Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hate Them, I Do.

So I'm reading this, and boy howdy does Chris Sims and David Uzimeri have a hate-on for Tom Wellands' Clark Kent in Smallville. Just reading, I'm remembering how much I hated Captain Archer by the last season of Enterprise, or the Buffy Summers of Seasons 5 and 6. (This is Google top return for "I hate Buffy." Google is smart.) I've a bad feeling the same about Jack on Lost, and judging from the spoilers, it would be more than a feeling if I hadn't managed to buy the Blu-Ray version of Season 6 instead of the DVD. Then there's Wesley on Angel, and Starbuck and Apollo on Battlestar Galactica.... And then there's the Seinfeld gang and the last seasons of Friends and on and on. Hate hate hate hate hate.

What all of these protagonists have going for them is that they're fully realised characters in more-or-less working stories. We see specific problems: Welland and Buffy seem self-centred because, duh, their world revolves around them. This is also the problem with too many zombie films. As I might have mentioned. (Sorry. Kind of gunshy about narcissism.) The sit-com people ...well, see below. Wesley has plot-related stupidity. Mostly. He's also about fanloathing, but that's another thing.

But I'm going to single out Starbuck and Apollo, because my hate for them comes out of good writing. (Contrast this with Captain Archer, who is starting to become hateful by the middle of the first season as a result of the  boneheaded, inconsistent decisions that the writers constantly made him make. By the fourth, he's an irredeemable jerkwad. A Scot Bakula character has turned into a monster faster than David Schwimmer! Take a bow, Enterprise writers!) We see Apollo swallowed up by his neuroses; and Starbuck going from charmingly crazy to signalling "get away from me while you still can" because this is what constant stress does to you. These characters are run to Earth. (Literally).

Contrast this with Sharon "Athena" and Karl "Helo" Agathon. I like the latter two. Oh. Wait. I might have mentioned that. They're attractive because they are supporting characters whose dramatic arc is over. They had a romance, they got together. "And they lived happily ever after." They pop back up again because you can tell stories about couples: specifically, sit-com stories, with Helo and Athena as two wacky pilots that have family hijinks aboard the Battlestar Galactica. And the writers do tell these stories now and again, because the two of them are the parents of Baby Cylon Jesus. The stories are admittedly not very funny, but there's no rule that says that sitcoms need to be funny. And instead of a bad excuse, BSG has the perfectly good one of being set on a can-of-death fleeing relentless genocidal hunters into a  darkness of chronic fatigue and PTSD. So good on the Agathons. Attractive, congenial, and not overexposed. Because that's what happens.

All heavy-going mystery aside, every TV show ends. Look! Someone (actually, Winston Rowntree of Cracked.Com) drew a picture:

If a series goes on too long, we'll hate the protagonists. Simple.

But back off for a moment. "Hate" and "unlikeable" are different things. There's a narrative reason that these characters become unlikeable. We understand, and often forgive it. Did we hate David Hythe Pierce's Niles by the end of Frasier, when the show was limping home to the finish? No. We liked his unlikeability. So where does the hate come from? Why don't we understand?

Well, Chris and Dave hate that Clark won't just be Superman. That's one thing. But the interpersonal relationships seem a realer objection. They hate the way that Clark mistreated Lex, just like I hated the way that Wesley mooned over Fred. I hate that Buffy spent two seasons sitting on her couch while her friends fell apart around her, but I hated the way that the only action she took was on her attraction for Spike more.

 I'm going to put it out there that for Chris and Dave, what matters is that Welland/Clark doesn't get together with Lex. Hee. What's a discussion of Smallville without some homoerotic hilarity? Put it that way, and I think I'm seeing my problem with Wesley. He had a steady, and he threw her over. Sure, she ended up an evil lich working for an evil law firm, but everyone has issues! Now that they're working at the same firm, they're bound to see each other more. Right? But when the new season starts, no Lilah, just more crushing on Fred. (So far. I've only been able to sit through 7 episodes of the final season of Angel so far. Maybe it'll turn out that Lilith's in the next office, and he could just go over and knock her up if he weren't such a chicken.)

When you look at it, there are a lot of protagonists actively avoiding anyone who might like them until they go away or do something even worse.  Just be mean to anyone who seems to like you until they give up! What kind of rule of living is that? "Go away, Lilith," says Wesley. "You like me. No girl worth dating would want me. Look at Fred. She hates everything I say or do and has zero chemistry with me. Now there's a girl!" Buffy even drops Riley in favour of a soulless, demonic mass murderer. Admittedly, that's because the internet wanted it, but ..really.

So what's going on here? Duh. They're derailing plot culminations to sell more episodes. ("Tah, everybody. I'm leaving Angel Investigations to start a consulting firm and make babies with Lilith." Okay, admittedly, Angel would have gone on without Wesley. How about, "hey, Scooby Gang, don't be sad. After the wedding, you can come visit Riley and me at our suburban split level. Sometimes. Look. Call first.") Sometimes the derailment works, as with Niles and Daphne. But that's a lot less important than squeezing out a few more episodes and making some money!

By way of contrast, actual people make every mistake a serial protagonist makes, for much less excusable reasons. We're winded and we want to stop jogging. It's early and we don't want to get out of bed into a cold apartment. If we apply for a new job, people might  reject us. If we get it, we'll have to move. We snack because dieting is hard, and blog instead of writing a review for H-Net because we're lazy. The one thing that all of these reasons have in common is that they're harmful. That's why we have an inner drill-sergeant yelling at us to get moving. ("Stop the insanity!" I wonder what ever happened to her?)

So the hating? That's our inner drill sergeant acting out. We should leave Buffy and Clark and Wesley alone, since, after all, they're just earning residuals. We should yell at ourselves, until we actually are writing that review. Sigh.

(Edit: Thought I'd try to get Stephanie Romanov's character's name right.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Favourite Son: A Cliffhanger

[Scene: A steamy, clean, but messy bathroom.]

Twilight (Anita Guzman): "And that's it, everything's good. Blonde no longer. Even the highlights came through! It's all in the vectors!"
Snakes-on-a-Plane (Jenny Wong): Oh, thank you, 'Nita!"
Anita: "Why didn't you just get it done professionally?"
Jenny: "I used up my allowance on my new outfit and costume."
Anita: "Princess haz money?"
Jenny: "Seriously."
Anita: "Good thing your BFF is the best gadgeteer on Earth under 19!"
Jenny: .....
Anita: "Except Gadget Boy."
Jenny: "You're an awesome gadgeteer. And I was never ...I'm over Gadget Boy."
Anita: "But why tonight? It's just dinner with the guys. Unless, y'know, Eurostar attacks Philadelphia."
Jenny: "May's got the Rugrats. I get to go out with you tonight."
Anita: "Poor kid. Wait. If she's skating tonight, how's she looking after ...I mean, those two figure skating?"
Jenny: "They're in afternoon classes at the Centre Wednesdays. Then, they're supposed to go watch May 'til she's finished. And tonight, the Parental Excursion Module will drop them at the movies on the way to the Hall instead of bringing them home."
Anita: "Nice. Wait. What did the Centre ever do to you guys?"
Jenny: "Ever heard that some of those robocallers are set not to work before 5?"
Anita: "No?"
Jenny: "They said that they were worried that the Centre's wouldn't, and supervillains might attack early. 'Cuz they're evil. So they tested it. By setting it to dial the whole membership database. At 4AM."
Anita: "Aren't there schools you can send those kids?"
Jenny: "It was the Centre that let everybody write their passwords on the keyboards, so Mom and Dad said they deserved it. Mom's totally paranoid about that now."
Jenny: "Anyway, don't tell Mom, but May does double cardio intervals on Wednesdays, gets out of practice an hour early, and takes the twins over to the park."
Anita: "The park? What's up with that?"
Jenny: "May won't say. 'Fraid I'll rat her out to Mom."
Anita: "Boy?"
Jenny: "Whatever. Dad's okay with it, but Mom's got a list..."
[Jenny cocks her head, squints, and holds up a finger as though she were reading from a list posted on a refrigerator door. She looks cute as she does it. Anita, as always, feels gawky and awkward. Though not as much as she would have Monday morning. In all Anita's eighteen years, she would never have expected that she would be the first to have a steady boyfriend.]
Jenny [pretending to tick off her list]: "Jock? Out. Band? Out. Long hair? Out. Skaterboy? So out. Oh yeah. May's gonna keep any boy she likes on the q.t."
Anita: "Piercings?"
Jenny: "Off the 'May kant haz list.' May takes after Mom, which, you've seen the movie they made about Mom, she's too desperate worried to contradict her Preapproval List."
Anita: "Who's got piercings that your Mom's preapproved?"
Jenny: "You, silly."
Anita: "Me?"
Jenny: "You honestly don't know how long Mom's been trying to get you together with Junior?"
Anita: "Why didn't you tell me?"
Jenny: "Figured you knew. 'Henry, Anita's here!'"
[It's been three years since Henry or David could come to this house, but Jenny's impersonation brings it back. Still, Anita sees that Jenny was lying. Jenny had wanted it, too, and been afraid of messing it up. Well, fine. Anita had her secrets, too.]
Jenny: "So you still haven't told me how it happened. Oh my God! You're blushing! You hooked up!"
[Yes. No. Damn Jenny's Sherlock Holmes thing. Could Anita explain her own deduction, her leap from Brad's desperate crush to figuring out why Henry was avoiding her? Not without giving her cousin's secret away. Brad had long since blown any chance he ever had with Jenny with his sharp tongue, but Anita was not going to be the one to break his heart. And, anyway, Henry was...]
Jenny: "Anita, when you're not talking, it's like things falling up. It sure doesn't work as denial."
Anita: "What, you want I should dish about your brother? Eww."
Jenny: "Of course not. Henry takes after Dad like May takes after Mom. I know... I mean, I can... I saw Dad sweep the leg of a T-Rex on his 61st birthday?"
Anita: "Like, a dinosaur?"
Jenny: "Not a very good dinosaur."
Doctor Dao [David Wong]: {Pardon me ladies, but you need to get down to the front yard now.}
Jenny: "David! You don't call in three months, and now this? What did we agree about telepathy in the bathroom?"
David: {Not the time, little sis. Not when you've got a big enough emergency to set me off from Columbus.}

 [Scene: The Wongs' front garden. Billy Washington is sprawled on the lawn beside the walk. Groceries are scattered on the concrete, and it looks like some eggs and black bean sauce aren't going to make it.]

Anita: "Oh God. What's wrong with Billy?"
Wolverine Boy [Billy Tatum]: "He was having headaches since the fight. He was okay bringing the groceries in, then, the minute your Mom pulled away, he just went down."
Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilson]: Hi Anita! Hi Jenny. What fight?"
Billy Tatum: "Never mind right now. What's wrong?"
Brad: "Acute subdural hematoma."
Anita: "Where's your Mom, Jenny? Call your Mom, Jenny!"
Billy Tatum: "Acute what now? How the heck do you come up with that?"
Brad: "The words I know from working Ski Patrol. But right now, powers. I taste it. We need Mrs. Wong's chi'i mojo, like now."
Captain Super Ultra [Billy Washington]: "What's everyone doing? Wow. Jenny. I didn't know you could glow green like that! Whoof, girl, lay off the donuts!"
Anita: "Okay then. Crisis over, and we can add "life energy" to the list of Jenny's schticks. Billy, could you get Jenny up and carry her upstairs? We're not done her hair yet. Billy Tatum? Brad? If I catch either of you trying for an upskirt..."
Brad: "Yeah. Unh, no.  We're going to the den now. Billy?"
Billy Tatum: "What?"

[Scene: The Wong's basement.]

Princess Ma Tian [Mrs. Wong]: "You can start with the rice, William. Bill,  crab. Jenny, if you could please take the tofu? Anita, you're in charge of the chow mein. Bradley, sweet and sour. Bill, you will call us if you..."
Billy Washington: "I'm okay, I'm okay. I've been okay for four hours now. Please don't let a little bump ruin your evening!" 
Mrs. Wong: "Jenny, you have the Hall's number, right? You are to call the instant ...Remember, Mr. Wong says that you can take the cover off the pool table when dinner is finished. I'll just clear these up and be back in a moment."
Billy Tatum: "Oh boy! That's more like it."
Anita: "Watch it, Billy. Mr. Wong didn't cook that, and it's nothing like takeout. Mrs. Wong is sneaking sheep tail in again."

Jenny: "It's good luck to serve sheep tail to guests in my grandfather's culture!"
Billy T.: "Gross! Brad, so, it's, like, deep fried sheep bum?"
Anita: "No. Besides. Brad knows what it is. He just likes it."
Brad: "Well, it's different from how it usually is. Like, last time, it was kinda gross. But this time, it's even better than usual."

Jenny: "I... think that's because my Mom put some balsamic vinegar in the sauce, and last time there was too much."
Billy Washington: "Did anyone else notice a cold draft there for a..."
Brad: "But what I'd really like to try again is that lamb stroganoff from Lunar New Years."
Mrs. Wong [coming down the stairs]: "I'm sorry, Bradley. It's very hard to get mare's milk right now. And it looks like we're not going to have a foal next year. No more koumiss 'till Christmas."
Jenny: "But, Mom, weren't we bringing the Lion Stallion out?"
Mrs. Wong: "Honey, your Dad only has a week before the Chestnut Street job starts, and a week after, it's school already. The Mechanic says that we can't be crossing an international border with people out looking for  your Dad, and there's no way that we can make arrangements through Wenatchee in time."
Jenny: "That sucks."
Mrs. Wong: "Language, dear."
Mrs. Wong: "And that's everything. The banquet will probably be over by 10, but Mr. Wong and I will be catching the late show with May and the twins. So you all have fun tonight, and be back by 12:30, Jenny. Remember that you have that campus visit with Henry on Friday. I don't want either of you to be tired out."

[Mrs. Wong leaves.]
Anita: "Too tired? What the heck does that mean?"

Jenny: "That her darling daughter is to make sure that between summer school and a wild night hanging out until midnight, she's not too tired a week later. Or maybe it's some kind of subtle suggestion that you shouldn't, you know, Henry all night every night while he's in town."
Anita: "Hey! Who spilled? Jenny? Brad? And I'm eighteen! It's my business!" 
Billy W. : "Calm down, 'Nita. Mrs. Wong figured it out all on her own. She doesn't disapprove. Just worries." 
Jenny: "And on a slightly more important matter, Billy, what went down with the Blue Flame, yesterday?"
Billy Tatum: "Oh, it was so cool! The police let him interrogate Dr. Dekkar, and they let me watch from behind one of those one-way mirror things. Like, an actual one-way mirror. And there was this speaker thing...Epic!"
"Meh. The Blue Flame's probably a detective or a lawyer in his secret ID. So?"

Billy Tatum: "Nita's right. Someone sent the book to Dekkar. Even creased it to fall open to the bit about Mr. W. But the book...It's a presentation copy that they traced to the UNTIL base at Vancouver, Canada. And you'll never guess where the UNTIL agent who screwed up and let Armento into Philadelphia is assigned..."
Anita: "So, Jenny. The reason that half the lame supervillains on Earth are suddenly on your family is that for some reason, a renegade UNTIL agent from out west knows all about your Dad."
[Anita stared at her friend, who, not surprisingly, was looking pretty shaken. No wonder Jenny was so embarrassed about being rooked  by Agent Byrne. Tough! Jenny had endangered her parents for a schoolgirl crush on an UNTIL agent. Now she could bloody well come clean. And shatter Brad's fantasy world while she was doing it. The team might be able to fix the John thing, but Brad's poor, shlubby, over-sized heart was something else.] 


This is the tenth 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. 

UNTIL, Gadget Boy, and the Blue Flame are more Cryptic Games intellectual property. UNTIL is a United Nations crimefighting organisation based on UNCLE, while the Blue Flame is another member of the Liberty League. Gadget Boy is a Japanese gadgeteer who works closely with Japanese authorities to contain the giant monsters of Monster Island, but Anita hasn't been keeping up. He's actually 22. Although Lord knows what that means in comic book time. My notion here is that there would be an anime series featuring Gadget Boy, and well, giant monsters, and that Jenny is, or used to be, a fan. His theme song was probably cool, like "Squarepants Spongebob!" (Am I ironic for getting that reversed, or uncool for thinking that it's cool? Never mind. I write comic book fanfic.)

Disclaimers: Clearly Wang Dulu and Ang Lee have taken some minor liberties with Mrs. Wong's early life. Vectoral formalisations have not been shown to offer any improvement in results from home hair dye kits. Even with highlights.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stupid, Stupid Zombies

On the one hand, you're doomed. On the other, the only thing standing in the way of you levelling is the size of your magazine. I don't know. I see a disconnect here. This thing about contradiction: wherever you sit on A and not-A, you shouldn't ought to think both at once.

The flip side of being doomed is

You get killer boots and a red dress!

I think I get what it's about.  I could get all humanities grad student here, but, really, best not. It comes down to this, that there's you, and there's the red dress, handed down by the Big Guy in the Sky. Or some guy at the worstest corporation in the fiction-universe. (In real life, Umbrella's "business plan" wouldn't make the top 10 list of stupid.)

Now, I don't hate zombies, even if the last zombie movie I really enjoyed, even including Shaun of the Dead (sad face!) was Night of the Comet, slow pace aside. But the red dress is a problem, no matter how much my inner Y chromosome might like it. Jeff Smith throws rat-tails at his protagonists again, and again, and every time the story gets deeper and richer, even if he can't stick the ending. Zombies go the other way: more, morer, morest! You have cool, and no story, and it doesn't matter, because story is your story.

What? The reason that I'm talking about zombies now is that my sister can't even get confused about how to kill them without my niece explaining the facts of life to her. Head shots all the way, Mom. That's what we learn in  first grade! So if you've got an extended magazine, Arizona-style, you're safe as long as there aren't more than 30 zombies.

Except, and here's my problem: there are always more zombies than you have bullets. You seem to have agency. But you don't. Unless you happen to be the protagonist. In Max Brook's World War Z, the United States Army, with all its technology, gets routed out of New York because it doesn't understand how to kill people.  Government.  Eventually, the US army is reorganised around line rifle fire tactics, and slow marches back across the continent, head-shotting convenient mobs of zombies like a particularly accurate Eighteenth Century army.

No subtext there! I wonder if Max Brooks understands that some thought went into this before he came along. Yes, people, unlike zombies, go for cover. But that makes them harder to kill. Because, and this is a little-known scientific fact, I admit, brains are an evolutionary advantage. That's why, more than  a hundred years ago, the the French invented this in order to improve on the killing power of a gaggle of riflemen. The basic concept was to shoot people lots, and if those people choose to stand around taking it for a long time, well, lots of people end up getting shot. (Look, Ma! I'm Aristotle!) Ever since, it's basically been upwards and ever onwards for the killing people arts. Headshots admittedly not guaranteed, but there's always chainmail hipwaders and a splitting ax for tidies after.

The story of a zombie movie is that there's an apocalypse, and you survive. When the red dress shows up, it says that you didn't earn it. If you're chosen to wear it, you can kick all the zombies to death. If you're not, it doesn't matter if you've got a gun, a tank, or the US Army on your side. The zombies will walk across the bottom of the ocean. They'll defy the laws of thermodynamics and your own made-up rules. They won't get freezer burn. They'll be in the house waiting for you. They'll get you.

I could worry about who gets the red dress. For example, if I were going to criticise Brook's politics (and, Lordy, what else do we do on the Interweb?) I'd point out that he gives it to Israel and South Africa and take that to town. But I'm not, because I have a Generation X objection instead. The red dress is story-nepotism. The protagonist isn't the one that earns it. The protagonist is the writer's nephew, and the story saves his worthless butt so that he can make lots of money and have the nice vacation and house and tell you that he earned it because he hasn't the faintest idea how hard it is to kill zombies if you don't have the story on your side. Good stories feature people who become protagonists by working hard and persevering and doing brave things. They teach that in first grade, too. But the noise drowns it out.

Fine thing for someone who can't even nerve himself up to ask a girl out to say. But still....

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Seniors' Day

Princess Ma Tian (Mrs. Henry Wong. Mrs. Wong likes to avoid her "Minnie," her English name.) [to her phone]: "No, dear. You may not. As low as you've set your sights in life, you will still finish your homework before you go out."
Captain Super Ultra (Billy Washington): "Jenny wants to be a doctor. How is that unambitious?"
Mrs. Wong: "Bill."
Billy: "Er. A vet. But...
Mrs. Wong. "Bill."
Billy: "Yes, Ma'am."
Mrs. Wong: "It is like dealing with your minions. It is occasionally wise to loosen the leash and let them do what they want to do. As long as it is exactly what one intended in the first place."
Billy: "Yes, Ma'am."
Mrs. Wong: "And that even though one preferred to mother them, there were times when it was necessary to be strict. I can count on your discretion with Jenny, Bill?"
Billy: "Yes, Ma'am."
Mrs. Wong: "This really is so nice of you, helping me with my shopping. Especially with the parties to buy for. Are you sure you will be able to cope? This store has excellent carry-out."
Billy: "I'm superstrong. Of course I can handle it!"
Mrs. Wong: "I keep forgetting. For some reason."
Billy: "Hey! I've put on a lot of weight in the last year. And three inches around the chest!"
Mrs. Wong: "Which is still less than Brad Neilsen in half that time."
Billy: "That's not fair! Brad was a gorilla to start with! And my aunt has been on him night and day. 'Grub this. lift that. Chop these.' So not my scene."
Mrs. Wong: "And speaking of your aunt, where is she? I never knew her to miss the seniors' day discount."
Billy: "Um...."
Mrs. Wong: Never mind, Bill. I am sure that anything you tell me will just crash the universe in a time travel paradox of  blue-screen-death, and I get enough of that with my email."
Billy: "We should get you a new laptop, Mrs. Wong. Your sons could send you photos, videoconference..."
Mrs. Wong: "Eh. I would like the photos. But I am comfortable with the one I have. Why make the effort to learn how to use another when I may not even need it?"
Billy: "Please don't talk that way, Mrs. Wong."
Mrs. Wong: "You're a smart boy, Bill."
Billy: "Not really. I've been hanging around with David."
Mrs. Wong: "You're both smart boys. I trust that this is another thing you will keep from Jenny."
Billy: "I think she already ...she knows."
Mrs. Wong: "There is a difference between knowing, and knowing. As long as she only suspects.... Bill, I want your freely given promise that you will not say anything about this to her."
Billy: "You have it. But Jenny loves you. She would never forgive herself if... you...."
Mrs. Wong: "She loves me like a child. A child who naturally wants her mother to be with her forever. But understand, Bill. I am over a thousand years old. I re-entered the Great Ocean for one reason. Or six. I would rather  have a grandchild in my arms for a minute than live to see the Pure Land."
Billy: "And?"
Mrs. Wong: "Jenny is rushing to the altar faster than she even realises. Her college graduation. That's when it will happen. And you wonder that I encourage her to take a graduate degree! David is not going to give me grandchildren. So everything depends on Junior. He will marry three years this June --his graduation. And I will have fourteen months with my grandchildren."
Billy: "...Wow. Um, how long have you known about David?"
Mrs. Wong: "Bill. I have seen six dynasties, Nationalists and Communists. I've seen a few things. Any chance of you and David....?"
Billy: "He's not my type."
Mrs. Wong: "'Stupid boys are good to relax with...'"
Billy: "Mrs. Wong!"
Billy: "And I know you used to be a mastermind, but Jenny doesn't have a boyfriend. Henry's never had a girlfriend. Aren't you, y'know, overthinking this?"
Mrs. Wong: "I am still a mastermind. I used to worry about Henry, but that's turned out splendidly. You can tell David that he will not need a beard."
Billy: "Also, the prophecy says in plain characters that the House of Wong will come to an end when its heir comes of age. Which, okay, is marriage, since between David and Henry that's three graduations since high school already. But the characters in the next verse haven't been used in thirteen hundred years. Sure, they could mean that you will die when your eldest daughter loses, I mean, marries? But maybe not, right?"
Mrs.Wong: "The Wheel spins, the Buddha bears the load, and the gift of prophecy is a precious jewel."
Billy: "And?"
Mrs.Wong: "It's piffle. Henry has changed his name. No more Wongs. Technically. And the only man alive who can read those characters believed that they predicted my death.  Or he would have realised that I faked it and come for me long ago. I am not being misled. I will see my grandchildren."
Manuel Armenta (Employee of the Month, November 2010!): "Rite Save Card? AirPlan, Ma'am?"
Mrs. Wong: "There you go, dear."
Manuel Armenta: "Thank you, Mrs.....Wong? I shall have my revenge! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!"
Billy: "Isn't he supposed to ask if you found everything today before the evil laugh?"
Mrs. Wong: "I imagine he will. When he's finished turning into a tyrannosaurus."
Billy: "Won't we be too distracted by that point?"
Mrs. Wong: "It does seem to be his conversation stopper. And with the screaming.... Speaking of which, do please hit him now, Bill. And see if you can knock him through the front. I used to hate spilling the displays back when Henry and I sparred. People put a lot of work into them."
Billy: "I hope I can take him alone!"
Mrs. Wong: "Of course you can take him alone, Bill. You've come such a long way. And I noticed that young William is out in the parking lot."
Billy: "What's Billy Tatum doing here?"
Mrs. Wong: "Hanging around aimlessly. It's William."


[Five minutes later, in a somewhat destroyed parking lot]

Wolverine Boy [Billy Tatum]: "Awesome fight! I finally got to ride my skateboard into battle! And I loved it when you picked up that Aztek and threw it at the guy! Dinosaur. Whatever."
Billy: "My head...Why is everyone cheering?"
Billy T.: "I just said... Plus we won the fight!"
Billy: "I'm telling Mr. Piccolo that you said 'awesome.'"
Billy T. "I don't care what Mr. Piccolo thinks ...you wouldn't tell him, would  you? Hey! Half my skateboard! And it's got dinosaur bitemarks! Epic!"
Mrs. Wong: "Oh, I'm terribly sorry about the damage. If there's anything...."
Could-Mr. Gavin-Or-An-Assistant-Manager-Please-Come-To-Customer-Service-RIGHT-AWAY-OMG-We're-Going-To-Die: "No problem, Mrs. Wong. We have insurance, Mrs. Wong. We had no idea that this employee was a supervillain, or we wouldn't have made him a Junior Retail Leader. I have a gift card here..."
Mrs. Wong: "If you knew that there was a problem [peering at the name badge], Mr. Gavin...."
 Mr. Gavin: "The company encourages employees to become proactively involved in workplace related learning with our sector-leading brand management software, and supports current security protocols!"
Mrs. Wong: "In other words, no-one knows how your IT works, the passwords are all taped to the bottom of the keyboards, and random employees routinely muck around with it, possibly even identifying people from their ShopRite Card use history."
Mr. Gavin: "Did I mention the gift card?"
Mrs. Wong: "We'll take it."


Billy T: "Look out for the intersection!"
Mrs. Wong: "William, have I mentioned how unfond I am of your backseat driving habit?"
Billy: "Should we really have left things so untidy back there?"
Mrs. Wong: "I am sure that the Mechanic will take care of things. I have six children, a husband, a demon of poison and gold, two houses and five horses to worry about. More than enough."
Billy T.: "You know what we should worry about? Where all these old enemies came from! I didn't even know that Mr. W. fought El Sauriano!"
Mrs. Wong: "Rio. Vacation. 2006. It hardly counted as a fight."
Billy: "I can't believe I'm saying this, Billy, but you have a point."


This is the ninth 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. 

Manuel Armato ("El Sauriano") is a an Argentinian supervillainI'm taking liberties in bringing him to Philadelphia to work in a grocery chain, but not extreme ones, as his current whereabouts are unknown according to the writeup in Champions Worldwide. The "demon of poison and gold" is another Champions setting property, the evil mastermind, Dr. Yin Wu. I don't have his writeup yet. I'm such a pathetic fan boy. The Mechanic is a superhero gadgeteer and the leader of Philadelphia's Liberty League.

Needless to say, there is only a coincidental resemblance between "Shop Rite" and the actual ShopRite chain. Although I might be drawing on a little work experience here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It Would Be Better With Gorillas

Twilight (Nita Guzman): "Hey, Jenny. Where's the boys?"

Snakes On A Plane (Jenny Wong): "They're fighting some kind of gang of mutated Jack Russells over in the alley. With lasers on their heads."
Nita: "Ouch. You're mad at me."
Jenny: "Duh."
Nita: "If this is about mentioning John back at the Stone Temple... I'm so sorry. You didn't tell me it was a secret!"
Jenny: "I.... It's not a secret. Okay. It's a secret. I should have told you. I'm sorry I didn't call you back. I'm not mad at... Okay, I was mad at you. But I'm not now."
Nita: "Look! This is me, not getting what you're not telling me. Totally oblivious about everything, won't mention anything about anything until you tell me. Maybe later you tell me what I don't know that I'm talking about."
Jenny: "Nita. You're my best friend ever. I'd hug you if I weren't tied up and everything."
Nita: "Sure you don't want me to fix that?"
Jenny: "Under control. So what about Dr. Stonechild. Did he apologise for embarrassing you that way?"
Nita: "Yeah, but about that. You know, I spent, like, 5 years trying to get Brad to work on his personal hygiene by calling him out in public. It just made him mad and defensive. Which? I'm dumb. Took Mrs. Crudup all of six weeks for Project Bradover. I think where I got hung up was thinking, "what would work with me?" Dr. Stonechild? He used what would work with me. And afterwards, he took me to a private dinner party for a bunch of collegiate b-ballers. I danced 'till 2AM with men I had to look up to."
Jenny: "Ooh, boyfriend material?"
Nita: "How do I put this... I think the young men that Doctor Stonechild knows are not really the kind of guys who get that scene. But still, gay pretend boyfriend is better than no boyfriend. Not that you'd know."
Jenny: "One more time. Not boyfriend. Pretend boyfriend. John is a real dick. And you are a terrible liar."

Nita: "What do you mean?"
Jenny: "Oh, come on. Ever since you went Suicide Girl last New Years, you've been totally hung up on something. I've been wondering: how much do I have to lay the ditz thing down before the old  Nita comes back? Now all of a sudden you're Miss Sensitive again? Subtle difference. I sees it."
Nita: "I don't know what you're talking about. You know, maybe we should talk about this secret of yours.."
Jenny: "Whatever. That'll hold. But you? You're ready to dish. So the question is, why haven't you. What could be so secret....OMG. Henry was in town last Christmas. And now. And you two went to the Penn State game. Care to tell me who introduced you to Dr. Stonechild and his B-Ball buddies..."
Nita: "Henry's straight! Not that I'd date your brother!"
Jenny: You know, I would ship Henry to you in a hearbeat. Tall. Smart. Funny. My brother. Though ...Gee. I wouldn't be able to see you except during an eclipse. That would suck."
Nita: "Exactly: 'The Heir of Wong will have in majority/As portion the end of that Family Line/As Wong's Daughter  remains in minority/And so long as the Celestial Mare's light shines.' Once again, maybe I shouldn't criticise, but that sounds awful."
 Jenny: "You do a better translation. Let me know when you've learned Classical Chinese. Or taken Creative Writing. Or at least know what a meter is. And as I keep telling you, I have two brothers and a sister. May won't turn 21 for another 9 years. Until then, the prophecy won't trigger. You can hang out with Henry all you like, just as long as it's under an eclipse, no-one can connect him to Dad through you. 
Nita: "You know that the last line is a threat to your mother. Not a reference to eclipses, whatever your wizard told you. And you have three brothers and two sisters."
Jenny: "I don't count the Rugrats."
Nita: "And that's why you come to school with a snake in your phone case."
Jenny: "It was not funny!"
Nita: "It was hilarious."
Jenny: "Okay. It was a little funny. And you're right. I just can't imagine some highbrow prophecy applying to the Rugrats! Now. About Henry. You two shipping, or what?"
Nita: "I'm sorry, little figure of speech. Jenny didn't mean to torture you to death like that. S'not what shipping means. More like when Lise said that Brad was 'a starving rat that someone dragged out of the rain and revived by rubbing it with a dead skunk,' and Jordan said Lise had a crush on Brad. That's shipping."
Jenny: "It is not!"
Nita: "I think I'm beginning to see---"
Doctor Miles Dekkar: "Ladies? Ladies? I have you in a death trap. The appropriate response is defiant speeches, not catching up on the gossip. So, please. Respect the traditions! As soon as I clear the inlet jets, you will have exactly 30 seconds to beg and bargain for your worthless lives before it begins to smell like teen spirit in here. Or particularly peppy corpses
! [Snicker]."
Nita: "[Snicker]? Shouldn't that be [Bwa-ha-ha]?"
Doctor Dekkar: "My daughter-in-law is going to put me in care if I have to go to emerg for an emphysema attack, again, reliable babysitter or not."
[From the Command Bubble, hovering 25 feet above in the rafters] Miles Dekkar III (age 5 and 3/4s): "Grandpa, Monitor Lizard won't let us watch
 Bratz. We always get to watch Bratz at home."
Doctor Dekkar: "Fine: and as soon as we've had our final revenge on the thrice-cursed Wong, we shall go for ice cream!"
Miles and Josephine, but not Alexander Dekkar, who can't really talk yet: "Yay!"
Jenny: "You know, if you pick a mutated lizard as the right world-conquering monstrosity to be overseeing your grandchildrens' programming choices, maybe you should be backing it up? Just because
 Bratz is a cartoon does not mean that it is age appropriate."

Doctor Dekkar: "I can see why you don't have a real boyfriend."
Jenny: "Even for a has-been supervillain, that's mean!  Also, wasn't your schtick more giant monsters?
Doctor Dekkar: "The condominium covenant won't allow giant monsters after the gorilla episode. Now enough of these nattering distractions. Commence your snivelling entreaties, in the full knowledge of their futility, for I will have revenge more crushing than when I complain to Shop-Rite management about those snotty cashiers and the way they stare at me when I count my change!"
Nita: "Oh, we won't be doing that. We have an escape plan already. We were just waiting for you to get back to us."
Jenny: "Bouncy bouncy."

Doctor Dekkar: Something of a >bonging< sound as he bounces off the far wall.
Jenny:" Oh... I hope he didn't break a hip, there. ."
Nita: "Yeah. 
Last thing we need is the AARP after us. So the boys aren't back, but on the other hand those ...turkeys? Seriously? Giant turkeys? haven't broken past your Dad yet. Think we lay down some fire support?"
Jenny: "Dad!"
Nita: "Wow, Jenny, that's like three blasts in a row, and you're still standing! What's that, a 100% improvement?"
Jenny: "Read me
 Good Night, Moon, again, Mommy?"
Nita: "Okay, say 75%."
Doctor Dekkar: "I am back! Did you think you could dispose of me as easily those evolutionary errors?"
Nita: "No, but I do have something in reserve. Have a bright flight! Oops."
Jenny: "
 Any reason you're giving up on the pixie bob? Because I thought it was adorable. And the new electric frizz look is going to be a bitch to maintain. Unless you just stick your fingers in a socket every hour or so. Or, hey, carry one with you! Good call for a gadgeteer!"
Nita: "Ve-r-r-ry f-u-n-ny. Shield-ed. Try cold blast?"
Jenny: "Haven't got those down yet. No reason not to try heat again, though. Hey. Nice! And I only feel a little dizzy."
Nita: "And no more blonde jokes, either. You are growing out the roots, right?"
Jenny: "Yeah, it was a bit much. I think I'm going to go with the Grace Park look."
Nita: "Wouldn't that take surgery? W
eird, counter-productive surgery?"
Jenny: "Okay, a full-figured Grace Park look. Whatever. Superheroines are busty. It's in the rules."
Nita: "I think we should probably tidy up Dr. Dekkar now."

Jenny: "It looks like we've taken the fight out of him. But what about his grandchildren?"
 Doctor Dekkar: "I yield! No more blasts. And the Command Module will recover to Florida automatically. Monitor Lizard just has to reset the control cam on the navigational computational machine."
Nita: "Well, that's settled, then."
Doctor Dekkar: "Not quite. My revenge is delayed, but I will be back!"
Jenny: "Doctor Dekkar, it's been, like, 40 years since you fought the Liberty Legion last. The group's been broken up for over 30. Wong retired in
 1978. Why now?
Doctor Dekkar: "This! This humiliation was too much to bear!"
Nita: "Heroic Ambiguities:
 UNTIL in America, 1948--1993? Okay, cutting to the chase, I'm sure it says something offensive about you in here somewhere in connection to Mr. Wong. But shouldn't you a) go after the author; or b) not care? It can't be a big part of the book, and isn't there a statute of limitations on crazy?"
Doctor Dekkar: "The author is some professor at a cow college, wasting 
post-secondary research funding that could go into research into producing giant mutates. I went after real revenge. Something substantial."
Jenny: "And how did you find ....Wong, anyway?"
Doctor Dekkar: "That book on the old Legion was pretty sparse on details, but it did mention that Wong owned a property management firm, and I know that those companies often specialise in building styles. So I remembered where I'd tracked Wong down to in the past, found a common architectural thread, did a LEXIS-NEXIS search, tracked the firms that hired architects like that, followed up on some statistical correlations, hacked some computers, used some mutate pigeons to shadow meetings.... It took four tries."
Nita: "You are the same Doctor Dekkar who tried to conquer the planet with a coordinated assault on world capitals with an army of giant monsters, right?"
Doctor Dekkar: "Can't have 'mad genius' without "genius. Now no further comment until I've spoken with my lawyer."


This is the seventh 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. 
Doctor Dekkar is part of the Champions Universe intellectual property, but since he's a retired mad scientist living in a  retirement condominium and babysitting his grandchildren on weekdays with the aid of an unnamed, mutated monitor lizard, CO isn't doing anything with him. Even they aren't that desperate? Or did I make that part up on a crazed coffee bender? I can't remember.

But the part about history professors at cow colleges spending grant money that could go to creating gigantic, superintelligent gorillas? That's real. Write your MP. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Talking Is Who You Are?

Jared Loughner thinks that grammar controls us. No, I haven't a clue what he's talking about.  I'm talking about this because I have opinions about what happened in Tucson this Saturday that I'd be screaming at the Internet if I weren't sure that many people who are talking right now are not talking about what they're talking about. They're talking to be who they want to be.

Personally, I talk like a lot of people, shifting voice for any number of reasons.  Maybe it is all faking it, and I just need to speak to my authentic place in world and time.

But I can't! I'm not smart enough to sound that stupid!

So, by all means, let's talk about talking.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Time Travel Pastoral: Connie Willis is Amazing

I've been reading time travel novels, lately. They're fun, but some have a troubling message. They turn time travel into a pastoral genre, and I don't think that's a good thing.

 Pastoral? Pastoral:

It sticks in my mind that Virgil wrote a pastoral as practice before writing epic, but I won't stand on it. The only bit of the Eclogues I remember is as a means to win an argument, and  if I ever talk about the Aeneid, it will be via Purcell. It rings true because it puts the pastoral on the road behind us on our trip to whatever might be like, but better, than what Aeneas went through.

But what if you get a time machine? Can you put it in reverse gear and go pick that girl up that you passed by the way? Isn't that what a time machine is about? Going back? Not so much.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Comic Apocalypse

It's morning after New Year's Eve. One solar year over, lunar new year more than a month away. It's another of those holidays-by-ellipse, a period between endings and beginnings. This one isn't about death and memory. It's about the gap between the last star of night and the break of dawn. Will there be another day, or is the apocalypse upon us? The apocalypse. It has sodium benzoate!

So maybe it's not that bad. For example, when H. G. Wells ends the world in War in the Air, the protagonist is living the life of an Anglo-Saxon pig farmer in the Weald, his best girlie at his side. Which is a good thing, according to Wells. (We'll unpack that baggage when we get to it.) Apocalypses ending well? Surely there's a problem here?


Ooh. Eighties hair. Doesn't make Reggie Belmont (much) less hot, though. And she's a gamer girl! Meanwhile, at the 4:42 point of the clip, Sam asks  Reggie why fellow survivor Hector Gomez didn't make his move last night. "Either the last boy on Earth is a gentleman, or he's gay. What are the odds?"

Gee, thanks, little sis. And since you ask, the odds are: gay, 10%; sociopaths who hit on all girls every time, 10%; social retards, 80%. Er. I mean, "gentlemen." Some gentlemen are more retarded than others, but that's the numbers. Girls just know the sociopaths better because they talk to you. Most apocalypse movies are boy films. They're more concerned with the guys who don't talk to girls as much as they'd like. (We've got the money! Everyone listens to us!) So they're more into the "not if you were the last boy on Earth" thing than "what if the last boy on Earth isn't interested in you," but these are really different sides of the same coin: the central dilemma of the apocalypse film.

What's that, you say? Not so much? More like

this (credit)? No, guys; not the girl in the miniskirt with the long, sharp stake in the foreground. The zombies! The zombies are the only ones left (besides you and your gang), and they want to eat you. Haven't you heard about the zombie thing?

If you haven't, at least that makes you a viable protagonist for a zombie film, as you're perhaps the only person in the multiverse apart from over-educated philosophy grad students/film critics. (Dude! Read other books. See "Night of the Comet.") Grasp the idea that you should do some research before proclaiming the breathtaking novelty of whatever it is you just noticed.

 "Night of the Comet" has fast, clever zombies, and military protection that turns out to be something other than it seems, and the question of whether people are turning into zombies. Our linked author is right about how zombies are symbols and stuff, but they're polymorphic symbols. This here's a  chick flick, so the zombies are about girl-friendly (unfriendly?) threats.

We start the movie slow, because it's an old-timey movie where they think that they can get away with not having any action for, like, six whole minutes.

But at least we establish some villains: the mean step-mom, the absent Dad. I don't know. I think I've heard this one before. Obscure story, though,  had a glass slipper in it? And a sleazy boyfriend who treats Reggie like a ho.

 Don't worry, they're both going to be dead soon. But the zombies can stand in for them. Zombies, after all, eat the eligible boys and threaten to smother girls in their blooming, when they're not getting all creepy and sleazy. And we've got a hero. Hey, it's Chakotay, before he got caught on the spaceship of suck!

But, again, he didn't hit on Reggie. That's a thing. Oh, and there's an apocalypse, and that's a thing, too. Only, they're not unrelated. See, this "last man and last woman on Earth meet" is not new business. Eighty thousand years ago on the African veldt, it was more like "what happened Tuesday." Maybe fewer zombies, more sabretooth tigers, but more-or-less the same thing. How do we overcome the big issue, which is, as I said, on the odds, that the guy is a social retard who won't hit on the girl? Why, we buff his self-esteem a bit, but this is the tricky part, because of the whole difference-between-the-sexes thing. Guys and girls, they have different self-esteem issues. And, again, girl flick, so it's not going to be on the wavelength of the question: what buffs a guy's self esteem?

The answer is that generally, accomplishing something makes him all swaggery and stuff. For about five minutes. So, kill a sabretooth, ask a girl out. But let the girl say no (look, I don't know why, I'm a social retard!) and he'll be off trying to kill a mastodon. That sort of thing can't go on forever. And guys will always measure themselves against the next obstacle, and they'll be having the same internal dialogue going on as last time. "You're a wimp! A coward! A failure! No-one will ever love you until you kill that there Bi-Beast with a spoon." Which is really more details than girls need. The important point is that they'll always be reverting to wimp mode.

 In the real world, you deal, I suppose. Comedy, though, works better with idealised objects of desire. That's why comedies turn on their being obstacles to romance that keep the boy and the girl apart. The girls never see the guy fighting, the guys never see the girl ugly. The obstacle is removed in the same moment that the guy saves the shining girl. Both sexes are ideal objects of desire until it's too late! (Cue Mother Nature: "bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!")

So what kind of obstacle might do that kind of work?

How about the world? And that's why all apocalypses are comedies. Everyone dies, except your gang, and it leads to a romantic resolution. In this case, Chakotay gets to save the girl, so he can feel man enough for Reggie, and it turns out that not only is he not gay, but ....

(Did they have cars on the veldt?)