To-the-point and still a whole lot of fun. As the title suggests, this album is a testament to what heavy metal is. True to its roots, 3IoB’s album is a classic throw back to early Judas Priest or Manowar, with hella-cheesey lyrics that leave you questioning what you’re even singing along to. It’s hilarious, it’s great, it’s heavy, and it’s fun! For anyone looking to have a good time, please call 3 Inches of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal
14. Vintersorg – Orkan
Swedish band Vintersorg (which is technically just two guys), produced a straight-forward, avant-garde folk album. If that last statement wasn’t paradoxical enough for you, listen to Orkan to understand. While still following traditional musical stylings, Vintersorg ups-the-ante by incorporating different chord changes, unconventional song styles, vocal techniques, and performances on the lute! The kicker is that it does all sound-straight forward. While you don’t expect to hear a chorus when listening to this music, it flows naturally, making it a great album to listen to for “something different.” Oh, and the lyrics aren’t in English.
13. Overkill – The Electric Age
This album is too much fun. You’ll be head banging for a solid fifty minutes. What a rush.
12. Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
Get through the first track (and the single) Tattoo, and you’ll be loving the rest of the album. While starting off sloppy, Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth picks up and over-exceeds in all ways possible. Solid hard rock from this album kicks your butt and keeps rocking all the way until the end. Singer David Lee Roth still has what it takes to make music fun – not being the traditional singer – he adds so much more atmosphere to the music. This “better late than never” album really lives up to expectations.
11. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
Who hasn’t heard “Hold On” yet? Alabama Shakes made an impressive impact in popular music this year with this album. Beyond expectations, the band stays true to soul music and southern rock while taking advantage of recording technology to this day. A really, really solid album comes from this band – especially with their singer, Brittany Howard, who has one of the most incredible voices in music today. If you haven’t heard this album yet, get on top of that!
10. Devin Townsend – Epiclouder
While Devin Townsend released his album Epicloud earlier this year, if you got the Special Edition copy, you would’ve received the “demos” album titled Epiclouder. To be honest, I prefer the demos. Although they are not “completed” by Devin’s standards, the music is even more beautiful and chilling than the actual album Devin released. While it doesn’t fit Devin’s concept of Epicloud (as he says in the linear notes), Epiclouder tells many more stories, and goes down many more musical paths which would not have worked in the regular album. Most of all: it’s really refreshing and happy.
9. Kreator – Phantom Antichrist
Don’t take the title literally. It’s actually an interesting fantasy concept which runs through most of the album. It sings about a post-apocalyptic life and the battles to fight oppression. As always, Kreator manages to mix both aggression musically along with the music they perform. However, a few tracks sneak inside the album to change up the flow of music. All tasteful, I found that Kreator’s album is really neat story and a great way to wind down the day.
8. Ihsahn – Eremita
This album is so all-over-the-place, it’s fantastic. Ihsahn, you may remember from the black metal band, Emperor. However, outside of Emperor, he does progressive metal. I’m putting that lightly. Eremita is jazz fusion mixed with metal, mixed with darkness, mixed with orchestrations, fright, bewilderment, and awe. What it does well though, is give a focus to saxophone, and really puts an imprint on how underutilized the instrument is used in popular music today. (Albeit, me saying that Ihsahn is “popular” is just silly).
7. Threshold – March of Progress
After their 2007 release, Dead Reckoning, no one has heard anything from Threshold. We can see why (well that, and their singer passed away in 2011; bringing back their original vocalist from pre-2008 albums). March of Progress is a really powerful album from start-to-end. It sucks you in with haunting keyboards and keeps you grounded until the album concludes. It’s a great album just to rock out and play along in the background with whatever it is you’re doing. It’s a guaranteed enjoyment.
6. Kamelot – Silverthorn
Let’s not lie to ourselves. Kamelot’s 2006 album, The Black Halo, is hands-down their best album. Then came Silverthorn. Featuring new vocalist, Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder), and quite a few guest musicians and singers, Silverthron stomps The Black Halo out of the competition. Heavy, pretty, and down-right awesome, Silverthron is a new beginning for Kamelot. I highly recommend you give it a try too.
5. Anneke van Giersbergen – Everything is Changing
Ex-The Gathering singer, Anneke van Giersbergen release this hauntingly beautiful album at the beginning of 2012. I find myself still returning to it as it really sticks. Anneke’s voice, happy lyrics, and rocking music, is guaranteed to make you feeling pretty good about yourself once the trip is over.
4. Flying Colors – Flying Colors
A super group of musicians would naturally make a super album. Flying Colors self-titled debut showed how much fun it is to rock out. Piecing together various musical styles, the album grabs you right of the get-go and refuses to let you leave until you soak in all of the greatness it offers.
3. Woods of Ypres – Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light
David Gold’s final album – Woods 5 represents everything that is beautiful and dark in this world. From poetic lyrics to gut-wrenching music, Woods 5 hits all of the right spots and sometimes kind of close to home.
2. The Flower Kings – Banks of Eden
Blues and jazz melded together to make wonderfully crafted progressive rock and one heckuva pretty album. It is an absolutely stunning album, front-to-back, from a band no one really knows about. The Flower Kings have really topped themselves with Banks of Eden. It’s gorgeous, it’s happy, it’s The Flower Kings. The album offers so much for listeners, it’s impossible to tell you everything about it. You’d be doing yourself if a favour if you gave this at least one spin. Just a warning though: you won’t put this down.
1. Anathema – Weather Systems
What can you say about an album this beautiful? Pushing the envelope with new ground, Anathema’s Weather System’s sets the standard to what music could – and should be. Emotional, uplifting, and so much more, there’s a reason why this album is my number one. Do yourself a favour and find out why.
Rush – Clockwork Angels
Testament – Dark Roots of Earth
Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion
Torche – Harmonicraft
Devin Townsend – Epicloud
Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?
Psychedelic rock, sludge rock, stoner rock – whatever you want to call it – Kylesa’s “Ultraviolet” is all that and a bag of potato chips. Resonating back to the early nineties with bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Kyuss, Kylesa’s newest is a slug-fest of dirty, crunchy, pulse-pounding songs. However, you’re guaranteed to lose yourself listening to this album. To put it simply: Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope kick butt.
Taking from the grunge scene, this half punk, half thrash debut album is all-out fantastic. “Death Sigils” offers a refreshing takes on the genres and really throws it in your face with wonderful female vocals. The mix is what really what stands out though. It is a clean and organised chaos -something that is rarely done well in the genre – let alone with a debut album. Occultist does it all right.
I feel bad having Ihsahn squeeze his way into my top fifteen again this year,but he continues to push out incredible music. Mixed from jazz, fusion, progressive, black, doom, avant-garde, and so on, he’s really all over the place – yet it all feels like home in the album. To put it simply, “Das Seelenbrechen” is more of an incredible sample of genres that flows together naturally. There’s such a variety of elements are involved with creating such a daunting animal as this album. You owe it to yourself to give it a listen to.
The pioneers of prog are back! A well-orchestrated and return-to-form album by Fates Warning after along hiatus proves they are still a force to be reckoned with. Screaming from their late eighties/early nineties sound, “Darkness in a Different Light”is a welcomed listen, featuring a wide variety of styles in both guitar and bass work. Not to mention, Ron Jarzombek is drumming on the album. ‘Nuff said.
Over-the-top as always, songwriter Arjen Lucassen manages to create a symphonic concept album featuring four songs over twenty minutes on two discs. To make matters even nerdier, this science-fiction album is broken up into forty-two tracks for you Hitchhiker fans out there. Along with other science-fiction nods, this album is filled with exciting orchestrations, brilliant story-telling, and an incredible line up of guest musicians putting “The Theory of Everything” in my number eleven spot.
Finnish folk-rockers Amorphis released “Circle” earlier in the year. An excellent, straight-forward album with solid compositions and Tomi Joutsen’s gorgeous vocals puts this album into the beginning of my top ten.
What happens when you throw three legendary musicians together? Bassist Tony Levin, drummer Marco Minnemann, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, come together and piece an incredible fusion album with awesome concepts and moods to melt your ears. This near all-instrumental album seems to shift focus halfway through, with the first half being a mix of blues, while the second takes you back to the early eighties and nineties in video games.
I was fearful of this album when it was first announced. I knew Ozzy was too old and worn out to continue writing solid music. While yes, Ozzy’s tired voice was clearly corrected for the album, the song writing, is something else. Black Sabbath makes a clear impression that they are really the godfathers of heavy metal (as if that wasn’t clear already). Sticking true to their form by honouring both blues and jazz, “13” is a solid and incredible album – save for the two singles (which are also the first two songs on the album). Dear Father may be one of my favourite Sabbath tunes of all-time. If anything,”13″ could have been released in the seventies it would have been a perfect fit.
Everyone thinks either “Rated R” or “Songs for the Deaf” are QotSA’s best albums. Well, guess which two albums had a baby together? “…Like Clockwork” is a great return for the band after their recent musical flops. Very moody and at times sinister, the album cannot help but force a smirk on your face. Such as when you pick up on the subtle soundscapes in the background, or when you recognise when Dave Grohl’s signature drumming sound becomes real apparent.
A friend recommended me this album and two songs in, I fell in love. Yoann Lemoine makes sure “The Golden Age” overflows with grandeur and experimental stylings. It’s indie, but epic. It’s elegant, but shines bright.This album will drop your jaw onto the ground with its audio brilliance. There’s layers and layers of love thrown into each song, making you want to listen to each track carefully if only to grin wildly along with it. There is a reason why this album makes my top five.
This dark, ambient album – as with all Summoning albums – is loosely based off of Lord of the Rings. This album features great soundscapes and themes in the long, epic songs on the album. Singing of nature, loss, and a variety of LotR-based locations, you cannot help but feel the wonder behind some of the songs. At times I wish Peter Jackson would attach these songs to his films.What makes this album stand out the most, however, is the beautiful and diverse arrangements the band pieces together.
I debated endlessly with myself on whether or not this album deserved the second place spot or not. The return of one of death metal’s greatest bands proves to be an incredible one.
“Surgical Steel” features eleven pounding tracks which not only make you feel exhilarated, but it throws interesting philosophies about human consumption and the nature of man. Reeking in irony, it is quite the educational and introspective album for the impressionable listener.
Speaking of reunions, it has been over a decade since Canadian band Gorguts released anything. “Colored Sands” is one of the most emotional albums I’ve heard in a long time. Focusing more on the spirituality of Buddhism and Tibetans under Chinese rule, lyrically, this album is not only a historical lesson, but also an exploration of man. Luc Lemay writes an incredible scope of stories filled with both sorrow and pain making the liner notes compliment the album well.
Musically, however, Colored Sands is an incredible journey with a wide variety of musical styles blended into the technical death metal genre. Not only does the album feature odd-timed waltzes or jazz interludes, but the middle of the album features a string quartet for an awesome classical arrangement.
While I’ve given the link to the album below, I strongly recommend listening to my favourite track,”Absconders.” It is, in my opinion, the most emotional song off of the album. The last few minutes of the song really hits the point home.
1. Steven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
When this album was released in February, I knew after the first listen it was something special. Not only is each song a self-contained story, but it is also an audio adventure for the listener. It is rare for the stories and music to complement each other well enough to create a satisfying final product, but each song on Wilson’s album does so perfectly – and seemingly with ease.
The true beauty of the album is how each song sounds different, but still the same. Every song on the album features different tones, atmospheres, influences, and attention to detail, making all of the stories unique onto themselves in the canonical album.
Brilliant, haunting, touching, beautiful, daring, progressive – whatever you want to call it, this album offers it and so much more.
This is sludge at its finest. Bass pounding with beats, distorted guitars, and a rally cry with the drums. This debut album by this relatively unknown band deserves the recognition it gets here. (FYI, Yautja is the name of the alien species the Predator is).
Evergrey returns to their pre-2001 days with this powerful new album. While the band seems to slowly depart from their gloomier lyrics, the music is still-ever emotional and also driven by a refreshing new sound with their old song-writing style.
Although Devin Townsend released three friggen’ albums this year, Casualties of Cool is the only one on my list. This country rock album experiments with a little bit of everything he’s done in the past. There’s a little bit of his “mediation” album Ghost, his rock album Ki, and his dark ambient/noise album, Devlab. A concept album, Casualties of Cool is really something that stands out amongst not only his discography, but in the general sphere of “music.”
The last arguably “good” Judas Priest album was 1990’s Painkiller. After a few flubs, Redeemer of Souls truly is a redemption for the band. While it doesn’t showcase anything new, it shows that Judas Priest still has everything they did back when they started: powerful song writing, great lyrics, and offering awesome, head-banging momments all throughout the album.
If you’re a fan of well-constructed riffage, this is what you need to listen to. Incredible song writing skills, and of course, epic vocals from Mathias Blad, this hits the sweet spot of finely-crafted power metal.
Cooking With Pagans is one of the best rock albums I’ve heard in a long time. For the uninitiated: a similar style of Motorhead with jazz, metal, and pop music, Freak Kitchen shows off impressive songs with silly lyrics and catchy choruses, making you to grow a smile across your face. Their music video below, Freak of the Week, was also given a $100,000 budget. They opted to hire cartoonists to make it happen.
7. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry
There’s some real, damn good black metal here. The guitars are really what make this album an outstanding piece of work. Rich with emotions, it pained me to put this album in seventh place. Alas, you’ll soon learn why.
This band is always pushing the boundaries to what “rock music” is. The album offers a wide encompassing amount of different styles – often in the same song (see below). There is no real way to describe Sólstafir’s sound. They’re a forever-evolving band, which is really great for people who like to hear something they never have before.
Out of all of the albums I’m putting on my list, this is the one I feel most people wouldn’t enjoy. Gridlink is a grindcore band at heart. However, their newest release “Longhena” is truly the most beautiful grindcore I’ve heard. In its glorious chaos, the songs are ripe with emotion and complicated orchestration. While the album barely clocks over twenty minutes, it’s incredible how much wonder was put in it.
These American folk/black metallers release, yet again, another gorgeous album. A completely different shift from the other two black metal albums on my list, Agalloch is more based within folkore and slower paced songs. While the momentum shifts throughout the album, their music is certainly breathtaking, if not awe-inspiring in its allure.
Much like Sólstafir, Anathema is constantly pushing the boundaries to what rock is. While they lean more on the progressive rock side of things, this album showcases yet more incredible song writing by the band. Wonderful vocal harmonies, symphonic atmospheres, technical moments. . . this album is absolutely beautiful. Words cannot explain.
This album took me by surprise. Cynic was a technical death metal band. They featured harsh vocals and technical know-how with their instruments. With “Kindly Bent to Free Us,” they dropped their old selves – and death metal vocals – and turned into a progressive rock band. What they still keep is the incredible instrumentation, complexity in their songs, and the immense strength they have as a band through showcasing their talents. Being a band with only three musicians, you would feel as if there is more to the band than what you hear. The album is overwhelmingly complicated, but careful with how it lets the listener focus on particular parts. Nothing is actually overwhelming, but the song ideas as a whole are. It’s a great, great album.
Between this album and Cynic, I had the hardest time deciding which would be number one. However, Triptykon’s “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot.
Only in their second album, Triptykon’s lead singer, Tom G. Warrior, continues with his thought-provoking song writing and emotional output through this raw, energy-filled album. Triptykon is not only distorted with their song writing, but their sounds as well. In fact, the sound which the band produces is on another level of musical standards.
From the crushing bass of Vanja Slajh, to the echoed despair of Norman Lonhard’s snare; the rhythmic pounding from Santura’s guitar, and the melting intensity of Warrior’s guitar and vocals – “Melana Chasmata” is an album which will stick with me for a long time. I don’t think a week went by since its release in April where I hadn’t listened to it.
One of the best things to take away from the album is how the band is not afraid to do whatever they want. Case-in-point with the two music videos below. Getting variety like this on an album is only one of the many reasons to why “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot on my list.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
Right, because Martin Luther King is a fictional character. . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’!