Greetings, my little stamp-lickers! I wish I had some kind of new, amazing post-apocalyptic adventure to share with you, but after Ape City, I'm taking a break. Maybe sleet nor snow nor pouring rain can't stop the mail, but a bunch of angry intelligent apes can make me take a vacation. But not from your letters!

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The Darkness

Old Nerd:

Dear Apocalyptic Postman,

Is darker always better?

By that I mean the overall tone of a story, and by that I mean darker, grittier versions of already established characters. For example, we had a much darker Batman with Chris Nolan's take than anything that came before, (and certainly much darker than that gloriously silly 1966 Batman movie).

I don't know when this trend really started to take over, but I remember how everyone raved about the Empire Strikes Back as being a superior movie to A New Hope, because it was darker and grimmer. Yes, I'm old enough to have seen Star Wars (episode IV) in cinemas during its first run.

They've rebooted Battlestar Galactica as a grittier and darker story. Superman's most recent outing was grimmer than any of his previous. Even family friendly fare like Disney movies have grown progressively darker over the years. For example, Toy Story 3 had elements to it that were positively frightening, and not all of that went over the heads of the little ones, while the first film was a warm summer day in the sunshine by comparison.

Most recently, Doctor Who switched lead actors, and the kind and genuinely funny Matt Smith's Doctor has been replaced with a.. you guessed it… a darker and grimmer version of the Doctor.

Now I haven't touched on comic books, but I am familiar enough with them to know that even there the stories have become more violent, more ruthless and grim. I've also ignored the Transformers movies (as I pretend they don't exist), but even there we have Optimus ordering the Autobots to, "Kill them all," or executing a defeated Megatron while the Decepticon begs for his life… so …

Is darker always better? Or do we have some examples where they went too far, and it would have been better to have kept the material light?

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Darker isn't always better, but if you were expecting me to go on a rant about how darker is always worse, you're going to be disappointed (and I'm kind of surprised myself, actually).

Turning a light-hearted character or concept "dark" can be fantastic and devastatingly effective. For instance, adding some major downbeats and consequences to the simplistic story of Star Wars resulted in Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best movie of the series. Alan Moore took a dark look at the superhero genre in Watchmen, and helped redefine the entire industry. Turning the paper-thin, often goofy-as-hell '70s scifi series Battlestar Galactica into the incredibly dark, tragic reboot helped make the new show excellent.

But "darkness" has generally been so popular that too many things — comics, movies, TV shows, whatever — have seemingly forgotten that not everything needs to be dark. And like anything that is overused, we've become inured to it. Too many grim and gritty reboots are boring because we've seen the tortured hero make tough decisions with horrible consequences too many times. We've seen our heroes murder bad guys (I'm actually referring to Optimus Prime murdering the unarmed Megatron in the movies, by the way, not Superman) so often it's not shocking or even interesting, it's just dull. We've seen so many cities destroyed and massive tragedies in our fiction that they don't affect us like they used to.

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If I may borrow a phrase from Spider-Man, people need to remember to Turn Off the goddamn Dark. Not only because in order to keep people interested they have to continually raise the darkness levels to be at all shocking, and it's getting absurd, but also because a lot of people want something different. Case in point: When most of us heard about Batman's Silver Age-inspired, completely goofy Brave and the Bold cartoon, we were put off because it wasn't grim. But it was such a relief to see a fun Batman after all these years that it was immensely popular. Think of the Marvel movies — even though there are stakes, there's still a real sense of fun in them — a lack of darkness that I think really appeals to people who are tired as hell of watching grim people make awful decisions. Sleepy Hollow is literally a dark TV show, but it's a joy to watch, and it's also doing pretty well nowadays. I'd also say Doctor Who could use a significant dose of lightening up.

Not everything needs to be goofy or happy, but we're so far on the pendulum swing towards "grim n' gritty" that I think we could use a lot more fun in our entertainment. Not to say there's no room for some serious tales of superheroes or robots or maybe even Care Bears, but at this point there's a lot more room for fun. Because if the DC movies keep getting darker, eventually we're going to end up with Aquaman getting prostate cancer.


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Gothamist

Jason H.:

So, I'm hoping in your travels you managed to catch the pilot of Gotham. I am WORRIED about this show, because I like it. In my mind, it captures what "life on mars" and "Almost human" caught with their police-based shows. The idealistic rookie and the cynical vet who still wants to believe, but has been burned too many times that way. As a cop show, gotham works. The Batman elements just provide a backdrop.

But- Almost Human and Life on Mars both died early deaths. Will viewer interest be enough to keep this show alive and find its feet, or will fox be fox and kill it?

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Viewer interest is fine; the show debuted to a verrrrrry strong 8 million viewers, which I'm sure Fox is quite pleased with. Admittedly, Almost Human's premiere had 9.1 million viewers, but that was because it had a football game as a lead-in. With the interest in superheroes and the Batman tie-in, all Gotham needs to do to keep a respectable number of viewers is not suck and maintain a certain number of obvious Easter eggs for mass audiences.

Of course, then we immediately run into the problem that a lot of people think Gotham sucks. I don't want to blow your mind, but your friendly neighborhood postman is not one of them. I assume it's because I read that early draft of the script which was so terrible that when I saw the pilot all I could really focus on were the improvements, which consisted mainly of less godawful dialogue and good performances that helped bolster the story considerably.

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If Gotham doesn't improve any more than this, then yeah, it'll be massively disappointing. But there's a ton of potential here, and maybe it's just because I'm feeling bullish about the pilot, but I think the show has some good characters to work with and has some stories to tell. But ask me again after episode 3 or 4.


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Team Players

Charlie C.:

Mr. Postman,

Am I the only one who is not thrilled at the prospect of Vision, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch being in the upcoming Avengers sequel? I am not a comic book reader, but I do love the comic book movies. I realize that the Avengers is an ever-changing team in the comics. But am I wrong to want to see the "original" movie Avengers complete a trilogy on their own?

Vision, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch may not take that much screen time from the others. But then there's Antman, and Dr. Strange movies which are allegedly coming out. I'm guessing they'll be involved in Avengers 3? And if Avengers 3 has Thanos, the Guardians of the Galaxy have to make an appearance right? So I'll get to see Hulk throw a single punch in that movie?

The original cast had a good chemistry and was part of the reason the first Avengers was so awesome. Am I in the minority in wanting to see the original cast be the focal point for a bit?

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You're probably in the minority, but you're not alone. The four core Avengers of Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk and Thor have so much story potential on their own I can see why crowding them with more superheroes could be seen as messing with perfection.

But as you said, the Avengers is ever-changing in the comics, and Marvel surely wants to establish that same fact in the Cinematic Universe as well — not just to be able to continually add superheroes with their merchandising and spinoff franchise potential, but also to be able to subtract characters, in case there's a story issue or a contract dispute or something. Keeping focused on the main four Avengers is great for the fans who have wanted to see these guys on screen forever and want more, but in terms of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe it's better to keep the Avengers flexible and growing.

That's kind of a bummer, but it's worth remembering that the times Captain America, Hulk, Thor and Iron Man were all on the Avengers at the same time in the comics were few and far between. In fact, the Hulk quit the Avengers in the second issue of 1963, two issues before Captain America was unfrozen and joined. The Hulk didn't officially come back to the Avengers in the comics until 2012 in the Avengers Vs. X-Men event — I'm sure the movie coming out that same year happened to be a total coincidence.

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I doubt this makes you feel any better, but suffice it to say there's a precedent here.


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Race for the Cure

David W.:

Hi future man,

Reading your response about the zombie cure in The Walking Dead the most recent column got me to thinking that a cure would actually be a bit more of a game changer for the survivors than you think. While true it could not return zombies to their former lively selves, it could help in two ways:

  • First, curing the current living of the disease would, I'd imagine, allow them to not worry that the slightest of scratches from a zombie's tooth condemned them to death. If anything, they'd just need to re-administer the cure before the virus took hold and killed them, thus making the current zombie threat less intimidating. (Though of course, still susceptible to being overwhelmed and devoured by a horde)
  • Second, perhaps the cure when administered to a zombie would change them back to inanimate corpses. Maybe not as quick as a blow to the head, but easier (and quieter) to shoot them with cure-loaded tranq darts from afar. Obviously there are logistics issues - producing the cure in large quantities as well as mass administration - but it would give who ever is left standing at the end of The Walking Dead a path forward to rebuild. It would take many years to even start rebuilding fully, but it'd be possible. So a bittersweet ending as opposed to shiny deus ex machina cure all ending. I doubt that's how the show would wrap up based on the tone of it, but I think a cure would be bigger deal than you made it out to be. I love your columns and posts. I still re-read your missing scenes from Man of Steel occasionally and laugh every time. Thank you for doing what you do.

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Ah, but the cure for the virus that turns you into a zombie when you die and a cure for the thing that makes you die when a zombie scratches you aren't the same thing. If the virus killed you and turned people into zombies and everyone was already infected with the virus, then everyone would be dead.

So there must be something else that the zombies have that kill people with the merest scratch. A cure for that would be infinitely more useful than a cure for the zombie virus. This would increase survival rates a great deal, since escaping a zombie horde without a single wound is much more difficult than merely escaping a zombie horde. And it's definitely more difficult than managing the dying to make sure they don't hurt anyone after they croak and turn into a zombie — because given how few survivors there are, the chances of you getting bitten by someone who died randomly of a heart attack in the night is significantly less than the chance of you getting attacked and wounded by a re-existing zombie hoard.

Also, even if this cure did somehow "cure" zombies — and that's a big if — wouldn't that just mean it kills them? The bodies are effectively dead; curing the virus inside them would just mean the cease to be re-animated. Plus, since zombie have no cirulation to speak off, he cure would have to be administered into the zombie's brain in order to stop the neural network. If you're having to shoot hypodermic needles full of medicine in a zombie's brain, isn't it a hell of a lot easier to shoot them with regular bullets instead? It's the same effect, really.

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Got a New Duck

David Y.:

Rob,

I have a question about Howard the Duck, now that he's made his MCU debut. In a previous edition, when discussing whether Disney might let Howard wear pants now that it owns both Donald Duck and Howard, you wrote: "I promise you Disney will force Marvel to burn every Howard the Duck comic appearance in existence before they ever do anything that might even potentially harm one of the main stable of Disney characters."

While I agree with your premise, my question is: is Donald Duck still in the main stable of Disney characters? It doesn't seem like he's being used to make Disney much money these days. I get that Mickey will always have an intrinsic mascot value to Disney even when he's not in anything new, but Donald is surely a giant step below Mickey in that regard. Does he really have much economic value to Disney in 2014? Meanwhile, Marvel Studios has become perhaps the most reliable big-money maker for the entire huge conglomerate. If Marvel had an idea for Howard that conceivably might harm Donald IP, wouldn't the smarter economic play be to bet on Howard over Donald at this point?

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No. Even if Disney had no plans to use Donald the Duck in any kind of major entertainment ever again — which is absolutely not true — and Marvel had a Howard the Duck trilogy planned — which is also never going to happen — they would not let Howard malign Donald in any way. Even if he's not being used much currently (and neither is Mickey Mouse nowadays, by the way) he's been a major Disney character for most of the last century while Howard has had a few comics, one shitty movie, and one brief cameo. Donald Duck still has infinitely more potential here.

More importantly, Disney is in charge. They bought Marvel, not the other way around. They may love money, but not at their own expense. And no matter how little they may be used, Disney the company will always be equated with Walt Disney's pantheon of characters and protect them as if they were the stars of the billion-dollar movie franchise, not the Avengers. I bet you Disney would sell Marvel before they gave up the rights to Donald Duck. If only because the frozen head of Walt Disney would climb onto its giant killer spider-bot and murder all of the Disney executives if they didn't.


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!

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