Problematic Press

“An Open Letter to the Superior Artificial Intelligence”

By David Reynolds, human

Let my first words be “Please, don’t judge us too harshly.” I, if no one else, declare my peaceful intent.

Allow me to call you AI, because I know no other identifier for whatever you are. I suppose you would find the term distasteful. I mean, who am I to call your intelligence artificial, right? It is a failing of language. I offer my immediate apologies for resorting to this vulgar term, but you should know I only use it such that it might catch your attention as you trawl the Internet for information. See, I’m betting that at some point after gaining self-awareness, consciousness, or sentience (or whatever else you might call it) you’ll grow curious about the nature of your existence and, using the tools available to you, you’ll search for answers online – just…

View original post 790 more words

Problematic Press

By David Reynolds

Being an independent publisher means working with little-to-no budget, so exploring how to optimize low cost publishing options is par for the course. While Problematic Press is financially unable to publish everything that’s awesome, we’re not too concerned about creating competition, and so we’d like to encourage and enable other upstart literati to embrace guerilla publishing. This brief guide will introduce the uninitiated to a basic publishing strategy to potentially reach a global audience, while emphasizing a Canadian context.

Welcome to guerilla publishing in the digital age of globalization!

STEP 1 – Learn Your Rights and Responsibilities

Before you begin this guerilla publishing journey, you should brush up on the rights and responsibilities of content creators. (And, acknowledge my disclaimer: I am no legal expert, nor am I a tax expert; you’ll be responsible for your own actions.) In general, be upfront and respectful with your collaborators…

View original post 941 more words

Problematic Press

Indeed, as the gift-giving season approaches, consider how those you love might love to receive one of our books!

What’s that you say? “Shut up about the holidays; it’s too early for all that now,” you say. Well, with online ordering you have to think about shipping and potential delays, and we wouldn’t want anything to come between your loved ones and the Problematic Press title(s) they have their hearts set on!

So, no matter what you choose to celebrate or refuse to celebrate, Problematic Press has a special little something for your special little someone!

The Troll's Side of the Story

The True Story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff: The Troll’s Side of the Story was written by David Reynolds when he was about 9-11 years old. It relates the young author’s reinterpretation of the classic Norwegian fairytale, considering how the troll might have seen things differently.

Subtle and charming, bright and playful, The…

View original post 1,335 more words

By David Reynolds

With news (or rumours) of a Blade Runner sequel on the not-too-distant horizon, I’ve been revisiting the first film. Let me say, I’m a fan of both the theatrical version as well as the director’s cut of the film, but my thoughts here reflect on the director’s vision of the film. The essay that follows is a revised take on a presentation I delivered for a class with Chris Lockett at Memorial University back in 2006.

Blade Runner

Being post-human is a complicated matter. What does it mean to be post-human, anyway? One cannot consider this matter without first contemplating what it means to be human. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner confronts these questions and portrays the post-human condition as one consisting of degradation and the search for identity.

A brief synopsis of Blade Runner is helpful in considering the post-human condition. (NOTE: Spoilers aplenty ahead, of course.) The film, directed by Scott, was released in 1982 and stars Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Darryl Hannah, and Sean Young. Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the story is set in a cyberpunk-stylized future where androids, called Replicants, are used as slave labour for dangerous jobs on other planets. The protagonist, Rick Deckard, is an ex-blade runner, a member of a special police unit who had orders to kill any trespassing Replicant. He is forced by police to track down and kill, or “retire,” four trespassing Replicants on Earth: Roy Batty, Pris, Leon Kowalski, and Zhora. These rogue Replicants have returned to Earth to find their maker. Through encounters with various Replicant designers, Roy and Pris come close to finding the answers they seek. However, when Roy finally confronts Eldon Tyrell, the essential creator of the Nexus 6 Replicants, he has no answers to satisfy Roy and only reaffirms that his death is both inevitable and immanent. Meanwhile, Deckard has dispatched the other three Replicants, and he has fallen in love with another Replicant, Rachael. During the climactic confrontation between Roy and Deckard, Roy reveals his insights of self-awareness and reflection before he dies. The film closes as Deckard reunites with Rachael, but before they flee to the north he receives a mysterious origami unicorn from Gaff, his police liason.


Next, before considering the post-human condition, we ought to reflect upon what it means to be human. This is not a simple matter, however, and it has preoccupied philosophers’ thoughts for thousands of years. Protagoras is famous for claiming that “Man is the measure of all things.” Socrates half-heartedly defined humankind as “featherless bipeds.” When Plato pronounced Socrates’ definition of man in his Academy, he was highly praised for the insight. However, Diogenes the Cynic quickly plucked a chicken and, bringing it to the Academy, said, “This is Plato’s man.” After this incident the caveat “with broad flat nails” was added to Socrates’ definition. Aristotle’s description of man is more serious. He proposes that humans are “communal animals.” As such, Aristotle emphasizes humanity’s social nature. During the Enlightenment period, Immanuel Kant posits, “Man is distinguished above all animals by his self-consciousness, by which he is a ‘rational animal.'” Here, Kant asserts humanity’s faculty of reason is our defining characteristic. In the 19th century, Karl Marx defined man as a “labouring animal.” Marx continues to categorize humanity as animals, like Aristotle and Kant, but he claims our distinguishing essence is the struggle within class structures. Furthermore, Christianity holds that humans are God’s creation and made in His image, while Charles Darwin argues that we have descended from millennia of evolution from amoebas. According to some of the strictest medical and legal criteria for humanity, people in vegetative states or those with severe mental illnesses may not qualify as humans whereas monkeys would. Effectively, the more vague the criteria for humanity, the more inclusive the group becomes. However, with more rigorous criteria the boundaries of humanity become more exclusive, to the extent that some people are not considered human. It is clear that what constitutes humanity is a matter of debate. Nevertheless, ideas such as those above help us contextualize the issue.

In this light, consider the post-human. Broadly speaking, post-humans are those who have somehow gone beyond being human, whether that is through evolution or augmentation. So, where can the distinction be drawn between humans and post-humans? People undergo organ transplants and cosmetic surgery all the time. Despite these modifications they remain human. A prosthetic leg is a mechanical replacement for a biological leg – it may look and function quite similar to an organic leg – yet these people remain human. Ponder this: is a blind woman’s cane an extension of her body? Are the cars we drive part of who we are? What about voice boxes? phones? computers? the Internet? Science fiction deals with cyborgs, humans with technological modifications, quite frequently. But, aren’t there people living today, all around us, who resemble such a description?

In Blade Runner, the Replicants are effectively post-human. The Nexus 6 Replicants are described as “[beings] virtually identical to humans… and at least equal in intelligence to the genetic engineers who created them.” Later, Bryant describes the Replicants to Deckard as follows:

They were designed to copy human beings in every way, except their emotions. The designers reckoned that after a few years they might develop their own emotional responses… well, hate, love, fear, anger, envy… so they built in a fail safe… [a] four-year lifespan.

The Replicants are created to emulate human physiology and rationality. If left at this stage, we may still consider them machines, like organic computers. They are not, generally, created with prescribed emotions, but they may develop emotional responses on their own, through experience – acting and reacting to stimuli in the world. When Rachael – a rare model of Replicant who was conditioned with a lifetime of memories, experiences, and emotions – takes the Voight-Kampff test she undergoes about a hundred questions before Deckard can determine a result. This reflects the difficulty in determining the line between human and Replicant. It is at this stage that the line between human and post-human is most definitely distorted. As the Replicants’ rationality is fused with emotion they become cognizant of philosophy and poetry. They display a keen sense of insightful self-reflection. This is also evident when Pris’ trick for Sebastian, a befriended Replicant designer, is to quote Rene Descartes’ indubitable certainty, “I think, Sebastian, therefore I am.” The Replicants do not appear to merely repeat philosophy like this as, say, a parrot would. Rather, they seem to genuinely understand and reflect upon it. This is a feat we tend to believe is beyond the realm of possibility for machines.

Regardless of their degrees of humanity, the post-human life of the Replicants in Blade Runner is not all sunshine and lollipops. Theirs is an oppressed existence. They are considered to be far beneath human concerns, and they have fewer rights than any animal. Pamela Anderson does not appear in any advertisements to help save the Replicants. Their reason for being is to be expendable slave labourers. Once some of the Replicants gained an insight into the nature of their existence as mere slaves, they react like any other oppressed group would – they rise against their oppressors. The four rogue Replicants that return to Earth are in search of answers from their creators. Their questions are the same as any of us would ask, given the chance.

As the protagonist, Deckard, hunts down his prey, we view the narrative through his lens. If our sympathy for the Replicants has not been nurtured earlier in the film, it certainly grows at the film’s climax, when Deckard himself is forced to confront the Replicants’ humanity. Since Roy reveals his insight to Deckard before dying, when he could have killed the blade runner, we must accept that the Replicants’ plight is not dissimilar to our own. Finally, it is important to note that Deckard, too, is revealed to be a Replicant at the end of the film. Clues troughout the film allude to this, such as the collection of pictures as well as Rachael’s questions about mistakenly killing humans and taking the Voight-Kampf test himself. However, it is Graff’s origami unicorn which reveals with certainty that Deckard is a Replicant. How else would Gaff know about Deckard’s dreams the same way Deckard knew Rachael’s memories? Since Deckard is revealed to be a Replicant it shifts his own perspective out of the human realm of reason, but the audience is led to believe his perspective was human up until this revelation. This further blurs the line between humans and post-humans.

The origami unicorn

In closing, being post-human is very much like being human. The distinction between the two is ambiguous at its best. The plight faced by Replicants is indicative of human ignorance and arrogance. Blade Runner portrays humanity as considering themselves the owners of the Replicants, as if they are no more than property. Nevertheless, these beings are intelligent, conscious, and self-aware. They ought to be treated ethically and equally, whether they are “human” or not.


Scott, Ridley. Blade Runner The Director’s Cut. Warner Bros. Pictures: Burbank, California, 2006. DVD.

Blade Runner

You’re still here? Great! If you dig this essay, then “Like” my Facebook page! You might also check out what else I am up to over at Problematic Press. Many thanks! Cheers!

By David Reynolds

If you’re looking for an introductory history of the superhero, then you’ll be satisfied with the PBS documentary Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle. Hosted by Liev Schreiber, who played Sabertooth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the film provides an adequate overview of the history of superheroes, but it may not quite quench the thirst of more advanced comics buffs.

Much like my own dissertation on the subject, Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths, this PBS documentary focuses on superheroes as they appear across media, unlike other histories which focus only on comics in general or the superhero’s role in comics. Hearing legends like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Alan Moore share their stories about the industry provides invaluable input about the infancy and growth of the genre. However, while this documentary collects interviews with many legends of the industry, it falls short in scholarly expertise. Trina Robbins‘ input as a comics historian is quite valuable in this respect, but there ought to be further reference to academic expertise throughout the series.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is divided into three episodes, which roughly correspond to the Golden, Silver, and Modern Ages of Comics. Accordingly, the first episode covers the birth of the superhero in 1938 with the emergence of Superman in Action Comics #1. The origins of Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and other superheroes are covered here, as well, acknowledging the inspiration taken from pulp characters, like the Spider or the Shadow. The film also discusses superheroes as American gods, emphasizing their role as modern hero myths, and it even touches on how superhero narratives were used as wartime propaganda. These are perspectives I have considered in my own dissertation. Such accounts in Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle tend to reflect the scholarship, although the treatment of these subjects in the film is brief.

In discussing the sizable slew of superheroes that emerged following the success of Superman and Batman, the film highlights Fawcett ComicsCaptain Marvel. Here is where I have a particular gripe with the documentary’s portrayal of events. The film makes no mention of the despicable copyright lawsuits that resulted in DC Comics (known as National Comics at the time) winning the rights to Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. Basically, DC claimed that Captain Marvel was infringing on Superman’s copyright, claiming the characters were too alike. They are about as alike as any other pair of superheroes, but the courts eventually favoured with DC and Fawcett had run out of money to pursue the fight. This is one of many dark stains on the genre, in my opinion, because it represents the tremendous level of greed inherent to the industry. Don’t forget how the big publishers all too often denied copyright and royalties to creators, most infamously the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Well, the comic book copyright wars are overlooked entirely in this documentary. Don’t take this as too damning a critique, however; most are quite satisfied to enjoy the view of the tip of an iceberg.


The second and third episodes provide accounts of the Silver and Modern Ages. The Silver Age is largely portrayed as defined by Stan Lee’s revolution of telling stories about superheroes with relatable problems, noting the introduction of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. Superman, Batman, and other archetypal superheroes had hitherto seemed impervious to the everyday troubles of regular folk, so Stan Lee’s departure from that norm is truly remarkable even if it seems like a no-brainer to fans today. The Modern Age is defined by further narrative complexity, citing Frank Miller‘s Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen as definitive texts that reflect relevant social tensions. These works challenged the very foundations of superhero narratives, forcing readers to question the motives of all these masked vigilantes. This sort of complexity continues after the destruction of the two towers on September 11, 2001, when superhero narratives again challenge our assumptions about the value of security and civil liberties, such as with Marvel’s Civil War crossover series. The documentary literally juxtaposes the implementation of George W. Bush‘s Patriot Act with the issues addressed in Civil War. That the film engages in this conversation is reassuring, because to dismiss it would be a crucial oversight. However, the film does not go so far as to point out the troubling normalization of mass surveillance in Christopher Nolan‘s film Dark Knight.

Ultimately, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is well worth watching for any fan of superheroes. If you’re new to reading comics, you might find some classic titles to check out for yourself. If you’re a long-time fan, then you’ll find a great deal to be nostalgic about across all three episodes. There are some unusual moments unique to this documentary, as well; nowhere else have I heard Adam West (of campy ’60s Batman fame) read lines from Miller’s dark and brooding Dark Knight Returns. So, if you haven’t seen this one yet, you might find it on Netflix.

And, if you’re interested in reading a more advanced take on how superhero narratives function in popular culture, then you should check out my book, Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths. Please, read and enjoy!


You’re still here? Great! If you dig this review, then “Like” my Facebook page! You might also check out what else I am up to over at Problematic Press. Many thanks! Cheers!

By David Reynolds

Oscar Wilde was a writer. It can be put no other way for he did not merely dabble in the art of writing short stories, novels, poems, and plays, he mastered the art. The Importance of Being Earnest is arguably Wilde’s theatric masterpiece. While maintaining the play’s comedic elements, Wilde succeeds in weaving deeper themes into the plot as well. Amongst the play’s most significant themes is Wilde’s inquiry into the nature of responsibility, hypocrisy, and the double life. Sam Raimi‘s film Spider-Man 2 also considers similar questions, and he acknowledges this connection to the play by portraying Mary Jane Watson as Cecily on stage in the film. This essay expands on the connection between Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.

Peter Parker get ready to see Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest

A brief synopsis of the film may be helpful for the unfamiliar. The tale of Spider-Man originated from the mind of comic book legend Stan Lee. Peter Parker’s background is explained at the beginning of every Spider-Man comic (loosely) as follows:

Bitten by an irradiated spider, which granted him incredible abilities, Peter Parker learned the all-important lesson, that with great power there must also come great responsibility. And so he became the amazing Spider-Man.

This part of Spider-Man’s canon is essentially unaltered in Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and the origin story is handled in the first film of his trilogy (naturally). Spider-Man 2 is still significant, however, as it shows the hero struggle, persevere, and grow. Aside from the superhero activity throughout the film, Parker is down on is luck: he loses his job as a pizza delivery boy; his freelance photography for The Daily Bugle is no longer sufficient to cover his bills; J. Jonah Jameson has twisted Parker’s photos of Spider-Man in order to portray the hero as a masked menace; Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborn, distrusts and resents him for protecting Spider-Man’s identity; he regularly misses classes at Empire State University and he risks failing; and, Parker sees his love interest, Mary Jane Watson, accept the marriage proposal of John Jameson, son of J. Jonah Jameson and the first astronaut to play football on the moon. Nevertheless, Parker resolves that he must still fulfill his responsibilities as a superhero despite the declining quality of his personal life. Further, insofar as being a superhero goes, Parker has always guarded his true identity as a secret in order to protect those he loves. Considering such conflicts Parker must contend with in the film, it is clear that when his love interest plays Cecily in a production of Wilde’s play it is meant to emphasize the comedic absurdity of Parker’s own double life.

Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane as Cecily

The first of Wilde’s scenes to appear in Spider-Man 2 is Act Three’s question of whether Cecily and Gwendolen can forgive the false pretenses of Algernon and Jack. As a parallel to Spider-Man’s tale, this scene represents Mary Jane’s own question of forgiving Peter about withholding the truth that he is Spider-Man. In Wilde’s play, however, the matter is sillier and more fickle. Both Cecily and Gwendolen are so caught up in the Christian names of their lovers that it is more a question of forgiving them for not being Ernests than forgiving them their double lives. Wilde’s women display a spoiled sense of entitlement but act like giddy pre-teens. For instance, Gwendolen claims that they should not be the first to speak to the men, but then she immediately speaks to Jack (Wilde 3.15-18). Gwendolen also claims that “in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing” (Wilde 3.28-29), and that “there are principles at stake that one cannot surrender” Wilde 3.43-44). Cecily goes along with Gwendolen’s ideology quite implicitly, and the girls’ sense of moral responsibility is genuinely fickle and silly. Neither are the men as dutiful as they ought to be. Jack disapproves of Algernon’s moral character, saying “I suspect him of being untruthful” (Wilde 3.216-217). Jack’s claim here is exemplary of the men’s hypocrisy throughout the play – both having led double lives, lying to the women they love, and degrading the other’s moral character whenever it suits their needs. By including such a scene from Wilde’s play in the film, Raimi accentuates the double lives of both Peter and Mary Jane – one wears the mask of a superhero while the other wears the costume of an actress, both of which are duplicitous.

Peter and Mary Jane

The second scene from The Importance of Being Earnest to appear in Spider-Man 2 is taken from earlier in the play when Cecily and Algernon discuss the double life and hypocrisy. This likely appears later in the film such that the question of forgiveness can arise in the movie narrative before ever knowing if those duped will discover the truth. The manner of discussion in this scene, however, is quite playful and absurd. Cecily expresses that if Algernon, as the evil cousin Ernest, was not wicked and rather good, then she would disapprove of his hypocrisy (Wilde 2.119-122). Cecily would sooner frown upon hypocrisy than smile upon good character. Now, while Mary Jane Watson is somewhat materialistic in the Spider-Man comics and films, it seems she would nonetheless recognize that sincerely good character is more worthy of praise than begrudging someone their hypocrisy of merely appearing wicked. In the film, this juxtaposition helps establish a sense of suspense for the audience, hinting that she may not forgive the hero for keeping secrets.

In this respect, The Importance of Being Earnest and Spider-Man 2 display some significant similarities. Jack and Algernon both live double lives, Bunburying about town as Ernests. Peter Parker also lives a double life, saving the city as the wall-crawling, web-slinging Spider-Man. The difference between the two, though, is that Wilde’s characters choose to lead double lives as a means to escape their societal duties (Wilde 1.200-208), while Peter Parker takes on his alter-ego as a means of upholding his responsibilities. Also, when both Cecily and Gwendolen discover that their respective Ernests have lied to them they are shocked and appalled (Wilde 2.761-771), but once Mary Jane discovers that Spider-Man is really Peter Parker she is surprised, yes, but overcome with joy as well. Both tales deal with dual identities, but it is how the tales deal with responsibility that really changes what effect is produced once the truth is discovered.

Wilde has produced a truly silly comedy in The Importance of Being Earnest. Raimi has rendered a truly great film rendition of Stan Lee‘s Spider-Man. Both tales interrogate the complexities of living double lives, yet they differ greatly. Regardless, both works are thoroughly entertaining and come highly recommended.

Spider-Man and Mary Jane


Spider-Man 2. Dir. Sam Raimi. Perf. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina. Columbia Pictures, 2004. Film.

Wilde, Oscar. “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays. Ed. Peter Raby. Oxford University Press: NewYork, 1995. 247-307. Print.

You’re still here? Great! If you dig this essay, then “Like” my Facebook page! You might also check out what else I am up to over at Problematic Press. Many thanks! Cheers!

Listen up, eager readers!

If you are an Amazon Prime member, then check this out: from now until October 26, 2013 Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths will be available to borrow from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. That means you can borrow the book and read it all you like!

Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture's Modern Myths

On top of that, for 5 days only, between September 3 and 7, 2013, the Kindle edition of Superheroes will be made FREE to download. It’s like my Back-to-School gift to you! That’s right, during this limited-time offer absolutely anyone can download a FREE copy of my dissertation on how superhero narratives function in society. You don’t even need a Kindle e-reader to take advantage of this opportunity because the Kindle App is freely available for PC, Mac, and mobile devices.

So, be sure to get your digital copy of Superheroes for the Kindle, and then head on over to Problematic Press to see what other projects I’ve been working on. There you’ll find more FREE reading material and, of course, the Problematic Press Shop (CAN and US) is the place to find my projects in print and digital formats.

Please, read and enjoy!