A Handful of Dust

Because tomorrow is Hallowe’en, I’d like to talk about fear. Not vampires or zombies or Republicans. Real fear.

When I was 16 and 17, I lived in Cambridge, England for a year. It was a great year for me, very formative in many ways, but it’s also when I faced one of my greatest fears and lost.

There wasn’t much to do in Cambridge for 16- and 17-year-olds at the time. We weren’t old enough to hang out in pubs or discos, and precious little else was open after sundown on weekend nights, so my friends and I would often just stroll around downtown Cambridge, talking, joking and being obnoxious in the way teenage boys frequently are. One weekend night, my friends and I were out and about when we ran into a group of older boys. These boys were clearly on something, booze or other drugs, and they decided–for no real reason except they were asshole boys who had chanced upon younger, smaller¬† boys–to pick a fight with us. Most of us look too nerdy to really be much of a challenge, but my friend Jon was wearing a leather jacket, so they focused on him. Now, Jon wasn’t really much of a fighter. He wore the leather jacket because he was really into metal. But Jon was actually incredibly kind and gentle. And here he was, being thrust into a one-on-one fight with a boy who was much bigger than he was.

As Jon did his best to punch and not get punched, I found myself standing in the doorway of a shop that was closed for the night. One of my other friends, Tim, stood next to me. Tim confessed to me that he was shit scared, but he also admitted that we should help Jon. I really wanted to help, but I couldn’t make myself move. I was paralyzed with fear. I’d never actually been in a fight before. I’d read about fights in comics and novels, but I’d never found myself in a situation where I needed to throw a punch or avoid (or take) someone else’s punch. I’d imagined myself in fights, and in my imagination, I always performed heroically. But now that I was actually in the situation, I was frozen with fear. Until a moment came when an opportunity to flee arose. We grabbed Jon and ran off into the night, scared out of our wits.

That night has haunted me ever since. I wanted to think of myself as a hero, only to discover I was a coward. I recognize now that I was just a kid, and I’m not as harsh on my younger self as used to be. We all screw up sometimes. But the feeling of fear, the inability to move and help my friend, still comes back to me at times. I remember how it felt to be terrified and frozen, desperately wanting to do something, but unable to make my body do it. It was a terrible feeling, and I hope if I ever find myself in a similar situation, I act differently. But the ghost of that night will always be with me.

Now Playing

I love going to the movies. I love sitting in a big, darkened theater, a box of popcorn in my hand, watching coming attractions and films. I love that I’m sharing this experience with a group of strangers. I love the way things look on the big screen.

But…

I don’t go to the movies much lately. The obvious reason why is cost: it’s just really expensive to go to the movies, unless you only go to matinees or second-run theaters and don’t buy any snacks. But the less obvious reason is this: TV has finally become better than the movies.

There have been some truly great movies that have come out in the past 10 years, no doubt about it. But when I look at those movies and compare them to what’s on American TV on a regular basis, movies lose out. Big time. I really believe that even the best movies of recent years can’t compare with the narrative complexity, the clever dialogue, the depth of characterization, the sophisticated humor and even the cinematography of TV shows like Lost, Arrested Development, The West Wing, How I Met Your Mother, Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men, Firefly, Community and The Big C. And I’m positive anyone reading this can think of at least a handful of other TV shows I haven’t named that are better than anything that’s been in the movie theater.¬†On top of that, I think TV has become much better at featuring compelling, non-stereotypical characters that are women, people of color and LGBT.

Sure, there’s still a lot of crap on American TV. There’s also a lot of crap in the movie theater. But TV is increasingly getting more intelligent and daring. The most daring thing movies have done is to go 3-D.

I’m not enough of a cultural critic to go into why TV has passed movies, although I think there are some obvious financial reasons. But as someone who grew up glued to the TV set, it’s pretty satisfying to see so much good stuff on TV now.

Why I Love Smallville

There’s a moment in the most recent episode of Smallville that took my breath away and put a big smile on my face. It’s one of those moments that pushes my Gee-Whiz buttons and tugs at the heartstrings of my inner child.

I was thinking recently about how Smallville, now in its tenth and final season, will be on TV longer than any other Superman show. And then I read this blog post that blew my mind by showing how Smallville will end up with more hours of screen time than all other Superman TV shows and movies combined. Reading that blog post also made me think about how I like the show a whole lot more than the author of the post. In fact, looking back over the show, even admitting that it’s had its ups and downs, its share of lame episodes and story arcs, I have to admit I really, really love Smallville.

One of the problems with superhero movies is that so much time is spent on the origin of the hero and/or the villain, the rest of the story can suffer. There are obvious exceptions, but even Superman: The Movie, which I love with great passion, suffers a bit from too much origin and too much “Superman vs. Lex Luthor” crammed into one movie. Smallville, on the other hand, has presented the origin of Superman in long-form, weaving the big events in with shorter stories and story arcs. It’s allowed people to enjoy the story of how Clark Kent became Superman while incorporating greater character development, twistier plotlines, and loads of action and adventure. It’s grown in a really satisfying way from “freak of the week” adventure/teen soap opera into a daft and epic story with cosmic bad guys, global threats, time travel, secret societies, ancient conspiracies, cryptic prophecies & extraterrestrial weirdness. It’s made Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor (in particular) into fun, compelling characters.

Sure, it’s deviated a lot from traditional Superman comics canon, but in a way that’s actually made the series more fun. Yes, the show has been dark and moody at times, but it’s always managed to keep the bright, optimistic feeling, so important to the story of Superman, at its core. No matter how bad things have gotten, Clark Kent has always come back to being an optimistic person who wants to reform rather than defeat.

And for a lifelong superhero comics fan like me, the last few seasons in particular have been fantastic, as the producers and writers have introduced more bits of old-school DC Comics–the Toyman, the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Justice Society of America, Checkmate, the Suicide Squad, Darkseid–and had Geoff Johns write some terrific episodes.

This season has started out really strong, and while a part of me is sad to see the show go, I’m very excited to see how it all wraps up. Honestly, when Smallville first started, as much as I liked it, I didn’t think it would last for 10 years. And I didn’t think I’d end up saying that in many ways, this is superheroes done right. But it really is.

And that is why I love Smallville.

The Season of Goblins

Autumn has kicked into high gear here in Kansas City. This past week was absolutely perfect! Sunny skies, crisp mornings, lazy afternoons beneath an orange marmalade sky…

I love autumn. It’s my favorite season, a season of ghosts and goblins, of flame-colored leaves and blustery winds. Each breath is filled with the scents of grass, wood, smoke , apple and pumpkin. It’s a season of magic and mystery and wonder, of looking backward and moving forward. It’s the season when time seems loose and flexible to me, the past, present and future coming unstuck in my mind. It’s the season of my favorite holidays, Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving. Costumes and candy and feasts!

Autumn has begun, and I couldn’t be happier! Hooray for the Season of Goblins!