Friday, March 30, 2012

Legion of Super Heroes: Dark Victory, Pt. 2

And here it is, the last of my Legion of Super-heroes episode reviews.

When we last left Brainiac Five, he was evil and had set a course for Colu. But he's clearly not all bad. En Route to Colu, he swings by Thanagar, where the ridiculous bird people give him a hard time. They're unintentionally ridiculous. Or perhaps intentionally ridiculous. I can't even tell.

"You are violating Thanagarian airspace. State your intentions or face our terrible wrath!"

The Thanagarian leader milks the giant cow and informs Brainy that he has grossly underestimated Thanagarian might, but Brainy fucks them up like the jobbers they are and digitizes the lot of them.

The Legion warns the Coluans about Brainy, but the Coluans brush them off and end the transmission. Lightning Lad sets a course Colu, but he says "But we won't beat him there. Not unless this cruiser can travel faster than...Superman." And then he stops when he realizes what he said.

Cosmic Boy breaks the silence by saying, "We should say our goodbyes now. With what's coming, we might not have another chance."

This is nicely done scene. The Legion grieves in silence, and those who can offer comfort do so. The coffin holding Superman rolls out.

I particularly like it when Blok puts his arm around Shrinking Violet and when we see Duo Damsel comforting herself. Then it is blasted from the Cruiser into a nearby star.

Brainy is intercepted by the Coluans, who seemingly overcome him, imprison him and begin the process of reprogramming him. Spoilers! It doesn't work.

Meanwhile, Superman X is in his quarters. Timber Wolf enters, and informs him that he missed the service. Kell just says, "I can't believe he's gone."

Timber Wolf: Hey, we'll get through this together. We're all taking the loss of Superman hard.
Superman X: Superman? I'm talking about Imperiex!

I thought that was a cool  exchange, and I actually didn't see it coming the first time. X says that his life's purpose has been taken from him and he feels so useless. Instead of confirming that he is useless, Timber Wolf gives him a tough love pep talk and tells him that Brainy's still on the loose and they'd better stop him. X says it's useless, that he's seen the future and Brainy wins. He then smacks Brin around a bit (yay!) and stomps off. Before he can leave the room, however, he feels Superman's awareness and realizes that he's still alive.

Meanwhile, Brainy is in his Hannibal Lecter restraints.

"Hello, Clarice."
The Head Coluan Lady says that he's resisting programming and that if he doesn't open himself up, they'll just delete him. Now, I personally, am not a twelfth level intelligence, but that seems like the smart way to go about it. Don't dick around with him, just overwrite him with zeroes and ones. Maybe there was something about him that they wished to preserve, so that was a last resort, but it seems like this dialogue was written by a person who didn't really know anything about computers.

Anyways, rather than reprogramming him, he reprograms them! Oh! Shocker!

Meanwhile, X dives into the sun and pulls Superman out. Then the Legion gives Superman a blood transfusion, so that he'll inherit X's immunity to Kryptonite, which is really a useful enough precaution that they should have done it proactively.

Brainy and his army of Coluans show up and try to digitize the ship, only to fail. Cosmic Boy tells him that Computo showed them how to prevent digitization.

There's a big fight. Brainy merges the assembled Coluans into the body for a super-sized robot and makes skullship into the head.

"And I'll form...the head!"

If that's not enough, he figures out how to bypass the anti-digitization devices they're wearing and starts picking them off one by one.

Superman asks Saturn Girl to project him into Brainy's mind. X tags along too and once there, they see that the original Brainiac is in charge and that Brainiac 5 has gone to pieces.

No disassemble! Number Five is alive!

Inside Brainy's mind, Brainiac is kicking the Legion's ass. Outside, he's also kicking their ass.

No, not Tyroc!

Superman and Superman X are overcome by Brainiac, so Saturn Girl combines them into one body. Here's a picture, because he looks kind of neat.

Sun boy tears up Brainy, but then Brainiac takes control of Lightning Lad's robot arm, saying, "I created that cannon." No you didn't. You installed it. When Lightning Lad wakes up in the Shrinking Violet even rattles off some ad copy for it. ("It's the cybernetic 4000. With models coming in both left and right, it fires explosive charges, lasers, and of course, lightning. All powered and amplified by your own bio-electric energy..") I put a new video card in my computer last week, but I'm not telling people that I fucking created it, jackass.

Inside Brainy's mind, the Superman and Brainiac 1 yell cliches at each other until Brainiac kicks his ass for the final time. But Brainiac 5 has reassembled himself and strikes down his ancestor. This hits the reset button over in the real world, and, inexplicably, turns Brainy into a biological organism. Even by the standards of this episode, that just makes no sense, and came completely out of nowhere.

Brainiac 5: His love is real. But he is not.

We end with a pep talk and Brainy leaving the Legion. Superman X opens a gateway back to the future, and the white Triplicate Girl returns from his time portal.

Superman X is sworn in as a for real Legionnaire, and the last scene is Brainiac reforming himself out of the wreckage, proclaiming to no one in particular, "Evil does not die. It evolves."

And thus ends the series. The first season was great, the second had its moments, but was ultimately disappointing, but I do like that they were moving towards a more serial method of storytelling and would have liked to see things explored further in a third season. The first season two parter worked as individual episodes, but this not as much. The Legion Abstract said it best "It's also an odd way to end a series. I'm sure that when the writers mapped out the season they didn't know it would be the last, so what can you do, but I'd like the Legion's final villain to be someone other than my favourite superhero." My thoughts exactly.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"I love you." "I know."

Freelancing has improved my work ethic. I try to get in eight solid hours work a day now that I'm working out of a home office. That means waking up, checking yesterday's work, taking a break for breakfast and the morning routine, getting Lily on the bus, working solid for another five hours, then picking her up and squeezing in what I can in the couple hours before Jen gets home.

Last week, Lily was doing some coloring and I thought that would give me a chance to get a little work done. But, five minutes in, she approached me with her picture in hand and asked if I wanted to help. I told her that she was doing a nice job and she should keep at it, but she protested, telling me that this was a picture for mommy and it would mean more if it came from both of us. How could I say no to that?

So we were coloring it, each of us working on another piece of the picture, and Lily was so serious, with her tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth, concentrating like this was the most important thing in the world. And she reminds me so much of Jen in times like this, and when I said, "I love you," she replied, "I love you too, daddy," without putting the crayon down.

It's the way that she said it that gets me. It was absently, but with the absolute understanding that I love her and that's how things are and how things should be. I love her, she loves me back.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Roger Zelazny Casting Call: Jasra

I spend a lot of time complaining about the Merlin books, but even I have to admit it did give us a number of memorable characters. Take the first time we meet Jasra in Trumps of Doom. She's trumping into Victor Melman's apartment because Merlin, pretending to be Melman had answered the phone and pretended to be wounded. After he hangs up, Merlin observes, "I cradled the phone and smiled. I thought it very well played. I'd a feeling I'd taken her in completely."

An instant later she was there-tall, russet-haired, darkeyed, holding what looked like a .38 automatic.

The ashtray hit her in the stomach and she doubled forward with a gasp.

I was there before she could straighten.

I jerked the gun out of her hand and threw it across the room. Then I seized both her wrists, spun her around and seated her hard in the nearest chair. In her left hand she still held a Trump. I snatched ~ it away. It was a representation of this apartment, and it was done in the same style as the Tree and the cards in my pocket.

"Who are you?" I snarled.

"Jasra," she spat back, "dead man!"

She opened her mouth wide and her head fell forward. I felt the moist touch of her lips upon the back of my left forearm, which still held her own right wrist against the chair's arm. Seconds later I felt an excruciating pain there. It was not a bite, but rather felt as if a fiery nail had been driven into my flesh.

Perhaps our first indication that Merlin is not as smart as he thinks he is. I like Jasra. What's not to like? She spent of bunch of time trying to murder Merlin. I can't imagine a more worthwhile pursuit. In fact, my biggest complaint about her hobby is that she wasn't very good at it.

She's fun to read about, and she has real depth. There's a core to Jasra, and it's a testament to Zelazny's skill that she's capable of getting across that same core personality, but emphasizing different aspects to it as she enters into new situations.

We get this description of her in Knight of Shadows:

She had on a low over-one-shoulder (the left) white dress, fastened at the shoulder with a diamond pin, and she wore a tiara, also of diamonds, which seemed almost to be radiating in the infrared range amidst her bright hair.  She was smiling, and she smelled good, too. Involuntarily I felt myself standing straighter, and I glanced at my fingernails to be certain they were clean.

That's the same woman that was in Victor Melman's apartment, but she's presenting herself differently. It doesn't come across as a mask as much as it does a complicated character deciding on which facet of her personality is most appropriate for her environment.

She's the schemer, the assassin, the master, the apprentice, Brand's wife, and Dara's maid. All that, and Luke's hot mom too.

I think the person I see in the role is Francesca Annis.

Annis herself was schooled in a convent and trained as a ballet dancer and she's probably best known for playing Jessica in the 1984 movie adaptation of Dune, where she was the hot mom to a superhuman youth. She mixes poise, sensuality and menace, and is capable of switching between them effortlessly. I think she'd make a fine Jasra.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Top o' the mornin' to ya

There's a definite hierarchy to holidays. The top tier is Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter. The big ones. You don't have to go to work, and you still get paid but the Post Office doesn't deliver any mail. Right behind those are Halloween, Valentine's Day, Father's Day, important celebrations, to be sure, but not the kind of thing a kid gets herself worked up about weeks in advance. Beyond those are the holidays-in-name-only that I got off when I worked for the County, Flag Day, Arbor Day, St Swithin's Day, etc.

By all rights, Saint Patrick's Day belongs in the bottom tier, but Lily promoted it right to the top. I don't know what it is, but she's been asking about it for weeks. She woke up, wished us a "Top o' the mornin'!" and was generally as excited about it as every conversation since Valentine's Day had led us to believe.

I liked Gaelic Culture a lot when I was growing up, and I've found a lot of geeks do. It's different enough to be exotic, but not so much to be inaccessible. Part of was my lifelong interest in mythology and another part of it is my love of the works of Roger Zelazny, who drew on the myths to write some of his best known books.

(Another component is that I really like the color green. Not that I wear it all the time or anything, but I like seeing it around. It's just kind of a low level of happiness. It's kind of like baseball for me. I never really followed baseball, but I lived in Philly for a while and still have a level of goodwill towards the Phillies. I still listen to the Philadelphia NPR station and they would report the scores for the previous night's games during my morning commute and it would make me vaguely happy if I heard the Phillies won. Seeing people in green is like that. Just a small amount of happiness, but the cumulative effect is pretty impressive on Saint Patrick's Day.)

On Saturday, we went to Bethlehem's second annual Parade of Shamrocks.  We got there early and I took a couple pictures of Lily, but she's going through a phase where she either turns away or makes a face whenever she notices a camera on her. It's like photographing Bart Simpson.

If you're thinking, "It looks like she's pooping," that's not an accident. She described this as her "pooping face" and this picture is definitely coming out on prom night.

The parade itself was a bit underwhelming. There were just a bunch of things that didn't seem to belong in a Saint Patrick's Day parade. I can almost forgive the three dozen or so cars plugging Kelly's used cars, because there's at least the nominal connection between Kelly (Green) and Saint Patrick's Day, but random people walking their dogs? What was that about?! And they weren't even Irish Setters.

And, yeah, local businesses are an important part of padding out a local parade, but when a segment concludes with a car plugging fire extinguisher training and a garbage truck, I think it's safe to say that your Saint Patrick's Day parade has lost sight of the reason for the season.

Those are my sneakers in the picture, and and they're as Irish as anything else in the shot.

Lily liked it, though and we stopped for some shamrock shakes, so I call the day a success!

That was our Saturday. On Sunday, I spent a couple hours helping my elderly grandmother with her shopping. She told a bunch of boring stories and complained about everything. It's probably what this blog sounds like if you read it out loud.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A picture of me!

If you were wondering what I looked like and happened to be unsatisfied with a picture at the bottom of the page from two years ago.

I like this picture because I happened to put on this t-shirt yesterday, completely forgetting that the date was 3/14.

Last week, I spent ten minutes trying to explain the concept of pi to Lily before I realized how ridiculous that was. Now she's counting "One, two, three, pi, four," and I'm going to be the one explaining this to her teacher.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Watching Cartoons with Lily: All-Star Superman

The movie version of All Star Superman is a mediocre adaptation of a great set of stories. No, let's call things by their proper names. Adaptation implies that someone looked at the source material, then reworked it for its new format. As good as the comic was, it's not going to make a great movie if one merely transcribe the words and the events without concern for art or artistry. And unfortunately, that's pretty much what was done.

And make no mistake, it was a great series. There's a superb interview with author Grant Morrison, possibly the best talent working in the field today,  where he talks about it at considerable length. The interview is in ten parts and I'll link to the last one because it has an index to all the previous installments and you can work backward from that if you are so inclined.

All Star Memories: Grant Morrison on All Star Superman

Morrison describes meeting a man in a Superman costume at a convention:

He was perched with one knee drawn up, chin resting on his arms. He looked totally relaxed...and I suddenly realized this was how Superman would sit. He wouldn't puff out his chest or posture heroically, he would be totally chilled. If nothing can hurt you, you can afford to be cool. A man like Superman would never have to tense against the cold; never have to flinch in the face of a blow. He would be completely laid back, un-tense.

In his writing of the character Superman, Morrison identifies different aspects of his personality, stating, "'Superman' is an act. 'Clark Kent' in Metropolis is also an act. There are actually two Kents, at least – one is a disguise, a bumbling, awkward mask for Superman. The other is the confident, strong, good-hearted Clark Kent who was raised by his surrogate Ma and Pa in Kansas and knows how to drive a tractor. I think he's the most 'real' of all." In my post, Superman and the Better Angels of our Nature, one of the pieces I'm proudest of having written, I note that Alfred Bester called Clark Kent the real hero and Superman merely his "gun", and I think that Morrison is saying the same thing here.

It's got the best summary of Superman's origin I've ever read.

In the piece to which I linked above, the interviewer notes that recurring theme throughout the book is the effect of small kindness. I think that's why I like it as much as I do. The characterization is pitch perfect. I never had much of an opinion one way or the other on Perry White but Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely brought him alive for me with one panel. When confronted by a godlike Lex Luthor who absently observes that White's work at the Planet sent him to the electric chair, White rages back at him, "The truth sent you to the chair, Luthor!"

It even makes Jimmy Olsen cool. 

The movie cut three of my favorite pieces, which, while unfortunate, is understandable. The first was when Superman's father has a fatal heart attack when Superman is chaining the time-eating Chronovore with the help of the Superman of the 5th dimension, the Superman of the 853rd Century and his own future self (Comics, everybody!) I liked that part, not for that, but the words that he says afterward, at his father's viewing.

The other is when the miniature people of Kandor are unable to cure him, but they can certainly save the kids in the local children's ward.

The other part I like is when he convinces a young woman not to commit suicide, which was probably cut to ensure a PG rating. It's wonderful though.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that stories have to be tailored to their medium. My friend Karen disagrees and we've had a couple heated exchanges about the changes made from when the Harry Potter books were made into movies. I think the changes were made out of necessity. What works in a short story doesn't work in a play. What works in a play doesn't work in a movie. (Unless you happen to be David Mamet.)

The movie isn't bad. The story just isn't suited to the medium. As I said above, it wasn't really adapted. They took a bunch of lines and images from the comic and put them on the screen. I've always liked the animation in Justice League or Superman: The Animated Series where we get the visceral feel of Superman bending steel or rushing in in a blur of motion. These things aren't present in the comic, but I feel their addition would help make for a stronger movie. "The book was better" is an old chestnut, but I think it's true here. The movie doesn't give us anything that the comics didn't.

The story is basically the same. Superman, while saving a mission to the sun, is overloaded by all the solar radiation he absorbs. He normally metabolizes sunlight to fuel his powers, but he's taken in too much and though it's pushed his powers to incredible heights, it's also killing him. Superman had never really thought about a legacy, but now he knows his time is limited, so he sets out to complete a kind of bucket list before he goes.

That's the framework tying the stories together, and I think it works really well. Another thing I really like is that Morrison reintroduces Solaris, the Tyrant Sun, the villain from his run on DC One Million. Solaris was such a great villain, a sentient artificial sun that goes back in time to ensure its own creation. I loved him, but he's pretty obscure. I was working in a comic book store in the 90s, and even then, I don't think I've ever heard another human being voice an opinion one way or the other about Solaris.

It has a very striking design too.

"I will eat your sun, and replace it in the sky. Your people will pray to me, or die in the cold dark."

Lily liked the movie a lot though, so maybe I wasn't the target audience. The funny thing was that she was more worried about Superman getting embarrassed than she was about him dying. When he's walking across the street with Lois early on, she asked, "Is he going to get sick in front of Lois?" and then, when he pulled open his shirt to reveal the costume, she asked, "Is she still going to like him in his secret identity?"

So we go through the arc where he gives her superpowers for her birthday and it culminates with the scene of them kissing on the moon and Lily was overcome with joy at this that I feel bad about the tepid praise I've given the movie so far.

We talked a little about adoption, as we always do when we watch Superman, and how he's lucky to have two sets of parents who loved him so much.

She really liked the brief glimpse of the Bottle City of Kandor, and said, "That's kind of a boring name for such a cool city."

Finally, when Superman confronts Solaris one of his pets that he had released previously when cleaning up his affairs comes to his rescue and attacks the sun. Lily asks, "Is that a Sun Eater?" and I blinked, and said yes, but there is one throwaway line about the Sun Eater early on, and I don't think we ever actually see it, and it's kind of amazing that she would think to ask the question.

Overall, I think it's a great story, but not such a great movie. I hate to be the guy who says "Read the book", the book.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Legion of Super Heroes: Dark Victory, Pt. 1

I started writing this a month ago, and I shelved it and never got back to it. These two episodes will be the end of the Legion reviews, and I don't want to end on a sour, note, but unfortunately, the series did,  and there's really no making lemonade out these lemons.

So let's be on it. Brainiac 5 is playing chess with his ancestor above a peaceful ocean. This is the last good scene of the series, but it's really well done. Chess has long been a metaphor for strategy, and the two Coluans talk as they play their game with chess pieces fashioned in Superman's likeness.

 As usual, Corey Burton is a great Brainiac. Brainy moves to place his ancestor in check, but the original takes his turn and moves a piece of his own, toppling Brainy's king (at least I assume it's the king, but all those pieces look pretty much the same) which falls to the board with a thunderous boom. I thought that was an extremely nice use of the sound effect.

In answer, Brainy flips the board and assumes his war mech mode.

Red Brainiac chess pieces rise up from the board, but Brainy blasts them and Brainiac. Brainy orders his ancestor out of his head. His ancestor reforms a new body out of the rubble with Brainiac 5's head atop it.

He tells Brainy that he can be so much more if he'll embrace the Brainiac programming. Brainiac 5 rejects that and blows Brainiac's head clean off. When the smoke clears, it is Imperiex he sees.

And this is where the scene stops being good.(As if the presence of Imperiex weren't enough to clue you in to that.) Imperiex tells him that those files he downloaded from Computo in the beginning of the season alterted him to the existence of a backdoor into Brainiac 5's programming and it was he who unleashed the Brainiac programming.

Wait. What. The. Fuck? How does that even make any sense? Didn't Brainiac 5 build Computo? I don't know which part is stupider, the idea that Brainiac 5 decided to tuck away some code that would turn him evil, or that he did that, AND THEN JUST FORGOT ABOUT IT!

Anyway, Imperiex reaches out and is all like "Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy as father and son!" but Brainy blasts him and then he wakes up, which makes perfect sense, since it's common knowledge that growing robots need eight hours of sleep.


Imperiex is giving a motivational speech to his legions. I like the visuals here, and they give a good sense of the scope of his operations. The problem, as usual, is Imperiex. His pep talk and his speech remind me of nothing so much as the "Are you ready to rumble?" guy who announces matches in professional wrestling.

On board the Legion cruiser, we have Cosmic Boy holding a pep rally of his own. Everybody is actually present in a single location, instead of attending via video conferencing as they had done in the past, and under the circumstance, it struck me as kind of foolish. Whatever. It's certainly not the biggest problem with the episode. Brainiac 5 watches silently, and I couldn't help but notice that his reflection comes nowhere near looking how it should.

Perhaps it's a subtle reminder of his conflicted nature. That, or just more of the slapdash QC I'd come to expect from the second season.

At least we get a nice group shot for our troubles.

Cut to Superman and Superman-X walking and talking about Brainy. Since they're both voiced by Yuri Lowenthal, the conversation is kind of strange. X observes that Brainy is acting all weird.

On to a training session. Brainy is manning the Danger Room, when the original shows up as a mental projection and suggests to disable the safeguards for the simulation. Brainy agrees and keeps turning up the level. This isn't a terrible scene. It's not as subtle as it could be, but it doesn't have any glaring flaws either. I like it when Chameleon Boy gets zapped and Superman calls up to pause the sim and Brainy just order to Computo to raise the level again in a flat Brainiac 1 monotone.

Yup, here's your problem. Someone set this thing to "Evil".

Superman defends the rest of the Legion, then bursts into the control room and subdues Brainy, who shakes off his ancestor's influence. There's a lot to like about this scene too. Superman is once again presented as being more powerful than the other Legionnaires. For the bulk of the second season, it seemed like a toss up if you'd want Bouncing Boy or Superman on your away team. This is a return to a Superman who is noticeably stronger than his peers, and I like it.

Shortly afterward, in Brainy's room, Brainiac 5 admits that the Brainiac programming is taking over, and that his point of view is starting to look very appealing. I've complained about the redeisgn for Brainy for this season, but nowhere is the problem more apparent than here. I think the mop-topped child prodigy would be a lot more chilling in the role than a teen-ager with a buzz cut.  Superman appeals to his better nature. He asks Superman to stop him if the Brainiac programming takes him over. Superman says he will. Imperiex attacks and Superman orders him to stay put. That was nicely executed too. I notice, that he calls him Brainiac, rather than Brainy. That was a nice touch.

The Dominators are along with Imperiex and they breach the ship. Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad try to mount a defense, but these particular goons are shielded against each of their powers.

I don't think it's an accident that the three founders wound up together, particularly as this comes not long after the origin story. This episode does have quite a few small moments I liked. It's just the big stuff that sucked.

Inside the cruiser, Brainy is watching the fight on a monitor when Brainiac appears to him and tells him that his friends are going to be killed unless he opens himself further. Brainy is reluctant, but the next scene is him going up and down and to and fro in the ship, smacking down Dominators. He saves both Timber Wolf and Superman-X from imminent execution, which makes me wish he had dithered just a few moments longer. Imperiex flees, while confiding to Validus that this was just a gambit to get Brainy to embrace the Brainiac programming. It's not half bad as villainous plans go, but he needs to choose a better partner for his exposition, because I doubt a mute twenty foot tall unitard-clad brain monster gives two shits about it one way or the other.

The heroes express concern about Brainy, but he reassures them that he's okay. Next scene, he detects Cam and Lightning Lad spying on him in his sleeping chair. He makes small talk and then zaps them before gliding out of the room. He surprises and overcomes Shrinking Violet and then drops a couple more Legionnaires on his way to the hanger bay.

When he opens the pod bay door, he sees Superman waiting for him, arms crossed across his chest, cape fluttering in the airless void of outer space.

It's a very nice Superman pose, but maybe next time you do this, you can come up with a plan that doesn't involve you loitering outside while your friends get their asses kicked.

Superman takes him apart piece by piece,

Brainiac 5 pleads for mercy, and Superman hesitates long enough for Brainy to blast him with a Kryptonite ray. Brainy reconstitutes himself into a form more reminiscent of the original Brainiac. He calls Superman a "King of Weaklings," and removes a ring of Kryptonite from his chest and places it on Superman's head as a crown.

That has so much wrong with it that I just don't know where to start. It made sense in the first season that he would have a chunk of Kryponite as a precaution. But he kept it in a lead container within a secure vault. Putting aside for a moment the absurdity of Brainy pulling a bunch of junk out of a hollow chest cavity like Bender on Futurama, they've been on the Cruiser for how long? Was he carrying that Kryptonite with him the whole time, on the off chance he woke up one day and just decided that he wanted to murder Superman?

Brainy leaves after monologuing for a bit, and Cosmic Boy and Kell recover Superman and stick him in the infirmary. Brainy arrives at Imperiex's place and Imperiex calls the Legion. He starts his generic evil overlord speech and Brainy does everyone a favor by stabbing him through the chest. Imperiex orders Validus to destroy him, but Brainy swivels his head around like an owl and de-rezes him. It's both a clinical and casual execution, and it really works to sell what kind of thing Brainiac 5 has become. 

End of line.

Brainy kills Imperiex and then warns the Legion that it would be ill-advised to try to stop him. He transforms Imperiex's flagship into Brainiac's honeycomb skull ship and then charts a course for Colu.

To be continued!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Replacement JLA: I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League

We had another session for our superhero campaign on Sunday. If you'll excuse the digression, I think the thing I like most about gaming with other adults is that the food is a lot better than it is when you're a kid. When I was in high school, I remember going to the A&P and picking out a big bag of whatever chips were cheapest and maybe ordering a pizza later in the day if the session ran on long. Now, part of the fun with having your friends over is cooking up something special to go with the game. Frederick will often cook up something on the grill for us if it's at his place, and though I've never had the knack for that, this time I made pizza soup, homemade garlic bread, and served some appetizers (soft pretzels, jalapeno poppers and mozzarella sticks).

Pizza soup is easy to make. Combine two cans diced tomatoes, two cups broth, dice some red or green peppers, an onion, half a pound of sausage, add a tablespoon of oregano, put it in a crock pot and simmer for seven or eight hours, then serve topped with cheese. I used vegetable broth and Morningstar sausages so Jen would be able to partake.

Frederick was wearing a Bizarro t-shirt, so I changed into my Superman shirt for the game. The game was at my house this week. Jen had made our attic into a guest room and I set up a table up there and I think it worked out pretty well.

We opened the last session with the JLA Watchtower satellite apparently being destroyed.  and between games, our GM had asked us what we wanted to pursue. Casey suggested recruiting a second replacement JLA. I thought it was worth exploring, but I didn't think we'd have much success, because if "Batman" was recruiting people like us, then I thought it was safe to assume that the bottom of the superhero barrel had already been pretty thoroughly scraped.

The session opened at Blink's house, where we were trying to contact other member who might have survived. There were some jokes about, "Hey, Blink, can I use your computer?" and then a cut to a Facebook status, "Dawnfire has checked in at JLA's new headquarters" complete with map.

I called Tim Hunter's dad,  because my character is most worried about Tim.

Me: Hi, is Tim there?
Tim's dad: No, I haven't seen him in a while. Who is this?
Me: Okay, thanks, bye!
Tim's dad: You're the second person to call for hi- *click*
Me: Whoops. (Calls back) We must have gotten disconnected.
Tim's dad: You said goodbye.
Me: Um, that's just slang from this side of the pond.

We talked a little further and learned that the other caller had been looking for Tim and had called just hours ago. Then Ash's phone rang and the man on the other end asked him if he was still alive. After a brief conversation,  Rächen convinced him to destroy the phone because he might be being tracked through the GPS. (Leading to jokes about "Now they're tracking you through your plasma TV! Smash it!")

Our search for heroes led us to the Teen Titans. We were trying to remember where they were headquartered. I thought it was somewhere on the West Coast because one of the episodes for the series dealt with the satellite team, Titans East. (Frederick joked that "Titans South" had a hovercraft up on blocks outside the headquarters.) Now that I can look it up for this writeup, I see that they were all over the place, having had bases in New York, Gotham, New Jersey, Metropolis, San Francisco, and briefly in a space station.

We go to Titans Tower and Beast Boy greets us. We chat a little, he sends out a message and then he turns on a press conference where Supergirl is announcing that the Justice League has been destroyed, but she and the three masked people with her are carrying on the Legacy as "Justice".

We discuss that for a bit, and Alan Scott arrives. There's some more conversation and Blink explains his goal to reform the Justice League. We go to the old HQ in Rhode Island briefly, then Blink and Dawnfire take off to recruit Doctor Light in Japan. She doesn't want to join, but while we're there, we receive word that Superman's Fortress of Solitude is under attack. We couldn't remember if the Fortress was in the Arctic or the Antarctic, but a look at Wikipedia shows that the people who write the comics can't remember either.

So Blink and I took off to defend the Fortress. We get there and lay into the people attacking the place. We're outnumbered, and outclassed. I get the highest initiative and hit one of them, and her counterattack almost takes me out. Blink, who has low toughness, but high parry and dodge, gets tagged right away by a lucky hit and incapacitated. It was like that fight between Batman and Guy Gardner.

The one figure tells me "Kneel before your better" and I recognize Supergirl's voice. You may remember the previous campaign log where I spend a good paragraph crowing about how easy it was to kick Supergirl's ass. This time, not so much.  I'm going to check on Blink, who ported there in his costume of a t-shirt and jeans. I try to apologize and backpedal so I can get to him, but Supergirl is having none of it. She's monologuing and I'm thinking about what I can do, and I was hoping for the cavalry. It arrived in the form a green bubble with the rest of our team inside. Supergirl and her cronies fled, and the door to the Fortress opened and we were guided to the infirmary. Before we went in, I tried to take a peep under the suits with my x-ray vision, but they were lead-lined, which made me wonder if that were some kind of anti-kryptonite measure and if her buddies were kryptonian.

Someone who looked just like Superman in a white robe was there. He turned out to be the Eradicator.  We learn two things, that Supergirl was locked out of the Fortress by Superman when he was still here because she had taken something, and that the the snuggie is based on Kryptonian technology.

We continued our recruitment drive, and the Eradicator joined our little club. We also got Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Arsenal, Green Arrow, Captain Comet, Jade, Black Lightning, Dolphin, Tempest, another Tempest, Catwoman, Elastiwoman and Red Robin. (Since the second Volume of Heroes and Villains isn't out yet, we could generally only recruit heroes whose costumed identities began with the letters A through K.)

I think the hordes of street-level c-listers were probably my least favorite element of the campaign, and I was kind of happy to be rid of them with the apparent destruction of the Watchtower, so I wasn't thrilled that our primary accomplishment for this session was resetting the status quo, but with less interesting c-listers. We lose John Constantine but replace him with some Aquaman supporting characters? Boo! (Though don't take this to mean that I'm not enjoying the game. In any collaborative activity, any given member is not going to be happy with everything that has happened at any given time, so if that's my biggest complaint, I'd say we're doing pretty okay.)

We had some jokes about Catwoman ("Okay, guys, put away the laser pointers.") Frederick misidentified the Doom Patrol as the Suicide Squad, so I broke my beer bottle on the edge of the table and stabbed him in the neck with it. Some mistakes really are unforgivable.

We had a brief debate if we should keep calling ourselves the Justice League or not. I had proposed changing the name since it just seemed to be antagonizing Supergirl, but I backed off from that after we got back from the Fortress.

Moreso than a lot of characters in the DC Universe, there have been many different versions of Supergirl. I think this picture and the caption for Wikipedia's entry on her sum it up nicely.

(from left to right): Original Kara Zor-El, Matrix, Kara in the '70s, Modern Kara, Linda Danvers, Power Girl, and Kara from Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I'm generally favorably disposed towards her. When I think of Supergirl, I imagine the S-shield, blond hair, big blue eyes and that cute little red skirt. I was thinking of Supergirl like this:

when what we got was closer to this:

Since she seems to be moving towards full on supervillain territory (Alan Scott emphasized that she was alien in her upbringing, unlike Superman), and since the Justice League name has meaning, we decided to keep it. Blink called a press conference, Amanda Waller showed up and publicly announced that Project Cadmus fully supported us.

At the end, Blink asked how he had become the leader. I suggested it was because he was the least incompetent of the lot of us, and Jen, who had returned home by then, likened it to the Republican Primary.

A pretty decent session again. It was more about tying up loose ends than moving forward, but I think every campaign needs these occasional housecleaning installments.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Horseman!

I call these things book reviews, which is often doubly inaccurate, as they aren't so much reviews as they are commentaries and ramblings, and they aren't always about books, either. I just settled on calling them book reviews because that seemed like the most concise compromise. (Also, when I started this, these entries were mostly about the books)

This disconnect between calling reviews of short stories "book reviews" is particularly noticeable in shorter works, like Horseman!, one of the first stories that Roger Zelazny sold.  It's only four pages long in the Collected Stories, and that includes notes and an afterword, and if I'm not careful, this review is going to wind up longer than the actual story.

Even if you only read the blog for the Zelazny stuff, you're probably at least aware of my interests in video games and RPGs. I play a MMORPG called City of Heroes. Recently, they're trying something new with their missions, with what they call "Signature Story Arc", which is a series of several story arcs, culminating in events that will have a permanent change in the game world. Players, including me, have been discussing them on the official boards.  I've been mostly defending them, not because I think they're great, because I don't see them as flawed in the same way that a lot of the players do.

A common complaint is that the stories don't explain everything. That's not something that bothers me. I do try to at least puzzle things out, and when confronted with something I don't understand, I tend to think "I don't understand this", rather than "This doesn't make any sense." I've mentioned in other posts that I think stories where the writer omits details he knows to be true strengthen a story.  Because of the point in my life that I was at when I first encountered them, Zelazny's works have been hugely influential not only on how I read things, but how I solve problems, and I've internalized a lot of his philosophy of writing, to the point that I consider the methods he employed to be the "right" way to write a story.

He mentions how he came to write Passion Play in an introduction to that story (though I included his actual account in my review of Coils, since I wrote that one first) and how it was a conscious effort to "to treat the reader as I would be treated myself, to avoid the unnecessarily explicit, to use more indirection with respect to character and motivation, to draw myself up short whenever I felt the tendency to go on talking once a thing had been shown." 

Horseman! is actually not one of my favorites. In my review of A Thing of Terrible Beauty, I mention Zelazny's essay, "An Exorcism of Sorts", which served as an introduction to the Frost & fire collection, where he says, ""And there was a time long ago when I favored literalness and almost total coherence in wasn't really till I came across W.S. Merwin's work that I realized that I could be consistently happy with imagery alone when it proceeded from a person of extremely powerful vision..."

That's how Horseman! (much like the game show Jeopardy!, we mustn't forget the exclamation point at the end) strikes me. As a set piece, it's wonderful, moody, evocative, running over with the powerful metaphors that would come to characterize Zelazny's work. ("He was thunder in the hills when the villagers lay dreaming...When he was an avalanche of steel, the cattle began to low, mournfully, deeply, and children cried out in their sleep." "I have ridden an inconceivable distance, past nebulae that are waterspouts in rivers of stars.")

As a story, well, there's not much there. The Horseman, War (Huh! Good God y'all!) shows up in a sleepy village looking for his fellows. The villagers point him in the right direction and he settles in with the other riders, just as Death arrives.

It's not my favorite story, but I enjoy it because of its peculiar place in Zelazny's history. There is a pretty broad consensus that his very best work (Rose, Lord of Light) was early in his career and it's interesting to see the that brilliance in an inchoate form.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Video Games

Lily is getting old enough to play video games. I'm really fond of this picture, which I snapped when she was playing Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World with her cousin.

She's wearing a Yoda shirt and playing a video game based on a comic book. She's on a trajectory to spend every Friday night alone, and as her father, I'm just fine with that.

I like video games. I grew up with them, even moreso than the rest of my generation. My grandparents owned a business stocking vending machines, and they had expanded into arcade games by the time I was born. In the Summer, I would spend weekdays in their shop. It was video games in the back, and candy in the front, and it was just as awesome as it sounds. They eventually sold the business but I have a Space Invaders cocktail console. It stopped working a few years back and we've been using it as a coffee table, and most recently, as a stand for Lily's dollhouse.

Those of you with a keen eye may recognize Saturn Girl on the toilet.

My father worked for his family business when I was a kid, and one of the coolest moments on my childhood was when he came home with a Defender arcade game in a delivery truck and set it up in the driveway.

Video games aren't my only interest, but they've been one of my hobbies for a long time and I've got a lot of fond memories.

I wrote my college entrance essay on a video game. (Phantasy Star II) When Jen and I had our first apartment,  there was a huge snowstorm and we only had our Playstation for company and we wound up getting pretty good. One time my brother was talking smack about his fighting prowess and Jen asked for the other controller and curbstomped him without him laying a hand on her. She was like, "You just lost to your brother's girlfriend! That must have been humiliating!"

I remember when my friend Eric came over and lost repeatedly to the end boss on Tekken. He threw the controller down in disgust and declared Heihachi unbeatable. I picked up the controller and beat Heihachi with one hand with two consecutive perfect rounds.  It was so cool that I'm talking about it fifteen years later. (It was with Michelle though, and in Tekken 1 it was possible to string together combos with her just by poking at random buttons, so it's less impressive than it sounds.)

My best buddy Tim has been my video game buddy for ages. I remember we were playing the sequel to a game called Deception in 1998. You lured people into your house and murdered them at the behest of "Dark Lord Satan". (Sometimes video games get a bad rap, but it's hard to defend this one.) The thing that I remember about the game isn't playing it, (though we still quote it even today. Every character had a different quote when they died, and one of them said, "You've got to be kidding me," which is such an incongruous thing for a dying man to be saying that it still cracks me up) but remembering the conversations that we had while we played it. I remember that it must have been in 1998, because the game had the absurdly long load times that sometimes plagued early Playstation games, and we would talk about the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, despite the fact that neither of us cared much about baseball.

I was thinking about this conversation when Lily came home from school. She recently became infatuated with Castle Crashers (It has replaced "Scott & Ramona" and Little Big Planet as her favorite game), a fun game that came recommended by my friend Jake. He's a cool guy, as you can see from his own blog about Roger Zelazny and video games. She prefers the Pink Knight, who shoots rainbows and hits things with a lollipop.

She wanted to get some in-game money to buy a pet from the one store, and she realized that most efficient way to go about this was to defeat the first boss over and over again, because he's easy to beat and he reliably drops a lot of gold when you do. The fight is generally only a couple seconds long, but there are some unskippable parts like a brief animation of him entering the battlefield. And when those parts were going on, we just made small talk to pass the time, like "How was school?" and "What do you want to do this weekend?"

I suppose the funny part is that my daughter has become this person with whom I can have these conversations. (The other part that impressed me is how quickly she grasped the mechanics and formulated an efficient strategy to reach her goals) When I was a kid, I always had my best conversations with my parents when we were in the car. I think it was the combination of the fact that the conversation is only one of the things going on, plus the fact that you're generally not looking at the person under those circumstances, but it always gave the conversation a different dynamic, and we talked about things we wouldn't otherwise discuss.

The other fun part is that she asked if Mr. Tim could play, and I sent him an email saying "Quick! Download Castle Crashers and play with us online!" and I didn't think he'd get back to me anytime soon, but in what pretty much must have been the time it took to  boot up the Playstation and download the game, Tim replied with a text that said, "Ok, I have C. Crashers. How do we play?" and I think it's awesome that I have friends willing to do that kind of thing.

Lily's other amusing lines were "You bet I do!" when asked she wanted to fight Medusa and observing "A boy must have made this game" when we got to the level with all the pooping animals.

Does a bear shit in the woods? Repeatedly.

Search Results, part 2

Second in a series. Without commentary, here's a list of the most bizarre and disturbing search terms people have used to find the site.
  1. how to make origami wolfman
  2. superhero cartoon porn
  3. x men mystique helpless porn pic
  4. "sigourney weaver" "porn"
  5. Foot wanking redhead
  6. real redheads sucks harder
  7. foot wanking reshead
  8. penis nesting dolls
  9. How do i kill a robot vampire
  10. cthulhu drinking whiskey
Stay classy, kids.