Monthly Archives: July 2013

Why are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?


Hello, Transformers Writers!

Today’s title gets the ball rolling. Lately ‘reboots’ of the Transformers’ genre have the Autobots as the minority in the war for Cybertron – and later, on Earth.


To my mind, there are three answers.

First, you think this is the price the Autobots have to pay for being principled combatants. Since they are less ruthless in battle they are therefore more likely to be killed by the murderous (in some cases bordering on psychotic) Decepticons. Autobots don’t kill needlessly. Decepticons slaughter Autobots in droves, but you write the story so that the Autobots will not respond in kind. This leads to fewer and fewer Autobots while somehow the number of Decepticons either remains stable or continues to grow.

Second, you perceive the Autobots’ principles in the same way as the Decepticons – as weaknesses. Therefore, you have Autobot casualties in direct proportion to their ethics. After all, if an Autobot will not stab a Decepticon in the back then what’s to stop the ‘Con from doing that to him when he (the Autobot) turns around? (A good knock on the head works pretty well from what I’ve seen.)

Third, you consider the Decepticons to be stronger. Therefore you write that they get control of more resources than the Autobots, build bigger and more powerful weapons, and subsequently destroy more Autobots. The Autobots, who largely want peace on Cybertron, would consequently pursue strategic positions and weapons of war in a more ‘principled’ manner than the Decepticons.

These ideas, fellow writers, are false. War is a battle for survival. If either side wishes to survive, they have to fight for it and fight for it aggressively.

This makes the decimation of Autobot forces seem a bit out of proportion, doesn’t it? Being a principled people does not mean that the Autobots would not inflict massive casualties of their own on Decepticon forces. While many Autobots would indeed be more inclined toward peace, that does not mean that they would be willing to forfeit their lives in some delusion that the Decepticons would spare them for that desire. If anything, it would prompt the ‘Cons to finish them on the spot.

War inflicts heavy casualties, but not necessarily to one side. If the two forces are equally matched, and I see no reason why the Autobots would lack either the weaponry to battle the Decepticons or the will power to do so, then the Autobots would not become nearly extinct in the fight for Cybertron as you have portrayed. Their numbers would nearly match those of the Decepticons.

Unfortunately for us Autobot fans, the same would go for the Decepticons. They would not suffer near total annihilation either. Both sides should be able to meet as equals in the number of combatants and the potency of their weapons. If the Autobots want peace, then it stands to reason that they will fight for it. Anyone who wants something enough is usually willing to work hard to get it. The Autobots are, and should be, no exception.

If there are an equal number of Autobot and Decepticon warriors in a story, that means there would be a greater number of sales for merchandise resulting from the shows. One thing that can be guaranteed in any story is the viewers’ desire to be a part of it. Many children have armies of toys of their favorite ‘Bots and ‘Cons, which they send into battle whenever they get the chance. If there are as many Autobots in a story as there are Decepticons, then those armies of toys can only get larger.

So, to quote a well-known Transformer line, fellow writers, “Autobots, roll out!”


Mithril (An Exasperated Fan)


Star Wars: A Family Torn Apart

Han and Leia

Hello, Star Wars Writers!

I can hear the groans now.  I know.  First the Marvel Comics writers, then the Transformers writers, now you guys.  My interests are rather wide.  So it’s not hard for somebody, somewhere, to irritate me.

Reading my notes to the Marvel Comics writers, I’m sure you have some idea of what it’s like to tick me off.

You have landed on that list.  I am very upset by what you have been doing of late.

So.  Let’s get started, shall we?

A family torn apart.  What do I mean by that?  I mean the Solo clan, which has been all but shattered through the events of various novels.  We’ll start with Chewie’s death.  Yeah, I can see why the original characters would begin to die off; time passing and all that.  That doesn’t mean I have to like it, though.

So in this R. A. Salvatore and I agree: killing Chewbacca was wrong.

Killing young Anakin Solo, who was not yet out of his teens, was even worse.

What was the purpose of that?  I don’t think Han and Leia ever earned that stab in the gut.  Anakin certainly hadn’t had time to earn it.  He was a very interesting character.  It would have been fun to watch him go gallivanting across the galaxy (preferably with Tahiri) being the Jedi his grandfather could have been.  The galaxy would not have been the only group of people cheering him throughout.

But that’s not going to happen now.

Next we come to Jacen Solo.  Jacen was supposed to be the gentlest of the three Solo children, the one most attuned to living things.  Well, that got turned on its head after Anakin died, didn’t it?  That must be why the youngest Solo child got the axe.  One, or more, of you wanted to see a descendant of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader “come full circle” and repeat his grandfather’s mistakes.

There was no way that fans were going to let you do that to Luke.  Even Lucas wouldn’t let you do that.  Anakin Solo was too obvious a choice; he had been named for his grandfather.  If you used him, it would be expected.  Yet another reason to “strike” him out of the expanded universe.  Any children Luke had would have to continue his legacy, not Vader’s.  That left Jacen.

To complete the “full circle” angle, a member of his family had to face off with Jacen and either turn him back to the light or kill him.  You opted for the latter.  Seriously?  But I guess you thought that your “circle” had to end differently than it began, didn’t you?  Luke turned his father.  It would be too cliché to have Jacen turned to the light the way Vader had been.

So you sent his older twin Jaina to take him out.  When she does Jacen “makes amends” by warning his girlfriend Tenel-Ka that she and their daughter, Alanna, are in danger from poison gas.  We’re never even told for sure which side of the Force Jacen joined in death.  You made it pretty clear which side he was on in life.

You never read any of the other writers’ stories before starting your own, do you?  Did Jaina even cry, at least in private, after killing her brother?  More to the point, the whole incident seems to put her in the territory of the Dark Side, but she doesn’t act like she’s turned away from the Jedi order.  Yet.  I’m sure that someone has a plan to change that soon; what with her starting a resistance movement against Galactic Alliance ruler Daala (did the galaxy get amnesia?  I don’t see them exactly jumping to elect her in a landslide considering how she nearly wrecked the New Republic).  Is Jaina even going to live long enough to have children of her own?  Aside from Alanna, it appears that the Solo line is pretty well sunk.

This is preposterous to me.  Killing Jacen and Anakin robs readers and fans of a lineage of heroes continued from their original favorites.  The Solo family had a great chance to grow and expand.  As for the stories that could have followed the extended family – talk about endless possibilities!!

But now that’s practically gone.

Han, Leia, and most importantly Luke (since he’s the one who taught all three Solo children how to be Jedi and Jacen repaid him by killing his wife) didn’t deserve this.  We, the readers and fans of the expanded universe, didn’t need this.

This was unnecessary, fellow writers.  Totally and completely unnecessary.


Mithril (A Deeply Disappointed Fan)

(L to R) Anakin, Jacen, and Jaina Solo

(L to R) Anakin, Jacen, and Jaina Solo

The Hobbit Film Trilogy: Pride and ‘Hobbit Sense’


Hey, DiNozzo!

My Klondike bar – thanks.  How’s business?

That bad, huh?  I heard it was going a bit harder than usual.  How are Ziva and McGee doing?

When are you going to quit calling him McGeek?  Yes, it’s cute, to me.  I’m not so sure he likes it. 

As for Ziva, I think you two are giving each other the look.

Don’t give me that flustered innocence, I’ve seen you two for the past couple of years!  The more I watch, the more I’m sure you guys are headed toward –

All right, all right!  Don’t get so ruffled, I was just giving you my opinion!

Okay, okay, fine.  I’ll cut to the meat of the matter.  Gee, they’re making these Klondike bars smaller all the time.  That one didn’t last a light-second.

Now, where did I want to start this?  Oh, yeah.  So the focus of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is, naturally, Bilbo Baggins.  Throughout the film we see his growing affection for the dwarves in the company, and their growing respect and friendship with him.

But there’s one dwarf who just doesn’t seem to soften toward Bilbo in the least, although Bilbo’s admiration for him continues to grow.  Thorin Oakenshield, the dispossessed dwarf king, is stiff with all the company (save perhaps with Balin), but he is especially gruff with Bilbo.  Proud and battle-tried, Thorin is determined to regain his near-crazed grandfather’s kingdom under the mountain, which is guarded by a firedrake (dragon).  But the entire might of Erebor in its greatness couldn’t stop Smaug the terrible.  He’s going to need help.

And for this mission, the only help Thorin’s got are twelve other dwarves.  Oh, sure, Gandalf travels with them fairly often.  But he’s a wizard; he has a lot of other matters on his plate.  He can’t travel with the dwarves all the time, and even if he could, an entire army couldn’t drag Smaug out from Under the Mountain.  What’s Gandalf the Grey (even with all his power) going to be able to do – other than give Smaug a stomach ache? 

These odds are beyond dismal to start with.  There’s worse in that, since Gandalf isn’t a reliable traveling companion, it leaves Thorin with a company of thirteen. 

You know the old saying about thirteen being an unlucky number.  Who wants that worry hanging over his head on an already badly outmatched mission like this?

So Thorin asked Gandalf to find them a fourteenth traveler for the company.  And what does he get?  A well-fed, well-housed hobbit who “looks more like a grocer than a burglar.”

 Bilbo has, of course, never used a sword, axe, or any other weapon.  It’s doubtful that he ever even used a sling shot as has Ori.  In fact, I think it was mentioned in the book that the only thing he knew how to do was throw rocks.  Not an especially helpful talent when you’re facing a huge dragon, huh?

As for burglary – only Gandalf’s quick interruption kept Bilbo from letting slip that he’d never stolen anything more than fruit or vegetables in his whole comfortable life.  How is he supposed to steal anything from a dragon?  It’s shown later that he has trouble stealing from mountain trolls.  Doesn’t inspire confidence about his ability to get past a dragon, does it?

And herein lies part of the rub.  Thorin has led an uncomfortable life for many, many years.  He’s fought orcs, wargs, and lost his home to a dragon.  He has had to work for the clothes on his back and the weapons he carries.  His father has gone mad and vanished; his battier grandfather was slain in a horrible manner right in front of him, and he has led and lost thousands of dwarves in war against the orcs of the Misty Mountains. All of this happened in one day.  He has had years to brood on it and get bitter over it.

And when he finally gets the chance to do something about it, he finds he doesn’t have enough dwarves.  Although as he himself points out, the dwarves he does have are willing to fight.  That can be the tipping point in any battle. 

But when he asks Gandalf to get him a burglar, Gandalf instead finds him an untried hobbit who has never seen battle.  Heck, he hasn’t even lifted a sword at any point in his life!!

For Bilbo’s part, as a young hobbit he probably would have jumped at the chance to go with the dwarves.  But at the hobbit’s middle age of fifty, he has had time to get comfortable with the quiet life of the Shire.  He is “respectable” and doesn’t do anything considered odd by the residents of Hobbiton. 

Suddenly, his quiet, comfortable life is turned upside down in one night.  A passel of dwarves invades his home, sets it into absolute disorder, the lead dwarf insults him, and he is “volunteered” to go on a quest.  The “respectable” part of Bilbo does what any “respectable” resident of Hobbiton would do; he turns it down.

The next morning he finds his house – the one thing he takes real pride in – restored to its former order and cleanliness.  And on the table in the parlor, he finds the contract to join the company. 

Wonder who left it there?  I doubt it was Thorin.  Balin?  Perhaps.

The more likely answer, I think, would be Gandalf.

Now, this is the second half of Thorin’s problem with Bilbo and, frankly, with a great many other people.  Thorin is the dwarf king and has earned glory in his battles.  He has helped his people survive since the fall of Erebor. 

And, in typical dwarf fashion, this has all gone straight to his head.

Dwarves in Middle-earth are known for their bull-headed pride.  Only Gimli ever seemed to have any sense in that regard, keeping his pride under better control than many other dwarves.  Thorin doesn’t seem to even want to keep his pride in check.

Thorin’s pride brings the company to many of the dangers they encounter.  He chooses to camp at the wrecked farm, near a troll den; he bickers with Gandalf regarding most of the wizard’s advice; and at first refuses any help Elrond can give him because Thranduil, king of the Mirkwood Elves, wouldn’t attack Smaug when the dragon was safely inside the Lonely Mountain. 

Yeah, Thranduil may have been a stuck-up snob, but what’s the sense in getting his army killed in a suicide attempt?  Somehow, Thorin never seems to figure out this part of the equation.  At least he doesn’t in this movie.  Only Gandalf’s frustrated tirade gets Thorin to finally – grudgingly – accept Elrond’s help in reading the map his father Thrain left him.

Bilbo’s pride is of another type.  Bilbo takes pride in being “respectable,” in how well his hole is taken care of and, essentially, in being a hobbit.  This pride is really nothing when compared to Thorin’s, and because he can take no pride in these ‘small’ accomplishments on the trail, Bilbo sets it aside (until later).

This is what gives him an edge that Thorin at first doesn’t see and later ignores: Bilbo learns as he goes along on the quest.  He learns to use his wits, his sharpest and best weapon; shown when he successfully distracts the trolls, and engages Gollum in a game of riddles.  He learns how to use a sword and how to fight.  And, most importantly, he learns when to use a sword and when not to use a sword when he spares Gollum (as Gandalf advised was the true sign of bravery).  He learns how to be a good friend to all the dwarves, even Thorin; although the dwarf king refuses to even consider him a friend for most of the film.

Why does Thorin do that?  Because, Tony, Bilbo may be high on the hobbit totem pole, but socially he’s inferior to half the other races in Middle-earth.  Bilbo’s no warrior; he’s not a smith, not an archer, he’s not even a scholar.  He has no credentials outside of the society of the Shire.  He shouldn’t even be loyal to the exiled dwarf king; he’s a hobbit and Thorin’s a dwarf.  Why should either of them care what happens to the other?  Why should Bilbo care about what Thorin and the other dwarves want?  It may be safe to say that Thorin doesn’t care terribly much about what Bilbo wants.

And yet, when Thorin nearly ends up joining his grandfather, it is Bilbo Baggins who rushes to his rescue.  A small hobbit with nearly no skill with a sword puts himself between an injured dwarf king and a huge, murderous orc on a large warg.  Why?  Through his journey with the company and his friendship with the other dwarves Bilbo has become loyal to Thorin.  Like Balin, he has come to see Thorin “as one I would be proud to call King.”

He has come to see that Thorin and the others lack what he has – a home, a home that they can be proud of, as he is proud of his hobbit hole.  In the Shire, everyone has a home that they can be proud of; I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a homeless hobbit in the entire Middle-earth world.  So it stands to reason that he would want to help the dwarves regain that pride.  And finally, Thorin wakes up to the fact that Bilbo really does want to help.

Oh, yes, Bilbo misses the Shire and wants to go back.  He doesn’t enjoy the rigors of the trail, no.  He doesn’t like fighting for his life against orcs and wargs.  But if that’s what it takes to help his friends, then he’ll do it.  He’ll put up with the discomfort and see the journey through to its end.

Come on, Tony, who wants the end of the journey to be the final end?  But the thing is that the future isn’t written in stone.  Bilbo is willing to risk his life, maybe more than he realizes, to help his friends get their home back. 

And that is why he gives Gandalf courage. 

Well, I have to split.  See you around, Tony!




Uncontrolled Chaos


Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. – Leonardo da Vinci

Hello, Marvel Writers!

Age of Ultron is finally complete – oh, wait.  Now time and space are going to explode unless Henry Pym figures out whatever miscalculation he made and fixes it.

But with time and space starting to fall apart, that still leaves a lot of room for our heroes to get thrown into the drainage system by having them go up against threats from parallel universes.  Some universes are going to have bad guys our heroes have beaten come knocking on their doors (and likely, a lot of these alternate heroes are going to lose to these bad guys miserably).   All this will occur while our Avengers, FF, X-Men, etc., have to deal with bad and good guys they’ve never heard of who are angry as heck over having their universes cracked open.

How do you keep everything straight, fellow writers?  The way the Marvel Universe(s) are splintering up, I’m surprised that none of you have suffered a mental breakdown yourselves.

What exactly is the point of running our heroes full-tilt until they break?  Back when the comics started, Spidey, Iron Man, and the others all had days where as soon as they walked in the front door, they had to dash out the back and suit up again.  That was fine.  Everyone inside and outside of fiction has days where it seems like they can’t catch a moment of relaxation.

But to have things this chaotic nearly 24/7 for everybody is just too much.  It’s too much for me, for a start.  The television shows and movies are less complicated than the comic book story arcs of the past twenty years.  They are also a heck of a lot more enjoyable – and yes, I said that about animated television shows, which are typically for young children.  That’s how bad, how plain trashy, the comics have become.

So, why do this?  I have some theories.  Let me run them by you:

You’re doing this because “People want what’s next.”  I have to admit, there are stories in the comics where I put one down and I want more almost instantly.  I have days like that for a lot of different good fiction.

This, however, is more of the same.  This is more of the same running pell-mell through the streets, more war-between-heroes (although this usually takes the form of verbal abuse of teammates), more the-world-is-going-to-end-and-it’s-all-our-fault stupidity.

What I want more of when I read about my favorite Marvel heroes is camaraderie, battle-bond banter, and good old-fashioned flattening of the villains.  Age of Ultron has none of that, and neither do the arcs preceding it.  I won’t be holding my breath for the pattern to change any time in the next few days/months/years.  So no, you don’t get to see me go as blue as Nightcrawler.

Another theory I have relates to the-world-is-going-to-end-and-it’s-all-our-fault theme.  This has been on the Marvel menu since at least the early nineties.  People thought when the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve of 1999/2000 that Ragnarock would erupt.

The calendar reads summer of 2013 and the planet’s still spinning.  I think the Marvel Universe can stop collapsing now, don’t you?

On the other hand, I would say that you enjoy seeing the X-Men or the Avengers always threatening to slice each other to pieces.  After all, why should heroes be friends?  Many of them have limitless (or nearly limitless) power.  Why hold it back?  Why should Cyclops always be a goody two-shoes?  Why shouldn’t the Hulk get to go on a rampage across an entire planet?

Hmm, I don’t know.  Maybe because the Hulk is not the monster that everyone wants to believe he is?  Maybe because Cyke is a natural good guy?  Maybe because “With great power comes great responsibility”?  Throwing power around wantonly is about as irresponsible as you can get.

You want my honest opinion, fellow writers?  I think that you are doing this because you are trying to make a statement about the world we live in.  What statement is that?  The-world-is-going-to end-and it’s-all-our-fault?  If these stories don’t change it will be.  Stories are what give people hope for a brighter, better future.  Where was the hope in Age of Ultron?  Where’s the hope at its end?  Please enlighten me, because all I see in the story is nothing.  Nil.  Nada.  Zip.

There is nothing hopeful in Disassembled.  There is only pain in Civil War and Avengers vs. X-Men.  What’s the point?  To tell us we’re all evil and deserve death?  To tell us that we’re parasites worth no more thought than any insect?

That is not the purpose of any legitimate story.  As previously stated, that is not the Purpose of Heroes.

The purpose of both stories and heroes is to remind us that we are worth something.  The purpose is to remind us that we always have a choice, we always have a chance.  That there is always a way out or that there will always be sunshine after the storm.  As bad as things get there will always, always, be something better when the trouble is over.

Yeah, maybe more trouble will crop up immediately after the first is gone.  Does that mean we should give up?  No.  It means ‘sailing by ash breeze,’ or rowing forward until we catch the wind.

There is always a way to win.  Heroes and stories are reminders of that.  Without those reminders, the world gets that much duller.

So the choice is yours, fellow writers.  Are you going to keep running our heroes until they break, the way that a truck’s engine will during a sled pull when the weight is too much?  Or are you going to give everybody, heroes and fans alike, some real hope?

It’s up to you.  Because “Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”  We’re the admirers.  You are the artists.  For crying out loud, start behaving like artists!!!


Mithril (A Frustrated True Believer)