Non-Fiction Book Review – Chicks Dig Comics

  • Title: Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comics by the Women Who Love Them
  • Author: Lynne M. Thomas,  (eds.)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/11/2015

Chicks Dig Comics not only covers Marvel and DC Comics, but independent comics, magna, graphic novels, even French comics. The essays are thought-provoking and intelligent, well-written and fun. Many of the writers are feminists, but don’t let that put you off – these women have something to say, and it isn’t entirely telling DC and Marvel off.

One point brought up several times was something I realised myself when I read comics (DC) in the 90s – Comic books are soap operas for boys. And just like boys might be teased for liking traditional afternoon soaps, girls were often not simply teased, but bullied, harassed etc. The women in these essays tell stories of comics’ shops with actual or virtual “No Girls Allowed” signs, playboy magazines next to comics racks, or even in the industry being treated as everything from a sex object to “one of the guys”.

Yet at the same time, the women in these pages tell of their love for comics, including traditional superheroes comics.

The collection also includes interviews with comics professionals – male and female, about women audiences for comics.

This light and breezy quick read is highly recommended.

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Non-Fiction Book Review – The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Title: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Geek Girls
  • Author: Sam Maggs
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/10/2015

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and some aspects of it are very well-researched. The resources pages at the back are definitely going to be worth checking out. Sam, by the way, is short for Samantha.

This book is half guidebook how-to manual and half feminist celebration of fangirls. In many ways, it could have been sub-titled, “The Fangirl’s Guide to Tumblr”, though it does venture beyond that, especially in the areas of Anime, Comics, and Gaming.

What I found, um, intriguing is that it seems to really reflect a completely different generation. The fangirls celebrated in this book have grown up with Tumblr, Twitter, youTube, and really big conventions like San Diego Comic Con and DragonCon – yet no mention is made of the the traditional media cons, especially ones that were originally run by women (some still are) and which catered to female fans. Yes, I’m talking about MediawestCon, Chicago TARDIS, and the traditional Star Trek and other conventions. It just seems that smaller, local, fan-run conventions aren’t even on the author’s radar. (Even Toronto Trek/Polaris/whatever-they’re-calling-it this year isn’t mentioned in the conventions section or the resources – and the author is from Toronto.) It just seemed strange. And if your advising 18-14 year old women to “yes, SDCC, just go” – it seemed to me that maybe she should have at least suggested checking out your local Comics/Gaming/SF/Media con. For one thing, it’s easier to get your feet wet at a convention with a few hundred people or even 1000, rather than one of the biggest conventions in the US.

But on the other hand, part of the message of the book is “Be Fearless”. OK, be safe but be fearless. And that is a really good message – and it’s a great message for young, enthusiastic girls. For once, at least this book isn’t full of scare-mongering about the Internet.

Her section on Cosplay is brilliant. Her discussion of “Cosplay is not consent” explains exactly what that means, what to do if you are harassed (talk to con security and/or volunteers). It’s not complicated. And her explanation of the whats, whys, hows, and even whos of Cosplay was also very instructive. I loved learning about how women and men who Costume make, fabricate, put together, and even buy or commission costumes. (It’s not as hard as I always assumed!)

She’s also without restraint teaching about respect for creativity, respect for the creators of art (be it written, drawn, crafted, sewn, or any other form of fan art). No whiny, “but that’s illegal” arguments here. And Sam never says some types of art, such as Cosplay, are more valid than others, such as fan fiction, or blogging about your OTP. She’s pretty even handed about every fangirl’s opinion is OK. She constantly reminds the reader to respect other girl’s opinions and likes – “even if their OTP is your NOTP”. If that confuses you, it’s updated IDIC, or a celebration of diversity – all diversity. OTP is One True Pairing or the romantic pair from a book, TV show, movie, video game, comic, or magna that you really love – write fan fiction about, blog about on Tumblr, and just see as your perfect romantic pairing that must get together. For fangirls, that pairing can be male/female, male/male, female/female, whatever. It can be a pair that actually is canon to TV show, film, comic, etc. – or not so much. A NOTP is Never or Not OTP, basically the couple you can never see together, the couple that does not rock your boat even if it’s canon. Stories that bring romance to a couple, whether canon to the show or not, “ship” characters, as in “relationship”. Canon, though sometimes complicated – ask someone to explain Star Wars canon sometime, is generally the actual work. Episodes of a TV series; the film as it was released; the actual book(s). Etc. IDIC is the Star Trek philosophy of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”, or basically – respect for people in all their diverse wonderfulness. Sam Maggs makes it very clear, that being rude to people who you disagree with, especially over your favorite and not-favorite geek things, is not cool.

The books includes descriptions and advice for dealing with Internet Trolls as well (up to and including how to contact moderators, block another account, contact law enforcement, etc.) And she stresses safety for in-person meetings such as conventions.

The book also includes a enlightening, well-written, intelligent explanation of feminism. I found myself nodding and fist-pumping the air (figuratively) over that chapter, because yes. The Myths of Feminism was especially well written.

Highly recommended to any fan, older fans who might want to try learning about their younger cohort, younger fans who have mastered Tumblr and want to branch out into modern fandom, media studies students (try not to let the informal language put you off), and the reporter scratching their head and saying, huh? It’s a fun, short, highly recommended read.

Flashpoint – Is there more to be revealed on the CW DC Shows?

I have now caught-up on the current seasons of all four DC CW shows. And I’ve noticed something. The Flash mentioned Flashpoint at the opening of the season, and Barry attempted to reverse Flashpoint. But his attempt failed. The Flash is now in an alternate reality – Cisco, as Vibe, is much more powerful than he was last year when he was first discovering his powers. In some ways it’s like that character has skipped ahead in time. And that’s not all – somehow, as a result of Barry messing with time – Cisco’s brother Dante is dead, killed by a drunk driver. Meanwhile, Caitlin is exhibiting cold powers – and she fears she is turning in to Killer Frost. And at the Central City Police Department a new guy is in charge of forensics and he’s a total, well, you know, to Barry. By the mid-season finale, we know a lot more about this guy who’s suddenly appeared from nowhere.

But it isn’t just The Flash that’s in a new reality. Arrow is also subtly changed. One thing I’ve noticed – last year on Legends of Tomorrow they visited future Star City – where they met future Green Arrow Connor Hawk (aka John Diggle Jr) and there was a skyscraper called Smoak Technologies. Due to Flashpoint, Diggle now has a son – John Jr, not a daughter, Sara. Felicity has also lost Palmer Tech – and in last night’s episode, Curtis mentioned he and Felicity were working on a start-up company (he mentions this as a cover for his Mr. Terrific duties to his husband) which Felicity seems to know nothing about. But easily, that could be the spark of an idea for her – especially if she pulls back from Team Arrow for other plot reasons. Flashpoint seems to be bringing the Arrow universe closer to the disaster we saw in last season’s Legends of Tomorrow. And let’s not forget – this season’s bad guys on Legends are the Triumvirate of Evil: Reverse Flash (from Season 1 of The Flash); Damien Darhk (from Season 4 of Arrow); and Malcolm Merlyn (aka “The Magician” in the comics, but he’s been hanging around Arrow since the beginning). I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think it’s all related to Flashpoint (which was a world-ending event in the comics and the animated movie).

I suspect since we also saw Damien Darhk in the Legends of Tomorrow last season; and he’s clearly working with the Reverse Flash this season, and later with Malcolm Merlyn. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think something is going on. I suspect time travel is most definitely involved. And I think the disappearance of Rip Hunter is also involved. I would love to see Rip return, maybe with his father, Booster Gold. I think the time paradoxes are only getting started and they will get more and more complex.  The four shows, but especially The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow, will have a bang-up complexly-related “super-crossover” feel by the end of this season. Maybe they will even change the “Supergirl is it’s own universe with no other Heroes” left over from last year when Supergirl was on CBS. Have I mentioned how that never made sense?

But I have to say, I love, just love, how all the DC shows are inter-related, just the way the comics are. Yes, you could just watch one or two of the shows – and you wouldn’t be lost. But when you watch all four, everything is connected. Also, just as is traditional for DC – all the Heroes know each other: they know each other’s real names; they know each others allies, friends and family; they know each other’s superpowers; and they work together when needed to overcome major threats (as in this year’s 4-part crossover event). That’s something that’s always been important in the DC Comics Universe. The heroes cooperate with each other. They don’t see each other as threats or rivals. When I first read Justice League International (later Justice League America / Justice League Europe) in the late 1980s and early 1990s – every hero, from the most powerful like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, to the ones who really had no powers at all, like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold were members of the Justice League. In between the two extremes were a lot of single power individuals such as Fire, Ice, Black Canary, Vixen – all of whom were female. There were many minorities in the League as well, including John Stewart – the Green Lantern at the time and an African American. And there were the magic users: Zatanna, Dr. Fate, etc. There was something for everyone, and a well-balanced League. Young Justice, the animated series, although it had a modern aesthetic and look, also reflected the width and breadth of the Justice League with many female and minority characters or both (Rocket and Bumblebee are both African American young women). The CW Shows have women and minorities on every show. And the women are not simply there as set dressing or to be rescued by the “male hero” – they are smart, educated, career-oriented women (reporter, scientist, computer expert), minorities have viable roles (engineer, army veteran), and Legends of Tomorrow has a balanced team of women and men with minorities on the team. Plus, you have to love a team of self-styled “screw-ups” who manage to be heroes, um, excuse me, Legends, anyway. The CW Network is doing a better job at this point of doing live action DC stories that Warner Brothers is doing with the films – though Suicide Squad was fun (though Arrow did a suicide squad storyline in it’s first or second season) and I have high hopes for Wonder Woman.

DC Rebirth – A Review

I started reading DC Comics in the late 1980s-early 1990s. I had just seen Tim Burton’s Batman and loved it, and when I was away at college I would walk every week to 25th Century Five and Dime in downtown Bloomington Indiana to buy my weekly stash. But after college, I moved to a town without a good comics store. The Internet meant e-mail and posting boards (not to mention dial-up) and there was no Amazon or other on-line shopping. For a while I bought comics from catalogs, but it got expensive, and I fell away from the habit.

Warner Brothers Animation’s excellent DC Comics series (Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Batman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond which is the order I saw them in, and various movies), the fantastic Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, and Amazon brought me back to reading comics – or at least graphic novels. When New 52 started I was so excited. I tried several graphic novels from Amazon, but I just couldn’t get it New 52. The characters seemed all the same. There was a negativity to the stories. I just did not like New 52. And I was disappointed. My graphic novel “itch” was satisfied by the occasional classic (or reprint – Nightwing and Birds of Prey, both by Chuck Dixon were and are favorites of mine).

This Summer has been the Summer of Rebirth and I love it. I also love that I have a small, independent comics store I go to – with a knowledgeable, chatty, and largely female staff. And I love Rebirth. This is my DC. Rebirth sweeps away the dark, stark, yet everyone is the same quality that New 52 had. Rebirth gives us diversity in how the characters behave, and hopefully will bring back more diverse characters (the mid-to-late 1980s were a very diverse time at DC with many African American characters and a lot of women) – Rebirth has already given us a Muslim Green Lantern and his partner a female Green Lantern. One can hope that the few diverse characters introduced during New 52 (Cyborg (already a keeper in the New Justice League), Kate Kane the Batwoman, Bat-Wing, the new Dr. Fate etc.) will stick around. But the story and writing in the new books is simply a joy to read – these are the characters, and even situations, I love.

Two weeks ago I read Nightwing Rebirth – grown-up Dick Grayson has always been one of my favorite characters in Batman’s world (I also love Alfred and Oracle). I’m a fan of the Chuck Dixon Nightwing series (if someone can still be a fan of a comics series from the 1990s). I picked up my comics that week, then went to meet some people at the movie theater to see Ghostbusters (which was AWESOME but that’s another post), I was too late to go home, but too early to want to stand around in the multiplex lobby. I headed over to the local Starbucks that ended-up having a huge line. Deciding to skip the green iced tea I normally get there, I headed to a table, carefully opened Nightwing Rebirth and started to read. And two tables away from me another woman was also carefully opening her new comics, and starting to read. By the end of the book I was grinning like an idiot. This was my Nightwing, my DC. Back in his black and blue costume, Dick looked fantastic – and, well, like Dick Grayson – not in the red and black costume that made him look like Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond. I love Batman Beyond, which is why giving Terry’s costume to Dick both made no sense and was disrespectful of both characters. And as to Dick’s years as a secret agent – really? He’s an acrobat with no family (bar Bruce, Alfred & company of course), not James Bond. But after reading Nightwing Rebirth I was just grinning – I loved it. Detective Comics is continuing the “Batman Family” idea – with several female heroes. Justice League and Green Lantern are starting arcs that will probably be long and weave through the other titles – which is as it should be, but means it will be a while before the storyline can be judged fairly. I’m reading Wonder Woman – which is running two plots that publish every other week (Week A is “The Lies” and Week B is “Wonder Woman Year One”). First issue of Birds of Prey I also loved, but it would take some effort to mess-up that series – I’ve liked every version of it I’ve found including the television series and New 52 (though I prefer the Chuck Dixon version the best).

If you’ve been thinking of trying out DC Comics Rebirth but have been hesitant, I can honestly say that I highly recommend it.

The Flash Season 2 Finale Review

The season finale of The Flash ended in a shock in that Barry Allen, as we know him, no longer exists. Follow. Our Barry went into the Future then returned to slightly before he left. It was our Barry who ran in the opposite direction, stopping the magnetic ring of doom that would destroy the multi-verse, thus it was our Barry who was disintegrated in the Speed Force.

The Barry who destroyed Zoom and also ditched Iris was the second Barry, a copy, “created” by our Barry returning to the past before he left. It was this second Barry who traveled back to the Past to save Nora, Barry’s mother.  Second Barry rescued Young Barry and his father, as well as killing Reverse Flash outright and saving Nora.

But when Second Barry did that – you’ll notice that First Season Barry, who was watching disappeared. That is because First Season Barry – the one we’ve followed through two seasons of The Flash – no longer exists. As Zoom predicted Second Barry has now destroyed himself twice, as well as Zoom and Reverse Flash. This Second Barry is the only Speedster left, assuming he also didn’t wipe himself out of existence in a paradox.

Think about it – with Second Barry destroying Reverse Flash and saving Nora, that means young Barry was raised by Nora and Henry Allen. Nora never died. Henry was never accused of and found guilty of her murder. Young Barry was never sent to live with Joe West. Young Barry may have never even met Iris West, much less fallen in love with her. And, to make things worse – Young Barry would have never been driven to become a police officer – or with Joe West’s influence to not be a cop – to become a forensic analyst, a CSI. That Young Barry probably went to college, given his parents, but who knows what he studied – or if he even returned to Central City after college. There’s no reason to assume he’d become a CSI anyway. And he never became The Flash.

But it’s worse than that – because without Barry, What would have happened. Thrawn mentions Dr. Wells Particle Accelerator happening “15 years” later and he needs for it to happen earlier. Thrawn also rigged the explosion that created both the MetaHumans and The Flash. Did this never happen? Did it happen differently? Second Barry may have created Earth 2 where Barry has no powers, Caitlin and Cisco are “evil” – Killer Frost and Reverb, specifically, as well as giving rise to Zoom in the first place.

Also, don’t forget – in the finale of Season 1, Barry goes back in time to save his mother and stop Reverse Flash. Yet, in the house – he’s warned off, by himself. In Season 1, Barry heads the warning of, well, himself, and Nora dies.  Now, we have an alternate timeline, and a second Barry goes back in time, saves Nora, and Barry (our Barry) disappears.  What is going on?

I’ve seen the animated Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, which I’ve also reviewed, but I haven’t read the 6-book Flashpoint (and World of Flashpoint) series from DC Comics. However, with DC’s new Rebirth maxi-series picking up from Flashpoint, and the fairly consistent dropping of Flashpoint hints and references in CW’s The Flash, one thing’s for sure, next season is going to be very interesting.

Free Comic Book Day 2016

Last Saturday I went to Free Comic Book Day at my local comics shop, Vault of Midnight, and I really enjoyed it. I hadn’t been to a FCBD before so I was a bit nervous, but the store handled things really well – crowd control, vendors, and they even had some line entertainment to give everyone something to do and watch while waiting, in line, for awhile. The weather cooperated for a change, it was nice, sunny, warm but not hot. The store had tents outside along where the line formed, with various organizations such as Girls Rock, a local convention GrandCon, and the local 8-bit gaming society (who had tube TVs set up with old console games for kids to play). Most of the vendors were set-up for the kids in the crowd – but considering the wait, that was a good idea. In the line, however, it was mostly young adults and adults, patiently waiting and everyone being nice.

Once inside the store, crowd control was very good – I did not feel crowded or claustrophobic which was a good thing. I did still have to wait to get to the back of the store for my choice of three free books, but after I made my choices I still had time to shop – and I even bought some new graphic novels.  Overall, it was a really enjoyable experience, Vault of Midnight did a great job hosting, and it made me want to buy my graphic novels and comics at the store rather than other more convenient and/or cheaper venues much stronger (because yeah – I need to go back this Friday or Saturday and pick up one of the Doctor Who graphic novels (from Titan Comics) that I missed when I erroneously thought I already had it).

So what did I get for my “freebies”?

“DC Comics Previews – DC Universe Rebirth”

This is in a very real sense an advertising circular / catalog of DC Comics for the Summer, especially May and June. But the articles are exactly what I needed to know having been outside the loop for a bit, especially on the monthly titles from DC.  Here’s the thing – I was reading DC Comics in the late 80s/early 90s on a regular basis – even walking to my local comics shop every week to pick up that week’s releases that I wanted. Then I moved – to an area that didn’t have a convenient comics shop. For awhile I ordered via paper catalogs (remember those!) but eventually that got expensive and I lost interest and moved on to other things. I’d periodically buy graphic novels, and especially with the Nolan Batman Trilogy in theaters, and watching and absolutely loving Bruce Timm and Andrea Romano’s DCAU and follow-up Dc Animated films, I started buying graphic novels again – mostly on-line through retailers like Amazon, or occasionally in person at Barnes and Noble. Yep, I got dragged in again (not that that’s a bad thing).

Then DC did New 52 – which I tried out through several graphic novels (Batman, Batman the Dark Knight, Justice League, Nightwing) but I just did not like New 52 at all. My analysis of New 52 was – “Hey, DC – if we wanted to read Marvel, we’d read Marvel – DC fans read DC because we like DC!”. If that seems confusing, the DC I grew-up reading was very character-based. Justice League International, which later became Justice League America and Justice League Europe was a character-based book that was just fun to read. There were characters in the Justice League with virtually no powers at all (like Booster Gold and Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle) who tended to sit in the Hall of Justice cafeteria commenting on what was going like a modern Greek Chorus. Other characters had single powers: Fire, Ice, Black Canary, etc. And when something major did go down – the League would work together as a group to beat the supervillain or bring aid after a natural or man-made disaster. Plus with all the character interaction – there was good-natured humor too. there was also a lot of diversity – ethnic, gender, aliens, etc. All the heroes in the DC Universe belonged to the Justice League – like a professional organization of heroes, both minor heroes and major ones, and the League worked together in what they did. And the League was a home to some minor heroes who couldn’t really have their own books.

New 52 in contrast gave us flat, carbon-copy “heroes” who didn’t like or trust each other. It gave us “heroes” who didn’t want to be heroes – all of them, even traditionally very happy characters like The Flash were re-written to be grim and in a sense boring. Plus New 52 really dumped the diversity. Oracle, Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, but before New 52 the leader of the Birds of Prey and Info-Central for all the DC Heroes, especially the Bat family – was killed off, and then Batgirl was re-introduced as “Batgirl”. Oracle has been one of my favorite characters – this is a woman who was, famously, paralyzed after being shot by the Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. But rather than disappearing, or becoming a villain herself, or even just becoming bitter and mean – Barbara Gordon showed real strength – she returned to collage and got her MLS – Master’s of Library Science, which is not small or easy feat in and of itself. She then got a job at the Gotham City Library (again, not easy, considering the prejudice against disabled people in America), and finally she became Oracle – running the Birds of Prey with just her voice, and providing Batman and other DC heroes with the information they needed to do their jobs. Oracle, in short was awesome, and an example of how having diversity in one’s line-up means, introducing interesting and real characters – not some sort of imagined “government forced PC” as the Conservatives accuse Diversity of being (especially over at Marvel, and ESPECIALLY at Marvel when they started as a walkout of ex-DC employees who didn’t like having female, African American, and diverse heroes in the DC books in the 1960s and 1970s). Oracle was a great character who happened to be in a wheelchair, female, smart, educated, computer-literate, and used her wits and intelligence to be a hero not her brawn. And Oracle was by far not the only one – throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s DC continuously introduced a large and diverse cast of modern characters who were still heroes. What did New 52 do? Got rid of Oracle and brought back Batgirl – another character who was simply a young, female version of a major character with not a whole lot special about her. In short, Batgirl became bland – whereas Oracle was strong, intelligent, and independent.

New 52 was a failure for DC. In less than 6 months – half of the books were cancelled due to poor sales, including books that had been long-running in the past. Reprints of older collections of 1990s-era DC Comics sold well (well enough that additional volumes came out). DC admitted their error with Convergence – a universe-spanning multi-issue maxi series to fix the issues. I admit, I haven’t read Convergence yet. Hopefully, the graphic novels will come out sooner or later and I can catch-up. But now, according to DC Previews, this Summer DC is doing “Rebirth” and they are bringing back the traditional DC – with more characters, diverse characters, excellent writing and art, the more traditional approach to story-telling (e.g. fun and character-based) and combining both the traditional heroes of DC (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Flash, Justice League, Aquaman, etc) and new characters (Teen Titans including Cyborg, Doctor Fate, etc.) And I’m honestly excited to at least try single-issue releases of Rebirth, even though I prefer graphic novels and graphic novel collections.

Also in my free comic book stack was:

Doctor Who – Four Doctors (Four Stories) Titan Comics FCBD 2016 special

First, this isn’t to be confused with Paul Cornell’s excellent Four Doctors series then graphic novel. It’s a separate series of four short stories: 12, 11, 10, and 9 presented in reverse-chronological order (that is 12 first, then 11, and so on). The short stories are meant to give a feel for the various Doctor Who series (which are collected into graphic novels periodically). The stories are short and stand-alone, but they do give a feel for what Titan has to offer. I also liked that the Doctor Who free book gave the readers stories, not simply advertising. There were also single pages with lists of all the graphic novels (as well on-going series) currently available or planned – this gives you a reading list, something very helpful when just starting or even for keeping up. (The DC Previews free book also had a catalog in the back, with release months, to help in planning and organizing purchases.) I enjoyed reading the Titan Comics book.

Finally, I picked up the FCBD issue of Suicide Squad, expecting something to tie-in to the upcoming movie. This book had a lot of advertising – some totally off-base (Why would someone reading Suicide Squad want to even know about Scooby Doo or Johnny Quest? And if the reader was that young as to be interested in kiddie books – Why would they be reading something as adult as Suicide Squad?) In between the ads, there was a story, mostly for Deadshot, with a few interludes with other characters that in the very last few pages proves to be a prequel to the new film coming out this Summer. So, overall, it was a good choice.

Again, I had an excellent time at Free Comic Book Day at Vault of Midnight. The weather was perfect. I enjoyed the three books I choose. And I picked-up several additional graphic novels which should keep me busy for a little while. I review completed graphic novels on GoodReads, so look for reviews there in the coming weeks.

Graphic Design and New Media Quote

Lupton_Medium_not_message

 

See also my review of the entire book on GoodReads.

I would agree that each media is specific – books and films are different. And when books are adapted into films – the material changes.  But this quote also points out something astute – more and more often, especially in pop culture, an icon or character is a multi-media experience. Batman started in the comics in 1939, and still exists in the comics – but there have been multiple series of films, live action television series, multiple animated television series, animated films, video games, etc. Each of those different presentations, will have different requirements. Films, for example, need a definite ending – both individually and in a series or trilogy. But comics, and television shows, by their very nature are on-going. Video games need interactivity and multiple possible storylines.