Thursday, July 25, 2019

Earthbound: One of the Best Video Games Ever Made

Already I can see one of two reactions to those reading the title of this post. The first is to flee from the horrible hipster gushing you are about to read, and the second is an eye-roll about another overpraised Super NES game. I implore you to stop. This post is not what you think.

Before I get thrown into the tired hipster crowd, there are a few things you should know. Unlike those jumping on the bandwagon for this game, I was actually there when it came out. I rented it with a friend, and even got it for my birthday not long after. I've been a supporter of this game since the very beginning.

There is no revisionism here from those who hated it when it came out and now love it (I've met such characters) or smirking eggheads who are obsessed with being different from the crowd. This is coming from someone who has been into this game since it came out and who doesn't like it for quirky hipster glorification and/or cheap nostalgia. That's right, I was one of ten people who knew who Ness was in the N64 Super Smash Bros. when I unlocked him. And yes, he is still who I mainly use to this day.

With that out of the way, let me tell you why Earthbound is so good. The post for this game is deserved.

Earthbound, known as Mother 2 in Japan, is an RPG series by Japanese novelist Shigesato Itoi. That's not a combo you see too often, not even in the west where you would figure it would be common. He came to Nintendo in the late '80s about wanting to create a unique game series of his own. Inspired by Dragon Quest he made an RPG set in a modern pseudo-American setting which he called Mother for the NES. It was a hit in Japan.

The first game is pretty rough when it comes to difficulty balancing, but as a whole it is a fun experience and very different for the time. But we never got it when it first came out, though we almost did. Nintendo finally released this game over here as Earthbound Beginnings a few years ago for the Wii U Virtual Console. That was a trip.

But with the coming of the Super Nintendo, he wanted another shot to do it better. Mother 2, or Earthbound as the US version was named, took the same concept of the original but revamped everything with a brand new story and cast of characters.

Both games involve a quest to find an alien out to destroy the world, and a coming of age story of a young teenager growing as he experiences this quest. He does this by confronting the burgeoning evil in the world influenced by the same alien that spans both games. Along the way our party tangles with gang members, zombies, dinosaurs, monsters, and disturbing nightmare fuel, as they explore the world and become heroes.

Mother 2 was a huge hit in Japan and is still regarded as one of the best SNES games to this day. Over here there were a long string of problems preventing Earthbound from taking off from RPGs still not being mainstream, to a terrible ad campaign, to giving it a premium price (packing in the Player's Guide was not the best idea), and saddling it with a weird cover. None of this did the game any favors. Until Super Smash Bros. came out four years later with Ness as one of the playable characters, Earthbound had become nearly forgotten by those overseas.

But it shouldn't have been. It is, in fact, a great game.

"Who is that?" they said.
Earthbound is a Japanese RPG which means it features turn-based combat, but that is about all it has in common with other combat systems at the time. It has some twists. The battle system is simple, but there's a bit more to it. The small things make the difference.

The battle system is turn-based but it has a wrinkle to the proceedings. When an enemy attacks you for say 20 damage, your HP bar rolls back in real-time from where it currently is and down the 20 points to where it is destined to go. This means if you win the battle before the damage counts down you can save HP. At the same time if you get a critical hit in battle that will lead to death you can either heal up in time to save yourself or finish off the enemy before it reaches 0 and you can negate death. This cushion gives you enough time to play around, but also adds a sense of urgency to the system.

At the same time, there are no random battles. Every enemy is seen on screen before you battle them. This also means that you can approach them from behind for sneak attacks or dodge them on the normal map. Also, if your stats are high enough you can one shot enemies for free experience.

It's the simple things that make it stand out.

This sense of being a bit different from the norm of the 16-bit generation also extends to the story. It's basic for the time, but what it does is add interesting aspects to it. And it doesn't need tragic backstories or over the top busy designs to do it.

You start the game as a normal teenage boy (His name is Ness, but you can call him whatever you wish) who wakes up in the middle of the night after a meteorite hits the nearby mountain. He heads out there and runs into some friends who help him reach the ruins where someone from the future arrives and tells him that a great evil is coming. This is an alien being known as Giygas who has come from a distant world and has grown into a terrifying creature. Four destined teenagers are to go out into the world and stop this monster from winning, as the prophecy says.

They go out to record the eight melodies taken from eight natural landmarks throughout the world. This begins a quest into this weird and wild world that Itoi has dreamed up with strange humor, a heartfelt love of the idiosyncrasies of '90s modern life and the importance of family and friends, and a constant and deadly serious battle between good and evil threaded throughout it all. It's a tricky balance, but Earthbound pulls it off.

Ness also is one of the few in the world with psychic abilities known as PSI. Two of his other party members do as well, but they all have different abilities to do with the power. His powers are used as a sort of a branching between the supernatural fantasy aspects of the story and the environments with the natural beauty of the world and how important both are together. In this he discovers both the good and bad things in the world. There he learns just what he really is fighting for. Ness's conflict is essentially between the good in everything vs Giygas being the bad in everything.

This leads to a large scale battle both exterior and interior in his journey. And for a small spoiler, the key to winning the final battle involves praying.

As for how this game achieved a cult following instead of success, well there are a few reasons as stated above.

Console RPGs didn't take off in a big way until Final Fantasy VII. Few RPGs were hits at the time aside from the random Square title or Phantasy Star, and an overpriced game like this packaged with a guide and over-sized box wouldn't entice them further. 1995 was not a prime RPG year for the charts.

The advertising campaign was also abysmal. It tried to capitalize on '90s gross out humor for its advertising which isn't really much in tone with the game. They could have done so much more for it, but Nintendo had more on their plates--such as the upcoming Nintendo 64. Pushing a goofy RPG such as this just wasn't in the cards.

The game was also ahead of its time. This might be hard to imagine in a world where "modern" settings are about 85% of all game settings, but it was not common at the time. The humor is not very in your face for the time period either, but it still has a distinct late '80s and early '90s feel with much warmth and cleverness, and the threat is not ironically detached from the rest.

At the same time the game stayed locked to the SNES in North America until the Wii U's virtual console put it out again well over a decade later. This allowed it to foster a reputation as an underrated classic that only the cool kids got to play and dumb old Nintendo forgot about. And some people are instantly turned off by the "cult" label due to those who attach themselves to it. 

But it wasn't all bad. Just like most cult hits it was bolstered by a base attached to its quality that ended up boosting its reputation in the process. And now it's the hipster game to go to.

However, it wasn't always this way. Earthbound is just a great game that came out at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Its success in its home country shows just that much. It is still one of the most popular games in Japan to this day.

If you enjoy RPGs, especially from the golden age of Japanese ones, then Earthbound is well worth trying. It adds and refines a lot of the genre's quirks to a peak experience you won't get anywhere else even today, and considering this was on the SNES (one of the best video game consoles ever made) that says a lot. Be sure to give this a go.

Earthbound is more than worth your time: it is one of the best games ever made.

An Effective Opening

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Place for Everything

Stories exist to because writers need to write them and readers want to read them. We write them because we want you to read them and you read them because you want us to write them. It's a simple relationship, but it means everything.

Those who have written a story knows how important it is to put everything in order to please the reader, and everyone who enjoys a good story knows how important it is for the writer to create it for them. But that's just life. Everything connects in some way we don't always see.

I say this because the most important thing a story can be is natural. It reflects that idea of everything connecting in a cogent way. And this might seen odd to say when writers of genre fiction write weird fiction, but it's true.

This is because weirdness is natural.

I'm not referring to oddball deviants or bad philosophers who proclaim their disturbed way of life sacred and Average Joes jokes, but that the universe itself is a particularly strange place if you think about it even a tiny bit. It appeared out of nothing with fully formed rules and plans, planets and stars and black holes abound, and even the Earth itself is strange among all that mess! And of all the creatures crawling on the planet, humans are the only ones that can build Gothic cathedrals, submarines, castles, and giant robots. That's weird, and for good reason.

Normality is weird.

One of the aspects of postmodern criticism and art that has disappointed is how it has taken out the weird, and therefore the beauty along the way. There's nothing weird about the grotesque or the profane: that's base and simple. Corpses are common. Ugliness is easy. It's a warped view of the natural taken and glorified to obscene levels. There's no wonder there.

These artists have removed imagination in exchange for what they consider realism, and they wear it as a badge. They want a reaction, and nothing more. "Realism" is rarely ever even real in these works which makes them feel doubly false.

People as a rule want to be taken higher. You can't blame them for that. It's built into them at a deep level. We are made for more.

As it was once put:

When God had filled the earth with life
And blessed it, to increase,
Then cattle dwelt with creeping things,
And lion with lamb, at peace.

He gave them vast, untrodden lands,
With plants to be their food;
Then God saw all that he had made
And found it very good.

Praise God the Father of all life,
His Son and Spirit blest,
By whom creation lives and moves,
In whom it comes to rest.

We want to be happy not because we are deluded, but because we know deep down that there is much to be happy for. This is why stories of good triumphing over evil, or where good is exulted, or where evil is shown for the muck that it is, comprise of just about the entirety of all great literature. It's universal: it goes down beyond our bones to our souls.

This is why there are fewer feelings greater for a writer than when they are given kudos or just criticism for a story by readers, and when they are writing and things fall just into place.

I have said before that I don't fall on either side of the "pantser" and "plotter" divide when it comes to being a writer. I have done both. The reason is because stories are a form of discovery: we're not really writing them but discovering and sharing what we find with you. I can sit down and bang out an outline and have the story go sideways on me because of a random wrinkle I never considered. I can start a story from scratch then need to outline it because something isn't flowing right. Sometimes things go great with both approaches all the way through. Writing is odd sometimes. It just works out that way.

But when everything falls into place and you get a complete piece there is nothing more satisfying to a writer. I wish I could describe it, but the feeling that you have cleaned a window into a higher reality that others can also use is something amazing. I write stories because I want people to connect with them so we can share this feeling together.

That's what they're for. We're all in this together, after all.

I'm writing this on the day that 33 people were murdered (edit: 34) and 36 were injured at Kyoto Animation in Japan. Please spare some of your prayers and best thoughts to those attacked for merely doing their job. The animation industry in Japan is grueling enough, and these people took this job regardless of that knowledge. They merely wanted to create things to make people happy.

I'm not the biggest fan of what anime watchers call "KyoAni" though I don't deny the great work they have done and have enjoyed some of it. I pray the one responsible is given a just punishment for his crimes and the families left behind by the tragedies will recover. Those who died deserve better than being murdered for trying to entertain people. Here's hoping that they are better off now.

Sometimes it is worrying to wonder if our sense of balance in reality has been lost. Those who create art are not gods or high priests, we are just doing what we were made to do. It's just a job. Nothing a writer or artist can do deserves what happened in this situation: art is not a weapon. It is food for the soul. I admit I have less sympathy for artists who attempt to use their talent wrong and cause strife and discord, but that is not what happened here. KyoAni is as tame and unoffensive as it can get. Entertainers won't save your souls. We're just here to make your day a little better and to get by with everyone else.

Because, as I said, we're all in this together. We can dislike modern art and how it is misused, or detest those who make it, but we still have to live with each other. That's why we're here.

Everything connects and leads into other things. Our choices matter a lot, regardless of how you might be told otherwise, and as a writer I can tell you that a single decision can sometimes mean the difference between a sold piece of consumer art or a scrapped idea buried in the bin. So take care that we work together and don't lose sight of what we are, what we can do, and what we are destined for.

Normality is weird, but weird still as a formula. The universe is weird, and it has patterns. Ugliness is base, and exists only to pervert what already exists. That includes those who would hurt those who have no greater goal than trying to make them smile for half an hour out of their day. That is the epitome of a warped perspective and having a disordered mind. Celebrate beauty and chase it with all the love you have, and it will work out somehow. It might not be in a way you expected, but not that's the way it goes.

We can't always see where we're going, but we are going somewhere.

So please spare an extra prayer and pondering a moment over those who lost their lives and consider just what we're here to do, and not do.

The thing about hitting rock bottom is that there's only one way to go from there. Now it's time to look up again.

As an aside, the new cover artist for Heroes Unleashed has been working out well with Silver Empire and Gemini Warrior is very close to release. I will be sure to let you know when it does. And those on my mailing list, be aware that I will start it anew when it does. I unfortunately fell off long before I should have on it. But that's in the past. Now we're in the present, and things are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Why the Sun Burns ~ A Review of Graham Greene's "Brighton Rock"

"People change," she said.
"Oh, no they don't. Look at me. I've never changed. It's like those sticks of rock: bite it all the way down, you'll still read Brighton. That's human nature."
This post is very different from the usual blog fare, mostly because I just came back from a trip and that I'm getting my daily word count whipped back into shape. It's going good! So for now I wanted to talk about a book I read recently, slightly different from the usual pulp material I go over here. However it's not as different as you might think. This is about Graham Greene's Brighton Rock from 1938.

For those not in the know, Graham Greene was one of the most well known writers of the 20th century. He wrote many books, plays, and scripts for film noir, including the legendary movie The Third Man which is regarded as a classic. He wrote from the 1930s up to the 80s before his death in the early 90s. So he doesn't need any introduction here.

What probably isn't well known is that he was also a Catholic, though admittedly not a very good one, particularly later in life. His depression certainly didn't help, but neither did cheating on his wife throughout his life on top of it. He would later call himself a Catholic agnostic, and if you read his works you would understand the philosophical battles are what he is about, whether in his pulp thrillers or his literary output. He was a man of contradictions. But one book bridged that gap of extremes admirably and that book is the subject of this post, 1938's Brighton Rock.

It might be a surprise to readers of this blog, but I do like literary fiction. But I enjoy a very specific kind of literary fiction: ones that deal with the eternal and the knife edge between life and death. It's the same as a pulp tale of white hat versus black hat except the sides are above the players who scrambling to understand which they belong to. It's a different angle, but one that never gets old.

This is why I've greatly enjoyed Dostoevsky's The Idiot, Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, Shusaku Endo's Silence, and Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood. They are all tales of good and evil and deal with bigger themes beyond the usual literary fiction trope of nothing happening while things go on. They are about what matters, just as pulp stories are.

Of course, I also like tales of two-fisted action and clear stakes to entertain the reader as well as the above. To me, these two sides of the fiction coin are pretty similar. They both offer the same thing: praising the good and rejecting the evil, and understanding the distinction between the two, even though they do it in different ways.

Brighton Rock is a sequel to the writer's earlier thriller A Gun For Sale, but only tangentially. An event that occurred in that book is the reason the main character is in the position he is in by the this story's start. You don't need to read it to understand this one, but it is to be mentioned.

The story stars a seventeen year old gangster named Pinkie Brown who has just seized control of his gang. At the book's start he is hunting down a man named Charles Hale who betrayed them. Charles meets a woman named Ida Arnold who he connects with, but the two soon separate and Charles is killed by Pinkie afterwards. The report on Charles' death seems strange to Ida so she begins investigating on a lark and an intuition and ends up badgering Pinkie throughout the story even without any evidence about his guilt or knowledge about his person. At the same time Pinkie courts a young waitress named Rose in an attempt to marry her so she can't testify against him since she unknowingly can bust his alibi. The three and their motivations clash throughout the story. As the novel goes on everything begins to unravel until the truth wins out at the end. Everyone gets what they wanted, in a way.

What makes this story work are the characters. They are a extremely different from each other, but vital for the story to go the way it does.

Pinkie is the main character, and he is a villain, through and through. He has no warmth in his heart, no humor, no love, and deliberately chooses to be that way. He wants to be damned. There are several points of the book where small acts of grace such as a friend turning up alive who was thought to be dead are outright rejected by Pinkie who lashes out in vicious ways. He is given chance after chance and rejects them all.

His obsession with being a man informed by a dead gangster causes him to routinely champion the wrong things, from turning on potential allies to threatening those who have nothing to offer him to rejecting offers that would aid him. By the end of the book his soul is stretched so thin that there is little left beyond a husk of what was once a smart young man who could be so much more, but refuses to be.

Greene only ever calls Pinkie "the Boy" throughout the narration and only uses "Pinkie" when being spoken to in dialogue to emphasize the state of his mind. Pinkie has rejected humanity for his own private version of success, and has no chance to become anything more than a mere child. This is despite his countless chances to do so.

The other main character is Rose, who could be seen as the real counterpart to Pinkie. She loves him, not for any schoolgirl reason, but because she thinks she is damned and therefore perfect for him. They are a match, and if they were smarter about it they could work, but they aren't and they don't. Rose knows this, but refuses to admit it. There is no hope for them, but at least they can burn together. Or so she believes.

You see, both Pinkie and Rose are Catholics, but Pinkie only believes in Hell and damnation as an inevitability and can't even picture a Heaven or mercy in the slightest. Rose believes in both but can''t see herself being redeemed and thinks she's destined for Hell. She goes to Mass and he hasn't gone in forever, and they both believe it's all true. His religion is a shell of the real thing morphed to suit his crafted personality, and hers is a young girl's misunderstanding of the nature of Hell and salvation.

This difference in their outlook is what makes Rose more sympathetic as the frail girl struggling to get by. By the end of the story we learn why she thought she should be damned and why her misguided thoughts had very nearly given her that wish. At the same time she vows to start anew with hope for the future with a new understanding of how the world is. Perhaps anyone can be saved, if they want it. In my opinion, she is the real protagonist of the story. She is only held back by her naivety of the way things are.

Finally, there is Ida Arnold. She is supposed to be the "detective" character, but she isn't really. Ida is a hedonist, to put it bluntly. She is just about every New Age, chubby, middle-aged, cat lady, secularist, stereotype you can think of. She's a know-it-all, loose, loud, and surprisingly clueless. If Pinkie wasn't in this story she would be the most unlikable character--and there are gangsters in this work. Ida is only interesting for how Greene uses her as a place of unexpected grace and deliverance in the plot over the others in it. Otherwise her obliviousness around younger characters can get irritating.

She knows right is right, and wrong is wrong, even though she is very much a hedonist who makes bad decision in her own life, but she doesn't know why of everything and can't even explain it. She lectures Rose for being naive, even though she is far more naive than she is despite the age difference. For instance, a big gangster threatens Pinkie sends men after his guys and viciously attacks them, but Ida doesn't know this and thinks the gangster is an upstanding and right man. Despite this she can nail when someone isn't acting right or is hiding something from her. This is more or less Ida's character. She is frequently right, but not for the reasons she think she is and can miss the forest for the trees. She doesn't even understand it herself.

Ida ends up in the right place at the right time seemingly at random, through her connections and goofy larks. This puts her in places she wouldn't otherwise have any reason to be. It's her boisterous and warm personality that contrasts with Pinkie's cold one that leads her to push back against him even though they don't know each other at all. By the end of the story the preceding events begin to rub off on her and leads her to making the first good decision for her own life she made the entire story. Perhaps she actually has grown through the events.

These three are almost as direct opposites of each other as can be, but they all drive the plot perfectly. The triumvirate of clashing ideals is what makes the story interesting beyond the scam plotline. Whenever one of the three is on page you will pay attention as they all have much charisma around them that makes you want to see what they will do next. I was also partial to the charactersof  the gangsters such as Spicer, Dallow, and Cubit, who all represent sides of Pinkie he simply doesn't have, and yet are all he has left.

Greene contrasts the beauty and ugliness of the (then) modern world through the eyes of both religious and secular and how they are both two sides of a certain denarius. What might be ugly or beautiful for another might only look that way because the full picture isn't being seen. The wrong thing is glorified over and over by characters in this novel while the right thing is avoided as a vampire dodges the sun. This never turns out well for those involved. The moral order of the universe is held up, as it should in all good fiction.

Brighton Rock is about the importance of grace and the acceptance of reality, both religious and secular. It is about growth. Those who deny reality are doomed to destruction as their souls shrivel to nothing as they attempt to escape into themselves. You can't change, or grow, as long as you refuse to accept Truth. At the end you either pick a side or you will be thrown into one, and it won't always be the better option.

It's a short book, as it should be, clocking in a good bit under 300 pages, and very little space is wasted with flowery prose. This isn't a book that would come out of Oldpub today, and it isn't just because of length.

The prose is lean and sharp like a pulp novel, though the action is not on the surface. Everything ripples under the water. However, there is a giant knife fight between gangsters that explodes out of nowhere in the middle of the book which is terrifying, and yet leads to one beautiful moment of grace that seals the fates of our characters. It's a perfect scene that leads to another perfect scene. The action in litfic is always about the consequences of decisions, and the battle between God and Satan as the ultimate white and black hat is where the real action sits in this piece.

Once you see Brighton Rock as what it is: a spiritual battle between mortal sin and repentance, it is engrossing all the way until the final moments. As far as litfic goes, this was pretty much my ideal example. It surpassed my expectations despite reading about its reputation for so long.

I can't convince you to give this a try if you don't enjoy film noir, spiritual battles, or litfic, but I can recommend it wholeheartedly all the same. There isn't really any other book out there like this, not even by Greene.

But I enjoyed this one immensely and will stand by it as a work worth reading. Brighton Rock is not like anything else you will read today, especially from the dinosaur publishing world.

If this is your sort of thing be sure to seek it out.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

My Appendix N: Odds & Ends

I'm getting ready to go out of town for a few days so I don't have the time to do the book version of this series of posts, so I will instead focus on what I might have missed out along the way. Unfortunately, this means a shorter post than the others, but if you want something else to indulge in you can always check out the podcast I do with one of my friends Cannon Cruisers. There we discuss lesser known movies during the silver age of cinema, the 1980s.

In fact, that is just as good a place to start as any. Those who saw my TV and cinema list and have listened to an episode or two of Cannon Cruisers knows I'm not very infatuated with the way things are right now in the visual arts.

I'm not a fan of how alienating much of cinematography is. Shaky cam seeks to disconnect the audience from the action on screen using a fig leaf explanation of it being "more engrossing" when it is not. The obsession with desaturated colors and grays makes looking at a modern movie or TV show the equivalent of watching a reality drained of life and hope. Even video games have begun to follow this trend, making a dark game like DOOM look like a carnival fun-house in comparison.

1980s to early 90s cinema might not have been the best on a quality perspective, but on a presentation level it is hard to argue it wasn't a peak. Practical effects, big bold colors, inventive ideas though not always with the best execution, and a general respect for the audience, are all things that add to the whole. That became lost as the years went on.

This inspires much of what I write and hope to capture that feeling and mood, even in stories as dark as some of mine can get. I want that connection, and not the frayed one that exists in the modern world. I might not always succeed, but that is what I aim for.

It's not so much a nostalgia thing as I grew up hating the 80s like many of the edgy idiots of the 90s, but as time has passed I know where my bread is buttered. I know what works, and what doesn't.

And speaking of what doesn't work, one topic I didn't cover in this series was comic books, and that is because I have a very complicated relationship with the dying medium.

I have the controversial opinion that the animated TV shows that came out all outdid the comic runs for the simple reason that they had endings. The comic companies milking the same characters and villains for decades, declaring death and therefore consequences a non-issue turned me off of them. As much as I liked the Death & Return of Superman story at the time, it was an ending. There is no way around that realization. There was nowhere to go after that, and the audience agreed.

There is a reason manga has overtaken comics and why bande dessinee still has a lucrative industry in its homeland while the comic industry is flatlining and refusing to make any changes to better itself. They know how to build stories and when they need to end. Every story needs an ending.

As for what comics did inspire me well I quite liked 90s Superboy. It was about a 100 issue run starting with the cocky kid beginning his superhero career and ending as he joins the Teen Titans and decides to grow up. It more or less covers a complete arc. It's not the best series, but I always liked the character and he did get an ending before DC did what the industry always does and went and screwed him up later.

The one comic line that could have changed much if it wasn't for being bought by DC and didn't have internal problems was Cliffhanger.

Cliffhanger was a line of action adventure comics from the late 90s. They wanted to create epic stories with original characters, and complete stories with endings, before making something new afterwards. It was exactly what the industry needed.

It launched with three series. Crimson, a vampire story about potential Armageddon, had a full 24 issue run and an ending. The creative team then went on to do Out There, a Lovecraft-style story that also had an ending. This group did right by the brand.

The second series was Danger Girl, a Bond-inspired spy romp with hot women and plenty of action. This had production issues due to J. Scott Campbell's health, but the story eventually concluded and several more mini-series were made afterwards. It also managed to have a video game.

The last series featuring comic superstar of the time Joe Mad was called Battle Chasers, a fantasy quest that never even got to see double digit issue numbers because the team could not reliably produce product. This was very common at the time, and it ended up hurting many in the industry later. Battle Chasers missing so many deadlines and never really starting the story led to Danger Girl and Crimson carrying most of the weight, and when Danger Girl had production issues itself it was up to Crimson alone, which never suffered a delay, to float the whole line. This caused trust issues with the audience.

By the time Crimson ended the line had been bought by DC with Wildstorm and it got shuffled to the backburner. There were a few other mini-series from creators, including at least one other long series that never got finished, but DC strangled Cliffhanger to death. And that was it. There was never another line like Cliffhanger again. For 20 years the industry suffered a slow death of endless reboots and no new ideas.

Now the industry is on its death bed, and no one can write anything without putting in their divisive identity politics and fracturing what little audience remains.

But the aims of the line was an inspiration to me. I didn't like some of western comics' worst traits and enjoyed someone aspiring to change things for the better to build something. I maintain that had the line went off without a hitch, and had DC stayed away, it would have been a gamechanger for the industry. It is what was needed. As it is now I might be the only person who remembers this line and is inspired by it. You certainly wouldn't see any of those series made today, for various reasons.

But that's enough of that dying industry. I have another thing to mention.

I forgot one movie in a previous post that inspired me quite a bit. When I was younger I watched this all the time, and the soundtrack stuck to me like glue to this day. Despite clearly having a Star Wars inspiration, I enjoyed this far more. It had memorable lines, engaging characters, and top notch action. Of course, I'm referring to the Transformers animated movie.

This movie was called, by one hack internet reviewer, a cheap toy commercial made to cynically kill off old toys so kids would buy new ones. Said hot dog loving critic must have missed the reason the franchise exists in the first place. But what do you expect when you can only look at everything with a cynical eye?

The movie shows that an actual war between robots would end with robots dying, as would be expected. The series avoided such things. Though the Transformers are "More Than Meets the Eye" as they have a life force called a Spark meaning that death is permanent and there are stakes. At least aside from one death that has a specific parallel later in the series, but I digress. Because of groups like ACT as a kid you would never be able to see anyone die as a consequence to violence in cartoons. Here you did. The first fifteen minutes does more to establish tension and stakes than any other kid show from the era.

Now imagine if ACT hadn't been in the way?

I'm not going to say it is perfect, but if you can show me a boy who grew up at the time who watched and didn't like this then I'm going to call you a liar. I would doubt there are few who didn't find this inspiring back in the day. It also paved the way for anime acceptance since its crisp direction and visceral action is the exact sort of thing the medium was known for. This is the sort of thing animation was made for.

It's a shame that outside of Beast Wars the franchise has never managed to reach that height again. Which reminds me to mention that series for those who have never seen it. The CG is dated, but the storytelling is not. Outside the animated movie it is the best thing in the franchise. But I could go on forever. That animated movie remains an inspiration for me and I'm betting anyone who grew up with it.

There are many other things I could list as an inspiration that I missed earlier, but then I would be here forever. The important thing is that what brings us together and appeals to our shared values, hopes, and dreams is what should be highlighted and celebrated. That's what I try to do.

I'm certain that in the future it will return again. We can't remain in this bad spot forever. Hopefully I will be a part of it.

Until then let us celebrate what brings us together, instead of what pulls us apart. Isn't this the time of year for that, after all? I would say so.

Have a good one! You've earned it.