Captain Marvel - Feminism Done Right

I figured I’d wait until all the hubbub around Captain Marvel died down before I threw my two cents at the matter. I’m only coming at this from a storytelling perspective, since it’s not a Post-Apocalyptic film, but I’ve done enough posts on times when feminism has been done poorly that it felt warranted. While I think Captain Marvel was a good film, the main point here is that it delivered its message in a perfectly palatable, and inoffensive, manner.

I’ve made plenty of posts about shows like Van Helsing, Wynonna Earp and Orange is the New Black, about how they’re posing as vehicles of social change when in reality they’re just riding the wave of popular opinion to make some cash. The first two are female power fantasies, where women are given super natural strength to dominate the world around them, while the later is a character drama where all women are victims and men are ineffective losers at best and tyrannical oppressors at worst. They’re feminism done wrong, because they preach to the already converted. They’re made for people who already hold the views they’re purporting to push, which in turn makes them unpalatable to anyone they’d seek to change the opinion of. Making content for a target audience is fine, we all do it, but these shows are catering to the current populist trend of social justice and victimhood. So while they’re appealing to certain peoples sensibilities, they’re not actually contributing anything to their cause beyond “Muh Representation!” and they’re resorting to shit storytelling to do it.

Solid character writing.

Solid character writing.

So basically, that whole paragraph was to show that I’m not a fanboy, I’m not a soyboy and I’m not an ally or anything of the sort. Chicks are cool, gays are cool, I don’t even care about any of that shit, I just want well crafted stories that are water tight. All this pandering to extremists tends to create characters that are two dimensional Mary Sue’s, and narratives that are contrived and cliched. It’s boggled my fucking brain from the get go, because such hamfisted storytelling doesn’t help anyone, beyond the creators who can make a quick buck off the moronic herd-minded tribalism that’s so popular these days. I put that last paragraph there to show that I’m not the sort of person who’ill just blindly swallow a cheesy moralizing feminist flick, and that I’ve written enough about such flicks that the following endorsement should carry some weight.

Captain Marvel was actually pretty good, and there wasn’t anything in the film that had me rolling me eyes or wanting to leave. There’s been a lot of negative press and controversy around the film, primarily surrounding the lead actress Brie Larson and her outspoken views on straight white men… but I don’t care about any of that external stuff. Chris Evans says some pretty on-the-nose stuff that’s in a similar vein, and while I haven’t seen any of the Captain America films, I do enjoy his work in the Avengers films. People are allowed to do and say some stupid shit and it doesn’t have to seep into the film, Tom Cruise is a bit of a dick but I watched him in Oblivion and thought “god damn, that man can act!”

He literally paused to eye-fuck the camera…

He literally paused to eye-fuck the camera…

I’ll admit that I agreed with people’s initial assessment from the trailers, Brie Larson did look bored. But as someone with Blunted Affect, I get how fucking irritating it is when you’re told to smile all the time. In the movie though she’s actually quite emotive, so maybe the trailers just focused on the scenes where it’s more serious. There’s a decent amount of humor in the story too, and I found myself laughing with my friends. (Yes, I have friends IRL.) There were several well written female characters, with strengths and flaws, but there were also multiple well written male characters who weren’t nerfed into cuckoldom just to make Captain Marvel look good. This is something that other aspiring feminist films could learn from - making your male characters weak doesn’t make the female lead look stronger, it' just makes her surrounded by a bunch of ineffectual losers and undercuts any achievements she might accomplish. What’s more impressive, a woman playing Rugby against the All Blacks and winning, or a woman competing against the Under-7’s Special Needs division and winning?

Jude Law’s character was well written, and interesting. I honestly hope to see more of him.

Jude Law’s character was well written, and interesting. I honestly hope to see more of him.

I know there’s one scene where her friend says something along the lines of “Let’s go show these boys how it’s done!” But you’ve got to ask yourself, what else was she going to say? They were the only two female pilots, they were surrounded by men “Let’s go show our coworkers how it’s done!” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Also, as a guy who works with just one other male, at a certain point you do start spending a lot of time with that person simply based on their gender. Along with this, there’s this montage where there’s a bunch of men in her life telling her that she can’t do things because she’s a girl. Her dad freaks out because was in a go-kart crash, which is understandable, and her fellow trainees in boot camp are heckling her. I never got to join the military, but it’s a pretty dude-centric institution… and the film is set in the 90’s, so again - what else where her fellow cadets going to say?

She starts wailing on an Skrull that’s posing as an old woman on the train, and the other commuters jumped onto her - that was a nice bit of storytelling there.

She starts wailing on an Skrull that’s posing as an old woman on the train, and the other commuters jumped onto her - that was a nice bit of storytelling there.

But none of it really seemed on the nose or forced, none of it rubbed me the wrong way - it was all just adversity that she’d had to overcome to reach that point in her career. And it worked too, because they had to show that she was pretty formidable before she got her powers, not just someone who went from zero to hero - like Shazam. The cat seemed a bit weird, but they managed to tie it into the humor of the film. Honestly, the only part of the film that sort of jarred me was the reveal about the Skrulls. I read the Secret Invasion comic arc when it came out a few years back, and I don’t know how this is going to mesh with that. They sort of seem at odds with one another, but maybe Marvel don’t plan to explore that story line in which case it’s not even an issue.

So yeah, despite what people may have assumed - I went and saw Captain Marvel and I actually enjoyed it. I think most of the hate for this film has been spurred on by the lead actress’ comments, combined with people just wanting to hate it because it’s got a female lead. But just like Den of Thieves needs to be recognized for it’s accurate exploration of Toxic Masculinity, Captain Marvel needs to be accepted for doing a female lead in an action film the right way. Captain Marvel is strong and capable in her own right and she doesn’t drag men down to build herself up - that’s all I’ve ever wanted. If we can’t even acknowledge when honest and earnest attempts to bridge the gap from the other side are being made, then we’re never going to get anywhere.

I’m pretty stoked to see how they’ll include her in Avengers Endgame, since she’s on the same level as Thor and Hulk in terms of power. I get the concerns about having such a powerful late-game addition to the roster seeming like a deus ex machina moment, but she seems to be on par with characters that’re already present. I’m hoping at best she’ll be just enough to tip the scales in their favor, rather than have her win the day outright. An addition of someone like Wolverine isn’t going to do shit against Thanos, but someone like Captain Marvel most certainly will. Along with this, we’ve already got two super powered dudes, so why not mix it up and make the third a chick? I’ll admit that it can go sideways in a lot of ways, but after the masterful stroke that Marvel pulled with Black Panther (wherein it was basically Trump vs Hitler) I’m pretty hopeful of what they’ll do with Avengers Endgame.

They’ve been building up to this for over a decade, they can do almost anything with it… the only thing they’re certainly not going to do is fuck it up.

Pretty keen to see how it all ends!

Pretty keen to see how it all ends!

Van Helsing - Really That Bad

So, I sat down and watched season 3 of Van Helsing and despite what I said in my last blog post on the subject - it’s doubled down on the man-hating social justice rhetoric and become a clusterfuck of a show. Along with the ridiculous propaganda it’s peddling, the storytelling of the show has devolved into absolute absurdity. It’s not trying to appeal to a broad audience anymore, it’s not even pretending to appeal to a wider audience, it’s purely a radical feminist girl-power romp through the post apocalypse.

Vanessa Van Helsing is a fucking joke of a protagonist - she snarls and stomps her way through this season. I guess they’re trying to show her devolution into a vampire-like being, but she’s just an absolute arsehole. As an example - Axel, the marine with multiple tours of combat duty before the vampire outbreak, is trying to enter a building with some form of tactical awareness, but Vanessa just gives him the finger and waltzes inside. I get that they’re trying to portray her as an experienced combatant who is also superhuman, but this “badassery” would be described as “toxic masculinity” if it were in a male character. She literally kills an innocent man, just to drink his blood, and then forgives herself in the next episode and it’s never brought up again. She even admits that she killed a guy in the first season despite knowing he wasn’t the murderer in their group, simply because she wanted too. To put it as bluntly - she’s just a cunt of a human being.

It’s just this all season - a snarl and this weird cowboy stance.

It’s just this all season - a snarl and this weird cowboy stance.

And the show has totally reverted to it’s original anti-male narrative, where if something bad is happening then it’s typically a man’s fault. A male nurse hits on a side character, who rebuffs him because she’s a lesbian, and he ends up attacking her in a psychotic rage. Both those things already happened in the first episode of season one, but they decided to reuse it for some bizarre reason? If the leader of a group is male then they tend to be evil, or they’re gay and get killed, or they’re female. It’s a female prisoner, who is chained to a really weak and effeminate male, who stages a riot on a prison bus which allows everyone to break free. Axel finds his long lost sister, just like Vanessa found her long lost sister… just like Mohammad found his long lost sister… and it turns out she was kidnapped and used as a sex slave by some guy who ends up having memory loss.

She was alive the whole time, trapped in the basement of the guy he worked for as a kid… and she survived the apocalypse and somehow managed to learn how to use a gun?

She was alive the whole time, trapped in the basement of the guy he worked for as a kid… and she survived the apocalypse and somehow managed to learn how to use a gun?

And the worst example, the one that nearly had me evacuating my bowels out of sheer outrage, was the castration. There’s this twitchy vampire that’s been awkwardly convulsing his way through the series and in this season he’s decided that he wants to join this sisterhood of badass vampires… and they decide to let him join, but only if he has his nuts taken off. As ridiculous as that is, the worst part is that he actually fucking begs them for it…

“Yes, do it. Make me like you. Make me a sister.”

Sorry to break it to you, but having your nuts taken off doesn’t make you a woman - it just makes you a shitty male. And not only does he have his nuts chopped off to join an all-female order of vampires, they go ahead a lop off the sacks of a whole bunch of other male vampires they force to join their ranks. They’re fucking undead, they don’t even procreate. I guess there’s the symbolic gesture of it, but what’s the point of the castration in terms of the story beyond some appeal to a batshit insane form of feminist extremism? How about I write a story about women being forced to get hysterectomies in order to join a gang… let’s see how long I survive after writing that.

This dude is just pathetic, that’s all there is to it.

This dude is just pathetic, that’s all there is to it.

Beyond this inane pandering to an ideology of victimhood, the storytelling itself has completely gone to shit. All the main cast of characters are either immortal or immune to the vampire plague, even though there’s multiple strains of it now. Someone is even healed from near death by being bitten by a vampire, despite also being immune to the virus. The vampires can’t figure out if they’re burning in the sunlight or if the clouds provide enough cover for them to walk around without protection… but it doesn’t even matter anymore because there are “Daywalkers” now. And no, despite making a joke about the shows similarities to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they couldn’t even give a nod to the fact that they stole the term from Blade. I guess Buffy gets a nod because that had a chick lead, but since Blade was a dude then he can get fucked.

Blade - the one and only Daywalker.

Blade - the one and only Daywalker.

The secret organisation Blak Tek also plays a bigger role in this season but they’re just as stupid and just as mustache-twistingly evil. They’ve set up a safe zone in Denver but it’s all about experiments on unwilling human test subjects and forced labor in prison camps. There’s a bunch of elder vampires who are two dimensional and a prophecy being told by some literal hag who just appeared this season, and it all ends with an ascended Sam standing off against Vanessa and her newly resurrected Van Helsing ancestor. And you just know that the fight isn’t going to happen at the start of season 4 because it’ll be forestalled somehow and dragged out for the entire bloody season.

She lost her sister and gained a great great grandmother… it all balances out.

She lost her sister and gained a great great grandmother… it all balances out.

Van Helsing at least appeared to be correcting it’s course by the end of season 2, but it totally reverted in season 3. It’s shit storytelling combined with a failed attempt to pander to ideologues that’s created this absolute abortion of a show. Vanessa Van Helsing isn’t a strong female character, she’s a shitty male character being played by a woman. There’s still a few half decent characters in this show, but they’re few and far between… it’s like wading through an ocean of shit to find a dime or two.

These are probably the only decent characters in the show, base level humans (or thereabouts) who have real problems and character growth.

These are probably the only decent characters in the show, base level humans (or thereabouts) who have real problems and character growth.

I’m sure I’ll see season 4 at some point, because it got renewed for some reason, simply for closure more than any interest in seeing where the story goes. It’s clearly not written for people like me, it’s a show that preaches to the already converted under the guise of trying to illicit social change… and it can’t even tell a half decent story. But for some bizarre reason these Van Helsing posts are some of my most popular content - which both perplexes and irritates me to no end. Gotta give the readers what they want though, even if it’s a crazed rant about a lame-ass show. I’m just glad I haven’t had to pay to watch this tripe…

How I felt going into each new episode…

How I felt going into each new episode…

The Ultimate Career Goal

So I’m sitting here thinking about all the different apocalypses that I want to bring upon fictional versions of Earth, or some other human-inhabited planet, and I got to thinking about my long term career goals. What do I actually want to do in terms of being an author, especially one that focuses so heavily on the post-apocalyptic genre?

Well, I wrote a writing guide for the genre (which can be found here), so that’s one milestone already done. But something else I can do, is put my time/money/sanity where my mouth (or fingers?) are and actually write a story for each and every post-apocalyptic scenario that I listed in the guide. That’s a grand total of 36 different possible scenarios to work with. Now, planning to write 36 books is a hell of a lot easier than actually writing 36 books, but as the saying goes - anything worth doing is going to be bloody hard work.

Or maybe that was just my old man’s version of it?

Anyway, as I’ve said before in various locations - you rarely get just one single type of post-apocalyptic scenario at a time, there’s a cascading effect that tends to ripple through the system. For instance, you’re always going to get an Economic Collapse and Social Decay scenarios when you end the world… that’s just a natural byproduct of everything going to shit. Now, I can try to tap into this and use those ripples to get ticks in multiple boxes from a single story, but that’s not really what I’m going for.

With that in mind, although it’d certainly be easier, I’m looking at the long term achievement of having a story written in every single scenario. By the time I’m done, I’m hoping to have a catalog of post-apocalyptic stories that cover every possible scenario imaginable. I don’t want to write EMP or Zombie Apocalypse stories over and over - I want what variety I can get while also staying within the genre.

And to be honest, each of those 36 scenarios has some serious fucking wiggle room. That’s a lot of different ways for the world to end, and I’m confident that I can bring something unique to each and every scenario there is. As always, the only real issue is time. It’s not gonna happen overnight, but it will happen.

Just pray I don’t run out of steam and fall back on parody…

Just pray I don’t run out of steam and fall back on parody…

Why a House Can't Always be a Home After the Apocalypse

You see it in Post-Apocalyptic stories all the time, people living in anything and everything except houses after the world has ended. It’s not just for shits and giggles, though the reasons are not always readily apparent either. Why would people choose to live in a baseball stadium, a hotel, an office building, subway stations, military bases, shopping malls, prisons, casinos or a dam? Why not just live in a house like a normal person?

Well, the answer is because Post-Apocalyptic times aren’t normal, and neither are the people who live in them… and they certainly don’t have the same needs that we do in a pre-apocalyptic world.

Plenty of fresh water, possibility of power, easy to defend - what’s not to love?

Plenty of fresh water, possibility of power, easy to defend - what’s not to love?

The thing with Post-Apocalyptic times is that there’s generally something out there that wants to kill you. If it’s not radiation, zombies or mutants then it’s other people. For that reason, a simple house just won’t cut it as a base of operations. You need something that you can easily defend and most modern houses aren’t built to protect you against determined assailants, let alone radiation. Windows are a massive weak point, and even a dead-bolted door isn’t going to save you. And this is all assuming the house is still relatively new as well, add a few years before the apocalypse, let alone after, and you’ve got a seriously insufficient structure on your hands.

It’s remote… but one Molotov and your tiny shack is up in smoke!

It’s remote… but one Molotov and your tiny shack is up in smoke!

Next, you’ve got resources to consider. Chances are that running water is going to be a serious concern for your survivors… primarily because they’d like to continue being survivors. Most modern houses, oftentimes whole towns or sometimes even cities, aren’t build close to fresh water. With our modern water network, people can live in the middle of a desert and still have fresh, clean water at the turn of a tap. That kind of luxury generally dries up once the apocalypse kicks in. Once the taps stop working and all the bottled water runs out, you discover why towns were historically founded on river banks.

High walls, almost impossible to break into, the potential for mass amounts of fuel or other supplies. This works.

High walls, almost impossible to break into, the potential for mass amounts of fuel or other supplies. This works.

Now, it’s entirely possible that you live in a remote town with a river running through it - the zombies don’t know where you are and you’ve still got a reliable source of fresh drinking water. Good for you, you get to keep living in your home. Maybe you can shore up your defenses; board the windows and make some kind of wall… but whatever is out there will likely get through eventually. Why not just move into the local super market? It’s a lot closer to the river, it’s packed full of food and it’s a massive building made from steel and concrete. Besides not having that “homey” feel to it, it’s got everything you’ll ever need.

Busted in windows, having to climb up and down stairs every day to get water… not ideal.

Busted in windows, having to climb up and down stairs every day to get water… not ideal.

There’re a lot of things to consider when choosing where to live after the world ends; space, resources, defenses. You’ve got to weight each of these things against the others, because each site will have it’s own pro’s and con’s, and their viability will depend on what sort of apocalypse you went through. What’s good in a Zombie Apocalypse won’t be as effective in a Nuclear War scenario, and vice-versa.

You’ve just got to find the best place you can, then settle in. The primary paradoxical problem is that the better the location is, the more likely it is to be a target for other survivors. Which is just another factor to take into account when choosing your Post-Apocalyptic housing.

The Bastard's Curse

On the first of September last year, I did a Twitter poll, asking people to help me come up with a random plot. As with any kind of crowd sourcing, it turned into an absolute clusterfuck and spiraled out of control. And so here we are… 166 days later… and the project is finally being released.

It took way longer than expected, but there was a fair amount of real world drama and the core idea changed a fair few times… but it’s done.

Professional Criminal + Environmental Collapse + Social Decay + Forces from Outer Reality + Paranormal =   The Bastard’s Curse  .

Professional Criminal + Environmental Collapse + Social Decay + Forces from Outer Reality + Paranormal = The Bastard’s Curse.

Writing in the 3rd person was actually a pretty big challenge for me, it took an interview with the main-man Evan C. to figure it out - but I usually write in the first person because I have a background in oral storytelling. So yeah, 3rd person was difficult, but I’m happy to report that feedback has been good and I’m content with sending this out to the public… for free.

Well, kinda free? I’ll give it to you, for free, if you sign up to my email list… yeah, that’s what’s happening here.

If general opinion of the story warrants it, then I’ll be happy to write other short stories in this world. It actually turned out to be a pretty unique setting, and I’d like to explore it further. Combining Lovecraftian Horror with the post-apocalyptic genre came with some interesting challenges.

Feel free to rip the shit out of it, as always I’m always more interested in getting better than having my ego stroked. This is a slight step outside my wheelhouse, so I’m more than willing to take on some creative criticism in order to get better at it. Whether you love it or hate it, let me know what you think!

Anyway, without further rambling - if you’d like to collect your free copy of The Bastard’s Curse, then just click here!

Let me know if there’re any drama’s with the links… I’m no good with this high tech wizardry.

It’s scary, how much I relate to this character…

It’s scary, how much I relate to this character…


"That Would Never Happen"

When it comes to Post-Apocalyptic stories, the nay-sayers are pretty quick to point out how unrealistic a scenario is. There’s always some factor or instance that, they think, would undercut the apocalypse and forestall subsequent doom. The problem with this view is that the Post-Apocalyptic genre isn’t stories of the world almost ending, it’s blatantly about scenarios where the world hasn’t ended.

It’s far more likely that the world doesn’t end in some apocalyptic event, that’s a given. If we woke up every day and had to deal with the dread of some random apocalypse transpiring, we’d never get anything done. We wouldn’t have even moved out of our caves, why would we have bothered? The point is that 99.9999% of the time the world will not end, but Post-Apocalyptic stories are about that “perfect storm” scenario where it does. The catastrophic clusterfuck of an apocalypse is found in the insanely infinitesimal.

Your characters can also have absurd ways of surviving the apocalypse. Why not just sleep through the end of the world? ( The Walking Dead  stole this intro from  28 Days Later , not the other way around…)

Your characters can also have absurd ways of surviving the apocalypse. Why not just sleep through the end of the world? (The Walking Dead stole this intro from 28 Days Later, not the other way around…)

Nobody cares about an averted zombie apocalypse. One guy gets turned undead in a lab experiment, breaks free and then infects the scientist, the zombies run rampant through the top secret military complex but they’re eventually taken out by special forces, or a nuke… it doesn’t matter. A recently killed woman rises from her grave and hunts down her murderer, but a local deputy sees her shambling corpse and blows her head off then drags her back to her grave and buries her again. The Post-Apocalyptic genre isn’t about how the world is almost destroyed, they’re your simple Action/Thriller/Drama/Horror stories. The Post-Apocalyptic genre is about the cascading failure that does, despite all odds, result in absolute destruction for humanity.

Sure, there’s enough security around highly virulent diseases that the chances of one of them breaking free and causing a pandemic are slim, but this is about the time that the precautions in place juuuust weren’t enough. There’s a crash while the vials are in transport, the vehicle’s containment cases weren’t locked properly, the virus gets out. A fire causes a black out and the old generators fail to kick in, all the doors unlock due to the fire, the virus gets out. A scientist caught his brother sleeping with his wife, he goes to work and thinks “fuck the world” and… the virus gets out.

Or maybe a group of misguided eco-terrorists frees some monkeys that are clearly fucking psychotic? As in  28 Days Later .

Or maybe a group of misguided eco-terrorists frees some monkeys that are clearly fucking psychotic? As in 28 Days Later.

A lot of small things need to happen for an entire world to collapse, and total ruin could potentially be averted if any of them fail to happen. Go Google those times that the world was nearly drowned in nuclear hellfire because of a flock of birds, or because of some sunlight refracting off of clouds. As difficult as it is for an apocalypse to eventuate, in spite of all the precautions, it’s often in the cracks of absurdity that it slips through.

It’s not about how unrealistic the scenario is, as long as the author has put in the work to make it as realistic as possible, then it’s as realistic as it needs to be. If you’re working on a Post-Apocalyptic story, don’t think of it as destroying a functioning world but instead think of it as creating a destroyed world. Think of how it could happen, don’t get bogged down in all the ways it couldn’t. Sometimes simple bad luck can ruin your life, and it can do the same to the world.

You try to do the right thing, but save the wrong kid - suddenly the virus spreads to a whole new continent… and the whole world is fucked.

You try to do the right thing, but save the wrong kid - suddenly the virus spreads to a whole new continent… and the whole world is fucked.

Berserk and the MCU

I watched Avengers Infinity War last August and then wrote this post but totally forgot about it. There’re trailers for Endgame coming out now and it reminded me to actually finish what I started, so here we go. I actually enjoyed Infinity War, I thought it had a great story and it balanced it’s massive cast of characters really well. The ending had the sort of somber gut punch that I've only found in one other series, Berserk. I know a anime from the early 2000's doesn't seem like it would have a lot in common with the latest Marvel Comic Universe film, but just bare with me and I'll bring it home. 

I'm not shy about the fact that I've moved away from comic book movies over the past few years. It's not just the fact that I was a massive comic nerd in my younger days, and the shift of nerdy interests becoming mainstream irked me to no end. My interests becoming popular doesn't make up for the thousands spent on therapy bills from the days when they weren't popular. No, it's also because I’ve just become burnt out on comic movies. Hugh Jackman was Wolverine for seventeen years! That's a long time to be invested in a character... and for a while it looked like there would be no pay off to that investment. 

We first met Wolverine on the big screen in the year 2000. To put that in perspective, the Twin Towers were still standing when Hugh Jackman first popped his claws. I remember that they actually had to change the first Spider-Man movie because originally he'd caught some criminals in a web between the towers and they'd just been destroyed in real life. That's how long ago these films started appearing, they’re older than the War on Terror. It took them seventeen years, but Wolverine finally died in 2017 in one of the best Marvel films to date. 

Time defiantly took it’s toll…

Time defiantly took it’s toll…

I haven't seen any Captain America films, I never saw Doctor Strange, I haven't seen any of the TV series and the only Thor movie I've seen is Thor Ragnarok. I have watched the Avengers films though, because that's where it all seems to be coming together. The first Avengers film came out in 2012, and if you want to get technical then the first film about an Avenger came out in 2008 with Iron Man. That's 10 years from Iron Man to Avengers Infinity War, which is one hell of an investment in these characters. 

Avengers Infinity Wars was already great, but when Thanos snapped his fingers at the end it went into overdrive. All the characters we'd invested in over the years; Bucky, Black Panther, Groot, Scarlet Witch, Drax, Quill, Spider-Man... they all disintegrated. And their deaths were indicative of what was going on not only all across earth, but all across the universe. Half of the universe's population was disintegrated in an instant, and we experienced that through the loss of these named characters we've invested so much in. 

It’s always interesting seeing how characters act when they mix with characters from different series - how do all the different dynamics work out?

It’s always interesting seeing how characters act when they mix with characters from different series - how do all the different dynamics work out?

I've only passably been paying attention to these movies for a while now. I’d go to the cinema if someone else wanted to, but otherwise I just watched them on the small screen. Even with my own half level of interest, the death of all these characters was executed in such a supreme fashion that it still left me stunned. Black Panther disintegrating as he goes to help Okoye. Rocket staggering over to Groot as he dies, again. Stark futilely asking quill to stay as he's already vanishing, and then having to watch Peter Parker, who had basically become his surrogate son by this point, fall apart in his arms. And finally, Captain America gasping "oh, god" as he realizes the greater implications of their failure to stop Thanos. 

It was fantastic, and it's got me hooked for Endgame later this year. My only issue is that I know that all these characters will come back by the end of that film. Comic creators have this issue with not letting their creations stay dead; death is more of a break than a true end for comic book characters. That's my issue with all of this, this fantastically impactful end to Infinity War is going to be undercut and undone by the next movie. On its own, Infinity War is a great story about failure and its costs, but as part of a series it doesn't even matter. If all these characters are going to be brought back, why not bring back Gamora, Loki, Odin, Quicksilver, Killmonger, Wolverine, Heimdall, Peter Parkers parents... the list goes on. If you can bring back some, why not others?

It reminds me of the artificial hype-train around Negan; it’s the real world delay between the end of one movie and the start of the next that creates the tension. But when you watch them back to back, you realize that it’s instantly resolved. How many modern films/shows rely on false hype to carry their stories?

It reminds me of the artificial hype-train around Negan; it’s the real world delay between the end of one movie and the start of the next that creates the tension. But when you watch them back to back, you realize that it’s instantly resolved. How many modern films/shows rely on false hype to carry their stories?

So, Avengers Infinity War did it pretty damn well, but it's going to be undone later on. A series that got it right, however, is Berserk. I started watching this anime back in 2003, where the six DVD's were released in Australia a month apart. I loved the first few episodes so much that I actually watched everything I had all over again in the week leading up to the release of the next DVD. So by the time the final DVD came out, I'd seen the first four episodes six times, the second four episodes five times, the third four episodes four times... and so on. 

Berserk - hunt down the  original  anime series.

Berserk - hunt down the original anime series.

Needless to say, that at the end of the six months, I was fairly invested in these characters. And I don't want to go into too much detail here, because this is going to get it's own blog post at some point... but in the last episode someone pulls a dick-move and pretty much everyone else is killed in a single, horrific event. I literally sat there on floor in front of the television, mouth agape, just staring as the credits began to roll. It was the craziest thing I had ever seen. If all stories are an effort to get you to feel something, then Berserk was a prime example of a successful story. It got you invested in all these main characters and side characters... then in one fell swoop they're slaughtered in the most brutal of fashions. And then it ended. The world continued, obviously, but that was the end of the series.

Such a dick…

Such a dick…

A key component of this is that it didn't feel contrived or forced. Marvel got this right with Infinity War too - as much as it was a horrifying ending, it was still a satisfying end to the story. It hurts but it still makes sense because it feels like the natural progression of the characters involved. In both Infinity War and Berserk, it feels like the mass slaughter at the end is the only place that it could have ended up. You can look back at the story in hindsight and realize that it was never going to end anywhere else, all the choices and all the mistakes were leading up to that single event.

I'm not even sure I want to see Endgame, simply because of the fantastic end of Infinity War that it’s going to undo. But I know that it's getting made and I know I'll probably just happen to see it eventually. In closing though, if you’re looking for a great series to sink your teeth into then check out Berserk. I’ll do a write up of it later on, at some point.

Casualties of the Apocalypse

As much as stories are about stepping into the role of the characters to experience a different life, to instigate some thought into how you’d behave in similar situations, when it comes to Post Apocalyptic stories it’s paradoxically not about you. Because when the world ends, you die. There’s been countless claims that Post Apocalyptic stories are about wish fulfillment, about resetting the world to a “better time” where the “right people” are able to “rightfully take their place”. But the thing is, in a Post Apocalyptic story it’s usually the case that more than 95% of the world’s population has been wiped out. What’re the chances that you’re one of the five or less out of a hundred that survived?* The story isn’t about you, it’s about the people that survived in a world where you didn’t.

*That was a rhetorical question, I know basic math… (also,  The Day  was a terrible movie)

*That was a rhetorical question, I know basic math… (also, The Day was a terrible movie)

I understand how hypocritical it seems for a guy to write this when he’s also written a Post Apocalyptic novel about a fictional version of himself who survived the end of the world… but that actually gets directly addressed in the sequel. So try not to freak out about that apparent discrepancy too much. Also, despite how esoteric this will get, I promise that I’ll try my best to bring it home.

There’s no shortage of people who are so down and out on their lives that they actually hope for some sort of apocalyptic event to happen. They’re so at odds with modern society that they think the end of the world would give them a greater chance of success than just delving into the realm of self improvement. In this way, I can totally understand how Post Apocalyptic fiction could be seen as wish fulfillment. “Screw actually trying to succeed, just burn the whole thing down and let me survive by luck - then, when I’m the best by default, everyone will finally see how truly great I am!”

Yeah, no…

While a zero who survives the end of the world suddenly being forced to step up and make something of themselves can make for an interesting story, it has the potential to enable zeroes to stay as they are. That’s when Post Apocalyptic fiction becomes wish fulfillment. Why try to evolve and improve when you can just sit and hope for the apocalypse? I dunno, maybe because it’s better to be an active participant in your own life, rather than a passive one? Go out and do shit, rather than waiting for shit to happen to you.

Ah, there we go - that’s the link that’ll let me bring all this together.

Zombieland  actually did a decent job of portraying a pre-apocalypse loser stepping up to make something of himself in the zombie apocalypse.

Zombieland actually did a decent job of portraying a pre-apocalypse loser stepping up to make something of himself in the zombie apocalypse.

Season one of The Walking Dead starts off in the ruins of Atlanta, and the show generally sticks to Georgia and Virginia. Jericho is primarily based in the fictional town of Jericho in the state of Kansas. Fear the Walking Dead starts off in California, then they travel down south. Jeremiah is mostly set in Colorado. The Mad Max series is set in the ruins of Australia. The Road takes us through unnamed states in the United States. The Last Ship takes its survivors all around the world.

I know this was a weird list of Post Apocalyptic stories and their settings to rattle off, but there was a point. Unless you’re actually from one of these locations when you watched the show, it probably never clicked that you’re dead in that universe. You’re not Daryl Dixon, Vanessa Van Helsing, or Jake Green. You’re not special. You’re not the hero. You didn’t survive by luck, and you didn’t hide out in some bunker. You just died. You’re one of the innumerable dead digits that shows just how bad the situation is for the characters, that’s it.

Not one of these strangely stylish individuals is you.

Not one of these strangely stylish individuals is you.

Most stories are presumed to occur in the real world, or at least a parallel universe where everything is the same except for the fact that the story is happening. Now, this doesn’t matter that much for most stories because you can watch the show and just assume that a fictional version of you is out there, somewhere, in fiction land. You’re actually in all the CSI’s and Law & Order’s, you were also in Breaking Bad and True Detective, you were just in the far background and never seen. Now, by little more than random luck you might be able to presume you’ve died in said world if your home or place of business is destroyed, but usually your fictional self is fine and dandy and doing what you’re doing. That’s not so much the case with Post Apocalyptic stories.

When the world ends, especially when the story is set within your area, you can safely assume that your fictional self has been killed off. The death-toll of an apocalypse is so bad that they don’t even try to name the dead, they just number them. You become a digit in a statistic. Unless you see a fictional representation of yourself walking through the background of a scene, your fictional self is pretty much a goner. So much like with science fiction stories set in the far future, even when a Post Apocalyptic story is set in the modern day, it’s safe to assume that while you were once alive you’re now dead. Except, instead of it being the usual passage of time that killed you off, it’s the events of the actual story that did it.

You are technically part of these Post Apocalyptic stories, it’s just that you’re not front and center.

You are technically part of these Post Apocalyptic stories, it’s just that you’re not front and center.

As much as you’re reading/watching a story about people struggling to survive in a harsh world, you’re also reading/watching a story about a world in which you didn’t make it. You can identify, and connect, with the characters on screen, but you’re one of the billions that got bitten and turned into a zombie, got vaporized by nuclear hellfire, froze in their beds when the weather changed or were torn apart by demons.

Post Apocalyptic stories are an exploration of the world without you; and just like you can’t alter the events of a story, you also can’t alter the events of the real world after you’ve died. You can watch from some version of Heaven, or Hell, or as a lingering ghost who’s tied to your place of death, or simply as a soulless and rotting corpse... but you can’t influence things. The world ends when you die, for you, but it keep spinning for those that remain.

I think this is a key aspect of Post Apocalyptic fiction, and one that separates it from Prepper fiction. While both genres deal with characters who typically survive the end of the world by luck, Prepper fiction tends focus on improving the characters chances of survival via preparation. In this way, it’s got more in common with the “wish fulfillment” type of Post Apocalyptic story. Both have a massive extinction event for humanity, but while Prepper fiction is trying to convince and/or inform the readers, Post Apocalyptic fiction is simply an exploration. Prepper fiction tells its readers “this could be you, but only if you prepare.” While Post Apocalyptic fiction says “fuck you, you’re dead. This is what those who aren’t are doing.”

You’re not even this guy in most scenarios. Don’t wish for this.

You’re not even this guy in most scenarios. Don’t wish for this.

Again, I have to admit that Maralinga Marquardt is based on me… but he’s just different enough from me to be a different person. I know what he’s doing in January of 2019, and it’s certainly not writing a blog post through an earthquake in Taiwan. With that in mind, I’ve no problem if there’s also a more accurate version of myself in the story. I know exactly where he was and what he was doing when the world ended on March 25th, 2011 - and I can tell you, the truer fictional version of myself wouldn’t have cared if he’d died that day.

As bleak as people think Post Apocalyptic fiction is, it can be viewed as a motivational (if not a positive) force. The sad, unifying, fact of the matter is that we’re all going to die. Even if you do survive the apocalypse, by preparation or sheer luck, you’ll eventually die anyway. And while Post Apocalyptic stories very rarely deal specifically with your death, as they’ve got to be applicable to everyone, they can serve as a reminder that our window of opportunity to influence the world is limited. You can’t change the events of a story, and you can’t change the events of the world after you’re gone. How you choose to view this fact is up to you. Does it break you and leave you in apathetic stagnation, or does it inspire you to make the most of this fleeting existence?

You’re gonna die, eventually, whether the world ends or not. So go out and do some shit, rather than waiting for shit to happen to you.

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A Growing Problem in Storytelling

Ask any fighter; experience trumps strength, but experience and strength trumps all. This may seem like a strange way to start a piece about writing stories, but as per usual I will do my best to bring it home.

Spoiler(ish) warning for The Last of Us and the Fallout series.

Monsters, mutants, aliens or whatever horrific enemies your protagonists will carve their way through as your story progresses, individually they tend to be pretty static in their abilities. You may get different varieties of said enemies, but typically they’re separate from one another while also working together. You can have the physically weak but fast and numerous ones, they’re good cannon fodder for your characters to mow down. You can have the run of the mill grunts or drones, they’re basically comparable in ability to your protagonists and often make great opponents for them. Finally, there’s the big guys, the lumbering giants that tend to increase the likelihood of character death the second they step on scene. Each of these enemy types has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you can use them to your advantage when trying to tell a compelling story. One type on their own is a predictable affair, two different types requires some thinking and encountering all three becomes a tactical nightmare.

The Locust Horde from  Gears of War  is a great example ,  it’s comprised of lots of different creatures all working together… to exterminate humanity.

The Locust Horde from Gears of War is a great example, it’s comprised of lots of different creatures all working together… to exterminate humanity.

The key issue here is that while they’re typically united in a cause, doing whatever your characters don’t want them to do, these forces are typically comprised of disparate creatures. It’s the Vampire Lord’s undead horde, the Space Pontiff’s interstellar legion or the Orc King’s goblinoid swarm, it’s different creatures working together. If gives your antagonists some variety and keeps things interesting for the audience. This isn’t always the only way to create an antagonistic force, however.

Sometimes, enemies will start as the small and weak creature, then as time progresses they will morph into the typical grunt and then after a long while they will eventually transform into the lumbering brute. It’s a great way to show that the force your characters are facing is a truly homogeneous group, despite their appearances suggesting otherwise. Instead of being a menagerie of strange and horrific creatures that are working together for some random reason, they’re all the same and working together for that exact reason.

While having a unified force, comprised of different sub-categories of creatures that evolve into one another over time, does come with its narrative advantages, it also creates a serious problem. If time is the only deciding factor, then it’s inevitable that your characters are eventually going to have a literally big fucking problem on their hands. To showcase this point, we’re going to be looking at two series - The Last of Us and Fallout.

They’re armored and have ranged attacks, these guys are a real threat.

They’re armored and have ranged attacks, these guys are a real threat.

In The Last of Us, humanity basically gets wiped out by fungal zombies. When a person becomes infected, they start out as a Runner, then after about a month they become a Stalker. After about a year of being a Stalker, they become a Clicker. Then, roughly ten to fifteen years after infection they become a monstrous Bloater. Their abilities change somewhat as they evolve, becoming less human as they change, but the basic idea is that they become more difficult to deal with the longer they’re infected.

You think they could’ve fixed the stupidly sized fire hydrants between  Fallout 3  and  Fallout 4…

You think they could’ve fixed the stupidly sized fire hydrants between Fallout 3 and Fallout 4…

In the Fallout series, most notably Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76, East Coast Super Mutants continue to grow as they age. The FEV mutagen that turned them into Super Mutants continues to change their physiology and while they’re already stupid brutes, eventually it turns them into lumbering Behemoths that are of gargantuan proportions. This worked in Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, because they’re set over two centuries after the world ended and Super Mutants were being created for roughly that length of time - two centuries to turn into a Behemoth isn’t that big of a deal. Fallout 76 changed this, however, because it’s set only 25 years after the nuclear apocalypse and there are Behemoths running around. This latest addition of the Fallout series puts the issue into roughly the same time frame as The Last of Us.

Whether you’re a survivor in The Last of Us or Fallout, you’re logically screwed just by the way in which the creators have crafted the world. Ten to twenty years is all it takes for base enemies to turn into the strongest enemies that’re available, and they don’t even get a say in the matter because it’s a natural process. Every human who is infected in The Last of Us will turn into a Bloater if they survive long enough. In Fallout, every human that’s dipped into FEV will turn into a Behemoth if they survive for long enough. It’s literally only a matter of time in both cases. Since the narratives need these creatures to be the biggest threats in their respective stories, the logical progression of events is that humanities chances of survival continue to plummet the longer the timeline continues. The Last of Us is set 20 years after the world ended, while most of the Fallout series is set centuries after the fact, which is plenty of time in both instances for the vast majority of these creatures to reach their final form.

The thing is, this could actually make your world that much more interesting. Instead of ignoring the rules you write into your own world, you can run with them and create a truly deadly setting that is a serious threat to your characters. In both The Last of Us and Fallout, if things had progressed as they should have, with humanity hiding from their growing problems instead of dealing with them… well, now they’ve got a problem that’s a million times worse. If time is the deciding factor in your enemies strength, then time is the enemy. If simply not dying is all it takes for your enemies to reach ultimate monstrous god mode, something even your protagonist and background characters have managed, then use that to your advantage.

If your zombies or mutants evolve over time, use that to create a story with unique zombies or mutants. If you don’t want your world overrun with final form enemies, then don’t set the story in a time period where that’s the logical conclusion. You’ve still got all the years before that to play with, so go nuts in the safer years. If you want an enemy force that is linked (wherein each creature evolves through each of the different forms) but you don’t want a world that’s inevitably overrun by final forms, then simply don’t make time the deciding factor. Have them get injected with a serum, or have it as some innate biological process that’s triggered when the need arises. However you do it, the golden rule is to keep your world consistent. The less your readers/players/watchers have to question how things work, the deeper they can invest in your world without making excuses for it.

Juvies (the small and fast mobs that swarm) can transform into Drones (the middle ground grunts) in  Gears of War 4 , but that’s as far as the evolution process goes.

Juvies (the small and fast mobs that swarm) can transform into Drones (the middle ground grunts) in Gears of War 4, but that’s as far as the evolution process goes.

This post isn’t about ripping on The Last of Us or the Fallout series, they’re games which means they’ve got more than just narrative issues to contend with. There’re gameplay balance issues as well, which are just as important. The thing is that a simple tweak of the narrative would allow everything to line up perfectly, and then there wouldn’t even be any issues for me to write about. If you’re making a setting, for a book, movie or game, think a little further down the line about where the natural progression of the events you set in motion will logically take things. Who knows, things could actually end up better than you originally expected?

Toxic Masculinity in Den of Thieves

Maaaaassive spoilers for Den of Thieves.

Den of Thieves is a cops and robbers bank-heist film that has be dubbed an inferior version of Heist, the quintessential example of this genre. One of key complaints about Den of Thieves is the amount of raw machismo that’s present, as 99% of the cast look like they’ve walked right out of the WWE. Because of this, a lot of the feedback and reviews of Den of Thieves tend to get lost in all the muscles and gunfire and lose sight of the message the film is actually trying to convey. Despite the apparent muscle-bound bone-headed plot, I’d put forward that there is actually a level of subtly that most people missed or just straight up chose to ignore.

Den of Thieves focuses on three men; Nicholas "Big Nick" O'Brien , a dirty cop who plays by his own rules, and Ray Merrimen, an ex-marine turned bank robber. Both these men are the epitome of Alpha males, they walk into a room and they own it regardless of what’s going on. The third is Donnie Wilson, a shorter, less physically imposing man who works in a bar. While the first two had years in the military or law enforcement and played football, Donnie only had a year and a half in the military, and played soccer. Straight off the bat, this guy is pegged as less masculine than the other two and he’s even told directly that he’s not in the same league as either of them.

“You aren’t the bad guys. We are.”

“You aren’t the bad guys. We are.”

We meet Big Nick when he walks onto a crime scene, clearly hung over, where he pulls a doughnut from the ground before eating half of it and tossing the rest next to the body. Screw procedure, to hell with contaminating the crime scene, Big Nick is a maverick cop who doesn’t give a shit but he gets results, goddamn it! A key part of his character is his attire, you could put him in a biker bar and he would blend right in. The beard, scraggly hair, rings and leather jacket all send the clear message that this is not a man with which you want to fuck.

God-fucking-damn, he’s just so cool…

God-fucking-damn, he’s just so cool…

And then in walks an FBI agent, Lobbin’ Bob, who has been called to the scene of the crime because it involved the theft of an armored car that resulted in the deaths of several police officers. Lobbin’ Bob is smaller, clean shaven with a nice haircut, and he’s wearing a suit. These two know each other and clearly don’t like one another. Lobbin’ Bob is everything that Big Nick is not and the later even makes fun of the former being a vegan. State and Federal law enforcement issues aside, there is a conflict in their different approaches to masculinity.

Big Nick is a man’s man and he likes to stay out all night, drinking and doing drugs with his buddies while banging hookers. We see him slinking home one morning, Everlast’s “What It’s Like” playing in the car, and his wife catches him deleting his call log in the kitchen. He was so drunk or stoned, or both, the night before that he accidentally sent her a text instead of the girl he’d just finished drilling. Needless to say, his wife takes their two daughters and leaves…. but not without mentioning that she’s going to go find a guy that can get his dick hard for her.

Looking at his home life, we can see that he’s surrounded by women which probably contributes to why he’s so married to the job. He probably feels so out of place there that he doesn’t know what to do with himself when he’s around them. Cheating on his wife aside, he is genuinely distraught when he realizes she’s taking their daughters away. On top of this, despite him clearly being able to snap her like a twig, when she begins to lay into him, he just stands there and takes it without hitting back. He may be a piece of shit, but he’s clearly got some principles.

Ray - an ex-marine turned career-criminal… I wonder what happened to him?

Ray - an ex-marine turned career-criminal… I wonder what happened to him?

Ray Merrimen, and a few of his gang of bank robbers, are ex-military. Despite turning to a life of crime, they’ve still kept some of that code of conduct and it’s translated into a sort of honor-among-thieves. While they’re quite content to gun down security personnel and police officers who stand in their way, they chose not to shoot any civilians even if they’re witnesses to the gang’s crimes. They were trained to shoot people in uniforms, not civilians, and so that’s what they do, they repeatedly let innocent bystanders go. Ray is ruthless, but just like Big Nick he’s not without principles.

Just a little chat…

Just a little chat…

While Ray doesn’t have any kids of his own, one of his gang, Levi Enson Levoux, has a wife and two daughters. His eldest daughter is about to go to her prom night, and her date arrives to pick her up. Levi takes the young man into the garage for a chat, where he’s met with half a dozen bodybuilders, Ray included, who could probably pull him apart like a chicken wing. They threaten the young man into treating Levi’s daughter right, and go into great detail about what will happen to him if anything happens to her. The cocky young man who walked through the front door to pick up his date leaves in a decidedly more terrified state.

…with this lot!

…with this lot!

The families of the men, the two who have families that we actually see, being all women is an important part of the film. Because despite these men choosing to surround themselves with other men, in the aspects of their lives where they don’t have any control they’re surrounded by women. As macho as Big Nick and Levi Levoux both are, neither of them have any sons and there will be nobody to carry on their names after they’re gone. As much as these men have tried to rid themselves of anything remotely feminine, they’ve been unable to fully escape it. It’s a hint that no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to live in modern society and escape women… because they’re a key part of it too.

As all this is going on, the robbers are planning to rob the federal reserve bank, while the cops are trying to figure out who they are, what they’re up to and how to stop them. Big Nick ends up nabbing Donnie, who wakes up in a hotel room full of police officers and hookers. They make light of the fact that he pissed himself when Big Nick tasered him and then basically torture him into telling them everything they want to know about Ray’s gang. Donnie tells them that he’s their driver and agrees to be a snitch for them. This tiny, unimposing man has suddenly found himself caught between two beasts who will stop at nothing to succeed.

Big Nick gets served divorce papers from his wife, and he tracks her down and actually confronts her while she’s on a double date with some friends and a new man. This new guy is tiny and timid, more so than any other male in the movie, and you can see that his wife has gone for the complete polar opposite of Big Nick. “Metro” would be the right word to describe the two men on this double date. Needless to say, Big Nick walks into the room and despite the fact that one of them is quite well-built, it’s obvious he’s someone who goes to the gym for fitness and isn’t actually tough. Big Nick threatens everyone, forces the man who’s on a date with his wife to hug him, and then signs the divorce papers and leaves. He’s the toughest guy in the room, everyone knows it, but he still leaves defeated.

This is where some of that aforementioned subtly comes into play. In the very next scene when he’s having a meet-up with Donnie to learn about the gangs plans, he’s in a men’swear store looking at suits. He’s been wearing leather the entire film, he made fun of Lobbin’ Bob for wearing a suit at the start, but right after the scene where he dominates the two men his wife was on a double date with he’s trying on a suit of his own. He’s already figuring out that maybe his approach isn’t the only, let alone best, way to deal with life. He’s lost his wife, he couldn’t scare her into taking him back… so he’s going to explore what the other guys are doing, by trying on a suit.

But there are still criminals who are going to rob a bank, so Big Nick goes and has a pissing contest with them, just to let them know he’s onto them. He meets Ray Merriman at the shooting range and starts showing off with his pistol, but then gets shown up himself because he forgot that Ray was a marine and can shoot at center mass like the trained killer he is. Not willing to give up just yet, Big Nick goes to strip club and picks up Ray’s girlfriend and bangs her… but then that was all part of the plan, because Ray told her to go along with it and to feed him some bad information. Neither men really saw this woman as worth anything, she was just a piece of trash to be used to get to the other. Ray doesn’t even care that Big Nick screwed his girl, he just goes ahead and sleeps with her afterwards as well.

Also, Donnie gets a gun in his face… but more on that later.

Also, Donnie gets a gun in his face… but more on that later.

Big Nick gets to see one of his daughters one last time before the big robbery, and he ends up breaking down in his car afterwards. Along with this, there’s a scene with Big Nick standing alone on a beach at sun rise, or sun set. Either way, it’s a moment of reflection for him. He’s not only got time to think about the battle ahead, but he’s got time to think about how he ended up standing there alone instead of being at home in bed with his wife. Den of Thieves does have lulls in the action like this, ones that hint that there’s more going on beneath the surface.

The day of the robbery arrives, and it’s suitably hectic. Big Nick and his team get fooled by a distraction, thanks to the bad intelligence Big Nick was fed by Ray’s girlfriend, where the gang pretend to rob one bank but quickly sneak away undetected to commit the real robbery elsewhere. Ray and his gang succeed in robbing the federal reserve bank, a historical first, but quickly get bogged down in a traffic jam. With Big Nick and his team close behind them, the two groups of men prepare for the inevitable shoot out.

They have this massive shootout between two lanes of stationary cars, and not all the civilians were able to escape the scene in time.

They have this massive shootout between two lanes of stationary cars, and not all the civilians were able to escape the scene in time.

One of Big Nick’s team is killed, most are injured, while most of Ray’s gang are killed. Levi Levoux’s dying words are of regret for his daughters. Once the dust has settled, Big Nick is left with no stolen money and a dead teammate, and it’s up to him to call the man’s wife and explain what happened. Lobbin’ Bob shows up, says he’s sorry about Big Nick’s dead teammate and then tells him that he really needs to stop smoking. He then offers him a piece of organic nicotine gum, and here’s the clincher…

He fucking takes it!

Boom.

Boom.

Big Nick has had nothing but contempt for Lobbin’ Bob the entire film, and every time they’ve met they’ve butted heads. But now, having lost his wife and kids, and having to call a fellow officers wife to explain that he’s been killed in the line of duty, he realizes that he can’t punch or intimidate his way out of every problem. And the guy who’s spent the whole movie eating doughnuts, drinking booze and taking drugs, suddenly takes a piece of organic nicotine gum. It’s not a 180 degree turn, it’s not even a 90 degree turn, but it’s a small step in the right direction. Big Nick managed to survive to the end, and although being the alpha dog has gotten him through the job, it’s left the rest of his life in tatters. Even though we never get to see if it’s successful or not, trying on the suit, breaking down at seeing his daughter, and taking the gum, all hint that he’s at least considering the prospect of changing his ways.

And the thing is, the one man to come out on top was Donnie. The small unassuming guy that everyone else beat up and pushed around, he outsmarted them all and got away with all the money. He had his own plan going on the whole time, and despite being surrounded by guys twice his size with kill counts that’d make Rambo blush, he beat them all. And this is why I hated that this film got slammed by critics and movie-goers, because nobody fucking understood what it was trying to say.

Den of Thieves is an analysis and exploration of masculinity in the modern age, about how the old school ways don’t work anymore. You can’t be a caveman in the modern age, because we’re not running from saber-toothed tigers any longer. Reviews, articles and blog posts such as this, this, this, this, this and this all focus on the fact that toxic masculinity is present and seem to miss the fact that the movie is actually about toxic masculinity. Being a hyper masculine douche-bag either gets you killed, or leaves you with nothing - that’s the message of this story. The tiny and timid guy gets Big Nick’s wife, the soft and pudgy Donnie gets away with millions of dollars. You can be fit, you can be strong, but the Marlboro Man “tough guy” routine isn’t a surefire path to success anymore.

My problem is that Den of Thieves is a great exploration of this, but people were so quick to tear it down without even trying to figure out what it meant. If they’d actually taken a moment, they would’ve realized that it’s a film that appeals to guys, especially macho guys, but one that ends up showing them that this path isn’t always the best option in life. If they’d given it a chance, they would’ve realized that it’s actually helping bring about the changes they desire. Instead, people just saw the typical macho characters and decided that it was worth more as fuel for the outrage engine, rather than something that would appeal to those they actually want to change. Den of Thieves is a film that’s about men, for men. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it makes it the perfect vehicle to get a message across to them.

“You should listen to us, we know how you should behave as men…'“

“You should listen to us, we know how you should behave as men…'“

Shows like Orange is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale and Wynonna Earp are all shows that are insincere attempts to evoke some sort of social change, because they’re designed to preach to those already converted. Nothing those shows say is ever going to reach the ears of those their creators purport to want to change the opinions of, because they’re not designed for them. What guy, toxic masculinity or no, is gong to watch a film or show with all female leads, where all men are perpetual oppressors and enemies? It’s ridiculous to think such an approach would work, it’s ridiculous to the point of it being literally unbelievable. It’s like trying to catch a mouse with a bullhorn and then complaining when it doesn’t work - at a certain point, you should probably just admit that you don’t really want to catch the mouse.

Toxic Masculinity, or poor mental and emotional health for men, whatever you want to call it, is an important issue. Whether you want to admit it or not, there is something of a identity crisis going on with men in the modern age - we don’t know who to be anymore. Do we be like Don Draper and fuck all the women, or do we be like Conan and crush the skulls of our enemies and then fuck all the women? Or do we play video games and jerk off to porn in our parents basements, complaining that women don’t pay us any attention? Or maybe we should wear skinny jeans, drink soy lattes and try to get her just drunk enough that we can escape the friendzone? The roles of men and women are changing, and have been for the past century, and we’re still unsure where we all want to land when things settle down. I don’t want to backhand my future missus for talking out of turn and then demand she make me a sandwich, but at the same time I don’t want her backhanding me either.

My old man used to travel the world and go on all sorts of crazy adventures for work, while mum stayed at home to raise my sister and I. He had all the money and he would dole it out to her, always asking what she wanted it for and nitpicking over every cent. Also, he was gone for so long so damn often, that it was awkward when he was home. The family wasn’t complete with dad home, there was just an extra person in the house… one you had to tiptoe around. He’s been gone for coming up on eight years now, and let me tell you that you don’t want to be the sort of person whose absence makes life easier.

I’m not saying he was the devil, far from it, and I’m sure as shit not saying that I’m a saint. I’m also not saying that I want to do the complete opposite to him and give my future missus all my money and have her dole it out to me instead. The opposite extreme is just as bad, it’s the same situation only in reverse. You don’t have to become a complete whimp, and reject everything that it means to be a man… that’s just asking for trouble. But there’s gotta be some smarter middle ground that can be found, where things work out for all involved.

It’s a little easier to swallow this pill if you’re hearing it from a guy who’s clearly a successful alpha boss… instead of hearing it from some weak and pathetic failure who’s clearly just trying to lower the bar to the point where he becomes accepted.   Seriously though, Terry Crews is awesome and this is legit the only autobiography I’ve ever read. Check it out.

It’s a little easier to swallow this pill if you’re hearing it from a guy who’s clearly a successful alpha boss… instead of hearing it from some weak and pathetic failure who’s clearly just trying to lower the bar to the point where he becomes accepted.

Seriously though, Terry Crews is awesome and this is legit the only autobiography I’ve ever read. Check it out.

This all stems back to my own book, Days Too Dark. I wanted a character that was so down on himself and wrapped up in his own shit that he didn’t realize how much harm he was causing himself and others. You can get so twisted up by the expectations of yourself and others that you become this warped shadow of what you’re meant to be, one that is… dare I say “toxic” to the surrounding world. That’s what I wanted to explore with Days Too Dark - a story about a man, for men. It’s only part one, so things are going to progress from there and without ruining things - obviously he learns the error of his ways, all for the betterment of others, but also for himself.

Men have the ability to fuck shit up when needed, we used to hunt and chase down wild game and fight off the warriors of enemy tribes. We can either use that strength to lift up those around us and make them feel safe and secure, or we can push them down and make them feel scared and weak. The thing is, we all die eventually and nobody is intimated by a corpse. If you’ve spent your whole life making those closest to you feel intimidated and afraid, they’ll breathe a sigh of relief once you’re gone and never have a nice word to say about you… if they ever speak of you at all.

Films like Den of Thieves are needed, because they analyse the male archetype in a way that men will find appealing. But if they’re always torn to shreds because they’re not more female-focused, then the message will never get across and the desired change will never be achieved. Everyone knows you get better results when you change things from the inside, rather that from the outside. You can get a show like Orange is the New Black to screech at men about how shit they are, or you can get a film like Den of Thieves to show them that there’s a better way of doing things... in a language and manner they’ll actually understand. Both have Pablo Schreiber in them, so take your pick.


“God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes,
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues “