Tagged: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Mindy Newell: It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed the whole world, and an entire sprawling industry, that writing monsters and demons and end-of-the world is not hack-work, it can challenge the best. Joss Whedon raised the bar for every writer – not just genre/niche writers, but every single one of us.” – Russell T. Davies, producer, writer, showrunner, Doctor Who

…Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

Oops. Sorry. Got carried away there for a moment and started grooving to one of the most groundbreaking albums ever – and anyway, that album came out way more than twenty years (and 23 days) ago today. But it was twenty years (and 23 days) ago today, on March 10, 1997, that another groundbreaking event in pop culture occurred: the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the fledgling WB network.

Although it wasn’t exactly a premiere. More like a reboot, as in Ronald D. Moore’s reboot of Battlestar Galactica from an incredibly corny “let’s cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon” series that deservedly failed into an incredibly intelligent series that deservedly succeeded. Then again, the televised BTVS wasn’t exactly a reboot, either. It was… more of a rebirth.

As most of you already know, Whedon’s original 1992 Buffy screenplay was hijacked by a dumb studio and a dumber director and totally bombed. And then something that only happens in storybooks and Disney movies happened. A fairy godmother by the name of Gail Berman, whose company, Sandollar Television, owned the rights to the movie, waved her magic wand, said bippidi-boppidi-boo, and granted the one thing that most of us wish for and never get – she gave Joss Whedon a “do-over,” a chance to start over with his original concept of “the ditzy blonde who walks into an alley and beats the crap out of the monster that attacks her” and do it right.

Did Joss do it right?

Did he ever!

Of course it wasn’t that easy. Life isn’t like that. It never is, or if sometimes it seems to be, there are always pitfalls and potholes to maneuver. But here’s the thing – all the crap that life throws at us was thrown at every single character who lived in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sometimes it was metaphoric crap, as in monsters and demons and werewolves and vampires, and sometimes it was just truly plain crap, as in dead mothers.

Twenty years (and 23 days) later, BTVS is still watched, still talked about, still written about, still studied, still reviewed. YouTube features hundreds of channels dedicated to the Slayer; I am an aficionado of one channel in particular, Ian Martin’s Passion of the Nerd and his “Buffy Episode Guide.Ian is a video producer for LinkedIn, and his very first video, “Why You Should Watch Buffy” kicked off his series.

Ian and I were both at Denver ComicCon last June, though we didn’t get a chance to meet – his panel and mine coincided, unfortunately. But here’s a bit of his presentation:

Now Joss Whedon created in Buffy a densely, densely layered series that all filters down from the primary metaphor in the show, the Slayer role being the symbol of adulthood or becoming an adult.

“From there, each season has a unique overarching theme, informed by that primary metaphor. And each episode in the season was informed by that season’s theme.

“And the entire structure was built on this very robust existential philosophy.”

Here’s a quote from “Becoming,” the Season Two finale:

“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.”

It still resonates, doesn’t it?

Even twenty years (and 23 days) later.

 

Molly Jackson: Strength Times Twenty

Today is A Day Without A Woman, a demonstration of solidarity to show the need for human rights for all. Throughout the country (and perhaps the world), you will see women wearing red, not spending money, and not working to protest gender inequality.  I admit I was torn about having a column posted today.  I respect today’s protest, and I am taking part in the ways that I can.  Still, I wrote this column before today, and I felt very strongly about marking the 20th anniversary of a strong woman who inspired me, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Back in 1996, I remember the excitement when I saw the commercial for the new show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  My sister and I loved the original movie, in part for the camp, in part for the wit, and in part for the female hero in the title. The next time she called home from college, I remember grabbing the phone to tell her that Buffy was back. Little did I know that the Buffy and the WB were about to shape my entire generation.

When Buffy helped really launch that channel on March 10, 1997, it was the beginning of an era. When I was in high school, everyone watched the WB. That singing frog was on everyone’s TV, we all knew about the love triangle of Percy, Joey, and Dawson, and Buffy was an icon; at least, she was to me. I did have a single friend tease me about watching Buffy; by season 3 I had him hooked. I still don’t let him live that one down.

The best part of Buffy for me growing up was that she was a year older than me, in a critical time of my life: high school. She was getting ready for prom when I was just a junior. Buffy and her scoobies survived high school when I questioned if I could make it through junior year. Her first year of college coincided with me applying for schools. When she entered the working world, I was at the point of college to start thinking about my future employment. Buffy got through those hurdles and set the example that I could as well.

It never mattered that Buffy was the creation of Joss Whedon. He wrote a strong female role model when others only wrote set pieces that had lines.  He was able to channel a teenage girl surprisingly well, and 20 years later, he is still celebrated for it.  Whedon continues to fight for women’s rights through Equality Now.

I owe more to Buffy and Joss Whedon than most people even know. Truth is, without Buffy I wouldn’t be here on ComicMix. I was a casual comics reader as a kid (I would refuse to get on an airplane without an Archie digest in hand) but it was never a serious passion. When Buffy came to comics with Season 8, that was my true gateway into this world. Dark Horse made comics so inviting, that I simply stayed. I delved in with two hands and never looked back. In fact, the reason my site [insertgeekhere] was started was so my writing partner and I could defend Dawn, Buffy’s little sister, after we heard some truly horrible things shouted at her during a sing-a-long event. And writing about geek culture has helped me express myself in ways I never thought possible.

So on today, a Day Without a Woman, I can only reflect on the women that gave me some of the best pieces of who I am.  A day without these women means a day without myself.  In real life, my mother gave me my love of books; my grandmother gave me my snarky attitude. My rabbi showed me that striving to answer a question is its own reward. And in fiction, Captain Janeway gave me a role model of strength and grace (plus my love of coffee).  And finally, Buffy gave me the very reason and drive to write and express myself.

So all I can do today is quote Buffy herself. As the slayer said, “Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”

 

Mindy Newell: Letting In The Light

Willy Wonka Pure Imagination

“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of Pure imagination. Take a look and you’ll see into your imagination. We’ll begin with a spin, traveling in the world of my creation.

“What we’ll see will defy explanation. If you want to view paradise simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it.

“Wanta change the world? There’s nothing to it. There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination.

“Living there, you’ll be free if you truly wish to be.”

“Pure Imagination”• Written by Leslie Bricuse and Anthony Newley • Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, sung by Gene Wilder

But I ramble, to turn a phrase…

It’s a tough thing, dealing with depression. It’s a selfish disease, one whose main symptom is that it makes the whole world all about you.

Turn on the television, boot up the web, pick up a newspaper, link into the world – there’s a lot of things going on out there beyond your own life that are terrible beyond anything that Dante ever imagined. I don’t have to name them; you know what they are.

In my line of work I’ve seen a lot of terrible things, things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, things that make me think, and sometimes say out loud, “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should,” things that make me wonder why this culture, this American society, fears death so much that we keep people alive even when in our brains, in our hearts, in our souls we know we shouldn’t, even when we know that we are not abiding by the first rule of healing, “primun non nocerefirst, do no harm”

To be completely honest, I’m not even sure what my overall theme is this week, what my aim is – maybe it’s just to get these thoughts out of my head and into the world, because the one thing the darkness cannot abide is the light, even it is only flickering. That’s always been my weapon against the disease – what some in my life have called a big mouth – or what my father used to call “not knowing when to keep quiet.”

I am writing this to shut it up… I think.

Aloneness is the ally of the disease, or the belief of aloneness; but I don’t walk Depression Street alone. I have my family. I have my friends. I have a job that keeps me actively engaged in the world. I have this forum on ComicMix. I am lucky and I am blessed, and I know that, even when I am in the deepest shadow. That knowledge is another component of the light that scatters the darkness.

Sometimes, even though it is a complete oxymoron, I am glad that I have had this disease. It has made me a better person in so many ways – less quick to judge, more open to empathy. (See, I told you that my depression has been an oxymoronic entity in my life, go back and read that second paragraph.) It has made me a better professional, too – as a nurse, as a writer.

Anger, it is said, is depression turned inward. Well, I have plenty of anger, and sometimes it is displaced, but I have learned, or am constantly attempting to learn, not to turn it inward. Mostly it is anger that the depression went on so long, that it was so long undiagnosed, that it robbed me of what economists call the financially “productive” years, so that here I am at 62 and 10 months and I get scared when I think of the future… will I end up as one of those senior citizens living at the poverty line?

That’s not how it was supposed to be. But whose life is the way it was supposed to be? So very, very, few of us.

To borrow from Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck, “the fairy tales are bullshit!”

But the fairy tales – comics, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, all the wonderfully heroic tales, the myths and the epics from Gilgamesh to The Ugly Duckling – are all parts of the wonderfully nerdiness and geekiness of our imaginations, are also part of the wonderfully beauteous light.

Sorry, Nicholas, but fairy tales can also be not bullshit.

“Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”

It’s this that keeps me going when the dark is beckoning…keeps you going, too, I hope, when your own abyss is yawning before you. The ability to accept life as it is, but also, and more importantly, to keep imagining.

If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it…”

 

Mindy Newell: Two Reviews

Mickey's Star Wars

I loved it.

supergirl 

Melissa Benoist, whom I first saw on Glee, packed up her beautiful singing voice to play Kara Danvers, nee Kara Zor-el, bears no blame for the general snorrrrre that is the hallmark of the show. Neither do any of the following: Chyler Leigh as kick-ass secret government agent-who-also-happens-to-be-Kara’s-Earth born sister, Alex; Mehcad Brooks as no-longer-cub-reporter-now-Pulitzer-Prize-winning photographer Jimmy Olsen, David Harewood as Hank Henshaw-Director-of-same-secret-government-agency-which-makes-him Alex’s boss-and-who-also-happens-to-be-J’on J’onzz the Martian Manhunter; Jeremy Jordan as lovelorn-for-Kara-and-not-yet-revealed-to-be-son-of-supervillain-The Toyman techie Winslow “Winn” Scholl, Jr., or Calista Flockhart as Ally McBeal-all-growed-up-and-head-of-her-own-media-empire Catherine (Cat) Grant.

No, the cast is fine. Especially Flockhart, whose Grant started out as a total caricature of Miranda Priestly (who herself was a caricature, albeit a sophisticated one, of Vogue’s Anna Wintour), but now is the only one demonstrating any of that all important ingredient for a successful television series recipe: character growth. But this isn’t the Ally-McBeal-All-Growed-Up show. It’s supposed to be about an alien millennial woman finding her adult footing with the albatross of an older, famed celebrity cousin slung around her neck. And, oh, yeah, she’s got super-powers.

As to the star of Supergirl: I watched her performance as Marley Rose, the anorexic and bulimic transfer student in the 5th and 6th seasons of Glee – and I say that poor Melissa Benoist is, im-not-so-ho, is being extremely short-changed.

By whom, you ask?

It’s the writers.

Ali Adler (Chuck, Family Guy), Greg Bertlanti (Arrow, Flash, Dawson’s Creek), and Andrew Kreisberg (Arrow, Flash, Fringe, The Simpsons, DC’s Green Arrow and Batman Confidential comics, and his own Helen Killer for Arcane Comics) certainly have the credentials and the writing chops, at least on paper. But what they’re doing with my childhood idol – oy!

Seriously, guys, just what the hell are you doing? Your Kara Zor-el Danvers is just the perkiest thing to occupy the small screen since Gidget. No, strike that. She’s just the sprightliest young woman to take up an hour on the boob tube since The Flying Nun. (The fact that both characters were played by the young Sally Field is just coincidental and absolutely not meant to be detrimental to Ms. Field – only to say that it could just be possible, who knows, that young Melissa goes on to mature into the outstanding actress that is Sally Field.) It’s like watching a living, breathing Barbie doll come to life. There is no Kara Danvers – just a one-dimensional mock-up, a fashion illustration in the New York Times, a walkway model at the Paris fashion shows. Nice to look at – but where are the guts?

Holy shit! The Giants are tied with the Panthers, 35 – 35, and there’s 5 seconds left!… 43 yard field goal attempt by the Panthers. Time out called… back in play… Shit! Fuck! Goddamn It!

Okay, I’m back.

Here’re my problems, in no particular order, just as they came to me while eating dinner and jotting them down. Although the first one is a big, big, big one, and from which all the others flow:

  • Everything is given to us on a plate. There’s no mystery, there’s no buried treasure, there’s no smoking gun. There’s absolutely nothing to hook the viewer into caring about Kara’s story now that we’ve seen her in the costume, which is what everybody was waiting for in the premiere.
  • How many times and in how many ways can Kara talk about proving herself? This fast became a one-trick pony that quickly wore out its welcome and became a whine that is repeated in each and every episode as expository statements to her sister, to Jimmy, to Winn, to Hank…hey, Kara, take a tip from Yoda: “Did not you see Strikes Back the Empire Does? Do, or do not. There is no try.” Seriously, I’m waiting for somebody to tell her to just shut the fuck up already.
  • We met Aunt Astra and we know right away that she’s evil. She might as well have had a mustache to twirl. We shouldn’t even have known who she was – tease us, fool us. Mix us up. Maybe sometimes she’s good, sometimes she’s bad, maybe she’s somewhere in the middle. What’s her relationship with Kara? And since we’re supposed to be identifying with Kara, that should have been her deal as well.
  • Kara was stuck in the Phantom Zone for years. And this hasn’t had any lasting affects? No emotional or psychological hang-ups? No anger issues at her cousin for dumping her in some strangers’ laps and flying off? No PTSD from seeing her parents, her civilization, her planet from being blown to kingdom come? Did the Danvers even attempt some sort of therapy? She should have trouble forming relationships, she should have trust issues, jeez, let’s see some anger.
  • What is Supergirl’s mission? Why should we watch it? Arrow is dark, fully noir and chiaroscuro. Flash is honorable, open, fantastical and rococo. Both shows dive into their characters’ lives; neither are afraid to explore the depths of the human experience while staying within (or despite) the parameters of their genre. Both are slowly building universes, borrowing from their comics’ origins and inventing new ones. Both shows know what they’re about. What the fuck is Supergirl about?

I could go on. And on. And on. But most of all it seems to me that the writers, or the suits behind them (which is probably the more likely scenario) are afraid, like they’re gingerly walking on a bed of nails, or handling a hot potato. They want Supergirl to be a role model, but they are afraid to let her be one. The most popular, the strongest, and the best role model young girls and women have had on television was another young woman with super-powers whose job it was to slay the evil dark things, and whose friends ranged from gay witches to werewolves to vampires to demons. She killed a god and had a sister made from her own blood. And her best friend flayed a man alive. Oh, and she had an adult male hanging around her all the time. Her name was Buffy Summers and the show was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it became the hit of the 90s, winning critical acclaim and fans who will never let it go.

So why Adler, Bertlanti, and Kreisberg seem to be afraid of doing the same with Supergirl is beyond me. I suggest they sit down and watch all seven seasons of Buffy, then sit down again and take notes. Maybe call up Marti Noxon or Jane Espenson or Drew Goddard or Joss Whedon, get some advice, ask them to go over the scripts, maybe even have them do some ghosting.

Jeezus. Call me. Or Gail Simone. Or Kelly Sue DeConnick. Because the show needs help.

And not just the kind that Jimmy can signal for on his wristwatch.

Martha Thomases: The Big Binge

Letter 44Yesterday, in a fit of inertia, I watched five episodes of Bosch on Amazon Prime. The show is based on Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, a detective in a series of terrific books by Michael Connelly.

It’s a good enough show, at least so far. It moves at its own pace, so I had plenty of time to wonder about weird, related stuff. Would I look like star Titus Welliver if I was a man, since we have the same bags under our eyes and the same beginner jowls? Don’t the female characters in the books have more to do than look at Harry with adoring eyes? Is that a part of Los Angeles I’ve been to, or has it been in a million other movies? Why aren’t there more food trucks in the LA on this show? Why aren’t there more food trucks in my neighborhood right now?

Once I was satisfied with my answers to those questions, I started to compare the phenomenon of binge-watching to reading a collected trade paperback collection of comic book series.

It is most satisfying to binge-watch programs made to be binged. By this, I mean that Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, Grace and Frankie and, yes, Bosch work better than American network shows like Supernatural (which I’m trying to get into because it’s a popular Internet meme and I should know what’s going on) or even Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Television shows can work when you watch them once a week, when you need to be reminded who the different characters are and what happened. When you watch them all at once, it’s really annoying to be told the same things over and over (and over and over) again.

However, watching, say, the fifth episode of Bosch (or any other show designed for bingeing) would be less satisfying than watching the fifth episode of Buffy because of that lack of repetition. Each episode of a network drama is designed to be self-contained. When you watch any episode, you can tell who the main characters are, what kind of people they are, and what is at stake for them.

When I started to read comic books, each issue was designed to be self-contained. Regular readers might know more about the backgrounds of the characters, but the publishers knew that every issue might be somebody’s first. Every issue had a beginning, a middle and an end.

Even in the 1990s, when comic book sagas were planned to span several issues, each issue still had a complete story. If there was something from a previous issue that the reader needed to know, the creators and editors found a way to work that in, either with a flashback or dialogue. The best-selling collected edition at the time, The Death of Superman, can be maddening to read in one sitting, precisely because the necessary plot points are repeated so often.

The inside-out version of this is also true, at least for me. When I read a series that seems to be designed to be collected, I often forget what’s happening between issues (and I can’t always find my previous issues, but that’s a house-keeping problem of mine, not a general cultural crisis). Most recently, I notice this with Letter 44, a series I really like. And I’d like it much better if I could remember who the good guys and bad guys were from one issue to the next.

Comic book economics are such that it is not always possible to publish a graphic novel all at once. Those monthly pamphlets let the publishers amortize the costs over a longer term, so there is less risk. I get that. I get that so much that I want to support unusual work that needs my money upfront, at the pamphlet stage. I want artists and writers to get paid as often as possible.

There has to be a better way to do this than we’re doing it now. Either we need a better publishing plan, or we need better drugs for my memory.

The Point Radio: Dishing With The Girls From GRIMM

GRIMM is back to wrap up it’s fourth season on NBC, but what can we expect as we head toward the May finale? Actors Bitsie Tulloch, Bree Turner and Clare Coffee let us in on a few teases including just how their characters may wind up this time. Plus the backyard inventors of BRAINSTORMERS talk about the times things worked and the times they didn’t.

In a few days, we go to the set of the CW’s latest comic inspired hit, IZOMBIE.
Be sure to follow us on 
Twitter @ThePointRadio.

The Point Radio: Making Magic With Amber Benson

Like you, we first fell in love with Amber Benson during her days on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. The feelings only grew as we watch her evolve into a director, producer and most of all a successful author. Amber’s latest project is WITCHES OF ECHO PARK and she talks about why going “magical” seemed like the next step for her. Plus actor Jon Tenney, from MAJOR CRIMES and SCANDAL, talks about the great parts of being a working actor in todays’ exploding entertainment mediums.

THE POINT covers it 24/7! Take us ANYWHERE on ANY mobile device (Apple or Android). Just  get the free app, iNet Radio in The  iTunes App store – and it’s FREE!  The Point Radio  – 24 hours a day of pop culture fun. GO HERE and LISTEN FREE  – and follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.

Martha Thomases: It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s A TV Show!

SupergirlSupergirl is one of my favorite characters, so I was delighted to read that there is a Supergirl television show in development.

Supergirl is one of my favorite characters, so I was terrified to read that there is a Supergirl television show in development.

There are several reasons for my conflicted feelings. When I was a girl, Kara Zor-El was my ideal. Not only was she blonde and cute (two adjectives not customarily applied to me), but she had powers, she was unsure of herself, and she was always trying to prove herself, not only to her cousin Superman, but to prospective parents who shopped at her orphanage. I wanted to have a robot double in a tree. I wanted to have a flying horse and a super-powered cat. Sometimes I wanted different parents.

I don’t think there is anything innately “feminine” about wanting super-powers, robots or flying pets. I still want them (and ain’t I a woman?). The difference between the me who liked these things in the first place and the me who likes them now is that I’ve gone through puberty.

And feminism.

This isn’t going to be one of those stereotypical PC rants (which I’ve never actually read, but then, I don’t seek them out) about how women are misrepresented in comics. They are, but I’m not arguing that in terms of politics, but in terms of realistic character development.

In the case of Supergirl, too often, she is written and drawn by men who don’t know anything about what it feels like to be a young adult woman – either teenaged or in her early twenties, as she will be portrayed in the show. If they do any research at all, it reads as if the watched Clueless and Mean Girls and decided that was enough.

Too many Supergirl stories (and movies, like this one) have her worrying whether boys will like her because she’s so powerful, or what is she going to do with all her power, or how does she fit into a world she never made with all this power. It’s all about being a Female With Power, not about being Kara Zor-El… or, in my fond memories, Linda Lee Danvers.

Her origin story has varied over the years. I believe in the New 52, she used to be a baby-sitter to her cousin Kal (now Superman) but, when Krypton exploded, she was sent into space in suspended animation. She crashes into Earth, not knowing the language and suddenly having super powers.

And since then, mostly, she’s been smashing things. No one understands her and she’s angry about it. So angry that, for a while, she was a Red Lantern.

Isn’t she the least bit curious about Earth? And her cousin? Doesn’t she want to know why she ended up here? I mean, if the baby I used to care for suddenly turned up and he was at least ten years older than me, I would want to know what his life was like.

And wham, she has super powers! Kal-El grew into his, but Kara gets hers all at once. Is that confusing? Is it wonderful? Is it awkward? Is it all of these things and more?

If anything gives me any hope at all for the possible television show, it’s that Greg Berlanti, the producer, has an okay track record in the way he deals with female characters on his shows. I really enjoyed Sigourney Weaver and Ellen Burstyn in Political Animals and Emily Bett Rickards plays a well-rounded, believable Felicity Smoak on Arrow. I’m not sure his shows pass the Bechdel test, but I believe it’s possible that they could, that these female characters have conversations about their jobs and their hobbies and their voting patterns when they are off-camera.

It would be worth everyone’s time and effort to involve more fully realized women characters, not just to be Supergirl, but in general. And I mean this in the most crass, materialistic way. Buffy the Vampire Slayer made a lot of money with a lead character who didn’t worry about whether or not boys would like her. She didn’t fret that being powerful would turn them off. At most, she worried it would kill them.

And she’s not the only one.

 

Mindy Newell: Truth, Justice, And The American Way

Catwoman“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” – Maya Angelou

I read John Ostrander’s column yesterday with interest. (I always read John’s columns and love them.) Then I went to the Wall Street Journal’s website and read Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche’s essay.

Well, John, to a certain extent I have to agree with Chuck and Paul. It’s one thing for us, as adults, to read comics with an adult slant – meaning moral ambiguity in both our heroes and our villains. But I do think that for younger readers, the children and pre-teens (and, I suppose, depending on their maturity, some teenagers), it’s important that the heroes do act ethically and morally. They (Superman, the X-Men, Captain Marvel, Batman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Daredevil, et.al.) are, not to put too fine a point on it, cultural icons…and besides, all kids need heroes to look up to – with a sense of wonder, with awe, with a desire to “be just like him/her when I grow up.”

And when their heroes fall, children are upset; they don’t understand adult haziness, they live in a black-and-white world.  I remember when Lawrence Taylor (of the New York Giants and considered the greatest linebacker in NFL history) was arrested for cocaine use. “L.T.” was one of Alixandra’s heroes, and when she heard the news – we were in the car listening to the radio – she said to me, “How could he do that, Mommy?” And in her voice there was confusion and hurt and the sound of her hero crumbling into dust.

And I was angry. At that moment I hated Lawrence Taylor. In one second he had destroyed a part of my daughter’s innocence. And I thought of all the other kids out there who had looked up to him and now, just like Alix, were asking their parents how and why and I bet those parents felt just like I did.

Now I am not one to hide the facts of life from children. I always tried to be as honest as I could be with my daughter when she asked any and all questions. And certainly, Alixandra, as a child of divorced parents, already knew that the world was not a bed of roses.

But I also believe that in a world that grows uglier by the minute – I just saw a statistic on MSNBC’s Up with Steve Koracki that there have been 74 school shootings since Newtown in 2012 – it’s more important than ever that kids have heroes.

It doesn’t matter if their heroes are fictional creations. Harry Potter, Buffy Summers, Katniss Everdeen, Percy Jackson, Matilda Wormwood, Lyra Belacqua and characters from the pages of books have captured the imagination of – and have served as inspirations to – children around the world. And it not as if their originators had fashioned perfect idols – all carry some resentment of being thrust into the hero’s role, but all also rise above their individual desires and accept the responsibility that fate has thrust upon them. Harry Potter realizes it is up to him alone to conquer Voldemort. Katniss Everdeen faces up to her leadership of the rebellion against Panem. And Buffy Summers comes to understand that “death is my gift” in her fight to save her sister and the world from the god known as Glory.

The writer has the responsibility to know his or her audience, to know for whom s/he is writing. As the cast of Buffy got older, and as the fans of the show aged along with them, Joss Whedon allowed the stories to become more complicated, to reflect the journey into adulthood that the characters, and the fans, were experiencing. Whedon also did this when he spun off Angel from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Aiming for a more mature (read: adult) audience, the show nuanced both the main character and its perspective; there was less black-and-white, and a lot more grayness, especially as the show progressed through its five seasons. On Buffy having a soul equaled good, not having a soul equaled bad – but on Angel, having a soul didn’t necessarily make the vampire “good” – in fact, as the show progressed, Angel’s goodness became more and more a matter of degrees, became more “adultly” ambiguous. The support cast, Cordelia and Gunn and Wesley (especially Wesley!!) and the others also shifted from simple classifications to complex characterizations.

As a writer I have always been aware for whom I’m writing. I like to write for what the publishing industry calls “YA,” or the young adult market – teenagers and those in their early twenties. Certainly I have written my share of “dark” stories – in fact, that’s where my story inclinations tend to take me – but I’ve always tried to put something in there that indicates hope, even if it’s only a sliver of light, i.e., the characters have progressed to a better place. In what I think is my blackest tale (Lois Lane: When It Rains, God is Crying), a story of child abuse, abduction, and murder, and one in which there is no “happy ending,” Lois learned to let down the walls she had built around herself, learned to let her friends and family in.  And in Catwoman: My Sister’s Keeper, Selena’s “sister,” the child prostitute Holly, is taken off the streets and into in locos parentis custody by Selena’s real sister.

But I’ve also written stories for younger people in which heroes have no feet of clay.  One such story was “With Love, From Superman, a back-up in Action Comics Vol. 1, No. 566 (April, 1985).  In the story, preteen Molly Richards wants Superman’s autograph and dreams that she is Supergirl and Lois Lane – until the real Superman shows up to give her a surprise.

Of course I get that the world has changed drastically even in the short time since Alix was a child. Today’s kids are inundated with 24-hour news and factoids on the television and on the web; even when their parents do their best to shield them, their children will still hear about something at school or at their friends’ houses – it just seeps into the zeitgeist. I get that the parents have to talk to their children about things that are ugly and scary and way too “grown-up” for them…

I just believe that it’s incredibly important to keep “once upon a time,” along with “truth, justice, and the American way,” in the mix, for as long as possible.

There’s plenty of time for the corruption of their values.

 

Box Office Democracy: “Only Lovers Left Alive”

Only Lovers Left Alive is such a waste of a film.  Two hours of nothing happening but Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton looking very attractive and exchanging meaningful glances as they struggle to tolerate the presence of any other characters.  If the main characters can’t seem to care about the people around them or the events happening it’s going to be very hard for me to do it in their stead.  They’re also vampires who do almost zero vampire things, Hiddleston’s Adam moves really fast twice and Swinton’s Eve seems to be able to tell how old a thing is by touching it.  These are not the big moments I expect when I sit down for a movie about vampires.  No one even drinks blood out of a person on camera.  Nosferatu had more action than this movie when it came out 92 years ago.

There’s one of the most flagrant and direct violation of the Chekhov’s gun principle I’ve ever seen.  The whole first section of the movie is devoted to Adam obtaining a wooden bullet, the kind that could kill a vampire, and once he has it that gun never gets fired.  It’s the impetus for a short exchange about how tired Adam is of the actions of humans but that conversation had already happened by that point and is really the entire plot anyway.  The bullet serves to kind of underline his despair but it isn’t good storytelling to show a gun that never gets fired.  I could perhaps forgive it if I was satisfied with the rest of the story, but there was just no satisfaction to be had.

The dialogue is aggressively not clever.  They’re vampires you see so they frequently talk about how old they are.  They talk about all the famous events they were at and how many great things they’ve done.  One of the peripheral vampires wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays.  I expect vampire movies to have enough self-awareness to not feel like they can trot out tropes that were widely mocked in Buffy the Vampire Slayer over a decade ago.

Much like the vampires who inhabit the film Only Lovers Left Alive feels like a movie trapped out of time.  I was struck while watching that the movie reminded me profoundly of movies like Suburbia or Clerks where rather than have a tight plot the movie was more like a loose character study.  If this movie also came out in the mid-90s maybe I would be prepared to feel more generous about it.  As it is, it just feels like an antique.  Also, none of those movies had anything nearly as shiny as vampires to dangle in front of me but never explore.