Status Quo? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Status Quo!

Please be warned, this is kind of a political rant – not about current politics – that is long and tedious. Basically, in my games, I ignore the political status quo in fantasy and historical games because doing so would mean the heroes either support the status quo – interested only in bettering their own condition – or fail to upset it, since this is almost always a long, torturous process that can take centuries to achieve. Better to ignore the likely implications of the setting’s form of government and pretend that our heroes can be heroes in a status quo that does not impose suffering.

Also, I’m examining something that I have identified in myself, and if this doesn’t bother you, it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person or ill-informed or anything else. It’s sad that I have to include that, but GD do I get emails every time I write something like this – which is, therefore, rare.

So, you have been warned. On with the rant/thoughtful introspection.

One of my current D&D campaigns was to be set in historical, early Anglo-Saxon England. It was going to be tinged with fantasy, but hewing relatively closely to the period. Of course, once one injects magic, without a Herculean suspension of disbelief, consistency tends to be difficult. So, we moved to a second-world setting that shared geography, some place-names, and a lot of history with our world.

Injecting a little magic in a setting can have unbalancing effect if one cares about consistency and believability. I’m not talking realism, because I don’t think that’s achievable (but that’s another discussion), rather I’m talking about verisimilitude, I mean a setting with which the players can interact without causing them to wave off inconsistencies with the excuse “this is D&D.”

And in many ways, for me, politics is the same. I was reminded of this when listening to Dr. Bob Brier’s History of Ancient Egypt from the Great Courses (I carry a lot of water for the Great Courses because I think they are so amazing). It was the discussion of the end of the Hyksos reign in Lower Egypt and the rise of the New Kingdom. Dr. Brier was, understandably for an Egyptologist, on the side of the New Kingdom and its pharaoh. I guess I understand, but one of the jobs of a pharaoh was to lead the army and impose Egypt’s power on the lesser states that surrounded it. While the Hyksos invaded and conquered Lower Egypt (which is how the pharaohs became pharaohs as well, but I digress), there wasn’t really a discussion on how they then exported force, imposing their will on trading partners. So maybe they didn’t? So who were the good guys again?

I look at fantasy and I kind of divorce it from the politics of the time. If there are kings and nobles, there are almost certainly serfs. There is certainly an underclass which the propaganda of the age is telling that they must keep their place in the great chain of being – or whatever other euphemism is used for the status quo. Heroes of the age generally are only interested in bettering themselves and their families – Robert the Bruce as a bit of a villain in Braveheart because his family is acting pragmatically rather than for the “good” of Scotland is only one of the many incredibly tone-deaf choices made for the movie, given that Wallace, even in the movie, is basically doing the same thing. Addendum: I love the movie and own a copy but the history and context is excruciatingly bad.

To be a world-shattering hero who accepts a status quo that is observably unjust is to be a villain in some ways – especially in a game with clearly defined morality like D&D. I always contend that most of us do not play characters of the age and place in which the adventure is set, but figures of our own age and culture in that situation. One can argue that the PCs should see the world as it has been defined for them – they should believe in the great chain of being – but then one should have no issues with other actions which they undertake which would be culturally acceptable. I generally cannot – I specifically remove the historical context from my Viking RPG because it is honestly repugnant for me. I like the saga renditions of Vikings as heroes, and I think they make great protagonists for stories, but I cannot find enjoyment in torturing members of a religious community in order to achieve material gain. This is basically the same approach of most modern Westerns – the hero needs to be disassociated from the common practices of the time.

And the problem with playing heroes who rebel against the status quo is that, really, they’re going to fail. I mean, their goals might succeed in the long run, but unless they are the last of a long line of heroes who have been trying to change the status quo, they are almost certainly not going to be the ones to bring about change, any more than the Gracchi brothers in later Republic Rome did – or Spartacus, for that matter.

In the end, too often heroes just decide on which side they want to play rather than trying to upset the board. It’s the same in my Anglo-Saxon campaign. The PCs exist during one period that has been put forward as the time of the historical figure whom we now generally identify as King Arthur. I don’t have a roundtable of noble knights, but since we’ve not got magic, I’ve got Merlin, and Merlin is fighting against the influx of Saxons. Saxons like the PCs. Merlin is also using means the PCs find questionable – slavery. The PCs encounter a fey spirit whom Merlin had bound, forcing it to act against its wishes. This – to the PCs – made Merlin the enemy.

But the PCs serve under Cerdic, a Romano-British leader who has imported large numbers of Saxon mercenaries. Cerdic is carving out his own kingdom and seeking causus belli against other leaders in order to go to war and take their land. He, however, is hiring rather than burying Saxons, so he’s the good guy.

Depending on one’s view of history, one might see one or the other culture at this point in British history as the romantic ideal of Britain, but both practiced slavery, both had a wealthy overclass enforcing its rights through the use of physical and political power, and both believed in the material gain through violence and oppression.

Even if one does something truly extraordinary how long will it last? As an Egyptian example, Pharaoh Akhenaten upset the status quo by imposing a monotheistic religion on the kingdom. That lasted until he died and the priesthood – inextricably intertwined with the nobility – forced Tutankhamun in his minority to return to the old religion and old ways. In any case, none of that helped those who suffered under the political status quo.

I can’t help but root for the underdogs during the Scots Wars of Independence – that would be the Scots in case you are playing at home – but I realize that while Robert the Bruce may have freed Scotland from English rule, but he certainly didn’t free the vast majority of the population. He just changed the head of the state and the nobility whom everyone else had to serve.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

So, yeah, I try to ignore the political context of the games I run. Roman legionaries are fighting for the legionary next to them and divorce their service from the aims and intent of the Senate/Emperor – otherwise they’re likely the villains. Vikings are adventurous spirits who find themselves in the position to fight supernatural threats and seek long lost treasures, not reivers and raiders who murder without a thought and prey on the weak. My Egyptian princess and her entourage are heroes of the age whom the populace love, and that populace doesn’t include slaves and everyone has access to justice and upward mobility.

I guess there is a political status quo in my games, but it is a mere fantastical sheen that would not withstand the pressure of the slightest scrutiny. I try to ignore it because I find it difficult to buy into without questioning the morality of the heroes.

But that’s just me.

You can find Dr. Bob Brier’s History of Ancient Egypt here.

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Black Panther

I’ve been writing lots of game stuff, so haven’t been focused on my blog. If you are one of the few that pops around here regularly, my apologies. You can always join me at my Patreon!

But that’s not the reason I’m here. The reason I’m here is Black Panther.

I really liked Chadwick Boseman’s turn as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, so I’d been following the roll out of the movie with interest. Everything that I saw got me excited. As the date approached, I figured out a crafty way to ensure I saw it in the theatre (my daughters love the Marvel movies, so I told them if they did good on their report cards, we’d see it as a family . . . win-win).

I went into the theatre with very high expectations, but I really tried to restrain them. I was expecting too much. Part of this was fed by my love for Thor: Ragnarok. It had exceeded expectations and try as I might, it was hard for my logical brain (if your expectations are too high, you won’t be able to enjoy even a great movie) to overcome my emotional brain (but it looks so awesome!).

Let me tell you, without any risk of hyperbole, this movie taunts my expectations from orbit.

Everything I loved about Boseman’s Black Panther in Civil War was cemented here – the restrained nobility, the wary optimism, the determination, not to mention the sweet, sweet moves. The characters around him reflected that, they each shone with conviction, no matter how tarnished they might be.

I love Boseman’s Black Panther for the same reason I love Chris Evans’ Captain America – they make nobility believable. But Black Panther inhabits a world of tarnished nobility, of political compromise, of strength through fear. He is on the cusp of a changing world. How will Wakanda face this new world? Shall it continue the policies that have protected it for so long? Shall if find a new path for a new generation?

The movie’s backbone to me was the difficulty of grasping and defining a national identity. As a Canadian, I know this all too well. The arguments from the various factions and friends for how T’Challa – not just a superhero, but a king – will move forward all have merit, even those of the villain.

And let us never forget Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. This is the best villain since Loki – whom I would count as the villain of Thor and the Avengers. This is a villain with whom one can sympathize. We can condemn his methods and means, but not his intent – free the oppressed. Is not the motto of the Special Forces (Airborne) “de oppresso liber?” I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but I think his back story explains so much of how the movie turns out – how he achieves what he achieves and why he burns so brightly.

I could go on and on about the action scenes, the SFX, the vistas, but just trust me in saying so much of this works. Yeah, I’m sure there were problems with it, there always are, but like Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy, this movie held my interest and my emotions so well, I missed the flaws.

I ain’t an actual critic, so cut me some slack!

It’s important to note, though, that unlike those other two examples, while Black Panther has lighter moments this is a serious movie. This is closer to Civil War than Ragnarok. It’s hopeful and optimistic, but there is comic relief rather than outright levity.

If you were excited by the trailers, go see this movie. If you liked Boseman in Civil War, go see this movie. If you like inspirational heroes, go see this movie. If you are fan of Jagalchishijang, go see this movie.

I give Black Panther 4.75 heart shaped, purple shiny hero plants out of 5. It delivered on expectations and then some with a thrilling version of the standard Marvel movie that went a little bit deeper and had a little more heart than usual.

You can find out more about Black Panther at Wikipedia or IMDB.

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Fallout For Me

“Fraser’s been really quiet recently.”

Yes. Yes I have. And there’s a reason for that. It’s called Fallout 4.

I really enjoyed Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, and while Fallout: New Vegas remains my favourite of the franchise. That’s not to denigrate Fallout 4, which is certainly holding my interest. All the games have their advantages and problems, but Fallout: New Vegas works best for me in consideration of the story, the setting, and the weapons.

Yeah, I’m shallow, but the available weapons are really important to me, and while New Vegas has mods that increase the number of available weapons including some that I love, but I’ve very happy with the combat rifle in Fallout 4, especially given that one can modify it (and all the others) and create something pretty badass.

My favourite though is the “handmade rifle” from the Nuka World DLC. Modding that can pretty much build something that looks like a Dragunov, and I think that looks pretty awesome. It also does outstanding damage with the proper perks.

And this is one the issues I have with Fallout 4 – the decision to use perks in place of rather than alongside skills. I think Fallout 3 had the proper balance – at least for me – with skill increases and a perk each level. I can understand, though, given that Fallout 4 does not have a level cap, the decision to use perks instead. One can achieve the same end just over a longer timeframe (or really, over a greater number of levels). Still, I prefer skills due to their granularity.

To balance this, one has a wealth of available companions, most of them incredibly well-realized. Granted, some of these are less interesting and useful than those in 3 and New Vegas, but I really enjoy travelling with Deacon and Piper, and Nick Valentine has a fantastic schtick.

I think – and this is, I believe, an issue of technology – the setting in Fallout 4 is the most realized and the best looking. Also, I have a real computer now, so once I’ve finished with Fallout 4 I’m going to go back and try New Vegas again (for like the fourth time) to see how it looks and plays when it’s not on a crappy laptop.

While I enjoy somewhat the ability to build and improve settlements, I really don’t like settlement management. One would assume that the residents would be able to scavenge and build on their own, but it seems that they are merely drones awaiting orders, and that part of the game I really don’t like.

Oh, and along with playing games, I’m writing stuff. A lot of stuff. It’s all game stuff and you can get it at my Patreon. It’s an awesome Patreon, methinks, and you should support it.

Excuse, time to go shoot some super mutants.

I give Fallout 4 4.5 glowing explodey ghouls out of 5. It’s got the same basic feel of the Fallout FPS/RPGs with improved graphics and weapons but slightly weaker mechanics and stories.

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The Backstory to Jianghu Hustle

I have really cut back on my RPG podcasts. I listen to very few these days, spending time instead with history, national security, and current events podcasts. There are two to which I listened recently that I think deserve attention: Backstory and Jianghu Hustle.

Backstory is hosted by Alex Roberts and she interviews various industry figures, generally game designers but also community organizers, game facilitators, and others. As I mentioned on G+ while sending kudos “Alex Roberts is always an engaging host, keeping the conversation moving and interesting without ever dominating, . . .” Interviewing is a real skill, and Alex executes with effortless grace. Her guests are intellectual and artistic – and while there is a segment of the population which uses those terms as dogwhistles for elite snobbery, I’m not part of that segment and am honestly impressed with the depth of thought that commonly surfaces in these interviews. I’d like to particularly point out episode 50 with designer, pro GM, and organizer Daniel Kwan. Give it a listen and if you like it, you’ll probably dig the show as a whole.

I’m also very smitten by Jianghu Hustle, hosted by Eli Kurtz and Eric Farmer and a part of the Misdirect Mark Podcast community. Jianghu Hustle plays the double role of wuxia movie consideration and game design spotlight. The hosts talk about various wuxia movies and then take what they learn of the genre to discuss how it could be embodied in RPG concepts. Being a fan of both wuxia and games, this hits me where I live. Eli and Eric are investigating the genre with both consideration and tact, and are great at deconstructing these iconic films to find both their beating hearts and what parts of them can inform their design.

You can find Backstory here.

You can find episode 50 with Daniel Kwan here.

You can find Jianghu Hustle here.

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Fraser’s Iron Fist Story

The last post basically outlined the introductory episode/issue to my version of Iron Fist. In it, Wu met Danny Rand, a martial arts practioner but not the Iron Fist – think of him as Wu’s Colleen Wing from the Netflix Iron Fist – and his teacher, Ji-eun, the master of Sinanju martial arts (and hopefully played by someone iconic like Michelle Yeoh).

At the end of the first story, ninjas come crashing through the windows of Ji-eun’s martial arts academy (as ninjas are wont to do). The second issue/episode would start with the big fight, again showing that Ji-eun and Iron Fist are in a class all of their own, while among the students, Danny is as far above them as Iron Fist is above him.

At the end of the fight, Iron Fist finds the same tattoos that she found on the ninjas attacking Danny Rand in the first episode. She shows them to Ji-eun, who says that they are the mark of Master Khan. She reveals that Randall worked for Khan all those years ago, and it can’t just be coincidence that his assassins appear at the same time as the Iron Fist.

The rest of the story is Iron Fist, Ji-eun, and Danny Rand hunting down Master Khan. In the process of which, Iron Fist learns from Ji-eun and teaches Danny until Danny learns to channel his qi through Randall’s old guns. Iron Fist learns that the Steel Serpent – Davos – is an adherent of Master Khan and that this is all part of a plan involving K’un L’un’s next intersection with Earth.

Six issues/episodes seems appropriate, and in the third issue the team would venture to the last location of the K’un L’un intersection, when Wu left the city. This would have a lot of flashbacks through which we see how Wu became Iron Fist and her relationship with Davos. They would find a huge construction project at the location – be it in the mountains of Tibet, on a deserted Pacific island, or in Central Africa. They would identify Khan’s people at the site, and near the end, Wu would see Davos.

If this were a 13 episode series, like the Netflix Iron Fist, each section would be broken into two, with a minor reveal linking the two. In this section, we would meet Colleen Wing, the Daughter of the Dragon. The one thing the TV series got right was in its choice of Colleen, if only the role had been better written. In this story, Wing is a kind of archaeologist-adventurer and she wields a legendary katana, unbreakable and able to cut anything. Maybe it’s adamantium, who knows. With a 13 issue/episode structure, there would be time to build more characters. With six or seven issues, we would focus on Ji-eun training Wu and Wu training Danny. Danny’s qi is powerful, and Ji-eun has never been able to teach him how to really harness it. Iron Fist knows all about that.

The fourth section would start with Wu facing Davos, who refuses to fight her. He flees, and the team is able to disrupt and destroy the construction. They uncover information that will lead them to the next locale – Southeast Asia. This is where Ji-eun faced Randall, and it is also the location of the intersection through which Randall returned to the Earth after becoming Iron Fist. The minor reveal of a larger story would be Misty Knight, bionic superspy who is also best buds with Colleen. She’s been tracking Davos, and the section ends with the team finding an ancient temple/academy where Khan trains his ninjas. Of course the climax is a big fight, in which Davos kills Ji-eun. Iron Fist beat Davos rather handily – he’s exhausted from his fight with Ji-eun – but can’t bring herself to finish him. She turns her back on him, and Davos is about to stab her when Danny channels his qi through Randall’s .45s, which Danny has been carrying, killing Davos.

The next section takes the team to the very first intersection with Earth, and this should be in Tibet, in keeping with the Iron Fist story from the comics. We’re going to have problems selling this in China considering they are the authoritarian regime, corrupted by Khan. Wu and Danny have to undertake a bunch of secret agent-y stuff to avoid capture (or, in a longer story, Wu, Danny, Colleen, and Misty). The minor reveal of a longer story would be finding the Book of the Iron Fist, a text of techniques lost for hundreds of years. In a shorter story, this can show up at Khan’s academy in Southeast Asia. The techniques in the book will allow Wu to harness her qi in ways now legend in K’un L’un, assuring its supremacy in coming tournaments.

The final face-off is the final section. Wu and Danny reach the monastery at the spot of the first intersection and don’t find construction but instead find a massive sci-fi-esque portal. There are huge generators and lots of guards and technicians. Iron Fist expects to find Master Khan there, but the hooded figure is actually the Iron Fist that had gone missing – clues to this would have been scattered through the preceding story. He reveals that the portal will allow them access to the Cities of Heaven during the next intersection. Master Khan intends to take the heart of Shou-Lao the Undying, thereby becoming immortal. He will destroy the Immortal Weapons and become the tyrant of the Cities of Heaven. With the powers held in those arcane places, will not Earth follow? Just as Randall before, Khan has bent this last Iron Fist to his will.

Wu fights the last Iron Fist as Danny takes on the minions, using both his martial arts and his qi-spitting .45s (aided by the rest of the team in a longer story). Wu uses the techniques that Ji-eun taught her – specifically The Water’s Mist in Morning, which Ji-eun used to dodge Randall’s bullets – to beat the last Iron Fist and triumph. They destroy the portal and escape with lots of cuts and bruises.

The denouement would be in New York, at Rand Enterprises. Danny has used his business contacts to find how wide a web Master Khan has built, and it is vast. Iron Fist decides that she must stop Master Khan and discover his connection to the Cities of Heaven. The last scene would be her and Danny (with Misty and Colleen in a longer story) in an isolated locale, tearing through more of Khan’s ninjas.

This leaves room for a sequel in which Wu meets Luke Cage – probably through Misty Knight. Master Khan is still out there, and Iron Fist has to stop him. She must also face the fact that so many of her predecessors became corrupt. Is it inherent to the power of an Immortal Weapon?

During the sequel, Wu would return to the Cities of Heaven to fight in the tournament, and that means we get a chance to meet the other Immortal Weapons, including the Prince of Orphans. While Wu is in K’un L’un, Danny Rand – now a noir version of Iron Fist, like Orson Randall in the Immortal Iron Fist series – discovers Master Khan’s plan is to breach the barrier between the Cities of Heaven and Earth during the intersection, when the barrier is weakest. He is building an even larger version of the portal Wu and Danny destroyed. This is big, and so Danny enlists the help of the Colleen and Misty, along with Luke Cage one hopes. Depending on the length of this story, the revolution in K’un L’un from the Immortal Iron Fist could be included as well. Perhaps Master Khan was the original Personage in Jade, the leader of K’un L’un, exiled due to his tyranny and evil.

So that’s how I would do it. Probably lots of problems with it, but that’s why you have a writers’ room, or at least some friends who can go over what you write and point out all the weaknesses and errors. That doesn’t need to happen with this because this story won’t be getting told.

Except for here.

You can find out more about Iron Fist here.

The images are of the Iron Fist Wu Ao-Shi, whom you can learn about here.

The Immortal Iron Fist is rivalled only by Walt Simonson’s run on Thor as my favourite comic series.

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Fraser’s Iron Fist: Issue/Episode One

So in the last post, I discussed how I would have approached the Netflix Iron Fist. There’s no way this can ever amount to anything, but it was a fun thought experiment, so I thought I’d share it. In the discussion that sparked this, I got into the story I thought could be told, so that’s what I’m going to share here.

The series would open with a fight between Danny Rand – young, rich, white, blonde-haired Danny in my mind, but could be any young rich individual – and five others. They are obviously skillful but Danny does pretty well on his own. When things start turning against him, Iron Fist shows up (she’s in a fighting outfit that’s the iconic green and yellow, but not the costume, and not Wu’s traditional kind of garb from the Immortal Iron Fist) and she plows through the opponents, showing that she is way beyond Danny’s level of competence. She checks the bodies and each has a tattoo on their neck.

Danny thanks her and the two intro each other, though she does not indicate she is the Iron Fist. Danny is on his way to the martial arts academy at which he is studying and Iron Fist admits that’s where she is going as well.

The academy is run by a veteran martial arts practioner, and she almost immediately recognizes Wu as Iron Fist. Wu admits to this, and the teacher says with weary resignation that she knew this day would come. At some point, we should see the twin Colt M1911A1s in a place of honour, maybe in a display case but not really obvious.

The teacher is Ji-eun, and she killed an Iron Fist more than sixty years ago. I’m thinking Michelle Yeoh, but it might be Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui, or some other iconic HK martial arts mistress. Ji-eun is over one hundred years old and is the master of Sinanju martial arts (shout out to the Destroyer novels and Chiun).

This is where Iron Fist puts on her mask (maybe a helmet or something else, but the yellow hood is iconic, and would help hide the use of stunt doubles in a live action version) and the two fight. It is epic. These are two perfect weapons. Danny moves to intervene, but Ji-eun orders her students not to interfere.

Finally, we see Wu use it. Iron Fist calls upon her qi, and it is quick and natural for her – not some agonizing focus on her fist and her extensive concentration. This is her thing. This is as natural to her as any other technique. Iron Fist’s Iron Fist ends the fight. Ji-eun is dazed.

Iron Fist wants answers. What happened and where is the body of Orson Randall. Ji-eun tells her story. We see it all in flashback. That Iron Fist was Orson Randall, and he had fallen far from his calling. They met in Southeast Asia where he had created a criminal empire. We see him in the iconic green and yellow, and I would love for it to be Fred Ward (Remo Williams). Randall uses the twin .45s that Ji-eun has on display, and he projects his qi out of them. Still, Randall has been ravaged with drug use and alcohol abuse. Even his power as the Iron Fist isn’t enough. Ji-eun defeats him but in doing so, she kills him. Only after does she note the dragon’s head peaking out from under his tunic, and she opens the tunic to reveal the dragon tattoo. She killed him without realizing what he was but we see the realization dawn on her – there’s hints though no actual statement that certain great masters know about the Cities of Heaven.

Back in the present, she says that she’s been waiting for an Immortal Weapon to come and seek revenge. She does not regret what she did, but she did not mean to kill him.

Iron Fist tells Ji-eun that it wasn’t her who killed Randall. After years of abuse and neglect, he just wasn’t strong enough to withstand the power of his qi amplified by the spirit of Shou-Lao the Undying which each Iron Fist carries.

This scene ends with ninjas crashing through the windows and into the academy! Of course!

Stay Tuned for the rest of the story as I would have envisioned it. Maybe it’ll give you some inspiration, or maybe it’ll make you glad I never got my hands on the property.

You can find out more about Iron Fist here.

The images are of the Iron Fist Wu Ao-Shi, whom you can learn about here.

The Immortal Iron Fist is rivalled only by Walt Simonson’s run on Thor as my favourite comic series.

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If I Had My Dream Job (AKA Fraser’s Iron Fist)

In a discussion about the Marvel series on Netflix, someone asked – since I was very disappointed with Iron Fist – what would I have done. That person obviously had no idea what they were getting into, and while we were discussing the various factors, many of the components and plots that I suggested accreted into something resembling coherence.

And now I am going to throw that semi-coherence in your face, because that’s what I do.

It’s important to stress how much this idea takes from the Matt Fraction/Ed Brubaker run on the Immortal Iron Fist as well as some of the more traditional background of the character. While this was discussed as a TV series, as a counter-factual to what actually happened, there is no way a TV series could happen now, unless Marvel retcons their Netflix series. Of course, it’s also not going to happen as a comic, but it’s not a complete impossibility (a less than absolute 0% chance, but that’s still a chance).

The biggest difference between my conception of the character and the the Iron Fists from TV and the comics is that this Iron Fist is neither white nor male. She doesn’t have to be Asian, but that’s kind of what I was thinking. The Iron Fist Wu Ao-Shi from the Immortal Iron Fist is kind of an inspiration. To separate my Iron Fist, let’s just call her Wu.

Anyway, the backstory is that one of the Cities of Heaven (working with seven, but maybe leave the number open) intersects with Earth once every 10 years, which is how it works in the Immortal Iron Fist. Each city has a champion, an Immortal Weapon, who bears a spark of that city’s essence, augmenting their inner qi and making them powerful beyond even the greatest warriors of Heaven.

During the intersection, all Immortal Weapons must return to their home cities in order to participate in a tournament to decide which city will be preeminent and act as the gateway to Earth. In between those intersections, the Immortal Weapons can stay in their city or wander the Earth. Most Immortal Weapons stay in their city to both train and be lavished with luxuries. Our Iron Fist – and most before her – chose something else because the Immortal Iron Fist is not just an Immortal Weapon, but also a seeker for justice.

It isn’t uncommon for the city that intersects with the Earth to accept supplicants who wish to come and learn within that city’s monastery – the training ground of the Immortal Weapons. Wu is one such supplicant who became the best student of Lei Kung, the Thunderer.

During the last intersection, Iron Fist did not return to K’un L’un, and so a hasty selection took place which Wu won, becoming the new Iron Fist. Further, she won the tournament among the Cities of Heaven and so it was K’un L’un that intersected with Earth. Wu decided to seek for the lost Iron Fist. She has since been wandering the Earth, fighting injustice while searching for her lost predecessor. This is all back story which might be provided through the series, but not all at once and not at first.

Wu is closer in personality to Danny Rand in the Immortal Iron Fist. She is a martial artist, yes, but she’s also a swashbuckler. We learn that it was her empathy and willingness to sacrifice that led Shou-Lao the Undying to mark her and provide a piece of its essence to strengthen her already impressive qi. She revels in her abilities because they allow her to fight injustice and help people. She loves what she is and what she can do, and she’s not afraid to die, if it’s in a good cause.

She’s a knight errant, a noble warrior as she seeks out injustices but is not touched by their darkness.

That’s all background and character stuff. I kind of plotted out how I would have delivered the story, and I’ll share that with you next.

You can find out more about Iron Fist here.

The images are of the Iron Fist Wu Ao-Shi, whom you can learn about here.

The Immortal Iron Fist is rivalled only by Walt Simonson’s run on Thor as my favourite comic series.

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One For Thebes

A recent In Our Time episode, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed the Greek city-state of Thebes. There were a couple of points that really piqued my interest – Thebes position in the centre of Greece and its alliance with the Persians during part of the Greek-Persian Wars.

The idea of a powerful – but not the most powerful – city-state at the epicentre of an isolated socio-political region could make for some very interesting dynamics. One could well imagine such a place to be quite cosmopolitan, and Thebes reputation as the oldest of the Greek states puts it at the centre of that wheel geographically as well as culturally. Based on the general process of a city’s founding, one might presume that Thebes grew out of a trade nexus, a confluence of routes originating before the rise of the urbis. These trade routes might be supplanted, but at the iron age, without extensive river navigation, one would expect the land routes would continue to dominate and likely wouldn’t change unless there were rather massive geographical changes.

Such traffic would almost certainly enrich the city – and comments were made regarding Thebes’ wealth – and so one would have this central point, well-protected and militarily powerful with the wealth to be able to continue both, but not politically dominant.

Facing this, one has the naval leader of Athens and the army leader of Sparta. In the end, Thebes saw both of these wane and it finally gained ascendancy in time to be destroyed by Macedon. However, at the time of the Greek-Persian Wars, Thebes was a rival to Athens, and after Thermopylae – at which it fought – it sided with Persia.

So imagine your heroes as citizens or residents of this powerful city, in the middle of a massive war, siding with foreign invaders against domestic rivals and enemies. This Thebes – let’s make it a second-world or at least alt-history setting – faces conspiracies and threats from those outside its immediate orbit, and the heroes must protect the city all the while insuring that they don’t become pawns of the greater power with whom their state has sided. One can have the city ruled by a conservative, greedy oligarchy that might not always have the citizens best interests at heart, which can lead to many situation of the heroes thwarting their own leaders in order to protect the common people. Perhaps, in this setting, the Persians conquered Greece, leaving Thebes preeminent. Or perhaps the heroes can support the flourishing of democracy – whether limited or extreme – and find themselves finding the crowd might not have any wisdom.

The idea of Thebes seems very rich with inspiration to me. And just for fun, were I to run this, I’d do it overlaying the Choson aristocracy – one that downplayed the value of military prowess over diplomacy and knowledge – leaving the heroes with gradually decaying prestige, even as they may be the main reason for the state’s continued survival.

You can find that In Our Time episode here.

The title is a play on the play.

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Immortals from Between the Rivers

I picked up Between the Rivers: The History of Ancient Mesopotamia from the Great Courses. I don’t find Dr. Alexis Q. Castor as good of a lecturer as Dr. Jennifer Paxton or Dr. Kenneth Harl, but the lectures are engaging and I am quite enjoying them. The discussion of temples and the role of the gods got me thinking of an old project of mine: Immortals of Bronze.

Immortals of Bronze had the kings of the ancient Mesopotamian city-states and empires as immortal wizards, but listening to a discussion of temple as the literal house of the god and the transition of religious to political power made me think: why not have the kings as the gods, except they are immortal wizards. Cut out that middle-person. Take the ancient religion for its word and have the temple as the centre for religious and secular power for the ancient states.

I’m unlikely to get back to that project, but Between the Rivers is both very interesting and filled with inspiration for writers and gamers.

You can find Between the Rivers here.

My favourite Dr. Paxton lecture is the Story of Medieval England, which you can find here.

My favourite Dr. Harl lecture is Rome and the Barbarians, which you can find here.

You can find a quick encapsulation of my Immortals of Bronze idea here.

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Thor: Ragnarok – I Love It So Much I Want To Marry It!

Okay, I just got back from Thor: Ragnarok – well, I got home, did the prep for dinner, then wrote this, but almost literally ‘just back’ – and I have to say: go see this movie. Go see it twice. This movie is so great on so many levels, I am very, very happy.

Okay, so if you’ve seen the trailers, you know what you are getting into. What might not be clear is that the plot to this movie is incredibly dark and encompasses more than one tragedy, The humour is also ubiquitous. I think this might have more comedy moments per minute of movie than Guardians of the Galaxy, which was previously the lightest of the Marvel movies (I don’t count Deadpool, which is more of a Fox movie than a Marvel one). Like GotG, Thor: Ragnarok leavens the action with humour, but unlike GotG, humour rather than action seems like the default.

Having written that, let me assure you that the humour doesn’t overwhelm the plot or – when it comes – the pathos. It really is an amazing achievement to hit so many moments that make one laugh while also hitting moments that tear one up, and include that with healthy helpings of character development.

It’s important to point out how amazing everyone is in this movie, but I will be forever grateful for Karl Urban’s work as Skurge, the Executioner. The Skure redemption story from Walt Simonson’s run on Thor – in my mind, the best comics ever realized, bar none, dead serious on that – has been something that never fails to move me. I love it. I understand him. And it’s not a “hurray! he’s a good guy now so let’s welcome into the fold” moment like Magneto with the X-Men (in the comics). No, Skurge’s character arc – in the Simonson run and in this movie – makes sense, it has real emotional heft, and it is believable. The Skurge of the comics had a long history, and the climax was both poignant and added weight to everything that came before it (explained quite well here). The Skurge of the movie is quite different as a character, but not in the final noble decision that will define him. The Skurge of the movie, unlike the one in comics, does not have a long history of villainy and so his choice defines him in an even more profound way than the Skurge of the comics. It’s the moment when he is really tested, and he does it right.

Such a glorious movie. Really. The only issue for some might be the amount of humour. One of the people I saw it with said he thought the humour might be a little bit too much. I disagree. I think it’s perfect. I think Thor needed this. He and Iron Fist are my comic favourites, and his previous movies were fine, but not great (unlike Iron Fist . . . I continue to mourn). I worried a bit about the humour, because he was not a light-hearted character in his other appearances. We saw some change in his character in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I think the self-awareness he evidences in this movie fits in his character’s growth. He is maturing, taking himself less serious, but still prone to fits of petulance – as we saw in the beginning of Thor and in The Avengers.

And massive props to director Taika Waititi, who voices the rock gladiator Korg. Korg is a consistently light addition, even when he’s in the middle of massive fight. His timing was perfect, and like K-2S0, he stole every scene he was in, though much less a cynical presence than the former.

So I give Thor: Ragnarok a well-earned 4.75 out of 5, because nothing is perfect. There was probably tightening that could have happened – minor though it might have been – and perhaps a few, very minor other improvements, but I think this is as close to a perfect comic adaptation as we are going to see. Huge recommendation.

You can read more about Thor: Ragnarok on Wikipedia and IMDB.

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