Tag: Storytelling

Fanboys Miss the Point

The plan was that this would be my last Ken Penders post for awhile, because this is not the All Ken Penders All the Time blog. Sometimes it is the Long Rambling Post About the Past 20 Years of Web Design blog.

However, the post wound up running long, and had a nice natural break in the middle, so now it's going to be two posts. There will be at least one more Penders post after this one.

But while Ken Penders is the focus, these posts aren't just going to be about Ken Penders. I intend to make a few unflattering generalizations about anti-creator fanboys in a minute here, and you may be interested to read them even if you don't care about Penders, Archie, Sega, or Sonic. If you like my posts about creators' rights, this is one of them, and the next one will be too.

So what brought me back to Ken Penders, anyway?

Well, awhile back I was looking at my site stats, and found a referral from a DeviantArt post titled A Summary of ACP Vs. Ken Penders, posted in a group called Save Archie Sonic, which is dedicated to petitioning Archie Comics to bring back all the Penders-created characters that it wrote out of the series. It was a pretty old post by the time I saw it, but at any rate it flatteringly linked to my previous Penders coverage.

And the second comment down, by a guy named CMAugust, had this to say:

The rest of this guy's articles on the subject are great too, well worth reading. On another cool note, this is the same fan who got the first online letter printed in the comic, way back in issue 40.

Holy God, what a thing for somebody to remember after all these years.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it: the most obscure and inconsequential piece of Sonic the Hedgehog trivia ever. And it's me.

CMAugust went on to say:

Oh yeah, and if you check out his stories about other comic book people tagged under "creators rights," you'll find that whenever there's a creator vs publisher court case, the fanboys will dump on the creator every time. Sad but true, most fans only care about whether their favorite characters are featured month after month and attack anyone who rocks the boat. No matter who it is.

This is a depressing but entirely accurate observation. I will be coming back to it in my next post.

The third reply down took rather a different and less coherent tack. Somebody posting as THEATOMBOMB035 wrote:

where do we stand? same as last time
Penders is a greedy prick who doesn't deserve the right to even be remembered in the Sonic world after what he is done
he is now a living reason why we exist and why we must stand as are own group of Freedom Fighters
Penders, you are a shame to Sonic fans everywhere

It's the third line that really got me. The part where he compared the fanboys -- the people calling the guy who created or co-created a raft of their favorite characters "a greedy prick" -- to the Freedom Fighters.

And this got me thinking about something I've thought of often before.

The fanboys in these stories -- the ones who insult Jack Kirby's family, or Jerry Siegel's family, or Joe Shuster's family, or Marv Wolfman, or Gary Friedrich, or Jim Starlin, or whoever -- are, invariably, fans of a certain type of fiction. Specifically, these are fans who are extremely passionate about stories where a ragtag band of underdogs strives against impossible odds to defeat an evil empire that is far bigger and more powerful than they are.

And they sure like those stories, but they really don't seem to understand them.

Here is a guy, right here, who looked at Sonic the Hedgehog -- the story of a scrappy band of Freedom Fighters squaring off against an evil empire to regain control of their homeland -- and then looked at Archie v Penders -- the story of a lone cartoonist squaring off against a multi-million-dollar corporation to regain control of his own work -- and thought that in this analogy, the people siding with Archie were the Freedom Fighters.

I just don't get it, man. I don't get how you can be so passionate about a work of fiction while simultaneously failing so utterly to understand its message even a little bit.

Speaking of utterly failing to understand a message, I also found my Penders coverage linked from a comments thread under a piece of fan art called Bunnie's Choice. A user named AlcyoneSong said,

yeah its just sad, because the whole comic has had a reboot due to Penders lawsuit.

And then he linked to my Ken Penders coverage.

My Ken Penders coverage which contains the following passages:

And it is important to remember, throughout this discussion, that while fanboys continue to misstate the basic facts of the case, Archie sued Ken Penders, not the other way around.

and

If Archie does permanently drop Penders's characters and cease reprinting his comics, make no mistake: that's out of spite, not legal obligation. That's not Archie being forced to stop using those works, it's Archie choosing not to use them so it doesn't have to pay Penders for them.

Emphasis in originals.

I mean, for fuck's sake, maybe actually read the thing you're linking to before you describe it.

There was a time in my life where I would probably have gone to the trouble of signing up for a DeviantArt account just so I could argue with year-old posts misstating the basic facts of the case and the content of my posts. Fortunately, I'm past that now, and content to merely criticize them in really long blog posts.

More from Busiek on that Final Fantasy Comic

For those of you just joining us by way of a link from Kurt Busiek or CBR, welcome. I guess I should probably figure out something interesting to say so you'll feel like sticking around for a bit. For what it's worth, I've written quite a bit about Final Fantasy over the years, and three posts I wrote about FF7 back in 2011 (the first on mods for the PC version, the second on iconic images, and the third a general look back on the game) are pretty consistently the most popular thing on the site.

In lieu of me saying anything interesting, I'm going to quote a little bit more from Kurt Busiek on the unfinished Final Fantasy comic, in the comments section of the Robot 6 article on the subject.

I will also add that if the book came out, I don’t think that Final Fantasy fans would be particularly happy with it. It was 1991, and I was a workmanlike-but-not-particularly-noted writer. Dell Barras was a workmanlike artist, and, well, the covers were gorgeous.

But I don’t think I really started to make strides creatively as a writer until VAMPIRELLA: MORNING IN AMERICA (late that year) and the industry didn’t notice ’til MARVELS in 1993.

So, while I barely remember the details, I expect it was a workmanlike story that made sense but wasn’t particularly memorable, with workmanlike art and great covers.

And heresy upon heresies, I changed things (with Squaresoft’s permission). I thought it was so odd that the manly heroic lead was named Cecil and his loyal buddy was named Cain (really? You name the loyal guy Cain?) that I suggested maybe they needed Americanized names, and Squarest agreed. I don’t remember what I changed them to, but Squarest liked them enough that they asked if I’d be interested in a staff position making the games more American-appropriate. We never talked much about it, because I wanted to freelance. But I bet fans devoted to the game wouldn’t have liked the changes, especially not from a current POV, looking back.

What can I say? I wasn’t particularly a Final Fantasy fan — I’d played their first US game a little, and the second wasn’t even done yet.

He adds, in a later comment, that the bible he'd been given didn't even mention that Kain spends half the game betraying Cecil, and talks a little bit more about the original (FF1-based) outline he wrote.

(If he had been involved in localizing the game, I'm willing to bet it would have been better than what we initially got. But he'd have still been contending with cartridge space limitations and weird Nintendo censorship.)

A More Detailed Valiant Comics Chronology

Back in October, following my purchase of the Humble Valiant Bundle, I posted A Brief Valiant Comics Chronology making note of the order the comics were originally published in, on the assumption that that's the correct order to read them in.

As I said then:

the short answer is: X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, Archer & Armstrong, Shadowman, Quantum and Woody, Eternal Warrior, Unity, Rai, with Harbinger Wars concurrent with the third volumes of Harbinger and Bloodshot (as their title implies).

Now I can refine that recommendation.

The short version this time is that most of the series are standalone and you can read them in any order you want; the exceptions are Harbinger, Bloodshot, Harbinger Wars, Unity, and arguably Rai.

What follows is a bit more specificity on which books tie into which, plus why the chronology of Harbinger Wars is a bit of a clusterfuck and how the Humble Bundle left out a book that's a crucial lead-in to Unity.

Once again, this list focuses on the books that were included in the Humble Valiant Bundle, and doesn't include more recently-published Valiant comics.


Standalone Books

X-O Manowar vol 1-3

X-O Manowar is Valiant's first and flagship book, but it doesn't tie in with the others until later on down the line. It introduces the Vine, who get a few mentions in the other books, and it leads into Unity, but these first three volumes stand alone.

Harbinger vol 1-2

These first two volumes introduce the lead characters, including Toyo Harada, as well as the Harbinger Foundation and Project Rising Spirit, both of which crop up throughout other series.

Bloodshot vol 1

Bloodshot provides another view on Project Rising Spirit, but it doesn't really matter whether you read this first volume before or after the first couple of volumes of Harbinger.

Archer & Armstrong vol 1-3

The Archer & Armstrong books included in the bundle are completely self-contained and don't require any knowledge of the rest of the Valiant universe. Project Rising Spirit does make a brief appearance, but it's more of a namedrop than anything; it could be any shadowy organization, and doesn't really tie into its use in other Valiant comics.

Archer & Armstrong does introduce the Eternal Warrior, so it's best to read it before Unity. Also, Archer and Armstrong later team up with Quantum and Woody in The Delinquents, but that's not included in the bundle.

Shadowman vol 1-3

Shadowman doesn't cross over with any other Valiant books in the bundle except for a brief reference in Unity.

Vol 3 can almost be considered a standalone book in and of itself as it presents several done-in-one stories that don't really continue from vols 1 and 2, but since it includes the origin of Mister Darque, I think it still makes the most sense to read it last.

Shadowman also introduces Doctor Mirage, who gets a solo series later on; that series is not included in the bundle, but it does have a preview in Rai #3.

Quantum and Woody vol 1-3

The Q&W books in the bundle are standalone and don't cross over with anything else in the Valiant universe. Quantum and Woody later team up with Archer and Armstrong in The Delinquents, but that's not included in the bundle.

Eternal Warrior vol 1

Okay, so this book contradicts all the other appearances of the Eternal Warrior in all the other Valiant books so badly that it is the reason I tried to work out a chronology in the first place. It depicts Gilad as a reluctant warrior who turned his back on the Geomancers in the nineteenth century and has lived in seclusion since; this flatly contradicts both Archer & Armstrong, where he is tenaciously loyal to the Geomancers, and Unity, which shows him as part of a superhero team during WWII.

This is a fine book, but if you're worried about Valiant canon, I think the only reasonable conclusion is that this book isn't part of it.

Eternal Warrior vol 2

In fact, Eternal Warrior vol 1 is so separate from all the other Valiant books that you don't even need to read it before you read vol 2. Vol 2 is set 2000 years in the future and you don't need to read any other books about the Eternal Warrior first, including vol 1 of the same series.

This book occurs in the same future as Rai, but Eternal Warrior takes place on Earth and Rai takes place in an orbital space station, so there's not really any crossover to speak of. I'd recommend reading Eternal Warrior before Rai, but it's not that important.


Harbinger Wars

Bloodshot vol 2

This one almost falls under the standalone category, but its last page leads directly into Harbinger Wars. You'll want to read at least the first volume of Harbinger before you read Bloodshot vol 2; otherwise the last page isn't going to make a whole lot of sense.

The Crossover

Here's where things get dicey.

Harbinger Wars is one of those crossover events that takes place across its own self-titled miniseries, Harbinger, and Bloodshot. As in most crossovers of its type, that means a whole lot of rereading the same events from different perspectives -- Harbinger Wars focuses on Project Rising Spirit and HARD Corps, Harbinger switches between Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation and Peter Stanchek and the Renegades, and Bloodshot follows Bloodshot and his team.

Harbinger and Harbinger Wars manage to line up pretty well with one another, but Bloodshot is paced significantly behind the other two. In both Harbinger and Harbinger Wars, Bloodshot makes it to Vegas and meets up with the Renegades in the third issue of the arc, while in Bloodshot, the third issue is a detour and he doesn't make it to Vegas until the fourth part. If you read the individual issues in the order they were published, it's jarring; they're out of sync.

So, you can either read each trade beginning-to-end, in order:

  1. Harbinger Wars
  2. Harbinger vol 3
  3. Bloodshot vol 3

or you can read the individual issues in the order they take place:

  1. Harbinger #0
  2. Harbinger Wars #1
  3. Harbinger #11
  4. Bloodshot #10
  5. Harbinger Wars #2
  6. Bloodshot #11
  7. Harbinger #12
  8. Bloodshot #12
  9. Harbinger Wars #3
  10. Harbinger #13
  11. Harbinger Wars #4
  12. Harbinger #14
  13. Bloodshot #13

Either way, you'll want to read the first two volumes each of Harbinger and Bloodshot before you read Harbinger Wars.


Unity

Not Included

The Humble Valiant Bundle doesn't include X-O Manowar vol 4, which is something of a problem as that book leads into Unity. At least, at the beginning of Unity, Aric has set up in Romania and has already crossed paths with Gilad; this doesn't happen in any of the books in the bundle and I assume it's in X-O vol 4.

Unity vol 1-2

Before you read this, you'll want to have read the first three volumes of X-O Manowar, the first three volumes of Harbinger (including the Harbinger Wars crossover), the first two volumes of Archer & Armstrong (since vol 2 introduces the Eternal Warrior, who appears in Unity), and, if you've got it, the fourth volume of X-O Manowar (which, as noted, is not included in the Humble Valiant Bundle).


And Finally...

Rai #1-#4

I would almost call Rai standalone, but it does pick up a thread from Unity vol 2, so I'd recommend reading that first. And maybe Eternal Warrior vol 2, since it takes place in the same future as Rai; there's not much overlap between them, but I think the story of Japan-as-space-station gains something if you already know what's going on down on the surface before you start.

KateStory XIX, Now In Progress

It was twenty years ago today...

So today is the 20th anniversary of the first post of the KateStory, a rather silly collaborative story that my friends and I have been making up as it went along since the days of Prodigy and 14.4 dialup.

I've gone ahead and kicked off KateStory XIX over at the Brontoforumus. Feel free to join on in.

A Brief Valiant Comics Chronology

So I picked up the Humble Valiant Bundle a few weeks back. (The bundle is no longer being sold, but that link will show you some of what was in it.)

I'm enjoying it, and I was enjoying the shared universe, right up until I got to the part where the Eternal Warrior shows up in Archer & Armstrong and behaves completely differently from how he does in Eternal Warrior. (In A&A, he's a Terminator-like unstoppable killing machine who follows Archer to the ends of the earth to avenge the death of a Geomancer and will not listen to reason when his brother tells him Archer is innocent. Whereas in his own book, he's been in seclusion for the past 150 years after telling all the Geomancers they can go fuck themselves, and rejoins the battle only with the greatest reluctance. Both of these stories are supposed to be set in the present.) Now, maybe this gets explained later -- maybe he's being mind-controlled or something -- but it's pretty jarring if you read Eternal Warrior first and then switch to Archer and Armstrong.

So I got to wondering, what order are you supposed to read these books in?

It's actually surprisingly difficult to find a simple answer to this question on Valiant's site or Wikipedia. But after some research, I've found that the short answer is: X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, Archer & Armstrong, Shadowman, Quantum and Woody, Eternal Warrior, Unity, Rai, with Harbinger Wars concurrent with the third volumes of Harbinger and Bloodshot (as their title implies).

The long answer is this giant table I made.

(Update 2014-12-31: And the even longer answer is a newer post I wrote, titled A More Detailed Valiant Comics Chronology.)

Note that this is not exhaustive; I've only included the books that were in the Humble Valiant Bundle (and not the Valiant Masters, which are the original 1990's continuity). Also note that these dates are from solicitations I've found online; some of these might not be the actual ship dates, but most of them probably are.

Series Issue Release Trade Release
X-O Manowar #01 2012-05-02 vol 1: By the Sword 2012-12-05
X-O Manowar #02 2012-06-06 vol 1: By the Sword 2012-12-05
Harbinger #01 2012-06-06 vol 1: Omega Rising 2013-01-09
Harbinger #02 2012-07-11 vol 1: Omega Rising 2013-01-09
Bloodshot #01 2012-07-11 vol 1: Setting the World on Fire 2013-02-06
X-O Manowar #03 2012-07-18 vol 1: By the Sword 2012-12-05
Archer & Armstrong #01 2012-08-08 vol 1: Michelangelo Code, The 2013-03-06
Bloodshot #02 2012-08-15 vol 1: Setting the World on Fire 2013-02-06
Harbinger #03 2012-08-15 vol 1: Omega Rising 2013-01-09
X-O Manowar #04 2012-08-29 vol 1: By the Sword 2012-12-05
Bloodshot #03 2012-09-05 vol 1: Setting the World on Fire 2013-02-06
Archer & Armstrong #02 2012-09-05 vol 1: Michelangelo Code, The 2013-03-06
X-O Manowar #05 2012-09-12 vol 2: Enter Ninjak 2013-03-27
Harbinger #04 2012-09-12 vol 1: Omega Rising 2013-01-09
Bloodshot #04 2012-10-10 vol 1: Setting the World on Fire 2013-02-06
Archer & Armstrong #03 2012-10-10 vol 1: Michelangelo Code, The 2013-03-06
X-O Manowar #06 2012-10-17 vol 2: Enter Ninjak 2013-03-27
Harbinger #05 2012-10-17 vol 1: Omega Rising 2013-01-09
Shadowman #01 2012-11-07 vol 1: Birth Rites 2013-04-24
Bloodshot #05 2012-11-14 vol 2: Rise and the Fall, The 2013-06-26
Archer & Armstrong #04 2012-11-14 vol 1: Michelangelo Code, The 2013-03-06
X-O Manowar #07 2012-11-21 vol 2: Enter Ninjak 2013-03-27
Harbinger #06 2012-11-21 vol 2: Renegades 2013-05-22
Shadowman #02 2012-12-05 vol 1: Birth Rites 2013-04-24
Bloodshot #06 2012-12-12 vol 2: Rise and the Fall, The 2013-06-26
Archer & Armstrong #05 2012-12-12 vol 2: Wrath of the Eternal Warrior 2013-07-31
X-O Manowar #08 2012-12-19 vol 2: Enter Ninjak 2013-03-27
Harbinger #07 2012-12-19 vol 2: Renegades 2013-05-22
Shadowman #03 2013-01-09 vol 1: Birth Rites 2013-04-24
Bloodshot #07 2013-01-16 vol 2: Rise and the Fall, The 2013-06-26
Archer & Armstrong #06 2013-01-16 vol 2: Wrath of the Eternal Warrior 2013-07-31
X-O Manowar #09 2013-01-23 vol 3: Planet Death 2013-08-21
Harbinger #08 2013-01-23 vol 2: Renegades 2013-05-22
Harbinger #0 2013-02-06 vol 3: Harbinger Wars 2013-09-25
Shadowman #04 2013-02-06 vol 1: Birth Rites 2013-04-24
Bloodshot #08 2013-02-13 vol 2: Rise and the Fall, The 2013-06-26
Archer & Armstrong #07 2013-02-13 vol 2: Wrath of the Eternal Warrior 2013-07-31
X-O Manowar #10 2013-02-20 vol 3: Planet Death 2013-08-21
Harbinger #09 2013-02-20 vol 2: Renegades 2013-05-22
Shadowman #05 2013-03-06 vol 2: Darque Reckoning 2013-10-23
Bloodshot #09 2013-03-13 vol 2: Rise and the Fall, The 2013-06-26
Archer & Armstrong #08 2013-03-13 vol 2: Wrath of the Eternal Warrior 2013-07-31
X-O Manowar #11 2013-03-20 vol 3: Planet Death 2013-08-21
Harbinger #10 2013-03-20 vol 2: Renegades 2013-05-22
Shadowman #06 2013-04-03 vol 2: Darque Reckoning 2013-10-23
Harbinger Wars #01 2013-04-03 Harbinger Wars 2013-09-18
Harbinger #11 2013-04-10 vol 3: Harbinger Wars 2013-09-25
Archer & Armstrong #09 2013-04-10 vol 2: Wrath of the Eternal Warrior 2013-07-31
X-O Manowar #12 2013-04-17 vol 3: Planet Death 2013-08-21
Bloodshot #10 2013-04-17 vol 3: Harbinger Wars 2013-10-16
Shadowman #0 2013-05-01 vol 3: Deadside Blues 2014-01-01
Harbinger Wars #02 2013-05-01 Harbinger Wars 2013-09-18
Harbinger #12 2013-05-08 vol 3: Harbinger Wars 2013-09-25
Archer & Armstrong #0 2013-05-08 vol 3: Far Faraway 2013-12-04
X-O Manowar #13 2013-05-15 vol 3: Planet Death 2013-08-21
Bloodshot #11 2013-05-15 vol 3: Harbinger Wars 2013-10-16
Archer & Armstrong #10 2013-06-05 vol 3: Far Faraway 2013-12-04
Shadowman #07 2013-06-05 vol 2: Darque Reckoning 2013-10-23
Harbinger Wars #03 2013-06-12 Harbinger Wars 2013-09-18
Harbinger #13 2013-06-19 vol 3: Harbinger Wars 2013-09-25
Bloodshot #12 2013-06-19 vol 3: Harbinger Wars 2013-10-16
X-O Manowar #14 2013-06-26 vol 3: Planet Death 2013-08-21
Shadowman #08 2013-07-03 vol 2: Darque Reckoning 2013-10-23
Quantum and Woody #01 2013-07-10 vol 1: World's Worst Superhero Team, The 2013-11-06
Archer & Armstrong #11 2013-07-17 vol 3: Far Faraway 2013-12-04
Harbinger Wars #04 2013-07-17 Harbinger Wars 2013-09-18
Harbinger #14 2013-07-24 vol 3: Harbinger Wars 2013-09-25
Bloodshot #13 2013-07-24 vol 3: Harbinger Wars 2013-10-16
Shadowman #09 2013-08-07 vol 2: Darque Reckoning 2013-10-23
Quantum and Woody #02 2013-08-07 vol 1: World's Worst Superhero Team, The 2013-11-06
Archer & Armstrong #12 2013-08-14 vol 3: Far Faraway 2013-12-04
Shadowman #10 2013-09-04 vol 3: Deadside Blues 2014-01-01
Quantum and Woody #03 2013-09-04 vol 1: World's Worst Superhero Team, The 2013-11-06
Archer & Armstrong #13 2013-09-11 vol 3: Far Faraway 2013-12-04
Eternal Warrior #01 2013-09-11 vol 1: Sword of the Wild 2014-01-22
Shadowman #11 2013-10-02 vol 3: Deadside Blues 2014-01-01
Quantum and Woody #04 2013-10-02 vol 1: World's Worst Superhero Team, The 2013-11-06
Eternal Warrior #02 2013-10-09 vol 1: Sword of the Wild 2014-01-22
Shadowman #12 2013-11-06 vol 3: Deadside Blues 2014-01-01
Quantum and Woody #05 2013-11-06 vol 2: In Security 2014-03-05
Unity #01 2013-11-13 vol 1: To Kill a King 2014-03-12
Eternal Warrior #03 2013-11-20 vol 1: Sword of the Wild 2014-01-22
Quantum and Woody #06 2013-12-04 vol 2: In Security 2014-03-05
Unity #02 2013-12-11 vol 1: To Kill a King 2014-03-12
Eternal Warrior #04 2013-12-18 vol 1: Sword of the Wild 2014-01-22
Quantum and Woody #07 2014-01-08 vol 2: In Security 2014-03-05
Unity #03 2014-01-15 vol 1: To Kill a King 2014-03-12
Eternal Warrior #05 2014-01-22 vol 2: Eternal Emperor 2014-06-18
Eternal Warrior #06 2014-02-12 vol 2: Eternal Emperor 2014-06-18
Quantum and Woody #07 2014-02-19 vol 2: In Security 2014-03-05
Unity #04 2014-02-19 vol 1: To Kill a King 2014-03-12
Quantum and Woody #0 2014-03-05 vol 3: Crooked Pasts, Present Tense 2014-09-17
Unity #05 2014-03-12 vol 2: Trapped by Webnet 2014-07-09
Eternal Warrior #07 2014-03-26 vol 2: Eternal Emperor 2014-06-18
Quantum and Woody #09 2014-04-02 vol 3: Crooked Pasts, Present Tense 2014-09-17
Unity #06 2014-04-09 vol 2: Trapped by Webnet 2014-07-09
Eternal Warrior #08 2014-04-23 vol 2: Eternal Emperor 2014-06-18
Rai #01 2014-05-07
Quantum and Woody #10 2014-05-14 vol 3: Crooked Pasts, Present Tense 2014-09-17
Unity #07 2014-05-21 vol 2: Trapped by Webnet 2014-07-09
Quantum and Woody #11 2014-06-04 vol 3: Crooked Pasts, Present Tense 2014-09-17
Rai #02 2014-06-04
Quantum and Woody #11 2014-07-02 vol 3: Crooked Pasts, Present Tense 2014-09-17
Rai #03 2014-07-09
Rai #04 2014-08-27

Table sorting courtesy of jQuery and tablesorter; icons courtesy of Font Awesome.

Updated 2015-09-25: Replaced Christian Bach's tablesorter with Mottie's fork.

Edna

There's no new Simpsons tonight, so, in honor of the late, great Marcia Wallace, might I recommend breaking out your DVD collection and watching one of these classic Edna Krabappel episodes:

Bart the Lover, Season 3

If there's a better Mrs. K episode, I can't think of one. This shows Edna at her most complex and human -- and Bart too, for that matter. Wallace won an Emmy for this one.

Bart Gets an F, Season 2

And speaking of emotions we don't often see from Bart, the climax of this one -- where he breaks down in tears on finding that he failed his test despite really trying his hardest this time -- shows us a seldom-seen side of both characters, without giving in too much to sentimentality. I love Mrs. K's attempt to comfort Bart -- "I would have thought you'd be used to it by now!" could so easily have come across as sarcastic, but Wallace chooses to read it as a gentle, tender statement. Now that's comedy.

The PTA Disbands, Season 6

So many classic moments in this episode purple monkey dishwasher. It's Simpsons at its satirical finest, highlighting the conflict between teachers and administration, the public's simultaneous desire for better schools and lower taxes, and the terrifying reality that if you pick up some random person off the street, they'll be a worse teacher than Miss Hoover or Mrs. Krabappel. And the resolution is so ludicrous that it can only serve to hang a lampshade on how intractable these issues really are.

Grade School Confidential, Season 8

Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me.

The Ned-Liest Catch, Season 22

Say what you will about modern-era Simpsons, pairing off Ned with Edna was a rare and legitimately pleasant surprise. It's not the sort of thing I would ever have seen coming, but it makes its own unexpected kind of sense -- two characters who have seemingly nothing in common but their loneliness, but who complement each other so thoroughly and who can each stand to learn so much from the other. This episode highlights how difficult those differences can be, and they almost don't make it as a couple -- but, thanks to an Internet vote, they stay together.

The Propaganda Schlock of Starship Troopers

The last time I saw Starship Troopers was on VHS. I'd have been about 15, so you can forgive me if what I remember most about it is Denise Richards's titties. Which should give you some idea of just how well I remember it, because Denise Richards's titties are not actually in the movie. (Denise Richards's titties are actually important to the theme of the movie. I will be getting back to them in a moment.)

I also remember the film getting pretty mixed reviews on release -- it's quite clearly a big dumb action movie, with extra big and extra dumb, but there was also a vocal contingent of critics lauding it as a brilliantly subersive piece of satire of wartime propaganda. In the years since, it's become a cult hit among people who enjoy it for both -- because it manages a pretty interesting tightrope walk of playing itself totally straight while also being a wicked piece of satire.

More specifically, Starship Troopers the movie is a parody of Starship Troopers the book.

Well, maybe "parody" is a little strong -- again, it plays itself far too seriously to be considered a comedy per se. But it's certainly a movie about crazy, over-the-top wartime propaganda -- and the novel is crazy wartime propaganda (or, almost -- it was too late for Korea and too early for Vietnam).

Heinlein's an interesting dude, and Starship Troopers fills an interesting place in his oeuvre. For a guy who's typically identified as a libertarian, he sure has some weird ideas about only allowing soldiers to vote, and how public floggings are the best tool for disciplining them. With an extra bonus chapter where he really goes off the rails with that public flogging thing and rants about how anyone who doesn't spank their children is stupid.

Starship Troopers the movie gets how ridiculous the book is, ratchets its ridiculousness up to 11, and plays it completely straight.

And while the homages to WWII-vintage propaganda films are great, what it gets most about the nature of wartime propaganda is the dehumanization. Not only Heinlein's choice to very literally dehumanize the enemy by making them giant bugs, but the heroes are dehumanized, too -- and here's where I get back to Denise Richards's titties.

Because the coed shower scene is disquieting.

It goes beyond the obvious ideas of discipline and respect in a coed military and straight on into having a bunch of men fail to even notice Denise Richards as female. And when the Main Guy finally does go for a perfunctory roll in the hay with her, it's all just rote, mechanical "this is happening because it's a movie and the leads have to hook up" stuff.

All in all? Well, to make another Spinal Tap reference, there's a fine line between stupid and clever, and Starship Troopers walks it. It's a winking, biting homage to the source material, that looks and feels like it's a dumb movie made by people who just don't get it. (And it could be both -- there are a whole lot of people involved in making a movie.)

Its cult status is well-deserved -- and even if its comedy is intentional, it seems unintentional enough that it's perfect fodder for Rifftrax.

Which is what I'm headed to see right now, as I write this, though by the time you read it I should already be home. Maybe I'll share more tomorrow!

Final Fantasy Prequels I'd Actually Like to See

R^2's excellent Let's Play Final Fantasy 4 Advance thread over at Brontoforumus has veered onto the topic of The After Years and its general wretchedness. I've never played it -- but yeah, it sure seems like a terrible idea, on principle.

And I get to thinking, what Final Fantasy same-world sequels are any good?

For my money, FF12 and Revenant Wings don't count -- that's a case of an established setting being worked into a numbered FF game, not a numbered FF game's setting being reused per se.

FF10-2 was pretty neat, partially because it was the first and partially because it was so utterly different from FF10 proper, in tone, plot, and gameplay.

And the only FF7 sequel worth a damn is Crisis Core.

I think a lot of that is because it has the good sense not to take itself as goddamn seriously as most everything in the FF7 universe -- but I think it's also because it's a prequel. FF7 has an ending. An ending whose appeal comes from its ambiguity. Setting games (or movies) after the ending misses the point. Badly.

So with FF4. FF4 puts a fucking bow on things. Everybody gets to be a king or queen. Even Yang, for no reason whatsoever.

How the fuck do you top that? You don't.

Most Final Fantasys have an ending that's pretty, well, final. (There's an ongoing fanboy talking point that that's why they're called "Final" and that's why you should stop making jokes about "Dur hur how can they be final if there's thirteen of 'em?" That's stupid fanboy talk. But you really should stop making that joke.)

But you know what? Plenty of them come with perfectly good backstories to play with, and ripe ground for prequels.

Let's start with FF5 and the Warriors of Dawn. You could play as a young Galuf, and Butz's dad, and...look, I forget the other two guys' names. The point of FF5 isn't really its plot, it's the jobs system. I'd be happy to play a game with an earlier war with Exdeath, revisiting some familiar locations and characters a la Dragon Quest 3.

And then there's FF6 and the War of the Magi. The backstory's dashed off in a few lines of exposition in-game, but it's got loads of potential -- three gods begin fighting, they mutate humans into magic users, other humans hunt the magic users to take their powers, and it leads to an all-out apocalyptic battle that rends the world asunder and ultimately wipes magic off the map and sends technology back to the Stone Age.

Given the timeline and the established power of the Warring Triad, the world wouldn't need to bear any kind of resemblance to FF6. (Though, hm -- maybe the map could start out looking one way and, after being torn asunder by the Triad, look like the World of Balance. Dramatic irony!)

And the final candidate I'd like to share is Final Fantasy 3. 3 has an even more barebones story than 5 (and isn't as good a game), but it has one idea in its backstory that could make for a wonderfully warped take on the traditional story.

3 relies on the D&D trope of Good and Evil existing in balance to one another, and the idea that if one becomes too strong, the other will rise to defeat it. Final Fantasy 3 has a world subject to the influence of a creeping evil -- and so the Crystals create four Warriors of Light.

But, it's clearly established in the backstory that the reverse happened a few hundred years before: Good got too strong, and the Crystals created four Warriors of Dark to restore the balance.

I'd love to play a game that does the Final Fantasy formula in reverse: burn villages, breed monsters, awaken ancient evils, start an evil empire and slowly take over the world.

I guess it would be kinda like the first half-hour of Final Fantasy 4, if Cecil had a much higher degree of job satisfaction.

Formula

I watched Life of Pi tonight.

At one point, I turned to my wife and said, "In the formula, that's what's know as the All Is Lost Moment. Guess that means we're in Act 3 now."

I read an article recently called Save the Movie!, by Peter Suderman of Slate. It's about Save the Cat!, the 2005 screenwriting book by Blake Snyder which defined the formula that seemingly every successful American film since has followed, on down to explaining why Joker and Khan both have such a penchant for gloating at their captors from jail cells.

I really enjoyed Life of Pi. I think it's a great film. But it came with plenty of déjà vu. Hell, it wasn't even the only 2013 film that featured an orphan, a storm, lifeboats, a confrontation with terrifying beasts, and magical realism, and received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.

But formula's not bad, not inherently. Particularly in a story like Life of Pi which is itself about storytelling.

I don't have any problem with Joseph Campbell, either. Well, I mean, his writing gets pretty didactic, but he was a man who loved stories and loved taking them apart and seeing what made them tick and what the great ones had in common.

I do hate the extent to which his work was taken as an instruction manual instead of simple academic deconstruction, though. Which is pretty much how I feel about Watchmen (and how, not for nothin', Alan Moore himself feels about Watchmen) -- a perfectly good, interesting, insightful work that far too many people decided was a mathematical formula.

Which I suppose leads into some sort of irritating movie reviewer's wordplay about Pi. Fill that in for yourself, I guess.

Another Ditko Kickstarter

I discussed the previous Ditko Kickstarter back in April. Well, now Snyder's back with another, reprinting 1992's Laszlo's Hammer.

I'm in. Though I'm still not done with all the goodies I got last time.

I finished Ditko Public Service Package, the reprint that the Kickstarter funded. But I've only just cracked Steve Ditko's 160-Page Package and the first of The Comics newsletters that I got as bonuses.

On the whole, I'm finding 160-Page to be a lot more satisfying than Public Service -- its stories are more conventional morality tales, with beginnings, middles, and ends, that recall the 1950's era of science fiction and crime comics. Public Service is a lot stranger and more inscrutable -- but it's delightful in its own way too, even as it's sometimes baffling or infuriating.

And there are still a couple more Packages where those came from.

At any rate, go contribute to the Ditko Kickstarter. You'll be glad you did.

And on a related note, ComicsAlliance's Joe McCulloch recently wrote the excellent Steve DItko Doesn’t Stop: A Guide To 18 Secret Comics By Spider-Man's Co-Creator, focusing not on the 1990's work that Snyder has been using Kickstarter to reprint, but on Ditko's most recent work, from 2008 to present.

It's great stuff, new and old. And I can't wait for the next round.