Excelsior!

“The beauty of Stan Lee’s characters is that they were characters first and superheroes next.” — Jeff Kline, executive producer of the “Men in Black” animated television series

Earlier today, the world lost a legend, when Stan ‘the Man’ Lee died at 95. It’s hard to measure the contribution Lee made to comics and the pop culture entertainment industry. The super-prolific writer, editor, and one-time publisher of Marvel Comics created or co-created innumerable characters over his decades in the biz, including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Avengers, X-Men, etc. He was simply a creative powerhouse.

“He revived the industry in the 1960s by offering the costumes and action craved by younger readers while insisting on sophisticated plots, college-level dialogue, satire, science fiction, even philosophy.”

You didn’t have to like all of his creations in order to love Stan. His enthusiasm for the medium, the characters, and the fans was palpable. Indeed, he was still involved right until the end.

But, more than the cameos and executive producer credits for the MCU movies, what I and many long-time fans appreciate most is the comfort and enjoyment that Stan (and the industry he helped to mold) brought into our young lives. Indeed, his inimitable — and often alliterative — writing & speaking style, as well as his trademark shades and taglines, are recognized by “true believers” worldwide. There are and have been many great talents, but Stan the Man was in a class by himself.

You had a good, loooooong run, Stan, but we’ll miss you profoundly. Thanks for everything.

‘Nuff said.

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Reacher’s Rules

“If in doubt, drink coffee.” — Jack Reacher

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that I’ve mentioned the ‘Jack Reacher’ character a couple times before — once when I recommended the novels and once when I attempted to fan-cast him. In the former, I mentioned Jack Reacher’s Rules, which Delacorte Press published a few years ago to capitalize on the character’s growing popularity. (There is a later edition without “Jack” in the title, too.) If you aren’t sure who Reacher is, here’s the short version [<<enter Tom Cruise joke here>>]:

“Jack Reacher, of no fixed address, is a former major in the U.S. Military Police. Since leaving the army, the authorities have not been able to locate his whereabouts, although his name mysteriously crops up from time to time in connection with investigations into murders, terrorist threats, and other breaches of the law.”

As I was trying to figure out what to write about this week, I remembered the ‘Rules’ book and thought I’d share a few. But, first, here is part of the book’s Introduction by Lee Child himself:

“Some rules are official. We form clubs and societies and associations and give them procedures and bylaws more complex than those of government bodies. [Well, I don’t know about that….]

Some rules are only semiofficial. Hit on your friend’s best girl? No way. Rat out an accomplice? Not going to happen. Break a strike? You’d rather die.

Some rules are just slogans, consoling and emboldening. Maybe as a kid, your gang — part of your street in part of your city in your country in the big, bewildering world — was, like kids are, told by your parents and teachers to be scared of strangers. No, you said. Strangers should be told to be scared of us.

Jack Reacher has always followed his own rules. He grew up in a fractured way, six months here, three months there, always moving, never stable, never belonging. Then he was a soldier, but too wise to buy into all the nonsense. He obeyed only the rules that made sense to him. Then he was cut loose and became a true outsider, profoundly comfortable with solitude. Does he have a tribe? You bet. He’s human. But in his case he kept on slicing and dicing until he got all the way down to a tribe with just one member — himself. But that tribe still needs rules, to guide, and embolden, and simplify, and reassure.

What follows are some of them.”

[Note: At this point, I’m tempted to get into a discussion about the problems of moral relativism. But, this is neither the time nor place.]

To be fair, these aren’t all “rules to live by”, exactly. Some are more like observations, opinions, warnings, etc. But, you get the idea.

Be Prepared:

o Never count on anything except surprise and unpredictability and danger.

o Ring doorbells with your knuckles or elbows to avoid leaving fingerprints.

o Walk up the edge of stairs to minimize the chances of loud creaks. Stairs squeak at their centers where they’re weakest.

o Go to bed fully clothed so you are always ready for action.

o Climb through a hole feetfirst. If there’s an ax or a bullet waiting, better to take it in the legs than in the head.

Breaking and Entering:

o First thing to do before attacking a lock is to check that it’s not already open. Nothing will make you feel stupider than picking a lock that’s not locked.

o To kick a door down: take a run toward the door, making sure to stay upright, and with your dominant leg kick the area below the doorknob hard, using your sole or your heel.

o For a door with a glass panel, use the sole of your shoe to break a hold in the glass, then reach through to the handle.

Choose Your Weapons:

o Next to a shotgun, a pool cue is the best weapon in a fight.

o A handgun at two hundred feet is the same thing as crossing your fingers and making a wish.

o A chisel plunged into the back of your head is going to seriously ruin your day.

o Rolls of quarters in your fists — good old-fashioned technology.

o “Twelve-gauge lead shots settle most disputes at the first time of asking.”

The Rules of Coffee:

o Nothing’s too urgent for coffee.

o It’s all about the caffeine.

o A good coffee mug is cylindrical in shape, narrow in relation to its height and with a thin lip.

o Ignore the fancy brews and get a tall house blend, black, no cream.

Conquer Your Fear:

o “I’m not scared of anybody… But certainly I preferred it when he was dead.”

o Her: “Why are you going back?” Reacher: “Because they told me not to.”

o “You see something scary, you should stand up and step toward it, not away from it. Instinctively, reflexively, in a raging fury.”

o Turn your fear into aggression.

Fighting:

o Identify the ringleader…. The ringleader is the one who always moves first.

o “Then I cheated. Instead of counting three I headbutted him full in the face.”

o Make the first shot count.

o Never revive a guy who just pulled a gun on you.

o “Attacking me was like pushing open a forbidden door. What waited on the other side was his problem.”

o “You don’t throw my friends out of helicopters and live to tell the tale.”

Food:

o “He had no prejudice against fast food. Better than slow food, for a traveling man.”

o Eat when you can, because you never know when you will next get the chance.

o Always eat a perfect breakfast: pancakes. Egg on the top, bacon on the side, plenty of syrup. And plenty of coffee.

o Before a night of action and stress, go for empty calories, fats, and complex carbohydrates: pizza and soda.

First Aid:

o After a fistfight, the best cure for a sore hand is to wrap it around a cold beer.

o To set your own broken nose, smack yourself firmly in the face with the heel of your hand.

o “Duct tape: the finest field dressing in the world. The Marines once flew me from Lebanon to Germany with nothing but duct tape keeping my lower intestine in.”

Getting Mad:

o Know when to get mad, and know when to count to ten before you get mad.

o “I’ve counted way past ten on this one. Way past.”

o “They mess with me, they answer to me.”

o “I wasn’t angry. I was barely interested. If I had been angry, we’d be cleaning up with a fire hose. As it is, we’re going to need a forklift truck.”

Random and Assorted:

o “Now they broke my toothbrush, I don’t own anything.”

o “Be skeptical but not too skeptical. Too much skepticism leads to paranoia and paralysis.”

o “Dealing with morons… is like teaching Hindu to a beagle.”

o “Suicide bombers give out all kinds of telltale signs. Mostly because they’re nervous. By definition, they’re all first-timers.”

o Most people stick to underwear from their country of origin. It’s a big step putting on foreign underwear, like betrayal or emigration.

o “I don’t need to go hunting them. I already know I’m smarter than an armadillo.”

o “I’m sleeping well… but I think that’s mostly because of the tranquilizers.”

o Four o’clock in the morning is the best time to attack. In the Army they call it KGB time.

o “Carry a spare shirt and pretty soon you’re carrying spare pants. Then you need a suitcase. Next thing you know, you’ve got a house and a car and a savings plan and you’re filling out all kinds of forms.”

o “Reacher made no reply. It was a technique he had perfected half a lifetime ago. Just stand absolutely still, don’t blink, say nothing. Wait for them to run through the possibilities. Wait for them to start worrying.”

o If you’re surrounded, that simplifies your problems.

o Never hit a woman unless she’s trying to kill you.

o “I don’t want to put the world to rights. I just don’t like people who put the world to wrongs.”

That’s enough, but there are plenty more in the ‘Rules’ book — and, of course, scattered throughout the novels.

You know, come to think of it, I haven’t read a Reacher adventure in several months. Time to put one on the top of my reading (or listening) pile….

Superman and the Question of Diversity

As many of you probably remember from news reports last week, Henry Cavill was supposedly out as Superman — i.e., would not be playing ‘The Big Blue Boy Scout’ in the DCEU anymore. This stemmed from an initial report from The Hollywood Reporter, and several other publications took their cue from THR. The reasons given for the decision ranged from Warner Brothers wanting to focus on the new, big-screen Supergirl… to possible conflicts with Cavill’s leading role in Netflix’s “The Witcher”… to contract disputes and power plays, etc. Thus, the original focus of this week’s post was going to be my thoughts on what a big mistake this was, how they could still improve the franchise, etc.

However, it appears that THR jumped the gun on this report, though perhaps they could be forgiven, since it may be that either WB or Cavill’s reps “leaked” the rumor as a negotiation ploy. (For what it’s worth, TMZ called it “an invented conflict.”) Regardless, it wasn’t long before Dany Garcia — Cavill’s manager and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s business partner and ex-wife — tweeted that “the cape is still in his closet.” Warner Bros. followed with their own statement:

“While no decisions have been made regarding any upcoming Superman films, we’ve always had great respect for and a great relationship with Henry Cavill, and that remains unchanged.”

So,… no guarantees re future Superman films (or other appearances) at this time, but Cavill’s not out, yet. I haven’t seen any updates to this so far, which tells me that negotiations are still ongoing. We shall see….

When all this was still up in the air and we thought Cavill had most likely been given the boot already, there were rumors and speculations about who might be on deck to take his place. There were some rather unusual suggestions, I have to say. Remember how some people were pushing for an Asian actor to star in Netflix’s “Iron Fist”, or how many are calling for Idris Elba to be the next James Bond? Well, now there are suggestions of Black (Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba), Asian (Henry Golding), and Latino (Oscar Isaac) replacements for Superman, among others. Sigh! All fine actors, but c’mon! Should we have a Black Tarzan next? (No, that wouldn’t work, ‘cuz his being white was part of what made the character an outsider in Africa. Besides, that whole “Ape Man” thing would be seen as racist….) Or, how about an Asian Sherlock Holmes? Would that make sense, especially given the era and locales in which the character operated? (Less of an issue for a modern-day take, I suppose. Still…)

Maybe it just doesn’t matter when the icon in question is White. But, remember the accusations of “whitewashing” when Scarlett Johansson was cast as the lead in the live adaptation of Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell? (Of course, the original comic was ambiguous re her ethnicity and showed the ‘ghost’ in various shells. But, it was generally assumed that she was Japanese, and the live film confirmed this, despite her being played by a Caucasian woman.) Or, what about the similar outcry when the upcoming Hellboy reboot originally cast Ed Skrein as the Daimio character, who is clearly Asian in the comic? (Note: Skrein bowed out, and Daniel Dae Kim was given the role.) Now, these aren’t exactly “iconic” characters, but the point is that fans generally prefer that a character’s race/ethnicity be retained when the source material is adapted.

If someone does a remake of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon but casts a White or Latino in the lead, do you think there would be outrage? You betcha! Or, what about a Native American actor as the central character for a Shaft reboot? (I mean, you could even have a lame bow-and-arrow joke about the name “Shaft”.) Yeah, I don’t think that would go over so well in the ‘hood or, you know, with anyone who understands anything about the character. Can you imagine if Marvel had cast a non-Black actor to star as Black Panther?!

My response to this “out-of-the-box creative thinking” to make Superman anything other than a White, heterosexual male? Seriously, just stop it. This forced “diversity” — because Whites have too many cool heroes, or non-Whites can’t relate, or something — is incredibly annoying and just stupid. And don’t cry “racist!” if anyone dares to object, ‘cuz that just won’t fly. This isn’t about race so much as it is staying true to the characters as written, especially when there are many years of canon behind them and most especially when there are specific things about them being a certain race or ethnicity that are integral to the character.

Now, I’m all for heroes (and villains) of various races/ethnicities, as long as they are created as such, well-conceived, and beyond silly stereotypes. Also, as far as Superman goes, I actually like the idea of non-White versions in alternate universes / parallel dimensions. In fact, we’ve seen them in the comics. I would love to see a well-written film plot wherein “our” Superman meets up with a non-White doppelganger, perhaps joining forces to battle a threat to both realities. But, the “primary” Superman should remain Caucasian in appearance. I see no good reason to change the race of a decades-old icon just because… “diversity”.

When Cavill does get replaced as Superman, I truly hope that non-PC, common sense prevails and they are able to re-cast with someone of similar … yes, “iconic” … appearance.

Trek News Dispatch, part 2 of 2

Last week, we started looking at recent Star Trek news, so now we continue….

As for the small screen, we’ve seen a few news updates about season 2 of “Star Trek: Discovery”. For example, we know that Anson Mount will portray the Enterprise’s ‘Capt. Christopher Pike’, who then takes command of Discovery for their next big mission. I wasn’t impressed with him in Marvel’s “Inhumans” mini-series, but my initial impression from the Season 2 trailer is that he’ll do a good job. (Plus, it helps that Mount is a huge fan of TOS, so he has respect for the legacy.) I just hope they don’t write the character as too… jokey. Oh, also, Rebecca Romijn has been cast as ‘Number One’, and I can certainly see her in the role.

Early Spock / Ethan Peck

There has been a bit of controversy over the new ‘Spock’ (whenever he might show up) being “very different” from the character fans are familiar with. As new showrunner Alex Kurtzman explained,

“This is not entirely the Spock who has been formed enough to be the Spock that we know from TOS. There’s a lot of story about who Spock was before he becomes the Spock that is the yin-yang to Kirk. What I’m so excited about is that we have an opportunity to present a version of Spock that’s both totally consistent with the Spock everyone knows but very, very different. And it’s all gonna tie to how we sync up with canon.”

That makes total sense to me. For example, as we saw in “The Cage” / “The Menagerie”, Spock was a bit less… emotionally disciplined at that time.

Kurtzman has also said that we’ll get an explanation for why Spock never mentioned his adopted sister, Michael Burnham, in any previous productions. According to Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Burnham,

“We’re certainly gonna see Spock and we’re gonna be exploring those family dynamics. We’re gonna see a lot between them.”

I am intrigued and so will withhold judgment, but I look forward to seeing how they do this. (Especially since Spock is currently only scheduled to appear in two episodes. Maybe some will be done with flashbacks of younger versions?) I see that they also just cast Gregory Peck’s grandson, Ethan Peck (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), as Spock. He looks like a decent choice physically, but I’ve never seen him in anything and can’t give any opinion on his acting.

Another “Discovery” news item involves those pesky, ever-changing Klingons. As per makeup designer Glenn Hetrick:

“As we move into season 2, it has been a while since we have been with our characters. It has been a while since we have seen our Klingon friends. So, everything keeps evolving. The story has evolved. And I can guarantee you this, you are going to be blown away that they have a completely new look, yet again, going into season two.”

I can hear the collective groan and assorted expletives from some of you, but hang on. We’ve been promised that many questions re canon will be addressed, and this is one of those things. Hetrick continues…

“In season two, you are going to see much different designs. You are going to see different houses you haven’t seen before. One of the most important things to us was that at this point in canon, as we head towards the current version of unification, the houses really each grow up on different planets. It is an Empire, it is not just Qo’noS…. We have seen six of the great houses in close up in season one. As we move forward into the next season, I promise that we will continue exploring and unpacking and unfolding that infinitely interesting story of what the Klingon culture looks like on a wider level.”

This is actually in line with my thoughts. In my review of Season 1, I suggested that one way to resolve the Klingon issue was: “Perhaps the Klingon houses we’ve seen represented are one Klingon race, while the STIII/TNG version make up the other houses. Wipe out the former, and the latter can take over.” Sounds like I was on the right track with that one….

Finally, there is the return of Jean-Luc Picard to the prime(?) Star Trek universe. As you may be aware, Kurtzman and his Secret Hideout production company were awarded a 5-year, multi-million dollar deal with CBS TV Studios back in June. Part of Kurtzman’s focus will be to “oversee the development of new Star Trek series, mini-series and other content, including animation.” Since then (and even before), there have been rumors of spinoffs focusing on Captain/Emperor Georgiou, Captain Lorca, Harry Mudd, Khan Noonien Singh, the Vulcans, Starfleet Academy, et al. Perhaps most intriguing was the possibility of bringing Jean-Luc Picard back — with Patrick Stewart returning to the role, of course.

Early reports were that fans would “see Stewart return to Starfleet as Captain Picard…. The report also refers to the project as a ‘reboot,’ leaving it unclear as to whether this project could be a reboot – more likely a continuation – of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’.” But, that was rather early in the development, and Stewart hadn’t even officially signed on, yet. Earlier this month (Aug. 2018), though, CBS announced (via Stewart at the 2018 Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas) that a Picard-based show starring Patrick Stewart, who will also exec produce along with Kurtzman, is now official.

One idea I’ve heard tossed around would be to have Picard in charge of Starfleet Academy. Not a bad idea for the character, I suppose, but not if we want to see a Picard-centered series. An academy-based series will likely focus on students. (I hope it isn’t too teen-angsty.) I’ve often thought that Picard might return to his archaeological interests and spend his later years on one or more digs. This could have potential for a series, but nothing I’ve read makes me think they’re considering this. (Otoh, who knows?) I think it is most likely that they will bring Picard back as either an Admiral or an Ambassador, both of which take advantage of his strengths in diplomacy and leadership. Of course, they may need to coax him out of retirement first. Given a compelling storyline, I’m definitely up for that.

The only thing that concerns me at this point is the rumors that CBS/Kurtzman want to wipe out the Prime timeline and merge the Kelvin timeline with the DISC timeline. Depending on how/when they would do it, it could allow for an “alternate” version of Picard (among many other things), too, and I don’t think the fans (including myself) want that. (Remember that mention of ‘reboot’ in the early discussion of a Picard series?) I don’t know how much validity there is to this rumor, though, so I’ll set it aside for now.

CBS TV Studios president David Stapf has stated that they want year-round Trek content on CBS All Access. DISC’s second season won’t debut until January 2019, and Picard’s so-far-untitled series is tentatively due in late 2019. So, while we wait for them and the (up to four) additional series being developed, they have something else to tide fans over.

“CBS All Access will fill the gap in late 2018 Star Trek programming with Star Trek: Short Treks, a series of four 15-minute short films spotlighting characters from Star Trek: Discovery [including one about Harry Mudd and directed by Rainn Wilson]. <Star Trek: Short Treks> will debut in the fall and new installments will release monthly leading into the second season of Star Trek: Discovery.”

Cool!

Trek News Dispatch, part 1 of 2

This week, I wanted to comment briefly on recent news items that affect various different Star Trek eras/universes.

Nichelle Nichols

Allow me to begin with the report on Nichelle Nichols’ health. Nichols, 85, has understandably had her share of health issues, and fans will remember that the much-beloved, original ‘Lt. Uhura’ suffered a mild stroke back in 2015. Fortunately, there was no resulting paralysis. However, it has since been reported that she has been suffering memory loss. (I don’t know if it’s thought to be related.)

Original reports came this past May, when her son, Kyle Johnson, petitioned the court to have conservators appointed to manage Nichols’ health and financial decisions. It seems that her memory issues had allowed “certain individuals [to] unduly exert[] themselves into Ms. Nichols’ life to her detriment.” In conservatorship documents recently obtained by TMZ, Nichols’ doctor, Meena Makhijani, said that the actress does indeed have “moderate progressive dementia.” More specifically, she has “major impairment of her short-term memory and moderate impairment of understanding abstract concepts, sense of time, place and immediate recall.” However, there does not appear to be impairment to her “long-term memory, orientation of her body, comprehension, verbal communication, concentration, recognition of familiar people, as well as ability to reason logically and plan actions.”

This is sad news, as it would be with anyone. But, we can pray that Nichols’ conservators get her the care she needs, and that her family, friends, assistants, etc., work patiently with her as she deals with this condition. And, of course, we fans will continue to love and appreciate the beautiful, classy, sci-fi and cultural icon.

On the movie front, Star Trek 4 in the Kelvin universe is in jeopardy. Even before Star Trek Beyond was released, the powers-that-be announced they had already started developing the next film. Based on an idea by J.J. Abrams, it would involve some way — presumably time-travel — of teaming James Kirk with his late father, George, played briefly by Chris Hemsworth in 2009’s Star Trek. Both actors were reportedly “on board” and had deals in place.

A few months ago, rumors of a Quentin Tarantino-led Trek movie had people wondering if those plans would delay or even replace Star Trek 4. But, that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Rather, recent reports are that Star Trek 4 has hit a wall due to… money. Apparently, salaries for Hemsworth and Chris Pine (aka ‘James Kirk’) had not yet been finalized, and now “talks between the two actors and the companies making the new installment, Paramount Pictures and Skydance Media, have fallen apart, with both sides walking away from the table.”

Hemsworth and Pine

Pine and Hemsworth are big enough stars now that they can command big money. (E.g., Pine got $6 million for Star Trek Beyond.) I don’t begrudge them that. Also, according to reports, they are merely “asking the studios to stick to existing deals. Paramount, according to insiders, contends that Star Trek is not like a Marvel or Star Wars movie and is trying to hold the line on a budget.” So, Paramount was disappointed in the 3rd film’s profits. Fair point, but whose fault was that? Arguably not Pine’s, and certainly not Hemsworth’s.

Like many, I have been somewhat disappointed in the current Trek movies, so I wouldn’t be devastated if Star Trek 4 never happened. On the other hand, it would be a shame, especially since I think it’s at least partially fixable. (No, I don’t think they should recast either of the Kirks — especially the younger.) The more immediate option would be to give the actors more skin in the game, i.e., tying a certain bonus to the film’s profitability (as Pine did for Star Trek Into Darkness) or with a percentage of the take on the backend. The second thing would be to make the movie slightly less dependent on action and F/X and incorporate more of the tone and philosophical elements that the TOS and TNG-based films had. (Unfortunately, the one thing they can’t do is insert several years of the characters/actors working (and playing) together, which I think was a big factor in the success of (most of) those earlier movies.)

To be continued in a few days…

How to Improve Marvel’s Netflix Shows

“There’s always room for improvement.” — various people at various times

I was thinking about Marvel’s Netflix shows the other day and remembered an article about them that I’d seen a couple months ago. The author, Max Farrow, notes:

“[W]e can’t help but admit that 2017 was something of a stumbling block for the superheroes of Netflix. For all the grit and timeliness of The Punisher, several factors ensured that neither The Defenders or Iron Fist managed to inspire that much enthusiasm in fans. How can Marvel and Netflix get their mojo back, then? What can they do to get their superhero shows on track once more?”

He suggests five ways to do just that, so I figured we could look them over, and I’ll add a few reactions and comments of my own….

1) Stop Killing Villains

Farrow lauds the “fleshed out and highly memorable” main villains (especially as compared to some in the movies) and the “titanic talents” (e.g., Ali, Tennant, Weaver) that have portrayed them. But, he finds it somewhat odd and disappointing that at least twice a major villain has been offed part-way through the series.

“[T]his isn’t to say that show execs can’t, or shouldn’t, kill villains off full-stop. Unique and unpredictable storytelling is a fantastic quality in a series. But, having villain number three die midway through a season is precisely why Netflix shouldn’t opt for it again.”

I agree with him. These were strange moves that interrupted the flow of the respective stories. If they can attract such talent for these roles, why kill them off early? (Of course, it’s possible that they may only want to sign on for 5 or 6 episodes, and that would be a shame.)

2) Kick Ass, But More Efficiently

Farrow lays it out:

“The Marvel/Netflix shows may be gritty character studies, but we wouldn’t love them as much without their alleyway (or corridor) brawls. However, it’s been two years since Daredevil and Frank Castle dished out some quite frankly jaw-dropping beatdowns in Daredevil season 2. Aside from several notable moments in The Defenders, there’s been very little in the way of truly electrifying showdowns since. So, why are these kinds of moments becoming scarcer?”

As Farrow acknowledges, “action scenes are expensive and tricky to film.” But, no matter how “real-life” these shows are, they are still about characters with amazing superpowers and fighting skills. People who tune in expect to see these powers/skills used and, hopefully, not only executed well but in ways that seem authentic and make sense.

“From Daredevil’s radar-sense to Jessica Jones’ limited flight, honing on in [sic] these iconic abilities in fight scenes could really make the Marvel/Netflix shows stand out. Moreover, given enough resources and planning time, a great choreographer would be able to turn these prerequisite punch-ups into something truly special.”

Yes, indeed.

3) Planning Makes Perfect

Unlike the (mostly) “efficiently cohesive, detailed world” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Netflix shows, according to Farrow, seem to struggle with reminding us of their interconnectedness. In particular, he points to “The Defenders” and its slow ramp to get viewers up to speed on “picking up where each of the solo shows left off” and “a lot of work into maneuvering [the characters] into suitable positions for the story at hand.”

At first, I thought he was being a little hard on the writers/producers regarding efforts to a) show us what our heroes were currently up to and b) orchestrate their eventual “team-up” against their common foes. I mean, that’s a lot to juggle. Plus, more generally, the appearances of ‘Claire Temple’, ‘Karen Page’, and other supporting characters help to remind us of the shared city in the other series. But, after re-reading Farrow’s comments, I have to admit he makes some good observations.

“A bit more pre-planning would be hugely beneficial in this regard. Moreover, it would help any inter-show crossovers to feel more natural, such as in the rumored second season of The Defenders. Plus, it will allow for terrific new stories to be told, which change and shape the wider Marvel/Netflix world.

Sure, the shows all feel alike with their similarly grungy Manhattan, but it’s strange how inconsequentially huge events – such as Kingpin’s bombings – are rendered within the context of The Defenders.

It’s even stranger when we consider that all of the characters operate only a few blocks away from each other as well.”

I can’t help but agree with him there, too. This leads into the next gripe/suggestion…

4) Get To Grips With The Wider MCU

When “(Marvel’s) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” debuted on ABC back in 2013, it was essentially a spin-off that followed the “Battle of New York” seen in the first Avengers film. Agent Phil Coulson was the crossover player (with an appearance or two by Nick Fury), and there have continued to be references to stuff from the films sprinkled about in the TV series. Unfortunately, despite the hopes of the fans, connections between Netflix’s Marvel-based series and the MCU movies have been quite slim, with references even fewer and farther between.

“This hasn’t been hugely detrimental to these shows, though. Moreover, The Punisher barely features any inter-world connections and still manages to tell a rich and compelling story without relying on references. However, it is getting to the point where passing lip-service to iron suits isn’t going to cut it anymore.

At what point in the MCU timeline does Daredevil’s showdown with Fisk take place? A year after The Avengers? No one knows. Plus, the lack of Defenders references from the movies are conspicuous by their absence. Surely S.H.I.E.L.D. would have a use for someone like Matt Murdock?”

Farrow is fair to note the various challenges of things like logistics, varying development times, the “notoriously fractious relationship” between the movie and TV divisions, etc. Still, if the Netflix series are firmly set in the same world as the MCU, and I hope they are, then they really need to make a better effort to make that clear. It would only make sense, and it would further please the fans who value such continuity.

5) Shorten The Series

Farrow contends that the thirteen-episode structure of each season of the Netflix shows — except for the “The Defenders” mini-series, of course — is just a tad too long. I’ll let him explain…

“Regardless of what theme each show is exploring, at their hearts they’re superhero stories, right down to their adrenaline-fuelled needs. That isn’t to say they can’t be deep or cerebral (these shows have frequently proved that it’s possible), but they do need that burgeoning, dramatic tension to keep them chugging along.

Unfortunately, because of their structure, the Marvel/Netflix shows can’t sustain this drive for the time that they’re required to. Even the best of these series are forced to tread water for some period of time, be it the opening episodes of The Punisher or those where Kilgrave’s imprisoned in Jessica Jones. When this happens, the bloat sets in and the show grinds to a halt.

Again, it’s not that we don’t love spending time with characters like Jessica Jones. But if the show around them suffers for it, then something’s got to give. And that something is the series’ length.”

My instinct is to deny it. I mean, I love my superheroes (regardless of how much I complain), so the more episodes the better. Right? But, after briefly reflecting, I have to admit that Farrow is probably right, and I’ve even had similar thoughts. Most (each?) of the Netflix shows could probably have been improved by tightening up the writing/pacing, thereby cutting each season down to 10(?) to 12 episodes each.

I’m tempted to add a point or two of my own, but you all already know my gripes and preferences from the reviews I’ve done on these series. (See ‘Review Posts’ link at top of page.)

So, what do you think? Is Farrow unfair or otherwise “off” in his assessments? Am I an “unfaithful” fan for generally agreeing with him? Is ‘Kilgrave’ overrated, ‘cuz Tennant makes Whovian fangirls swoon? Should I stop asking questions? Just wonderin’…

Y or Y Not

“Nnnooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!” — me

It seems that an adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan’s popular, critically-acclaimed, dystopian comic book series, Y: The Last Man (DC/Vertigo), has been in development at FX for some time, and I had no idea. How could that happen?!

Originally (2007), New Line bought the rights and had names like David Goyer and D.J. Caruso attached. Caruso wanted to do a three-film saga (which might’ve worked, imho), but he left the project when New Line insisted on a single film. (Bad idea!) They tried again with another group of names, but that fell through when the rights eventually reverted back to Vaughan in 2014, who didn’t like the direction they were taking. When the FX deal was announced in 2015, they had lined up Color Force’s Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson to co-adapt/write with Vaughan. (Vaughan had previously worked on “Lost” and “Under the Dome”.)

“All of the men are dead. But one. Y traverses a world of women — exploring gender, race, class and survival.” — FX’s formal description for the series

Now, they’ve got a showrunner (Michael Green), a newly-signed co-showrunner (Aida Mashaka Croal), a director (Melina Matsoukas), and a fresh, new pilot order. Green, Croal, Matsoukas, Jacobson, Simpson, and Vaughan will all be executive producers.

I quite enjoyed the Y: The Last Man comic series, lo, those many years ago. The premise was intriguing, the title character (semi-pro escape artist Yorick Brown) was a lovable goof, and his little, rascally Capuchin buddy (Ampersand) was cute & funny, too. (Note: It is for “mature audiences”, so a few scenes/elements were a bit uncomfortable for me.) It also had decent storylines and supporting characters, and Pia Guerra’s art was terrific — a perfect fit. Terrific, creative cover art, too. So, when I started to read about this live-action version being made for the small screen, my first thought was an enthusiastic, “Cool!”. But, then I remembered “Runaways”….

“Runaways”, if you don’t remember, is another comic series Vaughan created and wrote a few years ago (but for Marvel). It was recently adapted for the small screen and aired on Hulu. I’m just about finished watching the 10-episode run, but I practically have to force myself. If it was an original series, it would be fine. But, I know the source material (having recently re-read the original 18-issue story arc), and the TV series is such a disappointment. I can understand a few minor tweaks, but there are so many alterations to characters — 2 or 3 missing, others new; others with different ages, physical appearances, “origins”, and/or personality changes –, and the plot is barely recognizable beyond the most basic elements. I keep asking myself how Vaughan could let his creation be so… mangled. But, then I came across this statement:

“These changes are fully supported by Vaughan, who serves as a consultant on the TV series…. [Also,]

‘It was important to me that we do something where people can’t go online and read how this ends or what’s going to happen next.'”

I can certainly understand that concern, but I think they went way too far with the changes on “Runaways”. With that in mind, I kept reading about the “Y: The Last Man” adaptation. Unfortunately, it only got worse, based on Vaughan’s Nov. 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter:

“I wanted to find someone who loved the source material, but didn’t feel so indebted to it that they would be afraid to change it. When [Michael Green] first pitched his take on it to Nina Jacobson, our producer, and me a long time ago, he came in saying he wanted to do something about toxic masculinity. It felt very relevant, and unfortunately I think it’s only become more relevant with each passing day. His take on it was really brave and very different, but exciting as well. I really admire how audacious he’s been with his translation.”

Michael Green at Comic Con

Groan! And, of course (<eyeroll>), it’s Trump’s fault, as Green explained to THR last July:

“It would have been a very different show, and very different development process, had the election not been as horrifying as it was. I had to put the script down for a couple months and really reassess it tonally, because it became a different creature, it became violent protest. It couldn’t not be political, and I had to embrace it, and I had to find my way in, and I had to find a way to channel my own dismay, disappointment and rage into it, while still keeping it what it is. For a minute there I almost walked away.”

“It couldn’t not be political….” Criminy dutch! What a way to ruin a cool idea by feeding into this hysterical, politically-correct, “toxic masculinity” crap! (Can you tell I’m a bit worked up over this?) Fans like me don’t want Green’s “dismay, disappointment and rage” over a political election. We don’t want “very different” and “audacious”, either. We want to see the source material realized with its original tone. That’s what we loved on the page; that’s what we want on the screen. But, Leftist Hollywood rarely gets that, or cares.

At least there was one thing I can get behind regarding Green’s take on it, and it’s something I think my fellow “Babylon 5” fans can appreciate, too….

“‘Whether it is 60, 70 or 80 episodes, I’m gonna pick a number, and I’m gonna stick to it. And I’m gonna write to it. There’s so many brilliant things in that comic, the two biggest are the premise, and the ending.’ He believes Vaughan’s writing ‘toward an ending that he knew’ made the series more ‘meaningful.’ He calls the set length of the series a ‘pact’ with the audience, adding, ‘It will help them to know that we’re ticking down.'”

Obviously, you can do a “last man on Earth” story without resorting to making it a feminist screed. It has been done before. There may even have been a few anti-male jabs in the comic series, but it wasn’t enough to ruin it for me, especially if they were for light comedic effect. So, this “violent protest” of Green’s — with FX’s and Vaughan’s apparent support — has me worried and quite irked, to say the least. I may watch the pilot out of curiosity, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to stomach it for long, if that’s the tone and direction Green’s gonna twist Y into. Sheesh!

A New Era for Valiant Entertainment

Valiant Comics were cool.

Solar, Man of the Atom. X-O Manowar. Bloodshot. Harbinger. Rai. Shadowman. Eternal Warrior. Archer & Armstrong. Etc. Lots of great art and great stories, all in a cohesive universe! They even had a different look and “feel” that set them apart from other comic universes.

“The mainstream titles were becoming overwhelmingly art-driven. We wanted to offer the public something that had been lost, namely well-written, character-driven stories.” — Bob Layton, writer/artist and former Senior V.P. of the original Valiant

Solar #3 (1991)

I remember when Jim Shooter and Steve Massarsky launched the new company in the early 1990s, following a failed attempt to buy Marvel Entertainment. (Well, technically, Voyager Communications was founded in 1989, but the first books under the Valiant Comics imprint came out in 1991.) They began by licensing a couple older characters — Solar, Man of the Atom, and Magnus, Robot Fighter — that were originally published by Gold Key Comics in the 1960s. I never really got into Magnus much, but I loved the god-like Doctor Solar. And the artwork by Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton? Awesome!

The company attracted some talented creators, both new and veteran, and the stable of characters and titles grew. Diamond Comics Distributors named it Publisher of the Year in 1993 and, at some point, Valiant became the third largest comic book company in the world. Shooter was forced out in 1992 and Acclaim Entertainment bought the company in 1994. Of course, Acclaim cancelled a few titles in 1996. Acclaim went bankrupt in 2004, and that’s about when I lost track.

I heard about the new Valiant Entertainment which started up in 2005, but I didn’t realize that it was formed by two mega-fans who bought the old company’s assets. (However, the licensed characters Solar, Magnus, and Turok were not part of the deal.) Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari weren’t even out of college when they put together the winning bid. (Actually, they came in 2nd, but the winner pulled out shortly afterward.) They built up a senior advisory board consisting of several former Marvel people and chaired by former Marvel CEO Peter Cuneo. They enticed Marvel’s Warren Simons to join as Executive Editor and eventually put together a stable of enthusiastic and award-winning creative talent, publishing their first comics — reboots of four of the original characters — in “The Summer of Valiant” in 2012.

“It was abundantly clear to me that these guys had a tremendous love for both the medium and Valiant’s characters. They wanted to build the company with a commitment to compelling stories above all else. As an editor who strives to put out great comics on a monthly basis, this was music to my ears.” — Warren Simons

Of course, remember that I said that Valiant Comics were cool? That’s because I haven’t read any from the last few years, so I can’t judge them from personal experience to say if they still are cool. (I am aware that Quantum & Woody, unfortunately, has become politically-charged, insulting to certain groups, with disappointing art and humor. I don’t know about the other titles.) However, they must be doing something right. The new Valiant proceeded to win Publisher of the Year, set sales records, and was the most nominated publisher in comics at the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Harvey Awards.

When Valiant re-launched in 2012, it was also announced that big-screen films were in development for the Bloodshot and Harbinger properties, with names like director Brett Ratner and producer Neal Moritz attached. Other film projects were announced in the ensuing months. Then, in March 2015, Valiant Entertainment got “an undisclosed nine-figure investment from Chinese entertainment company DMG, the co-producers and co-financiers of Iron Man 3.” The money was earmarked for TV and film development, “which one assumes includes the currently-in-development Shadowman, Bloodshot and Archer & Armstrong.”

“[T]aking a stake in the last independent massive comic universe is a strategic investment for DMG that will produce movies and TV that are both appealing and relevant to a global audience.” — Dan Mintz, CEO of DMG

Bloodshot #2 (2012)

As per comicbook.com’s Russ Burlingame,

“The deal likely means that DMG will co-finance all of the projects and assist with international distribution and exhibition[, including in the huge Chinese market]. DMG and Valiant will also be pursuing Chinese licensing for Valiant properties beyond film in publishing, animation and theme parks, as well as toys and apparel.”

That was three years ago. Now, we come to the latest bit of major news on the Valiant front….

In January of this year, DMG Entertainment went from owning 57% of Valiant Entertainment to owning it all, thereby providing Mintz’s “filmmaker-run studio with a treasure trove of world-class intellectual properties and establish[ing] DMG as one of the most valuable and innovative media companies in Hollywood…. The Valiant acquisition is the latest in a string of high-profile strategic moves from Mintz and DMG, the global entertainment powerhouse valued at more than $6 billion. In addition, the company has continued to expand its purview with new initiatives in intellectual property, virtual reality, e-sports and live attractions based on top-tier global franchises, including Hasbro’s “Transformers.””

“Our priority is to build upon Valiant’s vast universe of characters from a filmmaker’s perspective. I’m excited to immerse Valiant’s fans well beyond the stories we tell cinematically — from publishing to gaming to theme parks and beyond.” — Dan Mintz

According to the Wikipedia summary of the deal, Valiant CEO/CCO Dinesh Shamdasani, COO/CFO Gavin Cuneo, and Chairman Peter Cuneo will transition out of the company, though the first two will continue to serve as consultants. No word, yet, on new management, but presumably Mintz will serve in at least a couple of the top spots. Valiant’s publishing team, however, will remain in place, including Publisher Fred Pierce and Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons.

I have no idea what kind of a reputation Mintz/DMG have as filmmakers or businesspersons. (Iron Man 3 and Looper were good and fairly successful, but not great.) I have to say, though, that this sounds like a fantastic development for the Valiant properties to get the stable financial and creative backing they need to proceed with the TV and film productions — probably more. Mintz sure sounds enthusiastic, and I hope he is as driven to make quality, story-driven productions with these characters as everyone from Shooter & Layton to  Shamdasani et al. have been. I hope-n-pray that the film/TV adaptations stay faithful to the comic sources, so that longtime fans can enjoy the original characters they… we… grew to love. And, of course, it would be nice if the comics themselves continue to be well-written and entertaining (and hopefully not objectionable) for all.

Pokemon Battle Tree Strategy

It’s Pokemon stuff, so it must be an Evan Minton guest-post. What more do you need to know? Read, gamers, read!


Pokemon Battle Tree Strategy

by Evan Minton

Ever since Pokemon Crystal, the Pokemon mainstream games have always had a battle facility that you could take on after getting all the gym badges and becoming Pokemon League Champion. Crystal had the Battle Tower, Emerald had the Battle Frontier, Platinum also had a Battle Frontier, Black/White had the Battle Subway, Black2/White2 had the Pokemon World Championships, and X/Y had The Battle Maison. Each of these facilities is designed to be extremely difficult and require you to play competitively (i.e., breed for perfect IVs, EV train, and focus heavily on strategies). Casual Players have no chance of succeeding in these facilities.

In Sun and Moon and in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, the facility is called The Battle Tree. My goal in The Battle Maison was to get 50 wins in the four battle formats available, Super Singles, Super Doubles, Super Triples, and Super Rotations. My goal was to beat 49 trainers and defeat each of the Chatelaine sisters. My Goal in the Battle Tree was to get 50 wins in the 3 formats available; Super Singles, Super Doubles, and Super Multis. Doing this would introduce a special stamp on my Trainer Passport for beating that portion of The Battle Tree. Unfortunately, I haven’t succeeded yet. That said, I have come closer than I ever have before. I got 39 straight wins in The Battle Tree in Pokemon Sun using a specific team that others have used and have gotten all the way to 50 with. I believe that this team is probably my best chance and your best chance of getting 50 wins in the Battle Tree’s Super Singles format.

The Pokemon

First things first. In order to get 50 wins in The Battle Tree, you’re going to need the best team possible. Now, this isn’t to say that this is the only team you can use. After all, if you scower YouTube Battle Tree videos, others have had immense success with teams different from this one. However, this is the team that I have found works best for me, and it’s the one that got me the closest to my goals. Why didn’t I go all the way to 50, then, you might ask? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Mega Salamence is the first Pokemon you’ll want to get. This guy is a massively powerful sweeper. You’ll want your Salamence to have a Jolly Nature because that’s the nature that boosts the Speed stat, and you want your Salamence to be as fast as possible. My Salamence outspeeds the majority of Pokemon in the Battle Tree. As I’ll say below, there are some Pokemon that outspeed Mega Salamence such as Mega Gengar and Mega Alakazam, but 9 out of 10 times, you’ll be going first. So, for maximum speed, make sure the Salamence you breed or Pokegen is a Jolly Nature and has 252 Speed EVs. Mega Salamence is a physical attacker, so you’ll want to EV train it to 252 speed EVs. When it mega evolves, its ability is Aerilate, which changes all Normal type moves into flying type moves. Double Edge hits super hard because it has a base power of 120, plus it gets a STAB boost. As iStarlyTV put it, it’s equivalent to Brave Bird. The downside is that Mega Salamence takes a lot of recoil damage, so you can only use this move two to three times before Mega Salamence faints. Of course, that’s not TOO bad as this move hits so hard that you’ll be getting one hit KOs most of the time. Usually by the second Double Edge, my opponent has been down to their last Pokemon.

Earthquake is on this moveset because it’s really powerful, and it can deal with Pokemon that resist Double Edge. Flamethrower is important for this set because there are Pokemon that you’ll encounter in The Battle Tree such as Skarmory and Bronzong who (1) resist damage from Double Edge and (2) take no damage at all from Earthquake. Flamethrower will do super effective damage on those Pokemon and you’ll be able to take them out. Of course, you’re free to replace it with Fire Fang or any other damaging Fire Type move. The important thing is that you have a fire type move in the slot that can deal with those pesky Skarmory and Bronzongs.

Dragon Claw and Flamethrower are backup moves used when you encounter dragons and floating/flying Steel types, but the primary and most important moves on this set are Double Edge and Earthquake.

Now, some have put Dragon Dance and Return in this slot, which is pretty good too. Return is a pretty strong move in general if your Pokemon has maximum friendship with you, and given the Aerilate ability, you get a STAB boost, but unfortunately, if you don’t run Dragon Dance, Return won’t do as much damage as Double Edge. I prefer not to set up if I can avoid it, as you give your opponent a free turn to hit you and do only The Lord knows what.

You can lead with this Pokemon if you want to, however, I have found that Kartana (who I’ll introduce in a moment) isn’t a very good Pokemon to switch into because you could get hit by a special attack that it can’t handle, so I have typically found it more beneficial to have Makani as my backup sweeper.

Kartana is an Ultra Beast that you can catch in the postgame of Pokemon Sun. You’ll need a Jolly Nature, and maximize its Attack and Speed EVs. Make sure it has 31 IVs in the Attack, Speed, and Defense stats. Pokemon Sun is programmed to ensure that at least 3 of the Ultra Beasts’ stats are up to 31. These are the ones that count. So you’ll need to soft-reset your game until you get one with this nature and EVs. If you don’t get the right IVs, you can level it up to 100 and Hyper Train those stats at Hau’oli City’s mall, however, grinding to level 100 takes a LOOOOONG time. You’d be better off simply soft-resetting.

This Pokemon sweeps so well because of 4 things. First of all, it has a high base attack stat anyway, and secondly, you’ve EV trained it. Thirdly, it has the hold item: Life Orb. Life Orb boosts the attack power of a Pokemon but takes a tiny bit of its HP each turn. Finally, every time Kartana knocks an opponent out, it’s ability Beast Boost activates and raises its attack stat. So if you take an opponent out, Beast Boost activates and that makes it all the more likely that you’ll be able to one-shot the next Pokemon to come out. Take out that Pokemon, and the third Pokemon is going to take EVEN MORE damage!

Leaf Blade gets the STAB boost since Kartana is a grass type. So with everything I mentioned above, you can do some major damage with this guy. Think of this: A STAB boosted, Life Orb boosted, 2X Beast Boosted Leaf Blade! MAJOR DAMAGE! And if the Pokemon is weak to grass type moves, it does even more damage.

Sacred Sword is good for taking out Steel, Rock, and Normal type Pokemon.

Smart Strike is a move that never misses. You will find that some Pokemon will spam evasion moves like Double Team and Minimize. If this happens, you can just spam Smart Strike. No matter how high the evasiveness of your opponent’s Pokemon is, Smart Strike will always hit.

Night Slash is on here because it rounds out the coverage very well. Also, this move has a high critical hit ratio. This means you can do major damage, especially if you’ve gotten a couple of Beast Boosts up.

Toxapex is your defensive wall. Baneful Bunker is Toxapex’s exclusive move. It does the same thing as protect, except that if the opponent physically strikes Toxapex while it’s using it, they’ll get poisoned, so it’s a nice added effect.

Toxic is extremely important because Toxapex isn’t very strong. It’s extremely bulky though. That’s its strength; it’s a defensive wall. The purpose of having this Pokemon on your team is to have one that can take hits insanely well. The strategy is to use Toxic, and then use Baneful Bunker and Recover every other turn. Toxic’s damage increases with each and every turn. Using Baneful Bunker every other turn, you can keep your opponent from doing any damage to you, and any damage that they DO inflict, you can get rid of with Recover.

Recover helps stall out the effects of Toxic for even longer.

Toxic won’t work on Poison type Pokemon like Tentacruel, however. In that case, you’ll want to burn it with Scald. The BURN status will chip a little bit of the opponent’s HP away every turn. The damage won’t increase with every turn unlike Toxic, though. This is what I call Burn stalling. Additionally, the Burn status cuts the Attack power in half, meaning that Toxapex will take even less damage provided that the opponent relies on that stat.

Know Your Enemy

I think the reason I couldn’t get all the way to 50 is that I was focusing solely on MY Pokemon and whether we were at a type disadvantage. Having the right Pokemon is only part of the equation, however. You also need to focus heavily on your opponent’s Pokemon and what strategies they intend on using.

Austin John, on his YouTube Video about The Battle Tree, said that the Battle Tree trainers have specific and set strategies that they intend on using. Unlike real human beings, they won’t be anticipating your every move. For example, if one is running a Gengar with Hypnosis and Dream Eater, the chances are that the strategy this Trainer is going to use is (1) put your Pokemon to sleep with Hypnosis, and (2) spam Dream Eater for damage. John said that he saw a video where the Pokemon had the Insomnia ability (an ability that prevents the Pokemon from being put to sleep), and yet the opponent kept using Hypnosis over and over and over, even though it clearly wasn’t going to work. So if you can analyze The Battle Tree’s trainers, their Pokemon, and the strategies they’re likely to use, your chances of beating them will be higher.

How can you do this? Hackers have data mined the Pokemon Sun and Moon and Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon games and made an online database that shows you all of the trainers you will encounter, what Pokemon they will be using, what items those Pokemon will be holding, and what attacks they will have in their movesets. When you run into, say, “Backpacker Julia” or whoever, just lookup that Trainer’s name in the moveset and their team will be exposed to you. The strategies themselves aren’t listed in the database, you’ll have to use your own discernment for that. What I mean by that is that, if you see that the trainer has an Alolan Muk and this Muk has Minimize, Rest, and Snarl in its movepool, then you can infer that this Muk is very likely meant to be a defensive wall. It’s meant to use Minimize a bunch of times to keep any of your attacks from hitting, and Rest in order to undo any damage you DO happen to inflict on it. Just knowing what moves your opponent’s Pokemon has can give you some idea of how they plan on using them.

Analyze the Pokemon and their movesets, get familiar with the strategies, and battle accordingly. Serebii.net has the database for UltraSun and UltraMoon’s Battle Tree trainers here: https://www.serebii.net/ultrasunultramoon/battletree.shtml

Biggest Threats To This Team

Weaviles with Taunt

You cannot Toxic Stall a Weavile that knows Taunt. For one thing, Weavile is faster than Toxapex and will always move first. Weaviles that know Taunt will use Taunt most likely on the first turn. Why is this bad? Because Taunt prevents a Pokemon from using any moves that don’t deal out damage. This means you can only use Scald, nothing else. You can’t use Toxic. You can’t use Baneful Bunker. You can’t use Recover. You can only use Scald. This wouldn’t be too bad if Toxapex’s Special Attack wasn’t so insanely low. Scald isn’t a sucky move when you run it on Pokemon like Araquanid or Pelliper, who have decent Special Attack stats. But with Toxapex, it does puny damage. This means you’ll only be chipping away at Weavile’s HP slowly, and if Weavile has any HP recovering items like Leftovers, you’re pretty much done for. You’re done for if Toxapex is your last Pokemon, but you might be able to beat it with Mega Salamence or Kartana. Unfortunately, Mega Salamence is 4X weak to ice type moves and faints to them nearly every time, so switching into it could be very risky. If you can get Kartana onto the field and have it use a super effective Sacred Sword once or twice, that would be better.

Milotics With Rest

Some of the Battle Tree trainers (particularly Cynthia) have Milotics. Milotics are a big threat to this team because Mega Salamence is 4 times weak to ice type moves, and most Milotics know either Blizzard or Ice Beam. Secondly, Cynthia’s Milotic in particular could have Rest in its moveset or Recover. If it’s got Recover, that’s better than Rest. Why? Because if Milotic has Recover in its moveset, you can switch into Toxapex and Toxic Stall it. It’ll take longer than most Toxic Stall battles because Recover will recover a good bit of Milotic’s HP, but you’ll get there eventually. However, if it has Rest, you can’t Toxic Stall it. Rest not only restores lost HP, but it also gets rid of the Poison status. Meaning that you’ll have to use Toxic and poison it again. Unfortunately, as soon as Milotic’s HP is down, it’ll use Rest, get rid of the Toxic, and you’ll be back to square one. Additionally, since Toxic’s gradual damage increases every turn, when the Poison status is cured, if you manage to Toxic it again, it’ll take off a very tiny amount of HP. Your best bet is to Leaf Blade Milotic with Kartana, but your best bet is to just wait for your current Pokemon to faint before switching into Kartana. Kartana has a VERY low Special Defense stat, and therefore any special attacking moves (e.g., Hydro Pump, Blizzard, Ice Beam) will likely take it out in one hit. Kartana can outspeed Milotic, so it will move first, but you don’t want to give Milotic the chance to attack at all. You want Kartana on the field, and you want to hopefully land a one hit KO Leaf Blade.

Mega Gengar

This team has served me well. When I played through Super Singles on Pokemon Sun version, I got a 39 win streak. Unfortunately, it ended when I faced Plumeria on Battle Number 40. Plumeria’s first Pokemon was Gengar, whom she Mega Evolved on the first turn. Mega Gengar’s Sludge Bomb did a lot of damage to my Mega Salamence and Kartana. What’s worse is that each turn, Plumeria’s Mega Gengar would always attack first because it had a higher speed stat then my entire team! If I recall, the Pokemon Battle Tree’s database (see below) said that her Mega Gengar’s speed stat was 200! Now, Toxapex could have handled Mega Gengar, I think. I had just switched out Toxapex for Tapu Fini (BIG mistake!). Toxapex, being a poison type herself, could have resisted Sludge Bomb and any other poison type moves thrown at it. Additionally, since it was designed to be a defensive wall, it wouldn’t have taken much damage from physical or special attacks anyway, and any damage it did take could have been recovered with both Leftovers and the move Recover. Given that Gengar is a Ghost/Poison type Pokemon, it cannot be poisoned. You cannot poison a poison type Pokemon. That said, I could have Burn Stalled it. I could have burned it with Scald, then spammed Baneful Bunker and Recover until Mega Gengar finally fainted.

However, while Toxapex could have triumphed over Plumeria’s Mega Gengar, other Gengars that you’ll encounter in The Battle Tree won’t be the same way. Many Gengars run a Hypnosis/Dream Eater combo strategy. Dream Eater is a psychic type move and is super effective on poison types like Toxapex. If you face these types of Gengars, then you’ll want to take them out quickly with a super effective Life Orb boosted Night Slash from Kartana. Don’t count on a super effective Earthquake from Mega Salamence as Gengar’s ability is Levitate which makes all Ground type moves useless against it. However, you can still Double Edge/Return it, given that Mega Salamence’s Aerilate ability turns Normal type moves into flying type moves.

Conclusion

I hope you use this team and succeed in Super Singles. Others have and have gotten 50 wins. Hopefully you and I will, too.

Well, all I can say is that I’ve been Super Single waaay too long….

Time Lord Santa?

Our friend and fellow-blogger Evan came to me this week with another fan theory he was eager to share, and it has nothing to do with Pokemon! (I know, right?!) In fact, it’s connected to Doctor Who, of all things. It was quite fortunate, too, ‘cuz unforeseen circumstances ate up lots of time (is that a pun?) that I had counted on to work on a fan-casting post. Normally, I would have saved Evan’s guest-post for closer to Christmas (for obvious reasons), but I’m happy to present it this week instead.

“Is Santa Claus a Time Lord?: A Doctor Who Fan Theory”

by Evan Minton

Santa Claus made an appearance in Season 8’s Christmas Special (of the modern series) called “Last Christmas” to aid The Doctor, Clara, and a group of supposed scientists defeat a group of face-hugging, dream-inducing alien creatures. The Doctor theorized that he was a production of their subconscious minds trying to free them from the dream-induced state that was killing them (since the whole North Pole base they were in was a product of the collective dreams of the “scientists”). But what if The Doctor’s hypothesis was wrong? What if Santa is real (in The Doctor Who universe) and he was actually helping out. The end of the episode certainly seemed to subtly imply that Santa was more than a figment of their imagination when the final scene showed a tangerine in Clara’s window. [Ed.: I’m assuming that a tangerine has some significance to the plot, ‘cuz I’ve never heard of a magical “Christmas tangerine”.]

But if Santa actually exists in the Whoniverse, then how do we explain puzzling aspects of his job? How does he get all the toys traveled to all of the children all over the world in a single night? How does he even have enough toys to give to millions of children in that tiny little sleigh of his? Moreover, how has Santa endured through centuries? All of these questions can be answered if the following hypothesis is true: Santa Claus is a Time Lord.

The Sleigh Is A T.A.R.D.I.S

T.A.R.D.I.Ses are well known for being “bigger on the inside than they are on the outside”. Santa could own a special T.A.R.D.I.S large enough to house enough toys to satisfy the world’s children. It could be as big as 100,000 warehouses, but only on the inside, of course. On the outside, it looks like your average run-of-the-mill sleigh. Santa’s T.A.R.D.I.S has maintained the appearance of a sleigh for centuries? Why? Probably for the same reason The Doctor’s T.A.R.D.I.S looks like a 1960s police box wherever and whenever he goes: the disguise mechanism is busted.

Santa’s sleigh being a T.A.R.D.I.S would not only explain how he can deliver so many toys, but also how he can get them all to their designated houses in one night. Santa can simply teleport to different locations in space, but have the T.A.R.D.I.S set to the exact same moment in time. This would give the appearance of every house in the world having a sleigh on the roof simultaneously. If Santa is a Time Lord and the sleigh is his T.A.R.D.I.S, then he can deliver all of the toys not only in a single night, but in a single moment! That’s the beauty of a space ship also doubling as a time machine.

He’s Lived For So Long Because He Keeps Regenerating

The reason Santa’s endured through the centuries is that he just keeps regenerating. Whenever his body gives out, he regenerates, just as Doctor Number 1 regenerated when he got too old. Unlike The Doctor, who mostly regenerates because he gets fatally injured (e.g., a Cyberman’s laser beam to the chest), Santa is rarely in harm’s way, so whenever he regenerates, it’s simply due to old age. This would also explain why Santa has been depicted as both a white man and a black man. Time Lords can change age, race, and even gender upon regenerations. So some of Santa’s regenerations being white and others being black is unsurprising, and it also explains why those who may have seen him have depicted him as such.

Why Does He Do What He Does?

One must wonder why Santa does what he does. If he’s a Time Lord, why doesn’t he simply explore space and time rather than confine himself to one planet and use his T.A.R.D.I.S for nothing more than to give away toys for free? Simply because he has a heart of gold. He uses his alien resources to bring joy to millions just as The Doctor uses his to save the cosmos from evil, chaos, and destruction.

Conclusion

What do you think of this fan theory of mine? Do you think it holds up?

After reading Evan’s theory, I sent him the following:

“Question: In this scenario, other than programming the T.A.R.D.I.S, is Santa personally involved in the delivery of gifts (i.e., going down chimneys, placing gifts in stockings and under trees, eating cookies)? (That would seem exhausting and monotonous, though that is a critique of the myth, not of your theory.) Or, once over each house, extremely fine-tuned teleportation coordinates can be calculated and then the gifts are “beamed” into their rightful places?”

His response:

“That’s a good question. I don’t know. I suppose if Santa is a Time Lord, he could have gotten some alien tech that would have allowed him to beam the presents into the house. This could also account for why so few children have ever successfully seen him, despite trying to.”

Works for me. Feel free to posit your own speculations in the comments below….

Of course, I realize that Evan isn’t the first person to think along these lines. And, as I understand it, the idea of Santa operating in the Whoniverse has been explored in comic and short-story form, too, though I think he is still assumed to be human. Regardless, I think this is a fun fan theory!

One o’ these days, I may have to check out this Doctor fella. Wait, he isn’t a “fella” in his latest regeneration, right? Sheesh!