MIND MELD: Epic Geek Debates & Rants
Geeks are a passionate and opinionated people. Put two of them in a room and more often than not a debate and/or rant will ensue. Sometimes it’s not pretty. With that in mind, we asked our esteemed panel of geeks the following:
In college (back in nineteen mumble mumble) I was hanging out with some friends — they had an apartment but had driven to campus to hang out with me in my dorm room. I had reached the point in my world where I could spot weak story elements even in beloved movies, especially if I’d seen them many times, and ventured that Star Wars was not very well written. A friend agreed, and we talked about how Luke was too whiny and Leia’s comforting of Luke when her planet had recently been blown up was totally skewed. Our other friend, Josh, a very quiet man, sat there, turning redder and redder as we talked. Then he just got up and walked out.
Josh’s roommate was the one with the car. To this day I don’t know how he got home. Or if he even went home that night. I had no idea people could get so worked up about a movie. We never discussed Star Wars again.
I found some ugly prejudice in my soul after the finale of Battlestar Galactica. I hated it. Oh how I hated it. I had a friend over who mentioned something about it — I don’t even remember what, because all I remember is the white hot rage I felt, and I got on such a loud, profanity-laden rant about its sheer horribleness that I overwhelmed him. He tried to get in a word here or there, but I just kept going. Once I stopped to take a breath he mildly informed me that he hadn’t seen the end yet, and I had just spoiled him.
He was a good sport about it, but I never know if he watched it. If he did, I can’t blame him for not bringing the subject up with me.
I worked at a game store from the end of high school and then all the way through my undergrad degree, and I must have heard and/or had most every geek argument possible during that time: which faction was the best in Warhammer 40K, what CCG took the most skill, and on and on.
My first geek argument was probably at the ripe old age of three, arguing with my dad about why my collection of GI Joes, Battle Bots, and MASK characters would beat his assortment of same, but the details of that fight are lost to the ages.
But my favorite geeky debate would probably have to be arguing over the film Man of Steel for an episode of the Shoot the WISB sub-cast of the Skiffy & Fanty Show. Shaun Duke, Paul Weimer and David Annandale were talking about the film on Twitter, mentioning that they should do a podcast about it. I piped in to say I’d love to talk with folks about the movie, since I had many, many thoughts.
That was my first guest spot on the Shoot the WISB series, and holds a special place in my heart, since Shoot the WISB represents the kind of conversations I had back at the game store, and getting to share those conversations with the world.
Also, because Shaun and I love to disagree about geeky things especially comics and comics-related media. It’s actually probably the core of our friendship. If you ask Shaun, he’ll probably say that the core of our friendship is that I’m wrong about everything. And it all started with Man of Steel.
I had a lot of problems with the movie, while Shaun adored it. I found it largely joyless, thought that the initial excellent use of Lois Lane was thrown away in the third act (hell, the whole third act was a mess), and spoke from my long-held affection for the character. Shaun argued against each of my points, and with David and Paul filling out the gaps between our arguments and rounding out the discussion, that podcast debate served as my real introduction to the Skiffy & Fanty community, which paved the way to me joining as a co-host. You can still tune in for a new episode of Shoot the WISB every month or so, and you’ll probably hear Shaun and I arguing companionably about something.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is probably the geek rant 1A I have most often, only because folks don’t immediately concede my point and improve their lives accordingly. (1B being DS9 vs. Babylon 5, only because whenever I bring up the fact that DS9, besides being underrated, someone usually starts running off at the mouth about how DS9 ripped off B5 *gives Jerry Gordon the side eye* ). Let me lay this out for you:
Lest I be accused of burying the lead, let me start with the fact that DS9 had a badass captain. I was pleased to watch Lt. Uhura or Lt. Cmdr LaForge, but having a black Captain front and center was something special. But since not everyone can get with that, let me say that with Captain Sisko, DS9 was the true inheritor of the spirit of TOS (read: Captain Kirk). I love Jean Luc, but he wasn’t badass. Exhibit A in the case of Sisko’s badassery: his fight with omnipotent imp, Q.
Q: “You hit me. Picard never hit me.”
SISKO: “I’m not Picard.”
That’s right, Sisko would just as soon hand you your behind. And then they promoted him to Captain (yeah, he didn’t start off as a Captain, but if you’re not going to make the brother a Captain from the jump, I’ll accept making him a Messiah), gave him a ship that was essentially a gun with an engine, he shaved his head, grew a goatee and fully became “Hawk in space” (if you don’t know Avery Brook’s other seminal television character, Hawk, shame on you).
For that matter, they had some of the best drawn characters. There is a wildness to the characters, a diverse group of folks who didn’t always get along, who came at problems unconventionally. Odo vs. Quark, no one sure when there was likely to be an arrest or a betrayal. Garak, the Cardassian “tailor” who would rather start an interstellar incident, drawing three military powers into conflict because he doesn’t know how to ask for help.
They added Lt. Worf to his bridge crew in addition to terrorist turned Col. Kira Nerys and your typical alien incursion debate looked like this:
SISKO: “There’s an alien. What do you think we should do?”
WORF: “Shoot it.”
KIRA: “Shoot it.”
These folks didn’t have time to play patty cake with you. They’re Badass.
I could go on. Discuss their examination of faith, their critique of colonialism, their treatise on war, the heart of the show revolving around a father’s relationship with his son, or how they had running themes developed throughout the entire series. Instead, I’ll basically leave it here: go back and try to watch the first two seasons of TNG, I dare you. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, unlike the other iterations, started strong, found its footing quicker, and got better. Great writing, great characters, great acting. The show was badass.
The subject of it is, which is a better show — Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5?
Both series are excellent space operas that revolve around the crew and inhabitants of space stations, rather than following an exploration ship moving about in the universe. Both launched and ended within approximately a year of each other (DS9 had the longer run, from ’93 till ’99). There are more similarities than differences between them, and a strong argument can be made for either show. However, for me, Babylon 5 is the clear winner.
Before all the Star Trek fans set their phasers on stun, let me add that I love Deep Space Nine. It’s my favorite among the Star Trek series for many reasons. We get to peek behind the perfect veneer of the Federation to discover that they aren’t always Lawful Good (as best shown in my favorite episode of the series, “In the Pale Moonlight,” and in many of the later episodes featuring Section 31). We see characters suffering from PTSD and characters living their lives outside of the Starfleet hierarchy. Most importantly, there is a compelling and interesting story line throughout much of the show which kept me engaged as a viewer, as opposed to the Original Series and TNG, where most of the episodes can be watched and enjoyed out of order.
DS9 took a little time to get off the ground, but B5 took even longer. In fact, the first season of B5 is rather weak, and even the original captain had to be replaced (whereas Sisko seemingly only needed to shave his head to go from milquetoast to effective as the station captain). DS9 had better special effects and arguably better actors throughout, so why do I consider B5 my favorite SF TV show of all time?
The short answer is the writing. J. Michael Straczynski had a specific story arc in mind when he created the show and he largely stuck to it. (He was forced to end the story at the end of season 4, before the show was picked up for its final season by another network). But for me, the writing trumped every other advantage DS9 had, and it still does. The dialogue often pops, the story lines are engaging, and the Shadow War story arc that lasted for a couple of seasons is among the best space opera stories told on the silver screen.
You might disagree with me. If so, feel free to tell me so if you see me at a science fiction convention. We probably won’t be able to sway each other, but we’ll most likely have a really good time trying.
And isn’t that what a good geeky pop-culture debate is all about?
I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, a rural area where boys my age were more interested in hunting, hiking, dirt bike riding and white-water rafting than they were in reading, writing or anything else that might have been perceived as geeky. I shared many of those interests, so I wasn’t a complete outcast, but when it came to my geeky tendencies—attempting to build a hovercraft out of plywood and a lawnmower engine, for instance, or my tendency to stay up all night not because I snuck into my parents’ liquor cabinet and was partying, but because I was engrossed in a fantasy novel and had to finish it—these sort of things I kept private like the darkest of secrets.
Perhaps there actually was a healthy geek culture in my high school, but even if there was I was too damn self-conscious to have noticed it. Between the hideous acne, being too short to make the basketball team, and the already uncool stigma of being a “smart kid,” the last thing I needed was my peers to know I was obsessed with David Eddings novels! I remember hiding out in the locker room one lunch period so I could finish a Raymond Feist book I was engrossed in. To my astonishment, there was a classmate doing the same thing: hiding out to read a fantasy novel! There was a brief moment of eye contact and understanding between us. We weren’t friends, never would be. We both understood that to acknowledge our shared geekiness would draw unwanted attention to ourselves, so we never spoke a word of it.
All this is to say that I was a late bloomer when it came to geeky interactions. I knew nothing of conventions or gaming. The first geeky game I ever played was Magic: The Gathering, and that was with a high school friend who apparently was the world’s first hipster, because he only liked the game because he thought it ironic to be playing something geeky. It must have been well into my college career before I was confident enough in myself to admit I was a geek at all. By that point, I was just happy to have found like-minded friends, so my arguments and rants have always been good natured, and most of them are long forgotten. Only my embarrassing past stances stick with me. I remember arguing with Ahimsa Kerp about Terry Goodkind, for instance, and insisting that he wasn’t a complete blow-hard with an Ayn Rand complex. Whoops. I remember claiming that the second Highlander movie was actually good, because I sort of like the sci-fi component. Errrr… Oh well, I’m just glad I can have these conversations now. We take for granted these days how the Internet has opened up the world to geek culture, but even thirty years ago, if you lived out in the boondocks like I did, you were completely cut off from your geek brethren.
It’s hard to say what was the first, but when I was a kid, the most recurrent debates were the Superman/Batman (if you were a DC kid), the Spider-Man/anybody else (if you were a Marvel kid) and the Marvel/DC (if you were a comic-reader at all).
At first, having emigrated from Scotland at eight years old, I was a disinterested third party to these debates. I had been raised on war comics, and American super-heroes, at first only accessible to me in black-and-white reprints, were lurid, exotic, hyper-muscled extravaganzas that stretched their narratives over splash pages, broad panels and page counts far beyond the six pages allowed to each story inside the jam-packed anthology titles I had known before, Valiant, Lion and Thunder. In those dense, cluttered British comics, there was a lot to read, and, yes, there was stuff to debate. Who was better, Adam Eterno or the Steel Commando? (To me, clearly Adam Eterno, whom I’d still like to see revived today; to everyone else, Steel Commando, since he was after all bulletproof.)
Then I’m transported to the land of the long-johns. At first all I did was bemoan the loss of that cramped diversity of UK anthology comics. I stood idly by and watched as kids traded baseball and hockey cards, played closest-to-the-wall, and debated the relative merits of various leotarded acrobats whose adventures didn’t seem to me all that different from each other.
The thing about these debates, though, is that the closer you get to them, the more meaningful they become. Somehow I became a Marvel kid. Enough that I remember my first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man (#178), of The Invaders (#11), and of The Uncanny X-Men (#133). Enough that the covers and splash-pages of Jack Kirby’s Black Panther, the first series I bought beginning-to-end off the rack, can still make my heart beat faster. Enough that, long before my accent began to fade, I had joined the Marvel-vs.-DC debate in full force.
The details of what we argued don’t matter much. (Superman is way stronger. Oh, yeah, who cares? You can’t even relate to him. Oh, and you can relate to Spider-Man? Invent any miracle webs lately?) We were defending the stories that mattered to us, that spoke to our deepest selves – or at least our deepest selves as they were that week. As we grew, some of us would change sides, some would be embarrassed at what had moved their ten-year-old hearts, and some would move on to new debates. Yes, Doctor Doom was around first, but no, he would not stand a chance against Darth Vader. Even with his Doom-bots and magic powers.
Now that I have kids of my own and we’re living in this incredibly cool modern age in which geek culture and pop culture have merged, I look back on those debates with great fondness. They allowed us to hash out what mattered to us in stories. Powers or personality? Themes or cool explosions? Scientific accuracy or mythic struggle? Combat verisimilitude or playability?*
And for a geeky little immigrant with a funny accent, they allowed a way in.
* Answers: personality, cool explosions, mythic struggle, and playability. Or to put it another way: Marvel, Star Wars and Second Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. All the way.
My favorite geeky rant is my own, against Star Wars. Look, I understand that Star Wars is an important cultural touchstone for millions of people. But having not seen any of the films until I was twenty-one, I found their execution…disturbing. The idea of a space-faring lad saving the day in a universe where good and evil are clearly delineated and aliens are a one-trait race just doesn’t thrill me. And don’t get me started on the weak female characterization! I have a theory that if you weren’t exposed to certain geeky things within a certain window, then the chances you’ll enjoy them as an adult are slim-to-nil, and that’s certainly been my experience with Star Wars.
But oh, how people (almost always dudes, for the record) protest when you tell them their sacred cow doesn’t really do it for you. My husband and I have a friend who, if you do the math, has seen A New Hope enough times to fill up over one hundred days of his life. They even wrote about it in the paper when Episode 1 came out (slow news day). To this friend, and people like him, if you don’t like Star Wars you don’t like science fiction. The idea that someone doesn’t find George Lucas’s world universally appealing or relatable just doesn’t compute. After all, what girl wouldn’t want to be swept off her feet by a borderline sociopathic mercenary?
I wouldn’t care about Star Wars so much if its influence hadn’t reached into nearly every work of Western SF, visual or literary. The “one special boy saves the universe” trope doesn’t originate with Lucas, of course (very little does, for that matter, if you do your homework), but it feels like it became more widespread after that. Even though I was born in the eighties, most of the SF I read growing up was from the sixties or seventies, and looking back at the SF I “should” have been reading/watching when I was a kid it seems like Star Wars created a desire for less talk and more action in SF, a turn away from the aesthetics of the New Wave to the excesses of the Golden Age, more black-and-white morality, and a relentless need for every franchise to have a complicated “universe” behind it.
Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with any of that, in moderation. But there has to be space (ha ha) for all types of stories in the SF field, not just cookie-cutter Joseph Campbell plots about adolescents in rocket ships with electronic samurai swords. There are many ways to be a hero, not just achieving victory by lasering badguys (and who says you have to have heroes in SF, anyway?).
Hopefully, the long tail effect and a greater acknowledgement of the importance of diversity will lead to SF blockbusters like Star Wars having a weaker impact on the field as a whole. Even in the space opera genre, there are better, well-rounded, and inclusive options out there, if you take the time to look. At least some readers and media consumers are savvier about the fact that they want the future to look more like the blended dynamics of the future while Star Wars is still stuck with Jar-Jar Binks. I’d like to think that George Lucas’ corruptive influence in science fiction is waning in favor of better options. At least until they release those sequels in a few years…
I’ve bitched about this before: The Cabin in the Woods. Spoilers ahead; you’ve been warned. Great movie. Loads of fun. Hate the climactic battle. Just hate it. Not the dénouement: that’s cool. The whole movie’s set up to carry off those last few moments of grand reversal. It’s solid. Although really I wanted the Mutant Enemy dude to pop up and say, “Grr. Argh.” No, what I hate is before that.
Who’s the main character of The Cabin in the Woods?
She’s the one with the biggest character arc. She’s the one who has to learn a valuable lesson. She’s the one who makes the decision and pushes the big red button.
So you get to the last few scenes and the Big Bad is a woman, Sigourney Weaver, and we’re all like, “Yay! Sigourney Weaver!” And then there’s a moment where the virgin goes, “Hey, maybe I should try to save the world from the pothead!” and she goes after him but is heavily wounded and gets taken down by a werewolf. Ugh! Dying, she sits there, and Little Girl Buckner comes down the stairs with an ax.
Meanwhile the pothead and Sigourney Weaver are wrestling on the floor. Little Girl Buckner approaches, raising the ax. The virgin makes a noise, the pothead hears it and rolls over so Little Girl Buckner chops Sigourney Weaver in the head. The pothead shoves them both in the pit, and he and the virgin await the end of the world.
WTF, guys? When the main character can’t solve their own problems, that’s called a deus ex machina. This is with an ax. Deus ax machina. And it’s not like the writers bother to make that deus an all-powerful force, either. This is just a girl with an ax. That could just as easily have been the virgin. The virgin could have taken the ax of agency off the Buckner girl and killed Sigourney Weaver herself. Chop and shove. How awesome would that have been? Pretty awesome. A pair of cigarettes and a well-chosen apocalypse, the end.
You let me down, guys. I don’t care if it’s an in-joke. You let me down.
I’ve had my share of doozies when it comes to sci-fi debates, but the Marvel vs. DC debate stands out as the most memorable, probably because it never gets old. For those outside the comic book world, Marvel and DC are the two largest comic book companies. Basically, they’re the Coke and Pepsi of the comic book world. And, I believe Marvel can whoop DC’s butt any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
For simplicity’s sake, we focused only on the comic books and left movies, animation, and games out of the debate. Here are seven points on why I believe Marvel is better than DC:
- Marvel has an entire universe of characters to draw stories from, giving them more variety in their stories. DC focuses much of its energy on its icons, such as Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman.
- Marvel has more teams. DC has more stand-alones, making their stories more dependent on the likability of a single character.
- DC came first, but Marvel is what made comic books universally popular. (Okay, that might be my opinion, but I think I’m right nonetheless.)
- Marvel has more “real people” heroes, making them easier to relate to. DC’s heroes have an almost godlike feel.
- Marvel has more kick-butt female stars. DC is catching up but still notorious for having females relegated to the role of supporting character.
- Marvel has Stan Lee. DC doesn’t.
- Both wear far too much spandex (a common ground between the two).
If you are in the comic book world, you probably already know the outcome of the debate. Neither of us budged, despite me telling him that he was clearly wrong. We agreed to disagree and went on to have the same debate the following week… and the week after… and, well, you get the point. The only thing we agreed upon was that comic books are a wonderful, glorious thing.
If you disagree, leave a comment or get in touch to let me know why you’re wrong, er, I mean why you believe DC wins the comic book battle.
It may be that I disagree with almost everything everyone says, but if the truth be told, I don’t honestly enjoy conflict, and even friendly debates, I find, have a habit of getting out of hand—especially when the subject is something both parties are passionate about.
Mulling over this Mind Meld, the disagreement that comes to me are the years a former friend and I spent butting heads over a couple of comic books. He was a Marvel man; me, a DC devotee. He read The X-Men; I was an unabashed Batman fan.
(Matter of fact, I still am, and I’d bet my last penny he’s still got the hots for Emma Frost.)
This guy and I, we’d come to comics together, and for a good long while we loved a bunch of the same stuff. We had a habit of swapping what we bought; I’d read some of his pull list, and he’d read much of mine.
It was a damn fine time, in the course of which we explored the classic collisions—number one among them being whether Batman and his entourage would be a match for Marvel’s supermutants. Could wit prevail over power? I thought so. More’s the pity, he didn’t. To wit, we never quite arrived at a satisfactory answer. Instead, we became entrenched in our opinions, and ever less willing to listen.
Years later, though the sharing continued unabated, neither of us was particularly enjoying the other’s comics, or company. It wasn’t as if I expected him to suddenly see the light or some such thing, nor he me, but we didn’t know what to do other than keep doing what we’d always done: pitching Wayne against Wolverine.
Sadly, instead of bringing us closer together, this silly division became emblematic of the divergence of our developing interests—interests which seemed to separate us, eventually, eating away day by day at what remained of our relationship. Before long our pull lists were completely different, and the experiences we had once shared now left a sour taste in our mouths.
As kids we were great mates, the young man and me. As adults, our friendship frankly fell apart. So whether it’s Star Trek versus Star Wars or the merits of manga as opposed to anime, be warned, dear reader: at the end of the day these debates can be about the people as much as the particular properties.
Am I still on speaking terms with my own opponent? I’m afraid not, no. But not because of Batman, exactly… I blame the X-Men myself.
Tagged with: Alex Shvartsman • David Lomax • DeAnna Knippling • Erica L. Satifka • Garret Calcaterra • Maurice Broaddus • Michael R. Underwood • Mind Meld • Mur Lafferty • niall alexander • Rachel Aukes
Filed under: Mind Meld
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