How I Would Have Written ‘Captain Marvel’

So, if you read my Marvel recap, you remember that I had certain issues with ‘Captain Marvel‘. Said issues largely amount to ‘It’s an incredibly stupid film with a hateful protagonist’.

Naturally, as with Black Panther, I thought about how I might have tackled the character, and the results are presented below (fair warning, this one’s a lot more lore-heavy than my BP take, so if you’re not familiar with the Marvel universe – cinematic or otherwise – you might get a little lost).

Carol Danvers is a newly-formed captain the US Air Force joining her first active-duty squadron at a Florida base. She’s always dreamt of flying in the Air Force, following the military footsteps of her father and brothers and following a life-long love of aviation.

The squad, however, is cold to her, especially after a preliminary exercise where she makes a crucial mistake and nearly causes a crash. However, her wingman gets blamed for it instead of her.

At a bar that night, the rest of the squad keeps their distance from her, and when she tries to get friendly with the only other female pilot – Monica Rambeau – the woman lays it out for her. Carol had been used in a lot of promotional material during training, and they’ve all heard rumors that she was given special treatment and lowered standards to make her look good for the papers. Basically, as far as they’re concerned she’s a publicity stunt designed to get girls interested in the military, not a real pilot.

Stung by this, Carol reviews her training records and realizes that she ought to have failed at several points, or at least received far greater pushback than she received. She goes to the base commander to request to be returned to training, and he responds by publicly rebuking the team for failing to ‘make her feel welcome.’ Monica fesses up and takes the heat to spare the rest of the squad from being punished, and Carol becomes even less popular as a result.

Taking out her frustrations by swimming laps (wearing a black bathing suit very like her classic costume), she meets Phil Lawson, a scientific liaison attached to the base. He has a gallant, old-world charm and they strike up a friendship, helped by the fact that he’s the only one who isn’t either hostile or patronizing toward her. He advises her that, if she wasn’t given the right preparation then, she’ll just have to make up for it now and try twice as hard. “That’s the way of the warrior.”

Not long after, the squad is assigned to a training exercise with an experimental jet that Lawson developed. Carol is assigned to pilot the jet, against her protests that any one of the others would be better qualified.

They fly out over the Bermuda Triangle, with Lawson riding in the cockpit behind Carol to study the plane’s performance. Suddenly, they lose contact with the base and a UFO appears. Lawson gasps in surprise on seeing it – “No…not here…” – and the UFO shoots down the squad commander. It then targets the others in the squad, specifically Monica, but Carol fires on it, then drives the jet across its path to draws its attention (“Let’s hope this damn thing is as good as you say it is”). She tells the others to retreat while she tries to lead the UFO off. It pursues her, but instead of shooting them down it catches the plane in a tractor beam, drawing them inside itself before departing for space.

The blue-skinned aliens – the Kree – capture Carol and Lawson and put them through a very painful scanning process. Carol is put in first, over Lawson’s protest that it might kill her. It causes intense pain, and she’s unable to stand at the end of it. Then when Lawson goes through, it strips him of his human disguise and reveals the blue skin beneath. Carol lasts just long enough to see this before passing out.

She wakes up in a cell, with Lawson waiting outside of it. He expresses relief that she’s alive, she, however, doesn’t trust him anymore, accusing him of setting the whole thing up. He assures her that he had nothing to do with it, but says the truth is a long story, and he doesn’t have time. But he is going to try to get her released.

Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Yon-Rogg, the ship’s commander. He says that he’s given Lawson – or Mar-Vel as he calls him – enough time to worry over his “pet” and now they need to talk. Also on board is Quin-Ra, a servant of Mar-Vel’s family.

Yon-Rogg takes Mar-Vel to his chambers, where they share drinks. Y comments that he was difficult to find: the Nova Corps couldn’t say where he’d gone. Mar-Vel mutters something evasive about continuing his research. Yon-Rogg then drops the information that Mar-Vel’s father and his entire family is dead, which is why he was sent to find him, since he is now the sole remaining member of that line.

Shocked and pained, Mar-Vel asks who killed his family, and Yon-Rogg is oddly evasive. M suggests Thanos, but Y scornfully comments that, thanks to the Nova Corps, the Kree are already ‘balanced’ enough for the Mad Titan’s tastes (this prompts an angry retort from M about “forgetting politics for once”). He then asks Mar-Vel why he supposes he put them through the scan when they were brought on board.

Putting the pieces together, Mar-Vel nearly drops his glass. He protests in horror that “they’re extinct.” Yon-Rogg shakes his head. Mar-Vel asks how ‘they’ could be so strong, since surely people would know if there were many of them. To which Yon-Rogg answers “Would they?”

Mar-Vel asks what the other major powers in the galaxy – the Nova Corps, Asgard – are doing about it. Yon-Rogg answers that, as far as the Kree are aware, the other civilizations don’t know about it yet. The Kree are content to let ‘them’ weaken the others if possible while they take steps to protect their own Empire.

Realizing the danger, Mar-Vel understands that he has to come back to Hala to help protect his people. But he insists on letting Carol go first. Yon-Rogg refuses, revealing that he means to take her back as a scientific specimen, since they’ve had so little opportunity to study Terran physiognomy.

Following this conversation, Mar-Vel manages to trick the guards and get Carol out of her cell, and the two make their way to an escape pod. During the escape, some guards fire at Carol, but Mar-Vel places himself between them and her, taking the shots and then returning them from his hand, revealing his power to absorb and re-direct energy. He sends a message to Yon-Rogg as they fly away, telling him to inform the Supreme Intelligence that he’ll return as soon as he can.

The damaged pod crashes back on Earth and Carol emerges mortally wounded. With no other choice, Mar-Vel gives her a blood transfusion. She then directs him to her father’s house before collapsing. When she wakes up, she finds he’s been anxiously watching over her. After expressing relief at her recovery, he begs her to explain to her father that he hadn’t abducted her.

M: “He keeps threatening to shoot me and sell my body to the tabloids.”
C: “Cut it out, Dad! At least tell him it’ll be the National Geographic!”

Upon rising, she discovers that the blood transfusion has given her similar powers to his, only more volatile.

They recuperate with her father, and Mar-Vel explains his history. He is the son of a noble Kree family, but preferred scholarship to warfare, marking him out as an anomaly among his people. Following Ronan’s attack, he was sent as an ambassador to Xandar to try to repair relations (and, he suspects, because he was something of an embarrassment at home). There he gained enough respect from Nova Prime that he was permitted to study the Power Stone.

In his studies, he realized that it was the core of an ancient Kree artifact that their first Emperor used to unite Hala, back when their civilization was more peaceful and cultured and less pre-occupied with war. It was said that the first Emperor had god-like powers. Unable to resist, he made an attempt to replicate it with the stone and found himself able to absorb and generate energy.

Realizing that if it were discovered what he’d done than the Kree would never rest until they could exploit it, he decided to leave Xandar and hide out on Earth while he studied his new abilities. Now Carol has the same powers he does. Feeling responsible, he says he can’t leave until he teaches her to safely control them.

C: “Wait. Does that mean I can fly?”
M: “Ah…it might. Eventually. It took me a while to learn, but…”
C: “But I can fly? Really fly?”
M: “Yes.”
C: “Then what are we waiting for?”

At the same time, the squad have returned to the base and been debriefed. This incident is being put down as a training accident, since, as the commander explains, after so many recent disasters the government doesn’t want to worry people unnecessarily. Monica, who feels guilty about how she treated Carol, requests to be the one to take the news to her family, noting that Carol saved her life.

She goes to Col. Danvers’s house to inform him of his daughter’s ‘death’. She admits that they weren’t very close, and confesses that she had underestimated her. While she’s speaking, Carol comes in behind her.

R: “She was…more than any of us expected.”
C: “Would you say she was a real pilot?”

Monica is stunned that she’s alive, and Carol says that it’s a ‘long story’ and indicates Mar-Vel, fully revealed in his blue-skinned form.

M: “Captain Rambeau. You’re looking well.”

Carol explains what happened and why she needs to stay ‘dead’, at least for the time being. Now that she has powers, she’d be subject to the Sokovia Accords and considering how volatile her abilities currently are, it would be dangerous for Secretary Ross to know about her.

Monica apologizes for what she said in the bar, but Carol says that it was only too true and not to worry about it.

Mar-Vel then gives her her first lesson and Monica watches.

M: “Thanks to the Power Stone, you body now generates enough energy to power New York City. It absorbs impacts, reinforces your muscles, and speeds up your perception. Effectively, you’re stronger, faster, and more durable than just about anyone on your planet or mine.”
C: “Even the Hulk?”
M: “Eh, let’s make an exception for the Avengers for now. You can push your body to generate more energy and you can absorb it from your environment. The sun, cosmic rays in space, plasma fire, kinetic energy, and so on. But it’s not unlimited. Try to absorb too much, you’ll risk overloading.”
C: “What happens then?”
M: “I’ve never tried it, and I wouldn’t recommend doing so. Also, remember it takes time for your body to generate energy. It’s not an infinite supply. If you try to channel too much, you could deplete yourself, and then you’ll be just an ordinary human…Kree…beautiful woman.”

Carol gives him a bemused look at the description.

C: “We wouldn’t want that, would we?”

The lesson does not go well. Carol has a very hard time controlling her powers, uses too much at once, and generally struggles to keep it under control. But though frustrated, she keeps working hard. When Mar-Vel tries to sugar-coat how badly she did, she angrily insist that he not coddle her, but give it to her straight.

This leads into a montage of her training and slowly mastering her abilities. All the while she’s borne up by the idea that, if she learns to control it, she’ll be able to fly.

During this time, they begin to fall deeply in love, though Mar-Vel knows that he’ll soon have to leave. At one point there is a discussion about the human practice of taking your husband’s name.

Carol: “It’s an old-fashioned custom.”
Mar-Vel: “Sometimes the old ways are best. Would that we Kree had continued our traditions instead of hungering for more and more power.”

(They also comment on how ‘Marvel’ in English means ‘great wonder’).

She asks why he has to go back, and he says that his people need him. They are facing a deadly enemy and he must do what he can to stop them. She asks who the enemy is.

Mar-Vel: “They are called the Skrulls.”

He explains that the Skrulls can change their appearance and even their DNA structure to imitate anyone. They’ve developed techniques for stealing memories. They are like a virus: when they target a planet, the quietly copy and replace its most important people and their families, or else integrate themselves among the population and seek out key positions of power. They then use a combination of chemicals and mass hypnosis to discourage breeding and slowly phase the original population out while they themselves continue to reproduce until they are the majority of the population. The are cunning and deadly patient. Only when they are exposed do they break out their weaponry, which is at least on a par with that of the Kree. Now it seems that, from being thought extinct, they’ve been quietly building an empire for over a thousand years and are at last ready to begin declaring themselves openly.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, Yon-Rogg has seen Mar-Vel’s power and realizes what it means. He’s determined to take it for himself, and so sends a message to the Supreme Intelligence saying that they’ve discovered that Mar-Vel was killed by the Earth natives. He then seeks permission to seize the planet as a strategic point. The Supreme Intelligence takes time to consider his arguments, then gives permission. Quin-Ra observes all this and, the first chance he gets, slips away in a smaller ship.

Carol final masters her powers enough to fly. Mar-Vel teaches her by carrying her into the sky and ‘casting her off’. He’s done this several times in the montage and had to catch her each time. But this time she really “let’s herself go” and flies for real. It’s a joyous, almost dream-like sequence as she zooms through the air, testing her abilities, reveling the sheer ecstasy of flight. Mar-Vel flies alongside her, and the scene soon turns romantic, ending in a mid-air kiss in front of the moon.

When they land, however, Mar-Vel tells her that, now she’s learned to control her powers, he has to go. He promises to return some day if he can.

As he is about to leave, however, Quin-Ra flies down in his ship, having finally tracked them down. Mar-Vel says that he’s ready to return, but Quin-Ra reveals that Yon-Rogg has already reported his death and intends to steal his powers, and that he has received permission to seize the Earth.

Yon-Rogg arrives shortly after and Mar-Vel confronts him.

M: “Traitor!”
Y: “That’s rich, coming from you!”

Yon-Rogg says that the power of the Kree hero does not belong in one who would betray the Empire.

Y also makes a crack about “studying the local wildlife.”

Mar-Vel counters that Y is involving the Empire in a disastrous course, saying that attacking Earth will mean war with Asgard just when they’re also fighting the Skrulls. Yon-Rogg counters that Asgard will not intervene. The Dark Elves’ attack showed that they had become weak, and now Odin is dying and his sons bicker over the throne. They will not have the capacity or attention to interfere. He also cites Ronan’s attack on Xandar as showing what the Kree can still accomplish if someone is only wiling to act.

Carol sneers that the Chitauri already tried to take the Earth, but the Avengers stopped them.

C: “You don’t know what you’re getting into.”

Yon-Rogg answers that he knows all about the Avengers, which is why he doesn’t intend to invade the Earth. He’s going to bombard the planet from orbit until nothing survives.

Y: “We only want it as a strategic outpost. If, in the future, we decide to set up a permanent settlement here, we can always re-terraform it.”

Mar-Vel declares that he will not allow Yon-Rogg to stain their people with more innocent blood, and a battle breaks out, first on the ground (Carol’s Dad joins in with a rifle) then in the skies as Yon-Rogg scrambles his fighters to try to capture Mar-Vel. Carol and Mar-Vel fight back, and soon the rest of her squad join in, having been scrambled in response to reports of explosions. During this, Carol ends up flying alongside Monica’s jet and snaps a salute at her.

Monica: (whistling) “Well, shazam!”

Yon-Rogg finally orders a retreat and, abandoning the idea of taking Mar-Vel’s body, resolves to start the bombardment right away. He charges up a massive beam, and Mar-Vel, over Carol’s pleas, flies up to block it. He succeeds, but the effort overloads his body. There’s a massive explosion that damages the ship and he falls back to earth.

Carol catches his body as it falls and lands in the field where they practiced. He says good-bye, then calls Quin-Ra to witness that she is now the heir to his family line and Qui-Ra’s rightful mistress, effectively claiming her as his wife.

M: “The Vel blood flows in her veins.”

He begs her to help save the Kree, both from the Skrulls and from themselves. She says she’ll do her best, and he dies in her arms.

Meanwhile, Yon-Rogg starts to prepare another shot, the explosion having damaged his ship, but not disabled it. Carol flies up to space to continue the fight, but her blasts can’t penetrate the shields of the huge capital ship. In a final gambit, she summons all her stored energy and unleashes it in a single powerful beam that overwhelms the shields and blasts right through the middle of the ship. On the bridge, Yon-Rogg can only futilely deny that this is happening before he’s consumed in the explosion.

Completely spent, Carol falls back to Earth and passes out on the way down.

She wakes up at home, learning that Quin-Ra caught her with his ship’s tractor beam. We also learn that Monica Rambeau and her squadron are getting most of the credit, and Carol’s existence remains a secret for now, though the government will soon be looking for her.

They bury Mar-Vel in the field, not wanting his body to fall into the hands of the government. Carol then says that she has to go soon to try to carry on his work. She means to go to Xandar first to warn them of the Skrull threat.

Carol’s preparing to leave when her father says she has another visitor. Natasha Romanov walks in.

Carol is amazed to see the Black Widow in her house.

C: “I thought you were on the run.”
N: “I am. This is me running, so I’ll get to the point. We know what you did and what you can do. Since most people can’t tell you this, let me say that we’re grateful. And frankly, we could use someone like you on the team.”
C: “You…you want me to be an Avenger?”
N: “I’ll be honest, it would mean going on the run, but since you’re already dead that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you. And you could do some real good.”

Carol considers it, but then shakes her head.

C: “I’m sorry. I appreciate the offer, I really do. Serving under Captain America, that…that’d be another dream come true! But I’ve got a promise to keep.”

Natasha nods.

N: “I’ll level with you, we think that something big is coming. Something that might take everything we’ve got and more. So, I hope you hurry back.”

Carol thinks a moment, then takes a communication device from the table.

C: “Here. I’m told this works even across interstellar distances. Something about wormholes, my new butler isn’t really sure, but supposedly it works. If you really need me, give me a call and I’ll be here as soon as I can.”
N: “Thanks. Good luck, Captain Danvers.”
C: “Actually, it’s not Danvers anymore. I’m a bit old fashioned that way. It’s Captain Marvel.”

Mid-Credits Scene:
We see pieces of the destroyed Kree ships being loaded up into a warehouse somewhere not far from the Air Force Base. The base commander is overseeing it.

Then Secretary Ross walks in. He says something about how this is a potential gold mine of information, with the chance to ‘give then an edge’.

The commander asks if he’s going to bring Stark in on it.

Ross: “Stark? Stark’s old news. I’ve got someone better. Someone more reliable.”

He indicates a thirty-something year old man who hasn’t been paying the slightest attention to them, instead studying the machinery with avidity, exclaiming over its composition.

Ross: “Doctor?”

The man comes out of his reverie and greets the commander. Ross: “Meet the future, commander.”

Man: “Sorry to be rude. Ah, it’s all rather exciting. Do you realize that the circuitry in these crafts already confirms the theory of…Oh, sorry, there I go again. How do you do? My name is Reed Richards.”

End Credits Scene:
We see a man in a darkened room talking into a small communication device. A shadowy figure is visible on the other end.

“War is coming and much is changing. We must study these developments and see how to turn them to our advantage. In the meantime, you will hold your positions and take no further actions for the time being.”

Man: “Understood. Long live the Skrull Empire!”

He ends the communication. A moment later, there is a knock at the door.

“Sir? They’re ready for you.”

The Skrull gets up and leaves the room. In the Oval Office, Monica Rambeau is waiting to be decorated. The Skrull is the President of the United States.

President: “Captain Rambeau. Our people owe you a great debt.”

A Quick Short

Once upon a time there was an old farmer named Zechariah Flint. He grew all kinds of things, but his specialty was cabbages. He won prizes at all the fairs for his beautiful cabbages, and they were his pride and joy.

Well, one year, just a few days before he was due to harvest the cabbages to take to the fair, Old Zechariah notices that something’s been eating them. Obviously he was pretty darn upset about that, so he set out some traps in the hope of catching whatever it was. But no matter how many snares he set, more and more of the cabbages were getting eaten.

With only three days left before the fair, he was getting furious. At this rate, his next door neighbor, Joe Sloman might beat him out for the blue ribbon, and he just couldn’t stand Joe Sloman! So that night he got out his gun and sat up by the garden to see if he could catch the thief.

Right about the first crack of dawn, a big fat rabbit comes hopping along right into his garden and goes straight for the cabbages. Zechariah smiled triumphantly, raised his gun, and said “Say your prayers, varmint!”

The rabbit saw him, and realizing it couldn’t get away it sat back on its haunches and put its paws in the air in surrender.

“Spare me, sir!” cried the rabbit. “What have I done that you want to go and murder me?”

“’T’ain’t murder,” said Zechariah. “You’re a thief! You’re the one that’s been eatin’ my cabbages.”

“Oh, are these your cabbages?” asked the rabbit. “I’m sorry, I had no idea! I thought they were abandoned, see, and free to all hungry creatures. I apologize sincerely for my mistake.”

“You ‘spect me to believe that?” sneered Zechariah, aiming down the gun.

“Perhaps I could offer you something in payment for the cabbages?” said the rabbit. “I can, you know, if you will but spare my life.”

Now, Zechariah didn’t really think the rabbit had anything to offer, but he was curious and lowered his gun a little.

“That so?” he said. “Now, what can you offer?”

“I know that you men love gold, yes?” said the rabbit.

“Aye, that we do,” said Zechariah

“Well, as you know, we rabbits live in holes in the ground. My own burrow is some ways away, beyond that field. I happened to be digging a nice new den not two days back when I hit into a big wooden chest. I peeked inside, and what do I find but piles and piles of shiny gold coins! I think someone must have buried it there long ago and forgotten all about it. If you won’t shoot me, I’ll tell you exactly where to find it.”

Now the old farmer was interested. He had a decent living, but not so decent that he’d care to pass up a whole chest of gold if it were really there for the taking. He lowered his gun even further.

“You telling the truth, varmint?” he said.

“As I live and breathe,” said the rabbit. “And as I hope to go on doing so.”

Zechariah thought a moment, then said, “All right, varmint. If you tell me where this here treasure is, and swear to me that you’ll never touch my cabbages again, then I’ll let you go.”

“Oh, thank you good sir, thank you!” said the rabbit. “I will tell you what to do. On the other side of yonder hill is a field. In the field there is a chestnut tree. If you dig about the roots on the west side of that tree, you will find that treasure. Though I warn you, it is down fairly deep.”

“All right,” said the farmer. “But remember, treasure or no treasure, I’ll shoot you down if I catch you prowling around here again!”

“After today, I swear to you sir that you will never see me again!” said the rabbit.

So Zechariah saw the thief off of his land, then went and fetched his spade and set off to follow the rabbit’s direction. He climbed the hill, found the meadow, and saw the chestnut tree, just as the rabbit had said. Now very excited, he set to work digging about the west side of the tree. It was hard work, since the tree had large and extensive roots. More than once his old heart gave a leap as he thought he’d found it at last, only to discover that it was only yet another tree root that had to be cleared.

He dug all morning and on into afternoon, fearful to leave the spot now that he’d begun. Joe Sloman might happen by, see what was up, and get the gold before him after he’d gone and done all that work.

But finally, as the sun was going down and he’d dug a hole near ten feet deep and almost as wide and fair uprooted the whole tree, the old farmer had to face the fact that he’d been tricked. There was nothing here but tree roots and the remnant of an abandoned rabbit burrow.

Fuming and swearing to get even with the rabbit, he limped back over the hill to his farm. Only then, as he came in sight of his garden, he realized that the rabbit had at least been telling the truth about one thing: after today, neither he nor any other rabbits would be coming by.

For, while Zechariah had been off digging all day, the rabbit had gone and fetched all his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and cousins down to the fourth degree – rabbits have large families, as you know – and they’d descended on old Zechariah’s garden and carried off not only every head of his prized cabbage, but every single vegetable he possessed, down to the last string bean.

So, just as the old liar had promised, Zechariah never saw him again. And obviously he wasn’t able to bring any of his prized cabbages to the fair that year. But what rankled him most of all was the fact that Joe Sloman took home a blue ribbon with a freshly-caught brace of the fattest rabbits anyone had ever seen.

Quick Thoughts on ‘Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt So I’ll Max Out My Defense’

Since I mentioned Bofuri in the Friday Flotsam before last, I realized that I was due to give it a rundown. And since I’ve just come off of a re-watch over the past weekend (it’s very short: only twelve episodes in the first season), now seems the time.
Maple and her Guild

Teenaged Kaede has never really played video games before, much less a state-of-the-art virtual-reality MMORPG like New World Online. But her best friend, Risa, is an enthusiastic gamer and insists on her buying it so that they can play together. Risa gets herself grounded just after they buy the game, but she urges Kaede to get a head start, resulting in her breaking into the game free of guidance. She picks the name ‘Maple’ for herself (simply the English translation of her own name) and, not quite understanding how games work and is anxious not to get hurt, she puts all her starting skill points into ‘vitality’ (defense) and selects the Great Shielder class. This results in her being slow as molasses, with feather-light attacks and a minuscule amount of health and magic, but also effectively invulnerable to normal damage.

As it turns out, the developers never thought of someone doing that (one of the running gags of the series is that New World Online is a pretty poorly designed game that is easy to exploit). Through a combination of her extreme durability and out-of-the-box thinking, Maple ends up stumbling her way into several more feats that raise her defense even higher. Then more. And more. By the time Risa (who takes the name Sally) is able to join the game, Maple’s become powerful enough to defeat hoards of other players in the first in-game event and has developed a growing fanbase on account of her unpredictable play style and cute, friendly personality.

From there it’s mostly just Maple and Sally exploring the game, fighting bosses, solving challenges, and making friends. All the while, Maple finds ever more ways to break the game and the developers (seen periodically as plushy avatars) scramble to keep up with her growing power set.
Maple (top) and Sally. One way she gets around having 0 agility.

And, really, that’s it. It’s just two cute girls playing a video game, one of whom repeatedly stumbles into exploits and secrets that make her ever more unstoppable. The stakes are extremely low: everyone knows it’s a game and treats it as such, no one’s really mean or unpleasant outside of employing ruthless tactics during PvP events. There’s no villain to fight, no great problem to solve, nothing but a chance to have fun and make friends.

Personally, I’m okay with that. Sometimes you just want to kick back and enjoy the premise of a show without any real drama or heavy action. Besides which, the light-hearted and consequence-free tone presents a hilarious contrast with the downright savage tactics Maple and the others sometimes employ. The story never loses sight of the fact that these are just kids playing a game, which means that there’s no contradiction whatever between Maple magically paralyzing hoards of people before drowning them all in poison and being an adorably sweet girl who doesn’t have a malicious or vindictive bone in her body. It also leads to a lot of amusing gags, like how Mii, a skilled player who role-plays as a charismatic war-leader will sometimes break character and start crying like the immature teenager she really is when things go wrong.

(Most episodes also end with a shot of the game message boards as players – including Maple’s self-professed fan club, ‘The Guardians of Fort Maple’ – discuss Maple’s latest insanity. These require some rapid use of the pause button to read the subtitles – the show is dubbed, but the text is still all Japanese – but are usually well worth it: “I’m so glad I died early so I can watch this!”)

I have a great fondness for absurdly overpowered characters – when they’re done well. Maple is a solid example of how to make a character like that and have her still be fun to watch. Mostly this has to do with the aforementioned sweetness. She’s just a flat-out nice person, as well as being really cute, which means both that it’s really funny to watch her laying waste to whole armies and that we’re entirely in favor of her having the power to overcome any obstacles set in her way.
“Guys, Maple’s an angel.”
“Yeah, we know.”
“Maple-chan is our angel and always will be!”
“Let me try again. I mean she has a new skill that lets her actually turn into an angel.”

There’s also the fact that, janky mechanics and often ridiculous luck not withstanding, Maple’s success isn’t just accidental. She’s shown to be actually very intelligent and she excels at thinking of creative ways to use and combine her powers so as to make the most of them. Like, at one point she gets a magic turtle pet and the opportunity to select two new abilities. She selects two seemingly mundane powers that, when combined, allow her to ride on the turtle’s back as it flies through the sky, thus compensating for her abysmal walking speed. She then demonstrates the ability to create poisonous rain by wiping out a herd of in-game cattle.

(Oh, the name of Maple’s turtle? Syrup.)

And, despite Maple’s overwhelming power, the show nevertheless does manage to actually challenge her at several points. Like when she and Sally go up against a giant bird boss equipped with attacks that bypass defensive stats (and which, we later learn, was actually designed to be unbeatable) and just barely manage to win. Or at the end of the first season when she ends up fighting Payne – a veteran player many times her level and considered the best in the game – after she’s already used up most of her skills and with her teammates on the line.

(On the other hand, a giant kraken boss designed to be similarly invulnerable gets defeated in a hilariously anticlimactic, but perfectly logical fashion).

Sally, for her part, is a more conventional player than Maple (she opts for a speedy ‘Swashbuckler’ class with zero defense in deliberate contrast to Maple, and by the end of the series is nearly as feared by the other players as Maple is). She’s more aggressive and extroverted than the reserved Maple, presenting a pleasant contrast, especially since their easy-going interactions makes their friendship very charming. Sally’s also much more competitive and eager to engage in PvP, but she’s still a perfectly nice person, even if her raids on other players often end up taking on the tone of a horror movie. Which, again, is part of the fun.

Though I also like how, for all Sally’s skill and tough sportsgirl persona, she’s still reduced to a quivering wreck whenever there’s a ghost-themed level.

There’s also the fact that, though the gameplay of New World Online is an amusingly broken mess, the world has some pretty impressive locations. Most of it is fairly generic Medieval fantasy stuff, but there are some nicely fantastic landscapes and one or two hidden areas of striking, almost painterly beauty (like a secret sunset area full of sunflowers that’s perpetually kept at sunset hour). The monsters are likewise entertainingly creative.

Apart from Maple and Sally, I can’t say any of the other characters are especially memorable, but they’re pleasant enough company. Mii has some amusing dimensions, as note. Payne also turns out to be surprisingly likable in his easy-going behavior and good sportsmanship outside of the PvP battles. I also rather liked Marcus, one of Mii’s teammates: a ‘trapper’ class who is perpetually morose and dismissive of his own contributions to the team.

That’s kind of the sum total of the show; it isn’t brilliant or moving or gripping or anything, it’s just fun. Light, pleasant entertainment about good-natured characters playing a game together.

Honestly, I feel like some writers – myself included – sometimes forget that this sort of thing is even an option. Not every story needs real stakes, not every story needs tension or depth. Sometimes it’s enough to just take an amusing premise and try to do as many fun things with it as you can. I’m definitely looking forward to the second season.
Bring it on!

Friday Flotsam: There’s Really No Through-Line for This One

1. As I understand the matter, modern corporations are descendants of the religious orders. The idea is that property does not belong to any particular member, but rather to the imaginary ‘corporate’ self. In the religious orders, this was to allow for a vow of poverty: yes, the abbey had a lot of property, but none of the brothers owned any of it, only the order as a kind of imaginary person (not that that stopped some of the monks any more than it stops some of today’s executives). In modern corporations, this is a liability shield: if the company loses money or goes into debt, none of the actual workers or executives are personally liable for that money. This incentivizes growth and speculation, among other benefits.

I’m not sure whether this idea of the ‘corporate self’ in economic transactions was ever employed before the Christian era or outside of it (be interesting to get info on that from an actual economic historian), but at least as far as the west is concerned, that seems to me to be the lineage.

(Modern banking even has its origins with the Templars: rather than carting sacks of gold all the way to the Holy Land, pilgrims would deposit the amount with their local Templar house, who would then provide them a bill of lending which, once they got to the Holy Land, they would present to the Templar house there to draw out that same amount of gold. But note that this is itself dependent on the ‘corporate self’, as the idea is that a house in England having gold is the same as the house in Jerusalem having the gold. The Order has the gold, and so it can hold it and give it out for the pilgrim at either end of the journey).

2. Anyway, a modern corporation operates on the same principle: it is the company that owns the property, it is the company that you serve, not any particular executive, and it is the company that provides the service.

This, I think, is precisely why the corporate experience is so miserable. You’re following a pattern that was created for the sake of subordinating the self to the Divine, and instead you’re subordinating the self to something thoroughly material and even mercenary. Of course it’s a dreary, soul-sucking experience. When someone says “I gave my heart and my soul to this company!” I just feel a great sense of pity for him.

On top of it all, we also don’t have nearly the same job security that the lay brothers (serfs) did. At least, as far as I can tell, they never got turned off their land in order to raise the stock price a few percent.

“Sorry Francis the Miller’s Son, but I’m afraid we’re gonna have to let you go….”

3. By the way, this is what I consider probably the stupidest point of Marxism, especially contemporary Marxists: “Corporations have too much power. The solution is to give absolute power to one corporation. That’ll fix everything!”

4. As both politics and the entertainment industry amply demonstrate, the advantage of having a majority population of amoral monsters is that any time someone ceases to be useful, it’s really easy to destroy him by hypocritically exposing one or two of his crimes and lamenting about how terrible it all is.

Another advantage is that it’s good practice for the members’ post-mortal experience.

5. I’ve started watching Cowboy Bebop. You know, a corgi in zero gravity is one of those things you don’t realize you needed to see until you’ve seen it. I now think that the entire space program will have been wasted if we fail to send at least one corgi to the ISS and just let it float around for a bit, trying to walk on air with its stubby little legs and getting nowhere….

“There are three things I hate: kids, animals, and women with attitude. So tell me, why do we have all three on the ship?!
“And we didn’t even get the bounty….”
(Few shows summarize themselves so well in a single exchange, at least so far as I’ve gone).

6. I’ve also begun reading Ivanhoe for the first time. Sir Walter Scott’s style of storytelling definitely takes some getting used to for a modern reader, as he will preface nearly every scene or even every part of a scene with long, precise descriptions of the setting, dress, and historical context of just about everything and every person he mentions. They’re good descriptions, but they do drag on and tend to bring the story to a screeching halt.

His depiction of the period is definitely mixed in terms of historical accuracy (he didn’t have very many good sources to work off of at the time), but in any case he’s clearly doing the best he can and one can see that a good deal of our concept of the Middle Ages proceeds from or at least through Sir Walter (the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood especially draws a lot from this novel).

In any case, barriers to entry aside, it’s a good story and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Besides which, of course, Sir Walter is an English writer of the old school and his style is as far in advance of the bulk of modern authors as the medieval mail-clad knight was in advance of his barbarian war-chief forbearer. Keep in mind that Sir Walter was a favorite of St. John Henry Newman, who developed his own style off of his, so that should tell you something.

7. And diverting into the completely frivolous and slightly obscure: one ‘Versus’ matchup or ‘Death Battle’ I’d like to see would be Saitama vs. Maple, One Punch Man vs. Bofuri, Unstoppable Force against Immovable Object. Of course you’d have to cheat a bit to get him into the game world with powers intact somehow, but it’d be worth it.

Honestly, I think I’d peg Saitama to win easy. Maple’s ridiculously powerful, but she isn’t invincible. Sooner or later, I figure he’d wear her down, 5-digit vitality or not. Though if I were writing it for my own amusement I’d probably try to find a way to give it to Maple nonetheless, because that would be funnier (of course I’d play fair: no random new abilities that she got just that morning and happen to be exactly what she needs. Canon skills only).

And the best part is that it’d all be inside a video game, so no one really gets hurt! I can just picture her inviting Saitama over to party at her guild house afterwards, and he’d be happy to do it because someone finally gave him a good fight….

Friday Flotsam: Fan-Art with Commentary

I started doing some more substantial entries, but I was tired after a long week and didn’t have the energy for it. So, since I don’t feel like talking about religion, philosophy, and such today, the next logical subject is My Little Pony fan-art.

I made these a long time ago and have been meaning to share them. The idea was to Gimp up images of what the mane cast and a few others might look like in live action (and as humans). Presented with commentary.

(I didn’t try to do Spike or the CMC because I was kind of uncomfortable searching for child or adolescent models. Thought it might put me on a watchlist of some kind)

1. Twilight Sparkle

Still pretty pleased with this one, though in retrospect it might have been better to give her glasses. But on the other hand, I think the model captures the reserved, intelligent, slightly-awkward look well enough that she doesn’t really need them.

Biggest problem was that she was wearing a necklace in the original photo, which would have been a disaster to try to remove, so I made it into an Equestrian Crest medallion. Not something I can recall Twilight ever wearing in the show, but it fits her character. Beyond that, it was just a matter of changing some colors, adding in the cutie mark (which I made custom and didn’t pull from a screenshot) and putting her in a library setting. I think I might have also added in the bangs. Owlowicious fills out the scene.

Really, in terms of the style of face and expression, this is pretty much exactly how I picture Twilight.

2. Fluttershy

Fluttershy was actually the first one I did and this photo was the inspiration for the series. Something about the model’s face, pose, and environment made me think ‘Fluttershy!’ So I did a few tweaks to make her fit more and the whole thing snowballed.

Still pretty pleased with this. It helps that she was one of the easier ones, since she’s the only one who didn’t need to be pasted into a new environment. All that was really necessary was to change her hair and dress color, make the hair longer (not that it was short to begin with, just that Fluttershy’s hair is very long), and add in the cutie mark. Then I decided to stick Angel Bunny in there with her, just to add more interest to the scene.

By the way, it’s surprisingly easy to extend hair in Gimp / photoshop. Though it doesn’t always turn out this well as we’ll see in a little bit….

3. Rarity

I think Rarity turned out one of the best of the bunch overall (which is good, since she’s my favorite character). The model had pretty much the exact pose, look, and expression that I wanted, and, of course Rarity’s one of the few whose coat color is likely to be already being worn, so no need to change the dress at all. Again, I changed the hair color and added some length (Rarity’s hair is even longer than Fluttershy’s), added the Cutie Mark and stuck Opal in (with a nice reflection to boot).

Only thing is that I kind of wish I had her in a more opulent environment. This one’s a little bare. Oh, well.

4. Applejack

Applejack was another fairly easy one, once I found a suitable model (“Cowgirl model” was at least a meaningful search term). She mercifully has an actually natural hair color! Changing her shirt color was a pain, however, as was positioning her against the fence. As I remember, the model was originally leaning on something else: I think maybe a metal gate leading into a barn. I wanted her in an apple orchard, of course, so first I had to put the fence in, then the model, and then there was a good deal of shifting and adjusting to make them both sit naturally in the scene, then drawing in the shadows (which, now that I look at it, are still off: I didn’t take good account of the direction of the light).

On second thought, I take back what I said about her being an easy one.

Still, all in all, I think she turned out pretty well.

5. Pinkie Pie

Hoo boy, Pinkie was a nightmare!

She’s the only one who’s a composite figure. After a lot of searching, I finally found an excellent image of a laughing redhead…except that it was a portrait and I needed the whole body (and why do so many models pose with that same blank, neutral expression? And if they are smiling, it’s usually an arch, knowing smile of the kind that Pinkie would never use in her life!). So I found another picture of a model sitting on a counter (which worked with the pastry shop background) and stuck the head of the one on the body of the other.

Blending the hair in was extremely difficult, especially since the body model had locks running down her front, and very loose locks too, with a lot of stray individual hairs. It took a lot of work and I eventually gave up trying to color correct those and just covered them up by making the head model’s hair extra long and bushy. The result looks pretty flat and smudged, and you can still see some of the body model’s hairs sticking out.

And to top it all off, Gummy looks really awkward and I forgot to give him a shadow.

(She then caused more trouble just now by stubbornly refusing to upload for a long time).

Oh, well, at least the face is still good.

6. Rainbow Dash

I have mixed feelings about this one. I think the model was a good choice: she’s got a nicely focused, confident look to her that fits Rainbow Dash. But I don’t like the environment. My thought was that her setting was the sky, so I should have as big a sky as possible, but in hindsight I should have put her in a stadium or on an athletic field. It looks too empty and bare like this. Also, Tank is pretty wonky here; he looks like he’s about to fly into her.

Though I think her hair turned out remarkably well, considering how complicated it is. And her cutie mark looks pretty good too, despite having to be assembled almost from scratch.

7. Starlight Glimmer

This is another one that I think turned out almost perfectly. The model’s expression, pose, and whole look seems just right to me! Though I could have done a better job on her stripe….

Still, really pleased with this one.

8. Sunset Shimmer

This is the one I’m least satisfied with. The model’s got a suitable look, and I like the leather jacket, and the fact that I put her Cutie Mark on her chest rather than her hip (reflecting the fact that she’s the only one who spends most of her screen time as a human).

But her shirt looks awful (changing the color when there’s a big dark shadow on part of it is a nightmare) and the image resolution on the model is much too low: I should have found a bigger picture to work with. Oh, and the environment is hideous, and while that fits for a public high school, I don’t like it in my pictures. Should have tried to find one that was at least moderately photogenic.

9. Trixie

So, with Trixie I learned that making hair actually white is all-but impossible. Or at least, it requires a more advanced technique than the ‘desaturate and fill’ one I was using. I remember being really unsatisfied with her when I was done, but looking at her now I don’t think so anymore. Her hair is still off, but it’s got a decently silvery look (though it’s really ugly at the tip), and the model has an excellently smug and mischievous expression. Call this one better than I remember.

10. Derpy

Last but not least, we have darling Derpy. She’s the only one I actually looked for a specific actress for: Rose McIver from I Zombie, whom I’d seen screenshots of and thought to have exactly the right faded-blonde, slightly ditzy look that Derpy needed. So I hunted up a suitably bewildered-looking photo of her (from a Lifetime movie called ‘Petals on the Wind‘ of all things), then I greyed down her clothes, crossed her eyes, and put her in a post office. Presto! Everyone’s favorite animation-error-turned-running-gag!

Batman: The Terror pt 3. The Final Night

The final installment of The Terror is now up at!

Terror lays thick over Gotham. As another night falls, Batman vows that the killings will end before dawn. But who among the dwindling population of supervillains is the murderer? Is it perhaps the Riddler, who claims to know all? Or the Joker, orchestrating events from the shadows? Or is it someone else: someone Batman is loathe to even suspect?

Read the thrilling final chapter here!

Read Part Two here

And Read Part One here

Batman: The Terror pt. 2: The Second Night

Part Two of The Terror is now up at! And just in time for Halloween, too.

Night falls again over Gotham and the Terror continues. One by one, the rogues of Gotham fall, each death more brutal than the last, yet each suited to their crimes. Meanwhile, Batman races to try to uncover the truth behind the killings before it’s too late. But as the body count rises, the mystery only deepens.

Read the startling second installment here.

And if you missed it, Part One can be read here.

Stay tuned next week for the conclusion.