Overthinking

Ah, overthinking, the bane of those with depression and anxiety disorders alike. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, overthinking has a specific meaning in this context; according to this article on PSYweb.com, “Overthinking is examining and reexamining negative emotions, thoughts, and memories. Both men and women can fall into a pattern of overthinking, although women tend to do it more often.” Basically, it’s going over and over the same thought, or series of thoughts, in your head until it starts to be all you can think about, and it can be really difficult to break out of.

I can relate right now, because I have about five different things in my head currently vying for Chief Overthinking Topic. The current frontrunner is one that has repeated frequently over the years, and basically revolves around my inability to have a successful romantic relationship; the two times I’ve seriously tried, I failed, and only one of those women will still speak to me, and then there’s the woman I had a huge crush on in (English) grad school, and my completely-out-of-my-league celebrity crush… there’s a lot of wondering if I do this to myself because I don’t feel I’m worthy or deserving of a relationship, or I just don’t appeal to women, and left unchecked, it can very easily keep me up at night wondering where I went wrong.

Along with that beauty of a thought process, we have “What am I doing with my life”, “Why do I feel haunted by the memory of the friend I lost”, Am I tormenting myself with emotional videos I find, or are I just re-learning how to feel after nearly two decades of emotional repression”, and other such hits. Yeah, looking at these, any one of them could easily tie up my entire brain for hours, if not days, and would almost certainly leave me feeling miserable, depressed, alone, and useless. Since I can really do without feeling like that, I have to find ways to distract myself from those thoughts until the bouncer in the nightclub that is my brain (yes, it’s a weird analogy, sue me) decides they’re disturbing the other customers and kicks them out – at least, until the next time they come around. So, how do I do that?

Well, doing this helps. I find that being able to get my thoughts out of my head and onto some other medium, even if it does sometimes come across as nonsensical or stream-of-consciousness, can help to clear out some of the really annoying stuff going on in my head. Knowing that other people might read this, and may even feel like commenting on it (seriously, I don’t bite… well, not unless I’m drinking, but I haven’t had a drink in going on 4 years) helps to focus my mind, and keep the nagging perils of the thoughts I tend to overthink at bay. Finding a good TV show or video game helps, too, especially if it’s one that really draws me in. This is, in part, why I may often seem a little obsessed with things like Captain America, Game of Thrones, or RPGs – because they can get my attention and keep it, and I can much more easily talk about, say, movie Captain America versus comic Captain America, or the relative merits of a Daenerys/Tyrion ruling duo, or even what kind of RPG I would love to run (or play) in. Well, with other people, anyway. These topics are much more relatable than the screaming morass of lunacy that my mental illness can throw off. Most people (well, excepting my therapist, I suppose) don’t want to hear me whining about my nonexistent love life, but they are more than willing to go toe-to-toe with me on geek topics. So I get distracted, they get (hopefully) decent conversation, everyone wins.

For those of you unfortunate enough to be my friend on Facebook, this is often the reason behind a fair amount of the seemingly random stuff I can end up posting, whether it is a YouTube video, or a TV quote, or an article on TV/comics/RPGs; I’m just trying to distract my mind long enough to get the really unpleasant stuff, the stuff that can spin around in my head for days, trapping everything else like Odysseus between Scylla and Charybdis, out of my head for a while. It will probably come back later, but until then my mind will be a little less chaotic. I always enjoy engaging people, so if you want to respond to whatever I’m Facebooking, blogging, or Instagramming about, I will happily chat with you about whatever you’re responding to. It might even be helpful. But The responsibility of dealing with my overthinking is mine, so don’t ever feel like you have to take part in my own guerrilla war against my thoughts.

And with that, I’m out (for now).

Fire and Blood

Despite it being Suicide Awareness month, my story and experiences with suicide have been pretty well documented elsewhere on this blog. So instead I thought that today I would engage in some geekery.

For those of you who have been asleep for the past 6 years, Game of Thrones is A Thing. Based on the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series of books by George Returns. R. Martin, the TV series on HBO is enormously popular. In fact, at the Emmy Awards this past Sunday, it became the new record-holder for number of awards for a fictional show. The acting is great, the action is brutal, and the story is pretty captivating. So it is no surprise that I’m hooked. What may be a surprise is the character who has become my favorite – Daenerys Targaryen.

Daenerys is played by British actress Emilia Clarke, and so some of the appeal to me is her attractiveness – Esquire did declare her the series that woman in the world in 2015, after all. But there’s more to it than that, a lot more, so bear with me as I geek out about my favorite character. Warning: there will be spoilers for those of you (heathens!) Who have not seen all 6 seasons.

Daenerys is introduced to the viewer as a beautiful girl (she starts the series at age 15), but one who is meek, afraid, and controlled by her older brother. She doesn’t seem like she will last long in the world of Game of Thrones. Sure enough, we find that she and her brother are the last heirs of the Targaryen family, former royalty of Westeros, and have been on the run from the forces of the usurper essentially their entire lives. Viserys, Daenerys’ older brother, is angry and wants to retake the crown he sees as his – and is going to sell his sister as a bride to a Dothraki  (think fantasy Mongol) warlord in exchange for an army. Despite her objections, the marriage happens, and she is raped on her wedding night by a husband she cannot communicate with. Not a good start.

But rather than be broken by her situation, Daenerys flourishes. She throws herself into learning the language and customs of her husband, and while learning to be the new khaleesi  (basically a queen), she grows to love her husband, as he grows to love her. She becomes loved by her new people, which angers her brother, who impatiently wants his promised army. He tries to abuse his sister like he used to, only she has grown, and is no longer willing to be abused. Viserys’ impatience leads to his death, and Daenerys acquires his advisor, an exiled Knight from Westeros, as her own. Sadly, mistakes are made, resulting in the loss of Daenerys’ husband. Unborn son, and most of her followers, but when she walks into her husband’s funeral pyre, already lit, and is found naked – but otherwise unharmed- the next day, with three newly hatched dragons, we begin to realize that Daenerys is special.

Daenerys goes on to make her fair share of mistakes – much of season 2, for her, is continually making mistakes, whether through lack of knowledge or arrogance. But given the chance, she learns from her mistakes – she doesn’t approach Astapor in season 3 with the same arrogance she came to Qarth with, for example, and her plan to get an army of Unsullied soldiers – while rather ruthless – is pretty smart. Season 3 is pretty successful, for her – she gains an army, conquers several cities, and is in pretty good shape to continue further. And when season 4 rolls around, and she is confronted with the fact that, despite her high-minded attempt to eliminate slavery around the eponymous Slavers’ Bay that the people she deposes will retake power once she moves on, she decides that rather than return to Westeros to try to take the Iron Throne, she will instead work to fix her mistakes and ensure that the cities she conquers remain slavery-free. This takes her until the end of season 6, because even with an army and dragons, beating entrenched oppression is hard, but she does it.

Part of her strength is that she realizes there’s still a lot for her to learn, and so she listens to the people she surrounds herself with – and many of them are very good at what they do, though some are more trustworthy than others. It’s when she departs from this – when she decides that she knows best, like in Qarth in season 2, or Meereen in season 5 (after ejecting Jorah Mormont) – that she has the most trouble. But by the end of season 6, she has surrounded herself with brilliant advisors – the former spymaster of Westeros, Varys; the commander of her Unsullied army, Gray Worm; her talented translator, Missandei; and my second-favorite character, and brilliant mind in his own right, Tyrion Lannister. Alongside the enormous army she has gathered, this dream team is pretty well poised to conquer Westeros, by fire and blood. Oh, and she has three very large dragons.

There are a fair amount of nude scenes for Daenerys, to be sure, but I actually find most of them to be either uncomfortable or rather non-sexual. Every nude scene in season 1, for example, makes me feel kind of sick to my stomach, especially since I know that Emilia Clarke had rather strong reactions to doing those scenes. There are one or two more in seasons 2 and 3, but there’s nothing spectacular about them, it just seems like HBO was using nudity because it could. And her only nude scene since season 3 occurs in episode 4 of season 6, and it is far from sexual – it’s all about power. She burns an entire building full of Dothraki khals alive, with herself inside it, but she’s fireproof – so when she walks out, standing tall, naked but otherwise unharmed, the only survivor, the other Dothraki all bend the knee to her. She conquers them without ever lifting a sword or raising an army. In that scene, her nudity isn’t about being attractive, it’s about being threatening, and it works.

To me, she’s kind of an inspirational character. She’s not a (fictional) role model, like Captain America, but she has had to overcome a lot to get to where she ends season 6 – an abusive older brother; a not-terribly-nice husband, part of a not-terribly-friendly culture; moss of both a husband and a child; near-starvation; imprisonment (multiple times); and frequently, people questioning whether or not she can do what she sets out to do because she’s a girl. Granted, she does start the series at age 15, but she has done far more in 5 years than I have, at least on a purely physical level – from being a scared, abused, meek beggar princess to a queen surrounded by some of the finest minds we’ve seen, backed by an army at least 50,000 strong. She is the conqueror of the Bay of Dragons, the Mother of Dragons, Mhysa, khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea. She can be impulsive, and there are hints that she might have inherited some of the hereditary Targaryen mental instability, but she’s a fine example of a character who rises from an enormous disadvantage to a great position of power, and doesn’t have to sell her soul to do it.

Daenerys is strong; she took a situation that would have broken many people, and used it as an opportunity to become a ruler. She’s smart, and she is willing to listen to those around her – mostly – if they have ideas she hasn’t thought of. She can be ruthless; witness her treatment of the Dothraki khals or her dragon-riding exploits in season 6. But she can also be compassionate and charismatic – Yunkai citizens name her ‘Mhysa’ for a reason, after all. Despite never having picked up a weapon, she is poised, at the end of season 6, to attain her goal since the beginning, retaking the Iron Throne, and her chief competition – Cersei Lannister – has no idea how outgunned she is. Alongside characters like Arya and Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Olenna Tyrell, Daenerys has helped to make most of the show controlled by women, and I can’t see that as a bad thing. I look forward to the epic awesomeness to come in season 7 – though waiting until June is going to be hard.

Me Before You

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. Much of that has been being busy with school, and my new internship, but sometimes I just don’t particularly feel like giving others a look inside my head is a particularly smart thing to do. But right now I can’t sleep, and it’s partially because of the title, so let’s get to it, shall we?

I read the book, Me Before You, months ago – largely because I knew it was being made into a movie with an actress I really like (Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones). And I’ll be honest, it kind of messed me up. The general story of the book (and movie) is this – a handsome, intelligent, wealthy young man, Will Traynor, is in a terrible accident that leaves him almost totally paralyzed, but for his head and a finger and thumb. Unsurprisingly, he spirals into a deep depression, since his life falls apart. Enter Louisa Clark – a down-on-her-luck young woman who has recently lost her job, and sees the pay of being Will’s caretaker as a godsend for her and her family. She is bubbly (and a little bumbling), and he is generally a terrible ass, and then it comes out – he has tried to kill himself once since his accident, and is planning to do so, medically, in six months. Unbeknownst to Louisa, she has been hired, essentially, to try to convince him not to kill himself, and she very nearly quits when she finds out. But she starts to warm to Will, and he to her, and their six months together culminate in a Hail Mary of a shot – a beautiful vacation where Louisa finally, passionately, declares that over their time together she has fallen in love with Will, and she knows about his plans, but she wants him to live and be with her.

Will, sadly, never had any intention of being talked out of his plans. He knew Louisa was falling for him, and he for her, but he just can’t stand living like he is – a shadow of the man he used to be – and tells her that it just isn’t enough. Then he asks her if she’ll come and be with him while he dies. Which goes over about as well as you’d expect. Eventually the two do come together, and he does go through with his plans, and the book ends with her following some post-mortem advice from Will on how to try to move on. The book is far more nuanced than the movie, including several sub-plots the movie jettisons for time constraints, but Emilia Clarke is a perfect casting choice, but both the movie and book hit me right where it hurts, because I can see both sides of their doomed relationship.

Like I’ve talked about many times, I’ve been suicidal before; like Will, I planed my last attempt for months, though mine wasn’t essentially euthanasia. If you watch the movie or read the book and you can’t understand why Will, even when a beautiful, lively, fun woman is practically throwing herself at him, still decides to die, then you’ve probably never been depressed enough to try to kill yourself. The hopelessness, the emptiness, is so profound that it’s difficult to explain; there’s really nothing else in life I can compare it to. It does strange things to your mind, like convincing you that the rest of the world, and especially your loved ones, will be better off when you’re gone. So I can understand why he’d want to die; I don’t think it’s necessarily to do with his disability (the book has an extensive subplot where Louisa talks to other people with similar quadriplegic issues, and many of them are leading long, productive lives), but rather the depression that has come from no longer being able to be the person he sees himself as. In fact, if I, during my last period of serious depression, right before I tried to kill myself a second time, had been in the same situation as Will – with a woman like Louisa telling me she loved me, and begging me to at least try to live for her – God help me, I think I still would have tried to kill myself. So I understand where it comes from.

And, like Louisa, I’ve been on the receiving end of being told that my love was just not enough, and that’s a kind of pain they just don’t make a bandage for. It’s like having your heart ripped out and torn to pieces in front of your eyes, and there’s no salve for that, no magic pill or cure – just the slowly-fading ache of having been told that your love wasn’t enough for someone else, someone you trusted with one of the most vulnerable parts of you only to have them demolish it. I imagine the pain of this kind of rejection is something a lot more people, sadly, are familiar with, and the pain is no less real for being emotional – there’s just no blood to see, no wound to heal. I’ve lost a good friend to suicide, though not in a situation like Will’s, and the pain of that leaves scars on the heart that don’t heal easily or well. And I can only imagine the extra pain that comes when someone who has just rejected you then asks you to be with them when they die – not of some natural cause, but because they just can’t stand life anymore. I don’t know that I would have had the strength, the ability to forgive, or the willingness to help someone I loved die that Louisa shows, even knowing how badly it will likely mess her up.

I think both the book and the movie are worth seeing/reading, and the sequel to the book, cunningly titled After You, continues with Louisa’s efforts to recover from her time with Will. It’s also good, if hard to read, and I think that it’s largely because it’s marketed as romance (both the movie and book). While there is a romantic element to the story, I think it’s much more of a tragedy, because there are times when love can’t conquer all – when something like depression takes over and beats love bloody. It’s not a happy story, but it is one that I don’t think I’ll be able to forget anytime soon. And now that I’ve written this, maybe it will let me sleep.

Hero

If you really want to understand some of what drives me as a person, then this may be helpful – I really, desperately want to be a hero.

Captain_America_The_Chosen_6

The first time I can recall wanting to be a hero is when I was 8, or maybe 9 years old. I was writing an assignment for school – I forget what the assignment was, but I think it was something about our futures and where we saw ourselves. What I remember writing was an obituary, one that said I’d died protecting my wife and children from a criminal of some sort. That was what I wanted my legacy to be when I was 8 – that I’d given my life to protect the ones I love. I don’t know that I ever shared it with my parents, and I don’t know that they’d remember it even if I had – it was almost 30 years ago, after all. But that’s the first time I can recall wanting to be a hero.

Sturmsm

As time went on, my views of being a hero changed. When I was in my early teens, reading a lot of fantasy novels, and just beginning to play D&D, I wanted to be like the character I saw as my idol, a character in the original Dragonlance trilogy called Sturm Brightblade. Sturm was a knight – well, really, more like a squire, in an ancient knightly order, and also a part of a group of adventurers. Despite the Knights of Solamnia – the order he belonged to – being highly politicized and somewhat corrupt, he lived by the ancient principles of the order (a code by which, as a squire, he was not bound), and held himself to a high standard. In the second book ff the series, he gave his life to protect his friends, and to help them defeat a great enemy, and he is revered as a great hero by his order long afterwards. Sturm informed a lot of my early views of being a hero, including some of my interest in medieval history, literature, and, well, costuming.

Shepard

My views on heroes changed as I got older; I got to know characters like David Gemmell’s Druss, Beowulf, Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion, and comic characters like Superman, Captain America, and Cyclops. I kept playing RPGs, because it was the closest I would ever get to being able to do something like fight a dragon, or make a heroic sacrifice to save my friends, and to this day I still play them – and, in fact, in games where I have a choice between playing a good character or an evil one, I’ll almost always choose good – I’ve tried being a Dark Side Jedi in the Knights of the Old Republic computer game, and I felt guilty using force lightning on even fictional people.

Captainamerica

In fact, if you ever look around my apartment, there are reminders of my heroic fantasies all over the place – from the Captain America shield hanging on the wall, to the artwork of a man being knighted, to the replica medieval helmet sitting next to my bed; the shelves full of RPGs and fantasy novels, and the collection of Captain America memorabilia scattered all over the place. I even incorporate it into my workout regimen, as I noted in my previous post – I use a sword I originally bought for a swordfighting class at St. Louis University for some of my exercises, and the exercise routine I’m currently going through is called the Hero’s Journey – and I push myself harder than I otherwise would when, instead of just giving me a number of exercise sets to do, it tells me that doing them, even in-fiction, means I fight off a dragon, or save people from a burning village. Part of the reason I push myself as hard as I do is because I’d rather look more like Captain America when in costume than the guy who ate Captain America.

Queen_Guinevere

But at 36, as much as I’d really love to fight a dragon, or even just hold the door (and you Game of Thrones people know what I mean), I know that I’m never likely to do that. We don’t live in that kind of world. I’m going into social work because I want to be able to help people who have suffered from mental illness, and be an example to prove that even in the darkest moments, people aren’t alone. Even though I know I could not have stopped my friend Alice from dying, her death haunts me, and I know that I may have already done the most heroic thing I’ll ever do in helping another friend keep from committing suicide herself. My weapons won’t be a shield and sword, but knowledge and empathy (well, unless something really weird happens, in which case I’m prepared).

alice_v5gpsw

But that childhood urge to want to be a hero is still a part of what drives me. I tear up (and yeah, sometimes even cry) when I see heroic sacrifices on-screen; I’m not ashamed to say that recently I’ve shed a tear or two for Hodor and John Reese, who went out protecting the people they cared the most about. I’ll keep collecting Captain America memorabilia – and probably dressing up as Cap for conventions and Halloween, too. I don’t think I’ll ever get to fight a dragon, but I think that the desire to be a hero helps to push me to be better, go further, do more. And maybe someday, there will be people who look back and think that I was a part of what saved their lives. I think that’s a legacy I can live with.

Hi-Octane

I’m not sure why I chose that particular title for this blog post; it just felt right, I guess. It’s been about a month and a half since my last post on this blog, and probably a while before that post, too. I think a lot of it was that I didn’t feel I was getting anything from the blog anymore – my posts felt more negative than I wanted, and they encouraged commentary that, while well-meaning, did not feel particularly helpful. So, I took a break. I’m not sure when I’ll be posting here again after this; some of my creative impulse has been routed to my newer blog dedicated to reviewing comics-based media, called Crisis on Infinite Media. So this will be something of a data-dump for the last month and a half or so.

About halfway through April, I started feeling some pretty high-anxiety moments; I’d wake up after only a few hours of sleep, my body telling me that I needed to do something, but I didn’t know what. This isn’t new for me – as a student, that tends to be the signal that I’m ready to hammer out my final papers or projects for class. But usually, that takes place only a few days before the assignment is due (I do the research and other work beforehand, it’s just the writing that waits until later). So I was puzzled by this anxiety. After a few generally sleepless nights, I decided to try something out to alleviate my anxiety – exercise.

Those of you who may know me in real life are probably familiar with my general thoughts on exercise, and they don’t tend to be pleasant. I don’t know that I took pride in my sedentary lifestyle, but I certainly didn’t feel a huge need to change it, especially not if it involved intentionally causing myself pain. So, taking up exercise was a move from way out in left field for me. I started just by walking around my apartment complex – when my anxiety woke me up, I’d throw on shorts and a t-shirt and go walking, usually for about 30-45 minutes. I’d come back , somewhat more tired than I started, but my anxiety would have scaled back, so I started repeating this.

At the end of April, I ended my time working at a bookstore – at least on a regular basis – because my MSW courseload was increasing significantly in my next semester, and I felt I needed the time. Of course, in the short break between ending work and starting my next semester, I found myself with more free time than I was accustomed to. Also, oddly, the same anxiety, despite all my work being done. So, I added on some more exercise to my routine. And I noticed something weird – well, weird for me. I started feeling more awake, more alert, even – dare I say it? – more energetic. So I kept at it.

My new semester started, and with it, came a lot of work – I’m going from 2 courses a week in my previous semesters to 4 courses, and one of them has an expected 16 hours of weekly work to put in, to help prepare for a field placement internship in my 4th semester. I even had an interview for my first potential field placement, on literally my first day of class, which was high-anxiety for me. I felt it went pretty well, but they ended up deciding that I wasn’t a good fit for their program, so now the search continues for another placement opportunity.

What was weird was, while I was upset that I didn’t get it, I didn’t get depressed. I didn’t feel like somehow I’d totally screwed up and everything was wrong forever – and if you think that’s overstating a possible reaction, you’ve never met my depression. No, I just accepted that I wasn’t a good fit, and asked what to do next. This is a reaction that probably surprised some people – and I should know, because when I realized that it was happening, it surprised the hell out of me.Not only that – I’ve been a lot more active in other ways, too. While I’ve been a member of several online dating sites, I was very… let’s say reclusive. I didn’t send out many notes, and when I did send them out and got no reply, I would then desert the site for a month or so, sure that I’d never find someone willing to talk to me. Over the past few weeks, I’ve probably sent out 20-30 notes, and even had a lengthy e-mail exchange with one woman – which also turned out not to be a good fit, for either of us, but I didn’t freak out. I’ve joined a weekly online D&D game, and I’m looking to set up an in-person RPG group again.

Now, I have no idea if any – or all – of this is linked to exercise. I suspect at least some of it is, but my background in data and science is such that if I had to, as Matt Damon puts it in The Martian, science the shit out of something, I would die a horrible, unscienced death. But in case it does, and there are readers who are similarly sedentary, I’ll lay out what I’ve been doing and gradually adding to my routine.

First, most days I go out and walk – I try to do it early, but sometimes it ends up mid-afternoon – for about 45 minutes to an hour. I just walk around my apartment complex, listening to an audiobook (so far, I’ve gone through Avengers and Philosophy: Earth’s Mightiest Thinkers and The Gifts of Imperfection). I’m slow, so I get maybe 3-3.5 miles out of this. Every other day, I try to do some weight training or other high-intensity exercise – I have a pair of kettlebells, 15 and 30 pounds, that I use, and I’ve become very familiar with squat thrusts. I’ve also been doing a daily exercise routine, one of many found at a website called Darebees – it’s pretty low-impact, involves no equipment, and so is pretty easy to do. I’m currently done through day 26 of the Foundation program though day 28 is going to be rough. Once I hit day 30, I’m thinking of moving on to either the Hero’s Journey, or the Fighter’s Codex (though after looking at both of them, I may well just end up going back to Foundation and level-grinding on the next difficulty level). And finally, I’ve also started throwing in – during times when I have 15-20 minutes of time where I’m not really doing much – the use of the sword I have hanging on my wall in exercises from the Forza program and Jung Shin (I don’t have a katana, I have a broadsword, but the same principles apply).

Wow. Now that I write it down, it seems like a lot. But, aside from the walking, everything else can be done in maybe 30 minutes. And since starting this, my anxiety level has dropped; my sleep has moved to a more socially acceptable time, for the most part; I find myself with more energy – which was really weird, because having that much energy actually felt like a low-grade panic attack to me; and I’ve been doing a lot of writing. Some of the writing has been for my other blog, and some is more personal – I’m currently at page 44 of a story that is part personal fantasy, part introspective therapy. I doubt anyone else will ever read it because of how personal it is – and yes, I say that writing on a blog where I’ve talked about my experiences with attempting suicide – but it’s still a longer piece than anything I’ve written in maybe 10-15 years.

The next few months are going to be really busy for me – lots of coursework and preparation for field placement, for one. I’m going to try to put in time writing for my other blog, since writing that is really kind of enjoyable (yes, I like researching comics for fun, shut up). And hopefully I’l keep up with the new exercise routine, because it seems to be treating me well so far. But what I likely won’t be getting into much – unless I run into something I really feel the need to share – is this blog. I don’t know that it has run its course, but I do know that, while I felt a need to write it when I started, I don’t feel that anywhere near as strongly. So while this is almost certainly not goodbye, it’s until we meet again. For any of my readers who have been keeping up with me for a while, thanks; I hope you’ve gotten something from my ramblings, and I know that I’ve gotten a lot from comments. Time to see where the future takes me next.

 

Supermovie Geekery

So, as is probably obvious, I’m kind of a comic book nerd. I’ve been reading comics, off and on, for over 20 years, and been a pretty heavy reader for about the last decade. Early on in the last decade, I read almost anything I could find – Marvel, DC, Image, Wildstorm, Dark Horse, Vertigo, I read quite a lot. While Captain America has been my favorite character for a long time, I also used to be really fond of Justice League and Justice Society, as well as Outsiders, Superman, and Green Lantern among the DC titles. I was really happy when they rebooted the Batman movies with Batman Begins in 2005, and then Marvel got into the game (for themselves; there were other Marvel-property movies, like the X-Men, before that) with Iron Man in 2008. I’ve read the comics, seen the cartoons, watched the movies.

For the most part, I was really happy with the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe began to take shape, and I liked the Nolan Batman trilogy, too – sure, it was dark and gritty, but Batman is a dark and gritty kind of character. Marvel went in a different direction – Iron Man is loud and flashy, in some ways a polar opposite to Batman; they’re both rich genius-types, but Tony Stark really is a playboy billionaire, while Batman just pretends to be one. Then Marvel moved on to the Hulk, then Thor, then Captain America, before finally bringing them all together in The Avengers. Marvel built their universe with a variety of colorful characters, and went through 5 movies, all connected and within the same cinematic world, before bringing the team together, and that work is what made the Avengers a success – they did the work.

With DC, though, it feels like they’ve just been playing catch-up, and not very well. The Nolan Batman movies were pretty awesome, especially Dark Knight. But I don’t think they were ever conceived of as the beginning of a similar cinematic universe, and it shows. Where Marvel used several different directors and styles in their movies – the action-realism of Iron Man, contrasted against the, let’s say high-tech Shakespearian of Thor – DC moved from dark and gritty Batman to… similarly dark and gritty Superman in Man of Steel. I was disappointed with this, because Superman has never been a dark character – he wears blue and red tights, he flies and shoots lasers from his eyes, and is often called the Big Blue Boy Scout. Using the same style of movie for Superman as for Batman was a choice I thought missed a crucial part of the Superman character.

Now, with Batman vs. Superman, I think DC missed the mark again, and this time it’s worse. There will be spoilers for the movie, so if you haven’t seen it, stop here.

 

Still reading? Well, this movie (I’ll use BvS as shorthand) seems to have completely missed the point of both Batman and Superman, at least in my opinion. Batman, as a character, is not mentally healthy – I mean, his parents getting killed in front of him has driven him to train harder than anyone to be the best detective, fighter, and gadgeteer he can be, then dress up like a bat and beat criminals up. That’s not something your average, mentally healthy person is going to do. But non-BvS Batman is generally aware of his shortcomings and his personality issues, and he has a code – the most important part of which is, NO KILLING. Batman doesn’t kill people. But in BvS, he’s rage-filled, terrifying – even to those he saves – and entirely willing to kill. In fact, he does so a number of times. His plan for dealing with Superman involves killing him. While Ben Affleck does well with what he’s given, the Batman of this movie seems like a Batman who has been pushed almost as far as Harvey Dent in Dark Knight, and is almost to the point where I wouldn’t consider him a good guy anymore.

Superman is probably even worse, in my estimation. The dark, dreary presentation of him in Man of Steel continues, but this time, he’s not just learning to be Superman; he’s been Superman for almost two years. And virtually every shot of him as Superman is of a man who just looks exhausted, pained, and nearly hopeless. For a man with virtually limitless power, hope seems to be one of the few powers he doesn’t have, and considering one of my favorite Superman scenes is portrayed in this link, that’s practically criminal. And while one of the many criticisms of Man of Steel was that Superman made no effort to save innocent people in the final battle in Metropolis, we see little of that here – a 30-second montage of Superman saving a girl from a burning building, dragging a ship to safety, rescuing a crew module from an exploding space launch. Otherwise, the only person we see Superman make an effort to save is Lois Lane. When the congressional hearing he is called to explodes, leaving him standing alone in burning wreckage, he just looks defeated, but never made any effort to help. This Superman is portrayed as a distant god, with near-limitless power, but virtually no connection to humanity, rather than the Kansas farmboy -with corresponding moral fortitude and a certain degree of naivete – who just happens to be a superpowered alien. He even says, talking to Lois, that he is Superman not because he believes in it, but because it’s something he thinks his father would have wanted. While it is certainly some vision of Superman, it is not one that I enjoy, or that I think is anything like his typical portrayal.

Even the Lex Luthor in this movie is a pale shadow of the character from the comics and cartoons – and even previous movies. This Lex is young, and arrogant, and seems intelligent, but has several moments where he can’t seem to put words together coherently. And his plan in the movie is nonsensical, and only seems to work because somehow he has managed to out-think the world’s greatest detective AND figure out the secret identities of both titular heroes. Instead of seeming smooth and self-assured like most portrayals of Lex, this one is frenetic, almost manic; personally, I think they would have been better off casting Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor from the Smallville TV series) than Jesse Eisenberg – this Lex seems to have more in common with Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network than any Superman villain.

The fight between Batman and Superman, while impressive, is built up for far too long, and has poor foundation – if Batman wanted to confront Superman, he could easily have done the same thing Lex Luthor did and find out that his secret identity is Clark Kent, rather than building a mechanized Bat-suit and hijacking a shipment of kryptonite. The reason for it ending without the death of Superman is equally poor – they essentially stop fighting because Superman, about to be stabbed by a kryptonite spear, tells Batman that he needs to save his mother, Martha – and Batman, upon hearing that Clark’s mother has the same name as his own, suddenly not only stops fighting Superman, but volunteers to go save his mother. This poorly-contrived fight is in contrast to the conflict that has been building between Captain America and Iron Man since The Avengers, which is built on in Age of Ultron and will come to a head in next month’s Captain America: Civil War – a conflict that is given solid foundations and which seems to follow the way the characters are portrayed. The whole movie makes it seem like DC is rushing to try to make their own big team movie, Justice League, even having teasers for The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman in BvS.

The best part of the movie was the inclusion of Wonder Woman, who shows up first as a mysterious woman at a party, and reveals her heroic self in the final battle. She looks the part, and acts the part, and makes me hopeful for next year’s Wonder Woman movie.

While I haven’t been a fan of every Marvel movie – I think Thor 2 was probably the weakest movie in the MCU, and didn’t have many great moments – I’m far more concerned with the direction DC is taking. I don’t think Zack Snyder is a good choice for their flagship movies, and I don’t think he gets superhero movies at all – I mean, he has this to say about the inclusion of Jimmy Olden in BvS:

“We just did it as this little aside because we had been tracking where we thought the movies were gonna go, and we don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters, but we can have fun with him, right?”

Oh, I should note that this little aside he’s talking about? It is a LexCorp mercenary shooting Jimmy Olsen in the face. Yeah, Snyder kills a classic Superman support character in one of the first scenes of the movie. So I’m not interested in anything else Snyder has to do in the DC universe. I’ll stick to their TV offerings – shows like Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl – all of which seem to be more true to their characters, and seem to have more fun as part of a comic-based universe.

 

Internet Intermingling

So just recently, I joined one of the more popular internet dating websites, Match.com. After doing so, it became pretty clear to me why I haven’t had a lot of success with similar dating sites in the past – after reading through dozens of profiles, I seem to share virtually nothing in common with anyone, even the people the site seems to think are ideal matches with me.

See, I’m an introvert, and a geek, and those two things are huge parts of my personality. I tend to have a hard time getting to know people – I’ve talked about it extensively in the past. Even after being at my current job for almost a year and a half, it still feels difficult striking up a conversation with my co-workers, even the ones I know share similar interests. I’m kind of conversationally awkward, and I don’t really parse silences and breaks in the conversation very well. But once I get to know somebody, I’m extremely loyal, even if I haven’t talked to them in a long time, even years. And I have a lot of passion for the topics I find important – RPGs, things like comic-related properties, mental health, and a variety of generally kind of nerdy things. I could go on about them for a long time, and I can often have difficulty telling when someone is getting tired of listening.

And with a lot of the people I get paired up with presumptively on these dating websites, I see the same things keep popping up – enjoying long walks, romantic dinners, travel, looking for someone who makes them laugh, willing to try new things, is well-educated… I could go on, but – at least from where I’m sitting – all of these things are frustratingly vague. There are no specifics to help start a conversation – no favorite movies, specific travel destinations they’ve liked, what kinds of things make them laugh. And without something like that, I have no idea where to even begin, and so I hit the ‘Like’ button and hope maybe they’ll ask me something that can help start a conversation. I try to include some favorite movies and books and such in my own profile, to try to differentiate myself, but I know that letting my geek flag fly right off the bat might not be the best idea. So I’m stuck in kind of a weird area.

There are places that say that online dating is ideal for introverts, and I can see why – as this article in Psychology Today notes, it can be far easier to send out an IM or e-mail than try to communicate immediately via phone, or in person. And there are other sites, like this one, that try to help introverts create an attractive user profile for online dating. There are even some online niche dating sites, though I’ve never had any luck there – the user community tends to be exceptionally small, and they tend to be very heavily populated by other guys, and despite living in a pretty big city there never seem to be many viable matches within a reasonable distance.

I wonder sometimes if my lack of experience with relationships makes even something like online dating harder. While I’ve had strong feelings for two women before, neither ended particularly well for me, and I’ve only been on one date. Since I tend to overthink things – especially when I’m not sure what went wrong – I’m not quite sure if things going wrong was because of something I did, or because of where she was in her life, or we just didn’t match up as well as I thought we did, and not having the answers makes my thoughts on the matter go kinda wacky. I wish I could ask, but the questions I want answered are probably way too personal for someone who no longer wants to be a part of my life, or I’m no longer the same person that I used to be and so wouldn’t find the answers very helpful. It feels, in a lot of ways, that while I live on my own, have a job and am going to graduate school, that my prospective romantic life is still very much stuck in a teenage mindset. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, or to what extent other people feel that way, but it feels weird.

But I’m hopeful – even if I don’t find anyone who is interested in me romantically on a dating site like Match.com, I think I can at least find someone to talk to, hopefully about some of the things that really interest me, and about the things that interest her, as well.

I feel kinda weird being optimistic about something – guess I’m still not used to it yet.