AEL: Rogue to Redemption, The Burning Maze, The Road to Oz, Bad Blood

Hero U: Rogue to Redemption — OK, let’s talk about me and my ADHD and video games for a second. Games that have both the type of gameplay and the type of story/setup that can hold my attention sufficiently that I’m actually willing to play them long-term are incredibly few, and for me to get all the way through a game to its actual ending is the rarest delicacy in all the land. Even games I enjoy, I tend to play for a while and then leave satisfied without ever finishing; but it’s far more common for me not even to enjoy them in the first place. I just don’t have the personality or brain chemistry to be a proper gamer.

And that, of course, makes me a truly dreadful beta tester.

Along with a bazillion other people, I’ve been waiting for this game for a bazillion years after having pledged to two different Kickstarter campaigns to help them make it. And by “them” I mean, of course, “the creators of Quest for Glory, some of my favorite video games of all time.” So it was exciting when the beta version came out and I was finally able to get my hands on it.

Except that after playing for a couple of hours, when I shut down the game, I found I had ABSOLUTELY ZERO INTEREST in ever opening it again. This was several weeks ago now, and in fact I haven’t even given a thought to it since then. Which is a shame considering how long I waited for it, its antecedents, and the fact that I found it visually appealing and liked the user interface.

I don’t know it it’s my aforementioned natural deficiency as a gamer that caused my staggering lack of interest in this game, or that in the time I spent playing it I found the characters uninteresting or even unlikable, the story progression nonexistent and what I’d encountered so far very boring, and the world of the game unremarkable and uncompelling.

There was also a feeling that everything I’ve ever disliked about QfG was present in spades without any of the interest or charm that I enjoy in that series (in particular a barrage of unfunny attempts at humor in every. single. description. or interaction. onscreen). The whole atmosphere of the game felt extremely dated, as if the creators had learned nothing from their previous projects, made zero progress as people, and were creating a game with a modern engine but as if they were stuck 25 years in the past.

So that was a disappointment. But what can you do? The phenomenon described above renders me less susceptible to that feeling regarding video games than other media; of course it’s still sad, but it affects me less personally than it would if it were, say, a novel.

The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan — I enjoyed this as I enjoy every book in this universe, but it wasn’t a standout hit for me and I don’t have much to say about it. Here are some random thoughts.

Meg McCaffrey is still a gift, embodying many traits that female characters so often aren’t allowed to have. Piper’s reasoning behind breaking up with Jason was 100% sound, but in a narrative sense it seemed kindof odd to have that happen offscreen and then they appear and then Jason dies all in a row. Jason’s death didn’t affect me much; he’s always been the least interesting of the main characters. I really like the idea of an oracle that speaks in crossword puzzle. The End.

The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum — Everyone is “chubby” in this book, but at least there’s no fat-shaming. It’s just a little strange that he doubled down on that adjective this time around.

This book is a very short one (even for the Oz series), and not so dreadfully retconny as some of the others. Possibly because it doesn’t have time to be. It’s got plenty of time to be extremely random-encountery, though.

So dudes in this series are made of cloth and straw and tin and copper, and are painted and buffed and bulbous and shaggy and wizened and fat and thin. But female characters are all delicate and beautiful and slender, with only a few exceptions (who are mostly animals). It’s more than a little distressing.

For years I’ve been searching for a name for a phenomenon I often encounter in literary criticism (and sometimes, as here, within a story itself), and I think now’s as good a time as any to make up a name I can use in AEL’s. Sometimes a situation in a story, deliberately or inadvertently, forms a metaphor for a situation in real life. And sometimes someone (usually a critic outside the work, but occasionally, as aforementioned, an actual character within it) will apply the metaphorical interpretation to the literal events of the story, resulting in often very unfair and unreasonable criticism or demands leveled at characters.

Some examples. The “cure” for mutation in X3: The Last Stand is seen by many as a metaphor for gay conversion therapy. In the literal story, Rogue has a mutation that makes her unable to touch other people without killing them. For her to accept the “cure” is not the same as for a gay person to accept gay conversion therapy — it’s a very reasonable and understandable acceptance of an actual cure (even if it doesn’t turn out to be as permanent as she would like) for an actually dangerous and miserable condition — and to get angry at the character and say she made a bad choice is simply bad criticism.

And in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s decision to become human to be with Eric is read by many as a metaphor for plastic surgery or other physical or superficial changes women make to themselves in order to become more attractive for men. In the literal story, however, Ariel is a different species required to live in a entirely different biome from the man she loves.

Setting aside for now exactly how deeply she can possibly love a man she hasn’t technically ever had a conversation with, it’s entirely reasonable for one of them to change species so they can be together. And given that she has an ongoing fascination with and longing for humanity predating and unrelated to Eric to give her an additional incentive, it’s also entirely reasonable for her to be the one to make that change. To say that Ariel was at fault in this is, once again, bad criticism.

In either case, to say that the narrative is at fault for playing out a relevant metaphor badly or reinforcing harmful ideas with the story it tells is perfectly valid. My complaint really is just about how the criticism is framed. I think I’ll call it Not A Gay Cure when people apply the metaphorical interpretation to the literal situation.

So in this book, we meet a man the characters refer to as “the Musicker” since he never gives his actual name (if he has one). He sings, “My lungs are full of reeds like those / In organs, therefore I suppose, / If I breathe in or out my nose, / The reeds are bound to play. / So as I breathe to live, you know, / I squeeze out music as I go.”

The characters find the incessant music very annoying, and soon leave the Musicker behind. Later, at Ozma’s birthday party, it’s explained that she didn’t invite the Musicker for this very reason, and Ozma remarks, “When music is not very good, and is indulged in all the time, it is better that the performer should be alone.”

So… can I point out here that this guy cannot stop producing music or he will die? A general philosophy about the value of musical performance in society is one thing; someone that literally has no choice about the noises he makes in order to go about the ordinary business of living is entirely another. And y’all fuckers can’t put up with something annoying for the course of a single party, or even five fucking minutes, even though the guy can’t do a damn thing about it and is just living his natural existence? Fuck you.

And of course that’s absolutely typical Oz casual cruelty and another entry on the list of L. Frank Baum’s Terrible Messages To Send To Children. Ozma is supposed to be extremely kind and wise, but here we have her saying, “It’s better that this guy be completely shut off from normal society forever than that his natural functions should annoy us.”

Bad Blood — Baaaaaaatmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

So this movie had the same thing going on as Under the Red Hood — some really good animation that didn’t always mesh well with a lot of the computer stuff, but in general looked pretty great. And again, I accepted the voice cast but wasn’t hugely impressed by anyone. At least we managed to avoid badbutt dialogue in this one.

In many ways it was also like The Lego Batman Movie — this hideously lonely Bruce Wayne wearing an asshole facade (all right, it’s not entirely a facade), pretending he doesn’t need or want anyone in his life, being forced to fucking accept help and companionship and family — only serious instead of silly. I EAT THIS SHIT RIGHT UP, YO.

Of course the sad part is that, though Bruce is forced to accept some of that, he doesn’t learn nearly as much of a lesson as he needs to. Like, how to be less of an asshole. However, because this story was largely focused on the people around Batman (which was, I thought, an extremely interesting way to frame a Batman story), there may be more going on with him than we get to see. There may be hope for him yet. Still, it was kinda frustrating to see Dick being the one to have to give in and the first one to admit that they love and respect and need each other, because he has legitimate grievances.

Of course I loved every single moment Batwoman was on the screen. I thought we got introduced to her a little more than we needed to, though… I mean, I loved seeing it, but it seemed imbalanced when the narrative assumed we knew Damian and Luke but felt the need to build Kate from the ground up.

I loved watching Damian’s moral struggle. What a cutie. Loved watching this makeshift family come together and the implication that they’re really going to stick together from here on out (even though this kind of thing really isn’t Kate’s style). But BARBARA AT THE END YOU FUCKING TEASES?!?

Anyway, you know what else I eat up? Talking someone out of brainwashing. Loving someone out of brainwashing. GAH that is the best trope.

Alfred? What a supreme badass. Geez. I love him so much.

And the Mad Hatter’s design here was superb! I loved his entire involvement in the story, and I really dig these stand-alone stories that allow characters to suffer actual death.

In general I thought the story was pretty tight, though at the beginning there was the implication that street gangs and smaller-scale crime than “brainwashing world leaders and taking over everything” was going to be more important than it was. Also, there were hints of Justice-League-style happenings near the end that never followed through, and in the current climate of my heart that couldn’t but disappoint.

Still, I really enjoyed this movie.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov — I love this book because of the prose, and for no other reason. Sure, Humbert as a character and the story as a playout of his monstrosity may be an interesting study, but it’s too horrifying and real to form the draw here. Nabokov’s prose is what makes this rapey rape book worth reading. And rereading. And rereading over and over and over.

To be honest, as sacrilegious as it feels to say, I think Nabokov may have surpassed Poe (by whom he was so obviously inspired) in the brilliance of his prose. It’s overwhelming to read this book; the construction of each sentence and each passage and the work as a whole is so nearly flawless it takes my breath away.

P.S. The debate over whether Humbert is to any extent a victim of a scheming Lo is PURE RAPE CULTURE. Any critic tempted to tread that path should rethink their life.

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