Ranking the (Modern) Marvel Movies

Yeah, so on Twitter today I posted this ranking for the (Modern) Marvel movies:

And that list deserves some unpacking, so I'm going to unpack it.  First, the assumptions:

  • I have excluded the properties developed by non-Marvel studios.  All of them fall below the Hulk in this ranking anyway.
  • I have included the Ed Norton Hulk only because it is the last pre-Disney Marvel Movie.
  • I think this is a great topic for discussion but I don't think you can change my rankings on this list by more than +/- 1 for any movie without really missing the point.

OK, so that said, let's unpack in reverse order:

13. Ed Norton Hulk: Honestly, it's the best comic book movie up to the point it was made, but by the standards we have today it's a very bad flop.  The two biggest reasons it flops are (A) special effects, and (B) Ed Norton as Bruce Banner.  Norton in this movie is just a version of Norton's character in Rounders (which may be Norton's only trope), and he's not really very Bruce Banner-y.  Maybe that's the director's fault; maybe that's his fault.  Maybe it's the casting director's fault who cast him because he "looks like" Bruce Banner. Also, CGI was not ready for prime time, and this movies suffers greatly for it.  But the one thing this movie is clearly trying to do is to establish the "Marvel Formula" for superhero movies, and we have to give it props for that.  It makes the list at the bottom, but I would propose that none of the other movies on this list had a chance at all until/unless this movie tried to work out how Marvel Comic translate into Marvel Movies - more so than Iron Man 1, even though that was the first movie to succeed at delivering the Marvel movie formula.

12 + 11. The Thor Movies: OK, without the Thor movies, we don't have Hiddleston or Hemsworth, and without them we don't have the first Avengers movie.  They delivered something the Marvel Universe needed, and these movies were entirely serviceable as such. I also enjoyed much the visual effects in these movies as I am a fan of the Kirby-esque version of Asgard, and I think we mostly saw that in these movies.  But: nobody is dying for the third Thor movie.  The epic tale (which is what Thor comics thrive on) is out of vogue in movie-making.  This is testified to by the adverse fan reaction to the newest Superman movies: Man of Steel was Epic SciFi, and fans are not amused.  I'm not sure I share all the aversion, but these movies are simply not epic enough to deliver space-spanning awe and wonder toward the Realm Eternal.  They are good movies.  They are not Great movies.  Fingers crossed for Thor 3, I guess.

10. Guardians of the Galaxy: My huge bias here is that I'm an old-school Guardians fan.  I'm a Vance Astro guy; I'm a Starhawk guy.  The modern Guardians is dumbed down for my tastes, and this movie is dumbed down in a huge way from other Marvel movies in that it relies on cussing as "funny" dialog.  However, it is better than the Thor movies for a couple of reasons, not the least of which are the soundtrack (which is used as a kind of narrator) and the clever remix of the antihero type in almost all of the main characters.  This movie is better than Deadpool by a lot, and it does what Deadpool really wanted to do -- which is to create sympathetic and funny antiheroes to off-set the semi-seriousness of the Avengers cycle of movies.

9. Avengers 2: Rather than beat this movie up, let me say this: Cap 3 is everything that Avengers 2 ought to have been.  Avengers 2 is proof that Joss Whedon was not the reason Avengers 1 was a great movie.  And the great shame of it is that it wasted Ultron in a spectacular way.  But: there would not be a Cap 3 without Avengers 2, so it can't be all bad.  It is still a very watchable film.

8, 7, 6. the Iron Man films: I have no doubt that my ranking these films here in the middle of the pack rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and that my order of their ranking is utterly out of step with the common comics nerd.  But I can completely justify my ranking with one question: in which movie does Tony Stark make the most progress as a character?  That is to say, which story actually means the most in the audience understanding who Tony really is?  IM1 is where he makes the least progress even though it is necessary to get him in the suit and under the arc reactor.  IM3 is simply closing the loop on open plot points (albeit in a very satisfying way).  IM2 is the movie in which we really get to know something about Tony and why he is the way he is (toward Pepper, toward the world), and that makes this movie the most interesting of the 3.

5. Ant Man:  I think someplace I ranked this movie above Avengers 1, and I'm not sure that evaluation holds up.  I think it deserves a place in the top 5 Marvel movies because it gets so many things right, from the nostalgia for Hank Pym's Ant Man to the sort of lovable rogue we get in Scott Lang.  It has a great tone, and I love it that it's a caper movie as opposed to something way out of line for the scope and scale of Ant Man's powers and also the sort of guy we have in Scott Lang.  I like that this movie is really a movie about how families work and how fathers love.  I like it that it ends with the ant staying giant-sized.  This isn't a serious movie at all but it is pretty serious movie-making, and it deserves to be up above the movies we already covered.

4. Captain America 1: let's be honest - a lot of people would put this movie way farther down the list for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that they don't understand that it is a costume drama -- a period piece paying homage to WWII-era movies and movie-making, as well as to the comics of the day which were from a much simpler time.  The point of this movie is that it ought to be more like a 1950's Disney movie (like Davy Crockett) -- until the very end where Steve finds himself in Times Square in 2011, and very literally the dream is over.  I mean: he literally wakes up and discovers that he isn't in that old world anymore where love sacrifices everything for others, and the Marvel Universe as we know it where he arrives.  This is a really great movie that gets better every time you watch it -- unless you don't understand it at all.

3. Avengers 1: we really can't deny that this movie set a very high watermark for the Marvel Movies in spite of my criticism of Whedon's less-spectacular outing in Age of Ultron.  It did a great job of Assembling the Avengers; it had a lot of balance and some really great beats.  My son and I watch it and we always say every time: this next scene is great.  It's as good as a movie about a team coming together for one specific reason can be, and for that it deserves to be in the top 3.

2. Captain America 3: As I said above, this is actually the better Avengers sequel, right?  This is the one where all sorts of things comics fans are dying to see happen, but unlike Avengers 1 and 2, it is character driven, not a just a string of tropes.  For a full-length review, see my Rotten Tomatoes review of it.

1. Captain America 2: Well, of course a Cap movie is going to sit in my #1 slot, so don't act surprised.  Here's the thing: Iron Man 1 demonstrated that a comic book movie could be a good action movie if you spent enough money on it.  If you cast RDJ against Jeff Bridges, and you write their dialog in a competent way, you are going to get a winner.  Cap 2 did something that the other movies had not tried yet: it tried to be a genuine thriller in the same mould as the Bourne Identity or The Day of the Jackal.  And: it succeed in a way nobody expected (except maybe the Russos).  Everything about this movie works, and it really does break out from being a "merely" formula movie into being something so much better.

That said, the floor is open.  Feel free to post your own list, but be prepared to defend it.

Yes, but is it Art?

This post is my obligatory review of Captain America: Civil War.

The shorter version: this is the Avengers movie we were looking for.

The longer version:

This is also the Spiderman we were looking for, the Black Panther we were looking for, the adapted classic comic villain were looking for, the Bucky and Cap we were looking for, and the sort of movie the Last Captain America movie ought to be.

This is not War and Peace.  This is not Casablanca or the Godfather.  This is a movie adapted from the comics in such a way that if you know all the comics, there is a spectacular avalanche of fan service, and if you have never read a comic, the script and action are plenty to satisfy.

I give it a solid 4 stars, and I'll come up with a more-substantive review for it at RottenTomatoes later today.

Daredevil Season 2 Review

This weekend I posted the following Twitter review of Daredevil Season 2, which runs on Netflix:

To which one of my twitter followers responded that it's not gore-porn if the characters who are perpetrating it are someone morally-averse to whatever it is they are doing.  I think this is a bizarre approach to this topic, and so I am going to briefly expand my review and then talk about what "pornography" is, and how it applies to this topic.

First, Daredevil Season 2.  You know: when we watch Agents of SHIELD on Disney/ABC, what we are getting is the worst possible mix of TV mashed up with existing comics canon. The show is based on a concept which, frankly, was dated when it was in its hey-day: the idea that there is a secret security agency which is both obscure and global, high-tech and invisible, which has both airborn cities (Helicarriers) and elusive but effective agents -- and the update is such a mash-up of throw-away Marvel characters and plot lines that it simply has nothing to rise up to or fill in.  What we get from Marvel/Netflix, on the other hand, is something else.

My take from my jaded perch is that Netflix is sort of covering the old "Marvel Knights" line in terms of content and tone, which means the world is ultimately more realistic/noir than the mainstream movies, and more concerned with entertaining people older than 12 with characters and settings that people who have lived past their first teenaged crush can somewhat relate to.  I have absolutely no qualms with this in theory, and I think that the actual plotting of the 2 seasons of DD and the single season of JJ so far have delivered were compelling.  By a long shot, these stories are the most engrossing Marvel storytelling maybe ever -- but DD in particular has been marred by one thing in particular: hyper-violence and graphic depictions of mutilation and injuries.

So for what I have left to write here, let me offer just a few items: a definition, a distinction, a disclaimer, and a direction.

The definition is this: the standard definition of "pornography" is "sexually explicit videos, photographs, writings, or the like, whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal."  When I co-opt that term to say "gore-porn," I use it to mean "explicitly-violent videos, photographs, writings, or the like, whose purpose is to elicit a cathartic response to violence."  "Gore-porn" is when anyone creates a scene in a movie or TV show which has the obvious purpose to make the violence into a spectacle, and that spectacle has two consequences: an initial gross-out of the audience followed by a desensitizing which causes the audience to want more of the same in more extreme form to get the same response.  There's no narrative reason for the scene to be that explicit -- in fact, the horror the scene creates could be made more poignant but being more subtle.  For example, in the Diner when Frank Castle mutilates a hit man to get information on the Blacksmith, the camera stays on the torture, the punching, the violence -- when the single cut to Karen in the back room listening to the violence and her reaction to it is far more telling than the special effects showing how the man is physically destroyed.  In the scene where Stick is torture by Yakuza, we are forced to watch them use WWII torture techniques on him rather than to merely watch Scott Glenn's face tell us the story in a more personal way.  The story is not advanced by one iota when we are forced to watch the violence, but it s there rather to do something else with the story which, I think, is artistically cheap and morally low.

The distinction I would make here is between the graphic depiction of violence and admitting that violent acts are part of this story.  The one place I would point to in 2 seasons of DD to make this point is in Season 1 when Matt goes into the gang hideout to save the young boy being held hostage and has to fight his way through the final hallway to get to the room the boy is in.

That fight scene is undeniably brutal -- and about half of it happens off camera with sound effects.  Most of the real drama is to see that as the fight progresses, Matt Murdock is clearly spent on the fight -- he gives every ounce of whatever he has to give physically to get to the end of the hall and seek to save the boy.

The difference between that scene and, for example, the scene is season 2 where we look into the mob hang-out that has been shot up by Frank Castle and the establishing shot is made through a large-caliber bullet hole in a victim's corpse ought to be obvious, but I am afraid that it is not to most people.  The violence associated with the Punisher does not merely have a higher death count: it has a far more graphic nature, with more gore and more blood, and human bodies are treated worse than meat.

"Yes, Frank," says the fan of this show who disagrees with me, "but this is actually the point, no? Aren't the showrunners trying to get us to think of the Punisher as a brutal animal who treats his victims are worse than meat?"  Let me say this: we know because of the way Karen Page relates to Frank Castle that this is categorically untrue.  Frank Castle is rather supposed to be a man pressed to the final limit of the human longing for justice, and is willing instead to seek vengeance instead since justice is often too meek for his taste. The way they treat the victims of Frank Castle rather stands in the way of us seeing him the way we finally see him in the final episode as a true enemy of evil.

Having said all that, my disclaimer is this: I am pretty confident that not all violence is naturally excluded from artistic portrayal. (that in itself prolly deserves its own blog post)  All violence is not excluded from art, but let me suggest that it is one thing for us to know that Oedipus has dug out his eyes and another to watch him dig out his eyes.  There is a way to do what ought to be done to advance the story and there are many other ways to stain the story with gratuitous portrayals of violence which do nothing but treat the viewer as if he or she is watching live gladiator combat.

Finally, my direction forward to better art in these Marvel Netflix series is pretty simple: they should try harder to tells the story visually rather than create a spectacle of violence.  The stories themselves are rather complex and interesting without the blood splattering and the open wounds getting the center of the shot for minutes on end.  I admit that some violence is really necessary to tell these stories, but there is a difference between showing the physical cost of the conflict between Matt Murdock and his adversaries and dwelling on the clinic extent of his wounds, as if watching his injuries being sticked up advances the plot or story one iota.

How Dungeons & Dragons fixes all fiction (especially comic books)

You have no idea how much I miss blogging here, at this blog, where there is no pressure to be anything but me and no topics too arcane or non-theological to tackle, and especially: it's OK to blog about comics in a way that a 50-year-old guy who is still 12 on the inside would blog about comics.

First, you should listen to this podcast episode:

In that episode, they talk about something all of us people who were alive before computers who read science fiction and comics also did to greater and lesser degrees: we played (or were forbidden to play) Dungeons & Dragons.  Most of us probably played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (to be fair and completely too-specific), and we owned a bag full of dice and at least three hard-covered books which told us everything we needed to know about the kind of things we might build into a campaign, or that we might happen to encounter in a campaign.

In the pre-computer world, we used a lot of graph paper, and there had to be people who were playing with us and also plotting our rise and fall.  Compared to gaming today, it was actually quite social and quaint.  It looked a lot like a very complicated game of Cribbage, if I am honest, except that nobody since the middle ages wore a robe with a hood to a game of Cribbage.

But before any of this even went that far, we had to build a character, and the most fundamental thing about building that character was his or her alignments.  Now: what does that even mean?  Well, let me show you:


That is a grid I have been working on since listening to that podcast which has to do with character alignments, using the basic system which AD&D uses (or at least used to use).  And: you can see my attempts to puzzle in the basic interesting characters from Marvel Comics into this grid just for the sake of showing how it works.  As a caveat, the diagonal lines are meant to show motivational-outcomes for these alignments, not actual motives.  For example, Reed Richards is in the "vengeance" quadrant of you are reading the diagonals, but Reed isn't motivated by vengeance (notice I spelled it right here), is he?  He's actually motivated by goodness and autonomy -- as opposed to Doom who is motivated by a high view of authority ruined by a poor moral compass.  that's why they are good against each other: they are naturally in competition

And that brings me to the point of this post.  Right now, I think Marvel Comics stink right up to high heaven -- and it's for one obvious reason: all of their characters cluster around the center of this grid.  All of their characters are lame examples of millennial passivism when it comes to bigger questions, and therefor there's not really any drama to be worked out.  All the drama turns out to be low brow and sensual rather than playing out on a bigger table with bigger stakes.

So if anyone is reading this post at Marvel, think about this: the reason the movies are working and the comics are not is that the movies still have characters who are not clustered around the center of the grid.  The more you work to cluster them around the center of the grid, the more boring and unfulfilling the art turns out to be.


It's not the Years, Honey. It's the Mileage ...

As I write this post, it's March 2016, which is 11 years and a few months after the first post was published here.  You know: wow.  That anyone still visits here is also a "wow" item to me, so thanks for that.

But, over time, things change -- and one of those things is my ownership of the domain "kingdomboundbooks.com".  That's relevant to this blog because almost all the images on this blog are warehoused there, and in April 2016 I will no longer be the domain owner for that .com real estate, and all the images here which are stored there will go dark.

That's a big deal because I think while the writing here is competent, the graphics are the heart and soul of the endeavor.  If there's a way for me to migrate the images, I'm going to do it -- but there's probably no way to fix all of them.

Nice to see you all.  Please carry on.

The Proverbial Scorpion

Yeah, OK: this blog is all but extinct, but it still has some use for the internet -- one of them being disambiguating theology and comic books.  Avengers 2: Age of Ultron debuted in the U.S. this last weekend, and I wasn't going to ruin it for anyone by writing a review for it.  I mean seriously: Marvel just invested $250 million to produce the movie, and by the end of last weekend they had covered their costs.  Everyone was waiting for this movie, and it's here, and it's no surprise that it is exactly what we were expecting: Global-sized villain causes Global-sized problem, and the Avengers needs to work together to defeat the problem and minimize civillian casualties.  At the end they seem to go their separate ways with a hint that if the world ever needs them again, they will be there to save it.


So today at a place populated with guys who, I promise you, think reading comic books is something like eating raw sugar out of the canister in your Mother's kitchen -- and not in a good way -- this article appears to tell us "What Ultron Misunderstands about God and Man."  Seriously - that's the article they published about this movie, as if someone was going to accidentally mistake the ravings of a machine with teeth (but no need to eat, mind you) whose mind was the result of a consciousness embedded in something called an "Infinity Gem" with anything anyone ought to think for reals about God.

So for their sake, and for the sake of you who read them often enough that you might have taken them seriously, here are a few words you might need to get over it.

First of all, this is Ultron -- over there on the left.  I bring it up because what we got in the Movie was James Spader playing Ultron.  This may seem like a quibbling fanboy point of demented trivia, but one of the things, in Marvel lore, which makes Ultron so plainly terrifying is that he doesn't really have a face: he has a technological version of a death's head.  His head is a skull, not a face.  That's important to his Ultron-ness because Ultron doesn't smile, or smirk, or wax philosophical.  Ultron has no soul.  he doesn't have any pretense of having a soul, and as such a thing he doesn't contemplate whether others have a soul.

So when someone writes, in a completely-unironic way, that "it doesn’t take Ultron long to conclude that the cause of war, trouble, and suffering lies not outside humanity, but within," he gets Ultron wrong entirely.  While that writer may actually have cribbed that from the dialog in the movie he watched, let me suggest something about doing that in such a mechanical way: it's easy to miss the point of what any character means when you take one monologue out of context.

See: one thing this movie gets right about Ultron is that, from the moment of his birth, he is hell-bent on destruction.  Think about this: what is the first thing the newly-sentient Ultron does in this movie?  He attempts to destroy J.A.R.V.I.S. -- the only other mind he is aware of, and one which is pleading to help him become accustomed to his new-found state.  If that is true -- and it is, transparently -- then what do we make of the speech he gives to Wanda and Pietro when he tells them he wants humanity to "evolve?"  Don't we discover in short order, with Wanda, that he lied to them -- and that what he really wants is to remake the world in his own image, without any people but only as a world of machines all with his own mind?

There is nothing metaphysical about Ultron's decision.  In some sense, he is like the proverbial Scorpion who stings because it is in his nature.  Tony Stark blew it in a way which the film doesn't really explore: he created a thing which had no humanity at all, a thing completely unlike his servant J.A.R.V.I.S.

In this, there is no sense in contemplating a redemption story -- and of course Writer/Director Whedon doesn't bother because he's not interested in redemption stories.  He doesn't understand them, I think.  There's no redemption in Firefly; none in Buffy; the resurrection in Agents of SHIELD is about half a beat out of step with a Zombie movie.  And in the one place where he nearly gets it right -- which was in Avengers 1 in Tony Stark -- we find here that Stark doesn't see it the way the naive Christian critic of these movies might want to see it.  Stark doesn't think anyone should make the hero's play ever -- and certainly not to save the world.  Think about the kind of callousness Stark must have to invent an artificial intelligence -- a real mind -- whose sole purpose is to do something Stark himself thinks he should never have to do.

So to then say the Avengers are "saviors" is true only in the generic sense -- that is, they do the saving.  They oppose the evil in Ultron, but they have no purpose large enough to say that there are matters more mundane but far more metaphysically meaningful which an unbreakable shield, an unliftable hammer, and an impossible armor can change.  In this, there's no reflection of the Gospel in this movie.  Looking for it, or causing others to sort of glibly nod as you say it's true, is pretty vain.

Now, all that said, if this movie has no Gospel purpose, should you bother watching it?

You're asking the wrong guy if you're expecting me to tell you to save your $5.15 at the matinee.  Of course you should go see it, and I can give you 5 reasons why, all of which relate to your Christian walk:

1. You should go see this because it is a pretty easy way to experience what the Greeks called "catharsis," and what we Christians call "renewing your mind."  For as much as this movie gets wrong about the world and about virtue, it gets some basic things right: the right object to follow is virtue, not fear (see: Steve Rogers vs. Tony Stark); the right path to follow is forgiveness not vengeance (see: the fate of Pietro and Wanda); telling the truth is better than keeping secrets from those who matter most to you (Rogers vs. Stark; the relationship between banner and Black Widow).  Seeing these small morality plays in action, in context, is worth it as recreation.

2. This is an easy way to spend useful time with others, and to enjoy each others' company.

3. This is also an easy way to connect to your kids.  You cannot underestimate the value of having fun with your children.

4. It can connect you in a useful way to others around you who are not necessarily your church family.  Given the prolivity for sports fanaticism in the Christian internet, finding something the rest of us can enjoy with people who are not Christians is (for me) a huge relief.

5. I'll be you can find a way to make going to this movie about defeating racist stereotypes.  I did.

And you can do all that without trying to make this into something so serious you can't possibly enjoy it.  Do you really want to spend your money on a movie like and then not enjoy it because you're so concerned to make some overtly-Gospel thing about it?

You should stay out of the movies is that's how your theology works.  You will ruin everything if that's how you're going to walk through life.

Agents of Shield vs. Winter Soldier

You though this blog was dead, right?  Or was at least hoping?

Everyone else is either at T4G or writing about it; I'm about to uncork on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  This is why you people love me: I'm always doing the wrong thing.

Let me start with the part which is enjoyable:

Someone following me on twitter has said that this movie perfectly captures the spirit for the Wade/Garney run in the late 90's on Cap -- which is both exactly right and exactly wrong.  It's exactly right because the Wade/Garney run was such an arch-typical Captain America arc (cut infamously short by the abortive "Heroes Reborn" reboot at marvel in '96/'97) that in every sense, any really good Cap story will look something like these stories.  It's exactly wrong because somehow the movie is more or less based on the "Ultimates" Marvel Universe, or some iteration of it -- which is has to be to keep it even marginally contemporary.  But as wrong as the statement may have been, this movie is a winner for Cap fans as it gets almost everything right: the psychology of Steve Rogers, the real heroism of Nick Fury, the personal depth of Black Widow, the real friendship between Cap and Sam Wilson (I think the way the movie makes that connection is better than in the comics, FWIW).

For those who need the warning, Spoilers to follow -- don't read anymore if you don't want to read spoilers for Winter Solider or Agents of SHIELD.

The first thing I want to deal with is the people who say this movie was not as fun or entertaining as the first Cap movie.  Obviously, those people are new to the process of watching movies, and they need to do what Steve Rogers did in this movie, which was to start making a list of great movies to watch in order to get acculturated.  This movie was a very different movie than the first one -- which is exactly right from a development standpoint.  Who Cap is and must be is a huge leap forward from the idealistic and merely-patriotic Steve Rogers, and this movie takes us to that place.  He's not Indiana Jones who, frankly, has no reason to become more or better each time we see him.  Indy is just a costume for a kind of adventure.  Steve Rogers, in spite of having a much more flamboyant costume, is actually doing what a true hero does: he is choosing to do what is right, regardless of the cost, because it is right.

Some have said there's no journey here at all, but that's complete rubbish.  The question of whether or not he can trust Fury and SHIELD carries over from the Avengers; the question of whether or not he's a soldier who just follows orders or an agent of something great than even SHIELD is something he works out in this film.  Whether or not he will be Steve Rogers or Captain America (and whether or not there's actually a distinction that matter there) is worked out in this film.  I honestly want to see it again to see what I missed in the first viewing.

The destruction of HYDRA by destroying SHIELD is, frankly, a huge issue for all the Marvel properties.  SHIELD was plainly the way all the various settings were tied together -- it was the way the normal people of the MCU were able to relate to the Superheroes and Supervillains in their world.  With SHIELD gone -- I mean, they disclosed all the secrets to the internet and crashed 2 helicarriers into the TriSkelion -- that platform for sort of moving from one venue (Stark's tower, Asgard, London, Berlin, etc.) is completely gone.

But that's a writer's problem -- and since SHIELD doesn't really hold the "regular" Marvel Universe together, it shouldn't have to hold the MCU together.

The real problem, of course, is the disaster on TV known as Agents of SHIELD (AoS).

Now, look: I have been willing to give this show a chance for the whole season this year in spite of its lousy schedule and uneven casting.  I have been able to overlook its chaotic scripting and story-telling for the sake of seeing some sort of pattern emerging or a larger story getting told.  Unfortunately, the high point of the whole season is the graphic above, which is the only time anything about this show has looked like th marvel Universe is a substantive rather than superficial way.

Last night, this show proved it has no reason to live.

On Friday, Fury, Black Widow, Falcon and Cap have taken down Hydra's best attempt in 70 years to rule the world -- by completely decimating SHIELD, which it turns out is front for HYDRA.  That's a brilliant plot development, utterly right-scale for the organization founded by the Red Skull, and somehow that ought to have been the leaping-off point for the watershed moment of this TV show.

Last night, AoS demonstrated that, in the best possible case, they had no idea what was going to happen Friday night in the movie until about 4 weeks ago when they wrote the script for this episode, and now they had to scramble to pull the pieces together to make a showing with whatever they could think of at the last minute.  In the worst case, they were deeply connected to the MCU creative team, and in spite of knowing exactly what was going to happen last Friday since something like last August, and in spite of knowing those event radically change the nature of this show, they couldn't build a compelling set of circumstances that tied into the movie events.

Ward is really Hydra - really? Garrett is the "Clairvoyant" -- based on what?  There's simply no foundation for these developments -- and there's no foundation for linking the Clairvoyant to Hydra, either.  It's sloppy at best and haphazard at worst.

But here's the thing which is going get me blacklisted from the internet: this is classic Whedonesque dice-tossing.  It's the reason Firefly was not good.  It's the reason Buffy and Angel meandered around so much.  That is: the Whedon machine (especially in the hands of Jed, but also in the hands of the sainted Joss) tends to be a fortuitous Rube Goldberg machine of events and dialog which they hope will be clever enough to mask its utter pointlessness and lack of respect for the audience.

There was no way to piece together that robotic Ward had feelings for Skye; there was no way to know that Melinda May actually loves Coulson and cares for him; there was no way to guess how Garrett could be doing all his SHIELD stuff and still be sending messages to the people he had armed up with the eye implants -- and now there's no way to know what will happen to Mike Peterson a.k.a Deathlok when the person with his finger on the trigger of his brain grenade is on the run.  I mean: how does Garrett not call in Deathlok when he's about to storm the Hub?

I'll give this car wreck until the end of this season to buck up.

It's a Slam Dunk

I had no idea this was a meme.  I think I love it.

Republicans vs. Zombies

First: I am sick to death of the Zombie meme and the place of Zombies in popular culture.  I don't get it, and I hope making it a metaphor for how people on the alleged right-wing of American politics will put the thing to death.

Before I get on to my Friday bowl of whole-wheat beat-down, let me recommend a video for you which is fine except for about 90 seconds right in the middle.  Our dear friend Todd Friel has this to say about what happened in the election this week:

Which, like I said, is fine except for the 90 seconds in the middle where he says that God-centered beliefs necessarily lead to "conservative political" outcomes.  I think that's a broad brush at best.  I think a perfectly-godly outcome of YHVH-centered biblically-serious study would be to say that a government like Israel's -- which mandates a tithe/tax for the sake of the poor -- doesn't look like what Todd's talking about.  I think his brush is too-broad there, and he could tidy that up a bit for the sake of his own beliefs and thinking.

That said, the post-mortem cycle on the election this time around proves only one thing to me -- that the Right Wing pundit class of our nation is only capable of shooting the wounded and eating their dead.  We want to blame Mitt Romney for running a crappy campaign when his closest team is literally what made this a close race in the last 60 days of campaigning?  We want to blame Chris Christie for one photo op and his stupid gushie response to a phone call from Bruce Springsteen?  We want to blame the MSM and a freak storm that put the largest part of NYC into the dark ages through the middle of the voting cycle?

Please: just shut up.  The only people to blame for this loss, quite frankly, are ourselves.  I can prove it by looking at the last 5 presidential elections.

Here are the high-level results from 1996:

You remember that one, right?  Bill Clinton wins a plurality of voters, Ross Perot splits the right, and Bob Dole goes into early retirement.  But look at the vote counts: roughly 95 million voters, only about 47 million on the right.

Then there was 2000:

Roughly 111 million voters, and 50 million on the right -- with a win-fall of winning Florida in spite of missing the popular majority.

Here's 2004:

Roughly 121 million voters, and the Right wins both the election and the popular vote with 62 million votes.

Then 2008:

About 129 million voters -- the highest turnout on the list -- and the right-side gets 59 million votes.

Last, we have the results for this year (provisional, as I think there is still some vote counting going on):

Roughly 119 million voters this year, and the right-side getting 58 million votes -- oh yes, not to forget to mention an additional 1.139 million votes for Gary Johnson, so let's call right-side voting 59 million in 2012.

Look: in the only election in the last 20 years which the right-side vote won the majority of votes to win the election, the right-side candidate got more than 60 million votes.  Someplace in this country, there are at least 60 million people who have, at some time, voted for the right-side of the ticket.

They did not all show up on Tuesday.

People have got to show up to win elections.  People have got to show up to win elections.  People have got to show up to win elections.  And they have to vote for the candidate who is running to win the election.  You can't just shamble around before and after the election bemoaning how bad things are when you treat your vote with less respect than a Zombie treats the living.  Even a slow-moving Zombie knows he has to go get the brains to eat the brains.  If you're not doing at least that much, you got the country you deserve.

The rest of this stuff?  Hogwash.  Stop complaining and blaming everyone else.  We have met the apathetic and morally-oblivious voter, and he is us.

I'll have part 6 of the government spending vs. private income posts next week. 

The Whole Pie (5 of 6)

OK: Monday will be the final installment on this topic, but before we get to the final installment we have one more piece of this data that has to be unraveled   Some people reading this series (and I admit there are a lot fewer of you than there were 4 years ago before this blog when into hibernation) are probably concerned that I keep wanting to revert to the "total wages" number when calculating the size of the problem rather than using the whole GDP.  Doing that, you may be thinking, magnifies the problem and seems to put it out of reach of a solution.

The problem, of course, is that in the United States, we tax individuals (human beings) based on their income (which: in a P&L, is the "top line" of revenue), and we tax Corporations on their net profits (on the P&L: the "bottom line") -- both adjusted for deductions, of course.  So while there may be a top-line (as measured by the GDP) of stuff over and above wages to the tune of more-or-less $11 trillion, a LOT of those dollars are swallowed up by cost of goods and are not taxable using the current model of taxation.  And, in my view, they shouldn't be -- they are not really income dollars: they are cost-of-goods dollars, and in some sense they are double-dipped against wages.

Here's how to think of that: Abe's Accessories makes screws.  In fact, last year, Abe's sold $1 million in screws to Bob's Barricades, and Bob sold $10 million in barricades to Carl's Contractors, who used the barricades for $100 million in highway work they did for the state of Delaware (hypothetical).  All $111 million of that shows up in the GDP, but Abe only made $90K in profit; Bob only made $190K in profit, and Carl made $500K in profit which he had to split with his brother who is also an invested private owner.  All the metal in the screws, the blocking material in the barricades, and the stuff Bob used to pave the highways (from machines to paving material) was not taxed: only the net profit (final income) was taxed.

In other countries, there's a way around this: they charge a VAT tax when you buy something wholesale.  So when Abe buys raw materials to make into screws, he pays the foundry for the difference in price between the raw ore and the raw metal he receives -- and a tax to the government for the difference in value.  When Bob buys screws from Abe, he pays Abe the screw price, and then the government a tax on the difference in value between raw metal and screws.  Etc.  In that case, almost all of the value in the GDP is therefore taxed -- but it also results in much higher prices for the end user.

The alternative to this, of course, is a universal sales tax -- which is sort of a simplified VAT tax anyway (unless you're an economist).  But in the current system, that is itself double-dipping against income which was already taxed when it was paid out (in most cases).

That's why, at the end of the day, the comparison of private income vs. public expenses looks like this:

That's right: all the hoopla about excessive corporate profits, and it turns out that corporate profits in the US are about 25% of all income in the US.  AND: the total of all wages plus corporate profits is actually less than all public expenses (federal, state and local).

You now have everything you need to know about whether or not the US has a tax rate problem or a government expense problem, and we will discuss what to do about it on Monday right before you cast your vote.

Have a nice weekend; be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people this weekend as you pray about this and all the other things which are worrying you about this present age.