly learning that he needs something more. Not just more training, but an identity, an icon, to make him something more than a viglante: a symbol.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Untranslatable Words

John Hawthorne had noticed this post of mine, where I link to an article on twenty untranslatable words in other languages.

He pointed me to an article he worked with his colleague Adrian to write, with 35 other foreign words. As the article states:
Have you ever found yourself struggling to find the perfect word? You have an experience that feels so…so…but no words exist. You want to insult someone but can’t find a word vicious enough. You want to speak words of tender affection to your partner but no such words exist in the English language. 
Thankfully, there are other languages we can turn to in our time of need. Here are 25 [actually 35] amazing foreign words that don’t exist in English. Use these words when English fails you.
Thanks, John.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Iron Fist Business Class

I mentioned in my previous post that the biggest issue I had with Iron Fist wasn't the fight scenes or the slow pacing, but the business decisions. I think this showed ignorance more on the part of the writers than the characters, so I feel that these questionable decisions are worth discussing.

The first one is that Rand Corp has developed a drug that is a cure for a deadly disease. It works wonders, and due to manufacturing efficiencies, they can produce the drug at $5 a dose. Ward Meachum wants to charge $50 a dose. Danny protests that if this drug saves lives, they should sell it at cost. He doesn't seem to realize that doing so doesn't mean they'll break even. It means they'll lose hundreds of millions of dollars. The cost of drugs isn't in the manufacturing. It's in the years of research and development and FDA trials and failed drugs that never made it to market because they didn't make it all the way through the process. That's hundreds of millions of dollars that Rand Corp spent to develop this drug that they won't make back. Money that they won't have to spend on R&D, which the show specifically mentions is something they want to do with the profit, so there won't be any cure for the next epidemic. And yes, maybe at the margins there would have been people who couldn't afford the drug at $50 a dose, but the show even says that the World Health Organization would have subsidized purchase of the drug in poorer regions. And it's not unheard of for drug companies to sell drugs for lower prices in poorer regions in the world, while still making a higher profit in the rest of the world.

In another case, some cancer victims are suing Rand Corp because they believe that the company's chemical plant on Staten Island gave them cancer. The problem is they don't have any evidence. The plant's emissions are all within government limits, and the plant has passed every inspection. As far as anybody can tell, Rand Corp is doing everything it can to run a safe plant. The plaintiffs' only evidence is that 15 people living within a one mile radius of the plant have gotten cancer. Only, wait, how many people live within a mile of the plant? Is 15 cases of cancer a lot for that many? Well, we don't know exactly where on Staten Island the plant is, but according to Wikipedia, Staten Island has a population of 474,588, and a population density of 8,112 people per square mile. So within a one mile radius of the plant, there'd be about 25,000 people. According to this website on cancer statistics, over 450 out of every 100,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer each year. So out of any population of 25,000 people, you'd expect 115 cancer diagnoses. Unless all those people have a specific, rare type of cancer that can be traced to something the Rand plant produces--none of which is even suggested--then if those are the only people with cancer, something in that area has caused an 87% decrease in the rate of cancer. Rand Corp has cured cancer!

I don't blame Danny for not getting this. He spent the last fifteen years in a monastery, and that sort of communal lifestyle typically doesn't operate on capitalist principles or teach basic statistics. But what bugged me is that no one could explain to Danny the simple math of these situations, instead telling him that his ideas were bad business or that they weren't how business worked. Yes, this is true, but he needed to understand why they were bad business, and no one could be bothered to do that--or possibly, none of the writers of the show understood economics any better than Danny did.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Iron Fist Review

I just finished watching Iron Fist. Before its general release, there were rumors that it wasn't very good from some of those who saw the first six episodes. After watching it, I can't say I agree. It does have a somewhat slower pace than a lot of the other Netflix Marvel shows, but I didn't find it dull.

Iron Fist is the story of Danny Rand, the son of Wendell Rand, the founder of Rand Corp, and heir to his company. When he was ten, Danny's parents died in the Himalayas, and he was taken in by K'un-Lun, one of the Capital Cities of Heaven, which exists in another plane of existence and which is only reachable every fifteen years. There Danny trained in martial arts and became the guardian of K'un Lun, the Iron Fist, which is both his title and the name of his ability to focus his chi into his hand and strike with explosive force.

There are a few differences between the origin story in the comic books and the Netflix series. In the comic books, Danny's parents died while seeking the city of K'un-Lun, while in the television series they died in a plane crash without any knowledge of the city. I was somewhat expecting them to lose some of the more mystical bits, like the seven extradimensional cities, or the dragon Shou Lao the undying, through which Danny received his abilities, and instead focus on a more naturalistic explanation, such as having Danny train at a remote monastery to focus his chi, but I was pleased to see that they kept the more mystical aspects of Danny's origin story. Most of the changes they did make serve to make the story more interesting: in the comics, K'un-Lun allowed Danny to leave to seek revenge for his parents' deaths, who, unlike in the Netflix series, were clearly murdered, whereas in the Netflix series, Danny left without permission for reasons which are not explained until much later.

When Danny returns, no one believes that he is who he says he is. Ward and Joy Meachum, the children of his Dad's old business partner who now run Rand Corp, assume that he's either an impostor or a crazy hobo. He certainly looks the part of the latter. This I think is the part that a lot of people found too slow. Danny spends much of the first few episodes trying to prove his identity, and his sanity (hard to do when he says he spent the last fifteen years in an extradimensional city with a dragon in order to become a mystical warrior), while avoiding getting into fights--which, let's face it, is the main thing we want him to do.

Once he's able to prove his identity and return to his company, things begin to pick up, and Danny has to begin dealing with his real enemy. The Hand (who has played a large role in Daredevil) has infiltrated Rand Corp, and is using them to distribute heroin throughout the world. If this plot sounds familiar, it's not that different from what Wilson Fisk was doing in the first season of Daredevil. But it sounds like the Hand has had its hooks in Rand Corp for much longer than that. During the first half of the season, the primary villain is Madame Gao, the drug-dealing little old lady who beat Daredevil quite thoroughly every time they met. Here, though, she's part of something bigger, which ironically makes her less interesting. In Iron Fist, she's an important figure in the Hand, whereas I always assumed that while she worked with the Hand in Daredevil, she was running her own organization. It's actually somewhat disappointing to just make her a lieutenant in the existing Hand organization, whereas the Internet was speculating she might be Crane Mother, the leader of one of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven who bore a particular grudge against the Iron Fist.

Unlike some other Netflix shows (Luke Cage, Daredevil Season 2), where the second half of the season is something of a letdown after the first half, in Iron Fist I found the second half of the season more interesting. There's a late season plot twist that challenges everything we thought we knew about the Hand and introduces a new, compelling villain. This is followed by yet another betrayal, though this one was more obvious to the viewer than to Danny Rand. The shifting alliances near the end keep things fresh and interesting, and the season cliffhanger left me wanting more.

Let me reflect on a few of the complaints I've heard about the series. The first one I've heard is that it's too slow, and that Danny Rand's dealings with Rand Corp and the Meachums take up too much time and are the least interesting part of the show. I disagree. I liked seeing the fish out-of-water aspect of Danny trying to run a multinational corporation (more on that later). I also think that the Meachums, and their interaction with Danny and the Hand, are an important driver for the show, and that the character dynamics among Ward, Joy, Harold, and Danny are fascinating, and the way the alliances shift over time help to keep the show interesting.

Another complaint I've heard is about the fight scenes, that they aren't as good as they should have been given Danny's supposed martial arts prowess. I will say that I didn't notice any problems while watching the show. The fight scenes seemed fine to me, and I wouldn't have any reason to think there were problems with them without reading about it on the Internet. On a technical level, I realize that the actor Finn Jones is not going to have the martial arts skills of Danny Rand, who is supposed to be one of the best martial artists in the Marvel Universe, so others with a more critical eye may have picked up on some problems I didn't notice. There's probably room to make the fight scenes more satisfying for those people, and I suspect that with more practice, Finn Jones will be better able to fake it--which is all an actor is supposed to do.

So if neither of those things bothered me, what did? In a word, math. Someone needs to enroll Danny in some basic business classes. A big deal is made of a number of "compassionate" decisions Danny makes, except those decisions only make sense to very liberal writers and directors who have no knowledge of either math or economics. To me, they looked less like decisions guided by compassion than decisions guided by ignorance, and were the sort of thing that would drive Rand Corp into bankruptcy within a year if left unchecked. I'll save the specifics for another post, though.

So, to sum up, I liked Iron Fist, and my biggest complaints are completely unrelated to what bothers the rest of the Internet.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Carol Ann Crankshaw (August 27, 1954 - January 30, 2017)

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My mother and father, November 2015.

My mother died today. It was not a surprise, but it was still all too soon.

She was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of last year, and within a month we knew it was terminal. With treatment, it was hoped she might live another 4-5 years, and she started a course of chemotherapy immediately. Unfortunately, she did not respond well to the chemo, constantly fighting low white blood cell counts, and earlier this month she discontinued chemo after the doctors decided it was doing more harm than good.

Everyone has their regrets when a relative passes. I was slower to visit than I should have been, waiting until Christmas because of a lack of vacation time or a sense of urgency, but I was glad I went then, and again a week ago. She was weak when I went in December, sleeping for much of the day, but still lucid, and weaker still when I went in January, rarely awake and more rarely coherent. I wasn't there at the very end, and I'm not sure if I'm relieved or regretful.

It is hard to watch a loved one die, whether they decline slowly or precipitously. I suspect it's no comfort when they die suddenly and without warning, though. Ultimately, death comes for us all. There are no easy answers, no good ways to die. But there is hope for us who believe that death is not the end.

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My mother and father, December 2016.