Friday, August 19, 2016

Fantasy Sucks Episode 2 - The Dinosaur Lords

In the second in my series of occasion and quite bitchy book critiques, I take on Victor Milan’s The Dinosaur Lords. Since it seems like I'm only ever going to critique things I hated, I'm naming this series Fantasy Sucks. I wrote about the Stormlight Archives a while back, so I'm retconning that review to Episode 1. This is Episode 2. Trigger warning for discussion of rape.

George Orwell noted there was such a thing as a “good bad” book, a work with no real literally merit that is nevertheless completely entertaining. I hoped that The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan would be one of those books. Unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s a “bad bad” book masquerading as a “good bad” book.

I can just hear the elevator pitch for this one. “Dinosaur knights!” It’s a concept guaranteed to make any self-respecting fantasy nerd’s waxy ears prick up, and dollar signs appear in the eyes of any publisher. “Dinosaur knights!” I exclaimed when I first heard of this book. “Endorsed by George R.R. Martin, you say? SU&TMM!”

The problem with The Dinosaur Lords is that it never really lives up to the promise of the fantastic cover art or pulpy, irresistible concept. In fact, apart from two or three battle scenes, and the little bit of set dressing, dinosaurs don’t really play much of a role in the story.  Apart from a few charges of hadrosaur cavalry and a stampede of ankylosaurs, it’s really just a sub-Game of Thrones fantasy with all the standard grimdark trappings – morally ambiguous characters, oppressed peasantry, asshole knights, lashings of misogyny, yada yada yada.

The most baffling choice that Milan makes – apart from choosing to focus on boring human politics in a novel about WAR DINOSAURS – is in his setting. The world of Paradise – which the author goes to great pains to tell us is not earth – is virtually identical to late medieval  Europe, even down to the names of the countries (Germany is Alleman, for instance, France Frances, and Ireland Ayrland). As the book goes on it seems to imply that aliens (Milan calls them angels, buuuuuuuuut… aliens) at some point kidnapped humans and a few animals and dropped them on another planet with lower gravity and magical healing powers and set up some bizarro version of medieval Europe, except with dinosaurs, because… we don’t really know. Despite this rather convoluted explanation, the direct-lift country names still just seem like lazy worldbuilding. It’s as if Milan was trying to build a world with a standard boring Europe-analogue fantasy setting, but couldn’t be bothered actually using his imagination and just said “fuck it, I’ll just use a combination of country’s actual names in languages other than English and simply switching the odd letter and amend virtually nothing else about the culture or history of these countries.” I mean, he states that humans have been on this planet for 700 years, and in that time we STILL have the same standard European countries, albeit with Spain as the dominant power. In that time surely, things would have changed up a bit. England (sorry Angleterre!) might have renamed itself The Glorious Kingdom of Chickenbutt and annexed Norway, for instance, but no. And how would a society in a world with dinosaurs develop differently? It wouldn’t? Oh. Everything is much the same, except with a figurehead emperor and evil pope who live in bizarro-Spain. Oh, and aliens who are also fairies and angels. Fine. Ok. 

I could tolerate the nonsensical worldbuilding, of course, if there was anything in the way of plot. But frankly, there isn’t. This book suffers heavily from “set up the next one” syndrome. Several characters don’t really do anything and I get the impression they are only there spinning their wheels before they become important in the sequel. None of the plotlines really pay off – sure, a corrupt duke solidifies his hold over a dumb-as-nails emperor, and a back-from-the-dead mercenary leader begins training a group of pacifists to defend themselves, but at the end of these stories nothing really has changed. The pacifists are still threatened, the emperor still dumb as nails (in fact, there’s a moment of Idiot Plotting regarding this character that I found rather far-fetched). And all the time these bloody aliens I’M SORRY, ANGELS are standing around in the background foreshadowing as if the government where about to enact a permanent ban on it.

Again, I could tolerate this (I’m a Wheel of Time fan after all) if the book has characters I enjoyed spending time with, but nearly all of them are gloriously flat. But not only flat, but unbelievable. One character – and I’m not making this up – is a dinosaur knight, expert swordsman and general, the world’s greatest poet, philosopher, and head of a religious order (who actually has cults of people following his teachings) despite being about 20 years of age. The other notable character is roguish dinosaur master, bard, singer, rogue etc. The sole female character is… a princess? She isn’t really interested in anything apart from mooning after Sir Perfect McMartystu, but she does get raped. That counts as character development, right?

Ugh, that’s another thing. There’s a time and place for grimdark, when it’s done well. But why is it that every fantasy author is trying for that tone right now, and seem to think the key to mastering it is inserting truly tasteless rape scenes into their work? I know some readers who will literally throw a book down if they see a rape scene coming up. Personally, I think that’s a little bit drastic, but there has to be a – y’know – point to it. What is the author trying to say by doing this? It has to be a little more than weren’t things shit for women in the middle ages? The rape scene in this book is like a primer on what not to do in this context. It seems utterly gratuitous, coming as it does in the penultimate chapter from one of the book’s POV characters. That means that her entire story – a good quarter of the book – is essentially working up to her sexual violation and there’s no examination of the consequences of the event. We never even get to know how she feels about getting raped since she immediately seems to forget about it in the final chapter. It almost seems to be punishment for her actions running up to the act – she is portrayed as selfish and quite cruel. Is Milan is trying to say she deserves it? I have no idea. And it’s not like she’s the only female character in the book who gets raped. I can think of two other secondary characters and one random extra who do as well. 

The Dinosaur Lords should really be a punchy, fun mashup book. It should be Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But it’s not. I kind of feel betrayed. I was stealth-sold a shitty grimdark book when all I really wanted was knights riding dinosaurs. I mean, it does deliver that to a certain extent – in the one decent battle scene Milan goes to pains to explain how a dinosaur is used in battle. But it just isn’t enough and there’s too much clich├ęd and dare-I-say-it problematic garbage along for the ride. There are glimmers of what might have been here and there – the roguish dinosaur master is witty and entertaining, but then they go and pair him with another character who lacks charisma on a cellular level despite supposedly being a legendary leader of men. The Princess’s banter with her ladies-in-waiting too is enjoyable. But the plot sags under the weight of all the foreshadowing. It plods along like a constipated hadrosaur, never really living up to the promise of its concept.

Nevertheless this book seems to have done quite well. A sequel, The Dinosaur Knights is out this year. Here’s hoping Milan gets his act together for the next one, though frankly I’m not sure I’m willing to subject myself to another one of his books any times soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I apologise for my earlier comments about Dark Souls

Honestly, this dragon can suck it

18 months ago I posted about my formal resignation from Dark Souls. After one week and making it as far as the first bonfire in the Undead Burg, I ragequit the game. It was too frustrating, too absurdly, deliberately difficult. I couldn’t take plowing into gigantic enemies with unblockable attacks and dying the same way, over and over again. I couldn’t handle repetitive, maddening sight of my character expiring on the mossy flagstones of some god-forsaken hellcastle only inches from retrieving the souls that would allow me to level up. I could not – as the cool kids say – “git gud”.

I am here to tell you I was wrong.

When Dark Souls 3 came out I read a few articles and was drawn to it in the same way I was drawn to the first (Dark not Demon’s) Souls game. The creepy, bleak fantasy aesthetic, the bizarre and menacing enemy design, the sense of achievement – all of those things appealed very much to me. I decided to give Dark Souls one last college try, and see if I couldn’t wring some enjoyment out of it after all.

Doing this necessitated a complete change in the way I played the game. My first time around I didn’t understand how Dark Souls was meant to played. I treated it like Skyrim at best, or at worst like Golden Axe. I ran in, mace in hand, and inevitably ended up a red stain on the floor. I didn’t even use the lock-on mechanic, which probably didn’t help. Hell, I didn’t even bother to block half the time. I completely failed to appreciate the timing aspect of combat – that for every enemy there is one moment they are vulnerable to attack. I didn’t understand that it’s better to draw the enemies to you and engage them one at a time than rush headlong into an unwinnable melee.

This is basic Souls play. I could have learned this easily just by reading a few articles online. But my transformation from ardent Souls-denier to the Zen master of being repeatedly murdered did not happen easily. Nor did it happen while I was playing the game. Rather, before stepping back into Dark Souls I had to tackle the assumptions I had about gaming in general. I had to examine the very concept of what a video game was meant to be.

As a child, I had an Atari ST, and I played a lot of platform games. Dizzy. Bubble Bobble. All innocent enough stuff, but these were games it was possible to lose. Three lives, maybe more, if you’re lucky enough to get an extra one. After that, it’s all over. You need to start again. Compared to this cutthroat arrangement, Souls’ die and die and live again ethos was going easy, surely. That’s what I told myself, anyway. The memory I kept going back to was playing Ghouls N’ Ghosts in the arcade, and later on the Sega Megadrive. In many ways Dark Souls is retread of this old classic – they share the same dark aesthetic, the same sense of fear and bleakness, the same punishing learning curve. I only once or twice managed to get onto the second stage of this game, but to this day one of my fondest gaming memories is guiding a limping, semi-naked Knight Arthur out of that creepy graveyard after finally killing that headless giant, before immediately perishing of course BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT. I’ve always wondered what lay beyond. Now, I supposed, I will never find out.

I did not want to have that same experience with Dark Souls.

And so I loaded it up again, and was reunited with Cuthbert, a nebbish level 9 cleric with a ginger bowlcut and a face like Freddy Krueger fell asleep on a radial sander. I was drawn to a goody-two-shoes cleric as my character for Souls because I like a good holy fool and thought if I’m going to spend the next 300+ hours torturing someone it should at least be someone who I’ll enjoy watching being brought low.

Two things had precipitated my resignation: my inability to kill a Black Knight, and being absolutely destroyed after five seconds when I finally made it up to the Taurus Demon in the Undead Burg.

I decided to take these two problems separately. First I would deal with the knight. To do this, I changed my tactics entirely. Realising at this point in the game I was hilariously underpowered, I did something I am loathe to do – grinding. Or “soul farming” as it is known in Dark Souls lingo. I ran up and down the same stretch of dungeon, killing the puniest enemies I could find, relearning how to fight, before buying a bow, a bucketload of arrows, and the ugliest suit of chainmail I have ever seen. Again, I hate grinding and in order for me to do this, I had to completely change my idea of what I was doing. Instead of replaying the same dungeon, grinding for souls, I was going hunting. The Undead Burg became my hunting grounds, and the common undead within my prey. I would run up down the familiar areas of the map, killing over and over again. I learned to savour these moments when I was the most dangerous thing on the screen.

Finally, when I was ready, I coaxed the knight out into the open, waited on a roof and dishonourably arrowed it to death from the top of a ladder it was unable to climb. That was my first lesson: honour is overrated. Winning is better.

After levelling up a few times and dabbing the blade of my estoc with whatever that lightning stuff is, the Taurus Demon was a cinch. I was honestly shocked at how easy it went down. It was simply a case of noticing a ladder, climbing said ladder, and jumping the thing’s head until it died. I couldn’t even believe it.

That’s when I realised that there’s always an easy way in every fight: when I was getting obliterated by the Bell Gargoyles, it was because I hadn’t thought to summon an ally. Once I did this I was able to easily dispatch both gargoyles without taking much damage. Even the ones that are currently eluding me, I’m fairly certain that if I level up a bit more and come back with some better gear, I’ll be able to take them out fairly easy. And since I just spent a month grinding to get the Lightning Spear miracle, I’ll be going back to see if can do just that.

Sometimes it takes an unconventional solution to defeat a particular boss. I was having trouble against Havel the Rock, a particularly annoying knight brandishing a gigantic dragon tooth that kills with one hit. He’s easy enough to dodge but I wasn’t doing enough damage to him with my attacks, and as a result I was inevitably mistiming my rolls and getting taken out. So, I reasoned, if my heavy armour isn’t helping in this fight, I guess I’ll just take it off so I can roll faster. So that’s how I ended up dueling Havel the Rock in my underwear, dashing from one end of the room to the other and smiting him with Lightning Spear until he gave up the ghost.

Dark Souls is turning into an obsession. It's more than a game. It's a crusade that becomes maddeningly personal. It’s the closest to understanding an epic quest mentality I’ve even had in gaming. Skyrim is fun, but you never feel connected to the quests that you undertake. Victory seems inevitable, expected. In Dark Souls – to pilfer a phrase from elsewhere – you have to lose upward. To understand Dark Souls is to redefine what winning is. Yes, I may die this time, big evil monster, but I spotted a way to take you out. Maybe I didn’t make it to the next save point, but I found this new piece of gear that will make it easier to get back to where I died the next time. Sometimes winning is as little as spotting a ladder or unlocking a gate which will allow you to take a short cut next time. Every death is an investment. More and more I’ve found myself actually turning back rather than pushing forward, banking my souls rather than risk losing them in some fool attempt I’m not ready for. It is a different kind of game, to be sure.

And old Cuthbert is looking a lot more hopeful these days. I mean, he still looks like a sundried tomato got in a car accident (most of the time, I’m using humanity a lot more now since I realised the benefits of summoning), but he’s got a new sense of resolve about him – not to mention a shiny new set of armour and hat made out of a Bell Gargoyle’s skull. That still doesn't stop him getting pounded to death by prowling demons in the Catacombs, though, not to mention losing 9,000 souls and five humanities NOT THAT I'M BITTER.

It seems weird to take about faith in regards to a videogame. But then, I'm playing as a faith build, and that's somehow become symbolic of the whole struggle. I could get mad at Dark Souls, throw the control pad away and pass the game to a friend like some cursed monkey paw. Or I could smile, turn the other cheek, let the machete-wielding goat demon have his day and go run down some other corridor for a while. At this moment, I have enough faith in my ability to win that dying doesn't seem so bad. It just means I need to try a new tactic. At some point, perhaps I’ll lose my faith. But I believe I have what it takes to get back up, dust myself off and get back into the fray.

I'll let you know how that goes.

Monday, February 22, 2016


 10. Pachycephalosaurus
Pachycephalosaurus, meaning “thick-headed lizard”, roamed between 66 and 72 million years ago, and is known for its distinctive bony cranium, which is only marginally painful when pressing into the arch of your foot as you stagger zombie-like into your child’s room to find out why they aren’t asleep yet.   

9. Tyrannosaurus Rex
A gigantic carnivore weighing up to 6.8 metric tonnes, the Tyrannosaurus Rex (“Tyrant lizard”) is still an absolute pleasure to stand on compared to some of the others on this list. Unless you somehow manage to stand on its erect tail, in which case it can pierce flesh like a needle, if that needle was made of possibly toxic material in a Chinese toy factory.

8. Diplodocus
The most famous of the sauropod family, Diplodocus lived in what is now North America at the end of the Jurassic period, and is one of the most common obstacles encountered when answering your child’s piteous nocturnal pleas. Diplodocus could grow up to 25 metres long, almost as if it was deliberately reaching out to trip you down a flight of stairs with its whip-like tail.

 7. Revvit
A fictional creature from the hit Netflix show Dinotrux, Revvit combines the pain of standing on a prehistoric lizard with the pain of standing on a box of drill bits.

6. Dimetrodon
Though technically a non-mammalian synapsid rather than a dinosaur, Dimetrodon merits mention on this list because of the large sail on its back, which was likely used to regulate the creature’s body temperature and feels like stepping on a saw blade when stumbled upon during nighttime bathroom trips.

5. Pteranadon
Also not a dinosaur. Also, I don’t care because when that cranial crest is caught between your toes as you’re reaching for the Vicks and you’re sobbing softly under your breath so as not to wake your sick child, you won’t see the distinction either. Fie upon you, Pteranadon!

4. Triceratops
“Three-horned face”. It seems like a no-brainer that this 9 metre long herbivore would make this list. Those same fierce horns that did battle with Tyrannosaurus Rex are now doing battle with your ingrown toenail. And they’re winning, by God, they are winning.

 3. Styracosaurus
Just look at these deformed bastards. Styracosaurus literally means “spiked lizard”. No shit, Sherlock. It looks like someone took a Triceratops and instructed Rob Liefield to give it an "xtreme" makeover. Holy shit. Just holy shit. Its head is literally exploding with spikes. The only upside to the Styracosaurus is that it is one of the less common dinosaur toys. I’m pretty sure my son has never heard of it, and I see no reason to tell him. Consequently, Styracosaurus never quite achieves the threat level of the last two malefactors on our list.

2. Ankylosaurus
Ankylosaurus is “Fused lizard” in Latin but really, it might as well be “weaponised hell-turtle footkiller”. It looks like a pincushion with legs and a bad attitude. Those bone knobs on the shell are known as osteoderms, but I like to call them “agony-lumps”. Ankylosaurus is one of those dinosaurs that might “accidentally” find its way into the garbage after one too many encounters with unsuspecting feet, if only that didn’t mark you out as a singularly awful human being. Go on, think about throwing it out. Think of your child’s tearful face when he or she can’t find their beloved ankylosaurus, you irredeemable shit.

Why do you hate me, Jesus? Why do you hate my feet?

1. Stegosaurus
The humble Stegosaurus may have had a comically small brain, but whatever malignant God cursed it to live pushed the ‘spikiness’ dial up to 11 to compensate. Stegosaurus seems to have been designed to be so deliberately, maliciously painful to stand on, it either proves or disproves the theory of evolution – I can’t decide which. It is appallingly sharp no matter which way you stand on it. Its set of four tail spikes (known as a “thagomizer”) has the capacity to pierce the skin of even the most calloused of feet. Its 17 to 22 defensive plates form a ridge across its back the merest tickle of which is akin to getting your foot stuck in a lathe. My son could not create a more painful trap for me if he dug a punji pit in the centre of his bedroom and baited it with beer and pork crackling. 

Purely from a design perspective, Stegosaurus is the clear winner here when it comes to permanently damaging the feet of careless parents when they chance to step out of the designated "clean" area of any child's bedroom. It looks like it was designed by the Spanish Inquisition to torture heretics. I’m certain there is a layer of hell in which sinners are forced to walk on Stegosauruses for all time. It is the perfect organism for inspiring a toy with which to mangle a man’s foot. I almost admire it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Batman, Bickle, Trump and Bundy – Why we need to say goodbye to the Lone Avenger narrative

Netflix's Daredevil

After abandoning it the first time round, I finally managed to catch another episode of Daredevil last night. Late to the party, I know.

It’s made me think, though, about the concept of heroism. Every story needs a hero. It’s the one thing you can’t do without, be it a novel, TV show or movie. Stories sink or swim on the weight of their protagonists. Does Daredevil succeed in this regard? Well, granted I’m only four episodes in, but I can’t say it provides any compelling reason for me to continue to follow Matt Murdock’s one-man crusade against crime.

The fact is, Matt’s a pretty boring protagonist, straight from crusading lone-wolf central casting, and giving a second chance to Daredevil has pretty much confirmed for me something I’ve been feeling for a long time – I’m done with superheroes. Especially lone, angry, white guys on a one-man crusade against injustice.

As a storyteller, I can’t help but despise tropes when they’re employed without irony, and we seem to have reached a point where we’ve reach peak Lone Avenger. It’s just not realistic, and to top it off, it’s dangerous.

In the episode I watched, Matt has accidentally endangered nurse Claire, who helped patch Matt up when he was injured in the last episode. The Russian mob are looking for her, and naturally - because it’s well documented that Daredevil has absolutely no skill at protecting the women in his life – they find her, and they beat the living shit out of her before Daredevil rescues her. Now, at this point I thought the show and I were on the same page – This is exactly the sort of thing that happens when you try to take on the Russian mob solo. But when Matt apologises to Claire later, she tells him that he has to keep going, and he’s helping people. Where did that come from? She has been telling him he’s going to end up dead and he should quit from the moment she was introduced, so why suddenly does she do a complete U-turn? And that after being beaten mercilessly by gangsters, she’d forgive the man whose foolhardy quest and general incompetence led her to endure what – given that she’s just a regular civilian – is probably the most traumatising experience of her life, and in fact say it was HER OWN FAULT for helping him in the first place. Well, because the story needed her to react this way, as unrealistic as it was.

"Yes, Matt, please tell me again why New York's crime rate is your responsibility."
“Bullshit,” I intoned when I saw this. What Claire needed to do was yell “This is your fault you sanctimonious jerk! What do think was going to happen when you tried to take on an organised crime syndicate single-handedly? That’s what the police are for! And by the way, why didn’t you call the cops when you knew where I was being tortured? I’m pretty sure you could have saved me, like, 10 minutes of being tortured if you’d just gone through the proper channels for once. OK, Matt, you can’t see this but I’m flipping you the bird right now. I’m giving you the one-finger salute. Screw you, Matt.”

Daredevil sets up the idea that Matt is recklessly endangering those around him, and then wusses out when it comes to the punch by insisting that this is a necessary evil, that we should accept a little collateral damage when ad hoc street justice is being done. I think that this is a missed opportunity for the show, and I hope it’s something they successfully manage to land later. 

Here’s the thing: you know the old joke about how if Batman just put the money he’d otherwise spend on bat-shaped armaments and crime-predicting computers into a decent urban renewal program and some basic infrastructure improvements, he’d have an easier time cutting crime in Gotham? The same goes for blind dudes leaping around Hell’s Kitchen dressed like Satan. If he spent his time lawyering rather than vigilante-ing, he’d really be doing his community a favour.

Batman, punching some kind of deviant
We’re attracted to the myth of the lone wolf vigilante, I think, because it seems like something we could do ourselves. Every one of us has seen some jerk harassing someone on the subway and thought “Boy, if I knew kung-fu, I could really give him what he deserves!” The problem is, it’s not just Batman and Daredevil, or the Lone Ranger we’re talking about here. It’s Death Wish. It’s Taxi Driver. The idea of the lone wolf vigilante is built on hatred. Hatred for criminals and a hatred for the underclass that is often indistinguishable in these works. It has been 30 years since Alan Moore popularised the notion that there’s something inherently fascistic about the idea of superheroes, and his ideas have never been more relevant. It’s easy to blame people like Frank Miller for this, a genuinely horrible man with horrible ideas, who turned Batman into kind of a beefcake brutal version of Donald Trump, and succeeded in fusing extreme violence, misogyny and gritty nihilism together in the collective consciousness as the default setting of the more “realistic” comics of the 80s and 90s. He used the medium of superhero comics to justify his own twisted worldview, and did it irreparable damage in the process. Miller also wrote a lot of Daredevil stories, so you can see how this approach is seeping into the TV show. 

Think of every school shooting you’ve ever seen on the news, every terrorist bombing, and count how often the words “angry loner” are used to describe the attacker. This is the problem right here. When we’re trained from birth to look up to angry men taking the law into their own hands, how do you think we’re going to react when we’re wronged? Exactly, go Charles Bronson on everybody and get gunned down in a glorious hail of bullets, but only after giving our enemies the ignominious deaths of cowards. Lone vigilante stories are the narrative glue behind every bullshit argument against gun control that the NRA have ever put out there. In the Lone Avenger story, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun really is a good guy with a gun. Or a sword. Or a bomb vest. Or whatever.

These stories are inherently libertarian. Built into them is a healthy distrust of the authorities. The police can’t do their jobs, or else they are corrupt. How else would all this evil be happening? The government is ineffectual, or else they are the enemy. You can bet your arse that every member of that ragtag gang of imbeciles squatting in Malheur Wildlife Refuge is the Batman of their own personal internal narrative – fighting for the little people against the evil and corrupt government. George Zimmerman, protecting his community from the menace of an unarmed black teenager – in his own mind, he’s the Punisher.

 Donald Trump is definitely a symptom of the same disease – a bilious awful windbag with a black and white
Frank Miller's Donald Trump
view of society, obvious prejudices towards anybody who isn’t the same class and colour as him, absolutely chock-full of entitled anger – but in his own narrative he’s the hero, a plucky outsider taking out corrupt elites by beating them at their own game.

The same as the GamerGater, posting rape threats online to keep encroaching feminists out of videogame journalism. The same as Vox Day and the Sad Puppies, conspiring to try and keep women and people of colour and “Social Justice Warriors” off the Hugo ballots. Every one of them is their own Batman, and their own Travis Bickle. I can see them muttering in their dank basements. “One day a real rain’s gonna come, and it’s going to wash the scum of the streets.”

Let there be no doubt that these power fantasies – the stories we are told, and the ones people tell themselves – are fascistic. Trump, Day, Bickle, Batman, Daredevil – they all seek to impose their will on their communities, no matter whether or not these lesser people consent to this or even share their ideas of what is good and what is bad. Who’s to say if Bruce Wayne didn’t make a sizeable donation to Gotham City mental health services and got the Joker out of Arkham Asylum, he couldn’t be an upstanding member of society? But no. Instead they rail and scream and persecute. Sometimes they kill.
What a vigilante actually looks like

There was a certain individual in my school growing up, who was subjected daily to taunts and abuse from their peers, which they usually took in stony silence, for a while, at least. Then they just snapped. Fists, feet, flailing all over the place in a tornado of impotent rage. Punching, kicking, pummeling anyone that came close enough, whether they were involved in the bullying or not. Then they were hauled off the rector, subsequently released, and the process would begin again. That there, my friends, is our Batman. So sickened by the world, rightly or wrongly, that they can’t stop themselves from harming others. Less a lone avenger punishing the wicked, more Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

This is why, as storytellers, we have power. I’m not saying that, for instance, if we stop writing angry loner characters, we can stop people from becoming angry loners. Nor if we stopped writing about violence would we stop violence. That would be ridiculous. But if we can try and stop proliferating these toxic reflections of masculinity (because it’s always a man) and power, and – hell, I don’t know – try to write some decent, well-rounded characters whose motivations and actions are thoroughly and carefully examined and not shown to be admirable for the sake of the story, then maybe we can save a few people from sinking into a poisonous mindset and becoming violent shitbags. In my opinion, we should be doing it anyway, because it’s just better writing. If we keep glorifying this sort of unsanctioned violence in our art, failing to do our duty and create nuanced and thoughtful reflections of the sorts of people who commit these acts in real life, then the world we get is going to look a lot like one written by Frank Miller. But if we fix the narrative, change the idea of what it means to be a hero, then maybe we’ll have done some good.