Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pop-Drama: Doctor Who

Here’s my first contribution to Andrew Hickey's Pop-Drama meme-thing he’s tagged the whole of the internet to do. Don’t know for sure if there’ll be another one (I’ve still got Seven Soldiers to wrap up, and I have a new blog series I may or may not decide to do in the end), although I actually think I have an idea for a Transformers series that wouldn’t just be a big wanky waste of everyone’s time.

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

Earp Art

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

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS #6: Zatanna

Oh jeez that's right, I have a blog, don't I? I was right in the middle of something ... what was it ... ah yes:

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 na├»ve 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

This (Was) Halloween

Another Halloween has come and gone. I'm a little sad; Halloween is like my Christmas - my favorite holiday, and I'm sad to see those Halloween supply stores that pop up every October go back to being empty out-of-business big-box stores, like zombies returning to the grave. To commemorate the occasion, I have written a grim little post about Friday the 13th and Jason Voorhees over at MGK's House of Pop Culture Pain. In a livelier spirit (pun?), here is me at Halloween:

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.