Gorilla vs. Shark? Not so fast…

(This post represents my best understanding of SF&F consensus policy on “Gorilla vs. Shark” questions. Special thanks to everyone who reviewed it for me to make sure it really represents a consensus!)

For a very long time, it has been a nearly global Stack Exchange policy to close “which is better?” questions as off-topic. To my knowledge, there isn’t a site on the Stack network that doesn’t follow this rule. It was even the subject of a famous blog post by Jeff Atwood, one of the Stack Exchange founders, that discusses these questions under their more popular name: Gorilla vs. Shark.

On most Stack sites, the “vs.” portion of that name is figurative. The policy is targeted at questions asking for subjective opinions about which hardware product or application or programming language is “better” than the other. Obviously, the answer to these questions is almost always “it depends on your situation”, making them unsuitable for being part of Stack Exchange’s Q&A format.

On SF&F, though, we have a somewhat unique take on these question: when someone asks “Who would win, a gorilla or a shark?”, they really want to know who would win that fight. But that means we have to tweak the standard policy on these questions a bit, to make sure it really applies to the questions being asked. So, what makes a “Gorilla vs. Shark?” question on SF&F? Lets find out!

The Community Consensus

The first, and by far most important thing to take away from this post is this:

Not every question with “vs” in the title is Gorilla vs Shark!

Rather, we need to examine each “versus” question on its merits, and figure out whether the question really is off-topic. A good place to start is to look at the reasons Jeff Atwood gives in his original blog post, detailing why these questions are bad. He gives four reasons:

  1. Nobody needs to know the answer to this question
  2. It’s not nearly specific enough.
  3. It is difficult to learn from these questions.
  4. It drives away experts

If you look at these problems, it should be immediately obvious that #1 doesn’t apply here. If we’re being honest with ourselves, nobody needs to know the answer to anything on SF&F. Unlike most other Stack sites, questions on SF&F rarely solve real problems. Rather, people ask and answer questions here purely because the topic interests them, and they want to know things. That also knocks out #3 –  we learn from any question that gets an answer – and #4 – experts come here specifically because they enjoy sharing their science fiction/fantasy knowledge.

That leaves us with #2: most of these questions are not specific enough. What does this mean, though? According to Jeff’s post, the problem with non-specificity is that it leaves the question too open for interpretation. As he puts it:

Where will the fight be, in what location? Underwater, or on land? What are the rules of the fight so we can determine a victor? Will it be to the death, or under some type of points system? Can they be trained specifically to fight by trainers, or are they completely on their own? Without any kind of scope, every answer can make any assumptions they like — and there will assuredly be hundreds, all different.

As it turns out, we can take some guidance from this bit, and apply it to questions asked here. The goal, then is to find a way to determine if a question is “specific” enough to be answered.  There have been several meta discussions about this topic, and the consensus has been that these kind of questions are on topic and answerable if they meet the one basic guideline:

Can we answer this question objectively, based solely on in-canon information?

In other words, if we have to guess what would happen, or speculate what would happen – even if we think we have enough information to do so – the question is off-topic. In particular, it’s not good enough to have all of the “stats” available for a fantasy match up, because we’re talking about fantasy universes. Anything could happen in such a universe, up to and including the laws of physics being different, so we can never assume anything to be true unless we’ve seen evidence of it. In the majority of cases, that means that the determination about potential Gorilla vs. Shark questions boils down to this:

Has this fight/race/confrontation/etc actually happened, and what was the outcome.

(This is not a hard and fast rule — there are cases where we can predict the outcome with very high confidence — but they are rare.)

What Makes A Bad Question?

So, we have a good rule, but it sounds like the only way to know if a question is on-topic is to either know the answer, or even worse, to know for a fact that there is no answer. That’s obviously sub-optimal, as it rules out a huge fraction of the community from being able to moderate those questions. Fortunately, there are a couple of rules of thumb that will help weed out the worst such questions, with pretty good accuracy. (There will always be mistakes, of course, but that’s why we have meta.) The following types of questions almost always turn out to be off-topic:

Totally Different Universes

Does the question ask for a match-up between fictional characters from two completely different universes? (This includes a match-up in the “Real world.”) If the match up cannot possibly happen because the characters never coexist, the question is off-topic. Sure, it seems trivial to ask “Could The Hulk beat up Floyd Mayweather?”, but as far as we know, Earth-616 has no Floyd Mayweather, so who knows?

This is probably the biggest category of real Gorilla vs Shark questions in SF&F. For example, A fight between Dr Manhattan and Electro from spiderman [closed] was closed, properly, because those two characters will never meet. Similarly, Can a lightsaber be stopped by captain America’s shield? [on hold] asks about a confrontation that can’t really happen. Note that we can probably make a really good guess what would happen in the latter case, based on other things that have happened in the respective universes. But that’s not enough — there is no canon answer to this question, so it’s off topic. And note that it doesn’t just apply to fight between fictional charactersIs a warp drive better than a hyperdrive? [closed] is also closed, because Star Trek and Star Wars just do not coexist.

Known Never to Have Happened

These are a bit trickier, but in some cases, the amount of canon information is small enough that we know an in-universe confrontation is impossible. A good example is Who would win a fight between Tom Bombadil and a Nazgul? [closed]. This one was a bit contentious, because it doesn’t fit our first criteria — both of these characters are from the Lord of the Rings universe and could have met. But we know that they didn’t, and it’s unclear what other information we have that could help predict the outcome of such a confrontation. We also know that no new canon information is forthcoming to change that situation. So, this one remained closed.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that just because a particular match-up hasn’t happened in-canon does not automatically make the question off-topic, though it’s definitely a huge red flag. Ultimately, what we need to determine is:  do we have enough information to accurately determine what would happen, without resorting to speculation. For example, the seemingly silly question Could the Earth-2149 Squirrel Girl destroy Colonel America’s shield? asks about something that hasn’t happened, and isn’t likely to happen (given the two characters’ personalities); nonetheless, the question is specific enough that we can use in-canon information (in this case, what we know about Earth-2149 squirrels and vibranium) to give a concrete answer.

(This question does delve into another contentious topic — what exactly we mean when we say “no scientific explanations”, or “no assumptions unless we have evidence” — but we’ll save that for a different blog post.)

Too Vague / No Clear Answer

Does the question leave so much open to interpretation that the question becomes meaningless? Does the question asks for a match up that depends on too many factors to know the answer? For example, numenor vs. gondolin [closed] asks about a confrontation that definitely could have happened in the Lord of the Rings. But there are any number of things that would sway such a battle — luck, natural events, competency of leadership, etc. There’s just no “one good answer” to this question.

Another problematic type of question are those that could, in theory, happen in more than one fictional universe. Many fantasy or urban fantasy settings have very similar types of creatures in them: vampires, zombies, werewolves, dragons, etc. Asking who would win such a fight in general isn’t answerable. For example, if you were to ask “Could a Werewolf beat a Vampire”, the answer would be very different in The Dresden Files (probably not) vs. The Vampire Diaries (depends on the day).

When In Doubt?

Sometimes, the decision is easy. A question like Spider-Man Vs The Hulk is probably not “Gorilla vs. Shark” — these are two characters that interact with each other on a regular basis, so it’s pretty likely they’ve fought at some point.

Unfortunately, it’s not always going to be that easy to identify good questions — questions that don’t clearly fall into one of our “Bad” categories. In most cases, you’ll have to look at the body of the question and try to determine if there’s a good chance the question has an answer. A good example of this would be a question like Vampires Vs. Werewolf. Based on the title alone, as we’ve already seen, this question should be off-topic. However, the body of question makes it clear: we’re talking about the Twilight universe. That makes this a good question: even without having read the novels, you can probably guess that this type of fight is likely to have happend (which is has), and thus the question has an answer.

Similarly, some questions may be off-topic at first, but can be salvaged. Take, for example, Hulk vs. Superman – did they ever fight? Who won?. This question was originally closed as G vs. S, because it focused too much on some subjective questions. However, Marvel and DC have done such crossovers, so this fight has happened. Once the question was edited to focus on that aspect, it was reopened and answered. If possible, we should try to fix these questions, or at least solicit some feedback from the OP to get it fixed.

Lastly, there are a ton of fictional crossover that you would never expect, and sometimes it’s a judgement call if two characters really have shared the same setting. For example Doctor Who has crossed over with Star Trek, and Marvel Comics has crossed over with both Star Trek and Star Wars. On one hand, it seems like there wouldn’t be any comparisons that are completely impossible. On the other hand, these are typically one-off, gimmick, or “What if…?” style events, that most fans would not consider “canon”. In general, if you think a particular comparison between two fictional universes is “highly unlikely”, you should go with your gut; just be prepared to be corrected 🙂

Overall, in cases where things are not clear-cut, just try to use some good judgement — and maybe a bit of Googling — to see if such a match-up is even possible. Feel free to leave a comment directing the OP to meta if they disagree with your close. Or, you can always come ask ahead of time in chat — we’re happy to help.

 

 

 

Mutants in the Marvel Universe

Recently, a SF&F user asked this question, about Inhumans vs. Mutants in the Marvel Universe.  With the arrival of the Inhumans in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and an upcoming movie), and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s appearance in two separate movie universes, its a topic that has generated a bit of interest.

This post is an expanded, more in-depth version of my answer to that question. There’s a lot more to Marvel’s mutant population than just mutants and Inhumans, and things can get confusing. Unfortunately, as with most things Marvel-related, it not a simple question to answer. What constitutes a mutant? How many kinds are there? What’s the difference between them? Are they different species? Here, I’ll try to answer all of these questions and more.

One note on the cinematic universes: there are a lot of movie universes based on Marvel material, but I’m only going to discuss two of them here: Earth-199999, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Earth-10005, the X-Men Cinematic Universe. These are the only two large-scale cinematic universes that are still active; as far as I am aware, none of the other (now-defunct) movie universes included any type of mutated human. This includes the two Spider-Man universes, the two Fantastic Four universes, etc, all of which I’ll be ignoring from here on out.

Read more

Jack’s Bad Movies – Jinn

Jinn, a 2014 movie staring Dominic Rains with supporting actors Ray Park and William Atherton, is so lost that even the people trying to sell it can’t decided what the movie is about.

Netflix’s description

An earthly crisis prompts a race of beings called the jinn, who’ve walked invisibly among us since the beginning of time, to make themselves known.

IMDB’s description

Shawn, an automotive designer, enjoys an idyllic life with his new wife Jasmine until it is interrupted by a cryptic message. The message warns of imminent danger and a curse that has afflicted his family for generations. Having lost his parents as a child, Shawn doesn’t believe this unsettling revelation of his past….until strange things start to happen. Unable to explain the threats and fearing for his life, Shawn turns to Gabriel and Father Westhoff, a mysterious duo claiming to have answers. With their help, and the aid of Ali, a shackled mental patient, Shawn discovers that there is far more to this world than he ever imagined. These revelations set Shawn on a collision course with the unknown, and he alone must find the strength protect his family and confront the ancient evil that is hunting them.

Amazon’s description

After receiving a cryptic message from his past, Shawn Walker learns of an ancient curse haunting his family. He discovers man is not alone on this planet… and that he is in the middle of a war between good and evil that has waged on for centuries.

Rotten Tomatoes’ description

In the beginning, three were created. Man made of clay. Angels made of light. And a third made of fire. For centuries, stories of angels and men have captured the imagination and been etched into history crossing all boundaries of culture, religion and time. These two races have dominated the landscape of modern mythology, shrouding the evidence that a third was ever created. This third race, born of smokeless fire, was named the jinn. Modern man has all but forgotten this third race ever existed. It is time for him to remember.

That last one is the opening monologue of the film.

The movie opens in India, circa 1901. A man enters a cave, reciting scripture passages, and occasionally addressing a slumped figure sitting in the middle of the cave.

Based on the number of times we keep going back to this same shot, I can only assume it was the most expensive shot in the whole movie, and they wanted to make sure they got their money's worth.
Based on the number of times we keep going back to this same shot, I can only assume it was the most expensive shot in the whole movie, and they wanted to make sure they got their money’s worth.

The man says that it can keep the body, but he wants the girl back. He throws some random things in the corners (mirrors?). I kept thinking, these mirrors are going to do something important, like trap the creature. That was my own foolishness, they ended up doing nothing. The guy confronts the demon creature, falls in a hole, climbs out, throws some water in the creature’s face (which only serves to enrage it) and pulls out a dagger. At this point the creature says it is going to kill him, and his children, and his children’s children, and so forth. You might be thinking, wait, if he kills him AND his children, that should pretty much end the line right? RIGHT? We’ll get back to that.

Flash forward to the present day, in Michigan. Shawn is some kind of car designer. He has random car decorations in his house (like a hood) and drives some kind of special edition Camaro that looks like a Firebird, called the FireBreather. That may seem like a lot of information about a car in a movie about Jinn, but don’t worry, we’ll get back to that as well. As Shawn is sitting around his house doodling, his wife Jasmine (Serinda Swan) answers the door and receives a mysterious package. She doesn’t need to sign for it, and it is very poorly wrapped. Shawn opens it (because in this world he has never heard of terrorists) and discovers a VHS tape inside. His wife wisely questions how they would even watch a VHS tape in this day and age, but for some reason Shawn conveniently has a player at his work.

Shawn watches the tape and discovers is a message from his deceased father, just before he and his mother died in a fire that consumed their house. He says Shawn comes from a long line of special people who can fight these demons called Jinn. His father says that there are people who will help him, and that Shawn needs to succeed where he failed.

Shawn returns home to find that his apartment has been randomly rearranged and his wife is missing. He calls the police, only to have his wife return home and they realize that nothing is actually missing. They put everything back and go to bed. Shawn has a nightmare about the night his parents died. He remembers seeing someone in the fire. He wakes up and goes to get some water, only to see that his furniture has been rearranged again. Him and his wife look out their window at the strange silhouette (I forgot to mention a creepy silhouette in the window across the street). Earlier the wife speculated it was a movie cutout. Not surprisingly, as they are staring at it, it moves. At this point, I would like to mention that this movie is supposed to be a suspense horror. It is neither of those things.

The next morning Shawn tells his wife he’d like to have a child. She says she has a dark secret, she is incapable of having children. She says he understands if he wants to leave her for his. Shawn, being the super jerk that he is, DOES leave her, to go to work. Shawn is at work, and he receives a mysterious call saying he has to go to a church. For some reason he does this. At the church he meets Gabriel (Ray Park) and Father Westhoff (William Atherton). These two guys knew his father, and want to help him stop this Jinn uprising once and for all. They say that as soon as one of his family members has an heir, the Jinn kill the parents. So when that Jinn from the beginning said he was going to kill the guy’s children’s children and all that, he meant it. This Jinn patiently waits for the next male heir to have a kid, then he strikes. Anyways, Shawn doesn’t believe them, but Father Westhoff gives him a magic dagger just in case. I’m just going to call it the Ajanti Dagger.

Good for killing the Golden Child and Jinn alike.
Good for killing the Golden Child and Jinn alike.

Anyways, he takes the dagger. Also Gabriel says the Jinn is hunting him because he has a male heir. How’s that? Oh yeah Jasmine is pregnant. Also, she’s been kidnapped. No one seems all that concerned about the kidnapping though. Shawn just kind of meanders around, occasionally saying stuff like “what is next on the bucket list before we find my missing wife?” (not a direct quote). Ray Park (which I have decided is now the star of the show) goes to a mental institution (Insane Asylum isn’t PC) to see a guy who might be able to help. Turns out it is Shawn’s crazy uncle he didn’t know he had played by Faran Tahir.

I like the idea of mental institutions today still using the classic 'chain him to the middle of the floor' treatment plan.
I like the idea of mental institutions today still using the classic ‘chain him to the middle of the floor’ treatment plan.

His uncle tried to take this mental test of worthiness and he lost his mind because he failed it. Now he is insisting that Shawn take the same test. As they are talking to the estranged uncle somehow the Jinn starts taking over the other patients in the institution. They all start attacking Ray Park and Shawn. This happens to be the highlight of the film. Ray Park gets to go all Darth Maul on these guys. At one point he creates all these little particles of light and goes super slow motion and beats down a bunch of patients, essentially punching the evil spirits out of them. This is also a common treatment plan in modern day institutions. This is by far the most interesting part of the movie. Shawn forgot his keys at the front desk, so Gabriel (Ray Park’s alter ego in this movie) uses his mind to retrieve the keys and get them to Shawn. To bad in the process he gets swarmed by escapees and beaten down. Not even Toad’s spit could save him.

Shawn returns to Father Westhoff, and the good Father starts him on the trial. Shawn then goes through several different times and scenarios, trying to fight the Jinn but failing. Then at some point he taunts the Jinn, and then runs for his car. He jumps in his car and drives off, as the Jinn becomes Lord Voldemort’s wispy flying black cloud thing. Shawn then drives all over town, pleading with his car to ‘show em what we got’ and ‘don’t fail me now.’ Which might sound good, if you had forgotten he was basically just fleeing the creature with no other plan. He drives back to his house and confronts the Jinn again. I can’t remember at what point his dream / trial ended and real life began again, but it doesn’t seem to matter. His suddenly lucid uncle shows up to help him, but is immediately beat up. Then the Jinn grabs Shawn by the throat and lifts him off the ground. Now Shawn has another dream sequence. This time set back in the cave in India, where he suddenly develops telekinetic powers and defeats the Jinn. Then we go back to him being choked by the Jinn, and he is able to grab its throat, there is a struggle, and then they both fall through his window into his pool / water feature. Now at some point Father Westhoff had given him a flask of holy water (at least, that is what he calls it). In the pool the flask comes undone and now all the pool water is holy. The Jinn disintegrates.

At this point a bunch of other Jinn warp into town. Shawn takes off his shirt and gets ready to fight them (not sure why that shirt was encumbering him, but I guess it was). The leader says there is no further need for hostilities, and Shawn stabs him in the head. Man is always the aggressor in these kinds of things. Shawn finally remembers his wife was kidnapped, and demands they give her to him. The remaining Jinn just teleport away. Shawn returns to the church and discovers his wife, who apparently had been kidnapped by Gabriel, you know, for safe keeping, was there the whole time. Also somehow Gabriel is alive. Now, during the movie it was said Gabriel was Jinn who was on the side of humans. But I assumed he is an Angel, since all this power is highlighted with white light, instead of the red fire we see other Jinn using, and he is named after an angel. But that question is left for a sequel, or something.

Flash forward a year, the baby is born and Uncle Ali now lives with them. As they are preparing breakfast, the baby’s pacifier falls to the ground. Before any of the adults can pick it up, the baby uses telekinesis to get it back. Everyone just kind of sits there and looks at the baby. Roll credits. After the credits we see that same cave scene with a Jinn sitting. In this 97 minute movie I’m pretty sure that cave scene represented about 400 minutes of the film.

%d bloggers like this: