exits are NORTH and WEST
Incidentally, I still don't understand why the dead won't just disappear anymore.
- Enoch (OFF by Mortis Ghost)
I'm reaching that part of the year where I'm reevaluating how the year went and man. There were a lot of sequels this year, huh?
Just in terms of movies, there was El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, Toy Story 4, Avengers: Endgame, and its immediate sequel, Spider-man: Far From Home, Zombieland: Double Tap, Jumanji: The Next Level, and here in a few days, the last movie in the Star Wars sequel-trilogy is coming out. In the game sector, there's The Last of Us Part 2, Gears 5, Shenmue 3, Psychonauts 2, Beyond Good and Evil 2, Borderlands 3, Half-Life: Alyx, Shovel Knight: Dig, all of these made waves this year as existing or not existing. At the Keighleys last night, there were plenty of sequels thrown about - No More Heroes 3, Hellblade 2, The Wolf Among Us 2, Bravely Default 2, Xbox One 2. There was only one thing announced that wasn't tied to an existing IP, and that's Godfall, for all that's worth. (I don't think it's worth much.)
There's also... an elephant, in the room, when it comes to sequels I have to give a shit about specifically, but I'll get to that when I get to that, but I'm fuckin' tired of it, honestly. I'm so thoroughly exhausted by sequels, followups, reboots, remakes. Nothing seems to end, anymore, if they can avoid it - and I guess I understand why. Avengers: Endgame is the highest grossing film of all time and its predecessor, Infinity War, the 4th highest-grossing. Team Fortress 2 is better known than the original Team Fortress. Iteration is the fastest way to work out your flaws, and sometimes iterating out your flaws means producing sequels, where the sequels are just "the first one, but better". Oh, Overwatch 2 is happening, as well. Forgot about that one. That probably won't be the "first one, but better" kind of sequel but I was thinking about Team Fortress 2, and you know.
A few weeks ago, my friend Smokey asked me what my favorite game was and I had to say Magic Wand - because anything else would be a lie, but since then I've been reevaluating it, what it does and what it doesn't do, and why it does those things, and it's got me thinking about story structure, specifically, the value in ending.
I've also been thinking about the Charlie Kaufman/Nic Cage joint, "Adaptation". It's also a wild movie - Nic Cage is at his best, playing twin brothers Charlie and the fictional Donald Kaufman, as Charlie attempts to adapt a story for the screen. It goes some places, and some really compelling places. But there's a scene in it, where Charlie is at his lowest point, the end of act 2, and he seeks out Robert McKee, author of the book "Story". I've got my issues with the advice present in Story, but in the movie itself, McKee, played by Brian Blessed, says "If you wow them in the end, you'll have a hit." and it's this advice that transitions the movie from act 2 to act 3, from a drama about the struggles of respecting an author's work to something completely off the wall, from the dread writer's block to a high-octane chase through a swamp. I think there's something to be said about how true this bit of advice is, ie, mostly not, especially in the way that Adaptation takes this advice, but it's something I think about a lot.
Magic Wand is a game which occupies a strange zone in which there is no beginning, and there is no end. It's episodic, but none of those episodes are a pilot, or a finale - there are some scenes that play out, some characters are shared between scenes, but the stakes never get higher, the scope never increases. It's all filler content, and it's intentionally so. "Have an ending" and "have a beginning" are difficult tropes to meaningfully subvert. Since it's so often conflated with hackery, IMO, the intention of subversion to cast thought on why those expectations are so established in the first place. In some cases it's because expectations are borne of bigotry, bias, etc.
However, in other cases, it can be to garner appreciation for the expected things - Magic Wand casting attention to just how crucial beginnings and endings are has given me a stronger appreciation for a good ending, like Homestuck's Act 7.
WHOOPS OH GOD OH FUCK.
Maybe some day I'll get through a blog post on here without talking about Homestuck........ but today is not that day.
Homestuck^2: Beyond Canon is the sequel that I was putting off talking about. Now that it exists, it feels like an inevitability, despite how much I wanted the Homestuck Epilogues to be the last ever Homestuck thing. My criticism of the Homestuck Epilogues, with retrospect, is a bit of a mess? It's a bit too personal and a bit too citationless to really be worth a lot, but I still feel like this is the nature of all sequelized work.
Homestuck^2 is the most sequel-ass sequel this year. It's set up in a way where it seems as though it is taking on a more traditional approach to comics - there are no flash animations planned, no music in production, with slow production at a heavy cost. I don't mind the Patreon stuff, nor do I really mind bonus content being locked behind that Patreon - artists need to eat, and that's more important than content being free, imo - but with a rotating cast of writers and artists to produce "Homestuck", it seems to be subverting itself in this change. Homestuck's great strength is that while it was always extremely dense, it was building to an ending. Everything mattered. With the advent of New Homestuck, though, it seems the intent is that nothing matters. Drop in or out as need be. Who cares. This was never important and it continuing to live is entirely on the back of Homestuck fans wanting it.
The day Homestuck^2 launched, traceExcalibur, one of the writers for Pesterquest (Jade and Tavros thus far) wrote this:
something I had to grapple with in the wake of the epilogues was, you kinda have to look at Homestuck like comic books now, instead of like a singular work
its a lot more weird and experimental but it’s like how there’s decades worth of absolutely absurd Batman and Spider-Man and etc. shit
writers will come and go and some storylines won’t land and others will and you can jump in or out as you choose, and every now and then someone will say “hey did you hear what happened in the latest comic” and you’ll be like WHAT
which....... is probably not what a lot of people want? I mean I get it. I have a lot of friends going “god please let it die”
but just like in comics I think there’s a lot of opportunity for really good stuff to come out of it. I mean hey obviously I’ve really loved all the work we’ve done so far on PQ, for example
so I think it’s okay to just. let The Homestuck Extended Universe exist out there in the periphery, and give it a look whenever you hear about something you might like to read, and otherwise not think too hard about it
And I sympathize with it enough - I've really enjoyed Pesterquest, all things considered. It's better than I expected, but granted, following the Epilogues, I wasn't expecting anything. I'm just glad it's not fucking miserable. However, not really knowing much about the comics industry beyond what my friends who do know about the comics industry say, and my good friend Ruby, who I trust more than myself, wrote this in response:
much like the current comics industry, its insular, awkward, and anything good you might possibly latch onto will soon be buried under bad bullshit you don't care about
And I think it's this that perfectly encapsulates the sequelization of everything - the sheer bulk of content is tough to grasp. The first result for "mcu watch order" for Infinity War - not Endgame, Infinity War - has 39 entries, each one of those representing a film, a TV show, a Netflix series, a direct-to-DVD series, you name it. There's a tendency for heavily sequelized products to lean on itself as a justification for existing - in order to get why Red Skull is guarding the whatever stone in Infinity War, you have to know that was a thing in the comics.
It's a method of audience retention first, and art........ wherever. I dunno where artistic aspirations would go on this list but the number one tool is one of audience retention. Every reference to another movie in the cinematic universe is another ticket sold, another month of subscription to Netflix. Compare and contrast the Comic Book Herald's reading order for the Spider-Verse storyline in 2014, against 2018's Into the Spider-Verse, in which the cognitive load necessary for entry is knowing who Spider-Man is.
It's a shame to see otherwise holistic things like Homestuck - which, while long, self-referential, and dense, was also self-contained across one property and one story - fall into this trap, the sequel trap, especially since Homestuck ended so nicely - Act 7 was a really nice sendoff, and sequelizing it necessitated undoing that ending, intentionally or not.
It's got to be juxtaposed against what I think the best sequel this year was - El Camino. I think El Camino was the best sequel this year just because of how it handles itself, how it respects itself and the things it exists in the same continuity as. It had to be put up against Toy Story 4, which I also really liked, but not for the same reasons - Toy Story 4 radically changed the status quo at the end, and I really respect that, but I think El Camino is a bit better constructed in general, and also, Toy Story 4 is a Disney production and I could never live with myself as a communist if I said a Disney product was my favorite thing.
El Camino is a follow up on the ending of Breaking Bad, which I also just adored - it's a perfect sendoff for every character, and I was legitimately worried that they would do my boy Jesse dirty. But between the trauma of his life in Nazi slavery, and a shocking amount of emotional sensitivity given how Breaking Bad tended to be, it really is a good sequel. It's not got as much going on as say, Better Call Saul, but I do appreciate it - while some plot points feel a bit hokey at points, it feels like an organic extension of the story, and it didn't involve undoing plot points to justify its existence, as is so common with sequels.
I don't know what I'm getting at here. Maybe it's the material realities of capitalism influencing my view of story structure - the three-act structure is something that works because it is distinctly finite, which keeps costs down and pace up for a feature length film. But with media with no end in mind, your tool is plot arcs, which are far more fragile than media which end concretely. It takes a deft hand to make each arc work without invalidating the writing of past arcs, as well as fit into a greater arc of arcs.
While writing this I was informed that there was going to be a sequel to SSSS.Gridman. And I feel like whatever I could have written to send this post off isn't going to stack up to just saying that.
That's 2019, I guess.