Monday, October 19, 2015

Slammin' Reboots

I was really hope it to make it through my time here in Paraguay without getting into a Goddamn car accident.

No such luck.

Broad daylight, perfect weather conditions, exercising usual healthy caution for the idiot drivers, and stone sober, someone still managed to slam their Mercedes into the back of my car while I was waiting to take a left turn. A 30 year old engineer who spoke more English than I speak Spanish, and he still doesn't have car insurance. What a jackass.

Fortunately, neither of the kids were with me (was just getting back from dropping D off at school) and my car is still completely drivable. I'm waiting till tomorrow to see how bad my back will be, but I'm trying to drink a lot of water right now. Other than that, it was just another gigantic waste of my time as my entire morning writing period was blown waiting for translators, doing declarations at the police station, shuttling across town to the insurance company building, and yadda-yadda-yadda. The wife's currently out-o-town on biz (as I believe I mentioned), so this was all shit I had to get done in my broken Espanol. I'm lucky we have friends who could help me with the bureaucracy.

However, the important takeaway here is that, even if you do everything right, you can still get hammered in the ass. All that talk about "hey, you could get hit by a bus" is true stuff. Folks should not be wasting their time when it could all end at any moment. I mean, take care of the business you need to take care of to keep your life running smoothly, but don't take shit for granted. The current life is going to end sometime, and possibly in an unexpected fashion., I'm trying to relax a bit, though I've been doing perhaps a bit too much of that the last couple days (, the last 48 hours). See I found a couple great reboots on the Netflix that I figured I'd mention to folks. Slammin' reboots...if you'll forgive the descriptive.

[there's a gaming point to this part of the post, by the way]

The first one is The Flash live-action television series, which I first encountered back in June when I was in Seattle (mentioned this briefly before). Season One just became available, and so I was able to really start watching the series in earnest, having only previously caught a couple of the early episodes (#2-5). Well, after the last couple nights of binge watching (after the kids are asleep), I'm up to episode 10ish, and am really enjoying the hell out of it. I love it, really, and the Flash was never one of my "faves" in the comic book realm (not even a Top 20). The show is well-paced (both within the episodes and the overall story arc), with great acting, and pretty good least as far as the characters. As usual, its the acting that I appreciate the most, and...well, it just warms my heart to see actors that weren't even born back when I was reading comic books selling this stuff with such sincerity. These, young, pretty people are treating the geekiest material with the utmost respect, and I really dig that.

I mean, you can certainly say that about that Arrow television show and the Daredevil series and (to a lesser extent) some of the recent Marvel films (though certainly not all of them). But whereas both Arrow and DD have a penchant for falling into sappy melodrama, perhaps in a way to make their violent vigilante protagonists more "heroic," The Flash doesn't indulge in the same kind of...hyperbole? Not sure if that's the word I want. Let me see if I can just explain what I mean:

The Flash is a superhero show. It features fictional shit that can't happen in the real world...dude runs faster than the speed of sound, okay? Likewise, its hero is equally fairy tale: an idealistic kid who's got an equal mixture of idealist romanticism (he's not going around beating and killing "bad people") and driven need to help people by being a "hero" (the Spider-Man "oh, I've got powers and responsibility and a guilt complex because of a childhood tragedy" thing). You're mixing the one ridiculous fiction with the other and it works because you have a very tight premise: an "event" that causes a bunch of "metahumans" to show up, but most of them end up going bad and Flash can use his (also event generated) powers to stop them. Maybe there's some kind of metaphor there about power corrupting individuals, but to me it's just comic book tropes well-translated to live action.

Also dig the comic book trope of general color blindness. Lots of diversity on parade as far as people of color, strong/smart female characters, the gay police captain (awesome), and all of it completely in, no now in the show ever remarks on any of it. There's no commentary, but there is inclusion. Which is just so damn refreshing, but also very comic book-y (since some things are generally remarked upon in the real world). Cool to see.

Old stories, new and colorful cast.
Anyway, I've got to give props to any show that can make the Weather Wizard a pretty badass villain. I mean, they just came right out and said (in the first episode) "we are going to use real Flash super villains and make them vicious, scary antagonists." I have to confess I skipped ahead to one of the last episodes just to see how they would do Gorilla Grodd, who is perhaps the most feared/respected villain of my four-year old (Diego has many favorite villains, but Grodd is the one that scares him the most). All I can say is: sheer awesomeness. Definitely the coolest combo of CGI and monkey I've seen since Peter Jackson's King Kong, and I like the new Planet of the Apes films. I stopped myself from watching the entire episode (too many spoilers in the show as it was) perhaps the ape ends up going down like a chump. But still...Grodd. That's just so dope!

The other reboot I've been watching is Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated with my son. I know I've complained before that "they don't make cartoons like they used to," but there are a couple out there that are quite good, better even, and this is one of them. The writers have done an amazing job creating a living, breathing (if ridiculous) world to surround the roving van of mystery-solvers and their talking dog by drawing on the context of the original series that I grew up watching in syndication. And it's so damn funny...there's so much adult humor strewn throughout the series it's like the creators knew exactly whom to target: parents who grew up with the show (like me) watching it with their small children.

Same crew; VERY different attitude.
Compared to the original fare, this is far superior product. We own a DVD of the old Scooby-Doo/Batman team-up cartoons (because, you know...Batman) and, after watching, it a dozen times, it's lost its luster even for the boy (considerably sooner for Yours Truly). This updated Scooby-Doo has great stuff for everyone...I think it is probably more fun for the over-30 crowd (who will recognize many of in-jokes), but there's plenty of slapstick Scooby-Doo humor that has my child guffawing out loud. Even with plots and "spooks" much more scary/menacing than the original shows. Plus the voice-acting includes some top notch talent: Lewis Black? Patrick Warburton? Vivica Fox? Great, great casting pulls. Plus Frank Welker still doing Freddy after 40 years? Pretty impressive...though it's a wonder he can deliver some of this dialogue without cracking up. This Scooby-Doo is the animated equivalent of Batman '66, and I say that with profound respect. Internally consistent, incredibly clever, patently ridiculous, and written in a way that makes you care about the characters in a way you never did before.

Plus a little bit of an edge to offset the mystery and give one a little "real" suspense. It's interesting, which is perhaps the highest praise I can give a show that's (ostensibly) being marketed to children. I find myself looking forward to the next episode, and the only reason we're not binge-watching it during our waking hours is I feel I need to exercise some kind of parental restraint on the amount of television my child watches.


It sometimes feels like Hollywood (and I say this to mean "the film and television making industry" even though I know it ain't all literally "Hollywood") sometimes feels like the big production companies can't and won't do anything more than reinvent the wheel.  And, yes, I've blogged about this more than once. But whether it's a "remake" of an old, previously successful film, or a film hoping to play on people's nostalgia for the past, or some obviously recognizable remake with the names/setting changed and the serial numbers filed off...yes, it seems like it's tough for the industry to do anything "new" and/or "original" and color me fatigued much of the time. I mean, even Flash has been tried before as a live-action series (wasn't that the first use of the "rubber muscle suit?" Or was that after the Michael Keaton Batman?)...and here it is again. At least there'd never been a film or series based on Green Arrow (even if the trope of vigilante crime fighter has been around forever). BUT...

But sometimes a reboot ain't all that bad. Sometimes it actually takes a step in evolving the genre (or at least its predecessor) to a higher level. Not always, of course, but there IS still creativity and quality to be milked from ideas and concepts that have been done before, even ones done to death. Quality entertainment can be had if you squeeze these rocks hard enough...or with the correct and proper application of force. And that's allows me to have my cake and eat it too when it comes to nostalgia. I can explore and indulge in my nostalgia guilt-free, as what I'm watching is bringing something cool to the table. Yes, there are cool, new things to be found...the past isn't always a dead end.

Which is the idea that I feel can be applied to RPG design. Sure, we can take the old concepts of D20 die rolls and XP and levels and dress it up with a couple new-fangled surprises (a few narrative metagame mechanics of indie-persuasion or a card collecting aspect or whatever...pick your tired "innovation"). We can add settings that take advantage of whatever's the new "hotness" of fantasy gaming. But a lot of it can feel like "why bother" when you're more comfortable just dusting off your B/X set and adding a few house rules to taste. Sometimes it's hard to justify a writing project that does little more than "reboot" an existing game.

And yet, and yet...the possibility exists that things can get cranked up to another level even while being inspired by (and indulging in) a known nostalgia. Isn't that what Dungeon World is?

Actually, I have no idea as I've neither played nor owned/read a single "Powered by the Apocalypse" system. However, I'm willing to take other folks' word for it. The point is, there's hope...hope that one can mine some bit of coolness, a vein of fun out of what might otherwise be a tired concept. BUT it ain't easy to do (duh), AND it may involve something I haven't really delved into yet. Not really, not directly, not on this blog.

And that's love. But that's a pretty involved and complex concept that I don't have a bunch of time for at the moment. For now, just consider checking out those shows. Love plays a big part in both of 'em.


  1. My family loves The Flash here. Anything that can make the character "Vibe" look cool and interesting is good in our book.

    1. @ Tim:

      And here I figured this would have elicited a comment from you about the Scooby-Doo. That "Hex Girls" episode is right up your alley, man.
      : )

  2. JB, you just mentioned two of my favorite shows in recent memory.

    1. Nice to know I'm not totally off on my own here.
      : )

  3. Glad the accident wasn't worse. One of my Spansih speaking lady friends used to drag me around to government offices with her where I'd repeat everything back to her the clerks said, about 90% of it in English, I'm sure it looked like a comedy routine.

    1. @ JD:

      I spend a lot of time nodding my head.

  4. Have you checked out Teen Titans Go! with your son? It's outstanding. And hilarious. As enjoyable for me as it is for my son. (He really dug the Octonauts when he was a little younger, and the show is full of great ideas for an underseas campaign.)

  5. Have you checked out Teen Titans Go! with your son? It's outstanding. And hilarious. As enjoyable for me as it is for my son. (He really dug the Octonauts when he was a little younger, and the show is full of great ideas for an underseas campaign.)

    1. @ Brian:

      He's only just discovered the Titans (via a comic book from his school library). We'll check it out.