Y’all know Gladiator, that awesome flick from 2000 that was mostly ahistorical but still an excellent story.
Well starting in 2013 it became a Secondhand Superhero candidate, and last year it fulfilled the minimum threshold of 4 actors.
Russell Crowe as Maximus (Jor-El)
In 2013, Crowe played the father of Superman in Man of Steel.
Djimon Hounsou as Juba (Korath the Pursuer/Wizard)
Hounsou actually has a foot in each major comic universe, as he was a hunter in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)/Captain Marvel (2019) and a powerful wizard in Shazam! (2019).
Connie Nielsen as Lucilla (Hippolyta)
Nielsen was Diana’s mother in Wonder Woman (2017).
Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus (The Joker)
Phoenix earned himself an Oscar for playing Batman’s most formidable villain.
There’s one last actor who deserves a shout-out: Spencer Treat Clark, who played young Lucius. He also played Baron Von Strucker’s son on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but I felt like I was reaching with that one.
Then again, I used Lois & Clark as a qualifier, so maybe that’s ok.
Last week I watched Knives Out with the DreadWife. Fun movie, gets a little bogged down in overthinking itself, and the lefty stuff was way heavy-handed, but the acting was great and the mystery was well-done.
A few days later I dug into the cast on iMDB and realized that it meets the threshold for a Secondhand Superhero flick. Most times I prefer a movie to have four actors in it that played in superhero movies. Other times I make exceptions.
The best example is Stardust, which has Superman, Catwoman, Daredevil, and Sinestro in it. An example of a reach is Star Trek: First Contact which features Professor X, Dum Dum Doogan, a minor character from Captain America: Civil War, and a nameless scientist from Thor: The Dark World.
Knives Out isn’t as much of a reach, but it’s not so clear-cut either. Here’s what we’ve got:
Chris Evans as Ransom Drysdale (Captain America)
While the movie doesn’t have an obvious main character, he’s one of the top three.
Michael Shannon as Walt Thrombey (General Zod)
Walt is in the second tier of characters for this ensemble film.
Katherine Langford as Meg Thrombey (Morgan Stark)
This is where we start to reach, because Langford’s only appearance in the MCU comes from a deleted scene in Avengers: Endgame right after Tony snaps Thanos. She plays an older version of his then-young daughter.
K Callan as Wanetta Thrombey (Martha Kent)
And the biggest reach of them all is K Callan, who plays a woman of indeterminate age (though she would have to be in excess of 100 years old.) Callan played Martha Kent on Lois & Clark, the Superman TV show in the 90s.
Bonus points for having Martha Kent be General Zod’s grandmother.
Anyway, we’re just getting deeper into the rabbit hole, proving that everyone in Hollywood is attached to a superhero project in one way or another. This game is more fun than the Kevin Bacon one.
Hello, DreadHeads. The newest Dresden Files novel dropped today, after five years without a full-length adventure in magical Chicago. We’ll get another one in September, so Butcher is rewarding our patience.
I’m about a third of the way through PEACE TALKS and I love returning to familiar ground. That got me thinking about why we enjoy series books as readers, and I have some ideas:
5: Large-scale escapism
Series books that are well-developed tend to give us a huge world where our imaginations can run free. This very real itch is what online RPGs scratch at in the human psyche. Even with their costs and dangers, we prefer them to our own reality, and vacations there are cheap.
Harry Dresden’s apartment, Hogwarts, the Millennium Falcon, these are all great examples. Bonus points if the world has abundant foods that you can recreate. You then get to hold a real piece of this fake place in your hand.
4: The progress of a character
The weak become strong, the ugly turn beautiful, the poor become wealthy…but most important, fools gain wisdom and they learn from their mistakes.
You know. All the stuff that real people never do.
3: The progress of a world
Hunger Games does this one well with regard to the setting as a character. I think in general we are excited by changes in our surroundings and those changes are a lot cheaper to render in a fictional landscape.
This point is connected to the next one, which is…
2: Flipping over stones
Perpendicular to “changing the world” is “exploring the world.” Dresden spends a dozen years in Chicago before he dies and has to navigate the ghost world version beneath it. Then he goes to an island on Lake Michigan, where he learns about monsters from beyond reality. There it’s always something to discover, and with a series you get to see something new all the time.
A point that dovetails nicely into…
1: Delightful anticipation
Don’t you love having something new to look forward to? I do. And while it’s nice to see how a long story comes together in the end, the journey is a long, joyful walk that doesn’t require us to rush.
Me and the homies broke into the Disney Vault over the weekend to liberate a copy of Song of the South. Here’s what you need to know:
This movie is one of those mixes of animating and live action. If you’ve ever heard stories about Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch, then you’re familiar with the cartoon characters that make up half the movie. The stories of Brer Rabbit were written by Joel Chandler Harris in the late 1800s.
Harris was born in Georgia and was only 13 when the Civil War broke out, so his formative years were steeped in the conflict of ending slavery in this country. Small wonder then that he would go on to write stories about how happy people were in the post-war South, especially considering the improved conditions for black people.
Yes, yes, there was still a lot of headway to be made on that front, calm yourselves. They weren’t exactly living in the same mansions as white folks. They were no longer property though, and their quality of life was improving every year.
Naturally he wanted to reflect that in his writings, and so the character of Uncle Remus came to dominate his pages.
Now, I’ve gotten my hands on some of Harris’ books, and they haven’t aged well. He does that thing that writers are told not to do when it comes to dialects and accents: he writes phonetically, to the point where it tires the eyes as you try to read it. I didn’t make it to even the 5% mark on one.
Apparently that wasn’t a problem in the 1940s though, because Disney still thought there was enough value in the property for them to make a movie out of it. James Baskett (above) won an Academy award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus, and the song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” also won an Academy award.
This is all kind of interesting when you consider the timeline. The 1940s were only 80 years after the 1860s, so there were still people (although few in in number) who had lived through the Civil War. Plenty of the older generation in the 40s had grown up with parents who saw it all up close.
It’s kind of like 2020’s relationship with World War Two, which is fast approaching the 80-year mark in historical distance. My grandfather fought in WW2, but he was 90 when he died in 2015. In the national conscience it still seems to feel kind of recent, though. The fingerprints are still fresh on the present day.
That being the case, Song of the South was a mark of ideological progress in its day, the kind of progress that tends to jump ahead of itself, look behind at its wake, and say “I’m embarrassed of all that road behind me.”
Disney has all but been outright ashamed of it in the intervening decades. They never released it for home media in the US. They did, in the late 80s, build the Splash Mountain ride around a Brer Rabbit theme at Disneyland, because those animations had remained popular. But they adamantly refused to give Song of the South any more place in their lexicon of entertainment.
There are a lot of things I could say about this, but they’re best left in the capable hands of Disney historian Jim Korkis. He covers it in this book:
My favorite part of this book was actually the forward, written by animator Floyd Norman, whose career has run from 1959 to to the present. He’s my grandma’s age and his career is as old as my mom. This dude is living history, and he has a lot of things to say in defense of Song of the South.
Also he’s a black dude. I’d love to sit in a room with this gent and listen to his stories. Fortunately it looks like he’s written a lot of books, and I want to get to them.
Back on track though: the movie itself takes place in the Reconstruction Era, which is important to understand because a common criticism is that it depicts “happy slaves.” While the demeanor displayed by the white characters toward the black characters wouldn’t fly today, it was a far cry from the master-slave relationship that blacks were forced into for so long before that.
I’m not going to sit here and pick apart every criticism of it though, because that would be tiresome and a waste of time. The most frequent attack leveled against Song of the South, the attack that has kept it locked in the vault for decades, is that it is racist (a term that loses a little more of its meaning every day based out how people throw it around.)
No, the main problems with Song of the South have more to do with the fact that it is 1) poorly constructed, and 2) boring.
Johnny, the main character, has to stay at his grandma’s plantation with his mom. His dad has to go back to Atlanta for undisclosed reasons. All we know is that he’s writing things in the newspaper and people are pissed off about it. His departure makes Johnny sad.
Johnny finds new friends on the farm though, including a white girl named Ginny and a black boy named Toby. They hang out with Uncle Remus and listen to his stories. That’s…pretty much it, for a while. Eventually Johnny sneaking off to chill with Uncle Remus makes his controlling mother sad, and she tells Johnny not to see Remus anymore.
Blah blah blah, Remus goes to leave the plantation, Johnny takes a shortcut through a bull pen to stop him, a bull tramples him, he almost dies, but Remus comes back to tell Johnny another story and he survives. Johnny’s controlling mother lightens up, and his dad comes back from Atlanta, the end. Remus walks into an animated sunset with all manner of cartoon critters hanging around him.
If that sounds kind of flat, the on-screen execution is a little flatter. Don’t get me wrong, the set pieces are beautiful, the animation is fine, and Uncle Remus has a warm and friendly demeanor. The in-between scenes are just kind of devoid of life and make it a chore to watch. Set this movie in any time period with any cast and you’d have the same problem.
Which is a shame, because there’s a lot you could do with the source material. Too bad Disney will never reboot this and do it better. They’re trying to make more hay out of their “cash cow” animated flicks. They’re even replacing the Brer Rabbit stuff at Splash Mountain with a Princess and the Frog theme.
At the end of the day…eh. I know where to get a copy of the movie, I’m not a hundred percent sure it was worth the excursion into the vault, but if Disney ultimately doesn’t want me to own it, that’s enough reason to get my hands on one.
This week episode 9 of “Welcome to the Faro” went live. It’s the 2nd of a 3-episode arc that covers my time in Tarragona, the hardest stretch of my mission.
Subscribe on Apple Podcasts here, or look it up on your preferred podcast app. As of right now almost 20 episodes are recorded, and it will have 25 in all.
The Brother Trucker Book Club Podcast comes back this month as well, airing weekly on Wednesdays.
I have two semi-finished drafts of different books, HOMEWORLD and FOOL’S SILVER. Right now I’m reading the former to my wife, and her feedback is helping to tighten it up. She’s been really supportive of my storytelling, going all the way back to our dating days 10 years ago.
When I can, I pick at WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE too. I’m not in as much of a rush with that one, but I don’t want to dawdle either, as it needs work.
Still drawing every day over on Instagram, and I finished the rough inkwork for the WAC cover (above). Digital art is similar to traditional, different in a few ways, and really crisp overall. I quite like it.
The Reading (and the Watching…)
I’ve been getting more DVDs from the library for background noise, Turn is a really interesting show, if historically inaccurate in spots. Par for the course with the genre, I’m liking it for the most part, it’s just too horny sometimes.
There’s an old flick from the 50s on Disney+ that I started to watch and it mentions the novel JOHNNY TREMAIN by Esther Forbes, which I never read. Grabbed an audio copy of it from the library, and I will read it this month along with BUNKER HILL.
My wife has a subscription to some online workouts that I like so far. Intense stuff but the results are really great. My back is popping a lot more, haha.
I also did over 2,000 pushups in June. So that feels pretty good.
I have to keep reminding myself not to surrender to malaise, there’s just a lot of it going around. Everything is a matter of perspective though. Maybe I haven’t been tried hard enough or in the right ways. God knows what He’s doing.
Chin up kiddos, the best month of the summer is now upon us. Get back to work.
Over the last few weeks I have rewatched Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, the last two good movies in the Pirates series.
Parallel to my study of John Truby’s “The Anatomy of Story,” I couldn’t help building a character web in my head so as to chart the collision of motivations each character brought to the table.
In doing so, I realized who the most important character was as far as these two movies go. It’s not Will, it’s not Elizabeth, it’s not Barbossa. It’s not even Jack.
It’s Tia Dalma.
Every other character ties to her more than anyone else. How?
Well, remember that she is not just some shack-dwelling Obeah priestess on the isle of Pelegosto; she’s literally the goddess of the sea, Calypso, bound in human form. Davy Jones fell in love with her, she broke his heart, he sold her out to the Pirate Lords.
This happened a long time ago, and all we know of the method is that it involved creating nine talismans (the fake pieces of eight) to entrap her. These were handed down to different pirate lords until two of them ended up with Barbossa and Jack Sparrow.
Everything that happens across the first 3 movies webs outward from this event, and ties the characters together.
Barbossa: he was resurrected by Tia Dalma, and wanted to stay alive. To placate her, he needed to rescue Jack and find an answer to the Davy Jones/East India Company problem.
Davy Jones: he was cursed by Calypso/Tia Dalma, as a result of his dereliction of duty to ferry souls to the afterlife.
Lord Beckett: he had found a weakness in Jones’ curse and exploited it for power in the Caribbean.
Will: This one is a few steps removed, but saving his father from Davy Jones is directly related to Jones’ relation with Tia Dalma. This also forces him to make choices with regard to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: while the writing on her character was a bit of a mess, her choices are again a few strands removed from Tia Dalma, but still tied to her. Beckett wants Jones’ heart so he can have power in the Caribbean, and to get it, he leverages Will and Elizabeth so he can corner Jack.
But it isn’t Jack that he wants, it’s his compass. Which, as we learn from Dead Man’s Chest, *was a gift from Tia Dalma.* If you want power in the Caribbean, you have to go through the sea goddess.
Even the Brethren Court convened in order to release her, and change their way of operation. They had bound the sea goddess for themselves, but it also allowed in the EITC, so they figured eh, we’ll just work hard and create a meritocracy because we don’t think this corporation can hack it when it comes to hard work.
The more I think about it, the stronger the analysis confirms the theory. Pirates of the Caribbean has a strong character web, and at the center of it all is the source of all sea power, Tia Dalma.
Even when her powers were limited, she could still flex. Once she was in Davy Jones’ locker, it was she who dragged the Black Pearl off the salt flats and into the water again. It’s no coincidence that her goddess-form turned into a mass of stony crabs, the same crabs that carried Jack’s ship over dry ground.
There’s a lot for me to learn in studying this.
As much as I didn’t care for On Stranger Tides or Dead Men Tell No Tales, at least the latter paid lip service to this notion with the whole “Trident of Poseidon” thing. They just went with lazy writing and made it into a McGuffin, instead of writing a complex background character that had her finger in everything. (And don’t even get me started on how they butchered the backstory of Jack’s compass.)
Anyway, I thought that was fascinating. Get back to work.
Hey there, DreadHeads! 2 down, 10 to go. Here’s what happened in February and what’s going down in March.
3 more episodes last month, and there will be another 3 this month. I’m still organizing content for the eventual DP StoryTime podcast, that one isn’t in production until I have my current book farther along. Find the podcast wherever you subscribe, and follow along!
29 pieces done in February, including 3 for my next big release. I’m using AutoDesk Sketchbook to do digital art for that book, and I love how it is all coming together. I am also drawing the cover for this one, it is going to be fantastic. Can’t wait to share it with you!
Blogging is all but dead, I only keep this page going as a placeholder for an eventually larger, sexier, more powerful website.
I did finish a draft of WAC, it’s rough but very workable, and once I finish the art I will polish the text.
I also picked at a story called HOMEWORLD which will be one of the first DP StoryTime adventures once that gets underway. Having a few ideas in process helps me to keep the wheels turning in case I stall on one.
Once this thing gets moving it’s going to be a ton of fun.
Yeah I lost zero weight in February. Well, maybe a pound or two, but life was just a kick in the pants. We had a baby last month so we’re still in adjustment-and-new-sleep-schedule mode at House Dread.
I’m going all-out tyrannical on it for March and I will weigh 205 pounds by the end of the month. Mark it.
During my art sessions I either listen to podcasts or watch B-minus programming on Amazon, and this show has been pretty interesting so far. It’s about Prohibition in the south and the lasting impact it has had on the region.
Now that Avengers: Endgame has destroyed the entire worldwide box office, it’s time to complete an analysis that I’ve been looking forward to for a while.
Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, called The Hero’s Journey, is a storytelling pattern that is found all over the world, in all time periods. The story of Captain America follows it with admirable fidelity throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Granted there are a few deviations–the story was handled by numerous writers and directors, as well as the creative director–but the steps are there, some of them more prominent than others. There were also some clever turns where the steps were presented out of order, or with roles reversed, as you’ll see.
In this case the adventure is World War II. More to the point, the call hits Steve head-on when his best friend, Bucky, gets deployed, and Steve can’t follow him.
2: Refusal of the Call
Steve of course didn’t refuse the call, but we can say that it refused him. Physically he couldn’t hack it, no matter how many times he applied. He had too many health issues. His persistence is a demonstration of his inner values, which is what land the attention of a certain scientist…
3: Meeting the Mentor
The mentor in this case was Dr. Abraham Erskine. He cleared Steve for Army training, giving him a 1A status, despite all his previous failures. Erskine later gave Steve his superpowers, but more importantly, he gave him a guiding philosophy: be good, and do good.
4: Crossing the First Threshold
Getting his powers was only one part of this step. He showed he could do the job when he ran down a Hydra agent and tore him out of a submarine with his bare hands. The real challenge was being taken seriously by the Army. The program didn’t go as planned, so the brass immediately discarded him. Steve had to show them why they should let him fight. So he went out to rescue Bucky and the others. He led the Howling Commandos into battle across the world. He fought Red Skull. All of these were stepping stones of increasing difficulty, proving to himself and to others that he could be The Captain.
5: The Woman as Temptress
In Campbell’s monomyth, this step on the journey is often a symbol of the hero being tempted by his baser instincts, instead of holding to a higher moral code. Steve’s responses to temptation are largely played for comic relief, especially in the first movie with this throwaway scene featuring Natalie Dormer–who, by the way, would have made a much better Captain Marvel than Brie Larson.
Despite all the women willing to leap into his arms, we’ll see in the end that Cap is a good man with a loyal heart. Even with Black Widow trying to set him up on a ton of dates, or have him engage in performative PDA for a mission, he’s reluctant.
Steve’s temptation isn’t something as simple as getting hot and bothered over a pretty woman. His real weakness, his real “baser instinct,” is a small shred of selfishness–if you can even call it that–that makes him miss his own time and his own people.
It’s the pending revelations about Bucky that blow that wide open, later on.
6: Meeting with the Goddess
Obviously his one-and-only is Peggy, with the exception of a single kiss to her niece shortly after Steve attends Peggy’s funeral. Later, when he has the chance to take the life that he always wanted with her–to give her that one dance–his loyalty comes full circle.
Just like a compass.
And of course, at this juncture he meets a few more helpers along the way.
7: Belly of the Whale/Death and Rebirth
This is one of the steps that is broken up across a couple of the movies. Obviously he enters the “belly of the whale” when he has to crash Red Skull’s bomber at the end of The First Avenger. Here, he receives a symbolic death.
Likewise he gets a symbolic rebirth in Avengers, but the process isn’t entirely complete. Not yet. Still a few kinks to work out…
8: Road of Trials
In Avengers, the trial is coming to grips with the fact that he is 70 years removed from his own time, and most of the people he has ever known are probably dead. He figures out how to keep fighting evil in the present, and just as soon as he gets a grip on that, the past comes back to attack him with a vengeance. This will factor heavily into future temptations…
That said, he isn’t without sexy new helpers on the way!
9: Atonement/Abyss/Completes the rebirth
It would take too many GIFs to illustrate this phase, but most of the “Abyss/Rebirth” happens in The Winter Soldier, where Steve realizes he is fighting a war on two fronts, against an enemy that is far too close to home. His rebirth is completed when SHIELD is in ruins, the director had to fake his death, and the only people Steve can trust are Falcon, Black Widow, Maria Hill, and Nick Fury. This is the moment when he truly becomes The Captain.
Predictably, leadership isn’t without its burdens, and one of the first signs of a rift between Steve and Tony comes in Age of Ultron, when Steve disagrees with Tony’s plan to protect the whole world. This ends with Ultron dropping a city out of orbit, killing countless people, something Tony will probably have on his conscience for a while. As a result, Tony semi-retires from the Avengers, leaving Steve in charge of it all.
11: Ultimate Boon
What’s the ultimate boon for a man out of time, whose only remaining friend is still out there, and can probably be rescued?
It’s a question that answers itself. But it’s not without a whole boatload of problems, especially when Bucky was just framed for a terrorist attack that killed the king of Wakanda. Yes, Bucky is Steve’s boon, his only remaining link to the era he is truly from. Really, Bucky is Steve’s inspiration for going on this journey to begin with, as Steve pursued it aggressively once Bucky shipped out. He had to go save his friend.
No matter the cost…?
12: Refusal of the Return
Now the small cracks start to widen into fissures. Steve has ascended to the level of Captain America, leader of the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes…and wouldn’t you know it, the governments of the world want to put a leash on him. Reduce him to the status of a simple–albeit effective–soldier like he was back in World War II.
There was a time when he would have wanted that.
But now, with everything that’s on the table–not the least of which is the truth about Bucky–he can’t go back to the way things were.
“The safest hands are still our own.”
13: Magic Flight
Once again, Bucky factors heavily into this step of the Journey, though we get a healthy dose of “fight” with our “flight.” In the end they get some help from another kind of ‘magic,’ this time from T’Challa.
14: Rescue from Without
Hoo boy. How many times does he need help from other people? It does happen plenty. Maria Hill rescues him from Hydra in The Winter Soldier. Agent 13 brings him his gear in Civil War. T’Challa takes him to Wakanda.
And of course, in Endgame, Dr. Strange and Falcon come to his rescue, just as a broken Captain America is facing Thanos and his entire army.
15: Crossing the Return Threshold
The fact that Steve is not a product of our time never truly escapes his attention, or that of the audience. Thus his return can never really be to a physical place, but rather a chronological one. “Old Man Steve” had been drawn a number of times in the comics, and I tell you what, seeing it on screen was a real treat.
Yes. In a way, he goes back.
16: Master of Two Worlds
More important than just returning to his time, he ends up living the life he wanted, the life he fought so long and hard to have. He mastered the role of Captain America, leader of the Avengers, just as surely as he mastered the life of a married man to Peggy Carter.
17: Freedom to Live
He took this one for himself at the very end of Endgame. It was a conscious choice as he time-traveled through the Quantum Realm, deciding not to hit his target mark and instead return as a 100 year-old man. He had the freedom to do so. His mission was complete. His work was done. The most powerful evil in the universe was defeated.
And he could rest.
Post-script: a personal theory about Cap’s worthiness to wield Mjolnir.
We’re not given exact specs on what makes some worthy to pick up Thor’s hammer. I get the impression Thor’s worthiness has a little to do with his bloodline, because he really lets himself go in Endgame and is still able to carry Mjolnir.
And of course, in the comics Cap was able to use it a couple of times, but in the movies they established that he couldn’t.
Here’s my theory, as I posted on Instagram last month:
I don’t expect this was what Marvel/Whedon intended with showing this, it is more my own interpretation of events.
We know Cap has unassailable character. He fought SHIELD and Hydra at the same time in order to stand up for what was right.
So why couldn’t he lift Thor’s hammer? By what metric was he less worthy than Thor? Obviously perfection wasn’t the standard–Cap and Thor both had mistakes in their past to some degree. What was it, then?
Go back to “The Winter Soldier.” Go to the bunker at Camp Lehigh, where Steve and Natasha find the digital consciousness of Dr. Zola, who tells them the long and sordid history of SHIELD and Hydra.
One of the flashing headlines in the newsreel is that Howard Stark was killed. The fact that Zola showed this to Cap is not insignificant. Hydra was taking credit for it.
Later in “Civil War”, Tony would see the video of Bucky executing the Starks. Tony would ask Cap if he knew about it.
Cap’s silence all but confirmed it, along with the asterisk of “I didn’t know it was him.”
But somewhere along the line, I think Steve put it all together.
And he didn’t tell Tony.
Given the events of Civil War and Endgame, which were dripping with themes about atonement, I think it’s safe to say that Steve finally cleared the air with Tony over what he knew about Bucky. Tony forgave him. They moved past it. And once that was done, once he could truly be open and honest with someone he had come to rely on as a friend and comrade-at-arms, he became worthy to use Mjolnir.
And lo, it was awesome to behold.
Thanks for reading to the end, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on this, and tell me if I missed anything.