Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fantastic Four: Noir

I was recently thinking about all of the changes made to the Fantastic Four for the upcoming movie (and I'll probably be blogging about that soon, here or elsewhere). In specific, I was thinking about all the previous "reconceptualizations" of the FF we've seen over the years, from the Manga FF to the Elizabethan FF to the Zombie FF to...and I sort of mentally trailed off there, half-remembering that there'd been a 'Marvel Noir' line but unsure whether they'd actually done 'Fantastic Four Noir'.

So I went back and checked. And when I found out they didn't, well...

It's the 1950s. Sue Storm is a private investigator in Los Angeles barely keeping the rent paid and the bill collectors happy. Her kid brother Johnny sometimes helps her out with a case, usually when it involves driving too fast or thinking with his fists. But out of the blue one day, an old friend of hers named Ben Grimm turns up looking to cash in a favor.

They met during the war--Ben was a rock-solid pilot who flew infiltration missions for the OSS, and Sue was his cargo. She was an expert in stealth and infiltration, nicknamed "The Invisible Girl" for her ability to get in and out of secure facilities. The two of them had a romance, but it ended badly. Now he's here to ask her to spy on the United States government.

Ben, as it turns out, has gone on to bigger and better things; he's now a test pilot for the government's experimental space program. His old college buddy, Reed Richards, is designing the actual rocket with the help of a defector from Communist Eastern Europe, an egghead named Victor von Doom that also went to college with Reed and Ben. But Ben thinks that someone is trying to sabotage the rocket tests. He wants Sue to find the culprit before the first big space shot, three days away.

Sue and Johnny head out to the small town near the testing grounds, frequented by scientists and pilots alike due to its possession of the only bar within a hundred miles. There are a wide variety of scientists there, a boatload of eccentrics with nicknames like "The Mad Thinker" and "The Wizard", but all of them respect Reed "Mister Fantastic" Richards and Doctor Victor von Doom (who has made it icily clear that he considers nicknames obsequious and small-minded). Sue blends in with the eggheads, while Johnny gets to know the fighter jocks.

That night, someone tries to kill them both. The mystery assailant sets their hotel on fire; Johnny only survives because he has a fire-retardant suit he uses for drag racing, and he bursts through the flaming door to rescue Sue. The two of them realize someone must be on to them. The next morning, they quiz Ben to see if he confided his plans to anyone...and sure enough, he mentioned them to his good friend Reed.

Sue questions Reed, but the interrogation quickly turns into flirtation as the two discover a mutual attraction. She's quickly convinced that Reed's no Commie...this space-ship is the culmination of his life's work. He'd never sabotage it. But she also learns that he mentioned Ben's fears to his own colleague and good friend, Victor.

At this point, Sue is convinced that Victor isn't the defector he claims to be, but a spy. She tails him as he comes back to the testing grounds, late at night, and sneaks on board the experimental rocket ship. Just as she watches him making furtive modifications to the engine, she's hit from behind by an unknown assailant...

Sue recovers consciousness, tied up in the cargo hold of the ship. She sees the person who knocked her out--a Soviet spy she worked with during the war, back when the Russians were our allies. Ivan Kragoff, nicknamed "The Red Ghost", an infiltration expert every bit her equal. She realizes that Kragoff must be behind the sabotage attempts. Kragoff admits it, but isn't particularly worried about being caught...the launch is in less than ten minutes, and she won't tell anyone after the ship crashes and takes the cream of the crop of the American rocket program with it. As it turns out, Reed and Victor both have stowed away on the rocket out of a determination to see the results of their labors first-hand.

Just then, he's tackled from behind by Johnny. The two men struggle, accidentally knocking the cargo bay door shut in their fight. Johnny finally gets the upper hand and KOs the Ghost, but it's too late. The rocket is already lifting off. As it turns out, everyone's riding this rocket together.

As the rocket goes up, Johnny unties Sue. She figures out how to get through from the cargo bay to the crew section, slipping through areas of the ship that are already dangerously underpressurized. She makes it to the cockpit and tells Ben to abort the launch. Victor and Reed both insist they go on, but Reed pales when Sue informs him of the sabotage. The two scientists immediately pull on spacesuits and go out to make a risky attempt to repair the damage.

Ben struggles to control the ship--he knows he has to keep it as steady as a rock to prevent the two men from falling off. Reed and Victor quickly get into an argument about how to repair the damage, and Victor is forced to admit that he's made secret modifications to the engine of his own design, arrogantly convinced that he knew better than Reed about how to best make the rocket work. Just as he's about to tell Reed what needs to be done, the ship shakes, and Victor is thrown off.

Nonetheless, Reed manages to repair the engine, having to reach as far as he can to reset both ignition boosters manually. (GET IT?) The ship makes a safe landing, the Red Ghost is apprehended, and Sue offers to buy Reed a drink. Ben winds up going out drinking and bar-brawling with Johnny instead.

And somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, a half-burned, half-shattered figure floats. He is determined not to die, not so long as Reed Richards and Ben Grimm live. If they'd only listened to him instead of wasting time with petty arguments. If they'd only followed his lead in repairing the engines. If they'd only held the ship steady like they were supposed to. But they failed him. Everyone failed him. And Victor von Doom will make them all pay...

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Bit of Race Catch-Up

We're now quite a way into the current season of the Amazing Race (Season 25, for those keeping track) and I have to say, this is one of my favorite seasons since I first started watching the Race. Amazingly enough, there are at least four teams I'm actively rooting for, out of the six remaining, and even the two teams I wouldn't mind overmuch seeing off (married dentists Misti and Jim, and dating wrestlers Brooke and Robbie) are entirely tolerable. Jim's only bad habit is his desire to let everyone know how awesome he is at the Race...oh yes and his wife who is definitely a person who exists in his immediate vicinity...but he's not a jerk to Misti, which puts him head and shoulders over the usual fillers of the "hypercompetitive Alpha-male jackass" slot in the program. And Brooke and Robbie, the fillers of the "nice but waaaaaay too intense" slot, at least are managing to be cheerful and funny for the most part, even if it's clear that Brooke's coping mechanism is to blither and moan about how impossible whatever the current challenge is.

And Adam and Bethany are adorable--he's so obviously besotted with her, and she is knocking it out of the park with each challenge. I don't want to say, "She's doing amazingly for someone with only one arm," because that would imply that she's not just doing amazingly well in general, but her success is all the more impressive when you remember that she is doing everything all the other competitors are doing just as well as they are, one-handed. I know she's incredibly evangelical in real life, but as long as she doesn't use it as an excuse for intolerance or bigotry (and based on what we've seen of her interactions with Tim and TeJay, it doesn't seem that she is) I'm happy to see them go as far as they can.

Tim and TeJay are an adorable couple, by the way; it takes a lot of courage to come out to your family, and to do it on national television is even more impressive. They do bicker a little, which is something I generally don't have much patience for, but it's pretty clear by now that it's just their mode of communication and they're very much in love. They could definitely win this and I'd be happy.

The cyclists, Kym and Alli, started off a bit too hyper for me but quickly grew in my affections. They're having a lot of fun, they're kind to each other and to the other Racers (apart from a little bit of drawing on dusty windshields) and they're competent and no-nonsense. That's exactly the kind of team I root for. No drama, just race hard and enjoy the experience.

And although I suspect they're not going to be in the final three, my favorite team is unquestionably Amy and Maya. They're both so freaking adorable that I want to invite them over for tabletop gaming just to watch them smile, they're both smart and competent (but with a recurring navigation problem that I think is going to bite them in the butt), and they're both smart and patient and low-drama to boot! The challenge where Maya made goat butter using her knowledge of food chemistry was just a stand-up-and-cheer moment, and I'm Team Wonka for as long as they're on the show. (And I'll root for them to come back in an All-Stars season, too.)

So yes, this is so far as close to a perfect season of the Race as I think I'm ever going to get. And even though I think we're heading towards an unfortunate Finish Line full of perfect teeth, I'm still digging the heck out of the current season. That's pretty good for twenty-five and counting.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

This May Only Amuse Me

I just had a male GamerGater accuse me of "mansplaining" to him for saying that I didn't think that "GamerGate" could be salvaged as a movement.

He said it was "the most discriminatory remark I've heard in the past 24 hours".

Surprisingly, he is not being greeted with sympathy and comfort for his bruised feelings.

Monday, November 03, 2014

We Need a Science-Fiction Holiday

One of the things I love about Halloween, the holiday now a long, sad 363 days away from now, is the way that it brings out the lover of scares in everyone. The holiday has gleefully expanded to the entire month of October, simply because everyone delights in letting out their creepy side to play. The candy and the trick-or-treating is only one night (usually) but the parties, the costumes, and especially the scary movies last all month long. We get scary movies on every single channel, all month long, a smorgasbord of the classics and the best of the new scares for horror junkies of all ages, shapes and sizes. People spend the whole month talking about their favorite scary movie (and usually referencing 'Scream' while they do so)--it's a month where everyone acts as though the twisted and perverse is normal and fun. What's not to love?

It does, though, make me wish that there was a similar day for science-fiction and fantasy. Not necessarily with the trick-or-treating, but a holiday that incorporates science fiction and fantasy in the same way that Halloween incorporates horror, in the same way that Thanksgiving incorporates insane amounts of food, and in the same way that Christmas incorporates joy and hope and sappiness to a degree you wouldn't tolerate any other month of the year. I want a holiday where we spend a whole month watching our favorite movies, dressing up as Jedi and wizards, and generally letting the other side of our inner child out to play.

Perhaps we could work something out with February? I know it already has Valentine's Day, but it's otherwise the worst month of the year. It could do with a little love. Maybe we could designate February 8th, the anniversary of the birth of Jules Verne, as "Imagination Day", and call it a day to celebrate the pioneers of the mind? After all, we create the future in our heads before we ever explore it in person, and I don't think we could have the wonders we do without people like Verne and his myriad successors showing us the possibilities (good and bad) of the future.

And on February 8th, we'll all dress up like our favorite sci-fi characters and make delicious chocolate steampunk gears for each other, and feast on cloned turkey and synthetic mashed potatoes. (That part's still a work in progress, but I think you get the idea.)