The Tragedy and Redemption of Tony Stark



Requiem for a Fallen Avenger            by Shawn StJean

The 22nd film chronicling the MCU, and the culmination of its third phase, is too brimful of elements to treat in a single blog post, and not all of them working.  So I’ll leave alone the inevitable (self-reflexive) paradoxes of a time-travel plot, and the weariness of more multiple quests for magic stones (albeit made here more palatable when sought through time, rather than space, this still feels, in parts, like a video game).  Some are movie-trite and artificial–though still great, for all that–such as the hero moment with Captain (Carol Danvers) Marvel flanked by all the women characters on the battlefield.  Rather, I’d like to reflect on an aspect that packs more wallop than a Hulk punch, and carries more [emotional] heft than Thor’s hammer.  In fact, many in the screening I attended were reduced to audible sobs, at the death of Iron Man’s alter ego.

And this is really the crux of the superior storytelling that has defined Marvel all along, and raises it consistently, since the 1960s, above its counterpart, DC.  Even Clint Barton’s brief, sadistic rampage through the underworld, in anguish over the deaths of his family–clearly an echo of the Batman mythology–seems more believable.  Endgame manages to convey empathy for Ronin, while not aligning with him.  He’s no good guy at that point, and the his fellow Avengers say so; he himself acknowledges it.  There’s no avenging, in the end; there’s maybe possible atonement.  Revenge is only an outward manifestation of anger at oneself.  At failure to protect; and more, failure to love properly, in the first place.  With Batman, it’s simply a willing suspension of disbelief on our part, that unconscious revenge motives can masquerade indefinitely as controlled justice.

Which returns me to Stark, opening the film with a clear visual homage to Hamlet holding Yorick’s skull in his very hand, contemplating his own failure and death.  I might call it the second stage of his arc of tragic development, as a character.  Having passed through his initial phase as a self-aggrandizing egomaniac, in several films, culminating in his alliance with the government in the superhero registration movement, Stark begins a suicidal spiral.  The film does a convincing job of reducing his body to skeletal, and, ranting at Cap about how he was right all along to privilege security over freedom, “Iron Man” tries to tear the electrical heart from his chest, in a melodramatic, verging on infantile, tantrum of self-indulgent masochism.

But, again, Marvel makes us privy to the source of such a tantrum.  In the five years that elapse since Thanos’ immolation of half the sentient beings in the universe, Stark’s life is among the few that improve: he fathers a sweet little girl.  He loves her; any of us would.  And, while the film is still trying to keep the time-travel bit from breaking loose from its mooring, the scientist points out that if history is set right, he will lose what he’s gained in the interim.  So naturally, he refuses to help, at first.  But he wouldn’t be Anthony Stark if he allowed Bruce Banner to out-invent him, so he reconsiders.  But for him, it’s really a “even if I win, I lose” proposition.  His child will never have existed.  And that’s the essence of the Marvel Universe, and, as Stan Lee conceived and ran it, the reflection was close to life.  We suffer.  We lose.  But in those moments of victory lie the kernels of nourishment to keep going.  We individuals may win the battles and lose the war, but it is still worth the fighting, in service to those who remain.

IF you should have the same emotional reaction that I had during the third act (really an epilogue that redeems any of the film’s deficiencies,) examine where it’s coming from.  Stark was never a character we were meant to LIKE.  Arrogant, flippant, encased in armor and thereby distant, his finest hour begins with (another Hamlet allusion) his encountering the “ghost” of his father, Howard.  A more innocent and honest version of himself, is the elder Stark.  Howard confides his ambivalence about the impending birth of his son (Tony himself–it’s time-travel stuff, see the movie).  And in so doing, humanizes himself for his progeny.  What Howard is really doing is humanizing everyone for Tony: authorizing him to see the good, the weak, as well as the bad, in us all.  Joseph Campbell might say that, in recovering the infinity stone in this scene, Tony is really slaying the ogre aspect of the father, in his quest for identity.  “Be your own father, young man,” was advice given to the protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s 1950 novel, Invisible Man.  Only with the shadow of the father well and truly vanquished in the light, can a man begin to follow his own moral code.  Luckily for half the universe, Tony abandons selfishness and bows to serve.  Abandons ego.  As with armored heroes going back probably before Beowulf, his masks, his shields and swords, his mechanical and technological shells and weapons, fail him.  He turns to good, old-fashioned hand-to-hand (literally) combat with Thanos to save the day, and the effort overloads his already-debilitated, human frame.

The cost of war is sacrifice.  Marvel knows that.  These films, at the unconscious level where it counts, are advertisements for heroism, but they make no glorification of war.  A real-life small girl, younger than Stark’s daughter in the film, asked her mom “Is Iron Man dead for real?” during the screening’s denouement.  Indeed, he is.  So are the Black Widow and Vision and Gamora.  Captain America really is old now, and ready to hand over his shield to a younger man, who can lift it.  But, as in the Denmark that Hamlet gave his life exposing the killer of the true king to save, the price for redemption has to be paid, as dear as it may be.  The best any of us can hope for is the dignity of fleeting recognition:  “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”



Seven Demands for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Movie, and Why, and Why Now??


by Shawn StJean


Because isn’t it about bloody time?

AND: All one has to do is survey the (cough, cough) brilliant spate of films that (de)populated theaters this September and October.  Was there ever a better endorsement for Netflix and the wasteland that is network television, than for Hollywood to simply roll over and rely on the fact that people will suffer anything to get out of the house?  I mean, Halloween Yet Again??

I’m sure the realities of Hollywood are more convoluted than insider texts like Entourage and Wag the Dog and The Player reveal to us.  And so there may be compelling reasons against it; some might claim Joss Whedon CAN’T legally (or emotionally, ethically, temporally, blah, blah) make a BTVS movie.  But seriously, did we really need the eighth (or is it 9th?) Rocky sequel, when there are perfectly good–damn good–properties lying around, unexploited?  That people are dying to see (see what I just did there?)  In Hollywood, even in 2018, be sure of it: nothing dissolves legal obstacles like good, old-fashioned obscenely stacked numbers of zeroes on direct deposit readouts.

Now, as a die-hard fan, I’m as dead-set (chuckle) against revivifying this franchise as anyone else, IF it’s going to suck.  And I’m not talking blood-sucking, I’m talking wind-sucking.  So let’s establish a wish-list.  Hey, it’s not like I’m writing Santa Claus here.  Hollywood suits love money.  It’s a natural (as unnatural subjects like vampire-slaying go. Okay, I’ll stop now.)

Joss Whedon must be attached.  Change the entire cast, if you must–let those has-beens like Eliza Dushku and Sarah Michelle Gellar appear in cameos as alternate characters if they so choose–but Whedon is the soul of the Buffyverse. No one does a hero shot like him. Oh, and, I hear he knows how to write as well as direct.  Go figure.

Casting is critical.  Here, the budget-friendly move is the better move: use all unknown actors for likes of Buffy, Angel, Faith, Spike, and the Scoobies.  But make sure they aren’t just pretty faces, a la the CW network.  These characters, each in their own way, are more tough than good-looking: Buffy with her mixed sense of destiny, Xander with his stupid courage, Angel with his inner torment, Giles with his world-weary sagacity.

Epic-level plot.  Cf. Serenity.  Here’s my idea: take a page from Beowulf‘s second act (the descent into the lair of Grendel’s mother.)  In the TV series, the baddies were always coming up out of a Hellmouth below Sunnydale.  This time, our heroes must leave home and descend into the Hellmouth.  Maybe someone (Willow) gets kidnapped, Persephone-style, and Angel goes down–typically alone–to the rescue.  Except Buffy hears about it, and, knowing he can’t do it alone, goes after him.  Scooby gang follows her, and viola, it’s a party.  I’d love to see Anthony Stewart Head appear in surprise-reveal as the Head Demon /Big Bad.

Push the envelope.  Hollywood has a way of playing it safe, homogenizing and pasteurizing anything non-vanilla.  If you recall the Entourage movie. . .ah, wait, YOU DON’T??  Exactly my point.  The script had very little of the edge and risk of the series.  It had cameos, it had sets, locations, ad infinitum.  But it was clearly a phoned-in cash-in.  We Whedonites deserve the opposite.  What made our beloved shows so great?  Allegory: High school as Hell, young people as freaks, adults as monsters, power as addiction, the healing power of friendship.  Mythology revisited: women as defenders and predators and not prey, the vampire with a soul, friendly ghosts.  Humor: sexual awkwardness, Spike, puns, Halloween as a day off for bad-guys.

Merge Galaxies in the ‘Verse.  Barring the comic-book extensions, we last saw Angel’s crew facing off against the uber-minions of Wolfram & Hart.  It would be compelling to see the likes of Gunn and possibly even Wesley join the fun.  Maybe split the San Andreas fault from Los Angeles to Sunnydale as the Hellmouth opens wide. . .

-And speaking of verses, How about a Production Number for the After-credits scene?  Hey, if you are a Buffy fan, you know why.  There’s no point catering to the general public on this–by the end, everyone will be a fan.  And guess what?  Might just wanna release the original series on Blu-ray. . .yeah. . .in fact, that will pay for the whole deal, Suits, and you know it.  So. . .

Spend the Money!!  It needs a respectable budget.  We dig special effects aplenty, sure.  But the creative people have to be paid what they’re worth, and they need to be good.  There’s no way this film won’t make it back–hell, half the people in the world will go to see it.

-Release it in early October.  There’s nothing to stand against it.  It will kill.





Branches End: Poem by Shawn StJean

A Caterpillar on a long tree branch, crossing my head level

As I hike my morning away, in the woods.

He’s reached the very end, the very last bite of the very last leaf.

It’s taken his entire cycle to munch out to here.  Not so long, after all, but for him a lot of work.

The tree and the world are full of other leaves,

And other branches, but it’s a mighty crawl, back to the trunk.

He could roll off, to the ground. . .

I’ve seen others along my own tramp, some crossing to their business,

Others dead of the heat, or trampled.  Impossible to know

What will happen, in that direction, life on the ground.

Of course, the way back to the trunk is safer, more predictable.

Sure leaves grow there.  But who knows what bird may land there, as well?

So he waits, on the tip of that long, thin sliver of wood: ruminating, wondering, deciding, waving in the breeze.

The wind picks up; and I feel a big splat of rain on my neck.

Time to go.



Tribute Poem for NaPoWriMo

I have a friend–a real poet–who is writing perhaps a poem per day, this month, National Poetry Writing Month.  I lack her workman-like ethic–or perhaps simply her skill, which improves all the time, not coincidentally, because she works.  True artists of any stripe don’t always produce great work, and the reasons are simple.  They don’t hoard their productivity, the way most of us do.  It flows out of their minds and mouths and fingertips, into the world, to be judged, ignored, discarded, or praised.  Look at the ouevre of any great artist–from Milton to The Beatles and Stephen King–and you will find a lot is not great, that is not even very good.  Because they experiment.  They take chances.  They don’t hold back.  And the great stuff flows out of that same, brave place.

There are so many definitions of poetry, but the one that sticks with me is the romantic one, coined by Wordsworth over two centuries ago: a spontaneous overflow of emotions. . .recollected in tranquility.  It doesn’t mean someone in the poem is crying or shouting angrily, or even that the poet had other than serene feelings, at the time.  It means, simply, an experience that is meaningful, among all other experiences, like a yellow flower amidst a vast green field.  An experience worth crafting, by experimentation with language, so that it can be shared with others.

True artists, in any form, are the most generous of people.  They surrender their vulnerabilities.  Over and over.

I am not such a one.  One month; one poem.  It’s all I got.  I write my poetry, for good and ill, in private places: small classrooms, garages, in the woods, carving it on trees no one will decode.  That’s most of us.

Here’s to the unprotected souls, the poets–it’s their time to sing.



Shopping for Colleges


Despite the pouring rain, it’s not so much a memory of feeling, like cold and wet,

Nor of hearing the plunking relentless drops, or smell or taste, or even what we saw:

A lone girl walking along the sodden grass of the quad, a bright red raincoat

And a black umbrella shielding her.  I didn’t wear glasses then, and if I had

It might have all seemed like an impressionist painting.

My buddy had come with me; a come-with guy when an experience was new.

I was ready to get out of my factory job, go back to school; but he would stay.

We arrived on a Saturday, not knowing any better, and many offices were closed

and most of the professors and students had flown.  It was late May, anyway.

The pair of us crossed her path by chance, converging to cross the green expanse.

“Hey, you guys want to get under my umbrella?”

We exchange looks.  “Sure!”

I hadn’t yet been to college, but I’m not stupid.  The rain was nothing to me.

Once, in Korea, I spent a night in a hole full of monsoon rainwater, on a hillside.

And before that, I trudged seven miles through a storm

so that my first girlfriend could dump me, in person.

So the rain really was nothing to me.  Still, we huddled, we trio of twenty-somethings,

And the umbrella wasn’t big enough, so that we scrunched the poor girl in on either side.

She smiled and we chatted for as long as it lasted, only a walk of a hundred yards.

And somehow we didn’t ruin it, by hitting on her or touching by accident/on purpose

or insisting she give up her errand to the Registrar.  Later I wished we invited her

to swing back around, for coffee.  You don’t always know what to say, or do, at the time.

Of course I never saw her again.  Yet, sitting right there, in the dive coffee-house,

which since then had been replaced by a surgically clean campus computer-lab,

I looked over my cup, and declared to my buddy: “This is where I’m going to college.”

No pamphlets, guided tours, statistics, or Barron’s guides could have shown the way clearer.

Thirty years later, I have no memory whatsoever of the prior month, or the following month.

Can’t recollect her smell, or the color of her hair, or what anybody said.

The gym has since burned down and been replaced, that quad of green grass paved over.

Most of the faculty I knew are gone, and the football field has grown a ten-foot perimeter fence.

And the students are not even the children of my own classmates–some August soon,

their grandchildren will arrive.  Not long ago, in the grand scheme, but a full third in the life of a man.

I’ve walked through so much rain, since then.  And rarely have been offered

a share of an umbrella by a girl in a red raincoat, and a smile, no one within call

to protect her from strange boys.  No one to tell her what the right thing to do was.

Just the invulnerability of her open heart.

I sometimes wonder if women wonder if all the thousands of smiles they’ve spent

on strangers were worth it.  Or if they shouldn’t just have bowed their heads,

and moved on with their business, silently, or raised their eyes in Don’t-Mess-With-Me,

paved themselves over with concrete, and put up high, iron fences.

That would be too bad.

Because frigid damp, exposure under the wet sky, the unsureness about the right thing, are not nothing to me.



























Australia’s Hardest Working Blogger Reviews Cranky Bear Wakes Up


Andrew Gillman, tireless analyzer of all things pop culture via his blog SparklyPrettyBriiiiight, has taken a look at Cranky Bear Wakes Up, the new, illustrated offering for children from Glas Daggre Publishing, authored by Shawn StJean and drawn by Todd StJean.

Here’s a snippet:  “It doesn’t matter that the pictures aren’t coloured; there’s a beguiling simplicity to each and every drawing that portrays the story more memorably than even than coloured-in drawings would.”

Read the detailed review HERE:

Hardcover Indie Children’s Story-Sketchbook On Sale Now: Cranky Bear Wakes Up! through Nook Press by Barnes & Noble


Previously published in December in softcover, this “Story-sketchbook” by Todd StJean and Shawn StJean is now available at $16.99 list through the online bookstores, both in the US and abroad, printed by Nook Press and LightningSource.  Nook Press (Barnes & Noble) has recently updraded its services for indie authors, and has added several new formatting  and packaging options.  For those seeking an alternative to Amazon’s Createspace POD platform, they are certainly worth a look!

Saving Hascal’s Horrors by Laura Smith: ‘Tween Book Review by Shawn StJean


In his famous short essay “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” Stephen King makes a crucial distinction—though he witholds the alienating clinical terminology–between neurosis and psychosis, and explains that horror texts keep most of us on the harmless side of that line.  A parallel, critical definition of Gothics—such as Frankenstein— is that they explore the irrational impulses lurking beneath the calm surface of the rational mind.

Without delving into the why of it, King observes that horror has “always been the special province of the young.”  One might theorize that, before and during puberty, the id has a clear dominance over the superego, while the ego spends all its time in formation, self-absorbed and aloof from the battle.  Simply put, kids have more strongly expressed fears and desires than adults, because they haven’t learned yet to be ashamed of them.  In fact, they embrace them, through thrill-seeking: climbing trees, riding roller coasters, skateboarding, flashlight-tag, Truth or Dare.

Laura Smith’s adventure novel for ‘tweens, Saving Hascal’s Horrors, is neither Horror nor Gothic.  Yet its conflict does center around the culture of the Horror Shop (think comic-book store, leaning over a cliff’s edge).  Hascal’s store has been closed to the public for years, following alleged complicity in the disappearance and death of a local teen.

This navigation around a genre, without indulging in its excesses, is a bit of a neat trick.  Smith understands her audience (I‘d say 8-12 years old).  Many young children, given the opportunity, revel in the scatology, “sick jokes,” profanity, sexual suggestiveness, and gore of the horror text.  Smith leverages none of these cheap elements.  Rather, the major conflict resolves around a common, relatable fear: getting lost in the woods.  That’s not to say the book is sanitized: it does contain a dead body, for example.  But we aren’t asked to witness an autopsy of descriptive (and gross!) detail.

Part Hamlet, part To Kill A Mockingbird, Smith creates a neighborhood of characters in “Salemstown, PA,” in which the real tragedy is one of folks laboring under irrational prejudices against one another: the freaky/geeky boy who can’t fit in, and lacks the social tools to disabuse his tormentors; the mean-seeming old man, who doesn’t care to justify himself.  And stripped of the racial dimension of Harper Lee’s novel, Smith’s work might appeal to contemporary parents who would prefer their progeny focus on the more common forms of prejudice.  As one of the characters realizes, “Maybe a villain was just a good guy who had something terrible happen to him.”

Supernatural elements do introduce themselves, through a video message by protagonist Mike’s father, from beyond the grave: a mission to reopen the store, in the face of continued financial decline.  Further on, Mike discovers an inherited post-cognitive ability.  In fact, the book eventually transforms into an actual ghost story.  However, like Hamlet’s father, the spirit of the missing boy is not evil, only haunting the forest while it awaits release from purgatory.  A preoccupation with death imagery, paraphenalia, verse, and text almost defines the teen audience, and the book thus weaves a sort of unique appeal for so young an audience.  The YA bookshelves, of course, are filled with the stuff, but Smith offers a less intense, more fun experience for the neophyte crowd.   I especially enjoyed the repartee among Mike, Corey, Jack, Lisa, and Freddy, even amidst imminent danger in the caves.

The extended conclusion is suspenseful, but not designed to frighten, and devoid of terror.  In fact, it more often invokes nervous humor during the misadventures of the cohort of 9-11 year olds, in a Goonies-like manner.  The book also contains Easter eggs, scattered throughout, for the watchful older reader–if one should happen to be a fan of the horror genre.

Finally, there’s a lot of book for the buck, here.  In fact, the novel feels to me about two minor characters (several adults hover in the background,) and forty pages too heavy, with a few scenes that could have been harmlessly dropped, contributing to a tighter organic unity.  But nothing so problematic as the “Director’s Cut” that King himself has released of The Stand, all but ruining a good epic with excess material, and proving why editors are needed—even in the labyrinth of the unconscious.

FOUR stars.

Author’s website, with links to her other works:

Purchase Page: