Thursday, 7 October 2010

Six Things I'd Like To See Happen In "Age Of The Wolf"


1.

I'd like to see Rowan develop more of a substantial and individual personality. It's laudable and brave to create and present a lead character who, beyond an untypical degree of skill on a motorbike, is as everyday and unremarkable as most of us out here in the real world are. But Rowan is so very, very average that she's very, very uninteresting, and giving her magical powers doesn't of itself make her any more compelling a character. She's passive unless she's forced to act, she seems to lack an interior life, she has no apparent desires or ambitions, and she's not spoken a single witty line or expressed one out-of-the-ordinary idea in the six chapters we've known her. As a consequence, it's particularly difficult to empathise with her character or sympathise with her situation.


2.

I like to see the individual chapters of "Age Of The Wolf" constructed so that there's a more substantial change of mood both within them and between them. At the moment, disaster follows disaster without any intervening change of pace or mood except for the fact that events keep becoming bleaker and more destructive. In truth, there's only two types of scenes that we've seen in the 30 or so pages that've been printed so far. In the first, Rowan doesn't understand what's happening to her, and she's passive. She might be confused or upset, comforting a friend, talking to a stranger or weeping before her dead mother, but she's essentially an uninspiring bystander. In the second, she's running away from wolves or running towards an island, which at least is an active business, but it's not an inspiring one, because there's a limit to how interesting a chasing wolf can be when it can't ever win, or a beckoning island when we've little idea of what's waiting there.

I'd like to see moments of humour as well as those of terror, respite and reflection as well as escalation and fear, victory as well as defeat, and, particularly, some moments of light to break up all that darkness.


3.

I'd like to see "Age Of The Wolf" evolve away from being the comic book equivalent of a chase movie. For there's a sense that the reader is simply watching a woman running away from a wolf towards an island, and there's little to make us think that Rowan won't survive the pursuit, give or take a hand or two. After all, there's a limit to how many times a big wolf can be thwarted before the wolf itself seems like an embarrassment rather than a menace, and after 6 episodes, the business of always running and yet somehow never being caught has become rather wearing.



4.

If Rowan would benefit from being fleshed out and made more interesting, then the tale as a whole could do with a supporting cast beyond the similarly flat Pete. The brief appearance of Rowan's whinging, deceased Mother provided some other focus of attention, though it can hardly be said that she was a character so captivating that the readership might long to see her again. She was, in truth and I believe by intent, thoroughly irritating, and it's to be hoped that the big bad baddie of this tale isn't just effectively a self-involved and uncaring middle-class sitcom mother.

And given that all we have to represent the forces of disorder are Rowan's mum and a mute and conspicuously ineffective wolf, the introduction of some more compelling antagonists would greatly excite the interest, just as Rowan as a heroine would benefit from some friends and allies who were more engaging than the one-note, London-Eye-climbing Pete.


5.

This has been an end of the world story where so few people are on show that the battle seems already lost. It would very much help to get a sense that life beyond Rowan and Pete is still extant and, in particular, worth worrying about. The little we've seen of the survivors so far has left them seeming both emasculated and unworthy of making it through this catastrophe, which is a shame, because if we can't care for the mass of the victims in a tragedy, we can't care for their world or the possibility that it might one day be restored.


6.

It would very much help this reader if each individual chapter of "Age Of The Wolf" was constructed in a way that was more deliberately calculated to compel the audience's attention. For example, the key final panels on each page in Chapter 6 are remarkably uninvolving and unenticing. The trick of an effective page turner, of course, is that it presents an enigma of some sort within the context of a scene that's interesting in itself. But consider, for example, the final panel of page one, where we're shown two faces looking fearful, but we're not provided with any clue about what they're frightened about. Two frightened people in an already fraught situation doesn't constitute an enigma so much as business as usual, and that panel required more than that to inspire the reader to turn the page with some alacrity.

Page five, for one, does at least end on a genuine enigma, but it's a mystery that's diluted by the fact that the reader can have no idea what's happening. Blood seems to be causing flowers to grow, but is it the blood from the wolf's mouth or from Rowan's stump that's doing this? And why might we be interested in flowers growing from blood, when we've been given not a hint of why this might be important? It's as if we're supposed to be fascinated in a strange phenomena simply because it's strange, but the reader needs more information in order to care about the likes of fast-growing flowers, because, in themselves, they're just not that interesting a chapter-closing incident.



.

17 comments:

  1. These are irritating problems, aren't they? I want to like Age because the basic premise is a strong one: London is overrun by werewolves and the heroine is going to die. But she's not just not that interesting and the city of London mainly seems like everyone left; as you say, it's also clear to us readers that Rowan will get out alive, when I should be under the impression death is inevitable and wonder each time "will she make it THIS time?!". (Her losing her hand was a bit of a surprise for that very reason)

    Defoe is an interesting contrast: the "heroes" are stuck in the one building fighting the same battle in every part, but it doesn't feel like that: there's starts and cliffhangers and new facets of the situation in each prog. Age of the Wolf is far more active and less constrained by geography/time, but feels more static.

    - Charles RB

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Charles:- that's a fiercely informing contrast you make there, between the apprarently-static Defoe and Age Of The Wolf, and if I'd've had the brain to spot that comparison, I'd have written about the two of them in the above, as if it were an old-school "compare and constrast" essay.

    I struggled badly writting this, actually, in that the only way I could get my points not to sound REALLY snotty was to present them using the kind of English, and the tone too, that we might expect to find in a greetings card. ("I'd like to see ....") And yet the strip didn't deserve a snide and snotty review, because as you say there's a great deal present in the work of promise, and so in the end it seemed better that my English and mentality came across as somewhat simple-mided rather than I insulted too greatly a piece of work suffering at worst from problems of emphasis.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It might be deliberate. Rowan could eventually be revealed as a fictional construct, a cuckoo or an avatar of something olde-worldy or magical, and character building before that reveal would just be timewasting in retrospect, though I do get your meaning that in the meantime we need a reason to empathise beyond that 2000ad has yet another gruff but secretly weepy redhead girly lead - the book has had quite a few of these over the years to the point that I've seen at least one series published elsewhere that was turned down by 2000ad on the basis that they had too many female lead characters already.
    Personally, I'm rooting for the werewolves at this stage because they have more reason to be viewed as the protagonists, taking back the world for their animal kingdom from the resource-consuming humans who exist apart from any natural order and keep making roads and oil wells and Simon Cowells everywhere. GO TEAM JACOB!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello Mr Brigonos:- Rowan's personality may indeed be a false one, but I'd never have recommended, for whatever my opinion's worth, that at least 7 weeks spent on a bland lead character prior to any kind of unveiling. Audiences, even captive ones, can be won and lost in a single chapter, and, as we discussed earlier, stories have to hit the ground running and not assume that the reader is a passive partner.

    But that werewolf story you propose, to whatever degree of humourous intent, sounds like a stonecold winner to me. I'm being serious. We've already seen how well you can draw people-eating monsters. How's about "Team Jacob" as a Mr B masterwork-thang?

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Heroic werewolves liberate Britain from tasty humans" sounds EXCELLENT. I'd read it!

    - Charles RB

    ReplyDelete
  6. And so would I, Charles. Hell, I might steal the idea if Mr B doesn't create it RIGHT NOW!

    Are you listening, Mr B? Your public demand it!

    ReplyDelete
  7. One of the initial problems seems to have been that it was over-written (a common error - feeling a writer has to show they can write ;) ) and it was having the effect of slowing the pace down, a bit of a problem when you essentially have one big long chase scene. That seems to have been rectified in more recent instalments though.

    The comparison with Defoe is a good one. In apocalyptic movies you can divide them up into different types (separate from the actual genre or cause, although some of those lend themselves to certain types*):

    * Pre-apocalypse - where people are struggling to divert a looming threat, like breaking up an asteroid before it can hit the Earth.
    * Apocalypse - WTSHTF and the protagonist is caught up in the aftermath.
    * Post-apocalypse - where the survivors have to start rebuilding and get their lives back on track in, presumably, greatly reduced circumstances.

    Obviously these can segue into each other but I like to separate out another type: the peri-apocalypse - when the end of the world is a long almost endless slow grind whittling humanity away rather than destroying them in one big spectacular event. Your zombie movies fit into this and this kind of werewolf apocalypse works in the same vein. In those kinds of films you can see what they do to prevent it from being merely and hour and so of people running away from nasties - you gather up a few survivors (because you are stronger as a group), you find somewhere to hole up (as you need to gather supplies, transport and weapons) before pushing on to a safer destination (one girl on a motorbike against large and smart werewolves is pretty much doomed to failure - get half a dozen people together, some food and weapons, jump in a van and try to get a boat). This has the effect of increasing the peril (because there are more people to die and you might not be sure who gets out alive) and it gives you a still moment in the film which only helps to accentuate the moment when it all comes crashing down again - if it is all sound and fury you start going deaf.

    * Yes I have thought too much about this

    ReplyDelete
  8. Emperor, those who think they DON'T think too much are either unable to, meditating or taking drugs. This is my opinion, Dud, and it's the opinion I have. I've known a great number of folks who've told me I think too much who've spent their hours thinking obsessively about the TV or footie, two things I myself like a good obsess about. And if such thinking leads to the "peri-apocalypse", well, ipso fatso, it's a fine business.

    The problem I have with any kind of apocalypse is that too often creators indulge in it simply because they feel the end of the world is interesting in itself, and - especially in the light of the past 100 years of stories - I don't think it is. Those tales which retain some power are the ones which tell us something about individuals or politics. (Even the much mocked Triffids is about how shallow society is and unreliably middle-class England is.)And so I read tales such as Age Of The Wolf and I'm concerned with what it tells me about folks and not the end of everything. After all, the end of the world happens everyday to millions of people. It's tragic, but commonplace.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Who mocks the Triffid?? Point them out to me. The fools.

    That wrongness aside, you are right - the apocalypse should never be an end in itself (plus it should be no excuse for ignoring science, yes The Core I'm looking at you). If it is you get the equivalent of what I call "wonder porn" in hard sci-fi - the story is just a vehicle for the author to show off some fantastical setting. I suppose "apocalypse porn" would be a subset of "disaster porn." You can't come up with a fancy apocalypse and expect that to be about it - you need an interesting story and engaging characters, as you really need to care if they live or die.

    Oh and not being a fan of footie (try growing up in Liverpool and explaining that every couple of days ;) ) I feel it frees up a lot of that weirdly obsessive masculine processing power for other topics ;)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Emperor:- as I'm sure you know, the Day Of The Triffids was loathed by many of the young Turks who came to prominence in the genration after him. Brian Aldiss called the book "a cosy catastrophe" and said it and The Kraken Wakes "were totally devoid of ideas but read smoothly, and thus reached a maximum audience, which enjoyed cosy disasters."

    But Aldis mistook a middle class point of view and middle class characters as "cosy" in themselves and never seems to get that (a) the destruction of the m/c world in TDOTT is aided and abetted by many of those elements the middle-class most trust, from big business to the army, and (b) the middle-class world is utterly destroyed, regardless of the promise of the Isle Of Wight at the end of the novel.

    I greatly admire Mr Aldiss, but I suspect that the Triffids will live on even as his work disappears into the footnotes of his genres.

    ......

    It's a new rule that we've obviously invented here, or rather, stolen and claimed to have invented from a million other sources; no situation is in itself interesting, only people are interesting. Analogues in superhero multiverses, the end of the world, space battles, evil superheroes; they're of no value in themselves at all. It's a fact that can be clearly seen in the progression of the RTD Dr Who. At the beginning, when it was most engaging, the Dr saying "My planet's dead. It burned ..." caught many of the audience's imaginations without a single special effect. But the end, when armadas flew across the sky, univeres ended and every cliche of TV SF was so lovely applied, it was hard to care at all. The trick, of course, would be to add the spectacle to the personal in such a way that both strengthened the other, but that's for the masters and the lucky. For the rest of humanity, it's the personal, isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  11. I did know about the "cosy catastrophe" having been virtually raised on Wyndham, amongst other (Hell Wikipedia have a whole section on it - I am intrigued to see it goes back as far as Ignatius Donnelly, who I was coincidentally reading something on the other day), so it was more a comedy impotent rage. However, it is an important aspect to apocalyptic fiction and well worth throwing into the mix.

    As you say Aldiss rather missed the point or his aim was a little too wide - any survivors would naturally set about trying to rebuild a life, even in much reduced circumstances, it is part of the key aspects of a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction and is very handy for casting light on the human condition. We might do beastly things just to survive when in the grips of an apocalypse but you show your true colours when trying to put the world right afterwards. Do you go for a hippie utopia that could easily be knocked over my the next gang of bandits coming down the turnpike or do you harshly enforce rule as the only way to keep the last vestiges of humanity from breaking up (in fact is rebuilding civilisation even desirable - perhaps we should take Gaia's hint and limp off to a cave to die)? See also both Survivors TV series.

    ---
    I agree with what you say about the "wonder porn" and "apocalypse porn" - it just isn't enough for a writer to be going "will you just bloody look at that!! Cool isn't it?" Humans have to be dwarfed by it to show how insignificant we are when we glimpse the big picture, but that has to inspire them to pull their socks up (just running away or sinking into existential angst or just going "oo" and "ah" isn't enough and it is often very easy to lose perspective). They do this well in Star Wars where the enemy is surely so massive no one can defeat them, and then just a handful of individuals gird their loins and throw themselves into the fight with renewed fervour, risking all and somehow pulling off a victory right at the last moment (the first three films, not the prequels ;) ).

    ReplyDelete
  12. Oh and if we look at Romero's first few zombie movies, they aren't really about zombies. The characteristics of the monsters (their speed, the way they can infect you and their general stupidity) largely impact on the kind of survival strategy people implement. Other than that they are merely a plot device to force people into close proximity and threaten them, so we can see if they pull together or fall apart. All the violence and gore is icing on that cake (and social commentary, like having a black lead who is killed by cops in Night and a jab at consumer culture in Dawn, is the cherry on top or those strange luminous jelly fruits if you prefer). The cheaper exploitation zombie flicks that followed seemed to largely miss the point and instead revelled in the how many ways they could show zombies being killed and how many different ways the zombies could eat people (hopefully scantily clad, female people) - in some ways it reminds me of the Dark Age of Comics being a result of a very shallow reading of Watchmen, you can almost hear the (laboured) thinking: "it is grim and gritty, but also successful, we must make more of these grim and gritty comics". See, I knew I could bring it back to comics in the end ;)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hello Emperor:- the function of the post-apocalytic tale for my money is nearly always political. Too often it's an excuse for psycho-babble or Conan-esque adventure, but that's an indulgence nearly every single time. But Triffids is a prime example of a tale that's all politics, and that fact gets missed because the middle-class solutions, or elements of them, presented in it are unacceptable to the more radical critics approaching it. What's most impressive about the Triffids is how it shows how modern society doesn't work, and much of what it says is relevant today. We're not entirely social creatures, we're not clear thinkers and we don't work well together, regardless of what we like to believe. The middle-class props of religion and militarism fail in the book just as bourgeouis society does in general, and what seems to annoy so many critics is that the survivors don't manage to make it through by embracing some radical agenda, as if equalising gender roles and establishing new power relations will defeat Triffids, as if radical problems by their very nature cause some "secret" truth to emerge.

    -------

    Two confessions to add, Emperor. I have never - please don't shout! - been able to stick Star Wars, with the exception of a few space opera moments. The scripts are too awful for me, regardless of any charm they undoubtedly have at this moment or that.

    And them Zombies, well, they're on my radar. I've realised in just the past day, after watching the Mark Gatiss history of horror movies, that I've little experience and less knowledge of the genre. In fact, I'll be starting out trying to make sense of what that genre means to me in m'next blog, for what little that means.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Oh well yes, the personal becomes political, as the examples from Dawn and Night suggest - you can sneak quite a bit of political/social commentary through when everyone is waiting for the next scene of gut-munching and brain-chewing. As you you say Trffids (and so many others) show just what a precarious house of cards we live in, knock out a few and our comfy civilisation comes falling down round our ears and we find we aren't quite as civilised as we like to think we are.

    --
    Your confessions sadden me. :( <--- look!!

    Oh I know Star Wars was pretty technically grim but my young self had his socks blown off by it. I went with a friend and her son to see the last prequel (and was even allowed to look after one of the lightsabres) and saw the same childish delight in the wee chap. OK I knew the films were more than a little ropey but it has its simple-minded charms for those with their age in single digits. It can only lead on to better things though - I picked up Marvel UK's Star Wars comic which gave a great introduction to the Marvel Cosmic characters which has stood me in good stead through the Annihilation reboot (after all DnA were reading those very same comics!!).

    Ahhhh zombies, he says glancing across to the shelves and shelves of zombie movies he has (including a 4 disc DVD set of Dawn with each disc signed by one of the lead actors). If you ever want any pointers let me know.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hello Emperor:- and of course with Triffids it's the social middle that we largely watch collapsing and which makes it even more scary, in that they're the group we most associate with social stability, a falsity, of course, but no less powerful a myth for all of that.

    The daft thing about Star Wars is that Battlestar Galatica was out just after it, of course, and I had no problem with BS, despite many scripts which even Star Wars could put to shame. But BG always felt that something fundamental was at stake, or at least it did before the depressing collapse that was the last 30 or so episodes of the -04 remake, but Star Wars never felt in the slightest bit real to my younger self. As if any SF is real, but I'm sure you know of which I mean!

    Having said that, SW saved big-screen SF, no bones about it, and it's done so very much to haul in punters to at least the popular end of the genre's market that who could moan about it? As you say, even in the features which filled out the Marvel UK title, a fine influence can be traced.

    Ahhh zombies .... When I tread in that direction, I shall indeed seek your expert guidance! My thanks for the kind offer, sir Emperor sir.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Colin it is a good point. In an apocalypse the upper classes tend to be shown with an even tighter grip on power but the middle class is all about routine and advancement, so showing them being thrown down into the mire does have a shocking quality to it (why the current credit crunch is so disturbing - the rich seem to have got richer, the working class just get their heads down but the middle class looks at the home they have just been thrown out of and the job they have just lost in bewilderment and horror). It'd be interesting to see a working class apocalypse film, shit flows downhill so they'd probably just shrug and carry on - they'd actually be in demand again as things would need making and the mines would have to be reopened. It is the accountants of this world who would be truly ruined and useless. ;)

    I suppose the main issues with Star Wars (beyond the ponderous script) is that it often feels more like science fantasy, with little attempt to explain some of its technology (light sabres? The Force? Granted nerds have put a lot of time and effort into coming up with explanations after the fact but it is still far from hard sci-fi) and overtly mystical elements. Granted BSG had Mormon overtones but the technology always felt a bit more realistic, something they really built on with the reboot. Unfortunately, it got distinctly silly when they made it to Earth.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hello Emperor:- I always thought that one of the metaphors that Zombie moves carry is the fear of the working classes, the "underclass", arriving in middle and upper-class worlds and ruining the property values and peace and quiet. A fear, in British terms, of all the people who shop in Tescos -I do! - piling into Waitrose and not queuing properly!

    For me, Star Wars is important for what it established in the form of a blockbuster movie and the summer big-movie genre. The worn aesthetic of the tech, the - as you say - fusion of sci-fi and fantasy, the toy/film synergy, that wretched business of a cack-handed reading of Campbell, and so on:- but the parts don't create a satisfying whole for me. I recall going to see it as a 15 year old surfing on the hype and being bored throughout. I could see where everything had taken and how it all fitted together like a great jigsaw where the wrong bits had been hammered together. Or so I felt. Obviously, if I grasped even a fraction of that, I'd have been able to make my own Star Wars since then.

    It's the movie which saved big-screen sci-fi. I'm not going to say it was a bad thing. It wasn't. It was a very good thing. I just can't sit through it without feeling that I'm talked to as an idiot.

    But BSG actually DID talk to me like I was an idiot for so many episodes, and yet the sense of dread that underpinned everything made it so thrilling.

    The Galactica never did find Earth, Emperor. Not in 1980 and not at the end of the Moore fiasco. Those things are lies and placed there to make us believe that BSG is inevitably a stupid idea which will end in tears.

    But the 2023 revamp will get it right ....

    ReplyDelete