Category: Stream of Consciousness

An Overrated Classic

Now, I love me some Grant Morrison. He wrote the quintessential Superman story, he made me revise my "I hate the fucking X-Men" policy, and just look at what he's done with Batman.

But in the mid-1990's, I was more of a Marvel guy, so I never read his run on JLA.

Now, I've been told for years that it's a classic run, and so I finally picked up the first trade the other day. And I have to say...what the fuck is this shit?

Image: Constipated Green Lantern

Yeah, it would be a lot easier to appreciate the spectacle of the seven greatest and most iconic DC superheroes if they didn't look like this:

Image: Mullet Superman, Pointy Batman, Bimbo Wonder Woman, Popeye Flash, Surprised Martian Manhunter, Enraged Green Lantern, Angry Aquaman

Hell, let's take a look at that entire Popeye Flash panel; it's a great "goofy faces" picture in and of itself:

Image: Giant Spitcurl Superman, Grimacing Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter picking up his skirts, Very Surprised Wonder Woman, Popeye Flash

And of course the 1990's art aesthetic didn't just apply to the pencils -- let's see some Photoshop Blur!

Image: Photoshop Blur Abuse!

WHUTT! indeed. And the Photoshop problems don't stop there. It's not really easy to tell onscreen, but I can assure you that on the printed page, there are badly-antialiased fonts and jaggy pixels on backgrounds.

Now, I'm picking on the art a lot here, because it is a constant barrage of pure eye-searing awfulness, but what about the story? Can a brilliantly-written Grant Morrison story redeem truly reprehensible art?

Well, as we all know from New X-Men, the answer is "sometimes". Unfortunately, that doesn't happen here. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced this story was written by Morrison, or even a human being; it reads like it was written by the Justice League Cliché-o-Matic 5000.

New superhero team shows up and promises to save the world?
Image: The Hyperclan pledges to save the world.
Check. They're actually bad guys?
Image: The Hyperclan pledges to bring the world to its knees.
Check. They lose because they underestimate Batman?
Image: Protex dismisses Batman as too fragile to be a threat.
Check. Martian Manhunter is set up as a traitor because he's an alien who doesn't fit in...
Image: Protex recruits J'onn.  Sure he does.
...but it turns out he was a double-agent the whole time and he's still on the JLA's side?
Image: J'onn fakes out the bad guys.
Check and check. (An aside: that's the one artistic touch I really like in the book, is the Martians' shape-shifting depicted as clay crumbling off and reshaping. So kudos for that.)

Overcompensating for the fact that everyone makes fun of Aquaman by constantly showing that no really guys, Aquaman is a total badass!?
Image: AQUAMAN IS HARDCORE.
Check. Kryptonite?
Image: Protex has Kryptonite.
Ch--
Image: THE KRYPTONITE IS A LIE.
Ha, good one, Grant. Almost had me there. But I'm still pretty sure I had a Bingo two clichés ago. ...okay, one more.

Facile explanation for why the JLA doesn't just fix the world like the bad guys said they should?
Image: If you fall they will catch you, they'll be waiting -- time after time

Check. Also, what the hell are they all looking at?

Soooo yeah, a JLA story that would have sent me to the hospital if I'd made it into a drinking game, complete with Liefeld-lite 1990's art atrocities.

My question is, does it get better after that, or has everybody been having fun at my expense and this "classic" run is actually that terrible all the way through? Should I bother picking up any of the rest of it, or just skip to Earth 2? Please advise, Internet.

Metroid: Brother from Another Mother Postmortem

So, Metroid: Other M has ginned up a fair bit of discussion and controversy. On the whole I liked it -- I probably wouldn't put it in my top five Metroid games (and how weird does that sound, "my top five Metroid games"?), but it was perfectly solid.

That said, there is plenty to gripe about -- and I'm going to throw my hat in, starting with the stuff that didn't work and how it can be fixed, and then moving along into the stuff I did like so we can end on a nice happy upbeat note.

Oh, and major spoilers follow. So, you know, stop here if you don't want to read them.

The cutscenes.

This particular aspect of the game has probably attracted more criticism than any other, and for good reason. We've gone from an essentially mute protagonist to one who constantly narrates -- badly.

How to fix: 90% of the problems with the cutscenes could be improved by cutting out the narration. Ever hear the expression "Show, don't tell"? If someone has to explain what's going on in a visual medium, you're doing it wrong. And we don't need Samus doing these "dear diary" things where she tells us what's going on inside her head -- as the Robot Devil sagely told us, "You can't have your characters just announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!"

There is one glaring exception: the one time the game doesn't overexplain the plot is the part that most needs it, the identity of the Deleter. Who the hell is he? The game doesn't tell us. Is Samus supposed to have figured it out? If so, why didn't she ever mention it in her incessant damn narration? The closest we ever get is her finding James's body last. Are we then to assume it was him? Or is it deliberately unresolved, perhaps to be revealed in a sequel? And if that's the case, why the hell isn't that set up somewhere? It's this major plot thread that just...gets dropped.

(And if it was anyone but Adam or Anthony, what's the point? Does it really matter which random Redshirt is the traitor?)

Oh, and also, guys...it's the twenty-first damn century. There is no excuse for unskippable cutscenes.

Item acquisition.

Bad for the story. First of all, Samus being told not to use any of her equipment, and just deactivating all of it, has pissed a good many fans off, and rightfully so (see "Samus is a pussy", below). But even ignoring that, the execution is utterly nonsensical -- Adam allows his men to use Ice Beams from the get-go, but won't let Samus use hers until she's spent 10 minutes in a volcano? And speaking of the volcano, she's not allowed to use the friggin' Varia Suit at first? I mean, okay, you can come up with a plot explanation for being careful with missiles and bombs (though this would, you know, require some sort of damn payoff later in the story to actually work), but what the hell possible story justification can there be for not allowing someone to use heat shielding in a fucking volcano?

There is a neat "Screw (Attack) this" moment later on where Samus loses contact with Adam (for, it is later revealed, a profoundly stupid reason), and reenables a couple of moves on her own...but there's still no damn explanation for why she doesn't just unlock her entire arsenal at that point. For God's sake, she doesn't even enable the Gravity Suit until after she's slogged through the high-gravity area.

Oh, and incidentally, guys, it's been mentioned before, but giving a cute explanation for why Samus has to give up all her equipment at the beginning of the game only works if you explain what happened to all her missiles and energy tanks. Which brings us to:

Bad for gameplay. Unlocking Samus's powers at set intervals reduces the variety of items for you to find down to three: missiles, energy tanks, and powerups that reduce your charge time.

Now, reducing charge time is neat, and I was always happy to find one of those. And energy tanks are an essential part of a Metroid game too -- I just wish Nintendo hadn't decided to crib one of the more annoying collect-y bits from the Zelda series and started splitting them up into quarters. Does anybody like hunting for Pieces of Heart? Anybody?

Of course, the vast majority of the stuff you find in walls is going to be missiles. Trouble is, missile upgrades are damn near useless this time around, as you can fully recharge your missile supply in a couple seconds at any time (except, arbitrarily, in the last fight!). I mean, yeah, it's obviously better to have 50 missiles than 10, but the missile count just isn't as significant this time around. Especially when you're incrementing it by one at a time.

How to fix: Easiest thing to do would be just to go back to resetting Samus's powerset at the beginning of the game without explanation and having her get upgrades from Chozo statues. Sure, it requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief, but you know what requires a hell of a lot more suspension of disbelief? Being forced to turn off heat shielding in a volcano. And, you know, all that other shit I just got through complaining about.

If you're really concerned about having an in-plot explanation for Samus losing her powers, set the next game after Fusion and throw together some explanation about how the Fusion Suit can't retain its upgrades over time. Easy.

And it doesn't have to be the same arsenal in every game, guys! Let's see some new equipment!

Samus is a pussy.

We've already covered Samus's subservience to Adam, but the scene that rightfully cheesed a bunch of people off is the one where she's literally transformed into a crying child when Ridley confronts her.

Guys, I see what you're going for here -- the game plays with the image of a child's cry from beginning to end. And you're trying to show Samus gets scared sometimes -- Alien, after all, never had a problem showing Ripley scared shitless.

Difference is, Ripley still got shit done. She never needed a man to swoop in and snap her out of her little-girl crying.

And of course there's the fact that Samus has killed Ridley, what, four times by this point? That doesn't necessarily mean she can't still be afraid of him -- after all, it's not going to make the giant monster who killed your parents less scary if he keeps coming back from the dead -- but she never froze up on the previous four occasions, so it seems silly for her to do so now.

How to fix: I've already covered the "don't make Samus switch her equipment off and on at some dude's whim" point. As for the Ridley scene, it's okay to show her scared, but not to have her fall to pieces and just stand there. You really want to play the "crying child" thing, okay, make it a flashback, but this whole scene, Anthony's non-sacrifice and all, would still have worked without making Samus totally helpless.

Invisible walls.

This game has the worst abuse of invisible barriers I've seen since the Nintendo 64 era. It's embarrassing. If something looks like empty space, I should be able to walk through it. If there's an object with a flat top that's lower than the maximum height of my jump, I should be able to stand on it.

How to fix: If you don't want me to be able to walk through something, put a wall there. If you don't want me to be able to stand on top of something, make it taller, or have it end in a point. It's not rocket science, guys; this is embarrassing.

Pixel hunting.

I am not a guy who usually looks at walkthroughs, but several times throughout this game I had to punch one up after spending ten minutes trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be looking at out of all the tiny objects off in the distance that are almost the same color as the background. It's utter nonsense -- that boss isn't going to attack me until I see the larva? MB's just going to stand at that window and watch me look around for five minutes and only run away once I've actually looked directly at her? -- and it completely kills the momentum of the game.

While scanning worked okay in Metroid Prime, this is fundamentally different. Prime clearly marked everything that was scannable, and let you move around while you were looking for things.

How to fix: It can't be fixed. Fucking get rid of it. The moment you think it would be a good idea to include another pixel hunt, bash your hand with a hammer. Keep doing this until you no longer think it sounds like a good idea.

Unclear objectives and inconsistent rules.

Following off the above section: I had to look up a walkthrough three times in the endgame. First, to find out what I was supposed to be looking for in Room MW. Second, to figure out how to beat the Metroid Queen -- yes, I'd figured Power Bombs, but holding down the button didn't work, you had to go into the menu and activate them. Which would be fine if that had been how it worked for every single other power, but all the rest activated automatically. You can't go changing the way powers are activated at the very end of the game.

And after that, there was one final pixel hunt. In the middle of a fight. Where you can't dodge or recharge your missiles and indeed there's not actually any indication that your goal is to look at the middle of the room instead of the guys shooting you in the face.

How to fix: You don't need to hold my hand and spell everything out for me, but make points of interest visible (at least if they're places I have to go and not, say, missile upgrades), and don't change the rules of the game at the very end.

Anyhow, enough with the complaints and on with the good stuff:

The cutscenes.

It almost feels like the cutscenes were created in order, because -- with the exception of the horrendous Ridley sequence late in the game -- they get progressively better. Adam's death is a real high point, and while Madeline spends a bit too much time on exposition, there's a real sense of tragedy and pathos to the ending. There's potential here; it gives me hope they'll get it right from the beginning in the sequel.

And you know, I didn't really think the voice acting was that bad -- I didn't think it was fantastic, but it was competent, especially given the material.

The Metroids.

I could count all the Metroids in this game on my hands. They only show up at the end of the game, and they are bitch-ass hard to kill.

This is exactly how it should be. Keep the Metroids scarce, make them scary and make them a legitimate challenge.

The high-gravity sequence.

Yeah, it was a pain in the ass to play, and Samus's refusal to activate the Gravity Suit is utterly nonsensical, but it was probably the most legitimately creative point in the game.

The escape sequence.

It's hard to take a formula and make it surprising. Super Metroid put its twist on the escape sequence by making the room tilt; Zero Mission added the Zero Suit stealth sequence, and this one puts the whole thing after the end credits. Great twist; too bad it won't be a surprise next time (and too bad a guy with a loud mouth spoiled it on my messageboard).

The return of the Zero Suit doesn't make a lick of plot sense (and neither does Adam leaving his helmet behind in the first place), but it's fun -- chalk another one up in the "I'm willing to suspend disbelief if you give me something worthwhile in exchange" column.

Speaking of which,

Three Stages of Ridley.

It's completely ridiculous, but I love it.

No drops.

It was a little odd at first, getting used to the lack of energy/missile drops, but it really fits the mechanics of this game well. Running out of missiles is a minor inconvenience, but recharging health requires a real risk -- and pays off often enough that it's not frustrating, while getting you killed often enough that the game's still a challenge.

Well-placed save points and forgiving deaths.

In general, I tend to wish the Japanese would figure out that we're not saving to batteries anymore and realize save points are anachronisms and just let me save wherever I want -- but this is the next best thing. You rarely, if ever, go 20 minutes without hitting a save point and, better still, always respawn close to where you die (eg at the beginning of a boss fight). It allows the game to be challenging without being too punishing -- especially given the aforementioned unskippable cutscenes.

The gameplay!

Saving the most obvious for last -- for all its flaws, this is a pretty fun game to play. It's nailed the atmosphere and mechanics of the series. Sure, combat's a bit more complicated, but it seldom hurts the momentum of the game. Make no mistake: this game plays like a Metroid. It's got its blemishes, but I enjoyed it, and I played it through to the end -- and, perhaps most notably, it made me want to go back and replay its spiritual predecessor (and chronological successor), Metroid Fusion.

All in all, a pretty good game. With some spit and polish, a sequel could be better yet.

Local Business

So today is Read Comics in Public Day, or, as it's called in my house, a day I walked out the front door. I got to read a bit of Paul Cornell's Action Comics while waiting for a haircut. Nice to see the local barbershop doing good business: the one-two punch of road construction and SB1070 has made it tough for businesses in that area.

So if you happen to be in the neighborhood, Chavez Barbershop is recommended — you can't beat their prices, they're open long hours, and I didn't have to wait long enough to finish my comic. The haircut's pretty good too.

List of Thundercats Episodes

First, a note on ordering, which is much more complicated with Thundercats than Silverhawks.

Regardless of what you may have seen on IMDb and various other sites, Thundercats ran four seasons, not two. Since the extent of the research the guys at Warner did for the Thundercats DVD release appears to have been "look it up on IMDb", the DVD's themselves give the wrong number of seasons.

(The best proof I've found for the four-season claim -- other than my own not-inconsiderable memory -- is on purrsiathunder.org. Purrsia has collected some original scripts, which are dated.)

(Also, if all goes well, you may be reading this at some point in the future when IMDb is no longer wrong. I'm trying to fix it but it's taken some time to convince the editors.)

(Update 2014-10-09: Per the excellent Hear the Roar! by David Crichton, there were two production seasons which were split into four broadcast seasons. The second production season was made up of 60 episodes and split into 3 broadcast seasons of 20 episodes, each added to syndication a year apart. Thanks to Mr. Crichton's book, I have finally convinced IMDb to fix its stupid madeup airdates.)

But it's still not that simple, because the original broadcast order of Thundercats was itself wrong, with first-season episodes airing out of story order -- notably, the Lion-O's Anointment arc aired with a bunch of episodes in-between instead of all five episodes running in a row. So there's an alternate order for those, too. Purrsia calls it the Modern Order. It's apocryphal, but I'm using it here because it makes a damn sight more sense than the broadcast order.

So, to wit, I've given three different versions of the numbering: MO for Modern Order, BO for Broadcast Order, and DVD for DVD order (which is the same as broadcast order but numbered differently).

Thundercats-Ho! aired as a TV movie and then was split up into 5 episodes. Note that numbering it as 1x66-70 is not strictly accurate, as it falls between season 1 and 2, but I'm using that numbering for sorting purposes.

So, to it.

Update 2014-10-09: Also per Hear the Roar, it may interest you to note that Julian P. Gardner is an alias used by Jules Bass. (Probably less interesting, but still notable: Bill Ratter is an alias used by a writer named Deborah Goodwin, who to my knowledge does not have any credits beyond Thundercats and Silverhawks.)

MO BO DVD Title Writer
1x01 1x01 1x01 Exodus Leonard Starr
1x02 1x02 1x02 The Unholy Alliance Leonard Starr
1x03 1x03 1x03 Berbils Leonard Starr
1x04 1x04 1x04 The Slaves of Castle Plun-Darr Leonard Starr
1x05 1x07 1x07 Trouble With Time Ron Goulart & Julian P. Gardner
1x06 1x05 1x05 Pumm-Ra Julian P. Gardner
1x07 1x06 1x06 The Terror of Hammerhand Ron Goulart & Julian P. Gardner
1x08 1x08 1x08 The Tower of Traps Leonard Starr
1x09 1x09 1x09 The Garden of Delights Barney Cohen & Julian P. Gardner
1x10 1x10 1x10 Mandora — The Evil Chaser William Overgard
1x11 1x11 1x11 The Ghost Warrior Leonard Starr
1x12 1x12 1x12 The Doomgaze Stephen Perry
1x13 1x13 1x13 Lord of the Snows Bob Haney
1x14 1x14 1x14 The Spaceship Beneath the Sands Leonard Starr
1x15 1x15 1x15 The Time Capsule Peter Lawrence
1x16 1x16 1x16 The Fireballs of Plun-Darr William Overgard
1x17 1x17 1x17 All That Glitters Bob Haney
1x18 1x18 1x18 Spitting Image Howard Post
1x19 1x37 1x37 Lion-O's Anointment First Day — The Trial of Strength Leonard Starr
1x20 1x42 1x42 Lion-O's Anointment Second Day — The Trial of Speed Leonard Starr
1x21 1x46 1x46 Lion-O's Anointment Third Day — The Trial of Cunning Leonard Starr
1x22 1x50 1x50 Lion-O's Anointment Fourth Day — The Trial of Mind Power Leonard Starr
1x23 1x61 1x61 Lion-O's Anointment Final Day — The Trial of Evil Leonard Starr
1x24 1x19 1x19 Mongor Peter Lawrence
1x25 1x20 1x20 Return to Thundera Bob Haney
1x26 1x25 1x25 Snarf Takes Up the Challenge Peter Lawrence
1x27 1x31 1x31 Mandora and the Pirates William Overgard
1x28 1x23 1x23 The Crystal Queen Leonard Starr
1x29 1x24 1x24 Safari Joe Stephen Perry
1x30 1x32 1x32 Return of the Driller Howard Post
1x31 1x45 1x45 Turmagar the Tuska C. H. Trengove
1x32 1x26 1x26 Sixth Sense Peter Lawrence
1x33 1x21 1x21 Dr. Dometone William Overgard
1x34 1x22 1x22 The Astral Prison Peter Lawrence
1x35 1x34 1x34 Queen of 8 Legs Stephen Perry
1x36 1x33 1x33 Dimension Doom Bob Haney
1x37 1x43 1x43 The Rock Giant Peter Lawrence
1x38 1x27 1x27 The Thunder-Cutter William Overgard
1x39 1x48 1x48 Mechanical Plague Peter Lawrence
1x40 1x38 1x38 The Demolisher Bob Haney & Peter Lawrence
1x41 1x29 1x29 Feliner, Part 1 Stephen Perry
1x42 1x30 1x30 Feliner, Part 2 Stephen Perry
1x43 1x51 1x51 Excalibur Peter Lawrence
1x44 1x52 1x52 Secret of the Ice King Bob Haney
1x45 1x35 1x35 Sword in a Hole William Overgard
1x46 1x28 1x28 The Wolfrat C. H. Trengove
1x47 1x53 1x53 Good and Ugly Peter Lawrence
1x48 1x55 1x55 Divide and Conquer Lee Schneider
1x49 1x41 1x41 The Micrits Bruce Smith
1x50 1x59 1x59 The Superpower Potion C. H. Trengove
1x51 1x36 1x36 The Evil Harp of Charr-Nin Douglas Bernstein & Denis Markell
1x52 1x40 1x40 Tight Squeeze Stephen Perry
1x53 1x39 1x39 Monkian's Bargain Lee Schneider
1x54 1x57 1x57 Out of Sight C. H. Trengove
1x55 1x44 1x44 Jackalman's Rebellion Bruce Smith
1x56 1x58 1x58 The Mountain Danny Peary
1x57 1x60 1x60 Eye of the Beholder Kenneth E. Vose
1x58 1x47 1x47 The Mumm-Ra Berbil Jeri Craden
1x59 1x62 1x62 The Trouble with Thunderkittens Kimberly B. Morris
1x60 1x63 1x63 Mumm-Rana Bob Haney
1x61 1x49 1x49 Trapped Stephen Perry
1x62 1x54 1x54 The Transfer Lawrence Dukore & Lee Schneider
1x63 1x64 1x64 The Shifter Matthew Malach
1x64 1x56 1x56 Dream Master Heather M. Winters & Annabelle Gurwitch
1x65 1x65 1x65 Fond Memories Lee Schneider
1x66 1x66 2x01 Thundercats-Ho! Part 1 Leonard Starr
1x67 1x67 2x02 Thundercats-Ho! Part 2 Leonard Starr
1x68 1x68 2x03 Thundercats-Ho! Part 3 Leonard Starr
1x69 1x69 2x04 Thundercats-Ho! Part 4 Leonard Starr
1x70 1x70 2x05 Thundercats-Ho! Part 5 Leonard Starr
2x01 2x01 2x06 Mumm-Ra Lives! Part 1 Leonard Starr
2x02 2x02 2x07 Mumm-Ra Lives! Part 2 Leonard Starr
2x03 2x03 2x08 Mumm-Ra Lives! Part 3 Leonard Starr
2x04 2x04 2x09 Mumm-Ra Lives! Part 4 Leonard Starr
2x05 2x05 2x10 Mumm-Ra Lives! Part 5 Leonard Starr
2x06 2x06 2x11 Catfight Chris Trengove
2x07 2x07 2x12 Psych Out Sandy Fries
2x08 2x08 2x13 The Mask of Gorgon Romeo Muller
2x09 2x09 2x14 The Mad Bubbler Kimberly Morris
2x10 2x10 2x15 Together We Stand Herb Engelhardt
2x11 2x11 2x16 Ravage Island George Hampton & Mike Moore
2x12 2x12 2x17 Time Switch Sandy Fries
2x13 2x13 2x18 The Sound Stones J. Larry Carroll
2x14 2x14 2x19 Day of the Eclipse Kimberly Morris
2x15 2x15 2x20 Sideswipe William Overgard
2x16 2x16 2x21 Mumm-Rana's Belt James Rose
2x17 2x17 2x22 Hachiman's Honor J. Larry Carroll
2x18 2x18 2x23 Runaways Bill Ratter
2x19 2x19 2x24 Hair of the Dog Chris Trengove
2x20 2x20 2x25 Vultureman's Revenge Herb Engelhardt
3x01 3x01 2x26 Thundercubs, Part 1 Peter Lawrence
3x02 3x02 2x27 Thundercubs, Part 2 Peter Lawrence
3x03 3x03 2x28 Thundercubs, Part 3 Peter Lawrence
3x04 3x04 2x29 Thundercubs, Part 4 Peter Lawrence
3x05 3x05 2x30 Thundercubs, Part 5 Peter Lawrence
3x06 3x06 2x31 Totem of Dera J. Larry Carroll
3x07 3x07 2x32 Chain of Loyalty Bill Ratter & Peter Lawrence
3x08 3x08 2x33 Crystal Canyon Sandy Fries
3x09 3x09 2x34 The Telepathy Beam Kimberly Morris
3x10 3x10 2x35 Exile Isle William Overgard
3x11 3x11 2x36 The Key to Thundera Matthew Malach
3x12 3x12 2x37 Return of the Thundercubs J. Larry Carroll
3x13 3x13 2x38 The Formula Kimberly Morris
3x14 3x14 2x39 Locket of Lies Bill Ratter
3x15 3x15 2x40 Bracelet of Power Bill Ratter
3x16 3x16 2x41 The Wild Workout Becky Hartman
3x17 3x17 2x42 The Thunderscope George Hampton & Mike Moore
3x18 3x18 2x43 The Jade Dragon William Overgard
3x19 3x19 2x44 The Circus Train William Overgard
3x20 3x20 2x45 The Last Day J. Larry Carroll
4x01 4x01 2x46 Return to Thundera! Part 1 Peter Lawrence
4x02 4x02 2x47 Return to Thundera! Part 2 Peter Lawrence
4x03 4x03 2x48 Return to Thundera! Part 3 Peter Lawrence
4x04 4x04 2x49 Return to Thundera! Part 4 Peter Lawrence
4x05 4x05 2x50 Return to Thundera! Part 5 Peter Lawrence
4x06 4x06 2x51 Leah J. Larry Carroll & David Carren
4x07 4x07 2x52 Frogman Kimberly Morris
4x08 4x08 2x53 The Heritage Bill Ratter & Peter Lawrence
4x09 4x09 2x54 Screwloose William Overgard
4x10 4x10 2x55 Malcar George Hampton & Mike Moore
4x11 4x11 2x56 Helpless Laughter Matthew Malach
4x12 4x12 2x57 Cracker's Revenge William Overgard
4x13 4x13 2x58 The Mossland Monster Chris Trengove
4x14 4x14 2x59 Ma-Mutt's Confusion Beth Bornstein
4x15 4x15 2x60 Shadowmaster Dennis J. Woodyard
4x16 4x16 2x61 Swan Song William Overgard
4x17 4x17 2x62 Touch of Amortus Bill Ratter
4x18 4x18 2x63 The Zaxx Factor Matthew Malach
4x19 4x19 2x64 Well of Doubt Dennis J. Woodyard
4x20 4x20 2x65 The Book of Omens William Overgard

This post originally used Stuart Langridge's sorttable but was updated 2014-10-09 to use jQuery, tablesorter, and parser-ignore-articles, and then on 2015-09-25 to use Mottie's tablesorter fork; icons courtesy of Font Awesome.

Form and Function

A few weeks back, I rented Hellboy: Sword of Storms. It was a neat little movie, and adhered pretty well to the the comics' folklore vibe. The highlight was a sequence adapting Heads.

And it occurred to me, you know, the best Hellboy stories are 8-page adaptations of folk tales, in which Hellboy himself plays only a minor role. Similarly, wouldn't it be great to see some 10-minute Hellboy animated shorts?

It's a real pity that both 8-page comic stories and 10-minute animated shorts have fallen by the wayside. DC, at least, seems interested in bringing them back: they've been doing 8-page "secondary features" in some of their popular titles, and next week's animated Crisis on Two Earths will also include a 10-minute Spectre short. Which is the perfect length for a Spectre story.

And of course all this has me thinking, Why 22 pages? Why 22 minutes? Why 6-issue arcs? Stories should take all the time they need; no more and no less.

Which isn't to say that rigid parameters can't foster creativity. The BioWare Writing Contest I participated in a few years back had some very tight guidelines -- only so many characters, only one location allowed, and that location has to be a pretty tiny square. But in a way, that stimulated creativity. Sometimes, you need parameters.

Douglas Adams is a favorite example. His best Hitchhiker's Guide work was written for radio, with a rigid three-act structure and length requirement for each episode, with the requisite pacing those things entail. Those episodes were adapted as the first two books of the Trilogy. The third, Life, the Universe and Everything, was adapted from an unused Doctor Who pitch, so it was conceived around a predefined structure as well. The last two books, where Adams took a more freestyle approach, tended to flail a bit; they were adapted by Dirk Maggs for radio a few years back and, for my money, worked much better with his judicious editing.

(The awesomeness of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul does not fit my narrative as, to the best of my knowledge, it wasn't adapted from a radio or TV format. The first Dirk book was, though.)

There are plenty of writers who could benefit from tighter restrictions. Will Eisner put as much plot in a 7-page Spirit story as Brian Michael Bendis does in a 132-page Avengers arc. Sometimes I like longer, decompressed stories that spend more time on the scenery and the atmosphere. But there should still be a place for those weird little Hellboy stories.

I recently read Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall. Its pacing and form were noticeably different from the typical Fables books, because of its format: it was written as a graphic novel, rather than simply collecting 6 issues of a serial comic.

(A tangent on nomenclature: I absolutely despise the term graphic novel as it is commonly used, ie as a synonym for "comic book" used by people who think they're too cool for Spider-Man. However, it is a useful term when used in its original sense, ie a comic written in long form instead of being serialized in stapled, 22-page, monthly increments.)

Of course, 1001 Nights isn't a graphic novel so much as a graphic short story collection -- far from being a longform Fables story that takes its time, it's a series of stories which are shorter and tighter than a typical issue of Fables. So actually, it's more along the lines of those 8-page Hellboy stories I've been yammering about.

More in the "paced like a novel" vein would be DC's upcoming Earth One books. While it is obvious that these stories need to be published, as nobody has retold Superman's origin story in over three weeks, it's going to be interesting seeing them told with a little more breathing room, without the overwhelming, breakneck pace of Superman: Secret Origin.

I kid, but you know, the nice thing about constantly retelling Superman's origin is that now the Siegel heirs get a cut.

At any rate, once the rehashes are done, it would be quite nice to see DC tell some new stories with these characters in this format -- stories as long or as short as they need to be, at whatever pace suits the piece, without having to speed toward a cliffhanger every 22 pages.

V for Vendetta is actually a decent example -- yes, it was serialized, but its chapters don't fit into a consistent, forced length or pace. And while some of the chapters were climactic action sequences of V stabbing people a lot, others had him simply soliloquizing about anarchy.

(And funnily enough, the guy writing Earth One: Superman is J Michael Straczynski, the same guy whose The Brave and the Bold is currently the best 22-page superhero book that actually tells 22-page stories -- but whose run on Thor was decompressed, organic, and even meandering. Which is not a criticism, as I loved his Thor; it's just a statement that the man can write very well in different formats.)

If the world is a just and beautiful place, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is a template for the future of television. It manages the rather neat trick of adhering to a rigid structure that also just happens to be noticeably different from the traditional structure of a TV show: three 13-minute acts, each itself featuring a beginning, a middle, an end, and four songs. It's similar to, but distinct from, the standard three-act structure and 44-minute length of an American TV show.

Even The Daily Show -- God, not a week goes by anymore but one of the interviews goes over. Which is swell, but the way this is handled online is completely boneheaded: if you go to Full Episodes on thedailyshow.com, or view an episode on Hulu, you get the broadcast episode, which shows the truncated interview, followed by an admonition to check out the website, followed by Moment of Zen and credits. I can see this as an unfortunate requirement for broadcast, but guys, Internet videos can be more than 22 minutes. Why in the hell do I have to click through to a different page on the site (or, if I'm watching from Hulu, a different site entirely) to watch the rest of the interview? It's viewer-unfriendly, especially if you use your PC as a media center hooked up to your TV. Cut the full interview into the damn episode. Add an extra commercial in the middle if you have to. (It would be swell if you didn't show the exact same commercial at every single break, but that's a separate presumably-silly-and-useless "rant".)

At least they've wised up a little and started showing just the first part of the interview in the broadcast episode and then showing the rest in the "Full Interview" link on the website. It used to be they'd show a chopped-up version of the interview in the broadcast episode, meaning that instead of the Full Interview link picking up where the show left off, it had five minutes' worth of the same content spread out across it.

You know, it seems like the youngest of the major media is also the one with the least rigid requirements for length. Video games can be anything from a three-second WarioWare microgame to a persistent world that players sink years into. People may grouse a bit that Portal or Arkham Asylum is too short, but it doesn't prevent them from being highly-regarded, bestselling titles.

Which is, of course, not to say that longer games don't have to function under tight restrictions. They're often very high-budget affairs with a hell of a lot of people involved (as Dragon Age tries to forcibly remind you with its absurdly slow credits crawl) -- programmers, writers, artists, and so on. The Mass Effect games have voiced player dialogue and let the player choose Shepard's sex, which means every single one of those lines has to be recorded twice. (And frankly that doesn't seem like enough variety -- I have a Samuel L Jackson lookalike who says "aboot".)

And those restrictions are probably why every dialogue choice in ME is broken up into a predictable paragon/neutral/renegade choice. That kind of very-unsubtle delineation is exactly the sort of thing western RPG developers have been trying to get out of (as in both The Witcher and Dragon Age), but in the context of ME it works quite well -- I've even tried my hand at writing in a three-choices, no-hubs dialogue style and it works very organically. (For the ludicrous amount of dialogue in Dragon Age, there were places I could see the seams showing -- spots where I'd have three dialogue options and, as soon as the NPC spoke, knew that all three led to that exact same response. But that's probably a lot harder to notice if you've never written a dialogue tree yourself, and it's certainly an artform in and of itself, giving a response that works equally well for three different questions. I can only think of one occasion in the dozens of hours of Dragon Age where a writer screwed up and had a question hub that began with an NPC answering a specific question in a way that didn't make any sense if the dialogue looped back.)

And of course it's the medium that allows this kind of longform storytelling. Game length is no longer restricted by the arcade environment. Which is, of course, not to say that short-play games don't get made anymore -- Street Fighter 4 is a high-budget, "hardcore gamer" example, but Nintendo's entire business is built around games a casual player can pick up and play for ten minutes at a time. Ditto every Flash game on the Web, and most games on the iPhone.

And, indeed, Internet delivery is going to liberate other media from their restrictions. Eventually, we're bound to see shows like The Daily Show just run more than 22 minutes if they have to, and, God willing, we'll see more offbeat stuff like Dr. Horrible. The Web's given us comics as diverse as Achewood, Dr. McNinja, Templar, Arizona, and FreakAngels, and cartoons from Adventure Time to Homestar Runner to Charlie the Unicorn to Gotham Girls to the complete version of Turtles Forever. It's also allowed MST3K to continue in the form of the downloadable RiffTrax and the direct-order Cinematic Titanic.

Variety is the spice of life. I love comics -- and yeah, that includes mainstream superhero comics. But I'm sick of all of them having the exact same structure. Fortunately, I think we're on the edge of an age of experimentation.

Or another damn market crash. It is an odd-numbered decade now, after all.

Pointless Nostalgia on an Aribtrary Date

Yeah, okay, so it's been awhile. It's been a busy year. Looks like I missed this site's tenth anniversary by a few weeks, but it was December 9, apparently.

2009. 2009, 2009, 2009. You know, the last two years were straight-up law-of-averages affairs, though in different ways. '08 was pretty mediocre all around; no real highs and no real lows. '09...well, if '08 was a flatline, '09 was a sine wave. It was like the "That's good! That's bad." bit on Simpsons. Alternating highs and lows. The best part of '09 was meeting a very nice girl and finding myself, for the first time in my adult life, in an actual relationship. The worst was losing my uncle. And there were peaks and troughs aplenty in-between.

In other nostalgia-y not-quite-news, I've gone and started another damn KateStory -- I didn't miss that anniversary. The sucker's 15 years old now. I can't believe it's already been 5 years since the 10th anniversary.

I reread all 17 previous installments in preparation. In reverse order. And you know, I learned some things.

  • Brent was right about pretty much everything. Books I-III should probably all be considered one book, VI shouldn't be in there at all, comedy is more important than strict adherence to whether or not I have replaced my watch battery, and Final Fantasy VII is not nearly as good as I thought it was when I was 15. (Chrono Trigger, on the other hand...)
  • Speaking of which, IX isn't nearly as horrifying on a reread as it was a year ago when I had to go through and excise all (well, most of) the adolescent bickering. It's actually better than X. X just fucking drags.
  • Going through the old books looking for "best lines" to reuse in the first chapter of XVIII, most of them were written by Brent. I had a pretty good number of runners-up, but there really weren't any with my name on them where I went, "Yes. That is the best line in this book." Though I threw a couple of mine in anyway for the sake of balance. (Of course, I also focused on lines that would work with the phrase "It was [year], and" prepended to them.)
  • I kinda miss the old days when chapters would cut off in mid-sentence. I should try doing more of those.
  • I've named every single book except KateStory Gaiden, which was McDohl's title. Some of them are well-named (I know Brent's a fan of "Midnight Falls. And can't get up.") and some aren't (I think the reason Book III is "Searching for a Plot" instead of "The Search for Plot" is that the latter was the title of Mad's Star Trek III parody).

I'm seeing end-of-the-decade lists pop up everywhere, but have no great urge to put up any of my own. I can't fucking believe I've got my 10-year high school reunion coming up. Feels like I don't have much to show for it, but on the other hand, I've got a pretty good life, all things considered.

Which isn't to say it can't get better. Here's hoping 2010 continues the past year's trend of wonderful things while ending its trend of terrible ones.

Happy New Year.


Reading: Jeez, haven't read a prose book in months; spending entirely too much money on comics. I just finished Fables vol 7 and Usagi Yojimbo vol 1.
Playing: New Super Mario Bros. and Dragon Age: Origins.

Auld acquaintance

You know, having my New Year's Eve traditions rudely and abruptly yanked out from under me has itself become something of a New Year's Eve tradition -- and, the childish drama inherent in such a change in plans notwithstanding, I think I'm all right with that.

The wonderful paradox about New Year's, and a significant portion of why it is my favorite holiday, is the balance of the old and the new, of tradition and change. (Also, beer.) I'm a guy who puts a lot of stock in his past, but who could sure use some forward momentum in his life about now.

Traditions are wonderful things, and seeing old friends is a joy -- but shaking up a routine is something special in and of itself. I'll never forget New Year's Eve 2000/2001 -- nothing special, perhaps; I just stayed home and watched Batman (the 1989 one) and Army of Darkness with my little brother. It wasn't the night I had expected or planned for, but it was a very pleasant capper to a very hard week. (It was also the first night I checked out #finalfight, starting another tradition -- every year I'd show up there early on New Year's morn, even years after I quit my regular attendance of the channel. That's another tradition I'm breaking this year -- with some pride, actually; it's important to know when to let traditions go.)

I've had a comfortable New Year's Eve routine for, if my count is correct, the past five years (and that image at the top of the main page is from the 2006 party). It didn't hold this year, but that opened the door for something new. I saw Lewis Black perform (second time; he always puts on a good show), and, running late to meet my friends at Four Peaks (as it turns out, they left at 11:30 -- honestly, who leaves a New Year's Eve party half an hour before midnight?), my dad and I happened to be on the new light rail train passing over Tempe Town Lake when midnight hit. We saw fireworks over the lake. Then we walked around the downtown area until the 12:45 fireworks show, which was pretty spectacular -- I don't understand how there were people simply walking away, with their backs to it, paying no attention.

Anyhow. In the spirit of the holiday, in the spirit of the balance of the past and the future, I have some thoughts on where I am and where I'd like to be -- nothing quite so simple as resolutions, but a few ideas.

I have a steady job now -- but I'd like a better one.

I have a lot of good friends -- but I could stand to make more. And, I hate to say it, but the truth is maybe some of my auld acquaintances should be forgot.

I love my hometown -- but I'm overdue for a change of scenery.

I'm an honest person, to a fault. I speak my mind and don't play games. But I could stand to keep my mouth shut more often than I do, and learn when to cut my losses rather than go down swinging.

And, as jaded a person as I am, I can never foresee a time in my life where I turn my back on a fireworks show.

I have no idea where I'll be come this time next year; I don't think I can count on seeing Lewis Black and then being on the light rail over the lake at precisely midnight. But that's a liberating thought -- who knows what the future will bring? Maybe I'll start a new tradition, or maybe it'll be another satisfying one-off.

Think about your traditions -- and think about new ones you can start.


Reading: Me of Little Faith, by Lewis Black; Our Dumb World (yes, still; it is a very long book best read in one- or two-page chunks)

Playing: Chrono Trigger DS, Final Fantasy IV DS, Super Smash Bros. Brawl

Repo! The Genetic Opera

I just caught Repo! The Genetic Opera at my local independent theater. I'd seen the trailer some months back and it had piqued my interest, and I get bulletins on what Chandler Cinemas is doing because the manager, Matt Yenkala, is a friend of mine and runs the local Rocky Horror cast.

The background: test audiences and critics panned the movie, and Lionsgate refused to distribute it, so the makers are taking it on tour personally. Chandler Cinemas was the first stop on their second tour.

It's the sort of movie where if it sounds like something you're going to like, it probably is. A rock opera about a dystopian future with mass organ failure, transplants, and repossessions of same -- yeah, it's pretty clear there's a very selective audience there. But I saw the trailer and thought "That looks awesome," and as far as I'm concerned it was.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: it ain't Shakespeare. The themes, characters, and plot are all pretty shallow. I would add that the lyrics struck me as mediocre (most didn't rhyme, and relied on awkward slant-rhyme like "daughter/monster" and repeating the same three words three times; the lyricist did better when he wasn't trying to rhyme), and some of the songs run together in my head (though that's a common failing in musicals), but by and large the singing was good, and it's a rarity to see a full-on rock opera -- not merely a musical, but a show where most lines are sung rather than spoken.

Critics throwing about phrases like "worst movie ever" or making comparisons to Uwe Boll are just engaging in obnoxious hyperbole. Even if there were nothing else to like about the movie, it's very striking visually -- every scene has something fresh and interesting to catch the eye (and most scenes look like metal album covers).

Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, who should really know better, went for the low-hanging fruit and spent a nine-sentence review mocking Paris Hilton -- but honestly, I find it hard to complain about a movie where she plays a superficially pretty, morally bankrupt substance addict who is an embarrassment to her rich and powerful father. See? You can go for low-hanging fruit and still praise the movie, Pete.

There was a Q&A after the show with director Darren Bousman, co-creator Terrance Zdunich, and...there was a third guy but unfortunately I didn't catch his name; my apologies. Nice guys, all of them, who were just happy to have a theater full of people who "got it" -- it's a movie with limited appeal that was never suited to a mainstream audience, and has been given short shrift by a Hollywood system that doesn't know how to cope with a movie that's neither a summer blockbuster nor winter Oscar-bait.

It's not a brilliant or life-changing film. But it is a very good B movie. Anthony Head steals the show as the Repo Man, there's a lot of really pretty stuff to see, and it's at its best when it remembers to be funny -- which fortunately is most of the movie. (The denouement gets a bit maudlin and is longer than it needs to be, but this is an opera, for cryin' out loud.) I thought it was a fun damn way to spend a Thursday night, especially in a house packed with enthusiastic theatergoers. If it sounds like it's up your alley, it probably is; check it out if the tour comes your way, and give it a rent once it's out on DVD if it doesn't.

Yes We Did

I like to think this is one of those moments people talk about -- one of those times you tell your grandchildren about, and say, "I was there. I was there when everything changed. I was part of that."

Ball's in your court, President-Elect Obama. (President Obama...I like the sound of that.) You have the potential for greatness...or you can be merely adequate, another Clinton. The choice is yours. But regardless, you've accomplished something extraordinary here. Regardless of what happens over the next four years, tonight I am proud to stand with my country in welcoming you as our next President.

...All right, one more:

By the way, I'm aware of the irony of using musicians from the 1960's as my symbol for change, so don't bother pointing that out.

...By the way, I'm also aware of the irony of using a Sideshow Bob quote in a post about Obama's victory, so don't bother pointing that out either.

Edit 2012-05-24: Noticed that the Dylan video I originally posted had been pulled; I've replaced it with a current one. It's a bit of a cheat, as this video is from a 2010 performance, well after the post I've just retroactively stuck it into.)

Halloween '08, Part 3: Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula

Continuing from my previous post:

Bram Stoker's Dracula was my favorite of the four movies, and here's why: it managed to create the most faithful adaptation of the events of the book, while totally subverting its theme. Also, it had boobies.

The movie goes to great lengths to adapt the book accurately, from the inclusion of Holmwood and Quincey, a pair of redundant characters who are usually left out of movie adaptations, to details like Dracula climbing on the walls of the castle like an insect, feeding a baby to his wives, becoming younger after feeding on Lucy, and appearing on the streets of London in broad daylight; Harker going prematurely gray after his ordeal; Dracula's wives surrounding Van Helsing and, unable to break his protective circle, killing his horses.

And yet, in the end, the viewer is left with a wholly different feeling about Dracula: far from being evil incarnate, he's more of a sympathetic character. It's the uptight Victorians who are the real villains here; Hopkins's Van Helsing is out of his damned mind, chopping a woman's head off and then casually discussing it over dinner, after dismissing her as "a bitch of the Devil, a whore of darkness" while laughing giddily.

The sexuality that's implied in the book, and in most of the film adaptations, is overt here. Yet, it seems far less perverse than the society that condemns it. Lucy talks lustily about "unspeakable acts of desperate passion on the parlour floor", and this seems a far more natural thing for a nineteen-year-old girl than choosing a husband. She doesn't look like she's suffering when she's clutching at herself during an "attack" by Dracula, but she certainly does when she's having her head cut off by Van Helsing.

Yes, Dracula's origin story and his motivations are original to this version, as are his meetings with Mina under the identity of Prince Vlad. Most importantly, Mina's consent, and indeed insistence, on being turned is original here. And that's an integral part of the film: when all is said and done, it's clear she belongs with Dracula, her exciting and mysterious ancient love, not the boringly conventional and dull Harker (a role which you'd think Keanu Reeves would be perfect for, but which he still manages to drag down). Dracula is a sympathetic character, and thus the whole story is turned on its head.

Thematically, it's The Rocky Horror Picture Show played straight.

No, hear me out.

I'm not comparing the quality of the two movies, and certainly not of the two directors. Rocky is an awful damned film, which is of course part of its appeal. Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula is, by contrast, an utterly brilliant film. But thematically, the two have a lot in common: a fresh take on monster movies of the 1930's, centering around the conflict between old, prudish attitudes toward sex and modern, more liberated ones. Both movies focus on straightlaced couples seduced by a character who's traditionally depicted as a villain but who, in the end, is far more relatable than the eccentric German professor who seeks to destroy him.

Which is not to say that Frank-N-Furter and Dracula are good guys -- they're both cannibals, for God's sake. Frank kills Eddie and serves him up for dinner; Dracula throws a baby to his wives (and reminders are given throughout the movie that he is, in fact, Vlad the Impaler). And so both of them are still monsters, and there's no defending those acts -- saying they're another metaphor for breaking taboos is a copout. Less a copout, perhaps, is to contrast these actions with their sexual behavior: it's not sex that makes them monstrous, it's violence; the typical western notion that violence is more acceptable than sex is another piece of those perverse and puritanical social values that both movies criticize. (In Dracula's case, it also allows for the contrast between a charming, Lugosi-style Dracula and a monstrous, Schreck-style one within the span of the same movie.)

So that's where the Coppola movie shines: Stoker's Victorian sensibilities are wrong, but his story can be easily adapted to late-twentieth-century themes -- perhaps because Stoker's novel itself is about the clash between the ancient and modern worlds. (Not to say, by any stretch, that modern films aren't prudish in their own way -- MPAA-approved nude scenes are still utterly absurd, and this is a movie chock-full of graphic sex scenes where nobody ever completely disrobes.) Ironic, then, that Stoker's name is in the title -- this was the first in a trend of films with authors' names, not always appropriately, stuck in the titles to differentiate them from previous adaptations of the same work (the worst offender being Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, which bore even less resemblance to Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book than Disney's animated version; if memory serves its credits didn't even say "Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling" but "Based on characters from the book by Rudyard Kipling").

Anyhow. All this to say, Francis Ford Coppola makes pretty good movies. I know, amazing observation, right? That is why you read this blog. Because you enjoy watching someone take 800 words to say something everybody already knew.

Go vote tomorrow.