Superhero Puzzle #911 — What to do about Speedy’s bloodlust

Bloody shafts!  Is there any recent kiddult TV superhero series with worse dialogue and mindlessly repetitive character tropes as “Arrow“.  For an X-Gener like me you kinda’ have to watch some of this rubbish as a homage to your youthful reading habits. But seriously folks, I’m about ready to give up.  There is a saving grace … it gives me an excuse to write the Superhero puzzles series.  So here goes.

This post is about trying to suggest more imaginative scriptwriting.  (The situation is so desperate that I’ll even offer my services and quit my job if DC or Marvel want to employ my scriptwriting services.)

First, some more rants to set the scene.   Black Canary (Laurel Lance):  there cannot be a more impulsively driven mad women in all of scifi tv.  If there is … warn me not to watch!  It’s unbearably annoying and totally unimaginative scriptwriting.

Another character whose story arc shows anti-darwinian evolution is Spartan (John Diggle):  is there any other superhero or scifi character who is so consistently wrong in their predictions and strategies and yet so morally preachy and idiotically righteous?  I lost count early on of the number of times Diggle chews out Arrow (Oliver Queen) and then turns out to be utterly wrong and yet never seems to have to apologize.    Apart from it’s sister TV show Flash, there is perhaps no dumber superhero series that pretends to be “youth/adult entertainment” as Arrow.  The quasi-science is appalling at times, and the plot directions baffling when far more awesome stories could be built by using more physically realistic constraints.  If you want a contrast, then try watching Agents of SHIELD or Agent Carter or the short run of  Constantine,  … The Marvel television series writers are not brilliant, but they are levels above the DC franchise writers.  At Marvel they at least know when to not take themselves too seriously, in the British Doctor Who tradition, so it’s fun.

The Puzzle, the Bloodlust

So Speedy (Thea Queen/Red Arrow) gets half-killed (or fully killed? Maybe not brain dead?) then healed in the Lazarus Pit. But the dude who killed her was none other than Ras Al Ghul, who in turn gets killed by Oliver.  Thing is, if one is resurrected in the Lazarus Pit it is due to all the souls who died or gave their life force to the pit.  When you get physically healed by the Pit you give up a small smidgen of your life force, a part of your immaterial soul gets taken, you see, so the unfortunate side-effect of receiving too much healing (i.e., resurrection) is a bloodlust, a need to kill, unless you can kill the person who killed you, then the bloodlust fades.  So Thea is stricken with a  case of terminal bloodlust since Olly killed her killer, so she cannot escape the curse.

Thea Queen trying to control her bloodlust.

“Whoa there lady!  Yo’ ’bout to stab an unconscious thug!” Thea Queen trying to control her bloodlust.

The Puzzle:  instead of having a boring recurring bloodlust situation, what is a far more creative and awesome way to “cure” Thea?

The answer in a few paragraphs.

First, let’s examine a rather boring scenario.  A far more extreme bloodlust case arises when the terminally stupid and achingly boring impetuousness of Laura Lance gives her the mad idea of resurrecting her long dead sister from the grave.  She (along with Thea) transport Sarah Lance’s body all the way to Nandar Phabat to the Lazarus Pit and resurrect her, with the almost incomprehensible (but weakly defended) permission of the new Ra’s, Malcolm Merlin.   Not knowing about the bloodlust side-effect, Laurel is thrown into turmoil when Sarah awakens as basically a raving rabidly made zombie.

Guess who killed Sarah Lance?  It was Thea Queen, her friend.  Thea was driven to kill Sarah by Malcolm Merlin who had drugged Thea.  Don’t ask why.  Anyway, Sarah now has to worst case of bloodlust in the world.  She is stalking Star City killing any women who look remotely like Thea Queen.

When Oliver finds out he consults his buddy John Constantine who knows  bit of black magic.  Constantine performs a ritual and retrieves Sarah Lance’s soul, along with an appropriate amount of mystic realm histrionics.  But the ritual is not too difficult, it takes a few herbs and spices and incantations, a mystic battle and is all over in a few minutes (maybe an hour of fictional time).

OK, so why not repeat for Thea?

Guess the scriptwriters need her to hold onto bloodlust for some plot contrivances!  Lazy, lazy scriptwriters.  You make the intelligence of your characters seem like a 6 year old, probably worse, any 6 year old child I know would see the immediate hope for Thea.  But not a DC tv writer or producer.  They seem to need to insult even 6 year olds with their future plot neediness. Or are they just really dumb?   Maybe Constantine has a quota on how many times he can use a spell?  Who knows.

The Solution:  you get Constantine or some appropriate character to hypnotize Thea into transferring her bloodlust for an urge to kill into an urge to have sex.  She becomes a mystical nymphomaniac with primodial sexlust.

And before you start accusing me of misanthropy, I reckon a nice cure for the sexlust would be to get Roy Harper, Thea’s former beau, back in town.  He’s the one who gets to suffer the brunt of the impact of the sexlust.

But just imagine the hilarious stories that could result.  Sadly, DC take things way too seriously for this.  But I think in the Marvel universe it’d fly.  Whaddaya reckon?


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Superhero Puzzle #905 — “Carbon dating shows … “

From Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 episode 3: what’s wrong with this dialogue?

The scene: the agents are in the lab and Fitz as just discovered sand particles from an ancient scroll he supposed would be a clue to unlocking his love, Jemma Simmons, from the dark matter obelisk, are not what they appear to be …

  • Fitz: OK, the sand itself … not unusual. Mostly silicon dioxide particles just like on Earth.
  • Coulson: But you’re saying this sand is not from Earth?
  • Bobbi: Sir, carbon dating shows that …
  • Fitz: [interrupting] It pre-dates the Earth by a billion years.

Could it be that sand is not made from silicon dioxide particles?

Nope. Sand is quartz, mostly, and that is SiO2 (silicon dioxide) mostly.

Could it be that there is no carbon in sand?

Maybe, but that is not bad science. Silicon dioxide has no carbon atoms in it of course. But any quantity of naturally occurring sand is full of impurities, some organic some inorganic, either of which type could contain carbon.

Might it be that sand is only found on Earth? (If you thought this was the bad science you had to be kidding!)

Could it be the title of this blog post gives it way? Is “carbon dating” phony science?

Certainly not! If you attended the bare minimum of science classes at school then you should know carbon dating examines the ratio of radioactive carbon-14 to carbon-12 atoms in fossils and other artifacts.

The answer is the split dialogue, “carbon dating shows that it pre-dates the Earth by a billion years.”

Why? Carbon dating relies upon two critical things:

    1. Radioactive Carbon-14 is created by cosmic ray bombardment of naturally occurring Nitrogen-14 in the earth’s atmosphere. Nitrogen-14 is highly unstable and decays almost immediately liberating a proton and forming radioactive carbon-14.

So far OK. Plenty of other planets would also have nitrogen atmospheres.

    1. The atmospheric Carbon-14 will combine with oxygen readily to form carbon dioxide.
    2. Living organisms breath in CO2. A certain ratio of which will be radioactive CO2 due to the carbon-14. Organisms also breath in normal non-radioactive CO2 containing stable carbon-12.

Still OK. It would be entirely plausible that life on other planets also uses oxygen and carbon dioxide for respiration.

    1. When an organism dies it no longer takes in the radioactive CO2. So the naturally occurring ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in dead matter slowly decays over time at a predictable rate according to the decay rate of unstable carbon-14. This mechanism creates a natural fossil clock.

Still uncontroversial. The same natural fossil dating clock mechanism would occur on other planets.

So where is the telly bad scifi?

  • Question: How long does the carbon-14 clock work? Answer: only roughly ten to 20 times as long as the radioactive half life of carbon-14 (the time it takes half of a sample of carbon-14 to decay).
  • The half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years. So we can only expect carbon dating to work accurately for fossils as old as 50,000 years, or at a stretch up to 100,000 years with advanced ultra-sensitive methods of laboratory analysis.

That’s the solution. Any fossil artifact older than about 100,000 years cannot be dated using carbon dating.

So either Fitz was wrong about the date of the sand quartz begin over a billion years old, or Bobbi got the dating method Fitz used totally wrong. Since Fitz is a physicist, and Bobbi a field agent and biology undergraduate, the solution is that the scriptwriters for Bobbi were brain dead at the time of typing up this episode.

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Superhero Puzzle Series #9xx — Telly Bad SciFi series

Superhero Puzzles #900 to #999 will be asking you why a certain line of dialogue or plot contrivance is serious awful science fiction. As usual, the pseudo-science in the plot does not need to be perfectly scientific realism, but if a much simpler and superior explanation or story dialogue or plot contrivance is possible then we need to ask why the writers are not employing or consulting proper scientists for more realistic hard SciFi in their screenplays or storyboards or especially their final scripts.

Hey! Real scientists can be useful!

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Here’s a v. quick post:  have you been dying to see an intelligent SciFi movie or series?  They are are few and far between right?!  One I am waiting for on DVD is The Martian (2015), I’ve heard ok reviews and the book it was based upon had very good reviews and listening to interviews with the author, Andy Weir, it seems like a quality piece of hard scifi that had some sound engineering physics thought behind it.   Hard to know whether to read the book or watch the film. Film is faster!  Life is short!  Therefore watch the film and sadly miss the book?   Too many mathematics texts to read anyway, so the film it is [sigh]!

If I’m not feeling wide awake enough for a mathematics or physics lecture during my lunch break, I might try a bit of scifi TV or read a science blog article, or sometimes find a good movie to dip into.

And I do mean “dip into”.  I eat fairly quickly, and not too huge helpings, so it’s all over in 15 minutes.  And that’s about as much of a movie I can watch in one session.  Heading out the the theatre is a rare event these days, and besides that, I like to watch a good movie in comparative solitude.

So every purple moon I might find an intelligent SciFi movie.  But I will start watching and get nervous that any moment the story will sensationalize and lapse into horribly saccharine, physically implausible unreality.  You cannot even begin writing a critique of the SciFi genre because 99% of what the film industry turns out is utter crap.  That might seem too harsh, the SFX are vastly better than in days of old, but the stories are the critical component of any good film or book.  And it is the plot, the dialogue, and the whole story structure that really sucks in just about every recent Scifi  film I have seen in the past decade or more.   (Hold on now, I am getting to a good recommendation.)

The problem I think is that the improvements in SFX have outpaced improvements in screenplays.  Older screenplays could be just as good or a lot better than modern scripts because the focus in the old days had to be on stories because the SFX totally sucked.  Take Star Trek as an example.  The modern Star Trek stories have a lot more fancy CGI and the screenplays use a lot more modern science ideas, so they seem pretty cool compared to the camp TV series.  Similar comments could be made about Doctor Who, another generation spanning SciFi series.  But if you analyse them a little more deeply, and think about the dialogue and the psychology, not a lot has really improved.  The dialogue in Start Trek Into the Darkness (2013) was fairly childish.  Whenever a cool science point could be made the pseudo-science explanations lapsed perhaps into even worse quasi-science than the dialogues from the original TV series.  They just use a few more modern science buzz-words.  The actual meat of the scifi science explanations is often a lot worse.  The logic is a lot worse, the liberties taken with reality more extreme. (Recall the “photon torpedo”? … OMG, … let’s not even go there!) The Star Trek franchise should be consulting the chap who wrote the Science of Star Trek books, or Michio Kaku, who can rhapsodize endlessly about plausible scifi science.

I could write a long essay on this, but I won’t.

Can I then get to my recommendation?

Sure dude.  Just hang on one more minute though.   The thing is, I suspect, what makes a really good scifi story is one that dials back the fantasy and aims for a lot of hard realism.  So something like the “near future” genre is always promising, but using plausible and reasonable extrapolations of current science.  Especially stories that obey the principles of conservation of energy, momentum, and the second law of thermodynamics.  Those are perhaps the most blatantly violated principles of science that bad SciFi movies in particular routinely abuse.  My point is that if you discipline your story to obey just these three principles then you will be constraining your plot.  Such constraints are beautiful things.  It forces the other human aspects of your story to be more powerful and it helps make the audience more involved and engaged, even if the average audience member is not aware of the principles.  (I lose count of the number of CGI-mediated violations of conservation of momentum in crashes and fight scenes.  Each instance just makes me more and more nauseous.  even fairly serious film makers like Peter Jackson, routinely violate conservation of momentum — both linear and rotational — in their CGI spectaculars.)

So when someone makes a SciFi film that does not even begin to worry about spectacular CGI, then I am extremely interested.  So here is the recommendation:  go and grab a copy of Robot and Frank (2012).

Robot_and_Frank_movie poster

A movie with no CGI pretensions, and a nice premise on the face of it.

I have only seen the first 15 minutes, so I am still nervous the plot will get derailed later by unrealistic physics or computer science.  But I think this is one film I can happily watch to the end based on the story premise.  Give it a go.

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I guess it is possible the artificial intelligence postulates in this movie will degenerate into implausibility, but over the next week of lunch breaks I’ll risk it. 🙂