The Arc of Thor

thor

As the year comes to a close, it has been announced that Disney had broken a box office record. In 2013 its worldwide box office was over 4 billion dollars. This was achieved almost exclusively by the performance of this year’s two releases from Marvel Studios; Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.

I’m sure every studio took notice. At this stage Marvel seems unbeatable at the box office and I’m sure that there are some very smart people trying to figure out how to duplicate that success.

There are, of course, several factors that have led to this success. But I want to focus on two that I feel other studios are going to have a hard time copying, and the sad thing is that one of those shouldn’t be a problem.

The one that is problematic to copy is the interwoven nature of the Marvel films. As far as most fans are concerned both movies were part of the same series, and they only had to wait months for them, not years. And next year we get two more. I’m sure studios would love to get something like that going, but only Warner Brothers with the DC franchises have a shot, and they seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot with regards to that.

The other, that should be easy to copy but won’t be, is how Marvel handles character arcs. In short, Marvel does not back track on their character development. Whatever changes a character goes through in one movie are still present at the beginning of the next. It seems simple but it is not that common.

To illustrate this point, I want to focus on Thor as he has one of the most dramatic arcs in the series. Warning, there will be some Dark World spoilers in here.

In the first Thor movie he is brash, headstrong, and hungry for glory. He nearly provokes a war needlessly and is punished by being stripped of his powers and exiled. During this exile he learns humility and, after seeing destruction from a human level, is more tempered in his approach, throughout this process he learns to care for people.

In the Avengers, he is no longer seeking glory and regrets the destruction he can cause, but he is still headstrong as shown in his first meeting with Iron Man and Captain America. Over the course of this film, he learns to not just rush in and be a team player.

At the beginning of Dark World we see Thor no longer rushes in, and even gives his enemies a chance to surrender. When the rest of the warriors are celebrating their victory, he is sitting quietly, no longer concerned with glory. By the end, he embraces his destiny as guardian of the nine realms, and chooses to live on Earth.

At no point does he lose any of the lessons he learned between movies and his character is constantly moving forward.

Let’s compare this to the rebooted Star Trek movies. In the first movie Kirk has to learn to not be bull headed and work with his crew, especially Spock, to save the day. In the end, he is awarded command of the Enterprise.

In the sequel, he starts off making a bull headed move that has him lose his command and he needs to find a way to work with his crew, especially Spock, to save the day, eventually getting his command back. Basically, in the second movie things were reset to how they were in the first movie in an effort to give the audience something familiar.

Of the two, which do you prefer?

For me, the big test of this is going to be when Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes out. This is because it will feature the Black Widow, who is a character that has been moving around the Marvel Cinematic Universe rather than attached to one specific franchise. It will be interesting to see where she is after the events of The Avengers and how that has changed her.

Of course they could just give us a Black Widow centric movie.

Anyway, I look forward to where the Marvel movies are going, and can only hope that other studios learn this lesson.

The First Camarilla Convention: Courageous/ Necrocon

Couragous Necro ConIt’s time for another look back at the early history of the White Wolf fan organization, The Camarilla. Last time I wrote about the circumstances of its birth as I remember them. This time I want to look at a very specific event, the first Camarilla convention, Courageous/NercoCon.

Again, this is going to be based on my memories of events from over 20 years ago, with as much verification as I have been able to get from other people who were there. I am also going to liberally reference events from my previous Camarilla article, so I recommend going here to read that if you have not already.

I want to specify that this is not about any other Camarilla events, such as the kickoff event at Vikingcon, or any of the other early sanctioned events at various Northwest conventions. This is about the first convention that had a Camarilla focus.

Sort of.

The convention started life as just Courageous Con, named after the chapter of STARFLEET International that I was a member of. As this implies, it was to be a Star Trek convention. The head of our chapter had run successful conventions in Canada and wanted to start one in the Seattle area after moving here. This is all well and good.

However, during the time that the convention was being planned, The Camarilla was coming into being. As I said last time a good number of the original board of directors for the Camarilla were also officers in the Courageous. These same people were also involved in putting together Courageous Con.

So let’s just say enthusiasm over multiple projects started bleeding into each other.

Basically the idea started forming to have a Camarilla convention, but a lot of us were already working on Courageous Con. The solution was to combine the two and have a two–in-one convention. But how would you pull that off?

The answer was to run 24 hour programming.

You read that last sentence right.

Twenty-four hour convention programming. During the daytime hours it would be Courageous Con, and be devoted to Star Trek. At night it would be NecroCon, and be devoted to Vampire and the Camarilla.

I’m pretty sure that I am the first person who started referring to it as the Wereconvention, since it would transform after dark.

So we had to come up with 24 hours’ worth of programming, as well as guests for both genres. It turns out the programming wasn’t as hard, since both were different enough. The trick was getting panelists who were willing to stay up late for the NecroCon side, but even that wasn’t that daunting.

As for guests, we actually did pretty well. For Star Trek we secured George Takei, and for Vampire we had Mark Rein*Hagan and Wes Harris from White Wolf.

Everything looked like it was going well. But frankly, I would not be taking the time to write this down if that was how it ended.

The first hurdle came a couple of months before the convention. George Takei had to pull out of the con. George, like almost all Star Trek actors, had a contract with a company that put on Star Trek conventions around the country. The nature of that contract obligated him to go to a convention they were setting up and cancel his appearance at ours. The kicker is that this last minute convention was being held in Seattle, at a hotel only ten minutes away from where we were holding our con, on the exact same weekend.

Yeah, you are probably thinking the same thing I was, but I have no proof.

So there was a scramble to find a replacement Star Trek guest. The new guest ended up being Jonathan Del Arco. These days, you might know him as Dr. Morales from The Closer and its spin off Major Crimes. Back in 1993, he was best known as Hugh the Borg, from Star Trek: the Next Generation.

So we lost the Major Guest and had a competing convention down the road. But we still had the draw of the White Wolf guys, and the Camarilla was up and running at this point, and growing in popularity. So we were going to be fine.

Right?

Ok, let’s be honest, this was a pretty ambitious plan, running programming continuously for an entire weekend. Add to that the fact that it was the first time running a convention for a lot of the organizers.

And with that in mind, looking back I can honestly say, it could have been much worse.

When I think back on Courageous/ NercoCon, the first thing that comes to mind is why did the hotel think it was a good idea to book a Star Trek/ Vampire convention the same weekend they were also hosting a gathering of nuns? Not that this caused any real conflict, or led to any problems, it just added to an overall feeling of oddness that permeated the hotel the whole weekend. Okay, there was the one instance where someone who had over indulged saw them and yelled out “penguins!” Fortunately he was prevented from approaching them, and was carted off by friends quickly.

One problem that was just beyond anyone’s control was that the volunteer coordinator came down with the flu and was running a decent fever. This was on top of the lack of sleep we were all already operating under.

The biggest problem was just attendee behavior.  To this day I am not sure what the hell was up with this. I have been to some rowdy conventions before, but there was just something in the air at this one, and all evidence points to it being the vampire fans at the heart of it.

First was just out and out damage to the hotel. There was a hole in one of the walls, which who knows, it could have been anyone on that. The graffiti on the walls on the other hand was pretty clearly put there by someone into Vampire.

But really it was the beer slip-and-slide on the 3rd floor that really took the cake. The hole and the graffiti could have been the result of spur of the moment passion or alcohol-fueled bad decision making. On the other hand, someone had to bring the slip and slide to the con, indicating a degree of premeditation.  It was also dealt with pretty quickly and quietly, as the perpetrators managed to convince the hotel not to kick them, and basically the convention, out. I’m sure it being 3 AM on Sunday helped, as by this point the hotel was already fed up with us, so they just wanted to get it over with without any added drama.  I didn’t even know that this had happened until a month later. The convention chairman didn’t know about it until last month when I went online to confirm details for this article and someone who was there confirmed it.

Needless to say, in light of these events, the convention was a one-time only thing.

But I don’t want to leave you with the idea that it was all bad.

Jonathan Del Arco turned out to be a very engaging guest and everyone who interacted with him really like him. Likewise Mark Rein*Hagan and Wes Harris had a great time hanging out with the Camarilla crowd and the LARP with them went extremely well.  I will always cherish the look on Mark’s face when I led the Camarilla members in a rendition of the It’s a Small World After All parody I had written for the World of Darkness. It was a fascinating combination of pride and shame.

For me personally it was the first time I met the White Wolf guys, who in turn introduced me to the Wizards of the Coast crew. Within a week of the convention I started hanging out at the WotC offices at their invite, leading to my 5 year stint working there. That in turn led to my current job and, really, my life in general now.

I think looking back on it that the two-in-one convention was just too much. What we should have done was drop the Star Trek part after losing Takei and just focused on Vampire. We had a competing Trek convention down the road that siphoned off most of that audience anyway. If we had done that we would have had tighter focus, and I believe less chaos.

So that was the first Camarilla convention. There was not another specific Camarilla Con during the rest of the time the Board of Directors was located in Seattle. After the BoD was transferred to Salt Lake City it was attempted again, this time with a proper focus. Since then there have been many Camarilla Cons, and some of them have had memorable stories, such as the time they were in the same hotel as a Players ball, and a drive by shooting (for info on that check out this video). But none were as out there in concept as Courageous/ NecroCon.

As with my previous Camarilla story, if anyone from the original Board of Directors, or the Courageous/ NecroCon staff want to write their point of view of what happened, I will publish it here unedited.

Seattle: Geek Captial of the World

I am a proud resident of the Seattle area. I bring this up because I now live in the only state in the union that does not have any form of state sponsored tourism marketing. The State Government is encouraging private business to advertise our state’s virtues instead.
(I want to preface this with the statement that I do not make any income from anything related to tourism.)
I think that we here in the Seattle area have a potential for tourism that could be tapped. Appeal to geek culture.
One week a year the center of geek culture is San Diego California. I say we make a play for the other 51 weeks a year.
We have a head start. In Seattle we have the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of fame. We have Seattle Pioneer Square with the Seattle Underground tour.  We have the original Game Works. We have PAX which is becoming, if not has become, the major convention for gaming, electronic or otherwise. We have Emerald City Comic Con, a fast growing comic book convention. We are the home of corporate headquarters for Amazon, Microsoft, Nintendo America, Wizards of the Coast and I Can Haz Cheezburger. The number of gaming companies of all sizes in this area is in triple digits.
So how do we do it?
Well first all those groups I mentioned above? They need to get together and start promoting Seattle as the place where geek culture comes from.
Next someone would need to build something that would be a year-round destination for the geek fans. Anyone remember the Star Trek Experience that used to be featured at the Las Vegas Hilton? Something along those lines that, but where it is the center piece of a whole center, maybe a resort.
Someone is thinking this is a good idea. In 2014 a Star Trek theme resort will be opening in Aqaba, Jordan. Now I don’t know about you, but even though I would love to go to a Star Trek resort, I do not see myself traveling to Jordan to do it.  I could see people coming to Seattle to see it however.
Or how about a hotel that had rooms that were rigged to simulate being haunted. As long as I have the ability to turn off the effects when I want to I think that would be awesome, and could be a big draw every October.
However none of this would be a sure bet. In 1997 The Wizards of the Coast Game Center opened in the heart of Seattle’s University district. It was a complex dedicated to gaming and included a game shop, video arcade, a network of computers for LAN gaming, a tournament gaming area, and a twelve pod Battletech combat simulator. A gamer’s dream come true. It closed its doors just four years later. There has been a lot of analysis of what went wrong. Although mismanagement is the likeliest culprit, It stands in people’s minds are a failure of a geek centric venue being able to draw people in.
But does that mean no one should try again? Paul Allen didn’t think so when he opened the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in 2004. Housed in the same building as the Experience Music Project, the Museum is a collection of Memorabilia such as the Original Star Trek captain’s chair, and exhibits like the current Battlestar Galactica and Avatar exhibts. It also hosts the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and Science Fiction Fantasy Short Film Festival in association with the Seattle International Film Festival. True it was folded into EMP last March, but it is still effectively a going concern.
Maybe we need to start a meme. “Seattle, Geek capital of the world.”