Friday, June 30, 2017

Excerpt - Titans Together: "Seris's Office"

Another excerpt from Titans Together comin' atcha! This one was co-written by my friend Kitsune Ninetails, who played both his original character Shissar and HK-47, a robot from the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game series. Fantasic series if you're interested in Star Wars and enjoy a good RPG.

Hope you enjoy!

---


Marcus took his customary seat facing Seris's desk.

Seris took her seat behind the desk, taking off a pair of earrings and placing them in one of her drawers as she nodded to Marcus and HK. "Turn on the recording." She locked the drawer and glanced over her shoulder. "Not that I don't trust your report, Shissar."

The snake-woman appeared mid-stretch, coiling up off to the side and flicking her tongue before she spoke. "I undersstand. Besst to have a recording anyway. Even the besst eyess miss thingss."

"Acknowledgement: Very well." HK's eyes lit up a brighter shade of red before the hologram projected onto Seris' desk, using the surface as an impromptu stage upon which the entire battle played out. Of course it was from HK's perspective, but no detail went unmissed by his photoreceptors. It continued up until the order to run was given when Zeke appeared, cutting out once the team had evac'd.

Seris stroked her chin as she watched the full recording without comment. She then sat up straight and tapped the desktop. "And where were you the whole fight, Marcus?"

No sign of a smirk on Marcus's face this time as he replied calmly. "In the ship. Sabateuring."

"I take it the enemy escaped on said ship."

"They did."

"Then you did not only an abysmal job 'sabateuring,' but also leading. You were the highest-ranking officer in that group next to Shissar. A team requires a leader to function. You failed your duties as such."

Marcus nodded, taking the criticism silently.

Seris stared at the hologram figures for another moment. "The rest of you performed admirably. I'm particularly impressed at how well you functioned as a group. Give Fireclaw my regards next time you see her. I'll have to remember to release some prisoners to her as a thank you for her work here."

Seris tapped her fingertips on the arm of her chair as she leaned back in it. "Your designation is HK, is that correct?" she inquired of the droid.

"Clarifying Statement: My full designation is HK-47." It wasn't being disrespectful, simply stating a fact. And it kept its answers brief; after all, Marcus hadn't given too much for it to work with in terms of addressing his mother. The fully intelligent droid just figured being short was best.

Shissar meanwhile made an idle note about the prisoner release.

Seris nodded. No offense taken, apparently. "HK-47, rewind the holorecording back to beginning of tape. Specifically the point immediately after you and the other agents revealed yourselves."

Marcus just sat back in his chair, tapping his chin and wondering what else his mother was going to bust him for next.

The droid did as requested silently, the hologram flickering for a moment before it was back to that point. "Query: Shall I play it again?"

"Unnecessary, at least for the moment." She tapped the hologram, specifically the figures of three of the initial enemies--Keera, Kale, and Ophelia. "Have any of you seen any of these targets before?"

Marcus initially shook his head before responding, "Well... I actually have files on the brunette. She's a Titan, or at least was. Initial reports dubbed her missing in action. Obviously that's not the case. Codename Night Hawk."

"Anyone else?" Seris glanced to HK and Shissar.

Shissar uncoiled enough to get a better view of the hologram, so she could pinpoint which ones she'd seen standing where. "I have not sseen either of them before."

The droid meanwhile pulled up another hologram, a scrolling list of newspaper articles about Kale. "Statement: Kale Snipes. Human. Martial Arts Master. Philanthropist. Chinese national. Reportedly responsible for stopping numerous crimes. Current address: building seven one nine, Georgetown Street, Metro City. Addendum: It should be noted that an intelligent person, by now, would have relocated due to the fact our battle with him was nearby. Current location: unknown. Current Occupation Martial Artist. Apology: I am sorry I can not provide additional information on this subject. Addendum: I am also unable to locate any relevant data on the other subject."

Seris nodded, but maintained her poker face. However, Marcus knew from experience she was impressed. "HK-47, search for information regarding Night Hawk. Marcus, while he's running the search, enlighten us. Who is this young woman?"

"Around twenty years or so, five-foot-four, something like one hundred thirty pounds. She's a shadowmancer..." He started to add information a bit more slowly, "Which was actually what caught my attention when I began studying her. It struck me as strange how similar her powers were to mine," He cast a glance at Seris, but if she noticed his look, she didn't show it. He continued. "Shadow manipulation, but only on objects she's created herself. She's been known to use it to shield her body from attacks. Two-dimensional shadow form she can switch into at will. Allows her to get into small areas. They've used her on a few stealth missions before. Additional powers of flight. Weird thing is, swords are her weapon of choice. I've never seen that gun before."

As Marcus came to a close, Seris turned to HK. "Anything to add, HK-47?"

"Statement: Nighthawk is most noted on your world wide web for two instances of valor. She is reported to have almost single-handedly defended the city of Conark from a cult of metahumans calling hemselves the Immortal Legion. She is also noted as being the diplomat responsible for attempting to establish a Titan Tower in Luster City. Finally, through my own analysis, I believe her to be one of the Phantoms of Shoan."

Seris raised an eyebrow at that. "You believe? We don't operate on faith in this establishment, HK-47. Elaborate on your line of reasoning to arrive at this conclusion."

"Acknowledgement: Very well. Statement: After having reviewed numerous images and footage of operations the Phantoms of Shoan have released, the firearm Nighthawk is wielding on the beach is dentical to the one wielded by one of the Phantoms. Addendum: Also factored in are the height, weight and reported use of shadowmancer powers, specifically the two dimensional shadow form was reportedly used by one of the Phantoms assisting in the interruption of the strike team's efforts to capture one Jason Norrik, resident of Shoan and known Super."

Seris smiled softly. "Impressive. Good work, HK-47." She waved her hand back at the table as she cleared her throat. The smile disappeared. "My main concern is the fact that we have no record connecting Kale or Ophelia with the Titans. My guess is that they are beginning to recruit again." She leaned out over the table, staring specifically at Marcus. "I don't believe I need to say that we cannot allow this to happen."

Marcus nodded briskly.

"Now. Do we have any information on the winged one with the ship? Other than the fact that he will burn for attacking my tower." Seris again glanced to her three reporters.

Shissar shook her head. "I know only that it iss a sship I have sseen before, at leasst that ssame class of sship."

HK-47 however went quiet for a moment. Only the quiet whir of his processors working escaped him before the hologram changes to a dossier. There, clearly visible, was Kaldra's face, name, and everything about him. "Statement: Identification Confirmed. Kaldra Sargt. Callsign: Foehammer. Species: Vulkrixian. Rank: Sentinel Agent. Captain of the ship Dawnbreaker, a Dynamic Class Freighter modified for the role of gunship. Last Known Assignment: Investigate Brotherhood of Evil operations on Earth. Last Contact: One year, two months, twelve days standard earth time prior to current date. Additional notes are available regarding this subject's training and history at further request."

Seris raised a brow as she turned back toward the droid. "Consider it requested, HK-47. Tell us more."

Marcus had sat up straight in his seat. "Yeah, and where are you getting this information from? I highly doubt he put it up on his Facebook page..."

"Confirmation: Very well. Continuation: Agent Foehammer was trained in hacking, sabotage, and interception of intelligence. He is also a skilled melee fighter with access to his species' powers, the manipulation, creation, and absorption of light. In training he was noted as preferring to use a solid blade to make up for his weakness in darkness. He is noted as the only Vulkrixian within Sentinel Ranks as of last update of this file. He was chosen as a test subject by Sentinel Command, to judge the effectiveness of his species within Sentinel operations. During training he showed an excellent grasp of subterfuge tactics and the willingness to use them, and more direct means, when the situation requirements had changed."

HK 47 paused, looking to Marcus at that point. "Statement: This unit was at one point property of The Sentinels. I still have a few of their files. Observation: It would appear my latest memory records indicate that I was to meet with Sentinel Agent Foehammer and assist him due to his lack of communication with Sentinel Command. How curious."

Seris addressed Marcus while staring at HK. "How, exactly, did you 'boost' its performance?"

Jackpot. "He wasn't running at full capacity, so I took him to Harroc to work on him more. She's still not finished, but it's gonna cost a bit to get him up to full throttle."

"I'll wire the money directly. How much did you spend today? I know you don't have any funds to speak of."

"Five hundred downpayment."

Seris pressed a button on the phone pad on her desk. She issued some orders to whatever peon was on the other line and then nodded. "Done. I want him fully operational. As soon as he is, we're extracting every bit of information he contains about these Sentinels, Foehammer, and whatever else we can get. HK-47, you are dismissed. Feel free to wait outside until Agent Oblivion is finished here."

"Confirmation: Affirmative." The droid turned, walking from the room.

As soon as he'd gone, Shissar spoke up. "The ssentinelss... I didn't think they were real. Ghosstss. Nobody knowss who they are except for a few rumorss." She shook her head some, glancing at Marcus. For once, she had to admit, he'd come through. Even she couldn't argue with his results this time.

Seris nodded slowly. Even with her stoic demeanor, one could see the wheels turning in her mind. "Where did you obtain him, Marcus?"

"I overheard some of our engineers talking about some scrap robot they'd found among some wreckage shortly after we put up the shield. The idea of an alien robot piqued my curiosity, so I asked if I could take a look at it. Well, threw my weight around and took it off their hands, more like it. They weren't going to do anything with it except pretty it up, scan him down, and tell you anything they found anyway."

Seris steepled her fingertips together. "Rumors that are unfortunately proving all too true. If he is here, I have to wonder how many more there are on Earth... or waiting outside it for the shields to fail." Seris closed her eyes, calculating.

"So he's working with the Titans against a common enemy? He seemed pretty cozy with them, judging from the attack footage." He gestured to Shissar. "You've seen it, haven't you, Shissy? What he did as soon as they got your bitten girl out of the towers?"

"He wass rather quick to come to her aid... and the sshotss at the tower came sshortly after I bit her. Thiss may alsso explain the sstrange lightss reported when one of our Titan prissonerss esscaped not long ago... Roxer, I think hiss name wass. The robot ssaid Foehammer'ss sspeciess can manipulate light..." Shissar nodded as she thought this over. Despite her scaled face hiding almost every facet of her emotions, it was clear she was more than a little unnerved about the fact a ghost story had just turned out to be real.

Seris frowned. "Yes, and Foehammer and Roxer were working in conjunction during your mission, as well. The situation may be more serious than we initially anticipated. If the Sentinels were establishing contacts with the Titans before the shields went up..." Seris fell silent as she considered the possibilities. None of them looked good. "Not a word of this gets out to anyone. No one. Not any other agents, not to the other Overseers, not unless the head himself asks directly. Understood? Information of this magnitude could absolutely shatter our morale."

"Understood." Marcus nodded, concealing an inward smile. Finally, they were starting to face an opponent worthy of throwing their full weight against!

"I undersstand." Is all Shissar said. Seris could always trust the snake to keep her mouth shut when she had to. She did hiss though and glance at the painting at the wall, but Seris didn't seem too worried about it, so she left the gesture at that. "He wass alsso pressent when the Titanss picked up the antivenom... he wass the one that carried it..."

"We were already aware of the fact they would be working on an antidote. I'm certain they are still far from doing that. Even with our technology and staff, it was difficult. But this is no less... troubling." Seris frowned. "Shissar, what specifically have you heard about the Sentinels? Rumors or otherwise."

"Jusst that they are Ghosstss. They are very good at knowing everything about ssomeone or ssomething, and when they make a move it iss alwayss brutal, efficient and elegant all at once. They rarely leave any ssurvivorss of anybody they target, and they never leave data behind. They are ssaid to infiltrate organizationss, weaken them from the insside, and trick them into sspending ressourcess on useless thingss. Then when the resst of them sshow up, the organization iss already weakened, and crumbless. That iss one rumor. The other I have heard mosst commonly iss that they are ssimply sspiess, gathering intelligence to then give to people like the Jusstice League and the Green Lantern Corps. A freighter modified into a gunsship ssuggesstss that the firsst iss likely..."

Seris nodded, the stoic mask back on her face. Only a mind-reader could tell what she was thinking most of the time. And even then, it would have to be a good one. A very, very good one. "Thank you, Shissar. We will have to factor this into our future endeavors. You've done some good work these past few days. Take the day off and relax. I have some things I must discuss with my son."

Ah. Here it came. "So, should I go start my laps now, or do you have some new form of torture in mind?"

Seris rose from her desk and brushed it off lightly. "Quite the opposite, actually." She opened another drawer and held out a set of keys, dangling them before Marcus. "I didn't say you've done badly enough to deserve torture... yet."

Marcus's eyes widened. He knew those keys. Those were... those were the keys to the Porsche, weren't they?

"I have some other business to attend to, Shissar. Do give my regards to Agent Fireclaw if you happen to see her while I'm out." Seris gestured for Marcus to follow as she headed out the door, keys still ringing as they swung around her fingertip.

Marcus followed giddily.

"Yess, Sseriss. I'll be in my quarterss if you have need of me." Shissar cloaked and slipped away.

Marcus found HK-47 standing silently outside the door until the droid spotted its master. "Query: Is there anything further I can do for you Master, or shall I return to your quarters and shut down for the time being?"

Marcus waved his hand, almost mesmerized by the keys in Seris's hand. "Yep. Yes. Go ahead and do that. Enjoy the nap, buddy." He was nearly salivating to get downstairs to the garage and take that baby for a run.

---
Originally posted on Titans Together, founded by Hufflepuff Moonshoes. All Shissar and HK-47 dialogue courtesy of Kitsune Ninetails. Used with permission.

Teen Titans and all related terms are the property of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Check out the original show for some great superhero action, memorable villains, and hilarious hi-jinks.

HK-47, Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic, and all other related terms are the property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney Studios.

Photo: Southbank, Australia by Arnaud Mesureur; originally posted on Unsplash.com.
From Him, To Him

Friday, June 23, 2017

Excerpt - TVB: "The Intruder"


The evening had grown suddenly much cooler, bearing a cool mist that was seeping into the forest. He could feel it wetting his face and beard.

It was so dark and silent tonight. Just like—

Zaelor’s pulse quickened, and his breaths went ragged.

Calm down. You know what you’re doing now.

Zaelor closed his eyes tighter and reined in his breath, forcing it to steady once more.

He heard something move in the trees, ahead and slightly to his left.

Even having done this a dozen times before, the hardest part was the wait. Zaelor forced his muscles to remain relaxed.

No small task when you knew someone was trying to sneak up on you.

All his focus was on his sense of hearing. This intruder was especially soft-footed, but no one could ever perfectly mask the soft pad of a boot sole on loam. To Zaelor’s alert ear, the rustle of a stirred leaf was just as loud as a voice. The intruder crept around the edge of the tree line surrounding their little camp.

The crunch of leaves was suddenly interrupted by a wooden, scrabbling sort of sound. Were they climbing one of the trees? Unusual, but perhaps not unreasonable.

He’d heard signs of pursuit for the past two days, but he had kept quiet to avoid worrying the children. No need for them to know, anyway.

After all, if this intruder had wanted to kill them, they could have attempted at any point over the past two days. They hadn’t. Perhaps they were simply curious; just wanted to cautiously surveil these wandering strangers. That would explain the tree-climbing. They may have decided to climb up and rest for the night, high up and out of sight.

He couldn’t have that.

In one smooth roll, Zaelor grabbed two knives from under his bedroll and sprung into a crouching position. He aimed the knife for the tree that was roughly in the spot he’d heard the scrabbling noises. Despite the dim light and dark shadows cast by their dying fire, he could see a body sitting on one of the larger, low-hanging branches in the tree. They hadn’t gotten far.

“Move and I throw,” he said in a low, even tone. “Your name and purpose.”

To the intruder’s credit, they didn’t move. But they did speak in a husky, odd-sounding voice, “No need to fight.” There was a lilt to their voice, an accent he’d only heard infrequently, and long ago. But where…?

“Zaelor?” came a child’s sleepy voice behind him. Isalaina, he registered in a split second.

The intruder moved.

Zaelor flung the first knife, but the intruder’s quick movement spoiled his aim. He threw the second.

A flash of reflected firelight: the intruder flicked out a sword with practiced speed.

The second knife clanged against metal and fell harmlessly away.

“Zaelor!” he heard again behind him. He heard the two boys stirring now.

Without turning, he barked, “Stay back!”

His attacks had been enough to defend the children and to get the intruder moving. The intruder was clambering higher in the tree to get away.

“What’s going on?”

“Wut’s happenin’?”

“Are we under attack? Is it the Scourge?”

“Quiet!” Zaelor hissed.

Keeping his eyes pinned on the intruder, Zaelor quickly knelt. One hand felt beneath his blanket until his fingers brushed against his unstrung bow. The other hand was pulling his bowstring from his tunic pocket. It took only another second to pull out both, one more to bend the bow and string it.

Still too slow! The tree’s leaves had nearly engulfed the intruder now. Zaelor risked a glance away as he dove for his quiver. It was beside his blanket. He plucked out an arrow and nocked. Then he spun around. He searched the treetops for his prey.

The leaves completely concealed the intruder. There was no movement.

Zaelor continued to scan the trees, moving his eyes back and forth to catch even the slightest shadow out of place. Impossible. Nothing to see in the dim firelight.

Zaelor closed his eyes and held his breath, focusing on the sounds of the forest. It was still summer, so the trees were filled with the chirping of crickets and frogs. He filtered it out, letting the sounds shift to the background of his mind. There was also the rustle of leaves and branches, but were those from the wind or his quarry? He waited and focused.

There. It was in rhythm with the rustling of the leaves in the breeze, but he could just barely differentiate—a heavy breathing. The climbing didn’t come without the cost of exertion. The intruder was only human, after all.

Zaelor drew his bow and released, smooth and quick. There was a gasp of surprise, but when Zaelor opened his eyes—

The intruder scrambled to stay in the tree—unsuccessfully. Zaelor saw a flash of light through the leaves, then the intruder came tumbling toward the ground. They righted themselves just before they hit the ground.

The intruder wasn’t human.

The intruder rose from a crouch, standing silently before Zaelor, bathing him in a jewel-green glow. No mistaking it: the flash and glowing light was coming from a pair of wings that had sprouted from the intruder’s back. The wings were like shining stained glass.

A Zelméon. The intruder was a Zelméon.

The intruder hadn’t been struck by the arrow, but the shaft must have passed close enough to startle the intruder. Now whoever they were had no choice but to stand and fight.

The Zelméon unsheathed a knife from a sheath strapped to their thigh: Zelméon-made, judging from the glittering green jewels in the pommel. They also folded back their shining wings; one moment, the clearing was flooded with their soft green light, and the next, the wings had completely vanished.

Even now, urgency mingled with awe. That sight would never cease to amaze him.

“Don’t want to hurt you,” the intruder interrupted his thoughts. Their posture seemed to support that. They held the knife ready for a throw, but their other hand was open, palm out to Zaelor. Their whole body looked relaxed, not tensed. Either they really didn’t want to fight, or they were very confident in their fighting skills.

“And I don’t want to hurt you,” Zaelor replied coolly, “But I’d be a terrible ward if I let just any masked woman spy on my little cousin in the middle of the night.” It was the cover story he’d invented along the way. Isalaina looked the most like him, after all. He figured it was less conspicuous if he, the only adult in the group, was related to at least one of the children he was traveling with.

The intruder was indeed wearing a wooden mask that concealed her whole face, as well as a collection of nondescript green and brown clothing. Little wonder it had been hard to see her in the trees all this time she’d been following them.

“Well, you may not be a woman,” Zaelor clarified when the intruder didn’t respond. “But the exceptionally loose shirt, the obvious attempt to make your voice deeper than it is, coupled with the mask… I mean, no men bother wearing a full face-mask like that.” He shrugged.

The intruder cocked their head. “Well aren’t you a smart one?” came her unmistakably female voice.

The lilt in her voice—her accent. She’d tried to change it when she’d been faking a man’s voice, but he could hear it clearly now. It was certainly a Zelméon accent, but what region? There was a bit of the refined Zelméon capital, Závéon, in her accent, but something else, too. Where had he heard that accent before?

But he was keeping a lady waiting. “Oh, I’m smart enough to remember you didn’t answer my questions,” Zaelor smirked. “And I need those answers, or we’ll have to get into some unpleasantries. And frankly, it’s late, and I’m tired, so I’d prefer the easy way. Considering you keep saying there’s no need to fight, I’m inclined to think you’d prefer that, too. So, who are you and why are you following us?”

He saw the flash of metal and knew the intruder was going to fling her knife before his eyes could even process the motion of her throw. That gave him just enough time to adjust his bow and drop his shoulder to roll.

Unfortunately for him, he’d forgotten to shoulder his quiver earlier. He had no arrows on hand.

As Zaelor jumped back to his feet, he noticed cool air and warm liquid trickling down his left shoulder. He clutched his shoulder and his fingers confirmed—the knife had neatly sliced through his tunic sleeve, exposing his sliced skin to the elements.

Well then.

Also unfortunately for him, she apparently knew her way around throwing knives. Better than him. And another one was on its way.

“Zaelor!” Jaranin’s voice this time.

Zaelor rolled to the other side, away from the telltale glint that reflected the firelight. This time, he managed to roll close enough to scoop up his quiver. He slung it on his back and nocked an arrow. “Don’t interfere! You’ll get in the way!” Zaelor shouted.

Of course, once he looked up, the Zelméon was gone.

Zaelor swore and jumped to his feet to pursue.

---
[Excerpt from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]
 
Photo: San Francisco, United States by Matthew Smith; originally posted on Unsplash.com.


From Him, To Him

Friday, June 16, 2017

Is There Such a Thing as "Good Art"?

Whether you're a writer, painter, architect, actor, or any other kind of artist, you're going to encounter people discussing good vs. bad art. People constantly argue over styles or what techniques work best. In college classes, they teach the proper methods for producing art and highlight some of the "great works."

But here's the thing: even as an English major, I didn't find a lot of the "great" literature pieces all that great. I could appreciate the time and effort that went into creating a classic piece of literature, but I certainly didn't enjoy it. Am I alone in this, or did you find yourself groaning when you had to look at "good" art? How many times do we need to see a man turn into a centipede in Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," or read about a hanging in Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"?

In fact, not only did I not like these "good" pieces of art... I didn't think they were all that good to begin with.

Am I just a peasant who lacks a refined palette? I mean, I can't rule that out. But it does get me wondering...

Is there such a thing as "good" and "bad" art? If so, what makes art "good"?

That's exactly what we're gonna be discussing this week.

I'm gonna start the discussion by postulating some of my thoughts about art. Check 'em out and let me know what you think. Do you agree? Disagree? How come?


I Believe There's a Difference Between Good and Bad Art

Okay, I guess not too many people are going to dispute this one--unless you define art as only the cream of the crop stuff. And that's fine. That's a perfectly legitimate argument, but not one we're going to get into today.

I do believe art quality is a spectrum, from the worst of the worst to the best of the best (and all the millions of kinds in between). However...


I Believe There's a Difference Between "Good/Bad" Objectively and Subjectively 

Art is an inherently and irritatingly subjective topic. I might not like the two short stories mentioned above (I might find them "bad" stories), but you might love them. Does that make them "bad" art?

Well, no, not really. That's just a matter of opinion.

This is why I believe that before you label art as good or bad, you need to establish if you're talking subjectively (about what kind of art you enjoy) or objectively (whether the art is well-made).

Although, there are even differing opinions on the "objective" qualities of art. I mean, what is "well-made" art? What does that entail? Does it mean using only certain brands of markers or only certain kinds of paints? Does it mean using a wide variety of techniques?


I Think "Good" and "Bad" Must Refer to Quality, not Quantity

If something is bad art, it's because it was made in ignorance. That's what sets the two-year-old's scribbles apart from an abstract artist's work: ignorance of the craft, of techniques, of tools.

First Abstract Watercolor, Wassily Kandinsky
The two-year-old doesn't know anything about color wheels or shape, form, or anything that artists study to improve their art. They have no artistic sensibilities; they just scribble. There's no thought and, therefore, no meaning behind their art.

That's not to say that every artistic piece has to have some story or theme behind it; on the contrary, I think some pieces can both be art and have no other purpose than to be "pretty." Still, "to be pretty" is an intent, a purpose, a meaning. Maybe you're coloring a picture so it looks attractive. Maybe you're writing a story to entertain. I think those are just as legitimate "meanings" as the deep ones "artistic people" assign to their creations--at least as far as setting it closer to the "good" end of the art spectrum.

Now, a word of warning: I do believe you can take the "meaning" of art too far. This is another hallmark of what I consider to be "bad" art: art that's made to further an agenda rather than to make the best art possible. This is basically taking the artist's "meaning" to its extreme; the artist wants to say something but completely ignores the, well... the art part. Art used for propaganda falls into this category. Heck, I'd even put a good portion of Christian films into this category. While they may succeed at getting their "meaning" across, the art forms have been neglected: there's not a focus on making the best poster or film possible; the art is ignored in order to exclusively push the meaning. But the meaning can't come across well without good art, and it's not art if the meaning overshadows all forms of the art.


I Believe Art is "Good" if it's the Best You've Got

"You don't understand! It's awfulllll!"
I've seen too many people (myself included) berate themselves for not drawing as well as people who dedicate their lives to art. "I can't draw," they say, or "My drawings are terrible."

Now, hold on. Your drawings may not be the same or even on par with that other artist you admire; but remember, a lot of art is subjective anyway.

I think someone is allowed to consider their art "good" if they've worked on it to the very best of their current ability level.

Does that mean the art is still "good" five years later when they've improved their craft? No, because it's not made with their current ability level! That's the satisfaction of redrawing (or, like in this video by DrawingWiffWaffles, watching an artist redraw) a picture that was made years before. You get to see their highest skills at one point in time and compare it to their highest skills now.

 
Objective skill level aside, even I can admit my drawing skills have improved with time.

And if all art had to be on the same "level" to be considered "good," how would we possibly have different art styles at all?


I Believe Art is "Good" if it Transcends Time

Just like whether something is a "classic," I believe art is "good" if it's still being enjoyed and discussed long after it was produced.

That means that yes, some art can even be "good" even if it was made previously and the artist has improved since creating it. After all, if people are still talking about that original art, it means that original art had enough meaning to resonate with them--even if it may not be the best-quality stuff the artist has ever produced.


What Do You Think?

What makes art "good"? Is "good" just a useless label? What kind of art do you find "good" (objectively or subjectively)?

---
First Abstract Watercolor property of its respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws. All other photos by me!

b! (end)

From Him, To Him

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Weekly Posts Are Back!

Happy to inform you that from now on, we'll be updating every Friday, starting this week with a discussion on what makes "good art"!

This is just one of the many new things that I'm planning on bringing to the blog. Stay tuned!

As always, be sure to let me know what you think of the new content and any additional things you'd love to see here on Fiction and Fantasy!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Movie Review: Titan A.E.


Writer's Note (2-11-18): Some of you may be like "Whooooa, I was wondering where this post disappeared to!" while some of you might be wondering where the heck this brand-new but not-new post came from.

This was one of a series of posts I had to pull from the blog temporarily so I could update it to my current standards. While the core of the review is the same, you'll find some new content in here as well.

So to old readers and new ones alike, hope you enjoy! And rejoice to all you out there who were sad to see this one vanish abruptly. Sorry about that! Won't be happening again. :)

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Genre: Action-Adventure, Sci Fi, Space Opera
Year Released: 2000
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Running Time: 95 mins.
Rating: PG; contains some rear male nudity (and a chick in a towel)

This review will contain spoilers.


You have been warned.

The Premise

In the distant future, Earth has established contact and made alliances and enemies among alien races. Then the Drej arrive out of nowhere, easily decimating Earth before humanity can pose a threat to their plans of galactic domination.

Caught in the chaos is a young Cale Tucker, whose father has been working for years on a secret project known only as "Project Titan." Cale is taken to safety onto a shuttle with a number of what will be some of Earth's last survivors as he watches his father take off in Project Titan to ensure it doesn't fall into Drej hands. Project Titan is, allegedly, a terraforming ship, a product of human ingenuity and survival instincts... and a key reason why the Drej are so terrified of humanity. When the Drej blow up Earth in the hopes to prevent that same ingenuity from working against them in the future... Project Titan also becomes humanity's last hope of reclaiming a planet to call home.

Cale grows up jaded and lost, part of a quickly-dying race who are generally ignored or mocked by others.

But purposeless drifting quickly turns into a life-changing purpose when his father's old comrade, a former military man named Joseph Korso, tracks Cale down. Korso reveals that Cale holds the key to humanity's only hope for a future: a map to Project Titan. Now Cale must venture deep into space to locate Project Titan and rescue what remains of humankind... before the Drej finish what they started.

Sounds cool, right? Heck yeah I thought so too. So much so that ever since I saw the first trailers for it as a kid, I was overwhelmed with a desire to go see it in theaters LIKE RIGHT AWAY PLEASE.

The only problem was, I was equally overwhelmed by this weird perception that my parents would think it was too violent for me... for some reason. To this day, I'm not sure why I had that idea, but the fact was, I was too fearful to ever even ask. So I never saw it.

Until I found it on Netflix ten years later.

It's time to review Titan A.E.

The Visuals

Even as a kid, I noticed how similar Cale looked to another Don Bluth male lead, Dmitri from Anastasia. Back then, the similarity was a plus: Dmitri was a long-time animation crush of mine, and I had more than enough room in my little pre-teen heart for Blonde Dmitri too.

When I saw the film as an adult, however, the similarities were... almost uncomfortable.

Seriously, I dare someone to tell me these two are not the same guy with a different box of hair dye.

I suppose you could fault Titan A.E. for "Same-Face Syndrome," but since that's a hotly-debated subject nowadays1, which artists far more qualified than me have discussed, I won't necessarily dock it points just for that.

Still, I was shocked to find a fair amount of criticism angled toward this movie's character designs. Katie Wendt, an animator and character designer, asserts that Titan A.E. "failed to connect to audiences due to... generic character design."2 And she's being polite next to her colleague and former classmate, Magnolia Porter, who says that "[Titan A.E.] is a movie we were forced to watch in my character design class as examples of some of the worst character designs of all time..."3

'Worst character designs of all time'? Ouch. Honestly, I was a little put out when I read that. How dare they attack my beloved Un-Dmitri? I had to dig deeper.

Later in the same post, Porter examines just what makes these character designs so lackluster, using Akima, Cale's love interest, as an example. Porter points out how none of Akima's details tell us anything about her occupation, her origins, or even her personality. "[I] guess she’s a… mechanic or pilot or whatever… who wants to find earth? [G]ood thing absolutely none of that is apparent in her appearance, [or] she might have accidentally been interesting to look at."4

Titan A.E., 2000 20th Century Fox
Porter's assessment may sound harsh, but I have to admit, it's also accurate. Akima is very pretty (I always liked her dyed-purple bangs), but there's nothing about her costume, demeanor, haircut (and color) that tell us anything about her at a glance. She has a belt with a firearm, and that's about it. There's nothing to hint that she spent her childhood on a human "colony" that's little more than a conglomeration of spare spaceship parts, or how her life before piloting for Korso mainly consisted of dreaming of a better life while performing routine maintenance on her home so her family didn't get sucked out into space. It would have been wonderful to see these details rather than being told them.

Okay, okay, so the character designs could use some work. But how does the rest of the movie look?

I'd give it a solid "Faiiiiir, I guess." Titan A.E., like Anastasia (both distributed by 20th Century Fox), mostly consists of CGI backgrounds and 2D characters. Much of Titan's CGI has not aged well--but I'll make a big exception for the terraforming sequence at the end, which was cool to watch and impressive given the time this movie released.

However, unlike Anastasia (which was released three years earlier), most of the CGI did not mesh well with the 2D characters. Anastasia had its own share of early-CGI growing pains, but at least most of the CGI was designed to blend or to purposefully stand out from the 2D characters. The same could not be said for Titan A.E.

The Music

Much like the movie's visuals, the soundtrack was less than fitting. Most of its notable tracks are pop punk that clearly dates the film to the late 90's-early 2000's. Of these songs, almost all feel generic and unsuited for what should have been a sweeping space opera. While I'm a fan of pop punk, it inundated the movie, leaving the soundtrack feeling gimmicky and out-of-place. I would've loved to hear more techno songs and electronic instruments--something to really sell this as a sci fi world. Or, by contrast, any orchestral epic arrangements akin to the Star Wars or Star Trek soundtracks are always welcome in my book.

Even the pop punk tune "Over My Head" by Lit, the song used most often for Titan A.E.'s trailers, wasn't used to its full potential. The song is pretty typical (but catchy) pop punk fare about feeling completely in over your head and dreaming of a better life. So, did they put this song at the beginning of the film, when we're first getting to know what kind of a man Cale has grown up into, when he's stuck in a dead-end job, alone, ignored, and discriminated against by his alien boss and coworkers? No, of course not! That'd make too much sense.

Instead we hear the iconic tune placed near the end of the film during a montage where Cale and Akima are fixing up Akima's space-hulk hometown. I guess they thought it'd be a good place since Cale and Akima are working together in the final push to find Project Titan. But the song has nothing to do with the tone or message of the scene where it plays! In fact, this is the point in the movie when Cale finally isn't overwhelmed by existential crisis, when Cale actually feels confident and full of purpose! What a waste!

The Writing

Titan A.E. had its share of struggles, but it was the writing that broke my heart hardest. This film had so much promise! I loved the idea of a movie about humanity trying to pick up the pieces long after Earth was gone, toppled from their status and wandering, homeless. I always got the sense from the trailers that this film was going to be a post-apocalyptic dystopia with an angsty cusp-of-manhood protagonist trying to eke out his living and prove himself a man while trying to save the human race.

Unfortunately... Titan A.E. was not that story.

Characters made abrupt shifts in motivation for little if any plausible reason (Cale goes from "I really don't care about what happens to humanity" to "I have to save the human race!" nearly overnight). Likeable characters were relegated to the "bad guy for no reason other than plot twist" roles. It was a mess!

I couldn't tell if a lot of this story's problems were from bits being left on the cutting room floor... or if there were never any "bits" to begin with.

This make far more sense in light of the film's development: it suffered from a painful stop-and-go production that would probably make any film creator's skin crawl.

It began with a game of script-and-writer hot potato, which ultimately burned director Art Vitello so badly that he left the project less than a year after it had begun.5

Now directorless and with $30 million already down the drain, the film fell into the laps of Bluth and Goldman--that is, if you could call it a film at all at this point; it still had no script. Still, this was right after Bluth and Goldman had finished Anastasia (which likely explains the similarities in character designs and animation choices). Anastasia had done well at the box office, the highest-grossing of Bluth and Goldman's nine films so far.6 If anyone could make something out of this spoiled tater, they could.

But Titan A.E.'s woes didn't end there. Fox Animation Studios itself was floundering. After losing 200-some staff and the Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman/CEO Bill Mechanic,7 Fox Animation closed its doors a mere week and a half after Titan A.E. released; the film had lost Fox an icy-cold $50 million.8

The Conclusion

You know what's truly tragic? It wouldn't have taken much to turn this lackluster film into a classic. And while I could (and will) write an entire article about the how's and why's, here's the short version.

Titan A.E. tried to be a plot-centric story when it was begging to be a character-driven one. Rather than focus on throwing in edgy plot twists, the writers needed to recognize all the good things they already had going and focus on those.

And they had a lot going for them! The premise was interesting and the characters were entertaining and likable. In fact, the crew interactions and group chemistry are great throughout the film... until about the halfway point, when everything starts to fall apart.

In the beginning of the film, Korso is a satisfying, grounded mentor to Cale. Korso will shoot straight with you. He's a bold, no-nonsense kind of guy and a likable captain; you can see how he's gotten this ragtag crew to work together this long. But it all gets erased when we abruptly discover halfway through the film that Korso has been a villain the whole time! There are no prior hints or foreshadowing, and in the span of two scenes, Korso goes from a confident captain to a threatening, ranting dictator with no discipline over himself or his crew.

Or take another crewmember, Preed. He starts the film as a snarky, sweet-talking character any lover of rogue-types would adore. He seems like the kind of guy who always talks trash about you but will be the first to have your back. Until, just like with Korso, he receives a personality transplant because the plot demanded he be a villain. Suddenly the suave and dry-humored Preed becomes bloodthirsty and completely callous toward the crewmates he'd gone out of his way to rescue earlier.

This character whiplash is so jarring, I can only assume it was a result of the film's agonizing production process. It's a harsh reminder that focusing on the wrong kind of conflict can destroy the story you're trying to tell.

This film is not an inherently bad film; its characters are not inherently bad characters. Unfortunately, neither story nor characters realized their full potential.

It's always sad to see a promising movie bomb. Perhaps if the film and studio hadn't been on such rocky ground, we could have seen a really special and intimate story about a boy who lost his father to a dream for the future. Perhaps we would have gotten some stellar visuals and a film worthy of resting on our shelf alongside our other Star-titles.

And while I'm sad Titan A.E. didn't live up to its potential, I'm trying to look on the bright side. After all, the story's potential is still there, waiting. Maybe someday I can create the story I imagined when I first saw the title "Titan A.E." splash across my TV screen.

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Notes and References:
  1. T B Skyen, "SAME FACE SYNDROME: is it a good art-criticism?" [sic], YouTube video, 22:25, May 23, 2017.
  2. Katie Wendt, "Titan A.E. Redesign Project," Katie Wendt (blog), April 10, 2009, accessed February 15, 2018.
  3. Magnolia Porter. "The Only Thing I Remember About Titan A.E. is That They Name the Planet Bob at the End and in Retrospect This is the Worst Joke I Ever Heard, So I Probably Agree with All of This," Magnolia Porter (Tumblr), November 5, 2011, accessed February 15, 2018.
  4. Porter, "The Only Thing I Remember About Titan A.E."
  5. Evan Backes. "Why Does It Take Ten Years!?!" Animation World Network, AWN, Inc., April 1, 2001, accessed February 15, 2018.
  6. Amid Amidi, "Don Bluth and Gary Goldman's 'Anastasia' Is 20 Years Old Today," Cartoon Brew, Cartoon Brew, LLC, November 21, 2017, accessed February 15, 2018.
  7. Brian Linder. "Fox Animation Studios Closes Its Doors." IGN. Ziff Davis, LLC, June 27, 2000, accessed February 15, 2018.
  8. "Titan A.E." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, February 9, 2018, accessed February 15, 2018.
Photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws.

Special thanks to Curtis Bell and his movie review blog Iridium Eye for the sweet new review format!

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From Him, To Him