Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy 85th, Stan!

You know, I have a bit of a confession to make. I used to think Stan Lee was, well...lame. I mean, to be fair, it was the 90s, and my primary exposure to his writing was 'Ravage 2099', but...I thought Stan Lee was lame, and untalented, and kind of an embarrassment to a comics industry that had come a long way since the Silver Age. I thought the reason he was hailed as such a great writer in his heyday was because guys like Neil Gaiman and Peter David weren't around yet, and that we had such great, sophisticated writers now that it made Stan Lee into a relic.

I'm sorry, Stan. I was young and stupid, and I hadn't actually read a lot of those old comics. I've spent the last year or so, now, reading what has become a whole bookshelf of classic Marvel, and it's made me realize that Stan Lee was brilliant. He managed to be self-aggrandizing without being obnoxious, a combination that's much harder than it looks; the gentle, almost self-mocking humor of his captions, the bombastic next-issue summaries, even the little footnotes where he'd say that he would have covered the page with word balloons, but with art like this, he knew when to sit down and shut up...Stan Lee sold his stories, his persona, his characters, and he knew exactly how to charm you into believing his line. He made you feel special and discerning for having the good taste to enjoy his writing, and while his brand of hype always promised more than it delivered, it never made you feel like you were getting cheated afterward. It's a trick that modern-day editors show every day that it's very easy to fail at, and fail spectacularly. Even the nicknames he gave himself and his collaborators were part of that same charming hucksterism; "Dashing" Don Heck, "Gentleman" Gene Colan, Jack "The King" Kirby, "Jazzy" Johnny Romita, and Stan "The Man" Lee. (Cribbed from Stan "The Man" Musial, no doubt, but charming nonetheless.)

I love his dialogue. For all that I believe Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby contributed greatly to the classic runs of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, I don't think either one of those series would have become as great as they did without Stan Lee presenting vivid portraits of them through their speech. Even today, you can take the tails off of the word balloons in an issue of the Fantastic Four, and you'll know who's talking; Doom's megalomaniac ranting, Johnny's youthful exuberance, and of course, the Thing. "Natcherly! The idol of millions ain't no weak-kneed pantywaist!"

Did he benefit from working with some of the best artists in the industry? Unquestionably. Spider-Man wouldn't have been Spider-Man without Ditko, and the rest of the Marvel Universe wouldn't have been the same without Kirby. But that's the nature of a collaborative medium. Lee and Kirby made each other better. It wouldn't have been the same without those many wonderful artists, but it also wouldn't have been nearly as good without Stan Lee. It certainly wouldn't have been as much fun.

So, having become older and wiser, but not yet as old and wise as the man I'm lauding, I say, "Happy 85th Birthday!" to Stan (the Man) Lee, a great writer and a legend in his own lifetime. Thanks for all the great stories!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

How To Have a Good Chinese Meal

Christmas is just around the corner, and everyone who's seen 'A Christmas Story' knows that Christmas means Chinese food. So, in the spirit of the season, I present my guideline to how to go out for a great Chinese dinner, on Christmas or any other day!

Step One: Find a good Chinese restaurant. This is an important step. There's no point in saying to everyone, "Hey! Let's go out to dinner!" and taking them all to Panda Express. You need to find a place that does really good Chinese food; this might involve one or more "scouting meals", just to find a place that suits. Look for the following good signs that the Chinese restaurant is authentic.

a) They have soy sauce at the table, in jars. The only reason a good Chinese restaurant has soy sauce in little packets is for their to-go customers.

b) The cook and/or owner (it's always a good sign if the owner is actually working in the restaurant) is actually Chinese.

c) Many of the customers are actually Chinese.

d) Members of the owner's family are helping out (waiting tables, cooking, et cetera.) Really good cooking tends to be a labor of love, and nothing says love like child labor.

e) The portions are nice and big. A good Chinese restaurant generally serves a single portion that acts as about a should have enough leftovers for either a snack later, or to feel really stuffed as you leave the restaurant. (This is why you take other people with you. See Step Two.)

f) They're open Christmas Day. See introduction.

Step Two: Select your group of people. Ideally, the total number of people in your group should be divisible by three, just to make the portions work out well, but you're really more concerned with good conversation and fun people to hang out with, so don't be afraid to invite an extra person or two. You can always add on egg rolls or lo mein. If you don't have at least two friends you can go out for Chinese food with, go join a community theater group.

Step Three: Bring everyone to the restaurant. Do not order individually. This is vitally important. For one thing, you'll all wind up with way too much food. For another, the best part of eating Chinese is trying different dishes. Order two entrees for every three people, and try to vary the entrees as much as possible. If you have something you know is popular (having a favorite Chinese restaurant obviously means skipping Step One), go ahead and order multiples, but try to mix it up at least some. Passing around the entrees, piling your plate with different dishes, and telling people, "Mmm, you have to try this" is all part of the tradition. In the event of uncertainty, don't be afraid to order a bit extra...Chinese food makes great leftovers (although you'll need to cook fresh rice. Nothing tastes worse than reheated rice. It's like eating paste.)

Alternate Option: Order out, and have the food at home while watching a movie. (The only trick is to find a movie that will satisfy everyone concerned. No horror--you never know who might have a weak stomach. 'The Princess Bride' is never a bad choice for a large, mixed gathering, as only soulless demon-people dislike that film.)

So there you have it--the perfect guide to a fun night out. (In the Twin Cities, by the way, I recommend both 'Anna Chung's', in Eagan, and 'Seafood Palace', in Minneapolis. Both great family-owned restaurants that serve nice, big portions of great Chinese food. Try Anna's sesame chicken, it's the best in the world!)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Dream Is Dead

The Miami Dolphins have, for the first time all season, failed to lose a football game. They managed to take it to overtime, but unfortunately failed to allow Baltimore to score a field goal, and subsequently won on a touchdown of their own.

Seriously, why wouldn't you start playing for the losses at this point? Win a game, and you're just another bunch of 1-15 schmucks. At least there's a certain perverse glory in going 0-16. You might be bad, but at least you're legendarily bad.

Or, at the very least, wait until next week to win, and ruin the Patriots' season at the same time...

Friday, December 07, 2007

So Good I Stole It

My room-mate, Tony, and I were discussing politics yesterday, and we got onto the subject of Mitt Romney and his difficult journey to the White House. We both agreed that his Mormonism was a stumbling-block to most Americans, but Tony provided the true reason we're not sure electing a Mormon is a good idea.

"We're all just worried that he's going to go on a diplomatic tour of Europe, and all of the other heads of state are going to pretend to not be home when he rings the doorbell."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bona Fide Shameless Plug

After what amounts to some three years of delays, 'Glimpse of the Abyss' should be showing up in stores this month. It's a sourcebook for the 'Feng Shui' RPG, from Atlas Games, featuring some of my writing, and if you're a fan of 'Feng Shui' (which might very well be, as 90% of my published work has been for FS), I'd suggest you buy it, as the publishers will be looking at 'Glimpse of the Abyss' as a barometer of the popularity of the line.

If that's not enough, it has flying heads, zombie bikers, demon kung-fu masters, eunuch sorcerers, and a little something I nicknamed "Corpse Factories". Oh, and killer nuns. Oh, yes, and I promise you'll never look at a dodo the same way again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Review: The Black Dossier

Spoilers shall abound in this review, just to warn people...

I find myself surprised, depressed, and more than a little intimidated to say this,, that was really disappointing. I never thought I'd say that about something Alan Moore wrote, but it's true.

It's not all Moore's fault, I have to say. Some of it comes from the fact that LoEG volumes are so few and far between (due to Kevin O'Neill's somewhat deliberate speed of drawing) that each one feels more like an "event" than a story, and DC's delay of the release (due to all sorts of reasons) merely amped up the hype. It's possible that there's just no way that anything could live up to the excitement of the idea of the Black Dossier.

But I do think that some of the fault, and I say this as someone not nearly as talented as Alan Moore, is...well, Alan Moore's. For one thing, the sex. I am no prude. I admire greatly Moore's stance that writing 'Lost Girls' opened his eyes to the idea that human sexuality is natural and healthy, and something that can be included in his stories without shame or fear. But I do think that like any writer who's using a new storytelling technique, Moore seems to be overusing it in his first flush of enthusiasm. Much like Brian Michael Bendis scatters random thought balloons in every panel of 'Mighty Avengers', things like "I like pie," or "Where are my keys?", Moore seems to be sticking sex scenes in just to say, "Look! I'm not afraid to include a sex scene!" (In fact, that's literally the case at one point--a porn pamphlet from Orwell's '1984' is inserted between two other pages, seemingly at random.) The overall effect is more numbing and pointless than erotic. A few years down the road, I'm sure Moore will integrate this stuff better, but for now, it feels clumsy and forced.

But that's not the big problem with the Black Dossier. The big problem is...well, the big problem, to put it bluntly, is that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Not the plot, that's relatively straightforward. Mina and Quartermain steal the "Black Dossier", a compendium of secrets of the various incarnations of the League, from British Intelligence, and spend the rest of the book on the run while reading it. But very little of the actual material makes sense.

I suppose I should have seen this coming. Moore has been very forthright in discussing how the LoEG books have been and will be getting more and more elaborate in their "continuity references", working in more and more oblique references to other literary works of the period and using them as plot points. After all, Jess Nevins has published two annotated guides to the previous two mini-series, explaining all the "Easter eggs" for people who aren't walking pop culture encyclopedias. But even so, it's very frustrating to read an entire book that's nothing but knowing winks to things you don't recognize. The original series worked because the "Easter eggs" were just that, asides in a story whose main thrust was broad and immediately recognizable. Mister Hyde, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, and Allan Quartermain were major literary characters that the average person could recognize, and villains like Moriarty and the Martians from 'War of the Worlds' worked perfectly precisely because they were legendary villains that the legendary heroes could believably struggle against. (Although even in the original series, the veiled references to Fu Manchu were probably a mistake...but more on that in a moment.)

'The Black Dossier' is full of oblique references and veiled hints at other fictional stories, but that's all it really is. There's nothing for a reader except for the satisfaction of picking out a reference they recognize, or more often sighing in frustration as another obscure character shows up that they've never heard of. And since Moore appears to be hanging his hat on the notion that Jess Nevins will be publishing an annotated guide for this series as well, reading 'The Black Dossier' is a bit like buying a trivia quizbook without an answers section.

Worse, even in the parts where Moore probably wants to make things clear, he can't, because he hasn't learned his lesson from Fu Manchu. Too many of the important characters in the book are still under copyright from their respective authors, meaning that Moore has to make veiled allusions and hope that his readers are well educated enough to pick up the hints. (This was the problem with Fu Manchu in the original mini-series...if you're not familiar with Sax Rohmer's pulp villain, then large parts of the series are downright incoherent.) Admittedly, the key reference (a British secret agent named "Jimmy" who worked with Felix Leiter in Jamaica) is clear enough, but for every reference like that, there's a whole series of plot points that turn on You-Know-Who working with Wink-Wink to uncover the secret of That Famous Place With The Buildings, Get It? If you do get it, you'll no doubt be smiling faintly at the way the references dovetail. If you don't, you'll be wondering why they didn't just bundle the damn book with a coupon for the inevitable Nevins guide.

The ending, on the other hand, is a species of error that we haven't seen from Moore yet. It's all in 3-D, for starters (word to the wise: people with glasses hate 3-D effects, because we have a choice of either missing the 3-D part or sitting with the damn book an inch from our nose because we're nearsighted, for Pete's sake...I suppose it could have been worse, Moore could have persuaded DC to include a vinyl record I'd never be able to play on my CD player), and it takes place in the "Burning Realm", a place that's sort of a walk-in imagination where all these fictional characters can go when they get tired of dealing with the real world...except that obviously some of them can't, because they're not "fictional", except that they clearly are, because "Jimmy" is James Bond, but obviously he's not the right kind of fictional, so perhaps it's to do with being the right kind of fictional, but honestly, this isn't a story that has been doing the meta-fiction at all until now, and ringing it in right at the end of the third book for about ten pages feels odd and takes you right out of the story. The ending feels really like a chapter of 'Promethea' that wound up in the wrong book--don't get me wrong, I like the idea of fictional characters traveling into and out of the realm of imagination, but that's not the concept of 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'. LoEG suggests that it's all real, every last bit of it. Having it suddenly be all real except for the bits that aren't and some of them are and they can go into the imagination when they want to so they don't's a pretty severe tangent, and it muddles the message.

I don't wish to sound wholly negative, since even disappointing Alan Moore is still Alan Moore, and there's one short story in there that works perfectly as an example of how LoEG should work (Jeeves vs. C'thullu, a clear example of two iconic and legendary characters facing off on a grand literary stage.) But on the whole, it really came off as self-indulgent and esoteric, and strangely pointless. Perhaps when Jess Nevins writes about it, I'll be more impressed.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I have edited the post "I Am King Geek, All Bow Down Before Me!" to correct an obvious omission...I'd totally forgotten about Lana Lang's checkered journey from Superboy's college sweetheart to hardened FBI agent.

Silly me.

Essential Update '07

Last year at about this time, I made a list of
the top fifteen Marvel series I wanted to see made into Essentials. It's now a year later, and I thought I'd take a moment to ask, "How did Marvel do?"

Unsurprisingly, they did a lot more volumes of existing series. I can't say I mind, honestly; it was good to get another X-Men volume, a couple more Spider-Man trades, more FF, more Silver Surfer, more Punisher, more Werewolf By Night, and more X-Factor. But of the fifteen titles on my list, only two were actually collected: Ms. Marvel, and Dazzler. (Which isn't to say there were no other new series being collected--'Essential Marvel Saga'? I didn't list it because I didn't dream Marvel would collect something so wonderful, yet so I've learned that my fanboy dreams can truly become reality.) So what does this year hold in the Marvel release schedule of my dreams?

15. The Champions. To be honest, I'm not sure what the rights issues are with this series, and I suspect nobody else does either, including Marvel (they did, after all, get within two months of publishing a new 'Champions' series before deciding to call it 'The Order'.) But I know there's a 'Champions Classic' set of trades in print, so Marvel must have the rights to reprint its old stuff. So howbout an Essential, Marvel?

14. Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu. Another one where the rights might be in limbo...they can obviously make use of Shang-Chi himself, since he's an original Marvel character, but the series also used Fu Manchu, and I'm sure the rights have lapsed on him by this point. Still, I will fall back on my "Godzilla" argument: If Marvel can hash out the rights to an Essential Godzilla, how much harder can any other character be?

13. Micronauts. I really don't know what the rights status for this series is. But somebody's got to be able to reprint these. Even if it isn't Marvel, I'd settle for another company putting out an affordable black-and-white reprint volume...

12. Adam Warlock. With all the "cosmic" characters enjoying a big renaissance due to the success of 'Annihilation' and 'Annihilation: Conquest', putting out affordably-priced reprints of the old adventures of these characters sounds like a smart move to me. And it's not like Adam Warlock doesn't have a fan following. (OK, certainly the sales figures on 'Adam Warlock and the Infinity Watch' suggests he doesn't have much of one. But that was a whole different era.)

11. New Warriors. Another series that seems more relevant than ever in the new year...there's a new 'New Warriors' series out, Nova's got his own series again, Night Thrasher and Penance (the former Speedball) both have mini-series, Justice is a prominent character in 'Avengers: The Initiative'...really, Marvel, this one just makes sense.

10. Spider-Man 2099. The only reason this didn't make the list last year is because I figure a series should be at least fifteen years old before being considered "Essential"...and that time has passed by 2008, meaning that Peter David's wonderful reimagining of the Spider-Man concept can see print. It's the best of the 2099 line, it's got a surprisingly faithful cult following, and it's the only series to feature the line, "I have tough nipples." What's not to like?

9. Power Pack. They're already doing new, family-friendly out-of-continuity 'Power Pack' mini-series. Why not reprint the classic adventures as well?

8. West Coast Avengers. Hawkeye. Team Leader. I should not have to speak of this one again next year.

7. Alpha Flight. Another one of those series that's had a bit of a renaissance lately, and one that I really think would work well in big, 24-issue chunks. It was ahead of its time in "writing for the trade", with lots of ongoing subplots and character developments that unfolded over many issues, and now is the time to reprint it.

6. ROM. I am aware, thank you very much, of the rights issues regarding ROM. Pah, I say to them. Pah! If you can do 'Essential Godzilla', why are you letting the only records of our great struggle with the Dire Wraiths languish in Marvel's vaults?

...don't make me get Congress involved here.

5. Quasar. See everything I said about 'Adam Warlock', only with bells on. This really was Mark Gruenwald's magnum opus, and I don't think it ever got the attention it deserved. I think it would sell very well in trades, and I really enjoyed the series.

4. New Mutants. As I understand it, the reason this hasn't been collected is that Bill Sienkiewicz's art doesn't translate well to black and white. But I still hold out hopes that somehow they could "remaster" it to make it work, because this really is the definition of an "Essential" title. Following the X-Men during the 80s meant following the New Mutants, and the X-Men and X-Factor titles feel incomplete without the missing third of the story.

3. Excalibur. Less "essential" than the New Mutants, but oh-so-gorgeous...and don't even try to tell me that Alan Davis' art doesn't look good in black-and-white, because I ain't buying it.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy. Still one of my favorite series ever from my childhood (well, teenage-hood), still needs to be reprinted, still needs to be relaunched (I wanted to see 'Civil War' end with the Guardians showing up and siding with Cap), but I must bump it down a spot, because...

1. What If? I must, at this point, confess the deepest of fanboy shames. I totally forgot about 'What If?' when making last year's list. Two series, hundreds of issues, one-shots to this day, the inspiration for 'Exiles' and the only place where you could see seriously dark stuff go down in the Marvel Universe, this cries out to be reprinted. Yes, I'm aware there's a "Classic" line for this series, much as there is for many of the series on this list. But I loves me the big thick black-and-white volumes, and that means I wait in anticipation for the day this one gets released.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review: World War Z

Many apologies for the late post, but I'm in the middle of recovering from a nasty attack of malware that forced me to erase my hard drive. (No important files were lost, thanks to good backups, but it is a bit time-consuming, reinstalling everything.)

So nothing ambitious today, because I'm still recuperating, but let me take a moment to mention how very, very well 'World War Z', by Max Brooks, evokes the idea of a zombie uprising. It shouldn't surprise anyone who reads this blog that I heard the phrase "zombie uprising" and was right there in line to buy the book, but Brooks really does do an excellent job with the idea. The book takes the form of a number of "interviews" with survivors of the plague that reanimated the dead and gave them an uncontrollable hunger for the flesh of the living, and each interview is almost a short story in miniature. The various survivors' tales interlock to form a vast, sprawling narrative of a world in crisis, progressing from denial, to panic, to full-fledged chaos, and finally our struggle to fight back and reclaim our world.

At each stage, you'll be impressed with Brooks' sense of realism; having laid down ground rules for the zombie virus in 'The Zombie Survival Guide', he then proceeds to come up with very authentic human responses to a plague of the walking dead. I quibbled about a few things (I think, for example, that the military would come up with an effective response faster than they did--ultimately, no matter how implacable and terrifying zombies are, they're basically unarmed, unarmored people who use no subterfuge or tactics and move at a slow walking pace.) But Brooks paints a compelling picture, and gives each survivor a unique voice. I could have read a book twice this length, and I'd be more than happy to see a sequel out of Brooks.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Odd Businesses Update!

I saw again tonight a check for a Mexican restaurant here in Minnesota called 'The Taco King'.

Now 'Taco King', by itself, isn't bad. Conveys a sort of fast food, Taco Bell meets Burger King vibe. But every time I see 'The Taco King' on a check, I picture all these animals kneeling down, watching this aged baboon head up the mountainside. He arrives at the pinnacle, and holds up...a taco! "Behold...your king." (And then he takes a big bite.)

It's just not the image I think they wanted to provide when they named their business. " is time for you to return to the pridelands and take your place in the Combo of Life."

Or it could just be me.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Meet 'N Greet #4

Once, he was an ordinary clown. His was a happy lot, entertaining children, loving his beautiful wife (also a clown), and looking forward to teaching his young son the craft of circus entertainment.

Then, one day, all that changed. A group of renegade mimes from the infamous 'Cirque du Soleil' crime family gunned down his whole family with invisible bullets. With no ballistics to trace, the police could do nothing. But he could.

Now, he's no longer a clown. He's a clown with a gun. And he's going mime hunting. No invisible box can save them. He's a one-man force for justice, an unstoppable white-faced, big-haired torrent of revenge...

No. Not revenge. Funishment.

He is...the Funisher.

(True story: This character was inspired by a "wannabe" on the 'City of Heroes' game, someone who'd simply made a copyrighted character and changed his name slightly to avoid being deleted for copyright infringement. He had made the Punisher, but had added an "h" so it was the "Phunisher". Apart from being appalled at the lack of imagination, I was quite irritated at the poor understanding of phonetics. That wouldn't sound like "punisher", it'd sound like...and then I realized it was the Best Character Idea Ever.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Entertainment News #2


In an announcement today that sharply divided the six Batman fans on the Internet not already sharply divided about one thing or another, the venerable DragonCon, held yearly in Atlanta, GA, had its bid accepted to host the first official debate between angry Batman fans over who's the better Joker, Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson. Both Ledger and Nicholson will attend in person to hear people talk angrily about their lack of acting talent, disrespect for the comic book character, and hatred for the fans who've given so much to the franchise over the years.

Many fans are already up in arms about the announcement. Some feel that the timing will make it difficult. "DragonCon occurs over Labor Day weekend," longtime Batman fan Jake Keigel said. "The movie opens July 18th. By the time I get into my first argument over how bad Ledger's performance is, I'll actually be basing it on one, perhaps even several viewings of the movie instead of merely watching the teaser trailer and picturing that guy from 'Brokeback Mountain' playing my favorite villain. How am I supposed to have an uninformed opinion with that kind of lead time?"

Still others are concerned with DragonCon's ability to host such a debate. "When the Olympics were held in Atlanta," says Janine 'Batgirl' Lee, "they had to make all sorts of upgrades to the city's infrastructure in order to accomodate the increased traffic and the venues for the games. And yet, DragonCon has shown no signs of finding places to put all of the venom, bile, and sheer unmitigated gall that this discussion is going to generate. By the third day of the con, people are just going to be wading through knee-deep BS, mark my words."

A spokesperson for DragonCon has pointed out that their facilities for dealing with knee-deep BS have already been tested and shown to be at "Dan DiDio capacity".

Still other fans have concerns somewhat more difficult to articulate. "WTF THIS IS SOOOO LAME," says 'Batdude69'. "DC SUX THEY HAV NO IDEA WHAT MAKES JOKR COOL. DRAGONCON IS A BUNCH OF GAYWADS WHO WILL PROBLY SCREW UP TEH ARGUMENT." Harsh, incoherent words, but the sentiment is clear.

Still, whatever the end result, DragonCon's angry bickering session promises to be only the first of many. Perhaps we will all look back fondly on this as the beginning of a long, irritating and pointless argument, much as we fondly remember the first "Kirk vs. Picard" debate, held in 1986 at GenCon. However, it's unlikely. Because Mark Hamill is way better than either one of those two jerks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hey, It Amused Me

Wrote this in the comments section of another blog (referring to the "Who Will Die?" cover solicitation for Green Arrow/Black Canary), thought it was kind of funny...

This month from DC, we're offering:

Green Arrow, death, Black Canary, death, death and death,


The Brave, death, death and the Bold,

and Showcase Presents death, death, death, death, death, death, bacon, sausage and death.

Death, death, death, death, glorious death, wonderful death...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Irony Officially Dead

In a quick report from the state of Texas, I thought I'd mention that I saw a bumper sticker here that said, "PROUD CATHOLIC". Almost immediately upon seeing it, I wondered if the people manufacturing it, the store selling it, or the person who put it on their car was really paying attention to what it said. Because generally speaking, "pride" is something the Bible doesn't actually recommend for Christians.

Then again, perhaps that's the point. Maybe the bumper sticker is a form of mortification, something the car's owner put on there to remind themselves and inform others that they still suffer from the sin of pride. Perhaps there's a whole line of them--you can get an "ENVIOUS CATHOLIC", a "WRATHFUL CATHOLIC", or a "GLUTTONOUS CATHOLIC" sticker to put on your car, just to let everyone know that you still have a ways to go before you can call yourself a saint.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Quick Review Before I Go

Just a quick note to say that I'm going to be out of town next week, so entries will be unlikely at best. In the meanwhile, I'll just mention that 'Making Money' is another very nice Terry Pratchett book; I'm sure some people have gotten bored with his long-view, historical approach to the books (he's essentially become more interested in showing the development of Ankh-Morpork as a city, using the books as a vehicle.) Me, I think it's great. I love reading pop history books, and getting a pop history book that's also a Terry Pratchett novel is the best of both worlds.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Evil Dead 4

It's the movie everyone wants to see, let's all just go ahead and admit it. Even now, close to thirty years after the original 'Evil Dead' and almost fifteen years after the release of 'Army of Darkness', Sam Raimi is still getting asked, "Will you ever do another 'Evil Dead' movie?" (His response is always a charming, gracious "We'd love to, but first we'd need an opening in our respective schedules. And funding. And a script.")

My thoughts on the sequel, before launching into a description: It'd need to be set fifteen years after 'Army'. Bruce Campbell is fifteen years older than he was, and there's no point in trying to hide that. You can't just pick up where 'Army' left off. I think, at this point, that it's safe to assume at least a little familiarity with the series on the part of the fans--if you're going to see 'Evil Dead 4', you've probably already seen the first three, and that'll be especially true when it goes on to DVD and joins three evergreen DVD sellers. And third, I think the series deserves a happy ending. Something big and spectacular (not that I didn't love the end of 'Army of Darkness' or anything.) So, with that in mind, 'Evil Dead 4'...

The story picks up fifteen years after the end of 'Army of Darkness', with Deadite forces having overwhelmed most of the world. Demonic possession has reached an all-time high, the United States government has fallen, and humans have banded together into small, insular city-states for protection. A mysterious wanderer approaches the largest and most successful of these city-states, the kingdom of 'S-Mart', the shining light of humanity in the war against demon-kind, ruled by the wise and just King Ash...

On arrival, he's greeted with suspicion and distrust, but is taken before Ash and his closest advisor, Scott. The stranger explains that he is from the future, from a time when there is but one outpost of humanity remaining on Earth. Ash's reign now exists only in legend, as the last Golden Age of the human race. But these last humans have unlocked the key to time travel using the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the Book of the Dead (of the dead). Although the Book is indestructible, they have been sending warriors back in time to try to stop the Necronomicon from ever having been written, ensuring that the demons never get a foothold into humanity. Each time, they've failed, but they've managed to make some changes to history--Scott's very existence is one example. Originally, he would have been at the cabin with Ash when Ash found and fought the Deadites for the first time. They also prevented Ash from oversleeping and awakening in a dystopian future London. But now, they are too few to send back another. So their last gamble is to come to this time, and persuade Ash, the most legendary warrior in history, the slayer of the Deadites, to travel back and stop the demonic tome from even existing.

Ash is uncertain. He has responsibilities as a king, and as protector of its people. Also, he admits to himself, without the Deadite invasion, what would he be? Just another schmuck? For all the difficulties of being a king, and of fighting demons, it is good to be the Man With The Crown sometimes. And he'll apparently be remembered as the last Golden Age of Humanity, also a plus. He decides to take a night, and think it over.

That night, Deadites attack. Ash goes into battle with them and repels the invasion (a sight gag here would show him selecting from a rack of different weapons to fit onto his right arm), but Scott is killed. He consoles Shelly, and the two of them realize they've lost so much...Scott, dead. Linda, dead. Cheryl, missing. He decides. No matter what the cost, this has to be stopped. The spell is cast, and Ash hurtles back in time... the decadent kingdom of Atlantis, ruled by a cruel-yet-sophisticated king. (There'd be parallels between him and Ash, suggesting that if Ash had "let himself go", this would be what he'd wind up like.) Ash arrives, and is immediately taken by the King's Guard. He finds himself on trial, accused of being the head of the "Cult of the Deadites", which has been gaining power of late. Ash protests, insisting that he's actually there to fight the cult, but the King's High Priestess has the word of prophecy on her side, the King trusts her implicitly...and she's also Cheryl, Ash's long-lost sister. Despite Ash's protests, he's sentenced to trial by combat in the gladiatorial arenas.

Naturally, trial by combat proves to be not as fatal as Ash's enemy hoped, and the mercurial King takes him into his confidence. Ash takes the opportunity to talk to Cheryl privately, only to find out that she's the Queen of the Deadite Cult--the demonic entity knew that others were attempting to undo the creation of the Necronomicon, and sent Cheryl, its first possessee, back in time to guard it. The time of prophecy is near, though. Soon the seas will run red with blood, the book will be written, and humanity's end will be assured.

Sure enough, the Deadite cult marches on the palace. Ash and the King's Guard do battle with the cultists, but the King dies, and with his death, Atlantis begins to sink into the sea. Blood-red rain pours from the sky, Cheryl begins to chant a summoning ritual, and the tome's destined author appears at its appointed time. The scribe of the book descends from his pale horse, carrying the blank tome. It reaches a single skeletal finger out towards the water, and it becomes clear that the book is the Necronomicon Ex Mortis...the Book of the Dead, by Death...

That's when Ash steps in. Unafraid, unencumbered by common sense, he charges in for a final battle, Ash vs. the Grim Reaper, for the fate of humanity...and yeah, that goes about as well as you'd expect. Only Ash's superhuman ability to withstand punishment keeps him alive, but he does fulfill his destiny. He keeps Death distracted for those few vital minutes until the continent sinks fully under the waves. The book plunges into the blood-red sea, its pages defaced for all time. Humanity is saved. And Ash goes under, drowning in the blood-red waters...

...and is pulled back out. And not only that, his watch is still ticking! That's right, ladies and gentlemen, even total immersion in this tank of salt water doesn't stop the Amazing Ash Watch, and it's only $49.99! And if you act now, we'll throw in the Groovy Ash Hand Blender, that straps right onto your wrist! Call now, operators are standing by! Now, we'll go to Ed, and see if he has anything more on that Fantastic Ash Glove...

Still disoriented, Ash looks around. He has both his hands again, his friend Scott is by his side, and as they go to another studio, he realizes that he's working in some sort of infomercial. Men in suits crowd around, looking for his opinion on all sorts of business matters, and he figures it out--this is history now, and he's gone from being the King of the Last Golden Age to a glorified Ron Popeil. For a moment, he wonders if it was worth it...and then he sees Linda off-stage, watching him work. And knows that it was.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I Am King Geek! Bow Down Before Me!

After doing some exhaustive research, I think I've finally managed to pin down a definitive timeline of the 'Heroes' universe leading up to the events of the first season. It's amazing, the way they scattered so many tiny clues in the series itself, but I think I've managed to unravel them all. (Warning: This timeline will contain spoilers for the events of season one. I'd recommend that you not read this until you've seen all of the first season. Mainly because none of this will make any sense otherwise.)

1955: Alien plants use a total eclipse of the sun (a recurring motif of the series) to teleport a seedling of theirs to Earth, as part of a plot to wipe out the human race. The seedling is destroyed by Seymour Krelbourn and Audrey Gray, but the pollen of the alien plant turns out to have a mutagenic effect on human beings. Pollen contamination will cause spectacular mutagenic effects over the next decade.

1956: Seymour and Audrey marry and move to the suburbs.

1957: Tolian Soran, thought to have died in an explosion on Veridian 3, instead finds himself in New York City during Earth's distant past. During the brief period he spent within the Nexus (prior to Jean-Luc Picard and James T. Kirk's alteration of history), he communed with a mysterious entity that claimed to be trapped within a black hole. In exchange for a promise of assistance in escaping the black hole, the entity helps Soran time-travel away. Soran takes the identity of "Linderman". At this time, he is contaminated by alien pollen, developing the ability to heal.

1958: Seymour Krelbourn dies from radical mutations developed in the wake of overexposure to the alien pollen. Audrey Gray breaks with tradition by reverting to her maiden name, and moves back to her old neighborhood in New York to raise her newborn child, whom she names Gabriel. In order to prevent him from taking an interest in botany (which she irrationally blames for her husband's death), she tells Gabriel that his father was a watchmaker.

1972: After several misadventures, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, Soran finally frees the renegade Time Lord known only as "The Master" from the black hole he was trapped in, and uses his powers to stabilize the Master's decaying human host. Soran/Linderman and the Master embark on an ambitious scheme to alter the course of human history using the alien pollen to catalyze the next stage of human evolution.

1975: After his return from Africa, John Shaft develops prcognitive dreams due to exposure to alien pollen; deciding to use the ability to make himself wealthy, he develops the identity of "Charles Deveaux". He spends many years acumulating wealth and power, and reluctantly lends his talents to Soran/Linderman on occasion; despite his money, though, nobody understands him but his woman.

1983: Captain Hikaru Sulu, of the starship Excelsior, is asked to take on a dangerous mission by Starfleet involving the apprehension of criminals attempting to alter the course of human history. Upon arriving in the past, however, Sulu recognizes that the alterations are too great to stop by simply capturing the criminals, and embarks on a long-term scheme to minimize their damage to the timestream. To this end, he begins building a corporate empire in Japan and makes the acquaintance of Soran/Linderman.

1987: By this time, the Master's "black ops" organization that complements Soran/Linderman is fully up and running, using both regular humans and those whose DNA has been altered by the alien pollen. The Master, calling himself "Thompson", recruits as his newest operative a man called "Claude." Unbeknownst to the Master, "Claude" is actually his old nemesis, the Doctor, who has regenerated since the last time the two met and has used the newly-installed 'chameleon arch' in his TARDIS to create a false persona for himself to allay the Master's suspicions. He does take the extra step, however, of installing "Claude" with pollen-altered DNA, giving himself the ability to become invisible.

1991: Lana Lang graduates from Shuster University and takes a job at the Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters in Capitol City, Florida.

1993: Lana Lang severs her ties both with Clark Kent and Superboy, and uses her connections at the Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters to obtain a job with the FBI, specializing in cases of unusual serial killers.

1999: John Connor, on the run from robotic killing machines from an alternate future known as "Terminators", takes the identity of "Zach" while living in Texas. He will hide under this identity for several years.

2000: Having trusted the wrong person in Thompson/The Master's black-ops group (known as "The Company"), Claude/The Doctor is badly injured. Failing to remember his true Time Lord heritage, he spends the next several years on the run (which, in turn, causes him to resolve never to use the chameleon arch without entrusting his secret to a partner in the event of mishap.)

December 2005: Eric Weiss, CIA agent, goes deep undercover as an LA beat cop, complete with marriage. Unbeknownst to him, however, he has been exposed to alien pollen.

April 2006: Chandra Suresh approaches Gabriel Gray, having determined that his DNA contains the markers that will allow him to detect people who have developed "super-powers". Gray's DNA, which was affected by massive doses of pollen on both his mother's and father's side, is indeed powerfully mutated (despite his mother's never having developed any powers at all from her exposure to alien pollen.)

September 2006: Heroes begins.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Any Questions?

Sorry for the short blog entry this week, but I finally finished the three-week process of weaning myself off caffeine, and going from "a little each day" to "none" has turned out to be a slightly bigger step than I thought. (Hence the title of the post: "This is my brain off drugs.") Still, I'm done with my usual Thursday posting alright, and now it's just a matter of...

Friday, you say?


Hope things went OK at work last night, then.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Summer Movie Report Card

The first thing you'll notice, on reading this, is how much earlier "summer" begins for summer movies than it used to: Ghost Rider, the first entry on the list, came out in February, which was (at least in Minnesota) about as far from "summery" as you can get. But since you need that week of space all to yourself in order to get that all-important high first-weekend gross, well...needs must when the devil drives, I suppose.

The second thing to notice is just how many movies I wound up seeing; this was a big summer for movies, a sort of box-office El Nino that happens once every few years where every week brought a must-see movie. (Hollywood's been hoping for one of these for a while, now, but when you make a movie like 'Hulk', you really only have yourself to blame.) When I looked at the "upcoming movies", I saw a treasure trove of summer-time excitement...was I disappointed? Read on!

Ghost Rider: B-. This should probably be a C+, to be honest, but I'm giving it an easy grade because the movie had a good sense of humor about itself, and a nice visual design sense, which made it easier to overlook the plot-silliness and slightly hammy acting. Plus, I wasn't expecting a ton from it, so yes, I was grading on a curve.

300: D+. Would have been a B-, save for the political subtext that rammed itself down my throat when all I wanted was a good old-fashioned action movie. (You may remember me commenting as much at the time.) Still, it didn't hurt my overall summer expectations, as it was really more of an afterthought next to 'Spider-Man 3', 'Fantastic Four 2', 'Transformers', and 'Grindhouse'.

TMNT: B. Actually, it starts out as a C, but the last half-hour or so is solid A material, so I decided to average out the film's grade. The film spends a long while dealing with the reunion of the Turtles and their working out their dysfunctional family issues, which left me thinking a) "Didn't we see this in the first 'TMNT' movie?" and b) "Didn't we see this in 'Ghostbusters 2'?" But the climax gets in plenty of action, good one-liners, and left me smiling. (Worst trailers before the movie ever, though. My room-mate actually shouted, "There is no GOD!" when he saw the 'Underdog' preview.)

Grindhouse: B. I'm probably grading this low, and that's probably because I did a poor job of expectation management (got my hopes up too high, so that it was impossible for the movie to be as good as my expectations for it.) But really, the Tarantino movie was a C+, slow and talky, and the Rodriguez movie was still only a B+, thanks to Rose McGowan's wooden acting dragging down the average. The fake trailers tipped it from a B- to a B, but for one of the tentpole movies of my summer movie expectations, it really didn't quite get it done. (I still saw it twice, though. And I'll still buy the DVD, just for "Don't".)

Hot Fuzz: A+. Unquestionably the movie that wrecks the curve for everyone else, this movie does for cop movies what 'Shaun of the Dead' did for zombie movies. I hate that sentence, because it's such a trite phrase and will no doubt be on the DVD sleeve somewhere, but that really is the most accurate way to describe the film--it takes the ideas and tropes of an American genre, and applies them to the small-scale human-interest stories British film and TV turn out. The result is absolutely brilliant (and all the more so because Simon Pegg drop-kicks an old lady in the head.)

Spider-Man 3: A-. I can, if I look, see flaws in the film (which is why it's an A- and not an A.) But I really think that most of the people who came out of this hating it either a) did a poor job of expectation management, or b) were gunning for it, because the third movie is usually where the backlash comes in. (Although it's easier to hate the third movie of a series when it's "Batman Forever".) Me, I thought it was fun, I thought it used its characters pretty well (save for Sandman, whose team-up with Venom at the end seemed to come out of nowhere), and I thought it bore the standard set by the first two movies better than any "third movie" you'd care to name. ('Godfather 3'? 'Matrix: Revolutions'? 'X-Men: The Last Stand'? 'Superman III'? OK, 'Army of Darkness' beats it. Still, they are both Sam Raimi movies.)

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: C+. I think I just broke my niece's heart, but really, this was entertaining enough...but in the end, it was just disposable fluff. It was a popcorn movie, and that could have been enough for it to get a B-, but I could never quite get away from noticing the special effects, stagecraft, and sheer logistics of filming each big action set-piece, and that lack of immersiveness knocked it down a grade point. (Caveat: I have not seen the first two films, and although I picked up what was going on just fine, thanks, it might have engaged me a bit more if I'd had two more movies to get to care about these people.) Oh, and it was hard to get away from the notion that apparently this was set in the Past, when everyone was still an ethnic stereotype.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: A. OK, an A with the caveat that it's impossible for me to tell how much of this grade came from the actual movie I watched, and how much of it came from the film-makers simply having the good taste to make another Fantastic Four movie. I'm of the belief that the FF are virtually writer-proof; the characters are so vivid, the stories so iconic, and the villains so great, that you actually have to work to screw it up. At least for me.

Transformers: B+. With a different director, this could have been an A+, but Michael Bay really drops it a full letter grade with his insistence on using extreme close-ups, shaky-cam, and all sorts of tricks that really obscure the action and make it difficult to tell what's going on in any given scene. I understand the need to build slowly to the big set-piece action sequences, but once you get to them, you should be showing the audience everything in loving detail. Still, good acting, funny scenes, and Frenzy was awesome. (Mind you, the killer Nokia cell phone beat everything.)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: I. Sorry, but I just had to give this an incomplete because, is. They're trying to condense an 870-page book which is mostly about character development and backstory into a pacy two-hour movie; at that point, you might as well stop calling it an adaptation and start calling it "Selected highlights of the book." Major plot points get left out, important characters wind up being reduced to extras...really, it's not a complete movie. (Which is why I don't normally go to the Harry Potter films.)

Stardust: A. I did vacillate a bit on whether to add a "-" to that, because I was a little disappointed on what they did with Victoria (even eight years after reading the book, I remember thinking that she Learned Her Lesson about toying with people's hearts, and it was sad to see a version of her that didn't.) But still, the changes from the book were all in the service of making it more memorable, exciting, dramatic, and fun, and I'm all for all of that. And they did it all while keeping the tone and basic shape of Gaiman's excellent novel, which is nothing short of amazing.

And that, I think, ends the "Summer Blockbuster Season"; it's September now, and while I do want to see 'Balls of Fury' (yes, I do, and I'm not ashamed of that), I don't feel that it really qualifies as a "blockbuster". This means that the GPA of the movies above is about a B (since I really doubt that the Harry Potter people are going to turn the rest of their movie in any time soon, their "I" gets changed to an "F" for the purposes of figuring out GPAs.) Not bad, although it should be noted that I managed to miss quite a few summer movies--I did not, for example, see 'Live Free or Die Hard' or 'The Bourne Ultimatum' (which probably cancel each other out).

In short, while popcorn cinema could still stand to study a bit harder and maybe consider doing some DVD extra-credit work, it certainly isn't flunking.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Word to the Wise

Thursday already? Oh, jeez, didn't have anything planned, and there've been power outages this week and the boss is on vacation, um...

OK, I'll tell you what. I'm just going to use this week as an opportunity to tell you a little secret. Friday, September 14th, on the Sci-Fi channel, they're airing 'Blink' at 8 PM Eastern time. It's a "Doctor Who" episode, but you don't need to be a Doctor Who fan, you don't need to have seen any previous episodes, you don't need to know anything about this season's story arc, you really can just watch this totally stand-alone. And you should. Because this is, setting aside my inherent bias for Doctor Who, a genuinely great piece of science-fiction storytelling. It's one hour of your Friday night, and trust me, you'll absolutely love it. I won't spoil a word of its plot, but it is so bloody brilliant...

(Oh, and then go bit-torrent all six episodes of 'Jekyll', by the same writer. Damn, that series is good.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Insane Comics Moments, Part Four

Y'know, when I write these, I've been picking on the Silver Age of comics, pointing out how they sometimes got so far ahead of plot logic in an effort to write an exciting story, they wound up writing something just plain crazy. Back then, comics were just an ephemeral entertainment medium for kids, and nobody took it too seriously, so crazy stuff slipped by without being questioned.

Today, we're going to look at the so-called "Copper Age" of comics, and ask, "So...what's your excuse now?"

Exhibit A for the Prosecution is: Teen Iron Man. That's right, every comics fan just simultaneously winced in pain, because this is the story of how Marvel decided that Tony Stark was too hard to get behind as a character. Iron Man needed a sales boost, an alcoholic bi-polar control freak with a heart condition didn't seem as relevant as it did in the 1960s, so what was to be done?

The answer, of course, was obvious to any editor in the 1990s--kill him off. Or, more accurately, turn him evil, then kill him off. (This was, of course, the default response to any title that needed a sales boost in the 1990s, which is why 'The Death of Jughead' sold 2.7 million copies.) Marvel did a big "event" storyline in its Avengers books in which it was revealed that Tony was being brainwashed by Kang, dictator of the year 5000. His attempts to resist the brainwashing were what caused his alcoholism (sure, Tony. My uncle tried the same line.) But now it had fully taken hold, and he was helping to destroy the Avengers from within and crush all opposition to his rule. (Sort of like Bob Harras. *Rimshot*)

Obviously, there was only one man to stop a genius like Tony Stark--Reed Richards!, obviously, there were only two men to stop a genius like Tony Stark--Reed Richards and Victor von Doom!, obviously, there were only five men to stop a genius like Tony Stark--Reed Richards, Victor von Doom, Henry Pym, Bruce Banner, and Professor Charles Xavier!, obviously, there were actually something like twenty men and sixteen women to stop a genius like Tony Stark, including but not limited to She-Hulk, Jean Grey, the Beast, Doctor Strange, Dracula, and Magneto, but the Avengers decided to borrow a time machine, travel back a decade or two, and grab a younger version of Tony Stark out of the past and pit him against his older, more experienced, savvier self. Who was also wearing a suit of far-more-technologically-advanced power armor that young Tony hadn't even dreamed of yet, let alone invented. And who'd been brainwashed into being a ruthless killer.

The fight went about as well as you'd expect--young Tony took a repulsor blast to the chest, and wound up on the brink of death within about the first fifteen seconds. Luckily this jumpstarted old Tony's conscience, and he sacrificed his life stopping Kang's scheme. The Avengers nursed young Tony back to health (save for the fact that he now had to wear a giant metal corset non-stop or he'd die instantly of heart failure), and suggested that he join the Avengers in the present day rather than return to his native time and live a long, healthy life. (Presumably, this didn't create a time paradox because young Tony came from a different reality than old Tony. On the other hand, that world no longer has an Iron Man and never did, which presumably means a wide variety of horrific things for the human race. Then again, they were spared "Civil War".)

Young Iron Man became the headliner in the Iron Man comics for about seven issues, by which point it became clear that this was one of the biggest blunders in Marvel's long history (and yes, I include 'Street Poet Ray'.) Teen Tony flew into the 'Heroes Reborn' universe, and when he came back out a year later, he was classic Tony again, nobody ever asked why, and the Teen Iron Man era died without even a small, pathetic whimper.

Fun Fact: Marvel is two years away and counting from needing to throw everyone into the 'Heroes Reborn' universe again!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sometimes I Am Too Ethical

I spotted a new business venture from the folks at the International Star Registry yesterday--apparently, they're now selling plush toys to kids that come with a free star of their choice. Now, I suppose this is better than their usual transaction, in that the kids come away with an actual plush toy out of the deal, but it still reminds me that there's a business out there charging fifty bucks to name a star after you--said naming occurring only in their own personal books that they keep themselves.

But it occurred to me--isn't this what conservatives talk about the invisible hand of the free market for? If there's a business essentially operating on the razor edge of mail fraud, using deceptive advertising practices to bilk people out of large sums of money, isn't it the job of capitalism to undercut them and pass the savings on to you, the consumer? I could be that person. I have the sales pitch all figured out. My business (my father suggested "Big Bob's Discount Star Registry" as a name) would register you a star for half the price, that's right half the price of the International Star Registry. Heck, I'd even give bulk discounts. Buy five stars, and the sixth star is free! Buy ten stars, and get your own cloud of dark matter at no extra charge! And every star registration is guaranteed to be every bit as legitimate as the International Star Registry's or double your money back!

But I just can't sucker people out of their money like that. Clearly, something is wrong with my capitalistic instincts.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nor Is He Out Of It

Something surprised me today. I found myself sorry for Barry Bonds.

This isn't something I thought would happen anytime soon. The man is arrogant, to the point where you could legitimately call him cruel. He's unquestionably a cheat, and he has tainted two of the most significant records in Major League baseball by taking illegal steroids in order to inflate his home run totals. Not only has he not shown remorse for this, he continues to refuse to admit it, even in the face of a perjury investigation and a mountain of evidence of his own guilt.

And then I caught myself thinking, "But whether he admits it or not, he'll always know."

I thought about what that must be like. To have finally gotten so furious at the cheaters and juicers that you decided to join them, to have the most prestigious records in the history of the sport as a result...and to know that they're not really yours. To have to know, every time you hit a home run, that it's not your natural skill and talent, that it's not something you can be proud of the same way you were proud of your home runs before you started juicing, to have caged yourself so thoroughly in lies that your triumphs have turned to ashes in your mouth and be trapped by that knowledge...

Barry Bonds will always know he cheated. I'd hate to have to live with that. And yeah, I do feel sorry for him, having to live with that. I still don't like him, but I can pity him, even if I suspect he doesn't want that.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New Who Review

I did some catching up on my Doctor Who reading over the last week or so, and thus have insights and opinions (well, mostly opinions) on the latest batch or two of Doctor Who novels, as follows:

The Nightmare of Black Island: By this point, just Mike Tucker's name on the spine of a Doctor Who book fills my soul with existential dread, the sort of feeling a comic book fan gets when they see "Art by Rob Liefeld" or a movie fan gets when they see "Directed by Uwe Boll". So it's pretty safe to say that a big chunk of my enjoyment of this book came from plain and simple lowered expectations.

But that said, it's not bad. Freed from a need to be "literary", Tucker can just concentrate on writing an enjoyable action-horror mystery featuring the Doctor and Rose, and include plenty of spooky monsters, evil aliens, and mysterious mansions. It's nothing but an entertaining run-around, but after getting several non-entertaining run-arounds from Tucker, it's a serious step up. (And I did get a chuckle from the "guard duck" bit. But maybe I was just in a goofy mood.)

The Art of Destruction: By this point, Stephen Cole seems to understand exactly what his strengths are as a writer, and plays to them well in this book. He's got a gift for pacing, filling each chapter with plenty of incident and action and keeping the plot moving by continually upping the ante of threats and menaces until you've got erupting volcanoes, two alien factions fighting the last battle of an interstellar war, and human rebels with guns running around on top of all that. With all that going around, minor deficiencies in characterization and's not that they're not noticeable, it's that you're done with the book before you have time to think about them.

Special mention should go to the Wurm, by the way, for managing to be interesting aliens despite their stupid name and one-note "Hi, we're EEEVIL!" characterization. By actually basing them on worm biology, Cole creates interesting details from their ship construction, to their weaponry, right down to the second-in-command getting chopped in half and still surviving for a good long while. (Name's still stupid, though.)

The Price of Paradise: There are things I liked about this book, and nothing I could say I really disliked...but on the whole, it's sort of weak tea. Nothing bad about the flavor you get, but you really wish there was more of it. The characters are sympathetic, but not particularly personable; the monsters are interesting, but not particularly scary; the central twist is clever, but in a fairly predictable way. It's not bad, and I can pretty much guarantee you won't come away disliking it, but at the same time, I just can't see anyone claiming this as their favorite Doctor Who book.

Sting of the Zygons: Ahh, there's nothing quite like a good old-fashioned shapeshifting monster run-around. Only, of course, since this is a Stephen Cole book, it's a good old-fashioned shapeshifting monster run-around with the volume turned up to eleven. You're prevented from spotting the Zygons (the classic parlor game, "Spot The Zygon" is, of course, fun for the whole family) by the sheer number of clues you get; and, of course, they're all true. Pick a random character, any random character, and odds are pretty good that they'll wind up metamorphosizing into an evil orange sucker-face at some point in the book. And yet, that's half its charm. Towards the end, it feels like Cole is practically in on the joke, as the Zygon revelations get bigger, more dramatic, and at times quite clever.

(Although the Zygon plan seems to be from the Ten Little Aliens Memorial School of Ridiculously Overcomplicated Plots, involving clandestinely ordered heavy moving equipment, Frenchmen with guns concealed in their camera cases, Skarasen signalling devices, surreptitious telegraph messages, and the crowned heads of Europe gathering for a state funeral with minimal security present. The Doctor does almost as much to facilitate their evil scheme as he does to thwart it.)

The Last Dodo: I hate to admit it, but Jacqueline Rayner has me thoroughly charmed as an author. I admit that the people who complain about her plotting frequently have a point, and I know that some people don't like her style, but to me, it's like having that friend who can always make you laugh telling you a Doctor Who story. Regardless of the actual story, I'm always laughing by the end. So I can forgive her pretty much anything...

Except, sad to say, that I happen to fall rather firmly on the side of those people who "think they're doing good", as Rayner puts it during the one paragraph that's not unequivocally negative about zoos. I think that a well-run zoo is the best friend an animal can have, the best friend a species can have, indeed the best friend an ecosystem can have, and find it extremely disappointing that Rayner puts the Doctor firmly on the side of "Zoos are just jails for animals." This attitude is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, and I'm highly underwhelmed at the way Rayner wrote it into the mouth of my favorite fictional character.

Other than that, though, fun book.

Wooden Heart: I enjoyed this one, even as I couldn't help but feel like I'd heard some of this before. "A mysterious spaceship with a virtual-reality village inside it whose inhabitants believe themselves to be real" feels like the starting point for every third New Adventure, and it continues to be a well-worn trope of the novels. Still, Martin Day gets bonus points for sincerity--he feels like he means it when he writes about the struggles of the virtual people to deal with the collapse of their world, and that always carries a book even when cleverness fails.

The characterization is good here, as it is in pretty much all the new series novels; Martha in particular is more palatable than she is in the TV series, even if she is a bit less recognizable as Martha Jones. This is because her most irritating trait is also her defining one, as far as the TV series goes; in the books, she spends much less of her time mooning over the Doctor like a lovesick schoolgirl, which makes her a more sympathetic character. (It's more than a little depressing that her defining trait in the TV show is "mooning over the Doctor like a lovesick schoolgirl." What a waste.)

Bonus Coverage!

Made of Steel: Part of me dreaded the idea of encouraging Terrance Dicks to write an even smaller, thinner, less substantial book than he'd been doing for the book line up to now; after the last two or three books, I was worried that a less-substantial Dicks offering would be a pamphlet with "Go Watch The Five Doctors" written on it. But as it turns out, the Quick Reads series is ideally suited to Uncle Terry; he's a master at storytelling economy (a couple hundred Target novelizations will do that for you), and all that he really ditches when he slims down is padding and references to 'The Five Doctors', which he could probably stand to give a rest anyway. A light, fun read, exactly what the series demands.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


No, not the people who take care of your pet. "Groomers" is a temporary label (I'm open to suggestions for alternatives in the comments field) for those people who are the exact opposite of obnoxious people who insist on spoiling books, movies, et cetera for people who haven't seen/read them yet. (Obviously, this has been a bit in the public consciousness lately, due to 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'.) And I'll admit, I'm starting to find them every bit as obnoxious as spoilers these days. (And I stress, I do find malicious spoilers very annoying. Telling people who don't want to know, just because you get a kick out of being a jerk, is cruel and there's no getting around it.)

By "exact opposite", I mean that while a spoiler wants to make sure everyone knows the twist to the film/book/whatever, whether they want to know ahead of time or not, the groomer has a fanatical obsession with making sure that nobody finds out the twist ahead of time, even if they don't care or actively want to find out early, because making sure they experience the "de-flowering" of learning the twist as the writer intended is absolutely vital to enjoying the experience.

Obviously, you're more likely to find grooming in the creative end of the spectrum, while spoilers tend to be consumers of entertainment. Some prominent and (relatively) recent examples would be J.K. Rowling's anger at book reviews of the seventh Harry Potter book, Peter David's (probably joking) attempt to relabel spoilers as "ruiners", DC's solicitation to retailers of two non-existent issues of the Flash in order to conceal the impending death of the character, Marvel's solicitation of false covers of comics to conceal the ending of 'Civil War' (and, some years previous, the return of Colossus)...heck, you could go on forever. (One more, which I think actually worked well, would be the spreading of misinformation about the upcoming 'Thunderbolts' comic in order to conceal the fact that the team was really the Masters of Evil. This, I think, was where the idea really took root for the comics industry.)

So when does a writer go overboard? When does a natural desire to allow the story to unfold at its own pace become a maddened quest to thwart the dreaded spoilers? For me, I'd say it's the point at which you become willing to mislead your own audience, when you decide to take the very important (to storytelling) art of misdirection outside of the story and into real life. It's one thing to plant a red herring in your story; fiction is by definition a lie, and that's only a problem if it's not a consistent one. But lying in real life isn't a good habit to get into, and it's certainly not a good thing to do when a) you're doing it in such a way that you will, by definition, be caught in a lie by anyone who reads your story, and b) you're doing it over something as trivial as whether a person knows your plot twist ahead of time. ('Thunderbolts' remains an exception to me, because I thought of it as a piece of performance art. You, the reader, were being put into the world of the Marvel public, believing the T-Bolts to be new, shining, untarnished heroes that had just come onto the scene. Finding out that they were the Masters of Evil was almost an audience participation moment, not just a plot twist.)

But ultimately, as I say, the plot twist is trivial--that's the truly important thing to keep in mind. If your story really is genuinely spoiled by spoilers, it probably wasn't very good in the first place. A good plot twist, an actual authentic amazing plot twist, is designed to be read twice--once when you don't know the secret, and again when you do. Being "spoiled" just moves you ahead to the second stage, it doesn't actually spoil it. If you've crafted a good story, that will stand up even years after everyone knows that 'Rosebud' is the sled. (Oh, sorry. That should have had spoilers.) If you're throwing a surprise party, while you don't want to lose the "surprise", you should remember that the important part is the "party".

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Book Recommendation of the Day

'Frozen In Time', by John Geiger and Owen Beattie, is an impressive (if intense) book about the Franklin Expedition, and its final fate. Franklin set off to discover the Northwest Passage, a northern sea route connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific, during one of the last great eras of exploration. He had two ships, 129 men, the latest equipment and provisions to ensure his survival, and the hopes of England behind him. He and his men were never heard from again.

The book contains contemporary accounts of the Franklin expedition--its planning, the historical context of the search for the Northwest Passage, and the reaction from Franklin's countrymen as it became apparent that something had gone wrong. It then shifts to almost 150 years later, as forensic scientists (Beattie included) attempt to find out exactly what happened to the men of the Franklin expedition, using the only evidence remaining...the bodies of three of the crew, buried by their shipmates but containing vital evidence that the Canadian ice preserved.

Really, a genuinely gripping read, if a little sad and unnerving.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I'm One For One

In a previous column, I predicted that Michael Vick would end his NFL career without having won a Superbowl.

I think that prediction's looking stronger and stronger...although I have to say, I find it more than a little disappointing that Commissioner Roger Goddell's stance of "We'll suspend them as soon as news of the crime goes out, no more letting them stall the case out until the off-season to get it out of the public eye, we're sick of these guys giving the league a bad image" dissipates as soon as the person he has to suspend is actually someone whose name sells tickets. (And T-shirts, although some of his still say "Mexico" on the back.)

They're letting Vick play because he's a superstar, and despite claims that they plan to get tough on thugs and crooks in the NFL, the truth is that superstars play by different rules than anyone else. But that only holds true for the NFL's system, not the legal system, and the case against Vick looks pretty seriously air-tight...and with a maximum six-year sentence, he might not see the field for a while, suspended or not.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I just wanted to take a moment here to express my thanks for everyone's expressions of condolences and support during a difficult time for myself and my family. The past week has been hard, and it's helped my sister Tessa and my brother-in-law Sean a lot, I think, to have people there for them. At this point, it seems likely that Cordelia died of SIDS; it doesn't seem likely that Kate is in any danger, but I think we'll all breathe a sigh of relief once she gets out of the danger zone.

Again, thank you all for your kindness and support.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I just keep getting reminded of this Harlan Ellison quote, because it was one I always used to tell myself whenever I was angry, or sad, or upset about something. He said, "Real pain only lasts ten minutes. Anything else is self-pity."

And he's right. He's so right. But he never said that those ten minutes don't all come at once. They're sharpened down to seconds, and each second of pain is like the stab of an icepick, and they just keep coming.

My niece, Cordelia Faith Henry, died today while sleeping. There will be no blog entries next week, as I will be out of town dealing with family concerns.

I don't know what else to say right now.

Insane Comic Moments, Part 3

I actually wasn't planning to do another of these, but I saw that people enjoyed the last one, and while I do write this blog for my own personal amusement, never let it be said that I'm above shamelessly pandering for reader attention. So, without further ado, I present another example of how logic took a backseat sometimes in the Silver Age.

This one looks at Green Arrow, who could easily fill a year's worth of columns on his own (the "fake uranium arrow" is one of my favorites...but for now, we'll look at the story, 'A Cure For Billy Jones', originally published in World's Finest Comics #131. In it, we see young Billy Jones, who shows no interest anymore in books, TV, movies, his favorite sport of archery, or even reports about his two favorite heroes, Green Arrow and Speedy. He just sits there, moping. And unfortunately, Confuse-A-Cat is species specific. So what's a loving parent to do?

Naturally, they take him to see a psychiatrist, who believes that the best cure would be to have young Billy actually meet his heroes (good idea) and go out for an evening fighting crime with them (excuse me?) Green Arrow at first assumes that the good doctor must mean for them to stage a mock battle with hired actors, so Billy can see them in action, but Doc insists, "No--nothing phoney! If Billy found out, it would break his heart! It's got to be the real thing!"

Rather than check his credentials or seek a second opinion ("Yes, I also recommend an intensive course of child-endangerment therapy!"), GA and Speedy go along with the plan. They give Billy a bow and some trick arrows (like the bolo arrow, the firecracker arrow, the boxing glove arrow, and the rope-trip arrow...but don't worry, they saved the boomerang-balloon arrows for themselves.) They drive him in the Arrowcar and launch him from the Catapult...because this is actually how Green Arrow and Speedy get to rooftops quickly. The seat of their car is spring-loaded and launches them thirty or so feet in the air. And it says a lot that this isn't the craziest thing about the story.

Naturally, Green Arrow and Speedy get caught by some crooks, and they're worried--not just because they're going to get shot in the back of the head execution-style and buried in an unmarked grave, but because little Billy still doesn't have that pep in his step! But at the last second, Billy realizes that the reason that Green Arrow is getting his butt kicked is because he's more worried about Billy than himself, and proceeds to rediscover the joy of life through subduing violent criminals twice his size. In the last panel, we see that Billy is once more filled with energy, hanging out with friends and playing games. Perhaps the "bring friends over with games" strategy might have been employed before the "give him lethal weapons and catapult him onto a rooftop to fight hardened criminals" method. Ah, well. Can't argue with success.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Insane Comic Moments, Part 2

After reading as many Silver Age comics as I have lately, I could probably make this a weekly series in and of itself, but this one I read just a few hours ago, and it's the sort of thing that sticks in your head. (An appropriate phrase, as you'll soon see.)

In the original 'X-Men' #1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, we open with a sequence of Professor X running the team through their training regimen. Beast has to do a difficult acrobatic routine, Angel must fly an obstacle course...then the young sixteen-year old Iceman gets a turn, but Professor X is "going easy" on him by merely requiring him to display his powers. Iceman frosts himself over with snow...and Professor X telepathically tells the Beast to chuck a bowling ball at his head while he's distracted, to "test his reflexes".

Three thoughts on that:

1) Best argument against vouchers EVER.

2) Anyone who doubts Xavier could ever become Onslaught, this is Exhibit A for the prosecution.

3) I think we know why the students all wanted a Danger Room. It was that, or Xavier just had them whip heavy objects at each other.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Hilton Family

Some have noticed that Paris Hilton shares a lot of interesting similarities with her namesake (no, no, not Hilton--although I'm sure she's had almost as many guys staying overnight...) Like Paris, she is exotic and famous. Like Paris, she is decadent and at times tempestuous. Like Paris, she is a popular tourist destination for hundreds of college students every year. (Two promiscuity jokes in the same paragraph. Am I on fire or what?) But what you don't know is that she is but one of a large brood of Hiltons, and they all share this same bizarre geographical congruity. Like who, you ask?

Berlin Hilton: Very strict, upright, and humorless, he's utterly shocked at his sister's antics. Admittedly, he has had his share of scandals in the past; he loves his beer, he likes to dress up in lederhosen, and there was the time that he wandered into Poland and refused to leave...

Brussels Hilton: Paris' little sister, she's much less famous and doesn't have the reputation, but she's just as glamourous, just as beautiful, and much less crowded with admirers. Oh, and she has a strange obsession with statuesque young boys urinating in public.

Siberia Hilton: The "unfortunate" sister of the family, she's much larger than any of the others, colder, remote, and more distant, and the only people who ever visit her are convicts. (And she's barren, but that's probably saying too much.)

Sydney Hilton: He's also been visited by convicts in the past, but he's gotten to the point where they're right at home with him. Oh, and he loves the Opera. The tabloids are salivating already...

Washington Hilton: He's got a huge, towering monument that stands proudly erect at all times. Oh, and he's willing to do just about anything for money.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Norse Gods: Masters of the Obvious

So back in 'Thor' #119, many years ago, Odin decides to send Loki and Thor on a quest together to see if he can get them to get along. (Which doesn't seem bright to me, but hey, I'm not the All-Father.) Thor lets Loki pick the crew (speaking of "not too bright"...) and we get a long scene introducing all the different people they'll be sailing with.

The list is long, but includes "Hogun the Grim," "Fandral the Dashing", "Kroda the Duellist", and finishes up with "Magrat the Schemer." At which Thor's first mate says, "I trust them not, mighty Thor!" don't trust "Magrat the Schemer"? And he's got such a good reputation! Next you'll be telling me that "Backstabbing Pete", "Pandak the Befouler of the Precious Water Supplies", and "Timfor the Locker-Looter" don't meet your approval!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Fun Comics Trivia

Comic book villains the Eel, the Plantman, the Trapster, the Beetle, and the Wizard have all been floating around the Marvel Universe for a long time now as "B-list" or "C-list" villains--really more nuisances than serious threats--and have fought heroes like Daredevil, Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Avengers. But all five originally started out as nemeses of the same character...the Human Torch. They all originally debuted in 'Strange Tales', which was at the time a split book featuring the Torch and Doctor Strange, and once the Torch lost his own solo series, they became sort of "fair game" for other heroes and comics to use. (Which is also, incidentally, why the Wizard and the Trapster wound up being one half of the Frightful Four.)

So the lesson for the day? If you can't beat the Human Torch your first time out, just go ahead and retire. Because you don't have a big future in super-villainy.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Diabolical Ingenuity

I read issue #3 of 'New Avengers: Illuminati' on Thursday. The series, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a sort of "secret history" of the Marvel Universe, in which it is revealed that Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Professor X, Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner, and Black Bolt of the Inhumans have had a secret cabal for decades that's been doing the "dirty work" that keeps the Marvel Universe ticking along nicely. Every issue has focused on a major Marvel event, and has proceeded to retcon in a behind-the-scenes explanation of how the Illuminati made it happen.

After reading issue #3, I found myself wondering what exactly the point of the series was. Because I really could not, for the life of me, think of one. It wasn't just that the comic was terrible (although it was.) It's that it was so genuinely pointless a story, designed around a comics plotline from twenty years ago that only continuity-obsessed fanboys remember, written solely to retcon out certain elements of the story that the writer apparently didn't like, that I could not for the life of me imagine who it was written for. Nobody but the most rabid, continuity-minded fanboy could possibly be interested in this comic, and every single one of them hates it with an absolute passion because the retroactive continuity that they're employing is so slipshod, nonsensical, and hamfisted that it'll take years to explain the new explanations.

(I've resisted explaining the issue because thinking about it makes my head hurt and because it involves explaining a ton of Marvel continuity, but here goes: 'Secret Wars' introduced the Beyonder, a nebulous omnipotent being from outside of the known universe who wanted to "understand" humanity, so he kidnapped a bunch of super-heroes and super-villains, promised them their heart's desire if they defeated their enemies, and watched the ensuing battle. The series proved popular, so they did a sequel, 'Secret Wars II', in which the Beyonder continued his studies by coming to Earth, taking human form, and interacting with Earth's super-heroes. At the end of the series, he apparently died, having taken "being human" a bit too literally, but his power flowed back into his home universe where it became a new Big Bang, creating this new universe in the image of our own. Still later, in 'Fantastic Four' #319, it was revealed that the Beyonder's consciousness survived with his power, and that it was by his will that the new universe became what it did--he found happiness by becoming a god. But he found out that the reason he could never be happy and was never complete was that he was actually part of a larger cosmic artifact called a Cosmic Cube, the other part of which was "lodged" in the Molecule Man and was responsible for him having super-powers. The Beyonder and the Molecule Man merged to form the Cube, which in later FF issues became a being known as Kosmos, who has been seen periodically since.)

(Except that this issue of Illuminati reveals that no, the Beyonder was actually an Inhuman--one of Black Bolt's species--who was also a mutant, and that he actually made a duplicate Manhattan out near the asteroid belt and interacted with elaborate mock-ups of Earth's super-people. So all of Secret Wars II, which was a crossover that ran to 42 issues and involved every single title Marvel published, in which the Beyonder resurrected Doctor Doom and cured Rick Jones of cancer...never happened. And neither did the issue where he found out he was a Cosmic Cube. Nor did any of his appearances after that.)

As I say, this left me wondering what the purpose of this comic was. If you're not a rabid fanboy, you won't care about any of this. And if you are, you will have a brain seizure and die from the sheer number of convolutions fitting this issue into continuity will require. So why...?

Then it hit me. That was the purpose of the series. Marvel has finally gotten sick of all the fanboys writing in and pointing out how they must have forgotten about issue #255 of Uncanny X-Men, in which we see Psylocke before the plastic surgery, so she can't be Kwannon, et cetera et cetera et cetera. They're tired of people pointing out their continuity errors, so they've decided to kill them all off by producing a comic whose retcons are so audaciously incompetent that comics fans will die of apopleptic fits of rage when they read them. 'New Avengers: Illuminati' is, in fact, a brilliantly conceived murder weapon, and all of fandom is the target.

So remember: Read this comic only under the influence of powerful sedatives. After all, if the writer was on drugs, you should be too.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


My recommendation for the day: 'Evil Dead: The Musical'. The soundtrack is available from Time/Life, you can pick it up through Amazon or at a number of retail outlets, and it's a hilarious amalgamation of the first two movies with the spirit of the third, and some extremely catchy songs (like "All of the Men In My Life Keep Getting Killed By Candarian Demons"). If you liked the movies, you'll probably also like the musical--Bruce Campbell did, and if it's got his personal seal of approval, you know it's good.

It's not worksafe, though. Just to warn you now. There is much swearing, innuendo, and descriptions of violence including, but not limited to chainsaw dismemberments, shootings, and the biting of one's hand by a dead moose. (Which would make a great MPAA ratings box. "Includes graphic violence, language, sexual situations, and attacks by dead moose.")

Friday, May 25, 2007

Doctor Who's Wacky Funtime Playhouse, Part Three

A day late, but this is the third and final part in the short story in which I attempted to create something completely new and different, similar only in the title and the use of "time travel" to the classic TV series 'Doctor Who'. As you'll soon see, this is also the point at which I realized I'd spectacularly failed...

Dale looked at him incredulously. “I’ll tell you what caused the end of it—I died! Or, I mean, I will die. As soon as you leave. Which I want you to do, because I just want to get this over with…I want to die. I can’t keep going anymore, and I can’t stop.”

“Why do you wish to die?” Gogos seemed puzzled.

“Because I’ve been doing this show, this albatross, this anchor, this…thing…for twenty years! It’s ruined me for any other acting work; can you imagine the host of ‘Doctor Who’s Wacky Funtime Playhouse’ doing Shakespeare, or ‘Death of a Salesman’? I can’t even go out and get drunk over it, because I’m supposed to be a role-model for kids! The show doesn’t pay enough for me to retire, I’ll never do any of the roles I got into acting to do…” The words poured out of him, twenty years of bile finally unleashed in a single flowing rant. “All my life, I wanted to touch people, and instead I wound up doing a local kid’s show for twenty years. It’s worthless.”

Gogos shook his head. “Perhaps you did not hear me,” he said. “You have touched all of us. The empires of my sector of space span a thousand worlds, with a thousand billion inhabitants. Each of us has our own religion, our own culture, our own taboos, our own emotions. There is no common ground, no touchstone for us. Every day, we each encounter perspectives so alien to our own that there seems no possible outcome but violence.

“Your show changed all that. Every week, we saw something that we could all understand and appreciate. Yes, it was silly. Yes, it was intended for children. Yes, the values it espoused were simple, sometimes unworkable in the real and complex world we live in. And yes, the production values were low. But it provided us with a sense of wonder, a simple pleasure and enjoyment that transcended our cultural barriers. Through you, Doctor Who, we gained a common ground that different cultures could all appreciate. Love, luck, and laughter. They are not such bad values to build upon.”

There was a long silence. At the end of it, Dale said, “Thank you,” very quietly.

“You are welcome,” Gogos said. “Now, please, continue with your suicide.”

Dale raised an eyebrow. “Um…it really doesn’t seem…I mean, I think I can go on now, because like you said, um…”

Gogos shook his head. “I am afraid there is nothing I can do here. The series ceased transmission on this date. It is a historical fact, and there is nothing I can do about it. A shame, but that is the laws of causality for you.” He paused, obviously pretending to be lost in thought and not quite managing to conceal a hint of smugness. “Unless…”

Dale said, “Spare me the acting. Unless what?”

Gogos said, “It occurs to me that I could use the time-belt to bring you with me back to my home on Vinoma in the future. From there, we could then bring you on a good-will tour of the planets of the empire, performing before all the different worlds and uniting the fractured races in a new order of peace and harmony. It will be difficult, of course. After seven years of fighting, some no longer wish for peace. You may have to perform to hostile crowds. Your life may even be in danger at times.” Gogos looked meaningfully at the drawer. “Then again, I am not certain how much more dangerous it could be than putting a loaded fire-arm in your mouth and pulling the trigger.”

Dale smiled ruefully. “I see your point. Sure, I’ll go.” He stood up. “I think my work is done here on Earth anyway.”

Gogos stood up as well. “Excellent,” he said. “Please, take my hand now, and we will transmit ourselves to the future.”

Dale clasped his hand with Gogos, and as he felt a strange, distant tingling sensation overwhelm him, he said the only words he could possibly think of as appropriate.

“Doctor Who prescribes love, luck, and laughter for the rest of the day!”

Thursday, May 17, 2007

'Doctor Who's Wacky Funtime Playhouse', Part Two

A continuation of last week's story, which was written to the brief "Reinvent Doctor Who, keeping nothing but the name and the concept of time travel..."

Dale went into his dressing room, shut the door gently, and then carefully wedged one of the two spare chairs in the room underneath the doorknob. He could have just locked it, of course, or even just left it closed—people didn’t really walk in on him in his dressing room. But that seemed so un-melodramatic for what was, essentially, a huge cry for attention.

He sat down in his own chair, in front of the mirrored dresser where he did his own make-up, and reached into a drawer. He pulled out a piece of paper on which he’d already composed a note (sealing it carefully in a waterproof envelope), and a .22 caliber revolver. He held the gun nervously, turning it over in his hands with the wary air of someone new to the world of firearms. He was, in fact, new to the world of firearms; this was the first gun he’d ever owned in his life. He’d never felt any great need to possess one before, and had always worried about something going wrong with it—imaginary headlines like ‘CHILDREN’S TV STAR KILLS YOUNG BOY’ kept him from ever seriously contemplating having a gun. But he figured that by this point, he was through worrying about newspaper headlines. In fact, for the past year or so, he’d even taken a morbid pleasure in imagining them. Surely, he thought, everyone would understand. Many probably expected it. After all, if you were recognized anywhere you went as a man who dressed up in a goofy fake doctor’s outfit to entertain small children, wouldn’t you eat a bullet sooner or later?

His mind made up, he reached back into the drawer and pulled out a box of ammunition. He carefully loaded each chamber of the gun, one bullet at a time. He was aware that he’d probably only use one bullet, but decided that it was better to be safe than sorry. Then, snapping the chamber back into position, he put the barrel of the gun into his mouth, grimacing slightly at the taste of oiled metal. He cocked back the hammer. He closed his eyes tightly, and prepared for the release of oblivion.

“Excuse me,” someone said behind him, “but what are you doing?”

His finger tightened reflexively on the trigger in shock, and he suddenly realized three things in very short order. One, he’d forgotten to take the gun’s safety off. Two, the person watching him had just seen him humiliate himself further by trying to shoot himself in the face and failing. Three, there was someone watching him. Four, which came to him as a surprise bonus, that meant that there was someone in the room with him.

He opened his eyes and looked in the mirror. Behind him, a…a…a come-back-to-that-later had seated him…her…itself down in his other spare chair, and was looking at him with an expression of what looked like it might be polite interest. Dale wasn’t sure, because now that he did come back to it, the…person?...didn’t look human.

Oh, it looked human-ish. It had two arms, two legs, and a head. But it had two sets of ears, one right on top of the other, and its nose was just a flattish bump with two tiny slits that fluttered as it breathed. Its skin was a whitish-gray, the color of a four-week old corpse, and it had black, shark-like eyes. It stared at him, its fingers (seven on each hand) steepled together in a pose of patient interest. It opened its mouth and spoke again.

“I am sorry,” it said, “but again I must ask what it is that you are doing.”

Dale was so unnerved, he forgot he had a gun in his mouth. “Oo he huck ar oo?”

The creature blinked. Its eyelids were on the sides of its eyes, he noticed. “I am sorry, Doctor. I do not understand.”

Doctor? He took the gun out of his mouth and said, a bit more calmly, “I asked who you were.”

It smiled. Its teeth were all flat and rounded, like a horse’s teeth. “I am Gogos, High Researcher of the Vinomian Archives. Please, Doctor Who, forgive this intrusion. I do not wish to interrupt such an important moment in history, but we simply had to know for ourselves what happened to you.”

Dale slammed the gun down onto the drawer, suddenly irate at the intruder. “As it happens, I’m trying to kill myself. I was hoping to do so in privacy, and with perhaps a little dignity, but I guess that’s just a little too much to ask! Jeez!” He sighed. He paused as he actually started thinking about what the being had said. “What are you talking about?”

Gogos gestured towards him. “I am from a planet called Vinoma, five thousand light-years away from your world of Earth. We are an advanced species, capable of many technological feats that your planet has not yet developed even in our own time. For our signal-catchers, it is child’s play to capture and replay the transmissions of your Earth ‘television’. We have been watching your broadcasts for twenty years now, and the entertainment that ‘Doctor Who’s Wacky Funtime Playhouse’ has provided has helped unite the warring factions of our vast empire.

“Seven years ago by our time-scale, the transmissions ceased. Our records show that no episodes of ‘Doctor Who’s Wacky Funtime Playhouse’ were broadcast after this date in relative history. Without your show, tensions have once more built up among our different races. No other program has succeeded in uniting us in mirth and happiness the way yours has—not even the legendary ‘Howdy Doody’ broadcasts that brought about the cease-fire in the Horghal-Iridus War. I decided to use our time-belt to travel back to the date of the final broadcast, over five thousand years ago, and determine for myself what caused the end of ‘Doctor Who’s Wacky Funtime Playhouse’.”