Franchising Wolverine

For some time, the X-Men comics were in an odd place because the Chairman of Marvel Entertainment hated the idea of providing Fox more content to adapt for films and TV. Disney’s purchase of Fox eliminates that concern, so one effect of the merger is likely to be a renewed focus on the X-Men comics. And an opportunity for Marvel is with Wolverine, likely to get some kind of high profile relaunch thanks to his resurrection in Marvel Legacy.

Wolverine is second only to Spider-Man when it comes to Marvel’s most recognizable characters. Since the first issue of Wolverine: Origins a decade back, he has been established as the rare superhero capable of handling multiple solo monthlies, although you could argue that was also the case in the 80s when he had his own book and a regular feature in Marvel Comics Presents.

It wouldn’t surprise me if writers pitching for Wolverine often make ambitious promises about establishing a franchise separate from the X-Men (in the same way that Green Lantern is separate from the JLA) on par with the biggest solo superhero franchises (Batman, Superman and Spider-Man.) Though there may be reasons this won’t work very well.

Whereas other A-list superheroes typically started with solo adventures, Wolverine had a different route, making his debut as an antagonist of the Hulk, before joining a team book. His solo adventures came much later. And since an aspect of the character has been his role as a mysterious loner, he usually doesn’t have a consistent supporting cast, which means there often isn’t much carryover from one run on the book to the next.

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This isn’t about the number of books he appears in, or is tied to. To the extent that the character has any direction, it’s as a member of the X-Men. And some of the major recent developments for the character occurred in that series, or in tie-ins such as House of M. His solo books are almost a satellite title to his appearances in team books, rarely affecting his appearances there. Usually it seems that his books consist of solo adventures when he’s taking a few days of from being an X-Man, whereas the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Batman and Green Lantern have their own identity outside of the JLA.

I’m thinking more in terms of the attention and respect that seem to be paid to the Superman books than anything else. What’ll it take for Wolverine comics to be so big and so independent of the X-books, that there would be a Wolverine forum at CBR, or even Alvaro’s?

This isn’t about other titles. If you were to cancel half the X-universe books, I don’t think it would make much of a difference here. The biggest problem I think is that Wolverine lacks a consistent setting, mission or supporting cast outside of the X-Men. It’s going to be hard to fix that in a way that will stick. Especially with this character.

He needs an Ed Brubaker on Captain America, or Geoff Johns on Green Lantern and Flash type run, someone who could set a status quo and direction that later writers can build on. This is easier to imagine than to implement, but it would be one of the biggest ways Marvel’s new Editor in Chief can make a splash.

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How Unpopular Could Trump Be?

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There is one line of thinking that President Trump, despite his record low approval rating, has a floor in terms of how low he can go.

Part of this is in comparison to former Presidents. However, Trump is a bit unique in that he reached the White House through untraditional means. He wasn’t a former Governor, Senator or top cabinet official. Presidents before him had to win major elections multiple times, or at least serve in public office in a very prominent way for several years. Because Trump hasn’t done that, I wonder if the rules are a bit different.

Looking at Presidents since the 1960s, JFK and LBJ were re-elected Senators, while Richard Nixon had won statewide office, and served two terms as Vice President. Jimmy Carter had served a full term as Governor. Ronald Reagan served two. George HW Bush had served in multiple senior administration posts before serving two terms as Vice President. Bill Clinton had been elected Governor of Arkansas five times. George W Bush was re-elected Governor of Texas. Barack Obama might be the least experienced in the group, but he had won election as Senator, and been a national figure since his DNC keynote speech.

Instead of comparing Trump to former Presidents, who had to demonstrate an ability to excel in major political office, it’s possible he’s more like an outsider or lucky legislative backbencher who is elected Governor/ Senator. That suggests a different floor, akin to different executives. Chris Christie is leaving New Jersey with an approval rating near the single digits, and it’s not unprecedented for politicians to hit numbers like that.

There have been situations where Governors lose primaries, or basically get forced out of office. Jim Gibbons of Nevada didn’t even get thirty percent of the vote as an incumbent Republican Governor. Sarah Palin basically quit as Governor of Alaska after a disastrous year as a national figure. Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick resigned after being convicted for perjury/ obstruction of justice. If Trump has more in common with those guys, his approval rating might be able to keep going down, changing the political conversation on what’s possible.

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Metsfilter January 2 2018

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These are just some links I found interesting.

Tyler Cowen’s explanation of why he writes for Bloomberg View is a source of good leads on intelligent writing on economic matters.

Open Culture has two interesting photo galleries:

Robert McCrum of the Guardian finished his list of the Top 100 best nonfiction books of all time. He explains his rationale.

An explanation of the Platinum rule, a variation of the golden rule that takes into account the possibility that people might not want to be treated the same way you do.

The editor notes for Milo Yiannopoulos’ book remain hilarious. 

From SMBC, A biblical explanation for Quantum Mechanics.

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Movies Watched in 2017 WrapUp

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This is the conclusion of the analysis of films I’ve seen this year. The first five were devoted to a goal of seeing ten films from each decade: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6 was a continuation- I tried to set sub-challenges, but it didn’t work outIn October, I chose to watch 13 horror/ horror-adjacent films.

And here’s the rest.

Movie #145/ 2010s Movie #19/ Superhero Film #11: The Avengers
This blockbuster isn’t perfect. The plot is based on a lot of gobblygook, but it’s a different type of superhero film than we’ve seen before in the linking of heroes from multiple franchises, all of whom start fighting one another in the classic Marvel manner. It’s also an improved showing for Hiddleston’s Loki. With greater distance, it’s impressive how well Whedon pulled off the hat trick of taking heroes from different series, and making their interactions fun, as well as believable.
9/10

Movie #146/ New Movie #103/ 1950s Movie #3: The Trouble With Harry
Hitchcock’s comedy is a strange film about people in a small Vermont town having very unusual reactions to the death of a visitor, and to the efforts of others to cover it up. It leads to dry, absurd humor and some winning performances, especially Shirley Maclaine’s young widow.
7/10

Movie #147/ New Movie #104/ 2010s Movie #20/ Superhero Film #12: Thor- Ragnarok
Definitely the best of the Thors, and one of the reminders of just how ridiculously good this year has been to superhero films. It’s a lot of plot in a fun and satisfying way, bringing together strong performances from characters we’ve seen before in a lot of Marvel films, and introducing memorable newcomers from different sources (Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett, rising star Tessa Thompson, whatever the hell you call Jeff Goldblum’s career right now).
9/10

Movie #148/ New Movie #105/ 1960s Movie #14: Black Sabbath
This is a solid horror anthology. There isn’t a weak story in the bunch. A story about a woman getting threatening phone calls has two big twists. The closing story has a decent take on ghosts seeking revenge. The middle is the best, with a family unsure if a returned patriarch (played by Boris Karloff) is the beloved grandfather or a monster ready to attack them. It’s elevated by the weaponization of love, and the nastiness that follows.
9/10

Movie #149/ New Movie #106/ 2010s Movie #21/ Superhero Film #12: Justice League
DC continues their trend of films that are worse than anything we’ve seen in the MCU. The character interactions often work, so it is fun to see the team hang out together, but that’s hampered by rushed special effects, and lame A-plots. The much critiqued Steppenwolf isn’t as bad as the senseless fight with Superman.
5/10

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New Movie #150/ 1960s Movie #14: The Graduate
What makes this movie work so well is that it is the best in a very particular category (the coming of age film about someone who has met many traditional markers of adulthood.) It’s obviously elevated by the star turn from Dustin Hoffman, and Anne Bancroft as the best seducer ever, but it also excels really well in the little moments, and in the ways it reveals the potential mistakes of the characters, allowing it to hold up to later viewings, when you’re at a different stage in your life than when you first encountered it.
10/10

Movie #151/ New Movie #107/ 2010s Movie #22: Darkest Hour
It’s a slightly unconventional biopic focusing on the great man during a relatively brief but important time, as he has just become Prime Minister, and needs to hold firm against Germany. Gary Oldman’s performance can be described as a transformation, and he deserves the inevitable Oscar, but the script is witty, and the film has decent supporting performances, notably Kristi Scott Thomas’s Lady Churchill- who has made her peace with the sacrifices she must make, and Ben Mendelsohm’s King George, who quietly gets to know what to make of the strange Churchill.
9/10

Movie #152/ New Movie #108/ 1930s Movie #14: Lost Horizon
This Capra film about survivors who find themselves in a new land is sometimes preachy and indulgent, and even a little boring. The sets are nice, and there are moments when it really excels.
7/10

Movie #153/ New Movie #109/ 2010s Movie #23/ Science Fiction Film #12: Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi
The best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a mix of fantastic moments, and new characters, while continuing ably the new trilogy, and excelling with the old favorites. I loved it.
10/10

Movie #154/ New Movie #110/ 2010s Movie #24/ Politics Film #12: Confirmation
This HBO film about Anita Hill’s efforts to tell her truth about Clarence Thomas isn’t bad, but a bit by the numbers, quite similar to their Recount film. It hits a lot of the major beats, showing the different sides of the fight, and the decisions that end up having outsized consequences, although it ends up lacking in depth.
7/10

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Movie #155/ New Movie #111/ 2010s Movie #24: Lady Bird
An excellent coming of age film, that seems to function on different levels: either one of the best made movies about an artistic girl’s senior year of high school, or the perspective of the parents trying to make ends meet.
9/10

Movie #156/ 1940s Movie #24: It’s a Wonderful Life
Saw it on the big-screen as a part of a Christmas revival. It remains one of my favorite movies ever, and I can defend it as the best independent movie of all time.
10/10

Movie #157/ New Movie #112/ 2010s Movie #25: Three Billboards in Billings, Missouri
The powerhouse performance by Frances McDormand as a grieving mother anchors the film that looks at the people affected by her response to inaction. It goes in some unexpected places, as writer/ director Martin McDonaugh (also an exceptional playwright) considers questions of meaning and order while consistently revealing new wrinkles to everything.
9/10

Movie #158/ 1940s Movie #24: A Matter of Life and Death
This was a fun fantasy story that works on several levels. The lead’s experiences could be taken literally, as a hallucination he suffers as a result of surviving a plane crash. But it also comes to a trial that’s ultimately a defense of England.
9/10

Movie #159/ New Movie #113/ 2010s Movie #26: The Disaster Artist
James Franco’s take on Tommy Wiseau is a decent transformation, although the comparisons at the end with the original The Room don’t do the film any favors, as it reveals just how much more distinctive the real Wiseau is. It ends up being a decent take on the struggles of a young actor, although that’s been handled better.
7/10

Movie #160/ New Movie #114/ 2010s Movie #27: The Post
I don’t think anyone but Spielberg could have done this film so well, manipulative but often powerful. The cast is excellent, and Streep gets one of her best performances- in a film that captures her transformation as she pushes the Washington Post into being a more serious institution.
8/10

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Movie #161/ New Movie #115/ 1970s Movie #8/ Estonian Movie #2: The Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel
Since the version of the film I found on youtube is in Estonian, and lacks subtitles, it’s not something most viewers are going to be able to appreciate. It’s an atmospheric detective story that takes a weird turn. I’m going to watch this one again, before grading it.

Movie #162/ New Movie #116/ 2010s Movie #28: All the Money in the World
Imperfect but solid procedural about the opposing forces when a rich man’s grandson is kidnapped. Highlights the flaws and the beauties of the kid’s life, with excellent performances by Michelle Williams as the patrician but humbled mother, and Christopher Plummer, essentially playing a Scrooge who never got a visit from the three spirits.
8/10

Movie #163/ New Movie #117/ 2010s Movie #29: Phantom Thread
This has to be a weird sell in terms of determining the audience for a Paul Thomas Anderson/ Daniel Day Lewis collaboration about a troubled dressmaker’s relationship with a waitress. The score and costumes are great.
8/10

Year in Review: Obviously, this is limited to what I’ve seen this year. I’m splitting each decade into two categories: best “new” movie (film I hadn’t seen before) and best overall movie (often including notable classics I have seen before.)

Best movie of the silent era: Nosferatu

Best new movie of the silent era: The Phantom Carriage

Best movie of the 1930s: The Grand Illusion

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Best new movie of the 1930s: L’Atalante

Best movie of the 1940s: It’s a Wonderful Life

Best new movie of the 1940s: The Red Shoes

Best movie of the 1950s: On the Waterfront

Best new movie of the 1950s: Ashes and Diamonds

Best movie of the 1960s: Lawrence of Arabia

Best new movie of the 1960s: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Best movie of the 1970s: Jaws

Best new movie of the 1970s: Cries and Whispers

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Best movie of the 1980s: The Princess Bride

Best new movie of the 1980s: Stand By Me

Best movie of the 1990s: Trainspotting

Best new movie of the 1990s: Metropolitan

Best movie of the 2000s: The Dark Knight

Best new movie of the 2000s: Amelie

Best movie of the 2010s: Dunkirk

Best new movie of the 2010s: Dunkirk

Worst Movie: Transformers (1980s animated film)

Best surprise: These are the Damned. I did not expect a science fiction film I hadn’t heard about to be this good.

Weirdest Surprise: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. Wow, was this pervy.

Best movie I hadn’t seen before: Dunkirk, I think.

Best movie I had seen before: It’s a Wonderful Life

 

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More Problems With repealing the 17th Amendment

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A while back I wrote about some of the problems with any plan to repeal the Direct Election of Senators. There are a few other problems with the approach.

It brings the flaws of the electoral college system to another branch of government, creating a certainty that you’ll have people in office who didn’t win the popular vote. An infamous example occurred in Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 Senate race against Stephen Douglas. More people voted Republican, but Douglas was still the choice of the state legislature, because the census hadn’t caught up with changes in population.

It also increases partisanship. Character matters in direct elections, which allows for impressive politicians to win in states in which their party is weak.  This would include Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine and Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota or Jon Tester of Montana.

It creates more rewards for gerrymandering. As geographic sorting favors Republican, it might help the party, but it will hurt the democracy.

I can appreciate that some state legislatures flipped recently in states where you would expect one party to have been powerful for some time, although that would probably have happened sooner if it was understood that control of the state legislature was tantamount to the election of their chosen party hack to the Senate.

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Why is The Last Jedi (Allegedly) So Controversial?

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Right now, there’s a debate about whether Star Wars: The Last Jedi is controversial, and what that means. The Rotten Tomatoes audience score is low, but some alt-right trolls are taking credit for that. The movie isn’t making as much money as the Force Awakens, although part of that is that with a Star Wars film every year it’s not the event it used to be.

For the record, I loved the film, and am reasonably sure it’s the best since The Empire Strikes Back (and third best in the series overall) but I have noticed some pushback. This is the sense of the objections as far as I see.

Obviously, there will be spoilers.

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Some fans are disappointed that Luke Skywalker was killed off, after a generation of failure. The hero generations of moviegoers saw go from a farmboy to defeating the empire quit after some bad experiences. It’s realistic, and makes for good drama, but it’s disappointing, and I think many fans didn’t want to be disappointed in Luke Skywalker. They didn’t want him to be used for the lesson that heroes might let you down.

It’s a story about a diverse group of heroes (the top leaders of the Resistance are middle-aged women; the younger heroes are a white woman, a latino man, a black man, an asian woman, and a robot) which pisses off some white guys who see this as sjw pandering.

There’s a lot of demythologizing, and some people liked the myth. This is a film where the Han Solo approach of going it alone and ignoring orders fails. Poe’s initial efforts to destroy the Dreadnought lead to the deaths of many pilots. When Poe and Finn make a risky ploy to save the day, it makes things worse by exposing the resistance’s strategem. The charismatic rogue sells them out. On a slightly related point, younger minority men don’t seem to like how Finn (and Poe, presumably) screwed things up, and didn’t have major wins. There’s the combo of the demythologizing at the same time minority male actors are in a position to be the mythical heroes.

The movie goes in directions that may seem anticlimactic to people who were invested in a different outcome (Snoke is killed towards the end of the second act, Rei’s parents were nobodies.) These are dramatically satisfying moments that work in the context of the story, but this isn’t a rational desire.

A final factor is that the end of the film makes it harder to predict what’s coming next in the conclusion of the trilogy.  With the Empire Strikes Back, there were major beats that fans looked forward to seeing get resolved (The Emperor would have to be defeated, Luke would learn more about his family, Han would get rescued, There would be a rematch between Luke and Darth Vader.) The penultimate films in major sagas typically suggest many of the major beats of the finale, but that’s not happening here.

The ninth episode was meant to focus on Princess Leia, but Carrie Fisher passed away. So that leaves the resistance versus Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, which by itself doesn’t seem to be a complete movie. New elements will have to be introduced (just like Rose in this movie) and it can go in many different directions. The downside is that fans don’t yet know whether they’ll like what’s coming.

 

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Why I’m Not a Democrat (or Independent)

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Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is why I’m not a Democrat. I’ve pretty much answered the question before about why I am personally a Republican, but I haven’t specifically addressed the flipside. In some political discussions, this seemed to be the subtext of responses.

The main thing is that I disagree with the party on many major issues.

I think capitalism and cheap energy have done more to lift billions out of poverty and improve the quality of life than all the labor unions in the world, and this isn’t something Democrats widely acknowledge. There are excesses and problems, but the solutions really try to throw the baby (modern quality of life) out with the bathwater. It’s telling that Democrats argue that global warming is an existential threat, but don’t follow that up by embracing alternatives like fracking or nuclear power. None of these situations is perfect, but the gains are worth it, and the main alternative is a radical reimagining of society by people who fail to hold themselves to the same standard.

Sens. Sanders, Murray, And Reps. Ellison And Scott Introduce Minimum Wage Legislation

The policies the Democratic party supports create warped incentives. A welfare state has to be balanced with a system that doesn’t encourage dependency. An embrace of victimhood neglects significant problems with the behavior of some people within victimized groups that has to be addressed in order to get significant improvements. The immigration amnesty suggestions pretty much ignore rule of law, rewarding people who don’t play by the rules, while the laws in place aren’t in the best interests in the country, but in ways that impress voting blocs (IE- prioritizing relatives of people already in this country, rather than those with skills the country needs.) The party basically supports a very generous welfare state, and unlimited immigration, a combination that is untenable. There’s an emphasis on acceptance rather than assimilation, the mosaic rather than the melting pot, which results in less cohesion. It was rather telling that during the 2016 campaign, the Democratic party’s website had sections for they would help various subgroups, rather than a shared vision/ principles.

We are currently in a time of massive social changes, many of which are positive, and there is tendency from Democrats to punish the people who aren’t moving quickly enough (IE- the cakemaker penalized for refusing to make cakes for a gay marriage at a time when gay marriage wasn’t yet legal in the state.) History is often described as moving inexorably towards positive progress, but we forget the failed experiments and excesses (prohibition, socialism, eugenics.) We need a push and pull to weed out the bad ideas. Looking at places where liberals have no pushback (college campuses and academia, internet circles) show a poor model for the country. While conservatives go overboard with excessive rules of order and propriety, at least those are clearly defined, whereas the left changes the rules constantly.

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The civil rights accomplishments of the last few generations have been impressive, but as a country, I think we’ve gotten to most of the low-hanging fruit. There aren’t future changes that are currently as obvious as allowing gay marriage, or ending the most onerous forms of school segregation. The next steps are tougher, less obvious, and more expensive. This isn’t acknowledged as readily by people on the left, who seem to have a warped view of the problem, and are now in a position to push for changes that could make things worse.

This is a massive country, where there a lot of top-down changes by people who won’t be directly affected. Officeholders might be booted out, although they’ll also have significant effects on people outside their constituencies. Various government boards have even less accountability in coming up with regulations that are sometimes contradictory. And they don’t often realize the losers (for example- if an affirmative action policy is meant to have some racial and ethnic groups proportionally represented but doesn’t have a cap on the number of other groups, it will require some groups to be underrepresented.) Then there’s the use of law to attempt to fix things that aren’t fixable, and penalizing institutions for things that are often someone else’s fault (IE- encouraging penalties on a college that has a low percentage of women in engineering when it may be the result of the talent pool, which could be a result of how the students were raised/ acculturated) or maybe no one’s fault (Do men prefer jobs that involve problem-solving and women prefer jobs that involve working with people?).

A related question to why I’m not a Democrat is why I’m not an independent.

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The way elections are set up really disadvantages third parties, but also makes it easier for people who are essentially independents to run major third party campaigns within a presidential primary (see Trump and Sanders in 2016). For all the talk about how parties should be abandoned, radical change is more possible than ever before.

Another factor is talent pool. Partisans tend to be absolute and extreme, but most third partiers more so. The libertarian national convention would have arguments about whether heroin should be legal for children. Candidates for statewide and federal office tend to be local activists, generally not on par with their equivalents on the major party. In contrast, Republican and Democratic candidates for Senate tend to be accomplished state legislators, members of Congress, prosecutors, etc, who also generally had accomplishments before they sought their earlier office.

I’ll gladly vote for a third party candidate in individual elections (or a Democrat), and have done so in the past. But I don’t see myself backing enough new candidates to support a new party. This would be subject to change when a new party is in a position to have primaries between qualified candidates.

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