Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Luca: A Celebration of Friendship

(Guest post by Stephen)

"You and me, we can do anything!"

– Alberto, in Disney/Pixar's Luca

I have been eagerly anticipating Pixar's Luca for months, and was really excited when I finally got to watch it. My only complaint was that they didn't release the movie to theaters. It's only available on Disney+, but I would have loved to see it on the big screen. The film did not disappoint. But first, I want to share some background about why I was so excited.

A few years ago, I was at a men's retreat, face-to-face with another man, and was asked to say to him what I felt as I looked at him. My answer surprised even me: "I just want him to be my friend," I said. Then I broke down in tears.

For many years I avoided forming any close relationship with other men. I had a deep-set fear that my desires for connection with other men would be perceived as childish or unmanly, that people would think I was gay, or that perhaps it meant that I actually was gay. I was also afraid that I would be treated poorly, made fun of, or hurt. I don't think I'm alone in these fears. In fact, a researcher at NYU, Niobe Way, has documented how similar fears lead boys to become emotionally stoic and isolated. It seems to be a common cultural belief that men shouldn't or even can't form close friendships, but I have learned from personal experience that it doesn't have to be this way.

"Men are fully capable of connecting deeply with other people – some just need to relearn how to do it."

– Kim Evensen, Brothers

Deep, authentic friendships are necessary and needed for everyone in this world, including men. They provide an important piece of support as we experience difficult trials in our lives. The lack of such friendships is literally killing men, as loneliness and suicide among men has become epidemic.

It took me a long time to realize that not only does my desire for deep connection mean nothing more than wanting friendship, a normal human need, but that I can have that kind of friendship if I work at it. I have worked to create and foster multiple friendships over the last few years, and those friendships have truly been a lifeline to me. I can't imagine going back to the isolation in which I used to live.

This lack of societal sanction of deep friendships between men is why I've been so excited about the release of Luca. From the trailers and the interviews leading up to the movie's release, it has been clear that the film focuses on the beauty of friendship.

Pixar's Luca celebrates friendships. Luca and Alberto, two sea-monsters whose bodies transform to appear human on land, become fast friends. They push each other to try new things and get out of their comfort zones. Their friendship develops into something truly beautiful as they share their fears with each other, support each other, show affection to each other, and even have deep disagreements. The film is a journey in the authentic formation and expression of friendship.

I won't spoil the movie for you, but make sure you don't miss the end scene. It beautifully paints the deep love that two friends can have for each other. We need more of this love – and the expression of it – in our society. Luca is a masterclass in what that can look like.

For a different take on the messages in Luca, see here

Monday, June 28, 2021

Does Loki Have Free Will?

To those stateside, happy Independence Day this coming weekend! To all of you keeping up with Disney Plus, we’re half done with Loki. And I have some questions.


Full disclosure: the first episode didn’t sell me on Loki. I was so confused as to why the all-powerful Time Keepers would arrest Loki for making an escape (inadvertently creating a new timeline) but Captain America going back to the 1950s to be with Peggy (intentionally creating a new timeline) was kosher. 

By the end of the second episode I was in though and here’s why: the Time Keepers might be all-knowing and all-powerful over the Sacred Timeline (and they might not be), but do they have the right to enforce it?

If someone can create a new timeline by accident, why should the Time Keepers be allowed to erase that person? It basically negates free will. 

We could delve into this with any time travel story I suppose. Did Barry have the right to change the timeline when he created Flashpoint? Did Marty have the right to change the course of Biff's story? And then there's the Doctor who is constantly having timey-wimey adventures.

The more I thought about Loki and free will, the more it reminded me of Legends of Tomorrow Season 1. So if you haven’t watched Legends of Tomorrow… Well, you probably don’t care about these spoilers anyway!  

On Legends, there’s a group of people called the Time Masters who guard the timeline from attack. Sound familiar? When it’s people who intentionally try to derail the timeline, this makes sense. For example, the Legends are not and have never been very inconspicuous across the timeline. So having the Time Masters there to guard the timeline makes sense. However, as the season concluded, we discovered that the Time Masters were manipulating time into the timeline they wanted. In the end, the Legends defeated the Time Masters and made it possible for free will to flourish (which had its consequences, but that’s just a day in the life with the Legends).

So regardless of whether the Time Keepers are the Loki big bad or not, I think we’re going to come back to free will and why it’s important.

Free will is a God-given gift. Men and women have fought for it since forever. If that's taken away, what's life? In my opinion, you take away free will, you take away what makes life beautiful. Sure we make mistakes and life gets messy, but like the Legends we can mess things up for the better. It's because of our free will that we can change and make better choices next time. Without free will, there's no learning. Without free will, we stagnate. 

Bottom line, when you're celebrating Fourth of July this weekend, be grateful there are any Time Masters or Time Keepers micromanaging your free will... At least as far as we know...

Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday Creature Feature - Daleks

"Creature" is an interesting word to describe a Dalek, especially if you're not familiar with Doctor Who. If you've only seen these R2-D2 lookalikes (FYI, Daleks appeared on Doctor Who about 14 years before Star Wars premiered) in memes on social media, calling them a "creature" makes them seem almost living. Well, that's the thing. They are living.

Inside that metal shell is a little squid-like creature. The metal casing includes an eye stalk and two arm-like attachments. One is a laser blaster. The other is usually looks like a toilet plunger (although on occasion it can be different)--basically this "manipulator arm" helps the Dalek interact with the outside world (although we have seen it drain a human's life and memories out in one go). The Daleks believe they are the superior race in the universe and will exterminate all other life to prove it.

The Daleks started out on the planet Skaro. On Skaro, they were created from the descendants of the Thals, by the mad scientist Davros. Once upon a time, before Davros mutated them, they were humanoid. At the point of their genesis, the Fourth Doctor had the opportunity (more like an assignment) given to him by the Time Lords to prevent their creation. Eventually, while still on Skaro, the Daleks would have their first true encounter with the Doctor, as the First Doctor and his first companions arrived. At this point they could only move by static electricity along their floors. The First Doctor and his Slytherin/Ravenclaw brain got the better of them and was able to defeat them.

But it wouldn't be the last time the Doctor would encounter them. Through the hundreds of years and dozens of companions that followed, the Doctor would begin to see the Daleks attacking through time and space. Doctor Who has had no shortage of appearances from the Daleks; they attacked 22nd century Earth, back on Skaro, and 1963 London, just to name a few. Each time they appeared they got more dangerous, leading us into the modern era; the Doctor would face the Daleks as they threatened the Game StationCanary Wharf, and all of existence

Over space and time, the Daleks have stayed more or less the same, in contrast to their Cyberman rivals (who are constantly upgrading). They've used other species along the way, but any "impurity" entering the Dalek species was blasphemous, as seen in 1930 New York. But when it fit their purposes, they're not above using other species as puppets, both metaphorically and literally.

A defining characteristic of the Daleks is their hatred of other species. In "Asylum of the Daleks", the Daleks even called hatred divine and beautiful. In that same episode, as Amy began transforming into a Dalek puppet, Oswin deduced that turning her into a Dalek meant removing love and inserting anger. As the Doctor has lost his temper with the Daleks (on more than one occasion), he's been told he'd make a good Dalek. 

Moral of the story, feel more love. Share more love. Don't be a Dalek.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Many Deaths of The Joker

 Batman's arch nemesis the Joker has been around nearly as long as Batman has, and has become as much of a staple in Batman's lore as his impractical cape. The Joker has had spinoff comics, toys, media, an Oscar winning live action movie, nd a sidekick who is, according to DC and not just this fanboy's opinion, one of the tentpoles of DC Comics. 

In their long history together Joker has severely injured and nearly killed Batman on multiple occasions, beat a Robin to death with a crowbar, shot Batgirl in the spine, killed every infant born during the No Man's Land story arch, turned an entire supervillain prison into versions of himself, and killed countless others among his pile of ever mounting atrocities. 

In all this fans have always asked: "Why doesn't Batman just kill the Joker?" 

Simple answer: Goes against his code, unethical, yada yada yada. 

Complex answer: Look what's happened when the Joker was killed. 

*Spoiler Alert is in effect*

**I will be excluding the 1989 Batman film starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nickleson as the Joker wasn't intentionally killed in that film and no consequence for the Joker's death were ever shown in subsequent movies**

***I will also be excluding the time Jason Todd killed a Joker in The Three Jokers story arch since A: That one isn't finished yet and B: We're still not sure if he killed the RIGHT Joker***

Kingdom Come

In the excellent Alex Ross illustrated Kingdom Come story, Joker gets loose in Metropolis. Batman, Superman and a third hero, Magog, are too late from stopping him killing everyone at the Daily Planet, including Lois Lane. While he's being placed in the police car, Magog uses his energy weapon to vaporize the Joker, and Superman immediately calls for his arrest. After Magog is acquitted under the reasoning that a lot of people would be saved if Batman had just killed the Joker years ago, Superman officially gives up on humanity and retires, causing his fellow Justice Leaguers to go their separate ways. 

Jump forward 30 some odd years and with no moral guidance from Superman the streets are now battlegrounds for bored metahumans to fight each other for no reason. The line between heroes and villains has completely disappeared and the world governments have no way of stopping the collateral damage caused by the new generation, escalating to a nuclear disaster that draws Superman out of retirement and signals the beginning of Armageddon. 

The Joker's death in Kingdom Come is less of the focal event and more of a catalyst to the main story. With the public on the side of Magog the ultra heroic Superman no longer feels that he can protect the ideology of the people, and chooses to step away. While not done by Batman or Superman in this instance, the crossing of that line and the resulting fallout (Ha, get it? Because a nuclear disaster happens?) still has ramifications that effect the entire world by giving superheroes a free pass to do whatever they want in the name of justice. 


Based on the wildly popular and incredibly fun Injustice: Gods Among Us and it's sequel Injustice 2, the comic fills in the blanks the video games don't have time to flesh out. The Joker, once again loose in Metropolis, steals a nuclear submarine and plants one of its warheads in the city. He then attaches a detonator to Lois to go off if her heart should stop. Lastly, he gasses Superman with an altered form of Scarecrow's fear toxin, making him believe that his most feared enemy, Doomsday, had returned. Superman fights Doomsday, supposedly killing him, only to snap out of it and realize that he actually killed Lois, and even worse, their unborn baby. With Lois dead the bomb goes off and Metropolis is devastated. 

Batman, after capturing the Joker, is interrogating him when Superman tears his way through the prison's walls and punches Joker's heart out through his chest, much to Batman's dismay. Superman decides that he's sick of the cat-and-mouse games they've been playing with the villains all these years and that he is now going to take matters into his own hands and sets up his own regime to rule the world, opposed by Batman and his team. 

Between killing the Joker and the death of Lois Superman completely loses his moral compass, wanting to do whatever it takes to make the world safe. We see him kill other villains and even heroes in this series as he imposes his will on the world. The Joker crossed the unspoken line of you don't mess with the heroes families, and in response Superman crossed every other line he had to get his justice. 

DC Metal

Finally we come to a scenario where Batman gets to take out the Joker once and for all. The Joker kidnaps a legion of orphans in Gotham City and gives them all a special Joker gas that turns them into feral goblin creatures with Joker grins. Batman, triggered by the Joker messing with orphans, decides that enough is enough and kills him. On his death, the Joker's body releases another toxin directly into Batman's face, which slowly turns him into another Joker, but with Batman's intelligence and skill, thus creating the Batman Who Laughs. He goes on to kill all the super heroes on earth, then all the villains, then everyone else before going on an interdimensional murder spree. 

Subtlety not being one of comics strong points, the meaning is clear: by killing the Joker Batman became just like the Joker, in this case literally. The argument that Batman frequently gives is that if he kills then he is no better than the killers he stops, which is fair, and heavy handed analogies aside this has merit. 

The Moral High Ground

The reason that Batman has never killed the Joker in the main continuity, besides his own personal code, bla bla bla Joe Chill, yada yada yada, is that DC heroes are written to be a moral goal to aspire to and to find faith in. The Joker has done some horrifying things, but if every time the Joker does something terrible the heroes never bend their morals, then the Joker loses. No matter how hard it is or what sacrifices need to be made the heroes will never let this bad guy win. 

Although, it is fun to read stories where the heroes do break and the fallout that occurs. 

I said fallout again. 


Monday, June 21, 2021

Homophobia, Inclusion, and Sushi!

I watched the new Pixar movie Luca with my 3 teenage kids for Father's Day. I told them I was going to write about the new Disney Plus exclusive film. When I asked them what topic I should write about, they were quick to shout out their ideas:




Luca tells a timeless story about an awesome bromance between two buddies who feel like outcasts, and try to be something they're not in order to fit in. The setting is a fictional seaside Italian villa, lush with seascapes, easy breezy summer feels, and all the realistic details mixed with fantasy elements that only a Pixar creation can deliver. The cast is incredible, especially the youth cast of Jacob Tremblay (Room and Wonder), Jack Dylan Grazer (It and Shazam!). The story is effortless -- maybe a little predictable, but there was enough humor and surprise elements to keep it interesting. And as with every Pixar movie, it was just as entertaining for kids as it was for adults.

I appreciate that my children got some of the same messages from Luca that I did. Include others. Be yourself. Friendship knows no bounds. You are braver than you think. You can overcome your past trauma. Kids need some structured freedom … But mostly, the message we all took away was to always be kind to others. 

My own children, some of whom identify as LGBT, have been bullied and teased at church. These are kids who are generally accepted at school, they have found their niche with friends, and they are pretty comfortable with their lives. And for awhile, they would attend church and youth activities … but the other youth would often tease my kids, or would sometimes outright be mean to them. This was made worse when the youth leaders would either do nothing, or sometimes would even join in with the teasing. My kids definitely identified with Luca and Alberto: two kids who were trying to hide their true nature so they could fit in, and they were marginalized as personae non gratae. And this isn’t just a kid problem. I know several LGBT adults who feel ostracized and unsafe going to church because of hurtful remarks people make. 

Sometimes we have to dig deep to find ways to accept others who are not like us. Instead of potentially offending others who don’t share the same values, beliefs, or attractions as us, surely we can find ways to be more inclusive. Instead of degrading or disrespecting others, let’s be more Christlike. Instead of treating others like mostri marini, it's out duty to find ways to include people on our team. It might be tough to resist saying something that’s on our mind, but that’s when we yell “Silenzio, Bruno!” and ask ourselves if we are including or excluding others.

And then we can all go get sushi together.

Friday, June 18, 2021

For the Love of Kids Shows

Once upon a time, I shared the above meme on our Facebook page and social media stories. A reply to the story comes into our inbox saying (paraphrasing here) "Pokemon is made for kids, get a job." When Joe saw the message, he got into a "discussion" with this fellow. Let me tell you, it's pointless to argue with Joe. It's not productive for you and it's not productive for Joe.

That conversation happens months ago, but I still think about it sometimes. I try not to get frustrated about the guy or the conversation. But I think about why I watch "kids shows" and why I'm okay with that.

With my 18-month-old daughter running and playing and watching, my wife and I have become increasingly aware of how much she catches when we watch TV. Do we feel comfortable watching Agents of SHIELD with Daisy fighting this villain and that (and getting bloody sometimes)? Are we okay watching Friends with the adult jokes? She may not be able to speak in complete sentences, but our little girl understands more than we realize.

I wrote previously that as a young adult I once thought I had to forget about my childhood interests. Digimon, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh. Everything. I thought I had to let go of it all for the sake of being an adult. You can read more about that in my Digimon Kizuna post, but the fact of the matter is that I still enjoy them (except maybe some of the Yu-Gi-Oh sequels...).

And I'm okay with that. What's wrong with enjoying wholesome content about kids on an adventure? In the Bible, Paul says "when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11). Take "childish" to mean what you will. To me it's childish to throw tantrums and to be selfish. Is it childish to have the desire to go on an adventure, to experience something fantastic, or to have lifelong friends? We might be experiencing it vicariously through Ash, Tai or Snow White, but it's no different than living it through the Doctor, Captain America, or Han Solo. Just made for a different audience. 

It may be made for kids, but it's also made for me (even if the writer didn't know it at the time). And personally I like that I can pull up an episode of Digimon or Power Rangers in the morning and it's appropriate for my daughter to watch with me. (Also there's the fact that, ever since we moved to Texas, my nephew wants to play against me with his Pokemon cards)

So if you'll excuse me, my little girl and I are going to enjoy some Power Rangers and I'll play Pokemon with my nephew. And I hope you enjoy what you love too!

Monday, June 14, 2021

Iroh vs Ozai: The Best Dad vs The Worst

Despite technically starting on the bad guy's side, Iroh has become a fan favorite from Avatar the Last Airbender. While he's as funny as he is powerful, the biggest thing that makes him so beloved is his relationship with his nephew Zuko and the father energy he provides the exiled prince. While this topic has been discussed at length, I think it's best we compare Iroh to Zuko's biological father, Fire Lord Ozai, and talk about what makes a good dad versus a bad dad. 

Sibling Rivalry   

Zuko's treatment by his father can also be contrasted with how his father treats Zuko's sister, Azula. This line says it all: "My father says Azula was born lucky, and that I was lucky to be born." Azula was always Ozai's favorite, both because she shared his killer instinct and was an extraordinary firebender. Ozai constantly compared Zuko to his sister, keeping the two in constant competition and conflict for Ozai's attention. We see this pattern play out in the MCU where Gamora is pitted against Nebula by their adopted father Thanos, and the devastation it causes both sisters. Nebula resents Gamora for being the better sister in their father's eyes and the punishment she received for not being like her, where Gamora is just thankful to not be her. 

Iroh never compared Zuko to Azula, and also never compared Zuko to his own deceased son. The entire time they chase Aang across the globe Iroh never once says that anyone could be doing a better job than Zuko, despite Zuko failing on numerous occasions. Iroh always held Zuko in his own light instead of comparing him to others, which allowed Zuko to shine in his own talents. When needs be Iroh would help Zuko with training or with direction, but always after Zuko came to him for help. 

Conditional Love

Ozai's love for his children was always based on what they could do, more specifically, what they could do to further his goals. Azula was the favorite because her power and ambition could help him take over more territory, as demonstrated when she successfully captured Ba Sing Se. Zuko internalized this and thus devoted himself to capture the avatar, a seemingly futile task, to not only restore his honor but prove to his father that he was worth loving. 

Iroh treated everyone he came across with respect and kindness, from strangers to enemies like Azula. Zuko never had to do anything to earn Iroh's love, it was always there, even when Zuko was too busy seeking Ozai's love to recognize it. Even when they are united near the finale (We'll talk about that in a sec) Iroh still loves Zuko, even though Zuko betrayed him and was responsible for his imprisonment. 


The first time we really learn anything about Ozai was when Zuko's scar is explained. After a disrespectful faux paus in Ozai's war room, Ozai publicly humiliates Zuko by burning the left side of his face, leaving him permanently scarred. As fire lord and Zuko's father, this situation could've been handled a dozen different ways. The public scarring was a demonstration that there would be no forgiveness for Zuko ever being anything less than what his father demanded of him. 

When Zuko and Iroh reunite in season three (See I told you we'd get back to this) it's after Zuko betrayed Iroh to the Fire Nation and his honor was restored by Ozai. Iroh escapes the same day Zuko renounces his father and leaves so it can be assumed that Iroh never knew that Zuko had lost favor with the fire lord again, or that Zuko had teamed up with Aang and the gang. Zuko doesn't see Iroh until Team Avatar meets with the Order of the White Lotus. When reunited, Zuko begs Iroh for forgiveness for betraying him, which Iroh never even held a grudge against him, but was "Just sad that you lost your way". Iroh allows Zuko to make mistakes even against him and still forgives and loves him with no question. If Zuko had just disappeared forever Iroh would've still forgiven him and been sad on how they last saw each other. 

This Father's Day, you don't have to celebrate the dad you have if that's not someone who is a positive influence in your life. As many geekdoms demonstrate, some families are made from people who love each other. So take time to celebrate the people who were fathers for you when nobody else was. 


Friday, June 11, 2021

Sailor Moon Eternal - New Fans Not Welcome

 If you're into Sailor Moon you're going to love this. 

There. Easy review. Now I can go back to watching Castlevania. 

Okay, let me clarify. 

The Appeal of Sailor Moon

It's hard to clarify the appeal of Sailor Moon. To call it "girly" would imply that something being feminine is a bad thing, but when the main character is told by a Pegasus that the best way to defeat the darkness is to believe in your heart's true dreams and also she's a princess I can't think of a better term. That being said, I personally am a Sailor Moon fan, and that the appeal to me is in the unapologetic cheesiness in the whole affair. 

Interestingly enough, Sailor Moon is an interesting hero as she's not a perfect hero. She's best compared to Buffy who just wants a normal life but due to circumstance has to be a hero. These are not weak women, but women who just want a normal life, one where the biggest thing they have to worry about is who they have a crush on. Instead, with the fate of the world on their shoulders, they have to learn to bare the burden despite being young and completely inexperienced. The inspiration comes from when they stand up against the bad guys, which is a fantastic allegory of early childhood trauma, having to grow up before one is ready and finding the strength to take on additional burdens. 

Anyway, About the Movie

So Sailor Moon Eternal on Netflix is less of a movie and more of a season cut together to make a movie. Following from Sailor Moon Crystal season three, the story follows the dream story arc from the manga. 

Okay, let's try this: 

So the Outer Guardians are semi-retired and raising Sailor Saturn who was turned back into a child while living normal lives. Chibi Moon is getting ready to return to the future but first wants to spend some time with her future parents Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask. When going back to where the time key will work, they see that it's become a meeting place for people to watch the lunar eclipse, which the trio join. During the eclipse a spaceship is spotted and invites to the Dark Moon Circus appear mysteriously around town, and the Sailor Guardians find that they are unable to transform. Chibi Moon starts dreaming about a pegasus in her dreams telling her that he needs her help. 

Okay, I can't go on because it is a whole season that lasts six hours and that was barely the first episode, but TLDR there's some bad guys who want the Silver Crystal (as always) and draw power from people's suffering (as always) and the Guardians need to stop them (as always). 

It's a standard season of Sailor Moon but it's condensed and on Netflix. The plot and characters are all that we've always loved, but the real treat is the Crystal level animation. Old Sailor Moon fans will enjoy the visuals if they haven't had access to Crystal before now, which is on Hulu's premium subscription, and the experience was a treat despite being hard to describe. 

Worth It? 

Sailor Moon Eternal is great for old and new fans alike, but just for context it is made for fans. The film doesn't explain who the Sailor Guardians are, what their powers are, or establish relationships. Not every film needs to be open to new fans, and sometimes it's nice to see something that jumps right into the action. 

If you love Sailor Moon and want to try Crystal's style but don't have access to it, check Sailor Moon Eternal out on Netflix. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Pokemon Nicknames: Harry Potter (Gen I-III)

I've recently started re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as I begin the series again. As I do (and as I perpetually play my Pokemon games) I'm looking for more fun nicknames to use. I'm currently using Harry Potter-themed nicknames on Yellow, so I wanted to share a few ideas I had in Gen I and beyong. And a few Fantastic Beasts nicknames as well.

PS: I'm way too proud of a couple of these.




(also Scabbers or Pettigrew)




(also Ho-Oh)





(also Houndoom)

(also Sirius or Snuffles)

(also Gible)