Friday, January 17, 2014

Agents Of Shield - is it the show, or the writing?






Make mine Marvel. That's how I grew up, reading Spider-man, Captain America, The Avengers, some Hulk, GIJoe, The Fantastic Four and a smattering of others. In fact, this movie renaissance of super-heroes, predominantly Marvel superheroes, is just great. I'm at an age where I'm not inclined to subscribe to and read comics month after month. So, the movies give me that fix. Marvel has even linked it's "universe" together like they did in the comics, so each movie sort of ties into the others (the way the mags did!).

With the announcement of Agents Of Shield, with Joss Whedon at the helm, I couldn't wait. For the uninitiated, Shield is a government agency akin to the CIA, NSA and FBI all combined. With a bit more than a touch of James Bond high-tech gadgets thrown in for good measure. This "spy" organization had secret walls down blind alleys that would open with a password and massive machinery that would fly over the cities, monitoring all nefarious plotters scheming world domination.

And of course, these spies wore skin tight 'tards, gun belts, head-gear in some cases, and had a boss who chomped on a cigar and wore an eye-patch. What more could you want?

The movie versions of the heroes have all come off without a hitch. Even Thor, which I thought would be the most difficult character, was surprisingly .... great!

Nick Fury, however, just leaves me cold. Samuel Jackson is a fine actor. But, a bit corny. Particularly when he told Tony Stark, "I've got my EYE on you!" Gag!

His turn in the Avengers, though, didn't ruin the movie. I would have preferred a Mel Gibson or someone like him playing the traditional Nick from the comics that I read as a kid. Or, if they're going with the new version, get someone more seasoned, like Danny Glover or fierce like Sidney Poitier. Or even Denzel Washington. He would have come across far more believable and intimidating than Mr. Jackson. But, I digress.

Getting to Agents of Shield, I was excited. And then I was somewhat let down.

Joss did fantastic with Firefly and Dollhouse. Both for different reasons. But Agents of Shield just felt as flat as a video game. Joss said the show wouldn't be like, "Hey, you just missed Tony Stark who was here five minutes ago." But that's how the show felt at first.

It's improved a little. But, I'm not sure if that improvement is just by comparison with how horribly it started.

And I'm not sure if it's the writing or the characters. I've been watching Chuck on Netflix. And I keep thinking, Adam Baldwin should be in Agents of Shield! Interestingly, he was a great part of Firefly! He was pretty smoldering in The X-Files, too. He'd kick the pants off the pantywaiste "agent" they have training Skye.

Fitz and Simmons. Gag! They should die on the show and pave the way for one interesting character. The writers try to make us care about them, but they fail. They're sort of mildly like Jar-Jar Binks. Not a compliment.

So, what, in addition to giving Adam Baldwin a role as the agent on the team, would help this show from its "hey, look, we're referencing Marvel movies" platform? Have Agent Coulson get into some serious trouble. No one really cares about the team. He's the emotional connection to the show. Have him be abandoned by the team. Or leave the team going rogue. Build on something like that.

Tension. Not the high-school or Jr. High kind. What do these characters want? Oh, aside from the pampered model wanting to know who her parents are. Boo hoo.

Look at what the writers did in 24. If a couple is in love and about to get married, just let everyone know, etc. You had a feeling one of them would be killed that day. Or tortured by their lover, in fact. Basically, set up the hopes and aspirations, then tear them apart. to that point, we don't know what these characters' hopes and aspirations are. And don't really care. In Dollhouse, we did. And we cared. In Firefly, we did. And we cared.

I think that despite their hope to keep the show independent from the movies, someone has seen it as one long commercial for the upcoming Marvel/Disney movies. This is to the show's detriment. It all boils down to good story-telling and compelling characters. In fact, one ensures the other. A good story will, by necessity, have compelling characters.

So far, Agents of Shield doesn't showcase either one.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I Saw Her Standing There




Before she ever slipped though the ferns, before he suspected anything was wrong, a chill swept through his lush paradise, like a looming thunderhead, bloated with sudden menace. Like the clammy calm that drapes the plain before a storm, placidity charged the air. 
 
With sickness rising in his throat, he spun, in careful analysis of the surrounding creation. A lavish, broad-leafed tree, heavy with succulent, red fruit swayed under a peaceful breeze. Beneath it, vibrant, black loam sprouted tender, green shoots, breathing out a summer musk. Behind him, a spire of granite, pregnant with glistening minerals cast down a torrent of crystal water, foaming white on the surface of the glassy blue pool below. 
 
A deer pranced by, then a bear cub tumbled around a rock, chewing on a leaf. Then, another creature crept by, an enormous serpent, its girth the size of a mature oak tree's trunk. Its color shifted, adjusting to the leaves, grass, flowers and fruit against which it rubbed. It's eyes were half-lidded and its tongue slithered out and in like an obscene, pink proboscis. The reptile's exhale puffed hot against the foliage, fluttering the leaves. It moved on, adjusting its pigment from green to red to purple to brown, its thick legs and grasping toes imprinting the dirt with twisted star shapes and ripping young grass away from the earth. 
 
Adam regarded the snake warily, unsettled by its company, though he couldn't fathom why. He'd named that kind, he'd seen scores of them. But none like that. While there wasn't a plant, fruit, animal or insect he didn't know, this one's spirit emitted an alien scent; a redolence of the icy doom that had so recently infected the world around him. 
 
In an instant, his mind assessed the millions of tiny changes he'd witnessed in the last minute. The sky had taken on a darker hue, the leaves had turned up, revealing their silver underbelly, creation sunk beneath a weight, like a small animal cowering from a predator. 
 
That thought held his attention. Death. That's what gave birth to cowering and fear. No predator's existed. Not here. Not in the land created by Father. Leaving his perch on a mossy rock, Adam leapt down next to the deer, petting its flank. It remained unaware of the approaching ruin. All the better. This creature, one of the mute, would do well not to be concerned. To the bear, Adam bent low and looked in its eyes. 
 
“Hi,” the bear said. It was young and couldn't say much more than that. 
 
Adam smiled and rubbed the bear's left ear, “Hi, little bear. Things will be okay.” 
 
“Okay,” the bear said before trundling off with a long, green stem between its teeth. 
 
Standing with the waterfall thundering behind him, Adam tread underneath the canopy of trees, closer to the center of the garden. Here the earth rolled down in soft soil and the grass and ferns emitted a fragrance rich and sweet. Bees hummed about their nest and the flutter of bluebirds thrummed the air. Nectar-rich flowers rejoiced in every clearing, basking in the dappled, sun-lit day. 
 
There. Something moved. Not far from the cluster of trees from which two ascended more prominent than the others. Within the grove stood the one he cherished, the one made from him and for him. His flesh! With her he could ramble on for hours, discussing the complex alignment of planets and the composition of the stars and their cold fusion properties. Lying with her, the fathomless expanse of heaven stretched out in resplendent glory, and the warmth of her tender hand traveled up his arm and into his chest. The vibrant splendor of the roses in all their layered fragrance could not excite him more than her infectious smile. His ears never tired of the musical notes rung from the pristine instrument of her voice. Her songs made the angels groan in envy of such eloquent crooning. When they performed harmony, the beasts would gather and sway in cadence with their rhythm. 
 
Yet, with her shadow in view, terror gripped his heart, followed by a hollow void that bent him low and stabbed his heart with bitter loss. Holding out his hand, reaching for his bride, he longed for the one he felt no longer wanted him, the one who no longer craved his touch. The song, if she sang, would warble in dissonant, flat and broken, painful notes. Despite the intense, blue sky above, Adam's world felt flat, gray and lifeless. 
 
Then, creeping forth from the cover of a weeping willow, he saw her standing there, arms slack at her side, holding a dripping fruit in her right hand. With precision, his eyes absorbed each detail, no clearer than if it were being etched on the tablet of his mind. Animals fled to the hills and a murder of crows cried out as they burst to flight. The once gentle breeze shook the trees and trampled the grass, raw and biting. 
 
“Adam,” she said, her voice droning, disinterested. 
 
A sob escaped him, and tears welled up, burning his eyes. The heaving agony in his breast had never before coursed through his body. 
 
“Eve!” he bellowed, falling to his knees, the wind tousling his hair and drying the tears on his face.
She sauntered forward, swaying salaciously, her arms swinging listlessly at her side, her breasts dripping with a dark sap. Whatever it was, it covered her skin like a vicious splatter, its rivulets slipping down her hips and around her legs to her feet. She looked as if she were wrapped with the thinnest tendrils of a black squid. Her hair hung matted, wet and knotted. From beneath the strands, her eyes glared out at Adam, filled with bitter envy, and lascivious delight. 
 
“Come here, Adam,” she said, her words laced with contempt. “You've gotta try this.” 
 
Adam looked at her hand as she raised a mushy lump that dripped the oozing, black ichor. 
 
“Your God … He didn't want us to have this. Wanted to keep it for Himself. And so He lied to us.” 
 
“What are you talking about, Eve?! Who told you that?” 
 
“He said we'd die if we ate it. But look at me,” she shuffled out into full sunlight, raising her arms and exposing her naked body to the full light of day, complete with the sanguine gore that mottled her skin. “Not dead, Adam!” Shrill laughter cackled from her once lovely mouth, a full-throated, sardonic mockery. 
 
Adam buried his face in his hands, wishing he could undo what had been done. Wishing he could reverse the death that now ravaged his wife. Wishing she could once more be his flesh, united! Wracked with such swirling, painful thoughts, he howled in agony, raising his hands to heaven. And in that moment, he knew what that serpent had done. Passing him by, taunting him, it had leered as if in victory, having separated him from his wife!
Gazing down at Eve, her very form a blasphemy now, he knew what choice he had. If his eyes could no longer behold his wife, if he couldn't change her back, he needed to change with her. He wouldn't be apart from his companion, his soul-mate, his very flesh. He wouldn't step back and surrender her to God's wrath alone. If she was to face God, he would join her. 
 
Standing once more, Adam strode down the hill, wincing as he saw the eager lips that had once been so tender. Taking the sodden, fruit from her hand, seeing it suddenly as a tempting, ripe bite of nourishment, he took and he ate, its sultry fructose-rich fluid spurting from beneath its thick, dark skin and dribbling down his chin. In that moment, a ravenous hunger sunk its talons in Adam's heart and he gorged on the fruit, giving more back to Eve. Together they sprawled in the tall grass, their nimble minds devising all manner of things to do with each other, seeing the other as a thing, a tool, not a person, not an image bearer of God. 
 
The sun beat down on them as they acted out in full view of their Father and they thrilled at the thought of breaking away, of taking the world for themselves, of scoffing at the death that hadn't come. 
 
Then, in drunken stupor, as the sun cast longer shadows and the wind died down and the atmosphere blossomed with color, Adam looked at Eve. Her body, smeared and sticky, mottled and filthy from wallowing in the dirt, repulsed him. 
 
“What did you do to me?” she groaned. “What did you do?” 
 
Indignation flushed his face and Adam raised his hand to slap her, stopping at the last minute, something holding him back. He remembered what she'd been before. “You! You gave me the fruit,” he hissed. “So don't look at me like that. This was you! Your fault!” 
 
Cowering beneath the shadow of his fist, her eyes filled with fear. Then tears rolled down her face.
“We need to wash,” Adam said, lowering his hand, hating himself and feeling sick with remorse. 
 
Together they crept up the hill, uncertain and startled by the world around them, cutting their feet on rocks, bleeding from the chaffing wounds. When they reached the pool, the deer's head sprung up, startled. It fled, leaping over rocks and bounding back into the trees. After cleaning the sap, which took longer than they'd imagined, Adam found large leaves and broke them from the tree. Using blades of grass, braiding them for strength, he wove the leaves together and covered his body, giving Eve a covering for hers, too. While they draped the foliage around them, they stole quick, nervous glances at one another, looking away before one noticed the other. 
 
Then, as twilight bled on the horizon and the first stars poked out in the velvet, blue sky, They both ducked low, brimming with terror and hustled behind the rocks, looking for darkness in which to hide.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Spiritual Warfare

What do you think of when you hear the term, "spiritual warfare?" I suppose, in the context of movies or novels, I think of supernatural beings battling it out with our necks on the line. I think of books like Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness where angels and demons fought over living souls while Christians prayed.

But I wonder if those stories dismiss the more real, present and insidious warfare that takes place every day.

I wrote The Fold, to explore how wolves, in the metaphorical sense, creep into churches and entice us at our most primal, fleshly level to leave a humble faith. When a pastor listens to his ego and starts thinking of the congregation as "his followers" instead of the disciples of Christ, that's at the heart of the spiritual war. At times where a husband stands up arrogantly to his wife and asserts his authority from scripture, instead of emptying himself in love after the pattern of Christ, that, too, is a battleground of fierce fighting.

Maybe we prefer to think of the evil that happens in the corridors of power because it's farther removed. We can sit back and assess the state of the world and decry its decline, ignoring the skirmishes and struggles we surrender to each day.

I think our spiritual war, which stems from our sin nature of self-destructing lust and pleasure-seeking, acts like a virus against which there is only one cure. I explored this in my novella, RESISTANCE. So many people, even the ones who know they're sick, don't want a cure. And those of us who have the cure, for some reason, yearn for the sickness again.

It's perverse, this spiritual war.

But the good news is that the outcome is set. God is sovereign and works through the depravity like a chess master works through every move of a skilled opponent so that the moves actually advance his purpose. I deal with this masterful plan in my thriller, The Next Chapter.

I believe that one day, the war will be over. The Lord will return in triumph, as I depict in The Last Christmas. At that point, there will be no more war. And no more tears.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Welcome to 2014!

New Year's Eve is over. I woke up after eating all sorts of unhealthy food and depriving myself of sleep. I'm not sure why people do this. That said, there are many times throughout the year that my wife and I end up ringing in the next day, eating too many snacks and ... it's about the same result. We wake up bleary eyed and life goes on.

But there's something neat about a NEW YEAR. I like the idea of starting fresh. There seems to be an amount of baggage we carry with us throughout the year that just needs to go. Kind of like spring cleaning, but more of a mental sort.

I think about the ways I've felt irritated about ...stuff. Or the feelings that creep in where I don't feel I'm "getting my due." All those little disappointments that drip into our hours, days and weeks. They leave me in need of a fresh start. I want to make a new day, start on a clean slate.

So, we party like it's 2014 and ring in the New Year, putting to bed the trials that were, celebrating the good things that happened and look forward to doing things better in the year to come.

To that end, I'm making some changes. Sure, I'll keep exercising and watch what I eat a bit more. But I'm thinking more about those irritations that seep in. I plan to work on giving more grace to those around me. Counting to ten before replying more often (as needed). Thinking the best of any situation. And when that's not possible, asking myself how I can make it better.

I don't plan on getting into arguments about disagreements. I've yet to see anyone, myself included, win an argument. I don't plan on worrying about the political climate. Or the religious one. I trust in One who is in control and He doesn't need my personal think tank.

That will be my start for this New Year.