Thursday, December 30, 2010

When You Show Up, So Does Everybody

How old were you when your life was first rocked by a public death? If you were rocked on 3/02/59, the "Day the Music Died," when Buddy Holly and two other guys died you were at best 12 if you were born in the Baby Boom. (If you need numbers here's mighty Wikipedia on the "Baby Boom," a period when people were having more babies that lasted from 1946 or 1947 until 1961. Or 1964. Or 1966. Hey, I bet sending some demographers into Thunderdome would be even more fun than economists!)


Not a boomer in the room. If you're a late boomer, like me (24 July 1964, so no need to shop for presents yet!), these might even be your parents. My mom, for sure, if she didn't prefer "cowboy" music back in the day, that is.

So here's the thing. When we talk about the Baby Boom and the 50s, we do so in .. oh, heck. They've got a TV show now that says it better than I ever can. Comfort, prosperity, and shorter work weeks. Sort of compensation for all that racism and misogyny, stuff with anyways a flipside aura of prelapsarian innocence. (Well, yes, it was all unjust and unfair, but it was happening to history dudes, not real people!)

The good stuff happened to pre-Baby Boomers! What happened to actual Boomers, at least late Boomers, was "whenever you show up for a job, so does the rest of the world."

In demography, apparently, effect can precede cause. Well, no, not really. Because we have the Baby Boom as a cultural artefact, and we have it as a demographic one, and they don't have to be the same thing. Consider the Fall of the Roman Empire. We have basically two accounts of the fall of the Roman Empire. Either things were going okay when, out of the blue, Emperor Valens got whacked at the Battle of Adrianople and the Goths overran the (western) Empire in 378AD. This sounds likely, because after all the eastern Empire went on just fine until it got its own whacking, by the Arabs in the 630s. That's 200 years, oopsie free. 

On the other, you have a story about how it was all going to hell in a handbasket long before the Battle. That sounds convincing because of, you know, stuffed cow's udders and horses being appointed consul. But, again, there's a history thing: all of that happened in the noughts, AD, three centuries before Adrianople. The decadent people lived and died, had decadent children who fought over the last pickled dormice, and their children had children, and so on.... History. Takes as long to bloody well get to the point as a Tarantino film. (Or is it just me that thinks the damn things take forever?)

This isn't actually an original insight with me. I'm too late by two hundred years. Eighteenth Century guys, they were smart. (So smart that we've forgotten what they had to say, their books were so long and hard to read. Familiar?) They said that it must have happened in the 300s.

What happened? Christianity happened! That's what they said, anyway. No, not the stuff with the Jesus and the crucifixion and the taking away of the sins of the world and that; Popes and bishops and monks. (Also, homosexuality all up in the abbey, but if you're an Eighteenth Century "Enlightenment philosophe," you sort of nudge nudge wink wink that one.) Everyone became monks (well, the girls became nuns --sexy!), and they stopped having babies. So by 378, there were no soldiers, no taxpayers, and so Emperor Valens had no army. We've forgotten that theory out here in the Anglosphere due to one Reverend Malthus coming along and offering a slightly different picture of how  history works, but it's huge in France!

Well, here's the thing. Archaeologists seem pretty clear that there were a lot less people around in the 400s than in the 300s. Maybe they were all living in camps and breaking fewer pots, so that the archaeologists can't find, and I think for various reasons that there's something to that, but, still, point. So what happened to everybody? Maybe the Goths killed them all --but people run away a lot when you try to kill them with hand tools. You really want to lock them up, tie them down, and otherwise arrange things for more efficiency and better box office. And that's work. Maybe it was indirect --the Goths ate or devastated all the crops. But, again, if you've ever hung around a dumpster, you know that people eat interesting things when they're hungry. Or meth-heads.

So maybe it is a supply issue. Fewer were being born. The thing is, the only way for that to affect events in the 400s, as opposed to outcomes, is if they weren't being born back in the 300s. Again, I'm just following in the tracks of old, old thinkers. The most I can do here is offer another explanation in place of the one that's all tangled up in Eighteenth century Catholic sphere politics. That is, I don't think that the idea about people all becoming monks is going to work, but this is a pretty persuasive premise on its face. Something that the Roman Empire did wasn't working to put people in the family way. Perhaps it wasn't working at all --making people not have babies is a pretty fundamental failure of state policy, and I don't just say that as someone who would really like to have had a cushy job teaching at a university, and could have had one if people had gone on making babies at a Baby Boom rate for a few more years in the 60s and 70s. This mean that we're back to the "Adrianople was the consequence of a longrun process" story. We just need to find the Roman Empire's wrong turning.

So when do we look? In the real world, effects follow causes. If grownup taxpayers are in short supply in 378, it could be because they weren't born, putting the problem back into the 350s. But then we'd have a crush of childless people in their 40s. Arguably, they'd be more productive, and make up for the lack of 20-somethings. It seems more likely that the problem lies in the absent kids' grandparents' day.

So if the Roman Empire fell due to being in the grip of a labour shortage in 378, the problem is likely to be found in a crash in the birth rate 40 years before. It's an old theory, just wanting a new explanation. And it suggests an analogy.....

Oh, hey. Look at the time. Gotta go to work! I have some pretty grim shifts, because at 46 and with 12 years seniority, I'm still one of the most junior people at my workplace. Funny, that.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

They're Called Carres: In Which A Secret Is Revealed, And I Don't Mean All That Foreshadowing Stuff

Twilight [Anita Guzman]: "Okay, one more time, Billy. Follow the lights, set your feet. Your shoulders will follow and you won't.... Ouch! Next time I'm wearing my Bloodstones!" 
Captain Super-Ultra [Billy Washington]: "How do you think my head feels? Look, I don't know what the fuss is. That girl's waterblast was like a firehose. No-one could have kept their feet."
Anita: "The waterblast, maybe. But that wasn't the blast. It was some kind of stunt where she divided it up like a sprinkler. Billy T. stayed up. You just have bad posture. I mean, how are you gonna get the boys like that?"
Billy W. "Don't you worry 'bout that, girl. She was toting a stuffed animal and stealing Princess Barbies. How are you supposed to take that seriously? Honestly, she needs some girlfriends more than she needs a superhero intervention."
Anita: "We were not having a pyjama party. We were trying to stop a store from being torn apart, so that some nice small business-type person doesn't lose it because they can't afford insurance. And, mass destruction-wise, we could have done a little better on that one."
Snakes On A Plane [Jenny Wong]: "Juvie is a terrible place, and Riptide is obviously a damaged little girl. Maybe we should have taken an interest. There's not much hope for the world if people who can, do nothing."
Anita: "Jenny, remember that
 Simpsons rerun we watched last week? Malibu Stacy? "Being serious gives you wrinkles?" I wasn't going to tell you this, but it's true. Never be serious again."
Anita: Oh, real mature. Is that the furthest you can stick your tongue out? If you ever get a real boyfriend ...hey!"
Mighty Chief, Red Rock of Rectitude, Sachem of Strength, and Tomahawk of Justice [Dr. Georges Stonechild, Ph.D]: "How's it going, team? Hope you're getting your routine down. I have to open in an hour, and Twilight hasn't refit my other outlets yet. And I..... Oh, Holy Mary, Mother of God, Miss Wong, you look like your mother ...did. And that was a remarkably stupid thing to say. I'm glad to see that I still have the gift."
Anita: "She knows you didn't mean any offence, Dr. Stonechild, and she doesn't know how much your little superscience dialysis gadget affects you, either. I'll go bring her back. We need to talk, anyway."
Dr. Stonechild: "Hold off. You guys do know that I'm compromised by Zerstroiten? Kidneys full of nanotech shrapnel, all that? I know he never took an interest in the
 l'affaire Wong before, but this "Shadow Destroyer" worries me, and I'll keep my distance from Miss Wong for the moment."
Amazing Spleen (Brad Neilson): "If this is important, we have to know!"
Wolverine Boy (Billy Tatum): "Dude, foreshadowing doesn't work that way."
Brad: "Not all that Wong stuff. I've had as much of that "keep it on the down low" as anyone. Who says that any more? I mean, what about Juanita!"
Billy W. "What's to know? She's hot, your cousin, and a freak and [urkh]!"
Billy T.: "That was one sweet move, Brad. But you'd probably better let him go before he remembers that superstrength beats leverage."
Billy W.: "Urkh?"
Billy T.: Sure, hands here, legs here, pull your head out. It's a cinch."
Billy W.: "I wasn't insulting your cousin, Brad. All I'm saying is that she's 6 foot 4, smarter than Stephen Hawking, and more emo than Buffy Season 7. And it's not healthy using your chemical powers to give yourself adrenal strength and reflexes like that."
Brad: "Wow. You think I could use my powers like that? About Juanita... Look, I know she's a pain in the arse right now. But she's going through rough stuff. And it hurts me, too. Like, how clear are your first memories, from when you were 3 or something? I remember Juanita. She told me to look through this pipe and I would see something cool. I did, and, wham, she rammed it into my face. Raccoon eye, I guess, but I feel happy just remembering it now."
Billy W. "That's our Juanita. Going Taylor Mommsen on her cousin before she solved her first equation. Oh, hey, Twilight."
Juanita: "The who the what now? Okay, Jenny's invited you guys over to her place to watch DVDs tonight. Brad, you're included, no matter what you think Mr. Wong says. We wrapped up here? I want to hit the library, and Billy's due at work in an hour, right?"
Doctor Stonechild: "Just a minute, there. A buddy of mine's worked out a routine for you, too, Twilight."
Anita: "Me? I've got the owie going on!"
Billy T. "Didn't that happen a month ago? Yeah, last week of exams, just before Jenny went on vacation. Mr. Wong splinted you up, we had Indian, watched 10 episodes of Futurama back to back, Mr Wong yelled at us for getting sauce on his pool table. Heh. "Bite my shiny metal..."
Anita: "Substitute "me" for "us" there a few places, and your recall is perfect, Billy. But a month is not a long time for a broken arm to heal completely."
Billy T. "Nita, I been a teenager since 1985. Things fade. Maybe not so much butter chicken stains, but stuff."
Doctor Stonechild: "So how did you break your arm, Twilight?"
Anita: "I was rescuing a cat stuck in a tree. Trying to. End of story."
Billy W: "So the part where your boot jets flipped you three times in mid-air and drove you into the ground, and you cushioned your head with your arm, and the cat climbed down just to check if you were all right? That's not in your story? Because it would be in my story."
Anita: "So the stability equations were a bit glitched. I still can't do any exercises right now."
Billy T: "A glitch like when you tried to capture Lash in the 'The Vampire's Teeth?'"
Anita: "It's a miniaturized wire entangle. So I called it a dramatic name before it activated. That's real superhero stuff, right? Anyway, it was supposed
 to be jaggy and pointed, not all ...loopy and stuff."
Doctor Stonechild: "And this isn't the physical workout you're imagining. It is what you actually need. It is no coincidence that your gadgets are having problems with directions. Directionality is a key attribute to the quantities you are tying to manipulate. These are vectors, and they need to be treated as such.'
Anita: "Oh, this is like that introductory chapter of my calculus textbook, with all those xs and ys and zs with hats and arrows on variables. I just ignore that stuff. You can do the exams without them."
Doctor Stonechild: "Heaven save us from high schools teaching calculus. Clearly, you cannot, in fact, do without these vector things. I may not know how to solve calculus problems in my head on the spur of the moment, but, dear child, you may not be doing it as well as you think you are, either. Which is why my colleague, who shall remain nameless lest
 someone be listening, has suggested some reading for you."
Anita: "A Condensed Primer of Vectors, Tensors and Quaternions? Who buys books like these?"
Doctor Stonechild: "Mostly smart kids who choose to learn their advanced maths from TV. Formalisms exist for a reason. Be ready for an exam before you fix up my Camden store for me on Tuesday."

This is the first in a series of fan fictions set in the Champions Universe (a property of the Cryptic Games Studio licensed to DOJ, Inc. for the pen-and-paper Hero Games RPG line). It features the adventures of the teenaged descendants of Philadelphia's superheroic defenders of the "Gold" and "Silver" Age, the Liberty Legion. The new Liberty Legion has been operating for several years now as a mostly self-described auxiliary of Philadelphia's real superteam, the Liberty League. 

Dr. Stonechild really went by all this nicknames back in the day. Because comics could be a little childish back in the day. What? No! It's a valid expression of enduring themes of identity and self-actualisation in North American culture! So you shut up!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rudolf's a Commie, and Other Christmas Epiphanies

(I really like the lip gloss. It's not weird at all. And it's cool that the marionettes have boob jobs and borderline  eating disorders. Or possibly coke habits. That can be the new normal!)

Let me get this straight. There's Dasher and Dancer and Prancer, Cupid and Comet and Vixen (unh, woah?), and Donner and Blitzen. ...And Rudolf? Now, I'll grant that the last two are kinda Teutonic, but they're still all adverbial or nouned verbs, or what have you. Horsey names, I mean. Rudolf, though, is ...well, it's an immigrant's name. Maybe even Yiddish, but certainly the kind of name you associate with people with heavy accents who like to talk about "the working class" and organise for the union.

And he had a red nose. In fact, he was Rudolf the Red... nosed reindeer. So, while he had a funny name, that wasn't the reason that he wasn't allowed to play any reindeer games. The greatest triumph of false consciousness comes when the vanguard party is isolated from the workers' movement.

And then, one low-visibility day, Santa came and asked Rudolf to lead the team. Now, Santa is a fat, jolly old guy who is hard working to a fault. No matter how hard it gets, he always finishes his rounds. And if he likes him some milk and cookies, or even a rum and eggnog or two along the way, well, that's the kind of guy he is. He is the broad masses of the working class, that's who he is. And, unlike the leadership of what is laughably called the labour movement, he sees that only the illumination of the Marxist dialectic can penetrate the fog of late capitalism.

And so it comes to pass that the labour movement, now under Communist leadership, successfully delivers the gift of revolution to the world. Rudolf's name can now go down in history. Of course it can! This is the end of history.

Or, rather, I feel like ending history every time this song plays at work. Admittedly not as much as with "Winter Wonderland." I hate you, (smug) perspiring conspiring lovers by the fire! I don't hate you like I hate that awful couple going to the Christmas party at Father Whatsisname's. Them I want to bury alive in a horrible death pit filled with hot chestnuts. The thing is, your life is too easy. I want to break you up so that you can experience real pain and scarring rejection.
Honestly, it'll be good for you in the long run. You'll be too chicken to ask anyone else out ever again, and while you'll die lonely, at least your cats will have somewhere to live. Why aren't there any Christmas specials about aging cat-batchelors regretting all of their missed chances?

In other words, these songs trigger self-loathing, and while self-loathing can motivate you to get out there and do your Christmas shopping, it's still a mean trick to play.

And since it has been asked, not by anyone I remember and not this year, why all the characters in children's Christmas songs are male....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Smoke Screens: The Other Signals

I'm behind the front desk, going through the paystubs as she's leaving. Ostensibly, I'm getting mine. In fact, I crave contact without having any plan for what comes next.

I take out one of hers. She says, "I can haz moar?" The whole "I can haz cheezburger" thing is a sad, feeble, workplace joke between us.

I say, "I can't find any more. But you can haz cheezburger." Because it makes the words to fill up the not-talking.

She waits a long moment, then says, "I do like cheezburger."

I say goodbye, and she leaves for whatever she's doing after work.

Later that night, my brain woke me up and reamed me out.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Because in comics, you probably could learn to fight on a Dance Dance Revolution table.

Captain Super-Ultra [Billy Washington]: "One-half impulse, and...unrep begun! Best parallel park ever!"
Wolverine Boy [Billy Tatum]: " "You burked the ship!"
Twilight [The Girl Currently Known as "Mistress Penance"]: "You two are such nerds. And you're mashing up Star Trek and Galaxy Quest, which is just some kind of wrong."
Billy T: "Oh, give us a break, Juanita. Just because Jenny gets back today..."
Anita Guzman: "I am not jealous of Jenny! And don't call me Anita! It's my muggle name!"
Billy W: "Of course you're not jealous of Jenny. Heck, Bulldozer couldn't even tell she's a girl. And what are we supposed to call you, now? And, no, Mistress Penance is not on. Not after Brad found that OOTS strip."
Anita: "It was nothing to do with that!"

Billy Washington: "And the reason you cut that comic out of Brad's book was..."
The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: <strangled breath>
Billy Tatum: "Sorry, dude, didn't mean to stab you there."
Brad: "No, you didn't get me, Billy. I mean, it was nothing."
Billy W: "And the reason you cut that comic out of my book was...."
Anita [quickly]: "I, unh, I'm Siobhan, now. It's Celtic, and Celtic is cool."
Billy W: "I do not think that name is pronounced the way you think it is pronounced."

Anita: "And, the reason that your man-crush couldn't tell that Je-Jenny is a girl is because he won't admit that he needs glasses. A lot."
Billy W: "Bulldozer is not my man-crush. He's our nemesis! Our sexy, sexy nemesis."
Siobhan: "Bulldozer isn't our nemesis. Mechanon is."
Brad: "Mechanon isn't our nemesis. Maybe his robot dog is, but we got that little dog, and I don't think Mechanon was paying attention, what with the tree growing through him. Which is the coolest thing I've ever seen."
Billy T: "Call it, then. Who's our nemesis?"
Brad: "So far? Foxbat was pretty seriously pissed at us."
Siobhan: "So, yeah. The Liberty League defeats Mechanon's attempt to take over all the DRMs on Earth by growing a tree through his torso. And we cheese Foxbat by failing so hard he can't take us seriously. Go team!"
Billy W. "Which is why we're here for our first session at your Danger Room, uhm, See Rayban. Speaking of which, is it, like, a hidden sub-basement of Mr. Stonechild's arcade, from back when he was a superhero?"
Siobhan"It's Doctor Stonechild. And it's not under the arcade. It is the arcade!"
Billy Tatum: "Seriously? An arcade? Maybe it's got a pinball machine!"
Snakes On A Plane [Jenny Wong]: "Pin...<something> <interrogative tone, or possibly an attempt to talk like a teenager while breathing sixty times a second> Retro....Billy, how <something, long pause> ever,<something>.stare"
Brad: "Jennifer! You're so sweaty, it makes your hair different!"
Everyone but Brad: "Hey, Jennie!"
Jenny [A little closer to being in breath]: "Nearly caught up at DQ. Out for run. Followed you down. Did wind sprints. Need go... die now. Shirt you look good. Br-bye. Back soon."
Siobhan [To Jenny's departing rear]: "Oh, hey, Jenny, why not start doing some serious aerobics? There's got to be some fat left on your body. I mean, besides..."
Billy W. "So who was it again wanted us to keep working on developing our powers? Jenny's just tired of spending our battles unconscious. By the way, Brad, that shirt is a huge improvement. Did my auntie pick it out for you?"
Brad: "Her and the salesguy. Said he wouldn't let her dress me like some guy named Arsenio Hall."

[One stop at Orange Julius later, at the The Stone Temple Pile-On Arcade]
The Mighty Chief [Doctor Delano Stonechild, (PhD. Columbia, 1963)]: "Juanita! And these are your friends? I'm thinking introductions would be inappropriate, here, but welcome!"
Siobhan: "Wow. Guys. It's The Mighty Chief, himself!"
Doctor Stonechild: "How, Children of Great White Father. Why not you in stripling's lodge, learning secrets of books? Has Great White Father ordained that you shall have summer vacation while corn is growing, deer are running?"
Siobhan: "Uhn, sir, why are you talking like that? And, also, if you could call me Siobhan? It's Celtic. Sir."
Doctor Stonechild: "Anita, I will not call you 'Shee-o-ban.'  And you will stop calling me "The Mighty Chief." What worked when I started my career is as hopelessly out of fashion today as believing there was such a thing as "'Celtic.'" 
Billy W. "It's just like my auntie told me: we're gonna get a lecture."
Doctor Stonechild: "If that's who I think it is, she has no idea what she's talking about. She never stood still for a lecture in her life. Except to give one out. Mostly well deserved, I might add. As for mine, according to my college, you're getting something of some small value for free."
Anita: "Not as much as you deserve, sir. That's why I'm going to Temple, next year. So I can take your contract course!"
Doctor Stonechild: "Fifty years late, I hit the big time! Oh, well, 1963 just wasn't ready for a tenured Injun history professor. Also, I probably shouldn't have scalped the Dean of Men on Harvard Commons that one time."
Billy W.: "I heard about that. He totally had it coming, trying to create science werewolves like that. Wasn't he a super-gorilla in disguise, anyway?" 
Doctor Stonechild: "You will find, someday, Captain, that just because something needs doing, doesn't mean that it needs doing the way you want to do it. As I look back on my life, I count that a lesson well-learned. And like most, from stupid, humiliating failure.  Speaking of which, here's the Dance-Dance Revolution table. You will find that Anita has programmed a routine for all of you."

This is the fourth in a series of fan fictions set in the Champions Universe (a property of the Cryptic Games Studio licensed to DOJ, Inc. for the pen-and-paper Hero Games RPG line). It features the adventures of the teenaged descendants of Philadelphia's superheroic defenders of the "Gold" and "Silver" Age, the Liberty Legion. The new Liberty Legion has been operating for several years now as a mostly self-described auxiliary of Philadelphia's real superteam, the Liberty League. Dr. Stonechild was a member of the Liberty Legion, and a very valued one, except he talked too much. Reverse stereotypes, kids!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Existential Struggles Are More Fun With Guns


No. Really. Orcs show up in a national park, and the rangers fight them. I mean, obviously. These guys aren't going to settle for putting people's heads on spikes. They're going to steal pic-a-nic baskets!
Right after they assault the fortified post full of guys with guns. Which...hey, War Chief Grumsh, could I maybe show you something?

That's single-shot Martini-Henrys that the Human Menace is wielding there. Look, I know that your mission statement ("We're going to eat human face!") has a certain zing, compared with, say, "we're going to hole up tight until we've invented breechloading rifles and maybe some artillery support") but trust a guy from out of the trenches of corporate culture. Zing can be counterproductive. So whatcha think, Grumsh?

No. That won't do at all. Someone put a lot of careful work into that chain mail shirt you're wearing. I'm sure that he wasn't a warrior. Probably more like a smith or something. What's he make? Sixty bucks an hour? Any openings?

I guess you're right. I wear my human privilege so thick I didn't even realise that it would be a problem. I totally see your point. We start by shooting some nice anti-colonialist militia in Natal, and before you know it, we've moved on to exterminating a bunch of inherently evil humanoids who've done nothing worse than created a fullscale medieval economy somewhere up a back valley in Yellowstone and then come down to share the fruits of your labours. Or at least the sharp, pointy bits.

And who can blame you? That couple down at the bus stop the other day seemed to find each other's faces delicious, so who can blame you for wanting the same. I want it too. But do what I do. Write long blogs about Grace Park. It doesn't really work, but it does create long blog postings. And instead you could build factories and create a military-industrial complex. And one day, you could have all the human face you can eat. Or whatever.

No, true, you, personally, would probably be dead by that time, and you'd never have eaten human face at all. But gruel's good, too!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shag Dog Story

Wolverine Boy [Billy Tatum]: "We did it! We fought Mechanon. And beat him! I told you guys we could do it if we worked together."
Snakes On A Plane [Jenny Wong]: "No. No, we did not. The Liberty League beat Mechanon.
 We stopped his robot Schnauzer thing from getting into the National Secure Data Depository. Barely."
Captain Super Ultra [Billy Washington]: "We beat Mechanon's dog in standup, heroic battle! All the Liberty League did was short circuit a robot or something. Actually, I don't know. I couldn't really focus by that point."
Twilight [The Girl Currently Known as Mistress Penance Yes, I know that I dropped that last time. No. Look, semi-omniscient narrators don't have to explain themselves. No. "Semi-omniscient" isn't the same thing as unreliable. If I were unreliable I'd be sneaking in snide asides, like in Vanity Fair. No, that wasn't an attempt to avoiding your question. I ...look, I made Nita cry. I'm not proud of it. Could we please drop it?]: "The Mechanic is so dreamy. And his gadgets are cool!"
Jenny: "Because
 his work?"

Mrs. Wong [Formerly Princess Celestial Mare, archenemy of Wong, the Chinese Laundry Boy]*: "Okay, everybody, keep the compresses on and press hard." 
 Brad, that's a perfectly lovely haircut, but since you have to keep that dressing dry until Friday you'll have to wear a shower cap. [You get the part where she's encouraging Brad to keep showering? It's called positive reinforcement, folks.]  I can lend you one of Henry's." 
Mrs. Wong [some more]: "Anita, stop squirming. I've stitched up enough people to know how to keep the pain down. I told you that those piercings would just be trouble." [And that would be negative reinforcement. Heh. Nobody's perfect.]
Mrs. Wong [Look, this is what she does. She's a soccer mom. Well, not exactly soccer....]: "Jenny. You're in charge of looking out for your friends tonight. Your father doesn't want any more blood on the shag!"

Henry Wong [Who would much prefer to remember the "Furious Fists of Wong" days] from the top of the basement stairs: "Or ranch dip, Billy Tatum."
Jenny: "That's dad code for 'he's springing for pizza.'" 
Billy Washington: "Yeah. We got it."
Billy Tatum: "Hunh?"
Mistress Penance [Shut up. I know it's stupid.]: "We beat Mechanon's dog fair and square. So Mr. Wong is buying us pizza. And lending Brad a shower cap. Bet it's hideously 70s."
Jenny: "No, Dad hates Mike Myers. Except for  So I Asked a Murderess to Marry. His shower caps all have dragons and Taijitus on them and like that."
Mistress Penance: "You know that there was a real '70s, right?"
Jenny: "That there be a real past behind the veil is of no moment to those on this side of it."
Mistress Penance: "How did you make your voice go all spooky and stuff?"
Jenny: "What are you talking about?'
Mistress Penance: "What you just said?"
Jenny: "Hunh?"

Billy Washington: "Funny as it would be to just let you guys go on, Jenny was obviously channeling." 
Billy Tatum: "Which is totally cool! It's all dunh dunh dunh, like real superheroes! We are so on the way out of the basement! Let's have beanbag chairs in our secret base!"
Brad: "I  like the rec room! And if we get our own secret base, Mrs. Wong won't bring us shrimp chips anymore."

*No, seriously. When Wong got into the superhero business in 1961, "Wong the Chinese Laundry Boy" was a step up from being, say, "Chop Chop the team cook." On the bright side, he got to rock a Chinese afro in the mid-70s. Also, Princess Celestial Mare sounds way better in the original dialect. Though if I tell you that her husband has a secret crush on Nancy Travis, you might put two and two together. What? It's a nice nose! 


This is the first in a series of fan fictions set in the Champions Universe (a property of the Cryptic Games Studio licensed to DOJ, Inc. for the pen-and-paper Hero Games RPG line). It features the adventures of the teenaged descendants of Philadelphia's superheroic defenders of the "Gold" and "Silver" Age, the Liberty Legion. The new Liberty Legion has been operating for several years now as a mostly self-described auxiliary of Philadelphia's real superteam, the Liberty League. 

Most of these members, however, are new. Except Billy Tatum. He's experienced. Like Tatum O'Neal in that movie. You know, the one where she's sexy. Except Billy's not sexy, although he does have facial hair. 
Mechanon is a robot archvillain in the Champions Universe, and probably Champions Online. The Liberty League appears, unstatted, in the Mechanon sourcebook, The Book of the Machine By Steve Long, as well as Champions: News of the World, and, more recently, the 6th Edition Champions Universe. There is no robot Schnauzer in Book of the Machine. But there should be.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The World Needs More Canada!

So what the heck's wrong with this? It's not a national anthem. It's not a real star singing the not-a-real-national-anthem. The new words don't bother me.
I mean, c'mon. There's this. And everything else. Anthems are lame. Say what you will about party hack communists, but "the Internationale/Unites the human race" gets it right because it's the opposite of (almost) every other national anthem's "my country rocks" theme, even if it is still about about  eternal war against the world outside our head because the one inside isn't to our liking.

Oh, wait. It sucks because Michael Bublé is teh smarm. And the inauthentic way the song is performed makes it wrong.

But --aargh! Who are we to propose tests of authenticity and inauthenticity? What Michael feels is right for him, we have no argument against. I suppose that some musicologist could get some traction, but that's most definitely not me, though I could ask my buddy Brandon next time I see him.

So we don't worry about other people's attempts to be authentic or not. Unless, say, your family murders twelve colonies worth of your boyfriend's closest friends, neighbours and acquaintances. What do you say then? (Link to something that can only live in the Youtube crèche. And, no, you're not being inflicted with my horrible ideas about what constitutes good mood music. It's someone else's horrible ideas, instead!) 

If your boyfriend then says that the Cylons who did this can't possibly be human, even though they clearly must look human, he's obviously in denial about you being a Cylon. BUT, male denial doesn't work that way. We may look oblivious, but we do know what's going on. Denial is a way of asking you to work with us. 

What's that mean? What is Helo asking for? For not-Boomer to say that she's grown emotionally --that isn't going to work. "I was pro-Cylon, but I'm too hot for your bod to stay that way?" Nope. Flattering, but no way. Helo, by contrast, frames his denials around his loyalties to the dead. Only a machine could live with knowingly kill 20 billion people. You're not a machine, so....
That's not a denial of not-Boomer's past. Because Helo will work with that, if not-Boomer will work with him. That's why he didn't shoot her when she said, "trust me."

So he wants to reconcile your relationship to his loyalties. What's a girl to do? Oh, you could defect, or just admit to yourself that you've defected, but that ain't much for loyalty. Yes, as it turns out, there is a way out of this bind. Maybe the writers will rebel against characters get off the plot train, but the heck with them. Ha, writers, ha! Here's a version of Hamlet where everyone dies because Fortinbras shows up with a machine gun and the antidote. Maybe he calls Claudius, "dude!" Maybe H and F do the "beautiful friendship" thing. Instead of tragedy, kick-ass summer action blockbuster, thank you very much. Suck it, writers.

How? Stories don't get work if you get to throw out the script if you don't like where it's taking you.

Except in life! Life is not a story! You get to do exactly whatever is right, whenever you need. Moral judgments aren't inevitable. Decisions made in the past don't have to bind right now. Being a genocidal Cylon then doesn't mean being a genocidal Cylon now. Can't get out of the genocide? Get out of being a Cylon! 

So you say, Oh noes! It's all unauthentic. You're really a Cylon, and can never not be? Screw that. If going forward means being inauthentic, then bloody well be as inauthentic as you like.

That's Canada. The inauthentic country. No culture, no ethnicity, no national history. We used to have all that, but it was based on hating the Frogs, so we rewrote the song. (Check out the comments for bonus hate!) And now we're post-authentic. Well, more on that later, elsewhere.

As for the world, better get used to it. You're getting more Canada. First we get rid of race, next, culture. Then all we have left is this:

 And this

In our secret labs, we are combining this DNA. The prototypes already walk the Earth: a post-cultural superman who will reign over the age to come!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Monsterbird Lizard



This is my niece and I figuring out what we could do with the Windows 7 splicing tool. Google Blog was the first thing I could think of to transfer it over to my sister's old XP machine so that we could print it. I could erase this testimony to my Luddism.
But, heck, it's my blog. 

Just Say "Uncle." Or "Auntie." That would work, too.

Scene: A super-battle! Not one that's going well, unfortunately. Which is surprising. It's a little hard to believe that robbing the Senior's Center is such a good idea. Except maybe on the day of the big Mah Jong tournament. So you might expect C-list supervillains. That said, there are superheroes who would be challenged by that.

Captain Super-Ultra [Billy Washington]: "Um, why'm I draped across a scooter?"
Little Old Lady [which is in no way suspicious]: "I'm 90 years old. I'm not exactly going to heave you over my shoulder to get you across the street."
Billy: "Got to get back, help my friends..."
Little Old Lady: "Not that you should listen to my advice, but I think Onslaught has punched you quite enough for today. Besides, he's mad at you for breaking his nose, and your little friend with the knives is doing quite well enough on his own ....OUCH."
Billy: "Don't worry, he heals fast."
Little Old Lady: "You know, back in my day, superpowers were things like being faster than a speeding train, not growing a new spleen when the old one gets ripped out. I remember once when Bulletproof... Did I ever tell you about the days when I was the Black Cat?"
Billy: "Only every Sunday, Auntie M... I mean, old lady whom I have never met before."
The Black Cat (Mrs. Jonah Abraham Washington of the State of Pennsylvania): "And keep it that way. So, is your little friend going to throw another of those elemental energy bolts, or will she just lie there for the rest of the battle?"
Captain Super-Ultra: "She's resting, Ma'am."
Auntie Miriam: "Well, she's a very pretty young thing, but someone should tell her that drooling is
 never ladylike. Neither are her hairdo or her costume, mind. What's wrong with kids today? She's got the figure for a catsuit, and you can't say that about many Asian girls."
Captain Super-Ultra: "Auntie Miriam!"
Auntie Miriam: "William Jefferson Clinton Washington, if you can't maintain secret identity protocol, I can't do it for you. But when the Man does to you what he did to Dr. Twilight, don't come running to me!"
Billy: "Times have changed, Auntie."
Auntie Miriam: "That's not what those charming Wayan brothers say on TV. But never mind that now. I recognise the dear thing. She's Wong's daughter, isn't she? Hmm... amd that's the harlot's boy there, throwing chemical control powers around?"
Billy: "Mrs. Neilson isn't a harlot. She had to go find herself."
Auntie Miriam: "Don't you be sassing your Auntie, young man, especially not with that hippie dippie stuff. Boy needs a mother. And a father who can keep a real estate license. Now, Wong would never forgive me if I let anything happen to one of his, and I used to have a boyfriend with chemical control powers...get your little friend over here."
Billy: "You're coming out of retirement? And I don't remember anything about a chemical controller boyfriend back in World War II."
Auntie Miriam: "31st Century, not WWII. Same time as I met Wong. Oh, the stories I could tell if it wouldn't violate space time causality and possibly create a universe-swallowing black hole. Or violate my confidentiality agreement with that delightful Mr. Short and void my royalties for "Lastest Crisis on Nigh-Infinite Earths."
Bulldozer, King of the Ring, Last of the Red Hot Lays, Iatollya of Rock-and-Rollah [No, seriously, he had some business cards made up that say that. Some of them have "Iatollya" whited out and "Ayatollah written over it]: "Keep the beat on the fast kid, Onslaught! And lay some fire on that blaster, Buzzsaw! It looks like he's coming to!
Onslaught: "Big mouth for a guy who can't get out of an entangle!"
Bulldozer: "Me and Lash will be back in it as soon as we can figure out how to get out of this cagey-thing. Jeez. There's a catch right here. Why can't I make it work? Ack! Let go of my thumb, bitch!"
Aunt Miriam: "So. No. I'm not coming out of retirement. And just as well, because the only thing a 90 year old cat can do is make terrible smells and miss the litterbox. I'm going to use my native wits, which should be more than enough for these bums."
This is the point where the narrator's union rules require me to describe our heroes' glorious victory. But let's put it this way. There's lots of tricks that a veteran superhero can teach a newbie chemical controller, but it doesn't feel like a victory when your enemies run away to wash their costumes in tomato juice. 

The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilson]: "Dude, your Auntie is one amazing woman! Is she going to help us again?"
Billy: "No. But I think that the moral of this story is that you're going to be helping her. Remember how you said you needed a summer job? Her son was transferred to Babylon six years ago, and there's a lot of fixing up to do at the old place before she ..moves on. And someone has something to learn about area of effect attacks that don't result in everyone having to walk five miles to get home."
Brad: "Your car's right over there! And, umh, don't I get a say?"
Billy: "No-one's riding in my car until they've had a change and a shower. Or five. Including me. And about the job, Auntie says. But do me this one little favour? Could you call my parents next time they show
 In Living Color reruns down at the Center?"

This is the third in a series of fan fictions set in the Champions Universe (a property of the Cryptic Games Studio licensed to DOJ, Inc. for the pen-and-paper Hero Games RPG line). It features the adventures of the teenaged descendants of Philadelphia's superheroic defenders of the "Gold" and "Silver" Age, the Liberty Legion. The new Liberty Legion has been operating for several years now as a mostly self-described auxiliary of Philadelphia's real superteam, the Liberty League. For the few people who might be
 unaware of the fact, I would add that Bulldozer, Onslaught, Lash and Buzzsaw are minor supervillains from that setting. They might even be on Champions Online MMO.  Although I doubt it. "Steve Short" is a famous comic book writer, and in this universe many comics are authorised accounts of the adventures of actual heroes. Hence my hilarious reference to a crossover series! Bulletproof is the World War II era "defender of Brooklyn" who subsequently  became a member of the 31st Century Champions 3000, about which there is even less caring than Bulldozer's Internet-specific existential status.  Dr. Twilight was a Black Golden Age hero whose career was ruined when he was publicly exposed as Black and a Communist. Alert the Wayans! No. Wait. Superhero Movie has already been done. There goes my chance at Hollywood. Not that I'm bitter, Mr. Zucker. No sir.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Patience is a Virtue, and Virtue is a Grace; and Graces are a Little Girl, Who Wouldn't Wash Their Face

So if you're really old, like me, you remember  the 1970s, and various Marvel writers flailing around in Spider-Man, trying to  match the early success of the "mystery" villains, meaning mainly the Green Goblin. Basically, Spider-Man is a luckless loser of a bachelor forever being attacked and enmeshed in bizarre circumstances by a mysterious masked villain who turns out to be the most unexpected enemy of all! At the beginning, Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin, and also the father of Peter Parker's best friend! Woah. Heavy. By the end, we had the Hobgoblin.

(Doofus or dweeb --you decide! Image from Wikipedia.)

In the middle, which is to say, those same fabulous 70s, we had the Jackal, a wacky evil mastermind with an animus against our hero that led him to send a pre-cool Punisher, Grizzly and Tarantula against our webslinging hero. We're an awful long way down the road leading from Green Goblin to Hobgoblin here. 

Turns out that the Jackal was none other than kindly old Professor Warren, who used to teach Gwen and Peter physics at Empire State University. And when Gwen Stacy was killed in a fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, old Professor Warren got kind of upset. (She was probably the only student who paid attention in lectures, and he got attached. It happens). So, naturally, he had his  lab assistant clone Gwen, and also Peter, from some tissue samples he collected from the class. Because that's what physics profs (never mind the geneticists!) did back before "ethical research." Nowadays you can't even give pregnant women untested drugs to quiet away their endless hysterics, or infect black men with interesting diseases! In those days, if you wanted to clone yourself up some students, you could just hump the work off on one of your lab assistants. (He would have got one of his graduate students to do it, but the clones would have been six months late and "theoretically engaged.")  At least at the good colleges, as you probably didn't see many "homicidal rampaging clones" at the local community college in those days. Now? Meh. Who knows?

Imagine the Jackal's surprise when his Peter clone turned out to have Spider-Man powers (well, obviously)! He then did the most logical and super-villainy thing he could think of with his windfall -pitted two Spider-Men against each other in a battle to the death! The clone died, Warren/Jackal died, clone Gwen Stacy fell down a plothole, and everything went back to normal, all forgotten. Unless you were me and kept thinking, "oh, that poor clone."

(Image from Comics Should Be Good.)

Until,that is, the October, 1994 issue of Amazing Spider-Man, when the not-dead-at-all clone returns under the vastly significant pseudonym, "Ben Reilly." Ben has been living his own life after apparently dying five years before (comic book time), but has now returned to New York because he has heard that Peter/Ben's sickly old Aunt May, who raised him, oh blah blah angsty blah, is dying. Ben and Peter, as good superheroes do, hang out, fight, trade costumes, become family. Peter is married to Mary Jane at this point and expecting little May, who is going to have an uncle. Ben settles in, working at a coffee shop and having all the luckless bachelor loser adventures that Peter can't, anymore.....
Which would have been a nice plan for rejuvenating the franchise, but it didn't work out. Maybe market research suggested that the 10 year olds who didn't read comics anymore would be confused about there being two Spider-Men. So instead the writers had Peter discover that he's the clone. Oh! Existential crisis! No longer entitled to the life of the Peter Parker persona, clone-Peter and MJ punish themselves by moving to Oregon,  and Ben assumes the mantle of Spider-Man. 
And the readers ...revolted. In December of 1996, Poochie dies while returning to his home planet. Or, in this case, Ben dies (and disintegrates, because in reality, he is the clone, and clones disintegrate into goo when they die,  bECUZ THEI R NOT REEL pEEPLES!1!!) Aunt May comes back from the dead, baby May dies or something, and it turns out that the Green Goblin faked his death and has been orchestrating the whole plot all along as his ultimate revenge on Spider-Man! Which is a pretty lame revenge, if you ask me.

But, then, no-one asked me. I was happy with the Clone Saga --well, the whole "Peter is the real clone" thing seemed a little too much, but the rest, I was fine with. In particular, I liked Ben Reilly. So when Mightygodking joked recently that the "readers demanded the Clone Saga," I was reminded of some of Grace Park's scenes in Battlestar Galactica, and thought to myself, "yes. Yes, I did."

Take a good look at that still from the opening of the first season of Battlestar Galactica. What do you see? An actress doing a good job of portraying twin characters. One of them is a pretty admirable person, one of them is pathetic. Park's directorial instruction seems to have been, "strong and determined, on the left; damaged and weak, on the right." Throw in those great costumes designs and the obscene, walking-dead planet of Caprica, and you have a moment of true emotional power.

That, though, is not what I'm going to talk about here. Notice that not-Boomer has reversed her part. Talk about stale visuals --but, a stale visual that takes us in a new direction, because this what TV twins do when they want to assert their individuality, and it seems pretty darn dumb for the Cylon clone whose job appears to  be to convince Lieutenant Agathon that she is, in fact, Lieutenant Sharon Valenti to choose this line of self-expression. He's got a gun, not-Boomer! That said, Helo is a guy, so he presumably won't notice. So who is?

 In the first of three episodes that I've rewatched since my last posting on this theme, not-Boomer has reported back to her handlers again, telling them that, "we had sex." Wow. In the next two, she and Helo are genuinely on the run, after not-Boomer turns. This is a pretty key interview. And what, exactly, happens here? 

Spies sometimes turn when they're not doing a good job, and this is one of those sticky workplace interviews you have sometimes where it becomes clear that you have not quite aced the assignment. Two attractive, healthy young people all alone in each others' company for three weeks, and you've had sex? Promotions all around! That being said, what the Tricia Helfer model asks, isn't, "does he love you," but, rather, "did he tell you he loved you?"

I mean, what is this? Mean Girls? He's a guy. Words will follow deeds at some remove, and boy, howdy, have there been deeds. So what more do you want, Doctor Laura? An engagement party? More-or-less, it turns out, and if Helo won't go along, not-Boomer is to kill the boy.

The things they tell you about motivating deep cover agents in Clone Cylon Management School these days! Not-Boomer runs away, all but singing the Colonial Anthem as she goes, and Clone Tricia looks after her, saying that "Sharon" is getting too involved in her assignment. The other handler, master of the obvious, says, "I notice that you call her Sharon, now." Clone Tricia puts her slip down to the emotional neediness that not-Boomer has picked up from the humans, but we get to see not-Boomer return to Helo, wake him up, and tells  him that they're going to run even harder now. "What's changed?" He asks. "Trust me," she says.

That ain't neediness, Clone-Tricia. That "trust me" is a tell that something is going on here that not-Boomer can't share with Helo. It implies that not trusting is an option. Will you go along with whatever she's planning for you, Helo? And the answer is, yes. Things may get better, or they may get worse, but they will get better or worse with not-Boomer. 

The hair-part is not a message to Helo. It is a message is to Clone Tricia. And that message is that not-Boomer is not just one iteration of a lineage of clones. She is a person, and a person who chooses to live a life. The great mistake of the Clone Saga is to assert that if you were not authentically the individual that you thought you were, that you can never be the person that you want to be. 

And that is what is stupid and wrong in the Clone Saga. Not-Boomer doesn't want to be Boomer any more. She wants to be the babe that got Helo. (Hopefully she won't settle for just being that, but the point is that she is going to define herself by what she does, and what she does will not include killing this man who loves her.) In the same way, it is utterly irrelevant which of Peter or Ben is the "real" clone. What matter is doing what is right: right by New York, right by old Aunt May; above all, right by little May, the life that's coming.  

It's not who you are that counts. It's what you do. Whether you are born into this world a baby or a fully-formed duplicate of someone else, it only matters if you think that you are somehow bound to what you were, that to be "real," or "authentic," you must be true to some essential being. "You're a Cylon. You have to kill Helo." "You're a clone. You must move to Oregon." (Yeah. Me not understand, either.) Some people "keep it real," while others keep it fake, and that's bad.

Look. If being "real" means doing something bad or stupid, don't be real. Be fake. It's better. Or you'll just be giving in to the people who think that once a clone, always a clone.   

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rain of November

(Image from:
When it rains like this, there are electric lights on all day here in Vancouver, but they cannot break the gloom.
Days like this send you inside yourself to a world of regrets. And yet there is still joy in rain on the roof, a log on the fire. And recall, because regret and recall are two sides of the same sentiment.

Last night, we welcomed our honoured dead back into the world. For this 11 days, we walk with them in the rain so that they can be happy in the company of their grandchildren. Wear a poppy, and if you have not made grandchildren for your honoured dead, you might want to think about starting, because that is the way we make good on what we owe to our dead.

Friday, October 29, 2010

More Ten-Eyed Man, Please.

So Christopher Nolan has started the hype machine for his next Batman movie. There's a title (Dark Knight Rising), and the Riddler won't be the villain. Good. The Riddler is dumb.

Apparently, it also can't be the Joker, because the star-whackers got to Heath Ledger. (Randy Quaid jokes are always funny! Always!) And it can't be Two-Face, because spoilers. Thanks, guys. Anyway, movie Two-Face always seems to be in the process of becoming rather than being.

So who will it be? Not Mr. Freeze or Catwoman. Seriously. Did someone have to say that out loud? Did they rule out Batmite while they were at it? The title implies a fall before a rise, so the insightful are suggesting Bane. Oh my God! Bane is so cool!

(Image secondhand from TVTropes.)

Well, okay, but only if the Ten-Eyed Man's already got work.
Actually, thanks to a Wikipedia list of Batman enemies, I quickly find that, not surprisingly, I haven't even begun to explore the depths of stupid Batman antagonists when I mention the guy with eyes on his fingers. And it turns out that many of the lamest have been reinvented by assorted nostalgia miners, anyway.

That said, the problem here is not that the Batman lacks good villains and stories worth mining. There's story enough for everybody. This guy's arc finishes as a Batman story, for example. The Bat-guy even beats a "corrupted" old friend to death in the story. Or close to -it's been a long time.

The problem starts with what I've already said about Two-Face. There's lots of comics context for good stories in which Two-Face is the villain. But we're not talking about comics, here. We're talking about movies, and the movie Two-Face does not act. His arc is the arc of becoming Two-Face in the first place. It's an existential tragedy that begins, enacts (Two-Face does something bad in the course of the movie), and ends. The writers who've made the story of Two-Face part of the story of other villains have it right. That's how he works.

And, more generally, that's how comic book heroes work in the public consciousness. They have a story arc that we never get past, just like daydreams and other fantasies exist in the moment of when they are enacted. We can always fantasize about winning the lottery, but is there really a point to extending the fantasy to the moment 20 years later when we're sitting in the den of that fabulous mansion we'll buy, managing our mutual funds and wishing we were somewhere else? By definition, not. That's how life is, and fantasy is not life. Now, it is satisfying in its own way. We would like to live a good life and have a good death and take pleasure in each instant. Perhaps we throw up a new vision. We've just finished that bit of bond juggling, and we take a look around the impossibly tasteful room that we have complete executive control over, and look out at the autumn garden and watch the rain drip from the evergreen trees onto the brilliant, emerald lawn, and get ready to go down to dinner and meet our perfect, adoring future family.

And it's still a fantasy. We're going to stop at the moment before we meet our beautiful future daughter's new boyfriend.

That's a good idea, right?

Comic fans love their heroes, and wish that they could have lives. In theory. In practice, approximately a billion years of trying to sell comics  on this theme demonstrates that they don't sell even if the character is sympathetic, and at worst, they produce crimes against humanity. Spider-Man can get married, grow old, have a beautiful daughter, who hopefully never brings Morgan Warstler home to dinner, even in her early 20s rebellious phase, when she drops out of Empire State University to be a performance artist/aluminum siding saleswoman. But we don't want to imagine it in the way that we imagine Spider-Man swinging over the rooftops and fighting the Green Goblin. And we certainly don't want it of the Batman, because if we're attached to Bruce Wayne at all, what we really want him to do is to get over it and move on, and maybe fight evil with the power of ethical investing.

What we want is that moment eternally re-invented, with another figure in the place of the Green Goblin. (Or, if we are nostalgia miners, we want the Green Goblin brought back again and again and again and again and again.) That's why comic book movies get reboots instead of successful third movies. Reinvention, please.

You know who'd be a good Joker? Randy Quaid.