Monday, September 27, 2021

Chicago 18 at 35

For any fan, there is always the first, that one special album, and Chicago 18 is the one for me.

 

My Journey to Chicago 18

 

I was introduced to Chicago by my friend, Chris, in the summer of 1985 when he loaned me a cassette copy of Chicago IX with the memorable phrase “You'll probably know half the songs and like the rest.” Well, I knew none of the tunes, but fell in love with the band on first listen.

 

What came next was obvious: I started collecting Chicago albums. Chicago 17 was the obvious next choice as it was ending its year-long run on the charts. Chicago 16, featuring its famous ballads, soon followed as did Chicago II. It was with that latter, 1970-era album that I discovered why the new album was named “17” and learned the band had quite a number of styles to its name.

 

But this was 1985. I was smack dab in the middle of high school and I didn't get all the political stuff featured on those early albums. I loved the music. Well, most of it. At the time, I didn't take too kindly to songs like “Free Form Guitar” or “Liberation” by this guy, Terry Kath, who was no longer in the band. In fact, without the internet, I can't even remember how I learned his fate, but I knew the fate of Peter Cetera, the seeming front man for this new band I loved.

 

He was leaving Chicago.

 

What the heck? I had just joined Chicago's fandom and the lead guy's leaving? What would that mean for the future of the band? Would there even be a next album, presumably titled “18”? Without social media or the internet, my high school band group, all of whom loved Chicago, would just have to wait.

 

The New Single (which was an old song)

 

Flash forward to August 1986. My love of Chicago had done nothing but grown. I can't remember all the albums I owned by that point, but by scouring used record stores, I had expanded to include III. I even put the poster on my wall, the one of the band sitting in the military cemetery.

 

I had purchased the single (either the actual 45 or the cassette version) of “25 or 6 to 4,” a remake of a classic tune. During a break from summer band rehearsal, Chris, our friend Richard, and I piled into my 1973 Dodge Dart and I slipped in the song to the cassette deck. Out came the first new Chicago song for any of us since 1984 (Chris already had Chicago 17 and none of us had yet purchased the We are the World album with “Good for Nothing” on it). More importantly for me, this was the very first new song I had heard by this new-to-me band.

 

I remember us digging the tune quite a bit, but there was still a slight hesitancy. As horn players ourselves, we wondered if the famous Chicago horns would be featured more like the old days or relegated to the background like on the two most recent records. Well, all we had to do was play the flip side. “One More Day” blared through the speakers and, almost as one, we three shouted “Now that's Chicago!”

 

Buying That First New Chicago Album

 

Wikipedia tells me that the official release date for Chicago 18 is 29 September 1986 (a Monday), but I can assure you I bought it on a bright and sunny Saturday, 27 September. How can I remember it so clearly? Well, life events seared this date and this album into my own personal memory.

 

By 1986, I had gone something like three years with weekend trips across Houston to visit my grandpa, have breakfast with him, mow his lawn, have some lunch, and have him overpay me for my efforts. Isn't that what grandparents are supposed to do? After lunch, I headed over to the Sound Warehouse near his house and there it was, Chicago 18, on cassette.

 

Now, my fifty-two-year-old brain is trying to sift through memories. I own the 1986-era CD version but I no longer own the cassette. I’m pretty sure I bought the cassette that September day thirty-five years ago, so we’ll just go with that. But later, when I bought the CD that came in the longbox, I cut up the cardboard and used it to decorate my room and, later, dorm room walls.

 

The Music

 

With only two songs on the initial single, that meant I had eight brand-new songs to hear. I had pretty much internalized both the new “25 or 6 to 4” and “One More Day” by 27 September so I had an inkling of what to expect. Right out of the gate, the new guy gets to shine.

 

“Niagara Falls” opens the album with that triplet rhythm. The sound is soaked in Peak 80s synth, something I loved at the time. Probably at the behest of producer David Foster, Jason Scheff sounded more like Peter Cetera than he, Scheff, probably wanted to, but that was the gig in 1986. Danny Serephine’s drums are also largely programmed as was many of the percussion in the mid-80s. Complimenting Scheff’s initial vocal is veteran Bill Champlin, then on his third Chicago album.

 

In light of my commentary on the sequencing of Chicago XIV, it’s interesting on listening to Chicago 18 all the way through for the first time in a long time that Champlin doesn’t have a lead vocal until track 7, and then only two on the entire album. But by 1986, all the main hits Chicago had in that decade featured the high tenor of Cetera, with “Hard Habit To Break” being the only exception, so it makes sense. It also points to the next album where Champlin would finally get the spotlight on him.

 

“Forever” is Robert Lamm’s first song of the album. Much like nearly every Lamm-penned tune over the band’s fifty-four-year history, Lamm’s soaring vocals are always complimented by the Chicago horns. It also features not only the first extended horn break of the album, but a fantastic tenor sax solo by Walt Paraziader.

 

“If She Would Have Been Faithful” comes in a track 3, the usual first single spot for many an 80s album. A power ballad the likes of which Foster and Chicago are renown for, Scheff and Champlin shine on their vocal delivery. The guitar work—especially that short solo before the bridge—is stellar, the horns, and the overall orchestral vibe make this a standout. I always loved that little stinger towards the end before they start repeating the chorus, and Scheff’s high vocals on “missed out on you” are great,” but one of the best things on Chicago 18 is how this song ends and the next begins.

 

With no silence between tracks, “25 or 6 to 4” begins on the downbeat right after the last note from “If She Would Have Been Faithful” concludes. I enjoy this reimagining of the then sixteen-year-old song. The brass additions are fun, but that metal-like guitar solo is fantastic.

 

When it comes to arranged songs by Chicago, “Will You Still Love Me?” is arguably one of the best. There is an ethereal quality to Scheff’s vocals that would work well had this song been played by an orchestra. Champlin again compliments with his deeper baritone. One of my favorite ballads the band has ever done.

 

Lamm opens Side 2 with “Over and Over,” another song with Lamm singing long, lofty notes over the rhythm. Again, Champlin serves as a sideman here, throwing his vocals judiciously, making this one of two (?) songs—“Only You” being the other—where Champlin and Lamm co-sing.

 

Finally, with “It’s Alright,” Champlin gets to sing lead. It’s a fun song with a group chorus that is primed and ready for in-concert audience sing-a-long.

 

Horn players James Pankow (trombone), Lee Loughnane (trumpet), and Parazaider probably became irritated as they were sidelined in the 1980s in favor of the hornless or horn-lite songs, so they threw on “Free Flight,” as a short interlude to remind listeners about the thing that make Chicago unique on the rock landscape. Yet it leads directly into another ballad, the first Scheff-penned song for the band. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” is a good tune that features the horns, Scheff’s excellent bass playing on the upper frets, all coated in that Foster-mandated synth gloss.

 

Speaking of 80s-era synth sounds, “I Believe” is drenched with it. Champin’s second lead vocal also serves as the first true duet with Scheff. Taking nothing away from the Cetera/Champlin or Cetera/Kath, but the vocals of Champlin/Scheff seem to meld together a bit more seamlessly. Now, one might argue that this similarity lends itself to a listener wondering when one guy stops singing and the other guy starts (see “Bethlehem” from the second Christmas album), but I have always enjoyed how well these two vocalists sing together.

 

Speaking of singing together, Chicago 18 boasts one of the few triple-vocals in the entire discography. “One More Day” not only has Lamm, Champlin, and Scheff trading off singing, but it’s got a great horn break. It also brings back some of that social consciousness so prominent in the early days. Just like that afternoon in August 1986 when my friends and I heard this tune for the first time, this is classic Chicago circa 1986.

 

It took years for me to learn this, but there was one more song recorded for Chicago 18 but never released. In fact, I heard it first on Lamm’s 1995 solo album Life is Good in My Neighborhood. “When Will the World Be Like Lovers?” is another triple-vocal tune, co-written by Lamm, with lyrics lamenting the state of the world. A kick-ass short guitar solo leads to an outro laced with horns and a lyric callback to the song “Beginnings”. I loved this tune as soon as I heard it and wished it would have landed on the official album. Back then, however, when you had three formats available, the LP still dictated how long an album could be. Not sure there was space enough for an eleventh song or if Foster thought this song was too similar to “One More Day,” but WWTWBLL went unreleased. You can find it online.

 

The Verdict and What Chicago 18 Means to Me

 

As the years have passed, my infatuation with the sound of music from the 1980s has waned. I’m talking the synth-fueled pop tunes of that decade versus the hair metal or heavier songs. I don’t dislike those kinds of songs, but I also never seek them out either. Over time, my favorite Chicago album of the 1980s has become Chicago 19, largely because the band had parted from David Foster and his style and sound of producing. It gave the guys in the band, especially Scheff, space to breathe and try something a bit different, and that difference mattered to me. Sure there are ballads on 19, but they just sound a bit edgier than those from 16-18. The horns are higher in the mix on 19, and Champlin simply shines. That album also features my favorite 80s-era song, “You’re Not Alone,” a hornless rocker the irony of which is not lost on me.

 

Chicago 18 has fallen out of my Top 10 favorite Chicago albums. Even in 1986, I still had new albums to discover in their back catalog. I honestly can’t remember the last album from the older discography I finally bought, but I think it was either XI or XIV. As you can imagine (or even remember in your own journey of discovery of Chicago), with each new/old album you hear, it jockeys for position in the Top 10. Eventually, I enjoyed more albums to a greater degree than Chicago 18 and it never recovered. The truth of that fact is that, in preparing for this piece, I listened to the album all the way through for the first time in forever.

 

But I still love a core set of tunes from Chicago 18 and I have eight of the eleven (I include WWTWBLL on my iTunes) songs on my phone’s playlist (NF, NGSUN, and IB don’t make the cut). Side 1 is all but perfect. Heck, every album from 16-19 has a great Side 1. Just imagine if those four sides were packaged as a double album.

 

Circling back to my personal history with Chicago 18, you might remember that I know for certain I bought this album thirty-five years ago today. Not sure how Sound Warehouse put the album out early (if Wikipedia is to be trusted) but they did.

 

September 27 is my mom’s birthday and it’s always good to remember your mom’s birthday. But that September weekend in 1986 was also homecoming. My first girlfriend and I had been dating well over a year by that point. As a senior, it was my last homecoming game as a student. I had my eyes set on attending the University of Texas at Austin and joining the Longhorn Band (done and done) and becoming a lawyer (not done, much to my happiness). How awesome was it to have homecoming, Saturday morning with your grandpa, your mom’s birthday, and the new Chicago album all released on the same weekend?

 

Well, it was great, until Sunday morning. That was when my girlfriend’s mom informed her the family was moving from Houston to Pittsburgh in a week. Thankfully, the mom had kept that news from her daughter and me so that homecoming could be celebrated without that dark cloud hanging over everything. But after the news broke and our hearts were ripped out of our chests, songs like “Forever” and “Will You Still Love Me” took on a greater meaning.

 

I can listen to these tunes now and not think about that time. Thirty-five years of additional life memories will do that for you. But it also marks the double-edged significance this album holds for me. In fact, in a recent 2021 interview, I experienced something similar. Trombonist James Pankow dropped the news that the band used the pandemic lockdown to get in the studio and record new songs for a brand-new Chicago album. The elation that erupted through me—complete with a yell of triumph heard throughout the house—instantly grew somber as he went on in the next sentence to state that’ll it likely be the band’s last album. It’s understandable for a band that’s nearly fifty-five years old featuring founding members in their seventies, but the news still stings.

 

Yet the music of Chicago 38 will live on, just as the music of Chicago 18 has lived on these past thirty-five years. Happy birthday mom, and happy anniversary to my first-ever new Chicago album.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Process and a Podcast

There must be something in the air this week, because a good number of the writers I follow on Twitter had writing challenges. I did, too, but there is a solution.

On Thursday, Texan Jeff Abbott tweeted this:

“writing early this morning, i had been pondering since last night how to fix a chapter opening, had no good idea, sat down to the chapter, in desperation typed three sentences, character-driven solution presented itself to my weary brain, onward”

Later the same day, Bryon Quertermous had a short thread, the last of which contained this little nugget:

 “Writing can cause so many problems, but almost every time, the solution to a writing problem is to write through it. 5/5”

As for me, I’d been suffering a lazy streak. Part of it certainly had to do with how to craft the beginning of my next chapter. I had struggled to end the previous chapter in a satisfactory way, so I just ended it. The subconscious must’ve festered on my dissatisfaction with that ending because it kept hindering my forward progress.

Until this week. As a writer with a day job, I’m time locked with my writing time. I also hadn’t been doing my exercises as often as I needed to and it’s lack was catching up to me. So I did the most basic thing in the world: Gave myself no excuses. I compelled myself to wake at 5am, get on the rowing machine within five minutes of waking, and after a brisk ten-minute session, sat at my computer and wrote.

Guess what? The words came, fast and furious, until I had to stop and get ready for work. I didn’t mind, really. I had accomplished something. Two things, in fact. I had cleared my mind of the block that hampered my writing as well as the exercise. That was a great day.

No matter the writer, no matter how many stories the writer has completed, there will always be days in which the stuff just doesn’t happen. The brain might be wonky or filled up with life’s clutter. It’s going to happen, so it’s best not to get upset about it.

But there is a way to mitigate the hangups: Rely on the process. Don’t wait for inspiration. For nearly all of us, that means getting in front of our screens and doing the work. When we’re there, inspiration will come. It always does.

My First Podcast Interview


This process of always being available is part of my writing life on which I constantly rely. It’s one of the things Paul Bishop and I discuss in my first-ever podcast interview. It dropped this week and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Have a listen.

Or use this link to get the episode in your preferred podcast-listening app.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

My Interview on the Six Gun Justice Podcast

I'm an avid podcast listener, so it thrills me to say that I'm actually on a podcast!

Paul Bishop of the Six Gun Justice podcast interviewed me recently and the episode dropped today. You can download the episode on the podcast app of your choice--I use Overcast--or listen in a browser at this link

In the conversation, Paul and I discuss westerns, how I came to write my first book, the writing process overall, and Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, my first collaboration with Edward A. Grainger, featuring the teaming up of his characters and my own Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective.

Enjoy.


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Favorite Movies and TV Shows Featuring Trains

Earlier this week, over at the Western Fictioneers blog, I posted this column. It served as a fun list of my personal favorite movies and TV shows that feature trains, but it also revealed the cover of an upcoming collaboration with David Cranmer, aka Edward A. Grainger.

Enjoy.

When you think of what makes a western a western, railroads and trains naturally make it onto the Top 10 list. They may not be in the Top 5, but they certainly play a significant role. I know they did when it came time for me to write my own western stories, especially with the creation of Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective. You see? It's right there in his title.

David and I emerged on the scene more or less at the same time, now over a decade ago. We each ended up creating a western hero. He created Cash Laramie, the Outlaw Marshal, who, along with his partner, Gideon Miles, deal with outlaws and desperadoes wherever they rear their ugly heads. For me, I spawned Calvin Carter, a former actor who, in the course of tracking down the man who killed Carter's father, learned he had a knack for detecting. He often dons disguises and uses his acting abilities to bring a certain amount of flair to the role of his lifetime.

A while back, David suggested we team up our heroes and, after a decade of stops and starts, the first pairing of Cash and Carter will be published this fall. In Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, owlhoots have hijacked the inaugural run of the fastest train in the west, and it's up to Cash and Miles to retake the train. Unbeknownst to them, Carter is on board, in disguise, as he, too, attempts to thwart the hijackers while saving the passengers, including the renowned actress Lillie Langtry.

David thought it a fun idea if I made a list of favorite trains in movies and TV. I agreed, but then quickly realized something. Not only did my list almost instantly get filled with non-western ideas, but some of the more well known westerns to feature trains were movies or TV shows with which I am not familiar. Thus, you won't find Hell on Wheels on this list because I simply haven't watched it. And while I have watched both versions of 3:10 to Yuma, I can't speak with any authority because I can't remember a lot of the plot. 

So, with these caveats in mind, here's my list.

The Great Train Robbery (1978)


If I'm being honest, this might be the first heist film I ever saw. From the opening of Sean Connery's voiceover explaining how the gold is transported and secured, you sit on the edge of your seat wondering if he and his team will pull off the robbery from a moving train. 

Many of the scenes I first saw in my youth remained with me, but two always rose to the top. The ending, when Connery's Pierce, escapes on the police carriage as he was destined for jail, smiling all the way, his arms extended in a sort of bow, really stuck with me. Only now that I think of it do I think a part of Carter's DNA must have emerged from Connery's performance.

The other scene that has always stuck with me is Donald Sutherland's Agar as he runs into the train office and makes wax impressions of the keys, all within 75 seconds. I was enthralled by that kind of thinking and ingenuity. I think this film might've set the stage for my continued enjoyment of heist films, and it undoubtedly enamored me with the charming con man.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)


I only saw this film for the first time this century as it is my wife's favorite western. And really, what more is there to say about this Sergio Leone epic that hasn't already been said? Ennio Morricone's score is brilliant, giving the film not only its epic feel but saying, through music, how the modern world is encroaching on the frontier in the form of the railroad.

I appreciate how the locomotive and the building of the railroad serve as the central character in this film, a character that is, in effect, the march of time and we people must adjust to it or get out of the way. And, unlike many westerns that feature railroads, it was a dirty, hot, and mind-numbingly brutal job, but a job that needed to be done, no matter the cost. Of all of Leone's films, this one remains a favorite.

From Russia With Love


I love James Bond and nearly all of his films, but as I've gotten older, I've become more interested in the movies with smaller stakes. This film, the second in the franchise, has a pretty spectacular train sequence that the historian in me loves. 

After Bond and Tatiana Romanova have escaped with the Lektor cryptograph machine, they flee on one of the most famous trains: the Orient Express. In these scenes in the middle of the film, you get to see what it was like to travel in style in what is probably the last major decade where train travel was considered a viable economic means of transportation before planes surpassed it.

Key to my enjoyment of the train sequence is the fight between Bond and Red Grant (Robert Shaw). It is the close confines of a train compartment that give the fight its brutal nature. No gadgets, just fists and brawn and brains. A different Bond (Roger Moore) would again fight in a train (Moonraker), but this Sean Connery version--look at that; two Connery films--is my favorite.

The Wild Wild West


No discussion of westerns and railroads would be complete without a mention of The Wanderer, the train and tricked out rail car of James West and Artemus Gordon. Again, TWWW was my first, favorite western TV show. Being a Star Wars kid, I loved the gadgets, the steampunk-before-steampunk-was-a-thing vibe, and West and Gordon's "home." No matter how many time owlhoots or Dr. Miguelito Loveless boarded the train, you knew there was something the Secret Service agents could do to get themselves out of any predicament. 

Not only the gadgets, but I also appreciated how there was science equipment for Gordon to do his investigations and his disguises. 

Like the bridge of Star Trek's Enterprise, so many episodes either began or ended on board The Wanderer that it became a crucial component of a wonderfully entertaining TV show.

Back to the Future: Part III


When David asked me the question about railroads in the old west, this is the first one that came to mind. 

I consider the first film to be one of those perfect films not only as a time capsule of its time, but the storytelling mechanics within the movie itself. The second one gave us three looks: their future (2015, now our past), an alternate 1985, and a trippy return to the events of the 1955-part of the first film. 

But I have a special love for Part III. Set almost entirely in the old west, director Robert Zemeckis basically made a western that held true to all the aspects we have come to love about westerns, but with a twist. Doc Brown not only makes a steam-powered ice machine but he also gets a delightful love story.

Act III's central action sequence is on a train, one they have to get up to 88 MPH as it pushes the futuristic Delorean down the tracks and back to the future. Plus we get a spectacular crash as the locomotive in 1888 falls off the incomplete bridge and crashes into Eastwood Ravine.

As fun as that is, however, it's in the movie's closing moments when we get a truly over-the-top train. Doc Brown, his wife, and two boys (Jules and Verne) return to 1985 to say good-bye to Marty McFly in a *flying train*. 

Mic. Drop

Well, those are my favorite trains in movies and TV. What about yours?

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Ignore the Scoreboard: A Writing Process

The NFL season kicked off on Thursday of this week, but I was already prepared because of Peter King.

For many years now, a NFL weekend is not complete until I read King’s Monday column. And they are long. Wonderfully so. He covers the weekend’s action, what he’s reading, what beer he likes, tales from the road, and other non-sports pieces as well in a segment he dubs “10 Things I Think I Think.”

On Monday, King commented on a recent article with Nick Saban, the head football coach at Alabama.

“I think I learned something about Nick Saban in his enlightening interview with Alan Blinder of the New York Times. Saban’s a lot more malleable as a coach than I thought. Listen to him about how his approach to coaching has changed:

“The biggest thing that has changed for me — and you might be shocked when I say this — is that I’ve actually become, through the years and through the experiences, a lot less outcome-oriented and a lot more process-oriented. I think that approach carries over to the players because then they become less outcome-oriented, and they’re more focused on process, they’re more focused on one play at a time, exactly what do I have to do and how do I have to do it, what’s going to help me be successful here, and they’re not looking at the scoreboard like we’ve got to win the game. They’re focusing on one play at a time.”

King then continued:

“I think that reminds me so much of what Drew Brees told me a couple of years ago, when I asked him what advice he’d have for your quarterbacks. In effect, Brees said, Ignore the scoreboard. Think about making every play the best it can be. Worrying about the scoreboard distracts from the only thing you can control—the next play. Great advice for football, and for life.”

And great advice for us writers.

The scoreboard for us is when the book is published and some of us might obsess about Amazon reviews or how our book is doing with readers. All things we cannot control and over which we have zero power.

To keep the football analogy going, the next play for us writers could be something as small as the next chapter or as large as the next book. Keep your focus localized to your own work and let the scoreboard take care of itself.

Because every now and then, you’ll fumble the ball and produce a book folk won’t enjoy even if you loved it and poured your heart into it. But at the same time, there will be those days when you publish a story everyone loves and the confetti will cascade down from the rafters.

Be mindful of both moments.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Reading Aloud to Improve Your Writing

Over at DoSomeDamage, I read Jay's blog from yesterday and I thoroughly enjoyed his bonus content where he posted a video of him reading a chapter of his latest work in progress. (I really loved that one of the characters shared my name.) 

Anyway, I loved it so much...that I did the same thing. 

It's a fundamental truth in writing that if you read your prose and dialogue aloud, you will hear errors your eyes miss. It'll also help your character to sound more natural. 

So, here you go: me reading a random chapter (actually the latest) of my current manuscript. (Boy, did YouTube select an awkward image of me.)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Two Observations on Storytelling: Stephen King and “Unforgotten”

Two things struck me this week about the power of storytelling and the ability to weave a good tale. The first is not spoilerific—I haven’t finished the novel yet—while the second is very spoiler-heavy. Be warned.

Stephen King’s Billy Summers

I started King’s new novel this week. I’m listening to the audiobook from my local library via the awesome Libby app (y’all’ve got that app, right?). I was an avid reader of King’s novels from about 1987 (when I graduated from high school and entered college) all the way through the late 1990s and into the early 2000s. If he wrote a book, I read it or listened to it.

Somewhen over the 2010s, however, I started slowing. He didn’t, but I did. Don’t really have a reason. It just happened. In fact, the last King book I can remember listening to was Joyland. 


When Billy Summers was published, I decided to give it a try. In the story, Billy Summers is a former sniper now hired killer. He poses as a writer and, knowing those folks who hired him are monitoring his activity on the MacBook they supplied him, Billy begins to write his memoirs.

As soon as I heard that, I rolled my eyes. “Yet another story within a story thing from Stephen King? Really?”

Really.

It’s a thing King has done more than once. It’s particularly effective in Misery, but there are other examples. In that book, the font changed to indicate the story-within-the-story. In the audio of Billy Summers, narrator Paul Sparks slightly changes his voice so you can tell what part of the novel you are listening to.

Being an audiobook, yes, I can fast-forward but I would have no way of knowing when the ‘autobiography’ part stopped and the ‘Billy Summers’ part began. So, I did what the author wanted me to do: I listened.

And dang if the story-within-the-story part became almost as compelling as the main novel. There are whole sections of the story-within-the-story and I found myself really getting into that part. Then it would stop and I’d be reminded about the main story.

As if anyone ever needed any more examples of how good a storyteller Stephen King is, I’ll go ahead and submit this one into evidence. Like his stories or not, think they might be too long or not, you cannot dispute Stephen King is a modern master of the writing craft. I have known that ever since I read my first King novel—Pet Semetary—but I just needed a reminder. I got one this week.

The Ending of Unforgotten, Season 4

[Spoilers, folks]

Here in American, Masterpiece aired episode 6, the finale of Unforgotten, season 4, last Sunday. I’ve written about this BBC series before (how season 4’s opening episode instantly grabbed me) but season 4 did a couple of remarkable things for me.

One involved actor Andy Nyman. Before Unforgotten, I only knew Nyman as the comedic actor he is in Death at a Funeral. He is hilarious in that 2007 Frank Oz film and it took a little bit of time in episode 1 not to think of that funny character every time he appeared on screen. 

But by the finale, I earned a whole new respect for his acting prowess. He was wonderful, nuanced, and my favorite actor outside of the core group.

Speaking of the core group, Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaska play partner who solve cold cases. I’ve written about how much they are a breath of fresh air in detective shows. They’re not raging alcoholics or any of the usual tropes we see in TV cop shows. They are just normal people doing a dirty job the best that they can. They respect each other, but there’s not a hint of “will they or won’t they?’ in their relationship. They are friends and partners who deeply care for a love one another.

So it came as quite a shock to my wife and I as we watched the final moments of episode 5 when Walker’s character, Cassie Stuart, was driving and someone broadsided her car. In the previews of episode 6, we saw her in a hospital bed and all the other characters reacting to the news. We looked at each other and, other than wondering which of the suspects did the deed, wondered how Cassie was going to recover.

Spoiler alert: she didn’t. The character died. 

For older shows (Unforgotten aired on the BBC earlier this year), I do not do any research while I’m watching for the first time. News items can ruin big things that way. So I had no way of knowing what was coming.

It’s not every day when a main character is killed off on a popular TV show. I don’t know the ins and outs of Walker’s contract or any behind-the-scenes stuff so I don’t know why she left. But her leaving enabled a show that features normal people doing a troubling job the opportunity to show how those same normal character deal with the death of a friend and partner and commanding officer. It was stellar. 

The director also made a nice storytelling technique as well: for almost the entire last episode, Walker only appeared in the hospital bed. Only toward the end did we get to see Cassie leave the voice mail her father listens to over and over again, giving us viewers one last look at a beloved character.

And we also got a moving soliloquy from Bhaska’s Sunny. Just as the shock of Cassie’s passing took my breath away, Sunny’s little speech opened the waterworks.

Great storytelling.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Working Out and Writing: The Obvious Revelation

Today, my wife and I turn twenty-two and we have reached that stage in a marriage when we get joint gifts. 

My wife is an accomplished jewelry artist (her website) so from the jump, store-bought jewelry was off the table, a thing that's both more a blessing than a curse since she can dream up anything she wants and just make it. Moreover, we are blessed with my full-time day job so we really lack for nothing. 

So we opted for a joint gift this year: a rowing machine. It's a svelte little ditty that sits adjacent to our entertainment armoire in the TV room. It folds up with not in use, and there is room right in front of it for me to put my Chromebook in easy viewing range so I can follow along with the YouTube workouts I'm following.

For me this week, I've been doing my rowing exercises first thing in the morning. I wake, put on the workout clothes, and hop on the machine. Having never really worked out on a rowing machine before, this is Week 1 so I'm doing one of those beginner workouts. It's challenging enough to leave a thin sheet of sweat on me as I fold it back up and head on over to the kitchen table and bring up the latest novel-in-progress. With hot coffee next to me, I start writing.

And boy what a surprise I got this week.

Those ten minutes on the rowing machine not only woke me up way better than coffee, but it did so by getting my heart pumping and the blood flowing. Look, I know that's obvious, but before this week, I've never done a workout and a writing session back-to-back. It's an eye-opener.

With my body fully awake and ready for more--I'll be doing a longer workout next week after I get used to the technique of rowing--the only outlet I have is the imagination of writing. And the creativity pours into me and onto the screen.

As the anecdotal evidence was revealed to me this week, I remembered one of the DVD extras on season 1 of Castle. Stephen J. Cannell took actor Nathan Fillion through what a normal day for Cannell the Writer is like. A key part of his daily routine is working out. 

I pump iron and do push-ups and pull-ups everyday, but it's the cardio workout right before a writing session that really enlightened me. I rarely need any outside prompt to sit at the keyboard and create stories, but I certainly have a new process I'm excited to keep trying. I can also imagine that day when the story isn't flowing as seamlessly as it should that I jump on the rowing machine and let the body do the heavy lifting and get the blood flowing while the brain rests. I suspect it'll clear the cobwebs pretty darn well.

How about you? Do you combine a workout and writing session?

Monday, August 9, 2021

What Is Your MVWC?

How do you keep going?  On anything. 

If you're a runner, you lace up the shoes, don your favorite running clothes, maybe grab your phone for some music, and head out the door. If you're a student, you keep studying. If you're lawyer or doctor or just about anything, you just keep doing the thing you either trained to do or are getting paid to do.

So why do we writers and other creative types fall off the wagon? 

There are countless posts--like this one--talking about how we writers get thrown off our game. Sometimes the forces are external and uncontrollable. Often, however, they are self-inflicted. We sleep in and miss that 5am writing time. We might always write at night, but the day job took everything out of us and we'd rather just watch TV or do nothing. No brain use tonight, thank you very much.

It happens. It always happens. It's like Houston summers, New York winters, and rain in London. The thing you expect always, always happens. 

What To Do About It?

Okay, so it happens. We writers lose our mojo for whatever reason. How do you get it back when you've been thrown off the horse. Get back on the horse. 

Ah, but that's easier said than done. Why? 

One reason might be that we remember how the mojo felt on our last project. Remember that feeling, when everything was aligned and your fingers could barely keep up with the images in your brain? I've had that feeling and it is like a drug. It's intoxicating. What we always forget about that project were the slow times, the beginning, the part where you had to pause and sort out plot points, and when you struggled with that one stupid chapter.

But you got your mojo back and sailed across the finish line to The End. And, most likely, we celebrated with something bubbly and decided to take a break. 

That's not what I'm talking about today. I think breaks are a necessary part of the creative life. Angel said the same thing on Wednesday. What I'm talking about is getting back your mojo. And that brings me to MVWC.

What is MVWC?

I think we're all familiar with the concept of a Minimum Viable Product. It's the phase in the development of a product or service where the inventor can start selling the thing even though all the bugs are not yet ironed out. The MVP can also be called the 1.0 Version. Early adopters love this stuff because you can say "I  was there when X was just out." Same is true for the early careers of actors, musicians, writers, and other creatives.

When it comes to us writers, we can use the same concept. What is the minimum word count I need to get back my mojo?

[Keep this bookmark right here in mind. You'll need it at the end of this post.]

The Minimum Viable Word Count, the MVWC, is the word count you can easily achieve without even breaking a sweat. The kind you can type in fifteen minutes or thirty or an hour each day you are working on a project. Because, as we all know, words on a page are words out of your head. We can fix them later, but forward progress was made and the momentum builds. When that happens, we have our mojo back and we can soar through the clouds and get to The End.

I think the MVWC is a key metric you'll need when you get back on the writing horse or after a break or when a project's really thrown you for a loop. You're irritated, you don't know where the story's going, you don't really know how to begin. So you reach for your MVWC and do the bare minimum. It is forward progress. You will feel better. And, soon, the MVWC will rise and grow and the mojo takes over and you hold on for the ride.

But the MVWC itself. That's what you have to find for yourself. For some, it might be 250 words. Maybe 500. If you do NaNoWriMo in November, that daily word count is 1,667 words per day to achieve 50,000 in a month.

A lot of times for me, it's 1,000 words per day. I often keep track of a story's progress by using a spreadsheet. I have it coded with a baseline number and it automatically color codes the numbers green (if I achieve my goal) or red (if I fall short).

That’s all well and good for when you are in the groove, however. What about getting started? Ah, that’s for you to determine. What’s your MVWC you need to reach each day you’re writing a story so that you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment? 

Whatever that number is, make it reasonable, easily achievable, and sustainable. Some writers might up their MVWC to a higher number, a goal they can’t reach consistently unless everything goes right. And, come on: how many days do we live through that are perfect? 

Keep the MVWC sustainable or you’ll burn out and then you’ll start back behind square one.


Remember that bookmark earlier in this post? I wrote the start of this post on my lunch break, in a conference room, with just me and my Chromebook. I was time-limited after eating so I set a stopwatch and timed myself. In 15 minutes, I wrote 477 words, give or take. So roughly 500 words in 15 minutes. One could extrapolate from there.

Now, when I’m getting back on the writing wagon, it’s always slow going. And I’m almost always time-limited be it part of the 5am writing session or the lunch hour one. I rarely have a long stretch of dedicated writing time so I have to adjust my MVWC.

Now that I’ve been writing this piece, I think my MVWC is around 500. That’s easily achievable in 30 minutes or less. I can blow way past it when I’m flying yet I can struggle to get there when the story’s mired in molasses. But it is consistently achievable and sustainable. When I log off at 5:55am or after lunch, I can always walk a little taller and with a smile on my face when I’ve hit my MVWC.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Fan Backlash in the Mystery Community

Last week, I watched the first five episode of Masters of the Universe: Revelation. Kevin Smith served as the showrunner. He’s a (seemingly) beloved member of the geek community who made movies lots of geek boys and girls enjoyed, but the reaction (among some) to the new MOTU (as the cool kids refer to Masters of the Universe) series was, um, over the top?

I had never seen any of Smith’s films until 2019 when I watched them all. Having been introduced to his style of filmmaking and immensely enjoying the banter between Smith and co-host Marc Bernardin on the Fatman Beyond podcast, I was going to give MOTU: Revelation a look. I had never seen anything MOTU in its forty-year life, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

But that got me thinking about the mystery community and if there were any properties, characters, or franchises that generated that kind of vitriol. Honestly, I could think of few if any. Well, until a month ago.

Sherlock Holmes

Two of the biggest reactions that come to mind involves Sherlock Holmes. Back in 2009 when the Robert Downey, Jr. film came out, folks had a few things to say about Downey’s interpretation of the famed detective. As I wrote in my review of the movie, Downey merely went back to the original source material—A Study in Scarlet—to get his inspiration. Don’t blame him. Blame Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for not following up on concepts he originally wrote in 1887.

Cut to ELEMENTARY, the CBS TV show that dared to gender swap Watson. If Jeremy Brett’s version of Holmes is my favorite traditional version of the character, then Johnny Lee Miller’s interpretation is my favorite non-traditional version. And Lucy Liu as Watson more than held her own. In this show, both characters were allowed to grow and evolve, something the original Doyle version didn’t do.

The Shadow

Perhaps the closest in terms of reactions to MOTU is fans of The Shadow.

I’m not sure if you knew this or not but James Patterson has written a new Shadow novel and die-hard fans of the character are losing their minds. Granted, I’ve not read it yet, but fans are chastising Patterson’s choices at just about every turn. I’ll reserve final judgement until I’ve actually read the novel, but I always hang my hat on a standard thought: if The New Thing (which might not be 100% accurate to the original) gets new readers/viewers interested in the Original Thing and go back and read/watch the original, is that a bad thing?

Other Mystery Properties

I know of but haven’t read any of the Ace Atkins-penned continuations of the Spencer novels originally written by Robert B. Parker. Still, I can’t remember any blogger or YouTuber going out into the world and bitching about it.

I know Max Allen Collins continued Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer stories, but Collins was specifically selected by the late Spillane to continue the work. I can’t remember anyone complaining. It’s more Mike Hammer!

I think, but can’t confirm, that there’s a Hercule Poirot continuation.

Did anyone complain when John Gardner started writing new James Bond novels? 

There might be more, but I think you get the point. By and large, and to the best of my knowledge, mystery fans don’t have a cow when a new person carries on the legacy of an established property. 

No Ruining of Our Respective Childhoods

Why? 

Well, possibly it’s because many of these beloved characters we discovered are first read as adults, Holmes being the likely exception. There’s no danger of someone like Garnder “ruining our childhoods” by making Bond do something different than original author Ian Fleming. Heck, the movies already did that. 

I’m pretty sure mystery fans loved their characters just as much as geek boys and gals love MOTU or Star Wars, so why isn’t there an outcry when an old property is given new life?

I don’t have the answer, but what are your thoughts?

Monday, July 26, 2021

I Finally Watched Masters of the Universe: Revelation

By the power of geekdom, how can folks not like Masters of the Universe: Revelation? I'm not sure, because it is an epic, summer blockbuster movie in five episodes with one massive cliffhanger.

My (Lack of) Background with MOTU

I have none. Zero. While showrunner, Kevin Smith, and I are both from Generation X, I'm two years older than he is. As such, back in 1983 when the original cartoon debuted, I had just aged out of the target audience for He-Man and his toy line. I was a Star Wars kid who owned a ton of those toys, but I was just not interested in MOTU. Even when Return of the Jedi landed in theaters, I didn't buy a single ROTJ toy. I had just graduated from middle school. I was heading into high school in the fall of 1983. I was, I suppose, growing up, and leaving toys behind.

That said, I knew a few things. I knew that the hero was He-Man, his lady friend was She-Ra (literally thought that was her name until I started watching Revelation), and his enemy was Skeletor, a dang cool-looking villain. And I knew the setting was Grayskull which, when you looked at the name and the visuals, I just assumed was where Skeletor lived. Other than that, I knew next to nothing about MOTU and never bothered to learn. I didn't even see the live-action movie with Dolph Lundgren. Even when He-Man made an appearance in DC Comics alongside Superman, I probably just shrugged and waited until the next issue. Needless to say, I barely gave MOTU any thought.

My Background with Kevin Smith

I had never seen any of Smith's films until 2019 when I saw all of them. For me, he was a podcaster, the host of Fat Man on Batman. I loved his deep dives into Batman, the comics, and all the things that excited him because they also thrilled me. I wrote a blog series back in 2019 where I finally watched and reviewed all his films (and my favorite often surprises people) leading up to Jay and Silent Bob Reboot's release. (Every post began with "I Finally" so I kept it here, too, even though MOTU: Revelation is brand-new.) I saw it at a special screening here in Houston with Smith and Jay Mewes in attendance. It was a great night.

Along the way, writer Marc Bernardin joined Smith as a cohost for Fat Man on Batman that morphed into what it is now: Fatman Beyond, a podcast where Kevin and Marc talk about geek news, take questions from the audience, and generally weigh in on all things geek. Over the years, however, the writing lessons of Marc and his in-depth commentary on movies and story, have become an education for anyone who cares to listen. He has a way of cutting through all the clutter and getting down to the crux of a story and why it ticks or doesn't. I started transcribing Marc's comments into a quote folder. While I am very much like Kevin when it comes to emotionally reacting to various things (audience reaction videos to the end of Avengers: Endgame get me every single time), I grew to love Marc's pronouncements on story. It's helped my own writing immensely.

Enter MOTU

Having 'caught up' with Smith's filmmaking, I was in the bag for anything he'd do next. I watched his TV episodes when he directed The Flash and Supergirl, but I wondered what his next big thing would be. When he and Marc announced that it would be an update to MOTU, I likely screwed up my face and uttered a "Why?" aloud for no one to hear. Seriously? He's gonna do an animated show about that toy line back in the 1980s that I didn't care about then or now? 

Yes he was. And the more he talked about it, the more I listened. It wasn't like I could fast-forward through one of the podcasts. Well, I could, but who knew how long it would take for notorious talker Smith to stop talking about MOTU and get on talking about Batman, Marvel movies, or anything else I knew about.

So I listened to everything. And what came through was Smith's boundless enthusiasm. But a key to this excitement for the franchise was not merely the thing he was hired to do. It was enthusiasm for the franchise itself. He loved MOTU and it came through in his voice. It would be something he genuinely wanted to see even if it he wasn't the showrunner. Over time and multiple podcasts, he wore me down. 

When I watched those trailers, I recognized what he and the entire creative team had done: update the visual look from the original Filmation version to a 21st Century sensibility. I started to get excited for this franchise I had never seen.  I knew that whenever MOTU: Revelation dropped, I would watch it. When he indicated Marc would write an episode, that was just icing on the cake. 

MOTU: Revelation Is Epic

Note: Spoilers abound from here on out.

Treating the show like a Saturday morning cartoon, I settled in to watch this new show this past weekend, but I made one crucial decision, the same decision I made when I watched Smith's films back in 2019: I did no pre-watch research. I merely watched the episodes, one after the other, reading no background or reviews. All my reactions to the show would be mine alone.

Thankfully for a newbie like me, the opening of Episode One gives an overview and immediately I realized my error about Castle Grayskull. It's not Skeletor's house. Yet another revelation was He-Man himself. I never realized that was a secret identity. He-Man's basically a super-hero, Shazam-like in that the scrawny Prince Adam bulks up to become the buff and powerful He-Man. I'm down for that.

Speaking of super-hero-type things, during that Episode One battle between Skeletor's forces and the heroes, Skeletor uses his magic to conjure various things, like a giant fist he swings at He-Man. My DC Comics-loving self took a note that said, “Oh, Skeletor’s like Green Lantern." Still good so far. Heck, all of the events of Episode One, which Smith wrote, was all it took for me to instantly be enthralled with the show. The animation was fantastic, the more adult tone was on point, and the action was exactly what I wanted: over-the-top and with stakes. Seriously, what's not to like?

The Music is More Than I Expected

But there was one aspect that I noted more than once in my note-taking: the music. As a guy who considers the soundtrack to a movie just as important as the movie itself, I loved it. When I listen to many of the soundtracks I own--be they from John Williams, James Horner, or others--I can "see" the movie in my mind as I hear the score.

Bear McCreary composed the music not for a mere cartoon. He took to heart the mantra the Mattel folks gave Smith during the creation of the show: make this franchise feel epic and Shakespearian. McCreary delivered. Not only did we get a huge, sweeping orchestral score, but he threw in metal-like guitars in many of the action sequences. That was awesome.

Yet McCreary didn't just compose bombastic music. He wrote the smaller, quieter parts equally as good. You know how seconds after a show ends, Netflix's app prompts you to either skip the credits and jump to the next episode or stay for the credits? I stayed for the credits just to hear McCreay's music. The end piece for Episode One, with its single French Horn mournfully playing after the titanic events that close that episode is a wonderful piece of music that reminded me a little of how Princess Leia's theme from Star Wars (1977) sounded.

The Quest Starts With Lots of Fun References

Naturally, after both He-Man and Skeletor "die" in Episode One, we have the what comes after. Teela (not She-Ra, thank you very much) and everyone else have moved on. So, too, has Eternia, this time, with technology. Science fiction geek that I am, I loved the tech in the next four episodes. And I especially appreciated how it was used in the show. Magic failed Eternia, so tech filled the void. Excellent take and historically accurate analogy (for our world). 

I appreciated how we start with Teela and then revisit every other character and what they've been doing in the years since the magic died. So, too, did I love the little references thrown in for the benefit of the audience, the “if you know, you'll know parts.” "Sorry about the mess," line from Teela was an obvious one, but I also dug the "Certain death? Most likely.“ line as a callback to Disney's The Emperor's New Groove. 

In a nod to the old shows, it was fun to see adventures from back in the day. I'm not sure these were actual episodes remade in the modern style or untold new adventures by our heroes, but I'm game to see them nonetheless. But I thoroughly enjoyed how Episode Three started with a cold open showing a past adventure and when He-Man uttered a cheesy line, the episode flipped back to Teela's new friend, Andra, openly questioning Teela's retelling. It enabled the writer of that episode to acknowledge the source material and the nature of 80s cartoons in general. That writer? Marc Bernardin.

Orko's Speech and Marc Bernardin’s Writing

By Episode Three, Teela has gathered a small team to search for the two halves of the Sword of Power, and that includes Skeletor's former sidekick Evil-Lyn. I only casually watched Game of Thrones but of the handful of episodes I watched, Lena Headey commanded the screen every time she stepped in front of the lens. Her casting as Evil-Lyn was marvelous, especially over the course of this episode as she begins to question all the bad things she did alongside Skeletor. Headey only gives a vocal performance, but you can hear all the cracks in her personal armor start to chip away as she shares times and the quest with the former heroes.

I knew from his commentary in the podcast that Bernardin was a gifted writer. It was his episode for which I most looked forward. And man did he deliver. He gave us humorous lines like "She's the only one with a Skeletor in her closet." Later, when our heroes have dispatched the Mer-Man, Andra says, "Something fishy about that guy." When all look to her, she says, "What? We were all thinking it." Yet for all the funny lines, he supplied some of the most heartfelt moments in all five of these episodes. Evil-Lyn's lament about her early days with Skeletor—"Instead of fulfilling my destiny, I spent a lifetime trying to fulfill his.”—is particularly moving.

But the most poignant lines of this episode were delivered by a character I recognized as being from MOTU but never knew his name: Orko. Griffin Newman voices the diminutive Trollan probably like the old episodes--in a squeaky voice--but still manages to convey tiredness and hopelessness as we first meet him. With the magic gone from Eternia, Orko is slowly dying, being kept alive by magic water delivered to him by Man-at-Arms. When Teela comes calling for Man-at-Arms, she finds Orko as well, and he implores her to take him with her. "I had the best times of my life with you," Orka says via Bernardin's words. "And that's the only thing that can help me right now. More life. But life is out there. So bring me on an adventure. Like you used to. Just this one last time. I won't let you down like the old days. I promise I'll be good." For a newbie like me, those few lines told me all I needed to know about this character. 

But then Orko delivers this speech to Audra:

"I spent years fighting alongside Eternia's greatest warriors. And now, I forget more than I remember. All my memories just blur together. So, if you're gonna lead the life of an adventurer, Andra, you might want to keep a journal. And write down everything you ever do, even the silly stuff you think is forgettable. Because when the adventures are over, that's all you're left with. Good friends and happy memories."

Bernardin is a middle-aged man. So, too, am I, Kevin Smith, and a large majority of the audience who grew up with MOTU. The die-hard fans probably have all the episodes of MOTU on DVD and have memorized many passages. I can do that with Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and others. We've got those collective memories seared into our brains via countless viewings. But how many of us can remember the nuances of childhood, what it was really like to be a youth in high school, the little moments when we met our spouses, or those first months after our children were born. Bernardin, through Orko, is reminding us of what's really important in life: experiences with family and friends.  Orko's sentiment is all the more powerful after he finally has his big moment and sacrifices himself to save his friends. 

The Big Cliffhanger

Speaking of sacrifices, Roboto also gave his life to reforge the Sword of Power. He's at peace with it, however, saying, "I was no mere machine. I was a miracle." Isn't all of life a miracle? Yes, it is. I know these episodes were written in 2019 and into 2020 and I can't help but consider how the pandemic influenced some of this writing. 

Our heroes finally find Prince Adam and discover he's living in heaven with other heroes of Eternia. It's a story beat you knew was coming but still gave you chills when it came to pass. So, too, was Adam's natural decision to return to Eternia and abandon heaven, knowing he could never return. It's what heroes do and, after all, he's He-Man. 

But just as Adam never truly died, neither did Skeletor. His soul, like the Horcruxes of Voldemort in Harry Potter, was stored in Evil-Lyn's wand, and he reemerges just in time to stab Adam as he's about to utter that famous line. In the final moments of Part I, it is Skeletor, voiced by Mark Hamill, who gets to utter the "By the power of Grayskull" line--probably a first for the character--and become the Master of the Universe.

And now, like at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, we have to wait for Part II to drop. Let's just hope it's not another year.

The Subtitle is the Roadmap for Those Who Care to See It

It was only after I watched and thoroughly enjoyed all five episodes that I jumped online (to ensure I got the details of this review correct) and learned about the vitriol being thrown at Smith. Granted, he's used to being criticized for his own movies, but it still surprised me. This wasn't a situation where one company bought another franchise and then made movies divorced from the original creator. Mattel sought out a kindred MOTU spirit and found it in Kevin Smith. He, in turn, recruited folks who loved the franchise and gave it their all, be it in words, music, animation, or voice. 

And Mattel wouldn't have greenlit the project if they disagreed with Smith's vision. They could have stopped it at any time if they didn't like the choices Smith and company were making. But Mattel didn't. They recognized that this is a show created with reverential love and appreciation for the source material. It is a continuation of the story not from the perspective of the corporate suits who made the original but fans who loved and grew up with MOTU and are now in positions of power to say yes to a project like this. 

It seems like much of the fan reaction focuses on He-Man and him not being in every minute of the story. They point to the original title—“He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”—as proof this new iteration is just plain wrong. But it's right there in the title: Masters of the Universe: Revelation. It's not just a He-Man story. It's a story about everyone else, too. Because why not? I'm guessing all those old shows either didn't delve into the characters much or, if they did, it was only He-Man and Skeletor. 

And just as the opening of Episode One revealed the staircase below Castle Grayskull (seemed like this was a new thing), so, too, will it be likely be revealed that He-Man isn't the only person capable of being a Master of the Universe. There were those other heroes now in heaven. And now there's Skeletor. There's a good chance we'll see someone else utter that famous line and have the power. I'm betting it'll be Teela. Heck, it could even be Evil-Lyn (because I think her time with the heroes has changed her). 

But the subtitle is probably forecasting the future. It will all be revealed when we have the entire story. Because let's be honest: we’ve seen only half the story. People are losing their minds with only half the information in their grasp. Seriously, folks. You can't judge Star Wars having only seen A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Ditto for Star Trek (after Wrath of Khan) or Harry Potter (after any book/movie after Goblet of Fire) or Lord of the Rings (after The Two Towers). We don't know the entire story yet.

Fandom Should Grow and Evolve

Besides, what’s wrong with change? Was there an uproar when Frank Miller made Robin a girl in The Dark Knight Returns? How about when Lois Lane discovered Superman’s secret identity? Or when Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck became female? Or Sherlock Holmes’s Watson followed suit? Or when a young woman welded Skywalker’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens? 

Oh, wait, yeah there was. What’s the common denominator? Female empowerment. Why is there a subset of fandom that thinks only white dudes can lead franchises? True, back in the day, they all did because it was white dudes making all the choices. But fandom has evolved to be more inclusive. Back in my day, we geeks sought out each other because most every other clique thought us weird. We collectively bonded over our shared geekdom. Now those geeks have grown up and are making shows like MOTU: Revelation not only for us veteran geeks but for the young ones as well. And those young ones are living in the 21st Century, a world that’s different from the ones we lived through. 

So, from a purely business standpoint, it makes sense to have Teela and Andra and Evil-Lyn be the stars and carry the heavy load because the fandom should be more inclusive. But just by including some doesn’t mean we’re excluding others. The tent is bigger now, more diverse, and with opinions to match. That is a great and healthy accomplishment if we allow it to be.

The Verdict

Back to the marvelous first half of this epic movie (for that’s what it is, just in ten 24-minute installments), this newbie MOTU watcher loved being introduced to the franchise. I was swept away by the scope of the story, the broadness of the music, the excellence of the voice actors, and the modern animation style. It is one of the best things I've seen in 2021 and will likely rank in my Top 5 for this year.

I may be late to the party, but this stuff is really cool and I can’t wait for Part II to drop. In the meantime, however, I think I'll find out where the original series is streaming and dive in.