Why I Disliked Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I love me some bad movies. I can watch a film like The Room or Birdemic: Shock and Terror with ease. Give me a bad, campy movie and I’ll eat it right up.

Give me a movie that’s supposed to be good but ends up bad; I’ll struggle to watch it again.

Herein lies my problem with The Last Jedi: a movie that’s supposed to be good (currently sitting with a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes) but ends up being bad. Why is that? Let me count the ways.

I feel the need to express my thoughts over this film because most people I’ve talked to are shocked I disliked the movie. As both a lover of film (especially Rian Johnsons’s Looper) and an even bigger lover of Star Wars (R.I.P. Expanded Universe), I have a strange case of wanting to love this movie. However. . . I didn’t. Obviously, spoilers are ahead.

Why I disliked The Last Jedi as a fan of film:

Where to begin? Let’s start with the plot:

Ex-Marvel Comics Editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, once wrote a storytelling lecture on his blog. There, he covers the basic fundamentals of storytelling using the poem of Little Miss Muffet. He writes,

Little Miss Muffet–introduce the character. Sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey–establish the status quo. Along came a spider–introduce the disruptive element. Sat down beside her–build suspense. Scared poor Miss Muffet–climax. Away–resolution. Now you know the basic building block of entertainment. Is that all you need? No. Little Miss Muffet is a story, it fits the basic building block, it is however a lousy story. You don’t know anything about this girl, you don’t know anything about the spider. It gets old pretty quick. But we can make it better.

Now let’s look at The Last Jedi: At the beginning of the film, Rey has the Force and she’s learning to use it. We also have The Resistance defeated by the First Order. We also have Kylo Ren who’s the big baddie and is angry all of the time.

By the end of The Last Jedi, we have Rey who is learning to use her Force powers, The Resistance is defeated, and Kylo Ren who as the big baddie and is angry all of the time. The rest of the movie is filler. Without a status quo change, arguably the movie really didn’t need to happen, did it? Let’s go deeper:

At the end of The Force Awakens, Rey learns she has the Force. She goes to Luke to learn how to use the Force. She syncs up with Kylo Ren a handful of times to add some mystery to the story. She even dabbles with the dark side, according to Luke. She then leaves Luke and meets up with Kylo Ren. Snoke dies and she refuses to join Kylo. She re-joins the Resistance, despite being not that much further ahead in her training than she was before. Sure, she’s learned to control her Force powers a bit better, but essentially, that’s Rey’s arc. She went from learning how to use the Force to still learning how to use the Force. Yes, it’s filled with her arguing between Kylo and Snoke – refusing the dark side and all that fun stuff – but ultimately, she’s left unchanged in the film. We kinda sorta don’t learn her history regarding her parents either, so her motives are still somewhat unchanged. She’s really not that much better off than what we started with. The audience knew she was a good person because it was established in the first film. Even as she spoke with Luke, we saw her still fighting for good, despite temptations. Ultimately, Rey’s status quo didn’t change at all.

Even these little things didn’t bother me as much as the movie itself.

Looking at The Resistance, they didn’t change much at all. If anything, they just got smaller. We know they are the good guys who got beat down (which they definitely did in this film), but they were already the underdogs. They went from being underdogs to staying underdogs. They lost Admiral Ackbar, Admiral Holdo, Rose’s sister Paige at the beginning of the film (they’re all heroes, don’t cha know?), and hundreds more. And so? They weren’t relevant to the film anyway. Their loss didn’t change anything, actually. The status quo of the Resistance didn’t change.

Then we have Kylo Ren – an angry defeated boy at the end of The Force Awakens who turns against his master in The Last Jedi. And that’s about it. Like I said earlier, he goes from being angry to staying angry. He was technically second-in-command of the First Order anyway so the “shift” in his character really wasn’t all that dramatic. Sure, he saved Rey from Snoke showing he has some light in him, but shortly after he wanted to kill her. Mood swing. The status quo for Ren changed in the film but was ultimately reset back to the beginning of the movie when The Last Jedi ended. That’s pretty lame.

Finn and Rose we’re something irrelevant. You could literally rip their storyline straight out of the movie and nothing would change outside of Captain Phasma still being alive (but she was irrelevant anyway). To recap: Finn wakes up, runs into Rose (who got over her sister’s death pretty quickly) and they take off to the Casino to pad out the movie. They find the Slicer DJ, end up getting caught by Phasma, getting saved by BB-8, go to the planet Crait, get both of their speeders wrecked, they both escape, and then the movie ends. They literally did nothing in the film and as such, their existence in the The Last Jedi was irrelevant.

Lesser characters, Poe, General Hux, Captain Phasma, Luke, and Leia, ultimately didn’t have much effect on the film either. Their storyline could’ve all been left out.

Poe went from being a rebellious jerk to being a rebellious jerk. General Hux didn’t change at all. Captain Phasma goes from being completely irrelevant in the first film to being completely irrelevant in the second. It was if neither director knew what to do with her. We learn Luke’s story over the past forty years, but ultimately we go from not having Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens to not having Luke Skywalker by the end of The Last Jedi. Leia was the voice and leader of the Resistance and continued to be so. She was left unchanged.

“I’m in this movie for all of the wrong reasons.”

Looking back at Little Miss Muffet with The Last Jedi – we have our characters on their tuffet and a status quo of their curds and whey. The First Order is the disruptive element and well. . . that’s as far as we get. We’re back to everyone on their tuffets eating their curds and whey.

So my biggest problem with The Last Jedi? In 152 minutes, our characters physically fly from Point A to Point B. The rest is filler. No ones character evolved in the movie and as such, the status quo did not change.

Character Development

Snoke dies. Luke dies. Rey lives. Kylo Ren lives.

Why didn’t I care what happened to these characters, living or dead? The answer is motives. The audience isn’t given any – and if they are – they’re not strong enough to care about.

Let’s take a look at Snoke: what’s his motive? How did he create the First Order? Did he create it? We have no back story to him, despite his few moments of spewing out exposition when talking to Rey. We really don’t know what his character is about outside of him being big and bad. That’s it. He dies and that’s the end for him. Not only was he a lame character, but without a back story, we’re unfortunately victims to lazy screen writing and character development. R.I.P. Snoke, we hardly knew ye.

“I’m irrelevant.”

Luke’s death, while a bit of a surprise, upset me for the wrong reasons. He didn’t need to die (let alone however he died which I’ll get into below). But his motives still weren’t entirely clear. He trained Rey out of guilt, I guess. But it wasn’t much training at all. By the time we learn his back story, Rey’s already buggered off and we’re left with Luke’s final moments straining to delay Kylo Ren from killing the rest of The Resistance. Did Luke get closure because of this? Rey and Leia confirmed Luke felt “at peace” but did he really? The characters had to tell us that in the film because I certainly didn’t understand or feel it.

With Rey, we have her wanting to learn her origin but we’re still left ambiguous about it. Kylo Ren tells her something about her parents, but hey – he could be lying! We’re given vague answers to her throughout the whole movie – what her power set is, where’s she’s from, and most importantly – why we should care about her. She only became “the last Jedi” by the end of the film. Her status quo didn’t change outside of a title, so my care for her is the same as it was at the end of The Force Awakens: I really don’t know how to feel.

And with Kylo Ren, he’s still a moody, angry teenager. He killed his master, which was probably the most development we received about him in the film, but that’s about it. He lives to fight on and kill the Resistance, but I mean, how’s that any different than what he was in the first movie? It’s really not.

Consistencies

I’ll try to keep these to bullet points as I’ve already whined too much:

– Rey goes to Ahch-To to find Luke. Given the night and day cycles, we can assume she’s there for at least a week. We also know that the Resistance only has a little amoutn of fuel left from the start of the movie (we’re told around eighteen hours then down to six hours). By the end of the film, Rey and the Resistance meet up at the same time. Nice. The only explanation is if Ahch-To has significantly shorter day cycles, which obviously isn’t discussed.

– For plot convenience, I’m glad BB-8 can become an X-Wing conductor to help destroy a Dreadnought, can talk to a prisoner who fortunately happens to be a Slicer and steal a ship for our characters to escape, and can suddenly pilot a First Order walker (conveniently destroying its hull from the inside to reveal it’s him to the audience) to save his friends. BB-8 became the most convenient deus ex machina in cinematic history.

– I guess Threepio doesn’t need a red arm anymore? Between escaping the secret Resistance base and getting onto the Resistance capital ship, they swapped his arms?

– Yoda is cool with lying to Luke about the Jedi books and burning trees down (in case you missed it, the books were on the Millennium Falcon at the end of the film).

– The First Order has hundreds of TIE fighters at their disposal and can easily destroy the hull of the Republic cruiser (R.I.P. Admiral Ackbar). Why drag the movie out for two hours when a handful of TIE’s could’ve ended the film? We know TIE fighters can destroy the bridge easily so. . .

– From the previous point: so the Resistance exited hyperspace to a random place only to be followed by The First Order. Whose idea was that? Even IF it was with plans to fly to Crait all along (which conveniently showed up for the Resistance to escape to if it wasn’t), why would only Leia and Admiral Holdo know of the plans? There’s probably an argument that the rest of the people “in the know” died on the bridge, but in reality, the audience was left out of the information to add some drama to the story. It was unnecessary.

– What camera was following Maz around? That’s one helluva cool selfie stick.

– DJ was a slicer who helped Finn and Rose, then back stabbed Finn and Rose. What happens to him? Who cares.

– Where’s the rest of the Knights of Ren Luke spoke about?

A showdown with little build up, tension, or history behind it. Finn is undefeated with Phasma. The score’s 2-0 now.

– Nit-picking as a Star Wars fan, Luke’s death bothered me because of how he died. In Revenge of the Sith, we learn Qui Gon Jinn discovered the “path to immortality” which is why Obi Wan and Yoda disappear and become one with the Force after they die in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. This is also why Anakin Skywalker’s body doesn’t disappear in Vader’s suit, or why all of the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith do not disappear after their deaths. However, we see Yoda come to Luke presumably for the first time (as per his reaction) since Return of the Jedi. Unless Yoda explained Qui Gon’s discovery to Luke off-screen, I can’t see how Luke could’ve disappeared at the end of The Last Jedi without that specific knowledge that Yoda didn’t even seem to have known some-eighty years prior.

General Questions

– It bothered me in The Force Awakens and it still bothers me now: WHO ARE THE RESISTANCE?! We have the Republic in The Force Awakens. They were the five planets that were destroyed by the Starkiller Base. The Republic and its fleet were wiped out.

But why did the Resistance exist to begin with? Wasn’t the Republic in control? Was there a civil war? What was going on? Why is General Leia against The Republic? Was she against the Republic? To that extent, why did the Republic only exist on five planets? More so, at the end of The Last Jedi, if the Resistance had “other friendlies” to contact, why are they such wussies and refuse to help the Resistance on Crait? Are they even relevant? To that extent (and to reinforce what I’ve said earlier), if the Empire was defeated in Return of the Jedi, who let The First Order rise to be the size that they were? How is The First Order funded? What’s Snoke’s back story? Answer: it’s lazy screen writing.

– If we assume The Last Jedi takes place right after The Force Awakens, can we also assume enormous grief is what’s going to kill General Leia off in the final installment? We can assume that in a span of maybe, twenty-four to forty-eight hours(?) she loses Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Admiral Ackbar, Admiral Holdo, most of the Resistance/her friends, and admits her son cannot be saved. That’s arguably a bigger loss than Alderaan’s destruction. However, Leia seems to handle that all in-stride. Classy.

– I’m all for jumping into lightspeed to split Star Destroyers in half, but how did it manage to destroy ALL of the Star Destroyers? Convenient.

– More of a comment: this movie isn’t Fern Gully. I can’t remember a Star Wars movie where the film goes full-stop and suggests cruelty to animals and the wealthy are bad. There’s obviously social messages in prior movies, but Star Wars was never the kind to make it so apparent. That bothered me because scenes at the Casino planet made Star Wars feel more like a Disney product than a Star Wars film.

Despite all of what I’ve said, I liked some things in The Last Jedi. Here’s what I liked:

– Leia’s use of the Force bubble is something pulled from the Expanded Universe/Legends in the book, The Courtship of Princess Leia. In there, Luke and Isolder fall from orbit safely onto a planet because Luke wraps them in a Force bubble. It was neat to see that used in the film.

– While I pointed out issues with some character development above, there was one character who had tons of back story given to her with very little screen time. Admiral Holdo’s arc and development stood out – especially when Leia and her share a scene together. We get a lot of history with Holdo with very little exposition and it completely works for the character. We have her full arc, going from a emotionally shut off Admiral to someone who had a plan unfolding all along. She has a rich history and ends up saving the Resistance due to her commitment to the cause. A true martyr. The Little Miss Muffet poem, Admiral Holdo is.

One of the few decent things to come out of The Last Jedi.

– Yoda’s cameo was great – not for nostalgic reasons, but because Yoda had some ridiculously good words of wisdom to share to Luke. While I snickered at Yoda’s CGI appearance at first (’cause he looked like a baby), they switched him over to a puppet for close-up shots and he looked fantastic.

– I loved some of the directorial artistry in the film. Some scenes I wished I could take a picture of because they were so beautiful. Those scenes are: Luke and Yoda sitting in front of the burning tree, Luke vs. Kylo Ren and their standoff on Crait, Admiral Holdo ripping through the Star Destroyers, and of course, the First Order walkers on Crait.

While I’m not petitioning to remove The Last Jedi from canon, I do feel like this’ll be the end for me and Star Wars post-Episode Nine. I’m two movies into a new trilogy and the only characters I’ve cared about died already, with Carrie Fisher unable to reprise her role in the third. I’m disappointed how the new trilogy has presented itself and have minor hopes it can turn around for Episode Nine. However, I’m cautiously optimistic and will find out in a few more years.

What do you folks think? Did you love The Last Jedi? Hate it? Was I wrong with anything I’ve said? Sound off below and let’s start a discussion.

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

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My Top Albums of 2016

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Evergrey – The Storm Within

evergrey

While it has only been two years since Evergrey was last featured on my Top 15 list, they knocked it out of the park with this album. What I feel to be their best album since 2004’s The Inner Circle, Evergrey takes it up a notch with The Storm Within; showcasing some of the most aggressive song writing, grand choruses, and dark lyrics.

Watch the music video for “In Orbit” featuring Floor Jansen:

14. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder

darkthrone-arctic-thunder

Yet almost redefining their sound again, Darkthrone somewhat goes back on their black metal roots but now taking shape with some bits of crunchy doom metal. Coming at the listener with thundering beats and punishing riffs, Darkthrone really impresses with this surprisingly straight-forward album that, despite being their sixteenth studio album, still comes as a breath of fresh air.

Listen to the first track, “Tundra Leech”:

13. iamthemorning – Lighthouse

iamthemorning

One part chamber pop, another part progressive rock, iamthemorning have always been a bit different. With beautifully haunting music and vocals, Lighthouse stands out as a daring take on making something complicated sound so beautiful and elegant.

Check out the entire album streaming here:
https://iamthemorningband.bandcamp.com/

12. Deströyer 666 – Wildfire

destroyer-666

As far as blackened thrash metal goes, Deströyer 666 create a solid album with gripping choruses and challenging aspects to their listeners. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill thrash album. There’s lots going on. The production is solid, the songs are great, and the riffs are crunchy. Putting this album on makes for one helluva fun ride.

Listen to the single, “Wildfire”:

11. Borknagar – Winter Thrice

borknagar

Even into their tenth studio album, Borknagar still shows the skill and comfort in their songwriting capabilities as Winter Thrice can take you over a variety of genres while still being Borknagar. Thrash, black, viking, progressive – thematic elements and bombastic choruses make for a audibly exciting album that anyone could really get into. Borknagar has always been a band that delivers quality – and with Winter Thrice – they still do.

Watch the lyric video to the first track, “The Rhymes of the Mountain”:

10. Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run (FEAR)

marillionfear

This was a surprise to me. Hands-down to be one of their greatest albums, Marillion’s FEAR truly harkens back to classical progressive rock times. Lyrically speaking, the album mirrors the title as it reflects upon the changes in England and people left behind; between the have and have-nots. Sometimes feeling like a gloomy, slow burn, the music is emotionally driven and if anything makes the listener realize that they are not alone with their thoughts.

Listen to “The New Kings” here:

9. Drombeg – Earthworks

drombeg

I stumbled onto Drombeg by sheer luck. Listening to the first few songs of this debut album, I was sold. His publisher’s description of the album describes it best: “A soundtrack for the middle-of-nowhere, the wild landscapes of Brookes’ native Southern Ireland are littered with historic, and geological structures hardened under the relentless elements. Sinuous string melodies, and tender piano phrases reach like sunlight breaking through heavy clouds, blended with electronics and field recordings in careful balance to produce a rich cinematic sound.”

Check out the entire album here:
https://futuresequence.bandcamp.com/album/earthworks

8. Devin Townsend – Transcendence

devintownsendtranscendence

I wasn’t sure if I liked this album at first. As a biased Dev fanboy, I felt like I was simply getting another version of Epicloud. After a few spins, it hit me, and I fell in love with Transcendence. Truly showcasing how much Devin has progressed as a musician over the years, his songwriting skills have tightened and makes for an engrossing album that sonically delivers. Not to mention this is the first album that features song writing credits to the rest of the band – being Dev’s first real collaboration with them. A true treat for the ears.

Watch the music video for “Stormbending”:

7. Aborted – Retrogore

abortedretrogore

Absolutely devastating death metal, Retrogore is a feast to the ears for those into horror films and, well, gore. It’s vile to the point of hilarity, and the band is fully-aware of that. With song titles like “Whoremageddon” and “Forged for Decrepitude” (which also features classic lines from Re-Animator), Aborted makes a much improved effort from their previous release and excites me to see what will come next.

Listen to the title track here:

6. Abbath – Abbath

abbathst

Immortal’s ex-frontman Abbath debuted his first album earlier this year to great success. Never would I have found black metal to be this damn catchy (which I suppose goes against the grain of what tr00 kvlt black metal is), but damn it’s catchy! Beat after beat, this album comes at you with stellar force.

Check out the video for “Winterbane”:

5. Anneke & Árstíðir – Verloren Verleden

annekearstidir

Icelandic folk band Árstíðir teamed up with one of my favourite vocalists, Anneke van Giersbergen, to showcase a variety of traditional and classical songs. It’s a wonderfully peaceful album with great resonance naturally showcased within the albums’ production. I found myself spinning this album a surprisingly large amount of times this year. Absolutely beautiful.

Listen to the wonderful cover of “Bist Du Bei Mir”:

4. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason

meshuggah

What’s not to like about Meshuggah? This band is always pushing the listener to something that rhythmically uncomfortable yet familiar. Always a great band to divulge into, if not a bit challenging to fully comprehend, The Violent Sleep of Reason is a crushingly great listen with riffs that will still have your head spinning to understand.

Check out the music video for “Clockworks”:

3. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
gorguts

Gorguts was last seen in my Top Albums of 2013 with their full-length, Coloured Sands – reaching the number two slot on my list. While I often don’t like to count EP’s as an album, Pleiades’ Dust stands out for being such a work of art I’d hate myself for not giving it proper recognition. The album forms a historical experience about the House of Wisdom and its destruction within a thirty-three minute song that is broken up into several movements. While Gorguts still stick with their technical death metal roots, the experimentation – and the overall experience – is an absolute joy.

Listen to the full song/album here:
https://gorguts.bandcamp.com/album/pleiades-dust

2. Moonsorrow – Jumalten aika

moonsorrow

I first got into Moonsorrow when I first got into metal. In fact, I learned about them when they were first starting out. I dug their first three albums (I started with Kivenkantaja) and fell in love with the band. And they’ve only become better over time. With their seventh album in place, these pagan black metallers have created another success. “Mimisbrunn” may just be one of the best songs they’ve ever written.

Check out the music video for “Suden Tunti”:

1. Vektor – Terminal Redux

vektorterminalredux

The gap between my second place album and this spot is gigantic. I don’t think there has been an album deserving a number one slot as much as Vektor’s Terminal Redux. I cannot say enough good things about this stunningly brilliant, progressive thrash album. I’ve been gushing over it since its release in May and am still excited listening to it.

The concept is grand, if not surprisingly ambitious for the thrash genre, but these guys make it right. While the lyrics are deep, intellectual, and well-written, the music is on a league of its own.

Lightning-fast riffs with tremendous variety makes the album refreshing to listen to on each spin; vocals representing the agony of the traveler and his yearning to learn more – as does the music want the listener to do. Nothing is stale and everything is wonderful. With the addition of female soul singers during integral parts of the story, the album begins and concludes with such choral ferocity, I still get goose bumps when I’ve fully invested myself into the album.

From the first track, “Charging the Void” to the incredible finale with “Recharging the Void,” Vektor brings the listeners on a wild journey through the far reaches of space all in the span of nine pulse-pounding songs.

Vektor’s Terminal Redux. I simply cannot say enough good things about this album. It has easily become one of my favourite albums ever to have graced my ears. It is now one of my favourite albums of all-time. An epic masterpiece worth your attention.

The incredible opening track to my album of the year, here’s “Charging the Void”:

Honourable Mentions:

Testament – The Brotherhood Of The Snake

Opeth – Sorceress

The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream

Anderson/Stolt – The Invention of Knowledge

Fates Warning – Theories of Flight

Amon Amarth – Jomsviking

Most Disappointed:

Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Megadeth – Dystopia

Riverside – Eye of the Soundscape

Redemption – The Art of Loss

Dream Theater – The Astonishing

Levin, Minneman, Rudess – From the Law Offices of Levin, Minnemann, Rudess

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

Clichés in Fantasy Storytelling: Prophecies

Clichéd storytelling, man. It freaks me out.

It reoccurs in many films and books throughout many cultures around the world and we’re usually quite satisfied with the final product.

Specifically I’m speaking about any kind of prophecies that are placed in the film in order to actually make the story a story. Yes, there are films and books whose stories rely entirely upon a prophecy. Without the prophecy there would be no need for a story and as such no way for the masses to consume. Prophecies are a big part of fantasy stories. One is almost to expect them to appear in one way or another in the story as they seem almost like common practice for the genre.

Some of these clichéd points are done either really well or really awful. Or they’re hidden well enough that when one considers how the rest of the story is portrayed, the cliché is forgiveable.

In my eyes, writing in a prophecy is no different than writing a deus ex machina for the ending of the story. The only difference is that a prophecy gives the writer the rest of the story to set up the crap-shoot of an ending to make the prophecy make sense. In contrast, the deus ex machina will simply resolve it by some bizarre fashion (or groan-worthy moment).

I think of it like writing during NaNoWriMo: if someone decides to make a story for the month, they plug away at it and when they don’t know how to end it, the deus ex comes in and saves the story.

Alternatively, if someone doesn’t really know how to end their story properly because they “just need to write X amount of words,” putting a prophecy in at the beginning makes the ending fall into place easier.

But it’s strange. We’ve all shook our heads to clichéd storytelling at one time or another, yet we let some stories get away with it more than others. For example, films like The Fifth Element and Lord of the Rings (we’ll go with the film version for LotR simply to make it easier) both use cliché storytelling models and we’re (well, I am) mostly okay with it.

The Fifth Element is self-aware and tongue-in-cheek regarding its central prophecy (that a Fifth Element will save the world), and it is established at the beginning of the movie. The story itself is a wild one, filled with nods to other science-fiction films and stories, while kind of really making the prophecy the central point of the movie – it became fun and was purposefully clichéd.

If your prophecy includes Chris Tucker, I'm instantly hooked.
If your prophecy includes Chris Tucker, I’m instantly hooked.

While one easily argue that The Fifth Element is rather trite with its story, it still reeks of fan-service to its audience that (in my opinion) out-weighs the stories short-comings regarding the cliché of prophecies.

In the Lord of the Rings film, it is established early on that the sword that cut off Sauron’s finger which bore the ring is needed to quell Sauron’s forces. Only Aragorn, if he fulfills the prophecy of returning to the throne by wielding the sword, can he help defeat Sauron’s evil.

This cliché feels a bit more laxed as there are multiple stories happening within the film, so as a viewer, it is not the central story to the movie. It’s a bit of a passable cliché solely because it’s not involving a main character – or at least one that hasn’t become a main character yet from the storytelling and audience’s perspective.

Then we have The Matrix. One character, Morpheus, passes the prophecy onto our main character, Neo. Then the viewer is dragged along for another two movies as the prophecy is continually shoved into our face with more philosophy than action (I should take this time to say I actually enjoyed the Matrix trilogy. However, I have to be critical for reasons of this discussion). The prophecy, from the beginning, becomes the heart of the movie and in-turn, is all the movie is trying to resolve – Neo fulfilling his destiny/ancient prophecy told by the elders.

"If I'm the Chosen One, does that mean I get to keep this spoon?"
“If I’m the Chosen One, does that mean I get to keep this spoon?”

Now that I’ve ripped on three major films regarding this topic, let me redirect the focus to something a bit more constructive.

Let’s look at Star Wars and how these films deal with prophecies.

A long time ago in a prophecy far, far away. . .

Starting in order of appearance, we have the Original Trilogy (OT) – episodes IV: A New Hope, V: The Empire Strikes Back, and VI: Return of the Jedi – which do not really deal with prophecies much at all. Then we have the Prequel films – episodes I: The Phantom Menace, II: Attack of the Clones, and III: Revenge of the Sith – which is all about the prophecy of “the Chosen One” (to clarify, I’m not referring to this chosen one).

That’s not to say that there are not prophecy-like instances in the OT.

What I would like to try and show here (and is essentially my thesis) is that the way in which Star Wars presented prophecies is what I think, one of the better ways to tell a story involving prophecies.

Now let’s drive right in and talk this one out.

Within the OT, we have the traditional fantasy story of a young hero out to save a princess and fight the forces of evil. Within that fantasy is the all-powerful Force: a mystical power that binds everything together and can be used for good or evil. As the story moves on into episodes V and VI, it unfolds to finding out that the villain is the hero’s father (spoiler) and that it is up to the hero to save him and defeat evil once and for all.

"Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure  up my stolen dank mix tapes."
“Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up my stolen dank mix tapes.”

That is a very bare-bones summary of the OT, but I think it works when trying to discuss prophecies. There was a mention about an “ancient religion” by Admiral Motti in A New Hope, and villain Darth Vader does proclaim, “Luke it is your destiny,” in The Empire Strikes Back when it came to trying to convince Luke to join him.

But that was really all that stood out regarding prophecies. The OT films did not rely on prophecies to make the story work and rarely alluded to them as well. There is mention of the Force in all three of the OT films, but it is not tied to a prophecy at all. The Force just “is.” Most people agree that the OT films are the best ones because of acting, action, effects, and so on. However, they may not be aware of it – but it could be because of the lack of clichéd prophecies within the fantasy world too.

But let’s look at the prequels.

“You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it’s this. . . boy [Anakin]?” asks Mace Windu in The Phantom Menance.

In Revenge of the Sith:
Obi-Wan Kenobi: “Is he [Anakin] not the Chosen One? Is he not to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force?”
Mace Windu: “So the prophecy says.”
Yoda: “A prophecy that misread could have been.”

“You [Anakin] were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness!” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Revenge of the Sith

The very vague prophecy is implied in little bits in the prequel films but is never fully explored or explained. We know that the prophecy revolves around Anakin Skywalker who will eventually become Darth Vader and kill his master, Emperor Palpatine. We know this because the OT came out thirty years before the prequels did. Anything that happened in the prequels was not really a surprise at all.

Can you see what I’m getting at here?

In the prequel films, we’re told that a young boy, Anakin Skywalker, may be the one to bring balance to the Force. The audience already knows that the prophecy gets fulfilled with Darth Vader, so the prophecy comes to no surprise.

Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace even takes the “mystical” out of the Force by putting science into the Force – and as such – into the prophecy. By describing midi-chlorians and how Anakin has the most of them out of any known Force-user grounds the prophecy to something more tangible rather than speculation. Anakin is the Chosen One because, damn it, he has the most midi-chlorians! That, and because the audience knows he becomes Darth Vader!

It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! I mean, I think I heard that somewhere. I, uh, I'm sure that's what it said!
“It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! I mean, I think I heard that somewhere. I, uh, I’m sure that’s what it said!”

What the prequels do WELL regarding the prophecy cliché is not try to let it become the story. While in The Matrix, there was the story of Neo being the Chosen One. In Star Wars we’re not forced to watch the path of Anakin become the Chosen One because we already know what happens and that he is the Chosen One. In a way, the prophecy is spoiled for the viewer before the prophecy is even brought up in the movie. He still has to bring balance to the Force? Well we knew all the Jedi were going to die and already know that Vader kills Palpatine. The viewer knows how the prophecy is fulfilled already.

The prophecy in the Star Wars prequel films are used as a plot device – a catalyst, if anything – to show the audience the story of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader – not the story of Anakin Skywalker doing thing-X and something-Y to fulfill a prophecy to conclude the story. The prophecy, first mentioned in Episode I, is used to kick-start the story of Anakin for two more films. But the prophecy is not central or really that important to the rest of the story. The prophecy is in the background being unimportant as the rest of the movies move on. The audience is reminded in little bits, such as with the quotes I’ve posted above about the prophecy, but that’s about it. No one is concerned about the prophecy because the movie isn’t concerned with it. The prophecy and even its origin is not explored any further or delved into any deeper than what it is at face value to the audience. And you know, it works.

While I could see an argument how the prophecy in the Star Wars prequels is kind of like a deus ex machina at the BEGINNING of the movie, it still is not the primary focus of the prequel films, and as such, Star Wars as a whole.

Whoopty doo!! What does it all mean, Basil?!

If the Star Wars prequels did anything right, it was how it handled prophecies within a fantasy world. Midi-chlorians aside, the prequels put the prophecy on the back burner and focused on the characters and actions within the film – the prophecy only being mentioned to remind the viewer that there was a reason why Qui-Gon Jinn died.

But how can a writer get away with clichéd storytelling when they want to write about fantasy or prophecies in general?

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit and I think I have a decent answer thanks to the Star Wars prequels. While one can go through great pains to avoid cliché prophecies, I’ve considered that holding off to explain a prophecy may be best until the world is built around it first.

Promo poster for The Phantom Menace. Spoiler Alert: Anakin becomes Darth Vader. But we already knew that, didn't we? It was not because of some prophecy in the storytelling.
Promo poster for The Phantom Menace. Spoiler Alert: Anakin becomes Darth Vader. But we already knew that, didn’t we? It was not because of some prophecy in the storytelling.

Look at it this way: I feel the prophecy worked in the Star Wars prequels because we already had three established films with the OT. When the prophecy is first mentioned in the prequels, the audience is generally fine with it as they understand the world and what’s to come with the character the prophecy is alluding to.

While I’m not saying one should spoil the ending of their story at the beginning solely to let a prophecy flow nicely and not feel clichéd, as a writer or author, you can keep that tool in mind to craft something much more genuine and unique. It would be something where it requires a lot of planning, but as a result, one would have a more fulfilled fantasy world with a rich and diverse setting and a deeper understanding to why there is a prophecy and how it is believable, rather than adding in a prophecy solely to get a character from Point A to Point B.

Establishing a prophecy at the beginning of a story simply to let the character go through the motions of fulfilling it makes for a clichéd – and boring – story. However, to establish a prophecy within the world without overtly telling the audience about it is key to a good writer and good storytelling.

Hulk smash prophecies

Here’s another case: I’ve recently re-read Greg Pak’s run on The Incredible Hulk with the story Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. Long story short, the Hulk is sent to another planet called Sakarr and is enslaved to fight in a gladiatorial arena. After a few victories, the peasants of the planet begin to see how strong he is and how he could be Sakarrson – the one to free the people of Sakaar. At the same time, the ruler of the planet and host to the gladiator arena, the Red King, has already been considered to be the Sakarrson by the people of Sakarr.

So the Hulk – and the reader – is forced into a story and onto a planet where a prophecy was already established before any of them got there. The Hulk is learning of the prophecy along with the reader. It feels natural because the prophecy has already been fulfilled – in this case by the Red King.

PSA: Surf boards are not adequate shields.
PSA: Surf boards are not adequate shields.

While the prophecy is established early on within the story like that in The Matrix or Lord of the Rings, it comes along as a natural occurrence because it is not forced upon the reader by an obvious means.

Writing Fantasy is hard

When it comes to writing about prophecies, it certainly requires some major thinking and reworking of a story in order to avoid the cliché and come up with something that is engaging for audiences.

However, I feel like it should be said again: cliché storytelling is not bad at all. It’s quite common and works a lot of the times such as with the examples of The Fifth Element and Lord of the Rings. What stings is that within fantasy realm, the cliché can be overused. As the term cliché implies, it’s a failure of originality. Once one sees enough prophecy clichés, it becomes a bit tiresome.

When a prophecy does not fall under a cliché, there is excitement and zest that comes with the story that can be felt by the reader – and more importantly – the writer.

Admittedly, I’m critical about these sorts of things. I partly blame watching nearly every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but also the fact that I’m an author myself really strikes a nerve.

Once upon a time I wrote something without using clichés. The Distomos is not one of them.
Once upon a time I wrote something without using clichés. The Distomos is not one of them.

While my book, The Distomos, avoids using prophecies like the plague, it is still a challenge to create a world that is unique and engaging for the reader to enjoy. On one hand, it’s part of the job as being a writer. On the other, it’s part of the challenge I want to give myself when creating something for the masses. I did not want to create another clone of what other people have read or seen before. I wanted to create something different and cool for readers.

But I know even I fell into some clichés while writing my story. Sometimes they are unavoidable. But like The Fifth Element or Lord of the Rings, it’s important to have something engaging for the audiences. Not only will they enjoy the story more, but it may also help them not notice the little missteps or care to critique them (See: me regarding The Fifth Element).

But am I on the right track with these ideas? Am I being too critical on The Matrix and not enough on Star Wars? What are your thoughts on clichés in fantasy? Forgiveable or dangerous? Sound off below and let me know what you think!

If not, grab a cup a tea and start writing!

Keep on Space Truckin’!

About that new Mary Jane Watson

In case you’re unaware, there’s a new Spider-Man movie coming out! It features Tom Holland as Spider-Man, an actor you’re probably now most familiar with since seeing him in Captain America: Civil War.

Since the set up of Spider-Man in Civil War, the audience got a bit of a taste on what to expect for the new Spider-Man movie, scheduled to be released in 2017. What some people weren’t ready for were the casting choices.

Since this is the third reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise, all of the characters were to be recast. Of all of the casting choices, having Zendaya Coleman cast as Mary Jane Watson – Peter Parker’s girlfriend/eventual wife – caused a bit of an unexpected uproar.

Mary Jane's first appearance.
Mary Jane’s first appearance. Her actual person would not be revealed for another 17 issues.

Personally, I never had heard of Zendaya before the casting announcement. And to be honest, I still really don’t know who she is. A quick IMDB search shows she’s been in a lot of Disney stuff, but that’s about it. I’ve never seen her act as I don’t have cable, Netflix, or watch any Disney television shows. I was going in blind upon hearing the casting announcement.

When I heard of the casting choice through ComicBookResources, I saw a picture of her and moved on with my life. It was another actress hired in another role. I’m excited for the outcome but cannot pass any judgment on an actress whom I’ve never seen work before.

What I didn’t expect was the reaction from some Spider-Man fans.

Over social media, some Spidey fans cried out about the casting choice saying Zendaya is not what they want in their Mary Jane. I know this because I bore witness to this outcry on a friends’ Facebook page:

Comment3

Is it that hard to understand that the colour of someone’s skin does not have to be the definition of a character? Mary Jane being a Caucasian redhead was never really an integral part of Mary Jane. Sure, she was nicknamed “Red,” but if she was blond, it could’ve easily been “Blondie.” Either way, a nickname that a writer creates for a character is not an integral part of that character.

In fact, all of the physical attributes this person on Facebook makes are solely based on the physical appearance of Mary Jane – not who she is as a person. From no storylines can I recall how her skin, eye colour, or hair colour were important to the story. She’s not Medusa from the Inhumans. Mary Jane’s hair isn’t that important to the character, let alone the colour of it.

And spoiler alert: hair can be dyed.

Comment2

Is it racial diversity or is Zendaya just a good actress? Mary Jane can be whomever she is cast as. Skin colour doesn’t define the role. The written characterization, the actress doing her job, and the storytelling is what defines Mary Jane.

Comment4

How does Zendaya not fit the character? The movie isn’t even out yet. There’s prejudice in these words as they make assumptions without any base to support them.

Comment5

Is it really that your fandom is being changed? Or is it that your “picture” of Mary Jane is being changed because we’re no longer in the 1960’s and people of different backgrounds and colour are finally starting to get equal representation in the comic book medium?

As of late, Marvel has made some major strides to become all-encompassing with their characters. Thor is now a woman, Jane Foster; Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani-American named Kamala Khan; Amadeus Cho is the Korean-American Hulk; Riri Williams – a black woman – is going to be the new Iron Man named Ironheart, and let’s not forget Miles Morales as Spider-Man.

The comic book industry is shaking up and changing in some major ways. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that a lot of the major comic book characters we all know and love were created in the 60’s and 70’s when minorities did not have a voice in the comic book medium. Strides were being taken, such as Storm’s introduction in ’75, or Luke Cage in ’72, but arguably neither of those characters are “big league” characters like Captain America or Thor. But now we have a Luke Cage TV series coming out soon and the Black Panther movie is slated to come out in 2018.

It’s a changing landscape and it’s wonderful that it’s happening. But when Marvel takes a character like Mary Jane and change the colour of her skin, suddenly it’s the biggest deal on the planet?

Twitter1

Right, because Martin Luther King is a fictional character. . .

Twitter3

Hrrrrrnnnngggghhhhh.

Twitter2

That pretty much sums up the hypocrisy of it all.

Look, if you’re freaking out over the colour of someone’s skin because your fictional character no longer looks the same, then you haven’t been enjoying that character as a character. You’ve enjoyed their looks and therefore never really cared about the character at all.
Think about it.

Agree or disagree? Let’s chat in the comment section below.

Pokémon GO & Growing Up as a Nerd in the 90’s

With the new release of Pokémon Go seemingly affecting everyone’s lives and social media platforms (which arguably are the same thing to some folk), it always surprises me when I see something from my childhood come back into the mainstream. That’s not to say Pokémon ever went away. There are still new movies, new toys, and of course the online sensation known as TwitchPlaysPokémon which went all over the news which also introduced lots of people to the streaming service Twitch. This also happened with the Twitch Bob Ross marathon, but I digress.

I grew up in the 90s. I was born in the mid-80s, letting me absorb the cool TV shows that survived the end of the 80’s era: GI Joe, Transformers, Dino Riders, and Denver the Last Dinosaur were only a few of the many shows that trickled over into the 90s with me.

I was pretty obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid. I wanted to be a palaeontologist when I was in grade three and wrote cool stories featuring both dinosaurs and Transformers in my English classes. Why I never considered just writing about the Dinobots – I’ll never know. I collected rocks and went through the gravel in neighbours driveways to look at the imprints of trilobites or plants within them. It was really fascinating to me.

Ah, my first comic book.
Ah, my first comic book.

In the early-90s, I stumble across a animated TV show called The X-Men on FOX Kids. There was also Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, The Tick, and a short-lived Hulk series that I also enjoyed. I picked up my first comic book, X-Men #36, in 1994 when I visited a local convenience store. I recognized Sabretooth from the cartoon. The book also featured Jubilee – who I also knew from the show – as well as having a gatefold cover which caught me up with what was going on in the series. I recognized a lot of the X-Men on there. I felt like I was in the loop!

Coming to the mid-90s, some kids my mom babysat brought over this three-part movie series on VHS called “Star Wars.” Needless to say, that changed my life in a dramatic fashion. No longer did I want to dig up old dinosaur bones: I wanted to fly into space, maybe meet the Shi’ar Empire, fly an X-Wing, and so on. You know, the usual stuff kids dream about doing.

But as with everything, there comes a price.

I was a scrawny kid. I had asthma, acne, allergies – the works. All I ever wanted to do was talk about Star Wars and read comic books. It’s quite typical to look back and think that’s all kids in the 90’s wanted to do. If they weren’t doing that, they were playing video games. Let’s not forget that great pastime. I especially played the non-sport games or popular games from franchises. NHL series? Nope. Zelda? No time! At least Super Mario? I certainly played those games to death but would easily prefer games on a different “console” – the PC. SimCity 2000? Totally. X-Wing? I still have all five floppy discs! Command and Conquer? My ion cannon was ready!

While everything I wrote above gives you a good idea to what kind of kid I was, it was definitely not considered “the norm.”

I remember in grade seven on May 4th (years before the “Star Wars Day” even existed), my grade seven teacher wrote on the chalkboard “May the Fourth be With You.” I distinctly remember arriving early to class that day before both the teacher and the majority of my fellow classmates came in. I saw those words on the board, and I nearly cried in embarrassment. I ran up to the chalk board and erased everything that was written. I went back to my seat while the few other students didn’t say anything about my actions. When class started and the teacher arrived, she asked why her message was erased. Once I was ousted as the culprit, she asked me why I did what I did. I shyly shrugged my shoulders. She was good enough to accept the answer and move on with the day.

She understood why I did it: I was picked on a lot as a kid. Star Wars wasn’t cool. I wasn’t into the same things the rest of the students were: MuchMusic (Canada’s version of MTV), WWF, sports, hanging out with each other after school. . . it just wasn’t me. While I did participate in after-school sports, I wasn’t considered “cool” enough by my peers for a variety of other reasons. I still had no idea what music they were talking about, what movies they went to see together, and what games they were playing. I had my own world with my own interests.

I was often bullied and usually made fun of for my indulgence of the things I enjoyed. However, I eventually became a bit numb to it and ended up wearing it like a badge of honour. In my grade eight yearbook, my nickname was “Star Wars Fan” as the teacher opted not to have “Freak” put into the book. Good call, grade eight teacher. Good call.

1997 saw a lot of changes such as Greedo shooting first.
1997 saw a lot of changes such as Greedo shooting first.

So you can see how looking upon the fads now, I’m a bit surprised by how popular all of these things are. While sure, Star Wars is definitely one of, if not, the most popular film franchise of all time, there was a period when it was completely not cool to like it. I know that because I lived it.

With Return of the Jedi’s release in 1983, there was no new Star Wars until 1999. That’s a long period of time for something to be removed from popularity. While the 1997 Special Edition release brought the series back into the spotlight my fellow peers didn’t care, but my excitement and intensity over the films only increased. Newer toys were being released which I bought up with my paper route money.

I remember trying to talk to someone in my grade eight class about a few toys I had purchased. Their response? “You could’ve used that money to buy a car.” I was laughed at by a few of the other students. I was thirteen. Star Wars was what made me happy. I’m sorry I didn’t watch Party of Five or 90210. I was busy watching Nova on PBS. Besides, I wasn’t even old enough to drive.

Even as I began to discover music, I found myself starting to enjoy both progressive rock and heavy metal. It was complex stuff that shunned away the masses but really drew me in. As with heavy metal music, it is a purposeful insular culture that gives the middle finger to the establishment. And for me, that establishment was the two Catholic schools I attended and the rest of the people who didn’t understand me.

By that time as well, I was in high school and I had stumbled across a PC game called StarCraft. Even to this day, I watch professional StarCraft as my “sport” of choice. I don’t and never have followed popular sports. But I do follow the eSports scene.

Game 3 of Scarlett vs. Bomber during Redbull Battlegrounds.
Game 3 of Scarlett vs. Bomber during Redbull Battlegrounds.

With all that being said, you can imagine seeing the rise in popularity of comic books, their respective movies, and other nerd culture being highlighted in the media – how someone like me can feel a bit overwhelmed and if not sometimes feeling like a bit of a shut in.

However, now some friends and family will come to me to ask me questions about comic book character X, or ask me about the Star Wars Expanded Universe (or Legends as it’s now called). Suddenly the ridicule for the things I enjoyed for the first sixteen years of my life was to be forgotten: my interests were in the spotlight and as collateral had it, so was I.

But I wasn’t, and still at times, am not ready for it. It’s just seems strange to see people freak out over Pokémon Go now when I still talked about Pokémon exclusively with my younger brother when I was in grade ten because I didn’t know anyone else who was interested in it (shortly after I found, and still have, some long-time and close friends who I can nerd out with). Even look at the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Kickstarter that BROKE records. While I am super happy for MSTies everywhere, it was only myself and two other friends who watched the show religiously, making it a surprise for me to see the revival actually happening. How didn’t I know so many other people liked it? Where were these people in my life growing up?

Now when the big comic book movies hit the theaters, I’m allowed to be myself in public and indulge in the culture I was once made fun of for indulging in before. When I’m at work, I’ll see a customer with a comic book movie shirt on and talk to them about it. They may not be fans of the comic books, but that’s okay! It’s great to finally be able to have the conversation without getting made fun of.

I'm actually level 15 now.
I’m actually level 15 now.

As irony would have it, I was out playing Pokémon Go with a friend the other night. We were only two out of about 150 people in the downtown core playing at a couple of close proximity Pokéstops. Five kids, I’m guessing ages 7 to 10, rolled up next to us on their scooters and bikes, looking out to the crowd of 15-35 year olds playing Pokémon Go. Their response? “Pokémon Go is THIS popular? What a bunch of losers!” they said out loud.

While everyone ignored them, my friend and I laughed as they rode away in disbelief. It was certainly something wonderful to see that despite all of the diversity and ridicule one may have had growing up, I looked out upon this group of Pokémon Go’ers and felt right at home.

In another instance this week, I spoke with a lady in her late-forties and joked with her about the game – not revealing that I play it. She said, in all-seriousness, “If I catch my son playing the game, I’ll kick his ass.” Her son, she admitted, is twenty-seven years old. Fortunately I was mature enough to simply let the conversation bounce off of me and not feel concerned about what she thought (and unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to correct her at the time).

So in one instance there’s a mother bullying people younger than her over the game, while in another instance those young kids who looked down upon my friend and I would’ve been the same kids to do that to me when I was their age.

While some things will never change and crappy kids and adults will always exist – one thing is for certain, if not a bit clichéd: enjoying what you do – regardless of popularity – is important. Life does get better.

Remember my grade seven teacher who wrote “May the 4th be With You” on the chalk board? Later in the day she did come to me in private before recess and apologized for unintentionally offending me. She knew how I felt and it was really one of the only times in my grade school years I felt someone outside of my family actually get what I was going through. I know this because here I am in 2016 still remembering that very simple gesture from all those years ago. I can only hope that more people are like that to children today. Empathy is a wonderful thing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go catch some Pokémon with some friends.

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

Getting Your Book Signed: Good Move or Bad Idea?

Collecting comics can be a pretty fun, if not costly hobby. It requires keeping up with current market prices as well as the know-how of what makes a quality book.

A lot of that weighs heavily on the cover. Having an original, un-restored version of the book cover is important, along with it having vibrant colours. Also having a cover fully intact improves the overall price of a book.

But what about when a creator signs a book? What happens then?

Surely if you have a copy of Jack Kirby and Captain America #1, you’d be sitting on a goldmine, right? What about a copy of Showcase #22 featuring a signature from Gil Kane?

Chances are actually, the book would be worth less.

Before you start shouting at the screen or balling your eyes out, let’s find out why – and see if you can do anything about it.

A lot of this hooplah about the quality of the book degrading over a signature can be somewhat blamed on the company, the Certified Grading Company, or the CGC. For a more in depth synopsis of the CGC, check out what I wrote about them in the past.

CGC Hulk 340

But if you wish to keep reading, I’ll make it simple: the CGC is considered the best of the best when it comes to grading comic books, magazines, cards, and many other types of relatively-flat, printed collectibles. If you get your book graded by the CGC, chances are the price of your book can increase by a small or large margin.

Considering there are a lot of scams within the comic book collecting hobby, the CGC are considered the best place to go to get the “truth” behind a comic book. Through their grading process, they have experts in restoration check to make sure the book is in its original form. From there, they will go through the entire book to guarantee the book is up to par and not missing any pages. At the end of the evaluation, they assign a grade on the book from .5 (Poor), to 10 (Gen Mint).

The CGC will then put the book in a transparent case along with a coloured label to tell the viewer what kind of book they are looking at. Blues are the most common as they represent basic, graded books. A Purple banner means the book has been restored, while a Gold banner means it has an authentic signature.

While I could write different stories about the other banners (which you can read in the blog I made about them), it is the Gold banner we’ll be focusing on. The Gold banner stands for the “Signature Series.”

Because the CGC has become a staple in the grading process, the general comic collecting community has agreed (somewhat – but that’s also a whole other article for another day) that what the CGC says is authentic, and so the books should be sold as such.

For example, if you have a non-CGC graded book (or an “unslabbed” book), it may only be worth $50. However, if you get your book slabbed, it may suddenly be seen as $100, or even more. That’s great news, no?

But with signatures, it gets tricky.

If you say, have a copy of Captain America #1 signed by Jack Kirby before his death in 1994, you cannot submit it for a Gold banner to the CGC. Even if you have photos or video of the event happening, they will not consider it for the Signature Series. This is because a CGC representative was not present at the time of the signing.

I hope you see where I’m going with this.

To receive a Gold banner for the Signature Series, a CGC representative must be present to witness the signature. Nowadays, CGC goes to just about every major comic book convention. It’s great money for them to do it. If you get a book signed by Neal Adams or Stan Lee with CGC present, they’ll grant you the Signature Series banner. But CGC only began in 2000, with their Signature Series starting in 2001.

Any books prior to 2001 cannot be submitted for the Signature Series as a CGC representative would not have been present – let alone the company was even around then.

That being said, you can set up a CGC-approved witness for a signing by contacting the company.

CGC Buffy

So let’s get back to the slabbing of the book.

For unslabbed books with a signature, the books are considered – to many collectors – not valuable, solely because there is no guarantee who signed it. Even if you have videos, pictures, and a great story to go along with it, CGC set the standard to signature books. A collector may be hesitant to purchase a book even if you provide the proof. This is only because in their minds, they may be aware of the CGC “standards” of the comic collecting industry.

So if an unslabbed book is worth $50, and slabbed it’s $100, surely a Signature Series book will increase the value even more, right?

Yet again, I’m poised to say the answer is both yes and no.

Why it may increase in value: a signed book that is authenticated by the CGC is considered more valuable than a signed book that is not authenticated. The reason is that CGC guarantees the book was signed by the signer. There’s no if, ands, or buts about it. They guarantee the collector (or buyer) that the signature is real, and thus it would not depreciate the price of the book. They guarantee the signature is not just a “scribble.” It’s actually proven to be signed by Jim Lee!

On why it’s not increased in value: sometimes you get buyers who do not want a signature on a book – that it “ruins” the artwork on the cover. Even if CGC authorized the signature, it still may not be what the buyer wants. Effectively, that signature may have just shunned away a potential buyer.

Keep this all in mind if you’re a collector and are considering having someone sign your comic book.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Sound off below! Or you can hit me up on Twitter and Instagram! And indeed, keep on Space Truckin’!

Comic Collecting and Price Jumps!

I was visiting one of my local flea markets recently and stumbled across a copy of X-Factor #6 from 1986. This book has some significance as it is the first full appearance of Apocalypse.

I saw it bagged and boarded on the wall at this particular flea market without a price. It had a sticker on the bag stating the comic was “NM.” (For those unfamiliar with the grading system, NM stands for “Near Mint” and represents a 9.4/10 when it comes to grading quality).

I asked the gentleman who ran the booth what he was asking for it. He had the price tucked in-behind the book because, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If regular people around here saw what these books went for, they’d get stolen from me.”

He lifted the book from the wall and revealed the price.

$120 (Canadian, by the way).

I was a bit shocked at the price. But before I move on, let’s backtrack a bit here.

XFactor 6

If it wasn’t obvious from this website already: I collect old comics. It’s a serious hobby of mine, and yes, it’s an expensive one. I love to go to shows and seek out the best deals on books: to compare prices, grades, quality, and experiences with other collectors.

While I’m big on finding old Horror and/or Atomic Age books, I have a particularly personal investment with Marvel books – especially the X-Men related books.

So when I see something X-related and the price surprises me, flags go off in my head. Why is the price the way it is? Why would someone charge so much for this book? I knew the NM price from the Comic Book Price Guide: around $50. Why was this price so inflated?

Of course, there’s the newest X-Men movie: X-Men: Apocalypse. But does that mean the price can fluctuate that high?

Well, yes and no.

Demand for the book would dictate the price. While I’m not at every convention or following all of the prices for every book out there, it seems as if recent demand has suggested the price of X-Factor #6 to inflate to a surprisingly high price.

However, the book’s sudden inflation is solely based around the movie. The book is actually quite common and may only be “up” for the short people that the movie is around.

It’s not as if movies transform viewers into readers either.

I remember when Iron Man 2 was released in theaters, I saw these numbers on The Beat:

02/10 Invincible Iron Man #23 – 50,027
03/10 Invincible Iron Man #24 – 49,239 ( -1.6%)
04/10 Invincible Iron Man #25 – 73,694 (+49.7%)
Iron Man 2 is released.
05/10 Invincible Iron Man #26 – 53,625 (-27.2%)
06/10 Invincible Iron Man #27 – 52,268 ( -2.5%)
07/10 Invincible Iron Man #28 – 48,690 ( -6.8%)
08/10 Invincible Iron Man #29 – 49,012 ( +0.7%)

Iron Man 2 Movie Poster

Now I had blogged based on these numbers when the movie came out all those years ago. But as you can see, there was no major influx of readers because of the movie.

That all being said, Guardians of the Galaxy and Rocket Raccoon are friggen’ rock stars now, so who knows?

What I do know from collecting comics is that prices can be quite drastic when they rise and fall. While X-Factor #6 may even be considered a “steal” at $120, I personally do not think it would be a great investment for down the line.

But don’t take my word for it. Am I the be-all to end-all dictator of comic pricing?

Not yet.

Questions? Concerns? More questions? Ask away! Or you can hit me up on Twitter and Instagram! Until then, keep on Space Truckin’!