Friday, February 24, 2012

Roger Zelazny Casting Call: Dalt

It's been a while since I've posted my casting choice for a character in the Merlin books, so to keep that interval from growing any longer; he's my choice for Merlin's uncle Dalt, whom Merlin describes thusly:

His hair looked golden, or even coppery,  by what light there was upon it, but I remembered it as a kind of dirty blond by natural light. His eyes, I recalled, were green, though there was no way I could see that now. I did begin to realize for the first time, however,  that  he  was pretty big-either that or he had chosen fairly short torchbearers. He had been alone that one time I'd seen him, and I had had no standard for comparison. As the light from our torches reached him I saw that he had on a heavy, green sleeveless doublet without a collar, over something black and also heavy, with sleeves that extended down his arms to vanish within green gauntlets. His trousers were black, as were the high boots they entered; his cloak was black and lined with an emerald green that caught our light as the cloak furled about him in shifting, oily landscapes of yellow and red. He wore a heavy circular medallion, which looked to be gold, on a chain about his neck; and though I could not make out the details of its device, I was certain that it bore a Lion rending a Unicorn.

That's probably as long a description as we get of any character in either series. I like Dalt. Green and Black happen to be my favorite colors, so I even like his outfit on an aesthetic level. He's the son of Deela the Desecratrix, who was raped by Oberon when she was his prisoner. Thus his hated of Amber is somewhat justifiable. His device is a lion rending a unicorn, and that's the kind of memorable detail I've come to love from Zelazny.

Dalt comes to terms with Amber, and again, there's that pragmatism I love from Zelazny's characters. He goes toe to toe with a Pattern Ghost of Eric, and though he loses, he makes a respectable showing.

And for the Amber series in my mind (One season per book, a la the Game of Thrones. We'll even show it on HBO so they can film Corwin's deleted sex scene with Dara) I think I'd like to see a young Dolph Lundgren in the role. 

He was a big, blond-haired son of a bitch, and he had on a yellow shirt and black trousers, black boots, lots of cutlery. The medallion of the Lion rending the Unicorn bounced upon his broad chest. Every time I'd seen or heard of the man, he'd been about something nasty, damn near killing Luke on one occasion. He was a mercenary, a Robin Hood figure out of Eregnor, and a sworn enemy of Amber-illegitimate son of her late liege Oberon. I believed there was a price on his head within the Golden Circle. On the other hand, he and Luke had been buddies for years, and Luke swore he wasn't all that bad. He was my uncle Dalt, and I'd a feeling that if he moved too quickly the flexing of his muscles would shred his shirt.

He's big (about 6'5" and 250 pounds at his peak), he's athletic (European champion in Kyokushin Karate in 1980 and 1981), he's smart (speaks Swedish, English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese, and Italian, was a Fulbright Scholar and holds a master's degree in chemical engineering). I hate to say, but of the accomplishments for which he's known, the thing he probably does least well is acting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Watching Cartoons with Lily: Liberty's Kids

Jen and I differ on what constitutes age-appropriate material for our five year old daughter. That's not unusual. You'll probably find a similar dynamic at play in any relationship with kids.

I'm working from a home office now, so I pick up Lily at the bus stop in the afternoon and we'll sometimes watch some cartoons when she's done with her homework. I tend to be a bit more liberal with letting her watch shows for older kids. Sometimes that works out and other times it doesn't.

One time we were watching an episode of the Justice League where a parallel universe version of Superman shows up and deals with a supervillain by blasting him with his heat vision right through his forehead.

Lois Lane realizes what he did and calls him out on this ("You...lobotomized him.") and then when Jen gets home and we're all sitting down to a pleasant dinner, Lily pipes up with "What's 'lobotomize' mean?"AWKWARD!

Domo arigato, Mister Loboto

And then I tried my hand at something that was definitely age appropriate, with a Superfriends comic book. I read it to Lily and she listened attentively, and then when I was done, she said "Daddy, that was really, really boring."

She's right. This was crap.

So it's a bit of a balancing act, finding something she likes, that isn't too inappropriate, and which we can at least tolerate, since we try to be in the room with her when she's watching TV.

That's why I'm happy that she likes Liberty's Kids. I had seen it once before she was born, and it just fascinated me. It's a fictionalized account of the Revolutionary War era (from the Boston Tea Party in to the ratification of the Constitution), with a couple of kids as viewpoint characters.  It also has the craziest stable of celebrity voice actors this side of the Simpsons. Walter Cronkite is Ben Franklin and we have Arnold Schwarzenegger as Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Billy Crystal, Maria Shriver, Michael Douglas, Warren Buffet (!), Norman Schwarzkopf, Liam Neeson, It's really impressive. Here's the link to Wikipedia's list of all the Historical figures in the show.

I think the most interesting part is the treatment of Benedict Arnold. Dustin Hoffman voices him, and we get his whole character arc over the length of the show, from his military career, to his plan to surrender West Point to the British. We've watched about twenty episodes so far, and right now we're seeing him as a man passed over time and again for the promotions he believes he deserves and slowly consumed by bitterness. The one kid in the show, Sarah Phillips, is very close to him, and it will be interesting to see how she reacts to his treason.

 In the internet era, everyone knows that Darth Vader is Luke's father, and that Schwarzenegger is the good Terminator in the second movie and that Gandalf comes back in the Two Towers. When I was growing up, Benedict Arnold was a byword for traitor. But Lily doesn't know this. It will be interesting in seeing how Lily reacts to this too.

(Assuming we ever get beyond the 20th episode. Lily is always asking for "The one with Doctor Franklin in the bathtub." She's a weird kid.)

It's surprisingly nuanced for a kid's show.  One of the viewpoint characters starts as a loyalist to the crown and her arguments actually have some validity. Slavery comes up very often. The brother of one of the fictional characters, (Moses, a former slave who had bought his freedom) joins the British army because they have promised to free the slaves once they put down the rebellion. And the fact that the Constitution does not abolish slavery is not glossed over.

We're going to take her to the Constitution Center in Philly when she's old enough to appreciate it, and it's starting to look like that day's not far off. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Replacement JLA: Late for a very important date

My friend Tim asked why I had stopped writing our campaign log. I stopped writing it because we had stopped having games. Not because we weren’t interested, but because it’s hard to coordinate the same night off between five adults who have families and jobs.

We finally had our fifth session on Saturday after a long hiatus. It was pretty great. Dave had to miss this session, but the rest of us were there. You can read more detailed write-ups of the characters in the earlier entries, but here's a quick summary.
  • I was Dawnfire, a formerly terminally ill teenage girl cured and given Superman’s powers through an experimental procedure.
  • Frederick was Rächen Bloodson, half-demon offspring of Etrigan and Morgan Le Fey.
  • His stepson Danny played Plastic Man.
  • And Casey was Blink, the sidekick.
We opened with a communique from the JLA Watchtower, telling us that the weekly meeting was beginning soon and we should wrap up what we doing and beam up so we could participate. What we were doing was busting up a drug manufacturing operation. We occasionally open in media res like this, and I’ve sometimes wondered how we track down these operations, because we have fuck all investigation skills between us, and we act like a bunch of muppets whenever we need to do anything more complicated than tying our shoes. Presumably “Batman” feeds us the answers and we do the fieldwork.

We totally outmatched the bad guys and Eric said this was pretty much an opportunity to show off and be awesome. I said “Winners don’t do drugs,” Plastic Man turned into a giant Robin Williams a vacuum cleaner and sucked up all the cocaine, and we kicked all kinds of ass. That’s what we did, until we were interrupted by a massive EM Pulse that wiped out non-hardened electronics for miles around. Eric is a really good GM, and it’s in no small part due to the small details he includes. My character’s regeneration is solar-powered and only works in sunlight and he said that the pulse was so bright that for a half-second my regeneration worked.

I flew up in the sky to see if I could determine the center of the blackout and it was dark as far as even my super vision could see.

We performed disaster relief, and though we couldn’t reach the Watchtower, initially I wasn’t too worried, because I just assumed that the EMP had disrupted communication. We still had Rächen’s mental network coordinating us. (I imagined his voice in the network sounding like Casey Kasem’s “This is KDMN and there’s something strange going on in the skies over Metropolis.”.)

Blink was unable to teleport up to the satellite when it would have come around to our location, and it soon became clear that they weren’t just out of touch. Either they were cloaked, or they were gone.

We received a cryptic message from a group calling itself the “Percentage Five T”. “Metahumans will be purged, normals will be preserved. We are already here.”

We decided to go to the Pentagon and walk in like we owned the place. That was received about like you’d expect. (It’s was Blink’s plan and I don’t know why we listened to the sidekick.) Rick Flag met us in a room full of power nullifiers.

Flag: “The Pentagon is on high alert.”

Blink: “Why?”

Flag: (acidly) “Oh, I don’t know.”

We eventually make It clear that we’re here to help, and they put us up in a hotel for the night and help us locate the source of the disturbance.

Blink and I do some disaster relief. His mom was on the satellite and he’s trying to tire himself out so he can sleep. As morning comes around, I get zapped by eyebeams from a bystander.

When I originally designed Dawnfire, I envisioned her as a grappler. She has a very high strength for her PL, and an array of advantages to allow her to be very good up close. I particularly like “Fast Grab” which allows me to start a grapple if I succeed in an unarmed attack. I’m pretty sure I never used it up until now. I wasn't particularly sandbagging her grappling prowess, but I never had the opportunity to use it. Either the people I hit went down with one punch, in which case Fast Grab was irrelevant, or they were clearly much stronger than I was, in which case starting a grapple would have been suicidal. I was starting to think that I wasted the points building her like I did when this fight happened. I kicked the shit out of her. The fight would have been over in the first round had Eric not used GM Fiat and given me a Hero point to draw it out. (The same thing happened in the second round too. Dawnfire is hell in the clinch.) Frederick commented that the art- robbing pervert from the first session gave us a harder time.

The camera crews are filming us, and the woman, who turns out to be Supergirl says that “You’ve disgraced his legacy.” She’s talking about Superman, who served as the template to give Dawnfire her powers. I say, “I’m not trying to take anyone’s place, I’m just trying to fill in until he comes back”, and Blink teleports the group of us to someplace more private.

Supergirl: Perky boobs, but a glass jaw

Supergirl doesn’t want to talk, though, and flies off. We actually handled that very well. Dawnfire was trying to talk her down the whole fight, and we avoid the kind of egregious blunders that were becoming our trademark. We looked pretty good. We quickly confer and then teleport into a TV station, where we hold an impromptu press conference. Plastic Man has his mouth literally zipped shut. We briefly say that we regret the misunderstanding, we’re on the same side as Supergirl and we welcome the opportunity to clear the air.

Reporter (to Ray): Is that a mask?

Ray: *Silence*

Me: (Waving) Hi Dad! I’m on TV!

Reporter: Who’s your father?

Me: Um, he’s Canadian. You’ve probably never heard of him.

Reporter: Are you Canadian?

Blink: *Teleports everyone out of the studio*

The Pentagon has located the source of the disturbance, and they fly us out to Europe to deal with it. We scout out the giant spaceship, then Blink teleports us inside and we smack the shit out of the purple aliens. Eric pulled a switcheroo, with the two characters he described in detail being minions and the other five being guys close to our PL. It reminded me of something one of the factions in the Feng Shui/Shadowfist RPG did. They dressed up the most expendable mook in each squad in the most ostentatious insignia, making him the target and drawing fire away from the real field commanders. It worked, and we wasted our surprise round against two guys that would have gone down to Blink’s area attacks.

One of the badguys tries to fry my brain with a perception-ranged mental blast, and it would have been successful, because my Will save is garbage, but I was sitting on a pile of Hero Points from the fight with Supergirl and I just rerolled if I thought I was going to fail. Between the lot of us, we make short work of the aliens. They teleport away and their ship goes up.

It was a pretty eventful session. All the evidence suggests that the satellite has really been destroyed with all hands lost. At the very least, we’ve at least temporarily lost the resources we’d come to depend on. (We were talking advancement and Casey mentioned that the group didn’t really have anyone with any kind of interaction skills, and that he was thinking of putting some points into that area and I almost said, “Meh, just let the NPCs do it.”)

Eric mentioned later on that he had this planned from the beginning, and it’s pretty cool the way he pulled the rug out from beneath us. I kind of like this, because we’ve got the opportunity to move from a reactive to a proactive format. We’ve got no allies, a lot of enemies; we’re trying to find the missing Justice League and hold the world together in the process. It’s going to be the best campaign…EVER!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Story Review: Lovestruck

Zach was kind enough to post a link to his story "Lovestruck" in the comments section. I enjoyed the story tremendously. I think it compares favorably to The Great Slow Kings and my assessment of Lovestruck is similar to what I said about Slow Kings. It's a clever concept, executed well, and concluded before the reader gets tired of it.

Brevity is a virtue I appreciate more and more, particularly with humor stories. Nothing kills a potentially funny story faster than going on too long, but Lovestruck expertly avoids that pitfall. It's an account of the contest between Houyi, Cupid and Robin Hood to settle once and for all the question who is the greatest archer in the land.

I liked it a lot. It appealed to my sense of humor, the dialogue was punchy, the pacing was great, the descriptions were clever and the ending was very funny.

I don't know Flash Fiction's policy on direct linking, so I'll just post a link to the front page and you can find Lovestruck from there.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Don't Like Stuff that sucks: Fright Night

I mentioned that I didn't enjoy the 2011 remake of Fright Night. Going in, I was anticipating it being pretty decent. The trailers I had seen made it look good and it had David Tennant, who is always entertaining.

Unfortunately, and not to put too fine a point on it, it's a piece of shit. Marti Noxon wrote the screenplay. You may know her as the person who oversaw the collapse of Buffy the Vampire Slayer during its fifth and sixth season. I don't know why anyone would let her have anything to do with vampires, but if you want someone to destroy a previously beloved vampire property, Marti Noxon is your woman. We wind up with a movie that's a disjointed collection of set pieces that might be interesting given a more competent cast and directors, but which are flat, artificial and lifeless when presented by the ones we have.

Let's start with the brief montage that plays on the menu screen. It's not bad in itself. It has the one scene I like from the movie, where Colin Farrell grabs the cross from the kid, then blows out the flames when it flares up.

This is the last positive thing I'm going to say about the movie

Unfortunately it shows a vamped out McLovin, spoiling the tiny bit of suspense for any incredibly dumb people in the audience. Since the incredibly dumb represent a sizable portion of those who would otherwise enjoy this movie, I imagine they were outraged.

Anton Yelchin is an utter cipher, combining Michael Cera's versatility with Tobey Maguire's smoldering charisma.

Anton Yelchin, human chameleon.

Imogen Poots, who has an awesome name, plays his improbably hot girlfriend

but is completely incapable of sustaining an American accent for more than three lines in a row. Fuck, I mean Kevin Costner was more consistent with his accent in Robin Hood. The film had a thirty million dollar budget, and she had about thirty lines. Far be it for me to suggest how the director of Lars and the Real Girl should direct his movies but maybe it would have been worth it to reshoot a scene when she forgot how we pronounce our r's, so we didn't wind up comparing her performance unfavorably to Christopher Lambert's in Highlander?

While we're on the subject of attractive women,  I thought, "Wow, Toni Collete looks like someone's hot mom!" and then I looked her up and saw that she's only two years older than I am! I was too reminded of my own mortality to be able to enjoy ogling her.

We had a throwaway character who looked like he could be James Franco's brother. Oh, he was.

David Tennant...was actually pretty good. He did the best with what Craig Gillespie gave him and he was the only entertaining part of the movie.

Colin Farrell might be an asshole in really life, but he's certainly is a good looking guy (my friend Kate loved him) and occasionally a decent actor but not here.There were several scenes where he ate apples, but I have no idea where they were going with that.

Vampires have to get their fiber somewhere
Farrell's character's cover story is that he works night construction. It's a picayune complaint, and I only happen to know this because I used to research the US Construction market, but commercial construction in Las Vegas is the lowest it has ever been.  There were thirteen commercial construction permits issued in Clark County in December 2011. Thirteen. Yes, it's a seasonal business, but the fact remains that the industry is in the toilet. I would assume that the script was written a couple years ago in the middle of the housing boom when construction was soaring and a newly arrived night construction worker would be believable. In fact, there is nothing to suggest that the movie is set in 2011 rather than 2007, but I'm not inclined to be generous, because, fuck this movie.

Josh's Trip to Keene, Part 2: The Keenening

Part two in a two issue limited series. The first one is here.

When we last left Josh, he was hanging out at Steve's house. If you'll excuse the digression, it's hard to make friends as an adult. As a kid and a young adult, you tend to meet new people at school and when first starting a job and those are options that tend not to be open to adults. As a result, unless you seek out out new people, you tend to have the friends you're going to have for the rest of your life by the time you turn twenty-five.

That's about when I met Steve. Jen and I had moved up to New Hampshire after we got married and I wound up working the overnight shift in the K-Mart. Steve was another guy on the shift and we wound up becoming good friends. I liked him, I liked his family .He's a great guy. When I was leaving New Hampshire to come back down here, we went to this comic store outside of Boston. He brought a bunch of unboxed Transformers to sell to the guy, so he would have a little money to buy me a going away present.

The store owner looked at them and said, "Okay, I can give you four fifty for the lot of them," and I was about to tell him not to bother if he was only going to get five bucks for them when the store owner started counting out twenties.

He may be most genuinely decent guy I've ever met. He's absolutely the best dad I've ever met. Greg Rucka had a post over at his blog a while ago. I had linked to it previously, but it bears repeating. He was talking about the grim and gritty trend in comics and comic book movies and the whole thing is worth reading, but this was my favorite part:

(Pet peeve time: for the contingent out there who sneer at heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman and Captain America, those icons who still, at their core, represent selfless sacrifice for the greater good, and who justify their contempt by saying, oh, it’s so unrealistic, no one would ever be so noble… grow up. Seriously. Cynicism is not maturity, do not mistake the one for the other. If you truly cannot accept a story where someone does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, that says far more about who you are than these characters.)

Anyway, if you can't believe that someone would be a good and kind and decent person, I encourage you to talk to my friend Steve. (And for someone who is not infrequently kind of an asshole, I've managed to attract and retain a whole lot of really good people as friends.)

The previous night, I had told Steve that I was disappointed that Lily had put down the Superman Lego set in exchange for the girly Treehouse one. So, the next day, Steve gave me the Superman set to give to Lily, which had previously bought for himself. How awesome is that? Also, a new neighbor was moving a fridge into his apartment, but Steve stopped to help him, even though it meant being late for work. Steve had promised his coworkers some coffee when he stopped in earlier in the day, and he was going to make good on that even though it meant being even later, but I told him to drop me at Dunkin Donuts and I would run it over. And that's one of the reasons I like hanging out with him. He's a fun guy, he's a good guy and he inspires me to be the same.

I dropped off the coffee, then continued to walk around Keene for a bit. Tim was supposed to get out at 3:30, but he had to work late, so I just wound up spending the whole day wandering until it was time to meet Steve's kids for dinner. It's really a surreal experience. We left New Hampshire in early 2001. And I got older over the course of those eleven years, but I didn't really change. But the kids grew up. They should have stopped growing when I left! It was crazy!  I suppose it was inevitable, but still...

We had dinner at the Thai Garden (I had the Drunken Noodles) and then we watched a little bit of the UK dub of Arrietty before Steve had to go. I told Lily that I'd take her to see it when it opens in the US on the 17th and it looks like she'd really enjoy it.

Another thing that impressed me was a conversation that we had during Arrietty.  I said, "I assumed this was a period piece because the house had ungrounded outlets, but that guy has a modern cell phone," and Steve's daughter thought for about half a second before saying, "It's probably just an old house," and of course that was is it. She was right and that was a logical and sensible answer that I had overlooked, and I'm still dealing with the fact that these people that I knew as children have turned into actual adults. They were good kids and they grew into good people.

Steve's daughter gave me a Totoro pillow to give to Lily. She also made me promise to take a picture because I implied that I would keep it for myself because it's so awesome. Lily liked it a lot and here's the picture of her with it.

She also gave Lily a pocket mirror that looks like Gigi the cat from Kiki's Delivery Service. After that it was back to Tim's. We watched some TV with his roommates, played some video games and stayed up late. We slept in Sunday and did more of the same before we got together with Tim's parents and brother for dinner. Tim's been my best friend forever, and I've known his family since I was a kid. (I have to wonder if they viewed my growing older with same horror I had when Steve's kids did the same thing.) They wanted to go to the Thai Garden, and I hadn't had Thai for a couple hours, so we said yes. This time I had the Nam Sod (ground chicken mixed with peanuts, ginger, red onions and scallions in a spicy lime dressing) It was delicious.

Then we went back to his place and watched the Fright Night remake, which was absolute garbage, and played some more games and watched some more TV. We went to bed late, I got up early and Tim and I went to Friendly's for breakfast before I took off. Tim gave Lily a bunch of stuffed animals and she really loves the pup he sent home. It's super cute and very soft.

"Bow wow. Grrr. Woof!"

And that was my visit. I had to be prodded into it, but I wound up really enjoying it and as soon as the weather gets a little nicer, Jen and Lily and I will go up together as a family.

Josh's Trip to Keene, Part 1: Hipsters, Rednecks & Juggalos

As my friends know, I'm now working as a freelance technical writer. I like it a lot. I tend to alternate between the urge to hunker down and tear through an assignment, and not wanting to work on it at all, and the current setup allows me to do that. (Try doing that at a traditional job. "Oh, I don't  feel like working today. But I'll work really hard tomorrow!")

I work from a home office and handle all of my work through email, dropbox and phone conversations. My car is in lousy shape, and we haven't gotten around to fixing it yet because I really don't need to travel all the much. The truth is that I tend to be a bit of a homebody anyway, so I don't really mind.

Earlier this past week, I heard Jen talking on the phone downstairs when I was putting Lily to bed one night. She comes upstairs after I'm done and says, "Okay, I've talked to various family members and I've got activities planned and I'm borrowing a car, so you're free to go up to New Hampshire."

I was like, "I'm going up to New Hampshire?" and Jen assured me, gently but firmly that I was. And I can understand her feelings, because she's been prodding me to get out and do more things and doing it this way kind of obligated me to follow through, rather than offering a mealy mouthed excuse for why I couldn't go and then staying home playing video games all weekend. I think this was as much a vacation for her as it was for me.

So, I made my plans and packed my bags and after we got Lily on the bus, we went up to Jen's job and then I headed off to New Hamster. I was staying with my buddy Tim. Long time readers of the blog may remember Tim from this post and here's an account of his trip down and our visit to the Barnes foundation if that's not enough Tim for you.)

I've been driving up to Keene for as long as I've been driving. I must have made over fifty trips in the twenty-odd years and in any sample of that size, you'll have good visits and bad ones.

This was one of the best. I drank Moxie, ate grinders and had a wicked good time.

Moxie: All the taste of Jägermeister but none of the alcohol.
The trip up was fine. I made good time and didn't get arrested. It's about 300 miles up to Keene, and I made it in about four and a half hours. (I don't like driving, so I want to get it over and done with, so I try to go straight up without stopping.) Before I knew it, I was in Keene, land of a thousand traffic circles.

Seriously, the stupid things are all over the place.

I like the town. Jen and I lived in the area for a couple years after getting married. It's a college town in rural New Hamshire, and as such, is a peculiar mix of rednecks and hipsters. (If I see another twenty-year old guy with a trenchcoat and a walking stick, it will be too soon.) When I voiced my observation to a friend about the demographics of Keene, she asked if I had seen the juggalos. I thought she was kidding, but apparently a group of them run a store on Main Street.

I do like college towns, and I lived in the area to have a certain fondness for its quirks (but not so long that I was sick of them.) It has seen better days. I took a walk through the Colony Mill, an old mill that had been converted into an enclosed mall and it was a ghost town. I wish I would have taken some pictures to illustrate how empty the place was. I'll do that next time and I'll submit them to Labelscar. (It's a pictorial blog chronicling dead malls.) I went in for a cup of coffee and they didn't even have that. I asked Tim what had happened and he said, "It was decimated by a culture bomb. The bomb known as e-commerce."

Tim got out of work at 3:30 on Friday, so we got together, watched the end of Moneyball and then had some dinner. We swung by the place where my friend Steve works and after that I went with Tim to a local bar for the surprise party for a friend of his and then we turned in early because he had to work the next day.

I walked around town for a bit, and was reminded that I was Keene by the hastily cleaned up vomit on the sidewalks. This was really pleasant. It was cold, but not windy, and there were a few flurries. I walked over the meet my friend Steve and his son for breakfast at a place called the Pub. It was decent. I had a breakfast burrito. They did something I had never seen before, but which I thought was pretty clever. They had some trivia in the center of the place mat, and the answers to that trivia in the ads surrounding it, making a customer more likely to read the ads than he otherwise would be.

Isn't that a neat idea?

I went with Steve to drop off a t-shirt to his daughter and then we hung out for a bit. This is getting long, so I think I'll break it into two posts.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Legion of Super Heroes: In Your Dreams

The latest Legion of Super Heroes episode review.

I liked this episode a lot. We open with a bunch of bad guys breaking into a factory to steal some explosives. The Legion, in the form of Brainy, Timber Wolf, Lightning Lad and Star Boy, is there waiting for them (Timber Wolf growls, and Brainy says "I believe that's angry wolf growl for 'end of the line.'"), but the bad guys, the Dark Circle, manage to fight them off and blow the joint with the Legion still inside. (He says "Until next time," when triggering the explosion, which struck me as kind of a silly quip, seeing as he just blew them up and they're not going to be around for a next time.)


And freeze on the explosion. We were just watching some footage, a technique used earlier in the season in Cry Wolf. Timber Wolf says that Brainy has their attention, but obviously that never happened. Lightning Lad adds, "And never could. The only way those punks could beat us would be in their dreams."

From off stage Dream Girl answers, "Not in their dreams, Lightning Lad. In mine," which isn't bad as kiddie cartoon segues go.

Lightning Lad greets her coldly. She responds in kind. Brainy explains that Computo has been monitoring Dream Girl's dreams in response to the rise in Dark Circle activity in hopes of getting a leg up on them.

Dream Girl is adorable. Dream Weaver plays in my mind every time she's on the screen.  She's had some rough times in her comics incarnations though.  Was Dave Sim writing for the Legion? Here's her Wikipedia entry. (And I think it's so weird that Wikipedia lists the Legionnaires by their real names.I mean  Superman isn't listed under Kal-El.)

Back to the factory.  The Dark Circle repeats their break-in. This time the Legion is ready for them. We get a callback to Brainy's earlier quip.

Timber Wolf: *Growl*
Brainy: I believe that's angry wolf growl for-
Timber Wolf: -end of the line.
Lightning Lad: Blah blah blah.
Star Boy: It wasn't that funny the first time, Brainy.

The Legion defeats them handily while making bad jokes. In Fear Factory, I mentioned that I like the Legion cartoon because it strikes me as a bunch of buddies playing beer and pretzels superheroes around their dining room table. It's stupid for Lightning Lad to say, "Gosh, how are we gonna find them now?" but he does it anyway, and all the gaming groups I've been a part of have never passed up the opportunity to do something stupid if it gets a laugh.

"Gosh, how are we gonna find them now?"

They smack the shit out of the Dark Circle, and Timber Wolf suggests that Lightning Lad cut Dream Girl some slack because it was due to her efforts that the Dark Circle didn't escape with the explosive. Lightning Lad wants to know who to thank for the explosive triggers they did get away with. What kind of facility manufactures both explosives AND triggers? What kind of facility stores them both together? Jesus, the server room at my old job had tighter security than that.

We get a brief interlude with the Dark Circle boss. The subordinate who escaped capture on the mission suggests that they have a mole in their ranks, but the commander, Gullug, believes that the Leion must be using a precog. Nice to see some competence on the bad guy's part.

Back on board the briefing room in the Legion cruiser, Brainy is telling the other Legionnaires that he believes the Dark Circle will target the United Planet's dedication ceremony. Star Boy and Timber Wolf are ignoring him and playing with a paper football.

Brainy asks acidly, "I'm sorry. Am I boring you two?" Star Boy tells him to relax, that Dream Girl will give them what they need to stop the Dark Circle.

Lightning Lad points out again that she failed to prevent the theft of the triggers, and also brings up the fact that she worked as a con woman before joining the Legion. He stomps off, she follows, and she tells him that she never tried to con anyone with her powers, that she only ever tried to help people. He whirls on her and says, "Help? Is that what you were doing for my parents when they came to you? They were desperate for answers about my lost sister, and you promised them a miraculous reunion if they traveled to the planet Nema. When it didn't happen, they were devastated."

I'm not sure if Lightning Lad is wearing lifts or if Dream Girl is just three feet tall.

She says, "There were times when what I saw weren't what people wanted to see, so I made things up. It was easier that way. I'm sorry."

Lightning Lad is not having any of it, and I can't say I blame him. How is this anything but a con? One would assume that she accepted some form of compensation for her visions, and the only way this could be more of a con would be if she burglarized their house when they were away.

That was a great scene, because not only do we get a callback to the events involving his sister Ayla (resolved in Chained Lightning), but it provides a very convincing explanation for what initially appeared to be irrational dislike.

She excuse herself in order to go to Brainy's lab for another dream recording. We get a brief scene of a cloaked Dark Circle guy sticking a little widget on the dream recording device.

You can insert your own quote from Predator here.

The framing shots suggest that these scenes are taking place in the Legion Cruiser, and if the Dark Circle can sneak on board undetected and pretty much have the run of the place I don't know why they're having so much trouble stealing a little bit of penatate.

Next scene, the Legion is watching one of Dream Girl's dreams. She comments that she doesn't remember having one last night, but Mister Twelfth level intellect brushes that aside with the observation that people often don't remember their dreams. It's a second manufacturing facility for the exact same explosive. Thank goodness they had a precog on hand to identify that as the next target!

Timber Wolf, Star Boy and Lightning Lad are down at the facility, and Brainy is coordinating. He has two monitors set up, one for real time, one for the dream. I liked this scene quite a bit too. Things diverge almost immediately, and the Legionnaires on the ground figure out that something isn't right. Brainy looks closer at the recording, sees that it was time stamped with yesterday's date and realizes that they were set up.

A bunch of Dark Circle dude decloak and open fire, but Star Boy pulls a Neo and stops their bullets.

Star Boy got a lot of play as the series wound down, and they did make him pretty cool. They were expecting this, and one of them pushes a button to detonate the bullets and release some tear gas. The Dark Circle monologs for a bit and implies that Dream Girl helped them. They go to execute the Legionnaires, but Brainy shows up and the good guys fight their way out.

They return to Cruiser to arrest Dream Girl. Timber Wolf looks pretty cool in this scene, and I think that's the one and only time I'll say something nice about him for these reviews.

Dream Girl manages to elude them, at one point donning a suit of power armor similar to what Superman wore when he fought against Drax in Phantoms.

Dude, you just got schooled by a girl, in a swimming suit, with a butterfly on it.
They capture her, and she wakes up. It was only a dream! I should have known. Timber Wolf would never be cool in real life. She's worried that it will come to pass, so she leaves the cruiser, and is captured by the Dark Circle. They inject her with a sedative and monitor her dreams, just as the Legion was doing. They get a sneak preview of the satellite dedication ceremony and make their plans based on that.

Cut to the actual dedication ceremony. Timber Wolf says they've done everything they can. Personally, I think "doing everything you can" should include assembling a team including Superman and his clone instead of Star Boy, Timber wolf and Lightning lad, but I'm not a Legionniare.

Some hideous brain monster is speaking at a podium

Who knew Validus had a brother?

when an explosion goes off and the Dark Circle attacks. Star Boy expresses surprise that they made it through the alert perimeter, but Brainy tells him that they must have seen it in the dream.

The battle begins. Lightning Lad charges in and says, "They may know what I'm going to do, but they still have to stop it." which reminds me of the cool quote from Terminator,  "There is no fate but what we make for ourselves."

What's the deal with this guy?  Presumably he's some kind of alien with four eyes, but what's the point of having identity concealing masks if you're going to customize them like that?

The Legion retreats to a bridge, the Dark Circle detonates the explosives they'd hidden there and they briefly dance a victory jig before Brainy reveals that those were just holographic projections that they saw on the bridge. I liked that. I liked this whole episode. It had sensible measures and countermeasures on each side, which was something I enjoyed about Sundown back in the first season.

Lightning Lad rescues Dream Girl, and back at the ceremony, Gullug, the head bad guy attempts to trigger his failsafe explosions, but they don't go off. The camera pans up to Dream Girl holding the triggers. She says "How'd I know where to find them? Came to me in a dream!" which is pretty weaksauce as plot twists go. Dream Girl saw the future in her dream? Holy Shit. I think the best part is Gullug's expression of baffled disbelief as he's dragged away.

"...and I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling Naltorian!"
Otherwise, pretty good. And that's the last of the standalone episodes before the two part series finale.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Legos and Princesses

We had a pretty nice little time this both this weekend and the one before it, though the same could not be said for the family of Pinky, Lily's little pink stuffed dog.

Me: Are you Pinky's mom?
Lily: I adopted her.
Me: Oh, that's nice.
Lily: Her family died.
Me: Oh, I-
Lily: They were shot when they were eating their dinner.
Me :...

Sucks to be Pinky's family.

Last weekend we went to a large indoor flea market in Quakertown. Apparently everyone knew about this place but me. We also went to Bounce U where Lily met up with a little friend from her old school. I'm glad that she's keeping in touch.

This weekend we hit Ikea to pick up some stuff. They have a little gulag where you can stow your kids. It's decorated with little plush houseflies stapled to the wall. Weird. I wonder if the company makes plush maggots for those who want the complete lifecycle.

We did our shopping and came back and Sunday was all about Legos and Princesses.

I love Legos. I don't think there was ever a point in my life when I didn't love them. (Though there was that period in high school where I didn't talk about loving them.) Now that I've got a kid, I can play with Legos again without being judged too harshly. (Same thing with watching cartoons. Sweet deal.) I wanted to have a grownup Lego party with my friends, but they pretty unanimously thought it was a terrible idea. Bah! Screw you, Josh's friends! A Lego party is a great idea.

I showed Lily this playset online and she got pretty excited about it and we went down to Toys R Us to pick it up.

I knew about the "girly" Lego sets and I figured we'd probably see those too. Lily had $35 to spend (a $20 gift card, a $10 one and a five dollar bill) and we picked out the last superhero set they had. It was $25, so we looked around for something cheap to buy with the rest of the money. That's when she noticed the girly stuff and decided to put Lex and Supes back in exchange for Olivia's treehouse.

I wasn't happy about it, because I'm not thrilled about the idea of "Legos for girls" (Not that I think that girls shouldn't be allowed to play with Legos, but that the ones marketed towards girls tend to reinforce stereotypical girly activities to the exclusion of other avenues. They seem to say "Boys can do anything; girls can do this." I've written about my dislike for the practice here), but part of being a parent is learning to accept the decisions you don't agree with, and this is pretty small potatoes in the big scheme of things.

After that, we took in a 3-D show of Beauty & the Beast. It had a short Rapunzel film in the beginning. 

The Rapunzel short was pretty great, though I'm partial to to petite brunettes with big green eyes, seeing as a married one. Even without that, it was a lot of fun, and cute to watch, just like the original movie.

So, Beauty and the Beast. Belle is probably my favorite of the traditional Disney Princesses. (I like Rapunzel and Kida from Atlantis: The Lost Empire more, but Rapunzel doesn't really fit in the Princess Pantheon, and nobody remembers Kida. We caught Atlantis earlier in the week, and it's probably going to get its own post soon. Lily liked Kida too, though. She said "She's more adventurous than most princesses.")

It's a great movie though. This is the first time I've seen it on the big screen, and though the 3-D was added long after the movie was completed, and didn't really add a lot to it. However, all the characters, and Belle in particular, were lovingly animated, and I was able to see all the little details in her mannerisms on the big screen.

I think I first saw the movie about when I started dating Jen, in about 1995. Gaston didn't really bother me that much. I thought he was pretty boring as an antagonist, to be completely honest. But as an adult, he gets under my skin more than most villains, and I think it's because of the scene in Belle's house.

Take a look at these screenshots I took. I don't know how intentional this was on the part of the animators, but Gaston's body language, the way he gets in Belle's face, his aggressiveness, the way he pushes aside the chair she drags between them. Seeing it as an adult, it really looked like he was just short of rape and that's disturbing in any context, but particularly one like this.

Blech. On to things I enjoyed about the movie.

I love the coach into which the Beast puts Maurice when sending him home. I'm not sure what it's supposed to be, though.

All the other stuff in the castle was former servants transformed into animated clocks and candelabras and such. We've got the one dog that was changed into a foot rest, but otherwise the pattern holds. So what the fuck is that thing supposed to be? It moves like a spider (and it's accompanied by a cool chittering sound when it moves) but I find it unlikely that the prince had some kind of giant spider monster on the palace staff.

And while we're pointing out plot holes in a kid's fantasy movie, the Beast has until his 21st birthday to find True Love. At one point, Mrs. Potts says they've been trapped like this for ten years, so the only explanation that makes sense (such as it is) is that the prince was ten years old when the enchantress cursed him and everyone in the castle, which was kind of a dick move on her part.

(Also, speaking of weird ages, Mrs. Potts must have been, what, 65 when Chip was born?)

I love the Beast in the absolute black depths of his depression.  He choose to free the woman he loved, but that meant dooming not only himself, but everyone who trusted him to a lifetime trapped in these monstrous forms.  When Mrs. Potts come to tell him that the castle is being invaded, he can barely answer her. "It doesn't matter."

I love his fight with Gaston too. Gaston kicks open the door, shoots him, chases him on the roof, and the Beast is doing the minimum he needs to stay alive. Gaston must think they're evenly matched or that he perhaps even has the edge over the Beast until Belle returns. The Beast sees her and has something to fight for, so he just spills Gaston over effortlessly. It's possibly my favorite display of powerfully controlled strength in any medium.

And then he turns into a prince, all the servants change back into people and after that, there's nothing left but for them to live happily ever after.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

10 sequels to Zelazny works that I'd want to read (and one that I wouldn't)

Writing about Elegy the other day got me thinking. I was originally going to include a top ten list of works more in need of a sequel than The Graveyard Heart, but then I reconsidered, as the post was already snarky enough and I try not to be too negative with my posts if I can help it. However, I do think it's a conversation worth having, even though we're never going to see these books.

With that said, here is my subjective, intuitive, and biased list, in ascending order.

10.) Isle of the Dead/To Die in Italbar: I guess we got a quasi-sequel with Dismal Light, but it's so short that it barely seems to count.  I think some people would argue that Italbar doesn't count either, but I've always rather liked it. I still think that Sandow has more stories in him.

9.) Doorways in the Sand: Not a sequel about Fred, because his story is mostly complete, but maybe he can have a cameo in the police procedural starring Charv and Ragma!

8.) Dilvish: I recall that Zelazny had expressed some interest in continuing Dilvish beyond the events in the Changing Land, because it would be interesting to explore what a monomaniac does once the source of his obsession is taken. Dilvish is already thinking ahead, and when Arlata asks him what he's going to do when he's finished his quest, he answers, not "I'm going to Disneyland!" but that he wishes to reclaim his ancestral homelands.  I think the interesting part will be watching him adapt to a life without Jelerak, rather than what he intends to do with that life.

7.) Night Kings: This might come as a bit of a surprise, because I said I could give or take the story, but I'd like the see what such a shop was like in period of non crisis. Zelazny wrote in the introduction to one collection (I want to say it's The Last Defender of Camelot, but I can't check because someone is borrowing my copy. Corwin was right when he said "Only your friends steal your books") that if he couldn't write worth a damn, his second choice for a career would be running a hardware store. I suppose I've always carried that association with me and I think it would be really interesting to have a Zelaznian take on the mundane aspects of such a place.

6.) Kalifriki: Kalifriki was the final recurring character Zelazny created before the end of his life and he almost certainly would have written more Kalifriki stories had he the time. Kalifriki had ample room to expand in whatever ways the stories took him.

5.) Lord of Light: As with Fred, Sam's story has been told, but so many others haven't.  There's enough to fuel an anthology here.  Stories of the First, of the Binding of the Rakasha, the battles of the Mothers of the Glow, the journeys of Krishna away from Heaven, the legendary thefts by Helba, of  the great blue-feather cloak which belonged to Srit, Chief among the Kataputna demons, or the shape-changing jewel he took from the very Dome of the Glow, climbing with suction discs upon his wrists and knees and toes, with the Mothers beneath him...

4.) Amber I'm pretty open with my disappointment for the Merlin books. I do get the impression that whatever passion he'd had for the series had petered out by the time he was wrapping up the Merlin books and he just wanted to finish it. However, the short stories have a passion and a purpose, and it felt like they were building towards something again.

3.) My Name is Legion: Zelazny himself left open the possibility of writing more Nemo stories if the spirit moved him. They were written in the 70s, and there were so many advances in technology since then that Zelazny could have done some truly stunning things. On the other hand, I still think that Hangman is one of the very best things he's written in a very long and distinguished career and  if the series had to end so soon, I'm pleased that it ended on a high note.

2.) Roadmarks:
I love everyone in this book. Man, there are so many ways to go with this. Red's early adventures with Leila? With Chadwick? The further adventures of Mondamy and Flowers? Timyin Tin? Toba and Sundoc? Archie? Mix and match with characters from the story, or go in a different direction and assemble another crew of superpowered weirdos for a new Black Decade against a completely new character. The possibilities are as endless as the Road.

1.) A Night in the Lonesome October: I think this is another concept ripe for an anthology. (Specifically, I'd love to see the folks who contributed to Lord of the Fantastic each pen a story about the Game.) According to this page from NASA, four years in the 20th Century had full moons on Halloween,  1925, 1944, 1955, 1974. Not much was going on in 1925, but a Great Game set during World War II? That would be incredible!  (And the one in the 50s would have to have the Universal studios monsters and Norman Bates) If we went the novel route, I'd love to see flashbacks or allusions to earlier Games and how they tie into the current one.

And the sequel that I wouldn't want to read? Jack of Shadows. I love it, but it's complete and a sequel would undermine that wonderful ending. With that said, I wouldn't mind reading Shadowland, the prequel that Zelazny outlined (and which is collected in the Road to Amber, the sixth volume of the Collected Stories) that tells how Jack's world came to be as it was.

So,  that's my list. What about you guys?