The Event Comic

I’ve been wanting to write a piece about event comics for a while. Ever since Infinity War hit theaters actually. But, like many of my post ideas, I took to long to actually write the piece and the timing just wasn’t right for it anymore.

And then last night this happened:

For anybody who knows comics, saying, “They’re doing Crisis” is a powerful sentence. Crisis on Infinite Earths is the most famous superhero comic story ever written and it set the template and rules for the Event Comic, an annual crossover along the entire brand line or both DC and Marvel comics. Crisis on Infinite Earths is the reason we have Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.

Here’s why:

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In the Golden Age of comics the first superhero team was the Justice Society of America. The team featured heroes like The Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman, and they all fought in WWII. Then DC comics decided to reboot their entire line (they do this a lot) and re-imagined their characters. For example; Green Lantern went from a man with a cape, magic ring, and a weakness to wood to a space cop with a science ring and a weakness to yellow (much cooler). The new characters joined forces as the Justice League of America, because leagues are cooler than societies and that’s a fact.

And then a few years after the Silver Age began, the Justice League and Justice Society teamed up. DC explained how they could both exist by setting the Justice Society on an alternate Earth dubbed Earth-2 while the League exists on Earth-1. Kind of rude since the Society was first but I digress. The Justice League and Justice Society started teaming up annually, much like how The CW’s Arrowverse does now.

As time went on they added more and more Earths. The one where everyone is evil; Earth-3. The one with Shazam and his family; Earth-S. The one where Superman landed in Germany and WWII never ended; Earth-X. Eventually the barrier for entry into DC grew to high. There were too many alternate realities for new readers to keep track of. So DC decided to simplify everything.

Sure, they could have quietly removed the multiverse from their stories. But instead they decided to go BIG. And potentially make some money off of the whole thing.

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Crisis on Infinite Earths was a 12-part Maxi-Series that ran from 1985 into 1986. It featured every single character in the DC Universe, added some more, and then killed off even more. Supergirl and The Flash died stopping the evil Anti-Monitor from wiping out the entire multiverse. The five earths that survived were all folded into one New Earth with one shared history. Now the Justice Society and Justice League both existed in one world. DC stories have been filtered into either Pre-Crisis or Post-Crisis ever since.

Crisis was a best seller and might have even saved the company. It spawned the sequels Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis, and it convinced Marvel comics to try the same thing with Secret Wars on their end.

The rules of the Event Comic are simple. It must be at least six parts long, it must have special tie-in issues about specific characters in the event, and the universe the story is set in must be different in some way afterwards. They are written in a way where there is rarely a single point of view character. Instead the whole universe is the main character and more often than not you, the reader, are expected to already know who everyone is.

While Crisis is the first, there have been many great Event Comics since. DC’s best always go big in scale like with Invasion!, Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, The Final Night (the rare soulful DC crossover), the aforementioned Infinite Crisis (which brought the multiverse back) & Final Crisis, and Blackest Night. Marvel started out aping DC’s scale with Secret Wars, the Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity War, and Infinity Crusade, but found a much better character based style later on with House of M, Civil War, and erm… another Secret Wars.

And now Event Comics are being adapted for the screen. The Arrowverse did Invasion! The MCU adapted the Infinity Gauntlet into Infinity War, a movie that checked all the boxes on an event Comic including the massive change to the setting at the end. And now the Arrowverse is going to do Crisis on Infinite Earths. Before these crossovers couldn’t be so big to completely throw off their respective series, but I don’t think that matters any more. The question is, will it work? It has every time in the past.

Holy crap they’re doing Crisis.

-JP

PS, I owe everyone a piece on Supergirl, a show I deeply regret writing off for petty reasons back in Season One.

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Stan Lee Made Me a True Believer

I’ve never met Stan Lee. I’ve seen him from a distance at comic conventions but I’ve never chosen to wait in the long line to meet him. I thought I still had time.

To me Stan Lee was always a superhero in his own right. To see him without his mustache, a pair of sunglasses, and his hair slicked back, is similar to seeing any of them without their mask on. His powers included a unique ability to find humanity in high concept characters, an undying excitement for imaginary worlds and loving fandoms, and “the Marvel Method”; a writing method through which an artist would draw a comic and he would add the words in later.

By now just about everyone has put out their own memorial for Stan “The Man” Lee and I worry this will just be another in that long list. Still I hope you’ll continue reading not just because I am a nerd with something to say but because I’m the only one who will show you Giant Evil Stan Lee:

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I had to buy an episode of Who Wants to Be a Superhero on YouTube to bring you this

Stan Lee created modern superhero comics. He read Justice League and decided to make a team comic of his own: The Fantastic Four. While DC superheroes were gods living among mortals, his Marvel superheroes are mortals trying to live up to god-like power. Stan Lee started and stoked the rivalry between Marvel and DC. He called them their Distinguished Competition.

It’s the competition he enabled that led to the event comic. First DC made Crisis on Infinite Earths to clean up their confusing story world, then Marvel made Secret Wars to sell toys. The man was a huckster. But decades later the structure of these events, to check in on several characters all dovetailing together in one epic story, became the exact narrative structure of Avengers: Infinity War.

His cameos in the MCU and beyond are what will hurt the most moving forward. All he ever wanted was to put characters like Spider-Man on the big screen, and he got his wish and so much more. In return most of us learned about Stan Lee from somebody who could point him out during a cameo. The first one I recognized on my own was his cameo in Daredevil (2003):

But he had been putting his characters into live action since at least the 70s with not one but two different Spider-Man series. One in America and the other in Japan.

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Yeah that was a whole thing. Other than the suit and name though this Spider-Man was very different. His powers came from waring alien races, he called himself an emissary from hell, and he had his own giant robot called Leopardon. An idea that did so well in toy sales that the company the produced Spider-Man in japan started incorporating giant robots into their Super Sentai series, a series that eventually returned to the US as Power Rangers.

And there is it. A direct line across my life drawn by Stan Lee. So much of who I am comes from looking up to super heroes across my life. Incorruptible symbols of good and hope written by uncompromising creatives. I’m not sure if he ever saw himself that way though. People came up to him every day and thanked him for his work, but Stan Lee would just turn around and tell them they had great taste. That’s the kind of guy he was, especially near the end. He gave everything, and some people took advantage of that, but to the rest of the world he became beloved.

I thought I still had time. I thought he would at least make it to 100 years old. But people only live forever in the Marvel universe it seems. Since I’ll never be able to say it to him I’ll settle for saying it here. Thank you Stan Lee, for making me a true believer.

-JP

PS, Armie Hammer is a tool.

Welcome to the Fandom Apocalypse

Let’s talk about reboots.

Let’s talk about remakes too actually. And adaptations franchises and shared universes and everything about how entertainment is built in the modern age.

And then we’re going to talk about artificial intelligence. So yeah it’s one of those pieces.

I think the notion of the remake changed something permanently in how we engage with stories. Remakes taught us that if we don’t like a story, it can be changed. And that is extremely powerful knowledge to give to all of us.

At first it was slow and only entertainment insiders could participate. If you had a good pitch for a new version of an old story you could tell your version. But that has changed significantly. Fandom culture has become pop culture, a remake or a reboot is a sure thing while anything new is dangerous. Those fans who know a story can be changed also know they have some control over what is changed.

Look at something like The Amazing Spider-Man 2. After fan backlash to the Spider-Man costume and the main character’s decision to break a dying man’s last wish and continue dating his daughter in the first movie, they changed both of those things in the second. New suit. Dead relationship. Fan response made that happen. When that film tried to launch it’s own Spider-Man shared universe, all while failing to tell it’s own film’s story, the fans responded so negatively that the entire series was abruptly cancelled and rebooted yet again to try and right the ship this time as part of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe’s whole.

We made that happen.

But as these fandoms opened up to allow more people in, they stopped being a monolith. As they became a defining part of global culture, they also became something worth attacking. Which is all my build up to talking about The Last Jedi. Now I don’t want to talk about whether it was good or bad. I want to talk about the fact that the argument exists, how pervasive it is, and this:

Star Wars Russian Trolls Study

A recent study by Morten Bay at the University of Southern California found that, much like the 2016 American Election, Russian bot accounts stoked the fires of dissent within discussions of Star Wars: The Last Jedi to further divide people and sow chaos. The fact that it works, that we care so much about our entertainment that it can convince us to wish ill on another person, should be crazy talk. And yet…

Some of these fictional worlds have been so fully realized that they feel like a real place, and when the rules of that place are changed it becomes a battle field for people. Anything that threatens that place and how we conceive of it needs to be fixed and changed to maintain the whole. Everyone knows stories can be rebooted, remade, or changed to fit their image. But that doesn’t take time anymore. It’s instant now.

So anyway, artificial intelligence. Have y’all heard of deepfakes?

Here’s the basics. Using an AI system of deep learning, we can superimpose someone’s face onto somebody else’s body. It started in porn because of course it did, you could throw a celebrity’s face onto a pornstar’s body for fun, or your ex’s face for revenge. Then it grew from there to fans “fixing” movies. Doing a better job than WB at erasing Superman’s mustache, inserting a more accurate version of Carrie Fisher onto Rogue One, and the moment that made me want to write this piece, replacing Alden Ehrenreich with Harrison Ford in Solo:

Because this time people didn’t think a special affect wasn’t very strong. This time people just didn’t like an actor very much in a role. So they decided to replace them. Which also pales to the people who edited stills from the Captain Marvel trailer (A TRAILER) because they want her to “smile more.” Sure, the testing ground for this technology is centering on various films in pop culture, but the applications could be far more nefarious:

We’re entering a time when the information age can be corrupted and used against us. Where the average person could not only change who stars in their favorite movie but also put the face of someone they hate onto a terrorist. You might say it’s a stretch from entertainment to politics but stop for a second and remember who the president is.

It’s important that the people who opt to edit pieces of pop culture call their work “fixing” it. It’s not enough to simply not enjoy something, it must be supplanted and replaced with something better. Maybe it comes from fear. Fear of losing a direct connection to something you love, but that’s going to create more targets for enemies who want to divide people, and that’s going to turn to real hatred. To use pop culture to analyze itself, the little man once said, “fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Welcome to the Fandom Apocalypse. Stay woke bitches.

-JP

PS, in other news I’ve got a pretty good idea for a sci-fi future now.

A Eulogy for Telltale Games

Last Friday a game studio called Telltale Games suddenly fired their entire staff save 25 people without severance pay. They’re a company I’ve written about before and this was, well, real bad. It turns out poor management led to severe crunch work for staff without proper overtime pay multiple times which, mixed with critically acclaimed but not best selling games, brought the company to it’s sudden end.

For years I’ve held firm to a simple rule in video gaming. If the game is licensed after a movie or TV series, it’s not going to be good. But then The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series changed all of that. I was drawn in by the smart writing and the episodic style of storytelling. The struggles of trying to keep a group together and fed so everyone can survive the apocalypse. Mostly though, I was enthralled by the central goal of keeping one little girl, Clementine, a surrogate daughter, alive.

After that game I became a dedicated follower of Telltale and their specific brand of licensed content. I’ve played their Back to the Future game (more of a puzzle adventure game than what came after), The Wolf Among Us (based on the Fables comic seres), Tales from the Borderlands (low key the best one), Game of Thrones (low key the weakest one), 2 seasons of Batman (the last original stories for the character), and a bit of their Guardians of the Galaxy (which feels the most like someone trying to recreate the movies and just missing the mark). But through all of this Telltale kept coming back around to The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead became the story of Clementine, and also the defining series of Telltale games. You can see their technology and storytelling improve through the games as Clementine grows up.

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Just last month Telltale released the first episode of what they’ve dubbed The Final Season of The Walking Dead. Episode 2 comes out today. But because of what happened, that may be all we get. Telltale made the episodic story focused adventure gamer popular with the Walking Dead, and it feels strangely appropriate that their end coincides with the final season becoming one of the first episodic games to get cancelled part way through.

Meanwhile those 25 people left are finishing work on Minecraft: Story Mode which is… a thing.

I’m not sure if Telltale changed gaming, but I know they helped me figure out what kind of games I love. I play video games for the story, and sometimes that story is Commander Shepherd saving the universe in Mass Effect, but other times it’s a guy in a fire tower in the woods walking around and talking to the woman in the next tower over walkie talkie.

Firewatch, Oxenfree, and Life is Strange are all deep and emotional games that aren’t built around fighting monsters. I’ve started to demand stronger emotional stories from bigger games like Uncharterd 4: A Thief’s End and God of War. I have never been one for first person shooters, online multiplayer, or sports games. Telltale taught me that there are games for me too and these games are easier to convince a non-gamer to play than the latest Assassin’s Creed.

Hi everyone, we have a Walking Dead update for you. Multiple potential partners have stepped forward to express interest in helping to see The Final Season through to completion. While we can’t make any promises today, we are actively working towards a solution that will allow episodes 3 and 4 to be completed and released in some form. In the meantime, episode 2 will release tomorrow across all platforms as planned. We hope to have answers for your other questions soon.

– Telltale Games 09/24/18

So now it seems at least possible that The Walking Dead will reach its conclusion. Without question I want to see that series through to its end, but I also want those employees who were let go, who were so passionate about the series, to get the severance pay they deserve and a chance to complete the work they started. Fans are important, but Telltale’s management was responsible for actual people and they should prioritize those people.

There’s no two ways around it. This sucks. I want to hold on to the amazing games Telltale put out, but we can’t ignore the faults the company had. I hope all those people land safe and sound. And I hope the video game industry remembers Telltale as well.

-JP

PS, both the studio behind Firewatch and the one behind Oxenfree were strated by former Telltale employees. I hope they find a way to take on some of the employees now left out in the wind.

American Vandal and a Celebration of Social Media

This post discusses key plot points from the second (and very good) season of American Vandal. Do yourself a favor and watch both seasons on Netflix. Oh, um, also, harsh language incoming.

I can’t take anyone in my generation seriously
Everyone is completely fake
Instagram filters.
Snapchat filters.
THEY’RE NOT FUCKING FILTERS
THEY’RE MASKS
Stop pretending you’re happy
I know you’re as fucked up as me

If the Turd Burglar, the villain of American Vandal season 2, has a manifesto it’s those words he posts on Reddit. Maybe adding an, “I’ll prove you’re all full of shit.” They become obsessed with tearing down the student body of St. Bernadine High School and achieve that goal by spiking the cafeteria lemonade with laxatives. Basically the whole school shits themselves at lunch and then, when all of the chaos settled, the Turd Burglar tagged everyone in Instagram posts of The Brownout.

For the incredibly realistically portrayed teens of American Vandal the scariest aspect of this crime isn’t just the poop, but the hijacking of their social media personas. Apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are tools they can use to interact with the world online, but they get to control how they appear on those platforms. They try on different personas or masks. For reference:

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But the Turd Burglar not only took that control away, they mocked everyone for using those identities in the first place. It’s true that it can be easy to indict millennials or Gen Z for their reliance on the internet, but instead American Vandal takes a wholly different approach. I would just like to transcribe the monologue Peter gives in the finale:

We’re the first generation that gets to live twice. Our existences are simultaneously experienced and curated. Presented. Packaged. Polished for our own protection. Digital fortresses made of bits, bytes, and pixels. Walls made of zeroes and ones. [Redacted] referred to these digital walls as masks, and he created the Turd Burglar to prove that behind them, we’re all full of shit. It would be easy to dismiss his messages, as the ramblings of a madman, if there wasn’t so much truth to them. We do all create versions of ourselves to appear to be the curators of our own stories, to appear to be in the driver’s seat of our own lives.

But pretending doesn’t make us plastic. Imagination is what makes us human. It allows us to figure out which version of ourselves fits best.

We’re not the worst generation. We’re just the most exposed. We’re living in a constant state of feedback. And judgement. So maybe the masks are a tool to survive the time. Maybe they provide a thin layer of protection. A place to grow, discover, reinvent. the important part is having people who know you without the mask. And being happy with who you are beneath it.

I often joke that I didn’t “finish cooking” until near the end of college. There’s a certain amount of reinvention that comes with the territory of higher education. You move out of your hometown and leave behind any preconceived notions about yourself. Every new class, club, and dorm lets you try out a slightly different version of yourself until you find the one that “fits best.” Since I barely used social media other than Facebook until after college, it took me a while to find myself.

For Gen Z, their whole world is online, but it means they get to find themselves so much faster than any generation has in the past. They can follow and learn from celebrities or influencers they respect. They get to interact with people outside of their school and try on those different masks while they grow up. These kids are going to know themselves better than we ever could.

They’re growing up faster than any generation has before. And yeah, the internet is a dangerous place these days. It’s pretty shitty. But if anyone can figure out how to survive there it’s them. Especially if they have those friends they can take their masks off around.

-JP

PS, I wonder how Dylan Maxwell is doing.

Quarter Life Crisis – The Three Dueling Identities of Power Rangers

On Tuesday, August 28th 2018, Power Rangers turns 25 years old. Like all millennials, at this age the franchise finds itself in a weird place. Depending on who it is interacting with, Power Rangers presents itself very differently. In fact there are currently three different versions of the series.

What makes Power Rangers different on TV vs film or in the comics? What does it mean that the franchise can’t settle on a consistent version of itself at this point in its existence? Does the fact that I am writing about this say more about my own quarter life crisis than Power Ranger’s? NO. SHUT UP.

I for one am hard pressed to find good intelligent writing about Power Rangers, so I thought I would step up to the plate to investigate these three identities and discuss them.

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Power Rangers on TV

After all these years the TV version of Power Rangers is the same as it ever was, ridiculous as hell. The current iteration of the series is called Power Rangers: Ninja Steel and it’s about a bunch of teens who build morphers and weapons with alien metal so they can fight an evil invading space reality competition TV show. Seriously. One of them is also a cowboy ninja power ranger touring country singer.

The basis of the show is the same as it ever was too, a toy marketing driven action show made on a shoe-string budget re-appropriating footage from the Japanese series from which it is based. It is one of the last of its kind, a relic from the rules of the 80s when every big cartoon was made to sell toys. Every episode was originally the same, the kids play in the park, a monster attacks, the kids morph and beat it up, it gets big, they get in their giant robot zords and beat it up again. The series has grown to be more plot heavy, with new heroes and villains each season, but the basics haven’t changed. It is a kids show, with uncomplicated morality and heaping sense of fun.

On TV the ranger teams remain as diverse as ever, but in a way that someone’s ethnicity has absolutely nothing to do with who they are. It doesn’t matter if they are black, white, asian, hispanic, or anything else. None of that makes up their identity, they are only identified as a teenager (generally). On the other hand, any time a character has an accent of some kind that does become a defining part of their identity. Multiple rangers with New Zealand accents tell immigrant stories, and the one Scottish ranger, when literally asked how he identifies himself, yells that he is Scottish and then fights to bagpipe music. It’s amazing.

Because Power Rangers is made up of American footage spliced with Japanese suit actor and monster scenes, it has a hard time establishing it’s own identity. The series has a very low budget and making an entire episode with american footage is extremely costly. There’s also the question of how much a season should distance itself from its Japanese equivalent. A lot of fans want to see the same show but with an American cast, and sometimes that is for the best. But some of the best seasons used their footage as a jumping off point to tell a completely different story. Now Power Rangers has two different sets of fans who want entirely different things from the series.

Luckily, Power Rangers knows it doesn’t really matter what those fans think. They are adults, and they’re simply not who the show is for. Power Rangers on TV is still aimed primarily at kids. That’s why they ignore their own continuity (except when celebrating an anniversary), so the show can eternally be brand new to a brand new audience.

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Power Rangers on Film

Last year Lionsgate swung big with a new cinematic interpretation of the Power Rangers, and their identity is fascinating. Director Dean Israelite and writers John Gatins, Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless, and Michele & Kieran Mulroney sought to find something real inside the glitz and cheesiness of the original series. They made a toy commercial into a story about teenagers finding themselves and meaningful friendships. The movie is not entirely successful in this endeavor, but I applaud it for the attempt.

This version of Power Rangers doesn’t even get into the suits and zords until the final half hour of the film, making the first hour and a half of the movie more of a teenage drama than a superhero movie. This balance isn’t exactly a strength plot-wise, but it says a lot about how the movie wants to be seen. This version of Power Rangers is grown up and meditative, with excellent chemistry among its cast. It also has the money to make the effets, suits, and zords look truly alien. Personally I think it made those designs overly busy, but hey to each their own.

The new cinematic Power Rangers are also the most meaningfully diverse version of the team ever. Billy isn’t just Black, he’s on the spectrum, and the film doesn’t treat that as a weakness but as something wonderful and lovable. It might even be his greatest strength. Zack is Chinese-American and speaks Chinese at home, his mobile home, with his mother. Trini is identifiably queer, even if they never specify whether she is gay or bisexual, that’s more than we’ve ever seen from the series before. The characters cross a sexual, class, and mental spectrum and it is a crime that nobody is talking about how big of a deal that is alone.

Without having to adhere to footage from another TV series, it’s interesting that this Power Rangers chooses to think smaller instead of larger. The story it tells doesn’t deviate very far from the original series, despite the huge opportunity to change everything. The movie cares a lot about how it is perceived. It wants to be taken seriously, as a legit entry into the superhero canon, and not a shameless cash in. That’s an uphill battle, one that I initially took umbrage with in its marketing campaign.

The Power Rangers movie was a gamble, and I’m not sure it paid off. The movie didn’t do very well in the US or China, but there is still talk of a sequel and I genuinely hope they make one. There are good bones here, and I hope they get to build on them.

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Power Rangers in Comics

The new ongoing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic started in 2016 and transplanted the show’s original team into modern day with a story set shortly after the Green Ranger joined the team. Writer Kyle Higgens has stated that, when writing the series, he based it off how he remembered the show and not what it actually was. The comic is massive in scale, a war between good and evil, and most importantly it understands something I’ve been arguing for years; Power Rangers is already a shared universe on par with the MCU, if only we would tap into it.

This series draws it’s identity from the lore of the TV series, and more specifically the first real story it ever told, the birth of the evil green ranger. That character, Tommy Oliver, defines Power Rangers for a large portion of the audience, and the comics pick up right after he turns good and joins the team. From there the story takes a hard turn into a new continuity wherein the rangers encounter a version of Tommy who chose to stay evil, and he declares war on every version of the Power Rangers we’ve seen for the past 25 years. This event is called Shattered Grid.

This is the Infinity War of Power Rangers, with every team ever meeting in their prime and fighting for their very lives against this threat. It’s desperate and epic and I’ve never seen anything like it before with these characters. That’s not to say the series loses track of the character moments though! Across Power Rangers and Go Go Power Rangers, which is set in the earliest days of the series, we see Jason learn to be a leader, Kim deal with her parents’ divorce, and Billy debate if he could be of more use giving his powers to someone else. It sits comfortably between the heaviness of the movie and the lightness of the show.

Once this event ends, a new writer will be taking over the series with a new ranger team made up of members from different eras. This means if the identity of the comics up until now was about giving the original power rangers the scale of adventures we always wanted, it’s about to become something entirely different. And that’s exciting!

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Change is Coming

It’s not just the comics that are about to change. The entire brand of Power Rangers was recently acquired by Hasbro. For the first time ever the next Power Rangers TV season is going back to a version of the Japanese series from which it’s sourced they previously skipped. They are even starting talks about making a sequel to the recent movie. This could change all of these identities in the years to come, but what fascinates me most of all is that they are choosing to maintain all three and not unify them all.

It would be so easy to pick one and force the others to bend to it, but I think it’s actually smarter to maintain all three. Each identity plays to a different kind of person and can bring them to the franchise. It’s not so different from Marvel or DC, where the comics are different than the movies (and in DC’s case the movies are even in different worlds than the TV series). It widens their audience. For Power Rangers, little kids can grow up with the show, grow up to appreciate the movie, and then come back to the comics for the kid inside.

That’s what happened to me, and I couldn’t be happier.

-JP

PS, there is a fourth version of Power Rangers. An official twitch streaming role playing game called Power Rangers: Hyperforce. I just don’t watch it.

Robo Cam and New Technology in Storytelling

Last weekend I volunteered at a music festival I have been attending my entire life with my family. We all volunteer with the video crew where our jobs include running one of four cameras during an act’s set, shading for those cameras, or directing those cameras from the video truck. Every year is basically the same for us with new upgrades coming incrementally as time goes on. When the video crew began nearly forty years ago they only had two cameras, now this year we finally introduced a fifth camera. ROBO CAM.

Robo Cam is one we set up further away from the stage that could be controlled with a joystick from back in the video truck. We can pre-set several angles as well so you just hit a button and robo cam gets the same specific shot. If this is a little confusing let me head that off by saying robo cam is new and different and I was the first director to use it in the crew last weekend.

Before the act started my father, the co-head of the video crew, dropped in to lay down some advice for me. He said, “yes robo cam is new and exciting, but don’t get caught up in it.” He said it to every director that worked that day and what he meant was simple. Don’t distract yourself from directing by playing with that camera, do what you normally do but with a new tool in case you need it.

Live video production already carries many lessons that can apply to narrative storytelling. In live video you cut to the camera covering whatever instrument is most important at that time, just like how you would edit for whatever changes the context of the scene. But what happens a lot in narrative film is that a new technology comes out and in the wrong hands it takes over a movie.

CGI replaced miniatures work, practical blood and explosion effects, even puppetry or prosthetic. There are plenty of directors that see this new technology as something to play with, but they lose sight of basic filmmaking in pursuit of this. Even worse, many see new technology as a shortcut to save themselves time and money, and more often than not that view has a detrimental effect on their work.

When you direct live video, you are the only one who can see all four cameras at once, which means you have to communicate to them when they have a shot you want, when they are accidentally covering them same thing as another camera, and when they are (or are about to be) on the air. Last weekend I had a moment where every individual camera had a good shot; a close-up of the singer, of his hands strumming his guitar, the upper half of his body, his toe tapping, and I wanted to use all of them but I needed to get to a wide shot to reorient the audience before delving back into these tighter shots. That was the first time I used robo cam.

Robo cam is great for getting out of little jams like that, or for giving all of the cameras a break so they can each find something new, but you have to use it when you need it. The same goes for new technology in filmmaking. It’s meant to augment the way we’ve always done things, not replace it entirely.

I haven’t been directing live video long, but I’ve been around it my entire life. I haven’t directed anything narrative at all, but I intend to use every lesson I’ve absorbed through being around it to do the best work I can some day. And when something new and exciting comes around I’ll remember not to get caught up in it.

-JP

PS, some day all of the cameras might be robo cams, but by then we’ll be too late to stop the robo apocalypse.