We are less that a week away from the finale of the MCU’s Loki on Disney+ and it might be fun to ponder who is actually running the TVA and is therefore the series’ Big Bad.
Spoiler warning just is case any of this comes anywhere close to happening next week. If you are concerned about possible spoilers, 1) thanks for your faith in my guesses, and 2) stop reading right now because this is all just for fun and I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone.
What do you think will happen? Have some fun in the comments below, but be kind. Thanks.
Joe R. Lansdale utilizes his long career as a gifted storyteller in many styles to create what may be the ultimate multi-genre mixtape of a summer must-read.
While Lansdale has delivered horror gold and crime classics, pulp delights and comic book fun, TV and film gems, he’s also written deeply emotional novels that should stand alongside To Kill A Mockingbird and True Grit as modern classics of American Literature. In Moon Lake, he manages to mix most of those styles into one novel. The result is compelling.
What starts as near death experience which decimates a family turns quickly into an unblinking look at the Jim Crow South. The narrative then evolves into a mystery mixing crime, horror, small town politics gone insane, dark pasts, and disturbing secrets. That feast is leavened with humor that runs through the novel like new laces on a well-loved pair of Converse.
America’s champion mojo author once again visits the theme of dark waters, conjuring unique takes on gothic tropes, modernizing monsters, refreshing fiends, rehaunting houses, creating more current catacombs, and keeping the pace as swift as a runaway current.
Looking for a summer read that sweeps you away? Lansdale’s latest, Moon Lake, is highly recommended.
Allow me to begin with an apology. Somebody somewhere in social media may have mentioned this before. If so, I apologize for not remembering your name. But I suspect that Kurt Busiek’s “Avengers Forever” might just be the key to the MCU phase four, and possibly five.
The 12-part miniseries is loaded with elements that show up in #WandaVision and #Loki and seem destined to show up in #SpiderManFarFromHome and #DrStrangeMultiverseofMadness as well as possibly many more upcoming #MCU projects, potentially including the similarly titled #blackpantherwakandaforever.
The plot of “Avengers Forever” pits Kang the Conqueror against his older iteration Immortus and against the Time Keepers that have shown up in the MCU/Disney+ series “Loki”.
Various Avengers are plucked from time (as Loki was) to play their roles as either puppets or rebels, and the question becomes: who is manipulating time and who is protecting it? We also find ourselves asking what is more important, the will of the Time Keepers or free will, the freedom to choose our individual destiny?
Plot elements in “Loki” already suggest these questions, and it remains unclear at this point whether the two Lokis are fulfilling the Kang/Immortus roles or setting the stage for the Conqueror himself, as has been rumored. Either way, the seeds of doubt about the Time Variance Authority and the Time Keepers has already been sown into the show and do reflect this story in fascinating ways.
The events of the comic mini-series are referred to in the plot as The Destiny War, and this may be what is getting set up in the MCU. Fans have suggested we’re heading towards Secret Wars, but plot elements, especially in “Loki”, suggest this other war may be what we are watching unfold.
I may be wrong but the parallels and suggestions are too numerous to ignore. It may, in fact, be our destiny to give “Avengers Forever” a read. You might want to do that before the Time Keepers wipe out this reality to eliminate spoilers and bad puns.
Marvel is pushing the limits of superhero entertainment, asking difficult questions about who gets power and a voice in the world, and they are making the argument excellently well, offering an intriguing range of views for us to consider at a time when listening to each other is in short supply.
The show is well-populated. There are, of course, uncaring politicians who want to wield power without hesitation arguing with more sensitive leaders.
We are shown a hero who was militarily trained to enforce initiatives (John Walker), another whose mind was enslaved by a government (Bucky Barnes) and must now work to make amends for a bloody past, and then there is one (The Falcon) who believes in reason over blood.
Meanwhile, other (Baron Zemo, Sharon Carter, the Dora Milaje, the Contessa) act on their own agendas that complicate the heroes’ efforts.
Perhaps the most challenging point-of-view comes from the Flag Smashers, led by Karli Morgenthau, and their slogan “One World, One People.”
It is inarguably a beautiful idea. All of us living in peace as human beings rather than rivals or races or enemies is what we have professed in our best moments.
But, sadly, we usually acting against that ideal.
The same is true of the Flag Smashers. They reassure themselves by professing “One World, One Peace” but it does not hold up in anything else they say or do.
While they talk a good unity game, it is ultimately a dreamy version of Us vs. Them that is negated by their progressively more divisive words and actions. They hate the rest of the world and want to tear it down. Not very “one world, one people.”
And yes, they are right that the powerful traditionally act to make sure they keep power for themselves. But by using hate rhetoric and marshaling power to destroy power, we don’t defeat the enemy, we become them.
The flag smashers can profess they want “one world, one peace”, but when they seek power for themselves that is just another version of “our world, our peace”. A replacement agenda is not a restoration or unification goal.
And I get it, they have been treated horrendously (in a fictional sense). Doesn’t justify mass murder. Doesn’t allow one to punch enemies to death. And their plans seem to be leading to a mass action that may prove to be chillingly similar to January 6.
They aren’t alone in crossing the line of the Social Contract, existing laws, or morality. John Walker was trained to be a killer for his country but when he killed out of rage in front of the world’s cameras, his government abandoned him. The complexities of that is worthy of its own essay.
And world leaders are arguing about how to treat the “displaced” in this tale just as they are in our reality. How the show’s leaders behave may be an uncomfortable reflection for who we elect to do the same for us.
All these seductive lies bring into focus one who has been so abused by his country he’d rather “stay dead” (Isiah Bradley), one who needs to be what his country made him because he thinks he has nothing else (John Walker), another who needs to be truly moral because he spent 90 years murdering against his will (Bucky Barnes), and one who believes in the possibility that we can be better no matter all our divisions, who stubbornly hangs on to the hope that we can rise above our horrendous past despite mistreatment at every turn (Sam Wilson/The Falcon/possibly the next Captain America).
Karli Morgenthau might say “One World, One Peace” but Sam Wilson has the clear-eyed vision and strength of character to walk the Via Dolorosa required to achieve real progress.
Episode Six, the season finale airing this Friday, has positioned Marvel to offer their take on complicated and sensitive issues facing us all today. It is brave and challenging storytelling and well worth your time.
America is in turmoil right now. Well, it has been most of my life, and I’ve been around for a long time. There is an ongoing clash between the Idea of America and the Reality of America. The latter is far darker, more ominous, and eats away at hope.
I believe in the Idea of America. And I believe in the power of story to help us organize our thoughts, reflect on that dark reality, and, possibly, move forward, even if it’s just a little step.
Now, to be honest, there are many Americans who feel that time is long damn past for “a little step” But if everyone takes a little step, and every story contributes another step, and, sometimes, within really well-written and well-performed and well-produced stories, several little steps are taken in quick succession and that is the genesis of hope.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is taking exactly those steps, episode by episode, scene by scene, line-by-really-well-crafted line.
This show is about the clash between the Idea of America and the Reality of America. It is complex and complicated, layered with history and agendas, and is both subtle and overt, and, ultimately, there are no easy answers.
Ain’t that America.
But sometimes, if we are brave enough to even consider the questions, if we have the courage to hear other views, no matter how uncomfortable they are, that may possibly spark progress.
America desperately needs to end casual, institutionalized racism. We need to correct so much about American life, especially regarding how we treat our own people, our neighbors, our fellow Americans.
The sad Reality of Racist America has hurt our people for far too long, for our entire history, if we are brave enough to look at facts. And the terror of racism is continuing.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is taking on the difficult task of having the awkward, challenging discussions about the hate tearing at what America can be. From the ground level differences between how white Americans and Americans of color are treated by banks, police, and the United States government, to our dark history of racist abuse toward our own fellow Americans, Marvel is tossing light on our darkest realities.
Add to that a glimpse of how we are seen around the world, the different agendas of those in power, and you have a gripping tale. Tell it around magnificent action sequences and you have what might might prove to be Marvel’s most important offering.
How do we define our heroes? How do we define ourselves as Americans? And are we truly interested in finally incorporating the Idea of America into the Reality of America? Those are the incredibly bracing questions this show asks of all of us.
And our country would be so much stronger if we watched and reflected, truly reflected, on what our answers are to those questions, and what they should be if we want to honor the Idea of America in our daily lives.
Arresting performances. Thrilling action. Engaging characters. Thrilling action. Top-notch production. And substantive discussion that needs to be heard today. Marvel is making some brave TV.
It is not too late to binge the first five episodes available now and be ready for the finale next week.
When not blogging or writing fiction, my other creative outlet is a podcast called TELL THE DAMN STORY. Here’s a promotion for it that my co-host, the legendary Alex Simmons, created on his phone from his hospital bed.
Worth a look.and the podcast is worth a listen, gotta say.
I have a break from my day job as a teacher this week and have been filling it as a student of writing. And yes, it has been a thrilling week.
First, I am getting more involved with writing associations and, when they are cooking, writer Zooms are truly engaging. For example, readings from the Mystery Writers of America – New York and the Horror Writers Association – New York/Galactic Terrors killed this month. Witnessing writers perform their work is always a treat, but having them talk process afterwards delights both the writer and teacher in me.
Monthly meetings can be a mixed bag but I am learning to participate more and that improves with each round. Highly recommended.
I did learn about the Alliance of Independent Authors from this month’s MWA-NY meeting (thanks, Victoria Weisfeld), and it already seems to be a true resource after years of disappointments. It is difficult to wade through all the webinars, outright hustles, and “get successful quick” pitches flooding the market these days, and I am grateful to find more and more solid ground via these associations.
Writing is an ongoing education and multiple lessons can be learned with each activity. I am discovering which opinions are given sincerely and which are serving some other agenda, and how to benefit from both. I am seeing that sometimes improvements to a creative environment are more complicated and frustrating than the initial situation, and all of it teaches. We take what we need from each experience and we grow from there.
And there are ways to learn from masters and professionals further along than you. Associations have value, and they are numerous. Pay the dues and reap the benefits. MasterClass is worth the annual price. A curated list of podcasts can offer weekly instruction, information, and/or inspiration (which is exactly why I still mourn the suspension of regular episodes from The Horror Show with Braine Keene).
Similarly, curated social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can provide an important writing community to sustain you, offer support, advice, and growth. Unfollow the frivolous or overtly political and follow creatives who can inspire, educate, and whom you can support with likes and encouragement; it is an entirely different online experience than screaming into the doom and gloom. Additionally, YouTube has a growing list of reader/writer oriented shows to explore (I love the deeply philosophical analysis of pop culture on Implicitly Pretentious). And I am sure many can offer additional insights about shows, people to follow, and/or worthwhile platforms in the comments below.
My point is that while I have barely left the house this week, I have traveled extensively, witnessed many stories, gleaned useful information, saw many friends, learned so much, and was entertained often. It has been a refreshing week, and I am grateful.
So much is out there, brothers and sisters. Go get you some and use it to fuel your own creativity.
So the goddess and I are supposed to hit the malls for Black Friday. In previous years, I would follow my ritual of wandering around wherever she wanted to go and do people watching, picking up snippets of conversation or body language or just character studies that I would use to cast my short stories and novels. This year, the specter of our national health crisis casts Black Friday as a darker and more ominous outing.
I used to feed off the bustle of the crowd, the energy of so many people packed into one space. That thought now unnerves, revealing scars that coronavirus is leaving on me, and maybe some of you.
With so many medical companies close to vaccines we cannot help turning our heads towards a future free of the ‘Rona. But will we ever be completely free, or has this disease marked us forever?
As I fight a low-key dread on the way to the mall, with my thickest mask in my pocket and hand sanitizer at the ready, I can’t help but think that I will be a meeting little wary of crowds, enclosed places, movie theaters, and malls for the rest of my life. I don’t think 2020 will ever completely leave us.
But I am willing to try and shove it into the dusty corners of my mind, locking it in some old battered trunk of memory where I keep childhood scraped knees and puppy love broken hearts.
And to be honest with you, I can’t wait until the day when we all can do that.
Until then it’s masks up, distance kept, and hand sanitizers at the ready.
The late fall evenings have been deeply dark, like dusk got fired and midnight was forced to come in to work early. Night descends quickly around 5 pm and that seems to figure into all that 2020 has been.
We need the lights.
Driving around town, we see many families have lit their holiday decorations early this year, and it inspires gratitude.
Alex Simmons and I do a podcast for creatives, especially writers, called TELL THE DAMN STORY. Since COVID-19 took away summer writing conferences this year, we decided to create one for you.
We invited pop culture author and journalist Caseen Gaines, spoken word poet, children’s author, and songwriter Toney Jackson, and, for panels three and four, newly published slam poet legend and co-founder of Black Nerd Problems Omar Holman to help us.
With a ton of humor and anecdotes and do’s and don’ts, we offer insight and advice on major areas of the creative process.
Panel 1 (episode 146) focuses on inspiration and where it comes from.
Panel 2 (episode 147) is all about the discipline of getting your butt in a seat and writing.
Panel 3 (episode 148) focuses on editing your work, from first draft to final polish.
And in Panel 4 (episode 149) we discuss promotion, social media, and getting your work out there.
There are no strings attached here. The whole series is offered free for nothing as our way of helping to take up the slack because COVID-19 came to the party and spat in the punch bowl.
Enjoy the panels, recommend them to aspiring writers who may benefit from them, toss a link to here on social media if you want. It is all about helping each other cope, grow, and improve individually and as part of the greater writing community.