Review: Spider-Man, Far From Home

The film that follows Avengers: Endgame faced an unenviable task. Marvel’s huge finale was a definite narrative end and a suitable point at which to pack up the franchise. However, that was never the plan. Endgame was the end of a set of phases in Marvel’s cinematic universe rather than an end to the whole project. Yes, no more Iron Man and no more (probably) Captain America, at least with in the form of Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans but Marvel had already positioned a new roster of characters to keep things going (and looks like there will be a Thor 4).

Pulling Spider-Man into the mix from Sony was a smart move and has resulted in a weird kind of Spider-Renaissance, with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming providing a surprisingly fresh take on the superhero who is second only to Batman in having modern movie reboots. Sony then manage to up that ante with Into the Spiderverse throwing a whole nest of Spideys at the screen in vivid colours. Far From Home as a film was placed in the wholly unenviable position of having to live-up to not just Endgame but also two great recent Spider-Man films and kick off the next round of the MCU.

It doesn’t fail at this these tasks but it does dodge them. The major plot twist is strongly signalled to anybody who knows about Spider-Man’s classic villains and is explained by exposition (nicely done, but still a pause for the bad guy to explain to his hench people what is going on). I don’t want to sound dismissive by saying it is a kid’s movie (I like kid’s movies and often they get to be more inventive than movies pitched at adults) but it feels like it has a younger audience in mind. There’s a teen-comedy feel that I think works for the character and the engaging cast but which also side-steps the momentous backstory that comes with from being set post-Endgame.

The positioning of Spider-Man as the replacement for the Iron Man franchise is overt. As with Homecoming, Tony Stark looms large over the film but this time posthumously. It’s an interesting choice but one Marvel obviously planned given how Spider-Man was introduced in Civil War, the inclusion of Stark in Homecoming and the pairing of Peter Parker and Tony Stark in Avengers: Infinity War.

Tonally there’s very little in common between the Spider-Man films and the Iron Man films. The torch-handing-over aspect is more of a plot point but also in terms of Spider-Man now being ‘the one with the gadgets’ in the franchise. Not wholly off-brand for Spider-Man given Peter Parker’s interest in technology but still an odd choice for a superhero with his own innate powers.

Jake Gyllenhaal is fun to watch as always, as are Cobie Smulders and Samuel L Jackson as a kind of two-person version of SHIELD. The theme of Peter Parker and substitute fathers (Stark, Fury, Misterio) continues without becoming overwhelmed by angst. The broader theme of deception and what can and can’t be trusted is a timely one and leads into a nice surprise in the post-credit scenes.

Fun and diverting. It’s not the pleasant surprise that Homecoming was and it isn’t visual feast that Spiderverse was but it is a sweet film with really likeable characters and enough superhero action to keep me interested.

Farewell Jessica Jones & Marvel Netflix

There is no sugar coating that Jessica Jones season 3 is not good. I stuck with it but to get through I took to skipping through multiple conversations between characters. The version I ended up watching improved as a result but even with impromptu editing, the pacing was weak and dialogue was often unconvincing. There was a decent story in there and some interesting themes as each of the core characters (including the Machiavellian Jerry Hogarth and the photography obsessed serial killer) explored the idea of people seeking to punish the wicked (as they see them) for reasons other than righteousness.

I already thought that the Netflix Marvel shows had run out of steam. The novelty had worn through and the consistent flaw of poor pacing and overlong seasons was only getting worse. Bookended between the first Avengers movie and the final one (in its current form), the form of these shows either had to change radically or conclude. I just wish they could have brought them to a stronger end.

Jessica Jones season 3 was emblematic of this arc. Still running on good will from the brilliant first season, the show hoped that we were still sufficiently invested in the main characters to follow a plot that mainly dealt with how unhappy they are with their lives. The effect was a script that felt like it was trying to find a way to fill 13 episodes with a 5 episode story. Two whole episodes were re-telling events we had already seen (and understood) from the perspective of Trish Walker rather than Jessica. There was a logic to that in terms of the character’s arc but neither episode brought any new insights.

Strong cast and an interesting premise but so, so ponderous. When the idea is that you are an intelligent show, there should be some trust that the audience has already got the point you are trying to make and can already see where a character is heading.

Of the remaining shows, Daredevil had a proper ending, The Punisher was already at a stage of diminishing returns, Luke Cage looked like it was heading somewhere interesting and ironically Iron Fist looked promising. A final season of The Defenders would have been a nice way to bring the whole thing to an end, so long as they kept it short :). I’ve suggested elsewhere that a gutsy move from Marvel would have been to have them all evaporate into dust Infinity War style mid-story.

DC Closes Vertigo

I don’t buy the quantity of comics I used to in the 1990s — age partly, but the time I spent shifting continents* broke my comic habit because I just didn’t have a regular comic shop. Even so, I’m sad to hear that DC is closing down the Vertigo imprint.

“DC has announced that, starting in January 2020, it will close the DC Vertigo, DC Zoom and DC Ink imprints in favor of a new publishing strategy to release all published content under the DC brand. At the same time, a new age-specific labeling system will be introduced for DC content, identifying content aimed at pre-teen readers, general audiences and material aimed at readers 17 and older.”

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/dc-closing-down-vertigo-imprints-1220225

‘Age’ really misses the point. It’s true that Vertigo books were pitched at the ‘mature’ audience but distinction wasn’t that Vertigo comics might have sex or violence in them but that they would attempt smarter and more thoughtful stories.

The headlines focus on the famous titles, Gaiman’s Sandman obviously (which technically predated Vertigo) but also later series like Fables and Y-The Last Man. What I’m nostalgic about though was the numerous shorter run comics Vertigo published in the 1990s, most of which I can’t even remember but which were just there. You could pick up something weird with an odd story line that would go off into strange place for a few months and then be done.

I remember being unwell one weekend decades ago now and my friends heading off into the city and when they came back they had popped into a comic shop and just bought the first Vertigo comic they didn’t recognise for me. That’s top notch friendship.

I guess rationalising your range of imprints makes sense but I’m glad Vertigo existed when it did. I didn’t really buy or read any other kind of DC comics at that time, I got my superhero fix for Marvel, but Vertigo was different. Under Karen Berger’s guidance, it was a cultural phenomenon that had an influence far beyond the scope of its sales.

*[I mean I shifted between continents. I wasn’t manually moving continents around like I’m the person who was in charge of continental drift for a few years.]

Is Vox Day Crowd Funding Himself?

Vox Day’s current attempt at crowdfunding a comic has fallen foul of platform Indiegogo’s terms of service. Vox Day has blamed this on people not liking his politics (i.e. people not liking him praising a guy who murdered teenagers) but Indiegogo has said little other than that the campaign violated its terms of service. Notably, the campaign had reached its final stage, so it is an odd point for Indiegogo to cancel it for almost any reason.

I say “almost”. One reason that might apply towards the end of a campaign is the platform looking at patterns of pledges and seeing something that disturbs them. In particular, a crowdfunding platform would have reasons to be concerned with behaviour akin to money-laundering because it might make the platform implicated in a crime. Now, I’ve zero reasons to think Vox Day is involved in any actual criminal money laundering but the dodgy yet non-criminal behaviour of paying yourself via a crowdfunding campaign is something he might do.

By itself, I don’t believe paying yourself via crowdfunding is illegal but it is in breach of the terms of service:

Prohibition against self-contribution
You, or anyone acting on your behalf, may not make Contributions to your Campaign–we call these “self-contributions.” Self-contributions are prohibited both by Indiegogo and our payment processor, and either Indiegogo or our payment processor may take actions like rejecting or blocking Contributions for any length of time or suspending your Indiegogo account, if either Indiegogo or our payment processor, in our sole discretion, discovers self-contributions.” https://www.indiegogo.com/about/community-guidelines

However, I don’t doubt all sorts of crowdfunding campaigns will have occasionally added some of their own money to get their campaign over the final finish line.  The hazard comes from routinely doing so throughout a campaign, which might be regarded as deceptive by the platform and also might indicate activity that was illegal in some other way and which the platform would not want to be a party to.

A couple of things support this possibility.

  1. Vox Day has posted that he was told by Indiegogo that his campaign was suspended because of “unusual activity”. http://voxday.blogspot.com/2018/10/unusual-activity.html What kind of activity on crowdfunding platform would be “unusual” other than patterns of payments?
  2. Vox Day’s previous comic book crowdfunding activity on the now-defunct platform Freestartr had patterns of unusually large pledges.

I can’t link to Freestartr any more but the NPR Reveal podcast looked at the pledges in its recent episode on ComicsGate:

Amanda Rob: “Most of it’s from a anonymous donors and a lot of it comes in very large increments, some up to $5000 each which is weird because the average donation to a crowdfunding project is about $66.”

Al letson: “But we don’t know if he actually raised that money. It looks like it, but we don’t know that for a fact.”

Amanda Rob:”I think that’s a really good point because Alt-Hero was raising money on a crowdfunding site called FreeStartr, and apparently Vox Day helped create it. It’s a private site. It’s totally black box. There’s no way to find out who made most of the donations, where the money came from, where it went, if it actually existed. I did find out that the company that processed the credit card payments decided to stop working with FreeStarter a few months back, and I tried to get in touch with the company to find out why and they wouldn’t talk to me. Then Alt-Hero had already way surpassed its fundraising goal and is publishing now a series of comic books.” https://www.revealnews.org/episodes/never-meet-your-super-heroes/

Crowdfunding has its own marketing effect as well as a way of raising money to fund a project. The process of crowdfunding gives a purpose to early marketing of a product by adding a call to action (pledge some money) and also helps hype the project if the crowdfunding is successful. Ploughing your own money into a crowdfunding campaign would be an effective marketing technique but one which violated the rules of the platform.

Mass re-allocation of funds to create a publicity storm via misuse of a payment gateway/station (or massstormpaystation as it should be known) sounds like something close to Vox’s MO. As with Rabid Puppies, a supposed uncoordinated activity by many individuals being surprisingly coordinated.

There is no way of investigating this much further. It could be simply that Vox’s cult-like followers just do stuff that in hindsight is hard to distinguish from one person with multiple accounts. Put another way, we already know that Vox really does have many meat-puppet* like followers who genuinely aren’t him but which can be hard to distinguish from sock-puppets. IndieGoGo would find it difficult to prove any self-payment beyond the most blatant but would have multiple ways of flagging suspicious patterns of payment. Their terms of service allow them to suspend campaigns without explaining why in any depth.

*[I mean this kind of meat puppet https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MeatPuppet and not this kind https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meat_Puppets obviously]

You don’t control who gets to be fans

On the campaign trail in 2008, Sarah Palin said the following:

“We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.” http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2008/10/palin-clarifies-her-pro-americ.html

Ah, the “real” America – narrowly defined to where Palin felt she might get the most support. It’s easy to write comments like that off as cheap rhetoric but it is an infectious attitude that allows many Republicans to regard huge population centres of Americas as somehow not being ‘real’ Americans. If only your supporters count then every leader is a populist champion of the common folk.

With the Sad Puppies, the move was similarly absurd. Everybody who wasn’t a Sad Pup was quickly declared to be in league with Big Publishing. It didn’t matter if you a person with no connections with the publishing industry or even if you were actually a tireless promoter of independent publishing (e.g. Cora Buhlert, who does more to promote indy titles each day than Larry Correia et al does in a month), if you opposed the Sad Puppies you were declared an enemy of independent publishing — often by people like Larry Correia or Sarah Hoyt who were trad-published authors.

The only virtue this kind of appeal has is that it is neatly compact in its encapsulation of a set of vices:

  • It is a declaration of gatekeeping — they will get to decide who is real or not.
  • It is inherently being an asshole.
  • It is exclusionary in a lazy passive-aggressive way that allows them to be as racist or as sexist or as homophobic as they want without having to overtly target a group they don’t like.

As Comicsgatecomicscomicsgate is now on my roster of right-wing attempts to suck money from the gullible via anti-diversity rhetoric, I present for your consideration Ethan Van Sciver. When we last saw Sciver (or EVS as he is often acronymised) he was throwing a tantrum about Vox Day trying to co-opt the term “comicsgate”. Just to be clear about how hypocritical this is, consider the way he places himself or “comicsgate” (which he identifies as being HIM) as the champion of “fans”.

“ComicsGate IS the creative community working to please the fan community, or the customers.”

~

“We stand with the fan community. As always!”

~

“As it becomes more and more clear to normal people that SJWs were lying about #ComicsGate being “a harassment movement” () and that ComicsGate is an entirely healthy creative and consumer response to leftist toxicity in the comics industry…”

(all taken from EVS’s Twitter feed but representative of similar rhetoric in his videos).

It’s the same con-game as used by Palin, Sad Puppies and most recently by Vox Day on Comicsgatecomicscomicsgateof declaring themselves the champions of the ‘real’ fans or the ‘real’ people. If you are leftwing or heck, just want to read comics with more realistic women in them, then magically you aren’t real anymore and your purchases don’t count. That’s bad enough when it comes to comics, or with the Sad Puppies, books but when it comes to citizenship and who gets to be a ‘real’ American (or with Brexit rhetoric a ‘real’ Briton) it’s an authoritarian move aimed at disenfranchising people.

Maybe the true scandal was (ComicsGateComics-Gate)Gate-Comics all along…

Links to the other posts 1, 2, 3, 4

Well sad news one and all who hoped that the combined forces of assholery on the internet would consume each other in an internecine apocalypse of name calling, Vox Day has “released” the “ComicsGate Comics” imprint. Yes, I sat and watched another turgid video. Let me once again despair at how awful the medium of talking head YouTube video is. I appreciate that there are many examples of people being entertaining in off-the-cuff videos but in general, this is an awful medium. Aside from anything else, it’s like twenty minutes of video conveys the same amount of information as about a minute of text.

Enough ranting by me. In a recent “Darkstream” video Vox Day (well-known supporter of far-right terrorists) entitled “ComicsGate and Cyberfrog are now free” announced that he had “released” the ComicsGate Comics imprint from the “system”. Of course, this was presented by him as a kind of vengeful masterstroke of the ‘Ha, ha, now look what you made me do!’* kind.

I have to say I’m a bit unclear as to what exactly he did here. He appears to be talking about the distribution system for graphic novels. Now, I’m aware that your standard monthly comic distribution is pretty much controlled by a monopolisitic distributor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_Comic_Distributors ) but that collections, graphic novels etc (which get distributed to bookshops as well comic shops) has a bigger variety of distributors (including groups like RandomHousePenguin) [People who understand this better, please wade in]. I don’t know how Vox Day’s comic imprints (Akrhaven and Dark Legion) are distributed in print form but he seems to be claiming that in some “system” he had claimed the term “ComicsGate Comics” and has now ‘released it’.

The dastardly twist is that supposedly now the dread SJWs can grab the term themselves! Oh no! Although it is not obvious why anybody would want to or why that would be disruptive to supporters of ComicsGate. Having a line of comics called “ComicsGate” doesn’t seem to be an objective of the ComicsGate crowd and controlling the name of an imprint nobody (aside from Vox) seems to want wouldn’t help the left or critics of ComicsGate any.

In short, it’s just Vox claiming victory in the face of defeat again. I’m suprised he caved so soon. Hopefully they’ll all start fighting about something else soon and leave everybody else alone again.

For those interested in the underlying resentment fuelling this dispute, Vox reveals the fragile spot of his ego in a follow up post:

“But I became suspicious of his [Ethan Van Sciver’s] two-faced nature when, after praising how well written the bestselling Alt-Hero #1 was, and asking me if I might be interested in writing with him in the future, he went out and publicly slagged the story in the YouTube review he did with his father the very next day, even pretending that he couldn’t figure out what was going on from page to page. He didn’t say one single positive word about my writing despite having praised it effusively the day before.”

Vox really wants people to think his fiction writing is good. Unfortunately it isn’t – it’s pretty bad, much worse than his non-fiction writing.

*[Not his literal words]

ComicsGateComicsGateGate versus ComicsGateComicsGateComicsGate

Links to the other posts 1, 2, 3, 4

Unfortunately a lot of the toddler tantrums are playing out on duelling YouTube videos. I have carefully honed skills of quickly acquiring key details from written texts but video requires you to trawl through the whole boring boring thing and what’s worse, is that I’ve then got to rely on my shaky memory to remember specifically what was said. Anyway, I sat through a video by Vox Day (I shan’t link to it but it was entitled “Two-Face Van Soyer”) and a response by Ethan Van Sciver (again not bothering with links but if you have spare brain cells you want to kill it’s called “CYBERFROG $600K, LAST DAY LIVE STREAM!!” -no, seriously). For ease of typing Vox Day will be VD for the rest of this post and Ethan Van Sciver will be EVS. I used the modifier “odious” for various people who crop up but it became too repetitive.

Some observations:

  • Nomenclature: As it’s a kerfuffle about who owns the words “ComicsGate Comics” the appropriate name is “ComicsGateComics-Gate”. However, as the modifier “Gate” now also means “a campaign by a group of shouty right wing trolls”, that makes it “ComicsGateComicsGateGate”. However, however there are TWO groups of shouty right wing trolls, so I’ll use ComicsGateComicsGateGate for VD’s partisans and for EVS’s partisans ComicsGateComicsGateComicsGate because they call themselves ComicsGate. On second thoughts…maybe not.
  • VD has the advantage that he’s set himself up so that all publicity is good publicity for his business model. His main comic book line (the semi-tautological ‘Arkhaven’) is on Kindle Unlimited, making any degree of fuss more likely for KU users to check out the comics (even if it is just to rubbish them). That’s all revenue for him.
  • EVS appears to have broader support but that doesn’t get him anywhere. Like a lot of these right wing shouty campaigns there’s no clear achievable goal. There’s no obvious way of winning here. Unlike VD, EVS doesn’t gain sales of anything from the surrounding publicity and may lose out in future crowd-funding due to ill-feeling.
  • However, its not all good news for VD. The political attacks on him are quite pointed and various social-media right wingers are now pointing out things about his views that they conveniently ignored for years.
  • Both EVS and VD are claiming that the other one is in some ways double-crossing, back-stabbing con-artists trying to fleece money from hapless right wing dupes. Luckily this is bad for both of them and should contribute to general demoralisation and disaffection on the right.
  • Timothy’s only public relations management client, Jon Del Arroz is in a sticky situation. He’s characterised himself as being ‘there’ from the start and for once he has a point – he genuinely was doing weird harassment of Marvel ages ago before it became a hobby for others. JDA has a gig with VD’s comic line but he’s also been a big booster for EVS and he is also in the midst of his own crowd funding campaign. He was speaking on the EVS video I watched and characterised as a ‘friend’ of VDs – he was placed in the position of trying to defend VD without alienating EVS.
  • Somebody asked me about VD’s previous feud with social media platform Gab. Sorry, I don’t know what happened with the threatened legal action in the end but Gab still advertises on Voxopedia. I suspect they found a way of mutually backing down without losing face. I suspect the same will happen here.
  • The main winners are everybody who is getting a break from being harassed by right wing trolls because said trolls are too busy shouting at each other.
  • Can you safely ignore all this? Probably.