As a geek, it is my cardinal right- nay - obligation, to pass judgement on all things superheroic in the most passionate and virulent manner possible. I'll forego that, however, to report on two things that made my inner comic-book geek cringe.
The first is the news that the forthcoming game, Marvel Ultimate Alliance will feature several characters that are only playable if one preorders the game. I am certainly excited about a game that includes all the Marvel characters you can shake a stick at -- and even more curious to see how they'll contend with the likes of Galactus and the Dark Phoenix - but highly disappointed at this crass commercial shill. The character in question is Silver Surfer, who after all, wields the Power Cosmic. They would deny latecomers the Power Cosmic? Badly done, Marvel, badly done! It's bad enough that each version of the game will have a character specific to that platform - so no one but PSP users, for instance, will get to play as Hawkeye (who has the largest percentage of testicle-to-bodymass of any superhero). But to punish people who don't preorder the game is annoying. Look, all the fanboys are going to buy it anyway, even though as a massively cross-platform game, it probably won't work particularly well on any one platform.
Okay, I re-read that paragraph, and I see that the dork-o-meter has pegged all the way to the right, so I need to do something else for a bit to feel less nerdy. Hmm, I'm at work. I could work on some linux/solaris stuff. Yeah, that's FAR less nerdy!
The other dissapointing thing - "Heroes" on NBC last night. While the production values were superb, and it heralds the much-welcome return of Adrian Pasdar to regular series television - it was a pretty poor offering. Within seconds it was clear that the writing was a bad, cliched hack-job. Specifically, we start with a classroom allegedly in India, at the head of which is, we suppose, a professor who will turn out to be one of the main characters. The set is unbelievable because the classroom is richly decked out in mahogany, plus leather chairs, bookshelves that look like they belong in a Victorian Gentelman's Club - and big fancy, whirly globes. The teacher is lecturing on... what? We can't tell, he just raves about cockroaches being genetically perfect and how humans only use ten percent of their brain. (An easily discreditable fact, by the way - it simply isn't true.) It's impossible to tell what subject he is supposed to be teaching - there is no factual information delivered. He vaguely hints at the possibility for some superhuman abilities due to genetics. Then, in all-too-convenient way, someone comes in and gives him a meaningful look, and he tells the class, "We are out of time". This scene is a massively clumsy and cliched info dump. The only more bald-faced bit of exposition I've ever seen is Austin Powers' boss, Basil Exposition. It's poorly written, clumsy, hackneyed - and doesn't even convey much information.
In the next scene the professor and the mysterious man discuss in equally clumsy expository dialogue (around which you can almost see the Silver Age speech bubbles!) how the professor's father was a brilliant geneticist but mad, mad, I tell you! He also reveals that his father is dead. There's just a ton of unneccessary stuff that serves no purpose - character isn't developed, the plot isn't advances, and precious little exposition occurs - that, and it includes obviously false scientific fact. Then he goes to New York and has some more clumsy exposition with the landlord of a rundown tenement. This whole thing could have been covered in one or two lines - and made far clearer, at that.
Look at this strand of DNA. You're all familiar with it's sequence of nucleotides, I'm sure - but see here? This is a sequence my father uncovered - it suggests that there are human genes that are yet to be activated! Who knows what abilities or traits those genes might express as? It's very exciting, though very unorthodox stuff. Still, there are some good whitepapers out there and (SFX: Bell) I'd like you to read them in preparation for class on Friday.
I have teribble news. Your father is dead.
EXT: DAY NEW YORK
Professor enters shabby tenement
INT: DAY APARTMENT
Professor and landlord walk in.
Yeah, he paid in advance. Kept odd hours, but then, he was driving a taxi.
My father was one of the world's foremost geneticists - why was he driving a taxi?
I don't know man, I just collect the rent, ok? Are you going to be able to pay for this?
Yes. I'm going to continue my father's work - driving a taxi.
Well, that's just one example. Some of the concepts were cool - but the execution and writing were so clumsy as to make me wince. This is superheroes for the nearly-brainded ... writing for an audience that's too dumb to even pick up a comic book and really get it. Mind you, comic books aren't exactly difficult, right? Further evidence that they don't get it right - while the cast are all attractive, none of the women have gravity-defying breasts and wear skin-tight clothing - and none of the men are improbably buff and lantern-jawed. So ok - these are just regular folks who happen to have superpowers? Make them behave like regular folks, talk like regular folks and do regular things... not constantly spout ham-handed and factually challenged exposition. Cripes - at one point Adrian Pasdar's character - a politician running for Congress, says to his brother, "People like you. You always had the people skills." We can't be shown that he's likeable - that would be too much of a writing challenge... no, we're just told.
If this series survives, it will be despite its writing. Of course, it is just the pilot - and lord knows the pilot for Babylon 5 was painful in the extreme - so maybe it will improve as the writers and producers get comfortable with the multiple characters and story-arcs. I certainly hope so.