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Sunday, January 26, 2020

"Lot" and "Lot’s Daughter" by Ward Moore

Both "Lot" and "Lot’s Daughter" first appeared F&SF.  The first was filmed as Panic in Year Zero and was reprinted by Everett F. Bleiler, T. E. Dikty, Anthony Boucher, J. Francis McComas, Brian W. Aldiss, Sheila Schwartz, H. Bruce Franklin, Walter M. Miller Jr., Martin H. Greenberg, Isaac Asimov and Peter Haining. The sequel story, "Lot’s Daughter", was reprinted by Robert P. Mills. They were published together in a slender volume by Tachyon Publications.


Mr. David Jimmon and family are packed and hurrying out the door to escape the effects of a nuclear blast. A neighbor, Warbinn, tries to intercept them before they leave, but Mr. Jimmon is in hurry. They meet briefly on the highway for Warbinn to say that he had Jimmon's tire jack back at the house. Mr. Jimmon is angry but brushes it off thinking he had one in this particular car. Meanwhile, Mrs. Molly Jimmon talks about going back to L.A. in a few days and wants to check to see if the lines to L.A. are working.

            Commentary with Spoilers

Of all his kids, only Erika seems to be most like him, seems to realize the magnitude of what is occurring although there are hints that maybe Jimmon doesn’t really know the magnitude of what is happening. Are there as many nuclear blasts as he assumes there will be? Will civilization be wipe out?

Mr. Jimmon is clever enough to drive in the inbound lanes, which were empty except for a bunch of military, fire, and police department vehicles. Jimmon is written a citation and told to turn around. But he doesn't.

This section provides a clever solution and complication. However, it seems dubious, even pointless, that anyone would remain with the fallout radius. Staying behind sounds noble but also foolish and deadly. Surely, no one would have these groups drive into a dangerzone. Why? To save victims, they'd become victims. Maybe something else is going on.

Besides, once Jimmon leads the way, at least a third of the traffic would follow suit, speeding up both sides of traffic. 

This was a major story that writers continued to talk about into the nineties, demonstrated by Tachyon republishing the two stories as short novel/chapbook collection. Michael Swanwick in his introduction, puts the story into historical context, pointing out the era’s concern for school children surviving an atomic bomb by hiding under a desk, which may have done little to protect the kids. Children today still drill for potential shooters and tornados although the scale of an atomic bomb (and survival) would have been a far greater destructive and long-lasting effects. Those who drilled for an attack were probably the most moved by nuclear holocaust narratives so prevalent between the fifties and the eighties, which has dropped off even though nuclear explosion is still a possibility today.

The story’s details and dialog are mundane, focusing on the thoughts of a survivalist who has thought hard about this possibility. The family dwell on minor issues in the face of a graver danger—the father seeming to be the only one aware of the true danger of a nuclear bomb although presumably the kids were educated in the classroom, to some extent.

It has few speculative eyekicks, but its strength lies in a clever take on the Biblical tale of Lot, which immediately comes to mind today since the story is often paired with its sequel, "Lot’s Daughter."

One must take this in mind when interpreting the ending where he abandons his sons and wife—too concerned about the trappings of the past and civilization. In the Bible, Lot was told to leave Sodom and not to look back. In the story, none of his family wanted to leave, despite how abominably they treated his guests (and Lot promised them his daughters). Here though, we may only be expected to remember that they were told not to look back, but Lot’s wife did and she was turned to a pillar of salt. Here Jimmon takes the more active role of God and abandons her and their sons. Maybe they would be in the way in this new way of life that Lot expects. His wife does seem critical of a pudgy, aging David Jimmon surviving in a new world.

That Lot takes off with just his daughter suspends a second, suggestive meaning in their escape and abandoning the rest of the family. In the Bible, Lot’s daughters get him drunk and sleep with him to carry on the family seed.

But one should not forget the other possible meaning of “Lot” as in “much” and “portion” and “destiny.” Is Lot too much? What is Lot’s lot? Is it too much? Does he deserve it? Do his wife and children?
 “Lot’s Daughter”
If you’ve read “Lot,” you don’t need “Lot’s Daughter” (published about a year and a half later, so it’s difficult to tell if the story was written to answer questions that readers had) as the same theme carries on although it does answer some plot questions while leaving some of the same ones open.

The daughter becomes his wife, both physically and mentally (the incest stays mostly in the background). She has him explain why he left his family. He explains he left her $20,000, which would be a tidy sum, but she points out that that money would be useless to her if the economy collapses. After spotting jeep tracks and being dissatisfied with their present life, she sets out for what she hopes will be civilization. He, meanwhile, surmises what she did, sees the missing gun and carries on with their son despite the pain of molar that could be aided by civilization.

The story does answer that civilization was more devastated than his previous knowledge suggests as they have been using the car’s radio. Unfortunately, radio would have not have worked since the car battery, tires, gasoline, and even the engine itself might have all been dead after six or seven years. When Dad fell ill, we let Dad’s truck sit for two years without using it, and it had seized up. Gas goes bad over winter so they usually add additives to protect it, regular use of the battery would use up its energy unless they recharged it by driving it and he didn’t want to draw attention themselves by driving it.

The original editors, Boucher and McComas, insinuate that they saw David Jimmon as careful yet selfish. (They seem to be the ones who urged the sequel, according to their introductory material).

Editor Robert Mills, like Swanwick, calls the second story (and presumably the first) “a real treatment” of the nuclear scenario. The incest, despite being carefully worded and never displayed, apparently did not go without controversy, according to the back matter in the chapbook. Little wonder it got so few comparative reprintings, apart from the problem of being a sequel, much as it tried to stand alone.

It’s a good story although it depends heavily on the first, or it wouldn’t have lacked the proper impact. It is best read as a pair although the first story could stand alone. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is how Erika both is and is not his daughter through this one act. These narratives are probably a critical piece of the genre in terms of discussing nuclear holocaust.

The Author
Ward Moore won no awards or nominations yet was respected by writers. Despite the appearance in several best-of anthologies, he seems to have never had a collection. Apparently, he appears as a character in books by Kenneth Rexroth, himself, and Jean Ariss. He is also well known as the author of the critically acclaimed novel, Bring the Jubilee, which I [will] discuss here. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore

Ward Moore’s most famous novel opens with a wonderful paragraph of just two sentences:

“Although I am writing this in the year 1877, I was not here until 1921. Neither the dates nor the tenses are error—let me explain:”
--Chapter 1. Life in the Twenty-Six States

That opening chapter is in fact a whirlwind of speculative alternate history wonder. It details a history of the Civil War where the South won and the North grew embittered, complaining even seventy years later. In the North the people tend to have indenture themselves to get ahead (although this isn’t fully explained why since it isn’t to go by ship to a different country). But it is apparently extremely difficult to get ahead.

The narrator is a clumsy farmhand for his family although he does come to a love of writing. Trackless locomotives, minibles (small dirigibles, it seems), and the post-office lottery sparkle in this strange new America which is plagued by poverty, indentured and prison labor, and gangs. The telegraph is still the main mode of communication. America’s new future (of the past) creates ripples of changes throughout the world where France still appears to carry out Napoleonic wars.

He briefly comes across a slave pursued by his master and he laments not jerking the horseman’s reins to give the slave a chance to escape. This becomes a key thematic moment about the ability to change the future.

Two women manage to train our narrator into a professorial writer who charts the course of Civil War. When he gets stuck, they help get back in the saddle by the invention of a new time machine with a chance to witness the past.

The novel dives into discussions of polygamous sexuality and gender and racial equality—possibly one of the first in the genre to do so. It is perhaps too didactic about these issues, however. Compare this to his story “Lot” which leaves much to readers to discover for themselves.

An early version first of the tale appeared in a presumably shorter form in F&SF, edited by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas. This version was later reprinted by Frank D. McSherry, Jr., Charles G. Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg, and Harry Turtledove—one billed as The Best Alternate History Stories of the Twentieth Century. Dozens of critics and writers have recommended the novel version. Gollancz reprinted it as part of their SF Masterworks series. David Pringle included it in his Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. And it is discussed in various critical anthologies.

Nonetheless, the F&SF novella version, edited by Boucher and McComas, may be the best version though I haven’t laid my hands on a copy to investigate. The novel has discursive and abstract passages that bog the middle part of the novel down:

“I noticed however that he treated the consul no differently, either in politeness or honesty, from his other patrons, and by this time I knew Tyss well enough to attribute this courtesy not to the self-interest of a tradesman but to that compassion which he suppressed so sternly under the contradictions of his nature.”


“The new Catty was no more than the old was disingenuous or coquettish. She was simply mature, dignified, self-contained and just a trifle amusedly aloof. Also she was very busy. She did not pretend to any interest in other men; at the same time she had clearly outgrown her childish dependence on me. She refused any competition with Barbara. When I sought her out she was there, but she made no attempt to call me to her.”

Being trapped in a narrator’s semi-rambling thoughts for too long didn’t seriously mar his short fiction, but here it quagmired the narrative until the narrator was able to climb into a time machine. Thank God for time machines.

One might guess that he had planned to expand on these, or maybe the novel was too long to publish in 1953 that he compressed them without little grace. The middle has aspects to recommend it, but an expansion may not have improved the speculative aspects, so a ruthless excision (e.g. the novella) may be the best choice for aesthetic readers.

That said, the novel remains an established, influential classic, worth discovering for yourself. The intriguing ending, for instance, leaves the reader to wonder which future the narrator lands in. Also, the novel demonstrates how a small action (or inaction) can lead to devastating or beneficial effects. The novel’s merits and charms may overwhelm infelicities for some. I will await a cheap price on the Turtledove ebook before investigating the novella.

It is time someone collected his best short fiction—perhaps even this novella—into a book. Moore’s stories are difficult to chase down.

The Author
Ward Moore won no awards or nominations yet was respected by writers. Despite the appearance in several best-of anthologies, he seems to have never had a collection. Apparently, he appears as a character in books by Kenneth Rexroth, himself, and Jean Ariss. He is also well known as the author of the critically acclaimed stories, "Lot" and "Lot’s Daughter", which I discussed here

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Mike Resnick recently passed away and his widow was saddled with hefty doctor bills. Go here if you’d like to help.

This is my view of the man, as an observer peering through the blinds--one perspective. Those with better knowledge can speak otherwise.

We met at a workshop, which some found useful. He was proud of his literary children and generous with his time to fans on the internet. He won and was nominated for a number of SF awards. His public persona staged an out-sized ego, but it’s hard to say how much was real, how much was showmanship, and how much was modeling himself after someone like Isaac Asimov for whom it worked so well although Asimov’s was more developed in his prolific introductions talking about other writers to talk about himself but which personalized the material within this context.

Resnick was a big man with big features and a big, boisterous personality. He liked to describe how he got his start in writing through porn novels. Not an infrequent agitator, he’d substitute “she” as God’s pronoun to stir up religious conservatives. He stirred up a feminist hive in a column he wrote with Barry Malzberg. They seemed to get the short end of the stick in some ways but kept loyal followers. Resnick's attitude toward women (who understood his sexual humor) remained the same, presumably designed to compliment the women he addressed and to agitate extremists.

I noted, afterwards, on Facebook that he’d like different conservative organizations (back when Facebook notified everyone of every act we do on its site), but it’s hard to say if he were truly a conservative or still an agitator—maybe his conservatism was an uneasy alliance as the above description might suggest. He put together an anthology titled Alternate Kennedys, which seemed designed to lift up the much mythologized Democrat of that era. It’s interesting how politics can shift and turn people toward one party or another, based on experiences.


Here’s a review of Ivory, I had worked on it long ago, but life intervened until I’d forgotten what I was going to say (as has happened with innumerable reviews). The pre-dated review popped up accidentally. I recall naming it a minor masterpiece. My opinion has not so much altered as shifted slightly.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Ivory by Mike Resnick

Ivory was up for the Nebula and Clarke awards.


See the source imageThe novel opens telling how the Kilimanjaro elephant tusks were lost by a Maasai in a card game (more or less tricked). And then it alternates between private detective, Duncan Rojas, was hired by Bukoba Mandaka, the last Maasai, to track down the legendary ivory tusks lost some 3000 years earlier—so long ago that the information trail is fragmented at best. Rojas finds stories showing how museum curators fought to protect them from being sold into private hands.

Slowly, Rojas builds an idea of not just where the tusks are located but also what the tusks have meant to the possessors, the Maasai, and this last man who is finally hunting them down, no matter the cost.


The best thing about the narrative is figuring out its shape. It becomes clear that Rojas is finding these stories we read—apart from the first that appears before Rojas is put on the case. It isn’t clear who observed the first story.

More apparent on the second reading is that not all of the stories involving the tusks are equally compelling. The novel may have been stronger if some of the weaker chapters had been cut—ones not building the legend of the Maasai, the elephant, and Mandaka. This would have made a slender volume, which might have persuaded fewer to buy—those who are motivated by how heavy it is, but a slender volume might have created more rereadings and made its fans more avid.

Now comes the flaw that reveals the strength. When the last Maasai has to be destroyed, not only does it render that character’s life meaningless, but also his peoples’ and the tusks themselves (if they are said to derive their true meaning from the Maasai)—not to mention Detective Rojas himself who has absorbed himself in this mysterious pursuit without knowing the end goal. The tusks become the ultimate MacGuffin.

We cannot allow our lazy reading to stop there, however, as the penultimate chapter describes the meaning of life (since everyone’s going to die, anyway) as being one of a worthy pursuit, even if it is ultimately a MacGuffin. Rojas could be said to be pursuing money, which he was initially, but even money is a MacGuffin if we consider that it cannot be taken with him into some afterlife. He knew less than Mandaka about the end goal.

The opening chapter, the gambling chapter, shows the Maasai trying to talk the poker-game victor out of taking his people’s tusks. He tells her the monetary value of the tusks is less than other items “she” could take. She says it is the value that he invests in them that makes the tusks more valuable.

The tusks change in value as they are transported from setting to setting. In one, they are thought to be invaluable as part of an exhibit, but lose all value (except monetary) when they learn that the tusks don’t belong in said exhibit.

The novel becomes a lens to examine the meaning of life—an intriguing perspective.

It might be useful useful to look at the novel through biological conservation back when biologists held up animals near extinction for protection as opposed to ecosystems.. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

This first appeared at It won the Nebula, NOMMO and Hugo awards and was up for the Locus and was reprinted by Paula Guran, Julie E. Czerneda. It will be produced by Hulu as a series.

Note: I commented on her use and others' uses of “force field” here, which has more to do with science than the quality of the work.


See the source imageBinti has received a scholarship to go to the prestigious Oomza University, off-planet. Her family and friends try to discourage her as this is not the way of the Himba people. She is expected to carry on her father’s business, but instead a strong desire to learn pulses through Binti, which is why she applied in secret.

Shortly after she befriends her future colleagues headed to school with her on the spaceship, the ship is attacked and only Binti holds the key that help create peace between two long warring peoples. Her life and the lives of the fellow humans and Meduse—translucent and tentacled aliens.

            Commentary with Spoilers

The story is speculatively and culturally rich. The Himba with their isolated and mystical-scientific ways, the Meduse, the astrolabe, treeing, the edan. It doesn’t over- or undersaturate the story (although a few readers new to SF might be put off if they aren’t willing to stick with the estrangement). There’s nothing simple about these as some speculations grow to have more significance or unforeseen uses.

Binti is a sufficiently characterized and sympathetic. We care about her struggles with her family and the Medusae as well as the newness of the experience of going to university.

The best scenes are surprisingly, intensely and virtuosically held in a small room as Binti negotiates with aliens who have just wiped out the ship (as far as she knows), as she navigates her edan which becomes no longer an ancient tool, and as she consumes the last of her food.

Plot questions linger. For instance, if the Medusae are such a threat, why aren’t they anticipated? Why don’t Khoush see their enemies coming? Why isn’t there more grief over the loss of so many? Does the University not care? Why isn’t there at least a little more resistance to peace due to this? Binti is supposed to be a harmonizer, but it isn’t clear what she has done personally to facilitate this peace.

The telling is spare, which is smooth and largely pleasurable, but at times too spare. Sometimes she notices things (like food when the Medusae are their most threatening), and sometimes she doesn’t when she should. Being stuck in her room for a long period should cause her to study environs a little more closely. The Himba may not be good observers, but with her intelligence and the newness of her world, she should probably be engaging a little more with what she interacts with. This doesn’t mean tedious or pointless details but simply more.

The prose style has a curious threading where it comes around to the same thing and treats it again and again--for instance, the death of her classmates and her interactions with family and friends prior to leaving. The retreading of the same events would make sense in the case PTSD, yet the importance of her new friends’ deaths seems to disappear, so she seems to have recovered quickly, which might make sense depending on her personality, culture, and perhaps more tentative or superficial relationships with her new friends. It may be that these humans have less concern about lives lost in the past (vs. lives that could be lost), even if relatively recent.

Some of these plot questions and stylistic choices may be answered if this were cut from what was always intended as a novel. The opening and ending suggest as much since they don’t contribute to furthering the core of the novella but may unpack within the novel. The narrative is compelling enough to read further: to deepen our understanding of Binti, her people, the Khoush, the Medusae, treeing, and the edan (not to mention whatever the university has to teach).

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Analysis of Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes

Pierre Boule’s Planet of the Apes is one of the good ones. In spite of two major flaws, it stirs the thought pot, at times verges on hilarious (although mostly serious), and is expertly constructed.


A couple goes “boating” in space and pick up a “message in a bottle.” The story they read is our main story.

A crew from Earth land on a planet where the humans (or at least creatures who appear human) are as unintelligent as beasts. They seem to hate clothes, for they strip the Earth men to their birthday suits. Why isn’t exactly clear and it becomes less so when we stumble into one of the major flaws.

When the apes appear, they wear clothes, which suggests that maybe they fear the clothes as a thing attached to apes. The apes seem to have a hierarchy or class structure and this later proved true, but the differences have ironed out to lumpiness. They round up the humans to cage.

Discussion (with Spoilers):

The whole point of the book is to show the simians as humans. Their behaviors are human and the humans, simian. The narrator tries to communicate his intelligence but his captors refuse to see it. Besides, like his fellow captives, he has no civilized tongue that can be understood. He slowly learns the language and with the help of a female primate, who encourages him to wait to reveal himself until he’s mastered the language and can explain himself at a scientific meeting.

There’s a huge difference here between the book and the shows (really, the first movie with Charlton Heston captures most closely what the book is up to). The books sets up the simians as humanity around the time the book was written—1960. The humans have advanced to a space-faring race, so there is a distance in civilization between the space man (our ancestor) and the ape men. But the ape men are as developed as we are. So we cannot claim technical superiority in the same way the French astronaut narrator can. The movie has the ape race less technologically advanced, so that we feel a distance between us.

Moreover, their ethics is ours. Much of it feels like a critic of how at least the French thought and did science. When the astronaut reveals himself, they let him live, not try to kill him as might occur in a movie—although the apes are dubious. The astronaut, when thought primitive, was held a cage with a beautiful female human and is forced to copulate with her although he feels a little like he’s mating with a beast. Still he falls for her. When she is with child, ape woman who has been helping our narrator, helps him escape to his intact space ship and the small nuclear family escape.

The first flaw is the race memory. At one point, though this has happened generations ago, presumably, a human-beast woman suddenly rattles off how the apes became the masters where they were servants and eventually the humans bowed out due to the simians’ greater strength.

  1. Such a race memory, if such a thing could exist, would not be so detailed.
  2. Humans would not bow out of any kind of superiority race to become dumb animals, discarding their abilities to speak and reason. Perhaps they’d fight. Perhaps they’d work together. Perhaps both.
  3. (A blank for you to enter other problems with race memory or voluntarily losing intellect as a species.)

Another problem with this is that one of the doctors of the Earth crew loses his intelligence. At first I guessed he’d been lobotomized in an experiment (did that happen in one of the films?). But no. He voluntarily shucks knowledge just as these other former Homo sapiens did.

The ending and frame story are just shy of brilliant, and I wanted to love it though I do admire it still. Basically, the family returned to Earth to find it run by apes.

The space-faring couple who discover the message in a bottle (in the frame story) are also apes. This last is flawed brilliance. As it stands, it seems to suggest that apes are superior and will take over everywhere, no matter what. While it suggests that apes will conquer space as our descendants might one day and that the apes at the end are superior to us today, it might have better to suggest no species is superior. If the apes share our flaws, won’t they have our failings and deserve to lose their civilization to an entirely different species?

The book title is a misnomer. It should probably read Planets of the Apes, but maybe that reveals too much.

A thought-provoking book, nonetheless.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Make Avengers Great Again, or the Curse of the Second Season/Movie/Book


At one of my jobs, we have weird conversations. We have time to exchange a line or two, part and return with replies. It allows for thoughtful replies in theory although I don't know if it turns out that way. Since we are mostly men, the topics range from Scooby Doo heirs to Lil Wayne, business ethics, corporate policies, the second amendment, Star Wars, Star Trek, video games, etc. One topic lasted two hours--perhaps that verb should be swapped for "was overly exhausted in."

See the source imageAnyway, a guy smiled, raised his fist, and said, "Maga." I was puzzled, unsure if I had misheard or was unfamiliar with this bit of popular culture. He said, "You know what that means, right?"

I walked away, remembered MAGA, and suspected there was some trick yet to be pulled, so I suggested my own acronym explanation: "Make Avengers Great Again." He agreed. Avengers had ceased to be great. We both suspected Age of Ultron was the last great Avengers movie, but didn't explain why. 

I have my own theory and it expands into all movies, TV series seasons, and possibly books, and whatever requires a narrative structure. I formulated it while watching Justified, a show that had a great first season, a pretty good second, and a third that fell into absurdity. Now Justified began with a wild-west premise transported into a contemporary rural culture: A U.S. Marshall in Miami, Raylan Givens, gets a guy to draw first, so that he can kill the man. His antics get him reassigned to Kentucky, which I guess still retains vestiges of this Wild West culture. So we have the 19th century west in contemporary Kentucky with local criminal cartels.

See the source image
What unravels starts in coolness but gets stranger and stranger until it surpasses believability, such as Raylan falling for someone (exciting new fling) until it can't work anymore and he has to fall for someone else the next season until we know neither who he's attracted to or why. [Aside: it would have been interesting to watch a series that tested the boundaries of a US Marshall without overstepping them at will, as this show may.] Why does this happen?

It may be the desire to have good plot and character except the character logic has to give way to exciting plots. In the twentieth century, we were happy with flat and static characters and a never-ending variety of plots. It didn't matter what order you watched the shows in. You could pick up the show at any point and catch reruns later.

Then someone realized [in the 90s?] that if you marry plot and evolving character you can have more enthralling plots. Viewers are enthralled in the first season when the plot and characters make most sense. They enjoy the second although weird stuff makes you question what's happening, but hey, it's a wild ride, so viewers keep going, but then the third season hits and you realize how stupid the series is (or has become).

See the source imageI tried watching in the middle of the X-Files series and was incredibly bored. When I started at the beginning of the series, I was hooked although I want to believe that it would eventually arrive somewhere that it never arrived. It was just a never-ending mystery that never resolves, which is sort of interesting until you figure that out and realize that watching more will reveal nothing, so you quit.
That's the problem with a good show. No one wants the cash cow to end--neither the viewers nor the creators who are making good money putting on the show. But it must end, or the cow will become emaciated and run out of milk. "Leave them wanting more" is a better operative phrase than "Beat the dead horse [cow]."

Enough premable. Let's look at the Avengers. They begin as individual movies, inventing character histories and cultural identities.

Captain America works on the myths of the individual power, the power of sacrifice, the weak becoming strong enough to take on the powerful, and good triumphing over evil. The movie should be trite, but it succeeds. I enjoyed rewatching it--probably because it touches on so many issues that are relevant to us all: that we have power over to improve our lives and those around us. The movie is sort of over when Red Skeleton Head runs away because Captain A is on his trail even though he has a ton more resources and upgraded tech than Cap. Just imagine all of those expensive industrial complexes he abandons too easily. In a way, though, apart from fleeing too easily, one can understand Red Skeleton Head doing what he does based on his character, which believes in the myth of the superior man, over even the technology he's developing, but it still seems strange that he doesn't think he has the upper hand since he himself is a superior man plus technology plus greater man power.

Cap has a touch of the tragic in that he doesn't get to dance with the woman he's attracted to although if you think about it, it shouldn't have much power since they never dated and have no idea whether their relationship might work. Still, that too is probably mythic. Captain America has sacrificed himself for the good of the world and his love has waited for him: Penelope and Ulysses.

Unfortunately, where do you take Cap's character from there? He's at a dead-end. You can bring him back, make jokes about how good he is, how old and antiquated he is (although he's frozen in time and young looking), but you can't do anything with this character. We love him, though, and want to see him again.

Thor is seemingly more mythic on the surface, but he's actually an interesting case--potentially more of a character study. Loki has led him down the path of his destruction, but it's still a destruction of his own choosing. He choose to be an impulsive warrior, to resolve conflict through violence, but the movie never goes into this fully and the series doesn't take this flaw on. What's interesting is that the hammer is both meant to build and destroy, but all it does is destroy. There is room for Thor to grow as a character, but it is never realized.

Loki is another character who comes into play from the same movie. In Thor, he's awfully clever. Rewatching is impressive in his Iago-like deceptiveness. But he loves his father in Thor, a figure Loki is trying to impress. This thread gets totally lost. He becomes just an average bad guy. A weak god. You can't kill him, but then he isn't strong unless he's wielding someone else's weapon. This is the problem of the sequels. They don't develop from what has gone before. Where do you go with a guy who has tried impress but been rejected by his adopted god-dad? This could go somewhere but doesn't.

Hulk has no backstory (in this series) except in The Avengers where he is working in the third world presumably as a medical doctor although they talk about him as if he were a physicist. Apparently one advanced scientific pursuit is the same as another. The only time Hulk is particularly interesting is when he says something clever ("puny god") or when he's paired with Thor, which should have been more interesting since Thor's flaw is that he tends toward destruction as much as Hulk's "smash." The old TV series has arguably more character in a mythic sense in that he can never settle down since once he reveals himself and must move on. But everyone knows who the Hulk is here and don't care, so that aspect is not at stake. Interestingly, Banner does reveal he hit a low where he tried to kill himself but Hulk spat out the bullet, yet this seems a dead end.

The Black Widow gets her greatest scene in The Avengers movie--perhaps the greatest scene of the movie. Although there are arguably more exciting scenes, hers is most revealing and shows her craftiness: When she looks low, she may be at her strongest. She has a replay of this in her scene with Loki, but if you look at the logic, it's not there. There's no reason to suspect from the dialogue that Loki is somehow using Hulk to destroy his enemies. In fact a nefarious plot involving his capture to get at the Avengers seems a little too convoluted. Anyway, the Black Widow has been through a lot of pain and uses it to get at people, but this  is never developed

Barton, like the Hulk, never gets developed. He has a family whom he loves, but what about them?

You'd think that the director of SHIELD who is mysterious and whose "secrets has secrets" and he has bosses who are at odds with him, so he should be fascinating as we learn more about him, but nothing revealed about him is particularly interesting. Side note: Surely, on a flying battleship, surely he'd have sensors to pick up hostile forces flying at him.

Captain Marvel is flawless, all powerful and self-important, so she's is the least interesting of all the Avengers. Her first half of her movie is interesting while the last is a spectacular explosive dud--possibly because her creators were afraid to give her flaws and a tough enough opponent. Her movie is like chewing on those hard banana taffies the begin in delight  and becomes tiresome after chewing and chewing until your gums begin to bleed.

Now Guardians of the Galaxy are an interesting case study. They had two good movies but both were origin stories of their own kind, plus they are all so quirky, they have a fascinating dynamic. However, when they show up in an Avengers movie, it's more like "Hey, there's that raccoon I like. He's so quipful, hateful, and funny!" But really, that's what all of the Avenger movies devolve to, especially as they add more and more characters who have to have cameos put in an appearance.

Black Panther is a case in point. We are introduced in an Avenger movie where the mantle is passed father to son. This should have had baggage attached to this, especially in his/their own movie, but instead they abandon this character thread to dangle and chase after a red herring bad guy who is too easily dispatched to reveal the true bad guy who, therefore, doesn't get the character development he deserves. They should have focused on the dangling character thread and contrasted the bad guy and good guy with their daddy issues.

Black Panther may have been a box office success, but it demonstrates the fundamental problem in all of these movie sequels. Character is abandoned for a chase after plot baubles until we realize the creators don't care about the characters--at least in that they make sense across the series.

When I was a kid, I couldn't get into the superhero comic books as much as I'd have liked to--probably due to the same reason I couldn't get into X-Files. They felt like walking into the middle of a soap operas--melodramatic and chockful of juggling character inconsistencies. Note that every now and then, creators cut the cord and just start from scratch. These are generally good until they accrue too many character defects and dead-ends and dangling threads.

Why was Age of Ultron good? Ultron. He was the most interesting character, breathing life into the series. The other characters ran through the same hoops.

What can a show do to remain relevant over several seasons or movies? Pay attention to character established, obviously. Another possibility is to set the end at movie three and call it quits. Think of Star Wars. We all wanted the succeeding trilogies to succeed, but they've all been duds. Someone needs to step back re-see the series and re-invent. The fact they've blown up the death star so many times should be a major clue that something has gone wrong. There's no reason that a new trilogy couldn't be done well, but so far the characters haven't and invention just haven't shown up to play.

Tony Stark or Iron Man is an exception. He's got an interesting character in his second movie. You may question whether the action arc is as good (the problem is that the villain is mostly an underdog (Mickey Rourke), which is what we usually root for and while he's tough, we don't get to see develop into something grander but for a blip). While Stark is labeled as a narcissist, he clearly cares about others, saving lives. So he isn't who he thinks he is. He is more. He is complex. The saving of the boy dressed like him is particularly telling. While the kid is him, the kid isn't him, and he gives the kid credit for doing something he didn't do.

See the source imageGame of Thrones demonstrates the viability of a series over many seasons although we must admit that GoT did devolve into episodes of standing in strange rooms and debating with mandatory scenes of one boob shot and one scene of shocking violence per episode. But mostly, the show remained fresh and relevant. How?

It had a large cast of characters it rotated through. When a character ceased to do interesting things, they had a tendency to get killed off. That meant sorting through the other characters and developing them into something different or introducing a new guy who would do something fascinating to force others into new development.