Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Of course, I would have been equally happy either way, but this result does mean there is a higher probability that the baby will want to play with my old He-Man and Transformers figures (as soon as they're no longer a choking hazard, that is). Mom and Dad, I thank you for holding on to those in your guys' basement for so long, and I am going to pretend like this was the plan all along.
Both mother and baby seem to be healthy, so all is well. And now that we know the gender, we can get to really deciding on a name** and slowly start to accumulate some gear. I am telling you dudes, I have just come from an exploratory mission to Babies R Us, and why is it that all the boys' clothing has sports on it? I mean, we were planning on going fairly gender neutral anyway, but would it kill you to manufacture a green shirt that doesn't say "SOCCER" on it?
Anyway, more on this story as it develops.
* - We got the traditional ultrasound as well as that new "4-D" ultrasound. I'm not sure what the fourth dimension is meant to be, but it makes the baby look as though it is made out of butterscotch pudding ... look it up.
** - Aside to Josh: Alison is less than receptive to "Roll Fizzlebeef" as a name. Aside to Daine: Ditto "The Baron."
Monday, December 21, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
What I wrote recently: A piece at MGK about the topic named above.
No, I can't believe I'd never read it before, either. I'd been fraudulently posing as A Dude Who Knows His Business When It Comes To Comics all this time.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Part One is based entirely on my own subjective preferences. The songs that make it won’t necessarily be the “best” songs, or the most “important” ones. I’m not going to try and get an even number of John and Paul songs. These are just the songs I like the best.
How I did it: I listed all 30 songs in a Word document and whittled them away one by one until I was left with 15. Not an easy task. I think I’d got as far as six without too much agony, but then I had 24 incredible songs left and I had no idea where to begin trying to get rid of nine more.
But eventually I did. The songs I picked aren’t necessarily the cool picks, but it has been well-documented that I am not a cool guy, so I’m fine with that. We’ll just go through the album track-by-track and say CUT or KEEP and, briefly, why.
Back in the USSR – CUT
Okay, you see why this is so hard. I mean, Back in the USSR – wonderful, classic, a triumph on most other albums, but it’s up against some real stiff competition here. The bar is essentially set at unfuckingbelievable. So in light of that … well, you make the hard decision and you have to say yeah, musically at least, it’s Another McCartney Rocker, although it is one of the better ones. This one held on to nearly the end of the “culling,” and one of the reasons for that is conceptually, lyrically, it’s effortlessly funny in a way you don’t always see out of McCartney. The borscht-and-Beach-Boys thing is all a joke, of course, but McCartney sounds like he’s keeping a straight face. No mugging to be found here. So don’t think I wanted to cut this, but my crazy self-imposed challenge is my crazy self-imposed challenge.
Dear Prudence - KEEP
Right, this one was never in any danger of not making it. That middley bridge bit (“Look around round round … Look arowwww-owwwww-owwwww-ounnd”) conveys an almost religious awe (which I suppose is appropriate for where it was written). Love the blooping bubbling bass part that kicks in at the second verse, and that fantastic messy lead guitar on the third.
Glass Onion - KEEP
A funny little throwaway it may be, but the energy is fantastic. Lennon’s vocal on “Fix-ing a hoooole in the o-sheann” is sublime, one of my favorite performances of his. But it’s really all about that second at the end of the chorus where everything stops, you get a bit of ring from the piano, and then that papery Beatles drum sound I love so much.
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - KEEP
Don’t pretend you don’t like this song! Here’s a track that (based off the alternate take on the Anthology) is only “quite good” until, according to Beatles legend, Lennon comes into the studio, stoned and irritated that McCartney is still working on it, and demands that it be played with loud, pseudo-ska piano; Paul made a Snickers bar, and John said “Hold on, deep fry that thing and then we’ll talk!” Also: “Hap-ply ever after in the mahketplace.”
Wild Honey Pie - CUT
This was a pretty easy decision, but you know, I like Wild Honey Pie.
Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill - KEEP
What I really like is how immediate this song feels; it sounds put together in about ten minutes with the first mocking words Lennon could think of, and then sung outside Rik Cooke’s window in another ten. You hear a tiny sliver of proto-Elvis Costello in the lyrics if not the melody, too, right? ("So Captain Marvel zapped 'im right between the eyes") And for absolutely no reason I can fathom, I adore that breeeeet of the mellotron or whatever after the final verse.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps - KEEP
There are Beatles Harrisongs that I like better, but I think this is probably George’s most epic Beatles recording, if you are into that sort of thing. Love that high, screechy organ.
Happiness Is a Warm Gun - KEEP
An incredibly bizarre song when you stop to think about it (I don’t know enough music theory to even begin to parse the time signatures of this thing), but you don’t always realize it because it feels so natural. Is it the best song on the album(s)? It might well be, although it has strong competition I’ll get to later.
Martha My Dear - KEEP
Okay, this very nearly got cut. I had this and Don’t Pass Me By left, and I cut this and kept DPMB, and then I changed my mind, and then I changed it again, and then slept on it. Ultimately, I had to go with McCartney’s supreme pop craftsmanship. “Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you” is a pretty perfect marriage of melody and chords, to my mind. Throw in the goofy Yellow Submarine brass for good measure, I’m a sucker for it.
I’m So Tired - KEEP
And during my Martha My Dear/Don’t Pass Me By struggle, I suddenly thought, “Well, we could cut I’m So Tired, couldn’t we? What does it really bring to the table that, say, Happiness Is A Warm Gun doesn’t?” But the answer is atmosphere. How moody self-absorbed high school-me never adopted this as an anthem I can’t figure out. I was not unaware of this track.
Blackbird - CUT
“How could you cut Blackbird?” Well, you know what, it actually wasn’t too hard at all. Very beautiful, very well-put-together (again, this is an inferior song only by comparison to uncut awesomeness elsewhere on the album) and yet … the just-Paul-and-an-acoustic-guitar never wins me over as much as it does a lot of people. If that makes me a bad person, then I am a bad person.
Piggies - CUT
Man, I am just as surprised as you that this didn’t make the cut. Surely I love harpsichord too much to let this go…! My wife’s gonna be mad, this is one of her favorite Beatles songs. Piggies did hold on close to the end, but something just had to give.
Rocky Raccoon - CUT
HATE. No, that’s too strong, I don’t really hate Rocky Raccoon, I just … I just have no time for this, Paul McCartney; no time for these little genre pastiches that only exist as genre pastiches. I cut you twice.
Don’t Pass Me By - CUT
What gave the edge to Martha My Dear is that this is probably a better recording than it is a song. Perfectly fine song if pretty straight-up-and-down basic, but what makes it something special is the arrangement – psychedelic country and western! Oh, and Ringo, I don’t blame you saving up your best drumming for your own song, okay?
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road? - CUT
Great showcase for Paul’s voice and Ringo’s drumming, though. And it always makes my brother laugh even when he knows it’s coming.
I Will - KEEP
A notable exception to my indifference to just-Paul-and-an-acoustic-guitar, because I love the hell out of this. McCartney at his most sweet and sentimental, but it’s just so pure and warm. The “mouth bass” is goofy, but it serves to nicely deflate would could be too sweet a song without just being dumb mugging. It is, actually, what love sounds like in my head, and I don’t care what you think of me for saying so.
Julia - CUT
“No you didn’t!” Yes I did and I’m sorry and I know it’s one of the most open and naked things John ever wrote (and certainly the most up to this point in his recording career) and it is extremely beautiful, but I only have 15 tracks to work with here, and this is really frigging hard, you guys.
Birthday - KEEP
It’s -- it’s just so nice to hear everyone getting along, you know? It really shows in one of the Beatles’ most enthusiastic recordings. Also a sentimental favorite. There is video of my brother and me, maybe six years old and two years old, respectively, dancing to this. But I will not show this to you.
Yer Blues - CUT
Man, I really really like this, but to be honest? Towards the end I’m totally ready to move on to something else.
Mother Nature’s Son - CUT
Look, I’m not a monster. This song is really exceptionally beautiful. I almost believe in being a poor young country boy singing songs for everyone, just not enough to make it.
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey - KEEP
This is the contender I told you about – the only song that might be as totally rad as Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Gives Birthday a run for its money in the energy department! Firebell clanging away. That spiky guitar sound is king, one of my favorite parts ever.
Sexy Sadie - KEEP
Perhaps a somewhat inessential song, but I adore the icy piano sound on this, with the slight delay. Wonderful recording. I like it, anyway.
Helter Skelter - CUT
Okay, here’s the thing. You can say Honey Pie is kind of an embarrassing thing for Paul to have done, but I contend this is equally embarrassing for the exact same reason. Honey Pie is mugging, and this is mugging. It sounds like a pastiche of hard rock rather than actually being hard rock; it’s Paul with a mask on (EDIT: although, of course, I know that's not exactly the case, being that Helter Skelter is in fact a major influence on the hard rock I'm accusing McCartney of imitating, but that's what it sounds like, forty years later). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good time, but it’s the sort of thing that is supposed to sound effortless but really comes off calculated. Rubs me the wrong way.
Long, Long, Long - KEEP
Strange and beautiful, and when you listen to it, it’s weird how much it’s a prototype of Harrison’s solo stuff – you could almost put this on Living in the Material World and you’d hardly notice. That alone wouldn’t qualify it, but that absolutely terrifying conclusion…! It genuinely gets me spooked if I’m listening to it alone at night; the cabinets are going to open up by themselves and plates are going to start flying through the air and the closet door’s going to open up to reveal a vortex to hell.
Revolution 1 - CUT
Sorry John, you were wrong, the single version of this is better, no offense.
Honey Pie - CUT
Yeah, it’s mugging. It’s like When I’m 64 but not funny, and what’s the point, really?
Savoy Truffle - KEEP
Again, this is a list of songs that I like the best, not what’s most deserving. This doesn’t really fit in on the White Album (a year or so behind, might’ve been great on Magical Mystery Tour, actually), and it superficially resembles Good Morning Good Morning, but I just dig this song. Chugs along so well.
Cry Baby Cry - KEEP
I know, right, what’s this doing on here? I’ve always loved Cry Baby Cry a whole lot and I don’t know why; I guess every Beatles fan has to have his “No, seriously, you guys, you don’t even know how good this song is!” and this is mine.
Revolution 9 - CUT
I am not going to pretend I know anything about musique concrete or the state of avant garde composition circa 1968, so I don’t know if this is “good” or not. I like it; it’s neat, it’s interesting, it’s spooky (although who needs this to be spooky when Long Long Long has that covered considerably more succinctly, right?). I like to listen to it, but I like to listen to the other fifteen tracks better. I had to pick fifteen songs, and this is not really a song, so I don’t think I can be faulted.
Good Night - CUT
I get a bit sentimental about this as well. My dad used to sing it to me when I was little, and I expect I’ll do the same to my kid when he or she comes along, when nobody is looking. But, you know, everything else is just so good.
Aaaaand that does it for the White Album. So, to recap, the winners are Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Martha My Dear, I’m So Tired, I Will, Birthday, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide…, Sexy Sadie, Long Long Long, Savoy Truffle, Cry Baby Cry.
And some of the finest losers around are Back in the USSR, Wild Honey Pie, Rocky Raccoon, Piggies, Don’t Pass Me By, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?, Blackbird, Julia, Yer Blues, Mother Nature’s Son, Helter Skelter, Honey Pie, Revolution #1, Revolution #9, Good Night.
So the list turns out to have a pretty strong pro-John, anti-Paul vibe. Which, I assure you, is not typical of me. As Beatles, I consider them pretty near equals from Revolver on (and post-Beatles, if you average out all the good and the bad, they probably come up about the same in my estimation as well, although as a solo artist I am totally in the tank for George, warts and all). But I will go on record as saying that I believe the White Album is the best album John Lennon ever made, Beatle, solo or otherwise, and it’s Paul’s weakest Beatles effort since Rubber Soul. But don't feel too bad, McCartneyans, because about a year or so from now Paul gets his masterpiece, which, of course, is Abbey Road.
Okay, the totally subjective business is out of the way. Now, onto trying to compile that “proper album” I promised. It probably won’t be ready this week. Maybe after Christmas. Maybe after my child is born and has been in school a few years. But eventually … I will the attempt that which probably oughtn't be attempted. Be here then!
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Obviously it’s a big mess (though I think the degree to which it's a mess is actually exaggerated in popular lore), but that is, as the cliché goes, exactly what is so interesting about it. Because of the conditions in which it was made, of course. It is 1968 and you are a Beatle, and you have nothing to prove to anybody anymore – not the public, not music critics, not George Martin, not even your bandmates … so what do you decide to do? The title The Beatles and the plain white sleeve works so well in light of that – there’s no quote-unquote concept like Sgt. Pepper’s, no movie tie-in, no attempt at even making a cohesive album (although it does make the White Album, in some way, uniquely suited to the post-album iPod era of popular music, if you believe in such a thing). The Beatles is just The Beatles, unfiltered. And it’s a testament to their talent that their most self-indulgent, uneven record is still considered one of the finest ever made by anyone ever despite all that. There are boring bits, and there are embarrassing bits, but it’s fascinating nonetheless; this is the breakup record, not Let It Be.
But not everyone goes in for that. I recently went through The Beatles Anthology (the book, not the TV series or CD set) again and Ringo Starr and George Martin apparently both feel to one degree or another that yeah, maybe they should’ve just made one really good album. To which, on any other day, I scoff and wave my hand dismissively…
…but then I think, what if?
What if you had to cut down the White Album to one album? There’s thirty tracks in all (I’m counting, as most everyone does, the Can You Take Me Back fragment as a part of Cry Baby Cry), so let’s say you get fifteen tracks. That means you have to take fifteen really good Beatles songs and say these are not good enough. What a horrifying proposition!
Well, you know, I had to try it...
So here’s what I’m doing, and if anyone wants to do the same, we can make this a meme, but I’m happy to let this be my private folly (though I’m sure somebody’s already done this before). I am, in fact, going to do this twice.
The first one will be just my 15 favorite songs on a purely subjective level. Not based on “importance” or interest or quality, just the 15 I would rather listen to than the other 15. I’ve made that list, and it wasn’t easy.
But even more difficult is what I’m going to attempt next, and that will be to try and assemble a “proper” single album. Subjectivity has to give way to objectivity. I am going to play Fantasy Producer in my Fantasy Studio; the Beatles have given me 30 tracks but I have to pick 15 based on quality, 15 qui vont tres bien ensemble, if you'll indulge, and I suppose trying to keep everyone in the band happy. And then I have to resequence it as well.
So this is my mad idea. My 15 favorites, coming soon. New album (let’s call it A Doll’s House, eh?) coming probably after much more thought (if ever; might just drive me insane instead).
It'll be grrrrreat!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
You remind me of the babe.
The babe with the power.
The power of voodoo.
Remind me of the babe!
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
It's due to drop around May 30.
It's a collaboration between me and my wife.
Yes, it is a human child, and I will be its father.
We did the first ultrasound today and I was quite chuffed to see the result and figured I'd share the official news. I'll abstain from posting it here, as a.) I don't know how I'd feel about that, and b.) I haven't been able to find the cable to my scanner since the move anyway (which incidentally complicated my John Hodgman/Sandman Mystery Theatre post on MGK. Have you ever tried searching for a picture of Wes Dodds online? There is apparently only one).
I will keep you posted on how it goes, but hopefully not annoyingly so. Just bear with me, and I'll let you know after Christmas whether it'll be a boy or a girl.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Before we start, let me just say that I’m not a huge Doctor Who fan, actually. I really love what I’ve seen, but I haven’t seen very much; I live in the States and don’t get BBC America, so I’m pretty much at the mercy of PBS, the Sci-Fi Channel and DVDs at my local library for whatever they happen to play or have in stock. Consequently, I’ve only seen about eight or nine Fourth Doctor serials, the Eighth Doctor TV movie everybody hates, and episodes here and there from “New Who” (although not all of them, and I haven’t seen any of the latest series).
But Doctor Who is something if you’re as thorough as geek as I am, you learn bits and pieces about through osmosis and secondhand sources. So what I’m going to lay out is basically what my impressions are of what the Third Doctor’s show was like without ever having seen a single episode.
Written very quickly and very dirtily, but that’s what you get, I’m afraid, and look, maybe that’s even in the spirit of the show? Here goes:
Tomorrow morning, Earth makes First Contact, and it is not friendly.
It’s not a full-on invasion, mind you. Earth is discovered by a small party of aliens, who land in a small village in the English countryside. They had intended to go unnoticed, but were spotted by the natives – so the aliens got spooked, and started shooting, thinking nothing of it; two-thirds of the village’s population was killed, and the aliens holed up in their spaceship. A three-day standoff later and a global military response had breached the ship’s defenses. The last alien left alive after the ensuing shootout had learned some rudimentary English in those three days – “Primitive slime, you! Only explorers, we!” And when our scientists got a look at the instrumentation on the craft, it’s light years ahead of anything we’ve got, of course, but they could make out one thing: sometime during the first day, the explorers had sent out a signal with coordinates.
The Earth has been discovered … and now everyone out there knows about it.
Flash forward seven years, and Earth has formed the United Intelligence Taskforce, or UNIT, based in the bombed-out ruins of that country village, to deal with extraterrestrial relations. They’ve reverse engineered the explorers’ spaceship for a technological boost to weapons and communications, and now they’re preparing for whatever comes next. And so far, nobody else has actually come to Earth (takes awhile, you know), but we have made some brief, crackly subspace communication contact with some of the beings out there.
And as near as we can tell, the universe is populated by a multitude of diverse races – but most of the ones with interstellar flight capacities are the colonial ones. And you can imagine how the story got back from the explorers before they were killed – "This Earth is populated by bloodthirsty savages, and you’d be doing ‘em a favor by taking over, frankly."
And the series opens on the eve of the first attempt to do so.
Oh, let’s say it’s the Cybermen. Unfortunately, not one of the handful of potential invaders we know even a little bit about. We send out some scout ships hoping to make peaceful contact, they just blast them out of the way without even accepting the incoming transmission. An invasion party lands in London and takes over quite quickly, using it as a base from which to attack UNIT HQ. The rest of the world’s screaming at UNIT – “You dropped the ball! You had seven years to prepare for this and you didn’t last seven hours!” To which the only reply is, “We only had seven years. We’re lucky to last seven minutes.” Because face it, all we had to go on was the one spaceship, and the one the Cybermen have parked over London in geosynchronous orbit is a hell of a lot more impressive than that first one. We, frankly, do not have a clue, and we don’t have a chance.
Then there’s a lurching, grinding sound in the control room at UNIT HQ, and what looks like an old police box materializes from out of thin air.
UNIT troops swarm in, form a perimeter, train their guns on the door. This is it, boys, this is war. Cyberkind’s first strike on them, surely. The doors slowly open, and out pours thick, acrid black smoke.
And out steps, instead of a merciless machine-man, a striking older gentleman with silver hair dressed like he’s stepped out of a PBS Jane Austen adaptation. He is gentle and kind, but a bit condescending. He makes little account for himself other than that he’s a bit of an explorer (and that sets UNIT off after the last bit, you can imagine). They stick him in the brig and say they’ll get to him if and when they get this Cybermen business figured out.
To which the visitor replies, “Cybermen? Oh, that’s an easy one so long as you’ve got enough gold.”
He introduces himself as the Doctor, to which the reply is, of course, “Doctor Who?” and the name sticks no matter how many times he insists that is not his name. With his knowledge of the Cybermen they’re able to drive off the invasion. And, once things have settled down, they find out he knows of all the other alien empires that might threaten the Earth because of his extensive “traveling” through space and time. This guy is an invaluable resource and could well be the key to the Earth’s survival – and he just appeared out of thin air. They keep him on retainer, which suits him well enough; he says he can’t go anywhere anyway with the TARDIS being broken the way it is.
“What’s a TARDIS?”
In the weeks to come, everyone gets a different story about their mysterious visitor. He gives the sense it’s some sort of time machine, but beyond that details are vague. The word either means Time And Relative Dimension In Space, or Time Anomaly Research Deep Immersion Scout, or it’s the brand name of the manufacturer. As for Doctor Who himself, he tells some that he’s a scientist and inventor from the year 4172, some that he’s an alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey (“Why do you have an English accent if you’re an alien, then?” “Oh, is it that convincing? I can do a German one if you like as well.”) He tells a young researcher one night that he’s just a confused old man from 1815 who’s found a time machine, but never mentions that story again. Complete mystery, and between themselves, UNIT’s say, hey, maybe even the Doctor doesn’t know Who he is.
Whatever the hell that TARDIS thing is, he’s working on repairing it whenever he’s got a spare moment. Nobody’s allowed inside of it, and no one can open the doors except for Doctor Who. I wouldn’t even want to show the inside of the TARDIS for several episodes (I’m assuming this is a television show, but we could do it in comics as well); the first person to be let in and see the bigger-on-the-inside thing is a middle-level officer in UNIT we’ll call Brian.
Let me steal a bit from RAB here:
“…my take on the Doctor is this: his view of humans should be the same as my view of dogs. What charming, intelligent, brave, friendly, affectionate creatures! How charming the simple things that make them happy! How wonderful to make the acquaintance of each one! But they can also be vicious and dangerous if mistreated, and they’re ignorant of the harm they can cause. And when a more capable creature abuses them, our duty is to rescue and protect them.”
I would like to add that sometimes, no matter how much you love that dog, you get furious at it when it pees all over the kitchen or eats your shoes when it really should know better, and from time to time the Doctor will go off on humans when caught in a bad mood. “You bloody imbeciles! If I’d had known you were going to act like this, I’d have left you to the Cybermen!” After which, of course, he apologizes profusely and sincerely because he didn’t really mean it.
Still, not many people in UNIT like the Doctor. (Well, some of the girls do; he doesn’t seem to have any interest in sex, so it’s kind of a “flirt with the sweet older man for a laugh” sort of deal.) It’s society’s natural mistrust of anything smarter than us. They think he’s being superior when he’s not, and so they assign Brian (I haven’t given any thought to this name at all, so don’t read anything into it) to be the Doctor’s “handler” because nobody likes him much anyway either – everyone finds him irritatingly earnest, which they don’t suppose is a very useful personality type when you’re Earth’s first line of defense against alien invaders. He is, however, a survivor of that attack on his village seven years ago.
So Brian becomes the Doctor’s “companion” of sorts (UNIT treats him as a go-between) while Who is stranded on Earth and helping UNIT fend off alien invasions and other curious phenomena (not everyone wants to conquer Earth – some are looking for zoo exhibits, and some are just thoughtless tourists who don’t care if they park on the Louvre). It should be stressed that the Doctor’s main usefulness is in information about these various invaders; he’s got a sonic screwdriver, but it’s not any better a weapon than a real screwdriver, and it’s certainly not as useful as it is in the current series. The Doctor’s attribute is his knowledge and his wits, and nothing more. He’s up for adventure, but he’s old and needs a lie-down after a particularly stressful day.
So that’s the engine driving the entire first “series” (I’m using series in the American sense, not the English of what we call “seasons”). That can go on for years until everyone’s about had it. Then … "The Final Invasion." And since I know I’m never going to get to do this for real, I might as well spoil the whole thing.
It’s Daleks, of course, and not a moment before but the kicker is this – Doctor Who doesn’t know a damn thing about them. He’s heard about them on his adventures, but he’s as blind as us primitive screwheads on this one.
The Daleks, however, know all about the Doctor (they even call him “the Doctor”) or at least they seem to. There’s a thread running through the series of researchers finding references to “the Doctor” throughout history, intervening in matters of global importance – wars, plagues, scientific discoveries. Except he is always described differently: young and old, fat and thin, tall and short, sometimes a woman, sometimes any number of things. And so during the Final Invasion, Doctor Who tells only Brian very briefly about the whole regeneration thing we all know from the series – when he dies, he “comes back” in a new form, and sometimes there are side-effects. In this case, his memory about Daleks seems to have been erased, although Brian can tell he’s lying about something, and he gets quite furious with the Doctor. “After all we’ve been through, you’re just telling me stupid made-up stories the way you would anyone else!”
Big budget special effects, carnage and destruction at the hands of the Daleks. This isn’t conquest, this is extermination. The extinction of the human race, and the truth is this – they can’t win. There’s no way to defeat the Daleks. So the Doctor has a breakthrough. He finally fixes the TARDIS (maybe it was never really broken in the first place, I'm not sure) and uses it to go back in time…divert the explorers landing in the English countryside all those years ago…
…and prevent anything in the series from ever happening. Because for the sake of my series, we’ll say that’s how it works.
Humanity is saved, but here is the thing – Brian can’t go home anymore. Because in the world he and the Doctor have made, that little English countryside village is still there, and there’s a Brian who lives there and has a date with the girl who works at a small IT firm he met at the shops one day. Well, obviously this is hard to hear, but Brian doesn’t really have a choice, and he’s nothing if not pragmatic. And it’s not even one of those “one life in exchange for all the world” deals because, hey, there is still a Brian knocking about. So he spends one last day walking through his old village, calls his mum on the phone (can’t go to see her, of course, he is seven-plus years older) and even pays himself a secret visit. Basically saying goodbye to his old life, but even that’s okay – most people never even get to do that.
So it’s settled, then. Since Brian doesn’t have a place in the world he helped save, the Doctor will take him along as a companion on his travels, although he never really explains what that exactly entails. They’re about ready to set off when, suddenly, the Doctor clutches his chest and falls to the ground.
“Doctor! What is it?” Brian asks.
Panting, sweating, the Doctor replies: “It’s the Time Tribunal! Passing judgment on me! Altering history is forbidden by their laws! The sentence is death! Can’t you see them?”
The Doctor points in the air in front of him at this last sentence. Brian, with horror: “Doctor ... there’s no one there.” And it looks for all the world like he's just having a heart attack. “But you’ll come back, won’t you?” Brian asks, desperately. “You – you said you regenerate, when an old body dies…?”
“It’s a lie,” the Doctor responds between breaths. “There is no regeneration. It just works like this: You who stand by my side: I charge you to carry on my work.” His eyes are bugging out, face wet with sweat.
“Doctor, wait! What work? What am I supposed to do?” Brian eyes the TARDIS.
And the old man’s last words, very difficult to even get these out: “I know you’ll be brilliant.”
“Doctor, wait! There’s so much I don’t know! You never even told me – Doctor! Who are you?”
But he’s already dead.
Brian sits crying over the mystery man’s purple, choked body. For a second he almost believes that the body will just magically vanish in a puff of smoke or a flash of light, but it’s just there, and it’s heavy. And he’s left to stew on that.
Only for a moment, though. Because then Brian does what he’s supposed to do. He kisses the old man on the head, buries the Doctor (…somewhere. Maybe in the village?) and grabs a change of clothes from his UNIT uniform. Something comfortable and durable, as well as a very long scarf - “In case it’s cold.”
So it’s the New Doctor, at the controls of the TARDIS (He’s never “Brian” again; as he points out, Brian is the version of himself that lives his life). He has no idea how to really set a course or destination – even the interface is totally alien and non-intuitive. So he spins some dials at random, pulls some levers, and when that’s all over, he takes a deep breath and presses a large red button.
There’s a grinding sound, and soon the police box has vanished.
And now you could do an entire second series about this New Doctor, but frankly I’d be happy just to end it there and leave the rest to imagination.
Not entirely pleased with "they just fix it all with time travel," but you need it for the New Doctor stuff to work, I think.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I know its been a long time since anything Earp related has popped up here... the one place it should be. But like I've said before, Justin's got the stories written, and I fully intend on returning to them. It makes me really happy drawing cowboys and robots and aliens.... and penguins, and clones, and man eating pies, and space ships.... and ... and giant carnivorous planets.... and time traveling norse gods... (I hope I haven't exposed too many upcoming plots but to be honest by the time these stories see ink you'll have totally forgotten anyways.) Long story short I came across a page tucked away in my closet after moving and I pulled it out the other day to start doodling on it. Here's a panel from it.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
At one point or another, you’ve probably found yourself in the middle of a hostile situation between friends, family, or co-workers, right? You want to keep your relationship with both parties intact, and that means not picking a side, which therefore often means playing both sides. And when you play both sides, sometimes it feels like you’re not on anyone’s side at all. It’s awkward and unpleasant, and you feel insincere and cowardly.
This is Zatanna’s unhappy state of being.
See, magic users and superheroes don’t really get along. Superheroes see magicians as aloof and haughty; too mysterious for their own good (not to mention that a lot of them don’t like magic because it doesn’t seem to have any “rules”). Magicians see superheroes as naïve goofs who tend to ignore the big picture. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s mature enough to recognize each side does things the other one can’t, but it's hard to coordinate your efforts when you're suspicious of each other.
Zatanna is a magician and a superhero. We’re very fortunate that there’s someone like her around; there are times when the two camps really need to work together, and nobody can facilitate that like Zatanna. When the Toyman invades Metropolis on Memorial Day with an army of toy soldiers, it looks like a job for Superman. But when it turns out the spirits of soldiers from every American war are inhabiting those toys, you call in Zatanna; it’s not like Doctor Fate has a bloody clue what the Toyman’s deal is, after all, or who he might have struck a deal with to pull this off.
But the rest of the time? She’s friends with Oliver Queen and the Phantom Stranger, and those guys do not get along. So to the Stranger she’s saying, “Yeah, sorry about Ollie, he’s just really short tempered and, y’know, he’s an immediate-response sort of guy, and you kind of have to respect that,” but to Green Arrow she has to explain, “Look, I know it seems like the Stranger doesn’t care about the common man, but he’s working on a bunch of different levels you’re not seeing all the time, you know?” Invariably, everyone ends up mad at her, and that’s just great, isn’t it?
Threats … threats … One thing I got out of the existing Seven Soldiers Zatanna series and the usual sort of daddy-stuff to be found in Morrison’s work is this idea that Zatanna sometimes still feels like that little girl who gets things wrong – an adult who still feels like a kid. So I think a lot of the threats would occur at that intersection between childhood and adulthood, where all those childish whimsies turn sour.
There’s the Toyman bit I’ve already mentioned, but that’s only a precursor to the arrival of the Cosmic Toyman, an entity called the Puppeteer, and he lures his victims with childhood things reanimated and ruined – your fifth grade teacher telling you you’ll never make anything of yourself, children’s show hosts encouraging you to take crack, beloved cartoon characters getting old and senile and sick and dying; the Puppeteer poisons your nostalgia, and while he’s at it, he’ll bring back Barnabus the Teddy Bear King to really rub it in.
Along the same lines, picture a bitter, dejected twentysomething who reconnects with his childhood imaginary friend. But instead of a simple playmate, this individual now wants an accomplice, someone who can help him get all the money, power, and women he’s always wanted. Imagine Calvin and Hobbes as a precursor to a horrible nightmare (but oh God don’t really think of it as Calvin and Hobbies, I mean really).
Imagine discarded children’s art projects – broken clay pots and egg-carton dragons, scribbled stick figure families emerging from their typing paper world – lashing out because they’re confused and unloved. They may not be very good, but those kids tried hard just the same, and that ought to count for something, right?
But it won’t be all uncomfortable reflections of childhood. Zatanna should be a funny comic, too – funny and meaningful in the way that Buffy was. A jealous sorcerer can force Zatanna to relive every bad date she’s ever had, although it only shows her how much she’s learned from the unpleasant experiences. And when adults are suddenly being visited by the ghosts of their teenage selves, most people feel bad after being chewed out by their younger selves for settling for their boring adult lives; Zatanna, on the other, has to contend with the absolutely dreadful 16-year-old she was, but there’s something to take from that as well.
One more thing – I’m interested in the stage magician, performance aspect to Zatanna. For that reason, of all the Seven Soldiers books I am proposing, hers is the only one that will have first-person narration. But it won’t just be an excuse to dump some exposition, or show and not tell character traits – Zee will be, in some sense, putting on a show for the readers, talking them through each issue the way a stage magician talks you through a magic trick. And what’s important to take from that is that stage magicians are very often untruthful in their monologues; at the very least, they’re trying to mislead you, so you’d really have to look at what her narrative captions say and whether or not they can be taken at face value. Because very often, I would have Zatanna try to throw you off the trail, just to see if you’re paying attention.
Ecneidua, kniht rof sevlesruoy!
Oh, by the way, the Bulleteer/Guardian/Zatanna crossover I mentioned … all will be revealed next time in the last series proposal – Manhattan Guardian.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Spent Halloween at friends' house, where I assisted in the passing out of candy. In truth, I didn't so much "pass out candy" as "lurk about the front yard beckoning at passersby and trying to unnerve small children." Look, I'm not a bad guy, this is the whole point of Halloween.
Afterwords: bars. It was not the first time I have sung the DiVinyls' "I Touch Myself" at karaoke, but it is the first time I have done it dressed as a ghost (the skeletal fingers added a particular layer of obscenity).
And yes, of course I cut a small hole in the mouth of the mask so I could drink through a straw (or, as in the photo below, a child's sippy cup shaped like a monkey's head). I am no fool.It was a rare blessing to have a mask that was not only large enough to contain my enormous head, but also accomodated my glasses so that I didn't have to walk around the whole night squinting through black mesh. Halloween is the one night a year that I regret giving up contacts, but not this time.
That was my Halloween. Hope you had a good one.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The truth of the matter is, mainstream superhero comics don’t hold up to such logical scrutiny because they were never designed to. They’re not about that, which is why it’s not important (on a story level, anyway) why the dark Jedis have red lightsabers, and why Rebel ships have red lasers when Imperial ships have green ones. The original trilogy has more important things to talk about (and the reason the prequel trilogy suffers is because it doesn’t have anything more important to discuss and so engages with that sort of menial business).
Generally speaking, I find a conversation about superheroes’ sex lives in a Justice League comic just unpleasant.
But the function of Bulleteer is that she’s not a “mainstream” superhero. She’s on the fringes, and so that frees her comic to deal with the fringes of the superhero set. If you point out in a Superman comic that glasses and playacting are a crummy disguise, you cheapen Superman, or at the very least you poke the concept so full of holes it can’t stay above water. But you can play with superhero tropes using these marginal figures. Morrison made Mind-Grabber Man a straight man pretending to be gay for the attention, and used Bulleteer herself to examine the superhero as fetish object.
If Superman and the Justice League can be likened to A-list Hollywood stars, Alix Harrower and her ilk are the David Faustinos of the DC Universe. The seedy underbelly of the superhero world.
Here’s a book where you could deal with what happens when a superscientist thinks he’s discovered the end to all disease, but drug companies try to keep it under wraps. The great agony of what it would really be like to have Daredevil's heightened senses, where all the world's a garbage can, rain is hell, and you're eating nothing but plain noodles night after night because you can't handle anything with a stronger flavor to it. How the Rook, Tomahawk City’s moral paragon protector, deals with the fact that his bloodthirsty vigilante rival Simple Simon is actually getting more tangible results than he is. Another city rejects its longtime superhero when it’s discovered she actually hails from another dimension and is thus technically an illegal alien.
Again, not something I’d want to see in Daredevil or Superman's books, but this is a place you could grow and cultivate these ideas while still keeping them safely quarantined in their own little corner of the DC Universe.
Right, but I haven’t established the status quo. In Seven Soldiers #1, it’s revealed that she’s the descendant of Aurakles, the first superhero, and that her ultimate destiny was to kill Queen Gloriana. In that issue, a policeman tells her after questioning, “You’re free,” to which Alix replies, “Am I?” As the series begins, she’s still asking that question. You know how in the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk show, David Banner is always extremely coincidentally in the right place at the right time to make a difference? The same thing happens to the Bulleteer, only she recognizes it, and interprets it to mean that she isn’t free, that she’s being controlled by fate -- or, in the interest in imagistic unity, that fate is the gun, and she is its bullet.
So she has a tendency to just let things happen. She rarely pursues hero-for-hire gigs, they just seem to fall in her lap. Her accountant and financial manager Morgan Chapel, a regular supporting cast member, is just a guy she picked out of the phone book at random, and though he has no experience in superhuman affairs, he proves himself a natural at it. After getting fed up with commercial air travel (it's a pain to get past the metal detector when you are in fact made of metal), she happens to save the life of the Machine Queen, a 52-year-old mechanic who specializes in esoteric vehicles and builds Alix an inexpensive Bulletcar (complete with ejector-seat “launcher”) out of an old Dodge Dart, and she becomes another supporting cast member.
This drifting attitude has a number of unintended consequences. Remember Crazyface from Morrison’s Shining Knight? Alix is tricked into recovering his super-enhanced cybernetic eyeballs for his brother, who gets them implanted and becomes the Reverse Crazyface to avenge his death. (This will eventually lead into a crossover involving Bulleteer, Manhattan Guardian, and Zatanna, but I’ll get to that later.) She can also sometimes seem cold and distant, but ultimately her compassion wins out (she did, after all, try to take Sally Sonic, the woman who ruined her marriage and indirectly led to Alix’s husband’s death and her “condition,” to the hospital after their fight).
This I see as the overarching conflict in the series: Originally her trying to fight fate was jeopardizing the world, but now having completely surrendered to it isn’t proving any healthier.
The format: I’d like these to be largely self-contained stories, to be told, for no real reason other than it seems right to me, in a sort of action movie/new wave/neo noir mashup style; Cowboy Bebop is my stylistic guide here.
And there will be time for subplots. For example, the Machine Queen has long been building a working, full-scale Batmobile replica as a hobby, but when it’s stolen, Alix has to track down The Man Who Would Be Batman. As for Alix herself, her husband’s secret superhero fetish has put her off romantic entanglements to some extent. She finds nebbish, timid Morgan Chapel nonthreatening, but is that a good foundation to a relationship? (Note: It is not.) And is Morgan even interested? It turns out an ageless, perfect physical specimen encased in shining indestructible metal is not to everyone’s taste. Frankly, I’d like to see a relationship in a superhero book that’s weird and awkward and has serious foundational problems and maybe just doesn’t work instead of the usual storybook whirlwind romance.
After all, this is the book to do it in.
Monday, October 12, 2009
I know I know.... Josh is an asshole. He never posts here anymore and its not even about wyatt earp when he does. Well Justin has been holding his weight around here much better than Josh has but to be honest Justin can't just post scripts and the like. He has to post non earp content because Josh hasn't touched an earp page in something like 6 months. As with everything else stuff happens. Life happens. Day jobs, houses, friends, family, life, death, fuzzy puppies. These are all parts of life and get in the way of things like wyatt earp comics. The truth is that I find it difficult to sit down and draw on my own time for more than 20 minutes. If I'm drawing these days its because I get paid. Spending 10 hours a day drawing followed by more drawing when I get home is a little difficult. However, inspired by many of the other artists I follow I've decided to start a sketchbog. The idea is for it to be updated daily and so far its been going pretty well. I started it a few weeks ago but haven't wanted to share it or go public until it got on a roll. It should only be sketches, or concept pieces. Never finished work and hopefully not often paid work. Take a minute, stop by, tell me what you think. Even if it is just one word: "asshole"
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Also, it may interest you to know (though it probably will not) that I am on Twitter. A bit, anyway. I must admit, I'd never planned on having an account, and I'm still a little fuzzy on how to read those damn "@UserName" tweets. I've only signed up because my office uses it as a sort of internal communication device, and to be honest, I have no idea what I am going to do with it outside of work stuff. But I might think of something. Following that riveting sales pitch, you will no doubt be falling over yourself to follow me at jduck1.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
I have regained the ability to write to you near-instantaneously over a great distance via the "internetwork." I will type out a few things in this space, and when I hit "Publish Post," my words will be transmitted and available for everyone to see, despite the fact that there are no visible wires or cables connecting my typing-device to any other thing.
Truly, it is a strange and marvelous time to be alive.
I have taken a few minutes away from moving, and organizing in anticipation of more moving, to write this. The big move is going thoroughly all right. The new place is just a half-hour by freeway from the old place, so we are doing it in small chunks, after work and on the weekend. I will spare you the expected blog post reflecting on how many comics I own, and how they are difficult to move, and how it makes me wonder whether it is healthy to devote so much time and money to a hobby that leads me to accumulate so much stuff, and how one might consider it strange to be hoarding and lugging about boxes of thin periodicals originally intended to be disposable. Frankly, I am fine with all of that. My lower back is aching not because I have too many comics, but because I am weak and unused to such prolonged heavy lifting.
There are still more things to be hauled, new pieces of furniture to be purchased (microwave stands: I am not sure such a piece of furniture exists, but my wife seems to think it does), and more important people and agencies to inform of my relocation (VISA Cardmember Service, your call is forthcoming). After all of this is taken care of, there are two things I intend to do.
1.) Get a kitten (grey, tabby).
2.) Resume posting regularly.
That means more MGKontent is in the works, and Why I Should Write Bulleteer is also in the hopper.
Thank you for not leaving forever.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
David Brothers has a piece about Afro Futurism and Mister Miracle, and it’s compelling stuff. Morrison’s reimagining of the New Gods mythos was fascinating and relevant, and it elevated the characters above some of their more pedestrian post-Kirby portrayals. Truth be told, I’ve never been the biggest New Gods fan, but Shilo Norman’s experience really opened it up for me. I think the Afro Futurism/“elevation” approach is how Mister Miracle should be written…
…but I’m not the guy to do it. It’s not just a matter of authenticity, it’s one of experience. I’d only embarrass myself if I came on here with my underdeveloped ideas about what Afro Futurism really means, fused it with wacky comic book plots, and passed it off as “something meaningful.”
But, the challenge was to come up with a way to write all these books, so I have to do something. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED:
So, Shilo Norman was the understudy of the original Mister Miracle, eventually became a 21st century celebrity escape artist (only in the DC Universe!) and was tapped by the New Gods to liberate them from the evil gods of Apokalips. After Final Crisis, Darkseid has been defeated and the New Gods are reborn. And what happens to Shilo?
Well, the only thing I can think of is he wakes up one day after Final Crisis to discover that those fabulous space gods no longer have any need for their human savior now that his purpose is complete, and they’re restored on Earth-51 or whatever.
The New Gods have forsaken him.
This would be a less-actiony, more introspective series than my other ones. Shilo Norman knows there’s something bigger than what he can see and touch out there, and he used to be a part of it, but now it’s all gone. All he has left is Motherboxxx, which retains its incredible powers, but seems to have lost its soul; where that “ping!” sound once seemed like the distant echo of a great cosmic bell ringing from Heaven, now it sounds like nothing more than a cheap electronic tone.
Once you’ve tasted what it’s like to be the living avatar of freedom, going back to being a rich guy with a nice house is going to seem pretty shallow. What does the mythical Hero do when his special destiny is fulfilled? After Luke Skywalker vanquished the evil of the Empire, did he have trouble going back to being an ordinary guy? Shilo’s new mission is to escape depression and sorrow, to escape loneliness, to escape the mundane and material -- and find his New Gods once again.
So what does Shilo actually do in the comic? He seeks the great spiritual and/or philosophical leaders and experiences of the DC Universe: Shilo visits Nanda Parbat and Mount Olympus and discovers the final recording of the last science-priest of Krypton, embedded in a crystal in the Phantom Zone. He uses his vast wealth to buy five minutes of Vandal Savage’s time, and asks the immortal terrorist from 50,000 BC for his perspective on life, the universe and everything.
He puts himself through a number of innovative new traps as well. The old physical traps will still be there (being thrown out of a plane with no parachute, stuck in an avalanche, etc.), but, like the monsters in Shining Knight, just as momentary glimpses of Shilo’s everyday life, whereas the stories will be driven by more unusual traps. These will be more conceptual or metaphorical in nature, and they won’t always be something Motherboxxx can just fix. After spending his last penny on the visit with Savage, Shilo will be broke and homeless and living on the streets (where he meets Ali Ka-Zoom, of course!), a trap he accidentally escapes by unwittingly saving the life of Millions, the Richest Dog in the World. Mister Miracle throws himself into a time loop in which he’s forced to replay the death of a young boy in a traffic accident that Shilo is unable to prevent through conventional means (an old chestnut of a sci-fi plot, I realize). And, in a twist on Schrodinger’s Cat, when Shilo volunteers to take part in a quantum experiment that goes horribly wrong, two Mister Miracles emerge -- one alive, one dead -- and he decides to hold and attend his own funeral.
I will also do the unthinkable and admit Brad Meltzer had an idea that I thought was interesting. Doctor Impossible, who’s either Scott Free’s long-lost evil brother from Apokalips, or deranged muscle-for-hire who stumbled upon New Gods technology and only convinced himself he’s a god, returns. But after Shilo’s experiences in Morrison’s miniseries, he’s willing to admit there may be more to Doctor Impossible than meets the eye. On the other hand, the thought that this guy might just be a crazy dude forces Shilo to consider that his own experience with the New Gods might be self-delusion as well.
And it’s Doctor Impossible who pits MM up against a variation of Darkseid’s Life Trap: the Golden Slumbers, which consists of only a powerful hypnotic code, a comfortable bed, and a banner we’ve seen in Morrison’s Invisibles: La mort est un sommeil eternel. Unlike the Omega Sanction, each dream-existence is more pleasant than the last; in some he finds his New Gods once again, in some he learns to live happily without them, in some he is welcomed into the fraternity of superheroes and becomes Earth’s second Superman. It’s like the Black Mercy, but with one difference: sometimes you wake up from the Golden Slumbers … and then you decide to fall back asleep.
So there you have it. I could write Mister Miracle, I suppose. But even though I like some of the ideas above, I’m not so sure I should.
Part the first, in which a most curious editorial decision regarding DC's Superman/Batman is discussed.
Part the second, in which I wonder why DC and Marvel try to sell "untold tales" when few are willing to buy them on an ongoing basis.
Coming soon: Mister Miracle is happening, but it's up to you whether it will be worth waiting for.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Well, no, who I’ve really been thinking about is Norman Osborn. Zom at Mindless Ones has an amazing piece on the character, but focuses more on the Goblin aspect than the Norman aspect, which is in keeping with the thematic/symbolic focus of the Rogue’s Reviews. I want to talk about Norman Osborn, and what his deal is.
This all comes about because of a comment I made on my sometime-host’s blog, which I’ll reproduce here to begin with:
“Norman Osborn was retconned into a diabolical manipulator after the Clone Saga just because they needed *somebody* to be the mastermind behind it all, so why not have it be Spider-Man’s most notorious villain?
“Only problem is, when you actually read the original Green Goblin stories, if you take away the initial mystery of his identity, his connection to Peter Parker, and killing Gwen Stacy, Norman’s just a Halloween-themed dude who wants to take over the underworld. This is not an A-list villian for anybody but Spider-Man because of the personal connection; Captain America would probably regard him as being somewhere between the Grey Gargoyle and the Owl (hey, at least the Owl *has* a power base instead of always trying and failing to build one!).”
See, that kind of bugs me about the character, as does that he’s supposedly Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, but doesn’t have that meaty thematic “oppositeness” that you want out of a great archenemy (conceptually, Doctor Octopus and the Vulture are better, and even Venom fits the bill a little more naturally); you can dig and say Peter represents responsibility and rationality while Norman is pure power and irrationality, but you can say that of a lot of hero-villain relationships.
However, that negative can be turned into a positive, as can his not-quite-A-list status that I mentioned above. The more I think about it, the more I like the notion that Norman Osborn is a guy who really wants to be a supervillain, but isn’t quite up for it.
Mark Millar did a run on Spider-Man a few years ago, and in its pages was an idea: Back when superheroes first started showing up in the 30s, a shadowy cabal of the rich and powerful created the supervillain as a concept, with the intent that the heroes would be too distracted by their obvious, superficial villainy to look into the corruption hiding in polite society. Now, I hate this idea. It’s cynical, it’s trying to be relevant and “realistic” but doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, and it implies that fighting supervillains for all these years has really been a waste of time, so why am I even reading this at all?
But there was one gem buried in that mess, and that was Millar’s take on the Green Goblin. The Scorpion explains how Osborn connects to this conspiracy: “Billionaire? Bio-chemist? All those big military contracts? … Osborn was their favorite super-villain contractor until he went a little nuts and started flying around on that goblin glider he built for himself.”
The kicker of the story is a letter Osborn mails to Peter: “It must be stressed that these fights are by no means a sign of any real enmity. On the contrary, I hold you in enormous regard and am always grateful for your attentions. Were it not for you, I would be just another boring businessman running another boring chemical-manufacturing business.”
I think Millar is far too cute and on-the-nose about it, but the basic idea is one I actually kind of like: The Green Goblin is Norman Osborn’s midlife crisis. In his original appearances, the Goblin persona does tend to assert itself when Osborn is under a lot of stress. What if the Green Goblin and his accoutrements were a commission (“I don’t know, can you make him kind of Halloweeny, like a demon or a gremlin or something?”), and one day Osborn snaps and gets that Why should they have all the fun? idea in his head.
But, just like an aging man who buys a red sports car and dumps his wife for a 25-year-old (and any other clichés you care to throw in there) doesn’t actually become a young man, taking super-serum and trying to take over New York’s mobs doesn’t actually make you a supervillain. Because he is just no good at it. Like I said, even the Owl can get a gang together; the Goblin has trouble wresting control from someone called “Lucky Lobo.”
Similarly, his plans to kill Spider-Man through manipulation never work, and they become increasingly desperate. Once he learns Spider-Man’s true identity, the plan is generally “Get a bunch of people Peter cares about in trouble to lure him out.”
Then, of course, at the height of desperation, he kills Gwen Stacy. And this is where Zom’s idea of the Goblin comes in.
See, Norman/Goblin isn’t a Jekyll-and-Hyde sort of deal, a good man turning evil. Norman/Goblin is a bad man who becomes worse. Even if Osborn had designed the Goblin for somebody else, the Goblin takes a life of its own. Osborn, after all, really just wants to be a fairly typical supervillain; he wants to be a master-manipulator type like the post-Crisis Lex Luthor, to be the kind of guy with a long, drawn-out revenge scheme against Spider-Man. But Osborn’s not that clever when it comes right down to it, and so he fails, and the Goblin-thing in his head that’s made out of desperation and hate hasn’t got the patience for elaborate supervillainy. “Just push his girlfriend off a bridge. No psychological chess game, no battle of wits. Just kill her. Then kill him.”
That’s how I think I might enjoy seeing the character portrayed. Most of the time he’s just Norman Osborn in a Halloween costume trying to be the diabolical archvillain who’s courteous of his nemesis and keeps his secret identity for himself as a plaything. But at the first sign that things aren’t going to go his way, a switch is thrown inside his head, and all that posturing melts away to reveal a vicious, cruel thing just looking for somebody to hurt.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
So I have a working computer, but I will still be moving soon. Do you have any boxes??
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Also, I will be starting a new job soon. It will be first-shift (you would be surprised to learn how excited I am about that prospect, or perhaps you would not), so there will probably be less of me writing responses and comments on this or other blogs at one in the morning. However, the wifey and I will be undertaking a move, possibly around the end of September/beginning of October.
Both of these things together mean there may be less posting for a few weeks. Perhaps a quick one or two over at MGK, but not one of the usual weekly big honkin' analysis pieces. Work on the I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS "challenge" continues when I find the time, and there is a new one up about Bride of Frankenstein. I think I like this one even better than Shining Knight, and I can only say that if a DC editor were to read it it and did not request to see at least a writing sample based on the pitch, just out of curiosity if nothing else, I don't know that said editor and I could ever possibly see eye to eye on anything.
The deal with the Bride is this: Victor Frankenstein created a woman with the intent that it would become his first creature’s mate, but the she-creature wasn’t having it (in Morrison's Frankenstein!, she says “It’s nothing personal. But you were never my type. … Alive. One of these days they’ll figure out how to sew on a sense of humor.”). The Bride escaped captivity and lived a wandering existence before “the Red Swami brainwashed me, grafted on two extra arms, and passed me off as a reincarnated assassin goddess.” That incident brought her to the attention of the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, or SHADE.
What is SHADE? Their leader is Father Time, a master manipulator who only seems callous and amoral because he can see the big picture (and I’m talking the biggest). Like a certain celebrated Time Lord, he periodically regenerates into new forms, except Father Time does it every January 1st (comic book time being what it is, it would theoretically be years between regenerations, but it would be more fun to have Father Time obey the real-world or "higher" calendar, to the great confusion of the characters within the book). I’ll let Morrison, via Father Time, explain the organization’s mandate:
“Here’s the pitch. Superman meets James Bond. Big time for a little while. These days we clean up the crap no one else will touch, on a budget that wouldn’t buy you breakfast at a fancy hotel.”
God, I love that notion. SHADE headquarters hasn’t been remodeled since 1978 and the paint is peeling; since every penny they get goes to developing new and innovative superhumans for the purpose of national defense, their computers are perpetually four years out of date, and everyone has to chip into an office fund to buy the coffee. Even if you don’t drink coffee, you have to pay into the fund, and I cannot stress that enough.
SHADE is drawn like a Jim Steranko spy-fi comic, except all the characters are ugly.
The Bride is the perfect operative to work for SHADE, and here’s why:
1.) She’s quick-witted with a dry sense of humor and a strong stomach. The latter will come particularly in handy when a monster composed of self-loathing, disappointment, desperation and alcohol vomit coalesces in the sewers beneath Ivy Town and attacks the college students from which it originated.
2.) She’s got the flexible morals her job requires; she has no problem ordering an entire Manhattan city block vaporized when a lack of flow renders the architecture poisonous and threatens to spread; that act, however, doesn’t exactly get her on the Guardian’s good side, and there is of course a fight until they realize they have to team up to defeat the sinister Landlord.
3.) She’s infinitely adaptable and has a lust for life. Something of an aesthete, she dresses in the latest, most outrageous fashions, and it is her stylistic convictions that make her alone immune to Nightmare in Plaid. The Bride surrounds herself in fine art, food, and music, and desires (and is desired by) some of the handsomest men in all the world; unfortunately, this taste for the finer things leaves her highly susceptible to the 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 configurations of Baron Sensor’s Pleasure Cube, and that mission does not go very well.
4.) The Bride is extremely professional; she has no ties, and so the mission doesn’t become personal. One of the few exceptions to this rule is when the last in the Frankenstein bloodline is discovered living in Toronto. The secret of the Frankenstein Process is encoded into his DNA, and using this, the Men from MOMMA derive their experiments with the end goal of no longer needing women to reproduce. This project turns out to have military applications, and from it will come the only creature who might be considered the Bride’s equal: the mysterious supersoldier and poet, Lilac Vapour.
5.) The Bride is probably the coolest person you’ll ever meet, but if you ever have occasion to meet her, it probably means you are going to die very soon.
(Also, Josh: If DC called tomorrow and wanted more story springboards, I’d pitch them the “Bitter Cold” killer-snowmen idea from Wyatt, in which a science-priestess curses the raiders that destroyed her laboratory village, binding their souls to water molecules and leaving them to freeze in the winter. But that is okay because you should totally be drawing this.)
Another asset: You have to understand, approximately one in three SHADE agents will eventually go rogue, and the agency has learned to just accept that. Mental breakdown is a frequent side effect of superhumanization. You might agree really quickly to have supercool pilot skills uploaded into your brain (as do the members of the X-Hawks Squadron), but you may become unhinged when you can’t sleep because your mind is incessantly playing out hypothetical combat simulations. A young agent signs up to gain ESP at the cost of his sense of smell; it sounds like a good trade-off, but when he can’t enjoy movies because he knows how they’ll end, and when the smell of cooking bacon has no effect on him whatsoever, he’ll want revenge on the superscientists who did this to him (and of course, with the ESP, they can’t hide a damn thing from him).
It is, of course, one of the Bride’s jobs to track down these rogue agents and kill them or try to salvage their enhancements. And they can trust her with it, because she’s got another edge over every other SHADE agent.
She never had any humanity to lose in the first place.
NEXT: Mister Miracle (I guess).
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Incidentally, I don't have much anything to say about the DC/Warner Bros. thing (or, more properly, the Warner Bros./DC thing). Corporate restructuring is not my area of expertise (my actual areas of expertise? Superheroes and AP style), and, with precious few exceptions, I'm not particularly invested in new superhero comics of the day to really get freaked out about the idea that things may change. Frankly, as long as Wednesday Comics gets to finish and Batman & Robin keeps happening, I'm good. And to be honest? I know the concern is that WB won't see the value in cranking out low-selling monthly comics anymore, and less so that they're gonna interfere with editorial -- but maybe it wouldn't be so bad if someone asked a creative team to think twice before ripping the arms off a C-list hero or villain just for funzies.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
When last we left these two in Seven Soldiers #1, Klarion had become the new Sheeda King and master of Castle Revolving (which one page on Wikipedia describes as “a time-traveling fortress,” and that’s the best description I’ve ever heard of anything), and Frankenstein is in his thrall, since Klarion’s witch-brands control certain kinds of undead creatures like Big Frank.
Now, the problem set up in Seven Soldiers is that the Sheeda are us -- humanity on life support one billion years from today, their stale culture kept alive by dipping back into the past and “harvesting” healthier civilizations. As Queen Gloriana asks Frankenstein in the last issue of his mini-series, “Are we not human? Would you have our people starve, thou very moral monster?” In Zatanna, Gloriana’s daughter Misty knows that if she defeats her mother, she’ll have to keep her people alive by preying on the past as well. Dilemma, right?
But in 7S #1, we are assured “there’s a third way,” and since the very next page shows us Klarion as Sheeda King, it suggests Klarion will be the one to reject binary ideas and come up with a mutually beneficial solution; he’s been shown not to follow precedent just because that’s the way it’s always been done. He is a child, however, so his motives are going to be a little immature: he won’t destroy the present because his family lives there and he’s charmed by our world, but he won’t let the Sheeda go extinct, because then who would worship him as king? So don’t expect a Superman-style heroic speech, but rather something a little more characteristically understated for Klarion. “Plunder the past or starve? I think neither. Surely with this fantastic castle at my disposal I can figure a way out of this.” And so, the main thrust of the series is Klarion moving through time and space, investigating other civilizations and enlisting history’s great thinkers to come up with that third way.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it goes smoothly. When Castle Revolving shows up in Ancient Greece, it invokes the ire of the Greek gods. Klarion loses track of Leonardo da Vinci, and thus nearly gets the legendary polymath vaporized in New Mexico on the date of the first atomic bomb test. Klarion’s trip to the 853rd century very nearly undoes millennia of planning by the Justice League. And might we expect him to cross paths with the Shining Knight and the Three King Arthurs on their quest?
Of course, this mucking about with the timestream is bound to attract the attention of Rip Hunter and Booster Gold. Klarion finds time to have a great deal of fun with his time travel capabilities and power as King of the Sheeda; inspired by the incident with Mr. Mxyzptlk when Castle Revolving accidentally rotated up into the fifth dimension, Klarion finds playing pranks on Rip and Booster are a good release from the stresses of his kingly duties.
But I’ve left out Frankenstein’s role in all this. Initially, Klarion sees him as little more than muscle to back his brains, a means to an end, and keeps him under the witch brand. As time goes on, they get to know each other better, and Klarion finds the monster’s centuries of experience very helpful. Frankenstein’s grim, dry comments also keep Klarion grounded when his fawning subjects threaten his sense of perspective. Klarion is infuriated to no end by Frankenstein’s protests and by the many times he points out glaring holes in Klarion’s plans, but the Witch-Boy recognizes the value of keeping Big Frank around. It is Frankenstein, for example, who helps Klarion through the difficult, desperate choice he has to make on Krypton one week before its destruction (those Kryptonians are, after all, just going to die anyway when the planet explodes, right?). And in turn, Frankenstein’s strict, black-and-white view of good and evil (he is of the opinion, after all, that simply wiping out the Sheeda is the easiest solution) may be softened by Klarion’s moral flexibility.
I think there’s room in there for some touching character growth. Oh, they’ll never be friends, especially since Klarion never completely releases Frankenstein from the witch brand’s control. Because if he did, Frankenstein might leave and never return…
…that is, if he doesn’t exact his revenge on Klarion first. It’s said, after all, that one of Frankenstein’s arms is that of a former slave, and the flesh remembers.
That’s also something that would come up in the book: Frankenstein’s ability to integrate body parts. Frankenstein isn’t some guy with other people’s limbs sewn on, he’s actually made out of different pieces, and they all become Frankenstein (and he becomes them). What did the dead man hear before he was killed? Sew his ear onto Frankenstein, and he’ll know. Think of him as having the potential to become a sort of macabre version of Amazo. Upon the discovery of a recently slain Green Lantern, Frankenstein will take the creature’s arm and ring to make sure the death is avenged.
Ah, but hold on a moment! If Klarion and Frankenstein are combined into one book, doesn't that leave a vacancy? Next time we’ll see that Frankenstein’s book has been taken over … by his would-be “bride.”
Friday, September 4, 2009
“…you’ll have fun here. You need to learn some more about the 21st century and how it works before you go swinging that sword all indiscriminate. Weekends you and your horse can fight the good fight all you want. I can’t stop you, only give you advice … even if you do decide to start up your own round table with all the new friends you’re gonna make…”
Morrison’s made it very simple, right? Girl knight with mentor figure, lost in time, can’t go home, enrolled at some kind of hero academy. So … what happens?
Some of it is her “weekends.” She’ll fight random monsters, of course, but we’ll only see enough of that to get the sense that it happens all the time (just like when Spider-Man spends a page stopping a mugger; it’s not the main thrust of the story, just an excuse for a quick action scene). Most of the on-panel time will be spent on more interesting and bizarre adventures, chief among them the Quest of the Three King Arthurs. We are told by Gloriana that after the original Arthur from Ystina’s Camelot, “There were of course several Arthurs; a pagan general in Roman Britian, a medieval Christian mystic…” Gloriana knew about, but did not mention, the King Arthur of the 109th Century AD. There is, however, only ever the one Merlin, and it is he that brings the three of them together to enlist the help of the last surviving knight of the Primal Round Table in the search for a treasure that loses itself in time. Together they embark on a series of journeys that culminate in 12th century England, where they also discover the terrible origin of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s Clockwork Man technology, and the tragic tale of how Robin Hood really died.
There is, of course, a King Arthur in the present day as well, but just how Aquaman fits into the legacy is a mystery he and Ystina will have to work together to solve.
But it’s not all epic quests through time, because there’s still the school five days a week. Note that it’s not a school for superheroes, but a school for heroes. School policy impels the faculty, which includes Arn “Iron” Munro among its members, to actively discourage costumed, superpowered heroism; but to understand why, you must also understand why this H.S. Johnson formed the school in the first place, and none of the students are permitted to know.
The star student at the school is Ranger St. Clair, who you might imagine to be exactly like Doc Savage, except three months shy of legal driving age. Billy Beezer, a former member of Mister Melmoth’s child gang, enrolled at the school after escaping the forced labor camp on Mars in Morrison’s Frankenstein! series; he tries to become a hero and leave his former days of hedonism and petty crimes behind, but when some of his former gang members turn up at the school, he’ll have to deal with temptation.
Ystina is placed in one of the school’s special classes (“Well, they’re all special classes, aren’t they?” the school administrator says). It’s called the TODAY program, and it’s designed to help other temporally displaced youth adjust to life in the 21st century. From the past there’s Juan-Carlos Canyon from the Old West brought to the present by aliens, and Victor Victorian, whose interest in séances led him into the mysterious limbo known as the Ghost Realm in 1897, only to re-emerge six months ago with the ability to commune with and control spirits. Brash and callow Axel Strange claims he’s Adam Strange’s grandson but can’t prove it, and isn’t saying why he finds himself in our time, but he’d love to supplant Ranger St. Clair as the school’s top hotshot. You might assume Shakespeare Kid is from about 1600 AD, but you’d be wrong – “Shakesy” is a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes in the 31st century and hopes to become a full Legionnaire after learning some valuable lessons at H.S. Johnson, but has developed a curious interest in Axel in the meantime...
Ystina is extremely serious and grave, and Ali-Ka-Zoom is there not only for advice, but also to help her lighten up. Of course, her new friends in the TODAY program might help as well; are they to become the first of the prophesied Queen Ystina’s new Round Table, or are they just a bunch of weirdos who can’t work a toaster? And when Iron Munro goes missing tries to recruit the Leviathan entity (which is, as you’ll recall from Morrison's Klarion, made up of 125 lost children underneath the subways of New York City), will the TODAY class save the day, or will they need Ranger St. Clair’s Young All-Stars to rescue them as well?
Next: A witch-boy and his monster.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Look, you may not agree with me on the fourth item, but that show? Low on quality, high on charm. Plus, 1970s New York, the image of which I have always loved for some reason. Also: The incredible first-season theme song will haunt your dreams.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
So: Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers series. I don’t know that it’s the “best” thing Morrison’s ever done, but I personally find it the most interesting. There’s a lot going on thematically that you can either choose to engage with and go down philosophical and sociological rabbit holes, or you can just let wash over you and engage with it on an almost subconscious level. Structurally, it amazes me every time I read it how well it all fits together, both in theme and in narrative; the ideal way to read it isn’t in a book, or even on a computer with connected hyperlinks, but maybe as some sort of 3D holographic interface in which you could see the point where Klarion’s encounter with the Horigal intersects with the pirate train from Manhattan Guardian, and then watch the two streams go on their separate ways again.
But, leaving aside all that fancy stuff, on the most basic level, Seven Soldiers was an attempt to “transform a neglected, third-string, C-list DC property into a strong commercial feature with franchise development potential.” In his introduction in the first collected volume (where that last quotation also comes from), Morrison says he gave each character “a first issue origin story, a well-defined opening character arc and enough conceptual fuel to run for years, if fan support demanded an ongoing title.”
So did he succeed? According to the standards of the second quotation, I think he did, because I think most of the concepts are pretty well set up by the end of the megaseries. But by the standards of the first? Not a bit! This is something I complain about all the time, and I suspect it is why Plok issued this challenge. None of these characters have been given an ongoing series (well, Zatanna’s getting one, I believe, but she’s got the JLA connection and was probably the least revamped of all the characters, and it’s not likely it’ll carry much of the Morrison stamp on it anyway), and very few of them have appeared even in guest-starring roles outside of comics Morrison’s written. In the case of the Guardian, the new version’s been dismissed in favor of the old one in James Robinson's Superman comics.
Why is that? Part of it is a nostalgia-driven market suspicious of new ideas (or even new takes on old ideas), and part of it is Morrison’s reputation. Not only is he considered a difficult act to follow because of his status as a popular, top-tier writer, but a lot of people have convinced themselves you can’t follow Morrison. “Oh, he just has these cah-rayzee ideas; must be the drugs!”
Very well, then. If paid professionals are not going to have a crack at it, then a dude sitting at his computer very late at night is going to do it for free.
Here are the ground rules for this game: I am going to assume that the comic book market is a very different place, and that all seven books were successful enough to warrant an ongoing series (I may in fact be pretending it’s 1992, when pretty much anything with a character resembling a superhero sold like crazy), and that I am writing all of them. They’ll be interconnected to some degree, like a mini-universe inside the DC Universe (but they’ll still interact with that main DC Universe), but probably to a lesser extent than the original mini-series. Morrison went out of his way to find connections between all the characters, and it would be silly not to exploit that. Readers of Morrison's series may also remember that Millions the Mystery Mutt, world’s richest dog and former mascot of the Newsboy Army, appeared at the end of Seven Soldiers #1 to be given control over the East and West Coast mobs as the Dogfather; this will show up in all my imaginary series as an important plot point, if for no other reason than it’s too crazy not to run with.
The posts will go up whenever I finish them (hopefully once-a-week-ish). Each post will cover one ongoing series and will discuss themes, the status quo and storytelling engine, and –- like MGK’s similar posts –- a bunch of intriguing-sounding mysteries I am only going to hint at, and if you want to learn how they turn out, someone is going to have to put me in touch with DC Comics to write actual scripts for real. (Note: This is not going to happen.) Or just take me out to a bar and buy me lots of drinks. (Wait wait: WHY NOT DO BOTH?)
Unlike MGK’s posts, however, mine will not have cool little graphics at the top, and for this I can only apologize.
I hope to have the first up by the end of the week, and we’ll see how this goes. I’ll start out with the one that seemed the most explicitly set up by the end of Seven Soldiers, and my semi-namesake – Ystina, the Shining Knight.