Saturday, May 15, 2010

What the Fiction?

Well, time to tap into the Movie Tavern Mug, and see what people are wondering.

"J.K., can you tell us some of the biggest WTF moments in fiction you've experienced?"

We all have these moments when experiencing fiction. It could be something we really like, or it could be something we positively can't stand. They are WTF moments, those moments that cause us to tilt our heads to one side and go, "Huh?"

Since I'm pretty sure someone has at least once described me as a Walking WTF Moment, it's only natural that people wonder what throws me off. Well, here are some examples, some of which are bigger than others.

1. The City and The City: Where's the Kaboom?

I love China Mieville's work. The Bas-Lag books are brilliant pieces of fantasy, and King Rat was a fun look at animal folktale archetypes. But then there's this book, The City and the City. It's not bad by any means, and I loved the concept of it, but somehow, it fell a little flat on me. I won't spoil it for you, because it's definitely something I think at least one of my friends should attempt reading, if for no other reason than to help me see what I'm missing.

Basically, the story is a murder mystery, but it takes place in two cities that occupy the same place. No, they're not in parallel dimensions or anything, they just happen to cross over with each other. They have separate laws, separate languages, separate customs, and you aren't allowed to cross over from one over to the other without explicit permission. Confused yet? Yeah, it's hard to wrap your head around. It's supposed to be some sort of political allegory for balkanization or something I think, but it sorta flies over my head because, let's face it, I'm not a hugely political thinker.

Anyway, I had a slow time reading the book, but the entire time, I was thinking, "Okay, there's got to be something supernatural going on here."

And then I flipped the last page.

Dammit, where's the magic? How do the two cities work? How did they form like that? Why would it be so bad if they crossed over?

I guess there are just some mysteries we weren't meant to know, and I guess Mieville left it like that to put us in the mindset of the tourists, who just "don't understand."

2. Street Fighter Alpha 3: SUMO!

Most people don't play fighting games for the brilliant story work, but it can help make a character compelling. For example, within the Street Fighter series, one character is my favorite not due to any level of skill I have in using him, but rather his story. He's an old man dying of leukemia, looking for a fight to go out standing tall. There's something tragic about it, a man who has been fighting all his life, and can't think of any other way to go.

And then there's E. Honda.

E. Honda never really falls into the plot of the "important" characters, and is largely in the games just for fun. And no where is this better exhibited than his story in the Street Fighter Midquel, Street Fighter Alpha 3. Basically, he's going around challenging people to fights to demonstrate that Sumo is superior to all other martial arts. This somehow ends up leading him to taking down M. Bison's criminal ring, and fighting the big man himself. He defeats Bison, and causes him to explode with a flying, charging belly flop.

Wait, it gets weirder.

It turns out Bison had all these brainwashed teenage girl soldiers. Upon Bison's death, the mind control is broken. So what does Honda do?

He takes them back to Japan to teach them the art of Sumo.

I'm sorry, what?

Yes, while most of the characters have serious plots involving rivalries and redemption, this is E. Honda's story. Not the most compelling, but certainly entertaining in a confusing sort of way.

3. Green Lantern Rebirth: Hal Jordan Suffers an Infestation

The nineties were a dark time for comics. Series were constantly ended and restarted to convince people to buy the collector's edition issue 1 of the series. Stories were editorially mandated publicity stunts designed to shake things up and garner attention, without being particularly well plotted or written. Heroes died left and right, only to be replaced by newer, hipper versions.

One of the more controversial cases of this (since the replacement lasted for so long, and actually is still a GL to this day) is the case of Hal Jordan. At the time, writer Gerard Jones was writing all the GL related stuff, along with the Justice League and probably a couple other things I'm forgetting. DC had decided that Hal Jordan as a GL was getting stale, and wanted to make some changes. So, Jones started setting things in motion for a big story, referencing events that had happened in an orphaned plot years ago that involved Hal not having his original ring anymore, but having a villain's stolen GL ring instead. It was going to end up with Hal becoming a living embodiment of GL power and not needing a ring anymore, and from what I've read it seemed like a good concept.

But, DC didn't agree, and got someone else to write GL instead. Enter Ron Marz, a guy who takes a lot of undeserved heat. He was basically told he had three issues to make Hal into a villain, and to come up with a new guy. Luckily, Hal's hometown had just gotten destroyed in the whole Death and Rebirth of Superman thing, so instant motivation! Despite him being one of the most upstanding characters in the DC Universe, they decided that Hal should go crazy at this loss of his home, kick the asses of other Green Lanterns, killing some, and then absorb almost all of the power from all the Green Lanterns in the Universe, so that he could attempt to remake the universe to fix all the problems. It wasn't a bad concept, but it was a little hamfisted, abrupt, and shoddily done. But, one of the cool things they did was Villain Hal's name: Parallax. Basically, the term describes the apparent change in position of an object based on the viewpoint. In this case, the character had become a villain because his view of the universe had changed. IT MADE SENSE!

Anyway, big fights, Hal dies, fans enraged, moving right along.

So, a few years ago, a new regime at DC decided it was time to bring Hal Jordan back, and to bring him back as a hero. Now, when I heard this, I immediately thought the way they were going to excuse it was by having the ring he obtained be influencing him the entire time.

Instead, they decided that Hal was possessed by a never before mentioned giant space bug embodiment of fear named Parallax. Because the term Parallax totally has something to do with insects and fear. Now, I LIKED GL Rebirth, and I knew going in that they were going to have to make one Hell of an ass pull to have Hal be accepted back as a hero, but the space bug Parallax? Yeah, that one kinda came out of left field, and has always been an element I've been ambivalent towards. As much as Geoff Johns tried to make Hal still be responsible for his actions as Parallax, the way Parallax has possessed other characters since sort of killed any possibility of that. And again, GIANT SPACE BUGS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE TERM PARALLAX. AT LEAST HAVE THE NAME MAKE SOME SENSE.

Oh well, we bought it. He's back. And GL has become one of the most popular properties in the DC Universe. I guess it worked, even if I'm still scratching my head on that one.

4. Bill the Galactic Hero on the Planet of Tasteless Pleasures: All of it

So, I'll admit, the first Bill the Galactic Hero book wasn't remotely what I was expecting. I came across it while wandering around used book stores and other tiny shops in Downtown Fredericksburg, saw the title, and concluded it must be a hilariously over the top sci-fi space adventure parody, something along the lines of Buck Rogers (except with a viciously incompetent hero). What I got instead was a biting satire on military life, based on the experiences of a former soldier. Sure, it was transposed to a sci-fi setting, but the way it was written, you could see the story happening to one of your friends. And while it's not one of my favorite books, it was by no means bad.

So, my brother (who had not read the first one) saw this one in a used book store, came to the conclusion that I did on the nature of it, bought it, read it, and then passed it off on me. I thought to myself, "Oh, more military satire. All right, at least I know what's more or less coming."

I was very, very wrong. I should have figured that our when I saw a second author's name under the author of the original.

Instead, what we got was Bill's Journey through what was allegedly the human consciousness, in a whirlwind of horrible puns, that ultimately lead to nowhere. Bill is not really changed by the end, and we It wasn't particularly clever, it wasn't particularly funny, it wasn't even particularly weird. It just sort

5. The Kingdom: Hyper-what?

This one is going to take a few threads to explain. So, at one point DC comics was known for having many, many alternate universes. There was a universe where all the World War II characters (or versions of characters) resided and aged in real time. There was a universe in which the "modern" (at the time) characters existed. There were universes for characters they acquired from other companies (like Charlton Comics and Whiz Comics). And of course, every "Imaginary" or out of continuity story was an alternate universe. Well, around 1985 or so, DC decided that having multiple Earths was cumbersome to new readers, so they decided to have a big event to consolidate everything down to one universe. This was the celebrated Crisis on Infinite Earths. Parts of it may have been a little hokey, but the art was good, and it was chock full of Crowning Moments of Awesome for many characters (including the heroic deaths of the original Supergirl and of Barry Allen as Flash).

So you may be wondering how they explained away out of continuity stories. Like, say someone wanted to have Batman fight Dracula and become a Vampire. There aren't any alternate Earths. How do we explain this away? Answer: We DON'T. We just say, "Look, they're not in continuity, just roll with it." And you know something? We were FINE with that. I don't have any inherent problems with them not giving an explanation as to HOW the alternate stories occur, I just care about whether I like them or not. And among the more notable of these "Elseworlds" series was a four issue look at the future of the DC Earth called Kingdom Come. The story was a compelling look at the changing nature of Superheroes in the Eighties and Nineties, and what that would lead to, it had some beautiful artwork by painter Alex Ross, and plenty of background gags that can keep a good comic book nerd coming back for more. It dealt with dark themes and apocalyptic imagery, but ended on a hopeful note.

Well, DC apparently decided that it was tired of not having an explanation for where these Elseworlds stories took place, so they decided to come up with a half-assed explanation, while attempting to cash in some more on Kingdom Come. The result? A mediocre (at best) sequel known as The Kingdom.

I could go into detail about the parts of it that they screwed up on, but I'm here to talk about the WTF of this story, and that's their explanation of how we can have these out of continuity stories. They decided that it's because of this thing called "Hypertime." Apparently, there is only one timeline/universe/whatever, but sometimes things branch off of it, giving us alternate possible events, and sometimes, they even flow back into the core timeline!

Yeah, no. See, if something doesn't need explaining, like, "How can this story that doesn't relate to the main universe take place," THEN DON'T ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN IT! We'll be better off! Sheesh, if I'M the one telling you this, then you're in trouble!

Ultimately, they pushed the Hypertime explanation under the rug, and tried not to bring it up again. And we really appreciate it.

6. Star Trek Voyager: Liz-ACTION!

You know it's a bad sign when the creators of something refuse to acknowledge the existence of a certain part of their universe. But that's exactly what happened in an episode of Voyager. I can't remember the name of it, but basically, the crew makes an experimental engine to go faster, Tom Paris tests it out, it screws with him, and he starts "hyper-evolving."

Okay, first off, that's not evolution, that's mutation. Evolution occurs across generations and screw it, you people don't care.

Anyway, Tom Paris ends up abducting Captain Janeway, stealing the shuttle with the experimental engine, putting it into full throttle and going to some planet somewhere. But when the Voyager reaches the planet that the shuttle went to, they don't find the Captain and Tom. Oh no. They find to Komodo Dragon-esque things with the residual DNA of Janeway and Paris. And several Komodo Dragon Babies.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I can tolerate a lot in my fiction for the sake of a story. But the idea that moving fast enough causes you to *shudder* "evolve" into an allegedly "higher" being (evolution doesn't really have "higher or lower" animals, but that's another lecture entirely), and that higher animal happens to be a Komodo Dragon looking thing? No, no, no, no, no. Get out, and come back when you know what you're doing.

7. Battletech: Can't See Me!

It takes a good deal of suspension of disbelief to be able to take a sci-fi universe where giant humanoid machines are the most efficient and effective ways of waging war, but sometimes even then there are things that you have trouble accepting. In this case, it's the Phantom Mech ability introduced in the Battletech Fiction.

So, early in the series, writer Michael Stackpole decided he wanted to introduce a new Mercenary unit to the universe, the Kell Hounds. Okay, fine, we can deal with that. They're run by a relative of one of the ruling families who has never before been mentioned, but we're still okay because it's a distant relative. They were at one of the bigger battles in recent history in which the leader of another space realm died (okay, it's a stretch, but we're still following). Oh, and the leader of this unit can't be targeted. Wait, what?

Yes, for some reason that was never actually explained, in about the fifth or so novel that was written in the universe, we learn that Morgan Kell, cousin by marriage of House Steiner, who has never been mentioned before this point, somehow has the mystical ability to be unhittable in his Mech. First off, this isn't really a mystical setting. Secondly, I'd be more willing to buy this if he HADN'T JUST BEEN INTRODUCED. And the Kell Hounds only get more ridiculous from there, getting access to Clan Technology, having some of the best pilots, having their leader live longer than most other characters, rarely (if ever) losing, and practically having their own mini-kingdom. Sheesh, no wonder a lot of Battletech fans don't like these guys.

8. Tommy: Jack Nicholson Harvests a Soul

So, pretty much all of the movie version of Tommy is a giant acid trip. But for me, the biggest WTF was the scene with the Doctor, played by Jack Nicholson. There are two parts of this WTF.

First of all, Jack Nicholson sings.

I'll give you a moment to take that in.

Secondly, there's a part of the scene where he's just staring into Ann Margaret's eyes for an extended period of time, and then it cuts to an imagined scene of the two of them dancing. Now, I've been able to figure out the symbolism of a lot of the other scenes of the movie. This one I'm never quite sure if I've gotten it. Is it supposed to represent her suddenly feeling attraction for the Doctor because he told her that there's a chance Tommy will be well again on his own? Is it him imagining taking her? Did he just harvest her soul? Or what? Ah well, I still love the scene, and I still love the movie. And I suppose if that's the biggest WTF I have about the movie, then it's not a good sign for my mental health.

9. Spider-Man Maximum Carnage: LOVE BOMB!

So, in the late eighties, Marvel introduced Venom as Spider-Man's new arch enemy, to replace the great personal rivalry that existed between Spidey and the Norman Osborn Green Goblin (who was long dead at this point, and there was certainly no way he was ever coming back). One problem: people liked Venom, and wanted him to be heroic. So, Marvel came up with an even eviller version of Venom in the form of Carnage, and gave him this big event where he teamed up with a bunch of C and D List villains in an attempt to take over/slaughter New York City. It was supposed to be a big thing about the nature of good and evil, but it sort of fell flat. I mean, I liked it when I was small, but having since gotten it as a Trade Paperback, good GOD that story is awful. The dialogue is terrible, the motives are almost nonexistent, the characterizations are inconsistent...yeah, skip this one, folks.

The WTF comes in towards the end of the series. We find out that sound based villainess Shriek has been psychically manipulating the city to psychopathy. So, how does our group of ten heroes nullify this AND defeat the group of five *CRACK* four villains? They build a giant ray gun designed to shoot happy rays that somehow overwhelms and knocks out the baddies.

Yes, it is as stupid as it sounds.

10. Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum: Would You Like to Nickname Your God?

If you read my post on the Pokemon teams I would have in each region, you might remember me mentioning how I thought the Legendary Pokemon in Generation IV were getting a little ridiculous. In Gen I, you had Mewtwo, a genetically engineered monster, and then Birds of Thunder, Fire, and Wind. In Generation II, you had a Bird of the Deep, a Bird of the Skies, and Beasts of Thunder, Fire, and Water. In III, you've got a monster of Flooding and Seas, a Monster of Drought and Land, a Dragon of the Skies, three Golems, and two dragons of nothing in particular. While they were powerful, they were generally primal, elemental forces. You could wrap your head around being able to catch a monster with these sorts of powers

Generation IV pushes that a little farther. You have Dialga, the embodiment of Time, Palkia, the Embodiment of Space, and Giratina, the Embodiment of Antimatter or Other Dimensions or Hypertime or something. Okay, that's stretching it a little bit. But that's NOTHING compared to one of the monsters you can get at one of the special, Nintendo sponsored events. So, they made this beast called Arceus. It has the most powerful stats in the game. And it's stated to have created the universe.

Really, Nintendo? REALLY? You're going to give us an opportunity to go up against the Almighty, fight it, and then shove it in a tiny little ball so we can send it to smite unbelievers (aka people who annoy us)? What the HELL are you smoking? The Protagonists are TEN, they fight with things based on animals (superpowered animals, but regular animals nonetheless) and you're making it so they can not only FIGHT God, but DEFEAT God and bend it to their will? And not only defeat God, but defeat God with, say, a rat or a bunny? What, have you run out of ideas? Is Pokemon some humanistic allegory that I've just been missing for all these years?


Well, now that you're all thoroughly confused, this is J. K. Lantern, wishing you all a happy banana.

1 comment:

  1. I'm suprised how few movies you listed--cinema provides me with most such moments. Literature is more grounded in reality as a medium, so even if something comes across as strange I usually accept it as within that work's logic. The Montreal film Eliza's Horoscope is a gold mine running time's worth of WTF.

    P.S. You should do a post on evolution. It's obviously something you know a thing or two about and every time you bring it up I'm intrigued