Friday, July 21, 2017

I'm tired of saving the world

They fight crime.

If someone asked seven year-old me what a superhero does, that probably would have been my answer. Superhero movies of today would say otherwise.

Case in point: Wonder Woman. While a strong film in its own right, it eventually falls into a trap of redundancy shared by many of its contemporaries.

"If the heroes don't succeed, the whole world is doomed."

Suits in marketing are partly to blame here. "It's got to be big. BIG! The film must be a BIGLY splodey extravaganza of CGI tidal waves incessantly washing over the audience in IMAX 3D. We must get on this! No time for lunch! We'll snack al desko!"

Like a descent into addiction, eventually the fate of the world is not nearly intense enough. It's the whole galaxy at stake. Then the universe. And if the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War follows the comics, all of existence and the very nature of reality will be at stake.

The concepts of "existence" and "reality" are difficult enough for philosophers to tackle. Can the average audience members really get their heads around "all reality"? I'll admit that I'm not sure I can. Regardless, that's where this constant one-upmanship of raised stakes has us.  Fundamentally, this is a problem of writing. Before exploring this issue, I would first like to examine the nature of the source literature and how that might hold a few answers as to how we got here.

Literary critic Northrop Frye would likely call these stories "romances." This does not mean deep kisses of unbridled passion and love triangles...although there is often some of that. Romantic stories include the tales of King Arthur and Camelot as written by Thomas Malory, Marie de France, and so many others. They are stories of colorful, larger than life heroes who move from one epic adventure to the next. Our contemporary superheroes are drawn from the well of these kinds of myths. That "larger than life" aspect is fertile ground for hyperbolic, "world-ending" stakes.

Yet comic books have their own composition theory. I witnessed this in a workshop at a Comic-Con decades past. A creator from one of the Big Two publishers of comics walked aspiring writers and artists through a little exercise where the participants broke down how they would open an issue of their own comic book. Most of the responses were something along the lines of "I start off with a full page, then go to a splash page, and then another splash page..." The creator responded, "Great, but you've left yourself with nowhere to go. You're not building toward anything."

It's the same conundrum with the writing of these films. If the fate of the world or the universe or realty itself is always at stake, then where else is there to go? There can be no more escalation. How long can a writer sustain such a fever pitch? Instead of nail-biting tension, the stories eventually just get trite, boring, and tedious. It's hard to care about saving the world if everybody is doing it. What was once sublime becomes tedious.

What's more, the writer paints the story into a corner. It is highly improbable that the heroes are going to fail to save the world/galaxy/universe. I'll admit it might be an interesting postmodern experiment to watch them fail and then see the apocalyptic aftermath. The truth is though, audiences would likely find such Bergman-esque risks wholly dissatisfying and that's bad news for the suits in marketing. After all, who will buy the merch tie-ins for a disliked film? In fairness, such an ending also doesn't fit what we humans have come to expect in a romantic story. So it's a given that the boys and girls in tights are going to come out on top. Where's the threat, then? Do we not, in time, just become numb to it?

I'm not saying "doomsday approaching" stories are bad in and of themselves. Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Kree-Skrull War (start here if you want slog through my deconstructive critique of that epic) are examples of great comics carrying this theme. I'm also not saying that the movies should be dull or the threats disproportionate. Take the Avengers for example. The cast includes characters such as Thor, the Hulk, and Iron Man. They are incredibly powerful and the antagonists should at least be able to menace them. The Avengers should not be fighting someone who could easily be beat up by Cage and Iron First. Dr. Strange is also quite powerful and should not be able to dispatch his villain by merely muttering a spell. Such would make for boring reading or moviegoing experiences.

There are ways, however, to raise the stakes without dangling the whole world over a pile of lit kindling. A threat to a single person or group of people can carry just as much investment from an audience as a doomsday scenario. One of the most often cited Spider-Man stories has him struggling his way through a death trap. If he fails to get out in time, he will be unable to get medicine to Aunt May and she will die. No, the world won't end. But the most important person in Peter's world will end and that is an apocalypse all its own.

As I mentally sift through the superhero films, we see kernels of such wonderfully personal themes. In the original Captain America, Steve (still in wimpy form) is the only member of his unit to dive on a grenade while all the "tough guys" run. In the first X-Men (2000), Mystique gets Senator Kelly in a headlock (of sorts) and growls, "People like you are the reason I was scared to go to school." Each of these is an amazing moment. I believe superhero films would do well to have more of these moments than "the world's going to end" CGI bonanzas. Additionally, there are so many other types of threats the heroes could face.

Off the top of my head, there's also the theme of "I just want to go home." Yes, it's been on  my mind quite a bit. Homer covers it in The Odyssey and Melville has it in greater and lesser shades in Moby Dick. If you want a genre example, I'll waste no time pointing to the greatest entry in the Star Trek film franchise, The Wrath of Khan. Captain Kirk just wants to get his "boatload of children" home, but there's wickedly intelligent madman in his way. Will they escape? Yes, but only after great sacrifice. Along similar lines, even a Nietzschean "will to power" struggle of "I need to get through this" can be infinitely more compelling that the now standard, "suit up because we have to save the world" trope.

I can only hope that the writers and other creative engines behind the juggernaut of comic book-based films will eventually change trajectory. If not, boredom and redundancy are excellent pins to burst what already looks like an inflating bubble. I implore you, Hollywood. There are other directions to take the stories.

After all, whatever happened to just fighting crime?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Film Review--Wonder Woman

starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, and Lyle Waggoner as The Beav.

This is the origin story of Wonder Woman. Diana (Gadot), princess of the Amazons, lives a life of rigorous training on the island of Themyscira. That is until Steve Trevor (Pine) crashes his plane on the beach, bringing the raging war of the outside world to the marble doorsteps of the Amazons. Diana joins him and wades into the conflict, seeking an old enemy and her destiny as a hero.

This is one of the greatest DC Comics-based films of the past 30 years. Only Dark Knight and the original Tim Burton Batman approach or surpass its level. Don't get too excited. It isn't such a mean feat with movies such as Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman in the mix, but let's give Wonder Woman its due.

The most critical of the film's triumphs is that it absolutely captures the character of Diana. I know that in the past I have been victim of my own unenlightened thinking. What I thought were "strong female characters" were in fact...please forgive the profanity here..."fighting fucktoys." I am taking that term from the documentary Missrepresentation which I used to show in class. It was spoken in the film by a feminist and political thinker whose name sadly escapes me at the moment. The point was that so many "empowered" female characters in Hollywood action films aren't that at all. They are projections of male fantasies poured into catsuits with ample contributions of guns and blades. Indeed, the origin of the characters is in the service of stereotypical male ideals.

On the whole, Wonder Woman is not like this. Oh yes I know arguments could be made to the contrary and with good reason. Her costume for one and a few head-scratching, eyebrow-raising early aspects of her character for another (if you get her hands above her head and cross her bracelets, she's powerless.) For an in-depth look at the life of her creator, William Moulton Marston, read The Secret History of Wonder Woman. I have not read it, but I heard a fantastic interview with the author, Jill Lapore, on NPR. The book went right to my to-read list as it explains what influenced those odd choices by Marston as he created the character. But I digress...

Despite the arguably sexist nature of her comic book appearance, Wonder Woman has always been regal. Noble. Wise. Along with Batman and Superman, she forms one third of the "holy trinity" of DC superheroes. When she would show up on the scene, almost any other character would defer to her and her gravitas. Like all good characters, she is a fully realized human being. That means having flaws or not so good aspects of personality. In Diana's case, she's a warrior. As such, she sometimes falls into a "I got the job done, didn't I?" line of thinking and adverse consequences ensue. I remember one DC storyline where the character Maxwell Lord had the ability to manipulate minds. He was about to mind-control someone into doing something catastrophic and so Wonder Woman snapped Lord's neck. On live TV. She did what had to be done but the world debated the action from that point forward.

We saw all of these traits on the screen in Gadot. Gadot is obviously drop dead gorgeous, but that is never really played up in the film. Nor should it have been. Instead, she commands and inspires through her strength as a warrior and her sense of justice. Throughout the film, she's really the one who's in charge. Except of course on Themyscira (which more seasoned Wonder Woman fans might know by the name Paradise Island). By the way, after seeing Robin Wright as Claire Underwood on House of Cards, watching her smash faces in as an Amazon general just sort of...fits. As for Steve Trevor, I think that Pine plays him as actually somewhat smarter than the Trevor of the comics. I can remember Steve Trevor doing something dumb and then Wonder Woman has to be the one to go bail him out of the fire. Even so, I still didn't find the character to be especially likable on the screen and I found myself wondering if Diana would actually want a relationship with him.

Which brings me to another point. Wonder Woman is not without several flaws. For one, I'm not sure what motivated the change in setting of the origin story from World War II to World War I. That might just be me as I find World War II to be a magnificent canvas to paint stories upon. What advantage was there in this switch? The German villains were beyond cartoonish and fail miserably at generating any real interest in and of themselves apart from being antagonists for Wonder Woman. They basically serve as mere furniture.

Most vexing of all is the last half hour or so. It's a cluttered, CGI-generated, splodey mess. I think that is of course due to the suits in production and marketing. "It's gotta be big. Big I tell ya! BIG! Yuuuuuuge!" Yes, if Hollywood producers were in fact readers of Aristotle's Poetics, they would zero in on the section for "spectacle" and leave everything else he wrote as mere supporting facets. You know, little stuff like thought, diction, et. al. I know that this is not art. It's product. The director and the actors likely had no control over this aspect, but that does nothing to wash away the popcorny, empty-calorie taste in my mouth. It did leave me wondering something, though.

Do the heroes always have to be saving the world? Does the fate of the entire world always have to be what's at stake in these films? Doesn't that get boring after a while? How many times can the world be saved? I think that might be my next blog post.

Despite all of that, Wonder Woman is worth at least a rental. Its strength, as I said, is the depiction of the titular character. Enjoy it while you can. Good as it is, I doubt the strength of the character is going to be enough to save Justice League.

Say you all next time. Be well.

Art by Alex Ross.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A class in the "could" and "should" of transhumanism

This picture was found via Google. If you are the artist and want credit or want the pic removed, please let me know.

For what might be the last time, I got to teach transhumanism.

No, I wasn't leading students in constructing AIs and we didn't give each other cybernetic implants. The class was, it has always been, a class for second semester seniors that was focused on ethics. Or as I saw one of students eloquently put it in an online exchange:

S: Thanks for teaching us about robots and ethics.
Some guy: So now you can build ethical robots?
S: Heck yeah.

I love that comeback.
Anyway, teaching the class has always been a necessary mental exercise for this transhumanist. I know that I can sometimes become enraptured with the "sexier" promises of a transhuman future, but I try to never be so blind that I don't see the potential pitfalls. The heady rush of thinking that we can should always be tempered with the question of if we should. That's what the class was all about. Here's how it worked:

I like to start the class by showing a movie. There are any number of films that demonstrate how much the notion of transhumanism has always been ingrained in our culture while raising critical questions of consequences and serious considerations of right and wrong. My first outing I showed Blade Runner. I of course adore that film, but students found it dated and obtuse. So next time out I showed Transcendence. Not a good film really, but it illustrates many transhuman concepts. This time? I showed Ex Machina. That worked. It worked so well that I resolved to show it the first day of all of my future transhumanism classes.

Then they went and closed the college. What are ya gonna do?

We spent the first third of the semester reading and discussing The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. I know, I know. It's about 14 years old by now and it's contested by many. The text does a nice job however of laying out key concepts and questions regarding these emerging technologies. As such it prompted great discussions about just how much...or how little...consideration was being given to ethics as transhumanism becomes a greater part of our lives.

Students then took a month and did writing and research on an ethical question of their choosing. They were charged with looking at this question through the lens of at least three academic disciplines while instantiating their claims with published studies. Most critically, their argued stance needed to be explicitly connected to ethical reasoning, such as deontology or utilitarianism or the like. All of this was poured into their 20 page capstone document and presented to the rest of the class.

Let me tell you. I was very impressed with both the questions and the arguments they raised. Here are a few:

-Creating artificially intelligent robots would basically create a new class of being. We shouldn't do that when we can't even achieve true equality among humans.
-There are large companies like Monsanto that hold patents on genetically engineered organisms. They basically own forms of life. Think about that for a moment.
-Nanotechnology may become a doomsday weapon on par with nuclear warheads.
-Artificial Intelligence. So many thought-provoking meditations on this subject but so little room in a blog post.

At the end of the class, I came away with two realizations.

This year's senior class are "transhuman natives" of a sort. Class discussions from previous years quite often involved an element of shock. "They're really working on human-like robots? That think?" and the sort. These students didn't have that shock. Now granted that may in part be due to a class I had with them as freshmen where I briefly introduced transhuman concepts, but I think it's more than that. We've reached a point where youth see concepts such as machines with human intelligence and augmenting the body through technology as not wild notions but inevitable realities.

More importantly, the seniors were asking all the right questions with almost no prompting from me. Just like the rest of us, they want a better quality of life. They wouldn't mind easier living...but at what cost? There are aspects of their existence, such as identity and achievement through effort, they were unwilling to sacrifice. Yeah, anyone who calls millennials lazy and only wanting to live in their smartphones should take a moment and speak to one of the members of this graduating class.

It was a challenging but rewarding class and I am thankful I could teach it. If it must come to an end, then I can't think of a better roster for the final class.

Oh and if you're reading this, guys? There are a few other people pondering questions you raised in class:

If you have a neural interface, could hackers gain access to your brain?

There might be a downside to sexbots.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How do you create an "alien" language?

In all of my study and teaching of writing, it may have been my proudest moment.

Allow me to set the scene.

The class was Language, Grammar, and Society. The first half of this English class was an exploration of how the English language came to be, including the forces of race, gender, politics, and culture that continue to influence its evolution to this day. After midterm, the class went "into the steam tunnels" of the language, so to speak. Meaning, we did a lot of exercises to examine sentence structure, parts of speech, and all things mechanical.

Both the students and I attacked the subject the way a small child approaches cold peas.

While essential to an understanding of any language usage, grammar is...well, dry. Boring, in my humble opinion. Compounding our ennui was the fact that we were muddling through the class after hearing that our college, our home, was closing after over 100 years. We reached a point where I could no longer teach the subject and my poor students no longer harbored the energy to get through it. Therefore, I told them we were no longer doing grammar.

Of course that left me with a tidy month's worth of classes to fill. What were we going to do?

Since I would bring the class news stories involving language, I told them about a college student in Brazil who had disappeared. When his bedroom door was unlocked, concerned family members found the walls to be covered in a strange, undecipherable language. I joked that when the time came for me to finally vacate my office, I wanted to leave my walls the same way. Really make them wonder what kind of demented mind once inhabited the place.

Then it hit me. What if we created our own language?

A once dead class immediately came back to life. I saw fiery excitement in these students that had been absent for weeks, maybe longer. But, I cautioned them, we could not simply spew out gibberish. The new language would need a concrete set of grammar rules any language...those rules would have to be consistent. There would have to be a rationale for the origin and etymology of each word. To set the spirit, I played a few videos that described how Tolkien invented Elvish and how the Klingon language came about in the Star Trek universe. In fact, you may wish to take a few minutes and watch this video of Marc Okrand, creator of the Klingon language (for which there is an actual official dictionary):

Speaking of Tolkien, he once said that every language has a story and a mythology behind it. His classic epic The Lord of the Rings is actually linguistic in nature. As a someone in the discipline of composition and rhetoric, I'm always asking about exigence, or what made someone write something? How did it affect their rhetorical choices?

What would be the "story" of our language?

Well, my students decided that their language would be the language of a displaced people. They were oppressed and wanted to develop a way of speaking and writing that could not be easily deciphered by their oppressors. Plenty of examples of that in history and I'll leave you to seek them out. You might also want to look into the history of cryptography. Next, we needed an alphabet.

At first, I showed an example of what is purported to be alien writing. It comes from the recollections of witnesses involved in the alleged UFO crash in Roswell in 1947. Here's someone's rendition of that written language said to have been found on a piece of wreckage from the crash:

The students wisely pointed out that we only had a month before the semester ended and everything went to vapor. Creating an entire alphabet from scratch would take at least a month by itself. Better to go with the alphabet we already know. That way we could jump straight to developing a vocabulary.

The cockles of my little academic heart warmed as I watched the students trace Latin, Greek, German, and Celtic roots of words and create their own variations upon them. They examined how words from other languages continue to interdigitate with cultural realities, spawning new and sometimes rankling words. I reminded them, however, that the language could not exist solely with the proper nouns that they were most interested in, but by necessity would require the common "furniture" of pronouns, conjunctions, and so many words that we take for granted. For example, what would be your word for "with"?

"This is hard!" one of them exclaimed.

Good. They got the idea then. It also made them realize that things weren't going to get any easier when we constructed sets of grammar rules. Difficult or not, my guys rose to the occasion and kicked all kinds of ass.

In a linguistic sense of course.

So what does the language look and sound like? Well, you can see an example of it at the top of the post. No, I won't translate any of it for you. The language is personal, a creation of my students. Sure, any PhD linguist would likely decipher it in no time, but you won't get it from me. I will give you one tidbit though. It's my favorite grammar rule of all the ones they created. To make a word plural, you place an accent over the word's harshest sounding consonant.

Love it.

The students then all wrote messages in this new tongue on flip chart paper and taped them to my walls. Just to make things really interesting, we added a few visuals to numerous screeds:

-I taped up a portrait of Al-Kindi. He was a philosopher and a pioneer of cryptography.

-Aliens. Yeah. A couple depictions of them.

-Weird art. One of my students could create really weird art. So much the better.

Then they really surprised me. My jaw dropped when they pulled out sets of t-shirts they made to commemorate the class.

That hand? It's a word. It means the communal "we." We the displaced people. We the community. We with a capital "W". They even got a shirt for me.

I'm not crying. You're crying.

It may have come from the most dismal and deplorable of situations, but this class ended up being a triumph. These students were able to take what he had studied and use the material...and their minds...creatively. In that final month, they created something truly unique in all of the Earth (dare I say, the universe) that they will forever have with them. So much better than a dry grammar book in my pedagogical opinion.

These students. Wow. They will forever have my love and admiration.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

RIP Roger Moore

I had another blog post in mind, but the news of the day has me changing plans.

Actor Roger Moore has died. He was 89. He will of course be most remembered for playing James Bond. I wanted to take a moment and explore what that means to ESE.

I've blogged several times about growing up in the Cold War. It was a unique epoch in history. I'm not sure how to accurately convey what it was like other than ask you to imagine the kind of "we could die any minute" terror that comes with war but without your country being actively engaged in any shooting. You knew that thousands of nuclear warheads were pointed at you, just waiting for the go code, but looking out the window nothing seemed amiss. That was partly due to the work of an entire "shadow world" of operatives on both sides, keeping the unthinkable from happening.


But as a kid, my only understanding of the spy life came down to two words: Roger Moore. He was James Bond at the time and my introduction to that mythos came through a movie called Moonraker.

In addition to Cold War tensions, the late 1970s was also something of a halcyon age for those of us who love classic science fiction films. It was the time of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Hollywood moguls were blending space themes into their films wherever they could, even if it didn't make sense. I guess they thought it would get geeks in seats. At least in the case of seven year-old Jonny, it worked.

When I came across a promotional article for Moonraker in Starlog magazine, I knew it would be a must-see film. It had a massive space station, a fleet of space shuttles, lasers, a giant assassin named Jaws with a mouth full of metal, and thrilling action of all kinds. I was only vaguely familiar with James Bond 007, but just how much did I need to know? He was a spy, he got all the girls, and this time he was going into space. Why? Because an arch-villain named Hugo Drax had built a base in orbit, poised to wipe out humanity with nerve gas so that he may repopulate the Earth with a master race.

It all ended with a climactic laser battle between men in spacesuits, thus granting me my introduction to the world of James Bond.

Later I would come to understand what real espionage was like and it certainly wasn't like Moonraker. It was more the books of John Le Carre, such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or other writers like Frederick Forsyth with The Day of the Jackal. If you want an even grittier look at "real life" Cold War espionage, I might recommend the TV show, The Americans. The real thing is nothing like what Roger Moore portrayed and that may be why a contemporary audience responds more to a Bond like Daniel Craig or even to the perennial favorite, Sean Connery. I can see that and I appreciate those two actors in the role in their own way.

I still come back to Roger Moore. Probably because he and the films he appeared in aren't realistic.

His Bond was cool, suave, and unflappable. The stories he appeared in mixed spy thrillers with science fiction (not just Moonraker, but take a look at that "sea car" in The Spy Who Loved Me), reminding me of the Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. comics I was reading at the same time. More than that, there was a underlying kindness and gentility about him. Those may sound like odd qualities for a Bond and in reality I suppose they are, but I think it makes a statement. It was as if the good person Roger Moore was came through no matter who he was playing.

He was fun.

In a day and an age where terrorists have just set off a bomb at a teen pop concert and cyber attacks on our infrastructure are commonplace, "fun" might be counter-intuitive or even repulsive for an espionage story. The post 9/11 palate may demand a spy character to be written more like Jack Bauer from 24. I can see that. At the same time, I don't think it's a detriment to a have a fun distraction from events I can do nothing about.

Roger Moore and his Bond provide that distraction and I thank him for it.

Addendum 1:
I fought this just a little bit ago. The Roger Moore Adventure Book with stories of "true life adventure." Not sure what it is exactly, but it might be the only book I'll ever need to read.

Addendum 2: I really should close out this tribute with my favorite James Bond theme...which just so happens to be from one of the Roger Moore films.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, May 19, 2017


"Every country is home to one man, and exile to another."
-T.S. Eliot

In composition studies, we have this concept called "exigency."

It's a fancy word that basically means "what makes someone write." What is that initial spark that occurs that compels a person to commit the thoughts in his or her head to written language? Exigency can range from the mundane (a grocery list) to the sublime (a literary novel). Right now, I'm considering exile as exigency in literature.

Because I feel as if I've been exiled. Why? Read here.

Back now? Good.

Turns out exile is quite the literary motivator. Without it, we might not have had The Divine Comedy. Dante was banished from Florence in the 13th Century for the duration of his life. At several turns, it must have seemed to Dante like he was "wandering through hell" and thus inspiration for The Inferno. Victor Hugo was expelled from France after tussling with Napoleon. Most of this explosive conflict was due to Hugo's passionate sense of social justice...something of which Napoleon had very little. It's all right. The banishment gave Victor Hugo time to write his triumph, Les Miserables.

Of course one can write a tremendous work about exile without actually having been exiled. It didn't happen to Milton (as far as I know), but Paradise Lost is loaded with it. From Satan's fall from Heaven ("It is far better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven!") to Adam and Eve driven from Eden, it's hard to miss the theme. Me? I have great affinity for Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. In that book, sailor Edmond Dantes is wrongly sent to prison. Just read the passage where Dantes is on a barge in shackles and realizes he's being taken to a grim, island prison. Dumas' description of the shock and despair at this realization is visceral. Even better, the story really focuses on Dantes getting out of the joint and returning to rain revenge down on those who wronged him. Dope.

I could go on with other examples both major and even minor, such as Aeneas in Carthage during The Aeneid, but if you've read ESE for any length of time, then you know I'm not entirely a traditional academic in a tweedy jacket with elbow patches. What of exile stories in America's greatest cultural achievement? What about...the comic book? I put a call out to my boys asking this very question. Here's a few of their responses:

Well, the Silver Surfer is essentially a story of exile from start to finish. He is forever expelled from his happy home, Zenn-La, and was for a time confined entirely to Earth.

My friend Jason also suggested the episode "Superman in Exile" from the original Superman TV series with George Reeves. While it's not a comic book, I will accept it as it is based on a comic book character (arguably the comic book character) and somebody had to write the script. In the episode, Superman shuts down a runaway nuclear reactor. This has the unfortunate side effect of irradiating him. To save Metropolis, Superman sends himself into self-imposed exile to the mountains of Blue Peak. Unfortunately, criminals take advantage of Superman's absence and purloin all manner of valuables from Metropolis. How can Superman return? Let's just say it's a typically cockamamie-but-fun solution involving lightning.

But my favorite example of comic book exile as proposed by the responses?

Yes, Planet Hulk. I like it conceptually if nothing else and it's not without a certain set of...parallels.

A secret cabal of characters in the Marvel Universe, including Tony Stark, Doctor Strange, and Professor X, all meet and decide that the Hulk is just too dangerous to remain on Earth any longer. They of course do not consult the Hulk in any of these proceedings. In a stomach-churning display of deceit and duplicity, they trick the Hulk into getting into a spaceship. At least "the deciders" leave him a recording in the ship to somewhat explain their motivations. This ship then takes him out of the solar system, presumably to a peaceful planet. Of course the hubris-laden minds that put this whole scheme together didn't account for what could go wrong. The spaceship goes through a wormhole and the Hulk lands on a hostile world full of alien monsters.

He ends up as a gladiator in an arena, complete with all of our Romanesque cultural expectations, e.g. sandals, a colosseum, and maybe Chuck Heston as Ben-Hur. No, more like Douglas in Spartacus for Hulk gathers ragtag allies in the gladitorial slave pens. The villagers of Sakaar, the name people of this world call their planet, begin to believe Hulk is a foretold savior, arrived by divine intention to overthrow the world's tyrant ruler, the Red King. Hulk leads a "warbound" pact of warriors and does just that. He even gets a wife and child out of the deal. It would appear that even though it came out of exile, Hulk has finally found his place in the universe and a new life of happiness.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The people of Sakaar take the spaceship and try to turn it into a monument to their newfound savior. Unfortunately, the antimatter warp core in the ship's engine cracks as part of a self-destruct program. The ensuing explosion kills millions, including Hulk's wife. So Hulk does what any reasonable person would do in the situation. He calls together the warbound and heads for Earth to find those who expelled him to Sakaar in the first place. And hell's coming with him...

Thus begins the World War Hulk storyline. "The deciders" face the full wrath of an enraged Hulk, all while being utterly befuddled as to how anyone could think they did anything wrong. It does not end well for anyone.

Will my own exile inspire any literary creation? I have plans and I can only hope so. If you have any suggestions of what I should write or of other examples of great stories of exile, please feel free to leave a message in the comments. In the meantime, here's Iris with a little message:

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets