Friday, December 30, 2011

The Magic of Girls

For the past little while we've been assembling jigsaw puzzles in lieu of reading stories at bedtime. Lily is good at it. (Good enough that she hides the box and its reference picture, which sometimes makes the process longer than I'd prefer.) At one point, while fitting the final piece into place, she proclaimed "The magic of girls!" in triumph.

A couple days later, I was playing a game called Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (a sci-fi retelling of Journey to the West, and one of the best video games I've ever played. It's going to get its own post when I finish it. (Edit: Here's the review post) Available for a steal on Amazon right now!) and I let Lily pick up the controller during one of the parts that I knew didn't have anything inappropriate.

There are two characters in the game, and they have to work together to get past obstacles. Monkey, the male character, is tremendously strong and amazingly nimble, capable of climbing just about anywhere, and Tripitaka, the woman, is more focused on solving the technological puzzles.

We were exploring Trip's mountain village when Monkey leaped across a chasm and Lily asked, "Can I jump across that?"

I replied that different people are good at different things. "Trip's not as strong or as good at climbing as Monkey, but he's not as smart or as good as building things as she is."

Lily said "Or as nice either!" and it's strange to think of niceness an attribute on the order of magnitude of other, more easily quantifiable traits. Sure there are actual differences between men and women, but these are as much cultural as they are physical.

The video of the little girl who objects to the steering of girls towards princesses has been getting a lot of play in certain circles, but here's a link to it if you haven't seen it.

I want Lily to be able to pursue anything that interests her, be it superheroes or princesses. (Or weirder stuff. She requested, and enjoyed, and infectious disease stressball for Christmas this year.)

She's on a math kick lately, and we spent the day after Christmas solving basic math problems on the back of a sheet of scrap paper, and I think that's just great, because she's never been told that girls "aren't good at math". It's something she enjoys and something she's good at. I want her to live in a society where she's not judged for being a woman, and where she gets every opportunity available to her male counterparts but that's not going to happen in my lifetime, or hers, so the best I can give her is the confidence in herself. That, and nurture her belief in the Magic of Girls.

Legion of Super Heroes: Unnatural Alliances

The Legion series had a short run, and while there are no episodes that I'd call outright bad, there are some that are pretty weak, and this is one of them.

A better word might be unnecessary.

It's unnecessary because never once did I ask myself "Where did Imperiex come from?" Most of my questions were along the lines of, "When are we getting rid of him?"

We open on a space farm where a yappy space dog detects the arrival of evil space cowboys.

"What's that Lassie? Timmy fell down a space well?"

The head evil space cowboy (called Terra-Man, more on him later) is looking for someone named Abel, but his caretaker plays dumb.

The Legion, in the form of Superman-X, Bouncing Boy, Duo Damsel

I like her new look for this season. Also, that robot looks very dapper in its bowler.

and Star Boy, shows up, and inform him that the only thing he's going to find here is trouble "with a capital L."

I don't care if you've been sitting on the sidelines for this season, Bouncing Boy. I still love you!

Terra-Man traps Superman-X in a wad of bubblegum,

Kell-El hoped the the remake of Rocky would revitalize his film career.

then goes off to kill Abel, who turns out to be a little kid, telling him  "Sorry, boy, life's not fair. Or in your case, particularly long." I chuckled at that.

The Legion rescues the boy and buries Terra-Man and his crew in a pile of rubble, perhaps chuckling to themselves that "No one could have survived that!"

Terra-man blasts himself out of the rubble as soon as they turn their back. Which brings me to my next complaint. Terra-Man - Jesus.  The Legion does actually have some pretty decent villains, guys. There's no need to transplant a Robot Jonah Hex into the setting. Look at the comics based on the show.  They did a great job with the established villains, even if, near the end of the run it seemed like Tharok was responsible for every crime in the galaxy. (However, they always made great use of Starfinger! Arm-Fall-Off-Boy for the win!)

On board the ship, Duo Damsel sends Superman to talk to the kid.

Superman-X: That's a nice doll you got there.
Abel: It's an action figure. I made it myself.
Superman-X: You're like seven. I doubt you could even make toast.
Abel: I built him because I was lonely. He's my only friend.
Superman-X: You ever think that's because you still play with dolls?

Please Kell, stop eating that puppy. You're making me cry.

That is kind of funny, because Superman-X is a giant space asshole. But I also think it's something of a missed opportunity. I think his humanization could have been a compelling storyline if they just stuck with one variety of asshattery. Is he a militarized asshole Superman from the future? That's what they seem to be establishing early on, but then, in this episode alone, we get the milquetoast ordered around by Duo Damsel (fucking Duo Damsel, man. Wrap your head around that for a minute) and a straight up jerk who takes cheap shots at a seven-year-old, neither of which is consistent with the earlier characterization.

We get some cool scenes from Star Boy, who is pretty much nobody's favorite Legionnaire. But his powers are nicely animated and used in an interesting fashion and he's also voiced by someone with the great name of Bumper Robinson.

Star Boy doing something cool. Almost certainly the only picture of its kind on the entire Internet.

I was watching this episode with my daughter and when she saw Imperiex turn up with his army of Destructobots, she sneered as only a five-year-old can and said, "The only thing they destruct is themselves." Oh, snap! So, Imperiex shows up and demands the boy.  The Legion refuses. Imperiex attacks. Destructobots board the ship and the Legion fights them. Then Terra-Man boards the ship and the Legion fights him. Somewhere the faint strains of Yakety Sax can be heard.

Terra-Man overpowers the Legionnaires on board and grabs the kid. He goes to zip away, but Imperiex shows up, carves up Terra-Man and grabs the kid, revealing that Able would go on to develop the technology that would make Imperiex's cyborg body possible. He quips, "Now that I've met my maker, it's time for you to meet yours," blasts X and takes off. They fight a couple Destructobots before returning to the Legion cruiser.

X is having a crisis of faith, but Duo Damsel gives him a pep talk and when he sees that Terra-Man has regenerated, he zips out to talk to him. As much as I hate the character, I do love his design and that capelike speed blur.

 T-Man reveals that he was a backup plan in case X failed. They team up (or do they?), disable the cruiser together and take off to find Imperiex and Abel.

Imperiex is camping out roasting s'mores with Able.

"Mmmm...s'more please!"

He recounts his origin story, which sucks as much as he does. Cut back to T-Man and X, who have located Imperiex. They land on the planetoid where they've taken refuge, and Terra-Man sends his goons out to flanking positions. He rises to give the order, and X is visible right behind him, but his men fail to strike and in the next wide shot, moments later, X is nowhere to be seen. Terra-Man uses his telescopic vision to check out his guys and sees that they've been reduced to sparking, headless corpses, in what was a really well done little scene.

Roland the headless Thompson robot.

Surprise! Superman-X just needed someone to find Abel and Imperiex! X and Impy team up to destroy Terra-Man. Impy then turns on X, but the Legions shows up and fights back. He teleports away, declaring that the timeline has been preserved.

Terra-Man...just doesn't make any sense. He's kind of presented as a bounty hunter, but even a little reflection shows how ridiculous that is. Were he successful, what would he do to collect his fee, travel forward to the future he invalidated? How was K3NT going to pay him anyway? Bitcoins?

Not that we think he could ever do it, because he has a kindergartener at his mercy three times over the course of the episode and still fails to kill him. And I'm not sure why he opted to grab the kid, tie him to his space bike and fly through legions of people who want to protect him, rather than executing him on the spot.

And since he's such a buffoon, he diminishes both Imperiex, who was supposed to his this existential threat, and Superman-X, who was proclaimed a "beast" by Ron-Karr in the second part of the season two opener. (However, Ron-Karr's judgement has always been suspect.) They have to team up to beat that guy? Seriously? What kind of fuck-ups are they?

Further, doesn't the Legion have a huge trump card now? They can just keep doing what they're doing, and if looks like they're going to lose to Imperiex, can't they just say, "Hey, that thing you were going to invent that brings about Imperiex? Don't invent it" and give their Big Bad a retroactive abortion?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Remember, Remember the Ides of Octember

My old Linguistics professor was one of those ridiculously accomplished polyglots who spoke dozens of different languages. He did have a weakness however. Somehow, even though he taught a class in the United States, he had utterly failed to assimilate any kind of idiom, and whenever anyone used one, crash class would come to a screaming halt as we tried to explain what the phrase meant.

I think the title I used for this post would have given him a stroke.

My lovely wife bought me, among other things, a copy of the Ides of Octember, the Pictorial Bibliography of Roger Zelazny. It's been available for almost a year, but I always put off getting a copy, probably for the same reason I still haven't written a commentary post for Wilderness. I like writing these posts, and I really enjoyed reading the Collected Stories and I was increasingly aware that there would be nothing new to read or to review after I completed each of them.

As the title suggests, it's an absolutely exhaustive bibliography of everything Roger Zelazny published in the English language, not just novels and stories, but also poetry and essays, including a secondary bibliography covering works about him.

I love it. I can't say how much appeal it has for the casual fan, but it is a treasure trove of the hundreds of vivid images associated with the stories and trivia about their formation. Wondering what the winner of the 1986 Yugoslavian Lazar Komarčić award for best science fiction novel translated into Serbo-Croatian was? Wonder no more!

The first thing I looked up was the cover images for Jack of Shadows. I could never find the art for the first copy that I had owned and I was beginning to think that I had imagined it, but there it was right there in front of me. (It was the Richard Hescox painting for the 10th printing of the paperback, if you're following along at home, and I'm still tremendously fond of the piece.)

The Phantom Titles section is another treat for those familiar enough with Zelazny's work to appreciate them, and I often liked the phantom versions more than the actual published titles. I think The Kneeling Legless Man is much more gripping than Deus Irae, though I have to admit that Zelazny's puns always make me smile. Also, it looks the authors had so much trouble with naming the books in the Millennial Contest series that they didn't have any energy for anything else, which would explain a lot about Farce. And Darkband/Dark is the Color are both better titles than A Dark Traveling.

It's a great book and a great resource. For me, it's already given me a couple more ideas for things I haven't covered, like the old computer game, and it promises to give me much more enjoyment in the weeks to come.

"Have you an ill omen for me this day?"
"Beware!" jeered Render.
"Yes! Yes!" cried Caesar. " 'Beware!' That is good! Beware what?"
"The ides-"
"Yes? The ides"
"-of Octember."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Movie Review: Spy Kids

Lily was working on her homework the other day and I was catching up on my blog reading. Lily came over to see what I was doing and I happened to be reading a post that had this picture.

(There's a joke in some corners of the internet that redheads have no soul.)

Lily looked at the picture and I remarked, "Isn't that neat? They all have the same color hair."

She looked and added, "And the same color skin! And the same color shirts!"

That made me happy, and I'm going to try to articulate why. As anthropologists are fond of saying, there are more variations within racial groups than between them. Race is a social construct, but it's an amazingly persistent one, and it's probably going to with us as long as there is society.

But kids aren't born understanding race. Lily is five years old now, but she ascribes no more value to skin color than she does to hair color or the color of the clothes someone wears. She sees the differences in how people look, but doesn't think that these differences have any meaning in who they are. It reminds me of something Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Mother Night. When asked if he hated America, main character Howard Campbell replied,

"That would be as silly as loving it," I said. "It's impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn't interest me. It's no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can't think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can't believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will."

I think that's true. We're human beings first and everything else second.

That's why I like Spy Kids. (Also because Daryl Sabara reminds me of my nephew, who is just a great kid.) The family in the movie is of Hispanic heritage, and while this important to them, it's not the only trait they have. Too often, when we see Hispanic characters, that's the only characteristic they have at all. (Maya & Miguel, I'm looking at you.) But not here. The brother and sister fight, the kids want their parents to be proud of them, the parents want the kids to be proud of them, the mom and dad remember what it was like before they had kids, universal concerns that all families deal with regardless of race.

Also, the series has Ricardo Montalbán, who has been awesome forever, and Antonio Banderas who is insanely charismatic and a criminally underrated actor. (My favorite line about him comes from his fame audit: "Antonio is still quite good-looking and a pretty good actor. His wife, Melanie Griffith, is also an actor." Oh, burn!) He memorized his lines phonetically for Mambo Kings, which still impresses me.

Likewise, director Robert Rodriguez is masterful about bringing out the humanity in the kids. I like him so much that I'm willing to pretend that The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl never happened. I'm not much of a fan of the film adaptations of the Harry Potter books, (I think the sixth one is really the only one worth watching. Blasphemy, I know) but I think Rodriguez could have knocked the series out of the park and given us movies that understood what the kids were going through, instead of the soulless Cliffs Notes versions we got.

It's a fun film. Whenever I see a review that suggests that a film has "heart", I read it as "this movie is mawkish", but it does have heart. The characters are fully realized and it has enough absurdity to appeal to kids and adults alike.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Search Results

So blogger has a dashboard feature that gives very basic statistics about visitors to the site. Among the stuff it looks at is search terms used to reach the site. In no particular order and without commentary, here's a list of the most disturbing or bizarre search results that have led here.

  1. Does Corwin ever fuck fiona?
  2. giraffe have utters?
  3. Charlie Brown getting dressed
  4. shirtless man tied stone altar for human sacrifice
  5. Rasputin themed gifts
  6. Triplicate Girl threesome
  7. "reverse engineered technology" -ufo +philosopher
  8. my sister watching me wanking
  9. peeing on Brainiac 5
  10. Images of batman and him pooping

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Prince of the Powers of this World

In which Roger Zelazny finally gives us a version of Merlin who is not a magnificent tool.

Zach recommended this one and I love this story. The title seems to come from the bible, where Satan is referred to as the Prince of the Powers of the Air in Ephesians, and as the Prince of this World in the Book of John, and the exact phrase "Prince of the Powers of this World" is used in Ivanhoe.

It's a backwards Nativity story, where Asmodeus appears to a trio of gravediggers to bring them glad tidings,

"Rejoice, you miserable motherfuckers, for tonight is the night of your lord's birth!"

"Glad to hear that," said the first.

"I'm rejoicin' a'ready," said the second.

"Me too," said the third, eyes darting towards the cover of a nearby thicket.

I like that bit, because it serves to set the tone of the story. (And "I'm rejoicin' a'ready", always cracks me up, and I eagerly await the day when I can work it into a conversation.(I'd like to work "Rejoice, you miserable motherfuckers," into a conversation too, but that seems less likely.)

Asmodeus continues:

"This night he is born to a former virgin tupped screamin' by the Lord of Darkness in the convent where she dwelled," the dark creature went on. "Cast out by the nuns, refused shelter by the fearful country folk, she wandered, halfmad, till she gives birth in a cave occasionally used for the quartering of animals. Her son is the Messiah of Hell, and I, Asmodeus, proclaim his reign to you! Now get your asses over to the cave and pay him homage!"

The gravediggers follow a demon in a fiery chariot to the cave where they find the Messiah and the Madonna surrounded by ravens and jackals and the like. One of the gravediggers offers his cloak to the woman, because she lacks the hairy hide of her child.

The babe, who has been able to speak since birth asks why he has done this and the mother explains the difference between love and fear. The gravediggers depart, foreign kings arrive with gifts of silver, strychnine and opium, and the child's father arrives some time later.

At midnight, a great rush of fire occurred beyond the cave mouth, filling the entire enclosure with baleful brilliance. The mother gasped and shielded her eyes, but the child stared into the flames, where a dark, brooding, masculine figure took shape. With a laugh, the figure strode forward, to regard them. Then he stooped, snatched the gravedigger's cloak away from the woman and cast it back over his shoulder where it burst into flames. Then he threw an ermine robe atop her and the child.

"You!" she gasped.

"Yes," he replied. "My son and mare deserve the best of garments."

I like the imagery there, but I like the characterization even more. Because Satan had no idea that the gravedigger had given his cloak to the woman (and he certainly wouldn't have cared if he did know) and he destroyed it without a second thought, and he was such an asshole about the whole thing too.

The Dark Lord tells his son that he may call upon legions of demons by naming them, and that if he thinks upon it, he will realize that he knows all of their names. The demon can see dimly into the future and he foresees a time when his son will bend a young king to his will and use him to bring about the final conflagration. He will know this king because he is the only one will be able to pull a sword from its place in the stone.

The demon departs and the story ends this way.

The child yawned and snuggled against his mother once again. "Tell me, son," she asked. "Can you really see the future, like your father?"

"Better," he replied, yawning again. "Arthur shall be my friend."

It's a fun story. You wouldn't think a story with the line, "Rejoice you miserable motherfuckers..." and an assault on a nun by Satan would make more an inspiring Christmas fable, but somehow Zelazny pulls it off.

Seeing Tom Chapin at the SteelStacks

Most music for kids is lousy. I don't think this means anything, other than to show that kiddy music is not exempt from Sturgeon’s Law, which is a rule coined by a famous sci-fi author, who, when he got tired of people pointing out that 90% of sci-fi was crap, rebutted that 90% of the work in any field is crap.

That said, there are some good bands for kids. I'm all for Lily developing her own preferences, but as long as I have to listen to it, I'll try to steer her away from, say, the Wiggles, and towards bands that I can enjoy too.  I'm partial to (and by partial to, I mean that I'll listen to it when Lily's not around) Lunch Money and the kids stuff from TMBG and Kimya Dawson, and of course, Tom Chapin.

He's almost certainly better known as the brother to Harry Chapin, the composer and performer to "Cat's in the Cradle" and other famous folk songs of the era. I think that does him something of a disservice. He's extraordinarily talented in his own right and everything about him points towards him to being as nice a guy as he seems. He's involved in all sorts of charitable work, his kid songs are about loving your family and taking care of the planet. (One song about buying locally grown food rhymed paradoxic and carbon dioxic and farmer and karma. How can you beat that?)

The show itself was great. At one point he had his daughter up on a stage to sing Gertie's Birdseed Diner with him, and when her toddler missed her mommy, they welcomed her on stage too. It was marketed as an all ages show, and I went with Lily, Jen and Jen's mom and I couldn't tell which one of us enjoyed it more.

Lily describes herself as a "fan" of Tom Chapin,  and while it's strange to think of a five-year-old in terms of being a fan of anything, I think it fits. She certainly knows his works. We bought a CD after the show. Lily asked if it had "Nick of Time" on it. I asked her which one that was, and she proceeded to sing it, as far as I could tell, flawlessly, after hearing it once.

Near the end of the show, he was singing along with one of the songs, loud enough to be heard over the sound system, and Tom's daughter, who had returned to the audience after her time on stage, looked over at her and smiled, and it just makes me happy that he's able to bring that kind of joy to his family and other families through his work.

When we bought the CD, Tom was at the table. He autographed it for Lily and took the time to talk to her and tell her that one of his daughters was named Lily too.

It was a pretty long night and we were listening to it at bedtime and Lily said "I could never fall asleep listening to these wonderful songs!" and true to her word, she made it all the way through the disc before drifting off.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: Who Am I?

Continuing my slog through the second season of the Legion of Super Heroes series. This one is called "Who Am I?" but it's more like "Who cares?"

We open with Persuader fighting Lightning Lad, Timber Wolf, Superman and Superman-X.  Considering that he regularly gets schooled by Phantom Girl, it's no surprise that he goes down.

But wait! It turns out that Persuader was really Cam in disguise. He's not doing a good enough job pretending to be Persuader so Brainy suggests imprinting him with the real Persuader's brain scan. Cam will believe that he's the real McCoy and his impersonation will be that much more convincing, and they can restore him to his normal  à la Total Recall when the mission is done.

So they strap him down and do the brain imprint thing and Cam turns into Persuader. He escapes and flees to Imperiex's headquarters on the second Death Star.

"Oh, I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive."

Prior to this episode, I wasn't even sure that the Persuader could talk in the cartoon. Now he's chatting up a storm. He says he wants to hook up with Imperiex's forces, and Imperiex pits him against Validus as a test. He walks all over Validus, being called off when his axe is only inches from the monster's brain. It's actually not a bad fight, but Validus just looks so goofy this season that the fight lacked gravitas.

Meanwhile, the real Persuader somehow escapes off screen. I'm not sure how. He's a jobber even with the axe. He breaks into Death Star II and tussles with Cam for a bit before Imperiex captures them both. Back on the cruiser, the Legion has been monitoring things so they launch a rescue effort.

It has a couple nice scenes. I like the controlled power you get from Superman here, where he drifts down and pushes the guards aside without any apparent effort.

He tries to restore Cam's memory with the Total Recall device, but Cam slices it in half first,  so they have to grab him and hustle him out of there.

Cam is having trouble shaking off the Persuader persona so we get a nicely done interlude of Superman trying to restore his own personality by reminding him of things that he loved as Cam.

After this is done, Superman-X says "We should start preparing a defense for Modda." (I didn't have subtitles, so I couldn't get the spelling, so I think the planet is either Modda or Moda. The closest name I could find was Mardu, the home planet of Chlorophyll Kid. God knows the Legion of Super Heroes has enough silly names for planets that you don't need to make up more. Also isn't preparing a defense for a planet something that you really should have started as soon as possible? Legion of multi-taskers they ain't.)

Superman is troubled by seeing a memory of his first meeting with Cam that he can't quite recall himself, so he asks Computo to scan him, whereupon we discover that Superman was really Ron-Karr. We did get a little bit of foreshadowing with this, when Superman was several moments behind the rest of the team and Lightning Lad asked, "Hey, where's-" and Supes responded, "Right behind you."

So, plan was to subdue and replace Superman in the space of a couple seconds while under attack without any of his team mates noticing? They even snagged his flight ring and gave it to the replacement, because you can see him wearing it in later shots.

And while they clearly didn't get the entire package, Ron-Karr seemingly has some of Superman's memories. I'm happy for Imperiex that his switchroo worked, I suppose, but that's Underpants Gnomes level of plotting right there.

I didn't even know what Ron-Karr's powers were. I just remembered that he was this guy who was there to fill out the crowd scenes with the LSV. The dialog suggests that he's a shapeshifter who's not a Durlan? Whatever. He's got a boring design and it's mildly appalling that he's now appeared in as many episodes of the series as Mekt.

Ron-Karr fights off Timberwolf, Lightning Lad and Superman-X (!!!) and escapes. I hope their GM gave them a lot of hero points for this scene, because that's bullshit.

He's eventually recaptured and since he still has Superman's memories,  he seems to genuinely want to help the Legion.

Ron-Karr as Superman: Let me help you. It might be my only chance in a long and wretched life to redeem myself.

Superman-X: Thanks, but I think we can stop the invasion of Moda without the help of a supervillain in the middle of an existential meltdown.

This was a nicely animated bit, too.

He does tell them that Imperiex was on to them from the beginning and  real target is Durla.

Meanwhile on Imperiex's giant space penis,

Most guys in your position would just get a Porsche and call it a day, Impy.

Superman is shackled and Imperiex is monologuing  to him. The Legion mounts an attack, and despite Superman X's comments earlier, it looks like they let Ron-Karr come along.

Ron-Karr is smashing the shit out of everything, and if he has Superman's powers when he's in his form, it makes me wonder why he spends most of his time as a weaselly looking dude with no super powers.

I suck.

Imperiex gives Ron-Karr the Total Recall treatment and turns him evil again and activates his doomsday weapon, which is a missile that splits into a bunch of smaller ones. I'm pretty sure we have those already. I'm not quite sure how that would revolutionize warfare, but whatever.

There's a bit more fighting, Ron-Karr, perhaps remembering his time as Superman, turns on Imperiex and disables this missiles and saves the day. He smiles at Cam before flying off.

We get some predictable platitudes at the end aboard the Legion cruiser, and then, the credits.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Oh British tree...

We had a very Christmasy weekend. On Friday, we watched A Muppet Christmas Carol. I love that movie. I love it so much that I might post about it, because that will doubtless be of interest to the handful of people who read this blog for the Zelazny commentary and the Legion of Super Heroes episode reviews. Lily requested A Christmas Carol because she knew it had ghosts in it. We're raising one weird kid.

I like the Muppets work because they feel real, and they feel real because they're interacting with people. Michael Caine takes the whole thing completely seriously, with none of the winking and nodding you might expect. That must have been a challenging role, but because he believes, so do we.

It didn't hurt that the soundtrack is characteristically great. Marley and Marley remains a favorite of mine to this day.

On Saturday, as part of a bribe to ensure her good behavior for the day, Jen was letting Lily eat some of the Hanukkah gelt that someone had given her. (That's uncharacteristic for Jen. I'm usually the one who feeds her candy for breakfast.) I helped her open the bag and while I was fussing with it, I asked her if she knew what Hanukkah was.

Lily: I think it's a holiday celebrated by British people.
Me: It's a holiday celebrated by Jewish people. (pause) Though I suppose there are some Jewish people who are also British. It's not like they're mutually exclusive.
Lily: Is my candy ready yet?

On Saturday morning we watched some forgettable Christmas movies and got dressed for our annual visit with Santa at my grandmother's center. We hit a rough spot here.  Lily wanted to wear her white shoes, but they're summer shoes, so it would be too cold to wear them, even on relatively mild day.

Lily: (Whining) Why can't I wear the white shoes?
Me: Because it's after Labor Day. Put on the goddamn princess shoes.

The visit with Santa was pretty decent. It's held for the families of the men and women at the senior center, and I think the little old ladies have a contest to see who has the cutest great-grandchildren. My Grammy wins every year, no doubt. Lily enjoyed playing with her cousins more than meeting Santa, but that's fine. We got the picture of the three girls with Grammy and that's what matters.

Then it was off to get our Christmas tree. While we were walking in the field, Lily gasped and pointed and said, "A British tree!"

and I had to admit, it did look a little like a Menorah.

We found our tree, cut it down and took it home. Lily really enjoys hanging the ornaments, and that's more than fine with me, because that's really an aspect of the whole thing that I just don't enjoy. (I know, hanging the ornaments is pretty much all you do with a Christmas tree.)

We didn't get a huge tree, but the way it's positioned on the stand just makes it look gigantic.

This is the best shot I got of it, even though it's not all the way decorated. (We eventually straightened it out, too.) We hadn't yet added our tree topper. We use a stuffed rabbit dressed like an angel for some reason. I forget how that tradition started. We threaded some popcorn at Lily's request, which means it's even more likely that our bird is going to attack the tree.

Lily enjoyed helping and deciding where each ornament should go. She also enjoyed hearing the story behind some of them, "This is from mommy and daddy's first Christmas" or "I had this Miss Piggy since I your age." I have a talking ornament from my mom and brother in Florida and Lily insisted that one go right up front, "Daddy loves that one. It's from his mom!" I think this is going to be a good Christmas.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Balloon Man

Robyn Hitchcock shout out! 

We walked down to see the lightning of the Peace Candle last Friday. We parked on South Main Street and took the bridge over into PA on foot. On the way there, we saw a really drunk guy, who threw up into the river from on the bridge.  I'm not sure what the responsibilities of the bridge authority guys in the booth are, but I thought I should give them a heads up lest he fall into the river. I did and they kind of gave me the brush off, but then he came up just then and staggered through the middle of the intersection, completely oblivious to the crosswalk, so I did feel somewhat vindicated.

The candle lighting ceremony itself  was pretty decent. Lily liked being out at night after dark and she loves Christmas. (She also enjoyed the moon bounce they had there.) We'll probably make a tradition out of it.  At least until she gets too old for it. Which ties into my next point.

Ever since she came home from that hospital, we've had the little Mylar balloon that friends and family sent to us hanging on the door to her room and the wall in the hall outside. My favorite was the one with Pooh and Tigger than read "Bounce and Twirl, It's a Girl!"

Lily decided last week that she wasn't a little kid any more and asked us to take them down. That she asked this politely didn't make it any less painful. So we did and now her door looks very bare.

Later on in the weekend, we were driving to a party where she was talking about all the good things that come from the Earth, which is very important to Jen because of her background in Environmental Education and her abiding love for nature. Lily concluded her list by saying, "I love the Earth, but I love you guys most of all!"

Some days I really do think we have the best kid in the world.

I forget why we were talking planets, but Lily has a pretty decent grasp of astronomy. She mentioned that Pluto used to be a planet, which kind of impressed me. She's great at retaining information. She was editing a picture of a princess in MS Paint (she thought the princess needed lipstick), and she saw me use the eye dropper function, and she picked up on what I was doing and incorporated it into her repertoire. I hope this is a trait she keeps with her for her whole life.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: The Karate Kid

Finally got off my butt and wrote another Legion of Super Heroes episode review 

This is another one that I liked. I think either this one or Chained Lightning represent the strongest of the Season Two episodes. We open with the Gimp from Pulp Fiction robbing a space ship.

Insert your own sarcastic comment!

1.) Bring out the Gimp!
2.) Where's a ball gag when you need one?
3.) I can't believe I bitched about Imperiex's character design.

He's actually Grimbor the Chainsman, who is really a Legion villain, something that I didn't know until right now. Gimpbor endangers some civilians, so Superman radios ahead and tells Cam and Cosmic Boy that he's headed in their direction. Cosmic Boy tells Cam that his only job is to guard the sole exit.

Cosmic Boy chases after Gimpbor,  triggers the world's thickest tripwire and gets caught by the old Scooby Doo Net On the Floor Trick,

"I would have gotten away with it if not for you meddling gimps!"

and Cam falls for the "There's a hologram of me and when you're punching that, I'm going to lackadaisically open the door and slowly make my escape."

This was a nicely animated scene. I like how Cam's voice deepens as he transforms, and the expression of puzzlement on his monster face when he realizes that he's been tricked.

Nowhere to run now, buddy...except maybe to that exit.

Credits and we return to the action with Cosmic Boy chewing out Cam for disobeying orders and letting Grimbor get away. Superman sticks up for him, and the Legionnaires observe that they're undermanned. They decide to hold a recruitment drive, to Lightning Lad's annoyance.

Nemesis Kid joins their ranks. I like his look, it's a nice updating of his comics costume.

You will note that absence of the ridiculous collar. It took us until the 31st Century, but we finally cast off the shackles of Jim Lee's collar fetish.
His power is tweaked too. Here it's the ability to nullify superpowers, rather than acquire them in response to a threat. He's a science police officer who has been pursuing Grimbor. He shows off his powers and they welcome him to the Legion.

Cosmic Boy decides to replaced Cam with Nemesis Kid. Cam bitches about it, but it doesn't strike me as unreasonable. Cam is making easily avoidable mistakes, fucking up constantly and disobeying orders in the field, while Nemesis Kid has specific experience opposing Grimbor. Of course you're going to want to Nemesis Kid in that role.

In order to pick up Cam, Superman takes him to an underground fighting tournament, which is always how my parents cheered me up when I was feeling down. (And it seems a little out of character for Superman knows of an underground fighting tournament, but I assume he either learned about it in the course of his Legion duties or from his time playing Mortal Kombat vs DC.) It's being held on Asteroid K-19, presumably the Widowmaker.

The scene begins with Karate Kid being ejected for not having super powers and then there's a quick montage of weird aliens fighting each other. Superman steps into the ring and smacks the shit out of all comers and then Karate Kid returns and challenges him. The announcer tells him that he doesn't have to fight KArate Kid, because he doesn't even have any powers, but Superman just looks at him and says quietly, "Then it should be a quick fight."

That's a Superman moment right there. It's not up there with my favorite scene from All-Star Superman, but it gets him right. The belief that no one should be dismissed, that everyone should be given a chance to prove themselves.

That's a motion blur, not some kind of weird claw.  Also, I see your Flight Ring and I see your bright red boots, Superman. What kind of disguise is that?

"I know kung fu."
So he spars with the Karate Kid for a while, and he's Superman while Karate Kid is just this guy who works out a lot, so it goes about like you'd expect, with Superman dodging effortlessly at super speeds. Karate Kid wins by a ring out, then Superman floats up, removes the disguise that probably wasn't fooling anyone, and welcomes Karate Kid to the Legion.

Back on board the cruiser, Superman introduces him to the rest of the team. Timber Wolf asks what his powers are, and Karate Kid answers that he doesn't have any.

Lightning Lad answers, "No powers, huh? That's an interesting way to go, Superman." Heh. This line always makes me chuckle. The delivery really makes it work here.

In replay Superman answers that everyone else was born with or given their powers, but Karate Kid's were earned through hard work and tireless training.

Cosmic Boy replies to that with, "Inspiring, but this isn't the 'Legion of guys who try really hard'." and Lightning Lad expands to that, answering,that they don't allow members without powers because it's unsafe for them to be put in the field. Cosmic Boy agrees and says the best they can do is find him a support role.

Next scene is the Kid and Cam walking down the hallway, with the Kid pushing a 31st century laundry cart. I do like the episode, but an Asian super hero who is trained in the martial arts, speaks in epigrams and has to do the laundry verges on the insensitive.

The Kid says that he remembered that there is a solution to every problem, and Cam asks him if he got that from the motivational poster in the break room. Heh.

We transition to a briefing, where they watch some footage of Grimbor stealing a bunch of junk. He's stolen a cell disruptor and a thingie that disrupts electrical fields, so presumably he's collecting stuff to nullify the powers of the better known Legion members.

Cam gets night shift, and an alert goes off. He and Karate Kid see that Grimbor has been located, so they go back and try to catch him, but he beats them all up with his bolos and traps and gets away. One of them is booby trapped and Karate Kid is almost caught in the explosion, surviving only because Cam transforms to shield him.

Cosmic Boy: Tell me, Nemesis Kid, what have we learned today?
Nemesis Kid:  Let's see, that Cam lacks the judgement necessary for leadership roles, and Karate Kid doesn't have the super powers needed to keep himself safe.

They're kind of being dicks about it, but this is a legitimate complaint. Maybe I've got a different perspective as a parent, but I can get huffy too when I tell my daughter the same thing five times and she still isn't listening, (and she isn't even fighting super villains), so I think it's understandable that they're coming off a little short with Cam.

Back on the cruiser, he's on probation and Karate Kid is off the team. The rest of the Legionnaires found a clue in the form of a handprint on Nemesis Kid's shirt, so they go to the only place where the dust that composed the print can be found.

Cam and the Kid figure out that this must be a trap, because Grimbor didn't steal anything on his last outing. (Though I think that's a little weak, because he was outnumbered four to one when he ran, and I think it's just as likely that he was fleeing to steal another day while he still could.)

But the Legion walks into his "trap", which is pretty much just blasting them with his power draining gun at close range. I don't know why it required all these Rube Goldberg machinations, but that's super heroes for you.  He captures them, Cam and Karate Kid rescue them,

"Back on the Chain Gang"
and Grimbor seemingly dies through misadventure like a Disney villain. At the end of the episode, we see Karate Kid's swearing in, which is always something that I enjoy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Night Kings

I liked Night Kings a lot as a kid. I like it a lot less as an adult. Specifically, I like it a lot less as an adult in 2011.

Also, I hear the chords to Bob Segar's Night Moves every time I read the title, but that's just me.

It's not a bad story at all. The problem is that it first saw print in 1986, and Zelazny had no way of anticipating the proliferation of urban fantasy as a distinct genre that would rise up in the intervening twenty-five years. I began playing Dungeons & Dragons in the mid-80s. I owe my interest in fantasy and science fiction to role-playing as much as anything else. In 1991, White Wolf launched Vampire: The Masquerade, and followed it with a game where players played werewolves, and then one with magi, ghosts, fairies, demons, mummies, and so on, until it became a crowed place. They all took place in the same world eventually, and the atmosphere was very much a product of the grim & gritty, trenchcoat and katana 90's zeitgeist. (That's not intended as a dig, mind you. There are still elements about the whole deal that I appreciate non-ironically, and given the random stuff about which I write here, I'm hardly in a position to criticize anyone's tastes.) They, in turn, influenced the burgeoning genre, and this story is very understated compared to later works.

The nameless narrator is the proprietor of a specialty shop that sells silver bullets, wolfsbane and the like. He and his assistant Vic are doing a brisk business selling their wares when a hemoholic vampire named Leo arrives at the back door and informs nameless that his opposite number has chosen tonight to finish it.

So our hero closes up shop, and the evil counterpart's apprentice, Sabrina, a green-eyed woman with perfect teeth, arrives to take them to confrontation. (I had wondered if Sabrina and Vic were references to something that I had missed, but the Collected Stories, which I consider the definitive reference work in matters such as these, doesn't mention them as references to anything, so I expect that Zelazny just assigned the names without any particular meaning behind them.)

They banter and begin their duel within the cemetery, calling upon those who represent their side of the conflict. The adversary begins with "Asthtaroth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Belial, Leviathan...," and our hero answers with "Newton, Decartes, Faraday, Maxwell, Fermi...,"

It's probably that bit and those that follow that inspired me to write this post about the story, because it reminds me of a similar piece in one of my favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time, in which the characters are talking about humans who have opposed the darkness.

"Who have our fighters been?" Calvin asked.

"Oh, you must know them, dear," Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who's spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, "A
nd the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

"Jesus!" Charles Wallace said. "Why of course, Jesus!"

"Of course!" Mrs. Whatsit said. "Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They've been lights for us to see by."

"Leonardo da Vinci?" Calvin suggested tentatively. "And Michelangelo?"

"And Shakespeare," Charles Wallace called out, "and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!"

Now Calvin's voice rang with confidence. "And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!"

What can I say? I like the sentiment of poets and scientists and humanitarians as the champions of humanity.

The fight goes on, the hero has the upper hand, but the cock crows and the adversary vanishes before the hero can dispatch him.

It's a trifle of a story, but I'm sentimental about it for the above reasons. It's not a bad story, but compared to the contemporary fantasy works that would come later, it's rather vanilla. I have no doubt that had the genre been more firmly entrenched, Zelazny would have put a kickass spin on the modern urban fantasy story. But it just didn't exist, and a genre has to be established before it can be deconstructed.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Prelude to Thanksgiving

We had a nice week leading up to Thanksgiving. I usually skip going to church with Jen and Lily, but I'll sometimes go along for special occasions.  This past week they were singing together as part of the family choir, so I went along to see it.

While we were walking along to the church, Lily told me "You're going to love church!" It's nice to see her enthusiastic about things. I'll often ask her questions to draw out her opinions of things, so I asked her what church was all about, and she answered, "It's where we go to learn how to be kind."

I joke about Jen's UU Church (though Jen has mentioned that it annoys here, so I try not to do it as much anymore) and I'm a pretty staunch atheist, but I am happy that my daughter is attending a church that leaves her with this impression.

They sang "I'm Going to Sit at the Welcome Table" Lily varies pretty widely. Sometimes she'll be the world's biggest ham and rattle off twenty jokes to her audience, and other times she'll hide behind me or Jen and tell us in sentence fragments that she wants us to do her talking. Luckily we got gregarious Lily for this performance.

On Tuesday we went to the little feast they were having at her class. It was pretty nice, if unfortunately named. (Jen mentioned that she can't help but think "And in the master's chambers/They gathered for the feast./The stab it with their steely knives/ But they just can't kill the beast.")

It's always interesting to see her interacting with her cohorts. I try to fade into the background because it's just a glimpse into her world that I so seldom get to see. She had one little boy laughing at everything she said. It was very cute.

Wednesday was less good. She was going to go see Happy Feet 2 with her great grandmother, and Jen had the foresight to think that she might be upset when Great Nanny would take her to the movie without me. The last thing we wanted her to say was  “But I don’t want to go with Nanny to the stupid movie!” in front of her.

Well, I spent ten minutes bribing/reassuring/comforting Lily when it was time to go. At first she was hysterical "I want to be with daddy," but she was mostly calmed down.  However, Nan saw that she was upset and told her that she didn't have to go.

So Nanny took off and I very gently told her that I was disappointed in her and she freaked out and started acting like the world was ending. She sulked in there for almost an hour. Every time I knocked on the door, she said, "You can't come in if you're still upset or disappointed with me."

As I kid, I always felt intensely guilty when grownups were mad at me, and it looks like Lily has the same trait. She gets over it eventually, but it's rough to see her that way.

Thanksgiving itself was almost an anticlimax. Our families are scattered all over the place, and we have potentially four meals we might attend (if we count my mom in Florida), but we just had a quiet dinner with Jen's dad's side of the family.

Lily saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the first time. I hadn't watched it in ages. I'd forgotten how long it really takes to get rolling. It's still a solid movie, better, in a lot of ways than the Johnny Depp channeling Michael Jackson version.

While we were at the meal, Lily sang a little song that she learned for Thanksgiving two years ago, "I saw a little turkey/standing by a tree/he gobbled and he wobbled/and ran away from me/I said, little turkey, please come out and play/I promise not to eat you/on Thanksgiving Day!" but somehow "on" got changed to "until" in the last line, which kind of changes the tone of the song.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Replacement JLA: The Devil is in the Details

We had the fourth session of our superhero campaign on Sunday. (I've started a separate page for the campaign log posts and that can be found here.) It was a bit of an odd duck and two days later, I'm still forming an impression.

Eric, our GM was raising funds for prostate cancer research as part of Movember. To that end, he auctioned off plot twists in our game to the highest bidder. He's a phenomenally gregarious guy who knows a million people, and he wound up raising a bit of money to make the world a better place and got a couple ideas to torment his feckless players. It was one of those rare situations where everybody wins.

We opened on Themyscira, with a bunch of pissed-off amazons demanding to know where Wonder Woman was. This was Dave's first outing with his retooled character, Ash, aka "The Suit". The pitch had been that he'd be *based* on the guy from the Greatest American Hero, but in actual practice, we were treating him as if he *were* that guy, down to the red pajamas, silly name and sillier hair. And I was guilty as anyone, but it did tend to undermine the seriousness of the game. He was reinvented as a globe-trotting explorer who happened to have a suit of alien armor that looked like a uniform. Anyways, he bungled his interaction with the amazons to the point that his severed penis was added to their list of demands. I did no better, absent-mindedly making finger quotes when talking about "Batman". Rächen didn't do as badly, and Blink just mostly stayed quiet and didn't dig us in any deeper.

The Amazons stalked off, saying that they would have words with this "Batman" and we were shooting the shit, (I was like, "Why does John keep calling your mom Milf? Isn't her name Maggie?") then all of a sudden a golem popped up and started blasting at Rächen and warning him that he was in danger.

"You're in danger, my precious!"

He went down pretty quickly, when Ray blasted the animating sigil off of his forehead with an expertly executed called shot.

We poked around the golem and found the artist's imprint the first place we looked, inside its mouth. It would be the first and only time we picked up on any kind of clue. Apparently, one Beatrice Strobel was responsible for this thing. We took it and ported up to the satellite, where we were verbally abused by Batman. Apparently, he thought things would go poorly with the Amazons no matter who the envoy was, so he sent us as a "fuck you" to them and a punishment for us. ("Batman" is kind of a dick.)

We figured John Constantine would know who she was, but he was off on a personal errand, but Mister Terrific was good enough to track him for us. We ported down and Eric asked me for a sanity check, because we arrived right next to John and a hooker in the middle of the act. (On seeing this Katy wordlessly crumpled up the "Do you like Maggie? Yes/No" note she'd been planning to give to John.)

So, after a little bit of screaming, we found John some pants and he told us where we could find Beatrice. We headed on over there and had a chat with the delightfully eccentric Beatrice. She had a pet raptor named Roger. At first I thought this was a request from a fan of Tekken 2, but when I went home to look it up, I saw that Roger was the kangaroo and Alex was the raptor.

Yes, friends. This is the kind of game it was.

Beatrice told us that the golem was named Ulysses and he was her gift to Heinrich, her ex-husband, when they separated. She gave us his address in a shitty part of Gotham (as if there are any other parts of Gotham) and we took off to see him.

Eric had mentioned that this was going to be a skill-focused adventure, and I didn't really think that I'd be able to contribute much to it beyond some interesting interaction, because my character is a seventeen-year old who spent sixteen years growing up in a clean room, but she has a couple super-senses and I gave her high ranks in perception and insight to reflect that, so she actually found a couple clues.

We went up to the apartment, and Ray intimidated a dude threatening his girlfriend by speaking directly into his mind. We got to the apartment and saw some mystical patterns on the door. Ash made his expertise:history roll and identified them as warding patterns used by various cultures, Rächen made his expertise:magic roll and recognized them as Elder Signs.

I peeped through the wall with my x-ray vision and saw Heinrich's eviscerated corpse. Ash was ready to break down the door, but Blink just popped over to the other side and opened it. We poked around for clues for a bit, and noticed that Heinrich did not cast a shadow, and that his heart and fingerprints had been removed. We noticed that his name had been cut out of all the documentation in the apartment. It seemed to be some kind of ritual to erase his identity. I went downstairs to see if the mail still in his mailbox had gotten the same treatment.

Casey: That's a federal offense.
Me: We're the JLA. I'm not afraid of the postmaster general.

The mail still in the box was untouched, so we did more searching. We found some sticky, foul smelling substance on one of the walls, and a box with a box of matches, a small fire extinguisher and a note that read "When in doubt, burn the note."

Just as we opened the box, we got a call from HQ that demons were running riot in Gotham, and it wasn't immediately clear if our opening the box was the cause of that. They ported us over, and the Bloodson, on seeing the other demons, quipped that "High School never ends."

We made pretty short work of them. Eric was trying out the minion rules. (Minions automatically take the worst result from any failed check, so they go down in one hit.) They were immune to attacks with the fire descriptor, so Rächen wound up chucking a big mailbox at them, further irritating the US Postal Service. One of the demons threw a baby like a football, but I made my athletics check and caught it, zipped over and handed it over to a police officer who was cordoning off the area, getting my picture on the front page of every newspaper in America.

The demons poofed away when defeated, (Eric described the effect like the dusting of Buffyverse vampires) and we had enough foresight to capture the last one in order to question him. We tried to intimidate him, but I think we had about five ranks total in intimidation between us so that went about as well as anything we tried. However, I had the halfway bright idea, "Hey, Intimidate is resisted by Will, right? Just use your will draining power on him," and we got him to talk doing that.

Unfortunately, he didn't have a lot to say. The demon mentioned it was part of a horde, and made some threats about what awaited us, but didn't really give us anything actionable. Ash received his second offer of castration for the night. Once again, our powers filled in when our smarts failed us, and we were able to backtrack the residual heat of the demon's flaming footprints back to their source. Ash and I flew, and Ray climbed on to Blink's back and they did quick ports.

Rächen's magic sense started tingling when we passed by a club called Details. I thought it was an odd name for a club, because it made me think of the magazine. It turned out there was a method to Eric's madness, though we didn't learn what it was right until the very end.

Ray and Blink stopped to talk with the gentleman who had set off the alarm. He called himself Mister Mammon and he engaged them in Auric Goldfinger-style sinister banter,

A man of wealth and taste
  while Ash and I continued on and found the warehouse with the portal.

We called in to the satellite of love, but the portal was interfering with our coms, so we couldn't get through, though we did get a hero point for our troubles, so that was nice.

We gathered up the other two and once Ray had a look at the portal, he figured he could devise a ritual to bring it down with seven rounds of prep time. So we just had to keep him alive long enough to do it. Blink looked in to the portal, and saw an Elder Evil, but made his will save. A bunch of minions swarmed in on the second round, but Blink is an absolute beast against minions, and he decimated them with his selective burst area attack.

And then Mister Mammon teleported into our midst and things got really interesting. This was a bear of a fight, and he shrugged off two consecutive critical hits without even a bruise.

Of course, we didn't need to win this fight, just survive it long enough for Rächen to do his thing. My character is more or less the tank of the group. She isn't much tougher than the other characters at this point (and I'll really be glad when we go up a level and become more able to differentiate ourselves through our saves), but she does regenerate from damage very rapidly. The problem is, her regeneration is fueled by sunlight, and the sun went down several hours ago, and there's nothing darker than a Gotham City night.

We held Mammon off long enough for Rächen to do his thing, and we closed the portal, and Blink stunted a nullify effect to drop Mammon's force field, and we managed to start accumulating some hits on him, but he ported out before we could drop him, as a good villain should.

We went to Heinrich's funeral with Beatrice, and with a little prodding, we figured out that we should light the turpentine-smelling fluid on the wall. It spelled out, "THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS" and I was like, "Oh, I get it!" and I proceeded to explain it everyone else, which was rather unnecessary, because they had all figured it out too.

Overall? Good adventure, though the disparate elements at times made the session at feel like a series of vignettes and not a logical progression of cause to effect. They were fun vignettes, though, so I'm not complaining. The fights were good, the investigation was neat, we all had our times to shine and I think everyone had a lot of fun. My biggest disappointment is that we're all going to be so busy that we're not going to have another game until the New Year rolls around. That's okay. The game is good enough that I'm willing to wait.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Parent-Teacher Conference

We had Lily's first parent-teacher conference on Wednesday, and it went about like we were expecting. She already knew her letters when the year began and the class is going to start covering them in January. It's frustrating for a couple reasons. I've mentioned them in other posts, but I feel like this is only going to teach her that school is not where you go to learn, but just some place you go because you have to.

I was talking to a friend whose son, while generally doing well, is facing challenges with one or two aspects of his school work. And he says he's fine with that. And I think I would be too. I don't want Lily to be some sort of manufactured prodigy like John Stuart Mill, but I think facing and overcoming challenges is an important part of growing up.

I was among the smartest kids in my very small high school, able to coast on natural talent and that led to a difficult adjustment in young adulthood, as I had vastly overestimated my own capabilities. No parent wants their child to repeat their mistakes, and it bothers me that she might.

She's still amazingly precocious, though. We were playing our version of "20 Questions", "I'm thinking of an animal". It's just what the title suggests, with one player thinking of an animal, and the others asking yes or no questions trying to determine what kind of animal it is.

Jen has played this with kids older than Lily, and they're generally terrible at it until they hit eight or ten, asking questions like, "Is it a dog?" or "Is it a bear?" without first trying to narrow it down. But Lily shows a lot of thought with her questions, trying to figure out where the animal lives, what it eats, if it has fur or feathers and other questions along those lines. Today she asked, "Does it move slowly?", which is not only a good question, but which also shows a very solid grasp of grammar.

We were having a tea party earlier today.

Me: This is great tea! I'll give you one million dollars for your recipe!
Lily: Thank you, but I already have one trillion and ninety-nine dollars already.
Me: Wow, how did you get so much money?!
Lily: I do the mayor's dirty work.
Me: Um...

She also left me speechless when we were talking about sports. I mentioned that she was old enough to join a sports team if she wanted, leading to this exchange.

Lily: I can join a sport?
Me: That's right.
Me: Um...
Lily: (Looks at me eagerly)
Me: ...I suppose?

What kind of five-year-old is interested in golf?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: Cry Wolf

I'm continuing my reviews of the second season of the Legion of Super Heroes animated series, with episode three, "Cry Wolf".

I don't like Timber Wolf, but the little widget on the side of the page that tracks the most visited posts says the one about him is the seventh most popular post on the site, so I guess I'm in the minority here.

Courtroom dramas are an episode that can be dropped into any series and Cry Wolf is a terrible episode that could have been a really solid one with a couple minor changes.

We open on a scientific symposium. I think it's on Heisenberg-7, but I'm not certain. (Hey-o!) Dr. Mar Londo, Timber Wolf's dad is there, showing off these new bio-golems he invented. Timber Wolf is in the audience. He rips off his disguise, jumps on the stage, wolfs out to a more feral form reminiscent of his first appearance,  beats up the bio-golems, bays at the moon and then moves in to finish off his dad, who is begging for mercy.

Then the image freezes and we see that it's a video. Timber Wolf is on trial.

On trial for sucking. The verdict? Guilty.

Cosmic Boy declares him guilty and sentences him to life imprisonment on Takron-Galtos.

Credits. Cam is pleading with Cosmic Boy and the rest, and whatever other problems the second season had, it wasn't the art direction or the animation, both of which are consistently superb. I thought this scene was particularly well done in that respect, with the shadows and subdued colors lending a very somber mood to the piece.

However, it's also this scene that shows off the big flaw with the episode. When Cam says that Timber Wolf wouldn't do this kind of thing and asks for other character witnesses, Cosmic Boy points out, quite legitimately in my opinion, that hundreds of eyewitnesses, a holographic record of the attack and physical evidence outweigh any testimony they might offer.

Timber Wolf breaks loose and most of those present pursue him. He fights them off and Phantom Girl helps him escape. There are several sloppy moments here.

Though the cool S-shield force field is not one of them.

The first is when Timber Wolf says to Superman-X that he didn't think X would vote with the rest of them.

Superman X: "I had no choice. The evidence -"
Timber Wolf: "-was rigged. "

This is actually two problems in one. The first is, well, dickhead, maybe that's an argument you should have made during your trial intend of just mounting a defense that amounted to a sullen "Fuck you" to Cosmic Boy.  The second is that the only characterization we've had so far of Superman-X is that of shouty space asshole and there's no reason to assume that he'd extend the benefit of the doubt to Timber Wolf moreso than any other Legionnaire would.

Except there is. If Superman had been in this role, everything would make sense. But he's not, though I think it was written with him in mind and it just doesn't work with Superman-X in the role.

We see Timber Wolf running off, and they catch him, but he turns out to be Chameleon Boy, which was actually fairly well done. Even though Phantom Girl and Cam helped Timber Wolf escape, Cosmic Boy doesn't do more than wag his finger at them disapprovingly.

Meanwhile, in New Metropolis, Timber Wolf gives a Deckard-like narration as he looks for clues. He tears up the apartment of an acquaintance of his father, "Yin Des Neerg" (which is an anagram for Sidney Green), and this scene goes a long way towards illustrating what's wrong with the second season. They tried to make it more "realistic", but it lacks the verisimilitude of the first season. For instance, when 's ransacking Neerg's closet, Timber Wolf comes across a collection of lab coats. And that's fine, as far as it goes. Lab coats are shorthand for scientists in visual media after all. When I worked in a laboratory, I had a lab coat.

But here's the thing. I had a lab coat. As in one. And I left it in the lab at the end of the day. It wasn't the only clothing I owned, as seems to be the case here. You can't see it that well in this still, but Neerg's closet is filled with nothing but lab coats. It's a trivial detail, but it's characteristic of the problems that crept in with the second season.

Neerg comes home, apparently unable to hear a wolfman tearing his apartment apart through the door.

Then the Legionnaires arrive. They have this brief exchange,

Cosmic Boy: "I don't want to hurt you, Timber Wolf."
Timber Wolf: "Well, that makes one of us."

which doesn't make much sense. I would assume that Cosmic Boy's original line was something like, "We don't want to fight," because, as written, Timber Wolf's reply suggests that he doesn't want to hurt himself, which is the kind of thing that should go without saying.  Anyway, Timber Wolf attacks Cosmic Boy and Superman-X and the fight spreads to the bar below. More Legionnaires show up, and Cosmic Boy manages to put down the idiot ball long enough to put up a good fight. First he blocks the exit with two video games, then pulls loose some bar stools and batters Timber Wolf with them. And again, I have to express my admiration for the animation here, because that scene just looks brutal. 

"All right, Brin, I'm just going to need a stool sample"

 He wolfs out, escapes and is picked up by Neerg (really Cam in disguise). Cam makes fun of Cosmic Boy, which is kind of funny,

and Phantom Girl gets some quality snark in.

"Melodrama and self-pity. A toxic combination."

 They head to Heisenberg-7 where Timber Wolf announces that he's going to do what he does best. I don't know what that is, but one would assume that it isn't pretty.

So they go back, Timber Wolf sniffs around and realizes that he was there. Again, if he were really interested in mounting a defense rather than being an aggrieved martyr, this is probably the kind of thing he should have done when he was first accused. A bunch of science police show up, but he smacks the shit out of them and upon escaping, decides to exile himself to Rawl.

He stomps around the jungle for a while, and there's a neat continuity nod to ans they show the old facility, now overgrown with vines. (At least, I assume so. I don't care enough to go back and rewatch the Timber Wolf episode.)

Timber Wolf smells his dad and confronts him. Dr. Londo tells him that he sent a bunch of nanites into Timber Wolf's brain and controlled him in order to frame him for murder, so that Brin would have nowhere to turn and be forced to rejoin him. Timber Wolf refuses and destroys a bunch of bio-golems and turns feral just as the Legion shows up. He smacks Phantom Girl around in his rage, and she winds up helpless and unconscious for the second episode in a row.

Seeing her like that snaps him out of it and he turns on his father and destroys his mind control headband. At the end of the episode, they're on the Legion Cruiser, and Timber Wolf says he's not sure he can go through this alone again, but Phantom Girl assures him that he won't have to.