Monday, May 28, 2012

Mad for Mad Libs

Lily has recently taken to mad libs and I couldn't be happier.

If you don't remember mad libs from third grade, it's the game where one person writes a story and leaves out a couple words, and the second person provides the words when prompted for "a noun", "a verb", "a girl's name", "a part of the body", etc. It's a lot of fun and I've loved the game ever since I learned about it in grade school and I've done a bunch of them well into adulthood. Whenever I drive anywhere of length with my buddy Tim, we'll typically make one, with the passenger writing the story and the driver providing the words.

We've got our own routine to it, and it's worked out pretty well with the ones I make for Lily. In addition to the usual requests for nouns, verbs and adjectives, we usually include at least one "walkism" (synonyms for walked like strolled, sauntered, jogged or sashayed) and talkism (words used in place of said, like shouted, whispered, yelled, rasped and the ever popular "ejaculated").

Typically, I'll do a short page to introduce the main character and set the stage. So we'll get the character's name and rather than writing "same name" a dozen times, I'll just incorporate the name and the details of the characters as constants in the text of subsequent parts of the story once they've been established in the beginning. Sometimes we'll build on elements that have been generated randomly like that. If we determine the hero is a firefighter with x-ray vision, that might become a plot point in later chapters.

In the story we're working on now, Gargles, our heroine, is on her way to the ocean to buy some seaweed ice cream for her mom. She flags down her Uncle Joe when he passes by in his train by waving her heiney cheek at him. (Lily is, you will remember, five years old.)

She loves telling collaborative stories, and this is a great way to learn her parts of speech. It's strange that I happened to mention to even the most precocious five year old what a gerund is, and she probably won't remember it, but hey, she'll be that much ahead of the curve if she does. (Not that she needs it. She missed the cut off date by three days, so September will mark her third year of instruction learning her ABCs.)

It's fun, it's instructional and we can do it anywhere. They're rewarding to write and rewarding to read and they're always good for a laugh when you uncover a notebook full of mad libs from a couple years back.

Bonus Mad Lib! Give me the words in the comments
  1. Talkism
  2. Job
  3. Name
  4. Exclaimation
  5. Job
  6. Adjective
  7. Adverb
  8. Talkism
  9. Body part
  10. Adjective
  11. Walkism

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Search Results, Part 3

The latest in the series of the odd, unusual or downright disturbing searches people have used to find the site. Dear people who found my site through these searches...I hope it's meeting your expectations?
  1. muscled fathers wrestling their sons to submission, video
  2. comic heroes as helpless chess pawns
  3. Batman eating hot wings
  4. kari wahlgren feet
  5. castration scene film snuff
  6. empress dickings
  7. pictures of boys football wrist watches 1 jewel
  8. petite lap goat
  9. hot buttered supervillains
  10. zelazny porn

That last one baffles me. What was he expecting to find?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Day in Silent Hill with the Amish Stallion

I went on a fun road trip on Friday that got its start in an interesting way. My friend Frederick is a bright guy not overly challenged by his job, so he'll often text me throughout the day. We were going back and forth last week and we got to talking about ghost towns one day. I said that we should go to one and Frederick enthusiastically agreed. I was like, "I was just kidding, but okay!"

So, I did a little digging and found that Centralia was within driving distance.  Centralia was an influence for the look of the Silent Hill games and movie. I posted a link on Facebook to Centralia 's wikipedia page, with the comment, "...we're going to see a ghost town, sir!"

A mutual friend of ours, Phil, saw the post and expressed interest. He's the same Phil who comments here occasionally and maintains an excellent blog about Legos and geekery over here.

He's known as the Amish Stallion in some circles, but more on that later.

Phil wanted a crown on the horse, but that's needlessly ostentatious. He's been hanging out with the English too much and he's taken on many of their ways.
I headed over to Frederick's house after dropping Lily off the bus. We watched some music videos on VH1 Classic and then headed out to the diner where we talked about the trip. Phil had a little further to drive and he was going to meet us there.  Strangely, I mostly know Phil through the blog. We moved in the same circles and even had a lot of the same friends as young adults, but we never really hung out. I think that's what I like about living in the modern, networked world. Acquaintances can become friends years after the fact.

Actually, I remember the first time I ever met Frederick and Phil. I was in the local mall with my future wife, talking with a friend of ours in the Babbage's he managed on the day the mall celebrated Halloween. I forget exactly what we were talking about, because a guy dressed as a mad doctor caught up to the guy dressed up as an escaped mental and plunged, I want to say it was a turkey baster, into the fake red ass cheeks the mental patient was wearing. I might be fuzzy on some details. It was a good decade and half ago, and it was, as you might imagine, a rather odd experience.

Frederick and I were talking about that when we were at the diner:

"When I first met you. were you trying to stick something up Phi's butt or was it the other way around?"

"No, you had it the right way the first time."

Phil showed up, we stopped at a local store because they had Lego minifigures at a decent price, then it was back to Frederick's house for some chocolate covered bacon and then piled into his jeep for the trip.

Silent Hill was famously foggy and we had a chuckle as we approached and saw the Fog Area sign.

 We noticed that there were a bunch of windmills nearby, presumably to keep the fog at bay.

I guess it worked.

It wasn't what I was expecting. When we had been walking around for a little while, Phil commented, "Cabin in the Woods was scarier than this place." A lot of the houses had been demolished, so the town didn't look abandoned as much as undeveloped.

As long as we're referencing Silent Hill, "There was a town here. It's gone now."

My mother-in-law asked me if it looked post-apocolyptic, but really, I think the best word to describe it is one that Phil used, picturesque. It was nice. It was peaceful, in the same way cemeteries are peaceful and I liked it for much the same reasons.

We walked around, and saw some smoke coming from the ground, which was neat, but none of it was visible in the pictures I took. Frederick had better luck recording it on his camera as a video though. We poked around for maybe 90 minutes before heading back.

We passed a surgery clinic in an outlet mall and I snapped a picture from the car. I can't imagine how desperate you'd have to be to go there.

We stopped at a Cabela's, because Cabela's is always neat. It was here that Phil revealed his dark secret. He moonlights as a producer of low end Amish pornography. Oh, he'll probably come in here and attempt to obfuscate the issue, but that's the long and the short of it. You may know him through some of his more adventurous endeavors:
  • Hester and Patience have a picnic
  • A Taste of Prudence
  • 2 Girls, 1 Trough
  • Rump-springa
Overall, it was great fun and a trip I'd be willing to make again. It was fun really meeting Phil and Frederick gets massive kudos for running with something I had suggested as a joke.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Come to me not in Winter's White

This is another story that grew on me. I first encountered it in the Manna from Heaven collection and, while I never disliked it, it didn't grab me at first in the same way that Godson or Kalifriki did. I think that's probably just a function of my personal preferences; I tend not to like Zelazny's science fiction as much as his fantasy, even sf containing the strong mythic elements characteristic of his style.

It opens with the same dreamlike cadence of The Furies, the

She was dying and he was the richest man in the world, but he couldn't buy her life. So he did the next best thing. He built the house, different from any other house that had ever been. She was transported to it by ambulance, and their goods and furnishings followed in many vans.

Which reminds me of:

Captain Corgo protested, was declared out of order.

Captain Corgo threatened, was threatened in return.

Captain Corgo fought, was beaten, died, was resurrected, escaped restraint, became an outlaw.  He took the Wallaby with him. The Happy Wallaby, It had been called in the proud days. Now, it was just the Wallaby.

Both stories set the scene with very little dialogue at first and that helped cement the relationship in my mind.

Our hero is Carl Manos, of whom it is written, "It might be said that Carl Manos was Chronos/Ops/Saturn/Father Time himself, for he fitted even the description with his long dark beard and his slashing, scythe-like walking-stick. He knew Time as no other man had ever known it, and he had the power and the will and the love to exploit it." (That line reminds me of "Great was his grief and his hate and his love" from Divine Madness and also Sam's accusation to Yama that "You have broken upon the dark stone of your will that which is beyond all comprehension and mortal splendor." in Lord of Light.)

I can't see anyone else by Christophe Lee in the role.

(My only complaint is that the name of the character reminds me of Manos: The Hands of Fate, renowned as one of the worst movies ever made. Some quick research shows that the movie came out shortly before the story and now I'm haunted by the horrifying thought that it inspired the character's name in some way.)

Manos's wife is dying of a monstrously degenerative disease of her central nervous system so he builds her a slow time room so the specialists working on her cure have time enough to perfect it. This Mortal Mountain, Volume 3 of the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny has some commentary from both authors, talking a little about the story, and of course it includes the editor's notes that I so love about the collection. Zelazny and Harlan Ellison took turns writing the story.The thing that impressed me the most was how well the very different style of each author meshed.

The other thing that surprised me was learning of the slight revisions made by Ellison between when the story was printed in Manna and when it saw print in Mountain. I'm just kind of surprised that creators not named George Lucas are still tweaking their work after so long, but I do admire his dedication to his craft, though I think I prefer some of the lines as they were in the earlier story. (However, in his author's note, Ellison tells a critic of the story to "go hump a toadstool", so he's probably unconcerned about what I think one way or another.)

Within the room, Laura is lonely, so Manos has his Foundation scour for the world for a suitable companion for her.  "The first was a handsome young man named Thomas Grindell, a bright and witty man who spoke seven languages fluently, had written a perceptive history of mankind, had traveled widely, was outspoken and in every other possible way was the perfect companion.

The second was an unattractive woman named Yolande Loeb. She was equally as qualified as Grindell, had been married and divorced, wrote excellent poetry, and had dedicated her life to various social reforms."

You can probably imagine which candidate a person in Manos's position would pick. He selects Yolande to serve Laura's companion and the rest of the story unfurls based on that decision.

I think that's all I'm going to say, because I don't like to spoil the ending of shorter works like this and I think the ending is a big part of what gives the piece its power.

I will mention that it did have one last surprise for me though. The text refers to the machine as a Tachytron at one point, and I didn't think that tachyons had entered popular consciousness at the time of the writing, but a little research showed me they had. Somehow I'm not surprised that Zelazny and Ellison knew about it back then.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"I don't know. Let's find out."

Lily did something kind of clever the other day, and I asked her "How did you get so smart?"

She thought for a moment and said "Because I try very hard and go to school."

I was talking to my stepmother the other day and she had mentioned a study she had read where it was concluded that being labeled as "smart" can be detrimental at times, because kids tagged with this label believe it is something inherent to them and they're frustrated more than kids without the label when they fail. This is part of the reason we fought so hard to get her into kindergarten this year. (Spoilers, it didn't work). I want her to work and not just think that she's smart enough to get by.

Lily's bus stop is a next to a little local cemetery, mostly disused now and populated by veterans of the Spanish-American War. (And that's one of those lines that sounds like a joke, but really isn't. There are a bunch of military graves of local young men who died in 1898.)

Jen was running late and with me working from home, I sometimes take Lily to the bus stop solo. We spied some flowers through the fence and I asked if she thought if they were real or fake. Lily replied, "I don't know. Let's find out."

I was trying to say something like this in an earlier post. To me, that's the essence of what I'm trying to give her. She doesn't know, but she's not ashamed. Years ago, I read an interview from one of the producers of  "You Can't Do That on Television". It was the Canadian show that gave us Alanis Morissette. When the people on the show said "I don't know," green slime would drop down on their head. In the interview, the producers said this was because, to a kid, not knowing something is the worst thing that can happen to them.

When I was in college, after the 100-level courses, professors would generally let us use cheat sheets with commonly used formulae on them, as they figured we'd have access to that kind of information out in the real world.

I like Lily's attitude, because now, moreso than ever, we have access to a tremendous amount of information at our fingertips, and I'd rather have her be inclined to spend a moment or two thinking about something, investigating it or looking it up if she's not confident about her answer. (Or I suppose, even if she is, because I think we make our most egregious mistakes when we're sure we're right.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Whedon's Villains

Though I can't find the exact post to link to it, I think I remember Viscount Eric posting on his own blog (which you should be reading, because it's awesome) that he has largely absented himself from discussions on I may follow his lead. It's generally a good place to discuss geek culture, but the adoration of Whedon is even more in evidence in that corner of the Internet than it is elsewhere. Someone will praise Whedon, someone else will build on that until the whole thread is just a self-reinforcing circle jerk that bears no resemblance to either the original statement or reality.  I'll sometimes call out egregious claims, but as I have little desire to be shouted down by dozens of butthurt Whedonistas, I usually just keep my trap shut.

I was playing Super Hero Squad with my daughter the other day. There are four zones and each one has a character you can chase for a small reward. That character in Asgard is Loki. He's cleverly disguised a statue of himself. My five-year-old pointed out that, all things considered, that was kind of a foolhardy disguise.

But I know that if Whedon put something like that in the Avengers movie, there would be threads upon threads about how Joss (It's always "Joss" over there) is subverting tropes and cleverly undermining our expectations. I sincerely believe there is nothing that Joss Whedon can do that they will not defend.

So, while I think he is capable of producing good material, he has also spawned legions of apologists who retaliate to even the most tepid criticism with toxic vitriol, so, if I'm a little harsh when talking about Whedon, know that my reactions were not forged in a vacuum.

I'm replying to CFC's comment here. I decided to spin it out into its own post. His lines are those in bold.

Josh, I still think you're being blatantly unfair. You compare "vampires" -- the nameless mooks of Buffy -- to Spiderman's name villains like Rhino and Venom. I mentioned "armed criminals" in my last comment for a reason -- the random street crime we periodically see Spiderman (or any other superhero) stopping is equivalent to Buffy's vampire slaying scenes.

I think Spider-man's name villains are more comparable to the villains of the week, like the praying mantis teacher or Darla or Luke.

I see the point you were trying to make, but I don't agree with it. I probably low-balled the number. It's a rare episode indeed that she doesn't get a few dustings in before the opening credits. (I thought the BTVS RPG had a great mechanic for this, by the way. Vamps take, I think, five times normal damage if staked through the heart, but only if that damage would be enough to kill them. If it won't bring them below 0 hit points, then it only does regular damage. I think that's a great way to emulate the way Buffy usually slaps the vampires around for a little bit before staking them.) A random superhero arresting bank robbers on his way to someplace else is simply not as common an occurrence as Buffy staking vamps.

The other difference is tone. When Spider-man gets the bank robbers, he does it in a couple panels, he webs them up and goes on his way. When Buffy stakes the vamps there is an element of triumphalism to it. They were murdered and transformed against their will into these monsters, and she dusts 'em, cracks wise and moves on. And it is to some extent a comedy show, so I can forgive this being played for laughs. I think that I would not be making these complaints if the show had stopped after Season 3. Buffy was a great character in the beginning. Smart, brave, funny, nuanced, human. I was a lot less critical of that Buffy because I liked her.

Faulker wrote "Kill your darlings" and this is advice Joss Whedon would have been well advised to take. Buffy the character and Buffy the show kept getting worse and worse, and her friends were little more than yes men at the end, with their worth determined by how much they agreed with her views. It was like Ayn Rand, the Vampire Slayer.

But at first, it was a great show, and if nothing else, the arguments you've put forth reminded me why I loved it.

But if you want to talk name villains, let's talk name villains. The first one was the Master. He killed Buffy. Literally killed her. No challenge? Bullshit.

I liked the Master. Mark Metcalf looks like he's having so much fun with the role, and he's got that distinctive speech impediment because he's always wearing the prosthetic fangs. He looks perpetually on the verge of bursting into song.

And yup, he killed Buffy, but as they say in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, she got better. (Or, if you want to go with the Princess Bride, she was only "Mostly Dead".)

I think a better way to describe it would to say that he defeated her in such a way that triggered the succession clause and left her for dead. I guess his actions stopped her breathing or disrupted the regular beating of her heart, one of which was enough to put her in such a state that the mantle passed to Kendra. But she was returned to a functional state when Xander administered CPR, so if she was "dead", it was only in a technical and very narrowly defined fashion. As Xander said, under different circumstances, "'walking around drinking beer with your buddies'-dead is a lot different from 'being blown up and swept up by a janitor'-dead."

The whole succession struck me as a bit of a cheat anyway. I had read something almost identical in a book called Crown of Shadows, the conclusion to C. S. Friedman's Coldfire trilogy. Spoilers if you haven't read it, but one of the main characters owes his soul to a demon, and near the end, he dies and is resuscitated, but the brief period of "death" was enough to void the contract. In that book and the Buffyverse, the soul is an actual, demonstrable part of the cosmology, and I would think that criteria for death in such a case would involve the soul leaving the body, rather than the temporary and reversible cessation of certain bodily functions.

That does nothing to change the fact that the Master did in fact defeat her, and could have made her dead-for-real had he so chosen.

Second one was Spike, who, to date, Buffy has never successfully slain. She might win most of their fights, but it's always presented as a difficult battle and he gets away in the end.

Spike was a fun character, but not a very effective villain. Joyce hurts him the first time Buffy meets him, and that's at the height of his awesomeness. He gradually undergoes decay until he's a literal punchline. (In the season six episode where Riley returns, someone suggests Spike might might have a plan that works and everyone breaks out laughing.)

Third we have Angel, who I think we can all agree was the best villain she ever faced from a story standpoint, and like Spike, is very nearly her equal in combat.

I agree with you on this 100%. Angelus was a great villain. You can quote me on that and put it in your signature line.

Somewhere in there -- I can't recall if he came before or after Angel turned just now -- was the Judge. Buffy was incapable of harming him. When she eventually defeated him, it required the assistance of a bazooka.

It was right after Angel turned evil. That's the big, blue smurf, right? He showed up at the mall and gestured impotently for a little bit before Buffy blew him up mid-monologue. He talked a big game and was made out to be a huge threat before being disposed of perfunctorily.

Then we have Faith, who *knows* Buffy, if less intimately than Angel. She has the role of Buffy's dark double, and again, no fight between them is ever easy -- physically or emotionally.

The Mayor may be human, but his resources make him virtually untouchable throughout most of the season. And in the end, Buffy has to recruit a small army and a few tons of explosives to defeat him.

I look at the Mayor and Faith as a team, and I think they're a great team. Faith alone is like Buffy-lite. Buffy surpasses her in every area. But with the Mayor by her side, the pair of them might even be better than Angelus.

Then Adam, who repeatedly kicks Buffy's ass until she uses a special ritual with nasty repercussions;

I just can't take Adam seriously. He's a ridiculous demon-robo-Frankenstein monster with a minigun for an arm who kills the Liberal Arts professor who built him and brings her back as a zombie in a bustle. Yeah, I guess he was tough, but Jesus.

then Glory, ditto (I'm not saying the later seasons were particularly original);

 Powerful, yeah, but really, really dumb. Though Giles is my hero forever for getting rid of Ben.

then the Trio, who... well... were the worst villains of the entire series, and the less said of them the better. I'll give you that one. I won't even get into the First (who literally can't be destroyed), because 1) I think I've made my point, 2) my dinner's getting cold and 3) I'm sure you're still going to disagree with me anyway, so why bother?

If I had to rank the Seasons from best to worst, I would go 2,3,1,7,4,5,6. I thought Season 7 was actually pretty decent. Not a return to the glory days of the show, but the First was solid as far as villains went. The First was good (I remember thinking the first time we saw it back in Season 3 that it deserved better than simply a one-off appearance) but the potentials were awful and the resolution was terrible. The entire theme leading up to this point was that magic has its price and then you solve your problems by giving all of the potentials full Slayer powers? The fuck?!

Sorry if these couple posts seem a bit rabid, but as I mentioned on another post, I usually find your criticisms of Buffy legitimate; even though it's one of my favorite shows, I agree it had its share of flaws. But this one bugs me a little, because I just find it a really unfair accusation.

It's not like my tone was the most measured and reasonable either.  I would react the same way.

Also, since I have the bigger megaphone here, if you would rather reply to this by making a post here, the offer of being an author on the blog is still open.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Replacement JLA: Dick Grayson's Hair

We had another session of our super-hero campaign on Saturday.

When we had last left the characters, they had just finished a recruitment drive to get some of the remaining characters into our replacement Justice League, as the bulk of the previous Justice League, themselves replacements for the original, actual Justice League, got themselves blown up when the satellite headquarters was destroyed by aliens.

Or did they? Since we now had some members who could make their way into space, Blink, Jade and the Eradicator all flew up to the satellite to see what they could learn.

The characters had helmet mounted cameras, so that those of us on earth could see what they found. What they found was a pair of parallel lines with a bunch of scribbles between them scrawled on the wall of the meeting room.  Ray realized that it was some kind of a magical inscription but had no idea as to the specifics.

We decided to consult Beatrice, a woman we knew from an earlier adventure. She told us that they were transportation runes for a spell to travel across dimensions and instructed us how to go about assembling an artifact that would let us learn the destination.

We needed to go to the Grove on the Path of Souls with the artifact, which had three components.

The first was the Container itself. It was in a Tomb of Horrors type complex beneath Central Pennsylvania, but Beatrice's map was good enough to provide targeting information for Blink's accurate teleport, and, true to his name, he blinked in, then blinked out with the first component in hand.

When he was doing this, Katy and Beatrice were watching a Justin Bieber concert on TV. Beatrice brewed up a potion that gave Katy Bieber Fever. Any male she looked at would have the appearance of Justin Bieber. Katy was thrilled.

The container itself was the receptacle for the other components. The next was the "tears of an innocent". Beatrice cautioned us that we'd have to know the innocent in question. Ray taunted Katy, but was unable to get her to cry. (Some demon he is.)

And this is where the game gets interesting. Our superheroes characters decided to find a kid, make her cry and then collect her tears. So you have the titular head of the Justice League saying things like "I'm waiting for a child to be...alone."

I suggested that he yell "I killed Santa Claus with my cock!" but what he actually did was skulk around an ice cream stand until he found a little girl by herself.

Casey: "Hi, I'm Blink. What's your name?"
Eric as the girl: "I'm Amanda."
Casey: I knock the ice cream cone out of her hand.
Eric: She cries.
Casey: I collect her tears.

I was laughing so hard that I was crying myself. He did buy the girl a replacement cone. We are heroes after all. 

When we got back, Beatrice stressed that we needed to know the person who gave us the tears. Blink said "We know her name is Amanda." Beatrice asked if we knew anything more about her. Ray said, "We know she likes ice cream."

The final ingredient was a light source, so we dropped a glow stick in there. I observed that this was turning out like the botched Resurrection Ritual from the opening sequence of Duckula.

This was just to assemble the device that would let us follow the path to the Grove. We still needed the components for the locating ritual we'd perform once we got there. Blink tracked down Red Robin and  asked him "You wouldn't happen to have any hair or toenail clippings from Batman?" which would ordinarily be a creepy question, but didn't even make it into the top ten for this time around. Red Robin said no, he didn't have any with him, but he gave us the location of Nightwing's apartment so we could get some hair off his comb. Blink went to the apartment, learned that Dick Grayson uses a ton of hair product and got the hair.


He returned and we called in to the Eradicator to tell him where we were going. The Eradicator is a Kryptonian super robot. Eric voices him with this mellifluous even tone, like the world's smoothest radio DJ crossed with Frasier Crane. ("I'm listening.") He's coordinating our communication, which I think is mildly insane, because he's this PL 15 monstrosity who could probably kick the combined asses of the non-PC Justice Leaguers all at the same time. I'm more concerned that he's a plant, given our earlier trouble with Kryptonians, and putting him in that position gives him even more ammunition to fuck us over if he's so inclined. Not that anyone ever listens to Josh.

Beatrice did her part and set us on the Path to the Grove.

Katy scooped up the other two and flew at a brisk pace just above the path. Since they still looked like Justin Bieber to her, she would occasionally kiss them on the back of the head. We ran into a couple demons and skirmished for a few rounds before we figured out that there was nothing to be gained by fighting them. I was ready to zip the group past them, but Casey did me one better simply by teleporting us to our destination.

Unfortunately, a fallen angel was there waiting for us and wanted payment in the form of something that mattered deeply to us. We talked amongst ourselves over Ray's network, we talked to him, but he was cagey and wouldn't tell us what he wanted. Eric was dropping hints that we'd be insane to attack him, and we caught the hints, but we did it anyway, because that's just how we roll. Eric used the stats for Ares, a PL 16 beast and probably among the top 5 toughest guys statted out in the two Heroes and Villains books. He was carving us up, but allowed us to back off. Blink surrendered his bravado, and as payment, the angel took his voice.

Rächen performed the ritual and we learned that the Justice League must have been truly desperate, because when they ran, they Hell.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A review of the Avengers from someone who didn't like it

A review of the Avengers in three parts. I tried to be factual, but I made no effort to be objective.


If you will excuse the digression, I'd like to talk about Narnia by way of introduction.

There was a time when I thought "Hey, neat fantasy books," then "Wait, Aslan is Jesus?" and then "How could I possibly have missed that Aslan is Jesus?!" but even now that I'm a firm atheist, I enjoy the movies and books. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe remains solid, and I think The Magician's Nephew is one of the all time great fantasy stories.

However, some of the books are problematic.

Susan gets shabby treatment. I'll just crib from Wikipedia here.

In The Last Battle, Susan is conspicuous by her absence. Peter says that she is "no longer a friend of Narnia", and (in Jill Pole's words) "she's interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations." Similarly, Eustace Scrubb quotes her as saying, "What wonderful memories you have! Fancy you still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children," and Polly Plummer adds, "She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can." Thus, Susan does not enter the real Narnia with the others at the end of the series.

Also, in The Horse and His Boy contains a nonstop parade of offensive stereotypes about Islam and Arab culture, but I'm not willing to dismiss that one out of hand, because it contains what's probably my favorite line from the Narnia books. The enemy Prince Rabadash has just been humiliated and captured, and now that the heroes have him at their mercy,  the prince starts mocking him, and the king puts a stop to it.

"Shame, Corin," said the King. "Never taunt a man save when he is stronger than you: then, as you please."

That's the mature response.  Every decent person hates a bully. It offends our sense of justice. We hate seeing people pick on those much weaker than themselves.

And that brings us back to Joss Whedon.

"When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite."

Whedon's specialty is crafting a scenario where we can cheer for people who pick on those much weaker than themselves.

More precisely, he sets up a situation where the best, and only reasonable course of action is for the protagonists to defeat someone who has been opposing them, which is such a naked wish fulfillment to certain aspects of geek culture. They didn't want to do it, but they were forced into it by circumstances, and if they should gloat a little, who is to blame them?

But, you say, hypothetical Joss Whedon fan, his heroes, characters, defend the helpless, surely they're the good guys. To a point.

Buffy is the Slayer. The series ran for 145 episodes and let's figure Buffy dusts four or five vampires every episode. A normal person has basically no chance of defending himself against a vampire, but Buffy is to vampires as vampires are to people. They have no chance against her. And she kills them, and that's fine. I dare say it's better than fine, because they would have gone on to kill innocent people if not killed first.

Worthwhile? Absolutely. Good. Unquestionably. But I'll stop short of calling it heroic.  In the end, we're cheering for someone very powerful beating up someone much weaker. Whedon has framed the narrative that we can cheer for the bully without feeling bad about it. (And don't feel compelled to give me counterexamples. It's not present in every one of the hundreds of stories he's written over two decades, but it's pervasive enough a theme that it's the exception when it's not there.)

Angel is pretty much the same. Ditto Firefly. On the Serenity commentary track, Whedon giggles as he keeps a running tally of the unarmed men Reynolds executes. The most thuggish criminal, if he's funny, nice to his friends, and allowed to present events from his point of view, will be seen as a hero. Reynolds lives by a code of honor, that, much like Doctor Doom's almost always dovetails neatly with what he was going to do anyway.

Buffy is an action/horror/comedy ensemble show, so we extend considerably more leeway than we would elsewhere. And it's not about dusting the vamps; they're just a device to illustrate Buffy's personal journey. But none of that changes the facts. Buffy is a bully. She's a bully for all the right reasons, but a bully nonetheless.  Whedon wants us to accept his characters as heroes.

"Buffy, what is best?"   "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."

And it's fine that they're not heroes. There are plenty of properties where the main characters aren't heroes. This is a blog that began so I could review the works of Roger Zelazny, who wrote his thesis on the Revenger's Tragedy, and who made a career out of writing vengeance-seeking superman, many of whom would not be out of place as villains in other works. What's the difference between the two?

For me it's that Zelazny's characters oppose villains of their own caliber, and face legitimate challenges. When Corwin manages to cut down a couple mooks in pursuit of his goal, he doesn't spike the football, he doesn't pretend it was a challenge and he doesn't pretend he did it for any reason other than to get what he wanted.

"In the mirrors of the many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I am a part of the evil that exists in the world and in Shadow. I sometime fancy myself an evil which exists to oppose other evils...and on that Great Day of which prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe, on that day when the world is completely cleansed of evil, then I, too, will go down into darkness, swallowing curses. Perhaps even sooner than that, I now judge. But whatever.... Until that time, I shall not wash my hands nor let them hang useless."

Crowing about your victory over a legendary hero who arrived half-dead to your fight because he took a nuke to the face saving twenty million people doesn't make you a hero. It just makes you the strongest guy in the room.

But if it makes you forget about all your dead Robins and your performance problems with Selina, I guess it's worth it, eh, Bruce?

And the actual Avengers review: 

(This part has some SPOILERS)

First, stuff I liked. Thor twirled his hammer before he flew. That was awesome. Mark Ruffalo's performance was great. (“I got low. I didn't see a way out. So I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out.") I'd like to see him return for another Hulk movie, but my friend Eric made the quip that actors playing Banner are like Defense against the Dark Arts teachers, which was quite a bit funnier than anything in the movie. And Harry Dean Stanton was great. Agent Coulson was pretty awesome, as always.

It was, much like most of Whedon's work, competently crafted from a technical standpoint, though with a budget of a quarter billion dollars, I would hope it would be. I chuckled once or twice during the movie, (I liked the "Shakespeare in the Park" line), but I chuckle once or twice during just about any movie.

Stuff I didn't like. The characters often missed their beats when delivering a stinger, the writing was mostly flat. "As of now, we are at war." Is this what they mean by Joss Whedon's good writing? Or is it when they call the heroes "freaks"? Because that's not tired at all. Samuel L. Jackson can usually be relied upon to give a solid performance, but it feels like he was just phoning it in here. Another blog quipped that he's become the black Christopher Walken.

As I mentioned above and elsewhere, it's a distillation of Whedon's personal style. The people who like it happen to be vocal about it. I happen not to like it, for the reasons I outlined above.

The casting was.....questionable. Aunt Robin did not make a great Maria Hill. Particularly egregious was, in the aftermath of an attack, she's sitting with pursed lips as a medic swabs the mild scrapes on her face, when, in other parts of the carrier, bodies are being carted off.

Scarlett Johansson was excellent back in her Ghost World days, and increasingly, she's just like a mannequin with a good agent. I've seen reviews that praised her performance, but I don't know movie they were watching.

Whedon loves his heroes and is entirely dismissive of his villains. Hawkeye can't hit a damn thing when he's evil and suddenly turns into, well, Hawkeye, when he's not.

Loki, the villain of the piece, blunders into every trap there is, from the "catch the exploding arrow" trap to "the throw Tony Stark out the window when you've given him ample time to get ready for it" one, and gets schooled by not only Thor, the Black Widow, the Hulk, Cap, and Iron Man but also an elderly man in Germany, which goes back to what I said about Whedon's characters picking fights below their weight class.

It took you two and a half hours to beat this guy? Really?
And we get the other Whedon tropes, including the Council of Always Wrong Elderly White People, who exist only for the the protagonists to defy and thereby prove their maverick cred.

I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

Also, Thanos looked like a skinny purple skrull. That was terrible.

Final Grade: C, not terrible, but fantastically overrated, much like most of Whedon's work.

Friday, May 4, 2012

As the Evil Overlord said, Submit to Me

So, I've been thinking about this since the back and forth with cfc over the Geek Heresy post.

My one good personal trait is that I'm curious. Cfc and I only know each other through exchanges we've had online but our relationship is over ten years old and we do seem to have a fair bit in common and it interests me to try to understand how we came to such radically different opinions about the franchise.

So, I'm opening the blog to whoever has anything to say about anything I've posted here. I can set you up as an author, or you can email it my and I can post it on your behalf.

And a lot of time, particularly online, when someone says he wants to hear an explanation, it's just to look for weakness and a chance to poke holes in the argument. But that's not what I'm trying to do here. If I ask any questions, it will be a genuine attempt to try to understand.

So, here is your chance to be heard by tens, perhaps even dozens of people!

If you disagree with me or think I'm flat out wrong about something, drop me a line and I'll get you set up.

And also, John Coltrane stole his best work from Nickleback.