Jul 30, 2012

Patton Oswalt's two letters

A conversation I've both witnessed and participated in a good deal over the past two or more years has been in the democratization of publishing - whether it be in book publishing, music publishing, video game publishing, and even video publishing. How the industries are changing, fast and furiously, with technology giving the power to create more fully into the hands of the very people who used to have to pay just to be entertained... and, meanwhile, a lot of us are left wondering exactly what the future holds.

Well, between the technology, the internet, and really interesting options like crowdfunding and self-publishing venues like Amazon, Smashwords, and Lulu....it's really left open to people like you and I to absorb more of the responsibilities and opportunities afforded us and become "every person an entrepreneur."

But Patton Oswalt created a very clever piece of conversation the other day, by sending letters out to both comedians and the people who deem themselves to be "gatekeepers" in the developmental and production sides of comedy - film, television, and so forth. But the topics he's bringing up are not, I believe, even so limiting. The same elements can be found in many fields of production, and I think it presents itself as a good launching point for discussions that people are simply, I believe, too afraid to admit.

I've seen far too many literary agents and publishers who have literally called themselves "gatekeepers". I've heard so many writers bemoan the paradox of having too few options to get picked up by these gatekeepers or having far too many options to produce their own material.

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world out there, and where it will resolve is anyone's guess. But I think Patton makes some excellent advice. Give this a read and tell me you haven't seen some of these signs on the horizon. And, if you haven't....you should really consider that you haven't been truly honest with yourself.


Jul 27, 2012

In which I test my social media presence.

So, feeling a bit spunky today, feel like shaking things up, maybe seeing who's quickest on the draw. Perhaps just seeing if anyone's paying attention today?

God, am I really that much of an attention whore? 

Okay, no, not so much - but I am interested in performing a test of how my blog, Google+ and twitter are reaching people; specifically in the context of my ebooks.

So, here's the drill: go check out this blog I wrote a short while back and check out my books, and then either reply to me over on Twitter (hash tag #Steampunk) or leave a comment here with the title of one of my ebooks.

First 3 people to do this, I'll gift you a copy of it - Kindle or Nook, your choice.

Does that sound fair? And you don't need to feel obligated to leave me a review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, though I wouldn't be angry if you did. :)

Good luck, thanks for playing - - - and...... GO!

Jul 25, 2012

Why So Serious

It's a strange thing, how the world and one's life gradually changes a person's perspective. Some forty-plus almost uninterrupted years of living in the United States of America, and if you were to chart my personal philosophy on a map, it does more closely resemble a highway than it does a city. But every so often I find myself marveling not just at the path the experiences of life have led me on, but at my reaction to the random sights that rush past me.

This past weekend, a random man walked into a theater of complete strangers and opened fire with a variety of weapons, killing 12 people and wounding dozens more.

It feels like I've read that sentence so many times, already, and not in the handful of days since this happened. A few years ago, someone did that inside the Trolley Square mall in my old home town of Salt Lake City, Utah. And there have been other malls. Schools. Other strangers. Other deaths.

In the past, these events have shocked me. Horrified me. Angered me. And this "Aurora Theater Shooting" has done this to me as well, but with an increasing sense that had not been present in years past. Now, I have an eleven year old daughter who is growing up inside this world full of strangers and bullets and random acts of violence. And I am not only biologically and instinctively her human shield, but because I love her more than my own life, I would do anything I could to protect her. And I woke this morning with the realization that there are many things I might not be able to do, but one thing I can do...is use my words. I might not be able to speak to the shooter's mindset - only time can tell if we will ever understand the thoughts behind his terrible act - but what I can do is write about my thoughts on this.

Today, there are renewed conversations regarding how to respond to these sorts of actions. Michael Moore sent me an email (okay, no, not just to me) outlining his arguments for refining gun control laws, for example. His movie "Bowling for Columbine" addresses his concerns and his issues with current gun availability quite well, and I'm happy to let him speak for himself on that platform. Plus, it's a good movie, and it's worth a watch.

Gun control is such an odd topic. It reminds me of the abortion/pro-life debates. For that matter, it reminds me of almost any debate that involves the two political parties in the US - namely, that rather than look to the root of a problem, rather than address the problem itself, people get distracted by the superficial symptoms of it. They look to a physical restraint as a curative, kind of like assuming that just putting a band-aid on a flat tire will fix the tire.

It's easy to get caught up in the emotional discussions - in the days and weeks following a powerful and traumatizing event, it's a simple thing to be led by our hearts, but I don't believe it takes a psychologist to tell you that making a decision in the heat of trauma is the best time to do so. But neither should we address our concerns with coldness and calculation that distances us from the true heart of a matter, either. A situation and conundrum of this magnitude requires a balance between mind and heart, between passion and reason, to find a healthy response; a measured solution. Something that will provide not just the means by which we can as a culture and community heal from the damage inflicted on us all, but a solution which will move us forward and upwards.

To be honest, I don't believe gun control debates are the solution. I know, I know, people LOVE a good debate, but right now they're just making people angry again about the same old divisive elements of the NRA's "you can have my guns when you pry them from my cold dead hands", and the calm and measured counter-response of "okay, that works."

I believe that the biggest problems with the idea of making it more difficult to legally acquire firearms is that the laws will only continue to impact those people who are prepared to follow the legal process to do so. The people out there illegally acquiring guns...well, they've shown great resolve in doing this no matter what kinds of laws get applied. And I'm also of the opinion that even if you could somehow magically take every single firearm off the street - both legally or illegally acquired - then people will just find another way to kill each other. If a gun exists, someone's going to find it, and they're going to do bad things with it. You can't stop a person from committing suicide by just taking away their guns - unless you're also prepared to outlaw sleeping pills, rope and tall bridges and buildings.

Then again, the Aurora shooter was able to get ahold of a variety of firearms, all through completely legal means. Technically, he completely followed the laws when he acquired his guns. He simply crossed the line when he began killing people with them. How can you make a law to stop that from happening? Unless we're going to start adopting laws involving thoughtcrimes or invent a Minority Report "precrime division", we just don't have the capacity to do this.

And even if we did, would we want to? There are moral issues here I can't even begin to scratch the surface of.

Obviously, the threat of punitive reaction for committing crimes with firearms isn't helping, unless we're really doing such a bad job of advertizing this. Which we might be. Clearly, we have some as-yet-unresolved issues with the punitive portion of our justice system.

But again, this is just the surface of the issue.

Take guns completely out of the equation, and what you have is a person who walked into a room full of complete strangers and killed a dozen of them; tried to kill dozens more.

That is the issue here. Not guns, not orange hair, not Batman (or Christian Bale, though kudos to him for showing up and visiting the people who were recovering in the hospital), not Michael Moore, not democrats or republicans. The issue is that people walk into rooms filled with complete strangers and kill them, and we go right to asking the most ridiculous questions, like "do we need tougher gun laws?" or "do violent movies trigger acts of violence?"

Do we need to understand the why's behind this man's actions? Yes. But more importantly, we need to take a firm look at ourselves, and try to understand the culture that allows this to happen; and we need to look at how we respond to it. One really good point Michael Moore was making was that, in America, we have the equivalent of 2 Aurora shootings every day - roughly 24 people die in gun-related violence every day. And that's just here. In other countries, a lot of people are dying from acts of aggression on a daily basis, and we're letting those things happen as well.

Twenty five years ago, Sting released a really simple and intelligent song called "Russians." I'm fairly sure a lot of people haven't thought about that song in a while - after all, the USSR collapsed, and they're no longer at war with the Western world, right? Of course, if a song is 25 years old, it can't possibly have any relevance now, can it?


Well, take a moment and think again about what that song really meant. It was, of course, referring to Russians specifically, but was intended in a much broader capacity. Do people really love their children? Of course. It's an obvious question.... though one I think we all too often forget to truly ask.

And I think the reason it's easy for us to avoid asking is that the answer piles tremendous amounts of accountability upon us. So long as we can assure ourselves that the burden falls on someone else's shoulders, then we can sleep at night, tucked delightfully away in the confidence that we have someone else to blame when things go wrong. But the fact is, when these things happen, its all our fault.

Hate crimes, massacres - this sort of aggression seems in many ways wholly American. Granted, we don't have stonings, beheadings, gender-specific mutilations or that sort of thing, either. We've simply got a different kind of problem here. And our gun laws aren't the reason for it, so I'm not so sure that they're the solution, either.

People are killing people because they a) want to, and b) are able to. Gun control - in whatever form (either punitive measures for committing crimes with the help of a firearm, or by trying to limit what guns people have access to) only touches on the second half of that equation, and not even completely at that.

My dog has a problem with the dogs next door. If they're outside when he goes out, he completely loses his mind in a frenzied desperation to get at them and...well, I honestly don't think he has the slightest idea what he'd do if there wasn't a fence between them, but he sure loves to act like he'd eat them alive. He wants to get through the fence. He wants to bark at them. We've tried working with him on this, by using artificial, physical restraints - specifically, a leash. But he barks and barks and pulls at the leash as if his life depends on it. I effectively have tried to make it so he cannot bark at them, by placing a restriction upon him, but it doesn't work. The motivation persists. The only solution, then, is to make him NOT WANT to bark. And that's where water guns and the garden hose come in. A healthy blast of water, and he calms right down. His motivation to avoid getting wet is gradually eating away at his desire to bark his fool head off at those dastardly neighbor-dogs. Meanwhile, our other dog just runs right up to the fence, sniffs the neighbor dogs and makes friendly. She understands that they're nice dogs and just like to bark once in a while. And as time goes by, we're going to make our larger dog come to the same realization. He's slow like that, but we love him anyway.

The point is, it's like that old story about the sun and the wind, who play a game with a weary traveler in order to see who was the most powerful; whoever could take off his cloak would be determined to be the stronger element. The wind blew and blew, but the traveler simply pulled his cloak more tightly about his shoulders. Eventually, the sun came out and the traveler became so hot that he simply took the cloak off on his own. The moral is a simple one: motivation is the root of action. We do what we most want to do, after all things are taken into consideration.

In the applied sense - guns kill people, and bullets fired from guns kill people. But it takes a willing finger to pull the trigger, and THIS is the heart of it. This is what we should be trying to understand - why do we as a nation seem to believe that death is the answer to all our problems; that all we need do is simply kill the offending person and our troubles are fixed?

I keep thinking that we're close - so very close to finding a new level of social evolution, and that we're just a generation from having a world that our grandparents, our parents-  to some degree not even we could have imagined. I think that it's something worth investing in, because the generations who will inherit this world after we have passed away need to have a world worth living in. But every time I start to have hope that we are getting closer....it feels like we're still so very far away.

I want to believe, friends. I want to believe that it's possible, and that we're coming closer together as a civilization, as a planet. At the risk of triggering a sort of autonomic tree hugger gag reflex in people, I really choose to look to the potential of our world as one where we can actually learn to work together, in spite (or because) of our many differences.

Please tell me I'm not alone in this wish.

Jul 13, 2012

Otherwise, it's a big waste of space.

Far back as I can remember, a certain epiphany falls on me, every single time I take a road trip. It doesn't happen until the city I've come from has long since vanished in the horizon of my rear view mirror, and long before my destination is even a mirage on the road ahead. It's in this surreal landscape of "neither here nor there" that it quietly slides from one of the folds of my cerebrum and curls up in my arms.

It starts small, too. A car passes in the opposite direction, always too fast to make out anything but the barest essence of the driver and their passengers. I almost want to wave, like they yet do in some parts of the world, like we might accidentally be neighbors and should probably be friendly just in case. But my hands stay on the wheel, 10 and 2. I imagine the other driver, and think they might be doing the very same thing. There might even be a moment where they think about waving at me, just in an effort to be friendly. After all, they're on the far edge of no man's land, and that nearness to their destination can be a heady mixture of exhaustion and adrenaline.

I'm like that on the last few miles into my hometowns. I've engraved them all in my mind, to where Pavlov smiles his knowing smile at me, recognizing in my expression the face of a man coming home again. Maybe this other driver is coming home. Maybe he's been away too long - maybe "too long" even means but a day - and his own home, his own favorite chair, his television and its remote have been practicing their "welcome home" and yearning for the chance to let it ring out. And he'll sit back, kick of the driving shoes and sip a cold beer to wash away the thick dryness that only a long drive can create.

Or maybe they're just now starting their adventure, too; only in the opposite direction. Nature abhors a vacuum; maybe they have to go to Seattle to fill the space temporarily left by me and my family? I'm excited for them on their future experiences. I love my city, but I love sharing it. I don't mind letting folks use it a bit whenever I go away, there's plenty of it to go around. Try the clam chowder or the salmon, it's almost always excellent.

Either way, I don't know them, and they don't know me, but here we are, each going a mile a minute in different directions, but just for a moment sharing almost the same space. Is it fair that two families can cross paths so quickly and so closely and yet know nothing about one another? Seems like a terrible injustice. I'm sure they're excellent people, and as I see their tail lights in my mirrors, joining with the great convergence of sky and land, I mourn that missed opportunity.

I should have waved.

At some point after that, I start to look at the houses as we speed past. House, house, house. Cars in the driveway, toys in the yard. Satellite dishes. Lovely landscaping. Each house is at least one story; each story has dozens of chapters. I drive by, wondering what stories are going on right at that moment.

And that's when it happens: I find myself wondering, is there someone in that house who, right now, is looking out at my car driving past, and wondering, "is there someone in that car who, right now, is looking out at my house as they drive past, and wondering, 'is there someone in that house...'..."

My mind takes that thought and unravels it like a great ball of yarn. It's a delicious and impossible imagining, and feels like the essence of staring into the abyss and counting the stars, wondering who else is looking back. Because the truth is, there's ALWAYS somebody out there, somewhere - whether in one of those houses by the roadside or on another planet somewhere out in the universe, looking back.

I know there's a lot of talk about monkeyspheres and proximity to association, and a lot of discussion about the internet and how it reduces our sociological parameters, but, sometimes - - usually when I find myself right about halfway between where I've been and where I'm going... I just feel like maybe we're all the same; maybe we're all just not all or always on the same page. Maybe we just forget that we're all doing our own thing in an effort to understand our purpose.

Maybe the key to our ongoing struggle to fight together against our own failings is a reminder that even though we're all unique, we're all individuals, we're all separate and distinct creatures, that we're really all just bits of the greater whole.So I invite you to take a moment, today - turn the volume down on the rest of the road noise and look out the window, and recognize that you're not the only person looking across into the other lane and wondering about your fellow travelers.

With any luck, they're looking back at you at that very minute and doing the same thing.

Have a good day, my friends.


Jul 10, 2012

So the Second Fish Says, “Nothing”

“Rectum? Damn near killed ‘em!”

It’s odd, considering the number of times I’ve heard that line in a movie, I’ve never actually heard the full joke that leads up to it. I’m assuming at this point that the joke will never live up to the amusement its mere punch line has evoked in countless repetitions across so many mediums. In fact, that single line of dialogue has made its way into a lot of movies and books, as a sort of catch-all for “we join this amusing conversation, already in progress”, so often that it has come to represent more than just a punch line. It has come to represent the notion that an entire conversation has gone on already, filled with humorous anecdotes and likely some degree of heavy drinking between erstwhile comrades. Plus, you’re left with a feeling that you’ve missed out on something, like some interesting bit of revelatory substance has occurred, and you just missed it.

Strange, that a silly punch line from what I can only assume to be a slightly off-color joke can accomplish so much.

Dialogue is a funny thing like that. It can do so much with so little to evoke copious amounts of reference and inference, fleshing out characters and settings with very little apparent heavy lifting. It is, I have found, the culmination of the old writer’s axiom of “show, don’t tell,” even though, when you think about it, it’s really doing a little bit of both.

One of my favorite pastimes is watching movies, and, for me, there are really only a few things I require of my cinematic experience: good characters (and the actors who play them), good soundtracks, quality cinematography, a decent story that’s good enough to make me ignore any plot holes that might be present, and, if there’s any room left in the budget for it, engaging dialogue. (If you look carefully, you might recognize why I’m a fan of most Steven Soderbergh or Aaron Sorkin projects.) In fact, if you can nail the perfect dialogue in a movie, I could generally care less about what else the movie plans on doing. 

Dialogue. By itself, it’s a pretty fascinating literary device – its history and development as a means for the conveyance of larger concepts is fascinating. Did you know its etymology? It’s from the Greek word “dialogos”, which literally translates to “dual meaning”, or “the two-way flow of meaning”. That adds a nice heft to the word, don’t you think? Back in college, I had the idea of dialogue described to me through an metaphor of painting; that the finished product is as much a result of the eye, arm and hand of the painter as it is the consistency of the paint, the hairs of the brush and the texture of the canvas. In a dialogue, we have the two (or more) persons involved in the conversation, their minds that conceive of the motivating principles that generate the emotions behind the words, the words themselves and the ears of the other(s) involved – lather, rinse, repeat. Essentially, what is being said is only partially literal – a conversation tells you more about the persons saying the words than it does anything else on its own. But, even by itself, that is a Big Truth Worth Reading.

One of the projects I’ve been working on lately is a script, and has resulted in one of the most fascinating studies in the power of conversation I’ve had in a while. With only a small allowance for blocking instructions, the rest of the writing is all conversation. Character A says this. Character B says this. The occasional adjective for emphasis, and that’s it. Can a story be told with only dialogue?

Well, in point of fact, yes. But for this to happen, the words have to mean something. As I said before, I love movies – and at the risk of getting Judgy Face from you, I’ll admit to a certain weakness for “comic book adaptations”. And no, I’m not just saying “superhero movies”, I mean comic book adaptations. While this includes the obvious films like “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight”, it also includes films like “Tank Girl”, “Book of Eli”, “Sin City”, and “The Walking Dead”. Unfortunately, it also includes movies like “The Amazing Spider-man”.

The recent Spider-man movie kind of hurt my brain, much in the way an out-of-tune piano hurts my ears.  I mean, it was so close to being a good movie, but so many little things flicked my inner child in the ear that, eventually, it just failed. Initially, it was difficult for me to point my finger to the place where the film hurt me – the cast was mostly brilliant, the special effects were mostly good, the music wasn’t bad, either. The story was riddled with holes (honestly, I’m just not the sort who’ll look for those in a movie. If I see them, you already lost me. Just for future reference, kay?), and there were a couple moments where I very nearly stood up and left the theater. One of these involves construction cranes, and both involve scenes with C. Thomas Howell.

But what killed it for me was the lack of good conversation. Now, again, for much of it I have to admit it was good, though I’d have to credit the actors for managing to deliver pretty awkward dialogue. But the line that shoved a pencil through my cold, black, heart was the jumbled wreck of line delivered by Uncle Ben to a struggling and confused Peter Parker. I can’t even now remember exactly how the line went, but I know what the line was supposed to be. He was supposed to be telling Peter that “with great power comes great responsibility.” That’s a wonderful line. It’s meaty and full of promise. It weighs on you, gives you a lot to ponder. For the purposes of the story, it’s the reverberating meaning that gives direction to a fledgling Spider-man, and carries him through tragedy into becoming a fantastic hero, worthy of storytelling. But rather than use that line, the writer and director decided to NOT use the line, and cobbled together a half-hearted cheap red haired stepbrother of a conversation, for no other conceivable reason than to just not use the line from the book.

To me, that’s like doing a production of Hamlet and having the titular character at one crucial moment ponder aloud, “Jeez, should I live or die? Hmm. I don’t really have an answer to that.” It is substantive dialogue, and its absence will be felt; like a gaping pothole directly in your path.

At the same time, cutting out essential matter isn’t the only way to fail. Remaining too true to the source material can also kill a project twice dead.

The thing that some people fail to accept is that comic books are not movies. They have teeny tiny conversational bubbles that, for the purposes of accompanying a panel of art, serve as micro-tweets from the characters. They’re confined to space and the writer has to bear this in mind, trimming away the fat to ensure that the most essential matter gets through.

(Unless you’re Brian Michael Bendis, of course, in which case screw convention and tack on five hundred speech bubbles, because by god this conversation is gonna be played out exactly as conceived and no limitation on space is gonna get in the way!)

This becomes a clearly challenging balancing act, between remaining true to the stories and knowing where to add and subtract to make the stories effective, and, most importantly, knowing how the characters talk to one another.

Joss Whedon understands this, as one recent example has shown. Take his recent adventure, “The Avengers”, and strip away the comic book elements – no superpowers, no gamma radiation, no space gods. Imagine the movie being told as a gang of individuals being brought together to help a large company be saved from a hostile corporate takeover. Think of the tone, the dialogue, the pacing. It all still works, every last bit of it, because even though all these characters hold unimaginably potent forces at their beck and call, they talk like real people.

Well, they talk like really cool people. But you get my meaning.

Whedon also succeeds in the way in which he takes expectations and yoinks them to the side just as you get comfortable. He takes conversational tropes and tweaks them just at the last minute, so every fast ball becomes a curve ball and every slow ball speeds past the plate at the last moment.

Captain America: “Is everything a joke to you?”

Tony Stark: “Funny things are.”

Or, in a larger context, the entire conversation between Loki and Natasha/Black Widow. It stops being just words and turns into a slow-motion Bruce Lee exchange of verbal parries and jabs until…well, I don’t want to give it away, assuming you’re one of the few people alive who hasn’t yet seen the movie.

I almost want to add a counterpoint, here, by mentioning movies that suffered from a pronounced failure of strong dialogue and writing, but there’s just so many. I’ll just cough and mutter under my breath that three good examples of bad writing were prequels, and happened a long, long time ago. Sorry, George, I have to be bold, much as it pains me.

In a perfect world, additional emphasis would be placed on the scripting (specifically the dialogue, but they don’t have to stop there) for future comic book adaptations. But let’s be clear, here. Any movie – any book, any play, any written work involving dialogue of any kind – could take a strong lesson from what makes the movie enjoyable in any lasting manner. Save a million off the top of your special effects budget or your swollen actor pay and invest in a strong script. Seriously. Its dividends will be monumental.

It doesn’t matter how many explosions come bursting out of the screen, if the words coming out of the actors’ mouths isn’t similarly well-written, all you have is eye candy.

Granted, it’s very expensive eye candy.

Jul 9, 2012

With Great Stories...

I'm a big fan of comic books. I have to use the present tense there for many reasons, not the least of which is that it's still true. I pick up about a dozen comic book titles on a monthly basis, and have been reading them almost without fail since I was about nine years old. Almost without fail is accurate, as well, because in the 1990s...well, comic books weren't exactly without fail. In point of fact, they were woefully bad.

It's easy to look back on a period of artistic development - like comic books in the 90s - and see how badly the trends thought back then to be likely to last forever truly were. But even then, I just got tired of them. It's not even that they weren't "cool" (comic books weren't even CLOSE to the realm of relative social acceptance they've since achieved) or that I'd grown out of them. They were just not very good at all. Art, marketing, stories, they just... well, they got lost a little bit.

I picked them back up after the 90s when I came upon an independent publisher called CrossGen who was doing some impressive and unorthodox titles like Scion, Meridian, The Path, Way of the Rat, and so forth. Really imaginative and original material - it brought me right back in to the waiting arms of the comic book industry.

I watched the movie "Unbreakable", and really enjoyed it - not so much for the storyline as for the statement about how comic books were becoming the storytelling voice for our generation. And I still truly believe that.

For example, look at the motion picture industry, and its now standard approach to development. In most movies now, one of the certain stops along the moviemaking process is a little standby called storyboarding. Broken down, it's really little more than comic book design. And I think it's no mistake that this design mechanic is both attributable to comic books as much as it is creating a certain stylistic rhythm to the movies they end up becoming.

But more directly, comic books have become many movies - with many more on the way - so much so that they have begun to defy simple movie categories. Not just "action" or "science fiction", they're starting to be referred to under the title of "comic book adaptations". I recognize that this reference bristles many a critic, but where it fails to accurately define the movies' genres, it does underscore the fact that comic books truly do have a distinct storytelling style than most movies.

The Avengers is currently on track to becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of all time (as of this week, it's at number 3) - with a handful of other comic book adaptations peppered across the list: The Dark Knight, Spider-man, Iron Man 2, and so on. So it's no surprise that more and more studios are looking for ways to stake their claim on a superhero property for conversion to the silver screen. Marvel/Disney are still hoping to regain their movie rights on the X-Men titles, Spider-man and the Fantastic Four, while DC is being represented by WB and others without a centralized in-house movie production company.

This year was an unnerving one for me, being a comic book fan. This year held a lot of.... well, I want to say "promise", but I also want to say "hype." The feeling was somewhere in between the two. Essentially, we had the Avengers , The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man (yes, I know Dredd is coming out later, but I really haven't been terribly worried about that one).

I've loved the Marvel movies leading up to this, and I've always been a fan of Joss Whedon's work - he wrote my favorite spin on the X-Men comics, and though he's never had a big budget movie like this to flex his cinematic muscles, he's never failed me thus far. Christopher Nolan has done a fine job of reinventing the Batman franchise, so I remain comfortable in my anticipation of that - but Spiderman had me the most worried. You see, of all the comic book characters EVER, Spidey was always my favorite. I don't pretend to say I understand him better than his creators - I'd never presume to think I could write him, or anything.

I'd watched the Spidey cartoons, the electric company shorts, the live action television show (don't hate. It was the 70s, and there was no tech for it), and then the Sam Raimi movies of the 2000s. I liked them all, in their own ways. Though Sony movies bent Raimi over with that third movie, I still thought his three movies were a great introduction to the Spider-man universe. Oh, sure, I had my points of criticism, but what are you going to do? It's not like they're going to make the movie as per my precise specifications, nor would I want them to.

Okay, well, maybe a little.

But here's the point I've been meaning to get to. Writing comic books is not the same as writing comic book movies. The two do NOT instantly, automatically, convert to each other's mediums. The average comic book does not simply become a movie, nor vice versa. And yes, put your torches down, there are some that have come very, very close. The Walking Dead turned into a series with huge chunks gleaned straight out of the graphic novels, for example.

And I feel for the poor wretches who decide to make comic book adaptations. There are some pretty terrifying critics out there that movie companies aren't used to having to accommodate: comic book fans. It's not like movie critics, who can always be counted upon to provide a blurb or what not. Comic book fans will often pore over the set photos and teaser trailers and insider buzz about the movies from the moment Variety announces the movie, and unleash a barrage upon the internet about their take on the films, long before the movie is even into its principle stages of development.

Sometimes, their criticism is found to be pretty valid (for example, the almost-was Wonder Woman television show, the Tim Burton/Nicolas Cage Superman movie), and other times not so much. A couple good examples of the "not so much" were the casting choice of Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man/Tony Stark, and the hiring of Joss Whedon to helm the Avengers movie. The internet suffered a mild aneurysm when those two things were announced, but look at them now: they were both pretty damn ideal.

So, yes. The Avengers... remains perhaps one of my favorite comic book adaptations of all time. Brilliant perhaps because it was not a literal adaptation of comic books. The bulk of its story cannot be found in any one Avengers comic - in fact, most of it came from a series in Marvel's "Ultimate Universe", in the comic title of the same name, written by Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch. In fact, in that comic, they designed the character of Nick Fury to resemble Samuel L Jackson - and in one scene following the main climactic battle, they sit around contemplating the likelihood of Hollywood filming their lives, and Fury insists that only Samuel L Jackson himself should play him in the movie.

Not a bad prognostication, considering it was published in 2002.

But the part that really made the Avengers and the Dark Knight movies pay off for me as a moviegoer was that they at some point stopped being Comic Book Movies, and started being...well, movies.

I watched the new Spider-man movie this weekend, though, and clearly a lot of people still don't understand why movies like the Avengers and the Dark Knight movies worked so well, and why the Amazing Spider-man did not.

And let me be clear - almost everything about the Spider-man movie, I felt, was done right. They had an almost ideal cast (Andrew Garfield did a fabulous job, by the way. Major kudos to him.), they've got the special effects down very well, and aside from some pretty horrible continuity errors and plot holes, the movie essentially holds it own.

Where I felt it really failed, though, came down to one big thing: the script. Broken down further, it would come to the dialogue and the characterizations.

The dialogue was, to a broad point, frustratingly painful. They deliberately avoided certain key and essential dialogue in a way that I found unforgivable. One perfect example of this is the specific omission of the "with great power comes great responsibility" line. Though not originally a spoken line of dialogue in the comic, it's an integral part of his origin and his core. It's why he's Spider-man at all. In point of fact, that sentence is as key to Spider-man's universe as "To Be or Not to Be" is for Hamlet. Oh, sure, you're going to make that face at me because I just compared Spider-man to Hamlet. But you know what? They DO compare. In fact, pretty much everything in Hamlet can be found in Spider-man stories, if you want to pick nits. But my point is that there are key elements which are tied to the particular verbiage of a script, the omission of which is just ridiculous.

Seriously, what would have happened if Kenneth Branaugh had made Hamlet and left the "To Be or Not To Be" soliloquy out? You'd NEVER have forgiven him. But this is just an example - one particular Spidey-specific phrasing that is essential to the character's iconography - every bit as critical as the white eyes and the spider imagery, the cracking wise and the general rambunctiousness of the character. But there's just a certain quantity of Spidermanitude which is requisite to the character that I found strongly lacking from this movie. In a nutshell, what failed wasn't the acting or the special effects - hell, I could even live with the costume if I was forced to - but the writing and direction. Someone, somewhere, looked at that script and the story, and said, "yeah, man, we got ourselves a Spider-man movie!".

Fact is, if you strip away all the aspects of "comic book"ness, it should still make sense as a movie. And this movie wasn't that. It was a "spider-man movie", and sadly, not an even good one at that.

And on that note, I'll stop. There's only a week or so left until the Dark Knight Rises, and I don't want to depress myself further before going to watch it.