Tropes and Television at the Brisbane Writers Festival, 2016

Tropes are broad literary motifs and symbols, but they can also refer to ongoing and recognisable cliches and patterns that readers and other audiences can pick up on and,  possibly, glean an idea of where a story is going, or how a character arc might resolve.

Trope patterns might explicitly outline what to expect in a story. A man in a dark coat obscured in shadow means mystery and danger. The colour red invoked passion, particularly when it’s the colour of a long, evening gown. These two examples are the Trenchcoat brigade or Lady in Red respectively.

Some Tropes don’t describe specific character design, but instead build narrative, or form a coherent and believable world. When subverted, the surprise can be enough to make a story or character resonate in pop-culture.

A generation growing up with television programs is one of the reasons why tropes and television are important to look into.

The event coordinators at the Brisbane Writers Festival in 2016 are aware of this significant change in culture as a younger generation comes of age.

On Sunday, September 11 2016, the festival scheduled held a discussion as a part of their program; Everything I Know, I Learned From Television.

Master of Ceremonies Sophie Overett asked the three speakers to name examples of several pop-culture tropes.

Here’s what Alexei Sayle (Actor in Indiana Jones and the last crusade, author of Barcelona Plates), Caroline Kepnes (Author of Hidden Bodies and You), and Mark Fennel (SBS program The Feed, author of Planet According to the Movies) had to say on each point.

Going by numbers, Caroline is one, Mark two, and Alexei number three:

  • Evil is Sexy
    1. Dylan McKay from Beverly Hills: 90210
    2. Heather Locklear’s entire career
    3. Lord Petyr Baelish from A Game of Thrones
  • Forgotten Accent
    1. Ewan McGregor in any film not set in Scotland
    2. Any non-Bostonian attempting a Boston accent
  • The Unwitting Instigator of Doom
    1. Homer Jay Simpson of The Simpsons (The panel agreed unanimously)
  • Shouldn’t We Be In School  Right Now?
    1. The Cast of 7th Heaven
    2. The Cast of Buffy The Vampire Slayer
    3. The Cast of Twilight
  • Hands-Off Parenting
    1. Roseanne from the Sitcom of the same name (another complete agreement across the panel)
  • No Fourth Wall
    1. Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City
    2. The voices and animation of Family Guy
    3. Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
    4. Honourable mention – Snowy the Dog from The Adventures of Tin Tin.
  • A Very Special Episode
    1. Episodes of Saved by the Bell.

Have the panel missed any more good examples? Do you agree with the choices? What tropes are in some of these shows? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Justice League #26 – Comics Review

What Justice League #26 Offers

Several origin stories tie into DC Comics Forever Evil event. The theme the comic explores is the origin of evil. Crime and criminal behaviour is evil, according to this comic, and origin stories of the several key villains explore a question: whether evil emmerges from within us, or from outside us, in the social environment. There is a high standard of art throughout.

Cast

The new, electronic villain called The Grid narrates the story. The Grid’s role in the narrative is straightforward. Machine’s don’t feel emotion. This artificial intelligence examines the origins of each Crime Syndicate member. It’s goal is to feel an emotion by reacting to the violent content.

Power Ring, Johnny Quick, and Atomica receive the most attention in this issue, however. They receive the most pages out of the entire comic; Power Ring – 8 pages, Johnny Quick and Atomica – 6 pages. What results is that their short stories within the larger narrative receive the most attention, and therefore the most development. It’s in their stories that the themes of the comic emerge. Power Ring also includes some science fiction horror.

Cyborg has some key moments, and Deathstorm is revealed as a scientist who threw away ethics to complete his research.

Art

Close-up images of characters drive the narrative forward, and show case strong artwork in this issue. Close to the conclusion of the comics, a character gives a a look of fierce defiance in their eyes. The sequence of panels leading up to this moment capture a set of emotions with the character body language. Despair and grief is suddenly supplanted by the defiance in the face of hurdles.

In another close-up, the artwork references the Hitchcock film Psycho. It’s a fleeting but powerful popular culture reference.

In contrast to the cool colours that surround the Justice League are bright and powerful. Apart from a wave of black ink, the colours surrounding the Crime Syndicate are anaemic and washed out. Green Lantern’s emerald green is replaced by Power Ring’s lime green. Johnny Quick has pale orange in place of The Flash’s traditional, fire engine reds.

Themes, Ethics, Values

Earlier issues of DC Comics Forever Evil event was about evil – Where foes evil come from? From outside us, or from within? Justice League #26 explores these questions through Atomica, Johnny Quick, and Power Ring’s origin stories.

A pop-culture comparison could be the musical Wicked, which also asks the question: “Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” Just like the popular musical, this issue of Justice League #26 also has green light throughout the story.

Power Ring and his other colleagues in the Crime Syndicate led a variety of lives before they began to wear a costumes and commit crime with it. Power Ring was filled with anxiety, and liked to spy on people – a voyeur. Atomica and Johnny Quick were violent criminals who targeted police officers.

Power Ring is described as “Weak-willed”, and is a character who is too anxious to achieve his goals. When unlimited power in the form of a ring is offered to him, he takes it, and disregards any consequences. This short story, within the larger narrative of the comic, makes a statement that evil – defined as crime – comes from the combination of bad circumstances, low willpower, and complete disregard for consequences. Evil is opportunity, bad decisions, and certain personality traits: low willpower, no assertiveness.

Contrast this with Johnny Quick and Atomica; first, their costumes are opposing colours compared to Power Ring – bright reds clash with bright greens. Second, compared to Power Ring’s bad circumstances, Johnny and Atomica state that crime and murder are “What we [Quick and Atomica] are born to do”. They are sociopaths, with a lack of any connection to social norms.

They fit into the category of “Fantasy sociopaths” (Kotsko, 2012). Kotsko states that these sociopaths, who appear in pop-culture, have a social disconnection seen in real life sociopaths, but organised lives, with the ability to plan and achieve long term goals (2012).

These characters where born with a trait that led to them becoming criminals.

Compared to Power Ring, their evil – defined as criminal acts here – came from within.

I found, after comparing these stories, that I tended to sympathise with Power Ring far more than the unlikeable and violent Johnny Quick and Atomica – despite his questionable behaviour, seeing the results of bad circumstances makes him more slightly more sympathetic. The character development in this issue adds some momentum to the Forever Evil story arc.

Justice League #26 is Published by DC Comics ($3.99 USD). Geoff Johns (W.) Ivan Reis (P.) Joe Prado, Eber Ferreira, Rob Hunter, and Andy Lanning (I.) Rod Reis, Tomeu Morey and Tony Avina (C.) Nick J. Napolitano (L.). Cover image from Insidepulse.com

Works Consulted:

Kotso, Adam. (2012). Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television. Zero Books: Hants, United Kingdom.

Comics Review – Jupiter’s Legacy #1

Jupiters Legacy #1

Mark Millar has brought to life the vivid and popular comics Kick-Ass and Wanted. Frank Quitely has illustrated two high profile DC comics series – All Star Superman, and Batman: Incorporated – in addition to a significant body of artwork.

The comic has gathered some heavy accolades: “The greatest superhero epic of this generation” is printed on the back cover.

Can a new superhero series by these star creators live up to the hype?

The title has a fantasy feel, and the word “legacy” is played out visually on the cover art: the main characters appear in colour, with stone cameos of their parents dwarfing them in the background. Jupiter’s Legacy has Golden Age themes running through it. Better things have come  and gone, and the world the characters are living in has become lackluster.

The opening of the comic tells a solid origin story. I felt as though I was watching an Indianna Jones film. There was a sense of times gone by: Sheldon Sampson – possibly based on Samson (a Golden Age, biblical hero published by Fantastic Comics in 1939) – travels on a boat to a mysterious island with his college friends. They return from the voyage with superpowers.

It’s a shame we don’t get to see what they encountered on the island in this issue.

The lofty nostalgia of the past quickly gives way to a cynical and gritty contemporary setting. Sampson’s stubble-faced son Brandon, and punk daughter Chloe slack off in a night club. The impact their parents have had on popular culture is extreme, and surrounds them constantly. People dress in designer superhero costumes, and fans harangue Brandon and Chloe for attention. it’s a convincing world: the pressure has forced Brandon and Chloe into a constant state of rebellion as they try and fail to escape their parents influence.

The Art

When Sampson and his friends visit the island, there is an expertly executed series of panels slowly zooming out before finally fading to white. When viewed from above the island looks like a scale from the tail of a giant, eldritch crocodile, floating in the ocean. Peter Doherty selects excellent colour choices across the comic.

A bit more on Jupiter’s Legacy #1

A sense of a story, and a narrative thread, is laid down toward the end of the comic. Walter – a powerful psychic, and the uncle of Brandon and Chloe – insists that it’s time the heroes take charge over the direction of society using their powers.

His argument is based on the fact that the economic crises of the past five years is similar to the the state of the word during the 1930’s. He provokes the question: have we solved anything by being colourful heroes? There is a sense that this comic might end up resembling apocalyptic stories such as Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. Overall, it’s a good start and builds a universe that convinces.

Jupiter’s Legacy #1 is published be Image Comics.

Comics Review – Aquaman #16

Aquaman makes room for the Justice League, and several new characters arrive during the extended battle against Atlantis. There is a major plot twist in the Throne of Atlantis narrative, and the Trench return from their seafloor hollow.

Aquaman #16

The current character cast of Aquaman return to this issue, but arguably the real stars are the Justice League. Seeing the characters interact and work together without the bickering is a welcome, and somewhat of a good payoff after their shaky start. Aquaman and Batman work together to solve a mystery, despite clashing over leadership and the flooding of Gotham by Atlantis earlier in the story arc. Cyborg is diplomatic, and makes a major sacrifice to keep the team’s initiative and advantage against Atlantis. This is an improvement on top of previous developments – namely, the battle against the Cheetah.

Key themes that Aquaman deals with are touched on, however. Pressure from the media on Aquaman presents itself again, as an anonymous news anchor casts Aquaman as betrayer of the League in a news story about the Atlantean attack.

New Justice League characters previewed earlier in Throne of Atlantis arrive and defend Boston from the invading Atlantean army. Nick J Napolitano’s colouring is ecstatic and bright as classic Justice League characters arrive on the team for the first time in the new 52 continuity.

The pages where Hawkman, Black Lightening, Vixen, Firestorm, Black Canary, and Element Woman fend off the soldiers are only lacking in size and scale. Hawkman gets a full page to swipe at soldiers, edified in Pelletier’s detailed pencil work. The rest of the action, however is compressed into unimpressive panels. The scene calls for more space to showcase the hero’s dynamic acrobatics. Black Canary and Vixen could almost be tripping over each other in the current panel arrangement.

There is an interesting panel choice – a large jump between locations represented with only small squares. The Justice League visits the Trench’s hollow lair on the seafloor, and Batman asks Cyborg about Boston – a small panel shows Black Canary and Firestorm fighting soldiers, before jumping back to the first string characters on the Atlantic sea floor.

The narrative moves along with a major reveal that provides an unexpected twist. While it’s a spoiler to mention what happens, the revelation casts Aquaman’s brother Ocean Master in a far more sympathetic light. He becomes complex –  not a villain interested in violence and drawing plans against his nemesis – Aquaman – but a king protecting his people and his pride in Atlantis.

Aquaman #16 is published by DC comics

Movie Review – Wreck it Ralph

At Walt Disney Studios, screen writers Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston, and director Richard More – who originally thought up the concept of Wreck it Ralph – have created an entertaining family film about heroes, villains, and video games.

Wreck-it Ralph

Overview

One thing that makes this a strong film is its history. It’s clear that the team at Walt Disney Studios re-worked and shaped the idea into something interesting and relevant over a long timeframe. In addition, the movie is filled with references and characters from prominent video games over the past three decades. The popularity of a crossover to pop-culture fans cannot be underestimated.

Wreck-it Ralph nods to hardcore gamers while telling a story about being an outcast finding a rewarding role to play. The central character is a video game villain named Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, who lives in a dump, and is thrown from an apartment building into a muddy pond each time a player clears a level in the video game he occupies: Fix-it Felix Junior. It’s clear why he is frustrated.

Ralph begins a quest to find a medal: an item that apparently only heroes can possess – he believes it  will grant him respect, and potentially, acceptance from the other occupants of his game; snobby, not-playable-characters (NPCs) like Jean and Mary, and the game’s star; Fix-it Felix, voiced by Jack McBrayer. At the very least, it might allow him to move out of the dump, and into the penthouse of the apartment building.

Themes and Characters

Ralph is an outcast, and a conflicted one. It is revealed early on in the film that many video game villains hold regular group therapy session. Characters such as Zangief and M.Bison (from Street Fighter), Bowser (from Super Mario Brothers) and Doctor Eggman (from Sonic the Hedgehog) have accepted that their roles as villains. It’s possible that talking to other villains gives them all the support they need. This is not true in Ralph’s case. It’s clear he is missing friendship in his life. the experience of ‘finding your tribe’ is a key theme here. Ralph finds real satisfaction not in simply playing a game and getting a medal, which is a fairly straightforward task, but in maintaing friendships and ties to others.

Dealing with rejection and ostracism, in addition to a brief brush over the effects of bullying, are also dealt with here, particularly when Ralph finds common ground with his new friend Vanellope Von Schweetz: voiced by Sarah Silverman, Vanellope is a little glitch character from the racing game called Sugar Rush that Ralph crashes into on his journey. As a glitch, Vanellope has been entirely rejected by her peers in Sugar Rush, particularly the noxious King Candy, voiced by Alan Tudyk. Vanellope teaches Ralph tenacity and resilience – Silverman’s bright and clever performance combined with this in-built resilience make Vanellope a strong character.

Animation and Effects

Their is a remarkable blend of art style evident here: the characters of Hero’s Duty, the game where Ralph goes to find a medal, are sharp and realistic humans – their game is far more up-to-date compared to the 8-bit arcade characters. Jane Lynch, voicing Seargent Tamora Calhoun, plays this aggressive character with consistent intensity. She comes from a harsh world clearly inspired by games such as Mass Effect, and Gears of War – there acting and design are perfectly aligned. The Sugar Rush racers have a chibi or “child like” appearance – they spend most of their time in racing karts where only their faces are visible.

Most of the movies time is spent in the sweet paradise of Sugar Rush. The animation textures of chocolate dust and sparkling sugar crystals are an achievement. It’s appropriate then that the Japanese pop music written for Sugar rush can be described as ‘bubble gum pop’.

The lighting effects in Ralph and Felix’s home communicate major emotions: a harsh, red warning light dominates the interior when danger appears, and warm, gold light streams through the penthouse interior when everyone celebrates the 30th anniversary of Felix’s (and Ralph’s) game.

Wreck-It Ralph is produced by Walt Disney Studios, distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, and Directed by Rich Moore.

Weekly Comics – August 31 2012 – Characters

This week I revisited Angel & Faith and Justice League, taking a look at the Characters of Justice League #12 and Angel & Faith #13.

Angel & Faith #12

There is a little side story going on beside Angel, Willow, Conner, and Faith’s trip to a hellish dimension – two unflappable and witty characters called Sophronia and Lavinia Fairweather. They have an amusing conversation with a character called Whistler, and I’m interested in seeing more of these two. It seems, however, that their part in the story might be concluded for now. The character’s take several key steps in this issue. Connor calls Angel “Dad”, which seems small and everyday, by is enormous considering their complicated and difficult history, which involves false memories and reality changes. Faith has a great moment where she recongnises how Angel must feel – suppressing his violent and dark vampire side. Empathy is rare for Faith; a show of empathy is strong character development.

Willow has some wonderful moments here. She fights a giant monster called Quor’toth – the hellish dimension they are in is named after this behemoth. She creates a force field and generates enough yellow electric magic to knock the monster over. It’s great to see her finding magic again, but the issues cliffhanger is a reminder that magic always comes with a cost. It’s an excellent comic for it’s characters and story, and is a must read for fans of supernatural and fantasy comics.

Justice League #13

I’ve written before about the Justice League’s foibles. They are flawed and emotional people, but expect preferential treatment because of their powers and their life saving efforts. In this issue, the filmed footage of the League’s petty infighting on the street is broadcast worldwide. It is all part of the plan orchestrated by super villain David Graves: he wants to show the world that the Justice League are unreliable. His plan has a final deadly layer, and this issue reveals his intentions. Graves formed an alliance with parasitic spirits called Pretas, who can imitate the appearance of the dead, and the second goal was to send these ghost parasites across the earth. That’s a busy schedule, even for a super villain. The League stop Graves and his army of ghosts, but the whole plot seems similar to DC’s Blackest night story – a villain controls the dead to attack the heroes.

Further, the final few pages are problematic. Aquaman succinctly states their issue, saying “It’s time to be the team they(Earth’s people) thought we were instead of the team we’ve been”, but he is ignored. The Flash states “With the powers we have, it’s up to us to make the Earth safe”, but Green Lantern argues that they are not gods- the League members have not learned to listen to each other. The Flash also previously said “we’re not gods” so it seems inconsistent that he is calling for them try harder, having once stated that he was aware of the League’s Limits.

It is good that the team is coming to terms with it’s limitations, but their plan of action leaves a lot wanting. The solution: pin their incompetence and failure on Green Lantern, who will quit the team, and bear the burden like a true hero. If this seems familiar, it’s because this was the solution from Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight, where Batman carries the blame for the villain’s actions. Again, a similar idea has been copied to a new story. If the plan was to show the League as amateurs, not anywhere near their potential, then it works, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Also Superman and Wonder Woman have begun a tentative relationship.

Seven Temples in Seven Days – 6

Temple 6. The Temple of Time.

A brief description:

I’m completing all seven temples in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Masterquest in seven days. These are the Forest, Fire, Water, Shadow, Spirit, Light, and Time Temples, which serve as different levels to complete within the game, the final goal being to save Hyrule. The game uses the number seven with themes of growing up, and The Hero’s Journey,  just like the Harry Potter books.

Impressions

Ocarina of time has almost reached the end of its story. The Temple of Time has been a part of the narrative since the beginning. Link returned to this location and finally met up with a character he has been looking everywhere for: princess Zelda appears, and explains a great deal of the story. In particular, Ganon’s plan, and his current machinations.

The temple is a cathedral, and every effort has been made to capture the reverence of stepping inside a cavernous, sacred structure. While the temple has only two rooms, and isn’t a dungeon with different floors like the six temples Link has already completed, the room where the master sword is kept locked inside a stone plinth is probably the most important room in the entire game. This is the place where time travel is possible. The Master Sword takes Link back and forth through time as he draws it, and returns it to the stone. The animation sequence cemented Link’s status as a hero from the beginning: it is a clear reference to the legend of King Arthur, drawing the sword from a stone, and becoming a King thereon. As mentioned, it’s similar to Harry Potter, drawing a sword from a hat in place of a stone.

The Boss

After a series of stunning revelations involving princess Zelda, the time has come to fulfill a long running theme in video games: it’s time for Link to save the princess from Ganon. The final quest, the rescue mission, begins here in the temple of time. I’ll include more about the final level, Hyrule Castle here later, and in tomorrow’s final entry on the Temple of Light.

Standout Moments

The images below show the standout moments that happened in the temple. Earlier in the game another key instance was Link opening the doors to the room housing the Master Sword, and drawing it. Zelda reveals later this was all part of Ganon’s plan: Link opening the doors, which are named the “Doors of Time”, unlocked a passage to a place called The Sacred Realm. There, Ganon stole an artifact called the Triforce, and has been using a third of its power to keep Hyrule under his control. Ganon is after the rest of the artifact – he walked into The Sacred Realm, unaware that he could not claim the whole Triforce. He needs princess Zelda and Link to finish the ritual. The final battle determines who wins the Triforce, and whether Hyrule will be saved or dominated.

Princess Zelda Appears.

Princess Zelda Appears.

Zelda talks to Link after seven years.

Zelda believes Link can save Hyrule

Before Link can act, Zelda is captured by Ganon.