Saturday, April 29, 2006

As Played By Troy McClure

Watched a bit of the NFL draft today...they were talking about a young receiver that got picked by San Francisco in the first round, and as with all the players they talked about, they showed highlights of his college career, accompanied by short descriptive phrases that flashed up on the screen. So we learned he is/has "Intelligence"..."Hands"..."Leaper"...which I, unfortunately, read as "Leper".

Presumably, those "Hands" are only temporary.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

State of Comics

I'm currently reading 'The Legion Companion', a book I picked up because I knew next to nothing about the Legion of Super-Heroes but was aware they had a devoted fanbase, and wanted to find out why. It's been of sod-all use in that regard (it's a collection of interviews with various Legion writers and artists, designed to be read by people who are already intimately familiar with the LSH), but it does give me an idea of why comics today are failing.

Reading these interviews, you'll find old writers, editors, and artists talking about comics at newsstands (when was the last time you saw a comic sold outside of a comic shop? OK, yes, maybe a bookstore, but they don't sell them in drugstores, at supermarkets, or anywhere the direct market can't reach.) They talk about letters columns (vanished as well.) They talk about how they wrote self-contained stories for the casual reader (multi-part stories used to be taboo at DC, now they're mandatory everywhere.) They talk about doing eye-catching covers (sure, jokes about 50s DC covers, but as crazy as they were, they certainly made you want to buy the issues.) They talk about how they didn't expect anyone to be into comics for more than two years, so they had to keep doing things to get new readers interested (nowadays comics writers assume every reader is a long-time reader and is intimately familiar with the characters' backstories and key historical points.)

It's like a glimpse into an alien world.

Now, I'm not saying every single one of these changes was a bad thing--I'd be crazy to suggest that there's no room for multi-part stories, for example. But it does occur to me that comic books, as they were constituted for the first sixty or seventy years of their existence, were designed for the general public (if only the juvenile element of the general public), and that they had a goal of getting as many people as possible to look at a comic, see the cover, and at least consider purchasing it. For the last twenty or thirty years, they've marketed to an increasingly smaller, self-selected market, counting on brand loyalty to outweigh the fact that nobody knows their product exists anymore. And they wonder what's going wrong...

I'd have to say, if I were to be put in charge of Marvel/DC, the first thing I'd do is market a "Comics Treasury" monthly. It'd be a magazine, say 100 pages, and it'd have four or five self-contained comics featuring flagship characters on a rotating basis, it'd have letters and spaces for fan-art, articles on the company's history, continuity, and so forth that would be fun, interesting, and glorified ads for their other products...and most importantly, it would be marketed wherever anyone had a magazine rack. And the advertising department would make sure, every month, to have at least one page of ads for local comics stores, and those local stores could purchase ads at a discounted rate.

That'd be just the start--I'd also tamp down on excess continuity, rampant cross-overs, reboots, et cetera, and ramp up the newsstand programs and bring back the letter columns...but at the very least, I'd want a single product out there aimed at casual readers that would increase visibility of my entire line of products.

Something like that is necessary, I think. They have to start growing their business again. Because at this rate, comics will soon be down to the point where they're trying to sell every single copy to one very rich fan. And that's just not a viable business model.

When Brains Attack

Ever noticed how sometimes, it doesn't necessarily seem like you're in control of your own brain? I mean, you'll be watching/listening/reading something, and it's clear that the person who created it has a very specific thought or feeling in mind for you to have in response to it, and your brain just decides to jump up and transmit thoughts you had no idea were even out there?

Today's example comes from the classic horror movie, 'Day of the Dead'. It opens with survivors checking out a Florida town to see if anyone else survived the rise of the zombies; as they call out with a bullhorn, hordes of zombies slowly converge on their location, and it becomes clear that this is a city inhabited by nothing but the dead. The endless shots of living dead, walking the streets in broad daylight is supposed to convey a sense of mounting horror at the realization that humanity's day is over...

But all I could think of was, "Doesn't Florida get hit by a lot of hurricanes? How exactly do the zombies deal with 80 mph winds?" And then I start hearing, in my head, one of those very serious weather announcers you get in those situations, reminding people, "Please remember to clear any stray zombies from your property! Hurricane-strength winds can propel a loose zombie through six inches of solid concrete!"

I'm fairly sure this was never the intent of the film-maker.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Under the Hood: Manos

Yes, I know it's insane, but if you're talking about remaking and improving bad movies, then certainly you have to talk about one that actually has attained a perverse fame as the Worst Movie Ever Made. So let's discuss Manos--the Hands of Fate.

For starters, let's recap what we laughably refer to as "the plot". A couple vacationing with their child and dog get lost (in a long, dialogue-free sequence) and winds up at a mysterious ranch home run by a weird guy named Torgo with big knees. Torgo takes care of the place "while the Master is away". Oddly, the couple sweet-talk Torgo into spending the night there, then change their mind, then have to stay there anyway because their car won't start. Then Torgo makes a pass at the wife, the kid finds a room full of sleeping women (and a sleeping guy, the Master), the girls wake up and start wrestling, Torgo gets his hand cut off, and finally the Master enslaves the wife and daughter (which is really icky, because she's about eight.) And the husband becomes the sort of New Torgo for the next batch of unlucky travelers. All this is intercut with scenes of two cops chasing necking teenagers.

So, OK, let's go back to square one, and improve the budget, production values, acting, and keep the skeleton of the plot. A couple is on vacation with their teenage daughter (we'll push her age up about ten years, to make that less weird.) They get lost, in a much shorter scene, and wind up stopping at a house in the desert to ask directions. Their passing is witnessed by two teenagers, who wonder why anyone would drive down a road that leads nowhere.

As soon as they stop the car, it dies and won't restart. They're forced to ask the caretaker for a place to stay for the night. Still Torgo, still with the lumpy and unusual body, but this time we're actually going with the production team's original intent, which is that it's lumpy because he's not human anymore. Manos, the god of primal darkness, slowly changes anyone who stays too long in this sacred place, and Torgo's body is metamorphosizing.

They bring their stuff to their rooms and Torgo insists that they have to leave in the morning, and shouldn't poke around. The parents agree (because they're sensible), the daughter doesn't (because she's rebellious.) She sneaks off to take a look around. She goes down into the basement, and finds that there's more basement...and more, and more, and more. And at the heart of all this, she finds a black altar with a sinister man lying on it, completely immobile, and several women, all also immobile, on altars of their own. The women are all in various states of transformation--all beautiful, in their own way, but many in a fashion that's clearly no longer human. The daughter's approach awakens them, and their inhuman eyes snap open...

Meanwhile, the cops come to harass the two teenagers, and the teenagers give them attitude about how they should maybe go harass that other couple that drove up the road with the teenage girl. The cops call their bluff, and tell the teens to show them where they went.

Back at the house, Torgo lures Dad away with the promise of finding them something to eat in the kitchen, then knocks him out and stuffs him in the pantry. He then goes back and starts macking on the mom, with promises that are (to her) nonsensical, promises of finding a way to escape the house together. (He realizes that with Dad here, Torgo's now redundant.) She freaks when he takes his shirt off and she sees that a) he's not human under all that, and b) he's seriously macking on her and she doesn't know where her husband or daughter is. She flees deeper into the house.

Daughter, meanwhile, is fleeing out of the house. The Master has awakened, and he's planning to add her to his collection of "brides of Manos". He's struck a deal with the dark god; he procures fresh brides, and he gets to stay immune to the corruption that affects everyone else. The god's power makes it more difficult to leave the longer you stay; after a while, you just can't bring yourself to leave, no matter how urgent it seems. Once the Master leaves, the women discuss whether it would be more merciful to just kill the new arrivals. This discussion gets violent, as one of the "eldest" brides, who is furthest along in her corruption, insists that although they can't rebel, the new brides still might have the strength.

The Master bumps into Torgo, and decides to take this opportunity to deliver his termination papers. He accelerates the corruption until Torgo's nothing more than a misshapen beast, then sends the beast to hunt the girls. They, meanwhile, have bumped into each other, and are looking for Dad. Instead, they find the cops and the teens, who are fairly surprised to see a decades-old house where there was nothing but desert a few days previously. The cops deal with the Torgo-beast, and go looking for Dad.

Dad, meanwhile, has been released from the the Master. He's already been corrupted, just slightly, and feels compelled to obey. He sets about luring the group deeper into the house.

At the edge of the basement, though, Daughter panics. She's been there, she knows what's down there, and she's not going any further. She runs back for the cars. Mother is torn between following her daughter and finding her husband; the other teenage girl, though, makes it easy for her by offering to follow Daughter and make sure she's OK.

The remaining four descend into the basement, where the Master has re-established his hold on his brides. Dad is by his side as his new servant, and all around him, the darkness rustles with the sounds of movement. See, he has room for any number of brides in the harem, but he only needs one caretaker...

From out of the darkness, dozens of fully-corrupted brides spring forth. They drag the teenage boy into the shadows and consume him--one of the cops, though, manages to get a shot off at the Master. He falls, dead. The brides, all of them, stop their assault. They smile. Could it be that they're free?

Nope. From out of the Master's corpse, darkness boils up--Manos itself, god of primal darkness. It flows into one of the cops, entering through his mouth, nose, and eyes, and when he looks up, he's filled with dark power. He commands the brides, and they rip apart his former partner. Then he sends them after the two remaining girls.

Back upstairs, the girls are headed out...except that one of them can't seem to make herself leave. She sees Daughter crossing the threshold, running for the car, but...she just can't do it herself. Behind her, she hears the brides coming for her. Daughter encourages, pleads, even grabs her arm and yanks, but it's of no use. She's been trapped here. She hands the keys to Daughter and tells her to go and don't look back. Daughter, being no dummy, does exactly that.

The epilogue is substantially as in the original: A new set of victims drives up to the same house, and we see Dad at the steps, wearing baggy clothes that conceal his transformation, explaining that "he takes care of the place while the Master is away." In the basement, we see Mom and the teenaged girl, asleep and already some distance along in their transformation...

Of them all, I think this is the one that has the best chance of actually getting made--after all, you make remakes to capitalize on the notoriety of the original, and if there's one movie that has plenty of "notoriety", it's 'Manos'.

Friday, April 21, 2006

To the Tune Of... (again)

I'm so very, very sorry for what I'm about to do to your brain...

He was a boy
She was a girl
Can I make it any more obvious?
He, a Jedi
She was a queen
What more can I say?
He wanted her
She'd never tell secretly she wanted him as well
But all of his friends
Stuck up their nose
He couldn't have sex 'cause of Jedi oathes

He was a V8der boi
She said see you l8er boi
He was just far too young for words
She had a pretty face
When he met her out in space
He used that "angel" line on her

Five years from now
She sits at home
Having his baby
She's all alone
Obi-Wan stops by
Guess what she sees
V8der boi messin' up Jedi kids
She calls up her friends
They already know
And they started
Rebelling long ago
She tags along
Has kids and dies
Thinking of the man that choked her throat

He was a V8der boi
She said see you l8er boi
He was just too creepy for her
Now he runs the Death Star
He has a cool facial scar
Does your pretty face see what he's worth?

He was a V8der boi
She said see you l8er boi
He was just too creepy for her
Now he runs the Death Star
He has a cool facial scar
Does your pretty face see what he's worth?

Sorry girl but you missed out
Tough luck that boy's mine now
We are more than just good friends
This is how the story ends
Too bad that you couldn't see
See the Sith that boy could be
There is more than meets the eye
I see the evil that's inside

He's just a boy
And I'm Emperor
Can I make it any more obvious?
We are in love
Haven't you heard
How we rock each other's world?

I'm with the V8der boi
I said see you l8er boi
I'll meet you here after you go
And kill all the young Jedi
You'll love watching them all die
Like Sandpeople you used to know

I'm with the V8der boi
I said see you l8er boi
I'll meet you here after you go
And kill all the young Jedi
You'll love watching them all die
Like Sandpeople you used to know

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Meet 'N Greet #1

As previously noted, this blog is here for little creative bits that I don't think will make me any money anywhere else, but that I want to share with other people because I'm immensely egotistical and think I'm very clever. So, in that spirit, I thought I might share some of the character concepts I've used on "City of Heroes/Villains", because if there's anything that fits the above definition, it's that.

Today, we meet Isaac Barnes. Isaac was an ordinary man, a homeowner who paid off his mortgage quickly due to a bit of luck with the lottery. He found himself with some spare cash, and decided to build a deck in the backyard. As it turned out, the project was a great success--aesthetically pleasing, increased the value of his home, and nice for barbecues. The people at the local home improvement store were a great help.

So he decided to add on a bit more, expanding the master bedroom. It turned out to be another easy, economical project. Isaac started to suspect he had a gift for this sort of thing. He then moved on to expand the living room, widen the garage, and he was thinking of adding a spare bedroom when he realized there was a small problem. He was out of property. Naturally, there was only one thing to be done.

Isaac built himself a suit of power armor, an army of robot followers, declared martial law, and annexed his neighbor's house.

From there, things spiralled out of control pretty rapidly. Now, Isaac Barnes is no more. Obsessed with home improvement projects, he has become...The Home Despot!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

And the Winner Is...

Got an odd mental picture at work today, can't even remember what I was thinking of that led into it...oh, wait, now I can. I was thinking about 'Only Human', a Doctor Who book about someone attempting to create a "better" dominant species, send it back in time, and have it supplant humanity like we supplanted the Neanderthals. And I paraphrased the message of the book as, "Why? It's not like there's a prize awarded at the end for 'Best Evolved Species'!"

And then I thought, "What if there was?" It's not a very 'Doctor Who' idea, more 'Monty Python', but you have to admit, you can picture it. God stepping out from behind the firmament, saying, "Yes, thank you all very much for turning out, I certainly hope you enjoyed yourselves. Now, before the Apocalypse, I have a few prizes to give out..."

"The 'Best Evolved Species' Award goes to...the cockroach! Yes, sorry humans, I know you made a jolly nice run and I'm sure you'll win it next time."

"And the 'Best War' goes to...World War II! A tour de force production for all involved, with a twist ending I'm sure nobody saw coming."

"The 'Most Likely To Succeed' Award goes to Augustus Caesar...better luck next time, Napoleon!"

"And, for 'Best Prophet In a Religious, Sacred, or Fortunetelling Role', the award goes to...drum roll please...the Prophet Mohammed! Yes, wonderfully done. Unfortunately, My son was ineligible for the award."

"Again, thanks all for coming, and I sincerely hope you enjoy the total destruction of the material realm. Orange drink and cookies will be served."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

To the Tune Of...


Scratched by thorns of roses or by claws of kittens
Smacked by large men wearing thick lead-lined mittens
Beaten with mallets and dropped out of planes
These are a few of my favorite pains!

Kicked by large ponies and burned by hot streudel
Rapped with a large brass bell right in the noodle
Hit by two fast-spinning steel weathervanes
These are a few of my favorite pains!

Girls choking my throat with their blue satin sashes
Fires that burn off my nose and eyelashes
Needles injecting things into my veins
These are a few of my favorite pains!

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
It makes me feel glad
I simply remember my favorite pains
And why I love feeling bad!

[Repeat all verses until you pass out from the pain]

Friday, April 14, 2006

No, The Other Superman

Been reading a few DC comics lately (Starman had a very sad ending, I thought), and it reminded me of an old writing exercise I set myself in my early twenties. Never going to be of any use, since DC generally doesn't look kindly on writers who suggest they start an alternate-universe imprint with their flagship characters, so...

The idea was, every so often DC continuity gets utterly messy. That's because they decided to work under the idea that all their stories are part of the same continuity, the same fictional universe, the same history. This wasn't always the case. Back in the 50s, they just made new versions of them and went with those versions, and left it for later decades and more continuity-minded writers to explain how it all "fit together". So you wanted a new Green Lantern? Sure. Totally different man, different origin, just took the "power ring" idea and went with it. Wasn't until the 90s that they explained how Alan Scott fit in with all that.

So, with that in mind, I thought: What if I did the same thing? What would my starting premises be for a New DC Universe, if I didn't have to explain how it fit into the old? So, here are the concepts I came up with...and the caveat, which is that technically Batman and Superman should be the same Batman and Superman they've always been. They're too iconic to mess with. But I did anyway. Oops.

Superman: A self-made billionaire, athlete and adventurer, Jason Clark is the perfect human being in every way. He's the epitome of human ability in every field, and that's come with only one cost: He bores easily. As such, he's always on the look-out for strange and unusual challenges that test his abilities to their limit.

Batman: Latest in a line of mystic protectors whose roots come from the Native Americans, Brian Oake has it in him to summon the totemic spirit of a bat to aid him in his never-ending battle to keep the world safe from the Chaos Demons that constantly seek a way into our universe.

Wonder Woman: Laura Burke, formerly of the FBI, has gotten a new government job. She's the government's latest Wonder Woman, the official super-hero of the United States of America. Truth to be told, the job's supposed to be nothing more than public relations, staged appearances, and good press. But Laura didn't sign up for a fake super-hero job, and she's finding some very real super-villains.

The Flash: Anna Martinez thought she was an ordinary librarian until the day she was struck by lightning. That day, she learned that she had always been unusual, a human capacitor with the ability to store and discharge electrical energy. Now, she's decided that she has to use her abilities for good.

Green Lantern: Alec King was an ordinary beat cop until the day the starship crashed into his city. It was a ship filled with dangerous specimens, and one of them escaped onto him--a parasite with the ability to form and manipulate energy constructs. Now, he and the parasite are reliant on each other for survival, but there's a catch. Every time he forces the parasite to use its powers, it gains a little more control over him.

Manhunter: Lisa Duval is a professional bounty hunter who specializes in the criminals that even the cops can't catch. She's got an arsenal of cutting-edge technology, contacts in every city in the world, and most importantly, the instinct of a hunter.

Aquaman: Contact with a mysterious life-form in the Marianas Trench turned marine biologist Eric Saunders into a being made of "living water". Now, he has to find a way to turn himself back into a human being.

And last but not least, the Justice Department of America: Authorized by the government to form a strike team to deal with threats to the nation's security, Wonder Woman deputizes six of America's leading super-heroes to form the Justice Department.

Of course, the fun part would come twenty years down the line, when someone tried to tie it all in to the regular DCU...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lessons In Real Life, #1

I've always thought that there are some things that they should teach you in school that they don't (big shock, right?) But seriously, there are just some things that everyone should know that will help them, and I'm going to share them, as and when I think of them. So, learn for today:

1. Whenever any politician starts talking about immigration, they're trying to distract you from how shitty they are at their job.

2. Whenever a rich man proposes a new tax plan, they're really just trying to find a way to pay less taxes.

3. Everyone promises more than they can deliver when campaigning for public office; only a fool attempts to keep every promise they made, and only a bigger fool believes that they will.

4. Whichever presidential candidate tries to suggest fewer debates is the guy you shouldn't vote for. He's the guy who's worried that in an unrehearsed high-pressure situation, he'll do or say something stupid that will cost him votes. Since he'll be spending the next four years in nothing but unrehearsed high-pressure situations, you don't want a guy who tries to avoid them.

5. A good, reliable field-goal kicker is worth his weight in gold. They score you points, they can make the difference in a game, and they all have long careers because nobody's allowed to tackle them.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Review: House of Wax

This would be the remake, not the William Castle original. I'm not qualified to comment on that, as I haven't seen it.

But if you wanted to describe the remake in two words, they would be: "Aggressively Unwatchable". This is a film that actively dares you to care about anything happening on-screen. It's a 100-minute movie in which absolutely nothing happens until easily the 45-minute mark. Seriously. The dramatic highlight of the first forty-five minutes is that a truck flashes its high beams at the main characters for a minute or so, then leaves. (Later on, it's presented as a plot point that a character drives THAT SAME TRUCK! Cue musical sting...except that last I checked, flashing your high beams at a bunch of rowdy campers until they break one of your headlights with a beer bottle, then driving away isn't exactly sinister behavior. Certainly not sinister enough to drive the inexplicable guilt reaction the character shows.)

Even after the 45-minute mark, the story spends a good twenty minutes or so ambling into the events we should have gotten to five minutes before the movie started, with the Cute Survivor and her Doomed Boyfriend wandering around the Creepy Town and finding the eponymous House of Wax. (Which is so blatanly silly that I must pause to explain: It's a literal House of Wax. As in, "made out of." I defy anyone to make a house which has load-bearing girders made out of wax, and further defy them to construct the house in a fashion that you could put a furnace in the basement.) From there, more non-scares ensue--there's a few creepy moments, but in general the director puts a lot of effort into trying to make you believe something's about to happen when it's not.

Oh, and it's got the worst "twist ending" you've ever seen. Finding out your pop's gone flat when you open the bottle has a better "twist ending" than 'House of Wax'.

All in all, it says a lot about how awful this movie is that I can honestly say Paris Hilton's not the worst thing in it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Spring Cleaning

Wow, has it really been February since I posted here? Um, I can explain, really.

See, I've actually been posting all this time, but Internet dogs ate it. All those posts, every single one. Internet dogs. They're big and angry, and they love text. That's why it sometimes seems like there's nothing on the Internet but porn--it's because the dogs ate everything else. They look kind of like Rottweilers, but they're all in ASCII.

You're not buying this, are you?

OK, seriously, every time I was about to post something, a man came along and took it. He had a scar over his left eye, and he claimed his name was "Ramon", but I think that might have been an alias.


Fine. Firefox ate my Bookmarks folder, so I forgot that this site existed, and I didn't post to it.

No, that's actually really it.

Yes, there is such a thing as a Firefox. It's a giant fox made of flame, and it waits at the center of the Earth. Occasionally it will manage to get its jaws out, and it eats Bookmark folders whole...someday, it will loose its bonds, and devour all the folders in the world, and nobody will know where anything in the Internet is.

Except the Internet dogs. They can track by scent.