Geek Punditry #10: Shouldn’t Have Slept on This

There are a lot of comic books published every month. Like, at least four of them. And for someone who has been reading comics since childhood, there are times where the sheer volume of books being published can get overwhelming, even if you don’t read X-Men titles. The two biggest publishers, Marvel and DC, each have an intricate universe that carries on a complex interwoven meta-narrative that has run continuously, in one form or another, for decades, somehow subsisting even before variant covers were invented. And if you’re the sort of person who has things like a job or a family, or who enjoys eating food, there simply isn’t enough time to read everything that’s being published.

Fortunately, both Marvel and DC have in recent years launched online subscription services, where you can read a substantial portion of their respective libraries, with more books added each week. I’m a comic book collector, I can’t imagine a future where I didn’t want to get printed comics, but I consider myself a reader even more than a collector. And there’s a definite comfort to knowing that I don’t have to get all 1,124 books published a month (that’s 10,419 covers) in case there’s something I might want to read later. For books that I’m not enthusiastic about, things that I would be reading just to fill in a gap, it’s great to know that I can always go to the app a few months after release and it’ll be waiting there.

The best part about this system, though, is that when you go back and look at the stuff you missed, sometimes you find a gem that you may not have otherwise read at all. Since I’ve started reading these comics digitally, I’ve stumbled on several titles that I passed on in print, but really came to enjoy after the fact. So this week, for your edification, I’m going to share four comic series from the last few years that I didn’t read when they came out, but I’m sorry I slept on now.

Duo (DC/Milestone Comics)

Milestone Media, which has published through DC on and off for 30 years now, came back in 2021 in a big way, and while a lot of attention was given to the return of characters like Static, Icon, and Hardware, less attention was given to some of the new properties released in that universe. Duo, from writer Greg Pak and artists Khoi Pham and Scott Williams, focuses on David Kim and Kelly Sandborne, an engaged couple whose research in nanotechnology is on the verge of a breakthrough. With the right funding, David and Kelly believe they could revolutionize medicine: healing injuries, combating disease, even reversing the aging process itself. When they approach an investor to take their work to the next level, instead they find themselves under attack. Kelly is thought to be killed, but David soon discovers that she’s been saved by the nanobots the only way they could: transplanting her consciousness into his own mind. Now, sharing one body and immense power, David and Kelly have to stop her killers and find a way to separate.

Duo is a really great book. It takes elements from one of the old-school Milestone comics, Xombi, but also incorporates concepts and themes that feel more like the Starhawk/Aleta body-sharing dynamic from the old Guardians of the Galaxy or Valiant’s original Second Life of Doctor Mirage, about a married couple in which the husband was a literal ghost. The character beats between the two of them are great, with some surprisingly funny moments even turning up at Kelly’s memorial service, and the book deftly deals with the troubles of having the person you love literally living inside your mind. We don’t get a real grasp of what the villains are up to until the third issue, but the character building and questions raised by the story are more than compelling enough to pull us in even before that point. Modern Milestone is doing a lot of interesting stuff, but I’m surprised to discover that this book is my favorite of the pack.

Aquaman and the Flash: Voidsong (DC Comics)

Ah, the miniseries. When the concept first really came to prominence in the 1980s, a comic book miniseries felt like an event, like something special. Now it almost feels inconsequential, with “ongoing” titles being relaunched every twelve minutes and proper miniseries feeling somewhat inconsequential. The idea of a miniseries starring the Flash and Aquaman facing an alien invasion felt like the sort of book that would never be referenced again, never have a serious impact on that “meta-narrative” I mentioned before, and therefore would be easy to skip. And I was wrong to feel that way.

The above description of the series, written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly and with art by Vasco Georgiev, is technically correct, but despite what Futurama would have us believe, that’s not always the best kind of correct. As the story goes, an invasion fleet immobilizes the entire planet with a sort of harmonic weapon (the titular “Voidsong”) that affects everyone except for the Flash and Aquaman – who were both insulated from the sound for Comic Book Reasons – leaving those two heroes as the only ones who can save the world. The great thing about this is that Aquaman and the Flash are not a traditional team-up pair. Sure, they’ve both been members of the Justice League since the very beginning, but when time comes for the heroes to pair off you’re more likely to see the Flash pal around with Green Lantern, while Aquaman hangs out with Wonder Woman or the Martian Manhunter. You almost never see these two, specifically, in a story together, and the story neatly moves from an early personality clash to a more respectful relationship in a very entertaining fashion. If you skipped this book because it wouldn’t “count,” I hear ya, but I’m telling you that we all missed out.

Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky (Marvel Comics)

Among Stan Lee’s Silver Age creations for Marvel Comics, Daredevil is probably the one I’ve read the least. It’s not that I dislike the character, but an awful lot of writers over the years have taken the approach that Daredevil is the hero that absolutely can never be allowed a single moment of joy. A lot of the modern runs on his book have had him suffer one tragedy after another without ever even a hope of peace or happiness. Years ago, when I was sent Marvel comics to review for the late, lamented Comixtreme website, I reached a point where I started to dread any new issue of Daredevil not because the book wasn’t good, but because I knew it would be so bleak I would need a shower afterwards.

Fortunately, Marvel seems to have decided that Spider-Man is now the character that will never be allowed anything resembling happiness, cheer, or entertainment, so Daredevil has lightened up a little bit. Chip Zdarsky, who is one of the more interesting writers working in mainstream comics today (under duress, it sometimes seems), took over the series in 2018. His version, admittedly, isn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs: early in the series, Daredevil accidentally kills a young man in the commission of a crime and eventually turns himself in to the police, getting sent to jail still wearing his mask. It’s a ridiculous concept, the masked hero in maximum security with a bunch of criminals, but once you accept the sheer lunacy behind it the story is fascinating. Zdarsky’s interpretation of Daredevil feels very in-character but, despite the dark inciting incident, manages to avoid the utter hopelessness so many writers have brought to the title.

Zdarsky’s run on the book went for 36 issues before it was restarted with a new #1 because it was a Wednesday. The current volume is on issue 11 and I don’t know how much longer it’s going to go, but I’m certainly along for the ride.

The Nice House on the Lake (DC/Black Label)

DC’s Black Label imprint is…well, I’ll be honest, it’s a mess. It was originally announced as a place for more “mature” versions of traditional DC heroes (“mature” here is being used in its traditional Latin definition, “more likely to drop an F-bomb”). The stories were also said to be out of continuity, except for the ones that aren’t. And sometimes they’re oversized and sometimes they’re not, sometimes they have characters formerly published by Vertigo and sometimes they have characters related to Batman. That’s about 90 percent of the time, actually. But sometimes they have absolutely nothing to do with established DC characters whatsoever. If you asked me to define what exactly the Black Label comics are supposed to be, the only consistent answer I could give you would be “something I would not give my eight-year-old nephew.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter what Black Label is, James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez Bueno’s The Nice House on the Lake is the gem in the crown. In this sci-fi/horror series (which I should stress has absolutely nothing to do with the DC Universe), ten people are invited for a week-long vacation by their mutual friend Walter at a…well, at a nice house on a lake. The cast is a very eclectic mix of people from Walter’s life – friends from high school, friends from college, friends from later. Some of the characters have a history with each other, others are nearly strangers, with Walter being the only link between them all. Before they can even settle into their vacation getaway, though–

Ah hell, I don’t want to tell you anything else, because this is a book built on mystery and surprise. There’s so much going on here, and almost all of it is built on character, which is fantastic. It’s a wild comic that takes a horrific turn at the end of the first issue, at which point it becomes virtually impossible to predict where things are going from one minute to the next. The book ends with a sequel hook, and I desperately hope that DC (or Black Label or whatever) is already well into working on the next volume, because while this series does come to a relatively definitive conclusion, there’s plenty more to explore and I can’t wait to do it. I won’t be sleeping on the sequel.

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. There are, of course, other books he slept on besides these. For example, if you didn’t read Justice League Vs. the Legion of Super-Heroes, you can consider yourself one of the lucky ones.


Geek Punditry #9: Pop Culture Comfort Food

Reportedly, there are studies that indicate people like rewatching old TV shows and movies because there is comfort to be found in familiarity. I don’t have those particular studies in front of me because I don’t feel like looking them up at the moment (this is a highly scientific approach), but I completely believe it. When the world is starting to be too much, I often find myself going back to movies, books, or comics that I have enjoyed before. There’s something about returning to old stories that makes it feel like you’re reconnecting with a friend. There’s an ease and a comfort that can be desperately needed when there’s a weight on your shoulders, when the anxiety begins sending the pins and needles across your skin, when every text or phone call makes you worry that the worst has happened. I go back to these things a lot, is what I’m saying.

And since I know I’m not alone in this, I thought that this week I would share with you some of my storytelling comfort food. I’m going to tell you one example from each of my preferred forms of media (movies, TV, books, and comics) that I can and have returned to more times than I can count, stories I know as well as the walk from my car to the front door, characters who are as close to me as family. When I’m feeling down or beat up or that nothing is going to be okay, these are the places I turn to so that I can be reminded…sometimes it can be.

Movies: Back to the Future 

A series that never fails to take you back in time.

In the interest of clarity, I guess I should say the Back to the Future trilogy, because heaven knows I can never stop with one. The first movie came out when I was 8 years old, and I distinctly remember sitting down in front of the fireplace after my parents rented it and put the VHS tape in. I remember how quickly and deeply I fell in love with the film and how we went to the movies together to see Part II, and how we went out during a storm while out of town on a family vacation on the opening weekend of Part III to see just how the saga concluded. I even remember my father commenting on the weather and saying that anybody who went out in it to see the movie must have been a die hard fan. Which, of course, I was.

I know I don’t have to explain to anyone why these films are so great, and I’m certainly not going to waste any time on a recap, but I’m going to tell you what it is about them that makes me feel better. Part of it, like with all of the things I’m going to share with you, are the characters. There’s something about the unorthodox friendship between Doc Brown and Marty McFly that resonated with me even as a child. I had already spent years dreaming of being picked up by a tornado and thrown to Oz or finding a closet door with a passage to Narnia, but even at eight it was starting to seem like either of those would be a stretch. Finding an eccentric mentor who would bring me along on grand adventures seemed much more plausible. Even now, at a stage in life where I find myself relating more to Doc than Marty, that relationship seems pure and genuine. (Ironically, I think that’s part of the reason Rick and Morty became so popular so fast – it’s a parody of the Doc/Marty relationship, but that parody wouldn’t have worked as well if there was something foul or sordid about the original.)

Then there’s the basic fantasy of time travel, of being able to hop into a machine that can whisk you away to another place. The idea of seeing the past and the future is tantalizing, and I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t be tempted to use Gray’s Sports Almanac the same way Marty intended to. 

The other thing, which people may perhaps not think of immediately but I consider of utmost importance, is the music. The best movies often have memorable scores, but Alan Silvestri’s composition is one of the all-time greats. The sweeping tones automatically bring to mind the film, hit those triggers in your memory and pull you into the world of Hill Valley, and charge your heart with anticipation. The music moves from exciting to thrilling to, ultimately, triumphant. When you hear Alan Silvestri’s score to Back to the Future, you find yourself capable of believing that even when things are tough, like they were for Marty McFly, there is a solution that will make everything turn out okay in the end.

And c’mon. The car is really cool.

Television: Cheers 

Where people know troubles are all the same.

Bet you expected me to say Star Trek, didn’t you? Yeah, I know, Trek is my jam, but sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.

Cheers, the sitcom about a little bar in Boston, has two distinct stages, and I love them both…but not equally, if I’m being honest. In the early years, the show was mostly a workplace romcom about Sam and Diane, with the rest of the characters there to add flavor. It was a fine show, it was a funny show, but I was a fairly young child at the time and, although my parents watched it, I didn’t really start paying attention to the series until I got older. This may be part of the reason that – although I would never skip the Diane years when doing a rewatch – it’s the Rebecca years that leave the most indelible mark on my memory.

But my relative age isn’t the only reason the second life of Cheers is my preferred era. Like I said, during the Shelley Long years, the show centered around Sam and Diane’s relationship. This was good. This made for some excellent television. But after Long left to become a major movie star (I recently watched her performance in 2012’s Zombie Hamlet, and I highly recommend it), they replaced her with the recently-deceased Kirstie Alley, and although there were the occasional flirtations with making her couple off with Sam like they did with Diane, the writers wisely realized that the same chemistry wasn’t there, and shifted the focus from a romcom to more of an ensemble comedy. The other characters grew in prominence, Rebecca Howe found a different niche to fill than the one vacated by Diane Chambers, and the show blossomed yet again. 

While the likes of Woody, Cliff, Carla, and Norm all had their moments in the pre-Rebecca days, post-Diane they had far more episodes in the spotlight. Frasier Crane was a Diane castoff who stuck around, but it was in the Rebecca era that he bloomed to one of the stars of the show, eventually spinning off into his own series (also a comfort watch for me), with a revival of the latter currently in the works. I’m not saying that the early years of Cheers weren’t GOOD, please don’t misunderstand me. It was a remarkable comedy, the character of Coach was sorely missed for the rest of the series, and the episode guest-starring John Cleese is perhaps one of the funniest half-hours of television ever put to film. It’s just that the pure love I feel for the series, the way I have affection for these characters as if they were personal friends of mine, the fact that I remember that Frasier’s first wife “Nanny G”’s phone number was 555-6792…that’s all a product of the Kirstie Alley years, and I’m fine with that.

Boy, I deserve some sort of trophy for THAT deep cut. 

Book: The Princess Bride by William Goldman. 

Skipping this would be inconceivable.

I may be cheating a little bit here, since much of what is wonderful about this novel is also applicable to the movie, which I also love and watch as comfort on many an occasion. But this is probably the novel I have read more times than any other (a feat which I insist is more impressive than the movie you’ve watched most often). It is the book I pick up when I’m sad. It’s the story I turn to when I’m depressed. It’s the tale I want to hear again when I feel like there is nothing good and beautiful in the world. I need this story at those times, because if it were true that there is nothing good and beautiful in the world, then how could a novel such as this even exist?

I know you’ve seen the movie, so I won’t bother to retell you the story. Instead, I’ll tell you about the elements unique to the book so that you can understand why it resonates with me so deeply. 

First of all the framing sequence. In the film, the tale of Westley and Buttercup is being read by a grandfather to his sick grandson. In the book, Goldman creates a metatextual story (this was before metatextual stories) about his own family, in which his father read the story to him as a child. It was not until adulthood that he tried reading it himself to his own son (a fictional son, by the way, as the real William Goldman had only daughters) and realized his dad skipped all the boring bits and just read him “the good parts.” The book is presented as adult Goldman abridging a classic novel by getting rid of all the flowery muck and bits of Elizabethan satire that modern audiences wouldn’t give a crap about. It’s a really funny conceit, and it’s executed so perfectly that a lot of people reading the book for the first time don’t realize the framing sequence is fiction as well. (It’s me. I’m a lot of people. I didn’t get it the first time.)

Second, the writing is simply marvelous. A lot of the great bits of dialogue made it into the film, which isn’t a surprise since Goldman wrote the screenplay himself, but there simply wasn’t room for everything, and many of those pieces left on the floor are absolutely priceless. For instance, the movie largely ignores Buttercup’s parents and their unending bickering, for which they keep score. It skips over the history of Fezzik entirely and leaves out all but the most essential parts of Inigo’s backstory, which makes an already amazing character so much richer. There’s more time spent with Humperdink, more time devoted to Vizzini, and much more to Westley and Buttercup’s burgeoning romance. Because yeah, it is a kissing book.

I don’t begrudge Goldman any of the cuts, of course. The very premise of the novel is that sometimes parts of a story don’t translate from medium to medium. But if you’ve only seen the movie you haven’t experienced the whole story.

The last thing about this book is perhaps the most important: the message. In the framing sequence, Goldman discusses a conversation with an old neighborhood woman who served as something of a mentor to him. This segment concludes with the child Goldman learning that life isn’t fair. Rather than being angry or hurt at the realization, though, he is utterly jubilant to hear the news, because once you accept that life ISN’T fair, isn’t SUPPOSED to be fair, then a lot of the crap the world throws around suddenly makes a LOT more sense. This is, I think, a very important message, and the great thing about it is how it is presented in a way that is joyful and positive rather than dour and depressing.

The point I’m getting at is that if you haven’t read this book, you should, and I’m envious that you’re going to get to experience it for the first time, which I will never have the chance to do again. But hey, that’s all right, because life isn’t fair.

Comics: The Triangle Era Superman.

This was MY Golden Age

Okay, this paragraph is just for the uber-nerds like myself who already know all about the “Triangle Era” of Superman. The rest of you can skip to the next paragraph. Ahem. I’m about to give a super-condensed history of the era. I know I’m leaving out a bunch of stuff. Like William Goldman, I choose to focus on the good parts rather than telling everybody the intricacies of comic book numbering and whatnot. Please don’t send me corrective emails.

In 1986, DC Comics hired writer/artist John Byrne to revitalize the Superman character. He took over both Superman and Action Comics, the two titles that starred the hero, and they added a third book to the line as well, Adventures of Superman, which was usually done by other creators such as Marv Wolfman. After a while, Byrne left the character in the hands of other writers and artists, and while he had done good work in his time, it was after his departure that a certain kind of alchemy began to happen. With Superman starring in three comic books a month, the writers and artists would have to collaborate to make sure they weren’t contradicting or causing problems for each other. This collaboration began to grow more intricate, and in time, the three different titles began to function almost as one. Stories that began in Adventures of Superman one week would continue in Action Comics the week after. Before long a fourth title was added, Superman: The Man of Steel, so that there were four monthly Superman books that worked almost as a single weekly title. Then someone noticed that 4×12=48, but there were 52 weeks in a year, so a fifth title (Superman: The Man of Tomorrow) was added to fill in the extra gaps. At some point, DC started to put a triangle on the cover of each issue demonstrating which week of the year it was to help readers keep track of what order the books went in, thus the “Triangle Era” was born.

The weekly nature of the serial was a great concept. Knowing that there would be a new chapter of an ongoing storyline each and every week forged hardcore loyalty and created a devoted fanbase that still exists today. What’s more, although the main story was ongoing, each individual series had its own subplots that made it stand out. Adventures, for example, was more often going to deal with the mad scientists of Project: Cadmus, while Man of Steel devoted time to a story about an orphanage and a young child who would eventually be adopted by Perry White. The books were part of a larger whole, but still had their own flavor and identity.

The Triangle Era lasted over ten years, but those early days happened just as I started reading the books and featured many of the writers, artists, and storylines that are still most dear to me: Lois learning Clark’s double identity, their engagement and marriage, the somewhat vindicated-by-history era of Superman Blue/Superman Red, the classic “Panic in the Sky” storyline, and of course, the legendary Death and Return of Superman were all products of the Triangle Era. Like all comfort media, part of my love for these books is no doubt because these were the comics I read in my formative years. But there’s also the fact that, for a very long time, these comic books were just really good. The world of Superman, which had not-undeservedly been called stale and out of date a decade earlier, was suddenly energetic, exciting, and full of new characters, concepts, heroes, and villains. Many people have made Superman comics over the years, but Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Roger Stern, Bob McCleod, Jerry Ordway, Tom Grummett, Louise Simonson, and Jon Bogdanove remain the gold standard in my mind.

As the song goes, these are a few of my favorite things. These are stories, characters, and worlds that I never grow tired of. These are the things that mean something to me, things I flat-out refuse to let go of, things that come together and help make me who I am.

So what are yours?

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. He bets you thought he was kidding about Zombie Hamlet, didn’t you?

Pictured: the career worth leaving Cheers for.

Geek Punditry #5: Fandom: Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

I set a goal for myself about a month ago, to use this new Geek Punditry column to get back to writing about the movies, books, TV shows, and comics that I love. I felt like spending time on those things that bring me joy would reignite my writing chops and, just a month in, I feel like I’ve been successful. I’m looking forward to writing this each week. I’m excited to write this each week. But as early as week 3, my focus began to shift. What started as a celebration of things I love has already evolved, with the past two installments focusing on problems that I think need to be addressed. I bring this up because I’m going to do the same thing this week. I’m going to point out a problem that I think is perhaps the most insidious in all of pop culture. I mean, of course, fandom.

The Antichrist, according to Reddit User u/DeeSeeBlows42069

Earlier this week, James Gunn released a video announcing the new plans for the reinvention of the DC Universe in movies and television, and when I heard the news, that’s what I thought I would be writing about today. I figured I’d give you my feelings on what he has in the works for Superman, for Green Lantern, for Booster Gold (Booster freakin’ Gold!) and tell you why I’m excited and optimistic about it. But within hours, the excitement I felt was already being chipped away by people who, if you asked them to their face, would claim to love the very things they had begun whining about. But for people who say they’re acting out of love, their words painted another picture – venomous, vitriolic, and sometimes just plain nasty. Fans can be great, but every time a new movie is released, a new comic book creative team is announced, a new television series premieres, it becomes more and more clear that fandom can be absolutely toxic.

I’m not saying that criticism is bad. In times past, criticism itself was a legitimate form of literary discourse. But that was reasoned criticism, informed criticism. What we get today is a knee-jerk reaction that declares everything is terrible before it even sees the light of day, souring the joy for everybody. One need only look on any social media outlet, any of hundreds of Reddit pages, and one will find post after post, meme after meme, of people railing in anger against something they have not even seen. In fact, for the most part it’s criticism of things that do not yet exist. And while it’s true that the other extreme also exists – people who are happy about things they have not seen – that other extreme is a minority, and seems to me to be far healthier and joyful (or at the very least less pessimistic) and therefore is the side I would prefer to join.

Not pictured: A film that should be used as a medieval torture device.

Social media allows for no nuance, though. Everything is either the greatest thing ever made or (far more often) the worst thing ever made, with no degrees in-between. Last year’s Morbius movie is a good example of this. The film underperformed badly at the box office, even after a meme-inspired rerelease, and it has become a punchline. But this damage was not done by people who had watched the movie. The internet declared the film a failure long before its release – online hatred of Jared Leto combined with several COVID-related delays seemed to doom it before a single frame was released to the public. When I finally watched the movie, my response was, “That was okay.” It isn’t great, mind you, but it’s okay. Jared Leto is all right, Matt Smith seems to be having fun playing the bad guy, and the vampire effects – I’ll say it – were actually pretty impressive. But if you mention the title on Facebook you’ll get an avalanche of “IT’S MORBIN’ TIME!” posts and people slandering the movie, most of whom have never even watched it.

People who delight in someone else’s failure are nothing new, of course. It’s good old-fashioned schadenfreude (and thank the Germans for having an appropriate word for this), it’s as old as civilization itself, but the internet has given it voice that it didn’t have in ages past. The insidious thing is that this voice is not simply celebrating failure, but generating it. What’s worse, as the louder voices on the internet start to pretend that volume is consensus, too many people are starting to accept consensus as fact. I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard a few months ago between two of my high school students about the most recent Halloween movie. One student was declaring, in much the same voice you or I might use to declare that the bathroom is down the hall to the left, “It sucks. He’s barely in it.”

“Have you seen it?”

“No, but everyone says so.”

You’re not allowed to shout at your high school students for their opinions about movies. I looked it up.

Full disclosure: I didn’t particularly care for Halloween Ends, but A) my issues with it had nothing to do with the number of minutes Michael Myers appeared on screen, and B) I formed that opinion after watching the movie myself. 

This phenomenon is perpetuated online thanks to sites like Rotten Tomatoes, which is a brilliant example of a good idea gone horribly wrong. Rotten Tomatoes gives a movie two scores: a percentage based on film critic scores and the percentage based on viewer scores. The site has no authority, no personal judgment inherent in its functionality, but people have begun using that algorithm-generated number as if it were some sort of benchmark of quality. I can’t say this often enough, my friends: consensus does not equal quality

How many movie trailers have you seen declaring a movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score the way they used to tell us that Siskel and Ebert gave a movie two thumbs up? The difference is that Gene and Roger were actual critics, people who watched a movie first and then gave intelligent, nuanced critiques of the film. If they gave a movie a thumbs-down, they could explain to you why they disliked it. But if a movie gets a 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, all that means is that only 35 percent of the trolls on the internet had something positive to say. When I hear that number, the only response that makes sense to me is, “SO WHAT?” I accept the numbers as a consensus of the people who have posted to Rotten Tomatoes, but why in the hell should I care what they have to say? I disagree with random people all the time. I disagree with professional critics even more. Why should I accept their numbers instead of forming my own opinion? When they started to tease the upcoming announcement of a film’s Rotten Tomatoes score, I thought my brain was going to explode and squirt out of my ears like a Looney Tunes character, who would then get anxiety over its own upcoming Rotten Tomatoes score. 

I’m telling you, it’s okay with me if you like this movie.

And you know, I wanted to like Halloween Ends. I’ve never understood the concept of “hate-watching.” There are so many things I want to watch that I know it’ll be impossible to get to them all – why should I waste time watching something I expect to dislike? Will it happen sometimes? Of course. But that’s not my goal. And more importantly, if I decide not to watch something because I expect to dislike it, I don’t declare it bad, I declare it unseen. For instance: I didn’t care for the first James Cameron Avatar movie. (Yes, I know, it made all the money. I don’t care. Consensus does not equal quality, remember?) Because I didn’t care for the first one, I haven’t watched the second. So here’s a pop quiz: when someone asks me about Avatar: The Way of Water, what is the correct way for me to reply?

A: It sucks, James Cameron sucks, water sucks, everyone sucks.

B: I haven’t seen it.

If you answered “A,” please disconnect all of your devices from the internet immediately and never talk to anyone again.

The other thing that stokes this particular flame is an “us vs. them” mentality that pervades the internet. It’s as though if you’re a fan of Property A, you are beholden via blood oath to despise everything associated with Property B. You must hate the movies, you must hate the books, you must hate the fans, and if an actor happens to jump from one to the other they are a traitor and must be dealt with possibly with bamboo shoots no later than Tuesday afternoon

My God, is there any attitude in fandom stupider than that one?

Superman is my favorite superhero. He’s a DC character. Somehow that means I’m not allowed to say how great Spider-Man: No Way Home is? If I love Star Trek, is it a betrayal to express joy for The Mandalorian? If I’m a fan of Lord of the Rings, I have to hate Wheel of Time?

Shut up.

Pictured: Fandom

Storytelling isn’t sports. When I’m watching the New Orleans Saints play the Atlanta Falcons, the nature of sports means that I want one team to win and one team to lose. This is normal. But that same rule does not apply to movies, to TV shows, to books, to comics. In sports, somebody is gonna lose, but in storytelling, everyone can win. When I say that I want James Gunn’s Superman: Legacy to be a blockbuster movie, that is not the same thing as saying I hope Captain America: New World Order is a disaster. I firmly believe that great art of any kind will inspire great art from others, and that when one franchise I love is enjoying success it’s not an obstacle to anybody else. If anything, it’s a carrot to lure them to be better themselves. I think the people who make these properties understand this. It’s very common to see actors, directors, writers, or artists jump back and forth between publishers and studios and IPs and have positive things to say about all of them. It’s only the fans that view it as a competition. (Well, the fans and the corporate executives, but that’s a whole other conversation.)

This is not to say I’m blameless in this, of course. I certainly shared my criticisms of the original Avatar online, and lord knows I posted a “Morbin’ Time” meme or two, but as fandom has grown more toxic I’ve made a deliberate effort to pull back on that sort of thing. I’ve never been the sort of person who would get on Twitter and threaten an actor because I didn’t like a movie they were in, but I realize now that in the current internet climate even well-meaning criticism may sometimes give fuel to that sort of horrific person, and I don’t want to do that. The point of Geek Punditry is to talk about things I love, not things I hate. 

I’m not saying not to criticize. I’m just asking that criticism be informed, that it be based on the work itself and not because you hate somebody’s previous movie or because you’ve chosen lines in a meaningless civil war. And most importantly, that it be respectful, both to the people you disagree with and to those whose work you are criticizing. Nobody intentionally makes a bad movie, with the possible exception of the Sharknado franchise, so even if you don’t like the work, give credit for the effort that went into it. The only people who lose when you speak respectfully are the people who refuse to speak respectfully.

And go ahead and be respectful to them, too.

Drives ‘em crazy. 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure seriesOther People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. If, at any point during this column, you thought to yourself, “Blake is talking about THOSE people,” that probably means he’s talking about YOU.