Weeknote 5 – Stuff, comics, superheroes, and other nonsense

Crap TV. Comics. Odd times.

Work

We’re at a stage in the project at work where it’s more about figuring out how best to do a thing. We’ve done the bit where we worked out what to do next. And the bit where we figure out the why is ongoing, as always.

For me, while the how is always entertaining and engaging, a regular reassessment of the why and what for is what drives the design and structure of the project.

Unfortunately and fortunately—it’s both a blessing and a curse—as a not-for-profit we are less driven by economic and market concerns than other tech companies. This means we have a tendency to embark on projects primarily for the value we think they will contribute to society and then try to figure out how to make it work financially while we’re working on it.

A bit like refuelling an airplane while it’s still in the air.

This is more common among tech startups than you’d think, unusually common considering that most of them are supposed to be for-profit enterprises and not the kind of hippy-drippy ‘let’s make the world better’ outfits like the Rebus Foundation. But the ‘make it first, then figure out how to make it pay’ is a thing we do in tech and it stresses me out whenever I’m involved in it, no matter how pure the motivation is.

I think that what we’re working on could be really cool. If nobody’s willing to pay for it, so be it, but the sooner we can test that hypothesis the happier I’ll be.

Reading and TV

I’ve been catching up on my comics reading. I finally got around to finishing the Valérian and Laureline series. It’s an amazing body of work that spans almost fifty years and has over the past decade become one of my favourite pieces of comics sci-fi.

It’s flawed, inevitably so as it is a series created over the course of several decades and numerous cultural and social changes. But it’s also surprisingly consistent and one of the most visually imaginative comics series I’ve ever read of any genre.

I also read Jacques Tardi’s Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge. Tardi is one of the great comics stylists of our time but his storytelling can be uneven at times. Still worth reading, the story just doesn’t hold its own against the illustration.

Almost accidentally, I also ended up watching the second season of Amazon’s The Tick. It’s short, so it didn’t take long. It wasn’t exactly boring—certainly a step up from watching random Youtube recs—but it’s rare to see a series that is this sincere and focused on a single clear idea but still fails so utterly at expressing that idea. It kind of has to be seen to be believed. If you don’t mind being a bit bored while you’re believing.

The Tick is a series that understands that superheroes are a fundamentally ridiculous concept that falls apart at the slightest prodding. It thinks that this is funny. Endlessly funny. Repetitively so. Again and again. The same joke. Look how silly superheroes are. Very funny.

It isn’t funny because it fails to understand that being allowed to be ridiculous is the genre’s strongest asset. By building on a patently absurd premise, it can ask the reader to suspend disbelief about the world-building to an almost infinite degree. It lets the story focus on everything else without wasting any energy on keeping the world it inhabits consistent. Most successful superhero stories are more than aware of their own inherent ridiculousness. Some of them even exaggerate it into the sublime.

The Tick thinks that presenting common superhero concepts with a straight face is equivalent to parodying them. In the process it delivers a middling superhero series full of one-note performances. The first season was almost good with a solid core idea and a few good performances. The second season, on the other hand, doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up and, as a compromise, settled on not being particularly funny.

Captain Marvel

Like I said last week, I saw Captain Marvel and enjoyed it quite a bit. The short version: it’s a ‘buddy cop’ style movie that teams up an amnesiac, wise-cracking badass woman with a hard-edged, equally wise-cracking investigator and together they solve the mystery of her past and save a bunch of people in the process.

I enjoyed it even more than most critics did who for the most part seem to think of it as a middling, but well made, Marvel movie. On a rung above Thor: Dark World but not that many rungs.

Then again, I really really enjoyed The Long Kiss Goodnight. I even saw it in the cinema when it first came out. The Long Kiss Goodnight, if you don’t know it is a ‘buddy cop’ movie teaming an amnesiac, wise-cracking badass woman up with a hard-edged, equally wise-cracking investigator and together they solve the mystery of her past and save a bunch of people in the process. The badass is played by Geena Davis and, like Captain Marvel, it has Samuel L. Jackson (90s edition) as the investigator. It’s one of my favourite 90s action movies but it kind of flopped at the time so it’s nice to see the same idea improved upon and better executed this time around.

That Captain Marvel is rehashing a familiar storyline and relying on familiar tropes isn’t a flaw in my book. It’s the first superhero movie I’ve seen that does the buddy cop dynamic well, and it does it consistently through the movie. Which was aided in no small part by Samuel L. Jackson’s expertise in the buddy cop genre.

Superhero stories work infinitely better when they are coupled with a strong sense of humour. Hollywood seems to have figured this out and, unlike Amazon (see above), they realise you can’t just put superheroes on the screen and expect people to laugh at them. You have to actually be funny. Hopefully, Captain Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok, Deadpool, and Shazam are the start of a shift away from the grey seriousness that has kind of dominated superhero movies so far.

(No matter how much you like the Russo’s Marvel movies you can’t accuse them of having a strong sense of humour. They are an exciting and dramatic portrait of superheroics painted largely in grey tones and dark ink washes—a world where even the jokes feel a bit grey, sardonic, and somewhat detached. I’m glad we’re starting to see more colour seep in at the edges of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)

Photography

Took a few photos but haven’t had a chance to process them.