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Constantine Hellblazer: Original Sins

Constantine is a strange character. He’s an anti-hero, plagued by the ghosts of people he has failed in some way, and capable of quite horrendous things, if a case requires it. He uses magic and the stories revolve around and heaven and their respective worshippers on earth. The stories are very strange, sometimes difficult to understand and sometimes have a political tone. Constantine’s role in the stories is also not decisive. He may watch others solve the case, or he may be the man who gets knocked out upon entered a demon’s lair, waking to find his friends have solved the case. To be frank, I’m surprised that a comic like this became popular. I’m also happy that it did.

You should read Hellblazer if you like horror comics, or if you like strange narratives in general. If you like neither of these things, you should read Hellblazer because Constantine is a great character. He is utterly ruthless and not cruel, he tries to achieve the best outcome, he’s the best someone could hope for in the comic’s world. He will not take the risks that some heroic characters would, because in his world, that risk would actually have consequences, unlike so many stories involving heroes.

You shouldn’t read Hellblazer if you don’t like the art (check a few images online), if you are bothered by left leaning political stories, or if you prefer more traditional narratives and heroes.

The Goblet of Fire (No spoilers)

The first two chapters of this book were extremely boring to me. J K Rowling always begins these books with a recap approach, assuming that the reader hasn’t read the previous book or read the previous book so long ago that they’ve forgotten the characters, and it was mildly annoying before but here, combined with the odd features of this opening, I basically skipped these chapters.

The first chapter is roughly akin to the opening of a horror movie. We see the villain and we see both the villain’s power and their cruelty. That’s fine, though I should note that the Harry Potter series has always followed Harry rather than someone else, so it was a strange contrast to the usual writing style. From a personal perspective, I’m not interested in reading about Voldemort, so this was dull.

The second chapter is the strangest, where Potter tries to recall a nightmare, a nightmare of the chapter we have just read, whilst reminding us that Ron is his ginger-haired friend etc.etc.. For the entirety of my reading here I was simply waiting for something new to be written and it never was (though it could’ve been after I decided to skip to chapter three), and I couldn’t stop thinking, “Why are one and two separate, why not show the key elements from one in chapter two and leave it there?”

This is a big problem in writing. Writers will often repeat themselves in the same sentence, or as above, in subsequent chapters. It is something that’s natural to people and if you listen properly to a conversation you’ll here it frequently. For instance, I often almost finish a sentence when speaking then stumble, only to repeat the entire sentence again without the mistake, instead of adding the final word. Others will say the same thing in different ways. There are innumerable ways for people to exhibit this tendency, but it’s one writers must avoid. Lest readers feel the need to skip chapters, as I did.

I’m not sure whether I have missed some key information whilst skipping chapter two but I decided not to go back and reread it because I’m into the main narrative now. Writers cannot expect readers to show lots of patience with them. We’re asking someone to enjoy our book, not obligating them to read every single line.

The Boys (no spoilers)

I saw the Amazon Prime series, The Boys, this weekend and noticed that the comics were available in my Kindle Unlimited(the first four volumes anyway), so I decided to read them. They’re behind the final episode of season 1 with regards to the narrative, but the show and comics have very different pacing. The differences were interesting to me so I thought I’d talk about it.

The show has two real narratives which last the whole season, Hughie’s revenge and Butcher’s revenge, and focuses almost exclusively on the Seven as superheroes, with other superheroes being pushed to the side. In the comics these two narratives are present but they haven’t been the comic’s focus. Instead, the comic has followed the boys as they infiltrate various groups, they’ve been to Russia, and they’ve done these things alongside the two other narratives, with every few editions having a self contained narrative. I’m uncertain as to why this difference exists, but I suspect it has much to do with the release schedule. Comics are released regularly and steadily, but the TV show was released all together, so the comic’s writers probably felt that they needed smaller narratives within the larger one, meaning that readers wouldn’t have to wait vast amounts of time for a fulfilling story.

The Boys really is a comic, with the reader being expected to have some knowledge of comics, with parody versions of existing comic properties. There’s Batman, who has a strange relationship to Robin, there’s the X-Men, there’s the Seven, who are probably Justice League. I’m not a massive comic fan but I have enough knowledge to understand most of the references and parodies in all these stories, which usually mock the original character and display how ridiculous their whole concept is. A reader wouldn’t know this unless they were a comic reader, or someone who had watched most of the comic book movies of recent years. This information is required to enjoy the comic version of The Boys, and because the TV show focuses on the Seven, far less information is required. As we should expect, the producers wanted to make a TV show which was accessible to non-comic fans.

There’s also the fact that some things are simply not acceptable with a modern TV show and they are with comics. There’s racist and homophobic language, a woman who essentially behaves like a dog and is simply called ‘the woman’. Lots of sex scenes and extreme violence. Overall the comic is not remotely believable while the TV show attempts a more realistic take and these differences are consequences of the mediums, of their history, culture and popularity. The most likely explanation seems to be that TV is way more popular than comics and as such comics have never been under the same pressure to conform to modern standards, or it may simply be that comics are sufficiently distant from the real world, that people don’t feel the need to impose real world standards upon them.

These differences make each version of The Boys distinct enough for me to enjoy both. Whether I’m right about the origins of them or not is immaterial, it is good that they are not the same. It means I get to enjoy the same story, in two totally different fashions.

The Lion King

Many have criticisms of The Lion King (2019) so I’m rather reluctant to talk about it, but the movie has so many lessons for people who are interested in storytelling that I can’t ignore it. It also combines well with the blogs I’ve written about unrealism, by demonstrating that making things realistic does not always produce the best results.

I should mention the things that are unrealistic about this movie. There is the rather strange belief in Hollywood that casting a black actor is equivalent to casting an African actor, as though a black man born in America has the same accent as a man born in Uganda. Equally, there was the strange decision not to give these characters uniform accents. I should also mention that African is not an accent, that Africa is a diverse place and saying an African accent is wrong. If we wanted realism, we should’ve had accents that are local to the setting of the movie, given that I think we can safely assume that the lions are not well-travelled.

Or the makers could’ve recalled that this is a movie about talking lions and as such isn’t suited to hyper-realism, that making the lions look realistic is a story decision, attempting to make the narrative more believable to the viewer and therefore make it more emotive, not a technological showcase. Here, the realism hinders the narrative rather than enhancing it, due to the mistaken belief that realistic lions means that nothing fantastical can happen to them. Why? We have plenty of movies where actual humans have magical things happening, so why can’t Scar sing his big number in an exciting environment? Because the filmmakers chose realism over making an interesting and exciting scene. That is my biggest problem with this movie.

I want to see the imagination of CGI artists on screen. I want to see what they can do, the things they can convince me are real. A great monster which makes me scared, a small species which doesn’t exist but I can believe, a swirling visual environment which excites me in ways no film has. We’re not in the environment where CGI artists are allowed that freedom and one day I hope we are. They seem to be restricted to realistically depicting that which the director requires. Fortunately, other artists are not in the same position, possibly because they are not as useful to standard filmmakers.

My favourite thing about this movie is that it demonstrates that cartoons are their own art form, that cartoonists are able to do things that other artists are unable to do, and that a cartoon is not something a moviemaker does because they can’t make a ‘real’ movie. Much like the film Isle of Dogs, which showcased how beautiful stop animation could be once freed from being a special effects vehicle, cartoonists are free enough to make the real Lion King. CGI artists are not.

Unrealism: The Fashionable One

Hyper-competence is something that is discussed often online and I’m not sure whether anything needs to be added or whether I can add anything, but it is so glaring that I cannot ignore it. I’ve mentioned John Wick before because it is a very good action movie and here it is a perfect example. John Wick behaves like someone who can handle firearms and fighting, he moves tactically and it is probably close to how a person should move in such situations. The problem is that he does so perfectly, never makes an error and never has a bad day. This is something that never happens in real life and I don’t think he should make mistakes in John Wick, it’s an action movie and the genre demands those things. The problem is that this happens in so many areas and goes unremarked.

A few minutes working in any job will dispel any notions you have about the competence of people there. You will see flight engineers not performing basic checks because they are in a rush. Surgeons forgetting to wash their hands or grasping some things without gloves. You’ll see nurses forgetting to write vital information into patient notes. You’ll see builders almost crushing their toes because they decided to carry a large slab, rather than finding the correct equipment to move it. You’ll find that your gas pipe is in fact a garden hose, because someone decided to do some DIY in your house, long ago.

In media we see characters who never make similar mistakes. We see complicated plans that come to fruition because of perfect execution. On the most basic level, characters never spoil their cups of tea, they don’t burn their dinner, they don’t leave the house in a creased shirt, they don’t accidentally tell their girlfriend that they’re fat. Obviously, they do in some media, but it is not common. Why is this a problem? It isn’t, as long as your viewers or readers are willing to accept it. For me it crushes any sense of realism.

We’re often told that we have to give characters flaws and that they seem too perfect if they don’t have flaws. Why doesn’t the same apply to minor mistakes? When characters make these errors they become more believable and it can be used to develop character traits. I could write a character who becomes nervous when speaking in public and forgets things when he is nervous. This can distinguish and humanise him with a simple technique. I see no reason everyone shouldn’t incorporate this concept, unless genre restrictions demand that they’re ignored. Either that, or stop talking about realism.