Blogwanking and Social Media Sunday and Long-Term Strategy, OH MY!

I’ve gotten out of sync with the quarterly stat sharing. I discussed April at the end of A to Z, but I never looked at the entire second quarter, and now we’re through July. I’m discussing the past three months today. Y’all can just deal with the fact that this is 2500 words and has very little art. Read it if you want to up your game. Learn something.

Quarterly Stats

Here’s where we are with Sourcerer.

stats_src_15_08_06After the April we had here, I knew we had to come back to earth in May. I would like to have remained above 3,400 total views for the month, but I’ll take 104 average views per day for this blog and be happy with it any month of the year if that’s all I can get. It was an improvement over last May, so good — one of the things I look at with the stats is same-month comparisons from year to year.

Then June hit us, and as you can see, it hit us pretty hard. It was the first month of the year we didn’t see an improvement over 2014. There are reasons for that, and the effect carried into July. I’m hoping we’ll at least be able to do better than we did last year in August, and that’s entirely possible since these screenshots were taken on the 6th and we already had almost 500 views for the month.

The downturn in June was entirely predictable. I’d hoped it wouldn’t be quite that bad, and that we could contain it to a single month. But oh, well. We’re bloggers. We deal. It started in May, really. Once we all had A to Z in the bag, many of the regular contributors here spent some of their blogging time in April and May stockpiling content to get Comparative Geeks through the arrival of Geek Baby. And this emphatically is not a complaint. I volunteered for it, actively encouraged it, and Diana and I pitched in some posts of our own. David and Holly are our friends, if you haven’t realized. We’d be pretty sad around here if CompGeeks went silent.

But this group of content-producers we’ve assembled only looks big from the outside. It’s a small group, and nearly everyone has their own blogs. I made a calculated decision to do as much as I could to ensure CompGeeks didn’t have to go dark for any significant period of time, no matter what it cost Sourcerer. That decision was worth it and I’d do it again, but it meant our planning for late summer suffered, and we all had less to offer Sourcerer in June because we gave a lot of our writing-ahead time to CG in April and May.

All this came to a head at the beginning of the worst single month I’ve had, offline-wise, in years. I relocated my family the first weekend of June and the move turned into a never-ending disaster. There was a car accident that had to be dealt with, and a death in my family the weekend of July 4. This meant I didn’t have the means to cover the blog myself, and I wasn’t good asking contributors to just run the blog while I was basically off the internet for several weeks, because they were in the middle of doing the same for another blog, and they had threads to mind at CompGeeks.

This translated into more missed days in late June and early July than we’ve had since we started. It meant I wasn’t around to chatter and work my WordPress reader to keep the blog on peoples’ radars. It also meant photo features had to be suspended. That is costing us two posts a week, every week. Those still aren’t back. I’m working on it, but they aren’t coming back until I can do them consistently, so, might be awhile yet. Irons in the fire and all that.

The thing about the photo features is this: They’re great for likes and getting into the feeds an extra time. They’re better than nothing, and sometimes good for generating conversations. But I am not actually sure they get us any page views. They are always the first thing I cut when times get tough, and the last thing I bring back when times are good. Afternoon photoblogging here means we’re feeling prosperous.

So, June/July was entirely predictable — partially the result of conscious decisions about where to focus contributors’ content. Partly about me not being able to be present here due to unforseen circumstances. It’s not a concern, and we’re still on track to do better than we did in 2014. If we can end the year north of 100 average daily views, I’ll be happy with our progress in 2015.

Far as referrals go. The quarterly summaries are rolling averages and I didn’t pull them at the end of July. But in general, the traffic’s coming from the same places it always has: Search engines, the WordPress reader, Twitter, and Facebook. In that order. Search engines are by far the largest source — the only source that’s gotten us a four-digit number over the last 90 days. Our referrals from the reader and Twitter are way down, because I’ve not had time to spend on other WordPress blogs, nor to tweet properly, for most of the summer.

Our most popular posts in the last 90 days, aside from two or three Batman and Penny Dreadful posts that account for 85 percent of our search traffic, are the Geek and Greet blog party post; Rebecca Bradley’s Disclaimer review, which got Google traffic on the official release day; one of Hannah’s Ms. Marvel posts; one of Rose’s She-Ra posts; and my recent interview with Gretchen Kelly.

Now take a look at the recently-redesigned and better-than-ever Part Time Monster.

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I’m proud of the progress Diana is making with this blog. It just keeps getting better. The decrease from April to May is entirely the post-A to Z effect, I think. June was comparable to last June, and I don’t know what happened over there in July, because I was too busy to be paying attention. But I will say. A lot of people seem to have had down months in July. Since she’s on track to have a good August, I’m not concerned about July and I’m looking at it as an outlier.

If you compare our total page views for the year, you’ll see that PTM is about 4K ahead of Sourcerer. You’ll recall that for most of the time we’ve been doing this, our two blogs have run neck-in-neck. I’ve thought many times that PTM was going to surpass us here for well and good, but we’ve generally stayed within 1K of one another. Those days are over now, I think.

The Monster is in a position to consistently generate at least 500 more views than Sourcerer every month from the #WeekendCoffeeShare linkup alone. Monster Mondays, a feature Diana developed from her A to Z theme, have been well-received, too, and those posts tend to be uber-shareable. Throw in the Top Ten Tuesday traffic, and the Monster’s just better for attracting a consistent number of readers week-in and week-out.

None of this is a complaint, and it’s got nothing to do with the quality of the posts we publish here at Sourcerer. Our contributors are a collection of some of the best bloggers WordPress has to offer. We set this whole thing up with the idea that if these blogs were going to break out, the Monster would be the one to break out first. So, our evil schemes are going as planned, and I’m getting a LOT of satisfaction out of having been the chief architect of the whole thing.Even_More_Evil_Plotting_Raccoon_Quickmeme_by_GeneO

The Monster’s top referrers for the quarter are the same as Sourcerer’s. It’s getting a little less search traffic, but more from the reader, a comparable number from Twitter, and more from Facebook. The Monster’s always gotten more from Facebook. Both blogs are seeing a slight uptick in referrals from other blogs — we’re talking about maybe 25 or 30 per quarter each from a handful of blogs. But the handful is growing, and in January, those 25s and 30s were more like 10s and 15s. That’s a good sign — it’s an indicator that we’ve made the right call by prioritizing network depth and engagement over traffic.

Part Time Monster’s four most popular posts are the Princess Bride and Giving Tree reviews, one of Jeremy’s Tough Ladies posts, and the Evil Queen from A to Z. Aside from a post about sexual violence in television, PTM’s most popular posts list is otherwise dominated by Weekend Coffee Share linkups. Search engines and the linkup are driving Diana’s traffic, because all the most popular posts other than the coffee posts were written weeks or months ago.

What It All Means

First, Diana and I aren’t running a race against each other with these blogs. The very idea of that would just get a “WTF?” from us. We don’t compete, ever. Not even in half-serious ways just to draw a crowd.

We cooperate. We’re trying to help one another find readers and make friends, and we’re trying to get better at this. That’s what the sharing of these stats is about. So, here are a few thoughts on what we might learn from this latest phase of the PTM-Sourcerer blogging enterprise.

First, WordPress is more a social media network than a publishing platform. A post on a wordpress.com blog is basically a longer, prettier status update with outgoing links. This is important to note. Because one rule of social media networking that seems to be ironclad is if you aren’t interacting on a network consistently, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, you aren’t on that network.

Aside from the missed days and lack of photo features, the biggest reason Sourcerer suffered in June and July is because I’ve not been liking and commenting on other WordPress blogs for weeks, and I’m the one whose likes/comments point to this blog. In fact, I suspect my lack of engagement has hurt us more than the missed posts. Whatever else I do, long-term planning wise, I’ve got to prioritize engagement on WordPress to get the activity level back up here.

Second, Part Time Monster’s gearing up to be more successful than Sourcerer in the short term because Diana has advantages with her blog we don’t have here. We have advantages, too, but they’re different — the entire styles of these blogs and the way they’re run are different. They’re designed to compliment one another, assuredly and intentionally. But they are not cast from the same mold.

I don’t consider Part Time Monster to be a niche blog, but it has a more specific content focus than Sourcerer. PTM is about “books, girls, and monsters.” Our motto around here is “all pop culture, all the time,” with a little social media thrown in and as much smartassery as we think our readers will put up with. That’s a much broader focus, which means it’s more difficult to know what to expect from Sourcerer. This blog will surprise you on occasion, but aside from a Wednesday comics post and occasional Social Media Sundays, you just never know what you’re gonna get here — especially during periods where most of our contributors are wrapping up runs and either planning the next one or working on their own projects.

Another advantage the Monster has is the regular content tends to be more consistent. Because Sourcerer runs on contributions, and bloggers have to be able to come and go as they please, we tend to do short-ish runs and one-off posts: Movie reviews, tv series blogthroughs, things like that. Those are fun to write and do well when we have them, but they don’t provide much long-term stability or focus.

Then there’s the fact that Part Time Monster is set up as a personal blog that accepts contributions. Sourcerer, whatever it is, isn’t a personal blog. It’s set up for one purpose, and one purpose only: to publish contributed content as a way of encouraging a community to form around our blogs and help bloggers form lasting relationships. I provide as much as I can, but fundamentally, Sourcerer will live or die based on my ability to maintain a contributor base and keep other bloggers interested in publishing here. Not on my ability to produce five or six posts per week myself. If I ever reach the point that maintaining active contributors is untenable, I’ll shut it down, give all my content to PTM, CompGeeks, and a handful of friends, and point my WordPress account to the Monster to give Diana the benefit of my WordPress engagement.

Sourcerer’s advantage in all this is that we have more latitude to experiment here, the potential to attract a larger number of contributors, and the ability to generate impressive traffic spikes on occasion. But it sets us up for boom/bust cycles with content (and therefore with readers) until we attract a a few more bloggers to join the crew. There just aren’t quite enough of us here yet.

I’m nowhere near ready to call it a day at this point. We’re doing well. We’ll get through the year and have another awesome spring if things keep going the way they are. So no worries. Slow and steady wins the race.

What’s Next For Sourcerer?

I’ve already written one post that specifically outlines where I’d like to take this blog over the next year, and given the length of this one already, I’m not going to rehash it all here. But basically, we need a few regular things — things people can count on seeing at specific times of the week or month, and we need to do that in a way that allows room for contributors to join in when they feel like it.

I think moving the #WeekendCoffeeShare posts here will help. I’m also liking the Sci-Fi Saturdays. Those started as Star Wars Saturdays, but I think I like “Sci-Fi” better, because it allows us to write about more than one franchise on Saturdays. Other than that, I want to keep the interviews going and eventually do more than one a month, and I want to do more collabroative posting like Hannah’s and Melissa’s Age of Ultron review.

Aside from those things, I’ve got to bring the photos back, engage more with other bloggers on their blogs, and get back to Twitter. I’ve somewhat prioritized Facebook since last fall, and that’s paid off, but it’s come at the cost of WordPress and Twitter growth. I’ve done what I can on Facebook by spending large amounts of time there. I’m friends with enough bloggers now to be happy where I am, and I’m content with slow-and-steady progress driven by genuine interaction.

So, once we move into the fall, you’ll see less of me over there, but more of me in the blogosphere and on Twitter. Once I get back where I need to be with those two networks, my next big project — probably my big social media project for 2016, has to be cracking either Reddit or StumbleUpon. We’ve proven we can do engagement, and what we need at this point is big traffic. We’re getting all we can get by working for views in ones and twos. We need to figure out how to attract readers by the hundred through a single link, and one of those two networks is likely the shortest route to that.

This is quite enough for today. I hope at least a few of you find this helpful.

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Sourcerer’s Eleven: Questions for Author Joshua Robertson

Welcome to round three of Sourcerer’s Eleven. An interview series where contributors within the site get a shot in the big chair. The Instigator-In-Chief, Gene’o interviewed Luther Siler, who then put me through my paces, so now it’s my turn *rubs hands together*. In the hot seat today is Joshua Robertson, author of Melkorka (Book 1: Thrice Nine Legends), and A Midwinter Sellsword (Book 1: Hawkhurst Saga).

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  1. You recently released Gladiators and Thieves, book two of the Hawkhurst Saga. Can you tell us a little about that series and how it came about?

You will have to forgive me if I momentarily nerd rage. The story of Hawkhurst was never intended to be in my collection of stories. Hawkhurst first began as a politically-themed RPG MUD (Roleplaying Game Multi-User Dimension) played through text on a web-based platform. I spent an entire weekend creating a complex city from the ground up – detailed with theological and political underpinnings – vibrant with unique shops, guilds, and NPCs. Unfortunately, the group of players only were able to engage in the game for a few weeks. I could not let the creation go to waste, so I started restructuring the themes of the plot into an engaging tale.

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The series is about Argus, the bastard child of House Madrin, who ran away from Hawkhurst years ago after being enslaved as a gladiator. Argus is tricked into returning to the underground city. He soon finds himself trapped and subjugated to the political games between the noble houses. In desperation, he is forced to trust old friends with hopes to escape again before anyone discovers his true identity.

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That’s a great origin story, and an extremely rewarding outlet for the nerd rage! For the plotters among us, it’s a dream come true – a whole platform with which to expand on. Those who know you, will be aware that you began crafting the world for your dark fantasy series Thrice Nice Legends in 1999. I really like the fact there’s a fan site for the series, and a TnL tabletop game. I’m going to leave the gaming element there for now. There are several contributors at Sourcerer who will be chomping at the bit to ask you questions so we’ll leave it for the thread!

  1. I had a great deal of fun on my visit into the world; Melkorka is a wonderful introduction to the series. I know the sequel Dyndaer will be released in January 2016. You’re also co-writing a standalone within the Thrice Nine Legends. How did that particular collaboration come about?    

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Ooo…there is a good question. You weren’t kidding about the hot seat! The TnL Game originated from a collaborative plan back in 2013, where my world was used as the primary setting. The game continues to be tweaked and play tested, but to answer your question – JC Boyd, the co-author to Anaerfell (the standalone novel) is also my partner in the TnL game. He and I developed an idea for a book in 2004 and Anaerfell is the final result of that original idea. Thrice Nine Legends will soon be better described as a shared universe (much like Dragonlance) with a series of stories taking place in the same world. Melkorka, Dyndaer, and the final book, Maharia (set to be released in 2017), will be a trilogy within The Kaelandur Series.

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  1. That is incredibly cool, it has to be said. I can see it now; novels, game accessories, films, audiobooks – a hugely exciting project in more ways than one! You recently set up your own company, a small press (Crimson Edge Publishing), specializing in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, and Horror. That in itself takes considerable planning, not to mention the shared universe. What’s your secret when juggling all these projects (we can’t all have J.A.R.V.I.S) – is there a programme you use, a specific system, a container full of notes, an army of minions, how exactly do you keep everything straight?

That would be incredible. When I sell just one book, I’m like an 80s child discovering Q-Bert for the first time. If my stories ever made it to film, my mind would be blown! [And, I’d beg to be an actor in the movie.] As for keeping it straight, I wish I had something cool like JARVIS, but my budget only goes as far as sticky notes (the computer-widget kind). In all seriousness, I stick to a structured schedule for gym, writing, editing, publishing, marketing, family, and so on. I only deviate to fill the coffee pot.

  1. I have planners envy! I couldn’t stick to a schedule if it followed me around all day 🙂 I can totally appreciate the Q-Bert reference, and that feeling of excitement (though I was a Donkey Kong fan myself). But in all seriousness, when we writers dream, we tend to dream big…so I’m sure, if you don’t already have the full cast in your head, you have an idea of what your characters would look like on the screen. Do you have detailed character profiles, concept art, that kind of thing?

There have been several illustrators who have created rough concept art for Thrice Nine Legends, but there are no pictures of the characters found in the stories. I would be thrilled to have some fully framed, canvas images of the characters to hang up around my house. But, yes, I have files upon files of detailed character profiles. I have a short biography on each character that outlines their homeland, family and upbringing, major childhood events, adolescence and training, religion, romances, and motivations for the plot. The motivations are the most important! My kingdoms, cities, and other settlements are far more detailed than the characters, mirroring the same complexity as Hawkhurst. I have folders embedded in folders embedded in more folders that have been created over 15 years. However, despite all the information known about the world, a writer has to be clever in how the world is discovered with their characters. I once did a short interview on Building World and Story.

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  1. Thanks for providing a link to the interview. I enjoyed your views on the art of world building in fantasy, especially the section on inference. I also agree that a reader enjoys to learn with a character. We’ve established your admirable organisational skills (read the article, folks!) and it’s clear the worlds you create are as rich and diverse as our own. If you could bring one of your characters into this reality and teach them the ways of our particular universe, which one would you choose and why? Tell us about them – what job would they have and how would they adapt to their new surroundings?

I have to consider my main character, Branimir. He could not only use a little acculturation into the world of humans, but he would be the most appreciative of the experience. Branimir has a free spirit, rarely bound by any personal ambitions. He is extraordinarily blameless and kind, but he is also quite inquisitive. This would make him ideal in venturing through our world. I think his long life span and natural curiosity would set him up to be an archaeologist, a historian, or a world traveler.

  1. I loved spending time with Branimir, and as Melkorka was the first book of yours I read – I’ll probably always have a soft spot for him! We tend to be loyal to our firsts 🙂 And now I’m curious. Which fantasy character/s have stayed with you?

I would give most credit to Matrim Cauthon, who is a character in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Mat is a roguish guy who is all about women, gambling, and drinking! Today, I meet several folks that grew up with Harry Potter. Well, I grew up with this brazen kid from Emond’s Field and lived vicariously through him.

Other characters that have stuck are between fantasy and science fiction genres: Gandalf, Han Solo and Chewbacca, He-Man, Ender, and Spock. I know – some all-time favorites for many geeks in that line up. Beyond that, there are a handful of characters that I have played in Dungeons and Dragons for almost twenty years that are close to heart.

  1. I’d love to discuss some of those fine characters with you, but perhaps we’d better save it for the thread! Let’s bring it back to you. In terms of writing, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

That is an easy one, Melissa. Keep writing! There are many tidbits out there to help a writer hone his or her craft, but the number one thing that any author can do is to keep writing.

  1. I actually have that printed on a t-shirt (I kid you not!) Keep writing. It’s important – as is reading. It should be in the induction pack – well, if there were such a thing. Okay, so we’ve discovered a lot about you in terms of your work, your tastes, and how you approach certain projects. Now tell us something you’ve never revealed before – one thing you enjoy. I’m not talking deep, dark secrets here, just something we don’t yet know.

The only thing that comes to mind are random facts, like I always order a 5-layer bean burrito when I go Taco Bell or I’m one of the two members of my family tasked to be the ancestral historian (very enjoyable!).

  1. We don’t have Taco Bell in the UK so I’m not going to lie, I googled the 5-layer bean burrito because my curiosity got the better of me. It looks delicious! And I love researching my ancestors – those nice little surprises that always seem to end up in a story (very enjoyable indeed!). Are there any writers in your family tree? Artists? Gold miners?

I have yet to find any writers in the long history of my “family tree”; we have oodles of farmers. However, we make up for it in my immediate family. My older sister wrote stories when she was younger. My younger sister is currently working on her first novel. And, JC Boyd is not only my best friend and co-author, but he is also…[drum roll]…my younger brother.

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  1. That is beyond cool! It’s so great that you get to share the journey together. The following two questions are unique to Sourcerer’s Eleven, so – first up: Give us your best pitch elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your books?

Is there a restriction on the sentence length? Wait! Did that count as one?

There was a time when gods were gods and men were men. Before legends divided truth from untruth, love from hatred, or the righteous from the wicked, the world was nothing but a veil of myth and misconception. It is heroes who defied what it meant to be a man or a god, seeking a purpose for themselves and humanity. My stories are about those heroes and their legendary adventures.

  1. Sold! Though I didn’t need the pitch – I’ve already spent time in your fantasy world. Final question – If you could own one (and only one) piece out-of-this world technology or magical artefact, large or small – anything from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star — what would it be?

Besides the infamous Horn of Bubbles from DnD? 🙂 I choose the Ring of Gyges introduced to the world by Plato. The story explains that this ring gives the power of invisibility to its wearer. In addition, the owner may forever have whatever they touch as though it were their own. There is some speculation the tale of the Ring of Gyges was the inspiration behind Tolkien’s LOTR.

Thank you so much, Joshua. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you, and I look forward to the conversation in the thread – I know people will have plenty of follow up questions from this engaging interview.

From the Instigator-In-Chief

I am moving. Have been in the same place for ten years. You know how things accumulate.

I spent Monday and Tuesday packing. Yesterday I loaded a borrowed truck. Then I attempted to drive the truck out of this town. It broke down in a way that can only be solved by a wrecker followed swiftly by a mechanic.

I hit a deep pothole while heavily-loaded. (Trust me. You don’t want to go yanking the steering wheels of heavily-loaded trucks around very much. They might turn over.)

The part that connects the wheel to the axle gave way, is what happened. (It’s called a ball joint). We thought we had a blowout. There was smoke and stuff.

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The truck just stopped. In the middle of what passes for a busy street in this town.

I called a tow truck (and you know that means cash only right?) I had the truck towed to a repair shop I trust (and you know that means you don’t get the vehicle back until you pay in some way, but thank goodness mechanics take post-dated checks from upstanding citizens, right?)

My son-in-law and me directed traffic for an hour-and-a-half while the one person we know who has the towing equipment to handle a fully-loaded one-ton moving truck finished the run he was doing when we called and came to tow our property to a safe place. Police never showed up and we took photos so we can file a pothole claim and get some of the damages reimbursed.

If you are wondering why we didn’t just call the police and file a report, here is why. For a lot of reasons, we do not call the police for something like this. Where I live, we pretty much only call the police if there’s real violence going down and we feel so unsafe we have no other alternative. We know how to direct traffic, and we know how to file claims without police reports.

My property is locked up in the back of a moving truck, sitting in a repair shop right now. I have no bed, no pots and pans, and very little clothing. But I know where the people and things I care about are.

  • The rest of the family is staying with relatives.
  • The MOST TREASURED POSSESSIONS are still in this apartment, watched over by me, and locked up when I am gone to work. I am writing this from a room that is so empty it has an echo. Using an end table as a desk.
  • Elsewise, there’s me, some goldfish, a single firearm which is like an ancestral weapon because it was manufactured in 1939 and gifted to me by my maternal grandfather on the day I was old enough to handle it properly. There’s a late Cold War Era globe. There’s a 24-inch Darth Vader figurine that belongs to a little person.

Never load your possessions into a borrowed truck. But if you do, make sure you don’t put the things you care about in the truck with your possessions. Drive the truck yourself, and don’t more than one of the people you care about along for the ride. A son-in-law that helped you load it and understands the risks is acceptable. Give the rest of them jobs to do, like getting the rest of the vehicles to the new place and vacuuming the floors and hanging clothes in closets.

Because the borrowed truck might break down at an odd moment. You might stand on a busy street and direct traffic with your son-in-law for an hour-and-a-half. And then you might have a conversation on the way home, when that finally happens, about how glad you are it happened on a street instead of a highway.

That truck would have rolled right over if this had happened on a highway, and I am not being dramatic.

Meme by David of Comparative Geeks. And let me just toss in a couple of hashtags, since it’s Thursday and all. #SummerOfSandman #GeekPastiche.

The already-published Tolkien that you only didn’t read because you didn’t see it last year will be back on Thursday next week.  I needed this moment today and I needed it here on Sourcerer. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Collaborative Review

Ultron posterHannah and I thought it might be fun to do a review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron together, so you get two opinions for the price of one!

First we’d like to deal with Ultron, and the delightful portrayal by James Spader – it might only be his voice onscreen, but his presence was stamped all over the robotic villain.

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Mel: Ultron made for a highly entertaining supervillain. His crazy genius was in turn highly amusing and downright terrifying. His arrogance surpassed even Tony Stark’s, which makes sense, since Stark created him. Seeing a range of tonal and even facial expressions on a robot, has to be one of the funniest things I’ve seen – at least in a while. And that voice. When he spoke I paid attention, even when his grandiose statements made me groan! In the interests of being constructive, the only real criticism I have, is the rushed introduction to Ultron’s hatred of Tony and the other Avengers. In the space of a few seconds (yes I know he’s incredibly smart), he turns against his creator – without even having interacted with him. I connected the dots, but it would have been nice to see greater conflict in the beginning.

Hannah: Ultron was one of my favorites too! I thought his dialogue was very skillful — he mimics the sort of villain who has a grand (but misguided) scheme for making the world a better place, but he’s not that kind of villain. His plan didn’t make much sense, but that works… He’s a flawed program built from an alien weapon and Tony Stark’s fear. It all comes back to Tony as the movie’s villain, the self-proclaimed mad scientist whose creation is out of control. Yet he’s on the heroes’ side, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of structure before! That brings me to my VERY favorite part, though: The Vision. One of the (many) new characters added in this movie.

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Mel: I loved Vision too. This may have something to do with the fact I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with Jarvis! I loved that Vision incorporated his essence – that dry, unaffected sense of humour – love it! In relation to Ultron, I enjoyed the fact that, ultimately, Ultron is responsible for Vision’s creation. In a way, Vision is the balance – the positive effect of Tony’s creation and his evolution was thrilling to watch. The hammer moment was particularly clever, because it cut through all those questions about his morality – it also added to the overall humour. I enjoyed the twins, especially Wanda, but the person who really stood out for me was Hawkeye. He might not be a new character, but we certainly saw a new side to his character. I thoroughly enjoyed the way he became almost like the glue that held them all together.

So, Hannah, what are your thoughts? I know you’re dying to talk about Vision!

Hannah: They really did a good job of balancing so many characters! I thought Hawkeye’s development was a little implausible, but cool and creative all the same. And I definitely appreciated the moment he stopped Wanda from messing with his mind, after all the fuss about that in the first movie. But The Vision was absolutely my favorite part. He is so, so good. He’s perfect in the story, as the final form of what Tony was trying to create. I think Tony had in mind a more comprehensive system of defense, but what he really wanted was The Vision. Something insanely powerful and transcendentally good. Instead of having a flawed, weaponized beginning, Vision is created from a combination of good things, Jarvis foremost among them.

Cap

Funnily enough, I hardly know the Vision at all from the comics, so I can’t say much about how he’s the same or different. My main reference for how much I love him in the movie is actually Superman, or Captain America in the MCU. Lots of people don’t like “good” characters because they think they’re boring, but they don’t have to be. Cap is a good person, despite all the darkness he’s seen, without being naive and cutesy or boring. That’s what makes him inspiring, and it’s the same in a really good Superman story. Vision being so colorful is related to that. It’s okay for him to be a little more stylized and have a flowing golden cape because he’s symbolic in a way the other characters aren’t. I could go on about this forever, I really could. Of course, anything could happen now. Maybe his Ultron origins will come back to haunt him, or his alien point of view will cause him to act against the Avengers.

This whole movie seemed transitional, tying in to Loki’s staff and whatnot from the past and thematically connected to Iron Man 3, but mostly foreshadowing future events. How does this movie fit?

3 Hawkeye

Mel: Before I answer that question, I wanted to go back to your point about Hawkeye – the way he prevented Wanda from messing with his mind. This was a powerful scene for me (I think I may have done a mini fist pump) because his mind is one of his sharpest tools; his focus. Clint has a deep sense of honour and Loki took that away from him. In Age of Ultron we got to see who Hawkeye really is, and I think he helped to humanise the team in a way – to be their anchor. Anyway. On to the questions about where the movie fits.

The movie certainly set some of the groundwork for the transition into the next phase. It will be interesting to go forward with the current team. As it stands Thor has returned to Asgard, Hulk is goodness knows where (for the time being), Tony took a step back, and Hawkeye is hanging out at the ranch. So that leaves us with Cap, Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, the Scarlet Witch and (happy dance), Vision! These additions still offer a powerhouse in terms of ability, and at the same time, a new dynamic. So, though I don’t see this team lasting very long, it will be fun to see where they take us, and how they fit into the next phase.

I think the destruction inadvertently caused by the Avengers in this movie, definitely set things up for Civil War. First we had the debacle in South Africa when Hulk lost control, and the obvious battle in Sokovia. If this isn’t the cause of the civil war, it’s certainly fuel for the fire. How do you think these storylines will fit into upcoming movies, like Civil War? Are you happy with the development of the characters so far?

Hulk Smash!

Hannah: The movie certainly highlighted destruction, so they may well be using that as a sticking point in Civil War. They make an effort to save civilians, but they can’t always be successful. For instance, Tony picked an empty building to throw Hulk through, but he didn’t do anything to protect all the people in the street when the building fell. So, I think it’ll be a worthwhile debate rather than a contrived conflict.

Age of Ultron did a good job of giving each character a little bit of attention, but not too much. It’s essentially a character-driven movie, a very simple plotline serving as a vehicle for little bits of character development. I see it as almost a cutoff point, tying up dangling threads so they can have standalone movies and then come back. We’ve basically set up “intervening events” rather than “the next Avengers movie.” A smart way to do it.

Mel: I couldn’t agree with you more about the character-driven plot. It was one of my favourite elements; the unity within the team. We’ve come to expect the humour, but this time there was a level of cohesion we haven’t seen before. I wish I could give you a favourite quote, because there are many great examples, but I’m having a hard time deciding! Certainly the running joke about Cap’s language highlighted their camaraderie, and the way they now work together (especially Cap and Thor), was just wonderful.

4 Avengers

We could talk about the visual effects all day, because they were truly magnificent. I’ll just talk about my favourites. I absolutely loved Veronica (Tony’s Hulk buster!), especially when she sent in reinforcements. I particularly enjoyed the opening scene, not least because it set things up in terms of how seamlessly the team work together. I loved Natasha’s ‘Can someone take care of that bunker’ – cue Hulk! And then, of course, there is the scene where the Avengers unite (including Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) – taking out Ultron’s robot army and basically kicking ass!

What about you Hannah? Which scenes stood out to you? Do you have a favourite quote?

Hannah: I think the answer to that is, “I need to see this movie again!”

While the plot is simple, the characters are complex, and there’s plenty more to say. Leave your Age of Ultron reactions in the comments!