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.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Underpowered, 2: Get My Picture On The....Is America's Funniest Home Videos even on still?

Scene: The Wong's basement rec room, somewhere in a nice neighborhood of Philadelphia. Present: The Young Liberty Legion. And no-one else, thank God. At least the TV's a big screen.

Captain Super-Ultra [aka Billy Washington]: " You're right, Billy. That is us. You think Bulldozer sent in the tape?"
Wolverine Boy [Billy Tatum]: "That's not a camera he's holding. It's you. I mean, there's a lot of blood, but you can tell."
Snakes On A Plane [Jenny Wong]: "Tell me about it. Should I be diluting this Oxycute stuff? Why is the shag turning white?"
Billy Washington: "He could have a remote camera. You know, take pictures and sell them to Rolling Stone or something."
Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilson]: "What's a Rolling Stone? And can I come in yet?" 
Jenny: "Maybe wait a minute more. And it's a magazine. There's a song about it on the music loop at work. Nazis want to take some redneck's picture for their mother. Or something. It's from the war."
Twilight [Mistress Pen-- You know, I give up. Anita Guzman.]:  "Yeah. That's it. Exactly. The Vietnam War II, with the Asian Nazis. But, Bulldozer, operate a remote camera? And the pictures would be all out of focus. It's a retarded idea. Which I ...never mind. Bulldozer's remote camera it is."  
Billy Washington: "Hey, you're talking about the man who stopped the fight to show me how to box!"
Billy Tatum: "Dude, the chess club can box better than you. At least now that you're not in it anymore."
Jenny: "Can we focus on the important stuff, like how I totally look fat in that clip?"
Nita: "No. You. Don't. A gallon of Ben&Jerry's couldn't make you look fat. I'd be a lot more worried about the way your costume hikes up when you pass out."
Snakes On A Plane: "You think?" That's not exactly the tone of someone happily receiving useful fashion-related information, either.
Brad: "I'm going to walk around the block, okay?"

This is the second 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. And might possibly have chosen their code names under the influence. Except for Jenny Wong, who doesn't do that kind of thing. (If you're wondering, "Snakes on a Plane" is supposed to be "slinky." Jenny would like to be slinky. She'd be good at it, if she just knew how.) Twilight's real name is Anita Guzman, but she's currently not using her "Muggle name." Our narrator is trying to respect that choice. Or be snotty. Whichever.

Cats and Dogs Living Together

I've watched BSG and I can't unwatch it. The fact that I haven't watched Lost isn't reason to pretend otherwise, but there are pleasures that come from pretending.
Oh, heck. A reason. The unfolding relationship of not-Boomer and Lieutenant DoRight (Tahmoh Peniket's character, Karl Agathon) is a reason. It's compelling,sweet, romantic and sexy, so I'm going to enjoy reliving its unfolding this rainy laundry Monday morning through the first six episodes of the first season.

On violated Caprica, (the creepy images of Caprica's Earthlike globe being taken over by a brown mottle are compelling throughout this sub-arc) Karl is  rescued by  Boomer, who has returned for him after he gave up his spot on his spaceship so she could rescue some refugees. Boomer evades Karl's inquiries about her reasons for coming back for her, as if any good girl could resist this tall, handsome, self-sacrificing guy who "always does the right thing," as she says herself. Only she's not Boomer. She's not-Boomer, and a Cylon, and she has a plan. (Apparently, the only one who actually does.) When Karl and not-Boomer discover that the  Cylons have found her spaceship, we are reminded that they are a team. Not-Boomer is the pilot, but Karl is in charge of stealth. Live together, or get caught by great big shiny, toaster-like cyborg warriors with amazingly ineffectual machine guns (5.56mm? They sure carry a lot of ammunition) in their clawed hands.  "Follow your pilot," not-Boomer tells Karl, and leads him to a fallout shelter, into trouble with the Cylons, and ultimately into some sexy sexy under the implausibly thunderous but entirely routinely rainy Vancouver skies.

I like not-Boomer's plan. I wish someone were planning for me...

Meanwhile, on the Fleet, Cyborg sleeper agent Boomer doesn't know that she's a Cylon, but does know. I guess that admitting the plain facts would mean that her life, love and loyalties are a lie, so instead she clings to her illicit lover, asking him to take the lead, and lets deception lead to the end of the relationship, a gradual psychological collapse and a race between her two personalities (pro-Cylon and anti-Cylon, I guess) over which one gets to kill herself first. Girls can be competitive, too!

What I like about the first episode is it is all about fatigue scooped on fear scooped on  survivor's guilt. Going forward, you'd expect suicidal impulses up the wazoo, and you get it. It's all indirect and not often called, but, notably, when it is called,  Young Apollo (the Commander's son, Lee Adama) is spot on when he calls out terrorist prisoner and leader Tom Zarek, played by the original series' Apollo, Richard Hatch, for attempted suicide by cop.

Now, back at the end of the miniseries, the Commander turned away from his death ride when he sees Dualla and Billy flirting. Twenty-five billion humans are dead. It's time to run away and make more. That seems pretty impeccably logical, but no-one gets the memo. It's perhaps understandable that instead of stopping running away to make babies, people cling to their relationships with family and friends, mostly dead ones. That said, when Baltar's survivor's guilt --or something--  takes the near-palpable form of an imaginary friend played by Tricia Helfer he has sex with her in his head. I mean, due credit for trying, but...

So, yeah. Karl and not-Boomer, the only Galacticans to get with the programme. And did I mention that Grace Park is a Korean-Canadian, while Peniket is Caucasian? (Well, not actually, but see below.)

Blah blah blah, race is not an issue in the BSG universe, we're told, we're shown. But ... Richard Hack is First Nations? Or something... it's not like his Wikipedia biography talks about how I came to see him as a Caucasian actor in the 1979, when he is so clearly not.
This is pretty transgressive stuff. I mean, I'm allowed to notice that the new Commander Adama is Hispanic, because he is famously Edward James Olmos. But if Hatch doesn't say so, I feel like I'm breaking a taboo even pointing it out. Because I am. Race hangs over us, the more present because we can't talk about it. And I think that the producers of BSG are aware of this thing called "makeup." The thoughts that I am thinking might be taboo, but I am meant to have them.

This is where there is something more than local pride and some Vancouver scenery in BSG. Interracial relationships are so common here (and, of course, many other places in the real world) that the phrase sounds fustian and stupid. So much so that that the BSG narrative restores the taboo while playing with it. It's not about White and Asian, but about  humans and Cylons. They're cute together, and so doomed that Joss Whedon could cast them. Still, it's all we've got going on right now.

By contrast, there are exactly three interracial relationships on Lost. Two are wrong and doomed, and one is between two old farts, a consolation prize for not managing to have a life before they retired. By contrast, through the end of Season 6, the world has bent itself into knots to get pretty Caucasians, Koreans, and Iraqis together with their own kind. Ugh. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When You're Good at Something, You Crash a Lot

It's a big internet, so it's good to have a niche. I'd go with grass, but there's not a lot of grass in the refugee fleet.

The other thing I like to think about is skills. TV actually doesn't do a lot with skills --except for all those cooking and making-stuff-out-of-junk shows. Which, who knows, might be filling a vacuum. The only exception (besides the one I'm going to rant about)  is doctors, who are always awesomely excellent. That's how you can tell that they aren't real people, at least until the script monkeys put the "real" back in the mix by adding an addiction and maybe a failed relationship or two.

Usually, the only skills that come into prominence involve killing people with lots of kinematic camera work, and the people who do that stuff are pretty messed up, like Starbuck and maybe that Sayid Jarrah. There seems to be a lot of skill keeping the Colonial Fleet going (the Lost guys seem to be mainly working on their tans), but the only guy with skills who gets a named role on BSG is the Chief, and he doesn't even get a commission, so he can sleep with his girlfriend, who gets to be an officer because she flies a space-plane. Badly. Even before everybody got all sleep deprived from all that Cylon raiding. Oh well, if they can just get away, he'll get to the carrot called Earth and he can marry his space babe and they can live in an awesome house in Kits. The carrot's hanging right there in front of them. How long could it take?

Fortunately, it's possible to fly a kind of spaceplane that isn't about killing people --or Cylons. Directly. And it turns out that besides Burke-Her-Ship-Boomer, there's one Raptor crewperson who is good at it. It's just that he's down on radiated Caprica, following, but oh-so-carefully not chasing Grace Park/not-Boomer's tail around. (Good plan, Lieutenant Doright! Frustration and mooning over the unobtainable is good for the soul, and makes for long blog posts. And that's a good thing, right?)

But Lost, that's another matter. You know who would come in handy on a deserted tropical island? An expert fisherman who can catch eatin' fish out of the surf pounding the castaways' open beach. (It's a lot harder than it looks. Can't they find a cove or something?) Too bad that there isn't some expert Korean fisherman aboard the plane. But what are the odds? Someone with that skillset is looked down on in Korean society, and no way would he have the cash to afford to be on a Sydney-Los Angeles flight.

Only, look. That stick-to-himself, unpleasant Korean guy? He has those skills. It turns out that he is the son of a fisherman, and that nevertheless he got to marry the boss' daughter. How the heck did that happen? Not on the basis of his awesome fishing skills, that's for sure. As it turns out, he got an entry level role in Dad's organisation as an enforcer. (Why, of course the big Korean businessman is a gangster. And he plays Starcraft in his spare time, and eats kimchee. He's probably a whiz at tae kwon do, too.) Sigh. It turns out that Jin is good at something useful. Beating people up.

Way to miss a teachable moment, script monkeys.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tropic Islands, Island Earths, and Pants on Fire:Leadership in Sp-a-a-ace

Lost and (reboot) Battlestar Galactica. I've been watching both on DVD, so I'm going to compare them.
Okay, Lost isn't set in space, but (reboot) Battlestar Galactica is all in space, except when they cut to Boomer and Lieutenant Doright on Caprica. Which doesn't count because Grace Park. Now, I know that you're going to say something about Tricia Helfer. Okay, she's got a nice figure and slinks it around, but Park is an emotionally-conflicted damsel in distress.

So what do we get if we compare Lost to Battlestar Galactica? That's a lot of material, but I haven't seen the finale of Lost yet, as I'm a little behind in my TV generally. I devoured BSG in the spring--winter of 2009/2010, With lots of overtime, no private life, and chronic exhaustion going on then, TV made a good way to spend a day off, desperately recovering my stamina. I haven't made quite the same headway with Lost. That's not necessarily a condemnation of Lost, as my life has changed.

Only it is. It's just so obvious. BSG was made in Vancouver, while Lost was made in Hawaii, so BSG rules. This is a universally true rule. Even the Blade series that showed on Spike for a few episodes way back when was truly awesome TV. I totally think that. It's not local boosting in any way.*

So we have two leaders: a professional, and a charismatic. A space Commander leads the space convoy, while a doctor puts himself in charge of the medical emergency that is an airliner landing on a beach. Then a president shows up, while the wargaming-nerd cripple suddenly turns into a shaman whose vision-quest is legitimated by the fact that suddenly he's not crippled any more.

Now, the challenges facing them differ in scale and immediacy. The Commander has to lead a ragtag fleet of refugees out from under the nose of a huge, genocidal fleet, and keep it safe 'till they get to Earth. The doctor has to stop everyone from getting --self involved? (Good luck on that, Jack.) Anyway, he's all into community-building. So is the non-professional leader of the escapees, the Colonial Secretary of Education, who, in the fulfillment of approximately a bazillion powertripping fantasies, gets to be President on account of how the rest of the cabinet has just been turned into greasy, radioactive steam. The Commander is down on community building, and wants to launch a death-or-glory ride, but defers to the President for reasons ..that would make this even longer. The shaman, on the other hand, is soon running his own game. He finds a hatch in the ground. A hatch on a jungle island? What's up with that? Maybe you should tell someone about that, shaman? Or your miracle cure? Like the doctor, maybe.

But the Commander is lying, too. As far as he knows, Earth doesn't exist. He basically pulls a story out of his arse because his crew is moping. (Also, someone on board is feeding him private intel about the Cylons. It sure will be interesting to find out what's up with that!) They're moping, by the way, because their whole universe just got blowed up. That's heavy shit, and cheering them up now counts for a lot more than the moment when you will inevitably have to say, "yeah, about Earth. That was a bit of a fib."

By comparison, John Locke's lies of omission seem unmotivated. It seems that we're expected to wait on heavy doses of character-building backfill, but you wouldn't need that if you just paid attention to your plot. Whether you just watched the universe get destroyed, or you're one of 41 survivors of an airplane that crashlanded into a lost tropical island, it's a huge trauma that leads to weird behaviour.  If you take that trauma seriously, your plot point contortions will be excused. So here's a real reason to be "yes" on BSG, "no" on Lost. BSG starts out (at least) as the more human show. The tragic deaths of others weighs everyone down as the miniseries limps to a close. The other passengers on Flight 316, meanwhile, disappear as surely as the extras that Lost will kill later.

*Open offer to the University of Hawaii: give me a tenure track position, and I will reverse my opinion, and say something nice about Hawaii 5-0. Which also has Grace Park. But it better be no strings attached. I don't want to hear about the teaching review later.

Underpowered, 1: Break down Dad.

It's 3AM. A Chrysler Reliant with a convertible roof is pulled over on the broad shoulder of Rural Route 5, across the wide ditch is a field of pumpkins and exactly nothing else....
Captain Super-Ultra [Billy Washington]: "Oh, jeez. I'm totally gonna lose my job. I can't take a bus to work on late shift!"
Wolverine Boy (Billy Tatum): Damn it, Billy. Cars aren't supposed to make that kinda noise! Why didn't you take it to a garage? Now we'll never ...what exactly were we doing, again?"
Snakes On a Plane [Jenny Wong]: "Stakeout. Following Lash from the airport. Remember? It was totally, like, five minutes ago."

The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: We're, uhm, not going to be late for school, now, are we? I got a chemistry test first period, and I'm going to beat Nita!"
Jenny: Don't worry. My Daddy's got AA. That means they have to send a towtruck for us. I think."
Twilight[The Girl Currently Known as "Mistress Penance, because she changes her Gothy code-name every patrol, and she yells at me when I use her real name, although her cousin just got away with it. Kids today.]: "Straight As and you actually think...I guess you don't dye. AA's for the car or owner. Not not? Not. Just call your Dad, and end the fail."
Brad: "I'm gonna start practicing now. Please don't kill us, Mr. Wong. Please don't kill us, Mr. Wong...."
Billy: "What about Lash? This could come back on us."
Billy T.: "Dunh dunh dunh!"

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. And might possibly have chosen their code names under the influence. Except for Jenny Wong, who doesn't do that kind of thing. (If you're wondering, "Snakes on a Plane" is supposed to be "slinky." Jenny would like to be slinky. She'd be good at it, if she just knew how.) Twilight's real name is Anita Guzman, but she's currently not using her "Muggle name." Our narrator is trying to respect that choice. Or be snotty. Whichever.

More Ultimate Secrets

It's not that I didn't intend to start a second blog; it's that I meant to learn how to use these "images" things before I did. But there you go. It's a sad old world, but also an exciting new one. Grass grows from the root, not the tip, so there's always more that's fresh and green coming up.

The ultimate secret of this blog is less obtuse than my other one. I'm a historian, and a nerd. History claims to be a science. Leopold v. Ranke promised to get at what actually happened. That's noble and naive, because the word suggests "story." Humans are always editing their history into the story that they want to be true ..there's a word for that, can't quite put my finger on it. No, not that, but close.

Elsewhere I blog against certain stories that are told with untrue history, mostly stories that are about limiting human possibilities. So this is one about using history to tell stories that make the world true!